"Yah, Jeno-ya, your voice has improved so much! It sounds even as heavenly as Haechan's", the words matched the bright smile and the loud voice of the producer that sat with the others on the outside of the recording booth. He meant it, and Jeno answered with an eye-smile. "Thank you, hyung", he giggled when he came back to the main room and bowed.
Donghyuck also smiled and nodded, somewhere satisfied that he was counting as a scale for their hard work and talent. But on the other side, it was the nineteenth time, that someone compared Jeno to him. The nineteenth time he's counted so far.
It was last week when he actually noticed that literally everyone praised and even prefered Jeno more frequently. That was absolutely okay with him; Jeno is a hard-working and busy person and also very interessted in other people's welfare, again: nothing to be mad about.
But the breaking point for Donghyuck was this: Whatever the fuck it was, whatever happened, whatever they did, no matter if as a group or separately, he was compared to Jeno a lot lately.
Everyone liked and treated Jeno better, no matter if he himself was there or not.
Mark suddenly liked everyone else better than Donghyuck anway; Sicheng, Taeil, Jeno never seemed to bother him, even Sicheng was squeezing his cheeks, even when Taeil back-hugged him for eleven minutes straight (don't you dare to ask how Donghyuck came up with exactly eleven minutes), or when Jeno just came by and sat down on Mark's lap as if he owned him.
That would be alright with Donghyuck, they were a group of eighteen, soon twenty-one, members, they were all friends, they're close, they're family, but lately some of these friends seemed to have an issue with Donghyuck.
Last week, when he and Jeno helped Kun with the cooking and cut vegtables, Kun suddenly shooed him away and told him to let Jeno do the rest - the cuts were more precisely and even.
On the weekend they've cleaned the dorms since they had the afternoon free from schedules, but Jeno was faster and more thoroughly at the task; Donghyuck needed to stop himself from rolling his eyes.
Then, yesterday, Donghyuck only entered the living area where Mark and Johnny were sat on the couch, both minding their own businesses. "Does any of you want to do anything? I don't know, like watch a movie or something?", none of them bothered to even looked at him, only shook their heads no. "Not really", Mark still looked at his phone. "I'm too tired", Johnny said at the same time and leaned down to half-lie on the furniture - it didn't seem comfortable but if that's what he wanted...
Donghyuck turned, a little frustrated with himself and the others. It was a boring day and his boring members were rather bored than to do anything with him. But then Jeno came in, looking a little confused. "Hey, did I leave my hoodie here somewhere? Can't find it anywhere at the other dorm and was wonderi-", he asked and turned around to look at every corner in sight. "No, I didn't see it, but I also didn't look for it", Mark suddenly beamed (Donghyuck was very surprised at that, which bee poked him in the back?) as if he got an energy boost and tried to take a look everywhere he could, even under the couch. "No, but are you cold? Do you want mine?", Johnny stood up and walked towards Jeno to rub on his bare arms.
"No", Donghyuck responded through gritted teeth without taking another glance before he turned to leave. "Hey!", Johnny exclaimed sourly, "He just asked for his hoodie", he didn't get the sudden change in mood of the youngest and put one arm around Jeno protectively to pull him on the couch and chat.
It's been two fucking weeks since Donghyuck decided to just withdraw himself a little, let Jeno do what he wanted (as if he had a chance to stop him at anything, hierarchy referred to age, you know?) and didn't comment on the elders' reactions. But he found himself to look away when the cheering grew louder, to find something more interessting than whatever super-dooper exciting nonesense Jeno fulfilled that made everyone so undeniably happy.
As another week of loose schedules and even two days off in a row came by, Donghyuck was more at peace again. No one bothered him, no one annoyed him with stupid small talk - oh and, of course, no one cared about his attitude anymore since Jeno was the centre of attention with every breath he took.
"Let's bake some cookies for the others. It's super easy", Jeno smiled and caught everyone (except for Donghyuck) in his weird ass ban; how ever it worked, it failed to affect Donghyuck.
