Hide rests his hands on the surface of the desk and laces his fingers together as he waits for the meeting to begin.
It could’ve looked like an attempt to seem professional from another’s point of view, but really, Hide’s just trying to keep himself from fidgeting in his seat. He stares at the default wallpaper of the laptop before him, willing his brain to start working again. How far have the rest of the guys managed to get without him? How much did he miss out, to be called to attend this meeting out of the blue?
The big guys eventually make their appearances; entering the conference room five to ten minutes later than the set time and positively looking very casual about it. The few prominent CCG figures present include Special Class Marude Itsuki, Special Class Ui Koori, Special Class Houji Kousuke and of course, Special Class Arima Kishou and Director Washuu himself - which isn’t much of a surprise considering how huge the entire operation is expected to be. At least the S2 squad isn’t involved in this; Hide has no idea how he’d be able to survive another event of having to work with the insufferable Washuu Matsuri. Plus, that guy has absolutely zero qualms about sacrificing lives for the greater victory - Hide knows that from experience. No one has mentioned it yet, but the death count to the extermination of the Clowns is obviously expected to be high. The CCG doesn’t need to lose any more investigators than they’re presumably going to lose.
Hide leans back against his chair and focuses at the slides on the screen in front of him as he listens on to the briefing on the compilation of data they’ve gathered so far by the leader of their investigation team; the ghouls they’ve managed to identify as part of the Clowns, their estimated numbers, their average rating. She also goes over what they’ve obtained about their expected gathering; the location, the time, the advantages and disadvantages the place brings to the CCG - anything that’s relevant to help them get a good grasp of the situation.
It hadn’t felt quite real to Hide when he’s still working on the case as a side investigation, but now that he’s here in the middle of this discussion, the weight of it all gradually begins to sink in. These aren’t just simple numbers and ratings and observations. They’re seriously dealing with a group of dangerous ghouls whose abilities are on par with Aogiri’s executives and who most ghoul investigators would prefer to never have the chance to face if they can help it. The smallest error on their part could jeopardize the entire operation. CCG’s forces could be wiped out if they’re not careful. People could end up dying for nothing.
They’ve not even progressed to the actual planning, yet Hide feels the pressure messing with his breathing already. He chews his lip and fiddles with his thumbs, working to swallow his anxiety as the team leader concludes her report before taking her seat again, letting a heavy, suffocating silence fill the absence of her voice. Fortunately for him, Director Washuu is quick to bring the discussion to the next phase after around a minute of thoughtful silence, and Hide gets to focus on something other than the invisible burden pressing down his chest.
Yoshitoki starts out by briefly congratulating and thanking the intelligence team for successfully producing such quality results (he doesn’t mention how long it took them, though). He then goes straight to the drafting of their plan right after, projecting a visual of the Clown’s gathering venue on the screen behind him to aid his explanation. Hide’s own brain gears start turning as he ponders over the various ideas for improvements offered by the meeting attendees towards the Director’s initially proposed plan. It’s great that they’re adding extra layers to the foundation Yoshitoki has lain down, but Hide can’t stop the nagging feeling that everyone seems to be forgetting something important; a factor that could possibly be the key to the success of the mission.
Hide raises his hand. “Permission to speak, sir.”
Yoshitoki doesn’t even bat an eye. “Go on, Rank 1 Nagachika.”
“We’re forgetting how unpredictable the Clowns can be.”
Hide swears he could sense the way the atmosphere shifts at his statement. Either not many people liked being reminded of an obvious fact by a lowly Rank 1 investigator, or he’s right.
“And your point is?” The Director doesn’t look particularly affected, unlike a few others present. Hide isn’t very sure if he should blurt out whatever he’s about to blurt out, but for the sake of the operation, he figures he has nothing to lose.
“I think that we’re tackling this at the wrong angle,” he says, daring himself to stand up so he could be heard more clearly. Even though Hide has never actually minded being the center of attention, there’s just something unnerving about voicing his thoughts in front of a group of people who have so much more experience compared to him. There’s a slightest sense of inferiority he can’t help feeling. “There’s a risk of making our movements all the easier to be read if all we do is make intricate plans.”
“So you’re suggesting we fight spontaneity with spontaneity,” Special Class Ui says, crossing his arms. He doesn’t look impressed, but at least he doesn’t seem particularly uninterested with what Hide’s trying to say, either. Letting that realization help a bit of his confidence return, Hide nods.
“I’m not saying that we should just charge in there without the slightest preparation,” he declares before anyone has the chance to object, “but yes, I do think that we’re being a little too rigid for our own good - considering the type of ghouls we’ll be facing-”
Hide nearly jumps when Special Class Marude suddenly slams his hand on the desk; it must’ve been one hell of a revelation he just had, to produce such a huge reaction.
