Ken Kaneki held his stomach in pain, his nose flaring with the scent of thousands of humans in the nearby vicinity. He knew he could not walk among them right now, not unless he wanted to cause an incident. He gripped the mask in his other hand tightly, having managed to find someone who could make something similar to what he'd had at home. Of course, there was a communication problem.
He knew English, but in that way that all foreign language classes teach you: static selective sentences and conversations. He didn't know the ebb and flow between native speakers, the change in cadence, and the different words that could mean the same things. English had so many synonyms! Despite a casual 6 years of English classes, he was lost at first and really only able to communicate simply.
Luckily, after his immersive exposure, he was starting to adapt and his years of lessons were slowly kicking in, though he was still getting used to being called by his first name. He'd been able to find someone who could make a mask, though the price was exorbitant, and he finally remembered that he needed money. Of course, it hadn't occurred to him since he could do without it mostly. He didn't need to buy his food, and there was nothing frightening about living on the street when he was one of the scariest things there.
Ken looked up at the bridge over him with blank eyes; it was his savior. He had managed to find it by asking about local ghost stories and playing the over eager foreign teenager. It was a common suicide spot, though not common enough to have people jumping off every month. He held his stomach as it growled. He'd waited too long to eat, the other spots he could check were too close to the city and the living areas of other people. He might be tempted to grab one of them.
Suddenly, he heard a sound up on the bridge. Someone was up there, but they weren't alone. Curious, despite his hunger, he climbed up the side of the bridge instead of waiting for someone to jump. After making sure his hood was pulled up over his wig and mask, he glanced carefully over the top of the bridge. A man and a woman were fighting, if it could be called that. The woman looked beat up, and was fighting against the man with wild uncontrolled movements. Clearly, she'd never been trained, though she was fit judging by her muscles and scent. The man, on the other hand, looked angry. He was trying to kill her, Ken realized absently, as he punched her.
There was a moment, he would admit, where he considered just letting the man do so. He knew if he stepped in, he would likely end up killing the man, and really, what gave him the right to decide who lived and who died? But when the man shoved her against the metal railing of the bridge and she cried out in pain, he made a decision. He might not be able to get back home for a while, and he might be a ghoul, but he couldn't kill his human heart. He couldn't stand to see someone in pain right in front of him.
Ken flipped up over the edge of the bridge and ran to the man, punching him in the jaw to knock him away from the woman. He glanced down at her, but didn't speak. If she ever showed up at the coffee shop where he worked, he didn't want her to identify him. However, it seemed like she understood why he was there anyway. She took his offered hand, either not noticing the way his grip tightened when he smelled her blood, or choosing to ignore it. She suddenly wrapped her arms around him, crying.
"Thank you," she said, sobbing lightly. Ken had completely frozen. If his eye wasn't black before, it was now. He scent filled his nose, and it was astonishingly strawberry. He hated it. It was fake, wafting off of the woman's long red hair. She clearly used heavily scented shampoo. In fact, the scent was so strong that it perfectly covered her natural scent. She had to scrub fervently and pay careful attention to her hygiene to accomplish that. It was odd enough to distract him from his hunger, and from the fact that a human was right in front of him.
"You fucker..." the man from before said, picking himself up off the ground. His voice slurred, and he was clearly heavily drunk. "She said...she would...she said...but then she backed out! She can't just change her mind, give her back!"
"No! I change my mind! I don't want anything to do with you!" The woman replied back, ducking behind Kaneki.
"You bitch!" The man yelled, running towards the two of them. Ken grabbed the woman and jumped off the bridge, holding her carefully despite her sudden scream of surprise. The fall from the bridge to the ground would normally kill a person, but that was only if you jumped from the center. Being closer to the edge, the distance was halved, and Ken was able to bend his knees when he landed to lessen the force on his passenger, so she was fine. He set her down gently.
"Thank you," she said gratefully. He nodded and stepped back. She still smelled weird, but his proximity to her was really starting to bother him. He could already see Rize standing behind the woman, running her fingers through the woman's wavy red hair and her other hand over the woman's toned arms. He shook himself.
