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Akaashi's chest rises and falls with finality.

The act is so quick and little that if Kageyama weren't watching his mentor pass away, he would have missed his last breath. With blood stained hands, he's still holding onto Akaashi's warm hands, looking at the glassy eyes that stare at nothing, slowly opening his mouth to wake him up, that this isn't in any way funny. Not that he would ever play a trick like that, he's sure, but this is not funny, why isn't he waking up—

Something in Bokuto explodes, and he grabs Akaashi's shoulders, shaking it, "Wake up, Akaashi! Wake up!" Akaashi's head rolls towards Kageyama, and he could see a faint smile on his mentor's face. Blood continues to stain his shirt front, spreading further with each vigorous shake.

Kageyama slips out a little choke.

"B-Bokuto-san—"

"Don't give me that Kageyama!" Bokuto snarls, putting his hands over Akaashi's heart. There's a crack of ribs, and Bokuto glares at him between giving Akaashi air and performing chest compressions. He's bent protectively over the body, "He's not going to die!"

Owl snarls and Kageyama spins his head too late. A rush of white comes at him. He makes contact with one of Owl's wings and slams into a wall. The impact knocked what little air left out of his lungs, and he lands with his legs bent funnily. 

Bokuto bites his hand, kagune appearing instantly as Kageyama jerks forward and screams. His legs are broken, and he spits a string of profanities as he twists his torso. That nearly blacks him out with pain. "Fuck!" He looks down, tears slipping past his chin as he garbles out another anguished yell. With Bokuto engaging Owl, Kageyama nearly bites his tongue clean from dragging himself closer to Akaashi. A sense of hurry begins to set into his heart. He has to continue CPR procedures before he's too gone to be revived-

Someone is picking him up, and Kageyama slaps their hands away, tears blurring everything as the medic and reinforcement team swarms in.

"You've done enough," Arima says, holding his shoulder steady. A medic runs to Kageyama and hoists him onto a stretcher, minding his legs. They take one look at Akaashi and ignore his body.

"WHY AREN'T YOU TREATING HIM? HE'S ALIVE!" Kageyama shoulders the medic, giving him a bloody nose. "HE'S NOT DEAD, ARIMA-SAN! HE'S STILL ALIVE!-" He chokes on his own spit as Arima looks down at him with something akin to pity, and he doesn't understand- 

"WHY ARE YOU JUST STANDING THERE? HE'S YOUR STUDENT!"

Arima opens his mouth and strides forward, stabbing IXA into Bokuto's unguarded back. Bokuto spins, surprise etched on his face as his body slumps forward, skewered onto the quinque with blood pouring out of his still healing eye. Owl studies them carefully, narrowing his whizzing pupils, curling his lips over his teeth.

"My orders from the higher ups were to neutralize the half-ghoul and retreat."

The medics pick him up, and Kageyama twists in his makeshift ties, spitting, "YOU CAN'T LEAVE AKAASHI! GO BACK! GO BACK FOR MY MENTOR! WHY ARE YOU STOPPING BOKUTO! OWL IS RIGHT THERE!" His heart races in his chest, like a hummingbird's wings as Arima pays no attention to him, looking at the way Owl crouches across from him. He drags Bokuto by his collar, and that's when Kageyama's vision is cut by the tunnel.

"Please go back!" He begs them, turning to see the faces of the CCG soldiers looking away from him. "Please! My mentor— my partner is there! He's a special class! H-He's still alive, please!"

"We have to get you to safety." One of them says, lips thinning. Kageyama sees the uncertainty in the soldier's eyes, and he grabs his arm, pleading.

"P-Please."

"I'm sorry, sir."

No.

No no no no no no no no no— "We can't leave him! Let me go!" Kageyama fights, sitting up and making quick work of the ties binding his legs together. The soldiers all shout, placing him down as he drags his body towards the tunnel, "Please! Please help me get Akaashi!"

The soldier that had spoken to him looks at him sadly, before mumbling an apology. There's a burst of pain on his head, and blackness creeps into the edges of his vision, cutting off the underground tunnels. He feels the hard floor on his shoulders, cheeks scraping the wet floor as Akaashi's name dies in his mouth.

When he wakes, he's propped up against the wall of the CCG building outside. He sees the wounded being carried into the hospital next door. Little Yachi is helping the soldiers move dead bodies off to the side, her face wet with tears as she took off her heels and left them near him. She's carrying the stretchers with the soles of her bare feet slapping the pavement. His legs are bound together, and his tongue is dry. The sunlight, despite it being winter still, is too strong, and he shields his eyes before he sees a billboard across him—

—Akaashi's name flashes across the screen of confirmed deaths.

"Live, Tobio."

 

 

It hurts.

His chest hurts.

 

  

A blob of black that slowly focuses into a mop of hair enters Bokuto's vision. 

"...Akaashi?" He rasps. 

Iwaizumi looks away from his eyes, swallowing. 

Bokuto tries to hide the way his heart severs.

There's an IV connected to his right arm and Bokuto looks around the room he's in. Blank walls and that one-of-a-kind antiseptic smell tell him that he's in a hospital. He sees Oikawa's brown hair standing guard outside his room from the reflection on the windows. The first ward has been restored, the houses lit up with families reunited in their homes.

"I'm sorry, Bokuto." 

Back in his human days, Iwaizumi would never be the type to be so meek about something, and Bokuto closes his good eye, the other one wrapped heavily in bandages. 

"'S'not your fault." His voice comes out shaky, and Bokuto feels the tightness in his vocal chords almost strangling him. There is fury boiling in him- fury for Kageyama. Among it, is an emotion that he can't describe other than the feeling that his heart has been crushed repeatedly with the same hand, over and over again. He still can feel Akaashi's mouth on his, lips pressing softly as they sat on the steps of the CCG building hours ago.

"...I'll be outside the door if you need me. We're under protocol right now, and you can't leave the room until-"

Bokuto jerks his chin to the side, "I'm dangerous. I get it, I'll stay here quietly."

Iwaizumi opens his mouth to say something else but closes it slowly as Oikawa walks into the room. 

"Ushiwaka wants to see you, Iwa-chan," He quietly says. Iwaizumi gives Bokuto another look before filing out the door, the nurses in the hallway shouting after him for tracking his dirty boots into the hospital. Oikawa closes the door and comes to the foot of Bokuto's bed, sitting precariously at the edge.

"How's your eye?"

"It could be better," Bokuto quietly says, "You don't have to talk to me you know. I know you're busy." Ever since he stepped into the room, Oikawa's phone have been buzzing in his pocket loudly with no signs of stopping. There are nurses and technicians running along the hallway, face dripping with sweat as they try to save as many soldiers as they can.

Oikawa shakes his head, "I know how it feels, and.... Bokuto, it's okay to cry. Grief is normal." When Bokuto doesn't look back up, Oikawa pats his hand like Iwaizumi did, "It's not good to keep it all inside you, know that."

And with that, the Commander who led hundreds to their deaths walks out of the room.

Soon after the first tears starts streaming down Bokuto's cheeks, he wonders why they paint Akaashi as the Grim Reaper instead of Oikawa. 

 

  

"Holding out okay?"

Bokuto opens his eyes to see Kuroo hand him a can of ice coffee. Wordlessly, he takes it before feeling the chill travel up his fingers. The CCG is in a state of grieving, and Bokuto doesn't want to see Kageyama even though he knows he did nothing wrong.

It just hurts.

"I'm doing fine." He lies.

Kuroo purses his lips but doesn't push, sitting down in the only available chair in the room and looking out the window. The evening sun greets him like a friend, the rays slowly becoming stronger each day as they head into spring. Bokuto has lost track of how many days it has been since he's in here under strict supervision.

"After...after this calms down," Kuroo starts, pulling out several papers and folders and splaying them out onto Bokuto's bedspread, "there has been a request for you to join a team."

The news was so sudden that Bokuto momentarily forgot about Akaashi. He boggles at Kuroo, the bitter tang of coffee present in his mouth, "W-What? Me? I'm a ghoul, Kuroo-"

"Yeah, we know. Iwaizumi's the one who recommended you."

"Iwaizu— Is he going to be on the same team then?"

"Well, it's a little complicated. Iwaizumi's officially listed as your superior even though you have no formal Academy training. He's going to be in charge of several other projects, though." Kuroo shrugs, "Rules exist to be bent."

"...Kuroo, I don't think it's a very good idea. The CCG doesn't trust me. I've gone berserk in the past and I had to be pulled back by Ari-"

"Arima's orders were ordered by the Chairman himself. There was nothing you could do about that. You didn't go berserk, everyone in the tunnel can verify that."

"But the CCG—"

"Will learn to trust you, like how the investigators in this floor do." Kuroo firmly says. "I have complete faith, bro. You can talk to me whenever you want to, okay?" He looks at the senior investigator, finally seeing the formal blacks all staff is wearing today. He wonders how many times Kuroo had to wear that, how many funerals he attended and how many testament letters he had to send to families and how many dog tags he received and how he could still be who he is.

"I miss him."

Bokuto drops his head into his hands, rubbing his sore eyes, irritated from the countless tears that have long dried. His bones ache deeply. His physical injuries are mending. On the outside, Bokuto looks battered, a little worse for wear, but if one would look past the bandages and his still healing eye, they would see a ghost of someone who has lost a loved one.

Kuroo bows his head down, the sunset hitting the side of his cheek. He remorsefully responds, "I miss him too."

"It's not Kageyama's fault. I don't blame him but I'm just so angry." Why did he have to come? If Kageyama had stayed in his place, Akaashi would have never had to face Owl's killing blow. "A-Akaashi was just trying to protect him I know that! But I'm just so angry at Kageyama! Angry that he left the hospital and entered and stood there while I was trying to give Akaashi CPR! He didn't do anything, Kuroo! He just stood there when he could have helped!"

"I'm sorry."

"Akaashi could have lived. He c-could have lived!"

"I know."

"No, you don't! He's dead! A-Akaashi is dead!"

"Bo—"

Bokuto curls inwards, gasping when his heart twists with pain, "He's gone, Kuroo. I couldn't be his shield. Gone." If only he tried harder at saving Akaashi's life. If only Arima hadn't meddled. If only Kageyama helped to get the medics to save Akaashi. If only. He finally understood Akaashi's breakdown at Kageyama's hospital bed that felt like years ago. The remorse and regret of his actions have been driving his head insane, haunting him of what he could have done better and should have done instead of getting hurt.

They don't speak for the next few minutes, the sun already gone by the time Bokuto rubs his weary eyes and looks up at the letter presented to him. Kuroo nods and Bokuto opens the paper to see Akaashi's slanted penmanship, unchanged from high school and he's struck by all the memories of them writing silly notes to each other in each other's textbooks.

His throat tightens.

 

I, Akaashi Keiji, leave the possessions of my quinques to my partner, Kageyama Tobio. Amaterasu is to be returned to its rightful owner, Iwaizumi Hajime. Kageyama has full ownership rights to Rin 1/2 and Izanami. I hope that one day he makes good use of them like I do. 

For all of my career, I've thought about how I would go- how I would die. It's something a lot of us spend thinking about when were training back in the Academy. I remember looking out into the graduating class, thinking how half of them wouldn't last five years on the force.

Writing a last testament letter is strange. I've written so many of these they can fill up a cabinet. But I've never written my thoughts in any of them except for this one. When I was under Arima's care, we used to do them together. I think that was his way of spending quality time with us, doors shut, air conditioning running in the background. All you can hear in the office is the stroke of a pen on paper. The new recruits would try to put on a brave face of course, but the ones who still had families would cry.

When I write mine out, I think about the people who are currently writing theirs. Do they know that will be their last letter? What will they write if that is their last?

Being with the Special Class at such a young age, and under such good mentors have made me more lax than I ever felt comfortable with. I never thought I'd be able to enjoy simple ramen lunches with Sugawara-san, or a game of chess with Oikawa-san, or a workout with Iwaizumi-san. I owe Oikawa-san for being there for me. Words cannot express how I'm thankful for all you've done.

I'm sorry if I had been unnecessarily rude to you, Kuroo-san. I know you're trying to keep everyone calm. Thank you.

It's strange and hard writing a goodbye letter to you, Bokuto-san. You've been in my life for only three years, and I lived through twelve years of my life thinking you were dead. The total years I've known you is less than the years I've spent thinking you were gone.

You're a half-ghoul, my enemy, the people who took my parents away from me, the very being that took away the seventeen-year-old Bokuto away from me. The catalyst to the current me. If it were not for them, I wouldn't be an investigator now.

I used to shield away at thinking what could have happened if that didn't happen, but there was no point in thinking about what could have because the present is now. So thank you. Thank you for reminding me that if I look for light, I will find it. And if I look for darkness, it's all I see around me. Thank you, Koutarou. I... I cherish the happy times, short as they are, before this farewell.

The ending of my letter is abrupt, but I hope no one would ever have to read this letter. I hope I've done enough good to the CCG.

Special Class Investigator,

Akaashi Keiji.

 

He reads over the letter many times, engraving the way Akaashi's Gs are lopsided, the way his name is written, his signature.

"Can...I keep this?"

Bokuto thinks he can hear the soft smile in his voice. "Yeah, of course. We have another copy anyway." A creak the chair, and an absent pat on his shoulders before Kuroo makes his way to the door. "We'll start preparations after the mourning period is over. Take this time to rest."

"Yeah." He hears himself say. There's a quiet click of the door before Bokuto clears his bed of the folders and lies on his pillow, looking up to see the letter again as his lids grow heavy with exhaustion.

Thank you, Koutarou. I... I cherish the happy times.

 

 

The fire licks the wooden box. 

Yachi, dressed from head to toe in black like the hundreds sitting in the garden, sniffs. For a ceremony involving a Special Class, many chose to peer down from their balconies and the rooftops as the courtyard couldn't fit all of them. Her red eyes spot more people than usual dressed in the Academy uniforms paying respect. That's right, Akaashi had taught students in his spare time.

Kageyama stares as several more coffins catch fire. With the unrelenting sun and humid weather, the smoke is unbearable, but he tolerates it. If feeling pain means that he's alive, he'll take it.

"...They could have brought his body back at least..." Yachi whispers, watching Iwaizumi blink furiously as he stands in the front row in the direct heat of the flames. She looks at Kageyama sitting beside her, legs bound in a wheelchair. Rin 1/2 is sitting on his lap, recently fixed.

"...I don't understand why Arima-san didn't bring him back. They found his remains there, and they've brought back arms and legs before, so why didn't they do it this time?" Kageyama quietly mumbles, shifting his eyes carefully so see the investigator standing a few feet away from Iwaizumi. "I asked Oikawa-san if I could see the confidential file on this mission but there was nothing."

"Arima-san was probably under direct orders from the Chairman then."

"Why wouldn't the Chairman want Akaashi-san to be brought back?" Kageyama glares at Ushijima Senior, who stands next to his son, graying hair visible. "After Akaashi-san, Iwaizumi-san and Kuroo-san are leagues below Arima-san in skill level. It doesn't make sense."

Yachi looks down at her lap, tears splashing her hands. "I don't know, Kageyama-kun." Sitting near the sides, Kiyoko looks visibly upset, refusing to wipe her eyes with the tissues Oikawa offers. She looks towards the left side, where she could see several curious patients in the hospital beside them stop in the hallways. 

"Is Bokuto-san in attendance?"

Kageyama shrugs, "I don't even know which room he's being kept in. Only the Special Class have access to him."

The flames, now covering several coffins, burn brighter as they greedily eat the wood. The CCG flag that has been draped over every casket are flying around in the air in tiny pieces. The skies rumble threateningly, and Yachi stands as the Chairman thanks everyone for coming out. Her feet automatically take her back inside where there is a line up for elevators and washrooms.

It wasn't long until she noticed that Kageyama wasn't there with her, and she runs back out to see him parked where he was before, just off to the sides, next to the now blossom-less cherry tree when the skies break.

She wordlessly takes his hand and holds it tightly as they watch Akaashi's casket continuing to burn. His hands are cold, yet he squeezes her hands back, looking up with tears staining his cheeks. His dog tag is resting against his black dress shirt, and Yachi knows he sorely wishes he could have worn Akaashi's. Not even his dog tag was recovered when a team went back in.

She tears her eyes away from the metal, not liking the way it forms a noose around his neck in her mind.

"Let's go back inside," She says softly.

Kageyama nods and Yachi spins his chair around, pushing it towards a ramp.

At the front, the fire finally splutters, and the monsoon breaks open.

 

 

"It's a match."

A tall brunette looks at the monitor, "Are you sure, Kozume-kun?"

"Pretty sure. I don't know how they managed to get past security, but she's there."

"Perfect," The brunette walks away from Kenma, heels clicking on the floor as she gathers her work bag and overcoat, "Can you call the CCG headquarters and tell them to prepare a plane to Heathrow for me? I have an overnight bag ready so I'll take a flight from there instead of going to Berlin."

"Do you want me to book you the flight as well?"

"Please."

Kenma slides the headphones covering his ears off, looking away from the many monitors mounted in his cubicle. "Where to, Oikawa?"

The woman walks over to the elevators, looking back at Kenma and the city cloaked in twilight. She checks her phone, a lock screen of her two children coming up as she confirms the time. Over the years, Oikawa Chiyoru has remained in Germany, her one role to scope out a ghoul that the CCG in Japan was sure is linked to the Aogiri. Fourteen years have passed, and finally, finally it was time for her to return home.

"Tokyo, of course."

Chapter Text

 

His stomach twists in his body, blood thrumming as his heart rate increases. The saliva in his mouth pools against his teeth, canines ready to sink into some meat as he feels his body shake. The infuriating thing is that he can smell it. He can smell prey nearby and it only wants one thing- to calm the beast in him.

That is the hunger of a ghoul.

  

February

 

 

"...Could...Could I see his reports?"

Ushijima looks up with a rare crease of concern, still clothed in black from head to toe. The official mourning period is nearing its end, half the office already reverting back to their normal dress code. Bokuto's black dress shirt strains around his upper body. He has slowly gotten used to the tightness around his throat from the buttons and not from Akaashi's absence.

"Are you sure you want to read it?"

"Can I?"

"Of course you can..." Ushijima quietly says, shifting his gaze down onto the portraits on his desk. One is a family picture of the Chairman and his wife standing beside a recently graduated Ushijima from the Academy. The other picture of smaller and has faded with age, but it shows two babies sleeping inside of a crib with a stuffed cow.

Ushijima clears his throat.

Bokuto tears his eyes away from the pictures, "Sorry."

"That's my sister. It's common knowledge in the office that she's been missing since a toddler. Ghouls took her I believe." He looks at the time, "Meeting's soon. Do you want to walk down together, I'll have Goshiki print it for you later."

"Sure," They both leave his office, footsteps muffled by the thick carpet. Bokuto scans his special card on the elevator pad, before repeating the action with the elevator panel and doing the same when he wants the doors to open. Several others are staring openly at him, faces twisted into expressions of hostility. If it weren't for Ushijima beside him, he's sure that he'd be pulled aside by some senior officers. Ushijima gives him the slip to shimmy up to his father standing at the side of the room while Bokuto walks towards the panel where Kuroo is already lounging comfortably.

Bokuto looks at the reports stack in front of him, ignoring the surprised and angry looks given to him when several more senior investigators file into the room. 

"What's up Bo?"

"Can't I just sit at the side of the room like the others?" He pleads with Kuroo under his breath.

Kuroo snorts, "No way, you're part of us. If anybody has a problem with you sitting in on these at the front panel, they can go through me."

Bokuto gulps as Marude suspiciously turns his nose up at him, "Kuroo please."

"Attention everyone, this way please," Ushijima clears his throat. The effect is immediate. The room settles and cell phones disappear, "Thank you. I'm going to turn this over to my father now."

The Chairman of the CCG is never someone Bokuto really saw up close. While his lineage is known throughout Japan, Oikawa has more or less became the face of the CCG. Ushijima Senior has stress lines on his aging face and a receding hairline, but he stands tall with his shoulders back, looking down and smiling briefly at his son.

"Thank you, Wakatoshi. Everyone, thank you for clearing your schedules and returning from lunch early. It is to my knowledge that we are still in a state of grieving, but our sister branch in Germany has pulled through. Our cyber-crime specialist, Kenma, has been combing for one particular ghoul who appeared on our radar seventeen years ago and now, we have secured her position."

Mumbles break out in the audience.

"'Her?'"

"Renaissance is alive and well in our wards. If we can neutralize her, it is possible that the mastermind behind the Aogiri Tree will be stopped, and that in turn will give us an edge in fighting them," Ushijima Senior explains, "I'm putting Wakatoshi's elite team for this mission. Joining him will be Iwaizumi, and Bokuto-kun, who are both exonerated." Appalled gasps and furious whispers spread around the room, and the Chairman clears his throat louder, "If you have any problems with that, you can come directly to my office. I have faith in their loyalty."

A hand appears.

"Yes, Marude?" 

"Who will be leading the operation, sir?"

Relieved that Marude wasn't fighting with his decision, the Chairman smiles, "Yes, Oikawa-kun will be given this task, I want you to resume commanding the other missions that he has been sharing with you. When this operation is complete, we can discuss sharing your workloads again."

"You're forgetting one other person, sir!"

Heads turn towards the back of the room. Bokuto sits up, eyes studying the newcomer who's striding confidently forward. Beside Kuroo, Oikawa lets out a little squawk. The woman walking towards them has wavy hair that comes past her chin, a familiar looking button nose, and a gleeful smile gracing her lips. She comes to a halt in front of the Chairman, tilting her head up to grin a little at him, the warm brown of her eyes gleaming familiarly, "I'm back, sir."

"Chiyoru-san."

Oikawa Chiyoru flutters her fingers towards her little brother and Iwaizumi, "Yoohoo~"

"Wh-What are you doing here?!" Oikawa splutters, standing up and pointing an accusing finger. "I thought I was supposed to pick you up from the airport tomorrow!"

She sticks her tongue out, oblivious to the laughter around her. "I caught an earlier flight and thought it was best to come straight here to say hi to my bratty brother!" She turns to Marude, cocking a hip out and raising a brow, "and I'm going to be working with Tooru for this case. Renaissance has eluded my radar too often, I'm all but too eager to press  charges against her."

Marude opens and closes his mouth like a fish out of water. He slumps back down in his chair, groaning about how there are now not one but two Oikawas he has to see daily.

Bokuto sees Chiyoru turn to face the Chairman again, "Oh, and sir? The other guests have arrived. I intercepted them in the lobby when they were trying to find the bathroom. They should be here soon."

Not long after those words leave her lips did the door slam open again. Kuroo and just about every Special Class sitting at the panel jump to their feet in excitement. Heads turn again, but this time, there is cheering and whooping as a man and several investigators follow his lead. 

"Houji!"

"Makki! Mattsun!!"

"Kousuke, it's good to see you!"

Houji hugs Chiyoru briefly, taking her suitcase and putting it down as two investigators approach the panel with grins stretched from ear to ear. Iwaizumi runs up to the taller one with curls wilder than Akaashi's and heavy-lidded eyes while Oikawa jumps onto the shorter one. They stumble around and Kuroo leaves his seat along with Ushijima, an easy, welcoming grin visible as Bokuto looks on partly confused. All around the room, several investigators are running up to the newcomers with smiles like they haven't seen them in decades.

Iwaizumi beckons him to the middle, gesturing happily as Oikawa continues to cling onto the shorter investigator. "This is Matsukawa Issei and the one Oikawa is refusing to let go of is Hanamaki Takahiro."

"Sup?" Hanamaki stretches a hand to him. Bokuto shakes his hand, noticing the matching blue tattoos on their forearms as he listens to his slightly accented Japanese. "We went to the Academy together back in the day and Chiyoru-san was my mom's student for a brief while."

"Call me Matsukawa," The taller one introduces himself next. He has a calm air around him, and Bokuto spots a wedding ring on his left finger that matches with Hanamaki's. "If you ever want dirt on how Iwaizumi and Oikawa got together, hit me up."

Oikawa gasps but Bokuto can see the delight in his eyes from his friends returning. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Try me Tooru."

"Let's return to our seats, yes?" The Chairman intercepts. The room shuffles back, this time with grins and half smiles scattered throughout the crowd. "The Renaissance team's objective will be to neutralize the ghoul and shut down whatever part of Aogiri she is involved with. From our estimates, it seems that she's a fundamental part in the execution of the Aogiri's plans, much like Tooru-kun." Bokuto peers sideways to see Oikawa frown in displeasure. "I'll conclude this meeting with the official roll call for this team.

"Oikawa Tooru."

"Here."

"Iwaizumi Hajime."

"Here."

"Ushijima- you're here. Matsukawa and Hanamaki are here. Chiyoru-san is here. Bokuto Koutarou!"

All eyes turn to him, "Here."

The Chairman looks at his notes for a moment, "That's all."

Bokuto turns to Kuroo in surprise, "What about you and Aone?"

"We have our own wards to look after you know. Kiyoko and Tanakamaru can't juggle two wards at once. Houji just returned so I don't think he'll do much field work until we've progressed far enough in the Renaissance execution," Kuroo shrugs, "And you'll have other people working with you I think. Suga should be involved with this too."

Bokuto looks down at his hands. 

"What's wrong, Bo?"

"It doesn't feel very welcoming," Bokuto mumbles, "I mean, the only use they had for me was that I could be Akaashi's shield."

"If Iwaizumi trusts you, I don't see why anyone else wouldn't." Kuroo firmly says, jutting out his lower jaw, "They know what they saw in the tunnels- you being skewered and attempting to revive Akaashi. They can't ignore that regardless of whatever prejudice they have against you."

Several people are hovering near the door, but it only takes Chiyoru five seconds to climb the stairs that hold the panel as she flies past Kuroo to crush Iwaizumi, tears slipping out.

"Hajime-kun!"

Kuroo smiles at the scene, "She thought he was dead, like the rest of us." He gathers the files before waving at his messenger boy to come up. After a quick order to send those back to his office, he claps Bokuto once on the shoulders before leaving the room for a smoke. "I'll see you soon."

Bokuto looks at the collection of newcomers near him. Houji is catching up with the older Special Class, already agreeing to go out for dinner as Tanakamaru claps his hands together. Chiyoru is still hugging Iwaizumi, Hanamaki, Matsukawa and Oikawa surrounding her in a loose circle. He looks down at the official roll call again, eyes gazing down as he frowns.

Kageyama Tobio did not show up to the meeting.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"Oh, you're awake."

His eyes open slowly, faltering against the bright flashlight shined on his face. There are noisy beeps and a rattling noise near his head that steadily becomes sharper, as whatever drugs he was under recedes. The brightness comes and goes periodically as if he's being exposed to light and darkness in a steady stream. His vision eventually sharpens and he sees people covered from head to toe in white surgical uniforms, all except for one person.

Fukurou grins at him, twirling her hair around a finger. "You just survived the procedure. Congratulations~" She croons, stroking his jaw, "You're going to be in pain for a few days from the surgery, but you can spend all this time resting, alright?" Akaashi slowly moves his head up to see a doctor hovering at the door. Some ghoul in a red cloak locks the wheels on his bed so it doesn't roll. "Anything you recommend him?"

"Bed rest, if you try to move you'll pull the stitching apart and be prone to infections."

"Thank you." Eto lightly giggles as the doctor walks away. She then dances to the door, closing it shut as Akaashi sees the bare, gray, cement walls around him. The sky outside is dark, he doesn't know if it's late evening or early morning. "'Special Investigator Akaashi Keiji,'" She picks up the tag hanging around his neck. The metal digs into his skin, a reminder that he's alive, "How do you feel?"

It hits him.

A real, exploding pain from his stomach that makes his eyes prickle with pain and tears as his mouth starts salivating surfaces when Eto waves a piece of bloody meat at him teasingly. All of his senses are honed into one thing only- the food.

So this is the hunger of a ghoul.

He hoarsely coughs, putting his head back on the pillow and turning to see Eto smile down at him, "Why me?"

"We always had our eyes on you."

"I'm not," Akaashi hisses, "going to be your experiments. I've seen what you did to Hinata." Hinata. Bokuto. Iwaizumi.

Bokuto.

"We'll see about that," Eto says, she jumps off his bed, closing one eye in a wink as her iris turns red, "Enjoy your stay with us, Special Class."

The door opens, Eto slipping out as Akaashi sees a team of Aogiri guards standing outside. He tries to sit up but nearly blacks out from the pain overload as his back screams at him to stop. Tears prickle from his eyes, stinging his vision as he wheezes.

He left them. He left Kageyama in the tunnels believing that he was dead, he left with Bokuto's last kiss still on his mouth, he left his entire team back there. How terrible. They must think he died.

"'Live, Tobio...'" He mumbles bitterly to himself, closing his eyes. 

 

 

Iwaizumi launching himself in front of him.

Oikawa's screaming bouncing off the cavern walls.

Akaashi wakes up in a pool of his own sweat, one of the Aogiri ghouls standing above him, masked, as he feels a sting on his cheeks. The guard at his bedside lowers their hand, their voice coming out muffled, "You were bothering the children downstairs."

"Children?"

The guard leaves his room to resume their original position as Akaashi looks down at the slice of moonlight on his chest.

The CCG tag looks back remorsefully at him. Akaashi doesn't know what to feel other than the agony that is accompanied with being a ghoul. He misses everyone and everything. Kageyama and Bokuto must be the most affected out of all. He doesn't know how many days it has been, never less the time because his meal is dosed with some drug that makes him sleep for long periods of time. All he has is himself and the metal tags that he carries with him, a reminder of the students who were all killed under him. 

What good is he right now to the CCG, unable to walk or even go to the bathroom without needing help. The Grim Reaper- one of the most feared investigators of the CCG is no more. He was so easily extinguished.

Akaashi slowly lowers his eyelids, heart heavy as he grips the necklace like a lifeline.

 

 

He hesitantly peers into the room deemed as the nurse's office, looking at the mirrors surrounding all four walls and the bars drilled into the floor. It may have once upon a time been a bare room, but it now resembles a neglected room with cushy floors and cracks where the mirror doesn't cover the wall.

Akaashi's unsteady legs give out, and in a flash, he feels slender arms around him and catches a whiff of something like wisteria. His crutches fall with a clatter on the floor, the noise hideously loud in the almost silent wing. The pair of guards shadowing him picks them up and leans them against the doorway before becoming wallflowers.

"You're here to get your bandages changed, right? Careful."

A small ghoul with a kind face sturdily lifts him, moving across the room in a few long strides to settle him on a counter. She makes quick work of wrapping him, the flickering light in the room catching her chestnut hair. Akaashi turns his head to the doorway when a scream of pain echoes from the halls.

He opens his mouth a little, breathing in the stench of iron and salt with the barest trace of something grassy and sharp. Two ghouls stumble in, one with his hood up holding up a shorter ghoul who has a blond buzz cut. The female ghoul zooms to the shorter one, frowning as she peers at the wound. The blood that splatters to the floor seems magnified to Akaashi's ears, and his stomach rolls from the sickly stench of an injured ghoul. 

"Why do you always get into fights, Kyoutani?"

"Why do you always ask me that question, Hinami?!" The injured ghoul snaps, red kakugan burning. "Did Yahaba call you?"

"Is that who's calling me? And I ask because you've been acting like this since you were small! You're lucky Nee-san isn't here!"

"I gave the other ghoul a more serious wound in his stomach and you know that Yahaba always exaggerates- OW!" The ghoul yelps when Hinami starts dabbing a cotton ball dipped in the brown liquid from one of the bottles. He bats her hand away, "That stings!"

"Then stop fidgeting!" She firmly says.

The hooded ghoul stands tall in the middle room, turning around to see Akaashi sitting on the table, their eyes meeting for the briefest second. 

Akaashi's former student who had been one of the first ones to die under his name bends his head down and narrows his eyes in distaste, pulling down his hood to reveal the black rimmed glasses and unruly short blond hair. It's been some three odd years that he's seen Tsukishima's face, and he studies how cruelly his cheekbones stand sharp against the muted anger of his brown eyes. An odd mix of relief and fear mills in Akaashi. He's glad that Tsukishima has evaded the CCG radar and stayed in the shadows, but why didn't he come back with Iwaizumi and Bokuto?

"Tsukishima."

"...Akaashi-san?" After a few blinks of utter disbelief, wherein Akaashi watched his face contort painfully, Tsukishima narrows his eyes, "How many students has it been?" his hissing causes Akaashi to hear a color he hasn't heard in ages. A muted, fiery green blooms in his head, "Or did you stop counting after Yamaguchi and I?" 

"I never-"

"Don't. You couldn't protect your students and even your mentor had to die for you, save it for someone who you didn't kill." He scornfully leaves the room, not bothering to hide the obvious disgust on his face as his cloak flaps after him.

Akaashi stares open mouthed after him, not even realizing his attempt of standing up until he falls on the floor. Disregarding Tsukishima's attitude to him, there's a possibility that his former students- Yuki and Ryuu and Yamaguchi- are here as well, perhaps alive and well under the Aogiri. The possibility that the Aogiri is home to the CCG's former investigators-

"Is...?"

Kyoutani looks at him, the hard lines of his mouth showing through. "If you were wondering about your students, we only had one other one, but Kanou said he didn't survive. His name was Yamaguchi I believe, right?"

"I don't recall ever having a Yamaguchi in the compound," Hinami explains in a quiet voice, "Kanou was the head surgeon at the time.... The lucky ones are the ones who don't survive."

He digs his hands into the hard, cold floor, pressing his fingernails hard, forcing his shaky legs to stand up as he thinks about the force necessary to deform the handles on his crutches. He coughs to get rid of the lump in his throat, trying not to let his disappointment show, "So...there's no one who survived?"

The wan lines of Hinami's mouth tell Akaashi everything he needs to know, and he stumbles out of the room on his crutches.

 

 

Iwaizumi's arm reaching forward to block the hit. Screaming. Oikawa's tortured yell echoing in the chamber.

Akaashi wakes up in a cold sweat, feeling his heart leap into his mouth. One of the guards stationed outside his door pokes his head back out after making sure he hasn't fallen off the bed and torn open his stitches. He turns his neck that has been resting on an awkward angle to the windows. From the way the sunlight is slanting in, it's just before sunset.

As he slowly moves his stiff body from his bed, reaching for the crutches, he thinks hard about any past information through the years about CCG investigators surviving and appearing in the Aogiri. He has heard none, but that shouldn't be possible unless the Aogiri purposely kept them hidden. 

He stops a few limps down the hallway, looking at Tsukishima carrying a laundry basket. His former student narrows his eyes and tightens his mouth into a hard line, coming to a standstill as the guards following Akaashi stop a few yards behind him.

"...I see you're still carrying his tag." Tsukishima scornfully says. Akaashi looks down, Yamaguchi's and Tsukishima's name twinkling up at him next to three others from his past students. 

"I'm sorry about him."

Tsukishima resumes to pretend he hasn't heard anything, jaws clenched. Akaashi wobbles on his shaky legs, weak from exercise as his body is still recovering. The bad taste in his mouth doesn't go away as he slowly moves down the hall.

 

 

Bokuto stares at the door. Maybe if he stares at it long enough, it'll disappear and he'll wake up.

Iwaizumi's voice snaps him out of it, "Nervous?"

Bokuto fidgets with the business casual dress code. He decides to loosen his tie somewhat, turning around to see Iwaizumi sport a dress shirt and black pants combination. It's a change from their Aogiri days, and Iwaizumi looked more comfortable in office wear than Bokuto could have imagined. "I'm sweating bullets."

Laughing, Iwaizumi pushes the door open. After a few night's rest, the newcomers- Chiyoru, Matsukawa, and Hanamaki- look more awake. Oikawa gives them a nod, sipping a drink as his sister pauses in the middle of lifting a folder. Matsukawa and Hanamaki stare at him as well, before wincing when they all hear Oikawa kicking someone's leg.

"Nee-san, this is Bokuto," Iwaizumi breaks the ice, "And Bokuto, this is Oikawa Chiyoru, Tooru's older sister."

Bokuto swallows as the brunette searches his face, accepting his sweaty hands with a crushing grip. She smiles, baring her fangs, "Tooru's only sister, I might add. Welcome to the team," She stops, "I assume you've been debriefed?"

"Nee-chan, stop intimidating him," Oikawa scowls from the head of the meeting table, looking up from the laptop Ushijima is tilting towards him. Bokuto shakes his hand discreetly when she releases it. He accidentally makes eye contact with Matsukawa, who winks and mouths, 'she's just trying to scare you don't worry'. "Boku-chan is capable of reading his own files. He knows why we're here."

"Why are you here though?" Ushijima asks. "I thought you were stationed in Germany."

"Oh, that was never meant to be permanent. After Mamoru was supposed to return from China-" Bokuto sees Oikawa press his lips together into one hard line at this, "-we were supposed to be stationed here, but your dad told me to follow Renaissance and track her down, so I took my family with me."

"How are the kids?"

"Yes," Chiyoru turns to Oikawa, "I sent them under your guardianship to enroll them in the Academy. How are my spawns?"

"Doing pretty well? I don't keep a close eye on their grades. As long they're passing I'm not going raise a fuss. I don't know- I thought they would have called you by now."

"I didn't exactly tell them that I flew back this soon."

"Oh my god you're so problematic- go call them after the meeting is over!"

Iwaizumi pushes Oikawa back into his chair, "Hurry up, idiot."

"Right," Oikawa starts his presentation, the lights in the room dimming with a press of a button, "Like the Chairman said yesterday, Kozume-chan from Cyber Crime basically spent fourteen years tracking this pesky ghoul who we name Renaissance. Her first offense was trying to break into our firewalls and mainframe system- I don't really know how severe her crime went but I remember the Cyber Crime unit running around like chickens with their heads cut off. We eventually tracked her laptop, but she must have noticed because we couldn't get her exact location, but it was in Germany, so the Chairman sent my sister there."

"I have a background in field work, but I'm a CCG Lawyer first and foremost," She explains to Bokuto. "I worked under Hanamaki's late mother before switching to Law."

"The cyber team that worked closely with my sister couldn't sniff her out, and the case remained cold for fourteen years until they broke through a few days ago." Oikawa surmises, adding hastily, "It would make sense that she's the brain behind the Aogiri- the attack plans have always been elaborate."

"...Her supposed reign at the Aogiri overlaps with the majority of the operations we were a part of," Iwaizumi says quietly.

Matsukawa looks up, "Are you saying you suspect her as the leader behind the Underground Exterminations?"

"We had suspicions didn't we?" Iwaizumi counters, sliding a report to Bokuto to look over. His eyes scan the document, the latest editing time stamp marked a good decade and a half ago. "You weren't there, Matsukawa, but two of our men vanished without a trace. Oikawa thought that there must be someone who knew the tunnels well, and if we do go under the presumption that the Aogiri controls the Underground Tunnels, this Renaissance ghoul must be part of the workings of this plan."

"We shouldn't worry about that. It's so long ago- let's just think of a way to capture this ghoul. What's her background?"

"Unknown. Maybe she's Japanese but somehow got passed the RC Scan Gates at the airports and flew to Germany, or maybe she has a dud in Germany that acted as her while she laid low in Japan. The possibilities are endless." Hanamaki shrugs, "We know that the Aogiri controls the 11th ward and some, so maybe we can send feelers out?"

"'Feelers?'" Oikawa chuckles.

"Sorry, it's a term the Chinese use at home. Why don't we send some eyes and ears out? A simple recon mission."

"Sounds good." Chiyoru nods, looking around the table. "You and Matsukawa should stay back and recover from jet lag. Bokuto-san, why don't you and Kageyama go?"

Bokuto's blood runs cold.

"K-Kageyama?"

Iwaizumi looks worried, shifting a knowing look to Tooru, opening his mouth to step in when Bokuto clears his throat, "Sure. I can do that. When do you want us to go in?"

"I'll check what the CCG has planned and what the Aogiri's movements have been up to lately, might be tomorrow, might be in two weeks. In the meanwhile, you can polish up your fighting skills- oh," Oikawa's mouth falls open, "We need to give you a quinque, right. I'll talk to Sugawara-kun from Research and Development and maybe we can sweet talk Yachi into lending you one for now." Chiyoru looks to Ushijima, "Are you typing all that Wakatoshi-kun?"

"Typing as fast as I can," The Director of the Main Branch grumbles.

Chiyoru shoots Bokuto a beaming, million watt smile, unbeknownst to the panicky looks her brother is shooting at the back of her head. "Thank you for your cooperation, Bokuto-san."

"Bokuto's fine," He hears himself say, looking at the empty chair opposite of him. Kageyama skipped out on another meeting. 

He flees to the courtyards as soon as the meeting is adjourned, avoiding Iwaizumi's look and taking the fire exit down from the top floor of the building. The sun welcomes his flushed cheeks as he saunters over to a bench covered by the shadow of a leafy tree. Over near the main entrance where there is an assortment of concrete picnic tables are some senior investigators and interns on a smoke break. 

Summers in Tokyo is rough compared to the suburbs. The tall skyscrapers can only provide so much protection against the sun, and that's if the humidity index that day isn't high. Bokuto isn't so used to wandering out in the daylight, and he wistfully misses the days he would stay up night guarding the Aogiri complex with Iwaizumi. Life then was somewhat easy.

"I'm sorry about her, she has no tact." 

Oikawa sits next to him, shifting his leg to extract a pack of menthols from his pocket. He offers Bokuto one, but he shakes his head. "I just filled my sister in on the situation, and she's horrified by her actions. I'll talk to Ushijima after this and change it myself."

"No," Bokuto hesitates, "...It's fine."

Oikawa boggles, his lighter dying out as he holds it close to the end of his cigarette, "'It's fine?'"

Bokuto winces, backpedaling, "Okay, okay it's not fine but it's already been made, and Ushijima is probably sending that report to his father or whoever he reports to but it's honestly, perfectly fine. I'll make it fine."

"...Bokuto, if you're not comfortable doing this, you don't have to. I can make Iwa-chan go." Oikawa mumbles, "I know it's...been hard. You haven't seen him around have you?"

"I've caught glimpses of him here and there, but I never made eye contact with him. Oikawa, I... I know it isn't his fault," Bokuto breathes in the second-hand smoke. "But part of me is still furious at him like I can't forgive him."

"Even more reason to pull you out of that recon team."

"But I want to work with him," Bokuto looks up, into Oikawa's puzzled eyes, "I want to see what Akaashi saw in him. He must have been fond of Kageyama to give him Izanami." He picks a hangnail, ignoring the disgusted looks the other investigators are shooting towards him, "Is it weird for me to feel this way? I know Kageyama didn't mean any harm, but he could have done something to stop it."

Oikawa doesn't speak for a while, only choosing to punctuate his silence with blowing smoke away from his mouth. When Bokuto looks up, he sees the Commander blink a few times.

"Oikawa?"

"Hm?" A crack in his voice.

"Did I hit a nerve?"

"Sort of," Oikawa grins weakly, tapping the butt of his menthol so ash can fall into the tray next to the bench. He holds it between his teeth and rolls his sleeves up in the summer heat, exposing his pale forearms, "I used to be in your shoes once. I hated Akaashi. I thought he was the reason why Iwaizumi risked his life to cover him."

"...And how did you cope?"

"I didn't cope that's the thing, I continued to be petty, screaming at him and fighting with him with passive-aggressive snarks. It mellowed over the years, and I came to my own conclusion that I know Iwaizumi never meant to leave us here, but he chose to cover him because he could save him. It's not a matter of him loving Akaashi more than he loves me, Hajime was just trying to protect." Oikawa drew more smoke into his lungs, "During the good days, I love Akaashi like a brother or a son. He's gifted, more so than any of us could ever hope to achieve, but he's only human. Whenever he made mistakes, I turned into a bad teacher and screamed at him. Did he tell you the time that I yelled how lucky he was that he could see you while I couldn't see Iwa-chan at all?"

"No."

"Some days I knew that it wasn't Akaashi's fault, but some days, I blamed it all on him."

"You're only human."

Oikawa wryly smiles, "That doesn't excuse my actions towards him, sadly. I know my faults, and there are a lot of things I wish I could have apologized to him before he left." A smoke ring appears from his mouth into the descending sun, "We're incredibly fragile, aren't we?"

"I would trade anything to be human again," Bokuto grimaces, thinking of his eternal hunger and how he itches to free his kagune. "I hope you'll never be one of us."

"...Is the hunger really that bad?"

"The worst."

"...I took up smoking from that event," Oikawa explains, referring back to Iwaizumi's death, "It drove me to near insanity how I laid in bed at night wishing I could have changed some things, how I would have changed things. Grief is natural, don't fight against it."

"You're different from when you talk to the public."

"Of course I am, the public thinks I'm crazy to be working for the CCG- a saint who spends his time cooped up in a nest of killers."

"No," Bokuto shakes his head slowly, "I think it's valiant how you continued to work for the CCG even though you could take time off. And you're good, even though you think you're not."

"Good?"

"Yeah, you learned to forgive yourself," Bokuto declares, standing up and turning his head down to look at Oikawa, "In our world, there are not many who can admit to their mistakes the way you can. You made another choice for yourself, and I respect that." 

He leaves Oikawa on the bench to think as he makes his way back inside the building, hoping Suga would have prepared his meal already. He's famished.

 

March

 

He looks up carefully from the full moon in view, noting the say the tips of the grass gleamed in the night. Taking a flight down a set of stairs, he fakes a purpose in his step, noticing when most of the younger ghouls in the laundry room shuffle out of his way. With him hidden away in the isolation wing, everyone would just assume he's some important leader's underling looking for a bathroom.

Or so he hopefully thinks.

He'd learned how to walk again in the past month, as well as running and jumping. Between the physical rehab sessions and hiding from Tsukishima's glare, Akaashi has been trying to coax out his kagune to no avail. It's rather strange how no one has bothered him like the stories he heard from Iwaizumi and Bokuto. They were bombarded with training disguised as a form of torture during their second week in contrast to his four weeks. Fukurou has completely disappeared from the compound, as he couldn't sniff her out earlier in his routine walk around his wing.

A van outside is sitting on idle, and Akaashi can hear a new voice weaving between the bass and tenor acoustics of her helpers. Ayato is heaving something directly above him, probably food. Hinata is excitedly talking the new voice's ears off, something about books and poems. With everyone in the compound busy transporting food into the building, the guards at the entrance would be lax.

Akaashi steps out into the night, breathing in the fishy smell of ports the van carries and seeing the back of the newcomer's head. A rope of blonde hair hangs in a thick French braid, and he melds into the shadows, walking as fast as he can to the perimeter of the compound. He avoids the leaves that rustle too loudly, tip-toeing majority of the way. 

Eventually, the babble of the ghouls dims in his ear, and he opens his mouth slightly to breathe in, hoping that no ghoul's ears are good enough to hear how hard his heart is hammering. Freedom is so close. He itches to feel the ground flying from underneath his legs, but he has to take caution to not open the stitches still holding his back together.

A movement in the trees, and a ghoul steps out. 

He steps into a fighting stance- just how Arima drilled it into him. 

"Akaashi Keiji, yes? Attempting to escape is a crime here," She smoothly says, hood dropping as she shakes her blonde braid out. She looks around Oikawa's age, if not several years younger. There's a certain familiarity in her facial structure, but it's all forgotten as Akaashi slowly traces a scar that runs from her right forehead to her right ear, cutting directly through her eyelid with his eyes. The skin of the scar is smooth, but darker around the edges. "I could hand you over to Yamori and give you the beating of your life, or I could strike a bargain with you."

Akaashi narrows his eyes, preparing to spring upwards when the ground explodes.

Something dark and wild shoots out of the earth, locking and thickening around his legs. Then he realizes they are vines with barbs, hooking deep into his flesh as he receives multiple lacerations. He slams onto the ground, limb locked and fighting. The vines show no mercy, covering his entire body, barbs continuing to dig into his skin. Akaashi glares at her as he feels the barbs squeeze around his neck. The pressure is tight, and he loses consciousness easily as the kagune deprives him of air.

"Good night."

 

Chapter Text

 

The beginning is warm, full of laughter that rings out and envelopes her ears like a blanket. She's surrounded by only three people, her father who beams down at her, her mother, who's resting on the couch, and her half-brother. Her half-brother sleeps like a rock in her mother's arms, hands forming into fists as he waves them around.

The beginning is easy. She sleeps, eats, sleeps, and eats some more. Occasionally, her half-brother, whom she can detect by scent now, tries to stand up on his feet to mimic her. He has awkward, flailing limbs and she, by instinct, falls on their blanket so he doesn't hit his head trying to copy her. 

The beginning is oddly sharp. Now that she looks back at her memories, she wouldn't think she would remember what her first toys had looked like, nor would she know what Wakatoshi's favorite stuffed animal was now that she doesn't see him anymore.

The father she remember vaguely of disappears around the time she fully knows to run around. Perhaps he was an absent sort of person. Niiyama tells her mother that he doesn't smell like them, and that sometimes when she catches a whiff of her classmates, her throat would burn. 

Her mother pats her hair fondly and tells her she has a very good nose. She sings to her about how lucky she is to have such a sharp daughter. It will be useful in the future, she continues to stroke her hair, she'll live on longer than the others of her kind.

It was during her grade school years that she realized she's different from the other kids. Sometimes, if she catches a really good scent down the road of what she thinks is her favorite meal, she would pull her friends along only to find the alley connecting to a busy road full of people milling around in all directions. It would strike her odd that her mother only buys groceries for her, but she doesn't question it often. The early years were full of delighted peals of laughter and afternoons spent with her mother when she's not teaching kindergarten.

Her father, that mysterious man with dark brown hair, occasionally appears on the television with her half-brother. It comes to her a surprise every now and then. She assumed it was a normal, everyday thing that she barely sees him in her life. It wasn't until her classmates asked where her dad goes to work that she doesn't know the answer to that, or that he was an important public figure for some organization, and Wakatoshi is likely to follow his footsteps one day.

Niiyama is thirteen when she enters her house to see a familiar figure, a little more stout than she last time remembered him, his hands clutching a quinque as she slowly drops her gaze onto the crumpled body on the floor.

Red everywhere. Red splattering the walls, on the floors, spreading towards the front door, staining her world, entering her eyes, making her mouth flood with saliva at the scent-

"Get off her!"

Her father flings her away, narrowing his eyes as she crumples against the floor. The wall doesn't hurt her much, and she scrambles to her feet, slippers slipping in the hallway slick of blood- her mother-

"Mother!" She shakes her shoulders, aware of her father looming behind her back with an object that looks like a whip-

"She's a ghoul! Get away from her!"

"You get away!" Her hands are stained red. "You killed Mom!"

"Your mother!-"

"She's your wife!" She screams, lunging forward-

Red.

There's an incredible amount of pain surging on the left side of her face, cutting directly into her eye. It burns like fire, from her hairline all the way down to her ear and she doesn't know where it began or end. She falls onto the hardwood, feeling the liquid gush from the wound as she shrieks. Whatever vision she has left allows her to see her father's horrified expression.

He looks down at her, the quinque blue and pulsing in his grip before composing his face into one stony expression.

"You're a monster."

Red. Agonizing pain.

"I'm your daughter!" She could hardly breathe with the pain spiking into her head. 

"Don't!" Her father yells, "You're no daughter of mine, nor is she my wife! She's a monster and you are a monster as well! Ghouls have no place in this world!"

Pain.

She hears him throw a towel at her, the fabric landing sloppily at the stained floors. She hates the color red. She hates it, hates it, hates it, hates it-

"You are a monster," He grips his quinque hard enough for her to hear a crack in the handle, "But you're my daughter as well-"

She's going to pass out. Red, red, red-

"-so run. I'm giving you a chance to run, Niiyama." Her father says to her, turning to leave. She curls up on the floor, holding the towel to her eye before she sees his stark outline against the door. She hates him. Hates him with all of her might.

