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Cut Him Out In Little Stars

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The last thing Hide remembers is being eaten alive. He remembers weak desperate hands pushing his body down, and a hungry mouth latching onto his left calf. He recalls sharp pain, spots in his vision, and the sound of tearing flesh in his ears.

And yet, the memory is void of terror. It is full of sadness and warmth, of heartache and hope. He remembers placing his trembling hands on snowy white hair, and knowing that his sacrifice would be worth it if his best friend got out of this mess alive.

One life for another. It seemed like a fair trade.

When Hide wakes up in the hospital with his life, but without the lower half of his left leg, he is confused. He's not stupid. He knows enough about ghouls that one as wounded as Kaneki had been should have eaten more than just half a leg. Hide should be dead.

He's relieved that he isn't, of course, and can't help but shake his head ruefully. He can piece together what must have happened. Kaneki had controlled himself well enough to spare Hide's life. He must have. Hide sighed with a hint of fondness. That was Kaneki, denying and hurting himself just so he wouldn't hurt others. Hide promises himself to thank Kaneki when they meet again, right after he yells at the half-ghoul for being an idiot.

What had happened to Kaneki after the sewers? Was Hide's flesh enough? Did Kaneki escape? Hide had no answers, and no way of getting them until he could leave the hospital. Hide has no idea how long he's been in the hospital so far, but surely it can't be much longer until he's allowed to leave. And once he gets out, he would track down Kaneki. Hide's confident that Kaneki is alright. He has to be.

Hide dreams that night.

He's at Anteiku sipping a cappuccino, just like the old days. There is a cute latte art drawing in the foam. The image is of a precise geometrical star with an emoticon smile, but no matter how much Hide drinks of the warm liquid, the image refuses to be destroyed. It stays pristine, the cute face winking up at him whenever he stares down at the ceramic cup.

There are no other customers at the cafe, but all Anteiku's staff are there. He nods politely to each of them as they pass on by, except for Touka to whom he gives an enthusiastic wave and wide grin. As they each return his greeting, Hide can't help but feel slightly puzzled. There is something off about all their appearances, but he can't put his finger on it.

“Sorry I'm late!” a familiar voice apologized, as someone ploped down in the seat across from him. It's Kaneki, dressed in his Anteiku uniform, and looking slightly frazzled.

“Hey, man, I thought I you were going to leave me all alone!” Hide laughed. Kaneki smiles softly and looks down at the table, the curve of his mouth slightly wistful.

“Sorry, Hide, I'll be here next time,” Kaneki promised, lifting his eyes to meet Hide's. It hits Hide suddenly. Kaneki's left eye, like all the eyes of the Anteiku staff, is a polished ruby set in pitch.

Ghoul eyes.

Hide wakes up, blinking sleep from his eyes. His eyes open just in time to catch a glimpse of a figure in a white trench-coat leaving his hospital room. The stranger is carrying a large silver case that can only be a quinque. Without a doubt, it's a ghoul investigator, but Hide can't see a face to know who it is exactly. The person is gone before Hide can say anything.

A few days after Hide first woke up in the hospital, he gets a visitor. Mado Akira, the serious blond investigator he worked under, visits Hide with news on how the Anteiku raid went. The CCG is calling it the Owl Suppression Operation, and no one is quite sure who really won. Akira's words are strictly professional, spoken without emotion, and most of the information she provides is stark statistics. But despite her stoic act, there are cracks in her facade. She's lost people dear to her, and her heart bleeds. Hide tries to comfort her as best he can while he too mourns. He mourns for the lives lost, both human and ghoul. Hide's just beginning to see how unfair, how wrong, the world is.

It doesn't take long to discover that Akira knows little about the circumstances around Hide's retrieval from the sewers. Before she leaves, she promises to send him someone with more information. He doesn't wait long, maybe a day or two, until there is another visitor. To Hide surprise, it is the CCG's infamous Reaper, Arima Kishou himself.

Arima arrives carrying a briefcase. IXA or Narukami, Hide suspects. Arima rarely goes anywhere unarmed. The two study each other for a bit, before Arima sits down in the visitor chair. The investigator's white hair reminds Hide of Kaneki's from when Hide saw his friend last.

“Nagachika,” Arima began bluntly, without preamble, “It is commendable that you cornered the ghoul, but you were foolish to go after it without a quinque.”

Hide blinked up in confusion, “Cornered?”

Arima nodded once, “You were found grappling with Centipede.”

Hide sucks in a breath, his eyes growing wide. His heart was beating so loudly he almost didn't hear what Arima said next.

“You were lucky,” Arima continued in an even voice, “I had just finished cleaning up sector V14 and came across you and the ghoul.”

And just like that, Hide knows.

“You killed him,” the words are spoken in a hollow voice that Hide barely recognized as his own.

Arima inclined his head, “I did.”

Hide's world dissolved into static. He wanted to scream. To yell at the investigator and call him a liar. Hide wanted to do a hundred thousand different things, but it wouldn't do any good. It wouldn't bring Kaneki back. At a loss, Hide let the numbness settle in and stayed silent, biting his lip until he tasted blood. Hide wished the world would swallow him up in that fuzzy static. He had failed. He failed his best friend.

Arima stared at the blond, completely unruffled despite the dragging silence and the blood starting to drip down Hide's chin. Arima studied the younger man for another minute, before placing the briefcase he brought onto Hide's lap. The weight of it startled Hide back into reality.

“Inspector Shinohara once told me that he believed his Arata had a level of sentience,” Arima stated as Hide reflexively put his hands on the top of the briefcase, “He thought it had something to do with Arata being made from a kakuja. I never believed him until the quinque in your hands was made. It has been uncooperative to everyone who has tried it, but it might behave for you.”

Hide stared blankly at Arima, confused, even as something started screaming in the back of his mind.

“I don't understand,” Hide croaked, his throat thick with spit, “I thought you had to have the rights to get a quinque.”

Arima raised an eyebrow, “You have a claim to the rights. You cornered Centipede.”

The world became unnaturally still. Hide stared at the silver case in his lap, nausea curling in his gut. He wanted to throw the damn thing across the room. He wanted to hold it and never let go. Inside that case was Ka—

“No,” Hide protested, cutting off his thought, his voice rising in volume as hysteria crept in and his hands curled over the briefcase's handle, “Nonononono! Th-This isn't how it was supposed to go!”

“Nagachika—”

Hide bent over the silver briefcase, tears flowing freely. His body shook. The white noise was back in his ears, loud and insistent. This wasn't real. It couldn't be real! Nothing was real.

Finally, Hide gasped out, “Please leave.”

Arima frowned, but acquiesced. He left the briefcase in Hide's white knuckled grip.

After Hide exhausted himself with his grief, he passed out. He dreamed.

In his dream, Hide took the form of Kaneki as he last saw his friend last: white-haired and injured with a foreboding mask over his face. Across from him is Kaneki as Hide. The facial features, blond hair, and brown eyes all belong to Hide, but the soft smile is all Kaneki. It hurt seeing that smile. Hide was more prone to enthusiastic beaming than the sheepish grins that were Kaneki's forte. If Hide's smile was the blinding sun, then Kaneki's was a softly glowing star. Fresh grief overcame Hide suddenly. He would never see that smile again in reality—not on Kaneki's face nor on his own.

“Hello,” Kaneki-as-Hide waved shyly.

“Hey,” Hide-as-Kaneki replied, his voice rough as if put through a meat grinder, “Damn it, man. Why didn't you tell me how bad it was?”

