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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Contrary to popular belief, Shirazu is not an idiot.

At least, not when it matters.

Even though he might not look like it, he does know how to figure out straightforward situations. Like how Hide was lying about asking the cute waitress out in the café, for example. The place was small and pretty much empty and of course Shirazu planned on abusing his enhanced hearing abilities to eavesdrop on his superior to see if he’s actually successful in getting himself a date (in his defense, everyone else was pretty much trying to do the same except Saiko, who, was too busy savoring the cookies she’d ordered) - so he’d hear them even if he didn’t want to.

And instead of the awkward stammers and lame pickup lines that Shirazu was anticipating, Hide had spoken to the girl as though they were already friends; even calling her by her given name. Touka, he remembers. Hide called her ‘Touka-chan’. Things didn’t sum up, and even Shirazu notices that. Why did he pretend not to know her in front of them?

The tone of his voice was also something he had never heard him use before. Shirazu isn’t the best person out there when it comes to describing emotions and all those sappy stuff, but he thought that for a moment there, Hide sounded.. melancholic. It’s amazing he even remembers the exact word but that’s not the point.

The point is that Sassan sounds like that too sometimes - mostly when the topic of his lost memories are brought up among them.

Shirazu sets his pen down and leans against the back of his chair, folding his arms behind his head and putting his legs up on the edge of his desk. All these simultaneous thinking is exhausting. He breathes in, and exhales in a heavy sigh. He never knew writing his will would feel so depressing. He heard that it’s compulsory for every CCG investigator who’s participating in a large operation to do this because there are no guarantees that they’ll be alive at the end of it, but still. There’s this odd tinge of finality to his words when he jots them down on the paper - almost like it’s already decided that he’s not coming back.

Shirazu’s will is simple; transfer all the money he owns into his father’s bank account and use it to make sure he gets the medical attention he needs to fully recover from his illness. The rest of his little belongings can either be burnt along with his corpse or given to anyone who wants or needs them. Nothing special, nothing grand. He’s just doing what other people would usually do. He does wonder, though, if anyone would care even if he somehow ended up dying. His father certainly isn’t in the condition to. Sasaki and Tooru might be upset to an extent. Saiko too, he guesses. Hide probably doesn’t know him enough to feel anything much. Urie would most likely sacrifice something to the gods as a thank-you gift.

Right. That’s one good reason for him not to die. He couldn’t possibly allow the bastard to have the satisfaction of getting rid of him. Nope, no way. Shirazu’s definitely not gonna let himself be killed so early. With that thought, he shifts to fold up the piece of paper, labels it as his ‘will’ - or at least that’s what he thinks he wrote - and heads to search for his mentor to hand it over.

Hide seems to be arguing something with Sasaki when he reaches their conference room. Shirazu stands outside, and waits. From the sounds of it, the meeting’s almost over. Hide’s unable to convince their mentor to let him accompany Tooru to the auction. Truth to be told, Shirazu would’ve volunteered to go in Tooru’s place too if he could look like a girl more convincingly. Tooru wouldn’t be able to use his Quinque when he’s inside, and he hasn’t even figured out how to activate his kagune yet. Things aren’t looking too bright for him already. Without a weapon to defend himself with, Tooru would be slaughtered in an instant. Having Associate Special Class Suzuya with him would perhaps increase his chances of survival by the slightest, but all it takes is a miscalculation in their plans, and it’ll be all over for the both of them. No matter how strong Suzuya is, there’s only so much even he can do unarmed against a whole bunch of ghouls.

“Ah, Sassan,” Shirazu calls when he hears the door open, walking over to pass the older boy his testament. “Here.”

Wordlessly, Haise accepts the folded piece of paper. He looks anxious and he’s unusually quiet. He must be worrying himself sick over Tooru, huh? Shirazu decides to play the ignorant one as he always does. There’s no need for an excessive amount of tension in their home. Any more than this and he figures he’ll go crazy before anyone else.

He’s just about to head back to his room after blabbering something about fixing Urie’s twisted personality while he’s still in the hospital and trying to sound cool by saying they had no choice but to charge in and save Tooru’s ass before the ghouls get to him and all that when the latter steps into the hallway, followed by their blond superior. Tooru looks so stricken, poor guy. Shirazu secretly vows to himself that if all goes well, he’d treat him to something nice and calming to help him recover a little from this ordeal when everything’s over. Maybe some burgers and stuff.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Tooru,” he gives the shorter boy a pat on the shoulder and assures, offering him a toothy grin. “We’ve got you covered, I promise! We’ll be in and out of there before you know it.”