"I hate you."

Her father says nothing except, "Don't stay in Tokyo. I will kill you if you appear in the CCG's radar."

Red.

 

 

"Are you lost?"

She tries to hide her face by wearing a hood, making sure the light of the streetlamp doesn't reach her face. A boy with brown hair is holding grocery bags, placing them down on the bench as she unconsciously stiffens.

"Waiting for the cab to go to the airport."

"All by yourself? Where's your mom?"

"Dead."

When she'd woken up, her mother's corpse had been cleared away, and she'd found a bundle of notes wrapped in a rubber band to supply her a one way ticket to any country of her choice on the dining table. Between the head splitting pain and scrubbing the blood off her clothes and hair, she'd carefully inspected her eye and only found a raw scar tissue quickly fading away. 

The boy chirps something about ghouls hanging around the area, and Niiyama has to bite her tongue from flinching again. Instead, she makes sure her voice is sharp, "Isn't it time for little boys to go home?" She pointedly asks.

"I live over there, curfew isn't till two hours. And it looks like your cab is slow."

She turns her head in the direction he'd jerked his thumbs at, seeing a complex in the dark.

The Junior Ghoul Academy.

She tunes out whatever he says next. The boy continues to watch her as she puts her small luggage in the trunk, and when he waves, she lifts her hand from the inside as the driver asks her where to go.

"Airport," If luck is on her side, this will likely be the last time she'll ever speak in Japanese. As they pass streetlamp after streetlamp, she rests her head on the side of the taxi, looking at the night sky and wondering where she will go once she lands in Germany. Her English isn't too shabby, but it won't be enough for her to communicate with. She only has a few euros left of the money that had been placed on the table, and with boarding and food, Niiyama knows she wouldn't last a week.

The driver stops at the international terminal, and she hands him the appropriate bills before looking outside, breathing in the crisp air of spring, heading in towards check in and security.

On the flight there, she stretches her legs onto the empty seat next to her, the cabin is loud from the engine of the plane. It's dark, and she falls asleep by tiring herself out on her worries of what she will do and where she will go once she lands. If she survives the chilly nights there, she can sleep outside on a bench or something during the summer years. Her inability to speak English or German will set her back, but if she sits in a city square everyday and listen, she'll probably pick up a few phrases.... Her mother always told her that she's smart for her age....

She wakes up to a flight attendant shaking her shoulder lightly for breakfast. Starved, Niiyama swallows whatever was served, staying awake enough for some coffee since the scent soothes her. The dark liquid reminds her of the coffee her mother brews, and ultimately causes her eyes to prickle with tears.

She doesn't understand.

Her father should have known that her mother was a ghoul, right? Surely he would have noticed. And taking into accounts that she has never heard of hybrids living before, she would expect that her survival relied on the chances of her mother eating more human flesh to sustain her. Her mother never had a ring, but she always wore that necklace around her neck, a red purple stone the same color as her kagune that's encased in silver.

If she could remember her father smiling down as her earliest memories, wouldn't it make sense to assume that he loved her and her mother? He must have known. There was no way he didn't.

Her mother; her sweet, harmless mother who wanted no more than to live out a peaceful life working murdered by the man she loves the most. Ironic. Niiyama wants to throw up. Her mother had done nothing wrong. She hears red roaring in her ears. She lifts the cup, drinks all the coffee in one shot for her mother.

Then, she decides, she will get revenge on her father when she's older.

 

 

"You're strange. 

She warily looks at the young master of the Tsukiyama Family. After stumbling around Germany for days trying to quell her hunger- because the hunger of a ghoul is the worst thing there ever is- she'd bumped into a man by the name of Mirumo.

She thought her face had healed properly, but he had stopped in the middle of a busy street and crouched, speaking softly in Japanese and telling her that he'll take her in. 

She shakes her bangs out of her eyes as he walks into the training room, circling around her like she's a display case. "What of it?"

Shuu, only three or four years younger than her, wrinkles his nose. Niiyama looks down at her sweaty workout clothes. "Your smell is weird. Did you put on some deodorant?"

"Yes I did, Young Master."

"Shuu! Call me Shuu!"

"Shuu-sama."

"SHUU!"

"Shuu-san."

"I said call me Shuu!" He bounces, running in a circle as Matsumae peers in and takes her place by the door. Shuu continues to yell with the endless energy of a young child, "You're family! We eat together and you have your own maids and you go to lessons with me and join Father in his study! You're my sister, right? Call me Shuu!"

She crouches down to his height, ruffling the soft hair, faking a smile to divert his gaze away from the red cloud hanging around her waist. Her kagune. She'd been trying to coax it to come out before he came in. "It'd be rude of me, Shuu-san. I'm not blood related."

He pouts at her, "But you're my family!"

Matsumae suddenly appears, extending her hand to Tsukiyama, "It's time for you lessons again, Master Shuu."

"But Nee-"

"I'll join you for dinner later, okay?" She promises, smiling softly. She keeps the smile plastered until the maids closed the doors again before facing her punching bag again, glaring at the bulls eye print out she'd taped.

Behind her, her kagune continues to crumble.

 

 

Everyday, she would join the young master for tutoring lessons all spread out in the week so that they're exposed to every subject that can be imagined. Niiyama not only gets a formal education in Japanese literature, but now spends majority of her time in the library with a German, French and Italian dictionary by her side as she translates books meant for children. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she is split up with Shuu and is free to do her own thing, where she hides in the library so the maids can't see her and she can't hear them.

She eats dinner with Mirumo and Shuu in the former's private office. Niiyama doesn't like talking much, but she makes a conscious effort to answer any of the questions Mirumo direct her way politely, like her mother had taught her to.

On the rare days where the maids are given a break, the mansion is emptier, and it's easier for her to move around without trying to stick to the shadows too much. She doesn't know how large the mansion is, so she goes past the library on the second floor and sees a hallway passing the main foyer. A piano room where Shuu usually resides come into view, and she sees a couch in the hallway and decides to sit there, listening to Tsukiyama clumsily move his hands over the keys.

Niiyama relaxes a little, opening an English book she needs to finish reading by tomorrow.

"-don't know why Master Mirumo picked up the street vagrant-"

She stills, before closing her eyes. The hallways are dark now, and she quietly inhales, opening her ears sharper and straining to catch the faint voice as she registers the smell of ghouls.

"-heard he saw the little girl and just picked her right up!"

A tinkle of laughter and a quick jabber in German she can't pick up. Someone mocking the master of the house.

Niiyama sees red, jumping off the couch and speed walking back to her room, her shoes sinking into the thick carpet.

 

 

While Shuu is warm and welcoming and dotes on her like a big sister, Niiyama, for lack of a better word, is distant.

On occasions where the servants aren't around and only Matsumae is nearby, Niiyama finds it easier to breathe, to let her tense shoulders drop as she joins Shuu on his piano and play Saint-Saens' Pas Redouble, a duet for two.

During the middle, everything has fallen into routine. She can wake up peacefully from sleep instead of falling out of the bed, eye searching in the dark for a glint of quinque as her body is covered in a layer of cold sweat. Those nights were terrible, and she would often sneak into the kitchens after the chefs had gone home and nurse a cup of tea. Sometimes Matsumae finds her sitting on the kitchen floor, and drapes a blanket around her shoulders before doing some paperwork on the kitchen island.

The middle is the expected. The beginning is like a punch to the face, everything is new and she could hardly keep up with the world. She went from a nobody in her grade school to the adopted daughter of the most influential ghoul family in the world. Her world, once so drab and simple, consisting of her and her mother, and perhaps Wakatoshi appearing vaguely in her dreams, has turned into another space where she watches humans being killed as a sport.

It's brutal, bloody, and everything a ghoul's world is full of.

"I feel funny," Shuu moans as he lies on the couch in his room. Niiyama had woken up to two feet of snow, and before she knew it, Shuu had streaked outside in shorts and a coat before managing to cut his knee on some rusted fence at the edge of their property. Niiyama narrows her eye at him as the doctor scowls at her, injecting a shot into Shuu's arm.

"This is why you don't run outside with shorts on." She sourly says, ignoring the hems of her wet cardigan. With Mirumo abroad and Matsumae out to get some deliveries, Niiyama had been forced to make a call to one of the only ghoul doctors in the area to come, and it took him thirty minutes by car.

The doctor shrugs on his jacket, closing his briefcase before pining her with a glower, "He should be fine, I think," He purses his lips, "I've given him a shot, but I'm not sure how our immune system will take it. Antibiotics and vaccines are either a hit or miss with us."

She scurries after him as he opens the large front doors, a buffet of hail and sleet drenching her hair as she pulls an envelope from her coat pocket.

"Free of charge," He declines, looking around for his car buried in the snow storm. Niiyama blinks in surprise as she watches his eyes scan over her scar, plain as day with the clip holding her bangs back, "We owe a lot to Master Mirumo. Do make sure the young master is resting. No more running around in the snow." He nods sternly, before turning tail and disappearing into the snow.

Shuu is waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, grey faced as he gloomily prods his knee. She can see his skin knitting itself slowly, knowing the process would speed up if he eats something.

"Hungry," He whines, latching onto her leg as she hobbles to the kitchen with his added weight. "I don't feel good, Niiyama."

"That's why you don't jump into a snowbank without someone to watch you." She reprimands, entering the freezer room and watching her breath come out in puffs. The room is full of mostly bare shelves, the chefs exhausting their meat supply for last week's Christmas Party. The only things she sees in the room are several jars and what looks like a stale arm.

Shuu giggles when she picks him up by the waist, putting him on top of her shoulders as he quickly reaches for the jar of eyeballs and arm. Niiyama lets him run back outside into the kitchens as she watches him shake several eyeballs onto a plate. Being the only one tall enough to reach the microwave mounted onto the wall, she grabs the plate and heats it.

Shuu shrieks when she sinks her teeth into the cold arm.

"What?" 

"You should heat it at least!"

"I'm not picky like you," She sticks the tip of her tongue out at him, smiling slightly when Shuu looks like he's going to faint at the sight of her eating a raw human arm that has been chilled for a good month or two. She teases him about his superior palette, and listens to him as he chatters about taking over a ghoul restaurant one day.

Seeing Shuu grow up causes her to usually stop with whatever she's doing and think about Wakatoshi. Would she have been a good sister if they lived under the same roof? Would her father and mother get along well? Who's personality would he receive, what would he be like, how is he doing right now, would there be any similarities between them?

"Nee-san?"

She looks down at Shuu's doe eyes, "Hm?"

He pins her with the most serious expression an eleven year old can create, "If I open a ghoul restaurant one day, will you eat there with me?"

Niiyama doesn't know why, but she can't imagine herself sitting in a high class restaurant with silks around her. But that's just foolish, because where else would she be but stay in Germany for the rest of her life?

And so, she lies in what she think won't be the last time.

"Of course."

 

 

Days, months, and eventually, years start to trickle past her with a slow, fluid motion. Niiyama looks at the mansion; at the maids that nod to her but talk behind her back like she is an outcast; at the butler who raises an eyebrow when he caught her picking apples off a nearby human property; at her bedroom, where Master Mirumo took her to a furniture store and told her to pick whatever she liked. Anything she liked.

She feels like a slug. A plain sea slug living among the grandeur of one of the fortunate ghoul families who have taken root in a somewhat stable country they call home. A child with expensive clothes, silks and velvet thrown at her as she plays dress up beside Shuu, who takes the fabrics with delight and likes to do her hair for her. A child playing family. A child who does not belong. 

A wolf in sheep's clothing.

What was the point of her father letting her go? Giving enough money for her to escape and live out a quiet life in some other country? Letting a half-ghoul like her escape? What was the point of living in a house she did not belong in, attending to these classes and learning how to act human from Mirumo, learning how to drink coffee, how to slay humans, how to do anything really?

She stares out the windows, watching the newly adopted son of the Rosewald family walk around the garden. Shuu is already trying to get through Classical Literature as fast as he can, pencil scribbling on his paper as their tutor calmly reads her book in front of them. She looks at the tuft of purple hair and closes her eyes when Shuu hands in his paper before bolting out into the garden to play with Kanae.

"Young Mistress, please divert your attention away from the win-" 

"Yes, yes..." She mumbles. 

"Master Mirumo seems to have noticed that you have been...distracted."

She stops reading a poem by Fujiwara no Kiyosuke, her pencil smoothly writing out an answer as she hears the delighted laughter tinkling from the backyard. Her long hair falls past her shoulders, "There are few things on my mind."

"Things like passing your German vocabulary, perhaps?" Her tutor stiffens, "And handing in your English essays on time rather than wasting away in your bedroom tapping away on your laptop? I will speak to Master Mirumo about taking away your little device if you do not-"

"Don't," She snarls, "you dare think about taking away my laptop." It's her only connection to her brother. To Wakatoshi. A bubble of irritation curls around her, and she can feel the veins of her kakugan creep up the sides of her eyes. "I'm a good student, I listen, work silently, pay attention to the lectures-"

"What kind of student cannot produce a kagune, then?" Niiyama narrows her eyes even further, all thoughts about poetry abandoned as her tutor draws herself up before looking down at her. "Ghouls who cannot produce a kagune are useless."

"I am not useless."

"I cannot fathom a reason why Master Mirumo is allowing a girl off the streets to live here, or why he's allowing you to have such a vast amount of education when all you do is break the law and hack into government websites-"

She flips her pencil before pointing the tip to her tutor, pulling back her bangs and showing her the scar. The ugly scar that never healed properly and is a reminder that her father, her sire, left a mark. The scar she sees everyday to remind her that she has no place in the human or ghoul world. "You listen here," She hisses, "I am not useless. I'm thankful of what Master Mirumo has done and I will repay it when I get older."

Perhaps it's the way her words are- too soft to be a threat that her tutor only sneers. "It will please many of the nobles when you become of age and leave the-"

"Niiyama?"

She turns to see Tsukiyama and Kanae side by side, hovering at the door before she spins her pencil in her hand and lowers it. Shuu walks into the room, glancing warily between the two of them. She sees his little French dictionary sticking out of his jacket pocket. "You're taking a long time finishing...is something wrong?"

"Nothing is," She taps her paper and smiling, fixing her bangs back into place. "Just needed to ask for a clarification. Run along, I'll meet you in the library for French after lunch."

Tsukiyama purses his lips, but says nothing further before walking out of the room. Niiyama exhales. 

She suddenly feels exhausted.

 

 

She is the product of her environment, stemmed from her father's hatred for her, cared for by her dead mother, and nurtured by the Tsukiyama House. She grew up tolerating the stares, the whispers, the ugly rumors that float around the disturbingly lavish ghoul parties in which she's introduced along with Shuu like a true member of his blood. She grew to revel in silences, learned to fear nothing except the people who nearly snagged her by their teeth when she stupidly stayed too long on the CCG data base.

She learned from the old classical texts of Aristotle and the many names that turn into a blur in her head, studied the ways that she could build a virus to set onto the CCG to let them panic while she plays around with them. It's an entertainment to pass her time, but deep in her heart she knew she's just looking for how her brother is doing, what her sire is up to. She read the Art of War, bent her neck over endless amount of books and online texts that she sees a flaw in the CCG, sees her father's true ruthless nature. 

Ruthless like how he hadn't hesitated to raise his hand to her.

Red.

She cuts off the man's screams, ripping his limb off in a quick fashion before tearing his stomach open. A ghoul's hunger is truly the worst thing in the world. It envelopes your mind and drives you to the point of insanity if you don't take care of it. She throws away the innards before bending and opening her mouth.

She stops swallowing, pausing as her jeans continue to soak in the blood. She closes her eyes before standing up, leaning against the wall of one of the many alleyways.

She'd been hasty again. Niiyama is sure that her prey, now dead, was one of sons of a well known public figure she sees on television often. His general visage look too well kept for someone whom she thought had lived on the streets.

Red.

She traces the old scar on her left eye, the cut starting from the top of her forehead, close to her hairline, all the way down to her cheekbones and curving sharply towards her ear. It hasn't disappeared, not once ever since she'd stepped foot in Germany twelve years ago. All of the ghouls she has met have no trace of scars, their skin being able to regenerate any kind of injuries. If that's the case, she's not considered a true ghoul, is she? Her kagune is no more than wisps of red clouds that can't form a structure and-

"Niiyama?"

"Shuu," She curtly scolds, watching him walk towards her with an umbrella. Kanae is silently watching her a few meters back, escorted by Tsukiyama's small army of dedicated servants. The rain continues to pour down in small, persistent drops. "What are you doing here?"

He ignores her question and instead bends down to grimace at the corpse. "Did you have to do that? I can show you a more-"

"I don't want a gourmet lifestyle, thank you."

He closes his mouth, fiddling with the ends of the grey scarf she'd given him for his birthday. Recently, he'd been on a growth spurt, overtaking Kanae and majority of the servants in the house, emptying the fridge in the basement and running around with his kagune sprouted until Niiyama had him sat down before explaining to him how to retract it since Mirumo is away from the mansion. She taught him how to shape it, how to coax the cells to branch out this way and that into a shape Shuu had been pleased with.

"That was harsh, I'm sorry," She apologizes, still looking at the ground. She can feel Shuu's personal servants bristle at her rude remark. Tsukiyama fidgets uncomfortably, before stepping out of the umbrella and giving half of it to her.

Kanae makes a splutter of a protest behind them at the mouth of the alley, and she widens her eyes before pushing it back, "You'll get wet-"

"It doesn't matter, you're soaked in blood and water." 

"Young Master-"

"Shuu!"

"Tsukiyama," She forces out, frowning when he moves in closer to protect her from the rain. Their shoulders are touching, his white suit jacket smudged with blood as she stiffens. A drop of blood from her hand lands on his expensive leather shoes. "This is unnecessary."

"I'll drive you home, come on."

She clenches her jaws tight, watching Matsumae's ever blank expression. Matsumae is the only person other than Shuu and Mirumo who tolerates Niiyama, even going as far as dipping her head to her when they pass each other in the hallways. Kanae is pursing his lips, as if this is wrong, and it should be. She's in no way an equal to him. To them, her blood is not wanted. A defective ghoul child who had wandered the streets and lucky enough to be spotted by Mirumo isn't worthy enough.

Tsukiyama is humming lightly as they drive slowly through the rain, around town and up a shortcut before the road opens to a large, green field. In the distance, the manor is faintly visible through the gathering mist.

"You don't need to hunt them like that, you know," Shuu mumbles quietly. All the servants pretend to turn a deaf ear except for Matsumae.

Niiyama refuses to look into Shuu's eyes. "How I eat is none of your business. I like hunting better than letting scrappers kill my meal. It's a choice."

"...Still.... It makes me sad seeing you like this."

"Is that pity I hear?" Her voice dips in warning. "I thought we had a talk over this. I respect your ghoul restaurant idea, and I know you want to own a branch one day, but I'd rather hunt humans in the streets and eat by myself."

"It's-"

"Savage?" She puts the words into his mouth, tearing her eyes away from the green bushes to Tsukiyama's wide ones. "Dirty? Disgusting? Strange? So what? It doesn't matter, Shuu!"

"Everyone here-"

"Everyone here but me does that. I understand." She reigns in her anger, trying her best to keep it to a minimum. Why doesn't he understand that she just wants to be left alone sometimes? It's stifling to be in that house, to be mocked behind her back and treated like she's someone special when she knows that she's lesser than the dirt they use in the garden in their eyes. Tainted. Unworthy of being a Tsukiyama. "But I do things my way okay?"

Tsukiyama thins his mouth, crossing his arms and looking out the window. She sighs and looks the other way, watching the gloomy countryside roll slowly and fighting to keep her emotions coiled. Always coiled. She doesn't know what will happen if she lets her anger get the best of her.

 

 

"Can I talk to you?"

She looks up from a profile of a valedictorian graduating from the Academy this year, noting his name and ability.

Shuu shuffles his feet, looking timid as he hovers at her doorway before she gestures to the couch.

"Um."

"Yes?"

"F-Father...took you in from the outside, right?"

It's a common knowledge in the household, and she's surprised that Tsukiyama had asked her out of all people when he had his own personal group of servants at his beck and calling. Adding to more things at his beck and calling are eligible daughters vying for his hand, not that Tsukiyama ever showed preference for any of them. A common trait he shares with her is their love for laptops and the internet. "Yeah- I mean, yes."

"Who were your parents?"

She had not spoken of her parents to anyone since she left Japan.

"Why?"

"Your smell..." Tsukiyama plays with the edges of her favorite cushion, "I thought I was young, that my nose hadn't developed well enough to distinguish it, but your smell is really..."

"One of a kind? Well, do you want a short version or a long, drawn out one?"

"Long." At this, he sits up straighter, back straight as a pole.

She sighs, looking out into the drenched gardens and the way the raindrops race downwards down her windows. It'd been a long time since she thought about her parents. Memories do start to fade, and she's good at forgetting the painful ones in life. She tries to think of her earliest memories, vaguely seeing brown hair and her mother's smile amongst a giant stuffed cow that Wakatoshi sleeps on during nap time. It brings a small smile to her face, remembering the way he used to try to stand up on his feet to copy her.

"My mother was a ghoul," She starts, "and she was the mistress of my sire, the current chairman of the Commission of Counter Ghoul in Japan."

Tsukiyama's eyes widens.

"I...I was born in the same year as my brother- half brother." She corrects herself, realizing that she was never held by Wakatoshi's mother. When they were still in the crib together, her mother had often looked after him as well. "We have different mothers, but the same father. I remember seeing his brown hair when we were sleeping in the same cot in my sire's house."

"Why do you keep calling him 'sire'?"

"He killed my mother, Shuu."

It was a while until she speaks again, and how could she, when she's trying to sort through so many repressed memory? It's like trying to grasp water. "I came home from school to find her beaten to death, my sire's quinque in his hand before he dealt the killing blow. I screamed at him, he screamed at me. I don't remember what we were screaming about, but he called me a monster and told me he'll give me one chance to escape, and should he ever see me in the CCG's wanted list, he would kill me himself."

She gives her adopted brother a half smile.

"I'm sorry," Tsukiyama mumbles, "I thought... I thought you ran away from home or something."

"I did, in a sense." 

"That's why... your smell is weird. Like half and half."

"I guess."

"Is that why you can't control your kagune?"

She stops fixing the mess on her desk, turning to face him as he stares at her from the couch.

"Who told you?" She'd made sure every single tutor she'd came across kept their mouths shut. It was one thing to carry a weird scent around her everywhere, but it's another thing to be a ghoul without a working kagune. 

Ghouls who cannot produce a kagune are useless.

"The servants-"

"The servants should keep their mouths shut about certain stories."

"So it's true."

"And so, what of it?" She stands, "I could drop kick you to the other end of the estate. A kagune doesn't matter to me."

Tsukiyama hands her a slip of paper, "Someone wants to meet you. I bumped into her when I was checking the restaurant." He stands up and she takes a step back, "I'm...sorry, about your mother."

"It's fine. It's in the past."

Shuu moves forward like a dancer, and she really is jealous at how he's so naturally graceful when he catches her with a hug. Niiyama is stunned; the last time she received one was from her mother, and she doesn't expect it to make tears swim in her eyes. His arms are tight around her, as if trying to physically tell her that everything is fine, and everything that's not fine will be alright in the future.

Slowly, she links her fingers together and hugs him back, smelling the rose undertones of his cologne.

 

 

"You must be Tsukiyama's sister."

She walked into the cafe not knowing which face to expect, but a short teen with wild, untamed hair wasn't what she expected. The girl in front of her smiles widely, eyes rimmed with a tiredness that Niiyama only knows so well before gesturing at the menu. 

"I'm Eto," The person extends a pale hand, "Or if you want to be discreet, Takatsuki Sen is also my name."

"Niiyama."

"Just Niiyama?" The waiter unloads a dish and their drinks. Eto chirps a thank you before sipping her latte, eyeing her curiously. Niiyama grips her chair with stiff fingers. "No first name?"

"I don't remember my first name," She lies.

"Fair enough, pleased to meet you, Niiyama." Eto offers her some cake. She declines, watching the person in front of her smile as she bites into the dessert. The cafe is pleasant enough, playing some medley rendition of some Christmas pop tune in the background as she hears the gentle porcelain cups make contact with their saucers. It's a place she can imagine Mirumo and Shuu in, a coffee shop to reminisce.

Niiyama breathes in through her mouth, before recoiling at the smell.

"Noticed, haven't you?"

"You-"

"-are like me." Eto finishes, leaning back on her chair. She couldn't be older than Tsukiyama, maybe a few year younger. "Half ghoul, half human."

"I thought you were one of Tsukiyama's restaurant friends."

"No, I came all the way here to meet you. There's a certain rumor in Japan about a ghoul staying overseas who smells like me."

She has a hard time swallowing, "I could be anywhere in the world."

"Germany is the last, safe stronghold. Many influential families call this country home, and if a small child from Japan would hide in one of the clans, it would be easy to be hidden from the public for years."

Niiyama looks into her drink, staring at the leaf art before gulping half the cup in one shot. What Eto had said was true. In Germany, majority of the country's influence rests in the Tsukiyama Clan's power. "And? What do want? I assume you want to talk about something."

"Come back with me to Japan."

Her coffee goes down into the wrong pipe.

"I dug up your past, Ushijima-chan," Eto slyly says, smirking, "It's nothing harmful, just a little dig in the public archives and a little hacking here and there. I found your birth certificate. I'm surprised Ushijima Senior let a ghoul woman by his side long enough for his daughter to be thirteen before killing his wife. It's not very protected, the information, that is. I'm surprised he forgot to cover it up.

"And one more thing caught my interest," She croons. "I had someone I know who was able with computers do a little hacking of your laptop. The CCG traced your address you know, you're sort of infamous in Japan as the young hacker who threw their cyberspace department into chaos for a week. They're probably on their way of sending an agent to track you down right now, but I'm intrigued," Eto traces the lip of her coffee cup with a pinkie, "Your research, the ones about RC Cell levels in the body. I wonder; can you truly inject enough RC Cells into a defected ghoul to inhibit their kagune to sprout?"

Niiyama feels like Eto can see right through her. It's an unpleasant sensation, especially when she's used to the feeling being the one in power, downloading every single secret in the CCG to be analyzed for her own means. Her laptop, Pandora's Box, could get her thrown into Cochlea if it's seized.

"Did you trace my laptop? Why would you do that?" As soon she gets home, she's going to lock herself in her room and create an eater software that wipes all documents. 

"Maybe. I know you've been keeping an eye on the CCG. Your brother must be around your age, right? You want to keep tabs on him and your father. Your brother because he's your family, the only person who you accepted yourself, and your father because you must have a grudge you want to settle with him. Your mother's death, maybe?" Eto leans in closer, "I want the CCG to be crushed, and I know that you want Ushijima dead too."

Who are you?

She glares at Eto, "You're that SSS rank who's been on the news lately," She'd been sitting in the living room with Mirumo and Tsukiyama when the breaking news had showed up, and that was nearly six months ago. "Fukurou."

Eto bares her teeth in a grin, "Correct."

"The 11th and 24th ward in Tokyo won't be safe if you keep this up." Niiyama hisses, because the she herself grew up in the 11th ward and know what it felt like to be a ghoul trying to blend into the human world. "Why are you challenging the CCG and involving so many ghouls in this stupid battle?"

"The CCG are exterminating us, why shouldn't we fight back?"

"They won't hurt you if you just stay out of their way!"

"Are you listening to yourself, ghoul? You have no place in that business! Your father, the CCG Director himself threw you out! You should be siding with us! Have you been inside Japan in the last few years? Do you know how angry we all are? The CCG is limiting our territory! Spats between rival territories are killing more ghouls than there are investigators! I want to push the CCG back. If the 11th and 24th ward can be retaken by the Aogiri, we can distribute humans between ourselves. Some wards are already being organized by different organizations, and they have their own way of doing things."

"Their ways don't involve killing the CCG do they?"

Eto looks unimpressed at her, "Why do you protect them? They've done absolutely nothing for you."

An image of Wakatoshi's brown hair hits too close to home. "I-"

"Your brother is becoming one of them. He's going to take over the CCG in the future! Do you know how many ghouls I have under me right now? Together, we can weed the weak and crush the strong. If you come to Japan, I'll guarantee your brother's life when we do shut them down."

She stands up, looming over Eto as her ears roar.

"What do you want from me?"

Eto blinks slowly, "I want you."

"You want me as your pawn because I'm expandable." If Eto has sifted through the information she saved onto her cloud, she'd seen everything. Endless information about the ghoul underworld, the mysterious 24th ward the CCG can't map out, the underground tunnels, every member in the CCG, every battle plan and delicate profiles of ghouls on Cochlea and gods know what else she'd seen and took apart.

"No, I want to see the CCG go down, and I know you also want to see your father dead. I want you as my Queen."

Red. Her scar aches.

"You want me to go back to Japan and participate in this little game of yours. The Aogiri Tree needs more members, and for some reason you've singled me out because I'm a half ghoul. Do you know? I don't have a kagune."

"I don't care." Eto says, looking out into the grey city. Darkness is starting to descend, the streetlamps burning as Niiyama watches workers hurry home. The forecast predicted a snow storm tonight, she should return now. Eto looks so far away. "Don't you miss it?"

"Japan?"

"You haven't been back in more than a decade, have you? A decade is a long time."

Niiyama clenches her jaws, refusing to speak further. Eto sighs, pulling up the bill and paying for her latte before handing her a bag. She peers inside. It's a mask.

"Give it some thought." Eto says, handing her a piece of paper. "I- We don't have a permanent residence yet, but we're getting there. If you use your good nose, I'm sure you can find our compound easily."

She stands up, carrying t mask in her hand before looking back.

Eto smiles at her, raising her coffee cup in farewell, "I look forward to working with you."

Niiyama exits the cafe.

 

 

I want you as my Queen.

She looks at the craftsmanship of the hand made mask, the leather straps soft and smooth as she looks up from her books.

She approaches Mirumo's office, knocking and peering in to see him at the balcony with a cup of tea, "Sir, can I have a word?"

Tsukiyama's father raises a brow, but invites her to sit on the plush couch, pointing out Shuu below. 

"He's grown into a young man, hasn't he?"

Niiyama watches the way her adopted brother twirl in the bushes, swaying to some Italian opera crooning from the stereo on a nearby table as the snow comes down gently, "He has." It seemed to her like Germany is both capable of speeding up and slowing time down. "I'm proud of him."

"You as well," Mirumo says, "The little girl who I saved years ago have grown into a fine young lady. One worthy of this house."

Niiyama looks at her hands, placed in her lap as she crosses her legs neatly underneath the long flowy skirts she wears on special occasions. She usually dresses nicer if she's going to eat dinner with Shuu and Mirumo, but she'd gotten home pretty late after walking around the quiet city at night.

"Yes...about that, sir. I... I was wondering what your thoughts would be if I were to return to Japan."

"The Aogiri has recruited you."

"Their leader came to me. Or I assume she's their leader. Fukurou has been out of the news for a while. Maybe they're taking this time to build their numbers before striking. I've kept up with their data in the last few weeks. No new news about the Aogiri has popped up. 

Mirumo sets down his tea cup, crossing his legs and looking out into the backyard.

"Do you like it here, Niiyama? I have a manor in Japan as well, but it's to my delight to find that Shuu likes Germany as much as I do."

"Here?" She asks, surprised at the sudden change of conversation. "Yes, it's very nice, sir."

"Then why move back? You can complete your studies here, and maybe you can help Shuu run the restaurant on your spare time when he's older. You already know the ghouls in the area, and they've known you for a long time. Establishing yourself in Japan would be difficult. Tokyo is at war now."

"...I don't know, sir. I just know that if I don't return, I'm going to miss something." Aside from getting revenge, there was always something she felt off ever since she stepped foot here. Nobody welcomed her at all except for Mirumo. Here, she is unwanted.

"Miss something?"

"Being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I can't explain it. I just...I would miss this place, but my home is calling to me."

Mirumo looks at her for a long time, smiling into his cup.

"I've hoped for you to grow accustomed to this household, but I was wrong wasn't I? Most of the people here never treated you like Shuu."

"That's-"

"I understand," Mirumo lightly smiles, and Niiyama feels like her heart is breaking, "I completely do. The ghoul culture around the world is very unforgiving, it's live or die. And for everyone to see that I picked up a weak girl on the streets seems like you're somehow cheating death compared to those who have to fight tooth and claw."

"...I'm very grateful, sir." Niiyama quietly says, "I'm really, honestly, in debt to you for all these years. For not only taking me in but providing me with whatever I want."

"But there's one thing I couldn't provide; a home." Mirumo says, half to himself as he dips his head down like Niiyama is accusing him, "But you never minded, have you? In your head, you never considered yourself part of the Tsukiyama household. Do you remember when you were younger? How you used to refer to Shuu as the Young Master like the maids and butlers?"

"Yes."

"I hoped for you to grow out of it..." He trails off, "Would you at least stay here until you finish your studies at least?"

"Of course, sir," Niiyama looks at the solemn smile on Mirumo's aging face. This might be the first time she spoke this much to him.

"That's another thing," He adds, just as she's about to close the door as she's dismissed, "You never called me 'Dad'."

Niiyama sits in the hallway after that, listening to a sad chanson crooning mournfully from Mirumo's office.

 

 

Eto and Tatara stick out like sore thumbs in the airport. Niiyama walks towards them, the only thing she carried back with her a small laptop bag with her passport shoved inside as she cleared customs with the power of Mirumo's name.

"I wasn't sure you would come," Eto says to her as Tatara buckles himself in the driver's seat, starting the car and pulling out of the airport as Niiyama watches the sprawling lights crawl closer and closer. "You seem very close with the Tsukiyamas."

She stays silent.

"I don't think it would hurt to update you on a few things the CCG doesn't cover in their reports. You've heart right? Chi She Lian has been completely taken down. Last time, I fended them off quite well but the new graduates from the Academy are more trouble than I thought. V vanished from the CCG's radar completely."

"Because of the Aogiri's influence."

"They're at a stalemate with us. We don't get along with them, and they avoid us. But what remains of the Chi She Lian has been integrated into the Aogiri. We've also hunted down a CCG coroner."

"For what?"

"Have you ever thought what would happen if you transplant a ghoul organ into a human?"

"...Artificial half ghoul?" Eto nods and Niiyama feels her hand ball up into a fist. "Why?"

"The quinques they use come from our kagunes." Tatara speaks to her, glaring through the mirror as he makes his way into the 1st ward. "They use us for their fighting needs, and we use them for our army."

Eto looks between Niiyama and Tatara, who's clenching the steering wheel hard enough for his knuckles to turn completely white. She tries to puncture the heavy silence, "Well, that's one way to put it. They do use our kagunes for their quinques. It's only fair that we use humans."

"Do you have successful results from this? Is this even legal?!"

"Have you ever thought about what would happen if you injected a ghoul with RC Cells? Would that expand their natural 'capacity' and cause their kakuhou to grow?"

"Artificial kakuja. Is that what you're trying to create Eto? Artificial kakujas?" Niiyama is furious, leaning forward in her seat as she sees the warning signs of Tatara letting his kakugan show. "Being a kakuja is being constantly in an unstable state!-"

"But think of the power! Think of how many of them we can kill and conquer! With Kanou with us, you can experiment now that we have money and equipment!"

"I'm not going to experiment on ghouls! Are you out of your mind? It's unethical!-"

"Sometimes," Eto cuts her off, "You need to make sacrifices to allow growth to occur. If it means burning down the whole world to accomplish something I see as right, I don't mind doing that." She whispers, "I don't mind killing my emotions to be the best, to become feared, because while I'm at the top, that means nothing can hunt me down."

 

 

 

The red Aogiri cloak is soft, the inside lined with a sort of fur that reminds her of the plush rugs in the manor back in Germany. 

"There's a lot of orphans here," She says, following Eto as she tours her around the building.  

"That's why we need to push the CCG back and remind them who we are." Eto skips, before hovering around a doorway. "This is where most of the kids hang out, that's Ayato in the corner, sulking, and Hinata beside him. Hinata!"

Niiyama flinches when a boy younger than Shuu slams into her, causing her to slip before she catches herself just in time from landing on the floor. Hinata peers curiously at her, all wide brown eyes and wild orange hair before he hands her a book that has slipped out of her pocket. He looks like he's just around eight, but she's not quite sure if she were to based it on his physical body.

"Nee-san, can you read?!"

"Yes?"

Ayato scowls at her, and she grimaces further as Hinata lets out a wide whoop. "Hey, hey, can you teach me?? I can't read and everyone here is too busy to teach me!"

"Where...are your parents?"

"Dead," Hinata says unblinkingly. Niiyama doesn't know what is worse, that Hinata is speaking so casually about both of his parents dying or the way he says it in the matter-of-fact tone. "But it's okay! I have Natsu! Mom and Dad were part of the Aogiri, and I stayed so I can protect Natsu from Arima!"

"Ayato!" Eto calls out, "You'll be under her from now on, alright?"

Ayato puffs up angrily, not that much taller than Hinata, although she's sure he's at least a few years older. "You want me to learn under this blonde? Are you fucking kidding me? I don't need some nerd to teach me the basics of how to fight-"

"Ayato," The ghoul scowls at her darkly, before sticking his hand out. Niiyama looks at it warily, before accepting his handshake.

Later, after she'd finished her grand tour and have settled in with the kids, she curls up as best as she could in her cot.

A noise enters her ears.

"You smell weird."

She opens her eyes to see Ayato climb into his bunk, glaring all the while at her. She closes her eye again, breathing in and feeling a tug in her throat as she registers his warm scent- if she was to compare it to something humans could smell, it would smell like a little bit of leather and something woody. Oak.

"Forgive me for smelling weird, then."

Ayato makes a grumbling sound in his throat and she hears his feet pad on the floors before she opens her eye again, watching the boy lift a finger to point at her face.

"I don't trust you, ghoul," He says sharply before spinning back and pulling the blanket over his head. She listens to the kids breathe, some of them mumbling in their sleep before watching Hinata's lump shiver.

He doesn't stop shaking, and after a while, Niiyama speaks up softly, "Alright?"

Hinata flinches, head popping out before pressing his lips together into a line.

"'M fine."

She sits up slowly, feeling the breeze from the window play around with her shoulder length hair, "Do you want me to teach you how to read?"

Hinata snuffles, "R-Really?" She nods encouragingly, immediately thinking of young Shuu and how he had peeked out from behind Mirumo's leg when he first brought her home to the estate. Her heart aches.

"Really," She warmly says, "Come sit, I'll tell you something about myself too."

Hinata rushes towards her bunk, crawling before making himself comfortable as she tugs away the curtain blocking some of the moonlight to shine through. "Your don't smell like Japan."

She sniffs herself, "I just came from an airplane." Watching Hinata swing his legs back and forth, she opens the only book she brought with her, Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

"What's that book about?"

She traces the spine lightly, heavily worn and seeing the loopy, shaky doodle of Shuu attempting to write his signature, a gift for her birthday when she first came into the house. Hinata watches as she slowly flips through the text, "It's One Hundred Poems by One Hundred People compiled by Fujiwara no Teika."

"Poems?" Hinata scrunches his nose, "Those are boring aren't they?"

"Not really. The first few times you read through them might be boring, but as you revisit them, they reveal a deeper meaning, and you grow to appreciate them."

"Which one is your favorite, Nee-chan?"

"N-Nee-chan?"

"Can I call you that?"

"Um, su-sure..."

"What about your name? You never told me your name! I'm Hinata! Hinata Shouyou! Call me Shouyou!" He beams up at her, grinning ear to ear like staying up deep into the night is the best thing that has ever happened to him all day. Niiyama swallows before hesitantly opening her mouth.

"N-Niiyama is fine."

"No first name?"

She quirks her mouth up sadly, "I prefer not to use my first name. I don't like it."

"But why? Aren't names something your parents gave you?"

"I don't like my sire, Hinata, we had a falling out. He picked my name, see."

"Is Niiyama your mom's last name then?"

"I guess, yes." The day she would be an Ushijima is a day she never wants to see. "She died a long time ago, I don't remember much of her."

Hinata blinks down, "Oh, I lost Mom too. And Dad. I lost both of them."

"Arima...Kishou wasn't it?" She remembered coming across that name when she was still in Germany, around the same time someone nearly caught onto her trail. 

"I hate him," Hinata says quietly. "He's the reason why I'm all alone with Natsu."

"Your sister, where is she?"

He points to one of the smaller lumps near his bed, "There. She mostly sleeps a lot." He hugs his knees to his chest, and Niiyama sees an air of an older brother worried about his sister, "I love her, but she's too young to be in the Aogiri."

Niiyama doesn't say anything, processing the words and how Hinata had opened up to her so quickly when in all her life, no one but Shuu or Mirumo had her heart. She watches as the shadows play across her lap, covering some characters of the book and illuminating some.

"Hinata..." She turns, only to see him already asleep. "Oh."

Grogginess hits her as she lifts Hinata up to carry him back to his own cot, mindful of the other ghouls whose breathing are easing. She bends down, making sure the pillow is beneath his head before tucking him in, a strange feeling swooping her chest.

Hinata grabs onto the sleeve of her shirt, and she sighs, making herself comfortable and sitting on the floor before laying her head on his bed, thinking of how different life is here compared to Germany, of the many things she took for granted.

 

 

"Rize Kamishiro."

Eto nods at her, sitting across the couch as Niiyama perches on the edge of her sofa. Takatsuki Sen's apartment is messy, filled with manuscripts all over every surface. The glow of Eto's computer is the only light that fills the living room, and Niiyama looks over at the list of names. "Binge Eater. What do you want to do with her?"

"Kanou wants her."

Niiyama thinks of the cases she'd seen labeled confidential in the CCG's frame. "She's been active in the 20th ward. That's Anteiku's region isn't it?"

Eto grins, "Not bad. Here I was thinking we'd have to sniff her out."

"You'd never do that."

"True, I was going to send someone else to do the actual sniffing, but you get the idea." Eto curls her fingers over a cup of coffee. Niiyama's is still steaming on the tray before her. "We're all getting antsy, especially the younger ones. Some exercise would do them some good."

"There's another mission occurring on the same day."

"Sharp." Niiyama quirks her lips down, "I want to break into the CCG."

"For what?"

"Quinque steel."

"'Quinque steel?'" Niiyama echoes. "What do you need that for?"

Eto only smiles, before leading her to her front door and handing her the Aogiri cloak. Niiyama fastens it over her shoulder, pulling the hood that hides her blonde hair. Perhaps it was a premonition of something, and her scar throbs painfully.

"You'll see."

 

 

Hinata's body is convulsing in front of her.

The stench of iron and sweat hangs heavily in the air, causing her senses to be woozy. Niiyama nearly empties her stomach, lurching forward to Hinata when Tatara blocks her path. She thinks about ripping off his arm, but it's gone when Hinata's body stills before he starts shrieking 

"No."

"What are you doing to him?!"

Tatara blinks once, "Experimenting."

"What did you put into him?" Niiyama's eye lands on a vile of RC cells they've stolen from a nearby hospital. Hinata is straining across the bindings, bending forward before she sees his kagune explode from his shoulders. The wisps of black and orange is stretching, forming crazy structures that aren't the normal ghoul cells she's familiar with. Hinata sobs, jerking his arms away and clamping his teeth onto Yamori's arm.

"Let go, runt," Niiyama hears him speak. "Or your sister will be next."

"Not Natsu! No no no no! Don't hurt her please-" Hinata's pleas are halted when the ukaku, the black wings tipped with orange Niiyama had admired so often when she'd trained him, twists grotesquely before molting into a long beak with one red eye to cover Hinata's face. "-augh!"

"Yamori!" She never yelled until now, hearing her own words grate in her ears, "Stop this!"

Jason of the 13th ward smiles at her, a hungry lion mocking a cat. "You can't do anything about it. What kind of influences can a dog who run errands around the Aogiri have?"

"Make it stop please! MAKE IT STOP!" Hinata screams, chair crashing against the sturdy table that has two more plungers on a steel tray. "I'll do anything! Anything- JUST MAKE IT STOP!"

"YAMORI!" She snarls, feeling the blood in her rush towards her limbs as her kakugan flares up. Tatara nudges her back in a warning, but she shakes him off, striding forward, letting the hard soles of her boots echo inside the warehouse.

Yamori chuckles as a red cloud gather over her. "I've heard of you. The female ghoul whose kagune crumbles." His mouth continues to move as her vision tunnels and all she sees is her father standing over her mother's fuzzy body, red on the floors, red on his quinque, red on the walls, red pooling towards her feet, red clouding her vision.

"Your anger is terrifying, but it's not a weapon if you have no RC cells to use."

She snaps.

 

 

Eto is the first thing she sees when she wakes.

"That's stupid of you." The SSS ranked ghoul says, handing her a cup of water before shoving an arm at her. Niiyama feels like she'd been crawling through Shuu's rose garden, skin stretched and aching. She breathes in through her mouth, reassuring herself that Yamori's stench is nowhere near before she tastes Hinata's scent in another room close to hers.

"...He...he was hurting Shouyou." Eto's mouth is turned down, and beneath her cloak, she's wearing her street clothes. Had Niiyama forced her to visit after a book signing? "Where is he? Is he okay?"

"Next room. He's fine. He knocked himself out after you attacked Yamori." Niiyama widens her eyes, the flesh in her mouth stuck in her throat as Eto nods, "I guess the ghoul side of you takes over when you're incredibly furious. You should have seen yourself." A snicker slips out of her, "Your bikaku wrapped around your arm like a claw and you shredded Yamori's head. His legs would have been next if Tatara hadn't stopped you in time."

"Bikaku..." Like her mother's kagune. She sits up, the ache in her eye throbbing as she turns to inspect the skin near her tailbone. 

It's bruised, purple and blue and she naturally prods it before wincing.

"It'll take a few days to heal, I'm guessing. Maybe you should use this for your research- see if your healing process match that of a human's."

Her lids are pulling down, and she tugs on Eto's cloak before she leaves, "When I wake up, I need to talk to you about something."

"Anything." Eto promises, "Just get some rest now."

 

 

"Let me return to Germany."

"Why?"

"...One of the servants is a gifted kagune user. I want to go back and learn how to wield it."

"...Have you been able to coax it?"

"No..."

"...Eight years."

"Wha-"

"Your limit is eight years. Go back to Germany, learn all you can, and when you come back, you'll resume to be the Queen."

 

 

Between the hugs and Shuu crooning in her ear, it's like she'd never left Germany.

To be polite, she sits down with him for dinner, Mirumo's chair absent as he's at a formal banquet on the opening of a new building. According to Shuu, who's eagerly cutting her piece of meat as he mouths off their itinerary, they're suppose to go to meet him tomorrow. Niiyama stomachs Shuu's home cooked meal before agreeing to watch him play piano. 

"Your trip was well?"

She turns the page for him, leaning back on the comfy chair and fingering the material of the long skirt he bought especially for her. The flower prints look a little too garish, but if it makes Shuu happy, she can wear it for the night.

She hasn't told him that she'll be returning to Japan.

"Nothing like Germany," She murmurs, "The situation there with the doves are strict. I could hardly do any jobs without the employer doing a background check."

"But you are a hacker, non?"

"Of course I am, but it doesn't mean anything. I can't use any of my programs. I'm just a freelance web designer there."

Shuu stops playing, turning to her and smiling. She notes that he's even taller now. "Play something with me."

Niiyama rises, sitting down as Shuu moves down the bench. She definitely missed this, she thinks, looking at the white keys and gently hitting one of the notes as the clean sound rings. There's a beat up piano in the Aogiri hide out, bashed and awfully out of tune. She played on it a few times, heart aching as the children sat around her in a semi circle.

Without even asking her what song, or even know which one she's starting with, Shuu joins her as she moves her fingers across, laughing lightly as he indeed start the song she'd chosen in her head.

 

 

She wakes up to the blinding sunshine across her eyes, and she snaps them shut before remembering that they made their way out of the manor early to see Mirumo. Matsumae is navigating the car, smoothly handling the wheels as Shuu works on a crossword puzzle, his suit jacket draped across her.

She sits up and it falls to her lap, causing Matsumae to make eye contact with her through the mirror before flickering her eyes back onto the road. Kanae is silent, looking at the road map and not making a quip, but she knows anyway.

Knows that she is still unwanted.

"Guten Morgen!" Shuu hums, sunglasses perched on his nose as Niiyama looks at the row of trees surrounding them. "You're just in time to witness the best view Ammerland has to offer!"

"Ammerland?"

Then the car emerges from the forest and she sees old, wooden posts lining the road, wild flowers overgrowing the post and vines wrapping around it in vibrant colors of violets and reds. In the distance, she sees small houses increasingly becoming closer together in distance until she spots the town far, far away. The sun is beaming down onto the greenery, causing her to latch herself near the window.

"de Hann composed a piece and named it after this district," Shuu speaks softly, "There's so many flowers here, I never would have known. Kanae, can you open the roof?"

With a buzz, the roof slowly rolls back, and Niiyama tastes spring on her tongue, light and fragrant as she looks up at the blue sky, some lazy clouds whizzing past, the sun that streaming in warming up the skin that's not covered by her shorts.

"It's beautiful," She breathes, "I never saw skies this blue in Tokyo."

"Schon," Shuu agrees, "It's very beautiful." They watch as a stream zooms past, a family of ducks lazily taking a swim. The car eats up the road, plunging into another forest and momentarily blocking the sunlight as Niiyama sees the shadows cast by trees play on her thighs.

"Niiyama," she hears softly, turning slightly to see Shuu mournfully smile at her, "Wouldn't you rather stay here with me in Germany?"

Her heart pulls again against her chest. Kanae is looking straight at her now, eyes trained on the words about to come out of her mouth. She knows what he wants to hear, always had known it from her heart ever since the young boy had looked after Shuu like an idol, a model, a younger brother who also wants affection. She is what Kanae wanted to be.

Germany, she remembers, has a way of moving time forward and making it slow down.

She finds that if she injects herself with a certain amount of RC cells, she's able to let her bikaku out, though it's weak and fragile for the first couple of months of training with Matsumae, bend and shape to her will. Detaching it is something she naturally had affinity with, and now that she can not only fend herself against Shuu and Matsumae, she'd beaten Mirumo.

"Feelings are what makes you stronger, Niiyama. Learn to harness it, and you will be able to hit your potential, however, it is also a double edged sword. Let it consume you, it will take your life."

 

 

"Stay," Shuu fists his hands into the back of her shirt. She can feel the patch where his face meets her shoulder feel wet, "Please don't go back- it's hell over there!"

"Tsukiyama-"

"I said to call me Shuu!" He stubbornly blubbers as Niiyama sees Matsumae waiting in the car, her laptop bag in the passengers seat. She's only wearing her essentials, a warm sweater, pants, boots, and a thin coat in her arms. If fate is kind, this would be the last time she would see him.

It wasn't as if she hadn't thought about it before. She played with the scenarios around in her head, of her and Shuu running the mansion while Mirumo travels the world. Maybe if she's lucky, she'll become one of the resident doctors in town and be able to live peacefully. That's an ideal life, something her mother would probably want.

But having this cursed blood flow within her- being half human and half ghoul- isn't a gift. She thinks of Hinata and Natsu, of Ayato and the twenty some children she had taken care of and taught them how to fend for themselves, how to hunt cleanly and how to read and write and speak.

"Shuu," she says softly, caressing his broad shoulders as he releases a choked sob near her ear. Rosewood fills her nose. "Shuu, my flight will leave if you keep this up."

