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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Being a coward is hard.

Trying not to be one is even harder.

Of course Mutsuki’s scared. He could barely fight with his Quinque, let alone defend himself barehanded if the situation ever leads to that. He knows he should be feeling a little more at ease with Suzuya and Hide being there with him. He’s being backed up by such talented and skillful superiors. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad, right?

Right?

All Mutsuki feels is dread. The dread of being weak, the dread of being a burden. More than anything, perhaps even more than the aspect of death, Mutsuki’s afraid of dragging his teammates down. Once is more than enough. He still secretly blamed himself for Sasaki’s loss of control over his kagune during his faceoff with Serpent. If only he was stronger. If only he’d been able to activate his own kagune and join in the fight. Then perhaps he, Shirazu and Urie would’ve stood a chance. Then perhaps Sasaki wouldn’t have been forced to intervene.

Mutsuki is spoiled and he knows that. He doesn’t dare make any presumptions on Associate Special Class Suzuya’s morals and behavior, but he knows Hide would risk everything to protect him - prideful as he is to think so. His reasons for being so hard-bent on sneaking into the auction can never be clearer. Tooru isn’t strong. Tooru is scared. Don’t let Tooru get hurt. He’ll be saved and pampered and in return, someone else will suffer the damage.

Again.

At some point, Mutsuki wasn’t even sure anymore if he should appreciate the blond’s concern or simply feel offended. Does he really think he’s hopeless to that extent? That he’d freeze up with fear the moment he’s forced to battle a bloodthirsty ghoul? Well, he’s absolutely right. The sole thought of having to fight a ghoul with their kagune lashing and their mouth foaming and their eyes gleaming red and black is enough to give him nightmares and make him wish he could wallow into a hole on the ground and stay there until the grass accepts him as part of their diet.

The notion of being the centre of attention of hundreds of twisted gazes scrutinizing every inch of his body doesn’t make anything better.

It’s exhausting to pretend being brave when he’s anything but. Mutsuki utterly fails in making himself believe in the confidence of his own words in the beginning. ‘We can’t keep going like this’? ‘We just have to try our best’? The safety of their lives aren’t ensured by just ‘trying their best’. Optimism doesn’t change the fact that they could very well die any minute in that operation.

Then again, Mutsuki realizes on first the day Sasaki brought them to the training hall at the back of their home to fling them around and basically wreck them left and right, isn’t it about time for him to break the loop that he’s been trapped in since the massacre of his family? Isn’t it about time for him to change the old I’m-weak-so-people-got-hurt-or-died-protecting-me routine? He can fight too. It has never been decided otherwise. He’s not good at it, but he can fight and struggle just like everyone else.

Now if only fears and phobias are something that could be so easily conquered.

Being thrown all over the place and having even his smallest errors pointed out did wonders destroying his self-esteem, but Mutsuki couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy the training sessions. In fact, he’d sought solace in the lessons, treating them as a way to vent out his frustration, his anxiety, his loathing towards his own helplessness. He’d put everything into his punches, his kicks and his lunges, and Sasaki had intercepted, deflected and returned each one of it with every bit as much fervor. Mutsuki had hit the floor so many times that he’s pretty sure some of the polish had rubbed off on his skin, but over and over, he clenches his teeth and forces himself to stand up once more. It’s time for him to push his impotence aside and stop relying on others.

It’s time for him to grow stronger and fight on his own.

Even with all his determination and spirit and all that stuff, Sasaki’s regimen was brutal; possibly because he couldn’t afford to take things easy with the limited time they had before the event. Beating the right moves into them might just be the fastest way to teach them - though it did come with a lot of pain and sores later on. Mutsuki remembers how he’d spent the nights sleeping as still as his body would allow because everything ached so much he could barely feel his limbs.

While Sasaki’s training focused mainly on offense and orthodox moves, Hide tutored them on defensive and evasive techniques, as well as some ‘side dishes’, as he’d called them. There’s much more to a real fight than merely exchanging fists, he’d said as he casually struck out at them without warning and expected them to either stop or dodge his blow. In a real fight, lots of dirty tricks would be involved as well; blinding, distracting, delaying. Mutsuki managed to fare well under Hide’s tutelage because he’s apparently quite the nimble lad, but the others hadn’t been as lucky. Urie once ducked Hide’s assault towards his face only to be jabbed in the belly and sent falling butt-first to the ground. Shirazu got tripped and faceplanted so often Mutsuki swears it couldn’t be healthy. Saiko.. he had no comments. At least she bothered moving.