To be honest, it was fun to spend most of the time with Chenle and Jisung, Jaemin and Renjun were whipped for Jeno anyway, and when Donghyuck managed to give Mark no reason to bicker again, he could really enjoy his time with the others. (It's been way too long since this last happened. Donghyuck couldn't even remember the last time he was that content with so many members around him. Content as in having fun with them, not watching them being amazed by Jeno.)
When they were almost finished, Jeno called the older members in to take their seats, Jaemin brought tea and coffee for everyone and Jeno came back out of the kitchen with two trays full with chocolate chip cookies. "Oh wow, these look so pretty", Ten called out and pointed at the tray that was set on the other side of the table and reached out for them instead of taking one of those that were right in front of him.
"We split in two teams and made a challenge of whose cookies will taste better", Chenle laughed. "That doesn't make sense, the dough was the same", Donghyuck grinned at the Chinese and slightly pushed his shoulder. "Well, you eat with your eyes", Renjun said and smirked.
"Who were the teams?", Taeyong asked and waited for all the others to take a cookie first. "Mark hyungie, Renjun hyungie, Jeno hyungie and Jaeminnie and Haechannie and Chenle and me", Jisung announced and pointed with his fingers at each one. Oh man, Johnny thought, he could already smell Donghyuck was up to start a fight with his newly gained competitiveness against Jeno.
"I still don't think these taste a lot diffrent from those", Donghyuck muttered as he pointed at both almost empty plates, "Only if they weren't in the oven long enough", he added with a little pout, rather speaking to himself. "You'd serve us raw cookie dough?", Yuta exclaimed with a half-smile to try to pull Donghyuck's leg. "Wha- N-no! Hyung, that's not what I meant!", he immediately reacted almost scared by Yuta's question.
"Hannie, I was joking", he said and giggled while taking another bite. "Hey, let's bring more cookies, there still some left", Jisung asked addressing Donghyuck, together they went back to the kitchen to collect some more cookies. Again Donghyuck eyed his failed attempt of writing N-C-T with the dough - it melted while baking and none of the letters were recognizable.
From the other room they heard the ongoing conversation. "So which cookies were from which team?", Taeil asked. "They were from team JJRM", Jaemin announced their inofficial team name and made all of them laugh, "and they were from the maknaes plus Haechan", he added - no reaction, no body said something.
"No wonder they were so salty", someone muttered, Donghyuck couldn't identify the voice, it was spoked too low but he could still comprehend the words and frowned. "It was Jisung who prepared the ingredients and Haechannie told us what to do", Chenle shrieked and everyone laughed again.
Taeyong gasped amused and held one hand over his chest to calm himself down. "That was a joke, Lele, they don't really taste salty", he explained when Donghyuck and Jisung came back with another two plates of cookies. "Look, they became perfectly round!", Jaemin shouted and shook one of Jeno's arms. "What happened to these?", Doyoung asked and frowned at the look of the other plate. "Donghyuck wanted to make NCT cookies but the dough melted", Mark explained with a look on his face that suggest he pitied him for the poor attempt. "Well, it was worth a try, cookies are still cookies", Donghyuck felt the need to defend himself with the tendency risen over the last two weeks.
"I told you it wouldn't work", Jeno beamed at him but still watched the older members' reactions. "I know, I was there", he snapped without a smile, maybe a little to harsh. "Hey, no need to be rude", it felt like a deja-vu when Johnny scolded him; even from his sitting position he was low-key intimidating. "It's okay Haechan, Jeno is maybe just better at cooking. That's no reason to be huffy", Taeyong added and pulled Jeno to his side to put one arm aorund his waist. Donghyuck's face fell and his good mood from before was completely gone, another pout crawled onto his features and his eyes were glued to the floor. The next time he looked up from were he stood behind Sicheng and Jungwoo, Doyoung sat across from his and gave him a smile - to actually comfort him, Doyoung might seem mean at times (which he also was to be honest) but he also cared for the Dream members more than for the others; in his mind they were still children - but Donghyuck couldn't help but think he was being snooty and mocking him in his mind.
