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And In The Darkness, I Found You

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Hide feels like he's hyperventilating again.

He couldn’t seem to breathe; his palms sweaty, his fingers numb. His heart feels like it’s stopped beating longer than it should. However, these myriad of sensations only work to further assure him that he’s not dreaming and that this isn’t just his imagination. That it’s all real and that-

“It’s me, Hide,” Haise affirms quietly, affectionately. He removes his hand from Hide’s cheek, moving to trace his fingertips along the outline of his face. “It’s me.”

You remember?” are the first words Hide manages to say when he finds his voice again amid his stunned stupor. When Haise nods, still wearing that tender, tender smile, the unrelenting wall of numbness in his chest finally begins to crumble; replaced by a tight, wrenching knot.

“It’s only bits and pieces for now,” Haise admits, sounding slightly apologetic for a reason Hide can’t fathom, “but it’s enough for me to know who you are, Hide.”

“Kaneki.” Hide reaches to clutch Haise’s hand tight, the tears spilling from his eyes before he’s able to hold them back. “Kaneki, Kaneki,” he chokes out over and over; the name of he hadn’t called for what felt like an eternity. The name he thought he would never have the chance to call ever again. All those worries about the result of Haise regaining his memories, all those months and years of telling himself that nothing else matters as long as his best friend’s able to live on - Hide just can’t bring himself to care about any of those at the moment. All he cares now is that this second, this minute, he’s seeing his best friend. He’s seeing him whole again.

The twin pools of grey that gazes back at him are brighter than usual, but Haise doesn’t cry when he slowly pulls him into an embrace. Hide somehow manages to command his arms to move and return the hug, pulling Haise so close that he’s almost sure he’ll suffocate him. Even so, Haise only squeezes back with every bit as much fervor, presumably also to find assurance from the solid form in his hold. Hide buries his face in Haise’s chest just as the first sob escapes his lips, not wanting to let him see this weak, ugly side of him even when he can’t help it.

“I’m sorry, Kaneki,” he says between gasps for breath, working to regain control of the flood of emotions that are bursting forth. His throat feels incredibly raw, and his voice comes out strained and hoarse and generally sounding wrong. “I’m so sorry for everything.“

“It’s okay, Hide,” Haise shushes him gently, threading his fingers through his hair. “It’s okay. You don’t have to apologize.”

“It’s my fault,” Hide goes on anyway, the words he’s always wanted to say but never had the chance tumbling out in a barely restrained torrent. “If only I’d been there for you since the beginning - if only I’d spoken up sooner - things could’ve been different and you wouldn’t have had to go through everything you’ve gone through and all these wouldn’t have-”

“You’re here for me now, aren’t you?” Haise’s voice begins to waver, but he goes on, “you don’t have to blame yourself for everything, Hide. Besides,” his tone drops to murmur tinged with remorse, “I’m sure I’ve made a lot of mistakes, too. I should be the one to apologize.”

“There were a lot of things beyond your control, Kaneki,” Hide reasons, swallowing to ease the dryness in his throat once he’s finally able to start regaining command of his emotions. He leans back slightly to see Haise shaking his head.

“There were also a lot of things that I could control,” Haise says, his carefully maintained expression slowly crumpling as he keeps talking. “I still haven’t remembered everything, but I know I’ve made bad decisions because of my own selfishness. I’ve hurt many people with my actions – especially you, Hide.” The first droplets of tears trickles from his eyes. “That’s why I’m so sorry; for everything you had to go through for and because of me.”

“You only did what you had to, Kaneki,” Hide tells him, cupping Haise’s cheeks with his hands and holding his gaze firmly. It’s almost laughable, how quickly their roles are exchanged. “And I did what I wanted to, so please don’t beat yourself up over it. Not everything’s your fault.” He then takes a deep breath, and somehow manages a watery smile, his voice breaking. “Though what I said could very well be applied to myself as well, huh?”

And at that, Haise lets out a slight, breathless laugh. “I’m glad you noticed,” he says, and Hide’s grin widens a little more as he moves to brush his companion’s tears away with the base of his thumb. He figures they must be quite a sight; two young adults alternating between crying and giggling while holding each other in their arms as though they’re afraid one of them could disappear any minute. Which, isn’t far from the truth in Hide’s case, really.

“We’re both so hopeless, geez,” Hide muses in a rough whisper. Staring into Haise’s eyes then, he can’t help but notice something that wasn’t there before. He can’t exactly describe what that ‘something’ is or how it’s like, but it’s there; a sort of solidity, certainty. A sort of recognition. Hide doesn’t know if Fate will once again decide to laugh at his face, but for now at least, the person before him is both Kaneki Ken and Sasaki Haise. His most precious person. His everything.

“We’ve been best friends since forever, Hide,” Haise says, and Hide’s breath hitches against his will when he detects a slightly joyful lilt to his voice. “I guess we should’ve expected to rub some traits off each other.”

“I guess you’re right,” Hide agrees with a chuckle, fighting yet another internal battle to keep his emotions in check. Kaneki sees him as his best friend as well. It’s not one-sided. Hide knows it’s stupid and childish and utterly self-centered of him to have actually thought otherwise a few times before, but he hadn’t been able to stop the bitter thoughts from intruding his mind. Even though he knows that it’s simply Kaneki’s nature to keep his problems to himself, that he’s just not the type of person who likes to voice his problems (that’s the reason why Hide’s always keeping an eye on him in the first place), Hide sometimes couldn’t help but feel as though he didn’t trust him enough. That maybe he’s the only one who’s so attached. That perhaps he’s been fooling himself all along thinking he meant to Kaneki as much as Kaneki meant to him.

“Hide?” Haise speaks after a short moment of silence, and Hide hums, wordlessly prompting him to go on without taking his eyes off him. He watches as Haise’s eyebrows knit slightly, his smile wavering when he takes in a breath, and says;

“I’m back, Hide.”

