Author's Notes: Hello wonderful reviewers! Am sorry it took so long to finish an update. I've been stuck at work for a while and needed to work overtime for the two weeks I've missed since I went out of the country with family. Also, I've written, deleted, rewritten, deleted, and rewrote some of things here in this chapter to make it move forward the way I wanted to. There are scenes here that I've solely gotten from the manga though.

Warning(s): This story will be, obviously, partial to the CCG just like when Kaneki had been with Anteiku. So, even as I cry just thinking about it, there will be clashes between him and ghouls (possibly even ones from Anteiku directly). This is Canon-Divergence. So, be aware of this one. Another is just the usual ones: gore, angst, drama, possible tragedy. Slow-going.

Pairing(s): None. This will be GEN. TG has already enough romance in its fandom, imho.

Disclaimer: I don't own Tokyo Ghoul (a property of Ishida Sui). Making this clear since there are scenes here from the manga.

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"Are you sure that you don't want to order anything?" Nakajima Yasunori asked him quietly.

Kaneki jolted in his place at the sudden question.

"N-No," He mumbled, fingers tightening around the book that he had taken with him. "I'm not hungry." He reasoned out as he avoided the man's gaze. Though, staying inside the establishment did make him feel nauseous. The scent of dough cooking wasn't as disgusting but the longer he stayed inhaling the same smell for hours didn't quite sit well with him.

"Your loss," Nakajima shrugged before going back to eating his sandwich.

The dark haired teen resisted the urge to sigh.

Why was their target, Number 721, taking so long in finishing her lunch? Though, that might be attributed to the fact that she spent most of her time chatting up with the workers than focusing on eating instead. Still, this wasn't a standard place to have lunch considering that they were at Donut Masters. She ate her food without any problems, from what he could see, but it was drilled into his head by Mado when he was ordered to assist in this part of the investigation that ghouls could blend in in human society for a reason.

They were good actors.

She could be faking her appreciation for the food's taste. If she really was, then Kaneki envied her skill of appearing normal.

"We might be at this for a couple of more hours," His colleague told him, obviously hinting at something. "You should grab a bite or two while we're still here." Nakajima advised him with a bit of concern lacing his voice this time.

"It's fine, Nakajima-san." Kaneki waved off with a laugh and hoped that it didn't sound as nervous as he was feeling. "It's just that I had a big breakfast this morning with that in mind."

"You ghoul investigators are really tough, huh?" The man mused rather wryly.

I can't eat. Ican't—

"Not really." He responded a bit uneasily.

A sound of someone squealing in delight caught their attention. Kaneki mentally sighed in relief at the disturbance that halted their conversation as they both discreetly watched their target singing praises to the server who had brought her a cup of hot coffee. Black coffee.

This was going to be a long afternoon.

~o~

Kaneki ducked hastily as the sharp swing of the dark cylindrical club passed over his head.

He tried to make a swipe for the other as he boldly stepped closer with a quick, albeit a bit clumsy, spin of his staff. Though, to his dismay and nervousness, the man merely met his admittedly weak strike with a block of his forearm. While it wasn't as strong as he would've liked, the way his weapon had made contact with flesh unsettled him. It certainly didn't break any bone but that would certainly bruise later on.

His momentary lapse in concentration cost him as a sharp kick to his middle successfully knocked the breath out of him, making him stagger a few steps back.

Though, he found himself panicking at the sight of the same club going for his head.

As he effectively blocked the assault with his staff, he found himself, once again, at a severe disadvantage. His opponent's weapon was obviously designed to deliver heavy blows; ones that Kaneki could barely protect himself from. It was getting harder to ignore the more he strained against the other. Having no choice as his arms shook from the exertion, he finally decided to jump back to gain some much needed distance. His lips thinned as he met the narrowed teal eyes of his current adversary.

Looking at the steel rod that made up his quinque (Kouhaku, as Mado had called it, Rank C: Koukaku), he resolved what to do as his opponent once again swung his club-like weapon in a wide arc that was intended to maintain a certain gap between them. It wasn't what he hoped for but Kaneki took what he could. With a deft flick of his wrist, his staff disconnected into smaller poles that was connected by a thin steel cable that stretched and mostly resembled a chain by this point.

His weapon looked deceptively light with its plain appearance but it was surprisingly heavy in his hold.

