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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Honestly, Hide was this close to freaking out when Gourmet mentioned Kaneki’s name out of the blue like that.

Hori Chie’s real objectives were suddenly so clear. She knew Haise used to be Kaneki. She knew Tsukiyama was associated to Kaneki somehow. And from everything he’d heard and seen, perhaps she even knew that Kaneki was the reason for Tsukiyama's depression in the first place, which is why she’d insisted on Haise having a role in Saiko’s rescue; to see if his (re)appearance would affect Tsukiyama in any way.  

Hide isn’t going to lie; when he heard Tsukiyama say Kaneki’s name, he’d considered literally jumping in to intervene and even silencing the ghoul and risk fighting his servant to the death if he has to. Haise can’t remember, mustn’t remember. Hide has gone against his own emotions and done everything he could to make sure it stays that way, and he wasn’t going to let a single ghoul ruin everything. He wasn’t going to let a single ghoul be the reason why he’s going to lose his best friend all over again.

But Haise hadn’t recalled a thing. Hadn’t bent over and clutched his head in pain, hadn’t went berserk while screaming for an invisible person to shut up, shut up, shut up. And Hide, despite his own deepest desires, had felt relieved. Relieved because he wouldn’t have to see him hurting so much once again. Relieved because Haise hadn’t remembered what he’s not allowed to remember.

Relieved because a ghoul Kaneki had probably met only after distancing away from him hadn’t be able to trigger any recollection any more than he, his best friend since forever, could have.

If, by some chance, Tsukiyama truly did prompt a memory from Haise, Hide really doesn’t know what he should feel. Distressed because the return of a single memory would possibly encourage the rest to come back? Hopeful because it would mean that there’s a chance for him to have his best friend back? Or jealous because why had a ghoul he’d met for a mere few months been able to make him remember and not him? Hide doesn’t know. Maybe it’d be a mixture of all of those. A disgusting brew of contradicting emotions.

Hide takes in a deep breath, and exhales slowly. He’s been doing this a lot throughout the entire journey home, he realizes with a blanch. He’d barely breathed throughout Haise’s entire conversation with the Gourmet, and it seems as if those few minutes of resisting his body mechanism had caused him to forget how to resume completely. The muscles on his shoulders still feel taut and his heart refuses to calm down even though they’re already halfway home.

“Hide?” Haise’s voice jerks Hide out of his thoughts, and it’s only then that he registers the sting on his lower lip. Whoops. He’s been chewing on his lip, hasn’t he? He must’ve been doing it pretty hard too, since he tastes blood when he flicks his tongue over the spot that’s smarting.

“Ahh, I’m okay!” he says before Haise has the chance to ask, hastily pulling on a sheepish smile. He already feels the tingle that indicates his regeneration kicking in. Pretty soon he’d be good as new again.

“You’ve been really tensed even before we left,” Haise says in a whisper, mindful not to wake Saiko who’d nodded off from sheer exhaustion by his other side. Hide can’t blame her. The entire ordeal must’ve worn her out, and he has to admit that the constant hum of the car engine is quite lulling. Not to mention their driver isn’t exactly the chatty type and the entire vehicle is silent as it can be. “You sure you’re alright?”

“Just thinking about some stuff,” Hide dismisses, scratching his cheek. Haise doesn’t look convinced at all, so he quickly adds, “What about you? Does your wound hurt or anything? You were bleeding a lot when we found you.”

Haise’s obviously still not quite willing to let the matter go just yet, but Hide figures his silent plea must’ve shown on his face. Reluctantly, Haise answers, “It’s fine now. It doesn’t hurt at all.”

“That’s great, then,” Hide grins, then suddenly feeling like he can longer find the courage to look his companion in the eye, he averts his gaze. “That’s.. great.”

He was scared. He gets it now. Listening to that conversation and having the topic of Haise’s memories simply brought up like it’s no big deal - it’d thrown him off balance. It made him wonder if that was it, that’s the moment everything goes downhill. If that’s the moment he has to start preparing emotionally for the inevitable. If that’s the moment he has to let go of his everything all over again.

And perhaps, he was a little angry, too. Especially at how Tsukiyama had just thrown Kaneki’s name out there without knowing the potential consequences of his actions. And also at himself for subconsciously hoping that Haise would say yes, he’s starting to remember bits and pieces.

A disgusting brew of contradicting emotions. Yeah, that pretty much sums up Hide’s entire existence since a couple of years ago. A huge mess, he’d become.