"My name is Natalie Shostakova, what's yours?" She asked. Ken just shook his head and stepped back again.
"Oh, um, well, I was in town with the Russian ballet, so if you want to come and see us, I'll give you a ticket as thanks," she said.
"Go," Ken rasped. His voice was strained, struggling with holding himself back. The world seemed focused entirely on her, and he needed her to leave. She faltered and looked at him with concern.
"Are you alright?" She asked, stepping closer to him. He had to leave, he had to get out of here, but his legs weren't listening to him. Instead, Rize beckoned him closer to the woman. He felt his mouth starting to water a bit with the thought of eating.
"Go," he said again, struggling against himself. Natalie paused, watching him with a coldly calculating gaze that seemed misplaced, given she had been crying only a moment ago. However, the concern came back too quickly for Ken to be sure of what he saw.
"I'll get help," she said finally, before turning and running up the path. Kaneki looked after her, shoving down the temporary feeling of longing, of wanting to chase her down like prey and tear the flesh from her bones. He was shocked out of his thoughts by a sudden crack, like a bullet being shot. A moment later, a body was falling over the edge of the bridge, bleeding.
He casually stepped down towards the thin stream the body had fallen into and plucked him out of the water with one hand. It was the man who had been pushing around the Russian woman only a few minutes beforehand. He had been shot, but by who? Ken couldn't bring himself to care, he was a bit too ravenous.
He dragged the body under the bridge in the hopes of avoiding any possible onlookers, unzipped his mask, and began eating. He wouldn't notice the small silver attachment on the back of his hoodie until it fell off in the wash, when he would toss it without giving it much thought. He did notice the odd businessman who showed up the next day at his work, ordered a single coffee, and stayed for exactly two hours. The man would then show up every other day at various times, and would sit at all different spots, but he would always order the same thing and would always stay for two hours.
He also noticed the tabloids in the newspaper had a picture of the man currently residing in his over-sized freezer. His official cause of death was by gunshot at the hands of a cop, after escaping prison. He had on record multiple counts of sexual assault. Ken thought it was a bit odd, as he didn't recall seeing or smelling any police anywhere near the bridge that night, but the man had been shot by somebody.
A few days after the incident, Natalie showed up at the coffee shop with the blond businessman. It seemed like they were on a date, but Ken couldn't quite shake the feeling they were watching him, like they knew who he was. Natalie left together with the Russian ballet group, and the man stopped coming a few days after.
"Bruce, what do you know about our cannibalistic friend?" Tony asked, implementing the search algorithm on the computer in front of him.
"You know, it's not very nice of you to call him that," Banner replied carefully, watching the levels of gamma radiation coming off the spear.
"What, a cannibal? He is. Or did you not know?" Tony asked, moving something aside on one of the screens. He grabbed it and moved it over towards Banner. "JARVIS, bring up the files on Kaneki."
"If I must," a voice said. Banner paused.
"Did you infect the SHIELD mainframe with JARVIS?" He asked.
"Yup," Tony replied. "It's really quite useful to have an eye in SHIELD. 'Subject 2031: Ken Kaneki, Codename: Cannibal.' Cannibalism is actually pretty rare, so he gets an extremely unoriginal nickname. 'First spotted on November 18th, 2011 by satellite dragging a dead body out from a river and eating it. Response #1: anonymous tip given to the local police. Follow-up: The police who investigated found nothing, and the Cannibal did not show again.'"
"Why are you reading me this?" Banner asked.
"Because I want you to know that there is someone else on this team who understands you," said Tony.
"I don't follow," replied Banner. Tony swept his finger across the screen and began to read again.
"Cannibal report # 8. After his successful escapes from the police, who are beginning to think that the tips belong to a prankster, the subject has been cleared for personal response from SHIELD. To date, we have captured his image or movements on camera 6 times, five times he has been spotted eating suicide victims and once he ran into a fire and helped get people out, but the subject's identity is still unknown. Agent Romanoff will confront him, and Agent Barton will follow up. The setting is intended to be Sunset Bridge, a possible location for codename: Cannibal."
"I still don't see what this has to do with me," Banner said, raising an eyebrow.
