If Touka had to recount the moment the shit hit the fan, it was probably when Hide joined the CCG as an investigator in a valiant attempt to gain inside information for :re. She and Kaneki had been nervous when their human roommate was just an assistant, but officially joining the ranks of the same organization that wanted to exterminate all ghouls was near suicidal. If he slipped up even once, he could put the entirety of :re's staff at risk. After the disaster that compromised Anteiku, Touka was hesitant to allow something like that to happen again. Aside from the countless lives lost that night, they had only just managed to save Kaneki from the grips of that investigator, the infamous White Reaper. How the hell was she supposed to accept that Hide wanted to train under someone like that?
Despite her protests, Hide took an accelerated course at the Investigator Academy and started as a Rank Two Investigator. Somehow, when she wasn't looking, he'd managed to earn Kaneki's blessing. Damn that bastard. All Hide had to do was bat his eyes the right way and Kaneki would fold. Sometimes their hopeless infatuation made her sick.
"Come on, Touka," Kaneki said. "Sure, the CCG is a little risky, but think of all the benefits of having an investigator on our side! Unlike an assistant, he can access all their files and can drive them away from :re and other ghouls we know."
"What if he's not subtle enough? What if in trying to throw off suspicion, he dooms us all?"
Kaneki scoffed. "Have you met Hide? Trust me, he's got this deception stuff in the bag."
Touka hadn't been born a pessimist; she'd been made one. Deep down in her heart she knew that this wouldn't last. Sooner or later, despite his genuine intentions, Hide would lead :re down the same road as Anteiku.
As it would have it, the first time Hide brought an investigator with him into :re Touka thought that was it. They were all going to die. All her hard work had been for nothing, all her fruitless attempts to survive this harsh world had been in vain. Because Nagachika Hideyoshi thought it was a fun idea to play double-agent.
"Hey, Touka-chan!" he'd greeted, wearing that same pristine white uniform that always sent her stomach into knots when he came home donning it. "I was just telling Akira-san here about my awesome roommates who made the best coffee in Tokyo. She called bullshit so I figured it was my duty to prove her wrong."
The silver-haired woman, whose tight grip on her briefcase caught Touka's attention, huffed. "I didn't actually doubt you, Nagachika-san."
"Yeah, but when it comes down to it I will defend their honor with everything I've got. Right, Touka-chan?"
She forced a grin, ignoring the open stares of her other ghoul patrons. "You don't have to defend us, Hide-kun."
"Yeah, but if I don't, who will?"
"I don't know, but I'd say Haise-kun is perfectly able to protect his coffee himself." Kaneki's new alias still felt foreign on her lips, but it was moments like these she was glad he'd adopted it. Hide had intel that the CCG was aware that Kaneki had relations at Anteiku and might have received an organ transplant from the Binge Eater; if this woman knew anything about Kaneki Ken's case, then they were all fucked.
Hide's brow furrowed. "Oh, is he here right now?"
"Hm? Oh, no he went out to buy some more milk. The lunch rush was pretty bad today."
He laughed. "See, Akira-san, best coffee in Tokyo!"
She smiled. "I think I'll be the judge of that."
In a matter of minutes, most of :re's customers less-than-subtly vacated the cafe. On one hand, Touka couldn't blame her patrons for fleeing from two indiscreet Doves—even if one was a known ghoul ally—but she couldn't ignore that serving them was bad for business. Maybe if she botched Akira's order she wouldn't come back? That sounded like a solid plan, even if Hide resented her for it. After all, this was sort of a gray area in their roommate agreement. When Hide first started working at the CCG, they'd agreed that if she ever encountered his coworkers in a fight that she'd refrain from killing them without reason.
"Just go for the arms or legs, that's enough to incapacitate a human," Hide instructed.
She rolled her eyes. "I think I've killed enough humans to know what and what isn't fatal, Hide-kun."
Across the room, Kaneki scoffed. "Just the other day, you thought stubbing your toe was as urgent as a broken arm."
"Exactly!" Hide clapped. "Case in point."
They'd never discussed a scenario where Touka would have to interact with Hide's coworkers outside of a direct confrontation. So, if she just so happened to mix something foul into Akira's coffee to make her never want to return, then it shouldn't be a big deal! Hm, cayenne pepper was a hot spice, wasn't it? They seldom used it in their dishes, which would make the perfect culprit. Sorry, she'd say, I must have misread the label!
Except, when Touka served Akira her coffee she made a severe underestimation. Initially, everything went to plan. After a single sip, Akira scrunched her face up in disgust before letting the coffee slide out of her mouth and back into her cup. It was a look that Touka was more than familiar with, having perfected the act of biting back foul human food. That's right Dove Lady… spit up your coffee.
"Something wasn't right about that coffee," she rasped.
Hide frowned. "Mine's fine. Do you mind if I try it…?"
Not waiting for her reply, Hide reached across the table and brought Akira's drink to his lips. Touka tried not to feel guilty when he had the same reaction as his coworker, spitting the coffee back into the cup. "Okay, yeah. That's gross." He met her eyes. "Touka, what did you—?"
She bowed her head. "I made it according to the recipe, I can't imagine what went wrong! I am so sorry!"
Akira smacked her lips. "It was almost… spicy?"
"Spicy?" Touka echoed, trying not to let the satisfaction show on her face. "I can't imagine what would make it hot, unless—oh! I thought I'd used cinnamon, but maybe I misread the label?"
Akira's eyes widened. "Cinnamon?"
