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Don't Let Me Down

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Going back to work after a year off was horrifying.

If Kaneki could have, he would have bolted right out the door the second he stepped foot into Kamii. But he needed money, so he resolutely stepped foot into his new office.

Though it was not “his” office. And he would also hesitate to call it an “office” and not a closet. He only actually got to use the office twice a week for office hours, for another thing during that time he would have to share the room with someone else. It was pretty common for the professors and teacher’s assistants with the least status to have to deal with that, and he supposed after being away for so long he was lucky it wasn’t worse.

He thanked whatever forces were at play in the universe that the other professor wasn’t there yet. It would have felt too much like he was intruding on someone else’s space, now at least he had the upper hand.

There was one desk along the left wall and another along the back wall, facing the window. The right wall had a bookshelf that was already full of books and no room for anything else.

Well, since he got there first, he got the desk with the window. He sat down on the chair resolutely and took out his laptop and notes for tomorrow’s lecture. He tried to look busy before the other prof got there but mostly he was just trying to stave off the panic that was creeping in. Despite his time off, he knew this class like the back of his hand. It was a first-year class that all literature students were required to take.

Which meant that he would be the first professor most of them had in university. If he made a bad impression-

He was mercifully saved from his encroaching thought spiral by the office door opening behind him.

A man about his age walked into the office, a laptop bag slung over his shoulder and papers spilling over his arms. He was wearing a light purple button up shirt with a blue tie, and Kaneki was surprised to see that his messy hair was bleached blond.

“Oh hey,” the man said. “Are you my office buddy?”

Kaneki hastened to stand up and greet him properly. “Are you Professor Nagachika Hideyoshi?” he asked politely.

“Ew, no,” he said with a grimace. “Just Hide is fine.”

“Um, sorry,” Kaneki said, slightly thrown off.

“So I take it you’re Kaneki Ken right?”

“Uh, yeah. Kaneki is… fine,” Kaneki winced at how awkward he sounded.

“Mind if I put my stuff down before formal introductions?” Hide gestured at all the stuff he had in his arms.

“Oh, yeah! Sorry about…” Kaneki trailed off, getting the sense he was blowing his first meeting just by being himself.

Hide didn’t seem to notice his distress, cheerfully putting his stuff on the other desk.

“You can have this window desk!” Kaneki said with sudden alarm. “I should have asked before I just sat down in it.”

“Nah, I like being close to the door so I can leave faster.” He grinned at Kaneki, and Kaneki wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not.

“Right. So-” Hide brushed himself off. He inclined his head a little and held out his hand, which Kaneki took and shook awkwardly. His hand was very warm and soft.

“As previously established, I’m Nagachika Hideyoshi, AKA Hide. I teach linguistics, and this is my second year teaching here. Um, that’s pretty much it.” Hide paused as he pondered what else he could add to his introduction. “Oh! I also did my PhD in England and I’m still in the habit of doing that weird bow-handshake thing I just made you endure,” he added sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head in a truly adorable gesture of embarrassment.

Kaneki laughed nervously, trying to shake any thought of his brand-new coworker being cute out of his head. “Right. Well, uh, I’m Kaneki Ken. I teach literature.” He drew a blank. There were other things he could say about himself, sure, but none of it was stuff he wanted Hide to know.

“Literature, huh?” Hide apparently didn’t notice Kaneki’s turmoil. “I guess that’s something you could be into.”

When Kaneki frowned slightly, Hide quickly added, “It was a joke! Don’t take me too seriously, I make dumb jokes.”

Kaneki’s mouth twitched up in a reluctant smile.

“It’s a little weird I haven’t seen you around, though,” Hide said. “I mean, I know we aren’t in the same department, but you’d think we’d at least see each other.”

“I...was off for a year,” Kaneki said, hoping Hide wouldn’t ask further questions. “So if you just started here last year-” Kaneki cut himself off. “In any case, it’s a little odd they’d put two people who aren’t even in the same department in the same office, don’t you think?”

Hide just shrugged. “That’s what we get for being language people in a science-y school. All the budget cuts come down on us, and I’m not really sure they know the difference between the fine science of linguistics and... literature .”

Hide made an exaggerated look of disgust, and Kaneki couldn’t help but laugh this time.

“Is this how you always are?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Hide looked a little pleased about making Kaneki laugh.

“Hmm,” Kaneki mumbled. “Well, at least I’m glad to know it’s nothing personal against us.”

“Oh no, the department head also definitely hates me,” Hide said, sounding supremely unconcerned.

Kaneki blinked.

“I don’t think that means they hate you though!” Hide said helpfully.

“Right, well, I have some lecture notes to prepare, so…” Kaneki trailed off awkwardly, wanting suddenly to be left alone.

“I guess I should too,” Hide sighed. He flashed Kaneki another smile, and Kaneki couldn’t help but feel himself blush as Hide said, “I look forward to working with you this year.”

***

His first class went well, which was something of a relief. He hoped the students couldn’t tell he was more scared of them than they were of him.

“So, right,” Kaneki had finished the class awkwardly. “I don’t have a lot of office time, but you can come and see me whenever. And if you want you can email me because I’m pretty much always on my computer.”

He winced at that line. But other than that everything went fine.

He still had more classes to prepare for. And he was furiously typing notes to improve on his lecture when Hide walked into the office, this time wearing a light blue shirt with a bright red tie decorated with a pink flower pattern.

Cute , Kaneki couldn’t help but think.

“You wanna take bets on how many students are going to drop Intro to Linguistics?” Hide asked, flopping down heavily on his chair.

“I feel like you’d have the advantage there,” Kaneki said.

“Fair enough,” Hide said. “They all just...stared at me so blankly. I mean in all fairness I don’t agree with the structure of this course at all so I don’t blame them.”

“If it makes you feel better, someone in my class asked me if it was necessary to read all the books.”

Hide winced. “In a literature class?”

“Yeah.”

“Yikes.”

“Yep.”

“Oh well,” Hide sighed. “The real tragedy here is that the coffee machine in the cafeteria is broken and I have a class after this. I’m going to die.”

“Well,” Kaneki said. “I haven’t drank out of my thermos of coffee yet, but I don’t think there are any mugs in here.”

Hide dove immediately into his bag and pulled out a travel mug with a ridiculous design of bunnies on it that Kaneki was pretty sure was intended for children.

“Caffeine me!” Hide said, holding the mug out. “Please,” he added, with a bright smile.

Kaneki poured some of his coffee into Hide’s mug. Hide downed it instantly.

“It’s hot!” Kaneki warned too late.

“Holy shit that’s so good though,” Hide sighed. “I normally fill it with milk and sugar but this was actually tolerable without it. Where did you get this?”

“I, uh, made it actually,” Kaneki said. “I have a french press at home. I worked at a coffee shop for most of my undergrad and master’s, so my tolerance for bad coffee is pretty low.”

Hide was grinning at Kaneki, leaning his head on his hand.

“What?” Kaneki said, somewhat defensively.

“Just the image of a young book-nerd you working in a coffee shop, it’s perfect,” Hide was still grinning.

“H-how so?” Kaneki demanded, suddenly blushing a little.

“I don’t know. It’s just so adorably stereotypical. I love it.”

Kaneki felt himself blush even harder and had to look away from Hide. “I have no idea what to say to that,” he admitted.

“All right, all right, I’ll stop teasing you and let you get back to work.” Kaneki could tell even without looking that Hide was smiling still.

“Thanks for the coffee,” Hide said “You’re a lifesaver.”

“No problem,” Kaneki said weakly, making a mental note to bring Hide extra coffee from now on.

Just in case the machine broke again

***

It didn’t take long for Hide and Kaneki to settle into a comfortable routine.

Hide was ridiculous, he complained about his classes nearly constantly and also teased Kaneki nearly constantly. And he was definitely making office hours the best time of Kaneki’s week. It was hard not to be swept up in his enthusiasm and ridiculousness and seemingly endless supply of floral ties.

“God,” Hide said. “I’m so bored.”

“Hmm,” Kaneki mumbled, highlighting some lines in the novel that he wanted to discuss with the class tomorrow.

Kaneki felt something bounce off his head. He turned around to glare at Hide, who was smirking at him. The ball of paper he had tossed at Kaneki lay on the floor.

“What have I said about doing that?” Kaneki said, trying and failing to look stern.

“But how else would I get you to pay attention to me?”

“Ask politely?” Kaneki tried not to feel too pleased. He supposed most people would be annoyed with Hide, but Kaneki had to admit (to himself, he would never tell Hide) that he kind of enjoyed that someone wanted his attention that much.

Which was kind of sad, if he thought about it.

“Anyway, I’m bored,” Hide huffed. “Doesn’t anyone ever come to office hours?”

“Did you ever go to office hours when you were a student?”

Hide shrugged. “I did when I had a crush on the professor.”

At the look of alarm on Kaneki’s face, he quickly added. “Innocent crushes! Nothing inappropriate I promise.”

Kaneki stammered, “I- I wasn’t implying… uh,” he coughed nervously. “I highly doubt any student would have a crush on me.”

He couldn’t read the look on Hide’s face when he said, “Oh, I’m sure at least one thinks you’re cute.”

“How about instead of deciding whether students think I’m cute or not, you finish writing that email that you’ve been typing and erasing for the past twenty minutes?” Kaneki gestured at Hide’s computer screen.

Hide at least had the grace to look guilty. “Okay, please don’t laugh at me?”

“No promises,” Kaneki said, crossing his arms.

“A student emailed me asking questions about the reading for two weeks from now and I don’t know how to break it to her that I am also behind on my readings.”

Kaneki had to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing.

“Oh, like you haven’t done that,” Hide grumbled.

“I definitely have, but I’ve never been called out on it.”

“I have read it,” Hide defended. “Just a long time ago.”

Kaneki reached down and grabbed the ball of paper that Hide had thrown at him off the ground. He tossed it back to Hide, who caught it deftly.

“Perhaps, since you’re so bored, you could use this time to actually read the reading and come up with a decent answer?”

Hide tossed the paper into the garbage.

“I guess I could,” Hide grumbled again.

“There you go,” Kaneki said, turning around in his desk chair to get back to his work.

“Don’t use your professor voice on me!”

“I did no such thing,” Kaneki laughed, even though he definitely had.

He could tell that Hide wasn’t actually upset, and it surprised him a bit how well he could tell that, despite only knowing Hide for a month. He wasn’t sure if he would have called himself comfortable around Hide, not exactly, but he wasn’t uncomfortable either. And for him, that was pretty good.

***

It wasn’t until he had known Hide for about a month and a half that he saw a different side of him.

Hide almost always came in after Kaneki, and when he did it was usually while saying some sort of stupid joke or something that brought the mood of the room up (not hard when the only other occupant of the room was Kaneki, but still).

But this time Hide came in almost half an hour late. Kaneki could tell he was in a bad mood the second he entered the room.

He nodded at Kaneki without saying anything, and only managed a weak smile that just came off as strained. He tossed his stuff on his desk and sat down with more force than necessary.

“Um,” Kaneki said, after an awkward silence. “Is everything okay?” he wasn’t sure if he wanted Hide to confide in him or not. He wasn’t the best at human emotions, and he was worried that he would say the wrong thing and just make everything worse.

The tension seemed to drain from Hide and he slumped down in his chair. “Sorry, I know I’m acting pissy.”

“It’s fine,” Kaneki said. He paused, not knowing what else to say.

“I had a department meeting,” Hide said slowly.

“Oh,” Kaneki said. “Was it that bad?”

“Yeah, they always are,” Hide said. “I wasn’t kidding when I told you that the department head hates me. I’m sure a lot of the department also has mixed feelings towards me.”

“I’m… I’m sure they don’t-” Kaneki attempted to comfort him, but Hide cut him off.

“No, they definitely do,” Hide sighed. “I mean, this meeting was supposed to be about adjustments to make to courses but instead he spent like the first fifteen minutes criticizing my hair.”

“Ah,” Kaneki said. “That’s...not good.”

“No,” Hide said. “He’s been trying to get me to dye my hair back pretty much since I set foot into this school. Something about it being ‘unprofessional’. I’m just lucky I have enough support in the department so that I can’t get into real trouble. I just have to deal with all this bullshit.”

“I’m sorry,” Kaneki said sympathetically. “Is that why they hate you, just because they think you dress unprofessionally?”

Hide suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Well, that and he thinks my current research is a waste of time?”

“What are you researching?”

“Gender and sexual identity through linguistic practices,” Hide said evenly.

“O-oh,” Kaneki said. “Then are you-?”

“Extremely gay, yes,” Hide said. He looked at Kaneki, as if daring him to say something.

“W-well, that’s fine!” Kaneki said quickly.

“I know it is,” Hide said, raising an eyebrow.

“Not that you have to be gay to research stuff like that, it sounds really interesting!” Kaneki fumbled. “Uh, though I guess obviously you are so… I’m just going to stop talking now.”

“Probably a good idea,” Hide said, but he was smiling gently. “That’s definitely not the worse reaction to coming out I’ve ever gotten.”

“Sorry,” Kaneki groaned. “I swear I don’t have a problem with it, I’m just incredibly awkward.”

“I know,” Hide said, he was still smiling. “It’s all right.”

Kaneki nodded weakly.

“In any case, they try to act like their problems with me are just because I dress or behave inappropriately or whatever but, well, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t like me because I’m gay.”

Hide said it casually, but Kaneki could hear the sadness in his voice. He felt a sudden swoop of anger.

“Well, they can all go… fuck themselves then,” Kaneki said fiercely.

Hide burst out laughing.

“What?” Kaneki said, suddenly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” Hide was still laughing. “It’s just… I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you swear. And you hesitated so much before saying ‘fuck’, it was totally adorable.”

Kaneki resisted the urge to hide his face in hands.

“I appreciate the sentiment, though,” Hide finally stopped laughing. “You’re sweet.”

Kaneki’s face suddenly went red for a different reason.

“And you’re right,” Hide added. “They can go fuck themselves.”

He got the sense that Hide was going to say something else, but then there was a knock on the door.

“Oh shit,” Hide said. “Someone’s actually coming for office hours.” He opened the door to reveal a very nervous girl in glasses.

“Hey! You got a question about the essay?” Hide asked.

“Y-yes, professor,” she stammered.

Hide rolled over the spare chair that was jammed in the corner so she could sit down. Kaneki was glad for the distraction. He pretended to make notes as he listened to Hide talk, but really he was lost in thought.

He hadn’t told Hide much about his life. He had never intended to, because he was a huge loser and the more people knew about him the more that became obvious. And besides, as much as he enjoyed Hide’s company, they were just coworkers that barely spent any time together. But he felt like Hide coming out to him was maybe a chance to open up to him in return.

Or maybe he would just embarrass himself.

Kaneki had never actually told anyone he was bisexual, because it had never seemed relevant. He had dated Rize for years, so what was the point in complicating matters? He was sure she would have just berated him for it anyway. It certainly wasn’t like she had ever missed an opportunity to insult him.

Of course, she had broken up with him a few years ago. Theoretically, this left him free to date whoever he wanted. But the reality of it was that he had not intended to date anyone after Rize. She had been right about him after all. He was pathetic and awkward and he was lucky she had ever dated him.

And who was he kidding? He could be as bisexual as he wanted, no one of any gender would ever think of dating him. And he couldn’t blame them for that.

The thought of Hide knowing about his pathetic love life was too much for him to bear, and that was really only the tip of the iceberg. If Hide knew why he had taken a year off-

Don’t think about that , he told himself sternly.

He looked down at his paper to see that he had covered it with little circles in his anxiety doodling.

Hide didn’t have much time to hang around after his student left, as he had to get ready for class.

“Have a good weekend!” Hide called happily as he headed out the door. “Any plans?”

Kaneki laughed, hopefully not too bitterly. “Stay in and drink coffee? How about you?”

Hide rubbed the back of his head in what was becoming a familiar gesture of shyness, and said, grinning, “I actually kind of have a date.”

“Oh!” Kaneki wasn’t sure what to say. “Good luck!”

“Thanks, with my track record, I’ll need it.”

Kaneki’s mind reeled after Hide left. He took his time packing up his things. They were barely friends, but Hide was the best part of his week. Hide had confided in him. Hide had told him he had a date and had looked nervous and excited and so happy to be able to tell someone.

Hoping for anything wasn’t something Kaneki generally did, but he left the office feeling a little bit lighter than usual.

***

He had to wait until Tuesday to hear from Hide how his date went. He wasn’t sure why he was so interested in how it went, but he wanted to know. It had been in the back of his mind all weekend. Which Kaneki had to admit was just a little weird, even for him.

Hide walked into the office just as Kaneki was setting down his books.

“How did the date go?” Kaneki asked.

“Bad!” Hide announced, throwing up his hands.

Kaneki wasn’t expecting something quite so blunt.

“Uh, I’m s-sorry to hear that?” Kaneki said nervously.

Hide said, “Don’t worry about it. Honestly it was what I was expecting. My dates always go badly.”

When Kaneki still looked concerned, Hide said, “Seriously, don’t worry about it. I’d rather find out he’s an ass on the first date than find out after we’ve already been dating for weeks. Which is what usually happens to me.”

Kaneki nodded weakly.

“However, I had no one to complain to all weekend, which was not acceptable.” He tossed his phone to Kaneki who narrowly caught it.

“Hide, don’t toss things to me that you don’t want broken.”

“Noted,” Hide said. “Put your number in so the next time I have a bad date I can text you right away to whine about it instead of bottling it up all weekend.”

Kaneki glanced down at the phone and raised his eyebrows at Hide. “Your background picture is a bunny?”

“Not just any bunny!” Hide said brightly. “That’s Darling!”

Darling ?”

“I called her that because she’s so sweet!” Hide strode over and switched his phone from the home screen to the lock screen. The first bunny had been a light brown rabbit with floppy ears, the one on the lock screen was a small dark grey one with pointy ears.

“This is Lady!” Hide said cheerfully. “She’s the elegant one. Look at her posing for the camera! She knows she’s getting her picture taken and she loves it.”

He must have seen the look of deepening concern on Kaneki’s face, because then he added. “They’re my girls!”

“These are your pets?” Kaneki said.

“My girls!” Hide corrected.

“A-all right then,” Kaneki said. “Can I put my number in your phone now?”

“Oooh, so forward!” Hide winked as he gave his phone back to Kaneki.

“Y-you’re the one who asked me!” Kaneki said indignantly.

“Just teasing,” Hide laughed as Kaneki typed his number in. “I know the bunny thing sounds crazy. But I always keep them as my phone screens because they cheer me up.”

“Hmm,” Kaneki said, giving Hide his phone back. “It kind of surprises me that you have bunnies, to be honest. You strike me more as a dog person.”

“Nah, I don’t like going for walks,” Hide said. “I actually never meant to get bunnies. But I went into a pet store after a bad breakup-”

“Always a dangerous idea,” Kaneki interjected, while privately thinking that it sounded like Hide had a lot of bad breakups.

“Yeah,” Hide laughed. “Well, I saw Darling there and she was just so cute and I was just so sad. And then I bought her and brought her home but I realized I had no idea how to care for a bunny.”

Kaneki smirked. That sounded so much like something Hide would do.

“And then I found out that rabbits can die of loneliness, and I got worried she’d die if I was working too much-”

“So you went and got another bunny,” Kaneki smiled. “That’s adorable.”

Hide’s ears went a little pink. It did nothing to make Kaneki think he wasn’t adorable.

“Anyway, that’s how I became a sad, weird, single thirty-four-year-old with bunnies,” Hide shrugged awkwardly.

“You’re not sad and weird!” Kaneki said, with a fierceness that surprised both of them. “I think it’s sweet. And if you want to talk sad and weird, I think I win.”

“Hey! You’re not sad and weird!”

They both stared at each other for a moment, before they both broke out in smiles.

“Okay,” Hide said. “I have a feeling we could go on like this all day. Why don’t we both just agree that neither one of us is sad and weird?”

Kaneki nodded, though privately he thought that Hide had no idea.

“Well, I have a new date this weekend, so maybe it’ll be lucky number, uh, let’s not count how many.”

“How did you get another one so quickly?”

“Low standards and desperation?”

“Well, I hope it works out for you.”

Hide typed something out on his phone and Kaneki’s phone vibrated.

Hide: It’s Hide! :)

Kaneki glanced up at him.

“You’ll be the first to know!” Hide said with a wink.

***

Kaneki hadn’t had time to make them coffee that day, but not wanting to disappoint Hide (especially since Hide had, in fact, texted him that weekend to inform him that the date had gone badly), he had bought coffee from a shop that sold coffee he actually approved of.

It was the first time that Hide had beaten Kaneki to the office.

Hide wasn’t actually in the office. He was sitting on the floor, leaning up against the wall with his laptop out.

“Um, what are you doing?”

Hide glanced up, having been absorbed in his work and so just noticing Kaneki for the first time.

“My saviour!” Hide said. “You even brought me coffee!”

“Why are you out here?”

“Well, I had to be here early, and then I left to go to a meeting, and I ended up locked out of the office.”

Kaneki quirked his eyebrow, “What happened to your key?”

“I have a key, it’s just, you know, in the office,” Hide said sheepishly.

“How on earth did you lock the office with the key inside it?” Kaneki demanded.

“They had to put automatically-locking locks on all the doors after last year when a student stole the exams out of an office when a professor went to the bathroom.” Hide frowned slightly. “Did you not know that?”

Kaneki felt his heartbeat quicken. “I wasn’t here last year.”

“Oh yeah, I always forget that,” Hide closed his laptop and stood up, brushing himself off.

“You’re lucky I’m here,” Kaneki said sternly. “You should keep your key on you at all times. What happens if next time I’m not around to save you?”

Hide grabbed Kaneki’s arm in feigned desperation, Kaneki’s heart began to race again.

“Are you saying you’re going to leave me, Kaneki?” he fake-pouted, his eyes pleading.

Kaneki coughed as he avoided Hide’s eyes and went to unlock the door, Hide still hanging off him.

“I didn’t say that,” he mumbled. He shook Hide off gently as he walked inside. “Anyway, don’t make this about me, get yourself a spare key if you have to! What would have happened if a student came and you made them sit on the floor?”

“They’re students, I think they’ve been through worse,” Hide rolled his eyes. “I think a few people thought I was a student waiting for their prof actually, makes me feel young again.”

“Cute,” Kaneki mumbled quietly, unintentionally.

“Huh?”

“I said get a spare key!”

“Yes, sir .”

Kaneki wasn’t sure why he blushed so much when Hide called him that.

***

He wasn’t expecting to ever run into Hide outside the office. Or, more specifically, he wasn’t expecting Hide to run down the hall and somehow wrap his arm around his shoulders before he even noticed he was coming toward him.

“I- Hide what the-?” Kaneki struggled to keep his pile of papers in his arms.

“You’ve been hiding something from me!” Hide said accusingly.

“I-I’m sorry?” Kaneki stuttered. His mind was already racing and he was struggling not to panic. This was it, Hide had found out why he hadn’t been at school for the past year and he was going to hate him or think he was pathetic or-

“Why didn’t you tell me you were famous?” Hide took his arm off Kaneki’s shoulder so he could cross his arms in front of him sternly.

“I’m...what?” Kaneki blinked at him in confusion.

“I was at the bookstore the other day, buying coffee, and I happened to pass by this shelf, and guess who’s name I saw?”

“Oh no,” Kaneki groaned.

“You’re a published author!” Hide said. “Of like, novels, not academic papers I mean.”

“Yeah, well,” Kaneki shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not that great.”

“Uh, I beg to differ,” Hide dove into his bag and took out Kaneki’s first novel.

“You bought one?” Kaneki asked in horror.

“Wrong! I bought all three!” Hide said. “And, if I may, Mr. I’m-not-that-great, the review on the back of your book says ‘An engaging debut from a promising new author. A riveting examination of the human psyche that will have you rooting for the characters until the very end-’”

“I am begging you to stop,” Kaneki wanted to melt into the floor where he belonged.

“All right, but that doesn’t sound like you’re not a good author.”

“Well of course they put the good reviews on the back!” Kaneki said. “They’re trying to make you buy the book!”

“Well I was sold when I saw your name,” Hide winked and Kaneki glared at him.

“Have you actually read them yet?” Kaneki asked warily.

“Nope, just bought them this weekend. Why?”

“I just… I mean I don’t think they’d really be the kind of books you’d be into.”

“Probably not, but I’m still going to read them and see!”

Kaneki sighed. “If you must.” He secretly hoped that Hide never read them. The books were a little personal for him, and he didn’t want Hide to read them and maybe make the connection with things he had thought or things he had done.

But Hide was a university professor. He’d probably get so caught up in marking papers and doing the readings he actually had to for work that he’d put them on a desk somewhere in his house and they’d get buried and he’d forget about them.

At least, Kaneki really hoped so.

“And I’m so glad I looked at the inside flap!” Hide opened the book, where a photo of Kaneki smiled uncomfortably at the real Kaneki who covered his face with the papers he was holding.

“Oh god ,” Kaneki groaned. “Please never make me look at that again.”

“Why? You’re so cute!” Hide said. “Look at those chubby cheeks! You have such a baby face, how old were you when this was taken?”

“Twenty-five,” Kaneki mumbled.

“A published novelist at twenty-five!”

“Ugh.”

“You actually pretty much look the same as you do in this photo now.”

“Liar, I’m old and damaged now. I was only young and damaged then.”

Hide mercifully closed the book and Kaneki lowered the papers from his face at last.

“That’s the kind of wit I’m looking forward to in your novel.” Hide was grinning at him.

Kaneki scowled.

Hide dug a pen out of his pocket. “Can I have your autograph?”

“Excuse me?” Kaneki blinked at him.

“I find out my office buddy is a fancy famous author, and you expect me not to ask for his autograph?”

A few students walked by and glanced at them curiously.

Fine ,” Kaneki took the book and the pen and scrawled his signature on it, blushing furiously all the while.

“And you can sign the other two too!”

“Seriously?”

“Yep! And one more thing-”

“What?” Kaneki grumbled.

Hide tapped the book where Kaneki had written his name, and smirked deviously.

“Make it out to ‘Hide’!”

Chapter Text

Usually Kaneki looked forward to his time with Hide (perhaps an unhealthy amount), but Hide had been in a sour mood last week and frankly Kaneki wasn’t sure how to deal with that.

And there was a small part of him that was worried it was somehow his fault, even though he didn’t do anything.

Hide was late again. That wasn’t unusual, but it had been almost fifteen minutes.

Twenty-three minutes passed before Hide opened the door with more force than necessary. Kaneki jumped nervously but thankfully Hide didn’t seem to notice.

“Did any of my students show up?” Hide asked.

“Does anyone ever?” said Kaneki with a weak smile.

To his immense relief, Hide smiled back at him. “Good, because I’m super fucking late.”

“Oh really? I didn’t notice.” Hide rolled his eyes at Kaneki’s comment and threw his bag on the floor and flopped down on his computer chair.

“You seem hard at work.” Hide gestured to the desk in front of Kaneki, where his book lay unopened under his phone.

“Uh…” Kaneki started, but Hide just shrugged.

“It’s okay, I’m not really in the mood to do much work either.” There was enough edge to his voice that Kaneki could tell the bad mood from last week had still not dissipated. He longed to ask about it, but didn’t want to pry.

Kaneki opened his book and started dutifully making notes for his next lecture. Hide was angrily typing something on his laptop and Kaneki could feel the tension in the air. Kaneki suddenly felt a brief flash of annoyance at Hide for making his bad mood everyone else’s problem, even though that was completely unfair and ridiculous (and if anyone was ever guilty of making their bad mood someone else’s problem, it was Kaneki).

It was just - Kaneki glanced at the calendar on his desk, where he hadn’t circled the date as he had promised himself - it was sort of a bad time for him. He had been somewhat counting on Hide’s sunny disposition and unceasing chatter to distract him. But that wasn’t Hide’s problem. Kaneki had no right to expect anything of him.

He stole a glance over at Hide. Furiously typing and retyping the same line of what looked like a research paper he was working on. The sleeves of his pink, button-up shirt were rolled up and Kaneki thought, not for the first time, that Hide had really nice arms-

His phone buzzed and Kaneki was snapped out of his shameful reverie about his coworker’s arms. Blushing, he checked his phone and felt his stomach drop.

So much for any illusions of moving on .

An app on his phone helpfully reminded him of a memory from five years ago ( click here to share with your friends! ), with a photo of him and Rize on a date. He almost never posted photos online and cursed his past self for apparently posting this one just to spite him. It was a grainy cell phone photo of him and Rize together at a festival. It was not even particularly romantic. In fact, maybe it was the gift of hindsight, but he thought he could see the awkwardness between them even through the photo. They were standing too far apart, smiles a little strained.

Or maybe that was how he always looked in photos. This was, after all, almost two years before their breakup.

He hovered his finger over her name, highlighted in blue. Why hadn’t they unfriended each other?

Because you’re both mature adults handling a breakup in a mature adult fashion , he thought as he clicked on her name.

She wasn’t particularly active on social media either, but it somehow made things worse. She had no relationship status posted, so he was left to guess at clues in photos posted months apart, trying to decipher meaning from who liked and commented on her photos.

She hadn’t changed much in three years, from what he could see. She was just as devastatingly beautiful as ever. With the same wry smile that said that she was already bored with whatever you were about to say (or maybe that was just how she looked with Kaneki).

“Hey, Kaneki, can I borrow your stapler mine is shi- what have we here?” Hide had materialized over Kaneki’s shoulder while he wasn’t paying attention. Too late for him to hide what he had been looking at.

“Stalking a crush online?” Hide said, looking amused.

“No, an ex.” Kaneki said before he could stop himself. Hide blinked at him in surprise as Kaneki reeled in horror. Why the fuck had he said that out loud?

“I, uh, I mean-”

“Bad breakup?” Hide asked sympathetically.

Kaneki nodded silently.

“Recently?”

Kaneki shook his head, unable to look Hide in the eye as he mumbled, “Three years ago.”

“Hmm,” he heard Hide mumble quietly before he gently prised the phone from his hands. Kaneki looked up in surprise. He wondered if Hide was making fun of him, but Hide giving him such a gentle, understanding look that it made Kaneki blush a little.

“Not healthy,” Hide said, gently bopping Kaneki on the head with the papers he was holding in his left hand.

“I know,” Kaneki mumbled.

“What’s up?” Hide asked, still kindly. It seemed he was capable of shelving his bad mood for Kaneki’s sake and Kaneki’s heart skipped a beat because of it.

“Anniversary of our breakup,” Kaneki said.

“Sorry, wanna talk about it?” Hide asked.

“Not really.”

“That’s all right,” Hide said. “How about we go out for drinks tonight then?”

“Go...out?” Kaneki asked, as though he had ever heard the words before.

“Yeah. For drinks,” Hide repeated. “So you don’t wallow at home alone about it.”

Kaneki was embarrassed at Hide’s accurate assessment of what his evening would be like alone. He was a little nervous to go out with Hide, but it wasn’t like he was ever going to say no to that kind of offer.

“Sure, that sounds great. Thanks.”

Hide grinned and then slipped Kaneki’s phone into his pants pocket.

“Hey!” Kaneki said indignantly.

“You’ll get this back when I deem you ready,” Hide winked. There was no arguing with him.

***

They took a taxi to the bar. Kaneki spent a lot of time wondering if he could just reach into Hide’s pants pocket to grab his phone but decided that that was a road that he didn’t want to go down.

Or maybe he kind of did. Which was his problem.

“Cold?” Hide asked, noticing that Kaneki was sitting on his hands.

“Sure, that’s it,” Kaneki mumbled, keeping his hands firmly captive just in case.

Kaneki had been a bit nervous when Hide invited him to get drinks, because he hadn’t been to a bar in a long time and the few times he had gone had been bad , but to Kaneki’s immense relief it was really more of a restaurant.

They settled down at the table and Hide took it upon himself to order a bunch of appetizers that sounded like they would give Kaneki a heart attack. And a drink Kaneki had never heard of.

“Um, I’ll have a white wine I guess,” Kaneki mumbled.

“I’m paying,” Hide said, waving his hand dismissively. “Order whatever you want. Technically the appetizers are for sharing but I make no promises.”

“I’m not a big drinker...or eater, really.” Kaneki said.

“Suit yourself,” Hide said. “You can help yourself to any of the appetizers.”

“Thanks.” A slightly awkward silence fell. Broken only by the waiter bringing them their drinks (Hide’s was a very bright blue, Kaneki still had no idea what it was), and a plate of sizzling nachos.

“Comfort food!” Hide said with a grin.

“Why is it...doing that?” Kaneki asked. Hide had already shoved them into his mouth.

Kaneki took a sip of wine and said, “Do I dare ask what your drink is?”

“Filled with alcohol, which I desperately need right now,” Hide took a long drink and half emptied his glass.

It wasn’t long before he was finished, and in fact he had ordered another drink and finished it before Kaneki had finished his first glass of wine. He didn’t have much of an alcohol tolerance, so he picked at some of the food Hide ordered (which was actually quite good despite how it looked), while he slowly sipped his second glass of wine.

Hide was rambling on about some terrible answers his students had given on a test, which Kaneki only half understood.

“I’m like, who’s teaching them this shit?” Hide said, grinning at his own joke.

Kaneki snorted.

Hide’s face lit up. “That was adorable.”

“No,” Kaneki’s face went red. “I almost never do that, I promise.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did,” Hide rested his chin on one hand, swirling his mostly empty (third? fourth drink?) in the other. The tiny umbrella swishing around was very distracting.

“Mmm,” Kaneki looked away.

“So,” Hide said. “Wanna talk about...anything?” Hide offered tentatively.

“Not really,” Kaneki sighed. “What’s there to say? She was too good for me, and she eventually got bored with me and dumped me.”

Hide was frowning. Kaneki was relieved that at least he wasn’t looking at him in pity like everyone else did.

“‘Too good for you?’” Hide repeated. “I think you’re pretty great.”

“O-oh,” Kaneki shifted uncomfortably. “Uh, thanks.”

“If you ever want to talk about it-”

“Yeah. I know. Thanks.”

He was grateful that Hide got the hint to stop.

Hide ordered some fries and another drink.

“How many is that?” Kaneki demanded as some other colourful monstrosity landed in front of Hide.

“Dunno.” Hide clearly had more tolerance than Kaneki did, but his face was getting red. Hide frowned intently before he suddenly said “I have...a bit of a confession to make.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Hide started rubbing the back of his head nervously. “Not gonna lie, I had a bit of a selfish motive in bringing you here.

That hope Kaneki had felt hours before rushed back to him, unbidden.

“Oh?” He said again, weakly.

“You see,” Hide lowered his voice conspiratorially. “I too have an asshole ex.”

That was not quite where Kaneki was expecting this conversation to go.

“As of...fucking...last Tuesday.” Hide’s words were slurred just a bit, and it occurred to Kaneki suddenly that Hide was pretty drunk.

“You know what? He’s not even an ex!” He drank whatever was in his glass in one gulp. Kaneki cringed. “Because, guess what?”

He stared at Kaneki until Kaneki got the hint that he was supposed to be an active listener and gently prompted, “What?”

“He thought we were just fucking !’ Hide reached for his glass and made a face that indicated he was very disappointed to find that it was empty.

“Ah.” Kaneki’s mind helpfully supplied a split-second visual for ‘Hide fucking’ which was very distracting.

“So, like, I spent a month thinking I have a boyfriend but apparently not. So I dumped his ass and all he said was ‘ okay ’.” Hide waved his glass around with a dramatic flair.

“Ah,” Kaneki said again. He wasn’t sure what to say, he was grateful Hide put the glass down so it wouldn’t go flying out of his hands.

Hide stared at the wood grain of the table as though it were the most fascinating thing in the world. “How pathetic is that?”

“It’s not,” Kaneki said quietly. But he wasn’t sure Hide heard him.

“This always happens to me,” Hide continued morosely. “I start dating someone, but it turns out they only want me for sex or whatever or they cheat on me and then leave when they find someone better.”

He said this all in a rush. Kaneki was sure he would not be talking about this if he wasn’t completely smashed.

“Why do I always go for such assholes?”

“I don’t know-“

“Am I just an idiot?’’

“No! Of course not-“

“Then why?” Hide looked at Kaneki as though he was hiding the answer from him

“M-maybe it’s just bad luck?”