"Don't leave, don't leave! Tokyo is dangerous! You'll be killed, Niiyama. Stay here- here you're protected-"

"I can't let the children I left behind fend for themselves. They need me. They need someone who'll take care of them."

"No they don't!" Shuu shakes her, and she sees the mucus dripping out of his nose and the tear trails stark against his face. "Do you know how many ghouls would kill to be in your shoes right now? You are a Tsukiyama! You're powerful! You don't need to lower yourself to help them!"

"Shuu," She interrupts.

"Arima is going to kill you," He hisses, "Oikawa and Iwaizumi are going to bring your head back to the CCG- or worse! You'll be captured and forced to live your life in Cochlea! Why do you want to go there so badly?"

"There are people there who need me-"

"Be selfish for once, Niiyama!"

"Listen to me, Shuu!" She feels the red veins poke out from underneath her skin. "There are children! There are people there who need someone like me to guide them!"

"You'll die!"

"If you keep saying that I might as well!"

"You can't go back!" Shuu pleads, "Please listen to what I'm saying!"

"I never was accepted here, Young Master Shuu!" Matsumae's eyes flies wide as Shuu stares at her, jaws slack. Niiyama feels a punch to the gut for using the old title, something she hasn't said in over ten years and now she's saying it again. "Many ghouls hate me because I should be dead, but instead, I'm adopted as one of the most powerful ghoul families in the world and I have a platinum spoon put in my mouth! I had a home, lost it, and lived in a mansion for nearly all my life so far. I owe you and Mirumo my life."

"Stay..." He whispers, holding onto her hand.

She feels a stinging in her eyes, "I can't stay here because there will always be ghouls who hate me and will never look past my image of a homeless girl who Mirumo-san picked up. I don't want them to remember me this way. I'm never loved here. I never called this mansion a home."

"Niiyama-"

"You never saw your mother killed right in front of you. Do you know of the nightmares I get, seeing her being killed right in front of my eyes over and over again? Feeling a constrictor stop my breathing? Waking up and crying because you know you could have done something to prevent it? He killed my mother Shuu, and I want to kill him."

She finally closes her mouth, teeth snapping to a close. Shuu looks at her, a single tear sliding down.

"Don't go."

She doesn't respond.

"Niiyama, don't go."

"I'm not Niiyama anymore." She grabs the coat that has fallen onto the floors. It reflects the chandelier above. She thought about casting away her name for the longest that and it finally felt right, wrenching her arm forcefully from Tsukiyama's tight grip. "Niiyama doesn't exist."

"Nee-san!" Shuu grabs the back of her sweater, halting her from leaving the house. She doesn't understand. He's only making it harder for both of them. Her throat is already thick. Desperate, he clings to her, "You said you owe me- please stay here then. Stay here!"

"I owe you anything," She numbly says, "Anything but that." She pries his finger away from her with a finality, watching his red rimmed eyes shut. Niiyama hugs him one last time, ignoring the open stares of the servants. She doesn't care about them anymore. Once she reaches the airport she'll be free.

"Shuu? I'll make the world better for you and Dad okay?" She lightly says, "That's my payment for letting me stay here. I'll find out a way to let ghouls and humans live together."

"Y-You can just stay here. St-Staying here is enough. It's enough!"

"That's the one thing I can't do," She releases him, wiping his bruised eyes and looking up at him in what she thinks is a fond expression, but more bitter sweet as she feels time going forward again. "You've grown into a fine person, Shuu. Cary on the Tsukiyama name."

"Don't talk to me like you're never coming back here," He whimpers, "Don't look at me like this is our last time seeing each other!"

She twitches her mouth into a sad smile, cupping his jaw before spinning on her heels, marching forward with her back straight and chin held high. Matsumae starts the engine.

The loose gravel pathway is short, and she lets her eyes scan around the property, the faraway fence, remembering how Shuu had gotten sick that one winter. Of her climbing the apple trees and getting caught by the butler, of the trips to town, to drink coffee with Shuu and Mirumo, the constant visits to the local symphony, the sound of Shuu's piano, the sunlight streaming in through her translucent curtains in the summer, the heat never quite hitting the countryside. The blue lake nearby that Kanae likes to ice skate on, the giant rose garden Shuu had cared for since he was a kid, the many roses crawling up the mansion and of the ivy snaking around the paths and walls.

But perhaps what she values most are the memories, now faint, of their private family dinners, the times where Shuu would play with her long curtain of hair and braid it into styles she'd never managed to recreate, how he curls up next to her when he's hiding from his own maids, their private recitals for each other, Mirumo looking down at them from the balcony in the summer when they retreat to their cabin in the mountains-

She feels a hand on her elbow and a grey scarf around her neck before Shuu draws back from kissing her cheek in farewell.

"You'll always have a home here," He says, fighting the tears.

She squeezes his hand through the window, and Matsumae gently starts to drive, Shuu's figure becoming smaller and smaller until the mansion is just a speckled dot in the distance.

Niiyama finally cries, hiccups racking through her body as they enter the city. Ammerland is playing through the car's stereo. Matsumae has a soft smile on her tired face as buildings start to close in on them, the brick and grey towering over her as she takes in the sight of her town with a blurriness. She never thought leaving would ever hurt this much. The first time had been easier, but maybe it was because she always knew she wanted to go back that made it less. Now, with her goal to never return because she knows she's terrible for the Tsukiyama name, it hurts so much more.

"Young Master Shuu has adored you since he was young. This one can see his love for you," Matsumae politely says as she plucks several tissues from the glove compartment, keeping her eyes on the road as Niiyama wipes her eyes and nose. "Ever since the Madam had passed, the Master and Young Master had never been the same, but you breathed life into them again. This one thanks you for doing that."

"I-"

"True, you are not a Tsukiyama, but in their eyes, they see you as one of them." Matsumae parks the car, pulling the shift stick into parking and cutting the engine. "You have a quality similar to the Madam."

"Shuu's mother?"

"She definitely wanted to help other ghouls. This one was crushed when the Madam passed away."

"Even so," Niiyama folds her hands together, trying to remember the feeling of having her kagune wrapped around her dominant arm into a claw like shape, "Even so, I cannot replace what couldn't have been replaced in the first place. The ones you love in your life can never be replaced, no matter how good the replacement is, because we will never find someone like them again. No two people in the world are the same. There are many children in Japan who have been ultimately broken by the CCG, and I know first hand how that feels, and I know I can't fully substitute the figure of a mother or sister, but if it's the least of what I can do, I will do so."

"Master Mirumo is proud of you, as does the Young Master."

"I'm proud of them too, if any of them are in dire need of urgent help, I won't hesitate to fly back to help."

Matsumae smiles, "Good luck in Tokyo."

"Watch him for me," Niiyama wipes her eyes. "He's dramatic and likes to do things on his own, but please take care of him."

"We will do whatever it takes until you've created a safer world. This one vows to protect the Young Master." Matsumae sticks her hand out. Niiyama shakes it, feeling the callouses and nodding. The faint smell from Shuu's scarf lingers in her nose, comforting her. It smells of home.

Niiyama opens the car door, curtsying and putting a fist over her chest, "Goodbye, Matsumae." The servant looks surprised at the bow, but starts the car, backing up and giving her a soft beep before driving away.

She doesn't look back.

 

Her home is a container house near the docks. It's small, but it provides her with the necessary needs, the barest of the minimal. The walls are bare, her bed is rock hard, the kitchen quite empty except for a carton of apple juice sitting in the mini fridge. The only space she splurged on was a good lamp, table, chair, a neck massager and a decent software for Pandora's Box. 

Her laptop hums in the background as she cleans the place, shoving her suitcase underneath her bed frame and hanging up her very limited amount of clothes on a steel rack before fingering the red Aogiri cloak on her bed. Shuu's scarf is folded next to her pillow, sitting there by its lonesome. She should buy some roses to keep it company.

Pandora's Box beeps, and she moves her mouse before scrolling through the document and a hit list of all the investigators that have been successfully turned to half-ghouls. A list comes up after she quickly glances over those names. She scrolls down, reading the names of the Special Investigators. Akaashi Keiji. Amon Koutarou. Aone Takanobu. Arima Kishou. Aura Kiyoko. Houji Kousuke. Kuroiwa Iwao. Kuroo Tetsurou. Mado Akira. Marude Itsuki. Oikawa Tooru. Shinohara Yukinori. Tanakamaru Mougan. Ushijima Wakatoshi. 

Wakatoshi.

Out of curiosity, she opens the CCG's backdoor before clicking on her brother's name, looking at the accomplishments and awards. His profile picture makes her breathe a sigh of relief.

His eyebrows are different, the curve of the mouth a little kinder. He has her lips she realizes, and the same nose bridge if she squints really closely. Everything about him is darker, the hair, the eyes, and the skin. She mostly resembles her late mother, and if she ever come face to face with him one day, they couldn't be passed for siblings.

He looks nothing like the monster that killed her mother, and her chest loosens.

A knock startles her, and she closes her laptop and stuffs it into a well padded backpack before shrugging the cloak on. Tatara is waiting outside, leaning against the side of her house, white hair camouflaging the relentless snow that continues to come down.

"Let's go," He says, walking away as she locks the door behind her. She pulls her hood up, the front of it coming down well past her eyes. The snow by the side of the road crunches underneath her boots, the chill warded off by the material of her clothes. Japan's winters are milder than what she'd experienced in Germany, but it's still terribly cold.

"There will be a large CCG operation in a few days," Tatara says to her, "Eto has leaked it to the CCG and we'll need you to organize the troops to close them off from their ranks. Many pests are appearing this time. Arima is rumored to have been pulled away from his pet project to support the Special Class."

"Who's leading them? Marude?"

"Oikawa Tooru," Tatara curls his lips over the name, "Two of our half-ghouls have joined their side, who knows what he's planning."

"I saw the reports. Iwaizumi Hajime and Bokuto Koutarou."

"We could care less about the latter but the former was a good experiment. Kanou was pleased. We're hoping to harvest some more investigators from this battle."

"More artificial half ghouls? Haven't you have enough?"

Tatara turns to glare at her, "They stole our idea of half-ghouls to create Quinxs. All is fair in war."

She swallows, looking down at the snow and fighting to keep her one kagune from showing. They continue to embark to the huge warehouse, devoid of any CCG investigators as Niiyama sees a few familiar faces guarding the property entrance. Another condemned building.

"Is Shouyou here?"

"He's somewhere," Tatara begins to climb up a set of stairs, "Come on."

On the way up, she'd tugged her cloak down, smoothing her hair and throwing it over one shoulder. Her bangs are carefully fixed in place so none of the ghoul would stare at her scar. Tatara stops suddenly, and she slams into his back before opening her mouth wide and breathing in at the newcomer.

"Kindaichi," Tatara's tone is dead quiet, "What are you doing?"

"R-R-Running errands from H-Hinami," She vaguely remembers that name- another investigator in Eto's hit list that she glanced at before running out of her house. He stares at her, black creeping into his one eye as she sees his nose flare in surprise. "E-Excuse me."

She lets him pass, watching the ends of his cloak flap around him before continuing to climb the staircase until she enters a room full of dust, Eto sitting in the middle. Tatara moves to close the door behind them, remaining standing beside Noro, as silent as ever.

"Long flight?" Eto asks lightly, rolling around something in her hands. Niiyama lowers herself onto the couch opposite of the half-ghoul, unzipping her backpack and booting her laptop open. The list is still up on her screen, cursor blinking. "You came during a bad time, the snow's still falling."

Niiyama doesn't register the blood and the burning stench of quinque metal from Eto until it was nearly too late. She recoils, hand flowing up to her nose and gagging, "Did you break in again?" Why isn't Owl plastered on every screen in the 1st ward? But along Eto's normal, shifting scent of apples and human, there's something more familiar. "Shouyou."

Eto hums, "He got in a bit of a bind and I helped him, you see," Eto looks at her with one eye, "He's fine, don't you worry. Have you looked at the maps of the Underground?"

She doesn't like the sound of Hinata being hurt, but if Eto seems fine after tangling up with some messy investigators (she can smell an open wound on her), then she suppose Hinata should be fine. "I did, and since it's Oikawa they'll be using to move the squadrons around, it's easy to put our men where we need them to." Niiyama spins her screen around, pointing to a space right underneath the pipes running just below the surface of the streets, "This is a good place to draw most of them in and attack. Only one way in and out."

"Not half bad, Niiyama."

She frowns.

"Not Niiyama any more?"

"I prefer to not go by that name."

Tatara blinks once, "Then what do we call you?"

Eto turns to him, hand on chin, "Niiyama's name in the CCG register is Renaissance. Would "Ren" be a good name?"

"That's fine," Niiyama mumbles, fighting the lull of exhaustion and trying to tell her body that it has reached land some hours ago. Her stomach rolls even more, a side effect from flying. "Oikawa's likely to deploy all of the Special Class and keep Arima at bay until they find you. Once he does that he'll send the strongest next to Arima to buy the CCG some time."

"You sure know Oikawa well."

"I know his sister has been hunting me all these years." The constant bashing of her firewall had her traced the source to the CCG office. It almost felt like Niiyama had been cornered again, like she revisited seventeen when her location was nearly exposed to the investigators.

"How cunning," Eto laughs, "Did you hope to let her stay in Germany for all her life then?" 

"Who knows?" Niiyama accepts a cup of coffee from Noro.

"They're pests, those Oikawas," Eto grins, turning to Tatara, "You injured the husband quite badly didn't you?"

"He injured Fei, of course I did."

"Akaashi Keiji is turning out to be more trouble than I thought," Eto frowns. "I thought I would have broken him by now."

Niiyama is no stranger to Eto's obsession for loving things that are broken, relationships or otherwise, "Akaashi Keiji will be a player in the fight as well." She motions to her laptop, his name highlighted, "It says here you already have an operation ready for him."

"If it goes well, which I'm sure it will," Tatara stifles a yawn as Eto claps her hands delightedly, "Akaashi Keiji will be a better weapon than Iwaizumi Hajime ever will be. He'll bring the entire CCG down to their knees, and I'll start by breaking his spirit."

 

 

Hinata's bruised body lies before her, and Niiyama whirls around at Eto.

"You promised- you promised to keep him safe from Kanou and Yamori!" She points to the layer of skin stitching itself up, red still oozing from the bandages on his back were his kagune had been forced to rupture through his skin so often that there's a gaping hole where his shoulder blades should be. "What is this? Why does he smell like a kakuja?"

"He volunteered," Eto says calmly, "I don't see the reason to stop him when he clearly knows what he wants."

"Did you blackmail him?"

"What can I black mail him with? Natsu is long gone from the Aogiri," Niiyama's ears twitches at this information. "He has a lot of kakuhou in him, his potential would be massive-"

"Would?"

"His mental state is here and there," She can see the other ghoul children peek from the doorway, flinching from the fury she's emitting. She can feel her kagune starting to poke through her shoulder-

"Bokuto-san?" One of the children whimpers.

Niiyama feels her anger ooze out, watching another child slap a hand to the mouth of the girl who had piped up, "Idiot! That's not Bokuto-san!"

"But where's Onii-chan??" The younger girl sniffles. Niiyama was about to reach a hand out when Kindaichi races in and takes each of them in his arms, bowing profusely.

"Sorry! These two sneaked out of their rooms!-"

"Leave," Eto hisses.

Kindaichi runs away, eyes flickering over her face again before his cloak whips out of sight. Niiyama turns back to Eto, but the ghoul disappeared, leaving her alone with Hinata's unconscious body on a cot.

She can deal with Eto later, after she hones her anger into the best curse words that would have Shuu keeling from Germany. Shedding her cloak and draping it over Hinata, she carefully runs her hand through his blood caked hair, wiping some of the dried blood off his eyebrows. He'd grown she realized, he's not the preteen who had climbed into her bed with revenge for his parents in her mind anymore.

His eyes slowly opens, and he makes a quiet hum at the back of his throat, rasping.

"...You're back."

"I'm sorry I left you, Shouyou."

He rolls over, wincing as she manages to hear the sound of his bones creak in protest. Her senses are too sharp for her sometimes. "Did they tell you about-"

"About the battle to draw Akaashi Keiji out, yes." She pushes him back down, "We can talk about that later, but you need to rest. Where's Natsu?"

Hinata's eyes snap open and he groans, "CCG is sending someone after her- she's probably hiding in the 24th ward right now, but she can't stay there forever. She's not one of us." He looks up at her, "Can you...?"

"I'll keep Natsu under a close watch, we'll figure something out soon," She pulls her cloak further to cover his chin. She can smell Natsu on him, "Rest."

Hinata slowly blinks at her, bruised eyes and scabbed wounds marking his skin when he takes her hand and firmly squeezes, "It's not your fault."

"They did this to you, Shouyou! They experimented!- Who knows how many children are part of this! I shouldn't have gone back." She hisses, crushing his hand. "I should have stayed here where I could have protected you and the others-"

"She wants an army."

"She wants an army of half-ghouls and artificial kakujas, doesn't she?" Her voice comes out raspy, "That's why she's been keeping Yoshimura and Rize in a tank in Kanou's labs. She's going to harvest their quinque and put them in investigators before manually triggering the half-ghouls to be kakujas by forcing RC cells into their system."

Hinata grins weakly, "You're smart, Nee-san..." He releases her hand, "I think I'll go to sleep now."

Niiyama stays up at Hinata's sleeping body the entire night, thoughts whirling as she takes out the mask Eto had given to her when they first met, the leather straps now worn and weathered away. Eto had recruited her, someone who has inside knowledge of the understandings of the biological systems of a ghoul, involving her with the Aogiri's plans to wipe out the CCG. Even Tatara had said it in his own words, the quinques they use come from our kagunes.

Was the Aogiri built solely on the pride and belief that ghouls shouldn't be hidden? Or did Eto wanted something else? A toy she can play with, something amusing to pass her time with before striking?

She plays around with her file in the CCG, Renaissance, before switching to the different profiles of the Oikawas, the older sister, the younger brother and his niece and nephew. Then she glances over at Iwaizumi's before settling in for Akaashi's profile, more decorated than the Oikawas by his impressive killing number, short of Arima's in the awards section.

Eto had betrayed her.

I want you as my Queen.

She is also a Queen, a player on the chessboard who can go anywhere. There cannot be two Queens on the same side of the board.

Living with the Tsukiyamas, she never had to live or grow up in Tokyo's death zone, never forced to hide constantly and control her hunger in. She never had to go through what any of the ghouls here had to do- she had been blessed, armed with the power and name of the Tsukiyama family. She cheated death.

Now, sitting in a cold building with an injured ghoul sleeping soundly beside her, Niiyama's not sure that she could get away unscathed.

 

 

"Uta?" She peers from under her hood at the owner of the mask store, handing him a note, "The Aogiri wanted to pass this onto you. I need a new mask."

He blinks at her, before seeing the heavy snow around her and opening the door wider, "It's late, do you want to come in?"

Niiyama hesitates before mumbling a quite, pardon the intrusion, and tracking wet footsteps into his shop. She seemed to have bothered him in the middle of his work, the only source of light in the room from a work table with instruments scattered around on top of papers depicting flamboyant designs.

Uta sniffs her, and she restrains herself from automatically punching his nose, "Smells interesting."

She purses her lips at his comment, choosing to wander inside the studio and studying the masks hanging on the wall.

"Are you a new member?" Uta asks, sitting on a chair and blinking softly, "From overseas?"

"How did you know?"

"I know most of the ghouls in the Aogiri, you smell distantly of a flower that don't grow here." He gestures to the mask clipped on her hip, "I made that for the Aogiri for a special customer."

"Sharp," She mumbles, sliding her eyes over his tattoos.

He looks down at his arms, stretching them out for her as she feels a little embarrassment for staring so openly, "Are you interested? There's a bar nearby and I know the owner."

"Tattoos?" She quirks her lips into a half smile, wondering what Shuu's and Mirumo's reaction will be if she did an un-aristocrat thing and cover herself in ink. She feels a spark of adventure, "Why not?"

 

 

"Onee-san?" 

"Hm?" She looks up from Ogura Hyakunin Isshu to see Hinami's curious face as she lowers one earbud connected to the radio that's receiving signal from a wire. Her hair is whipping wildly as she hears the wail of sirens all zooming towards the Underground Tunnels, the squad of CCG cars and trucks flowing like a bright red ribbon on the freeway.

"Do you know the point of today?"

"To smoke out Bokuto and Iwaizumi, I'm guessing. They're Kanou's best experiment. The Aogiri is proud, and when they escaped, it's only natural for us to want them back. 'The quinques they use come from our kagunes. They use us for their fighting needs, and we use them for our army.'" She flips a page, brushing a lock of her hair behind her ear. She would have to cut it off soon after she gets the bandages covering her entire back off.

"Yes... Ayato told me."

"The cycle of revenge won't be stopped until one side is stopped, but even if that happens, we won't know that the other side will remain peaceful." Niiyama looks up to see Hinami's large eyes at her, "It's a bad world to live in right now. We're insignificant in her eyes."

"...Then what's the point of all of this? All of this fighting?"

Niiyama looks up at the moon, "Who knows? We fight because we believe in something worth giving up our lives for, in our case, we want to stop the CCG from expanding their iron grip. The CCG wants to fight because we kill humans, and in return, a cycle is born, and it won't be stopped unless one side falls."

Hinami is quiet for a long time, and Niiyama goes back to her book, looking down at the empty ward they're about to strike, a whisper of a bloodbath in her ear.

 

 

 

She'd just finished delivering dinner through the back doors, looping around the edges of the compound to go to the front when she tugs on her hood that hides her blonde hair. A figure trying to be discreet is sneaking in the underbrush, and as she sniffs and swallows, he walks right into her detached kagune trap.

She steps out carefully, watching his eyes widen.

Niiyama smirks, letting her kakugan glow.

"Akaashi Keiji, yes?"

 

 

ながらへば 
またこの頃や 
しのばれむ 
憂しと見し世ぞ 
今は恋しき 

If I should live long, 
Then perhaps the present days 
May be dear to me, 
Just as past time filled with grief 
Comes quietly back in thought. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

He bites her arm off.

The ghoul winces, dropping a bloody lump of flesh. 

Immediately, little strings of blood is pooling across the damaged surface of her arm, slowly healing it. Ghoul meat is terrible, but hers is inedible. Akaashi vomits, too weak to raise his head up as the ghoul mops his puddle of sick.

 

 

The next time he wakes up, the ghoul is sitting on the ground with a laptop on her lap. Her arm is still healing, but she looks up, turning her face fully towards him so he could see her good eye flicker in the dark 

Akaashi finds that he can speak, "Where am I?" Chains rattle, and he sees his body coiled in steel chains that leaves painful cuts across his body. Metal with a coating of quinque steel. Of course. The gloom of the laptop screen doesn't show much, but he does see four walls around him, a bed, and a table with some office supplies there. 

"My house."

Her voice is soft and airy, it reminds him of his sister. Her Japanese is a little off sounding, the vowels too dark. She's not from this land.

"We're not at the Aogiri base."

"No, I took you with me. We're ways away from the 11th ward."

Akaashi rests his cheek on the floor, wondering if this ghoul is smart of just plain stupid. If he continues to be fed, he's going to be able to break the chain, and he probably can outmatch her in a fight, taking into account that he's still healing and the fact that she has a soft build. From the small dimensions of the room, she lives in a steel container, probably near the ports. The water should mask his scent if he jumps into it.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why take me away? You know nothing about me."

"That's what you think," She twitches a corner of her mouth up into a grimace, "The Aogiri have eyes on you ever since you graduated the Academy. Eto was simply thrilled that you survived the operation, but of course, Kanou is one of the best doctors around here."

"...You are?"

"Ni- Ren. I'm Ren."

"You take care of the ghoul children around here." Hinami mentioned a certain Nee-san didn't she? Nearly all the ghouls in the compound that night came out to greet Ren outside.

"I used to. Did Hinata tell you that?"

"No. Why are you working with the Aogiri?" Akaashi feels his chains, careful not to rattle them as he searches for a weak point he can abuse. If the metal is weak enough, maybe he can break it off. "You're not from here, are you?"

Her upper lip stiffens in anger, "What makes you think I'm not Japanese?"

"Your vowels."

Ren narrows her eyes, "Sharp ears, half-ghoul."

"What is the Aogiri offering you that you can't refuse?"

She seems surprised by his bluntness, but laughs. It comes out throaty, "I want to kill my sire. He killed my mother."

"Revenge?"

"Justice or petty vengeance, it all depends on your point of view," She speaks slowly, "Have you ever fallen over to the dark side? Once you fall in and get back out, it's all too easy to slip back."

"I have many times in the past, but it's always about whether I would make myself proud if I fall back in."

"Sensible," She pauses, before her red iris flashes, "If you continue to destroy my chains, I'm going to encase you with my kagune until your head is all that remains uncovered."

Akaashi drops them. "Are you going to let me go?"

"Are you usually this chatty?" 

Akaashi keeps his mouth shut for the next few minutes, looking around the room in boredom. This is the first time where he's awake long enough for him to test out his ghoul senses. By straining his ears, he can listen to a faint crashing of the waves, the wind howling quite angrily. His limbs ache like he had been beaten within an inch of his life, and the fact that he's wrapped tightly doesn't help either. He sighs and breathes in, hesitating. He breathes in again.

"You're not a full ghoul." There was something else behind Ren's light perfume and shampoo.

"I'm not."

"You're...a true half-ghoul?" Images of Bokuto's gaze switching from gold to black flickers in his head. He remembers vividly of the morning he woke up to Bokuto making him breakfast, and it leaves a bad feeling in his stomach, "I thought- I thought it was impossible."

"You wouldn't know anything about ghouls if all you've been hearing are lessons from the Academy. The fact that I exist means that no matter how little the odds are stacked against me, I overcame it."

"...So you can eat human food?"

"I can stomach both human food and flesh," She murmurs, "But eating human flesh gives me an edge when I'm fighting." Her hand twitches across her laptop again, and Akaashi inevitably saw the scars on the inside of her elbow. They're black and purple, stark against her paper thin skin. Her pallor is so unhealthy he can map the veins on her wrists, throat and eyelids.

"You were experimented on?" Like Hinata? Like Iwaizumi? Like Bokuto?

"That's none of your business."

The conversation closes at that, and Akaashi continues to stare at her until his eyelids droop.

 

"Why am I wanted by the Aogiri?"

Ren looks up from her meal. A part of someone's thigh is left to defrost on a paper plate decorated with snowflakes, it seems like she's too impatient to wait for the flesh to warm up, or that she doesn't care enough about swallowing something hard and chewy. "You mean you haven't figured it all out?"

Akaashi swallows the blood in his mouth, slightly offended. She has eased his bindings a little so that he can stretch his neck out for the pieces of food she'd cut up for him. He bites off another small chunk of flesh, "How should I know?"

"I thought you were a genius- were you not the valedictorian of your year? Part of Arima's famous Squad Zero?"

He shoots her a little stink eye, "I've been learning how to function normally ever since I woke up. I tried to escape and now am spending my days eating human flesh that is drugged with something to keep me lethargic. I haven't had time to 'figure' it out."

If Ren is surprised that he knows about the spiked food, she doesn't show it on her face, "Good to know that your tongue is working properly."

"That's not answering my question."

"Humor me then, why do you think you were captured? You dead when you arrived. A ghoul had to perform CPR on you to keep your cells alive until we reached base. You nearly died many times that night."

"...It's only a theory," He starts off, "But over at the Main Branch there's been a rumor around that the Aogiri planted a spy within the CCG, slowly exposing our secrets to you. It has very little to do with me but maybe there are too many strong Special Class investigators, and you want to even out the game."

"Your theory is rejected."

"Give me a hint." 

Ren looks at him thoughtfully, or as thoughtfully for someone eating a chunk of human flesh can while her one good eye turns into a kakugan can. Her long blonde hair is loosely tied in a low ponytail, the wavy tips hitting her mid back as she eats cleanly, unlike the ghouls he'd seen in his career. There's not one drop of blood on her clothes or mouth.

"'The quinques they use come from our kagunes. They use us for their fighting needs, and we use them for our army.'"

 

"Where is Kageyama?" 

Yachi looks up from her lunch, Bokuto sliding warily onto the seat opposite of hers, a cup of coffee on his tray. Already, the whole cafeteria is whispering about Bokuto. Many scowl in disgust, and the few tables surrounding Yachi cleared out.

She looks down at her ramen in dismay, "That's a good question, I haven't been able to contact him ever since the private funeral where they burned the pyres." She thought that maybe he slept in, and decided not to worry about it. Soon, one day turned into three, which turned into Kageyama missing the big important meeting, which turned into missing another big important meeting, which turned into Asahi from HR calling his phone, only to have it bounce back.

"Have you visited his apartment?"

"Empty. He missed garbage day and paper recycling day," Yachi absent mindedly says, "He always sleeps in his own house, if not the infirmary or overnight rooms on the Special Class floor, but I don't know where he is anymore. He turned off his cell phone, or maybe the battery died. I found his charger in his desk, but he left it here...."

Bokuto stares into the cup, "I heard rumors about him being missing."

Yachi says nothing.

"Is it true?"

"I don't know anything," She whispers, "I've tried asking Oikawa-san and Sugawara-san but they couldn't disclose any information to me. I've tried calling my mother but she doesn't have any clearance either. I don't know, Bokuto-san. I'm not allowed to know. I wish I know where he is right now, because I-I'm worrying to no end about him! He's still healing from the extermination at the beginning of the year and he's not suppose to be wandering around Tokyo without somebody to help him! Where could he be?! Even the military is rumored to be involved now!"

Yachi sniffles, and Bokuto looks away as she takes off her reading glasses to fumble for a pack of tissues in her lab coat. "...I thought the CCG wasn't connected to the military."

"The CCG has suspicions for years that someone on the inside is a spy. When Kageyama vanishes without handing a note of absence t-the natural thought is to think that he's a spy. We're talking about a national level threat that the government won't allow to slip, Bokuto-san." Yachi fingers her neck, "You don't think he's really...?"

"I don't know."

"Kageyama wasn't supposed to follow Akaashi, he was supposed to stay in bed. If he does get summoned, there will be senior officers who will testify against him, and they know what they saw, Bokuto-san. An officer who disobeys a superior's orders will face disciplinary actions. Out there, orders are everything. They are absolute. In his case it will be worse because we have suspicions that he could very well be the spy that we've been trying to sniff out."

"...But he wanted to help."

"I know," Her bottom lip trembles, "D-Do you think I don't know that?! I know he only w-wanted to help, and that's what makes him so easy to pin as a target! Kageyama is young, he's inexperienced! His clean slate is too easily to be dirtied! Special Investigator Akaashi was a valuable person to the CCG in many aspects! He was a soldier, an excellent teacher and the brass will not allow someone that lead Akaashi-san to his death to be let go so easily!" Her face crumples. "Th-the odds will never be in Tobio's f-favor!"

Yachi's outburst have sent more staff fleeing from the cafeteria. Bokuto sees the empty tables around him and sips his coffee, letting his tongue burn. As Yachi dabs her eyes with the rough napkins from the cafeteria, Bokuto feels a need to console her, but he doesn't know how. Others flinch in his presence and no one is willing to look him straight in the eye except for the Special Class.

"...They're thinking of moving into the first phase of the extermination." He offers quietly.

"...I h-heard from Sugawara-san.... A recon mission, was it?"

"It seems pretty simple from what Iwaizumi told me. Go in, scour the area, then leave."

"It's very safe. I'm sure Oikawa-san and Chiyoru-san are reliable back ups."

"You know Chiyoru-san?" It was awkward to call the older sister 'Oikawa' when he calls Oikawa Tooru 'Oikawa'. Chiyoru had urged them to call her by her first name after she realized there would be confusion.

"I used to babysit Takeru and Tsuru when I was still in Germany. After I transferred to the Japanese Academy branch, my mom sometimes babysits them too!" She pulls out her phone, "Have you seen them? They're still pretty young- I believe Takeru is around 21 and Tsuru just graduated high school last spring." She angles her phone towards him, turning up the brightness.

Two faces smile up at him. Takeru looks like a younger version of Oikawa with sharp eyes, minus the wavy brown hair. He has his arm around his sister's shoulders, who's half a head shorter. Tsuru looks nothing like her mother, the only Oikawa feature Bokuto see is her button nose. Her hair is brown, though, and frames her face quite maturely. Both siblings are wearing matching t-shirts, posing in front of the Academy gates, which he secretly thinks is cute.

"Are they attending the Academy?"

"Mhm. Takeru is in this third year of Field Operations. He's been nominated to participate in the annual competition, and if his branch wins, they get to shadow the Special Class at the end of their fourth year. It's a very nice treat. Tsuru's just in her first year, also in Field Operations. Chiyoru-san doesn't like it, and they haven't spoken about it at all..."

"I thought she would have wanted her kids to follow in her lead," Bokuto blinks, "Aren't the Oikawas a legacy here?"

"Mamoru's incident still hurts her, I believe."

"Mamoru?" His name has cropped up in nearly every single conversation within a five feet radius of Chiyoru, but Bokuto still doesn't know who he is.

"Chiyoru-san's husband," Yachi explains gently, "He was sent over to China with the first wave to suppress the Chi She Lian but he didn't make it. The official reports state that Tatara was the one who put him in his comatose state. When Chiyoru-san was transferred to Germany to follow Renaissance, his body was transported there along with her. He's still in a vegetable state today, we don't know when he's going to wake up."

"...So that's why she doesn't want the kids to follow her footsteps."

"I'm sure she doesn't want both Tsuru or Takeru to follow her footsteps, but ghouls are all the Oikawas seem to know," Marude's voice cuts in. Bokuto snaps his head up, following Yachi's lead as she jumps to her feet. 

"I-Investigator Marude-"

"Relax, we're on lunch break," He huffs, drooping into the third seat on their four seat table. He loosens his tie before shoveling curry into his mouth. Bokuto's stomach grumbles loudly. He misses being human. "Bokuto, there's a messenger boy who's running around looking for you earlier. I told him to drop whatever he has on your desk, you should hurry over and sign it, it's rude to keep them waiting."

Bokuto jumps to his feet as Yachi smiles, "T-Thank you, Marude-san." With a hasty goodbye, he runs out of the cafeteria and paces around for the express elevator. It sends him up quickly once he entered his code and scanned his key card, and he sees a young intern hovering around his cubicle on the floor.

"Sorry for making you wait," Bokuto explains, aiming for a non threatening looking smile, "Marude-san just told me you were here."

The intern waves it off nervously, handing his clipboard for Bokuto to sign. Bokuto tries to make eye contact, but to no avail. The intern zooms for the elevator the moment he finishes signing the package off.

He shakes the envelope out, seeing that it's from someone in the office. There's only an address on a small slip of paper, and Bokuto turns the paper around to see if there's a message. Nothing is on the back, and he purses his lips, wondering if he should ask anyone in the office for black light. Maybe there's a hidden code written in invisible ink.

Going on with his day when Bokuto is not hounding HR for updates on Kageyama's whereabouts, he runs errands for the Special Class. Today he's helping Hanamaki and Matsukawa settle into the office, using his kagune to help them lift several heavy furniture. He also helps Chiyoru, who makes him stay for tea and cake (he drinks five cups of coffee as she belatedly realizes that he can't have cake). After grabbing more coffee from the cafeteria, he hails a taxi from the main road and gives the driver the address.

They crawl through the traffic, but Bokuto keeps himself occupied with reading old reports on CCG missions. He's worried that if he lets his mind wander, he'll start to think about Akaashi. His eyes are already strained from reading and peering at the text, but it's better to be kept busy and not think about how the large plague in the main entrance now carries Akaashi's name.

"We're here, sir."

He thanks the driver before stepping out, looking at a building. The front looks a little shabby, but it looks well maintained for an apartment that's twenty some years old. He doesn't know how he'll get in, but a college student in sweats darts out, and Bokuto catches the door to slip in, hanging a right to look for the suite that corresponds with the address.

He considers knocking, but something tells him to try the doorknob, and to his surprise, the door swings open inwards gently.

The floors are dusty, and there are hardly any furniture in the room aside from a lumpy looking couch that has seen better days piled with an afghan and a glass coffee table. There are two rooms with closed doors, and Bokuto can see the evening sky from the southern window. Convenient boxes are stuffed hastily in a plastic bag sitting on the table, and he sees a person sitting on a chair, facing away from him.

The person turns, and the lollipop they've been sucking slips out.

"...Bokuto-san?" 

"...Kageyama?"

 

"Where are you from?" 

"Shut up and finish your meal."

"Wouldn't your hair be in the way when you fight?"

"I'm not a brute," Ren sniffs sourly at Akaashi, looking up from her laptop. "I don't fight."

"I thought all Aogiri ghouls have to."

"You thought wrong, half-ghoul, now let me respond to my emails in peace."

Akaashi sulkily leans against the wall, studying how dirty his wrist has become. Two weeks of sitting on his bottom has made him restless, and there's little he would want other than a sparring match. He has tried to keep count of how long he has been captured by Ren, but he wakes up at odd times of the day, sometimes in the early morning when Ren herself is sleeping.

"What do you do as a living?"

"Besides terrorizing the CCG?" She mumbles warily, "I'm a web designer."

"Oh, graphics?" Akaashi has no idea what a web designer's job consist of, having only taken the minimal computer classes required at the Academy. As long as he knows how to work a spreadsheet and the basis of the CCG mainframe, that's all a field operator needs. "Are you lying to me?"

"I see no reason to lie to you when I don't need to."

"We're working for the opposite people."

"You can't be possibly in touch with the CCG right now. We have ears listening on their every movement and they've already burned your pyre. The public wept and moved on," She pins her side bangs back with a bobby pin, "When you went under operation, we scanned your body for tracking devices and found nothing. Kanou is through with his work, and I doubt you're in contact with them. If anything, I would say you're the one who wishes to desperately work with them."

"Why wouldn't I be desperate to work with them? They're the only family I have."

Ren shoots him a crooked grin, "You shouldn't assume that all of Aogiri is following Eto."

Akaashi watches her go back to her typing, "You mean there's a civil war?"

"I'm saying that there's a small faction within the Aogiri that doesn't like what Eto is doing. Of course in general, there's discord between the upper members and lower members of any group, but if someone does stoke the fire," Ren grins menacingly, "It could mean the end of both the CCG and Aogiri."

"...It's that ghoul isn't it? Hinami?"

Ren smiles at him, drawing the conversation to a close. Akaashi presses her for more details, but she ignores him.

 

"What are you doing here, Bokuto-san?" 

"I could ask you the same thing," Bokuto growls, "Where have you been? You weren't receiving our calls from HR and you made Yachi worry!" He looks down at Kageyama, "You skipped out on three meetings- two of them in which attendance was mandatory!"

Kageyama looks away, "I don't deserve to be in those meetings."

"What-"

"Most investigators would have chosen to stay put in the hospital instead of running and joining their mentor in a lethal operation. That's the wisest thing they would have done, and I know I should have stayed put but I didn't, and look how that turned out, Bokuto-san! I can't face the Special Class when it's all my fault! I might lose my job for my actions! The military court can drag me there on handcuffs the next time the sun rises." Kageyama glares up at him, "You can't expect me to sit in a room where Oikawa-san and Iwaizumi-san are there knowing that I'm part of the reason why their student is dead!"

"...They know you're not to blame for it," Bokuto softly says, "And I know that too."

"You don't blame me?" Kageyama incredulously asks.

Bokuto swallows and looks at the dusty wooden panels, "Part of me is still livid at your actions, but I know Akaashi loves you, and that's why he protected you. The worst thing to do is to shut you out of the team."

"You're...not mad?"

"How could I be mad at the person who believed that I wasn't a terrifying ghoul when I first came?" Bokuto grins helplessly as Kageyama rubs his eyes. Between casting Kageyama aside or having him in the team everyday, looking at the face that Akaashi had sought out to protect.... Bokuto would rather live with the pain even though it hurts. He offers the younger investigator a packet of tissues and looks away politely. "Is this your apartment? Looks a little empty."

Kageyama shakes his head, "This was Akaashi-san's."

"Akaashi's?" Bokuto whirls around, "I thought all investigators lived in an apartment near their branch that's part of the CCG's property."

"He bought this property before he chose to go to the Academy...before you died."

Bokuto looks around the place with new found wonder. It's small, but perfect for two people. "...We were supposed to move in together for his last year of high school." He looks at the abandoned place, a few lone boxes still taped shut in another room, the half open closet that smells like mothballs. He studies each imperfection in the room, imagining himself cooking breakfast in the kitchen, Akaashi putting a pinch of cinnamon in his morning coffee before he goes to university. 

He decides not to dwell much on it, but he can't help it. It wouldn't be perfect- he could hear music blasting from the other unit from the thin walls, the tap in the kitchen was rusty looking, the metal speckled with orange, and the bathroom wall tiles were a little cracked and very much dirty with grime. Regardless, he almost could see he and Akaashi bumping their legs on the low setting furniture as they spin around in their own world with time passing them. It could have been so real, Bokuto realizes. He could have had that. 

His voice comes out quiet,

"...Let's go back. They're having roast for dinner tonight."

Kageyama hesitantly looks back at him, nodding and picking up Rin 1/2 and Izanami from the floor as Bokuto pushes him out. Kageyama doesn't comment on the teardrops that splatter the back of his neck.

Bokuto takes the key handed to him and locks the door.

 

 

 

"Isn't Eto wondering where I am?" 

"She is, but she's not asking around. Usually when this happens, she just assumes someone higher up on the food chain has taken a liking to one of the artificial ghouls and is training them," Ren pauses, "Shouyou was like that under Yamori. I can't forgive that bastard."

"What do I have to do to let you release me?"

She flicks her wrist at him, her kagune bursting from the middle of her palm in a pinkish vine before darkening. Akaashi feels them wrapping around the thin skin surrounding his throat, "It all depends on what you're going to do." The pink glow seems familiar- no, it is familiar. He's seen it before acting as the movable walls spanning the entire Underground Tunnels.

"The Underground."

Ren frowns, "What?"

Akaashi leans back so the sharp edges doesn't puncture his skin, "Your kagune. The pink hue reminds me of the kagune wall spanning the Underground." He watches her reaction carefully, widening his eyes when her face pinches. "Is it true? Your kagune is a part of the wall?"

Ren retracts her kagune, the muscle shrinking. The skin around her palms wriggles for a bit, healing itself as she looks down at Akaashi.

There's a pause.

"Do you know the true nature of the CCG, former Special Class Akaashi Keiji?" Ren smoothly rises from her desk, tilting her ears to the window before dropping to sit across him. Dawn is just breaking over the mountains, and the first burst of purple is streaking over the sky, melding with blue.

"Eto said that to me."

"Eto's true goal is to bring the CCG down, to create a world where ghouls aren't forced to live in secret." Ren explains, "I'm very much paraphrasing here, but the Aogiri Tree that's led by Fukurou only clashes our kagune with humans because they're trying to kill us."

"It's a vicious cycle."

"It is a vicious cycle, one that cannot be broken so easily unless a side completely surrenders. Everyone in the Aogiri has lost someone to the CCG. There are very few who have living relatives. It goes the same for you too, I'm sure." Ren takes a deep breath, "Purging the Underground Tunnels in the last decade or so was a terrible mistake on your part. That was the only safe haven left for us, and when you destroyed it, you angered them."

"The Aogiri?"

"The Aogiri and the ghouls who had no allegiance. The rise in ghouls numbers in the past year is because we've been backed up in a corner that we have no choice other than to fight back. It's your fault. You brought it onto yourselves."

"You've killed many of our people too!" Akaashi argues, feeling his kakugan prickle, "You've left people in comatose and tore families apart!"

Ren chuckles, "That's funny- we tore your family apart? Have you even considered that the CCG also tore our families apart? Look at Shouyou and Natsu! Their father was killed in a raid and their mother only survived for two years before dying in the same manner! For a species who dominates this planet, you don't get to act like you're privileged!" She points to her scar, "Do you know who gave me this, half-ghoul? The Chairman of the CCG! I'll tell you how the cycle keeps on feeding itself. The Chairman killed my mother and gave me an injury. I, in turn, will make it my life goal to extinguish him. Of course he has a son, and he will most likely kill me to avenge his father."

"But what are you doing with the Aogiri?" Akaashi quietly says.

Ren stiffens, "I already told you, I'm going to kill the Chairman."

"No," He says slowly, "I don't believe that," Her words are harsh, but Akaashi had seen how excited and comfortable Hinata had been when he talked to her. He'd seen the heads of the younger ghoul children poking out of the building when she was there delivering their supplies. "I know you're probably a terrible person, working for the Aogiri and all, but you have good inside of you."

"I'm still not releasing you."

"But you have a plan against the Aogiri," He looks up from beneath his lashes, "And you want me to be a part of it. Why else would you let me stay in your private room, keeping me tied up but still feeding me enough flesh to keep alive and telling me that someone in the Aogiri is going to turn against Fukurou? You could have handed me off to Jason, but you wouldn't want that. I have something you want, and this is how I will get myself out," Akaashi declares, "I will consider working with you."

Ren looks half entertained and half furious, "You're definitely a brat. You're a pest to the Aogiri."

"I only have my mentors to thank for that," He grins darkly, "So what is it?"

Ren closes her eye, cocking her head to the side. The sky outside is finally light. She opens both of her eyes, and he sees that her kakugan has retreated back. As a human, she looks fairly gentle, her eyes not being the same brown that Oikawa has, but a lighter shade. Hazel.

"I have a team that's loyal to me, you've seen them when you were trying to sneak out, correct?"

"Yes...only a few ghouls."

"Including Shouyou, I've raised three of them since they were small. Kyoutani and Yahaba are natural ghouls. Tsukishima is an artificial half ghoul that we didn't pass as 'successful'. He has bad temperament with the others..." Ren adds under her breath, looking up briefly, "You're aware that I am Renaissance correct? The Aogiri wouldn't have had as many successful operations if it weren't for me directing them."

"I had my suspicions."

"I don't like the way Eto is working," She pulls up the sleeves of her sweater, exposing the bruised veins on the inside of her elbow, "As a trade with Yamori to stop experimenting on Hinata, I now take his place. I shouldn't have gone back to Germany for eight years and leave the children alone. That was my biggest mistake."

"Something about Hinata," Akaashi cuts in, "Are they trying to trigger his kakuja to come out?"

"By injecting copious amounts of RC cells and putting the body through a series of simulations to coax the kagune to come out, what Eto wants is not a half-ghoul army anymore," Ren rolls down her sleeves, "But a kakuja army."

Akaashi sits there, horror pooling at the bottom of his stomach. His lunch churns sourly, "Was I...?"

"Yes. The potential as a half-ghoul is strong, and if we do trigger the kakuja side of it, you'll be stronger than the natural ghouls," Ren states in a matter-of-fact tone, looking disgusted, "They took my research papers that I've been studying and used it wrongly. There are natural ghouls who cannot produce a kagune, and if we inject them with RC Cells, we could have been able to give them something they can protect themselves with."

"How are you going to stop her?"

"I will take her down with me if I must," Ren stands up, "There's a big battle up ahead- Fukurou's last push to eliminate the entire CCG- and I want to stop her from taking as many lives as possible, human or ghouls alike."

Hatred boils in him, "You directed that mission where Iwaizumi-san sacrificed himself for me. You were the one who tampered with communication devices. You were the one who signed Kageyama out early from the hospital and gave him directions to follow me- I thought it was odd that Goshiki would do something behind Ushijima's back, but it was you all along, wasn't it?"

"It was and it's still am going to be me. What are you going to do about it, half-ghoul? Are you going to be able to work alongside someone who killed your mentor or are you going to kill me?" 

"I'm not a murderer," He growls, "I'm going to work with you to protect the people I care about in the CCG, but I'm not you."

Ren nods once, flicking her hand out. Her kagune breaks the quinque steel around Akaashi's limbs easily, "We have a truce then."

"Semi-truce."

"I'll take it," She closes her eyes again before opening her kakugan and extending a hand out, "Please take care of me, Akaashi." Her mouth mockingly forms the words, testing him.

Akaashi looks at her warily, grasping her hand, 

"Please take care of me too."

 

Chapter Text

 

April

 

Ren is everything a ghoul isn't, especially for an Aogiri ghoul. Where she should be merciless she is kind, Akaashi finds out after she came back to her house with half her arm missing. The excuse she had given him was that she saved one of the younger children from a wandering ghoul driven by hunger but he could smell something like the dank after taste of an isolation cell and antiseptic.

"Hinata?" He had asked one day.

Her eyebrow had arched in response.

"Who do you think?"

Akaashi rubs his wrist lightly as she pushes him out the door, fastening his cloak. As usual, darkness swallows them. He hasn't been in sunlight for a good two months, but he sees why it is so much easier to move in the darkness. Ren doesn't pay her surroundings with as much attention, opting to move fast on foot as they twist their way from the ports to a neighboring ward. It's harder to make out figures in the dark, but they too are hidden. Soon, isolated factories come together into urban buildings that resembles Tokyo's concrete jungle.

"You're going to meet my team."

"What's going on tonight?" Her cellphone has been buzzing nonstop since they left her house. Ren now picks it up before shoving it back into her pant pocket. "Is there a raid? Mission?"

"You'll see," They turn a corner, and Ren stops.

"Akaashi-san!" A ghoul runs forward for him, his cloak flapping around his ankles. Akaashi stiffens in response- whether to duck and let the ghoul fly past his head or brace himself for impact- when the red hood falls off and a familiar face beams at him.

"Kin...Kindaichi?"

Akaashi huffs backwards as the eager half-ghoul launches himself to hug his middle. Someone behind him giggles at the scene, but Kindaichi peers up and grabs his forearms with a surprising hard grip. Other than his hair growing out and looking a little wiry, he's definitely in better shape than Akaashi himself, "It's good to see you! I'm so glad you're with Ren-san!"

"You're with her too?" His own voice comes out with an orange tone or surprise. "I'm glad to see you well."

"She saved me from Yamori. He's this terrible-"

"I've seen his reports." Akaashi curtly nods, "Jason of the 13th Ward."

At the same time, Ren walks past them, going straight for a tall ghoul with his cloak bundled around his arms, "Any trouble with you, Yahaba?"

The ghoul who was standing beside Kindaichi shakes his head. He's wearing a kind hearted expression, opposite of Kyoutani who is glaring menacingly at everyone in the vicinity, inhaling the air as if it had greatly offended him.

"Kindaichi was no trouble, Nee-san." His voice was pleasant enough, Yahaba dips his chin towards him, "Hello."

Akaashi dips his head briefly, turning to Ren warily. They're standing out near one of the quieter parts of town, shadows clinging to every building in sight. For a city that seems to be always lit at night, this ward is entirely cloaked in darkness, and it makes the hairs on his arms stick up as some overgrown weeds rustle loudly.

"There's an operation tonight," Kindaichi voices his thoughts uneasily, "This ward is been emptied."

Ren smiles, "If you stay out of the way, there's no reason for us to bind you in quinque steel." She jerks her head to a condemned apartment building. Akaashi hustles, not liking the eerie silence that drapes over them like a cloth.

"What mission?"

"Confidential."

Ren takes the elevator to parking, and he sees Hinata and Ayato lounging near the entrance, cloaks draped on the floor like a picnic blanket. Frowning, Akaashi spreads his palms and presses it to the cold, mottled ground. It's minute, but he certainly feels the tremor of-

"I feel the trucks coming." Ren states, copying what Akaashi is doing. She tilts her head towards the ground and closes her eye, "Two trucks....they're coming around the complex and stopping approximately five blocks away," She keeps her eyes closed and opens her mouth, drawing in the air around her.

"How many?" Yahaba whispers.

