How this fis came about was that 7Arach7 mentioned that he wouldn't mind a fic on Hide finding out about the presence of ghouls and how it would impact their relationship with Kaneki/Touka. So here it is - although it's probably not what you expected.

Many thanks to my meticulous beta Orkidian for her brilliant betaing and to 7Arach7 for being my Alpha Reader. Shoutout to June Ellie for helping me with tweaking my ending for an awesome finish.

This fic can either be read as Hidekane or Touken or an epic friendship fic. Whatever makes you happy, really.

They are waiting.

All of them.

The ghouls in the room all know what waiting is about; they have experienced it countless times. They do it all the time; it's almost second nature. Be it waiting for a perfect time to unleash their kagune, or waiting in the shadows for the Doves to pass by, or even waiting for the perfect moment to strike, when time freezes and people move too slowly to avoid the perfect sweep of a razor-edged kagune.

Waiting for all of these are easy.

But for all these simple feats, the truth is that ghouls do not wait for stupid things, and they definitely don't wait for a stupid little boy who is in over his stupid little head about the things he can and cannot do.

And yet here they are.


Waiting for bakaneki to wake up.

Kaneki is five and stuck in a new and foreign home and he knows no one on this alien soil. He is shy and awkward, clumsy in the social world ofmaking acquaintances, and prefers to retreat to the things he knows best and cares about the most: his books.

Sitting cross-legged on a grass patch next to the river, Kaneki has a book nestling in his lap. The river flowed in front of him, a soft gurgle of water amidst a hush of peace hanging over the landscape. Occasionally, a car will drive through, the hum of machinery passing by before the quiet serenity lapses back. A constant breeze slides over the greenery, sending the grass rustling while their stalks bend in the wind.

He's reading Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the Sun burned his wings, causing him to plunge into the depths of the ocean and drown to his death. Morbid, perhaps, but Kaneki likes it. He entertains the thought of having his own wings, swooping across the skies. He's not sure why Icarus would be so foolish as to fly so close to the Sun, though. If he was Icarus, he'd be more interested in putting a huge amount of distance between him and the prison of a home he and his father were trapped in.

Still, that's the thing about stories - there are so many possibilities and enchantments to get caught up into. He's marvelling at the illustrations on the side - a boy with brilliant wide wings soaring happily while his father grins at his side, a similar pair of wings on his back - when the trampling of grass alerts him to a newcomer.

It's a boy, and he's noisy and loud and making his way over to Kaneki. Kaneki already doesn't like him, with the way his careless tread destroys the landscape. Almost instinctively, Kaneki hunches his shoulders in defense. Kaneki doesn't trust anyone making that amount of racket and he wishes he could avoid the trespasser. The stranger finally reaches him and he slowly looks up.

This close, Kaneki can see the shock of blonde hair on the newcomer, where the evening light casts them into burnished gold. His eyes are bright and honest, and they're watching Kaneki with an intense curiosity Wearing a yellow shirt and black pants, the newcomer sits next to him.

"Hi," the other boy begins, "will you be my friend?"

It's sudden, but nonetheless short and simple. Yet the boy wears a look of embarrassment that should not belong to this golden angel's face. 'It's strange,' Kaneki thinks, 'This boy shouldn't look more nervous than I am.'

Rather, he looks like he belongs to the world of noble princes and fearsome dragons, of sparkling charisma and golden grins. Boys like these do not talk to Kaneki, and yet, here he is. It's the first time someone approached Kaneki to be friends and the notion is as foreign to him as it is surprising. Kaneki does not know what to make of it.

When the silence drags into awkwardness, the other boy speaks up again, "Oh, and my name is Hide. Nagachika Hideyoshi. I just moved over to this town so I don't have any friends. Oh, and nice to meet ya!" Hide fumbles for a bit before straightening up to beamat him.

For a moment, he forgets to breathe. Hide's smile is brilliant, so bright and blazing that he can only blink stupidly at him, unsure as to why would anyone look at him like that. Like he matters. His smile takes away his breath from the sheer aching beauty of it and Kaneki knows he's lost the moment this boy smiled at him.

Because Kaneki has problems fitting in with the other kids; they are noisy and loud, whereas he is withdrawn and shy. The differences between him and them grow longer and longer until he's not sure how to cross the chasm anymore. That's why he's been reading his books here, where the air is cool, the place is quiet, and he isn't pressured to say something. Solitude has never scared him.

