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You're Everything A Big Bad Wolf Could Want

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Any other girl might, perhaps, feel flattered upon being gazed at in such an admiring way—like she’s the most beautiful thing her partner has ever seen, like he's convinced that she hung the moon and stars.

Rize, for her part, is only bored.

She’s gorgeous, and she knows it—she’d have to be blind not to. She’s also an old hand at playing the part of a delicate, demure young lady who’s never said an unkind word to anyone in her life and needs a big, strong man by her side to keep her safe.

All straight men want, really, is a pretty girl with a nice body to call their own, one who’s dainty enough to stroke their male ego by making them feel like able protectors, like needed providers. Plain and simple animal instinct, shared by humans and ghouls alike.

It always rankles, having to act so helpless and weak around her future meals. Having to act like prey. She’s a ghoul, a superior existence, and she prides herself on her strength—both of body and of will—and her independence; that these silly human men always fail to see past her façade, see her for the beast she truly is, is an insult to her pride as an apex predator.

(She likes her meals best when they have an aftertaste of revenge.)

Kaneki Ken is no different. A “gentle” smile or two, a quick peek down her shirt, and already he’s so far gone in his infatuation that he doesn’t think twice about offering to walk her home, even after she warns him that his chances of being pounced on and eaten by a ghoul in the process aren’t negligible. How, exactly, does he think he could protect her if they were indeed attacked? Does he believe that the power of “love” would magically allow him to save her with his skinny body and noodle arms? How hilarious. How pathetic.

Humans are all such fools.

But it isn’t entirely his fault, she supposes. Those innocent eyes, that clean, new clothing, that blonde friend of his who obviously cares for him—not to mention the fact that he’s a resident of the 20th Ward… Why, she bets he’s never so much as seen a ghoul on TV before; he probably thinks they’re some kind of urban myth or government conspiracy, even. She doubts he’s ever endured any kind of hardship in his safe, cushy life, and she can’t wait to hear the pampered little boy’s terrified, agonized, betrayed screams when she finally reveals herself and devours him whole.

It’s a pity, really. For all that he occasionally thinks more with his cock than with his brain (a common trait in males of all species), she can tell that his innate warmth and kindness are genuine. For all his naivety, he’s not unintelligent, and she found him a pleasant enough conversationalist once he got over his awe of her and gained enough confidence to speak freely. Not to mention he’s hardly the worst-looking man she’s ever lured in: with that cute, boyish face, warm voice and slender stature, he could really be something if he only ditched the unfashionable bowl cut and old-man sweaters.

He likes her, he claims. He wants to see her again, he confesses. He’s not the first to say those words. He won’t be the last man to end up in her stomach mere minutes after speaking them, either.

Saliva pooling in her mouth, she prepares herself for the big reveal. She confesses she’s always had a bit of a dramatic streak, and oh, she does love watching the love-struck faces of her foolish meals contort with dawning horror at the first flash of her kakugan, listening to their despairing screams when their attempts at fleeing are inevitably thwarted, tasting their tangy blood after drawing it for the first time. Kaneki is so very stupid and smells so very sweet, why, she can’t wait to tear him to a thousand bite-sized pieces…

But then she makes what she will—much, much later—one day ruefully think back on as the biggest, most wonderful mistake of her life.

She looks him in the eye.

His face is alight with a tremulous kind of hope as he gazes at her, his cheeks flushed sakura-pink, his shapely lips pursed to hide their nervous trembling. For the first time since she caught sight of him at Anteiku months ago, his shoulders aren’t hunched like he’s trying to disappear into himself. Instead, they’re squared and tight, and he looks like more like a man than a weak, cripplingly timid human boy.

It’s his eyes, though, that really get to her in the end: big and round and doll-like in their glassiness, with irises colored a soft shade of dove-gray, bracketed by lashes so long, dark and thick that she can’t help but think they’re wasted on a male. Those eyes are huge and anxious as he waits for her response with baited breath; only if he were a month-old puppy would the effect of that stare be more devastating.

…She’ll give him another week to stew in his delusions. She’ll entertain the asinine, enamored little human for a little while longer, and then she, his trusted, beloved girlfriend, will drag him off to a dark corner and, instead of bashfully offering him her “first” kiss, will rip him apart and eat him. It’ll only make her eventual betrayal of him all the sweeter in the end.

She’s really not that hungry, anyway. She can always tide herself over with an early-morning jogger or a drunken salary man or ten in the meantime, if her appetite gets the better of her.

“Kaneki-san…I’m so happy to hear that you feel the same way! Of course I’d love to go out with you again.”

Just a little while longer.

A week turns into two, then three, four, and before she knows it, three months have passed, and she still has yet to bring Kaneki Ken’s life to its natural conclusion.

She doesn’t understand why she hasn’t already gotten rid of him.

Shouldn’t he have annoyed her enough to deserve death by now? Every time they meet up for a new date, he greets her with a big, dumb, besotted smile. He occasionally gifts her with small trinkets—cute little key chains, scented bookmarks, the prettiest flowers a broke college student can buy—like a devout man paying tribute to his goddess. He has this habit of glancing sidelong at her from time to time when he thinks she won’t notice, a look of utter wonder in his eyes, like he has trouble believing that a woman like her is actually willing to be his.

Rize always felt smothered in the past, when other “boyfriends” showered her with such suffocating affection. If that illiterate, boorish weakling Banjou ever tried to treat her like that instead of watching her from afar with worshipful eyes, she would rip out his spine before strangling him with it. Kaneki’s antics, though, only make her feel…amused. Indulgent, even.