“Is it the bunnies?” Hide said.

“I...what?” Kaneki had a feeling this conversation had lost all sense.

“Do you think guys think it’s weird? Like, is it a turn-off?” To Kaneki’s abject horror Hide’s eyes started filling with tears. “I just… I love them so much.”

“I don’t think it’s the bunnies,” Kaneki said firmly. He felt bad but he was trying not to laugh. “I think you’re very sweet with your bunnies.”

“You do?” Hide looked at him wide-eyed, tears still threatening to spill over.

“I do,” Kaneki said. “Any man who would judge you for your bunnies isn’t a man worth dating.”

“Yeah!” Hide slammed his fist down on the table with conviction. “My bunnies love me unconditionally!”

“I’m...sure they do,” Kaneki said, questioning whether bunnies were capable of love.

“They would never betray me, unlike men .” Hide said that with so much venom that Kaneki couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Hide looked at him in confusion, which only made Kaneki laugh harder. He finally calmed down enough to order them a taxi and get Hide’s address written down before he was too far gone to remember it.

He was sure this wasn’t how Hide had imagined cheering him up. But Kaneki hadn’t laughed so hard in years.

The next day, he received a simple text from Hide.

Hide: Ugh, it read simply, then:

Hide: How did i get home last night?

Kaneki quickly typed his reply.

Kaneki: I got us a taxi and dropped you off in your bed.

Hide’s reply was nearly instantaneous:

Hide: Thanks.

Hide: Sorry

Frowning, Kaneki replied.:

Kaneki: For what?

Hide: I was supposed to comfort you last night but i made it all about me , Hide replied.

Kaneki smiled sadly as he typed.

Kaneki: : I don’t mind. It still made me feel better.

Kaneki: That came out wrong.

Kaneki: It didn’t make me feel better to see you sad. It was just good for me to not be by myself.

Hide: lol

Hide: Holy crap I’m hungover

Hide: I want to make it up to you still. Can we go out for coffee?

Kaneki’s heart began to race. First drinks, now coffee? Was Hide hitting on him? No, that was impossible. Hide just pitied him.

Kaneki: Sure

Kaneki: How’s tomorrow?

Hide: Sounds good

Hide: Cool

Hide: did I really cry about bunnies?

***

 

It was just coffee, and it was just Hide wanting to make it up to Kaneki for crying during his attempt to cheer him up, but Kaneki was taking extra care to make sure he dressed well for their meet-up.

He looked at his closet in despair. He had two clothing styles: professor and depression, both of which came in three colours: black, grey, and one navy blue polo t-shirt he was sure he had never worn.

He checked the weather on his phone as he stood shirtless in front of his closet. It was one of those spring days that seemed like it could go either way between being chilly and being warm, with exactly a fifty percent chance of rain, which did not help him make his decision at all.

He jumped when he got a text from Hide.

Hide: hey i was going to take you starbucks but then i realized you were a coffee snob

Hide: and like this is supposed to be an apology coffee but i think that would make you even more mad at me

Hide: so why don’t you pick a place and just tell me where to go :)

Kaneki smiled a bit, both at Hide’s use of the phrase “apology coffee” and his accurate assessment of Kaneki’s coffee opinions.

Kaneki: You’re right . I have the perfect place.

He texted Hide the name and address so he could find Anteiku.

Hide: I’m always right ;)

Kaneki rolled his eyes. And turned back to the problem at hand.

In the end, he decided to go with the blue shirt, a nice pair of jeans, and a light, black rain jacket in case it was chilly. He had no idea if he looked good and no idea how to tell. It occurred to him that he hadn’t had coffee with a friend in a really long time. The thought did nothing to make him less anxious.

He didn’t think he had left very early, but he got there well before Hide. He thought it would be rude to order without Hide but at the same time he desperately wanted some coffee to calm him down.

Still, it was nice to be in a place that was so familiar to him. The smell of coffee, the bookcases, the potted plants, it was enough to at least get him to be less nervous, even if he couldn’t calm down completely.

The bell over the door rang, and Hide walked through. He was wearing a yellow and white plaid shirt that should have been awful but instead looked really nice on him.

Hide grinned when he saw Kaneki and rushed over to him.

“Sorry I’m late, I swear I’m capable of being places on time,” Hide said as he sat down heavily on the chair across from Kaneki.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Kaneki said, raising an eyebrow.

“I got lost!” Hide whined.

“Hmm, I guess I’ll forgive you this time,” Kaneki smirked.

“Good!” Hide clapped his hands. “My job here is done, apology coffee meeting adjourned!”

“Hey!” Kaneki said.

“Just kidding,” Hide said. “Promise. I mean I would want to have coffee with you even if I wasn’t apologizing to you for getting drunk and crying about my terrible love and sex life and...bunnies.” Hide rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. “And I’m not just sorry because that’s super embarrassing, even though it is, but because I really wanted to make you feel better because you were feeling so crappy about that girl, but then I made it all about myself.”

“Hide,” Kaneki said. “You don’t have to apologize-”

“But-”

“Hide,” Kaneki said firmly. “No offence, but I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe when you cried about your bunnies. I literally can’t remember the last time I laughed like that. So, even though it wasn’t the way you intended, you definitely cheered me up.”

“Oh,” Hide blinked. He was blushing a bit. “Well, I’m glad I could help.”

“And,” Kaneki continued, feeling suddenly bold. “I would have gone out for coffee with you even if it wasn’t to apologize to me.”

“Oh,” Hide said again, looking surprised.

“Shall we order some coffee?” Kaneki asked.

Hide nodded. “Tell me what’s good here? I feel like this place is a bit beyond my coffee expertise.”

“I’ll order us something good?” Kaneki said.

Hide nodded his consent.

As if on cue, the waitress bustled over.

“Ken!” Hinami said, lighting up when she saw him.

“Hinami! I didn’t know you were working today!” Kaneki exclaimed as Hinami wrapped her arms around him in a quick hug.

“You should have told me you were coming! I haven’t seen you in ages,” she added, slightly accusingly.

“I’ve been busy,” Kaneki said, not quite looking her in the eye. She gave him a searching stare, but finally let him go.

“And who’s this?” she said, finally looking at Hide, who was watching this exchange with a bemused expression.

“Oh, this is Hide, he shares my office with me at Kamii.”

“Nice to meet you!” she said happily.

“You too!” Hide said, still with the air of someone who had no idea what was going on.

“The coffee is on the house today,” Hinami said cheerfully.

“What!” Kaneki said. “I can’t do that!”

“You can and you will,” Hinami said, in a firm voice that told Kaneki there would be no arguing with her. “Now tell me what you want.”

Kaneki nodded meekly and gave her their order.

Hide watched her walk away and said, “Uh, what was that about?” when she was out of earshot.

“I used to work here,” Kaneki said.

“Ah, so that’s why it comes so highly recommended,” Hide said. “She seems really happy to see you,” he added casually.

“Yeah,” Kaneki smiled fondly. “She’s a bit like a little sister to me, actually. I’ve known her since I started school and she was a kid. She’s doing an undergrad in literature right now,” he added.

Hide seemed to relax, though Kaneki couldn’t imagine why he had tensed up. “Oh, that’s really cute.”

Kaneki smiled.

“But now I have an important question,” Hide said seriously.

“What?” Kaneki asked warily.

Hide leaned forward. “Does that mean that that was the uniform tiny, undergrad Kaneki wore when he worked here?”

“Well,” Kaneki’s face went slightly pink. “N-no. Because that’s the girl uniform. I mean, mine was like that, but with pants and not a skirt.”

“Hmm, that’s a shame,” Hide said, winking at Kaneki.

“Wh-what is that supposed to mean?” Kaneki sputtered.

“Still cute though.”

Kaneki shook his head, “I will never understand you.”

“I am a man of mystery.”

Kaneki was saved from Hide by Hinami putting a black coffee in front of him and a vanilla cappuccino in front of Hide with her trademark four leaf clover design.

“Ooh! That’s cute!” Hide said.

Hinami smiled proudly as she walked away.

“I figured you’d like something sweet,” Kaneki said.

“Oh, I do,” Hide said with a wry smile.

Kaneki blinked. He liked Hide a lot but sometimes the things he said were weird.

“-So, yeah,” Kaneki said. He took a drink of his coffee and it burned his mouth, but he did what he thought was an admirable job of pretending he wasn’t in pain. Hide didn’t even notice.

“You may have been smart to bring a rain jacket,” Hide commented, gesturing out the window. It was certainly getting dark. And just a few raindrops were falling, promising a deluge soon enough.

“I checked the weather report,” Kaneki said and winced. He was so good at conversation.

“Smarter than me, I clearly wore this shirt hoping for sunnier days,” he said with a laugh.

“I like it, it matches your hair,” Kaneki said. He immediately wondered if there was a way to drown himself in his coffee. Or at least get himself to stop saying the first thing that came to mind all the time.

“I have an aesthetic to uphold,” Hide said, apparently not noticing Kaneki’s distress.

“I didn’t think to bring an umbrella though, so hopefully it stops.”

“Aw,” Hide pouted. “Does that mean I don’t get to share an umbrella with you on the way home?”

Kaneki finally groaned. “Hide, I can never tell if you’re being serious or not. Drink your coffee before it gets cold.”

Hide smirked as he took a sip of his cappuccino. “This is really good!” He exclaimed.

“I would hope so,” Kaneki said, feeling oddly relieved that Hide liked the drink he recommended.

“Like...really good,” Hide said. “I didn’t know coffee could taste this good. Except yours, of course.”

“Flattery will get you nothing,” Kaneki mumbled, still feeling incredibly pleased at Hide’s praise.

“You already give me coffee every day, I’ve got what I wanted,” Hide smiled mischievously.

Kaneki rolled his eyes. He suddenly found that he was really warm in his jacket. It did get rather humid in coffee shops sometimes.

He shrugged his jacket off and put it neatly over the back of his chair. He turned around to see that Hide was staring at him.

“What?” Kaneki asked, confused and slightly alarmed.

“Look at what you’ve been hiding under your cardigans!” Hide said weakly.

Kaneki looked down at his shirt. “I’m sorry? I don’t understand?”

“You’re ripped!” Hide said, gesturing at Kaneki’s arms.

Huh ?” Kaneki went red, glancing around. There weren’t many other people in Anteiku, but he still didn’t want people to hear Hide.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t realize it!” Hide said.

“I… I’m not! And I’m not ‘hiding’ it!” Kaneki once again felt like he had lost the thread of the conversation.

“You are too! Look at those arms!” Hide said. “Here I was with this image of you as some quiet bookworm, and don’t get me wrong you are , but it turns out you’re also totally jacked.”

“Oh my god , Hide,” Kaneki said.

Hide was giving him an odd look that Kaneki could not read. Was he really that perturbed about Kaneki “hiding” his physique?

“Forget me saying I’m a man of mystery,” Hide continued, oblivious to Kaneki’s distress. “Look at you, university professor, secret best-selling author, totally friggin’ ripped. What other secrets are you hiding?”

Kaneki suddenly felt anxious. Oh, if only Hide knew .

But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t. Not if Kaneki had any say in it.

Hinami came over to refill Kaneki’s coffee and give Hide another cappuccino.

“Hinami!” Kaneki said. “Don’t give this man any more caffeine!” He wondered how much of their conversation she had overheard.

She put two pieces of chocolate cake in front of them and walked away wordlessly, but smirking.

“Remind me to always come here with you,” Hide said.

“The last thing we need is for you to be filled with sugar and caffeine,” Kaneki scolded. “I shudder to think of how you’re going to be in a few minutes.”

“Some apology coffee this turned out to be, though,” Hide mumbled, picking at his cake.

“What do you mean?” Kaneki asked.

“I was trying to take you out, but it just ended up you picking the place and getting us stuff for free,” Hide said with a sigh.

Kaneki couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty. Maybe he should have picked another coffee shop. Pushing this feeling away, he said “Hide, you don’t need to apologize. I told you that already.”

Hide shrugged, “I wanted to, though.”

“Tell you what,” Kaneki said. “If you want to make it up to me that bad, we can do something else this weekend? Assuming you aren’t, uh, doing anything that is?”

Hide smiled gratefully. “I’d like that.”

Kaneki smiled back. He had to confess he was proud of himself for going from never hanging out with anyone ever to hanging out with Hide three times in one week.

It was almost like having a friend.

***

They had agreed to go out on Saturday night again for drinks. But when Kaneki woke up Saturday morning it was so dark he was convinced that it was either still late at night or he had slept through the whole day.

A glance at the clock confirmed that it was, indeed, ten thirty in the morning. He laid in bed staring at the ceiling for a few moments before groaning as he dragged himself out of bed and pulled back the curtain to see what on earth was going on outside.

He was greeted by a window splattered with rain. He could barely see out the window but he could hear the rain pounding down in sheets and even a distant rumble of thunder.

He sighed heavily. It wasn’t that he disliked the rain, but he could have used a less gloomy atmosphere for a day like today.

He went to the bathroom, in the hope that a shower would cheer him up a bit. He took his medication and spent longer in the shower than was strictly necessarily. He let the water run down his back until the hot water ran out and he started to shiver slightly.

He went to make coffee in the kitchen. The shower hadn’t been entirely successful in cheering him up, but at least he could wake himself up a bit with coffee.

He heard his phone buzz and jumped slightly. There was only one person it could be.

Hide: hey the weather is shit i dont want to go out tonight

Oh, Hide was cancelling on him. Kaneki felt an odd sinking sensation. Of course he was, why would he expect anything different-

Hide: so do you wanna just come over to my place or something

Hide: I can order dinner in and we can watch a movie or like talk academics or something lol

Hide: is that kinda weird i can still go out if you want

Kaneki sighed, feeling a little ashamed of himself for just assuming Hide would cancel on him like that.

Kaneki: Sure, that sounds fine .

Hide: cool!

Hide: wanna be here for 7? I’ll send you my address

As he looked up the address Hide sent him to make sure he wouldn’t get lost, Kaneki suddenly felt a surge of panic. He had just agreed to go over to Hide’s apartment! What was he doing? What was wrong with him? Being in a public place with Hide was one thing. For one thing, at least then there was a set end time. And it was way less intimate than going to Hide’s place oh my god .

Kaneki’s heart was pounding with anxiety. He was sure the caffeine wasn’t helping but he also wasn’t willing to stop drinking it because the anxiety was making him tired already.

He glanced at the clock and saw that it was only eleven forty-five.

Great, that meant he still had more than seven hours of nervousness before he went over to Hide’s.

He spent the day trying and failing to do work for his classes. Trying and failing to read the novels he’d been meaning to for ages, and trying and failing to clean his apartment.

Kaneki found himself once again staring at his closet in despair. He considered wearing his blue shirt again but didn’t want Hide to think he only wore one nice shirt. He settled on a black sweater this time. It was probably freezing in the pouring rain anyway.

He realized he should probably bring something to Hide as a gift. That’s what people did when they ate at someone else’s place right? Kaneki hadn’t done this in a very long time.  

He found a bottle of wine someone had given him for...he thought it might have been a New Year’s gift but he wasn’t quite sure.

It would have to do though, if he didn’t leave soon he was going to be late. He grabbed it, threw on his rain jacket and headed out the door.

He knocked on Hide’s door with his heart still pounding. He thought was getting a headache and he suddenly wished he had said no and that he was in bed right now with a coffee and a book and not about to talk to Hide and reveal how much of a weird loser he was-

Hide flung open the door.

“Kaneki! Glad you didn’t drown out there-” he glanced down at the bottle of wine in Kaneki’s hand. “Damn, that’s fancy. I was just going to order a pizza.”

“S-sorry!” Kaneki stammered. “Should I not have brought it? I thought-”

“Nah, wine and pizza sounds like a party! Come inside and get comfortable and warmed up.”

Kaneki blinked. Hide’s relentless positivity always threw him for a bit of a loop. But he was glad Hide wasn’t upset with him.

He stepped into Hide’s apartment and took off his shoes and coat hurriedly before stepping up.

Kaneki wasn’t sure what he was picturing Hide’s apartment to look like. He supposed something messy and brightly-coloured. But it was surprisingly bare. It wasn’t really “neat” but it seemed that Hide mostly had the necessities and few other decorations and knick knacks around.

He pictured his own apartment, with its many unwashed mugs strewn about, books and papers scattered in piles that only Kaneki could find them in.

He made a mental note to never let Hide into his apartment.

“We can eat on the table in front of the TV,” Hide said. “Oh! And, uh, welcome to the apartment.” He spread his arms out in an awkward gesture of welcome. “It’s not much to look at, I know.”

“It’s nice,” Kaneki said, not knowing what else he could say. He stood around awkwardly, not wanting to sit on Hide’s couch until Hide did first. Hide seemed to understand his distress and sat down. Kaneki sat down gratefully.

He sat there stiffly. He realized he was still holding the bottle of wine and put it down on the table. He regretted it instantly, as now he had nothing to do with his hands and he very much wanted to tap them on his knees out of nervousness.

He settled for putting his hands in between his knees to hold them still. He didn’t care if it made him look weird, he didn’t want to annoy Hide on his first visit to his apartment.

“So,” Hide said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Mind if I order now?”

Kaneki nodded, realized that made it look like he did mind, and said, “Yeah I’m hungry too.”

“What do you want on your pizza?”

“I don’t really care,” Kaneki said. “I’m fine with just plain cheese.”

Hide crinkled his nose (which was oddly adorable) and said, “Boring. I’ll get one with nothing on it and one with everything on it.”

“Sounds good,” Kaneki smiled.

They made some awkward small talk while they waited for the pizza to get there.

“It’s raining pretty hard,” Kaneki said.

“Yeah,” Hide said.

There was a moment of silence. Kaneki decided he would let Hide take the lead in the conversation from now on.

Idiot. He chided himself. He’s in your office two days a week and you’re fine and you panic when you’re in his apartment ?

“Want me to open the wine?” Hide asked.

“I can do it!” Kaneki said. “Do you have a corkscrew?”

Hide twisted the top off the bottle.

“Oh,” Kaneki said. “Well that’s a lot easier.”

There was a loud rumble of thunder in the distance.

“I’ll get us some wine glasses.”

Kaneki was left to sit there and contemplate whether it would be rude to bolt out the front door and see Hide in the office on Tuesday and pretend this had never happened.

He heard Hide rummaging around in the kitchen when the doorbell rang.

“Don’t you dare pay for it!” Hide called from the kitchen, correctly reading Kaneki’s mind. Kaneki stayed put as Hide commanded as Hide dashed to the door with wine glasses and plates in his hands.

Hide balanced them on the pizza boxes as he brought everything over to the table.

“I felt bad making him come over in this rain,” Hide said, “All right, don’t worry about dignity, just dig in.”

Now that he had something to do with his hands, Kaneki was able to calm down a bit. It occurred to him that he hadn’t had anything to eat all day, aside from coffee, and that probably hadn’t helped his anxiety much.

“You know I feel like opening the door to the delivery guy with wine glasses in my hands made him worry he’d walked into a porn,” Hide said.

Kaneki choked on his wine.

“Hide!” he said. “ No !”

“And he could see you from the door, so he probably thought you were in on it.”

“No!” Kaneki protested, though he was laughing. “I’m an innocent party!”

“He’ll never know that,” Hide smiled as he took a sip of wine.

“You’re ridiculous,” Kaneki shook his head.

“You say that a lot.”

“Because you keep coming up with new ways to be ridiculous.”

Hide smiled, unfazed and even looking quite pleased with himself. “So, if you want, we could put on a movie or something or-” Hide looked like he had a sudden inspiration. “You could meet the girls first, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that sooner.”

“The rabbits,” Kaneki said, deadpan.

“The girls,” Hide said. “I’ll go get them. And you wash your hands so you don’t get pizza grease on them,” he added sternly.

“All right,” Kaneki said, trying very hard not to laugh.

He washed his hands as Hide went to get them, and Hide came out with two bunnies in his arms.

“I recognize them from all the pictures,” Kaneki said dryly as he sat back down in the couch.

“And they recognize you from the pictures I’ve shown them of you!” Hide said happily, flopping down on the couch gently.

Kaneki couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. For one thing, he had no idea if Hide actually had pictures of him or why he would in the first place.

“You take Darling,” Hide said, putting the light-coloured one with floppy ears in Kaneki’s lap.

“Wha-?” Kaneki said in alarm. “I don’t know how to hold a bunny!”

“It’s a bunny,” Hide said, raising an eyebrow. “You just hold her. Besides, Darling is the more forgiving of the two. I’ll hold onto Lady until she warms up to you,” Hide kissed her on the head. “She’s a little drama queen, but she’s a good girl when she gets to know you.”

“Uh...huh,” Kaneki mumbled. He wasn’t sure if he believed that rabbits could have individual personalities, but he didn’t want to question Hide.

He tentatively stroked the bunny in his lap as she rested there peacefully there. He was stroking her with just two fingers and was trying to do it as lightly as possible.

“You can put some more force into the petting, you know,” Hide laughed lightly.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Hide,” Kaneki said “But I’m a little worried that if I pet her too hard and accidentally hurt her or something you’ll murder me.”

Hide burst out laughing.

“Okay, maybe that’s a little fair, but you won’t hurt her, promise.” Hide grinned at him. “That was cute though.”

Kaneki continued to pet the bunny while glaring at Hide. She was very soft. He found it hard to stay glaring at Hide while he petted a rabbit, and it actually seemed to help take the edge off his anxiety.

“Isn’t she a sweetheart?” Hide sighed happily.

“She is,” Kaneki admitted. “This is kind of nice. I’ve never had a pet before.”

“Seriously?” Hide said.

“Well, my mother and I couldn’t afford to have one growing up,” Kaneki said. “And my aunt never would have allowed-” he suddenly realized he was probably saying too much.

“A-anyway,” Kaneki coughed awkwardly. “I haven’t had one, no.”

“Want me to get some treats and you can try feeding her?” Hide said, saving him from the awkward silence that followed. Kaneki was glad that Hide didn’t ask any questions about his family life, even though he could tell that Hide was dying to.

Darling flopped down in Kaneki’s lap and Hide let out a soft gasp.

“That means she feels safe with you!” He said fondly.

He carried Lady with him to the kitchen and came back with tiny pieces of carrot. Kaneki felt oddly proud that the bunny felt safe with him.

“Technically, carrots aren’t as good for rabbits as people think, but we can make an exception and treat them tonight.”

Kaneki nodded as he held a piece up to Darling and she ate it out of his hand. Her nose tickled him.

He looked up and saw that Hide was taking a picture of him.

“Hey!” Kaneki said.

“I need to preserve how cute this is!” Hide said happily.

Kaneki generally hated having pictures taken of him, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell Hide no.

“Here, if you hold Lady -relax she won’t bite- I’ll go set up their playpen and we can watch a movie.”

“Playpen?” Kaneki asked as the other rabbit was placed on his lap.

“Yep! So they can watch with us!” Hide indeed took out a playpen that was folded up in the corner and clearly intended for the use of children, and set it up nearby. He scooped the rabbits out of Kaneki’s lap and gently placed them in there.

“Just keep an eye out, they’re sneaky and can jump out of there.”

Kaneki nodded, slightly alarmed.

“Do you have anything you want to watch?”

Kaneki shrugged. “Not really. I’m not a big movie person. You can decide.”

Hide grinned so evilly at that that Kaneki instantly regretted his statement.

“I take that back!” Kaneki said.

“Too late! I have a perfect terrible zombie movie to subject you to!”

“Ughhhh,” Kaneki groaned.

“That’s the spirit!”

“I’m making a coffee before you do this to me,” Kaneki said, standing up. “Do you want one? And also where’s your coffee maker?”

Hide smiled sheepishly. “Uh, I don’t entirely know. I do have one and actual coffee I swear, but I normally only make instant, or buy it, or well nowadays I rely on you-” he shrunk under the horrified look Kaneki was giving him for not knowing where his coffee maker was.

“I’ll help you look!” Hide said hastily.

It took them nearly fifteen minutes to find them in the mess that was Hide’s cupboards. They finally took it out and some (thankfully) decent coffee grounds that someone gave Hide as a gift.

“This is what you give me to work with,” Kaneki sighed.

“It’ll be fine, work your magic,” Hide said with a wink.

Hide took out two mugs, one a normal-sized mug with Big Ben on it and one a rather large mug with a smiling bunny on it that said “COFFEE MAKES ME HOPPEE”.

While rummaging around in the kitchen Kaneki had also seen bunny tea towels and bunny salt and pepper shakers. He couldn’t stop himself from saying “You certainly have a lot of bunny-themed paraphernalia.”

“I like that you used the word paraphernalia,” Hide commented. “And yeah, I know it makes me look crazy, but I swear most of it wasn’t bought by me! It’s just that eventually I became known as the bunny guy with friends and family and, well, they give me a lot of bunny stuff.”

“Mmm,” Kaneki smirked.

“Oh shush,” Hide blushed. “Are you saying coffee doesn’t make you hoppee?”

“At this point in my life coffee barely gets me to normal,” Kaneki said.

Hide laughed, though Kaneki was not kidding.

“I’ll go set up the movie while you do this then?”

“Yeah,” Kaneki said. “I don’t want you anywhere near this and defiling it.”

Hide playfully smacked Kaneki on the arm and went to start the movie.

Kaneki couldn’t help but smile. His earlier anxiety all but evaporated. It felt nice to hang out with Hide like this. Kaneki hadn’t had a friendship (because that’s what this was right, they had to be more than coworkers after Hide let Kaneki pet his precious bunnies?) like this in years.

When he sat down and gave Hide his coffee, he found he didn’t even mind the awful movie Hide was going to force him to sit through. The rolling thunder and howling wind made it kind of atmospheric, and they both jumped a little when something jumped out on screen and laughed about it.

Then there was a booming clap of thunder, and the lights went out.

“Oh shit!” Hide said.

Thankfully, the lights flickered back on a moment later. But the room was filled with the tension that came when you didn’t know how long the power would last.

“I’m gonna put the bunnies back in their home so they don’t freak out,” Hide said. Kaneki smiled to hear that Hide would not refer to it as a “cage”. “And we should charge our phones just in case.”

“Maybe I should go home now,” Kaneki said. “Before the trains get cancelled or something.”

“Are you kidding me?” Hide demanded, staring at Kaneki in horror with his arms full of bunnies. “You can’t go out there!”

“I, uh, have to? Eventually? To go home?” Kaneki said.

“No way! Stay here the night! You can have my bed!”

“I can’t do that!” Kaneki said, horrified, the anxiety he had felt earlier in the day rushing back full force. “I’ll be fine if I leave right now, really!”

“Nope,” Hide said. “I’m putting these bunnies away and you are staying right here where it’s safe.” It was among the most ridiculous statements Kaneki had ever heard in his life, but Hide said it with such finality that he knew he could not argue back

Kaneki was left alone to panic for a moment while the thunder rolled ominously in the distance. Staying at Hide’s place was too much. They barely knew each other. If he saw Kaneki wake up in the morning he would see how awful he was.

A series of half-formed and not entirely logical panic-induced thoughts raced through his head until Hide returned.

“Okay, now that we know you’re definitely staying, we can finish the movie and pray the power doesn’t go out.”

Kaneki nodded but said. “Really, I don’t mind the rain, I don’t want to be a bother-”

“Staying!” Hide said decisively.

They sat on the couch and finished the movie. The lights flickered a few times during the movie, but didn’t completely go out again for the rest of the night. But Kaneki could not get comfortable like he had been before, and when he laughed at how dumb the movie was he was sure Hide could tell it was forced.

It was getting late, but not really late enough to justify going to bed. Kaneki was somehow both exhausted and on edge and jittery at the same time.

“That was fun!” Hide said, turning the TV off

“Yeah,” Kaneki said, smiling stiffly. “Weird, but fun.”

“That’s my motto,” Hide said. Kaneki smiled genuinely this time.

“It’s a bit early, but I’ll get some blankets and pillows and we can pull out the futon?”

“Yeah, sure,” Kaneki’s heart pounded at the realization that he really was going to be staying at Hide’s house and there was no backing out of it now. He followed Hide to his closet and held a bundle of blankets and pillows while Hide rolled out the futon for him. Hide insisted that his room was too much of a disaster, so they set up the futon in the living room.

They made the bed together and stared at it.

“I don’t know if you’re tired enough to sleep-” Hide said.

“I am,” Kaneki lied. “Busy day, really took it out of me.”

“Yeah,” Hide shuffled awkwardly. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Kaneki lied again.

“Have I properly made it up to you for crying at the bar?”

“You have,” Kaneki laughed. “You’re so over the top, I told you none of it was necessary from the start.”

“I know,” Hide said. “You just… I don’t know, maybe it’s not my place but you seemed really upset that day and I just wanted to cheer you up. I know what it’s like to be upset about a breakup.”

“Yeah,” Kaneki certainly got that feeling.

“I just...okay, what I really wanted to ask is, um, have you actually not dated anyone since she broke up with you?”

The words hung in the air.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kaneki asked coldly.

“I just…” Hide struggled to find the words. “I got that impression.”

“Yeah. I haven’t dated anyone in three years,” Kaneki said sharply. “Because I’m just that much of a loser. Can I go to bed now?”

“That’s not what I meant!” Hide said, horrified. “I just- you’re a nice person. You deserve better than to be hung up on someone who treated you badly.”

“Sure,” Kaneki said, all the fight suddenly gone out of him. “Thanks.”

“I’m… I’ll let you go to bed then,” Hide said

“Yeah,” Kaneki said.

“Good night.”

“Good night, Hide.”

Kaneki lay there in the dark, hating himself. He hated that the first thing he thought was that Hide was calling him a loser, when Hide really was saying he deserved more. He hated how Hide was wrong about that. He lay there and he listened to the wind rattle the windows as the storm didn’t let up all night.

***

He woke up the next morning feeling groggy and miserable. He had slept, but not very well, and they hadn’t closed the curtains the night before so the light was directly on his face.

He groaned and rolled over. He checked his phone to see what time it was and it was only nine, which was way earlier than he wanted to be up on a weekend.

He knew himself well enough to know he wouldn’t fall back asleep. He hoped Hide would wake up soon so he could just leave. The thought of just getting up and leaving Hide a note crossed his mind, but he knew he was too much of a coward to actually do it.

He ended up just laying there, playing around on his phone and waiting to hear Hide stir. When he could no longer stand it, he got up and started making coffee.

Hide emerged fifteen minutes later as Kaneki drank from a mug, standing awkwardly at the counter.

“The smell of coffee has awoken me,” Hide said. “Oh my god that smells so good.”

Smiling slightly, Kaneki said, “I made enough for you, of course.”

“Never doubted that,” Hide said, pouring himself some coffee. When he opened the fridge to get the milk he said, “I can make you something quick for breakfast? I have eggs-  oh I could do pancakes I think!”

Just then, Kaneki’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he checked it. He froze when he saw the reminder he had set for himself every morning:

Take your medication! :)

Of course, he had not expected to stay over at Hide’s place last night, so he didn’t bring any.

It really wasn’t that big a deal, but Kaneki couldn’t help but panic just a little.

“Man, if I had a waffle iron I could make waffles. I know waffles and pancakes are kinda the same but they just feel different you kn- what’s wrong?” Hide said suddenly.

“Huh?”

“You look kinda...freaked out,” Hide said. “I don’t have to make pancakes?”

“N-no!” Kaneki said. “Um, I should actually get going.”

“So soon?” Hide said. “Seriously, is something wrong?”

“I…” Kaneki hesitated before saying, haltingly. “I have medication I’m supposed to take, but I left it at home-”

“Oh,” Hide said. “Oh shit, are you going to die without them?” Hide looked genuinely alarmed and Kaneki couldn’t help but bite his lip to hold back laughter.

“No, Hide, I’ll be fine.” When Hide did not look appeased Kaneki sighed. He might as well tell the truth.

Steeling himself for how Hide would react, Kaneki said, “I’m...on antidepressants. It’s better to take them at the same time each day, but I’ll be fine.”

“Oh my god, I thought for a second you were gonna be like ‘if I don’t take this thing at 10:37 exactly every day my heart will explode’.”

“I don’t think hearts work that way, Hide,” Kaneki couldn’t help but laugh this time.

“They better not,” Hide said. “So, what do you want to do? I can make you breakfast still, if you’d like, or you can head home?”

Hide looked so hopeful that Kaneki would pick the first option, and Kaneki was so relieved at Hide’s non-reaction to his confession that he really only had one choice.

“I haven’t had pancakes in years,” Kaneki said.

Hide grinned, and Kaneki suddenly felt warm.

Kaneki and Hide each drank their way through the coffee he had made as Hide made pancakes. Kaneki tried to help but Hide insisted he didn’t, so he sat drinking coffee and watching Hide flail about the kitchen in a truly worrying manner.

He had been so worried about Hide would think about him taking antidepressants, and he hadn’t even blinked. It was so different from the reaction Rize had had when he told her his doctor had suggested it. Not that he ever thought Hide would be so insulting but, well, the thought that it was something that Hide wouldn’t even judge had not crossed his mind.

And then there was last night. He had thought Hide was insulting him by pointing out how long it had been since he’d dated anyone, but Hide was really only saying he deserved more.

And, even if Kaneki didn’t quite believe that, he believed Hide meant it.

He helped Hide clean up after breakfast, and didn’t rush through it so he could get home. Though, unfortunately, he still had work to do at home that he needed to get done before his next class.

It was with a reluctance that surprised even him that he left Hide’s apartment.

“Thanks for coming over,” Hide said, as Kaneki put on his shoes.

“Thanks for...everything,” Kaneki said.

“Sorry for not telling you I’m shit at making pancakes,” Hide rubbed the back of his head.

“They’re the best pancakes I’ve had in years,” Kaneki said wryly.

“Aw, thanks- hey !”

Kaneki laughed as he headed out the door.

Chapter Text

It was the second time Kaneki had gotten to the office to see Hide already there. Though this time he was actually inside the office instead of sitting on the floor in the hallway.

“I see you remembered your key this time,” Kaneki said.

“I took your advice and made a spare,” Hide looked up from his laptop and smiled at Kaneki, brushing his hair behind his ear.

Kaneki sat down in his own chair and took out his own laptop. “And what brings you here so early?”

“Oh, you know,” Hide said airily. “Just excited to start the new day and all that.”

“It’s two in the afternoon.”

“Bright and early.”

Kaneki shook his head in exasperation. “Anyway, I wanted to thank you for having me over this weekend. And letting me stay so unexpectedly.”

Hide waved his hand dismissively. “It wasn’t any trouble. I liked having you over. Can’t remember the last time a guy made coffee for me after staying the night.” Hide suddenly went bright red. “Uh, that was kind of a weird thing to say, wasn’t it?”

Kaneki laughed. “Well, I’m glad I could make something of your pitiful coffee situation.”

Hide was still a little pink, though Kaneki couldn’t imagine why. He’d thought it was a good joke.

“And I’m...sorry for bringing up the stuff with what’s-her-name,” Hide grimaced.

“Rize,” Kaneki said. “And it’s fine.”

“No it isn’t,” Hide insisted. “It upset you, I could tell.”

Kaneki shrugged. “It did a bit at the time, but your concern is sort of sweet.”

Hide smiled at him, and Kaneki couldn’t help but add. “Some might call that concern being nosy, but still, sweet.”

Hide laughed. “Yeah, I’ve been told I can be nosy.”

“-That does not surprise me in the slightest,” Kaneki said.

“But you’re the first person who’s said it was sweet.”

“Well, generally when people hear I haven’t dated after breaking up three years ago they react with a lot more pity.”

“Dude, I am not in a position to judge anyone else’s dating history.”

Kaneki burst out laughing.

“Okay, you laughed a little too hard at that,” Hide had slowly wheeled over his chair so that he was sitting beside Kaneki. He was looking at Kaneki expectantly. And Kaneki realized that Hide was giving him the opportunity to open up, if he wanted it.

“I just… don’t think I know how to date anyone anymore,” Kaneki confessed.

Hide frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, it’s not like I really dated anyone before her,” Kaneki sighed. “Before we broke up we dated for five years.”

“Oh,” Hide said in surprise. “That’s...quite a while.”

“Yeah so that’s… eight years of not dating anyone who wasn’t her.” God that was sad when he said it out loud.

“Well, uh, how did you start dating her then?” Hide prompted.