A hand envelopes his own on his lap, and he flinches, having not expected the contact. Haise’s hand is warm. Or maybe it’s just his that’s freezing, Hide isn’t sure. Taking yet another deep breath, he tentatively glances to his side once more, meeting Haise’s concerned gaze. Haise gives his hand a light squeeze, not saying a thing. Doesn’t have to. Hide has known him long enough to understand him without the need of words.

Hide’s mind is a muddled mess, yes, but as he continues staring at those grey, grey eyes, a single clear thought surfaces, and all of the sudden, it’s all he could do simply to hold himself back from flipping his hand over and lacing his fingers tightly with Haise’s and never letting go.

Because no matter what, more than anything, he just can’t bear the thought of losing him again.

xXx

“Hey, I’ve been wanting to ask you guys this for a while now, but don’t you think something weird’s going on?”

Shirazu averts his gaze from the ceiling to focus on his teammates gathered loosely around him. They’re cooped up in the office assigned to them in the CCG’s main building on yet another lazy afternoon several days after completing their latest mission. Urie’s occupying the seat furthest away from Shirazu with his earphones on and Saiko’s caught up with her game on her DS. The only one who seems to have heard him is Mutsuki, who, looks up from the piece of paper he’s reading and raises his eyebrows at him.

“About what?” he asks, mostly out of politeness. Shirazu tries not to be too mad at the other two for ignoring him. It’s a normal occurrence, really.

“It’s Sassan and Hide-san,” Shirazu says, dropping his voice and glancing warily towards the door just in case the mentioned duo magically reappears from the meeting they’d just gone out to attend roughly ten minutes ago. “I don’t know, but it kinda seems like-“

“They’re dating,” Saiko interjects, in all solemnity. She only looks up when she receives nothing but stunned silence, eyes wide in disbelief. “What do you mean they’re not?

“What do you mean they are?” Shirazu demands incredulously once he rediscovers his coherency. He then takes a deep breath, and forces himself to calm down, running a hand across his face. Saiko’s nonsense are not worth getting worked up over.

“They’re already sharing the same room, Shiragin,” Saiko tells him with a few clicks of her tongue, wagging a finger at him. Shirazu doesn’t like that smug look of triumph she’s wearing already. “I’m surprised we’re not hearing anything at night yet.”

“You do know that this isn’t another one of your stupid games, right?” Shirazu sighs, unable to find the will to argue with the girl. Sometimes, he seriously wondered if Saiko had a sense of reality to begin with. He’s heard of her befriending the ghoul who’s supposed to eat her, and though he’s grudgingly impressed that she’s able to keep herself alive that way, it still seems pretty ridiculous to him. Friendship between a ghoul investigator and a ghoul? That’s bound not to work out eventually.

Of course, Sassan’s an exception to that rule, but whatever.

“You’re the only one who’s blind to it all,” Saiko says, unaffected by his indirect insult towards her hobbies. She points her stylus towards the taller boy and tilts her head slightly to the side. “Have you even seen the way they act around each other?”

“Well, now that you mention it,” Mutsuki speaks up unexpectedly, pink dusted across his cheeks. He seems like he can’t decide whether to feel intrigued or embarrassed by the entire topic. “They do seem to be getting quite close.”

“Not you too, Tooru,” Shirazu groans, slumping further down his chair. “I can’t believe I’m saying this - but come on, Urie. Back me up here! This isn’t what I was trying ask!”

To no one’s surprise, Urie outright refuses to even acknowledge the fact that he’d been spoken to.

“Then again, Saiko can’t blame you,” Saiko goes on as if Shirazu hadn’t said a thing, folding her DS before crossing her arms and nodding sagely to herself. “You’ve never been in love, so it’s only normal for you to be ignorant.”

“As if you’ve been in love before!” Shirazu snaps, managing to control the volume of his voice just before he starts shouting. This time, Saiko shoots him an offended look.

“I’ve observed enough to at least know more than you,” she says, and Shirazu gives up. There’s no use trying to change her mind. They could go on for hours, and they’ll still end up back where they’d started. Let her believe what she wants to believe.