“Y-Yeah,” Mutsuki mutters, eyes darting up to give him a grateful look. “Thanks, Shirazu-kun.”

“Don’t just cover him, watch my back too!” Hide’s cheerful voice sounds behind them, and Shirazu twists to face him, confused by his words.

“Huh?”

Hide’s wearing a crooked smile, his arms crossed over his chest. He might be hiding something, but he’s so natural with them that Shirazu simply fails to make himself wary of him. He probably has his own reasons to keep secrets. Perhaps one day, he’ll share with them. Who knows.

“Tooru won’t be going to that auction alone.”

Shirazu turns to Haise - who, meets his inquisitive gaze with an excellent pokerface.

“What.”

xXx

Urie’s discharged from the hospital early in the morning, almost irrationally so.

He smells the wonderful scent of grilled bacon wafting in the air as soon as he enters the chateau, and his stomach growls against his will. He’s always been sort of a picky eater, and the bland food he’s served in the hospital did not do much to help his appetite. Sasaki’s cooking beats those tasteless mush any day.

He could not believe that thought just crossed his mind.

Urie doesn’t bother going to the dining hall; he’s not in the mood to answer questions yet. He makes a beeline to his bedroom to fetch a fresh set of clothes and heads straight to the bathroom, making his footsteps as light and soundless as possible. He manages to make it there without bumping into anyone - they’re all probably seated around the table having breakfast already - and he has no problems with that. He glances at the handwritten roster stuck just above the washing machine as he strips himself of his stale clothes in the laundry room, and remembers that he’s supposed to be in charge of the laundry yesterday. Somebody has obviously filled in for him, so he figures he could always do today’s share later that night. He didn’t fancy feeling like he owed his teammates for something, no matter how trivial.

The stitched spot below his right scapula throbs dully when his skin comes in contact with the spray of warm water, and Urie fails to hold back a small wince. He had to be injected with RC suppressants in order for the surgery to take place without the interference of his regenerative abilities, and the effects of the drug still linger in his body. According to the doctors, it’s an unusual case since the dosage he’s administered should last only for a relatively short span of time - just enough for the medical procedures to take place completely - but he’s not in any danger. All he has to do is wait for it to wear off.

Throughout his entire stay in the hospital, Urie did not receive any visitors. More accurately, he did not want to see any. The words of ‘how are you feeling’ and ‘get well soon’ sounded empty to him. Fake. Pretentious. As if any of them would mean them when they didn’t even know him that well. He’d rather be alone in his ward with music blasting from his earphones while he stared outside the window or at the ceiling.

Doing up the last few buttons of his shirt, Urie exits the bathroom and begins his way to confront the members of his squad. He might dread the moment, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t resigned to the fact that he’d have to face them sooner or later. He’d submitted the consent form with this in mind, after all. A person cannot run away from the consequences of his actions; Urie knows that better than anyone.

“Well if it isn’t the stale cookie!”

Just his luck. The first one to spot him has to be that loud simpleton. Urie stifles a sigh, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Shirazu as he proceeds his way towards the kitchen. He stops a little away from his mentor who’s preparing breakfast by the stove, and to the older boy’s surprise, he bends into a slight bow.

“I apologize for missing out on my duties for the past few days,” he says formally. Haise turns around and blinks blankly at him for around two seconds before he’s able to overcome his stupor.

“Ah, it’s alright,” he says, waving his hands in front of him. “As long as you’re back here in good condition.”

He doesn’t ask any further, and Urie’s not obliged to prompt him. He straightens up, and takes a seat at the table. Shirazu’s giving him obnoxious looks and Mutsuki only greets him with a short “Welcome back” before spacing out again. Saiko’s half asleep and drooling onto her toast, and the newcomer’s preoccupied with the daily paper. Everything seems relatively normal, but Urie senses a thin film of unease in the air. Something’s going on.

Haise walks over and places a filled plate before him. “You went for the surgery, didn’t you?”

Urie remains quiet, calming picking up his cutlery to begin his breakfast. The atmosphere buzzes at the mention of the word ‘surgery’. He feels all the attention in the room being trained on him.

“Yes.”

He braces himself for the onslaught of nagging and lectures he knows he’s bound to receive, but Haise only places his hands on his hips, tilts his head towards the ceiling, and heaves a loud, undignified sigh.

