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Blood Vessel

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0.

Why is it bad for ghouls to live?

Why?

 

i.

The first three months that she spent as part of the Tsukiyama household were the hardest.

It wasn't that it got easier because it didn't. The Tsukiyama household is not nice. It is not pleasant. But it does not try to be. It is an old house on old earth. Its values, aesthetics, and morals are even older. There's a sense that it's a world out of touch, and there is an equal sense that it will transcend. It is the mountain, unmoveable, framed by the moon, unchanging.

She learned, in those first few months, more than she ever had before. She spent hours with Matsumae, who brought her up to her age level on kanji. She learned basic phrases in English, French, German, and Italian, although some of the German is certainly not things she would have learned from a textbook. She learned what she could expect of her existence as a woman and a ghoul.

Hinami had known, in her own way at fourteen, that her academic knowledge was lacking. Her parents had done their best, but both Mother and Father had only had education through middle school. The lessons with Matsumae drove it home. Hinami's reading comprehension was the only part of her schooling that was above average, and she knows that she'll likely never catch up in mathematics and the sciences.

"Your life will not be mathematical nor scientific," Matsumae said when Hinami voiced that conviction in a moment of weakness. "There is no need to mourn that."

That is the sort of person Matsumae is. She is patient, calculating, and remote. But, unlike the rest of the family, she is not unkind. The lessons in kanji and society that she taught Hinami were things she would have learned before being sent to Seinan Gakuin High School, if she had grown up in the Tsukiyama household. They were designed to give her tools to survive rather than pass entrance exams.

"Have you," Matsumae asked, a month after she arrived, "begun bleeding yet?"

Hinami remembers staring blankly before the meaning dawned on her. She had only read about it in books, and there had been one, fleeting conversation with her mother three years ago by then. She flushed. Shook her head. Matsumae, for the first time, showed an expression. It was a frown.

"You're fourteen?"

Hinami nodded. Matsumae had stepped forward, reaching out and touching her fingertips to Hinami's shoulder, her waist. She caught Hinami's wrist and turned over her hand. She let go.

"You smell like you should be able to, and you seem to be healthy" Matsumae said, looking at her with something like contemplation. "Perhaps it's stress."

It was the only time that Matsumae acknowledged the circumstances under which Hinami came to be part of the Tsukiyama household. Besides the initial discussion that had been held, Shuu with his grandparents behind closed doors, there had been little said to Hinami about her purpose or presence. Hinami would have asked, but Shuu sank into a three month period of silence following their return to the Tsukiyama estate near Mount Takao. She, with Kanae and Matsumae, spent the majority of their time alternating between attempting to draw him out of it and quietly, desperately despairing. Hinami became a necessity, the only person that could be depended upon to draw Shuu into something resembling responsiveness in his worst moments.

The reality is that, if not for Shuu being Shuu, Hinami had nothing to offer that unmoveable and unchanging house. Whatever Shuu said to Kamiko and Asahi didn't matter, nor did Hinami's poor education and physical uncertainties. Shuu was sick, and she was, especially in those first three months, the only thing keeping him alive. That, it quickly became, was her purpose. Keep Shuu alive. If she had not been able to do that, she would have been deemed superfluous.

Those three months, spent sitting on the edge of Shuu's bed while Shuu attempted to burrow himself into the headboard, into the mattress, out of existence, were the hardest. She sat there, often in tears, and slowly, to save her own sanity, gave up useless, childish wishes like I wish Kaneki had taken me with him. She gave up unnecessary questions and unattainable hopes. Kaneki had made his choice, and this is what it wrought.

There is a part of her, the one that has learned hate, that hates Kaneki for it. How dare he leave her and Shuu? How dare he condemn them to living like this in this unmoveable and unchangeable place? How dare he claim to care for and protect them and then go and throw his life away? How dare he lie to them? How dare he?

It was this hatred, this selfish self-defence, more than anything else, that made her grow up in those first three months in the Tsukiyama household.

 

ii.

She knows, as soon as she sees the spotlights set up, that there is something wrong. Perhaps they know about her. Next to her, Kanae breathes in. He knows it, too.

"We should go."

She doesn't say anything. The spotlights aren't turned on, and they don't face the evacuated apartment building Kanae chose for their vantage point. They're crouched in the open windows of an alcove that they can easily retreat into if the spotlights are activated. Kanae breathes out, pulls his left hand's glove off to worry his thumbnail.

"Can you hear anything?"

She tilts her head. The Doves mill about below. There's enough for there to be three full squads, which is also unusual. They're all chattering relatively casually. Snippets of plans for an upcoming birthday party. Gossiping about colleagues who irritate each other. A meandering conversation about growing difficulties with work-life balance. The latter makes Hinami want to roll her eyes.

"Nothing useful."

Kanae grunts. Hinami reaches out, pushes his hand lightly away from his mouth. He scowls but lets her. He puts his glove back on, flexing his fingers. Hinami knows that gloves are a good, practical tool, but she doesn't like them for herself. They remind her of that man, the one with the strange, sunken face. He wore gloves over a wedding ring.

"Ah," Kanae says, pointing off to the side.

Hinami blinks, realises she's been brooding, and looks. There's a group of four who have just arrived in a car. She blinks again, surprised despite herself. This is a raid on a meat supplier and three squads are already excessive enough. This squad all look relatively young, so maybe they're here more for observation than for actual combat. Hinami squints. Even as Doves go, these look a little funny.

Kanae hands are fisted on his knees, his shoulders hunching forward. "Something's off."

The spotlights turn on. They tense at the same time, but the spotlights don't rove. They're immediately trained on the front of the shop, blasting the windows, door, and low awning into stark relief. Someone with a bullhorn begins the regular spiel of we have you surrounded. In a way, it's almost comical. The meat supplier is one who serves the poorer ghouls here in the 17th Ward. He might have been A-Rank ghoul when he was in his prime. He is only claim to fame is that he does his job without associates. This will be a slaughter.

