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“Thanks for your hard work!” The words tumbled out of thirteen mouths easily, with just the same amount of sincerity as the first time they were uttered. The group bowed endlessly towards the staff, having just finished a long shoot for a promotional video specially made for Carats where they danced a medley of their biggest hits.

They had made a comeback just a few days ago, and with comeback season came extremely tight schedules. Keeping the next job on the list in mind, Chan shuffled behind Hansol briskly to leave the set.

It was going to be a long day—he knew it. From the moment Junhui had to shake his shoulder vigorously to wake him up, he’d been feeling off. He barely got ready on time to get to the vans, (even later than Mingyu, who had somehow fallen back asleep against the kitchen counter upright and gotten ready before him) and kept tripping over his feet when walking to the set of their first shoot. Fast forward to the evening, he kept his eyes trailed to the ground eager to get the last schedule done with and find respite in his dorm bed. Luckily the only thing left for them to do was attend a radio broadcasting, so he resolved to be less involved and try to rely on Seungkwan or Soonyoung to do most of the talking.

The rest of the day dragged on almost comically slow, with his prediction of Seungkwan and Soonyoung talking the most being right on the dot. He gave reactions when deemed appropriate, and laughed when everyone else was laughing.

He managed to get through the broadcast without having to say many comments and succeeded in not raising suspicion from his hyungs. When it was time for ending ments and Jeonghan called on him to say a few words, he was able to not make it too obvious that he was in a trance and covered up quickly.

“...cut! We’ve finished!” Chan heard someone say, and everyone started clapping. They all bow, thank the staff, the usual, before someone tugged on his sleeve and he turned to see Jeonghan’s face—he’d been too distracted trying to keep himself awake to notice that the elder was shooting him strange looks in the latter half of the broadcasting.

No words needed to be exchanged, just a nod by the head and Chan knew that Jeonghan would be wanting to talk to him later.

Walking to their vans, Chan saw Jeonghan whispering something to Seungcheol and he knew it was about him. Seungcheol glanced back at him, a quizzical expression on his face. He looked back at Jeonghan, said a few words that Chan couldn't read from his lips, pat Jeonghan’s shoulder, and moved to one of the vans.
Chan then heard Jeonghan say, "Guys, I'm riding with Channie today!" The elder moved to him and shook his arm for dramatic effect, even though both of them knew that everyone was too tired to really pay them any mind. Sounds of acknowledgment came from a few members, and just like that Chan prepared himself for an interrogation in the car.

They got to their vans, Jeonghan never leaving his side and making sure to sit next to him when they got inside. Minghao didn't seem to question the action, as he simply closed his eyes the moment he sat down and waited for sleep to capture him. A few moments passed where all Jeonghan did was drum his fingers against Chan’s knee, and he found himself slowly being dragged into a slumber. The elder must’ve waited for Minghao to fall asleep though, as the moment the Chinese member’s head dropped to the side he stopped his hand and turned to face the maknae.

“Hey, are you alright?” Jeonghan asked, in a low whisper.

Chan made a noncommittal noise, humming while facing forward. “Yeah, hyung, I’m just fine.” He inwardly cringed at how unbelievable the words sound, even for him.

“Chan, face me,” he heard, Jeonghan’s voice resolute. He knew he was serious whenever he called him by his real name. “I want to see your face when you say it.”

He turned to the side, plastering a small smile on his face. “I’m okay. You don’t need to worry about anything. I was just a bit tired today, is all.” And really, that was all today was. It was an off day, something anyone can have. Jeonghan was just overreacting, Chan thought.

His hyung scrutinized him for a few seconds, his furrowed eyebrows just barely showing under the dim lights of night. Seemingly satisfied, he turned back forward.

“Alright, if you say so. But if this continues, you know I’ll do something about it.”

Chan faced forward again and replied with a, “Of course. I’m alright, just having a bad day.”

He took Jeonghan’s words to heart and decided that he would have to be more discreet in hiding his exhaustion. He hated seeing his hyungs worried for him and looking at him with pity in their eyes. He wouldn’t be the reason Seventeen will get dragged down. No matter what comes his way, he’d get through it—after all, he was an adult who could take care of himself. He’d make sure of it.

Chapter Text

It happened so gradually at first, Chan himself didn’t even notice it.

They were in the heyday of their promotional period, the excitement of getting to promote on stage mixing with their exhaustion that had been building up the past few days.

They just finished their last schedule of the day, filing in a long line to get into their vans.

Chan was feeling a lot better than the day when he talked to Jeonghan, fully convinced it really was just an unlucky day. It appeared Jeonghan was thinking the same, as he was talking vibrantly with Joshua paying Chan no mind.

The thirteen of them made it home safely in their respective groups, with Chan who clung onto Junhui and Mingyu trailing behind them to head to the dorm. 

After they all washed up and ate a late dinner, everyone dispersed out to their respective areas: Jihoon to his studio, Seokmin and Seungkwan to the living room, Mingyu to his room to sleep. Chan also headed to his room, choosing to lay down and use his phone.

Having time to spare, he searched up the medley dance video the group had recorded days ago that had just been released. Opening his focus cam, he monitored his every move to make sure he didn't make any mistakes. He made a mental note to put more power into certain moves and work on the fluidity of some actions, but otherwise, he was satisfied.

Out of pure, spontaneous curiosity, he decided to look at the comments. On a normal day, he wouldn't have even spared a glance at the section he knew so many compliments from fans lay, but today he wanted to feel selfish for once and bask in the kind words he knew he'd be described with.

Scrolling down, he saw loads of comments about his dancing that he took pride in and his looks which he never felt he stood out much in, but was grateful for nonetheless. As he continued looking at the endless flattering words from fans and non-fans alike, he allowed himself to feel pleased and acknowledge that all the extra hours he put in the practice room paid off.

Maybe it was because he was on edge lately due to Jeonghan’s eagle eyes always watching him, but he felt himself digging through the comments nonstop. He supposed he wanted reassurance that he was still doing good.

His eyes caught on one particular comment that had many replies. 

Holy shit he’s so bad at dancing… imagine stanning this man and going after other people’s favs. Worry about yourselves, please.

It was so, so blatantly obvious it was just a troll who decided to piss some people off by sending hate. It was right in front of Chan’s eyes he could grab it and tear at it. He knew the replies were fans defending him and telling the hater to go away. He knew it wasn't a big deal, and that it shouldn’t bother him too much. He knew hate like that came with the job, and that he would have to deal with it for as long as he was a public figure. He knew it, so why did it bring him down so much?

Deciding he didn’t want to continue souring his mood, he turned off his phone and the room light and laid back down in his bed to try and sleep. Staring up blankly at the ceiling with the voices of his hyungs outside filling in the silence, his thoughts went reeling back to that one comment. 

One side of his head thought to himself, Was the comment right? I know they were just hating on me but what if there’s some truth to it? To be fair, I have been going to the practice room by myself less lately.

Shut up, you know they’re wrong. You’re so hardworking and everyone around you can see it. Lee Chan, don’t let a single comment like that get to you. You’re so much more than that, the other side replied.

The two sides continued warring in his head, his thoughts overwhelming his need to sleep and blurring out all sound. He was conflicted, he had never let such trivial hate like this get to him before. There was a time, just after their debut, where he was taken over by all the pointless hate headed their way but Seungkwan was easily able to reel him back and teach him how to block out the hate. From then on he rarely had problems with what other people said. The only enemy that never changed within the past 5 years was himself.

Before he knew it, the bright phone screen he turned on flashed 2 a.m., and the rest of the dorm was dead silent. 

As quietly as he could, he made his way out of his room, making sure not to forget his coat and phone. He walked out the door, successful in not waking any of the members up.

He was currently tunnel-visioned, he knew it. With only six hours in his arsenal that was used to keep him energetic throughout the hectic day and emotions running rampant, he was well aware it was quite possibly the worst time to be sneaking out of the dorms. 

However, the only thought Chan had in his mind was practice, practice, practice. He’d deal with the consequences later, whatever they were to be.

He walked briskly to the company building, silently praising whoever decided to have them move so close to their workplace. 

Making his way into the building, a few quizzical glances were shot his way, but no one said anything except a few words of greeting. His steps took him to the familiar practice room they always used and didn't hesitate to plug his phone into the speaker right away. Playing whatever song comes on shuffle in his playlist, he danced his heart out in an attempt to clear his head.

After every song, he felt his breathing quicken and the aching in his head get more profound and painful. Still, he kept going.

Welcome to the panic room

Where all your darkest fears are gonna come for you, come for you

Chan refused to think about even the possibility that the reason he came to practice was because of that singular hate comment. Ridiculous, really, to get so caught up over some silly thing someone said. 

Welcome to the panic room

You’ll know I wasn’t joking when you see them too, see them too

He was simply here to practice, he had been lacking individual practice lately anyway. He didn’t have time due to their busy schedules as it was comeback season, but now he was here to make the most out of the time he had. He had to continue working hard, he couldn’t bear to fall behind. He needed to keep up.

Hell raising, hair raising

I’m ready for the worst

As the last notes of the song echoed in the air, the only sound bouncing through the walls of the practice room were Chan’s heaving breaths. He stared at himself in the mirror, refusing to blink. 

Almost as if breaking away would count as a loss, he held his pose for a solid minute, watching his chest rise and fall while steadying his breathing.

Once he finally looked away, his legs gave up and he let out a yelp of surprise. Laying down in a starfish position he absentmindedly recalled that he was in this same position in his bed just over an hour ago trying to chase sleep. This time sleep was the one going after him, it seemed.

Too exhausted to even try to get up and turn off the lights, he closed his eyes and let his fatigue claim him.

I’m doing this for myself.

