“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.