Though training did provide him a temporary distraction from his upcoming predicament, Mutsuki couldn’t say he’s prepared to face what’s to come. At all. He lies awake on his bed right now, gazing blankly at the ceiling above him. He has entered this certain phase of numb acceptance, feeling exactly nothing. Like how it always is on the day right before a huge exam when you just think ‘Ah, screw it I’ve done all I can!’ and choose to spend the rest of the day relaxing instead of attempting some last-minute cramming. Mutsuki’s also positive that like school exams, the panic would set in later when he’s facing the actual thing.  

The auction is tomorrow night. The victims are supposed to gather by half past five in the evening to be captured. Mutsuki and Juuzou would be showing themselves at around five. Hide plans to disappear right after roll call. The rest of CCG’s forces have to wait until a little after the event begins before they’re able to put the plan to motion. Timing is crucial in this operation. Arriving too early would raise suspicion. Arriving too late would risk more lives being lost.

Mutsuki shuts his eyes and wills himself to stop thinking about it. They’ve done all they can to prepare. It’s too late for regrets, too late to chicken out. All he can do now is hope for the best. All he can do now is hope he’d have the power to do things right when the time comes.

It takes him a long while before he’s finally able to slip into a fitful slumber.

xXx

At least they didn’t have to wake up early on the day of the operation.

Not that it makes a difference when all of them hardly slept a wink. Hide could tell, judging from the bleary eyes and big yawns and dark circles, that his squad is tensed up for the day ahead. He himself lost sleep because he kept envisioning all kinds of possible scenarios that could take place during the auction and trying to come up with countermeasures. By the time he decided to tell his brain to shut up and just take things one at a time, it’s already dawn. Ironically, Hide’s reminded of his teen days when he would relentlessly play video games the entire night only to realize it’s already morning when the credits are rolling.

In retrospect, he remembers how he always seems to be even more energetic than usual the day following an all-nighter, weirdly enough. He would feel alive and great but when evening approaches he’d be barely holding himself up. Which, isn’t actually as bad as it sounds because they’d be hanging out in their usual spot at the park and Kaneki would let him lean on his shoulder and nap while he contentedly immerses himself in yet another novel and-

Wokayyy. His thoughts are straying way off track. Hide slaps his palms against his cheeks a few times. He mustn’t lose concentration. The point is that he would probably be affected by fatigue when the auction starts - but he figures his adrenaline would be at its peak, so he’ll be fine.

“I can never understand why they chose white as the CCG’s official color,” Hide muses as they’re preparing to leave the chateau, slipping his arms into the sleeves of his coat. He resists the urge to shiver and snuggle against the warmth of the garment once he’s clad in it. “Do they even know how crazy difficult it is to scrub blood and dirt off white fabric and return it to its initial glory? I swear.”

“Won’t some bleach be enough to do the trick?” Shirazu inquires, shrugging on his own coat. The others only listen on in silence, mildly amused by how pointless and laidback their conversation is. It’s baffling how they manage to keep the air around them light despite their own tension.

“Fool, you’ll destroy the quality of your clothes that way,” Hide gives the younger boy an incredulous look and tells him gravely. He keeps their gazes locked, his hands working to button himself up. “And bleach is a threat to both nature and humanity. The stuff’s practically mass-produced toxic!”

No one bothers asking what he has against bleach. Heck, his hair is bleached.

“We can always get new ones to replace the clothes we ruined,” Haise suggests, making some adjustments to his collar. “We won’t need to pay for them since the CCG’s going to recompense any of our belongings that are damaged during missions.”

“Haise, Haise.” Hide shakes his head as if pitying his ignorance. “You’re getting it all wrong, buddy. It’s not about the money; it’s about the bond between us and our outfits! Discarding old clothes is like throwing away friends that’d been through hell and back with you, don’t you think?”

 “Not really..?”

Hide sighs, disappointed in his lack of empathy towards his garments. He can’t exactly blame him, however. Ghoul investigators cannot afford to harbor excessive feelings of attachment because of the nature of their job. They had a lot of things to lose, working for the CCG. Keeping themselves distant is the only way to make letting go easier.