He totally forgot why he felt sad sometimes; rethinking that he could maybe ask Taeyong or maybe even Lucas to listen to his concerns and feelings towards the whole group rather than sulking all by himself and blaming the others for not caring about him. Right now he would give everything to get out of this situation and away from the mocking eyes and fake smiles.
From his point of view, exactly no one seemed to notice any change in his behaviour, no one got it when Donghyuck retreated from the group and excluded himself from events and activities and, as he liked to call it, went more solo. He would even describe himself as beyond pissed at how everyone always fucking cheered for Jeno at whatever fucking thing he did.
It has been another four days that went in symbolic silence (of course it wasn't quiet in the dorm nor between the people themselves, but the communication... well, it sucked). Kun and Taeyong had decided to cook for everyone to eat together after they've recieved the news of a possible new sub-unit with even new members. To honor the day (or to annoy the hell out of Donghyuck) they decided on Jjamppong - Jeno's favorite dish as the main menu. They've bought all vegetable and even got fresh calamari, mussels and pork.
Jaemin also was allowed to help them since Taeyong as well as Kun knew about his talent. Therefore, Jeno was also coming back every five minutes to see what they were doing, Donghyuck could watch it all from the couch but only rolled his eyes; he wondered how he hadn't managed to give himself a headache or nose bleed from the many repetitions.
What was even worse was that he could hear everything, all the praises Jeno received as if that's the reason they were cooking his favorite meal - as if it wasn't for the new members and their growing family and more music. A good hour and a half of preparations and cooking the meal and side dishes were done and ready to be served so Donghyuck already set the table with plates, chopsticks and spoons, then he went to call for the members that weren't there yet.
Johnny, Jaehyun, Doyoung, Yuta and Ten came together out of Jaehyun and Donghyuck's shared room, Jisung and Chenle also were together and said they'd get Mark and Lucas so Donghyuck nodded and went to wash his hands before having dinner. More likely to have a few minutes in peace so he could mentally prepare for the next hour or two with all eighteen members of which sixteen where about to totally focus on Jeno as per usual.
With a last sigh and fighting into the mirror he left his last safety spot and came to join the group. Almost all seats were taken, some where still free but obviously taken. It was just that moment when Donghyuck learned the real meaning of the term 'internal screaming'; he was seated next to Jeno with Johnny to the other side, he could cry and even felt his appetite bidding its goodbye.
Well, that actually wasn't the case until Doyoung kept saying how sweet and funny Jeno has been lately and how he felt really positivly influenced by him. Donghyuck wanted to mimic a gag but since Johnny is obviously on Jeno's side in their unspoken conflict he'd know better than to do it. Jeno couldn't help but smile and giggle at the attack of compliments and waved it aside. "Ah, hyung, that's just because of the season. Summer has an energizing impact of people, more sunlight and warmth. It makes people more alive and happy", he tried to explain and everyone laughed or cooed at his attempt to hide his blush.
"Actually, it's my work then. As FullSun I do my very best to brighten everyone up", Haechan tried to make a pun and include himself in the conversation without sounding mad or salty or dragging the mood. Unfortunately his words had a very contrary effect and everyone went silent.
He felt his whole body heat up and his head was a little dizzy as he was to sit across from Doyoung and meet his questioning and undoubtly awkward facial expression. When he looked around he noticed everyone looking at their plate or out of the window, just not to look at him. Johnny had his eyebrows risen and jaw tensed as if he had to hold back an answer; not even Taeyong tried to help him, only Jeno broke the silence - much too late to save them from the tension that lay thickly in the air - and giggled. "Yeah, you're right. If you weren't there to energize all of us we wouldn't know where we were", he smiled at him and patted his shoulder but it only make Donghyuck feel as if Jeno was mocking him and it made his words sound awfully sarcastic afterwards.
Even Jisung as the youngest could detect the need of a change of topic and started again with telling Taeyong how good the soup tasted even if he didn't like spicy food too much. "Hm, hyung, didn't you design the choreography for Whiplash?", he asked then with no obvious conncetion. Taeyong looked at him wide-eyed; why would his 17-year-old maknae address that now that they're eating? "Yeah, I did. How come you ask?", he responded after he almost choked to swallow the bit of mussel and pork in his mouth.