Hinami sighs. She chooses to watch the four late arrivals. One has green hair, one black, one a bizarre orange, and the one who appears to be in charge a bizarre white and black combination. It's as if they've been deliberately colour-coded. They're all standing next to a female Dove, towards the back of the operation. The one with white and black hair motions to the shop front. Pay attention. So it is a teaching exercise.

As if on cue, the door to the shop opens. As soon as it does, Hinami knows this is going to go badly. A ghoul in his late middle age stands in it. He's run this shop for over thirty years, longer than half the people watching this scene have been alive. He's bald and wears a butcher's apron and shop shoes. He has his mask in his hands, facing outward to identify himself as Raccoon. There's a moment of strange silence as he observes the scene before him and the CCG stares back. Next to her, Kanae goes completely still.

It happens in less than a minute. Raccoon drops the mask. There's something shining in his hands. He is a meat supplier. He's a butcher. He feeds ghouls who are poor and unpicky, and he does it alone. He drops to his knees. The blade flashes.

He does not scream.

 

iii.

Raccoon's suicide is not reported in the news.

Hinami spends the night and morning alternating between feeling vaguely hysterical and distinctly despairing. Kanae, when they get back to the apartment pours them both blood wine, but neither of them drink it. Sometime before sunrise, Kanae showers and goes to his bedroom, although Hinami knows he isn't asleep. She can hear him shuffling around, probably ironing and folding clothes.

Shuu, unusually, seems to sense something is up and emerges from his room and study just after one in the afternoon. He's holding his hair, and he looks like he probably didn't sleep at all the night before. He gazes over the living room before finding Hinami where she's still sitting at the kitchen counter, the blood wine gone sticky and stale in the glass in front of her. She watches Shuu inhale, the moment barely visible under the heavy robe that he's wearing over pyjamas.

"Ah..."

Hinami presses her hand over her mouth. She feels, inexplicably, like crying. She watches him move across the room. His hair is brushed. Matsumae went home six hours ago, so he must have done it himself. Shuu stops in front of her, his left hand holding the robe closed and his right hanging at his side. She gazes up at him, feeling fourteen and lost again.

"That's gone bad."

She feels her eyes tear up even as she nods. She pulls her hand from her mouth and picks up the glasses, moving over to the sink to pour them out. She rinses them and the sink, puts the glasses on the rack to wash up more thoroughly later. When she turns around, Shuu is still standing there. He's watching her, reddish eyes dull but aware.

"What happened?"

There's the sound of a door opening. Kanae appears in the hallway that adjourns the two smaller bedrooms, one of which belongs to Hinami, and their shared bath. His lips are painted the most striking shade of red Hinami has ever seen.

"In the 17th Ward, the ghoul Raccoon -"

Shuu blinks, his lips parting. "Rappiyakuda-san?"

Hinami vision blurs. Oh, she thinks. Oh. She swipes at her eyes with her shirt sleeve.

"Yes."

"Ah," Shuu says, level and uninflected and knowing. "I hope he died well."

That makes her look at him. Shuu is looking down at the hand holding his robe closed. His hair falls in his face, over his shoulders, around him. He smiles, the smile of his station: close-lipped, small, and terribly, terribly empty. She blinks. Forces herself to inhale.

"He died as he wanted to," she says because that's the truth.

Shuu looks up. Hinami's heart is in her throat. This is the most active that Shuu has been since they moved back into Tokyo nearly half a year ago. It's the most aware he's been in almost a year. As she watches, Shuu's smile widens. It remains close-lipped, but it's not small. It's not entirely empty.

"Oh," he says, and she knows it's to Kanae, too, whose eyes are huge even from across the room. "That's a good death."

Hinami swallows. Shuu moves around the counter to the coffee machine. She watches, with a strange sense of increasing confusion, as he opens the lid to check the water level and take out the dirty filter. She looks back to Kanae, who is standing in his doorway with his mouth open. Not in shock, but like he started to say something but is now too afraid to. She knows how he feels. She looks back to Shuu to watch him throw the filter away. He turns back to the machine, opens the cabinet to observe the overflowing connection of coffee beans and grounds. This is the most they've seen Shuu do outside of his routine in so long. They don't want to break the spell.

Kanae crosses the room, pulls out one of the stools on the outer side of the counter to sit. His eyes are very wide, both due to how raptly he's watching Shuu and the white that he's drawn into his waterlines. He must have been in the middle of doing his eyes. The way he's done himself soften his features somehow, although Hinami doesn't really have the eye for how or what.

The lid snapping back down on the coffee maker jars her attention back to Shuu. He adjusts the dials slightly, his hair falling forward. He turns back to them, absent-mindedly catching his hair. He twines it between his fingers, soothing the ends. He's looking at them, eyes dull but not entirely empty. It's like how she's gotten used to him staring at the computer screen while he types: largely apathetic but processing the information before him. She wants to reach out and cling to him, to this bizarre, aware Shuu that makes coffee and actually knows they're there.

"Was that the first time?" Shuu asks, the coffee maker beginning to drip behind him. "That you saw someone choose death?"

Hinami nods. Kanae, to her surprise, also nods. Shuu's expression softens. It makes him look very sweet, almost gentle. Somehow the sweetness makes Hinami suddenly aware of how sick he looks. He's extremely skinny, and his eyes are over-large. It throws his cheekbones and jawline into sharp contrast. Usually, he just looks vacant and empty; in the worst moments, more than a little tortured. Right now -

His expression opens. He doesn't smile with his teeth, but his eyes move with the motion, the muscles in his cheeks lifting. It's not her Flower Man, nor Kanae's Gourmet, nor the Shuu they've grown to know. This is someone else.

"I watched my mother," this strange, sweet, wonderful person says, quiet and low and so, so gentle. "You are allowed to grieve something like that."

 

iv.

After that, something shifts. Hinami isn't sure exactly what, but she knows it's happened. It's impossible to miss. Shuu starts talking to them.

"You've grown," he says as Hinami helps brush his hair.

She stares at him in the mirror. Shuu looks up from his lap and stares back. Hinami swallows, unused to the attention. He doesn't blink, doesn't waver. She'd forgotten how intense his gaze could be. It reminds her of how well he knows her.

"Thank you."