"They're too far away... three? One driving one truck, and two in the other truck.... I smell a half-ghoul," Ren arches a brow. She opens her eyes and nods to Hinata, who leaps to his feet and pulls out a cellphone, "Relay that to the main diversion team. Tell them to abandon the plan, we're getting out right now before there's trouble."

Akaashi watches as Ayato dusts the dirt off his black cloak, throwing it over his shoulders and strapping his mask on. He sees Ren don a commonplace Aogiri skull mask, tipping her hood up and letting the tail of her braid fall over her left shoulder. Yabaha and the other ghoul follows suit, and Ren beckons Akaashi back into the elevator.

"Put your mask on."

"What-"

"That's an order," Ren's voice comes out clear through her mask. He sees her kakugan glow eerily, "As an investigator, I'm sure you can abide orders well. Here, it is also the law. The main diversion teams will subdue the vans, and we will slip out."

"They'll be carrying their quinques," Akaashi quietly says.

"That I'm not worried about." She looks at Yabaha and Kyoutani, "Create an opening for us to the Underground. Secure it and lead Kindaichi and Akaashi to a safe place. I will follow last."

"Yes, sir!"

 

"It's eerie looking," Suga's voice comes out from Bokuto's headset as he fixes the tape covering Kageyama's fingers. accidentally bumping his elbow into the steering wheel. "Are you sure you want to do this Kageyama? Your legs are still recovering."

"Yes," Kageyama confirms, "And it's fine, I got clearance from the doctors before we left." He shrugs on Rin 1/2 on his back, unbuckling the seat belt. He looks at Bokuto, "Don't worry, Bokuto-san. As long as we can confirm that they're here, we won't need to engage in battle. The quinques are just a safety measure. 

"Be safe you two."

"Recon Mission commencing!"

Bokuto jumps to his feet, landing on the soft ground as they split up. He heads towards the eastern section of the building, night goggles tainting his world in shades of green. He creeps to the border of the trees, looking to see that Kageyama is waiting for their mutual agreement to burst into the open field.

A nod.

He moves his legs and trips a wire.

"Shit! I'm sorry Suga!"

"It's okay! I'm coming out!"

Bokuto ducks as the first Aogiri ghoul swings at him with a koukaku. His hand goes for the case strapped on his back, flinging it out and letting Izanami's long tendrils blossom out as he whips back a red cloak. Pressing a button on the trigger handle, Izanami shrinks and Bokuto drops to the ground, rolling as sharp edges pierces the ground where his feet used to be. They come out in a swarm, and far from where he is, he can see a group of ghouls stealthily sneaking away.

"Kageyama your end!"

"Roger!" Kageyama kicks a ghoul away from him, running up to run aside Bokuto as they leave Suga to fend for himself. The scientist is wielding two weapons expertly and doesn't seem to have any trouble. "Have you learned the two point capture meth-"

"NO!"

"Never mind then!" Kageyama yells, "Just go for them!" He says before one of the ghouls in the tightly knitted group suddenly halts and exposes a long tail, whipping the first class investigator onto the ground. Kageyama howls, clutching his ankle. Bokuto sees one of the ghouls flinch, before being pushed by another one to hurry.

Several canisters of suppressant gas sails over his head to land in front of the ghouls, covering them in the dense cloud. One with brown hair goes for Bokuto, hitting him where his liver is as he crumples.

"B-Bokuto-san!"

"No!" He waves the smoke away from him uselessly, "Run Kageyama there's two coming towards you!" Bokuto falls onto his knees, coughing as Aogiri ghouls with gas masks pass him. He continues to hack, lungs burning with a cool fire as his vision sways. His body immediately turns cold, sweat dripping down from every pore. The gas in the canister was specifically made for this mission, and he wished Suga had told him how heavy the dosage was before throwing it.

"Kageyama?"

No answer.

"Kageyama!" He looks right and left, all around him, spinning to see the dark figure of his comrade and hoping to see a gap in the fog. "Where are you?!" He heads in the direction where he saw him last as he sees a spray of blood on the ground.

"Kageya!-" Bokuto stops. 

Up ahead, just past where the branches of the trees come together is a familiar shape of Fukurou's kagune. The other six kagune sacks wrap around his body like armor, Hinata stands silently, mask fixed so Bokuto couldn't see his eyes as he grips Izanami tighter. The quinque stops pulsing in his hand, "...Shouyou."

"P-Please leave, Bokuto-san," Hinata's strained voice quietly makes his way into his ear as he flinches when Bokuto takes a step forward. "I-I don't want you or Iwaizumi-san to be involved in this. P-Please."

"Are they still experimenting on you, Shouyou?" Bokuto demands, searching every inch of the younger ghoul. "Are you okay? Did they stop?"

Hinata flinches, "Please leave now, Bokuto-san-" He shakes his head violently, a crack echoing in the field as Bokuto sees a kagune wing twist off from his body. The RC gas is affecting him quite badly. "Please, please, listen to me! They're going to stop at nothing to make sure-"

Hinata's sentence is cut off when an anguished scream makes itself known deeper into the forest. Bokuto runs towards the river, hearing Kageyama yell as the loud reverberations of quinque against kagune boom in the compound. He bursts from the bush to see a masked blond ghoul with a large hole where his stomach used to be, and another ghoul with an elaborate mask of red and yellow feathers in place standing over Kageyama, who lifts his head up slightly, eyes half closed as a bruise is starting to swell from his mouth.

"Stay away from him," Bokuto warns, flicking Izanami at the ghoul as they continues to stand there motionlessly, the hems of their cloak wet from the river. Kageyama shakes his head at him, groaning as he tries to get up on his knees. Bokuto can see the remnants of Rin 1/2 nearby, the quinque is badly shattered, either by the work of the blond ghoul several meters away or the masked ghoul still standing over Kageyama.

Hinata explodes from the bushes, Suga following him not a moment after, wielding a vicious looking sword sticky with blood as he assesses the situation. Bokuto's heart falters as he sees Hinata's chest heaving, holding onto his arm as it heals itself.

"Who are they?" Suga asks softly, training one quinque on the blond ghoul coughing up blood and the other one on the masked ghoul, a rare look of anger clear on his face, "They look new-"

"Shouyou."

Both investigators whip their head around to see a new ghoul emerge from the bush, dressed in the same blood red cloak with a standard skull mask all lower Aogiri members wear. The new ghoul completely disregards Suga's blood covered quinques and walks between them, looking from the blond to the bird ghoul and back to Hinata. 

"Get up, we're leaving." A kagune shaped like a claw emerges from the new ghoul. They see a slim, feminine figure as the ghoul scoops up the injured blond before hoisting him like a prize from a claw machine. 

Suga swings his arm out, preventing the leader of the group from leaving.

"You're not going anywhere."

"You're in no position to tell me anything, Sugawara Koushi-san. One of your members is injured with a broken ankle, and the other one is one of our failed experiments that has breathed in a strong dosage of your RC suppressant gas. Can you take on two healthy ghouls and a half-kakuja without any back up? Step back if you do know what's good for you. "

Suga pulls his brows in but doesn't move to lower his quinques, "A soldier...doesn't run away in a battle."

"But we are," The female ghoul argues back, raising an arm and gripping the blade of his quinque. She cuts her palms as she forces Suga to stumble back, "We have no more business here with you, you'd be wise to take my word of advice and return home so you can treat the fallen soldier on the ground." She looks at her palms, shaking off the blood as Bokuto sees her skin stitch itself up. "Come, Shouyou."

Hinata scuttles hurriedly after her as she bravely walks away from the CCG, back unguarded. The bird ghoul looks at him for a moment, dark eyes fathomless before following the female ghoul. The four are eventually swallowed by the shadows as the Aogiri makes a peaceful retreat.

 

 

"Are you sure it's smart only sending in Bokuto and Kageyama?" Iwaizumi observes from his desk in the large meeting room.  

"I will have to agree with this brute, Nee-san." Matsukawa nods at Chiyoru, "They're both inexperienced as far as field work goes. One isn't even a graduate of the Academy. I can follow them out right now and catch up to them."

"I've asked Sugawara-kun to follow them in case they need back up." Chiyoru rubs her temples, looking up from her laptop. She accepts a mug of coffee as Hanamaki makes the rounds, "Hopefully it's just your usual boring night work."

"Mmm, it's been a while since I did those."

"When was the last one?" Hanamaki snorts, "Probably when we were starting out with Houji and Ma. After that, it was non stop fighting and running away for our lives in China."

They hear a scuffle outside in the hallways before returning to their paperwork. The scuffling eventually becomes louder, and Iwaizumi makes confused eye contact with Chiyoru as they hear the hysterical voice of the front desk secretary running after someone.

"Intruder?"

"Impossible," Hanamaki echoes after Matsukawa, "If it's a ghoul, they wouldn't get past the RC Scan Gate. Maybe it's one of Oikawa's fangirls? Oh it better be a proposal this time."

Iwaizumi stands up, pulling his sleeves back in case he needs to escort the intruder out. The voices are right outside the door, and not even Chiyoru can ignore it now. She storms up, brown hair swishing as she marches to the door to unleash her irritation when the door opens and-

Iwaizumi chokes.

The man standing at the door takes a step forward, his hand clutching a walking cane as the secretary finally catches up to him. "Sir, I've told you a million and more times that you must make an appointment through the appropriate channels if you would like to talk to Oikawa Chiyoru-san! Please leave the premise immediately- I will call security-"

"Yamamoto-san," Chiyoru says in a weak voice, "It's...it's fine."

The secretary turns red in the face, "Oikawa-san, tell me the order and I will have security escort this man out right this instant! I can see that he's bothering you!-"

"Mamoru," Chiyoru breathes, eyes widening as her head moves up and down to survey her husband. Iwaizumi sees her hands start to shake, "...What are you doing here?"

Mamoru grins weakly, knees buckling as his cane cannot support his weight. Iwaizumi runs forward to catch him around the arm as Chiyoru grabs his other arm tightly, mouth pressed into a thin line as she feels what Iwaizumi is feeling right now- a mass of skin and bone for forearms. 

"Following you, of course."

 

 

"Was that him?"

Ren looks at Akaashi, pulling up her mask as she ties her hair up into a messy bun. Akaashi does the same; the mask maker had done a beautiful work of making each and every single feather to be waterproof ("To repel the blood of course"). The red and gold resembles a phoenix, and he nods heavily.

"That's Bokuto."

Ren's voices filters in funnily through his ears, "He didn't recognize you." 

"He wouldn't have. I wouldn't have worn something this elaborate." He's not used to be at the receiving end of the CCG's hatred for ghouls. Akaashi waves his mask before putting it on his bed. They're allocated back at the 11th ward and he can hear one of the ghoul children running around with Hinata, asking him if he can teach them the kanji for 'dawn' and 'dusk'. "How could you order Tsukishima to injure my former student like that?"

She closes her eyes and frowns, "I forgot to tell him to leave the injured one alone. It's my fault, I'm sorry."

Akaashi looks up at her, "Kageyama did put a hole through his stomach."

"Then we don't have a problem do we? Kageyama isn't that injured, and Tsukishima took most of the grunt because he thought it was smarter to pick on someone smaller than him." Akaashi sees her shift her weight from side to side, "Bokuto and Iwaizumi were active during the years I was away... I would have liked to know them." Ren quietly says, "You should rest now, I don't know what will happen tomorrow. The CCG is onto us, and I imagine that the Oikawas will be the ones responsible for capturing me."

"You should be the one resting then."

She offers him a quick twitch of her lips, walking out his room, "Unfortunately, I'm a workaholic. Good night."

 

 

"Mamoru looked thinner."

"Say it louder for the people in the back, Hiro."

"Shut up, Issei. What else am I supposed to say?? His hair looked different?"

"Well now that you mentioned it, it is."

Iwaizumi rubs his nose bridge, "Guys, not now."

"Sorry." They both chimed. The big meeting room in their wing that's usually occupied by the Oikawas is empty. Tooru, who has made this room his second home by having a mug on surface available, has moved to his sister's side as they wait for Mamoru's verdict in the hospital next door.

"...That was a shocker, though." Hanamaki unlaces his hand, leaning forward to make himself some coffee. Goshiki had dropped by earlier with prominent dark circles and a refreshment tray, advising them to go home, not the least surprised when all of them refused. "I thought he was in a coma."

"I'm glad he's out of it though. Chiyoru-san can rest easy."

"Is it necessarily a good thing though? Chiyoru-san won't focus on her work now that he's awake. She'll be too worried about his health and recuperation." Iwaizumi looks at Matsukawa, "You were so out of it when Hanamaki recovered from his coma that you had to take a week off."

Matsukawa pushes his reading glasses up, "That aside, I'm glad he's awake. He's missed his children growing up- oh! Has anyone told Takeru or Tsuru?"

"Tooru probably did."

"Look at that Issei, they're on first name basis!"

"It still brings a tear to my eye, Hiro."

"Our children are all grown up!"

Iwaizumi takes a sugar packet and squarely flings it onto Hanamaki's forehead.  He's about to send a text to Oikawa to make sure that his niece and nephew received a heads up when the door to the meeting room opens and Suga walks in, battered from head to toe as he nurses a cup of tea in one hand. 

"Suga!" Iwaizumi jumps up to his feet as Bokuto wheels Kageyama into the room, his ankle wrapped in two ice packs. "Kageyama?? What happened to you this time?"

"Futon Kageyama here twisted his ankle. Or fractured it. Not sure. The entire hospital is ignoring us because of some VIP client that flew in from overseas. What's that about, Iwaizumi? Kageyama should get his ankle scanned as soon as possible!" 

"Oh," Hanamaki starts, looking at Suga frowning, "Well do you remember who Oikawa Mamoru is?"

"Chiyoru-san's husband."

"Yeah see, he's up and walking again."

Suga places down the mug on a nearby cabinet, the bottom slamming the glass top. Eyes bugging out, he shakes his head, "No way... He's here?! But- but how?! When did he wake up? How was he able to get clearance from the hospital there to fly so soon? Are the Oikawas at the hospital then?"

"Yeah, maybe that's why half the hospital staff is clustered around that one wing." Matsukawa points out their window. "Can you imagine the news tomorrow? Goshiki is going to have heart palpitations."

"Why is he at the hospital? Did he collapse?" Bokuto warily asks, dropping into an empty chair and reaching for a cup of coffee.

Iwaizumi opens his mouth to recount Oikawa's words, "He got a little tired, so they checked him in just to be sure. No doubt that Nee-san wants to do a full check up on him before she lets the kids see him.... Although...I can't believe he's actually here." He numbly says, "He's been out of service for the past two decades."

Kageyama, who have babysat Takeru and Tsuru in the past while he was at Germany, offers a meek smile, "I'm glad though. They can see their father again."

 

 

Chiyoru paces out in the hallway, looking down at her phone as her email continues to blow up from her colleagues. Word spreads fast- even her former professors have been notified, and it's only been a grand total of two hours since Mamoru showed up at the Main Branch 

"Chiyoru-san."

She turns, saluting and slipping her phone into her jacket pocket, "Chairman." She hides a smile as Wakatoshi follows his father, matching bear slippers included as they both try to hide their yawns. "I'm glad you're using my gift already, sir."

"It's very comfortable, not to mention warm," He peers into the window on the door to see a team of the best doctors and nurses bent over Mamoru and his machines. Normally, a VIP patient would be admitted into a private ward, but she insisted on putting him in the emergency ward since his pallor had paled quickly. She joins the Chairman and his son, crossing her arms and ignoring the silent buzz of her phone continuing to blow up. 

"He looks..."

"...Different." Ushijima pipes up.

Chiyoru runs her eyes over her husband. "He's thinner." The hollows of his cheekbones are standing out, the shadows falling onto his chest. The surgical scars from Tatara's kagune injured him have somewhat faded. "Mamoru is not fit for field work anytime soon, sir. What are you going to do with him?"

The Chairman looks sideways at her, "You won't be offended?"

"We are soldiers," She hooks his CCG dog tag out from under her shirt. She knew what all CCG investigators went through when they graduated, remembering the oath they took to protect the public. "As public servants we do whatever to help keep Tokyo safe. If Mamoru is unfit for work then I will make plans to have his rehabilitation here or, on your wishes, transport him back to Germany. Though," She hesitates, "I would prefer if you don't let him out too soon."

"Wouldn't you want your husband to remain here?" Ushijima asks, voice hitched in surprise.

"We know what we work for. If he remains here, he'll be nothing but a burr on our side," Chiyoru forces the words out of her mouth, "Surely you wouldn't want an injured investigator on your recon missions, would you?"

Ushijima stays quiet, playing with his phone as he spins it in his hands.

The Chairman clears his throat, "That's understandable. The Academy is short staffed right now, and I was thinking he could either lecture an upper division class or help Instructor Ma out. He's thinking of retiring soon since his hip is ailing."

"I'll make the proper adjustments-"

"Let the doctors here do it, Chiyoru-san. You've done enough today, go rest." The Chairman looks at his son, "Wakatoshi, can you call our driver and ask if he would drive her home?"

"Oh no Chairman I'm fine-"

"It's late and you look like you're about to fall asleep on your feet," He says as Ushijima pulls out his phone, "We have very good doctors here, and Mamoru's condition as of now is stable. Go rest, I'll tell Tooru-kun where you went."

Chiyoru bows to him before following Ushijima. She belatedly realized that she left her work bag in the office but shrugs it off. Her house key is on her body anyway, so it didn't really matter. The driver drives her speedily home, where she thanks him and rides the short elevator to the apartment she and Tooru grew up in.

After plugging her phone charger into the wall socket, she goes through her routine of removing her make up, taking a well deserved half hour shower as she sits numbly in the stall. Mamoru is alive. Her husband is alive. She should be elated that her husband is alive and well, but there is only a feeling of unease and anxiety in her heart. Her quiet tears mixes with the hot water, and she's glad that both her children are staying at the Academy.

What would her children think of her?

Takeru, sweet Takeru would probably be empathetic to her and listen to her. 

Tsuru wouldn't understand at all.

As she halfheartedly runs a towel through her short hair, she listens to a voicemail on her answering machine about Bokuto's and Kageyama's recon. Work is good, she likes work. It keeps her mind busy from the things she doesn't like. She looks around her home, a little lost, until she catches sight of the furniture she had half unpacked from Germany.

Her wedding picture stares back at her from the fireplace mantle. Mamoru, dressed in his white CCG uniform, has placed both hands around her as they both beamed happily at the photographer.

What would Mamoru think of the present her?

The terrible side of her thinks back to the countless Aogiri ghouls she had locked up over the past two decades- no acquittal, no nothing. They were all delivered a life sentence in the harshest ghoul prison the CCG themselves control. She suspected that over half the ghouls in Cochlea were personally sentenced there by her. What would he think about their children? She wasn't a good mother. She chose her career over them. Is she even the same person anymore? Would she be able to communicate clearly anymore? Will her relationship still be the same?

She pulls out Mamoru's CCG tag, looking at his wedding band looped around the chain. Her own wedding band is on her pointer finger; she placed it there as a reminder that she had no husband anymore, and that was Tatara's fault, and so she should destroy them. Chiyoru moves her ring back to where it should be, the band twinkling.

It feels foreign.

She moves it back onto her pointer finger.

A sudden beep from her phone causes her to lunge across the room. The Chairman wishes her a good night's rest and told her that she doesn't need to come into office the next day if she doesn't feel up to it.

She bites her lip and unlocks her phone, holding it close to her ear.

"Hello?"

"Tooru," She breathes almost a sigh of relief, "How's Mamoru?"

"He's good!" Her brother chirps, "I've hold off your two spawns from visiting until their dad can stand again, but he's wondering where you went."

"The Chairman advised that I went home."

"That's a good idea. I'm surprised you followed his orders," Tooru teases her. When she doesn't respond to his bait, he drops his voice, "Nee-chan are you okay?"

"Sorry, I was yawning." She lies. "Thanks for staying with him."

"No problem, go to bed."

"Will do, night Tooru."

"Good night!"

Chiyoru places her phone back onto the table. She takes off the CCG tag and puts it by the phone, going to to find some melatonin pills to knock her out.

 

 

Chiyoru is halfway from biting into her cheese croissant when a knock interrupts her. Looking at the doorway, she sees Houji in slacks and a dark button up 

"Kousuke? What brings you here?" He looks at her with a tired smile before settling down in the seat she offered.

"I hear Mamoru's awake." They both turn to look at the hospital building from her windows. Over next door, she can hear her little brother picking another fight with Ushijima about which colored ties are appropriate for their afternoon press conference. "And that he's resting in the VIP ward. Your doing, I take it?"

"The Chairman insisted on moving him to the private wing." She explains without any emotion, "I didn't.... No one from Germany told me he was up and walking already."

"Not even Agnes?"

"No. Mamoru must have hushed everyone up to surprise me, and here I am-" She rolls her eyes, "surprised indeed!" She gestures to the mountain of paperwork sitting on her desk and the two crates resting on the carpet. "I had Bokuto pull out these from the archives- these are the cases Renaissance was leading. Or so we suspect anyway. I've just started them this morning, and I'm supposed to see the Chairman and the brass for an important meeting after lunch to plan out the finer details of her extermination-"

Houji frowns, interrupting her, "Just when did you get in the office exactly?"

"I clocked in 42 minutes before you did. 8:30AM."

"Why?"

"What do you mean why?" She asks, "Why can't I go to work? This is what I'm paid to do, yes?" She stands up, feeling Houji's disapproval wash over her as she goes to her coffee machine. "I'm waiting for the full report from Bokuto-san and Kageyama. While I do that, I thought I could kill some of my work by reading."

"...You're just going to wait till your team updates you on their reports?"

"Yes."

"Oikawa Chiyoru, why are you acting like everything is normal when your husband of nearly twenty years just woke up from a coma?!"

Houji's face is livid. Between them (that is, Shinohara, Kuroiwa, Houji, Mamoru and she), Houji was the most even-tempered next to Mamoru. It was her who used to be called the Spitfire. His eyebrows are pulled towards the middle as she slaps on the Meeting-In-Session sticker on her door before slamming it shut.

"I know he's fine," She says through gritted teeth, "The best doctors are taking care of him next door. There's his paperwork that I need to sort too- his Visa and-"

"You're making excuses! Mamoru is a Japanese citizen!"

"He's also been living abroad for the past two decades! His children studied there and I just moved our entire family back! You look me in the eye and tell me I don't need to do an ounce of paperwork!"

"Then why did he ask for you first thing when I walked into his room this morning?! Shinohara and Kuroiwa even visited him last night! Your little brother was sleeping outside his room before Iwaizumi came to relieve him! He's had visits from our former classmates but you!- You- his own wife and the mother of his children- HAVE NOT EVEN VISITED HIM ONCE!"

"I SAW HIM YESTERDAY HOUJI! I'M A BUSY PERSON! RENAISSANCE HAVE BEEN SIGHTED YESTERDAY DURING BOKUTO'S AND KAGEYAMA'S RECON MISSION AND I NEED TO PLAN WITH USHIJIMA WHAT WE SHOULD DO NEXT!"

"YOU CAN DO THAT LATER! TOORU AND USHIJIMA HAVE A PRESS CONFERENCE THIS AFTERNOON AND THOSE PAPERS ON YOUR DESK CAN CERTAINLY WAIT! GO VISIT MAMORU!" Houji yells, slamming his palms on her table. He makes a struggle to keep his voice down, "If I didn't know any better, Chiyoru, I'd think you were AFRAID to see him!"

She roughly pushes a cup of coffee into his chest, "Are you done?" She hisses.

Houji takes the cup with a scowl, "Yes."

She walks over to her chair, putting her mug on a coaster that Tsuru and Takeru hand painted for her when they were still young. One of her paperweights holding a stack of files was a beautiful fluorite that had been one of Mamoru's last gift to her. She picks up the smooth stone and turns it over in her palms.

"What makes you think that I don't want to see him?"

"Ever since you told me that you vowed to take down the Aogiri because of what Tatara did to him, I would have assumed that you would be stuck to his bedside the moment he woke up." He pauses, "You still love him, right?"

When she doesn't respond immediately, Houji sighs.

"Are you afraid that he's different?"

"Never, Mamoru's always a kind soul and nothing can change that. It's me who has changed in the past years."

"You didn't change much."

She wryly smiles at his lie, "You're sweet, Kousuke, but even Tsuru said I changed."

"She's still young and doesn't understand the weight of the sacrifice you undertook. Mamoru would understand too. He's considerate."

"Considerate enough to approve me choosing my career over my family?"

Houji shifts in his chair under her scrutinizing eye. "You won't know until you meet him."

She looks at the hospital building again, "I want him to rest. The influx of visitors must exhaust him."

"You're doing it again."

"What?"

Houji just rolls his eyes before handing her the coffee cup, "Making excuses. The Chiyoru I knew was the type to plunge headfirst into battle with no fear. Just be yourself- he's your husband after all. You two were one of the sweetest lovebirds back in the days." He opens her office door and removes the sticker, "I'll be on my way now, but do think about visiting him soon."

 

Chapter Text

 

"Are you sure?" Oikawa Chiyoru bores her eyes deep into Bokuto's soul, "Are you sure you saw a female ghoul with a plain Aogiri mask?"

Bokuto can feel his dinner flip flopping in his stomach as sweat drips down his neck. Iwaizumi is sighing and shaking his head at Chiyoru's theatrics in the corner, "Y-Yes?"

The lawyer sighs, "That's not conclusive enough."

"She clearly was leading some sort of group," the younger Oikawa points out from his seat, close enough to brush Iwaizumi's elbows as they pour over the same document, an artist's rendition of what Renaissance should look like. Personally, Bokuto thinks the artist didn't give her height enough justice. "There was the ghoul with the phoenix mask, Eye-Patch and the other ghoul who was injured."

"And the two who first ran away to cover a group of three or four other ghouls." Suga reminds them all. 

Chiyoru scowls, "Then she could be anybody! Just because some new ghoul came into the scene and I just so happened to fly into Japan tracking Renaissance doesn't mean that it's her! We don't have any information on her before and three new ghouls popped up! Her, the fire bird and the injured one! We need to sort them into the database and assign them their rankings!"

"Considering how injured we were," Suga grumbles, "you should assign them A or higher."

"Fine, we'll do that." She turns to Tooru and Ushijima, "Which of these new ghouls should be distributed to whom in our team?"

"Kageyama," Oikawa calls. The youngest investigator in the room sits straighter in his wheelchair. After the VIP ward cleared a little, Chiyoru had personally pushed Kageyama there before pouncing on a wandering doctor to scan his ankle. With only a hairline fracture, Kageyama was lucky to not have broken anything, and would be back on his feet in six weeks. "You were fighting against the tall ghoul that got injured, what would you say about his fighting skills?"

"...The fighting style is very familiar to ours."

"Former CCG investigator, huh?" Oikawa whispers, looking at Iwaizumi. "Do you know who it could be?"

Iwaizumi shakes his head, "As far as I was concerned, Bokuto and I were the only CCG investigators in the compound. I heard rumors about more of us being turned into half-ghouls but there were none whom I met while I was there. It's possible that they could be hidden in another place away from Bokuto or I," He pulls a laptop towards him, "We were never privy enough to meet other ghouls while we were in the compound. Do you want me to pull up a list of the deceased?"

"There's too many who have gone missing in action," Chiyoru says, scrutinizing her own laptop screen. Bokuto can see the reflection of what footage the security cameras on their vans captured from her eyes, "If you'll take my word, Renaissance should be left to Ushijima, Eye-Patch can be reassigned to Takahiro-kun, the injured one to Matsukawa. And Kageyama can take the ghoul in the bird mask. After he's well enough." She adds.

Kageyama chokes on his drink, "A-Alone?"

"Problem?"

"N-No...."

Chiyoru looks down, "Well, I saw your Academy tapes, you have skills, but you need a partner."

The room thought about Akaashi in synchronization. Kageyama looks down for a moment, bottom lip trembling, and Tooru shoots his sister a pointed look, "A-Akaashi-san was a good partner."

Ushijima stands up, "He was a good mentor," He clears his throat, "But we move onto new things. Chiyoru-san, how about putting Bokuto-san and Kageyama together?"

The bottom of Bokuto's stomach disappears and he goes through the rushing motions of vertigo as his mouth instantly dries. "Wh-What? Me?? With Kageyama? I-I don't even qualify for an Investigator!" 

"But it's a good plan." Ushijima replies confidently, looking from Bokuto's deathly white face to Kageyama's green sheen. "Bokuto-san doesn't know how to work in partner formation. While Kageyama heals he can work on that since Kageyama technically can take on a greenhorn investigator and Bokuto-san needs a mentor like figure to guide him. I think my father will agree to this too. Oikawa?"

Oikawa sighs, "This is Renaissance's group we're dealing with."

"I am fully aware."

"Fine."

In the short silence that follows, Bokuto looks from Kageyama's pale face to Iwaizumi's pinched one, watching the veins near his wrists pop. "Um," He tries to catch Chiyoru's eye, "So what am I doing?"

"For now you can take it easy while I work something out with the Chairman. I think it'd be good to assign you to a stronger ghoul since you can learn to wield a kagune and a quinque, but let's sign you up for basic lessons in partner formation. Maybe Instructor Ma has a graduate student who's willing to work with you."

"Sounds good..." Bokuto trails off, looking at his fingers. Chiyoru smiles weakly at him, pulling out a sticky note and jotting something down in German. He decides to be quiet for the rest of the meeting, looking at his hands and how his fingernails needs a trim. These were the hands that won his team Nationals, which seemed like a life time ago. These hands injured CCG investigators at some point, but now they're going to injure the ghouls he lived with for several years while at the Aogiri compound.

Hinata's smiling face pops into his head, the brown eyes gleaming.

Can he do it?

Can he go against the ghouls he once knew and just...wipe them out?

He looks to Iwaizumi for support, but the man looks at him back with no emotion on his face, eyes swimming with the same confusion he's feeling.

 

"How come the CCG never knew of Tsukishima's existence?" 

Ren looks up from a well worn, dog-eared book. It's a cover Akaashi is familiar with; he may have read Ogura Hyakunin Isshu in high school for Classical Literature once. The page Ren is reading has a small illustration of a mountain, "Tsukishima came to us just before I took a leave of absence from the Aogiri. Once I left, I asked Yahaba to keep him out of the public's eye. Ghoul surgeries never have a successful rate and I relied on that."

Akaashi flexes his kagune- a long bikaku tail with a red and purple hue. So far, he hasn't seen any ghouls with the same kagune as him. He tries to remember what Ren had said when she walked him through kagune exercises, frowning when the tail morphs into a misshapen paddle instead of a whip.

"You're not very good at this." Ren says, setting her book down. From the windows, Akaashi can hear some of the kids laughing as they run around in the setting sun. She cranes her neck and looks out, waving below when some of them catches sight of her.

"My apologies." He stiffly bites out. A thought occurs to him, "Ren, what kagune type are you?" He had been ambushed by her when they first met, but he never actually saw her kagune connecting to her own body. Out of all the ghouls who held rank within Eto's inner circle so far, there are only a few in the past two months that he hasn't seen.

She glares vehemently at him as if Akaashi is suggesting her to throw her body out of the window.

"No."

Taken back, Akaashi nearly trips over his bikaku tail as he takes a step backwards. Ren pinches her face into an expression that Akaashi had seen many times by the students of the Academy.

"Your kagune must come from somewhere right? It can be detached. It's part of the Underground Tunnels-"

"Ren."

They're interrupted by Ayato walking into the room, looking distastefully down at Akaashi as he hands Ren a syringe with a cap preventing the exposed tip. Akaashi watches her as Ren rips open a disinfectant wipe, rubbing the cloth on her bruised skin before Ayato eases the needle in gently.

Ren shakes her arm a little, eyebrows furrowed as she sends Ayato on his way. There's not one inch of her left arm where the skin is healthy. Save for her fingertips, her arms are covered in bruises in various stages of healing.

"That's not an RC suppressant is it?"

"Why would I be taking RC suppressants?" She scoffs lightly, "That's the opposite of what I want to be doing. That was a dose of RC cells Ayato just gave me."

"So there are ghouls who don't have a kagune..."

"Don't get me wrong, all ghouls have a kakuhou sack in their body, it's just a matter of whether they can manifest it." She looks at his bikaku tail on the floor, biting her lip, "Mine doesn't last very long unless I take shots before battle, but it's sturdy enough for the Tunnels, and since I know how to shape them, I was tasked to build a fortress for ghouls with several other scientists, which the CCG later destroyed."

"And the RC cells?"

"A trade for Hinata's sanity." She looks out the window to wave to someone, "You know about his degrading condition as a ghoul turning into a kakuja. I bargained with Eto that I would take his place instead. I've been taking all of his required doses for a while now, and I don't feel too terrible. What Hinata have been getting are dupes of the RC cells. I don't know if they're going to do anything but I've been ordering Ayato to give him some normal human blood to reserve the side effects."

"...You're saving Hinata, and you saved Kindaichi and Tsukishima." 

"I'm not a saint, if that's what you're trying to paint me as."

"That's true, you led countless ghoul investigators to their death, but you also protect the ghoul children. You're a hypocrite."

She grins at him, "Aren't we all?"

After half an hour of Ren pointing out his mistakes and Akaashi wheezing, he puts his hands on his knees, "Why-" He pants, "-Why am I here? Tell me."

"Well, you're here because you need to practice-"

"Cut that out-"

"I'm going to need a favor from you in the future." She firmly states, "There will be a time when I will need to leave, and when that time comes, you need to lead in my place until I return. And..." She trails off, "And there's something you need to do for me when Eto brings all of us together for the final time."

Akaashi doesn't ask what he needs to do, watching fear shift Ren's facial expression as she bites her trembling lip.

 


"Have you visited him?" 

The scalding coffee goes down the wrong pipe, and Chiyoru stands up, nearly flinging Houji's tray from his hands as she splutters. There's several young investigators tripping over their feet to hand her tissues, and she blindly grabs for them as pockets of air eventually go down her lungs. "Thank you, thank you," She looks up to see an apologetic smile grace his face, "What was that for? A little warning would have sufficed."

"I didn't realize you were about to swallow your drink, I'm sorry." He places his tray down, sliding some of her folders to make room. The windows of the cafeteria have been opened to allow some breeze to clear the room. Chiyoru thinks it's a safety hazard since pigeons would sometimes swoop in, but she sees that they've recently added mosquito nets around them. "He keeps asking for you, you know."

"And what have you told him?"

"I told him about Renaissance. He's patient, but a week is a little long." Houji stops to slurp some noodles, "Your kids even visited you know. Stormed in right when the messenger delivered the news. Takeru was still wearing his kendo uniform."

She feels slightly sick, "Tsuru?"

"She dropped by, but didn't speak very much. It was awkward from what he told me, but it's understandable. She doesn't exactly remember him like Takeru does. Mamoru asked about what they're doing now.... He seems surprised that both of them are in the Academy."

"We both agreed a long time ago that we would never enroll them into the Academy," She looks into her coffee dregs, "I broke that promise, it seems."

"Your children were pretty adamant on following your footsteps."

She sighs, lacing her hands together. Houji sees the crows feet lining the corner of her eyes, where he can see her makeup smudging. He bets his entire lunch that she didn't go home last night, "I guess it's inevitable. I'll have to see him today."

"I've been telling him that you're very busy."

"Thanks." The roller coaster in her stomach worsens, and she starts packing all of her files.

Houji looks up, "Going now?"

"I figure if I vomit I might as well do so in a hospital where they can give me something for my stomach. See you, Kousuke." 

Houji raises his cup of tea to bade her farewell as she stabs the elevator button with impatience. The door slides open and she curtly nods to Bokuto, wheeling Kageyama to the lunch line as several investigators follow her in. She looks at her reflection and grimaces at her flyaway hair and the state of her face. 

The hospital greets her with a blasting a wave of cold air into her face. Every step makes her stomach lurch, and she stops outside his room, hand on the knob as she hesitates before opening.

"You free?" She peers in.

Mamoru puts down the newspapers he's reading. She shuts the door behind her and sees the amount of books piled on the bedside table, half hidden under fruit baskets and get well cards. She drops her bag on a spare chair and rests her weight precariously on the edge of his bed.

"I'm sorry," She starts, not looking at his face, "I've been busy- one investigator hurt after one another and broken quinques that needed to be fixed-"

"I'm glad you're here," She looks up to the wan lines of his eyes, where they crinkle into a smile, a smile she hasn't seen for the last twenty years or so. He grabs her wrist to tug her closer until her head rests against his chest. "The Chairman just visited me after breakfast. I'm going to train Bokuto-san. A crash course in partner formation and anything else that would guarantee him a win against a ghoul."

"You are?" Her voice hitches up in surprise. The Chairman didn't send a memo to her, and she had checked her phone just before coming to the hospital. 

"I'm going to be released in a couple of days. I completed a physical this morning, results should be sent in soon." She feels him stroke her cheek, "How have you been? You look tired."

She looks up at him. Chiyoru was so used to looking at the Mamoru with his eyes closed, breathing connected to a series of beeping machines that dictates the beat of his life. She ducks her head down, it feels as if he can see right through her.

"Chiyoru?"

"Yes?"

A heavy pause settles between them before Mamoru releases her wrist, pulling her up into a sitting position and leaning back against his pillows. He has a polite smile stitched on his face, "Do you have something you want to talk about?"

She hates that smile, hates the polite curve that taunts her to spill out every worry she has had since he caused a hurricane to form in her office. She looks down at his hands and sees his wedding band fixed on his left ring finger. In contrast to that, her's is hanging around her neck. Mamoru had always been kind to her, and that is what makes this all the harder to do.

"Mamoru," She breathes, "I'm glad you're awake." He nods along, blinking slowly at her, "It makes me happy that you can see Takeru and Tsuru. They really missed you over the years." She missed him too, but...

"But...?"

"But there is this emotion inside of me that gives me second thoughts."

Ever so softly, he prompts her, "About?"

"Us." 

The sun shines on their profiles ever so maddeningly. Chiyoru runs her fingers over the creases of his blankets as she stares at him, the bangs falling over his eyebrows. She refrains from brushing it aside as he slowly smiles sadly.

"I had an inkling that you were avoiding me for a reason, but I brushed it aside."

"I'm sorry for doing that."

"Why?" He calmly says, "Are you afraid that because I was in a coma for a good two decades that I wouldn't be able to keep up with you?"

"That's not it. I'm the one who's changed. I don't know what Kousuke or Kuroiwa or Shinohara has been telling you but I'm-"

Mamoru swipes his thumb below her eyes. Chiyoru stops, feeling guilt crushing her as he carefully brushes another tear from her eye. It's this kindness that she hates. It would be far more easier if he would have started to scream at her face, because at least she wouldn't feel so much guilt and self loath towards herself, but Mamoru is Mamoru. He is kind to the core.

"They've told me," He starts slowly, "about your transfer to Germany, and how my body followed you there. You let the kids grow up there with a housekeeper whose name is Agnes. You fought day and night to prevent Takeru and Tsuru to enter the Academy, but they resisted you and in the end you caved, not all too happy about it from what Kousuke told me. Shinohara told me about all the ghouls you put in prison, the state crimes they committed and the families you saved. You single handedly filled half of Cochlea with A ranked ghouls while you were overseas. You've done a lot, Chiyoru. To me, it should be me who feels like I can't keep up." 

"Have I changed, Mamoru? Look me in the eye." She hoarsely orders, looking into his soft eyes. Her voice wavers, "I've forgotten how to be your wife. The first thing anyone would expect me to do is to drop my work and be at your bedside but I did the opposite. I focused on work, and Kousuke lectured me. Our children despise me for being who I am, someone who chose the CCG over their father. I chose to dedicate my life to hunt down the ghoul who took two decades of your life away, and while at that, I wanted the other ghouls to suffer along with me when I locked them away. Can you really be married to the person I am today? Am I really the same person two decades ago?"

Mamoru doesn't speak for a long time, opting to watch the city below them and to hand her more tissues, sometimes rubbing her stocking covered knee as she allows the tears to run down her face. Patches of black are present in the wasted tissues, all of her mascara had run and she keeps her head down.

"I'm a terrible person." She hiccups. "I didn't...I didn't mean to tell you this so soon after you've woken up but it was eating away at me, please understand that. I hate myself for being like this."

Mamoru keeps quiet, pulling her forward so she can hide her face in his chest again, used tissues bouncing onto the floors of the hospital. His scent, of which she was devoid of, only makes her cry harder. He rubs circles onto her back, never speaking a word until exhaustion finally takes her under.

And when Oikawa Chiyoru finally drifts into a deep sleep, Mamoru shuffles over until her body lies horizontally. He stands up and tucks her properly into his bed, looking at the tear stained cheeks and pulling the pins holding up her hair so she can sleep comfortably. He knows where she keeps her make up- in a small pouch- and pulls out make up remover and cotton pads. After every smudge is gently wiped off, every tissue on the floor and blanket is discarded before Mamoru clears the chair beside his bed and sits.

His lightly traces her knuckles, eyes only trained on the setting sun. He wipes the stray tear that leaks out from time to time, but eventually rests his head on his arms, falling into a dreamless sleep.


Chapter Text

 

May

 

Akaashi tries to not gag beneath his mask as scrappers make a scene below him.

The blood comes off in thick fumes towards the audience, who respond wildly, laughter all rolled into a sickening background noise for him to tune out as he keeps to his post. Ren had instructed him to go with Hinami to buy some food earlier in the day, but mysteriously went her separate way flanked with some menacing Aogiri ghouls. He spots Kindaichi and Yahaba a few feet away as Hinami continues to wave her auction paddle, buying the lesser humans the auction house doesn't want. All of them are masked tonight, and as far as Akaashi is concerned, this is how they are fed.

Kindaichi nervously makes his way close to him, and Akaashi peels himself from the wall, the edges of his phoenix mask nicking a column, "T-The house seems to be more packed tonight, Monsieur P."

"Of course it would be packed," Some ghoul heiress near them tinkles, raising her flute as the dark liquid inside sloshes around, "Or are you not aware of the wards that are shut down tonight?"

"Shut down?" This is news that Ren failed to tell him. Akaashi feels his jaw stiffening, "Which ones?"

"Third and ninth I believe, but there hasn't been any news of any ghoul breaches from Cochlea. I think the CCG is wasting their time if they're just evacuating the humans tonight."

He walks towards Hinami, who's handing a credit card over to the master of the house. Quietly, he speaks into her ear, "Ren sent me here so I wouldn't know about the wards tonight, isn't that right?"

"You don't have enough clearance to help her in that mission," the little machine Hinami is holding spits out a receipt, "And I can't transport all of the food by myself so I need help. She doesn't know if you can protect yourself with your kagune yet, so it's better to be safe rather than sorry."

"I can handle myself fine." He can hear his frustration in his voice, masked or not.

"I'm not Nee-san, I can't help you," She flicks the bangs away from her mask. Yahaba and Kindaichi hurry to her as she beckons them with a hand, "Come on, it's time to load the truck."

 

Iwaizumi doesn't remember a time when the inner ward alarms were set off. 

Ushijima files out of the elevator, pushing a trolley of backup quinques to those who have experience in wielding two. The inner ward alarms were placed within the borders a long time ago, but he personally never heard them, and now that they're wailing, it raises the hairs on the back of his neck. The eerie howl, accompanied by the dimming of lobby lights, made everyone's ashen faces all the more noticeable.

"Iwa-chan wear this!"

"Stupid! You should wear it! I'm not as fragile as you!" Iwaizumi grouches, ignoring Oikawa's wails about his now messed up hair to shove the chest protector past his head and shoulders. He spots Suga running towards him, hands cradling two syringes, white lab coat glowing under the strange light overhead.

"Inject this- I have to find Bokuto." Suga quickly orders, running further into the masses of investigators clustered together. Iwaizumi watches as he eventually squirms over to Bokuto, who has taken refuge near the fire exit with Kageyama in his wheelchair, awaiting his set of orders.

"Would all the injured and non-investigator personnel take refuge below the basement!" Oikawa yells above the siren. Ushijima stuffs a loudspeaker into his hands as Oikawa jumps onto the secretaries' desks to make himself taller. "I want all squad leaders to organize their squadrons before coming towards the front to receive further instructions. Have one member go down and prepare trucks!"

Chiyoru comes running towards her little brother, shrugging on a vest as well as holding a suitcase, her knuckles white. "Tooru!"

"What?!"

"They're transporting quinque steel here tonight!" She yells, "The Aogiri are following the trucks that are coming into our ward. Send five of your best squads to help them while we prepare! I don't think they're going to last very long without backup!"

As Oikawa delivers instructions to the squad leaders, Iwaizumi turns to Chiyoru, aware of the suitcase she's holding, yelling so his voice can be heard, "Nee-san what are you doing?"

She points to the hospital and how Houji is waiting for her impatiently by the main doors, "Protecting our injured!"

It's been years since she wielded one, but he feels better if Houji is there. "Be safe!"

"You too!" Her brown hair quickly disappears in the crowd. Iwaizumi looks down and realizes that she threw off her high heels. He picks them up, putting them on the marble tabletop. He quickly injects himself with the syringe Suga gave him and hears several shocked gasps as his sclera turns black and the reversal to the RC Suppressants take effect. As a half-ghoul constantly having their senses blocked, it feels as if his sinuses are finally cleared. 

Oikawa snaps, "Quit ogling at Iwa-chan's brutish figure! Akira, Amon, Kuroiwa, Kuroo and Aone, go aid the trucks!-"

Goshiki is next to disturb them, and Iwaizumi can hear his heart stutter as he tries to control his kakugan to disappear despite his ghoul instincts, "O-Oikawa-san! More trouble! F-Fukurou is said to be coming our way."

"Iwa-chan."

"Got it," Iwaizumi jumps onto the marble top and grabs Amaterasu's case from Oikawa's hands. He taps Oikawa's button nose, "I'll gather Ushijima and Bokuto. Try to get your hands on Arima."

Oikawa turns around huffing, "Of course!"

Iwaizumi jumps off and looks around for a familiar mop of dark hair. Ushijima is crouched on the floor, quickly switching his prosthetic hand to the one Tanaka and Noya upgraded for him. A few sparks fizz from the fingertips as he locks it into place. Iwaizumi wasn't sure if they really did hide a small grenade inside the hand, but he hurries towards him nonetheless. "Iwaizumi?"

"I'm bringing bad news. Fukurou is sighted. Arima is still in the other ward with the Quinxs and Oikawa will try to get him here but we have to hold them off before they attack."

Ushijima's face pinches, "And my father?"

Goshiki runs up to them, finger on his headset as he relays a message from an incoming call. "He's commanding the squadrons that are protecting the quinque trucks from the third ward, Ushijima-san." Iwaizumi sees his bottom lip tremble, "How did the information leak?"

"Don't think about that now," He orders, looking at the lobby as squads begin to rush downstairs or outside. The telltale noise of helicopters above the tells him that Hanamaki and Matsukawa are above them. "Goshiki, stay by Oikawa and update us if he's too busy shooting evacuation orders to the public."

Goshiki scurries to Oikawa, who's jogging outside, quinque bouncing against his hip. Together, they join the other investigators helping the citizens evacuate to the neighboring wards, the sirens blaring in their ears. It's quick work because it's the least populated for the wards, mostly filled with embassies and national parks and museums, yet Iwaizumi hurries them anyway, trying to outrace the sunset.

"Yoohoo, Iwa-chan," His headset buzzes, "The Aogiri have entered the third ward. Arima is heading towards you as fast as he can. His helicopter should be landing soon, I've given instructions to Mattsun and Makki to not shoot him down."

"Gotcha. Is Fukurou really with them?"

"That and from what Makki is telling me, the weird ghoul Bokuto and Kageyama stumbled upon is also here. I think it's Renaissance." Bokuto's figure stills as he turns to look at Iwaizumi, eyes wide.

"Only two?"

"The first wave intercepted most of them but there're several vicious ranked ones like the Mad-Dog and his cronies that slipped past. Fukurou is doing the most damage-" Iwaizumi hears Oikawa wince, "-ouch they just destroyed my favorite shopping mall."

"Oikawa."

"I'll update you soon when they get closer. Over."

Bokuto turns to him, kakugan flitting in and out as he nervously bites his bottom lip. The lone helicopter over their heads swivels a strong light on the streets around them. "Do you know Renaissance?"

"I should be asking you that. You were in the ghoul scene longer than I have."

"I don't know who she is, she's famous in the ghoul community but I thought she was just another caretaker since Hinata used to talk about her a lot. I didn't think she was part of the Aogiri's inner circle."

"IWAIZUMI. INCOMING!"

Iwaizumi ducks, rinkaku whipping in front of his body to create a shield of liquid muscle as Owl's koukaku shards bounce off him. Bokuto has Izanami held out in front of him, the fan's large surface area blocking him. Together, they run towards the five CCG trucks zooming towards them and collide with the Aogiri ghouls.

It feels terrible.

Iwaizumi lengthens his rinkaku and uses them to sweep two aside. One flies into a tree and the other one rolls into a storefront of a shop. A part of him is screaming to hold back because he was taken into their care for years. He parries a well-known ghoul from his Aogiri days and sees the recognition in the other ghoul's eyes.

"Iwaizumi?"

"Kyoutani."

Unsure on what to do, Kyoutani stops attacking. Iwaizumi looks to Bokuto and finds him batting away a weaker ghoul with a furrow between his brows. 

"Did the CCG take you back?"

"Yes," Iwaizumi awkwardly says, Amaterasu pulsing dangerously in Kyoutani's presence. "Did your leader finally let you in missions?"

"It's clear that she let me because I'm here." Kyoutani rears his kakugan, "And it's clear that you have no allegiance to us anymore. Stay back if you know what's good for you!" He flicks his kagune forward. 

Ushijima jumps, blocking the attack and zaps Kyoutani by discharging electricity from his prosthetic hand. Kyoutani slumps forward, grimacing as his kagune crumbles.

"Well, well, what do we have here?"

All three of them turn to see Owl lumber towards them, its koukaku wings bumping into the sides of embassy buildings. Its massive height and weight should have made it easy to take down, but even five of the best squadrons are having trouble. Iwaizumi sees causalities slumped on roads and looks straight into Owl's whizzing eyes.

"Iwaizumi and Bokuto! Naughty, naughty, naughty~"

"Iwa-chan it's me," Oikawa buzzes in, "I can see that Arima has landed. You're to let him attack Owl, don't assist him unless he asks for it. Over."

Fukurou leers at them, "Was that Oikawa Tooru? Arima has arrived hasn't he?" It laughs, maws spreading open as Iwaizumi sees Arima directly overhead, his quinque glinting-

Something small and humanoid bursts from under Owl's many wings. Arima is batted in midair with a claw tail and lands on the ground, looking up at the newcomer who's perched on the top of a streetlight. Ushijima gasps, stretching his head up as Iwaizumi does the same.

The newcomer looks directly at Iwaizumi, a commonplace Aogiri mask covering her face. She raises an amused brow at his kakugan flaring up, eyes darting from his rinkaku to his quinque to his eyes. "Ghoul investigators don't need people who have one foot in each world. You either want to kill us or not."

Nonplussed, Ushijima turns to Arima, "Are you okay?"

Arima hums, "I'm fine." Iwaizumi sees a slight crack in IXA. "She damaged my quinque."

Iwaizumi looks at the claw-like figure looming over her. Was her kagune dissolving at the edges? "A bikaku shouldn't have damaged a koukaku. Bokuto," The aforementioned turns to him, "do you know the telltale signs of a forming kakuja?"

"If you're thinking that I can defeat it, no way. She smells dangerous," Iwaizumi opens his mouth and grimaces, "As for the kakujas I've known in the past, they're mostly crazy, but the Nee-san over there seems sane. She's Renaissance then?" The infamous ghoul is regarding them silently, her blonde bangs whipping in the breeze.

