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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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If Hide gained a hundred yen for every lie he’d told for the past three years, he’d probably be a billionaire already.

Haise wouldn't look terrible in a mini skirt. He’d put the damn thing to shame.

But seriously, Hide wondered when he’d become such a natural liar and pretender. Untruths seem to easily flow out of him these days, the guilt that used to come with it either tucked too far away into the depths of his heart or simply gone without a trace; he couldn’t decide. Hide remembers how it’d all started with the pathetic excuse of ‘keeping a secret’. He couldn’t let Kaneki know he knows. He couldn’t let the CCG know about his best friend. He couldn’t let them know that he’s just using them to find the most important person of his world. He couldn’t let them know the reason  for the missing chunk on his upper arm.

And as time passes, almost every single thing he spouts inherently turns out false. Do you feel any pain? No. Do you feel any different? Not particularly. Any numbness or discomfort? No. Do you think you can handle this task? Sure, that’s what you’re keeping me here for.

Do you think you can erase him if the circumstances ever lead to that?

“You should rest early tonight,” Haise’s voice tugs him out of his reverie, and Hide blinks back into reality. They’re both alone in the hallway right outside their makeshift conference room and Haise’s standing close to him - almost too close. Hide could detect the faint scent of his cologne, mixed with a hint of sweat from his long day’s work. His heartbeat speeds up without his consent, and he works to keep his cool. He couldn’t afford to let his act to fall apart right now. “You look tired.”

“Have you seen a mirror today?” Hide swallows once and tells him, managing a lopsided smile. “You look like you’re about to faint right here, right now.”

“I’m not,” Haise denies with a very unconvincing yawn. “I can’t sleep yet. There’re some things I need to go over one last time before I do.”

“I can help out,” Hide offers. “I can be nocturnal when I need to.”

“There’s not much to do, really. Just confirming the patterns and all that,” Haise says, earning himself a disapproving frown from the blond.

“It’s not healthy to shoulder everything yourself, you know,” he says, a considerate change in his tone of voice. There it is again, Haise notices, but once again loses the chance to inquire about it. “I’ve got the day off tomorrow, Haise. I can rest till my heart’s content then.”

“But-“ Haise stops short when Hide plucks the sheet of paper off his hands. “Hide!”

“Just go take a bath and rest,” Hide tells him, sounding firmer now. Haise attempts to stare him down, but Hide’s unwavering. Huh. He’d always thought he’s the type who’d just go with the flow. Hide’s unexpectedly relentless. “It won’t do us any good if you fall sick anytime soon.”

He has a point, but Haise’s still hesitant. It’s not that he couldn’t trust Hide to do a good job, it’s just that he feels like he’s burdening him with extra work even though Hide is supposed to be transferred over to aid him in these things besides helping the CCG monitor over him.

“Hey, don’t look like that,” Hide speaks up, seeing how conflicted he looks. It’s seriously not good for him to keep that sort of mindset. “It’s fine, really. You’re forgetting that stuff like these are my strong points. I might even be able to get it done faster than you can.”

Haise perks up, suddenly remembering a thought. “Now that you mention it, I’ve always been wanting to ask.”

Bemused by the abrupt change in topic, Hide nods for him to continue.

“You mentioned the other day that you specialize on intelligence,” Haise starts, meeting his gaze. Hide works hard to not let himself be carried away with simply staring at those twin pools of grey. “So does that mean you’re associated with Division II, by any chance?”

“Hmm,” Hide scrunches up his face and rubs his chin in thought. “I guess you could say that? I’ve been all over the place, to be honest.”

Haise tilts his head slightly to the side, confused. “What do you mean?”

Hide takes a moment to find a way to put his situation in words. “I was with Division II for a little while before the higher-ups assigned me to do fieldwork ‘for the exposure’ or something? Apparently, they thought I was wasted as a Bureau Investigator with my physical abilities.” Hide shrugs. “I’m still not sure what’s going on in their heads, actually. I haven’t went back since.”

Another lie. He knows too well what’s the purpose behind everything the CCG had done to and for him. He knows it, and he hates it with every fiber of his being.

But it’s not like he has a choice.

“I see,” Haise mutters under his breath, averting his eyes in thought. His gaze flickers back to the blond a split second later. “Wait, doesn’t that mean that you’re actually kind of amazing?”

“Excuse you - ‘kind of’??” Hide places his hands on his hips and demands with so much playful indignity that Haise fails to suppress a smile. “I am obviously awesome beyond words.”

“Maybe you are,” Haise muses, crossing his arms. “But where’s the proof?”

Hide raises an eyebrow at that. “Is that a challenge I hear, Rank 1 Sasaki?”

“It might be, Rank 1 Nagachika,” Haise replies vaguely, starting his way to the bathroom. “I need to know if you’re worthy of helping me get my work done, after all.”