This was the last thought he had before he finally fell into a slumber.

It was too bright and way too quiet. These were the first two things that came to mind when Chan woke up. 

Taking in his surroundings as he shielded his eyes from the light, he realized he was in the company practice building. He slowly remembered the memories of before, and how he ended up falling asleep after dancing his heart out.

Suddenly aware of the time, he jumped up and reached for his phone. He let out a whine as he saw that it was the next day and was the time he and the members normally got up for their schedules.

He was wide awake now, collecting his coat and dashing out the door not forgetting to turn off the light. He kept his head down as he exited the building, a fast walk to the dorm turning into a light jog. While he made his way back home he turned the cogs in his head to think of a believable excuse to tell his elders. 

Jun-hyung must be waking everyone up by now, Chan thought as he checked his phone one more time. 

Ignoring the aching in his legs screaming for help, he managed to make it back to the dorms in almost record time. He took a few moments right outside the door to catch his breath before knocking on it.

“I’ll get it!” he heard a voice inside call.

The door opened and he was met with Seokmin’s surprised face that quickly morphed into relief.

Before Chan could say anything, Seokmin yelled, “Dino, where were you? Everyone was so worried! You didn’t even leave a note either.”

He heard another voice, “Dokyeom, is that Chan?”

“Yeah hyung! He just came back!” 

Before he knew it, Chan was being shooed inside the house and 12 pairs of eyes were on him. 

“Chan, where the hell were you? Junhui was so worried when he didn’t see you in your room this morning,” Seungcheol came forward to scold him. 

“Hey Coups-hyung, let’s hear him out, yeah?” Soonyoung defended, looking at Chan expectantly.

“Sorry I worried you guys, I woke up early and I couldn’t fall back asleep so I went out to practice for a bit. I was so in a hurry that I forgot to leave a note and I lost track of time while I was dancing so I wasn't able to come back home on time,” he lied sheepishly, hoping everyone else would believe him. 

Looking around, a few nods of understanding could be seen, and that was enough for Chan to think that he was off the hook. 

“...Alright, but don’t let it happen again. We were really scared, you know that?” Seungcheol said, face contorting to worry.

Chan nodded in affirmation, a wave of guilt washing through him for having made them so concerned.

“Anyway, I’m just glad he’s back!” Mingyu said as he slapped him lightly on the back.

Everyone else nodded, with Seungkwan and Wonwoo teasing him about how his passion knew no rest. 

The audience dispersed, everyone leaving to get ready with a lighthearted feeling of reassurance knowing Chan was safe and sound. 

Chan himself moved to his room to get ready, but not before he saw Jeonghan and Soonyoung exchange a few whispers to one another. He continued looking at them before Jeonghan made his exit and Soonyoung faced his direction.

The two made eye contact, staring at one another. Neither of them backed down, almost a silent challenge as if they were beckoning the other to come out with the truth. Chan finally relented, looking down and shuffling silently to his room.

Soonyoung watched his back disappear completely into his room before moving.

Chapter Text

Something shifted in their dynamic from that day on. 

Chan wasn’t sure if all the other members could feel it, but he sure as hell knew Jeonghan and Soonyoung were aware of what was up. Nothing big changed, all he knew was that there was a strange tension in the air any time he was in the same room with either of them.

It was weird. He now had two pairs of eyes trailing him all day and Chan would be lying if he said it didn’t make him feel suffocated.

He honestly didn’t understand how things came to this, didn't get why Jeonghan and Soonyoung kept looking at him weird at times. He felt like he had been left out of a joke that he was the subject of which further exacerbated his uneasiness. In his opinion, he hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary that would have made his members act that way. Racking through his brain for any memories that raise flags, the only things he could think of were the days he felt off and talked to Jeonghan and the time he practiced so hard he ended up sleeping in the practice room. 

He would admit he should’ve at least left a note so that the others wouldn’t question what happened to him, but there was absolutely nothing strange about him going out for extra practice. He was an idol, a performer! He should’ve always strived to grow and change for the better and yet, his two hyungs were watching him like a hawk all the time.

It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate their concern, but whatever it was that they were seemingly worried about he knew he would be able to handle it by himself fine. He was the type to refuse help until it was the last possible choice—he knew it was stubborn of him, but it was just the way he was.

He carried that mentality with him until the end of their comeback promotions and was given a free day. Many of the other members were in their respective schedules, however, with Jeonghan and Soonyoung being in the pack. Therefore, Chan was left in the dorms with Mingyu and Seokmin. 

It was the evening, and Chan was once again in their practice room polishing his moves. He was working on his new Danceology choreography, something he was extremely excited about. He was giddy ever since he started working on it, letting nothing trample his mood. Just a few days ago he had been jumping around Vernon telling him about the new moves he was looking forward to incorporating into the choreography.

He had been practicing non-stop for at least half an hour until he felt he finally deserved a small break. Grabbing his phone, he collapsed on the floor sitting with his legs crossed. He decided to go web surfing and opened up Naver to see any recent news. 

As he opened up the news tab, his breathing hitched. Right in front of him, smack dab in the middle of the screen, was a picture of him—by himself, he noted—with an article titled:

[Opinion] SEVENTEEN’s Dino: “Future of K-pop”, no talent to back up the claim?

He should’ve just scrolled past it. He told himself he wouldn’t let any more hate get to him. He closed his eyes tightly, heaving a deep breath in. He was so curious, though. One peak wouldn’t hurt, would it? (That was one of his flaws that he was too stubborn to acknowledge: Seungkwan would always point out he was always looking for recognition from others and dying to know what everyone thought of him. Chan just countered that he was conscious of his image. The issue was dropped after his third pout directed at the elder and was never addressed again.)

Never look at the comments. Nothing good will come out of reading malicious comments other people write.

Chan had heard these words from so many of his seniors in front of and behind closed doors countless amounts of times, and yet his body seemed to act faster than his thoughts. Bracing himself, he decided to click on the article and see what was written about him.

He regretted looking at the article as quickly as he opened it up. 

Everyone knows Seventeen, the last famed group of the popular EBS trio—with 13, sorry, 12 talented members it’s no surprise they barely managed to squeeze into the ranks with the likes of BTS and EXO.

Although it is true there are 13 members of this group, it seems strength doesn’t always come with numbers. The youngest of the group, Dino, has often been called the “Future of K-pop” by fans. However, little evidence backs up the claim that he has what it takes to bear this nickname.

...what?

What the fuck?

Chan immediately felt sick. His body suddenly registered how much he had worked his body just a few minutes earlier, and he felt a rush of dizziness overcome him. He inwardly begged himself to stop reading and even threw his phone a few feet away from him. He buried his face in his palms, registering what he had just read. 

Right from the start, when he had seen the word opinion, he should’ve just ignored it. Why should he give a damn about what other people think about him? He was happy as hell just the way he was in Seventeen and he wouldn’t trade the world for it.

But here he was, letting a stupid article by some nameless reporter aimlessly hating on him and his group play games with his thoughts. 

He whipped his head up, fixing his gaze on his phone that was facing down on the floor away from him. If looks could kill, the device would’ve been burnt already. His pride be damned, he was way too curious about what else was written in the article. Never would he let Seungkwan hear a peep about it, but he silently resigned to himself that his constant need for approval from everyone would one day lead to his demise. 

Taking his phone again, he went back to where he left off on the article and kept reading.

Dino, real name Lee Chan, stated that he wanted to become a performer ever since he was little and looked up to Michael Jackson as his idol. 

Chan scoffed at this. He had heard a saying that your haters were your biggest fans, and it appeared it wasn’t so far off from the truth. So the author knew his stuff.

Although he fell in love with dancing at a young age, all the years he spent practicing does not seem to have paid off yet. The fruits of his labor have turned up empty, whereas his fellow bandmate Hoshi has shown the world he is a born performer through his charisma and passion no one can keep up with (although most would say his hyperactivity is too much).

He rolled his eyes, not surprised the author didn’t miss a single chance to take a stab at him or the group. He kept reading, slowly feeling the pit of his stomach bubble up with annoyance and distaste as he read on. Insults were thrown around all over the place, although most of them were targeted at him. 

It wasn’t until the last paragraph, however, when Chan felt he was either seething with anger or exhausted from depression. He wasn’t sure which.

As previously mentioned, Dino has a lack of skill in every department that it takes to become an idol. So it raises the question, why and how did he become a celebrity? Perhaps he pulled a few strings here and there (or maybe even a few pants) and miraculously joined the supergroup. If he thought the public eye wouldn’t notice his evident shortcomings compared to his members, he is gravely mistaken. In the end, however, it is undeniable that Seventeen is a remarkable group with many commendable achievements whether all 13 have contributed to them or not.

Chan blinked, one, two times before he turned off his phone and slammed it to the ground. He was sure the screen had cracked from the impact, but that was the least of his worries. 

The writer of that ridiculous article had just implied he sexually bribed higher-ups for his position, for fuck’s sake. He was 16 when he debuted—even the thought of doing that made bile come up his throat. If only this sick asshole knew, how wrong he was—how many sleepless nights he spent practicing, perfecting his every move, and how tirelessly he worked to get to the position he was currently in.

Suddenly very aware of his surroundings, Chan felt suffocated. He could feel the sweat in the air which made him nauseated. He had to get out, anywhere but the practice room where he was currently sitting. He couldn’t breathe. Grabbing his phone, he ran out of the room and shut the door closed behind him. 

Clutching the doorknob to keep himself steady, he waited until his breathing was evened out before leaving to go out. Practice was the last thing on his mind now, he wanted to get back to the dorms where his hyungs were. 

He walked quickly, trying to relish in the cold breeze hitting his face and going back home as soon as possible at the same time. He made it home quickly, fishing the keys out of his pocket.