"Shush," replied Tony. "It's in here somewhere. 'Cannibal report #9. Agent Romanoff's mission was a success. She placed a tracker on codename: Cannibal's jacket, and Agent Barton was able to follow the tracker to uncover the subject's home and identification. Subject has been identified as Ken Kaneki, further investigation reveals faked papers.
A psychological profile compiled by Agent Romanoff based on their first interaction indicates the possibility that Kaneki cannot control his eating habits. He urged her to run, and was visibly holding himself back and away from her, as if afraid that he would hurt her. Behavior also indicates a high value placed on human life.
Cannibal report #10. Further investigation has shown that Kaneki does not eat anything except for the suicide victims roughly each month."
"Stop. Just, stop," Banner said, looking at Stark tiredly.
"The point I'm trying to make, is that according to SHIELD, he's in the same boat as you. He can't be who he wants to because he is only eats people. Not eating for a month and then eating a person? You can't tell me that it's his life's choices that allow his body to do that without dying," replied Stark. Banner sighed.
"It may be a side effect of his mutation, whatever it is that allows him to have incredible strength and durability," said Bruce.
"That's the spirit!" said Tony cheerfully. "No better way to pass the time than to gossip about someone behind their back."
"Is that so?" A third voice cut in. Tony glanced over his shoulder and waved off the speaker casually.
"Hello Captain Rogers," Bruce greeted amicably.
"I think that you need to get back to work," Steve said stubbornly. Tony snorted and walked around the table.
"We are. The formula is locked and sweeping. As soon as we get a match, we'll know about it," he said, gesturing to the computers around them. "I wonder, Captain, did you know that one of your teammates is a cannibal?" Steve looked at Tony a bit confused.
"I recall you calling Kaneki that, I thought it was a reference to his fighting style and jaw strength," Steve said.
"It is. Sorta. Only, he actually is a cannibal. He eats people in his free time," Tony said.
"That's not funny," Steve replied sternly.
"I'm not trying to be funny. If I was, you would be on the floor right now, dying of laughter. I was honestly wondering if you knew," Tony replied lightly.
"Is everything a joke to you?!" Steve asked sternly.
"Funny things are."
"You're telling me that one of our teammates is a cannibal! And you're just okay with that?!" Steve asked. Tony shrugged.
"It's just one of the many secrets on this ship that I am privy to," he replied.
"You've been hacking the ship?" Steve asked.
"Yup. I want to know all of Fury's little secrets. You'd be surprised, Captain, Kaneki is just one," said Tony.
"What do you mean?" asked Steve, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Why did Fury call us now? Why not earlier? What isn't he telling us?" asked Tony, popping a chip into his mouth. He held out the bag to Steve. "Want one?"
"You think Fury's hiding something? Something bigger than Kaneki?" Steve asked, ignoring the offered bag. Tony took it back and began to walk towards Bruce.
"I think Fury brought in Kaneki to be the mystery. To sate our curiosity and keep us from looking further by giving us this strange new teammate. But, with that man, one must look underneath the underneath. Captain, he's not just a spy, he's the spy. His secrets have secrets," Tony explained. "Do you want one?" He asked, holding the bag out to Bruce, who took one after a moment of hesitation.
"Dr. Banner, do you agree with Stark?" Steve asked. Bruce hesitated for a moment before speaking.
"'A warm light for all mankind', Loki's jab at Fury about the cube," Bruce started, "I think it was meant for you." he said, nodding at Tony. Tony nodded, as he and Bruce continued to explain their theories to Steve.
Ken Kaneki sat in his room, the blinds open to allow him to feel the sunlight on his face. His mask sat on the bed next to him, and he had his eyes closed, trying to keep his thoughts focused on anything besides his hunger.
"791...784...777...770..." His nose twitched as he smelled something both odd and familiar. It was Captain America, and something else. He stood up, strapped on his mask, and opened his door to see Captain America carrying an enormous gun that looked strangely similar to the spear in it's style. It released a scent of it's own, something scintillating, like everything he ever wanted. It smelled like his mother's cooking, like the lilies that had been in their house, and, strangely, like coffee and Anteiku. However, there was also something under it, a faint scent of rotten eggs.
