Bang Chan works hard.
Being the leader of Stray Kids, awardee group of about eight ROTYs now, the twenty-one year old has many roles; calm, compassionate and composed leader; brilliant, unique and stylized producer; unapologetic and poetic rapper and lyricist; sweet, smooth and honest vocal; charismatic and compelling dancer; smiley and gentlemanly dream boat-
Yeah, Bang Chan works hard. Still, with all of these things under his belt, there are a few things that Bang Chan does not do.
He does not panic. He does not settle. He does not disappoint.
Recently, he does not sleep.
Despite the running gag the boy has about his non existent sleep patterns, Chan's always found time to rest. His body has always reminded him of his limits when he pushed too hard, and most times he's listened, crawling out of his makeshift home studio and dozing off on a couch somewhere.
Recently, not anymore.
He presses the heels of hands to his eyes, patterns of yellow bursting behind his vision as his head throbs. He's sitting against the mirrors in the practice room as his members get in their positions to run their newest choreo for the eighth time that morning.
"Okay, again." he instructs, blinking back into his vision as the room blurs.
He cues the music and tries to focus on the beat bouncing off the walls as his group members come alive. He tries not to wince at the volume, fingers drilling into his knees as the track pulsates between his temples.
It's only been 29 hours. 29 hours since Chan has rested.
It's fine. He can do this. They only have one more day to prepare for the upcoming performance and Chan's feeling it. Jeongin falls behind the tempo and Chan calls him out on it. He picks up the pace and the elder manages a smile.
Chan does not settle.
The room tilts a second later and Chan falters, hands grasping at the wooden floors to stabilize himself. After a moment, the walls fall back into place, and he blinks hard.
"Keep going." he calls as he exits quickly and heads to the bathroom.
The cool water feels good as he splashes it against his skin. It's not new, this sudden anxiety spike in the middle of practice. It happens when he's stressed and tired, and he knows how to handle himself. He thinks maybe he's overheating as he grips the bathroom sink and stares himself down in the mirror. He hadn't worn much make up today, and the dark imprints under his eyes are dead giveaways of his lack of rest. He looks pale, but he tells himself he's always pale. He looks tired but he always tired. He can feel the anxiety gnawing in his chest but after a few breaths, it subsides.
He does his best to hide his shaking palms as he strides back into the practice room. Eight pairs of eyes fall on him as he does. Chan does not panic.
He clenches his fists behind his back and breathes out. "Again."
Initially, the way Chan falls apart is small. It's not in the form of anything but a nasty tone and a shift in the air.
It's backstage some live show, Chan can't even remember which one at this point. He breathes deeply, eyebrows drawn tightly together as he tries to ignore the pulsating in his temples. He can hear Jeongin, Hyunjin and Seungmin chattering way too loudly. He'd asked them to keep it down a few minutes ago, but once again, they're back to their antics, a back and forth of some sort of dinosaur imitation that's too loud.
"Relax." his makeup artist scolds him, tapping his pressed lips. He unfolds them obediently and she tsk's before continuing.
Forty-one hours. It's been forty-one freaking hours since Chan has succumbed to the silk of his pillowcase and the warmth of his bed. And it hurts. His head has been pounding since he "woke up" this morning, a throbbing between his temples that won't go away. It's been months since he's had a migraine like this. Hyunjin shrieks and Chan winces, tilting his head sharply at the noise. The air feels thinner.
"Ah! Bang Chan." the makeup artist huffs and he gives her an irritable smile.
"Sorry, Noona it's-"
"And how about Channie-Hyung?" And then Seungmin is shoving a camera into Chan's space, the space that was already closing in, and he grits his teeth.
"What do you think about our comeback?" Seungmin waggles his eyebrows and Chan tries to smile.
"Not now, Minnie." Painkillers. He needs painkillers.
He gets up and heads towards his bag.
"Gaaaahhh! Jeongin squeals, a strange and wailing noise, right in Chan's ear and he jumps, feels like his brain has slammed against his skull. Hyunjin and Felix laugh at his reaction and it's not as musical and affection-drawing as Chan remembers.
