When it came to the idea of killing Akira—Hide's work partner—Touka wasn't even sure if she could do it. She was no stranger to killing, but it always hurt seeing that flicker of recognition in one's eyes—complete betrayal.
Before Touka could respond to Kaneki, Akira began to stir. Her eyes fluttered a moment before she seemed to process that she was only feet away from two ghouls. She struggled against her bondage, trying to pull free of the rope around her wrists and ankles. Touka gripped the pair of socks that she'd taken from Hide's room earlier, prepared to use it as a gag.
"Why've you—? What?"
Kaneki stood from the edge of the bed. "Hey, it's alright. We don't want to hurt you."
"Tell that—to 'ur fridge—of meat!" she thrashed. "Gonna kill me too? Stuff me—stuff me in supperware?"
Now that she was awake, Touka could see quite clearly that Akira's eyes were dilated. She wasn't an expert on human injuries, but she was pretty sure that Akira was concussed. Turns out Kaneki had been right for once.
"Akira-san," she said, "I believe you have a concussion. If you calm down, we can help you." She turned to Kaneki. "Do you think ice'll help a concussion?"
"Beats me, but let me check." He pulled out his phone. "Ah, yeah. Ice is good for concussions."
"I don't have concuss'n," Akira protested. "Lemme—go!"
Kaneki had already moved toward the kitchen.
"Get her some bottled water and tylenol too," Touka called.
"I don't want 'ur drugs." In a fit of desperation, she threw her bound hands at the bed. "No ghoul drugs."
"It's Hide's tylenol, if that makes you feel better. Not that we have much use for human pain killers." Touka snorted. "If we get a headache, we're basically screwed."
Akira's expression clouded. "Hide. Hide knows and he—he's been—" she blinked tears from her eyes. "Traitor. He betrayed us all."
"He's still the man you know," Touka countered. "Harboring a few docile ghouls doesn't make him any less committed to ridding the streets of the real bad ones."
"You kill people."
"Not really anymore. There are a few ethical ways to get meat that don't include killing, you know." Except she wouldn't know. They did all they could to keep the CCG from suspecting anything about their handful of suicide grounds.
Kaneki returned with a frozen package of peas, a bottle of tylenol, and a bottle of water. "This should ease the pain." He gradually pressed the peas against Akira's forehead. She didn't seem pleased but didn't struggle once Kaneki made his intentions clear.
"Why are you helping me?" she whispered. "You're just gonna kill me…"
Kaneki shot Touka a careful glance.
"You're important to Hide," Touka said. "And… and I don't dislike you."
"Bull. I'm 'ur hostage, right? You're gonna… you're gonna try and convince the CCG to trade my life for Hide's immunity or something." She forced a laugh before scrunching her face in pain once again. "Th—they'd let me die. I'm no Arima Kishou. Do your worse."
"Akira-san, we really don't want to hurt you," Kaneki repeated. He shook the bottle of tylenol and held out two capsules. "These'll help your head for a bit."
"No." She pressed her lips together. "Nu-uh."
"They came straight from Hide's medicine cabinet," Kaneki assured. "If you think they're something bad, I'll take some too."
"Won't work on you, though. Ghoul." She paused. "Half-ghoul? What are you?"
Kaneki sighed. "Ghoul, half-ghoul. Not much of a difference either way. Born human but transplanted with a kakuhou." Keeping the frozen package secure against her forehead, he used his other hand to remove his eyepatch. He activated his kakugan and met the Dove with both eyes for the first time. "Most just call me a one-eyed."
"One-eyed ghoul," she echoed. "But what does that make you?"
He raised a brow. "Come again?"
"Can you eat… eat anything? Or on'y humans?"
"Just human." Kaneki looked down. "I miss regular food, but it isn't that bad. Tastes good to me, now."
She looked almost sick.
"How'd you… how'd you figure that out?"
"I thought that the hospital food was foul, at first. Then I realized that it was any food, nothing tasted good to me. That's when I pieced it together, because before she'd been crushed, Rize—the ghoul whose organs I received—tried to eat me. Touka offered me meat more than once, but I declined. Then I sort of lost control." He deactivated his kakugan. "Hunger is the worst."
The Dove squirmed against her bonds. "So what? Been killing since? No problems 'bout it?"
"No. We have other ways of obtaining food. I've done my share of bad things, but I do my best not to kill anyone innocent." Kaneki rolled the capsules of tylenol in his hand, holding them back out to Akira. "Sure you still don't want these?"
For a moment, Touka was certain that she would decline. But then, something in her resolve softened. "Fine. Gimme water too."
Kaneki removed the ice pack from her forehead for just a moment and helped Akira swallow each capsule, one at a time, with a drink of water. Once she'd swallowed both capsules, he replaced the package of peas.
"So, you've said twice. How do ghouls get bodies without killing?" Akira questioned.
Touka chose her words carefully. "We clean a few… locations… where people often chose to die. We'll also take any bodies left behind by other ghouls, given the CCG doesn't beat us to them."
She scoffed. "Suicide victims?"
"Yes. I can't bring back the people that I've killed in the past, but I do my best to atone for it by taking as few lives as possible." She trained her eyes on the floor. "I'm not a good person, but I'm trying to be better. Hide says that's what matters, at least."
Akira fell silent. "Hide… Hide just accepts that you two eat people?"
"Eh, he was a little awkward about it at first but we're pretty comfortable with each other now," Touka said. "Now he just makes fun of us. Smug bastard."
"To be fair, that's how he shows people he cares about them," Kaneki said. "So I'll take it. No matter how… inappropriate his jokes are."
Akira narrowed her eyes. "If he's roommates with you two, did he on'y join CCG for you, then? Has it all been lies?"
"Eh, I know he started as a delivery boy because he wanted to get information on me while I was, uh, AWOL. But then after everything at Anteiku we reconnected and he wanted to move up the ranks so he could protect us from the inside. But I wouldn't say it was all a lie. He still thinks it's important to remove the dangerous ghouls like Torso, ones who kill for perverted pleasure rather than for means of survival."
"So if the CCG asked to kill you, he'd defect against CCG."
Neither Touka nor Kaneki responded. The answer was yes, of course.
"Can't believe how naive I was," she said. "Even after going through the academy, Hide symp'thized with ghouls. I thought he was just—" Akira seized. "Gah! My head!"
Kaneki removed her ice pack. "Does that help?"
"Why do you'ven care?" she scowled. "I'm not gonna be convinced to cooperate with you. You're still monsters—still eat people."
