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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.