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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Haise doesn’t know what he’s expecting.

But he definitely didn’t expect Hide to stare at him and suddenly break into a lopsided smile as though he’d just blurted out something amusing.

It doesn’t reach his eyes, Haise notices first of all. Followed by the fact that it seems painfully forced and that Hide looks like he’s barely able to maintain his composure.

“It could’ve been just another dream, Haise,” he says, very softly. Haise’s somehow able to tell that he’s trying hard to sound convincing while retaining his usual cheery front. It actually hurts to hear him sound like that, but Haise can’t seem to find the right words to make him stop. “Some studies claim that we only dream of faces of real people, so you could be confused.”

“You don’t understand,” Haise protests, fingers curling into the material of his blanket. “I can’t really explain it, but I can tell which is a dream and which is a memory. You were there in them, Hide. I’ve seen you in my memories a few times already. I couldn’t see your face properly, but-“ he makes a frustrated sound because it’s so darn tricky to put it in words and everything he says is all over the place, “-I don’t know how to describe it, but that person gives off the exact same vibe as you do.”

“We’ve only met a few months ago,” Hide reasons, leaning back so that they’re no longer quite so close together. He sounds a bit calmer compared to a minute ago. “Unless it’s for your more recent memories, it’s impossible for me to be in them.”

“But you are,” Haise insists, his words coming out in something just short of a plea. “You are in them, Hide. I..I knew you.” He searches Hide’s features for answers, for even the smallest of hints. “I knew you, long before you even got assigned here.”

And Hide doesn’t admit nor deny that. He merely purses his lips and keeps quiet, averting his gaze to the side. Haise feels his heart sinking because he’s right, isn’t he? Hide knows who he used to be before he woke from that coma without a single memory. From how unsurprised he was when he told him he was a half-ghoul, when he told him about the voice in his head. He’d known all along.

“Who were you to me, Hide?”

Something in him screams at him to stop there and dwell no further if he knows what’s good for him. That knowing any more than this will only put himself in jeopardy. However, his growing curiosity eventually wins out because he’d been pondering about this for so long and the answers are literally right in front of him and the more irrational part of him simply refuses to relent until he gets what he wants.

I wonder?” Hide muses in a barely audible mutter, with so much melancholy that Haise’s breath catches in his throat. Suddenly he’s afraid all over again; of who he used to be and what he’d done in the past. Of whether he’d done something terribly wrong and ended up hurting the people close to him.

“I can’t tell you, Haise,” Hide finally says aloud instead, meeting his eyes resolutely. There’s a tinge of regret in his tone, as well as a certain bleakness that Haise occasionally detects from him. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you.”

Haise’s scared to press on, yet- “And why’s that?”

“Because it’s for the best that you don’t know,” Hide replies, a slight quiver creeping to his voice. “It’s better for you not to remember.”

“I’m the one who decides what’s best for me,” Haise says, silently pleading and pleading for him to just stop looking at him like that, like he’s the most fragile thing in the world. “So don’t you dare give me any of that.”

“You don’t understand the risks, Haise,” Hide tells him, briefly glancing away before resuming eye contact. “All along, you’ve been afraid of your memories for personal reasons, but there’s much more to it. He has probably figured it out, and that’s why he’s trying to protect you by stopping you from remembering.”

The idea of inner him wanting to protect him after everything they’ve went through seems so outrageous at first that Haise’s brain utterly fails to process the thought. After all those taunts and nightmares and general attempts to make his life miserable - he’s trying to protect him now? It absolutely makes no sense.

Yet when he thinks back on it, has it always been like that? Could he have misunderstood something along the way? His taunts, his promises to grant him power - could he have actually been thinking of his wellbeing? Because he knows he’s wouldn’t stand a chance with his strength alone? The times when he jeered at him for not being able to save those precious to him - was he actually somehow trying to motivate him in his own twisted way? The more Haise thinks about it, the more absurd it seems.

But.. what if it is true?

“Why would he do that?” Haise asks in a voice so small it hardly sounds like his own. Hide once again gives him that look of weary fondness he’d come to familiarize, his smile turning forlorn.

“Because you’re both part of the same person,” he explains, “and it’s only natural for us to avoid getting ourselves hurt.”