But really. Could Sassan and Hide-san be dating? As much as Shirazu wants to rule out the possibility, he can’t. Romance isn’t exactly his specialty, but Saiko’s wrong and he has seen how those two are around each other. Even he notices how much happier Sassan genuinely seems after Hide joined them, how much comfort the blond brings to their mentor just by being there. How those two are always doing things together these days and how much they confide in each other when making decisions and the like. Shirazu had chalked it all up as some sort of broship all this while, but could Saiko actually be on to something? Are they actually going out without their knowledge?  

“Anyway.” Shirazu clears his throat, remembering the question he’s supposed to be voicing. He makes up his mind not to pursue the thought any further - though, he would be pretty miffed if something so big is to happen and he’s not at all informed about it. “What I was trying say is, don’t you guys think they’re, like, I don’t know - hiding something? Especially Hide-san?”

“Sensei’s always not telling us a lot of things, so there’s nothing unusual there,” Mutsuki says with a small grimace. “Hide-san most likely has his reasons as well, so I think we shouldn’t pry into it as long as-”

 “Hmm? What’s that about me?”

The entire squad flinches at the sound of their blond superior’s voice, chipper as always. Hide nonchalantly saunters in, glancing  around in curiosity, his eyebrows raised. How long has he been there and how much did he hear?

“We’re just trying to figure out if you’re dating Maman,” Saiko says straightforwardly, and Shirazu nearly yells at her because what does she think she’s doing? Admitting that they’re having suspicions about him would’ve been a better response than to blurt that out! It’s awkward as hell and Shirazu’s not sure he can ever look his superior in the eye again after this. Mutsuki already looks like he’s considering fading into his chair.

However, in contrast to the younger boys’ agitation, Hide doesn’t look particularly affected by the statement.

“Ehh. Do you want me to date Haise?” Hide asks with a light laugh, retrieving a folder from the cabinet behind his desk. He freezes when he straightens up and notices everyone in the room staring at him. “Um, should I not have said that?”

“H-Hide-san, don’t you need to hurry back to your meeting or something?” Shirazu hastily speaks up in a desperate attempt to change the topic. Hide shoots him a strange look, but just as Shirazu’s expecting him to say something, he shrugs indifferently, and heads to the exit. He does need to hurry back, apparently.

“By the way, don’t you kids have more important things to do than to gossip around all day?” he looks over his shoulder and says just before he walks out of the door, his tone still casual. Still not giving any indication that he’d heard the earlier part of their conversation. “I’m pretty sure there’s still some documents that need some sorting out. Better get them done in case Akira-san walks in or something, yeah?”

And with that happy thought, he leaves, mumbling something about the beauties of youth to himself as he goes. Shirazu doesn’t relax until he hears the blond’s footsteps disappear completely, exhaling a loud breath before turning to glare at Saiko.

“They are not dating,” he says, annoyed at how displeased he sounds at the statement.

“Not yet,” Saiko corrects, moving to resume playing with her game console. Shirazu rolls his eyes, totally losing all motivation to keep up their discussion any further. Tooru’s right. He shouldn’t care too much about his superiors’ secrets as long as they don’t directly affect them. It’s probably for their own good that they don’t know, too. Without another word, Shirazu fixes his posture and wheels his chair back towards his desk, submitting to the reminder that no matter how little, he still has work to do.

He’s halfway through his task of rearranging a report on some random ghoul attack from another Ward when he belatedly realizes how Saiko had become more subdued as soon as he brought up the topic of Sasaki and Hide’s secrecy. It’s likely that she’s noticed it too; she was there during those instances which had raised Shirazu’s doubts. Though, it is pretty unusual that she’s bothered by matters unrelated to her nerdy hobbies. Maybe the entire thing is more serious than Shirazu thinks.

But you know what, he should really stop dwelling on this.

xXx

“Come to think of it, it seems that the kids want me to ask you out.”

Hide grins when Haise nearly spits his coffee upon registering his words.

“I’m sorry?” Haise splutters once he manages to swallow his beverage, blood rushing to his face. Hide breaks into a laugh at the sight of him, but the mirth fades quicker than he would’ve preferred. Dating.. huh? Funny how something he could easily bring up during his earlier days could seem so out of reach right then. He couldn’t believe how much simpler life used to be; dating was just a matter of asking the person you liked out. There are too many things to work out now; too many things to think about, too many things to be distracted over.

“Or, at least they made the implication,” Hide adds with as much mischief as he can muster, chin still balanced on his upturned palm. Haise looks ready to throw his mug at him for teasing him like that, and while he should really start worrying about his wellbeing, Hide only feels ridiculously amused. It’s been a while since he’s able to tease him on this whole dating thing. In fact, he never thought he’d be able to bring up the subject ever again, especially not as casually as this.

