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It started like this: the team was jammed together into two booths at their regular ramen place, trying not to cry too obviously as they bickered and teased and remembered. They were sending off the third years, and for all his claims, Kenji had to admit, he was going to miss them all-- even Kamasaki, that bastard.

 

And then out of nowhere, Moniwa yelled, “Augh! I can't take it anymore!”

 

Everyone froze, turning to stare. “What?” Kenji asked, since no one else seemed inclined to. Cowards.

 

“All these stories, and in like, three-fourths of them, I’m the mom!” he complained, prompting a small chuckle from his fellow third-years. “Well,” he went on, “If I'm retiring now, I might as well enjoy being part of the chaos for once.”

 

Kenji still had no idea where this was going. It didn't look like anyone else did either. He glanced at Aone, but the other only shrugged, before turning to Moniwa intently, questioning.

 

Moniwa looked far more determined than Kenji thought was necessary for such a declaration, but it was really kind of cute…

 

Nope . Futakuchi Kenji didn't do feelings, not even a little bit.

 

… but if he did, he supposed there were worse people to have them for than Moniwa-senpai, who was kind and gentle, encouraging and cheerful… who kept them all in line even when he sometimes seemed unsure.

 

It was definitely better than that brief crush he’d had on Kamasaki of all people. Jeez. Thankfully that had only lasted like. Two weeks.

 

“So!” Moniwa chirped, clapping his hands together. “Let's have a sleepover! At my place!”

 

Kamasaki’s face went sour. “That's a terrible idea. D’you remember any of our training camps?”

 

Sasaya rolled his eyes. “Yeah. All of them were your fault.”

 

“Yeah, Kamasaki-senpai,” Kenji cut in, smirking. “You kept on getting into fights--”

 

“--with you, you fuckin’ brat, because--”

 

Aone clapped a hand over Kenji’s mouth before he could retort, and Sasaya chopped Kamasaki on the head from the other side of the booth.

 

As the two senpai started bickering, Kenji narrowed his eyes at his supposed best friend-- traitor that he was-- and then licked his hand just because he could. That earned him a grunt of disgust, but it also got him released, so he smiled serenely.

 

Aone balled up the napkin he’d used to wipe the saliva from his fingers and threw it at Kenji’s face.

 

“Um, Moniwa-senpai,” Sakunami began, “When and where will it be? And will it be all of us?”

 

Kenji turned his attention over to Moniwa, awaiting his answer-- and found him already looking. Kenji didn't know what to do about it, eyes locked with Moniwa’s and wow , Kenji knew his eyes were pretty but he always seemed to forget until he was looking in them and--

 

Moniwa flushed, whipping his gaze away to focus on their libero. “Ah, y-yes! Of course, details, of course…”

 

He sounded more like himself, at least, so Kenji didn't have to worry the outburst earlier was him being possessed or some sort of impostor… but also, Kenji’s face felt hot, and…

 

“Shut up,” he hissed to Aone-- sure, the guy wasn't saying anything (rarely did), but Kenji didn't need to look to know he was giving Kenji his best approximation of a smirk (not much of one really, just the barest uptick of his lips).

 

The others began discussing plans and free times, eventually settling on the weekend after the next at Moniwa’s house.

 

Well. This would be interesting.

 

/////

 

“Why do you have Pocky of all things?” Kenji asked, eyebrows raised as he met Aone at the door of his house. “You don't even like Pocky.” His house was on the way to Moniwa’s from Aone’s, so the two had agreed to meet earlier and hang out a little while before heading over there.

 

Aone didn't answer, just shut the door gently behind him and slipped his shoes off, lining them up properly where they belonged. He grimaced at Kenji’s own shoes-- sloppily discarded as they were and just out of the way-- and then set them to rights himself. Usually, his parents’ shoes would've been the same, carelessly set aside and left as is, but they were both out on a date today. some sort of anniversary of theirs. If they were there, though, Kenji had no doubt Aone would have straightened them out too. He always did.

 

“You don't need to keep doing that,” Kenji sighed, smiling fondly. “You dork, I told you, it doesn't matter.”

 

Aone straightened up and shook his head. Kenji took it to mean either Aone didn't mind, or he simply couldn't leave them alone. Maybe both.