Except this time, there's a boy with gold in his hair and an achingly beautiful grin on his face and he's directing it at him. At Kaneki. At the lone boy at the back of the classroom who no one wants to partner with.

Kaneki may not know why Icarus was dumb enough to fly to the Sun, but he thinks he has an idea: perhaps it's a warm feeling that infuses him with giddy joy, reaching all the way to his toes, and makes starfire bloom in his chest.

It's dangerous and addictive, but Kaneki doesn't care one damn bit.

In the end, Kaneki isn't surprised by his answer. He's known it a long time ago, where a golden prince bends down to reach out to a beggar. "I'm Kaneki, and I'll be honoured to be your friend." A smile breaks his lips.

They shake hands on that day under a sky full of promise, their laughter threading in the air like golden harmonies.

The thing about waiting is that it leaves them drained without them having to anything.

Touka is drinking a cup of coffee, hiding her shaking hands behind the warm porcelain cup. She's trying not to think about what happens if Kaneki doesn't wake up. That thought is too big for her to wrap her mind around and she shuts the door on that line of thought.

Currently, everyone is doing something: Yoshimura is holding up Anteiku together with Yomo, two solemn faces with somber coffee shared between them. Enji and Irimi went back to where they found the injured Kaneki, scourging the place for any traces of blood and hunting down those responsible for this with a vengeance. Nishiki and Kimi are murmuring among themselves and casting worried looks. Hinami is in her room, preparing questions to ask the half-ghoul when he wakes up. ("For when onii-chan wakes up! I don't want him to think I've been slacking off while he's been sleeping.")

Everyone has a purpose.

And Hide? Hide sits next to Touka and grips the seat of the chair so hard she can see the white of his knuckles. From the corner of her eyes, she can see the dejected slump of his body. She does not know what to tell him, maybe, Hey, I'm sure he'll be fine. Don't worry, I'm sure he's probably dreaming about books again like the shithead he is. The words dry up before they even leave her lips.

Touka does not know how to deal with humans in general, with all their emotions and feelings. Touka deals with things her way, in unhinged violence and soaring kill counts, in the spurt of arterial blood and the vivid crimson flash of her kagune. Hers is a dripping red ledger, getting longer every day.

She does not deal with foolish hope and crushing fear, both warring in her guts. She has never sat in a white room and waited for someone to wake up; there never was any need. She's thorough in her work, knows where to get a critical strike, and how to make a single slash become fatal.

She was never good at being human.

At this moment, Kimi and Nishiki walk over to Hide. They speak to him in a gentle tone, the way you speak to a frightened and wounded animal. Touka doesn't bother to listen; the conversation was not meant for her anyway. She tunes them out in to a background drone and by the time they are done speaking, the cup of coffee in her hands had grown cold.

"Nishiki and I are thinking of getting a new apartment, and we're still deciding where would be a good place. Why don't you show us around the area?" Kimi asks, a look of sympathy on her face.

Hide is quiet for awhile before giving one small nod. He slowly gets up on unsteady legs, where Nishiki is there to help him up.

"Let me know if there's any change," Hide rasps tonelessly, before shambling out of the door, Nishiki and Kimi at his sides. Touka watches them go without any comment, notes the shuffle of Hide's feet as he drags himself out of the room and the tired grooves on his face. With Kimi being a human, Touka is confident of the fact that she can get him to at least eat something or maybe take a shower.

Hide has been keeping vigil beside Kaneki for these past few days, barely leaving his side. Touka would know, she was there the entire time too. As much as she knows that humans need some space when faced with a comatose friend, Touka is also aware of when someone is at the edge of their limits, can tell if a meltdown is going to happen soon, and knows a complete mess when she meets one. There's only a certain point that someone can take without breaking.

Given how Hide had forced himself to walk out of the room, he should know too. There are years of shared history between those two childhood friends, a friendship that remains steadfast and true. There's something almost enviable about that, Touka muses, similar to herself and Yoriko.

If the thought of Yoriko getting hurt on her watch sends panic sparking in her gut, then for Hide, it must be a thousand times worse.

Touka does not envy that at all.

It's a bad day. Kaneki may not show it, but something is troubling him, and Hide can spot the downward tilt of his lips a mile away. Hide's mind sparks with possible reasons.