"Well, it's a standard spice for some of our drinks. I must have grabbed a different bottle of seasoning—"
"Oh, so there's none actually in this. That's a relief! I'm deathly allergic. This hot coffee saved my life."
Well, fuck. Not that Touka wanted any dead Doves in her cafe, but it would almost be preferable to saving one.
"Wow, Touka-chan! That's a serious stroke of luck." Hide gave her a knowing look. "You almost never mess up! It must've been an act of God for you to screw up Akira-san's order."
Touka gritted her teeth. "I know, right!"
"Could I have a glass of water, please?" Akira asked. "The taste is still… uh, lingering."
"Of course! Would you like another cup of coffee, sans cinnamon? It's on the house…"
"Ah, I'd love to, but I don't think we have the time." Akira spared a glance at her watch. "Our lunch break is almost over."
"So just the water then?"
"That'd be great. Maybe you could treat me to that coffee next time, though?"
She nodded. "It'd be my pleasure!"
What the hell was Touka saying? She couldn't allow this woman to come back to her cafe! Damn social conventions!
By the time she returned to their table with a fresh glass of water, Hide's pager went off. He fumbled with his coffee cup in the process, nearly staining his pristine uniform. "Ah," he assessed, "there's our cue to leave. Thanks for the coffee, Touka-chan!"
In a flourish, he left a wad of cash on the table before reaching for his briefcase. "Don't forget your quinque, Investigator Mado," he teased.
"Ah, thank you. What would I ever do without your infinite wisdom, Nagachika-san?"
"Bite the dust. Duh."
She clicked her tongue. "Somehow, I almost doubt that."
Touka remained where she stood, still processing Hide's last words. He'd called her Investigator Mado.
Limp white hair, framing the man's distraught face. She wanted nothing more than to kick it in, the smug bastard. He deserved what he got, after everything he put Hinami through. All the pain and suffering she endured at this man's hands... turning her parents into weapons. How fucking dare he? How DARE he? Rambling on about what he still had to accomplish in his sad, sad life.
Finally, his face dropped into the shallow water. What a fitting death for such an abhorrent man obsessed with ideas of purity; bleeding out in a raunch sewer. She swatted away his gloved hand, repulsed at the sole sight of it.
She scoffed. "You can't even touch us with your bare hands!"
Blinded with rage, she swiped the glove from his lifeless hand and threw it aside into the water. For a moment, she felt vindicated. She had snuffed the life out of the monster that had caused Hinami so much hurt (just as she'd longed to do to her own monsters, over the years). She had no real reason to regret this pathetic man's death, this Dove, this murderer.
Until she spotted the plain, silver wedding band wrapped around his ring finger.
The universe favored irony. In an ill-fated attempt to bar Mado Akira from wanting to return to her cafe, Touka had somehow spared the investigator from an allergic reaction and persuaded her to come again! Was this cosmic revenge for killing the poor woman's father? Was this Touka's repentance?
Nevertheless, when Kaneki found Touka rooted to her spot minutes later, she had a few choice expletives to share with him. Kaneki nodded solemnly and started stocking the cooler. What did she do to deserve him?
Against her wishes, Touka eventually became acquainted with Akira. Hide didn't have the nerve to drive her away from :re, and Touka was far too nervous to give Akira any reasons to suspect :re of suspicious activities. Kaneki suggested that as long as they kept a professional distance, befriending an investigator may help them in the long run to dissuade suspicion.
"We already have, Hide-kun. Why do we need another one?" she'd argued.
"Strength in numbers?" Hide suggested.
"Plus," Kaneki said, "If anything happens to threaten both our credibility and Hide-kun isn't around, Akira-san can vouch for us."
She sighed. "Even though it isn't ideal, I guess we might as well make the most of the situation."
"See, that's the spirit, Touka-chan!" Hide clapped. "Turning a not-so-ideal situation into a good one."
Kaneki snorted. "That's what she usually calls a meal."
That comment landed him a swift elbow to the stomach. "I don't eat my problems. I haven't even killed in almost a year!"
"Wow, and how many brownie points does that earn you?" Hide nodded amiably.
"Go to hell. Both of you."
Hide slung his arms over her and Kaneki's shoulders. "Nah, you know you love us. So, we still on for that dinner date later?"
"I don't think I'm comfortable with you calling it a dinner date," Kaneki said.
Ever since they'd moved in together above :re, Hide had urged them to have occasional meal-times together. She and Kaneki had been reluctant about the idea at first, but Hide didn't seem to mind watching them eat. He talked about how much he missed chatting over dinner with Kaneki, and that sharing a meal would establish a sense of normalcy between them. It certainly helped Touka place more faith in Hide; if he could nonchalantly watch her tear into a slab of flesh, kakugan activated, then she had no doubt he would sell her out to the CCG.
"Well, what else am I supposed to call it, Kaneki-kun? 'Hide's once-a-week meal with ghouls?' That's a mouthful, plus, I can't be saying that around the office!"
"Wait," Touka held up a hand, "you tell your coworkers that you have dinner dates with us?"
"Yeah? They invite me out to eat all the time, so I had to tell them something. Akira thinks it's sweet that we make time for each other."
"If she knew all the details, she wouldn't," Touka grumbled.
"Well," Kaneki said, "it's the sentiment that counts?"
