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Yuta wakes up to the sound of leaves rustling outside, slants of sunlight tilting through his shutters. He’s almost startled by how quiet and peaceful it is without sharing a room with two other boys. It takes him a moment to remember that he’s back in Osaka, staring up at a familiar ceiling he hasn’t stared at in a long time. Yuta can’t remember the last time the company gave them a full week to rest—probably a long time before any of his bandmates’ debuts.

 

It would be a lie to say that Yuta hasn’t been counting the minutes before he sees Winwin again.

 

Even though Yuta doesn’t have to worry about dance practice or vocal rehearsals, his days off are still packed with meeting friends and family he hasn’t seen in months, and in some cases, years. For the most part, it’s like he never left. It takes him a little longer now to form his thoughts into words, and when he does speak, his words come out clumsy and uncertain. Yuta laughs indulgently when his friends tease him about the state of his Japanese, but it makes him painfully aware that he’s lost yet another part of himself that he can’t get back.

 

Eventually the conversation turns to girls and dating, and Yuta is glad for the change in topic. He listens absently to his friends’ inane chatter about the girls they’ve met in college, wondering if he’d have a girlfriend by now if his life hadn’t taken a different trajectory. Probably, not that it’s something he cares that much about nowadays. Lately, girls have been the last thing on his mind.

 

Inevitably someone asks Yuta if he’s dated any of the other trainees or idols at SM. Yuta hesitates a second too long as the image of a certain Chinese dancer flickers in his mind.

 

“Who was it, then?”

 

“Who was what?” Yuta asks.

 

“Who did you date?”

 

“Lee Soo Man, of course,” Yuta answers smoothly.

 

Saying goodbye to his friends is hard, but saying goodbye to his mother and father is even harder. Neither his parents mention it, but Yuta knows how much he’s changed in recent months, and he’s aware of how frightening it might be for his parents to witness. He promises that he’ll call them when he lands in Korea, that he’ll visit again as soon as he can, that he’ll try to be a better son in the future. Yuta’s parents just tell him to promise that he’ll try to be happy no matter what faces him back in Korea. If Yuta could start all over again and be either a better idol or a better son, he isn’t sure which one he would choose.

 

The plane ride is a welcome two hours of solitude after a bittersweet week away from Seoul. As much as he dreads the difficulties of the week’s schedule ahead of him, the thought of seeing Winwin again is enough to keep Yuta from taking the next flight back to Osaka. And thankfully, both of their flights are scheduled to land within a couple hours of each other, which means that they can easily share a cab back to the dorms.

 

Yuta swallows the hot, achy feeling in his throat as he leaves the airport terminal, his baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes and a cloth mask covering his nose and mouth. If there was a chance for him to turn around and start all over again in Japan, he’s lost it now. The only thought that pushes him forward step by step is Winwin, but it’s enough to keep him going.

 

He can’t help but imagine the soft, sleepy smile that will light up Winwin’s face when they see each other again for the first time in a week. Yuta’s mind is buzzing with all the things he wants to tell him, all the things he wants to ask. But most of all, Yuta wants to look at Winwin, and he wants Winwin to look back at him without anyone or anything else as a distraction. He wants to share this fleeting moment of calm with Winwin alone before their lives are turned upside down again.

 

It’s ridiculous, the way that Yuta’s heart is racing as he descends the escalator to the lobby where he and Winwin are supposed to meet up. Yuta should be accustomed to seeing Winwin by now, but lately he’s been getting more nervous when he sees Winwin, rather than less. Yuta is just about to text Winwin that he’s almost there when he catches sight of him. The noisy airport is suddenly muffled by the roaring in Yuta’s ears.

 

Everything feels wrong. Winwin is supposed to be waiting for Yuta so they can spend an afternoon together before returning to the dorms. Winwin isn’t supposed to be sitting next to Jaehyun, sharing a pair of earbuds and giggling at Jaehyun’s phone.

 

Yuta’s entire body flashes hot, and he turns away, his cheeks burning in humiliation. It hits him like a punch to the stomach, just how idiotically painful it is for Yuta to see Winwin with someone else. Yuta has to stop pretending like Winwin was even remotely his to begin with.

 

Before Winwin can glance up and catch sight of Yuta standing several feet away, he turns around and starts striding towards the exit with his suitcase trailing behind him. Yuta doesn’t stop walking until he’s hailed a cab by the side of the road. He tonelessly gives directions to the driver and then slumps into the backseat, staring out the window and letting his thoughts chase each other in circles.