 

Whatever. Result was the same. Kenji shrugged. “Your choice. Come on, we can play video games upstairs,” he said.

 

Aone followed him up to his room, and Kenji set up the console and switched on the monitor. “What game do you wanna play?”

 

In response, he got a box of Pocky tossed onto his lap. “Oh thanks,” he murmured, scanning through the discs he owned. “Injustice?” he offered, remembering that Aone happened to like that one.

 

A grunt, one that meant ‘no’.

 

“No?” Huh. Okay. “Let's see…”

 

Aone picked up the Pocky box in Kenji’s lap, only to drop it there again. As if for emphasis.

 

“What? Aone, I have to pick us a game first--”

 

Aone rolled his eyes and held it up again, waving it in his face.

 

Kenji’s brow furrowed, and then smoothed. Oh. “The Pocky game? You do know what that is right? Do you really want to--”

 

Aone pointed at himself and shook his head.

 

“Not you? So who-- me? With who? Aone, we're the only ones in this house, and even if we weren't it would just be my parents--”

 

Aone fished his phone out of his pocket. His thumb tapped at the screen for a bit, and then he twisted the screen to face Kenji. On it was Moniwa’s reminder text about their sleepover and what to bring (despite his complaints about being a mother, he was still playing the part, Kenji mused wryly).

 

Oh .

 

“Aone!” Kenji whined, burying his face in his hands. His cheeks were heating up just at the thought of it, at how adorably embarrassed Moniwa would be, at how cute he’d be up close-- “You promised you wouldn't tease me!”

 

Kenji peeked through his fingers to check Aone’s response. Aone blinked at him. I'm not , he seemed to be saying.

 

“Liar. This is teasing. This is definitely teasing.” Kenji tossed the Pocky box back at Aone, who caught it, frowning. “Look, I appreciate the support and shit, but it's not happening! Crushes pass, this one will too. Anyway, let's play!”

 

Aone sighed, but Kenji didn't pay him any mind, starting up the game.

 

/////

 

Aone shoved the Pocky back into his hand just as the door opened. “Aone! Futakuchi!” Moniwa greeted, beaming brightly. “Ooh, you brought snacks-- and Pocky! My favorite flavor too! How thoughtful,” he continued, ushering them in. “Everyone except Kamasaki is inside already-- Kamasaki’s got work, so he won't be around until later.”

 

Kenji hummed, trying to find a good point to speak up and say it hadn't actually been him who’d bought the Pocky-- but when Moniwa had his back turned, Aone elbowed him sharply in the side, as if in warning. “Ugh, fine,” he grumbled, doubling over. He puffed out a breath through his cheeks. “Thanks.”

 

Aone smiled a little, and then went to join the others in their circle on the living room floor. Kenji moved to join them-- and Aone raised an eyebrow, head jerking in the direction of the kitchen, where Moniwa was fussing around preparing drinks or something equally polite and host-ly that Kenji never bothered to do when he had people over at his own place.

 

Kenji glanced over there, then at Aone. No. He could not. He would not--

 

Aone narrowed his eyes. If he kept glaring the team was gonna get curious, then they’d ask and--

 

Fine .

 

Throwing his hands up in surrender, Kenji went.

 

The kitchen was tiny. Kenji had never been here before, but he was fairly sure Aone had, and if so…

 

Aone was a menace , and absolutely had it out for Kenji. Damn him.

 

“Um.”

 

Moniwa startled hard enough that if he hadn been holding something, he probably would have dropped it. “Futakuchi!” he exclaimed. “Did you… did you need something?”

 

Kenji hummed, feigning a pout. “Do I need to need something to come see if my senpai needs help?”

 

Moniwa chuckled, rolling his eyes. “Usually I’d say yes, but just this once I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said, turning back to the two trays of juice and counting quietly under his breath.

 

“How cruel.” Kenji wandered over, trying not to let his gaze linger on the small smile on Moniwa’s lips. He tried to tune out the soft murmur of his voice, the singsong rhythm as he mumbled a number for each glass he pointed to. He definitely did not keep turning over the sound of his laughter in his head.

 

Definitely not.