You should try choking on coffee one day,” Haise grumbles after making a considerable recovery, lips set in a small pout and cheeks slightly puffed out as he takes a seat on the chair next to the blond. Hide snickers his apology, but otherwise says nothing else as he observes his companion’s profile while he takes another sip of his drink. Haise notices him staring out of the corner of his eye after a while, and he raises an eyebrow. “What?”

The way he tries so hard to sound angry when he’s obviously not makes Hide smile even wider.

Nothinggg,” he sing-songs, heart fluttering when the corners of Haise’s lips lift by the slightest. “Just thinking how it’s already been a little more than a month since we met.”

“It feels like we’ve known each other longer than that, huh?” Haise says softly, gaze settling back on his mug.

“It does,” Hide agrees, hoping he doesn’t sound as somber as he feels because yes, they’ve known each other much longer than that and he can’t ever tell him that. He lets a minute of silence settle over them before slowly moving to stand up. “And as much as I want to stay here and chat for the rest of the night, I just remembered that there’s something I need to do before Akira-san whoops my ass tomorrow.”

“Better go ahead and get it done then,” Haise says, all too familiar with their superior’s ability to kick their butt. Hide nods, turning to make his way towards his room. Having something to do isn’t completely an excuse on his part. There really is something Akira wanted him to work on, and Hide has to come up with a solution for it before presenting it to her when he goes to work the next morning.

He’s expecting another long night, but at least his thoughts will be too occupied most of the time to wander around.

Hide pauses in his steps and blinks in confusion when he sees a figure waiting for him outside his room, huddled on the floor with her back leaned against the wall right next to the doorframe. Saiko? What is she doing here? It’s getting quite late and she’s usually in her room even earlier than the rest of her squad.

“Papa,” Saiko looks up and acknowledges once she hears Hide approaching her, shutting her console. She gets on her feet, hesitating for a split second before asking, “Do you have the time to talk?”

She’s been waiting for him in the cold for who-knows how long. Even if it’s sudden, there isn’t a reason for Hide to say no. Heck, he can’t even say no if he wants to. It’s against his nature to be that heartless. A few minutes wouldn’t hurt.

“Of course,” he says lightly, then moving to open the door to his room and turning on the lights. “But first things first, come on in. You can use my blanket to warm up.”

Saiko accepts his invitation without another word, slipping her DS into her pocket and shuffling into his bedroom. In a few minutes, they’re sitting next to each other on Hide’s bed; Saiko bundled up under his heater-blanket and looking so cozy that Hide can’t help but feel a little jealous, despite himself. Must be nice to be surrounded by warmth in this freezing temperature.

Also, he’s lucky that he’d brought his blanket down from Haise’s room earlier because he knew it’d be a while before he can join him upstairs and the night’s only going to get colder. It’d be more than a little awkward to explain the situation to Saiko if she asks about it, even though there’s really nothing going on. He and Haise are just keeping each other company. That’s it. Simple as that.

It sounds like a stupid excuse even in his head.

“So what is it that you want to talk about?” Hide prompts after a short lapse of silence from Saiko. From the firmness of her gaze when she turns to meet his eyes, he could tell that she’s being uncharacteristically serious for once.

“Maman isn’t really who we think he is, is he?” she asks right off, taking Hide by so much surprise that he falters before he could control himself. He knows the Quinx are aware of him keeping things from them - they’re not stupid - but they shouldn’t know the details. No, Saiko can’t have found out about this. Nobody could’ve told her. She shouldn’t even have the suspicion in the first place! How did this-

Is he?” Saiko presses, and Hide really doesn’t know if he should just go ahead and answer honestly or keep lying. Should he brush it off and deny knowing a thing about who Haise used to be? Or should he tell her he’s not allowed to answer that question because he simply can’t risk it?

“To you guys, he always has been and always will be Sasaki Haise,” Hide finally says, forcing his thoughts into order. This isn’t the time to be panicking. “He’s your mentor and Maman.”

“Saiko heard what Tsukiyama-san called him,” Saiko insists, and it’s only then that Hide realizes how badly she wants answers. How badly she wants find out the truth about her mother-figure that’s been hidden away from her all this while. “He called him ‘Kaneki-kun’.”