 

Yuta had wondered why Winwin had not only stopped asking him for Korean lessons, but also ceased spending time with him altogether. Nowadays, Winwin is always with Jaehyun or his Chinese friends. Though he had felt the distance growing between them, Yuta had always blamed it on their busy schedules.

 

Looking back now, everything is in painfully sharp focus. The smiles that Yuta once worked so hard to draw out from Winwin come so easily when he’s talking to Jaehyun. Whatever imagined connection Yuta thought he had with Winwin had only been in Yuta’s head all along. He's finally forced to confront the truth that there's more than a language barrier between Yuta and Winwin.

Familiar buildings are a blur in the windows as Yuta stares blankly at the dismal gray sky. He feels his phone buzz in his pocket, and his gut clenches involuntarily when he sees that it’s a text from Winwin.

 

did your plane land yet? we’re waiting at the airport

 

Yuta’s fingers tremble slightly as he types out a response. i couldn’t find you so i took a cab by myself

 

He starts to add “ i’m sorry ” but he stops when a set of fading gray ellipses appears in the corner of the screen as Winwin begins typing a response. But then the ellipses vanish, leaving Yuta with a read receipt and a sinking feeling in his stomach. Yuta wouldn't know what to say, either.

 

As soon as Yuta arrives at the dorms, he makes a beeline for the room he shares with Mark and Jaehyun. Yuta slams the door and throws himself onto his bunk bed without even taking his shoes off. Thankfully he can sulk in privacy until Jaehyun and Winwin return from the airport, since Mark’s flight back from Canada was delayed. The only thought that lightens Yuta’s mood is imagining how pissed Mark must have been about the delay.

 

Yuta must have been even more exhausted than he registered, because he barely realizes he's fallen asleep until he wakes up to a darkened room. He reaches out to switch on the lamp on his nightstand, and he notices that a blanket is wrapped around his body, and his shoes are on the floor. A shudder passes through Yuta’s frame when he thinks about the idea of Jaehyun touching him while he was asleep.

 

He fishes his phone out of his pocket to check what he missed while he was out cold: nothing, apparently, except for a couple hours of his afternoon. No communication from Winwin, which he dreads at this point as much as he craves.

 

There’s a light knock on the door, and Yuta’s heart jumps to his throat. There’s absolutely no reason for him to hope that it’s Winwin, but his body still reacts like it might be. It’s pathetic. Yuta schools his expression into a scowl, knowing that when the door swings open, it will most likely be Jaehyun.

 

Winwin’s head peeks out from behind the door, and his soft, sleepy eyes light up in a smile when he sees that Yuta is awake.

 

“Yuta, you're awake?” Winwin asks.

 

“Yes,” Yuta says, fighting the urge to add “obviously.”

 

Winwin inches forward, like he wants to come in but he's holding himself back. Yuta sighs and gestures for Winwin to invite him in. Winwin’s smile stretches even wider, revealing the gap in his teeth. He trots over to Yuta’s bed like a puppy and sits cross-legged on the floor, leaning his chin on the edge of Yuta’s mattress.

 

Yuta can't help but run his fingers through Winwin’s hair, his eyes never leaving the adoring look in Winwin’s expression, which is by some miracle, focused on Yuta alone. He's adorable and irresistible in all kinds of unfair ways, and Yuta is helplessly smitten. The corners of Yuta’s mouth tilt upwards and soon he’s returning Winwin’s smile with a dopey grin of his own.

 

“I saw you at the airport today,” Winwin says, and suddenly the room feels colder.

 

Yuta isn’t sure if Winwin is angry at him, because his default expression is always so docile.

 

“Oh?” Yuta says. Despite his fear about how the conversation might proceed, Yuta keeps his expression and his voice neutral.

 

“You saw me too, didn’t you?” Winwin asks.

 

He doesn’t seem to be accusing Yuta of anything, he just appears genuinely confused. In all fairness, Yuta’s confused by his own behavior at this point.

 

“Yeah, I did,” Yuta admits.

 

The pain in Winwin’s voice takes Yuta by surprise.

 

“Are you mad at me?” Winwin mumbles. He’s looking down now at his fidgeting fingers twisted together in his lap. His eyelashes cast translucent shadows across his cheeks as he avoids Yuta’s gaze.

 

“Why do you think that, Winwin?” Yuta asks. He’s close enough to count each of Winwin’s eyelashes, but the distance between them feels immense.