"Probably," Iwaizumi mutters under his breath, watching Arima dash forward, "I can't hold my ground against her, that bikaku of hers look like trouble. Ushijima, can you?"

Ushijima nods, flicking his quinque to life as Iwaizumi and Bokuto then flank him, pushing aside the lower Aogiri ghouls who are not threats. The female ghoul, having seen Ushiijma's quinque, uses her claw tail to swing off the streetlamp, hurling herself towards him. Ushijima only has a second to raise his arms in defense as she locks her arms around his neck and throws him over her shoulders. Running, Iwaizumi turns back and extends his rinkaku to form a glove as Ushijima slams against it.

"That quinque..." Renaissance hisses, the ground Bokuto is standing on explodes, ensnaring him as vines lock his limbs together. Several small explosions near them make Iwaizumi quickly glance around, mouth dry as she successfully punctured the wheels of all the CCG trucks. "The Chairman gave it to you?!"

Ushijima rolls to a sitting position, groaning from the rough landing. "Do you personally know my father?"

"He injured me. I will always remember the quinque that dealt the blow."

Ushijima narrows his eyes, "Then allow me to do the same." Jumping, he runs over to where Renaissance is standing, ducking from all the triggered traps that explode before Iwaizumi's eyes. Her kagune comes forward but Ushijima grabs hold of it with his right hand, releasing a nasty shock of electricity. Renaissance is too slow to step back and Ushijima hooks his arm for an uppercut, his fist knocking her mask off. 

There's a faint scar running from her temple all the way to the corner of her left eye, where it curves sharply to her ear. Red veins pop out on her pale skin as she ducks, a rope of braid swooshing over her shoulder, punching Ushijima square in his liver. He goes down with a wheeze, pulling down on her hair as she cries out.

A flash of silver and a sharp downward swing, Ushijima is holding the remains of her braid as Iwaizumi sees RC cells squirm around her jaw, molding around the bottom of her face to create a mask. Renaissance blocks Ushijima's forearms before driving her dagger into his prosthetic hand, causing it to short circuit as a shower of sparks bounce off the pavement like sparklers.

For good measure, she kicks his quinque far away, where her kagune trap actives, snapping it in half.

"Good riddance." She snarls, as she looks at her surroundings. More Aogiri ghouls appear, using kagunes to throw out the CCG soldiers guarding the quinque metal. He stabs his headset-

"Oikawa!-"

"I know Iwa-chan! Do your best- I'm redirecting everyone! Over!"

"Secure them!" Renaissance orders, turning back to see Arima flit around Owl. "And do it fast!"

Iwaizumi turns around from an Aogiri ghoul, sweeping his legs from below him as he swings Amaterasu into its whip form. Renaissance turns, looking at Iwaizumi intently. The rumble of the pavement gives it away and Iwaizumi jumps into the air just in time to avoid her detached trap taking out his legs.

"Secured, sir!"

"Off you go, we'll follow shortly." She speaks to Kyoutani. The Aogiri begin to retreat, great chunks of steel split among them as they race back to the 11th ward. Iwaizumi can see the vanguard trying to intercept them, Kuroo's figure seen at the front.

"It's time for the fun and games to stop!" Owl cackles, lumbering forward as Arima follows closely, swinging down from a grappling hook rooted in the balcony of a tall building, taking aim with IXA. "Ren!"

She makes eye contact with Iwaizumi and Ushijima, her eyes narrowing. A rope of RC cells erupts from her lower back to curl around her arm, where it becomes a sharp edge. Iwaizumi can see it coming before he even registers her movements, and he jumps forward to hold onto her legs- anything to prevent- "NO!"

Renaissance releases her detached kagune, using the power to jump higher as she moves into Arima's course. Neatly, she grabs his head slashes downwards. The body falls to the ground with a muffled thump, and Owl extends a large arm for her to land on.

Iwaizumi looks in horror as she holds Arima's head by his hair, allowing blood to drip and pool on the street below. She schools her feature into an unimpressed scowl. "Is this the investigator that everyone has been so scared of? What a cakewalk."

Owl laughs as Ushijima stumbles to Arima's body. Iwaizumi hears the deafening hum and Oikawa's haggard breathing in his ear. He can only look at the body, how blood continues to spread, eating up the hopes of the CCG. A trap explodes at his feet and the vines lock him onto the streets.

"A-Arima..."

"We'll be taking our leave," Owl croons, lumbering past Bokuto lying face down. Iwaizumi watches Ren jump down to prop him against a pole, pulling out a dog tag from her cloak.

"I do believe," She softly murmurs, her hands putting the chain around his neck, "that this belongs to you." Bokuto's face pales as she walks ahead a few steps before jumping onto Owl. Kuroo comes running, stopping when he sees Arima's head beside Bokuto. Every CCG investigator warily looks as the Aogiri march free, face contorted as they look towards Ushijima from where they are standing. 

"Control," Iwaizumi's headset buzzes, "this is Ushijima."

"...Yes, Ushiwaka?" Oikawa dully answers.

"...Please."

"...All CCG investigators retreat by squadrons starting with those near the Main Branch. Bring back the injured and...leave the dead, we will come back for them. This is your Commander signing off." There's a buzz and Iwaizumi turns his headset off, watching Oikawa climb out of a truck two blocks away from him. Goshiki is next to him, tears swimming in his eyes as Oikawa leans against the truck.

Iwaizumi watches as the vines turn pink before loosening. A swing of Amaterasu unbinds his feet and he walks over to Bokuto, helping him untangle himself. Kuroo sits, crouched against the pavement, looking at Arima's body and the fallen soldiers of Squad Zero. The two helicopters circling around the building slowly lower themselves down, the noise reducing until all that remains is the stifling silence in the streets. Random cell phones are going off, sweet tinkling staining the air.

Iwaizumi extends a hand and pulls Bokuto up, putting a hand on the small of his back to lead him into the Main Branch. Some of the younger investigators follow him, at a loss as their squad leaders all circle around Arima's body. He meets Oikawa halfway back to the building, trying not to look at the empty faces that stare up at him from the street. Iwaizumi motions to Bokuto and Oikawa nods, following him. He doesn't need to know whom the tag belongs to. Bokuto's expression says it all.

"I'll take care of it," He squeezes Oikawa's shoulder. "Maybe some coffee will help."

The fine lines around Oikawa's eyes grow pronounced, "I know the protocol." He says without enthusiasm, tugging Bokuto to the elevators.

Iwaizumi watches until the double doors close before turning to the stragglers, instructions for cleaning up on the tip of his tongue.

 

The door opens and Hinami jumps out of her seat, running to Ayato and Ren, both covered in blood. Akaashi glares at her silently from his perch in the corner, watching Ren tie back her noticeably shorter hair with a hair tie, removing her cloak and collapsing onto a couch. Her team assembles in the room, those who stayed at the Auction coming forward with water and cloth to wipe the blood.

"A trick."

Ren looks at him, picking her fingernails with disinterest. Akaashi can smell cinnamon on her. "I didn't trick you, it wasn't as if I lied."

"You brought over half your team with you!"

"And I let the ones who aren't ready to participate in a mission stay back," Her kakugan flares, "There are investigators out there who beheaded our people easily, and unless you value your life like so then do as I say!" She hands Ayato a clipper. "Please trim my hair, make sure it's short enough that no one can pull it."

"Why did you need quinque metal?" Akaashi hisses above the buzzing. Ayato shoots him a warning look as Ren's blonde hair fall down onto the floor in clumps. "How many did you kill tonight?"

"Not that many, at least not as much as the underground cleanse where we changed you. As for the metal, you're an investigator and a university graduate, I know you have the brains to figure it out yourself. If you don't, can you really call yourself an investigator?" She looks at Yahaba, "Can I bother you?"

"What is it?"

"I'm quite hungry."

"I'll grab some food." Yahaba leaves the room, handing over the job of scrubbing the back of Kyoutani's neck to Kindaichi. "For everyone too."

"Ren."

"Yes?"

Akaashi looks up, "What did you do with my dog tag?"

Ayato pats her shoulder to signal that he has finished. Ren runs a hand through her considerably shorter hair, the bangs unchanged to hide her scar, pleased with the way it turns out. She turns to Akaashi, eyes betraying no emotion, "I'm going to the kitchens too. Yahaba doesn't know that I like arms."

"Ren!"

"I simply returned it to its rightful owner." She says in a manner-of-fact tone. Hinami looks at him uneasily.

"Akaashi-san?"

"I'm going for a walk." He barely manages before jumping out the window, landing softly on the earth. He hears Kindaichi telling Kyoutani that he needs some space. He whirls around the compound like a storm as he realizes that without an older, trusted member of the Aogiri, he is stuck.

He goes to the front, ignoring the boundary fence until he hits a small creek, lowering himself down and dipping a hand into the cold water. The soft murmuring barely soothes the rage flowing through him, and he sees a glimmer of a red pupil from the reflection of the water. 

"A-Akaashi-san?"

"Kindaichi," He looks up, softening his tone, it's not often that he raises his voice, "Why are you out here?"

"I...was wondering if you wanted company."

Akaashi moves over and allows the younger half-ghoul to settle next to him. "That's kind of you, thank you." He picks up a pebble and throws it aimlessly into the water, where it makes a plop. "Do you know the reason why they need quinque metal?"

"I would imagine that it has something to do with the syringes that are passed to Ren-san."

"That's what I thought too. Normal syringes don't hurt a ghoul, the only thing that can harm us is quinque material. Do you know anything about Ren turning herself into a kakuja?"

"It's to protect Hinata-san, isn't it?" Kindaichi looks back at the compound briefly, "He looks better these days, but I worry about Ren-san too. Kakujas are dangerous, I can't imagine the mental side effects she's going through while mobilizing the Aogiri at the same time."

"Should I take note that she's the second in command?"

"No, I don't think she's anywhere close to that. Owl trusts her enough to guard the compound on her own but there's always Tatara or Noro close by." Kindaichi throws a rock, and Akaashi watches it skip the surface twice before bouncing off the opposite bank and sinking. "There's...there's some news you might want to hear."

"Oh?"

"They were doing a briefing of the mission just now, and-" Kindaichi sucks in a deep breath, "-they're saying that Ren-san killed Arima-san."

There's a strange floating spasm in him that Akaashi can't explain, "Arima Kishou is dead?"

"Ren-san d-decapitated him."

"No ghoul can measure to Arima's power," Akaashi hollowly says, "Even.... When Owl and Arima fought they always come to a draw, and you're telling me that Ren killed him?" He used to think that no one could measure up to Arima, nevertheless touch him, "How strong is Ren?"

"...No one knows anymore, she disappeared from the 11th ward for a few years. No one knew where she was and when she came back this happens."

Akaashi runs a hand through his irritatingly long hair, "This is a mess, I bet Oikawa is running around with his head cut off. If the Aogiri wants to attack it would be prudent to do it now while they're mourning." He picks a sharp looking rock and turns it in his hands, lost in his thoughts. Arima is dead. The next strongest would either be Hirako or Ushijima by default, but someone would need to take over Arima's spot with the Quinxs project, and he's sure that the Chairman wouldn't risk his only son to fill Arima's shoes.

"Akaashi-san? Y-You're crying."

He hastily wipes the tears from his eyes, looking at the water as his neck heats in embarrassment. "I was with Arima for a year before they transferred me under Iwaizumi's care. He taught me many things." Sitting at a cubicle seemed like a lifetime ago, Akaashi barely remembers the faces of Squad Zero, the memories already being overwritten by Iwaizumi and Oikawa.

"I'm going to stay here Kindaichi, you can go back."

"If you're sure..."

"I'll be fine." Akaashi listens as Kindaichi hefts himself up and walks back towards the compound, little twigs rubbing against his pant leg. 

Ever since he turned into a half-ghoul, he'd stopped seeing the bodies of his dead comrades, for good or for worse. He struggles to recall what his parent's faces had looked like, the creek blurring as his vision fades in and out. There had been Komi, and Saeko at first. Yamaguchi, Tsukishima, two other students, Iwaizumi, and now Arima.

 

Chapter Text

 

"He injured me. I will always remember the quinque that dealt the blow."

"Then allow me to do the same." 

Left, jump, twist, duck, right, right again. Ushijima dodges all of Renaissance's attacks with ease before holding her kagune with his prosthetic, watching her body crumple as she is zapped with electricity. Her upper body swings forward and he aims for an uppercut, curious to see what the face underneath looks like as her mask flies off.

A single hazel eye, darker green brown tinging the edges, meets him, bare shock etched all over her as her body starts to tilt back. Ushijima's insides turns to ice, his heart beat disappearing as he is met with a very distant memory, a fond memory of his childhood spent with his half sister-

She miraculously regains her bearings and drives her fist into his liver. With no air in his lungs, he doubles over and grabs the tail of her long braid. A flash of silver appears in her hands as she runs a dagger - where did she keep it?- through her hair. He is holding the remains of her braid and she looks back at him, RC cells writhing around her face to mold into a mask, her one working eye fearful as he looks at the scar- but that can't be his father who injured her- he thought she was gone-

"Ai." He manages to croak.

Renaissance- Ushijima Ai- Niiyama Ai- his sister whips around and plunges her dagger into his metal hand, twisting the blade and causing the machinery inside to jam. Her short hair hides her face as she kicks his quinque over to an unsuspecting patch of pavement, the weapon suddenly breaking in half as her kagune trap is activated. He continues to stare at her, falling onto his knees at the thought of the lies and stories the father has told him over the years about his missing sister who was captured by ghouls. Those reports he read- files and official documents- they were a lie. Fabricated.

The world tunnels for him as Oikawa's commands in his ears turns into an irritating buzz. Where was she all this time? Why is she with the Aogiri? Why had she never tried to contact him? Was it on his father's orders? His mother's? Doesn't she know that Fukurou is dangerous? Why? Why? Why?

If his father had lied to him about this what other lies did he tell him?

 

"I'll be fine Oikawa, you should go back and help Iwaizumi." 

Oikawa looks at Bokuto, eyes narrowed, "Don't be stupid, I'm not going to leave you alone in this state."

"Really, I'm fine." Just as soon as those words slip out of his mouth Oikawa's cellphone rings. Tooru looks murderously at the screen before realizing he cannot miss this call.

"Chairman...? Yes, right away." The elevator door opens and Bokuto steps forward as Oikawa remains. He turns to give Oikawa a look that will ease him, trying to be reassuring, but he shakes his head, "I hate when duty calls."

"I'm fine." Maybe if he continues to say it it'll take into affect. The look on Oikawa's face tells him otherwise, but the doors starts to close and Bokuto gives him what he think is a smile, holding it in place. After the elevators ding, which signals Oikawa leaving from the elevator ways below him, Bokuto forces his heavy feet to move towards his office, locking the door behind him as he crashes into his office chair.

First he takes care stripping all the ruined clothes that have been shredded, grabbing a simple white long sleeve from one of the cabinets and going to his en-suite. He really should be taking a shower to wash off the blood from Renaissance's detached kagune, but chooses to soak a towel in warm water to bring back to his desk.

He rubs his face first, the white fabric turning brown as he gets the hard to reach spot behind his neck and ears. It will be harder to his body to heal itself with RC Suppressants running in his system but protocol is protocol, and he flicks the cap of a needle before injecting himself, shaking the arm.

He takes off the chain Renaissance had slipped over him, bringing Akaashi's dog tag to his nose and slowly inhaling.

Only when the metallic tang hits his nose and nothing else, Bokuto feels his eyes start to prickle.  Even though Akaashi's pyre burned and his name was added on the increasing tombstones in the cemetery, Bokuto had always an inkling hope that he was alive.There's a faint scent of rose that's from Renaissance but other than iron and aluminum, there is nothing. He looks at the name tags of Akaashi's past students, feels the weight from the chain- the same weight that Akaashi carried with him throughout these years as he had to live with his students dying on him.

A tear drips off his nose and he places the dog tag on a pile of papers, choking as heat engulfs him, "Are you happy where you are?

"Of course not."

Bokuto sharply inhales, opening his mouth as a pale hand reaches for the dog tag. Akaashi, dressed in a white dress shirt with the first few buttons open, lets the metal hang from his neck as he sits on Bokuto's desk. He blinks sadly at him, lips twisting wryly as Bokuto scans every inch of his face like a blind man who can see. This can't be Akaashi, but it looks like Akaashi- the Akaashi that Bokuto last saw before walking into his death, eyes free from nightmares. There's no split lip or yellowing bruise around his jaw, no broken or twisted limbs. He swallows, blinking and rubbing his eyes.

It's his Akaashi, all healthy, glowing.

It comes out of his mouth so, so easily. "I miss you terribly."

"I miss you too."

"I miss you every moment of every day."

"I do too." Akaashi-Ghost replies, lowering his gaze down, "And I'm sorry."

A tear slips out and rolls down his chin, "T-Then why did you leave?" He croaks, the words becoming thick and hard to pronounce as his eyes wells up with more tears. Akaashi turns into a blur in front of him as he wipes his eyes hurriedly, his chin wobbling, "You l-left me b-behind." Distant memories of the battle resurfaces in his head, Kageyama appearing, Akaashi lunging forward, how he screamed at Kageyama, Kageyama's own yelling echoing, then Arima showing up and the world becoming black.

"...I have a duty to make the citizens my first priority, Koutarou." Bokuto feels the sensation of cool fingers brushing his cheekbones. He bites his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood and sees Akaashi's face twist in regret covered in darkness. "I wanted to come back."

"You p-promised to set to me again." He did, didn't he? And then Akaashi left.

"...I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I left you behind."

"Come back." Bokuto scrunches his eyes shut as his chest feels like it's imploding. "I'll do anything for you to come back. It's so hard without you here, Akaashi. Please come back, come back to me, come back to Kageyama and Iwaizumi and your family here."

"...You know I can't do that," Akaashi brushes more tears away, "Otherwise I'd be here with you."

"Please come back," Bokuto begs, holding onto Akaashi's hand. His hands are always colder than his, and he wants this hallucination to be so real his heart aches in response, "I don't care if you come back as a half ghoul or the undead- just please come back."

Akaashi smiles, moving forward to cup Bokuto's jaw as the movement makes his dog tag clink together, "You've done well, Koutarou. I'm proud of what you've endured."

"D-Don't leave me!"

"I know the team can be tough to handle sometimes, but please be patient with them. They're just concerned for the well-being of everyone. Kageyama is hard to understand sometimes, but thank you for staying with him."

Bokuto shuts his eyes, holding onto Akaashi's hand so tight that it should have elicited a cry of pain from him if he was real. He sucks a shaky breath in, a twisted, choked sound coming out of his mouth as he starts to sob. Painful sobs that rack through his entire body, mucus and tears mixing together as his chest becomes wet, he cries for what he thinks are hours, trying to stifle and failing when he loses what composure he had. 

"Come back...."

No one answers him.

"Keiji, come back!" He cries, "It-It's hard everyday, I go to meetings and y-you're not there- I keep expecting to see you everywhere but all that's left is your name in the foyer! KEIJI!"

Thank you, Koutarou. I... I cherish the happy times, short as they are, before this farewell.

 

"Mom!" Takeru comes running up to Chiyoru, Academy tie whipping behind him as he gently holds her elbow, "Mom! Are you okay? We came as soon as we could- 

"Mom!" Tsuru catches up with her older brother, hair wildly tied in a falling bun as she looks around the foyer, concerned, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," She reassures her children, looking up to Takeru and squeezing both their shoulders. Tsuru still looks worried, so she pats her hair comfortingly, "I wasn't even caught up in the battle, they totally missed me-"

"Chiyoru!"

"Dad!"

Chiyoru feels arms around her as Mamoru hugs her middle clumsily from the back. She turns her head sideways, alarmed, "Hey, are you allowed to walk?-"

"You act like I'm the one who just return from a battle," Mamoru mumbles in her ear, releasing her and spinning her around properly. He grabs her hand and squeezes it tightly, "I'm glad you're fine." He looks at Takeru and Tsuru, "Both of you should go back soon, you have classes, right?"

"I don't think they're going to run the morning classes," Takeru shows him his phone, "All of the senior professors are going to be called to a meeting here."

Chiyoru checks her phone, "Ah, I have that too." Mamoru tugs her closer and she sharply looks up at him, frowning. He pulls her even closer, wedging her shoulder under his arms, their chests touching. She has a mind to tell him that they're in public when her children shares a look between each other and nods.

"Alright," Tsuru slowly says, looking between her parents, "Well I'm glad you're safe. 'Keru and I are going to go back. We left our bikes outside anyway, see you soon. Don't rip each others' heads off."

"Tsuru!" Takeru scolds as they walk away.

"What? Mom looks like she wants to pour drain cleaner into his coffee!"

"You don't just say that to their faces!"

"Oh like you're a saint!"

They both stand in the foyer until their children got onto their bikes and pedaled away. She whirls to face him, curling her lips in a scowl, "Mamoru-"

She's cut off as he brings her into a hug again, Mamoru speaking in a very soft voice, "It's been a long time since I saw you with a quinque."

She looks down at the suitcase near her, hearing some of her co-workers shift in the background, distributing first aid kits and warm drinks as they check in with Iwaizumi, who's delegating orders from the secretary's desk. "Ah, that's what this is about." True, it had been years since she wielded one. "Desperate times calls for desperate measures."

Mamoru pulls away slightly, still too close for her comfort seeing that Wakatoshi is walking slowly towards them. He looks like he wants to kiss her, inching forward slightly and watching her reaction. 

She pecks him on the cheek, the memory of her breakdown still fresh in her mind as she turns to Chairman Ushijima's son with a beaming smile, "Wakatoshi-kun, how can I help you?" Mamoru stands still next to her, picking up the quinque and heading over to the secretary's desk to grab her heels.

Ushijima is white as a sheet under his sweat, "Can I talk to you privately?" He asks hurriedly.

She looks around the room, accidentally making eye contact with Iwaizumi. He looks back at her, puzzled.

"What is it?" She carefully asks. Ushijima never looked so shaken in her life before. She can't recall a moment when she ever saw fear on his face. Maybe suppressed apprehension and nervousness, but never fear.

"I don't expect anyone to sleep tonight, but I'm calling an emergency meeting with the seniors of our team. Can you meet us in my office at 12?"

"Of course." Mamoru comes back then, placing her shoes on the ground as she wiggles into them. Ushijima mumbles a quick thanks before heading straight to Iwaizumi, who has been joined by Oikawa. She turns to Mamoru, who looks equally as confused as her.

"What did he want?"

"Emergency meeting, apparently." 

Mamoru plays with his fingernails, looking around awkwardly as she takes her borrowed quinque back. "Thanks...for checking up on me." A weird emotion swells in her, it's been years since she's had someone check up on her after missions, and she wasn't used to this.

He pushes his lips out a little in a pout, "You're welcome." There's an underlying tone of frustration in his voice as he looks at her hands. She tries to discreetly shove her left hand into her hair, pretending to fiddle with the hair clip keeping her bangs away. Her ring is still on her pointer finger, whereas Mamoru's is where it usually is, on his third finger.

"I have to check on my squad." She awkwardly takes a step back. This too, is new. She never reported to anyone other than herself or her second in command back in Germany. "I have to make sure the younger ones didn't get hurt."

He nods, waving as she turns to the elevators. 

 

"Only seniors I see," Matsukawa observes, accepting the cup of coffee Hanamaki passed him. Ushijima has dragged his office chair over to the array of squashy love seats and is now sitting at the head of the short coffee table, lost in his thoughts as Oikawa and Iwaizumi settles. He surveys Chiyoru, Kuroo, Sugawara and Daichi all sitting with interest, all of them wondering why Ushijima had called a meeting.

"Or more like the only ones who went to school with Ushiwaka." Hanamaki mumbles.

"Should we start? Unless we're waiting for more people..." Suga offers.

Ushijima doesn't seem to have noticed the number of people that had recently joined, "No, this is everyone." He turns pale again, "Um, thank you for coming."

"What's this about, Wakatoshi-kun?" Chiyoru asks in a motherly tone.

He gives a short, bitter laugh, "Where do I start...?" Everyone shares a perplexed look with each other, "Do you recall that I used to have a sister?"

"Half-sister right? You said something about how ghouls took her away from your family when you were young."

Ushijima nods at Daichi, "I did, and I found her."

"Oh that's good!" Kuroo beams, "Congratulations! Where is she?"

"The Aogiri."

 

There are three stories in the condemned building the Aogiri calls home in the 11th ward. Akaashi thinks that once upon a time it used to be a large mansion since there're traces of luxury here and there, like the crown molding on the ceiling and whatever French doors that survived. The first floor has all of its windows smashed, so residences and make shift bedrooms are located in the second floor. The third floor is where the training rooms are, though half the floor is always blocked off with someone from Eto's inner circle guarding a plain wooden door. 

Even with the building written off as not safe to live in, some ghouls have fixed the place up pretty well. Akaashi sleeps with half of Ren's team, claiming a cot next to Yahaba and Kindaichi on the second floor, but he doesn't sleep much these days.

"Good morning."

Akaashi nearly walks right back out from the common area where Ren is lounging on a shabby couch, laptop humming. Hinata is splayed out on another couch, an afghan covering his body as his chest rises and lowers. The second floor seems to be devoid of people, as he hears muffled thumps from the training room above. Ren checks her watch, "Or good evening I should say. You slept the entire day away." Aside from the purple beneath her eyes, she looks normal, albeit a little ill.

He says nothing.

Ren looks pointedly out the window at the darkness, "Nice weather we're having."

"How can you say it so casually?" He listens to the way her voice remained a cool purple. "You killed Arima yesterday."

She blinks at him, "Ah," She laughs, "You were his student, I have forgotten. Are you mad?"

"Why? Why did you kill him?" He spits, "Is this some sort of order from Eto or did you do this to prove something to yourself- a hypocrite who killed someone just to see if something was stirred inside of themselves?!"

"What makes you think I can't kill a person?" She sharply accuses, taking great offence and looking up from her laptop, "Akaashi, everything I do, especially now, is not without a specific reason. Your death was ordered to take out the second strongest in the CCG. What will the public think when the Aogiri takes out the strongest? The level of strength between the second strongest and third strongest are leagues apart," She narrows her eyes, "and you know that yourself."

"So this is just blood lust? Was Arima just a victim-"

"Arima," She says loudly, jerking her chin towards Hinata, "killed his parents and many others. I don't go killing random investigators left and right, I had a reason and an order that seemed to coincide." She looks at him, "And what makes you think I can't kill someone?"

Akaashi looks away, and she sighs.  

"...He was my mentor." He quietly whispers. There were many who regarded Arima as an emotionless killer but to Akaashi, he was his first squad leader- he spent a year under Arima, spent countless hours sitting in the air conditioned office and walking along Squad Zero. He knew what the real Arima is like, and now he's gone. "He was the CCG's hope."

"That's unfortunate then," a new voice silkily says.

Akaashi stiffens as Eto dances her way into the common area, Tatara hovering near the doorway as he inspects the room with barely concealed boredom. Eto smirks, "The CCG hasn't publicly announced his death yet. Ren, are you ready?"

Ren stands up and hands Eto her laptop, who lithely waltzes to Akaashi, showing him a portion of the screen. He breathes in sharply, "What-"

Eto presses an upload button and they watch the video play, a sickening stream of the Aogiri beating the CCG. Akaashi sees Iwaizumi slamming into Kyoutani before recognizing him, watches Kuroo and his squadron intercepting Noro and Yamori, looks on with disgust as Ren, masked, throws Ushijima over her shoulders. A flash of white as Ren's mask was whacked aside. Pink vines shooting up from the ground. Screams and yells. Blood splattering the screen.

"Here's the best part!"

Arima shooting towards Fukurou, his body supported by the rappel, his quinque buzzing with electricity-

Ren suddenly appearing from behind him as she smoothly slices down. The camera zooms onto the severed body falling onto the ground with a sickening thud. Akaashi tastes bile in his mouth as Eto laughs at his expression. The real Ren seems uncomfortable, looking away as the Ren in the video holds up Arima's head by the crown of his hair.

Pleased, Eto hands Ren back her laptop. "Update me on what the CCG does when they find out will you?" She and Tatara depart, leaving the scent of blood in the room. Akaashi closes his eyes, the scene of Arima's head parting with his body burned to the back of his eyelids in perfect clarity. It's going to haunt him.

"My dog tag," He struggles to keep his voice calm, "why did you give it back to them?"

"Classified."

It was on Eto's orders then. He exhales, watching Ren lock her jaw as she sees his kakugan flare up. Akaashi feels the slightly prickle of his kagune breaking open his skin. He tries to keep it at bay, but it was trying to hold onto water with his hands alone. His bikaku whips around for Ren's head before it's blocked.

They stare into each other's eyes- dark brown and light hazel. Ren opens both of her eyes, and he sees her kakugan appear, always the brilliant red pupil against a stark black, red veins sprouting away from her eyes. One hazel, one kakugan. A true half-ghoul.

"Are you challenging me?" She quietly asks.

Akaashi lunges for her, furious-

-and they're flying through the open window, Ren's bikaku tail morphing into many smaller whips as they latch onto his arms and legs. She flips their position in midair, hands pressing firmly on his shoulders as Akaashi lands on his back, the breath knocked out of him. His bindings start to squeeze, wrapping more and more like a snake around his limbs. Akaashi leans against the earth when Ren puts a hand around his windpipe and holds him down, exerting no more pressure other than to make him feel mildly uncomfortable.

He asks a question that has been plaguing his mind for several weeks, "You disappeared for years and came back as strong as Eto. What did you do?"

She looks coldly down at him, "I said goodbye to the only family I had. Do you still want to fight?"

Some of the children look at them worriedly. Ren looks at them and makes a shooing motion. She sits back, crawling off his lap to sit crossed legged on the grass as his bindings loosens slightly, looking at a flower plot near them. A row of Chinese Lantern plants have been recently added to the garden, their bright red husk withering slightly. A plant with small bell-like white flowers is disturbed as a chipmunk dashes frantically from the thick leaves to a nearby tree.

"Physalis Alkekengi," Ren points to the red plant, "the outside dries during the spring and it'll soon reveal a fruit on the inside. Yabaha planted these during the winter in a different plot, and we moved it here since it started to crowd out the other plants. The small white flowers next to it is called Lily of the Valley. Poisonous, but smells very nice. My adopted family liked to garden, and the estate would resemble a greenhouse in the summers."

He looks carefully at her, noticing the fine lines that are starting to settle near her eyes and mouth. "Adoptive family?"

"In Germany. I fled there after I got this scar," She pushes back her bangs so Akaashi can see it, "I haven't had any contact with them since I came back here."

"What does the family do?"

"They were originally part of the Zaibatsu, they deal in conglomerates now. The youngest- The Young Master of the house," She grins slightly, "is looking to expand the family into the ghoul restaurant business. I expect them to try to move here soon."

"They can't. There are RC Scan gates at the airports and heavy security for anyone entering the country."

"I'm not stupid, I know that." She curls up her knees to hug them, looking small and petite, nothing like the monster who Akaashi saw in the video earlier. "I have one advantage over them; as a half-ghoul, the gates can't register me. I want to nullify the CCG so they can come here safely. If possible, I want to make humans and ghouls live together- at least side by side." She mumbles to herself, "I owe them that at least."

"Do you really think we can see eye to eye?"

She looks curiously at him, "Why can't we? Eto and I are proof that humans and ghouls could live side by side. Of course our dietary habits are a major concern, but I think I've found a solution to it." The chipmunk that had fled earlier comes back, nose twitching as Ren reaches for a dandelion, plucking the petals off it, "After all, aren't you tired of this?"

He looks at her, puzzled.

"This life of killing and fighting."

"I'm used to this lifestyle. That's why I asked you why you killed him, in the years the CCG have been tracking you, you always stayed in the shadows, working safely away from the threat."

Ren turns quiet, "Then think of it as an order."

"But-"

"I was ordered by Eto to kill him." Something in her has changed, now the mask is back. His bindings finally broke off, the kagune shattering into million of tiny fragments before it turns into dust. Ren draws whatever kagune that's left into her body, kakugan retreating. Despite her stiff upper lip, she waits patiently for something, inspecting the small garden that Yahaba tended to.

"Ren-"

"I need you to look after everything for me."

"What do you mean?" He frowns.

"I need to take care of some unpleasant business, it would ease my thoughts if you can take care of the team during my absence. Please." She adds as an afterthought. "I'll return as soon as possible."

He wasn't sure why his stomach has decided to churn at the thought of Ren leaving the compound for an indefinite of time, "I'll just have to keep an eye on the ghoul children and help Hinami right?"

"That's right, Hinami and Yahaba will help you on what to do. Whatever you do, do not let Shouyou wander around the compound unsupervised."

"Where are you going? Why can't Hinata wander around?"

Conflict is evident on her face as she struggles to school her expression into indifference, "I want to make sure that Eto doesn't break her word to me. She promised to steer clear of Shouyou, and as for where I'm going, not far, but not close either. Try to maintain a low profile if you can, the CCG will be out for blood once they see the video." She trails off. "Things are going to be messy, I'm sorry for leaving right now."

He stumbles to his feet as Ren sharply rises, "You're not leaving now are you?" The moon is just starting to appear. A warm night breeze is sweeping through the area, rustling his long bangs that needs trimming and making the flowers in the garden sway.

She smiles rather sadly, "Sorry for the short notice." She walks past him, their shoulders nearly brushing, her faint scent of roses enters his nose as the downwind hits them. There's also something else underneath the pleasant rose. He spins around to see Ren turn around the corner, inhaling with his mouth open and really thinking hard. It's bitter, like the health drinks Instructor Ma had given to them for pre-competitions. Bitter with a distinct metallic tone to it.

Akaashi stops his feet, frozen halfway into the doorway of the compound. Someone curses as they bump into him, but he doesn't hear what they have to say because the metallic undertone that Ren is carrying is blood.

 

Kuroo snaps to his feet, "Should we prepare a rescue mission?"

"The Aogiri?" Suga echoes, sharing a look with Daichi. Iwaizumi does the same with Oikawa, his surprised mirrored. "Not to offend you, but I don't think...humans would last very long with the Aogiri."

Ushijima swallows, "She's Renaissance."

"Look Iwa-chan, he's cracking a joke." Oikawa says without enthusiasm, "Ushiwaka, stop pulling our leg. We're all tired."

"I'm not joking," Ushijima whirls to Tooru, eyes flashing. Iwaizumi can see the hurt in his eyes as everyone denies it. "When her mask came off I didn't see the same face but there were similarities that I recognized- and she recognized me too."

"...She disappeared a long time ago, how can you be sure that it's the same person?"

"Because... Because she feels familiar." He looks at the faces around him, "I know I sound terribly crazy right now, but please believe me. I know what I saw. She's my half sister."

"If she's has a kagune...then she's a half-ghoul. Her mother must have been a ghoul." Chiyoru frowns. "...Your father had a mistress?"

As Ushijima flinches at the mention of his father's mistress being a ghoul, Iwaizumi starts to shake his head, "No..." Tooru turns to look sharply at him ,"Do you remember what she said? 'He injured me. I will always remember the quinque that dealt the blow.' Doesn't that mean your father...was the one who did that to her?"

"...I don't know how to react to that." He confesses, putting his face in his hands, "What am I supposed to believe now? We played in the same play pen as very young toddlers...I could barely remember what her mother looked like, but she took care of me too. A ghoul took care of me as a child and my half-sister is a half-ghoul. My father, the Chairman of the CCG, had a relationship with a ghoul."

No one met his eyes. They were studying the plush rug beneath their shoes, or simply staring out into the dark windows faraway. 

"Have you ever asked him where your sister went?" Chiyoru quietly asks.

"He said she was taken away by ghouls. I assumed he broke off ties with my other mother." He shoots a glance at the briefcase sitting on the top of his desk in a mangled heap. "Maybe that quinque killed her. Renaissance said that she remembered the quinque that gave her that scar."

"What are you going to do now, Ushiwaka?" 

All heads turn to Tooru, sitting back comfortably against the cushions, arms crossed. "Your father is scheduling an important meeting in the morning. He won't know about Renaissance until we review the security footage, and there's a chance that he might not recognize her at all. There are more pressing matters at hand anyway- the stolen quinque steel and Arima."

"...I would like to know why she decided to join the Aogiri," Ushijima hesitantly says, "but that's asking for a death wish."

"If your father does recognize her, wouldn't that put her next to Owl in our wanted list? She's...she's not going to be safe." Daichi mumbles.

Chiyoru stands up, voice hitching, "What are you saying?!" She strides over to his flat screen, waving her hands impatiently over the monitor to wake up the computer. She furiously types in her login and enter's the CCG's database before pulling up Renaissance's record. "Sawamura-kun, this ghoul nearly leaked our entire information when she was the mere age of 17! She commanded nearly all of the Aogiri's attacks and now that we've seen first hand how dangerous and destructive she is, how can you even spare concern for her?!" She turns to Ushijima, "I want her captured and brought to court, where I will try her for everything she has done. She will face justice."

Daichi presses his lips into a thin line, but he says nothing.

Chiyoru promptly logs out, and walks over to his door, "When we review the footage in a few hours, you will find that there will be a unanimous decision in ranking her as SS and above. We're going to take every measure to eliminate her, Wakatoshi-kun. I'm sorry that you have to find out where your sister is like this, but if she has been working for the Aogiri for this long, we know where her loyalties lie."

With that, Chiyoru stiffly bows and excuses herself, slamming the door firmly behind her.

"Scary." Hanamaki looks at Tooru.

The youngest Oikawa warily smiles, "That's my sister." He turns to Ushijima, "Are you going to follow what your father and the upper brass say when it comes to orders involving her?"

"I would rather see what happens first before acting out."

"If the Chairman hears wind of his son potentially acting out against him, he's not going to be happy," Matsukawa warns. "And I agree with Nee-san. If she's been working for the Aogiri for two decades, you know where she stands. She didn't hesitate in killing Arima, after all."

Looking confused and torn, Ushijima nods halfheartedly, "...I'm going to go to the nap room. I'll see you all at the meeting." He stumbles to his feet, leaving his office and his classmates sitting around his coffee table, looking at each other with varying levels of concern and pity.

 

"Look, Nee-san's profile have been updated!" 

Akaashi strolls over to Hinami, where she's sitting on the couch with Ayato, their heads bent over a laptop. It's only been a few hours since Ren left the compound, and the sun has risen, clouds lazily floating in the sky as her entire team flock to gather over Hinami's shoulder.

Tsukishima, who stands the furthest away from Akaashi, scans the page, "They've updated her into an SS+ category. That's a new addition," He snorts, "why don't they just make her into an SSS and call it a day? She killed Arima so easily compared to Eto."

"Do you think it's a ploy?" Kyoutani mumbles to Yahaba, who shrugs. He's still nursing his wounds, one eye slowly healing itself as the milky color fades into his normal brown, "What about the CCG? Have they found out about our viral video?"

Hinami taps a few keys, "Oh, they have." She clears her throat before reading the article out loud. "'In response to the video that has gone viral all over Tokyo, the CCG is choosing to remain silent until their next press conference, which will take place in the Main Branch. As expected, there are angry citizens asking for answers, choosing to rally outside the lobby and intercepting any investigators who are coming in and out of the building. There are many questions the CCG will have to answer. Who is the new ghoul that killed Arima, and what will they do to take action against her?' Oh this is terrible!"

"That's good!" Kyoutani snaps, "Everyone knows Nee-san's true powers! She's up to par with Owl and shouldn't be taken lightly!"

"Everyone will be going after her head, Kyoutani!"

"Well why did you think she went into hiding huh? She's going to be working on more plans on how to take down the CCG safely from her home!"

Akaashi's ears perks up, "Is she at her house?" It was near the ports if he remembered correctly, he knew he tasted salt in the air when he was there.

"Dunno, but she's not around the compound. Nor is she at the other wards where the CCG aren't in control of." Kyoutani scrunches his nose, impatient. "Anyway, you're leading in her place aren't you? Have you got a plan yet?"

"Plan for what?"

"A plan against the doves! You know they're going to storm here sooner or later. You're good friends with that foppish commander I hear, so that means you should be good at attacking."

"Oikawa?" He looks bewilderingly around him, "Ren didn't say anything about leading an attack against the CCG-"

"You're stupid."

Yahaba turns to frown at Tsukishima, "Hey-"

Tsukishima ignores Yahaba, narrowing his eyes and spitting acid green into Akaashi's ears, "You've been with the CCG for how long? And you think that after an attack like that they're not going to come for us? You don't deserve the Special Class title- even the children here know when to expect a battle and they're five!

"Tsukishima." Yahaba warns, "That's enough."

Glaring venomously at Yahaba and Akaashi, he spins out of the room, slamming the door of their common room so hard that the French door windows shatter. Hinami hands the laptop to Yahaba, quietly following Tsukishima as Ren's team awkwardly look at each other, not meeting Akaashi's eyes. Ayato follows Hinami, mumbling something about retrieving a dust pan.

Kindaichi turns to Akaashi, eyes too bright as he forces a false air of cheeriness, "Do you want to train together, Akaashi-san?"

The polite thing would have been to gratefully accept Kindaichi's offer, but instead, Akaashi follows Ayato, "Leave me alone," He mumbles quietly, shutting the door behind him.

 

Chapter Text

 

"So what they say is true, you're a half-ghoul."

Bokuto grimaces as he steps into the training room, stretching out his hand to accept Mamoru's handshake. Chiyoru's legendary husband is around the same height as Bokuto, maybe a little shorter. He wasn't very muscular, but Kuroo had shown him pictures of what he looked like at his peak, muscles straining as he faced a younger Iwaizumi in an arm wrestling match. Even though he was just released from the hospital, he has a very firm grip, and Bokuto flexes his aching fingers.

"Oh sorry," Mamoru grins apologetically, "My father was a military man. Our household took handshakes very seriously." He leads Bokuto further into the padded mat room, "They told me you've been here before, but it won't hurt to point out the facilities. We're in the mat room, changing rooms are that way," He points to a hallway next to a wall of glass, "we keep the dummies next to the men's room, and the weapons room is next to the women's room."

"I didn't know we had a weapon's room."

Mamoru's eyes twinkles, "I just found out about it this morning myself." He claps his hands together, "Even though I haven't exercised to the CCG standard in nearly two decades, my skill was the quinque." He grabs a wooden replicate of a sword and tosses it over his shoulder. Bokuto fumbles to catch it.

"I know everything in your file- about Akaashi, your past, and the things that were hidden." He makes a little motion with his hands, Bokuto's heart squeezes a little, but Mamoru takes no notice, nor did his expression change. "I will teach you everything that I see is beneficial to winning against the Aogiri." He solemnly says, bowing. "Ready?"

Bokuto copies him, and dashes forward to meet Mamoru's sword.

 

"It seems that all we do these days is sit around and talk." 

Iwaizumi frowns at Tooru, Chiyoru busy passing around a copy of the meeting with the bigwigs earlier in the day. Having spent his lunch break running around for Yachi, who's buckling under the weight of all the quinques she needs to fix, he adds more creamer into his coffee. Bokuto and Kageyama are seated at the end of the table, scanning the document quickly. 

"What's wrong with that?"

Tooru broodingly glowers at the reports, "While we wait, the Aogiri can attack us. There's nothing that can stop them right now. Arima is gone. Akaashi is gone. Kuroo's and Aone's squad are mostly in the hospital. We're sitting ducks!"

Chiyoru stops beside Ushijima, "Things do look bad."

"I'm glad we agree on something, Nee-chan."

"Hajime-kun why are you still kissing that mouth of his?"

Hanamaki snorts as Tooru colors. "Well said! But Nee-san," He sings, pointing down to the report, "I know I don't need reading glasses just yet but I think my eyes deceives me. Why does it say that we have an extermination planned already?"

"As my younger brother eloquently phrased it, Takahiro-kun, we're sitting ducks. The upper echelon wants us to take out some of the more dangerous ghoul in the Aogiri to 'level the playing field'. Marude turned purple. You should have seen it," She shakes her head, a sour smile creeping on her lips, "Arima's death shook them so badly that they're putting every mission on hold to train us for this one."

"'Us?' You're not-"

"I am."

Tooru whips his head to Ushijima, "What?! You're putting my sister into the fray as well? What's your father thinking?!"

"Hey! I'm still here!"

Ushijima looks up from beneath his eyebrows, "I don't know what he's thinking. I thought he would at least keep those who don't have much experience back but he's not. He's making those who specifically graduated from the Academy take up arms again."

Bokuto lowers himself into his chair further, wincing as his body stiffened. Mamoru had beat him into black and blue without breaking a sweat himself. He leans towards Kageyama, looking between Kuroo's pinched face and Tooru's twisted one, "What does this mean?"

"It means," Kageyama softly says, "that the Aogiri is close to breaking us."

Ushijima sighs, sharing at look with Chiyoru, "Oikawa-san, I must confess something that my father's been hiding from you."

The eldest Oikawa frowns, "What do you mean?"

"Because...we're on low staff, he's...asking the graduating class of the Academy to help."

It took a few seconds for the information to sink into everyone's heads, another few seconds for them to process it and a heartbeat where they all see Chiyoru's tired, confused expression morph into a snarling saber-toothed tiger. She fists her trembling so hard that Bokuto heard the tiniest of snaps as her fake nails break and clatter onto the floor. "Excuse me?" She hisses.

"Takeru-"

"NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! HE JUST TURNED 23! WHAT IS YOUR FATHER THINKING?" She spits, Matsukawa coiling himself to restrain her as she smacks her hands down on the table. Over at the door, Bokuto sees Goshiki flinch back, an armful of reports dropping onto the floor as he and Yachi fall into a tangle of limbs. Bokuto understands where her concern is coming from, but he thought she and the Chairman were close- wasn't she his favorite? 

Spotting Goshiki, she marches to the door and cracks it open. "Where. Is. The. Chairman?"

"S-Still in a meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of the military police."

She turns to them, eyes too bright and livid. "I... I'm going to get some coffee. Go start the meeting without me." Sweeping through the hallway, they all stare at her back as she takes a running start for the fire escape. Matsukawa slowly comes up and gives Goshiki a hand. Hanamaki closes the doors to the room before sighing, his arms full of the quinques Yachi had fixed.

"Well, we didn't expect that."

"What's your father thinking?" Oikawa scathingly asks Ushijima. "She's right- Takeru is only twenty-three. What's going to happen when we lose this one too? The entire Academy will be involved? Tsuru is only eighteen!"

"Oikawa, he doesn't know why his father did it. Give it a rest." Matsukawa pipes up.

Ushijima, who looks like he needs to sleep for an entire week, sinks back into his chair, closing his eyes, "I'm going to talk to him. Give me time."

"Time is a luxury we don't have!" 

"Oikawa, stop it." Iwaizumi growls. Tooru turns sharply at him, but stops, choosing to glare at the windows, chin in hand. Appreciative mumbles of thanks circles the table as Hanamaki returns the quinques to their rightful owner. Bokuto rests Izanami's briefcase on the floor, smelling the distinct scent of polish on the handle.

Matsukawa reads the document Goshiki had passed along, handing it to Oikawa. "You might want to read this. It's a debrief of what the next few weeks will look like. Looks like they're going to want to train some of the military to work with us. We're expected to teach them some basics."

"Why us?"

"We're the Special Class."

"Ask the seniors, I'm going to go crazy trying to stop Renaissance!" Oikawa looks rabid, "Do you know how many times she's outsmarted me?! Marude and I are going to go grey tomorrow! It's like she knows what we're planning before we're even done..." He trails off. "Kuroo!"

"Hm?"

Oikawa stands up, "Where's Kozume-chan?"

"In his office, or maybe the pantry. Why?"

"I just had a thought," He pulls his suit jacket on and grabs his laptop. Anyone could see the feverish gleam in his eyes. "Be right back. Go start the meeting without me." Once he slips out of the room, Ushijima looks at them, waving a heavy hand. He, too, grabs his suit jacket and leaves.

"I have some matters to discuss with my father."

Bokuto stares back at the remaining investigators sitting on the chair. Kageyama mumbles something about going to the bathroom, wheeling himself out as Iwaizumi turns to him.

"Bokuto, I heard Mamoru taught you this morning. How was it?"

Matsukawa and Hanamaki immediately jump onto their chairs and spins towards him, sufficiently boxing him in. It was a practiced moved by Iwaizumi's exaggerated eye roll. "Ooooo!" Hanamaki grins widely, "You got a lesson from the legendary man himself? Aren't you a lucky one?"

"Super lucky." Matsukawa nods sagely, stroking his nonexistent beard.

"Supremely lucky." Hanamaki states.

"Get out." Iwaizumi says with no bark. Hanamaki and Matsukawa snicker, but does what he says, closing their laptops and scuttling out of the room. Iwaizumi looks at the closed door. "They're harmless, really."

"I like them. It's refreshing."

Iwaizumi grumbles something about the two torturing him while they were in high school, but coughs to stifle it. He suddenly takes Bokuto's hands, wrapping it in. Bokuto looks warily at him.

"Um-"

"Are you okay?"

Ah.

"I'll be fine." He listlessly says. He looks up to see Iwaizumi staring at him, clearly not believing a word he just said. 

"It's not healthy to keep it in."

"I know."

"You can talk to me."

"I know." He pulls his hands away, retreating into the cushy chair as Iwaizumi leans back. He hooks his finger around the dog tag and pulls it out, Akaashi's name swinging between them as the other four tags follow suit, "I keep wondering why she gave it back; is it a trick to keep my morals low or does she have sympathy towards me?"

"When we were with the Aogiri I keep hearing stories of how she strengthen the Underground Tunnels. She taught nearly all the ghouls we met yet we never once saw her. I have doubts where she disappeared off too. No one came in contact with her for a few years. And if what we suspected was true, how she commanded all the battles so far, then...we're going to have to sacrifice a lot to gain something."

 

"Is it safe?" 

"It's never safe," Tsukishima snorts from behind him. Akaashi keeps quiet as Kindaichi nervously swallows. They're slowly marching towards the edge of the 23rd ward. Yahaba leads them around sour smelling alley ways, under damp bridges and through the sewers. He hears Hinami quietly whimper as she spots two large rats run past them. "You think the 23rd is easy to walk into like the 11th?"

Kindaichi falls into a dour silence, wrapping his cloak around himself even though the air is still warm.

"An attack on Cochlea..." The words barely pass through his mouth when Kindaichi picks it up.

"To recruit some power before the battle. Although I'm not sure if we can get away completely unscathed." Ayato shushes Kindaichi from behind, and he lowers his voice, "Ren-san scheduled the guard's rotation tonight. She can't keep security to a bare minimum since it would look suspicious, but there's a group of investigators to do a monthly check up. They'll be First Class investigators with an Associate leading them."

"Easy meat." Ayato grumbles from behind. It's Hinami's turn to shush him.

"We're counting on you, leader." Kyoutani turns his head back from the front to say to Akaashi. "Nee-san put her faith all on you, so you better exceed."

He says nothing as they draw closer towards the flat open ground that stands before them and the massive building. Akaashi had only been here a couple of times under Arima; he hopes that the layout hasn't changed that much.

"They're RC gates all around the perimeter and CCTV cameras posted at every corner and turn," He huddles his team together. Kyoutani nods as he summarizes the email Ren had sent to Hinami's laptop of her plan, "A group of us will scale the wall and wait at the mouth of the opening. There's no roof, although there is a 'roof' that can be closed from the control room. As another group triggers the RC gates and the alarm goes off, bringing guards towards them, the other group is to dive down. Hinami and Ayato know the code, so they're going to the control room to unlock every door." He then points to himself, "Since I know where the best exit is, I'll be leading the ghouls away, and the diversion team will split off and head toward different wards. We meet up back at the compound when the coast is clear."