“Why don’t you ever listen to me for once, geez,” he mutters in exasperation, returning his head to its natural position before raking his fingers through his hair. Urie stares at him, unimpressed. Haise shoots him a weary, lopsided smile. “If you think I’m going to chide you, Urie-kun, forget about it. It’s not like we can undo it even if we wanted to. Besides,” he pauses, and huffs. “We’ve got a bunch of other things to care about for the time being.”

“You missed out the fun of dressing up,” Hide tells him solemnly, putting down his newspaper. Urie pointedly ignores him. So does Haise.

“What he meant was,” Haise begins, settling down on the chair across Urie’s seat. “We’ve made progress in the Nutcracker’s case and we’re about to enter the next stage of the investigation. Since we’ll be attending a meeting with the rest of the squads that are involved in the raid later, I’d like to brief you now if you don’t mind.”

Wordlessly, Urie nods for him to continue. Haise proceeds to update him on their current situation, explaining that they’ve successfully obtained information on where the ghoul auction is to be held approximately two weeks from now. He gives him the outline of their plan and informs him that the decision has been made for Mutsuki and Suzuya to secretly infiltrate into the event and cause havoc from the inside while the outside forces prepare for an ambush.

“However, the Auction Wipeout Plan is still under development,” Haise says, lacing his fingers together atop the table. “Scouts have been sent to survey the venue for anything we can put to our advantage. Further details and advancements will be discussed in the conference afterwards.” He stops to look him straight in the eye. “If you’ve got any useful insights, Urie-kun, we’d appreciate it if you voiced them out instead of keeping them to yourself like you always do. We’d like to keep the number of risks as low as we possibly can.”

Because he’s going to be in the center of the chaos, huh? Urie thinks, side eyeing Mutsuki to his right. People can be so biased at times.

“This will be a great chance to aim for a promotion, too, apparently,” Hide speaks up, and Urie stiffens ever so slightly at the statement. “So you better work hard if you’re aiming for that.”

This is his chance; his chance to finally increase his ranking and take one step closer to fulfilling his goals. Depending on his performance, he could climb a rank or two higher. Achieving that would also mean he’d be able to overpower Rank 1 Sasaki in terms of authority - provided the latter does not get promoted at all; which, is highly unlikely, as much as he hates to admit. But no matter. There’s always an opportunity for him to get the hell out of this sorry squad if he’s in a high enough position.

“I understand,” Urie says curtly, finishing the last of his breakfast. He tries to conceal his distaste when Shirazu inches closer towards his direction, squinting at him in suspicion.

What surgery?” he demands, rather belatedly. Then again, it’d be stranger if he didn’t question him at all considering how he’d just disappeared without leaving as much as a note the other day.

“The opening of the frame,” Urie replies calmly, though his hand was already curling into a fist on his lap. “I’d decided that I’m fit to proceed with the next step of the Quinx experiment.”

“Bastard,” Shirazu growls, reaching to grab the stoic boy by the collar of his shirt. “You did it without Sassan’s permission, didn’t you?” He snarls when Urie averts his gaze and refuses to answer him, releasing his grip with a rough shove. “I swear, if you screw up during the operation and drag us all-“

“I assure you, I will not,” Urie hisses through gritted teeth, flashing him a glare that could probably kill if the receiving end hadn’t been Shirazu. “It is all within my calculations. Two weeks are more than enough for me to recover fully.”

“But if your kagune runs out of control by any chance,” Shirazu says, meeting his glare with his own. “Then I will cut you down.”

“That’s only if you can afford the time and energy to do that,” Urie retorts, moving to bring his dishes to the sink. “Though I doubt you’d be able to even if you did.”

“What was that you-“

“Guys, guys,” Hide claps loudly a couple of times and calls for order. “Let’s not talk about kicking each other’s butts so early in the morning, alright? You’re stressing us all out more than we already are.”

And miraculously, the two arguing boys say nothing more. Shirazu crosses his arms and grumbles to himself while Urie merely clicks his tongue once and leaves to clean his plate. A pregnant silence hangs around them right after.  It’s not a happy morning, and this obligates Hide to do something about it.

“Come on, you guys,” he begins, addressing his teammates with what he hopes is an optimistic tone. “Let’s relax a bit! I know this is your first major mission and there’s so much danger to consider, but it’s not good to feel so nervous when the real thing still so long away. It’s still a little too early to be worried. Who knows - we might be able to come up with something that guarantees a near zero casualty rate among us later.”

The last one is highly impossible, but Haise finds himself agreeing with the blond all the same. There’s no point in getting themselves so anxiously worked up when there are so many possibilities left, so many countermeasures they can take. They had to calm down and maintain a broad perspective towards their situation.

