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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Hide supposes it was a mistake to let them drug him.

Then again, it wasn’t like he had any other choice if he wanted to get in without raising suspicion.

There’s a dull throb in his head and his limbs feel heavy. Hide stays still, working to part his eyelids by the smallest crack. He winces when brightness abruptly floods his vision. Good - he’s not blindfolded. Hide waits for his eyes to adjust before peering around, trying to assess his situation the best he can. Earlier, he had strolled right through the front gates of the manor and was then directed to the back entrance that where he’s told the rest of the part-timers were gathering. The Nutcracker had been standing by the door when he got there and when he’d approached her, Hide was promptly ambushed from behind and was knocked unconscious by the piece of cloth pressed over his nose and mouth.

And so here he is now, with both his hands bound and lips covered with duct tape. Hide figures the excessive use of tape is to minimize the damage on the ‘merchandise’. Ropes and zip ties could leave faint scars whereas shackles and cuffs cut into skin. It wouldn’t do Nuts any good if the girls she’d captured were blemished before she could sell them off for a good price. Hide takes a deep breath, straining his ears, not daring to turn around yet. He’s currently facing the wall, but he knows he’s not alone; he hears the breathing of more people behind him, some deep and even from unconsciousness, some erratic from fear. He also detects some faint whimpers and groans from the ladies around him. How many of them were there in the room?

The more Hide attempts to organize his thoughts, the clearer his mind slowly becomes. There’s a musty smell and a certain stillness in the air; they are probably underground as predicted. Hide guesses there’ll be some guards outside, but the chamber they’re in is probably safe. To most ghouls, humans are harmless enough as they are -  what more of a group of frail, unarmed human females? They’re probably confident in their security as well; seeing how the victims’ legs are unrestrained. The girls gathered here are not expected to make it back outside on their own.

Hide clenches his teeth and twists to sit upright, battling against the additional weight his body seems to be carrying at the moment. He exhales when no one yells at him to return to his original position, relieved that his intuition is right once again. His wig is also still intact - bless him. He shifts to face away from the wall, realizing that the room isn’t actually as bright as he’d initially thought. Apart from the lone fluorescent lamp on the ceiling, there are no other sources of illumination.

The sight of around forty terrified young ladies greets him as soon as he turns around, and Hide swears he could almost taste their despair. Some of them are crying uncontrollably, while some are still in too much shock to react. Those who came with friends stay close to each other. Those who came alone curl up and try to make themselves look as small as possible.

None of them look like they had any hopes of escaping.

Hide searches for familiar faces in the dimly lit room, half wondering if they’d been separated already. Exactly how many of them were the Nutcracker planning to sell? Are there more rooms filled with girls waiting to be auctioned off to a bunch of wealthy ghouls? He honestly hopes not. The rescue team will have a hard time saving so many of them at once, and the risks would undoubtedly be higher.

Hide finally spots Tooru across the room, his visible eye closed and his back leaned against the wall. Sprawled by his side is a girl in black which Hide guesses is Suzuya, judging from the stitches on his bottom lip. Hide silently thanks every god he knows for his burst of luck today. He then waits roughly a minute to make sure the coast is clear before he struggles to get on his feet and stumble to where his colleagues are. It’s better for them stay close to one another; they’ll probably be called out in batches when the auction begins. If they’re going to wreck havoc, they’re going to do it together. Besides, it’ll be easier for Haise and the guys to find them and hand them their Quinque when the times comes.

Hide kneels down on the conveniently empty spot right by Mutsuki and Juuzou, trying to come up with a way to wake them that doesn’t involve any kicking. It doesn’t seem like he had much of a choice; with his hands bound behind his back and his mouth taped shut. Frankly, Hide knows how to escape from duct tape - being a fan of crime novels has its advantages; plus the feat isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds - but he would only draw more attention upon himself if he breaks free now. He has to keep a low profile until the time is ripe.

Juuzou stirs before Hide’s able to decide on what to do, moving to painstakingly sit himself upright. He stares at Hide once their gazes meet, blinking in surprise and lack of recognition. Hide tries hard to get his message across through his eyes. It’s me, Suzuya-san! It’s Hide!