Kaneki-as-Hide touched his chin and continued smiling, “It's alright, don't worry. I'm fine. What about you?”

“Terrible,” Hide-as-Kaneki answered bluntly, too tired to lie, “You left.”

Kaneki-as-Hide dropped his hand, his eyes turning sad as the soft smile faded, “I wanted to protect you.”

“You didn't have to leave!” Hide-as-Kaneki cried, throwing out an arm angrily, “You could have stayed, damn it! If you had just told me—damn it, you could have stayed! Or at least, you could have come back!”

Kaneki-as-Hide shook his head sorrowfully, and placed a kind hand on his friend's shoulder.

“But don't you see?” Kaneki-as-Hide implored, his voice far too gentle and his smile brittle, “I did come back.”

Hide woke up in his hospital bed with a gasp. The briefcase was sitting on the visitor chair, like an old friend keeping watch.

Hide's recovery was slow. He has physical therapy session after physical therapy session to relearn how to walk. The prosthetic they give him is a top of the line model, made for field investigators. Normally, such a thing wouldn't be given to a part-timer like him, but Hide sneaks a peek at the order forms, and sees Arima's signature everywhere. It makes Hide sick to think that the one who is financing his recovery is his best friend's killer. Several times he wants to turn the help away. His heart isn't even into getting better, so what was the point anyway? But then his eyes would fall on the silver case by his bed, and he would put on the fake leg.

Kaneki would want Hide to get better. Hide knows this, but Hide can't help but remember that he's the one who is supposed to be dead. Hide was supposed to be the sacrifice, not Kaneki.

Most nights Hide can't sleep. Half the time he can't stand to look at the briefcase. The other half of the time, he's paranoid that it will disappear. Hide's grief twists in his gut like festering wound. There is no tombstone for Kaneki, no memorial shrine, nor black-framed portrait. Kaneki's grave has been reduced down to a silver case that sits next to Hide's bed. It's depressing and wrong. Kaneki deserved so much more than the fate given to him.

Hide has abundant free time while at the hospital. So he looks up the CCG's rules on owning a quinque, even though he knows without looking that he's not supposed to have one. A quinque is only supposed to be in the hands of a ghoul investigator. Hide isn't even considered a bureau investigator, let alone a full-fledged ghoul investigator. Hide doesn't know how or why he is an exception, though he has suspicions. He refuses to voice them.

When Hide is able to sleep, he dreams of his friend.

Tonight, Hide is in the throes of a nightmare. His hands, from fingertips to elbows, are covered in blood, and for some reason his throat is dry, like bones in the desert. He knows without looking that his eyes aren't brown anymore. They're brilliant scarlet and deep black, wild with hunger and madness.

“Hide,” Kaneki's soft voice greets him from the ground. Hide turns his gaze down to look at his friend.

Kaneki is dark-haired this time, but the color is stained with crimson as blood causes the strands to clump. Kaneki's body is splayed open, his glistening guts strewn over the floor carelessly. His face is creased with pain, but Kaneki still manages a small smile for Hide, blood staining his teeth.

“Kaneki,” Hide pants painfully, grief twisting his mind into knots. Hide is on his knees next to Kaneki within the space of a thought. With shaking hands, Hide grasps Kaneki's too frail fingers, staining the pale skin with streaks of red.

Kaneki huffed out a painful laugh, the sound aborted before it could fully form.

“Hide, you look terrible,” Kaneki frowned, his free hand reaching up and tapping the corner of Hide's left eye.

“Shh. Don't talk,” Hide whispered, tears leaking down from his unnatural eyes. Kaneki's hand trailed down Hide's face before his fingertips stopped on top of Hide's lips.

“You should eat properly, or you'll never get any better,” Kaneki murmured, echoing back Hide's advice to him from what seemed like a lifetime ago. Hide watched in horror as Kaneki tipped back his head, baring his throat in a silent offering.

“Eat.”

Crash!

Hide jolted awake as a loud noise reverberated throughout his hospital room. The briefcase had fallen from its place on the visitor chair onto the floor, the silvery metal clanging with a cacophonous clatter against the tile. Swearing, Hide swung himself into a sitting position and righted the case, checking for damage. There was none, but case had opened a small crack. Paling, Hide snapped the briefcase closed, unready to face what was inside.

It's months later when Hide is finally discharged from the hospital, and given leave to go home to his apartment. He should have gone home earlier, but something always seemed to come up that extended his hospital stay. To be honest, Hide didn't care. The nurses were nice, and the CCG was footing the bill.

Akira helps him get settled into his apartment. He suspects her reason for doing so has more to do with her attempting to bury her own grief in work than any sense of obligation to him. A few minutes after reaching that conclusion, he changes his mind, and determines that he is being unfair to her. With Amon and Takizawa gone, Hide is one of the last that Akira directly worked with. He is a poor substitute for them, but he is all she has. Hide doesn't mind. Akira is stern, but kind, and she's careful not to touch the silver briefcase. Hide feels an idiotic sense of gratitude for that.

Hide's apartment isn't the largest of spaces, but it's bigger than the hospital room. It also has the benefit of being devoid of doctors and nurses, leaving Hide in solitude. It's not that Hide hated having people around—on the contrary, he actually liked being surrounded by friendly people. He just hated the lack of privacy at the hospital.

Soon Hide is properly settled in, and Akira takes her leave. Hide is alone, save for the silver briefcase. The case sat unobtrusively on the kitchen table, its polished surface gleaming in the overhead light. Hide stared at it, his stomach knotting. He never opened it, not once, in all the months it has been in his possession. But now, in the privacy of his home, his feelings are...different. He's still too anxious to face what is inside, but now he's also gripped with guilt. Kaneki should not be left to languish inside a box.

After a few hours, Hide finally strides over to his table, pulls the briefcase a little closer, and undoes the latches with a gentle click. The soft noise is almost deafening in the silence of the room. With great gentleness, Hide opens the case, and brings its contents into the light.

The quinque is a twisted red lance.

The weapon is similar in length to Arima's IXA, but wider. It reminds Hide of strands of rope, or thick vines, twining together to make a whole. The quinque tapers off to a deadly point, and oddly there is no guard, only a rough hilt bound in black leather. It's surprisingly light, and fits perfectly into Hide's grip. It feels right in Hide's hand, like an extension to his arm. Experimentally, he thrusts the weapon forward.

To his surprise, the lance blooms, the tightly twisted vines separating to form the writing tentacles he's only ever seen briefly. There are four in total, and they curl in the air, shaping it, with barely any input from Hide. The quinque is beautiful and deadly, made for murder. It's nothing like the shy bookworm Hide grew up with.

The red tendrils continued to stretch, weaving lazy patterns. Without warning, one of the tentacles reached too far and smacked into the wall, leaving a dent. The sudden thump caused Hide to yelp in alarm. In an instant, the quinque curled tightly back up into its original shape, quivering slightly. Hide can't help but think the quinque is giving off an almost sheepish air.

Unbidden, a laugh escapes from Hide's lips as tears slip down his face.

“Oh wow, Kaneki,” Hide snickered, his face splitting with a watery grin, “Seriously. Wow.”

It's the first time he's laughed in months.

Hide dreams on the first night he sleeps in the apartment.

Hide and Kaneki are sitting by the river at night, staring up at the night sky. The stars are all out of order, forming new constellations Hide's never seen before. Kaneki's hair was brilliant white and his kagune waved lazily from his back. Kaneki has never looked so much like a ghoul in Hide's dreams before. And yet, despite the kagune, the dead white hair, and the blood-red kakugan, Kaneki looks so very human. The kind smile Kaneki gives Hide is heart-breaking in its familiarity.