Assuming Mingyu was sleeping, Chan silently opened the front door and saw that Seokmin was on the couch using his phone. 

“Oh, hey hyung,” Chan said, walking over to the side of the couch after taking off his shoes.

“Ah, hey Chan. Back already? I thought you said you were gonna be gone longer today for Danceology.”

It had completely slipped his mind that he was in the practice room in the first place for his Danceology. He was so caught up in the article that he wasn’t able to think properly before returning home.

“Yeah, but it was a slow day so I thought I should just come back home instead of wasting energy,” he said, just barely thinking of an excuse on time.

Seokmin hummed, “Gotcha. Not really like Mr. Lee Dino, though, to come back from practice because of a slow day. Normally you’d force good results instead of conceding.” He joked lightheartedly, his eyes still glued onto his phone.

Chan froze. Had Seokmin seen through his lie?

Not hearing a response from him, Seokmin looked up.

“Hey, you alright? You know I was just joking, right? I completely understand having a tough day, it happens to all of us,” he quickly reassured. 

“Oh! Um, yeah, of course! Sorry, it’s actually just that I saw a small hate article earlier so I haven’t been in the best mood.”

Technically, Chan wasn’t lying. Downplaying the severity of the article, sure. But Lee Chan was never one to let others see his weak side.

“Again? Ugh, they never stop. You know we all told you to stop caring about what people say, right? Their opinion doesn’t matter.” Seokmin set down his phone, and pat the cushion next to him signaling for Chan to sit next to him.

Chan took up the offer. “Yeah, hyung, I know. It’s just that-” He cut his words short when he heard shuffling coming from the hallway. Both he and Seokmin peered in that direction, seeing Mingyu appear from his room with bleary eyes. 

He asked apologetically, “Sorry, hyung. Did we wake you?” 

A few beats passed before Mingyu fully processed the question, nodding twice.

“It’s okay, though. It was about time that I woke up anyway,” he said, taking a seat next to Chan so that the youngest was sandwiched by the two elders. “What are you doing here so early? I thought you were gonna be out late for your dance routine.”

Seokmin explained to Mingyu how Chan was having a slow day and to top it off, saw a malicious article that ruined his mood. 

“Oh, Chan,” Mingyu looked at him sympathetically. He opened his arms wide, “Do you want cuddles? They always help.”

Chan blushed, not looking at either of them for a while. After a few moments, he replied, “...If that’s okay with you?”

Mingyu didn’t expect that answer and looking at Seokmin, he didn’t either. The former recovered quickly, though, and brought Chan into his embrace tightly. His left hand stroked the younger’s hair as his other arm snaked around the younger’s back, holding him. The two stayed that way for a few minutes silently, with Seokmin rubbing soothing circles on Chan’s upper back. 

The maknae kept his face snuggled in Mingyu’s neck, refusing to face him in the eyes. The events from the day kicked in fully. Chan felt like he was going to sink from all the physical exertion he put his body through. The article from earlier didn’t help either, as it made him feel as though boulders were bringing him down and he couldn’t move. 

He was suddenly so relieved his two hyungs were there, and he heaved a sigh of content.

Mingyu must’ve noticed how disheartened he was without knowing the complete story, as he withdrew from the embrace and cooed when Chan whined. He took his face in his hands and looked him straight in the eyes.

“You know we’re always by your side, right? All 12 of us. With us here, nothing will come your way. We’ll make sure of it.”

Chan wanted to cry. The love and gratitude he felt for his members was overwhelming. Not saying a word, he buried his face back into Mingyu’s chest.

Seokmin piped in, “Yeah! Just think of us as an impregnable fortress.” He grinned widely, seemingly fully intent on never letting anyone or anything harm the youngest on the team. Mingyu’s chest vibrated as he laughed, agreeing with what the other said.

Chan smiled softly in Mingyu’s embrace, grateful the others would support him unconditionally. You can’t protect me from everything though, no matter how hard you try. Who’s going to protect me from myself? Chan thought sadly to himself. 

For now, however, he was content in letting his hyungs coddle him and cheer him up. 

“Thanks. Of course, I know. At the end of the day, all I have are 12 hyungs.”

Chan let himself fall asleep in Mingyu’s hold as the elder continued stroking his hair in silence. He felt a thin blanket of security overcome him as he dozed off to get some much-needed sleep.

Chapter Text

Throughout the next few days, Chan noticed he was feeling much better, both mentally and physically. 

He had woken up after having fallen asleep in Mingyu’s hold, still feeling his warmth. He noticed he was no longer on the couch he had found solace from Mingyu and Seokmin in, but rather his own bed. Someone must’ve carried him there, he thought. 

Taking in his surroundings, he saw his phone lay on his bedside table plugged in. As he was too emotional earlier he couldn’t notice it, but lo and behold on the top right corner of his screen was a large crack in the glass. Nonetheless, his lips formed a small smile at the scene before him knowing his hyungs were aware of his tendency to check his phone the moment he woke up. He knew they would be questioning him about how he cracked his phone later though—he made a quick note to think of a believable excuse later. It seemed he was doing a lot more lying these days. 

Speaking of his hyungs, his ears perked up. Not hearing a single noise except his own breathing, he took his phone as he unplugged the charging cord. His eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when he turned the device on, seeing the time in big numbers: 10:47 a.m. Oh shit. He had slept in through the next day. Suddenly his brain was racing a million miles an hour, with dozens of questions going through his head. He quickly jumped out of his bed in a panic turning towards the small table for his glasses, before a flash of white caught his eye. He put on his glasses, and with his vision cleared up, saw that what else lay on the table was a note—he almost immediately recognized the handwriting to be that of Seungcheol.

The note read:

Maknae! I heard from Mingyu and Dokyeom that you were having a tough day yesterday. We also noticed you’ve been more tired than usual so we decided to be gracious and give you a free day off. I know you’re eager to practice all the time, but even the Future of K-pop needs his rest every now and then. Don’t worry, I already told Hyelim-noona about it so you’re safe. Spend your time well! 

-Your hyungs ♡

Reading the note, Chan instantaneously calmed down. There was something about his group members: they always had a way of making him level-headed, whether they were physically there with him or not.

However, a small thought arose in his head. How much had Mingyu and Seokmin told them? Were the members suspicious? Were they worried about him now? Chan wouldn’t be able to handle it if they all thought he needed help. He was tired, sure, but so was everyone else. His health didn’t matter on the greater scale of the group’s success. Hopefully, the members had given him an off day without an ulterior motive. Hopefully, they had given him a rest day just as they saw things and nothing more.

Putting the note aside, he climbed back into bed. He knew he should’ve been making plans to fill his free day, but he decided to laze around for the time being. 

He got on his phone to go web surfing, although he didn’t feel like checking the news. He ended up mindlessly scrolling around for half an hour, giggling to himself every now and then at the sight of a funny post. He eventually got to the sight of one of his fancams and with a sigh, opened it in order to monitor his performance. In the end, he can’t ignore his responsibilities. 

He clicked through a multitude of his videos, checking his dances, expressions, and most importantly, the comments. Chan scrolled through each and every comment mindlessly, reading them. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but seeing how he was already looking at the comments he decided to keep going. What he saw were all compliments—there was no negativity.

Having exhausted all the comments, Chan finally got up. He felt a lot better than earlier, he noticed, although he himself wasn’t sure as to why. He told himself it was because of the sea of compliments he got, but that wasn’t it. He always received nice words from others. He couldn’t wrap his mind around what was different from all the other times he saw the public’s opinion of him and now. 

Deciding to ignore the nagging in his head, he decided to move around a bit and spend his day more productively—and by productively, washing up and moving to the couch to watch TV. The rest of his day went without a hiccup, his previous bright mood from earlier having carried on throughout the day. 

Sometime in the early evening the other members arrive home, greeting Chan enthusiastically with Chan welcoming them in with just as much zest. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see he had so much spunk and chalked it up to a well-spent day of rest. He was like a puppy seeing its owner after a long day of work (Mingyu pointed this out which resulted in a mock-annoyed Chan lightly swatting his shoulder with a grin he couldn’t hide).

Chan talked with everyone for a bit, recalling his events from the day and a giddy Seokmin telling him any funny episodes that had occurred during practice. After a few minutes of easy conversation, the members started going to their respective rooms to go wash up. However, it wasn’t before a few of them gave Chan a meaningful look of mild concern before leaving. Maybe they knew more than they were letting on, he thought worriedly.

He went to retire to his room as well before Jeonghan stopped him and pulled him aside.

The elder started with a kind smile, “Hey, not that I’m unhappy to see you so excited today, but did something good happen? You’re not exactly the most bright person to greet us when we come home.”

Chan thought this question over in his head. He knew he was in a good mood, although he wasn’t sure why. He had been wondering about it himself. Instead of telling Jeonghan the truth, he asked with a pout, “Can I not be happy to see you?” It wasn’t a complete lie (he did miss his hyungs although he didn’t want to admit it), but Chan knew damn well it wasn’t the truth either.

He internally kicked himself as he could see Jeonghan could also tell it was a fib. No matter how well Chan knew his members, his members knew him just as well, if not more. The fact that everyone could read each other like a book was a double-edged sword.

(Chan thought to himself, why did he lie to Jeonghan in the first place? What harm would telling the truth have done? All he seemed to do nowadays was tell half-truths to his members. He made a mental note to himself that he would have to fix that.)

Jeonghan just let out a noncommittal hum with a glint in his eyes like he was saying I know you’re lying to me but I won’t ask , and responded instead, “Hm, alright. Well, if you’re happy then we’re all happy, Just know that.” With that, he pat Chan on the shoulder a couple of times before leaving. 