He swears he could’ve teared up when the other boy finally perks up and nods fervently from his revelation. Hide cocks a chin towards the still unconscious Mutsuki, silently questioning how they should wake him. Without a shred of reluctance, Juuzou stretches out his leg, and persistently nudges the younger boy’s calf until he comes around. Hide watches as Mutsuki cringes slightly before opening his eyes, momentarily disorientated. He quickly registers his superiors’ faces in front of him and immediately snaps into alertness, his entire body stiffening. Hide waggles his eyebrows in greeting.

It’s important for them to be chosen for the first batch that’s going to be auctioned - provided it hasn’t already started while they were still out cold - in order to reduce the loss of more lives. The three investigators exchange a look among themselves and promptly come to a mutual agreement. It’s time to commence the next part of their plan as distracters.

Juuzou stands up unsteadily, and marches straight towards the closed door with Hide and Mutsuki tailing behind him. He then casually starts kicking at the wooden panel, screaming incoherently into the tape across his mouth. The other two joins in the ruckus; wailing loudly and carefully slamming themselves onto the door and generally acting very frantic to get out. The other girls stare at them in bafflement, surprised by their sudden violent outburst. Hide honestly expected one or two of them to join them, but as it turns out, none did. Does the entire situation look that hopeless to them? Perhaps it does - anxiety and panic aren’t exactly the best morale boosters.

Hide eventually detects hurried footsteps approaching their direction; their commotion finally acknowledged.  Though it meant he’s also about to face more danger, Hide feels glad. His throat’s starting to hurt from all his strained high-pitched yelling.

There comes several loud knocks on the door, followed by a gruff voice ordering them to tone down and give it up because nobody could hear their pleas for help anyway. Juuzou kicks harder in retaliation, and Hide could tell from the mirth in his eyes that he’s actually having fun doing this. What a weird guy. Even weirder still is that Hide finds his enthusiasm strangely uplifting. He can’t figure out why.

The trio deftly step back when the door swings open without a warning, the edge of it missing the point of Hide’s nose by a centimeter. A masked, burly man in a suit stands at the entrance, and Hide doesn’t need him to uncover his face to see his sneer.

“Feisty ones we have here, don’t we?” he says, not bothered to hide his scorn. Hide and Mutsuki glare at him in defiance, while Juuzou merely offers him a look of utter disinterest. One could even say he seemed disappointed, but it’s hard to tell.

“Since you ladies are raring to get out of there so badly, why don’t we put you up first?” the suited ghoul muses, his hand shooting out to grab Juuzou’s upper arm at a speed the latter could have no doubt avoided had he been taking him seriously. Hide and the guys could’ve charged straight out and continued their commotion from there, but they choose not to for they aren’t familiar enough with their current location. They wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors getting lost.

The guard’s other hand clutches Mutsuki’s shoulder as he ignores Juuzou’s deliberately feeble kicks. Hide sees that the younger boy’s flinch from the contact had been genuine. The ghoul’s touch seriously made him uncomfortable, and if it wasn’t for their mission Hide would’ve personally trampled the bastard underfoot. As it is, he and a few other girls are subdued by another guard who later entered the room at the first guy’s command, and they are all then ushered through the maze of underground tunnels that could’ve easily led from nowhere to nowhere.

Hide hears the crowd before he sees them. He also hears the Nutcracker’s voice over loudspeakers, brightly announcing the highest bids for various body parts. Hide bites back a curse. There had been people sent to the auction before them. He notices Mutsuki paling when the same realization dawns him, and he wants so badly to tell the boy not to blame himself and that some things can’t be avoided. They have to accept that sometimes, it’s just impossible to save everyone.

They come to a stop before a heavy wooden door that most likely leads to the stage or whatever Nuts is using to display her ‘goods’. The metallic scent of blood immediately hits them as soon as the panel is pushed from its frame, and the few girls at the back either gag or faint on the spot. Mutsuki falters as well, but he quickly manages to keep his nausea at bay. Hide swallows thickly to maintain his composure. Juuzou looks completely unaffected.

In fact, he’s so unaffected that he chooses that exact moment to rip himself free from the duct tape binding his wrists and tear away from his guard’s carelessly lose hold, bounding right through the opening in front of him. Hide takes advantage of the confusion and wriggles his hands free as well, briefly gesturing for Mutsuki to stay where he is and take care of the girls while he and Juuzou get down to business.

