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Just Like Heaven

Chapter Text

Sasaki Haise isn't sure how he got here. 

The last thing he remembers is bidding his usual barista Kirishima goodnight and exiting :re with a chiming of the bells by the door. Instead of toward the Chateau that he and the rest of the Quinx squad call home, Haise's feet lead him to a small playground squashed between several houses. The park isn't familiar, and neither is the area, yet somehow Haise has walked the path as if it were burned into his muscle memory- a place his body was already used to taking him. 

He's also not sure what compels him to climb the giant whale-shaped play structure protruding from the ground. It's spontaneous, childish even, but Haise perches himself atop the beast nonetheless.

The night sky is lovely from up here, he notices, thankful no one is around. I guess I can stay for a while.

Haise lays down on his back to look up at the stars, a melancholic feeling stirring around in his gut. He is trying to locate Orion's Belt amidst the pervasive Tokyo light pollution when a curious, slightly bewildered face emerges from the darkness and blocks his view.

A boy stares down at him.

"Er, hello there?" Haise quips.

The stranger nearly falls over right on top of him, eyes blown wide with shock. "Me?"

"Yes? You're sort of... the only other person here."

"I can't believe this," the boy mumbles to himself, shaking his head, "Of all people." 

He clambers backwards, landing on his elbows while Haise cautiously sits up to examine him. He appears to be about Haise's own age, maybe a year or so younger. He's wearing some sort of uniform, but it's impossible to tell what kind because it's completely mangled. There are rips and gashes all over it, among some rather unsightly stains.

Did he just get out of a fight?

Haise also notices the boy's hair, which is shaggy with visible brown roots, but still glowing golden in the moonlight.

There's something off about him, why can't I smell his scent? Haise sniffs apprehensively, I couldn't hear him climb up here either. Are my ghoul senses dulling?

"Wait a minute, what exactly did you mean when you said of all people?" suspiciously, Haise narrows his eyes. "Do I know you?"

The stranger stares back at him intently. He squints and leans closer, furrowing his brows as if searching for some sort of recognition in the ghoul investigator's face.

"No, definitely not. I don't know you." he seems to be trying to convince himself of that fact, rather than Haise. Then he nods his head as if he's come to some sort of conclusion, and unexpectedly, flashes Haise a bright, familiar smile.

But that can't be- we've only just met.

“Sorry, you remind me of someone I knew once.” the stranger says, and perhaps that's all it is- nothing more or less. But something about it unsettles Haise- the stirring in his gut from before returning with insistence.

“I'm Nagachika Hideyoshi by the way, but I usually just go by Hide. What's your name?"

"Sasaki." the ghoul investigator replies tentatively, "Sasaki Haise."

"Well it's nice to meet ya! Mind if I stargaze with you?"

This guy seems harmless enough. 

"Alright then." 

“Great!” the boy, Hide, exclaims, then makes himself comfortable atop the great whale.

They sit silently for but a moment, with only the creaking of the swing set and the low buzz of the city in the background. Staying quiet seems to be an impossibility for this Hide guy- Haise still hasn't located Orion's Belt by the time he's barraged with more questions,

“You're with the CCG, right? What's your department? Do you have a high rank?"

“Yes, I'm an Investigator." Haise responds, unsure of how much information about his job is appropriate to reveal to a stranger, "I guess you could say I have a high rank. How did you know I'm CCG?"

“Your uniform! I used to work there." Hide says, "I was just an errand boy, but sometimes my supervisor, Mado, let me tag along and help during investigations because I had a knack for playing detective. I’m surprised I’ve never seen you around before, I was out and about all over the place when I was there.” He rakes his eyes over Haise one last time, “Are you new?” 

So many questions. Haise observes, but he knows Akira, allegedly, and he doesn't seem suspicious-

"Sort of, it's been almost two years for me. But most of my colleagues have been there for ages."

"Oh, I see! Maybe I just missed you, then?” Hide proposes brightly.

Why have I never heard of this guy?  Nagachika Hideyoshi, was it? I’m pretty sure nobody has ever mentioned that name to me, how odd.

"It's possible? But, err… Hide..." Haise shakes off his earlier train of thought. He feels like this entire night isn't even real at all, but instead some kind of strange fever dream. It'd explain how he ended up sitting in a children's playground playing 20 questions with a stranger. "Were you attacked? What happened to your clothes?"

"Long story." is the vague reply. Hide scratches his head sheepishly, not looking at his shredded ensemble. “I'd rather not talk about it.”

Haise doesn’t press him further. Instead, he decides to check his cell phone for the time. The display reads 22:41 and Haise nearly jumps out of his skin because shit, when did it get so late? Everyone is probably wondering where I am!

Sure enough, Haise has two missed calls from Mutsuki, and one from Shirazu, among about a dozen email notifications marked 'URGENT!' 

"I’m sorry but I really need to get going.” Haise sticks his hand out in front of him, requesting a handshake. “It was nice chatting with you, Hide.”

He's a little quirky, but he seems like an okay guy. Haise decides.

"You too!" Hide chirps, “It’s been awhile since I’ve talked like this with someone.” he reaches outwards to accept the handshake, however, instead of connecting like it should, his hand glides right through Haise's as if it were made of smoke. 

Haise's dumbfounded expression clearly catches his companion's attention. Am I imagining things?

"Oh yeah, I forgot about that." Hide shrugs casually. "I'm kind of a ghost? Surprise!"

.....?

A ghost?

"WHAT?!"

"I should've said something earlier, my bad."

"That's impossible!" Haise insists, "How can you be...?”

“Eh, I’m not sure either to be honest.”

Haise daringly tries to poke Hide’s shoulder just to prove himself wrong, because surely ghosts are fictitious myths, superstitious fantasies, but once again his finger soars right through him as if he were not physically there, but instead a projection, a trick of light and shadow. Haise tries poking him again, and again, and again, and remains unsatisfied with the same unearthly result each time. 

So this is a fever dream, after all.

“Having fun there?” Hide asks with amusement, “As you can see I’m sort of intangible. And invisible too. It's a great party trick! Not that I've tried it at any parties-”

Haise balks at the boy in front of him.

“But lucky thing nobody else is here because they’d think you’ve been talking to yourself.” he points out.

“Are all ghost as nonchalant as you are?”

Haise receives a shrug in response. “Dunno, haven't met any.”

Think about it! Ghouls exist, therefore, ghosts existing can’t be so impossible! 

“But if you’re a ghost,” Haise mumbles, “Why can I see you?”

“That is one more thing I have no idea about.” Hide admits, “But hey, let’s not question it ‘cause you’re the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in a really long time! And I mean a reeeaaallllly long time. Being a ghost is actually kinda boring. 0/10 would not recommend.”

Are all ghosts by theirselves like he is? Haise bites his quivering lip as an unexpected wave of sadness washes over him.

“I heard rabbits can die of loneliness." Hide says suddenly, "Didja' know that?”

“W-What?” Haise blinks in confusion. He'd only half-paid attention to the ghost's prattle. "Why is that-"

“I’m already dead though, so I guess it doesn’t apply to me.” Hide sighs. 

“You’re...“ Haise trails off, "You’re not exactly a rabbit either.”

“True!” Hide agrees, then looks at Haise with pleading eyes, “You’re gonna come back to stargaze with me again, right? Please?”

I can’t just leave him alone in this world, Haise realizes. I was like him once too… completely and utterly on my own.

“I will.” he promises, to Hide’s utmost delight. Not that they actually stargazed much, but Haise doesn't mind. “I should really be going now though.”

He gives the ghost a small smile, and proceeds to climb down from the whale structure with as much grace as he can muster.

“Come back tomorrow!” Hide calls out as Haise straightens up his trench coat. 

“I'll try!”

“If you don’t I’ll haunt you!” Hide cries, and Haise waves at him before he heads home to the 1st Ward. 

On his walk back to the Chateau, he decides it's in his best interest to learn more about ghosts if tonight was real at all. 

Chapter Text

2 years earlier….

 

When Hide first came to consciousness, he was lying in the sewers where he had encountered Kaneki during the Anteiku raid. The last thing he could recall was offering his body to his dying best friend... and asking him if he was able to go all-out one last time. 

The half-ghoul had leaned in towards him, the distance so slight that Hide could feel Kaneki's jagged breath against his lips, hot and ticklish, until suddenly everything was swallowed by blackness.

"Kaneki?" Hide blinked his eyes open and scanned the area. All that could be seen and heard were the ominous drips and moaning echoes of the sewer's bowels ahead- there was not a single soul anywhere in sight, least of all the menacing presence of the kakuja.

Did he win the fight? Is he hurt? 

Hide sprang to his feet, however he immediately noticed that something about himself was very wrong. He could not feel his legs, nor any other part of his body. He could see it, and control it, but when he did there was no usual sensation of muscles moving or blood flowing.

There was just nothing.

I feel so light.  Was I drugged or something? 

He glanced down and realized that he was also still wearing the uniform that the CCG had given him before they set out on the Owl Suppression Operation. The entire thing was in shambles, completely ruined by the catastrophe that had gone down what he thought was moments ago.

None of this is important right now, he decided, I have to find Kaneki first!

Hide immediately set off to search for his friend with that strange, weightless sensation spread throughout his body. He climbed out of the sewers, only to find the streets filled with debris and devoid of life.

The 20th ward must still be closed off.

Determined to find Kaneki, Hide ran to the first place he could think of: Anteiku.

His heart sank in his chest when he set his eyes upon the small coffee shop's remains. Where Anteiku should have been, there was instead a group of construction workers loading massive piles of wood and rubble into trucks. 

They really went through with it.

Hide frowned, even though Kaneki hadn't actually worked there in months, it was obvious his friend had come to regard the place as home. Now that he knew for sure that it was run by other ghouls, he supposed that Touka and the rest of the staff must have helped Kaneki in a way that he, a human, never could have. The memories he created there must have meant a lot to him.

"Excuse me, sir?" he called out to a bearded man who was pushing a wheelbarrow of broken cups and dishes, "Were there any bodies found inside the shop?"

The man didn't even glance in Hide's direction- he ignored him completely and continued on with his work. Annoyed, Hide deliberately planted himself right in front of the man, waving his arms in the air rather comically, and tried to meet his gaze.

"Hey dude! What happened here?"

The worker stared ahead blindly. Without warning, before Hide could move out of the way, he pushed his wheelbarrow directly through Hide's body, as if the boy were only a mirage, and then he walked right through Hide himself.

What? What just happened?

Hide soon realized that none of the people he came across could see or hear him, and when he tried to touch things, his hands simply phased right through as if they were made of smoke.

Am I...? 

He felt a rush of panic, however, the sudden realization of the depth of his situation just made his desire to find Kaneki even stronger.

I need to find him, I'm sure he'll know what to do.

He set off at a run, praying fiercely that his best friend was safe.

Kaneki

Kaneki

Kaneki

The name replayed over and over like a scratched record inside his head.

Kaneki, where are you?

 


  

Hide was always rather skilled at reading other people. He would observe their habits, and could easily tell when something was out of the ordinary. He liked to think he more or less understood his best friend as well up until the incident with Rize.

The incident that changed everything.

Where could Kaneki have gone?

Hide racked his brain for ideas, and came up with several different possibilities. He thoroughly checked every coffee shop, bookstore, and prison cell, as well as every dusty corner and dark alley of the city.

There were ghouls all right. Thousands of them, more than Hide ever could have imagined lurked the intricate streets of Tokyo. And he saw things in his search, horrifying things out of nightmares that would've made any other's blood curl. But Hide had a one-track mind- and nowhere did he find the half-ghoul he so desperately sought.

Hideyoshi Nagachika had previously thought of himself as very determined person. When he had a goal, his motivation never swayed, and he couldn’t rest easy until he achieved his purpose. But after weeks and weeks of obsessive search, he finally began to lose his resolve. There were no clues to work with, nor any people he could ask for help.

Either Kaneki Ken did not want to be found, or he had disappeared from existence. Or worse.

It was only when Hide had stopped and taken a good look at himself, at his insubstantial form which had remained completely unchanged for months did he give up at long last.

What made me think that Kaneki would be able to see me anyways? he asked himself bitterly. Hide's image didn't appear in the reflections of store windows or undisturbed water. Mirrors he peered into just showed what was behind him. 

I feel like I'm searching for nothing, Hide could feel a dense, all-consuming despair spread throughout his entirety. The closest he'd come to feeling something was the sheer dread of having to admit it- that Kaneki is probably dead. And Hide probably was too.

What do I do now?  he thought miserably, I can’t exactly go home. 

He looked down at his tattered clothes, and grimaced at the distressing memory of how they became that way. They seemed to be immaterial as well, because when he tried to take them off they just slid through his hands.

Guess I’m stuck with these. he sighed, resigned. I wish I at least had my headphones.

He rose up and took in his surroundings. He'd been so one-track minded that he didn't pay attention to where in the city he'd ended up. He was standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk in front of a movie theatre- in Akihabara, from the looks of it. Strangers were walking through him: school girls gossiping about their classmates, a young couple holding hands, a woman in a frilly maid outfit advertising some nearby café, a tourist with his pointy nose poked in a complicated map.

Everyone had things to do, people to meet, and places to be, but all Hide seemed to have was more pain and time that he knew what to do with. 

Maybe I need some sort of distraction.

He scanned the promotional movie posters plastered to the wall, picked out one that had a cool looking poster, then inhaled deeply and walked right through the front door.

Sneaking into a movie sounds like a start.

 


 

He spent the next few weeks watching movies, sitting through classes at Kamii university, and going to book readings at different libraries.

The distractions contented him for a little while, but, as expected, they soon began to lose their appeal. What good were movies with no one to watch them with, or classes with no diploma to show for them? Even the book readings- they felt so wrong without the quiet, comfortable presence of his best friend beside him. It was one of their favourite things to do together.

So Hide spent the following months wandering the city. He walked through Tokyo's innumerable districts, from the morning markets of Tsukiji to the bustling izakayas in Shinjuku, beneath the Thunder Gate in Asakusa to the suburban outskirts of Ota, then back again until he was shadowed by the imposing height of Tokyo Tower, padding through the imperial palace's forbidden zen gardens until finally he stopped at Shibuya crossing, planted right in the middle of the busy intersection- the nucleus of Japan itself.

Is this what death is? he asked nobody in particular as a mother pushed her child's stroller through his torso, An eternity of loneliness?

Eventually, Hide realized that he was very, very tired. It wasn't a physical tiredness, it was more so as if his soul itself was becoming numb. His brain going into sleep mode.

He wished, then, that he could fall into an endless unconsciousness, shutting it all off completely. 

He wondered why fate was so cruel.

 


  

One hazy summer night, Hide accidentally stumbled upon the fated little park in a suburban area in Sumida. He immediately recognized the creaky swing set and gaudy whale structure.

Kaneki and I used to gaze at the stars from up there. 

The two boys would spend hours stretched out beside each other, munching on unhealthy snacks they'd picked up at the convenience store, talking about mindless nothings.

The memories attached to this park were some of his most cherished, and for the first time since he had become this ghostly being, Hide found himself truly smiling. He wished with all of his might he could relive one of those nights.

With nothing to lose, he settled himself atop the structure and hugged his knees close to his chest.

I miss you, Kaneki.

He sighed and looked up at the night sky. Light pollution made stargazing rather difficult in Tokyo, but Hide never did mind, because the moon was a spectacle all in itself.

Kaneki was a lot like the moon.

There are so many things I didn’t get a chance to tell you.

Hide lingered at that park from then on. It was a pleasant place- it made things a little better. When he closed his eyes, he could imagine his best friend right there beside him like the moon was. Sometimes visible, sometimes not. But always, always there watching over.

Hide was finally beginning to tolerate this existence when a very familiar looking stranger dressed in a CCG uniform wandered in and climbed up right onto Kaneki’s old spot with an expertise like he'd been doing it for years.

It was on that evening that Hide began to feel hopeful again. 

A new moon hung in the sky.

Chapter Text

Sasaki Haise can’t seem to get his strange new acquaintance out of his head.

You’d think ghosts would be gloomy or scary, but Hide isn’t like that at all.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so…  lively.

He grins cheekily at his own pun.

It is nearly midnight when he arrives back at the Chateau, and the place is dark and quiet- his housemates have all retired for the night. Haise tiptoes discreetly through the corridor, but before he makes it to his room he notices a stream of light peeking out from beneath Saiko’s door.

For someone who sleeps so much, you’d think she’d start earlier.

Haise knocks softly on the wood of her door.

“Saiko, it’s me.” he says in a hushed voice, “Can I come in?”

“Only ‘cause it’s you,” she replies distractedly from within, “Gimme a sec to finish this battle.”

When he enters, he sees that his comrade is sprawled out on her bed holding one of her many handheld gaming systems. He also disapprovingly notices the stuffy air and multitude of snack wrappers strewn about the place.

Haise sighs tiredly to himself. I need to start pushing her to be healthy...

“FEEL THE WRATH OF MY MASTER SWORD, LYNEL SCUM!” Saiko shrieks, then proceeds to mash several buttons rather violently. Her on-screen character, an elf looking fellow dressed in blue, slices through what appears to be a centaur. “THAT’S RIGHT, DIE! DIE!”

