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“You pitched too hard today.”

An unusually stern tone colored Miyuki’s voice, making its way from behind his mask and into the crisp autumn air. He was quiet, at least more so than usual. And with good reason. Topics like this weren’t for everyone to hear. Codes, symbols, mixed phrases. It was second nature to them now, having solidified their secret words to avoid letting out the fact that they were ghouls.

“We won...”

Oblivious as usual was Furuya. He wanted to pitch for the team. He wanted to pitch so that the team could continue in the tournament, keep their sights on nationals again this year. He wanted to pitch at full power, put pressure on the other teams. That much was obvious and, honestly, admirable. There was his obvious talent as a pitcher, too. It was, by all accounts, good to have someone like him on the team.

“I know we won.” The ball made a solid sound, connecting perfectly with Miyuki’s mitt. Despite the light back and forth the two were having, there was still too much power, too much obviously wrong because of how casually Furuya was throwing the ball. “The problem isn’t that we won. The problem is that you’re going full force.”

“But...we won…” A quiet rebuttal against Miyuki’s sudden scolding made its way past Furuya’s lips and it make the catcher roll his eyes.

Underclassmen just don’t listen.

“If you keep throwing like that, people are going to catch on. Do you get that? You’re lucky your control is still weak and we can play off how hard you pitch, but we don’t know if someone might catch on. If people catch on, you’re screwed.” The ball was still now, ears of both Miyuki and Furuya waiting for footsteps that would alert them to someone else’s presence. So far, the field was quiet. Even Sawamura, little fiend he was, seemed to have gone back early to rest up.

“I just want to pitch.” A gloved hand raised, asking for the ball back so Furuya could throw it one last time. “Not at full power. Just let me throw.”

Miyuki refused.

“Come on. We should get back. Dinner is soon.”

--

“Furuya-kun, don’t you think you should eat more?” Haruichi’s mouth was pulled into a worried frown.

The concern, though kind and well-intentioned, just further reminded Furuya he wasn’t normal. It was a giant, neon-lit sign held up in front of his face saying “You’re a ghoul and these people would kill you if they found out what a monster you are.” It was a weight attached to his arm, reprimanding him whenever he threw too hard, made his actual power too obvious.

“I’m not that hungry...” Sitting with the other first years night after night was a huge mistake, and for some reason, one Furuya always made. Sawamura was just loud, and Haruichi was too observant. Like a mother hen making sure all the chicks were in the right place, always prompting Furuya to eat more of whatever disgusting food was in front of him.

“Furuya! If you don’t eat more, I’m definitely gonna pitch better than you!” Ah, there it was. The loud voice that would probably bring over everyone's attention, making Furuya look even more of the outcast that he was.

“He’s right, Furuya! You should eat!” And there was Miyuki, always eager to join in on the teasing. As if to rub it in his face, Miyuki took a cut of meat and ate the whole damn thing. “Nothing tastes better than some meat after a nice win! And we don’t need you passing out!” It looked effortless, like he didn’t want to spit it right back out. How he managed to eat the standard three bowls of rice was beyond Furuya. Most days, he was thankful if one bowl managed to be shoved down his throat, all too eagerly coming back up when he asked his body to get rid of it.

Before Furuya realized it, Miyuki had made his way over, leaving the other upperclassman behind. “You don’t have that much left. Come on. Just finish it. Ah! Do you need me to feed it to you?”

A disgusted expression covered Furuya’s features. The last thing he needed (besides more of this shitty rice) was to have Miyuki doing whatever stupid stunt he wanted. “Don’t be disgusting. I just don’t feel well.”

“Maybe you’re hungry,” Haruichi offered, lips curling into a kind smile.

Too many people were staring and it was suffocating. Too many people, the whole team watching, making sure their pitcher was eating right, eating enough. He could practically hear the rest of the players chanting along with Haruichi.

Don’t let us down

We need you at full strength

We’re counting on you

Heat rose to his cheeks, coloring them a dark rose.

If only to get everyone to stop staring and to get away from the sickly savory smell of Haruichi’s flesh, Furuya shoved rice and meat into his mouth until he felt he would burst.

--

“Wanna go get rid of it?” Miyuki’s tone suggested something fun, like they weren’t about to force themselves to reject all the food they’d just eaten.

How casual he was. It made Furuya envious.

It wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t fair that Miyuki could blend in so seamlessly.

It wasn’t fair that he could eat whatever was in front of him without making so much as a grimace.

It wasn’t fair that he wasn’t afraid of getting found out, that he still socialized and laughed with the other upperclassmen and teased the underclassmen.

And he made it look easy.

He wore a smile while he did anything, and not a fake one. The smile was truly happy. It was pure and cheeky and handsome and it was like he wasn’t like Furuya at all. Like any camaraderie they might have for being of the same species was easily dissolved.

“How do you talk with everyone like that?”

Miyuki barely looked back to Furuya, simply continuing to the fence near the open field behind the baseball grounds. The question wasn’t unusual. Other ghoul friends asked him the same thing. How to blend in seamlessly, how to act as though there were no differences.

Once the two hopped the fence, Miyuki stretched his arms before answering the question. “I like being with people. It’s fun.”

“But you’re so concerned when I pitch full out...Aren’t you scared we’ll be found out?”

A thoughtful hum buzzed from Miyuki. “Well, duh. It’s just being responsible. I hold myself back too, you know. But being with the team makes it seem like you and I aren’t so bad. It’s like we’re the same. Because I have friends, I think if they found out about me, they’d be more lenient on me. If I’m nice, they’re nice back. Maybe I can use that down the road. You’re the one who needs to worry. You’re too serious! Relax a little bit. If they found out you were a ghoul, you’d be screwed!” The words were said with a shining grin that only served to make Furuya more jealous.
The more Miyuki talked, the less sense he made. How the hell was he supposed to navigate between being fun and outgoing and still maintaining his safety? Seemed troublesome. “You talk too much.”

“Shut up and vomit. I brought some actual food for when you’re done!”

--

“You know, Furuya--”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Ah, you’re pouting because I said you’d be screwed if they found out you were a ghoul.” He swallowed anyways, bending to Furuya’s order. “You know, people like you, right? Even though you’re weird.”

Instead of answering, Furuya simply took another bite, relishing in the feeling of fullness eating something substantial gave him.

“Hey, don’t ignore me. You’re weird-- you’re a pitcher so it’s not surprising-- but you’re good at pitching. People like talented people. Play off that. There’s no reason for you to be super outgoing. It’s not your personality, so don’t worry about it. Just pitch what I tell you to pitch. Then we’ll be good.”

“But I can’t pitch full power...”

Miyuki let out a piercing laugh. “Maybe we can make a ghoul baseball league! Anyways, just rely on me. Throw to my mitt. It’ll be ok.” A friendly arm was thrown around Furuya’s shoulder.

Maybe he didn’t need to be as vivacious as Miyuki. Maybe, if he could just have this, the feeling that someone understood, he could survive.

You know, people like you, right?

And maybe he wouldn’t need to rely on just Miyuki. Growing bonds was weird, especially with humans. They ate disgusting food and could mostly walk through life without the fear of being killed. And maybe Miyuki was just too lenient. Maybe he was too trusting, and maybe he would be killed. But, for how annoying and trusting he was, he was right. The team made Furuya feel normal. It made him feel warm and it made him feel like people could rely on him too.

“I still wish I could pitch full power…”

“Someday, I’ll let you. We’ll scare the shit out of the other team.”