And Hide chokes up, all his efforts not to be a pathetic crybaby thrown out the window without as much as a second thought. He once again pulls Haise close - perhaps even closer than before - and mustering all his coherency to voice it in a single try, he replies;

“Welcome back, Kaneki.”

xXx

It takes a while for Haise to sort everything out.

His memories are returning to him in random bursts, and though it’s technically only been a few hours, he’s already getting slightly disorientated. It’s mostly because they tend to pop up in no particular order, and it takes effort for him to piece some together and at least estimate at which point in his life did a particular occurrence take place. There are still some recollections that aren’t detailed enough for him to comprehend them - like the memory of white paper flowers, for example - but he’s sure they’ll start making sense eventually.

If anything, most of what Haise’s starting to remember mainly has something to do with Hide, for some reason. Maybe it’s because he already has the foundation to the memories from the glimpses he’s seen. Maybe it’s because Hide’s the most immediate prompt since he’s the closest person to him who’s tied to his past. Or maybe it’s simply because Hide had (and still has) a huge impact on his life. Haise remembers some of the more prominent times of his earlier days with the blond; lonely nights with silly text messages, quiet evenings spent hanging out at their favorite playground, mornings that somehow become brighter whenever the two of them caught up with each other at their usual meeting spot before they proceeded the rest of their way to school. He remembers his fondness towards Hide, his gratefulness for his existence, his possibly sole dependence on the affection he offers. His fierce protectiveness, his mistakes because of that fierce protectiveness. His regrets.

Haise knows his past isn’t scarcely as pleasant as these little fragments of memory portray it to be. He’s already been warned twice so far, both times by the people who knows him better than anyone else - one being part of himself while the other his best friend since he was a child. There’ll be things that once scarred him and will scar him again, things that would most likely make him wish he’d lived on without ever knowing again. Still, those are also the things that shaped who he was and possibly determine who he will be from now onwards, and he’s not backing down from his decision to embrace and live with them.

Haise wants to maintain his identity as Sasaki Haise while he tries to assimilate his self as Kaneki Ken, and that’s where his initial confusion mainly sets in. Which exactly should he mainly identify as? The him of his first twenty years? The him of his last two and a half years? And then it occurs to him that he’s still doing what he’s been doing all along - he’s still discriminating the different aspects of himself as two separate people. That can’t do. Those twenty-two and a half years are all his. Until he accepts that he’s both Sasaki Haise and Kaneki Ken, he’ll never be able to find peace in being the both of them at once.

Haise eventually manages to make up his mind, deciding to publicly go on as ‘Sasaki Haise’ because that’s just who he is presently. He’s no longer ‘Kaneki Ken’ of the past. He’s changed. What's more, Hide has hinted enough about the risks of him regaining his memories through his words and actions. Until he’s fully certain of what’s going on - or knows enough to take the proper precautions and countermeasures, to the very least - Haise can’t let it be known that he’s beginning to recall who he used to be. Not yet.  

However, he’ll still keep the name ‘Kaneki Ken’, for the sake of those he’d met throughout his first twenty years. For the sake of those whom he still has the chance to meet again. And for his own sake as well because even though Hide claims he’s okay with calling him whatever he’s comfortable with, Haise can’t seem to bear hearing him call him anything other than the name he’s been using since childhood. Everything else can change; Haise would want to cling on to just this one insignificance.

Haise winces when he feels a sharp pain abruptly flare up at the back of his skull, all the way to the back of his eyes. He takes a deep breath in an attempt to ease the throbbing ache, working to let the warm spray of the shower sooth his tense muscles. It almost feels like someone has impaled something through his head, and it’s honestly terrifying. The vibe he gets from the sensation strangely reminds him of the ringing in his ear from before. Haise gets the feeling these are tied to his memories somehow, and despite all his big talk, it’s still a scary notion. What exactly has he been through? What exactly will he be remembering?

Corpses. Lots of them. The stench of death and rotting bodies. The buzzing patter of rain. The roar of water flooding downwards. Someone standing among the corpses, clad in white. Blood, so much blood. Haise slaps a hand over his mouth, biting into the flesh of his fingers in his struggle to fight back the sudden rising wave of nausea. This is.. a memory? It’s slightly fuzzier than those he’d seen so far; the images are more warped, the colors too bright one second and completely dull the other. Upside down, right side up. Spinning, spinning, spinning.

Haise stumbles to lean against the cold tiled wall, the sharp taste of his own blood managing to jar him back to reality. The back of his eyeballs throbs, and black spots dance in his vision. With a trembling hand, he manages to shut the flow of water, and he stands in silence, his breathing heavy, his heart slamming repeatedly against his ribcage. He closes his eyes and uncovers his mouth, inhaling deeply. Once, twice. He tries to focus on the smell of soap and the cold rapidly seeping into his skin to keep him anchored to his surroundings. It’s over, he tells himself firmly, digging his nails into his palms. All that’s over.

Haise doesn’t know how long it took for him to finally calm down, but he eventually does. He only notices he’s shivering when he’s wiping himself dry; from the low temperature and presumably something else. That recollection, despite being unclear, is fresh. That’s what he senses so. It’s of one of the more recent happenings. But what’s the context? He was fighting, but with whom? For what?

Part of him is scared to know.

Haise nearly collides with Hide the moment he steps out of the bathroom after dressing himself. Quick apologies are then overlapped, and despite everything, Haise manages to respond to Hide’s awkward chuckle with a weak giggle of his own. When their eyes meet a moment later, Haise notices that Hide’s still wearing that certain look that he can’t quite describe. Perhaps tentative would be a suitable word to use; Hide still looks at him as though he’s constantly expecting something bad to happen, as though he would disappear just like that any moment now.

