It takes Kaneki some time to realize he is conscious, considering how everything around him is enveloped in darkness anyway.
His breath hitches as he slowly moves one of his hand from his side. It brushes over some rough fabric once softer, he presumes, trying to sit up. Something creaks underneath him (springs in the couch, he thinks absent-mindedly) and his head is pounding, a sound audible only for him, dull and regular, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like he is there alone, like there is only one him.
“Kaneki? Are you awake?”
It startles him, to hear this familiar voice sound so strange, like it’s worn-out at the edges, more a croak than a whisper at this point, really. He turns his head to right, trying to pierce through the darkness, but it’s useless. He just wants to, needs to make sure.
It’s all very quiet in here; Kaneki hears slow steps coming into his direction, stopping as they reach him.
“Yeah, it’s me,” Hide says and clears his throat, dropping down somewhere near him. “How are you feeling?”
This is a question he is not yet sure how to answer, so he just shakes his head. “Where are we?”
“Safe place, no need to worry,” his friend replies, starting to sound more like himself. But still, Kaneki can hear a somewhat tense string in his voice and even in the way Hide exhales before asking another thing. “Do you remember anything?”
There it is; a question that triggers all sorts of gears in his mind. May I ask your name would you please not go need to eat you’re going to fucking die my body is mine save the manager -- Let’s go home. It’s like he is watching a movie put together wrong, cut out scenes out of order, some of them more vivid than the others.
He brings his hand up to his temple and just then he feels it; softness of a tight bandage wrapped around his head. Or rather, around his eyes.
You’re good, Kaneki Ken.
“More or less,” he responds then.
Hide remains silent just for a moment before he asks, “Alright, so how about getting up and eating something, sleepyhead?” His voice sounds a little lighter, but it’s not false or forced; it genuinely seems like Hide relaxes upon hearing his scattered half-answer, or maybe just hearing him at all.
He nods and Hide helps him to get on his feet as they go in the direction of the kitchen, probably. It feels like his legs may give out and make him fall to his knees at any moment, but more than anything, they feel numb; his entire body does, making Kaneki wonder how long he was unconscious.
Hide promptly sits him down on some wooden chair, saying, “I was just about to make myself coffee, so it was a good time for you to wake up.” As he presumes, Hide puts on a kettle and later opens something -- sounds like a fridge, or maybe a freezer? -- and the next moment Kaneki knows, he hears something being placed in front of him. “Here you go, you need to eat something, it’s been a while.”
Just then he realizes it’s true; there is this faint, metallic aftertaste of blood in his mouth, but --
Kaneki thinks he remembers how it got there.
(Can you fight once more?)
“Hide, did you-- did I--?” Voicing out this question is too much and for a second, it feels like he is back in the sewers because if he lost it then--
His friend doesn’t seem to share the sentiment, since it sounds like he laughs, kind of uneasy, but still . “Relax, man, you didn’t eat my arm or anything big like that, alright?” And Kaneki wants to protest, because Hide may not understand what a close call it was back there -- well, he probably does, but how it is something Kaneki would never forgive himself for -- but then he hears a quiet sigh. “Please don’t beat yourself over that, I knew the risk. Besides, I experienced some far worse things in these past weeks.” Kaneki isn’t sure, but it feels like Hide runs his fingertips over the edges of the bandage around his eyes for a brief moment.
So instead, he just puts his hands on something he assumes is the table -- cold surface, nothing more than that, really -- and examines the package as Hide moves to put out the kettle.
“Is this -- from Anteiku?” he asks after a moment. It’s been a while since Kaneki had one of these, but he is sure he can recognize Yoshimura’s hand in how neatly it’s done. It feels all too familiar.
“Yeah, it is.” He hears Hide pouring the water into the cups; the smell of coffee fills the place, easing the pounding in his head. “I had some trouble imagining as I go around picking up bodies to the freezer, so I ended up finding Nishio-senpai’s address and went to his place. Kimi-san was the one to answer, though, but she gave me a few packages, saying he will manage on his own.” Hide pauses for a moment. “Well, we will need to figure out something sooner or later, since Anteiku is…”
“No more,” Kaneki finishes quietly, feeling a sharp stab of ice-like knife in his chest. I failed, he thinks. And, at the same time, But could I have succeeded, really?
After a while, as he drinks the black coffee Hide made (it’s good, he told him, you really did become good at that, in answer to what he received a somewhat proud chuckle), he hears his friend sitting down by the table. Kaneki takes it as a sign to ask.
“So, how long was I out? Was it really weeks?” he asks as his hands encircle the warm cup.