“Or, it could be a trap!” The older man bursts out, face turning slightly red with agitation. Ah, Hide understands the feeling. Embarrassing as it is, the possibility hasn’t really occurred to him until then, either. There’s just something too fishy about a group of ghouls who never liked working together coming together, even if it is for some bigger purpose. It’s worth their benefit of doubt. This whole thing about the Clowns’ gathering; it could very well be just another trap. The reason? They know full well that the CCG wouldn’t dare to leave them be at this rate. It’ll be a chance to reduce the Doves’ numbers significantly.
As for why they’re doing it now of all times – Hide figures it’s probably because they simply felt like it. He wouldn’t put that level of randomness past this particular group of ghouls.
At any rate, things don’t seem too bright for them already. The gathering is expected to be held in a little less than a month, and time is running short. They would have to make up their minds quickly, and the Director apparently eventually comes to the same judgment as Hide that having too large of a group would only make the situation more complicated. He silences the breakout of murmurs with a quick word, announcing that he’ll personally give this matter a little more thought before calling another conference. He then excuses everyone except for the few investigators Hide remembers to have had taken part in the previous annihilation of the Clowns, and Hide’s just about to take his own leave when he hears Yoshitoki call him.
And Hide tenses up, somehow managing to put on a relatively calm look (or at least he hopes he did) before turning around to face the group of superiors that remained. “Sir?”
He feels a chill down his spine when Yoshitoki offers him a slight smile, his eyes void of the friendly twinkle that usually comes with it.
“Would you care to stay behind and join us, Nagachika-kun?”
Discovering the fact that the reason behind the stabbing pain at the back of his eyes had been the act of the person he’d seen as a father-figure wasn’t pretty.
Haise honestly doesn’t know what he should feel. Resentment? Wariness? Then again, Arima-san had only acted based on Hide’s request, so technically, he isn’t entirely to blame. He was only following orders. He hadn’t hurt Haise completely by his own will. Otherwise he would’ve killed him while he had the chance, regardless of orders. If Arima-san really sees him as an enemy, he would’ve had easily erased him long ago. If he really sees him as an enemy, he wouldn’t have been such a great superior to Haise for the past couple of years.
Haise doesn’t even know why he’s defending Arima in his head.
But still. Stabbing him through both his eyes was a little overboard; even if it’s to ensure that Haise would lose his memories from severe brain trauma. Thanks to him – and perhaps several other factors, Haise’s being unfair – Haise has been experiencing numerous nightmares basically consisting of things bursting out of the back of his head and his eyes throughout the previous few weeks. And on nights when his dreams weren’t about those, Haise sometimes relives the torture that once turned his hair completely white; the snipping of his fingers and toes, the repeated stabs of the needle into the corner of his eye, the centipede in his ear. The fact that he has yet to grow accustomed to this repeating pattern doesn’t make anything better. Really, it’s a miracle Haise’s still able to retain his sanity up to today. There have already been several instances where he came so close to accidentally breaking Hide’s hand from gripping it too tightly during his desperate attempts to keep himself from drifting away from reality. Hide always assures him that it’s alright, of course, but Haise’s not an idiot. Enhanced regeneration or not, having your bones nearly crushed should still be painful.
Fortunately, the difficult period gradually comes to a pass, and Haise slowly learns to handle the horrible visions without the need to inflict any pain upon both himself and others. Though, he has to admit; there’s something about knowing how he’d actually gone through some form of those nightmares firsthand that still sort of unnerves him. Haise now understands why a number of his remembrances are tinged with madness. Those hellish experiences are bad enough; he must’ve been pushed to the very brink when he started feasting on ghouls and strayed towards the path of a kakuja. Someone once told him before that cannibalism among ghouls, despite being able to boost one’s physical abilities greatly, comes with a high risk of affecting their mental stability. It’s no wonder Haise had almost completely lost it once.
The night Haise voiced his fears of completely losing it again to his squad, Shirazu told him something he honestly hadn’t expected to hear. He told him that he should be proud of himself because he was strong enough to live through all those experiences, that he was still alive and struggling despite having gotten so beat up and battered. Haise’s pretty sure he’d almost went insane because he survived all those hardships and had to shoulder the weight of all those memories, but he guesses Shirazu’s only trying to cheer him up in his own endearing way, so he’d said nothing about it. He understands his sentiment, and Haise guesses that’s all that matters. Even though Haise often thinks he doesn’t deserve such wonderful people like the Quinx who accept him for who he is despite all that he’s done before, he’s grateful.