And without staying even a second longer to confirm if he got the message, Hide tears the tape from his mouth, and dashes to join his superior.

xXx

As it turns out, the auction is held in a sort of fancy amphitheater.

Hide would’ve appreciated the architecture and interior design and all that stuff more if he hadn’t been caught in his current situation. The stage floor is stained with blood; both fresh and stale. Facing the stage are rows upon rows of seats, every one of them occupied by ghouls in expensive clothing and masquerade masks. Behind them are three more floors of verandas, also occupied by a bunch of high class ghouls. Juuzou is nowhere to be seen, and the Nutcracker is staring at Hide from across the stage with so much rage and incredulity he could’ve started laughing right there. He can’t blame her for being mad at them. It must’ve been utterly embarrassing for her to have her ‘items’ running free and potentially trashing the place.

Before he could decide on what he should do next, a series of ohhs and ahhs erupt from the audience, and when Hide dares himself to look, he sees Juuzou weaving in and out of the crowd and merrily hopping from one seat to another by stepping on the backrests. When a few guards attempt to catch him, he disappears into the hallways and leads them to a dangerous game of chase.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice announces over the speakers amongst the excitement, his cheeriness evidently forced. Hide guesses that must be the backup emcee or something, since the Nutcracker is still glaring at him with a look that practically screams bloody murder. “We are glad to see that you enjoyed that brief entertainment we’ve provided! Unfortunately, our intermission has come to an end, and the auction shall resume! Now onto the next product!”

Hide gulps once, and steps into view. Murmurs immediately break out from the crowd when his presence is registered, and he tries to keep a straight face while his brain races for ideas.

“That scent-“

“She smells like a male..”

“Wait, isn’t that auctioneer famous for providing young girls only?”

“Must be a mistake. How careless..”

“You-“ Nuts hisses when she finally finds her voice, and Hide decides he should just focus on keeping himself alive for now. He gets the feeling she won’t go easy on him; not after humiliating her in front of her buyers like this. “You’re a-“

“I’m a guy,” Hide affirms, dramatically pulling off his wig to reveal his short blonde hair underneath. It’s probably his body odor that gave him away; cheap perfume can only provide that much cover against ghouls’ sharp sense of smell. “Oh, sorry - I didn’t know you’re actually so picky. Why don’t we sit down and have a nice, civilized talk about letting me go and-“

Hide stops short just in time to leap forward and avoid being skewered by a giant barb, letting out a rather manly yelp in the process. He figures he must’ve been crazier than he thought he was all along; attempting to challenge an A~ ranked ghoul without a weapon. He lands on the floor with a roll and immediately gets to his feet, his senses on full alert. The audience cheers around them, satisfied with being able to witness another dismantling show. Hide, on the other hand, discovers that perhaps he’d finally ran out of luck that evening.

Of all things, the Nutcracker has to have a bikaku kagune shaped like a scorpion’s tail. Hide used to love those arachnids when he was younger because he thought they were so cool with their exoskeleton and lighting fast venomous stings that could kill victims hundreds of times larger than themselves and all that, but he’s rapidly changing his mind. If Nut’s tail is as fast as an actual scorpion’s - or worse, it’s even faster - Hide isn’t sure how long he’d be able to keep up in not getting himself punctured all over long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

“The starting bid is fifty thousand yen for a limb!”

Rude, Hide thinks as he laments over the fact that he has exactly nothing he could use against the ghoul. He’s obviously worth a lot more than that - but he supposes it isn’t exactly the time for him to defend his ego. Normal weapons (such as that promising-looking steel pipe within his arm’s reach) would not even scratch the Nutcracker and that kagune is a real pain in the ass. Hide guesses his only way of actually surviving is by avoiding or somehow disabling her tail. He doesn’t have to deal much damage yet. He just has to keep her busy and direct the audience’s attention to him until Haise and the others reach them.

Nuts goes for another strike, and Hide nearly dodges a second too slow. The sharp point of the ghoul’s tail catches his dress and the fabric rips from his movement to the opposite direction. Hide’s tempted to ask for a timeout so he can strip the damn thing off, but with the way Nuts is passionately asking him to die, she probably wouldn’t comply anyway so he doesn’t bother. Still, he had to reduce his own contact area somehow or another. Hide’s eyes dart around as he keeps himself moving, looking for something that could help buy him time; preferably something he could jam Nuts’ kagune with. Or something he could use to blind her. Or perhaps even an exposed wire that he could use to stun her with. Anything.