"Mark-hyung taught Ten-hyung and Jeno and me some moves of it last week after practise and yesterday we practised the whole thing", the blond-haired explained and smiled happily at the leader who seemed somewhat proud that his members gave private dance lessons to each other. "Yeah, was it fun?", he then asked to bring another conversation to roll. According to Jisung at least three other members could join and if they did it might wash away the uncomfortable thought of Donghyuck's failed joke.
"Yes, it was really funny and it's more difficult than I thought. Even Ten-hyung struggled", Jisung grinned at the Thai at the last part who looked fake-offended tried to agrue. "No, what? What are you saying? I'm the best dancer in this group and I will not let my title be taken by a brat like yo-", he scolded but couldn't contain his own laughters as a bigger part of the group giggled or chuckled at his acting, Jeno was no exception, of course.
Donghyuck would also laugh at the funny scene but something in chest hurt and his tummy twisted. He didn't participate in the choreography of Whiplash since it was barely performed, but when he had asked Mark about it, he always had told him it wasn't that much fun and wasn't that exciting so they've never done it together. But now when he heard how Jisung talked about how happy he was and of course how good Jeno was at learning he grew really disappointed and actually sad. Now he felt like crying.
But rather than that he kept quiet. He just ate his bowl of Jjamppong and listened to what the other had so say (or at least he tried to look like that; his mind raced at how many times he had approached the older one but was turned down everytime, he just hoped he could keep it together as long as he had to sit there). "-nd didn't stop until it looked just like your style", Mark was telling something and Donghyuck could tell it was about Jeno, when was it not anymore?
"Yeah right, we all were sitting down and drank some water but Jeno just kept going", Ten agreed on what ever Jeno was so good at doing this time. Donghyuck wanted sigh loudly but still remained silent. Maybe he should just stop defending himself and accept that he might not be everyone's favorite. Not that it's not okay to be not the first for everyone and everything, the comparision hurt more anyway and the ongoing and neverstopping talking about Jeno.
He rolled his eyes unconsciously and of course didn't notice that Doyoung and Yuta had seen it and understood it - more or less - in a wrong context as the conversaton hadn't changed the topic. "Hey, Channie, cheer up little. I'm sure you're good at it, too", Yuta chirped - weirdly to be honest. He also didn't participate in the performance but how could he forget that it was only Taeyong, Jaehyun and Mark who did it? "No, I'm not hyung. I don't even know the choreo because no one ever taught me", he answered flatly without sounding angry or pissed. He knew the others had already noticed his distaste in the topic 'Lee Jeno'.
But how couldn't he? It was Lee Jeno, here. Lee Jeno, there. Always. At every god damn time of the day.
Oh, Lee Jeno, you're so good at this!
Wow, Lee Jeno, how come you're so perfect?
Ah, Lee Jeno, you make me so happy!
"Huh? Really?", Jeno was surprised to hear that. He thought if Donghyuck participated in the song and it also had a choreography, Donghyuck would be one of the firsts to know it by heart. "Well, now I can teach you, right?", he smiled at him and again that fucking hand on his shoulder. Jisung also nodded, "Yeah, Jeno can do it really good, hyung, better than Mark-hyung", he smirked towards he other. "I would scold you now but you're right. Jeno really explained it easier than I did", Mark said to no one in particular, more likely not to say it to Donghyuck in particular since he was involved in the convo.
"Oh yeah, Jeno is so perfect", Donghyuck meant to only think that sentence, he really did, not even muttering it under his breath. He wouldn't dare to do so just as Jeno was right beside him, looking at him and also because of Johnny. But he couldn't even hold back an eye roll that was of fucking course to be seen by the latter. Johnny therefore, as the strict father figure he was towards the younger one by now, scoffed and warned him to keep it down. Donghyuck nodded quickly but didn't voice any sort of apology, to the others he was seemingly not impressed.