Their apartment was just down the block from :re's storefront. It was a two-bedroom apartment with a full bath and a kitchen. Between Touka and Kaneki's earnings at :re and the good sum of money that Hide made working at the CCG, rent wasn't too difficult to scrounge up. Generally, Touka stayed to one bedroom while Hide and Kaneki shared the other. Occasionally they'd have group sleepovers, or Kaneki would spend the night in Touka's room whenever he felt too anxious around his human friend. Hide always seemed to understand, giving Kaneki all the distance he needed whenever he felt afraid of harming him.
It was a good living arrangement, especially compared to some of the alternatives. Though, sometimes they did have a few hiccups. When they'd first moved in, Touka hadn't understood why Hide left his toothpaste on the bathroom counter each night and repeatedly tried moving it into the fridge. At the time she'd assumed it was just another one of those human sweets ("It says mint right here on the label!") not realizing it was an actual toiletry. ("What do you mean humans brush goo onto their teeth every night? That's so gross!")
That incident prompted Hide to seek out flavorless toothpaste. He was appalled that Kaneki hadn't thought of it earlier, but given all the other drastic changes in the half ghoul's life Hide eventually let it go.
Another mishap they faced was when Hide grabbed an unlabeled package of meat from the fridge under the assumption it was pork he'd bought a few nights before. By the time he'd obliviously moved it out of the skillet and onto his plate, Kaneki launched himself across the apartment and spared Hide from one of the grossest mistakes of his life.
"You know, now that I think about it, it does look a little discolored for pork," Hide realized.
Kaneki, his single kakugan pulsing, responded with a groan. "If that bastard Kanou hadn't done it already, I would blame you for taking at least ten years off my life."
From then on, Kaneki and Touka made sure to label their packages to prevent another incident. Touka liked to doodle little rabbits on them shouting, "Danger! Hide don't eat!" To further counter cross-contamination, they installed a divider in the fridge so that all of Hide's food was on the left and theirs was on the right. Kaneki also suggested a curtain if they happened to have any human visitors, but Hide pointed out that would only make the contents of their fridge more suspicious.
"After all, what kind of freaks keep a curtain in their refrigerator? "
"What, so you'd rather them open the fridge and see a tupperware container full of severed fingers?" Kaneki argued.
"Even if we have the curtain, they'd pull it back and see it anyway!"
"I think a curtain sounds like a pain," Touka added. "I'd rather just open the fridge and grab something."
Kaneki thought about it. "I guess that's fair. It's not like we plan to have humans over, anyway."
"Yeah, this apartment only has room for one homo sapien and that's Nagachika Hideyoshi!"
"Wait," he frowned, "are we not… classified as homo sapiens ?"
Touka's eyes lit up. "Oh, I know this one! My biology professor at Kami went over it a few weeks ago. So ghouls are actually classified as homo edaces, meaning "voracious man." It's a biased name considering homo sapien means "wise man" but that's what happens when a bunch of prejudiced humans run the science world. Not that it matters now though, since the science community is petitioning to create a new class within the chordata phylum just for ghouls. There's a lot of debate over it, but we should see it change within the next five years or so!"
"I have no idea what most of that meant, but you're passionate about it and I love that for you," Hide said.
"What can I say?" she huffed. "You nerds have rubbed off on me. Next thing I know, I'll be raving about that Tatsuki Sen—"
Kaneki coughed. " Takatsuki Sen."
"Yeah, whatever her face is."
He rolled his eyes. "So, if ghouls aren't homo sapiens and I'm only half-ghoul… what does that make me?"
Touka snorted. "Fucked up."
"Well, that too."
"I don't think it's a good time of night to delve into another existential crisis, Ken," Hide said. "Not when we all know you're half-bookworm and half-nerd."
Kaneki smiled. "If that's the case, then you're a full-fledged dork."
"Nah, you got it wrong." He waved his hands. "I'm a full-ass ladies' man—nothing more, nothing less."
"I think I just threw up in my mouth a little," Touka said.
"I'm half-repulsed and half-embarrassed on your behalf," Kaneki added.
"Ah, don't be like that! You know it's true!"
Although they were an odd trio, two ghouls and a ghoul investigator, they made the most of their differences. Hide was a little more than frustrated when Touka "accidentally" washed his CCG uniform alongside her brand-new red sweater. ("But you look good in pink, Hide-kun!") Sometimes when Hide returned home emanating remnants of RC suppressant gas, it was enough to make both of his roommates nauseous. Other times, it was Kaneki's self-destructive tendencies that got on both Hide and Touka's nerves, forcing them to pile down on the couch with him and remind him that he mattered not only to them but to everyone at :re.
On those nights they'd watch light-hearted movies and Hide would throw popcorn in his dual-toned hair, much like he had when they were kids. Kaneki would shake the offending snack out of his hair and grumble about it leaving butter in his hair, but he never seemed truly annoyed at Hide's antics. Touka, for the most part, found it amusing.
"You guys are the best," Kaneki breathed. "After everything, I'm glad that we can all be friends."
"Yeah, of course," Touka said. "We're here for you."
"Mm-hm, you deserve the world, Kaneki-kun."
He snorted. "That's a little much, but thanks."
"No, no I'm serious," Hide drawled. "I will… I will steal you a planet and give it to you because you deserve it. You deserve so fucking much…"
"What like you'll conquer a planet? You and what army?"
"Me and the army of ghouls that also love you. Touka-chan, are you in?"
"Yeah. I could totally get Hinami on board too. What planet do you want, Kaneki-kun? Mars? Venus?"
Kaneki swatted another piece of popcorn out of his hair with an indignant huff. "None. Zero. Nil."