“But you’re hurting, Hide,” Haise points out, the growing ache in his chest beginning to make it slightly difficult to breathe. This time, it’s his turn to lean closer towards his companion. “Even I can tell that much. There’s something about this that-“

“Haise,” Hide stops him before he’s able to finish, his tone still quiet, but undeniably firm. “I’ve already said too much. So please,” he traces the outline of Haise’s face with his fingertips, his gaze beseeching, “stop there. It doesn’t matter what our relationship used to be. You’ve started anew, and so have I. Let everything be as it is.”

“I can’t.” Haise shakes his head helplessly, knowing full well he won’t be able to do that after everything he’s heard. Hide’s asking for the impossible. There’s no way Haise could let things be when he knows just how much pain Hide is in and it has something to do with him. There’s no way he could sit back and pretend nothing’s wrong when someone he cares so much about has been lying to him all along claiming that it’s for his sake.  

There’s no way he could go on as if nothing’s wrong when Hide’s been working so hard to mask the misery he’s in because he can’t stand it; Haise can’t stand knowing someone else’s silently suffering for him and he’d rather be the one hurt instead of letting others carry his burden.

“Please, Haise,” Hide says again, just short of a beg. “Don’t make this any more difficult for the both of us.”

“Why are you even doing this?” Haise demands, his frustration building along with his sense of powerlessness. Rather, he’s sure it’s building because of his inability to change a thing. “Why are you willing to go through so much for me?”

 “Because that’s the only way, Haise,” Hide tells him, and Haise’s sure he feels something within him shrivel up and die the moment he hears his answer. “Because I don’t ever want to lose you again.”

xXx

Hide can’t decide whether to cry or rejoice at Haise’s revelation.

It’s a messy mixture of both at the beginning where Haise first questioned his identity, but once they’ve managed to end the conversation and eventually settle down for a good night’s sleep (ah, wishful thinking), the numbness which Hide thought had left him for good  returns at full blast. Then again, Hide figures he’s bound to experience some emotional setback after destroying his faintest sliver of hope on his own.

But hey - it’s for the best, right?

Despite the blankets and Haise beside him within arm’s reach, that night is one of the coldest Hide ever had the dread to attempt sleeping through.

Of course, Hide can’t honestly expect things between Haise and himself to completely go back to how they were before after all that’s said and done. He’s being selfish, and he’s aware of that. Still, he tries. He wakes to the annoyingly loud ring of Haise’s alarm clock the next morning and mutters a compliment at his roommate’s wild bed hair the first thing he does just like every other day. He greets everyone heartily at the dining table downstairs once he’s done showering (though he’s lost the chance to complain about the cold; their new radiator’s a blessing from the gods) and he tries to include everyone in a conversation like he always does. He works to exert his usual upbeat energy so no one would suspect a thing.

And despite the subtle strain that hovers between them like an insistent fog, Haise - to Hide’s slight surprise - reluctantly plays along with him. He guesses Haise’s not keen on worrying the kids as well, being ever the considerate one. Though there are admittedly more awkward pauses and lack of eye contact between them, Hide thinks they manage to pull it off pretty well. The fact that they’re getting busier with their latest investigation helps. At least everyone’s too distracted to afford paying much attention to the minor things. Hide himself certainly can’t.

The investigation on the Clowns has been going on since pretty much forever - or, at least that’s what Hide caught wind of when he was still a simple part-timer in the CCG’s 20th Ward branch office. Thinking it might come in handy in the future, he’d invested some time in trying to dig up some useful information on them alongside his search for Kaneki, and his intuition had been right once again. In fact, Hide gets the feeling Director Washuu wouldn’t have even considered listening to the rest of his appeal after the first sentence if he hadn’t proposed to aid in their stagnant progress on the elimination of the infamous Clown group. Thank goodness he’d also made himself a little known for his gift of playing detective exceptionally well before that. Otherwise his assurances would’ve had the about the same worth as dog poop.

All along, Hide has been secretly aiding in the Clowns’ investigation as part of the intelligence team; questioning the ghouls in Cochlea to see if they had any information when he was still stationed at Division II, digging through the internet and the CCG’s records system at night after work every day for reports that might mention them. Although they’ve been lying low for the past couple of years, the Clowns are still dangerous enough for the Commission to persist on planning for their complete annihilation. Not only are most of them rated A and above, their motives are unclear even after all this while. Hide especially hates the fact that they seldom work as a group because that would mean he’d have to somehow track them down one by one if it comes to it and make his job about a billion times harder.