“And how did Haise reply to that?” Hide inquires, starting to feel much calmer now because he knows exactly how Haise had reacted to that.

“He said.. he wasn’t him,” Saiko says haltingly, glancing away for a brief moment before locking eyes with Hide again. “But that’s because he doesn’t remember!” Hide hurriedly shushes her, not wanting her to wake the entire household. And more importantly, not wanting Haise to come investigate the noise and overhear this conversation. “Tsukiyama-san said he was the same with Kaneki Ken - from his looks to the scent of his blood. He can’t be wrong about that.”

She even knows his full name. Just what much did that ghoul tell her?

“Well, he is,” Hide says, doing his best to sound firm. He couldn’t believe how much willpower it takes not to look away from Saiko’s intense stare.

“He’s not,” Saiko says, without a shred of doubt. “And you know that, Hide-san.”

Maybe the accusation hit home. Maybe it’s just the tone of her voice that got to him. Maybe he just decided that arguing any further than this would just make the truth all the more obvious. Either way, Hide’s suddenly feels exhaustion crushing down his shoulders. He’s so tired of it all. Of the lies, the avoidance. The acting. The denials. Oh, the countless denials. He’s so sick of it; so sick of having to constantly remind himself that Haise’s not Kaneki, Haise’s not Kaneki, Haise’s not Kaneki. That even though he believes they’re still the same in some ways, they’re not and that Kaneki’s gone and it’s his fault and that doesn’t even matter because it’s better that way. That everything’s better this way.

He’s just so, so tired.

“How did you find out that I-“ The words die in his throat. It’s laughable. He’s been spouting lies for so long that admitting the truth feels so foreign to him now. He can’t say it, can’t admit she’s right. His body refuses to allow it.

“I only had a feeling at first. Then Tsukiyama-san told me a few things,” Saiko admits, understanding what he fails to say. “But you did know him, didn’t you? Even before you were assigned to the squad.”

A lump abruptly forms in Hide’s throat, and he turns away, burying his face onto his hands. “Please, Saiko-chan,” he pleads, so pitiably that it’s disgusting. “Please don’t’ tell anyone this. Please.”

He must sound even more pathetic than he feels, because Saiko reaches out, and touches his arm gently. “It’s okay, Papa. I won’t tell anyone, I promise. You have Yonebayashi Saiko’s words.”

And she fully means it - Hide knows that somehow. She’ll do everything to keep his secret safe. Hide takes in a shuddering breath, and gradually wills himself to nod, tentatively trusting her honesty. He absolutely hates how weak he currently feels; how vulnerable and miserable and how completely unlike him. He hates it, hates it, hates it. Even if this is how he truly feels about the entire matter, he hates it with all his heart.

“He’s my best friend, Saiko-chan,” he says at last, the softest of whispers. He keeps his face pressed against his palms, unable to bear looking at his subordinate when it feels like he’s rapidly being unraveled into a jumble of emotions. “The reason his memories are like this - there was no other choice-“

He stops, biting hard onto his lip. Breathe. He has to breathe. He can’t break down now. Not in front of Saiko, not in front of anyone. This was his decision and no one else’s. He can’t regret, can’t go back. Not now, not now.

“Everything you’ve done so far,” Saiko begins slowly after giving him a moment, tone every bit as soft as his, “was it all for his sake?”

Was it? Was it really? “I.. don’t know.” Hide shakes his head. His voice sounds weird even to his own ears. “I really don’t know anymore.”

A split-second of silence. Then Saiko asks him something he absolutely does not expect.

“Did you love him?”

Hide stills, completely taken aback. Did he love him? Hide would’ve thought of it as just another one of Saiko’s childish inquiries after all that dating talk, but he could clearly tell that she’s being totally earnest now. With a sharp inhale, he lifts his face, gaze still focused on his hands. Yes. Yes, he did love him. He loved him more than anything in the world. He loved him with all his heart and everything he had and that’s why it hurts so much for things to stay this way no matter what he tells himself and he can only choke out an empty laugh before looking at her funny because gosh why is she even asking it must be as obvious as the sun that-

“I still do, Saiko-chan. I still do.”

xXx

There isn’t much excitement during the two weeks that followed Saiko’s rescue from Gourmet’s manor.

Although they’re still continually assigned to cases, Haise feels that things are gradually starting to quiet down, allowing each of them to resume a somewhat more laidback schedule. They aren’t given complicated investigations to deal with and they frequently find themselves trying to pass time organizing files and documents in the office. Haise can’t say he’s not a bit disturbed by how easy his job suddenly became, but he’s not complaining.