"Oh come on, pick a planet!" Hide urged. "We'll fight the populace there. We'll… we'll give you the planet."
"I love how you assume that there will be aliens."
"Don't change the topic on us. What planet are we conquering?"
He sighed again. "Jupiter, I don't know!"
Hide whistled. "You're an ambitious one, aren't you? Jupiter's a gas giant, I could fall right through to the other side if I stepped on its surface."
"I'm pretty sure that's not how it works."
"Jupiter's also the biggest planet," Touka added. "You're really making us conquer it, Kaneki-kun? How cruel."
"Wh—? You're the ones who asked!"
Trivial antics aside, spending quality time with his best friends always seemed to raise Kaneki's spirits. Maybe it didn't make up for everything and it certainly didn't erase his bloodstained memories, but when it came down to it Touka and Hide were there for him. Between peril and nightmares, Touka pledged to protect those dearest to her.
If only she could do so forever.
Mado Akira was an interloper. Sure, it'd been a few months since their initial encounter and Touka had long since become accustomed to the woman's composed demeanor, but that didn't make her any less wary of the Dove. Even more recently, Akira had taken to visiting :re without Hide which put both Touka and the entire staff on edge. Akira also seemed to think that she and Touka were friends, maybe because they were some of the only women in Hide's life, and would ask advice on how to combat his obnoxious personality. Honestly, that was more of a Kaneki question than anything but Touka did her best not to dig Hide's grave.
Something else that made it difficult to serve Mado was the subtle scene of the woman's quinque. The offending aroma grated on Touka, and she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something familiar about it. It was a gray, Thursday afternoon when it finally clicked.
"Oh silly me!" Akira's laugh sounded like a swarm of cicadas on a humid summer night. "I almost left Fueguchi underneath the table. That would be an expensive mistake."
Touka's stomach dropped. She wasn't necessarily surprised but definitely taken off guard. Personally, she was thankful that Hinami was spending less and less time in :re lately, dissecting some of Touka's old textbooks in order to hopefully enroll in a public high school. Even at her strength, she didn't think she'd be able to hold the poor girl back.
"Yeah, I uh, imagine those would be hard to make," she croaked.
"Oh, for sure. Our quinque engineers definitely work overtime," Akira said. "Though, this one particularly is sentimental. It belonged to my father before he was killed in the line of duty."
She tried not to wince, recalling how his white locks fanned in the foul sewer water. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It's not your fault."
But it is. Hopefully, she'd never know what Touka had done, but on some level she wanted to confess. To genuinely apologize. Put in the same position, she'd do it again ten times over but that didn't make her less sorry for her. She knew what it was like to have a father stolen from her. The world was wicked and the older she grew, the more she longed for a world devoid of differences between humans and ghouls. Coexistence. It was an immature, idealistic fantasy that would never come to pass but she found comfort in the idea of it.
Kaneki and Hide had made her soft.
"Right," she said. "It isn't."
A few weeks passed between Akira's visits to :re. From what Hide told her, they were working on a big case involving Aogiri Tree. He advised keeping their heads down, even more so than usual due to increasing surveillance.
"Just for the next month or so, try to cut back on how many trips you take to snatch bodies in the woods. I know you guys are usually careful, but it's kinda insane right now."
"I don't think it'll be a problem, but thanks for the heads up," she dismissed.
Yomo, who was sitting rigidly on the barstool, nodded.
"What's insane is that Torso motherfucker," Nishiki growled. "If he lays a finger on Kimi, I'll bite his head off. Targeting women with scars… what a perverted bastard."
"We're only about seventy-five percent sure that's his M.O.," Hide said. "There's been an outlier or two. The other day he went after an academy cadet, Mutsuki Tooru. Didn't really align with his previous victims."
"Whatever. I don't say this much, but the CCG has my blessing to take him the fuck out," Nishiki said.
"Ditto," Touka seconded. "He attracts too much attention."
Hide hummed. "I'll let you know when there's an update, then."
Little did they know, that would be a lot sooner than expected.
Four days later, Touka and Kaneki headed back to their apartment after closing up :re for the night. Hide was usually home by eight o'clock or so, so when he wasn't there at ten o'clock it was a little unexpected. Though, the CCG worked him late every once in a while so they figured it was a safe bet that he was still at work. Kaneki crashed on the couch with a worn old novel while Touka flipped through the channels before settling on some rom-com that Yoriko had suggested a few weeks back. She didn't talk with her friend as much as she had in high school, but still kept in touch every fortnight or so.
Before long, it was one in the morning.
That was… definitely more than a little concerning. Had Hide mentioned a raid, tonight? He usually tried to tip them off when he heard something big was about to happen, but he'd left them no messages. No voicemail. Nothing.
Just when Kaneki was about to call him, there was a knock on the door. Hide had a key, and even when he misplaced it he knew where the emergency key was hidden.
"—why did I expect them to be awake?" a distinct female voice muttered.
Mado Akira was at their doorstep, alone, from the sole sound of her breathing.
Touka leapt to her feet, swiping the two telltale masks they'd left out on the coffee table. She stuffed them behind the couch, hoping that this was just a brief visit. Meanwhile, Kaneki made a dive for the disposal eyepatch he'd come so close to throwing away hours before. He secured it on his left eye and shot Touka a nervous look. Whatever Hide's partner was doing at their apartment, it didn't spell good news.
