A/N: Written for the Diversity Writing Challenge, e23 - write a fic that is present tense.
Shadows from the Dice
It's coincidence, perhaps, or the dice of fate have fallen slightly differently. Kaneki is reading The Black Goat's Egg and so is Kamishiro Rize, but their eyes don't meet. She doesn't notice him.
He notices her, of course. He's got a passing, fanciful crush. But even as Hide saunters up to the blue-haired waitress, he knows it's never going to happen. She looks so far out of his league - beautiful and elegant and probably rich as well, considering the new gilded text in comparison to his own second hand copy - that any relationship would be a fleeting dream at the most. It wouldn't be sustainable. He'd wind up trying too hard to be happy.
The blue haired waitress sees them off, after their coffee cups are drained and dry. Hide goes one way, without a girl's number. Kaneki goes the other, without a date.
That night there's an accident. Steel beams fall at a construction site.
The next day, two friends go to college as normal, unscathed.
Hide's a social butterfly, and busy with multiple clubs and comittees aside. So when he's off with a senior from the pharmaceutical department, Kaneki pleads off and wanders to the library instead.
He doesn't know the danger. He doesn't know Nishiki, has never met a ghoul before.
He waits along at Big Girl that night, until the pitying stares and unanswered calls are too much.
The next day, there's no Hide nor Nishiki at Kamii, either. And Nishiki's girlfriend runs away from him and he doesn't give chase.
It takes a couple of weeks to realise he might never see his friend again.
Alone. He's now completely alone.
He stops going to Big Girl. He still goes to Anteiku though, because that waitress is there: the blue haired one Hide liked, and Kamishiro Rize is there too. Except she isn't. And the staff won't talk much about her either, but when his spilled guts decide to keep going and he's telling the kindly old man about Hide and Nishiki as well. About his aunt, about his mother even. About how alone he is now.
The old man's coffee is delicious. The old man himself is sympathetic. The blue haired waitress, on the other hand, tells him to never come back.
In a rare show of rebellion, he shows up at Anteiku again the next day. There's a little girl strugglig through a book in the corner.
His heart goes out to her. He becomes a common fixture in the cafe after that, helping her read.
He should expect it. He doesn't. Hinami suddenly stops coming to Anteiku. The blue haired waitress glares daggers at him until he switches his order to a takeaway cups and spills a little onto himself in a hasty retreat.
He doesn't go to Anteiku very often, after that. Sometimes he lucks out at the blue-haired waitress isn't there. Sometimes she is and she's still glaring daggers at him, but they seem almost sad now. Not as openly hostile, anyway.
He doesn't try to talk to her, though. He figures it's not worth stirring the pot.
Kamii is still empty. The missing posters of Hide are covered with the cultural festival and hardly anyone says his name after all.
The old man at Anteiku says Hinami's parents died, that she's been taken by a relative.
Kaneki's heart goes out to her even more - just like him - but now Hinami is out of his reach. The old man won't tell him where she's gone. Like Rize, she's moved on to other parts.
Again. He's alone again.
But he still goes to Anteiku. They're weak threads, broken threads, but they're better than nothing. And they coffee is tasty and warm.
Anteiku is burning, and the CCG are blocking the streets.
He doesn't get too close. He's not about to plunge into a battle between CCG and ghouls. And there are ghouls. He can see a few. Piles of bodies.
He runs before he can get caught up.
Only later, when he sees the charred shop face, does he think about why Anteiku was burning that day.
Two years later - two lonely, drifting years - he stumbles across a new coffee shop called Re:.
Rather, he stumbles across a familiar blue haired waitress. And she stares at him a moment, wide-eyed, before covering up with a smile of indifference and asks for an order.
'Can I talk to you in private?' he asks instead.
Someone's sitting near them with a scarecrow mask. They turn and stare. Or Kaneki thinks he does. It's a bit hard to tell with the mask.
The waitress frowns at the scarecrow mask, then at Kaneki. 'Meet me out back in 20,' she says, then asks for an order again.
