No matter how many times Kaneki mentally rewinds the last half hour in his head, he can’t quite understand how the events that followed after setting up the dinner table for their meal unfolded. Is this what people call the calm before the storm? Was the quiet calm of the two of them eating the herald for the perplexing, alcohol addled events that followed? Was the happiness and contentment that Kaneki felt when he listened to Hinami talk about school, her cheeks flushed rose petal pink with her excitement, the portent of chaos?
There is no other word for the scene now, he thinks, frozen as he stares at disbelief at his front door, pried open with drunken finesse, blood staining his mouth, with a lapful of warm, nuzzling human.
Hinami, with more wit than Kaneki, had scampered for the bedroom moments after the door swung open and the exuberant blond had exclaimed “I’M HOME!” before promptly passing out in Kaneki’s lap. Kaneki glances helplessly at the door to Hinami’s room, wills her to emerge, to lend him emotional support. The door stays closed.
He reaches for a napkin, eyeing their meal –fingers, Hinami’s favorite, and chunks of thigh, Kaneki’s favorite –apprehensively. He needs to clean up –the table, the fridge, himself –before the human wakes. Before the human wakes and panics and brings the lives he and Hinami have carefully crafted for themselves crashing around their ears.
The human, apparently, does not agree with Kaneki, and wraps his arms around Kaneki’s middle and whines, burrowing deeper into the soft material of his sweater, muttering “Mmmm, it’s warm, stop.”
“Shit,” Kaneki mutters, trying to keep as still as possible as he tries to stretch his arm further –so close, his fingers can almost kiss the napkin, he’s so close. Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm. Just clean yourself up, untangle the human cephalopod that has attached himself to you, clean up the table, and dispose of the contents of the fridge. Then you can worry about what to do with the human. Priorities, Kaneki Ken, priorities. He wriggles his fingers, willing the napkin to leap into his grasp, as he cautiously leans over –yes; mission accomplished. Napkin acquired.
Victory is snatched away from Kaneki at the last moment as the human turns in his lap and gazes up at him blearily through alcohol glazed eyes and smiles at the ghoul looming over him, blood stained mouth and all. “You’re cute,” the human slurs before promptly pulling Kaneki down as he lays a wet, smacking kiss against Kaneki’s lips. Warm hands massage his scalp affectionately, “Your hair is beautiful…”
The human crawls and wriggles until he is snuggly situated, head tucked under Kaneki’s left ear, arms loosely looped around Kaneki’s shoulders, and whispers, “Mmmm… Let’s do this again…”
Kaneki looks perplexedly at the bundle of warmth in his arms, experimentally nudges the drooling face in the cheek, receives an encouraging snore. Tentatively, he tries to disentangle the man from him. The arms around him tighten in protest and he quickly decides, for the sake of oxygen, to leave the man where he is. Sighing, he rearranges the legs haphazardly thrown across his lap and shifts his newfound appendage so that he can support its weight on his left hip and manages the new balancing act of getting up. “Hinami,” he calls softly, “Please call Banjou-san and see if he can take some parcels off our hands while we have… an impromptu guest.”
The door slides open just enough for Hinami to poke her head out and nod her consent before she disappears behind it again. Kaneki listens to the hushed tones of her calling Banjou as he manages the circus act that is clearing up dishes with one arm curled around a grown man and the other balancing what feels like twenty plates and bowls. “On second thought, can you also ask Banjou-san to pick up some things on his way here? Eggs, bread… butter? Human breakfast things.”
He stops by the sink and wonders how he should negotiate washing the dishes with his new addition.
He is still contemplating the feat when Banjou politely knocks on the still open front door –really, how has he not gotten around to closing that damn thing yet? “Can I come in?”
“Please,” Kaneki says, so thankful he suspects radio towers five cities over must be picking up the waves of gratitude that roll off him.
“Please excuse the intrustion,” Banjou says, polite as ever, as he slips off his shoes and shuts the door, “I brought the groceries you requested. Wasn’t really sure what to get. Do humans eat pork rinds for breakfast?”
