At one point, Haise knows he’d passed out.
He isn’t sure how he’s so certain about that, but he is. It feels as if his consciousness is drifting in a void; not asleep, but not fully awake, either. And it stays like that for quite a while.
He doesn’t know how long has passed when he finally reaches the brink of awareness. He senses himself about to wake up; he could almost see the light on the other side of his eyelids and hear the sounds of the environment around him – but he’s unable to go any further than that. He lingers right at the very edge of waking, struggling and struggling to break through the surface of his slumber. Why isn’t he waking up? Why can’t he wake up?
Haise tries, over and over and over. And each time, the results remain the same; always so close, but never close enough. Eventually, Haise tires, and he stops. Maybe he’s dead after all, he thinks as he lets himself sink back to the dark depths of oblivion. Maybe this is how death actually feels like. He remembers going berserk in the operation, and he’s probably finally seen as enough of a threat to be exterminated.
Somehow, he isn’t surprised when the visions started coming. The scene keeps replaying over and over like a broken tape; Hide’s face after being impaled through the chest, the front of his dark shirt turning darker at an alarming rate from the blood seeping out the gaping hole. Every single time, Haise wills himself to turn around just a few seconds faster, to do something – push him off course, act before they’re attacked, anything at all – before Hide’s hurt. Before he loses his most important person.
Again and again and again.
He doesn’t succeed, not even once. Even so, his despair refuses to fade no matter how many repeats he goes through. If anything, it only gets worse and worse. He’s only more convinced with every cycle. Not even a ghoul can necessarily survive wound of that size. Hide’s dead and it’s his fault. If only he’d been more alert, if only he’d refrained from letting his guard down even when he knew he shouldn’t – Hide wouldn’t have had to protect him and things wouldn’t have ended up like this.
It’s his fault.
Maybe it’s better if he doesn’t wake up again after all. At least that way, he won’t have to hurt anyone precious to him anymore. At least that way, his precious people won’t be hurt because of him anymore. At least that way, he won’t have to face the crushing reality of it all.
He’s a coward. An utterly selfish coward who only knows how to run away. He knows that. And he also knows he can’t stay that way and that he still has to regain consciousness to continue living the life Hide had saved time and again regardless. There are still people who need him, goals he has to achieve. He can’t give up so soon, so easily.
But just a while, just a short while longer – just let him be selfish a little while longer.
Haise does not stir from his long sleep willingly; it’s more like he’s simply dragged back to the waking world without as much as a warning. He feels the outrageous weight of his limbs before he even opens his eyes. His mind feels extremely foggy, and it takes him a moment before he’s able to force himself to think. Summoning all his strength, he tries lifting his arm. No, he’s not tied down. The heaviness in his body must be due to sedatives.
He counts to five before slowly parting his eyelids, greeted by a sight of a place that’s too bright, with a ceiling too clean and too unfamiliar. The hospital? No, there’s no lingering smell of disinfectants that hospitals usually have. Something clicks in Haise’s mind. He’s woken up in a room similar to this before. He’s in a ward in the CCG’s medical facility.
But what are they thinking, letting a monster like him stay there without any restraints at all? Even his sedatives might wear off unexpectedly and there’s still a possibility that he might go crazy the minute he wakes up and he might endanger other people and-
Haise freezes, his heart instantly ceasing to beat. That voice.. no, it can’t be. It must be his sedatives messing with his brain or he’s still more asleep than awake or something. It’s not him. Because it’s impossible. Every shred of logic he has tells him that there’s no way it’s true, that Hide’s dead and he’s just delusional and giving himself false hopes before he’s crushed with disappointment.
“Kaneki?” the voice speaks again and gosh it sounds so soft and gentle and real that Haise feels a sob building in his throat. “Hey, can you hear me?”
And it sounds like he’s right next to him.
It’s not possible. Haise knows deep in his heart that it’s not.
But very slowly, he turns to look anyway.