He gets a black coffee to takeaway and heads out back.
He waits. She meets him.
'Well?' She raises an eyebrow.
'I saw Anteiku burning,' he admits.
Her face crumbles. 'You've got devil's luck, don't you. First Rize, then your blond friend -'
She freezes. He grabs her shoulders before he even realises what he's done. 'What about Hide?!'
All this time, the old man hadn't said...
She curses under her breath, then yells for someome inside. The white haired guy who hung around Anteiku sometimes comes out, sees them, then goes back inside.
A moment later, the man in the scarecrow mask comes out.
'Well?' the waitress demands.
The man in the scarecrow mask stares.
'Rize,' the waitress continues. 'Was a ghoul. And you seemed interested in her. Didn't take taht first step in the end, though, did you. Would have wound up her dinner otherwise. Then she got herself crushed under steel beams.'
His breath is gone. Fled.
He'd been so wrong and so right. Different worlds indeed.
'Then there's Anteiku. It's a haven for ghouls - ghouls who don't want to kill humans to eat, who'll eat from the already dead humans instead. Who just want to live in peace but CCG had to fuck it all up.'
His hand is still on her shoulder. It's frozen in place. So are his feet. Even though he should be backpedalling. Even though he's looking at to kakuja, and a beautiful red winged kagune.
She looks like a fallen angel. A character out of a book. An avenger ready to kill him to keep her secret because he's asked one time too many.
But then she blinks and the kagune withdraws, the eyes return to normal and the scarecrow has a hand on each of their shoulders.
They go indoors and upstairs. There's a cozy little lounge there, and photos on the wall. He sees some of Hinami. Of the staff of Anteiku.
He sees some of himself as well. Himself and Hide.
He's staring at one, brushing a finger against their smiles, when the scarecrow man offers him a coffee and points at the table.
He takes the offered seat. He should be apprehensive. He should have run away screaming the moment Touka mentioned "ghoul". He didn't.
He should have looked harder, too. Dug harder. He hadn't done that either.
Tears are spilling over even before he reads the sketchbook on the table.
'He didn't want to get you involved,' the blue haired waitress - Touka - says quietly, as she sees him to the door. 'None of them did. And you didn't really have a reason to be. Neither did he, really. Survived a ghoul by sheer luck - could have left the ghoul world alone until the next unsuspecting ghoul came along. But then he started sticking his nose everywhere and we had to stop him from getting himself killed.'
'Sounds like him.' But still he wished he'd at least known the other was alive. That he was hurt and healing. That he hadn't disappeared from Kaneki's life like everyone else.
Hide always says he's selfless. But he's selfish about this and he can't and won't change that.
Touka shrugs. 'You can't do much, though. Don't come up here too often, either. There are eyes everywhere.'
And Hide can't talk...
'What is it you do anyway?'
'I teach primary reading and literature,' he explains. 'And I write.'
She looks at him appraisingly. 'Explains where he got that idea from.'
She doesn't explain. He'll need her - or someone - to, but not right now.
She snorts. 'You don't even know with what.'
'I can guess.' Hide, despite being eaten by one, is still with the ghouls. Still wants to help them. Kaneki is missing lots of the story, he knows, but he's gotten enough today to know where he's going to stand. 'Coexistence, right?'
She snorts. 'And I thought it was only Hide who's the dreamer.'
'Nah, he's actually the practical one.'
Touka looks disbelieving. Kaneki can't blame her; Hide is usually the enabler, the driver, the one who drags him out of his apartment and to take risks. But, over the years, he's realised they're carefully calculated risks. That Hide doesn't plunge into danger headfirst (intentionally, anyway) unless he's got a few backup plans and a reasonable chance of success. He just has faith in people. Faith enough to fill the Nile river. And Kaneki is the one who gets swept along and has never yet once regretted it.
Maybe if he'd worked up the courage to talk to Rize, then things might have wound up different.