“Hide-san’s right.” To everyone’s astonishment, it’s Mutsuki who’d spoken. Even Saiko wakes to his soft, serious and slightly quivery voice. “We can’t keep going on like this.”

He sounds like he’s trying hard just to convince himself. It’s faint, but Haise spots a glimmer of determination returning to the boy’s eyes. He’s getting stronger, slowly. He still doesn’t like the idea of letting him attend the auction, but the situation’s a little different with Mutsuki being willful. The mood of a single person can affect the mood of the entire team. Mutsuki’s currently the main person everyone is concerned over because of the awful position he’s in; and if he’s scared, the others would feel it and become uneasy themselves.

If he’s confident, even if the confidence is forced, the others could perhaps have the slightest peace of mind.

“Darn right, we can’t,” Hide agrees, his relief obvious across his face at the sight of Mutsuki working to steel himself up. That boy isn’t as fragile as he seems. That’s good. “So what say we race one another to HQ just to loosen up these tense muscles a little?”

He receives a chorus of pained whining as a reply, and laughs lightheartedly.

“Just kidding,” he says, lifting his arms above his head in a stretch. “Though I think I could really use the exercise. I won’t survive a minute in that auction with the shape I’m in right now.”

“You’re not seriously thinking of jogging all the way to the main building,” Haise tells him incredulously. He exhales wearily when Hide shows him one of his cocky yet oddly endearing grins, knowing full well of his answer without the need for him to say a thing.

“I hope the air-fresheners in the conference room are working.”

xXx

Long story short, the entire meeting was nerve-wrecking.

Nevermind the kids, it took every shred of Haise’s willpower to not squirm in his seat under the judging gaze of Division II’s director at the head of the table. He wonders how could a person be born looking like he’s on a new level of done with the entire world. The other Washuus he’d met so far looked nicer and way easier to approach compared to this one. Director Washuu was a pretty good guy and Chairman Washuu bore a relatively neutral appearance despite his stern nature. Haise has to agree with Hide on this; the urge to introduce his fist to Washuu Matsuri’s face is overwhelming. Just to wipe that look off his features. Preferably permanently.

But appearance aside, the man’s capabilities are unquestioned. Haise had never met someone who could use his brain with such frightening efficiency. Barely anyone had anything else to ask or add throughout the entire meeting because Washuu Matsuri had every single thing - literally everything; even Hide had been stunned - thought of and compromised. His suggested courses of actions had layers upon layers of hidden schemes; a single move resulting in several chain reactions. As much as he disliked him, Haise knows this man isn’t a person he’d want as his personal enemy.

God, that was exhausting,” Hide groans once it was all over and they were free to return to their own businesses, running a hand across his face. Haise understands; the mental strain alone was enough to sap his energy while he sat there and attempted to follow the discussion held. If they’re planning to have conferences like this almost every day until the actual date of the auction, Haise isn’t very sure if he’d be able to keep surviving.

“Remind me to never jog here all the way from home ever again,” Hide adds, flexing his neck and wincing. More than anything, Haise has to respect the blond for his spontaneity. Hide had seriously ran the whole way from their chateau to HQ while trying to keep up with their car. He did look like he was in danger of having an asthmatic fit by the end of it, though.

“Maybe we ought to do some training before the operation begins,” Haise muses, covering his mouth thoughtfully. “Especially the kids since they’ve never actually faced so many ghouls at once before.”

“We could always spar in the backyard or something,” Hide suggests. He stops in front of a vending machine and proceeds to get himself and his companion a cup of coffee each.

“There’s a small practice hall at the back of the chateau, if I remember correctly. We can use that,” Haise says, already attempting to mentally come up with an appropriate schedule. Would four hours a day be enough? Would they even have four hours to spare?

“The place has practically everything, wow,” Hide marvels, his brown eyes gleaming like a child in awe as he hands Haise his beverage. Haise smiles his thanks, but quickly turns somber again. Hide settles down on the bench beside him, gently blowing into his drink before taking a careful sip.

“You know,” Haise starts, breaking the lapse of comfortable silence they’d eventually slipped into. Hide meets his gaze, and raises an eyebrow. “Sometimes, I just wonder how you do it.”

Hide frowns in confusion. “Do what?”