She laughs maniacally when the centaur at last falls, and Haise is surprised that she hasn’t woken anyone up with the noise. 

Basking in the afterglow of her victory, Saiko eventually sets the game down on the already cluttered night stand to give Haise her full attention. When she sees her mentor’s hard expression, her smug grin quickly fades.

“You’re not here to lecture me about responsibilities right?” she narrows her eyes at him suspiciously, “‘Cause Shirazu already tried today. He went on and on about responsibilities but it was so boring I stopped paying attention.”

“I’m not here to yell at you.” he assures her.

Though I guess It’s good to know that at least Shirazu is taking his position as leader somewhat seriously.

“I actually had some questions for you about something different.” he concedes.

Saiko seems like she'd know a thing or two about this sort of stuff.

“Thank god,” visibly relieved, she proceeds to push some chip bags off the edge of her bed, then pats on the cleared area and motions for Haise to sit down. He accepts the proffered seat. “So what’s up?”

Here goes nothing, Haise thinks.

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Ghosts?” she echoes in confusion, “Why ghosts?”

Haise unconsciously lifts his hand up to rub his chin, as he often does when he’s telling a lie.

I don’t think I should tell anybody about Hide just yet.

“I’m reading about them in a book.”

“Ahh, shoulda’ guessed” Saiko claps him on the back, “You’re such a bookworm.”

“I suppose I am.” he shrugs bashfully.

“Well, I definitely think ghosts are real.” she tells him in earnest, “Ghouls exist, so of course ghosts do too.”

“Do you know anything about them?”

Saiko flashes him a cheeky grin, “God yes, do you know how many horror games I’ve played?”

I really hope all of her knowledge isn’t based off of video games… I’ll have to take it with a grain of salt.

“How do you think people become ghosts?” Haise asks.

“Oh, that’s easy, You see, when a person’s body dies, their soul can’t stay in it anymore. Souls are supposed to go to the afterlife right away, but some of them stay here on earth even though they don’t have a physical body any more. That’s what ghosts are.”

“I see,” he nods, genuinely impressed with her insightfulness. He remembers how Hide’s hand simply slid through his own when they attempted to shake.

Where is his real body, then? 6 feet underground?

The very thought makes him nauseous.

“But why would a soul stay behind if they have no body?” 

"Depends on the person. I think that usually they’re attached to the earth because they have some sort of unfinished business. Like, it’s something so important to them that they can’t move on peacefully because of it."

“Okay, for example, could it be that they were looking for something?” Haise suggests, “Answers to a question, or a physical object, or perhaps even a person.”

“Yeah something like that. Definitely.” she agrees with fervour. "Then for a ghost to finally move on, they’d have to find what they were looking for.”

What is it that’s keeping Hide stuck here?  Haise ponders, Maybe there’s a way I can help him if he's looking for something.

“Certain things are impossible to find, though.” Saiko adds, and Haise’s heart sinks in his chest.

“What happens then?”

Saiko shrugs, “Hmm, the ghost would probably just have to accept that what they want is lost forever. If not, they’re stuck wandering earth endlessly." she stares back at Haise with lazy but inquiring grey eyes. "Anything else?"

“I think… I have one more question” Haise swallows anxiously, “Why can some people see ghosts when others can’t?”

“That I dunno,” she scratches her head dubiously, “Maybe they have some sorta’ connection to it? ‘Could be anything.”

A connection? But Hide clearly said that he doesn’t know me.

A sleepy yawn bubbles up and escapes him, and Haise decides that it’s about time he retires for the night. Often, he forgets that ghouls need even need sleep, especially half-ghouls like himself.

Do ghosts sleep? he wonders dreamily.

“I think that’s about all of the questions I had.” he announces, and the mattress springs creak in protest as he gets up off the bed, “Thanks for everything, Saiko.”

“No prob, Maman.” she waggles her eyebrows at the use of his silly nickname, “By the way, can you make hotpot for lunch tomorrow? There's something about your motherly touch that makes it extra delicious.”

“Sure thing. Get some sleep now though, okay?”

“Ugh, fine,” she groans in a childish manner, then throws the covers over her head. “Can you close the light?”

Haise obliges, then adds a hushed “Goodnight, Saiko.”

“G’night” is the muffled reply, and he closes the door with a faint click and heads over to his own room to retire for the day.

If I’m going to help Hide, I’ll need to find out more about how he died, he muses.

Haise falls asleep that night wondering what exactly it is that’s so effectively tethering his new friend to the earth.

 


 

“Here are your coffees,” Kirishima places steaming cups on the table before the two ghoul investigators, “One black and one double-double.”

“Thank you very much!” Mutsuki squeaks shyly.

“Yes, thank you.” Haise agrees, and he receives a small smile from the violet haired barista in return. The gesture induces a bereft yet nostalgic feeling that he doesn’t quite understand. That stirring, again.

“Please enjoy,” she says earnestly, then dutifully returns to the bar area.

First with Hide, and now with Kirishima too… I just can’t shake this feeling of familiarity, Haise watches her as she gracefully wipes the wooden counter with a  cheesecloth, Did I know them? Were we friends?

Hide said he didn’t know me, but perhaps I looked and acted different, or maybe he lost some of his memories too...?

Haise gazes down at his coffee, sees his own pensive face reflected in its russet colour.

Since he started working at the CCG, Haise has never really felt the desire to retrieve his missing memories. No one has told him explicitly, but he can certainly tell from Arima and Akira’s watchful eyes, as well as from the initial trepidation of other CCG members that before the operation, he'd been some kind of monster. It was an impossible stroke of luck, a sheer miracle, that the CCG’s talented scientists were able to suppress such a terrifying thing inside of him, and Haise is genuinely grateful to them for this second chance. He's been dutifully trying to make the most of it as a ghoul investigator and mentor of the Quinx squad as penance- even if he can't remember what for.

But he'd been content with that, because he's certain that his withheld consciousness holds nothing but horrors and insanity. 

However, now... seeing faces like Kirishima’s and Hide’s- faces which supply him with confusing, yet unexpectedly pleasant emotions. Haise cannot shake the feeling that there are people from his past that he once cared very deeply for. People that are worth remembering.

Perhaps I wasn’t always an outright monster.

He knows that if his memories come back to him and he can’t control them it will only result in trouble, but... his curiosity is tempting him to let them back in.

“Sir? Hello?”

Haise is snapped out of his reverie by Mutsuki, who is waving a hand in front of his face.

“Eh? Oh, sorry I spaced out there for a minute,” he replies with a faint blush.

“You seem distracted today, sir...” Mutsuki tells him worriedly, “Are you sure you still want to discuss the Torso case here?”

“Of course! I promised Akira that we would solve it within a month! What were you saying?”

“Ah, well, I was just wondering.” Mutsuki says, “Could you explain to me once more why you think he’s a taxi driver”

 


 

The two ghoul investigators dutifully discuss details of their work in the cozy atmosphere of :re for the next few hours. Before they leave, Haise leaves Kirishima a very generous tip, as he usually does.

It’s getting dark out, he notices when he and Mutsuki exit the shop, Hide is probably waiting for me.

“Hey, Mutsuki,” he places his hand on his comrade’s shoulder, “Would you mind going on ahead without me? I have a few things to do.”

“Sure thing,” the other replies. “See you back at home!”

Haise bids him good night before setting off in the opposite direction.

Once again, his feet lead him almost naturally to the designated place, moving as if of their own accord, following a route that one would believe he knows very well.

It’s possible, he considers, Maybe I spent a lot of time at that park in my past.

He spots the giant whale as he approaches, and as he expected, there is a hunched up figure sitting atop it.

He looks exactly the same as yesterday, Haise notes without surprise, No indication at all that he's a ghost- I wonder if this is what he looked like when he died.

Haise quickly scans the area to ensure that nobody is nearby, then calls out to the figure with genuine ardor. “Hide!”

The blonde turns around in surprise, and Haise waves breathlessly at him. A smile much brighter than the one from yesterday stretches across Hide’s pale face, and Haise nearly loses himself in its brilliance.

So familiar… he shivers.

“I was beginning to think I had just imagined you.” Hide sighs with relief. 

Haise climbs up the structure to join him, “I can definitely say the same.”

The two exchange amused grins at that.

“How was your day?” Hide asks.

Haise recalls his schedule; Meeting with Akira in the morning, training with Shirazu and Mutsuki afterwards, then he cooked them lunch, stopped by Arima's office to drop off a book, then spent the evening at :re with Mutsuki.

“Long, but otherwise alright.” he replies contentedly, “How about yours?”

“Some birds chirped, a kid threw a frisbee through my head, and I tried to see if I could possess someone.” Hide shrugs indifferently. “Overall, it wasn’t too bad.”

“Well, did it work?” Haise asks with amusement, “The possessing, I mean.”

“Unfortunately no.” The blonde shakes his head disappointedly, “Don’t believe what horror movies tell you. I feel so betrayed.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, though I don’t watch a lot of movies." he adds as an afterthought, "I prefer to read.” 

“Yeah? What’s your favourite book, then?”

“I just finished A Crossbreed by Franz Kafka a few days ago, and I enjoyed it very much.” Haise tells him, “Arima and I share books with each other a lot.”

“Hmm, if you're into Kafka...” Hide considers something for a moment, “You might really enjoy a certain author I know. Her stuff is sorta inspired by his.”

“What’s her name?”

“Takatsuki Sen. She’s a local author. Heard of her?”

“I can’t say I have.” Haise replies, genuinely interested. “What has she written?”

“Well, there’s her debut work Dear Kafka, as well as her later novels like Salt and Opium, The Black Goat’s Egg, and The Hanged Man’s McGuffin. She’s even got an entire book filled with short stories called Monochrome Rainbow, to name a few.

“You seem to know a lot about her.” the ghoul investigator points out, “Were you a fan before you-” Haise stops himself, unsure if it’s appropriate or not to mention death like it's not a big deal in front of a ghost. "Before you.. err..."

“Before I died?” Hide confirms, clearly not at all uncomfortable, and Haise nods.

I keep forgetting who I’m talking to.

“My best friend was crazy for Takatsuki's stuff,” the blonde says softly, “It’s a little bit too dark for me. I was more of a shounen-manga kinda guy, though I do enjoy some classic mystery, like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

“I see.” Haise murmurs.

Who is this 'friend' that he keeps mentioning? 

“May I ask you something?” he asks timorously.

“Technically you just did.” Hide says lightly, “But go ahead and do it again.”

Haise swallows. “Is this the friend that I remind you of?”

Hide visibly tenses up, his gaze flitting apprehensively to his shoes. Haise immediately regrets asking.

“Yes.” the ghost replies, guarded, “But I would really rather not talk about him. Sorry.”

I guess not everything is like water off a duck's back with this guy.

This friend must play a much bigger role in figuring out Hide than I initially thought. 

Is he the one who ripped up his clothes? The one who caused him so much pain?

“It’s alright,” Haise assures him, “Let’s talk about something else.”

I'll have to try and get information from him a little bit at a time.

“Please.” his companion agrees, and Haise wracks his brain for something, anything, to say, because for once- Hide seems speechless.

He said he was interested in ghouls before, right?

“Have you ever heard of a ghoul called Torso? Akira Mado challenged my colleague and I to identify his face within one month, but it’s not going very well.”

“Can't say I've heard of him. Why is he called Torso? That’s a weird name.”

“We call him that because he only eats his victim’s torso. He doesn’t touch the head and legs for some reason.”

“Weird.” Hide crosses his arms in a thoughtful manner, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a ghoul that doesn’t eat the whole thing.”

“Us either, his behaviour is highly unusual.”

“Do you know anything else about him?” Hide asks, and Haise notes that his eyes are blown wide with obvious fascination.

I really shouldn’t be disclosing all of this information... he thinks guiltily, but then again, he can’t exactly tell anyone, can he? 

“Well, nothing is certain but we think that he could be a taxi driver.” Haise says, having convinced himself that it would be a crime to disappoint someone so innocently interested, “He seems to know his way around the city pretty well, and he interacts with a lot of humans on a daily basis.”

“If he's picky about what he eats, having that sort of job gives him a lot of food options. Maybe he has some sort of fetish?”

“But why would someone have a torso fetish, of all things?” Haise considers own dietary preferences. The CCG supplies him with supposedly ‘clean’ meat, but to him it all tastes the same, regardless of what part of the body it came from. Though he usually tries not to think about it.

“Do his victims have anything in common?” Hide asks, “Like a belly tattoo, or a scar?”

“We... haven't thought to check. What a great idea!" Haise's rather impressed by his insight. That Akira Mado saw something in this boy is definitely believable now. "I’ll have to look into that with my co-worker.”

“Glad to have been of help!” Hide chirps. “Do you have any other cases that you’re working on?” 

Haise tells him about the pesky local dog that they mistook for a ghoul when they first started out, as well as some other amusing issues that his Q-squad has had to deal with over the past two years. Much too soon, it’s nearly midnight, and once again Haise is obliged to retire for the day.

“As much as I'd love to chat even longer, I really shouldn’t get in the habit of staying up this late.” he admits regretfully, and Hide’s cheery expression falters.

“I get it,” he murmurs dolefully, “You’re a busy guy and all that...”

“Hey, I never said I was going to stop coming altogether.” Haise is tempted to place his hand on Hide's shoulder, but stops himself with realization of just what would happen. “I'll just be earlier tomorrow, alright?”

“Of course!” Hide exclaims, freckled face lighting up yet again. “I’m always here so any time is fine!”

"Perfect, I'll see you soon, then."

"Sweet, see ya!"

Haise waves fondly at the ghost as he retreats.

That was nice, he thinks. Even if I didn't know Hide in my past, I'm glad I have the opportunity to get to know him now.

Once again, Sasaki Haise leaves the small park with a ticklish warmth spread throughout his body. 

Hopefully I'll learn more about him tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“We have a lead! Finally!" Mutsuki announces, marvelling at the dozen or so photos of possible suspects of Torso’s real identity.

The two ghoul investigators are at :re once again, in their usual spot, sipping refreshing iced coffee and discussing the details of their work.

“Your idea to look for scars on each victim was our breakthrough!” Mutsuki beams at his mentor who in turn rubs his chin with guilt. After all, it wasn’t exactly he who came up with the idea.

"Yeah, well..." Haise dismisses the compliment with a shrug, but his comrade presses further.

“It’s true, sir! Now we know that Torso is a taxi driver, and that he hangs around hospitals to look for scarred women. Finding him with all of this information will be so much easier!”

Thanks to Hide’s suggestion, Haise and Mutsuki might actually have a chance at capturing the ghoul in question within the one month time limit- a feat Haise was beginning to doubt that he could accomplish.

I owe you one, Hide, he thinks amicably.

“Hmm, well we only have five days left so we'll have to split up to investigate each potential area if we want to find him before the deadline.”

"Why don't we start today then?" Mutsuki glances at his watch for a brief moment, “It's only 11:00, there's still plenty of time.”

"Great idea, Mutsuki! Why don’t you check the taxi drivers around the hospital in the 3rd ward in Ueno, while I check those in the 14th in Sumida?”

“Sure thing," the younger boy squeaks, "I’ll head over right after we’re finished up here!” 

Haise smiles, pleased by Mutsuki's diligence. He hopes they locate Torso quickly, lest any more innocent lives be stolen.

"What do you think of that ghoul that the Hirako squad is investigating?” Mutsuki taps his finger nails against the glass in his hands, “What was his name? Serpent?”

“Yeah, he’s a weird one.” Haise takes a long sip of his drink, “Apparently he’s been hunting other ghouls.”

"Doesn’t cannibalism make ghouls stronger? Is it really that unusual?”

“It does make them stronger, but this guy isn’t hunting them to eat, as far as we can tell. He must have an ulterior motive.”

“Is he really such a problem then? I mean he is doing our job for us, in a way.”

“I've never thought of it like that.” Haise replies, bewildered by the suggestion. “Either way, he is a ghoul. And the CCG eliminates all ghouls regardless of their behaviour for the safety of the Japanese people.”

That is, with one exception, Haise realizes, staring down at the lines etched into his own pale hands.

"I suppose so." Mutsuki takes another sip of his coffee, emptying the glass of amber liquid until only a few shiny ice cubes remain. He sighs contentedly, “Ahhhh! That was refreshing! Kirishima-san’s drinks always hit the spot.”

The barista herself is dusting off a bookshelf near the register, seemingly oblivious to her customer’s compliments.

“Mutsuki, since you’re done you can go on ahead with the investigation.” Haise says, “I’ll stay back and cover the bill.”

“Are you sure, sir?” he asks uncertainly, “I don't mind paying for once. You’re always taking care of me and everyone else.”

“Only because I like to.” Haise gives him a fond smile, “Go on now, okay? And remember that if you find someone suspicious, don’t do anything alone. Let me know right away!”

“Alright.” Mutsuki bows slightly, then leaves the shop with a modest, “Thanks again!”

“See you tonight!”

The tinkling bells indicate that Mutsuki has exited :re, and Haise notes that he still has ample time to both check out the hospital and visit Hide like he'd promised.

He'll be so thrilled when I tell him how he saved our investigation.

Haise finishes off his own iced coffee, then collects all of the files and photographs on the table. Feeling rather optimistic, he heads over to the register area to pay for his and Mutsuki’s coffees.