… 

It had been a week since that day, and Chan was going to practice more often than ever. He had also found himself thinking about the reasons why he was practicing more than usual, which in the end resulted in him having to slap his face with his hands and tell himself, “I’m doing this for myself. No one else.” before every session. It was something akin to a ritual as if he needed to remind himself he wasn’t trying to please anyone (certainly not the general public) and that it was only for himself and the team. Eventually, he started to believe in his own words, albeit reluctantly.

He had finally made it home after a long day of practice, and opened the door to see the lights brightly lit. The clock on one of the walls ticked one of its hands just shy of 2 a.m. He shouldn’t have been surprised—he found himself sleeping past what would be considered a healthy time to knock out, more likely that he would’ve liked to admit.

On the couch sat Vernon using his phone, sprawled across the span of the piece of furniture with his legs dangling around. The sound of the stove made Chan’s ears perk up, and he didn’t even need to move from where he was at the entrance to know Mingyu was in the kitchen. He must’ve been making something for Vernon and himself.

Hearing the sound of the door opening, Vernon got up from his position and greeted him. Chan made his way to the kitchen, where Mingyu also welcomed him home. 

“Do you want some ramen? I was just gonna make it for Vernon and me but I can add another pack if you’d like,” he asked.

Chan tiptoed and looked over Mingyu’s shoulder to see a pot filled with water and replied, “Sure. I’m exhausted from practice so ramen sounds really nice. Where are the other hyungs?”

“They’re all sleeping. Vernon and I woke up ‘cause we were hungry so I offered to make us food.”

“Ah, alright. Well, I’ll just be waiting with Vernon-hyung then. Call me if you need any help,” Chan offered, although both of them knew Mingyu wouldn’t be needing assistance. He could make fried rice with his eyes closed, ramen was hardly a challenge. Still, he let out a short thanks, and Chan made his way to the living room where Vernon had resumed his position like that of a log.

Chan made a motion for him to move, and without tearing his eyes away from his phone Vernon got up so that the younger of the two could sit.

Silence went on for a couple of minutes, with only various sounds of pots and chopsticks as well as Vernon’s phone audio filling up the air.

Chan was zoning out trying to keep his fatigue at bay when he heard Vernon laughing out loud. He looked over curiously as Vernon nudged his side lightly, and a phone was shoved in his face. A video was playing, and Chan soon recognized it to be a tweet of a clip from the recent Going Seventeen episode that was released. The video showed both him and Vernon acting cute, with the camera panning to Jihoon to show his reaction. It was as if he was on The Office, with his eyes looking straight at the camera donning a disgusted expression and mock-dismay. Both his face and the editing was extremely on point, Chan couldn’t help but to laugh along with Vernon. 

He tapped his arm and said without thinking, “Let’s look at the replies.”

Vernon scrolled down as he asked, and the thread was full of people calling them cute and adorable. Chan quickly skimmed through all the replies, before his eyes caught on two in particular.

“ahahaha vernon’s so cute!! he could probs replace dino as maknae and everyone would be fine w it loll”

“lmfaooo what was dino’s lousy attempt at aegyo. smh if he’s gonna be the maknae at least be cute or smth. if you’ve got no talent or good looks you’ve gotta have some kind of charm. shame he has none of them”

He had thought about it before. When they first debuted he actually had it on his mind a lot, although now he found it shameful to even think about it. But now that an outsider had pointed it out, he couldn’t help but reflect upon it again: what if Vernon was the youngest? Surely, people would like him a lot, if not more. Vernon was nothing short of talented, charismatic, and extremely handsome. Chan hated to admit it, but he thought he only had the talented and charismatic portion checked off, although now he was reluctant to even acknowledge the former. There was only so much practice he could do to not fall behind the others. 

The second comment also struck a chord that Chan had worried about a lot before. He didn’t think of himself as someone who naturally had a lot of cuteness, so of course he had thought about whether he could properly fit the mold that the K-pop industry had set for a maknae. He had long since accepted that he was different from others, and that was okay. But apparently, his insecurities had never been rid of in the first place.

Chan had read the replies much quicker than Vernon. By the time Vernon’s eyes went wide at the sight of those words and turned off his phone, Chan had already processed them and his worries were back at full speed.

Vernon immediately looked at him in alarm.

“You know you shouldn’t care about what they say, right?” Vernon went to comfort him. In an attempt to joke around and lighten the mood, he added, “You’re adorable just as you are.”

In the back of his mind, Chan knew Vernon was trying to console him, assuring him that he didn’t need to worry about what other people thought. Everyone around him wanted him to know that. But at that moment, Chan was hungry and extremely tired which was the perfect recipe for disaster.

Chan simply pouted at him, trying to convey his distaste. 

Seemingly not getting the message, Vernon continued cooing at him, “See? You’re being cute right now!”

A tiny part of Chan screamed at him to not do anything stupid. Vernon was just messing around with him, wanting to make him feel better. But the irrational side of him won out, and something in him snapped.

“So you’re saying I’m only cute when I’m upset.”

As soon as those words came out tension in the room thickened out of nowhere as if it was waiting for a sign for it to appear. Barely anything could be heard—it seemed even Mingyu stopped using his utensils as if it would help him hear the conversation better. 

Vernon had an extremely confused expression on his face, rightfully so. He sputtered out, “...what? No, I’m-”

“And you’re saying that if I want to be a good maknae for the team I have to be adorable,” the younger cut him off. Chan knew he was being extremely absurd then and there, but he couldn’t stop. 

Vernon looked like a deer caught in headlights. He didn’t know how to respond to the maknae’s sudden outburst. “Chan, you know that’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what are you saying, hyung? I know I don’t fit the ‘standard’ for a typical maknae, whatever the hell that means,” Chan went on, using air quotations with a look of mockery. “Believe me, I know that. I’m not adorable, I don’t like being constantly babied by you guys, I’m not big on fanservice or skinship either. I want to show off my skills and passion but to the public, I have nothing going for me just because I don’t have a cute face or well-built body,” he ran his hands through his hair which made it a mess and buried his face in his palms. “Fuck, I don’t know where I’m going with this,” his mumbled voice was muffled. 

There was a completed, unadulterated silence. No one said anything for a few moments. Mingyu had even turned the stove off at some moment during Chan’s rant.

After a few moments of unbearable stillness, Chan finally said quietly, “Maybe they’re right. You would make a better maknae.”

This seemed to be the last straw for Vernon, as the normally quiet member who was listening to the youngest’s abrupt speech in rapt silence suddenly looked mad.

He grabbed Chan’s hands and yanked them out of his face rather forcefully, fuming quietly. Placing his hands on Chan’s cheeks, he lifted his face to look at him. Chan averted his eyes elsewhere.

“Lee Joong Chan, don’t you dare start on that shit right now. You know that asshole is wrong, I know it, Mingyu-hyung knows it, the whole team knows it. You’re irreplaceable. I’ll say it again and again until it gets drilled into your brain and you believe it with all your heart. We all have our own roles in the group and yours happens to be being the youngest. I don’t know what spurred you on to say all that but know that none of it is true at all. You know that, don’t you? Please tell me you know that,” he lightly stroked his cheek with his thumb, his gaze softening. He could never stay mad at Chan for long.

By this point Mingyu had made his way to the living room, leaving the ramen that was long forgotten. He was listening to Vernon’s speech by the sidelines rather fervently, nodding a little too hard at some points he made.

Chan was at a loss for words. He didn’t know what to say, with Vernon looking at him dead in the eyes with such softness and Mingyu standing over him like a protective pillar. What would he respond with? Lie and say that, yes, he knew he wasn't a liability to the group? He couldn't do that to himself, or Vernon and Mingyu.

In a moment of panic, he shoved Vernon’s hands out of his face and got up abruptly. Two pairs of eyes were on him, watching his every move.

“Uh, um. Um, sorry. I’m really sorry, I can’t do this. I’m so sorry,” he said. The only words that seemed to tumble out of his mouth were clumsy apologies. He looked around awkwardly, wiping his sweaty palms on his pants. When had his hands become sweaty?

His two hyungs didn’t say anything, just waited for what he would do next. This intense attention on him caused another apology to spill out. 

“Sorry. Again. I can’t do this, Vernon-hyung. I’m really sorry.” He didn’t specify what he was apologizing for, but all three of them knew it. He made his way out of the living room, his stomach no longer empty and instead filled with dread. He knew he should never walk away from a conflict, especially if it concerned the group Seventeen. But he couldn’t have that conversation, not now. Vernon was asking him to confirm something he was no longer sure of anymore. Had it been just one month ago Chan would have replied yes with complete confidence, but now he faltered. He couldn’t lie to Vernon, he was the one hyung he found himself not being able to lie to. So for now, he opted for not telling him the truth at all. 

Vernon looked down in resignation. Although he was tempted to stop Chan and make him finish the conversation, he knew nothing would be different. He wouldn’t be satisfied with the answers if he forced them out of him. Mingyu shook his head, casting his gaze downward as well.

“...Goodnight, Chan,” Vernon said at last.

Chapter Text

For the next few days, Vernon attached himself by Chan’s side rather protectively, not letting any of the other members get too close to the maknae. At first, he was wary, as he thought Vernon would want to finish the conversation the two of them were having. Instead, the elder said nothing and Chan took it as a sign that he wouldn’t make him speak, which he was grateful for. So he let the elder follow him around for whatever reason, relieved that he wouldn't have to let him know what was really going on.

He couldn't have the other members know he was looking at the hate comments. Moreover, he couldn't bear them knowing he let the comments get to him. That would be humiliation he wasn't ready to face. He made it this far already—he wouldn't be able to even look at the others if crumbled under the words of faceless figures. (How pathetic would that be, he thought.)