"Kaneki," Captain America greeted. Ken nodded to him, eying the weapon curiously. There was a pause in the conversation, and Ken glanced up at Captain Rogers' face to see him looking at him with an odd look on his face.
"What?" Kaneki asked. Steve collected himself and pushed past Kaneki.
"Nothing," he replied, before continuing his walk down the hall. Kaneki sniffed the air and realized that the Avengers all seemed to be converging in the same general direction. He followed behind the Captain, who seemed more tense than the last time they had spoken. Ken wondered why.
"No ones around now, we could have a couple bites," Rize said, walking alongside Steve casually. Ken stiffened and froze where he was, not following the Captain anymore as he continued to meet up with the rest of the group. No, it was better that he not be in a crowded room right now. He turned on the balls of his feet and began to walk back towards his own room. He was hungry enough to hallucinate, but he was still in control. He just needed to find some food soon, in the next couple days, or he would be in more serious trouble.
As he went back towards his room, however, his steps were heavy. Suddenly, he was thrown to the side as the ship rocked and alarms began blaring. After a moment he stood up and glanced around, agents were running past him arming themselves. He didn't see any damage, but there was no way that was good. He sniffed the air and smelt blood. Human blood. His mouth watered, but he shook himself. Someone needed help. Ken ran towards the smell, and found himself heading towards the meeting area of the Avengers. Quite soon, the floor he was on gave way to the floor below, and he was forced to jump down.
He didn't see any signs of anyone, but was corrected after a moment when he heard a roar and saw the face of a certain female agent running towards him.
"Give me a lift up!" Natasha yelled. He barely had the time to process the request and put his hands together as a foot step before she was on him. She stepped into his hands, her other foot landed on his shoulder, and in a smooth move she leaped to the floor above them. As soon as she was no longer blocking his vision, however, it was filled with green.
"Kaneki! I'm leaving Hulk to you!" She shouted before disappearing to go do something else. Ken didn't really know what, or care, as at that moment, a fist of green smashed him into a wall.
"Oof!" He groaned, wrestling himself out of the metal wall. The Hulk was running past him toward the opening up to the next floor. Ken wasn't sure what was happening or why Banner had changed, but he did know that allowing the Hulk to go up to the next floor was a very bad idea. Hm, he wondered if he could break through the Hulk's skin. With that, he charged.
Ken leaped onto the Hulk's back, immediately tearing into the green flesh with his teeth. The Hulk roared and backed into a metal wall, crushing Ken and forcing him to relieve his grip as he cried out in pain. The Hulk then stepped forward and turned around, but Ken managed to glimpse that the spot on the beast's shoulder where he had bitten had already fully healed. That was an even greater healing factor than himself, and his was practically record breaking among ghouls.
Speaking of which, he threw himself to the side to avoid the follow-up punch from the beast. There was no way Ken was going to be able to beat it. He couldn't wear down the Hulk, only make it angrier. The only thing he could do was get it off the ship.
He let out a breath and released his kagune for the first time in two years. The limbs felt sluggish and fuzzy, like they had fallen asleep, but nonetheless they responded quickly. Ken dodged another punch from the Hulk, moving around the surprisingly fast beast smoothly. He sniffed the air, trying to find the thinnest wall by finding the freshest air. There was an opening just a little ways from them, thankfully.
Kaneki jumped up into the air, stabbing one of his kagune into the hulk to try and piss it off more. If the Hulk was focused on him, it would be less likely to try running off. What Kaneki wasn't expecting, however, was for the Hulk to grab his kagune and whip Ken around into a metal pillar. The force shattered several of his bones, and, he was quite sure, part of his skull. Quite suddenly, he felt disconnected from the world, as if watching from an outside point of view. The pain was overwhelming.
"1000...993...986..." He chanted to himself, focusing on the numbers. His breath flowed erratically, his mask had fallen off after being thrown through the metal. He had to survive. The pain in his head pulsed together with the roar of the Hulk. "The centipede...get it out!" He cried, moving his broken arm up towards his head. He wanted it out, out, out!
