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0.

It's a week and a half later when a thought, small and weak like everything about him has become, occurs.

The little princess

He opens his eyes. Stares up the ceiling of his childhood room.

What happened to her?

 

i.

Sometimes, Hinami thinks of the past. She tries not to think about it too often. Whenever she does, Shuu can tell.

"What are you thinking about?"

They're sitting out in the garden. It's mid-afternoon, and the sun isn't too hard. It's one of Shuu's good days. She and Kanae were able to entice him out of the main house. Most days, the best they can hope for is to get him out of his bedroom to the family library.

"My parents," she says because it's pointless to lie to Shuu, who is the only person who cares to ask her such questions these days.

Shuu hums. He threads his fingers through the ends of his hair. It's smooth and shiny under the late spring sun. Kanae must have managed to get a hold of his hair, which isn't unusual, but he managed to hold onto Shuu long enough to properly brush it all out, which is. It's not that Shuu tells Kanae to stop or that he's being deliberately difficult, but it's hard to do a complete job because Shuu tends to get up and leave whenever he pleases. Hinami wonders why they don't just cut it, but both Shuu and Kanae are a bit odd when it comes to what is done to their bodies. Hinami knows better than to ask.

"Do you want to talk about them?"

Hinami chews the inside of her lip. She looks down at the flowers she's gathered in her lap.

"What's this one?"

Shuu looks up from his fingers and hair. He tilts his head. He looks at the blossom she has in her open palm. She holds herself very still.

"Bloodroot," he says, and maybe this is a very good day because he actually looks up at her, meeting her gaze. "It's a type of poppy. The root can be used to make a red dye."

He stops. Looks down at his hands and hair again. Hinami resists the urge to reach out and grab his hands, hair, or chin. The flower trembles minutely in her palm. Maybe this is just a good day.

But then Shuu sighs, his lips twisting into a smile. It's a vacant expression, but that's not bad. It's an expression.

"Some say it could ward off evil spirits and cure cancer," he mutters.

Hinami looks back to the flower in her hand. She doesn't know who chose this season's flowers. It's either Shuu's grandmother, although she doesn't seem the type, or the head of the servants, Matsumae. Kanae had mentioned that it's usually Shuu's job to plan the grounds of the family estate, but Shuu isn't suited for planning anything these days. She doubts Shuu would have chosen this sort of flower. Even as he is, he still prefers cheerful things.

Shuu's lips twitch. He looks at her again. Even as ill as he is, there's these moments when he's still there. Her flower man. She smiles back.

"It's poisonous," he murmurs, and he holds out his hand. "Don't let it irritate your skin."

She isn't at all surprised when he puts the flower in his mouth.

 

ii.

Kanae is chewing his nails, elbow resting on the steering wheel. It's a bad habit. Hinami doesn't comment on it. She's nervous, too.

The fact of the matter is she hates being back in Tokyo. She knows that she can't stay holed up on the Tsukiyama family estate when Kanae leaves. While the rest of the family tolerates her presence because she's the only thing that Shuu has shown an ounce of interest in since that happened, she's not safe when Kanae isn't around to protect her. She doesn't particularly like Kanae, but Kanae is absolutely devoted to Shuu, and because of that, she can trust him to keep her safe.

"--culling in the 4th Ward--"

Kanae makes a face. "Do we have to listen to such unpleasant things?"

Hinami doesn't move. Kanae sighs, teeth nipping at the cuticle of his left ring finger as the light turns green. They drive along, listening to the latest movements of the CCG attempting to take back the 4th Ward.

"--SS-rank ghoul and seven others have been put down--"

She reaches out at the same time as Kanae to turn the radio off.

 

iii.

Sometimes, when she is alone in the set of rooms she has been given to live in, Hinami lets herself remember.

Around Shuu, it's dangerous to remember. Shuu might be ill and weakened by it, but his mind is still sharp. He sees things just as clearly as he ever did, back when he was her flower man. It's the only reason that Shuu is still alive, even cloistered as carefully as he is in his family's estate. She's interacted with his grandparents, Tsukiyama Asahi and Kamiko, enough to know that if Shuu's mind was to become useless they would simply do away with him like they did with Shuu's parents. They are terribly practical, even for ghouls.

The period between that time and when Tsukiyama and Kanae found her: it was unpleasant. She had originally been with Banjou and everyone, but the CCG had gone on a rampage, attempting to hunt down any ghoul they had information on. Her file, sparse as it was, had been enough reason for her to split off from Banjou, who she knew meant well but couldn't protect her. It was a selfish decision. She didn't want blood on her hands, not any more than there already was.

She'd been holed up in the old apartment that Tsukiyama had rented for Kaneki. She'd gotten in through the second story window, hoping against hope that she'd be able to stay here until everything died down. The air had smelled stale and sterile, and it became quickly obvious that someone had come in and cleaned the place from basement to attic. For some reason, that was what made her cry. It smelled like nothing had ever happened.

It was on the fifth day of hiding in that place that was once a home that she heard arguing outside. It wasn't loud, which was what raised her alarm. She crept carefully towards the window that faced out to the street, peering out through the crack in the heavy curtains. Two men, one of whom she didn't know and one that she did.