There’s a large, empty cage behind the Nutcracker but Hide decides that wouldn’t be any good to him. Shutting himself in is a terrible idea and trying to lure the ghoul in there made no sense since she could easily cut her way out. He could always bet on the chances that she’ll put a hole on the floor at a certain angle and get her tail stuck between wooden boards, but it’ll be a process of trial and error, and the leftover holes would limit his own movements as well. Hide doesn’t exactly fancy giving himself less space to dart around.  

All the dodging and running progressively saps Hide’s energy. Hide could feel his movements slowing down and his breathing turning into pants as the minutes pass one by one. It’s surprisingly draining to stay on the defensive. He backs against a pillar, trying to catch his breath when the drapes at the side of the stage catch his eye. If he remembers his time spent helping out in his middle school drama club correctly, stage curtains are pretty heavy. If he could get to the other end, maybe he could-

Distracted, Hide almost doesn’t notice the huge barb coming straight at his chest until it’s too late. He lurches to the side, but his response had been delayed. Hide hisses when the point of Nuts’ tail cuts into his flesh just below his last rib. Fortunately for him, it’s not a deep wound and the pain isn’t overwhelming. He presses a hand over the bleeding wound. He can still move.

“Three hundred thousand for the heart!”

The Nutcracker draws her kagune back, and a plan begins formulating in Hide’s mind. Her tail is fast, but the instant it extends, her momentum would make her tail harder - if not impossible - to control. He would find his opening there. Hide keeps his eyes focused on the appendage, tensing when it does.

And as soon as the Nutcracker lashes out at him, Hide ducks his head low, and sprints forward.

xXx

Mutsuki’s pretty sure he’d been asked to stay behind while his two superiors steal the spotlight outside.

Which means his task lies in keeping the two guards busy.

Scratch that - there’s only one of them left now. The other has went out after Hide before he could stop him. Mutsuki knows he shouldn’t have been relieved over the fact that he doesn’t have to handle two ghouls twice his size each on his own, but he is. Having the girls around has already made his job hard enough. He can’t let them get hurt. He couldn’t do anything to help those before them anymore, but he’ll do everything in his power to prevent further unnecessary deaths.  

Mutsuki eyes the guard to his right, gathering his courage. He couldn’t afford to just knock the guy unconscious and risk him waking up anytime soon. He knows that if he wants to make sure he doesn’t run off to sound the alarms or use the innocent girls as leverage once he realizes who he is, he’d have to stain his hands and kill the ghoul right here and now.

But how?

Associate Special Class Suzuya had lent him a couple of his knives earlier, and they’re now strapped against his thighs. It’s one scrawny kid against a six feet tall ghoul who looks like he’s made of nothing but muscles. Mutsuki twists slightly to dig his nails into the tape around his wrists, putting a hole into the material so he could tear his hands free. A head-on assault would be suicide, he decides. He forces himself to remember his training. What had Sasaki and Hide taught him? What are his strengths? What advantages does he have?

Mutsuki makes a distressed sound and lets himself go limp, carefully folding his legs under him. The guard curses when he sees him sinking to the floor, hurrying over to break his fall either by instinct or obligation, the boy couldn’t tell. Not that it matters.

“Ugh, not you too,” the man groans, grabbing him roughly by the arm to haul him upright. He’d been resting the fainted girls against the wall nearby when Mutsuki began his act. He looks like he has had enough of handling feeble humans, and he’s totally unsuspecting an attack from the one before him. Perfect.  

Mutsuki abruptly pulls his hands apart, and in one swift motion, he unsheathes his knife, and slashes the ghoul across the eyes above his mask.

Surprised and blinded, the guard releases his hold and stumbles back, blood pouring down his face. Mutsuki has to act before he could complete his regeneration, and if there’s anything he’s scarcely good at, he’s been told that he could be fast when he tries. He kicks out, suppressing a wince as his leg tangles with the man’s and causes the latter to fall backwards to the ground. While he’s still stunned, Mutsuki leaps at him, using his whole weight to pin him flat on the floor. And without stopping to think, he lifts his blade, and drives it right through his chest and into his heart.