He just needs painkillers. He finds the bottle and uncaps it desperately. Okay, two-
And then Seungmin's knocking into Chan, bottle clattering to the floor as his camera appears again and Chan just told him about that- "Bang Channie Hyung! Leader Bang Chan! Here he is-"
"Seungmin, I've already asked you and the others to keep your childish game down and to stop shoving your little camera in my face because some of us are actually trying to do our goddamn jobs and-"
"Yah, Bang Chan!" Woojin's voice cuts clearly through the rapper's thoughts, or lack thereof.
Chan trails off, taking a breath and looking around.
The room has gone silent. Seungmin's smile has been wiped off his face as he lowers the camera. The rest of the 2000s line, along with Jeongin are sporting dropped jaws and wide eyes, staring at the leader. Minho is no longer resting, eyes full of concern. Changbin has paused mid-bite into his apple. Woojin's eyes look like they barely recognize the leader.
Chan backtracks immediately, reaching for the younger. "Wait, Seungmin-ah-"
Seungmin stumbles back a little, switching off his device as his gaze clouds over. "Sorry, hyung. I didn't mean to..."
Seungmin's voice is so tiny and Chan's heart rate speeds up. No, no, no- He didn't mean it! He didn't mean to get mad he just-
"Seungmin, it's okay. I shouldn't have-"
"Yeah..I'm gonna..charge this." The younger waves him off with a pained smile before abruptly turning and leaving the room; Chan stares after him.
Slowly, noise files into the atmosphere again. Chan can hear the What just happened? and the Is Chan okay? floating around him, and his breathing stutters. The boys avoid his gaze as they resume their activities, Jeongin and Hyunjin going after the other boy, and the other's scattering.
Chan tries to say something, to explain himself, but he can't. He didn't mean it, he just couldn't breathe and Seungmin was in the wrong place and he wants to take it back, wants to take it all back so badly-
He looks at Woojin pleadingly, but his peer just stares back puzzled eyes drifting to Chan's hands, before their manager is calling him away.
His hands are shaking. The room tilts.
"Yah, are you listening?" His manager's voice cuts through Chan's thoughts.
He looks up, away from where he had been picking at the bruise on his ankle. It burns a little; Chan tries to pinpoint every minuscule pore that is burning. It was healing up, but there's a part of the young idol that doesn't want it to stop hurting. He doesn't understand it; he doesn't try to.
He'd gotten the bruise stupidly, grazing it on the edge of a tile in the studio bathroom. Small enough to heal quickly, but large enough to be sensitive and distracting. Chan tries to pay attention to the schedule his manager is rattling off, but as he listens to the dates piling up, his mind travels back to Seungmin's fallen face, guilt washing over him in waves. His hand reaches for his ankle again, probing it. It burns, and he breathes through it.
"You got all that, Chan-ah?" His manager raises an eyebrow.
Chan exhales. "Got it."
Chan does not panic.
He goes to the studio. Their manager had suggested they perform a new song for an upcoming show, which usually wouldn't be a problem if Chan was in a good place, mentally.
It's unfortunate, then, that he currently is not.
He can't stop thinking about how he must've hurt Seungmin. He can't stop the pounding in his head. He stares at the monitors in front of him for hours on end, feels the stirring of uncertainty in his stomach. But it's fine.
Chan does not disappoint.
He can do this.
He couldn't do it. Three days he spent, staring at his blinking monitor in the darkness, killing countless trees as papers upon papers were crumpled, smoothed and then crumbled again, all baring the same crossed out lyrics and inefficient ideas. He knows it's because he hasn't been sleeping. And it's not like he hasn't been trying. He'd pressed his spine into his mattress and plugged in the softest tracks his playlist had to offer, but all he could think about was the deadlines, and his members depending on him, and he and Seungmin have made up but he's definitely holding some kind of grudge, and the fact that his concealer is running out and the bags under his eyes make him look so sick and ugly, and so now, he thinks, just as the anti-fans preach, he's ugly and-
He did produce something; he came up with a less than mediocre track that not even he likes listening to, all synth and noise and a chord progression that doesn't sit well with anyone, and the manager had pat him on the back and suggested they use one of their old songs for the show instead. Because after more than enough time, after all the effort he put in, Chan couldn't get his insomnia under wraps and do his job.
Because even after seven years, Chan's still not good enough.
