For as long as he could remember music had been the most important thing in Chan’s life. And he had always been good at it, and when he wasn’t good at it the first time, he practiced and practiced until he was. His parents always went out of their way to support him, choosing to dedicate their time to helping him grow. They were both musical, spending hours teaching him how to play instruments, how to sing without hurting his throat, what makes a good song. Some of his earliest memories being him and his mom dancing in the car at stop lights to classic pop like Michael Jackson. It wasn’t that they were sitting him down trying to make him into some kind of music prodigy and forcing him to take piano lessons; they almost never started with the facts, always telling him to have fun first, only telling him when he asked, as they knew he would.
His life was go, go, go from day one, always involved in half a dozen activities. His parents taught him how to swim starting the second he could float. He remembers being no taller than his dad’s knees and going to his dad’s swim classes and watching them, impatiently waiting for the day he would be allowed to swim in the deep end. His dad eventually became his swim coach and helped push him to improve everyday, the medals upon medals and ribbons piled high on his desk a testament to his achievements. And its not that he wants to brag but they do look very nice next to his academic medals and singing competition trophies.
When Chan was 13 his mom encouraged him to audition for some Korean music company that he only vaguely knew the existence and relevance of from a handful of songs his dad played him. The company representatives are so polite and animated, telling them about the process, he would train for a few years, learn how to dance, how to rap, how to improve his singing and maybe how to write songs, all for free. The only thing he has to do is move to Korea. That night he spends hours and hours watching Kpop music videos. He falls in love. The music is different, experimental and the visuals are engaging, pulling him in. And after talking with his family, he decides he’s going to go.
Before he knows it he’s moving to Seoul, living in dorms with people he doesn’t know, going to high school and learning in a langue he’s only ever spoken with his parents. It’s not that he doesn’t understand what they’re saying but it’s hard to put his thoughts into words to explain himself when a teacher asks him a question. He misses home and the way his mom always hugs him when he gets home from school or swim practice or the library. He misses going with his dad to his Special Olympics swim class every Tuesday. He misses Berry and walking around the park across the street. He misses his siblings and teaching his little brother how to play the guitar.
It takes a few months but he grows to love his new surroundings. He makes friends with everyone in the dorm and all the trainees in his dance classes; he impresses the coaches and slowly gets his grades up in school. But most of all he finds that he loves the music he’s singing even more than he did in Australia. He downloads some free, probably virus ridden, music editing program and practices making songs that are all over the place but he doesn’t care because he loves it.
Over the next three years he grows closer and closer with the guys in his room, some ended up leaving but it’s okay with him, they weren’t meant to be in a group together. But he’s getting impatient, he’s been training for over three years already, he's one of the best dancers, most solid singers and definitely the best rapper at JYPE and there's still no debut in sight. The company is talking about debuting the older trainees and it stings that he’s not being considered. He tells himself it’s okay, he only vaguely knows the other trainees who are probably going to debut anyway, and he has Brian and Bambam with him.
Over the past 3 years he’d gotten close to them, always practicing and doing monthly evaluations with them while. He can see himself performing with them for the rest of his life and he can’t wait. They know how to cheer him up when he misses his parents, they know when tot ell him to stop practicing. They know how to tell him that the song he just showed them isn’t that good but he should still work on it without hurting him. When he has days he wants to quit and go back to Australia where his family can hug him they know they have to sit with him and let him cry. They know him, they're the best friends he’s ever had and he’s not sure anyone else will ever match up to it.
But then the news comes in that Bambam gets to debut. And Chan is so so happy for his friend, he’s worked so hard and he deserves the recognition that comes with debut. He’s earned the right to perform in front of crowds and make his own songs instead of just covering other ones. Of course Chan is upset that he won’t get as much time with one of his best friends anymore but maybe things won’t change too much.
Surprise, surprise, he was wrong. Bambam seems to barely have time to breathe let alone hang out. Chan hates how much he resents it. But it’s okay in the end because he still has Brian, they do the same things as before and it’s all okay. But after a year there's talk about Brian debuting in a band, with instruments.
And then Brian is gone too.
He watches as all the people he gets close to leave him. And it hurts more every time. He’s never been in love or dated anyone but he loves his friends with everything he has. He gives and gives and gives little pieces of himself and his heart and his friends accept them the way he wants them to so they know that he cares that he’s there for them. He’s glad they have pieces of him but that doesn’t make it any less painful to drift away from them.
He grew up with the knowledge that his family was always there for him and they had all these traditions and routines and affection. When he left the familiarity of home all those things got replaced by time and support from his friends but then they were abandoned as he himself was abandoned. And yes, he knows, that’s dramatic, but it’s the way he it feels. He knows that feelings aren’t facts but when you don’t share your thoughts or worries with other they get harder and harder to rationalize and think through until there is no challenging the worries and they become walls around him.
