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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Haise’s starting to get hungry.

He knows that from faintest tug in his stomach he’s beginning to feel. It’s not surprising; it’s almost time for him to have his monthly feed, anyway. And after using his kagune the other day - he figures it’d be more unsettling if his appetite doesn’t act up at all.

The sooner he quenches his hunger, the better. RC suppressants can only do so much when he’s seriously hungry, and Haise doesn’t want to risk endangering his teammates when it comes to that. He’d experienced being overpowered by starvation once or twice not long after he’d just woken up from his long slumber, and it hadn’t been pretty. Haise doesn’t want to feel that again, doesn’t want to let himself stop caring for everything else except to relieve that annoying clench in his belly and to satisfy his feral desire to eat, eat , and eat.

Maybe he should just pop over to Dr. Shiba’s place one of these days to get his food.

Haise clips the last of the laundry onto the line, exhaling a soft breath of satisfaction. He’d never complained, but waking up to a day without having to prepare breakfast for the kids and rush to work isn’t too bad. It definitely gives him more breathing space. It isn’t often that Haise gets to enjoy the tranquility of a morning like this, and he cherishes every chance he gets.

By the time he’s back indoors, Hide’s awake. Haise guesses he’s fresh out of the shower, judging from the faint scent of soap in the air. He walks in on him in the kitchen just as he’s chugging down a glass of water after popping some pills into his mouth. Haise couldn’t tell for sure, but he assumes those are the RC stimulants Hide had mentioned. 

“Good morning, Hide.” Haise makes sure to wait for Hide to swallow the last of his drink before speaking up lest he accidentally startles him and causes him to choke. Hide glances over his shoulder at the sound of his voice, and like always, he breaks into a grin.

“Morning,” he says, turning around to face his companion. Haise couldn’t help noticing the weary undertone in his voice.

“Up for breakfast?” he asks as he approaches the blond, deciding not to question about how his night had been. He’d obviously had barely enough sleep.

 “Thanks, buddy,” Hide says with a slight shake of his head. “But I think I’ll pass today.”

He raises his eyebrows when he registers Haise staring at him in silence. Or, more accurately, he’s staring at his shirt.

“You missed a button,” Haise points out, and Hide’s just about to look down and ask which one when the former reaches out, and fixes it for him. Hide completely freezes up as Haise redoes the buttons of his shirt from the third one up, his brain temporarily short-circuiting. His heartbeat turns so fast and loud he’s sure Haise would’ve heard it from such a close distance between them.

“There,” Haise breathes once he’s done. He’d even straightened Hide’s collar for good measure. “That’s better.”

Hide has to cough into his fist several times before he could actually form words again. “T-Thanks.”

“No problem.” Haise looks up to offer him a smile, and it’s only then that he notices the pink dusting across Hide’s cheeks. What he’d done belatedly dawns him, and for some reason, he feels blood rushing to his face as well. He averts his gaze and rubs the side of his neck sheepishly. “S-Sorry I did that so suddenly.”

“Nah, I understand.” Hide manages to recover at an impressive speed. At least he sounds a tad bit more relaxed now, much to Haise’s relief. “It’s your maternal instincts, right? You can’t help it.”

“Shut up,” Haise says without bite, punching the blond lightly on the arm. Hide laughs; a merry, infectious laugh. Listening to it gives Haise a funny feeling in his stomach, and he’s pretty sure it’s not from hunger. As far as he knows, hunger doesn’t come with the warm flutter he’s currently experiencing.

“What time are we leaving?” Hide asks once his mirth had faded. Haise catches himself almost feeling disappointed when he stopped. Now that’s just plain creepy - what the heck.

“We can go anytime as long as it’s not too late,” Haise replies, eyes flickering towards the clock on the wall to check anyway. He tilts his head when Hide shoves his hands into his pockets and hums thoughtfully.

“Fancy walking to the office instead of driving there today?” Hide asks after a moment, lips quirked into a crooked smile. Another one of his spontaneous decisions. Haise spends a second to reconsider their situation. It’d kind of be a waste of gas to use the car since it’s only the two of them going out today. The temperature is just right and the sunlight isn’t glaring. They aren’t in a rush. It certainly is a nice day to have a walk.