Quarrel with his mother - unlikely, it's seldom this happens. Kaneki's mum is a nice lady, a bit busy but pure of heart. There should be no reason there.

Problem with his school work - also unlikely, Kaneki may be quiet but he isn't stupid, and even if he needs help for his homework, Hide would be the first person he approaches.

Which leads to Kaneki getting picked on by the other students - highly likely.

Hide's sharp eyes detect scuff marks on Kaneki's shirt, the trail of dirt on his arm as well as the bruises on his legs. Including the way he limps and hunches his back, Kaneki must have gotten hurt. Tilting his head, Hide recognises the lost look in Kaneki's eyes, the shell-shocked look of someone who got acquainted with the world of vicious taunts and spiteful cruelty. Kaneki looks hurt and vulnerable, and Hide's heart aches for his friend.

By the time Hide reaches Kaneki, Hide has deduced what'd happened, down to each blow and kick. It's not a surprise, truthfully. Kaneki is a scrawny runt who doesn't fight back. It's no wonder he gets picked on by his other classmates. That doesn't stop the swell of fury erupting in his chest though, injustice burning in his veins at the sight of his bedraggled best friend.

"Hoi, Kaneki! Did you fall off your bed or trip over your shoelaces?" Hide forces a grin on his face and waves.

Kaneki straightens up, eagerly returning his wave.

"Hi Hide! Haha, ah well, I fell down the stairs today." Scratching his chin, Kaneki gives a sheepish grin. He doesn't tell him he gets bullied, not because he doesn't trust Hide, but because Hide is explosive energy and warm smiles - smart and talkative with him when no one ever is.

Kaneki can't lose that. He can't lose this precious friendship with Hide, because he doesn't have anyone else. What if Hide thinks he's a Loser? What if Hide thinks that he's Weak, a Deadweight, and a Burden, and he'll leave him for that?

What then?

Kaneki doesn't want to know.

"Hey 'neki, wanna get some ice cream?" Hide offers. He doesn't say a word about his feelings on the matter; he understands why Kaneki doesn't want to share, and Hide doesn't want to push it. At least, not now.

Kaneki is enthusiastic. "Sure, I like that!"

"Race ya to the ice cream store. Last one there is a rotten potato!"

"Hey, no fair! You're faster than me!"

"Stop whining and start running, 'neki! I'll be old before you finally reach the store."

Kaneki squawks in outrage and chases after his friend, feet stirring up dust on the roads.

Ice cream with Hide is sticky hands and sweet tastes, stealing scoops of ice cream from one another and engaging in childish warfare. In short, ice cream with Hide soothes the aches in Kaneki's bruises and keeps his mind off the pain.

They go home together, arguing about the merits of ice cream to solve world hunger, with the sky shining gold with promise in the evening of the day.

The next time Kaneki is walking home alone from school, he's positively sure that he's going to get pushed around again. He can hear the loud and brash tones of the bullies just ahead of him behind the corner, and Kaneki hunches his back in preparation for the onslaught. He rounds the corner and catches sight of the gang of bullies leering back at him.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't loser Kaneki and his thick books. Think you're so smart, huh?" The leader taunts, a brute of a bully who has the bulk and fists to prove it. Lifting his fist, he prowls towards Kaneki with cruelty in his eyes and violence in his stance.

Kaneki shuts his eyes, braces himself for the blow -

"Back off!" A familiar voice rings across the vicinity. Surprise and horror wars on Kaneki's face as he spins around to catch sight of a cocky grin - one that he knows all too well.

"Hide?!" Kaneki asks, incredulous. He has no idea why he's here at all. Kaneki always walks this way home, while Hide should be making his way home on another street. There should be no reason for him to be here. Because Hide being here means he'll know exactly what's going on: that he is a weak runt, and all runts are left to fend for themselves - alone.

"And who's this? Another loser friend?" The leader hisses out as his lackeys snicker at the side.

Hide's eyes flash with fury as he retorts, "Not as bad as you are, picking on kids half your size." In one smooth motion, Hide lobs his arm, and a smattering of rocks rain down upon the bullies.

"C'mon!" Hide grabs Kaneki's arm and hauls him away, sprinting down the sidewalk with the bullies snarling at their back.

