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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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It turns out that the things Tsukiyama wished she could tell him mainly have something to do with the rest of the Quinx.

When Saiko was brought to the ghoul again after being left alone for a few hours, the first thing she notices is that some colour has returned to his cheeks, his complexion no longer deathly pale. His hair is also freshly brushed and he’d changed into a new set of clothes. Tsukiyama had obviously done more than just eat during Saiko’s absence from his room. Seeing him mostly groomed up now reminds Saiko of how handsome Tsukiyama really is despite the condition he’s in. Like, whoaa. That’s babe material right there.

Initially, Saiko’s unsure if she should reply when he asks if there are other Quinx like her. He isn’t planning to somehow sample each of their blood, is he? Even if Saiko retrieves them on his behalf, it’d be downright weird. Everyone would think that there’s something wrong with her! Maman would freak out!

Saiko ends up telling him anyway, thinking that she’ll just attempt to persuade him to give up on obtaining a taste of each of them if she needs to. Though she doesn’t look like it, Saiko would really love to talk about her squad, to convince others that despite their bodies, they aren’t much different from normal people. She adores them with all her heart; this group of individuals brought together by a series of unlike circumstances. This group of people she now calls family.

So she tells Tsukiyama; of the soft-spoken but brave Mutsuki, the rough but dependable Shirazu, the arrogant but still kind of sensitive Urie. She tells him about the boys whom she now considers her brothers, who – with the usual exception of Urie -  spoils her despite their frequent protests about their mentor doing the same. She tells him that despite each of their flaws, they’re all courageous and strong in their own ways and she honestly admires them for that (don’t mention her saying any of that though). She also tells him of Hide; of his ability to fit into the group despite being the last one assigned to the squad, his constant cheeriness that brings life to the household. She describes his sunshiny personality, his knack for always seeming to be able to put her Maman at ease and therefore finally earning him the title ‘Papa’ from her.

And of course, she tells him about her Maman. Her Maman, who’s dedicated, kind, and perfect in every way. Who loves books and cooks delicious food for her as often as he can despite being exhausted from work. Who seems to  occasionally lack confidence in himself, who always tries hard to hide his insecurities so he wouldn’t worry someone else. Who loves puns and takes care of her better than anyone else.

Her Maman, who is a half-ghoul.

Saiko catches herself too late. She hadn’t meant to mention the last part. Unlike her own existence as a Quinx, Sasaki’s identity as a half-ghoul isn’t supposed to be publicised, even Saiko knows as much. If word spreads that the CCG is harbouring a half-ghoul as an investigator, things wouldn’t end well. Saiko’s aware of the precarious position her Maman is in. If the rumours do spread and a commotion is started, the CCG might just have no choice but to consider him as a ghoul and erase him one day and Saiko would lose the only Maman she has.

“Your Maman is an actual half-ghoul?” Tsukiyama asks before Saiko has the chance to take her words back. “You mean the CCG is actually producing half-ghouls to go against us?”

He sounds way too amused to Saiko’s liking. Then again, it does sound ironic; how an organisation that’s supposed to be completely anti-ghoul is using their enemy’s own kind against them. To the ghouls, it must look like nothing but an act of desperation, for the weak yet prideful humans to resort to something like this.

“The CCG isn’t exactly ‘producing’ half-ghouls, actually,” Saiko says, averting her gaze and fiddling with her fingers. “Unless you count in the Quinx.”

“Oh?” She shifts uneasily when she feels Tsukiyama’s stare boring into her. “Could you please elaborate on that, Saiko-san?”

“Maman is the only one,” Saiko says, reluctantly. “Even he can’t remember it well, but we’ve been told that he was the victim of a crazy scientist and he was turned against his.. will.”

Something suddenly clicks into place. Wait. Isn’t this story a little too familiar? Didn’t Tsukiyama tell her about a certain someone who went through the same thing just a few hours ago?

Can’t remember..” Tsukiyama mutters mostly to himself, rubbing his chin and gaze averted in thought. He must’ve noticed it too, judging from the look on his face. “No, it could just be a coincidence. He’s clearly gone – there was no way he could’ve survived and gone missing for so many years. But what if-“

Saiko flinches when Tsukiyama grabs her shoulders with both hands, eyes alight with excitement. “Little rabbit, describe your Maman further for me.”

“D-Describe further?” Should Saiko really do that? Even though she’s admittedly curious herself? “As in his appearance and all that?”