 

“I can take this tray,” Kenji announced, picking up the one Moniwa had finished counting. He didn't wait for an answer, too afraid that somehow his… admiration, for lack of a better word, was suddenly showing on his face.

 

/////

 

Kenji didn't understand how him helping was a story-worthy moment, but somehow, it was, because as soon as Kamasaki arrived, Sasaya had dragged him over to tell him about it.

 

Kamasaki cackled of course, far more than Kenji thought the tale-- a whopping three sentences about what must have been less than two minutes-- was deserving of. “Man, Moniwa, Futakuchi? Helping? How’d you get ‘im to?”

 

“He offered,” came the answer, along with a shrug. “Maybe he's changing for the better after all.”

 

“Only so you won't entirely abandon me with this idiot,” Kenji piped up, jabbing a thumb towards Koganegawa, who sputtered some protest of some sort--

 

Kenji sighed, turning to him briefly, “Yeah, yeah, I know, you’ll do better; please stop yelling in my ear--”

 

His senpais laughed a little more, and even Moniwa couldn't help but crack a smile.

 

Dammit. He was cute.

 

Kenji almost wanted to let this go on just to see him laugh some more.

 

Almost.

 

“Anyway, I thought we were gonna be stupid teens today. What dumb game are we gonna play and what sort of blackmail am I gonna get?” he cut in.

 

Moniwa’s face soured a little, brow furrowed and mouth puckered like he’d eaten something bad.

 

Cute , supplied Kenji’s mind, like a little bastard.

 

Ugh.

 

“He was always like this, Moniwa, it ain't your fault,” Kamasaki laughed, patting Moniwa on the shoulder.

 

“I'm going to regret this aren't I?”

 

“Probably,” Sasaya chimed in.

 

“Well!” Moniwa straightened up, grinning brilliantly again. Kenji had to look away; Aone was watching him, radiating smugness, so Kenji flipped him off as discreetly as possible before turning back to Moniwa. “What do you wanna do first?”

 

Kenji drawled, “You’re the one that wants to be chaotic for once, senpai. Maybe you should decide.”

 

Kamasaki blinked. “He’s got a point, Moniwa.” He leaned back, hands resting on the floor to hold him up. “What do you wanna do? Prank someone? Truth or dare? Some sort of game? Get drunk?”

 

“We are not getting drunk with our kouhai!” Moniwa punctuated the statement with a punch to Kamasaki’s shoulder.

 

“It was a joke! Jeez, don't hit me!”

 

“Wow, Kamasaki-senpai, for all that muscle, you're really weak aren't you?”

 

What did you say?”

 

“Moniwa-san never hits very hard, I can't imagine that would hurt unless you were!”

 

“I’ll show you weak you brat--” Kamasaki started to push himself to his feet, and Kenji prepared himself to leap off of Aone’s lap and run for it, but Moniwa and Sasaya both grabbed him by the collar and yanked him back.

 

Kenji smirked, opened his mouth--

 

“Futakuchi, please don't,” Moniwa sighed.

 

Kenji shut his mouth. “Fine,” he grumbled.

 

Behind him, Aone was chuckling very softly, clearly amused. Kenji was hopeless. Absolutely hopeless, if even Aone was trying to help.

 

Sasaya finally let go of Kamasaki’s shirt, ignoring his complaints about stretching out the fabric. “But really, what are we doing?”

 

Aone reached for the snack pile-- a mess of snacks they’d all brought that was scattered over the living room floor-- and plucked out the Pocky.

 

Kenji slapped it out of his hand. “I said no ohmygod, Aone.”

 

“What? No to what?”

 

Of course, of course it was the one person he couldn't not answer. Of course Moniwa had asked. Kenji sighed like the whole world was on his shoulders. “He wants us to play the Pocky game… for some reason.” Kenji glared, but Aone was back to his innocent act, blinking and impassive like he wasn't reveling in Kenji’s pain and embarrassment.

 

… okay so he probably wasn't, at least, not too much. He was really just trying to help but gods, Kenji didn't do feelings but Aone was making him try and he actually didn't hate it and…

 

Ugh .

 

“That… sounds interesting,” Moniwa mumbled.

 

Kenji stared.