“She kept coming into Anteiku reading books by my favourite author,” Kaneki grimaced at how dorky he was about to make himself sound. “And she was the year above me in my program so I saw her around a lot. And eventually she came in and I served her coffee and started some horrifyingly nerdy conversation about Takatsuki Sen and somehow ended up dating her after that.”

“Adorable,” Hide said.

“In any case, I don’t think I actually was ever good at dating. It was… a miracle she ever agreed to go out with me or stay with me for so long.”

“Hey,” Hide said. “Don’t say that! Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

Kaneki scoffed. “Not according to her.”

Hide looked shocked, and Kaneki was filled with the sudden horrible feeling that he had said too much.

“L-look,” Kaneki stammered.

“She’s wrong, then.” Hide said this with such ferocity that Kaneki stopped talking.

“Th-thanks, Hide,” Kaneki said awkwardly.

Hide still looked supremely pissed off.

“But, uh, like I said,” Kaneki desperately wanted to get this conversation back on track. “I have no idea how to date.”

“I’m sure there are people interested in you,” Hide said seriously.

Kaneki had to fight back a bitter laugh at that one. He doubted that very much. “I wouldn’t even know how to tell if they were.” Which they weren’t, but he had a feeling arguing that point with Hide would be a waste of time.

Hide put his hand on Kaneki’s shoulder and looked him in the eye solemnly. “You just gotta look for signals.”

“Signals,” Kaneki repeated, once again fighting back a laugh. “What on earth does that mean, Hide?”

“You know! Little things they do that show they’re interested! Flirting, getting flustered, everyone’s different.”

“Hmm,” Kaneki said. “And how would I tell if someone’s flirting with me?”

“Like I said, everyone’s different! But, I don’t know, you could look for little things like blushing when they’re talking to you, maybe even doing some nervous habit like brushing their hair behind their ears, touching you unnecessarily. Things like that.”

Kaneki laughed. “I don’t think anyone does anything like that around me.”

Hide slid his hand off Kaneki’s shoulder and sighed.

“Well, if you ever need any relationship advice, you can always talk to me,” Hide said with a smile. “I mean I know my track record isn’t amazing, but I’m capable of giving better advice than I follow,” he laughed.

“Right,” Kaneki smiled back. “And you can always text me to complain about your dates.”

“Oh, that,” Hide said, rolling back to his desk so he could actually do some work. “Thanks, man, but I’ve actually sworn off dating for a while.”

“Really?” Kaneki asked in surprise. “Was that last guy really so bad?”

“No, I mean yes , but that’s not why,” Hide shrugged, not looking Kaneki in the eye. “I’ve just decided to focus on other things for a while.”

“Huh,” Kaneki said. “Well, good luck with them, then.”

“Thanks,” Hide said. He mumbled something under his breath that Kaneki didn’t quite catch, but it sounded a lot like “I think I’m going to need it.”

***

They settled into an oddly comfortable routine over the next few weeks.

Kaneki wasn’t sure how it had happened, exactly. Or to be more clear, he knew how it had happened,  Hide had continued to invite him out for things over the weekend or after classes, and Kaneki generally said yes, but he just wasn’t sure why it had happened.

He supposed now that Hide had, for whatever reason, sworn off dating, he didn’t know what to do with his time. But it suited Kaneki just fine. He liked spending time with Hide, and he found himself secretly dreading when Hide inevitably started dating again. He hadn’t had someone to spend time with like this in ages.

It was also nice to be able to distract themselves from marking mid-term papers and exams, which was taking its toll on both of them.

Hide burst out laughing as he looked at one paper and Kaneki nearly jumped out of his seat.

“What was that about?” Kaneki asked tersely as he looked up from reading the same paragraph in one essay over and over, trying to make sense enough of it that he could at least justify giving a mark for trying.

“Every year this happens,” Hide said. “Ever since I was a teacher’s assistant. They all assume I’m a soft marker because I act fun in class.”

“And you’re laughing because-?”

“It’s a little funny to see the ones who thought they could coast through learn they can’t?”

“Don’t be mean to the first years, Hide,” Kaneki sighed.

“Hey, I’m fair ,” Hide protested. “Better they find out now than during the finals.”

“I suppose so,” Kaneki said. He was going to say something else, but just then there was knock on the door.

Hide perked up and said to come in. He slumped down when he saw it was one of Kaneki’s students and Kaneki nearly laughed. It was obvious that Hide wanted a distraction from marking.

Kaneki pulled out the spare chair for her and gestured kindly. Hide went back to scratching away at his exams.

The student seemed nervous. Of course, Kaneki knew why, considering her paper was not among the pile he was currently marking.

She shot Hide anxious glances, and Kaneki could tell she wasn’t expecting anyone other than her own professor would be here to hear her excuses.

As she started to explain her reasons for not having handed it in yet, tearfully explaining the stress of her first few months of university was getting to her and that she was having nervous breakdowns in the run-up to midterms, Kaneki noticed that Hide tactfully put his earbuds in so that it wouldn’t appear he was eavesdropping.

Kaneki smiled a bit to himself. Hide may talk about being a tough professor, but Kaneki knew how sweet he was.

The student noticed it as well, and told her story with a lot more ease.

Kaneki’s heart broke for her, he certainly knew what she was feeling. He only wished he’d had the courage to tell his own professors back when he was student.

“I won’t take marks off for being late this time,” Kaneki said, as sternly as he could (which was not very sternly). “But it has to be in on Thursday, because I need to send the marks in by Friday night.”

He also gently and somewhat awkwardly suggested she see one of the school counsellors. But he wasn’t sure if she would or not.

She thanked him over and over as she left.

Kaneki went a little pink as she thanked him profusely and waved his hand dismissively. “Of course, I’m glad that you came for help.”

Hide waited until she was gone to pop his earbuds out.

“I assume you listened to the whole thing,” Kaneki sighed.

“Obviously,” Hide said. “That was sweet of you, but you’re a little soft.”

“What do you mean?” Kaneki bristled.

“Well, generally speaking, you’re supposed to lose five percent for every day it’s late-”

“I know policy, Hide,” Kaneki said testily. “I know I wasn’t here last year, but I have technically worked here longer than you.”

Hide raised his eyebrows. “I’m just saying. I feel bad for her, but everyone else is stressed this time of year, and it’s not fair to other students-”

“It’s not just stress , Hide!” Kaneki snapped. “It’s- you wouldn’t get it.”

“Try me!” Hide said.

They both stared at each other a moment. They hadn’t argued with each other before.

“I…” Kaneki said. “Well, you know I have...mental health issues,” Kaneki said haltingly, in what he thought might be the understatement of the century. “I struggled a lot as a student, and I wish I had reached out for help back then, but I didn’t because I knew the professors would tell me it was ‘just stress’.”

Hide was quiet for a moment, and Kaneki, as always, worried that he’d said too much.

“Sorry,” Hide said quietly.

“Huh?” Kaneki said.

“You’re right,” Hide said. “I don’t really know what it’s like, I shouldn’t have-”

“It’s fine,” Kaneki said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I am going to worry about being an asshole!” Hide said.

Kaneki laughed. “You’re not an asshole, Hide,” Kaneki said. “Maybe just a bit...uninformed.”

Hide grimaced. “I’ll be glad when midterms are over, myself, to be honest.”

“Me too,” Kaneki sighed.

“Wanna go for drinks after class again today?” Hide asked.

“Obviously,” Kaneki grinned.

***

Their brief argument was completely forgotten when they got to the bar. Kaneki was no longer as uncomfortable as he used to be. Hide had an odd ability to make him feel comfortable in these situations.

“I think that girl across the bar is giving you a look,” Hide said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Except when he did that.

“Stop that,” Kaneki said. “And no she isn’t.”

“She totally is!”

“How do you know she isn’t looking at you?” Kaneki demanded.

“Why would she be looking at me?” Hide said, looking genuinely surprised.

“Why would she be looking at me ?” Kaneki said in exasperation.

“Why not?” Hide said. “You’re good-looking, you exude a quiet, nerdy disposition which many people find appealing-”

“Gee, thanks,” Kaneki said sarcastically. “And for all you know she’s into guys who are all handsome and blond and energetic!”

“Handsome?” Hide repeated blankly. Kaneki suddenly felt his cheeks heat up, but was saved as Hide continued, “But I’m gay!”

“But she doesn’t know that,” Kaneki said. “Can we stop arguing about this? I’d rather just relax.”

“Fine, fine,” Hide said, admitting defeat.

He had fun with Hide, but even Kaneki had noticed that Hide had an unusual investment in his dating life.

They didn’t just go out for coffee and drinks, Kaneki had actually dragged Hide to go shopping around bookstores a few times as well. It wasn’t necessarily something Hide was into, but it was actually Hide who had suggested Kaneki pick something that he wanted to do for a change. It was nice, and it became a semi-regular thing to go book shopping before getting a coffee.

“Do you need any help finding something?” The woman who worked at the store asked him. She was about his age and, okay, Kaneki was oblivious, but even he noticed that she flipped her hair behind her shoulder unnecessarily when she asked him that.

“U-uh, no, I’m fine. Thank you,” Kaneki said, his face going slightly pink.

Hide elbowed Kaneki gently when she walked away. “You can’t tell me that wasn’t a signal!”

“You and your signals,” Kaneki mumbled, turning and taking a great interest in the books in front of him and finding, to his horror, that he was in front of the shelf of sexy romance novels.

“Am I wrong?’ Hide grinned, following behind Kaneki as Kaneki resolutely went to a shelf of non-sexy books.

“No,” Kaneki admitted. “But I’m just not...interested right now.” He wished Hide would stop bringing this up.

“If you say so,” Hide shrugged. “Hey,” Hide said, plucking one of Kaneki’s own books off the shelf of decidedly not-sexy books. “You think it would help your case if I told her you were an author of a book in her own store?”

“Hide, if you do that, I swear I will murder you.”

“All right,” Hide said. “Speaking of this book, I finished it last night!”

“You were reading it?” Kaneki said. “You didn’t tell me that!”

“I wanted to wait until I was done so that I would actually have something intelligent to say about it. There was a lot of symbolism so I wasn’t sure I actually understood it at first.”

“I told you it wasn’t something you’d be into,” Kaneki said uneasily.

“I figured that, but it was still really good!” Hide insisted. “Sad as fuck though, holy shit.”

“Hmm,” Kaneki said, his face burning as he focused once again on the shelf in front of him.

“The main character’s death was ironic though, I like that.”

“Well, thank you,” Kaneki said.

Hide leaned closer to him so that Kaneki no longer had the option of ignoring him.

“You’re getting all flustered because I said I liked your book!”

“I think you just said you liked how the main character died,” Kaneki said. He was sure that if he blushed anymore he would faint from the blood rushing to his head.

“I did like it!” Hide said. “I normally don’t read tragic stuff like this so I don’t know how much my review will mean, but I thought it was clever, and even though it was sad it could be funny, and your writing has really good imagery- should I stop now? Your face is getting really red.” Hide was grinning in a way that told him he didn’t mind how flustered Kaneki was getting.

“Please,” he begged. “I’m glad you liked it so much, but I’m really not that good.”

“Still so humble, even though all his books are best-sellers and you have all these fancy awards on the front of all of them.”

Kaneki groaned.

“And this is only your first one!” Hide continued. “So I bet they’re only going to get better and better!”

Kaneki groaned louder.

“Okay, now I’ll stop,” Hide smirked. “Still, you should take more pride in the things you’re good at, you know.”

Kaneki nodded, not willing to argue with Hide. Not willing to tell him that he was actually sure his books were getting worse each time, and definitely not willing to tell Hide that he was writing a new book on top of everything else he had to do for work, that the upcoming deadline was already an extension that he probably wouldn’t make again.

He felt an all-too-familiar, clawing sense of panic. Suddenly the room seemed both too small and too crowded all at once, and he was very warm.

Hide put his hand on his shoulder, startling Kaneki enough to come back to himself.

“You gonna buy more books or can we get coffee?”

“I didn’t come here for nothing,” Kaneki insisted.

“I have no idea how you even have time to read all these books.”

“I don’t,” Kaneki admitted.

Hide laughed, but he was giving Kaneki an oddly intense look which was making Kaneki wonder if he had known he was starting to panic.

But maybe he was kidding himself. Maybe that was just him wanting to believe that Hide noticed these things about him.

He at least had to be honest enough with himself to know that the reason he didn’t want Hide pointing out potential dating prospects for him was because he wanted Hide’s time to himself. He was fine spending his time with Hide, and didn’t need to date someone who would just cut into that time anyway.

Hide was the best friend Kaneki had had in ages. Kaneki just wanted to enjoy spending time with him.

And now it seemed that he found Hide so calming that his mere presence was enough to save Kaneki from a panic attack.

And yes, it hadn’t escaped Kaneki’s notice (especially now that Hide was leaning against a bookshelf and talking to Kaneki, his arms crossed in a way that showed them off to an indecent degree), that Hide was very handsome.

Don’t think about that . He told himself sternly, half-hiding his face behind a book he was pretending to be absorbed in so Hide couldn’t see his distress. He’s a coworker and a friend, don’t make it weird .

Though as much as he could try to make “Don’t make it weird” his motto, Kaneki had never been good at taking his own advice.

***

This is it . Kaneki told himself sternly, getting home from school one evening. You need to buckle down and write your novel. No watching videos on the internet. No reading books. No reflecting on your life and sinking into a void of despair. No going out with Hide no matter how much he begs.

Hide had seemed disappointed when Kaneki said he couldn’t do anything that weekend. Maybe he could go out for one drink after all-

Shaking his head at himself, he opened his laptop and sternly set about writing.

He angrily rewrote a scene that had not been working out, though at least part of it was because the scene that followed it was a sex scene and he cursed himself for making it a pivotal scene in this book.

It was sex that turned into murder, of course. But the problem was the sex had to actually be sexy and not awkward and that was not Kaneki’s forte at all.

He cursed himself for about the thousandth time and reached into his laptop bag to retrieve his notes only to curse himself for a different reason.

None of his notes were in his bag. What was more, he was missing his laptop charger. His laptop was low on battery, though he supposed he could always go buy a new charger. The real worry was the notes.

He frantically grabbed his phone, which he had placed far away from his desk so he wouldn’t get distracted by all the rabbit photos that Hide would send him, hoping to ask him if he had found anything.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that Hide had already sent him a message.

Hide: hey i think you left some of your shit here hope it’s not important lol

Hide: i have it with me i can give it back to you next time i see you

Kaneki texted back rapidly.

Kaneki: It actually is important and I need it this weekend. Is it okay if I come grab it tomorrow?

Hide’s reply came almost too quickly.

Hide: why don’t i just bring it over right now i’m not doing anything because my drinking buddy abandoned me

Kaneki shook his head.

Kaneki: Very funny Hide. But yes that would be great thank you .

Hide replied saying he’d be right over and Kaneki slumped down on his couch in relief, only to bolt upright when a sudden horrible thought occurred to him and he quickly sent Hide another message.

Kaneki: Do NOT look at those notes.

Hide: alarming but okay

Crisis averted, Kaneki allowed himself to relax. The notes were for his novel and, unfortunately, a lot of the ones he had written recently had been rewrites of the godforsaken sex scene he’d scribbled down when he didn’t have his computer on him. The thought of Hide reading them was unbearable. He could only imagine the ways Hide would tease him about it. Especially since the scene was a little… well, kinky.

Then again, maybe Hide wouldn’t find it that weird. From the sounds of it, he’d had a lot of sex. And he was certainly less bashful about these things than Kaneki.

Maybe he had even done some of the kinkier things before. And he’d read the notes even though Kaneki had told him not to because he was nosy like that. And he’d come to Kaneki’s apartment, shaking his head in amusement.

Kaneki , this is all wrong! If you want your novel to be any good, I’m going to have to teach you-

He snapped out of his shameful reverie when he felt his phone buzz. He checked his messages, his face bright red even though Hide couldn’t possibly know what he was just thinking about.

Hide: gonna be a little late got on the wrong fucking bus

Right. At least that gave Kaneki a chance to let his face go back to a normal colour. He could not believe what he had almost allowed himself to imagine Hide doing to him.

It’s fine, he’s just a little attractive and experienced but really you’re just that desperate for someone to tell you how to finish this stupid scene .

Though considering how the scene ended maybe he actually just wanted Hide to murder him.

Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair and then immediately froze when he looked up and properly saw his apartment.

It was amazing what he would let slide, knowing no one was ever going to come over. He had gotten used to the darkness and messiness of his own apartment so much that he never even noticed. But now that Hide was coming over he realized just how much of a disaster zone his apartment really was.

He imagined Hide opening the door only to quickly stuff Kaneki’s things into his arms, making some excuse about how he couldn’t stay over and spending the ride home wondering what was wrong with Kaneki that allowed him to live this way.

At least Hide getting on the wrong bus had bought him some precious moments. He rushed to clean the apartment as best he could, which mostly consisted of taking stuff off the floors that wasn't meant to be there and putting them in piles on tables or throwing them in the closet where Hide couldn’t see.

Finally, he went to open the curtains to let some natural light into the room for the first time in...he didn’t know how long. It illuminated the dust dancing in the air but at least it made the place look a bit less bleak.

Kaneki jumped when he heard a knock at the door. He opened it slowly, trying to block the view of the apartment so that it wasn’t revealed to Hide all at once.

“Hey,” Hide smiled. “Buses are stupid. Anyway, here’s a bag with your charger and those super secret notes I absolutely can’t read.”

“Thanks,” Kaneki mumbled, taking the bag from him. “I really owe you one.” He didn’t want to think about what might have happened had Hide not found them, and someone else who used their office space had seen them instead and read the notes the next day.

“No problem,” Hide said nonchalantly. “I’m just your saviour, no big deal.”

Kaneki rolled his eyes, but his lips quirked up in a smile. “I suppose this is the part where I invite you in for coffee?”

Hide widened his eyes and put his hand over his heart in feigned shock, “Why, I’d never dream of using this situation to my advantage to gain some delicious coffee but since you offered so graciously I suppose I may partake-”

“Oh, shut up and get in here,” Kaneki said stepping back so that Hide could come in. Hide followed him to his kitchen and sat down at the table while Kaneki busied himself making coffee.

“Sorry, uh, about the state of the apartment,” Kaneki said awkwardly.

“It’s not that bad. You should see my bedroom, there’s a reason I’ve never invited you into it.”

Kaneki suddenly had a vivid image of Hide inviting him into his bedroom. It wouldn’t matter that the bed wasn’t made, because they would mess it up soon enough-

He accidentally spilled water all over the counter.

Get ahold of yourself .

He was glad that Hide seemed to not notice how flustered he was getting. He set about boiling the water to the perfect temperature.

“You’re so methodical.” Kaneki jumped when he heard Hide’s voice directly behind him.

“Hide! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Not sneaking, just observing. Watching you put my coffee-making skills to shame.”

“You don’t have coffee-making skills, Hide.” He hoped that Hide couldn’t see how red his ears were getting. Why did he have to stand so close?

“Tough but fair,” Hide grinned, seemingly unperturbed by how grumpy Kaneki was being.

“Maybe you can watch me and learn a thing or two,” Kaneki suggested wryly, then instantly cursing himself. He didn’t want Hide to stand so close to him, right?

So what was he doing?

“I’d much rather have you make my coffee, it just won’t taste as good when I do it, because yours is made with love .”

Kaneki made a weird choking sound that he very much hoped Hide didn’t hear.

“But I will watch you because it’s oddly calming.”

“Hmm,” Kaneki mumbled. “It won’t take long. And then I’m going to have to kick you out because I actually need to work on this novel.”

“Wouldn’t want to get in the way of your muse,” Hide said.

Kaneki suddenly had a very vivid image of what he had pictured earlier. Hide, showing him how he could write a more convincing sex scene-

“I don’t have a muse,” Kaneki said, a little too forcefully.

“Guess you’re right, it comes all from up here-” Hide ruffled Kaneki’s hair and Kaneki spluttered with the indignity of it all, but did not move to push him away.

“Are you going to let me make you a coffee or are going to continue to interrupt my art in every way you can manage?”

“Your art ,” Hide said derisively, but he stayed quiet and watched Kaneki as he worked.

It should have made Kaneki uncomfortable, but it was actually sort of nice.

Kaneki served them both coffee shortly and they sat down at the table. Kaneki reluctantly brought out the milk and sugar (he checked the date on the milk when Hide wasn’t looking, he couldn’t quite remember when the last time he went grocery shopping was). He also found some cookies in his cupboard that he hadn’t yet opened.

“I’m being pampered, all I need is for you to bring out your old work uniform and my fantasy will be complete,” Hide grinned, dunking his cookie into his coffee and earning a glare from Kaneki in the process.

“Don’t do that to my coffee or my cookies, Hide. And what kind of fantasy is that?”

Hide didn’t reply, but casually dunked his cookie into his coffee again.

They sat around and talked for a bit after that. Probably longer than Kaneki should have allowed Hide to stay, since he had to do work, but it was so hard to kick Hide out and return to the emptiness of his apartment. It somehow seemed brighter with Hide here.

Though that thought was ridiculous.

Kaneki finally ushered Hide out of his apartment.

“Good luck on your novel!” Hide said. “I’m sure it’ll be great! And maybe I can start reading your second one since I’m all alone this evening-”

“No guilt-tripping, you had your coffee,” Kaneki crossed his arms sternly.

“Worth a shot. Thanks for that, by the way.”

“No, thank you for bringing my things over. You really saved my...ass.”

Hide snickered. “You always hesitate before swearing, it’s so cute.”

Kaneki glared at him.

“I’m going, I’m going!”

Hide shut the door. And Kaneki was alone.

He glanced around at his apartment. At least Hide hadn’t seemed too judgmental, even though he knew his apartment was in a sad state that reflected his life all too well.

Forcing himself not to think about that, he sat down at his desk and stared at his open document. He re-read what he wrote and promptly buried his face in his hands when he realized he was picturing the male involved as Hide now.

No , he told himself firmly. Wrong. Wrong and bad.

Deciding he would skip that scene for now and get to the gruesome consequences (much easier to write), Kaneki forced himself to write.

Later that night, he crawled into bed with a sigh. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to sleep after all the coffee he had that day in an attempt to reward himself for writing. He had gotten a bit further, but he found his own writing choppy and disjointed. He had been a little distracted with the effort of not thinking about Hide.

Kaneki put his hands over his eyes and groaned out loud to the empty room. It seemed he could no longer deny that he found Hide attractive. Of course he did, it was just an objective fact that Hide was handsome.

But just because he found him attractive didn’t mean he wanted to do anything with that information. Sure, Hide was both very pretty and also the single best thing in his life, but that wasn’t the point. He liked Hide a lot as a friend who happened to also be very attractive. And that was it.

Kaneki nodded to himself, confirming this train of thought.

And besides, there was no way Hide would ever find him attractive, so the point was moot.

The idea of being with anyone right now was laughable anyway. He was too awkward around people, and though he had known he was bisexual for a long time, he had never told anyone. He had never been with a man before in any way, and he was worried it was too late for him. Who wanted to be with a thirty-four-year-old with no experience?

Going on thirty-five said a helpful voice in his head.

And Hide was, well, experienced , clearly. And he was so sweet and so handsome that Kaneki was sure he would get anyone he wanted and that very obviously would not be someone as sad and weird as Kaneki.

But that didn’t matter, because Kaneki only liked him as a friend.

Unbidden, his mind went to thoughts of Hide, and the shirts that he’d been wearing as the weather got warmer that showed off his nice arms that were starting to show just a hint of a tan.

Hide who could show him a thing or two about how to make a sex scene believable.

Great. Now he couldn’t sleep for an entirely different reason.

He lay there a minute, pondering exactly how shameful it would be to take care of the problem he had created for himself.

Probably very. But no one needed to know about it. And he wanted to go to bed.

“Goddamn it,” he muttered to himself, sliding his hand past the waistband of his pyjama pants.

He hadn’t hesitated before swearing that time

Chapter Text

Kaneki had not worked on his novel much that weekend.

He had actually spent most of it agonizing over the images his brain was supplying him of Hide. he had always known Hide was cute, why did his brain have to focus on that now ? It was like he was finding any excuse imaginable to procrastinate on his work.

Of course, when Hide had asked him how his work had gone in the office on Tuesday, Kaneki had lied and said it had gone great.

Hide had smiled so sweetly when Kaneki said that. “That’s awesome, man! Can I get an autographed copy when you’re done?”

Kaneki had stuttered out something about how it wasn’t done and even then it had to be edited and Hide had just laughed and said whenever it was done he wanted to be the first to read it.

This weekend, things would be different. This weekend he would write like his life depended on it and use the image of how disappointed Hide would be to fuel him and not the other images of Hide he had been picturing.

As if on cue, he received a text from Hide.

Hide: look at this!!!!

It was a video of one of his bunnies jumping over a small box he had placed on the ground.

Hide: look how talented she is! <3

Kaneki rolled his eyes, despite his grin.

Kaneki: ...did you build an obstacle course for your rabbits, Hide?

Kaneki felt the phone buzz in his hand.

Hide: ...maybe

Hide: why don’t you take me to that coffee place you used to work at and save from my boredom

Kaneki hesitated. He really should work on the novel-

He had already texted Hide that he would meet him in an hour.

Hide sent back a kissy face emoji.

Hide: you’re my saviour!

Kaneki felt heat rise to his face. Hide was ridiculous as always. And what on earth did he mean by that kissy emoji?

He figured he ought to get changed out of his current outfit of sweat pants and a tank top if he was going to see Hide. Although at this point Hide had seen his entire wardrobe of decent clothing and none of it was very impressive, he still picked a grey polo shirt with care and thought that he really should pick up something a bit more colourful one of these days.

“Oh thank god you said you wanted to meet up,” Hide sighed, sinking into the chair across from Kaneki. “I was literally dying.”

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?” Kaneki raised his eyebrows.

“Nope, have I ever told you rabbits die of loneliness?”

“Several times, yes.”

“Well, that’s what I am. A rabbit, dying of loneliness.”

Kaneki snickered. “I last saw you two days ago, Hide.” Kaneki privately thought that if that was all it took to die of loneliness, Kaneki would have died a long, long time ago.

“Yeah, well,” Hide shifted awkwardly on his chair. “I, uh, actually have something for you.”

Kaneki blinked. “Something? For...me?”

“Yeah!” Hide grinned and reached into his bag. “I had a hell of a time keeping it safe on the bus.”

“But...what?” Kaneki was utterly baffled.

He put a box on the table and Kaneki stared at it.

“Open it,” Hide prompted.

Kaneki opened it slowly to reveal a small plant.

“It’s an aloe!” Hide said. “Don’t worry I carried it all the way here, I just put it in the box before I came in so you couldn’t see it.”

“I-it’s very cute but...why are you giving me an aloe?”

Hide rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. Kaneki’s heart did a little squeeze when he saw the familiar gesture and he had to remind himself that Hide was only a friend and to not make it weird.

“So...don’t be mad when I say this? But your apartment didn’t have much decoration and I thought, you know, what would liven up the place! My first thought was bunnies. But then I figured this would be way more practical.”

Kaneki looked down at the small aloe. “Thank god it’s not a bunny.”

“Never let me hear you saw those words again!” Hide said sternly. “And, also, you seemed kind of stressed and tense about the novel so...I don’t know. I just wanted to do something little  to cheer you up I guess, do you like it?”

“I...I do.” God, he hoped Hide couldn’t hear the way his throat constricted. He had no idea why it should affect him this way, but Hide had just...got him a gift for no reason. Hide did him so many little kindnesses. So many things that Kaneki couldn’t remember anyone else having done for him in years, if ever. When was the last time he had gone out so much? Had someone he could talk to for hours and have it never be stiff and awkward? When was the last time someone bought him a gift because he seemed like he needed cheering up?

“Thank you, Hide,” Kaneki said, trying to keep his voice even. To his relief, he saw Hinami walking towards them.

“Hinami!” He exclaimed. “Good timing!

Hinami was walking towards them, looking pleasantly bemused at Kaneki’s out of character enthusiasm.

“Nice to see you two back again,” she smiled at them both. “What can I get you today?”

“Iced coffee,” Hide said. “It’s getting way too hot for lattes.”

“I think Kaneki would disagree,” Hinami smiled knowingly as Kaneki had indeed opened his mouth to argue with Hide that iced coffee was only acceptable in July and August. He fell silent, blushing.

“Oh I know he disagrees, I’ve heard the rants,” Hide grinned. “Just to annoy him more, put like three shots of caramel in there.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” Kaneki grumbled. “And why do I feel like you talk about me behind my back when I go to the bathroom?”

“Only nice things,” Hinami said. Hide for some reason looked sheepish, blushing just a little.

“Just my usual,” Kaneki said with a sigh.

“I’ll decide on what cake I want later!” Hide called after her as she left.

Hinami waved to indicate she’d heard.

“You know you don’t have to get cake every time you come here,” Kaneki said.

“Well, today is a day for cake,” Hide said evenly. “Though I think you’re right. I’m starting to get a little, well, chubby. And it’s definitely your fault and not my increasingly sedentary lifestyle as I age.”

Kaneki rolled his eyes, but unfortunately Hide’s comment had made him think of what he’d look like without a shirt on. How nice it would be to run his hands over his chest and stomach-

“Anyway, I’m going to head to the bathroom,” Hide said.

“Right,” Kaneki said absently.

While Hide was gone, Hinami came over to their table with their drinks.

“Thanks,” Kaneki said.

“You’re welcome,” Hinami said brightly. Instead of immediately heading off to tend to other customers, Hinami stayed by their table.

“Um, what’s up?” Kaneki asked.

Hinami fidgetted awkwardly. “I… I just wanted to say that I’m glad that you’ve started to come here with Hide.”

“Oh,” Kaneki said, not sure where this sudden burst of emotion was coming from. “Right. I’m glad too. I mean, I like it here obviously. And Hide does too, probably. I hope.”

Hinami smiled. “It’s just...well I’m glad to see you here. You stopped coming for a long time.”

“I came in occasionally,” Kaneki said, suddenly feeling defensive.

“I know but… well it wasn’t like it used to be.”

“Right,” Kaneki said tersely.

Hinami was blushing now. “I don’t want to make you feel bad for that! I know you had your own things going on.”

Kaneki snorted. You could certainly say that.

“But...I’m glad to see you around again,” Hinami bit her lip.

Kaneki was annoyed that Hinami would bring this up so suddenly, but she seemed sincerely happy that he was around again that it was hard to stay annoyed for too long.

“I’m glad I’ve been coming around more too,” Kaneki said. And he meant it.

Hinami smiled. “And I’m glad to see you bringing Hide around!”

“H-huh?” Kaneki stammered.

“It’s nice to see you...with someone.”

“He’s a friend,” Kaneki said. Hinami blinked at him in surprise and Kaneki blushed when he realized Hinami had not been implying anything else.

“He’s really sweet,” Hinami said.

“He is,” Kaneki said, glancing towards the bathroom to make sure that Hide was not heading back yet.

He glanced back to Hinami, who to his consternation was giving him a knowing smile.

“He’s cute too,” she grinned.

“I-is he?” Kaneki squeaked unconvincingly. The bathroom door opened and Kaneki said, in an even more embarrassingly high-pitched squeak “He’s coming back!”

“Hmm,” Hinami said. Her smile seemed even more annoyingly knowing than before.

Maybe she had been implying something after all.

Hinami waved jauntily at Kaneki as she walked away and Kaneki grimaced back.

Hide settled back down in front of Kaneki. “What was that about?” He teased. “And you were complaining about us talking about you when you’re in the bathroom!”

“We weren’t!” Kaneki said.

Hide raised an eyebrow. “I was joking, man.”

“R-right! Anyway! I’m… I really like the plant!”

“Good,” Hide said with a laugh. “I was hoping you would.” Hide stirred his iced coffee with a straw in an absent manner, and Kaneki had to admit he stared at him. The way the sun was coming through the window was hitting Hide in a particularly nice way. Making his hair look even blonder and his deep brown eyes sparkle.

(He was wearing a loose blue and white striped t-shirt, the collar hung enough so that Kaneki could see his collarbone. He wondered what it would be like to kiss it.)

God, he was a mess. God, Hide was cute.

“You okay there?”

God, Hide was perceptive.

“Y-yeah, I’m fine. Just, you know, thinking about things.”

Hide seemed unconvinced. Kaneki didn’t blame him but was glad when Hide didn’t pry.

“Wanna see the additions to my bunny obstacle course?” Hide asked.

Kaneki groaned but nodded. He actually kind of did.

The rabbits were a perfect distraction, and Hide actually moved his chair over to Kaneki’s side of the table so he could see better. They leaned together over Hide’s phone screen and their thighs were touching and Kaneki did not mind in the slightest.

At least until Hinami bustled over. At which point Kaneki was suddenly very aware of how close they were and how much people could see it.

“Have you decided on your cake, Hide?” Hinami asked.

“I think I’m going to treat myself to the double chocolate one today,” Hide said.

“Oooh, that one’s my favourite!”

“Sounds like a stomach ache waiting to happen.” Kaneki subtly shifted his chair away from Hide.

“Oh, you just hate fun,” Hide said, lightly pushing him. His fingers brushed against his arm and Kaneki suddenly felt goosebumps.

“I meant to ask,” Hinami said, gesturing towards the open box and plant that were still on the table. “Is it a special occasion? I know it’s not Kaneki’s birthday…”

Kaneki shook his head “No, Hide was just getting me something because my apartment is bleak.”

He laughed awkwardly and shot a sideways glance at Hide, only to see that Hide looked slightly uncomfortable and wasn’t meeting his gaze.

Suddenly, Kaneki remembered what Hide had said earlier about today being a day for cake.

“Aw, that’s nice!” Hinami said before she walked off to get Hide his cake.

“Nagachika.” Kaneki said.

“Uh oh, last name, I’m in trouble,” Hide laughed nervously.

Is it your birthday ?” Kaneki demanded incredulously.

“N-not technically,” Hide said.

“What does that mean?”

“Uh, it was my birthday Thursday, actually,” Hide shifted nervously.

Thursday ?” Kaneki tried to think back on Thursday, which was one of his shared office days with Hide. Had Hide given him any reason to think it was his birthday? No, but he had seemed a little sadder than usual when Kaneki had said he needed to go straight home and not hang out after work.

“Why didn’t you tell me!” Kaneki couldn’t believe him.

“I… I just didn’t want to make a big deal of it?” Hide looked surprised at Kaneki’s reaction. “I didn’t mean to upset you?”

“Upset me ?” Kaneki said. Hide flinched slightly and Kaneki realized he had said that quite loudly. Okay, maybe it was upsetting him a lot, but still.

“You were sad I couldn’t spend time with you!” Kaneki said, trying to explain himself to Hide.

“Well, I would have been sad anyway-”

“But you didn’t want to spend your birthday alone!” Kaneki said. “If you had just told me I would have-”

“But you had your own things to do!” Hide said. “I didn’t want to be a bother, and we’re hanging out now, aren’t we?”

“Yeah but… this wasn’t even for your birthday.” His eyes landed on the aloe plant. “It was so you could give a gift to me !” Kaneki said, realizing the depths of his bizarre selflessness.

“That was entirely not birthday related!” Hide said, just as Hinami came back with the cake. She gave no indication that she noticed they were arguing (bless her).

“Hinami!” Kaneki said with a force he could tell surprised the both of them. “Make sure he doesn’t pay for anything, this is all on me!” Since the first time they had been there Kaneki had refused to take anything for free.

“You don’t have to do that…” Hide said awkwardly.

“I do,” Kaneki said.

Hide stared at him a moment. It was a look that Kaneki could not read.

“If you insist,” Hide said finally, shrugging and looking away from Kaneki.

“I do,” Kaneki repeated.

Later that night, Kaneki was still wondering why on earth Hide hadn’t just told him it was his birthday. For one thing, it made Kaneki feel like a bit of an ass. But for another, if Hide had wanted to do something for his birthday, why couldn’t have just told Kaneki outright instead of coming up with these roundabout ways of doing it?

I’m not a mind reader , Kaneki thought irritably.

He would have to get a present for Hide too. He could not believe that Hide had technically got Kaneki a gift on his own birthday.