"Only by chance," Kaneki said. "Rize could've killed me before the beams fell. Or the doctor might have chosen a different night to set his plan into action. Or Rize took Hide on a date instead. I didn't ask to be this way and neither did Touka-chan." Touka tried not to notice when Kaneki popped his index finger. Well. "If history proves anything, it's that those who push eugenics are always on the wrong side."
"We don't… we don't do eugenics. We protect civilians."
"Isn't one of the core values of the CCG to eradicate all ghouls?" Touka countered.
"That's the only way to protect." She huffed. "Killing 'nd detaining ghouls."
"But by killing us, it creates a systemic cycle," Kaneki pointed out. "Orphaned children grow up fearing the CCG, despising it, and want less and less to do with humans at all. If there were humane alternatives available, I believe most ghouls would prefer that to killing humans."
"What humane options are there? You eat people."
"Hide's actually done some research into it," Touka said. "He says that within a few years, it should be feasible for the CCG to produce and distribute synthetic meat as well as recycling amputated flesh. But the CCG would rather just perpetuate this broken cycle than attempt to fix it."
"'Cause ghouls haven't given us reason to believe they can coexist!"
"When was the last time you've spoken to a ghoul?" Kaneki asked. "I'd bet this is your first time, right? I mean, I used to think the same way before my accident so I can't blame you." He crouched down and met Akira's eye level. "So, I'll let you be the judge. Do you think that I'm just nothing more than a shell of my former self? That I'm just a starving monster that's taken residence in Kaneki Ken's body? That I'm automatically incapable of empathizing with humans?"
She stared at him with thoughtful eyes.
"I don't know. I don't know you."
"I suppose that's fair. Sometimes I doubt I even know myself. Which I'm sure doesn't help my case," he added quietly.
"That's reasonable given the circumstances, though," Touka interjected. "You've lived in both worlds—human and ghoul. Identity crises aside, I'd say that you're living proof of coexistence."
"He's proof humans'n adapt to the ghoul world. That isn't coexistence."
"No, he is proof that humans can adapt to our world. But it's more than that. He's managed to integrate into ghoul society and keep his ties to the human world. Hide doesn't care that Kaneki's a ghoul. And he's not the only one either!"
"Just other humans that keep quiet. Lovers, friends, acquaintances," Touka listed. "If you're asking for names, I'm afraid I can't tell you."
"So that's what this is? You're hoping I'll stay quiet, like a naive civilian?"
"You see, that's the thing. Most of the humans who glimpse our world aren't naive at all. I know a woman who's been kidnapped by a ghoul, only because she's dating one. Even though she understands the danger, they're still together years later. I know another girl who's best friends with a ghoul. He brought her as a meal for the ghoul restaurant once, but they decided to put it behind them."
"M'not like them. I'm a investigator." Akira raised her head proudly. "You'll've better luck killing me."
Kaneki met Touka's eye. They were getting nowhere with this, back at square one.
"How about you sleep on it, then?" Touka suggested. "Or is it not safe to sleep with a concussion?"
"They say if you can hold a conversation, you're fine to sleep. I think." Kaneki waved his phone.
"Good." If they blocked the exit to Touka's bedroom from the outside, Akira shouldn't be able to escape. But they probably shouldn't take any chances, just leaving her wrists and ankles bound. They should tie her to the bedpost, just in case. "Kaneki-kun, hand me the rope again."
With the spool of rope in hand, Touka reached for Akira's wrists. The woman struggled against her grip, but with Touka's superior strength it was no use. She wrapped the rope around her already bound wrists and looped it around the bedpost, giving Akira just enough space to lay comfortably on the bed.
"Don't—don't leave me in here!" she shouted. "Lemme go!"
"We'll let you rest," Kaneki said. "With that concussion you need it anyway."
"Damn ghouls! Lemme go! Let me—!"
Touka wanted to turn around, but she kept her back to Akira as she exited her bedroom. They shut the door behind them and moved one of the living room shelves in front of it. Thankfully, with the door shut they couldn't hear Akira's shouting—which meant the neighbors couldn't hear it either. Everything was secure.
"What are we going to do?" she asked Kaneki. "I knew we couldn't reason with her."
"Don't be too sure," he said. "You saw it in her eyes, didn't you? She was considering at least some of what we said. After all, I've been in a similar place before. It might take time, but—"
"We don't have time. People will notice she's missing."
"Well, it's either we wait for her to come around or we kill her. Either way, someone's gonna notice she's gone." He looked down at his feet. "That part's inevitable."
"Does anyone know that she was coming here?" Touka asked. "I'm sure Hide knows, but there's no telling how many other investigators she told where she was going."
"We need to contact Hide, then. Get him up to speed."
"His cellphone's busted. What if his calls are monitored?"
That was the main reason they hadn't tried calling him in the CCG's hospital already. Well, that and he was still a little out of it after surgery.
"We'll have to risk it. Or at least ask if anyone's listening in."
"That might work. Here, I have the number written down…"
They put the call on speakerphone and waited. Eventually, Hide picked up.
"Hello? You've reached Nagachika's bedside~!"
"Hide," Kaneki breathed. "It's good to hear your voice."
"Haise-kun, hey! I've been waiting for your call. Didja hear about my brave encounter with Torso? He got me good!"
"Yeah," he chuckled. "I did. I'm glad you're recovering alright. Oh, and Touka-chan's here too."
"Touka-chan, what's up?"
"Uh, not really sure how to answer that one. Is there anyone with you? Anyone monitoring this call?"
"Not that I know? Uh," he lowered his voice, "there's a small chance all calls are recorded since it's a CCG line, but I know the guy who runs that department. I can wipe it in a few weeks."
"If that's the case, we're probably good," Kaneki decided. "We have a situation. A really bad one."
"Akira-san came over to get your things and she, uh, figured us out. She knows about the fridge and knows that you're in the loop about it."
The line was quiet. Too quiet.
"It's uh, we're trying to figure it out."
"You didn't let her… you didn't let her go, did you?"
"No. She's in Touka-chan's room. With a concussion."
"I tried my best not to hurt her, okay?" Kaneki snapped. "She was about to use her quinque on Touka-chan!"
Hide made a sort of high-pitched whining sound.
"Have any suggestions?" Touka asked. "Like on how to get us out of this situation?"
"Fuck, if I know! I—let me think for a second here." He inhaled and exhaled. "Does she know your aliases?"
"She knows that I'm Kaneki, not that I'm Eyepatch or Centipede. Whichever they call me now."
"I don't think she knows about Rabbit, but she did see one of my rabbit drawings. If she realizes I'm an ukaku… she might piece that together too."