Kaneki will never forget this day, where Hide's hand is warm on his shoulder and their breaths are ragged with exhaustion in the golden hue of the evening. Because sometimes, Hide will run ahead of him and sometimes Kaneki will overtake Hide, but Kaneki remembers running side by side with Hide through the streets and alleys with the bullies hot on their heels. It's one of the most exhilarating and frightening experiences Kaneki ever had, but it doesn't mask the shit-eating grins on both of their faces, Hide yelling "Come and get us!' all the way home.

The bullies never bothered Kaneki since. Not when he has Hide at his side, warm and sweet and loyal to the end of the line.

Her phone vibrates with a message: Aogiri.

Teeth clenched, Touka can feel rage winding around her heart and digging its sharp claws in.

Aogiri… she should have guessed.

When she first got the call from Yomo, she'd thought Kaneki had gotten himself into a petty skirmish with another ghoul. Oh, how wrong she was. The moment she saw the blood splattered body on the floor, Touka knew that he'd landed in serious trouble.

Because, of course he did. He's Kaneki: he gets into trouble wherever he goes because his heart is too big, gets caught up in things that he should not get caught up in due to his hero complex the size of Jupiter. Stupid noble boys and their equally stupid ideas.

It wasn't the amount of blood in the alley, viscous and dripping into the gutters, that disturbed her. Neither was it the sprawl of bloodied intestines and ripped off hunks of flesh splattered throughout the premise. What haunted her the most was the look on Hide's face - that sheer amount of wretchedness as he cradled Kaneki's body to himself, head bowed and the glint of tears in the corner of his eyes.

It had taken a lot of persuasion before Hide finally let them come closer to Kaneki, and she had to stop herself from gasping out loud. The front part of Kaneki's head was caved in, bits of skull fragments splitting through his skin and sending rivulets of blood dripping down the side of his head. Even from where she stood, she could hear the sickening grinding of his bones trying to fuse back together. Yomo brought Kaneki to an underground doctor immediately while Touka was tasked to bring Hide over to Anteiku.

The shell-shocked expression barely left Hide's face the entire time. He was gabbling to himself in one of the guestrooms at Anteiku, Touka watching him worriedly.

"He was there, Kaneki was a ghoul and he was protecting me, I couldn't do anything to help him and it was my fault, I shouldn't have followed those ghouls…" Hide's gaze skittered up to her face, and in one violent action, he gripped her arms tightly and desperately stared at Touka, "He was my friend."

Releasing her, he took a step back and scrubbed his face, "Oh god, what have I done? He was my friend, Kaneki, Kaneki, Kaneki. Who cares if you're a ghoul? I knew it a long time ago, and I didn't care then but I definitely care now, so Kaneki, please be alright.

"You can have all my books, I'll treat you to your favourite ice cream and I'll even read Icarus with you again, I know it's your favourite book, God knows why. You always like those depressing stories," Hide gave a hollow laugh. "But this is real life, 'neki. If you're gone, you're gone. There's no resurrection or second chances, life isn't a fairy tale. That's why you're not a hero, even though you saved me. You can't be one because I was supposed to protect you, damn it." His voice trailed off and he wrapped his arms around himself, looking small and frail - so unlike the bright and energetic boy he usually was.

He's quiet for a while before he speaks again, this time in a much lower voice. "You know, I never understood Kaneki. He was always so serious and solemn, like he had a whole fucking burden on his shoulder as if he was Atlas, and he had to hold up the weight of the world. I tried to make him laugh, dragged him into all sort of trouble and we were happy, two crazy kids taking on the world," a ghost of his smile stole his face before he sucked in a deep breath and continued.

"He may have been shy and reserved, could barely string a sentence before getting flustered, but he was a good person. Always is and the fact that he's a ghoul doesn't change anything. So why… what did he do to deserve this? Why did he get hurt like this?" He lifted up his head, and the sheer amount of fucked up devastation on his face stabbed her straight to the heart, leaving Touka pinned to the spot. She doesn't know what to answer, doesn't know how. What can she say toone man who has lost everything?

Hide turned his head to the side, and shuts his eyes. Released from the paralytic effect of his hollow eyes, Touka found herself sucking in a deep breath. Hide continued, apparently oblivious to her. "I never told him this but he was my only friend, you know? The kind of friend I'll be willing to go through hellfire for. But like the idiot he was, he had to show off and get himself into this mess. Damn it, Kaneki" Head bowed, Hide clenched his fists at his side.