"- madness!"

"Let go of me, Kanae."

The one she didn't know let go immediately. Shuu (although he was still Tsukiyama to her back then) moved away, the jingle of keys in his hand. Hinami dropped back to her knees and just sat on the floor. There was no point in trying to run away. She was getting hungry, and she wouldn't get far. The entire flat house smelled of her by this point, so Shuu would know. If Shuu was going to kill her, it was better than the CCG.

The door opened. Shuu inhaled, his eyes flickering around the unlit room before settling on her. His hair was untamed and ruffled. There was something very hollow about his gaze and face.

"Little princess," he said, and it came out uneven, like he'd swallowed sand; he'd smelled off, like salt, like he'd been crying. "The little girl in the attic."

She hadn't known what he meant by that at the time, but she hadn't been able to ask just then because the man she didn't know showed up. Kanae's hand had been about to grab Shuu's elbow until he spotted her. His eyebrows had nearly disappeared into his hairline. He clearly hadn't expected her.

"Shuu-sama, what -"

Shuu turned away, heading back down the stairs. "She's coming with us."

"What -"

There was a strange noise. Kanae froze. It took a moment for Hinami to recognise it was Shuu's laugh. She had never heard him laugh before.

"Think of her like a monkey coming in through the skylight, if you must," Shuu had said, too loud for the stairwell and quiet house.

She hadn't understood it at all, but Kanae had. His face had screwed up, but he'd held out his hand. She hadn't hesitated in taking it.

After all, she had nothing to lose.

 

iv.

Shuu is in the library when they get back. He's been in the library for a long time, though. There's a large mess of books around him. His hair is tied back, so Matsumae must have been around at some point today. He's wearing kimono, which means that Matsumae must have dressed him. It's a blue mountain scene with furisode. Hinami used to be surprised by this, but she's long since learned that even the servants of the Tsukiyama family have particular fashion choices.

"Shuu-sama," Kanae says, soft and very careful.

Shuu doesn't move. There is absolutely no indication that Shuu is even aware that they're in the room. Hinami resists the urge to sigh as Kanae visibly deflates. It's a bad day.

They set about cleaning up around him as much as possible. It seems that Matsumae was able to keep Shuu upright long enough to do a tateya musubi. Hinami wouldn't have known all of these sorts of details a couple years ago. Her family hadn't been traditional, nor had they had the resources to teach her such things. Living in the Tsukiyama household has made such knowledge necessary. Even if she's continuing to exist because she's seen as something between an amusement and a grudging necessity, she isn't and won't let herself be useless. Perhaps that is the real reason that Kanae tolerates her sharing what he clearly views are his duties.

Just as they're about to attempt to entice Shuu off the floor, the sound of footsteps echo down the hall. They're uneven and accompanied by a cane. It's Kamiko. Hinami pushes away, moving quickly to sit by the window, her hands clasped in her lap and head lowered. Kanae fumbles the books in his hands, wildly scanning for where they should be reshelved. He doesn't have time, though, so he clutches them against his chest. It makes him look very young. Shuu doesn't react at all.

Kamiko enters. She stops at the end of the shelving they're all in between, surveying the scene impassively until she frowns at Kanae. He pales and shrinks, inclining his head as he backs away from where he had been standing within a pace of Shuu. Hinami wishes that she had had the foresight to redo her hair. It's a blessing that as a servant she is allowed to keep it short.

Kamiko sighs, shaking her head. She crosses into the row, coming to a stop within a pace of Shuu. He doesn't look up, gazing down at the page in book that he's been lost in since they came in.

A beat. Hinami doesn't dare close her eyes, bracing herself. She can see all the muscles in Kanae's legs tensing.

Smack

A soft thud of a book hitting the ground, accompanied by a mixed fluttering and crumpling of pages. She went for his hands. Shuu doesn't make a sound. Hinami hates knowing that it would take a much harder strike to achieve that.

"Sit straight," Kamiko says. "Look at me."

Slowly, Shuu moves. Hinami can't see if he is actually looking up at his grandmother, but she doesn't raise her cane again, so he must be. Kanae is so tightly wound that he's vibrating.

"Well," Kamiko says, very cold, "you're lucky you take after your mother. On your feet."

It's excruciatingly slow, but Shuu gets to his feet. He's wearing tabi, but Hinami can't see any zori or geta around. Kamiko turns and begins to walk out of the aisle, back towards the door. Shuu follows, an slow, trailing pace. Hinami listens to the uneven tap of the cane and soft hiss of trailing furisode moving down the hall until the library door falls shut. Kanae's legs buckle, and his knees hit the ground hard. The books he was holding drop, the covers bent from how hard he'd been gripping them. She hears him whisper something beseeching in German that she can't fully understand. She doesn't need to understand. She can agree with the sentiment.

In so many ways, nothing has changed. They're helpless.

 

v.

There's a meat supplier in the 21st Ward. She's not nearly as flashy as some of the others that Hinami has met in the past two years, and certainly nothing like the ones involved with the upper-class restaurants and auctions. Her meat selection is pristine and precise, packaged neatly and expertly carved. When Kanae can't make a decision on what to hunt, which is often, they end up at Bunko's.