And it’s so funny the things you forget after becoming a ghoul because Kaneki can’t remember if he did when he was a human. “I don’t think so? Whatever’s in the convenience store should be good enough. Just give me a moment and I’ll put some coffee on. How much was everything?”
Banjou takes a look at the sink, shakes his head, “Let me take care of this,” he says as he rolls up his sleeves. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I’m needing in terms of money. Besides, you’ve already helped me so much.”
“I can’t let you do that,” Kaneki replies as he rummages through his bag for his wallet, “The money, I mean. I’d actually really appreciate it if you took care of the dishes.” He pulls out a thousand yen.Would that be enough? Banjou had clearly waffled in the food aisle and bought a little of everything. Two thousand, then. He calmly slips it into the other man’s back pocket and smiles. “You came over in the dead of night and I know you don’t have a car. In ten minutes, it’ll be too late for you to take the subway. Just accept the money and my gratitude, okay?”
The man flushes to the tips of his ears, “It’s really no problem… And…well, I could tell from Hinami’s call it was an emergency.” He eyes the human in Kaneki’s arms and beams, “And it is an emergency. I’m just glad I could help.”
Kaneki glances down at the drunk, snoring man clinging to him and sighs, “I’ve never known anyone, human or ghoul, who could pick a lock while that drunk.”
“You know the guy? Old friend from your human days?”
“Not at all,” he admits, the edges of his lips quirking as he pokes a soft cheek. The human’s brow furrows and he mutters, nosing into Kaneki’s neck in protest. “I figure I’ll just let him stay on the couch until morning. It’s cold enough outside that he’ll freeze if I just drop him off by the curb.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Would you like to stay over as well, Banjou-san? We have a spare futon somewhere.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Really. You have one guest already. I’ll just finish up these dishes and have a cup with you then head out.”
“Thank you, Banjou-san. Really, thank you.”
“It’s really no problem.”
Banjou’s grin is so open and wide that Kaneki’s heart warms. “I’m glad to have met you,” he says. He manages to put all the groceries into the fridge and avoid spilling the coffee as he transports mugs to the living room table with one hand and settles down on the cushion as Banjou puts the last dish into the drying rack.
Kaneki wakes, startled, to the sound of someone knocking on the bedroom door. He looks over, finds Hinami safe in her futon next to him, large, worried eyes staring back at him. Human, drunk, couch, right.
“Gimme a moment,” he mumbles, groping for the door, ghoul reflexes failing to make up for sleep-groggy clumsiness.
The blond is waiting anxiously on the other side of the door, biting his lips nervously as he rocks on his heels.
“Uh, hi,” Kaneki’s guest waves weakly, “Sorry, for, uh, breaking into your place like this. I think. I mean.” Nervous giggling starts. “I vaguely remember damning my key for not working properly and then, just, you know. Getting in.”
“It’s okay, really,” Kaneki assures, although really, it’s not. The less ruckus there is about this mess the more likely the man will leave and just get on with his life and forget about that unmemorable moment when he accidentally broke into another person’s apartment in a pique of drunken stupidity. No need to get to know the people he barged in on. No need to know Kaneki and Hinami’s identities as ghouls.
No need for the entire apartment complex to get up in arms about living alongside ghouls.
Because even now, years after ghouls received some semblance of rights, the stigma against ghouls is strong and Kaneki doesn’t need that, not with Hinami. He’ll protect her; she’ll grow up with her childhood intact. He promised her parents.
“I,” the blond licks his lips and Kaneki can’t stop staring –remembers those lips meet his own, still sticky with blood –and feels a small shiver crawl up his spine because what if he tastes it? “I’m not really sure how to make this up to you, man. I mean, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s no problem. I mean. Lots of people don’t realize what they’re doing when they get drunk,” he hedges. God, he won’t realize, will he? “How about we have some breakfast?” Don’t rush him out, keep it nice and sedate and this will just be something he forgets about in two weeks, tops.
“Oh wow, really?” The man’s eyes shine, “Thanks. I’m starving.”
Kaneki feels a warmth curl in his stomach, the man is gorgeous, smiling and bathed in sunlight. “T-toast?” he offers as he shuffles past the man and gently closes the bedroom door behind him. Banjou bought bread, right?