“At least we won’t be wearing our usual uniform during the operation since we’ll be changing into battle gear later,” Haise says, half to humor Hide and half to simply keep the conversation going. He knows that if silence befalls them, it’ll be heavy, suffocating. “And we’ll be wearing dark colors so we won’t need to worry about stains?”

His last sentence somehow ended up sounding like a question, but Hide isn’t bothered.

“Stains are a small problem when everything’s in tatters,” he agrees thoughtfully, holding the door open for the rest of his team to file outside. “Maybe the old guys in charge should start considering the idea of investing in the development of extra resilient material for our battle gear so we can reuse them more often. The current expenditure on clothes alone must be absurd.”

“I think it’ll cost slightly less since they’re buying them in bulk?” Unexpectedly, Mutsuki joins in the conversation. Hearing his voice, Hide exchanges a brief look with Haise, and they both break into smiles. It’s working. They’re slowly able to take their minds off the operation and relax a bit. It doesn’t matter even though it’s temporary. As long as they can keep their spirits up, it’s enough.

Fortunately for them, Hide had always been the chatty type and he has no problem in keeping the small talk going throughout their ride to the main building. If they refrained from thinking about it, it’d feel like just another normal day of heading to work; attending some meetings, doing some discussions, finishing up some paperwork and going home. If they didn’t think too much into it, it doesn’t feel like they’ll be risking their lives in a massive ghoul extermination a few hours later.

But reality is a harsh, harsh thing. It’s difficult to keep pretending there’s nothing going on when the facts are glaring at them in the face. There are a dozen vans parked around CCG’s headquarters when Haise veers their car into the courtyard. Solemn faces greet them wherever they look; newbie investigators who are terrified on their first large operation, veteran investigators who no longer felt the crippling fear of putting their lives on the line, investigators who simply want to get everything over and done with so they could return in time for the broadcast of the night news.

The pressure doesn’t really sink in until they’re inside. The minute he takes a step through the automatic glass doors, it promptly becomes difficult to breathe, and Hide physically feels his heart taking a dive down to where his stomach is. He remembers this sensation from the raid almost three years ago - only it had been worse then. It’d taken Hide’s everything just to keep himself moving that time. Now all he has to do is resist the urge to grab a comforter off the sofas in the lobby and scream into it.

The leaders of the squads on duty are to gather at the conference room for one final briefing, so Haise and Shirazu take their leave first. Meanwhile, the rest of the team members are given their uniforms and directed to changing rooms. Hide weighs the package in his hands as he inspects the folded attire, wondering halfheartedly if he could somehow blend it in with his disguise later. Probably not. Nut’s invitation doesn’t mention anything about a dress code, but he figures he should still look decent since it is supposed to be a posh event, ulterior motives aside. He can’t have them denying him access just because of his sloppy outfit.

“Hide-san,” Mutsuki speaks as Hide’s stuffing his original clothes into a locker. The latter pauses from his task, and turns to face him, eyebrows raised. He realizes that Mutsuki has changed into a dress; though unlike before, he manages to hide his discomfort well this time.

“Yeah?” Hide asks, shutting the metal door behind him. Mutsuki holds his gaze, his shoulders set.

“I’ll do my best to play my part well today,” he says, and Hides feels himself smiling, despite everything. “So umm-“

“Let’s work hard, Tooru,” Hide tells him cheerily, reaching to gently pat the top of his head. Mutsuki’s eyes widen by a fraction before he does a jerky nod.

“Y-Yes!”

“You too, Kuki.” Hide lets his hand fall back to his side and turns to his dark-haired subordinate. Urie doesn’t respond, but Hide’s aware that he doesn’t like him calling him by his given name. Perhaps he should save that until he’s able to warm up to him. It wouldn’t do him good to stay in the guy’s bad side forever. “Even though you got an upgrade, don’t be reckless, okay?”

Silence. Then Urie lets out a soft grunt, and if Hide’s ill-fated enough to get himself killed tonight he would have one less regret because holy shit he actually answered him. Hide’s positive he’s still beaming like an idiot when Haise and Shirazu rejoins them around five minutes later, their expressions grim.