"I'm old fashioned," she said the first time Hinami worked up the courage to ask. "People like a show nowadays."

Hinami has never heard her name. Even Kamiko calls her Bunko, which is almost certainly not her name. It's either a reference to the fact she runs an independent book printing company or the dice game referenced in her shop's logo. Bunko is extraordinarily skinny and flutters about in gratuitous layers of black fabric and strange, wrap-like shoes. She's always smiling. Her fashion sense reminds Hinami of Uta, which isn't a pleasant thing.

"How's Shuu-kun?" she always asks before laughing, a cackling, grating noise. "Oh, you're here, so still the same."

It never fails to make Kanae angry, although he's getting better at controlling it. Hinami doesn't know how to read Bunko's relationship with Shuu. Apparently, she and Shuu used to go to school together. Not at Seinan Gakuin High School or University, but before, when they were educated through some sort of home-based private schooling system that upper-class ghouls use. Hinami surmises that Bunko and Shuu are something akin to childhood friends.

"He tried so hard to escape our world," Bunko says when Hinami asks, her thin, oddly long fingers selecting a cut of a woman's breast for Kanae to inspect. "Poor thing. He was very sweet."

Despite herself, that had surprised her. It hadn't seemed to surprise Kanae. It reminded Hinami that she is an outsider, that this world that Shuu took her into is not hers. It never will be. It makes her feel very lonely.

"You're lost little girl," Bunko sings this time when they go to her shop. "Tell me who are you?"

Hinami bites her lip. She doesn't say anything. Bunko laughs.

Hinami, against her will, hates her.

 

vi.

There's a lot of things that Hinami has learned to hate.

Hate, she recognises, is a defence mechanism. Maybe if life had been different, she would have been able to stay that little girl, the little princess who had bad things happen around her and to her but could keep her innocence. Her good heart. Maybe if she hadn't hidden in that place that almost felt like home. Maybe if she hadn't gotten separated from Banjou. Maybe if she'd run to her Mother's side. Maybe.

Hinami wonders, if Kaneki is out there, if he would recognise her anymore.

 

vii.

All of a sudden, it's decided that Shuu will be moved back into Tokyo. Shuu, Kanae, and her are moved into a spacious, modern, terrifying apartment in the 6th Ward. Neither Kanae nor Hinami are informed of why. Shuu doesn't say anything one way or another, but he stops talking for a month, which is the second longest time he's been completely silent. He wakes up, gets out of bed, does whatever it is that he's supposed to do here in Tokyo on the computer, showers, and then goes back to bed. He's completely unresponsive outside of this routine and doesn't seem to know they're there.

It's awful.

Kanae starts crying after the week of this. Real crying, not the theatrics. Hinami sits with him in the living room. She doesn't try to console him. Sometimes it's more useful to just cry.

"I hate you," he whispers on the third night even as he clings to her hand so hard she can feel her bones creak. "I hate you."

She forgets a lot of the time that Kanae is only a year older than she is. His temper makes him seem younger and his cold composure in hunting or dealing with other members of the Tsukiyama household older. The CCG call him Trenchcoat because he always hunts in one, like some film noir gangster. He tries so hard to be larger than himself. It doesn't work. It doesn't make anyone happy, least of all himself. He's too much like Shuu.

Hinami is the one who runs the errands that require human interaction. She buys coffee from the organics shop down the road, and she takes the large amount of paperwork that Shuu produces when he's awake to the post office. It's difficult because there's a part of her that's terrified of humans, their intense smells and how loud they all seem to speak. She's learned to hide her terror, though, just as well as she's learned to hide her thoughts from everyone but Shuu.

"Back again?" the middle-aged man at the post office laughs.

Hinami smiles, like she learned to when she was living in that apartment with Kaneki, Banjou, and all the others. It never fails to make people, human or ghoul, relax, and it usually makes humans smile back.

"My boss is really productive today."

"I'll say," the man says with sympathy. "Are these all going overseas?"

She looks down at the top of the box at the sheet of notepaper. Shuu's handwriting is always so small that, even after seeing it regularly for two years, it still takes her a moment. It's a good thing he's extremely neat or nothing he writes would ever be readable without a magnifying glass.

"Most of them," she says, setting the box down with a fake huff of relief. "There's three that are domestic."

To tell the truth, she has no idea what these contain. It's probably do with Tsukiyama family business, which seems to have a little to do with everything, and Hinami suspects the less she actually knows the better. It makes her want to grind her teeth, that she's still living an existence where she's kept in the dark. At least, she thinks with no small amount of bitterness, she doesn't believe Shuu keeping her out of the loop is intentional. Shuu himself doesn't seem have the presence of mind to be thought of as in the loop.

When she comes back, Kanae is in the kitchen. Kanae is often in the kitchen. He has a tendency to sit in front of either the refrigerator or the microwave, staring vacantly at the handle or the functions. It worries Hinami a little bit, especially because she knows Kanae isn't sleeping well.

"Kanae?"

He looks away from the refrigerator. He's wearing a sweater over a polo shirt and well-fitted slacks. He isn't wearing socks or shoes.