What makes Kaneki so different?, one might wonder. Well, the answer to that question lies within the question itself: Kaneki is different.

After three months of frequent “dates”, he’s finally become confident enough in her presence to come out of his shell, and oh, he’s something of a delight. Sure, he’ll listen avidly to every word she speaks like they’re pearls slipping past her lips, but if he ever disagrees with her while they’re discussing literature, he’s never afraid to argue his point, displaying a fiery spirit which he usually keeps politely restrained. Whenever he gets particularly incensed in his opposition, his arms will tense at his sides like he’s barely restraining himself from gesticulating all over the place like a gaijin tourist, which she actually finds somewhat…endearing. He’s not as much of a doormat as she first assumed.

But he really is very kind; even too much so, at times. Once, while the two of them were waiting at a bus stop at the end of one of their “dates”, he noticed a young middle schooler shivering next to him and, without a second thought, gave the boy his scarf and spent the rest of the wait with chattering teeth. Naturally, the weak human caught a terrible cold that kept him confined to his bed for the entire following week. (Rize wasn’t far gone enough to stay by his side all throughout and play nurse, but she did send him rather more text messages enquiring after his health than the rational side of her felt was strictly necessary.)

Near the middle of her third month as his “girlfriend”, she surprises herself by inviting him up for coffee, of her own initiative. The innocent little lamb doesn’t even seem to understand what she’s actually offering until she plucks his empty cup out of his hands before sliding sinuously onto his lap.

Being a complete virgin, and a somewhat prudish one at that, he naturally has no idea what he’s doing, is afraid to touch her with more force than he would a spun-glass statue, and comes far too quickly. He’s so cute in his appalled embarrassment, though, that she doesn’t tease him for more than a minute or two—just long enough for his mortification to start to sour into true dismay—before she shows him exactly how short the refractory period of an eighteen-year-old male can be. Their second try is more successful, and she’ll never admit it, but she soon becomes quite addicted, already, to the sound of that adorable little gasping whine he never fails to give when she pinches his nipples just right as she rides him silly.

And it doesn’t stop there.

She keeps seeing him. She keeps sleeping with him. Instead of making her move while he’s inside her, while his blood is pumping and his pheromones are pouring out double-time and her sudden betrayal would cut deepest, she lets him cling to her in their shared afterglow, allows him to mumble words of adoration into her sweaty skin, even cards her fingers through his damp hair as he nuzzles into her breast. Sometimes, she whispers an I love you or two back. Thankfully, she’s quite sure that’s still a lie.

Everyone around the “couple” seems to be just as puzzled by their continued “relationship” as she is. Kaneki’s blonde friend, Nagachika Hideyoshi—far sharper than he looks and acts, that one—occasionally sends her these long, weighing narrow-eyed looks, like he knows exactly what she is and can’t figure out her motive for drawing out her game of “house” with Kaneki for so long. The staff of Anteiku seems to be growing more flabbergasted every time she drops by the café with Kaneki, alive, trotting faithfully at her side; and, though she contemns their peaceful ways as much as ever, she can’t quite blame them for their incomprehension.

Why isn’t Kaneki dead and digested yet? What’s so special about this foolish, naïve, overly giving human bookworm, that she hasn’t yet discarded him, or better yet, devoured him? Why is it that, with every lovesick glance and shy smile he sends her, the idea of devouring him becomes less tantalizing and more sickening?

Shouldn’t she be done playing with her food by now?

By the six-months mark, Rize admits defeat.

She hadn’t once thought she would ever be interested in pursuing a romance: her upbringing understandably wiped such fanciful notions from her mind early on. Even after escaping her fate as a broodmare for V and attaining heretofore inconceivable heights of personal freedom, she always found the idea of giving herself to a man, even on her own terms, repulsive. She valued her newfound independence far too much for that, or so she used to tell herself; she didn’t want to be tied down by anyone, by anything, not even by her own feelings.

Besides, Kaneki really shouldn’t be her type. On the rare instances that she did, in the past, allow herself an idle daydream about finding a lover, the man her imagination conjured up would always be a fair bit taller than her, well-built, and more handsome than pretty; most importantly, her imaginary paramour was always a ghoul formidable enough to keep up with her, one who shared her disdain towards humans and her liking for large, filling meals.

Instead, she’s ended up with a scrawny human nerd with a heart of gold and all the aggressiveness of a doughy, clumsy kitten.

It’s not like she’s suddenly changed her views on humans; it’s not like Kaneki has “changed” her at all. She’s still as gluttonous as ever (though she takes care, now, to indulge in her frequent binges outside of the 20th Ward so as to avoid drawing the CCG’s attention to it, and letting on that it's her fugitive self's new place of residence); whenever she butchers a young man, an old lady, a teenage girl, before feasting on their corpses and bathing in their blood, she never feels a twinge of remorse. Ghouls cannot eat anything save for human and/or ghoul flesh—and she’s too attached to her already patchwork sanity to try and go kakuja, not to mention ghouls taste absolutely rancid—so, frankly, even if her “love” for Kaneki was great enough for her to decide to change her diet, it isn’t as though she even could.

And Kaneki, for all that she can admit to feeling a certain degree of affection for him by now, does still showcase the odd “foolish human” moment: namely, instances of his occasional cowardliness, of his lack of resolve—and, most damning of all, the times when he exhibits kindness so excessive it borders on the self-sacrificing, so thoughtless that it’s plainly dangerous.

(Sometimes, she finds herself actually feeling relieved that Kaneki wasn’t born a ghoul: he never would've survived in her bloody world with his late mother's ridiculous, martyr-like philosophy poisoning his mind.)