“Congratulations on being discharged from the hospital,” Kaneki offered. Hide laughed, shaking his head.

“It's about time,” Hide groused, but there was little heat in it, “When you went to the hospital they let you out after a few weeks, and your insides got rearranged. I just loose half a leg and they hold onto me forever.”

“Admit it, you liked being pampered by the nurses,” Kaneki teased, though there was a flash of worry on his face. Hide laughed, and shoved his friend's shoulder lightly before he turned his gaze back at the misaligned stars. There was one pattern that almost looked like a rabbit up there.

“Hey, Hide?” Kaneki said suddenly, interrupting Hide's musing of the stars.

“Hmm?” Hide blinked, looking back over to Kaneki. The pale-haired half-ghoul stared intently at Hide, the mismatched eyes filled with grave sincerity.

“Thanks for letting me out.”

The first thing Hide sees when he wakes up is the briefcase on his bedside table. The lid was wide open.

“No problem, man,” Hide whispered to the empty room.

Hide doesn't really want to be a full time ghoul investigator. He's not big into hunting ghouls (especially now) and he still has school to worry about. He's also hesitant about leaving the CCG. So far the CCG hasn't done anything to separate Hide from the quinque, but Hide isn't stupid enough to think the CCG will let him walk out with the weapon if he's not on their payroll. He refuses to part with it.

In the end, Hide is allowed to stay as a part time assistant to the CCG, though he vaguely remembers having to sign a contract locking him into at least two years of full time employment after his schooling was finished. He remains in an analyst position, and never goes out on the field. Somehow, he's still allowed to keep the quinque, despite his non-combative role. It doesn't take long to dig up the paperwork attached to the exception. Inspector Arima gave his approval. His signature and stamp stood out starkly on all the papers. Hide is torn on what to feel. He doesn't feel gratitude towards Arima, despite the fact the investigator undoubtedly saved Hide's life, and is showing the part-timer blatant favoritism. Hide will never feel gratitude towards that man, not with the grief that clogs the arteries of Hide's heart. Strangely, the blond doesn't feel hate either.

Instead he feels oddly detached, and resolves to stay away from the CCG's Reaper.

Despite not having field work, Hide finds himself practicing with the quinque. While he never wants to use the weapon in combat, something in his heart tells him that Kaneki wouldn't like it if Hide just did nothing with the quinque. Working with the quinque is startlingly easy. It only takes a small nudge to guide the weapon where he wants it to go, and it always hits the target with devastating force. Hide only gets to use the quinque in training rooms against static dummies, but somehow he knows that even mobile targets couldn't escape the quinque's grasp.

Arima had told him that the weapon had been uncooperative to others, but for Hide it's as easy as breathing. Using the quinque feels less like combat or exercise, and more like playing with the old friend it is. Hide almost thinks Arima had been lying until he was proven wrong.

Hide had just finished practicing with the quinque, and was in the process of putting the weapon away when a pair of investigators he wasn't familiar with barged into the training room. The two made a beeline for Hide, their expressions dark.

“What can I do for you guys?” Hide grinned, trying to be polite.

“What a waste,” the one on the left scowled at Hide, ignoring the friendly greeting, “The strongest rinkaku quinque the CCG ever produced, and it goes to a crippled desk jockey.”

“It should go to a real investigator,” the other sneered, snatching at the twisted lance.

Hide stumbled, surprised, “Hey! Wait!”

As soon as the investigator had a grip on the quinque, the lance exploded into thrashing red limbs, wild and out of control. One strong appendage slammed into the one on the left, smashing him to the floor. A sharp crack and a scream of pain spoke of broken bones. The one holding the quinque was grasped in turn as a crimson tendril wrapped around his neck and began to squeeze.

“Stop!” Hide yelled, grabbing at the quinque's handle, “You're going to kill him!”

It must have been his imagination, but Hide swore he heard a soft emotionless voice whisper in his ear.

'Bad beans should be plucked.'

Hide grit his teeth and spat, “Damn it, Kaneki you idiot, I said stop!"

In an instant, the quinque dropped the investigator and returned to it more docile default state. Even so, the weapon seemed to vibrate in Hide's grip like a swarm of angry insects, and the air was thick with blood-lust tainted tension. Shaking slightly, Hide knelt down to check on the choked investigator, wincing when he noticed the bruising that was already starting to form.

“You alright?”

The investigator stared at Hide in horror, “That thing tried to kill me!”

“Because you were untrained in its use,” a steely voice stated from the doorway. Turning his head, Hide saw Akira striding over to them.

“Inspector Mado,” the choked investigator gasped out, “Did you see—”

“You being an idiot? Yes,” Akira cut in, unimpressed, “There are many quinques that are difficult to handle without proper training. You could get injured or even killed if you act as foolishly as you did just now. Thank Nagachika for saving your stupid ass, and take your friend to the infirmary.”

The investigator growled, obviously embarrassed, but he did as he was told. Once the two were gone, Akira turned to Hide, her expression neutral.

“Thanks, Akira,” Hide grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head, “Sorry for the trouble.”

Akira didn't reply. She glanced down to study the quinque Hide held. Something flickered in her gaze. Pity perhaps.

“Nagachika,” Akira murmured after a few moments, “Perhaps giving you that quinque was...cruel.”

Hide's grip tightened on the weapon, turning his knuckles white. He couldn't disagree with her statement. After a breath, he locked eyes with Akira firmly.

“I'm not giving it up,” Hide said, a stubborn jut to his jaw.

“I didn't say you should,” Akira replied, crossing her arms, “So, Nagachika, what are you planning on doing now?”

Hide bit his lip and studied the remains of his best friend. The quinque had stopped vibrating. The tension had faded from the air, and the weapon no longer seemed like an angry living thing. It was nothing more than an oddly shaped lance. Except it wasn't just a lance, and never could be.

“My reason for joining the CCG hasn't changed,” Hide answered Akira at last, “I still want to know what happened to Kaneki. And now, I also want to find Dr. Kanou. His experiment...”

Hide trailed off, not bothering to finish his thought.

“And when you find Kanou, what do you want to do with him?” Akira asked.

Hide smiled lightly and saluted with the quinque, “Me? Nothing. I'll let Kaneki decide.”

Later that night, Hide slides into a nightmare.

This time, Hide is trapped in a memory.

He's back in the sewers with Kaneki. Hide's friend is pale-haired and badly injured, his one visible eye half mad with pain and hunger. Kaneki is barely coherent and feral, completely at odds with Hide's memory of a well-read, soft spoken boy. But there is something familiar in the way that the injured creature acts even in this depleted state. Kaneki is starving, Hide can see it, but the half-ghoul is trying to shy away, trying to save Hide. That was Kaneki, always trying to sacrifice himself, even when it wasn't his turn to do so. Now, as he did then, Hide smiles at the crazed ghoul and offers himself up.

“Let's just go home,” Hide murmured, his heart aching. If only it was that simple.

Kaneki's teeth sink into Hide's flesh, restraint gone. He's hungry, and can't be gentle as he rips through skin and tears through muscle. In the past, when Kaneki crunched through bone, Hide passed out.

But unlike in reality, Hide doesn't find the peace of oblivion. Instead time rewinds, and he's in front of Kaneki again. Again Hide opens his arms, and again a hungry mouth starts to devour him alive. And then again. And again. And again. And again and again and again—

Hide's screaming, gibbering with pain, when the loop finally stops. Hide's flat on his back, his leg a bloody mangled mess, and Kaneki is leaning over him, mouth red with Hide's blood.

