this is not a grave

'the graven image, the golden calf'

[PRESENT DAY]:

Kishou arrives at the Ghoul Detention Centre of the 23rd Ward early in the morning, where the warden unlocks an interrogation room more hospitable than most. A glass wall still cleaves the room in two, but the chairs are permanent and substantial, not flimsy, folding-metal affairs. Although it is air-conditioned, the room lacks the dryness and sterility that permeates the rest of the Centre. The smell of trapped bodies, chemical substances, and coagulating dust seethes beneath currents of cool air.

Kishou gazes into space, hands empty, as Haise is led into the room. He has brought no books with him. He suspects that the warden is more solicitous of the prisoner considering present company. He has no evidence of comparison for the hypothesis, so he abandons it. He turns his attention to Haise instead, who looks neither well nor unwell, but simply numb.

He had never meant to trap him inside a glass slide with just a bit of plastic and a drop of water. He never meant to corner him under the glare of a microscopic lens, like a non-sentient specimen to be examined. But Kishou has always had a healthy sense of curiosity, and nevertheless Haise is there now, and Kishou must consider how he is best able put him out of his misery. He is not sure whether this comes from a peripheral desire to be humane, a hidden well of sympathy, or some cruel parody of parental affection. Does a part of him resonate, empathise, with the one person in the world who could be considered as his 'son'?

'I have heard,' he begins, tonelessly and without prelude, 'that you are becoming immune to RC suppressants.'

Haise remains still when he speaks. He is so still in his seat, it is as if he has folded his being into a small packet and tucked it deep within his body. Kishou has decided to refer to him as Haise in his mind for convenience, because he has no confirmation as to who or what Haise currently identifies as. Anyway, nothing of either Sasaki Haise or Kaneki Ken shows outside of the prisoner's mind. Visually dissecting him is futile, and Kishou cannot determine which he is; if he is either, neither, or both.

'I have been told,' he continues, 'that RC suppressants are not an unlimited resource.'

Again, silence. He observes him carefully as he forms each word, depositing parcels of sound and meaning into the space between them, with the lightest puffs of air and dust. What he observes is this: Haise is a statue. Some prodigious sculptor must have carved the individual strands of his hair from cold marble, shadowing his eyes. Not a breath stirs. Yet he is a living entity, an organism with warm blood running in his veins, pumped by a beating heart. A living, breathing, bleeding organism that thinks for itself. However strange and cruel his biological construct. Kishou considers that since this organism fell into his hands, he has maintained it and displayed it like a statue in a museum, cordoned off with red rope. View the miraculous half-breed. Don't forget the fee. He performs the most wonderful tricks. Oh. Or is it a circus? He turns the thought over and over in his mind as silence pools around them like water. Is this a thing he has done with premeditation and conscious decision? He has certainly not let Haise's potential go to waste.

Has he weaponised him? (Has he weaponised himself?) Has he done this all against Haise's will? But then, he has no concrete evidence of what Haise's will actually is.

In Kafka's Crossbreed, there is a small animal that the narrator owns. It is a cross between a lamb and a kitten. And sometimes, the animal looks at the narrator with something approaching human understanding. And they share a certain thought. Perhaps it is the only one that they share.

'I have been told,' he repeats, 'that your doses must be increased to be effective. And that this solution is only temporary.'

He breathes. He rushes forward.

'I have been asked to make a decision.'

The narrator considers that perhaps the butcher's knife is the only release for the animal's solitary existence. Is the human understanding reflected in the animal's eyes a product of the narrator's imagination? Is a connection made; is a message delivered? Or has the narrator projected his own thoughts and feelings upon the animal?

Are there fathers who impress too heavily upon their sons? Ideals, hopes, dreams. Unachievable paradigms. The future is a concept that does not exist, physically, in the now. But however much of an anomaly Haise is, they still share the communication mode of speech. They are speaking to each other, or at least, they have spoken to one another, in the same language. Perhaps they are like people from opposite ends of the same country, and the variations between their regional dialects are so minuscule as to be unnoticeable. Yet those tiny flaws belie the yawning chasm beneath the surface.

Have they come from such distant places that it is impossible to understand one another?

But there is no such thing as fully understanding another human being in the first place, let alone a ghoul. Let alone an artificial crossbreed of the two. And Kafka's animal identified with neither sheep nor cats. It simply existed, alone.

'I have been asked to choose between harvesting your kakuhou for a quinque, or disposing of you,' Kishou says, finally. He does not know how to mince words. He says, 'It has been deemed too dangerous for your kakuhou to be retained for use in the Quinx procedure.'

Haise moves. He is a bear coming out of hibernation, each muscle waking slowly. Plates of the earth, drifting, colliding. The disparate pieces of him come together minutely, until they form a whole. Haise lifts his head, but the motion is hesitant and slightly disjointed. Despite this, he meets Kishou's eyes smoothly and with precision. His gaze pierces through the glass of the barrier and of his prescription lenses. Unerring.

'Arima-san,' he says, forming the words clearly, carefully. 'What exactly am I to you?'