He felt his kagune pulse, and his bones heal, but the pain was still there. 10 days of having his limbs cut off and regrown, ten days of having his tongue pulled out and his body flayed, ten days of counting and of desperate hopes being crushed. It all rushed back. He felt something crawling on his face, and could only think it was the centipede. The centipede was crawling across his eye, across his back, and inside him. It hurt.
Then, the pain was compounded as he was lifted by his pulsing kagune. The Hulk roared in his face and threw him across the hold once more.
"979...972...965..." He counted. The centipede on his back twitched. He wanted to return it. Let them feel the pain he had. He stood up, his bones rapidly healing from the damage he had received, and then he moved. Instinctively, he attacked the lumbering green beast. His blows did not move it, but his teeth were able to tear at it, even if the Hulk healed so quickly there was no visible damage.
A fist crashed into the wall next to him, but Kaneki had already moved. He dodged around the Hulk, moving much faster than the green monster. In fact, it would be almost easy, if he could land a hit of his own. The best he was managing to do was scratches, mere scrapes with his teeth as he would leap over the Hulk, being careful to keep his kagune out of reach now. His stomach was starting to ache, and it was distracting. He was wondering if the small bits of Hulk he'd managed to consume were not digesting right, even if the Hulk was originally human.
In a moment of distraction, the Hulk managed to grab the end of one of his kagune, which he absently noted looked a bit different, almost like it had hundreds of little legs, little legs, little legs crawling about in his head. With a gasp of pain, he was thrown through a large door and into a cargo hold. The people screamed and scattered while he gasped for air.
Ken weakly pulled his kagune into himself, he felt starved and like he had no energy. The people running around...they all looked so tempting.
"Yes, grab a snack, it'll help with the fight. You don't even have to be the one to kill them if you don't want, why not let the Hulk give the finishing blow? He's got enough lives on his conscious already, one more won't hurt," Rize said lightly, stepping over the debris daintily. The image was ruined as the Hulk charged through the hallucination.
Ken rolled sideways to avoid the crashing fist. His kagune speared the floor, increasing his speed and moving him as an extension of his limbs. He dodged around the Hulk's continued punches, but the Hulk was screaming at him in rage and with each miss, it seemed to get faster. Ken was quickly tiring, he wouldn't be able to keep this up for much longer. The window to the outside was right there, if he could somehow get the Hulk out of the ship, he could survive this. The problem was, he couldn't fall out too, he wasn't sure he would survive a fall from this height.
Ken dodged another punch, leaping up and crawling across the ceiling before flipping down across Hulk's back and tearing at the green skin with his teeth. He swallowed it, despite his stomach ache. The thick skin rolled about in his mouth, like jerky, even as he ground it to swallow quickly. He would admit that it was giving him energy, and that it didn't taste absolutely terrible, but it did taste spoiled. Like drinking milk that was on the very edge of it's date, there was a sourness that lapped at the flavor, much like eating a ghoul. It gave him energy, and it did something to his kagune, he could feel his kagune pulse each time he swallowed a bite of the Hulk, but there was a mild pain as well.
The Hulk was getting faster. It roared and spun around, grabbing Ken once more and swinging him into the ground in front of the beast. He let out a gasp of pain, feeling his blood pool in his lungs, he allowed himself the luxury of coughing. His ribs felt broken once again, and there was a severe pain in the back of his head and neck. As the Hulk raised an arm to bash into him, Ken speared the hand through with his kagune in the hopes of delaying him.
The Hulk roared with pain and ripped the kagune out of his hand, tearing them apart. Ken cried out in pain as he saw the limbs fall to the ground around him. The Hulk roared in his face and clasped his hands together, lifting them up over his head to smash Ken into the ground. He tried to move, but he was so sore and tired, he couldn't seem to get his muscles to respond. Ken felt starved, and in pain, and the centipede was everywhere it was over his back over his face and in his head and he couldn't get it out. He had a moment to remember that Rize was killed by being crushed to death under hundreds of pounds of steel bars, and wondered if he was about to die in a similar fashion. Then the Hulk brought his hands down with a roar.