There was also the fact that both Jeonghan and Soonyoung, along with a few others now, were watching him closely. With all those pairs of eyes on him, the only thing he could really do was channel all his pain and energy into dancing. Everyone else seemed to notice something was off with him (and Vernon and Mingyu), albeit why was unknown, and one day during their break in practice the unspoken question was asked.

"Dino, can I talk to you for a sec?" it was Jihoon.

Chan didn't expect Jihoon to confront him. If anything, he thought it would be Seungcheol or Jeonghan who would squeeze the truth out of him. Not that he didn't think Jihoon cared (he told himself that repeatedly in private, that all his members cared about him deeply), but rather that the elder was never much of a confrontational type. If there was a problem that needed to be solved, either the oldest three or Soonyoung would typically take action to solve it first.

"Uh, sure," Chan replied.

Jihoon moved the two of them in the corner of the room, where the rest of the group were on the other sides of the room breathing hard and playing around. Vernon and Soonyoung were the only ones who noticed the two of them moving. Vernon stayed a safe distance away from them watching closely, whereas Soonyoung stayed from afar talking to Jeonghan rather seriously glancing at them periodically.

"Did anything happen between you and Vernon?" Jihoon asked slowly.

Chan tilted his head in curiosity. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, for one, he's been tagging along by your side for days. Normally he'd hang around Seungkwan or Coups-hyung," he explained. Chan had noticed as much. He didn't expect it to go unnoticed by everyone else, although being confronted by it was just as abrupt. Jihoon went on, "But it's not just that. If that was all, I wouldn't have said anything. It's just that, yesterday I was talking to Mingyu and he was telling me something about how you and Vernon had a, uh, mix-up , in communication—for the lack of a better word, I guess.

"He wouldn't tell me any details and I don't know how bad things are seeing how you guys are still talking, but it seemed like I was the only person Mingyu told so I wanted to talk to you about it. Because, you know, if it affects the team then we'll have to resolve it as a group," Jihoon finished, seeming somewhat awkward by the end of it. 

Chan was getting progressively fidgety as Jihoon kept talking, and by the end of it he seemed as uncomfortable as the producer, if not more. How would he come up with a feasible lie that he would believe? He couldn't allow his incident with Vernon to involve the whole group. That would be too much of an inconvenience for him and the rest of them to handle. They were already busy as is, he wouldn't let his shortcomings be a hurdle for the group. He promised that to himself a long time ago.

Trying to keep his voice calm, Chan replied, "Oh, sorry about worrying you. Vernon-hyung and I had a small misunderstanding regarding the stage with the hip hop unit that’s coming up. Mingyu-hyung was with us and he must’ve been concerned because he’s never seen us two really fighting before, but I promise we resolved it quickly. But just so that we wouldn’t have any more confusion, he’s been around me a lot more so we can discuss specifics about the stage.” He explained with as level of a voice as he could muster, quickly adding the last part so that Jihoon wouldn’t question why Vernon was constantly by his side.

Inwardly Chan thought his lie was very well thought out—it was true that he was preparing a stage with the hip hop unit, it was a special pre-release song they were preparing for their next album. Mingyu wouldn’t hear about the made-up story because Chan knew Jihoon wouldn’t bother cross-checking if the explanation was satisfactory enough, and if the former had told Jihoon out of all the members he’d have thought the situation as good as resolved. 

Chan knew Vernon wouldn’t say a thing about the incident—he was tight-lipped like that. Chan, what the hell have things come to, for you to take advantage of Vernon-hyung’s ability to keep secrets like that, the maknae scolded himself. Day after day, his situation seemed to get worse with nothing to alleviate it.

True enough, although Chan was feeling too guilty to celebrate it, Jihoon fell for his lie.

“Alright, well I’m glad we got that cleared up. Sorry for cornering you like that, I just wanted to take care of things before it got out of hand. You know how things can be,” he said. 

“Yeah, of course. Sorry for worrying you again.”

Just as the group was called back to practice again, Jihoon turned and waved off his apology.

As everyone gathered in the middle of the room, Seungkwan spoke up. He must’ve noticed somewhere along the end of their conversation that they were in the corner talking quietly.

“Yo, Dino! What were you and Woozi-hyung talking about?” he asked.

Quickly, Chan thought of a response. “We were talking about how cute I was,” he deadpanned. He quickly turned to Jihoon, his eyes silently pleading him to play along. Quirking his lips up into a wide smile and batting his lashes, he asked in an overexaggerated sweet voice, “Right, hyung?” 

Jihoon seemed to get the message, as he quickly mimicked the expression of disgust. “Ugh, stop it.”

Seungkwan also caught onto the fact that Chan didn’t want to talk about the topic of discussion, and instead followed along with Jihoon’s mock revulsion. “My eyes! Who are you and what have you done with our maknae? The Dino I know isn’t cute at all! He would never say with his own mouth that he’s cute,” he exclaimed with a dramatized voice.

Chan swallowed the hurt that bubbled up in his chest and pushed on. He’s joking he’s joking he’s joking, he repeated to himself like a mantra.

He pushed up against Seungkwan’s side and yelled back, “Noooo, you love me! You love me because I’m an adorable maknae and I’m the cutest person you’ve ever known. I’m the most lovable person ever!” The two continued to play around until Seungcheol pushed the two of them apart. Chan silently thanked the leader for separating them before he was unable to keep the playful and confident facade going any longer.

Seungkwan resumed practice with a grin and laugh on the verge of spilling out.

Chan resumed practice with a mindset that if he didn’t have a proper niche to fit into, he’d hold the group back. Maybe he was already holding the group back this whole time and he didn’t realize it, he thought to himself.

The whole remainder of practice Chan refused to make eye contact with Vernon’s sad face that was laced with concern.

After practice was finished and everyone made it back to their rooms drained. 

Chan decided to just wash up quickly and go on his phone in bed looking at the comments of his recent performances. (He had explained to his members as casually as he could that he cracked his phone screen after he ran home trying to avoid the paparazzi. Joshua had tut-tutted at his actions, although he stopped after Chan went on saying they had never spotted him so he was safe. Junhui had promised to buy him a new phone, which Chan was still half-anticipating and half-sorry for.) It was starting to become a habit, with him looking at videos every day no longer to monitor his performance but rather to see the response from his fans and the public. He justified his thoughts by telling himself, I’m a performer. If the public doesn’t like how I performed, then I’m doing my job wrong. I should be pleasing the public. It doesn’t matter how I thought how well I did, although a small part of himself was unsatisfied with the clarification.

And so each day, Chan’s mood was dictated by each and every comment he saw. If he saw only compliments across the board, he would be more content and if he saw hate then he would be down—although he came across these less often. That was maybe why he was more affected by hate.

A knock on Chan’s bedroom door broke him out of his trance. Placing his phone down next to him, he supported his body on his elbow with his upper body up and saw Seungkwan peeking in. 

“Hey, Dino. Wanna go do a live together?” his hyung asked, holding a phone up and wiggling it around as if showing proof he got permission to do a live. Chan looked at his clock and saw that it was way past 12 a.m. Time had flown while he was sucked in by all the words people had uploaded about him. What was Seungkwan doing up this late? 

As if he knew what Chan was thinking, Seungkwan said, “I couldn’t sleep, so instead of just tossing and turning I decided to go live. I was gonna ask Dokyeom-hyung to do it with me, but he’s asleep. Actually, I think all the members are asleep. But I saw your bedroom light on under the door, so I decided to ask if you’ve got nothing better to do.”

Pondering, Chan racked through if there really was nothing else for him to do. Deciding he should spend some time with Seungkwan instead of being cooped up in his room chasing sleep, he agreed. The two of them made themselves comfortable in Chan’s room and started the live.

Immediately Chan let himself be lost in the feeling of being able to communicate with their fans and just spend a good time chatting with Seungkwan and Carats.

For around 10 minutes the two of them talked and laughed together, reading off the various remarks fans made and answering questions. However, the screen froze. Chan noticed first, looking intently at the screen. He saw that the comments were frozen as well, with four of them filling up the screen. He felt a stab of paralysis. 

“seungkwan ily!!”

“Omg seungkwan is so cute”

“Love you guys <333”

“#lee_chan_leave_svt”

He wouldn’t let it show. It was one person. One single person who said that. They might’ve not even been serious, there were trolls everywhere. If he let it show that he was affected by that one comment, he didn’t have the right to be in the position he was in. How pitiful would it be, to be a member of a globally popular group and let people know he was hurt by one person’s words?

From the looks of it though, Seungkwan also saw the comment. Chan saw from the corner of his eye that his hyung straightened his back, although it was a minuscule action not many would’ve noticed. He did though. That’s what mattered. 

The screen resumed to normal, with the comments also going by at full speed. Seungkwan gently placed his hand on Chan’s knee, as a gesture of comfort. They couldn’t say anything right now when the whole world was watching. Chan looked down and placed his hand on top of Seungkwan’s.

For the rest of the live, Seungkwan talked the most and led a majority of the conversations. He was trying his best to act normal, and the younger of the two appreciated him greatly for that. However, the fans seemed to have noticed Chan wasn’t speaking as much ( of course they did, they’re not stupid like you , he thought to himself) as more comments started to pour in.

“dino why aren’t you talking as much!!”

“why is dino even there? If he’s not gonna talk might as well not be there at all”

Seungkwan didn’t seem to see the last one, as he was still talking as naturally as he could. Chan curled into himself more after seeing that one and only talked in monosyllabic words for the rest of the live. Sensing his growing discomfort, Seungkwan segued into the end of the live and wrapped it up as quickly as possible without it being suspicious. Chan would have to properly thank him later, but at that moment all he thought about was going back to bed.