“We’ve reported for duty just now,” Haise informs the rest of his squad members, taking in the sight of them in their gear. “We’re free to take a break at the moment, so if you guys feel hungry or anything, now’s the time to eat up.”

“I think I might puke if I eat now,” Shirazu admits, tugging his tie off his neck after coming to a stop before an empty locker. “I mean, I can’t even feel my stomach.”

“You’ll still need a little food for the energy, Shirazu-kun.” Haise walks over and joins him, exhaling a breath through his nose. Frankly, he felt like puking too. “We should head down to the cafeteria later. Just having some bread is better than nothing.”

“Well, if you guys are okay with it, I can always make a dash to the nearest convenience store to get us some proper snacks,” Hide suggests casually, winking when his companions turn to stare at him. Haise gives him a small frown, like, “Is it time?” and Hide nods subtly, taking heed of the presence of the other investigators around them.

“Get me a meatbun, Hide-san,” Shirazu requests, pulling on the gray long-sleeved cotton shirt distributed to him. “And some grape juice would be awesome, too.”

“Didn’t you just say you’d gag if you eat?” Hide chuckles. He appreciates how the younger boy’s trying to play along in his own way, nonetheless. “Anything else you guys want?”

Mutsuki reluctantly asks for some oreos while Urie opts to not take up his offer. Haise tells him he’ll just have cafeteria food.

“Saiko-chan might want something, though,” he adds before Hide could start his way. “Maybe you should ask her before you go.”

“I’ll do that.” Hide grins, moving backwards towards the door with a bounce in his steps as though he had to hurry. “I’ll be right back.”

And before the others had the chance to tell him to be careful one last time, he’s gone.

xXx

Trying to convince Akira that he isn’t going to run away took him more time than he thought it would.

But Hide’s pretty smooth at times and he might have stepped up his sympathy game (“What if this is my last chance to have some Pocky!?”) and he always knew Akira had a soft spot for him somewhere, so he manages to make his authorized escape from the building without any further issues.

He strides across the street, marking the nearest Lawson as his destination. He’s aware that he stands out in his dull black and gray battle gear, but hey - Hide wore bright and loud clothes all his life for the same reason. He ignores the hushed whispers of passers-by when they spot the logo on his vest, holding his head high. He lets the cold breeze prick his cheeks and sift through his hair, taking comfort in the feeling of peace while he still had it. In roughly twenty minutes, things will be so hectic he’d barely have the time to breathe.

Hide greets the employee behind the counter as soon as he enters the store, sauntering right to the very back. Good thing he’d been friends with the guy for a while now; or else he wouldn’t have trusted him enough to ask for his cooperation and silence, nor would he be able to use their backdoor so offhandedly. His satchel lies untouched where he left it two days earlier in a cardboard box among the store’s stock. Hide fetches his belongings, waves his thanks, and exits into an alley.

Hide has done enough exploring to navigate through the back streets without getting himself lost and dizzy from all the corners and turns. He slips from one passageway to another, finally coming to a stop at a particularly secluded area. If CCG’s main headquarters isn’t located so close, he figures it’d be a favorable hunting ground for ghouls during the night. As it is, Hide sees nothing but remnants of human activity; pieces broken beer bottles on the ground, some hypodermic needles probably left by drug addicts (yikes), a dirty handkerchief - all sorts of weird and random stuff.

Hide sets his bag on the ground and gets right down to business; changing clothes so quickly he surprised himself. The temperature’s a good motivator; he thought he’d be frozen solid if he spent even one extra second standing around in his underclothes. He dons his trusty flats after removing his sneakers, and temporarily setting his combat attire aside, he pulls out his hair band and proceeds to do his makeup.

Hide has had enough practice in the past two weeks to master the art of eyelining and complete beautifying his face within ten minutes while he’s standing. Haise and the others will do their best to stall for time if necessary, but Hide still refuses to risk staying stationary any longer than he needs to. Though he knows it’s unlikely for the CCG to track down investigators who decide to go missing at the eleventh hour before a big mission because it’s such a common occurrence, he stays wary. It would be downright mortifying to be dragged back now after all his big talk and promises.

After returning his cosmetics into his bag, Hide reaches to slip on a modified bobby pin beneath a layer of hair on the back of his head. It’d fall off if he moves too roughly without his wig, but it’s better than nothing. It’s the only way Haise can find (or to the very least, guess) his location in case he gets separated from the other two during the auction.