“Yes, all that!” Tsukiyama’s fingers dig into her skin, and she winces. Her reaction seems to jar the man back to his senses, and he releases his hold, quickly apologizing for his uncivilised manner. He leans back against his propped-up pillows and takes a deep breath, running his fingers through his hair. He definitely noticed it; how similar her Maman’s situation seems to be with that of Kaneki Ken’s. But how is it possible? Even Tsukiyama himself was sure that he’s dead. Things don’t quite add up.

“Maman is exactly one head taller than Saiko, and he has a lean but sturdy build,” Saiko begins carefully, trying to observe any changes in Tsukiyama’s expression as she speaks. “He has big grey eyes and slightly curly hair that’s white with some black at the roots. And he has a rinkaku kagune.”

Tsukiyama’s eyes are so wide by now that Saiko’s almost expecting them to pop out of his head any moment. Is it really true? Is Maman really who they think he is? Part of Saiko’s excited to find out. Another’s dreading the truth. If Sasaki really did go by another identity in the past, that would imply too many things, raise too many questions. Why did he forget? Why does he go by a different name now? How did he end up working under the CCG? What happened in between?

“Saiko-san.” It’s Tsukiyama who breaks the silence that has settled over them. “Do you think your Maman will be coming to look for you anytime soon?”

xXx

According to Hori Chie, the servants’ quarters are at the western wing of the ground floor, so the food storage should be towards the east side.

The thought of them actually locking Saiko up alone in a freezing storage room like some sort of fresh meat adds to Haise’s agitation and helps him focus on his main objective. However, being kept (possibly dead and in pieces) in the basement is only the worst case scenario. If Saiko’s fortunate enough, she should be held alive in one of the rooms in the ground floor. Not necessarily unharmed, but alive. And at this rate, that’s all Haise’s asking for.

Glancing around to make sure the coast’s clear, Haise darts out from his hiding spot behind a professionally trimmed bush, Hide tailing close behind him. The back entrance to Gourmet’s manor is near the kitchen around the servants’ quarters, hence they have no choice but to risk breaking in from the other side if they want to avoid as much confrontation as possible. Since the place is home to a bunch of ghouls, Hide pointed out the night before that there’s a chance that security might be a little lax – petty human thieves or the like would simply be welcomed as an easy meal or a quick snack. There might not even be alarms and security cameras installed if the master is confident enough about not having his home location discovered by ghoul investigators. Even so, there’s no harm in being careful.

As the two of them crouch under window after window to avoid being seen from the inside, Haise couldn’t help slightly regretting not bringing Shirazu or even Urie with them, despite it being against his ‘cleaning-up-own-mess’ principles. They could really use the boys’ sense of hearing and smell right about now. It would make their search for Saiko while trying to avoid conflict so much easier. As it is, Haise would just have to work extra hard.

They’re rapidly approaching the corner of the building, and Haise suddenly feels a sharp tap on his back. When he stops and glances over his shoulder, Hide points at the window ahead of them, mouthing his suggestion to enter the place through there. Mildly confused as to why Hide’s choosing this window out of all of them, Haise returns his gaze forward. It’s a good thing that he’s not short-sighted; otherwise he’d never be able to spot that slight misalignment between the two large glass panels from this distance. Then again, he probably wouldn’t be able to notice such a small detail even with perfect vision if Hide hadn’t mentioned. Haise sometimes forgot just how scarily observant he could be.

Haise creeps forward, tugging his gas mask over his nose as he strains his ears to listen for any sounds of activity. They would be using sleeping gas to knock out the servants they encounter (they’ll try to do it manually if they aren’t in a group), and because the gas is mixed in with a sort of highly volatile substance modeled after the sedative properties of Qoinque steel to reduce its release of smoke and increase its effectiveness against ghouls, inhaling any would be a bad idea. Haise certainly doesn’t fancy accidentally knocking himself out cold in the middle of a rescue mission - now that would just be embarrassing.

Haise peeks into the room past the very edge of the window, praying for it to be empty. It’s a small library of some sort (or is it a study? It kind of looks like something in between) and it is, to the boys’ relief, left unoccupied. Extremely careful not to make a sound, Haise eases the window open and swiftly climbs in once he has big enough of an opening, stepping on top of the desk propped against the wall right underneath him. As much as he tried, he couldn’t stop his inner bookworm from cringing at the way he’s probably leaving dirty footprints all over its pristine surface.

Bookshelves lined both sides of the room, leaving just enough space to move around comfortably without bumping into anything. Even though it’s relatively compact, the place gives off a peaceful, cozy atmosphere, and despite himself, Haise feels terrible for intruding. He gets off the desk and crosses to the door, ignoring his uninvited feeling of guilt. Now’s not the time for such futile things.