Mado had said that the easiest way to master one's quinque was to pretty much get acquainted with it in battle because the CCG would only give the weapon's specifications and it was up to its wielder as how to master it. Because there were no katas, no forms, and no styles to pretty much depend on. Investigators only relied on their instincts and martial arts foundation. Especially if some quinque happened to have special qualities with them.

("Quinques are special," Mado had told him with an almost secretive smile, his eyes bright with something feverish. "Not only because they're basically made from a ghoul's kakuhou, but mostly due to the fact that they're one of the rare things that could harm ghouls. It's easier to connect with it in a battle than on practicing motions by yourself. Since in a battle, the knowledge that this weapon will be your sole protection from them will be ingrained much quicker. Of course, there's also this thing called relying too much—")

Even if he'd already seen it once he had been handed this certain quinque, Kaneki couldn't help but be grudgingly awed as he replicated what he remembered of Mado's demonstration. With a sweep of his arm, he swung the chain-like weapon towards the club and watched as it spun to wrap around it in a tight grip.

Without hesitation, the dark haired teen immediately pulled it by the end handle and successfully yanked the weapon out of his opponent's reach.

Kaneki knew that this maneuver would never work next time seeing as he had caught the other off guard with this tactic. Not to mention, he knew that the man had noticed that his move had exactly been like Mado's execution.

While he inwardly applauded himself for successfully disarming his opponent, this momentary distraction made him forget that the other was capable of other feats as well; particularly, close range fighting.

It was as if Koori's teachings had flown out the proverbial window because Kaneki hadn't been able to defend himself as he was elbowed in the kidney and his own weapon was slapped out of his hands. The next thing he knew, a hand had grabbed his wrist and he was swung so abruptly over a shoulder as if he weighed nothing. Suddenly, he was on the ground face-first, arms twisted behind his back, and his opponent breathing heavily as he sat on the teen's back.

All in a matter of seconds.

Still, he couldn't help it. The man was just too fast. A thought that Koori would no doubt reprimand him for.

"You let your guard down." Amon Koutarou lectured him, obviously trying to get his breathing in order as he tightened his grip on Kaneki's wrists. "It isn't victory until your enemy is down for the count." He further went on, voice low with an undertone that told the teen just what down exactly meant.

Kaneki merely gave a pained grunt, trying to extract himself from the hold to no avail. His side was still throbbing from where the man had elbowed him earlier.

"You're easily distracted, Kaneki-kun." Mado remarked as he stepped towards them from where he'd been observing their spar from a corner.

I'm still not used to fighting with a weapon, Kaneki mentally reasoned out to himself as he shifted uncomfortably. From whose ghoul's kagune was that quinque made of? No, who? He vaguely thought with a mix of distant horror and wonder. When in the middle of a fight, it was easy to forget just what he really held in his hands. But, this thought had never left his mind every time he had to use his weapon.

"I-I'm still getting used to fighting," He mumbled out almost uncertainly, sighing in relief as the pressure from his back finally disappeared.

"Well," Mado hummed as Kaneki stood up on wobbly legs. "That just won't do." His lips thinned in obvious disapproval.

"You need to work on your footing," Amon put in stoically as he wiped his face with a towel. "Also, keep a level head on your shoulders. Don't panic at the first signs of attack. You've got good instincts but use them properly." His rumbling voice washed over Kaneki's ears, leaving the teen in a state of slight bewilderment.

Did he just—?

He was snapped out of his thoughts at the sound of Amon gathering his quinque before the man passed by him without another word.

Kaneki wordlessly watched as the man exited the training room with hollow eyes.

"For now, you have the rest of the afternoon to yourself." Mado told him as he followed after his dark haired partner. "Later this evening, there will be a debriefing with regards to the case, so make it certain to be present. We will fix this ourselves, if need be." The man quietly stated as he exited the room.

The teen frowned as he remembered that whatever had been the result of the man's meeting with the Branch Director, he knew that both of the higher rank investigators hadn't been pleased. The tension of their arrival hadn't exactly escaped his notice, especially when Mado and Amon weren't even trying to be subtle about it. In fact, even the friendly Kusaba had been a bit nervous towards him since the ordeal.

His eyes shifted to his discarded quinque on the floor.

Was it really alright to be here?

~o~

"Are you sure?" Kusaba asked him for what must've been the hundredth time.

Kaneki forced a smile.