“Why?” Kaneki asked, black-nailed fingers idly tracing the teethmarks marring Hide's flesh. It's not soothing in the least, and fresh pain washes over Hide.

“B-because,” Hide gasped out, his voice wreaked and spots dancing in his vision, “I just...I just want...I want you to come home."

Hide wakes up sweating and shaking. The scars on his leg ached, and he reached down to trace one of the jagged bite marks, feeling the impression of Kaneki's teeth on his skin. He spied the quinque laying silently in its case, and a fresh sob caught in his throat. This is not how Hide wanted his best friend to come back, coated in steel and stuffed in a briefcase.

Almost two years pass since the Anteiku raid. The cafe is gone, smashed to rubble, and is swiftly turning into a bad memory for the human population of Tokyo. It's a good ghost story to be sure. Just imagine, a cafe run by ghouls hiding amongst their prey. Who knows, maybe that's how they picked out their victims; you would go in for a latte and never come back.

For Hide, the loss of Anteiku is yet another missing piece of his old life. He didn't used to like coffee since he had a preference for sweets, but now he wanders from coffee shop to coffee shop like a lost child, the quinque in tow. At each cafe, Hide always tries a cappuccino and a plain black coffee, despite his distaste for bitterness. And if he breaks down and adds cream and sugar in copious amounts, he's sure Kaneki would forgive him. He knows he's searching for a replica of Anteiku's flavor. He tries many places, but they're never quite right.

(Maybe it's not the taste, but the company that's missing.)

When Hide opens up the door to yet another new shop (it's new, just opened, with a strange short name) he doesn't expect much. That is, until the waitress shows up.

“Welcome to :re,” a familiar voice greeted, causing his head to snap up alertly.

She looks different. She's wearing makeup and a soft smile, and her hair is dyed silvery-blue, but without a doubt that person is—

“Touka-chan,” Hide breathed, his fingers going slack around the briefcase's handle. He tightens his grip before it could fall.

She is equally shocked to see him, her eyes going wide with surprise and panic. Hide had just gotten off of his shift at work, and is still dressed in his CCG uniform with a quinque case in hand. It's well known to the CCG that Anteiku's staff was filled with ghouls. Touka knows that Hide knows, and she's going to run.

Before she can bolt, Hide places the quinque on the ground, and holds both hands up in surrender. He pasted his most disarming smile on his face, and laughed lightly.

“I'm sorry, I mistook you for someone else,” Hide lied, his eyes crinkling up, “You look just like someone I used to know.”

Touka stares at him, fear and curiosity warring over her features. He grinned brightly at her, begging her without words.

'Please, please, don't run!'

She eventually turns in place and gestures to a random table.

“What can I get for you, sir?” she asked politely, firmly in her role as a graceful waitress. Her act is almost perfect, but her voice wavers at the end. Hide doesn't quite sigh in relief, but he does take a seat at the table she showed him to hide his shaky legs. He's careful to place the quinque on the chair across from him, just out of his reach and in plain sight.

Not that it matters much, even if he could bring himself to point the weapon at her. Kaneki would never strike Touka.

Hide placed his order, his mouth on autopilot as his mind churned, “A cappuccino and a coffee. Black, no sugar.”

She ducked behind the counter to start making his drinks. He followed her with his eyes, taking note of her controlled movements. She's well practiced, and there are no other customers this late besides Hide. It takes no time at all for her to come back with his drinks. While he didn't ask for it, his cappuccino comes with latte art. It's a chubby rabbit with an adorable smile and cinnamon stars sprinkled above its head. He doesn't drink it right away, not wanting to ruin the image.

“Hey, miss?” Hide addressed Touka while still staring at the foam rabbit. She stiffened.

“Yes, sir?” she answered warily. He smiled ruefully back.

“Would you like to go on a date?” Hide asked with a weak grin, an echo of their old banter back in Anteiku.

“I, um,” Touka sputtered, momentarily confused, before her eyes narrowed in understanding, “Alright. My shift ends in half an hour.”

Hide grinned, the expression still wan, “Great.”

He takes a sip from the cappuccino. It's perfect.

Twenty minutes later, Touka removed her apron, and flipped the store sign to closed. She turned to Hide, scowling with her arms crossed.

“Talk,” she ordered briskly.

Hide frowned and stood, “Can we go somewhere more private? There are windows.”

“We can go to the backroom.”

Hide nodded in agreement, and moved to fetch the briefcase. Instantly, Touka tensed.

“If it bothers you, you can carry it, but it's not staying out here,” Hide sighed, handing her the case. She's the first person he's allowed to carry the quinque. Touka takes the briefcase with an air of distaste, as if he handed her something vile. That expression caused realization to slam into Hide's gut.

Touka doesn't know. She has no idea what happened to Kaneki.

Hide wanted to vomit. How was he supposed to tell her? How could he?

He followed her to :re's back room. It was actually a large space, with tall shelves lining the walls. Hide let Touka hold all the cards. He walked over to the far side of the room, and she stood in front of the doorway. There are no windows, and no one will hear him from back here. He's trapped, and they both know it.

It's obvious that Touka is not pleased to be carrying around a quinque. It's understandable—quinque are made out of her kind to hunt her kind. But the one she's holding is...unique. Touka holds the briefcase at arms length, something Hide knows she wouldn't do if she knew.

The words spill out of his mouth without Hide's consent, “It's Kaneki.”

Touka inhaled a shaky breath, her eyes lighting up earnestly, “Y-you saw him? Is he alright?”

And suddenly, Touka looked so hopeful, so eager. If Hide was Kaneki, he would lie to her. Kaneki would spare her the heartache. But Hide isn't Kaneki. Hide knows the pain of waiting and not knowing. Hide can't lie to her.

“Touka,” Hide began carefully, his face twisting in anguish as he gestured hopelessly at the silver case, “You're—you're holding him.”

Her reaction is immediate. She almost drops the briefcase, but quick reflexes catch it in time. She pulls the case close to her chest, her face dead white, sickly like a fish's underbelly.

Her eyes snap up to met his. Touka pins him with a flat stare, her eyes red hot coals coated in darkness. It's the first time since the sewers that Hide's ever seen a kakugan so close. It's terrifying and terrific all at once.

“You're lying,” she accused, her voice low and menacing. Hide doesn't say anything, letting the grief on his face speak for him. Slowly, the disbelief fades, and her expression turns murderous.

“Did you do it?”

“NO!” Hide shouted, jerking as if she had slapped him, “No...Arima.”

Her pale fingers tightened around the briefcase. Touka laughed bitterly, tears starting to fall from her kakugan, “Arima. The CCG's Reaper...Stupid Kaneki. You always, always end up over your head!”

She glared at Hide with her garnet eyes, her arms tight around the quinque's case. Hide can see the metal has bent slightly in her grip, leaving an indention of her hands. It's nothing that can harm the actual quinque, but it's a tell-tale sign of a ghoul's strength. Touka looks fragile, but she can smash Hide's head in like an overripe melon whenever she wants, and he just handed her the only weapon he had.

Hide placed his hands in his pockets and waits.

“You're not even afraid, are you?” Touka asked, tilting her head slightly. Hide shrugged.

“I'm a ghoul,” Touka reminded him softly, without heat, “I could eat you.”

Hide huffed out a fragile laugh, the rough scars on his leg aching, “Been there, done that.”