Hide does one final check to make sure everything’s in place before pulling on his wig - thank goodness it isn’t tangled, Jesus - and shoving everything he doesn’t need into his satchel. He then fishes out a packet of pills from one of its compartments, retrieves a couple of tablets, and swallows them dry. He cringes as he keeps the packet back into its original place. He could probably never be able to get used to the bitter aftertaste. With a sigh, he puts his belongings inside an empty wooden crate, makes a mental note to come back for them later, and resumes his journey.

Hide has never appreciated the warmth provided by long hair more than he does now. Even with his extra undershirt and leggings (he’d learnt his lesson), he shivers every time the wind blows. The fact that he’s brisk-walking down the streets doesn’t make anything better. Hide slightly regrets not getting a jacket to go with his disguise. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so stingy in the first place. His wages are decent and he wouldn’t need to worry about paying rents and bills anymore now that he’d moved in with the Quinx squad. He should’ve gotten a jacket.

The blond barely conceals his relief as soon as he steps into the train, grateful for the heaters in the carriage. He occupies an empty seat at the two-seaters and tucks the bottom of his dress under his legs, minding the men sitting in front of him. He might be a guy himself, but he still finds being peeped up his skirt very uncomfortable.

Hide leans back and loosely hugs his elbows as the train starts moving, gazing at the moving scenery outside. It’s strangely quiet without his music. He stifles another sigh and tries not to yearn for his headphones. Without the distraction of his favorite tracks, Hide’s thoughts start to wander. However, instead of doing more mental reviews on his coming operation, he ponders about the conversation he’s going to have with Haise once the it’s over. Worrying, even. He could already guess what the latter’s going to tell him - that he’s a half-ghoul and that he can’t remember his past and all that - but what about his own share of talking? How much should he reveal? How much could he reveal?

If it’s left to him, of course Hide would want to tell him everything. He’d describe every single day from the moment they met as children till the moment they reunited as strangers down to the littlest detail. He’d tell him how they were once best friends who meant the world to each other, he’d yell at him for carrying his burdens alone and pushing himself away from him. He’d tell him things he could never bring himself to say when he had the chance.

Sadly, the choice is not his to make. The very first condition the CCG gave him in their agreement is that he’s forbidden to tamper with Sasaki Haise’s forgotten memories in any way. No matter how badly Hide wants his best friend back, he can’t. Besides, it’d been his own decision to make Kaneki forget. If he brought back everything now, wouldn’t his own efforts go to waste? Wouldn’t it all be just for nothing?

Hide had been watching Kaneki’s process ever since the time the latter woke up in his hospital bed with bandages still wrapped across his ruined eyes. He’d seen how he’d slowly recovered and began fitting in with the people in the CCG, how he eventually managed to overcome his own insecurities and actually started enjoying himself after a while. And Hide had fought back the nagging ache in his heart and made himself believe that it’s for the best, that it’s alright even though that vibrant smile isn’t for him. He thought he’d be okay with losing his most important person if it meant giving him the happiness he deserved. He thought he wouldn’t mind watching over him from the shadows for the rest of his life.

But then again, is Kaneki truly content with how things are right now? Is the tiny sense of peace he’s granted enough to compensate for everything the CCG is doing to him? For the distaste from those who are jealous of his abilities and from those who knew the truth? For the indirect brainwashing? Is this fragile security worth the price of letting the CCG hone and shape him into their ultimate weapon? 

It’s been years, and Hide’s still conflicted. Was the second chance he tried to give Kaneki a mistake after all?

The train comes to a stop at yet another station, and he inhales a sharp breath to stop his reverie. Whatever happens, he decides, he’d just have to deal with it later and hope his big mouth will cooperate with him for once. He can’t lose focus now. He can’t mull over both the past and the future when he already has so many problems to face in the present. He’ll be fine. He just had to be careful.

He’ll be fine.

xXx

It doesn’t occur to Mutsuki that he’d been neglecting to do something until he’s seated in the car with Juuzou by his side.