Fearing for the worst, Touka threw open the door. The first thing she noticed was that Akira appeared moderately disheveled and had tear stains streaked across her face. Touka could smell the distinct scent of ghoul blood emanating from the woman and resisted the urge to slam the door back in her face. Other than that, she had an unreadable expression on her face. Fuck. Oh, fuck.
"Hello, Akira-san," Kaneki greeted, drawing Touka out of her thoughts. "Is everything alright?"
"It… it will be," she said. "You were both listed as Hide's emergency contacts, but the phone numbers in our database have been deactivated. We tried a couple of hours ago, but I remembered you roomed with Hide so…"
Right, the phone numbers. They'd had to change them a while back after an incident with Tsukiyama and his friend Hori Chie—neither of which knew the meaning of personal space.
"Where is he?" Touka cut to the chase. "Is he injured?"
She nodded. "I'm not sure how much Hide tells you about our cases, but a ghoul called Torso pierced him with his kagune—a ghoul predatory organ—and he's lost a lot of blood. He wasn't hit in any vital areas, so he'll pull through with surgery and be back on his feet in the next few weeks. He's actually in surgery at the CCG's hospital right now."
"Oh God," Kaneki breathed. "When can we see him?"
"The CCG's hospital doesn't permit visitors outside the commission. He'll be moved to a public hospital in a few days, I'm sure. You can see him then."
"So, he'll definitely be alright?" she asked. "Nothing permanent…"
"It was a clean hit to his left shoulder." She brushed her fingers against her own shoulder. "The doctors said he might have some trouble with his arm movement, but if he doesn't bounce back after the surgery then physical therapy should help him recuperate."
"That's a relief," Kaneki said. "But it's a shame we can't see him sooner."
It was probably for the best, though. Touka had no doubt that the CCG's hospital had top-notch security against ghouls. They wouldn't even make it through the front doors without alerting the entire premises. Then again… Kaneki was able to bypass the RC detectors all those years ago when Investigator Mado pulled him through. Maybe it wouldn't matter?
No, no use dwelling on hypothetical scenarios.
"It is," the Dove agreed. "I promise he's in the best hands possible."
Touka nodded. "What happened to the ghoul, Torso? Did you guys get 'em?"
"Yes. We almost didn't, but Hide gave us just the right amount of edge to eradicate."
Well, Nishiki would be happy to hear that.
"Good for him," Kaneki affirmed.
"It is. Once he's all recovered, it's looking like he'll have a new quinque too."
Ugh. Hide didn't care that much for quinques, especially once he'd seen firsthand how they were made, but Touka knew he had to keep up appearances. No matter how barbaric.
"That's… exciting?" she said.
"Mm. I only hope he feels the same way. Hide isn't uh, fond of quinques. It's a good trait in a man to have compassion, but sometimes it's possible to have too much. Especially in this profession."
"How so?" she blurted. She knew what Akira was implying, that Hide wasn't cut out to be a brutal soldier like the other lackeys of the CCG, but she wanted to hear her say it. Call it morbid curiosity, but Touka wanted to see where Akira fell when it came to the CCG's ruthless indoctrination.
"Touka..." Kaneki warned.
"No, it's a valid question," Akira assured. "I just meant that Hide cares about people. Sometimes he doesn't seem to grasp the difference between us and ghouls, though. Sometimes, he sees them as people as well. They're monsters, monsters that are motivated only by hunger and sadism; they may look and act like us, but under the surface they're savages. I thought… I thought some field experience would disillusion Hide some, but I can see that it hasn't. He still fails to see what's in front of him, which is a mindset that'll eventually get him killed. I've seen it happen time and time again… and I don't think I can stand to lose Hide."
The whole "driven by hunger and sadism" accusation wasn't new to Touka. Hell, she recalled when Kaneki felt the same way about ghouls. In that respect, she wasn't as furious with Akira as she expected to be. Prejudice aside, Touka understood that this woman cared for Hide. She made a good point, that Hide's compassion could kill him. Not that Touka didn't want Hide to view ghouls as less than people, but he had to be smart about it.
"Oh, I see," she said. "I haven't known Hide as long as Haise-kun, here, but he does have a penchant to care about others. I suppose I can see how that's dangerous."
"Don't get me wrong, Hide is an accomplished investigator. He proved that tonight. He just worries me, sometimes."
Touka nodded. "Us too."
"I imagine it's harder for you two since you aren't involved with the CCG at all. You didn't sign up for this kind of lifestyle."
"Hide's been my friend since childhood. If this is what he wants to do, then I'll support him," Kaneki explained. "He's definitely supported me when I've needed it."
Akira furrowed her brow. "I thought Hide said you met a couple years ago?"
Kaneki faltered. It would help if they'd made sure their stories aligned.
"We knew each other in childhood, but we reconnected two years ago," he corrected. "That's when I introduced him to Touka-chan."
"We hit it off ever since!"
"I see. It's nice that you two were able to reconnect." She glanced at her watch. "Well, I wouldn't want to keep you up any longer. I should probably be getting back to the hospital now."
Touka frowned. "Are you not going home?"
"What kind of partner would I be if I wasn't there when Hide comes out of surgery?" she said. "Even if he takes a while to wake, I want to be there for him."
"That's kind of you," Kaneki said. "You must be tired, though?"
"Eh, all within a day's work," Akira brushed off. "I'm more than familiar with the perils of sleep deprivation."