The air around them is perfectly still when their gazes meet, the silence in the room growing heavier by the second. Apart from the lines of exhaustion around his eyes that aren’t as prominent before, Hide looks completely fine; sporting not even a single piece of bandage over his visible skin. Despite hearing him breathe, despite seeing the vivid change in his expression when he notices him awake, Haise still can’t bring himself to believe, still can’t convince himself that he’s-
For a few seconds, Hide seems frozen. Haise’s pulse begins pounding in his ears. He couldn’t be dreaming, could he? He’s only been seeing the same thing for so long – his dreams wouldn’t change to show him this now of all times, would they? It shouldn’t be a dream. It shouldn’t, it shouldn’t, it shouldn’t-
Just when Haise’s about to enter a breakdown, Hide smiles; his features lighting up the way Haise has always adored since the very first day they met as children, the way that always makes a blossom of warmth bloom in his chest and there’s no doubt about it now. He’s here, he’s not a hallucination.
And by some miracle Haise doesn’t know existed, he’s alive.
“The one and only.” Hide’s voice is every bit as hoarse as his when he speaks. Haise doesn’t register his own tears until Hide brushes his fingers over the corner of his eyes, letting out a small laugh as he does so. His skin is warm, his touch solid. “You really are happy to see me, aren’t you?”
“You’re alive,” Haise marvels, not caring one bit that he’s stating a blatant fact. And he’s alive, he’s alive, Hide’s alive, he repeats almost giddily in his mind, trying and trying to erase the bits of doubt his subconscious insists on harboring. He’s here; breathing, moving, speaking.
“Honestly, I thought I was a goner too, with that wound,” Hide confesses sheepishly, shrugging. “I was sure my lungs were all messed up, but apparently the guy just narrowly missed my heart, and I guess I won’t die easily as long as it can still beat? I don’t know.” He reaches to scratch the back of his head, letting out another soft chuckle. “Also, I think I understand now; why ghouls prefer human meat to normal food. We do have a springier texture to our flesh besides tasting suspiciously like grilled bacon, haha.”
Haise stares at him, still so caught up in processing the turn of events that it takes him a full minute to let the meaning of Hide’s words sink in. And when it does, the realization hits him so hard that his brain completely blanks out. Wait, don’t tell him-
“I ate human meat,” Hide affirms before he could ask, his tone difficult to read. Suddenly, it dawns Haise that the reason why he thought he looks a little different isn’t just because of the weariness showing on his face. Something else has changed; the waning humor in his eyes, the air he carries around him. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise, Kaneki. It was the only thing I could come up with in order not to die.”
Somewhere at the back of his mind, Haise recalls Hide telling him something about how his body would eat itself up when his RC levels fall below a certain amount. Such major regeneration would use up his reserves, no doubt. Haise could imagine perfectly; the feeling akin to hellfire burning across a huge wound that’s desperately trying to heal itself but could not. He could imagine why Hide would result to what he’d done in order to stay alive.
And it does not upset him any less.
Wordlessly, Haise wills his hand to move, Hide helping him guide it to press his palm snug against his cheek with a soft sigh. Haise stays silent even though there are still a thousand questions he’s bursting to ask, allowing himself to simply savor the fact that they’re both still here – still okay – for the time being. They’re a little worse for wear, but they’re okay.
Haise hadn’t meant to jolt so violently when the thought hits him. No – how could he forget them? At his first sign of distraught, Hide immediately shoots him a worried stare, lowering his hand away from the side of his face and tightening his grip on it by a fraction.
“The kids,” Haise says in a breathless mutter. Then realizing how painfully soft he’d been, he repeats, “What about the kids? Where-“
He trails off when Hide makes a sudden sound and exhales a long breath, his shoulders slouching as the tension drains from them. Haise watches him in growing confusion.
“I guess you can’t exactly see them from your position, huh?” Hide muses aloud, and before Haise’s able to say anything to that, he adds – addressing him directly this time, “Do you think you can sit up, Kaneki?”
Haise’s still pretty much failing to compute, but he somehow manages to nod. Hide smiles and stands up, releasing his hand before bending over to slip one arm behind his back and the other under his thighs. He waits for Haise to bend his own arms and brace his hands against the mattress before beginning a count to three. At the last count, he inhales sharply, and with a soft groan of effort, he helps Haise shift into a sitting position, propping up his pillow to let him lean on afterwards.