"I'm fine, Kusaba-san." He replied with a slight inclination of his head, trying to force down the nausea at the thought of food. "I want to visit the bookstore near Kamii, anyway. There's something that I wanted to check…" He trailed off as soon as he saw the knowing glint in Nakajima's eyes.

"You and your books." The taller man shook his head exasperatedly.

Despite himself, Kaneki felt the blush that warmed his cheeks. He wasn't exactly trying to be an introvert within the office but with apprehension always coiling within his gut at the thought of interacting with anyone, he hadn't really been sociable. To keep himself occupied, he had taken to bringing some of his books with him in the office. Amon had looked at his distraction with a sort of distaste for a colleague who was slacking off while Mado didn't bat an eyelash.

Though, the point was, it hadn't taken long for his co-workers to deduce that he was a first-class bookworm.

"W-Well, if you're sure," Kusaba hesitated.

Kaneki squashed the guilt that threatened to surface at the dismayed countenance of the other.

"Maybe next time, Kusaba-san." He hedged in quietly although he tried not to blanch at what he had just offered and the potential disaster just waiting to happen due to it. He hadn't practiced eating human food, at least passable enough to appear normally consuming it. After all, none of his co-workers had ever seen him eat and that thought was making him nervous. Though, looking at Kusaba who straightened with a hopeful gleam in his eyes made his resistance waver slowly, until it crumbled into something he was certain that he would regret later.

Still, these two were the ones who actively tried to talk to him despite his rather reticent attitude. His superiors hadn't really improved his situation either.

Though, it might also have something to do with how Amon had blown of Kusaba's offer a bit harshly than intended last time. Mado, as a rule, intimidated other people without really trying. So, Kaneki had been the 'easiest to approach', so to speak.

"I'll be going then." Kaneki sketched a slight bow towards the other two who returned his gesture before they parted ways.

Ever since that encounter with Hide and realizing that he had just effectively shut the other out, Kaneki's only solace had been his books. Even Juuzou's occasional texts that told him of his ever increasing debt of sweets to the other wasn't enough to snap him out of his desolate mood. Sometimes, the urge to run away would hit him. It wouldn't matter if they tracked him down eventually but he just wanted to get away.

Maybe it was the pressure of being in an actual case as opposed to the somewhat tranquil routine he had built for himself back at the 4th Ward CCG Branch Office but Kaneki found himself on edge all the time. Perhaps, it was paranoia taking over or his ghoul instincts telling him that he was in enemy territory. Because, despite knowing that CCG had taken him in, he knew the fine line that he was toeing when he agreed to work for them.

Just one wrong misstep

He didn't want to think about it. He couldn't think about it.

After a rather long walk towards the bookstore just a block away from his former campus, it was true that there was something he wanted to check on. His possessions, after the accident, hadn't been salvageable. He tried not to grimace as he was reminded how much of his blood had stained. Despite the repulsive memories that came to mind, Kaneki wanted to see if the bookstore still had a stock of The Black Goat's Egg by Takatsuki Sen.

His copy was too soiled and damaged to be recovered and Rize's belongings, which included her own copy, were seized by the CCG.

Even before meeting the ghoul, Kaneki had already been fond of that book.

He just wanted the comfort that he hadn't let Rize ruin everything. His life was pretty much in tatters by this point, having no control over it ever since the nightmare that was supposed to be one of his happiest had occurred. So, he wanted to cling to this last hope that Rize hadn't destroyed what he viewed to be his last branch of support. His books. If he couldn't even bring himself to open and read something he once enjoyed, then it wouldn't matter.

Browsing the shelves brought a sense of nostalgia within him.

Even just tracing the spines of the numerous tomes calmed him as he took his time in perusing through the selections. The scent of paper, new and old, made him smile as he reflected on the last time he had simply relished in taking his time as he chose what next novel he would dedicate his time to.

Kaneki wasn't exactly aware how long he'd been wandering around but by the time he found what he'd been looking for, he had pretty much composed himself into a somewhat relaxed state. So, it hadn't really registered until he was grabbing what looked like to be the last copy of The Black Goat's Egg. For a moment, he had just stared and visualize the splotches of red on the cover and the blooming red across the pages as Rize pulled out the kagune she had impaled him with—

In the blink of an eye, he was looking at a normal copy of the book once again.

As if entranced, Kaneki found himself walking towards the direction of the register in order to make his purchase.