He has just placed his hand on the doorknob after checking if it’s locked (it isn’t) when he hears the sounds of footsteps from the corridor. He hastily catches Hide’s eyes, signaling the danger ahead. Hide takes one last glance outside the window before abandoning his post without question, moving to stand with him at a potential blind spot by the hinges of the door.

“Alone?” Hide whispers, and Haise nods, positive that he’d only heard a single person out there. Haise senses the tension rising as they both brace themselves for what they’re about to do. They’ll ambush the owner of those footsteps and demand for them to reveal where they’re keeping Saiko before leaving them unconscious. Rose had returned with a live person bearing the characteristics of a half-ghoul. There’s no way the news or even rumors wouldn’t have spread among the other servants. Unless they’re really ignorant to a sin, they’d have to know at least something.

Haise hears the person walk past their door, and just before he could to signal to Hide for them to burst out and drag them back into the room, there’s the sound of running, followed by a feminine voice asking the first fellow to wait up. Haise’s heart skips a beat. Crap. They’re practically holding their conversation right outside their door!  He hears Hide taking a large gulp behind him, equally anxious. This turn of events could either be their chance to eavesdrop for information, or it could be the moment they’re discovered. If given a choice, the both of them would really prefer the latter not to happen.

“What time are we supposed to bring food to Shuu-sama’s guest?” the newcomer asks the other, slightly breathless from her jog. Haise guesses the second person’s a senior servant or something similar, seeing how the former approaches them for schedule confirmations. More importantly – guest? Gourmet has a guest over? This could be troublesome.

“Matsumae didn’t mention anything, so I suppose the usual eight thirty should be appropriate enough,” the second voice replies, slightly deeper, but also feminine. There’s something unusual about her tone, Haise notices.

“What else do humans normally eat for breakfast, anyway?” the first voice inquires again, and Haise hears the sound of footsteps resuming. They’ve finally began to walk away. But wait – what do humans eat for breakfast? Gourmet has a human as a guest? It seems like a ridiculous idea, but could it be..?

“Just get her some bread from the convenience store again,” the second voice says, this time in something just short of a snap. The servant sighs in exasperation. “Really, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Just two days ago Kanae was going all around proclaiming he’d  finally found the ingredient that could bring Shuu-sama back to his old self. And what happened? That human actually managed to charm her way to his interests!”

“But Shuu-sama really is feeling better because of her. I mean, how long has it been since he’d personally asked Kanae to bring him food?”

A ‘her’. The mystery guest is a ‘her’. Haise’s mind races. She was also brought here as food just recently. It could just be some crazy coincidence, but it could happen. Though Saiko could be slightly peculiar in  some ways to some people, she does have a sort of appeal to her. If there’s anyone who could amuse even a ghoul and win their attention, Haise figures it’s Saiko; with her unusual way of speech and unique attitude and lack of hostility.

Haise lets out a breath he doesn’t realize he’s holding once complete silence befalls them, willing his heartbeat to regain its normal rhythm. He then turns around to find Hide deep in thought, eyes trained at a spot on the floor.

“I think Saiko-chan’s probably on the upper stories,” he voices exactly what Haise’s thinking when he notices him staring at him, lips quirking into a lopsided smile. His expression is a strange mixture of amusement and pride; the two emotions Haise could understand very well at the moment. Saiko’s alive. She’d managed to hold out on her own for the past few days. She really isn’t as helpless as all of them believe.

And feeling at least three times more hopeful than he’d started off, Haise says; “We better get her before they wake her up for breakfast, then.”

xXx

Things started getting quite busy soon after the two boys left the mini-library.

There are a lot more servants bustling about along the main corridors, and Hide would never have expected just how tiring rendering a bunch of people unconscious with gas and making sure no one fled to alert others of their presence could be. Rather, it’s more of a mental exhaustion. Both he and Haise do not possess superhuman senses, hence it takes a ton of concentration simply to avoid inadvertently walking into one or a group of them. Their plan includes using their element of surprise to their full advantage, and blatantly showing themselves won’t exactly help increase their success rate.

It takes a while, but they eventually find a flight of stairs leading up that Hide guesses is the one mainly used by the servants, from how simple and hidden away it is. Hearing no sound of shoes thudding against the carpeted floor, the two of them proceed upwards, two steps at a time. Apart from the single unfortunate guy who had his hands full carrying a bunch of pillows (Hide wonders what’s the story behind that), they reach the second floor unchallenged.