"Sounds good, let's go." Kyoutani pulls on his mask and hood. He bumps fists with Ayato and stays behind with Tsukishima and Yahaba. Akaashi splits off with Kindaichi, Ayato, Hinami, Hinata, and two other ghouls. He peers out of the foliage, counting down the seconds as the guards outside pace around. When a gap appears, he pushes off with his heels and runs at full speed towards the quinque-metal covered building.

He jumps with the help of his bikaku tail, using it like a spring to leap of, splitting his tail into two long ends with barbs in them. As he digs his fingers onto the nearly vertical surface, Akaashi anxiously looks down as he holds onto the building like a lizard, digging his kagune into the quinque outer wall. It's resisting.

The rest of his team looks back and he shakes his head at Hinata and Hinami. They retreat.

Ayato's arms are straining as he climbs up, the other two ghouls following silently, "Why'd you send them away?" He pants.

"Hinata's kagune is brittle, that's what Ren told me. And I left Hinami behind so she can protect him if needed." They continue to slowly climb the building, Akaashi counting down in his head until the next group of guards would come. The top of the building is only an arm reach away, and Akaashi is already bleeding from his fingernails, thighs quivering as he pushes his kagune deeper into the wall. Falling from this height would put him out of commission for a good week, ghoul healing or not. "I thought you'd want it that way."

Ayato gives him an impassive look, "Thanks."

Akaashi rolls himself to his knees as he breathes hard, pulling the others up and peering down. It's exactly as he had remembered it- an open cylindrical building with the higher ranked ghouls imprisoned to the lower levels. He sees the main warden's office and feels his borrowed phone buzz.

"Are you in position?" Yahaba asks from below. "We can't see you anymore."

"We're good."

"Alright. Over."

Akaashi adjusts his mask as the alarm is triggered a second later. He sees the officers running out of the office like ants, slamming their dormant quinques on the doors of rowdy ghouls. The alarm groans, and Akaashi shapes his kagune to spread out as much as it can.

"Go!"

He pitches forward and hears the wind whistle, kagune wrapped around his body to protect his vitals as bullets bounce off it. He lands on the first walkway, whipping his long tail to knock the prison guards out cold. He jumps down onto the next one, clearing every walkway that have officers as Ayato comes out of the warden's office. The doors containing ghouls move to the side, and they follow him as he vaults over the railing and lands heavily on the bottom level.

Ayato gathers the attention of the ghouls, pointing to him, "Follow that one, he'll take you out."

Akaashi starts running. It won't take long for backup from the neighboring wards to arrive. He does wonder- where are the investigators that were supposed to be coming?-

"NO!"

He jumps back, a little too late to avoid the dual dao swords as they slash against his shirt. The cut is not too deep, and he drops into a fighting stance as his attacker looks up, Oikawa Tooru's brown eyes piercing right at him.

It's not, however, Oikawa Tooru. This must be his sister- the ghoul prosecutor who went overseas. Her lips are pulled back as she straightens, flicking the blood away from her swords. They're tinted a coal black, a pale blue ribbon attached to the end as she swings them expertly. "I thought it was strange how the schedule for guards were changed two weeks ago without reason. I should have known. Where is Renaissance?"

"Are you the only one here?" 

"I really hate cowards the most. Why did she go into hiding?"

He smells Ayato before he feels his presence behind him. They're both injured. Ayato mumbles into his ear quickly, "I can lead them out. Her team is hiding behind the doors. Lead them away from us as far as you can and we'll prevent the other members from following you."

"Who got you?"

"Didn't see their face. Too dark. Yahaba's being chased too. They're high up in the ranking."

"Rabbit, didn't think I'd see you here. Are you the ring leader?"

Ayato snarls behind his mask, and Akaashi leaps forward, whipping his bikaku to sweep Oikawa Chiyoru's legs. She falls on her hip bone with a groan and struggles after them. He sprints down a darkened hallway, kicking open the door and ducking as Ayato flies out and releases a wave of koukaku shards at the investigators waiting for them. Akaashi's heart leaps into his mouth. Suga. Sawamura. Kuroo and-

-Bokuto.

"Go after that one, Bokuto!" Kuroo yells as Akaashi and Ayato split up. "We'll deal with this crowd!"

Akaashi wastes no time loosening his cloak and speeding up through the underbrush. Bokuto's right behind him, panting heavily; Akaashi smells RC suppressants on him. That's good. He starts to twist and turn in the alleyways as they merge into the neighboring ward. Scaling a fence, he slows down a little before taking a sharp turn, whipping his cloak as Bokuto runs into it with an angry yell. Akaashi takes off in the opposite direction, heading towards the second ward. 

"HEY!" He risks a glance to see Owl's kagune sprouting from Bokuto's shoulders. His cloak is shredded into pieces, bits of the red material clinging onto the koukaku tips. Akaashi curses under his breath, scaling a balcony and jumping onto the rooftops. He needs to hide before he gets caught, he thinks in desperation. His wound hasn't healed and it's slowing him down. He can't be untouchable forever.

He can just see the edge of the second ward, and he heads towards it, jumping back down. Two heart beats later, he hears Bokuto crash into someone's garbage pile. There's a place he knows where he can hide- he hasn't visited it in years but the key should be where he last left it.

Akaashi slows down to a jog and pulls out a clean black t shirt from his pant pocket, throwing the ruined shirt aside and calmly exiting the alleyway as he enters Ginza, the neighbourhood still bustling with people hurrying home from offices with shopping bags. Stuffing his mask between the waistband of his pants and hip, he wipes his forehead and ties his hair back, attempting to look nonchalant as the blood continues so soak his shirtfront. The stench of human sweat and oils permeates into his nose, his mouth instantly watering. 

His stomach rumbles.

Veering off into the quieter side streets, he sticks close to the shadows and checks back every few seconds, looking up once in a while to make sure he wasn't followed. The night breeze on his face dries his sweat and he crosses the highway, looking left and right as he enters a neighbourhood of old apartments. This is where he used to live before joining the CCG.

Acquiring a key from the mouth of a toad statue half buried behind a withering flowering bush, he slips the key in his pocket, heading towards his suite. Once he locks the door behind him, he slides down, massaging the cramp in his legs and looking around at the furniture that has shifted. Someone has been here recently, but not too recently from the way the dust has build up over the coffee table.

The fact that a CCG personnel swung by didn't bother him. He was dead after all. Maybe they're appraising his place to sell it. It wouldn't matter anyway- he only needs a place to stay tonight, and he would set out before the sun fully rises to meet up with Ayato.

He pulls out the borrowed phone and sees the low battery. Curse Kyoutani.

The sink works just fine, and he swallows water slowly from the tap until his heart rate returns. He walks into the living area and turns in a circle. The last time he was here, he was debating on following through his plan to go to Toudai or to enter the Academy. Akaashi lets his mask sit on the coffee table as he explores.

He peeks into his old bedroom and finds a musty towel and some of his old clothes still packed in a box, deciding that if he was to spent the night here, he might as well be comfortable and clean. He found a bottle of kitchen soap in the sink from his CCG visitor and takes it with him. It will make Oikawa scream terrible things about how harsh the soap is for his skin, but it's better than nothing.

The shower splutters every few second and hisses at him. He lets the lukewarm water run over his skin as he sighs, hoping his team made it out safely. He inwardly prays that Hinami got Hinata out in time. 

As he rubs the towel over his long hair, he wonders if they emptied out his drawers. Maybe there's a pair of scissors lying around. He's in bad need of a trim. He was about to go looking for one when he hears someone else breathing in his apartment.

Akaashi looks around him for a weapon, finding none and swallowing. He shoves his head in a clean t-shirt and works it so it hides everything but his eyes. The person is breathing heavily, Akaashi can't smell anything other than lemon and dust. The person stops pacing.

Akaashi slowly opens the bathroom door and lets it swing open naturally, waiting for the intruder to come closer. There's definitely blood on them. Blood and cinnamon. Akaashi mentally groans as Bokuto appears, launching himself at him.

They topple down. Bokuto lands a punch on his mouth. Akaashi flips him onto his stomach and uses his dirty pants to tie his wrists together, but Bokuto flings him away. "Stop! You're under!-"

Akaashi punches his gut, feeling pain shoot through his hand as Bokuto winces. Being heavier, Bokuto uses his weight and pulls Akaashi down with him as they struggle on the floor. Akaashi wants to yell as Bokuto rips the t-shirt away, mouth dropping.The hands holding him down loosens.

"Akaashi..."

He grimaces, knowing that he has a lot of explaining to do.

"Hello, Bokuto-san."

 

Chapter Text

 

Ren and Shuu

They have a professional photographer come into their mansion every few years or so to take the family portrait- one with all the staff included and several consisting of Ren, Tsukiyama, and Mirumo. 

Mirumo profusely apologizes when a maid interrupts their session holding one of his many cellphones, quietly exclaiming that there's a very important someone on the other end of the line and that they're mad. The photographer is led to an adjacent room for lunch a quiet lunch and Ren waits with Shuu in his room, looking at the large grandfather clock as the hands tick by.

Shuu has been in a very good mood ever since Ren came back from Japan, and it's still going strong as she's been back for nearly a month. He quietly sings an opera under his breath as he goes on his phone to check on his emails, a luggage open near him as they just came back from Ammerland a few days ago. As he spins himself slowly in the chair behind his large desk, Ren pulls out her phone from the large pocket in her dress and confirms that she has no texts or emails.

"They just approved my application for the restaurant!!" Shuu skips over to her, forgetting that he's already a mature, grown man. He has stars in his eyes as he jumps up to cheerfully grin at her, "Would you come with me to meet with the interior designer? We'll go to town- or maybe we should meet them at Paris so you can shop around? Would you like that?"

She forgets how akin he is to a hurricane at times, "I think I'll pass."

A pout, "Ai...."

She cringes, "Oh god please don't call me that."

"You're family!" He shoots back reflexively, like this isn't the thousandth time they've had this conversation, "I can't just use your last name forever."

"Yes you can," The corner of her mouth goes up.

Shuu really turns five years old then, pulling his eyebrows down and grumpily huffing, "You're the worst sister I've ever had."

"I'm not even your actual sister."

An exasperated sigh, "Work with me."

"We'll see." She replies. Shuu deflates a little but comes at her to throw his long arms around her shoulders.

"Think of all the sights we can see!"

"We've been all around Europe many times with Father." She doesn't add that they've also more or less traveled the world despite all airports rigged with an RC gate.

"Are you still recovering from your flight?" He peers down at her. Ren slowly shifts her head back so they're not pressing foreheads, as she's not very fond of her personal space broken. He brushes the bangs covering her scar and examines the skin there, "Your skin is very clear and hydrated...."

She flicks him on the forehead, watching him step back and wince, "My skin is clear? What am I, food?"

"I'm sure you'd taste good if you were human," Shuu sighs dramatically, throwing a hand on his forehead and scrunching up his face into an agonizing expression, "But sadly, even though you're half, your scent does not appeal to my salivary glands."

She rolls her eyes and balances herself on one stiletto as she nudges the back of his knee. Shuu yelps before falling onto his four poster bed. "I've only been back for a month and you're back to acting like you're five."

"Incorrect! You met me after I turned five!"

"'Work with me.'"

Shuu blinks, before his lips delightfully stretches into a tinkling laugh, and Ren wonders when it's a good time to tell him that she has to return to Japan in less than eight years. He sits up and pats the empty space next to him. Ren appropriately fixes her skirt in place as she sits on the edge, Shuu falling backwards to spread out on his sheets.

They bask in the natural noise of the mansion, listening to the soft summer rain patter the tall windows. A few workers are fixing the roof, their footsteps thumping quietly above them. Ren opens her mouth to inhale the air from one of the open windows, honeysuckle and rose hitting her tongue. In Tokyo, all she could taste was salt from the ports and a mellow red bean paste near the subway stations in the morning from the vendors. 

"I'm glad you're back."

She turns her head to see Shuu smile at her. A genuinely honest smile that he doesn't show people often, and she has half a mind to ruffle his hair, but he'd pout for the entire day and spend two hours in the bathroom before allowing the photographer to take their picture again.

Her heart twinges.

"It's good to be back." 

Shuu picks up on her hesitance like a natural, and of course he would, as he's lived with her ever since she'd come to Germany. "You're not going back are you?"

"Of course not," She easily lies, watching Shuu blink a couple of times, "Tokyo is going to be a war zone, I don't want to be caught up in that."

Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies.

"Good, I like you here."

And Ren can only smile, hearing a maid interrupt them from the other side of the door that Mirumo has finished his call, standing up to follow Shuu. It would break him when she has to return, but she must.

She must.

 

 

Chiyoru and Mamoru

"I'm done," Shinohara croaks, "I'm done."

Chiyoru proudly releases her iron hold on Shinohara, beaming at Mamoru, Kuroiwa and Houji as they all stay up late to practice for their final physical. Graduation is coming in a few weeks, and Chiyoru has the intention to kick Houji out of the valedictorian spot if it meant rubbing her nose on grindstone- no, on a bed of nails.

As Shinohara crawls to where they put their towels and water bottles on the edges of the mat room, she beams at them, still buzzing from the two cups of coffee Tooru had made for her before the left the apartment (miraculously, the complex didn't burst into flames). Even though she wasn't a big fan of coffee, she was obligated to finish it because her little brother made it, and her little brother had to step on a stool to reach the cupboard where she kept all the mugs. She wished she'd gotten a picture.

"Should we do one-on-one sparring next?"

"I'm out," Shinohara immediately runs towards his shoes. Houji and Kuroiwa tails him, panic in their eyes. "See you tomorrow!"

"Wha-"

"BYE!" All three of them chorused, closing the gymnasium door and leaving her with Mamoru, who looks at her with a wry smile.

"You were...kinda ruthless, I must say." He offers, sitting down and opening a protein bar as Chiyoru follows suit. They were too tired to fix themselves to sit next to eat other, but she drags herself closer anyway.

Mamoru offers a bite, and she nibbles off a corner, swallowing and looking at the time. "It's not even nine yet. There's still people in the building."

"Not everyone is Ukai's favorite pupil."

"Not everyone is an apparent natural at the quinque and got a praise from Arima today when he visited."

"Jealous?"

"Yes," She grumbles, knowing that Mamoru is shaking his head with an amused smile. "What do you want to do next?

"Spar, I really need it-" He grabs her wrist and holds it, stopping her from jumping up, "-but AFTER we take a break. Preferably a twenty minute one."

"I should have saved some of the coffee Tooru made for me," She muses, watching him scoot his way to lean his back against the wall and grab his phone. She settles next to him, slotting her shoulder beneath his right arm and pulling her own phone out. "What did you think?"

"Now I know why you're so hyper all day."

They spend a few minutes in silence, occasionally asking each other if they read section this and that on the school's online newspaper. She replies to all of her texts and selects a chapter to read from a pdf of her textbook she downloaded. The gym is quiet, and Mamoru's breathing slows as her becomes engrossed in the text.

It wasn't until she realized she's already onto the next chapter that it's past twenty minutes that she turned her head back to see him asleep.

Shit.

So far, her relationship with Mamoru was great. It was fun. It was lighthearted and everything she expected a carefree teenage relationship to be.

So shit. Shit because she can feel her heart pounding irregularly at the way his lashes are lined and the way his glasses frames his face and the way each strand of hair is placed and the way his nose slopes down and the way she's developing a crick in her neck and breathe Chiyoru breathe you're not breathing!

Whom does she tell? She has zero friends of the same gender except for Aura, but Aura wouldn't be helpful in this situation because she'd just blink at her and bluntly tell her to tell Mamoru how she feels and isn't this what love is? Staring at your boyfriend when he's sleeping and praying that he doesn't wake up and ow her neck is really starting to hurt.

Chiyoru turns her head forward, listening to Mamoru continue to breathe slowly, sure that if anyone peeks their head into the gym they'll see a senior high school student cuddling with a humanoid tomato.

Shit.

Mamoru hums behind her, and she immediately straightens as if she's been struck down with lightning. He rubs his eyes and stretches, cracking his back, "That was a good power nap."

She wants to punch something. Her automatic defense is to squish that weird, jittery, fluttery feeling into the back of her head, and so she does, telling herself that there's an important physical exam coming up soon.

"Come spar with me," She springs to her feet, tying her hair up and fixing Mamoru her best glare. His smile slips a little, "I'm going to pulverize you."

He pales and gulps, wondering if he should have written a will.

 

Niiyama and Shuu 

"Hey, hey," Someone is roughly shaking her by the shoulders, "Wake up! Wake up!"

The young master's face slowly comes into focus and Niiyama sees his eyes sparkling in delight. She sees the her suitcase half open on the floor and remembers that they're not in the manor anymore- they're out in the Tsukiyama cabin for a weekend.

"Young Master," She stifles her yawn, raising herself high enough to prop an elbow. From the way the moonlight is still shining through the lace curtains, it's still very much not morning. "It's still quite early, did you have a bad dream?"

"Niiyama come skate with me!"

It's only then does she notice that the hems of his pyjama bottoms are wet and there's some mucus dripping out of his nose. She can only guess that without Matsumae around to keep an eye on him, he runs wild.

She holds up her phone, displaying the clock, "Young Master, it's not even morning yet. We can hurt ourselves in the dark."

"I found this trail that leads to the lake! And it's amazing! The moon is shining right onto it and it's like one of those American movies!" He flips her blanket over and takes both of her hands, hauling her out with surprising strength for a nine year old. Niiyama nearly loses her footing but stops him.

"I don't have skates."

Shuu grins, tugging her down the hall and squeezing through the narrow doorway of his room. He points to a box with her name sloppily written in hiragana, beckoning her to open it.

"It's supposed to be for Christmas," He blabbers excitedly as she opens the lid and is greeted by a pair of white skates, "But I really want to skate together! Do you like it? I hope it fits! Matsumae bought it with me when we were in town the other day and said that I should give you a present to show my thanks!"

"Why to me?" She frowns at him. 

"You're family!" 

Niiyama twists her mouth down, a furrow on her brow as Shuu ignores it. Taking her by the hand this time, he leads her down the narrow set of stairs, tip toeing to the mud room and zipping up his coat. His skates are in his hands, and he impatiently vibrates outside as she stuffs her feet inside her boots, wondering if Mirumo is going to yell at them when morning comes.

With Shuu racing ahead as best as he can without completely sinking into the snow bank, Niiyama catches up with her longer legs, wondering why he has welcomed her so kindly. Maybe their four year age gap is making everything confusing.

Her skates, she peers with a closer look, are one of those adjustable ones. Her feet is rather small, maybe Shuu thought she would still be growing.

"Here!"

"...Wow."

Shuu grins elatedly, grabbing her by the hand and walking her over to the edge of the frozen lake. The ice is thick and reflects the large moon over their heads, not a single cloud in sight as the skies speckled with stars. The vastness of the night sky spans so wide that Niiyama feels her neck cramping as she tilts her head up to take it all in.

"It's beautiful."

He laughs at her marvel. "Here, I made a snow couch so we can tie our shoes."

Niiyama takes off her boots and blows into her cupped hands to warm them. The new laces are stiff, but she's able to adjust the heel so that her feet are both snug. It's a good thing that she had a mind to stuff her leggings with her before Shuu could drag her out of her room.

"Mama taught me how to skate," Shuu starts, standing on his feet and taking a few tentative glides forward. "Papa's terrible at it, so he always sits out. He said that he prefers taking pictures of us than letting his bottom bruise."

Realizing that this is a very special activity, Niiyama stills. "If this is something precious to you why...why am I here?"

With all the naivety that a nine year old can muster, Shuu takes her by the hand and pulls her along to the center of the lake.

"I don't want you to feel left out."

Niiyama, for the life of her thirteen year old self, cannot figure out the son of one of the strongest ghouls in this country.

She clings onto his fingers harder, "Young Master-"

"Shuu!" He insists.

"Young Master Shuu- eek!" She stops, nearly slipping as she waves her hands in the air. Shuu darts forward and steadies her, "Shuu, I...I don't understand why you're doing this. Mirumo-sama has extended a gracious act in adopting me. There's no need for you to act so kind on me when I've wedged myself into one of Germany's most powerful ghoul clan because of a coincidence that your father saw me and decided to take me in."

"Just because you're Japanese doesn't mean you're not my sister! If Papa says that you're family, then I'm your brother!" He frowns, "Is it the servants bullying you? That's not good. I'll speak to them myself-"

"Wait no, no, it's fine-"

"Niiyama!"

"It's honestly fine." She plays with her fingers, looking down, "It's not bothering me." Liar. Liar. Liar.

"I don't like seeing you upset. It reminds me of when Papa would comfort Mama when she's sad." His large eyes gazes up at her, "I think you deserve to be happy. Matsumae told me that you nearly died in Japan. You should try to forget what happened there and focus on the present, for there is no moment like this."

"Did you get that from a book?"

"Maybe," He takes her hand, grasping it firmly in a handshake, "But I stand clear with what it means. Why spend the precious present stuck in the past? This moment isn't going to come twice."

Shuu doesn't act like a typical nine year old. At times he's five, but at other times he bears a mature air of an older noble. It would make sense of course, as that is his birthright. He is of noble ghoul blood and Niiyama is half human.

"Come on, I'll teach you how to spin!" His hands suddenly left hers and she lets out a little shriek, immediately grabbing his arm in a vice grip when her skates slip. They tumble and hit the ice with a dull thud. He lets a groan out of his mouth and she straightens to her knees and mumbles apologies, fussing over him until he sits upright. He's rubbing his bottom.

"I thought you were good at everything." He must be talking about their tutoring lessons.

"Not everything," She grumbles, sitting next to him and glad that her coat extends to a little above her knees. Her rear is cushioned by the wool fabric of her coat and the ice. "I like to stay inside than brave the outdoors. I'm not very good at sports, in grade school I lost every competition for the athletic festival."

Shuu laughs, "That's okay, when I was three slipped on a corner of a rug and rolled down the large staircase from the second floor onto the main entrance way."

"Those steps are so steep!"

"Exactly! The entire manor ran around like chickens but my dad just told them to wipe the blood off and let my body heal itself." Shuu states, rubbing his chin, "I think they sometimes forget that we're ghouls and we can heal ourselves."

Niiyama hums, and lets her back meet the ice as she looks up at the twinkling sky. It really is gorgeous here. Tokyo has nothing on the beauty Germany has. Both cities are of course different, but sometimes the neon and large billboards stifled her in her old life.

She turns to ask Shuu if he wants to skate around but catches him already staring at her, mucus half dripping out of his nose as red covers his cheeks and nose.

"Here are some tissues, Young Master."

He takes them and sits up, turning to blow his nose as she sees his ears turn red. She hides her smile in her elbow, pretending to cough.

"So," She prods him with her words when he awkwardly glides in a lopsided circle around her, "You were going to teach me how to spin."

"I can't, I have to teach you how to not fall first." He sticks his tongue out playfully at her, and she blinks, a giggle slipping past her mouth when Shuu beams.



Chapter Text

 

"You're real." 

The sentence hangs between them as Bokuto shakily draws his scent in, still looking at Akaashi like he's a ghost. A hand comes up to his face, pinching the wet strand of hair as Bokuto tugs, pulling at it like he's never seen them at this length before. 

Akaashi forces himself to look away from Bokuto, his heart beat stuttering in his body when he sees his dog tag dangling around his neck. He sits up to push Bokuto off his lap, grabbing the phoenix mask at the same time. A single red feather falls between them, lazily making its way to the floor. "I am," He heavily says, "Are you going to turn me in now?" 

Still bewildered, Bokuto blinks a couple of times, "What?"

"You said I was under arrest." That's not what he wanted to say. That's the complete opposite of what he wanted to say. Water droplets are trickling down his neck, reminding him that he's shirtless. The wound on his chest is still healing, the dizzying scent of blood spinning his head, and he spreads his palms flat on the floor to ground himself, "Are you going to ignore protocol-"

"How?" Bokuto cuts him off, "How are you alive? You were dead," His hands shakes, "I tried to do CPR on you but Arima stabbed me. Kageyama was screaming his head off. You were dead, Akaashi."

"Isn't it obvious? They turned me." Akaashi lifts his hips high enough to allow his bikaku tail to coil around his waist, the tip pushing Bokuto away from him lightly. Bokuto's eyes widens even further and Akaashi stops moving towards the door when a hand clamps itself around his kagune.

"Where are you going?" Bokuto holds onto his kagune tighter, sitting on the floor like a lost child. 

The answer is short and cold. "Leaving."

"What? Why?" He's scrambling behind him, tripping over his feet as Akaashi shoves his head through the shirt hole and ties his hair back. He makes a detour to his bedroom, bending over the box and hoping he can find a hoodie or some sweater. Bokuto's scent is everywhere now, cinnamon and pine oozing through the apartment. Akaashi hurriedly finds a thin grey plaid and buttons it up, leaving the first two buttons open.

"I need to make sure my team is safe-"

"Keiji," Bokuto's sharp voice stops him, and he grits his teeth as his body responds accordingly. "Are you working for them?"

"There's no way I'm assisting the ones who murdered my family and many others!" He nearly spits.

Bokuto spins him around, and it leaves a heat imprint on Akaashi. The golden eyes are furious, "Then why? I know you're working with Ayato- do you know what he's done in the past?!"

Akaashi digs his nails into the hands squeezing his shoulders, "Let me go."

"Akaashi!"

"I said let me go!"

"What the fuck Akaa?!-"

Bokuto coughs as Akaashi's kagune squeezes his throat, just with enough pressure that it wouldn't create any lingering damage, like Ren had given him once. The hands loosens and yet he is calm, not horrified that he had just struck out at Bokuto. He should be terrified that he's doing something like this- "Why-" A cough. "-Why were you there that night? That Renaissance woman isn't your leader is she?"

"Ren left me in charge of her team."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"Were you the one who injured Kageyama?"

"Do you think I would do that?" Akaashi harshly whispers, "Do you really think I would go out of my way to injure my own student?"

"He's not yours anymore! You're part of the Aogiri!"

"I'm leaving," This was a mistakes, and mistakes costs lives. Eto has incurred the wrath of the CCG and Bokuto isn't going to get anything by getting himself involved with Akaashi. If they find out about this meeting, Bokuto will be questioned and detained for turning his back to the CCG; he won't have any protection under the law Oikawa Chiyoru practices. Akaashi won't be able to help him like that, but this- distancing himself away from him- will save him, even if it means injuring both of them. He ties up his laces as fast as he can, one eye looking back and blocking Bokuto's attempts to grab him with his kagune. The new moon has come at a good time; he's anxious to check up on Hinata. Maybe Ren would be at the compound. "This is your only warning. Stay away from us."

"Akaashi!"

"Don't write that you met me in your reports. In return I won't tell you to anyone." He stiffly says, reaching for the door knob as he straightens. "Lock the door when you leave."

Koukaku shards pierces his stretched out hand, his wounds remaining open. He's spun around and slammed backwards into a wall, bruising his head as Bokuto's eyes swims with anger and something else.

"Why are you like this?" His lip trembles a little. Akaashi's own throat closes at the pain in his voice, "How badly did they hurt you?-"

"Bokuto-san," He grimaces, "think of the consequences. If you report this, you'll be removed from your team and will be detained. You're going to be left at the mercy of Oikawa-san's older sister. The military police will be working with her. They can pin you as the spy- the public is angry for answers and the CCG has a candidate for a scapegoat in their hands."

"Okay fine, I won't report this-"

"What good will you get out of this if you don't report it? Are you going to meet up with me to exchange secret notes?" Even to his own ears his voice is a deep, acid green. "Are you perhaps thinking that we can destroy the Aogiri from the inside? That we can coordinate the CCG to take them down like that?" Bokuto's hands loosens as Akaashi shakes them off his shoulders, "Because it will never work. They will put a price and number on my head like they did with Iwaizumi-san when I was a part of the CCG. They will kill me just for associating myself with them. If that doesn't happen, Oikawa Chiyoru will have my head, Bokuto-san– I'm a criminal."

"You never touched Kageyama that night!-"

Akaashi explodes, pushing his hands firmly on Bokuto's chest and sending him stumbling back. He doesn't understand why Bokuto is refusing to see the reason. "So what?! They won't care that I didn't injure Kageyama! I was with Ren in that mishap! I'm a ghoul! Get that in your head!"

"You're not!"

"I am and you know what else?!" He whispers harshly, feeling the veins around his eyes bulge, "When they review the CCTV tapes around Cochlea they're going to pin more crimes onto me! I broke into the prison and assisted the Aogiri in this! If you're involved you're going to be in trouble!"

"I can help you!" Bokuto desperately grabs Akaashi's arm, "Say it was on orders from the higher ups or else they would have killed you! Blackmailing is not a rare talent in that group!"

"Why are you so insistent on helping me?" Akaashi flings his hand away, "I've done nothing for you!-"

"BECAUSE I STILL LOVE YOU!" Bokuto pulls the dog tag taut. Akaashi hears red as he watches the metal plaques clink against each other, "Do you know what I've been through the past five months of thinking you were dead?! I blamed everything on myself! It's like you once said! I could have done something- I should have done something!"

Akaashi presses his lips together as his kagune disappears into his body. Bokuto continues to talk, "I thought she was trying to play mind games with me. It wouldn't be the first time the Aogiri has tried to do that, keeping an investigator from the CCG and manipulating them for their own gain. Everyday I prayed that you somehow survived it all, I even fooled myself into thinking you sometimes are on a long business trip overseas so I could cope. How am I supposed to act now that I know you're alive?"

"You should have kept on thinking I was dead," Akaashi hoarsely mumbles, "There wouldn't be a wanted sign on my profile if I had died like I should have. I'm bringing you more pain."

Bokuto is speechless, eyes wet, his Adam's apple working as he swallows. When he brings his hand hesitantly up to do something, Akaashi braces himself, closing his eyes shut.

"Don't say that you should have died." There's only the briefest peck on his mouth as he opens his eyes, "I still do, you know." Bokuto moves back, "I still love you."

His pulse jumps at that. He looks down from Bokuto's too honest eyes, "You shouldn't."

"I know."

Akaashi hesitates, "I do too...I still love you." Both of them are wearing a look of exhaustion, not physically, but it's wearing them down from the core, maybe from the very beginning. Both have suffered tremendous pain to get to where they are today, first with Akaashi living and thinking that Bokuto had died, and now, the reverse became true. They're not the same as they were in the beginning, they're much, much different from the innocent love that has taken seed in the school gymnasium.

He normally wouldn't have said that out loud but when will he ever have the chance to say it again?

Bokuto's eyes crinkles in return, "You shouldn't." He lifts a hand to tug at Akaashi's hair again, keeping a foot between them, "Does Ren not own any scissors? It's grown really long."

"I've been meaning to cut it." Akaashi looks at his features, the cheekbones looking a little sunken and the dull amber eyes. Death really does take a toll on someone. He was probably like that when Bokuto died, and even though it was so long ago, his heart aches a little, "What are you going to do now?"

"Hide it from the CCG, like you advised. I'm going to break the rules for now.... Today, we're just two people, not mortal enemies." Bokuto sniffs the air, tugging him over to the couch. Akaashi watches him open all of his pockets, pulling out a roll of gauze, scissors, bandages, and an ointment. "I know you're hurt, come over here so I can clean it."

Akaashi obediently stills as Bokuto unbuttons his plaid, biting his tongue as the ointment burns his skin. As gentle as Bokuto tries to be, that's just the nature of how things that heal you work. After firmly dressing his wounds and rearranging the dusty, beat up cushions on the couch, Bokuto then sinks and pats the spot next to him, throwing all caution to the wind.

"We should sleep."

"What will your team say?" But Akaashi joins him anyway, putting his leg up on the coffee table and closing his eyes. This neighbourhood is always quiet, and there are no random thumps from the other ghouls nor the light pattering of steps from the ghoul children outside. His eyelids feel heavy. "They're going to form a search party."

"I don't care about the consequences, I can deal with that later." A yawn. "...Tell them that some ghoul in a phoenix mask knocked me out in a strange alleyway."

Akaashi snorts.

Bokuto perks up a little, turning his head so that his mouth was somewhere above Akaashi's left ear, "I find it a little ironic that you're the phoenix ghoul we've marked. What kind of 'rebirth' is this?"

"An ironic one."

"The mask maker has a twisted sense of humor then."

"You've met them?"

"Once or twice to get my mask fixed. That's before they triggered the kakuja in me."

"So you were one then." Of course. Akaashi had first met him because the CCG mistakenly took him for Killing Owl.

"Yep," Bokuto says this like it isn't a big deal, "I get mistaken a lot as Killing Owl, but I can't grow my kakuja like Eto can. She's on a whole different level.... Don't tell me they're planning to trigger you into a kakuja."

Akaashi thinks of how Ren has disappeared, "I don't think so, but what happens when they do decide it?"

"You'll be put under extreme pain so the pathways for a kagune is repeatedly used." Bokuto quietly says, "It's sick- they usually torture you until your mind breaks. The way we ghouls get stronger is to fight. Once the body is pumped with enough RC cells, it triggers a mutation that makes another 'kagune', which we call the kakuja. Sometimes, the forms aren't complete; I've heard most kakujas aren't stable in the head. The only way Iwaizumi survived was because he wanted to go back to the CCG one day." When Akaashi stays quiet, Bokuto looks down at him, "What's wrong?"

"...I think I know where Ren disappeared to."

"That's a risky move they're playing if she is being forced to turn into one."

"Eto wants strength, kakujas can easily overwhelm a large number of high ranked investigators." He thinks about Arima's death again, "Bokuto-san, do you know if artificial ghouls who are triggered into kakujas are stronger than ghoul born kakujas?"

"I wouldn't know about it, but maybe it's possible." Bokuto stays quiet, picking at his fingernails as Akaashi stares at his hands. "I haven't had much time to think about ghoul physiology when I'm facing death everyday."

Akaashi goes quiet, "Death, huh? Don't you think sometimes it's easier to save the world than to reconcile with the people who were in your human lives?"

"Shouldn't I be the one who thinks like that? Everything in this world is against me." He leans back, arm touching Akaashi, "There were times where I wanted to quit, living as a ghoul, but I've nearly lived half my life as one, and it's not that bad if you know where to find good people. It's harder for us, but you endure; you endure and you live. Do you hate what you are or do you hate the situation?"

"They took everything from me."

"That's true. They're destructive like that."

Akaashi balls his fists together, "They took my family. They took you the first time around. They took Iwaizumi-san and Arima. They took my team and my students. They took away my colleges and created scars for their families that can never be fixed. I hate them, but I am them." He closes his eyes, Arima's death searing his eyelids, "All they do is take away, but investigators also do the same. It's like Ren said- a vicious cycle."

They sit in silence for a long time, pondering their own thoughts as Akaashi feels the blood on his shirtfront dry. His skin felt raw and tender beneath the dressing, his movements limited as he stretches slightly before Bokuto bumps his knee with his. Looking at him, Akaashi tilts his head questioningly.

"...How are you holding up?"

His heart tugs. Just a little. Because that question is everything that Bokuto is- simple, unequivocal kindness

"It's hard adjusting," He quietly whispers.

"I know how it feels."

He shakes his head, "I thought we were always right, I never bothered to question why things were they way they are, but it's also hard to change them because fear instills the laws to be harsher on them. They're human too. They have values and feelings like us, Bokuto-san, I've been taught to ignore this side of them. I'd forgotten that they're also human."

"...Many of them aren't good, like the Aogiri. The ones you eliminate have already broken the law."

Akaashi thinks of how Ren has a number on top of her head and the way she sat on the floor with the children around her in a circle, teaching them how to read and write. He thinks of how she look pained when Eto laughed over the video of Arima's decapitation, "Ren is the most human out of all of them."

"...I know." Bokuto deflates, "I know."

 

 

When Akaashi wakes, he focuses his gaze on the watch around Bokuto's wrist and blinks a couple to times. Ten to eleven. He's been asleep for an hour. Something heavy and warm is on his right shoulder.

He gently cups Bokuto's head off his shoulder and leans it back against the couch, already missing the warmth he had provided. He stands up and stretches, feeling the raw skin on his chest rub against the bandages. The sensation doesn't hurt, but it's too soon for him to take off, so he leaves it alone and pats his mouth to see if his lip has healed.

Going back into this room and gathering some extremely dusty clothes, Akaashi layers himself up, looking back at Bokuto still snoozing on the couch every now and then. What is he supposed to do now? He half wishes there was a command from the higher ups he can follow. While he can take care of himself on the battlefield, he doesn't know what to do regarding his...romantic problem.

He releases a long, pent up sigh, taking his bangs and re-tying them back when he hears a voice call out from outside.

Slinking towards the curtains, his senses alert, he presses his palm to the floor, trying to sense out any vibrations while inhaling with his mouth open.

Nothing.

He peeks out and sees Ren half hidden in the shadows.


Hurry up and come out, she signs quickly with her hands. Akaashi wonders where she'd learned how to sign but doesn't put it past her to know many things. He narrows his eyes to see what she signs next. The CCG are still patrolling the area for their missing member. Hurry!

He turns to see Bokuto still dozing, hesitating.

When will he see him again?

As Akaashi stands motionlessly in the drab apartment that's still under his name, mouth dry, he knows that he has to disappear now while the CCG's patrols are elsewhere. He can't be trapped here. There's too many people nearby that can be injured if Ren decides to call for backup. He has to get out now.

"Oi!"

Akaashi flinches and gives himself a whiplash from turning his head. The front door behind Ren shuts to a close, and he sees a set of lock picking instruments in her hands. "What are you doing? Let's go!" She impatiently says.

"What about him?!" He sharply gestures to the other sleeping half ghoul in the room. Ren sighs and purses her lips. "He'll get in trouble if the CCG comes in to search for him like this!"

"Not my problem," Ren calmly retorts.

"Ren-san."

She takes a deep breath and wraps her kagune around Bokuto, lifting him into the air like she'd done with Tsukishima. She then turns around, Akaashi hurrying after her as they take the back exit. The night is chillier than before, and he shivers in his thin layers, fitting his mask over his face as Ren pulls her hood up.

"Thank you," He awkwardly half jogs next to her.

He could imagine her rolling her eyes at him as they plunge into the alleyways. Ren stops at a fork, placing an earbud in her ear. Akaashi hears the CCG's broadcast loud and clear as they maneuver their way towards them.

"We'll leave him here." Ren states, placing Bokuto down. She pulls her hood back slightly so Akaashi can see both of her eyes open, her kagune startling bright. "I need to hurt him bad enough that they won't be suspicious, do you understand?"

Akaashi glances down, a protest stuck in his throat. "It's logical." He forces himself to look away as Ren drives her kagune into Bokuto's body, hearing the squelch of her kagune ripping apart something. There's a hand on his shoulder and then she's pulling him away back into the ghoul world.

They run back, halting here and there to listen to the CCG's line Ren has tapped into. Akaashi doesn't complain when Ren gives him her cloak as it starts to pour, grateful for the extra warmth the inner fur lining gives. With the cloak gone from her body, he tries to see if there's any changes to her as they hurriedly walk towards her house in the ports.

"Safe," She says, locking the deadbolt as Akaashi hangs her cloak on a hook hot glued to the container wall. It's still the same layout, a rectangular room with a simple bed and table dedicated to an expensive looking laptop with scattered belongings here and there. There's a change however; parts of a bookshelf sits half built on the floor, with a pile of paperbacks and hardcovers denting her duvet cover. "Do you want some food?"

"Yes."

She throws him a package wrapped in brown paper from her mini fridge, taking out a package of milk bread and devouring it in two bites. Akaashi ignores what he's eating and swallows without tasting it. He gestures to the bookshelf, "When did you buy this?"

"Got it delivered here. I have too much books to be kept under my bed," She lightly says, sitting back against the only chair in the room. Gesturing to the space she'd cleared on her bed, he sits down and looks at the various titles spread around, most of them in foreign languages. He draws a few titles towards him, curiosity getting the best of him as he flips open a heavy textbook on chemistry. "Ikea furniture are so hard to build."

"I'll help."

She hands him the manual, and holds a wooden board as he scans the English. "They escaped by the way, I was listening to their radio the entire night."

"Ayato got away?"

"I supposed he did, though I don't know if he got away unscathed." Ren's mouth twists down, "That Oikawa got me this time." When Akaashi keeps quiet, Ren chuckles, "Do you feel like you're caught in the middle whenever the CCG wins?"

"Sort of." He looks around for the appropriate screw as Ren uses her foot to push an electric hand drill to him. "But don't you feel like that way too? You weren't always with the Aogiri or so I've heard."

They weld the outer sections quickly and are now working on the shelves, individually pushing the boards in, "That's true. I was with the Tsukiyama Family before I joined the Aogiri."

"Tsukiyama? Aren't they-"

"An influential human family? They're not what you think," She laughs at his bewildered expression, "You'd be surprised how there are ghouls who hide themselves very deeply into human societies without once drawing attention to the public eye. It's an art, and they've had generations to perfect it." She smiles fondly at a rose half wilting in a vase on her windowsill, "They really provided me with everything I ever wanted."

"...Then why?" Why is Ren an enigma? "It sounded like you were living the perfect life there- you must have been very influential there as well. You evaded Oikawa Chiyoru for nearly two decades, and you lived right under her nose too."

"The only thing they couldn't give me was acceptance," She says quietly. She holds a French-Italian dictionary in her hand, the cover brand new, spine stiff and unmarked. "There are always going to be people- other nobles- who will call me the dirty child Mirumo had picked up from the streets. To them, it was unfair that I was given a second chance at life because I should have died a long time ago. You can't possibly imagine how it felt to be an outsider who will never be integrated into their customs and ways- I wasn't of noble blood, and worst of all, I have this ugly scar that my sire gave me as a reminder that I'm not even full ghoul."

Ren turns fully to him, brushing away her bangs to show the scar running down her eye. "He killed my mother, but he was too weak to kill me."

"...And you joined the Aogiri to take revenge?" 

"That's definitely part of the reason, but it's now more of wanting to give the little children a chance of living. I want to show them that there's life beyond that compound fence." She begins to sort the books. "You know, it used to be okay. The situation started to spiral when they started the Underground Cleanse, and hundreds of ghouls were evicted from the only place they call home. Our prey are now being watched more carefully than ever, and there's a very good probability that the CCG will catch you if one human goes missing in an area. It then makes hunting hard and that's why nearly all the ghouls now seek shelter from the Aogiri. We can provide the needed shelter and food, but we can't provide the things the children will miss because they're cooped up here." Ren turns around, "War destroys, and I'm trying to make it slightly better."

"Grey."

Ren frowns, puzzled, "Pardon?"

"Your voice is grey, it fits your image," Akaashi elaborates, "I have synesthesia."

"I see."

"You do terrible things. You plan murders."

"You and everyone in the CCG building kill for a living, all of you are not so different from me. This world is eternally grey in my eyes. No one is a true hero." Ren crosses her arms, "A utopia is a fool's dream. The beauty of the human conscious is that we can categorize what is right and what is wrong. As long as there's that, there will always be black and white."

Akaashi thinks back to what she'd said to him many weeks ago, "Yet you said that you want to make this world a better place for the Young Master."

She smiles when the Young Master is mentioned; he belatedly realizes that she's actually quite pretty though the years have taken a toll on her, "That's true too. We're all hypocrites." She points to her bed, and Akaashi knows that this conversation is over. "I'm not going to sleep anytime soon, so you can sleep there for the night. You'll need to stay low for a couple of hours until the CCG clears the area, then we can plan to meet up with Ayato and the others."

Akaashi mumbles a word of thanks, climbing in as Ren places a pair of noise-cancelling headphones on her ears and starts typing on her laptop.

He dozes in and out of half coherent dreams, waking up for a few seconds at a time before the thick blanket lulls him back asleep. By the fourth time Akaashi wakes up, she's still at her work table, face illuminated by her laptop screen as Akaashi blinks twice to focus his eyes at the clock before squinting. She's not typing- she's looking at a picture of someone with alabaster skin and hair that falls somewhere between blue-violet. He has his arms wrapped around a younger Ren, both of them wearing formal wear as they pose with a man for a family portrait. There's a strange expression on her face that makes his heart tug for her. A tear slips down her face.

"...Ren?"

She doesn't respond because of the headphones, and Akaashi is at a loss, watching the most threatening ghoul in the CCG database shed tears.


Chapter Text

 June

Bokuto wakes up to Kuroo sitting in a chair as he reads the morning newspaper. His tongue is parched, and he looks around in confusion, wondering how he was transported from one place to another in his sleep.

"Ah careful, Bo."

Bokuto collapses back on his back when he feels the skin around his stomach rip, "Ow!" He yanks the blankets off and sees red seeping onto the bandages wrapping around his middle, "What?—"

"Looked like they got you," Kuroo purses his lips. "Well, you were still alive when we found you, but man, I swear Chiyoru thought you were dead... I don't blame her personally, you were lying in a dark alleyway with a huge cut in your stomach area, face down I might add. If you didn't die of blood loss you could have contracted some nasty infection.... We couldn't tell how much blood you lost since the rain diluted everything so we phoned Iwaizumi for an emergency transfusion. Do you remember what happened?"

As Kuroo retells what the CCG saw, Bokuto fists his blanket, swallowing the lump in his throat. 

"He's alive."

Kuroo frowns, puzzled, "Who's alive?"

"Akaashi."

Kuroo glares at Bokuto, mouth opening to say something, closing when nothing comes out. Bokuto swallows again when Kuroo looks past him and onto the wall behind his head, "...That's not funny."

"I saw him. He was the phoenix ghoul you told me to chase."

A rough hand runs itself through Kuroo's hair as he shakes his head, "He had the same injury Iwaizumi had!! Blood was everywhere!"

"He's like me."

"That's stupid! That's—That's...." Kuroo looks at the front page of the newspaper he'd put beside him. The headline has been the same for the past week ever since Arima died, Tokyo: A War Zone, "Are you sure it was him?" He looks at Bokuto again, "You really saw him?"

"I talked to him too once I caught up to him."

"Why is he working for them?!"

"Because he knew that the CCG already put a number on his head! Kuroo, you know the Aogiri works. Iwaizumi and I would have been killed if we came back. We were ready to die when we handed ourselves over to you. Akaashi knew the risk and he wasn't taking it."

"Why—"

"We reviewed the video of the scuffle with Renaissance's team. He knew there were CCTV cameras on the trucks, so he must have figured that he's wanted now. And after last night, Chiyoru must be reviewing the footage from Cochlea right now, isn't she? He'd show up there too. She's probably adding more charges to him."

"Why couldn't he have laid low? Why did he have to be part of that dangerous team working with those ghouls? God damn it!" Kuroo stands to his feet and shakes, eyes searching around the room to kick something. Bokuto watches him without inputting anymore information, afraid he's going to be more upset. "Five months! Five months after everything and then we find out he's alive! As a half-ghoul no less! What— what a joke this world is!"

"Kuroo..."

The man doesn't respond, pressing his hands into his eyes, turning his back to Bokuto, "Give me a minute." 

He sees his clothes on the side table and slowly sits up, not missing the stack of briefing papers below his shirt and pants. A big meeting between the head of the military police and half their team has been scheduled after lunch, and it seems that despite his rank (and status), they've extended their invitation to him. He stuffs the special pass in his pant pocket; the meeting is being held in Ushijima's wing and there are guards standing at every door.

"This meeting's the one Chiyoru-san's been preparing for right?"

"That's right," Kuroo says, his voice coming out strangled, "She's trying to reduce the amount of graduates we need from the Academy because they have zero experience, but there's nothing she can really do. Everyone who took field work in the Academy are being called back to the front lines. Angry...isn't enough to describe her."

"That means her eldest and Mamoru..."

"Yep, her son and her husband who just woke up from his coma. The odds are low, to be honest. The military police have backing from the government and they want all those who went to the Academy to participate, field work major or not." Kuroo turns around, eyes dry as he points to the newspaper on the floor, "It's all because of that. They're making the public anxious, though I don't disagree with them...Arima's gone after all.... I'd never thought we would personally reach this point where we would so dare to involve civil servants with no training to help."

Bokuto takes out the USB stick out of the envelope holding the briefing papers and plugs it into his CCG phone, turning to Kuroo and leading them out of the room.

Kuroo easily matches his long strides to the elevator, "Are you sure you want to go? You were lying in an alleyway a couple of hours ago."

"I'm fine," Bokuto firmly states, looking down at all the documents that popped up. There's over fifty documents- impossible for him to read it all. His stomach rumbles, his mouth is dry, but he feels jittery, "I can sit in a meeting."

Kuroo dubiously looks at him but says nothing when the elevator doors open to the Special Class floor, showing Bokuto the way.

The briefing room they're using this time is large, the largest Bokuto has seen. Black out curtains are suspended from floor to ceiling, already block out any sun as the harsh, overhead light beams a white glow on the sleek steel tables. Chiyoru looks up from her seat next to Ushijima and Oikawa, sitting at the seat closest to the head of the table. She breathes a sigh of relief.

"Bokuto, are you alright?"

He says yes and slips into the seat near her, noticing that the one next to her is already occupied with someone's suit jacket. "Thank you for looking out for me."

She frowns, "No, I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn't have told Kuroo to tell you to chase after him. That phoenix knew the area well and trapped you." She looks a little unfocused, eyes darting to the watch on her wrist. "We already had a briefing about it while you were sleeping, I've sent you the summary on your phone."

"Thank you."

"It's not a problem," She breezily waves it away as Mamoru appears, sliding into the chair next to her and nodding a hello to Kuroo. He slides her a cup of coffee and leans back against the chair, gazing up at the ceiling. Chiyoru focuses on her drink, checking her watch again before drumming her fingers on the table, pretending to be calm when Bokuto can see sweat forming on her forehead.

"...I've never been in here," Mamoru opens.

"It was built after we left for Germany," Chiyoru answers.

"Ah."

"Yes."

"I see."

Bokuto decides face forward and across their table, Marude gazes at the ceiling.

What's up with them? He texts Kuroo.

I don't know, but it's super awkward and I want to bury my head in some sand like an ostrich, Kuroo replies.

"Bokuto!"

He looks up to see Iwaizumi and Oikawa enter the room, speedily jogging down the sloped walkway on the sides before stopping between he and Kuroo. There's a bandaid on Iwaizumi's elbow, and Oikawa has a tight smile on his face, limping a little, "How are you healing? Do you need food?"

"No, no, I'm fine. Really," He adds, "I think that was the best sleep I've gotten in a long time."

Iwaizumi cracks a tired smile, "That's good to hear," He gives Bokuto a firm pat on his shoulder and greets Chiyoru and Mamoru before going to the other side of the room where Oikawa is sitting next to Marude. The door at the top of the room opens, and Ushijima escorts in a few men and women in business suits and army uniforms. The prime minister takes his seat at the head of the table, Ushijima sits next to Chiyoru and a woman with her hair tied up in a bun sits on the other prime minister's other side, flanking Marude.

"Let's start," Ushijima tells the room quietly. Even though it could hold a hundred, only fewer than twenty are present. And by the looks of the different badges on the uniforms, they're all high ranking officials. Bokuto sweats; no wonder Kageyama wasn't allowed- why did Chiyoru give him clearance to be here??? "This is the prime minister, and to his right is the commander of the ground force from China, Ms. Ling Zhang."

The commander mutters a quiet hello, her Japanese crisp and neutral sounding. She gazes once around the room as Ushijima fills in how they've met in the past when they had to help them with the Chi She Lian, "Ushijima," She interrupts, looking at Bokuto, "Why are there two ghoul in our presence?"