"Okay… that's to our advantage. She doesn't have anything personal against you two. Akira's intelligent—wicked smart—but she's been indoctrinated to believe everything that the CCG has taught her. If we play our cards right, we're more likely to get through to her with logic than with an emotional appeal. Have you talked with her yet?"
"Yeah. We tried explaining the deal to her, that we don't kill anyone," Touka said. "She didn't seem to know what to make of it. So that's something."
"I told her a bit about how I became the way I am and pointed out that the CCG should be aiming to facilitate coexistence between species rather than focusing on full eradication."
"I'm guessing she denied it," Hide said.
"Well, denial's the first step to acceptance. We can work from there. That's actually not a bad start. I'll have to talk with her of course."
"When do you get out?"
"Not for another few weeks, but I'm being transferred to a general hospital tomorrow. What if I just," he lowered his voice, "happened to make a break for it while two mysterious ghouls kidnapped Investigator Nagachika from his transport vehicle?"
"No!" they chimed in unison.
"First off, we don't need the attention," Touka said. "Second off, you need physical therapy! Don't let us think that your shoulder is healed now that you feel like it!"
"Eh, yeah. I figured that would be a long shot. I doubt I'll be able to have a heartfelt discussion with her over the phone, though. We need to figure something else out."
"I mean, with you not able to be here I'm not sure how much more we can do." Kaneki sighed. "Just give her time and hope to win her over?"
"Even so, if she agrees to keep our secret how will we know she's telling the truth? For all we know, she might pretend to keep quiet for a few weeks or so and then launch a full-scale eradication on :re," Touka pointed out. "I can't do that again, not after last time."
"Mm, you guys can sense heart rate, right? Like if you tune into someone you can hear each beat?"
"I mean I've never consciously tried to do it, but yeah sometimes," Kaneki said.
"Okay, and you know lie detector tests where it senses when someone tells a lie? If you could tune into her heartbeat and listen for when her heart skips a beat, you can tell if she's being honest or not. Theoretically, of course."
"We don't know if that'll work or not. Some people can cheat those tests, which is why it doesn't hold up in court," Touka pointed out. "Most of the time, TV just exaggerates their effectiveness anyway."
"Hey, you asked for ideas! It's the best I've got right now."
"I know." She inhaled and exhaled. "This is a stressful situation."
"Yeah, no shit."
"Any suggestions on what not to say?" Kaneki asked. "Anything that would piss her off?"
"I mean, generally any kind of pro-ghoul sentiment irritates her," Hide said. "One time there were a few protesters outside of the CCG—some human peace organization we've done numerous background checks on—and she was in a sour mood for the rest of the week."
"So no matter what we say, it's going to piss her off," she summed up.
"I assume, yes."
"And I'm sure her concussion doesn't help," Kaneki muttered.
"Ah, yes. You'd almost let me forget about that. How did you even—?"
"He whacked her with his kagune."
He groaned. "Great going, Ken."
"I told you, I had no ch—"
On Hide's side of the call, there was a sudden exclamation.
"Fuck, sorry! My nurse is coming. Talk to you guys later!"
With that, he hung up.
"Well," Touka said, "that was a little helpful. But we're still on our own."
"Yeah. I think we should give it a few more hours before talking to her again. Focus more on logical arguments, getting through to her."
She nodded. "If we're waiting, one of us should go check on Yomo and Hinami. Make sure that :re hasn't erupted in flames."
"You wanna stay here while I go check?"
"Sounds good to me." Kaneki grabbed the latest book he'd been reading. "I'll be here."
Touka found her house keys and headed for the door. "Aight. See ya in a bit!"
Hinami reminded Touka of herself whenever she started working at Anteiku. She wasn't the most efficient worker, but she was fast. Which led to a few… unfortunate mishaps.
"Watch where you pour that coffee, girl!" a customer shouted. "You almost drenched me!"
"I'm so sorry! I'll get this cleaned up, right away!" she cried.
Hinami's biggest problem was that she needed to learn a little patience.
"Hinami-chan," she greeted. "Don't worry about it. I'll clean it up instead."
Hinami stood up from the spill, shoes squeaking against the floor. "Onee-chan! You're back!"
"I am. Go finish that order and I'll take care of this mess." She stepped around the puddle of coffee and found a spare rag hanging over the counter.
Touka went to work and got as much of the spill cleaned as possible. They would have to mop this spot later, for sure. Until the customers cleared out that would have to wait, though. The least she could do was put up a wet floor sign until the coffee residue dried.
"Touka-chan," Yomo called from across the counter. "Is your houseguest… settled in?"
She snorted. "You can say that."
He gestured for her to follow him into the kitchen. Once there was a door between them and the customers Touka sighed.
"We were a little reckless, I know. She saw something of Kaneki's in his bedroom and realized who he was since apparently they'd suspected him of being associated with Rize. Hide threw out all the paperwork months ago, but she remembered him. That was enough for her to figure out that we were both ghouls."
"You haven't killed her," Yomo said. "That's unlike you."
"I killed her father, Yomo-san." She bristled. "I don't think I can stand to hurt her family even more, especially when I've gotten to know her. That, and she's Hide's coworker. If I killed her then how would I be able to keep living with Hide and Kaneki?"
"You're going to let her go?" He crossed his arms. "If you do that, you wouldn't live with Nagachika and Kaneki anyway. "
"I'm aware. I know it's a stupid, stupid move, but I'm going to try to win her over to our side. Kaneki thinks it can be done, especially since he used to be human—if we play it right, that'll be our edge."
"Kaneki is still inexperienced. He's grown a lot over the past few years, but he hasn't seen everything."
"Oh, and you have?" she remarked.
"Doves don't change. Not ones like her, anyway. You're forgetting that Nagachika is different, that he was loyal to us before joining the CCG."
"So you'd have me kill her?"
She groaned. "Dammit. I was afraid you'd say that."
"I dislike needless bloodshed as much as you do," he said, "but I do not want to see :re fall apart. You and the others here… I don't know if I can stand to lose it all again."
"Me neither," she whispered.
When Anteiku burned, it was only thanks to Hide that she was able to save Kaneki. Rescuing him before he reached the White Reaper, Arima Kishou, was no small feat. When they'd found him in V14, he'd been consumed with immeasurable pain and hunger. It was a miracle they'd seen a fallen investigator before reaching him. They'd brought him back to the corpse, careful to keep Kaneki a safe distance from Hide, and had made their escape from there.
Regardless, they'd still lost so much that night. The Manager, Irimi, Koma, and the countless ghouls that'd fought with them to the end. Sometimes she could still smell the ash in the air, feel it against her face. No amount of bathing could rid her of the awful feeling.
She would not let :re meet the same fate. Never again.