Kirishima is there but she's busy with another customer, so Haise waits patiently for them to finish up. He glances absently at the shelf that Kirishima was dusting earlier. Sometimes customers come into the shop just to sip coffee and read- Haise included. There's something about the tranquil and cozy atmosphere of coffee shops that he adores for such a thing. He scans through dozens of novels and magazines of various genres. He's looked through them before but this time, one particular novel jumps out at him most. He pulls it out and examines the slightly weathered cover.

The Black Goat’s Egg by Takatsuki Sen... isn’t this that author that Hide recommended to me?

“I had a feeling you’d pick that up.” A cool voice comes from beside him. Haise turns to see Kirishima alone, now observing him. “You can borrow it if you like.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you. Thanks.” Haise replies, and Kirishima smirks at him. She's not much of a smiler.

“Don’t mention it, you’re one of our regulars after all.”

He carefully tucks the novel into his bag, and proceeds to pay her for the drinks.

He thanks her one last time, and heads out to catch the train to the 14th ward so he too can get a head start on the Torso investigation.

Then, I’ll stop by the park on my way home.

 


  

After a short walk he arrives at the train station. It isn't rush hour, so Haise is lucky enough to grab a seat on the train. The commute to Sumida should be around 30 minutes, so he pulls out The Black Goat’s Egg to kill some time. 

He feels its weight in his hands, slowly running his fingers along the spine. The book is slightly worn, as if it has been lovingly read over many, many times. On the inside cover, Haise spots the initials K.K written in black fountain pen.

Not T.K? Isn’t Kirishima’s first name Touka?  Haise leans back against the bench, making himself comfortable. Maybe someone gave this to her. Perhaps a sibling…

The ghoul investigator simply shrugs to himself. He flips to the first page and plunges in headfirst.

 


 

Haise spends about four hours observing different taxi drivers near the hospital in the 14th ward, however, nothing seems unordinary or dubious about any of them. They don’t smell or act like ghouls should, and for that reason he doubts that any could be suspicious.

I'll just have to check the next hospital tomorrow.

He tries not to let the lack of progress discourage him, and reminds himself that he still has a few days left to identify, and hopefully capture the troublesome Torso.

Of course, Mutsuki, or even Urie and Shirazu could find him too. Though I hope they don't do anything rash if they're first.

Haise approaches the small park for the third time that week. The sky is cloudless and the sun is shining brilliantly, creeping slowly towards the horizon where it will soon set. Thankfully there are no families or children around, as they are most likely eating dinner at home.

The giant resident whale stares blankly at him, and he realizes that Hide's figure is not upon its back. He glances around worriedly, but is relieved when he spots him seated on one of the swings, with his feet dangling down freely, instead of up in their normal spot.

The ghoul investigator claims the swing beside his friend. “Nice afternoon, isn’t it?”

“Ah, hey, Haise.” the other replies, taken a little bit off guard, "Yeah it's lovely out today."

Haise notices immediately that his friend is not in as cheerful a mood as usual. He wears an uncharacteristically heavy expression, and Haise hopes that his good news will chase it away.

“Remember that case I told you about yesterday?” Haise asks, and the other gives him a nod, “We now have 13 suspects, all thanks to your scar theory! It really saved us. I owe you one.”

Hide flashes one of his usually contagious grins, but this time it seems empty. Fake.

Or have they always been like this, and I’ve just started noticing their true nature now?

“Glad I could be useful.” Hide replies, and Haise can't help but feel a little bit disappointed by his lack of enthusiasm.

The two dangle on the swings aimlessly for a few moments, completely alone within the small playground, only the ominous squeaking of the swing set tinkling in their ears. Haise then remembers the book that Kirishima lent him sitting in his bag, and takes it out as another attempt to cheer him up.

“Look at what I started reading,” he flashes his borrowed copy of The Black Goat’s Egg. “I really like it so far, thank you for recommending it to me!”

The blonde stares at it with a melancholic look in his eyes as if it were not just a worn out book in Haise's hands but something more- like a polaroid of an old friend...

I'm thinking too much, Haise decides.

"No problem, I hope you enjoy the ending.” the blonde replies, briefly meeting Haise's gaze, “There’s a surprising twist.”

“I’m sure I will.” Haise grins in return, then tucks the book back away in his bag “I didn’t expect your friend to have such morbid taste in literature.”

“Yeah, that’s a pretty gruesome story.” Hide's eyes trickle down to stare at the sand below their feet.

Haise sees his own footprints leading from the edge of the sandbox to his swing, however, the sand beneath Hide remains completely smooth- a second pair of prints nonexistent.

"Maybe that’s exactly why he liked Takatsuki’s stuff so much.” Hide mumbles, mostly to himself, “He probably found it relatable.”

Relatable…?

There is something wrong about Hide's expression, and it strikes Haise very suddenly, because it is full of deep sorrow, and Haise realizes suddenly that this is Hide’s reality. This isn't a fictional story. He's a ghost, and he has been suffering more and more each day for god knows how long.

Haise nearly facepalms himself for his utter stupidity.

What am I doing? he asks himself incredulously. I’ve been wasting so much time... chatting with him about the weather and geeking out about books. Selfishly worrying about my own memories.

Those things aren't important right now. How could I forget exactly who it is I’m talking to? 

Haise feels the need to stand up and prove his point, to show Hide how serious he is, so he hops off the swing and plants himself right in front of the ghost to look him square in the eyes.

“I’ve been a bad friend to you.” he says adamantly, his resolve now rock solid.

"... what do you mean?”

I need to be completely honest with him.

“You’ve been here, suffering alone, for such a dreadfully long time.” Haise says, and Hide appears taken aback by the direction of their conversation. “And finally someone shows up who can see you, who can help you- but all I’ve been doing is wasting time talking about trifling things."

“Haise,” he replies with false assurance “I’m fine, I like talking to you, stop wor-”

“No,” the ghoul investigator says, interrupting his friend's denial. He grips the chains suspending Hide’s swing with both hands, which creates a creaky rattling noise, and Hide jolts slightly at the suddenness of it. “You’re lying. I know you’re not happy living like this. I can see it in the way you smile- It’s not genuine. I don’t know how I can tell, I just can.”

Hide remains quiet- too frazzled by Haise’s stubbornness to protest.

"Maybe in another life we could have done this properly. This friendship... " Haise trails off, "But not now. Not with you like this. We have to stop deluding ourselves.”

He can see the ghost bite down stubbornly on his trembling bottom lip, clearly apprehensive about finally acknowledging the elephant in the room.

“Sorry it took me so long to realize how much you're hurting. Please- please let me help you.” Haise implores, and Hide’s chestnut eyes grow wide. “Let’s figure this out together."

“Okay.” Hide agrees weakly. “But where do we start?”

Haise lights up, hope permeating inside of him because finally, Hide will let him in.

“You need to tell me what happened to you.” Haise takes a seat in the sand right in front of him so he can look at him as he speaks, “How your clothes got shredded, why your friend likes horror stories. Everything. Tell me everything.”

Chapter Text

“I'm not gonna say his name,” Hide says with an apologetic look on his face, “I can't, sorry.”

“That’s alright.” Haise assures him.

The two have relocated to the top of the whale again, and are now sitting cross-legged facing one another.

“Don’t push yourself. Just tell me what you can.”

"Okay.” Hide agrees, then steels himself with a deep breath as if he's gathering something up inside him. “I’ll start from the very beginning,

We were children when we met, but I guess you could say that I kinda forced myself on him at first. He was always a bit shy and reserved- the type of person who would rather get lost in a book then go to a party.”

Haise nods, listening with apt interest. He can certainly relate.

“When we were ten, his mom passed away. He had already lost his dad when he was four and his only remaining relatives were mean to him, so all he really had left was me. That’s why I swore to myself that I would always be there for him no matter what.

Throughout all of our years in school together he and I were attached at the hip. There was this American restaurant, Big Girl, that we went to all the time…” a wistful yet forlorn expression spreads across Hide’s freckled face, “I think their burgers reminded him of his mom’s cooking. And we came to this park a lot too. We’d lay down right here in this very spot to gaze at the stars, pointing out different constellations, sometimes for hours on end. Those were the good ol' days." 

“What changed?” Haise ponders.

"Well, when he and I were freshmen at Kamii we started going to this little café called Anteiku in the 20th Ward.” Hide continues, “It’s gone now, but he had a thing for this girl named Rize who frequented the place because she also read Takatsuki. We had no idea that she was a ghoul until they went on a date.”

Hide’s gaze casts down with visible regret.

“If only I discouraged him a little more... this whole tragedy coulda' been avoided. But at the same time that would've made me a bad friend, y'know?"

“So what happened on their date?” Haise prompts, afraid of the answer.

"I'm not sure of the exact details.” Hide says, “She attacked him of course, but then there was some sorta construction accident? But it wasn't accidental at all. Rize was killed, and my friend was seriously injured. They saved [Hide makes air quotes at this] his life by transplanting her organs into his body, but... I later learned that the surgery turned him half-ghoul too."

Tensing up, Haise folds his arms in on himself.

Half-ghoul... like me...

“After that, everything changed. Neither of us knew right away what they'd done to him, so after he was admitted from the hospital I took him to celebrate at Big Girl. Except everything he ate made him throw up, even his favourite burger. He skipped school for a few weeks after that. I was super worried but I thought maybe he just needed some space to heal, so I brought him notes from class so he wouldn’t fall behind.

He came back one day with an eyepatch and a new love for black coffee. What struck me the most though, was that he had this exhausted, hopeless look- it felt wrong, because he was always such an optimist. It was something I really admired about him. I became suspicious, and even when I asked him directly if he was eating properly he just insisted that he was fine.

Later that same day, he and I were attacked by a different ghoul. I was knocked out immediately so I didn’t see anything, but when I woke up I was in Anteiku, that coffee shop from before, and banged up pretty badly. I was laying on a guest bed when I overheard him talking to the manager- that’s when my suspicions were confirmed. He got injured during the fight and the smell of my blood, of... of human meat, tempted his new ghoul instincts. He nearly lost control and devoured me. I can remember the sound of his sobbing so clearly- he was devastated by what he'd become and decided that the only way to keep me safe was to distance himself from me. From other ghouls, but also from himself.

So he got a job at Anteiku, which was actually run by friendly ghouls, and they taught him how to survive. Of course, I didn’t care that he'd become a ghoul. He was my best friend, and I still trusted him more than anyone. Even if he believed he was a danger to me I couldn’t just let him walk outta' my life after all we've been through.” Hide frowns, and shifts in his seat, “He started to avoid me after that, saying he was busy with work or something whenever I invited him out. The only time I saw him was when I deliberately visited Anteiku since he couldn’t avoid me there. A few months later though... he disappeared completely, even from the shop. There were posters of his face plastered all over the neighbourhood, and I was absolutely sick with worry-" Hide then says in a voice barely audible, "Though it never really mattered how I felt."

"Yes it did. It still does." Haise assures him. He's sure his gentle expression would warrant Saiko calling him Maman again. "I asked for your story, Hide. Your feelings are just as important. So share them with me."

"Alright, alright." Hide resigns, looking up from beneath his long lashes, "I was desperate. Nothing else mattered except finding him- I barely ate, barely slept until my body stopped functioning. I came up with the idea of joining the CCG as an errand boy, hoping to overhear some information about his whereabouts.

I did, as luck would have it. He was alive, but his appearance changed, and he was living as an SS rated ghoul that the CCG called Eyepatch. But my heart nearly stopped, because he was deemed by the CCG as critically insane.”

Eyepatch... Haise echoes internally, Eyepatch...

"Do you know what cannibalism does to ghouls?" Hide asks warily.

"It makes them stronger.” Haise replies, “But at a very high price."

"Yeah,” Hide confirms in a soft voice, “It makes them lose all semblance of themselves. And for him, it nearly took away what was left of his humanity. He became a true monster... a kakuja.

Haise swallows nervously.

Why do I feel as if I’ve heard this story before?

“I didn't want to believe it, but the last time I saw my friend was the night that I died.”

Oh, oh no…  Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say.

Hide is quiet for a while, and Haise shivers in fear of what he somehow knows is coming.

"CCG raided Anteiku when I finally found him. He was below in the sewers, bleeding, broken, and just as insane as they warned me. But when I approached him he murmured my name and told me to run because he could barely control his bloodlust. I was feeling a mix of things." Hide admitted, "Heartbroken, at having to see him in such a state. Angry, as it wasn't ever his fault." Hide's voice cracks with emotion, and Haise suddenly feels terrible making him recall such memories, however necessary, "But I was also so damn happy. Because he was alive. He remembered me, and I actually had a shot at saving him. He'd given up so much of himself to get stronger and protect us all, but this time the CCG was coming to exterminate him, and he was too weak to escape, so I did the only thing that I could.”

“Hide, no-”

“I gave my body to him, so that he could survive, and have a chance, however small, at becoming his lovely, gentle self again, instead of dying as a monster.”

There is a charged silence for a few moments, and Haise feels something somber bubble in his chest, weighing heavy.

“You must have loved him very much to do such a thing.” he says, and Hide smiles at him.

Haise can tell that this time, Hide's smile is genuine.

“I love him more than anything.” he admits tenderly, “And I would do it all again, just for him.”

How romantic, Haise thinks despite the tragedy of it all. He'd be lying if he didn't admit he's envious.

“So where is he now? Did he manage to escape?”

Hide shakes his head dismally.

“I don’t know.... after I woke up like this-” he gestures to his ghostly body, “I searched for him, for months straight, all day and night, but I found nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

"He’s still missing?!"

Oh god, it can’t be...  Hide’s story, my lost memories…

It all fits so perfectly- but I don’t want it to be true…

Because then I would’ve been the one to have done this to him.

“Did my sacrifice not work?” Hide asks, voice hoarse, “Was it all for nothing?”

If Hide could cry in his state of being, Haise is sure he would be sobbing right now. He has never seen someone so utterly anguished.

“I’ve felt so helpless this entire time…” He croaks, taking a deep breath,“ I thought my body would at least be worth something. The person I loved most in the world had to suffer so much and there was absolutely nothing I could do. It’s just so unfair.“

Should I tell him?  Haise rubs his chin worriedly. But what if I’m wrong? It’s only a possibility, after all.

What if it’s all just a coincidence and I hurt him even more?

On a whim, he lifts his hand up to Hide’s knee. He can’t feel it, obviously, but he holds it up anyways to create the illusion that he is. He feels awkward but he hopes the gesture is comforting nonetheless.

“Hide,” he murmurs soothingly, “It’s going to be all right. You’re not alone anymore. I’m here, and I want to help you. You're my friend, you're worth something to me."

The ghost nods morosely, and Haise takes a deep breath too.

I should look into this ‘eyepatch’ before I say anything about my own memories, Haise decides, but the least I can do is tell him that I’m a ghoul. I owe him that much honesty.

“There’s something important I should tell you about me before we do anything though. Depending on which, you may or may not continue to trust me... you may not want to be my friend.”

Hide blinks a few times, "What is it?” 

Haise opens his mouth to speak, but he halts when he hears the clicking sound of footsteps getting louder and louder.

The ghost and the ghoul investigator direct their attention to the disruption, and they spy an older man dressed in khakis and a shoddy t-shirt approaching their park.

Dammit, please don’t stop here, Haise pleads, I was just about to say something important.

Sure enough the man spots the ghoul investigator up atop the whale, and shoots him a questioning look. He then proceeds to sprawl himself out on a nearby park bench, lighting up a cigarette.

“I was hoping he wouldn’t come today.” Hide says tiredly, knowing that the man can’t hear him, “What terrible timing.”

He must be homeless, Haise curses inwardly at his luck, I can’t speak freely about me being a ghoul with a civilian right there. Not to mention I'm in my CCG uniform...

Haise pulls out his cell phone and types out a message. He then slides the phone in front of Hide.

[Do you think he will stay here long?]

Hide nods his head despondently, “He usually stays the night.”

Haise sighs, then types out another question.

[Should I come back tomorrow?]

“Yeah, that'd be best.”

[I’ll be back, then. See you soon, Hide :-) ]

“I'll be waiting,” he says.

Haise gives Hide a promising look, then proceeds to let himself down from the whale structure. He straightens his coat, and nods politely at the man.

The man nods back, then tilts his head back to puff out a large plume of smoke, which swirls into the air and rises high into the clouds.

 


 

After leaving the park, Haise heads straight to CCG headquarters in the 1st ward. He enters the huge glass building through a secret door at the back, since he and the rest of the Q squad can’t pass through the RC scan gates at the entrance.

Many CCG staff members have gone home for the evening, so the usually bustling hallways are rather empty at this time. He hops in an elevator to the fourth floor, and makes his way over to the archive room; a huge space where detailed mirofilm records of every single ghoul and ghoul related incident are sorted into rows upon rows of filing cabinets.

Eyepatch… he thinks, as he searches through a cabinet labelled D-E.

Demon Yamada, Dogu, Donato Porpora, Eto, Enji Koma…

To Haise’s dismay, the name doesn’t show up. He scans through the rest of the cabinets, just to be sure that the record wasn’t just accidentally misplaced.