Haise takes in a deep breath, letting the cold winter air prickle the back of his throat. He focuses on the numbness of his nose to keep his thoughts from wandering as he walks on, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his coat. He couldn’t help but wonder how they’ll react when he steps in there and tells them. Screaming with joy is out of question – though, giving him a good punch square in the face sounds pretty probable.
Haise’s entrance into the café is announced by the soft dingle of the bell above the door. It’s apparently quite a busy day for them; the place is almost full with customers. With her quality of coffee, Haise sees the obvious reason why it’d be. He lingers at the entryway and scans his eyes across the crowd, idly searching for the few familiar faces he knows he’ll see. His heart skips a beat when he catches sight of a lone figure approaching him, his nervousness rapidly rising to its peak.
“Welcome to :RE!”
Haise has thought of Touka being beautiful ever since he met her again as Sasaki Haise, but it’s only after the return of his memories that he realizes just how much she’s grown up. She looks so different from how she used to be, and it isn’t simply because she dyed her hair a lighter shade. There’s just something about the air around her that implies the change, something about the grace in her movements and the way she carries herself.
“Table for one again, Sasaki-san?” Touka asks once she’s walked up to him, her lips curled into her habitual, welcoming smile. Haise feels an unexpected stab in his heart, his throat closing up as he barely manages to return the gesture, his voice coming out small.
And her reaction is instantaneous. Touka completely freezes up, staring at him wide-eyed. Haise stands absolutely still as he waits for the rest of her response, shoulders tensed and bracing himself for the impact of the hit he’s certain he’ll receive.
It takes around a minute before Touka’s able to overcome her stupor. Then without a word, she reaches out and grabs Haise’s wrist, dragging him all the way to the back of the shop while ignoring the curious stares from the customers around them. Haise works to avoid tripping on his own feet as he tries to match his pace with Touka’s, keeping his gaze trained on the floor. He’s shoved to a stop once they’re away from public eyes, and when he looks up, the first thing he notices is Touka’s murderous glare.
“Explain,” she orders, crossing her arms across her chest. If looks could kill, Haise’s pretty sure he should start preparing his grave right then. As it is, he’s just mostly thankful for the fact that some things still hasn’t changed after all.
And catching himself suppressing a smile, Haise proceeds to do as she says.
Haise receives a good punch right in the face, as expected.
He also has his ribs nearly crushed in a hug as a bonus, but he’s not complaining. He’s halfway trying to put the rest of his situation into coherent sentences after Touka’s sudden interruption when Yomo walks in on the two of them, and Haise earns himself yet another wide-eyed stare. Being the man of few words he is, though, Yomo doesn’t interrupt Haise’s explanation even after his initial surprise has passed, instead choosing to merely listen to the continuation of where he’d just stopped.
“And you still want to stay with the CCG despite all they’ve done to you?” Touka demands incredulously once he’s finished telling them what he wants to tell them. Her voice is tight with restrained anger, but the slight knit on her brow betrays her concern. “Even the blind can see that you’re being used, Kaneki.”
“I know,” Haise agrees evenly, taken aback by his own calmness. Then again, he’s made the decision to stay in the CCG after countless hours of consideration, and he isn’t going to let his resolve waver so easily. “But I’ve thought about it and decided that it’s safer like this – at least for now. If I leave so suddenly, it’ll only make me seem all the more suspicious anyway.”
“Not to mention they’ll never let you go knowing you’re a half-ghoul,” a new voice chimes in, and despite knowing full well who it belongs to, Haise twists to look over his shoulder. Nishiki returns his gaze with a bored look, pushing his glasses up his nose as he makes his way further into the room. “Hell, they’ll probably kill you before you can even whip out your shitty resignation letter and whatnot.”
“Nishiki-senpai,” Haise greets, the corners of his lips lifting into a lopsided smile when all he receives as a reply is a soft grunt. “The CCG would probably see me as a threat the moment I refuse to cooperate with them, so you’re right about the risk there. And even if I do manage to leave, where would I be able to go?” He lets out a halfhearted laugh as he breaks into a slight shrug. “As ironic as it is, I currently don’t have anywhere to belong other than with the CCG.”
“Because you have those brats?” Nishiki asks, seemingly unimpressed with Haise’s reasoning. Could he, of all people, be feeling bitter because of Haise’s choice to stay at their enemies side? Haise feels stupid for even having the thought. Of course he isn’t feeling bitter; it’s just in Nishiki’s character to sound like that.
“Or is it because your precious Hide is there?”