And because a majority of the servants have yet to finish their chores on the ground floor, they would have been able to go on mostly undisturbed too, if someone hadn’t chosen to step out of one of the rooms the exact moment they enter the hallway and spot them before they could react. The world seems to come to a standstill as both parties process the sight of each other. That purple hair and overall appearance. After seeing his picture so many times he’s close to having nightmares of him, Hide would recognize the guy anywhere.

Standing there approximately ten meters ahead of them, eyes wide with disbelief and mouth slightly agape, is Purpleman.

Oh, sorry. Rose. Hide keeps deliberately forgetting that.

Retreating to the ground floor would cost them time, and they’re fresh out of sleeping gas (they hadn’t been able to bring many in the first place; carrying a bunch of canisters would hinder their movements besides making a lot of noise). The stairs leading to the upper floor isn’t within their proximity. Confronting him seems to be the only option.

“We’re not here to fight,” Haise steps forward and declares first of all, tugging down his mask to make his voice clear. Hide walks up beside him and takes off his own mask, mindful to keep some distance between them so they wouldn’t be getting in each other’s way if anything happens. “Just return our subordinate to us, and we’ll leave.”

“How did you-“ Rose stops short when his gaze settles on Hide. He sure doesn’t sound too worried about the two ghoul investigators standing before him. “You. You’re the one from the auction.”

“Oh, you were there when Nuts was trying dismantle me?” Hide shifts his footing, his thumb brushing across the knob on the handle of his briefcase. He doesn’t like the fact that the guy remembers him at all, even though he knows he’d obviously stood out during his one-sided battle with the Nutcracker.

“And that Duft.” The way the ghoul’s expression promptly darkens when he recognizes Haise scent is nothing less than terrifying. His mouth twists into a snarl, and black clouds his eyes until his kakugan are fully formed, red irises blazing with fury. Suddenly, Hide’s certain that he doesn’t even see them as mere intruders to his master’s home anymore. “You’re..!”

Haise raises Yukimura just in time to block Rose’s frontal blow, staggering from the impact.

SASAKI HAISE!!” The ghoul rages, so loudly that Hide figures the entire manor probably heard him. “You’re the one who..! It’s your fault that Shuu-sama..!”

Hide activates his Quinque and he’s just about to jump in to assist when Haise yells at him to stop, his voice tight with strain.

“Go look for Saiko-chan!” he says, deflecting Rose’s next attack before kicking out and sending the ghoul flying backwards. Right. Hide sometimes forgot about Haise’s immense strength. “He’s only focused on me. I’ll hold him off and buy us some time.”

Before Hide could even open his mouth to argue, he rushes forward and engages in battle once more, pushing Rose further and further back. As much as Hide wants to help, he knows Haise’s decision is right. Their top priority is to find Saiko. Besides, in such a cramped up space in an unfamiliar location, Hide figures he’d only be in the way if he joins in the battle. Haise’s strong. He  should be able to hold out long enough for Hide to retrieve Saiko and get out of there.

Or at least he hopes so.

Hide balls his fists, and forcing himself to look away from Haise’s fight, he turns to the side, and opens the first door.

xXx

Saiko wakes to the chaotic sounds of a struggle.

She’d slept lightly; something she herself honestly never thought she’d be able to do until then. Anyhow, that’s not important. Saiko sits up, her heart hammering against her ribcage. The ruckus seems to be coming from the upper floor. Is that Maman and the others? Have they found her already? Saiko squeezes her eyes shut and focuses on her hearing. What’s going on up there?

With some effort, she’s able to make out the sounds of kagune clashing against Quinque steel, the uneven patter of feet. The cracking of concrete walls. The screaming for Sasaki Haise to die.

Saiko’s eyes snap open. Her Maman’s here! And he’s occupied in combat with Kanae who sounds like he has a sort of personal grudge against him. Is he the only one? Did he come alone? She has to find him! She has to let Maman know that she’s okay!

Saiko practically leaps off the bed and runs to the door, soon discovering that it’s once again locked. She slams her fists repeatedly against the wooden panel, yelling for someone to let her out. She can’t stay in there, not now. Not now. She has to find Maman. She has to tell him that it’s not Tsukiyama’s fault that she’s there and ask for him not to hurt him, please. Before it’s too late.