It isn't that he's gotten better. It's a huge, conscious effort for him to reach out, to look beyond himself. Shuu is still Shuu. He lapses into periods of listless unproductivity more often than before, which causes the amount of paperwork he produces for Hinami to mail to start to fluctuate. There's still uneasy days followed long nights when they don't dare leave him alone. But there is a part to Shuu, like there is in Hinami and, the more she looks, even Kanae, that reaches, that searches.

They're all flowers seeking sunlight.

She catches Shuu and Kanae in the kitchen a fortnight after Raccoon. Shuu is standing by the coffee maker. He never sits on the stools. Hinami is starting to wonder if he's afraid of falling off them. Kanae is sitting on a stool, and his back is to the hallway. He's in his shirtsleeves, and his hair is unstyled. It's wavy. As she watches, Shuu reaches out, catching his fingers in it.

She nearly draws back, sensing she's stepped on something very private, but she can't. It's like how she watched her mother die or Raccoon's suicide, but the nature of the situation is entirely different. Shuu's expression is calm, almost placid. While she can't see Kanae's face, she knows how he would look. Amazed. A little pained. Openly adoring. Shuu is his sustenance, his everything.

Shuu runs his fingers through Kanae's hair. Kanae lets him. Hinami understands. In their world, touch is always purposeful. This, too, has a purpose. It is soft, caring, and very, very gentle. Shuu says something in German and Kanae responds. They have different accents. Shuu says something more, and Kanae giggles, light and happy. It's a sound Hinami has never heard before. She wants to know what his face looks like. This is what they must have been like, Hinami realises, before.

Very slowly, Shuu smiles back. It's small, close-lipped, but it reaches his eyes. The smile holds. Kanae says something, soft and staccato. He reaches up, catches Shuu's hand in his hair. He holds it, cupping it against his neck. It's a gesture of absolute trust. Shuu lets him.

It makes her smile for the first time in weeks.

 

v.

They use the Tsukiyama family name for everything. Their names are registered for the apartment as Tsukiyama Shuu, Tsukiyama Kanae, Tsukiyama Hinami. They're supposed to be siblings. Hinami has forged documents to prove it. It's a necessity. She technically has no legal identity. Using her real name would alert the CCG. No one ever says her family name, and Hinami isn't sure if anyone besides Shuu or Kamiko actually still know it.

Maybe it should make her feel sad. It doesn't. As Fueguchi, she is nobody. Fueguchi is known as a ghoul. She has no legal standing, no assets, no rights. A ghoul is worse than an animal, less than the insects and starving, mad dogs they're so often compared to.

"He shouldn't have taken you," Matsumae said, blunt and bland during the first session that Hinami had with her more than two years ago now.

There was no question as to who he was, but Hinami was still naïve enough to ask, "Why?"

Matsumae placed a sheet of genkouyoushi in front of her. "Do you understand the concept of human rights?"

Hinami paused. Matsumae set a mechanical pencil in front of her, three spaces down from the rightmost row. Hinami picked up, biting her lip. She did not need to be told their nature as ghouls was to be the point of this lesson. She knew it would be unpleasant.

"No."

"Then that is what I will teach you today," Matsumae said.

The fact of the matter is that ghouls have no rights. Ghouls have less rights to exist than any living organism. A blade of grass has more rights than ghouls do. Kill on sight. Condemn any who conceal or harbour ghouls. That is the law. Ghouls are aberrations, not fit to walk the same earth nor to breathe the same air.

"I don't," Hinami said, before she realised it wiser to hold her tongue, "believe it's bad for us to live."

Matsumae reached out. She rotated Hinami's wrist, adjusting the angle of her brush. Ink dripped on the washi.

"Existence," Matsumae said, removing her touch and pointing at the washi, "has no inherent worth."

The Tsukiyama household is unmoveable and unchanging. Hinami spent hours copying down ancient tradition in calligraphy and modern laws on genkouyoshi. Sometimes Shuu or Kanae would sit in on her lessons. With Kanae, Hinami realised after a while that there was a pattern to the lessons he observed; they all had to do with Japanese law. With Shuu, it was rare that he was there because he elected to be. It wasn't always possible to know where Shuu really was.

"Hinami-san."

She blinked, looking up from her suitcase. Matsumae stood in the doorway, and the late afternoon sun lit her back. She cast a long shadow into the room Hinami called her own for two years. She, Shuu, and Kanae were moving back into Tokyo the next day.

"He shouldn't have taken you."

Hinami nodded. She knew, and she understood. They are ghouls. They have no rights. They have no inherent value.

"But he did," she said.

That is what matters.

 

vi.

She comes back from the post office and the coffee shop a few days before the start of Golden Week to find Shuu in the living room. He's wearing one of his grandfather's yukata. He looks up when she enters. He's been standing over Kanae, who is on the couch. There is blood on Shuu's hand. Kanae has a kitchen towel pressed over his right ear. He is visibly shivering. His eyes are shut tight.

"Hinami-chan," Shuu says, and he is very calm, very aware, very much here. "Please get the bone marrow in the fridge."

She sets down the file box and crosses the room. Past the counter. She opens the refrigerator and grabs the half-empty carton at the front of the middle shelf. It's a plastic container with snap tabs. She unsnaps them, setting the cover in the sink. The faint metallic scent of coagulated blood wafts.

"Should I microwave it?"

"No," Shuu says, and she realises he's not muttering; he's speaking clearly. "Bring it to me."

Hinami turns and crosses over to the couch. Shuu extends his blooded hand and takes the container with a slight nod of the head in thanks. Standing behind Kanae, she can smell that the blood on Shuu's hand is Kanae's. The kitchen towel also smells heavily of Kanae's blood.

"Kanae-kun," Shuu says, and he selects a small piece of marrow with his clean hand. "Open your mouth."

Kanae shudders hard but complies. Shuu places the marrow in his mouth, and Kanae closes his lips, swallows. After a moment, they repeat the process. Hinami waits until the carton is empty of marrow. She holds out her hands over Kanae's head. Shuu passes the container back to her.

"What happened?"