“Why not?”

xXx

Hide’s fine right up until the point where they submit their reports to Akira (who, seemed grudgingly impressed by the fact that they’d actually managed to get it done in time).

It’s when they’re on the way out of the building that Hide begins acting jittery. Haise was completely taken aback when Hide told him their destination earlier because when he said he needed to go for a checkup, Haise was expecting him to head over to the medical department; not the research facility on the other side of town. Hide had explained that it’s because the former doesn’t have the sufficient records and information about the way his body works, and though it makes sense, it still disturbs Haise.

What worries him more is Hide’s current demeanor. The blond tries hard to not make it look too bad, of course, but Haise could see how anxious he really is. He’s being unusually quiet and if Haise hadn’t stopped him at the crossing earlier he would’ve walked right in front of a speeding car. If Haise had also not known better, he’d assume that Hide’s simply afraid of doctors like how some children are because of their intimidating white coats and menacing-looking machines and selection of sharp tools. But Haise does, and he’s glad that he’d agreed to keep Hide company when he’d asked. He must be genuinely scared; to have gone as far as asking for companionship despite how independent of a person he is.

“Hide,” Haise says when he’s finally unable to keep himself quiet any longer. Hide’s condition has gotten even worse now that they’re approaching the facility. He’s so visibly tensed that he’s practically hesitating with every step that takes him closer to their destination. “If you think you can’t handle it, it’s alright to do this another day.”

He frowns when Hide stubbornly shakes his head. “I might as well get it done since we’ve already come this far,” Hide says, though Haise could sense his confidence wavering for once. “I’m okay, Haise. I’ll.. be fine in a while.”

Haise wants to argue further because there’s no way it’ll merely take ‘a while’ for him to recover, but Hide inhales a sharp breath, and forges forward with renewed speed, and the words die in Haise’s throat as he hurries to keep up. First things first, he had to be there to make sure he catches the blond in case he trips with the way he’s walking.

Haise has only been to the CCG’s research facility a few times in the past, and the place still doesn’t cease to amaze him with its sheer size. There are three main buildings at the very front around two hundred meters past the iron gates, a cluster of warehouses and production factories located behind them. Carefully staying out of the way of the vehicles that are moving around the courtyard, Haise follows Hide towards the central building.

Hide’s trot gradually slows to a trudge as he enters the foyer. Haise would like to think of that as a good sign, but looking at his companion’s expression then, it’s obviously anything but. Hide somehow manages to maintain his composure when he speaks with the guy at the reception desk. Haise stood too far back to hear most of their conversation, but he catches a few words like ‘letter’ and ‘maintenance’ and a few unfamiliar names. Hide turns around a few minutes later and motions his companion over.

“Your ID, please,” the man behind the desk says in a bored monotone once Haise stops before him. Haise doesn’t even think of asking questions. He digs for his wallet, produces his CCG ID card, and shows it to the receptionist. The latter briefly scans over his details before jotting his name down into a logbook - a surprisingly old-fashioned system considering where they’re currently at. If he recognizes Haise’s name, he isn’t letting on.

“I’ll notify Professor Hashimoto of your arrival,” the receptionist addresses Hide as he returns Haise’s card. Hide nods, motioning Haise to follow him further into the building.

It’s unnerving because despite himself, Haise had envisioned the place to look more or less like a clinic due to Hide’s circumstances. He’s fully aware that they’re not at a hospital, but he still subconsciously expects to see patients occupying plastic seats lined in the hallways and some uniformed staff bustling about with carts and clipboards and all kinds of things related to the medical field.

Unfortunately, all he sees are deserted hallways with closed doors to rooms that are doubtlessly laboratories.

“Hide,” Haise speaks up after they’d finally come to a stop before a lab in a particular corridor. Just thinking about it hurts him because even though Hide’s practically the most human among all of them in the squad, it seems like he’s being treated the least like one. It’s wrong. It’s so wrong in so many levels and it frustrates Haise that he’s unable to do a thing about it. “You okay?”