Mutsuki lets go when huge hands close around his throat, the thumbs pressing onto his windpipe and cutting off his air supply. How could he have so much strength left when he’s on the verge of dying? Quinque steel curbs regeneration; Mutsuki discovered that when he had his ear pierced for the tracker. Not even a ghoul can survive when his heart stops functioning. He works to pry those fingers loose, choking for breath. The man lets out a gurgled laugh as he tightens his grip, gleeful for being able to bring his attacker down with him. Not good. The edges of Mutsuki’s vision are slowly darkening. He had to do something or else-

Mutsuki reaches for his second knife with one hand and stabs downwards with it, feeling the blade sink into skin and flesh. He then yanks the knife out, and perhaps it’s due to his own desperation to stay alive - he isn’t sure, he brings it down once more. And again. And again. And he doesn’t stop until the force abruptly leaves the hands around his neck, and the ghoul falls motionless, finally dead.

Mutsuki gets off him, his weapon dropping to the floor with an dull clank. He doesn’t notice how hard he’s breathing and how badly his entire body is trembling until then. The reality of it all slowly sinks in. He’d done it. He’d taken a life with his own two hands.

It’s not murder, not exactly. He had to kill in order to protect. He didn’t kill because he wanted to, but because he had to. He’s not like them; he’s not killing for the fun of it. He didn’t have a choice.

He didn’t have a choice if he’d wanted to survive.

Mutsuki doubles over, and throws up.

xXx

The first part of the raid is unexpectedly easy.

Haise and his team cross the courtyard and towards the main entrance of the manor without having to face even one ghoul. The other investigators had cleared a path for them all the way to the inside to ensure they’d be able to get to the Juuzou and the others as soon as they can. Haise navigates the sophisticated hallways with his squad in toll, his thumb positioned over the knob on his suitcase handle so he could activate his Quinque at the shortest notice. Akira’s voice sounds from the device in his ear, barking orders and directions. Haise answers to every one of them with a simple ‘Roger’ and forges straight on, eventually finding the hidden doorway and slowly progressing deeper and deeper underground.

And underground is where it gets busy because Haise’s team is one of the first ones there. It’s strange, how everything feels like there’s a sort of familiarity to it. Haise couldn’t help wondering if he’d done something like this before in the past. If yes, then what was he doing? What were his reasons to descend belowground?

Hurry, Haise. Or else you’ll never make it.

It doesn’t help that the insistently taunting voice in his head is giving him the start of a migraine. He speaks every time Haise hesitates, every time he pauses to reconsider his situation before taking action. Haise does his best to ignore him, distracting himself by putting all his focus onto his task. The alarms must’ve been sounded. More guards are coming for them now, but it’s still not something they’re unable to handle. With the place raided by the CCG, the guards had more important people to defend than a group of lowly humans who were about to be sold as goods anyway.  

Haise makes the effort to deal the bare minimum of blows per opponent when he’s confronted. He only disables his foes and refrains from killing them because he and his team are in a rush and they can’t afford to spend the extra precious seconds fighting. They’ll have to leave the finishing touches to the other squads.

Haise orders the Quinx to stick close to the wall so they’d have to worry about one less direction to defend. He has to admit; the kids are faring quite well despite their nervousness earlier. Shirazu and Urie’s not dragging their duels and even Saiko’s doing a decent job acting as support by using her ukaku Quinque to cover her teammates. Maybe they’ll be able to do this without getting seriously hurt after all.

“Rank 1 Sasaki,” a voice buzzes in Haise’s ears, one belonging to one of the guys stationed at their command center. “You’re approaching Rank 3 Mutsuki’s location; continue going north for thirty paces or so, then switch direction and move west. He should be within sight by then.”

“Understood.” Haise turns to address his team. “We’re making a turn in the next corner.”

 They push back the last of the guards on them and sprint towards the junction ahead, the rest of their path oddly peaceful. Haise spots several figures at the other end once they enter the left corridor, and he’s shortly given his confirmation that Mutsuki is indeed among them. Haise and his team move straight on.

“Mutsuki-kun!” Haise calls as he approaches him, and he feels his heart nearly coming to a stop when the boy in question turns towards his voice.

“S-Sensei,” Mutsuki says, both his tone and smile shaky. The front of his dress, his hands, even his neck and face - they are all stained with blood. Haise’s temple throbbed.