Haise returns his gaze to Touka, trying to decipher the meaning behind her queer expression.
“Are you angry at him?” he asks, almost tentatively. He tries not to cringe when Touka takes a sharp breath, exhaling it in a long, tired sigh.
“I’m angry at the both of you because you’re both stupid beyond reason,” she says, and Haise, unable to find a more appropriate response, only lets out a sheepish laugh. “Really, it’s no wonder you two are so crazy for each other.”
“What - don’t tell me you’ve never noticed it,” Nishiki deadpans when Haise proceeds to stare at Touka as though she’d just grown another head. He presses his palm against his forehead when Haise shortly turns to give him the very same look. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but someone please save these two idiots.”
And feeling his face heating up against his will, Haise wisely decides to avoid further discussion on the topic. He clears his throat, praying for his companions to not stop him from returning to the matter at hand. “A-Anyway, I’ve decided to stay on in the CCG and do what I can from there. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to make some sort of a change if we become influential enough.”
“You do know that the CCG is violently anti-ghoul, right?” Nishiki reminds him, shifting his weight to one foot and placing his hands on his hips. He raises one unamused eyebrow when Haise shakes his head.
“A majority of them are, yes. And they have all the reasons to feel so.” Haise shifts his feet, eyes focused on a spot on the floor. “I know we can’t just expect them to stop hating ghouls flat out, but we can still try to convince them that not all ghouls are bad, bit by bit.”
“They won’t be so easily convinced, though – with that coming from you,” Touka tells him frankly. Haise looks up to meet her gaze once more.
“I’m aware of that,” he says, hoping to sound at least the slightest bit as resolute as he feels. “Which is why I have to stay there. I want to try figuring some things out, and for that, I’ll need time.”
Touka looks like she’s about to argue further, but before she’s able to, Yomo detaches himself from the wall and places a hand on her shoulder, effectively stopping her. He’s been so silent the whole time that Haise honestly forgot he was there. Then again, maybe he did disappear for a moment; someone has to take care of the café, after all.
“You’re sure you want to do this,” he addresses Haise, pitching his sentence to a statement and not a question. Haise bunches the sides of his coat in his fists, and nods firmly. Then to his surprise, Yomo breaks into a slight smile. “You’ve grown, Ken.”
“T-Thank you very much, Yomo-san.” Haise can’t explain it, but there’s a sudden lump in his throat. There’s something about Yomo’s quiet tone – something about the way he actually sounds proud of him – that causes a wave of emotion to well up in his chest. Perhaps it’s also due to the fact that the he’s actually approving his choices; despite how far-fetched his ideas sound even to himself.
But he can do it. Haise’s certain he can. Not now, but slowly, eventually. With the help of those around him.
Touka still doesn’t look like she’s willing to let the subject drop just yet, but she must’ve decided that it wasn’t worth the effort. So all she says is a curt, “Just do what you want. I’ve got a shop to run.”
She then storms back outside without as much as a glance behind, leaving Haise to only stare after her while trying not to feel bad. He supposes it could be a little hard to take in, the fact that the person she’d considered a friend and ally wants to stay at the enemy’s side. After all, she’d lost so much to the CCG over the years. Haise could give all the reasons in the world; his decision will probably still sound like nothing but a blatant betrayal to her ears.
“Way to go in pissing a girl off in your first real reunion in years, kid,” Nishiki snorts, sounding a lot more entertained than Haise thought necessary. He gives Haise an huge, painful slap on the back before returning to the dining area himself, generously offering him a backhanded wave as he leaves.
It takes half a minute for Haise to finish processing the older boy’s words, and even when he does he’s only able to let out a sheepish chuckle to himself because he’s always doing that, isn’t he? He’s always upsetting Touka some way or another. Though, now that he thinks of it, he figures it’s his recklessness that usually maddens her. Haise dare says she’s only worried for his wellbeing, since he’s always doing such risky things and putting his life on the line - and the thought makes him happy, despite everything.
“Yomo-san.” Haise turns to address the man in question, dipping his head slightly in apology, “if it’s not too much to ask, could you tell them not to spread the word that I remember? Just in case?”
Sparing no extra words as usual, Yomo nods in understanding. Haise gives him a grateful look before inhaling sharply, squaring his shoulders.
“Well then,” he starts, casting his gaze towards the busy lounge and willing himself not to dread being the focus of dozens of curious gazes yet again. “I guess it’s time for me to go as well.”
Haise wasn’t expecting anyone to be home when he got there.