He then realizes the stupidity of his question because of course Hide isn’t okay. Hide’s leaning against the wall, looking as if he’d used up every last shred of his courage just to get himself here. He’d biting down on his lip so hard that Haise’s sure it’d start bleeding any second now. His fingernails dig deep into the fabric of his clothes as he hugs his elbows. Even with two extra layers, he’ll probably still leave some bruises on his skin with the force he’s putting into his fingers. Part of Haise’s mind refuses to process the sight of Hide in his current state. There’s no way that this fragile young man before him right now is the same person as the always optimistic, bubbly and headstrong Hide he knows. There’s just no way.

“Y-Yeah,” Hide turns slightly to face him and says with a pathetic attempt of a smile. Haise struggles to not cringe at the sight of how utterly forced it looks. “I’ll be-“

Hide stops, his sentence abruptly cut off by a gasp. His eyes widen and his hands move to clutch at his chest because it suddenly got so hard to breathe and his heart is beating too fast and he can’t seem to get enough air and no no no he can’t breathe he can’t breathe he can’t breathe-

“Hide!” Haise nearly yells as he hurries to the blond’s side once he loses strength in his legs and slides to the floor, his breath coming out in rapid, ragged pants; the rhythm too hasty and uneven to be normal. Oh, god, Haise thinks, panic threatening to cloud his thoughts. Hide’s hyperventilating! He needs help! He needs a bag, a piece of cloth - anything could cover his mouth with! But there’s no time to search. Haise has to do something now before Hide’s condition worsens and he ends up hurting himself.

“Hide, it’s alright.” Haise kneels down in front of his companion, coming to a resolution. He could only hope that he sounds way calmer than he feels. He lifts his hand, and carefully places it below Hide’s nose and over his mouth. “I’m here. You’ll be okay.”

Hide had always repeated the very same words to him, had always been there to comfort him when he needed it. Had always convinced him that all will be well. Now it’s Haise’s turn to return the favor.

“Try pressing your lips together and breath only through your nose, yeah?” Haise continues, his voice tender. His free hand moves to brush Hide’s hair back, over and over, over and over. “It’s alright. It’ll be okay. You can do this.”

Hide’s eyes eventually focus on him, and slowly, he manages to nod. Haise holds his gaze, relentlessly uttering reassurances and words of encouragement as Hide works to regain a steady breathing pattern. He could only pray and pray that it’s working, that Hide’s going to return to normal. That Hide will pull through and be his usual, cheery self again.

Hide’s attack probably only lasted a few minutes at most, but Haise feels like an eternity had passed before it’s all over. When Hide gestures for him to uncover his mouth once his fit had stopped and he’d calmed down enough, without thinking, Haise pulls him into a hug instead.

“Haise?” Hide’s voice is coarse, but his surprise is still evident. “Hey, buddy, what’s wrong?”

Haise shakes his head without a word, tightening his hold by a fraction and letting the solid form in his embrace convince him that Hide’s still here, Hide’s alright. That he still hasn’t lost him.

Hide actually has the nerve to chuckle weakly at his expense. “I really scared you there, didn’t I?”

He’d frightened him so badly that Haise almost had his own panic attack, but the boy remains silent. Hide lets out a slow breath, shifting to wrap his arms loosely around Haise’s frame. Haise could feel how badly his hands are trembling on his back.

“Sorry, Haise,” Hide whispers, leaning his forehead against his companion’s shoulder. “But do you think we can stay like this a little longer?”

And how could Haise say no? He wouldn’t let go even if Hide asked; at least not until he feels him stop shaking under his touch. Haise couldn’t stop wondering even after they’d parted once the researcher in charge of Hide’s case arrived: what exactly did he go through to end up so traumatized? What could’ve happened during his days as a test subject to make him feel terrified of simply coming back?

What did they do to you?

xXx

Hide really, really didn’t want Haise to see him break down like that.  

But no matter how he tried, he couldn’t stop the fear from crashing over him like a giant wave. Just being there, standing in the corridor that looked exactly like the one outside the lab where he got altered and tinkered with and ‘tested out’ like a some sort of contraption again and again - it brought back too many memories he’d tried so hard to forget, too many nightmares that still haunt him from time to time.