Rize likes Kaneki, she can own up to that by now. She’s certainly not in love with him, but she…appreciates his company, and can’t help but return at least a fraction of the immense regard he so obviously holds for her.

He’s sweet, really, and so transparent in his simple desire to be loved. He gives all of himself to the people he deems important, holds nothing back, all in hopes of earning even a scrap of affection in return.

To Rize, who was raised to become a living, breathing womb with no will of her own or value to anyone, his earnest and unconditional devotion is something she can’t help but greedily want for more and more of.

They really should be completely incompatible: sure, by now, she’s wheedled enough stories of his past out of him that she knows for a fact his life hasn’t been the easiest by human standards, but it’s still been a complete bore compared to her own gritty, violent, adventurous one.

If Rize’s life was a novel, she’d be the villain, a cruel, seductive siren who cares for nothing but herself and the destruction she gleefully wreaks; Kaneki, for his part, would be a background character barely deserving of his own name and character design—for example, the young florist who gets waved at by the protagonist on his way to school every morning and always replies with an empty, polite smile.

But they compliment each other, she and Kaneki. His quiet kindness and peaceful nature, while occasionally sources of irritation for her, are a balm to Rize’s sometimes-psychotic temper. Likewise, Rize’s confidence and willfulness inspire Kaneki to show more of his own, as do her frequent lectures on the importance of asserting yourself instead of letting people undeserving of your generosity walk all over you. They have similar hobbies, literal man-eating aside, and good sexual chemistry. With every date and night that they share, Rize is coming to realize that, perhaps, if things were different, she might’ve been happy to call Kaneki Ken her own.

After all, she dropped most of her “dainty young lady” act around him somewhere in their fourth month as a couple, and he’s yet to go running for the hills. She no longer bothers to fake a blush whenever she catches him staring at her cleavage, no longer asks for his help with heavy lifting or for him to walk her home. She likes to tease him, both in bed and out of it—only keeping her figurative claws sheathed because she finds his flushed, mortified face cuter than his tear-stained and hurt one—and he never gets his back up about it, though she supposes he’s got to be used to it, with a boy like Nagachika-kun as his best friend.

Instead of feeling emasculated by her increasingly frequent displays of both mental- and physical strength, instead of feeling disappointed by the revelation of how cynical and sadistic she truly is, he seems privately pleased with every hint of her true self she’s willing to show him. Every bit of her real, monstrous person she’s seen fit to grant him a glimpse of, he’s accepted without a second thought so far.

(Most humans who see them together most likely think she’s out of his league, but she knows that, in truth, the foolish little martyr is the one who’s too good for her. Which makes it all the stranger that she hasn’t left him yet, because she’d certainly never prized benevolence and generosity over power and ruthlessness before they began their farce of a relationship.)

Kaneki would probably be the best thing that ever happened to her, if she was anyone, anything but herself. But she isn’t. She’s a ghoul, and no matter how sweet her “boyfriend” is, there’s got to be a limit to his ridiculous compassion. No human would willingly remain involved in a relationship with a creature that eats their kind for breakfast, even if they, like Kaneki, had self-preservation instincts about as keen as those of a suicidal lemming.

Rize’s going to slip up, eventually. She’s been able to control herself so far, to keep her disgust towards human weakness to herself and to present a passably human front despite how much she dislikes faking such fragility, but that won’t last forever. One day, while they’re enjoying each other’s bodies, she’ll bite his neck just a little too hard, and then her kakugan will flare, and he’ll scream for the police, and she’ll have to devour him to keep her true nature secret—and even though the mere idea of such a feast should make her salivate, it makes her feel, instead, like she’s tried to swallow an entire femur whole.

She knows she needs to put an end to the charade soon, before she ends up as just another quinque, just another corpse dangling limply off of another ghoul’s kagune, or, worse, is dragged back to the Garden. But, in a testament to just how far she has fallen, she actually intends to break up with Kaneki instead of simply killing him and moving on.

She’s well aware that it’s completely unlike her, but at this point, she doesn’t care. Kaneki is the only human, possibly the only sentient being in the world she gives a damn about, and if she doesn’t want to eat him or even end him, then that’s her choice and hers alone. She’s not about to let anyone or anything dictate her actions, not even her own fear and ghoulish pride.

The next time that she sees him, she finally decides half a year almost to the day since they first “got together”, she’ll tell him that they’re over.

But then suddenly, unforgivably, the decision as to how to leave Kaneki behind is ripped out of her hands.

Rize has met many ghouls during her time prowling through the streets of Tokyo in search of prey. Some are less annoying than most, others more so (those usually don’t last long after the first insult they fling at her), but she’s never made the acquaintance of a ghoul whom she holds in quite as much contempt as Tsukiyama Shuu.

She and Tsukiyama are similar in several ways—both intelligent and avid readers, both beautiful, both prone to luring in their prey with sweet promises instead of chasing after them—but too fundamentally different to ever be able to truly get along. Oh, they feign geniality convincingly enough, both of them charmers and seducers at heart, but in the end, they both know that she will always look down on him for his human-like obsession with fine dining, and the prideful Gourmet will, in turn, always loathe her for it, and for her “boorish” preference for quantity over quality.

They aren’t friends or even frenemies, but plain old enemies. It’s a simple, undeniable truth that Rize should have taken care to always keep in mind; that, and the fact that another similarity she shares with the Gourmet is their taste in meals.