That tiny plant. Kaneki nearly groaned out loud to himself. He had forgotten (almost) in the face of his incredulity at Hide not mentioning his own birthday how it had felt to get that plant. He was being stupid, but god , no one had done something so nice, so out of nowhere and without any expectation of something in return, something just to cheer him up… in probably in his whole life, if Kaneki was being honest.

And being honest, even with himself, was not Kaneki’s strong suit. That tiny plant had been his undoing. The thing that made it obvious to him how he had felt all along for Hide.

Hide was not just a friend he found attractive. His heart beat faster when he was around him. He looked forward to seeing him so much that working was the highlight of his week. He thought about him almost constantly.

He had a crush on Hide. His coworker and best friend.

And what on earth was he supposed to do about that?

***

Kaneki should have spent his Sunday working on his novel, but it was a lost cause. He ended up spending the day shopping, because after yesterday he had to get Hide something. Even if it was something small.

He ended up looking around for an embarrassingly long time. Buying gifts had never been his strong suit, and he was beginning to realize, about two hours in, that he actually didn’t know a lot about Hide

No wonder Hide didn’t want to tell you about his birthday , he thought as he left yet another store. He knew you’d just get him something crappy .

The sun was beating down on his head and he deeply regretted wearing a black shirt today. To add insult to injury, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon and he could hear the most distant rumbles of thunder.

He didn’t bring an umbrella. He supposed he could just buy one, but he was starting to get irritable from the heat and his own failure.

Eventually he found it, in a small store that sold a seemingly random assortment of objects. He wasn’t sure if it was stupid, but he wanted to go home and something about it just reminded him so strongly of Hide that he couldn’t take his eyes off of it.

Of course, he spent the rest of his evening distractedly making notes for his classes this week and wondering if it really was stupid. Had he really talked only about himself in all the time he had known Hide?

Stupid. Selfish.

Shaking the thoughts out of his head. He let Hide talk about himself all the time! He listened to Hide complain about all his bad dates (at least, until he had suddenly decided not to date. And what was that about? Clearly something had happened. Did he not trust Kaneki enough?) and he let Hide send him pictures and videos of his bunnies all the time! And Kaneki even enjoyed it!

He suddenly became annoyed at Hide all over again. Why wouldn’t Hide tell him more about himself? Why wouldn’t he tell Kaneki about his birthday if he wanted to celebrate it?

Why would he look so surprised that Kaneki wanted to buy him at least a coffee for his birthday?

All of this was giving him a headache. He didn’t like being annoyed with Hide, and he had a hard time keeping it up. Thinking about Hide just made him think about all the things he liked about Hide too. And he found himself going back to hoping that Hide would like the gift he got him

And then going back to worrying he wouldn’t.

***

He waited anxiously for Hide to get into the office on Tuesday. His heart was beating rather quickly considering he was doing something that was the simplest thing in the world.

Little kids get their friends birthday presents ! He had told himself about a thousand times. But,  he knew that Hide was more than a friend to him. He knew that he wanted to impress him, he knew that he wanted to see his face light up when he saw what he had gotten him.

Which he wouldn’t, because it wasn’t that good.

Hide opened the door and Kaneki jumped a little in his seat. Hide smiled at Kaneki and pulled out the earbuds he had been listening to.

Right. Music. He likes music. You knew that, idiot. Though he knew little about what music Hide liked. The few times he had caught his music through his earphones it had seemed like random choices and pop music.

Hide hummed the song he had been listening to as he pulled his stuff out of his bag. Kaneki’s heart seemed to beat just a little bit quicker.

“Oh, hey! That’s a cute new mug!”

Ah, Hide had seen it. Kaneki had made coffee at home, put it in a travel mug, and then put it on Hide’s desk after making it just the way he liked it.

“W-well I’m glad you think so,” Kaneki said, trying sound nonchalant. “Because it’s actually yours.”

“Huh?” Hide said.

“The mug,” Kaneki said. “It’s for your birthday!”

Hide took the mug in his hands after sitting down and took a sip, seeming to only clue into what Kaneki said after a moment.

“For my...birthday? But you already bought me coffee and cake!”

“That was nothing, Hide!” Kaneki said. Not that this gift was much better.

Hide was staring at him now. “This mug is so cute!”

Kaneki had gotten him a large coffee mug with a small bunny hanging off the side of the rim. The mug itself was bright blue and had a pattern of sunflowers on it.

Hide smiled at him. “Did you get this for me because I’m obsessed with bunnies and I’m always begging you for coffee?”

“Well, partially, but the sunflowers also reminded me of you.”

Hide blinked. And Kaneki realized with horror that he had just said that out loud.

“The sunflowers reminded you...of me?” Hide was still staring at him.

Kaneki hoped that he was far enough from Hide that he couldn’t see how deeply he was blushing. Hide looked extremely confused, and Kaneki knew that the connection he’d made between Hide and sunflowers was not clear, logical or obvious to anyone that wasn’t Kaneki.

“Uh, yeah,” Kaneki said awkwardly. “Because your- your hair is yellow. Like a sunflower.”

“Oh,” Hide said. “It’s powerful similes like that that make you a best-selling author!!”

“Oh, shut up,” Kaneki said, and Hide laughed.

“And you even made me coffee just the way I like it!”

“Yeah,” Kaneki said. “Do you like it? The mug, I mean, I assume you like the coffee because you’re already halfway done it. I know it isn’t much of a gift-”

“It’s a great gift, Kaneki,” Hide said. Suddenly his voice seemed softer than it was before. He leaned his elbow on the desk and put his hand on his chin. He was giving Kaneki an odd look. “You really didn’t have to do this for me, you know.”

“Hide,” Kaneki said. “This is barely anything. You’re my friend and it was your birthday. Of course I’m going to want to do something for you. And,” Kaneki added fiercely because he saw that Hide was going to argue with him, “next year I’m going to make absolutely sure to remember your birthday so we can actually do something good.”

Hide opened his mouth and then closed it. Kaneki was glad that he wasn’t going to argue with him anymore, at least.

“You’re sweet,” Hide said finally. “Really sweet. Thank you, Kaneki.” Hide looked oddly sad as he said that, but Kaneki had a hard time focussing on that because his brain suddenly felt very fuzzy after Hide called him sweet.

“You deserve a birthday gift, Hide,” Kaneki said finally.

“Mmm,” Hide said.

They were interrupted by someone knocking on the door.

“Ooh, bet someone’s scared about this week’s test!” Hide said, rolling over to the door to open it without getting up.

“Don’t sound so happy about that, Hide,” Kaneki admonished.

The student hung around for long enough that eventually Kaneki had to leave for his class without saying much else to Hide on the subject. In a way, he was relieved, because he didn’t know what else he wanted to say and he was sure if he went on too much longer he would make things really awkward.

But at the same time, he felt like there was so much more to say, even if he wasn’t sure what it was. It was very confusing and he wasn’t very good at this.

It wasn’t until he was at home, making himself a tea instead of a coffee for once, that he managed to put together what was bothering him.

He hadn’t understood why Hide would have looked at him so sadly. He hadn’t understood why Hide wouldn’t just tell him it was his birthday.

But suddenly, it came to him. Hide didn’t think he deserved it. He didn’t want to be a bother, so he didn’t say anything. Kaneki knew the feeling all too well, but he never would have imagined Hide would feel that way. Hide, who always seemed so bright and confident. Hide, who always knew what to say and how to cheer Kaneki up.

But because he knew how it felt, Kaneki was sure he was right. The sad way Hide had looked at him, the way Hide never really talked about his own interests (rabbits aside), the way Hide had seemed so sad and surprised at the small things Kaneki had done for his birthday.

Hide didn’t think he deserved attention, to ask for things he wanted. And thinking about that hurt Kaneki in a way he couldn’t quite describe.

He wanted to make Hide believe he deserved it.

***

They were sitting in Hide’s living room, Kaneki petting Darling gently as Hide tried to make Lady jump over a little box.

“She does this when you’re not watching!” Hide pouted.

“Hmm, are you saying this is my fault?” Kaneki laughed as Darling nuzzled gently into his hand.

“You’ve seen the videos! She can do this!” Hide said with a sigh. “She still isn’t used to you, I guess.”

Lady looked at him haughtily. Kaneki no longer doubted that rabbits had different personalities.

Kaneki looked across Hide’s living room to see a shelf that he had never really focussed on. It was stacked with everything from CDs to cassettes to actual vinyl records, and it actually seemed to be sagging under their weight.

Kaneki thought about all the times he had seen Hide walking into the office or into cafes with earphones on, and how he had never noticed this shelf before, and felt ashamed. If Hide was collecting physical copies of music in this day and age, he must really be into it.

“So, do you like music?”

“-Come on, love, show off for Kaneki- huh?” Hide was startled from his coaxing of Lady.

Kaneki’s face went red instantly. That was not smooth.

“You have, um, a lot of it,” Kaneki gestured awkwardly at the shelf.

“Oh yeah,” Hide glanced over at his shelf.

“Do you… like anything in particular?”

“I will literally listen to anything,” Hide laughed. “Seriously, I think I have everything from classic rock to k-pop to bagpipe music on that shelf. And that’s not including all the shit I have on my computer.”

“Bagpipe music?” Kaneki repeated weakly.

“Oh, but I guess if I had to pick one thing, it would be the Backstreet Boys.”

Hide was smirking as he petted Lady, who he had apparently given up on.

“I...can’t tell if you’re kidding or not,” Kaneki admitted.

“I am most certainly not. They are at least half the reason young Hide found out he was gay.”

Kaneki laughed. “Not fully about the music is it?”

“Hey, they were great!” Hide argued.

“I never really listened to them,” Kaneki said.

What ?” Hide said. “That is not acceptable.” Hide stood up gently, holding Lady in his arms. “Help me put these bunnies away and I am going to teach you the error of your ways.”

“Are the bunnies not allowed to listen to the music?” Kaneki asked.

“Not with how loud I’m going to play it.”

It was the first time Kaneki had seen Hide’s bedroom. It was a bit of a mess, but not necessarily in a bad way. Hide had a shelf stacked with a shocking amount of manga and the walls were covered with movie posters for movies that Kaneki had never seen.

And a wall covered in Harry Potter posters in several different languages.

“Don’t judge me for how it looks I didn’t think you’d be in here- why are you smirking?”

“You’re such a nerd,” Kaneki said, gesturing at the posters. “Also, I can’t believe you never told me you liked Harry Potter. We are going to have to discuss that.”

“As if you can talk about me being a nerd,” Hide said. His ears were slightly pink from embarrassment but he also looked a little pleased with himself.

They settled the rabbits into their cages and Kaneki tried to memorize the names of the other movies so he could look them up on his phone later and maybe spark a discussion about them.

“All right,” Hide said, once they were back in the living room and he had hooked his speakers up to his laptop. “Prepare to be amazed and regret how you wasted your youth not being obsessed with boy bands.”

“I wasted my youth on a lot of things, Hide,” Kaneki said, but Hide ignored him. “Are you sure this isn’t going to bother your neighbours?”

“Nope,” Hide said, and with that he pressed play.

One thing Kaneki was not expecting was for Hide to sing along with the songs. He supposed it made sense because he spoke English and was clearly obsessed with them. He also was not expecting Hide’s singing voice to be so...good. Really good, actually. He didn’t always hit the right notes but there was a softness and confidence to his singing that made up for it.

It was kind of...sexy.

Kaneki tried desperately to not show just how into Hide’s impromptu karaoke he was.

“Now you sing something!” Hide said.

“I don’t know any Backstreet Boys songs, Hide,” Kaneki said.

“I didn’t say you had to sing one of their songs! Sing something you like!”

Kaneki suddenly felt anxious. “I- I don’t, I’m not really that into music and I have a bad singing voice…”

“I don’t judge!” Hide said. “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

It was the soft look that Hide was giving him, which caused his heart to beat for a reason other than anxiety, and the sincerity with which he said it, that convinced Kaneki to actually do it.

Most of the times in his life he had actively listened to music were the times he was the most depressed, so most of the music was not nearly as fun as what Hide had just sang. Still, he gave it a shot, though he could not look Hide in the eye as he sang.

“That was so good, Kaneki!” Hide said when he was done.

“It...it wasn’t-” Kaneki started, but Hide interrupted.

“Uh, between the two of us, I’m the one who knows the most about music, right?”

Kaneki nodded silently.

“Then you have to listen to me,” Hide smirked.

“Mmm,” Kaneki said, he supposed he couldn’t argue with that.

They actually spent a while like that. It was sort of fun, more than Kaneki had expected. Hide picked an increasingly odd assortment of music and Kaneki stuck with the songs he could remember without having to look up the lyrics, which weren’t very many.

They finally gave up when Kaneki’s throat started to hurt from singing. He wasn’t used to it but he got the impression Hide could have kept going for a while.

“That was fun,” Hide grinned. “We should do actual karaoke sometime!”

“I don’t know about that,” Kaneki mumbled, while privately thinking he’d very much like to hear Hide sing into an actual microphone.

“I’ll get you yet,” Hide threatened. Kaneki privately thought he already had.

“Y-you know what we should do,” Kaneki said quickly, seizing his opportunity. “We should see a movie together!”

Hide stared at him for a moment before finally saying, “Branching out a bit from coffee and bookstores are we?”

Kaneki flushed a little. “W-well. I thought it might be fun. You like movies a lot right?”

Hide nodded. “But...I’m not sure if you’d like the kind of movies I’m into Kaneki.”

“I’m willing to try new things!” Kaneki protested. “Wait…you don’t go watch p-porn do you?”

“Kaneki,” Hide said in the most deadpan voice imaginable. “Why on earth would I do that when I can watch it in the comfort of my own bed?”

“R-right,” Kaneki said.

“I like that that’s the first place you go to though,” Hide grinned. “Am I going to find out you’re a closet pervert, Kaneki?”

Hide coming into his room to teach him how to write a sex scene properly. Hide lying on his bed watching porn on his laptop. By accident, he calls out Kaneki’s name in a moment of intense-

“N-no!”

“Aw, look how red you’re getting,” Hide said. “And, there is a movie coming out soon that I want to see. But I’m mostly into horrors and psychological thrillers and stuff and they can get pretty violent. And romcoms, but there’s no good ones coming out any time soon.”

“I can handle it!” Kaneki said. “I can watch a horror movie!” How bad could it be?

“Are you sure? It’s not like that awful zombie movie I showed you before, it’s like actual horror.”

“I’m sure!” Kaneki was a little offended. “It’s just a movie”.

Hide stared at him. “Well, if you’re sure. It’s coming out next Friday, if you want to give it a try.”

“I’ll see you then,” Kaneki said firmly. “I mean, I’ll see you before then, obviously. But also then...you know what I mean.”

“I do,” Hide laughed. “I look forward to it.”

Though, Kaneki thought, he still looked a bit worried.

***

It had been years since Kaneki had seen a horror movie. Well, Hide had shown him that awful one the first time he went over to his place. But that didn’t count. It made him jump, sure, but it made him laugh way more. He actually was pretty sure the last time he had properly seen a horror movie was when he was in his first year of university and his dorm had organized seeing a horror movie together for Halloween. It had freaked him out a lot and he also had never been invited to another movie with his dorm and would only find out at the end of his second year that going to see a movie had been a monthly tradition in his dorm but he was the only one who had never been invited again.

But that was fine. He was older now and going to the movies with his cool friend and also he was sure he was much less likely to be scared by a stupid, cheesy horror movie.

Hide was already at the concession counter. His bright hair and light blue shirt with a pattern of what seemed to be small, multicoloured stars were easy to pick out.

“I bought your ticket!” Hide said cheerily.

Kaneki sighed. “I said not to do that, Hide! But thank you, at least let me buy your food.”

Hide’s drink and popcorn were so huge that it hurt Kaneki’s stomach to look at them. He just got a small drink himself.

“You’re sure you can handle this?” Hide asked, sounding worried.

“It’s just a movie, Hide,” Kaneki said again, as they handed their tickets over and headed towards the theatre. The poster outside was very dark and had a large “RATED R” symbol on the bottom right.

“Well, if you want to bail halfway through, I won’t mind.”

“It’s fine , Hide,” Kaneki said, as Hide led him towards his preferred seats. “This isn’t 3D, right? So at least it won’t look like they’re jumping out at me,” Kaneki laughed as he sat down.

“Mmm,” Hide still seemed unsure, and Kaneki was starting to feel a little insulted at how weak Hide must think he is.

The lights dimmed, the commercials gave way to proper trailers, and finally their movie began.

Honestly, for the first twenty five minutes or so, Kaneki thought it wasn’t that bad. There was some suspense, sure, but nothing particularly horrible. Kaneki was actually bored. The family moved into their new dream home, suddenly things started going missing and they started hearing things in the middle of the night. He didn’t watch horror movies, and even he thought he must have heard this story a thousand times.

Of course, things started picking up after that. The wife saw some sort of demon...thing in the mirror behind her and Kaneki did jump at that (earning a laugh out of Hide, for which Kaneki smacked him).

It turned out the thing was targeting her specifically, and no one else noticed these strange things because they didn’t happen to them. Demons Kaneki could handle, but then people started wondering if she was crazy and whispering about her behind her back.  

About halfway through the movie, they ended up throwing her in a psych ward, and Kaneki suddenly felt like his throat was closing up. He wasn’t sure if he was hot or cold but he knew he was sweating and he hoped Hide didn’t notice.

He grabbed the top of Hide’s arm when she was thrown into a room. He knew that this portrayal was extremely unrealistic but it didn’t matter.

She started to try to escape because it turned out the demon thing followed her because she was haunted, not the house, and it didn’t entirely make sense but he ended up subconsciously leaning towards Hide, even burying his face in his shoulder a few times.

“W-woah,” Hide said. “You okay?”

Kaneki nodded. He hadn’t noticed that Hide had stiffened up until he relaxed, seemingly willing to allow Kaneki to rest there.

Kaneki barely paid attention to the rest of the movie. He mostly paid attention to the sound of Hide’s breathing until the movie ended. He thought the movie may have ended with a priest opening a portal to hell but he wasn’t sure.

He didn’t realize he was still clinging to Hide until Hide gently jostled him.

“Hey, movie’s over,” Hide laughed. “You can let go of me now.”

“O-oh! Right, sorry.” Kaneki’s heart was still beating really fast, and he tried to tell himself to calm down because god it was just a movie and he was a grown man and none of it was even realistic.

“Nah, don’t be sorry! I’m glad I can be of service,” Hide said with a wink. “Maybe next time we should do a comedy movie or something though, hmm?”

“Y-yeah, sorry,” Kaneki said, wincing when he realized Hide had just told him to stop apologizing. “I normally don’t… do stuff like that.”

They threw out their trash as they headed out of the theatre. Hide was talking about the movie and Kaneki found that if he just nodded along Hide mostly left him unbothered. He was glad at least Hide seemed to think this was just about Kaneki being scared of the horror movie and not...anything else.

“Anyway, it was good, but a bit predictable. And I have had to use the bathroom since like the halfway point, so maybe I wasn’t as patient with the movie as I normally would have been.”

Kaneki burst out laughing.

They made it outside and Kaneki was grateful for the cool night air hitting his face. It seemed to wake him up a bit after being in the movie. Though he still felt anxious and like he could only half-understand anything Hide was saying to him.

“Uh, can I ask you something weird?” Hide asked, sounding suddenly awkward.

Oh god, he was going to ask why Kaneki had freaked out so much wasn’t he?

“Sure,” Kaneki said, against his better judgement.

“It’s just...well, I mean maybe I’m totally off-base with this and you can tell me if I’m wrong but...this kind of felt like a date?”

Kaneki froze. That had not been what he had been expecting at all.

What ?” he said.

“I- I mean,” Kaneki didn’t think he had ever heard Hide sound so awkward before. “Just… you bringing me to horror movie you know you’re not going to like just to, uh, hold on to me the whole time? A bit high school, but that’s okay,” Hide laughed and rubbed the back of his head.

“N-no!” Kaneki said quickly, feeling a rising panic. “That’s not what I meant to do!”

Hide looked at him in surprise.

“I...I guess I’m just not good with horror movies, sorry.” Kaneki wondered how many times he was going to have to apologize to Hide tonight. Hide probably thought he was some weirdo who was awkwardly trying to flirt like a fifteen-year-old. No wonder Hide looked so awkward. It must be embarrassing to have to tell someone how weird and pathetic they were.

“A-ah, no worries!” Hide said. “I was just kidding, man!”

“Oh,” Kaneki relaxed. “Good.”

Maybe it was his imagination, but Hide left rather quickly that night. Making up what Kaneki was sure was an excuse about having to get up early so he couldn’t go get a drink.

It wasn’t until he was at home, sitting on his couch and reading a book to attempt to calm down (but really playing his awkward parting with Hide over and over in his head), that he got it.

Hide had let him stay on his shoulder for almost half the movie. If Hide hadn’t liked it, he would have gently shrugged Kaneki off with some excuse like he was making his popcorn hand fall asleep.

“A bit high school, but that’s okay!” Hide had said.

And Hide’s parting… he hadn’t seemed awkward, really. Now that Kaneki could think about it without  the haze of his own anxiety, he could remember that Hide had really seemed more...sad.

It was impossible. But it really seemed like… maybe Hide had wanted Kaneki to flirt with him.

Chapter Text

The impossible idea that Hide might actually be sort of into Kaneki stayed with him, no matter how many times he tried to tell himself he was wrong, that there’s no way that someone as handsome and nice as Hide would ever be into him.

Hide could date any guy he wanted, why would he ever go out with you ? said a voice in his head that sounded oddly similar to Rize.

As much as Kaneki knew that was true, his imagination had taken hold of the idea. Even though he was sure he was really just reading too much into things, he couldn’t help but think of it almost constantly over the next few weeks.

Hide had stopped trying to set Kaneki up with any random girl that seemed mildly interested in him, which Kaneki appreciated in general but kind of missed if only because he could use a refresher course in what Hide called “signals”.

It wasn’t that Hide was actually giving him any, it was the distinct lack of them that was making Kaneki wonder. Things were a little bit awkward when they saw each other on Tuesday, but their awkwardness dissipated quickly, and within moments it was like nothing had ever happened.

But still, Hide’s behaviour seemed to change around him. He seemed to keep his distance a lot more. He used to touch Kaneki on the arm, rest his hand on his shoulder, even put his arm around his shoulders in a half-hug, and all of that stopped overnight. Kaneki had been kind of surprised with Hide’s physical affection when they first met, but he had quickly gotten used to it, had even got to the point that he barely noticed it. And now he missed it terribly.

Had Hide touching him been a “signal”? He wasn’t sure if it was or if it was just the way Hide was with his friends. He wished he would do it again so Kaneki could tell if it was a flirty sort of touch or if it was a neutral touch.

Though, admittedly, Kaneki just wanted Hide to touch him.

As they approached summer vacation, their workload increased to an alarming degree once more, and Hide and him had very little time to spend together. It was starting to drive Kaneki a little insane, if he was being honest.

The air conditioning in their office was terrible, and they were starting to feel gross and sweaty just sitting around in the office. Even Kaneki was reduced to wearing short-sleeved shirts.

“How do you still have time to work out when we’re so busy?” Hide demanded.

“How do you know I’m working out?” Kaneki said.

“Your arms have not lost any of their incredibly-sculpted muscles,” Hide said. “If anything they are even more impressive.”

“Oh my god,” Kaneki mumbled.

“I only speak the truth,” Hide said.

“How much time do you spend looking at my arms?” Kaneki said with a bit of a laugh. He turned to look at Hide, and found that his face was rather red. He couldn’t tell if Hide’s red face was from the heat or from embarrassment.

Damn, was that a signal? He couldn’t tell. Hide certainly commented on Kaneki’s arms quite a lot. Kaneki suddenly felt warm from something other than the heat.

But, maybe Hide was just trying to rile him up. That seemed like something he would do.

Kaneki deflated. Just in time for Hide’s desk fan to blow a piece of paper right into his face.

“Oh for- sorry,” Hide groaned. He grabbed the paper from Kaneki and Kaneki felt chills when their fingers brushed for a moment.

“I keep moving my papers around and forgetting I need to keep them on lock down,” Hide laughed.

“At least you have a fan,” Kaneki said. “Mine broke and they’re all sold out in stores because of this damn heat wave.”

“I could always blow on you,” Hide said with a wink.

Kaneki blinked.

“Um, that was a joke!” Hide said.

“Y-yeah, I know,” Kaneki said. God, was that a signal or just Hide being weird?

“This is a hell of a heatwave, isn’t it?” Hide asked.

Kaneki nodded.

Summer vacation was so close Kaneki could taste it, but that just meant his pile of work was increasing to a frightening degree. And his pleas to his students to just talk to him if they couldn’t hand in something on time were getting rather desperate.

One day, a boy came into the office to talk to Hide. Kaneki pretended not to listen as he explained the issues he’d been having with his mental health and how he just needed more time for an essay. He tried not to wince, sure that Hide would refuse.

“Yeah, sure,” Hide said, to Kaneki’s intense shock. “If you can get it in by Saturday morning I can get the marks in on time.”

When the boy left, Kaneki swirled around in his chair, grinning at Hide.

“Wh-what?” Hide said.

“Looks like someone is getting soft,” Kaneki teased.

Hide grinned sheepishly. “Maybe you taught me a little something.”

Kaneki tried not to feel too pleased with himself, even though he felt like he was soaring just a bit. How could he ever have thought he didn’t have an enormous crush on this man?

***

With some breakdowns and a truly terrifying amount of coffee, they managed to get through to summer break.

Hide phoned him when he finished marking his last essay, sounding a little like he might have been crying. “I’m free, Kaneki!”

“Good for you,” Kaneki grumbled, still not even halfway through his pile. “You know we still have to do work over break, right?”

“Shhh, don’t make me think about it,” Hide said. “Just let me enjoy this moment.”

“Well, I’m not done, so if you don’t mind-” Kaneki said testily.

“Wait! Tell me when you’re done and come over to my place! We can celebrate and you can even stay over if you want-”

“I’ll be done tomorrow,” Kaneki said.

“Tomorrow, then!”

Kaneki hung up, but he was grinning. It had been far too long since he had had a chance to hang out with Hide like this.

The next day, when he was finally free of his marking (and after sending a nerve-wracking email to his editor), he made sure he dressed extra-nice for Hide, packed an overnight bag, and headed over to his place.

It occurred to him how this might look to someone who didn’t know they were just friends, but rather than be embarrassed by it, he was secretly pleased. Even though he knew Hide had only suggested he stay over so he didn’t have to leave early.

“Hey,” Hide said, leaning on the doorframe. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“You invited me,” Kaneki said with a laugh.

“I know, but I always wanted to say that. I have a flair for the dramatic.”

Kaneki rolled his eyes. He found it hard to be annoyed with Hide when he saw how nicely Hide’s shirt showed off his arms. Maybe Hide just had arms that would look good in any t-shirt, he was just wearing a loose, light purple shirt with a small sunflower on the top left. Kaneki wondered if Hide had an endless supply of t-shirts that were meant just to destroy him. Then he wondered if Hide had picked a sunflower shirt because of what Kaneki had said about sunflowers reminding him of Hide.

But that was impossible.

“You okay, man? You’re kind of staring at me,” Hide said.

“Huh? Oh yeah, just stress from marking all those essays, you know. I feel like I might fall asleep standing up.”

“Oh, I feel you, so you better get inside before you collapse.”

Kaneki kicked off his shoes and put his bag down to deal with later.

“I figured rather than ordering our usual pizza, we could do thai food? I found this place nearby that delivers and I may have gotten addicted to it while marking.”

“Sounds good me,” Kaneki laughed.

They ordered what sounded to Kaneki like an insane amount of food, and worked their way through it while complaining about some of the most stupid answers they had gotten on their essays and tests.

“You got sauce on your face,” Kaneki said suddenly, he reached over with a napkin and wiped off Hide’s cheek without thinking of it.

Hide went a little pink and touched his face where Kaneki had touched him. “Thanks.”

“N-no problem,” Kaneki said.

“Want me to put on an awful romcom to take our minds off our failures as teachers?” Hide laughed.

“Please,” Kaneki said.

He’d watched a lot of TV and movies with Hide at his house, but Kaneki couldn’t help but think of how the last time he had seen a movie with Hide he had made everything super weird.

Maybe Hide was thinking about that too, because he was sitting further away from Kaneki than he normally would. Though he had been acting like that ever since the movie. Not touching Kaneki, even sometimes keeping his arms crossed sometimes to avoid it.

Kaneki moved his hand slightly and brushed up against Hide’s hand by accident. He hadn’t realized it had been resting on the cushion beside him.

“S-sorry,” Hide said.

“That was my fault,” Kaneki said. Disappointment coursing through him.

He could barely pay attention to the movie. He wanted to hold Hide’s hand. He wanted to pull Hide into his lap and kiss him. He wanted so bad that it almost scared him.

They had reached an emotional point in the movie. It was raining and the man grabbed his girlfriend (or something, Kaneki had mostly been thinking of Hide this whole time so he wasn’t sure) and pulled her in for a passionate kiss.

Kaneki saw Hide looking at him from the corner of his eye. He looked around and Hide turned away when he noticed Kaneki had seen him.

But Kaneki had seen him. He couldn’t be imagining the look of longing on Hide’s face. The way he was looking at him with a mixture of fondness and pain.

The way he had looked at him while watching someone else being kissed.

He knew he had an overactive imagination sometimes, he was an author , for god’s sake. But he could never dare to imagine Hide would look at him like that.

Experimentally, Kaneki reached over and put his hand on Hide’s thigh. He stiffened, but he did not throw Kaneki off.

Kaneki was panicking now. Now that he had his hand on Hide’s thigh, what was he expecting to happen? What was his brilliant plan?

Hide slid a bit closer to him. Kaneki turned around in surprise to see that Hide was looking at him like that again.

But that was wrong, it was different somehow. Hide looked hopeful .

“Kaneki?” Hide asked.

“Yeah,” Kaneki said stupidly. What did that even mean?

His hand was still on Hide’s thigh.

Hide leaned into him, just a little. And something in Kaneki broke. Hide was getting close to him, Hide was blushing and his eyes were sparkling and he was biting his lip slightly and if these weren’t “signals”, then what were?

And in that moment, he had another revelation. Hide would not get any closer to him than this. If Kaneki didn’t do something now, say something now, then Hide would just play it off like it had been nothing. Or worse, like it had been some kind of joke.

Kaneki could not bear that, and, even though his heart was beating in terror, Kaneki put his hands on either side of Hide’s face and brought him in close.

He kissed Hide.

Hide seemed to freeze for just a moment, and Kaneki worried that he had made a mistake, but then something miraculous happened. Hide started kissing him back.

Kaneki gasped as Hide took control of the kiss. He was grateful, because it had been so long since he had kissed anyone and he had never kissed someone as wonderful as Hide. But mostly Kaneki’s mind went blank. Hide fisted his hands into Kaneki’s shirt to bring him closer and Kaneki dropped his hands from Hide’s face so that he could hold him.

Being kissed by Hide was perfect.

Kaneki sighed reluctantly when Hide pulled away, though he knew they needed a moment to catch their breaths. Hide was looking at him like that again. So full of affection and happiness that it almost hurt.

“Kaneki,” Hide said. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been wanting you to do that?”

“Y-you have?” Kaneki asked in surprise.

“Mmm.” Hide leaned forward and rested his head on Kaneki’s shoulder. Kaneki wondered if he did that so he didn’t have to look at Kaneki while he talked to him.

“I’ve liked you for ages,” Hide mumbled, his breath tickling Kaneki just a bit. “I didn’t know what to do though. We work together so I didn’t want to say anything to make it weird. I kind of tried to drop hints here and there but, my god, you’re so cute but you’re so dense .”

Hide tapped him gently on the arm. “No offense.”

“No, that’s fair,” Kaneki said. “I… it took me a long time to even realize how I felt about you.”

“And how long did it take you to figure out how I felt?” Hide laughed.

“Uh… just now.”

“Oh my god,” Hide groaned. “So dense .”

“Hey!” Kaneki said. “I’m just...unused to being flirted with. And you were being so confusing, like trying to set me up with girls when you were the one who wanted to date me? What was that about.”

Hide groaned again and sat up so he could look at Kaneki properly. His hair was adorably mussed.

“I don’t know,” Hide admitted. “When I first got a bit of a crush on you and you seemed to be all sad about not dating and you weren’t interested in me I thought it might help you but also help me move on a bit.” He said this all very fast, clearly embarrassed. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Kaneki said with a smile.

Hide shifted a little uncomfortably. “Um, how come you didn’t tell me? That you weren’t straight?”

“Oh,” Kaneki blinked. “I… I guess it doesn’t make that much sense but, well, I’ve never told anyone I was bisexual before and… I guess I thought that I was, um, too old?” His face was getting very hot as he watched Hide frown.

“Sorry,” Kaneki said.

“Don’t be sorry,” Hide sighed. “You’re not too old to come out about your sexuality, ever, but I kind of get it. I really do.”

“Yeah… I mean like I said I know it doesn’t make much sense,” Kaneki was embarrassed to have admitted it, but the fact that Hide was sympathetic made it a lot easier.

“So,” Hide’s smiled devilishly. “Do you want to keep having emotional conversations, or do you want to make out some more?”

“Oh,” Kaneki said. “Making out, please.”

Hide laughed, grabbed Kaneki by the collar and pulled him close again.

They started by kissing slowly, but it quickly became passionate. They’d both wanted this for so long that it felt like it was impossible to hold back. Kaneki’s hands couldn’t seem to figure out what they wanted to do with themselves, or rather they did and that was to touch every inch of Hide.

Hide giggled a little when Kaneki brushed his hands over his ribs. They broke apart for just an instant.

“Ticklish?” Kaneki whispered into Hide’s ear.

“I refuse to confirm or deny that,” Hide mumbled weakly.

Kaneki brushed his hands over his ribs again and Hide bit his lip to keep from laughing.

“You’re gonna use that against me aren’t you?” Hide mumbled, pecking Kaneki on the lips.

“Not right now,” Kaneki captured Hide’s lips in another kiss. For now he just wanted to do this.

Kaneki deepened the kiss and Hide moaned against him. Kaneki felt his heart nearly stop. He would do anything to make Hide make that sound again.

He hesitantly licked Hide’s mouth and Hide eagerly parted his lips. He slid his tongue into Hide’s mouth and Hide moaned again. Hide reached up and tangled his hands in Kaneki’s hair, pushing him closer and encouraging him to continue.

Kaneki parted his lips tentatively, hoping that Hide would also-

He did, and this time it was Kaneki who was groaning.

Hide slipped his hands under Kaneki’s shirt, running his hands up Kaneki’s back in a way that was giving him tingles. The combination of Hide’s hands on his bare skin and his tongue in Kaneki’s mouth was making Kaneki’s pants uncomfortably tight.

Kaneki had no idea where his boldness was coming from, but he pushed Hide lightly so he would fall back onto the couch.  

They stopped kissing reluctantly to breathe properly for a moment. And Hide fell back onto the couch like Kaneki had hoped he would and suddenly Kaneki was on top of Hide, straddling him. Hide was looking up at him, breathing heavily and red-faced, and Kaneki was struck again by how much he wanted .

Hide tilted his head slightly to one side, his loose shirt exposing his neck and a bit of his shoulder perfectly, and Kaneki accepted the invitation.

He kissed Hide on the neck, starting just below the ear and making his way down the the collarbone. Kaneki was gratified to hear how Hide’s breathing was stuttering.

He tentatively sucked on Hide’s neck and Hide let out a strangled cry. Kaneki was going to ask if he was okay, but Hide reached up to force Kaneki’s head back down, rendering the question pointless.

“Ah, fuck ,” Hide gasped as Kaneki definitely left a mark on his collarbone.

Hide grabbed Kaneki and pulled him back up, kissing him fiercely on the mouth and earning a moan from Kaneki.

Kaneki returned to kissing him with enthusiasm. Hide’s hands worked their way back under his shirt and started touching him everywhere . Running his hands up his back and shoulders again, running them along his chest and stomach.

“Oh my god,” Hide mumbled. “Your chest is exactly as ripped as I imagined it.”

“Did you imagine it often?” Kaneki mumbled, feeling a little embarrassed but mostly pleased.

Hide didn’t respond, but he brought Kaneki back in closer to kiss him more.

He didn’t stop from running his hands over Kaneki’s chest. And he could feel his own arousal pressing against Hide’s thigh and he could feel that Hide was just as excited.