The older boy hums softly as he entertains himself by repeatedly braiding and unbraiding his hair, staring absently into space. Looking at him then, Mutsuki could almost believe that the person next to him is just a harmless young girl in her teens who’s into gothic fashion and not a high ranking CCG Investigator whom he’s told is unbelievably strong despite his small stature. In contrast to his own fidgetiness, Associate Special Class Suzuya seems completely calm, showing no signs of nervousness whatsoever towards their impending mission. Sure, he’d probably been assigned to a ton of these big operations before - but is it really natural to look so collected about it? Almost like he didn’t even care?

“You’ve been staring at me for a while now,” Juuzou speaks out of the blue, successfully startling his companion. He stops fiddling with his wig and regards Mutsuki through the corner of his eye. “Something wrong, Rank 3 Mutsuki?”

“A-Ah, not really.” Mutsuki swallows to keep his stutter in check. “I just remembered that I was supposed to ask you to teach me some things about knife-handling.” He winces, and averts his gaze sheepishly. “But I guess I forgot.”

“With all those hours training with Haise, it’s no wonder.” Juuzou shrugs, then turns to look at him properly. “We can always find another day. I think we’ll have some time off after tonight’s raid.”

Mutsuki’s eyes widens at his offer. “Is it really okay? I mean, I’m sure you’re a busy person and-“

“I let Hanbee and the rest of the guys handle the paperwork, so it’s fine,” Juuzou says breezily, as though avoiding his duties is the most natural thing to do. “Just give me a call before you come over. I’ll see if I’m free then.”

“Thank you so much!” Mutsuki says, hastily bending into a bow. Juuzou chuckles and asks him to lift his head, telling him it’s no big deal.

“I can even verbally give you some tips right now,” he says, craning his neck a little to glance at the digital clock up front. “There’s still a while left before we reach the site of the auction, anyway.”

“If you don’t mind.” Mutsuki sits a little straighter. He might be an oddball, but Suzuya’s actually a really nice person, huh?

“Hmm,” Juuzou starts, leaning back and tapping his lips in thought. “I guess the most basic thing you’ll need when using knives is flexibility and speed? You can work on the flexibility of your fingers by twirling stationery between them before you move on to actual blades.”

“Did you injure yourself a lot when you were practicing last time?” Mutsuki inquires before he could stop himself. Juuzou shoots him a curious stare.

“Are you scared?” he asks, and Mutsuki blanches. He’s a sharp one.

“A little.”

“It’s alright to be afraid,” Juuzou assures, kicking off his shoes and casually crossing his legs on his seat. “As knife users, we can’t expect to come out unscathed at the beginning. You’ve got to cut up your hands a bit before you can improve.” He pauses. “Now that I think of it, you can even afford to cut your fingers off because they’ll grow back since you’re a Quinx and all.”

Mutsuki gapes at him, wide-eyed. “What?

“Sorry.” Juuzou instantly realizes his mistake. He still had the tendency to unintentionally blurt out the first thing that’s in his mind before thinking it over sometimes. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m really sorry.”

Mutsuki brushes it off the best he can, but the damage has already been done. They fall into silence, and a painful awkwardness hangs in the air. Mutsuki hadn’t expected Suzuya to say those words at all, hadn’t expected him to sound so indifferent about being dismembered. Hadn’t expected him to sound so genuinely remorseful in his apology. Mutsuki realizes there’s more to his superior’s character than he shows. Underneath that childish exterior, there’s something else; possibly something terrifying.

“Suzuya-san,” Mutsuki gathers his courage and breaks the silence. “Forgive me for sounding rude, but I’ve been wondering.”

Juuzou’s gaze flickers to him. “About what?”

“Why did you volunteer to accompany me into the auction to act as bait?” Mutsuki asks after a split second of hesitation. “Wouldn’t it better if you were to contribute in the actual fight instead? What merit would you get from doing this?”

“Merit?” Juuzou blinks. “There’s none.”

“Then why-“

“I’m helping a good friend look after his subordinate who’s in a dangerous situation because he can’t,” Juuzou says simply. “Is that too hard to believe?”

No, no it’s not and Mutsuki hangs his head in shame because what was he doing assuming everything a person does is for their own benefit? When did he become such a narrow-minded idiot?

“I’m sorry, Suzuya-san” he says, honestly meaning it. “I apologize for misunderstanding you.”

“Don’t sweat it. I get that a lot,” Juuzou tells him easily, waving a dismissive hand. “Also, you’re not all wrong, Mutsuki-kun. I am doing this for a reason.”