"I can't predict the future," Yomo said. "I trust your judgment, Touka-chan. If you want to spare her life then I won't intervene. Just please be careful."
"I will." She paused. "How much did you tell Hinami about this?"
Hinami did her best to avoid Akira whenever she visited the cafe. Aside from the constant reminder of what happened to her own parents, Hinami couldn't stand to remember what she'd done to help kill Investigator Mado. From what Touka could figure, she was torn between feelings of resentment and guilt.
"She knows that you and Kaneki are occupied with something at your apartment. I downplayed it, so she doesn't know anything about Mado-san's involvement."
"I should be the one to tell her," Touka decided. "But not right now. Not until later."
"I can probably work the last few hours of my shift. We're letting Akira get some sleep before we try to talk to her again, and Kaneki's watching the apartment."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah! I might have a woman who wants to kill all of us tied up in my bedroom, but I'm one-hundred percent fine! If I say it out loud enough, it might come true."
"Look, I am alright. I can get through this shift. Trust me."
He hesitated. "If you say so."
Without another word, he walked past her back out into the cafe. He greeted a customer at the counter and began taking their order. Touka soon followed him, putting all thoughts of the Dove far away in her mind. That was a later problem.
Kaneki was reclined across the couch when she returned, nose deep in his novel. He'd yet to look up at her and she had half a mind to push his head further into the book. Nevertheless, she ignored the urge and instead sat on top of his feet.
"Hey!" he squirmed under her weight. "You could've at least said 'hi!'"
"I made a lot of noise coming in, but you didn't even glance at me," she countered. "So, I take it that nothing's happened with Akira."
"I haven't checked, but there should be no way for her to leave that room. Probably still asleep."
"You didn't even notice me come in, book nerd. You gotta get your head in the game."
"I think I would have noticed if our concussed guest escaped her bindings and then pushed over the bookshelf locking her in," he deadpanned.
She pushed herself off of him. "I wouldn't put it past you."
"Rude." Kaneki turned his attention toward the clock on the wall. "It's been almost five hours. Do you think we should bring her some more medicine and something to eat?"
Touka furrowed her brow. "You think she can handle food?"
"Humans need to eat more often, especially when they don't feel well. I think Hide has some soup in the cabinet."
Touka found the discarded bottle of tylenol while Kaneki heated up some soup. He placed her bowl on a tray and carried it to Touka's bedroom, while Touka moved the shelf blocking the door. When they entered the room, Akira was still sound asleep. Touka could tell from her breathing that she wasn't faking it either—she was out cold.
Kaneki set the food on Touka's nightside and softly jostled Akira awake.
"Hey, Akira-san. We brought you some food."
She woke up immediately.
"Go t' hell," she rasped. "Leave me 'lone."
"You've been asleep for a few hours," Kaneki said. "We brought you some soup, water, and more tylenol if you'd like it. With that concussion you need fluids."
"You did my concuss'n. Leave me 'lone!" she pulled against the rope, which was tied to the bedpost. The force of her movement gave a sickening creak and for a moment Touka imagined the bedpost snapping in half. Still, the rope held firm.
"If you agree to eat the soup, we'll untie you from the bedpost," Touka offered. "Not your wrists or ankles, but you'll be able to sit up straight again."
There was a defiant glint in Akira's eyes. "No."
"This isn't a trick," Kaneki added. "We'll let you sit up."
She scowled. "Fuck off."
Touka was just close enough that when Akira spat at her, a wad of spittle hit her straight-on, blemishing Touka's otherwise pristine uniform. For a moment, all Touka could hear was the rush of blood in her ears. She felt her kakugan activate and had to take even breaths to calm herself. Calm down calm down calm down—
"Fin'lly showing 'ur true colors," Akira whispered. "Foul ghoul."
She's just trying to hit a nerve to prove herself right, don't give into it. Don't give in.
"Touka-chan." Kaneki grabbed her hands and moved her fingers so she was holding both hands open. With an ostentatious show of delicacy, he placed a spare napkin in her palms. "It's alright."
She blinked back her kakugan, letting it fade behind purple irises.
"Right. I'm all good." She wiped the phlegm off of her front with the napkin before discarding it in the trash. "It'll take more than a little saliva to piss me off."
"That's not what it looked like."
"Do you think I care? We're offering you food and medicine, you're the one that's making this more difficult for yourself."
"Oh, yes." She rolled her eyes. "'Cause I tied myself to this fucking bedpost."
"It's not like we had much choice! You were going to kill us, and you still would if we hadn't done this! We're the ones trying to show mercy here, trying to break this stupid cycle of killing each other!"
She scoffed. "You think sparing my life'll redeem you? Gimme a break."
"It's not like we could've helped any of this from happening. What if you'd been born like me? Hell, what if what happened to Kaneki-kun happened to you? What would you do if you woke up one day with an insatiable hunger, bloodlust?"
"I'd do the world a favor and die," she hissed. "Like you should."
"When this first happened to me," Kaneki said, "before I even met other ghouls, I tried to die."
Touka's blood ran cold. "What."
"I tried stabbing myself. They'd said they'd given me Rize's organs, right? I thought if I could injure those organs that they'd give me another transplant, a human transplant." He laughed. "I thought worst case, if Hide didn't find my body in time, I'd bleed out and not have to deal with the hunger anymore. That I'd be doing the world a favor." Kaneki's gaze sobered. "The knife didn't even pierce my skin."
Touka had never known that. Oh God. Hadn't she told him to die when they met?
"You could've turned 'urself in to us," Akira reasoned. "We could've tried helping you reverse what'd been done…"
"And end up your experiment instead? I may have been naive, but I wasn't flat-out stupid, Akira-san. It took me far too much pain to come to this conclusion, but sometimes it's better to hurt than be hurt. Idealistic thinking only gets you so far in this messed up world."
"And that's what's wrong with you ghouls. You lack morals." She shuddered, hands curling toward her head. "It's inherent."
"No, it's a product of the conditions that ghouls are forced to live in. I'm only this jaded because of what's happened to me, not because of some gene or trait that comes with being a ghoul."
"No one is born wanting to hurt others," Touka added. "My parents fed my brother and I until… until they weren't around. I was ten when I had to start killing on my own. I hated it so much that I would starve myself to the brink of exhaustion; the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had to feed my brother too." Akira started to speak, but Touka cut her off. "And don't say something about how a ten-year-old child should've let herself die, that she should've let her brother die too. What would you have done in my position, with no other options but killing? Really, I want to know."
Akira was silent.
"Is it… is it too late for that soup?"
Touka carefully untied Akira from her bedpost, making sure that she had no openings to pull Touka into a chokehold. She wouldn't put it past the Dove. Kaneki placed the tray with the soup in front of Akira and brought a spoon up to the woman's lips.