On the other hand, he doesn’t really fancy seeing what they’re capable of doing as a group, either. Three of them had apparently been reported to have attended the Madam’s auction the other night (for what reason, though, Hide couldn’t fathom), and they were intercepted by Kuramoto and his squad when the operation began. From what Hide heard, they’ve only managed to kill one of them before the other two decided to retreat and escape. First Class Hirako was injured quite badly from the encounter but, unfortunately, that’s the least of the CCG’s worries.

The Clowns are on the move once again. And if that’s not bad enough, according to what he got from Hori Chie, word is spreading in the ghouls’ world that they are finally beginning to gather - presumably for something big and nasty. Hide has yet to find out where and why they’re assembling, but he, along with the rest of the investigators left with the same responsibility, has to do it fast. The risks to letting the Clowns act before them are simply too high. Forget the CCG - Hide himself dreads the consequences of letting that group do as they please.

Hide kneads his fingers against his temples, feeling a massive headache on its way. He’s grateful for the necessity of his brain’s near fulltime usage and all, but one annoyingly stubborn part of his thoughts still insists on wandering off to the recesses of his mind that he’d labeled as off-limits. Really, if banging his head against the wall is what it takes to show that part who’s boss, he’ll do it without even pausing to reconsider.

Haise’s starting to remember. Kaneki’s stopping him. Hide really wants to feel relieved because his best friend understands their circumstances and he’s doing what he can for both their sakes as well, but truthfully, he’s relieved for another reason entirely. From how it sounds, Haise doesn’t fear his ‘inner self’ as much now – even expressing his worry for him when he notices how unhappy he is. That’s great, really. He’s finally growing less afraid of the other aspect of himself.

However, the price of this tentative acknowledgement is Kaneki’s own feelings, and Hide can’t say this awareness sits well with him. His answer to Haise’s question about the meaning behind Kaneki’s words hadn’t been entirely truthful. ‘Don’t take any more of them away from him’, huh? Haise’s probably right about him referring to their memories, but Hide also feels that that’s just half of it. He might’ve also been talking about the people he knows, and how Haise is indirectly ‘taking’ them from him. Touka, Tsukiyama – even Hide himself and perhaps a few others neither of them are aware of; he’d reunited with them as ‘Haise’ and not ‘Kaneki’, after all.

Hide wants to cry, but the numbness refuses to let the tears come. For Kaneki to go as far as begging Haise not to take memories and people away from him, it could mean that his presence in Haise’s subconsciousness is beginning to fade and that he’s desperate to keep that from happening by holding on to what he thinks makes him. Or worse, Kaneki must be starting to feel terribly lonely.

And Hide hasn’t made things a bit better by telling Haise that it’s better to forget and move on without knowing who he was, has he? Hide knows firsthand just how much Kaneki loathes and dreads being in solitude, yet there he is being the one putting him in that state and insisting that it’s for his sake. Yet he’s the one who’s indirectly telling Haise that it’s alright even if he lives on without knowing and accepting who he was in the past.

Yet he’s the one who’s rejecting his existence.

Hide has long lost the right to call himself Kaneki’s best friend and he knows that. Oh, he knows that and it doesn’t stop him from hating himself any less. He has always pondered if Kaneki really would be happier this way and with every passing day the answer only becomes more and more apparent. Kaneki will never be entirely happy unless he embraces every aspect of himself, until he accepts that everyone has a monster in them and that there’s no need to be afraid of his as long as he understands, accepts, and works with him.

But their situation simply isn’t giving him the privilege to do any of that. Even Hide doesn’t know what the CCG might do to his best friend if they find out he’s somehow remembered who he used to be, nor does he know how Kaneki would react upon realizing he’s been working with and under the very people who’d taken everything away from him and forced him to start over. And truth to be told, Hide’s afraid to know. He’s so focused on merely keeping his most important person alive that he can’t bear to think that far ahead.

Hide feels a lance of pain shoot through his temples, and his winces. Yep, definitely a massive headache. He leans back against his chair and breathes a long sigh, squeezing his eyes shut in an attempt to ease his throbbing skull.  Maybe he should just take some painkillers and call it a day - it’s getting late and he’s not on track of anything new and he won’t be doing himself any favors busting his brain trying to solve a thousand and one problems simultaneously. Sleep sounds like a great idea.

So he closes his windows and proceeds to shut down his laptop, pulling his headphones off just before he hears a series of soft knocks on his door. Or his guest could’ve been knocking for a long while now and he’d just heard it - he’ll never know. At any rate, Hide takes a quick breath to set his features back to how it normally looks, and hoping he sounds curious enough, he calls for the person outside to come in.