Looking up, Mutsuki dares himself to ask. “And that is..?”

Juuzou grins, and it’s at that exact moment that Mutsuki notices the wild look in his eyes; as though he had a tad bit too much caffeine that morning.

“You’ll find out when we get there.”

xXx

Except the occasional rattle of equipment and a few sniffles, the inside of their van is silent.

Haise chews his lower lip in an attempt to keep his cool. The tense atmosphere is making him restless. Every ticking second is like an insistent taunt in his ears. Time is running out. They’ll be dead by the time you reach them. You won’t be able to save them. You won’t be able to protect anyone.

Shut up, Haise hisses inwardly, realizing that it’s his inner voice acting up again. He had amazing timing, that guy. He always knew when and how to bother him and mess him up.

To his credit, he’d been completely silent up until today. Haise hadn’t heard him speak a word ever since the night he asked that ambiguous question.

Why?

Why what? What does he mean by that? Why did that single word carry so much emotion, so much.. anguish? Why did he let himself show his vulnerability for the first time that night? Haise had given up trying to figure out.

“Maman.”

Haise glances down to his left at the sound of Saiko’s quiet voice. “Yeah?”

Saiko had lost some weight over their two weeks of training - which is good, he supposes. Investigator or not, being overweight from eating and not exercising is bad for her health. Besides, with her blood circulating a little better now, she’s more alert. She doesn’t fall asleep at every chance she gets and her reaction time has improved somewhat.

“Do you think Mu-chan’s already inside the place right now?” Saiko whispers, tugging at his sleeve. Haise reaches over and gently takes her hand in his own, hoping that his gesture brings her the comfort she needs.

“He probably is,” he says, trying to sound upbeat. He glances at the radar strapped around his wrist, his attention drawn to the unmoving dot on the grid. It hadn’t been easy maintaining eye contact with Akira when he told her the truth. Haise would have a lot of explaining to do with Hide when they get back. Not that they aren’t prepared.

Saiko leans a bit of her weight against him, and Haise lets her. “I hope we’ll make it in time.”

“We will,” Haise assures, though he himself harbors the same doubt. What if the auction starts earlier than they’d anticipated? What if the boys fail to stall for time in there? Haise can’t think about all that; he’d lose his ability to function entirely if he does.

Their vehicle eventually comes to a definite stop, and Haise unconsciously tenses up when a voice cackles to life from the intercom.

“All teams to position. I repeat, all teams to position.”

Simultaneously, Haise and his squad rise from their seats, hefting their Quinque in their hands. Haise carries Juuzou’s, Shirazu carries Mutsuki’s, and Urie’s -grudgingly- in charge of Hide’s. Even in this operation, the Quinx squad’s primary duty is assistance. Their main task is to get the weapons to their respective owners before joining the battle themselves. It sounds simple enough, but the pressure’s still there.

“Remember; if anything happens to me, Shirazu-kun’s in command,” Haise tells his subordinates as they get off their vehicle and move swiftly to their assigned location. The Madam’s auction is held beneath a humongous manor around three times the size of the Quinx’s chateau. To the CCG’s advantage, it is also situated quite some distance away from human residence, making evacuation easier. On the down side, it also made having the ghouls’ gory events undisturbed all this while. “And don’t lose sight of me until we reach Mutsuki-kun and the others.”

“We’ll be right behind you,” Shirazu assures, coming to a crouch beside him behind the bushes. Haise nods in acknowledgement, keeping his eyes trained at the guards standing by the gates.

The investigators lie low and wait; five minutes, ten minutes. They’ll be receiving their signal to proceed any moment now. Haise’s heart beats wildly in his chest, and he clutches the handle of his briefcase a little tighter. He takes a deep breath, forcing the slight tremor in his hands to disappear. He can’t afford to be any more nervous than he is now.

The softest snap of a rifle echoes throughout the silence, and the ghouls by the entrance suddenly fall, hitting the concrete ground below with a dull thud. At the sound of it, dozens of ghoul investigators emerge from their hiding spots and sprint towards the gates, a few among them hurling canisters containing CRC gas into the compound. Haise takes a quick breath and stands up, deftly motioning for his team to follow before charging in himself.

Like it or not, the Auction Wipeout Plan has begun.