It all started when Rize got better.
She was as he remembered her. Charming. Independent. Strong. Bloody. The woman who took the first bite out of him. Literally. After Yomo rescued her, he came to see her only to see her in restrain, in a extremely starved state that she couldn't recognize anyone, begging for meat. She called her dad but she didn't notice anyone who talked to her. Like Ken did.
"I couldn't being myself to hate you."
He believed Yomo for saying it's his own strength that defeated his enemies. But if there is no Rize...
He turned. It was her. She look everything like in the past except her eyes. It seemed distant and empty. She was still in restraints but she focused on him, her stare was on him.
Is he hallucinating? Hadn't she called him by his name?
Hungry or not, Kaneki approached her. "Rize. It's me. You remember me, don't you?"
He risked cupping her head as to look her straight in the eyes. He knew somehow if he tried hard enough, this woman could eventually return to normal. Yes, being a ghoul is normal. It's her life and not long ago because of her, it's his life now.
Her pupils dilated and he sensed her coming back. She breathed at first, then blinked, and gulped. Without warning, streams of tears flowed from her eyes. Kaneki leaned his forehead on hers and watched the familiar color of her eyes get clouded over with her tears.
"I want to die!" She cried. "Die! Die! Die!" She cried again, her head against his chest.
Troubled with worry, his brows knitted. He risked again and gathered her in his arms. Still, she sobbed. Her cries weren't from the sound of a very starved ghoul. No. She was, crying in his arms, a woman who lost her freedom and mind.
Rize continued to cry until sobs turned to silent hiccups. Her head was bowed now, unable to look at him anymore. Probably numb all over and tired from the effort of crying.
Kaneki brushed away a strand of hair away from her face and lifted her chin to look at her again. He could never tire of seeing her, just as he always does.
Maybe now in this state he could say again the words he wanted to say, "You know, I'm looking forward to seeing you again. But I didn't know it would be like this."
Her head tilted, the way birds do. It made her look so innocent and, he must admit, cute. Her eyes looked up at him wide-eyed, "Who are you?"
He was speechless. Nothing. He can't believe it. Does being in her pain meant loaing her memories?
"You look like...like him. The one with the black hair." Her words were a little bit slurred, as if talking was new to her.
He tried to smile. "Do I?"
Rize reached for his hair and brushed it gently. "I heard someone talking to me. I don' know if it was a dream but Kaneki-kun..."
His hand closed over hers and leaned his head for her touch. He missed her and he missed her purring voice. "I know him. Once. He told me you always appear in his hallucinations and you help him embrace who he really is. A ghoul. Because of you I found my own strength."
"He told you that?" A ghost of a smile was plastered on her face. "That young man. Where is he now?"
"His here." He gestured to his heart. "And here." He gestured to hers.
She leaned back and observed him. "Kaneki-kun?!"
"Yes. It's me." He tried for the third time.
Her mouth open and closed, unable to say anything. For a long moment she stared and he stared back.
She snorted, the way Rize would do. "Look at how you've matured. And here I am in restraints still extremely half hungry. You should be happy I forced myself into consciousness not eaten you again." She forced a laugh.
Suddenly, she sobered up. "I don't know what to live for anymore. After they experimented on me..."
"Don't worry, maybe if you're strong enough and not cause trouble to anyone, you'll be free."
She was silent.
Maybe, he thought, it's time to be frank. She's back now and not the handicapped ghoul who survived the experiments. "You don't know what I've been through. I don't even know your alive. If I knew then I would search for you and-and talk to you."
"Why would you bother? I tried to eat you."
"I need answers. Guidance." He paused for a long moment and when she tried to speak he said, "No, I need you because what you said back then that you liked me I don't know if that's true."
She snickered. "Silly man. You think a ghoul would love a human? We're undead."
"But now, it's different. Even talking to you now is comforting. What would you feel if there isn't anyone with you right now?"
She bowed her head.
"Alone. Yes. I also felt that way. That's why you always appeared beside me. When I'm struggling to know who or what I am, when fighting my hunger, when I'm being tortured."
Rize observed him. "I don't know I've felt that way until I'm held prisoner. But I didn't imagine myself hallucinating of someone beside me, helping me in my situation because it's impossible."
"You're here now. I'm real and right beside you now. I'll help you."
"Tell me. How did you become like that?"
She really didn't want to talk about that, he thought. "I ate you."
Slowly her eyes widened and she blushed.
"No, no, no, no! It's not what you think. When I finally broke and the end is near for me, you appeared and directed me to accept you. But I didn't. I told what's wrong, and that is the world."
"Then you eat me."
"And told me that to live is to devour others."
"That sounded like me." She said, thoughtful.
"One last question."
"So like the others, after asking you're leaving me alone. Again."
"It's not like that. You maybe free tomorrow or the other day. Or I'll visit you again."
She sighed. "Again. Why bother?"
She's trapping me, Kaneki thought. "I don't know. I want to see you again. The real you. To have you talk to me personally. Unlike, in the past..."
"You're obsessed with me."
He sighed. "I don't want to know."
She chuckled. A real one. That brought Kaneki's attention and want to see more. "You are. So what is your question?"
"I want to know whether you'll like me as a food or like me in a different way?"
She smiled. It was the first time in seems like forever. His world around him suddenly seemed brighter. "You already know that, Kaneki-kun."
"I want to hear it."
"Naive as always. Come here."
"Should I trust you not to bite me again?"
"You shouldn't. But in the past you did."
He did and he did now. For the sake of making her smile again. "Is this close enou-"
She leaned over and kissed him. Just a gentle one at the lips but it warmed him all the same.
"You better make sure I get out of here."
She made a mischievous smile. "You know, I missed you too. Even though you're food to me in the past. You're different now and the odds are different. I could like you better...or not. It depends whether you'll allow me to help you."
Her smiled disappeared.
It's his turn to smile. "I'll gladly accept you, Rize."
For the last time in his visit, he embraced her not for solace but for gratitude and maybe, he thought, love.