You can’t save anyone.

“Holy shit, Tooru.” Shirazu’s the first to overcome his stupor and go to the shorter boy. “What happened, man? You’re a mess!”

“The blood isn’t mine. I’m okay,” Mutsuki tells him, and it’s only then that the others notice the unmoving body on the ground; as well as the three unconscious girls slumped against the wall. Haise also sees that his subordinate is looking several shades paler than usual, his pupils dilated and his hands fisted - probably to stop them from quaking. Things click into place, and Haise honestly doesn’t know what to say. What could he say to make things better, even by the slightest bit?

It’s your fault. If only you’d insisted on not letting him be assigned to this; you could’ve prevented this from happening.

“Do you remember where the other girls are kept in?” Haise asks, forcing his attention back to his current circumstances. When Mutsuki nods after a moment of thoughtful silence, he immediately issues his instructions. “Shirazu-kun and Saiko-chan - you guys help carry these ladies and follow Mutsuki-kun to look for the rest of them. One of you contact command center and tell them the exact location once you find the place. Be careful during the evacuation, alright? Work together with everyone else. Don’t act alone.”

“Suzuya-san and Hide-san are out there,” Mutsuki informs him, pointing towards the opening just a little further from them. Haise hums once in acknowledgement and sets off right after, Urie at his heels. He wills himself to not look over his shoulder to make sure Mutsuki’s really okay. He has to put his duty above personal concerns. The operation is top priority.

Haise steps through the doorway to enter a backstage area, and he could already tell that the place is a wreck from where he stands. One of the velvet drapes on the further side of the stage has been yanked down and it currently lay in ruined heap on the floor. The Nutcracker has her kagune out and is currently lashing at someone who’s just barely evading and standing his ground against that menacing scorpion’s tail.

Haise doesn’t think twice before he jumps right into the battle, intercepting and cutting the tip of Nuts’ kagune right off as it lunges straight towards Hide.

And Hide, in his tattered clothes and questionable fashion statement with the entire bottom part of his dress torn off, simply gapes at him for a moment before baring his teeth in his trademark grin. “About time, buddy!”

“Sorry!” Haise says, regrettably unable to offer him anything more than a glance because of the ghoul he’s occupied with. But he’s glad. Apart from a few cuts and bruises and that small gash on his side, Hide doesn’t seem to have any major wounds. With his makeup melted and his halfassed attempts to wipe away whatever remained of it, his face looks dirtier than it actually is. His breathing is heavy and a few strands of his blond hair are plastered on the edges of his face. “You need any help dealing with her?”

“Just give me a minute to catch my breath,” Hide says, momentarily retreating to collect his Quinque from Urie. The younger boy averts his gaze when he smiles and thanks him, but Hide supposes he should’ve expected that. He doesn’t even get the chance to wish him good luck before he takes off to join the ghoul extermination at the seating area.

Hide’s briefcase morphs into solid weapon resembling a long dagger when he presses the activator on its handle, its weight assuring in his hands. He charges in while Haise still has the female ghoul distracted, and switching his hold on the hilt of his Quinque into a reverse grip, Hide twists and slashes a wide arc across the Nutcracker’s torso. Yeah, it feels great to finally be able to fight back.

“Go look for Suzuya-san, Haise!” Hide shouts over his shoulder as the ghoul staggers from the impact of his attack, a stream of red leaking from her newly opened wound. “I’ll be fine on my own!”

He’s facing a fairly high rated ghoul alone while he’s battered and exhausted - it couldn’t be an easy feat, not even for him. But Haise has no choice but to do as he says. If Juuzou’s somewhere behind one of the verandas of the upper floors like he’d been notified, he’d need his Quinque more than anyone else.

Haise takes a sharp breath, and gathering his resolve, he leaves to find Juuzou. The latter’s in the highest floor, he’d been told, where the VIP ghouls are currently being cornered. Unfortunately, those filthy rich ghouls had also hired members of Aogiri as their private bodyguards, and it’s turning into quite an intense battle.

Turn back, Haise. You know he won’t be able to win his fight by himself. You know that.

