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The Centipede's Sting

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She didn't notice the signs.

At least, not at first. Maybe it was because it signified the end of this gentle soul, and the possible consequences too scary to behold so she'd shut it in a deep dark corner of her mind. Or maybe she was just a selfish person, pretending to be blind when the truth was staring at her right in the face all along.

But whatever the case was, she didn't really pick up on the changes until it was too late. There was nothing she could do now.

This was how it first began:

"What's your friend's name? The one who keeps coming here with you. Brown hair, orange and black jacket." The self-professed 'Devil Ape' asks.

With his flat face and spiky hairstyle, the similarity he shares with his nickname is becoming more apparent.

His sleeves rolled up, Kaneki is elbow deep into soapy waters where he is washing the plates. A troubled expression crosses his face, the faint brush of uncertainty.

"Hina? Hine? Hade?" He frowns. "Oh wait, it's Hide!"

Something that looks like relief flits through his eyes, too quickly to be noticed by anyone.

Enji Koma laughs and pats him on the shoulder, "Don't tell me your memory is failing you, Kaneki!"

Kaneki smiles, and doesn't reply.

"I'm older than you so surely your brain isn't rotting so quickly..." Enji teases.

"If that is true, then at least I won't have to ever remember meeting someone like you," he jokes weakly.

"You better remember me at least, Kaneki!"

"Not if I can help it. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?"

"I did, and I must say, it's an impressive sight."

"Absolutely. Who knew anyone could look that ridiculous? You've outdone yourself."

Enji laughs boisterously, clapping him on the back.

"Either way, you're still going to remember me since I'm such a unique person. I'll take what I can!"

"It seems you're having some hearing problems since I've said it before: I can remember things just fine."

"Says the senile old man who can't remember his best friend's name."

"I don't care what you remember so long as you remember the customer's orders. Now get back to work, slackers!" Touka says sharply from the doorway, accustomed to the usual banter between the two.

When Kaneki first came to work, he was quiet and shy, only talking when he was asked a question. Enji, with his playful and open nature, constantly teased Kaneki and imagine everyone's surprise when Kaneki replied with a snarky remark one day. The look of surprise on Enji's face when he finally met his match was priceless. They have become good friends ever since, bonding over many conversations of mutual antagonism.

Exchanging grins with each other, they chorus in synchronisation, "Yes, ma'am!"

Rolling her eyes, she hides a fond smile behind her hand. "Idiots."

That was the first time and the signs were so small, she barely knew that it was one.

Yet, at that point in time, she brushed it off, ignoring the fact that Hide was practically Kaneki's only human friend. For him to have completely forgotten his name for a brief moment should send alarm bells ringing through her head.

The fact that it doesn't makes it worse.


His lapses became more frequent and he'd smiled and says something else, diverting the attention from him. And what did she do? She just played along with it. Excuses, that was all she ever gave to herself. She saw something she didn't want to see, and she made up an explanation for it, twisting logic and reasoning to create her own world where everything was normal and safe.

It's fine, it's fine, it's fine!

And it's all lies, lies, lies...

"Oi, what are you doing here?" Touka asks.

They are standing the subway, both in their respective school uniforms.

"Um...It's the train?" He says.

She huffs and rolls her eyes. "Don't get snippy with me, wood louse. I meant why are you on this train. It doesn't go to your house."

"...it doesn't? Then what train do I take?"

"Are you a moron? The east train of course! It's a faster and a more direct way." Worry nags at her; it's not like Kaneki to forget his way home. She can tell he isn't lying.

A moment of silence pass before Kaneki mumbles, "Uh I wanted to take a more scenic route today. Just wanted some time to think on the train. Tough day." He looks away.

"Hmm whatever." That explained it then. Why he took a different route. Touka knows that feeling. It's like when she just needed some time to herself and her home just seemed too quiet, too oppressive. So trains and buses became her favourite places to dwell on her thoughts, where the surroundings prevented her from getting lost in the labyrinths of her mind and at the same time, the anonymity it provided made her just one in a million, insignificant, and as such, completely undisturbed by others.

Right now, she can see Kaneki's subdued anxiety in the way he holds himself. He grasps his bag straps tightly till the whites of his knuckle show and his eyes flick uneasily left and right. His other hand taps out a tattoo of tension on his leg as he schools his expression into one of polite boredom. And his eyes... There were eye bags under them and his skin was pale - well paler than usual.

Whatever is bothering Kaneki has taken its toll on him and Touka feels mild concern to her co-worker. Should she ask what's going on in his life? She's tempted too, really but...it's going to make her look like she cares about him. Like hell she does.