Somehow, Hide isn’t really that surprised when he sees Saiko peeking in from the gap she’s opened a second later. He guesses he’s grown immune to her sudden appearances after the previous time. Plus, he’s aware of Saiko’s random sleep schedules that heavily depend on when she’s able to reach the next save point; her being awake at this hour isn’t anything new.

“Am I disturbing or anything, Papa?” she asks, still not moving from her spot. Hide smiles, and shakes his head.

“I was just about to go upstairs to bed,” he tells her, not quite bothered by the fact that he’s just revealed he’s bunking in with Haise anymore. Hell, she probably has her own suspicions already. “But it’s alright. What’s wrong?”

Saiko trudges the rest of her way in, closing the door behind her before walking up to her superior. Up close, Hide’s able to spot the worry on her face.

“Did something happen between you and Maman?” she asks, no less straightforward than before. Ah, it only occurs to Hide now. While everyone else should be too caught up with their duties to heed everything unrelated (and rightly so), there’s one person in the squad who’s never been afraid to do the complete opposite. If there’s anyone who could’ve noticed something out of the ordinary and have little to no qualms asking about it, it’s Saiko.

But Hide isn’t in the mood to talk about it, nor does he want to drag Saiko any further into this. As tired of it he is, it’s still his problems and his alone. He shouldn’t needlessly involve others and cause a fuss. 

“Hmm?” Hide tilts his head slightly to the side and feigns ignorance - really well too, if he may say so himself. “Not really. What makes you think that?”

“The two of you were acting a bit weird today,” Saiko points out, not taking her eyes off his for even a second. “Saiko can’t really explain it, but.. you both seemed a little distant from each other.”

Frankly, Hide’s pretty sure his act had been borderline perfect thanks to his body’s persistence in refusing to let his emotions get the better of him. He can’t help but wonder just how much extra attention Saiko pays to them and why she would go through the trouble of doing that. Perhaps it’s the knowledge of her parent-figures’ state of affairs that drives her to be extra observant towards them; Hide understands that reason more than anything. Maybe losing his composure in front of her was a bad idea after all.

“Well, we can’t seriously be chummy all day every day, Saiko-chan,” Hide says with a waggle of his eyebrows, lacing his words with a hint of mirth. “Despite everything, we’re still working adults, you know.”

Saiko stares at him in doubt, and Hide catches himself hoping she wouldn’t refuse to leave until she successfully presses him for answers. Both mother and daughter are seriously not making his job easy, sheesh.

“You don’t feel like talking about it?” she asks softly, and Hide feels his emotional numbness recede the slightest at her gentle tone. Mutely, he shakes his head, raking his fingers through his hair as he heaves a deep sigh.

“I’m sorry, Saiko-chan.” He grimaces, averting his gaze. “But not tonight.”

To his relief, Saiko nods in understanding. “If you ever need someone to listen to you, just remember Saiko’s here.”

“I’ll put that in mind,” Hide promises, managing to offer her a small smile. He then reaches to pat the top of her head. “Thanks so much.”

And without a warning, Saiko steps forward and hugs him around his shoulders, catching him so badly off guard that he completely freezes up. She then gives him a tiny squeeze before releasing him just as abruptly in a few seconds, wordlessly leaving the room right after. Hide’s pretty sure his face is the epitome of stupid as he stares after her with his eyes wide and his mouth slightly agape, not quite understanding what has happened until a full two minutes later.

She’s seen right through him once again, hasn’t she? Hide lets out a weary chuckle, bowing his head to press his hand against his eyes.

He really is hopeless, huh?

xXx

Haise still fails to understand how Hide’s able to act so ridiculously normal even after the conversation they had.

Where does all that willpower and skill not to let his true feelings show even come from? Haise’s baffled. He’s seen how close Hide is to breaking point, and yet the guy himself is just going around making jokes and acting his sunshiny self in front of others as though he barely has a care in the world. Part of him is involuntarily impressed, while the rest of him is simply dismayed by the way he’s shouldering all this by himself. Just how much more can he take before he finally falls apart?

Haise wants to support Hide, just like how the latter has always been doing so for  him. He refuses to let things stay so ridiculously one-sided. But he has no clue what he can do to help apart from going along with his nonchalant pretending. There has to be something else that’s within his capabilities. He can’t be that incompetent even in helping the people important to him, can he?