Of course they text, he talks to
Brian Young K almost everyday and he FaceTimes Bambam every time he gets the chance, but its not the same as going out and getting food with him at 3 am. Things change so much when his friends debut and he stays behind. They have work all the time, new songs to learn and perform for the thousands who watch them while he learns new songs for the monthly evaluations that never fail to remind him that he's in the same place as he was three years ago, the favorite trainee, always complimented by whoever ends up watching the monthly evaluations. He's worked so long and so hard only to have nothing change, he has the respect of the other trainees and the smiles the coaches send him but other than that he has nothing to show for all his work. Why did they get to debut and not him? Was he not working hard enough? Was he not good enough? Was he not charismatic enough? Was he not a good enough singer? Were the songs he was making bad? Did he not deserve the same recognition it seemed like everyone else was getting?
JYP himself talked to him the most out of all the trainees, always making an extra effort to reach out to him. Chan sometimes wondered if that was his personal attempt to keep Chan at the company. Because the thought of leaving came to him more often than he would like to admit. Sometimes the thoughts scared him, because leaving was never from a set location or situation. It was never with a goal it was just the desire to disappear. It only took small moments to make him change his mind, the idea that the other trainees would maybe miss him or his old friends would feel guilty, was all it really took to convince him to stay. On top of that he could and would never do that to his parents, not after how much they’d done for him, he couldn’t leave them even more than he already had. He wonders how he can draw any kind of line when he knows that he ignores their calls more than he answers them.
There was once talk about him debuting alone as a solo artist and Chan knows that it’s the last thing he wants. It’s hard enough to train alone and, after seeing how stressed his old friends get now, he’s not sure he could ever go through idol life alone. Even if he felt he could handle it there was the problem of his music. He’d written dozens, probably hundreds of half finished songs that he could probably post somewhere like YouTube or Soundcloud but no matter how hard he tried they never feel good enough. He knows that he's a good rapper and an even better singer but his mind can't help but tell him that the songs don’t have enough. He doesn’t think its monotone but there's no variance, its missing more character and interest that he knows other people could give it.
There’s a few times where he has trainees come in and help him, record a few lines for him, maybe give opinions on how to make it better but its not the collaboration he wishes it was. It’s him telling them what to do and robots following him like he was their programmer. On one had that was always a confidence boost that he was good at what he was trying to do, his years of training were paying off at least to some degree. But on the other hand it made him feel like one of the coaches who everyone was scared to talk to.
He was friendly with everyone but friends with only a few, well only a few who were still there. Every group he’s ever done a song or performance with for their monthly evaluations gives him false hope that maybe they’ll all work together well enough that JYP will suddenly turn around and tell them they can debut. But the trainees he gets to know keep leaving. And the rational part of him says that it’s not because of him. They’re leaving for themselves they would be stupid not to take advantage of the opportunities they’re given and even stupider to stay if they were unhappy training at JYP.
Sometimes he thinks it would be for the best if he left, went home and became a music teacher or actor in Australia. But he’s worked so hard he can't bring himself to admit that the last 5 years were a waste of his time. For as long as he could remember he was aware of how much his parents did for him, how hard they tried to spend time with him and, once they were born, his siblings. And he wants to give back to them, show them that the effort they put into raising him and the love they gave him wasn’t a waste. He wants make them proud. So he doesn’t complain. He keeps his loneliness close to him, not letting them know, pretending he's too busy practicing to talk to them for more than a few minutes when he's having a particularly bad day or week or month.
He imagines a time when he can make his parents proud and how them that his effort paid off. He imagines a time where he’s debuted, and he gets to show the world his music. He can create music with people who contribute as much as he does to the creative process; people who don’t leave him and won’t let him leave them. He imagines the fans he might one day have, he looks up demographics that listen to Kpop and tries to learn at least the basics of their langue like how to say hi or I love you or thank you as if he's going to perform there tomorrow. He even learns sign language, because bands and fans aren’t always just because of music but also about the community and the message you can find in the transcribed lyrics or visual stories he wants to one day tell.
He's constantly stalked by the fear that this isn’t what he wants to do, because should it make him happy if its what he's going to do for the rest of his life? He works out all time, he can't swim for 4 hours a day the way he used to, so other sports have to do. The productiveness of the actions convincing him he’s not wasting his time, that its okay he hasn’t debut yet. He knows that his work habits aren’t the healthiest, he was only a trainee and finishing that song that night wasn’t make or break but it never stopped him. He couldn’t sleep anyway; he might as well be productive.