 

Winwin opens his mouth as if to speak, but then his expression clouds. It’s a face that Yuta hasn’t seen for some time, the way that Winwin looks when he runs out of words to express himself.

 

“Why didn’t you want to meet me at the airport?” Winwin finally manages.

 

Yuta holds back for a moment, sliding the tip of his tongue behind the backs of his teeth as he thinks of what to say. There’s no use in trying to pretend like he’s anything less than the asshole he already is, so Yuta simply divulges the truth.

 

“Because Jaehyun was there,” Yuta tells him.

 

“Jaehyun got his license last week, so he offered to drive us,” Winwin explains. “I didn’t really want him to, but he said that it would save money.”

 

He looks shyly at Yuta after letting his confession slip, and Yuta lets out a short, derisive scoff.

 

“Of course he said that,” Yuta grumbles. Yuta knows himself too well to expect that he’ll forgive Jaehyun quickly—even over something as petty as this.

 

A puzzled frown pulls Winwin’s eyebrows together. “You don’t...like Jaehyun?” he asks, his voice adorably slow and uncertain like he’s trying out the language for the first time.

 

Yuta finds Winwin’s conclusion unbearably endearing, and he laughs in spite of himself.

 

“Nope, not really,” Yuta says cheerfully.

 

“But you like me?” Winwin asks.

 

Something stops Yuta from answering immediately, and Winwin notices the hesitation.

 

“I’m sorry I annoyed you,” Winwin says quietly. He looks away from Yuta again like he wants to leave, but he reaches out for Yuta’s hand as though his body is still searching for comfort from him.

 

Yuta catches Winwin’s hand by the wrist and slides his thumb over the soft skin and fine bones in his wrist.

 

“You didn’t,” Yuta says. He bites his lip and then links their fingers together as he studies the graceful planes of Winwin’s face. “Look at me.”

 

Yuta’s thumb brushes over the knuckles of Winwin’s long, slim fingers in a way that he hopes is comforting until Winwin manages to meet his gaze again.

 

“I like you,” Yuta says, hoping that his voice sounds steadier than it feels.

 

Winwin looks at him with confusion, and he’s worrying his plump lower lip between his teeth, and suddenly Yuta’s mouth is dry.

 

“Do you understand?” Yuta asks gently.

 

Winwin begins to nod his head, and then he shakes his head. Yuta sighs fondly and reaches out for Winwin’s other hand so that both their hands are linked together. Almost everything Winwin does nowadays makes Yuta feel a tender pain like heartache.

 

Yuta swallows his fears and says with determination, “I like you, Winwin.”

 

He watches Winwin’s expression, waiting for the words to finally sink in. In many ways, this is what Yuta has always wanted: for the faraway look in Winwin’s eyes to be entirely focused on Yuta alone. But Winwin’s face is unreadable, and Yuta feels his anxiety begin to rise.

 

Caution was never Yuta’s style—in the back of his mind, he’s worried that he’s made a mistake, but above all else, Yuta can’t stop thinking about how much he wants to feel Winwin’s lips against his own.

 

Before he realizes what’s happening, Winwin’s face is so close that their noses are almost touching.

 

“I understand now,” Winwin says, and he sounds so proud of himself that it makes Yuta’s chest squeeze in fondness. “I like you too, Yuta.”

 

Winwin closes his eyes and tilts his head and fits their mouths together. The softness of Winwin’s lips and the heat of his mouth feel so surreal to Yuta that it takes him a few seconds to process what’s happening. By the time his brain has caught up, Winwin has climbed onto Yuta’s bed. He slips under the blanket and fits his hips against Yuta’s without any trace of self-consciousness.

 

The kisses start soft, but then Winwin sucks on and bites his lips with just enough teeth to make Yuta chase the feeling of pain. Yuta urges Winwin to kiss him more deeply by digging his heels into the backs of Winwin’s calves. He slips his hands up the hem of Winwin’s shirt and maps out the framework of Winwin’s back with his hands.

 

Yuta is about to tug the shirt away from Winwin’s body altogether when he hears what sounds like Mark’s strident voice just outside the room. He ignores it, until the door swings open and Mark yelps, “Oh my god !”

 

The door slams shut and Winwin scrambles out of Yuta’s bed, breathing heavily and flushed from excitement and embarrassment.  

 

“I’m going to go now,” Winwin says with a nervous giggle.

 

Yuta grabs him by the sleeve and pulls him down for a final kiss, while Mark’s muffled voice demands, “Is it safe to come in?”