“Oh, you’re on,” Hide calls after him, thoroughly amused. He’s glad the mood between them had changed and that the tension had faded. “Check back at my room after you clean up, won’t you? I’m sure I’ll have it done by then.”

“If you need that long.” Haise does a waving motion with his hand before disappearing behind a corner. Hide’s smile eventually fades after his leave, and he blows out a long breath. He’s a liar and an actor, there’s no doubt about it.

But now that he thinks of it, he isn’t the only one in the house.

xXx

As it turns out, Hide spends almost the entire afternoon of his day off searching for fashion magazines and shopping for cosmetics upon Haise’s request.

The stares he earns from the shop assistants as he hesitates over which brand of lip gloss he should get makes him question his eagerness to contribute to the team. Then again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him doing what he’s doing, is there? He’s just being overly self-conscious. Those poor employees had probably seen weirder shit than a constipated-looking young blond guy loitering around the makeup section on a working day.

Hide stops outside the drug store he’d just exited to check the list Saiko had written down for him before she left for work with the rest of the squad. Foundation, concealer, powder, blusher, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, fake eyelashes, lip gloss.. yep, that’s about it. Hide stuffs the piece of paper back into his pocket, feeling oddly satisfied over his little achievement. All that’s left now are the fashion magazines.

Hide heads to the bookstore just a little further down the road, careful not to swing the shopping bag he’s holding too roughly lest he accidentally breaks something. They could reclaim the money spent from the CCG as long as they had the receipt as the verification of their purchase since it’s classified as a necessity for the investigation, but Hide doesn’t want to put his efforts to waste. It hadn’t been easy going all over the place trying to figure out which are the cheap bad stuff, expensive bad stuff, and affordable good stuff.

Hide had never been that much of a reader, so he figures he shouldn’t have had any sentiments towards the bookstore when he goes in. Unfortunately, he does and he knows better than anyone why that’s so. He hadn’t spent all those years being friends with Kaneki for nothing. How long has it been since I actually visited one of these places? Hide wonders, taking in the familiarity of the dozens of shelves of reading materials and the smell of old and new books alike. How long has it been since he even got himself some nice comics to read? Weeks? Months? Years?

Not that it matters.

Choosing a relevant magazine is even harder than the cosmetics part. Haise didn’t specify what sort he wants, but Hide’s pretty sure the ones featuring lolita fashion and cosplay are unsuitable for their situation. Harajuku fashion’s out of question too, he guesses. Standing out is good, but doing it the wrong way probably wouldn’t work in their favor since they are supposed to be undercover.

Hide gives up after flipping through his third magazine and opts to consult the employees at the information counter instead, asking if a beginner’s guide to making oneself pretty (his very words) exists. The lady recommends several books to him, and Hide decides to choose the one with the most convincing cover and price. He then proceeds to the designated shelf to retrieve a copy of it, picking up a novel from the latest-arrival section on his way. Haise probably doesn’t have the time to get one of the latter for himself. He’s going to ask when he hands it to him later, but Hide figures he would somehow be able to convince him that he’d simply made the assumption based on how he’d once happened to catch a glimpse of Takatsuki’s Sen’s works in his collection.

Hide had just finished paying for the books when he feels his cellphone vibrating in his pocket. He reaches for the device and checks the screen for the caller ID, quickening his pace to exit the store as he does so. He blinks when he registers that its Haise.

 “Yeah?” he says after picking up the call. He keeps his phone against his ear with his shoulder while he carefully stuffs the books he’d just bought into the same bag as the makeup products so he wouldn’t have so many things to hold later.

“Hide?” Haise’s voice sounds from the other side of the line. Hide has to strain a little in order to hear him clearly due to the noisy background. “Where are you now?”

“In front of a bookstore in the 13th Ward.” Hide moves to properly grip his phone once more. “I’ve just finished getting all the stuff you guys wanted.”

“Great timing.” Haise sounds oddly excited. “Do you have any plans after this?”

“Not really - why?”

“Could you wait for us at the crossing in front of the donut shop near the train station? There’s somewhere I’d like to take you.”

“You guys are done for today already?” Hide asks, beginning his walk to the mentioned place. One thing he liked about the CCG’s work system; it’s incredibly flexible. As long as the investigators manage to solve their cases within the given time frame, what they do in between is entirely up to them. They could do their job at their own pace that way. They could afford to slack off at the beginning and end up working overtime later - which, is what usually happens in most cases. The very start is where all the information are gathered and stressed over. The end is where all the action occurs.

“Yes. We’re coming over right now,” Haise affirms. He pauses for a moment before speaking again. “We’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

“Alrighty.” Hide ends the call and slips his phone back into his pocket, wondering what Haise has in mind.

The good thing: the coffee is incredible.

The not-so good thing: Hide recognizes the pretty waitress.