The kids had offered to stay behind and work on their investigation a little longer because they’re so close to solving the thing, assuring that’s it’s alright for Haise to end work a little earlier for the day since he’s always the one working the hardest among them. Hide, in the other hand, could still be in the middle of that meeting he was called to attend (he’s been there since after lunch break and he was still not done when Haise left four hours later). Haise has to admit: the fact that they’re only calling for Hide specifically and the fact that the conference itself is taking such a long time bothers him more than he thinks it should. Something just doesn’t seem right.
He hates how all he’s able to do is fret.
Haise breathes a sigh, raking his fingers through his hair as he trudges towards the kitchen to get himself a glass of water. As he passes the living room, he catches a glimpse of the figure on the sofa and instantly does a double take, abruptly stopping in his tracks and craning his neck to see who it is. He blinks blankly when he spots the mess of blond hair, his brain temporarily incapable of comprehending the situation.
Hide’s splayed across the three-seater; his tie off, his collar button undone, his sleeves rolled up and his arm rested across his eyes. Haise struggles to process the sight of him for a moment because Hide’s usually up and bustling even after a long day’s work. And even when he’s not all over the place, he’ll be reading the newspaper and taking it easy or simply messing around with his laptop in his room. Or, to the very least, Hide would take a shower as soon as he gets home (because he’s kind of worried about smelling, he told Haise once). This is the first time Haise has actually seen him exhausted to the point of having to take a nap on the sofa without bathing first.
Mindful to make as little noise as he can, Haise threads over to turn on the radiator – he knows how much Hide dislikes the cold - before resuming his way towards the kitchen, still careful to be quiet while he retrieves his mug and fills it under the dispenser. He’s just finished cleaning up after his drink and is returning it to its original place on the rack when he hears rustling behind him, shortly followed by a soft groan. Haise glances over his shoulder to see Hide slowly sitting himself up, yawning enormously without bothering to cover his mouth.
“Hmm? Kaneki?” Hide murmurs drowsily when he notices him. It’s amazing because he couldn’t have moved around much given how little space there is on the sofa, yet his hair is a mess.
“I’m home, Hide,” Haise says, failing to suppress a smile as he dries his hands with a towel. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
“Nah, buddy. It’s fine.” Hide dismisses with a casual wave of his hand. Haise walks over and takes a seat beside him, noticing the slight waver in his tone. He’s just about to ask if there’s something wrong when Hide leans sideways against him, slouching even more than how he’d started. “It’s all fine,” he breathes, sounding so at loss that Haise instantly knows something’s definitely not fine.
“You feel like talking about it?” Haise asks, his tone a whisper. Hide doesn’t answer right away, instead choosing to idly play with his fingers in silence. Haise waits, letting Hide do whatever he wants until he feels he’s ready to answer him.
They remain as they are for the next five minutes or so, wordless the entire time. Maybe Hide really doesn’t want to talk about it, and Haise’s just about to tell him to forget he ever asked when he breaks into a defeated laugh, running his free hand across his face.
“Honestly,” he begins hoarsely, “I have no idea where to start.”
“Don’t start, then,” Haise says, shifting slightly into a more comfortable position so Hide wouldn’t slip off. “You don’t have to tell me anything now if you can’t.”
Hide hums, but Haise spots the small crease on his brow even from the angle he’s looking at him. Haise can’t help but wonder what exactly could’ve been the matter, to trouble Hide to this degree.
“Hey, Kaneki?” Hide speaks after another short lapse of silence. He moves their hands so that their fingers are now laced together. “Have I ever mentioned how pretty your hands are?”
“Dork.” Haise nudges Hide with his shoulder, reluctantly allowing himself to feel the slightest relief at how Hide’s still able to crack his dumb jokes despite the predicament he seems to be in. He absently rubs his thumb across Hide’s first knuckle, enjoying the texture of smooth skin under his touch. “For the record, you have nice hands too, Hide.”
“Aww, I’m flattered!” Hide exclaims elaborately, finally fixing his posture and speaking to Haise face to face. Hide has always been annoyingly good at putting on masks, and Haise guesses he’s doing that again right now even after all those talk about opening up to each other. Despite the bleakness in his tone earlier, there are currently no visible traces of anxiety on Hide’s features as far as Haise can see. Then again, Haise isn’t exactly in the position to criticize Hide for still being secretive. There are things that are simply too difficult to share, whether they liked it or not.
Hide lifts their intertwined hands to study them properly. “Though I think yours are a little nicer. There are so many calluses on mine!”
“What’s wrong with calluses?” Haise finds himself demanding, then frowns when realization dawns him. “Wait – are we seriously going to argue over who has prettier hands?”