“I’d love some! Can I help? I can put some coffee on? I make a pretty mean coffee, I mean, my roommate is a bit of a coffee snob if you know what I mean –”
“Yes, thank you,” Kaneki can’t help but smile, “Beans are in the top right cupboard.”
When the toast is done and the eggs are pleasantly scrambled –or so Kaneki hopes, he really isn’t sure how it’ll taste without salt or pepper –he says a silent apology to Hinami in his head and calls, “Hinami, breakfast. We have toast and eggs.”
The other man wrinkles his nose and pokes Kaneki in the ribs, “Dude, cruel man. Don’t make her eat that. Is that why you made so much?” He gestures at the small mountain of eggs Kaneki has scrambled and the tower of toast leaning precariously on its plate. “Just let her drink my coffee. It’s not going to offend my tender human sensibilities if you guys don’t eat with me. It’s nice enough for you to let me stay while I was drunk, let alone cook actual human food for me. I mean –”
“Wait, stop,” Kaneki croaks, “What did you say?” When did he replace his heart with a jackhammer? God, he will kill Kanou one day.
“I said you don’t have to torture her just because I’m around. I mean, even I have enough class not to make a ghoul suffer human food. It’s just not cool.”
“…Ghoul…?” This is it. The jig is up. He knows. He might not be running down the street screaming bloody murder, but he knows. It’s only a matter of time before they’re evicted because the other tenants feel uncomfortable living next to man-eating monsters.
“Yeah,” the man tilts his head, “I mean, that’s what you guys are, right? I mean, my memory is a little fuzzy but I faintly remember blood.” He reaches out, brushes Kaneki’s lips with the tips of his fingers, “And I mean, I think I tasted some?”
Kaneki’s heart stutters. This is it. They’re going to have to move again; Hinami is going to have to find a new school, new friends. Again.
“Hey, it’s cool, really,” the man smiles, bright, shining, “My roommate’s a ghoul too, honestly.”
And maybe, maybe, the human is actually some creature heretofore unknown, because he continues on, as if he can read Kaneki’s mind and says, “I know it’s hard to let your guard down, the public’s tough on ghouls, but it isn’t right. I mean, you guys gotta live too, right?” He puts a hand on Kaneki’s shoulder, smiles as if powered by the nuclear fusion of a thousand suns at a spot beyond his right ear and says, “Besides, I doubt a girl as sweet as your Hinami-chan would kill people, right?”
Kaneki turns to find Hinami standing in the living room, dressed in freshly pressed clothes and butterfly pin in her hair, prettily pink in the face and nodding silently. “See, no problem, man, no problem. Get over here, Hinami-chan, and I’ll pour you a nice cup of coffee.”
Breakfast is surreal as the man pulls out a seat for Hinami, all low, princely bows and sparkling eyes, and pours Kaneki and Hinami probably the best damn coffee they have ever had outside of Anteiku –he even asks if they had ‘any of those fancy brown sugar cubes on hand?’ because he had interrupted their meal when he came unceremoniously crashing into their apartment. Their lives, Kaneki corrects himself, because it doesn’t look like the man will be sweeping out of their lives like the summer breeze, not when Hinami is so happy she looks resplendent in her joy. Even as he digs into his mountain of eggs, he continues to coax tinkling giggles from the girl and Kaneki has trouble remembering why it’s such a Bad Idea that this human knows their secret.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” The human pouts and it shouldn’t make Kaneki’s mouth go dry. “Am I boring you?”
There is no preamble, no warning, just soft lips pressed gently against his, blond lashes fluttering before him.
‘Sweet…’ Kaneki thinks despite the taste of what he assumes to be eggs and a serious case of morning breath. “I….”
“Mmmm, I was right to want to do that again,” says the smug, grinning blond.
“I… I don’t kiss people when I don’t know their names,” Kaneki fumbles, heat rushing to his face.
“Nagachika Hideyoshi, but call me Hide,” Hide grins, leaning onto the palm of one upturned hand, “And what is the name of the dashing knight who saved my drunken ass from a night freezing in the lonely streets of Tokyo?”
“Kaneki Ken… and you let yourself in, remember?”