Haise had brought him to the café he’d recently taken a liking to; a quiet, western-ish themed place going by the odd name of :RE. “I’ll treat you as an advanced celebration for your transfer,” Haise had said as he led him and the gang into the coffeehouse with a sort of sparkle in his eyes. And Hide had, just like any other first-time visitor, looked around to admire the unique décor and structural design and all that. A pleasant place, he'd  thought approvingly, taking in the little details like the antiques and small shelves of books. Haise’s tastes aren’t too bad.

Hide would’ve probably fared better if  he hadn’t seen the girl and vice versa.

It would probably have been even better if she hadn’t remembered him at all.

“She’s a real babe, isn’t she?” Shirazu asks when he notices Hide staring at her while she prepares their order at the bar. Hide focuses back on his teammates, lifting his cup to his lips in hopes of hiding his growing anxiety. He hastily puts on his habitual smile after he’d taken a taste of the heavenly beverage, deciding that perhaps its best for him not to mention Touka’s name in front of Haise just yet. If he’s frequently coming here, it should be safe for him to presume that her appearance alone hadn’t been able to trigger anything big thus far.

“She sure is,” Hide agrees with a lighthearted laugh that came unexpectedly easily. Act normal. He has to act normal. He places his arms on the table and rests his chin on his upturned palm. “I wonder if she has a boyfriend or anything?”

“Even if she doesn’t,” Haise starts evenly, setting down his own cup on its saucer. “She probably wouldn’t want to go out with you.”

Hide gasps dramatically, splaying his hand across his chest. “Haise, I am hurt!”

“Oh, burnn,” Saiko pauses from her cookie binge to snicker. Even Mutsuki had to smile at his mentor’s frank remark.

“It’s okay even if you get rejected, Hide-san,” Shirazu consoles the blond with a chortle and a cheerful pat on his back. “There’s still lots of other cuties out there for you to charm!”

“I suppose.” Hide fakes a sniffle. “But that doesn’t change the fact that Haise broke my poor fragile heart!”

“I’ll apologize if you quiet down, alright?” Haise tells him, still very much unfazed by his playful outburst. 

“You’re just jealous because I’m more attractive that you.” Hide pouts. Haise doesn’t bother saying more, instead choosing to resume enjoying his coffee. Hide willingly lets the subject drop to savor his beverage as well, starting up small talks with the Quinx in between sips. He figures that if he’s really going to be their ‘dad’, he’d have to know them better. Haise and Shirazu seem to have warmed up to him already and he’s making good progress with Saiko despite their dispute the morning before, but it’s still a little difficult to tell with the remaining two. Mutsuki looks like the reserved type who’d take a little while more before he’s able to open up to him, while Urie outright refuses to look him in the eye most of the time.

But he should be able to do it if he tries hard enough. Probably.

“You’re seriously going to ask her out?” Shirazu inquires when Hide stands up after finishing his coffee. Hide laughs at the bewildered stares of his companions.

“What do you guys think?” he says, his eyes flickering towards the girl and meeting her curious gaze. He hopes he’s able to get his message across. “Who knows - maybe she’d actually like me and I’ll be able to prove Haise wrong.”

“Good luck, Hide-san.” Saiko’s the only one who’s capable of speech, giving him a double thumbs up. The boys could only stare after him dumbfounded.

Hide works to mentally prepare himself for the confrontation as he makes his way towards the other end of the shop where Touka’s standing. More deceit, more secrets. Now that he thinks of it, he could’ve always pretended he didn’t recognize who she was when he first entered the place. That would surely have saved him a lot of trouble.

Then again, after all the poor girl had been through, Hide doesn’t think he has the heart to do that. Even though there are so many risks, he wants to let her know that he’s still her friend - provided he could be considered that in the first place.

Because friends don’t feed each other lies, do they?

“Hey,” Hide greets, coming to a stop before the girl. He stands with his back facing his team. “It’s been a while, Touka-chan.”

“Nagachika-san,” Touka returns with a small smile, holding her hands behind her. “I’m surprised you still remember me.”

“I never forget the girls I’ve flirted with,” Hide jokes, and Touka chuckles along politely. “How have you been? I know it’s a little late to ask, but did you manage to enter Kamii?”

Touka shakes her head, averting her gaze. “I passed the exams, but something came up at the last minute in my family.”

“I’m sorry,” Hide says, genuinely meaning it. Not that apologizing changes a thing. It must’ve been a wild ride; running away from her sanctuary in Anteiku after it got destroyed and trying to find a safe, peaceful life in a completely foreign place. She didn’t deserve any of that. Nobody does.

“So,” Touka starts, but clamps up immediately after in hesitation. Hide waits, watching her expression slowly morph back to that of resolution before she asks, “You’re with the CCG now?”   

“Yeah,” Hide admits sheepishly, scratching his cheek. No point hiding that when it’s so painfully obvious. He resists the urge to fidget as Touka stares up at him, her deep purple eyes studying him with such intensity that he’s almost sure she’s going to bore a hole in his face.