Hide takes a sip of his own coffee before answering, “Around ten days or so. You had some moments of awakeness, but they were short and frantic, remember?” Kaneki shakes his head; the last thing he seems to remember before this is IXA piercing through his skull, but that’s not something he particularly wants to bring up now.
He doesn’t have to; Hide does instead.
“When I found you later, I thought… I was sure that you were…” For something what feels like a first time in all their years together, Hide seems to be at loss of words, his voice hushed and cracking at the edges. It hurts far more than he is willing to accept coming from Hide, and Kaneki is both glad and upset he can’t see his friend’s face.
“I’m sorry…” he starts, but Hide interrupts him.
“Don’t be sorry, it’s my fault!” The outburst is sudden; it surprises Kaneki and probably Hide himself, since he takes a deep breath before speaking up again, calmer this time. “I should have dragged you out of there right as I found you. I get you had something to do, but… I didn’t spend months looking for you just to let you die in the end.” The last part is rarely audible, sounding like Hide turned his head away when speaking.
It’s hard, but after some wandering around Kaneki finds Hide’s wrist on the table; he can feel his friend’s slightly erratic pulse under his fingers. “I’m sorry I put you through this-- no, Hide, let me finish,” he says, gently squeezing Hide’s hand before he is cut off, “--through this all, that I didn’t trust you and tell you right away.” I wanted to protect you is at the tip of his tongue, but he knows better than that now. No, I was afraid, I didn’t want to be alone, remember? “But, as strange as it may sound, after my fight with Arima, I feel I am in a better place now. Well, maybe not physically, but… mentally.” Watashi and ore have fallen silent, at last.
He can tell Hide is staring at him and eventually, he feels as his friend relaxes and takes another sip of coffee. “Okay, if you say so.” A moment passes before he speaks again, “I think your wounds are pretty much taken care of, but the eyes… I can’t really take you to a doctor, can I? I just kept changing the bandages, since I didn’t feel like there was much I could do about this…”
“It’s fine,” Kaneki says, bringing his hand to the current bandage, and he means it. “Regeneration process is probably slowed down and less effective than usually, but if it’s time for them to heal, they will heal.”
“I would prefer you said when instead of if, though,” Hide mutters and Kaneki can hear the traces of a pout in his voice. It’s so like Hide, he thinks, a little amused, and then, I missed this.
They talk a little more, about the outcome of the Anteiku raid; since Hide didn’t come back to CCG afterwards, the information is limited mostly to what he can figure out from the news. It stings something in Kaneki, as he thinks of the place that offered him shelter when he needed it the most and how it’s now gone, how the people of Anteiku (the manager, Touka-chan, Yomo-san, Nishio-senpai, Koma-san, Irimi-san; their faces flash through his mind like lightnings in the sky during the storm) who helped him are who knows where, and that leads to thoughts of the group he disbanded (Hinami-chan, Banjou-san, Tsukiyama-san), and Kaneki feels tired again, as he did not spent the last ten or so days sleeping. He can tell Hide is exhausted as well, both physically and mentally, as his words get a little sluggish and the things he says become more and more vague. But that subtle undertone of something -- relief? ease? -- remains in his voice and it makes up for everything else, even if just a little.
Eventually, Hide decides it’s time to rest (it’s like, almost six in the morning, Kaneki, I’m not sure about ghouls, but normal people sleep at that time) and as they raise, Kaneki puts his hand on the table and brings one more matter that has been on his mind. “Can I ask one more question?”
Hide groans exaggeratedly. “Just one.”
“Did you really change your hairstyle, or did I imagine it back then?”
There are maybe two-seconds of stunned silence before his friend starts laughing and before Kaneki knows, he feels something resembling a smile make its way to his lips.
“I see it didn’t went unnoticed. Check by yourself,” Hide says after catching a breath as he seems to move closer to stand in front of him, and Kaneki can almost feel the warmth radiating from the smile on his friend’s face.
He thinks it’s awkward, bringing his hand up and placing it in Hide’s hair, but after a miss or two Kaneki feels these soft curls under his fingertips; they are messy, not so smoothed down as they probably would be in normal circumstances, but it’s not that spiky hair he had known Hide for all these years. We both changed, he thinks as his hand lingers in Hide’s hair for a moment too long before dropping to his side, outside and inside, but that doesn’t mean everything is different, lost.
Suddenly, almost like a confirmation of that, he feels Hide’s arms wrap around him, these soft streaks tickling his cheek as his friend exhales and says, “I missed you.”