The ‘maintenance’ process itself isn’t nearly as bad as what he’d gone through during his mid-experiment days, but it unsettles Hide all the same. In fact, he’d personally asked to be sedated once he’d stepped into the lab with the researcher just so he wouldn’t submit to the urge to flee right there and then. Hide had honestly left the research facility hoping he would never have to lie on an operation table ever again.

Sadly, as you can see, Fate seems to be having a great time stepping on his wishes.

With the drug coursing through his veins and helping his heartbeat steady, Hide allows himself to retreat into his thoughts; something he’d started doing whenever he’s under the scrutiny of half a dozen gazes and an obnoxiously bright lamp after discovering that it helps with ignoring the pain. He sets his brain to autopilot mode to answer the usual questions directed as him as the scientist goes through the standard processes; taking his blood sample to check his maximum RC cell count, putting a deep cut on his arm to determine his speed of regeneration, directing him to take his shirt off so he could inspect the spot where Haise had stabbed through him, etc.  

“So that friend of yours outside,” Hashimoto speaks while he prods at Hide’s midsection, his other hand moving to fetch a scalpel from the tray behind him. Hide winces when he cuts out a tiny piece of his flesh before placing it on a Petri dish filled with some sort of solution and bringing it over to his microscope. “He’s the one who gave you that injury?”

Hide only glares warily at him, not at all inclined to reply to his wild guess. Unfortunately, his silence also serves as an answer.

“So he is the half-ghoul I’ve heard about,” the scientist muses, bending to peer through the eyepiece of his microscope. “Ahh, I wish I was there during the only time they opened him up. I would love to see how different his insides are compared to a human and-”

Hide’s anger is so sudden and intense that the sedative could only barely hold him back from jumping at the man and ripping his face off. He sits up so abruptly that his head spins. He balls his fists and ignores it.

“Are we done?” he hisses through clenched teeth, swallowing the threat that’s already at the tip of his tongue. He swears - if this bastard does as much as lay a finger on Haise, he’ll tear him to shreds with his own bare hands.

Hashimoto turns on his chair to give Hide an infuriatingly amused look. “Oh? Did I say something sensitive?” He stops to study the silently fuming Hide’s face. He then seems to come to a realization half a minute later, and he smirks complacently to himself. “So that’s it. The two of you are like that.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Hide gets off the operation table, retrieves his shirt and starts donning it despite not given the approval to do so. The dread he’d felt towards the man is quickly being replaced by nothing but pure hate. He hates his face, his profession, the way he talks. Everything. Absolutely everything.

“Of course you do.” Hashimoto shows no signs of wanting to stop him, so Hide tucks his shirt in, grabs his coat, and marches to the exit. The researcher speaks again just as Hide reaches for the doorknob. “By the way, Nagachika-kun, are you taking the tablets regularly?”

Hide decides it’s not worth mentioning that he’d completely forgotten about it a few times before. “Yeah.”

“When you’ve just consumed them,” the scientist continues, wheeling himself over to his computer at the corner of his desk to check the results of Hide’s blood scan. “Can you still eat human food?”

At that, Hide blanches against his will. It used to be fine. He used to be able to eat normal food  even after taking the hormones and having his body produce more RC cells. However, since a few months back, things have gotten strange. It’s only right after he’d eaten the pills that food wouldn’t taste quite like how they used to before. Pancakes and sandwiches weren’t remotely supposed to taste like sour milk. Cooked meat shouldn’t taste exactly like how it is raw. Vegetables should have that fresh tang to them instead of tasting like soil (yes, unfortunately, he knows how soil tastes like - it’s a long story).

Hide doesn’t have a kakuhou, which means every last RC cell he has is in his bloodstream. Like every other types of cell, RC cells constantly die to be replaced by the new ones produced by certain glands in a person’s body. As long as the effect of the hormones wear off and Hide waits long enough, his blood RC level will drop back to normal even if he doesn’t put his enhanced regeneration to use.

But to actually have his sense of taste affected just recently and not from the very start - Hide gets the feeling those tablets are beginning to do their job a little too well.

“Yes,” Hide answers warily, fighting back the sudden itch to simply open the door and get the hell out of there. “But they don’t taste like how they should. It gets back to normal after a while, though.”