“Behaving so naturally in front of the others,” Haise says, breaking eye contact to focus on the spot by his feet. “I mean, your trouble doesn’t show on your face at all and you always manage to be so positive all the time.” A pause. “Unlike me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with how you’re doing things right now,” Hide tells him, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “I have my way of handling people, and you have yours - that’s all there is to it. You’ve got to believe more in yourself, Haise. And besides,” Hide’s voice drops to an almost inaudible mutter. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Haise turns to stare at him. “In being optimistic?”

Hide doesn’t answer, seemingly too lost in his own thoughts to do so. Haise has never seen him wear that face before. It gives him a slight sting in his chest, seeing Hide look so pensive. He did mention before that they were more similar than he thinks, didn’t he? Maybe he’s right. Maybe they’re both struggling as much as the other, in their own ways.

“Hide,” Haise says, studying his own warped reflection on the surface of his coffee. He swallows his reluctance and continues; “When this is all over, there’s something I want to tell you.”

“Is it a love confession?” Hide rapidly reverts to his usual carefree self, but the wistfulness lingers in his amber eyes. Haise cracks a smile despite himself, and lightly punches his forearm.

“Idiot,” he says, earning himself a chuckle from the blond. Their mirth quickly fades away, a fragile sort of ease taking its place. “It’s about me. There are some things that I think you have the right know.”

Hide nods. “Okay.”

And the words are out before Haise could stop himself. “So in return, do you think you can tell us a little more about yourself?”

“I..” For a brief moment, Hide hesitates. Haise watches him struggle with his internal dilemma, noting the way he purses his lips and taps his fingers against his cup. It takes roughly a minute for Hide to find his resolve and answer. “Yeah. I’ll do that.”

“Thank you,” Haise says, trying hard to force down the sudden feeling of guilt and regret that’s manifesting within him. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that, shouldn’t have sounded so childishly curious. Everyone has things to hide, things they don’t want to share with the world. He shouldn’t have asked. He should’ve just waited for him to tell them himself instead of being so forceful and-

“Haise.” Hide’s voice jerks him out of his train of thoughts. Haise flinches, nearly spilling his coffee in the process. “Haise, calm down. It’s okay. I don’t mind telling you guys my backstory; it’s only fair since you’re going to tell me yours.” He smiles softly and brushes the back of his fingers against his cheek, his touch so tender that it merely feathers above the other boy’s skin. “So don’t make that face, alright?”

He then abruptly registers what he’s doing, and quickly retracts his hand, awkwardly clearing his throat as he glances away. “S-Sorry.”

Haise could only hope he isn’t as red as he thinks he is. “It’s fine.”

“So anyway,” Hide manages to casually change the topic after chugging down his beverage in a few large gulps. “You think it’s about time for us to head down to the lobby? The kids must be tired of waiting for us by now.”

“They know how to amuse themselves,” Haise assures, finishing his own drink. He stands up and heads to discard the crumpled paper cup into the bin provided. “Either way, we better go. I’m planning on starting the training sessions today.”

“You’re really looking forward to handing the Quinx their asses, aren’t you?” Hide asks wryly, moving to match his companion’s strides down the hallway. Haise peers at him through the corner of his eye, a tiny smirk making its way to his lips.

“You think?”

xXx

Haise’s aching in about fifty different places, but his body hadn’t felt this light in a while.

The training sessions are going on pretty well; the meetings are usually held in the mornings and they’d have the rest of the day to themselves. The kids were eventually showing improvement (even Saiko finally got motivated to move by Hide, who’d suggested for her to imitate the actions of the characters in her fighting games) but it’s still not enough. They still had the tendency to be reckless and overly aggressive; only knowing how to charge right in without paying attention to the other factors that could decide the outcome of their fights.

And don’t even get him started on their coordination. If they worked in pairs, one of them could be long dead before the other could realize it. Teamwork had never been one of the Quinx’s strong points. Shirazu’s too focused on solely taking down the enemy before him and Mutsuki flinches a lot, creating a lot of lag time between his movements. Urie’s overconfident and Saiko attempts maneuvers someone of her size and physical ability can never execute without proper practice.

But at least they’re improving, little by little. Haise found himself struggling to defend against three people at once by the fourth day of their training. They’re learning. The stubborn kids are learning from their mistakes.

Though they still had a long way to go. Their agreement was that once Haise deems them capable enough, he’d let them go at him with their kagune. It’s been little more than a week since they began their training, but he doesn’t even want to think about that yet. As long as they hadn’t mastered the basics, they wouldn’t survive in a life or death situation even if they had weapon. It would be no different from letting an inexperienced child walk into a battlefield holding a spell-enhanced sword.