Touka had complicated feelings about Mado Akira. The woman was a blight to her cafe and shouldered so much bias against ghouls that it was near impossible to like her. But she cared about Hide and was going out of her way to stay by his bedside. Plus, outside of their masks she'd been nothing but kind to Touka and Kaneki.
"Would you like a cup of coffee for the road?" she asked.
It was the least she could offer.
"Oh, I wouldn't want to impose…"
"It's no problem! We run a cafe, remember?"
"Ah, I guess. Not decaf, is it?"
She scrunched her face in faux disgust. "Ugh, of course not. Like we'd keep that trash in our apartment."
"I don't mind decaf—"
"Well, I didn't ask you, Haise-kun," Touka snapped. "Now, where were we?"
Akira took a seat at their kitchen table while Touka brewed the cup of coffee. Kaneki sat across from her, taking his sweet time to explain the synopsis of the latest novel he was reading. Akira didn't seem too interested, as was Touka most days, but she was polite about it.
"Oh, I see…"
"—yeah! And then the man finds out that it was his sister behind the murders all along, even though she'd faked her death. He's so horrified by what she's done, how he influenced her, that he attempts suicide. It doesn't work, because she steps in, but it was certainly a gruesome twist."
"You sure like dark reading material, don't you Haise-kun?"
He flushed. "I mean, only some of what I read is dark. I try to read a little bit of everything…"
"He's a sucker for tragedies," Touka chimed in. "Don't let him fool you."
Akira laughed. "It's better than my reading taste. These days, I don't get around to reading much of anything. Although, in high school I was fond of romance novels and Shakespeare… I know it's cheesy."
"Cheesy isn't bad," Kaneki said. "If anything, it's better than Hide's shoujo comics."
Akira choked. "Shoujo comics? Like Sailor Moon?"
"He's particularly fond of them, yes."
Touka made the finishing touches on Akira's coffee and set the mug in front of her. "If I remember correctly, Hide has been working on a Tuxedo Mask cosplay. You should ask him about it whenever he wakes up."
"That is… definitely something I plan to do," she said evenly. "You wouldn't happen to have any creamer, would you? I know it's silly, but I'm not much of a purist."
Hide was the same, griping about how ridiculous it was that he was expected to drink black coffee. "I get that you guys can't, but I need a little dash of something to cut the bitterness."
Though, Touka could hardly expect to open the fridge to look for any creamer. No, no that wouldn't work. Not with a Dove in plain view of its interior shelves. There was no way that she'd be able to pass off the contents of their tupperware as animal meat, especially not with their container of severed digits placed near the front.
"I think Hide has some, doesn't he?" Kaneki asked, ever oblivious.
Touka narrowed her eyes. "I don't believe he does, Haise-kun."
He gave her an odd look before a flicker of recognition crossed his face. "Oh yes, he spilled it yesterday. Coffee creamer, all over the kitchen floor. What a mess!" He laughed nervously.
Akira frowned. "Surely you have milk?"
"Mm, I think we're out," she lied.
"It's been ages since we've been to the store for groceries," Kaneki agreed. "We have enough coffee to last a year, though."
"I see. I apologize for being so picky. Ironic, since I used to humor a friend of mine about pickiness. Maybe he's rubbed off on me..." Akira took a sip of coffee.
"Hey, no judgment here! We run a cafe, after all."
"One time I had a customer refuse their drink because they didn't like the cat drawn in it. They'd even asked for the cat, but apparently it wasn't up to their standards." Kaneki rolled his eyes.
"Let me guess, Nakamura-san with the red sunglasses? Smells like cabbage? Always pays in 10 yen coins?"
"Yes! He drives me nuts."
"I don't think I could handle customer service," Akira commented. "You two make it look so easy."
"Yeah, this isn't where I expected to be, but I've been told I'm good at it," Kaneki said.
"Oh? What were you expecting to go into?"
"I'm not really sure. I majored in literature for a year or so but had to drop out. Maybe something with bookkeeping? Either way, I'm happy where I am now."
"That's good," Akira said. "I've always wanted to be an investigator. I don't know what I'd do if I wasn't."
Neither Touka nor Kaneki knew how to respond.
"What about you, Touka-san? Have you always wanted to run a cafe?" Akira eventually asked.
"Only in the past few years. There was someone close to me that ran one, and he inspired me to open my own."
"Hm, I see." Akira set her empty mug down. "Well, Hide's condition aside I'd say this was a refreshing visit. I should probably be heading back to the hospital now. Thank you for the coffee."
Touka walked her to the door. "You're welcome. If something changes with Hide," she reached for a post-it note, "here… is… our numbers."
"I'll be sure to let you know. Thank you, again."
Akira slipped the post-it note into her pocket and let the door close behind her. Once she was sure she'd walked away, Touka turned back to Kaneki.
She sighed in relief. "That could've gone bad."
"You're the one who invited her for coffee," he said. Before she could respond, he cut her off. "I get it. Just keeping up appearances and all. Plus, she isn't all that bad."
"I suppose she's not the worst," Touka admitted. "Still, a Dove is a Dove. We can't let our guard down around her."
"Of course not." Kaneki removed his eyepatch. "Let's just hope that this is her last visit for a while. We don't want to be too hospitable."
She laughed. "Two ghouls serving a Dove coffee in their own apartment… what has life come to?"
To her word, Akira kept them updated on Hide's condition. Three days after the Torso incident, Hide still hadn't been cleared to be moved to a public hospital. The doctors at the CCG wanted to monitor his condition a little longer, even though it was looking like he would make an expedient recovery. Akira asked if she could stop by their apartment to bring Hide some of his belongings. Even though he still had to wear the hospital gown, she brought him some of his own socks—apparently the ones that the CCG provided were too itchy. He also requested his headphones, an mp3 player (since his cellphone had been damaged in combat), and manga.