Now, this feels strange; Kaneki can’t remember the last time somebody hugged him and it takes his body a moment to realize this is not an attack, and there is no need to fight back. But eventually, he brings his arms around Hide’s shoulder blades, feeling through the fabric of the shirt the bandage around his left shoulder. Hide smells of two or three days sweat, Italian coffee and fish with chips from some fast food bar, with a faint scent of vanilla to all of that.
Back in time, he used to associate home with the scent of his father’s old books and his mother’s home-made hamburgers. It’s a safe world that no longer exists, he knows that. But he also knows that home isn’t really a place, either.
(Hide is here, and he smells like home.)
“Yeah, I missed you too,” Kaneki mutters, resting his chin on Hide’s shoulder and feeling more at peace than he has in a long time.
A few days later Kaneki manages to be awake for pretty much the same amount of time he spends sleeping which, according to Hide, is a progress. But sometimes, when he is up for several hours already, it feels like there is too much space for thinking about things he can’t change, not yet, not anymore.
“Kaneki?” Hide’s voice comes somewhere from around the doorway.
“You are doing that again,” he says, coming nearer to the couch. Kaneki is sure he smells coffee on the way. “Cracking your fingers.”
“Oh.” Kaneki stops, realizing Hide is right, and feeling self-conscious. It’s not happening for the first time in these last few days. “It’s hard to drop this habit once it’s picked up.”
“Hm, probably getting your hands and mind occupied with something else would help,” Hide wonders out loud, bringing something hot and radiating around Kaneki hands. “Here you go,” he says and carefully, Kaneki takes from him the cup.
He hears Hide move around to the other part of the room and after a moment, he states, “Well, like I said earlier, this is a temporary place to stay before we change to that apartment, so there is not much to do here.” Kaneki remembers Hide telling him about moving out from his previous place and finding an apartment somewhere in 7th Ward, and again, he wonders how his friend managed to plan ahead all of that. Well, it’s Hide after all, so maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised. “I have a few books here, but in your current condition it’s also out of question… Unless I would read to you.”
Kaneki thinks it was said just half-seriously, but not thrown light-heartedly. He knows Hide well enough to tell the difference. So as he drinks his coffee, he says, “If you wouldn’t mind.”
Hide is silent for a moment and then he starts again, this time definitely with the traces of a smile in his voice, “Alright, what do we have here… Oh man, I have even dropped a manga here,” he mutters from that corner of the room. “There is one of Takatsuki Sen’s books, though you probably read it…”
“You have her books?” Kaneki tilts his head, surprised.
“I might have read one or two in these past months,” Hide admits; sounds like he is tapping his finger against a hardcover. “Not bad, I have to say, pretty strange, but hey, I could share some really weird stories as well. I even went…” he pauses for a moment and then exclaims, “...as far as to think I could become a horror writer myself! What do you think, Kaneki?”
Hearing that, he can’t help but chuckle lightly. “Not any soon, I hope.” He scratches his cheek. “And is there something… less depressing in your small library?”
“Hm, hang on… Oh, I found Agatha Christie’s novel. Gotta love the mystery. Have you read And Then There Was None?”
Kaneki is fairly positive he has, something what seems like a lifetime ago, but he says, “I don’t think so.”
“Alright.” Hide hums under his breath and after a moment, Kaneki hears the couch creak as his friend sits himself at the other end. “Okay, move a little and share the blanket, would you?” Clearing his throat and making a dramatic pause, there is rustling of the pages as his friend opens the book. “In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench...”
He doesn’t plan on falling asleep as early as by the end of chapter two, considering what a great job Hide is doing, especially in delivering characters’ lines, but his voice puts Kaneki on ease and before he knows, he’s asleep, dreaming of nothing in particular but clear blue sky.
The new apartment is in a small building of much busier part of Tokyo than their previous base, but Kaneki doesn’t really mind. There are all sorts of things here and even if he doesn’t get into contact with the neighbours much -- which is reasonable, since there is a limit to the number of times one can hear, “Oh, you poor thing” in response to a made-up story of glaucoma, operation and weak health in general -- he is not complaining. It takes some time to accomodate, of course, but after a week, he knows the apartment well enough not to bump into the furniture anymore.
It’s a Friday morning when Hide taps his shoulder as Kaneki is sitting on the sofa, listening to Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore audiobook. He doesn’t need to ask why; he presses “pause” button and take out the earphones, so Hide can start unwinding the bandage around his eyes.
“How does it look?” he asks, more out of a habit than anything else, since he still can’t see a thing.
“Better than the last time,” Hide replies, voice bright, and though it’s what he always seems to say in response, Kaneki believes him. Maybe he is healing by believing, too, can’t rule that out.