"This's demeaning," she complained. "Can't I hold the spoon myself?"
"Not without untying you, no."
Finally, Akira relented and allowed Kaneki to feed her spoonfuls of the now lukewarm soup.
"Even if there was some alternate option like you proposed earlier," Akira drew out, "that wouldn't stop all ghouls from killing."
"But it would help some," Touka said. "It would help us."
"And in turn, less humans would die. It's beneficial for both of us," Kaneki explained.
"The CCG would never allow it."
She snorted. "We figured. But all it takes is something small. Change has to start somewhere, right?"
"Full eradication will never be as efficient as social facilitation," Kaneki stated. "Sooner or later, they'll have to confront that. The longer they wait, more ghouls, investigators, and civilians die."
"So is this 'ur sales pitch? Am I 'sposed to just agree and help you reform the CCG from the inside out?" She scrunched her eyes shut. "Trust the word of two mon'sers?"
"What do you have to lose? If it fails, you can just kill us. Turn us in. Go back to killing all ghouls that cross your path. Right?" Kaneki pointed out. "We'd be putting a lot more trust in you than you in us."
"Tell me something. Do you two have aliases?"
Her heart skipped a beat.
"No, we don't."
Fuck, please buy that answer. Goddammit.
"Hm." Akira's cold stare was piercing. "That's hard to believe."
"We really don't," she repeated. "We've never needed them."
Kaneki, pulling his best poker face, nodded in agreement.
"I might'be concussed, but I can still sense lies. I can' trust either you 'til I know who you really are."
"Does it matter?" she tried. "It—it was a long time ago."
"You don't want to know, you really don't. I swore I wouldn't…" she inhaled. "Is Kirishima Touka, manager of :re coffee shop and cafe, not good enough for you? Isn't who I am now good enough?"
Akira made a show of pulling on her bonds. "No, it's not."
"We've made mistakes," Kaneki said. "We've said as much. We're not good people, but we're trying our best to make amends. We can't expect for you to accept any sort of apology from us; what we've done is unforgivable."
He looked to Touka, prompting her to speak. She couldn't say it. She couldn't make her lips form the words.
I'm the Rabbit.
I killed your father.
As much as she wanted to own up to her sins, she just couldn't do it. Before she could process what was happening, Touka fled the room in tears. Tears? When had she started crying?
Kaneki didn't pursue her, opting to stay with Akira. That was probably for the better. Touka wanted to be alone anyway. She'd put as much distance from her bedroom as she could in their small apartment, holing herself up in the bathroom. She didn't remember climbing into the bathtub, bringing her knees up to her chest, but she must have done it sometime. She traced the faint lines in the porcelain. One of the small fractures in the bathtub looked like the shape of a spider. Funny. She'd never noticed that one before…
Touka broke out of her stupor.
"I'm sorry." She bowed her head. "I let myself in. I just—Yomo wouldn't talk to me! I know there's something big going on with you and Onii-chan and it was really weird when Yomo was even more tight-lipped than usual and I just wanted to make sure that you two were okay and then I heard you crying—"
"It's like, ten o'clock at night. Shouldn't you be getting ready for school?"
"It's not that late, Touka-chan." She paused. "Don't change the subject on me. You're crying. In the bathtub."
"Hina-chan, you should go."
She shook her head and tentatively stepped into the bathtub. She sat opposite Touka, cross-legged. "I'm leaving until you tell me what's going on."
"It's really not that important."
"But there is something that's going on," Hinami said. "Otherwise you wouldn't be crying at all."
Touka groaned. "Fine, yes. But it'll make you upset too so you're better off leaving now. Really, I'll be fine once this all blows over!"
Hinami clasped Touka's hands. "If that's the case, then I don't mind sharing the burden with you. I care about you, Touka-chan. Just tell me what you can."
Once Hinami set her mind on something, there was little anyone could do to deter her. Damn. Hinami really was the spitting image of herself at that age.
"So you know Hide's work partner, Akira-san?"
Hinami gulped. "What about her?"
"She knows that Kaneki and I are ghouls. She pieced together that Kaneki was, well, Kaneki. And then she threw open our fridge door and—and we knocked her out and now she's tied up in my bedroom."
Her eyes widened. "No."
"That's not even the worst part. We're trying to persuade her to our side, that way we don't have to kill her. It's a vain effort, but she just asked us—she just asked us if we had any aliases." She choked back a sob. "I want her to trust us, but how can I tell her what I've done? What I did to her father?"
Hinami looked down. "Then it's my fault."
"No! No, Hina-chan! None of this is your fault. I may have killed him to avenge your parents, but that doesn't mean that his death is on your hands. It's on mine."
"He probably would've bled out anyway if you hadn't finished him off," Hinami said. "I sliced his arm off. Clean off. I was thirteen and I—I chopped a man's arm off. His blood is on my hands as much as yours, so stop pretending like you're the only one at fault here."
"That doesn't mean it's your fault, though."
"Maybe it is! Look, Touka-chan. You want to blame yourself because I was young and didn't know any better. But that doesn't mean I didn't play a part in what happened. We both killed Mado."
"That won't matter to Akira. Once she finds out that I'm the Rabbit, she'll see me as the one to blame. I can't even fault her! If I knew the man who killed my parents, I'd never forgive him!" She shook her head. "Forget about winning her over to our side. Once she learns I'm the Rabbit, she'll never trust me. And that means we'll have to kill her. It's all a lose-lose situation!"
"I don't want to kill anyone anymore! I'm sick of it!" she pounded her fist against the side of the bathtub. "It isn't fair!"
"I want to speak with her," Hinami said. "If that's alright with you, of course."
The question took Touka off guard. "What?"
"I want to speak with Mado-san and see if we can reach an understanding."
"No. No, you can't."
"Why not?" Hinami challenged. "What do we really have to lose here? She already knows we're ghouls."
"She knows that Kaneki and I are ghouls, she doesn't know about :re and I'd like to keep it that way for now."
"What difference does it make? If your endgame is to win her over to our side, you'll have to tell her about :re eventually. Honestly, it's better that we come clean now instead of continuing to lie to her. If she finds out about us killing her father later rather than sooner, she'd see that as a breach of trust."
She did have a point. "Fine. You can speak with her, just don't antagonize her or anything. Also, if I say you should leave, then you leave. Got it?"
"Got it, boss."
They helped each other to their feet and stepped out of the bathtub. Touka led Hinami to her bedroom, where Kaneki had resumed feeding Akira spoonfuls of soup. She looked pained as she downed each spoonful, but Touka figured that was more out of disdain of being fed by someone.