His voice was now barely a whisper and Touka had to strain her ears to hear him. "Why did you have to be so noble, huh? Why did you always have to put everything on your shoulders? I could have helped you. Kaneki, you can call me an idiot or punch me when you're awake but please Kaneki, I beg of you, please be okay." His voice broke on the last word.

Touka had enough. She'd spun on her heels and left him alone because there was a keen pain building up in her throat. The more she listened to Hide, the more she felt like she was breaking from the inside out. She closed the door, leaving him alone to his mutterings.

Leaning against the walls, Touka had bowed her head and muttered, "Come back soon, you shithead."

That was five days ago.

Now, Touka wears exhaustion on her face, stubbornly clinging onto the smallest shred of hope that he'll be fine.

He has to be.

Life with Hide as his new friend is bright and cheerful, right up until it isn't. Because one day Kaneki wakes up, and his mum...doesn't.

He's ten when She died. Ten, when his whole world got flipped upside down. Just a young boy of ten, those people will say while shaking their heads, as if age means something in the face of death.

Death is still death, and grief is still grief, sharp and aching in the hollow of his throat.

His life used to be marked in bright colours and vivid shades, an innocent child who gives freely to the world and expects nothing in return. After Her death, the whole world is steeped with sepia. Everything goes dull. Distant.

Death lingers in the living more than the dead. People talk to him and he hears a muted murmur. Lights and colours become a washed-out gray bleaching the world. They pat him on the shoulders and he cannot feel them, he cannot feel anything.

When a life has been snuffed away, the empty hole it leaves behind cannot be filled. There's a hollow cave in his chest, so deep and dark that it feels like he's drowning from inside out, drowning in an ocean of darkness.

Kaneki feels lost. Empty. Adrift.

Kaneki tries to smile in the mirror and instead, he watches it slide off his face like wet glue, sticky and dripping down his cheeks.

Hide finds him immediately after news of Her death comes out. In a typical Hide-fashion, he bounces towards him and engulfs him in a huge bear hug without saying anything. Kaneki would say something, except he can't summon any energy to do so. He feebly pats Hide's back instead and lets his arm fall to the side.

Hide steps back to cast a worried look at his friend. "Hey 'Neki," Hide begins carefully, "You haven't been going to school these past few days and it's only today that they told me what's happened. I hope you're fine."

Fine? Kaneki is not fine, he will never be fine. Fine is such a mundane word, so normal sounding as if he didn't have his whole world flipped upside down. Kaneki thinks he will not be fine for a long time.

"Do you want me to lend you my school notes? I can also help you with your school work, if you want." Hide offers.

"No," Kaneki tells him flatly with just the barest curl of anger. It's not that he isn't grateful for Hide's help, it's just that he wishes everyone will stop treating like glass, like he's weak, as if he's going to shatter any moment now.

Hide says, "You're-You're just not-"

And something in Kaneki snaps. Where there was an empty hollow in his heart, fury rushes in like a frothing tide. "You think I can't take care of myself? I can, you know!"

Hide looks stricken, "That's not what I meant."

Kaneki snaps back, "Then what do you mean, Hide? Pray tell, since everyone around me has been acting like I can't handle anything lately. Is it because She died? Or is it because everyone pities me?" There's an ugly sneer on his face and his emotions are jagged spikes in his chest. He knows he shouldn't lash out at Hide, but he's mad. Madder than he was for a long time. "I don't need your pity, or any of your help. So tell me Hide, do you think I can't handle anything by myself? That I'm just a weak orphan?" Kaneki spits out.

"I know you can handle things fine," Hide replies simply, "But you don't have to do it all alone."

Hides's voice is smooth and patient and cuts into his anger like a knife to hot butter. His anger crumples in the face of Hide's calm response and the fight leaves Kaneki's body in an instant. Kaneki drops his gaze. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Hide says softly. He shuffles his feet and asks, "Hey, do you want to join me for ice cream? My treat."

Kaneki looks behind him, at the house with too many memories and reminders of Her, and looks back at Hide, warm and patient at his side. Some pains are still too raw so he shuts his eyes and sucks in a deep breath. "Yeah," he nods, "That'll be great." More softly, he adds, "I'm sorry for shouting at you."

"It's okay," Hide says, and reaches up to pat his head. "It'll get better."