When Kaneki fails to make it to their weekly Saturday lunch date at Anteiku, Rize isn’t too worried. He could just be caught up in his reading or in completing some kind of assignment, and could have simply forgotten to warn her that he was going to be late: it wouldn’t be the first time he got too absorbed in his beloved literature to keep track of time... And the fact that she feels more and more fondly exasperated every time he shows such absentmindedness, rather than more and more ready to rip him open from groin to throat for it, never fails to throw her for a loop.

Sighing with an annoyance that’s belied by the amused curve of her lips, she exits Anteiku with a polite backwards wave at Yoshimura—peace-loving old fool that he is—before making for her boyfriend’s flat; only, it isn’t a cutely rumpled Kaneki who greets her at the door, swimming in an overlarge sweatshirt and rubbing weary eyes as he apologizes profusely for standing her up. Instead, she’s met with an empty apartment, the most recent traces of Kaneki’s scent already several hours old. He obviously remembered that he had an engagement with her today, then (but if he never made it there, then where is he? Did he run into trouble along the way? A car accident? A ghoul attack?).

A letter and a rose are sitting on Kaneki’s coffee table.

For a few crazed seconds, Rize’s sight goes hazy and red around the edges with pure, unadulterated rage. A love letter? To her human? Who would dare make a pass at a man who’s so obviously taken, who so obviously worships the ground Rize walks on and loves her more than anyone else (save, to her private disgruntlement, for Nagachika Hideyoshi)? Did Kaneki miss their date because he decided to meet up with the letter’s sender instead? With that…that skank? Is he cheating on her?!

Thankfully, it only takes a few deep, calming breaths for her to regain her composure, and soon she feels quite disgruntled at her short, inexplicable lapse in rationality.

First of all, Kaneki could never two-time her, because they aren’t truly in a relationship to begin with (and she would most definitely smell it on him if he dared, anyway). Second of all and more importantly, the letter doesn’t reek of infatuated human female; instead, it holds a repugnant smell she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forget, one that even the overpowering fragrance of the perfume-soaked rose can't disguise. The coppery, sour musk of a particularly well-fed male ghoul—the scent of one Tsukiyama Shuu.

She wastes a brief second wondering why her “friend” would go after Kaneki before dismissing the question, seeing as its answer is all too obvious. Tsukiyama chose her human as his next target because Kaneki is adorable, and because Kaneki’s body, after a good four months of regular sexual relations with Rize, is completely imbued with her scent, so much so that it’s almost indistinguishable from his own. Any other ghoul would’ve—rightly—interpreted that as a crystal-clear warning to stay away and keep their grubby paws off of what belongs to her. The Gourmet, in his greed, his resentment and his hubris, obviously took it as a challenge.

Judging by the tone of the letter, Kaneki and Tsukiyama are obviously acquainted—the bastard probably lured her human in with his typical “lonely, misunderstood pretty-boy” routine, and Kaneki is both compassionate and naïve enough to fall for it hook, line and sinker. Come to think of it, she does remember her boyfriend telling her, a few weeks ago, about a nice, if eccentric, man he had recently met, a man with a coloring almost as exotic as her own. At the time, she’d been too preoccupied with sucking him off and keeping a keen ear out for his sweet gasps and moans to pay much attention to whatever he was going on about, and she’s sorely regretting it now. She should have listened, and she should have warned him, but Rize didn’t earn the title of “Binge Eater” for nothing. When she gets into a feeding frenzy, there’s not much that can get through to her.

Now it’s too late, and her boyfriend is gone—spirited away. If the letter’s contents are to be believed, Tsukiyama asked for Kaneki to meet with him very briefly before his and Rize’s weekly coffee date (obviously, the bastard has been having her and her human watched for a while, too), and after that…well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened next. Tsukiyama drugged Kaneki, or knocked him out, or subdued him somehow, before dragging her human off to that perverted club of the Gourmet’s that he and his fellow lazy, privileged snobs like to pretentiously call a “ghoul restaurant”.

For the second time in as many minutes, Rize sees red. So Tsukiyama thinks she’ll let him get away with stealing her prey from right under her nose? With eating Kaneki, even though she’s already decided that absolutely no one is going to be devouring her boyfriend, not even her? With terrorizing and hurting and killing the only person in the entire world she cares about even the slightest amount?

Tsukiyama and his depraved little “friends” like to put up a pretense of civility by partaking in their meals at the typical socially acceptable times: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Rize, miraculously, still remembers the address the Gourmet gave her months ago, before their quasi-friendship soured irreversibly; if Tsukiyama has decided to serve Kaneki up for the last meal of the day, Rize still has a chance to get him back.

And if Tsukiyama has already had her human done away with and eaten, has already partaken in Kaneki’s flesh, himself…well. Maybe Rize will reconsider her previous stance on cannibalism after all.

“An eye for an eye”: that was the saying, now wasn’t it?

Ghoul restaurants have existed for longer than Rize’s been alive; but, as a child of the Garden and then a lone, notoriously violent and unpredictable ghoul unaffiliated with richer families like the Tsukiyamas, she has never been invited to one before—nor, frankly, has she ever wished to be. But she’s here now, and by God, it’s exactly as revoltingly pretentious as she imagined.

Hidden in the underbelly of a plain-looking brick building in the 7th Ward’s wealthiest residential areas, Tsukiyama’s “restaurant” itself is enormous: a wide rectangular room with a tall ceiling, arranged almost like an ancient Roman arena, or a theatre in the round—and indeed, that’s what the restaurant’s “customers” are all here for: dinner and a show.

Said customers are all clustered together around lacquered round tables, in the cradle of a high, richly decorated balcony that wraps around the entire room, allowing them a perfect view of the bare stone floor far down below: the “kitchen” in which tonight’s “dinner” will soon fight for their lives. The scent of human fear, desperation and death wafts from the area below like the sweetest of perfumes, riling up the crowd of salivating spectators. Rize wants nothing more than to massacre them all.

