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Dropping his bag on the desk, Team turns quickly towards Pharm to ask a question about the assignment due today. Perhaps he should have contacted Pharm last night, to request help with a particularly difficult sentence he couldn’t seem to translate naturally. But he had been distracted, his mind unable to focus. He’s hoping Pharm can help him before the professor arrives and class begins.

Grabbing his friend’s arm and squeezing, Team pleads, ‘Pharm. Help me please.’

Pharm tilts his head slightly, a visible smirk appearing. ‘You didn’t finish your homework again, did you?’

Team scrunches his nose, slightly offended. He did finish his homework. Well, mostly. ‘I only had trouble with one sentence. Please, Pharm, please.’

Pharm, used to Team’s requests for help on English assignments, relents and quickly scans the incomplete English-Thai translation in the second to last paragraph. Noticing the error in grammar structure, he explains the complexities as Team’s expression shows relief.

As the professor walks through the door, Team quietly thanks Pharm for his help, hastily correcting the translation before walking to the professor’s desk to hand in the assignment.

As the professor begins the lecture, Team’s mind drifts into memories as has often been the case the last few months. Last night’s phone call with Win had been short, Win not having much spare time to talk, his voice tired but happy, a distinct difference to some of their previous phone calls.

A few weeks ago, Team heard it once again, the strain in Win’s voice as he talked about his day and his classes, his words stretching just a bit too long, too scattered. Team had become used to recognising the signs of Win’s loneliness when the distance was weighing on him. 

When he first heard it in Win’s voice, he asked if Win was okay. He wasn’t surprised with the answer: 

‘I’m fine, just tired.’

But he wasn’t fine, and he wasn’t just tired. In the two years they’ve been together, Team has discovered that Win isn’t always as strong as he wants people to believe. To most, he is the confident, intelligent, carefree - and sexy - Phawin Wanichakarnjonkul. However, for Team he is more. He is the middle child with a relentless desire to be noticed but fearing any attention will be short-lived. Win is constantly searching for ways to be needed, such as when Team needed his comfort to sleep, but has often confused other’s need with want . And when he was no longer needed, Win would come away feeling unwanted.

Team doesn’t need Win. 

He wants him.

It is that intense feeling of want that has given strength to Team since Win left for graduate school. He wakes up every morning wanting Win - wanting him in his arms, wanting to see his face as he opens his eyes, wanting to hear his laugh as Team brushes his fingers lightly over a ticklish spot.

He just wants him all the time.

Team snorts at the direction these thoughts begin to take him and shakes his head, drawing a few stares from those around him. Pharm pokes him in the side, lifting his eyebrow. Shaking his head again in response, shifting slightly in his seat, Team once again tries to concentrate on the lecture.

 ________________________

As the lecture finishes and the students wai to the professor, Team gathers his notebook and pen, haphazardly stuffing them into his backpack. Looking up, Team finds Pharm waiting for him, a smirk on his face.

‘Bit distracted today, huh?’

Team shrugs, heading toward the door. ‘It’s English class. I never understand half of what the professor is talking about.’

Pharm laughs, trying to keep up with Team’s rather rapid pace. ‘And then you ask me for my notes to fill in the gaps. Team, are you in a hurry to go to lunch?’

Team slows down, not realising until Pharm’s comment that he was walking rather quickly. ‘Sorry. Uhh, no. No. Sorry.’

Pharm lets out a little giggle. ‘It’s okay. Let’s get to lunch. Manaow will be waiting for us.’

Team smiles in agreement and they head down the steps towards the canteen and their usual table.

 ________________________

Lunch now feels...empty. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy sharing a meal with Pharm and Manaow (Del joining the group when she is free) but the lack of Win has Team feeling as though he has left something behind. When the term first started, he was unable to sit in his normal spot and chose to sit next to Pharm, who also appeared to appreciate the change. However, this just meant he was always looking at the spot where Win sat and his absence felt even more acute. After a few days of trying different seats, Team gave up playing musical chairs and accepted the fact that no matter where he sat, lunch was always going to feel empty.

Unlocking his phone, Team pulls up the Line app and opens his chat with Win. Since Win’s first day in London, Team has sent him a morning text and picture every day. Team is unable to be there physically when Win wakes up, but he wants Win to know that he’s thinking about him.

Sometimes he has a desire to send something silly to Win, something to make him laugh, particularly if he is in the middle of a difficult assignment. Less often, but becoming more so, it’s something softer, Team feeling the need to release the thoughts and feelings which have taken root in his mind and in his heart.

Today he pulls up a photo of their empty bed, the bed Win left behind in his old room where Team now sleeps. Adding a simple ‘I love you’, Team sighs and presses send.

All his friends expected Team to fall apart when Win had left for London, watching him a little too closely for signs of, well, something. But how could he fall apart? Win needed him to be strong so that he was able to walk away and step onto the plane, willingly choosing the distance which would cause them both pain. He knew cracks would form and so he had to be brave, holding on tight to Win, regardless of the distance, to keep him from falling apart.

So Team will be strong. 

For hia. 

For them.

Because Team has begun to realise that nothing matters more than for Win to always feel loved.

