To eat is a gift.
Of course, it’s something every living being needs to do to survive, but the years have invested it with significance – it’s become something sacred. The offering of food to the Gods. The parting of unleavened bread as a sign of the desert crossing. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides on me.
“Are you sure you don’t wanna go?” Hide asks, but his voice sounds a little hollow. The bright sign of Big Girl restaurant casts a garish reflection on his face.
Ken shakes his head, tries to look away.
He hears Hide sigh – a long, drawn-out sound. “Let’s stop by my place, then, OK? I want to give you those books back.”
“…Don’t you wanna bring them to the uni—”
“No, no, no. I just keep forgetting. It’ll be easier if we go fetch them now.”
Another sigh, this one from Ken. He just knows Hide will offer him something else – help yourself, why won’t you stay for dinner, maybe we should order a pizza – and the thought of it makes him feel like there’s a lump in his throat.
It’s like every refusal – every time his mouth closes around greasy, rubber-like food – stretches their bond a little more, and the thread is wearing too thin to last.
Each step they take is like the seconds in their own personal Doomsday Clock; when they walk in silence, like this, Ken can almost see all the opportunities to talk running out. It’s like stomach acid dissolving him from inside out – he’s pretty sure Hide can feel it too – but it’s not something that he can stop; it’s not something they can fix over a burger, watching a movie and eating popcorn, all those little things he’d always taken for granted. They can move up the stairs, and Hide can open the door and welcome him like any other time – but that doesn’t change the fact his friend doesn’t know what he’s welcoming.
“You can get the books on my room, I’m just gonna fix something in the kitchen,” the other boy says, and shoos him away when Ken starts to protest; the half-ghoul finds himself being pushed down the hallway and into Hide’s room. “Stay here, I’ll come back,” Hide adds, and his steps are already disappearing inside the apartment.
The books Hide wants to give him back are already arranged in a pile on the writing desk, plus a few more he’s sure his friend will talk him into borrowing. The vision of them makes Ken’s eyes burn a little, as he sits on Hide’s bed. He picks a book and starts leafing through it without really registering the words.
He hears the sound of something buzzing in the kitchen, and his stomach turns in anxiety. Eating, he decides, is not only a gift, it’s a social habit. Wars and peace discussed over luxurious banquets. Lifelong friendships and romances started with the sharing of food. Families sitting at the dinner table, celebrating the fact that they’re together, and birthday cakes surrounded by beloved ones: “the first piece goes to…” So many things he never even thought about, gone…
At least, he tries to think, I wasn’t born a ghoul. At least I know what’s like to eat and not be horrified at what you’re eating…
He thinks of every meal he shared with Hide throughout the years, of his careful kyaraben that always filled his friend with delight; thinks of Touka, trying to force Yoriko’s food down her throat, wondering about where she’s gonna go after high school, whether to part ways with her best friend. He thinks of Fueguchi-san, and Hinami-chan hiding while she ate – and before he can stop it, the tears start falling.
He can hear Hide’s footsteps coming back, and starts rubbing his eyes furiously with his sleeves – his friend is already suspicious enough without Ken crying like an idiot for no reason – and that’s probably why he doesn’t notice the heavenly scent before it starts to invade the room.
“Here!” Hide exclaims good-naturedly, and he’s carrying a tray with two mugs. Steam is drifting in upward spirals; the aroma is heady, strong, and very familiar.
“…Is this coffee?” he asks, as Hide pushes papers and books aside to deposit the tray on the writing desk. It’s obviously coffee – he can recognize the scent from miles away now – but he still wants to hear it.
“Yup. Freshly ground. Black, no sugar, right?”
“…Right,” and the words are choking on his throat. “…I – I didn’t know – you had a coffee grinder.”
“Oh, I bought one last week,” and is it just an impression or Hide’s trying to be nonchalant? “You’ve been really high on this stuff since you started working at Anteiku – I thought I’d see for myself what’s the big deal about fresh coffee.”
He sips from his mug, mutters something about acquired taste, then hands Ken his own mug, blue and decorated with yellow stars. The steam is spiraling in delicate shapes through Hide’s fingers; the mug is warm to Ken’s touch.
“Hope you like it,” Hide says, and the tips of his ears are a little red.
Ken sips from it – and the first gulp is slightly too hot for him to feel it on his tongue, but the scent of coffee invades his body; it fills the bleeding gaps from inside, warms the cold places. It’s not as good as Yoshimura-san’s, but it’s – it’s really—
He realizes the tears were falling down his face again when Hide’s hand comes up to touch his cheek; his friend wipes them in a graceful gesture, runs a hand experimentally through Ken’s hair. His eyes are very, very pained.
“You know you can tell me everything, right?” his voice is almost a whisper. “Everything.”
Hide has a very nice scent. It’s something flowery and sweet but also strong, mixed with the smell of good soap, and right now, ground coffee beans. It makes Ken’s mouth water a little.
“I know,” Ken says, and one of his hands reaches up to touch Hide’s. “I know.”
He knows the end is unrelentingly close – knows at this point he’s just delaying it – but the coffee still tastes strong in his mouth, and as Hide sits by his side and they both take another sip, it’s easy to pretend it’s not coming; it’s easy to hold Hide’s hand and pretend he only wants to kiss it when he presses it close to his lips.