He hears the scratching of the tip of a pen on a piece of paper as the researcher scribbles down his observations. “Perhaps we should increase the interval between your doses, then. Start taking it once a week instead of once every four days.”

“I’ll take note of that,” Hide says, exhaling a breath before making the mistake of glancing over his shoulder. “Anything else?”

Hashimoto studies his expression a little longer before once again breaking into that insufferable half-smile of his. “I suppose not. I’ll have my assistant call you if anything comes up. You may run along with your friend now.”

Refraining from letting out a huge sigh of relief, Hide storms out without another word.

Haise is at the exact spot where Hide had left him; sitting on the floor while hugging his knees and staring off into space with a slight furrow on his brow. He immediately turns to look as soon as he hears the door open, springing to his feet the moment Hide emerges from the lab.

“Hide,” he starts and gosh Hide feels incredibly guilty now for asking him to come with him and being the reason why he’s making that face. Haise has so many things to fret over already, and while Hide had originally planned to do his best to lessen his burdens, he’d ended up making things worse. Really, if he could strangle himself he would’ve done so.

“I’m alright, Haise,” Hide says before his companion could ask, flashing him what he hopes is an assuring smile. It certainly feels more natural than the ones earlier. “At any rate, can we talk later? Let’s get out of here first.”

Haise doesn’t argue. Hide proceeds to lead him back the way they came from, once again walking at a speed that would’ve forced Haise to jog in order to keep up with him if his normal pace hadn’t been as fast as it is. The boys leave the building in no time, and it’s a little after they’d passed the gates that Hide feels his adrenaline abandon him all at once, leaving him with the remnants of his earlier anxiety and causing the tremor to return to his hands.

Haise doesn’t question him even when he turns and keeps walking, willing his legs to stop shaking while they bring him wherever they want. All Hide knows is that every part of his body agrees on one thing; he has to go away - far, far away from this wretched facility. 

By the time he finally registers his surroundings again, Hide realizes he’s leading Haise towards a playground which existence he isn’t even aware of until that moment. Hide figures he’d probably subconsciously sought such a place out while thinking of the old, peaceful days where he’d just hang around with Kaneki in their usual haunt for hours on end after school without having to worry about anything other than how’s his best friend faring with his hateful aunt and if he himself would be able to cram a few months’ worth of notes into his brain in the night before the exams. It’ll probably do him mental state good too if he and Haise could climb onto that low slide next to the see-saw just like old times and enjoy each other’s company until they’re satisfied.

Unfortunately, like always, there’s the risk of triggering Haise’s memories.

“Why don’t we sit down and take a break?” 

Hide doesn’t realize he’d halted in his steps until Haise speaks up. He wants to tell him that nah, it’s alright they could keep walking until they find a decent café or something where they can rest while basking in the comfort of the warmth provided by heaters - but he only nods numbly, and follows Haise towards a wooden bench under the shade of a tree at the edge of the playground.

They sit together in silence for the next five minutes or so, the tip of their shoulders barely brushing against the other’s. Hide leans back, letting the cold breeze dry his sweat and calm his still-raging nerves. He takes a deep breath. Then another. And another.

“Thanks, buddy,” he says when he finally finds the will to break the quietness between them. He feels Haise’s gaze shift towards him, but he keeps his eyes focused straight ahead. “For, you know, being there for me when I was freaking out and stuff.”

He tries for a laugh - just to make the situation seem a little less serious - but the stupid quaver was back in his voice and he fails midway. He bites the inside of his cheek, inwardly kicking himself for not even being able to manage something as simple as a chuckle. So much for having lots of practice, sheesh.

“What matters is that you’re okay now,” Haise tells him softly, and for some reason, the tone he’s using causes a lump to form at the base of Hide’s throat. Hide immediately works to force the feeling down. He can’t start crying now. There’s no reason to. He’d worried Haise enough as it is.

“Hey, Haise?” he begins only after he’s sure he’s not going to burst into tears at the first word that leaves his mouth. “You think you can do me one last favor for the day?”

Haise doesn’t hesitate in the least. “Of course.”