Touka made it abundantly clear that it would have to be a short visit since she was spending her break to help Akira find everything Hide needed. If Touka had known in advance that the investigator was stopping by, she'd likely put together a bag to save time but unfortunately she'd only had two hours' notice. Hopefully, they'd secured everything incriminating before leaving that morning…
It was fine.
"I have to be back at :re soon," Touka explained. "Hide's bedroom is the first one on the left, so most of what we're looking for is there."
Akira was once again donned in her investigator uniform, quinque by her side. Touka almost requested her to leave it outside but bit her tongue.
"Alright, then," Akira said. "I'll follow your lead."
They entered Hide and Kaneki's shared bedroom. Kaneki's side of the room was lined with books, even more so than the rest of the apartment. Meanwhile, Hide's half of the bedroom was occupied with miscellaneous knick-knacks and games. They found Hide's mp3 player at the bottom of his desk drawer, underneath a broken pair of headphones, a small photo album, a Japanese to Spanish dictionary, a Rubix cube, and a bright orange swiss army knife.
"Oddly enough, this is just about what I pictured his room would look like," Akira commented. "Aside from all the books. But those are Haise's, I assume."
"All of them except for that bottom shelf. That's where Hide keeps his manga."
"I see. Haise has quite the collection. I can see now why he wanted to major in literature." She paused. "If you don't mind me asking, why did he stop attending school?"
"Circumstances. Well, I mean complicated circumstances. It's not really my story to tell, but Haise had a lot happen in his life at once and education kind of stopped being a priority."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that."
"Eh, who knows? He might go back one day." Touka ran her fingers across a framed picture of the three of them, taken not long after the Anteiku raid. Kaneki's hair was still a solid white, compared to his current dual-toned hair. "Nothing's set in stone."
After braving the contents of Hide's sock drawer and selecting a few manga from his shelf, it was time to head back. Though, before Touka could show Akira the door, the woman halted in the kitchen.
"Touka-san." Akira stopped two feet from the fridge. "I have a question. Could… could you answer me honestly, please?"
"The other night when you served me coffee, you said that you didn't have any coffee creamer. Or milk. Was that true?"
Oh, fuck. This fucking woman.
This was about to go downhill, so fast.
"I don't see why I'd lie about something like that."
"I didn't at first, either. You seem like a genuine person, Touka-san. But there's something else." She tightened her grip on her quinque, just enough that the glint of steel caught Touka's eye. "Did you know that your apartment smells like iron?"
"It's an old building." She shrugged. "Candles or incense, it always has an odd smell."
The Dove met her with a calculated stare. "In Hide's bedroom, I caught a glimpse of Haise's bookshelves. He seemed passionate about books the other night, so I was curious. There were two textbooks, side-by-side, with the name Kaneki Ken written on the spine."
"Who?" Touka croaked.
"You see, when I met Hide, we were investigating a ghoul called the Binge Eater. We suspected that a student named Kaneki Ken received an organ transplant from her. Hide said that he knew Kaneki, that they were close friends. He never brought it up again, so it had slipped my mind until now. The case itself went cold and most of the files were lost following a large-scale operation."
Touka said nothing, so the Dove resumed.
"We'd speculated the outcome of a ghoul-human organ transplant. Even the idea of it made my skin crawl. But I think I know now."
Before Touka could process her movement, the investigator threw open the door to the refrigerator. The left side of the fridge appeared innocuous: cans of soda, miscellaneous condiments, various vegetables, and week-old leftovers that neither Touka nor Kaneki had thought to throw out. On the right, the image was juxtaposed by tupperware containers stuffed with organs—hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers, pancreas—the full ensemble. More containers held severed fingers, toes, and the occasional ear. The remaining space was occupied with cutlets of flesh, breast meat, and brain matter. To add insult to injury, each container was labeled in Touka's neat, precise handwriting.
When the door was thrown open, one of the labels fluttered to the floor. Akira watched as it fell, dismissing the cartoon rabbit with disgust.
"So what now?" Touka hissed. "You're gonna try and kill me?"
"If you resist, yes. If not, I'll bring you in for detainment. This is not a courtesy I offer most of your kind."
"Oh, trust me. I'm plenty aware."
Touka mentally reached for her kagune, but before she had the opportunity to let it out, something struck Akira from behind. The woman crumpled to the floor, landing squarely on her own enclosed quinque.
Kaneki stepped out from behind the kitchen doorway, kagune poised above the fallen woman. Touka couldn't gauge whether she was unconscious or not, but she didn't protest when Kaneki struck her in the back of the head again for good measure.
"She should have a concussion at worst." He let his kagune deteriorate. "When you didn't come back from your break, I had a bad feeling."
"You made it just in time. If we'd fought… I'm no good in short-range combat."
"So, what now? It's not like we can kill her. She's Hide's partner, and a Dove going missing would definitely draw too much attention to our ward."
She pressed a hand against her head. "I know, trust me. But what choice do we have? If we let her live, we're fucked! Done for! Hide too—she knows that he's culpable."
Kaneki groaned. "Shit. SHIT!"
Touka crossed the room and found a spool of rope in a nearby drawer. "Until we figure out what to do with her, we need to make sure that she has no way of escape." She tossed him the rope, which fell just short of his hands. Kaneki fumbled to pick it up. "You know how to tie knots, right?"