“You were taking a little longer than usual,” Hide explains before Haise’s able to ask why he was hanging around right outside his door, his tone tinged with nervousness. “And I was worried if anything happened and-“

“I’m fine, Hide,” Haise assures with as much casualness as he can muster, subconsciously touching his chin. He tries not to look away when Hide shoots him a doubtful stare, his features set in a slight frown.

“But you look pale,” Hide observes, and Haise really hates how attentive he is sometimes. Has been dreading it ever since he was younger because it’s just so difficult to properly conceal things from him when he’s always watching over him so closely.

“I’m just feeling a little cold,” Haise admits, averting his gaze this time as he rubs his arm. It’s not a lie; he’s still shivering quite a bit even after putting on his clothes. Staying still while he’s naked and soaking wet early in a winter morning was seriously a terrible idea - though it’s not like he was in the right state of mind to actually care that moment. “I’ll be alright after a while, so don’t worry about it.”

Kaneki.”

The firmness in Hide’s voice when he drawls out every syllable of his name compels Haise to focus on him once more. Hide’s features are still set in a disapproving frown, but his arms are slightly spread in silent invitation. The temptation is far stronger than Haise expects it to be, and he shortly finds himself stepping forward and letting Hide pull him towards him; relaxing against the warmth of his touch. He fails to restrain a soft sigh when Hide moves to run his hand up and down his back in a soothing rhythm, successfully coaxing the last of the tension from his muscles. 

Hide doesn’t point out how his skin is probably freezing cold even when he gently presses his cheek against his, his fingers combing through his hair the way he likes so much. Haise has a small, nagging urge to pull away before someone sees them, but most of him can’t seem to care. Besides, they’re actually a little early and the kids usually don’t wake until around thirty minutes later. Haise just wants them to stay like this a little longer; in this silence, in this comfort.

“I’m here, you know,” Hide tells him softly, as if he’s somehow found out about Haise’s latest remembrance. “If there’s anything bothering you - if you recall something you don’t think you can bear alone, I’m here. I’ll always be here.”

And slowly, Haise nods, fingers curling into the back of Hide’s shirt as he lets his words sink in. He’s always been trying to get that message across, hasn’t he? All the way from the time when they were kids to the time he was turned into a half-ghoul; to the moment he told him that it’s not healthy to shoulder everything himself the second night after he was transferred into the squad pretending to meet him for the first time. Hide has always been trying to tell him that contrary to what he always thinks, he’s never alone.

Haise figures he really must be a doomed case; to only have understood it now after everything.

“That said,” Hide continues, pushing them slightly apart to look at Haise face to face, his lips curved into a lopsided smile, “you can, like, grab on to my hand or something if you happen to suddenly remember anything unsettling. Anytime, anywhere. Or even better, you can just tell me. I can’t promise I’ll be able to make things any much better, but it seriously helps to just let it out instead of keeping it all to yourself.”

“I don’t see you doing the same, though,” Haise can’t help pointing out, and Hide promptly blanches.

“Ah, what can I say? I thrive on hypocrisy,” he jokes before quickly turning somber again, lowering the volume of his voice once more. “I’m sorry, Kaneki. I.. still need a little more time.”

“Take all the time you need, then.” Haise bows his head slightly to press his nose onto Hide’s shoulder, taking in the latter’s somewhat musty scent. It’s a scent he doesn’t realize how much he misses until that moment - which, is a strange thought by itself  because Hide sleeps next to him and there are plenty of chances for him to catch a whiff of it whether he liked it or not. Maybe it’s because it has just occurred to Haise that he’d always been taking Hide’s existence for granted all along; from childhood all the way to where he is now.

“I’ll look for you once I’ve got it all thought out,” Hide promises, tightening his hug with a tiny squeeze. Haise once again nods without a word, letting them stay how they are a little longer before finally finding enough willpower to gently untangle himself from Hide’s arms, deciding that his body heat has been completely replenished and that he should really go on with his morning duties. He has to; or else the urge to not move from where he is for the rest of the day would grow overwhelming.

“I – should – get going,” Haise mutters haltingly as he takes a step back, his efforts not to sound reluctant failing in a rather spectacular manner. He glances away and feels his cheeks involuntarily burning up when Hide only chuckles lightly in agreement, putting his hands on his shoulders and steering him around as his own way of urging him to go on with what he needs to do.  

“Just be careful not to think too much and burn something, yeah?” Hide tells him, mirth coloring his voice. Despite himself, Haise feels his own smile tugging at his lips, accompanied by a flutter in his heart.

“Even if I do, I’ll try to make sure it’s your portion,” he says with a playfulness he didn’t expect to have, grin widening when Hide promptly feigns a look of utter betrayal at him.

“I thought we were best friends, Kaneki!”

xXx

Once his emotions finally calms down, Hide begins to worry.

He thinks they could probably handle hiding the fact that Haise’s starting to accept his past self long enough for them to figure out a solid plan – Hide’s spent so many years keeping things from the world, after all; it’s just the return of Haise’s memories that’s bothering him. 

The irony in the previous statement is off the charts, he knows. But it’s true. While he’s happy - elated, really - that Haise’s gradually remembering things and that his best friend is gradually becoming whole again, he’s concerned about how the recollections would affect him. Would he able to handle the knowledge of having done what he did, of the things he’d went through? His guilt? His occasional crossings over the edge towards insanity? Hide has faith in Haise’s mental fortitude, but those experiences are still the ones that broke him in the past, and Hide’s afraid that they’ll break him again. There’s a reason Hide decided it was for the best for him to forget everything, after all. Nobody needs to remember that the more recent years of their life had been close to a living nightmare.