They’re pathetic, the whole lot of them: all gussied up in fancy suits and gowns as they daintily sip glasses of blood-wine, their elaborate masquerade masks doing nothing to hide the slavering monsters that lurk beneath their skins. They understand nothing of the true nature of the world they live in, know nothing of the secrets only Rize and her long-estranged V kin are privy to; they can tout their riches, political power and influence all they like, but the fact is that they’re all weak—so used to being catered to, to having their meals brought to them instead of being forced to hunt the hard way, that Rize doubts most of them have ever even seen a true battle in their lives.

Rize could take them all down in minutes (save, perhaps, for Tsukiyama who’s not half-bad with his koukaku, and the Clown with an oddly nostalgic smell that Rize can see lurking near that utter pushover Madame A), which is actually rather fortuitous for Rize, since she might have to fight her way through a fair few of them on her way out with Kaneki. But it doesn’t change the fact that these perverted human-eating human-wannabes absolutely repulse her.

Rize is disguised as best she could manage on such short notice, dolled up in a sleek silvery party dress and mask she filched from a costume shop on her way to the 7th Ward, her distinctive violet hair pulled back in an elaborate French twist, her neck and wrists sprayed liberally with perfume in order to conceal her scent from Tsukiyama’s keen senses. She’s elbowed her way to the very front of the balcony farthest from the Gourmet’s personal box, and is making idle conversation with a grossly overweight old man there, who seems to think that flashing her his kakugan and fancy signet ring as he caresses her arm with fat, sweat-damp fingers will be all it takes to tumble her into his bed. She can’t cause a ruckus now, not when the “evening meal” hasn’t even been wheeled in yet, but by God, if that old lecher doesn’t give it a rest soon, he’ll be missing a hand before the end of the night.

Just as Rize is silently resolving, thirty minutes later, to decapitate the geezer if he tries to grab her ass just one more time, Tsukiyama—or, as he’s known here, “MM”—finally takes center stage as he declares the restaurant open for the night.

Our sincerest apologies for the wait, dear customers,” a nameless masked “restaurant” employee then says into a microphone as the flagstones far under the balcony split apart down the middle, twin panels of fake flooring slowly receding to reveal the “meal’s” waiting room hidden even further below. “The ‘dinner’ preparations have been put into order.”

And there, standing frozen between two inconsequential humans—a genial-looking middle-aged man and a portly, sour-looking woman—is Kaneki.

Rize nearly staggers as the weight of her previous worry is suddenly lifted from her shoulders, replaced by sweet, sweet relief. She had hoped that he was still safe when she had found herself unable to smell his blood anywhere in the restaurant, but she hadn’t been sure, and she’s never been happier to see him than she right here and now, to see him unharmed if not for the scent of fear that’s exuding from his every pore. The announcer has started speaking again, listing out the virtues of the two unknown humans and the spoiled, overfed ghouls who selected them, but Rize only has eyes for Kaneki.

Her boyfriend started growing out his hair months ago at her suggestion, and it’s a very pleasant change from the dowdy bowl cut he used to swear by: his bangs are longer and choppier, framing his pretty face and nearly falling into his big gray eyes, and the ends of his messy mop flip outward on either side of his head, giving him the look of a particularly adorable, puffy little dandelion. His frail body is all wrapped up in a sharp black suit which she knows for a fact isn’t his own but does wonders for his shoulders and waistline, and under any other circumstances, Rize would be enjoying the view; but the knowledge that every ghoul present appreciates the sight her human makes as well, and not all of them simply out of hunger, makes her feel more furious than horny.

And of course, today’s main course, hand-picked by our very own MM-sama himself,” the announcer is saying when Rize tunes back in to the sound of his gratingly snobbish voice. “A young male, barely out of adolescence, with an unusually sweet scent! He does not have much meat on him, but what little there is will be soft and tender, to ease you all gently towards the completion of your meal.”

Rize is going to rip that man’s throat out with her teeth.

The ghouls around her are abuzz with excitement as they discuss each of the night’s “courses”, and the fat old philanderer next to Rize seems annoyed to have lost her attention, but she ignores them all. She can hear heavy, lumbering footsteps approaching from behind the automated sliding doors in the “kitchens” below, and she has an inkling that the owner of said feet is the one Tsukiyama intends for Kaneki to be killed by tonight.

No matter how dearly she wants to just go berserk and annihilate everyone here, she can’t lose control now. It’s almost time for her to make her move, but not quite yet. It’ll have to be a surprise-attack if she wants to make it out alive with her human. She has to wait. She has to be patient…

Ah, it seems tonight’s “scrapper” has appeared. Well then, please enjoy the scrapper’s dismantling show!

Massive is the first word that comes to Rize’s mind as she beholds the creature that stomps into view through the squat metallic doors.

The giant of a man is unmistakably human, but looks more like a monster than any of the ghouls present; he’s built like a sumotori, fat and bulky muscle rippling visibly across his bare torso with his every move, and his incongruously dainty-looking hands are clutching a well-loved hacksaw with a familiarity that leaves little doubt as to how he intends to butcher the night’s “meal”. His neck is as thick as his skull and so short it all but disappears into his hefty shoulders, and his face, despite the tight red leather cowl that covers it, is a terrible sight to behold—his nose stumpy and wide like a pig’s, his eyes two mismatched, gaping pits of darkness.

“Niche to…meet choo,” the hideous colossus slowly stammers out, and for all that his voice is as deep and coarse as one would expect of a man of his stature, he sounds like a small child.