Even so, Haise does not know enough about the entire matter to properly decide on his actions. He still doesn’t know Hide’s reasons for going so far, and Hide’s refusal to tell him isn’t helping. Who else could he ask for answers? The higher-ups? Director Washuu? Akira-san? Haise can’t exactly risk involving so many people, either, lest he accidentally endangers Hide’s position in the process.

Though actually, there’s one more person he can ask. In fact, this method probably has the lowest risk and is possibly the easiest way for him to obtain what he wants to know. Hide mentioned that he probably has it figured out already, meaning he should more or less know what’s going on. Maybe he could tell him some things and give him some clues to make sense out of this entire mess.

Only then, there’s a problem.

He’s gone.

Haise isn’t exaggerating. The entity inside his mind whom he’s always considered as a manifestation of who he was before he lost his memories - he seems to have suddenly disappeared.

There have been signs of it happening for a while now - with him being unusually silent and docile lately - but it all started becoming obvious the night Haise confronted Hide about his relation to him in the past. He’d somehow slipped into yet another blank dream that night even after all his agitation, and he’d woken up with a strange sensation he can’t quite describe the next morning. It’s just a general feeling of unease at first; something Haise thought was normal after what he’d seen and heard the night before. Anyone would’ve been unsettled after discovering something as big as that, right?

But as the days progressed and the discomfort only grew stronger instead of subsiding, Haise gradually realizes that there’s more to it. The moment he woke from his third consecutive dream of nothingness in the wee hours of the morning feeling an overwhelming sense of isolation even worse than those he had before, he knows something is definitely wrong. He’s no longer getting random glimpses of memories, nor does he find himself in that checkered chamber anymore. The ringing and soreness in his ear have stopped. He can’t hear his voice, either, and even his reluctant attempts to call out to him when he’s awake bear no results.

He’s gone. He doesn’t know how he knows with such clarity, but inner him is no longer there.

Unfortunately, Haise isn’t reveling while feeling immensely relieved of a burden upon the discovery. Instead, there’s a painfully hollow feeling in his chest. Something in him feels even more incomplete than before, and the  constant sense of loneliness he’s begun to experience almost has a crippling intensity.

He doesn’t tell anyone this, of course. Especially not Hide. Even though he has the notion that something about this entire matter is related to the blond somehow, he doesn’t tell him. He doesn’t know how to. Besides, there’s no point of burdening him more with this information when he’s already bearing so much. No, Haise makes up his mind to carry this weight himself. He’s done being reliant on other people.

Even as he goes on working to bottle up his own problems, Haise still manages to notice something not quite right about Hide. It happens a little later that morning, a few hours after he’d slipped into a sort of doze after the first time he stirred from his slumber. When Haise returns to his room to wake Hide up after his shower like always, he finds him sitting upright on the bed, his gaze unfocused and his expression pensive. The atmosphere in the room feels strangely fragile, and Haise’s actually worried he’ll shatter something if he speaks.

To his relief, Hide shortly notices him standing at the doorway, and with his lips curling into a somewhat wistful smile, he quietly gestures for him to come closer. Haise obliges without question, closing the door behind him before making his way towards Hide’s side.

“Can you turn around?” Hide asks when he’s stopped next to him, his voice still a whisper. Haise once again does as he requests without a word, turning on his heels so that he’s standing facing away from his companion. He jolts slightly when Hide eases his forehead gently against his lower back, a long sigh escaping his lips as he does so. Despite the simplicity of the gesture, Haise senses a certain intimacy behind it, and the realization sends tingles all the way to his fingertips. The empty feeling in his chest grows painful.

“Hide-“

Hide inhales a sharp breath just when Haise works up the courage to speak, leaning back from his position so they’re no longer in contact. There’s the rustling of sheets, and when Haise twists to look over his shoulder, he realizes that Hide’s now standing up, the melancholy from earlier now nothing more than a mere shadow across his features.

Wokayy - recharge complete!” Hide proclaims as he saunters past him without as much as a glance at his direction, lifting his arms over his head in a stretch. Haise’s only able to stand rooted in place and stare after him dumbfounded, not quite comprehending the flow of events. What was that all about?

Hide’s visibly more withdrawn the rest of the day, to the point that even the Quinx asks him if he’s not feeling well or anything. No one’s surprised when he easily dismisses their concerns with a bright grin and a lighthearted laugh, but no one’s inclined to question him when he doesn’t make the effort to step up his cheeriness, either. Even energetic people like Hide are bound to have certain days that mean something to them, they know that too well. After all, he too, has suffered loss just like the rest of them.