He just hadn't expected the small hurdle that impeded him.

"A-Ah, I'm sorry!"

~o~

Fueguchi Hinami tightly held her mother's hand as they walked through the crowded streets.

She hummed under her breath and even allowed herself to swing their intertwined hands slightly while she tightened her arm around her precious book. Her mother had allowed her request to purchase a new book seeing as she was having an extremely hard time reading some of the kanji of her old one. She appreciated it very much considering how the past few months had been hard for the both of them ever since her father died.

Food was severely limited and they needed to go into hiding for a while before they were able to travel back to Anteiku at the 20th Ward.

Her mother was strong and had supported the both of them but even Hinami could tell that the woman was barely holding it together. She tried to lighten her mother's burden by carefully not bringing up her father's absence, not voicing any complaint about their rather poor conditions, using her keen senses into better avoiding trails after them and just coping. Still, this moment of reprieve was cherished for the both of them.

Anteiku was nice. The people there were nice. She had especially missed Touka.

But, it just wasn't the same. Because depending on them, no matter how much it made Hinami feel much safer, cared for, it wouldn't remove the fact that they were still ghouls and the world wasn't fair. She didn't want to involve them if the time ever came. Hinami knew that her mother was of the same mindset. They didn't want more deaths after them. Not since after her father. She didn't want to one day know that more people died and it was all because of her.

"Do you know what you want to buy yet, Hinami?" Her mother, Ryouko, asked her gently as she squeezed the younger brunette's hand.

Hinami shook her head slightly.

"I-I'm not yet sure." She quietly replied, eyes darting around them since she couldn't remember the last time they had been able to appreciate their surroundings like this. It had been with some reluctance on the manager's part about letting them out on their own but her mother had been strangely persistent today. They had reached a compromise that Yomo would fetch them later in two hours.

To them, two hours was enough. Hinami was thankful.

"Why don't you have Touka-chan teach you a few kanji?" Ryouko suggested lightly as the bookstore came into view.

"I don't want to impose on onee-chan," She admitted in a rather subdued manner. "She's also studying too." Hinami pursed her lips at this thought, feeling a small bubble of envy at the thought of her older sister figure being able to attend school.

That sounded rather nice, she thought absently, if a bit sadly.

"I'm sure she won't mind." Her mother assured and smiled at her.

"Maybe," She allowed as she returned the smile despite the fact that she was still unconvinced regarding the matter.

Hinami tried to quell in her excitement as soon as they entered the bookstore. Hundreds of books were lined in several bookshelves and there were just so many! Her heart pounded loudly in her ears in obvious delight and her mother had to tighten her hold over her hand to prevent her from running off on her own. She had that habit whenever she was in a bookstore and directed an apologetic smile towards Ryouko.

Smiling exasperatedly, the woman relaxed her stance and slowly let go of the hand.

"It's alright," Ryouko gently told Hinami as she straightened her daughter's hair. "Pick a book that you like. I'll be waiting by the counter. Don't take too long. Remember, we only have two hours before Yomo-kun has to pick us up." The woman reminded a bit sternly.

Understanding the severity in her mother's words, Hinami nodded firmly.

With that, the woman gently pushed the girl towards the numerous shelves lined up in front of them. Hinami stumbled a little as she looked over her shoulder. Somehow, she was now a bit uncertain about leaving her mother alone. While this had been routine for them whenever Hinami wanted to buy a new book, it just didn't feel right at the moment. She bit her lip in a moment of indecision before she saw her mother's smiling visage urging her to go on.

Her mother trusted her.

Giving a small nod, she trotted towards the new novels. Though, after a while of perusing them and reading their synopsis, she just couldn't seem to decide on them. It took a while of browsing from fictions, to something historical, before she eventually drifted to the bookshelf sorted by their authors. At first, there was this author who wrote stories based on poems. At least from what she assumed. It didn't take her long to gravitate to a particular author.

Namely, the author of the current book she was holding, Monochrome Rainbow. She had enjoyed the short stories immensely.

Absorbed as she was, she hadn't notice the teen heading towards her until he bumped into her.

"A-Ah, I'm sorry!"

The apology was already out of her mouth before she could stop herself even if it was obvious that it was the other who was at fault.

Whatever stupor he had been in, he snapped out of it at the sound of her voice. Thankfully, the bump hadn't been strong enough to knock her down but it had been enough for her to drop her book down. He blinked slowly at her as if just sluggishly taking the situation in.