The only one among them who could scarcely stand his ground against him is, as you would already have guessed, Hide. Haise could tell from his reflexes and the precision of his movements that he’d been in quite a number of fights before. His rank isn’t just for show, it seems. Hide’s body isn’t built for brute strength, but he’s lean and fast; cleverly ducking into Haise’s blind spots before trying to land a hit mainly on his vital spots. His defense is decent and his feints are convincing. He’s also good at keeping his cool and analyzing his situation before acting.

But what Haise finds truly intimidating about Hide as they sparred, is his ability to accurately foresee his opponent’s movements. Hide sees and memorizes the patterns to his foe’s attacks at an amazing speed, and he doesn’t have any qualms about using that against them. Haise’s current record is seven wins, four draws and one loss. Hide had caught him off guard in that one defeat.

“Maybe we should focus a little more on their evasion skills,” Hide suggests as they strolled down the street, lifting his arms and placing his hands behind his head like some manga character. “They’d have to learn how to bail out of facing ghouls that are beyond their level and leave the rest to their superiors.”

“Yeah,’ Haise says, a little absently. He doesn’t realize it himself, but he’s staring at that one spot on Hide’s left upper arm. When they’re training, Hide occasionally wears tank tops instead of t-shirts because he thought life would be boring without any variation. As a result, the scar which he’d usually been concealing under his sleeves is bared for the world to see; an irregular spot of stretched and slightly paler skin just below his bicep. Haise had felt his breath catch in his throat the first time he saw it; much to a reason he could not fathom. When the kids asked about it, Hide hadn’t been secretive.

“I got it while trying to protect my most precious person!” he’d proclaimed, his proud grin warm and radiant like sunshine. The scar isn’t something he’s embarrassed about, that’s for certain.

“But you really don’t go easy on us, huh?” Hide says, returning his hands to his sides to stuff them into his pockets. Haise notices how he’d barely stopped himself from cringing visibly. He doesn’t comment; he’s not the only person Hide spars with, after all. He figures he must be quite banged up from all the impact he’d received from countless blows and falling on the hard, wooden floor. Haise tries not to pity him. Hide’s not the only one bruised all over.

“Neither would ghouls when their lives are on the line,” Haise tells him simply, shifting his gaze to look straight ahead. Putting their lives on the line mostly sums up how it is to be a ghoul investigator. Every case, every battle carries the risk of death. The strong survive and the weak are eliminated, that’s just how it works.

Which is why Haise’s stomach is a jumbled mess of nerves just thinking about the night of the auction. Would they be strong enough? Would he be able to protect everyone and keep them from getting killed? Would he be forced to use his kagune again?

And if that happens, would he lose control again?

“Well, you’ve got a point there,” Hide says, following his line of sight. He sounds oblivious to Haise’s inner conflict, much to the latter’s relief. “Now that I think it of it, there’s always one way to lower the risks of letting the kids face the stronger ghouls.”

Haise silently prompts him to continue, but Hide shakes his head. “Someone might hear us out here. I’ll tell you when we get back.”

If he’s trying to distract him from his worries by keeping him in suspense, unfortunately, it’s working. Haise’s thoughts are a little muddled from the anxiety of having to face whatever they’re going to face roughly five days from now, and it’s honestly embarrassing. He has the feeling that Hide’s idea is actually something very straightforward, something even he could’ve thought of if he could calm himself down.

The odd pair enters a fairly busy café, their entrance greeted by the ring of the bell above the door. Haise scans the crowd for a familiar face. Juuzou should already be here by now..

“There he is,” Hide pipes up, cocking his chin towards one of the tables by the windows. Haise turns to where he’s indicating, and his expression brightens when he spots the short dark-haired investigator.

“Juuzou-kun!” he calls as they approach his table. Juuzou snaps out of whatever daydream he’s in and immediately focuses his gaze on the two newcomers.

“Haise, you’re here!” he waves elaborately despite the small distance between them, biting a fork between his teeth as he speaks. His eyes shift towards Hide. “And you’re..”

“Rank 1 Investigator, Nagachika Hideyoshi,” Hide introduces himself, realizing that he’d never actually had the chance to do so with Juuzou before this. He wasn’t present during the private meetings with his squad in the 13th Ward and they usually went home as soon as the recent conferences are over to start training, leaving him no time to stay behind to get to know the members of the other teams a bit. Not that he minds that much. “Just Hide’s fine, though.”

“Associate Special Class, Suzuya Juuzou,” Juuzou stands and takes an awkward bow. “It’s nice meeting you.”