After the two of them said their goodbyes and closed off the app, Chan got up without a word. With his back facing Seungkwan, he said, “I’m gonna go to bed. Don’t worry about me hyung, I’ll be alright. Thanks for earlier.” With that, he went to go wash up in the restroom and waited in silence for the elder to leave. While he was straining his ears for any noise, a light and cautious knock came.

“Sweet dreams, Chan. Don’t stay up too late,” and with that, he heard the door to his room open and close.

Completely sure the coast was clear, Chan got out of the restroom and lay on his bed after turning off the lights. If he stared up at his ceiling for a full hour thinking hard before finally knocking out from extreme tiredness, Seungkwan was none the wiser.

Chapter Text

“Sorry again! My bad. Can we take it from the top?”

The group was in the practice room. Chan was practicing with the hip hop unit for the special pre-release song they were planning on releasing, with the others on the sidelines either practicing for their own stages or watching them.

Chan was making more mistakes than usual, and it was starting to show on the other members’ faces, particularly Wonwoo. No matter how hard he tried, Chan didn’t seem to be able to concentrate properly. He kept stumbling over his feet and forgetting important details of the dance routine.

The five of them started the song again, the youngest trying to focus on the rhythm as much as possible. Just as he was starting to lose himself in the performance, he tripped over his feet and was forced to jump out of formation in order to keep his balance. He had messed up once again. His irritation from earlier having built into full-on anger, Wonwoo snapped.

“Chan, why do you keep messing things up for the rest of us?”

Chan was stunned. Out of all the things that could’ve made their way out of his elder’s mouth, it was those words. He already felt sorry that he kept making mistakes, but Wonwoo pointing it out made him beyond guilty.

He looked down in shame, “I’m sorry Wonwoo-hyung-”

“Can you get your goddamn shit together? You’re slowing things down for those of us who actually wanna get things done,” Wonwoo cut him off.

Well, that was uncalled for. Chan looked up to survey the reactions of the other members, but everyone either looked as if the floor was suddenly the most interesting thing that was in the room or was just watching on as if they agreed with what Wonwoo had said. Even Soonyoung, who Chan had thought would take his side, was just staring down at him from the far end of the room and whispering in Jihoon’s ear while glaring at the maknae. It hurt him, to say the least.

“I’m really sorry, hyung. I promise I’ll do better this time. Just give me one more chance,” Chan pleaded at last.

Wonwoo just muttered unintelligibly under his breath and the five of them started the dance one more time, although there was a stiff feeling behind each of their movements. Chan was doing all he could to get the moves right, and in his tunnel-visioned flurry, he bumped into Vernon.

Fuck.

Wonwoo signaled to cut the music off, and with the only sounds filling up the silent room being the five members’ uneven breaths his tirade could be heard loud and clear.

“What the fuck are you even good for? If you can’t even get one song correct how the hell are we supposed to prepare a whole album. I get we can all make mistakes sometimes but this is going overboard. You’re making me wonder how you even made it this far,” Wonwoo rambled on with a fiery look in his eyes, uttering that last sentence quietly but it was still enough for Chan and everyone else to hear what he wanted to say.

Everyone stayed still, almost holding their breaths to listen to what the maknae would reply with but otherwise not making a move to stop Wonwoo.

Chan felt his eyes blur. “I really am sorry, Wonwoo-hyung. I don’t know what came over me either. I’m so, so sorry. Fuck, what else do you want me to say? I feel horrible too. I feel like the only thing I can say is sorry and it won’t even fix anything.” He made a strained effort to look down at the ground. It seemed the only place he was worthy of looking at.

“Then don’t say anything at all. If you know sorry won’t do anything, then what’s the point. Ugh, fuck this. I don’t wanna deal with this shit right now,” Wonwoo immediately shot back. He turned away from Chan and to the youngest’s horror, started walking towards the entrance of the practice room.

Oh shit oh shit oh shit I’m so screwed I messed up hard how do I stop this someone please help, Chan thought helplessly.

He looked around frantically at everyone in the room and they all avoided looking back at him. Not even Seungcheol made an effort to comfort Chan, or stop Wonwoo, or anything. They all looked like statues frozen in place.

“No, no, no! Wonwoo-hyung! I’m so sorry, please come back! Wonwoo-hyung!” Chan screeched out desperately in an effort to make Wonwoo stay. By this point tears were flowing freely down his cheeks with eyes bloodshot and he found himself thinking it was a look he deserved. 

“Chan? Chan!” A voice called from somewhere, and yet everywhere. It was as if the voice was enveloping his whole being. Chan looked around and was only met with the disappointed faces of his members and Wonwoo’s back getting farther away from him.

“WONWOO-HYUNG!!” Chan called out as loudly as he could as if his hyung would come back if he yelled loud enough.

“Chan!” The voice was there again. It sounded so alarmed as if Chan really was needed at that moment. It gave him a sudden empty feeling of being needed. Everything was white around him. Where had his members gone?

Chan felt himself falling. Falling, falling down an endless void. Maybe if he fell down low enough he would be able to find the urgent voice that seemed to need him so gravely. He closed his eyes, wanting to find peace. Then the hard shove came.

Chan sat up wide awake, gasping for air, gulping in copious amounts of oxygen at a time. He felt hot tears running down his face and a sharp ache in his heart. He was on the verge of hyperventilating, but he felt a warm hand on his shoulder that he was feeling pain in. Someone must’ve shoved his shoulder awake.

“Oh, thank fuck you’re awake. Chan?” The same voice from earlier called his name. It sounded so sweet and worried. 

Facing forward, Chan was met with Junhui’s concerned face. However, still in a trance from his terrifying nightmare, the boy started shaking his head frantically and grabbed onto the elder’s forearms with a death grip.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll do better. Please don’t leave me, Wonwoo-hyung already left me. You can’t leave me too,” he spat out in a rush. He wasn’t aware of exactly who he was talking to with his vision blurred from the tears.

“Woah, woah. Calm down, Chan. It’s gonna be okay. Look at me, alright? You can do this. Breathe with me. Ready?” Jun said, in a soft voice that Chan would have melted in had he not been in the middle of a panic attack.

Still not fully aware of his surroundings and the only logical part of his brain telling him to follow the figure in front of him who looked so dependable, he nodded swiftly. 

Junhui ordered Chan to breathe in and out deeply, following the exercises with him. While he got his breathing to even out he muttered sweet nothings such as, “You’re doing so well. I’m so proud of you,” and, “I’m never going to leave you. I’m right here by your side.”

When Chan was finally breathing normally and his tears had reduced to small sniffles, he was able to get a better look at the Chinese member’s face.

“Jun-hyung?” he asked incredulously.

Junhui’s eyebrows that were creased from fret flattened out and his face was instead occupied with a tiny, relieved smile.

“That’s me,” he joked.

“Wha- what? What are you-” Chan stopped himself. Looking around, he saw that he was laying down on their dorm couch and Junhui was beside him sitting on the ground leaning against the furniture. He remembered now. The group didn’t have practice until later in the afternoon, so Chan was laying down scrolling through comments until he eventually dozed off. Everyone else was left to their own devices and Chan had ended up being the only one at home. However, Junhui had now joined him and it was just the two of them.

Seeming to remember why he was there in the first place, Junhui looked down next to him and brought up a bag against his face. Grinning, he said, “I promised I would get you a new phone, didn’t I? A new model came out recently, too. So now you have the best phone out of all of us.”

Chan paused. If he wasn’t already so embarrassed that he had a panic attack in front of his hyung, he would’ve broken down then and there. Instead, his eyes watered up slightly and his face contorted into what he assumed was an expression of keeping his tears from falling. He let out a small whimper, overwhelmed with so many emotions at once. He turned over and leaned his head against Junhui’s shoulder, hiding his face from view.

Even though it was an awkward position to hold, Junhui simply let out a hearty laugh and stroked the maknae’s hair. They stayed in that position for a bit, until Junhui pulled away reluctantly.

Chan looked up at him curiously, and Junhui’s expression of adoration was quickly replaced with awkwardness. His mouth opened and closed repeatedly without a single sound coming out as if he was contemplating what to say.

“Um, so. What was that nightmare about? You were calling out for Wonwoo a lot,” he settled for at last.

“Oh. That,” Chan responded flatly. He had hoped Junhui wouldn’t ask. But of course, for the stability of the team and well-being of the group members, he would. Junhui was responsible like that. 

Instead of letting his hyung in on his insecurities, Chan said, “I, uh, had a dream about um. Wonwoo-hyung wasn’t there.” He mumbled it softly, but Junhui was able to catch it. He understood immediately and cooed at the younger. 

“Oh, Chan,” Junhui softened and held onto him. What he didn’t know was that Chan was in pain for a different reason.

The day went on with Chan setting up his new phone and Junhui who helped him until practice. The Chinese member’s friendly banter was welcomed and helped take Chan’s mind off what was really bothering him.

Everyone gathered for practice and Vernon quickly attached himself next to Chan as if he was his personal bodyguard as soon as he entered the room. Jeonghan and Seungkwan periodically looked Chan’s way and Soonyoung gave him a pat on the shoulder each time they passed one another. If Wonwoo noticed how Chan was a bit jumpy towards him, skirting around as to not offend him, he didn’t say a word. Practice went on like that until Chan made a mistake in the group dance.

It wasn’t a major misstep, but it was enough to make Soonyoung’s eyes squint and make a motion to pause the song.

“Sorry, Wonwoo-hyung!” Chan exclaimed as soon as the music stopped, a tad bit too loud and body way too stiff. Like clockwork, as if they had practiced it without him there, twelve pairs of eyes were on him. The one that weighed on him the most belonged to a very confused and slightly concerned Wonwoo, who just looked at him puzzled.