 

Moniwa went pink, hands flailing in front of him. “It doesn't-- it's just!!! I'm curious, and it would be childish to try in college and--”

 

“You don't need to explain, senpai!” Sakunami chirped. “It’s okay. We can play!”

 

The rest of the team expressed their agreement, and even Kenji had to relent-- how on earth was he supposed to say no to that face?

 

“Fine. How do we decide who goes with who?”

 

/////

 

This was a conspiracy. Kenji was 99.99% sure of it. Because even though he’d been sure to pick first so the odds of him getting Moniwa were slimmest, even though there were how many other names scrawled on the paper scraps tossed in that little tupperware, he still drew Moniwa.

 

Aone looked especially pleased by the announcement.

 

Moniwa looked… if Kenji didn't know any better, he might have said excited. But the sparkles in his eyes were probably just tears of like, regret or something, right?

 

“I--! Futakuchi, maybe you should come over here then?” He blushed at his own outburst, and wow Kenji didn't need to have more fodder for his fantasies but okay. Okay. That was. Well. “I mean! You can change it if you really want to you look--”

 

“Shut up, Moniwa-san,” Kenji sighed. “If you don't mind, I don't either.”

 

Mind? Mind? Kenji did a damn sight more than not mind; he was ecstatic. Nervous, guilty because obviously Moniwa didn't share the same sentiments, and too selfish to reject it if Moniwa didn't do it first, but wow, yes, he wanted this.

 

“I… I don't mind,” Moniwa mumbled, shuffling in his seat. The other two senpai looked ridiculously amused, but more at… Moniwa than Kenji.

 

Kenji wasn't going to think too hard about why lest he get hopeful .

 

He took the Pocky Aone proffered, warningly lowly, “Not a word.” Aone just blinked at him as always, but he could tell Aone was equally happy for him.

 

He was a good friend, Kenji had to admit, however grudgingly. Maybe he’d even tell him so, later. If this went well, that was. (Okay, he probably would either way, but he could pretend.)

 

Kenji crawled across their makeshift circle to sit in front of Moniwa, tearing open the package and fishing out a stick, fitting the end between his teeth. If anyone noticed that he chose the end with less coating, no one mentioned it, which was good-- Kenji wasn't about to admit he was being selfless since Moniwa had mentioned that this was his favorite kind of Pocky. Definitely not.

 

He held the end steady between his fingers, raising an eyebrow at Moniwa.

 

Moniwa was flushed a ridiculously deep shade of red now-- pretty, Kenji’s mind unhelpfully supplied-- but he scooted forward a bit and steadied his end with one delicate hand. “So we just. Eat it? And not drop it?”

 

“Or break it,” Koganegawa chirped.

 

“Right,” Moniwa mumbled.

 

Kenji flashed a thumbs up with his free hand, too worried speaking would cause the snack to fall and go to waste. Nodding would probably snap the stick in half-- they were pretty fragile biscuits, after all.

 

Moniwa shifted in place a bit, uneasy and anxious as he always was, but he eventually set the tip between his teeth, holding it just tightly enough that it stayed in place.

 

“We’re gonna time it so that if multiple people win we can see who was the fastest,” Sasaya said. He tapped something on his phone. “Go!”

 

Kenji nibbled gently at his end, shifting forward. Moniwa did the same a beat later, looking hesitant-- but Kenji couldn't tell if it was second thoughts for doing this with Kenji, for doing it at all, or just fear of causing them to lose. He tried for a few seconds to look anywhere but at Moniwa (and into his very deep, very lovely eyes) but that didn't last long. Looking to the side meant he couldn't adjust to Moniwa’s movements and keep the treat from snapping, and staring the the stick itself made him cross-eyed.

 

It didn't take long before they were almost nose to nose, and Moniwa appeared ready to balk, if the wideness of his eyes and the sudden stiffness of his posture were any indication. Kenji halted too, but only to raise his eyebrows. It was a challenge and a question both. You okay ?

 

Moniwa’s forehead wrinkled-- set in determination yet again, as it often was. It was a good look on him, Kenji had to admit. Moreso up close.

 

(His cheeks burned with the force of his blush, but he ignored it, same as he ignored the catcalls coming from some of his other team members, and the satisfied grin spread across Aone's lips.)