Rize has seen things like this before: human children stolen from their homes by ghouls and twisted, through the use of experimental science and torture both, into monsters loyal only to the creatures that distorted them so and ruined their lives in the first place. Even to her, a ghoul who sees humans as nothing more than a food source, such practices are perverted and repulsive. This “scrapper” has probably been killing his own kind for the entertainment of ghouls since he was old enough to hold a knife, and Rize highly doubts he even has the mental capacity to understand what it is his “Mama” (Madame A, if the announcer is to be believed) asks him to do whenever she brings him along for such occasions.

More importantly however, this dangerous, pitiable half-wit is obviously strong—maybe even strong enough to rival most of the ghouls present here. There is no way that her Kaneki, who’s always favored reading over exercise and probably can’t bench-press even half his own weight, could ever beat him in a straight-up fight. Like the other humans standing dumbstruck on either side of him, he would be instantly obliterated if he even tried.

Which means that, if Rize hadn’t looked for Kaneki at his flat and found Tsukiyama’s letter there, if she hadn’t happened to remember where his restaurant is located, if she hadn’t made it here on time—Kaneki would have been chopped to pieces by this “Taro-chan” creature before being served up on a platter like a prized steak.

When she gets her hands on Tsukiyama, she’s going to

Oh. Oh dear. Deep breaths, now, deep breaths. If she clutches at the balcony's railing any harder, she's going to snap it in half.

Down below, “dinner preparations” have started. Taro-chan is easily holding down the middle-aged human man—Kobachi-san, was it?—with one large foot as he cheerfully saws off the man’s left arm at the shoulder. The diners go crazy as the scrapper throws the bloody, disembodied limb up onto the balcony, pushing and shoving each other for a taste. They don’t have to fight over it for long, though, as Taro-chan, obviously a professional when it comes to dismemberment despite having an IQ in the single digits, is quick to hack up the rest of the man and hand the resulting cuts over for another restaurant employee to arrange on an elegant serving cart. By the time the scrapper gets to the right leg, Kobachi-san isn’t even screaming anymore, which causes murmurs of disappointment to spread through the crowd; Rize, for her part, doesn’t mind the quiet—the human’s shrieking was starting to give her a headache.

Kaneki and the rotund woman watch on dumbly as the man is neatly and swiftly turned from living, breathing human to scraps of meat ready to be served to the jeering monsters above. They seem rooted to the spot, too shocked by the sheer, thoughtless cruelty of the acts being performed right before their eyes to spare a thought for running, and Rize could just scream. Why isn’t he moving?! Taro-chan is nearly done with the evening’s first course, he’ll be coming after the other humans next! Sure, Rize will kill the scrapper before she allows him to harm a hair on Kaneki’s head, but Kaneki doesn’t know that—he should be making some kind of effort to escape! Why won’t he just—

Oh dear lord, that ridiculous man. Of all the times for her boyfriend’s martyr complex to act up!

“A-Ami-san,” Kaneki is saying, presumably addressing the husky, heavy-faced woman, as he firms his stance and bravely—foolishly—doesn’t shy away from Taro-chan’s approach. “Please come to my side! I’ll do…something, somehow!”

Ami does, rushing to hide her bulk behind Kaneki’s narrow back at his request. Kaneki’s face has paled to an interesting shade of greenish-gray and he’s sweating rivulets (Rize’s quite certain that, for all that he favors novels of the horror and psychological drama genres, Kaneki has never actually been exposed to such intensely violent sights as those of Kobachi-san’s demise before), but he doesn’t waver even as Taro-chan cheerily stomps ever closer, determined to somehow protect his fellow human with all the strength in his skinny body—and so focused on his goal that he doesn’t notice the woman behind him shift her weight before rearing back a foot and doing the unforgivable.

Ami kicks Kaneki in the back, sending him flying forward and right into the advancing scrapper’s path.

“If you want to save me…then you should die first as my decoy!” Ami declares with a twisted smile, the masked ghouls above loudly praising her selfish ruthlessness, and wow, Rize’s mental list of “People to kill in the most painful way possible before the night is out” is getting longer fast, isn’t it?

Kaneki thankfully snaps out of his daze at Ami’s betrayal in time to jump out of the way when Taro-chan swings the hacksaw down in a deadly arc. Kaneki isn’t nearly athletic enough to roll smoothly back onto his feet after evading the strike, though, and ends up sprawled out uselessly on the floor; Rize tenses, readying herself to intervene, but Taro-chan seems to have lost interest in her boyfriend and has instead set his sights on Ami.

The next few minutes are highly therapeutic for Rize, as she watches the piggish bitch who almost sent Kaneki to his death to save her own fat ass be chased around the “kitchen” floor like game. Rize actually cheers when Ami, having apparently been drugged sometime prior, finally falls and is dragged by Taro-chan over to a teppan, soon being pressed down onto it like a cut of pork. Her shrill screams of agony are music to Rize’s ears; but, unfortunately, Rize doesn’t get to enjoy them for long. After all, now that the scrapper is done with the two first courses, it won’t be long before dessert is served.

The instant Taro-chan lets go of Ami’s still weakly twitching corpse and turns his attention to Kaneki, Rize makes her move.

First, she turns to the old pervert who’s been bothering her since the evening started, and kicks his head off.

Then, amongst gasps and screams of surprise, she hops up onto the railing of the balcony and, deaf to the cries of protest of her fellow “customers”, propels herself forward in a deadly leap, heading straight for Taro-chan’s unprotected back.