At one point, alone in the studio at a relatively early hour to cry, Chan cries. It's not his normal kind of cry; it's silent tears and a lip bitten so hard the skin breaks. A head tipped back against the studio chair and a shuddering exhale. A pressure in his chest and an emptiness everywhere else. He's so tired.
He's so, so tired.
Back at the dorms, Chan opens the door, fighting the burning behind his eyes. Woojin's sitting cross legged in the middle of his white sheets, cotton grey shirt falling off one shoulder and eyes blinking sleepily. When he sees Chan, his face scrunches up and despite being a little tense, Woojin looks pretty and calm and Chan wants to cry because he himself is everything but.
"I thought you were working late tonight."
Stupid, stupid, you mess everything up and everyone hates you, you're weak. Can't get anything done piece of-
Chan swallows. "I was."
"I was..I was going to wait up for you that's..that's why I'm here. Changbin fell asleep watching some anime with Felix." Woojin explains softly. "I was a little worried..after um, today; but I can- I mean, you look tired so.." and now Woojin's sliding off the sheets and no,no,no-
Before Chan can come up with a reasonable explanation for his behaviour, he's stalking over to the singer, pushing him back down into the white. Woojin's eyes are wide as Chan crawls in next to him, gripping the other with fever.
"Ch-Chan?" Woojin chokes out as Chan curls around him, hugging the singer's head to his chest, skin cool against Woojin's warmth.
Chan's demons are echoing in his's mind, a sick symphony of disappointment and things going wrong and not good enough and-
Chan pulls him closer into his chest, eyes screwed shut and breathing labored as he tries to block it out. He presses his nose to Woojin's scalp, inhales his scent. Woojin's here, it's okay.
But it's not.
"Channie, are you okay? Did something um, happen at the studio?" Woojin's voice is timid, and from his place on Chan's chest, it feels likes he's speaking right against Chan's heart. Woojin can hear the rapper's worrying heart rate, and a hesitant arm slips its way to Chan's hips, fingers light against Chan's white tee.
Everyone is depending on you, you dipshit. Why can't you just-
Chan thinks he is crying now, can feel the tickling of warm tears on his cheeks. He only breathes Woojin in deeper.
"No Woojin-ah," Chan breathes out, voice wavering. "Nothing happened just-..is this okay?"
Chan knows Woojin must be confused, peeking through the window Chan's bent arm has created from the way it's thrown across Woojin's shoulders and threading through his hair. He knows , but he can't explain because it's so stupid. And Woojin's warm and here and he just needs this right now.
"O-Oh." Woojin manages after a while of the two just breathing against each other, Chan stifling sniffles in Woojin's hair. "Yeah, it's okay. Are um..are you?"
"Hmm?" Chan hums, trying desperately to focus on Woojin's even breathing against his skin, rather than the screaming fans and the looming deadlines. As the thought slips back to the front of his mind, the leader cringes spasmodically, gripping Woojin tightly and swallowing a whimper. The other grunts, fingers tightening on Chan's skin as he searches for a more bearable position.
"Are you okay, Channie?" Woojin repeats, warm hand curling more comfortably around Chan's thin waist, and it's the most comforting thing Chan's ever felt.
"Yeah, this.." Woojin feels a shuddering intake of breath against his scalp. "This is okay now, Jinnie." Chan replies brokenly.
Woojin knows better than to remind him that that wasn't his question.
The second time, Chan crawls into Woojin's bed, and it's right as the other is falling asleep. Somewhere in Woojin's last bit of coherence, he feels the bed dip near his thigh, hears a sniffle in the darkness.
"It's me. Move over, please."
Chan's voice is gravel in the peaceful quiet of the night, raspy and strained, with rough, short breaths punctuating each word. Ice cold toes brush against Woojin's calves under thin sheets, but he doesn't flinch, taken aback by the sudden presence of his leader in his bed at..is it 3am?
"Please." And Chan's voice is so forced, like it's hard for him to even form words right now; Woojin can hear the little heavy puffs of air coming from his broken breathing. The rapper pushes into Woojin's chest, just as he did two days before, fingers curling into the material of his shirt. Woojin's heartbeat speeds up when he wraps an arm around Chan's shoulders, feels them shuddering in his hold, hears the familiar shaking intake of breath, feels the tightening of fists on his chest.