“You seem a little different from the last time,” she observes, and Hide comes dangerously close to faltering. Had he been seen through already?

“I’d be damned if I hadn’t changed even a bit after so many years,” Hide responds with as much joviality he could muster. “You’ve changed too, Touka-chan. You’ve grown to be a lot more elegant now.”

“Thank you,” Touka tells him, and Hide’s just about to congratulate himself for the successful evasion when he notices her subtle look of sympathy. “And you seem to have lost a little of your shine.”

I never noticed I had any to begin with, Hide wants to answer but doesn’t because it’s amazing how it only takes one sentence for him to give up on putting up his usual front.

“Well, a lot of things did happen after all,” he whispers, raking his fingers through his hair. This is bad. He’s afraid that his voice would break if he speaks any louder. Touka nods forlornly in understanding. Hide knows she’s thinking about Kaneki too. He isn’t the only one who’d lost him on that day two years ago. Kaneki had other friends - people whom he’d met during his six-month period of disappearance. People whom he’d considered comrades and perhaps even family. People who are probably still waiting for his comeback the entire while despite what’s written in the official reports.

People whom he’d completely forgotten and possibly would never want to remember again.

 “At any rate,” Hide takes a breath, willing the gloomy atmosphere that’d descended upon them to disappear. He has to, or else the mask he’d painstakingly crafted for himself would slowly crumble and fade away. “We’ll just have to keep trying our best to keep moving on.”

The last part sounded a tad bit too random even to him, but Touka doesn’t seemed bothered by the trivial details. “You’re right.”

“Well then,” Hide takes a step back. “I guess it’s about time for me to go.”

“Your friends seemed to have paid the bill already,” Touka agrees, stealing a quick glance behind him before detaching herself from the wall she’d been leaning against. “I’ll see you around, Nagachika-san.”

Hide offers her one last smile before moving to reunite with his group. He prays to every god he knows by name for his face to not betray the nature of his latest conversation. He doesn’t want them to worry over him. He isn’t worth their concern.

“How did it go?” Shirazu asks him eagerly as soon as he falls in step with them. The others turn to gaze at him with eerily identical looks of anticipation. Hide would’ve invited them to take a wild guess if he thought he could maintain his composure long enough. As it is, he could only manage a halfhearted shrug.

“Guess I’m not her type.”

xXx

Since they’ve already made all the necessary plans, all that’s left is to wait for Friday night to take the next step. 

“That’s when Nuts would be searching for her next target in the 2nd Ward,” Haise says, pulling his coat a little tighter around himself as he walks on. Winter’s a little more than a month away, and the temperature’s steadily dropping by the day. “We’ve got until tomorrow night to do the necessary preparations.”

“All that aside,” Hide cuts in with a small frown. “Did you get enough sleep yesterday?”

Haise rubs his eyes. “I think so. I was reading that guide you bought and I just sort of forgotten about the time.”

“I swear to god, Haise,” Hide sighs exasperatedly. “If I catch you pulling another all-nighter when I’m around I’ll-“

Haise doesn’t stay with him long enough to hear the rest of his threat. He hurries towards the lady he’d spotted further in the lobby of CCG’s main building, keen to reach her before she vanishes somewhere and he has to spend the entire morning searching for her.

“Akira-san!” he calls out for her attention, and to his relief, she hears him and stops in her tracks. Haise practically jogs over to where she is.

“I’ve certified Hi- Rank 1 Nagachika’s transfer documents,” he says once he’d reached her, holding out the mentioned blond’s file. Wordlessly, Akira accepts the folder and immediately proceeds to skim through its contents as a final checking. Haise shifts his weight from foot to foot, feeling like a student being personally evaluated by his scary teacher in front of the class. Akira’s being oddly silent about this. Haise had honestly expected her to give him a small lecture or something about establishing teamwork with the newcomer and all that. Perhaps she deems the process unnecessary seeing that they’ve already met Hide.

“Ah, Akira-san! Good morning!” The silence in the air is eventually broken by Hide’s ever-energetic voice. Haise glances over his shoulder to see the blond walking briskly towards them, his usual grin on his face.

“Nagachika,” Akira greets, barely taking her eyes off the paper she’s reading to even spare him a glance. “I see that you’ve gotten a little livelier than usual.”

“Oh, man, you have no idea how much difference there is between having to work with a bunch of grumpy, overly serious adults who can’t take a joke and a group of youngsters within my age group,” Hide tells her, waving his arms elaborately. Almost like a boy recalling about his day at school to his mother. Akira finally finishes going over the documents and looks up to regard her two subordinates.

“Just don’t get carried away,” she reminds the blond with a wry smile. Hide straightens as though coming to attention.

“Yes, ma’am!”

“By the way, Akira-san,” Haise speaks up before his superior could walk off again. “Can I ask for a favor?  It has something to do with our investigation.”