Better, huh? Kaneki doesn't think he will ever be 'fine,' but he thinks that at least he can be 'better.' It's a nice thought.

"Promise?" Kaneki asks, lets his feelings show in his eyes because he wants to believe.

"Yeah," Hide looks right back at him and smiles, soft and warm, "I promise."

Looping his arm around Kaneki's shoulders, Kaneki briefly tenses up at the contact, before he decides that this is okay and he relaxes.

Nagachika Hideyoshi, a bright and brilliant boy who's the darling of everyone's eye. Nagachika Hideyoshi, always quick to give a grin and quicker to lend a hand. Nagachika Hideyoshi, or just Hide for short, extraordinary friend to one very ordinary Kaneki Ken.

Hide, a boy who surely has more important messes to clean up than a grieving shadow of a bookworm, never once lets Kaneki drop back into the darkness.

Hide keeps his promises.

Touka still remembers when Yomo returned with a bandaged Kaneki in tow.

She was in the common room when they appeared, one with solemn eyes, the other with closed eyes. They'd converged on Kaneki, looking at him worriedly but he remained motionless. With nothing to be done, Yomo put Kaneki in one of the rooms and hooked him up with an IV drip. The only thing everyone could do now was to wait for the boy to emerge from his catatonic state.

He didn't.

Five days, five agonising and gut-wrenching days, and still nothing. His heart monitor was beeping steadily and the charts showed everything to be normal, but there was no sign of wakeful activity from him. As for Hide, his previous spiel had dried up, and he spent every waking moment sitting next to Kaneki, looking paler and thinner each day no matter how much they forced him to eat something.

Yoshimura was in charge of prying the details of the fight from Hide. The details he provided were scant but insightful.

Speaking in halting tones and a dry whisper, Hide admitted that he was tailing Aogiri members in one of his searches. They had found out about this, and was in the midst of torturing Hide, when Kaneki heard the commotion with his ghoul-enhanced senses and stepped in. Initially shocked to see his friend, Kaneki quickly recovered his senses and told Hide to run. Unwilling to leave his friend behind, Hide witnessed Kaneki's ghoul transformation. Kaneki was powerful, but coupled with the fact that he was defending his friend from the onslaught of attacks, he was crippled in one vicious team attack. There were about eight members who were all powerful. Individually, their skills were slightly below Kaneki's, but as a team, they were close to invincible.

At this juncture, Hide began heaving and gulping air like a dying man. He seemed to age ten years as he dug his nails so hard into his palms that they left pale half-crescents on his skin.

Kaneki had fought bravely, his rinkaku tentacles slashing furiously to protect them both. A few of the Aogiri members got injured, but quickly turned the tide of the battle when they focussed on Kaneki's weakness: Hide. They grabbed Hide and used him as a human shield while Kaneki watched on helplessly. From then on, it was a lost cause - Kaneki's counter-attacks were cruelly crushed, and he went down in a tangle of spasming red tendrils and choked off screams. Hide hurled himself at Kaneki, but the ghouls gripped him tightly. The attackers converged on Kaneki and tore him down from where he stood. All Hide could see amidst the sea of bodies and blood was one brown eye staring back at him, silently pleading for him not to interfere. And then it was over, and Aogiri left a broken Kaneki adrift in a sea of blood.

Crawling over to Kaneki, Hide reached out a shaking hand towards his friend's face.

"H-hey Hide," Kaneki coughed, "T-t-there's been a couple of things I w-w-wanted to tell you…" Blood left his lips, and before Hide's horrified face, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he went limp.

Seconds later, Yomo appeared before them, alerted by the pungent scent of blood in the air. Immediately, he dialled Touka to get help.

Kimi and Nishiki had gently took Hide aside and patiently explained the world of ghouls to him, but the wealth of information hardly registered. Hide spent the day in a haze, stumbling on shadow feet with glassy eyes.

So here they are now, waiting.

Waiting for bakaneki to wake up.

Hide sends him text messages, or more accurately random nonsense, in the middle of the night. Whether by a strange coincidence or some greater power at work, these texts coincide with the days Kaneki has nightmares. So he'll type in 'Lol' and send it to Hide, which is basically an excuse for Hide to fire off more ridiculous things at him.

Not that he minds.

During lessons, Hide even manages to sneak in a couple of texts:

'KANEKIIIIIIII, the history teacher is so boring. I'm going to jump out of the window in boredom.'