He is about to triple check the D-E cabinet when a woman’s voice says into his ear, “You’re in the wrong section.”

He nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees the dainty face of Mado Akira peering over his shoulder.

“Akira, you scared me!” he yelps, caught very much off guard by her sudden appearance.

“You were so focused that you didn’t even sense my approach.” she accuses him, “You need to be more observant, Sasaki.” 

“Yes, mother.” he replies jokingly, but receives an unamused look in return.

“Please don’t call me that.” she sighs, and Haise shrugs sheepishly. It's nice calling someone else 'mother' for once. “Aren’t you looking for Torso? His case is too recent to show up in the archives.”

“Ah, no, I’m not looking for Torso.” Haise then supposes that Akira might know a thing or two since she’s been around much longer than he has, “I wanted to find information on a ghoul called Eyepatch. He was a past case- heard of him?”

Haise is certain that she recognizes the name by the flash of astonishment in her eyes, but she shakes her head, a little too quickly.

“I haven’t.” she replies evasively, “You should be focusing on the Torso case since there are only four days left before the deadline. Don't get distracted.”

“I’ll find him on time,” Haise assures her, “We’ve got some great leads.”

“Good,” she places a hand on his back and gently ushers him away from the cabinets, out of the archive room. “Capture him alive if you can, since he could know some useful information about Serpent, Urie and Shirazu's case.”

“Can do.” Haise promises, and Akira stops and pushes him into an open elevator.

“See you in four days, Sasaki.” she says as Haise backs up inside.

“Maybe less!” he quips as the steel doors close.

Wait a minute… he realizes as Akira’s waving form disappears from his view, Was I just blatantly herded out?

 


 

As soon as the elevator doors close, Akira rips out her cell phone, then dials Kishou Arima’s number with urgent violence. She taps her foot impatiently as the line rings. Her superior picks up the other end.

“Yes?” Arima's drawling voice answers.

“He just asked me about Eyepatch.” Akira says brusquely, skipping the pleasantries, “I didn’t tell him anything though.”

“Good, even the slightest implication could trigger a memory.”

“What do we do if he does remember?”

“If he loses control, I will not hesitate to exterminate him.”

The lack of sympathy in Arima’s tone is unnerving, and Akira hopes that such drastic measures will not be necessary- she rather likes Sasaki Haise. He's gentle and quirky but still efficient and responsible.

“Until then,” Arima adds, “We can only remain cautious and hope for the best.”

“Understood,” she says compliantly, “I'll let you know if anything else happens.”

“Keep an eye on him.” Arima warns her, then briskly hangs up.

Akira sighs, and slips her cell back into her pocket.

Please, Haise, suppress your curiosity for your own good.

I can’t bear to see another person I care for die young...

 

Chapter Text

Haise spends the next day investigating near a local hospital in Asakusabashi's 9th ward. He leans against a wall in the hospital’s drop-off zone where he can listen in and get a clear view of every taxi driver that stops by.

He can’t seem to get his heart really into it- he can’t focus properly. It’s too early for him to go to back to the park in Sumida but there are so many unanswered questions swirling around inside his head, like jumbled debris in the heart of a storm.

Could I really be Hide’s lost friend?  he ponders, Am I Eyepatch?

Anxious, he lifts his hand to touch his face, near the eye where his kakugan appears.

Not only are we both half-ghoul, but my memories also stop around the same time that Hide died.

Haise brings his hand down, sees that it's trembling like a leaf.

There are too many coincidences, too many pieces that fit together a little too perfectly.

If only I knew my name… that would definitely confirm it.

Another taxi stops right in front of Haise but he can’t bring himself to care about the assignment in the slightest any more. There's a blockage in his brain, and it's artificial, forcibly jammed into place. It feels more foreign than ever and his mind can't stop prodding at it, like a curious child would a dead bird with a stick on the sidewalk.

But I don’t want it to be true, Haise thinks despairingly. What would he do with myself if he's the one who killed Hide? The one who unknowingly broke his heart? Who caused him to suffer more than any person should?

If I tell him about me, and my suspicions are true, does that mean Hide will finally move on into the afterlife? Will he finally be liberated?

Does he owe him that much at least, if all this really is true?

“Argghhh!” Haise growls in frustration, tugging at his hair roughly.

“If you want to go bald I can suggest to you less painful ways.” a voice says, and Haise looks up with wide eyes to the amused smirk of one Kirishima Touka.

“Oh, h-hello!” the ghoul investigator chokes, shocked at seeing his favourite barista in civilian clothing rather than her usual black apron.

“I’m not trying to go bald.” he adds sheepishly, “Just a little stressed out.”

“I see.” Kirishima hums sympathetically, “I can imagine working for the CCG must be stressful. Are you here investigating?”

“Yes, but I’m not allowed to give you any details. Sorry about that.” he notices that she is carrying a small bouquet of flowers and asks, “Are you visiting someone?”

“An acquaintance.” she answers vaguely, "Oh, by the way, feel free to keep that book I lent you. Nobody reads it anyways."

"But wasn't it a gift? There are someones initials written inside it. K.K, it said." 

"I got it from a thrift shop. Who knows who K.K is? Could be anyone." she politely nods her head, “Now if you’ll excuse me- I won't keep you from your work any longer.”

“Alright, it was nice seeing you, Kirishima! Thanks again!” Haise waves her off as she walks through the large glass doors.

Left once again to his own conflicting thoughts, Haise literally forces himself to focus on his assignment.

Hide and I can figure this out together later, he decides, I need to look for Torso right now.

The ghoul investigator settles himself against the brick wall for a second time, and studies each taxi driver that comes his way with newfound scrutiny.

 


 

When later finally arrives, Haise is pleased to see that the tiredness from before is no longer prominent in Hide’s demeanour. It makes him a little less anxious about revealing his darkest secret.

Tonight I'll tell him everything, About my memories, about the fact that I’m a ghoul. Absolutely everything.

“So.” he says, unsure of where to begin.

“So.” Hide echoes lightly.

Haise steels himself, and looks into Hide's chestnut eyes with determination.

“The things that I want to tell you,” he begins cautiously, “They may change everything. Are you okay with that?”

“I trust you.” Hide replies with ease. "You're my friend too, Haise."

The declaration thrills Haise, sending his insides alight for reasons unknown to him, however a voice begins nagging at him from the back of his mind, slipping past that forsaken blockade-

You don't deserve to be his friend, it jeers, because you know, deep down inside,

that all of this is your fault.

Haise breathes in, not letting his insecurities sway his resolve. Because what else could that be? He exhales conscientiously.

“I should have told you right away,” he announces, and Hide raises his eyebrows questioningly.

Out with it, Haise grimaces, make him hate you

make him fear you

“I’m not human." he nearly blurts. "I’m part ghoul.”

He studies Hide's youthful face for any changes in expression, however, no immediate fear or resentment is obvious.

“Oh.” Hide replies simply. He rakes his eyes over Haise’s body and says, “I never woulda’ guessed. Uh, how are you in the CCG?”

He doesn’t see the connection, Haise realizes woefully.

He takes another long breath, wills his negativity to stay at bay, while the rest nearly tumbles out of his mouth.

“I’m missing memories from the first 20 years of my life.” he says breathlessly, “I did something that was so terrible that the CCG had to erase them. I work for them because I have nothing else- just what they've they've given me. And they've done so much, I'm truly grateful. They're the family I never had. But I really don't remember anything."

Hide is silent as the new knowledge is absorbed. Haise can pinpoint the exact moment when he starts to make the connection, because his eyes grow as wide as saucers.

"Not even your name?"

"No, not even my name."

Hide mumbles disbelievingly, “You're just like…”

Haise nods, knowing that Hide is beginning to suspect the same thing that he is.

“There’s a possibility, and I’m sure that you're considering it too-”

Suddenly, they are interrupted when a loud ringing noise erupts from Haise's pocket. Cursing, he scrambles to grab his cell phone and decline the call. Whoever it is can wait, this conversation is much more important.

“Sorry.” he grumbles, and Hide just stares at him, completely flabbergasted.

“Haven’t you wondered why I'm the only one who can see you? If we consider the facts, it just makes so much sense.”

Please, please tell me I'm wrong.

“H-Haise, I-”

Again, Haise’s cell phone blares disruptively.

Now is literally the worst possible time for this. 

He growls, ripping the thing out again, then glances at the caller- Shirazu. He’s left over 20 frantic messages, all reading something similar to, [SOS! SASSAN THERES AN EMERGENCY PICK UP YOUR PHONE ASAP]

“Hide, I’m so sorry but, could you excuse me for a moment? My friends- I think it's an emergency.” 

"'Kay." Hide says weakly, still clearly contemplating the information that had been thrown at him.

Haise crunches in Shirazu’s number then smashes his cell phone to his ear. "Hello?"

"SASSAN! GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!" Shirazu’s frantic voice rips through the speakers.

"I’m kind of in the middle of something,” he tells his comrade, “Why? What happened?"

Haise can hear hectic screams mixed with the shrieking of police sirens in the background, which is never a good sign.

"IT’S MUTSUKI, THAT IDIOT,” Shirazu yelps, “GOT HIMSELF CAPTURED BY TORSO-"

"WHAT?" Haise barks, a jolt of panic coursing through his body. Mutsuki...

“ME AND URIE SPOTTED HIM GET INTO HIS TAXI, THEN THEY STARTED FIGHTING, AND SOMETIME IN BETWEEN GODDAMN SERPENT SHOWED UP-”

"Where are you?" Haise immediately scrambles to his feet.

"GINZA- IN A TUNNEL NEAR THE PLASTIC SURGERY HOSPITAL!"

“I’ll be there ASAP, don’t do anything reckless!”

Haise mashes the ‘end call’ button, then turns to his companion with a desperate look in his eyes.

“Hide, god, I’m so sorry for this.” he blurts, “My friend is in danger, I have to go right now!”

Haise gracelessly throws himself off of the structure, nearly wiping out in his haste to get on the ground.

“We’re not done this conversation! I’ll be back as soon as possible!” he calls out as he runs off, leaving a very confused and dumbfounded ghost behind him. “Sorry again!”

 


 

When Haise arrives at the scene, he is relieved to see Torso incapacitated and tied up, Mutsuki is sagging against Shirazu, however the moment Haise lays eyes on them, a tentacle-like kagune lash out towards them both.

Ghoul reflexes kicking in, Haise reaches for his quinque, the Koukaku Yukimura ⅓ which was used by none other than Kishou Arima in his earlier days, and slices the threatening ligament in half.

“Sassan!”

“Sasaki!”

Mutsuki and Shirazu exclaim in unison.

Urie is also there, and a little bloodied up- he was probably the one who caught Torso, but Haise keeps his eyes on the second ghoul assailant who is standing before him clad in a snake-like mask. 

This has to be Serpent, he realizes. 

Haise sees Serpent inch toward Mutsuki, and immediately his protectiveness flares up.

“DON’T TOUCH MY SQUAD!” he screams furiously, proceeding to slash at the ghoul with his quinque.

Serpent dodges every strike with ease, clearly much stronger than Haise had anticipated. Needing the boost, Haise wills his kagune to come out, however all he can feel is a teasing prickle near his tailbone.

Serpent barks something like, “Shut up, will you?” and plunges the sharp points of his own kagune forward toward Haise.

Panicked, Haise ducks to avoid a blow from the front, however he is taken completely off guard when Serpent’s kagune slips around him instead, and pierces him deeply in the back.

He’s strong… Haise doubles over, coughing up a stream of blood, it’s been awhile since I’ve fought a ghoul like this.

He raises his sleeve to wipe off his chin, the snowy fabric darkening to crimson.

My kagune isn’t even coming out...

You’re weak, Haise. 

A sinister voice says, and the ghoul investigator freezes in shock.

This voice… from before...

At this rate, he will kill your squad.

You're useless.

Incapable of protecting anything.

Haise can’t move, can’t even think properly.

The voice. He knows this voice. He'd heard it earlier- thought it was just the product of his own insecurities and imagination.

But he knows now. He knows.

It is the voice of a monster, but it is also his own.

And it's come loose.

Come a little closer, it’s cold, it taunts, and Haise hears the ominous clicking of footsteps as it approaches. Let me in.

I  can help you defeat him.

There is a light tap on his shoulder, and hot breath tickles his ear. 

Haise doubles around, but no one has touched him- Serpent is way over there-

Hey~ 

You're the one who killed Hide, aren't you?  He asks, hands trembling with burgeoning rage. He does not receive an answer.

Accept me, and maybe you'll find out, the voice implores.

A strange but familiar force tugs at Haise's consciousness. It is menacing, yet powerful.

And so very tempting.

You want to protect everyone, right? 

I don't need it! Haise hisses defiantly. 

Serpent makes another swipe at him, and he dodges it by mere millimeters. Panting, he avoids another, but in his head is a chorus of hey hey hey hey hey hey~

Get out of my head! Haise demands.

He glances at Mutsuki and the rest who are watching him with concern. Serpent uses the distraction to deliver a merciless blow to his ribs, which in turn knocks Haise into a brick wall hard enough to shatter one.

All he sees is blackness, the rubble obstructing his view, but in his mind he still hears it.

Heeeeeeeeeeey~

I won't be brought down by something like this, he declares, bursting out of the debris.

"Sasaki!"

"Sassan!"

Haise spits a mouthful of blood out on the pavement.

I'll show my comrades that I'm worthy of being their leader.

“Mutsuki, contact Akira.” Haise orders his underling, and begins to focus his energy on controlling the prickling in his lower back. He will get his kagune to cooperate with his own strength.

Hide... he thinks as the sensation becomes stronger.

He can feel the heat rushing to that one spot, until it is full, and then it is overflowing. The organ bursts out of his body like a tiger lily in bloom, and with it, Haise feels infinitely more powerful- as if he has been awakened to his truest form.

“His kagune…” Shirazu mutters from the sidelines, and an astounding tension fills the crisp air as the quinque squad observe their leader's transformation.

Serpent beckons him forward.

"Nice to see you're serious now." he sneers.

Haise plunges, and the battle continues, both parties equally adept. When Haise easily lands the first hit, the thrill of it fuels his newfound conviction.

He hears Shirazu and Mutsuki gasp in amazement at his sudden strength. His confidence surges, and he purposely dodges each impending assault by a hair’s breadth, picking up his quinque for added offence.

He is getting too ahead of himself, too overconfident, and when he looks back at his friends with pride, he sees them panicking- Torso has escaped- 

Oh no, no no no-

Serpent seizes the opportunity to send a particularly nasty stab right through his abdomen. He flings Haise across the road, and he lands headfirst onto the pavement, agony filling every fibre of his being-

Shit, my regeneration isn’t working, he notices desolately as the blood pours out of the gaping hole in his stomach and onto the cement.

He can hear his comrades yelling something.

I've disappointed them.

I'm not worthy.

I'm too weak.

He tries to stand up, but his legs fail him. His strength has exhausted as quickly as it came. He doesn't even want to fight anymore.

What do I do? he panics, I can’t just die here.

I can’t leave Hide alone...

Then, as if it has been summoned, the voice returns.

Hey~ it whispers.

And maybe it has been.

 


 

Tooru is more than stunned when his mentor springs to his feet, a pool of blood surrounding him, and a cheshire-cat-like grin spreading across his face.

“Sir! Please stop!” he begins to protest, horrified by the blatant hole torn through Sasaki's chest, “Let us help you! You’re in no condition-”

“Rank 3 Mutsuki,” Sasaki responds icily, and the distant sound of his voice sends an electric chill through Tooru’s system. “This is an order from your superior. Stay away.”

Something has changed, that much is obvious. Tooru can only gape as his mentor cracks his knuckles with newfangled power.

Shirazu grabs his arm insistently, “Mutsuki, just leave him,”

Aghast, Tooru watches as his mentor and the ghoul known as Serpent exchange some more heated taunts. He and Shirazu are  floored by how alien... no, how sinister their mentor looks and sounds.

 

Tooru watches dumbfounded as their once gentle, witty friend attacks without restraint, ripping the unexpecting Serpent apart without a shred of mercy. His aim is not to capture or to knock him unconscious as it is supposed to be. It is not even to kill.

His goal is payback times a thousand, and to Tooru, it is absolutely terrifying.

He's like a completely different person.

Urie went after the escaped Torso, but if he'd seen Sasaki like this... he might've taken their mentor down himself.

Moments later, Sasaki's prey is nothing short of maimed, remains finally thrown down onto the ground. Serpent's mask shatters, and the face beneath appears to be that of a young man.

Mutsuki pities him.

“You…” Haise murmurs, eyes going from manic to bewildered as he gets a close look at Serpent’s identity. Recognition becomes visible on his face, and Tooru cannot help but wonder, Does Sasaki know this guy?

“For real,” the fallen ghoul laughs weakly, he's on the verge of death, “No matter where you go,"

Sasaki simply stares at him, speechless.

"You’re helpless Kaneki.”

 

Chapter Text

It all happened in a hazy blur.

Haise received some sort of phone call, started freaking about a friend of his, then very abruptly took off- spewing out promises and apologies to Hide, who was left alone in the park with a dumbstruck expression across his face.

It was just too much information to take in, all of it incredibly sudden.

Now, Hide finds himself still sitting atop the whale structure, the gears in his mind turning as realization dawns on him.