Akira raises an eyebrow, prompting him to continue. Haise swallows once, bracing himself for a potential Mado punch.

“Do you think you can lend me a dress?”

Hide could not understand the complex mechanics of applying eyeliner.  

He could not believe this. His many achievements include solving detective novels by the first half of the stories and hacking into the CCG records system. He graduated from his training program in a year and rose two ranks in less than that. He could make wicked pancakes and he’d even placed a tracking device on a violent, sadistic ghoul before without getting himself caught and killed.

But he could not, for the life of him, draw a nice, even line on the base of his eyelid.

Hide gets so frustrated he’s tempted to break the brush in half and stuff the pieces into his mouth. How do people even do it so perfectly on a daily basis? Hide’s baffled. It’s beyond his comprehension. Hide grumbles to himself as he wipes the makeup off his eyes for the umpteenth time that evening. He could do the rest of his face, no problem. In fact, he’s quite proud of his contouring abilities. It’s only the bloody eyelining that he’s unable to get the hang of.

He doesn’t even want to consider asking Saiko to help him. She’s already got her hands full beautifying three people including herself. Hide wonders how she’s managing. She started work two whole hours earlier than him, and from the sounds of it, she’s still not done. She must really be putting her heart into doing this.

Hide breathes a defeated sigh, getting to his feet. There’s only one more person he could ask for assistance from. Haise and himself had volunteered to do their own makeup while Saiko offered to take Shirazu and Mutsuki under her wing. Hide honestly thought he’d be okay since he could always watch and read tutorials from the internet. Really, how hard could slapping on some powder onto his face be? If so many others could do it, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to.

That was probably the biggest mistake of his life. And Hide has made many big mistakes.

Hide hurries to the bedrooms upstairs, silently thanking the deities for the cold weather. He would hit a wall with his face if his makeup started melting soon. Being and staying pretty is such hard work, geez.

He stops before Haise’s door, pausing for a moment before knocking to crack a smile at Shirazu’s creative swearing that’s coming from Saiko’s room. That girl’s really having fun, huh? Hide shakes his head, amused. Must be nice being young and innocent.

“Haise,” Hide calls, rapping on the polished wood a couple of times. “Can I come in? I need your help on something.”

“Yeah, sure,” Haise’s muffled voice answers him soon after. Hide reaches to twist the doorknob, and pushing the panel from its frame, he steps in.

Haise is already fully equipped; his gear and accessories all in place unlike Hide who’s still in his normal clothes save the hairband he’s wearing to keep his hair off his face. If his life was a cheesy romance drama, Hide swears he’d be hearing the opening of a certain English jazz love song beginning to play in the background as soon he sets his gaze upon the other boy. If his life also somehow happens to be a shoujo manga, Haise’s hair would also have shifted in slow motion from his movement when he turned on his chair to face him and there would be an obnoxious amount of flowers surrounding him and Hide would have to shade his eyes because holy motherflipping heck Haise is gorgeous.

It takes Hide at least four tries before he’s able to regain his intelligibility. 

“You look incredible,” is the first thing he blurts out after finding his voice. But no regrets. No regrets at all.

“A-Ah, really?” Haise stammers by accident, averting his gaze in slight embarrassment. He hadn’t expected the compliment at all. “I just followed the tips from the book, so..”

“Girl, you’re a masterpiece,” Hide affirms brightly, closing the door behind him. “But enough with the praises - you’ve got to help me. I can’t get my eyes to look right!”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Haise says, gesturing for the blond to take a seat on the edge of his bed after setting down his bottle of lip gloss on the table. Hide accepts his invitation and does just that. “Is it the eyelining? Or the mascara and false lashes?”

Everything,” Hide bemoans, disappointed at his own incapability. Haise chuckles in understanding.

“I know that feeling,” he says, moving to fetch his tools. “The eyes part took me the longest time to get, too.”

“At least you nailed it,” Hide puffs out his cheeks and whines, watching Haise prep his eyeliner. He shuts his eyes and wills his heart to stop banging so annoyingly hard against his chest when Haise leans in to draw on his eyelid.

“Sorry I have to be so close,” Haise apologizes, his breath ghosting over Hide’s face when he speaks. His fingers are cold against his skin, and perhaps even a little shaky. Is he nervous about this? Hide couldn’t blame him. Drawing a proper line on himself was hard enough. He couldn’t imagine doing it for someone else without being affected by the extreme pressure of messing up and giving that someone a pair of panda eyes.

“Nah, it’s fine,” Hide says, resisting his instincts to open his eyes while conversing with another. They slip into a short lapse of silence after that; with Hide trying his hardest not to get flustered like a high-school girl in front of her crush and Haise putting all his focus into doing a decent job and not ruining his teammate’s face.

Haise finally pulls back after ten painful minutes (at least to Hide) to admire his handiwork. “I don’t think you’d need falsies, Hide. Your eyelashes are long enough.”