During the first few weeks, Win was busy getting settled in London and preparing for his graduate program, and so he was chipper and happy when they chatted, his mind occupied, distracting him from noticing the distance. Then lectures began and he was thrown into his studies - in English! - and the adjustment was stirring up some stress and more than a few late nights.

While Win was strong and smart and could handle anything thrown his way while in university in Thailand - doing so in style - he had Dean and his family for support - and eventually Team.

Now Win is six thousand miles away from all he knew and from all those who love him.

Win isn’t weak but he sometimes has trouble holding it together, a crack appearing when something stresses or worries him. Team had learned to hold him close, letting the crack mend until Win was once again whole, confident and outgoing. Team found it ironic that in the end, Win needed him.

Team was so deep in thought he did not notice the dessert Pharm had placed in front of him: leum kleun. Startled, he looks up at Pharm, a small smile forming in thanks. 

His best friend is amazingly perceptive, knowing exactly how to cheer him up, usually with food. While leum kleun was the first dessert Pharm made for Dean, it was also the first of Pharm’s food that Team shared with Win.

As Team squeezes the bottom of the plastic cup, popping the dessert into his mouth, he hears Pharm ask, ‘Team, you have a class at 1:30, right?’

Still enjoying the texture of the leum kleun on his tongue, Team nods.

Pharm grimaces, holding up his phone for Team. ‘Then you may want to get going before you are late.’

‘Shia! Thanks, Pharm. For the dessert too!’

Team quickly grabs his backpack and heads off to his last class of the day.

 ________________________

Arriving at his class with only a few minutes to spare, Team sits, laying his head in his arms on the table as he gets his breathing under control.

It wasn’t until the summer before his second year that Team learned of his boyfriend’s plans to attend graduate school - in England. View had let it slip while they were having dinner with his family, not realising it was knowledge that Team didn’t possess. Once Team was able to catch Win’s eyes, he could see the worry reflected in them, fear plain to see. Team had simply reached under the table and squeezed his hand, giving him a small smile of understanding and forgiveness.

The fear had not left Win once they were back in his dorm room, alone and with the knowledge of the looming separation lying between them. Team had spent that night, and many more, convincing Win that he need not fear anything would change. The distance and time apart would not alter his feelings or his commitment. 

Perhaps he was being optimistic, not truly knowing what it would feel like to not be near Win for months at a time, but what he was sure of, what he feels deep inside him, is that he loves Win. This isn’t a fleeting attraction or a first love - spoken of as a memory of youth - not for Team. And since that night, he has been repairing the crack which had appeared by showing Win how much he wanted him, needed him, loved him.

A year of touches under the table, quick kisses between classes and nights filled with breathless moments. Team’s days had become brighter with Win in his life and the nights...well, his nights were no longer something to be feared.

The truth is, Team’s nightmares had decreased in frequency rather significantly in the past year. When he did wake up from a nightmare, it felt muted, lacking the fear and emotion which had once accompanied them. He originally thought it was due to sleeping next to Win, who would hold him tight, whispering soothing words when the nightmares would lead to Team thrashing and crying out. And while this undoubtedly was a factor, Team no longer felt it was Win’s presence which banished the nightmares.

After the incident in the pool, back in his first year when he almost drowned and Win had saved him, leading to the realisation that there were feelings between them which went deeper than a junior/senior relationship, or even friendship, Team had eventually trusted Win with his nightmares. He faced his fear, his worries about the effects of acknowledging his nightmares to someone and after numerous aborted attempts, shared the pain with Win.

It was freeing, knowing he didn’t have to hide anymore, at least from one person, knowing Win was there to not only comfort him, but to assure him that it would be okay and he was not alone anymore. It was this, this comfort, this sharing of pain, which finally and almost completely chased the nightmares away. 

He could now sleep alone, without Win, and was no longer afraid of the nightime. Win worried, of course, that the nightmares would return when he left for London. Team had spent time reassuring him that he wasn’t worried and Win shouldn’t be either. 

But while he can sleep without Win, he does not want to sleep without him. It is this longing for Win’s touch, whether it is holding each other through the night or more, that he craves and misses.

No, the nightmares didn’t keep him awake. However, deep in the night, the ache in his heart causes the tears to flow onto his pillow, the bed empty, his arms reaching for someone who is not there.

Half-heartedly smiling to himself, his throat a bit clogged and thinking of how dependent on Win he has become, Team lifts his head as he hears the professor begin the lecture. 

 ________________________

Sitting down on an empty bench and expecting a wait, Team removes his phone from his back pocket, thinking a few games would help pass the time. After five minutes of Angry Birds, Team has already become restless with the game and closes the app. Feeling an intense need to see Win right now, he browses old photos, scanning for the tell tale sign of blond hair and earrings. Smiling at one of his favorite photos, taken on the beach trip they took a few months before Win left for London, moisture forms at the corner of his eyes. Three months, twenty-two days, sixteen  hours.

Engrossed in his emotions, the noise of the crowds like a distant white noise, Team doesn’t notice someone speaking to him. He feels a tender touch on his cheek and hears his name spoken softly. Slowly, he lifts his head, releasing a choked breath as the tear gives way to gravity, its path halted by the caress of long fingers against his skin.

‘Hia...’