Then, he blinked again and seemed to be aware of what had just happened as his grey eye (the other was covered with a black eyepatch) gained more clarity.

"That's my fault," He gave her a small smile and, to Hinami, it looked so empty.

She clamped her mouth shut, though. While she had occasionally bumped into humans when looking for a new book, they usually just continued on their way after a quick apology. Something that Hinami was grateful for since she didn't know how to interact with them. Being faced with that challenge now, she wrung her hands nervously, unable to speak. Apprehension started to pool in her gut as she contemplated running to her mother when— his scent hit her.

It was… odd. For the most part, he smelled like a human. But then, she would be hit by the tangy bitterness that she usually associated to ghouls. Just which was he? She never came across a scent like his before. But, she wasn't quite sure if she should ask this question.

Preoccupied and confused as she was, she almost missed it when the older boy had crouched down to pick up her fallen book.

"'Monochrome Rainbow'?" He murmured in slight bewilderment before looking at her with wonder in his eye, giving life to his expression that was absent prior. "You read Takatsuki-san's works?" The teen questioned as something like excitement bubbled in his voice.

Hinami decided that she liked this better than the listless expression earlier.

Reluctantly, she nodded at him.

"That's impressive since the contents are quite difficult," He continued in that eager voice of his that it was harder to ignore since he continued rather impressively without pause. "But, this book is a collection of short stories so I wonder if it's moderately easier…? So, which stories do you like best? Mine would be that one on insanity, Summer Diaries, or maybe even that comedic, Resentments." He looked at her enthusiastically.

Then, as if realizing just how forward and possibly presumptuous he came off, he deflated.

"I-I mean, you don't have to tell me—" His shoulders hunched slightly.

"K-Koyo…tokiame?" Hinami found herself answering uncertainly, biting her lip in anxiety. She wasn't certain if it was safe to interact with him, especially when she couldn't identify which side of the equation he actually fit. But, this was the first time that she had someone to talk to regarding her interest.

"Koyotokiame—" His brows suddenly furrowed before he brightened. To Hinami, the sight was positively brilliant. "Ohh… Sayoshigure! It's the prototype of The Black Goat's Egg. It's a bit scary but pretty good, right?" He smiled at her and, this time, there was life and it was beautiful.

Who was this strange boy?

"Prototype? Sayoshigure…" She murmured under her breath, repeating a few more times so she wouldn't forget. Before she knew it, she had crouched down in front of him and snatched her book out of his hands, already proceeding to specific pages. "How should I read… this?" She tried to keep the excitement out of her voice as she pointed to a kanji that had been giving her a hard time lately.

"Ajisai." He answered without hesitation.

"And this is… 'Antanoshi'?" She asked again.

"That's Anrakushi."

Happiness bubbled within her as he patiently answered her questions. Never mind the fact that they must've looked quite odd to other people, not that there were many to begin with, with both of them crouched on the floor and hunched over a book. It was surprisingly nice.

"This is… is Haku—" Hinami stumbled slightly, unsure.

"You read this as 'Hakuhyou', but," He paused before beaming at her and it made him look younger. "You can also read it as Usurai. That sounds prettier, doesn't it?"

Her eyes widened as she stared at this stranger. How bizarre. A boy finding a word pretty.

"Yeah…" She smiled at him as she stared at that kanji in a new light.

Then, suddenly, he looked at her before his gaze shifted to the book in his hand. She stared at him curiously. Having sensed no malice from him, she wasn't quite sure if she trusted him but he had proven himself to be nice. Hinami was rather sure that Touka would've liked him. Though, she squeaked in surprise when the book was thrust to her. Looking at the cover, she realized that it was The Black Goat's Egg.

"You said that you liked Sayoshigure," The teen murmured quietly, eyes softening. "Then you'll certainly love this book. It's the last copy." He told her as he stood up, pulling her up with him and she tried to ignore the warmth of his hand.

Though, she stiffened when she registered his words.

"L-Last?" She yelped in panic. "B-But—"

"It's fine." He patted her head and there was something strange in his expression. "I've already read the book. I just thought of buying it since I lost my copy. Take it, I feel much better when I get to share the excellence of Takatsuki-san's works."

Hinami knew that there was something more to that judging by the almost vacant look he had been wearing a while ago and it was fairly obvious that he was about to buy the book.