And of course, his best friend’s tendency of bearing everything alone doesn’t exactly give him the ease he wants. He was too late the previous time, but Hide has made sure not to waste his second chance to tell him what he couldn’t all those years ago; that no matter what, he’ll always have him and that he’ll help carry his burden if it ever becomes too much. Still, Hide knows Kaneki. He’ll probably think he’s going to be bothersome and that Hide is already having too much on his shoulders and all sorts of nonsense along that line. Well. Hide guesses he’ll just have to keep paying extra attention to him from now on.

Hide inhales a breath, steering his thoughts back to his current situation. They’ve just ended one last meeting with the squad they’re working with in the 9th Ward after having successfully obtained the final piece of information they needed to pursue the ghouls they’re after in their investigation. They were attempting to come up with a solid plan, but really, there’s nothing too complicated about the entire thing. Not in Hide’s personal standards, at least. The ghouls they’re hunting down work in a small group of ten and the strongest two are S-rated at best. The only tricky part was trying to decipher their hunting patterns and predicting their next move – which, is what they’ve already done beforehand. As such, they’re now heading out to finish off the job.

Hide glances at Haise through the corner of his eye as he hurries through the back alleys with the rest of the team, led by the local squad they’re partnered with. Haise hasn’t given any obvious indication about the nature of his returning memories, but Hide’s aware of how well he can act normally when he puts effort into it. Then again, it’s not exactly the right place and timing for him to start asking questions and risk throwing Haise off balance during the fieldwork of their mission, either. He seems alright for now, and Hide reluctantly allows himself to believe in that and fret a little less.

They eventually reach the abandoned warehouse they’ve tracked down which their targets are using as a temporary hideout, and Hide stands on guard with the others while a member from their partner squad works to break in through the side entrance. Hide casts his gaze all around, unease rapidly plaguing his thoughts. There are too many blind spots around them; giving them the disadvantage of easily being observed by the other party without them noticing. Urie, Shirazu and Saiko has deemed the coast clear before they proceeded to this point, but Hide still has his doubts. The Quinx’s enhanced senses can only detect stimulus within a certain range. There could be someone watching them all the way from the abandoned building over there, alerting their friends within the warehouse of the presence of a group of unsuspecting Doves. Or there could be someone hiding just behind that corner, waiting for the signal to jump at them when the chance arises. There are too many possibilities, all of them which Hide personally finds highly unfavorable.

Hide’s focus snaps back to his group the second he senses the change in the atmosphere. Shirazu has stepped away from his initial position, and he’s now trying to tell the lead guy something with a series of hand signs. Hide knows that signing is a skill every trainee investigator has to learn when they’re in the Academy, but he figures it mustn’t have been one of the younger boy’s strong points, judging from the way he’s struggling. Nevertheless, Shirazu manages to get his point across in the end despite his messy gestures and barely muffled grunts of frustration.

There are four people waiting for them beyond the door, presumably waiting to launch the ambush that Hide is somewhat expecting. The leader of the other squad quickly comes to a decision and issues his commands via some hand signs of his own; he and his team will do whatever they can to keep whoever’s awaiting them busy while the Quinx squad is to split up, enter through the two remaining entrances and take them out from behind. Hide has to admit he doesn’t quite fancy the plan since there’s still six other ghouls that are yet to be accounted for, but he supposes there are only so many alternatives they take with how things are.

As it is, Hide’s soon bringing Urie and Mutsuki to the entrance at the back of the warehouse, Quinque armed and bracing himself for any sudden attacks. He spots movement from his peripheral around fifteen meters before they reach their designated location, and he’d no sooner shouted for the three of them to scatter when a torrent of crystalline spikes rains down from above, obliterating the concrete ground where they were standing a split second ago. Hide stops running the moment he hears the onslaught stop, turning around and instinctively looking up just in time to react and defend himself from a ghoul jumping down at him from above.

His senses are immediately on high alert mode as he summons the strength to push his attacker off, not even having the chance to catch his breath before he has to block a foot from connecting with the side of his head. Hide hears the breaking of bones, pain shooting up from his forearm all the way to his neck as he’s sent sprawling towards the ground. Gritting his teeth, he rolls away and pushes himself to stand up and run just in time before another wave of sharp projectiles are sent his way, wincing when one lucky shot grazes the side of his leg. Of all ghouls, Hide hates facing ukaku users the most. They’re agile as anything and their kagune spikes are really, really annoying to deal with - especially when his Quinque isn’t exactly built for heavy defense. Not to mention there isn’t anything Hide can use for a shield of sorts around him, making confronting his opponent even more difficult than it already is. For all he knows, this entire thing has probably been planned out beforehand.

Urie and Mutsuki are each occupied with ghouls of their own, so Hide figures he won’t be expecting any backup soon. He doesn’t think he could plan for a switch, either; he’s not sure how well the kids can stand their ground against an S-rated ghoul. Hide guesses he has no choice but to try harder and hope he doesn’t get himself killed in the process. Feeling the bones of his broken arm mending, he inhales sharply, and before he can start regretting his life choices all over again, he charges towards the ghoul.

The next few minutes passes in a flurry of movements too intense for Hide’s mind to keep track of in detail. All he remembers is a bunch of dodging, deflecting, internal swearing, and a rush of unexplainable triumph when he finally manages to get his opponent within the range of his weapon so he can start landing actual hits. Still, the ghoul he’s facing is strong, and Hide can’t honestly expect to be able to handle the entire ordeal alone without some luck and being beaten up a bit. Luckily for him, he’s feeling rather motivated that day, and he successfully holds out long enough for the two younger boys to finish off their own ghouls and lend him the assistance he needs to land the killing blow in the end.

And Hide’s just about to give himself a short, congratulatory breather before proceeding to carry out the rest of the command issued to him and his group when his earpiece cackles to life, reminding him of its long-forgotten presence. All he hears is static at first, owing to their terrible connection. Then a familiar voice sounds in his ear.