"I'll go hunting later," he says, which doesn't answer her question at all.

She sets the file box on the coffee table. Leans against the back of the couch. Kanae watches her, eyes tired even though he's put concealer on to cover the dark circles.

"I can go see Bunko."

Kanae grimaces. He looks down. His gaze is focused, so he must have something in his lap she can't see with the counter in the way.

"Pacifist," he mutters.

It's not a protest, which would have meant a stream of insulting German. He must be really tired. He has a bad habit of not eating properly when he's stressed. She wonders if Shuu was like that, too, if it's another part of Shuu that Kanae has internalised. A lot of ghouls get weird about food. She knows it's not an unusual thing. When she was younger, she used to not like being watched when she ate. She's gotten over that.

She takes a taxi to Bunko's shop. It's not a scheduled visit. As such, there are several humans in the store front. Bunko is behind the counter, chatting to an elderly man. The counter is overflowing with pictures between them.

"Oh, Hinami-chan!" Bunko chirps, waving with her fingers. "I'll be with you in a moment."

Hinami smiles. "Please, it's no rush."

She lingers by a display shelf full of blank greeting cards. They're all in Bunko's minimalist style, neat and uniform despite being entirely handmade. It's black on white. Hinami wonders, with a sudden flash of insight, if Bunko is colourblind.

"Oh!" Bunko says when Hinami asks, her fingers fluttering over the handle to the door labelled Staff Only. "You're the second person to figure that out."

She doesn't seem surprised, though. Hinami watches her push open the door, lets it fall shut behind them as they pass by the printing press, the design desk, the computer set up. Bunko picks up the leather gloves that she keeps by the door that leads to the basement where she keeps the meat and butcher shop. She picks up the keys.

"Who was the other?"

Bunko unlocks the door. They move down the stairwell. It reminds Hinami of that house and the hours that she waited upstairs for Kaneki and Tsukiyama to re-emerge. It makes her heart hurt.

"Shuu-kun," Bunko says, not looking at her and keys jingling in her swaying hand, "used to help me cheat at ikebana."

She opens the left-most of the six refrigerators. It's full. The butcher block in the middle of the room is very clean. The knives are all neatly arranged. She must have been restocking recently. Bunko picks up and shakes out two brown paper bags. Hinami cannot imagine Bunko doing ikebana.

"He loves flowers," Himani says instead.

Black fabric rustles and swirls. Bunko sways as if listening to music whenever she's selecting meat. Hinami watches her place the wrapped components of four legs, four whole livers, a heart, and three bottles of blood in the bags. After a moment of deliberation, she picks up a plastic container filled with bone marrow. When she turns back to Hinami, for the first time since Hinami met her, Bunko isn't smiling.

"You and Kanae-kun should eat this with the livers," she says, and her tone is flat and bland; it makes her seem very cold. "The two of you are still young and have a ways to grow. Both of you are very skinny."

Hinami, despite herself, frowns. "You're one to talk."

Bunko laughs. It's a very ugly sound. She sets the container inside of the back with the bottles and sets about taping both bags up. When she's finished, she hands the bags to Hinami, smiling again. It suddenly strikes Hinami that Bunko could be very pretty.

"No one deserves what happens to them," she says; Hinami can see all her teeth, "but they don't deserve it any less."

 

viii.

Hinami, when her heart is in her throat and she's at her weakest, thinks about her parents.

Some days, because she's not a little girl anymore (has lived with Shuu and Kanae and their world too long), she hates them. They did their best, she knows, but they wanted to keep her sweet, keep her innocent. Her mother stayed home and stayed weak, and her father hunted but not carefully nor selectively. They weren't poor, but they weren't secure. Hinami couldn't go to school, and her parents hadn't either. Even if they had survived, they would be struggling. Her life would have been like so many other ghouls: living in squalor and fear or getting swept up into something bigger on false promises.

She knows well how much they loved her. She loves them, too, but she also hates them for it. They didn't prepare her for reality at all. They taught her love and kindness but also fear and helplessness. They gave her morals without strength. They gave her pretty stories and pretty clothes and no way to defend or stand up for herself. They might have not even planned that far. After all, her mother's last words to her, butchered as they were, begged her to live. Nothing more.

That's what she's doing. Hinami isn't a fool. She knows her existence as whatever she is to Shuu is at best an in between existence. Maybe she's parasitic like Kanae, when he's very upset has accused her. But she's living, steadily if unhappily. She isn't useless nor is she the kind of sweet, stupid fool her parents and even Kaneki and Touka would have preferred she be.

She's grown.

And if she hates herself, more than just a little bit, for using her parents memory like this, that's just how it is.

 

ix.

Kanae drops the plate of liver and bone marrow. It splatters all over the kitchen tile. Hinami doesn't blame him.

Shuu is standing in the living room. On his own volition. He's wearing a truly gigantic, badly tied yukata. The pattern of the yukata is Takeda diamonds, so it must have originally belonged to his grandfather, which makes the size make a bit more sense. Shuu is looking at the vase on the coffee table.