It feels like forever has passed and no one seems to notice her still. Frustrated, Saiko steps back, deciding that she has no other choice. Tsukiyama can no doubt afford to fix a single door. She’s in a hurry. Her kagune bursts out from her lower back, and she concentrates, aiming the appendages towards a certain point. If no one’s letting her out, she’ll just have to break her way out, just like her initial plans.

Saiko inhales once, then using all her strength in one strike, she opens a gaping hole where the handle used to be with her kagune and pulls, nearly ripping the entire panel from its hinges by accident. Whoops. She can never get used to just how much force her kagune can exert - though it does sap a lot of her energy to use the amount she’d just used. Saiko spares herself a minute to retract her kagune and catch her breath before steeling herself and scampering out, once again relying on her ears to direct her towards her Maman’s fight.

She has no sooner stepped into the corridor when someone grabs her wrist, halting her in her tracks. Saiko whirls around, actually ready to fight out of this if she needs to when she hears a familiar voice call her name.

“Saiko-chan, calm down. It’s me.”

Saiko has never been happier to see Hide in her life. But most of her mind is still occupied by the fact that Haise’s still engaged in a battle with Kanae and he might be in danger and-

“Maman is-“ she says, her voice beginning to tremble from the overwhelming fear and worry that abruptly sinks in. “Maman is-“

“Fighting, yes,” Hide helps her finish. His own voice, despite gentle, is tinged with anxiety. “Don’t worry, we’re going to look for him now and get out of here. You did a great job, breaking down that door yourself. I would never have found you if it wasn’t for the noise.”

“They’re getting closer towards Tsukiyama-san’s room,” Saiko gasps when realization hits her out of the blue, barely paying any attention to Hide’s last two sentences. The direction where the din is heading - that side of the manor is where the ghoul’s room is, Saiko remembers. That’s where she’d been led down from the night before.

Who’s room?” Hide asks, confused. Unfortunately, it’s not the time for Saiko to explain. She clutches Hide’s hand with both her own, her heart beating miles per minute.

“Please, Hide-san. We have to find Maman!” she says, with so much desperation that she surprises even herself. “We have to.”

“Can you determine where Haise is?” Hide asks again after a short pause, and Saiko nods fervently. Hide then smiles, though a slight furrow remains on his brow.

“Take us there then, Saiko-chan.”

Wasting not a second more, Saiko does just that.

xXx

Haise has no idea what he’d done to offend the guy, and sadly, it seems like he won’t have a chance to find out.

Rose is not only strong (as if that’s not bad enough by itself), he’s aggressive. Haise had somehow managed to switch positions with him to lead him away from Hide so the blond could search for Saiko in the second floor, and he’s now almost fully on the defensive once he has successfully lured the ghoul one floor higher. Rose’s barrage of attacks made it incredibly difficult for Haise to find an opening to counter. As much he would like to settle this without any combat, he has no choice but to fight back if he wants to survive against Rose’s intense bloodlust.

Haise’s arms ache dully as he blocks yet another blow. Rose’s style of fighting consists of using his kagune as some sort of sword by coiling it around his arm - a style Haise finds strangely familiar. Though his defense shouldn’t be too strong since he’s a rinkaku user, the brute force of his slashes and stabs alone are enough to make up for it. The fact that he fights without relying solely on his kagune doesn’t make anything better. Haise could only hope for Yukimura to be able to hold out until their retreat.

Well, at least there doesn’t seem to be other servants trying to gang up on him. He figures Rose is making it pretty clear that he’s his target alone. 

“Die, you damned pig!!” Rose screeches at him for the umpteenth time since he started attacking him, and Haise can’t help but feel slightly annoyed by his variety of occasionally German-laced insults. He could at least tell him why he hates him so much and wants him to die the moment he laid eyes on him. Rose blames him for doing something to ‘Shuu-sama’, he gets that much, but he doesn’t even know a person with the name ‘Shuu’. What the hell is the guy’s problem? Geez.

Luckily for him, the ghoul doesn’t have an endless amount of stamina, and he gradually begins to tire out; his movements slowing down, his blows losing their force. Haise soon spots an opening and uses the chance to strike back, slashing a wide arc across the area in front of him with his Quinque. His reaction a little slowed from fatigue, Rose backs away a second too late, and Haise manages to put a deep cut across his torso.

And he would’ve felt more satisfied with his achievement too, if he hadn’t accidentally provoked Rose even more by doing that.

“You.. You insolent hybrid!” Rose fumes, not at all bothered by the blood gushing out his midsection. “You dare lay a hand on me when you’re just a worthless piece of trash!”