The only spark of excitement they have is for Mutsuki’s surprise birthday party that they somehow found time for, an idea suggested by Hide, who’d wished to reward the younger boy with some fun after all his hard work.

The process of planning the entire thing is, needless to say, borderline chaotic; with Shirazu disagreeing over Saiko’s every choice of songs she wants to play as the background music, Urie having a very unique sense of décor (Haise’s surprised he’s even willing to take part in the preparations; it seems that people do change, bit by bit), Hide insisting for them to wear silly party hats despite everyone’s protests and Haise himself fretting over what sort of special meal he should whip up for the big night. Nevertheless, they still manage to get things done in time despite all the fuss. The entire progress of the preparation wasn’t exactly the smoothest, but Haise supposes what really matters is the end result.

And now, standing there with a huge grin plastered across his face and watching his subordinate’s expression morph from confusion to pure delight at the realization of what exactly is going on, Haise confirms that every bit of trouble they had to go through throughout the past few days are worth it. All those pointless bickers and disagreement and mostly-playful criticism - they’re all worth experiencing if that’s what it takes to make Mutsuki smile like that for the first time in months.

Haise would like to describe the full details of the celebration, but the rest of the evening seems to pass in a blur to him. There’s a bunch of laughter and jokes and lame games (and party hats - don’t’ forget the party hats), that’s for sure. Haise remembers blurting out a few brilliant puns and according to the entire squad, he’d outdone himself with the menu this time. Saiko managed to arrange a surprisingly fitting playlist (though she did sneakily slip in some completely unrelated songs in between) and even Urie’s a little less grumpy than usual. Really, the night almost seemed magical.

It’s the first time they truly felt like one family, and Haise can’t help but feel a blossom of warmth in his chest at the mere thought of it. He knows it’s too much to wish for, but he can’t help thinking how nice it’d be if they could be this carefree more often.

He stumbles into his room after finishing the last bit of cleaning up (upon his own insistence), oddly drained despite how he’d merely spent the night goofing around like a normal youngster his age. He closes the door behind him and nearly trips his way to his bed, plopping down onto the mattress with a satisfied sigh. He swears running all over the place chasing a ghoul is less exhausting than this.

Haise smiles against the sheets when he feels fingers carefully combing through his hair. Now that winter has officially started, the temperature has dropped to an obnoxiously low reading, and Hide’s sleeping spot has somehow or another ended up moving from the floor to the room Haise can spare on his bed once he scoots aside. There’s not much space for the two of them to roll around even with the size of his bed, but none of them particularly minds. It’s much warmer with the presence of another person (and blanket) and that’s pretty much all that matters.

“I can’t believe how tired you are from just a little party,” Hide points out, his voice filled with merriment. Easy for him to say. Unlike Haise, he’s naturally a social guy. Haise only makes a series of muffled, incoherent sounds in response before turning to lie on his side, facing his companion.

“I can’t believe you’re not, after all that guffawing,” Haise retorts, swallowing the urge to protest when Hide retracts his hand. He’d grown to enjoy the feeling of Hide’s fingers sifting through his hair before he knew it, but he’s not letting the blond know that. It’s too embarrassing. Instead, he focuses on asking something that’d been bugging him since dinner. “You didn’t seem to eat much just now. Is everything okay?”

“Aww, I’m so honored that you pay so much attention to me!” Hide replies playfully, earning himself a halfhearted glare from the other boy. He looks away when he adds, “It’s just my cells acting up, no biggie.”  

“Your cells?” Haise feels a stab of worry. “As in your RC levels?”

“I’ll tell you in the morning,” Hide promises, meeting his gaze again with a gentle smile. “You’re too tired to listen to me blabber about stuff anyway. Get some sleep.”

As much as he wants to deny it, Hide’s right. Haise reluctantly nods, letting out a huge yawn and trying to wriggle under his blanket without having to move his head too much. With a soft chuckle, Hide sets his mobile aside and leans forward to help him with his sheets. Haise’s finally enwrapped under a cover of warmth in a minute, and he curls up slightly just to muster a little more of it. He must be even more exhausted than he thought; he’s already drifting off before Hide could even finish wishing him good night.