As Hide wraps a new bandage around his head, he brings up another topic, “About Banjou-san and Hinami-chan, I think I might have contacted them, waiting for an answer. No luck with Touka-chan yet, though, or anyone else from Anteiku.”
Kaneki knows he shouldn’t be surprised, considering the circumstances; pretty much everyone went into hiding, him being no exception. He gets restless sometimes, but it’s not this I will protect everyone anymore. It’s a slow, deliberate need to talk and come up with something along with everybody.
(“Nobody does everything alone, you know that, right?” Hide asked him the other day, when they talked about the others.
“I know that now.”)
“I wanted to put on a movie, mind that?” Hide gets up from the sofa; his steps are muffled by a soft fitting carpet.
“Not at all.” Kaneki stretches his legs and settles down more comfortably. “Aren’t you supposed to go to work at eleven, though?”
“Changed my shift to the night one for today,” he explains. “Working in an all-night cafe is tiring enough without being there on crazy mornings, anyway.”
Kaneki feels himself frowning slightly. He doesn’t like when Hide has the night shifts. Or the morning ones. Afternoons, well, they are the most bearable. He knows he’s being all kinds of ridiculous because Hide can’t spend all time with him, since there are bills to pay and things to buy, and Kaneki himself is still good next to nothing in this state. But well, even knowing all of this, it doesn’t really change how it feels without Hide around, even if it’s just a few hours.
Out of sudden, Kaneki hears Hide chuckle and he sighs. “I know you were staring,” he states, trying to sound disapprovingly.
“That’s because you made a face, such a cute little pout,” Hide says, laughing and sitting down next to him.
“Shut up,” he scolds him, but it doesn’t turn out like a scolding at all
It takes Kaneki a little more than opening credits to realize another thing.
“Hide, is this Spirited Away?”
After a moment. “...maybe.”
“Oh, I didn’t know--”
“Shut up and enjoy this beautiful soundtrack, alright?”
This time, it’s Kaneki’s turn to contain the bubbles of laughter inside his chest. “Alright,” he mutters with an amused smile and rests his head on Hide’s shoulder, focusing on the dialogue.
Mornings like this are more than fine.
It takes some effort, along with learning by trials and errors -- which results in two broken cups and accidental spill of boiled water which has Hide freaking out and jumping all around him until Kaneki calmly reminds it will heal on its own -- but sooner or later, he starts making coffee again, and it actually tastes pretty well. He learns that nowadays, Hide prefers his with two sugarcubes or occasionally, milk or cinnamon. Taking them to the living room is the easy part of the whole process, actually.
Kaneki hands Hide in his coffee and sits down next to him on the sofa. His friend mutters "thanks," watching the news on TV. Back in the kitchen, Kaneki thinks he might have heard something about ghouls, but now the reporter is talking about prime minister’s visit in Miyagi prefecture.
After a while, Kaneki questions casually, but not really out of the blue, “Do you think I should dye my hair black?”
He can feel Hide giving him an asking look before his friend puts down his cup and says, “If you want to, why not. If that’s because of the neighbours’ looks, who cares about them.”
Kaneki smiles faintly with the cup around his mouth and asks again, “But what do you think?”
Out of many things Hide can do, he doesn’t see this one coming; his friend flicks his forehead lightly. “Silly you,” he says, and it sounds really fond, “it doesn’t matter to me.” And, after a bit stretched pause, “You’re still a nerd anyway.”
At that, Kaneki chuckles, but it’s not really amusement he feels that is spreading warmth all over his chest, is it? He has kind of seen it coming in these last weeks, has felt it getting stronger like a steady flame. It’s not something that can be easily broken; it has never been like that, but now he can feel it taking a certain shape, not that much different from what it was up to now, but fuller, in a way. And it’s not tainted with fear or need.
This has nothing to do with him. It’s just Hide. Who is saying...
“Hello, Earth to Kaneki, are you listening to me? I actually considered your question and I think green would look good on you.”
Ah, well, that’s Hide. Kaneki sets his cup down on the table. He thinks he may try being a little selfish.
He braces his left hand against the backrest of the sofa and shifts his weight slightly, leaning into Hide’s direction, hoping for choosing a proper angle. His misses by a long shot, though, because Hide seems to turn his head and before his friend can finish saying, “What are you--” Kaneki loses this fragile balance and falls atop of him on the sofa. He ends up with his face pressed in the crook of Hide’s neck, and well. It’s not what Kaneki was aiming for, but it’s not bad, either.
However, he lifts his head up after several seconds and says, “I would greatly appreciate your cooperation, Hide.”