Chan is crying.
Woojin's hesitant this time too, slowly reaching to rub circles on the other's back, but that only makes Chan cry harder; gasping and stifling sobs inside of his trembling frame.
"Y-You're crying." Woojin breathes and Chan just barely nods, hair scraping the singer's throat as he tries desperately to engulf himself in the warmth of Woojin's chest.
"You're crying again, Channie."
"Please." Chan says after some time, breathing relatively steady, and Woojin doesn't say anything after that.
After two more of these strange and worrying sessions, Woojin approaches the subject with Chan one evening, when they're alone in the dorms. Chan is in his makeshift home studio when Woojin finds him, slow blinking eyes and day three hair sitting slumped in his swivel chair.
The singer raises his hands, presenting two cups of warm coffee, and his closed eye smile. "I come bearing gifts."
"It's not really a gift if I'm the one who brewed it." Chan mumbles, but reaches out both hands to receive it, placing it next to his finished mug.
Woojin closes the door behind him and leans against the panel. There are two other seats, besides Chan's chair but both are covered in clothes and old notebooks; Chan doesn't move to clear any room and Woojin doesn't ask him to. They haven't spoken about the situation at all, so Chan must know what's coming, and there's a fog of tension settling over the room.
After a beat of quiet sipping, Woojin clears his throat. "How are you?"
Chan pauses. His eyes are locked on the rim of his cup. "I'm fine."
Woojin hums, glances up at the ceiling. Softly, gently, he speaks. "These past few weeks...have been hard."
The other boy can't find it in him to look at his friend, and settles for staring at the digital numbers at the right hand corner of his computer screen.
"Have you spoken to anyone...about what's been happening?" The air shifts as Woojin speaks, and the digits change on the screen.
"It won't happen again." Chan says quietly, like if Woojin can't hear him then the situation doesn't exist.
Woojin snaps his gaze back down to the rapper. "You didn't really answer the question."
Now it's Chan's turn of silence. He puts his mug down, fingers pressed against the ceramic.
"Channie it's okay, you can come to me, always. But this isn't like you. You've had trouble sleeping before but..it seems like whatever this is is getting really bad-"
"It's not." Chan's voice is sharp and so uncharacteristic of the smiley leader as it sears through the room. "It won't happen again."
Chan knew it was coming. He had been hoping to rest on the six hour flight into Korea, since he'd forsaken his sleep in order to make the most out of their stage days, but no such luck. He'd been wide awake for the full extent, had watched as Jeongin had taken selfies with a snoring Seungmin, had seen Felix steal one of Changbin's earphones before nestling into the older's side. He'd seen each of the eight times Jisung requested orange juice, and the one time Woojin had spilled it. He'd been a witness to the flight attendants gushing over Hyunjin and Minho too. So yeah, not one ounce of rest. After an over-packed schedule they'd promised they could handle, Chan was slouched over in his seat, head throbbing and eyes burning, learning very quickly that he could not handle.
Every time he closes his eyes, he sees the tour dates and the deadlines and the schedules meshing into an all consuming sheet of numbers upon numbers, and it would've been okay if he could've rested but Chan hasn't properly rested in weeks and they're already here which means he lost another opportunity because now they have to head directly to the studio-
From the moment their plane had descended, the way the seat belt light he'd been focusing on started fading in and out of vision; something was wrong. He stands, and his limbs feel like they're melting. He puts a knee back on the seat to steady himself, gripping onto the seat head.
"Somebody's still sleeping." Changbin jokes, eyes twinkling.
Chan huffs. If only that were the case.
His hands feel clammy and his head is pounding as they make their way through the air bridge to the airport.
And then the screaming starts.
Hyunjin feels it when they're quarter way through the lines of posters, tears, and overwhelming admiration, feels the soft tug on the underside of his sleeve, turns to see Chan's pale fingers digging into his shirt. Thinking he bumped into his hyung, the younger tries to slide away apologetically, but the tightening of Chan's hand stops him.
"H-Hyunjin." Chan's chin is tilted down, hair falling to shade his eyes; Hyunjin can't see his face.