“There’s a possibility, and I’m sure that you’re considering it too.” Haise had said.

It’s more than just possible, Hide thinks, from what you’ve told me… I’m sure now that it’s true.

Hide has long since accepted that Kaneki Ken is dead. He had spent months searching ceaselessly for him, without success, and was eventually forced to give up when there was nowhere left in the city to look.

Hide had finally begun learning to exist with his new body- with the arduous void that Kaneki’s death had left in his heart when he met Sasaki Haise on that fateful summer night.

Yes, he was immediately struck by how impossibly similar the ghoul investigator was to his best friend. How could he not be? They shared the same mannerisms and habits, and later as he'd come to discover, the same interests and morals. Most importantly to Hide, they had the exact same eyes. The last time Hide had looked into those eyes... they had been a mix of black and crimson- ravenous and clouded with bloodlust.

But Hide would much rather recall his best friend’s eyes for their interesting shade- they changed from stormy gray to brilliant silver depending on the emotions brewing behind them. Kaneki’s eyes were intelligent, gentle, and mesmerizing. Hide was certain that he knew their complexities better than any other, and upon meeting Sasaki Haise, he could not deny that the stranger’s eyes were exactly the same.

At first, Hide didn’t allow himself to suspect that the ghoul investigator could be the same person. He convinced himself that it was all coincidence- coincidence that Haise was the only one who could see him, coincidence that he and Kaneki were so fundamentally alike.

Because after all, if Haise was in fact Kaneki, wouldn’t that mean that Hide had (quite ironically) found him at last? That he had actually succeeded in saving his best friend’s life two years ago?

He quotes one of his favourite detective novels, "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." 

He can't deny it anymore, for there are no coincidences, just truths disguised as them;

Sasaki Haise missing 20 years worth of memories, Sasaki Haise joining the CCG around the same time that Kaneki had ‘died’, Sasaki Haise the half-ghoul, who loves Kafka and now Takatsuki, and has the same eyes as Kaneki. 

But the most decisive, crucial fact is that the moment Nagachika Hideyoshi had met Sasaki Haise he had fallen in love all over again.

“This changes everything,” Hide realizes, hopping to his feet as if he's reached some sort of epiphany.

Kaneki is alive. 

Hide is so incredibly relieved, his heart swollen to bursting, and he is sure that under other physical circumstances he'd be sobbing fat tears of joy.

Kaneki, though his memories are missing and his name has changed, has a family that loves him, a job he is passionate about, and most importantly, the monster consuming him has been suppressed. He no longer needs to hide things or kill anyone- ghoul or otherwise. His life may not ever be normal, but he is undoubtedly happy. At last, for once in his life.

It's all Hide had really ever wanted for him, and he has never quite known what getting what he wants feels like.

I really did it, a gleaming smile creeps it's way onto Hide's face. 

I saved him.

It's like a massive weight has lifted from Hide's shoulders, and instead of feeling cold nothing like he has for the past two years, a ticklish, airy sensation spreads throughout his body.

He can only describe it as utter contentment.

“Is this it for me?” he ponders out loud, “Is the Big Guy in the sky finally gonna come get me?”

Unsure of what to do next, Hide just waits with giddy expectance, twiddling his thumbs in the meantime.

His thoughts return to Kaneki- to Haise- and he feels a single pang of selfish disappointment.

I wish I could have touched him one last time.

Hide can tell that Haise hasn't grasped how deeply he really felt for Kaneki. There was a time when Hide attempted to convince himself it was a silly, temporary thing- that physical desires for those close to you naturally accompanied puberty, but even then he never truly believed it.

Hide fell hard and slow for Kaneki Ken, like an avalanche building, a tidal wave mounting. He watched it approach with helplessness until it all came crashing down around him.

Kaneki Ken had meant more to Hide than his own life. There was nothing silly or temporary about it.

And he was lucky that his best friend was oblivious when it came to matters concerning himself, because Hide had never been the best at hiding it. 

Haise, like Kaneki, must certainly have no idea.

It's better that I didn't tell him, Hide acquiesces, because what would be the use in confessing it out loud now anyways? Haise doesn’t remember their life together, so why remind him and make him feel guilty?

The last thing he wants is for Haise to feel the regrets Hide does. (Besides, it's not like a living, breathing person could ever love a ghost.)

While they were growing up, Kaneki had only ever shown interest in a handful of girls- Rize being the most consequential of the lot. All of them were bookish, humble, and more cute than hot. Essentially, they were the complete opposite of Hide, who wore his heart on his sleeve and always had something frivolous to prattle on about. Hide was certainly no girl, either. Though he can admit that he was definitely pretty cute.

Straight or not, Kaneki was the type of person who took something like love very seriously and for that reason Hide knew complicating things for his own ends would strain their friendship, which he valued more than anything else in his life. That’s why he encouraged Kaneki when he was interested in someone, because Hide cared first and foremost about his best friend’s well being. He was happy supporting Kaneki however way he needed.

“I was a pretty decent guy,” Hide concedes to himself. “I mean, I did take more than my fair share of free food samples at the grocery store,” he mumbles off handedly, “And I looked at Kaneki’s answers during more tests than I can count…”

His cheeky grin disappears as memories flood his mind.

“Oh shit, there was also that horrible prank I pulled on Nishio-sempai in first year that left his hair green for a week.”

Swallowing nervously, Hide pushes the doubts out of his head.

“I don’t think any of those things are bad enough to send me to hell for? I mean, I really hope not.”

He reminds himself that there’s no use in regretting anything at this point.

“What’s done is done,” he declares, trying his best to actually believe it, “I'm ready to go. Would have been nice if I had a gravestone or something, though. Kaneki must have long since digested my real body.”

Hide looks up at the Tokyo sky, which is painted in vermillion and violet as the sun sets for the evening.

“Where is this guy anyways?” he huffs impatiently "Shouldn’t he be here to liberate me from my sins or something? I wanna get going.”

Hide doesn’t know what he is looking for, a bearded man dressed in a white robe perhaps? An angel?

“Wait a minute, I don’t even believe in that junk! I'm Buddhist!” Hide realizes hysterically. “Am I gonna have to get to Nirvana myself?”

Reluctant, the ghost decides that he will wait at the park for a while longer. Haise said he would be returning as soon as possible anyways, and the least he can do for himself after everything is bid the person he’s loved for so long a proper goodbye. He has the opportunity to this time around, after all.

What Hide doesn't know is that he'll be left waiting for days.

 


 

“Nishio…?” Haise murmurs, staring down at the ghoul below him. He is more confused than he has ever been in his life.

Huh? Who?

Serpent is a young man with curly auburn hair and a permanently pompous expression. Haise has never seen him in his life.

How do I know his name?

Wait, didn’t he call me something too? What was it?

The voice from before prods at his consciousness, then chuckles perversely.

He called you by name of course, it says.

With his defenses already torn down once, Haise can feel it getting in again, past the blockade, easily now.

No… no!

GET OUT!

“Kaneki… Kaneki listen….” Serpent (Nishio?) says, but Haise is having trouble focusing on his words. There's blood everywhere. Is it his or Serpent's? Is it both of theirs? 

“Oi!” Serpent is persisting, but Haise is trying his hardest to resist the intruder that’s clawing it’s way into his mind.

What began as a dull migraine exacerbates, and suddenly the pain in his head becomes so harrowing that Haise is certain it will split in half down the middle.

“If you have questions talk to Kirishima! Kirishima Touka!” Serpent gets out, clutching at his wounds, but Haise’s sight has begun to turn fuzzy.

“THE BARISTA!” he barks one last time, then delves into a coughing fit of his own. With his last ounces of strength he seizes his chance to escape as Haise drops to his knees and begins to scream.

Excruciating agony is all that the half-ghoul can feel. Control of his body slips away, and he tries with all of his might to fight against it, but he is losing, he is losing once again to the voice...

Haise howls in anguish one last time before blacking out, unable to register that backup has arrived and are commencing in shooting him down before he has the chance to hurt anyone else.

 


 

Saiko is raiding the fridge for leftover pizza when Shirazu and Mutsuki return to the Chateau with a bloody, comatose Sasaki Haise in their arms.

“Maman!” she drops her slice of pizza and hurries over to to her housemates and mentor. Everyone looks absolutely wrecked. 

Saiko knows what Sasaki is, and what he was in the past, and therefore when she sees the state he's in she can’t help but expect the worst.

“Is he…?” she begins, but Shirazu shakes his head as they gently carry Sasaki over to his hardly-used bedroom.

“He should be fine after some rest.” Mutsuki says quietly, laying his slender body down on the mattress, “It was a very close call though.”

“What happened?” Saiko is unsure if she even wants to know the details.

“Well,” Shirazu grimaces when Mutsuki takes off Sasaki’s blood-stained shirt to examine his wounds, “He pushed himself past his limits. You can guess what followed because of it.”

There is a menacing hole the size of a baseball in their mentor’s abdomen, but the Q Squad all know that the best way to treat a ghoul’s injury is to just let it heal on it’s own.

“Ouch,” Saiko frowns, “Who took him down? Arima?”

“Akira did.” Mutsuki says, "We’re lucky though, if Arima had been there... he probably would’ve been shot dead.”

Saiko reaches down to push some of Sasaki's silvery hair out of his face. His sleeping face remains gentle, despite everything.

“When do you think he’ll wake up?”

“Hopefully soon. All we can really do is wait.”

They bid each other goodnight, and the Q Squad retreat to their rooms for some well deserved rest of their own.

 


  

It takes several days for Haise to wake up, and when he does, his entire body aches, though his wounds have healed almost completely thanks to his ghoul abilities. Someone must have been feeding him while he was unconscious, judging by the not-ravenous state of his stomach.

He is laying on his bed, which is stiff against his back in its misuse. He really should be sleeping more, but since he doesn’t get exhausted as quickly as a humans he finds himself abstaining from it as often as he can, giving himself more time to delve into his work.

Haise rubs the crust out of his eyes and tries to recall what exactly happened before he blacked out.

I was fighting Serpent, he remembers, and it was going well at first, but then he was gaining on me, and soon after, I began losing momentum.

Then the voice returned, he shudders as an ominous chill creeps up his spine, I became stronger, but my control on that power was slipping away.

Serpent- I think he was trying to tell me something before I passed out. What was it?

The face of an acquaintance appears in his mind, her name materializing as his memories return.

Kirishima Touka.

“If you have any questions talk to Kirishima!” Serpent had said, “Kirishima Touka! THE BARISTA!”

You bet I have questions… but do I want them answered?

Haise makes to sit up, but the movement causes pain to shoot up his spine.

“Sir!” Mutsuki has chosen that exact moment to check up on him, much to Haise’s dismay. “You’re awake!”

“Morning.” Haise croaks, rubbing at his neck.

“How are you feeling?” Mutsuki asks eagerly, “Do you need anything? Food? Coffee?”

“I’m good for now, thank you.” he takesl the time to stretch out his limbs.

“We were really worried about you.” Mutsuki says bashfully, “It was such a close call."

“I’m so sorry.” Haise blurts, his comrade’s disheartening look triggering bouts of guilt, “I didn’t mean to take it so far. The last thing I wanted was to trouble you guys. We didn’t even capture Torso in the endl." he sighs deeply, then adds with regret, “I’ve really screwed up as your mentor haven’t I?”

“That’s not true!” Mutsuki argues defensively, “You just wanted to protect us, we don’t blame you for it at all! Without you our squad would fall apart. You keep us together."

“You’re all too good to me.” Haise says with a sad smile, "Thank you for everything.”

“Don’t mention it- you’d do the same for us.”

“Very true.” he agrees lightly, “So… how long have I been out?”

“Almost a week, sir."

“Oh no.” Haise curses, “Hide’s been waiting for me!”

“Who’s Hide?” Mutsuki asks innocently.

“Oh, uh…” the half ghoul trails off, contemplating what he should tell his underling. He scratches his chin with guilt.

“Hide is a new friend that I made recently.” he settles with incomplete truths. “I was hanging out with him when Shirazu called me about Torso. I promised to lend him some books.”

“Ah, I see! So that’s where you’ve been going!” Mutsuki exclaims, “You should invite him over to the Chateau one day to meet all of us! Well, except for Urie maybe. He's not a people-person."

“We'll see.” Haise says, though in his head he’s thinking, even if I did invite him, it’s not like you’d be able to see him.

“I’m gonna let the others know you’re awake, sir. Should I call headquarters and let them know too?"

"Err... not yet maybe. I’m thinking I might go for a walk and get some air first.”

"No problem. Take it easy for a bit, alright?”

“Can do.” Haise agrees.

Mutsuki then bows politely before exiting the room.

After his guest leaves, Haise takes a quick shower and pulls on some fresh clothes, opting for a pair of jeans and a dress shirt instead of his CCG uniform. After a huge bearhug from Saiko, a relieved pat on the back from Shirazu, and a small nod from Urie, Haise is finally able to leave the Chateau. This is when he finds himself having to make a most difficult decision.

Where should I go? he ponders, to Hide, or to Kirishima?

A part of him is yearning to see Hide… to see his bright smile and golden hair.

You didn’t leave him smiling though, he reminds himself, and a sinking feeling pools in his stomach.

He has a gut feeling that he should go see Kirishima first, though. Sometimes, his intuition does him well, so he decides he can be selfish today, and leave Hide waiting for only a few hours longer.

He sets off in the direction of :re, both fearful and curious as to what Kirishima might help him find.

Chapter Text

The bells tinkle softly as Haise enters the cozy cafe. Kirishima aknowledges him with a nod. Thankfully the place doesn’t seem to be busy, with only an older man reading a newspaper by the window and a young couple sharing a slice of cherry cheesecake in a booth.

Haise walks past his usual table and seats himself at one of the high stools at the espresso bar.

“Thanks again for that book.” he greets Kirishima as she approaches him with her characteristic aloof expression.

"No problem, how was it?"

“Really quite captivating- I'm planing on reading Takatsuki's other works now.”

“I can’t believe you enjoy that dark stuff,” she says, amused, “Weirdo."

"Hey! You can't say that to a customer!" 

"You can when your coffee is so good you know they'll keep coming back." She begins to make him a fresh cup without him having to ask,

Haise drums his fingers against the dark marble countertop, watching her. She measures out a cup of coffee beans and dumps them into a grinder. He can smell the aroma of the fine grounds when she removes them and packs them into a cone-shaped filter held up by a metal contraption. She places one of re:'s porcelain mugs underneath, and slowly begins to pour hot water through the grinds, rotating her wrist in slow, circular motions. Piping hot, fresh-as-can-be coffee drips into the mug below. 

When it's full, she slides the mug over to Haise, one eyebrow raised. 

He nearly groans with the first sip- it's perfect, and he's been deprived for a week and she knows it, since he wouldn't dare go anywhere except here for his fix.

He freezes up with his mug halfway to his face when he remembers what he came here for. 

“Uhhh,” Haise begins, unsure about how to even go about bringing it up.

Out with it, he tells himself, rip it off like a band-aid.

“I wanted to talk to you about something. This is going to sound really strange at first, but-”

“I was waiting for this conversation.” Kirishima interrupts him. She takes a glance around the store for her brother, the white haired man, and motions something to him before turning back to the very confused ghoul investigator. "Come with me to the back, bring your coffee."

She heads for the door without checking to see if Haise is in fact following. They sit at a tiny table in the corner of a storage room, bags of coffee beans, syrup bottles, and tea boxes on shelving all around them.

"Continue." she prompts him, and her violet gaze is unnerving- Haise can't help but squirm in his seat.

“Err, alright. Like I said, this is gonna sound weird, but-”

“Guarantee you I’ve heard weirder.” she interjects, “Sorry, go on.”

“Right, so… I normally wouldn’t impose on you like this but I’m kind of desperate. To be blunt, I’m missing a lot of my memories, and I was told that you can help me fill in some blanks. Particularly about this one person-”

“Stop right there,” Kirishima interrupts once again, an apprehensive look on her face, “Before you get your hopes up let me just say something.”

“Okay.” Haise agrees, a seed of worry growing in his gut.

“I knew you’d come to me about this one day. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to just be honest with you.”

“Oh, thanks for that.” 

“I know what you are, and what you were before they did this to you. If I tell you about your past life, it’s going to ruin this nice new life that you have now. You get that, right?”

Haise does. He shivers, remembering the voice. That thing would consume him, mind, body, and soul- he definitely doesn’t want that.

“I know you want to remember the good things, but it’s all or nothing- you’re gonna get the bad stuff along with the good. And the bad stuff? I’m sure you have more or less some sort of idea about how seriously bad it was.”

Haise quietly weighs his options. Perhaps what happened with Serpent was a warning- a taste of what would result if he were to seek memories from his past. As sure as he is that retrieving his memories could possibly liberate Hide, he's unsure if he has it in him to put others in danger. Could he give up what he has now to help someone he’s just met?

“Sasaki, listen- just so you know, I’ve never seen you like this before. You're here every day with your CCG buddies- they're good kids, I can tell they love you like family. Do you really want to jeopardize what you have with them?”