Her four rinkaku punch straight through his mountainous torso with a wet crunch; she hooks the tips of her kagune up against his chest, reeling him backwards even as she pulls him apart—after all, there would be no point in her killing the scrapper if he just ended up squashing Kaneki into paste by falling forward onto her scrawny boyfriend.

Finally, she lands on the balls of her feet, light-footed as a cat, in front of Kaneki, just in time for most of the resulting spray of Taro-chan’s blood to soak her from head to toe while leaving her human mostly dry.

A heavy, astonished silence falls over the room as the mess she’s made of Taro-chan heaves its last gurgling breaths. Rize, feigning utter nonchalance, reaches up to pull off her tacky sequined half-mask, distantly noticing as she does that her hair has somehow managed to slip free of its updo and is now clinging to her shoulders in ropey, plasma-sticky strands.

Licking sweet blood off her fingers, she looks up at the balcony above, her kakugan flaring fire-bright as her kagune twist and coil idly in the air behind her, a wordless threat. More specifically, she stares straight at Tsukiyama Shuu, and lets every violent thought she’s entertained since she found Kaneki missing shine through bright and clear in her eyes.

Tsukiyama gulps quietly and takes a step back. Smart man.

“Did you really think,” she says slowly, each syllable articulated precisely, her voice coy and cold and mocking and completely unlike the sweet, timid one she affects while playing at being human, “that you could take something of mine, and not suffer any consequences? Did you really think that I wouldn’t find out? That I wouldn’t retaliate?”

When Tsukiyama fails to reply, she laughs girlishly, sweet and melodious like a babbling brook. And then her uppermost left kagune strikes out like lightning, impaling six ghouls like meat on a skewer in the blink of an eye.

This time, the screams that ring out from the balcony are ones of panic. Most of them probably don’t recognize her as the nomadic Binge Eater—she highly doubts the entitled creeps run in the same circles as she does—but her display of strength and speed was likely enough to clue them in to the fact that most of them aren’t a match for her, regardless. Still, they’re doing too much standing in place and panicking and not enough running for the exits for Rize’s taste, so she shakes the six weakly struggling ghouls off her kagune and sends them soaring into the heart of the crowds, watching with satisfaction as the wounded ghouls are trampled in the other customers’ newfound haste to escape.

Soon, the restaurant is empty, even Tsukiyama—who might’ve been able to take her if he’d been inclined to try, but wisely decided not to test her in her current state of mind—and his groupies having chosen to run for their lives rather than confronting her while she’s so very murderously angry. She’s lucky that she was right about these spoiled ghouls’ cowardly natures, because she doubts even she, an S-rank, could’ve survived if so many opponents had attacked her at once; and she’s even luckier that the Clown didn’t decide to linger. He, for one, very likely could’ve easily killed her on his own if he’d been in the mood for it; but Rize had hoped that the Clowns’ famous neutrality and appetite for “interesting” events would lead him to obligingly retreat without harming her, and fortuitously, it seems he has.

And now, here she is. Alone with her traumatized boyfriend in the silent and blood-soaked “kitchen” of a ghoul restaurant, having just revealed her own ghoulish nature to him in a spectacularly gory fashion.

Kaneki isn’t saying anything, though she can feel his stare on her back and hear his wet, heavy breaths. He hasn’t sustained any injury save for maybe a bruise or two from his tumble across the flagstones, she thinks, but he’s likely been drugged like Ami and Kobachi-san, and she’d be surprised if he wasn’t in shock due to all the blood, charred flesh and organs he’s seen flying about tonight. If there was ever any chance that he would accept her if she told him the truth about what she is (not that she had ever planned on doing so), then tonight has pretty much ripped that chance to pieces, set it on fire and stomped on it a few times for good measure. Any moment now, cries of “monster!” and frantic calls for the CCG are going to be flung at her.

But still, Kaneki doesn’t say a word. Not until she slowly turns around and stares down at him with eyes that burn hellfire-red against stark black, and even then, he only looks up at her with his own glassy gray gaze and weakly breathes out, “Rize-…san…?”

Her mind races calculatingly through possible courses of action—silence him permanently? Kick him in the head until he forgets all about tonight? Just flee?—as she smiles at him as reassuringly as she can manage with blood still dripping from her hair and chin. But he isn’t even looking at her: instead, his increasingly foggy gaze is firmly affixed to the kagune that are still gently swaying behind her, pulsing with a throbbing, organic red glow that’s visible even under the restaurant’s harsh lighting.

Still sprawled out on his back on the bloody floor, Kaneki reaches out with a trembling hand, as resigned and hesitant as a man trying to grasp hold of a mirage.

“Like a vibrant…red spider lily,” he murmurs around a sluggish tongue, and dozes off into a heavy, drugged sleep mere moments later. Rize gazes mutely down at him for a long time, deep in thought as a far more real, albeit small smile plays at the edges of her lips.

Leaving him behind? Killing him? As if that had ever been an option. Just hours ago, she’d been psyching herself up to break up with him and move on, and yet, the instant he was ripped away from her, she went frantic with worry and was ready to throw her own life away just for a chance at saving him, at getting him back. Her life, her wonderful free life she's spent years ferociously defending even as V, uninformed low-ranked Doves and cannibalistic ghouls alike fought to steal it, she didn’t think twice before deciding that it was worth discarding for the sake of this weak human boy she’s spent months trying to convince herself she doesn’t care about.

All those times she’s silently mocked Kaneki’s altruism and self-sacrificing nature—and in the end, it turns out it’s contagious. For Kaneki’s sake, she threw away her pride as the one who hurts others and didn’t mind becoming the one who gets hurt instead.