“Hide-san.” With a start, Hide realizes it’s Shirazu. The anxiety in his voice immediately puts him on edge. “T-There’s something wrong with Sassan.”

He stops there, but Hide doesn’t need any further elaboration. The amount of willpower it takes for him to not bolt directly to where Haise is the moment he processes Shirazu’s words is ridiculous. He grips the hilt of his Quinque hard enough to start hurting, and with effort, he bites out a tight ‘I’ll be right over.”

His apprehension must’ve been painfully obvious, because when he turns to face Mutsuki and Urie later, the former speaks up before he could even say a word.

“We’ll be able to continue by ourselves from here, Hide-san,” Mutsuki tells him, bearing a newfound confidence Hide couldn’t help noticing, despite everything. He really has grown a bit since the last time; which is great, really. “So go do what you have to do.”

“I’m sorry, guys,” Hide apologizes anyway, but Mutsuki only smiles and shakes his head, while Urie looks like he wouldn’t be bothered either way. Deciding that these two really are capable of taking care of themselves (at least to an extent enough to keep themselves alive), Hide forces down his feeling of guilt and turns on his heels.

And praying for things to not be as serious as he fears, he starts running.

Hide stops right after narrowly avoiding tripping over a dead body.

The battle at Haise, Shirazu and Saiko’s side has also ended, and as Hide searches around for his best friend, he halfheartedly notes that the rest of the remaining ghouls have been taken down. He soon spots the three of his teammates gathered nearby a wall and hurries towards them, mentally preparing himself for the worst so he wouldn’t be too overwhelmed to react if things really are that terrible. Then again, since Haise isn’t trashing around with his kagune out of control (again), he dares himself to consider the situation a tad bit better than what he’s expecting.

Saiko notices him approaching first, and Hide tries not to let the concern written all over her features encourage him to start freaking out in earnest. Shirazu shoots him a quick, nervous glance when Saiko nudges him to alert him of his arrival, then stepping aside and giving Hide a better view of their mentor.

Haise’s squatting down on the ground; shoulders hunched, head bent forward and hands clamped over his ears. His fringe covers his face in this position, but Hide doesn’t need to see it to know that he’s in distress. Ah, just when Hide’s convinced himself that things could be a little okay. It must’ve been the fighting that triggered something; some sort of memory horrible enough to make Haise lose his composure like this.

“Can the two of you go on ahead first? I’ll catch up to you guys in a little while,” Hide addresses Saiko and Shirazu in a whisper once he’s walked up to them, afraid that he might aggravate Haise’s condition if he speaks any louder. Frankly, he doesn’t want to leave Haise’s side until everything’s over, but he’s also sure that Haise wouldn’t approve of him endangering the kids for his sake. Hide would simply have to believe that his best friend’s capable of recovering the rest of the way by himself.

“Let’s go, Saiko,” Shirazu urges when Saiko hesitates. “We’ve got a job to do.”

“But-“ Saiko trails off in her protest when Hide places his hand on her shoulder, offering her what he hopes is an assuring smile.

“Your Maman is strong,” he reminds her, willing his optimism not to falter. “He’ll be okay.”

I’ll make sure he is, he doesn’t add. Saiko seems to get the message nonetheless, and with slightly less reluctance than before, she breaks away from Hide’s lose hold, and follows Shirazu towards the location they’ve both been originally assigned with. Hide spares a second to watch them go before moving to crouch down in front of Haise, placing his Quinque on the ground.

“Kaneki?” he starts, raising his voice slightly to make sure he could be heard. “Hey, buddy, it’s me. Hide. I’m here.”

Although all he receives is silence, he takes a breath, waits a few seconds, and presses on. “Mind telling me what’s wrong? Maybe I can help.”

“There’s nothing you can do, Hide,” Haise mutters, so quietly that Hide almost couldn’t catch it. He curls up a little more, making himself look even smaller. “I’ve.. killed so many people.”

And at that, Hide cringes. So he’s remembering those stuff, huh? For a moment, Hide’s at loss on what to do. He can’t tell him his usual assurances on it being alright for once because well, taking lives isn’t exactly considered ‘alright’ no matter how you see it. So he doesn’t.

“I know,” he decides to say instead, reaching to thread his fingers through Haise’s hair. Haise doesn’t relax, but at least he’s not growing any tenser, either.

“I can still hear them, Hide,” he speaks again after a short lapse of silence, surprisingly Hide a little because he seriously didn’t think he’d continue. “I can hear their taunts, their screams, their pleas for me not to kill them. There’s so many voices, so much blood-“

“Kaneki,” Hide interrupts with a gentle call of his name. “Look at me, Kaneki. Please.”

And he waits. He waits and waits until Haise finally finds the courage to do as he says; tentatively lifting his eyes to meet his. Hide holds his gaze, and offers him a smile.

“Do you think you can do me a favor and listen to my voice instead for a little while?” he says, grinning a little wider when Haise nods slowly to his request. “Okay, now let me tell you a story from long, long ago. There once lived a prince in a country flourished with wealth and joy. He was young and courageous, witty and smart. But because he was the crown prince, he’s not allowed to hang out with the other children his age, thus he was always lonely.

“However, as the years passed, a series of unpredictable events led him to befriend the young court jester the King hired to replace the previous one who hurt himself during one of his performances. Despite their positions, the prince and the jester became quite inseparable; often sneaking out at certain times to hang out together when nobody’s around. The prince grew to trust the jester with all his heart, and the sentiment was no different for the jester.” Hide pauses to watch Haise’s eyes widen at his eventual realization towards what he’s talking about before continuing; “one day, the jester simply disappeared without a trace. The prince ignored his father’s warnings and insisted on searching for him everywhere, even going as far as travelling out into the woods by himself to look. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing his one and only friend.”