 

Kenji tilted his head slightly to one side, and Moniwa did the same-- they scooted a little forward, and Kenji couldn't help it at all (or so he claimed) when he lifted his hand and settled it featherlight and tremulous on Moniwa’s shoulder, sliding it up to his neck, fingers spreading so his thumb could cradle Moniwa’s jaw and angle it, the other fingers winding through his silky hair.

 

Their mouths met over the last bite, and if Kenji-- because he had a reputation to keep-- sucked it out from Moniwa’s just so he could have that little bit more to himself, no one saw. Probably. His eyes had fluttered shut at that point just so he wouldn't have to keep seeing how close they were.

 

Moniwa gasped a little at the theft, and then--

 

He kissed Kenji .

 

It wasn't anything grand. Just a brief movement of his lips against Kenji’s own, just the momentary grasp of his hand in the fabric of Kenji’s shirt. And then it was over, and Moniwa pulled away, red as a strawberry and looking anywhere but at Kenji’s stunned face.

 

He… did share the sentiment after all, was all Kenji could think. Holy shit. Holy shit .

 

“W-well!” the former captain announced, amidst hoots of ‘Get it, Moniwa,’ and ‘Nice! Finally!’ from the team-- Kenji was too dazed to properly parse out who was saying what. “Who’s next?”

 

Kenji stumbled back to his seat and socked Aone (lightly, not that it would have mattered to a giant like him) on the knee. “Not a single word.”

 

Aone smiled.

 

/////

 

Sasaya ended up paired with Sakunami, and it was funny and cute-- they didn't kiss, unless the fleeting brush of their mouths upon meeting in the middle counted, which it didn't really. They moved fast, and someone called Sakunami some kind of adorable pet rodent like a bunny or a hamster and got flipped off for the trouble (much to Moniwa’s horror and reluctant amusement). Sasaya moved much slower and nearly broke it several times, getting slapped on the wrist by Sakunami every time he jerked too far or bit down too hard and had to catch the stick with his lips.

 

Kamasaki and Koganegawa were a disaster , one that Kenji delighted in watching. They were too big and too clumsy, and they kept on snapping the sticks in half and then trying again because they were dumb and competitive and ridiculous. Kenji took a ton of pictures and even a few videos. He’d have leverage on them for years to come, and he was delighted .

 

Not to mention, they completely finished the boxes of Pocky Aone had brought, and that was the end of that game. Aone looked relieved if anything, though.

 

Someone convinced Moniwa to let them play never have I ever, and in place of alcohol (Moniwa really couldn't be swayed on that), Kamasaki and Sasaya brewed up some disgusting concoction of mayonnaise, mustard, chocolate, and a slightly overripe banana in the blender, and they set that out in little paper cups the size of shot glasses. Moniwa was despairing at the state of his blender, and Kenji almost felt sorry enough to offer to clean it.

 

Almost. Kenji was too grossed out by the idea of even setting his fingers on it to actually follow through.

 

He hoped to god he wouldn't have to drink the damn thing… but he had a feeling he’d be the first one to lose all five cups he’d been given.

 

He snagged a bag of sour gummies from the pile in preparation. Maybe he could wash the taste out of his mouth with his favorite candies.

 

Kamasaki was the first to start. Kenji grimaced. He already knew whatever was said would be targeted at him. “Never have I ever… intentionally spiked someone in the face.”

 

Kenji grimaced, but he reached forward and took a cup, downing it as fast as he could without glancing at the contents. He gagged, but otherwise managed to keep it down. “God, that was horrible,” he complained. “Fuck.”

 

“Futakuchi!” Moniwa admonished. “Your spikes hurt, you know--”

 

“I was an angry first year!” Kenji protested. “And Kamasaki-senpai was asking for it!”

 

Aone gripped his shoulder in warning, and with a grunt, Kenji settled back down. “Anyway, who’s next?”

 

Moniwa sighed. “Me, I guess.” He paused to think

“Never have I ever… been flirted with?”

 

Before he’d even finished, Kamasaki was shaking with laughter, and Sasaya was just shaking his head.

 

“What?”