“Can you keep talking?” Hide asks, sliding lower down his seat before reluctantly leaning his head sideways against his companion’s shoulder. To his relief, Haise doesn’t seem to mind the contact. “Anything’s fine. Just let me hear your voice.”

It’s so cheesy Hide would’ve wanted to die to save himself from the embarrassment under normal circumstances, but if there’s anything that could completely soothe him now, it’s Haise’s voice. Kaneki’s voice. If Hide closes his eyes and forgets everything else, he could imagine that nothing has changed, that none of the ghoul nonsense happened and that it’s merely the start of yet another slow afternoon with his best friend. He could convince himself that everything’s okay, that everything’s how they should be.

“Hmm,” Haise hums softly and taps his finger against his thigh as he tries to come up with something to say. He perks up when it suddenly occurs to him that he had yet to fulfill his side of the promise they made before the auction. Right. There’s still some things he’d wanted to tell Hide other than the fact that he’s a half-ghoul. “Is it okay if I talk about myself like how I’d promised you before?”

Hide shrugs. “Go on.”

There’s a short pause for Haise to gather his thoughts. “The truth is, I can’t remember anything from the first twenty years of my life.”

Hide knows this. Of course he does. He’d been the one who’d started it all in the first place. But it still stings. Part of Hide had, despite all that’d happened and all the things he’d told himself, stubbornly held on to the smallest bit of hope that maybe Haise would somehow remember him; even if it’s just a tiny recollection, just vague feeling. Anything at all. Even though he’d forced himself to believe that it’s fine even if Kaneki doesn’t remember him as long as he’s happy, he still couldn’t help it.

He couldn’t help wanting his most precious person back.

“I woke up from some sort of coma a couple of years back without a single memory,” Haise continues, fortunately oblivious towards Hide’s internal struggle. “I was told that my name is Sasaki Haise and that I was a twenty-year-old trainee investigator who got heavily injured on the head during a mission. Once I’d fully recovered, I was immediately sent to train under Arima-san for a few months. And it was during one of those months that I.. discovered what I really am.”

He pauses, putting his hands together and lacing his fingers. “I was the result of an experiment of a researcher named Kanou - who, was the one who’d implanted the kakuhou into my body. I’m not sure how long I’d lived as a half-ghoul before I lost my memories, and.. I’m honestly afraid to know. Every time I use my kagune now, I almost lose control. I hurt people. I feel like I want to hurt people, and it scares me. What if I really used to be that sort of person? What if I was the type of person who loved violence and bloodshed?”

Hide digs his nails into his palm as he listens on. No, he wants to tell him so badly, you were never like that. You were the nicest guy in the world and you were scared of doggies and you loved reading more than anything. You hated violence and bloodshed. You fought only because you had no other choice.

You never had a choice.

“It’s after the first time I used my kagune that I started hearing his voice,” Haise says after a slightly longer lapse of silence, and Hide feels him shift uneasily before he lets out a nervous laugh. “It’s okay if you don’t believe me, Hide, but there’s a voice in my head that doesn’t exactly belong to me. He frequently whispers into my ears, urging me to ‘use him’ or else I would never be able to save or protect anyone. He haunts my dreams and taunts me even when I’m awake. And sometimes,” Haise parts his hands, staring at his palms, “he demands for me to give this body back.”

At his last few words, Hide stiffens ever so slightly, his heartbeat quickening and his mind racing. Wait. He already had his suspicions based on the happenings during the auction, but does that mean-

“I think he’s probably my ‘past self’,” Haise says, confirming Hide’s guesses, adding to his inner conflict. “He’s the me before I forgot everything, and he’s getting restless after being trapped in my mind for long.”

“And you don’t want to let him out?” Hide asks, voice hushed, tentative. “Even if it means having the chance to remember your past?”

He doesn’t want to hope. He mustn’t hope. Hoping will lead to wishful thinking. Hoping will make him question his past decisions and go against everything he’d done. Hide mustn’t hope, must never hope.

But he does. 