She doesn't want him to get the wrong impression. It occurs to her that Kaneki's emotional state is going to affect his quality of work which means he's more prone to screw up during his work shift at Anteiku and guess who has to clean up his mess? Yep, yours truly. So that settles it then. She needs him to be at his absolute best not shrivelling up like a wilted flower.

His moping isn't going to help him and as much as she understands his need to be alone with his thoughts; she knows that the mind can just as easily trap one inside.

"Are you a horse?" She snaps at him.

Startled from whatever dark thoughts that reside in his mind, Kaneki blinks at her a few times in confusion. "I'm sorry, a what?"

"I said, are you a horse?"

He frowns, "No."

"Then why the long face?"

For a second, a priceless expression steals his face. Eyes wide and jaw hanging open, he can hardly believe that Touka had just made a joke. And it was actually funny too.

He can't help it. He laughs.

It's a nice laugh too, a genuine sound of startled happiness that sends a surge of warmth in her core.

"Feeling better?" She asks wryly.

"Yea, thank you."

"Eh, I just didn't want you to go to work with a shitty expression on your face."

"Huh? I work?" He looks at her and the blank look of confusion in his eyes sends a stab of panic right in her gut. She can tell he's not lying, he really has no idea.

She has to act normal, "Don't screw around! You work at Anteiku as a waiter and I don't know why but you're shitty at your job even though I've told you so many times how to handle the customers and the cutlery." Annoyance seeps into her words, meant to cover the worry she has for the half-ghoul.

For a second, all she sees is the horrible emptiness in his eyes. And then, a spark of recognition flickers, a small flame barely there. Thank god, she thinks, thank god, for a moment there, I thought that he -

"Ahahaha...just joking, Touka. That look on your face was hilarious." He chokes out a laugh and gives a strained smile, trying to brush the whole thing off.

A part of her wants to reach over and throttle him, (another part of her is screaming that something is off with him, he's not himself, can't you see that he doesn't remember important things and you know this, don't lie to yourself, you know just what's going on - ) and another part of her wants to sigh in relief. Just a practical joke. Which she fell for. Like an idiot.

"You're going to pay for that!" She growls, and slams her school bag into his stomach where he lets out an oof!

"Don't do that again, moron," she warns before returning to her place on the train.

"Yes, ma'am," he sighs.

Kaneki leans back on the seat, watching the scenery pass as the gentle rocking of the train soothes the anxiety in him. It feels pleasant, this tiny pocket of calm on the train, the low hum of the engine and the air-conditioning blowing a soft stream of air him. It's making him sleepy.

The rest of the journey passes in silence, Kaneki looking, for all intent and purpose, like he's dozing. If there's one thing Touka has a weak spot for, it's the peaceful expression on his face as he sleeps, trusting like a newborn cub.

What an idiot he is…Him and his stupid jokes.

And it's all lies, lies, lies...


The next one occurs as she is walking over to Kaneki's house to deliver some specially designed dried blood and coffee powder. It's a new thing that Yoshimura made, reducing the need for any blood cubes since the blood is already in the grounded coffee powder. But the taste is slightly off and Yoshimura is sending another test batch to Kaneki for him to try.

"Oh, Touka! I had no idea you were coming over" the raven haired male looks surprised as he opens the door.

Immediately, her ghoul nose detects the stench of blood and dirt wafting from his apartment.

"What are you doing inside?" She asks, trying to peer around the gap in the door.

Guilt is written all over his faces. "I er...got up and err..."

She can kick down the door and see for herself just what he is hiding but she likes to consider herself a (somewhat) civilised person who can settle this without resorting to violence. She gives him an unimpressed look.

"Uh...I was hungry," he blurts.

With just a lift of one eyebrow, she communicates to him silently, Explain.

He fidgets, positively nervous about the interrogation. "I felt hungry so I went to the cemetery to get some..." He winces and looks down as if ashamed, "Food."

That explained the smell of soil and dirt then.

Pleased by not having to shove her way into his apartment to find out the matter, she gives a nod. She knows some ghouls who have resorted to grave robbing in order to sate their appetites.

"You didn't leave any traces, did you? Or let anyone see you?"

"I did it last night, and I only took a small piece and I chose that grave because well, no one visited him."

She frowns. "Couldn't you have just gone to Anteiku to get your supply?"

"Ah... I just," he pauses and looks down, "I just didn't want to keep relying on your charity all the time."

"Don't be stupid, Anteiku exists for a reason. It's good that you want to be independent but avoid doing this in future. It's dangerous since the number of doves has increased."