“Likewise,” Hide returns, smiling amiably. “Though it’s not the first time we’re seeing each other.”

Juuzou studies his features as he and Haise seat themselves, his large, curious eyes unblinking. He then tilts his head slightly to the side in question. “Say, weren’t you that part-time errand boy working in CCG’s branch office in the 20th Ward a few years back?”

Haise blinks. 20th Ward? Errand boy?

“Ahh, so you do remember me,” Hide says sheepishly, scratching his cheek. “I didn’t think you would since we’ve never had the chance to  talk properly. Your memory’s amazing, Suzuya-san!”

“Thank you,” Juuzou giggles, pleased with the compliment. He cuts off another piece from the slice of cake on his plate with his fork and stuffs it into his mouth. “So what did you guys call me out here to talk about?”

It’s scary how quickly the light atmosphere around them disappears.

“Juuzou-kun,” Haise starts, lowering his voice to a whisper. He subconsciously clenches his hands on the table. “Before anything, we’d like to request for you to keep today’s discussion a secret from everyone else.”

He waits for Juuzou to consent  before resuming. “It’s about the plan which we’ll be carrying out several nights from now. We’re here to inform you that Rank 1 Nagachika would be joining the infiltration alongside you and Rank 3 Mutsuki during the auction.”

“You’re disobeying orders?” Juuzou asks, raising his eyebrows. He sounds amused rather than accusing. Like he couldn’t believe Haise of all people was going to go against his superiors.

“The more, the merrier, right?” Hide says, his laugh sounding a little strained. “I know having me as an addition wouldn’t make that much of a difference if worst comes to worst , but-“

“It’s about Mutsuki-kun, isn’t it?” Juuzou guesses, resting his cheek on his palm. Reluctantly, his companions nod. “It’s alright; I’m not offended. But why tell me?”

“We figured it’s best to notify you beforehand in case you wouldn’t recognize me when I’m in disguise,” Hide answers, tracing the wooden pattern of the table with his finger. “Also, it’s better for you to know that you’ve got an extra person to work with.”

“Hmm.” Juuzou reaches to adjust his crooked hairclip. “I see.”

“We wholeheartedly apologize if you find our decision impudent,” Haise says, bending into a slight bow in sync with his blond colleague. “But once again - I’ll ask of this as your friend this time -  please keep this a secret from anyone else. Hide and I will bear the full responsibilities of our actions when the operation has come to an end, so please pretend that you’ve never heard a word about this if they question you.”

Juuzou’s silent for a long while before he speaks again. “I understand.”

Haise lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Thank you so, so much, Juuzou-kun,” he says, looking up at him gratefully. Juuzou beams, making a dismissive gesture with his hand.

“It’s no big deal,” he says in all earnestness. He then leans a little forward on his seat. “Though there is one thing.”

Haise arches his eyebrows. “What is it?”

Juuzou chews on another piece of cake. “Stop with the formalities with me next time if we’re meeting outside of work, okay? It feels weird.”

xXx

Basically, the plan works like this; Mutsuki and Juuzou will go into the auction wearing tracking devices that are installed into the ear studs they’d be wearing. Because the event will most likely be held underground, this precaution is necessary for the others to pinpoint their location in order to find them and hand them their Quinque. The devices are also equipped with one-way microphones that are connected directly to the command center for them to issue the orders to begin the raid at the right timing. When all hell has broken lose, Mutsuki and a few other investigators are in charge of bringing the other victims to safety before returning inside to join the battle themselves. The rest are to stay and fight.

As for Hide’s challenge of slipping in without being noticed by the higher-ups beforehand, he’s in luck because every investigator is assigned to work with their own squads, therefore giving him the chance to tweak the original plans to suit his favor without having to worry about who he could  trust and who he could not. Hide will go in earlier than the other two, and the three of them will meet up in whatever place the Nutcracker will be keeping them in before presenting them to her buyers. As he’d told Mutsuki almost a fortnight ago: it’ll be too late to stop him by the time his absence is noticed. Haise and the rest of the Quinx will have to cover for him and take over his initial share of fighting.

“And this is just a hunch on my part,” Hide explains, carefully meeting the gazes of each of his team members as he speaks. “But since the attendees are from the upper class, we can presume that a majority of them not overwhelmingly strong. I mean, why spend the extra energy doing the dirty work and soiling your hands when you have the money to simply buy some meat from your suppliers? At any rate, facing them will hopefully be less dangerous than facing the bodyguards.”