Kaneki started kissing Hide more slowly, before finally pulling away.

“C-can we stop?” Kaneki said, though the way Hide was touching his chest was making it very hard to keep his resolve.

“Sure,” Hide smiled up at him gently. “Not quite ready to go farther yet?”

Kaneki shook his head. “Sorry, I just-”

“Hey, don’t ever apologize for that!” Hide said fiercely. “I want you to be comfortable with whatever we do.” Hide suddenly looked shy. “If, um, you want to make this a thing, that is.”

Kaneki stared at him blankly. “Of course I want to make this a thing , Hide.”

Hide’s smile was dazzling. “I was hoping you would say that.”

Kaneki awkwardly maneuvered off of Hide and Hide sat back up.

“I have plenty of other movies to waste the night away, not to mention many horrible old sitcoms we could peruse.”

“Both sound good to me,” Kaneki said. They stared at each other for a moment and both looked away, grinning and blushing.

“Damn you, Kaneki Ken,” Hide mumbled. “You’re making me feel like a teenager on my first date.”

“I don’t know how your first dates went in high school but mine were not like that.”

Hide laughed, then said, sounding a little embarrassed. “Um, before we start anything else I could probably use a quick shower.”

It took Kaneki a second to catch on.

“O-oh! Yeah! Do what you have to!”

Hide shook his head in bemusement. “You’re adorable.”

Hide got up from the couch but then said, “For later tonight, uh, the futon is totally available if you still want that but we could, I mean, my bed is comfier? Not for sex purposes!” He clarified. “For, you know, cuddling purposes.”

Kaneki was amazed at the fact that Hide could make out with him so intensely just a few moments ago but feel so shy and nervous when he asked him to share his bed and cuddle with him.

“That sounds great,” Kaneki said.

Hide blushed furiously. And all Kaneki could think about was how lucky he was that Hide actually liked him back. That Hide wanted to make this a thing . That he could make Hide blush like that.

That he could make Hide smile.

He promised himself that he would make Hide smile as much as he possibly could.

Chapter Text

Maybe it was because they had spent so much time together that they had essentially been dating already, but they fell into their new roles as each other’s boyfriends more easily than Kaneki could have imagined. They still went over to each other’s places all the time, went out to drinks, went out to movies (romantic comedies this time), but now it was something more .

It wasn’t even that there was less tension now that he and Hide had admitted how they felt. If anything, it felt more tense, just in a different (and much better) way.

They didn’t tend to get super affectionate in public, but sometimes Hide would reach out and squeeze his hand when they went shopping together, or gently trail his hand down his arm.

Once, when they were watching a movie in the theatres, Kaneki took advantage of the dark to kiss Hide. It started as a peck on the lips, but as Kaneki glanced around and saw that no one was paying attention to them, he deepened the kiss.

“Getting bold, are we?” Hide whispered into his ear, giving Kaneki shivers.

Hide suggested they do more romantic things now that they were properly dating.

“What would you consider romantic?” Kaneki asked, feeling a little panicked. Romance had never been his strong suit.

“I don’t know! Surprise me!” Hide said, unhelpfully.

It was hard to come up with something that they hadn’t already done about a thousand times. Kaneki ended up taking Hide for a walk in a park. It was fairly large, with many paths and trees thick enough that you could almost forget you were in the city.

“It’d probably be more romantic if it was spring,” Kaneki lamented.

“I think it’s plenty romantic,” Hide said. They walked close together, not quite touching because Kaneki still wasn’t super comfortable with being romantic in public.

“It’s too sweaty to be romantic,” Kaneki said, who was indeed melting despite the shade from the trees.

Hide smiled, “Hmm maybe my date should buy me ice cream and do something about that?” He gestured over to an ice cream stand that was just up ahead.

Kaneki rolled his eyes, but privately thought he could use something cold too.

Kaneki treated them both, getting himself a small soft serve and Hide a large popsicle. They found a bench nearby that was mercifully under the shade of a large tree, and sat down so they could eat them.

Their ice creams were both melting quickly. Kaneki hurriedly licked some of it running down the side before it could get on his hands.

He looked to the side to see Hide was grinning at him.

“What?” he demanded.

“That was kind of hot,” Hide smirked.

Kaneki frowned at him intensely. “ No !”

“Hmm, I think I get to be the judge of that,” Hide said.

“No,” Kaneki repeated. “Eat your popsicle before it melts.”

Hide was still smirking as he put about half of his popsicle into his mouth, not biting down on it, but drawing on it slowly as he pulled it out of his mouth.

“H-Hide!” Kaneki said, scandalized.

“What?” Hide said innocently.

“Don’t ‘what’ me!” Kaneki said. “Stop eating it like that!”

“I’m just eating it before it melts, like you told me to-”

“You know what you’re doing! That’s indecent .”

Hide burst out laughing.

“My god, you’re cute,” Hide said, shaking his head fondly.

Kaneki made a dismissive noise. Hide proceeded to eat his popsicle by slowly licking up the sides, which really wasn’t any better.

Though Kaneki suspected he would have found Hide eating it sexy no matter how he did it. So really, this was his problem.

When they could not bear the heat anymore, he and Hide went back to Hide’s nice, air conditioned apartment where they could get a cold drink and also stick their faces in Hide’s overworked fan.

“Ahhh, that feels good,” Hide mumbled, tilting slightly to the left to follow the fan as it turned slowly.

“Mmm,” Kaneki said, drinking half his iced tea in one go.

“You know what would cool us off more though?” Hide said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“I- I don’t think that would cool us off very much, Hide.” Kaneki’s face was indeed growing very hot

“It would if our clothes came off,” Hide said.

Kaneki blinked. But then he reached down and started pulling his shirt off.

“Holy shit,” Hide said. “I can’t believe that worked.”

“Don’t make me regret this,” Kaneki warned.

“I will make sure you don’t,” Hide said seriously, pulling off his own shirt.

Hide ended up on top on Kaneki. Somewhere along the way pants had come off as well as shirts, and they grasped at each other desperately, all thoughts of “cooling down” forgotten.

Hide kissed his way from Kaneki’s neck down to his chest, gently trailing his hands along Kaneki’s sides as he did so. Hide seemed to have an odd fascination with Kaneki’s chest, not that Kaneki minded at all. It felt nice to know that Hide liked his body (even if sometimes the intensity was a little alarming). He never failed to compliment him, and it somehow became less awkward over time. It made Kaneki want to believe him when he said he was attractive, it made Kaneki want to let Hide see him.

“Oh god, Hide,” Kaneki moaned as Hide worked his way down to Kaneki’s stomach, kissing just above the waistband of his boxers.

Hide made sure to do that again.

“I can feel you smirking, you know,” Kaneki grumbled without much force behind it. He couldn’t even pretend to not be enjoying this.

“Just smiling because you’re having a good time,” Hide mumbled against his skin.

“Oh my god,” Kaneki said again.

Hide kissed across his stomach, teasing just above the waistband again and again. Then slowly, looking up at Kaneki the whole time to make sure it was okay, he put his mouth on Kaneki’s underwear. Kaneki could feel the warmth of Hide’s mouth on his cock through the thin fabric of his underwear.

“A-ah!” Kaneki gasped, amazed at the intensity even through the fabric.

“Is that okay?” Hide mumbled.

“Y-yeah,” Kaneki said.

Hide smiled, and continued to kiss him. Kaneki’s erection was prominent even under his boxers, and Hide kissed underneath it as well.

It was amazing. Kaneki was filled with the desperate desire to take his boxers off, to force Hide’s mouth onto him and really, truly feel him-

But, just as suddenly, the thought made him nervous. He wanted to, but he couldn’t, he wasn’t ready.

“H-Hide,” he gasped. “Sorry but can we-”

“Do you want me to stop?” Hide said gently.

Kaneki nodded, ashamed.

“Hey,” Hide said, sitting back up but reaching over to gently caress Kaneki’s face. Kaneki closed his eyes at the touch. “Don’t be embarrassed. I want you to tell me if you’re comfortable. I want you to let me know.”

“Yeah,” Kaneki said quietly. “I know. I just-”

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Hide said sternly.

“I’m just not ready for it yet,” Kaneki mumbled quietly.

“And that’s fine,” Hide said.

Kaneki nodded.

They both quietly put their clothes back on. Kaneki offered to make dinner and Hide offered to help (Kaneki knew he’d be more of a hindrance, but he appreciated the gesture and if nothing else, it was always fun).

As they ate quietly, Hide said suddenly, “I’m not moving too fast, am I?”

“Huh?” Kaneki asked, startled.

“You know,” Hide said awkwardly. “I just...we’ve really only been dating for two weeks and I- I don’t know. I’m happy with what’s going on but I’m not sure- I know you haven’t dated in a while and it might all be a bit much. I’m not exactly known for doing things in moderation,” Hide laughed.

Kaneki shifted nervously, unsure of what to say.

“It’s not that it’s too fast, Hide,” he said finally. “I’m just, trying to stop things before they go too fast, I guess.”

Hide nodded, he looked at least a little relieved but still anxious. He played with his food a bit and said “Um, that’s good. Please keep doing that.”

“What’s wrong?” Kaneki prompted gently.

“I… it’s just, it’s sort of a depressing conversation,” Hide rubbed the back of his head.

“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Kaneki was uncomfortable, this sort of thing was not his strong suit at all. “But if it would help-?”

Hide sighed.

“So, we’ve established I have had bad luck with relationships, right?” Hide said with a bit of a laugh.

Kaneki’s lips quirked up in a smile. “I think we have, yes.”

Hide didn’t quite meet Kaneki’s eyes as he spoke. He seemed suddenly very fascinated in staring at his stir-fry and moving it around on his plate without eating it.

“So...I guess because of that I’ve been told that I can go a bit fast in relationships,” Hide mumbled. “It’s like, things go so wrong for me so often that when things go right I want to grab onto it and not let go.”

“Mmm,” Kaneki said, prompting Hide to go on.

Hide shrugged. “I just don’t want to mess this up. I like you a lot. And all of my relationships have ended kind of badly-”

“I don’t think you’re going too fast,” Kaneki interrupted. “You’re forgetting that I’ve wanted to be with you for a while too. So much that it almost feels like we’ve been dating for way longer than we have, I guess because we were friends already-”

“Dating me without me even knowing it,” Hide interrupted, laughing.

“Oh shush,” Kaneki rolled his eyes. “My point is, even if I’m a bit...shy about things. You’re not going to scare me away that easily,” Kaneki smiled.

Hide smiled back, though it seemed strained.

“I’m more concerned about how often you seem to have been with people who treated you badly,” Kaneki said.

“Ah,” Hide said. “Well, I guess I just have bad taste.”

Kaneki raised his eyebrows and Hide backtracked. “You excluded, of course.”

“I hope I am.”

Hide laughed. “A lot of my bad relationships have been like… guys just using me for sex and refusing to commit. A lot of guys have also just kind of used me as a rebound after someone else and dumped me the second they found someone hotter. That’s not to mention the significant percentage of them who cheated on me… and at least two occasions where they cheated on someone else with me, and just sort of casually neglected to tell me that they were already seeing someone.”

“Oh,” Kaneki said. “Yikes.”

“Yikes indeed,” Hide said. “It’s been...not great. I think a lot of guys can smell the desperation coming off me, to be honest.”

“I don’t think you’re desperate!” Kaneki said. “It’s not your fault if the people you dated were bad people!”

“Yeah, well,” Hide said. “I’m sort of the only common factor so-”

“The only common factor was that they were all shitty and didn’t deserve someone like you!” Kaneki said, much louder than he intended. Hide’s eyes widened but Kaneki was not deterred. “I want to show you that you deserve better.”

Hide stared at him silently for a moment, and Kaneki worried that he had gone too far, that he had been the one who went too fast.

And then Hide’s eyes filled with tears.

“I’m sorry, Hide!” Kaneki said, waving his hands about uselessly because he wasn’t sure how to comfort him. “Did I say too much? I just-”

“You can’t just say things like that and not expect me to cry, Kaneki,” Hide said, wiping his eyes. “You’re so sweet.”

“O-oh,” Kaneki said.

“In any case, I’ve at least learned more self-respect after the first, uh, I don’t want to say how many times,” he laughed hollowly. “Now, I at least drop people at the first sign of cheating or flirting with other people. I...guess that’s not much of a revelation, I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re supposed to do in those situations, but it’s-”

“-Hard to see it when you’re in it,” Kaneki finished for him. “Yeah.”

They looked at each other for a moment, silent understanding passing between them.

“But yeah, now if I dated that guy who was sexting his brother-in-law the whole time, I would kick him to the curb immediately instead of dating him for another three months because he looked like he was sorry,” Hide grimaced. “To say nothing of that guy who told me he broke up with his boyfriend but actually never did? So I was like a rebound but not at the same time? Still haven’t figured that one out.”

Hide smiled and Kaneki laughed, before saying, “I mean it though. You deserve so much better than all that. I don’t want to be like those guys who treated you like crap. I want… I want to be a good boyfriend.”

Hide smiled. “I think you already are.”

***

It wasn’t that Kaneki didn’t want to have sex with Hide, in fact he wanted to now more than ever, but the idea of it made him incredibly nervous. As much as Hide had told him that it was never too late to come out (and Kaneki did believe him), it was hard not to think about his lack of sexual experience with men. Not that he was experienced with anyone but Rize anyway.

Kaneki looked at the section of the novel he was writing and found that he had replaced the main character’s name with “Hide” multiple times, and erased it all, blushing furiously and thinking about how much Hide would laugh if he knew he had done that.

He received a text from Hide:

Hide: the summer is still young and i want to do fun summer things with my cute boyfriend

Kaneki: hello to you too.

Hide: :)

Kaneki: what qualifies as a “fun summer thing”?

Hide: that is the saddest sentence I have ever heard.

Hide: you just leave the planning to me and i’ll come up with some good things

Kaneki: why does that scare me?

Kaneki: you know we still have school work to do over the summer right?

He did not receive a message for a bit after that. When Hide did send him a message it was of a picture of a beach about an hour away.

Kaneki: I don’t like what you’re hinting at.

Hide: please

Kaneki shook his head but texted back that he would go with Hide on Friday afternoon. Though he had no idea if he even owned a swimsuit, now that he thought of it.

He ended up enjoying the beach with Hide way more than he thought he would. He never liked going to the beach at all, and much less since the last time he had gone it was with Rize and she had flirted with other guys in front of him and also insulted his physique in a swimsuit.

He knew Hide wouldn’t do that, but still, it was at the back of Kaneki’s mind the whole way there.

Of course, the second they got there Hide dashed into the water and demanded that Kaneki join him. And he feigned fainting when he saw Kaneki take off his shirt. Kaneki should have known not to worry about him.

Hide took a ton of pictures of the two of them in front of the ocean at the sunset. He also insisted that a few of them include Kaneki shirtless.

“You’re ridiculous, Hide,” Kaneki grumbled as Hide took yet another picture. At least he let him put his shirt back on.

“Wait! We need to get it from multiple angles so the moment is captured perfectly!”

“How many angles are there?” Kaneki demanded.

“All right, all right,” Hide said “I’m done.”

If Kaneki had thought that would be the end of Hide’s “fun summer things”, he was sorely mistaken.

Kaneki was heading to the school for a meeting with his department to discuss how the year was going and the upcoming semester, when Hide sent him a picture of an amusement park.

Kaneki: Seriously?

Hide: yep

Hide: it’ll be fun!

Kaneki: they’re always so crowded though

Hide: be cause they’re so fun!

Kaneki: mmm

Hide: don’t tell me that you’re scared of roller coasters

Kaneki: I am not!

Hide: guess you have to prove it to me then

He then sent a kissy emoji.

It looked like Kaneki was going to the amusement park.

It turned out it wasn’t as bad as Kaneki thought it would be. It was crowded and hot and they spent most of the day in line and there were far too many screaming children, but still it wasn’t that bad.

Hide nudged him every once in a while in line to squeeze his hand when they were sure no one was paying attention. Kaneki appreciated the attempt at subtlety. It wasn’t that he didn’t want other people to see them, really, he just wasn’t quite ready to be super open. Maybe it sort of felt like jinxing it to him. Like if he started telling people about him and Hide then he would ruin it. Like this was only an illusion and if anyone looked at it too closely it would fall apart-

“You okay?” Hide said, squeezing his hand gently again.

“Yeah,” Kaneki said. He couldn’t believe that Hide was able to see so clearly when he was starting to freak himself out. He didn’t know if he liked that or he hated it.

“If you’re really that scared of roller coasters, we don’t have to go on it,” Hide said, sounding worried.

Even if sometimes he wasn’t quite on the mark about what Kaneki was freaking out about.

“No, I’m fine,” Kaneki said, smiling and scratching his chin.

“You sure? We could ride the tea cups?”

“That sounds immensely worse than the roller coaster.”

Kaneki was truly not afraid of roller coasters. He had never really been into roller coasters, but he wasn’t scared of heights. But Hide, despite his concern for Kaneki and insistence that he proved his courage by riding one, was very much scared of heights.

He supposed he should have been annoyed at Hide, but instead he enjoyed it. Because Hide clinged to him very tightly the whole time, and for once Kaneki didn’t have to worry about people looking at them.

“What was that about me proving I wasn’t scared?” Kaneki smirked at a very pale Hide when they got off.

“That was intentional, to flirt with you.”

“Hmm that sounds like a lie.”

“Well, I still had fun,” Hide said.

“I did too,” Kaneki admitted begrudgingly.

Hide insisted that Kaneki buy him caramel popcorn, which he ate in line for another roller coaster.

“If you throw up on me, I’m going to be mad,” Kaneki said.

Hide did not. And even though by the end of the day Kaneki’s shirt was sticky with sweat and he was pretty sure the back of his neck was sunburned, Kaneki had a good time.

Hide insisted on more pictures with the two of them. At pretty much every “landmark” in the park, no matter how cheesy or how obviously intended for children.

“You won’t post any of these online, will you?” Kaneki asked.

“Of course not, not unless you tell me it’s okay,” Hide said gently. “These are just for my personal use.”

“Why did you have to phrase it like that?”

The last ride they went on was the “Tunnel of Love”, though not by Kaneki’s choice. It was the puppy eyes that did him in.

“These things are so stupid,” Kaneki mumbled.

“Stupid fun ,” Hide corrected.

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

They did receive a few sideways glances for being two men going onto what was intended to be a romantic ride. Kaneki stiffened, but relaxed when he realized no one really cared or was going to say anything.

When they were going through the tunnel, which was stupid as hell, as Kaneki predicted, Hide leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.

“Thanks for doing all this dumb stuff with me,” Hide mumbled.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Kaneki said. “I’m having fun.”

And he realized in that moment that he meant it.

***

As the summer drew to a close, Kaneki realized that in the name of picking “fun summer things” to do, Hide had chosen pretty much all of their dates.

Hide was already getting depressed by the end of summer approaching, although Kaneki reminded him that it wasn’t like it was going to be any less hot for a least another month and half.

“It’s not the same though,” Hide whined.

Kaneki didn’t quite understand Hide’s love of summer, he hated the heat and was much more of a fall person himself, but he wanted Hide to at least have one last thing to enjoy that he didn’t have to plan himself.

He searched around online for something to do nearby. It was really not something he was used to doing, which kind of made him sad, but at least now he had a reason and excuse to get out and do something.

It turned out there were a lot of things to do in Tokyo basically always, but Kaneki was looking for something stereotypically summer-like.

It took him awhile, but he finally found something that seemed appropriate. He picked up his phone and texted Hide:

Kaneki: Would you like to go to a festival this weekend?

***

Kaneki hovered awkwardly near the stalls lining the small path. It was already filled with people, but it was mercifully less warm than it had been during the day.

“Hey!” He heard Hide’s voice and, before he could turn around and see him, he felt Hide pull him into a quick hug from behind.

“One day you might actually be on time for something,” Kaneki said.

“Don’t count on it,” Hide spun Kaneki around so that they were facing each other. “Here I was hoping to see you in a yukata.”

“I don’t own a yukata, Hide,” Kaneki said. “And why aren’t you wearing one, then?”

“I didn’t say I owned one,” Hide smiled. “Just that I wanted to see you in one. Just a little loose at the chest, showing off your delicious abs-”

“First of all,” Kaneki said, horrified. “We are in public. Second of all, never refer to my abs as delicious ever again.”

“I just can’t make that promise.”

“You’re terrible,” Kaneki said.

“You love it.”

Kaneki refused to dignify that with a response. Though it was unfortunately true.

“Now,” Hide said. “Let’s go fill ourselves with delicious food. And maybe if you’re feeling romantic you can win me a goldfish.”

“Isn’t that a game for children?” Kaneki said. “And won’t that make your rabbits jealous?”

Hide looked upset for a minute, so Kaneki quickly added “I’m just kidding!”

“The important thing is, I didn’t eat in preparation for this, so let’s get out there before I pass out!”

Hide bought himself some yakisoba before Kaneki could offer to pay. Hide could run really quickly when he wanted food.

Hide offered some noodles to Kaneki. Kaneki glanced around to see if anyone was looking, and quickly ate off of Hide’s chopsticks.

When he glanced up, Hide was smiling sadly.

“No one’s looking, you know,” Hide said gently. “You don’t have to worry.”

“I… yeah I know,” Kaneki said. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Hide said. “I just want you to relax and enjoy the night without worrying about what other people think.”

“And I want you to let me pay for the next horribly unhealthy food item you buy,” Kaneki laughed.

“Fair enough!” Hide said. “You may come to regret that, though.”

Hide went out to buy them masks, which wasn’t something Kaneki was really into, particularly since Hide bought him a mask for some anime character he didn’t recognize. Hide bought himself a Spider-man mask.

Kaneki walked around with the mask on the back of his head, Hide ended up doing the same after he tripped over his own feet and almost knocked an ice cream out of the hand of some poor teenage girl.

“Aren’t there eye holes?” Kaneki chastised

“They aren’t very good!” Hide said.

“Sure, Hide,” Kaneki said.

When Hide pouted at him, Kaneki bought him a cotton candy as a consolation.

Hide ate the cotton candy so quickly that it concerned Kaneki. He must have caught the concerned look on Kaneki’s face, because Hide ripped off a piece and held it out to Kaneki.

“Sorry, did you want some?”

He didn’t really, but he ate it anyway.

“Why do I feel like a small baby bird that you’re trying to feed?”

“Adorable,” Hide said, not really answering Kaneki’s question.

“Ooh! The goldfish!” Hide said, dashing over in delight. Kaneki had a feeling he’d have a hell of time keeping up with Hide tonight.

“I thought you wanted me to catch one for you?” Kaneki said, as Hide eyed the goldfish, apparently trying to find the most easily catchable one.

“Well, my boyfriend said this was for little kids, so I decided to catch one all on my own and show him a thing or two.”

“What will that show me?”

Hide neglected to answer. He made a sudden dash to try and catch one that swam out of the way quickly. He fished around for a bit, but his paper net eventually dissolved and he had to pay for another try.

And another try.

“This game is rigged!” Hide said.

The little girl beside him who couldn’t be more than five caught one on her first try.

Hide looked at Kaneki with a look of such profound despair that Kaneki gently prised the net from his hand and caught him a goldfish.

“That was beginner’s luck,” Hide pouted.

“Mmm,” Kaneki smirked just a little bit.

“I love him and I’m naming him Goldy.”

“Of course you are.”

They spent the evening playing pretty much every game and trying every food that was there. Hide was just as bad at the ring toss game as he was at catching goldfish, so Kaneki took over and won him a teddy bear.

“All these mementos from my cute boyfriend,” Hide said with a wink.

Kaneki felt himself turn very red. “Why do you call me cute so much?”

“Because it’s true. You want me to not tell you the truth?” Hide teased.

“I guess I’m just not used to it.” There was a part of Kaneki that hoped he never would get used to it. That he would always be just as pleasantly surprised and bashful to hear Hide call him cute as he was the first time he heard it.

“This was a really good idea,” Hide said, smiling softly at Kaneki. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

“O-oh, no problem. I’m glad you liked it.”

“We can go home now, if you’re tired.”

Kaneki raised his eyebrows. “But then we would miss the best part.”

It was hard to find a place that was far enough away from the crowd to really be private, but they managed to walk out far enough to the top of a hill surrounded by trees that they at least got the illusion of being alone. They could still hear the distant sounds of the festival and see the glow of the lanterns, but it was faint now.

“We are going to be eaten alive by mosquitoes up here,” Kaneki grumbled.

“Romantically!” Hide said.

Indeed, Kaneki sat down on the slightly damp grass and Hide sat on his lap gently. It was only a few moments before the fireworks started. The sky was filled with colour as massive gold and red fireworks started off the show. Hide settled down into Kaneki’s lap to get comfortable and enjoy the show, and Kaneki nervously kissed him on the back of the neck. After all, everyone would be looking up and not at them.

Hide grabbed Kaneki’s right hand and held it, and Kaneki wished this moment would last forever. He had never felt this way with anyone, certainly not with Rize. It was a weird feeling. He felt comfortable with Hide in a way he never had in any other relationship, and he also felt anxious, but almost in a good way. Hide got him to try new things, to go out more. Hide thought he was attractive and had no qualms with telling Kaneki that.

As Hide leaned back further to give Kaneki a quick, slightly upside-down kiss on the lips before turning back to look at the fireworks, and Kaneki’s heart raced accordingly, he realized what he was feeling was excitement. In a way he hadn’t felt in years.

When the fireworks were over, they walked hand in hand back down the path, and only broke apart when the crowds started getting thicker again.

But Kaneki was determined to be very affectionate with Hide when they got back to his place.

There was an unspoken agreement that Kaneki would stay over at Hide’s apartment and sleep in his bed, as he had several times now. They found a decent bowl to put Hide’s new goldfish in for now (Hide was already looking up goldfish care and Kaneki hoped he wouldn’t be as obsessed with it as he was with his bunnies).

After Hide tucked his bunnies into bed (his words, not Kaneki’s), they both set about getting ready for bed themselves.

Hide took off his shirt to change into his pyjamas and Kaneki wrapped his arms around him from behind.

“Kaneki?” Hide said.

“Mmm,” Kaneki mumbled into the back of Hide’s neck and gently kissed him on the shoulder.

“I like where this is going,” Hide said.

Kaneki gently pulled Hide onto the bed. They tumbled onto it gracelessly and laughed at their own clumsiness. They shifted up so that Hide’s head hit the pillow and Kaneki was on top of him.

“It’s not fair that I’m the only one without a shirt on,” Hide said, tugging at the hem of Kaneki’s t-shirt, and Kaneki grinned and pulled it off.

“Fuck yes,” Hide grinned. Kaneki kissed him and it quickly turned frantic. They knew each other well enough at this point that they knew they were both really into it, that there was no point in taking it slow.

Hide’s hands found their place on Kaneki’s shoulders, and he wrapped his legs around Kaneki’s waist. Kaneki groaned and drove his hips down, causing Hide to gasp. Kaneki gently slipped his tongue into Hide’s mouth and Hide whimpered his assent.

Kaneki thrusted his hips against Hide’s again, and Hide dug his nails into Kaneki’s back and scratched him, just a little. Kaneki gasped.

“S-sorry,” Hide said.

“Don’t be,” Kaneki said, burying his head into Hide’s neck and nuzzling him. “I liked it.”

Kaneki began to kiss his Hide’s neck, gently at first, but quickly getting rough with him. Sucking on his skin to make sure he left a mark that Hide would either try to cover up or brazenly show off. Either option made Kaneki smirk against Hide’s neck.

“Mmm,” Hide mumbled. “God, I’m so weak to this.”

“Oh, I know,” Kaneki said. He had no idea where this confidence was coming from, maybe from picking a successful date night, maybe because Hide seemed to genuinely love everything that was going on, but he decided to capitalize on his newfound boldness and gently nipped at Hide’s neck.

“Oh shit,” Hide gasped. “Do that again immediately.”

“So pushy,” Kaneki mumbled, but he obliged and was rewarded by Hide thrusting up against him. Kaneki could feel how hard he was and he could feel how tight his own jeans were starting to feel.

He rolled off of Hide, who whined. “Where are you going?”

“Fine, I won’t take my pants off then,” Kaneki said, weakening his point by undoing his pants and sliding them off as he said that.

“Oh, nevermind,” Hide said. He quickly went to undo his own pants and took them off.

The two of them looked at each other for a moment, snuggled up beside each other, and started kissing each other slowly. Hide ran his hand up Kaneki’s side and cupped his face to bring him closer. Despite slowing down from their previous frantic pace, the fact that they were both very turned on was obvious now that they were just in their underwear, and now that they were pressed up close beside each other.

As nice as it was, Kaneki wanted more, and he pulled on Hide until Hide got the hint and got on top of him, straddling him, and now he was kissing Kaneki’s neck just like Kaneki had kissed him and fuck , no wonder Hide had liked it when Kaneki nipped at him. Kaneki thrusted up against Hide and they both gasped.

Hide gazed down at him. They were both breathing heavily. Both of them were red-faced and both of them wanted more . Hide ground down on Kaneki and Kaneki moaned so loudly that he would have been embarrassed if Hide hadn’t stopped him from thinking about it by doing it again immediately.

Kaneki thrusted against Hide again and Hide bit his lip as he tried to fight back a moan. That wouldn’t do, and Kaneki did it again so that Hide would have no choice but to moan aloud.

“G-god-,” Hide gasped. He kissed Kaneki sloppily and they began to grind against each other. Desperate for friction, for contact. Kaneki was a mess but, somehow, this still wasn’t enough.  

Before he had a chance to think about it, Kaneki reached down and started pushing his boxers down. It took Hide a moment to realize what Kaneki was doing and he stopped kissing Kaneki.

“Y-you sure?” Hide asked. He looked so excited that what little remained of Kaneki’s doubt vanished, and he pushed them all the way off (Hide helped very enthusiastically).

There was a momentary stab of panic as Kaneki realized that he was fully naked in front of Hide. He almost wanted to close his eyes so that he couldn’t see Hide’s reaction but was very glad he didn’t. Hide was biting his lip again, his hand palming his cock through his underwear.

“Holy shit,” Hide groaned. “You’re gorgeous.”

“Don’t say that,” Kaneki mumbled, looking away. “It’s so embarrassing.”

“Like you could ever stop me from saying it,” Hide said. “Also, fuck my underwear, they’re coming off too.” And that was all the warning Kaneki got before Hide took his own underwear off and Kaneki was staring at a very naked Hide.

“Oh,” Kaneki said stupidly, before he could stop himself. He suddenly very much understood why Hide felt the need to call him gorgeous, but his brain wasn’t fast enough to get the thought out of his mouth.

Luckily, it seemed Hide understood his “oh” very well. He was smiling at Kaneki, and he tentatively leaned in close to kiss Kaneki, slowly but passionately. Their cocks brushed together, just briefly, and Kaneki moaned into Hide’s mouth.

“Is this what you want?” Hide asked softly. Kaneki was suddenly nervous again. Suddenly very aware that he was naked and Hide was naked and he was terrified and excited for what could come next.

But of course it was what Kaneki wanted. Kaneki had done nothing but want Hide for months. Kaneki nodded enthusiastically, unable to force words to come out of his mouth at that moment.

Hide brushed Kaneki's hair away from his face and grinned at him sheepishly, looking both nervous and excited. It made Kaneki feel a bit better to see Hide looking like this, because that was exactly how he felt.

He wanted to tell Hide something to that effect, but when he finally managed to get words out of his mouth, what he actually said was, "I haven't had sex in almost three years.”

There weren't words to describe the horror Kaneki felt in that moment. He had not meant to say that. He didn't know why he had said that. If he had still been wearing a shirt he would have pulled it up over his head to hide from the look Hide was giving him. If Hide had not been literally on top of him he would have calmly gotten off the bed, thanked Hide for his time and consideration, and then run far far away.

Even Hide, who had heard far worse things from Kaneki and taken them all in stride, seemed taken aback.

“A-all right then,” Hide said.

Kaneki put his hands over his face so he wouldn’t have to look at Hide. Now that that pathetic confession was out there, he might as well make another one.

“Also I, um, I’ve never been with a man before.” It came out as more of a high-pitched squeak than Kaneki intended.

“Well, I figured that much at least,” Hide said. “Considering according to what you’ve told me you’ve come out to exactly one person and you’re currently naked with him.”

Kaneki groaned, and he felt Hide gently prise his hands away from his face.

“Stop that,” Hide said firmly. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed.”

“Disagree,” Kaneki said, finally looking up at Hide.

Hide kissed him on the forehead and brushed Kaneki’s hair away from his face again. “Please don’t be embarrassed. I just want to do what you’re comfortable with.”

“I’m not comfortable with anything, ever,” Kaneki said. Hide chuckled slightly.

“You could have fooled me, with how enthusiastic you were earlier,” Hide waggled his eyebrows suggestively and Kaneki laughed.

Hide leaned down left gentle kisses along Kaneki’s neck until he could feel Kaneki relax a bit underneath him. “How about we start with what you want to do then?”

“I want to make you come,” Kaneki said. It was the first thing that came to mind, and he might have been embarrassed again if he hadn’t heard Hide’s breath hitch.

“I can certainly work with that,” Hide mumbled against his neck. “Mind if I take the lead?”

“Please,” Kaneki laughed. “Don’t let me be the decision-maker here.”

“Okay,” Hide kissed him on the lips gently. “Let me know if you’re comfortable though, all right?”

Kaneki nodded and Hide reached into his bedside cabinet and pulled out a small bottle of lube.

“I- I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet,” Kaneki said in alarm. Hide stared at him a moment before he realized what Kaneki was saying.

“I know you’re not ready for anal, Kaneki, especially considering how much you blushed when I said that just now,” he smirked. “That’s not what I’m using this for.”

Kaneki nodded silently again as he watched Hide squirt a small amount onto his hand and stroke his cock to cover it. The look of relief on Hide’s face was almost indecent, and Kaneki was suddenly very aware of how desperate he was for contact.

Hide squirted some more on his hand, and reached over to stroke Kaneki, who gasped in surprise and gripped the sheets underneath him reflexively.

Hide stroked him until Kaneki was thrusting up into his hand before stopping. Kaneki glared at him and Hide smiled innocently as he straddled Kaneki once again.

“What exactly are you doing?” Kaneki asked.

“You said you wanted to make me come, right?” Hide lined up their cocks so they were against each other. The friction was almost unbearable for Kaneki and he could tell from the look on Hide’s face that he felt the same way.

Hide grabbed Kaneki’s hand and guided it towards them. Kaneki understood what Hide was doing finally, and wrapped his hand around both of them. Hide guided his hand to stroke up and down, setting a steady rhythm that kept them close together, that had them gasping and moaning and thrusting against each other, which only made the friction all the more intense.

Kaneki gently nudged Hide’s hand off, and Hide let go to let Kaneki set the pace. He picked up speed, earning a loud moan from Hide. It was indescribable pleasure to see Hide like this on top of him, knowing that it was him that was making Hide feel so good. Touching Hide like this, feeling the slide of his cock against his. And it was almost too much, but somehow not enough, and Kaneki knew he wouldn’t last long, but neither would Hide.

They were both moving against each other in a way that caused Kaneki to lose his grip a couple times. He was leaking precome and his stroking was getting more erratic.

“K-Kaneki,” Hide groaned. “I’m gonna-”

Hide didn’t even have to finish his sentence. It set Kaneki over the edge and he moaned and came against Hide. Hide gasped and Kaneki could feel him come underneath his hand as Kaneki stroked them both to completion, until they were both over-sensitive and Kaneki had to stop.

Hide rolled off him. They both lay there, panting and spent and trying to recover. Hide stroked up Kaneki’s arm and turned to him. They both looked at each other, grinning like idiots.

“That was-” Hide said.

“I know-” Kaneki said. And they both laughed.

“We made kind of a mess though,” Kaneki grimaced as he came down from his high and realized that he was covered in, well, even thinking it to himself made him blush.

“There’s tissues in the drawer beside you,” Hide said. “But we could both use a shower. And maybe, you know, to save water, we could shower together?”

Kaneki rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t even try to hide his stupid grin as he said “I like that idea.”

Chapter Text

Even Kaneki had to admit he was sad once summer ended and school started again in September. He had never liked summer, but getting out with Hide and enjoying the season with Hide had shown him what was good about it. For years, he had spent his life not really doing anything differently. It had made no difference to him what season it was, other than what kind of shirt he should put on in the morning. Everything had blended together.