Haise’s dreams these days are still randomly rotating between blankness, actual dreams, and glimpses of what he suspects are memories. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between actual dreams and recollections, but Haise has learnt that ironically, the latter has a sort of blurrier quality to them; missing both minor and major details that determine the context of the remembrances and enable him to piece them together. Places that lacked landmarks, voices without names, people without faces. A fast food restaurant, a bookstore, a bare bedroom that he loathes for a reason he can’t figure out. Voices yelling garbled words at him, numbers, gentler voices telling him things he can’t seem to understand. 

And of course, he still ends up in the checkered chamber more often than he likes, staring straight ahead into a void with him behind him and ready to invade his personal space and whisper into his ear and beg him to call his name.

Only then, he’s quieter lately. Haise would find himself standing in the place, bracing himself for the usual treatment just to eventually have his expectations fall short. No hands, no footsteps, no voices. Why is he suddenly so silent? Haise can’t help but feel like something’s wrong, despite himself.

Still, he doesn’t dare look back.

Haise’s having another one of his memory-dreams now, or at least that’s what he thinks it is. He hasn’t seen this vision before. He’s sitting on a bench in the courtyard of what seems to be a huge university, a book in his hands and a cup of steaming coffee on the table before him. A quick look at the text tells him that he’s reading one of Takatsuki Sen’s earlier works. He can’t feel the temperature, but seeing the trees shrouded in pink and white in the distance, he guesses it’s the beginning of spring.

“Hey, you listening to me?”

Haise’s attention snaps towards the source of the voice, as distorted as all those he’d heard before this. Seated across him on the opposite side of the table, there’s a figure of a person. He can’t quite determine who they are because their entire appearance is blurred, but something in him seems to recognize them. He feels.. at ease. Comforted. Whoever that person is, they must’ve been pretty close to him.

“Yeah, sorry.” Haise hears himself say, placing a finger between the pages of his book before setting it down on the table. With a start, he realizes that the figure before him is slowly coming into focus; he’s already able to make out more details. The person’s a boy about his height and build, wearing a bright yellow jacket and a set of orange headphones around his neck. Haise’s gaze shift higher to see a mess of short, bleached blond hair; the face of the person has yet to make itself clear.

“You weren’t listening, were you? I can’t believe you always prioritize those morbid novels over me.” The person crosses his arms, though he doesn’t sound angry at all. In fact, Haise thinks he hears a sort of weary fondness in the guy’s tone - something he’s just recently familiar with. Wait. Could it be-

The moment he comes to the realization, a horrendous myriad of scratchy clicks suddenly flood his hearing, and the entire dream shatters like glass. Haise frantically presses his hands over his ears in a desperate attempt to drown out the deafening noise, his throat closing with fear when he feels something literally crawling its way deeper into his left ear towards his skull and into his brain and oh god what’s happening why is he-?

“Haise.”

Strangely enough, Haise could still hear his voice above the maddening cacophony when he calls his name, each syllable filled with so much sorrow that it’s enough to actually make him temporarily stop taking notice of the terrible noise.

Don’t take any more of them away from me,” he begs in a voice so close to breaking, this time right next to his ear. Haise promptly jerks awake, a dull ache in his chest. There’s a prickle in his ears, as if those frightening sounds had been real instead of just another element of his nightmare. Sweat beaded his forehead despite the temperature, and his entire body trembles uncontrollably.

Why did he say that? What was he taking away from him?

“Haise? You okay there, buddy?” Hide’s voice sounds behind him in a drowsy murmur. Haise figures he must’ve moved around more than he realized, seeing how he’d even accidentally woken Hide from his sleep.

“Y-Yeah,” he takes a deep breath and assures, working to keep the quaver from his voice. “It’s not anything serious, Hide. Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep.”

“You sure?”

Without really thinking about it, Haise touches his chin. “Yeah. I’m alright, don’t worry about it.”

He could practically feel Hide’s reluctance to stop pressing on, but to his relief, the blond eventually decides not to pry. As Hide shifts to find slumber once more, Haise can’t help but feel immensely grateful that he’s lying facing away from Hide. Otherwise he’d know that sometimes up, something even Haise can’t quite understand.

The person in his dreams. Inner him’s interference as soon as he begins toying with the notion after realizing he recognizes so many things about that stranger. Haise wasn’t sure of it before, but he is now; the identity of the person whom he’d already seen a few times in his visions - in different locations, different time frames. Different memories.

Hide. That person was Hide.