He doesn’t know when his pillows stopped being comfortable and started to feel like rocks under his head. Sometimes other trainees or old friends stop by the studio when he's there but they never stay for long once they realize how serious he is about the songs he makes and that he’s not planning on leaving the room for hours. The hours and hours he spends alone are both blessings and curses. Its his safe place, he knows that he can do what he wants, it’s unlikely anyone will come in, there’s no one to see him cry or punch a wall when the song isn’t turning out right.
His dorm mates always make jokes about his hour-long showers at 3 am, wiggling their eyebrows at him and asking who he was thinking about. He’s almost grateful for their gross jokes because it means that they don’t know how those hours are spent crying and doubting himself, the feeling of loss and powerlessness sending him spiraling down a dark hole he doesn’t know how to climb out of.
But it turns out he doesn’t need to know how climb because whatever God exists has deciding that he’s been alone long enough. Over the next two years of his training he meets new people who slowly but surely pull him up (he's not sure they know how much they help) as he does the same for them. He meets amazing people who scream talent and when he first talks with them, he knows. He knows that they're special. So he does all he can to make them want to stay with him and JYP. He gives them all of the energy and time and affection he has. He teaches them, works with them, eats with them, and comforts them.
He chooses them.
It’s not until his 18th birthday, just after midnight, when Jisung walks into the studio (that Chan hasn’t left for over 20 hours) carrying half a dozen bags stuffed full of snacks and food, that Chan realizes the people he’s choosing are choosing him too. His friends who had already debuted texted him but couldn’t find the time to visit, his parents were talking about visiting a few weeks ago but couldn’t get away from work. A handful of trainees had said happy birthday when he passed them in the halls but that was it, no one asked if he wanted to celebrate and truth be told he wasn’t sure he wanted to celebrate with other trainees anyway. Except Han Jisung, the soft smiled boy who raps like no one else and is always ready to work with him.
All the trainees look up to him, he’d been there for so many years and still worked so hard that there was almost no way they couldn’t. It was the closest thing he had to acknowledgement of his skills, but it turned him into a legend, new trainees always thought he was unapproachable and intimidating. And he can’t think of anything he hated more. But that wasn’t the case with Jisung, he had never been afraid to go up to Chan and ask for help, ask about songs he was working on, he never failed to invite Chan out to eat with him. And now here the young rapper with braces was, standing in front of Chan, crying for him.
“Why are you alone? It’s your birthday, you shouldn’t be sitting alone in the dark like this.”
The words shook Chan to the core and suddenly he was crying too, “Stop crying. Why are you crying, it’s my birthday!”
“Yeah but you're crying now too!”
The memory of Jisung’s hugs from that day and the overly sweet cake that was a little smashed stay with Chan and comfort him when he doesn’t have it in himself to reach out but the loneliness is still eating away at him. He thinks that Jisung must be a lot more perceptive than he lets on because after that day they're attached at the hip. And his group expands from there, growing in number and growing together, helping each other every step of the way.
Next Chan met Changbin who was, in his own way, just as lost and alone as Chan felt. His anxiety almost a physical trait, his sadness a dark aura that held him back. But somehow, despite that all they got through it together helped each other climb out of the hole and into the light. With how good the ‘99 liner was at rap, Chan was shocked he had chosen to train at JYP. He could succeed as a solo rapper, but god damn was Chan happy he’d chosen not to.
There was Seungmin whose puppy like energy and bright voice never failed to brighten his day.
Next came Woojin, a transfer from SM, who was quiet at first. Months passed where the only things anyone knew about him was that his voice was beautiful, and emotional, easily the best of the current trainees. Closed off from making new connections, it seemed like Woojin was unwilling to let himself make friends who he believed would just leave him again. But after a while, once he realized that Chan and the others were all there to stay, he opened up and they were given the privilege to get to know him. His constant support and loyalty to the others pushing and inspiring Chan to keep up and be there for everyone even more.
Soon after he met Hyunjin, filled with potential and handsome but mostly hardworking his effort always pushing everyone around him to work just as hard. When he first started training he couldn’t do much of anything but after a few months he was rapping at the same level it took Chan two and a half years to get to. He was always on edge and ready to fight but they all knew it was an act to hide how sensitive he really was.
Then came Jeongin, who’s innocent smile and infectious laugh combined with enthusiasm and energy. He was naïve, easily hurt, and not as good an actor at hiding it as he thought he was. But with how young he was, no one expected anything else and no one minded. While he didn’t have the technique or experience to use it right his voice was unique and cut through silence in a way no one else’s did.
Most trainees were scouted but Seungmin, who he met next, got into the company through the open audition. A miracle if you asked Chan. Seungmin reminded him of Jeongin, sweet and filled with bright energy, bringing out the fun side of everyone around him. That’s not even mentioning how beautiful his voice was, it was stable, solid, gentle.