But Hide had dragged him out of the house. Hide had made him try things he never thought he would enjoy. He didn’t want to go as far as to say Hide made him feel alive, because that was over-the-top and ridiculously cheesy but-

Hide opened the door to the office and gasped, “Holy shit, I was half-expecting to open the door and find out you weren’t real this whole time because how could someone so cute exist-”

“Hide, close the door and try greeting me like a normal person,” Kaneki sighed, feeling his whole face go red and refusing to turn around and greet him.

“Fiiiine,” Hide said, closing the door and opening it again to say, “Hi”.

Kaneki shook his head but said, “Hello to you too.”

“I don’t wanna be here,” Hide said. “Summer spoiled me.”

“Hmm,” Kaneki said.

“Well, more like my cute boyfriend spoiled me all summer,” Hide said.

Kaneki turned his chair just a little to look at Hide, “Oh, did he now?”

“Yep, took me to the beach and let me see his awesome abs, won me a goldfish, oh and also he gave me-”

“However you’re going to finish that sentence, I don’t want to hear it,” Kaneki warned.

“Really? Because I was planning to praise you for the-”

Nope ,” Kaneki said. “What if someone came in and heard that? You’re gonna give me a heart attack.”

“I can’t help myself,” Hide said. “It was just so hot.”

Kaneki put his face in his hands and groaned, exaggeratedly.

“Well, you’re lucky that you’re getting saved from me for now, because I have a department meeting to go to right now, unfortunately.” Hide rolled his eyes. “I was thinking of getting a piercing over the summer to really give that old bastard of a department head a heart attack. But then I realized I hate pain.”

“Where were you going to get a piercing?” Kaneki demanded.

“Never you mind,” Hide winked.

“If you had a meeting to go to right away, why did you even come here?” Kaneki asked.

Hide smiled. “I wanted to come say ‘hi’ first, but now I really have to run, because it starts in like five minutes.”

Hide dashed over and kissed Kaneki before Kaneki could say anything, and he ran out the door.

Kaneki shook his head to himself after Hide left, touching his lips where he could still feel Hide.

Kaneki didn’t want to say that Hide made him feel alive… but he couldn’t deny the evidence.

***

Sharing an office with his boyfriend was sort of wonderful, but it was also a special kind of torture.

Trying to pretend that they were just office mates, trying to act professional when they walked down the halls, was harder than Kaneki would have thought. He had never been one for public displays of affection, but thinking about how he shouldn’t touch Hide was making him think about touching Hide even more. Kaneki was worried about how even the most unsexy contact would come across. Sometimes he would put a hand on Hide’s shoulder to get his attention, just to ask him a question, and withdraw his hand quickly.

He was sure there weren’t actually any rules about staff dating each other (because he had casually asked someone else in the department after a meeting over the summer and she had said no but thought Kaneki was flirting with her and it was an incredibly uncomfortable fifteen minutes, and then he went and looked it up himself because he was worried she’d just said no to flirt with him ), but he didn’t want to invite awkward questions.

It became much more difficult to restrain themselves when they shared an office and always kept the door closed. Feasibly, they could kiss and be affectionate and no one would see, but Kaneki had a horrifying mental image of someone neglecting to knock and barging in on them.

It didn’t stop Kaneki from thinking of all the possibilities. It was hard to restrain himself when all he wanted was to kiss Hide and also see Hide naked.

And it most certainly didn’t help that Hide was obviously thinking the same thing.

Kaneki was furiously typing some notes on his laptop when he felt a ball of paper hit him on the back of the head. It was the fifth one Hide had thrown at him so far.

“Kaaaanekiii-”

“Hide, I have told you I will not respond to the papers.”

“But that last one had a message for you and everything!”

Against his better judgement, Kaneki opened the paper, which had bounced off his head and into the open desk drawer beside him. Inside there was a little drawing of a heart.

“Absolutely ridiculous, Hide,” Kaneki said.

“You know I love it when you call me ridiculous,” Hide said with an adoring sigh. “I strive to do whatever I can to earn it.”

“Well, you’re succeeding,” Kaneki grumbled. He couldn’t deny it was cute. He carefully flattened out the paper to get the wrinkles out and put it in one of his folders, making sure that Hide did not see him doing so.

Another piece of paper landed on the desk in front of Kaneki and Kaneki glared at Hide.

“I missed that one,” Hide said. “I meant for that to hit your head. But that one has a message too!”

He opened it warily and went bright red when he saw the message.

We should bang on the desk :)

“No!” Kaneki said, horrified. “Absolutely not!”

“Why not?” Hide whined.

“Why not?!” Kaneki demanded. “There are several reasons why! I could write an essay about why!”

“Okay but consider this, it would be very hot.”

“That- that’s not the point!” Kaneki stuttered.

“So you’re not denying that it would be very hot?”

“We are not banging on the desk, Hide,” Kaneki said firmly. “For one thing, what would happen if someone came in, for one thing?” He said, repeating himself in his alarm.

“We can lock the door!”

“And make a student wait while we hurried to put on our clothes and tried to pretend we weren’t just doing what we were doing?”

“No one ever comes to office hours!”

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Kaneki glared daggers at Hide as Hide sheepishly opened the door. It turned out that it was not a student, but even worse, one of the higher-ups in the linguistics department who needed to ask Hide some questions.

Kaneki waited until she finally left, five minutes later, and then turned around in his chair and glared at him with crossed arms.

“You see! Look at what could have happened!”

“Okay, fair point, but in all fairness we were not actually doing anything, we were just talking about it.”

Kaneki continued to glare.

“And ‘could have happened’?” Hide asked, with a sudden smirk. “Are you saying you were considering it?”

“N-no!” Kaneki’s felt his face flare red.

“Really?” Hide cocked his head to the side, still grinning.

Kaneki grabbed the balled-up papers that were still on his desk and tossed one at Hide. It missed its mark by a longshot and landed on the floor and Hide started to laugh. Kaneki stood up until he was barely a foot in front of them and tossed them at Hide. His first one still missed somehow and Hide looked like he was going to pass out from laughter. Kaneki still had some left, and he checked to make sure the door was closed and grabbed the front of Hide’s shirt and shoved them down.

“Okay, okay! I’m sorry for suggesting something so unbelievably hot!” Hide was still laughing, and Kaneki was starting to join in too.

“S-sorry,” Kaneki said through his laughter.

“Don’t be,” Hide said, still chuckling. “Now I have my papers back and I can use them to annoy you even more.”

“Oh god, what have I done?” Kaneki mumbled. Hide’s phone buzzed and he casually reached over to grab it. Kaneki was still standing close enough to him to see his backgrounds. His lock screen was the usual picture of his rabbits, but Kaneki was surprised to see his home screen background was a picture of Kaneki holding Darling (while Lady glared from the distance).

“H-Hide?” Kaneki said. “Did you make me your phone background?”

Hide instantly went red. Kaneki loved that he could make Hide blush like that.

“Oh, uh, guess you saw that then?” Hide went even redder if possible.

“I did,” Kaneki couldn’t stop himself from smiling.

Hide groaned. “Okay, normally I don’t make the people I date my background pictures because some of my boyfriends have made fun of me for it and also I always get worried it’s going to jinx it but the picture of you with the bunnies was very cute and when we started dating and it was going well-”

“You don’t have to explain it to me, Hide,” Kaneki said. “I think it’s sweet.”

Hide nodded, still looking embarrassed. Kaneki kissed him on the cheek and Hide scrunched up his nose.

“Now we should get back to work,” Kaneki said.

Hide nodded again and turned his chair to face his desk. Though he mumbled, “You’re still on probation, once you’re not you can maybe get a picture of just you as a background, without the bunnies.”

“It’s an honour to be your background with your bunnies,” Kaneki said seriously. He was gratified to see that that Hide was grinning from ear to ear.

It did make him a bit sad that he was “on probation”, as Hide put it, as it meant that Hide was still a bit nervous. Though he supposed he couldn’t blame him, he had his own doubts too. And with Hide’s dating history, he couldn’t really blame him.

He did feel a nagging sense of guilt that Hide had told him a bit about his past relationships and Kaneki had barely told him anything about what had happened between him and Rize. Not to mention the aftermath of it.

Kaneki felt a cold sense of dread at the thought. The good mood he had just been in seemed to disappear completely. Hide couldn’t know about that. He would never look at him the same way again.

But Hide wasn’t an idiot. Surely he would notice that Kaneki’s silence on the subject meant he was hiding something, eventually. Kaneki knew deep down that every moment he let pass without just telling Hide would make everything much worse when he inevitably found out.

And yet he couldn’t bring himself to burst the little bubble he had made for himself with Hide. Maybe that was why he didn’t want to tell anyone they were dating just yet. He just wanted to be alone in this moment with Hide.

And he was going to make that moment last as long as possible.

***

One day when they normally didn’t have office hours, they both ended up having department meetings. They figured they might as well go to school together, which meant they might as well spend the night at Hide’s apartment the night before.

It was just more efficient that way.

“Why on earth did we decide to buy food from the cafeteria?” Hide said, picking forlornly at his mushy pasta.

“Well if someone hadn’t overslept, we could have gone to a restaurant and had a nice lunch together-”

“Well, if someone else hadn’t exhausted me the night before-”

“Okay okay!” Kaneki put his hands up and glanced around in alarm. “Not here, Hide!”

Hide just smirked at him.

“Terrible,” Kaneki said, glaring at him.

Kaneki was distracted from being annoyed with Hide by seeing someone he knew walking towards them from across the cafeteria.

“Kaneki!” Kimi said brightly.

“Kimi?” Kaneki said. “I haven’t seen you in ages!”

She strode over and pulled Kaneki into a quick hug from behind while he was still seated in the chair. Kaneki spluttered incoherently.

“You always get so flustered whenever I do that,” she laughed.

“We have discussed this,” Kaneki said. “It’s not the act of hugging, it’s the unusual amount of force you use when you do it.”

“Sure it is,” she grinned at him, and Kaneki smiled back. It was the kind of banter you could only have with someone you knew well, though Kaneki realized it really had been ages since he’d seen her, seen anyone really. He admitted he had sort of fallen off the radar, but it still made him sad to think about it.

“What are you doing here?” Kaneki said. “I thought you were on maternity leave?”

“It’s just about to end,” she said. “And, don’t tell anyone I said this, but thank god . I can’t wait to get back to research.”

Kaneki laughed. “I think the students here might faint to hear you say that.” Had it really been a year since her baby was born? He really had fallen off the radar.

“I’m Nishino Kimi, by the way, since Kaneki doesn’t look like he’s about to introduce me,” she said to Hide. “I’m in the biology department.”

“I was going to,” Kaneki lied. Social cues sometimes escaped him.

“Nagachika Hideyoshi, linguistics,” Hide said with a smile. “You can put those exact words on my grave because it’ll cover both occupation and cause of death.”

Kimi laughed. Kaneki was impressed that Hide figured out she would be the kind of person with a dark sense of humour so quickly.

“I actually mostly know her because I worked with her husband at the coffee shop ages ago,” Kaneki explained.

“Don’t want him thinking you hang around us biology people of your free will?” she teased.

Kaneki blushed as Hide said, “Why does it seem like every person you know is connected to this coffee shop?”

“Small social circle,” Kaneki mumbled. “Speaking of Nishiki, how is he?”

“Oh, the same as he always is,” Kimi said airily.

“So, terrible and moody, I’ll keep in mind to stay away,” Kaneki laughed.

Kimi laughed too, but when she looked at Kaneki, her smile faded, just a little.

“I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in over a year,” she said.

“Yeah,” Kaneki said, his heart racing slightly. “We’ll have to catch up.”

She was still giving him a serious look when she asked, “How have you been?”. It was a normal phrase, but so loaded with obvious meaning that Kaneki was sure that Hide would catch on.

“I’ve been fine!’ Kaneki said, unconsciously reaching up to scratch at his chin. “Great, actually!”

That was only partially (mostly) a lie. He had been great for the last few weeks with Hide, anyway.

Her smile was so genuine that it hurt Kaneki a little to look at it. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“Unfortunately” she said, suddenly back to normal. “I have a bunch of shit to sort out before I come back and I have to go argue with some people.” She rolled her eyes. “You know how it is around here.

“Yes,” Hide and Kaneki both said in unison.

“We definitely have to catch up though, I’m holding you to that.” She gave Kaneki a stern look and he nodded meekly. “Nice meeting you!” she said to Hide as she walked away.

“You too,” Hide waved goodbye.

Hide gave Kaneki sort of an odd look after she was gone. Enough that Kaneki could tell he knew something was up, even if he didn’t know what. But all he said was “She seems nice”, and turned back to eating his mushy pasta.

***

“Hey, Kaneki,” Hide said, nudging Kaneki to get his attention from the book he was reading.

“What?” Kaneki said, looking up and frowning. He had just gotten to a very important part of the story and didn’t want to have his flow interrupted.

“What’s the name of that author you like?” Hide asked. “The one with the really messed-up books?”

“There are lots of authors I like, Hide,” Kaneki said testily. “And define ‘messed up’.”

“The ones where all the people are murdered in like poetically ironic ways,” Hide said.

“Takatsuki Sen,” Kaneki said immediately. “Wait, have you read her work?”

“Yeah, because you like it,” Hide waved his hand dismissively. “I don’t really get it, but I wanna know, you know?”

Suddenly feeling bad for being annoyed with Hide a few seconds before Kaneki asked, “But why did you want to know?”

“I saw online she’s doing some presentation and signing of her new book this weekend!”

Kaneki scoffed, “I know, but all the tickets were reserved weeks ago.”

Hide grinned, and showed Kaneki his phone where an email saying “Confirmed: Two Tickets for Takatsuki Signing” was prominently displayed.

Kaneki sat bolt upright. “How?!” He demanded.

“I knew you liked her, saw an advertisement for it online, and set a reminder for myself to get the tickets at midnight the night the reservations opened. The rest was magic,” he added with a wink.

Kaneki launched forward and pulled Hide into a tight hug.

“W-woah,” Hide said. “Remind me to do this more often.”

“You’re the best, Hide,” Kaneki mumbled.

“I know,” Hide said, grinning as Kaneki let him go. He laughed and said, “You don’t even have to bring me, you can bring one of your bookish friends who would appreciate it more than I would-”

Kaneki glared at him. “Of course I’m going to bring you, you idiot. Why on earth would I want to take anyone else? You worked so hard to get them for me!”  

Hide shrugged, but his face was going red at the praise. “It was nothing, I like doing things for you.”

“It wasn’t nothing!” Kaneki said. “You put more effort into getting the tickets than I did!”

When Hide looked like he was going to protest more, Kaneki added. “You know, part of the reason I started dating Rize before was that we both loved Takatsuki and even she wouldn’t have done this for me. In fact, she probably would have gotten herself a ticket and forgotten about me. You don’t even like her stuff, do you? And you still did this for me.”

Hide looked like he was getting more flustered at the praise by the second, or maybe he just felt awkward at Kaneki bringing up his ex-girlfriend when he normally tried to avoid talking about her at all costs. In an effort to change the subject, Hide said, “Oh and speaking of books, I read your latest one from like… I guess a year and a half ago?”

“Oh god,” Kaneki groaned. “Why did you have to bring it up now?”

“I don’t know...books?” His face was still pink, which Kaneki had to admit was cute even as Hide brought up one of his least favourite subjects. “It was good! I was right that you’re getting better and better. Though they seem to also get more depressing with each one too.”

“Yeah, well…” Kaneki shrugged and picked up his book again. He could think of many answers to that, but he preferred that Hide not know. “That’s just the way it goes, I guess.”

“Is this some fancy author talk I don’t understand?” Hide asked.

That, at least, earned a smile out of Kaneki.

“I can’t believe you got me tickets to Takatsuki Sen…” Kaneki mumbled out loud. It wasn’t even the tickets, really, though that was amazing. It was the fact that Hide seemed to listen when Kaneki talked about the things he liked. Even if he didn’t understand, he wanted to learn and share them with Kaneki. It meant more to Kaneki than he could ever say.

But tonight, Kaneki decided, he was going to show him how he felt.

They were snuggled into Hide’s bed at night, Hide was scrolling through his phone and Kaneki was pretending to read while he was actually trying to work up the courage to do what he wanted to do. What he had wanted to do for ages.

“Why are you just staring into space?” Hide asked. “Are you tired? Want to just go to sleep?”

Not for the first time, Kaneki cursed Hide’s perception. How on earth had he noticed that Kaneki wasn’t actually reading?

Hide had already put his phone on his bedside table and went to turn off his lamp, and Kaneki reached over to put his book on the table as well, which also gave him the perfect opportunity to grab onto Hide’s shoulders and turn him towards himself.

Hide raised his eyebrows in a question. Kaneki was suddenly very aware of how weird and dumb he looked, staring into Hide’s eyes with his hands on his shoulders without doing or saying anything.

“Actually,” Kaneki said, hoping the tremor in his voice wasn’t obvious. “I wanted to do this.”

He leaned into Hide and started kissing him, slowly but firmly. When he pulled away, Hide started laughing.

“Hey!” Kaneki said indignantly.

“S-sorry,” Hide said, giggling to himself. “It’s just… that’s a hell of a pickup line.”

Kaneki glared at him, his face going a little red. Hide flopped down on the bed and said “Here, I’ll say something embarrassing too. Get on top of me.”

Without leaving room for discussion, Hide grabbed Kaneki by his shoulders this time and pulled him on top. Kaneki’s face was now bright red but he moved to straddle Hide. Hide grinned up at him.

They began to kiss again, starting off slowly but quickly getting intense. Kaneki tentatively pulled at Hide’s bottom lip with his teeth, just slightly, and Hide sighed in appreciation.

“You know how hot I find that,” Hide mumbled, shifting against him in a way that caused him to grind his hips against Kaneki’s. From the smirk Hide was giving him, it was definitely on purpose.

“I know,” Kaneki mumbled against his lips, before doing it again. Kaneki would be the first to admit that he was still awkward as hell in bed (and he was sure Hide, as much as he enjoyed their time together, would agree), but he was slowly getting familiar with Hide’s body. Although he wished he could learn a bit faster, he couldn’t deny that he was enjoying the process of getting to know Hide, getting to know what he liked.

It was this growing familiarity that allowed Kaneki to go somewhat on autopilot as he contemplated what he wanted to do next. He kissed Hide’s neck, his shoulder, and Hide was groaning a bit and pressing up against him and Kaneki could feel he was already half-hard.

Smirking and deciding that he ought to fix that right away, Kaneki slowly pulled Hide’s pyjama pants down. He wrapped his hand around the base of Hide’s cock and Hide nodded enthusiastically.

Kaneki began to stroke him slowly. He didn’t want Hide to come from this, but he didn’t have to tell Hide that just yet. He enjoyed listening to Hide’s increasingly breathy gasps as he stroked him. When Hide started thrusting up to meet his hand, Kaneki figured that was enough.

He let go of Hide, making sure to kiss him deeply as he did so to muffle his protests, before pushing off of him and pulling off Hide’s shirt.

Hide pouted. “Why am I the only one naked?”

“Because,” Kaneki said, leaning down so he could kiss Hide on the chest and slowly shifting down to kiss over his stomach. “I want to thank you for today.”

“Is that what this is about?” Hide laughed. “Not that I’m not totally loving this because I am - oh ,” Hide gasped a little when Kaneki kissed his way lower, over Hide’s hip. “But you don’t have to do this just because I did something for you-”

“I want to though,” Kaneki mumbled against his skin. And that seemed to quiet any further protest.

Kaneki gently reached his hands between Hide’s legs and parted his thighs. Hide’s eyes widened in surprise as Kaneki kissed his inner thigh. He kissed his way up higher, until he stopped and he could hear Hide sigh in both frustration and amusement (which was exactly what Kaneki was going for).

“Stopping right before you reach the good part, huh?” Hide grumbled.

“Hmm,” Kaneki said. “Well I suppose I could do this -” Kaneki ran his tongue underneath the length of Hide’s cock and Hide’s gripped the bed as he moaned in surprise and pleasure.

“I mean,” Hide breathed heavily. “You don’t have to, but I’d certainly appreciate it if you- oh-” he gasped as Kaneki did it again.

Kaneki had never known someone who would tease and joke around as much as Hide during sex, but he had to say he actually appreciated it. It set him at ease more than he thought it would. And especially since this was an area in which Kaneki knew he needed some... practice , it was nice to have Hide lighten the mood.

He flicked his tongue over the head of Hide’s cock and slowly wrapped his lips around it. He took in as much as he could (which was...not much) before pulling off and licking the underside of his cock again.

“A-ah,” Hide groaned, gripping the bed sheets again.

Kaneki took Hide into his mouth again, pulling back almost to the tip and then taking him in again. He did this as long as he was able, occasionally pulling off to breathe and lick the tip of Hide’s cock before doing it again.

When Hide was moaning uncontrollably and leaking precome, Kaneki pulled off and sat up.

“You wanna stop?” Hide mumbled.

It was this that also made Kaneki comfortable with Hide. He knew Hide was close, knew Hide desperately wanted to finish, and yet if Kaneki wanted to stop right now Hide would not complain and Kaneki would know he really didn’t mind at all.

“Um, sort of, not really,” Kaneki swallowed. He might as well say it.

“What’s up?” Hide prompted, gently.

“I kind of want to… go all the way?” he winced at the extremely teenager-sounding phrase he had just used.

Hide raised his eyebrows. “Woah, not what I was expecting.”

“Yeah…” Kaneki laughed awkwardly.

“Is this seriously all because of the tickets, because-”

“No!” Kaneki shook his head furiously. “I… I’ve wanted to do this for a while but couldn’t work up the courage. I’m using the ticket thing as an excuse.”

Hide burst out laughing.

“Well, it’s as good an excuse as any,” Hide said. “If you’re sure…”

“I am,” Kaneki said firmly. Then, much more meekly, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Hide pushed himself up and kissed Kaneki firmly on the lips.

“Don’t worry,” Hide said. “I do.”

Hide reached over to the drawer in his bedside table and pulled out a bottle of lube and a condom as Kaneki stared at him.

“Step one,” Hide said, with a smirk. “It’s easier if you don’t have pants on.”

Kaneki grumbled a bit but quickly moved to remove his clothes. He had been so focussed on Hide’s pleasure and what he wanted to ask Hide to do that he had only been slightly aware of how hard he had gotten. He was certainly not able to ignore it now.

Kaneki pushed himself up until he was sitting against Hide’s pillows and Hide sat in front of him with his legs spread. Kaneki was suddenly very aware of what he was about to watch Hide do as Hide spread a generous amount of lube over his fingers.

He watched Hide with his mouth slightly agape. Hide, of course, noticed this and winked at him as he slowly inserted the first finger.

The look of pleasure of Hide’s face was almost too much for Kaneki. He had to bite his lip to keep from moaning out loud. He watched as Hide adjusted and began to move his finger in and out, slowly stretching himself.

Hide was sighing gently and it was too much for Kaneki. He needed something , and he slowly began to stroke himself. He didn’t want to come just yet, but he needed the release.

Hide’s eyes were closed, so he didn’t see that Kaneki was pleasuring himself. He stretched himself with one finger for another few moments before slowly inserting the second.

Kaneki’s cock twitched at the sight and he couldn’t stop himself from moaning loudly this time. Hide opened his eyes and grinned widely when he saw what Kaneki was doing.

“Like what you see?” Hide winked at him.

“Hide, you are-”

“Ridiculous?”

“Yeah.”

They both laughed. Kaneki continued to stroke himself gently as Hide spread his fingers to stretch himself out more. Hide worked slowly so they would both be comfortable, but Kaneki had to admit it made him blush a bit to see how confident Hide was, how well he knew himself.

It was kind of hot.

Hide finally inserted a third finger and Kaneki had to stop touching himself. He could no longer bear how much of a turn-on the sight of Hide preparing himself (for him !) was and he wasn’t sure he was going to last if he kept going.

Hide finally slid his fingers out with a sigh. He smiled at Kaneki and asked “You ready?”

Kaneki nodded, though secretly he felt like his heart was going to beat right out of his chest. Though at least if it did he would die a happy man.

“One more thing,” Hide carefully tore the foil of the condom wrapper, and then with a movement so practiced that Kaneki couldn’t even quite see how he did it, he put the condom in his mouth and slipped it over Kaneki’s cock, taking him into his mouth until it was fully on.

“Ah- holy shit -” Kaneki gasped.

Hide pulled off, grinning.

“How the hell did you do that?” Kaneki demanded.

“Practice,” Hide smirked. “I love it when I can make you swear.”

“That was so fucking hot,” Kaneki groaned.

“Yeah, like that,” Hide laughed. The two looked at each other for a moment. Kaneki was suddenly incredibly nervous all over again. Were they actually going to do this?

“Are you sure about this?” Hide asked.

“Yeah,” Kaneki nodded. “It’s just...can you-?”

“Take the lead?”

Kaneki nodded again, embarrassed.

“Of course,” Hide leaned forward to kiss Kaneki on the mouth again. “We’ll take it slow, okay?”

Kaneki didn’t have the heart to say that if they didn’t take it slow he was going to be finishing this very quickly. Though he was sure Hide could figure that out himself.

Hide took out the bottle of lube and again spread a generous amount on his hand, warming it up a bit before stroking Kaneki a couple times to cover him. Kaneki watched as he put some more onto his hand and fingered himself a little bit more to spread it.

“You can never have too much lube,” Hide winked when he saw Kaneki watching him.

Hide finally straddled Kaneki, hovering over him and positioning himself. He lowered himself down slowly, almost painfully slowly, until Kaneki’s tip was pressing at his entrance and they both gasped. Hide put his hands on Kaneki’s shoulders to steady himself and lowered himself further, slowly, stopping to let himself adjust to Kaneki’s length and to give Kaneki a chance to remember how breathing worked.

“You okay?” Hide asked, sounding a bit breathless himself.

“Uh-huh,” Kaneki squeaked.

Hide lowered himself further. Biting his lip and digging his nails a bit into Kaneki’s shoulder by accident which Kaneki did not mind in the slightest. With one final push down Hide took Kaneki in all the way and they both moaned.

“H-Hide,” Kaneki gasped.

“Y-yeah,” Hide gasped. “Just...give me a second to-”

“Yeah-” Kaneki said. Hide could take all the time in the world to adjust as far as Kaneki was concerned. If he moved right now Kaneki was going to lose it.

They both took a moment to calm down, so that when Hide finally asked. “Are you ready for me to move?” Kaneki could say yes with some confidence.

Hide raised himself up a little and lowered himself onto Kaneki again. Kaneki gasped and fisted his hands in the sheets so that he didn’t have to think about what to do with them. Hide started off slow, setting a gentle and steady rhythm.

“Good?” Hide asked.

Kaneki nodded. “And, uh, you?” He cringed a little at the way he phrased that.

“Amazing,” Hide breathed with such sincerity that Kaneki nearly moaned. “You feel so good.” He drove himself down on Kaneki’s cock with more force than before to punctuate this.

Oh- ” Kaneki groaned. “That felt so good.”

Hide did it again, grinning. He was picking up the pace now that he was used to Kaneki, raising himself up further and thrusting down with more force. Each time he did it Kaneki gasped and moaned.

“Hide-” he gasped. “You’re incredible.”

Hide groaned when Kaneki said this. If anything it seemed to encourage him to go faster and Kaneki gripped the sheets so tightly he was worried he was going to ruin them. Or he would have been if he had the capacity to worry in that moment.

He couldn’t remember ever feeling so good during sex. Hide was above him, moaning, flushed, and so clearly wanting him that Kaneki could not take his eyes off him. He looked beautiful.

Kaneki ,” Hide moaned so desperately that Kaneki could feel his cock twitch inside him. “A-ah! You feel...so good-”

Kaneki couldn’t take it anymore, he couldn’t let Hide do all the work. When Hide ground his hips down onto him he thrust up to meet him and the moan he got out of Hide was incredible.

Kaneki let go of the sheets and grabbed Hide’s hips. Forcing him down on him as he thrust up into him. Hide was gripping Kaneki’s shoulders so hard it was almost painful. It was amazing, and Kaneki never wanted it to end.

“H-Hide,” he gasped. “I’m close.”

“Me too,” Hide said. “God, Kaneki- keep going, don’t stop-” Hide shifted on top of Kaneki slightly, changing the angle of his thrust, so that when Kaneki thrust up again Hide gasped and moaned in way that told Kaneki that Hide had definitely guided him to the right spot.

It didn’t take long after that. Hide came with a shout and tightened around Kaneki, which sent Kaneki over the edge too. Kaneki dug his hands into Hide’s hips to keep him on top until they were both spent, until finally they broke apart, panting and exhausted.

Hide grabbed his own shirt to wipe off Kaneki’s chest and stomach and tossed it to the other side of the room to deal with later.

“Clean up can happen later,” Hide said. “I want to be cuddled now .”

Kaneki laughed. “My sentiments exactly.” He pulled Hide into a deep kiss, passionate but not desperate. They pressed against each other, their hands wandering over each other to get as much contact as they could.

When Hide finally broke away, it was to gently lay his head on Kaneki’s chest, curled up against his side with Kaneki’s arm around him.

“Hide…” Kaneki wasn’t sure what to say. He was suddenly very glad that Hide’s head was on his chest and he couldn’t see him because he was suddenly worried that he might cry, which would be horrifying. What could he say that wouldn’t be cheesy or stupid-sounding? Really, he wanted to thank Hide. For loving him, for making him comfortable, for everything.

The words came out of his mouth, unbidden, maybe because deep down Kaneki knew they were the only ones that could express the depth of his gratitude.

“I love you.”

Hide stiffened and Kaneki was horror-struck. Was it too soon? Was it weird? Holy shit he had been the one to say it first-

But then, he felt Hide relax against him, and Hide mumbled against his chest. “I love you too, oh my god, I love you so much.”

And Kaneki had to cover his eyes with his arm for just a moment, because he couldn’t stop the tears that sprang to his eyes even though he was smiling. And he rubbed circles into Hide’s back until they both fell asleep, both more content than they had been in ages.

Chapter Text

They spent the days leading up to the bookstore date being ridiculously sappy around each other.

It started when they woke up in bed together and they looked at each other and started laughing, kissing each other all over in happiness. They took a shower together too, where they could barely keep their hands off each other. It wasn’t even sexual, really. They both just wanted the contact, wanted to be as close to each other as possible.

They still kept their hands to themselves at work, as much as they could. But when they were alone in their office they couldn’t stop each other from casually touching each other on the arm, running their hands over the other’s back as they passed behind their chair…

Even thinking about it at home alone, Kaneki couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face when he thought about it. It wasn’t just that they had finally had sex, (though of course that was fantastic and they had both wanted it for ages). It was that they had said “I love you” for the first time and it felt so ridiculously saccharine to react this way about it, but he couldn’t help it. He had only ever dated Rize, he had never felt this way in a relationship. The words had come so easily to him, he had not had to think about saying it. And Hide, Hide had said it back. Hide loved him back

Kaneki was grinning so much his face hurt.

He had also finally finished his novel. Though he never felt like he “finished” a novel, and really it wasn’t finished because it still needed serious editing. But still, the sex scene that he had been putting off as he wrote the rest of the plot around it somehow seemed to resolve itself in the last few days.

It was an odd coincidence.

He was walking to work, and he could not stop himself from grinning at the thought because he was going to work and he was going to see Hide , when he passed by a flower stand. Kaneki passed it every day, and had never really noticed it, because what use did he have for flowers? But this time, something caught his eye.

A small bouquet of sunflowers. He hesitated. They reminded him of a certain someone, but was that too much?

Five minutes later, Kaneki was walking to work with a small bouquet of sunflowers in his hand.

He started to worry about it. What if someone saw him bringing the flowers in? What if that same person then saw Hide walking out of the office with the flowers and put two and two together?

When he got to the university, a student on their phone walked into him and then walked away without even looking up. Kaneki was not sure they had even noticed they had walked into someone. Kaneki relaxed. He doubted that anyone here would be paying enough attention to him to notice he brought Hide flowers.

Kaneki got to the office without incident and casually put the flowers on Hide’s desk.

Hide barged in a few minutes late, as usual, complaining about something, as usual.

“You would not believe the day I’ve had already-” Hide froze when he saw the flowers on the desk.

“Are those for me?” Hide said, sounding genuinely bewildered.

“Y-yeah,” Kaneki said.

“From you ?”

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Kaneki pouted, just a little. “I am capable of being romantic, you know.”

“Obviously!” Hide said, he dashed over to Kaneki and gave him a kiss on the lips before Kaneki could say anything else.

“Hide! The door!” Kaneki squeaked.

“Oh right, sorry,” Hide said. He closed the door quickly and then dashed right back to Kaneki, throwing himself onto Kaneki’s lap.

“Um-” Kaneki said, but Hide was kissing him again and all thoughts of speaking were gone. Kaneki didn’t want him to stop, but he gently pushed Hide off before anyone could walk in on them.

“I’m glad you liked it so much,” Kaneki said, blushing.

“You once told me sunflowers made you think of me, so they are officially the most romantic flowers ever.”

“O-oh,” Kaneki said. “You remembered that?”

“Of course I did! It was the cutest shit ever, and I even wrote it down in my diary.”

Kaneki could not tell if Hide was kidding or not.

“Anyway,” Kaneki said. “You were going to tell me about your awful day?”

“Oh, I have no idea what that was about anymore I’m too happy now,” Hide indeed was grinning like an idiot and he picked up the sunflowers, gazing at them fondly.

“Good, then,” Kaneki laughed.

“And you’re definitely getting something good tonight in return,” Hide winked at him.

“Like what?” Kaneki asked, obliviously.

Hide stared at him until Kaneki got it.

“Oh- oh !” Kaneki stammered. “Yeah that sounds, um, really good.”

“It better,” Hide said. “I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my art.”

“Hide, no !”

***

To top off Kaneki’s good mood, he was going to see Takatsuki Sen this weekend. He was going to see her because Hide had got him tickets (and Kaneki smiled from ear to ear at the thought). He could barely contain himself, to the point where Kimi happened to pass by him in the hallway and remarked:

“What’s gotten into you?”

Kaneki paused, though he was supremely unconcerned, for once, about what someone thought of him.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You are literally bouncing when you walk down the hall” Kimi laughed. “What’s up with that?”

“Am I?” He asked mysteriously, but couldn’t stop himself from grinning. He was so unused to smiling this much that it actually made his face hurt a little.

She stared him down and Kaneki shrugged. “I guess I’ve just been having a really good week,” he said evasively.

She smiled and patted him on the shoulder as she passed by him in the hall.

“I’m glad. Really.”

Kaneki wanted to shout down the hall at her “It’s because I’m dating Hide!” but he knew it would be weird. He was getting sick of not telling people though. He was so happy, happier than he had probably ever been.

He wanted people to know why.

The day to meet Takatsuki Sen came, and as usual Kaneki was a nervous wreck and Hide had the patience of a saint.

“How’s my hair?” Kaneki asked.

“It’s fine, love, I already told you that,” Hide said.

“It feels fluffy,” Kaneki fretted.

“Is that a bad thing?” Hide teased. Still, he smoothed Kaneki’s hair out for him. “Is that better?”

Kaneki nodded weakly. “How about my shirt? Is it wrinkly?”

“Your cardigan is immaculate,” Hide couldn’t help from laughing just a little and Kaneki glared at him.

“This is serious! I can’t be a mess in front of her!”

“You won’t be,” Hide said.

“And you have the question I wanted to ask her?” They had a brief question and answer period before the book signing but Kaneki was worried that if he got chosen he would pass out, so Hide offered to ask for him.

“It’s in my pocket,” Hide patted his pocket where he had written down Kaneki’s question.

Kaneki nodded again and nearly jumped when they announced that they were going to start seating people.

“She’s here!” Kaneki squeaked.

“She isn’t yet,” Hide said gently. “They’re just letting people in before she takes the stage.”

“Right. Right,” Kaneki said. Hide squeezed his hand firmly.

Finally, they were seated. In a few moments he publisher came out to introduce her (as though she needed introduction, Kaneki scoffed to himself) and talk a bit about the upcoming book.

And then, she took the stage.