 

“That's a hell of a lie. You get flirted with all the time!” Kamasaki protested, while Sasaya continued feigning disappointment until Moniwa shoved him over, forcing him to catch his balance and break out laughing.

 

“It’s true though,” Sasaya said, voice still breathless with amusement. “The girls in your class are always talking to you--”

 

“They're just being friendly--”

 

“Twirling their hair around their fingers,” Sasaya continued, ducking his head and raising a hand to his shoulder. Since his hair was all gelled up, he didn't have any to play with, but he did his best, Kenji supposed. It looked ridiculous, so he felt rather justified when he sputtered out a cackle of his own. Everyone else on the team seemed equally amused, at least.

 

“Batting their lashes,” Kamasaki added, and Sasaya went and fluttered his dramatically. “Shit, Sasaya,” Kamasaki chuckled, looking a mixture of horrified and entertained. “You look like you’ve got something painful in your eye.”

 

“So I'm doing it right then, is what you're saying.”

 

That set off another round of laughter, and even Moniwa was grinning, for all his confusion and feeble, drowned out attempts to argue.

 

Kenji felt a smidge-- just a tiny, infinitesimal bit of jealousy--

 

Okay, that was a lie. Kenji was almost seething, and petty, because fuck, he wanted to be able to flirt that brazenly too… even if, it would have been wasted, apparently, on someone so oblivious. It still would have been nice to have the option.

 

But still, watching Sasaya and Kamasaki poke so much fun at these poor girls was definitely making him laugh, and, well. At least they weren't succeeding with Moniwa.

 

Hey, Kenji had never claimed to be anything but an awful person when it came to levels of pettiness.

 

“Well of course that wouldn't work on Moniwa-san,” he snorted then, because apparently, he had no self-control. “Moniwa-senpai is just so honest and straightforward a guy-- he wouldn't be looking for any ulterior motives like flirting.”

 

“Is flirting an ulterior motive?” Koganegawa muttered. Sakunami shrugged.

 

Kenji, for his part, ignored them. “They’d have to be more direct if they want it to work.”

 

Kamasaki raised his eyebrows. “What, and you can do better? What do you know anyway? It's not like Moniwa can tell when you flirt with him either.”

 

He felt himself blush, but he glared, hoping that would compensate. “I have not been flirting,” he snapped, and it wasn’t quite a lie. He hadn't ever flirted in earnest so much as… tested the waters to see if he could get away with it, or if Moniwa would notice. “Trust me, you’d know if I was.”

 

“So… what would better look like?”

 

Kenji blinked. And blinked again. Moniwa looked a little bit unsure of himself, but he didn't move to take back the challenge, and the steel in his gaze didn't waver.

 

That did seem to be par for the course with him, didn't it? Tentative, but determined. Shy, but fierce.

 

Kenji grinned. Challenge accepted. “I could show you, if you’d like,” he said, voice dropping low. “But maybe you’d want to go somewhere private first? Just you and me-- not that I mind either way; it's not like I ever see anyone else when you're around anyway.”

 

The team broke out into protests, and Kenji even heard Aone-- Aone of all people-- complain about how bad a line that was, which was, well. Rude . Kenji was particularly proud about that line.

 

But whatever. Who cared what those losers thought when Moniwa-- Moniwa’s face bloomed an even deeper shade of red, and a hand flew to his mouth to hide his suddenly brilliant smile-- radiant and wide and elated, and gods, Kenji wanted to see that smile all the damn time .

 

Futakuchi Kenji apparently did do feelings now, and he was in way too deep to regret it at this point.

 

“Y-you. Um. What?” Moniwa sputtered, half-laughing as if afraid Kenji was joking, that he’d take it back and shrug it off.

 

He would not be doing that.

 

“I do mean it,” Kenji said, smiling slightly, soft and gentle almost unconsciously. “You kind of make it impossible to look away.”

 

“Um!” Moniwa was giggling, head bowed to fix his gaze on the carpet, flustered and flattered and oh so adorable, and Kenji…

 

Kenji was allowed to say so, right now. Holy shit. He could say so. “Cute,” he breathed, scooting a little closer. “That’s exactly what I meant, see?” He reached out, and Moniwa let him tip his head up, going even more red, if that was possible. “Hey,” Kenji said. “Don't hide.”