“Uh. It’s alright?” he answered, although it sounded more like a question than anything.

Everything was frozen. No one said anything nor made any movements, and Chan would’ve mistaken the current situation to be a re-enactment of his nightmare if he wasn’t so stuck in his own thoughts. It was all too similar to his dream. Any time now Wonwoo would walk out on him and he would never see his other members again.

The only one who was vaguely aware of what was going on, Jun yelled out, “Alright, let’s get moving again. It’s okay, it was just one mistake. We’ll go over it again!” and made shooing movements towards those who stood still. He pushed Wonwoo who was still staring at Chan back to his position and motioned for the music to start again.

Just like the wind, the fleeting moment went by like that. Practice went on like usual, although Chan was now actively avoiding Wonwoo and the latter was very much aware of his efforts not to talk to him.

Vernon just shuffled alongside Chan everywhere he went, and at one point during break sent a meaningful glance at the younger. It conveyed everything he and the other members were worried about. “Are you okay? What’s going on? Will you tell us, will you tell me?” it said.

Chan just looked down and shook his head in defeat.

Chapter Text

Chan was feeling overwhelmed, to be honest. With so much going on at once, he found himself wishing time would stop for him, just for even a single second. But time waited for no one and Chan trudged on. The hate comments continued piling on and unable to stop, he continued getting sucked into the irrational demands of the public and countless criticisms that tore his heart to pieces bit by bit. Even knowing that listening to the hate was pointless, he continued going to practice late at night for hours on end in hopes of receiving some kind of validation from them. Practice was no longer a means of improving himself, it was a chore he couldn't escape from.

Now all the other members were aware of the situation the youngest was in, more or less. The other members came and went, asking shallow questions about how he was or if he needed anything (while not-so-subtly hinting at his recent behavior, which he ignored). All of them went to him, but none of them stayed.

At present Chan was sat next to a stoic Vernon for a press conference concerning… what was it about again? 

"...and we've worked very hard on this album. I know we say that for every new release, but it really is true," someone laughed out. 

Oh. Right. They were here for their new album. At some point, time passed by while Chan was stuck in his own bubble ignorant to the outside world, and here he was zoning out in an important event. 

How long had it been since their last album? Chan counted in his head while the other members' voices filled his ears with a low hum. He roughly counted four, almost on the fence of five. So much had happened in that time, Chan thought, grimacing slightly. In the span of fewer than five months, he was able to find himself caught in the stupid, stupid rabbit hole of online hate comments and doubting all he had ever known about his capabilities. Somewhere along the line, he had ended up writing some of the more disturbing comments in his notes app as what he justified as “motivation”. Not only that, the other members wouldn’t be pleased to find that he had taken screenshots of some of the hate comments people sent, which had plagued his gallery like parasites. God, he was such a mess. 

He really needed to get his shit together. Chan shook his head slightly, taking his mind out of the endless spiral that is self-deprecating thoughts. There would be a time and place for that somewhere else, namely in his bedroom late at night with just him and the taunting screen of his phone when he was absolutely sure no one else was awake. He refocused on the press conference, which he bitterly reminded himself was live—nothing he did would be missed by the sharp eyes of the fans. 

Vernon seemed to have seen his small shake of the head, as he looked over in the most minute fashion with his lips formed at the small frown but otherwise said nothing. Chan never seemed to really be able to know what his hyung was thinking.

For the rest of the conference, the maknae was more or less able to stay focused on what was being said and answered any questions that were directed specifically towards him professionally. Unlike the radio appearance a few months ago, however, he didn’t miss the fleeting glances Jeonghan would send him across the long table and chairs that kept them separated. He made a pointed effort to ignore them.

He heard the moderator announce that the final three questions from reporters would be answered, and then they would start wrapping up. Chan was grateful, as he was starting to doze off slightly. 

“Alright, can we move onto the next question, please?” the host asked. The mic was passed to one of the reporters in the front row, right in Chan and Vernon’s line of sight. 

“Thank you. My question is actually directed towards Vernon specifically if that would be alright.”

Chan’s ears perked up at that. Vernon sat up slightly straighter, and said, “Of course, go ahead.”

“This might be an uncomfortable question to answer, but I would appreciate it if you could provide a thoughtful response. Could you please tell us how your experiences of being a foreigner have impacted your artistry, seeing how although you are part Korean you were born in the United States?” the reporter questioned.

If Chan wasn’t wide awake already, he sure as hell was now. He looked over to his side and saw that the person in question stiffened up considerably. Just looking over to Seungkwan,  he could tell all the other members were either as discomforted or pissed off at the question as Chan was.

After a few moments of silence, Vernon finally answered calmly, “Well, I will say that although it is true I was born in New York I connect with my Korean side more and thus I identify as Korean. To answer your question, it’s quite simple: my artistry is not affected, and nor do I think it should be just because I am not completely Korean. I believe my music is impacted by the people and things around me, and my experiences as a human being, regardless of my origins. It is true that there have been instances where my personal life has been different due to my heritage. However, there has not been a single time where I have thought the fruits of my efforts have not been as genuine as they could’ve been or were altered because of it.” 

There the reporter had it. He had the answer to the question he asked (which was extremely well-formulated, Chan thought; he couldn’t have said it better himself), along with the biggest fuck you such a nice person as Vernon could’ve sent. And Chan could’ve left it at that. Correction—he should've left it at that. But leave it up to the fatal combination of a sleep-deprived Chan and an overwhelming urge to defend his fellow member to let his emotions control him.

Chan picked up the mic, and before the moderator could move on, he included, “Also, I do believe Vernon-hyung has said multiple times to the public eye that he is uncomfortable being labeled as a foreigner. I would appreciate it if you would find more information about us before bringing up a question that may seem insensitive in the future.” He looked the reporter dead in the eyes, not even trying to contain his anger and making sure he sent his message across in case the passive-aggressive undertones of his statement didn’t already.    

The reporter looked down, and in Chan’s brief moment of victory the host moved on. While one of the other reporters asked their question, Chan felt two light taps on his knee. He let out the tiniest smile of relief, knowing it was from Vernon silently thanking him. Whatever the consequences for his potentially brash response be, the maknae was happily willing to take it if it meant he could protect his elder.

Something unpleasant wormed its way into his train of thought, however. What if what he said was too inconsiderate? Sure, he was getting back at the reporter for being ignorant, but the position that he was in was much more delicate. Anything could tip the scales of the balance he maintained on his reputation he took years to craft. 

The rest of the press conference passed by like a flash, with the rude reporter from earlier never making eye contact with Chan. Self-doubt continued to course through him quicker than ever, although he tried his best to hide it. With the group wrapping up the conference, things ended on a rather amicable note. All the other reporters were very respectful, with the moderator having handled things very professionally. If only it weren’t for that one asshole who ruined things.

After the group thanked the staff for their efforts and were making their way to their vans to go home, Jeonghan made a beeline towards Chan.

Clapping his hand on the younger’s shoulder, he said, “Good job earlier. You didn’t say anything wrong, by the way. Everything you said to that jerk was true and more.”

At that, Chan lit up. If Jeonghan-hyung said it was true, then surely he really did do well. Even if he couldn’t trust himself, he could always rely on his hyung to tell him whether he messed up or not. His thoughts instantly drifted to the comments online. The press conference was broadcasted live, reactions to that particular interaction would be up by now. 

When the boys got home, no one mentioned what Chan said. Everyone just silently agreed that Vernon handled the question well and Chan didn’t say anything wrong, and that was it. They all left it at that. Except for Chan.

Once he got time to himself, he looked right where he knew he would find the double-edged sword that is anonymous comments. He sat on his bed with his phone in hand, looking for them in anticipation For the first time in a while, Chan found himself actually looking forward to what people had to say. After all, one of his most trusted hyungs told him he did well. If that wasn’t proof enough, he didn’t know what was.

However, his expectations soon failed him. 

“jfc chan was so unprofessional when he responded to that reporter asking about vernon. i love him but when he called him out i got sm second-hand embarrassment from that”

“umm can anyone tell me why dino was the one answering the question that was DIRECTED TOWARDS VERNON? god is he an attention whore or what”

“does dino even know what it’s like to be mixed race? why the hell was he answering the question in vernon’s place? literally what was the point of jumping in like that when vernon handled it perfectly well”

He hung his head in despair. Of course, the comments would be criticizing him. Why did he ever expect praise from his careless actions?

It was true. All the comments held truth in them, one way or another. Chan should’ve realized it one way or another, that he as one person could never be right all the time. Not like the anonymous minds of the internet were. 

“fucking hell dino proves once again why i fucking hate him. he had absolutely no say in how vernon responded to the question and only acts for his personal gain. he’ll answer questions if it makes him look better or seem like a saint but the bastard won’t do shit if any negativity is directed at him. bitch should just shut the fuck up all the time and let the other members answer the questions. he’s the reason why svt can’t get any more popular”

Chan just stared blankly at that particular comment for a long time, until his neck hurt from craning it down at a 90-degree angle for so long. Reading those nonsensical words made something in him snap. He should feel hurt, he thought. But all he felt was numbness now. He absentmindedly took a screenshot of it, saving it to his gallery.

He wanted to scream, punch a wall, do something. But all he felt was tiredness. He was tired from resisting all the hateful words. He was tired of keeping everything to himself, in the name of making sure he wasn’t a liability to the group and made them worried for him. He was tired of lying to his 12 other members, the ones he knew deep down would never judge him but were also the ones he was most afraid of judgment from. 

So he thought of something. Maybe, just maybe, if he stopped resisting and conformed to what the public wanted then they would like him more. Everyone always told him people liked it when he was himself, but having seen every hate message towards him and the people surrounding him up until now he knew that wasn’t true. Not really.