'You'll die, dumbass.'

'Will not. I'm an awesome and invincible person. Instant defense against falling from great heights.'

'Tough, I'm going to be hot on your heels if you jump out of the window. Then the only dead body will be mine.'

'Awesomeness can be transmitted, Kaneki. I'll protect you from all those nasty monsters, oh sweet damsel in distress.'

'...I think I just died reading that text.'

'Don't be melodramatic. By the way, why did you die? Is it because you just can't take the truth, my darling princess?'

'Cause of death: drowned in absurdity.'


There's something terribly amusing about annoying Hide, and it only shows the depth of their friendship that Hide is the only one to uncover the snarky nature of the typically shy bookworm. Kaneki blames it all on Hide, of course, claiming it's because of his influence that affected his young and impressionable self.

"You, young and impressionable?" Hide asks in disbelief, "You've got to be kidding."

"There's only one way I became this much of a sarcastic kid, and we all know who's to blame. I mean look at me, I'm a respectable gentlemen with impeccable manners and flawless personality."

"Watch out, buddy. I think your ego is going to hit the breaking point soon."

"Can't compare to yours, I'm sure. Yours got so big they had to move it to Mars."

Hide shakes his head disapprovingly, "You, Kaneki Ken, are absolutely ridiculous." It doesn't help that he's failing to cover the grin on his face, though.

"You wouldn't love me any other way," Kaneki smirks and yeah, they're both grinning now, wide idiotic grins covering the whole of their faces.

Kaneki may be alienated by his other classmates for his shy and reclusive nature and for that, he doesn't have many friends. He just has one.

That is its own kind of warmth, nestling deep in his heart, and it doesn't matter if his mum and dad are dead, or the house he lives in is too big, too quiet, and most importantly, too empty. It also doesn't matter that he has trouble fitting in with the rest, and no one sits next to him during recess, and no one wants him in his group projects. And it also doesn't matter if he has to live with the fact that he if he dies, none of his family will weep - because they're all dead. There's no one to look after him or make him lunch or reply him when he says 'I'm home' every day.

No one.

Except there's Hide, and Kaneki's life isn't just himself anymore, it's 'Hide-and-Kaneki', and he likes how that sounds, just two dumb boys against the world, and Kaneki wouldn't trade it for anything.

He's happy.

Touka is thinking about Kaneki's childhood, mulling over what a normal human life is like, free of fear and betrayal. It must be nice, she concludes, even better with a best friend you can trust your life with. Lost in her thoughts, an inhaled breath escapes unnoticed by her until a familiar voice drags her out from her musings.

"Hey, are you a horse?" Kaneki rasps, blinking exhausted eyes at her.

Relief bursts behind her collarbone and it takes all her willpower to not bolt out of the chair and rush over to his side. Instead, she mentally heaves a sigh and thank whatever gods may be. Not wanting to look like she was worried about him, Touka lifts up one eyebrow, "No, why would I be?"

Touka briefly wonders if Kaneki has knocked a few screws loose. She really hopes not. Wearing a weak smile on his face that looks far too frail for her liking, Kaneki says, "Then why the long face?"

That bastard.

"You want to die for real this time, shithead?" She counters back, although there is no heat in her words. She has to stop herself from running towards him even though her limbs twitch with restless energy. Instead, she slides out of the chair in one smooth motion and pads over to his side. It is stupid but she is tempted to brush his hair away from his face where it hangs limply at the sides. It doesn't look right to see Kaneki looking so worn out and vulnerable.

"No thanks, Touka. Although your offer is most appreciated." This time, the smile that he gives her is more genuine, more sincere. And yet, something feels off. There's something missing from the whole equation, a part of a puzzle that remains unsolved. Kaneki is Kaneki, but it's not him.

Not really.

She can't shake off the feeling that something is fundamentally different from him. He looks fine, tired maybe, but that's hardly surprising considering what he's been going through.

"How long was I asleep? It feels like I've been rotting here for an eternity," Kaneki groans, shifting on the bed to make himself more comfortable. His muscles protest. "Okay, okay, moving is a bad idea."

"Don't move, I'll get you some water." Touka gets up to pour a cup for Kaneki, but not before she places a hand on his forehead.

"I'm fine," he reassures her, and pats his gauze-covered hand over hers.