"Why," he starts, voice barely audible and sandpapery with disuse, "tulips?"

Kanae dips down to start cleaning up the mess he's made, making wild eyes at Hinami. She swallows, slipping off the kitchen counter stool to approach Shuu. She is very careful to telegraph all of her movements clearly.

"I passed a stall on my way home yesterday," she says, smiling and gentle. "I thought they were pretty."

Shuu stares at the tulips. Hinami thinks, a little wildly, of Bunko. He loves flowers. Hinami had already known that, but she had only bought flowers from that stall yesterday when she passed it every time she went to mail Shuu's documents at the post office. It was a whim.

Shuu sits down on the couch, still staring at the flowers. He hasn't looked at her or Kanae or the spilled meat. He looks terribly small, drawfed by his grandfather's yukata.

"They smell nice," he says, so soft that even with her hearing she barely catches it.

Kanae appears. He's got a plate of sliced thigh and a glass of blood in his hands. He hovers awkwardly for a moment, waiting for Shuu to respond. When Shuu remains engrossed in the tulips, Kanae takes a deep breath.

"Shuu-sama, won't you join us for breakfast?"

Hinami retreats. This is Kanae's domain. In truth, even after two years, she feels like she's intruding when Kanae sits down with Shuu to coax him to eat. Back when she had lived with everyone in that house, she had never seen Shuu eat. She'd known, of course, that Shuu provided all of their food as well as shelter and spending money, but it hadn't really clicked how little Shuu actually shared in what he gave. It isn't something she realised until after everything had happened, and by then Shuu was already like this.

She sets about washing up her finished dishes and throwing out the paper towels that Kanae used to hastily wipe up his spilled meal. He's put all of it back on his plate, though, so she hopes he'll actually eat it. He's surprisingly not fussy about his food ending up on the floor or even in fairly dirty places, which makes her wonder if his background isn't as upper-class as he affects himself. Behind her, she can hear Kanae murmuring in German, a steady stream of what's likely to be nonsense just to fill the air.

It's safe to return to her room. Hinami shuts the door and breathes in, out, trying to calm her heart. She sits down on the floor, rests her back against the door. She pulls her knees up against her chest and clasps her hand in front of her mouth. She shuts her eyes.

He could smell them, she thinks, all the way from his room.

 

x.

The truth of the matter is: Shuu is much more aware than he lets on.

Hinami has always known this. Shuu is undoubtedly very ill. This is obvious. Something broke something integral in him between when she last saw him, smiling and lively and flamboyant, and when he came to find her in that house. She has her guesses about what it was, but she can't be entirely sure. There's a lot of things that aren't obvious. She doesn't know the details of Shuu's childhood. She isn't privy to the secrets of the world he grew up in.

There are a few things she's picked up on. She suspects that Shuu and Bunko were supposed to be matched. She doesn't know Bunko's family name, but, despite what she does, she obviously comes from the same type of world. Kanae treats her with respect, and the way she talks about the meat she processes is the same as how the Tsukiyama family discusses the issue. If she wasn't so skinny, she would likely be very pretty. She and Shuu would have made a very pretty wedding picture.

She knows, because of this insight, there is a part of Shuu that he was supposed to kill. The type of world he grew up in: it doesn't facilliate people like Hinami. Pacifism is a bad word, and the weak are expected to perish. Bunko, Kanae, all the people she's met in the past two years: they don't care about humans or other ghouls. It's like Yoshimura said to Kaneki so long ago now. Yoshimura knew she was listening, but she's pretty sure everyone else thought she just forgot.

In order for ghouls to walk upon the empty husks peacefully, they don't just strengthen their hearts. They kill their emotions. They must defend themselves. And in order to do so, a living ghoul will "forget" the value of life.

Hinami is not a killer. She doubts she ever will be. She is not so changed from that little girl who cried instead of avenging herself against her parents' murderer. But the world that Shuu brought her into is made of ghouls like Yoshimura described when he was explaining Shuu to Kaneki. It's that world, more than humans, that her parents wanted to protect her from. It's because of her parents and Anteiku that she can't be part of that world.

And that is why she's patient with Shuu. Shuu, for whatever reason, even though that world of empty husks and dead emotions is rightly his, is more like her than he like Kanae or Bunko. Kanae hasn't figured this out, but Bunko has. It's why she gave Hinami the blood, why she makes those comments about Shuu-in-the-past. Maybe Bunko loves Shuu as much as Hinami thinks Bunko can love anyone. As much as Kanae, Shuu, Matsumae, and the rest can. There's no way to completely kill emotions.

Hinami wonders, bitterly, if her parents would still recognise her.

 

xi.

"Little princess."

Hinami looks up from his book. Shuu types at the computer. There's two monitors, and he's doing something on a spreadsheet on one monitor with information on the other. She stands up, crossing the short space from the couch to the desk. She smiles.

"Flower man?"

Shuu doesn't look away from the screen, but he pauses in typing. The silence stretches just long enough that it would be socially uncomfortable. This is not abnormal with Shuu, though. Hinami is patient. She waits.