 

“Fu-- Futakuchi, you--”

 

“Kenji,” Kenji corrected. “Call me Kenji, if you’d like.”

 

Moniwa smiled.

 

“OKAY! WE GET IT!” Kamasaki burst out, to the frantic shushing of the others. “What?” he demanded, looking at them all. “We’re all uncomfortable, yeah? And it's not like I stopped them before they could tell they're clearly both into each other.”

 

“Fair enough,” Sasaya sighed. A pause. “I still can't believe Futakuchi’s awful flirting worked.”

 

Kenji took offense to that. Awful ? Him? Never. “Hey! My flirting is not awful .”

 

“It is,” came the collective reply.

 

Somehow, Kenji couldn't bring himself to be upset by it. Not when Moniwa was giggling all over again. “Now, now, that's a little harsh,” he said, reaching out tentatively and squeezing Kenji’s hand in his own.

 

Kenji squeezed back.

 

“What’s harsh,” said Aone, shocking everyone into silence. “Is making us sit through such corny lines.”

 

The team lost it.

 

/////

 

By the time everyone had wiped the tears from their eyes and bottled up their laughter at how even Aone had had to speak up (and Kenji had been bribed with gummies and a promise of a date from Moniwa to stop sulking-- which, he had not been sulking he had just been-- well-- something that wasn't sulking), it was time to sleep. Somehow, the game had been forgotten in the wake of conversation and traded barbs and jokes, and midnight had come and gone without them even noticing.

 

Moniwa ushered them all to clean up, pointing out the various piles of trash and where to deposit them, and then went up to retrieve the futons. “Aone, would you mind helping me?”

 

Aone, back to silence, grunted an affirmative, but instead of following up the stairs, he nudged Kenji.

 

“What?”

 

Aone glanced pointedly up the stairwell, and then back at Kenji. Go .

 

“He asked you,” Kenji said, a feeble protest.

 

Aone rolled his eyes and shoved him.

 

Kenji nearly lost balance. Brute. “Okay!” he yelped. “Okay.” He started up after Moniwa… and then stopped. “Thanks, Aone.”

 

“Sure,” came the reply, low and barely audible. Kenji might have been imagining it, but he could've sworn there was an undercurrent there, something like what are friends for .

 

/////

 

“Ah, Aone, the--” Moniwa jumped, nearly dropping the futons in his arms. “You’re not Aone,” he said dumbly, cheeks mottled pink.

 

“No,” Kenji said easily, retrieving some off the too big pile in Moniwa’s arms. “And you're not walking down stairs with all this in your hands. You’ll fall because you can't see anything and like. Die or something, captain.”

 

Moniwa chuckled. “I'm not going to die . That's a tad morbid.” He didn't move to take them back though (Kenji wasn't even sure he could without outright dropping what he still had-- how had he picked them all up in the first place?), which Kenji counted as a win. “And,” he went on, slightly softer. “I'm not captain anymore.”

 

His gaze met Kenji’s, sweet and warm and… dare Kenji say it, hopeful.

 

Fuck. Kenji did not like that.

 

Kenji wasn't in the business of letting people down, but it was unavoidable that he would, if they placed too much trust in him.

 

Moniwa looked like. Well. Like he didn't just trust him to stay afloat, but he expected great things out of Kenji too. And Kenji… of course Kenji wanted to win next time, wanted to avenge the third-years and make up in whatever tiny way he could for their loss last time, for the tears he and Aone shouldn't have seen but did.

 

But he couldn't promise anything. He was only a man, and by most accounts, not a very good one.

 

“You’re thinking,” Moniwa mumbled, tilting his head to one side like a curious puppy. “What about?”

 

Kenji started out the door, leaving his senpai to chase after him.

 

“Hey-- Futa-- Kenji !”

 

He had Regrets. Capital R. He hadn't foreseen (though he should have) just how much it would affect him, having Moniwa say his first name-- sending a shiver down his spine and butterflies in his stomach, sparking heat in his face and inspiring his heart to, apparently, pursue a career as an acrobat.

 

He went stock still, unable to even face Moniwa. He swallowed. “Yes, senpai?” he managed.