“How do you mascara without stabbing your eye,” Hide laments, and Haise laughs softly at his exaggeration. Hide notices the scissors-like tool in his hands and instantly backs away. “Oh, no- you are not getting that thing anywhere near me. It looks like it can snip my eyelids right off!”

“It’s just an eyelash curler, Hide,” Haise says with the patience of a true mother. “It won’t as long as you don’t move about and make my hands slip.”

And Hide discovers that the process of making oneself pretty is also very frightening. By the time Haise’s done with his eyelashes, Hide’s palms are sweaty and he’s sure he’d just become about forty percent more religious than he’d been half an hour ago. He promptly develops a newfound respect towards the people who puts on makeup on a daily basis.

“Here,” Haise offers him a hand mirror once the horror was all over. Hide stares at his own reflection, marveling at the former’s skills with cosmetics. It’s incredible how Haise had learnt and perfected everything just by reading a guidebook. He didn’t even practice that much - which, makes it all the more impressive.

“Is it okay?” Haise asks, and Hide turns to shoot him an incredulous look.

Okay? I would date myself if I could!” Hide exclaims, earning himself a joyful smile from his companion.

“Please don’t,” Haise pleads, mirth coloring his voice. Hide beams and stands up, walking to the door with a bounce in his steps.

“You can’t stop me!”

xXx

Fifteen minutes later, the entire squad had gathered in the foyer and Hide’s just steeling himself up to ask for a group photo with the pretty ladies when he sees Mutsuki.

Though Hide has to admit that though she might have gone a little overboard with Shirazu’s makeup, Saiko did an excellent job with Mutsuki. Either that, or the latter’s simply a natural. He’s cuteness level could perhaps even be on par with Haise’s. If Hide had been a stranger to them, he would never have thought for a second that Mutsuki’s a guy.

However, he does notice one thing about the boy right now. While Mutsuki hadn’t voiced any objections when Haise proposed his idea of dressing up, Hide could see his current discomfort. He’s acting more absent than usual, keeping his eyes trained on the floor. His hands keep clenching and unclenching the front of his dress, and his body language implies that he seems to be trying very hard to make himself smaller and less noticeable than normal.

Come to think of it, Mutsuki has a pretty androgynous voice and appearance, doesn’t he? Something suddenly clicks into place. Ah. Hide thinks he gets it now. He contemplates if he should ask the boy to sit out of this mission after all, but he finally decides that perhaps he has no right to do that. If Mutsuki himself is willing to go through all of it, then he as a spectator should have no say over his choices. The most Hide can do is to carefully watch over him throughout the night.

“Hey,” Shirazu speaks up through gritted teeth when they’re entering the night club which the Nutcracker was supposed to target that day. Walking in a group, Hide couldn’t help feeling like he’s part of this fabulous girl gang. “Don’t you guys think we.. no - I’m the only one who looks out of place here?”

He doesn’t look ‘out of place’ per se, just maybe a little bit manlier compared to the rest of them. At least Saiko fitted him with a hair extension to increase his appeal. Hide suggested contacts too, but Shirazu’s apparently violently against poking something into his eyes.

“No, no, you look cu-“ Saiko cracks up before she’s able to utter her assurances. Shirazu shoots her a glare and is presumably about to yell profanities at her when Haise speaks.

“Now, Shi-chan,” he chides in falsetto voice, raising his fingers delicately to his lips. “You should watch what you’re saying.”

Hide coughs into his fists to conceal the snort he’d just made. He’s really into this, isn’t he?

“But isn’t weird for a girl to be this big?” Shirazu protests, facing his mentor.

“Just think of yourself as a really tall girl,” Haise says breezily, unaffected by his subordinate’s look of anguish. Shirazu exhales a tired breath, slouching. Hide sees this and immediately goes over to his side.

“Also, no girl walks with such horrible posture,” Hide fusses, reaching to knead his thumbs into the back of the taller boy’s shoulder blades. “Come on - chin up, shoulders back and chest out. Poise, girl, poise! You’ve got to look confident or senpai will never notice you!”

“I don’t want to be noticed!” Shirazu complains, barely restraining himself from raising his voice in frustration. “Rather than that - Saiko, you bastard! There’s obviously something wrong with this huge difference between Tooru and I! You did a sloppy job.”

Saiko’s so calm compared to him that its almost laughable. “Yeah, well, it’s easier to work with a subject of higher quality,” she says, raising both her hands in mock surrender. “It’s amazing how feminine Mu-chan’s face is.”

Hide tenses up, his gaze flickering to the mentioned boy at once. To his relief, Mutsuki doesn’t look particularly shaken by Saiko’s statement. He does, however, look like he’d just stepped on a wet spot with a socked foot and is desperately trying not to let it show.