Humming, she hands the glass over to him. Kaneki sips the warm water and sighs, hands wrapping around the cup as the steam rises into his face. "Mmh, the wonderful miracle of water."

Unable to control a burst of affection for the male, Touka whispers, "What's more miraculous is that you're awake and safe."

"Never knew you were so soft-hearted," Kaneki teases.

"Don't get used to it." Touka snaps back. In a softer voice, she admits, "Well, everyone was worried about you, shithead. Hide, especially. He could barely leave your side, kept gabbling on about your childhood which is incidentally, good blackmail material for me. "

"My childhood?" Kaneki frowns. "I don't really think it was that eventful. Are you sure that source is trustworthy?"

Touka rolls her eyes, "Of course he is. He's your best friend, Kaneki. Albeit your only friend."

"Mmh, are you sure?" Kaneki says.

Touka flicks her eyes at him, takes into account the neatly wrapped bandages and IV drip at his wrist, checks the heart monitor - which beeps steadily at her - and flips through the charts in the search of something missing. Kaneki's pulse beats warm and sure under her fingertips and she leans back, confused, "Hide, of course. You got injured protecting him."

Almost reluctantly, she lifts her head to meet his eyes. She has to stop herself from bolting out of the chair, has to force herself to breathe.

The first time Touka met him, Kaneki was shy and hesitant, but he had a gentle gaze, soft and sincere. It was a gaze that held warmness inside, speaking of a lifetime of companionship and trust with a friend at his side. He looked at the world with something like resigned fondness, at peace with the jagged nature of life, but still optimistic about it. He looked at the world with hope.

But now, pinned by the dead look in his eyes, Touka can only feel fear creeping in. Not fear of Kaneki, but fear for him. True, he had a horrible childhood and no family, but at least he had Hide, a vibrant companion that made the bad things less terrible.

Because Kaneki grew up steeped in loneliness as his parents were dead and he had to live by himself in an empty house. His shy nature made him overlooked and looked down upon everywhere he went, but he had a best friend who believed in him and kept him company when the silence got too loud.

Take away his best friend - remove Hide - and what do you get?

Who do you get?

You get a boy who had to endure not one, but both of his parents' deaths, lived by himself in an empty flat, and was constantly looked down upon and ostracized by society all these years.

You get a boy who knows loneliness like it was his calling, a boy who knows every layer of grief and sorrow lining his ribs.

You get a boy who was alone from womb to tomb, a whole lifetime of misery after misery.

You get...this.

Kaneki is looking at her with a gaping hollow ache in his eyes. A certain lostness to him, like it was his default mode all along, a mode no one ever saw. Touka has seen a lot, killed both ghouls and humans to protect herself also for sport. She has watched them die one by one, the light fading in their eyes and their last breath slipping out. She has lost herself in bloodlust and ravaged the world, plunged her hands deep into the ribcage of a man and pulled out his beating heart, and now it feels like that, except worse.

Because there's a terrible look on Kaneki's face, like he's crying inside.

"Hey Touka," Kaneki begins carefully as he fiddles with the IV drip. His forehead creases with worry. He's looking at her and Touka can't even face him properly, there's something gripping her throat tight.

Even before Kaneki has finished his sentence, Touka already knows that she will never forgive herself for this, not in a million years, not even if she dedicates the rest of her life in erasing all the red in her ledger to find atonement.

"Who on earth is Hide?"

Once upon a time, there was an abandoned coffee shop in a corner of the street. In the shop, there was a boy with fire in his hair and a clear gaze, bright and brilliant like the Sun. With a soft smile, he said, "Let's go home already," while scarlet blood slowly dripped down his wound. The golden boy had reached out to a centipede monster and grabbed his hand.

He pulled back a friend.

Theirs is a tale of finding hope and salvation in a fallen world, but that is another story for another time.

This is not it.

And that wraps up this oneshot. Thanks for taking the time to read it, I really hope you enjoyed this emotional roller coaster ride of a fic.

On the theme of memory loss, it appears in my other TG fic (The Centipede's Sting) so feel free to check it out if it interests you! It's my current pride and joy because it touches on my favourite subject: madness. (Not my madness, it's Kaneki's madness. There's a difference.)

Well, I know reviewing can a chore at times but even if it's just a word or a sentence, it really means a lot to the author. :) Thank you!