Haise guesses it must’ve been quite a painful loss, for Hide to actually fail in completely concealing it.

“Hey, Haise?”

The both of them are now lying back to back, their blankets pulled all the way up to their ears. Haise could feel the slight vibration on his back when Hide speaks. It’s another freezing night, and it’s Haise who’d taken the initiative to propose sharing a little bit more of their body heat for the occasion. It’s the only other way he could think of that doesn’t involve cuddling, and though he can tell Hide definitely needs a hug today, he’s reluctant to test his boundaries. So instead, he only reaches for Hide’s hand with his own and holds on to it, hoping he’s able to relay at least even a little bit of his own reassurance this way.

“Yeah?” Haise answers, pausing from massaging his thumb against the base of Hide’s palm. Hide shifts slightly so that he’s talking a little over his shoulder.

“What would you like for Christmas?” he asks, a bit of his childish excitement returning to his voice at the mention of the event. It’s not forced and his enthusiasm is still as contagious as it has always been. Despite everything, Haise feels his own lips forming into a small, amused smile.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he replies, leaning a little closer against Hide to savor just a little more of his gentle warmth. With a short, breathless chuckle, Hide indulges him further by taking over his role of rubbing circles onto his palm with his thumb.

“Well, you’ve got exactly three days to make up your mind before my last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve,” he tells him, and Haise’s smile widens by a fraction. They both know full well that even if he does decide, there will be no Christmas celebration for them unless they manage to solve their current case soon. Still, it’s a pleasant thought. Miles better than a few other topics, really.

“What about you? Anything you want?” Haise asks in return, relishing the chance to keep their conversation light while he still can. When Hide shrugs nonchalantly, Haise’s quick to protest. “You can’t seriously expect me to not get you anything when you’re already planning what to give me.”

“You do know that I’ll love whatever you get for me, right?” Hide tells him earnestly. Still, it isn’t solid enough of an answer. Hide must’ve sensed his dissatisfaction because he soon breaks into another series of chuckles, and says, “Oh, fine, fine. You want to know what I really want?”

Haise waits, using his silence as a prompt for him to continue. He hears Hide take a deep breath and he, in turn, holds his.

“A new mug would be nice,” Hide manages to say in all seriousness before cracking up a little. “Oh, and I guess having Kuki finally call me by my name would be pretty awesome, too.”

“I thought Urie-kun does call you by name now,” Haise says, unable to stop the mirth from coloring his voice once the tension leaves his body as abruptly as it’d arrived. Honestly, he was kind of expecting him to say something else. Hide has dropped enough bombshells to make him start feeling wary by now.

“All he ever calls me is ‘Rank 1 Nagachika’ or ‘Nagachika-san’!” Hide whines, pitching his voice slightly lower whenever he says his name. Haise giggles, despite himself. “Asking him to call me ‘Papa’ would probably be the same as asking him to eat my week-old sock, but it’d be nice for him to at least call me ‘Hide-san’ like everyone else does!”

“Why don’t you just talk to him about it, then?” Haise suggests, idly hooking his fingers with Hide’s when his thumb stops moving.

“You think he’d listen?” Hide doesn’t sound hopeful.

“Probably not.”

“See? This is why I need a Christmas miracle.”

“Point taken.” Haise allows a brief moment of silence to befall them before he continues. “But enough of all that; we should really go to sleep. We’ve got another long day tomorrow.”

“Mmhmm,” Hide agrees, his fingers curling a little tighter around Haise’s own. Haise feels the rest of his body relaxing a little more against the mattress. “Night, buddy.”

“Good night, Hide,” Haise replies, yawning before snuggling deeper into the sheets himself. He then closes his eyes, and soon enough, he slips into oblivion.

xXx

It’s dark.

Haise sees nothing, hears nothing, feels nothing. There’s no left or right, up or down. All around him is a void, except for the solid ground under his feet.

For the past few blank dreams, Haise has tried wandering in the darkness in search for nothing in particular; just to see if the place isn’t completely bare after all. Also, he did that because walking seems to be the right and only thing to do. So he’ll walk and walk and occasionally change direction and keep going, never quite knowing if he’s moving in a straight line or in circles or right side up or upside down.

Though he has yet to find anything from his ventures so far, he has the strangest feeling that it could be different this time. Careful to keep one foot pointed towards the direction he’s started out facing while he moves the other, Haise makes a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn from where he stands. And without really thinking further about it, he starts walking.