Kanae says something in German. It comes out harsh. Shuu glances down at him, waiting a moment to see if Kanae is going to translate for himself, before looking back at Hinami. His eyes seems to shift, a light flickering weakly.

"Doves."

"Here?" Hinami asks, alarmed despite herself.

Shuu looks down at Kanae. Kanae hunches. He pulls the towel away from his ear. It's not bleeding, but it hasn't begun healing just yet. There's a ragged exposed hole where the outer ear should be. He bunches the towel in his hands, gripping it like he wants to tear it apart. He looks at it and his knees.

"In the fifth ward," he says, strain making his voice higher than usual. "They're expanding their influence."

Hinami swallows. Her heartbeat has picked up. Shuu doesn't looks surprised, but Hinami can't tell if it's because he knows something or if this is simply Shuu being Shuu.

"Wait," Shuu says and his gaze drifts towards his study; Hinami can see the light shifting in his eyes, gaining a focus she hasn't seen in a very long time. "I need to..."

He walks away without completing the thought. He passes through the door to his study. He leaves it ajar. The sound of the desk chair rolling on the carpet followed the noise of mouse clicks and typing. Hinami stares. She looks down at Kanae, who looks up at her. He looks a mess and just as confused as she feels. She knows that Shuu has no obligation to explain himself to them, and it's never been a problem before. Shuu is less predictable lately.

Hinami swallows. Breathes in deep to attempt to calm herself down. Kanae twists on the couch. He brings his legs up, tucking his knees against his chest. His feet are bare. Hinami breathes out.

"You should eat more."

"Ja," and Kanae lifts his right hand, palm up. "Please get me a spoon. I'll finish that."

She really does admire how unpicky Kanae is; coagulated blood is Hinami's least favourite thing. "Do you want me to microwave it?"

There's a very short pause before Kanae wiggles his fingers slightly. "No. It's fine."

Hinami puts the container in his hand and turns back to the kitchen. She retrieves a spoon before a thought occurs to her. She opens the refrigerator and takes out half of a kidney in a plastic zip bag. She puts it on a plate with a fork and knife before returning to Kanae. She hands him the spoon and sits down next to him on the couch. Kanae blinks at her once before breathing out through his nose and turning to the blood. They eat in silence, listening to Shuu in his office, typing.

Kanae finishes first. He holds the container in his hands, spoon resting inside of it. Hinami looks over at him. His ear is regenerating, and the blood from the injury has dried on his skin and in his hair. He reaches up and rubs his left eye.

"You should shower."

"Ja," he agrees, but he's looking at the doorway to Shuu's study. "He told us to wait."

Hinami looks down. She cuts the last of the kidney in half. She puts it the larger of the two pieces in her mouth. Chews. Swallows.

They wait.

 

vii.

Despite all that has happened, Hinami knows relatively little about Shuu and Kanae's lives prior to two and a half years ago. She knows that Shuu was the Gourmet and what he did for Kaneki, her, and everyone else. She knows the circumstances of Shuu's upbringing, although not the details. She knows that Kanae was raised either in or around Munich, a combination of cloistered and repressed. She knows they have similar fighting styles and that they're likely blood-related in some way. Perhaps that makes Kanae's feelings for Shuu inappropriate, but Hinami is also quite sure that Shuu does not return them. Perhaps he doesn't comprehend them. Shuu, Hinami realised even back when he was still Tsukiyama to her, is extraordinarily intelligent except when it comes to his own emotions and expressing himself productively.

Which brings her to the current issue. Bunko has just let herself into the apartment. She's wearing what looks like a medieval-style cloak and is in the process of taking off leather boots. All black, of course. But it's less the shock that Bunko has a key and more the issue that there's another person with her. It's a human girl. She holds a camera. She spots Hinami, grins, and waves.

Hinami, standing in the doorway to her bedroom, is at a loss for words. Kanae, just out of the shower in a towel and ear still only partially regenerated, looks like he's about to explode.

"What -"

Shuu appears in his office doorway. He doesn't make any particular noise, but it's impossible to ignore him. Hinami isn't sure if it's because she's become so attuned to Shuu or because Shuu, despite his health, has an undeniable charisma. He's still dressed in one of his grandfather's yukata, which are ridiculously large on him. His hair isn't brushed. He blinks at them all like they're back on the Tsukiyama estate in the garden and a breeze has ruffled the flowers.

"I forgot," Shuu says, and he starts to cross the room to the kitchen; his feet are bare. "We only have four mugs."

Hinami, for the first time in a long time, wants to put her face in her hands. Kanae makes a short sound, like he wanted to say something but has just realised he's nearly naked. He moves the three steps to his room's door, opens it, enters, and shuts it. Bunko laughs, undoing the latch of her cloak. The human adjust her hold on her camera, looking over the scene with undisguised interest. Shuu, inexplicably, is simply making coffee.

The human crosses the room and climbs up onto one of the kitchen stools. It makes Hinami come back to herself enough to leave her bedroom doorway and cross to stand next to Bunko. Hinami offers to take her coat with a motion, but Bunko waves her off with a toothy smiles just as Shuu takes out their coffee mugs. The human girl rests both her elbows on the tabletop.

"You look really bad, Tsukiyama-kun."

Hinami winces. She doesn't dare look at Bunko, who probably find this all amusing. Shuu is looking inside of one of the mugs.

"We don't have sugar or milk," he says.

"That's fine," the human says, unphased, and Hinami can only conclude that this human is very familiar with Shuu somehow. "It's only ghouls who live here."

Shuu doesn't respond. He's watching the coffee drip into the pot. Hinami sits on one of the kitchen stools. Bunko drapes herself along the end of the counter. She's wearing the cloak still, the hood over her head. The human adjusts her camera, resting it on the counter-top. Hinami feels like she's losing her mind.

"Shuu," Bunko says, and it's very lazy, very familiar in a way that makes Hinami's skin crawl. "Takeda diamonds really don't suit you."

Again Shuu ignores them. Kanae's bedroom door opens. He's wearing white slacks and a red sweater. His entire expression is more than a little wild. He crosses the living area, a hand coming up to wipe his still wet hair out of his face. The hair that would have been around his injured ear is ragged. He needs a haircut.