“I need to get to Juuzou-kun first,” Haise unconsciously mutters under his breath, running up the stairs three at a time and stopping only to get a ghoul out of his way or avoid colliding with a fellow investigator. It’s as though he’s worried that his body would go against his brain and move on its own accord if he doesn’t voice the words out loud. “Only then I’ll go help Hide.”

He reaches his destination quickly enough, and he discovers that the topmost floor is in utter chaos. A series of verandas are lined along the hallway to his right, offering a full view of the amphitheatre below. Hooded individuals clash with Doves, neither party willing to give in without a struggle. Bodies of the fallen are scattered all over; some in expensive clothing, some in maroon robes, some wearing the dark attire of the CCG investigators. Haise doesn’t see Juuzou anywhere.

If you’re not going to protect him, give it back. Give my body back.

Haise ignores the voice and moves further into the hallway. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to go far because his path is soon blocked by a group of investigators facing off with a band of Aogiri members. Juuzou’s stuck at the very back of the group, probably banned from going into combat without a proper Quinque. He’s juggling a few of his knives - all of them bloody - when Haise hastily approaches him and passes him his briefcase.

“Ahh, thanks, Haise!” Juuzou chirps, activating his weapon in delight as soon as his fingers close around the handle. Haise takes a step back to avoid taking a giant scythe to his face.  It’s not his first time seeing Juuzou’s Jason, but the Quinque still gives him the vibes. There’s something about it, a sort of aura it emits, that unnerves Haise to no end. Perhaps it’s also partly due to how expertly Juuzou wields it; almost like a very tiny, very excited, and very intimidating grim reaper.

Juuzou holds his scythe high and squeezes his way through the barricade of investigators, loudly asking the others to make way. Once he’s through, he brandishes his Quinque a few times to warm up, and proceeds to bolt right into the enemy lines, cutting anyone and anything within his range, telling them that they’re being a nuisance and that he can’t wait to see ‘Mama’ again.

And then as though motivated by his aggression, the Doves charge forward to resume their own battles. The main objective of the plan is total annihilation; their job is to exterminate every ghoul they come across, be it a simple bodyguard or an auction attendee. Now that Haise’s primary duty has been completed, he clasps the hilt of Yukimura with both hands, makes a hundred-and-eighty degree turn, and retraces his steps.

Just as he nears the flight of stairs, a hooded Aogiri member steps in his way. Haise halts at once, instantly on guard. Judging from the length of her medium-length brown hair and the softness of the person’s features that aren’t concealed under her half-face mask, Haise guesses she’s a young girl. As she keeps staring at him, unmoving, Haise’s wariness slowly turns into a mixture of confusion and curiosity. What’s going on? He isn’t sure how long has passed until she finally bites her lip, seemingly coming to a decision, and tugs her hood lower over her head before scurrying away and disappearing over the edge of the nearest veranda.

Haise winces as pain shoots through his temples.

Give it back, Haise. Give it back before it’s too late.

Haise feels the hair behind his neck standing on their ends. He doesn’t know what compelled him, but he turns and focuses at the stage where Hide is fighting his battle alone. He only registers the sensation akin to having a red hot metal rod slowly pushed through his head and a sense of numbing panic as the scene plays out before his eyes.

The Nutcracker’s holding Hide up by his collar, her tail positioned so that in one strike, she’d be raking a gaping hole into the blond’s upper body. Something - no, everything is wrong. Hide’s feet dangle in the air, and he doesn’t seem to be moving at all. Every other investigator within his proximity is too occupied with their own fights to aid him. Even from such a distance away, Haise could see the triumphant smirk on the Nutcracker’s face.

Hide is going to die.

The voice is getting louder and louder, realer and realer; no longer a muffled murmur from the back of his mind but progressively becoming a wild, frenzied shriek.

Haise Haise Haise give it back give it back give it back GIVE IT BACK

The excruciating pain causes Haise to drop Yukimura and clutch his head. He could almost feel him forcefully clawing his way into his consciousness, desperate to take over. Spots dance in his vision, and he couldn’t seem to inhale. The more he tries to resist, to block him out, the more it feels like his skull is ripping apart. But he can’t let him out. He can’t lose control now, can’t risk hurting so many-

GIVE IT BACK HAISE GIVE IT BACK GIVE IT BACK GIVE IT BACK GIVE IT BACK GIVE IT BACK GIVE IT BACK GIVE IT BACK

Haise shuts his eyes, and screams.