[2 WEEKS AGO]:

Kishou is always busy. He doesn't know what it's like to have free time. It's only natural that he is elsewhere at the time of the Tsukiyama Operation, running between wards and assignments, cleaning up messes too big for anyone else to handle. It's only natural that when all the threads have come together in alignment, and Haise inevitably loses his grip, he is called in.

He is briefed through an earbud as he makes his way to the Lunatic Eclipse building. The Operation had been on the verge of being neatly tied up when two prominent Aogiri members, and another, external group, appeared and spread panic through the ground troops. What had previously been a simple battle, with a clear line drawn down the middle between two armies, turned into a chaotic maelstrom of various conflicting factions. And in the middle of it, they had an investigator who was also a ghoul, capable of switching sides at any minute. A traitor by his genetic make-up.

He carries Narukami in one hand and a nameless replacement for Ixa in the other as he gets out of his taxi. Pays the fare, thanks the driver. Roads have been blocked in the surrounding areas in anticipation of the violence that comes with a large scale operation. So, he goes on foot.

A sensation like déjà vu knocks, with timid taps, on the back door of his mind. But Kishou doesn't indulge in useless trains of thought, and neither does he waffle in unresolvable emotions. He is busy. He doesn't have time for nostalgia and pointless musings. It's a very simple concept. He ignores the knocking.

When he reaches the building, the main conflict appears to be taking place on the roof. Electricity hasn't been cut off, as the automatic doors slide open for him. His arbitrary thought is: Good. I can take the elevator. Of course, for anyone else to take the elevator, it would be a tactical disadvantage. But whatever tries to trap Kishou in a confined space will be the one that can't escape. Besides, the scene matches the report he's received perfectly. Dismembered bodies litter the ground floor, like fallen wheat heads in the path of a farmer's scythe. Hairu's work, he observes. A deserted battlefield, and nothing out of the ordinary.

Standing in the elevator, watching the dial arc lazily towards the highest floor, Kishou finds himself drifting off. He wakes when the elevator dings, doors sliding open to the top floor. He finds an emergency stairway not too far away, casually kicks open the door, and ascends to the rooftop.

He is not sure what he had been expecting, but it was probably not this.

He arrives in a moment of stillness, frozen as if in a photograph or a snow globe. Squad 1 is arrayed in loose formation before the door to the rooftop, weapons poised. Beyond them is Haise, his back to all of them. Kishou can't tell if his crouching posture over the fallen Tsukiyama heir is defensive or threatening. He faces what Kishou surmises is the unknown, external group, made up of three. He catalogues them quickly. Two are well hooded and cloaked, with only their silhouettes clearly discernible. One is tall and broad-shouldered, the other much slighter. The third stands with his hood thrown back, but the moonlight bleaches his hair so that Kishou can't tell what colour it is. In the far right corner, a diminutive figure perches on the railing with their chin propped in their hands. They swing bandaged legs cheerily to and fro, as unconcerned as a spectator at a slow-moving ball game. Aogiri.

A faint tremor runs the length of Haise's body. The meagre light that sweeps over them changes subtly, with the inexorable movement of tattered clouds across the night sky. A breath of wind stirs hair and clothes. And just like that, the still tableau erupts.

Berserker. Battle madness; battle-fury. The killing rage. Fine words for a base and violent reaction, as Haise discards every single scrap of control that Kishou has ever taught him to hold onto. Squad 1 holds their ground. The face of the one, un-hooded outsider is stark with terror, horror, grief. The muscled one yanks him back from the reach of Haise's kagune, and the action shifts the hood that had thrown his face into shadow. Kishou files away a brief glimpse of Amon Koutarou's grim, but still-living countenance. Behind him, the door flies open and Urie Kuki, ever-ambitious, stumbles in on the scene. How he has detached himself from the rest of his squad, Kishou doesn't know.

'Koori,' he says, and Koori turns, quinque still raised. 'Secure the rooftop. Set up a barricade. No one below First Class.'

'And the others?' His eyes flicker to Amon's group.

'I'll take care of it,' he assures him. Squad 1 melts furtively into the background, dispersing to the lower floors and the edges of the rooftop. Someone drags a reluctant Urie, hackles raised, back the way he came.

Kishou may have been busy, but he has not been standing in an underground chamber, intercepting a flood of fleeing ghouls. He deems back-up unnecessary.

In the chaos, the Aogiri member has vanished, smoke-like. He doesn't doubt that they have hidden somewhere to observe, and that a high-ranked Aogiri ghoul is prey for another time.

And Haise is screaming.

Haise has been screaming for a long time now.

At some point, he has come to his feet. He staggers backwards, then forwards. He looks as if he is torn between myriad actions, unsure what to do first, or what he should do at all. One hand is clapped to to the side of his head, fingers raking through hair, as if he is trying to prevent his brain from spilling out of a head wound. Yukimura 1/3 is still clutched in his other hand; his grip is too tight, but he still holds it like he intends to wield it. And the words and worlds that spill from his mouth are a dark litany that Kishou remembers well.

He goes for the eyes, again.

Haise stops screaming.


[PRESENT DAY]:

Kishou hears the ticking of a second-hand from a clock that isn't in the room. The passage of time, etching itself into the air and in his mind.

He says, 'You make the choice.

'It matters little to me whether you live or die.'

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