However, Hyunjin can see the taut form of the elder's jaw, the sweat inching down his neck and the clenching of the fist that isn't balled up in Hyunjin's jacket. The dancer looks around confused, but it's hard to observe anything with the way the fans are screaming and the body guards are roughly ushering them along. Minho is behind Chan, smile permanent as he waves to the adoring STAYs; he doesn't seem to notice Chan's state.
Hyunjin slows his pace, much to the dismay of his body guard, and leans down subtly. "Hyung?"
"Hyunjin." Chan sounds small, voice squeezing out of his clenched teeth.
Chan trips over his feet a little, steadies himself in the expanse of Hyunjin's back. Hyunjin watches as Chan raises his head to his younger, eyes somehow wild and dazed at the same time, jaw locked shut. An overzealous fan jerks forward over the line and Chan inhales sharply, slamming into the dancer with a shuddering frame, staggering forward.
Hyunjin can just barely hear the short breaths the elder is forcing out, and the younger realizes startlingly that Bang Chan is scared.
When Chan looks at him again, his lips are quivering and his eyes are dark and darting, pleading for something Hyunjin isn't sure he possesses.Unsure, the dancer slides the elder's hand down his arm and enclasps it in his own, squeezing till Chan can't shake anymore as they power forward through the legion of screams and signs.
When they finally arrive at the private lounge area, Woojin, Seungmin and Jeongin plop down into the red leather seats, exhaling. Jisung, Minho and Changbin head to the buffet, but Hyunjin is stuck in place by the death grip Chan still has on his hand.
"Bathroom." Chan manages to choke out before turning and stumbling into the restroom.
"Oh, actually, I need to go too-"
"No you don't." Hyunjin pushes Felix back into his seat and hurries in after the elder.
Hyunjin closes the door behind him, turns and takes in the scene before him. Chan is bent over one of the sinks, knuckles white from gripping the counter so hard. He's hunched, hair falling limply in his eyes as he takes deep, shuddering breaths. The younger stands awkwardly at the door for a moment, stomach twisting with anxiety at the sight.
"Hyung, what's happening?"
"I'm..I-I'm fine." Chan promises brokenly, but Hyunjin can hear the sob edging in his tone.
"Hyung, you're scared. You're like...shaking."
Chan lets out a hollow laugh, swiping at the sweat on his brow. "I-I can't feel my hands."
The leader turns to Hyunjin, eyes wide and darting. "I-I really can't feel them, Jinnie I-I'm-"
And now his breathing has picked up and Hyunjin steps forward, reaching for Chan and tugging him a little.
Chan jerks back, staggering away to rest against the tiled walls, chest heaving. "I'm..okay. I just..I just n-need a second."
Stop being dumb, stop bothering everyone, you don't have time for this you waste of oxygen-
Hyunjin looks around, trying not to panic. "Hyung, I don't know what's going on but you're scaring me, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do but I can't just leave you here."
"No, don't." and then Chan's hands are clutching at Hyunjin again, eyes wide and wild and pleading. "Don't l-leave me here."
A second passes, Chan's eyes searching Hyunjin's, and then when he's sure the younger won't leave, he slumps against the cool walls.
"I can't- my hands." He whimpers to himself, and Hyunjin wants to cry.
Hesitantly, the younger reaches out and encases Chan's hands in his. He ducks down to catch Chan's gaze as the older opens his eyes. When he does, the main dancer hums and directs both their attention to their hands.
"I-It's okay. I can feel them for both of us, hyung." Hyunjin grins warily, and Chan's lips part as he struggles to find an even breathing pattern. Hyunjin's hands are warm, and Chan can at least feel that.
Chan's quiet for too long, staring at the thumb running along his knuckles, and Hyunjin's lashes brushing his cheeks as he blinks, and the way his lips are pressed together, the way he's trying to keep himself together for Chan's sake.
Shame starts to flood into Chan's mind. What the hell is wrong with him? And he's the leader? He's supposed to be in control of the next biggest Korean BG of the decade? He can't even control his breathing-
The younger forces a laugh before loosening his grip. "Sorry, that was lame- oh. Hyung.."
And Hyunjin runs a finger down Chan's palm before smiling up at him in relief. "You're not shaking anymore. And you're breathing."
Chan doesn't know how to tell Hyunjin that these days, he wishes he wasn't.