Well someone has an outrageously high regard towards himself. And he was the one who’d started this nonsense in the first place. Haise couldn’t believe him. Even his patience has its limits, and being called rude names by a stranger who for some unfathomable reason wants him dead irks him more than he wants to admit. Haise wills Hide to hurry up and find Saiko so they can finish their job and make their retreat before he seriously loses his temper and end up refusing to leave until he slaps some sense into the guy.

Anger made Rose’s following attacks reckless, enabling Haise to find more vulnerabilities in his form. However, because he’s refraining from going all-out, Haise’s still slowly forced back by the ghoul’s continuous onslaught. Despite the voice that’s persistently urging him to simply finish Rose off and save himself the trouble, Haise stubbornly sticks to the objective of their plans. He’s only here to rescue Saiko, not kill ghouls.

Haise finally backs against a something solid, and a quick glance behind lets him realize that he’s braced against a door. Rose is already lunging towards him before he could properly consider his options, and he ducks out of the way, his body moving on instinct. Still stooped low, he takes one step forward and circles his free arm around the ghoul’s outstretched one, and using the latter’s own momentum, he twists, flipping him over his shoulder and towards the door behind him, sending him crashing right through the thick panel of wood.

While Rose is still dazed, Haise uses the chance to backtrack and put some distance between them. Hide should’ve found Saiko by now. They should be making their escape any minute now-

Haise has crossed maybe five meters when a single vine-like appendage bursts out from the wall nearest to him and catches him off guard, piercing deep into his side. Haise bites back a cry of pain and surprise. Rose detached his kagune and trapped the wall!? Is that even possible? Clenching his teeth, Haise pulls himself free and stumbles, using his Quinque as support while his other hand reaches to press against his gaping wound. The appendage had just barely missed puncturing his lung. Blood wells up in his mouth and he coughs, gasping for breath amid the mist of pain. This is bad. When did Rose have the chance to even do that? How many more traps did he lay around the place?

Maman!

Haise looks up and ahead in horror. “No! Don’t come any closer!”

Time seems to slow down as he watches Hide yank Saiko back just as another appendage explodes from the floor by her feet and nearly stabs right through her. Saiko’s eyes are wide as saucers and wilder than Haise has ever seen them, but she’s struggling out of Hide’s grip and running straight towards him the second she recovers from her shock, completely unbothered by the risk of being potentially assaulted by more traps. Haise thinks his heart must’ve stopped on at least five separate occasions by the time she reaches him unharmed, Hide following close after her.    

“Maman, you’re bleeding!” she frets the moment she pulls back from giving him a quick, tight hug around his waist. Suppressing a wince, Haise moves to pat her head and assures her that he’ll heal from it, don’t worry. He gives Saiko a once-over and sighs in relief when he sees that apart from a few scratches here and there, she’s mostly unhurt.

“Haise,” Hide interrupts with a single warning call of his name, his gaze focused towards where Haise had left his struggle with Rose. Quickly coming to an understanding, Haise straightens and turns around, keeping Saiko protectively behind him. The ghoul has gotten up, and he’s now carefully stepping over the wreckage of the broken door. With a start, Haise notices that his kakugan are no longer active; though he’s still glaring at him - probably with the hopes that it’s enough to kill him.

“Sasaki Haise,” he says, just a little short of a spit. With his clothes ruined and his hair in disarray, Haise’s impressed he could still make himself look even the slightest bit haughty. “I am aware that this is uncalled for after all that conflict between us, but it seems that my master fancies having a talk with you in his room.”

Haise could only stare at him, utterly bewildered. He must be crazy to think he’ll actually listen to him and accept the invitation when he was just trying his best to kill him a few minutes ago. If the servant himself has so many issues, Haise isn’t sure he’d want to know what sort of person Gourmet is. He’d rather decline the offer and go home now, to be frank.

“Maman, it’s okay.” Unexpectedly, it’s Saiko who reassures him. “He’s not a bad guy. He promised Saiko he wouldn’t hurt you.”

What?” Haise’s still pretty much failing to process the entire situation. Is she referring to the Gourmet? Gourmet promised Saiko not to hurt him? Does this mean the ghoul knows about him? Well, Rose does so there’s always a possibility. But still.

“Saiko-chan, you sure about this?” Hide asks, rightfully doubtful because the entire situation seriously isn’t making any sense. He glances warily at Rose at the end of the corridor. “I mean - I don’t think you’d need a reminder, but his servant did try to skewer you and Haise a moment ago.”