And as if fate didn't love him, Taeyong decided to step in only then and told him to apologize, "But i thought lying is bad", now, after he stayed quiet for the whole time, now Taeyong's last nerves ripped. He stood up and speed-walked over to grab Donghyuck's wrist and pulled him with him. "Come on!", he hissed. Donghyuck knew he went too far, but everyone kept eyeing him like that, as if they were still comparing him to Jeno even in their thoughts.
He felt his body growing hot and the stress taking over, his throat felt as if he was choking and his eyes burned with tears welling up. The harsh grip on his wrist and the way Taeyong pulled him didn't help, he knew there was no way he could possibly justify anything, Taeyong wouldn't listen. Taeyong liked Jeno better, he wouldn't let Donghyuck get away with this.
In his room Donghyuck was almost thrown in and stumbled while Taeyong followed and slammed the door shut. Donghyuck jumped at the sound and couldn't stop the tears from spilling. He only hoped Taeyong was mad enough to not look at him so closely, he also lowered his head because if Taeyong was looking at him, he wouldn't be able to bear it.
He cried silently, Taeyong ignored it and clenched his jaw.
"What is going on with you?", he asked loudly. It sounded more like an rethorical question; he didn't want to hear anything from the younger.
"What's happening between you and Jeno? Did he do anything for you to act like this?", Donghyuck couldn't look at him from shame as well as anger. Of course it would be put in that way, that he was the one at fault. Of course they would team up with Jeno. Of course - Jeno was better than him, and they had made sure Donghyuck knew it.
"Huh, what did he do for you to be so mean?" Donghyuck still didn't dare to look up, afraid of the raging fire in Taeyong's eyes. How could he think he talked to Jeno like that without the others coming for him to revenge their precious little Jeno.
"I don't care if you're fighting, okay? And I don't care about what! Because you're old enough to make up for it on your own. But I still want you to apologize to him!", Taeyog scolded and made it crystal clear for the younger one that Taeyong wasn't having any of whatever he thought was going on. If Donghyuck just knew it himself!
"But I didn't mean it. And it's not going to change anything!", he tried for the first time with his voice calm as if to soothe Taeyong; well, as calm as it could be when he was crying and interruptd by hiccups.
"What's wrong with you, Donghyuck? Get a grip of yourself. You're eighteen, not eight", Donghyuck already took a breath to say something but Taeyong wouldn't let him, "I don't care, just calm down from whatever trip you're on", at these words Donghyuck couldn't hold back his frustration and fresh tear escaped his eyes. "But hyung, you don't-", Donghyuck wanted it all to just stop.
Stop the mocking, the comparing and the fighting. He didn't want to be angry at Jeno, what for anyway? And he wanted the others to stop disregaring his struggles. "No, I did nothing. Just make sure you apologize to Jeno when you're done sulking. Come back when you're clear in your mind again", Taeyong hissed and turned to leave him, confused and angry and crying.
Just when the lock fell shut Donghyuck headed for the attached bathroom, locked the door and only when he's absolutely sure the other one is definitely gone, he let himself slide down to the floor, back against the wooden door, hand clapsed over his mouth as if it would prevent the sobs falling from his lips. Thick tears rolled over his reddened cheeks, his sight was blurry and all sounds around him grew inaudible - besides the pathetic sobs and hiccups that escaped.
He was so angry; at Jeno, at Taeyong, at Doyoung, at no one saying anything, no one noticing anything. At himself for being weak, and not being able to deal with the situation. Angry at everyone who made him be in this situation. He started chewing on his lips and tugged on his wrists as he hugged himself to stop the feeling of utter loneliness, as if it would stop the feeling of falling without the certainty of someone waiting to catch him.
Tugging turned into scratching over his forearms, he was cold all of a sudden and he felt the need to get out and crawl under the covers of his bed and never come out again. His breath quickened and he gasped heavily, the feel of choking errupted in his throat and chest. His body grew hot and pearls of sweat glistened on his forehead. He only knew when he used one hand to stroke through his hair, it didn't actually matter to him, he just grabbed some strands between his fingers and pulled - until it actually hurt. He still couldn't stop the sniffles after he came down - he didn't actually calmed down, he was still furious on the inside but his body gave in on the connection between emotions and motion.