“And in the woods lived a powerful witch,” Haise carries on for him when he stops for a breath. His voice has stopped shaking, and he seems a bit calmer now. His hands are no longer pressed against his ears. “The prince accidentally stumbled upon her home territory and angered her during his venture one night, but the witch deemed him unworthy of her personal attention. So instead, she sent her servant to deal with him.”

“As they fought, the prince realized that his friend, the jester, had fallen under a spell casted upon him by the evil witch, forcing him to obey to her commands,” Hide takes over again. “Furious and betrayed – but mainly furious – the prince finished his fight quickly, sparing the life of his good friend. Then, he immediately sought to erase the witch. They fought for many hours, and the prince emerged victorious in the end. As a result, the spell controlling the jester was also broken, and he once again returned to his senses.”

“The first thing he did was go to the prince and beg for forgiveness,” Haise says, and Hide nods, quietly encouraging him to go on. “The prince forgave him, of course, but in return, he made him swear his eternal loyalty to him under the flame of the torch he held in his hand. And the jester, without even hesitating, swore on his own life that he’ll always stay by his prince’s side.”

“Come to think of it, there wasn’t really a solid ending to the play, huh?” Hide finishes with a small laugh. He breathes a sigh of relief when Haise reluctantly returns his smile in agreement, his hand slipping from his hair to the side of his jaw. Haise’s skin is cold to his touch. “You feeling better?”

“A little bit,” Haise admits, and Hide beams.

“That’s great,” he says, retracting his hand to work on the buttons of his coat. He has the garment off in a few seconds, and he messily folds it before handing it to his companion. “Can you hold on to this for me while I go join the kids in finishing the job? And no-“ he says when Haise instantly protests about being able to fight, “-I, as your colleague and teammate, deem you unfit for any form of combat. You’ll only hurt yourself in the state you’re in right now, Kaneki.”

“But-“ Haise starts, but Hide’s already standing up, making it obvious that he’s not going to listen.

“Look, buddy, I’d really like to stay and chat, but I’ve got to check on the kids,” Hide tells him, words speeding up because it just occurred to him that he really does need to check on the kids before anything bad happens and he makes another grave mistake. “I’m sorry, but - just - stay put for a while and rest, okay? We’ll come get you when it’s over. I promise.”

Haise looks like he’s about to argue further, and Hide’s ready to gather every shred of his determination to walk away without another word when the former hugs his coat closer towards his chest, and says, “Be careful, Hide.”

“I will,” Hide assures, dreading the necessity to leave him with all his heart. Even so, putting the Quinx in danger wouldn’t make things much better, either. Between their subordinates’ safety and Haise’s own wellbeing, Hide knows Haise would definitely want him to prioritize the kids. Hide spares one last glance towards Haise to make sure he’s fine enough to be on his own, and before his reluctance could set in, he begins heading towards where their teammates are currently at.

xXx

Haise hadn’t intended to panic the moment the memories flooded into his mind. Really, he hadn’t.

Only then it was really too much. This is the one thing he has always dreaded to know the most, and one of his deepest, darkest are proved to be true. He was a killer, a murderer. He'd slain countless ghouls he'd personally deemed potential threats, but that’s not the worst of it. He remembers; the actual enjoyment he’d felt when he took one life after another, the severely contrasting taste between the meat of both humans and ghouls which he’d gorged on, the lingering traces of madness that threaten to overpower his rational thoughts the moment he lets his guard down and get carried away.

Did he have a reason? Was there a reason to all those bloodshed?

What happened in the past is irreversible, Haise knows that. Yet, is it really alright to let such a dangerous creature as himself live on in relative freedom? Even if there are plenty of people around him who’s capable of stopping him if he ever loses his senses? Is it really alright for him to go on living like this?

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I guess having to keep going with that knowledge is a sort of punishment by itself,” Hide says when Haise asks him the exact questions that have been haunting his mind ever since they got back from their mission a couple of days back. “You can try justifying it however you like, but you’ll never forget the guilt, the weight of taking a life with your own hands. You’ll just have to learn to live with it somehow.”

He sounds like he knows exactly what he’s talking about. Haise can’t help but wonder if he’d felt the same when he’d first started out as a ghoul investigator; questioning if it really was right to kill some people who were simply trying to survive with the way they’re born. Haise himself certainly did. Before he can think of an appropriate response, though, a thought abruptly strikes him; a recollection of a particular statement Hide once told him before.

“You said you were the one who had your best friend killed.” Haise stares at his companion, watching closely for any changes in the latter’s expression. It hadn’t been clear earlier with his memories still jumbled up and incomplete, but it’s slowly starting to make sense now; the reason why Hide kept apologizing at the beginning, the reason why he did what he’d done. Vague memories of darkness, sewer stench, blood and fragments of insanity start to resurface. Haise remembers his own desperation to keep fighting because if he doesn’t the people he care for will die the Manager will die he’ll lose them he’ll lose Anteiku and that can’t happen he can’t let that happen there’s a hole on his side and it hurts it hurts it hurts shut up shut up shut up there’s a voice calling his name a voice that wasn’t supposed to be there he’s laughing why is he laughing how could he possibly be joking when-

“I made a deal with the higher-ups of the CCG to spare your life at the cost of erasing your identity as Kaneki Ken,” Hide says after what feels like an eternity of silence, his tone leveled, quiet. When his eyes meets Haise’s, he smiles, a bitter smile. “So in a way, I was the reason you were ‘killed’, Kaneki.”

“And in return for letting me live, you offered to have your body experimented on,” Haise breathes, the reality of it all dawning him. “Even after all those months of leaving you behind, you still came looking for me.”