“Which is why we can do this: I’ll take the lead by charging in first to take down the guards. Shirazu-kun will back me up with his long-ranged attacks if necessary,” Haise takes over while Hide stops for a breath. “Urie-kun will defend the rear, and Saiko-chan’s responsible for alerting the team if she hears incoming reinforcements and the like. Also, keep in mind that Hide’s hypothesis about the classy ghouls being slightly weaker is merely a guess. Just because they’re rich doesn’t mean there are zero possibilities of any higher rated ghouls being among them. If you happen to stumble upon an opponent that’s obviously stronger than you, don’t face them alone. Pride means nothing when you’re dead. Regroup immediately, and we’ll think of something then. Is that clear?”

He receives several grave nods as a response.

“I will face the full consequences for defying orders along with Haise,” Hide says next, ignoring the bewildered stares he receives from his younger teammates at his statement. “As such, there’s no need for any of you to worry about your chances on getting a promotion or anything like that. Hell, you’ll all be doing us a favor by denying about being told any of this in advance.”

“But-“ Shirazu’s protest is cut off by the slight raise of Haise’s hand.

“We won’t change our minds no matter what you say,” he tells him, his words firm. His expression then softens, and he abruptly changes the topic, evidently refusing to hear any further objections. “Oh, and before I forget, tomorrow’s the final day for you guys to submit your wills. If you’ve not written one yet, tonight’s your last chance. That’s all.”

Haise maintains his composure until everyone else has filed out of the room before exhaling a long breath through his mouth. He focuses on the document he holds in his hands and frowns at the near nonsensical scribbles on its parched surface. Less than forty-eight hours until the auction. Even with all the preparations they’d made, he still has a bad feeling about the entire mission. Something’s bound to go wrong, he knows that. Nothing ever goes a hundred percent according to plan. Nothing’s ever that predictable. The only doubt he has now is whether or not he’ll be able to deal with those unexpected circumstances without making things worse for both himself and his colleagues.

“You’re still here?”

Haise blinks out of his thoughts to the sound of Hide’s voice, disorientated for a moment. Had he been there alone for a long while? Strange. It felt like only a few minutes to him.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, watching the blond settle down on the sofa opposite of him. He works to not let his apprehension show on his face. Hide would probably chide him if he notices he’s being worried over everything again.

“Nothing much,” Hide says, spending two seconds to inspect his own fingernails before letting his attention flicker towards him. “You nervous about the big day?”

“That goes without saying.” Haise sighs, his entire body seemingly deflating along with his release of air.

“Me too,” Hide confesses with a huff, promptly receiving a wide-eyed stare from the other boy. “What - is that really so hard to believe?”

Haise notices the tinge of edginess in his laugh for the first time that night. “I’m sorry you’ll have to go through so much trouble,” he finds himself saying, though he knows there’s actually nothing to apologize for.

“Only as much as everyone else.” Hide shrugs one shoulder. “I’m doing it because I want to, so no worries.”

“Hide.” There’s a rather sudden change in Haise’s tone of voice that compels Hide to look at him. Their eyes meet, and Haise holds his companion’s gaze. “Take care of yourself when you’re in there.”

“I will,” Hide promises after a short pause. The corners of his lips lift into a small smile. “You be careful too, buddy.”

“Now it truly does feels like we’re going to war, doesn’t it?” Haise jokes halfheartedly because he honestly has no idea how else he’s going to keep the building pressure from getting to him right then. He chews on his bottom lip in an attempt to constrain his fear towards the what-ifs that haunt his mind. Breathe, he orders himself. Breathe, Haise.

“It’ll be over before we know it,” Hide tells him, as though reading his thoughts. He stands up and take a couple of steps forward, holding out a piece of paper folded into a neat rectangle. “Here’s my testament, by the way.” When Haise accepts it, he adds; “Feel free to read it if you’re curious.”

“Why would I want to-“ Haise begins, but Hide’s already heading to the door, announcing over his shoulder that it’s late and that he’s going to sleep. Haise couldn’t figure out how Hide’s always so good at directing his concentration away from his uncertainties. Despite knowing how unprofessional he’s being by doing it, Haise finally gives in to the temptation of sneaking a peek at the blond’s will after more than a minute of contemplation. He wouldn’t put it past him for writing something ridiculous even in his potential death message.

But Hide hadn’t been as unnecessarily playful as he’d expected him to be this time. Haise stares at the lone three words that decorate the blank canvas, temporarily dumbfounded.  

“I won’t die.”

Hide had written bold declaration rather than a final wish.