"Shuu-sama, what are they doing here?"

Shuu turns around. His head tilts slightly. It makes his hair fall into his face. He doesn't brush it away. He looks, Hinami thinks inanely, a little bit like one of the woodcuts that someone collected in the library back at the Tsukiyama estate.

"Your ear hasn't healed," he says, in the same tone that he observed the lack of mugs, milk, and sugar. "You should eat."

Kanae throws up his hands, spewing German that Hinami needs no knowledge to know is extremely impolite. For a split, immature moment, she wants to agree with him. But then Shuu blinks, and, suddenly, he's there.

"Kanae-kun."

It's like the world flips. Hinami has to brace her hands on her knees. Kanae freezes. The Shuu standing in the kitchen hasn't moved, hasn't done anything, but he's different. He's looking directly at Kanae. Everything about him is present. His gaze is clear and alert. It's the knowing person, the one that's shown himself to be gentle, but now he is undeniably commanding. She doesn't know this Shuu at all.

"You should eat."

Kanae nods. He goes around the counter to the refrigerator. Shuu watches him. His hair is still in his face. Hinami glances at Bunko and the human. The human has her camera in her hands and seems to be debating whether or not to take a picture. Bunko is just smiling lazily, her cheek pillowed on her folded arms.

"You look like your mother."

Shuu glances at Bunko. Kanae pulls a butcher paper-wrapped chuck of meat from the top shelf. Shuu smiles. It's such a gentle expression. A camera shutter goes.

Hinami feels like the world is trying to pitch her off.

 

viii.

The human is a high school friend of Shuu's named Hori Chie. Hinami would have never guessed. Chie looks younger than Hinami, and Hinami is aware that she doesn't look particularly mature herself.

"Were you -" and Hinami realises the problematic nature of her question too late; she forces herself to finish. "Friends?"

Chie shrugs, swirling the contents of her mug. "I used to provide him information," she says, and the way she says it makes it clear that she knows something of what happened with Kaneki.

She and Chie are drinking coffee on the living room couch. Kanae is eating ribs across from them, oddly subdued. Shuu and Bunko have gone into his bedroom to do something about Shuu's yukata. Hinami isn't entirely sure how Shuu does it, but he still makes the best coffee that Hinami has had since Anteiku. It's something that neither Hinami nor Kanae are able to replicate, even if they don't disturb the settings on the machine. Shuu doesn't seem to notice that they look forward to when he makes coffee, but Hinami is starting to realise she needs to start paying better attention to how much Shuu does processes instead of how much he doesn't.

It stirs a thought. Hinami sets her mug down, glancing at the doorway to Shuu's study. It's gotten very quiet. She stands up, glancing at Chie and Kanae. They blink at her.

"Sorry. Excuse me."

She crosses the room, enters the study. The monitors are in sleep mode, and the drapes are drawn. It's very dark. She pauses for a moment at the door to Shuu's bedroom, listening. It is mostly shut, although not completely; a sliver of electric light breaks through the slight opening. She can hear fabric being shuffled.

"'Ko."

Hinami's heart jumps a little. The shuffling stops.

"Mhm?"

A shifting that's a body enveloped in fabric. "Rappiyakuda?"

A clicking of the tongue. "Don't move."

"'Ko."

There's a pause, punctuated by fabric being pulled. Shuu breathes out. She can tell it's Shuu because Bunko starts speaking as the gust of breath ends.

"He knew his time was limited," Bunko murmurs. "We who do thing the old way: you know we're taught to see the signs."

"And?"

Bunko chuckles. There's a couple of footsteps. The sound of lacquer against lacquer.

"Sit down. Your hair's a mess."

There's more shifting. Hinami glances back over her shoulder. Chie and Kanae are unabashedly watching her. Hinami grimaces, turning back to the door as Shuu's voice filters out, soft but in that particular tone that shows he's mentally present.

"Should I petition?"

Another pause, this time punctuated by the sound of a hairbrush through long hair. Hinami lifts her hand, debating whether she should enter. The only thing preventing her is that she senses that there's something private about this. Not intimate because she doesn't doubt that they both know she's standing here, but private somehow in the physical nature of their actions.

Bunko, strangely, sighs. "How are your studies?"

Hinami blinks, confused, as Shuu responds. "They're not an issue."

The sound of the hair and brush stop. "Shuu."

Shuu actually sighs. "'Ko -"

A clattering. "I shouldn't," and Bunko actually sounds angry, sounds alive, "have to tell you that you're in no position to ask anything of anyone."

"There's a mirror," Shuu says, very, very dry.

Hinami's hand is still raised. She feels frozen. They're clearly arguing, although about what exactly Hinami isn't sure. There's a shifting sound followed by the sound of the hair brush working through hair again. Bunko hums, a low, sonorous note.

"You need to eat."

A short, sharp sigh. "Bunko."

"Shuu," and it's equally sharp.

They're angry. Hinami's heart hammers in her chest. This is utterly different than anything she has encountered in all of her time knowing Shuu and in the Tsukiyama household. She feels oddly and desperately helpless. Not the same sort of helpless she's grown familiar with when the casual cruelty of their world rears its head, but a helplessness like she used to feel when her parents argued. She wants it to stop, but she's afraid. It feels intrinsically out of her control.

It's Bunko who breaks the stretching silence. "Asahi-sama -"

"I know," Shuu says, and it's sharp, open, and angry, the most emotion Hinami has heard from him in a long time. "I will present the case. It's -"

"Hard," Bunko interrupts, equally harsh. "You've been a shut-in for over two years -"

"I thought," and Shuu is so bitter in tone it makes Hinami's stomach roll, "you didn't want -"

"You damn fool," Bunko spits.

Complete silence. Hinami's hand is still raised. It's shaking. She can feel tears in her eyes. She wants to force open the door. She wants to run away. She wants -

"I want -" Shuu says, and his voice is wavering, awkward, and high; he swallows audibly. "I wanted -"

Bunko breathes in, and it sticks. Hinami is horrified to realise they're both crying. Hinami is crying, too.