Kaneki noticed Hinami first.
"Onii-chan," she greeted. "Hello, Mado-san."
Her eyes were saucers. "You're kidding me. You're a ghoul too?"
"Touka-chan," Kaneki hissed, "what's she doing here?"
"I have the spare key to your apartment," Hinami explained. "It wasn't hard."
"Yeah, that doesn't explain much," he said.
"I suppose it doesn't, but this should." Touka closed the gap between her and Akira so that she was just a foot away from the captive Dove. "Akira-san, the question you asked me before. I have an answer, and it's not one that you'll like. It's not an answer that I'm particularly proud of either."
She bowed her head.
"I'm the Rabbit."
Touka didn't dare look up, but she heard Akira's voice catch in her throat. She didn't want to see the look in her eyes, the anger. Betrayal. Rage.
"I've taken a great deal from you, and I cannot begin to repent for my wrongdoings. I will not ask for your forgiveness but allow me to apologize. As a fellow daughter who's lost a father, I know that what I've done isn't right."
Kaneki cleared his throat. "I'm uh, the Eyepatch."
"... not the time, Onii-chan."
"The Rabbit is a known associate of Aogiri Tree." Akira narrowed her eyes. "Or at least, they were. You've lied to me."
"There's two Rabbits," Hinami cut in. "The other Rabbit is with Aogiri, but we have nothing to do with them."
"I see. So, then you killed my father. Which means that you," Akira turned to Kaneki, "killed my previous partner, Amon Koutarou, did you not?"
Kaneki hesitated. "I… I believe I did. What happened that night is so hazy, and he almost killed me."
"You ate him," she accused. "All that was left was's arm."
He shook his head. "No. I—I only fought him. I was much too injured after that fight. If I'd eaten him I would've healed, I know that much."
"He was so intrigued by the idea of you, did you know that? Eyepatch was the one ghoul he couldn't wrap his mind 'round, the ghoul that pleaded not to kill. An' then you killed him." Her gaze hardened. "Rabbit, I'll on'y ask this once. Why should I emp'thize with you two, the ones who took everything from me? My father was a good man, and so was Amon!"
"You shouldn't empathize with us. We haven't earned it for what we've done." Touka transferred her attention onto Hinami. "Instead, you can empathize with other ghouls and humans who are victims of the same vicious cycle that have taken your loved ones."
Akira looked Hinami up and down. "I don't think we've been fully introduced."
Hinami bowed her head. "Fueguchi Hinami."
"Fueguchi, the Daughter Ghoul. I see, then. It was you my father was trying to kill." She glanced back at Touka. "An' you were trying to save're from him. Tell me, Fueguchi-san, how'd my father's death make you feel? Relieved? Grateful?"
"Grateful, just a little. I was marginally less afraid that he'd find me and do what he'd done to my parents." She exhaled. "But I felt awful about it. That I'd caused someone to die, that he would never live again because of me. I heard him kill my mother while puppetting my father's flesh, his kagune, to do so. But I understood why he wanted to hurt us, I understood that my parents had killed people. I couldn't hold that against him." Tears welled in Hinami's eyes. "I still don't."
"Even though you're a ghoul, you feel killing others is wrong."
"I've been blessed compared to other ghouls. I've always been provided for by others. First my parents, and now Touka and Kaneki. Being around death doesn't scare me as it once did, but I still don't want to hurt others if I have the choice."
Kaneki grabbed a handful of tissues from Touka's nightstand and handed them to Hinami.
"But as a ghoul, you won't always have a choice."
"I probably won't," Hinami admitted. "That saddens me. I know that this isn't a kind world, but I do my best to be kind to the people in it. That's how my parents raised me."
Akira took a moment to respond. "So, if the CCG hyp'theti'ly offered some kinda alternate program, would you be willing t' participate? If it meant you could eat synthetic flesh instead've actual flesh?"
"If it was a genuine program that guaranteed my immunity, then yes. Hypothetically, I'd be willing to participate."
"I've already heard Touka-san and Kaneki-san's testimony, but do you think that plan would work? Do you think a substantial amount of ghouls would change their eating habits if that was an option?"
"Not all ghouls. There's too many… fanatics that enjoy the thrill of the kill." She wrinkled her nose. "Can't say I've ever understood them. But off the top of my head, I know for a fact that many ghouls would jump at the opportunity if the CCG held up their end of the deal. Really, the hardest part will be convincing the ghoul community to trust the CCG at all, given your track record. You have to understand that much."
"I suppose." Akira considered. "Alright. I don't fully trust any've you, but I'm sure you don't trust me either. You make a fair argument 'bout the CCG, and if Hide sees potential in reform then I'll keep quiet 'bout you three. I can't promise I'll be an active participant in 'ur plan, but I'll turn a blind eye given none of you cause trouble. Jus' stick to your suicide victims, or whatever."
Touka felt like a weight had been lifted off her chest. Had they actually persuaded her to change her ways, or was this just some scheme to release her? Kaneki seemed to be wondering the same thing, and Touka realized that it was up to her to make the first move.
"If we let you go, you won't turn us in," she tested the waters, looking for any kind of deceit in Akira's expression.
"And you won't report Hide as a traitor."
"I'll be as good as a traitor, too," she reasoned. "Everything they've taught me, everything my father's taught me—I'm going against it all."
She appeared genuine, truthful. Even her heart rate was even. All signs indicated that she was telling the truth.
"Kaneki-kun, untie her," she said. "I'll have Yomo-san lend me his car so we can drive her to the hospital. She's still concussed and needs actual treatment."
"How are you going to explain the rope burns?" Hinami asked. "That's uh, kind of a red flag."
"We'll worry about that when we get to it," she dismissed. "Now, let me call Yomo-san."
Fortunately, she'd managed to catch Yomo right before he went to sleep. It was hard to discern if he was upset or not (especially when she explained why she needed his car), but Touka decided to brush it off. Even when he was pissed, Yomo always came back around. While they waited for him to drop off the car, Touka managed to persuade Hinami to go back to her apartment so she could get enough sleep for school in the morning. She was adamant to stay with them, but Touka shut her down.
Akira was dazed when they finally arrived at the hospital. Their story was that she'd fallen down the stairs earlier that afternoon when she arrived to collect Hide's belongings. They hadn't realized she had a concussion until a few hours after that and then debated on whether or not she needed the hospital. The rope burns around her wrists were actually from a few days previous; confidential CCG business.
"You should have brought her hours ago," a nurse informed her. She then launched into a bunch of technical medical jargon that Touka was far too tired to wrap her mind around. "Nonetheless, she's here now and that's what matters."