But, he was sincere (she certainly hoped so) and she reluctantly received the book.

"Thank you." She murmured quietly but with heartfelt gratitude.

She wished that all humans were like this (if he was). Maybe this was the reason why her older sister was trying harder to live with them.

Hinami could certainly live with this.

~o~

"Oi, Nagachika, what's with that stupid shitty look on your face?" A disinterested voice drawled out.

Hide snapped out of his stupor as he stared at his brunet senior, Nishio Nishiki. All he got in response was a raised eyebrow. The brunet had asked help from some of the members of the committee in organizing some files in the Pharmaceutical Department, mainly the laboratory he currently chose as his domain. And Hide had volunteered himself, simple as that. To be honest, he was already questioning that decision when the other did nothing but be the ungrateful person that he always was.

Of course, he had already expected that, having been acquainted with Nishio for quite some time.

Still, the other could've at least shown a little appreciation. Geez.

"What are you talking about?" He asked curiously as he tilted his head.

"You have that stupid look on your face again." Nishio answered bluntly as propped an elbow on his desk and leaned his left cheek on his palm. "You've been like that ever since you stopped hanging out with that other brat. Don't tell me he finally decided to dump you?" He smirked at this, eyes narrowing in obvious amusement.

"You didn't have to put it that way." Hide grouched as he faced away from the brunet and slammed a thick medical textbook on the bookshelf harder than necessary. "Besides, Kaneki stopped going to college." He admitted with a deep frown.

His last meeting with Kaneki was— to put it lightly, downright frustrating.

The blonde knew that when his best friend decided to be tight-lipped about something, he would remain silent until the dark haired boy decided that he would tell. Pushing for answers that he desperately needed would only push Kaneki into clamming up further. He knew that Kaneki had his odd quirks from time to time but the teen whom he met after a month of separation was so strange. He didn't know if Kaneki even noticed the changes himself.

Ignoring the eyepatch and the sudden acquired taste for black coffee, Kaneki had sat throughout their reunion with his back straight. Judging by the stiffness of his shoulders, it was a recently ingrained habit. His best friend also couldn't meet his eyes directly. If Hide met his gaze, Kaneki's eyes would shift somewhere. It was abnormal to think about but the fear in those grey irises was directed at— Hide. The blonde had been sharp enough to recognize Kaneki's fear of being alone, of his aunt, of his first date, and making new friends.

But, never had it been towards himself.

Why would Kaneki fear him? He didn't understand and that was the most perturbing change.

He didn't want to take drastic measures. At least, not yet. But Hide couldn't see another option out of it when he suddenly understood that Kaneki might be trying to push him away. Maybe, it was time to take the matter into his own hands. Not to mention, what was the reason behind Kaneki quitting his studies? Judging from how his friend was dressed, it was fairly evident that the other had gotten himself involved in something big. Something that Hide needed to find out.

"So he fucking dumped you." Nishio concluded rather mercilessly with a yawn as he covered his mouth. "And what? Replaced you with a girl?" He droned on rather indifferently.

Hide sighed as he paused in his stacking of books. Sad as it was, he was already used to the brunet purposely viewing his relationship with Kaneki in that way. While it was funny in the beginning since he could just imagine Kaneki fervently denying it with a mortified face, it lost its appeal already since he couldn't ignore the fact that his best friend had left him behind.

"You might as well say that." He murmured quietly, a bit apprehensive, since this all started when Kaneki went on that date. "He shouldn't have gone on that date with that Rize chick." He bit the inside of his cheek at the reminder of that purple haired girl. If he could just piece together her secret or what actually went on in the hospital, maybe he could deduce just what the hell was going on with his best friend.

"Run that by me again." Nishio's suddenly interested voice pierced Hide's gloomy bubble.

"What?" Hide squinted at his senior suspiciously.

"Who did your friend date?" The brunet persisted, tone almost demanding.

"Rize…" The blonde answered slowly as he tried to process what had actually caught Nishio's attention. "Why? Do you know her?" He questioned as casually as he could and watched Nishio frown at the name, obviously having recognized it.

It was a bit unnerving considering that the girl was already dead. It was in the news after all.

"You… could say that." Nishio hummed, an unreadable look on his face.

~o~

Kaneki fidgeted in his seat as the debriefing started a few minutes ago.