"We don't get what we want," Bunko says. "We're ghouls."

Shuu laughs. It's loud. It fills the entire apartment.

It is an ancient grief.

 

ix.

There is a certain casual cruelty to this world.

Hinami has always known this. When she was younger, she was afraid of it. Her parents tried to protect her as parents, Hinami honestly thinks, should. They weren't strong enough, but they did their best. She cannot and will not fault them for that. They were honourable and good in their intentions, and that, at least, is something they did right. She was lucky. It is, perhaps, the only thing about her life that Hinami considers lucky.

For all the wealth, beauty, and aesthetics of the Tsukiyama family and that upper-class world, it is clear there were never any attempts to shield the children from the casual cruelty that is the reality of being a ghoul. Rather, that casual cruelty was taught and beaten into them, the upper-class world constructed in such a manner that never allowed anyone to forget or take for granted the pervasive cruelty. Hinami has stopped trying to keep track of the number of times she's seen Shuu or Kanae struck by Tsukiyama Kamiko or, somewhat less often, beaten by Tsukiyama Asahi. Even then, it's not the violence of the events themselves that bothers her. What has kept her awake for full nights is the knowledge that they accept it. It's part of their routine. Kanae sometimes makes the mistake of curling and protecting his face, which usually makes Asahi's beatings worse. Shuu stays down and lets whatever happens happen.

Often, after the violence is over and Hinami and Matsumae are allowed to help Kanae clean up, Kanae cries. It's how Hinami learned the difference between Kanae's real tears and his dramatic ones. Shuu never cries. He's at his most docile after these incidences, which also means he's mentally the farthest away. Somehow, with Shuu, she doesn't think this is an entirely new development due to his illness.

Hinami remembers, very clearly in the manner that she knows will never fade with time, reaching out and brushing Shuu's hair out of his face almost exactly six months since that night. His eyes were closed, his face lax. The latter is what had made her heart seize in her throat, made her break her promise to never let anyone in the Tsukiyama household see her cry. She'd never seen him so relaxed, not even when he slept.

He looked happy.

She knew. He wasn't there. He'd gone away, gone somewhere no one could follow. It was the first time she truly feared that he would never come back.

It was also the first time she was truly alone.

 

x.

Shuu looks amazing.

Bunko has switched him out of his grandfather's yukata and into a black suit that she must have brought with her. She's brushed and bound back Shuu's hair in a low ponytail, and she's put in cuff links that distract from the thinness of his hands. He's still far too thin, and his pallor is unmistakably unhealthy, but Bunko has balanced him out as much as possible with her usual monochromatic palette. He still looks sick but more like he's a model recently stuck on a few overnight flights and a runway diet.

Chie takes a picture not of Shuu but of Kanae. Kanae looks like something godly has occurred. Hinami herself has to admit that she's become fairly unused to seeing Shuu in western clothing. Matsumae was in charge of dressing him when they were living in the Tsukiyama estate, and Hinami has gotten used to Shuu being done up in the beautiful furisode kimono that Matsumae prefers. Shuu dressing himself in anything more than what will keep him warm has become something of a lost cause.

Bunko passes by to the kitchen, leaving Shuu standing in the middle of the living room. He isn't looking at them. He's looking at his shoes by the door. Hinami sits down on the couch, hands in her skirt.

"Are you really going out?" Chie asks.

Shuu doesn't look at her. He's still staring at his shoes. Hinami wonders if he actually remembers how to put them on. He hasn't left the apartment since they moved in six months ago.

Kanae shifts, about to stand up. "Shuu-sama -"

Bunko comes back. She has a plate of diced arm muscles and a fork in hand. It's the last of the food in the refrigerator. Shuu's attention shifts from the shoes to the food. Bunko's expression is flat. Shuu looks up at her. They're all staring at Shuu.

"It's not going to matter," Shuu says, flat as Bunko's expression. "Grandfather will not react well."

"If he beats you and you die for lack of regenerative ability, it will matter," Bunko says, blunt and bland.

"Wait," Kanae says.

Everyone looks back at him, even Shuu. Kanae doesn't flinch under the scrutiny, which reflects something else of Shuu he's internalised. The blatant nature of his alarm, though, is all Kanae. It radiates from every muscle, the wideness of his eyes, the openness of his face.

"You're petitioning Tsukiyama-sama?" and Kanae's voice pitches awkwardly, like it's about to crack. "Because of the Doves?"

Shuu seems to shrink, sag, even though he doesn't move. "Grandfather," he says, and it's the awful, slow tone that he uses just before he usually attempts to do something to himself, "will have a better solution than what I can provide."

Shuu turns. He's looking at his shoes. Kanae's mouth is open. He looks like he's been torn apart.

Something in Hinami snaps.

She doesn't know what it is. It's never happened before, but suddenly she can't. She just can't. She can't let Shuu go. She can't let this happen. She can't.

"Don't," she says, and she doesn't recognise her own voice. "Don't leave me alone."

Shuu's head snaps around. He stares at her. His eyes are wide, aware, awake. His lips are parted. There's surprise, wonder, and horrible terror. But she can see it, deep in his eyes. It's like watching a key slide into place.

"I'm sorry," Shuu says.

He sounds like he's dying, drowning. He's never looked so alive.

"This is something I have to do."

 

xi.

Is it...

Okay if I live...?

 

xii.

Shuu and Bunko are gone for over twenty-four hours. Kanae and Hinami know there's no point in trying to follow them. Chie stays and watches the television they've never used. She doesn't attempt explain her presence, and Hinami doesn't care to ask. She's too upset about everything and too worried about Kanae who has locked himself in his room and not come out since Shuu and Bunko left.

Shuu is going to do something to fix the situation for them, to prevent Doves from chasing after Kanae and her. Hinami regrets their excursions out now. She'd thought it would be useful to gather information on Doves and the movement of the CCG. She'd thought it would make them all safer, that it would allow Kanae and her to protect Shuu from more damage. She'd thought that she could do something. She'd thought that she had grown.

She'd made the same mistake, she realises now, as Touka. As Kaneki. As her parents.