"So she'll be fine?"
"Yes. We'll keep her overnight, but she needs to take it easy the next few days."
After that, Touka and Kaneki returned back to their apartment. She remembered far too late that she still had Akira's cellphone and quinque hidden in Hide's clothes hamper, but that could wait until the morning.
Somehow, they'd managed to win over an investigator to their side. She wasn't sure how they accomplished that feat, but it didn't matter.
Everything would be fine now.
(It had to be.)
Hide was released from the hospital two weeks after the incident. With a little more physical therapy, he was due to return to work within the week.
"Yo, Kaneki-kun! We still on for that dinner date tonight?"
Kaneki looked up from his novel, deadpan. "Last I checked, yes."
"Cool, cool. I was thinking—"
"That's a new one."
"Shut up. Anyway, I was thinking about inviting Akira-san tonight. Would that be weird?"
Kaneki stared at him like he'd grown two heads, and Touka couldn't say she disagreed.
"What?" she interjected. "She's human, Hide-kun."
"So's your homeboy," he argued. "Besides, I think it would be a good experience so she can get used to the whole thing. Plus, like, eating is a good social activity."
"First, never call yourself 'homeboy' ever again," Kaneki said. "Second, I don't think I'm comfortable with that. We eat flesh, Hide-kun. It's not just some exotic meal, it's gross even to me!"
"Ah. Well, whoops. It's a little too late for that, then."
"What do you mean it's too late?" Touka demanded. "You didn't already invite her over, did you?"
He laughed nervously. "Look, I thought you guys would be chill with it."
"What made you think that we would be okay with that! You didn't even ask!"
"I don't know! You're usually chill when it comes to eating around ghouls, I thought that since Akira-san knows about it that it would be fine."
"That's because they're also ghouls, Hide-kun!"
"Fine. I made a mistake." He whipped out his phone. "I'll just text her and let her know not to come over anymore. Dinner canceled."
Touka pinched her nose. "I actually hate you."
Hide's phone rang while he was holding it. It slipped out of his hand and hit the floor, allowing Touka a clear sight of the caller ID.
C-C-Girlboss. Of course.
Hide scrambled for his phone. "Hey, Akira-san~! We were just talking about you, what a coincidence! So, there's been a—"
Touka couldn't make out the other side of the call, but Hide's face gave it all away. He was panicking.
"Oh, alright... no, no! It's no problem at all!" Kaneki shot him an inquisitive look. Hide ignored it. "Mm-hm, sounds good. Really good. See you then!"
He hung up and tossed his phone onto the couch.
"Alright. Bad news: she's still coming to dinner, and now she's coming early."
"What!" Touka shouted. "What's wrong with you? You're supposed to tell her no!"
"It's not my fault! She guilt-tripped me!"
"Oh, sure!" She crossed her arms. "How hard is it to tell someone no?"
"Look, she stayed up all night last night baking! She's bringing a homemade souffle and everything! I've never had a souffle, but like, it's homemade! How can I say no to that?"
"You had the perfect opportunity to say no, and you wasted it!"
"I gotta agree with Touka-chan," Kaneki added. "I mean, souffle? Really, Hide-kun?"
"You know, I ought to eat YOU for dinner, Hideyoshi-kun!" Touka flared her kakugan.
"Wooow." He rolled his eyes. "THAT'S a new one. Never heard that one before."
"I'm serious! There's not much meat on your bones, but I'm sure we can make something work. Whatd'ya say, Kaneki-kun?"
"I think he'd have a bad aftertaste, but sometimes a meal's a meal." Kaneki shrugged.
"Hey, I'll inform you that I would be very delicious! Don't make up lies!"
"You're like, fast food quality at best."
"You did NOT just compare me to Mickey D's!" He held his arm out. "Go ahead, I dare you! I'll prove you wrong."
Kaneki wrinkled his nose. "Hard pass."
Touka thought for a moment, before stepping toward Hide's extended arm. She leaned in, pretending to take a bite. Hide didn't even flinch.
"Go on," he prompted.
She shook her head. "I was trying to freak you out, weirdo! Then you made it weird by not reacting!"
"Bold of you to assume that I would react," he remarked. He then lowered his arm. "Not to make you panic or anything, but Akira'll be here within the hour. If this dinner's gonna happen, we have to get started now."
"I can help with the cooking," Touka volunteered. Even if she couldn't taste the food, Yoriko had given her a lot of pointers on how to work her way around a kitchen. Between her instruction and years of working in a cafe, Touka was confident in her skills.
"I'll clean," Kaneki said. "I probably wouldn't be much help anyway."
"Eh, your cooking's not total shit." Hide shrugged. "You just need practice."
Kaneki snorted. "Thanks for the encouragement."
They spent the next hour or so preparing dinner for Hide and Akira. Although she was reluctant to admit it, she and Hide made a pretty good team. Kaneki tidied up the rest of the apartment while the two of them worked in tandem.
"You can do anything with spaghetti," Hide mused. "I always make sure to have a box of pasta in the cabinet because it's a super simple meal starter."
"And that's why you're putting plain tomato sauce on it," she observed.
He laughed. "It's American style! Or wait, would it be Italian style?"
"Whatever it is, I hope I know what you're doing."
"Oh come on, when don't I?"
The spaghetti itself didn't take too long to make, so Hide tasked Touka with preparing some of the side dishes.
"How do you put garlic on bread? Like a garlic sandwich?" She mimed folding two pieces of bread together.
Hide looked aghast. "No, no. Like a seasoning!"
Garlic bread was beyond her, but she eventually figured it out.
Before long, all they had left was to prepare Touka and Kaneki's meal. In comparison, slapping a few pieces of meat onto a plate was ten times simpler than actual cooking. Touka portioned herself a nice cutlet of thigh, a liver, and some breast meat. She gave Kaneki a clean cut of arm meat, pancreas, and a few intestines—he'd never admit it aloud but she could tell those were his favorite.
Hide whistled. "Well gang, I think we're all set. All that's left is our guest." He paused. "Actually, would lighting candles be weird? What mood are we going for?"
"Let's hold off on those," Kaneki suggested. "No matter how many times you say it, this isn't a dinner date."
Touka snorted. "With our luck, someone would catch on fire before the night's over."
"Fair point. I'm almost one-hundred percent sure it would be Kaneki-kun. Sorry, man, but you just emanate flammable vibes."
"What does that even mean?"
"It means that you look like you have a propensity for disaster, and thus, flammable vibes."
"I agree," Touka said.
"Where are you even pulling these words from?" Kaneki facepalmed.