Touka continued to stare at him, tears still dripping down her cheeks, as she unleashed her kagune. Hide can't help but think that she looks like an angel of vengeance—beautiful, sorrowful, and deadly. Her kagune arched, and curved forward towards him.

The smoky wing paused a hair's breath from his face. Hide doesn't flinch.

“Do you have a death wish?” Touka queried, her tone oddly neutral. Hide shrugged again.

“I never liked suicide, but I don't know, I kinda do stupid things around ghouls. Maybe—maybe I do have a death wish.”

They studied each other. Hide is sure Touka is going to slice his head in half any minute now, but she doesn't. Hide's discovered that he was relieved. Strange.

“My kagune. Do you like it?” Touka asked curiously, her misty ukaku still hovering near his face.

“It's beautiful,” Hide answered honestly.

The wing withdrew and Touka's eyes faded to more human colors. An angel turned mortal.

Quietly, she opened the silver case, and unsheathed the twisted lance, fresh tears in her human eyes. Unsurprisingly, the quinque was docile in her hands.

“Oh,” Touka sighed, staring wistfully at the quinque, “Oh Kaneki, you idiot. I'm sorry.”

Like a wilting flower, Touka's legs buckled under her as she sank to the ground, cradling the weapon.

“You were supposed to come back,” Touka whispered, her body shaking with sobs, “Idiot, I didn't mean what I said before. I can't believe—I can't believe those were the last words I said to you! I-I missed you so damn much. You shitty bastard. You were supposed to come back. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”

As she cried, Hide knelt down before her, and gathered her into his arms. She let him hug her without protest, the quinque between them. Tears pricked Hide's eyes, and the two of them cried together.

“I'm sorry,” Hide echoed Touka, his throat tight, “Damn it. I'm so damn sorry. It should have been me. It was supposed to be me.”

Hide doesn't know how long they sat there together. They stayed clutching each other even as more tears refused to fall. They were exhausted. For awhile they simply breathed together, human and ghoul with a ghost between them. Finally, Hide pulled away, and sat back waiting for Touka to make the first move. After a few moments, Touka bit her lip and then offered Hide the quinque, hilt first.

Hide's hands gripped hard around the weapon's handle. Even so, his body shook.

“Why didn't you kill me?” he asked quietly.

Touka paused, choosing her words carefully, “Kaneki would have never let me.”

“Kaneki is dead!” Hide burst out, his heart clenching.

Touka placed a slim hand on the lance's twisted form.

“Kaneki is right here.”

Hide left :re not long after that. He found himself coming back every week, not because he was overtly told to, but because he feels an obligation to do so. He always takes a table in the back, places the briefcase on the chair opposite from him, just out of reach, and orders two drinks. He doesn't care that having coffee with a quinque makes him look crazy. To him, it's the most natural thing in the world to have coffee with his best friend. Besides, no one bothered him, and Touka seemed to approve.

Hide has a reoccurring dream.

He's at :re sitting at his usual table. In the chair across from him is Kaneki, dark-haired and laughing. Touka is to Hide's left, sipping a coffee to cover up a smile. Hide has no idea what Kaneki is laughing about, but its so genuine and contagious that Hide has to laugh too. Soon all three of then are failing at stifling giggles, and Hide punctuates their mirth by banging the table joyfully with an open palm. Their drinks to rattle, but nothing spills.

It's normal. It's perfect.

It'll never happen in reality.

Hide always wakes up from that dream with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes. He wants that scene to be real so bad it hurts.

The quinque is next to his bed, as always, reminding him of all the things that can never be.

Hide graduates from Kamii with honors, and is thrust into a full time position at the CCG, per his contract. It's a balancing act, working at the CCG, and drinking coffee at a cafe he knows is run by ghouls. It helps that his work at the CCG is still just information gathering and analysis, without a bit of field work. He tries his best to only work on cases dealing with the most brutal of ghouls, the ones that kill more than what is needed to survive. It's not too terrible of a goal. More docile ghouls tend to scavenge, and kill only enough to survive. The ones that get the CCG's full attention tend to be more ruthless with their methods. Aogiri Tree in particular is a nasty piece of work. However, once in awhile, a case crosses his path that doesn't follow his criteria. Sometimes even the quiet ghouls can't escape notice.

When that happens, no one at the office protests when Hide takes the files home with him to work on after hours. He gets praised for his dedication. In fact, he's so dedicated he makes sure to go ask for a second opinion.

Touka is always interested in reading over Hide's files with him.

Hide doesn't just deal with case files. Like all government organizations, the CCG is run on logistics. There are always forms to be prepared and items to be ordered. Hide works on a little bit of everything. He is even sometimes pulled in to look over the reports of the latest experiments from the science department.

At times, it seems like the CCG doesn't know what to do with Hide. He has a sharp, uncanny mind which has led to the capture and elimination of scores of hostile ghouls. However, his refusal to go out on the field, despite the fact that he is issued such a powerful quinque, has earned him disdain amongst the field operatives in the CCG.

Despite that, no one dares suggest he gives the quinque to someone else. By now, even if only a few know the full story, everyone in the CCG knows Nagachika Hideyoshi is the only person capable of controlling the volatile weapon. The fact that he controls the quinque with ease is met with jealousy.

(A few more curious investigators wonder why it's only Nagachika that can tame the weapon. There are other, more experienced investigators who have learned how to control difficult quinques in the past. Why could none of them, including Arima, use the weapon?)

On his part, Hide ignores the criticism, and focuses on finishing up his pledged two years with the CCG. He's not sure what he wants to do after his obligation to the CCG ends (or if he even wants to finish those two years). He does begin to craft plots on how to smuggle the quinque out with him. All his ideas are far-fetched, and when he consults with Touka, she calls him an idiot. She doesn't really try to dissuade him though.

Hide has a handful of people he is friends with at the CCG. He's certainly friendly enough to earn himself friends among his coworkers in Division II, despite his reputation among the field officers. The CCG's intelligence branch cares little for his lack of field work, and many are impressed with his uncanny deductions. In addition, Akira stays in touch with him, despite the fact their cases rarely align nowadays. In many ways, Akira reminds Hide of Kaneki: quiet and clever, with a faint air of bitter tragedy to them. Hide dares not mention his observation to her. Akira probably wouldn't appreciate it, and unlike Kaneki, her temper runs hot.

One day, Akira placed a thick folder on Hide's desk. Hide looked up questioningly, meeting her troubled gaze.

“I thought you should know,” Akira said stiffly in lieu of an explanation, tapping the folder once. She leaves before he can ask her any questions.

Curious, Hide opens the folder right away. The first couple of pages are profiles of a group of investigators a few years younger than Hide. Fresh graduates from the CCG's academies, it looked like. The usual statistics (birth date, height, weight, and medical history) are present. There is also a survey for each investigator, measuring their aptitude for a new surgical procedure the science department was working on.

Hide frowned. Odd. He hadn't heard of any new procedure coming out of the science department. He turns to the next page in the folder.

It's an autopsy report. There are pictures, glossy colored prints, primarily made up of black, white, and red. Each image is clinical and cold, accompanied with technical jargon and precise diagrams. As his eyes land on each photo, Hide felt his stomach start to rebel. His fingers shake as he quickly flips through the rest of the report, his eyes catching only a handful of words, but he's already seen enough.

The CCG has harvested so much more than a quinque from Kaneki.

The last page in the report details the overseeing senior investigators for the project. The name “Arima Kishou” leaps out at Hide. Furious, Hide storms out of his office, quinque case in one hand, the folder in the other. He ignored anyone who called out to him, his mind whirling at light-speed. He's never been so angry.