Hinami clutches her pillow to her chest. She looks up at the ceiling of the living room. She doesn't think that Bunko will let Shuu die, but she doesn't know what Bunko can do otherwise. Bunko is a butcher, but she is old-fashioned like Raccoon. Raccoon committed ritual suicide. So did Shuu's mother. Shuu, according to everyone, is very much like his mother.

"Hey."

Chie is standing in front of her. Her back is to the television, and it throws her into a strange, shadowed relief. Her expression is bland, maybe politely curious. Hinami hates her with such violence she can feel her kagune shift under her skin.

"You can ask, you know."

Hinami bites her lip hard to keep from lashing out. "No," Hinami says, and she has no will to hide her anger and bitterness. "That's not how we work."

Chie tilts her head slightly. "No?" she asks, and she frowns slightly, more contemplative than anything. "Huh. I guess Tsukiyama-kun really is odd then."

Despite herself, Hinami finds her mouth moving. "What you mean?"

Chie blinks at her, but it's more of a natural blink than a reaction. She turns and sits down next to Hinami on the couch. She leaves a bit of space between them, although whether this is out of politeness or simply because that's how she decided to sit is unreadable.

"He always asks," she says, taking the camera strap off from her neck and leaning forward to set the camera down on the coffee table. "I've never met anyone who asks as many questions as he does."

Hinami blinks. Chie is right. Shuu does ask an unusual number of questions. That is, when Shuu is talking at all. He used to talk a lot, she remembers, before.

Hinami swallows. "What," she asks, very softly, "was he like?"

Chie doesn't need to have the question clarified. She looks at Hinami like she's the most interesting thing in the world.

"Did you not know him before?"

Hinami shakes her head. She really didn't. She knew of the Gourmet, who people hated and feared, and she knew someone whom she called Tsukiyama-san, who provided for everyone and tried to come up with ways to make Kaneki's life better. None of those people are her Shuu.

Chie smiles. She reaches out and picks up her camera again. She depresses the little button that brings up the most recent photo she's taken. It's of Shuu in the front door, dressed so strangely in black. He's glancing back, all sharp bone and thick purple hair.

Live

"I'll make a print of this for you," Chie says, angling the camera so she can better see the picture on the tiny digital screen. "Free of charge."

 

xiii.

Shuu comes back.

He's alone.

Hinami stands up. She knows she probably looks a mess. She hasn't slept, showered, or changed clothes in over twenty-four hours. Shuu looks comparatively normal, although his suit jacket is missing. He shuts the door. He looks up at her, to Chie, who has woken up on the couch, to Kanae, who slams open the door to his room. Kanae's hair is in disarray. He looks like a wild animal.

"Where's Bunko?"

Shuu looks at Hinami. There's an emptiness to his eyes. It's different from his usual passivity or indifference. He opens his hands. The door key and the electric fob for the building clatters onto the floor. There's dried blood under the nails of his right hand. The cuff links are gone from his shirt. It looks fresh and suspiciously clean. He must have used his kagune. Hinami inhales. None of the blood is his.

"Shuu-sama -"

He shakes his head. "Tsukiyama."

Kanae sits down. Hinami thinks she's about to throw up. Shuu's face splits into a smile, wide and empty and horribly, horribly sad. A camera flashes.

"It got a bit messy," he says.

It's not Shuu. It's the Gourmet, who Hinami never missed. It turns Hinami's stomach. He laughs, shrugging with up-turned, theatrical hands.

"I suppose," he says, "I'm out of practice."

But then Shuu keeps laughing. There's a strangeness that takes hold of him, and the laughter fractures, fragments. Hinami takes a step forward. Her right foot. Her left. Shuu keeps laughing, but the sound is too long. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Kanae getting back to his feet. He's shaking like a newborn colt.

Hinami swallows. Pull deep inside of herself.

"Tsukiyama -" and she hasn't called him that in so long; she hears her voice break on it, "-san?"

Shuu looks at her. Hinami holds out her hands. His hands are still up-turned, but his elbows have come back to his sides. He looks like he's trying to catch something. She reaches out.

"Tsukiyama-san?"

His knees buckle. Hinami lunges. His knees still make an heavy thud on the wooden floor, but she gets his hands, prevents him from splattering on it. His nails, up close, are broken. He must have been clutching something. He's gone quiet, and that's why Hinami makes the mistake of looking for an expression.

There are tears on his face.

Hinami shifts her hold to his shoulders. She pulls him close. She feels Shuu convulse. He's made entirely of skin and bone. Hinami looks up at the ceiling. She feels Shuu's fingers, feels them twist and fist the fabric of her skirt over her knees.

He lets out a soft, piercing sound.

Hinami remembers, as she tries to never around Shuu, her mother. She remembers how she used to cling to her mother's skirt. She remembers how safe she felt, up until she no longer could. Her mother died for her.

Hinami bites her lip. Wraps her arms around his shoulders. Shuu makes another of those sounds. Hinami closes her eyes.

"Flower man."

Shuu cries.

 

xiv.

Shuu arranges to move them back to the Tsukiyama estate.

No one protests. Hinami certainly wasn't happy here in Tokyo, surrounded by so many humans and left in the dark about why they were even there in the first place. She hadn't known that Shuu was apparently doing a law degree at Todai remotely or that he was doing financial reports for the Tsukiyama import and export holdings. She could have asked, but she doubts Shuu would have explained it. Not because he wanted to keep her in the dark but because he wasn't allowed to when Asahi was alive.

Kanae is openly relieved. Living here in Tokyo put him in charge of hunting for all three of them in a high-risk climate. Kanae is not a strong ghoul nor particularly talented at hunting. He would have been sufficient if it had been just him or maybe Shuu, who generally eats very little. But there were three of them, and Hinami and Kanae are both still maturing. They had to depend a lot on Bunko, which was wearing down Kanae's self-worth to the point that Hinami had begun to seriously worry about his mental health. There's a fragility to Kanae because he lacks individuality.

Shuu wasn't happy, but that is not something that is going to change. Shuu, Hinami has begun to accept, is damaged. There's something integral that's gone wrong in him. Maybe if they weren't ghouls Shuu could get the help he needs. But they are ghouls, and there are only so many options for them, no matter how rich or how poor they are.