This time, she's rewarded. Shuu's hand drop to his lap, lax. He turns to her. His cheeks are hollow, the bones too sharp. The light from the screens highlight the shadows under his eyes. His hair needs to be brushed. But he's looking at her, actually paying attention, as there as he ever is these days. It makes her smile real.

"When you go to the post office," he says, and his fingers move absently in his lap, drifting towards the ends of his hair that have pooled there, "could you pick up coffee?"

Hinami feels her heart attempt to escape her throat. "Of course," she says because it's so rare that Shuu asks for anything and, when he does, Kanae usually immediately takes over; Kanae is out. "Is there any particular brand you would like?"

Shuu's focus flickers. He breathes out, head dipping. He gazes down at his hands, threading his fingers into his hair. It's such a lovely colour and so very thick. Hinami has seen pictures of Shuu's mother. She had the same unique coloured hair and eyes. He really does look like her.

"Do you," he says, barely more than a whisper, "remember what Anteiku's coffee tasted like?"

Her heart fills her throat. Her eyes blur. She clasps her hands in the hem of her blouse. She breathes in, a little wet, with some difficulty.

"Yes."

Shuu breathes out. He reaches towards the desktop, picks up a pen. Hinami blinks rapidly, bites the inside of her bottom lip. She watches him write down an address, tear off the square from the memo block. He offers it to her, and she takes it. The address is very obviously for the 20th Ward. She knows now without a doubt that Shuu waited until Kanae left.

"Take a taxi," Shuu murmurs, already turning back to the screens. "Buy the most expensive beans."

Hinami folds the paper, slips it deep into her skirt's left pocket. She lingers, watching Shuu typing. Technically, Shuu isn't supposed to be left alone. It's less the worry of outside danger than the very real issue of Shuu himself. He's never done anything lasting, but he can't be trusted to not attempt it. Hinami chews her lip, fingering the address in her pocket.

Shuu stops typing. He doesn't turn to her.

"I'll be fine."

Hinami bites hard on her lip before responding. "I'll go when Kanae gets back."

Shuu is still. Hinami's throat burns. She hates doing this. She knows Kanae hates it, too, although probably for different reasons. He wants nothing more for the Shuu that once so terrified Kaneki to come back. Hinami -

A long, shallow sigh. "Do what you want."

It makes her want to cry. She moves back to the couch, hands clenched in her lap. She can hear Shuu typing. She wonders if he really wants coffee that tastes like the past or if he was just trying to get rid her for a bit. She can't be sure. There's a part of him that's deeply manipulative, but it's relatively rare that it's directed at her. It's easy to forget how much she hates it.

And it's selfish, she knows, but there's a huge part of her that doesn't want the Shuu that Kanae remembers back. That Shuu wasn't her Flower Man, wasn't the elitist, flamboyant, dedicated, and thoughtful person that she grew to trust. She knew he was the Gourmet, who had terrified Kaneki and was much disliked, but she never knew him as that. The Tsukiyama Shuu she knew, who was strange but the only person who thought of her when all was said and done: that's the person she wants back.

It's a long time later when she hears the front door open and close. Kanae's announcement of his return filters in. Shuu doesn't react, continuing typing away. Hinami gets to her feet and heads into the living room. Kanae has a rolling suitcase next to him and is in the process of unlacing his boots.

"Well?"

Hinami crosses to the hall closet to pull out her coat. "He's asked me to buy coffee."

She doesn't have to be facing Kanae to know he's frowning. "But we have coffee."

She buttons her coat, turning around as she does the belt about her waist. Kanae has bought roses. He's absently fingers in the petals. It would very pretty if he wasn't scowling so deeply.

"He wants a specific brand," she says before dropping her voice to a whisper. "You'll need to watch him while I'm out."

Kanae's face screws up, actively reflecting how annoyed he is that Shuu asked her to do something and upset over the implication her last statement. Hinami isn't sure if she's ever met anyone as openly expressive as Kanae. Her parents, Touka, and Kaneki were always trying to hide their worries and pain from her. Shuu used to be expressive, but there was an oddity to his expression, a peculiar iteration of self-control. Kanae doesn't seem to know the meaning of controlled expressions.

He says something in German, motioning with the rose in his hand. "I'll watch him."

Hinami steps around him and the suitcase to grab her purse from the hook by the door before stepping out. She hails a taxi within a minute of stepping out of the apartment building, the driver nodding in response to the address without question. It's always a little bit of shock how quickly and easily she is able to command such things now. Designer clothes and shoes and handbag and people rush to serve. It's completely different to how she knew Tokyo before.

She gives the driver a nice tip and gets out of the car. She remembers this location. The last time she was here, she was dressed in clothing that Shuu had chosen and bought for her, so that hasn't changed. Neither has the small but clearly respectable store front of the coffee bean seller. Hinami blinks and adjusts her purse on her shoulder. The world threatens to tilt backwards in time.

She steps forward and pushes open the door.

 

xii.

Bunko tilts her head, expression politely inquiring. She traces a finger over the curve of the coffee bean packaging. It's a bribe. Bunko smiles, very prettily.

"Well, this is unusual."

Hinami steels herself. She doesn't know Bunko well, not as a person. Her world is very small, and the people in it are limited. She won't make the same mistake as Kaneki.