"Mmh yea, I'll keep that in mind. Hey Touka?" There is a note of uncertainty in his voice.

"What?"

"Could you not tell anyone about this? It's my first and last time. I'm sorry! I didn't know."

She sighs and waves her hand dismissively, "Yea yea, whatever."

"Thanks," and he gives her a warm smile that sends her heart going double time. Tch, she shouldn't have drunk so much coffee just now.

Then she remembers about the experimental batch and shoves it into his hands.

"Test batch 16."

As she passes over the tin, she realises that his fingernails are coated with bits of blood and gore.

Before she can think too much into this, Kaneki is wishing her a good day and closing the door.

Huh, that's weird.

But the eccentricities of a half-ghoul are beyond her concern. She has other things to do like her ten page essay which is due tomorrow. Ugh...

As she makes her way down to the first level, the usual stink of garbage makes her wrinkle her nose. But wait! She pauses.

She walks over to the bins again, her sensitive nose catching the smell of blood and soil. The exact scent from his apartment. Her curiosity pique, she pokes around the rubbish and finds a black trash bag full of dead crows. The smell that was present in Kaneki's house assaults her.

The hell is this?

The bag contains 7 of the birds with their eyes gouged out and intestines torn out from their body. Their wings are twisted to a broken angle, legs ripped out from their sockets and their open beaks trapped in a silent scream.

But the soil smell doesn't come from them. She peers deeper into the bag and finds a severed human hand. She makes the connection.

Crows are carrion eaters and it seems that someone has dug up the hand from a cemetery to lure the birds to a horrible demise. What throws her off the most is that none of the birds' meat was gone. She would have thought that they would be eaten at least, but she can't even find a single bite mark. Why go to all the trouble to attract these birds if their flesh wasn't used? It's as if the main purpose of catching the crows was just to torture them.

And yet, the smell was present in Kaneki's house but that doesn't. Make. Sense.

Kaneki is one of the kindest and gentlest person she knows. He would never torture any living things and she has seen him feeding stray cats little strips of meat and throwing breadcrumbs for the birds before.

Utterly confused, she stares at the bag for a few moments before tying it up securely and stashing it below the other trash bags.

She types a message and sends it to him. Possible sadist near your house. Keep a lookout, dumbass. Of course it can't be him. He said he was hungry right? And a hungry ghoul always eats flesh when it's present. The severed hand in the bag only contains small pecks from the crows, nothing to suggest a human or a ghoul could have bit into it.

She's not overly worried. After all, what's a person with a sick fetish compared to a ghoul who can kill a human in two seconds flat?

Her phone chimes and she reads. There is? Uh how do you know that?

She doesn't think he would like to hear about her grisly find. There's no point upsetting him over this.

Ugh, never mind. Just don't trust your neighbours.

Um...ok?

You better, idiot.

And back home watching his phone light up with a message from Touka, Kaneki gives a small smile and whispers, "I wonder who's the idiot here."


The last incident felt like ice water drenching her from head to toe. At first, the cold was more of a shock than anything. It wasn't until later did she realised she was shaking, her teeth was chattering and her muscles locked tight in spasms. Her body betraying her even as she had felt nothing at first. It felt like that.

Kaneki and her are fighting with another ghoul that has gone rogue and succumbed to bloodlust. That kind of ghoul is nothing more than just a feral dog; completely mad, immensely vicious and better for all involved to be put down.

She blocks the only exit in the alley, slashing and cutting it so that it takes one step back, and another.

As she slices across the mad ghoul's kagune, it shrieks at her and goes for her throat. She dodges and kick at its stomach. It spits at her, an acid liquid that barely misses her head.

Meanwhile, Touka knows that Kaneki is waiting patiently in the shadows and bidding his time to strike. They have discussed their plan: Touka would slowly push the ghoul back to the end of the alley and Kaneki would kill it. Things seems to be going exactly as planned which makes it great. There's going to be an online meet up to discuss her group project with her classmates and at the rate they're going, she can be back home with plenty of minutes to spare. Score one for efficiency.

When the ghoul steps back onto a shadowed patch, a blood red tendril lashes out and wraps around the injured ghoul's arm. With a sickening pop, Kaneki wrenches it off and the ghoul's shriek pierces the night air. It sinks to the ground, a clawed arm around the gaping wound on its shoulder.

It's only because they have lured it to a deserted area that no one has called the police yet. Or worse, the Doves.

Kaneki advances and the ghoul hisses.

As he stops only a few paces away from it, one of his kagune latches onto its shoulder wound gently, as if caressing it and then with a jerk, the kagune twists.