Haise gazes straight ahead across the room once he’s settled down, taking in the sight of the group of teenagers gathered there. Even though the sun is still up as far as Haise can see, the Quinx are all fast asleep. Saiko has the only sofa all to herself, snuggled comfortably under a blanket which Haise recognizes as her own from the chateau. The others are cocooned in blankets as well, but they’re using those provided by the facility. Mutsuki occupies a comfortable corner, while Shirazu’s sprawled across the floor on the spot in front of the sofa. Even Urie’s there, traces of his irritation lingering across his sleeping face – possibly because his legs are within Shirazu’s kicking range.
“They didn’t let us see you until yesterday, you know,” Hide straightens and explains while Haise still struggles to overcome his stupor. “The kids were worried sick about you after hearing about what happened underground. Believe it or not, they went as far as threatening the staff into letting them stay until you wake up once they got in. ‘We have the right as Maman’s children,’ Saiko-chan even said.” Hide chuckles, fondness coloring his tone. The hint of affection remains in his voice even after his mirth fades and he continues a little more somberly, “I guess you’re wondering why you weren’t killed, huh?”
“I completely lost control in the end,” Haise glances away and states, self-loathing bubbling up his middle at the truthfulness of every word that leaves his mouth. From the corner of his eye, he sees Hide moving to settle down again on the chair he’d been using even before he awoke. From the looks of it, it couldn’t have been all that comfortable to sit on all day.
“I blacked out for a bit after being thrown aside so I can’t tell you what exactly happened right after that,” Hide starts even though Haise hasn’t really answered him the first time. Haise doesn’t know what compelled him, but reluctantly, he returns his gaze to him. “The first thing I noticed when I looked around after regaining consciousness was that everyone had cleared away from the area around you. I saw that your kagune were lashing everywhere, but-“ he emphasizes the last word before Haise could avert his eyes once more, “- you weren’t attacking anyone, Kaneki. You weren’t even moving – and from what I heard after everything was over, you just curled up on the ground with your head in your hands like you were desperately trying to shut everything out.” Hide stops just when his voice starts quavering, pressing his lips together as he takes a shaky breath. He reaches to tuck of lock of Haise’s hair behind his ear, his fingers trembling over so slightly. “I’m so sorry, Kaneki. I must’ve really scared you then.”
Who was he kidding? Of course he did. Not everyone could’ve gotten skewered right through the chest and live to tell the tale. Even so, Haise only shakes his head, hating how guilty he looks even when there’s nothing for him to blame himself for .
“All that matters is that you’re still here,” he grasps his hand and tells him, willing every bit of his earnestness to get through. “We both are. And just like so many times before, you saved me.” He pauses, and unexpectedly, he manages a tiny smile. “I don’t think it’s ever close to enough, but thank you, Hide.”
“Aw, you’re giving me way too much credit,” Hide protests, tentatively letting a bit of his usual playfulness return. Haise’s so relieved to catch a glimpse of that part of him again that he actually laughs, and eventually, Hide joins in as well. Haise’s sure there’s nothing worth laughing about, really, but he supposes it’s just so unbelievable that they’re all still here, still safe and sound despite everything that’d happened and they just can’t find any other way to react to that.
That’s right. They’re still here.
“What’s going to happen now?” Haise finds himself asking a little later, breaking the lapse of silence that’d settled over them once they’ve calmed down. It’s a silly inquiry, he knows. It’s always the same after every huge operation; they fight, they survive, they return to their daily lives the day after and try to forget the horrors they’d experienced. Still, he gets the feeling that things will be a little different this time. They’ve got their own goals to achieve now; personal objectives to work towards. They’ll have tougher challenges to face in the future, more hurdles thrown their way.
But.. it’ll be alright. They won’t fall easily – not after everything they’ve been through. Besides, they’ve got one another to count on for support. Haise knows they’ll be fine, somehow.
“Isn’t that obvious?” Hide demands, shooting Haise such an exaggerated look that he can’t help letting another smile tug at his lips. He spreads his arms, his frown rapidly morphing into a wide grin. “We’re going home! All of us together.”
And for now, that’s everything Haise could ever ask for.