So maybe if he did all he could to change himself, staying true to himself be damned, the hate comments he always saw would be filled with love instead. Maybe he would become more well-known and more loved. Maybe his members would even adore him more. He had been trying to act cute towards his members more lately after he saw online that a maknae should have aegyo, but maybe he didn’t try hard enough. That always seemed to be the problem lately. He didn’t work hard enough. He thought he did, but of course what he thought was wrong. He always was.

Nothing Chan ever did was enough. So he would try and try until the word exhausted itself of all meaning. Through it all, he would keep his mouth shut to not attract any unwanted attention. He didn’t know what he would do if any negativity was directed towards the group because of him.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Dino! Do you wanna go out to eat after we’re done with practice? It’s on me.”

“Oh, sorry Mingyu-hyung. I was actually planning on staying in for a bit longer to polish up some moves. Maybe next time though?”

 

“Chan, do you think you can go shopping with me? I’ve been needing some new clothes and I need a second opinion.”

“I can’t, Myungho-hyung. I promised the instructor that I would come in to practice some more. I’m sure you’ll still get some great finds without me, though!”

 

“Dino, wanna help me write some lyrics? Wonwoo and Mingyu are off composing their own stuff and Vernon went out to eat.”

“Sorry Coups-hyung, maybe some other time. I really need to practice the new choreography today, I’ve been lacking. But you probably wouldn’t even notice I’m not there with you! Not like I’ll contribute much anyway.”

 

Chan was absolutely, positively exhausted. Feeling like shit, he would even say. He was aware changing himself would take a lot of work, but he didn’t think it would be so challenging. He was now constantly thinking about the weight of all his actions, and which ones would positively affect the group and which ones wouldn’t. 

He also felt extremely guilty whenever he turned down his members’ offers to hang out, which he always appreciated, but he repeated to himself why he was constantly practicing in the first place during those times of doubt. He wouldn’t let himself lead to his group’s downfall; they’d already made it so far.

… 

“-not cute. He’s probably the least cute maknae in Kpop! Honestly, I don’t know why Carats always calls him a baby. If anything, he’s a big ol’ manchild,” Seungkwan guffawed aloud, partly towards the phone he was speaking to and the other part of him sparing a quick glance at the man beside him.

Chan wanted to give a verbal agreement, thinking of how constantly being referred to as a baby when he was well over 19 was disturbing at best. He quickly caught himself, however. If he wanted to fix himself, he needed to do it right. 

Preparing the most obnoxious voice he could muster, he responded, “What are you talking about? If Carats see me as their baby, then I am. You’re just jealous that you’re too old to be called one.” He cringed internally, wanting nothing more than to crawl in a hole and never see the face of the earth again. But it was his job to keep his fans happy. If it was at the expense of his comfort, he would take it. Anything to stay afloat.

Seungkwan faced Chan in mock-appall, pretending to have just taken full offense to what the younger said. He then looked back at the phone, seeing countless messages of adoration and amusement fly by. Pointing to his side at Chan, he said incredulously, “Do you hear this kid? He said I’m old! I’ll have you know, I’m only one year older than you!”
Chan smiled. This was good. Things were going well. Seungkwan seemed to have caught onto his little bit, and they argued playfully for a few more minutes. The comments also seemed positive, mostly filled with well-received responses regarding his statement about being okay with the endearment Jeonghan had stopped using for well over two years now. There wasn’t a single negative comment in sight. This was okay, Chan thought. It wasn’t so bad. Sure, he was still uncomfortable with being called a baby, but no one ever meant any harm with it. He could keep this up.

A knock on his bedroom door ripped Chan’s attention away from his phone where he was scrolling through social media. He tilted his head slightly in confusion. Since when did anyone in the group knock?

Nonetheless, he responded with, “Come in!”

A head belonging to a certain Joshua Hong came peeking in, looking slightly pensive. He stepped in, closing the door behind him shockingly gently. 

“Hey, Chan,” he said softly—much softer than usual. 

“Um, hey?” Chan said back, quizzically. 

Joshua walked up to his bed where he was sitting up and took a place on the edge. He fiddled with his fingers for a few moments, before finally settling with, “Can I use your phone?”

Chan was perplexed. First, his elder knocked on his door as if privacy was ever a thing in their dorms, then he came in looking nervous, and all that nerve-racking build-up was just to ask for his phone?

“Sure you can, but why?” 

Joshua seemed resolute on keeping his eyes cast downwards. “My phone battery is dead,” he mumbled. “I need to look something up urgently though. I promise I’ll give it back to you when I’m done.”

Strange. Why Joshua chose Chan out of all people was beyond him, Jeonghan would be more than happy to let him use his phone, but nonetheless, he agreed. What he didn’t expect, however, was for Joshua to get up and leave his room. The elder member thanked him once again, before closing the door behind him and leaving Chan in a state of confusion. He remained still before breaking out of his stupor and moving to get out of the bed.  

His phone no longer in hand and itching for something to grab onto, Chan made his way to his desk where a book he was reading lay. It was by no means an alluring book (and as an idol, Chan was aware the luxury of reading books didn't come often), but it served its purpose to pass time while he waited for Joshua to finish whatever he was doing with his phone.

Once again a gentle knock came, diverting Chan's fragile concentration away from the book. 

"Come in!" he called out.

The door opened to reveal not only Joshua but Jeonghan as well. They both had extremely solemn expressions on their faces. As the two walked in and Jeonghan closed the door behind them, Chan saw that his phone in Joshua's hand was on. With the notes app open. On the one file he would go to the depths of hell to hide from everyone, with the hate comments he saved. They had gone through his phone.

Chan stiffened impossibly, holding the pages of his book in a death grip. His eyes were cold, the previous tranquil atmosphere from reading the book shattered to bits. He got up abruptly, his chair sending an almost intolerable screeching sound that he would've winced at had his mind already not been in a full-blown panic. 

His two elders approached him akin to that of a wounded animal, and he hated that look, hated it so much—the pity, the sympathy, the unspoken why? and when? directed towards him. His book, now forgotten, fell to the floor with an unceremonious flop . That was the only sound grounding him to reality—the two figures in front of him trekked forward cautiously and without any noise. 

He faced them, his hands fisted tightly against his shirt. He looked at Joshua head-on because he knew , he tricked him, he gave him a false sense of security . It explained why he was so much gentler to him earlier than usual. Chan gave him his trust, and what did he get in return? A face full of a confrontation he was far from ready for and an iron grip on his palpitating heart just on the verge of being crushed. All the days previous running away from his members, and the only thing that made Chan finally make eye contact with one of his hyungs was his stupid little secrets being revealed. He almost laughed at the incredulity of it all. He made sure to convey all that in his glare.

Joshua responded by looking down at the ground, guilt weighing down on his shoulders.

"Chan-" Jeonghan started, reaching out to grab Chan's shoulder when they got close enough (Joshua made sure to stay a bit farther away from the youngest).

"Don't. Touch me." Chan gritted out, slapping his hyung's hand away as if it were drenched in poison.

A look of hurt flashed through Jeonghan's face, but he obeyed and mumbled out a quiet, "Okay," nonetheless.

Only silence remained in the room, not even Seungkwan's normally boisterous voice bleeding through the walls.

It was Chan who spoke first—because damn it all, if he couldn't even be in control of his privacy he would be in control of the current situation, however trivial that sliver of control he was grasping at may be—and let out the first words that he thought of. 

“You-You betrayed my trust! What the fuck, hyung? I can't believe you-" he paused, bringing his hands to clench at his hair in frustration. He let out a loud groan. It was all too painful . Those wretched comments were the last things he wanted to talk about at the moment, but he was left cornered, already battered and bruised. It was unbearably humiliating, letting two of the oldest members see him in such a state.

He continued to writhe in his internal pain, letting out sounds that turned more into cries of resignation and heartbreak near the end. Joshua and Jeonghan just stared on helplessly with worried looks possessing their faces.

Chan forced himself to continue. " Why? Did you think it was going to be funny? Is this your idea of some kind of sick joke? Because no one's laughing. I'll have you know that those comments-" he pointed at the phone held tightly in Joshua's grip, "-are real. They're all things that someone said about me online. Pathetic, isn't it?" He forced out a noise, a sort of choked sob. His throat was closing up; he could barely speak.

Jeonghan moved towards him, eyes holding so much warmth and kindness it made Chan gasp for air. “ Oh, Chan-” he started, his hand stopping just before it reached his shoulder. It twitched in hesitation, staying in the air neither touching Chan nor dropping back to his side. Ultimately, he settled for clasping his hands and twiddling his thumbs together.

“We had to,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry Chan, but we had to. You saw how you’ve been acting these past few months. You wouldn’t take your eyes off your phone, and you looked so broken all the time. So I-I asked Shua to use an excuse and get your phone. And then… we found that . Don’t blame Shua, I was the one who made him do it. If anything, I was the one who betrayed your trust.”

Chan let out a crude, humorless laugh. “Right, because your concern for me justifies invading my privacy.”

Joshua stepped forward. “It does. I’m so sorry we didn’t catch on sooner, but we just need to know. Why?

Chan felt an ugly thrum in his chest and hung his head in shame, all sorts of emotions pouring into him at once. “I’d rather not answer that. Just… Please leave.”

Jeonghan looked as if he wanted to argue, but Joshua grabbed his shoulder and shook his head minutely. "We'll always be here if you need us, okay? We'll be right here by your side."

Chan didn't respond, trying to hold back tears in front of his members. He didn't look back up until he heard the door open and close.

"Fuck," he cursed to himself, collapsing onto his chair.

A storm was approaching, fast.