"I'm sure I can figure it out." He rolled his eyes.
"Good. I'm gonna look for duct tape and something for a gag." She paused. "It might be best if we kept her in a room with one exit, too. No windows. My bedroom should work."
"Got it." He pulled her limp body from the floor, careful not to slam her into anything. "What should I do with the quinque?"
"I'll take it. Hide it somewhere she won't find if she gets loose. If she has a phone, I'll take that too."
Touka gripped the quinque, ignoring the sickening aroma it emanated, and buried it alongside her cellphone at the bottom of Hide's clothes hamper. It wasn't the most secure place, but Touka had full confidence that no one in their right mind would willingly dig through Hide's laundry—not with that stench. Next, she grabbed a pair of clean socks from his drawer and found a roll of duct tape beside his desk. Bingo.
Kaneki had propped Akira up on Touka's bed and had begun to tie her wrists together. She watched him wrap the rope around her hands, careful not to cut off circulation to her wrists. Once he'd finished tying the first knot, she handed him the roll of duct tape for extra support.
"I can't believe we're doing this," she whispered.
Killing people was easy, in a sense. After the initial blow, it was a done deal. No witnesses, no one to hold her accountable for her actions. But taking a hostage? Touka had never done that before, she didn't enjoy drinking up others' misery. Not like Yamori, or hell, even Tsukiyama.
"This is the only thing we can do, right now," Kaneki said. He began to wrap the rope around her ankles, looping over and under to secure a stable knot. Once he was finished, he turned back to Touka.
"So, now what? Wait until she wakes up and try to reason with her?"
Mado Akira would not see reason, and if she did, it was nothing more than a ruse to lull them into a false sense of security.
"I think we should call Yomo," she said instead. "Let him know the situation and that we won't be finishing our shifts."
Kaneki frowned. "Do you think he can handle the cafe on his own?"
"Hinami's getting out of school soon," Touka said. "She should be able to help out."
"If you want to step out to call Yomo, I can stay here in case she wakes up."
Once in the living room, Touka slipped her phone out of her pocket and hit speed dial for :re. Yomo picked up on the third ring. "This is :re coffee shop and cafe, how may I help you today?"
To think that just under a year ago Yomo used to answer the phone with "what?" If she wasn't so stressed, she would've applauded him for the progress he'd made.
"We've got a problem. Hide's coworker, that white-haired woman, discovered Kaneki and I. Kaneki knocked her out before she could do anything and we've got her tied up in my bedroom, so we won't be able to come back for our shifts tonight."
"Mm-hm. With rope."
"Hinami should be getting off from school in an hour or so. Do you think you could hold down the fort until then?" she asked.
There was a long pause. In the background, she could hear the clatter of plates and a small child crying.
"If I must."
"Thank you, Yomo-san. You're a lifesaver!"
She hung up without waiting for an answer. Now she only had to message Hinami and hope that she hadn't made any afterschool plans. She was settling into public school pretty well and had already established a small friend group—it would be Touka's luck that they'd booked movie tickets or something. After shooting Hinami a short text, Touka pocketed her phone and joined Kaneki in her bedroom.
"Okay… how about this," Kaneki proposed. "We convince her it was all a dream. Or we wear our masks, take her to a different location, and pretend that we're not Haise and Touka and that she's delirious. That way she thinks she imagined the whole thing here and that Eyepatch and Rabbit are the real culprits."
"Kaneki-kun…" She rubbed her temples. "No."
"Oh, come on. I'm trying to think of something."
"I know, but it'd never work. She's perceptive."
Kaneki's lips thinned. "We can't just run away. If we left, Hide would take the fall. Harboring ghouls is at least ten years in prison for a civilian, imagine what they'd do to an investigator. Plus, they know that we're connected to :re and would investigate there too. Anteiku all over again…"
"And we don't want to kill her," Touka summed up. "Which leaves about nothing that we can actually do."
"We could still tell the truth?" he suggested. "I know, I know. It'd be pretty incriminating, but maybe she'll hear us out. Explain that we don't kill people and hope to gain her sympathies?"
"We don't kill people— except her father! You think she'd be sympathetic to us once she pieces that together? Hell, didn't you kill her last partner? Amon Koutarou, right?"
"Don't 'Touka' me! We both know it's true. We've taken people she cares about, we've fucked her up beyond forgiveness." She blinked tears from her eyes. "Maybe I deserve to be caught! What goes around, comes around! Right?"
Kaneki said nothing. After a moment or so of silence, Touka realized her blunder.
"I'm sorry. I… I knew that you had no choice, with that investigator. You were protecting Anteiku. I had a choice when I went after her father. I started this mess."
"I helped with that too, remember?" he said. "Besides, she'd still be an investigator and Hide's partner even if you hadn't killed him. She didn't join the CCG for vengeance; this was all just a cosmic coincidence."
She scrunched her eyes shut. "More like a cosmic joke."
"Hey, come on. We'll figure it out. We always do."
"Optimism is an unusual color on you, Ken."
"I guess Hide's rubbed off on me," he said. "I'm not at all special, but somehow I've managed to get this far. After everything we've faced, I won't let this be the end of us. Even if it means…"
Killing Hide's partner.
I've been working on this piece for a few months now and I kept telling myself that I would finish this fic before I graduated high school. I graduate tomorrow night, so I just barely made it! Hope you guys enjoy 33