He has no idea where he’s going and he’s pretty sure there’s a chance for him to have already crossed this path a few times before during his previous endeavors, but he does have a vague idea on what he’s supposed to be looking for now. Rather, it’s a ‘who’ and not a ‘what’.

Even his footsteps do not produce any sounds despite the concrete firmness he seems to be travelling on, but Haise had gotten quite used to it. He imagines this empty expanse to be part of the deeper corners of his mind where nothing else lay but his bare consciousness. It just occurred to him today after more thinking; that contrary to his earlier beliefs, inner him can’t possibly have disappeared from existence so quickly and willingly. Not when there are things and people he still can’t give up. Not when he knows there are still people out there waiting for him.

He’s in here, in this darkness, somewhere.   

It’s ironic how hard Haise’s searching for him now when he’s still doing his everything to ignore his presence until a little more than a week ago. His change of heart is too sudden and drastic even to his own standards, but Haise has been doing enough pondering. There’s a reason to everything that’s happening around him, and he’s decided to find out what it is, even if it means having to sacrifice his own peace of being as a result. He can’t keep letting himself be sheltered and coddled forever while others suffer in his stead. He can’t let fear control him forever.

Haise keeps walking, staring straight ahead. Time has no meaning here, and his legs don’t seem to be getting tired despite it feeling like he’s been going on since forever. So he keeps moving, on and on. On and on.

On and on.

And finally, just when he thinks it should about time for him to wake soon, he stops.

He’s there, right in front of him. Sitting curled up on the floor with his legs drawn towards his chest and his face buried on his knees. His clothes consists of a normal button-up shirt and a pair of dark trousers. His snowy white hair looks impossibly stark against the nothingness around them, giving the impression that it’s glowing. Maybe it really is. He looks just a little younger than Haise himself. He doesn’t show any signs of responding towards his arrival.  

Haise bends, and sits down cross-legged across him.

“Hey,” he says. He doesn’t expect a reply, and he doesn’t get one. He slips into a lapse of silence, taking in the sight of the boy before his eyes; his appearance, his familiarity. The frailness in his posture and the way his fingers dig into the sides of his knees. This is the him from the past, all first twenty years of him. This is the him before he was Sasaki Haise, before his memories were wiped clean. This is the him whom he’d feared and avoided over the years because he thought he was too strong, too violent.

This is Kaneki Ken.

“Why did you find me?”

It’s him who breaks the quietness first. His face remains hidden, hence his words are slightly stifled. Even so, Haise hears him just fine.

“Why did you suddenly leave?” Haise returns, so genuinely curious that he doesn’t realize the ridicule of the question at first.

“Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted to happen? For me to leave forever?” Kaneki doesn’t waste his chance to scoff at that, his voice laced with bitterness. When Haise makes no move deny his statement, he sighs, sounding so, so weary. “If this is what Hide thinks is for the best, then I will gladly abide to it.”

“But you’re not happy about it,” Haise protests, still finding it rather difficult to believe that this vulnerable person is the very same one who has shown him all kinds of terrible nightmares over the years, who’s taunted day and night and basically made some of his days more miserable than they already were. Which exactly is the real him? The aggressive one? The fragile one? Or was he aggressive because he was fragile? Because he so badly wanted not to be forgotten? “We both aren’t.”

“Hide’s already come this far,” Kaneki tells him, shifting to look up at last. Haise soon finds himself gazing at his own face; the same large grey eyes, the same curve of his nose and set of his mouth. Apart from the obvious resignation written all over Kaneki’s features, they’re identical. “I won’t let us possibly ruin everything he’s worked for. He’s right about how it’s better for you not to remember and start over. You won’t want to know what I’ve been through.”

“Even the happier moments? The times with Hide?” Haise demands because there’s no way he’d never been joyful even once in his first twenty years of life. Especially when he had Hide with him. Hide, who brings so much comfort just by being there and who could brighten even the dullest and dimmest of days. Hide, whom he must’ve held so dear judging from how desperately he reacted when his life was in danger, how he’d also blamed himself over and over when he lost control accidentally hurt him.

“You can’t choose what to recall, Haise,” Kaneki says with a weak glare towards his direction. “You either remember everything, or none at all. I’d prefer it to be the latter if I were you.” He pauses, glancing away before adding quietly, “The bad things definitely outnumber the good ones.”

“Then what about the memories that I’ve been seeing on and off?” Haise asks because that’s what he thought so too. He can’t choose what he remembers and what he doesn’t. Yet those visions just come to him by themselves, completely without the consent of the entity guarding them from him.