She spoke a bit about her book as well, but it was significantly more interesting than anything her publisher had to say. Hide rested his hand on Kaneki’s knee discretely as he leaned forward on his seat to make sure he caught every word.

When she said she was going to read the first chapter of her book, Kaneki gasped quietly to himself and Hide laughed and rubbed his hand in a circle in an effort to make Kaneki calm down a little.

The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop as she read. Kaneki was mesmerized. Her new book promised to be just as dark and twisted and incredible as the rest of her work. The room burst into thunderous applause when she finished.

“Wasn’t that incredible?” Kaneki grasped Hide’s arm as everyone applauded.

“Mmm,” Hide said. “It was definitely interesting. To be honest I spent most of the time watching you.”

“Huh?”

“You’re so cute when you get absorbed in a story.”

Kaneki wanted to protest, but the applause died down enough that he couldn’t.

When they asked the audience if they had any questions, Hide practically punched his hand into the air to make sure he could ask Kaneki’s question. He didn’t even need to read from the paper, he had the question memorized.

Kaneki loved him.

The one part Hide couldn’t do for him was get the book signed. Kaneki did want to talk to her, really, but he was sure he was going to say something stupid and he would spend the rest of his life thinking about it and wanting to die.

He pushed Hide so he went first. He didn’t know why, he just wanted to watch someone he knew do this before him, he supposed.

“And who should I make this out to?” Takatsuki Sen asked Hide. Her hair was up in a loose bun and she was wearing large round glasses that were oddly similar to the ones Kaneki wore sometimes.

Maybe we could talk about that , said a panicked voice in Kaneki’s head.

“Nagachika Hideyoshi,” Hide explained the kanji to use and said, “You know, my favourite thing you’ve written is probably that scene where the prisoner is comparing his victims to candy.”

“Oh?” she said. “What did you like about it?”

“It was interesting,” Hide said. “I felt like I could actually understand him, you know?”

Kaneki was both impressed that Hide could so easily strike up a conversation with Takatsuki and terrified that he was going to look dumb after him. Maybe he should have gone first.

It was his turn. Takatsuki asked for Kaneki’s name and Kaneki stuttered his name out, before he could even explain how to spell it, she said. “Oh! As in the author? I recognize you from the photo at the back of the book!”

“I...huh?” Kaneki squeaked.  

“I read your newest book recently actually, that’s how I knew your from the photo so quickly by the way, I don’t just have photos of you tacked up,” she winked at him and Kaneki nearly fainted. “It was really good! You really get into the characters’ heads.”

“Th-thanks,” Kaneki choked out. “I like your books too.” His face went red as he realized what he said was very stupid. “Um...obviously.”

She scribbled his name onto the book, and added Looking forward to your next book! underneath it.

Kaneki was shaking as he walked towards Hide.

“She’s read my books!” he squeaked at Hide, his voice threatening to reach a pitch inaudible to human ears. “She liked them!”

“Of course,” Hide didn’t seem nearly as surprised about this as Kaneki. “My boyfriend is famous and talented.”

Kaneki shook his head. “I’m going to die.”

“You’re not allowed,” Hide said firmly. “Want to get out of this crowded bookstore and get something to eat?”

Kaneki nodded but then said, “Wait, can we get a photo?”

“You asking me for a photo?” Hide put his hand over his heart in feigned shock. “What have you done with Kaneki?” But he took Kaneki’s phone and took a selfie of the two of them, with his arm around Kaneki. He also took a second one, where he snuck a kiss on Kaneki’s cheek.

“H-Hide,” Kaneki mumbled, trying to look stern but really incredibly pleased. He looked at the photo on his phone and he couldn’t deny it was very cute. Hide kissing him on the cheek and the fleeting look of surprise and happiness on Kaneki’s face captured.

No one in the room was looking at them, and Kaneki held out his hand for Hide to take, which he did very enthusiastically, and led them out of the store.

Out of the corner of his eye, as he passed the line of people still waiting for their books, he thought he saw someone familiar.

Someone with long black hair and glasses. Someone devastatingly beautiful.

It only took a second for Kaneki’s brain to catch up. The way it did when you see something in the middle of the night and whip your head around a second later only to see there was nothing there. There was no way she was here, he had just been thinking of her because Takatsuki Sen still made him think of her-

But when he turned around, she had not disappeared like an apparition in the night. She was beautifully, terrifyingly real.

Rize.

Kaneki’s body froze at the same time that his heart decided to go into overdrive. It was going to beat out of his chest at this rate. He felt his blood run cold but at the same time he was sweating.

“Kaneki?” Hide tugged on his hand. He wouldn’t be able to hide what was wrong from Hide for long.

He could turn around. He could turn around now and she would never know.

But that wasn’t how life worked. Or at least it wasn’t how Kaneki’s life worked. She turned and she looked at him. If Kaneki was hoping to see a split second of shock, surprise, or even shame on her face he was sorely disappointed. Her eyes met his and her face slipped into that same expression she always wore when she looked at him. Amused and bored and pitying at the same time. The look that Kaneki had loved and hated in equal measure.

And, in the split second it took for him to search his feelings, he realized that he didn’t completely hate it. Hate her. And he was disgusted with himself.

Her eyes flicked to Hide. And Kaneki realized he was still holding his hand. And suddenly Hide was an anchor, his hand keeping him close to shore.

Kaneki took a deep breath. He turned away from her and he tugged at Hide’s hand.

“Let’s go,” he said. And he left the store without looking back.

He spent the night agonizing over the encounter. If it even could be called that. In his head it took an eternity, every action rendered in excruciating detail, but in reality it could not have been more than ten seconds.

He was lying in bed, tossing and turning and trying to fall asleep but knowing he would not get any tonight.

His phone buzzed and Kaneki picked it up, desperate for any distraction.

Hide: that was a good date

Hide: in my unbiased opinion

Kaneki laughed, the knot in his stomach seemed to ease just a little.

Kaneki: It was

Kaneki: in my biased opinion.

He was smiling softly to himself. What did seeing Rize for a split second mean when he had Hide now? What did it matter that she looked at him in that same condescending way?

And she had seen him with Hide. She had seen him holding Hide’s hand.

See? Kaneki argued with her in his head. I don’t need you and I never did.

Even though he knew he had, at one point. But he was practiced in lying to himself.

Hide: what are you still doing up?

Hide: thinking of me? ;)

Kaneki laughed. Trust Hide to make him feel better. Trust Hide to ask him if he was okay in a way that was lighthearted, that didn’t make Kaneki feel weird.

Kaneki: yeah thinking of how I have an amazing boyfriend

He did, and he wanted everyone else to know it.

Kaneki: would it be okay if I posted that picture of us online? The one of you kissing me on the cheek?

Hide: !!!

Hide: hell yeah if you’re okay with that

Kaneki grinned, even though his heart was beating too quickly for such a small action. This would make it official, this would mean people knew and it was out there-

He had never unfriended Rize, she would see it.

A very petty part of Kaneki realized that was what he wanted.

He did it before he could second-guess himself. There. It was over.

He should really go to bed. He was exhausted after the roller coaster of emotions and he felt like he was ready to collapse.

But before he did he texted Hide one last thing “ Thank you ”, and put his phone on silent before Hide could ask him what for.

***

When Kaneki woke up the next morning, there was a beautiful half a second when his mind was blank. And then he remembered that he had seen Rize the day before and that he had posted the picture online and he sat bolt upright in bed.

He grabbed his phone to see if anyone had made any comment on his picture. He breathed out a sigh of relief when he saw that, while it had earned some likes and congratulatory comments, they were mostly from Hide’s friends. He really didn’t know enough people for it to generate much interest.

He did, however, receive two texts. One from Hinami that said “ I knew you two had feelings for each other. Congratulations I’m so happy for you! <3 ” and one from Kimi that just contained an eyes emoji. Which made Kaneki snicker.

He got a text from Hide which said: my friends will not shut up about wanting to meet you now what have you done

He then sent a heart. So Kaneki knew he wasn’t actually annoyed. Kaneki could picture him easily right now. Probably still in his pyjamas with his hair all mussed up, grinning from ear to ear because everyone knew about his boyfriend (and, despite his grumbling, probably absolutely dying wanting to show Kaneki off to his friends).

Kaneki couldn’t help but smile too. He wanted to see him. He knew he had only seen him yesterday, but he felt like he already missed him.

He hated comparing Hide to Rize, but it seemed that now he had seen her his brain could not stop. He had never missed Rize like he was missing Hide, because to be honest he had missed her more intensely. At the time he had mistaken it for love, but really it was desperation. She would suddenly stop talking to him, sometimes for weeks at a time, and then she would start again like nothing had happened. Sometimes she would shrug it off and say she was busy, but as time went on he was lucky he even got an excuse.

It got to the point where he would feel on edge every time he texted her or tried to call her. Unsure if she would respond and feeling a wave of relief wash over him every time she did. A wave of gratitude that she would take time out of her day for him. He never knew when she would decide he wasn’t worth her time again.

The whole relationship left him with a desperate aching. And he was sure now that was what Rize had wanted from him.

With Hide he never had to worry that he would suddenly lose interest. When he missed him it wasn’t out of fear, it was because he wanted to spend time with him. If he missed him less intensely, it was because he never doubted that Hide would eventually respond to him. When he missed him it was because Hide made him happy and he wanted to feel that again as soon as possible.

He was restless. And maybe his residual anger with Rize was making him unusually bold. He wanted to come up with something to do with Hide. Something he hadn’t done with him before.

His brain was only providing him with the usual suggestions. Coffee? A movie? None of them seemed to fit.

He rolled out of bed, even though it was still kind of early for the weekend. He figured after coffee and a shower he might be able to think more clearly. He always managed to work out problems in his stories in the shower anyway (or, as recent events proved, after having sex with Hide).

It actually turned out to be the shower that put the perfect idea into his head. He was smiling fondly to himself at the thought of Hide, and how once, one of the first times Kaneki had stayed over after they started dating, Hide had woken up before Kaneki but then accidentally woke Kaneki up by singing in the shower. And how he should have been annoyed but actually thought it was cute and enjoyed the sound of Hide’s voice.

Kaneki froze halfway through shampooing his hair. Hide’s voice. When they had sang together that night at Hide’s apartment, Hide had said he wanted to do real karaoke with him some time. At the time Kaneki was sure he didn’t have it in him, but now-

His hands were still slightly wet from the shower when he texted Hide.

Hide: who are you and what have you done with kaneki

Kaneki: are you going to say that everytime i do something fun

Hide:

Hide: anyway it sounds like a great idea! i’m in

One nice thing about having been with Hide for a while was that Kaneki no longer agonized about his clothing choices (of course, when he first started hanging out with Hide he didn’t realize that was why he was doing it). This was partly because of Hide’s incredible ability to make Kaneki comfortable and also because he now knew what Hide thought looked good on him.

Mainly things that showed off his arms.

It was the first time Hide had ever beaten Kaneki somewhere.

“Should I steal your line and say ‘what have you done with Hide’, or would that be mean?” Kaneki asked.

“Oh, shut up,” Hide laughed. “I’m just excited.”

Hide led the way into the karaoke bar, it had been a long time since Kaneki had done this… and he had always been too embarrassed to sing, and he couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows when Hide asked for three hours.

“What?” Hide said. “You think I can’t sing for three hours?”

“I know you can,” Kaneki said.

“Let alone the sappy duets I’m going to drag you into.”

“The- what ?” Kaneki said.

Hide smirked.

“You wanna pick the first song?” Hide asked, grabbing the iPad already and searching.

“How about I order drinks and food?” Kaneki said.

“Good, because I am warming up with five Backstreet Boys songs.”

Kaneki rolled his eyes. But really, that was exactly what he wanted.

He wasn’t sure what kind of boldness Hide was giving him just by being in proximity to him, but he wasn’t even embarrassed when they were brought their food and drinks and Hide was belting out Backstreet Boys songs immediately behind him.

“You pick one,” Hide said finally. “I feel like I’m monopolizing here.”

“That was sort of the point,” Kaneki said, he was sitting right beside Hide on the couch and gently kissed him on the cheek. “I like your voice.”

“I...really?” Hide seemed genuinely flustered. “Okay, now you have to sing sappy duets with me.”

“Let me warm up first,” Kaneki sighed. He opted not to go with one of his standard depressing songs, but some pop song he heard enough of in stores that it was apparently absorbed into his brain.

“Look at you go,” Hide said. “You could be a pop idol and quit your day job.”

“Failed pop idol, professor and author, are you trying to make me broke my whole life?” Kaneki teased.

Hide made good on his threat to make him sing duets. It was a little embarrassing at first, especially because they were all from musicals that Kaneki had only vaguely heard of. And he was left to stumble through them once, following the tune and Hide’s lead, and when he got it Hide played it again so they could sing it properly.

It was oddly fun, though.

“I had no idea you were this into musicals,” Kaneki said.

“I am a man of mystery.”

“You are not.”

They ordered more drinks. Kaneki got a bit tipsy, not a lot, just enough that he stopped feeling any lingering embarrassment and just enjoyed the moment. And god, if you had told Kaneki three years ago when Rize broke up with him, or if you had told him a year and a half ago, that he would be sitting in a karaoke bar with his boyfriend who he loved more than anything, singing cheesy romantic duets and sneaking kisses in between lines… he would have thought you were a damn liar.

It was one of those moments, where as odd as it sounded, Kaneki was very aware that he was alive, and that he was happy . Like he was seeing someone else live it, but at the same time completely in the moment, trying to burn it into his memory forever.

They walked, swaying just a little bit, back to Kaneki’s apartment because it was closer. They hadn’t planned for one of them staying over, but Kaneki certainly did not object to the sight of Hide wearing his pyjamas. They snuggled close to each other, and fell asleep in each other’s arms.

It wasn’t until about a week later, when Kaneki had managed to mostly put the thought of meeting Rize from his mind (as much as he could ever stop himself from thinking about unpleasant things, anyway), that Kaneki got a text that made his blood run cold.

It was a number he should have blocked long ago. Actually, maybe he should have changed his number instead. So that she could never find him and he could be left to his new life in peace.

It was Rize.

I saw you at the bookstore the other day. Would you like to meet up ?

Chapter Text

Kaneki did not respond to her text right away. Which is not to say that he put it out of his mind. It was more like when he got the text his hands started shaking so much that he couldn’t respond even if he wanted to.

He actually ended up almost having a panic attack. The only reason he didn’t was because he called Hide. He didn’t specifically tell Hide that he was on the verge of tears, but he didn’t have to. Hide, bless him, did not ask Kaneki what was wrong (he probably knew that if he did, it would push Kaneki over the edge to a breakdown).

Instead, he talked about random happenings in his day, mostly about the exploits of his bunnies. And Kaneki felt his breath slowly return back to normal, and his heart beat slow down. And once again he found himself wondering how he could ever have been so lucky as to find someone like Hide.

Kaneki’s initial fear and panic at the message he got from Rize eventually turned to anger. It had been two days and he hadn’t responded. But, really, how dare she? He was happy, she had seen him with his new boyfriend, and she thought she could just text him after years, after the way she left him ( after the state she left him in ), and talk to him as though nothing had happened?

He held his phone in his hand, staring at the text again. Wondering if he should respond, wondering what he could even say.

Hide sent him a photo of Darling, out of nowhere.

Hide: you seem down lately have a bunny in these troubled times

Kaneki laughed out loud, though he also felt tears to spring to his eyes. God, Hide was so, so good. How could he ever have thought being with Rize was what love was supposed to feel like?

Another surge of anger coursed through him. Did she think he would come running just because she asked him to? Did she not know the person he was with now was better than her in every way?

It occured to Kaneki that no, of course she didn’t. She knew nothing about Hide. She didn’t know how much better off Kaneki was now.

If nothing else, Kaneki wanted to show her that he didn’t need her.

He texted her back, Sure . Maybe she wouldn’t even respond. She didn’t half the time anyway.

But she did, within a few hours. And Kaneki was left panicking that he had made a horrible decision, realizing that he would have to actually see and talk to her again.

But also realizing that he would get to tell her he didn’t need her anymore.

Still, he spent the rest of the week feeling panicky and irritable. He jumped when he felt Hide put his hands on his shoulders while he wrote something on his laptop.

“You okay?” Hide muttered close to Kaneki’s ear. His breath tickled him and sent shivers over Kaneki’s body. “You seem so stressed out this week.”

“Y-yeah,” Kaneki said guiltily, rubbing his chin. “Just a bit tired you know?”

“Hmm,” Hide mumbled. Kaneki could tell Hide didn’t believe him. “Well, I know when the weather starts getting colder I always feel a little down.”

“I actually like winter, Hide,” Kaneki laughed.

“Well at least this year I have someone to spend Christmas with!” Hide stopped rubbing his shoulders to pull him into a hug from behind. “Though of course when I finally get a proper boyfriend his birthday is like five days before Christmas-”

“It is mid-November and I refuse to discuss either my birthday or Christmas until it’s December. And ideally I would discuss my birthday never.”

“You can’t escape the affection I intend to shower you with.”

“Ugh…” Kaneki groaned. But secretly he was looking forward to it.

“Anyway, want to do something this weekend?”

Kaneki stiffened. He hadn’t actually told Hide Rize had contacted him, let alone that he was meeting with Rize. He didn’t think it was something Hide needed to know right now. Preferably never.

“Uh, sorry, I’m busy.” Kaneki hoped his voice didn’t sound as high-pitched as he thought it did.

“Hmm,” Hide said again. He pulled off from the hug finally and went back to his desk. Kaneki turned to look at him, and something in Hide’s face looked off for just a second, before he hitched a smile back on his face and turned back to his work.

The day he was supposed to meet Rize arrived. Kaneki considered bailing about a thousand times. He couldn’t sleep the night before so he knew he looked like shit. When he eventually gave up on sleeping two hours before he intended to even get up, he tried to make himself some coffee and burned it, something he hadn’t done since he first started working at Anteiku.

He drank it anyway, and it gave him a stomach ache. His hands shook from the anxiety and the caffeine and it barely woke him up at all.

With a deep sigh, and after spending too long trying to figure out an outfit, he headed off to his doom.

He was hoping to get there before Rize so that maybe he could calm down a bit before she showed up, but he felt his heart sink as he saw that Rize was already sitting at a table at the small cafe she had chosen as their meeting place.

Kaneki couldn’t be bothered to put a smile on his face as he walked in and sat down in front of her.

She smiled at him brightly, not saying anything. Kaneki had to fight the urge to run when he realized he had to greet her first. “Hello.”

“Hello,” her smile got bigger. After all these years he couldn’t tell if her smile was sincere or predatory. Probably both.

“You look well,” Kaneki said.

“Thank you,” he noted she didn’t return the compliment. Though he guessed it would have been a lie if she did.

It was infuriating how little she seemed to have changed. She looked like she hadn’t aged at all in the three years since he last saw her. In fact, she looked as though the last three years hadn’t happened at all.

“Takatsuki’s new book was good, wasn’t it?” she said airily.

“Huh?”

“The book. You went to the opening event.”

“What makes you think I finished it yet?” Kaneki said coldly. Although he had.

“Because I know you,” she said. And, well, she was right.

The conversation was strangely pleasant, actually. Maybe if they kept the conversation to books only, Kaneki could get through this. He felt strangely knocked off balance though, it was truly like nothing had happened between them.

“Speaking of the book launch,” she said. “Who was that man you were with?”

She said it as though it didn’t matter to her, but Kaneki could tell this was what she had been building up to all along.

“Hide,” Kaneki said. “He got me the tickets.”

“Oh?” She said, still with an unreadable smile. “Are you together?”

Kaneki froze, but he couldn’t keep the defiance and the pride from his voice as he said. “Yes. We are.”

“He seems nice,” she said.

It made Kaneki feel oddly angry to hear her say that. Nice didn’t even begin to cover Hide, the depths of his kindness, the way he made Kaneki happier than he had ever been-

“He is,” he said stiffly.

She deftly turned the conversation back to books. Kaneki didn’t know what he was expecting. To finally get to tell her off? To make her feel sorry for the way she left him? To make her jealous?

He didn’t get a chance to say any of that. She did not leave any opening in the conversation for a confrontation.

They weren’t there very long. Kaneki was feeling oddly let down, a strong sense of anticlimax. This was a waste of time. He was never going to get anything from her.

That was, until she said “It was nice to see you again” as she headed out the door.

Kaneki stood there, blinking. What on earth did that mean? She had never once in all their time together said it was nice to see him. Did that mean she missed him after all?

He couldn’t help but feel oddly elated by that.

Two weeks later, when it was finally December and the days were getting properly cold and grey, she asked him if he wanted to meet up again.

And he said yes.

Hide and Kaneki were both swamped with work again as the winter holidays approached. As usual, it meant that they couldn’t hang out as much as they would like to. And although Kaneki liked winter, he had to agree with Hide that the constant grey and chilly weather was starting to get them both down.

Hide, it seemed, had one method of staving off the winter blues, by being intensely obsessed with Christmas and New Year’s. And, of course, Kaneki’s birthday.

“I gotta get you two presents because it’s not fair that you have a birthday close to Christmas, you deserve the same amount of presents as anyone else.” They were both turned towards each other in their chairs, avoiding their piles of work. Hide was bouncing adorably as he talked about the ways he was going to pamper Kaneki for Christmas.

“You don’t have to get me anything,” Kaneki said, for probably the hundredth time. “But thank you.”

“Christmas Eve is going to be romantic as fuck !” Hide announced. “Just you wait. I am going to blow your mind emotionally and, with your permission, sexually.”

Kaneki’s face went red immediately.

“Hide, no! Why did you have to add that last part!?”

“Because it’s true. Do you not want me to?”

“I do but why did you have to say it?”  Okay, maybe he was looking forward to Christmas Eve a little.

“And that’s not even to mention the traditional as fuck New Year’s we’re going to have. Shrine visits? Fuck yeah.”

Kaneki smiled. “Sounds good, Hide. I haven’t done something like that in a really long time.”

“Anyway, despite the misery of this exam season, I actually do have free time this weekend,” Hide said. “What do you say?”

“I…” Kaneki tensed. Technically, he had time off. But he had agreed to meet with Rize once more. This was actually the third time. They never talked about much, certainly not about their lives. But it was nice. It was nice to see her again and to put the memories of their horrible parting behind them. It was nice that she apparently enjoyed his company after all.

“Sorry. I’m busy, a lot of work you know,” Kaneki couldn’t look Hide in the eye after he said it.

“You’ve been pretty busy lately,” Hide said.

“Well it is right before the holidays. You have a lot of work too.” It came out a lot more terse than he intended it to.

Hide blinked and said, “I guess that’s true,” and turned back to his desk.

Maybe it was the weather that had left them in a bad mood, maybe it was the fact that they could barely see each other. Despite the Christmas talk they had both been a bit snippy with each other lately.

Deep down, Kaneki knew he shouldn’t be lying to Hide about the fact he was talking to Rize again. Even if they were just hanging out and texting a bit back and forth. But it was innocent, they were just talking about books. And it would just cause both of them undue stress to tell him.

But he didn’t like hiding the truth from Hide. And he was sure Hide was clever enough to tell Kaneki was hiding something. Even if it wasn’t that bad. Really.

It was finally only one week until Christmas, and they were both dying. They were sitting in their office in dead silence, the only sound the scratching of their pens as they both lost patience with the students who clearly were not listening to them and clearly weren’t going to.

“I know this is a long shot, but would you be able to meet with me after work?” Hide asked, he sounded unusually terse and even somewhat sad, like he knew Kaneki was going to say no.

He seemed to have an uncanny ability to ask him to hang out on days when he had agreed to meet with Rize. This would be the fourth time.

“I...I can’t,” Kaneki said.

“That’s fine,” Kaneki looked at him out of the corner of his eye to see that Hide had slumped a bit in his seat, when he saw Kaneki glance at him he brightened up quickly. “I can think of something else to do, don’t worry about me! And soon it’ll be winter break and you won’t be able to escape me.” Both his smile and his laugh seemed a little forced.

“Hey,” Kaneki said softly. “You know I’m looking forward to it, right?”

Hide’s eyes widened, and he laughed slightly. “Well, you better be! I’m going to pamper the shit out of you.”

“I thought you were planning on ‘blowing my mind’?” Kaneki teased.

“Oh, I am,” Hide winked.

The tension in the room dissipated. And Kaneki could tell both of them were relieved.

Of course, it was like Kaneki to fuck everything up.

Rize had suggested that they meet at a bookstore near the school. It was the same bookstore where they had had their first date and the same bookstore he had dragged Hide to he didn’t know how many times. He felt a pang as he walked into the store. His first date with Rize here had not gone very well, really, and it brought back some unpleasant memories to see her standing there, waiting for him.

And he would much rather be here with Hide.

Sure, Hide couldn’t talk about books with him like Rize could, but did that even matter? Even if he didn’t always understand what Kaneki was talking about, he still made the effort to listen to him, always seemed interested in what Kaneki had to say. He even went and read some of the books Kaneki suggested even though he knew he wouldn’t like them, just because he wanted to be able to talk to Kaneki about them.

It was more than he could say about Rize. He felt burning shame when he asked her if he had read a book he had really enjoyed, pointing it out on the shelf, and Rize gave him a look that could whither flowers when she said she had thought it was shallow and pedestrian.

“Really, I thought you had better taste than that,” she said in a tone that indicated that she really didn’t, which was honestly worse than if she had said she wasn’t surprised.

Hide never would have done that, even if he thought it was the worst book in the world. He would have found something nice to say.

They passed by a shelf that had some of Kaneki’s books.

“You’re still writing?” Rize asked, sparing a glance at the shelf before walking past it.

“Yes,” Kaneki said tersely. “I take it you haven’t read any of my books since we broke up?”

It was dangerous territory. He had never actually brought up the breakup before. Even though it was on his mind constantly when he was with her.

“I wasn’t particularly fond of the first one,” she said evenly, not even sparing him a glance as she perused the shelf. “I didn’t see any reason to read the others.”

Kaneki felt a lump in his throat. He was glad that she wasn’t looking at him, because he could feel his eyes tear up and he had to blink them away. He didn’t know why he expected any different, maybe he really hadn’t been expecting anything else.

What the hell was he doing here? What did he hope to accomplish? She didn’t care about him. She was never going to care about him. And he had blown off seeing Hide what, two or three times? To spend time with her ?

He was an asshole. He was an idiot. He wanted to run out of the bookstore but didn’t want to look like a loser. Even though he was sure he already did.

He could at least tell her he didn’t want to see her anymore. No, that was scary. Maybe she would just text him and he would never text her back. There, that would show her what it felt like.

Not that she would notice.

The thought was shoved out of his mind immediately. They turned the corner to go down another row and he almost ran right into Hide.

Kaneki froze, his eyes widened. Rize, of course, chose this exact moment to stop looking at the shelves and look directly at Kaneki, smiling that unreadable smile of hers.

Kaneki was sure he looked like a deer in highlights. But that was nothing compared to the look on Hide’s face. His mouth fell open slightly and he froze. There were some books in his hands and his grip on them slipped a little. He glanced quickly in between Kaneki and Rize; Kaneki realized with some horror that Hide had seen that photo of her online months ago. He knew Hide had a good memory and he could see him put the pieces together in his head.

Kaneki knew how bad this looked. Rize chose that moment to say “Oh, you must be Hide.” Hide’s grip on the books in his hands tightened, so tight that his knuckles went white.

“Yeah,” Hide said, in a voice that sent a chill through Kaneki, because he had never heard Hide sound like that before. “Yeah. That’s me. And you must be Rize.”

Great. Hide did know who she was.

Rize tried to feign pleasant surprise when she said. “Oh, has Kaneki mentioned me?”

“Once or twice.” Hide wasn’t even trying to sound pleasant.

Rize smiled gently and said, “Well, if you two don’t mind, I’m just going to head to that section in the back,” Rize said. “You can come and find me,” she added to Kaneki.

The silence that fell over Kaneki and Hide after she left was deafening.

“Hide-” Kaneki said.

“Don’t let me keep you,” Hide raised his eyebrows. “She’s waiting for you in the back.”

“Hide, this isn’t-”

“Is this what you blew me off for?” Hide was keeping his voice light, even though it was shaking with rage. “So you could come hang out with your ex-girlfriend in a bookstore?”

“I-” Kaneki could not even bring himself to finish a sentence, because that was exactly what he had done.

“Is this why you’ve been blowing me off for the past month?” Hide demanded. “You kept saying you were busy with work and shit, but really it was her?”

Kaneki opened his mouth to defend himself, but nodded silently.

Hide’s face darkened.

“I...this really isn’t what it looks like,” Kaneki finally managed to choke out.

“No?” Hide said. “Because to me it looks like my boyfriend, who knows that I’ve been cheated on god knows how many times, including by someone who cheated on me with their ex, has spent the last few weeks hanging out with their ex and lying about it.”

Kaneki said nothing.

“The same boyfriend who promised to be better and not do that sort of thing? The same boyfriend who I know I specifically told that I learned enough self-respect to dump people at the first sign they were flirting with other people behind my back?”

“It… I’m not.”

“You know, I thought you’d been acting weird lately.” The terrifying lightness in his tone had vanished, and his voice was so hard and so cold that it frightened Kaneki. “I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you when you said you were just overworked and busy and tired. But I can tell when you’re lying to me, you know?”

“Hide-”

“Contrary to popular belief, I’m not an idiot.” Hide’s voice was shaking. “I’m not an idiot and I’m not a doormat and I’m not so desperate that I would stay with someone who would blow me off for his ex.”

“Hide...don’t-” Kaneki felt like he was going to drown.

“At least I found this out before I bought the books I was going to get you,” Hide said coldly, and put them on the shelf beside him. “So I didn’t have to bother coming back and returning them.”

“Can’t you let me explain-”

“Explain what? That you did the one thing you knew would hurt me the most?” Hide balled his hands into fists and said, in a choked voice, as though it pained him to say it, “Fuck you”.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to storm out of the store. And Kaneki was left alone in the row of bookshelves, reeling from what had just happened.

Kaneki could not face Hide at the office later that week. He ended up sending an email to his classes saying he wouldn’t be making his last office hours before the holidays so if they needed anything they should just email him or ask him after class. No one responded anyway. Like Hide always said, it wasn't like anyone ever came to office hours.

Kaneki had ended up leaving the bookstore without finding Rize or telling her he was leaving. It had only been a few days but she hadn’t messaged him again and, he suspected, she was not going to ever again. For his part, he had left the bookstore without telling her or indicating that he would be leaving. And he didn’t intend to ever text her again either.

Though he supposed it was a little late for that resolution.

He didn’t cry in the days after Hide broke up with him. He hadn’t cried after Rize left him, either. He wondered, not for the first time, if there was something just fundamentally broken in him. He wasn’t sure he even felt sad. It was more like a profound emptiness, and at the same time it felt like he was heavy.

He couldn’t believe he had ever agreed to see Rize again. He couldn’t believe that he had thrown away the best thing that had ever happened to him for the worst.

But maybe he could. Maybe it was just an inevitability. It sounded like something he would do.

He had tricked himself into thinking that he might even deserve Hide. That he had found happiness. That he could be the boyfriend Hide needed and wanted and deserved. But he was not capable of being good enough for Hide, and deep down he had always known it. And Hide had found out the hard way. And Kaneki had broken his heart.

He felt physically ill every time he thought of Hide. How much Kaneki had hurt him. How much he must hate him now.

For a moment, Kaneki felt a brief flash of anger cutting through the nothingness. Rize had ruined everything for him again. She had come into his life once again just to ruin it.

But that wasn’t fair. It was Kaneki that ruined his own life. It always had been. Rize hadn’t made him talk to her, Rize hadn’t made him blow Hide off for her.

No, it was him that fucked up everything. As usual. He had no one to blame for himself.

It wasn’t until his birthday that he really felt the weight of what he had done, and who he had lost. He was no stranger to spending his birthdays alone. In fact, he had spent every birthday alone. And he had always pretended that he was fine with it, even though as a child he had fantasized about his class throwing him a little party like they did for all the other students. Even though he wondered what it would be like if his mother remembered it. Even though every year he had hinted to Rize when his birthday was coming up and she mysteriously always had something else to do.

He hadn’t had to do that with Hide. Hide had remembered it without him having to beg. Hide wanted to do something for Kaneki just because he wanted to make him happy, not because Kaneki told him to.

And as much as Kaneki said he didn’t care about birthdays… he had really been looking forward to it. And now he was sitting at home in bed, alone with a book that he had already read three times. And he was never going to celebrate his birthday with Hide and it was all his fault.

He thought of the other plans Hide had made. His birthday, Christmas Eve, New Year’s. Things he had wanted to celebrate with Kaneki because he finally had a boyfriend to be romantic with. Even though Kaneki had spent the last month being a shitty boyfriend, Hide had just wanted to make him happy.

Hide, who was so excited to finally have a boyfriend who promised to treat him right. Hide, who would probably be spending those evenings alone too.

It was the image of Hide sitting alone that broke him. Kaneki threw his book on the bed as he felt a sob escape his throat. Once he started crying he couldn’t stop. The tears streamed down his face and he didn’t even have the strength to keep quiet, so he kept sobbing, thinking he finally looked as ugly as he felt.

Kaneki hadn’t cried when Rize left him because back then he had been an empty person with her and an even emptier person without her. With Hide he had known what it was like to feel like he had a partnership with someone, to feel like he wasn’t alone, and now that was gone and it was worse, a thousand times worse to have it ripped away. To have lost it because he had never deserved it.

He had never deserved Hide.

***

It was probably the bleakest winter break he had ever experienced. And that was saying something.

For one thing, it turned out that once he started crying he could not stop. He spent a lot of his time weeping quietly, or at least on the verge of it. He had no urge to go out anyway, but he definitely didn’t want to when his eyes were swollen and his face was puffy.

So he ended up holing up in his apartment with the lights off. The only time he went out was when he had no choice but to get food, and even then he mostly just threw on a hoodie and a pair of sunglasses and went to the nearest convenience store. He was pretty sure the girl behind the counter thought she was about to get robbed.

The worst was that every time he felt like the sadness would overwhelm him, he got the urge to call Hide, before remembering that he could no longer do that. And remembering that it was his fault and he had ruined his entire life.

And then the sadness did overwhelm him.

Christmas Eve came and went, and he spent the time wondering what Hide had planned to do for him, wondering if Hide was as torn up over this as he was. And in one of Kaneki’s darker moments he couldn’t stop himself from sending Hide a barely coherent message saying how sorry he was.

He never did get a reply from Hide.

New Year’s came and went, and Kaneki thought about how this time last year he was somehow less miserable than he was now. He had never imagined things could change for him, and he guessed he was right. Because the second they did change for him he had found a way to leave himself worse than before.

There was no way to avoid Hide forever, he had to go to work eventually. Though Kaneki would be lying if he said that the thought of quitting so that he didn’t have to see Hide again hadn’t crossed his mind. It was too bad that he needed money and had basically used up all the goodwill at work for his year off, or he seriously would have done it.

His heart pounded in his chest as he went to open the door to his office on the first day after the break. He put his hand on the doorknob but didn’t open it for a moment, then he took a deep, steadying breath and opened the door.

He faced an unpleasant surprise when he saw that Hide was sitting at his desk already. Of course he was there before Kaneki on this, of all days.

Hide spared him a glance before looking back at his computer. It was long enough that Kaneki could see how tired and miserable Hide looked. His face was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes.

But the worst thing was that Hide was so, so quiet.

Kaneki stood there stupidly for a moment. Unsure of what to say. Unable to bear the silence anymore, he finally said, “Happy New Year”. But all he got in response was Hide stiffening slightly and staring determinedly at his computer. Kaneki had no choice but to walk over to his own desk and try and set himself up for two hours of torture.

“Is that all you have to say?” Hide said suddenly.

“H-huh?” Kaneki asked, his heart in his throat.

“‘Happy New Year’?” He said dripping with more condescension than Kaneki would have thought possible. “You know it wasn’t. And that’s… that’s it?”

His voice broke on the last word. And Kaneki was way too much of a coward to turn around and see the look on Hide’s face. Instead he took his laptop out and started to look busy.

He heard Hide scoff and start typing again.

Kaneki swallowed before he said quietly, “I’m sorry, Hide.”

Hide didn’t respond. Kaneki was looking for something else to say, anything that could convey how sorry he was, anything that could make Hide not hate him.