“And what’s up with Sassan and Hide-san who did it on their own?” Shirazu continues, turning to his two superiors. Hide only laughs awkwardly while Haise makes a dismissive motion with his hand.

“Stop making a fuss,” Haise says, then reminds him; “And right now, it’s Sasako and Hiyori.”

Shirazu proceeds to make a defeated noise from the base of his throat.

As they slowly proceed deeper into the center of the club, Hide gradually starts tuning out the rest of the conversation around him. The flashing lights and loud booming music are giving him a headache, so he seeks solace in his own thoughts. Mentally shutting himself completely out from the world by will is a skill that Hide had accidentally developed over the years. Sometimes, even he has to take a break and retreat into his own mind for a moment before returning to reality again.

By the time Hide had snapped back into his senses, he realizes that he’d separated from his squad. No matter - it’s still part of the plan. They were supposed to split up eventually in order to obtain as much data as they can. Hide weaves his way through the crowd of dancing youngsters and towards an unoccupied spot near the wall. Being around large numbers of people doesn’t scare him, but it really was getting harder to breathe there. Hide has had enough of breathing difficulties to last him a few lifetimes.

Hide absently twirls a lock of brown hair with his finger while he keeps his eyes open for anything suspicious. He hates his wig - it’s so stuffy and heavy and with the wind blowing outside it’s bound to get all tangled up when he reaches home. Again. But every single person in his team had agreed that his face is most suited for a long-haired brunette, so here he is in his misery. Hide sighs, crossing his legs. He should’ve worn a pair of tights under his dress. It’s getting a tad bit too breezy down there.

Hide looks up, and a particular lady standing in one corner catches his attention. Haise had shown him a picture of the Nutcracker during their meeting two nights ago, and Hide’s positive the person that’d caught his eye is the very same one from the photo. Well. What do you know. Hide’s working to come up with a decent plan to approach her without seeming dubious when he notices a familiar figure boldly walking up to her.

He blinks, his brain short-circuiting for one dangerous moment. Is that Tooru? What is that kid doing? He’s not actually planning to get recruited by her, is he? Is he drunk or something? Hide decides not to care anything about that now. Tooru’s safety is his first priority. He hurries his way over, never appreciating flats as much as he does at the moment. He could barely stand in high heels, let alone wobble somewhere at top speed. Haise and the others doesn’t really seem to have the same problem, though - much to his chagrin.

Five meters more and he’ll reach them. Hide takes a breath and clears his throat. Here goes nothing.

Mu-chan!” he calls out to the boy, dragging the honorific in a sort of whine and making his voice as naturally highly pitched as he could without cringing. He stops by his side and latches himself onto his arm, internally apologizing for the uncalled touchiness. He knows he really shouldn’t be glad about Mutsuki smelling like alcohol, but he is. It’ll be easier for them to play along with the act like that. “Didn’t I tell you already to not leave me alone in this place? Meanie!”

“Ah, Hiyori-san?” Mutsuki’s words are slurred. Yep, definitely drunk. “Sorry! I just saw her and-“

“Oh, my god!” Hide proceeds to fawn over the Nutcracker, hoping with all his might that he isn’t exaggerating his act. Do girls even behave like this? Maybe it’ll do him good to look slightly drunk, too. “You’re totally rocking that outfit, you know that? And your eyes,” Hide closes in towards her slightly before pulling back about double the distance. “So gorgeous.”

In actuality, Hide found her big, dark and blank irises unnerving as hell.

The Nutcracker says nothing, only studying the two of them in silence. Hide stares back, making himself look as innocent and oblivious as he’s able to. He tries to subtly shift into a position that’d let him show off his curves (he’s glad Saiko had suggested for the boys to get some padding - Hide’s positive he looks flat both front and back from every natural angle) and he even bats his eyelashes for good measure. Hell, he’d flip his hair too if he wasn’t worried about it falling off in the process. If there’s a time for him to turn up his charms up a notch, he figures this is it.

“Say,” she starts and it’s at that moment that Hide understands why her past victims had let themselves fall into her clutches. For ghoul with such warped tastes, Nuts has an impossibly charming voice; deep, smooth and pleasant. And of course, she had an impressive rack too but whatever. “Would you girls like to have a part time job?”

“What sort of job?” Hide inquires before Mutsuki could eagerly agree to it. Saying yes too quickly would seem suspicious, even if he is drunk.

“Just a simple one.” The Nutcracker shrugs casually. “You’ll just be helping out in a party as a waitress of some sort. The attendees are all from the upper class, so the pay’s quite high too.”

“Ooohh.” Hide works to sound interested. He turns to his subordinate. “What do you say, Mu-chan? We would finally be able to get that set of handbags we wanted if we do this.”

“Sounds great!” Mutsuki agrees energetically. He’s so out of character that Hide couldn’t help but wonder how many glasses he’d downed to end up like that. “When do we start?”

“Two weeks from now,” Nuts replies, reaching into her clutch to pull out a couple of name cards. “The details are all written here.”