Ehh, I guess I’m just a loser like that.” Hide chuckles as he scratches his cheek, his usual mirth nowhere to be found. “But really, how could I not when I was fully aware of the crazy things you were doing? I’ve known you for years, man. I know how hopeless you are without me.”

“Even though you also knew what sort of hardship you’ll  be getting yourself into because of me?” Haise demands, wanting to scream in exasperation because why is Hide always doing this? Why is he always, always willing to go such ridiculous lengths for his sake?

Haise watches as Hide breathes a fond, tired sigh at his inquiry before averting his gaze, the corners of his lips still lifted in that impossibly kind smile of his.

“You know, Kaneki,” he begins slowly, staring at his own hands as he speaks. “During that point in time, I couldn’t care less about what I have to endure as long as I was able to keep you alive. If having to be turned into some sort of human test subject is what it takes to save you, then so be it. Besides,” he shrugs slightly, looking up to meet Haise’s gaze again, his amber eyes soft with unconcealed affection. “I thought that even if I broke, it’ll still be fine as long as I can use those pieces of myself to keep you from falling apart again.”

And Haise only stares back at him dumbfounded, unable to find the right words to respond to that. There are only so many ways one can react to something that’s simply so selfless yet so utterly foolish. Ah, Haise guesses that’s part of Hide’s character perfectly summed up in a few words; selfless but foolish. He’s always prioritized others above himself, to the point that it’s almost ridiculous. Haise knows he has no say in any of this, but there’s just no reason Hide should willingly suffer so much for another. It’s just not normal and he deserves so much more and-

Haise starts when another fragment of memory begins to return; hazy, fragmented and tinged with surrealism. He focuses at the spot on Hide’s left upper arm, wordlessly reaching to brush his fingertips against the patch of damaged tissue, his throat closing up and his eyes burning from the sudden wave of immense guilt that washes over him.

So that’s it. That’s what happened.

“I was the one who gave you that scar,” he whispers, almost in a trance. He takes a sharp breath and swallows, willing his voice not to quaver as he continues; “It’s because I’m weak, wasn’t it? It’s because I was weak that I couldn’t protect everyone. Not Yoshimura-san and Banjou-san and everyone from Anteiku. Not even you, Hide. It was all my fault that-“

Hold up.” Haise stops when Hide presses his hand against his mouth, effectively cutting him off midsentence. “I thought we were over this nonsense.”

His frown only intensifies when Haise proceeds to voice his protests in a series of muffled noises. Then as if he’d understood a word he said, Hide clicks his tongue disapprovingly.

“Listen, Kaneki,” Hide shifts closer and says, holding his gaze firmly. “First of all, it was by my own decision that I let you eat me, so don’t you go ahead blaming yourself for what I chose to do. I don’t care how highly you think of yourself; I want you to know that you did not, by any means, force me to do what I did. Everything I’ve done - it was all because I wanted to do them, not because you made me, alright?”

And he waits until Haise slowly nods to that before breaking into a smile, retracting his hand. Haise keeps quiet as Hide continues, his tone significantly softer.

“And second of all, I’m pretty sure when everyone fought their battles, it was by their own choices as well,” he says, brushing a lock of Haise’s hair behind his ear with the back of his fingers. “I’m sure they chose to struggle despite knowing the full dangers of their actions. No one expected you to be their hero, Kaneki. No one expected you to come running the moment things got difficult for them and magically make the entire situation better. So please stop,” his gaze turns pleading, “please stop saying everything’s your fault when it’s not, Kaneki. It never was.”

“Hide..” It’s then that it dawns Haise; it’s this tendency of his to shoulder everything that was what caused his downfall in the first place. Hide’s right; he’d thought ridiculously highly of himself. He’d thought that if he tried hard enough, he could save everyone, he could protect them. Stronger. He’d wanted to grow stronger - he had to grow stronger -  which was why he’d killed, he’d devoured, and he’d let himself stray off whatever path he’d set for himself. And by the time he realized how far gone he was, it was too late. There was no going back. There still isn’t.

“This was the reason I didn’t really want you to remember, to be honest,” Hide admits sheepishly, reaching to scratch the back of his head. “You were afraid of your memories from the very start, and I figured recalling about those days shouldn’t be all that easy to stomach.”

With his point already proven, Haise can’t exactly argue. He glances away and purses his lips, forcing himself to think. Past his remorse, past his uninvited guilt. What is he doing? What was his resolve when he decided to remember? What did he tell himself?

“Is there anything we can do for them from now on?” Haise mutters, staring holes into his upturned palms. Slowly, he curls his hands into tight fists. “Is there anything at all that..”

Out of the corner of his eye, he spots Hide shrugging. “I don’t know,” Hide says, voice tinged with the frustration Haise has yet to feel past the crushing sense of helplessness. “I don’t know for now, but I’m sure we’ll be able figure something out when we get there eventually. I promise we will.”

“Okay.” Haise takes a deep breath, holds it, and exhales slowly, unclenching his hands. Calm down. He has to calm down. Take this one step at a time. “Okay.”

“Mmhmm.” Haise doesn’t resist even when Hide gently tugs him towards himself, snaking his arms loosely around his frame. He rests  his head against the crook of his companion’s neck, halfheartedly marveling at how utterly natural the position feels. His ear is pressed just a little below Hide’s collarbone, and when he focuses a little more, he could hear every steady thump of his heart.

He’s not alone. That’s the biggest difference from before, Haise suddenly comes to realize as he listens on to Hide’s strong heartbeat. He’d pushed away those who tried to get close to him the last time, thinking that it was better for him to be alone, for him to be the only one who got hurt. He’d insisted on shouldering too many things by himself, and look where that led him. He has people who are willing to help and support him now. In fact, he’s always had them – only then it has never occurred to him because he’d been so utterly caught up with his own goals and stupid self-centered thinking. He’s always had at least one person who has his back.