“Tsukiyama-san’s my friend,” Saiko insists, and Haise’s breath hitches at the name. Tsukiyama..? “He would never want to deliberately hurt Maman and me.”

“Wait, wait.” Haise holds up his hand and does a mental rewind. “You said he promised you - you told him I’d meet him?”

He hadn’t meant to sound so incredulous and end up putting that look of guilt on Saiko’s face, but he’s simply too overwhelmed by the sudden twist in their situation. What exactly is going on?

“Please, Maman,” Saiko begs, tugging at his arm. “He’s the reason I’m still alive here. He’s in a really bad shape and you can help him!”

Haise really doesn’t see how he can do anything about a person he’s sure he’d only seen in his dreams, but the urgency in Saiko’s voice is genuine, and very reluctantly, he relents. Hide’s objection is immediate.

“I’ll be alright, Hide,” Haise tells him, trying to not to let his hesitation show. “He hasn’t done anything to Saiko-chan and he has her trust. It’ll be fine.”

“Then I’m going in with you,” Hide says, obstinate. He turns to Rose and adds before Haise could protest; “Either we go in a group, or we don’t go at all. You have my word as a ghoul investigator that I won’t harm your master, so long as he doesn’t threaten us first.”

Rose looks ready to scorn at their request (because really, they’re not in the position to make any demands) when Haise hears a faint voice speak to the ghoul from within the room, its volume making the words unintelligible to him. Gourmet must’ve told Rose something he didn’t want to hear, for the scowl he wears when he turns back to them is so fierce that his face turns the color of beetroot.

“Very well,” Rose says tersely, practically hissing out every word. The boys revert their Quinque back to their briefcase forms and start towards the entrance to Gourmet’s room, keeping Saiko securely between them and eyeing the servant ghoul cautiously as they walk past him, watching for any further signs of hostility besides his intense glower. His loyalty to his master is apparently the real deal, because he lets them through without as much as a budge.

All along, Haise considers his own room to be pretty big and luxurious, especially in Japanese standards. This place is at least two times bigger than his room, perhaps even three. The curtains are all drawn except for one, allowing only a small patch of sunlight to enter and ward off the dark. Once they’ve stepped through the doorway and everything seems to be safe enough, Saiko breaks away from her superiors’ side and heads towards the unusually large bed at the center of the room. Seeing her so at ease despite being around a ghoul helps Haise relax a little bit.

“Tsukiyama-san,” she says as Haise walks over so the occupant of the bed can look at him properly as they converse. Hide stays behind and lingers a little further away from them, away from the ghoul’s line of sight. “This is Saiko’s Maman.”

Haise studies the ghoul known as the Gourmet, taking in his weary features and haggard physique. His slightly sunken eyes and cheeks, sagged shoulders and the way he has to sit up with the support of pillows. He looks almost nothing like his picture in the CCG’s records and the image of him in Haise’s dreams, yet the insistent sense of recognition at the sight of him is still present, and that’s enough to let Haise know that they’re the same person.  

There is a moment of silence in which Haise isn’t sure what he should do. Should he introduce himself? Thank him for sparing Saiko? Complain about his servant’s lack of hospitality? He doesn’t get the opportunity to do any of that in the end because Tsukiyama motions for him to go closer and he does, coming to a stop right next to Saiko by his bedside.

Haise nearly flinches when Tsukiyama suddenly reaches out and clamps his hands around his forearms. “You.. You are Kaneki-kun, are you not?”

Haise can’t decide which is he more rattled by; the unexpected mention of the name or the tears currently streaming down Tsukiyama’s face. He stares at the ghoul’s eyes; so full of fragile hope; and feels a twinge of pain in his chest. He feels utterly terrible for what he’s about to answer with because no, not even a ghoul should look like that; so disconsolate and desperate for a reply that will finally save him from the pit of despair he’s been trapped within since god knows when. Because no, he’s not who he says he is.

“I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong person, Tsukiyama-san,” Haise says, as gently as he can. Huh. That’s weird. His chest really is starting to hurt a bit now. “My name is Sasaki Haise.”

“But that can’t be,” Tsukiyama insists half frantically, his grip tightening. “You look and sound exactly like him. Even the scent of your blood and the way you say my name. I can’t be mistaken! You have to be him!”

“I’m so sorry, Tsukiyama-san,” Haise apologizes once more, meaning it with all his heart. His fingers twitch slightly as he goes on. “But I’m not.”

“Are.. you telling the truth?” The way Tsukiyama’s face falls is so painful that Haise’s almost forced to look away. “You don’t remember? Anything at all?”