Kaneki feels as Hide shifts underneath him, stating, “Well, I know I’m pretty smart and all, but you could have given me a heads up, you know?” It’s kind of hard to determine things from Hide’s voice this time, though he sounds a little out of breath (possibly since he is being pressed down to the sofa) and stunned (same reason, probably). Kaneki regrets he can’t see his expression -- his eyes -- and wonders if he has miscalculated in the end.
“Sorry, I just--” But he gets cut off by Hide’s lips on his, soft and warm, tasting like a sunlight and some distant memory of bittersweetness. Hide kisses him the way he does things; seemingly carefreely, but actually deliberately and with affection, putting one hand around his waist and the other in his hair. It all gives Kaneki such a strong sense of intimacy he has never really expected to share with anybody and it feels like his heart wants to burst right out of his ribcage, but it’s good. He finds himself smiling into the kiss as he brings his hands to Hide’s face.
When they break apart, Hide definitely sounds out of breath as he says, “Huh, better than anticipated.”
“Anticipated?” Kaneki asks, tracing his thumbs over Hide’s cheekbones and sliding them down to his lips. “Didn’t you say something about not giving you a heads up?”
He feels Hide grin. “Hm, I might had some ideas before. But the reality wins them over.”
Well, he has to agree.
In retrospect, it kind of comes to a full circle before taking another turn.
Hide is in the kitchen, singing along to the music -- The Killers, his current hype (Kaneki approves; he doesn’t really recall that short phase of fixation on heavy metal well) -- and cooking, if Kaneki is not mistaken, rice with vegetables.
He gets up and easily walks this well-known path among the furniture, taking his steps into the direction of kitchen and pausing in the doorway. The bandage around his head unwinds easily and Kaneki lets it drop to the floor, making a mental note to pick it up later. Then, he takes a short breath and opens his eyes.
The vision is kind of fogged at first, blackened out at the edges, but Kaneki blinks a few times and it clears, sharp and vivid, or it simply feels like this, considering how much time has passed. Hide is standing sideways to him and chopping red pepper, wearing a pair of black trousers and an obnoxiously yellow t-shirt he hasn’t seen before, expression relaxed and loosely focused on music and the boiling pot. Kaneki told him a few days ago it feels like his hair is getting noticeably longer and he was right; the ends of blond streaks are already touching his shoulders. He thinks it looks kind of good.
Kaneki knows he is staring, but he can’t help himself, leaning against the doorframe and folding his arms. After what seems like a long moment, as the last sounds of When You Were Young are quieting down, he gives an amused warning, “If you’re going to keep up that fire, rice will boil out of the pot.”
“Hey, I have this all under control, no worries,” Hide says, waving at him distantly with a knife, still preoccupied with pepper. “Actually, I’m thinking about adding--” He stops then, abruptly, turning his head to look at Kaneki.
Their gazes lock and Hide’s eyes go wide as he realizes. The vegetables are forgotten and abandoned as Hide crosses the kitchen to stand in front of Kaneki.
“When did you…” Hide starts, bringing his hand up and kind of hesitantly placing it on Kaneki’s cheek. His eyes are such a pretty kind of brown, Kaneki has almost forgotten. “I knew they looked better, but I had no idea they healed finally.”
“I noticed something is different the other day when Touka-chan came by to talk,” he explains.
“Huh?” Hide seems taken aback by this statement and he clicks his tongue. “And you didn’t say anything?”
Kaneki shakes his head lightly and says, “I wanted to make sure it was the case.” He can’t take his eyes of Hide’s face, recalling the features he has known for all these years, traced his fingertips over them, and taking in every change that has occurred. But his gaze keeps coming back to these big brown eyes full of warmth and fondness, noticing how the light flickers in them -- but Kaneki knows it isn’t exactly light, and really, if both of them start crying in the kitchen it would be all kinds of cliche.
So he places his hand over the one on his cheek and says, letting his eyes flutter half-closed for a moment, “It’s good to see you.”
Hide seems to release a breath he’s been holding for a longer moment and Kaneki gets taken by surprise as he feels quick, gentle pecks of lips on his shutted eyelids. “For good luck,” Hide states and Kaneki hears the smile in his voice, but he opens his eyes just to see it.
As captivating as always. He feels bad he is about to ruin the moment.
For a split second, Hide still stands in place before he makes a strange noise, something between a sigh and a groan, and he hurries to the counter, trying to save the contents of the pot, calling out, “Damn you, Kaneki, when rabbits don’t eat dinner, they die!”
He can’t not giggle at that, and Hide is doing his best to scowl, but he ends up laughing as well, and Kaneki knows the world itself is imperfect and full of cracks (although, not wrong altogether), but what it’s here, what they have -- it’s strong, permanent and simply wonderful.