“What else do you want us to argue over, then?” Hide proceeds to ask in all innocence. He laughs when Haise rolls his eyes, though Haise notices how quickly he turns somber again, the thoughtfulness returning to his gaze the moment his mirth fades. Haise thinks he recognizes the way he’s looking at him right then, and the realization does little to put him at ease.
He’s looking at him as though he might lose him again.
“Hide-“ Haise starts to say, but he trails off when Hide takes a sharp breath and stands up, slipping his hand off his in one smooth motion. Whether he cut him off on purpose or not, Haise doesn’t know. All he knows is that Hide’s still not ready to talk to him, and pressuring him to speak will probably only strain things between them. So he doesn’t.
“You’re going to take a bath?” he asks instead, making up his mind to not test his boundaries for now. Hide needs the space and time, and he’ll give him those, just like how Hide has always done the same for him. He works not to let any more of his worry show when Hide flashes him a grin at his question, waggling his eyebrows in his usual ridiculous way.
“Feel like joining me?”
Hide has a problem.
Scratch that – he has tons of problems. But for now, there’s a single, huge one overshadowing the rest of them, and he has absolutely no clue how to deal with it.
Hide’s going to be promoted to a First Class Investigator, and he’s going to be assigned to the full-time investigation of the Clowns until the entire operation is over. He’ll be part of the command team as well as the backup team, and though he won’t be in the front lines of the battle, the pressure is still insane. He doesn’t know what possessed Washuu Yoshitoki to decide on letting a young, brash and barely experienced guy like him assist in calling the shots. Then again, now that he thinks of it, perhaps it’s exactly those qualities of his that make him the suitable guy for the job in these particular circumstances – Hide doesn’t know. Being part of the command team means Hide will be holding the fate of people’s lives in his hands, and it’s a heavy burden to bear. If people die because of the orders he gave out, Hide’s sure he would never be able to live it down. No, he can’t do it; he can’t give orders knowing a number of his colleagues will unavoidably be sent to their deathbeds. He just can’t.
Also, because of his new assignment and rise in ranking, Hide will have to leave the Quinx squad. And speaking of the squad, Director Washuu is also considering involving them in the extermination, claiming that they’ll need as much manpower as they can gather – and who can provide more of that than a group of half-ghouls? Hide knows Yoshitoki would want to put the Quinx in less danger nonetheless for the sake of the ongoing experiment, but there will be miscalculations – even more so since they’re dealing with the Clowns of all people. Their chances of dying are just as high as anyone else’s, and Hide doesn’t like that at all. He’s not ashamed to admit; he’s certain he’ll completely lose his composure and ability to function the moment something happens to any of them.
Especially if it was Kaneki.
As little as Hide wants to sound like some whiny loser, he did not come this far just to lose his best friend all over again. His life can’t be that terrible, can it? Things can’t always go wrong for him, can they?
The fact that he knows full well of the answers to those questions is depressing.
“I won’t be able to stay in the squad much longer,” Hide takes a breath and says, barely stopping himself from wincing when he feels Haise tense up in his arms the moment he registers his words.
“Why so?” Haise’s voice is carefully leveled when he speaks after a sharp inhale. Hide chews on his lip, struggling to gather the courage to continue because with him saying it all out loud, the actuality of his situation only gets realer and realer, and truthfully, apart from the time he thought he would lose Kaneki for good during the raid all those years ago, Hide has never felt so anxious in his life.
“It’s sudden, but it seems that I’m going to be promoted,” Hide replies, trying for a sheepish laugh and ending up not quite successful. “I’m not sure if you guys have ever figured it out, but I’ve been helping out in another investigation all this while, and because of its sudden progress recently, the higher-ups want me to prioritize on that from now on. I’ll be playing quite a big part in it, apparently, and that’s why the Director’s planning to promote me to First Class.”
“Is this the thing that was bothering you earlier?” Haise twists to turn around so that he’s face to face with him, his eyebrows slightly knitted in concern. Feeling a little embarrassed at the sudden realization on just how childish he seemed to have sounded, Hide averts his gaze and scratches his cheek, nodding. To his relief, though, Haise does nothing to tease him; instead reaching to place his hand behind his neck and slowly massaging off the kinks there. Huh. Hide hadn’t noticed just how stiff his neck and shoulders were until then.
“It’s only a transfer, Hide. It’s not like we’ll never be able to see you again,” Haise reasons, offering him a gentle smile. “Besides, you’re about to be promoted because you worked so hard. Be proud about it. It’s a great thing.”