He heard a choked sob and wheeled around to see Hide, his shoulders shaking, biting his lip to stop the tears from falling from his eyes.

Hide saw Kaneki looking at him and covered his eyes so that Kaneki couldn’t see.

“Fuck,” Hide mumbled. He stood up suddenly and threw open the door.

“Hide-?” Kaneki asked in alarm.

“If any of my students come tell them I’m- I don’t know, make something up.” Hide dashed out the door before Kaneki could say anything else. He didn’t come back until he had to come get his laptop, and when he did his eyes were red and puffy.

Kaneki had never seen Hide cry. It was somehow worse to see it than Kaneki could have ever imagined, and it was a thousand times worse to know he was the one who had made Hide cry.

“What?” Hide snapped, when he saw Kaneki staring at him.

Kaneki jumped. “I… I just-”

“What?” Hide snapped. “If you’re going to say you’re sorry again you can hold your breath. If you were sorry you wouldn’t have done it.”

Kaneki couldn’t say anything. Hide stared at him and then rolled his eyes when he said nothing. He swung his bag over his shoulder and stormed out of the room.

Kaneki was a little late for class that day, he hoped no one noticed that his eyes were a bit watery too.

If someone were to ask Kaneki to describe January in one word, it would have been “unbearable”. He and Hide barely exchanged any words the entire month. The only time they talked to each other was to ask the other to pass them something, and even then Hide usually avoided it when he could. One time he got up and walked down the hall to ask to borrow some staples instead of asking if he could just use Kaneki’s.

Once his office hours with Hide had been the best time of his week, and he looked forward to it more than anything else. Now he dreaded it, and he felt like he was almost always on the verge of either a panic attack or just bursting into tears. Maybe both.

Definitely both.

When February came it was a bit of a shock to Kaneki. January had seemed to simultaneously last an eternity and pass in the blink of an eye. He supposed now that he was no longer with Hide time had gone back to having no meaning. His days would blend together in a grey blur and summer would come and he would never go outside and the years would mean nothing.

It was more than he could bear.

He started to see Valentine’s decorations in stores and it left him feeling hollow and miserable. He imagined how things would be if he didn’t ruin everything. In some alternate universe, Hide probably wouldn’t have shut up about Valentine’s for weeks, hinting to Kaneki about all the amazing and ridiculously over the top romantic things he had planned. And Kaneki would have pretended that he didn’t care but really he would have been looking forward to it for weeks.

And now he was microwaving a bowl of soup from a can for dinner.

At the convenience store he had heard a teenage girl excitedly talk about buying chocolate for some boy she liked and making it into little shapes. It gave Kaneki pause. Hide would probably love dumb Valentine’s stuff like making homemade chocolates.

Far be it from him to take romance advice from eavesdropping on a high schooler, but it set the gears in his brain turning. It hurt him to think that Hide was alone again on Valentine’s Day because of him.

Maybe he was pulling himself out of the misery he had been feeling, maybe he was just so desperate that he was willing to try anything, but he wanted to think of something good for Hide for Valentine’s Day. It might have been selfish of him, but he wanted to try. He couldn’t just leave Hide with nothing on Valentine’s. He had two weeks to come up with something good.

He couldn’t give up on Hide.

He bought a bunch of chocolate. He didn’t know how to make chocolate, and he was sure he was going to screw up a hell of a lot.

Technically, he wasn’t going to see Hide on Valentine’s day, so he had to give Hide his gift a few days before. Which was good, because he wanted to give Hide a chance to think about how he wanted to respond, if at all.

He didn’t want to force anything out of Hide. He knew he didn’t deserve that, and if he was honest with himself, he really wasn’t expecting a response. At least not one he would like. But he couldn’t let the school year end like this without even trying. Couldn’t let the year end in stony silences and tension.

Maybe he could at least give Hide the excuse to yell at him he needed.

He got there before Hide, which was good, because he could place the box on Hide’s desk and wait for Hide to see it.

The door squeaked open and Kaneki stiffened. He couldn’t turn around and look at Hide. He heard Hide pause at the door for a moment before he walked over to the desk.

“What is this?” Hide asked cooly.

“It’s...um,” Kaneki took a deep breath. “A Valentine’s Day gift?”

“It’s not Valentine’s Day,” Hide said, sounding even colder. “And we aren’t dating.”

“I...yeah, I know that,” Kaneki mumbled. “But just...open it?” He couldn’t keep the plea out of his voice.

He turned around to face Hide, who was glaring at him. Finally, Hide sighed and sat down and began to open the box of chocolates.

But before he did he turned to Kaneki and said, “Why did you do this?”

Kaneki blinked. How could he even answer that?

“I felt...bad.”

“Bad,” Hide repeated flatly, unimpressed.

Kaneki closed his eyes and prayed for some words to come.

“You deserved something for Valentine’s Day,” Kaneki said finally.

Hide’s expression didn’t change, but he finally opened the box.

“Bunnies?” Hide asked, picking up one of the (slightly lumpy) rabbit-shaped chocolates.

“Yeah,” Kaneki said. “I made them myself.” He winced. He sounded like a little kid giving something to his mom.

“I can see that.” Kaneki looked up hopefully. Hide wasn’t quite smiling. But Kaneki could tell that he wasn’t saying that in a mean way. That he was teasing.

It was better than he had gotten for months.

Hide popped a chocolate in his mouth and ate it slowly.

“It’s not bad,” he said.

“Yeah I sort of...practiced a lot. There was a lot of burned chocolate.”

The faintest twitch of Hide’s mouth. An almost smile.

Hide popped another chocolate in his mouth, then said, “Is there… paper under this?”

Kaneki’s heart was pounding. This was what he really wanted to give Hide.

Hide lifted the tickets out of the box and read them.

“Tickets to a Backstreet Boys tribute band?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at Kaneki.

“Yeah,” Kaneki swallowed. “They weren’t in town themselves, sorry.”

Another twitch, more noticeable this time.

“Why?” Hide asked again, though it was considerably less cold than the first time he said it.

“Because um...you got me those tickets to the Takatsuki Sen thing even though it really isn’t something you care about and I wanted to return the favour.”

Hide stared at him.

“You don’t have to take me!” Kaneki said, putting his hands up. “Seriously, it was never my intent to force you to take me with you or something. You can use them to go on a date with someone else if you want, it is the day before Valentine’s. Or just bring a friend who likes the Backstreet Boys.” When Hide still didn’t say anything, Kaneki rambled on, “You can even sell them online or burn them, I don’t care. But I just...wanted to do something for you.”

Hide was quiet for a moment. Kaneki shifted uncomfortably. It was hard for him to not be able to read Hide’s expression.

“Can I think about it?” Hide said quietly.

“I- yeah!” Kaneki said too quickly. “Thinking about it is fine!”

Hide nodded and turned back to his desk, still holding the tickets in his hand. Kaneki was both relieved and disappointed. He wanted Hide to say yes instantly, to say everything would be fine. But at least he was thinking about it. Today was Thursday and the concert was Saturday, that only left Kaneki with two and a half days of agony waiting for a response.

Kaneki glanced at Hide again, nervously. He saw that Hide was holding the tickets over his face. It looked like he was trying to hide a smile.

Kaneki spent the rest of the night and all of Friday jumping every time his phone vibrated and being disappointed every time it turned out to be a work email or a text with a discount codes to stores he must have signed up to in a moment of weakness.

On Friday night, just as he was sitting down for an evening coffee, he got another text. He almost spilled his coffee all over himself.

It was from Hide, finally. Kaneki’s hands shook as he read the message:

Hide : of course I’m taking you with me

Hide : you idiot

Chapter Text

Kaneki was not the type of man who generally jumped for joy, but if he only ever got one chance in his life to do it, he was going to do it now.

He also cried a little when he read the text. He knew this didn’t mean that they were back together, he knew that ultimately Hide might decide that he didn’t want to see Kaneki ever again. But he was giving him a chance. And that was more than Kaneki could have ever hoped for and far more than he deserved.

Before, he had become comfortable enough with Hide that he had stopped thinking about how he dressed in front of him. But now he agonized over it more than ever. He wanted to play it cool but also look very handsome. He ended up wearing the same blue shirt that he had the first time they had gone out for coffee and hoping that it would be good enough.

He tried not to think too hard about he had destroyed the easy comfort he had created with Hide, and how he might never get it back.

Kaneki got to the concert really early. It wasn’t exactly a big venue (being a Backstreet Boys cover band was likely not a lucrative position, Kaneki supposed). Though it was surprisingly crowded outside, with people selling t-shirts and hats that Kaneki wondered if people actually wore in public.

Hide showed up after Kaneki had already been there for twenty minutes.

“Did I keep you waiting long?” Hide asked.

“Nope, just got here.”

Normally they would tease each other, Kaneki kept expecting Hide to call him out on his obvious lie. But they both just stood there awkwardly.

Hide’s arms were crossed and he was examining the crowds of people, avoiding looking at Kaneki. He was wearing a light grey shirt that, Kaneki noted, had a pattern of soft pink hearts.

At least he’s getting into the spirit of the holiday, that has to be a good sign right ?

“Um, did you want something?” Kaneki asked.

“Huh?”

“From the… merchandise?”

“Oh! Oh god no, I was just thinking about how when I was in high school my friends got me this t-shirt that said ‘Mrs.Nick Carter’ on it as a joke but I actually had a huge crush on him and agonized over how much I wanted to wear it,” Hide laughed.

“I… can’t tell if that’s a sad story or a funny story, Hide.”

“It’s a bit of both, Hide said. “You know this is somehow the most ridiculous and thoughtful gift anyone has ever gotten me?”

“Is that a good thing?” Kaneki laughed.

“Yeah,” Hide’s smile was sad. “It is.”

They started to let people inside. The seats Kaneki had managed to get them were… not great, being last minute. But they had a decent enough view of the small stage.

Kaneki didn’t know enough about the Backstreet Boys (or music in general) to know whether the concert was any good or not. He kept sneaking glances at Hide, and was relieved when he started to smile. Hide even started bouncing a bit along with the music, and the sight of it was so cute that it made Kaneki’s heart ache.

Concerts weren’t really Kaneki’s thing. They were too loud and filled with screaming for his tastes, and he couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when it was over. Hide started to hum one of the songs to himself as they walked out.

“Was it good?” Kaneki asked nervously.

“Hell yeah, it was good!” Hide said incredulously. “Were we even at the same concert?”

“I just wanted to know you had a good time,” Kaneki mumbled.

“I did,” Hide said softly. “I had a lot of fun. Also he was no Nick Carter but that blond guy was pretty hot.”

Kaneki laughed and Hide smiled at him gently. “This was all… very sweet, Kaneki. Thank you.”

Kaneki nodded, unsure what to say. Hide rubbed his arm nervously as he thought of what to say next.

“Um… did you want to come over to my place?” Hide said, sounding more nervous and unsure than Kaneki had ever heard him.

“Oh! Uh-”

“I’d understand if you didn’t want to!” Hide added quickly. “I know it’s a bit awkward-”

“I do want to!” Kaneki choked out. “I want to… very much.” His voice broke a little on the last word, and Kaneki blinked rapidly to not cry.

“Right… right. Good,” Hide sighed. He looked relieved. “And, uh maybe we should… talk? About? Things?” Each word came out as a question.

“Yeah… we. We probably should.”

They took the train back to Hide’s place, both of them oddly quiet. The train swayed and Hide almost lost his footing, Kaneki grabbed him around the waist and the two of them stayed like that for a moment, before Kaneki let go and they both coughed awkwardly.

Kaneki was not looking forward to “talking”. For one thing, he was worried that Hide was going to yell at him. Not that he wouldn’t deserve it. He was worried Hide was going to tell him that they were through forever and there was no chance of getting back together.

And there were a lot of things he had to say to Hide. Explanations that he really didn’t want to give, but ones that he owed Hide.

It was time to tell him the truth.

When they got back to Hide’s place, Hide went to feed his bunnies and Kaneki went to make coffee. Kaneki supposed they were both trying to put off this conversation as long as they could.

Kaneki sat down on the couch and placed both of their mugs on the table. Hide sat down a moment later and took a long sip of his coffee.

“You still make it perfectly for me,” Hide smiled, looking sad.

“Yeah. The trick is to ruin the coffee by adding too much milk and sugar.”

Hide chuckled.

“I should really hate how much of a coffee snob you are, but it’s pretty endearing.”

Kaneki’s heart soared when he heard Hide call him endearing.

“So,” Hide continued with a heavy sigh. “I guess I should start with what I wanted to say.”

His brief moment of elation faded to be replaced by dread. But he promised himself that he would take whatever Hide had to say to him.

“I’m sorry,” Hide said.

“I- what ?” Kaneki said, half-shouted. He had not been expecting that at all.

“I’m sorry,” Hide rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. “I’ve been acting kind of shitty to you, I guess I… flew off the handle a bit.”

Kaneki opened and closed his mouth a few times before he said, “No!”

Hide frowned. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

“You don’t have to apologize to me !” Kaneki had never really raised his voice in front of Hide, but couldn’t help himself. He thought back to how Hide had thought he hadn’t deserved to celebrate his birthday, did he not think he deserved to be angry at his shitty boyfriends too?

“But-”

“No!” Kaneki said. “I don’t want to hear it! I’m the one who fucked up! I promised to be better than all your other boyfriends and treat you right, and then I turned around and did the exact same thing as they all did.”

Hide blinked rapidly. Kaneki wasn’t sure what Hide was doing until his bottom lip started trembling and he raised his sleeve to his eyes to wipe away the tears.

“Oh no, no I’m sorry Hide!” Kaneki’s hands fluttered around aimlessly, unsure if it was okay to touch Hide. “I didn’t mean to make you cry!”

He settled with putting his hand on Hide’s shoulder and rubbing it gently as Hide tried to calm down.

“Why did you do that?” Hide said quietly, his voice shaky.

“M-make you cry?” Kaneki asked.

“No,” Hide drew in a shaky breath. “Why did you… why did you do all of that when you knew that it would- that it was the one thing that hurt me the most-” Hide sounded like he was in danger of crying again. His words were like a knife in Kaneki’s heart.

“I… I know,” Kaneki said. “I know I fucked up.”

“But why ?” Hide snapped.

Kaneki bit his lip.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” Kaneki said finally. “I want to explain. But I know that nothing I say makes any of this okay. And you have a right to be mad at me no matter what.”

Hide nodded.

“So, I guess I haven’t talked about anything that happened between me and Rize, right?”

“Right,” Hide nodded tersely.

“Well,” Kaneki wrung his hands nervously and then took a sip of coffee to give himself something to do. “What have I told you exactly?”

“That she was too good for you, which is bullshit by the way, that she got bored of you and dumped you, and that she broke up with you three years ago.”

“Yeah,” Kaneki said. “That’s a good place to start.”

“For one thing,” Kaneki said, taking a deep breath. “I want you to know that I never cheated on you with her. I never would have. I mean, I am not the kind of person who would cheat on anyone ever, but she was… not a good girlfriend.”

Hide’s mouth twitched up in a half smile. “I gathered that much. I never thought you actually cheated on me with her. I just-”

“You don’t have to explain,” Kaneki said quickly. “I get it.”

Kaneki closed his eyes. He hated talking about these things. Admitting how pathetic he was. In some senses this was a confession in itself, and Hide may hate him just as much hearing about how much of a loser he really was.

“I dated her for five years, and she was the only person I had ever dated before you.” The only way he could get through this was to sound detached. Hide noticed the tone change immediately and gave him a sharp look. Kaneki could not look at Hide through this.

“I was really lonely, when she started dating me. I had my friends at Anteiku, but they were still coworkers and I always felt like an outsider. I didn’t have any friends at school growing up or in university. And by the time we started dating I was beginning to think I never would, considering it was almost the end of my undergrad.

“So when I met someone like her, who could get literally anyone she wanted, and she actually wanted to date me, I couldn’t believe my luck,” Kaneki grimaced. “She was beautiful. I knew at least five people in the literature department who were in love with her. When I told them that I had a date with her, they were so jealous.”

He wanted to laugh at how proud he had been. How good it had made him feel to see them look at him with jealousy in their eyes. It was the first time anyone looked like they wanted to be Kaneki, to have what he did.

He decided not to tell Hide all of that.

“I think I liked that it made people jealous to look at me with her,” he said finally. “I was pretty much known as a huge loser. It was nice to sort of… be less of a loser.”

“You weren’t-” Hide started, but Kaneki held up a hand so that Hide would stop talking. Hide’s attempt to defend him was sweet, but he had no idea.

“And I guess because she was so beautiful and everyone wanted her and she was my first girlfriend and I was… desperate. I was willing to overlook a lot of things that I shouldn’t have. A lot of things that maybe people who were more experienced or less lonely would have noticed were red flags.”

Hide nodded. This, at least, Kaneki knew he would understand.

“So like…” Kaneki struggled to sort out five years of mistreatment into just a few sentences. How could he describe how the little things piled up?

“She started out complimenting me a lot. Like little things, but she’d compliment my appearance and tell me how I was the only guy she had ever met who could really understand her love of books and talk about them on the same level as her.” He winced when he thought of how easily he had been won over.

“But it didn’t take long for that to… stop. I guess. Like she’d start making little comments like ‘Oh you’re wearing that on our date?’ or ‘Did you really think this coffee shop was good?’ and they were all just little things but I don’t have a lot of… well I doubt myself a lot,” he laughed awkwardly after saying the understatement of the century. “So it started making me really anxious and started making me second-guess pretty much everything I did for her. Dates and gifts and even opinions on books and stuff. None of it was ever good enough for her.”

Hide nodded, frowning intently.

“I mean, you should have heard what she said when I let her read my first novel, once I was done writing it. I didn’t even show it to her until after it had been accepted by a publisher, and she still tore it apart so bad that I nearly called them to tell them to cancel it,” Kaneki laughed, but Hide looked stony. Kaneki supposed it was not as funny of a story as he had thought.

He continued. “Then she… well she started doing things like making comments about other guys. Sometimes just bringing up guys that flirted with her or asked her out. And maybe if we had a better relationship that would have been okay, like just a heads-up or a funny story maybe. But she would always do it before or after commenting on how something about me wasn’t up to her standards, so the implication was always ‘I can do better, I don’t need you’,” Kaneki grimaced. “Well, after a while it wasn’t so much implication. After we’d been dating for about a year, she would just tell me during fights or whenever I tried to say something she did bothered me that she didn’t need me.” Kaneki was clasping his hands together to try and keep them still, but he could feel his nails dig into his hands.

“I mean that was all after a year and we dated for five, so you can imagine how the rest of it went,” Kaneki laughed and Hide did not smile. Kaneki took his silence and serious expression as a sign he wanted Kaneki to continue. He did not want to, but he knew he had to. If only for his own sake.

“Sometimes after we fought she would just… disappear for a while. Like not pick up her phone or tell me where she was or even say anything about it when she got back, sometimes when she did pick up I had to beg her in tears to make her at least come back and talk to me. And sometimes that wasn’t good enough. And then she just started doing it because she… could I guess. Maybe she liked that it made me desperate. I don’t think she ever actually cheated on me, but I honestly don’t know,” he shrugged. “I always ended up apologizing after all our fights. I don’t know how many of them were my fault even now.”

“And that’s just… how it always was? And you were together for five years?” Kaneki winced at the incredulity in Hide’s voice. Hide may have been treated badly by boyfriends before, but at least he always had enough self-respect to end it before half a decade of his life was gone.

Kaneki shrugged, not looking at Hide. “I… I really believed her when she said that no one else would ever want me. I mean, no one had ever wanted me before. It wasn’t hard to believe that no one would want me after. Especially not someone like her.”

“Anyway,” Kaneki concluded with a sigh. “One day she just said she was bored of me, broke up with me in the middle of a date, and then just… stopped contacting me.”

“Just… like that?” Hide said, sounding furious on Kaneki’s behalf. “After five years ?”

Kaneki nodded. “I honestly have no idea why she stayed with me for so long. She obviously never really cared about me. In any case, it took me literally months of no contact for me to believe she actually meant it.”

Kaneki rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. “I’m not saying any of this to make you feel sorry for me, or like you have to forgive me because my life has not gone according to plan, or whatever. I just… wanted to explain I guess. When I saw her and she contacted me, it was like a chance to finally get some closure.”

“Closure is fake,” Hide said.

“Oh, I know,” Kaneki laughed bitterly. “But, well, I guess I had a shred of hope left. And I… I don’t know what I wanted from her. Some indication that she was sorry, I guess? Or anything. I would take some indication that she noticed my absence, to be honest. And,” he hesitated. “She saw me with you. And I think I wanted to make her jealous. To show her she was wrong about me and that someone else wanted me after all.”

Hide was staring at Kaneki so intently he felt like he was being burned. Kaneki forced himself to look at him at least for this last part.

“I didn’t get any of that from her, obviously. And instead all I did was ruin the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Hide blinked. Kaneki was surprised to see he was actually blushing a bit.

“The best thing that ever happened to you…” Hide repeated, sounding like he didn’t believe Kaneki at all.

“You are, Hide,” Kaneki insisted. “God, you… you don’t even know how much that’s true.”

Something in Hide’s gaze seemed to soften, even though his expression didn’t really change. Even though he was still giving Kaneki an intense look.

“I understand if you don’t forgive me,” Kaneki said softly. He tried to keep any note of pleading out of his voice. Tried to tell himself he would accept any answer Hide gave. “I understand if you don’t or you can’t or you need time to think but… you really are the best thing that ever happened to me. I want… to try again and to make it right this time. To actually treat you the way you deserve to be treated. If you… if that’s what you want.” There. That was the end of Kaneki’s courage and resolve. And all he could do was wait for his fate.

Hide closed his eyes and sighed. “Forgive might be a strong word but I am… less mad at you.”

“Less mad is good,” Kaneki said. “I’ll take less mad.”

“And…” Hide said. And Kaneki fell silent and he swore his heart stopped beating as he waited for what Hide was going to say next. “I want to try again. But take it slow.”

Kaneki made a sound that was halfway between a laugh and a sob when he said, “I will literally take it as slow as you want. Glacial.”

“Not that slow,” Hide said with a slight smile. “A man has needs.”

Hide pulled Kaneki into a hug then. Kaneki froze but melted into it. He wrapped his arms around Hide and the two of them sat like that for a moment.

“I missed you,” Hide mumbled into his neck.

“I missed you too,” Kaneki tried not to let himself cry on Hide.

They broke apart slowly, both looking at each other in a way that was soft and sad and said so many things that they weren’t able to put into words just yet.

Kaneki felt guilt gnawing in his stomach. There was one last thing he needed to tell Hide, something he had kept hidden from the moment they met. He hadn’t wanted to tell Hide while he apologized for everything that happened because he was worried it would come off as manipulative, but now that Hide had somewhat forgiven him and said he wanted to get back together Kaneki wondered if it was worse to have not said it first.

“L-look,” Kaneki said, before his courage (or whatever you wanted to call it) ran out “There’s uh… something else I need to tell you.”

Hide shot him a nervous and mistrustful look, and Kaneki hated that he had earned it.

“It… it’s about why I was away from work last year. For the whole year.”

Hide frowned, looking confused. “Does this… have anything to do with Rize?”

“No… yes, maybe,” Kaneki felt ill. “I… when she broke up with me like that I felt hopeless. I felt like I would never be happy again, even though I wasn’t really happy before. It was horrible. I basically felt nothing, it wasn’t even sadness. It was just nothing.” Even now it was hard to explain how it felt.

“I stopped talking to a lot of my friends, and when I stopped talking to them eventually they stopped talking to me, even though they tried for a long time. I don’t blame them. But I isolated myself so much it felt like I was more alone than ever. My work suffered. It felt like I was just going through the motions of being alive. For two years after we broke up that was just how I felt all the time and it never got any better. And I… I really believed that no one would ever love me again. That maybe no one ever had.”

Kaneki took a shaky breath. He could not look at Hide when he said this.

“I… I had finally had enough and I... I tried to kill myself, Hide.” He closed his eyes tightly. The silence was almost like a physical presence.

“What?” Hide whispered. He had never heard Hide sound like that before. He didn’t just sound sad. He sounded shocked and scared.

“I, well- I don’t want to go into details.” Even now it made him feel cold and ill to speak of it. Even though Hide was the most curious person Kaneki had ever met, Kaneki knew that Hide would never bother him for any more details if he didn’t want to give them. “I… I had enough presence of mind to call the hospital on myself, actually. But I needed time to recover, and I couldn’t face going back to work. The University was good to me, at least.” He was rambling now.

“Anyway… I,” he swallowed. “I needed you to know that. About me. I guess. If we’re going to be together. I couldn’t hide it from you anymore.”

There was silence. Kaneki waited for Hide to say something, anything. He couldn’t bear it anymore and turned to Hide.

Tears were streaming down Hide’s face. His shoulders were shaking. He looked as though he was trying to keep quiet, but he couldn’t stop the choking sounds he was making.

“Hide, please don’t cry-”

“I’ll cry as much as I damn well please!” Hide said. “Oh my god , Kaneki, why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“I just… didn’t want to sound pathetic I guess,” Kaneki mumbled. “I thought… I don’t know. It makes people look at you differently. When they know.”

Hide nodded and then threw his arms around Kaneki. It was different than the way he had hugged Kaneki just moments before. It was desperate, he clutched at him so tightly it almost hurt.

“Hide…” Kaneki said.

“Promise me,” Hide sobbed openly into his shoulder. “That you… that you won’t-”

“I won’t ever do that again,” Kaneki said. “I promise.” He held Hide just as tightly and kissed him on the top of his head. If possible, Hide held him even tighter.

“Did you feel like that, when I broke up with you?” Hide asked quietly.

“Don’t feel bad about breaking up with me because of that, Hide,” Kaneki said. “And it was different. In some ways more painful because our relationship was actually good,” he laughed a little in self-deprecation. It just made Hide hold onto him tighter. “Rize made me feel like I was nothing, no one without her-”

“You’re someone even without a partner,” Hide said fiercely, his voice muffled by Kaneki’s shoulder.

Hide sniffled. Kaneki smiled, even though Hide couldn’t see it.

“I know that, Hide. I know I don’t need to be with someone to be someone. But I’d rather be someone with you.”

“I want you to be someone with me too,” Hide mumbled. “I want to be someone with you.”

Kaneki laughed. It was a feeling greater than relief. He felt lighter than he could remember, and he was so, so happy to hear Hide say that.

Kaneki held Hide even closer to him as he said, “I think that’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.”

***

Kaneki was happier than he could express when Hide offered, tentatively, for Kaneki to stay over that night. He did ask Kaneki to sleep on the futon again, but Kaneki was more than okay with that. He knew Hide needed some time and he was willing to give him all the time in the world. If being banished to the futon was the worst that happened to him he would most certainly take it.

The next day, Kaneki offered to bring Hide to Anteiku. Neither of them had been since the breakup. Hide because it would have felt weird to be there without Kaneki, Kaneki because he couldn’t stand the questions he knew Hinami would ask if she saw him without Hide. He never did tell anyone they had broken up.

Hinami dashed over to them the second she saw them walk into the shop.

“I haven’t seen you two in forever!” she said. She addressed the two of them, but she was really only looking at Kaneki. “I was starting to get worried,” she added with a laugh that Kaneki knew was covering for the fact that she had worried, very much.

Kaneki had an excuse about being busy on the tip of his tongue, but Hide responded with a bright smile and said “Just hit a bit of a roadblock, but we’re okay.”

Hinami smiled, and she looked so relieved that Kaneki was okay that he felt a bit guilty (although he felt an intense sense of relief at the same time to hear Hide say they were okay). As Hide went on about how he missed the cakes and had a whole bunch of pastries he wanted to buy (“Kaneki’s paying!”), Kaneki thought about how he really hadn’t talked to most of his old friends in a very long time. He thought about how he had hurt people without meaning to, and how Hide had forgiven him.

He thought maybe it was time to give some of his old friends a call.

Kaneki wouldn’t say that he and Hide fell back into the old routine quickly, though he was sure it would have seemed that way from the outside. They went to a lot of the same places together after work, and Kaneki often stayed over (despite being on the futon), but he couldn’t deny there was an awkwardness there. He found he didn’t mind. It made him sad, of course, but he also felt oddly hopeful, a new sensation that Kaneki was admittedly still getting the hang of. There was a sense of things being new between him and Hide. They were charting new territory as much as they were finding their way back onto a well-worn path.

And, Kaneki felt, they both knew and understood each other much more than before. He wasn’t sure he even realized how much of a distance he had really put between him and Hide by not telling him some of his darkest secrets, until he had told him and found that Hide didn’t hate him for them. That he didn’t think he was pathetic. That he still loved and accepted him after everything.

He hadn’t noticed the distance he had put between them until it was gone.

Even if things were a little awkward now, Kaneki got the sense that they would be better for it in the end.

One night, as they were both on the floor setting up Hide’s rabbit obstacle course, Lady hopped casually towards Kaneki and flopped down beside him.

Hide let out a little gasp and put his hand over his heart, “That means she feels safe with you!”

Kaneki laughed and petted her gently. He was a little embarrassed that he felt so good about finally being accepted by a rabbit, but they were important to Hide, so they were important to him too.

The end of the school year was approaching at an alarming rate. Instead of their usual pattern of not seeing each other until the frightening amount of work had passed, Hide suggested that Kaneki come over to his place and they could work on things together. Kaneki was worried Hide would be a distraction, but he was surprisingly diligent and quiet as he worked, and it made Kaneki work harder too. It was nice to not go back to his dingy apartment alone every single night. He’d probably never go back again if he didn’t have to water the plant Hide gave him.

Also, it was kind of sexy to see Hide working so seriously.

It was on one of these nights that Kaneki went to take out the futon and Hide pulled him into the bedroom.

“You’ve passed your probation period,” Hide mumbled, kissing him on the lips. “You’ve been upgraded to snuggling.”

Kaneki grinned. He had missed being able to sleep in Hide’s bed. When Hide fell asleep with Kaneki spooning him, Kaneki genuinely felt he might die of happiness.

When they woke up the next morning, Hide sleepily moved to rest his head on Kaneki’s chest and promptly fell back asleep. Kaneki was perfectly content to read work emails on his phone with Hide lying on his chest.

He sighed as he re-read the last couple weeks’ emails from his editor. She said she thought it was the best book he had ever written for characterization and she liked the slightly less pessimistic tone it took in comparison to his other works, though sometimes the shift in tone  was jarring and needed to be ironed out.

Well, he wrote part of it before he met Hide and part of it as he dated Hide, so that was to be expected.

By the way, are you aware you referred to the man in the sex scenes as “Hide” several times?

He guessed he had missed some when he re-read it.

Hide mumbled something incoherent and then said, “Whatcha doing?”

“Reading notes from the editor about the book I wrote,” Kaneki said.

“I wanna read,” Hide said.

“Not until I edit it!” Kaneki blushed deeply.

“Want an advance copy.”

“I can do that,” Kaneki said. Privately, he thought that if he was feeling bold enough, he’d dedicate it to Hide.

“Aw, your heart is beating so fast,” Hide said, snuggling further into Kaneki’s chest. “Are you that nervous about me reading it?”

“Sh-shut up!”

***

They packed up the meager possessions they had left in their office, mostly stuff they had left in the drawers and books they had left on the shelves that they wouldn’t have cared if the other professors stole.

It was never really their office, but it felt like it had belonged to them all the same.

“I can’t believe we’re both getting our own offices now,” Kaneki said.

“Well, still shared,” Hide corrected drily. “We’ll just be all alone in them.”

“It’s still exciting,” Kaneki said.

I’m excited that old bastard of a department head is finally retiring,” Hide said happily. “No wonder he was so miserable, he just wanted to get his last torture in before he left. And he’s being replaced by someone who actually likes me!” Hide grinned evilly. “There’ll be a lot of changes next year.”

“Why does that scare me?”

“It should,” Hide said. “You know, I’m going to like having an office that I can stretch in and not accidentally punch a wall, but I am going to miss this place.”

“Yeah?” Kaneki said.

“It’s just… you know,” Hide looked embarrassed. “This is the place we first met, and we had some good times this year, and I’m going to miss having my weekly scheduled Kaneki time!”

“Kaneki time,” Kaneki repeated with a smile.

“You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Kaneki said. “I’m going to miss this place too. We’ll still see each other a lot, though. We work at the same university still.”

“Yeah,” Hide seemed lost in thought, he still looked slightly worried.

A sudden thought struck Kaneki, and he crossed over to the door to lock it.

“What are you doing?” Hide asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, it is our last day in here together,” Kaneki’s heart pounded. “And I believe you once asked me to, uh, bang you on the desk .”

Hide’s mouth dropped open in shock before he quickly broke out in a grin.

“Holy shit , yes!”

His enthusiasm was a little alarming, but Kaneki confidently strode over and picked Hide up to sit on the desk.

“Have I ever told you how sexy it is that you’re strong?”

“Several times, yes.”

“Because it is.”

Kaneki was blushing furiously as Hide kissed his neck and ran his hands down Kaneki’s sides.

“W-we should make it quick though!” Kaneki said. “Just in case someone comes in-”

“No one ever comes for office hours,” Hide said, his hands already on Kaneki’s belt.

***

Kaneki, despite all appearances, was a sentimental man. And he always got a bit emotional seeing the new school year start. The hordes of students ready to embark on a life-changing journey, the feeling of promise and change, the cherry blossom petals slowly falling to the ground…

“My god the first years are small,” Hide said, watching as the crowds of students walked past the clubs trying to solicit them.

“Don’t be mean to the first-years, Hide,” Kaneki sighed. He knew he wouldn’t be though. As much as Hide constantly complained about his students, Kaneki had spent the last few weeks watching him comfort panicked students and do his best to help them get their grades up. One of the benefits he’d miss about having a shared office was definitely going to be getting to see the soft professor side of Hide.

He turned around just in time to see that Hide had clearly just taken a picture of him with his phone.

“What’s that about?” Kaneki said.

“You got a bunch of cherry blossom petals in your hair while you were lost in thought, it was adorable and now it’s my phone background.”

Kaneki blushed as he brushed the petals out of his hair, but he was very pleased to be Hide’s background again.

“Let’s go,” Hide sighed. “I can’t stand watching these youths with their whole lives ahead of them.”

Kaneki burst out laughing as they headed off, maybe he’d suggest they head to a park and enjoy the scenery now that they had a chance.

Hide, however, was frowning.

“What’s up?” Kaneki said.

“Well, it’s just, I’ve been thinking of moving, actually.”

“Oh,” Kaneki said in surprise. He thought of the small apartment where he had spent so much time, where he had gotten to know Hide, and felt a sense of loss similar to how he felt about losing the office. Even though Hide wasn’t even moving yet.

“Yeah, it’s just, my bunnies need more room to run around, you know?” Hide said quickly. “And there’s this one apartment I was looking at that’s really nice, and it’s closer to campus than both of our apartments, but the rent is too much for one person-”

“Hide,” Kaneki said, cutting him off. “Are you asking me to move in with you?”

Hide looked embarrassed, but nodded. “Yeah, I mean, only if you want to, obviously! I know it’s a lot to ask you to leave your apartment-”

“Hide,” Kaneki said. “I hate that apartment.”

“Oh,” Hide said.

“And I would love to move in with you,” Kaneki added.

Kaneki wasn’t quite expecting the flying hug he received, but he certainly wasn’t complaining when it happened. Hide kissed him, just briefly, on the lips. And Kaneki didn’t care if anyone saw.

And he didn’t care if people saw that there was a little skip in his step when he held Hide’s hand and he guided him towards a park where they could enjoy the blossoms. He was going to live with Hide.

For once, Kaneki had hope for the future. For once, Kaneki looked forward to it. Because he felt certain now that, whatever the future may hold, it had Hide in it.

He was overwhelmed with things he wanted to say to Hide. That Hide was the best thing that ever happened to him, that he couldn’t believe how lucky he was that they were assigned an office together. That this past year had been the best of Kaneki’s life, despite its ups and downs, and that he believed things would only get better.

That he had Hide to thank for everything, everything.

He couldn’t put all that into words, so instead he squeezed Hide’s hand and said, “I love you, you know?”

“I know,” Hide smiled. He squeezed Kaneki’s hand back. “And you know I love you, right?”

Kaneki knew.