They were currently situated by the lounge area as per Mado's suggestion. It was to review the information that they had gathered after tailing their respective targets the past few days. It hadn't been an easy experience. Not only had he been worrying over observing Number 721, Kaneki had also been conscious of his actions around Nakajima. It didn't help that they always had to follow their target at strange food establishments by noon and Kaneki had already exhausted his usual excuse of having huge meals before their arrangement.

He listened as Amon read the observations of their targets. Number 720 and 722 apparently hadn't done anything suspicious. While with Number 721, Kaneki already knew firsthand since he was the one who had observed the woman. All of these people they had been keeping tabs on were one of the few women who had just recently moved to the 20th Ward with their respective daughters. Of course, a lot of people come and go but these were the ones who were suspected of suspicious backgrounds.

"What about Number 723?" Mado suddenly interjected.

He saw Kusaba straighten himself at the sudden attention.

"Ah… yes," The bespectacled man answered a bit anxiously. "The suspect used the train and got off at the fifth station, transferred, and then headed towards Site B. I lost sight of her for a moment but later rediscovered her in front of a 'stone monument-like' thing at documented Site C. After staying for ten or so minutes, the target began travelling on foot before meeting an acquaintance to ride back with him to her home." Kusaba's voice didn't waver but Kaneki could see the nervous twitch of his hands.

"The license plate number?" Amon questioned brusquely.

"I'm sorry but I wasn't able to take it down—" The other reasoned out, sweating.

"If it turns out that the items at the grave have any relation to Ghoul Number 696," The dark haired man cut him off in a steely voice that frightened even Kaneki. "Then Number 723 will be confirmed to be a ghoul. Why didn't you go out of your way to conduct your investigation to the full extent?" Amon's eyes darkened at this.

Kaneki straightened at this as he looked at his superior with wide eyes.

He couldn't be suggesting that—

"That I should've dug out a grave? No way! That goes against my morals!" Kusaba protested a bit vehemently, pale white at what the other man had obviously implied. "The way those from the main office perform differ from what we do here." Kusaba's fists clenched in obvious distress while Nakajima looked grim.

"Morals?" Amon questioned, word heavily laced with sarcasm. "With that 'morality', we can't crush evil. We are justice. That is our morality."

Kaneki felt the blood drain out of his face as he heard the anger-laced words. This was the most uncomfortable he felt in Amon's presence. Clearly, the man considered ghouls to be evil. And Kaneki was halfway part of that. He didn't have a choice. Despite the formal pleasantries, there was a strain between them. Ever since he had talked back to the man, their relationship hadn't really made any progress and it was Mado who always had to force them to interact with each other.

He hadn't known the extent of Amon's hatred for ghouls. It was now clear that the man had held all of those resentment back from lashing out at Kaneki.

"What do you think, Kaneki-kun?" Mado's voice reached his ears and he shrunk at their stares; particularly, Amon's glaring eyes. Though, Mado was staring at him speculatively, expectant, and Kaneki knew that it wasn't a simple matter of asking his opinion.

"U-Uhm—" He stumbled over himself awkwardly as he hastily picked up the folder that held the information they had on Number 723. "A-As long as we return it back to the way it used to, we can investigate the grave?" He answered hesitantly as Mado nodded, accepting, for now.

Kusaba appeared to still be unsettled by Kaneki's words and the teen didn't know the answer that would appease everybody.

"If there's nothing more to it, I'll personally apologize to Number 723 myself." Amon suddenly put in, face still impassive, but had lost its dark edges. While Kusaba still didn't look like he completely agreed, his shoulders lost some of its tension at Amon's promise.

If she were human, that was.

With that plan in mind, Mado had briefed them some more into continuing tailing their targets and reminded them to watch out for anything amiss. While the investigation wasn't moving as quickly as the man would've liked, Mado had admitted that it took patience and the end result would always be worth it. Kaneki didn't know if he agreed but kept his silence for the most part as Mado dismissed them. While Kusaba and Nakajima bowed and went on their way, Amon and Mado remained standing.

For all his life that he had heard of ghouls, Kaneki simply thought of them to be monsters. He really did. He didn't know to what extent but he did. But he never felt superior to them. Right now, as one himself, he didn't know anymore. Was he a monster now? He didn't want to think so. He hadn't killed anyone to satisfy his hunger. That was the purpose of his contract with the CCG. But, right now, if he was honest with himself, he didn't really feel human either.