Hide isn’t sure if it’s just him, but Haise sounded a tad bit halfhearted in the last part. He appreciates his support - though, there’s still one thing Hide hadn’t exactly been clear about, and that’s-
“It’s not, Kaneki,” Hide says with a heavy sigh, raking his fingers through his hair. “It’s not a great thing. I’ll be assisting the command team in a highly dangerous mission you and the kids will most probably be part of. For all I know, I could be the one leading you guys to your deaths or you could all be injured and dying in the battlefield and I won’t be able to do anything about it and-“
“Hide,” Haise cuts him off with a soft call of his name, leaning a little forward to try to catch his gaze. “Hide, try to calm down first. It’ll be okay.”
“I don’t even dare hope that it’ll be,” Hide admits, so despondently that it’s just so unlike him. “The Clowns are too dangerous, Kaneki. I know death is inevitable when it comes to huge operations like this and blaming myself for it is just stupid of me but-“ he exhales, his shoulders slumping with the exhaustion he has yet to completely register past his anxiety, “I’m scared, Kaneki. I’m just so scared.”
Of losing you again, he doesn’t say.
Haise only nods, not at all inclined to respond with anything unnecessary. Hide tries to find comfort in the silence Haise offers; taking a deep breath before letting it out slowly, willing himself to focus on the warmth of Haise’s hands instead of the raging thoughts that are threatening to cause a full-blown breakdown. Calm down. He has to calm down. Panicking and overthinking things won’t do him any good right now. He has to work on one thing at a time.
All the while, Haise remains quiet; only relentlessly kneading his fingers into the back of Hide’s neck until the tension seeps away from the area. Hide gradually allows his gaze to wander across Haise’s features, taking in the familiarity of the sight he’d long memorized; those bright grey eyes with just the slightest tinge of blue in them, the delicate curve of his nose, the tiny, almost unnoticeable freckle at the lower corner of his right eye. And as he stares longer, Hide also begins to notice some things that aren’t there before; particularly faint scars that even Haise’s regeneration hadn’t been able to erase completely. One on his cheek, his temple, near his ear…
Haise stays completely still even when Hide traces his fingertips across his face with a sort of newfound fascination; over his new scars, eyelids, the bridge of his nose, the dip on his upper lip. Memorizing every single new detail while making sure he’ll never forget even the old ones. Eventually, Hide feels Haise slipping his hand from the back of his neck to the side of his jaw, right above the spot where his pulse is particularly prominent.
Their hold each other’s gaze even as they slowly inch closer and closer, Haise’s flitting away uncertainly only when their faces are a mere centimeter apart. Hide feels himself suddenly breaking into a smile he can’t help, then with a sudden, overwhelming burst of affection, he ducks in, and captures Haise’s lips in a kiss.
“Thank you,” he whispers when he pulls back by an inch for a quick breath, grinning a little wider before letting their lips meet in another kiss; one a tad bit more proper and positively a whole lot more awkward than the last one. Their noses seem to insist on getting in the way and both of them can’t seem to find the right angle to tilt their heads in order to stop that and Hide’s giggling silly at one point and he can’t stop.
“Dork,” Haise murmurs once they’ve parted, his voice tinged with mirth as well as something else. Hide moves to lean their foreheads together, still wearing the goofy grin he honestly did not expect he’ll be able to wear so genuinely given the circumstances he’s currently in.
“But you love me for being a dork, don’t you?” he asks, surprised at how husky he sounds. He chuckles when Haise tries very hard to look done with him but fails spectacularly when he too, breaks into a lopsided smile.
“I always have, Hide,” he says, looking at him so earnestly that Hide feels a tight squeeze in his chest. “And I always will.”
“You know, your sap never fails to amaze me,” Hide jokes, though he’s really working to push down the sudden wave of emotions that welled up within him and threatened to bring actual tears to his eyes. He has to count to three before he’s able to find the courage to continue without his voice breaking, and even then he’s just barely successful. “I’ll always love you too, Kaneki. No matter what happens.”
“Mmhmm,” Haise hums, moving to comb Hide’s hair back behind his ear with his fingers, gently smoothing out any knots he encounters. Suddenly, maintaining his smile doesn’t feel as easy anymore, and Hide has to take a sharp breath to stop his composure from completely falling apart. Haise doesn’t speak up even when they eventually slip into a lapse of silence, only shifting to pull Hide closer towards himself before pressing his face against the blonde’s shoulder. Hide, in turn, lets the steady rise and fall of Haise’s ribs under his touch slowly ease his apprehension, tentatively allowing himself to simply relish this moment, this second. Anything can happen in the future, but for now, they’re here, they’re together.
And for now, that should be more than enough.
The particular fragment of memory came back to him quite suddenly.