“Thanks so much!” Hide says, followed by Mutsuki’s chime of “We’ll do our best!”. The latter then catches sight of the rest of the squad watching them from the sidelines, and practically skips his way over, leaving Hide to stumble after him.

“Sensei! She just invited us to a part-time job!” Mutsuki reports with a salute, earning himself gapes of surprise from Haise and Shirazu. Meanwhile, Saiko looks completely zoned out. “I’ve got her contact information!” he holds up the name card. “With this, we can infiltrate!”

“You did it, Tooru!” Shirazu overcomes his stupor and praises with a look of sheer pride. Mutsuki giggles in triumph. 

“Now, then - I shall dance! A victory dance!” he declares, sauntering towards the dance floor. Haise makes a weak attempt to stop him, but Mutsuki doesn’t seem to notice his efforts and marches straight on. Saiko breaks away from Haise’s loose hold as well, bounding after Mutsuki to tag along. Shirazu yells at her once, then promptly gives up and stomps after them instead, looking absolutely done with his life.

“They’re so energetic,” Hide comments with a laugh, leaning against the wall beside Haise. The Quinx’s voices could be heard all the way from where they stood. Haise sighs vacantly in agreement, facing straight ahead. Hide notices the faraway look in his eyes, and moves to brush his shoulder gently against his.

“Hey,” he starts, his voice just barely loud enough for his companion to hear.“I don’t know what’s going on in your mind right now, but it’ll be okay.”

Haise’s gaze flickered to meet his, and for a very brief moment, Hide’s able to catch a glimpse of the him under his everyday mask; the Haise who’s vulnerable and insecure and who’s just barely holding his life together without falling apart first. Not the bubbly, passionate Haise he shows to his subordinates and superiors; not the Haise everyone knows. “How are you so sure?”

“I’m not,” Hide confesses, rubbing the back of his neck. He smiles when Haise shoots him a strange stare. “But it doesn’t hurt to hope sometimes.”

“You’re weird,” Haise concludes after a while of silence, not seeming as wistful this time. Hide’s smile widens.

“What gave it away?”

xXx

“We can’t let Tooru go to the auction.”

Haise understands Hide’s concern for the boy. He doesn’t want to endanger him, either. Even though Juuzou will be there with him, the risks are too high. The burden Mutsuki has to bear will be massive. There are no guarantees that he’ll make it back out alive, and even if it does, it might even end up being traumatic for him; to be displayed and bid over as though he was an exotic good and not a person.

But that’s just half of it. Hide knows the experience of being ogled at by hundreds of perverse gazes would never leave him unscarred. They could do their best to keep his physical damage to a minimum, but mental and emotional-wise - it’s difficult to say. Bodily injuries can heal over time, but mental impacts aren’t as indulgent. Mutsuki could force himself to stay strong, or he could break down.

“It’s an order, Hide. We have no choice,” Haise says wearily. He catches himself, and works to sound upbeat once more. “It’ll be alright, Mutsuki-kun. You’ll be accompanied by Associate Special Class Suzuya, and he’s even stronger than me. We’ll also get there as quickly as we can so you.. don’t have to worry.”

“I got the invitation as well. I’ll go in Tooru’s place,” Hide volunteers, almost desperate to keep the younger boy out of it. He just can’t let him do this. He knows what Washuu Matsuri was scheming. Tooru wasn’t a pawn he could just use and dispose of as he pleases, he’s a live human being! Just because he’s a Ghoul Investigator and a Quinx doesn’t mean he’s strong and fearless!

“You can’t,” Haise tells him obstinately, shaking his head. “The decision has already been made by Associate Special Class Washuu and all the higher-ups in charge of this operation.”

“Then,” Hide leans forward in agitation, his fingers curling into the material of his pants. “Then I’ll go with him too.”

“Rank 3 Mutsuki and Associate Special Class Suzuya are to infiltrate into the auction and stir up a commotion in order to lower the guards of the attendees towards an ambush from the outside,” Haise says slowly, decisively. His eyes tell another story entirely, though. “Everyone else are to prepare for the extermination of the ghouls, and that’s that.”

Without staying to hear another word of Hide’s protest, Haise stands and leaves the room.

“..Thank you for worrying so much over me, Hide-san,” Mutsuki speaks as Hide slumps against his chair and breathes a loud, tired sigh. His voice is shaky and Hide notices that it’s taking his all to not burst into tears that very moment. “B-But I’ll be fine, really. If it’s something only I can do, I’ll gladly do it. I’ll manage somehow.”

 “No, I’ll go with you,” Hide says with utmost certainty, running his hand through his already messy hair. Mutsuki fails to comprehend his persistence.

“But you’ll get yourself in huge trouble when you’re found out..” he trails off  when he sees the wayward look on Hide’s face.

“It’ll be too late for them by the time I am.”