And he was just reminded once again that even humans were capable of cruelty. Was he the only one who was seeing this?

Suddenly, a photograph peeking out of the side of the folder caught Kaneki's attention. Curious despite the apprehension in his gut, he pulled it out in order to inspect it. It was a woman standing in front of what appeared to be a make-shift grade (Site C, he reminded himself). While the lighting was a bit dark, Kaneki could still make out her features. At first, Kaneki didn't understand it when his hand began to tremble.

Suddenly, the world seemed to come to a stop.

"Is everything fine, Kaneki-kun?" Mado called his attention and Kaneki yelped as he dropped the files in surprise, scattering the papers on the floor.

"A-Ah, yes, yes." He hurriedly assured the man as he crouched on the floor to hastily pick up the fallen documents. He lowered his head in order to avoid the man's gaze and reveal what he had just potentially discovered. He heard Amon make a derisive noise and deduced that the man wasn't the least bit impressed with his clumsiness.

"We'll wait for you at the lobby." The white haired man told him.

They didn't wait for his response as he heard their footsteps move further away from him until it faded into light tapping. As soon as they were out of his view, he slowed down his nervous frenzy and picked up the photograph once again. He bit his lip as the sudden horror he felt at the situation began to flood in. While he had only seen her in passing after giving his farewell to Hinami, the girl he had talked to earlier at the bookstore, there was no mistaking it.

This was Hinami's mother. A suspect of possibly being a ghoul. If she was, then that would mean Hinami was as well.

The world—

It didn't make sense anymore.

~o~

"…let's continue tomorrow," Mado waved at him as he began walking towards the exit. "Let Kaneki-kun know that I already went ahead and left. Good work today."

Amon took a step forward.

"M-Mado-san!" He called out to his partner who paused in order to stare at him over his shoulder.

"Yes, Amon-kun?" Mado responded with a curious lilt in his eyes.

"Do we…" He trailed off, unsure, before forging on ahead. "…really need to involve him in this case?"

At that, Mado turned around in order to fully face him. There was an unreadable expression on his face as he stared speculatively at Amon. Said man tried not to fidget under the stare as he was used to the man doing this whenever he was weighing the thought of what to tell his junior. He didn't even need to mention a name, Mado had already determined who he was referring to. After all, he wasn't exactly hiding his trepidation in dealing with the other.

"Are you really against his existence that much?" The white haired man tilted his head, voice casual.

"N-No, it's just that—" He stopped himself, unable to voice out his frustration since even he couldn't really understand it. He knew that it wasn't the teen's fault. If anything, he had gotten the short end of the stick. Amon knew what that felt like.

It's just that he was a ghoul. Artificial or not, it went against everything he worked hard for.

"You said it yourself, Amon-kun, our morality is being the justice ourselves." Mado reminded him of what he had just declared a while ago in the debriefing. "If you're willing to push past the boundaries to deliver your judgment, what's stopping the CCG from doing the same?" At this, he gave Amon a grim smile that didn't quite hide the grimace in his eyes. Still, the way Mado interacted with and treated Kaneki, he still couldn't deduce the man's thoughts regarding the teen's involvement in all this.

At that, his superior continued his trek out of the agency, leaving Amon to his thoughts.


"Count the Stars" (5)


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AN: Ok, let me explain first about the process of Kaneki's thoughts and how he differed from Sasaki of TG:re since people might be asking, as Sasaki, he was like this or like that. Am not going to explain that based on the principle that Sasaki was basically a different person from Kaneki since it's clear that, while having differences, the core is still Kaneki. Unlike Kaneki, Sasaki didn't remember what it had been like to be human, having no memories and only knew to reject his ghoul side for what it stood for.

Here, Kaneki knew what it was like to be human and, thus, can actively tell the difference when he didn't start feeling human either despite working for the CCG against ghouls. While he was trying to be one, people wouldn't let him. This was what Koori meant that since Kaneki didn't know how to be a ghoul, he clung to his human side instead and, thus, an effective path to self-destruction. Though, it didn't mean that he sided with the ghouls either.

Am slowly trying to apply my version of events with regards to the Fueguchi Arc but it was surprisingly hard, though, I'll work on it. Hopefully, I get to update sooner since life is busy and college is starting to bug me again.

Thank you all for the wonderful support you've given this and am really glad. All of your reviews are appreciated. Thank you very much!

~Leeh