Kaneki purses his lips, apparently not quite understanding the occurrence as well. “Maybe it’s because our minds are linked,” he begins thoughtfully. “It’s like Hide said; you and I are part of the same person. It might not take much for you to remember some things, as long as you don’t reject the recollections.”

“And you still think you’ll be able to keep them from me,” Haise says without sarcasm, a mere statement of his observation. Kaneki’s gaze remain averted.

“I’ve done it for so long, and I can keep on doing it,” he says evenly, though it sounds to Haise a little like he’s trying to convince himself as well. “And why are you suddenly so keen on getting them back anyway? You should’ve stayed ignorant and just let things be as they are.”

“I would’ve done that,” Haise assures, and this time, Kaneki does resume looking at him. Haise stares back at those grey eyes matching his own, hoping to be able to convey his earnestness through his gaze. “Believe me, I would’ve done that. But then I realized what both you and Hide are possibly going through because of me, and I just can’t bring myself to do nothing about it. If regaining my memories is the only way to help me understand the situation better and help, so be it.”

“You don’t know what you’ll be getting yourself into, Haise,” Kaneki warns darkly. “This isn’t just about you.”

“I know that,” Haise sighs in exasperation, raking his fingers through his hair. “I know I’m being selfish about all this, but I’m just so tired of not being able to do anything when there are others getting hurt for my sake.” He reaches out, stopping just an inch before he touches his companion’s arm, his tone significantly softer. “And that includes you, too. You’ve been lonely all this while, haven’t you?”

And from the way Kaneki’s expression falters, Haise knows he’s right. But instead of opening up, Kaneki instantly shrinks back, once again hiding his face behind his arms and knees. Ah, Haise’s beginning to see the similarities between them now. “It doesn’t matter even if I am - I still can’t let you remember. There’ll be too many consequences and - and-“

“I know,” Haise says, gently cutting him off. “I know that just as well as you do. But that’s okay - we’ll be able figure it out together, you and I. I’m sure of that.” He leans forward, and places his hand on Kaneki’s arm for real this time, feeling the other flinch under his touch. “I’ve always rejected you without realizing what you’re going through, but that stops now. I won’t let you endure this all alone any longer, Ken. We’ve got friends as well as each other. We’ll work things out together; I promise we will.”

Kaneki curls up a little bit tighter. “Please, Haise,” he begs, his voice a raw whisper. “Please don’t let me disappear.”

“I won’t, Ken,” Haise vows, moving to pull him into a tender embrace. Contrary to his expectations, he’s warm.  Alive. “I won’t.”

And as the world around him gradually fades out, the scattered fragments of his recollections slowly begin patching themselves back together, bit by bit. Tiny pieces of memories are eventually formed, and gaping holes are filled, little by little.

And Haise, for the first time ever since he first woke up as Sasaki Haise and not Kaneki Ken, finally starts to feel whole again.

xXx

It’s one of those times when Hide randomly stirs from his sleep even though he’s left undisturbed.

He keeps his eyes closed, not wanting to wake himself any more than he already has. He hears the faint chirping of birds outside, so he guesses it’s early morning, probably a little after sunrise. There’s a layer of warmth on the side of his cheek that’s not pressed against the pillow, and he’s promptly confused for a moment, his drowsy brain temporarily failing to process the sensation.

When it doesn’t leave even after a while, very reluctantly, he opens his eyes to see.

Gentle rays of sunlight streams in through the drawn curtains, giving Hide just enough illumination to make out more than mere silhouettes. The first thing he registers is the fact that he’s currently lying facing Haise, and that Haise’s awake and that it’s his hand on his cheek and his touch is most probably what woke him. Hide’s thoughts are then abruptly cut off from there onwards because Haise’s staring at him with a look that makes his chest instantly constrict because he knows that look and it’s been so long and no it can’t be it’s just his sleep-deprived brain making silly assumptions again it’s not-

A tiny smile graces Haise’s lips at the sight of him awake, and Hide’s heart stops beating. “Hide.”

No. No, this can’t be happening. He knows it can’t. There’s no way. He’s made sure there’s no way. But the way he says his name, the way he’s gazing at him just like how he used to, the ways he misses so, so much - Hide refuses to believe it, refuses to let himself hope once more because it must be a dream and it isn’t possible it shouldn’t be possible yet every fiber of his being is just screaming at him that it is, it is, it is and that he’s-

Kaneki..?