 

“You can be honest with me, you know. I won't tell anyone.”

 

“I know.” And he did. He really did. But he didn't like being weak, even when he could be-- even when he had the luxury of a good team and great friends to lean on.

 

“Kenji, come on.” Moniwa didn't have his hands free, but he did lightly nudge Kenji in the back with his hands and the futons in them. That had to count for something.

 

Kenji sighed. “I don't think I can be captain,” he admitted, barely a whisper. He waited a second, but Moniwa remained quiet, apparently stunned. Kenji quickly hiked up a smile while he could, turning to face him. “I suppose I deserve it for being so troublesome, but I really wish you’d chosen a different method for revenge, Moniwa-san,” he laughed. He started walking again.

 

Moniwa yelped, startled out of whatever weird trance he’d been in, and scrambled after him. “Wait, Kenji-- stop-- hey! Wai-- oh fuck .”

 

Kenji paused at that, concerned that Moniwa had hurt himself, but no. He’d only dropped the futons. That was fine then.

 

He pretended not to hear Moniwa still calling him, picking up his pace as much as he could without risking a tumble down the staircase-- that wouldn't be great for his body or his pride.

 

He figured he was safe once he’d rejoined the others, but-- “Kenji, da-- darn it,” Moniwa said, stuttering over the barely-a-swear word just before deciding to censor it out like he was a kid who’d been about to say ‘stupid’ before realizing his parents were also in the room. If Kenji weren't so busy hoping Moniwa would just drop the subject , he would probably have been amused. Endeared even.

 

“Moniwa-san,” he cut in hastily. “I was just--”

 

“I think you’ll make a great captain.” The announcement drew everyone’s attention, silenced whatever conversation had been going on. It was too loud, too unshakably honest. Kenji couldn't handle it. As if that wasn’t enough, Moniwa looked him in the eyes and repeated it. “You’ll make a great captain, Kenji.”

 

“He’s right, y’know. You're a jerk and you're ridiculous, and sometimes you're way too flippant--”

 

“Kamasaki, I'm trying to encourage him!” Moniwa complained.

 

Kamasaki grumbled something, but then puffed out a breath and smiled. “But you're a good guy… probably. Jury’s still out.” He chuckled, and Kenji was caught between laughing himself or tearing up at the unexpected praise. Kamasaki hadn't hesitated at all. “You’ll be fine, Futakuchi.”

 

“He’s right, you know. You know this team better than you pretend to,” Sasaya chimed in. “How else would you irritate everyone so well?”

 

Koganegawa burst out, “You help me a lot, Futakuchi-senpai! You teach me stuff!”

 

… Kenji had rather thought he didn't teach so much as insult and give vague pointers, but… if it worked…?

 

“You’re really good at motivating us, captain,” Sakunami added, beaming bright like the sun-child he was.

 

Aone flashed him a thumbs up.

 

Kenji kind of wanted to cry. He wouldn't, but… it was the thought that counted.

 

Moniwa looked incredibly proud, and touched enough for both of them. “See, Kenji?” he said. “You’ll do fine. We all have faith in you, and it's not like we're expecting you to have it all handled perfectly right from the start.”

 

Kenji… well, what was he supposed to say to that? He smiled-- honestly, this time. “Thanks,” he breathed. And then, a beat later-- “But if anyone outside the team asks, this never happened.”

 

Moniwa groaned, hiding his face in his hands, “We were having a moment, Kenji,” he muttered, as everyone else laughed.

 

Kenji bit his lip in a vain attempt to smother his grin. He waggled his eyebrows. “We could have a different kind of moment, if you’d like? To make up for it?”

 

Kenji!

 

/////

 

They went to bed not long after, everyone tired and happy and fond. And if Moniwa and Kenji’s futons were next to each other, if they were just a little bit separate from the others… well, no one bothered to comment on it (although Aone did shoot them a pointed and very satisfied look just before the lights went out, which Kenji did his best to ignore).

 

And if they fell asleep with their hands laced together, bodies twisted to face each other… if they woke up tangled with one another and laughed softly only to kiss even softer in the tender light of the morning, while all the others slept on, peaceful for once…

 

Well, no one needed to know.