Hide shoves open the door to Arima's office, not bothering to knock. He marched over to Arima's desk, uncaring that he's interrupting a meeting with a group of investigators who must be Arima's squad. Hide's being reckless, but he doesn't care. He's already offered his flesh and blood up to a ghoul. Nothing is more reckless than that.

Hide slams the folder on Arima's desk, making sure that when he flips it open, the grisly autopsy photos are on top.

“What the hell is the Quinx squad?!” Hide all but yells in Arima's face. It's strange. Even though he's seen Arima's signature everywhere in his life these past few years, this is the first time Hide's seen the investigator face to face since the hospital.

Arima looked at Hide calmly, completely unruffled, “Hello, Nagachika.”

“Explain why the hell the CCG continued Kanou's experiment,” Hide growled, anger settling over him like a cloak.

“We need a new angle for combating ghouls,” Arima explained simply, still as cool as ice, “And if you are concerned about the danger, precautions have been made.”

“Damn straight I'm concerned!” Hide snapped, his fingers tightening on the quinque case he held, “Coating a kakuhou in quinque steel and implanting it into a human body? Limiting the output with frames? You have no idea what can happen. All your 'precautions' could fail. They could be swallowed by their powers. And even if everything works perfectly, do you think ghouls won't be extra interested in them? Their position in the CCG aside, rumor has it that ghoul hybrids are especially delicious to their full-blooded cousins. You just painted a giant target on their backs!”

“They're ghoul investigators.”

“They're kids who don't realize what they signed up for!” Hide hissed back, slamming his fist on the desk.

“You seem to be very passionate about this, Nagachika, was it?” a strong voice commented from behind Hide. Hide turned to the speaker. His eyes widened when he saw who it was.

“Director Washuu!” Hide yelped, bowing quickly. Washuu Yoshitoki, the Bureau Director of CCG's Main Office, bowed politely back, a faint smile on his lips.

“ Nagachika, if you don't mind me saying, the subject of the Quinx squad seems to be oddly personal for you,” Washuu observed, “You are worried for the well-being of people you have never met.”

Hide stayed bent low in his polite bow, suddenly too nervous to look up. Arima was one thing. One of the Washuu clan was a different story all together.

“...Yes, this is personal,” Hide answered after a moment.

“Hmm,” Washuu hummed thoughtfully, “What do you think about being assigned as a mentor to the Quinx squad?”

Hide straightened in surprise, “What?”

Washuu eyed the quinque case in Hide's hand, before meeting Hide's gaze, understanding clear in his eyes, “Your personal history could greatly benefit the new squad in understanding their limits.”

“Sir!” one of Arima's squad mates protested from the corner of the room, “Nagachika is a non-combatant!”

“Is that so?” Washuu murmured, glancing back at the case Hide carried, “And yet, I had heard that Nagachika was especially skilled in the use of his quinque. Well, Nagachika, what do you think of being a mentor?”

Hide felt conflicted.

“I—”

“Nagachika is still untried!” the same investigator insisted, “He'll never be able to keep up with combat ready investigators like the Quinx.”

“Is that all?” this time it was Arima who spoke, “We can put him on trial basis with the Quinx. Have him go on a mission with them. If Nagachika can keep up, then there is no problem, is there?”

“A sound plan,” Washuu agreed, patting Hide on the back, “That settles it. We'll set up something within the next few days. Nagachika, I look forward to your report.”

“I, ah,” Hide sputtered, startled with this turn of events, before collecting himself, “Yes. Thank you, sir.”

Hide leaves the office earlier than usual, his mind buzzing with ideas and possibilities. He lets his feet automatically take him to :re, and wastes no time filling Touka in on the situation.

“Disgusting,” Touka spat when Hide finished telling her about the Quinx experiment, “The CCG is no better than Aogiri and Kanou.”

Hide buried his head in his hands, and admitted, “That's what I thought when I found out. But Touka, they're just kids. They're in way over their heads, just like Kaneki was. I can't...I can't leave them. I'd never forgive myself.”

Touka pursed her lips, a displeased frown on her face, “You're going to get yourself killed.”

Hide laughed, and grinned hugely at her, “I've done stupider things.”

The day before his first mission with the Quinx, Hide dreams.

He's in a large cavernous room with a tall ceiling decorated with dripping pipes. The light is dim, and it's eerily quiet. Even the dripping water falls to the ground without noise. Kaneki stands in the middle of the room, dressed in black with that infamous eyepatch mask in place, his white hair a brilliant star in the gloom.

Kaneki doesn't make a sound, but he beckons Hide to sit at the edge of the room. Hide complies, crossing his legs neatly beneath him. Idly, he notes that in his dream, the left one is whole.

As soon as Hide is settled, Kaneki moves.

The half-ghoul slides into a series of blinding fast kata, graceful and precise. His body twists and turns, agile, and each punch and kick to the air speaks of the strength and power behind the strikes. The pale-haired youth is careful to keep his distance, allowing Hide to see every move. It's amazing really, how even though he is alone, Kaneki is able to shape the air around him as if he was fighting real opponents.

Hide knew from what little he saw of Kaneki fighting during the Anteiku raid that his friend had trained in martial arts during his time away. Hide had never seen it in person though, and wondered if the real Kaneki knew the kata Hide was witnessing now.

Kaneki ended with an elegant leg sweep before he stood and bowed politely to Hide. Hide in turn stood and returned the bow right before the dream dissolved around him.

The quinque's case is in plain sight when he opens his eyes, but apparently someone had sneaked in during the night to leave a note taped on the briefcase's surface. It's a good luck message, unsigned, written on rabbit themed stationary. He doesn't quite recognize the handwriting, but it is familiar. The writing is very neat, and coupled with the themed paper, makes Hide think it must have been Touka who sent it.

Akira is waiting for Hide with the Quinx squad when he arrives to work. The Quinx look even younger in person than in their photographs. Yonebayashi Saiko is round-cheeked and snoozing in her chair. Shirazu Ginshi comes off as a delinquent, but it's Urie Kuki's standoffish attitude that causes Hide concern. Mutsuki Tooru is a gentle-looking boy with a nervous smile, and an eyepatch over one eye. Hide stamps out the nostalgia that flares in his heart when he sees the scrap of cotton on Mutsuki's face. The Quinx might have similarities to Kaneki, but they're not replacements for Hide's friend. They are unique individuals, and to think otherwise would be a disservice to both them and Kaneki.

They each introduce themselves with their names, rank, and (in Saiko's case) a spiel about their interests. Hide bows and smiles widely, introducing himself in turn.

“Nagachika Hideyoshi, but you can just call me Hide. I'm only a few years older than you guys after all. Um, I don't think I have an official rank...Last I checked, I was still an Assistant. Haha, you guys might all outrank me!”

The Quinx look startled at his admission. Urie in particular looks irritated, and grumbles something inaudible under his breath. Hide's willing to bet money that it wasn't flattering to say the least.

“Nagachika,” Akira sighed, rolling her eyes, “You never went to any of the promotion or award ceremonies, did you?”

Hide shrugged, and flashed her a sunny smile, “Of course not. It's a waste of time. And I hate the dress uniform.”

That's a bit of a lie. Hide hates the ceremonies because what they're really there for is to celebrate ghouls—people—dying.

Akira shakes her head, and turned to the Quinx, “This is Rank 1 Investigator Nagachika Hideyoshi. He is a recipient of the Double White Wing Medal.”