It’s strange, how unperturbed he is by the sudden question and its nature. He doesn’t even ask how he knows. Haise merely takes a breath, and shakes his head slowly. “I don’t. I’m sorry.”

I’m so, so sorry. For everything.

Haise averts his gaze while he waits for Tsukiyama to let his words sink in, weighed upon by the strangest sense of guilt. Saiko had claimed that he’s the one who can help him recover from his current pitiful condition. Now that Haise thinks of it, could he be the reason for it in the first place? Could he have known Tsukiyama once? Is that why some part of him is apologizing over and over again? Is that why he’s been seeing glimpses of him in his dreams? Is that why he’s feeling so incredibly remorseful for a reason he can’t fathom?

He doesn’t know. His head hurts. 

“I see,” Tsukiyama finally says, slackening his hold on Haise’s arms. It’s only after he lets go of him that Haise registers the numbness of his own hands. “So things have ended up like this.”

Tsukiyama laughs a short, hollow laugh and reaches to dry his eyes, his voice still tremulous. There’s nothing Haise could say to that, so all he does is purse his lips and try not to let his feeling of guilt eat away at him.

“Alright. That’s all I want to hear,” Tsukiyama continues, removing his hands from his face and letting them fall back to his sides. His eyes are red, and so, so tired. Almost wryly, he adds; “I suppose you’d want to exterminate me now, since I’m partly responsible for the abduction of your subordinate.”

And at that, Saiko gasps and immediately latches on to Haise’s shirt, pleading; “Maman, don’t!”

Haise looks down at his subordinate, surprised by her outburst. He sees the honest dread across her features, and remembers the utter resignation in Tsukiyama’s gaze when he told him he’s not who he thinks he is. No, he can’t do it. He can’t kill him even if he wants to. He can’t take his life, he just can’t.

“You’ve spared Saiko-chan’s life,” Haise says once he’s able to find the right words as well as the courage to meet the ghoul’s gaze. “And I personally owe you for that, Tsukiyama-san. Besides,” he tries for a small shrug, “the purpose of our mission isn’t to erase you in the first place. I’m not obliged to harm you.”

“That’s a relief to know, then,” Tsukiyama exhales, actually sounding like he’s meaning it. He then leans forward slightly to catch Saiko’s eyes, and adds soothingly; “Do not look so grieved, little rabbit. This won’t be our final goodbye. We’re friends. We’ll surely meet again in the future.”

“You promise you’ll do your best to recover and start going outside again?” Saiko asks, her voice quavering dangerously. Haise realizes anew just how attached Saiko has grown towards the ghoul over the past couple of days - to the point where they’re calling each other friends and promising to meet each other again despite their respective circumstances. Whether or not it’s a good thing, he has yet to decide.

“I will try my best,” Tsukiyama promises with a subtle nod, gaze briefly flickering towards Haise’s direction.

Haise watches as Saiko firmly returns the nod before moving to rummage for something in the drawer of the nightstand. She soon pulls out a small notepad and a pen, and proceeds to scribble something down.

“Here’s Saiko’s email address.” She rips off the page and places the piece of paper under a glass. “Contact me anytime you want, okay?”

“I’ll do that,” Tsukiyama says with a small, but undeniably fond smile. He then faces Haise once more. “Saiko-san’s a good girl. Take good care of her, Sasaki-kun.”

Honestly, Haise thinks he wouldn’t want to let Saiko out of his sight for at least another two weeks. “I will.”

“Kanae will show you the way out,” Tsukiyama says, and Haise mutters his thanks, preparing to leave and trying not to feel like he’s abandoning the ghoul for a second time. It’s not like he’d even done so the first time, right? “It’s been a pleasure meeting the both of you.”

“Bye-bye, Tsukiyama-san,” Saiko says one last time before following Haise to regroup with Hide. Hide’s stare remain focused towards what’s visible of Tsukiyama’s figure from his perspective even as they walk up to him, his eyebrows knitted and the corners of his mouth slightly downturned.

“Hide?” It’s only when Haise speaks that Hide tears his gaze away from the ghoul to look at them, all traces of his frown disappearing from his features in an instant.

“Done?” he asks, an odd ring to his voice. He sounds.. tensed? Cautious? With his own current state of mind, Haise can’t exactly be sure. He decides to let it be for now.

“Yeah,” Haise breathes, and slowly, he allows a small smile of relief to play across his lips. Saiko’s safe. They’ve done what they had to do. Their morning is finally over. “Let’s get Saiko-chan home.”