“To be honest, I’m really frightened of him,” Haise says, and Hide feels something in him wither. It’s always like this. Kaneki has always lived fearing some aspect of himself; whether it’s his rightful hatred towards the family who took him in or his primal instincts as a half-ghoul. There’s always something about himself that he can’t accept. However, when Hide reanalyzes the tone of voice he’d just used, he notices that perhaps there had been a tinge of uncertainty in it. “He’s always itching to go wild, to not care about anything else other than harming those he sees as an enemy. All he wants is to cause destruction, not to protect anyone. And as for my memories..”

He trails off. Hide moves to sit properly again so he could face his companion. One look at Haise - with his knitted brow and pursed lips - and he could tell that he’s torn between two contradicting wants. He wants to remember, to know who he really is, yet he doesn’t. He’s afraid; of both remembering and forgetting. Of choosing between the past and the present. Of having to give one up for the other.

He’s always afraid.

“It’s okay, Haise,” Hide says gently before Haise could decide if he should resume talking. “You can stop there.”

“I’m sorry.” Haise sighs, turning to the blond to offer him an apologetic smile. “I shouldn’t be telling you all these serious and depressing stuff after such a tiring day for you.”

“No, no, it’s fine - it’s not like my timing had been any better,” Hide assures, waving his hands to emphasize his point. He then averts his gaze, and scratches the cheek sheepishly. “And actually, I’m really happy right now.” 

Haise blinks, momentarily failing to comprehend. “Why?”

“Because you trust me enough to tell me all those,” Hide says, feeling his spirits lifting, bit by bit. It’s strange, but it’s the truth. Hide’s sure Haise had just shared something so private with him that even the Quinx probably didn’t know about it. It makes Hide ridiculously proud to know he’d earned enough of Haise’s faith for him to tell him about the weight he’d been carrying all this while; his elation overpowering his earlier gloominess. When he meets Haise’s gaze, he tries for a grin. “So thanks, buddy. Thank you for sharing all that with me.”

“You’re weirding me out with your sudden politeness,” Haise says with a slight laugh, and Hide’s grin widens. “But you’re welcome, Hide. And thank you too, for telling us about yourself the other day.”

Hide shakes his head dismissively. “Well, I did promise.”

He notices a bit of sympathy creeping to Haise’s grey eyes as he continues gazing at him.

“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?” Haise says, quietly. Hide’s smile turns forlorn.

“Haven’t we both?”

xXx

Haise doesn’t think he has the heart to leave Hide alone after today’s incident.

At least not for tonight when he’s most likely to experience unnecessary flashbacks about whatever he’d went through in the past. Haise knows because his own nightmares work about the same way. He experiences something he dreads, and as if the real thing hadn’t been enough, he’d go through the same thing again in his dreams. Haise lost count of the nights he’d woken up drenched in cold sweat, barely stopping a scream from ripping out of his throat. The suffocating sense of solitude right after is the worst part of it. Haise doesn’t want anyone experiencing the same thing, doesn’t want anyone to discover how it is to feel so alone that it physically aches.    

Which is why he’s staring at Hide’s gaping face right now after asking if he could spend the night in his room.

“But it’ll be just the two of us in the lower floor,” Hide says as if that isn’t evident enough. “Alone.”

“That’s exactly the reason why I’ve decided to do this,” Haise tells him, not breaking eye contact. Hide opens his mouth to protest further, but when he notices that Haise had even gone as far as bringing a futon, he promptly loses his resolve.

“Hang on a sec while I clear a spot for you.” He sighs as Haise visibly brightens up, happy to have Hide complying to his unexpected request. Leaving the door wide open, the blond strides back into his room to gather the clothes he’d strewn on the floor into a bundle before proceeding to dump it all onto the unoccupied space by the foot of his closet. Haise moves to carry his futon inside once Hide had deemed he’d cleared away enough things to fit another person in his room.

Haise had never really noticed it before, but it’s much quieter downstairs compared to how it is on the upper floor (it’s a little warmer, too). It’s not that it’s any livelier upstairs even with the kids around; it’s just - the silence here feels emptier. At least when he’s upstairs, Haise knows that even though it’s quiet, the Quinx are close by and that he isn’t alone. Down here, however..

“How does it feel like to have the entire floor to yourself every night?” Haise inquires as he positions his pillows and tucks his bolster under his spread blanket. He tries not to smile when Hide shoots him an exaggerated look of horror while he switches on his nightlight.