What a terrifying amount of power this snoring, adorable little scrap of nothing has over her.

Chuckling helplessly under her breath in a way that probably sounds more than a little manic, Rize bends down and scoops up her boyfriend into a bridal carry, sparing a minute to arrange his limply dangling limbs in such a way that he won’t slip out of her grip. Then she grapples her way back up to the balcony with her kagune and walks unhurriedly towards the exit Tsukiyama and his cronies fled through, humming softly as she goes.

Snuffling in his sleep, Kaneki wriggles around until his face is tucked into the crook of her neck. She giggles again, quietly, feeling somewhat warmed by the trust he subconsciously shows in her even after her earlier display.

This sweet little human has turned her soft—soft on him, at least—and he’s going to have to take responsibility for that. She’s made her decision, once and for all. She’s keeping him.

And if he decides he doesn’t want to be kept…well. She’s known as one of the greediest ghouls in Tokyo for a reason: she’s never been one for giving up on obtaining the things she wishes for. She won’t rest until she changes his mind.

Rize drops Kaneki off at Anteiku, with strict instructions for its staff to explain everything to him: the intricacies of ghoul society, the dangers of the CCG, Rize’s own abilities and notoriety. The Kirishima girl, ill-tempered as ever, demands that Kaneki be killed instead, insisting that humans have no place in the world of ghouls—but she pales and trails off when Rize spears her with a glare so venomous she’s impressed with herself. Yoshimura watches Rize go with a knowing, paternal smile that has her barely restraining a sneer, but she knows he’ll do as she asked (asked, because one doesn’t order the Owl around unless one has a death wish). He’s too much of a peace-touting optimist to do anything else.

Rize heads off to the 13th Ward for a feast or two: all that bloodshed on an empty stomach has left her feeling positively voracious. She eats enough to last her a good long while, and then sticks around for another month, sharpening her fighting skills on all the ghouls she can find there—after all, she’ll need to be strong if she wants to keep her human safe from both her ghoulish enemies, and the Doves who might try to arrest him for associating with a ghoul as infamous as herself. Despite her disdain for Anteiku's values, she silently resolves to begin forming closer ties with the organization's members: not only are they all formidable fighters who would make for more than adequate sparring partners, they could be very useful in helping her protect Kaneki if the need for it ever arises.

Then she returns to the 20th Ward, making a beeline for Kaneki’s flat as soon as she crosses its borders. It’s a drizzly Sunday afternoon, so she’ll bet he’s either at home or meeting with Nagachika-kun at Anteiku; as soon as she reaches his apartment building's lobby, she can tell from how strong his scent is that he’s chosen the former.

She stands outside of his door for a full minute, trying to figure out what she ought to say, what she ought to do when she sees him again. She’s already decided to be more honest in regards to her affection for him so she’ll admit that she’s missed him, but there’s no guarantee that he feels the same. He may have found her kagune beautiful when he was in shock and drugged out of his mind, but that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily want to keep on dating someone like her. Something like her.

She knocks.

The door opens only a moment later. Kaneki is wearing a dark green cable-knit sweater—she never did manage to train him out of his bizarre liking for the frumpy things, though she’ll confess they’ve grown on her a little—and holey black sweatpants, his bare feet a splash of white against their overlong hem. He looks like he’s lost weight and, though his puffy head of hair is as well-groomed as ever, the bags under his eyes make it more than obvious that he hasn’t been sleeping well.

She’s pretty sure she’s looking embarrassingly moony-eyed as she gazes at his bedraggled form, but she can’t find it in her to mind because he’s looking at her in the exact same way, and the relief she feels upon finding his lovely face void of terror or disgust towards her is overwhelming. She opens her arms for him, and he’s clinging to her mere seconds later, squeezing her waist tightly enough to make a human’s ribs creak, his face buried in her shoulder. “Thought you weren’t coming back,” he’s mumbling almost unintelligibly into the fabric of her dress, “thought you'd left me. You’re back. You’re back…”

It’s sad but unsurprising, she supposes, that he isn’t shying away from her even though he’s now aware of her true nature. She isn’t like the ghouls of Anteiku, who only kill when necessary and only eat enough to survive. She’s known as the Binge Eater for a reason, and she doesn’t intend to change her ravenous ways, not even for Kaneki’s sake—and her human may be naïve, but he’s smart and knows her well enough, by now, that she doesn’t doubt he’s already figured that out on his own.

But Rize and Nagachika-kun are the only two people in the world whom Kaneki loves and is loved by in return, and she knows that, for him, that’s more important than his own life. He’d rather be killed by one of them than ever be left behind by either of them, and so he fears losing Rize more than he will ever fear her. Even had she shown up on his doorstep, today, with her whole body covered in the blood of a dozen innocents, he would never have dared to turn her away.

And Rize, for her part, is selfish enough to take advantage of that. He is her boyfriend, her human, hers because he needs her in his life in order to be happy, and she’s never had that before, someone who needed her, wanted her enough that they’d rather tear themselves apart than let her go. She could kill and eat him right now, and he’d still prefer that to being forsaken by her.

Maybe one day, she will. Maybe one day, he’ll prove her right in her less than stellar opinion of the human race at large, and will no longer be her one and only exception to that rule. Maybe one day, his distaste for her violent nature will outweigh his adoration of her, and he’ll turn her in to be weaponized, enslaved or exterminated.

But until then, they’ll keep on clinging to each other with all their might: she, the ghoul who only understood the concept of loneliness when he became hers and he, the human who has always known that pain all too well and would do anything to avoid feeling it again.

What a senseless, tragic pair they make.