He felt so weak and useless, so annoyed as well as annoying. He felt like he was in the spotlight for everyone to judge but still out of everyone's eyessight - as in out of sight, out of mind. No one cared. Taeyong probably also didn't care and just took the chance to have him out of the situation, away from their happy get together.
He felt so weak and tired. With a soft exhale his chest fell, his upper body collapsed and gave out, his head banged back against the wooden door, his arms fell on his side before the back of his hand landed on the cold tiles of the floor. It hurt a little - physically - but Donghyuck didn't react. His sight was still not back to normal and he just starred into nothingness as his brain couldn't process any sensual information under all that stress.
Only the memory of the short pain in his hand as they hit the floor was there. He didn't know how long it was since that happened. Was it just a second or already two miutes ago? How long was he sitting here, when did Taeyong leave?
He balled his hands to fists and punched them down again, due to the tensed flesh and spanned skin the pain wasn't as much as before, so he hit again.
His throat hurt and breathing was so uncomfortable. He wished he would already lie in a bath tub filled with hot water, hot enough to numb his skin and he would sink down under the surface enough to let the water block his ears from any sound. Maybe he would dive under water totally for the warmth to soothe his angry skin under his eyes and to lessen the headache.
And then he would stay like that and count the seconds until he felt the need to breath again. But he would stay put and count again, how long he could hold on until he had the urge to come up and suck in air, but he would still not move and wait until his lungs would protest, until his muscles were at the verge of moving on their own. Until the noises grew more quiet, until his skin was used to the hot temperature, until his fingers went numb, until he felt tired enough to not care anymore.
Then he startled.
Taking a deep breath and sitting up straight, guiding his feet back to the floor before he could fall to his side. He blinked and tried to focus his eyes, leaned back against the door to relax again.
Did he fall asleep? He came back to his senses a moment later.
New members, Jeno.
Dance practise, Jeno.
He hiccuped again and let his face fall into his hands. He was screwed, absolutely. Taeyong was so mad at him now, no doubt. And Johnny was, too.
What was he thinking, everyone was mad at him after the scene he made.
The feeling of guilt washed over him and he felt dizzy again. He had no idea what he could do now to apologize, let alone make up for it and make everyone forget about the last - what? Six, seven weeks... It's been almost two months, Donghyuck reminded himself.
Two months since Jeno took everyone's attention and had the whole group whipped for him. Two months since Donghyuck grew more insecure and withdrew himself from the group. And he really could tell the impact of it; he wasn't thinking about his attitude or the way he tend to think about Jeno, but the reasons for that behaviour.
He felt left out, lonely and to be honest he was touch starved. He didn't dare to approach anyone to hold their hand or brush their cheek. And hugs and cuddles? He couldn't remember the last time he was lying down with Taeil or when he held Johnny's hand.
But to his defense - not really - he was utterly afraid of interacting with Johnny like he did before since Johnny was definitely on Team Jeno. He had long forgotten about acting cute and childish to make them laugh and call him cute. All attention was on Jeno anyway.
Without any sense of reality (he didn't know in which bathroom he was, they all looked the same nor did he know how long he had already been there; were the others still eating? Was someone waiting for him to stand up and get the hell out of their room? Did they ask were he was when Taeyong came back alone?) he hugged himself as if it would change the fact that he really missed hanging out with every single one of the members. He missed talking to them, joking around and cuddling with them. He wondered if they thought about it, too, and if they also had an idea in the back of their minds that Donghyuck changed a lot lately.
Unknowingly he started tugging on his skin again and also scratched the dry parts on his knuckles. The tugging was random, sometimes he pulled on the thin hairs or pinched small spots on his wrists. When he pulled on the skin and his hand darted away from his body he tried to immediately touch his arms again. He couldn't tell when the tugged transformed into hitting himself and he didn't care as well.
Anger and sadness came back into his mind and he wanted to hit something so bad. Just to let out all these feelings, the mingled emotions and opinions about who's actually at fault for the situation he's in.