"Tsukiyama-san."

She watches Shuu breath in. Out. He looks like he's both extraordinarily tired and in pain.

"Yes," he says.

Hinami crosses the room. Shuu is sitting on the foot of his bed. He's managed to get himself dressed in slacks and socks, but he's staring at the dress shirt that Kanae selected like it's the Mona Lisa. Hinami can't pretend to understand Shuu's thought process, but she knows that dressing is really hard for him.

"Matsumae and the movers will be here in a few minutes. Kanae's gone down to wait for them. Let me help you."

She takes hold of the dress shirt. Shuu lets her direct his arms through the sleeves, holds upright and still for her to button it. It's one that Bunko sent over with Chie the day before, a pearly white that makes Shuu's hair look especially purple. Hinami picks up the thick black cardigan and helps Shuu get it on and buttoned. It would usually be too warm for the current weather, but Shuu gets cold easily.

"You should have something to eat."

Shuu sighs. He presses his fingers to his eyes. He runs them through the front of his hair. It needs to be brushed.

"I'll just," he mutters, "end up throwing up."

Hinami frowns but doesn't refute the statement. Since he killed Asahi, Shuu's stomach has been turbulent. The best he's been able to do is small cups of fresh blood, and even that he's had variable success in keeping down. Hinami is entirely sure that this is not due to injury but psychological, but there's not much that can be done about that.

Shuu stands up. He wobbles slightly but steadies. Probably his blood pressure is low and his vision momentarily tunnelled. He stares into the void for a moment, looking much as he has for the past two and a half years: damaged beyond repair.

"Little princess."

Hinami breathes in. "Yes?"

Shuu looks at her. For a moment, he simply looks, observing her. Hinami lets him. He breathes out.

"Sorry," he says. "You didn't deserve this."

Hinami shakes her head. She reaches out, takes his hand. She used to feel like he towered over her. She smiles back. She tightens her hold.

"Promise," she says as Shuu gazes down at her, present and aware and himself, "you won't leave me behind."

He smiles. It's his smile: small and sweet and very, very sad. He squeezes her hand. She curls her fingers around his.

"I promise."

 

xv.

The Tsukiyama family estate is huge.

That is Sasaki's first impression of it. The second impression he has is that it's very crowded. There are dozens of cars parked outside of the main gate with people in funeral formal wear all around. Sasaki recognises a number of politicians and a few members of the news media as he and Mado make their way to Washuu Yoshitoki and Marude Itsuki.

"Remind me again," Sasaki whispers, "why I'm here?"

Mado glances at him, which is enough to communicate her annoyance. "The Tsukiyama family is a major funder of our research and development division."

That doesn't answer the question, but Sasaki knows better than to press the issue around Washuu and Marude. Even if Washuu is much more pleasant than the rest of his family, he probably wouldn't take kindly to ignorance in front of a major benefactor of the CCG overall.

Marude nods to them before addressing Mado. "Did you have any trouble getting here?"

Mado sighs. "No, but it was a long drive."

Sasaki is saved from having to add to that comment as they reach the main gate. A dark-haired woman with a very dour expression and funeral kimono that is likely worth more than Sasaki's yearly salary bows to them in greeting. Washuu immediately bows back, slightly lower, which signals Marude, Mado, and Sasaki to do the same but even lower.

She straightens, allowing them all to do so as well. "Washuu-san, thank you for coming."

Washuu inclines head. "My condolences, Matsumae-san, and my apologies that my father was unable to come himself."

That privately alarms Sasaki slightly. Is the Tsukiyama family so important to the CCG that Washuu Tsuneyoshi himself should have come? Matsumae's expression is smooth and dour even as she indicates them to enter through the gate. She turns with them, falling into perfect step alongside Washuu.

"I will take you to Tsukiyama-sama."

"Ah," Washuu says, and Sasaki doesn't miss the way the hesitant note makes even Mado's eyebrows raise. "How is he? I know he's been -"

They pass beneath an ancient willow tree. A large pond with koi and lily pads sprawls to the right of the path, and a garden of stones and artfully placed rose bushes frames the left. A group of women in funeral kimono are sitting in the rock garden. It looks like something out of a scroll painting. Sasaki feels like he's in a museum.

"He is a bit young," Matsumae says, "but he is ready as any could be."

Sasaki gets the distinct impression that wasn't what Washuu was asking at all, but Washuu doesn't get to press the point because they've arrived at the entrance to the main house. It is just as grand, traditional, and intimidating as the rest of the estate. Matsumae removes her zori in the open genkan and Sasaki along with everyone else hastens to remove their shoes. Sasaki can hear low voices conversing just beyond the partition.

"Please wait a moment," Matsumae says, bowing again. "I will announce you."

She slides open the middle panel. The voices stop except for a brief murmur in a male voice and Matsumae's short response. Matsumae turns, stepping politely to the side so that they may enter. Washuu goes first, followed by Marude, then Mado, and finally Sasaki.

"Washuu-san. Marude-san. Mado-san. Sasaki-san. Thank you for coming."

Sasaki stares. There are three people in the room. Two sitting and one standing. They are all dressed in funeral suits and kimono more understated and even more obviously expensive than Matsumae's. There is a teenage boy who frowns deeply, obviously displeased with them all for some reason. There is a girl with a serious face and very clear eyes, who holds herself with perfect stillness. They sit to the left and the right respectively of the standing figure to whom Washuu bows very low to.

"My condolences for your loss, Tsukiyama-sama."

Sasaki bows very low, deeper than the rest. It makes him feel like his heart is falling out of his mouth. It hammers so loudly he can barely hear.

"Thank you, Washuu-san."

They straighten back up. Tsukiyama gazes at them. He's all angles, long, thick purple hair, and strangely coloured, intense eyes. He looks like a model. Beside him, the girl with clear eyes gazes straight at Sasaki. It makes him feel like he's falling.

"Your presence," Tsukiyama says, soft, sweet, and very, very sincere, "is greatly appreciated."