Bokuto feels Mamoru bristle beside him, and sees Oikawa's jaw clench.

"They're part of the CCG."

She regards them with another stare, and gives a short hum before dropping her shoulders. She mumbles something to her subordinates in her native tongue and Mamoru translates for him, this will be interesting.

"Let's start negotiating," Chiyoru wastes to time in attacking when they sit back down. Zhang sits this one out, relaxing in her chair as she waits her turn, "Prime Minister, I simply must refuse you to let the Academy graduates participate in our extermination."

"Oikawa-san, no matter how many times I say to you, you don't understand. Statistics do not lie; you simply have too little man power without extra help. Zhang has provided us with some relief since we helped the Chinese in the past—"

"They're only twenty-four," Marude slides in before Chiyoru can reduce the strongest man in the country to ashes with her glare, her cheeks flushed with anger, "They will have no experience in a real battle. They're going to be a burden to their team leaders when the time comes and we will be sitting ducks."

"As if we're not sitting sucks, Marude."

"Sir—"

"Is it not your own fault that you've been reduced like this?" The Prime Minister quietly interrupts him, looking at both Oikawas, "Is it not your actions that dictated the fall of Special Class Arima and Akaashi? Both," He pauses, "who were the strongest investigators you had? Your actions cost you and brought you where we are today, and I cannot pardon the fact that we need more manpower. The military of both our country and China have already gave us their numbers, and it would only be fair that we give them our power too." He looks down on the itinerary, "Zhang, let's discuss about the tentative numbers and the soldiers from your side."

Chiyoru's face has slid into a petrified mask, eyes swimming in barely concealed panic. Across, Marude mirrors Chiyoru, shoulders stiff. Tooru has closed his eyes, Iwaizumi's left arm shifting below the table to hold his hand. 

"Oikawa-san, your thoughts?"

Chiyoru releases a quiet sigh, looking up with her eyes dry before inputting her opinion.

 

"-and we interrupt your evening with a news of a massive car pile up on the Shuto Expressway. There has been no deaths so far, but all traffic are blocked and backed up for several hundred meters. We estimate a two hour wait time for the traffic to be able to move, and suggest rerouting-"

Ren sighs, turning her phone off as the radio app cuts off. Akaashi, who's been sitting on her bed the entire time sorting her massive collection of books, is anxiously waiting for the green light to return to the Aogiri. 

"No good, there'll be police crawling everywhere."

"...The sun is still out," He looks out the window, unsure. "Can't we risk it?"

"I'd rather not," Ren frowns, texting Yahaba. "I'm not in my best shape, so if we do get cornered I can't help you, and you're not very good at fighting against groups of people anyway."

A dictionary slips off his hand and smashes his big toe, but Akaashi barely perceives the pain as it thumps onto the floor.

Ren's thumbs halts.

"You're hurt?"

She tries to backpedal, "Last night was too exciting—"

"Ren-san," Akaashi hisses. "Don't hide it, what happened to you when you were hiding?"

"Nothing."

"Ren."

She clenches her fists, her kakugan flickering in and out, "It's none of your business, half-ghoul," She spits, tendrils of her kagune waving threateningly behind her as Akaashi slowly stands up, hands slowly raising to his chest in alarm. Her signature pink ropes burst from her curled hands, wrapping around her discolored arm.

"Ren, I'm sorry."

Her bikaku tail continues to split, the tips already hitting the ceiling of the room as she closes her eyes to control her breathing, sweat gathering on her top lip. The vines on her arms retreat in a jerking motion. He continues to watch her, nervously lowering his hands when her kagune disappears and she collapses to the floor in a heap.

"Don't come near me."

He lowers his hands, and quietly says, "Okay."

As Ren sits up, he watches her eyes continue to flicker, breathing heavily as she stumbles to her feet. There's something dark around the corner of her mouth and he's met with the bitter scent he knows. Ghoul blood. 

"Don't tell anyone. Especially not the younger ones." She points her finger at him before he can open his mouth, "I mean it."

"Is your body eating itself?" He sadly asks, knowing the answer immediately when her eyes betray her. "But Hinata's body didn't eat itself when he was on the RC Cells-"

"I'm defected," She says it like it's a curse. "I don't know why I'm like this. Eto's body is nothing like mine." She goes to the mini fridge and pulls out a bottle of black tea, fumbling with the cap as she twists it off, "Shouyou's mind won't be able to handle it, and I didn't want him to suffer anymore than he's already suffering-"

"Then what makes you think you can take his place?" Akaashi says without thinking, "You're what? Forty? And you think you're young enough to run around Tokyo?"

"I'm thirty-six! I'm not as helpless as I seem!"

"Then!—"

"Then nothing! Stop treating me differently because I'm like this," She strides up to him, hazel eyes heated. "You best not forget who the CCG failed to capture multiple times, and who lead each battle the Aogiri Tree won."

He looks down at Ren's down-turned mouth, "I just want you to remember that you don't have to do the things Eto asks of you."

She scoffs a little, a laugh sliding in at the end, "As if that's not what you did when you were with the CCG, and with us too." She takes a quick swing of her tea, wiping her mouth. "In the grand scheme of things, we are all useless, replaceable pawns in Ushijima's and Eto's hands. They shape us however they want us to be.... It's that or death by the other party." She lowers her eyes, bitter. "Not all of us have a second chance at life."

There seems to be a second side to her words just now, but Akaashi doesn't press any further. 

"Other than making an army of kakujas, what does she want?"

"Oh, I don't know," Ren airily replies, "Total world domination? It seems plausible," She caps her tea and sinks into her computer chair, pale. "Best to sleep, Akaashi, I'll wake you up if the roads are clear." 

Her headphones goes over her ear, signalling the end of the conversation.

 

 

"Bokuto-san."

"What's up?" Bokuto snaps his head to the left, definitely not wiping drool from his face as the screen eerily lights Kageyama's eyes.

The computers in front of them are replaying the CCTV footage of Renaissance's attack. There's a little wheel Bokuto can use to rewind or fast-forward the video as much as he wants. Kageyama's finger points to an inventory report before frowning, "Iwaizumi-san said that the Aogiri were stealing quinque steel?"

"Mhm," A bottle of ice tea is opened and Bokuto waves it to Kageyama, whose eyes are too glazed for his liking. "A good amount is missing. Why? Did you find something else?"

"The trucks that night were also delivering other things. The lobby was damaged so the trucks in the back carried steel, cement, iron, aluminum, and wood. Things like that to rebuild the lobby," Kageyama minimizes the window and logs into his CCG account, pulling up the floor plans of the building, pointing at the amount of materials listed needed.

"...Did they steal something other than quinque steel?"

"Iron and aluminum, only those two," Kageyama says, bringing up the video again and zooming into the furthest trucks, supposedly carrying the less important supplies. "See...you can see Mad Dog's ghouls separate into two groups. One for the quinque steel and the other one for iron and aluminum."

"I'm sorry," Bokuto confesses, "But I don't see the big deal behind this. Maybe they want some building supplies as well?"

"That's all right Bokuto-san," Kageyama pulls out his cellphone and speed-dials Oikawa, "Turned into powder, iron oxide and aluminum are the used in thermite reactions— Hello? Oikawa-san, I'm sorry to bother you but can you come down here?"

"What is it?" Bokuto hears Oikawa complains, "I was about to sleep!"

"The Aogiri, they're going to make a bomb."

 

"In room temperature," Yachi explains to Ushijima's office, "both solids are stable, but once heated, they burn in an oxygen-deprived environment and can withstand water. It's mostly used in railway wielding and can weld metals," She presses a button and moves the presentation along, before coming to the last slide. "But why are you asking me what thermite does?"

"Because, Ya-chan," Oikawa says, from Iwaizumi's lap, hair sticking up and sleep crusting his eyes, "The Aogiri stole some iron and aluminum from us and Tobio-chan deduced that a thermite bomb might be made."

"W-Was the quinque steel a cover up then?!"

"Who knows?" Oikawa grumbles, "I'm too tired for this shit."

Iwaizumi jabs him in the stomach, "Yachi, what would happen if they use it as explosives?"

Yachi sweats, "Um, well, it can melt concrete...steel pillars...glass...just about everything. The reaction is hard to stop once you start it," She pauses again, addressing the elephant in the room, "This isn't good."

Hanamaki's laugh cuts the atmosphere in the room, "It's so bad I'm laughing. Tell me Tooru, did they prepare us for the exponential scale of bad shit that was going to happen once Arima died?"

"To be fair, it was already like this," Iwaizumi swats Hanamaki's leg.

"Shouldn't we do something?" Kageyama asks uncomfortably.

"Like what?" Oikawa peers at the inventory report with glazed eyes, a manic aura surrounding him, "Contact the Ministry of Defense and keep an eye out for any orders of iron and aluminum and apprehend every buyer? What's next? Fertilizer?" 

"We should at least do something," Matsukawa tugs the papers out of Oikawa's hands and walks over to a whiteboard, "Pen, Ushijima."

A black marker whizzes through the air before it gets uncapped.

Matsukawa writes Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in a messy scrawl, "Someone get a hold of them and look into recent purchases of iron and aluminum. Obviously we know that the Aogiri took it from us, but we might catch them lurking around where majority of them are stored. Kageyama, you can do that. If they get caught, we can organize something later on. At least we know how much explosives we're working with."

"Okay."

"Next," Matsukawa grins lazily, moving closer towards the middle of the whiteboard, "Is to map out all of the Aogiri hideouts. Put recons on them twenty-four seven. See if the ones they stole from us are being split apart or kept in one location. That way when we fight them we know how many bomb deployment teams we need to bring along with us. Bokuto, you know the Aogiri best, can I trust you with this?"

"Yep!"

"Iwaizumi," Matsukawa walks over and claps a hand on his shoulder, "You're a combination of the Aogiri and CCG. You know both very well. What would you do if you have a bomb in your hands?"

"Alert the general population, suppress the panic," Iwaizumi lists off, frowning, "I would keep if in a safe place other than that."

"Bingo. Kuroo, you get to be on ghoul activity watch. See where they're making the most fuss," Matsukawa caps his marker and gives a bow, grinning at an indignant Tooru, "And that's how you solve a problem."

"You should be leading everyone then."

"Too much work," Matsukawa yawns. "I'll leave it to you, Commander. My genius-ness only comes every ten years."

Ushijima takes a picture of the whiteboard with his phone, "Matsukawa and Hanamaki, there was a meeting earlier in the morning about the official numbers China is sending us. I want you to lead the collaboration with their investigators. You might know them."

"Okay," Hanamaki agrees easily, looking around and realizing that everyone but Ushijima has been assigned something except for Oikawa, who is two nods away from falling asleep, "What are you going to do?"

Ushijima looks at the whiteboard calmly, eyes guarded.

"Betray my father."

 

He waits at the graveyards, drawing a coat over his dress shirt and blowing on his hands. Even though summer is in full swing, the nights are still chilly, and the hills where he is especially more so because of the wind that sweeps along the ports.

"You actually came," A female voice interrupts his musings, in German no less. "I feel under-dressed."

Ushijima looks up to see Renaissance walk towards him, wary and dressed in black with a hood covering her hair. There's no bulge of weapons on her person and no one following her. She stops a few paces in front of him. 

Now that she's motionless, he can see a slender build, clearly not one of someone who fights.

"I was the one who asked you to come, of course I'm here."

Her tongue is quick, reverting to Japanese, "You're alone too, no less." She pulls out a can of hot coffee from her pocket, holding it out towards him.

He takes the can even though he doesn't like coffee, "I can handle myself fine."

"Sure about that? I'm the Arima-killer now. You're not safe with me."

"Ai," Ushijima starts, saying her name again for the first time in many years, "Why...? How did this happen?"

Ren looks down at him. They have the same nose and eyes, though the curve of her mouth is sweeter. Apparently deciding that the cemetery is safe enough to drop her guard down, she comes and sits crossed legged next to him, resting her back on the bark of a large tree. Their knees don't touch, but Ushijima can feel the warmth from her anyway.

"It's a very long story, we'd be here until the sun sets tomorrow if I tell you all of it."

"A truth for a truth then. You're my sister."

"Correct, you're my half-brother. My turn: our father cut my face as a warning and gave me enough money to go halfway around the globe. He told me that if he were ever to see me again, I'd be brutally killed by his quinque."

"Lie," He breathes.

"No," Ren shakes her head, "It's not a lie. Why would I lie?"

"He wouldn't do that, he's a fair—"

"Wakatoshi," She warns, constant growing thicker as her accent shows through in her anger, "You're talking about the man who wanted Special Class Akaashi to be turned into a ghoul, feeding him right into the Aogiri's filthy belly. Isn't he also the one who released a statement that all recent graduates will be taking part in the mass extermination? You know deep down that it's a suicidal move. Your father is not who you think he is."

"Then I suppose you know him better than I do?"

Ren turns at the accusation, face perfectly smooth and guarded, "I know another side of him, that's all. Humans have multiple facets in them."

"What about you then?"

She smiles, "You can make that decision, I'm here only because Oikawa Tooru and Chiyoru were too daft to realize that I've been hacking into multiple accounts for years to manipulate the CCG's moves when you figured it out after meeting me. You should change your password every three months, you know."

"Ai—"

"We have former investigators turned half-ghouls, RC-cells, numbers, explosives and kakujas," Ren cuts him off, "Right now, it's summer and festival season is in high swing regardless of the terror that looms over us. We have an endless amount of prey while you have to ask other countries for help. What do you have, Wakatoshi? Are you sure you can get out of this one alive and well? No one will be hiding in their offices when the time comes." 

It might have been the longest sentence she's said to him so far. She stops to take a sip from her can. He copies her, turning away and looking at the lights below them.

"It's suicidal, but what else can we do?"

A small bubble of laughter passes Ren's lips, "When I have trouble falling asleep, I think about what I would say if I ever met you."

"You stabbed my hand and killed Arima," He pauses, humoring his sister, "You nearly took out six squads by yourself. It's a very strong first impression."

"I'm glad you find me memorable," She mocks. "Should I curtsy?"

"Ai," He turns his entire body to her, "Would you consider coming back?"

She was the sister he never had, one of the two people his father never talked about. Her existence is a taboo, but he still has pictures of them when they were younger. Was she aware that she has her own tombstone just meters from where they're sitting?

"I was under the presumption," She begins slowly, "That you never liked ghouls. Or agree to ghoul-human friendship. Or relationship."

He squirms under her gaze, "I was mistaken, prejudiced. It opened my eyes to have Iwaizumi back...and to see how happy Oikawa is. You're not so different from us, you have your own goals and ideals like we do. It's just this world that is wrong."

Her good eye blinks sadly at him, "You have your answer. I'm a murderer, hacker, and a half-ghoul. I have a price on my head," She says softly, "You put it there. I can't come back."

"I'm sure we can...we can do something—"

"It's too late for that, I think," She plucks some tall grass and sets her can beside her. There's some dandelions near them and she starts making a flower crown, "Oikawa Chiyoru spent her entire career tracking me down. Her brother, husband and children want my blood, as does everyone under Arima. Even if you took in Iwaizumi and Bokuto, the price would be too high," She finishes tying the last one in place and leans across, placing it on his head, "I think you'd be the only one happy to have me, even if we don't know each other yet."

She goes about plucking more flowers to make a crown— or necklace. This one is longer. All of her nails are black.

"Ai."

"Hm?"

He changes his mind at the last minute and blurts, "Are you married?"

She gives him an incredulous look before snorting, "No, do you find me so irritating that you want to marry me off if we come out of this battle alive?"

He is thankful for the darkness, momentarily forgetting that ghouls have better eye-sight than humans and that Ren could probably see his neck flushing, "No, I just. Wanted to get to know you."

"I'm flattered," She wryly says with traces of amusement, "Are you married?"

"No."

"Ex-wife?"

"No," He pauses, "Do you have a lover?"

She hums, "Maybe, I haven't had time to think about it much. He's back home, in Germany."

He says this delicately: "Is it reciprocated?"

Ren attacks another dandelion and starts pulling at the petals, letting them fall between them, "Gee, it's as if we're having a slumber party. Is this how the ghouls you interrogate feel like? Do you ask if they have children too? What about you? There must be at least one person who caught your eye," When he looks away she gasps lightly, "Tell me!"

"Ow! Your punches are painful!"

"We can talk about my punches later," She grins, egging him on. Ushijima is temporarily reminded of the female masses at school who chased Oikawa throughout the halls on Valentine's Day, "So? Who is it?"

"She's a senpai," He grits out slowly, "I just admire her...willpower."

"Bullshit, you're blushing, I have better eyes than you."

He swats her hand away, "I did not ask you to come here so you can use me as a punching bag."

"Yes, but this topic is better than the one you're working yourself to ask me," She reaches a hand to fix his flower crown, tapping his jaws shut. "I'm not blind, Wakatoshi. I know why you called me here. Aside from asking me to come back, and what happened to me when we were little, you want to ask what the Aogiri's next move is."

Ushijima picks a flower, "I wish the situation was different."

Ren hums in agreement, "Unlike all the previous exterminations, I will be participating in this one."

"Oh."

"Do you want to know something?"

"You're going to tell me regardless," He says, watching her shoot him a flat look.

She takes the dandelion out of his hand, fingers cool as she molds his fingers to her throat.

"The CCG will be slaughtered," Her pulse stays even, beating hard against the pressure her hand forces against his own, "And I will be the one destroying them."

Chapter Text

August

 She's about to cut her engine when she hears it, her blood running cold as she turns up the volume on the morning radio.

"—we interrupt your morning commute radio with the latest update from the Chairman of the CCG, Ushijima Senior. It's publicly known that he had allowed graduates of the Academy to participate in field work from here on out, but the statement has been retracted. The new policy that was released minutes ago states that all Academy students will be allowed to exercise their right to partake. We're currently waiting on one of our ground crew who are waiting outside the CCG office for Oikawa Tooru, their representative, to answer our ques—"

She bolts for the elevators, swiping her ID card and pressing for the Special Class and Research floor. A happy ring tone makes her flinch, and she checks her phone. Takeru. His messages are coming one after the other, fragments of words and letters growing fuzzy as she looks on with dazed eyes.

Tsuru is outside her office when she steps out.

"Mom!"

"Absolutely not, don't even think about it," She slams her lanyard against a scanner, Tsuru following her as she enters her office. She draws the blinds up and lets the morning sun stream in, cracking open a window.

"You haven't even heard what I was going to say!"

Chiyoru turns to her daughter, a perfect replica of Mamoru's features on her face, from her eye color to the shape of her mouth. The exception is her button nose and the fury as she leans forward, Academy tie swinging between them, "I don't know what the Chairman was thinking but I'm not letting you join the extermination."

"All Academy students are allowed to exercise their rights!" 

It means many things. For most of her college's sons and daughters, it means that they can stay home.

For Tsuru, it meant that she's willing to participate.

She sits down on her chair, shaking her head, "No."

"I thought you'd say that," Tsuru growls, "But it doesn't matter. I don't need your permission."

"I can override that decision," She says, finding a loophole. The age of adulthood is still twenty. Takeru's past that, but Tsuru is still in her first year. "Don't think I won't."

"Oikawa-san," Her secretary pops in quickly with a few files in her hands, spotting Tsuru sitting down with a surprise, "H-Here, these are for you."

"Close the door behind you when you leave, Youko-san."

The door shuts, though it doesn't stop several investigators who want a word with her to come to her door before seeing her daughter sitting in front of her. She watches her little brother falter before spinning around and pushing Iwaizumi away, mouth opening in a silent conversation.

She opens the first file briefly, not looking up, "First period starts in fifteen minutes. There's bikes in the garage I can lend you—"

"Are you sexist?"

The question throws her off guard. Tsuru is glaring at her, shoulders strung tight with tension as she spits, "You let Takeru participate but not me! Why? Is it because females are physically weaker than males? Is that why you ran away from being an investigator and turned to law?"

"W—"

"Even Dad is fighting in this one and he was in a vegetative state months ago!" Tsuru yells, springing up to her feet, "All of our family are fighting! I saw the notice board when I was waiting for you and it said that you're even put in the front lines as a field medic! Why are you making me watch my family walk to their death?! Do you know how it feels to hear your professors pat your shoulder and tell you not to worry that everyone in your family is going into battle? That I'm the only one left behind?" 

In her blindness, she'd forgotten.

She'd foolishly forgotten that it looked that way to the outsiders. Her daughter is sniffling, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes before spotting the tissue box near her and snatching it.

Someone is knocking on the glass window and she tilts her head up, surprised when Mamoru is standing there, eyes wide.

She quickly opens her door and shuffles him in, pulling the blinds of her office down to maintain a semblance of privacy as Mamoru places a warm cheese croissant on her glass table and crouches down.

"Hey, hey, Tsuru," She hears, turning around to see him pat her hands gently. "What's wrong?"

Tsuru sniffs in response, Mamoru throws her a helpless look.

"She wants to participate in the battle."

Their daughter is shaking her head, "I can't just watch all of you fight without doing anything. F-First was you," She turns to Mamoru, "Then it was Uncle Iwaizumi."

I can't just watch all of you fight without doing anything.

"It's too dangerous," He tells her in a quiet tone, "I know it's hard watching us. You feel helpless, don't you?"

She slowly nods, raising her head high enough that Mamoru pats her tears away with a smile, "Can't you and Takeru stay back?"

"Takeru can, but I can't. Neither can Ka-san," Tsuru's eyes darts to her passive face for a second before flickering back to Mamoru.

"Don't you...fear death?"

She watches her husband shake his head, "I do fear death, but I fear losing my loved ones even more. Even if I could make the world a little safer for you and Takeru, I'd do it."

While Mamoru convinces Tsuru to eat the cheese croissant he'd brought, she calls Tsuru's first period professor and explains her absence. It turns out that her old professor is her teacher, and she listens to him gush about how hardworking her daughter is before bidding her goodbye. 

She leans against the door, watching Tsuru washing her face in the en-suite bathroom.

"Tsuru."

Her daughter looks up from patting her face dry, several strands of hair stuck to her forehead. She immediately turns wary, "What?"

Chiyoru turns to see Mamoru gaze at the meaningless certificates and awards on her wall, politely giving her space. She turns back to Tsuru, "You think I'm being unfair to you."

"It's the truth," Tsuru avoids her eyes, rubbing her forehead before folding the towel and placing it in a wicker basket in a corner. "Don't you ever think about how I would feel if I lose both Dad and Takeru in this one?"

"Then how do you think I would feel if you died?"

Her mouth opens before slowly closing, her eyebrows pulling in together.

Chiyoru continues, "I would have failed. Once as a mother and another as one of the few planning the extermination. Keeping both you and Takeru has been my top priority— I'm going to try my damn hardest to make the Chairman retract the policy on graduates participating."

"I'm too young," Tsuru harshly laughs, pushing past her and grabbing her school bag from the floor. "Too inexperienced."

Mamoru hurries after her, and Chiyoru is left alone in her office, looking at her reflection in the oval mirror as she reaches forward and pushes down firmly on the faucet.

Her secretary meets her at the elevators as she watches the doors slide shut, Mamoru escorting her downstairs where Takeru would be waiting for her.

"It's about the new statement isn't it?" Youko hesitantly says.

Her anger at the Chairman comes back, momentarily forgotten in the face of Tsuru crying, "Yes. Where is he, do you know?"

"He's in meetings all day, I checked with Goshiki."

She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, "I'll be in my office."

Tooru is cautiously hovering outside her door and she sends him a look so venomous that he hightails back to Iwaizumi. In the safety of her office, she raises up the blinds again and checks the clock before submitting herself to reading the extermination plans, her mind far away.

By mid-morning, there's a knock again and she looks up from her computer.

Mamoru fumbles for words, "Hi."

"What can I do for you?" She asks wearily, watching her office darken as the clouds cover the sun.

He settles down in the chair Tsuru had occupied, closing his eyes when the sun peers out, harsh shadows appearing under his eyes. 

"I think we need to talk."

"Talk about what?" Her voice doesn't shake even though her hands does. She pulls them under the table to hide them.

His mouth opens the same time Youko runs into her office.

"I'm sorry for intruding, but logistics wants you," Her apologetic brown eyes darts to Mamoru, whose earnest expression turns stony.

Chiyoru stands up, grabbing her lanyard from where it hung on the back of her chair. Youko scurries out of her office and she moves to follow her before hesitating at the door, looking back.

"I'll see you later...?"

Mamoru nods once, and she excuses herself.

 

"You haven't told my sister?"

Wakatoshi fumbles with the soy sauce lid, watching it fall onto the floor before rolling and hitting the wheel of the tray carrying a sushi platter. Another private meeting had ran long, all of them reviewing the tentative plans logistics had submitted to them earlier.

"She hates her," He points out, meeting Oikawa's eyes, "She'll tell my father that I'm going behind the CCG's back."

"I didn't think your rebellious stage would come in the form of treason," Oikawa murmurs watching Hanamaki, Matsukawa and Iwaizumi push each other on who gets to wash their hands first. Kuroo is helping them clear the files and papers off the coffee table.

"What kind of deal did you strike with her, Ushijima-san?" Kageyama.

"She knows our every move, she'll try to minimize the damage."

Even pardoned by the military office several days ago, seeing that everyone knows that it was the Aogiri who had uploaded the video from the CCG's server, Kageyama's frown doesn't disappear, "She knows we're going to lose anyway, how do you know that she's not playing us?"

"She's hacked her way into our system for years after each security update. She could have done us in many times, but she hasn't," Suga slowly says, joining Oikawa on the couch. "I think that means something."

"She's patient then," Kageyama scowls, sipping out of a milk box, "She'd baited Chiyoru-san abroad for nearly seventeen years."

"Even so, there are some things my father is doing that I disagree with," Ushijima turns to Kageyama, "Like lifting the ban on graduates and those in the Senior Academy. I heard Oikawa Tsuru was making a fuss today. To send people like pawns on a chessboard just to be capture is not right, it's slaughter."

"She must want something. Renaissance is a cunning ghoul even if you're both related."

Iwaizumi walks out of the bathroom, dress shirt rolled up to his elbows as he accepts a set of chopsticks from Oikawa, "Kageyama has a point. Did she tell you what she wants out of this?"

"No, we didn't talk for long. Oikawa, do I have word from you that you'll keep this from your sister?"

"As your Commander, I don't approve of it," Oikawa frowns, "But I can't do anything to change your mind. What is she going to do? The Aogiri knows that we're sitting ducks. Too low in numbers to goad them out."

"She said once they get enough weapons...they'll move," Ushijima turns to Bokuto, "That means half-ghouls and kakujas right?"

Bokuto nods and shares a look with Iwaizumi, "Did you see her kagune? It was..."

"It was amazing," Suga says with a twist of his mouth, "From a ghoul's point of course. No wonder she was able to take out six squadrons by herself."

They dissolve into lighter topics, of the weather and the festival they could catch if they leave the office right this minute. Oikawa is making his very best pleading eyes at Iwaizumi and Hanamaki when Matsukawa sidles up to Ushijima with a cup of water.

"You coming?"

He shakes his head, watching Bokuto drag Kageyama by the arm. Kuroo and Suga are trying to convince Daichi to leave his computer for the next couple of hours and indulge in some shaved ice." 

"Call us if you want to join us," Matsukawa claps him on the shoulder, shutting the door behind him quietly. Ushijima looks at his empty office and sighs, leaning back on the office chair and spinning it so he could see Tokyo below, alive and bright.

On his table among the confidential files and reports is a small glass vase carrying a single dried dandelion.

 

Tatara coolly looks up from the laptop screen she propped in her lap, a map of all the wards with little figurines that were supposed to represent the executives who control them, "This is your plan?"

"Yes."

"What do you think of it?" Eto asks from somewhere behind her head, pacing in the small meeting room at the end of the hallway. If Ren strains her ears, she can hear Akaashi going over the right strokes for kanji to one of Kyoutani's men who hadn't gotten a chance to write below.

"Interesting," Tatara flicks his eyes up, "What makes you think the CCG won't send reinforcements?"

"They're already low on manpower. They'll leave the 24th ward alone and spread themselves out, with most of them assigned to the Main Branch. If you want to take them down you'll have to aim for the head."

She taps a key and watches the two Ushijimas and three Oikawas' pictures appear on the first row before every single Special Class joins them below. The icons then distributes itself, "An executive and two teams to each Special Class. With that, you'll leave majority of numbers in the tunnels. I can work with that."

"We're leaving you alone with Eto."

"I can handle our kakuja, don't you think?" Eto sings, stroking her cheek with an absent hand. "And she has to be in the Main Branch with me instead of the 11th. Have one of your people take her place, Miza."

Tatara stares at the screen again. She doesn't swallow in fear that he'll hear her throat click.

"Everything good?" Eto.

Tatara nods once.

When they file out of the meeting room, she walks away not knowing if she just made a grave mistake or not. She needs a moment to herself, turning in the hallway and going up to the fire escape and throwing her weight against the door until it pops open.

She takes her shoes and socks off at the edge of the rooftop, dangling her feet below as she watches the children run below her, Hinata's orange hair visible from above as he herds them around into a game. There's a large expanse of blue from horizon to horizon, white dotting the sky lazily as she pats the cement behind her to check if it's dry.

"Oh."

Ren twists her head around, catching Akaashi awkwardly hovering at the door.

He gestures with his thumb, "I'll go back."

She shakes her head, "It's fine, come sit with me," She hastily rolls down her sleeves as he lowers himself down, lying on his back.

"The meeting went well?"

"As well as I could have hoped," She joins him and shields her eyes from the sun, enjoying the warmth on her skin. It rained a couple hours ago so the air wasn't as humid, and there's was a faint chirp of crickets from the woods below. Her eyelids starts to droop.

She misses Ammerland, how the shadows fell on her skin in patterns, of Shuu, of his laugh.

"I haven't seen you around."

"I've been busy planning the extermination. If I'm not locked in a room with Eto and the others, I'm training."

"For?"

Her silence is his answer. He doesn't push anymore.

"Do you miss home?"

She turns her head to her left, gazing at Akaashi's profile as he closes his eyes against the sun, bangs softly waving in the slight breeze. He looks so pale that he could be glowing in the sunlight.

"I thought you weren't one for nonsensical questions," She replies. "This is new, did something happen?"

"It's just an honest question. Yahaba and I were talking about it earlier— what we would do when everything is over. You don't need to answer it."

The battle between the Aogiri and the CCG had spanned for so long in her memory that she could barely remember what life was like before. She probably was overseas when they started to fight. When everything is over is a statement she's been mulling over. There are plans, of course, in her head that would be needed to be implemented directly after Eto is dead. She would have to talk to Wakatoshi, plan the future out together. There wouldn't be true peace until a long period of time has passed.

She finds herself answering it for some reason, "I guess I do. You must miss the CCG."

When Akaashi doesn't answer, she pokes him on the arm.

He opens his eyes and turns his head towards her, "I have mixed feelings about it."

"Did I show you the world?"

"You made me remember—" He sits up and gestures to the people below them, "—that they're individuals with goals and feelings. They're not so much different than the rest of us. They're still human," He gives her a thoughtful look. "Thank you."

There's warmth blooming in her chest and she lowers herself back, letting her mouth spread into an easy smile. Happiness is still a strange emotion to her as she recalls the way they'd spat at each other until the tentative truce was called. 

"You're welcome."

After a beat, Akaashi joins her, both of them spread on the roof like afternoon cats napping.

 

There's a head tucked under his chin, a warm weight half lying on the left side of his body as Hanamaki slowly rubs his eyes before waking to see a white ceiling.

Matsukawa continues to slumber, his curls on Hanamaki's collar bone. His eyes, behind closed lids, are twitching.

With his right hand free, he reaches to the side, using some acrobatic skill to grab his phone while keeping Matsukawa unaware. The apartment the CCG put them in is warm, the sun streaming in strongly from the window on his left. With the majority of the Chinese up to date with ghoul capturing tactics, they're not needed in the office until much, much later.

"'S warm," Matsukawa says, sleepy.

"It's summer."

"You're sweaty."

"Yet you're still clinging onto me," Hanamaki pokes Matsukawa's cheeks, watching him drive his head further into his— that is, Hanamaki's, because they have two pillows on bed but Matsukawa is a thief— pillow like it's a portal to an alternate universe where he could sleep longer. "So who's the nasty one here?"

Matsukawa grunts his answer into the bed as Hanamaki steps into the shower and shivers as all senses of the hot, disgusting, sticky summer warmth is replaced with numbing cold water. He hurries under the cold current, squirting some melon cucumber gel Oikawa had given him several months ago on his hand instead of the lavender scented soap because it tickles his senses wrong.

"Hurry up," Matsukawa whistles into the tiny en-suite, ignoring Hanamaki rubbing a towel on his head as he strips and closes the shower box door. A succession of sneezes follows as Matsukawa turns the shower on cold.

It's a weird limbo they're living in right now amongst their friends and those who reside in the Special Class and Research floor. The Aogiri is a looming threat, yes, but it's always been a lingering weight that they all carry.

They make breakfast in the tiny kitchen. Kettle, eggs, bread, cheese, in that order. Matsukawa drinks tea while Hanamaki takes his with milk and sugar. They shuffle over to the living room and listen to the news while gazing out into the first ward, gleaming towers of steel springing up from dense, lush greenery, ties slung over the couch.

Despite the fact that they're very well going to be neutralized in the near future, everyday things like making breakfast and eating cheese-egg on toast is beautiful.

"Makes you think of China, doesn't it?"

He turns to see Matsukawa place his mug down, reaching over for a navy tie, "China feels like a lifetime ago, believe it or not. It almost doesn't feel real."

Matsukawa usually makes a quip about how sentimental he is, but today, he gives him a small smile instead, extending a hand to him as they leave their small apartment and join the afternoon crowd bustling for lunch. Hanamaki buys a bouquet of flowers, heading towards a large hill, the sun unforgiving as the humidity snakes underfoot.

Oikawa Chiyoru is standing in front of his mother's grave, a bouquet of purple flowers lying near her feet as she bends her head down.

"Takahiro-kun," She says once she lifts her head up. "And Issei-kun."

He bends down on one knee as Matsukawa hang back several paces away to give them privacy. They're not the only ones here— there's some other families of investigators who didn't come home after the first wave of Chi She Lian.

"Thanks for visiting her often."

Chiyoru clasps her hands in front of her, eyes soft, "Of course. She was my first mentor before I turned to law," Then, "Sometimes I regret switching."

He tilts his head at her, narrowing his eyes against the glare of her prosecutor badge pinned on the lapels of her white pantsuit and the sunlight, "You do?"

"You have those thoughts too, don't you? 'I could have done something different. I should have done something different.'"

He turns to look at his mother's tombstone, reaching forward to brush off a stray speck of pollen away. He absently brushes a finger against the tattoo on his forearm, "They call those thoughts poison. I slipped into a coma for four years but I saved Issei and several other investigators. Maybe there was something else I could have done that would have a different impact, but I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to." 

She's silent for several moments, "I forgot that happened."

"Mattsun told me you visited while I was under."

"You're her son, of course I would visit," She looks troubled now, "Not that I'm trying to replace your mother—"

He laughs, "Chiyoru-san, it's alright. I know what you mean," Matsukawa's head swivels in his direction at his laughter but turns back as he listens to a widow gesture to her family clustered around a tombstone.

Chiyoru is staring at the widow's family, a pair of grandparents holding the hands of a toddling girl and her older brother. It seems wrong to see such a solemn expression on their faces when the city is so bright and vibrant.

"One last push."

She laughs emptily, "Indeed. One last push."

"Worried?"

"When am I not worried?" She slips a lock of hair behind her ear, quirking an eyebrow at him, "Everyone we know is going to participate. I feel really helpless at times, being a lawyer while my little brother and his friends gallivant away," She turns her attention to the little girl and boy again, "And to see children like them...it breaks my heart."

Hanamaki watches the little girl hold onto her mother's leg as the little boy starts crying, "They're a little older than Tsuru and Takeru are when Mamoru-san..."

He suddenly feels relieved at the fact that he and Matsukawa don't have any children. It'd be terrible to leave them behind, burdening them of the possibility that they might not come home from work today or be visited by CCG personnel dressed in black, a testament letter in hand. 

Except his father went through all of that. And he did too, eighteen years ago, the world as he knew it crashing down, Houji ducking his head down and Ushijima Senior apologizing.

"Cherish the present given to you," He says simply.

Chiyoru shoots him a look, "Pardon?"

"If there's one thing I've learned over the years," He looks back at Matsukawa plucking dandelions from the ground, weaving the flowers into a crown with quick fingers, "It's that we should appreciate the present regardless of the pain the past brings us."

"If I should live long/ Then perhaps the present days/ May be dear to me/ Just as past time filled with grief/ Comes quietly back in thought," Chiyoru quietly recites, quickly switching to another version of the poem, "If I live longer, might I look back fondly, upon these days? Just as the past I once found bitter, now seems so sweet."

"You still remember Honda-sensei's classical literature class?"

"He was my favorite in high school. First period, never admonishes me for being late. He adored Mamoru," She smiles, "It was that poem that stuck to most of my friends and I. Very fitting with our situation."

He looks back at his mother's stone, "Are you scared?"

"Aren't you?"

The weight of the question hangs between them.

"I don't know," He answers honestly, "Some days I wonder how I'm alive and some days I know I'm good enough to beat them. I just...have to do my best. I can't control everything, but I can control my outlook on life and cherish what I have right now. I guess you would be scared the most out of all of us. You don't fight."

The sun is warm, and so is Chiyoru's arm around his middle.

He wraps an arm around her shoulder.

"Your son is turning into a wise person, Hanamaki-san," Chiyoru murmurs, "Doesn't he sound dependable?"

"I'm dependable?"

Chiyoru looks up at him, "Don't you think so? You've made peace with yourself, that's the best thing you can do."

He hums and takes a look back at Matsukawa patiently waiting for him as he strikes up a conversation with another family. Chiyoru steps away from him, jerking her head to the northern entrance where Hanamaki can see Ushijima wave at her, "Wakatoshi-kun is calling for me."

"Are you at peace?" Leaves his mouth quickly, stopping her from advancing. 

A stray hair escaped her bun and is curling in the humidity as she flicks it away, her eyes are wide, "To tell you the truth...I don't know."

Then she's running towards Ushijima, both of their strides matching as they hurry back towards the Main Branch.

Matsukawa slips an arm around his shoulder, mouth near his ear as they watch them turn a corner, "What were you two talking about?"

"A heart to heart, maybe. It was a lot of things."

Matsukawa lays a crown of flowers on the grave before stepping back, "Well, we're being called too. Shall we?"



He flies back, slamming into Yahaba's arms as Kyoutani stomps forward and glares down. A clap of thunder rumbles outside, rain splattering the windows.

"You suck at fighting!"

They've been working on their hand-to-hand combat skills in preparation for the extermination. Since Akaashi and the rest of Ren's team have prices on their heads, they haven't been able to roam around Tokyo, and the restlessness was getting to everyone, especially if one considers Kyoutani's already short fuse.

"I fight with a quinque," Akaashi struggles as Yahaba pulls him up with a huff. "You would be dead if I have one."

Kyoutani scoffs, both eyes shining red, "Well, there none right now for you, so you're dead meat regardless. Fix your shit stance!"

Akaashi takes a deep breath, coaxing his bikaku tail into a longer, wider shape before sprinting a couple of steps and stopping, shifting his hip out as his tail whips Kyoutani off his feet and into a wall.

The reverberations shudder throughout the building; he can hear people below wondering if Kyoutani and Yahaba are fighting again.

Kyoutani pulls his lips back in a snarl and launches forward.

Akaashi swats Yahaba aside with his tail, raising his arms in a block as Kyoutani slams into him. They roll on the ground of the training room, cement meeting the bruises on their body over and over again. They stop and Akaashi jumps to his feet, keeping his center of gravity low as Kyoutani takes swipes of his face with fists.

When his fists strike home, Akaashi blinks stars out of his eyes and breaks his bikaku tail, brandishing a slippery piece of kagune the length of his forearm. Kyoutani pales when he sees it.

Yahaba laughs.

"Who's side are you on?" Kyoutani hisses to his boyfriend, taking half steps back as Akaashi moves in closer, using the weapon as a distraction to get closer before tossing it away and swinging his body into a hook kick.

His foot catches Kyoutani's jaw, snapping it.

He backs away as Kyoutani holds his mouth, RC cells covering his lower face as he heals.

"Do you yield, Kyoutani?"

"I yield," Akaashi says to Yahaba in place of Kyoutani, who probably can't talk until his jaw stops swelling, backing away to his water bottle as Kyoutani swats Yahaba's hand away and marches away from the room in search of Hinami. The kagune disintegrates into dust on the floor, which he sweeps into a corner.

"I think you're improving," Yahaba says as he helps Akaashi stretch out, pulling at his arms. "Ignore Kyoutani, he's a sore loser."

"I bet."

"Ren-san is the only one who he admires," Yahaba hums, "Her and Iwaizumi. He didn't like Bokuto for some reason."

Akaashi feels the soothing feeling of his muscles being pulled taut, and lets his forehead touch his knees, "Bokuto-san is very...bright. And excited. I reckon Kyoutani has trouble working with Hinata in that regard."

"Look at you, you sure you're not being trained to be a Commander?"

"With Oikawa still healthy, I have no chance of dreaming to be Commander, not that I want it. I prefer working on my own like Kyou—"

The door to the training room bounces off the wall.

Kyoutani's eyes are wild, "Ren's hurt."

Akaashi grabs his shirt from the floor and flies out of the room, opening his mouth like Ren had shown him, breathing in. He follows the scent of rose to an unused room. Hinami is inside, as well as Hinata, who has his head bent over Ren's middle.

"Is she—"

"I'm very much alive," She turns her head, dried blood around her mouth. Her nose is off-centered and there's already a bruise that's yellowing on her cheek and collarbone. Akaashi walks further into the room and lowers himself on the floor, looking at her black fingernails and remnants of her kakuja armor crumbling on her neck.

Hinata sniffles. Ren rubs his head gently until Hinami finishes wiping off the dried blood off her face.

"I'm going to re-break your nose," She warns.

Ren nods, closing her eyes as her eyebrows scrunches for a minute at the crack. Red veins creep up to the surface before they disappear. She leans up, letting the blanket covering her drop. Akaashi, Hinata, Yahaba and Kyoutani divert their eyes away as Hinami hands her a clean shirt.

They sit in silence as Ren guzzles down some sports electrolytes mix and chews on something that looks like a human heart. Yahaba fetches a pillow and another blanket.

"Thanks everyone," Her eyelids flutter. "I feel better."

"Nee-san—"

"I'll talk to you all tomorrow, Kyoutani. Akaashi, stay here."

"How is your kagune progressing?" She opens her eyes when the door shuts quietly, staring at the grey ceiling.

"How are your wounds?" Akaashi asks instead, lowering himself down on the floor.

Ren continues to chat in a calm tone as if she's detached herself from the pain, "My nose will never be the same again, a tragedy I must endure, but the rest of my body is doing well. I will still be useful in the extermination."

"Ren—"

"I took out most of the kakuja army for you," She closes her eyes. "We were using each other to train and I took out the stronger ones."

Then she struggles to sit up. Akaashi moves forward automatically, frowning when she's breathing too heavily from the simple motion. She looks far, far worse than he'd last seen her on the rooftop several weeks ago.

"You're not looking good—"

"Several weeks ago, I had a talk with the Chairman's son, Ushijima Wakatoshi."

He doesn't know what to say at the declaration, "What?"

"We're siblings. Half-brother and half-sisters."

"What?"

"Your face is funny, I need a picture."

He immediately scowls, still thinking about the kakuja army, "This isn't—"

"Isn't funny, I know, so listen well," Ren furrows her brows together, "My twisted family story can be set aside for later, but I told Ushijima of what the Aogiri is planning: a mass extermination that will slaughter the entire CCG force. He agreed to work together. I'll know their every move from their reports and whatever they put in the CCG database, and I'll minimize the losses."

"What will we do?"

"You're going to fight along with the rest of them, but don't kill. If possible, just break their legs so they can't walk and keep on moving. We will lead them along v14, using explosives to collapse the structure. It'll all be engineered so no one survives, but I control the underground tunnels, and will make sure that my detachable kagune in the walls drill a hole for them to escape."

"The well-being of the entire CCG falls on your shoulders?"

"Scary, isn't it?" Ren humorlessly says, "Good thing I have morals."

"Isn't—" He splutters, "—Isn't there a better plan?"

"I'm all you've got I'm afraid, my team isn't influential enough. It's even amazing that I have one," She mutters the last part to herself, voice worn.

Akaashi looks at her pale complexion, of her still healing bruise on her cheek and the large shirt Hinami had handed her. It's not a very clean plan, but because Ren has been planning the movements of nearly every battle, she'd win the trust of the Aogiri quickly. "Is there a range limit to your detachable kagunes?" 

She grins darkly, a hint that her kakuja nature would not be kind, "What do you think?"

 

 
"Is that all?"

Several heads around the table nod, eyelids drooping as she gathers all of the files with her and tucks it under an arm, escaping her chair and hearing the bones in her back snap into place, "Then I'll take my leave, gentleman."

The door shuts with a quiet click behind her and she sighs, checking the time and wondering if the cafeteria still has food or not. The nth emergency meeting for the month had dragged on longer, Ushijima Senior never once meeting her eyes throughout. Wakatoshi looked uncomfortable as most of the investigators in the room had been: they've all heard about her daughter. 

Mamoru had done a better job at consoling her even if he'd just met her several months ago. It goes to show, she thinks bitterly, that I've failed as a mother.

Her feet, as her mind is spinning in endless circles, takes her to the eastern wing of her floor by accident, where she sees Mamoru as a tiny speck in the further corner of the gym. He's in shorts and a t-shirt, grey shirt growing dark where the sweat had accumulated as he pummels a punching bag hanging from the ceiling.

She toes off her heels and knocks on the wall as a greeting, watching his head snap up.

Then she's rushing forward as the punching bag knocks into his face.

"I'm—" He holds his nose with one hand, the other one held in front of him as she rushes forward, "—'m fibe. Fibe."

"Don't lie to me," She threatens, shaking off his hand as she runs to the first aid office, "Let me get something."

He's sitting down cross-legged when she comes back with a roll of tissues and a first aid kit. After he's stuffed tissues in both nostrils, he throws her a puzzled look at the latter.

A pan slides underneath his hand just in time to catch the saline she's pouring on his scabs. He's not wearing gloves, and the temporary clot is oozing thickly, the clear solution turning pink.

"Chiyoru."

"You said you wanted to talk," She reminds him, drying a hand with some gauze and putting it away, pink staining the surface. She grabs a salve and takes a Q-tip, spreading the strange green balm onto his skin before wrapping it. The air between them is thick, uncomfortable, making her stomach roll. "I'm free now." 

He wheezes out half a laugh, the other half sound like anger to her ears, "You're very accommodating all of the sudden."

"I could go back to my office right now."

He pauses, "That was callous."

She takes a deep breath, "I'm sorry," Then, with forced air, "What did you want to talk about?"

He waits until she's done wrapping both of his hands before reaching into the pocket of his shorts, tugging out a familiar white envelope, the black characters stark.

Testament letter.

It's that time again. No wonder everyone in the meeting looked drained. No wonder her floor was so quiet when it was usually full of her brother's voice fighting with Wakatoshi.

"Oh," She hears herself say.

He places the envelope between them, "We should be focusing on the extermination right now, but we haven't had a moment to ourselves ever since you visited me in my hospital room.

"I don't want to walk into battle thinking about the words I could have said to you, all twenty years' worth of memories left aside. I don't—" He chokes, "—I don't even want to think what would happen if I don't come back this time."

Out of everyone in the logistics meeting, at least half of the investigators inside wore a wedding band. They had partners, children, a home, a pet, family. They had written their letters and submitted to their head of department or squadron leader to be processed. Mamoru had done the same exact thing before he left for China. He had a partner, children, a home and a family.

They were happier back then, weren't they? She was the one who tore everything apart. She doesn't understand why he's still so loyal to her after all she's done.

"I know you've changed," Mamoru begins, "And that Tsuru thinks you made the wrong decision choosing your career instead of me, but I don't care about that. It's your choice and I respect it. I can't imagine what I would have done if our positions were switched," He squeezes her hand.

Her throat tightens.

He was always, always kind.

She could still remember telling Takeru and Tsuru, sitting in Tooru's apartment, the toll of grief weighing down her shoulders for the very first time. She had dropped him off at the airport and was slapped in the face by reality when she saw him connected to the life preserving machines months later.

"Why don't you hate me?"

He looks incredulous, "What do you mean why don't I hate you?"

She's shaking her head now, "I'm not the woman you once know. I changed."

"You did," He agrees.

"I'm a—I—Do you know what they call me in Germany? Mephistopheles, a demon," She pins him with her eyes, "I filled the prison in Germany to the gills and nearly did the same here in Japan while I was abroad. I fueled myself with hatred and spite. Every week I saw you in that vegetative state and never more did I want to end the Aogiri right there and then. 

"Houji," She continues, "Accused me of hiding from you when you first came back, and that's the truth, I'm sure you remember. I'm nothing like the Chiyoru you once fell in love with, and I still don't know why you came back over and over again to me. Why are you doing this, Mamoru.... Why me? The legacy I'm leaving behind is not justified. I'm a monster."

Even after all of this, he's still kind to the core.

"I never cared about that stuff."

"I'm a terrible person," She wants to shake him, frustrated that he doesn't understand what she's been trying to tell him.

"I don't care."

"Mamoru—"

"Love," He cuts her off, "Is not something deserved, it's given freely."

The corner of the envelope wrinkles as he leans forward, knees pressing against the mat, "I know you think you're different, but there's still familiar things," He tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, "Like the way you take your coffee, your favorite food, the way you never exploit anyone. You've been carrying all of this weight onto your shoulder for a very long time and dare I say it, it's just like you. You always hide when you don't want to confront something painful.

She hid in Tooru's apartment when they were expecting Takeru. She turned to her career when Mamoru came back connected to machines. She stayed away when he came back. It's all true, she always hides when something painful occurs.

He leans in closer and lowers his voice, a soothing blue, "You asked me if I could really be married to the person you are today, and I say yes, if you'll have me," He lifts one side of his mouth up. "Houji...Shinohara and Kuroiwa...even Aura...they were all on the other side of the world as you were locking ghouls up, they couldn't help you. And even if they were beside you, they wouldn't know what it was like to walk down the road you chose. None of them has experienced that. I admire you for that." 

He ducks his head down and rubs her knuckles.

"Wouldn't you give it a chance?" She looks up to see him laughing, wiping his eyes "We still have time, short as it is."

Time.

She has to swallow repeatedly, Mamoru turning into a blur of brown and grey as her tears splatter onto the mat, "I'm sorry for being a coward."

He pulls her to his chest, the envelope further crumpling as she wraps her arms around his waist. Mamoru is shaking his head, chin beside her ear, "This is enough."



Akaashi is rolling his socks on next to Kyoutani and Yahaba when Ren steps into the common room with hairties, back from hiding the ghoul children in a safe house. There's still traces of sleep in the room, several sleeping bags and cots dragged so everyone slept under the same ceiling for one last time. Hairs are still mostly disarrayed, and empty plates of human flesh are still lingering on some of the tables and furniture, the blood long coagulating into a sticky pool of red.

She hands several to him and ties her short hair back, crouching opposite of them to lace up her boots. Her dark circles tell everyone what needed to be known.

"That scarf is a hazard," Yahaba says, frowning at her neck.

Ren shrugs, tugging at it a little. It looks expensive, "I'll be fine."