"Were you and Shuu supposed to be matched?"

Nothing changes about how Bunko holds herself. She picks up the coffee, turning it over to read the small label in the back. Probably judging the typography. Or, Hinami thinks a little bit meanly, she might be struggling to read it since it's a yellow label with white lettering.

"You are a smart one," she says.

She turns to set the package next to the computer terminal for managing her shop's orders and transactions. It's just past lunch hour and there's no one else in the shop. When she turns around, she smiles a ghoul's smile, the kind that gives away her upper-class background. It's close-lipped, and her eyes are clear, focused, and hard.

"You're lost, little girl," she murmurs.

That song again. Hinami isn't going to back down. She digs her nails into the palm of her hands.

"What happened?"

"You mean why weren't we matched?" Bunko asks before laughing, leaning her elbows on the counter, head tilting and dark hair slipping past her face. "But we are."

That throws Hinami. It makes Bunko laugh some more, although it's partially to herself, deep in her chest. The way she holds herself, in the mass of black that is her hair, eyes, and wardrobe, makes her look like a shadow.

"Impossible? Yes, but it's true." Something very ugly unfurls itself in her eyes; Hinami is horrified to see she recognises it. "Poor thing. He's so sweet."

She's gotten herself in this deep. "What do you mean?"

For a moment, Bunko just looks at her. There's an old, fractured pain in her eyes. But she still smiles, and that's what makes her look, for the first time, truly ghastly. Her lips part, forming once again the words to a song.

"There was a boy," and her voice is soft and sweet, and very, very low, "a very strange enchanted boy."

She moves away from the counter. She comes around it and passes Hinami on her way to the shop door. Himani watches how Bunko catches the flow of her right sleeve in her left hand as she uses her right to flip the Open sign to Closed. Bunko turns around, still humming under her breath. She spreads her hands lazily in the air as she walks over to the card display, her flowing sleeves fluttering in dark waves.

"You're an outsider," she says as she begins to rearrange the cards into neat little stacks on the rack, "so you don't know. It's expensive for both humans and ghouls to raise a child. For us, who were privileged to be born into wealth and status, it's not so different."

She takes a stack of cards off and sets it on the ground, beginning to clear the second row from the top. "A child needs to eat to grow. You can't feed a child the same as an adult. You probably grew up eating based on need, and you're a pacifist, so I don't really know how your upbringing worked. For us, due to inbreeding in the past, the quality of available meat, and power politics, our families have a high mortality rate of the main line. It's a lost cause to feed a child that's anything less than perfectly healthy. Shuu and I: we were the best our houses could produce."

She turns around. She holds a stack of white and black cards. She doesn't smile.

"It's important for our families to produce bastards," she says, and there's a bald cruelty to her tone. "That's what Shuu's Matsumae and Kanae-kun are. Produce enough of those, see if they survive to hunting age, and then take them into the family. Loyalty is prized, and fear of starvation is the easiest way to control a ghoul. Everyone needs to eat. Everyone needs to contribute. Once you're no longer useful, you're dead. Shuu and I: we were born and matched and that is all we'll ever be.

"It's why we look down on ghouls like you. Pacifists. You have the luxury of making that choice."

 

xiii.

For the first time since moving back to Tokyo, Hinami does something truly selfish. She picks up the coffee that Shuu asked for, but she doesn't immediately return to him and Kanae. Instead, she takes a taxi to Shibuya 109. She holds her head high, wears Matsumae's impassive, untouchable expression and exudes the air of privilege she's lived the last two years seeped in. She walks into the first store that catches her eye and a young lady rushes to assist her.

"I want a new look," Hinami says, and she uses Kamiko's intonation. "Something with flowers."

Roses, chrysanthemums, and azaleas are in fashion. She moves through several stores, amassing bags full of clothing and accessories, flashing the Tsukiyama family money like it's going out of style. She doesn't care to examine exactly why she is doing this, but Hinami wasn't raised in the Tsukiyama world of self-deception and familial sacrifice. She can acknowledge why she's doing this.

This is her life. She must, above all and against her own emotions, survive.

She has the last shop call a taxi for her. She changes into the last outfit. It's a summer sun dress in a bright cheerful yellow. She wears a necklace with a sunflower pendant, and the new ankle boots in white leather are firm on her stocking-covered feet. The white jacket buttons sweetly below her breasts, accentuating her figure. The taxi driver stares at her for a moment too long before blinking and turning back to the road, colour riding high on his cheeks.

"Do you think," she asks as she hands him a set of folded bills in front of the high-rise she's currently calling home, "I'm very pretty?"

The man flushes. He fumbles the bills. Hinami turns without waiting for his answer, her shopping bulky at her sides. She looks at herself as she gets in through the doors, reflected in the windows of the lobby and then the mirror in the elevator. She burns this image, this well-dressed and sunny person into her brain. She only takes her eyes off of herself to fish out her keys and let herself back into the apartment.

Kanae looks up from a flower arrangement he was working on at the coffee table. He does a double-take. Not like the taxi driver, but the sort of double-take Hinami is used to seeing from how people observe advertisements for things they didn't know they wanted. Hinami sets down her bags and leans down to unzip the boots. Kanae breathes in.