As disheartening as it is, Haise has known all along that it's too dangerous for him to remember. He didn't want to admit it- but he had hoped-

“I don’t want all of my memories back." he concedes, "But there's something that’s been eating me alive, and I need to know just this one little thing, not for my own good, but for the good of someone else. It could save his life.”

“… what is it?” she asks cautiously.

Haise swallows a nervous lump in his throat. Saying it out loud is much harder than he had anticipated.

“Did I kill Nagachika Hideyoshi?”

“Hide.” Kirishima echoes in shock, but the use of his nickname instantly catches Haise’s attention, “I- I have to show you something.” she nearly leaps up off her chair, running to the door to call out, “YOMO IM TAKING THE CAR!”

Haise protests as Kirishima grabs him by the wrist and drags him into a car outside in the back lot, “Where are we going? What are you showing me?”

“Something that I think will answer your question without jeopardizing your sanity.” she shoves him into the passenger seat, then takes the wheel beside him. "Now, shush while I'm driving."

She takes to the street, leaving nothing but dust in her wake.

 

 


 

 

“The hospital.” Haise realizes when she pulls into the parking lot, “Where I saw you last week.”

“Yes, now shut up and follow me.”

Kirishima leads him through the automatic glass doors and into the imposing building. They head for the stairs and climb to the fifth floor, making their way down a quiet, airy hallway. She stops in front of the very last room, #514, then shoots an unexpectedly apologetic look at Haise before reaching out to open the door.

“After you,” she says gingerly, ushering him in first.

It’s empty, save for the slightly wilted bouquet of yellow daisies that Kirishima brought in the other day. The window has been left wide open, spilling sunlight into the small space, letting in a slight breeze which flutters the edges of the white curtains and sheets. It is when Haise lays his eyes on the bed that he notices the golden hair of the room’s occupant.

Something seizes him- he struggles to walk forward, legs shaky beneath him. From the moment Kirishima brought him to this hospital, he hasn't dared to hope, to even consider that the reason she brought him here… that the person she had gone to see on that day….

“Hide." Haise gasps before his friend in the flesh, tears spilling down his face in both relief and horror.

Relief, because here in front of him is the person he’s been searching for, the person he’s been pouring his heart out to, and he is not dead at all. He instead appears to be in a deep sleep, peaceful almost, with delicate dust bunnies floating above him and a fancy heart monitor nearby displaying a steady rhythm.

What is horrifying, however, is that even though Hide is very much alive, lying so beautifully on this thin mattress…

Where his right arm should be there is instead an angry stump of flesh. The skin is cut off near the middle of his bicep, and though the wound is no longer bleeding, the flesh is gnarled and scarred. It is as if something had bitten the limb right off. Accompanying are also innumerable scars covering the expanse of Hide’s body, from his toes to his neck, all varying in depth and length. Old, but no less gruesome. They too are shaped like bite marks.

“Oh, oh god…” Haise lets out a daunted sob, and Kirishima places a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, shhhhh,” she coos.

As he attempts to stop the tears that continue to escape, he realizes that Hide’s face is perfectly unharmed, as if the assailant responsible for damaging him had purposefully avoided it.

Haise is certain its his own handiwork.

Tentatively, he brings his hand down to tangle his fingers into the sleeping boy’s hair, which has grown quite long in his time here- longer than his ghost form's hair. Haise can't help but cry, because despite everything, this is really Hide, and he can actually touch him.

His hair is just as soft as I imagined it would be.  

Haise pulls his hand away, allowing himself a moment to think.

What does this mean? If Hide is not dead… and neither am I….

Does this mean that his sacrifice worked?  

Wait a minute, Haise gasps in realization, Hide thinks that he’s dead! He thinks that he failed! That he died in vain-

Scrambling away from the hospital bed, Haise looks at Kirishima with a sudden frantic expression.

“I have to tell him!” he hollers with urgency, and Kirishima merely motions to the door, not asking any questions. 

“Go on, then.” she says, and Haise gives her an appreciative look before bounding down the halls like a catapult.

 

 


 

 

Hanging upside from the monkey bars in the midst of the small parkette, Nagachika Hideyoshi grows more impatient.

It’s been six days, he realizes, swinging his arms back and forth, Where’s Haise?

He's taking much longer than Hide had anticipated. After that phone call he'd assumed Haise would at least return soon after like usual- he had just confessed to he was a half-ghoul, for goodness sake. That in all likelyhood, Sasaki Haise was in his past life Kan-

Hide cuts that thought short. Better not think about it yet,

After all it was such an abrupt goodbye- not one Hide could ever accept. He has questions, and he's certain Haise had more to say, too. Hide's never been one to succumb to paranoia, he can’t help but worry if his friend is alright.

He hangs there idly, debating on his next course of action.

Should I wait? Or should I go out and look for him?

"Ah, but how would I even be able to help?" he worries out loud.

Suddenly, Hide feels the strangest sensation… it’s faint, but he feels as if his hair is being gently brushed. It's fleeting, but it catches him completely off guard- the sensation is what he remembers physical contact to be like, on some level. It's been two years.

But that's impossible right?

I’m a ghost… I must have imagined it.

He doesn't want to get his hopes up, thinks he's just jittery with worry over Haise. He decides to count the number of cars that drive by, just to help kill time.

 

 


 

 

 

"64,"

"65,"

"Ooh a Maserati, nice. 66,"

As Hide is counting his 67th car, he registers the approaching noise of footsteps. They become louder and frantic in nature- a jog, a sprint. He lays his eyes on an approaching Sasaki Haise and literally falls down the monkey bars in shock.

Haise.

“Ghhg!” Hide lets out a muffled sound as meets the floor, though instead of a painful impact his body just sinks into the sand with no resistance- like a stone dropped into a pool of water.

“Hide! Are- Are you alright?” Haise is standing above him, and for a moment when their eyes meet, Hide gets stuck in a trance- as if captured by the concern in their silver depths. 

Six days without it makes Haise’s presence much more riveting.

“Hide?” he repeats, and Hide shakes himself out of his reverie.

“Sorry you shocked me!” the ghost easily pulls himself out of the ground, “What took you so long? I was worried about you, you know!”

He seems to be in one piece, thankfully. Dressed not in his uniform but in casual slacks and a woolen jumper, dual-toned hair a little unkempt. Except the tag is sticking out of the back, and a shoelace untied. It's like he was in a rush to change his clothes, to get here as soon as he could, and Hide has to suppress an automatic chant of cute cute cute cute-

“I can fill you in later,” Haise says adamantly, “You need to come with me. I’ve gotta show you something.”

“What is it?” Hide asks suspiciously, but Haise doesn't tell him.

“It's... better if you come and see for yourself." 

“Haise.” Hide sighs, apprehensive about leaving his homey little park, “I don’t know-”

“If you trust me at all, please come!” Haise insists, “I promise it's really important. It'll explain everything."

“Well…” 

“Please?” 

“... fine.” Hide gives in, knowing truthfully that he’s so far gone that he would do literally anything that Haise asked of him- it was the same with Kaneki after all. “Only ‘cause I trust you.”

“Great, let's go,” Haise takes off at a near-run out of the park.

“Woah, hey, wait up! I haven't been keeping up with my ghost cardio routine!” Hide chases after him, “Haise!”

 

 


 

 

Haise receives some strange looks as he runs through the hospital, up the stairs to the fifth floor. Kirishima seemingly left earlier, leaving Haise and Hide alone when they enter the small room.

“Oh.” Hide exhales when he lays his eyes on the figure wrapped in blankets on the bed for the first time. “Holy shit, that’s- it's"

“You.” Haise confirms, and Hide stares disbelievingly at the sight of himself comatose as if he's just discovered Big Foot.

“You found me.” he says in awe, then turns to look at Haise with an elated expression. "You found me! And it doesn't look like I'm dead!"

"You’re alive, Hide.” Haise says, and Hide begins to do some sort of happy dance, squealing things like "this is so great," and "I really didn't expect this," and "Haise you're the best"

".... Hide." Haise says quietly, and the ghost stops his dancing to give his friend his full attention.

"What's wrong?" he asks, and Haise just shakes his head, feeling guilty. "Haise- what is it?"

When he sees it- the state of his body,

his happy, beautiful smile will be gone.

Haise painstakingly reaches down to slowly peel off the sheets covering him. He holds his breath as the stump of Hide’s arm is revealed, as well as the myriad of scars, and he prays to some superior force that Hide won’t hate him after seeing what he’s done to his once porcelain, flawless skin.

Hide takes it in, speechless.

"I am so, so sorry." Haise murmurs, fighting desperately to suppress his tears, which are threatening to spill for the second time that day. "This was all my fault."

 

 


 

 

"Haise..." Hide trails off, unsure of how to comfort his friend. "It's wasn't your fault."

"But it was," Haise gripes, and the rest comes rushing out of him at once, "What I was trying to tell you before- but then we were interrupted- what I was going to say- it’s that who I used to be was-"

"Kaneki." Hide finishes for him, and Haise's expression contorts with grief. He buries his face in his hands.

"I'm sorry- I'm sorry for everything. For abandoning you, for avoiding you, for doing this to you, for almost killing you-"

 “Hey-”

"And I'm so very sorry that I can't remember any of it.” Haise curls in on himself, like a wilted flower, and he looks utterly broken. “You deserve better than this."

It’s ironic, because it’s Hide who’s really broken, just take a look at the body on that bed over there, but its Haise that this whole ordeal seems to have destroyed. He's clearly so ridden with guilt its been consuming his conscience, clouding his every thought and action…

This brokenness isn’t what Hide had wanted for his best friend. 

It never wanted to see him like this ever again.

"Haise! Haise-” Hide tries to pry Haise’s hands away from his face, so he can look him in the eye and tell him how absurd he’s being, but he frustratingly cannot, his hands go right through- and he ends up cursing and just yelling in Haise’s ear, “Look at me, will you?!” 

Haise peeks at him through a space between his fingers, and Hide can see that his familiar eyes are dull grey, waterlogged and tired. 

“You seem to have forgotten something.” Hide accuses him, because sometimes force is what’s needed to get a concept into someone you love's head, “I chose all of this. My own decisions lead me into these circumstances! Have you forgotten that?"

Haise finally drops his hands, revealing a rueful frown.

“But-”

"And guess what the best part is?” Hide asks, trying to get his point through Haise's thick, self-sacrificing skull, "It doesn’t even matter anymore! What’s done is done! Frankly, I think we both got out of this pretty lucky. I've seen terrible things, Haise. And I can say from experience, it could've been so much worse.”

Hide lets out a breath of relief when he sees Haise nodding softly, ultimately agreeing.

“You're not Kaneki Ken anymore.” he smiles encouragingly at the person before him, “You're Sasaki Haise, and all that matters is that you're still my best friend!"

Haise's frown transforms into a shy grin, “You’re my best friend too.”

"Good." Then we're just like we always were.

Hide glances at his damaged body on the bed, and honestly, he's not upset at all over it. He's both relieved and shocked that he's not actually dead- he'd long accepted that he was over the past two years. If there's one thing he learned in his 23 years of life it's never to get his hopes up.

Now I can get one of those cool robo-arms like Edward Elric

Haise seems to have calmed down considerably as well, and the two remain silent, listening to the tell-tale beep of the heart monitor beside them.

"So." Haise says.

"So." Hide repeats.

"What now?"

"We wait, I guess. Until I wake up."

The question 'how long until then?'  is unspoken between them.

"Hey, I know what you can do to make up for ditching me last week!” Hide announces.

“Again, I'm really sorry about that." Haise concedes. "What is it? I'll do anything.” 

“Just, keep coming to the park to watch the stars with me, like we did before."

"Oh, that's it?"

“I mean, only as often as you can of course. I know you’ve got a job and a life and all that jazz."

“Yes! I’ll come every day.” Haise declares excitedly, “As much time as we can get, I’ll take it!”

Who needs old memories when we can just make new ones? 

“Can you pinkie promise me?” Hide asks cheekily, pointing to his body on the bed.

Haise blanches, but then nods, wrapping his pinkie finger around Haise's own. 

“Hey, I think I felt that!” Hide gasps, staring at his ghost hand in bewilderment. 

“Really?”

“Yeah! It was like a little tickle.”

“Okay how about this,” Haise picks up Hide’s hand and squeezes it gently. Hide feels a feathery sensation in the same spot, as well as an undeniable warmth- Haise's warmth.

That weird feeling I had earlier, Hide recalls the sensation in his hair that he felt back at the park, It was probably the same thing! Someone must have touched my hair.

He steals a glance at Haise, eyes drawn to his slim, familiar hands.

And I think I know who it was.

“It’s faint but I definitely felt that!” Hide quips, and Haise beams back at him with unadulterated glee.

The two smile at each other, both feeling lighter than they have felt in a terribly long time. For once, the echoes of the past have been completely forgotten, only to be replaced by the promise of a new future.

Chapter Text

Time passes quickly, after everything.

Haise, keeping true to his promise, stops by their park after work nearly every other day (yes, its become their park- or perhaps it always has been), and the two easily fall back into the routine they had created for themselves.

They lie flat on their backs and gaze at the Tokyo night sky, light pollution notwithstanding, to talk about everything and anything; mystery books, Haise's work, American movies- but what they never bring up is the past, because none of it is important to either of them anymore. What is most precious is their here and now- its every minute they spend laughing together after all this time.

Haise finds himself at the hospital occasionally too. Sometimes he just has to see Hide in the flesh, to both check up on his condition and remind himself that he is indeed breathing.

But still, there's doubt like an itch in a spot Haise can't scratch each time he's there- that Hide might possibly not ever wake up. The half-ghoul tries to ignore it, because even though Hide’s condition hasn't gotten any better it also hasn't gotten any worse. He heard a saying somewhere that no bad news is good news, and he repeats it like a mantra.

No bad news is good news,

No bad news is good news,

Haise also can’t help but notice that there are always fresh flowers on display atop the table beside Hide's bed. There's no card attached but he knows that Kirishima has been replacing them whenever they begin to wilt, never allowing them to wither and die. He’s grateful for it, and though he still sees her every time he goes to :re, they never talk about the conversation that they had in the back room, or any of it at all, because there’s nothing left to say, really.

Days turn into weeks, then to months, and Haise begins brandishing a sweater and then a coat whenever he visits Hide at the park.

On particularly frigid days Hide barks at him, "You're being ridiculous, Haise! Stay home in front of a fireplace or something!" but Haise stubbornly shows up anyways. Whatever the weather, whenever the time.

And it's not just because of Haise's promise that he does it- it's moreso that being with Hide just feels so right, like something his life at the CCG had been lacking, filling all of his holes and making him whole.

But Haise longs to introduce the ghost to his family, his Quinx squad, to show him around the Chateau (and though it’s wishful thinking- the empty room down the hall from his).

For now, though, they have this. And at first, is was more than enough for Haise.

But seasons change and change and change; birds fly south and back again, trees shed their leaves then replace them with dewy buds ready to bloom. Haise's heart too grows greedier, yearning for warmth and sunflowers when around him is frost and snow clouds.

It is on a windy winter night when the two are sheltered underneath the whale structure and Hide is telling Haise a story about a silly prank he played on one of his upperclassmen in freshman year that Haise catches himself staring very candidly at Hide’s lips, mesmerized by their rosy colour, and the way they move when he speaks.

Oh, I want to kiss him, Haise realizes, genuinely surprised when the urge bubbles to the surface.

He’s never wanted to kiss anyone before, always too busy with work and his Q-squad that the idea of romance was just a distraction that he had no desire to pursue. He's never been around people in relationships like that- has had no one to be envious of. Even the lovers he's read about in books always end up torn apart by some tragedy after making foolish sacrifices for one another, and at first he couldn't relate. 

But Hide wasn't a distraction at all. He was a breath of fresh air after a long day, a lone ray of sunshine amidst a storm, and a treasured friend that Haise had naturally grown to love. And it was that love which had transformed into something he hadn't expected in the slightest. Or perhaps the feeling was love from the start- something of Kaneki's that'd been too powerful to fully suppress or erase. Where Haise couldn't relate before, he begins to fear the lengths he'd go through to protect this boy- just like the characters in his novels. The protagonists of love stories.

He doesn't wonder about the more trivial implications of his affections, like if they make him gay or bi, because it doesn't even matter. Haise must never tell Hide, for there's no point- it won't change anything. He's not Kaneki Ken anymore. 

Not the man he loved.

 

Haise unintentionally shoots Hide a pining look, but the ghost doesn’t seem to notice, instead continuing on with his story, exclaiming with enthusiasm how hilarious it was when his victim had bits of green in his hair for a week. To Haise, he's glowing. 

The half-ghoul's smile betrays his disheartened thoughts. 

He wishes, for the first time in his life, that he could be Kaneki again. Just for Hide.

 


 

Despite his decision not to tell Hide, Haise finds it increasingly difficult to keep his feelings so neatly bottled up when they just want to overflow and escape. Every time he’s in Hide’s company his heart flutters in his chest, and he yearns, though he knows it’s useless, to just remove the lid and let it all pour out...

Even more time passes, and what was once just an insignificant little urge to kiss him grows stronger and stronger.

Haise finds it increasingly difficult to pay attention to Hide's jokes when he wants so badly to just reach out and tangle his fingers in Hide's golden hair, to join their hands together and feel Hide's pulse, steady and real-

But he knows that he can’t, and not just because his hands would disappear right through Hide’s. Haise couldn’t kiss him even if he wanted to.