He sweeps the red cloak over his shoulder and straps his mask to his belt loop, following Ren as she walks out of the compound, a certain buzz surfacing in his veins. Dawn is just beginning to break. 

They wait until Hinami and Ayato walk out, carrying the heavy communication devices in large backpacks. Ren groups them into a huddle, debriefing them one last time on their roles.

"Let's go," She orders.

Akaashi enters the tunnels with the other Aogiri ghouls, breathing in the dampness in the air and smiling wryly. Thermite would burn well here. They'd separated and measured the iron and aluminum enough that it wouldn't collapse the entire tunnel down, only taking out fragments of the supporting structure to crush and trap soldiers. Ren had calculated it all to very specific numbers. She had Akaashi double-check them.

He sees Ren next to Eto, blank-faced and nodding every now and then as she receives orders. They move into place, spread out along the entrance closest to the Main Branch. This is where Akaashi had entered; Kanou's lab. 

"Don't get too injured," Ren says, before she disappears with Eto, walking deeper into the tunnels. He nods and turns his comms on, hearing Ren's light breathing before switching to the CCG channel. It's quiet. They're not here yet.

"They're coming," Hinami's voice buzzes.

The CCG's intel is half correct; the Aogiri will be inside, but Kyoutani and half the Aogiri will block their escape, trapping them in. 

It will leave majority of Tokyo in one piece, Ren had said several days ago, looking down at a map, the tunnels were mine in the beginning anyway. It's only right that I get to destroy my own creation.

"Be safe," He hears Oikawa's voice go through his ear, tired and familiar.

Akaashi peeks over the pipes in the ceiling, watching the first batch come in. He sees Oikawa Takeru as he follows some lower class investigator Akaashi has seen once or twice in the Main Branch. He pulls his mask on and turn to look at Yahaba, who does the same.

Together, they leap down.

Chapter Text

After he twisted Takeru's foot and accidentally broke his father's nose in a scuffle, Akaashi had the sense to grab their headsets away from them and empty their guns of Q-bullets, the cartridges kept in a pouch by his side. He smashes the quinques so that they wouldn't work to their full capacity, kicking it far enough that the investigators can still grab them for use if a stray Aogiri decides they're hungry. Yahaba has gone ahead to join Hinata in another part of the tunnel, leaving him alone.

"Not going to kill us?"

Takeru leans his back against a wall with his right foot bent wrong, sitting. He's kept his boots on and tightened the laces in order to keep the inflammation down.

"Not today," He says, watching Takeru's face as his eyes widens at his familiar voice. Takeru must have sat in his lectures as a younger student, or maybe he was one of the eager ones who came up to his demonstrations to sit in the front row.

"A—"

He puts a finger to his mouth, pulling his hood up to cover his mask. The pipes above grumble; the forecast said that it was going to be raining all day. Ren had been worried about it leading up to the battle, checking that the storm drains aren't blocked in their final sweep of the tunnels yesterday.

"Akaashi?"

"Yes?"

Hinami relays his next set of instructions, "There's going to be a group intercepting Owl. Ren wants you close by just in case. Iwaizumi, Ushijima Junior and Bokuto are leading the team. Over.

"Roger, over."

The CCG isn't going to waste manpower trying to draw out all of the Aogiri's best fighters, Yahaba said last night around the pallet they use as a table, eating dinner, Owl and Ren-san will be their main priority. They will send their best to destroy them. It'll be quick.

His blood hummed beneath his skin. Akaashi isn't used to running here and there while the fight builds up to its climax. He was sent to kill once his target has been sighted. It was a perk of being a Special Class.

As he takes a corner and spots a set of stairs leading up, he stops and starts climbing, hand clutching the rusty metal. His stomach churns.

Maybe it was because this was where Iwaizumi had traded his human life for him, and where he had done the same to Kageyama.

He'll be happy to see the tunnel gone after everything is over.

Ren waves from the pipes, and he takes a running start at the wall and launches himself with his bikaku tail. She catches his arms and squeaks, nearly pulled down by his weight before digging her feet in.

"Neat trick," Ren huffs once she hauls him up, "Wonder where you learned that from. Akaashi, I need to go somewhere."

"What. This wasn't part of the plan," He narrows his eyes. "Just because this entire thing was your brainchild doesn't mean that you get to change things with a snap of your fingers!"

She calmly fixes his mask, tugging it even over his nose, "Do you remember how I told you that there's something you need to do for me a long time ago? This is it. This was always part of the plan, I just didn't tell anyone."

He gapes brazenly at her, "Is it always going to be like this?! Hiding information away from your team until you decide to run off like a child?"

"It's better for them to not know than to risk their well-being," She hisses, "You should know this. The less someone knows, the safer they are. I would never put my team in danger."

"So you're going to leave me with Owl, a half-insane kakuja who plays me like a doll," Akaashi presses. He suddenly wants to grab Ren's shoulders and shake her briefly, or peer into her brain and try to straighten the tangled web of truths and half-lies that makes her person, "You ordered Tatara and Noro to wreck havoc in the other wards to leave me alone with her?"

She opens a pack of milk bread, biting into it, "I didn't order them. The executives all control a ward and will attack their respective CCG branch so the Main Branch won't be expecting any backup. It's a good plan," She waves her bun, "Do you want some?"

"I'm a half-ghoul."

"Right. The CCG can cry about losing backup. Oikawa Tooru will realize how badly outnumbered they are in the next few minutes when all the calls go in. Hinami has been blocking them for me while we wipe the first wave out. The team hunting Owl is still going deeper into the tunnels."

"When are you going to come back?" Akaashi asks, grabbing Ren's wrist as she moves to throw her hood up. She'd pinned her bangs aside and both of her eyes are open. Her human eye really is the same shade as Ushijima's.

She smiles, "Will you miss me?"

"Don't do anything stupid," Akaashi reminds her, "Even if you have a lot of cards up your sleeve."

 

 

 

She runs up Owl's expansive back, climbing over the kagune protruding out of its shoulders until she reaches the ear, "I'm going now. Akaashi is close by."

Owl snickers, "Taking revenge on your sire?"

"You did promise me that when I came to Japan."

"So I did."

Ren jumps onto Owl's offered hand that lowers her to the floor. She pulls her hood up, retracing the way she came in, heading towards Kanou's Lab where Oikawa Tooru and the Chairman would be overseeing investigators.

"—Medic over to—" Comes Oikawa Tooru's voice over the CCG channel. 

"—Kyoutani stop throwing trucks just because you can—" Hinami admonishes.

She coughs, stopping Kyoutani from hissing, "Listen to her."

"Nee-san," The petulant voice whines. "Just several."

"Empty ones only. Leave the Command truck alone," She says before turning her comms off, smelling Akaashi's presence in the chamber as she spots a lowly Aogiri ghoul heading towards a field medic standing in front of Oikawa Mamoru.

The son is screaming off to the side, held back by two senior investigators, and she launches herself off the pipes, smashing her bikaku tail into the ghoul's side and whipping it straight into the wall, where he falls, slumped on the floor.

He charges at her once she's close enough, mistaking her commonplace ghoul mask as someone lower ranked than him. They grapple, and she bats away his limbs as she stands tall, splitting her tails into four limbs. When his rinkaku breaks through her guard, she dashes in and hooks his arm, flinging him down. The son yelps when the ghoul rolls near him.

Then her mask drops onto the floor.

"You—" Chiyoru breathes, looking up as she throws a protective arm over her husband. There's a bite mark on her calf.

"Me," She says calmly, striding forward and letting her RC cells poke out of her skin to envelope her lower face. She digs in her pockets and throws a roll of gauze, watching it bounce onto the husband's stomach. He looks at her, pale and worried. "Didn't expect to see me, I bet. You should wrap that."

"Why did you save us?"

"You left your family to go to Germany."

Chiyoru wasn't expecting this, it shows on her face clear as day. It was her weak point as a lawyer, Ren notes, Wakatoshi would be better at interrogations, "I did," She quietly says, dressed in armor. It's stiff around her shoulders. Ren put Chiyoru along the vanguard as a field medic, not realizing that she'd be willing to go against orders and come down here all by herself.

"I did too. And then I left my family in Germany to take revenge here, just like how you left the courtrooms and came back here to fight," She hears herself say, still looking at Chiyoru's brown eyes, "And that's why I saved you. I thought we were always similar, in a sense."

Chiyoru doesn't speak a word, stunned.

Then Ren is running, pink vines creeping up her arms, twisting in the tunnels until she charges out into the rain. The air is rich with earth and gasoline, and as she exits Kanou's lab, the wooden floors giving way to mud and pavement, she spots the Command truck, closely guarded with several nervous investigators.

She spots the Chairman and runs for him, faltering when she sees—

"What are you doing here?" Ushijima rasps, blocking her tail with his quinque. A roll of rainwater falls from his nose.

No, no, no, "What are you doing here?" She counters, breathless. She takes his entire team on at once, exchanging blows. A can of RC Suppressants sails towards her face and she watches Kyoutani leap into the air, flinging it back where it came from. Wakatoshi isn't supposed to be here!— He's supposed to be in the tunnels! Why—

Ushijima is standing in the way of his father. She can't kill him.

"Do you like my present?" Owl croons into her ear.

The rain is cold on her flushed cheeks, and she stabs her comms on, "You made a mistake."

"I know that you're not loyal. Or maybe you were someone who had a foot in each world, ghoul and human. We tried to beat it out of you, Ushijima Ai, we tempted you with a kakuja. But it didn't work. You're too soft to be someone who kills." 

The Chairman had spotted her through the glass, his pallor paling, "I killed Arima."

"And you nearly slipped into insanity from it. You nearly killed Akaashi Keiji. It doubled the guilt festering inside of you, that's why you kept him by my side isn't it? He will be safe because Bokuto knows his true form and will stop Iwaizumi from raising a hand to him. They'll all then work together to kill me while you carry out your side-mission."

Red. There's red on the pavement and beneath her fingernails. Her plan counted on Wakatoshi being there too. Owl can't be handled if there's only three people. They need four.

"You could have been Queen," Owl continues, "But you threaded too many webs. I'll let Akaashi and Bokuto reunite before killing them. I'll listen to Oikawa scream as he listens to his husband die again. And you'll watch all of this hopelessly. Wakatoshi will not let you kill his father. You shouldn't have went behind my back."

She opens her eyes to see her kakuja shell hardened around her shoulders. The CCG are watching her with bated breath, surrounding her in the time that she'd been distracted.

"You saw me as a threat, that's why you're taking me out."

"You were never a threat."

"And that's where you miscalculated," Ren says, shutting the comms off. She knew threading a web of deceit and lies like the nobles in Germany had always been her weak point, but she'll be damned if she lets anyone important to her die. She throws Kuroo off her and in a practiced move like Hinata had shown her, bites her hand as the bombs ignite in the tunnels.

 

Akaashi catches Bokuto and Iwaizumi throwing themselves over him as the walls around them explode. Bokuto's ukaku and Iwaizumi's rinkaku flatten into a shield as the cavern caves in, the ground shaking as timed explosions go off in a series. The first blast contains twenty-five bombs, all collapsing the tunnels where the CCG are concentrated. The pipes above groans as several burst open, dumping rain water on their heads.

Once the dust settles, he opens his eyes to see Bokuto hugging his chest as Iwaizumi reaches over and brushes his face, "You're alive," He sighs in relief, laughing, voice bright blue, "You're really alive."

Akaashi weakly grins, squeezing Iwaizumi's hand.

The phoenix mask lays on the floor, split into two as he sits up. A few pebbles drop from the ceiling, but there's a large column propping up a chunk of the wall, preventing them from being crushed.

"We should move to a more secure location—" He manages to say before Iwaizumi draws him into his arms, hugging him fiercely. His feet dangles in the air slightly, and he weakly grins at Bokuto, who smiles at him.

"Lead us," Iwaizumi gently releases him, retracting his rinkaku into smaller petals. 

They find a safe hallway with the help of Iwaizumi's map and Hinami's orders from the headset. Akaashi tries to hear what's on Ren's channel but finds it ominously quiet instead. Kyoutani's and Yahaba's are filled with fighting.

"You're not hurt?" Iwaizumi prompts, taking Amaterasu from his belt and handing it over to Akaashi. The familiar quinque hums in his hand. "Chest, legs, head okay?"

"A few scratches and bruises, nothing major. Bokuto-san, are you hurt?" 

"I'm good," Bokuto nods, "We need to take down Owl. Can you help?"

Akaashi takes a deep breath, nodding, "Let this be the last time."

They set off, water sloshing around their boots. Another blast echoes in the tunnels, the floor shaking as they drop low to ride the aftershocks off. The water is half way up their ankles now. Ren was worried about this.

"We have to do it quickly," He breaks off into a run, trying to remember how many blasts had gone off and how many more will come. The rain. Ren was right to worry about it. If they're underground, water has no way to go but up. If the tunnels collapse, they're all going to drown.

"Why?" Iwaizumi yells, "Hey! Akaashi!"

He shouts over his shoulder in clipped tones, watching the blood drain out of Iwaizumi's already pale face. There's always a flaw in every plan. Ren knew it. 

Was that why she escaped upwards to do her side mission? 

"—rating upgrade, I repeat, Renaissance has received a rating upgrade. She's turning into a kakuja!"

"—what form is she? How big is she?—" Matsukawa.

"—Eyepatch is assisting Renaissance—"

"—Hydra! Seven heads with armor!—" Hanamaki lets out a big whoop, a crash of static cutting him off, "—Not big though! Smaller than Owl!"

"Stop thinking," Bokuto says from his side, "You're thinking too much and I can feel it. You're only going to confuse yourself. You trust her, right?"

"I don't know," He admits. "There's a flaw in her plan."

"There's a flaw in everything," Bokuto says, about to dash into the large cavern where Akaashi had died, but before that, Akaashi grinds his molars together and makes a decision. 

He grabs Bokuto by his collar and presses on his headset, "Kuroo! What is Renaissance doing?"

"Akaashi?!"

"Answer me!"

"She's trying to claw her way back into the tunnels!"

"Over!" He says as Kuroo's yelling is cut off. Owl is sneering at him.

"You made a mistake in your plan," Akaashi says, walking forward. He stops half a meter away, the head bending down as he sees the three slits for eyes and one large black kakugan in the center. The pupil is wildly rolling around.

"You know where her allegiance lies then. She just threw away the chance of killing her sire, the thing she wanted the most in this world. You must be relieved," Owl bats Iwaizumi away with a lazy hand, who'd been sneaking around for a surprise attack. "That won't do. I can see all around me."

Akaashi angrily flicks his bikaku tail into an edge, and darts forward, arm swinging Amaterasu around.

"Foolish! Foolish!"

An arm lifts him up and he turns his head to see the curve of Iwaizumi's neck stretched in Owl's direction. He looks down at Akaashi, "You're too used to jumping into things."

Nearly nine months of relearning how to move his body had completely ruined his form; he darts his eyes to Bokuto, who's launched himself from the wall, successfully ramming his shoulder into Owl. 

"Tell me what to do."

Iwaizumi's eyes are dark, and he shoves himself in front of Akaashi as his rinkaku flattens, ukaku shards bouncing off him, "Simple: we go for his eye. The one-two counter, do you still remember how to do it?"

Partner formations. That was a long time ago, years even, he hadn't dared to teach Kageyama his favorite move, "Am I covering you?"

"Please."

Akaashi nods and together, he and Iwaizumi run at full throttle.

 

"What is this?" 

Ushijima clings to his quinque tighter as his father stands in front of the Command truck with a thunderous expression. 

Ren is hissing at him to move aside, holding onto the stump that used to be her left arm. Her kakuja armor had retreated to show her face, and all hydra heads are lying low, one hovering protectively in front of Hinata as they stand in front of the tunnels with CCG soldiers on all sides. Kuroo had lowered his quinque down, hesitating.

"Wakatoshi," His father says with forced calmness, "Get out of the way."

"Listen to him!"

He turns to see his sister, one eye brilliantly burning as he shakes his head, "You're hurt."

"I appreciate the sentiment," Ren all but growls, "But you're going to be handed to the military police if you don't get out of the way!"

"She just wants to go back inside!" He yells to his father, "She hasn't been killing anyone."

Ren nudges him away from her with a hydra head, its jaws closed, "Go back to your father."

"You hear her, step away. She'll be brought to court and sentenced to Cochlea!"

Kuroo is nodding his head frantically, eyes wide, "Listen to him, Ushijima, I can't attack you."

"Then don't, let me bring her inside and I'll come back out," He finds himself speaking, the rain making his grip on his quinque slippery. Ren makes an incredulous sound behind him, letting her hydra mouths snap on thin air when one soldier attempts to take a swipe at Hinata.

"I can't do that. She'd escape once, and I told her that if she ever sets foot on Japan again, she'll die," His father glowers. Another explosion makes the earth lurch, all of them fighting for balance.

"Wakatoshi."

He turns to see her grimacing, hair plastered to her skin. Several wet locks have escaped the clips holding them. Her hair is still golden even in the dampness, "Yes?"

"Thank you, but our deal ends here," She looks away from him, raising her voice. "Kyoutani!"

A large truck pelts towards them, and all soldiers scatter, yelling. Oikawa frantically drags his father back into the Command truck, and in the chaos that ensued as thunder rumbles above them, Ren shoves Hinata inside. 

"Ai!" Lightning.

"Do you remember how you used to copy me when were kids?" She yells over the thunder, watching the truck hit home several feet away. The metal screeches against the pavement before it comes to a stop, blocking them from the rest of the CCG. Another one sails above their heads, glass scattering across the pavement, "You tried to stand after watching me do so!"

He looks at her, hand reaching out to stop her from entering the tomb—

"You can stop following me now," She says, eyes strangely clear, wrapping a grey scarf around his neck, the material damp. "Go back safely."

She kicks him in the middle as CCG soldiers climb over the truck, and he doubles over. He looks up just in time to see her seal the entrance of the tunnels shut.

 

She collapses as soon as the entrance is barred. Hinata is at her side immediately, bangs clumped with dried blood, "Nee-san, are you okay?"

Her armor crumbles, and she pulls a capped syringe out of her pouch and wipes her inner elbow with a sterilizing pad before sticking the needle in. The boost of RC cells is needed. Hinata helps her drink some water and bites off some human flesh from his pouch, feeding it to her as they lie on the cool floors. They sit in silence, feeling the reverberations of the bombs, one every fifteen minutes after the first twenty-five initial blasts.

The water, coming freely down from the pipes above, is already up to their calves. She takes a deep breath and places a hand on the walls, feeling the tunnels shift as her detachable kagunes activate. They'll start digging a path for the CCG crew members to go in. 

"Shouyou, do you know the way to Owl?"

He nods quickly, "You should rest for a few more minutes."

"I'll do that," She says, feeling light-headed. Maneuvering the detachable traps takes a lot out of her and her arm is still regenerating. "Hinami."

"Nee-san!" Hinami yells from her head set, "Don't turn off your comms! You scared us!"

"Sorry. Please update me."

"Kyoutani and Yahaba are still fighting outside, though they're running into the city per your instructions to hide it out. Ushijima is fine, he's being guarded closely by his friends. They're not letting the Chairman go near him.

"Good."

"Akaashi has met up with Bokuto and Iwaizumi. They're engaging Owl as we speak."

"And the CCG?"

"The Oikawas and their group are safe, as well as the other sixteen troops."

"And the dead?"

"Seventy on the CCG side, sixty in the Aogiri, and one on our side."

Ren sits up straighter, "Who?"

"TsukishimaKindaichi was struggling so he jumped inHouji killed him."

The comms is silent after that. Ren takes a steadying breath and looks up to Hinata, "You okay?"

Hinata dumbly nods. She rises to her feet and offers him a hand, which he takes with trembling fingers. He helps her clip her cloak around her shoulders again and they set off to find Owl, half running and half splashing in the rising water.

 

In the end, it's always been Akaashi and Owl.

She'd killed Arima and locked the next strongest outside the tunnels, a selfish decision instead of a rational one. Iwaizumi is limping, supported by Bokuto as he holds a stitch on his side. Akaashi is wielding the quinque and kagune like extensions of himself. The skin around his eyes are covered with deep red veins.

"Go," She says to Hinata, who frowns but nods, hurrying to where Hinami and Ayato are hiding. She turns her comms on and tries to regain her bearings in the plan. The CCG are rescuing their people. All that needs to be done is kill Owl before the water takes them.

She rounds the corner.

Owl has three quinques stuck in its eye, the handles sticking out as it twitches its ears.

"Ren."

Akaashi turns around, holding an ukaku quinque in his hands as his eyes searches hers, "You're back," He's breathing hard.

She grimaces, walking forward towards him as her cloak drags in the water. There's only several bombs left, and not much time before the water that's around her knee will go past their waist, "I promised, didn't I?"

"How badly injured are you?"

"Cracked ribs," She holds up her right stump, unclipping the cloak, "This is healing and I tore a muscle."

"Iwaizumi got pierced with a shard and broke his foot. Bokuto is holding the wound shut."

Ren waves her arms in a complex motion, redirecting all nearby detachable traps to migrate inside the v14 chamber. She makes one entire wall crumble gently, forming ledges like a staircase, and watches Bokuto hoist Iwaizumi up far enough so they're not wading in the water.

"Follow my lead?" She asks.

He nods.

She splits her bikaku tail, Akaashi copying her with difficulty. Her tail continues to split until there's seven waving in the air, flattening into a sharp point as she coaxes it. Owl has three arms on each side and two legs. They have enough to stake it down.

Owl laughs when her detachable kagune explodes beneath it, but she wasn't aiming to harm Eto like that. The jump exposed its underbelly, and she uses her tail like a shark would use theirs to cut through the water, sliding right underneath Owl and whipping her tail up.

One pierces straight through a leg. Owl snarls.

"You can't win!"

She bites the fleshy part of her hand and hardens her liquid muscle into armor. Owl will always be larger than her, and she has to bulk up to keep knocking it on its feet while Akaashi stakes it down.

Another leg is captured.

"I've redirected all of your executives away. Noro and Tatara are dead. Miza is dead. The Bin Brothers are dead. You can't hide anymore!" She brings another wall down, the cement slabs crushing Owl onto the floor as it tries to keep its head above water. She nearly loses her footing, wavering as the waves lap her thighs.

"You think you can destroy me?" Owl twists its mouth, trashing hard as Akaashi jumps and stakes one arm. Then another one. She whips her tail and forces a wave of water to cover Owl's mouth momentarily as she jumps into the air and plunges her tail down.

In the end, there's no grace.

There's no fancy attack formation, no back-ups nearby, no field-medics hovering outside the cavern. There's only Iwaizumi, injured, Bokuto looking down, continuing to escape the rising water, Akaashi with his kakugan gleaming, and her. Owl is screaming half insults, the words garbled by screeches as she drives her final tail into the arm that has been swatting her.

She slumps downwards, letting her armor of RC cells peel down, watching Akaashi hack away at Owl's neck. Another bomb goes off.

She would help if she wasn't so dizzy, and Akaashi has to help her on her feet, bringing her to Eto, half trapped in her kakuja shell.

"Is this payback for what I did to you, soldier?"

Akaashi looks down, a blankness over his features even if his eyes are dark, "I doubt you could move now like I did."

Ren takes out her dagger and holds it at her throat, "Any last words?"

Eto dies with a smirk on her face. She wipes her cheek on a sleeve before being hit with a spell so large that she blacks out for a few seconds. 

Akaashi is hovering, pale and panicking when she opens her eyes again.

"The water is rising."

The bomb, the last one, the most powerful one, booms far away. 

She physically activates her detachable kagune in the walls by whipping it repeatedly with the pink vines from her hands. The water is submerging past Owl's shell now, and Iwaizumi grits his teeth when Bokuto scoops him up into his arms and enters the escape hole. 

Akaashi stares at her, bangs slicked back with blood and water. He offers his hand out.

"Let's go."

She's only felt the heaviness leaving her shoulders when her foot stops moving. Eto, her eyes glowing, is holding on her ankle, sitting up as she wriggles out of her kakuja shell.

"You lose, Ren. That blade is not quinque metal!"

The only quinque metal in the room is in the form of quinques, all of them stuck in Eto's kakuja shell. She can see the moment Akaashi pieces the entire thing together and is about to dive down into the water for weapons when she pulls him back and grabs his collar, trying to suppress the slight panic. 

Eto widens her grin.

"You go up," The escape is still holding out. For now. It's crumbling as she speaks.

He shakes his head and she forces the kagune in the wall to wrap around his waist, pulling him away.

"REN! NO DON'T YOU DARE!" He yells, trashing as more vines spring forth from the wall and hold onto him, pulling him and shoving him into the escape hole, his fingers ripping them away from his body, "REN!"

She slams the escape hole shut once his entire body is in, using the water as a benchmark to calculate how quick she has to move.

"It's always been you and me, isn't it?" She ducks as Eto pulls the dagger from her neck and spins it, a flit of silver dancing along her knuckles.

"You should have never carried this," Eto gives a few experimental slashes, "You underestimated me. You should have stayed outside and been captured by the CCG. It's the only way you would have survived!"

"No, you planned this out," The water is lapping her waist now as they stand on the kakuja shell. She looks up at the broken pipes and knows that she could still redirect some of her traps to make the ceiling cave in. "You thought I played games? I was never meant to kill the Chairman, you made me choose between him and helping Akaashi, and you knew I never abandon people!"

"You used to abandon people! That's why your soft heart is your downfall! You are a fool to waste your energy saving the CCG when you could have ended me in this cavern from the beginning," Eto dashes forward and she grabs her arms in a tight lock, both of them straining. Another pipe bursts overhead, and Eto throws her into the water.

She kicks her leg out, oxygen cut off, and gasps for air when her head breaks. Eto jumps onto her again, this time from behind, and drives the blade between her shoulder blades, wiggling deep as her screams bounces off the collapsing cavern. 

There's a mouth near her ear, gentle and coaxing, "What will it be, Ushijima Ai?"

Then, to drive the message home, Eto starts squeezing her throat.

Black enters her vision. She must think.

Make a hole in the ceiling, and both of them live. Owl will still terrorize the CCG and there's nothing the CCG can do to stop it, with so many of their staff already out of commission. Even if Eto's executives are gone, she's can easily recruit more ghouls. All of her careful planning will all be for naught— no one will be safe anymore.

But if she doesn't make a hole in the ceiling, Eto will drown along with her. The CCG will win.

Her brother— Akaashi, the Oikawas, Hinami, Ayato, Hinata, and the rest of her team— will win. They will live to see another day, feel the warmth of sunlight on their skin and enjoy the breeze playing with their hair. They'll have a future ahead of them.

It was truly foolish to think that she hoped to see this fight without sacrificing something.

Ren grabs the hands around her throat and digs her nails in. There are stars dancing across her eyes but she recalls all the lessons from Matsumae years ago, forcing every last RC cell in her body to puncture her skin open and impale Eto's body to hers to prevent her from escaping.

As a kakuja, she'd only focused her mind on one thing and it was to protect everyone. She stayed sane.

Now, she lets the insanity creeping around her conscious loose and with a mental tug, brings the entire cavern down on them.

Chapter Text

She unzips the white body bag and hooks a finger to tug out the investigator's dog tag.

"Abe Kasumi."

Kuroo scratches her name out on a clipboard. By the end of the day, they will mourn their dead in a mass vigil.

The rain and cold sneaks through her bones, settling at her extremities as she wiggles her toes in her damp boots, going to the next body bag as Kuroo follows her. Chiyoru has learnt to stop looking at their faces, all of whom who look too young to gamble their life.

Someone yelps.

Along the eastern walls of Kanou's lab, now riddled with large holes, a figure with wet hair and dark clothes clinging to his body stumbles out. Akaashi is crying out blood, managing a few steps before he falls onto the ground.

He doesn't move.

"Akaashi!"

Chiyoru runs towards the fallen body, rolling him over and checking for a pulse as Kuroo slaps his shoulders, "Oi! Akaashi! Akaashi!" He brushes his wet hair out of his face and shakes his shoulders again, "Hey, Akaashi, it's me. Come on, wake up."

"I can't find it," She mumbles, leaning down to hear if he's breathing. Her eyes spots another squadron unearthing from the wall, five field medics rushing to them.

"Akaashi, come on."

A hand comes to soothe Kuroo and she watches as Bokuto loosen his sfingerless gloves, tugging up his uniform sleeve and biting the fleshy part of his thumb. When the blood flows freely, he wedges it between Akaashi's bloodless mouth and holds his jaws.

Kuroo immediately runs off to get Sugawara when Akaashi's dark lashes flutter. She leaves them with a blanket, watching Bokuto encourage Akaashi to keep sucking.

"It's a technique to keep him alive until he has food," Mamoru says into her ear after she ducked into the tarp as he hands her a bottle of water, "He must have regenerated to his limit."

Before she could answer, the floor mysteriously rumbles, a long crack forming before the ground starts to depress.

The few CCG trucks that still remain upright reverses, the ground churning into mud and water before it caves into a sinkhole. She skitters away, watching any signs of the crack widening, ready to drag Mamoru away with her.

"I'll check," Her little brother jogs forward carefully and gets onto his knees, peering over the edge.

His face is white when he turns to them.

"Bring me pumps!"

 


There was a time where he'd walked through the halls of the Main Branch in awe of the high ceiling in the lobby, crystal light fixtures, and comfortable love-seats in the corners with the roaring fireplace in wintertime. Everything had been brand new to him then. 

Ushijima accompanies him through the front doors, the RC Gates shrilly activating as they pass through them. Several mid-ranked investigators moving bodies from the trucks to the main foyer with some secretaries left behind in the battle turn their pale faces to look at him in alarm.

Inside Ushijima's messy office, he's pushed to the chair in front of the main table where he's given a cup of water and blanket. A white-faced intern with a lab coat from Research hands him a plate with an unrecognizable lump of flesh before running out of the room.

Akaashi talks.

He lets his brain float on autopilot as he gives a full report, talking of the first time he woke up as a half-ghoul, the disgusting hunger and pain it brought him, of the confusion in his limbs and deep ache he's grown used to in his stomach. He tells the table of the Aogiri, the executives who make up Owl's personal circle and the brain that controlled it all. Ushijima listens closely whenever his sister is mentioned, but he regretfully has to continue on, skipping over the significant memories of Ren and how she had rescued him from a certain insanity as a kakuja and taught him how to fight.

Her better memories will be told later, when time is on their side.

The recording device blinks green every few seconds. The extermination. Her pale complexion, her arms riddled with healing bruises. Ren's orders of telling her team to not kill. Her scent of blood and roses. Her mysterious disappearances as she leaves her team in his hands, the trust that she needed to extend to him in order to do that. Black nails. No, no she was sane. He's sure of it.

Somewhere between Akaashi being found, inches from death, the CCG had collected their dead and started the death list. Ushijima's phone beeped many times before the battery was forcibly removed and shoved into a drawer. Outside, the first ward has opened its gates to citizens again.

At last, both of them are sipping their third cup of coffee, the plate spotless and Akaashi feeling like he could sleep for the next week or two as the moon slowly rise and cast a weak shadow into the office.

He spots something, a dried dandelion in a small glass vase.

"Dandelion are weeds, you know."

There's a dry tear streak down Ushijima's right cheek, "I know," He hoarsely says, "It just reminds me of someone. She's tenacious."

Akaashi doesn't know what to think anymore; the battle had cost him another near-death experience and he already emptied all of his head of the extermination plan and his thoughts. He wants to lie down and sleep.

"She really is."

Ushijima gives him a shirt and pants, pointing to the private bathroom in his office. Akaashi puts his face directly in the spray, washing off the dried ghoul blood, the burning water not enough to relax his muscles before he gives up and towels off. The ground crew are just finishing draining water from the tunnels, and he wordlessly follows the Chairman's son to Kanou's Lab, where he sees field medics collapsing temporary first aid tents and moving equipment back towards the trucks.

Bokuto is sweaty but Akaashi walks into his open arms and lets himself be held, cherishing the feeling of muscle and warmth. The fact that he could do this now meant that it was over. Everything is over.

"How are you feeling?" He says slowly, hearing his voice tinged with greying tiredness.

"I should be asking you that," Bokuto says, releasing him. There's a smudge of dried blood on his left cheekbone as he studies Akaashi closely. "They've finished pumping the water out, do you want to come?"

Several investigators yelp when Akaashi takes a running start and jumps, hanging in the air for ten seconds, stumbling slightly as shocks travels up his bones when he lands. The floor is still slightly wet, red splotching here and there. Many lanterns are being staked into the wall, and Suga is with Kuroo and Yachi, attempting to climb a ledge without slipping.

Akaashi sees Owl's shell and joins them, some of the investigators from the Main Branch dipping their head at him, unsure if they should be showing respect for an Aogiri ghoul. He ignores them all and stands next to Yachi, allowing her to crush his ribs as she sobs, relieved.

Someone has tugged Ren's cape around Eto's bare body, both of them held up by many kagune spikes ranging in sizes piercing through their bodies. It gleams a rich red and purple in the light. He could imagine their hair floating around their face when the cavern ultimately caved in over them before the water was pumped out.

Eto has a long spear directly protruding from her skull, a ghost of a smile on her face.

Akaashi jumps onto Owl and walks up to Ren, a faint curl of ink visible over her shoulder as she holds onto Eto's hands around her neck. His eyes goes over the purple veins, trailing over the blood-tears crystallized near her eyes before watching to see if she's breathing. 

It's stupid really, but she'd proven to be indestructible in the past.

He reaches forward and holds her cool cheek.

"Ren-san."

Nothing. 

Not even the slightest flutter of her eyes or a twitch. 

And she will never bicker with him again, will never experience the relief of everything coming to an end, never ruffling Hinata's hair and allowing her tense shoulders to relax, never meeting Ushijima on fair ground while discussing retreats and the possible future of human and ghoul.

She should be here with them.

Then they hear it, a high, golden sound emitting from the Main Branch and other tall buildings through the city. Akaashi tilts his head up and sees a spotlight waving in the sky as a tear slips down his cheek. Like the sound, the light, too, is golden. Red sparks shoot into the sky, exploding into tiny bursts before disappearing.

"What's that?" Bokuto breaks the silence quietly.

It's the first time anyone heard it, but Akaashi still remembers it being played from his first lecture, all the way back when he was in the Academy. 

"It means we've won."

 


September

With no Aogiri and no Owl, the ghoul community had descended into madness. Because of the military police, Ushijima had been temporarily relieved of his duties, and Oikawa is put to the test to control the public and its new ghoul neighbors. The CCG still took criminals in, ghoul clans fighting to rule Tokyo in the Aogiri's absence. 

Much to Ushijima Senior's chagrin, Chiyoru had order her subordinates to stop sentencing temporarily. All ghouls in the Aogiri were like him, under temporary arrest in Cochlea. In Akaashi's case, he's with the CCG and under heavy surveillance.

Mourning blacks are just another routine. He seals the envelopes with farewell letters and gives them to the messenger boys who avoid his eyes but ultimately sneak looks of him across the office, curious.

His job is easy. Receive boxes, tear them open, deliver the contents to the appropriate people, collapse the boxes and tie them together for recycling. On the first day, he'd broken down enough of them to fill an entire storage room. The mind numbing work is a paradise compared to what he'd endured, but if asked, he would trade anything to turn back time and yank Ren along with him.

One day, a package arrives addressed to him.

There's only two words written on the paper that comes with it, Pandora's Box, it says in looping letters.

Akaashi fires the laptop on and types Pandora's Box as the password. A home-screen of Ren and her foster family in Germany smiles up at him, and it makes his breathing hitch at the sight of her.

Only one icon is on the home page. He double-taps it and sits back as pages upon pages starts loading. A web browser automatically connects to the CCG's secure network and he listens to the sound of incoming mail throughout the floor, quiet pings erupting before the program begins to slowly shut down each page. A word document pops up, the cursor gently blinking at him.

He pulls out his reading glasses.

Akaashi,

Pandora's Box is my most prized possession, and I ask that you treat it with the best care possible. There's nothing malicious about the software that's running my laptop on its own— I've designed it so you don't have to follow a set of instructions that would go out the door. The emails I've sent out all say the same thing: that I coerced Ushijima Wakatoshi to work with me. This way, all the blame falls rightfully onto me.

There's something you must do for me after this message discards itself. You need to find my research documents in my files and show it to Sugawara. It has everything I know and studied about creating artificial human flesh back in Germany. It's a hesitant plan, but one nonetheless.

I've told our team to hide out in your apartment for now. They have several weeks' worth of food and supplies until whatever mess is left can be cleared up. I hope that, with my research, they can tentatively live alongside humans. They might be angry that I'm not there with them, please forward my most sincere apologies.

I had a feeling the battle could come down to Eto and I, so I prepared beforehand just in case.

Thank you for putting your trust and well-being with me. I know I haven't been entirely honest with you.

I hope you're doing well, I'm sorry I couldn't come home.

Yours,

Ren

 


"Aka-chan."

Akaashi spins around, seeing Oikawa in his normal white dress shirt and tie tucked into his breast pocket, loosening his hold on the handful of files he was returning. The mourning period is over, "Oikawa-san," He bows.

Oikawa had been cautious in approaching him ever since the house-arrest had been handed down, not knowing how to proceed when he's usually three steps ahead of Akaashi in certain situations.

"The court passed down your judgement today," Oikawa hands him an envelope, the setting sun catching his dark circles, "My sister personally took care of it," When he doesn't move, Oikawa grabs the files from him and presses the envelope into his hands. "Dinner with Iwa-chan and I tonight, it's on us."

Akaashi belatedly lifts his head, halfway to saying thank you as he finds himself in the deserted hallway.

He tears the edge of the envelope, pulling out the thick, cream coloured paper. He scans over the flowery greeting, the higher-ups congratulating on his return to health, restored rank, results of his psychological and physical test and of his loyalty to the CCG. That part curdles his stomach, and he scrunches the paper a little before smoothing it out and returning it in its folder.

Free.

"Akaashi-san!" Kageyama calls down from the other end of the hallway, eyes bright, "I heard you're back!"

"I am," He pauses, "Listen, can you...."

"You need to go somewhere? What do I need to do?"

Relieved and eternally grateful, Akaashi outlines the cardboard breakdown task and files he needs to deliver around the office, thanking Kageyama with a clap on his shoulder before taking the fire escape. The elevators would be faster, but he physically can't wait. He needs to go.

He shouts an apology to the people clustered near the fire door who jump in surprise. Akaashi looks at the RC gates, a barrier he couldn't cross for several weeks and steps through them, spinning around to see nearly all the investigators stare at him, wide-eyed. Some are awed. 

Tokyo is golden-green in his ears, an ebb of laughter and voices mingling all around him, gold, silver, light purple, bright blue, dark green, pink, orange, yellow.

"Freedom," He mumbles out loud, watching the sun dip between two buildings, the skies overhead shooting streaks of purples and oranges, clouds reflecting the color as the night chill snakes underfoot. He takes a few steps down and watches office workers hurry home in twos and threes, blazer in arm as they tug their tie loose or pull pins from their hair. Several high school students run past the front of the Main Branch, school uniform half-hidden under zipped jackets.

His feet take him to a flower shop near the building and cemetery. He looks at the ones on the display before grabbing some baby's breath, forming his own bunches of blues and purples, feeling the sensation of velvet as he rubs a petal between his fingers.

Usually, his CCG ID works as a re-loadable card, but with his new one, he isn't so sure. He bites the inside of his mouth when the card reader rejects it, patting his pockets for the wallet he's sure he left in the office.

Then the woman at the till looks up, looking like she'd seen a ghost, "You're alive!"

Taken back, he blinks before looking behind him. There's no one there. He turns back as the woman pushes the bouquet gently to him.

"I s-see you often back in the days when you were with Iwaizumi-san. Thank you," She says in a rough voice, eyes wet, "The CCG released a statement several hours ago— my two sons were in the battle. You spared their lives."

That was all Ren, he wants to say, Ren deserves it.

"Go," The shopkeeper urges him with work-roughened hands, tone gentle, "I'm sure you need to visit someone."

He swallows a ball caught in his throat, "Thank you."

She's wiping her eyes when he leaves the store, cradling his sister's favorites in his arms as he starts making the long trek to his family.

He sees ghost. It's been happening ever since his family was killed. 

Except they stopped haunting him when he was turned into a half-ghoul. He walks faster along the dirt path, squeezing through some overgrown bushes as three stones come into view.

"Tadaima," He quietly says, taking in the dirty stones and overgrown grass obstructing the years carved on the stone before bending down and brushing some stray branches away. He searches around the small clearing, wondering why nothing shows up when they usually come to him unexpectedly.

Nothing.

Just like Ren. Where he was expecting her to breathe, something in the Aogiri changed him. He can't see them anymore.

Try to live, his sister had said. He did. He lost his humanity fighting ghouls, a shell of the person he once was before he really died and became a ghoul.

Something touches his shoulder.

He turns hopefully, "Nee-san?"

Bokuto smiles back sadly at him, watching Akaashi's eagerness fade as he lowers himself in front of the three stones, silent as ever.

"Sorry."

"It's not your fault, Bokuto-san," He picks up a pebble and places it in front of his mother's grave. They'd shared their Saturday mornings together, his father ignoring the television, flipping through the paper as his sister tries to steal some of Akaashi's egg rolls, their mother stirring her coffee. That hadn't happen in ages, but sometimes, he could come here and turn away from photographs and listen to what their voices sound like, "Maybe it's for the better."

"Should I leave?"

Akaashi shakes his head, "It's fine. Am I needed somewhere?"

"No, I was running errands with Kuroo and came back. Kageyama told me you ran off somewhere and I had a feeling you'd be here."

"I never showed you where this was."

Bokuto taps his nose.

Akaashi feels his cheeks lift, the action foreign, "I forgot."

Bokuto returns his smile before the light leaves his eyes and he becomes uncharacteristically placid.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

A large whoosh of air exits his mouth, Akaashi wondering if that was supposed to be a laugh or cry, "About what? The unfairness of all of it? Who am I to complain? I didn't lose anyone," He then remembers Tsukishima's blond hair peeking out of a body bag, "Not many anyway. It's war. Losing people is normal."

He's lost many before, gone through the same anger, guilt then acceptance time and time again, but why does this loss feel worse than the others?

"I wasn't allowed to see you."

"I know. Only Oikawa and a selected few could talk to me," A cat jumps out of the bush and gazes at them curiously, its tail flicking back and forth. "It was like when you were the one under arrest."

Because it felt powerless, what he was doing. He should have been doing more. He wants to do more. All the sitting around, twiddling his thumb delivering things, the mindless work may be good for some people but he felt trapped.

Evening has turned into night, the lonely moon above them; the hairs on his arms are sticking up and Bokuto reveals a lumpy black cloth and sweeps it around his shoulders.

It's the suit jacket he left at the office.

Bokuto shrugs when he shoots him a questioning gaze, "It gets cold these days."

Akaashi buries his head in his arms, hugging his knees to his chest.

"She should be here," He grits out, pushing his fingers into his eyes far enough that stars burst before his eyes, feeling a wash of hate directed to Eto and the rest of the Aogiri. "I should have grabbed her along."

Why did she always do everything by herself?

"Even if she killed Arima?"

He opens his mouth before closing it.

"...I just...find it unfair."

Bokuto snakes an arm around his shoulder, his body radiating warmth. Akaashi leans in close. Cinnamon and ghoul.

"People were talking about you in the hallways. Said you were lucky to come out in one piece from the Aogiri."

"She was the one who managed that. Kindaichi and I owe her. All she wanted was to give the ghoul children a future."

"She did. They know a life beyond the fence now," Bokuto sighs, pressing his cheek to the top of Akaashi's head, "I wish I'd met her."

Quietly, he says, "You would have liked her."

"What about her?"

"She would have liked you. You're as energetic as Hinata and Kyoutani."

"Would she like Oikawa?"

"Hard to say. He irks Iwaizumi-san on a daily basis," He could imagine Oikawa indignantly stick his nose up at everything she says, "She'd probably avoid Chiyoru-san as long as she possibly could. Did you know that she's related to Ushijima?"

"Yea, word got out. A shocker, really," Bokuto draws him even closer, "I guess rebuilding everything will be next."

"All I've— we've known are ghouls and war," Akaashi shakes his head a little, thinking of the future, what it would look like one month from now. Six months. A year. Ten years. Fifty. One hundred. He wonders what life would be like if they all grew up without ghouls.

"You have me," He can feel Bokuto smile, "And Kuroo. Kageyama. The Oikawas and Iwaizumi. You're not alone."

Akaashi tilts his head up, nose bumping into the bottom of Bokuto's chin. They move back slightly.

Earlier, he was cleaning out the storage room that had his old desk and cabinets. Since Chiyoru was using his office, they had temporarily moved his belongings and locked it up. Today, he went in there and jiggled the lock by borrowing Yachi's bobby pin before giving up and using his kagune to slice the lock open.

He pulls out a small box, handing it over to Bokuto. 

The ring is gold, not easily tarnished.

"I don't have a speech," Akaashi feels a smile appear as Bokuto's eyes well up with tears, "But I think this time, finally, I can give it to you knowing that we won't be going anywhere for the foreseeable future."

Would fate be cruel to them again and separate them? He's willing to gamble.

Bokuto gives a watery laugh, "When did you get the ring? I didn't even realized you had time."

Akaashi thinks of a kinder time, nearly five years ago when he tagged along with Iwaizumi for his own ring shopping. There wasn't any need for rings back then— Bokuto had been assumed dead for several years, but he bought them anyway, not knowing why the gold bands attracted him so much.

"It's a secret."

"Put it on me," Bokuto beams, watching Akaashi properly twist around, wiggling the ring out from where it's resting. The ring gets caught momentarily on Bokuto's first knuckle, but it slides smoothly once it passes it. 

And then Bokuto picks him up around the waist and lifts him, lowering his arms slightly as they meet in the middle in a kiss.

The cat blinks at them when they separate before slinking back through the undergrowth.

"Where's the other pair?"

"Ah," Akaashi pulls the velvet cut out where the ring had been propped on, "It's under this thing."

Bokuto snatches it enthusiastically and slides it on. Akaashi wiggles his fingers; it's a little loose so he'll need to get it resized, but his thoughts are broken when Bokuto turns to the stones near them and crouches once more.

"I'll take care of him."

It could be his ears, but he might have heard his sister laugh from far away. He joins Bokuto, pulling out the two halves of his broken Aogiri mask from his pocket. The red feathers are a little battered and some patches are showing, exposing the metal frame underneath. He lays it gently in front of his mother, hesitating, before taking off his dog tag as well.

The broken mask and dog tag heavy with the names of the fallen students under him, both carrying the ghosts of his past. He can leave it all behind now, he thinks.

"I'll visit again soon," He promises them.

Just before they step out of the clearing, he gives a final glance back, the two halves of the phoenix mask and silver chain sitting on the stone. He smiles bitterly.

When they're about to re-enter the bright streets, hand-in-hand, Bokuto's phone vibrates. Even though they're not standing close to each other, Akaashi can hear Oikawa's impatient voice, demanding.

"Kou-chan! Where are you?! We're starving!"

An irritated Iwaizumi is speaking loudly in the background. An unfamiliar colour is snickering along, "This is why I told you to not skip lunch, dumbass!"

Bokuto grins at him, jerking his head over to the main road where, when both of them are waiting for the light to switch, Akaashi can see the back of Oikawa's and Iwaizumi's heads in a restaurant with several other investigators. He does a mental head count: Kuroo and Sawamura; Sugawara and Ushijima; the Oikawas, children included; Hanamaki and Matsukawa, whom he never met officially but seen pictures of in Oikawa's office of their Academy days; and finally, Yachi and Kageyama.

"Coming! We're crossing the road!" Bokuto beams, weaving their fingers tighter.

Bokuto is warm, and even though each step he takes still echoes of grief and a dull ache, Akaashi brings their knuckles up and brushes his lips against it.

 


On the anniversary of the battle, Akaashi accompanies Ushijima to the graveyard, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Hinata waves from the tombstone, Academy uniform around his shoulders as Natsu shyly stands behind Hinami and Ayato.

"Akaashi-san!"

He smiles, aware that happiness comes more easily these days, "How's second year?"

Hinata sulks slightly, "I might be failing several classes."

"Did you make friends?"

"Yes! With Oikawa Tsuru and her older brother. All of the Oikawas came for a lecture one day— it's confusing to keep calling them Oikawa-san."

He chuckles at that, "I can imagine."

Change is good. To move forward, something must change.

"You still haven't taken mine away," He brushes the dust on top of his stone and makes a mound of sand to poke an incense stick through. Hinata has gone several plots ahead, leaving every other one empty for them. Ushijima lays a flower across on the dirt. "Even Iwaizumi's is still here."

"I keep forgetting. Remind me next time."

"That's what you always say," Yahaba says from behind. Akaashi turns his head and smiles at the sight of Yahaba and Kyoutani walking hand in hand. Kindaichi is trailing behind them, arguing with Kageyama about something as Hinata races up to them and climbs on Kageyama's back.

Kageyama doesn't hesitate to fling Hinata into a tree. Yahaba sidles up to Akaashi, smiling at Hinata rubbing his hip, loudly yelling at Kageyama for being an oaf, "Kind of you to send all of them to the Academy."

They sit in front of Ren's little plot of land afterwards, spreading a picnic blanket on the damp ground as they clink their cans of hot coffee and pass around sandwiches. Kyoutani places a package of milk bread next to the flower as an offering, hand on the stone for a couple of minutes as he bends his head down. Out of everyone that was in Ren's team, he and Hinata took her death the hardest.

"You really buried her?" Kyoutani warily asks Ushijima, holding a stance that suggests he's expecting him to lunge forward and fight him.

Ushijima nods, brushing some hair out of his eyes. He looks as if he'd aged several years after his house-arrest under the military police, "We cut her away from Fukurou and put her body to rest. I burned all of the kagune from her body that wasn't buried along. She won't be a weapon."

Kyoutani nods. That was the right choice; Ren didn't like being a chess piece. Akaashi watches Ushijima slowly ask Kyoutani what Ren was like before being pulled into a conversation about the recent ghoul laws that was passed.

Dusk falls fast, cold seeping into their socks. They agree to see each other soon over dinner, and Akaashi is walking back with Kageyama to the CCG building when he stops and turns back, shielding his eyes against the setting sun.

"Akaashi-san?"

He purses his lips, "Make sure Bokuto-san warms up properly in the gym before we have our four-on-four," Old habits die hard even if they've been married, a subject Oikawa likes to tease him about because isn't it time to call him Kou-chan, Akaashi?

Kageyama salutes and runs off, catching up to Kindaichi.

Ushijima is standing a couple of feet away, half-hidden in the low branches of a wisteria tree as the flowers brushes against the crown of his head. There are two people hovering at Ren's grave, Akaashi has seen them before on her laptop background.

The man in his mid-thirties is stroking the name engraved on the white marble. He then reads out the Latin engraving in a deep, solemn voice.

"Amor vincit omnia."

"I'll go to the gym next time," Ushijima says in a strange tone, walking away from Akaashi. He's been like that ever since his father stepped down— Goshiki has ran to Akaashi in a state of panic more than once, voice shrill as he cries that Ushijima is missing from his office. He watches the new Chairman of the CCG edge closer until he's a foot away, where the older, greying one looks up with his spectacles gleaming. 

The man looks up too, and sees the grey scarf around Ushijima's throat. His dull eyes brightens slightly.

"Love conquers all," Akaashi hears Ushijima say, "That's what the Latin translates to," He extends a hand, "You must be her family.... Do you want to talk over dinner?"

The two men look at each other before the younger one nods and steps forward, clasping the offered hand.

"We'd love to."