Before Hide could respond, there was a knock on the door. Then a successive second knock. He scrambled for the door and Touka and Kaneki followed suit.
"What's up, Akira-san?" Hide greeted. "Looking sharp today!"
It was the first time that Touka had seen Akira wear anything other than her investigator uniform. She was wearing a ruffled blue blouse with jeans and worn green sneakers. Her hair was down, missing its usual braids. It suited her. In both hands, she held a dish wrapped in aluminum foil—it reeked of eggs.
"I just put on what didn't have cat hair on it," she admitted. "Under that criteria, I have a very limited wardrobe at the moment."
"I've still yet to meet the lil' man in question," Hide mentioned. "You gotta introduce us sometime. I'm a sucker for cats."
"One time in junior high he fell down a hill chasing one," Kaneki said. "He landed in a poison oak bush. Wouldn't let me hear the end of it for weeks."
"It was worth it in the end," Hide said. "The cat let me pet him. I call that a win."
"You're the textbook definition of an optimist," Touka decided.
"All dictionaries have a picture of me. I'm just that important."
Kaneki rolled his eyes. "You wish."
"No, I know. Anyway, come on in Akira-san! You can set your souffle on the table or counter. It's a dessert, right? I looked up what a souffle was and it wasn't really clear…"
Akira stepped through the threshold into their apartment. "It can be made either as a dessert or a main dish. This one is a dessert, though." She put the dish on the counter. "My mother's recipe."
"Nice, nice! We didn't make any dessert because we weren't sure."
Akira nodded. The conversation lulled to a pause before Hide set the ball rolling again.
"So, we're ready to eat whenever. If you just wanna hang out or something for a few minutes, that's good too! You may wanna wait until after dinner, but we do have board games. I'll tell you, Touka-chan is brutal in Monopoly. Absolute bad bitch. Kaneki-kun's the Scrabble champion, but that's not impressive since he reads so damn much."
"'Not impressive?'" Kaneki scoffed. "You threw a tantrum last time we played Scrabble."
"I was one character away from forming the word 'planetarium!' Do you know how many points I could have earned? It wasn't fair!"
"Well, tough luck."
Hide clutched at his heart. "You wound me, Kaneki-kun!"
"I wouldn't mind a round or two or Scrabble before dinner," Akira interjected. "If that's alright with the rest of you."
Touka shrugged. "Sounds alright to me. Though, I am pathetic at this game…"
"I can't even remember the last time I played something like this," Akira said. "Dad never played games much, but… there were a few times there we stayed up all night eating junk and playing games."
And just when Touka had convinced herself not to feel like shit! She had to bring up her father again. Not that she could fault Akira for reminiscing about time she'd spent with the man, she just couldn't feel like it was an indirect jab at her. To dredge up those awful feelings of guilt again.
"Isn't this one the game cabinet?" Hide asked.
"It should be yeah," Kaneki responded. "I think the games are at the top."
Hide rummaged through the cabinet, but he was a foot or so too short to reach the top of it. "I can't… see them…" Hide used one of the ledges from the top shelf to pull himself higher. For a moment or so, he had perfect leverage and could reach the games, but then the cabinet itself began to teeter and Touka's heart dropped to her stomach when she realized that it was about to fall on top of Hide.
Twin tendrils shot past her and kept the cabinet from falling. Kaneki's kagune steadied the dislodged cabinet back into place while a third limb wrapped around Hide, pulling him away from the unstable piece of furniture. Once everything was secure, Kaneki let his kagune dissipate.
"That… was a close one," he breathed.
"Dude." Hide brought a hand to his heart. "You saved me."
Touka noticed Akira out of the corner of her eye. The Dove was frozen, thrown off guard by Kaneki's sudden use of kagune. It was a reasonable reaction, considering that she'd likely never seen one use a kagune for anything but killing. Hell, Touka was still a little rattled and she saw Kaneki use his kagune all the time.
"Maybe don't climb on furniture like that," Kaneki chastised. "One of these days you're gonna give me a heart attack."
"Aw, you do care about me!"
"It's hard not to whenever you pull dumbass shit like that," Touka nudged him. "Be more careful, Hide-kun."
"Yeah, if I hadn't reacted as fast as I had, you'd be a pancake right now."
"Being an investigator doesn't do you much good when you're crushed by furniture," she added.
"Alright!" he whined. "I get it! Stop acting like two over-concerned parents, geez! Do you see what I have to live with, Akira-san?"
Akira still looked startled from the incident. "I—yeah. I see."
Hide frowned. "Are you good?"
"I'm fine, Nagachika-san."
"Bah, I thought I'd told you to stop with all the formalities! It's Hide-kun. We're not even at work tonight."
"Right." It was only a millisecond, but Touka swore that she glanced at Kaneki. "Sometimes it's hard to break habits."
"But not impossible," Hide said. "You just gotta keep at it."
There was a beat of silence.
"I vote that we forget the games for now and have dinner first," Touka suggested.
"Yeah… I'm not that eager to play Scrabble after it almost vibe checked me." He spun on his heel and started marching toward the kitchen. "Anyway, we have spaghetti, garlic bread, and green bean shiraae. Touka-chan and I labored over it!"
"Sounds good," Akira said, choosing a seat at the table.
"Would you like water to drink, Akira-san?" she asked. "We also have juice and some soda."
"Water is fine, thank you."
Touka poured four glasses of water for each of them.
"Hey, I wanted soda!" Hide protested as he placed the spaghetti noodles on the table.
"You didn't say anything, get it yourself."
Without a word, Kaneki placed his and Touka's plates on the table. Touka watched Akira's eyes bulge for a moment before the woman deliberately avoided eye contact with the plates.
Good. Don't say anything.
"How is it fair I have to pour my own drink?" Hide cried loudly. "It's almost like I live here or something. So unfair!"
"Alright, jokester," she said. "Tone it down."
He stuck his tongue out at her.
Without further ado, they all took their seats at the table. Touka waited as Hide and Akira filled their plates with food. She could almost pretend that they were all eating the same meal. She could ignore that she held a fork and knife, while they held chopsticks. She could pretend to be normal, to not have to constantly fret about where her food was coming from.
As much as she opposed Akira's presence, Touka was glad they were having this dinner.
She appreciated the principle of it.
Once Hide had finished plating his own food, he smiled. "Itadakimasu!"
"Itadakimasu," they chorused.
The first bite filled Touka with that familiar warmth, satisfaction. She felt her kakugan activate and brushed it off. In that moment, the differences between them were negligible. All that mattered is that they were sharing a meal despite what was on each of their plates.
It would take a lot of work, but Touka felt for the first time in a long time that coexistence sounded possible.