He has a moment of weakness and cheats just once. 

He wont know it was me, Haise tells himself, there’s no way he could.

He’s at the hospital gazing longingly at his friend's comatose body when it happens. He knows Hide will be able to feel it, but he gives in to temptation nonetheless, leaning down to brush his lips very briefly against Hide's freckled cheek. It's soft, and warm, not cold and still as he thought it'd be. Everything about Hideyoshi Nagachika is softness and warmth and Haise wants to curl himself around him and live there forever.

But seasons change and change and change. Spring eventually blows in, scattering along with the petals of the bubblegum cherry blossom trees sheltering their little park. 

One day after work when Haise is visiting :re Kirishima pulls him into the back room for a private conversation. His coffee nearly sloshes out of his mug in her haste, and the unpleasant feeling of snakes coils tightly in his gut. He can guess somethings gone awry by the distraught look upon her face.  

“He’s almost at the three year mark.” Kirishima tells him, and though she doesn't say his name Haise knows exactly who she's talking about.

“His father and step-mother have been paying to keep him on life support, but the nurse told me they’re getting tight on money, losing hope as all this time goes by…”

Haise chokes, dread spreading like a virus through his system, "What about his real mother?" 

"Died years ago."

“Does that mean they're thinking of…?”

Pulling the plug? He can't quite say it.

“Yes, and soon.” she answers.

“I can't let that happen!” he blurts out desperately. "There has to be a way, I can't- I can't-"

“Well, what can we do about it?” Kirishima shakes her head incredulously, “People are losing hope and moving on with their lives. Unless you can pay hundreds of dollars a week, I don’t really think-”

“I’ve got money!” Haise interrupts her, his desperation getting the best of him, “Thousands in savings- and I’ll use it all if I have to. Even get a second job if it’s not enough- are you hiring?”

“Sasaki,” Kirishima sighs, “I know you feel guilty, but they say that the longer someone’s comatose the less likely it is that they’ll wake up.”

“I know he'll wake up.” Haise assures her, not letting his determination sway, “Plus I owe him this."

I’ll never forgive myself if I don't do everything I can.

“You’ve always been a fool.” she remarks, but her tone is light, “I won’t try and stop you though. Good luck.”

“Thank you for everything.” Haise says, and Kirishima pats his shoulder as she makes to return to her job.

“You’re welcome, idiot-Sasaki.”

He can't help but beam at her.

 


 

It's funny, but Sasaki Haise loves to cook. He can't eat anything he creates, and it smells god-awful to him- but his roommates have informed him that he's some kind of culinary genius. Truthfully, he knows it's because all of them are shameless gluttons who set fire to anything they touch in a kitchen, but Haise doesn't mind. The smiles on their faces when he presents them something hot and steaming makes him feel like they're a real family sitting around the dining room table, not a bunch of strangers brought together by genetic experimentation and chance. 

He and Mutsuki are rolling onigiri in the kitchen one afternoon when Mutsuki says, "You've been disappearing lately, sir. Have you been visiting that friend of yours?"

Haise drops his half-rolled onigiri onto the floor, not expecting to be asked about Hide.

Mutsuki scrambles to pick it up. "I- I'm sorry! I don't mean to pry, I'm really just curious! You're allowed to have your secrets, I shouldn't have-"

"It's fine, don't apologize." Haise rests an assuring hand on his shoulder. "You're right, I've been visiting my friend in the hospital."

"Oh no, is he alright? What happened?" Haise senses nothing but innocent concern in Mutsuki's grassy eyes and his heart swells for it. 

"Well," Haise swallows, settling for the truth- he hasn't noticed how badly he's been wanting to talk about it. And though he's decent at avoiding questions, he’s a terrible liar. "Hide has been comatose for three years. Financially, I've been helping his family keep him on the machine, since it’s getting expensive.”

“I... oh. I see…” Mutsuki trails off, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.” he adds. "I worry about you."

Haise squeezes his bony shoulder, “Sure, thank you."

He places the last of the onigiri into a large plate as Mutsuki calls the rest down for lunch. One by one his housemates join them at the table, first Shirazu, then Saiko, and eventually Urie.

They dig appreciatively into Haise’s home cooking and tease each other about various nothings, as families often do. Urie and Mutsuki bicker, Saiko giggles at something Shirazu says. Haise eyes the empty seat across from him at the other head of the table and can easily imagine Hide there with them, chatting and laughing with the rest like he belongs there. Hide's so charming, so easy to love- he'd fit right in. 

The table doesn't feel full anymore. 

 


 

“We need to talk.” Hide says on a humid evening in April. 

Those words never lead to anything good.

“About what? We talk all the time.”

Hide visibly swallows in hesitation, and this concerns Haise even more.

"I think... it's time that we stopped kidding ourselves."

Haise’s heart sinks in his chest. "What are you talking about?"

"I’ve been thinking about it- and I do a lot of thinking since there's not much else to do when you're a ghost-” Hide’s amber eyes downcast to the floor, though there is nothing particularly interesting there, “You have a life and you’re wasting so much of it just coming here day after day. We can't keep doing this forever."

“Hide, I want to spend time with you. You know that, right? I don't come here out of some sort of obligation. Hanging out with you is the best part of my day."

“But that’s exactly why…” he trails off, then looks up at Haise with a hard but pained expression. It doesn't suit him. “I can't let this continue."

“Where is this coming from?” Haise asks desperately, feeling like he’s going to throw up his lunch (which would not be pretty considering what he eats).

“You've been taking extra jobs lately, and I can feel you visiting the hospital a lot. You've been paying for my medical bills, right? It's not hard to deduce.”

Haise gapes at him disbelievingly.

How could he think, even for a second, that money is the issue?

“Hide, your life is priceless to me!” Haise exclaims, wishing he could physically shake some sense into him, “Besides, it's only temporary!”

“But how do you know?” Hide lets out a long, frustrated sigh, “It’s been years! Let’s face it- I’m not going to wake up!”

“Yes you will, just have more patience!" Haise insists, panicking.

“It's not about patience, HaiseI've been selfish to let this go on for so long." the ghost declares, his voice now more sure, "Please take me off of life support."

“A-Are you crazy?” the half-ghoul squawks, his blood pumping so fast, his heart so quickly that he thinks he might pass out, “I could never!”

“Haise.” Hide repeats calmly, as if with an air of acceptance, “All I wanted was to find you, to see you safe and happy, and I did. Here you are.”

Haise shakes his head, unbelieving, there’s no way that we are having this conversation right now… how can he be smiling? 

“Getting to be with you for the past year has been a dream come true,” Hide continues, and Haise feels like his heart has been ripped out and torn in two, “But now I'm satisfied. Really. You've made me so happy. I'm ready for whats next.”

“Hide, no-" Haise's not fighting the tears, they pour down his cheeks in rushing streams. Haise wishes he could trade their positions, sacrifice himself so Hide could live, much like the ghost had done for him so long ago. Everything is unfair- Hide didn’t deserve any of this. 

“I know its a lot to ask of you,” Hide adds remorsefully, “But please... just let me go.”

Haise struggles to breathe normally and remembers that he'd sworn to do anything for Hide. And this must be it- the most crucial moment. Where Haise's word counts the most.

“Is this really what you want?” Haise asks feebly. Resigned, heartbroken. He doesn't tell him that this will be the hardest thing he's ever going to have to do in his life. Hide knows.

"Yes, it is." Hide appears to be fighting tears now too. 

“For you, I’ll do it.” Haise hates himself when the words come out, “But... can you just give me some time to prepare?” 

“How’s a week?” Hide asks with a gentle voice.

A lifetime too soon.

Haise forces himself to say, “So, Sunday?”

“Yeah.” Hide confirms, “Sunday it is.”

 


 

Six days pass in a blur, far quicker than Haise hoped they would.

On Monday, he stops by the hospital and deposits just enough money to keep life support going until Sunday. He'd told the nurses there that he was a close friend of Hideyoshi’s when he'd initially taken over his expenses, so they express their utmost condolences when he informs them its time to finally let him go.

They ask if Haise wants to be there when they do it.

"I'll think about it." Haise tells them.

"We understand. If you change your mind, be here for 3:00pm that day." a nurse says. 

Haise discusses it with Hide later that evening, and Hide decides that he’d like to watch it happen with Haise there beside him.

On Tuesday, Haise stops by :re to tell Kirishima about what he’s done. She nods and listens, remaining straight faced even when Haise begins to tear up a little bit. He doesn’t invite her to join them for Hide’s last moments but he does encourage her to visit him one last time. She humbly agrees.

He next visits Hide's parents down in a suburb called Ota, feeling obliged to let them know about his decision. He had already introduced himself to Keicho and Ryousuke months earlier, so they thank him for everything he's done.

"I never knew Hideyoshi made such a good friend," Ryousuke sobs, pulling Haise into a hug. Haise pats the older man on the back, trying his best to reciprocate the embrace. "He was devastated when that other friend of his left him all those years ago. He cut off ties with us- we couldn't reach him. That he'd get involved with ghouls was our worst nightmare come true-"

Ryousuke's eyes are kind, like Hide's. But that's all they really have in common. Haise has known that Hide was adopted- they've talked about it many times. Plus it's obvious by his appearance that Hide isn't ethnically Japanese like his fathers are, although Keicho's hair has been bleached just like his son's.

"You're welcome here any time, Sasaki." Keicho informs him, "Please, come for dinner one day at the very least. We'd love to have you."

If only I could, Haise grimaces but agrees anyways for face.

Before he leaves Haise also learns that the two men are in the process of adopting another child. Hide would have been a big brother.

Haise doesn't tell him this.

On Wednesday, Haise returns to the hospital with Ryousuke and Keicho to fill out some final paperwork. The kind nurses from before ask them if they will hold a funeral ceremony, but Haise knows Hide is the kind of guy who hates sad things in general- he'd be against it. His fathers pass on the idea, clearly knowing their son as well.

They stop by Hide's room and see that Kirishima has left the most beautiful bouquet of sunflowers, this one nearly twice the size of what she usually brings in. They’re summery and bright, just like Hide.

On Thursday, Haise tells Mutsuki about Sunday. Mutsuki, the wonderful caring friend that he is, offers to accompany Haise if he needs some emotional support, but Haise politely refuses, saying he appreciates the sentiment but would rather be alone.

On Friday, Haise works at the CCG all day, plowing through the next few day’s worth of work so he’ll be free to spend Hide’s last hours with him, no distractions or worries. He comes up with the idea of purchasing a cheap tent from Don Quijote, as well as a sleeping bag and a lantern, so that he can spend all of Saturday night at the park with Hide.

He tells his housemates that he’ll be gone until Monday, and they respectfully refrain from asking further questions.

So on Saturday, Haise walks into the park with his cheap penguin-printed camping gear in tow, forcing himself to smile, because he’s sure Hide doesn’t want to spend their last night together in tears.

“Ooo, I've always wanted to go camping!” Hide exclaims when he sees his friend. Haise sets down all of the stuff in a more private area obscured by some cherry blossom trees, and Hide laughs amicably at him as he struggles fruitlessly to pitch a tent, something Haise has never done in his life. His friend howls with laughter when Haise makes to test it out but it all comes toppling down on his head.

"You're definitely not made for the good ol' outdoors, Haise." 

Haise would take a thousand failed camping escapades if it kept that smile on Hide's face.

When the tent is finally set up they crawl inside. It has a clear mesh roof so they can still look up at their beloved sky.

“What are we gonna do all night?" Hide asks.

Haise just shrugs. "Whatever you like." 

Neither of them want to talk about tomorrow.

"Let's do what we normally do, then."

"Okay." Haise agrees, settling himself down comfortably inside the penguin-patterned sleeping bag. 

Instead of on his back, Haise lays on his side so that he can gaze at the already-memorized planes and angles of Hide's face. Hide does the same.

There's one thing in the world more beautiful than the night sky.

They don't say anything for once, lost in each other. It's a small space, they would be touching if it were possible but still, Haise feels closer to Hide than ever. He can hear his own breathing sounds (Hide doesn't make any) amidst the familiar buzz of the night. It's peaceful.

“Falling asleep?” Hide whispers a while later.

"No way,” Haise replies, “I wouldn't.”

Contradicting himself, the half-ghoul is so exhausted from everything that he begins to drift off anyways.

"Silly." Hide runs a hand down the side of his face. Haise wishes he could feel it. "You may be a ghoul but you're human too." 

Hide's eyes are the last thing he sees before falling into dreamland. They're sparkling, full of life. He wishes the night would never end.

 


  

On Sunday morning Haise opens his crusty eyes expecting to see his beloved friend grinning in his direction, ready to hear Hide tease him about falling asleep. But what he instead wakes up to is an empty spot on the sleeping bag beside him, undisturbed, as if no one had laid there. 

“He- He must be outside,” Haise convinces himself, bounding out of the tent to check.

The ghost is nowhere in sight, so Haise panics immediately, scrambling to check the time on his phone. 8:31am.

It’s still early…. where did he go?

“Hide?” Haise calls out, but there’s no answer amidst the quiet still of the morning. “Hide!"

Oh no. 

Did they do it early? Did I remember the time wrong? Is my phone broken?

Haise’s knees nearly buckle beneath him with the thought.

Leaving all of his gear at the park, he knows nothing else to do but sprint to the hospital as fast as his legs will carry him.

 


 

The half-ghoul bounds through the hospital doors, earning some strange looks (which he's used to by now) and clambers up all five flights of stairs. He darts down the hallway and bursts into room #514, the doors of which are already open, much to his surprise.

What he sees when he enters are several nurses standing beside the bed, blocking his view. His violent panting must catch their attention because they turn to look at him when he enters, and he registers vaguely that some of them are crying.

He makes a loud choking noise when they unexpectedly smile and step aside, shuffling out of the room to leave him alone with the small figure sitting up on the bed.

Their eyes meet, and this time Haise’s legs really do buckle beneath him.

Am I still dreaming?

“What a turn of events, eh?” Hideyoshi Nagachika says, and the waterworks have started before Haise can accept what’s happened.

No, they didn’t unplug him early like Haise had thought. Hide has woken up, he has actually woken up- just in the nick of time, like some sort of miracle.

“H-Hide?” Haise chokes out between sobs, completely overwhelmed in his amazement and relief. “Y-You’re- you’re-”

“Alive.” Hide says, and god, that smile is so much more radiant in the flesh, Haise thinks he might get burned.

“I can’t believe it,” Haise croaks, staring at the other as if he was an outright impossibility, "I thought for sure-"

“So did I.” Hide agrees, then says, “Come here already.”

He extends his only hand out to Haise from where he sits, and the half-ghoul carefully accepts it, settling himself down on the edge of Hide’s bed.

The impossible warmth of Hide's skin electrifies him. He can feel the raised edges of the scars on his palm- it triggers that latent guilt within Haise that he suspects may never truly go away.

"I like 'em." Hide says, as if he knows exactly what the other is thinking. He firmly squeezes Haise's hand, "They remind me that you're alive too."

Haise tries to stifle his tears but its hard because this beautiful, wonderful person is really here, and he can finally touch him, and it's just so miraculous and incredible.

"I don't deserve this." Haise sniffles, and Hide lets go of his hand, instead opting to gently wipe away the remains of Haise's tears from his flushed cheeks.

"Stop saying that." he murmurs, locking eyes with Haise and staring at him intently.

Haise meets his gaze, silver mixing with amber. Hide frowns and then blurts.

"Ah, fuck it."

Haise is roughly yanked downwards- he lets out a 'mmmpph!!' sound as his mouth is smushed to Hide's in a sudden, spontaneous kiss.

Hide's chapped lips burn like fire against Haise's, devouring him like a man given water in a desert drought. Haise's heart is beating so fast he thinks it might come up and out of his throat, choking them both. He's overwhelmed and has to break free to breathe and make sure it's all really happening, because he's still not convinced he's not dreaming. Why on earth would Hide kiss him-

"Hide," Haise blurts his name, breathless, but Hide pales and takes the outburst as rejection.

He releases Haise's collar as if it were a poisonous snake. “Oh god, I'm so sorry!” he gasps, then begins to ramble-panic, “That was really inappropriate! I told myself I wouldn't do it but you were so close and so real and I’ve dreamed about it for so damn long that with you right there I just couldn't resist-"

"W-Wait," Haise interrupts, dumbstruck. "Are you saying that you don't care that I'm not... you know...?"

Hide shoots him a quizzical look. "A girl? Dude, I'm a bonafide homosexual."

"No, that I'm not…” Haise always finds it difficult to say this one name, “Kaneki.”

Hide looks at him like he's just said one plus one equals fifty.

"Obviously! Didn't we establish that a long time ago?"

Yet Haise is confounded because after all this he still can't help but second guess himself. He didn't think that in his lifetime he'd ever get to have this. Get to have him.

"So then you... feel... for me....?"

Hide squeezes his hand tight tight tight, "From the start, ya dummy."

"Me too- I think I've fallen in love with you." Haise confesses, and wow, it comes out easy this time- rolls right off his tongue and out into the world. 

Hide's face twists like he's about to both laugh and cry. "Man, I waited so long to hear you say that.”