Now the Quinx are staring at him with undisguised awe. The White Wing Medal is only given to investigators who have taken down especially powerful ghouls, and a Double indicted an SS-rate ghoul. Hide, however, was confused.

“I haven't worked on a case for an SS-rate ghoul,” Hide frowned, “When did I get the Double White Wing Medal?”

“Arima nominated you for it due to your work during the Owl Suppression Mission. For cornering Centipede,” Akira answered in a bland voice, though her eyes searched him with a trace of worry. Again awe crossed the faces of the Quinx when they recognized the name of the famous high stakes mission. However, Hide tensed, before forcibly relaxing his body.

“Is that so?” Hide drawled, a grimacing grin on his face, “Damn. I knew I should have punched Arima in the face. Remind me to do that the next time I see him. Ah well...let's get this mission started. Daylight's burning, you know?”

If the Quinx weren't already staring at Hide, they certainly would be now as the older male walked off, leading the way. Akira shook her head. In her opinion, despite his sharp mind and numerous accomplishments, Hide should have never been an investigator. The job was cruel to him.

The plan was to start gathering information, a task that was simple enough. The Quinx squad members were to inspect a crime scene that had the potential of being related to ghouls. Hide quickly picked up that the Quinx were rather weak at the actual investigating part of being a ghoul investigator. Saiko and Shirazu know almost nothing about crime scene etiquette, and Hide finds his hands full giving the pair of them a crash course on how to process a scene. Urie was more skilled than the others, quickly finding clues, and carefully prodding at evidence with properly gloved hands. However, Urie does not take enough photos, and trying to get him to share what he has found is like pulling teeth. Mutsuki's skill is better than Saiko's and Shirazu's, but he is hesitant, and his opinions are easily drowned out by the louder voices of his fellows.

It was taking much longer than it should to finish up at the scene, and Akira was obviously growing frustrated. Hide is too. When Akira suggests that they split up to cover more ground, Hide agrees. She takes Shirazu and Urie, leaving Hide with Mutsuki and Saiko. Hide has the two Quinx start photographing the scene, while he steps back to get a broader view of the evidence before him.

There were three bodies in total, all human. The cadavers are all carved open, but there's no indication that any of the flesh had been eaten or taken. But it was definitely a ghoul attack. There's fluid left behind to indicate a ghoul had been here, as well as deep gouges on the ground consistent with kagune. Judging by the shape of the kagune marks (orderly and precise cuts when slashing forward and drag marks on the back swing due to weight) the user is a koukaku...no wait, there was a break in the pattern. There...dotted holes in the pavement, like bullets fired in a spiral. An ukaku? No, not an ukaku. There was a second pattern of bullet-hole like depressions, the spiral reversed and tighter in formation. Two ukaku and a koukaku.

“Yonebayashi!” Hide called, waving the blue-haired girl over, “Photos of these, please!”

“Kay!” the girl chirped, pulling out the camera and clicking away.

“Mutsuki, with me,” Hide beckoned, as he pointed to a nearby alleyway mouth, “The kagune marks stretch all the way over there. Let's check it out.”

“Ye-yes sir!” Mutsuki nodded, jogging over to Hide. The blond grinned at the younger investigator.

“You're doing fine, Mutsuki,” Hide confided quietly to the green-haired youth, “Just relax, okay?”

“I...ah yes sir,” Mutsuki nodded, still stiff. With a soft sigh, Hide patted Mutsuki on the shoulder, and headed into the alley.

They barely took two steps into the alley before Mutsuki was slammed right back out, his thin body skidding a bit on the pavement. Hide cursed. A trap!

“Muuchan!” Saiko cried out, rushing over to her fellow Quinx.

“I'm fine,” Mutsuki coughed out, but blood was dribbling past his lips.

“Yonebayashi!” Hide yelled, careful not to take his eyes off their ambushers, “Take Mutsuki and get out of here! Get Akira and the others!”

“But—”

“Go!” Hide ordered as he deployed the quinque he carried. The twisted lance fit into his palm comfortably, the weapon vibrating slightly as if in excitement. This was the first real battle for both of them.

In a swift practiced move, Hide brought up the lance to block a blow from an overhead strike from a sword-like koukaku, before leaping backwards to avoid a hail of kagune crystals. He had been right; there were three ghouls.

“See, I told you,” the koukaku growled behind a male noh mask, “Patience—”

“—And we get a tastier treat!” a cackling ukaku in a female noh mask finished. The third ukaku, wearing an oni mask, nodded silently.

“Go!” Hide shouted at the Quinx again, charging forward at the oni-masked ukaku without glancing back to see if they had followed his orders. His strike hit true, piercing through the left shoulder of the ukaku, right where the arm joined to the torso. With a sharp twist, the quinque's tentacles separated violently, severing the arm from the owner's body. Blood, hot and so vibrantly red, gushed out, splattering across Hide's face.

Hide stared, his eyes widening. This was the first time he had ever used the quinque against a living being. It was, it was...

“GAAAAHHH!” the wounded ghoul screamed.

Hide hesitated too long, a crucial critical second that he wasted.

“You'll pay for that, bastard!” the koukaku screamed, slamming Hide bodily into the alley wall.

Hide felt his head crack against the brick, and his vision grayed. Shakily, he attempted to stand, but static was in his vision and in his ears, making him dizzy. Faintly, within the static, he heard words form.

'They're fucking dead...'

“K-Kaneki?” Hide whispered before his vision swam again, and he blacked out.

Hide was hallucinating.

Hide was suddenly back in the sewers during the Anteiku raid. He can see his own unconscious body nearby, the left leg freshly torn and bloody. From the feel of kagune on his back and the black nails he sees when he looks down at his hands, he's Kaneki. Arima is there too, IXA at the ready.

Hide (or is it Kaneki?) is screaming wildly, nonsensical words dripping from his lips. The kagune at his back streaked straight at Arima. His head hurts hurts hurtshurtshurts! A hole where his eye was...give it back, give it back! It's gone...the eye...M-Madness, madness is burning, burning throughhisbrain!

Frenzied kagune lashed out, but Arima gracefully slid to one side, slippery as an eel.

Calmdowncalmdown—Calm down! One attack! Just one attack!

The red kagune twisted and changed, undergoing a horrific metamorphosis. Corrupted kagune encased in chitinous armor lunged desperately at Arima.

Oh. So that's a kakuja...

The investigator blocked the attack with IXA, its defensive shield protecting him from the crazed appendages spiraling at him. The move saves him, but part of IXA cracks.

“Holy shit!” a voice from outside the dream swears in shock. Kaneki (or is it Hide?) ignored it. Meaningless noise.

In the sewers, Arima smiles faintly, secretive and almost kind.

“You're good...Kaneki Ken,” Arima admitted quietly, and then his body was a white blur as his pale coat flapped around him. It's then, watching the older man's smooth attack, that Hide realizes that this isn't a dream.

It's a memory.

Back then, Kaneki wasn't prepared for it. Arima is the CCG's Reaper for a reason, and it's effortless for him to impale the chaotic half-ghoul through the stomach with IXA's mode change and let the damaged body fall to the ground in a heap. Miraculously, Kaneki is still breathing shallowly, life draining from him as his wreaked body worked madly to repair itself. Then IXA stabbed through Kaneki's remaining eye, the weapon sliding home with ease.

Kaneki is silent.

Hide can't stop the wild sobs erupting past his lips as suddenly he's himself watching the scene of Kaneki's limp body lying there, so very, very quiet. He's choking on his tears as he feels gentle arms wrap around his waist from behind, and a forehead lean against the nape of his neck. Hide can't see behind him, but he knows exactly who is at his back.