Haise remembers the night his life turned upside down to the utmost vividness – the feral fear he felt when Rize revealed her true nature, the excruciating pain of having his side pierced clean through, the temporary deafness in his ears when those steel beams rained down from above – but it’s the first time that this specific detail has ever resurfaced. He’d seen a person standing atop the building where the beams were pushed from, half hidden in the shadows of the night.
And that person had been wearing a mask resembling a clown.
Haise perfectly understands why Hide’s under so much pressure; the Clowns’ strength is something he’d come to recognize even before the Anteiku raid all those years ago. Mentioning their involvement in wrecking his life could only make things more difficult, Haise knows. Hide’s already so stressed out; Haise can’t tell how well would the new information sit with him. Haise himself is certainly feeling conflicted.
Hide’s promotion and transfer was made official two mornings after the first meeting he attended on the Clown extermination, the very same time Haise and the rest of the squad were notified about their involvement in the plan. Hide’s still staying in the chateau because the higher-ups haven’t got the time to even think of relocating him on such short notice, but that’s not the point. The point is that this operation might just be Haise’s chance to pay back the bastard who played a part in ruining his life, and he’s not quite sure about how he should feel towards this sentiment.
While a part of him is honestly itching for revenge, another simply can’t bring himself to summon enough hate to actually carry it out. Perhaps time helped his resentment dissipate. Perhaps it’s because the more Haise thinks about it, the more people there are to blame, and the more Haise feels that maybe, just maybe, things are not all bad. If he hadn’t been turned into a ghoul, he would’ve remained ignorant all his life. He wouldn’t have realized how much ghouls have to struggle just to keep living while being rejected by the rest of society simply because of the way they were born.
If all those things hadn’t happened, Haise wouldn’t have seen both sides of the coin. If those things hadn’t happened, Haise wouldn’t be who he is now.
But still. If he ever gets the chance to meet that bastard Kanou face to face, he’s pretty sure he’d like to teach him a thing or two about putting organs into people’s body without their consent.
Haise stares at the blank paper on his desk, tapping the cap of his pen against the surface in thought. He’s never liked writing wills. It only makes it seem all the more certain that he’s going to die out there, and that notion isn’t exactly the best morale booster. When he first started out as an investigator, Haise used to write only the little, insignificant things; like to give his collection of books to Arima if he doesn’t make it back or to tell Akira sorry for being such a difficult subordinate. Then as time progressed, Haise gradually found more things to jot down; requests to guarantee the Quinx’s safety, ways to handle his savings, more books to give to Arima. And as even more time progressed and Haise watched his colleagues die in the battlefield one after another, he too, eventually found himself coming to accept that the same might happen to him any time out there.
But now with Hide here and his own memories mostly back, Haise can’t seem to envision a blank future ahead of him. There are so many things he wants to do that he couldn’t before and there are so many things he’s just come to realize and there are so many things he has to make right and no – he can’t die, not now. He can’t let things end so early.
Only then, it all comes back to the usual question: will he be strong enough? To protect both the people he treasures as well as himself? Haise would like to assure Hide that things will be alright and that they’ll be able to survive this somehow, but truthfully, he’s doubtful himself. The chances of him having to use his kagune is high, and even after all the fuss about accepting himself and the like, Haise still isn’t fully confident about not losing control. And if he does lose control, he’ll only end up as a liability to the rest of his comrades, and he doesn’t want that. Everyone has their hands full enough as it is. Haise can’t afford to add to the burden.
Haise looks up when he hears the door open, turning to see Hide trudging in, his expression distraught. Worry starts plaguing Haise’s thoughts at once, but no words leave his mouth as he watches the blond cross over to the side of the bed closest to him before sinking onto the mattress, placing his elbows on his knees and burying his face onto his hands.
“I’m sorry, Kaneki,” Hide says, sounding so miserable that Haise’s concern immediately transforms into barely controlled panic. “I’m so sorry,” he repeats with a frustrated sigh, bowing his head even lower and pressing his palms against his forehead, tangling his fingers roughly into his hair. Seeing him like this - Haise almost doesn’t dare ask. Something must be terribly wrong, and he’s not sure if he’s ready to know what that something is just yet.
But he voices his question in the end anyway.
“Hide, why are you apologizing?”
He struggles to keep the volume of his own heartbeat at bay as he waits for his companion’s reply. Despite not knowing what exactly is going on, his feeling of dread grows suffocating, and he has to dig his nails into his palms to stop his hands from shaking.
“It’s the extermination.“ When Hide speaks, his voice bleaker than Haise has ever heard it before, and the tone of it causes his breath to catch in his throat. “Director Washuu wants to put you in the front lines, Kaneki.”