He hit his arms and sometimes his thighs when his hand slid over the curves of his wrists. Then he took a hold of himself again, he was feeling cold now and rubbed at his sides, shoulders and neck before he began scratching there, too. His body itched from head to toe and he was feeling icky, he was feeling so uncomfortable and mad that he couldn't stand a chance but let the tears flow again.
Why was he such a cry baby? Wasn't it his own idea to solve his problem with taking himself back and parting himself from the group? How did he dare to expect the others to jump and help him when it was his own will.
He covered his face as he felt it growing hot again, not that he had to hide from anyone, he was alone from the beginning. Uselessly he swiped the tears away only for new ones to make their way to his shirt were two wet spots were already visible above his chest. It was useless to cry over it again, he told himself whereas scolding was a more fitting word.
He screamed in his mind, screamed at himself to get up and do something but simultaneously he told himself to just stay put and prevent more boundaries to be screwed up by him.
There was no point in apologizing now, he could form any sentences in his head that would make sense to the others and also clearify that he felt guilty - if he only knew what for exactly .
His attempts were worthless for now, none of them would spare him a glance nor listen to his poor tries to be nice. Not that they would believe him if he got up and talked to them. It would be explained as another shot of getting their attention just to compete with Jeno. They would call him childish and tell him to go back.
Why in the world would he be so stupid and be so intense over something so little. He was the first to say that it's okay not to be loved by everyone, he was the first to say that opinions could and ould be different from one another and that it was totally fine like that.
He felt so useless as member of the group right now, worthless even after what had happened.
They wouldn't want his company anymore, it wasn't worth one go to ask them for anything, for sympathy or understanding even less. Maybe he could let it be for today and leave them alone for some time so he wouldn't blow up everything again as soon as he was in sight.
Or should he go right away to apologize? Taeyong told him to do so when he cooled down, but was there a deadline set for it? Well, he should do it as soon as possible in any case, but would it be authentic if he did it just after he acted like that? Would Jeno accept it?
Would Taeyong deem it acceptable?
He sighed again and yawned. How could he just be so careless and end up like this? When you stopped sulking, he remembered Taeyong saying. He should apologize when he's back to normal, so Donghyuck decided for himself that the time for apologies hasn't come, yet. He was still way too much into it, he would probably start crying from guilt as soon as he saw Taeyong again; he wasn't done sulking.
He got up and looked at the mirror, he looked like a mess. His eyes were still puffy and his nose was glowing red. His hair was ruffled and pointed in every direction like he had just woken up from a nap. His lips were bitten raw and felt rough when he licked them; all in all, he looked like he was expecting it, a little worse but maybe he deserved it, huh?
When he left the bathroom he recognized it as Taeil and Sicheng's room so he when to the door immediately but stopped before he opened it fully, he just cracked it open to listen to any niose that would seep through and could make out some voices, mostly laughing. Then he turned off the lights and left for his own room in hopes Jaehyun wasn' there yet, but usually he wasn't an early sleeper.
He still opened the door with hesitation when the lights were out but he relaxed when there was no sillouette of a sleeping body on his bed and the sound of Jaehyun's laugh rang in his ears to prove he was alone. Silently he closed the door to do his evening routine; changed into pyjamas and washed his face, brushed his teeth, tidied up the last bits of clothes or random object that might have left their original place during the day.
As he lay in bed, darkness surrounded him but sleep wouldn't come. His mind was empty but full to the brim at the same time. Thoughts were circling, rushing in and out, hiding at some corner to jump through his head at lightning speed; he couldn't grasp one single image.
What's wrong with you, Taeyong had asked him. So it was his fault after all, huh? He was different and it didn't fit in. Has it ever? He'd always be so clingy and affectionate, he knew it'd get him into trouble at some point. Why would he still not stop?
In the end he decided the first thing he'd do in the morning was to sincerly apologize to Jeno and Taeyong. Maybe he could do something good for him? He just needed to think of something...
But if Donghyuck came up with something at late night he couldn't remember it the next time he woke up. A dim light was already flooding the room with a weak light, just enough to see sillouettes and edges of furnitures. He looked over to the other bed, expecting Jaehyun's sleeping figure, but he wasn't there.