Chan had thought that Seungmin was a bit strange but Minho really took the cake. His unapologetic attitude about his quirks and offbeat behaviors, off-putting at first, become his charm. His comforting energy and technical knowledge helping all of the rest of them improve. His dancing was unparalleled, powerful and smooth, always standing out in a group.
Finally there was Felix, an amazing dancer who’s deep voice shocked him the first time he heard it. Chan saw so much of himself in Felix, he sometimes wondered if he was right to assume that Felix struggled the same way he had when he first arrived in Seoul. In the end, it wasn’t that he was wrong, but there was more to the story and it broke his heart to know that this person he now calls his brother was alone during tough times.
Brian once called him a collector, saying he wanted rare, special, investments that age like fine wine, value, talent that grows exponentially as they train. Chan’s collecting people he can imagine anyone and everyone loving the way he does. He can hear the songs they could sing and see the dances they could perform by simply looking at them. Chan can't help but think they were meant to make music together, he doesn’t really believe in destiny but if it’s a thing he has it to thank for bringing his team to him. But he’s scared to let himself get too close, so he keeps them all at an arms distance from himself while pulling them in when they need hugs, brushing them off when they as if he’s alright but ensuring that he knows the second something is wrong. He’s okay with pulling them close but won’t let them all the way in. and part of him know he should but he’s been left behind so many times to take care of himself that he's not sure he even knows how to let others help anyway.
The fear of them leaving too doesn’t stop haunting him until they're told they have a chance to debut. The promise of debut was the one thing that had kept Chan going before he’d met his members. But then he’s told that there's a chance they won’t end as a nine member group. And if Chan was being completely honest with himself, he's not sure he wants it if he can’t have them all with him. The thought of losing any of his members, his brothers, makes his heart sink to the ground.
The worst part of the situation is that he knows they're not all completely ready to debut. Felix doesn’t speak enough Korean, Chan isn’t sure if his potential and raw talent will be able to win JYP over. Jeongin is still so young and, no matter how charismatic and adorable he is, hasn’t been training long enough to impress the company producers. Minho is an amazing dancer but his singing still has so much room to grow. Hyunjin improves with leaps and bounds every day he trains and works hard until he passes out on the dance practice room floor but his raps sometimes still sound muffled.
Chan thinks that it can all be fixed by asking them all to work harder and then working even harder than that himself. He stays up for hours and hours after he sent the rest of 3racha to bed, making the smallest tweaks to songs only to change them back 4 times. There’s only so much of himself that he can give to others and there's only so many hours in a day and it’s just not fair.
When Minho gets eliminated Chan thinks the world is ending, its all his fault, he should have been there he should have done more. Yes he was busy but his members and best friends should have come first. Minho deserved more of his time and Chan’s ashamed of himself. He throws his phone against the wall that day and kicks every table and chair in the room. He tells them they have to work harder, and in turn his number of hours of sleep decrease even more, he can’t remember the last time he slept in the dorm, the couch in his studio becomes his bed. Every member takes their turn trying to get him to rest, even for a few hours to sleep in a real bed and its not until Chan snaps at Jisung that they realize it will never work , Chan has too much to do there's only 3 weeks until the final episode of their show and it all has to be perfect. He can sleep when its over.
And Felix gets eliminated too. This time Chan knows the world is ending. He should have been there for him, supported him more. And the image of Felix staying at the dorms with the other trainees, none of them speaking English to him or understanding where he’s coming from terrifies Chan. He’s been there, he’s been alone and it’s the last thing he wants for his friend. He can’t leave him behind.
So he works harder, talks with the show producers, asks that they bring his members back only to receive no answer at all. After three nights spent in the studio, avoiding the dorm, the remaining 6 members show up with food, and force him away from the computer. They tell him to rest; Jisung and Changbin can work on the song for the night. He hates to admit what little fight he had in him to argue about it. They say that its only fair he lets them help him too, they care about him just as much as he cares for them. He has no way to respond to that other than let them pull him away from the computer screen and back home to the dorm for the night.
In the end it doesn’t matter that Felix and Minho got eliminated, people voted for them to stay with them. Fans (they had fans now) saw the same things that he had seen in them, and he’s never been so grateful. He had eight brothers he knew he would have forever; they were stuck to each other. As the hug on stage with JYP watching them form the table where he’s just announced they’ll debut as nine Chan knows they're going to be successful. He can hear the songs they’ll write, he knows the messages they’ll share and the stories they’ll tell.
He thinks that, maybe, all the spent alone and all the friendship that fell apart and all the time spent practicing alone was worth it.