“It’s so eerie, you have no idea,” he says, walking over to shut the main lights next. “I mean, thank god I’m too exhausted to stay awake for long before falling asleep most of the time or else I’d be in constant fear of hearing footsteps down the hallway or something.”

“You’re not a big fan of horror movies, are you?” Haise muses, not even flinching when the room is engulfed in darkness save the spot where Hide had his nightlight plugged into a socket.

“Hate ‘em,” Hide agrees, carefully making his way back to his bed without stepping on his roommate. “Most of them have such terrible effects, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”

Having not watched many movies himself, Haise has no comments.

“That aside,” Hide adds, eliciting a soft creak from the mattress as he climbs onto it, “aren’t you afraid that I might do something to you tonight? Since it’s only the two of us here and all.”

Haise doesn’t need to see his features then to know he’s probably waggling his eyebrows at him teasingly. “The most you can do is accidentally kick me while you stumble out to use the toilet,” he states with a lopsided smile, earning himself a short chuckle from his companion.

“Got a point there,” Hide says, pulling his covers all the way up to his chest with a lot more rustling than Haise thought necessary. “Also, I might accidentally wake the house up with my unforeseen screaming later on, so I guess I’ll cover my face with a pillow just in case.”

“Please don’t do that; you’ll suffocate,” Hasie says at once, hoping Hide hadn’t seriously meant it. When he doesn’t receive a response, he suspects that he, unfortunately, did. “Hide?”

No answer still. Haise gathers his willpower to move from the warmth of his blanket before slipping out, saving himself the trouble of standing to his full height by trudging on his knees towards Hide’s bedside since the latter’s bed isn’t that tall to begin with. Just as he’d said, Hide has his second pillow pressed firmly above his face with his arms. Haise heaves a weary sigh at the sight of him, and proceeds to tug at the cushion.

Hide.” Haise tries to make his voice sterner when Hide refuses to give in. He understands how he feels; how he doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone with his own distress, but he wouldn’t exactly make things any easier if he ends up smothering himself to death. “Stop doing that.”

He isn’t sure if it’s his tone that eventually did the trick or what, but Hide’s hold finally slackens a few moments after he asked him to stop. Haise smiles to himself in triumph as he pulls the pillow away from his companion’s head. He stares back curiously when he sees Hide gazing up intently at him once he’d uncovered his face, the light reflecting off his amber eyes making them seem brighter than they usually are.

“What’s wrong..?” Haise stills when Hide reaches out to sift his fingers through his hair, the digits passing easily through his short locks. When the corners of his lips curl a little upwards, Haise thinks there it is again; the melancholy in his smile.

“It’s gotten whiter,” Hide comments, his voice a murmur. Haise couldn’t help being aware of how warm Hide’s hand is when the edge of it brushes across his ear and how soothing he found his touch to be. But then again, who is Hide without the comfort he brings?

“Has it?” Haise asks just as softly, feigning ignorance because frankly, he’d noticed it too. His hair  used to be mostly black, being white only a few inches from the tips. Even if he is under an unhealthy amount of stress, is it normal for it to lose its color so rapidly? Haise gets the feeling he wouldn’t want to know.

“Mmhmm.” Hide nods in reply to his question, retracting his hand with scarcely concealed hesitance. He exhales a long breath, and instead of talking more like Haise had expected him to, he snuggles into a cozier position, and closes his eyes. “Good night, Haise.”

“Good night,” Haise returns, willingly letting the subject drop despite how abrupt it is. He stretches over to place Hide’s spare pillow against the wall next to his bed. “May you have sweet dreams.”

He stays in his initial position a moment longer to listen to Hide’s deep, steady breathing before going back to his futon, a yawn escaping his lips. It’d been an exhausting day for the both of them, and it’s beginning to take a toll on Haise’s consciousness. The moment he tucks himself in, Haise feels his mind drifting off.

That night, Haise isn’t awoken by Hide’s screaming like the latter had worried. In fact, he has to admit he hadn’t had such restful sleep in a long, long while.

Because instead of the usual blood, voices and checkered tiles, Haise dreams of blue skies, and a radiant field of sunflowers.