“Hideyoshi,” Haise voices his name, surprising himself in his boldness when he leans in close and asks, "Can I kiss you again?"

Hide raises an eyebrow, "I don’t know, can you?"

Haise draws Hide forward by his hospital gown. “Yes,” he breathes, and pulls his friend into a clumsy but feverish kiss, this time returned with matching ardor.

It's infinitely better than Haise's read about in books.

They separate when a nurse accidentally walks in on them, and she squeaks in shock that she’s sorry for intruding and will return in a few minutes.

They both smile like idiots, blithe with  adrenaline running in their veins, when Haise says, "By the way your roots are terrible."

Hide smacks him on the arm affectionately.

"Love you too."

Chapter Text

Hide spends the next four weeks in the hospital resting and participating in a substantial amount of muscle therapy. It’s exhausting, but as the days go by, he steadily rebuilds his strength, though it’s difficult to get used to the new handicap of having only one arm.

Haise visits every day to check up on him and see how he’s doing. He never comes empty handed, always bringing Hide some sort of healthy, home-cooked dish which Hide is surprised to learn that Haise makes himself even though he can’t eat human food.

When Hide compliments his cooking, the half-ghoul sighs in relief and gets this pleased, self-satisfied look on his face, as if he was worried the food wasn’t tasty, and Hide finds it absolutely adorable.

While in the hospital, Hide is graced with quite the variety of visitors. A few times Haise brings his housemate Mutsuki to meet him. He immediately likes the guy, he’s a little bit shy but very sweet- he can see them getting along smoothly in the time to come, and he can’t wait to meet the rest of Haise’s notorious Q-Squad.

Kirishima Touka also stops by the hospital, much to Hide’s surprise. Haise tells him that Kirishima had been bringing him fresh flowers every few weeks for the past three years and he’s so touched by the gesture that he tears up and thanks her personally for them.

Also to his surprise, she offers him a job at her coffee shop, but he graciously declines, saying that it’s probably not an ideal position for someone with one arm.

Hide’s fathers frequent too of course. The first time Keicho and Ryousuke set sight on their son alive and healthy, if not a little banged up, they almost pass out in each other's arms in elation. There are a lot of tears- neither of them has had a conversation with him in nearly four years. He feels guilty for shutting them out, back then. 

"We're expecting an adoption confirmation any day now." Keicho tells him, "You're going to have a sister."

"You'll move back home when you're admitted, won't you Hideyoshi?" Ryousuke pleads. "We want you back in our lives."

But his son's gaze slides to the door where Haise has just stepped out, "I'm not sure yet, pops. I can't promise."

"Oh, I see." Keicho nods. He has a silent conversation with Ryousuke using his eyes, alone. Hide wonders how many years it'll take he and Haise to get to that level.

"You always have a home with us. Just know that." 

"I do- thank you dad. And pops. I love you both."

And so Keicho and Ryousuke rival Haise when it comes to visiting, and Hide couldn't be happier. He's struck by how lucky he is to have them- he really hasn't ever been completely alone, has he? 

One of his more unusual hospital visitors is the editor for the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. He asks him if they can feature his story in an article to which he agrees excitedly, because Hide's always wanted to be in the newspaper!

The day before his interview Haise brings in a pair of shears and a bottle of hair bleach, to Hide's upmost delight (and the nurses' dismay). Haise's hairdressing skills aren't the greatest but Hide is grateful nonetheless- being bombshell blonde again makes him feel a lot more confident in his interview.

He leaves the ghost part out of it, obviously, but even without it his story makes the front page. Haise brings him a copy the day its published, headline reading: ‘Ghoul Victim and Former CCG Employee Miraculously Wakes Up from 3-Year Coma’. Beneath is a picture of both Hide and Haise, the latter who was also interviewed on behalf of his determination to keep his friend alive by personally paying for his medical bills.

The photo speaks for itself, because in it the two of them are very blatantly holding hands.

The article attracts the attention of the CEO of a prosthetics company, and a woman comes in a few days later offering to sponsor Hide with a replacement prosthetic arm. This too, Hide gratefully accepts.

After detailed designing and measurements, he is fitted with a fancy prosthetic limb. The arm has sensors attached to it, and Hide can use them to control the mechanical hand and elbow movements.

“It’s no Winter Soldier, but it’s still pretty cool.” he tells Haise as he practices using it to drink miso soup.

He eventually gets the hang of using his prosthetic arm, and when he’s confident enough with it, he asks Kirishima if her earlier job offer is still on the table.

Kirishima welcomes him to the :re team with her signature grin, promising to accomodate any accessibility issues he might be concerned about.

When Hide's strength is nearly returned to its entirety, both he and Haise are unsurprised but still excited when the nurse finally announces that he can be admitted from the hospital in three days time.

The day after hearing the news, Haise, Kirishima, and Mutsuki bring him a dozen balloons and a huge cake that says ‘Congratulations!’ in fancy golden icing. Hide's parents come by too, and they hand out slices of cake to the hospital staff and other patients.

When everyone eventually heads home for the evening Hide and his half-ghoul get some time alone. They're still buzzing with delight at the prospect of freedom, and when Haise finally asks Hide if he’d like to move into the empty room at the Chateau, Hide screams “YES!” loud enough for the entire floor to hear, and pulls his best friend down onto the bed for a long, eager kiss.

Next thing they know, Hide is rolling his small suitcase of what was left of his belongings through the Chateau doors. He meets the acquaintance of Ginshi Shirazu (who immediately compliments Hide on his super cool prosthetic arm) and Yonebayashi Saiko (who Hide thinks will easily become his new video game buddy. Can he even play video games still?).

He also meets Kuki Urie, who he finds to be a bit standoffish at first but Hide, being Hide, dubs getting to know the guy as a new personal challenge. Haise is all for it.

Hide is accepted into the Q-Squad family as if he’d been there from the start.

Living together with Haise, getting to see him every time he wakes up and before he goes to sleep, is an absolute dream come true.

Everyone seems to know the nature of Hide and Haise’s relationship without it being explicitly discussed, so the two don’t worry too much over being caught sneaking kisses before bed and holding hands during movie night.

“You should have just moved right into Sassan’s room.” Shirazu teases him, and Hide can’t hide the deep scarlet blush that spreads over his cheeks.

Moving into the same room as someone means sharing the same bed as them, and sharing the same bed has implications that Hide doesn’t think he’s quite ready to deal with just yet. Both he and Haise are wholly content with taking things slow. They’ve got all the time in the world, after all.

When Hide goes in for his first day of work at :re (don’t ask him about the name of the place because he still has no idea what it means), he spills three cups of coffee, two teas, and breaks four plates. Needless to say, he’s a bit of a klutz.

Kirishima tells him not to worry, he’ll get used to it, and if he has any problems her and Yomo are always there to help. It does get much better, and Hide's friendliness actually attracts a lot more customers. It makes the atmosphere of :re seem a little more welcoming than before when it was just Kirishima and her brother (who Hide suspects is not actually her brother, but who knows).

Haise and the rest of those who are now his housemates come into the café quite often, and when Hide gets really good at making art in his lattes he always makes Urie’s into a huge heart (or a dick)  just to mess with him.

"I'm glad it's going well at :re.” Haise says to him one night after he's just returned home from work.

The two of them are for once alone in the house, everyone else either detained in their rooms (Saiko) or out somewhere on a Friday night.

"The apron really suits you." 

“Oh, really?” Hide waggles his eyebrows mischievously, “Never knew you were into that, Haise.”

The half-ghoul blushes deeply, realizing what he's implying.

“T-That’s not what I meant!” he stutters, and Hide grins deviously as he reaches into his wallet to pull out some sort of paper.

It's a photo of a blonde woman in a turtleneck dress.

“My friend Sasako here thinks otherwise.” 

“WHO SHOWED YOU THAT!?” Haise screeches, mortified, and Hide just shrugs nonchalantly.

The Q-Squad had apparently gone on an undercover mission that required cross-dressing last year, and Saiko, bless that girl, had secretly taken Haise's photo. 

Hide bought her the newest Ace Attorney game as a trade for it.

“I'm not telling!” The blonde sticks his tongue out jokingly, and Haise seizes the moment to snatch the photo right out of his hand and run with it.

“GET BACK HERE!” Hide bellows, chasing the half-ghoul around the house, both of them giggling like idiots the entire time.

They end up in Haise’s room, where Hide tackles Haise onto the bed and wrestles the photo out of his hands.

When he finally grabs it, he’s straddling Haise, pinning him down by his legs and his good arm, and he’s holding the photo out of his reach with his prosthetic one.

He’s about to say something snarky about his victory but the words die in his mouth when his eyes meet Haise’s. They realize in tandem how close they've become.

Without warning, Haise pulls him down into a desperate kiss, the photo flying out of Hide’s hand onto the floor, now forgotten.

The kiss is bruising and deep, their breaths mixing as their tongues tangle. Haise's hands are feathering through his hair- Hide's skim along Haise’s sides.

Lips still sealed together, Haise flips them over so that Hide’s laying on his back rather than relying on his prosthetic arm to hold up his weight for too long. Pleased, Hide runs his hands up over Haise’s white dress shirt, but he stops hesitantly at the buttons.

He breaks their kiss for a moment to whisper a breathy “Can I?”

Haise smirks and replies “I don’t know, can you?”

Rolling his eyes, Hide begins to undo the buttons, and Haise plants wet kisses along his neck.

When Hide’s finally got the shirt open, he insistently tugs it right off and drops it to the floor, his own following suit right after.

“Damn, you’re buff.” he says as he studies Haise’s torso, and the half ghoul just shrugs indifferently.

"Ghoul stuff?"

“That, and all the training.” Haise runs his own hands down along Hide’s skin, which unlike his is dappled with dozens of scars and marks.

Hide gasps when he leans down once more to kiss along the junction where flesh meets his mechanical arm.

“You’re perfect.” the half-ghoul whispers against his skin, and Hide can’t help but laugh and smack his arm affectionately.

He closes his eyes, humming as he enjoys the plush of Haise’s lips, until suddenly he feels something unusually rough caress his exposed skin.

“What was that?” His eyes snap back open, and he sees four tentacle-like appendages sprouting from the small of Haise’s back.

“Oh, my kagune,” Haise sighs, biting his lip as he retracts them, “Sorry they just come out sometimes.”

Though fascinated, Hide can’t help but tease the other.

“... kinky.”

"I can’t control them!” Haise pouts, but Hide brings his hand up around Haise's back to touch the soft spot where they had just come out of.

“I’m joking, you know. I think they're cool.” Hide assures him, and Haise slowly lets them back out, tentatively grazing them against his companion's chest.

“Man we’re weird." Hide says affably, "I’m half metal and you’ve got tentacles. We’d have the strangest babies.”

“That- That’s impossible on so many different levels-” Haise puffs, flabbergasted, “Not to mention that your metal arm isn’t exactly hereditary...”

“Joking. Again.” The blonde reminds him, then raises a hand to tug down Haise’s body so it’s flush against his, “Can we get back to kissing now?”

“Good idea.”

 


 

“You actually look really great in that photo.” Hide says the next morning, when they're both picking their shirts up off of the floor.

Haise smirks cheekily at him.

“I know, right?”

"Do you still have the wig?"

Haise just winks in response.

"You bet I do."

 


  

Time passes faster than ever, and soon enough it's Hide's 23rd birthday. He comes home from work that evening to a huge party, idea courtesy of Shirazu. The music is blaring, the lights are dimmed, and everyone he could ever think of is there: his housemates, his coworkers, CCG staffers, as well as some of his old friend's from Kamii.

He chats and catches up with everyone excitedly, and thanks those who bring him gifts from the bottom of his heart.

When the party is in full swing, Haise finds him talking to Mado Akira. He excuses them both and pulls Hide away from the party, claiming he's got something to show him for his birthday.

Surprisingly, Haise leads him outside and into the little shed that sits mostly unused in their small yard space. On a table is a metal hutch with a huge bow on top, and inside of it is a fluffy white bunny.

"Oh my god you bought me a rabbit for my birthday." Hide says incredulously.

"I thought he could be our new family pet." Haise shrugs, "In such a busy house, he'll never get lonely."

"I love him." Hide professes, removing the bow excitedly from the cage, "Can I pet him?"

"You don't even need to ask." the half-ghoul says, and soon enough Hide's got the little furball in his lap, giggling as he feeds him carrots.

"What do you want to name him?" Haise asks, and Hide thinks about it for a few moments before answering.

"Roger."

"Roger?"

"You know, like Roger Rabbit?"

Haise sighs, "You and your Western films."

"I know what we're watching next movie night." Hide declares, then carefully places Roger back into his cage, leaving him plenty of veggies to munch on for the night.

"Thank you," he says, planting a quick kiss on Haise's cheek, "Wanna go dance?"

"Let's do it." Haise agrees, and the two walk hand in hand out of the shed and back into the party.

 


 

 

Finally, on a Sunday in January, Hide receives a happy call from his fathers. Keicho tells his son that as of today, he’s officially a big brother.

Hide brings Haise with him to their house in Ota to visit for the very first time. They’ve named her Yuki, since they got her in the winter, she's not even a year old and both he and Haise instantly fall in love with her wide green eyes.

As she gets older, Hide and Haise offer to babysit her whenever the opportunity arises. The rest of their housemates love her, and Hide suspects that Urie secretly does too, even though he crinkles his nose in annoyance whenever she's over at the Chateau.

Hide and Haise are supervising as Yuki crawls around with Roger in Hide's bedroom one day, and the two of them are debating about whether or not Yomo is actually Kirishima's brother.

"I don't think so, they look nothing alike. She's all dark hair and sarcasm and he's all huge and looming-"

"Yeah I agree, no way are they actually siblings," Hide jibes, "I knew her in the past and she's never once mentioned him." 

"How did you two meet, anyways?" Haise asks him.

Hide shakes his head, his eyes watching Roger as he sniffs Yuki curiously.

"We met through Kaneki, since he used to work at that coffee shop Anteiku with her." he reveals. "We weren't really friends."

"Seriously? I figured you guys were close since she brought you all those flowers and offered you a job."

"Nah, though I did ask her out once as a joke." Hide admits, "I wasn't serious or anything- but she still gave me the most terrifying look. I instantly regretted asking."

“You asked her out?” Haise gawps, and inappropriate as it is, Hide's his now, he can’t help but feel the slightest bit jealous. "I thought you always knew you didn't like girls."

"I did.” Hide says easily, looking Haise right in the eye, “But my heart always belonged to someone else, too. I tried to make him jealous.”

"If it didn't work then it's working now." Haise smiles and grabs Hide's hand, then laces their fingers together on his lap. 

“Kirishima is kind of scary though, isn’t she?” 

“Yeah, well, she is a ghoul. And my boss.” Hide says, then gasps in realization, “Shit I shouldn't have said that! She doesn't know that I know! Please don't turn her in!”

“Are you crazy? I would never.” Haise assures him, “She's our friend, and I actually knew already. I know she's harmless so I've been making sure that her name stays clear out of investigations.”

Hide sighs with relief.

“I always forget you're CCG and can do that.” he says.

"How do you forget I'm CCG when literally everyone who lives here is part of my squad?" Haise laughs at him disbelievingly "Not to mention I wear my uniform like, every day."

“Yeah, well. To me you’re just a bookworm who loves bad puns.” Hide shrugs teasingly.

“Excuse you, my puns are the punniest.” Haise narrows his eyes challengingly at the other.

“That was horrible.” Hide shakes his head in mock disappointment, “You’ll have to do better than that.”

“Are you prejudiced against punsters?” Haise accuses, his competitiveness blaring “That makes you homophonic!”

“Punsters? Is that even a real word?” the blonde asks condescendingly.

“I once did a theatrical performance on puns, but it was really just a play on words.”

“You’ve told me that one once.”

Haise narrows his eyes playfully and tries again. “I heard a pun about amnesia, but I forgot how it goes.”

Hide grins. “That I actually believe.”

"I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down!”

“Nerd.”

“My puns are pretty cheesy but I still think they’re gouda.”

Haise sees Hide begin to smile, and so he digs deep inside his head for his absolute best puns.

“A punsters favourite medium is wrought irony.”

“Without geometry, life is pointless.”

It’s working, Haise thinks, and continues shamelessly rallying them off.

“There was a ghost at the hotel, so they called for an inn spectre.”

“I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory when all I took was a day off.”

“Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher? He couldn’t control his pupils.”

Haise waggles his eyebrows cheekily, and Hide very blatantly struggles to hold back his laughter.

“Have you ever tried to eat a clock? It’s very time consuming.”

“Inspecting mirrors is a job I could really see myself doing.”

Hide is on the verge, and to finish him off, Haise hits him with his absolute favourite pun.

“I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. And then it hit me.”

“Pffffffft,” Hide snorts, unable to fight it anymore.

“F-Fine, you win.” he chokes out between giggles, and Haise takes a bow.

“I am the pun king.” He declares, and Hide laughs even harder.

“That doesn't make you any less of a nerd.”

"But you love this nerd." Haise attests, pushing the other down onto the bed to kiss him.

Hide looks up at him, smiling that brilliant gleaming smile that never fails to make Haise's heart flutter.

"That's true too."