It screams, as wounded flesh distort and rip from each other, a horrible wet squelching noise.

"Scream like a pig," Kaneki sneers, dark, dark eyes filled with disdain.

He takes a small step forward and it is enough for the rogue ghoul to scrabble away despite the pain.

For once, something that isn't madness shines in its demented eyes. It's fear.

"Can't let you run away, can I?" Kaneki singsongs, taking another deliberate step forward.

His kagune shoots forward and grips its right leg below the knee, and twists. Hard. The bone dislodges with a wet snap and the ghoul howls again. Kaneki does the same to its left foot, except he twists the leg two times on itself, skin shredding apart and bones cra-cra-cracking!

"What are you doing? Just kill it already!" Touka snaps.

She knows that ghouls can get a little caught up in bloodlust and hunger but she has never seen him act this way. She doesn't understand why he has suddenly gotten so sadistic. He's inflicting pain unnecessarily where a cleanly-delivered cut across its neck would have sufficed.

Kaneki gives a slow and terrible smile.

"Alright."

One moment, the ghoul is on the ground. The next, its five feet in the air and all of Kaneki's kagune are pierced through its stomach. Blood splatters down on the ground as the ghoul gives a choked gasp.

And then she sees that some of Kaneki's tendrils are shifting and pulsating. The rogue ghoul's skin stretches and bulges, before splitting open like rotten fruits, thick red bands of worms wriggling through.

Pieces of flesh rain down on them, the heavy tang of blood coating the atmosphere.

Touka has to swallow her bile.

Kaneki flicks his kagune and the remains of the ghoul splatter against the grey concrete walls.

His kagune slides back towards him as he turns to face her, "Mission accomplished."

He grins, teeth gleaming white and Touka is suddenly reminded of a wolf baring its fangs

Fear niggles in the base of her spine but she pushes it down. This is Kaneki. He would never hurt her.

"What was that for?" Without meaning to, she lets a note of worry bleed into her tone.

He lifts one insolent eyebrow. "Just felt like it."

"This isn't you." She says and it feels right, somehow. Like the person in front of her isn't the shy and gentle boy she knows.

"Which university do you go to?" She asks, crossing her arms.

"Does it matter?" He's not even looking at her, just examining his kagune and wiping away any sticky bits of flesh.

"Yes," she snaps.

"Oh," he shrugs, "I can't remember." Looking entirely unconcerned, he adds as an afterthought, "Honestly, I don't really care."

And that settles it. The offhand manner which he reacted. As if his memories don't matter. Her mind races and races and she comes to a sickening realization. It seems quite possible and it's just a theory but she still feels herself growing cold with conviction. All the incidents that happened so far had pointed towards it but she had lied to herself all this time, coming up with her own excuses and denying it because she was too much a coward to admit it. But the truth is staring right at her now and she can't pretend anymore. Memory cannibalisation.

Faintly, she says, "Your ghoul side is devouring your human memories, isn't it? Y-y-you're slowly forgetting your life as a human."

When he doesn't reply, Touka almost loses it. At least deny it, she wants to scream. At least act like it matters. But all that passes through her lips is just a muffled sob.

So she's right then.

Silence hangs thick and heavy in the air. It's only after a lengthy pause that Kaneki says, "It's funny but somehow, I'm not scared or sad about it." He looks up and gives a heart-breaking smile, all gentle curves and sweet sincerity. It hurts because it's the smile Kaneki gives to those whom he is close to, those that he has come to trust and like very much. Touka doesn't know when is the next time she'll ever see this smile again, if even at all.

Memories devouring memories. What is going to be left of him?

He turns around, faces his back to her, the sprawling mass of his kagune undulating gently.

She knows that his hair is black but for a moment, when the moonlight catches his figure, she swears that she sees white strands in his hair.

"Goodnight Touka," he calls over his shoulder but all she hears as she stares at his steadily diminishing back is Goodbye Touka.

She feels like a puppet whose strings have been cut, numb and boneless and absolutely helpless. Her knees give way and she slumps to the ground, her whole mind whirling with tumultuous emotions.

She stays there for a long time, blood soaking her clothes and the gritty concrete below her legs.

Slowly, she turns her head to the side, sees the blood-stained walls, sees the horror unleashed on this night of the full moon.

And that's when the tears begin to slide down her cheeks because she should have known (she knew, deep down in the places she had refused to look, she knew).

It was everywhere, screaming at her in lurid red letters but she had been too blind, too scared.

The signs were everywhere… but Kaneki was already gone.


It's only the next day does she sees the news report on Nishiki's and Kimi's death.