“I'm glad, you know?” that familiar gentle voice murmured against the fabric of Hide's shirt, “That he came when he did, that is. If he had not come then, you would have died.”

“So you die in my place?” Hide choked out, his face a blotchy mess of tears and snot. He feels the head pressed against his neck shake in denial.

“No, Hide,” his best friend corrected kindly, with a gentle squeeze around Hide's torso, “So you live in mine.”

“Nagachika! Answer me!” Akira's voice yelled at Hide, as hands shook his body gently. Hide forced open blurry eyes, trying to focus on Akira leaning over him.

“A-Akira?” Hide murmured as reality snapped into existence around him, “You saved me? What about the ghouls?”

Akira's eyes narrowed, “You don't remember?”

“Hit my head,” Hide answered as he slowly sat up, carefully touching the sore spot on the back of his skull.

“Well, that's inconvenient,” Akira huffed, her eyes betraying her worry, “Look around you.”

Hide blinked a few times trying to get the world to refocus. When it finally did, Hide instantly turned green, feeling ill. They were still in the alleyway from before, but now all the Quinx were there too, each with odd conflicting emotions on their face. The ghouls were there too...or rather what was left of them. The three ghouls had been rent into pieces, their limbs crushed and broken. One had a smashed open head, the brain matter dripping grotesquely. Another had been strangled, the neck tilting in an unnatural position, obviously broken. The last had been splattered across the wall. Cracks on the brick told of a body being slammed high up against the structure and then let go to drop, leaving thick crimson streaks.

Hide turned wide brown eyes to Akira, “W-What happened? Who did this?”

Akira frowned, “We were hoping you could tell us. By the time we arrived, the ghouls were dead, and you were unconscious.”

Hide's eyes glanced about about, unrestrained, trying to piece together clues. The body that had been slammed up against the wall spoke of a weapon with reach and grasping power. Whoever had killed the ghouls had to have a kagune or a quinque, either a rinkaku or a a bikaku.

And then Hide saw it: small punctures around the grasping bruises set in an even pattern. It was as if the ghouls had been grasped by a giant centipede and their limbs squeezed until the flesh was a bruised pulpy mess.

It couldn't be...

“Where is it?” Hide demanded suddenly, startling the other investigators.

“What?”

“The quinque!” Hide clarified, panic starting to set in, “Where is it?”

Mutsuki furrowed his brows, “Which quinque?”

“The one you were issued is in your hand, Nagachika,” Akira answered smoothly, already inferring what Hide was talking about, “You didn't let go of it.”

She was right. He was still holding it, though for some reason his hand was slick with blood and throbbing slightly with pain. He didn't remember wounding his hand. Hide stared at the twisted lance, his eyes going unfocused as he turned an idea over in his head.

No way. It was impossible. And even if it was, Arima would have told him.

'Inspector Shinohara once told me that he believed his Arata had a level of sentience.'

“Hey, Akira?” Hide began, his voice shaking slightly, “Did Arima ever tell you if this quinque had a mode change?”

Hide's placement as the Quinx squad's mentor went surprisingly smoothly. The mission had been a success despite the oddities surrounding it, and Akira's report praised his hands-on teaching skills. Hide also suspects Arima's not so subtle prodding pushing things along. As a result, Hide found himself moving in with the Quinx at the Chateau. The assigned living quarters were surprisingly nice, though it was weird living with roommates after living by himself for so long.

It was a pity that the Chateau was located in the heart of CCG territory. Hide was sure Touka would have liked to visit, and it would have been great to have her help moving in. Plus, it would have been funny to listen to her bitch about the poor quality of the coffee the Quinx had in their kitchen.

Any idea of trying to sneak Touka in was instantly dashed the day Arima Kishou made an appearance at the Chateau.

Really, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to Hide. Besides Akira, Arima was the other supervising senior investigator for the Quinx. It would make sense that the Reaper would show up at the Quinx's home base from time to time. What was a surprise was that during his visit, Arima took one look at Hide lounging on the couch, and took the seat next to the blond, casual as can be.

“Hello, Nagachika,” Arima greeted calmly as usual.

“Hey Arima,” Hide replied cheerfully, though his lips were a touch too tight and his eyes kept sliding to the quinque he always kept close by, “You do know that I want to punch you in the face, right?”

Arima almost looked bored when he responded, “For the White Wing Award?”

Hide nodded, his eyes straying again to the quinque case, “Among other things.”

“I will not apologize, not to you nor him,” Arima declared as he also turned his gaze to the silver case, “Nor do I think either one of you would want one.”

“Haha, true,” Nagachika agreed with a small laugh, before he turned serious eyes to Arima, “It's funny, but I can see you guys getting along.”

That white-haired head tilted slightly, curious.

“Is that so?” Arima murmured blandly, “Did you know that when I first tried to use that quinque it went into its other mode and tried to devour me?”

“Devour?”

Arima gave Hide that small secretive smile that Kaneki had seen in the sewers, “Yes. It's one of the reasons why quinque made of kakuja are so dangerous. For a boost in strength, the quinque's wielder can sacrifice their health. It's an incredible burden on the body.

“Honestly, I had thought that quinque did not have that feature,” Arima admitted, gesturing to the nearby silver case, “It is a weapon, not an armor like Arata. I was partially correct. Similar to Arata, when using its mode change, that quinque will latch onto its wielder and affect the nervous system, 'devouring' them. Unlike Arata it does not deteriorate the body, but the mind.”

Hide raised a eyebrow in disbelief, “Are you saying I'll go crazy using the quinque?”

“Not quite,” Arima shook his head, “Do you remember what I said about kakuja quinque when I first handed you that case? That quinque can override your higher thought process because it has—”

'...a level of sentience.'

“Oh,” Hide breathed, before Arima could finish his sentence out loud, “Oh, that's—fine. Haha, that's fine. Perfect actually!”

Arima looked skeptical, “It's only partial self awareness. A quinque is not a person, Nagachika.”

Hide grinned hugely at Arima, like the sun at noon.

“Why would I think otherwise?” Hide scoffed, waving away the older man's concern. His mouth tasted like lies, but his heart felt less like lead.

Hide dreams.

This time he is a scrawny kid, probably no older than nine, if that. Kaneki is the same age, but in the dream, he isn't a carbon copy of the chubby-cheeked dark-haired boy in Hide's memories. Kaneki's hair is stark white and there are gaping holes where his eyes used to be. If Hide looks closely, he can see a centipede crawl through the eye sockets and out one ear.

“You don't look so good, Hide,” Kaneki frowned, his voice childish and sweet in contrast to his gruesome appearance, “Do you need to go see the nurse?”

Hide grinned, waving away his friend's concern, “It's nothing, Kaneki.”

The other boy doesn't buy it and pouts worriedly.

“Are you sure?” Kaneki stresses, placing small hands on Hide's shoulders, “Are you sure playing with me is alright, Hide? Doesn't it—Don't I hurt you?”

Hide pulled his friend into a tight hug, ignoring the rotting gore dripping from Kaneki's eye-sockets onto his shoulder.

“Don't be stupid,” Hide scolded fondly, as he pulled away to face Kaneki properly and wipe bloody tears away from the white-haired child's face, “You're my best friend. I'll always want to play with you, no matter what. So what do you say? Race you to the slide!”

Kaneki's soft star-glow smile is just as Hide remembers it.

“Okay!”

Hide wakes up with the sun shining gently on his face. As usual, the quinque is just a touch away.