"I thought you were gone for a while."

Hinami sets the boots to the side of the door, next to Kanae's shoes and Shuu's unused Italian leathers. She stands up with the coffee that smells like Anteiku in hand.

"Teach me how to apply concealer."

Kanae blinks. Hinami turns to head into the kitchen. She hears him stand up, following her. She puts the bag of coffee beans into the cabinet over the grinder and maker, the only cabinet that's actually full of foodstuff. When she turns around, Kanae stands in the doorway, watching her in a strangely clinical manner. His hands are in his pockets.

"Now?"

Hinami smiles, the sweet, darling smile that has no place in the person she's become. "Yes," she says, "now."

 

xiv.

Kanae has a massive cosmetics collection. Hinami has never actually seen him use the majority of products. There's a whole spectrum of colours and brands that she has never seen. He sorts through them with the precision and comfort of someone who is personally deeply invested in the ins and outs of their function. Suddenly Kanae's skill with concealer makes sense.

"You and Shuu-sama have a similar skin tone," Kanae says, and Hinami is a little surprised to hear that he's actually letting himself enjoy this. "Give me your hand."

He pulls off the top of a bottle of liquid foundation. She lets him test a small squirt on the back of her left hand, watching the concentration in his eyes just as much as the process of how he blends the liquid on her skin. He tilts his head this way and that as he wipes his fingers on a tissue, a soft noise in the back of his throat.

"No," he mutters. "We'll need to mix that with a moisturiser. Your skin is naturally good. It goes on too obviously."

She looks at her hand, tilting it to try and see what he's seeing. "It looks fine to me?"

"If you want to look like you have paste on your face," Kanae says, waspishly; it makes Hinami laugh. "Here, hold still."

He's put a small amount of moisturiser in the palm of his hand and is mixing it with another small amount of the moisturiser. Everything Kanae does is with a high level of care.

"I visited Bunko," Hinami says as Kanae begins to apply the mixture to her face.

Kanae grimaces but doesn't stop what he's doing. "Curiosity killed the cat."

"Do you know when they're supposed to get married?"

Kanae pauses, fingers over her cheeks. It's just for a moment, but Hinami sees very clearly the moment where Kanae's heart shatters. There's a desolateness that opens in his eyes. But then he blinks, and it's gone. He begins to blend the foundation under the delicate skin of her left eye.

"They were supposed to be married two years ago." Kanae's looking at her, but he doesn't see her at all. "In August."

Hinami swallows. "Oh."

If she was still that sweet girl everyone once wanted her to be, she would have asked if Kanae had been looking forward to the wedding. Now, she's well-aware that it isn't as if Kanae had a choice. Kanae finishes with her face. He wipes his hands on a tissue and picks up a hand mirror. He holds it for her. A smooth, unfamiliar face stares back.

"Wow."

"It makes a big difference," Kanae says, and he smiles, a little shakily. "You're a bit plain, but that works for you. Your features don't really lend themselves to heavy makeup."

She takes the moisturiser and the foundation bottles that Kanae hands her. She turns them in her hands, looking down at the small print on the back of the foundation.

"You love him, don't you?"

Kanae drops the mirror. It bounces on the carpet and rolls a little bit. It doesn't crack. Hinami looks up. Kanae isn't looking at her, and, even if he was, he wouldn't be seeing her. There's tears in his eyes. Hinami feels bad. She's never been responsible for Kanae crying before. She realises she never wanted to.

"Sorry," she says, and she means it.

He swipes at his eyes. They're both so young. They've had their choices made by others who think they know better. No matter how hard they try to kill their emotions or how grand the moral schemes of their parents: this is just who they are. Kanae loves Shuu. Shuu loves Kaneki. Kaneki is dead. All Hinami ever wanted was a family in a world that wants her dead.

She can't protect them from what has already happened, but Hinami is not stupid. She is not blind. She'll take them, these broken, trapped creatures that she's come to call her own, and she'll give them what their world cannot:

Love.

 

xv.

"Sasaki, wait."

He turns. Mado is frowning a little, looking at a file in her arms. It's an unusually contemplative look for such a short file. There's only two pages.

"We've had reports of a new ghoul. We don't know anything useful about it or its feeding patterns yet, just that it doesn't appear in any particular ward."

Sasaki grimaces a little. Ghouls that have mobility are the hardest to catch, even if they aren't particularly powerful in combat.

"So it's nomadic?"

"As far as we can tell," Mado says, closing the file and offering it to him. "It hasn't tried to engage us yet, but it seems to be watching some of our bigger operations in the past couple of months. We only noticed because of it's the same ghoul because of the mask."

Sasaki opens the file. There's a very grainy picture pinned to a single piece of paper. It's zoomed in a figure in a formless hooded cloak that looks neither very tall nor very intimidating. But the face -

It should be smiling.

"A butterfly."

Sasaki blinks. The feels slides away and is gone. He looks up to Mado, who looks back, eyebrow slightly raised. He smiles, amused, closing the folder and tucking it under his arm.

"That isn't intimidating at all."