“Hey, Hide?” Hesitantly, Haise breaks the silence formed between them, receiving a soft hum from Hide shortly after. “Thank you.”

“I have no idea what for, but you’re welcome, I guess,” Hide chuckles. Listening to Hide’s laugh – his real, colorful laughter – Haise feels a flutter in his heart yet again. The corners of his lips gradually lift into a smile of his own, and he closes his eyes, exhaling a breath as he leans just a little more of his weight against Hide’s chest.

That’s right. No matter what, no matter when, Haise has had Hide all along.

xXx

Bad timing. Haise’s breakdown had bad timing.

Hide would prefer not to have Haise draw attention upon himself now of all times, but who was he trying to kid, really. Things have never been willing to be so easy on them. Hide spends the following days bracing himself to be called out any moment for some questioning regarding Haise’s condition – or even worse, he’s half expecting the higher-ups to interrogate Haise directly. As much as he hates to admit it, Hide seriously doesn’t know what he’ll be able to do if their situation ever leads to the latter. Convincing his best friend and the CCG that they’ll be able to work things out after all that’d happened between both parties doesn’t exactly sound like an easy feat even with Hide’s wicked negotiation skills.

It’s been more than a week since Haise’s memories started coming back for real, and he’s recalling quite a lot, to say the least. He recalls things from random time phases; sometimes with the help of catalysts, other times without. Either way, Hide’s pretty certain the rate in which it’s happening shouldn’t be healthy. Kaneki has experienced so many difficulties throughout the years, and remembering so many things at once couldn’t be easy for him. With all he’d been through, he would definitely need time to let the recollections sink in. Mental instability doesn’t really go away for good – or, at least, not in such a short  span of time without going through some standard procedures. Hide knows taking Kaneki’s reminisces could only do so much.

Out of the nine nights following the event of Haise beginning to remember his past in earnest, Hide has been woken from his sleep in seven of them; jerked awake either by Haise’s crushing grip on his hand or arm, or simply stirring to the way he’s trashing about on bed. And during those fragile, fragile moments, Hide would do everything within his ability to help his best friend calm down; relentlessly muttering assurances, holding him in his arms when he’s not resisting or letting himself be held to let Haise know that unlike those visions, he’s solid and real. Reminding him of the silly, mundane things during the simpler times they shared together or simply making up ridiculous stories to distract him. Always only waiting until he’s ready before asking if he could tell him about what he’d just recalled.

Sadly, Hide isn’t always successful in his attempts to aid in dragging Haise out from the new wave of nightmares that haunt him – mainly because they can’t simply be dismissed as a figment of the latter’s imagination. On some occasions, even Hide is only barely able to convince Haise that it’s okay and that it’s safe now and that his fingers and toes are still there. That there’s nothing in his ear nor is there anything piercing through the back of his head. That there’s no one else in the room except for them and that the voices won’t be able to do anything to him as long as Hide’s there. That he’s there and he’ll help him fight away all the bad things if he needs him to.

Then again, Hide doesn’t really prove his abilities in carrying out the last part well by being too overwhelmed by exhaustion to notice Haise’s nightly struggles not once, but twice. Some best friend he is, sheesh.

Despite Hide and Haise’s combined efforts, it doesn’t take long before the Quinx start suspecting that something’s going on with their mentor. With the frequent reoccurrence of Haise’s finger-cracking habit and the way his composure just falters out of the blue at times, it’s not difficult to make a guess. Hide honestly expected Haise to be at least a little more wary towards the CCG and everyone affiliated with the organization with the things he’s recalling about them, but he apparently trusts his squad more than Hide gives him credit for - even Urie, whom Hide can’t help but doubt a little because of his calculative nature. Haise made up his mind after giving the matter some thought, and found one fine day to gather everyone round to tell them the truth.

Nevertheless, Haise’s warning of the chances of him beginning to change from here on out does little to affect the Quinx’s outlook towards him because hey – Sasaki’s still Sasaki, right? The only difference is that he’s remembering things now. So what if he might get a teeny bit violent at times or something? Everyone has their limits and the need to let loose every once in a while. They’ll be fine. They’re Quinx; they’ll be able to take care of themselves if anything happens.

Forget Haise – Hide himself was tempted to kiss every one of the kids when they told Haise what they told him. Having so much support from the people he treasures and cares so much for must’ve helped lessen his burden more than what Hide alone is able to do. And as time passes, it becomes evident that it does help. After pouring everything out to the Quinx and hearing what they had to say about it, Haise seems to start regaining some of his self-confidence. He’s eventually able to accept his memories a little more calmly, and apart from the wakeful nights, he’s pretty okay most of the time. He’s even gradually willing to open up more to Hide when things become too bad – which, is the development that matters the most; at least to the blond himself.

Things seems to be slowly getting better, and Hide supposes it’s his own fault for never learning from his past mistakes and once again letting his guard down. On approximately two weeks just after the start of the new year, Hide’s called to attend a meeting. He finds it weird at first because why are they only calling for him out of the entire squad? And they’re in the middle of an investigation?? He goes for the thing in the end anyway, having no other choice, and it’s only after he slips into the conference room by himself and sees the other attendees that reality decides to hit him in the face. He’s been so caught up with so many things lately that he honestly didn’t expect he’ll be facing another huge predicament so soon.

The other people present around the table are part of the intelligence team in charge of a certain case. Hide hasn’t even taken his seat when dread starts weighing down on his shoulders. Judging from the grim faces that greet him everywhere he looks, he doesn’t need to guess what the discussion will mainly be centering around.

They’re about to begin planning for the next step to the extermination of the Clowns, and Hide’s going to play a bigger part in it than he thought he would.