It took him a moment to reorganize his thoughts but came to the conclusion he had to be fallen asleep before Jaehyun came back and also went to bed. If Jaehyun came to check up on him or just to sleep? Donghyuck tried to fight the thought as it brought back the memories of the day before; he surely hadn't come to check on him.
Donghyuck couldn't hear his breathing as it was flat and calm, he was still deeply in la-la-land, so the younger one could get up and enter the bathroom to have the first physical encounter to stretch his sore muscles and wash it face. His skin was dry and some pimples of stress already showed on his forehead.
He swallowed and sighed before he went to brush his teeth. Then he could go and make break- Breakfast!, the thoughts overwhelmed his mind. That the perfet idea. Make breakfast for the hyungs, at least for those who lived here with him.
He'd cook some rice and some diverse sides and also something sweet, pancakes maybe. And then he would set up fresh coffee or maybe- maybe he could prepare a cup of tea for Taeyong in his favorite mug and bring it to him as a semi-breakfast in bed thing when he wakes him up. Mentally he praised himself, whereas it all was perfect in his imagination, worries still clouded his mood.
As far as he knew, Taeyong was mad at him and he didn't know when they went to sleep, so it was a risky plan to be the one to wake him up this day.
When he left the bathroom he checked once again if there was any sign of conciousness on Jaehyun, but he still slept safe and soundly so he just slipped out the room into the dark hallway. It was still early in the morning but in at least two hours the last of them would also be awake.
Unfortunately when he made his way towards the kitchen he had to realize he wasn't the first one to wake up, and as he put it even worse, it was Taeyong and Yuta who were brightly awake, talking. Both leaned on the kitchen counter with a cup in their hands, smiling at each other.
They probably talked about yesterday or any other time it occured that Jeno sweetened their existence, Donghyuck held himself back from rolling his eyes this time. It took him another moment before he decided to greet them. Maybe if he was the first one to approach them with a rather positive energy, then it wouldn't be so bad. He knew if one party was giving off negative vibes it would spiral out of control by now.
"Good morning, h-hyungs", he gave both of them a big smile but fell over his words as the smiles on the others' features faded as he was in sight at first. He probably should have turned around and gone back to bed the moment he heard their voices. How could he forget that Taeyong was still pissed, and showing no sign of acknowledging it the next day would make it worse for sure.
"Good morning", Yuta greeted him back with a soft curve of his lips, he was obviously pitying the younger one. Donghyuck tensed and panicked when there was no further answer from the oldest. God, how could he be so stupid?
His eyes lingered on Taeyong for another moment but when he only stared back with risen eyebrows and somewhat expecting eyes Donghyuck's gaze fell to the tiled floor immediately. Dumbfounded he tried to decide if he should actually pour himself a cup of coffee, too, or act like he couldn't find anything appealing and leave again.
"There's fresh coffee in the can", Yuta said and nodded towards the coffee machine in the corner. Donghyuck pouted unconciously but Yuta noticed he did it often lately when he got himself into a stressing or uncomfortable situation. "Do you want to make breakfast? Well have some stuff to do today", Yuta asked Donghyuck with another soft smile but the younger one didn't see it. Taeyong sighed tiredly at the mention of their schedules, he wasn't paid enough for anything that happened in the last week.
But Donghyuck nodded as soon as he had filled his cup and turned back to face Yuta, "Yeah, I can make breakfast", he answered more confidently but stuttert at the following words, "D-do you want something... something special?", Yuta looked at him with wide eyes because he didn't understand what Donghyuck was intending to do. "W-we-... No, Hyuck. We'll make breakfast together for the others", he corrected the first failed attempt. "And Taeyong can lie down and take a nap. He cooked yesterday and woke up way too early", Taeyong chuckled at how Yuta babied him and leaned his head on the Japanese's shoulder. "Thanks, that sounds good", he muttered with closed eyes.
Donghyuck's eyes became glassy. He doesn't know when he lastly tried to search for body contact or any kind of affection with an older member. But he missed it immensely and now as he saw how lovingly Yuta looked at Taeyong and how delicately Taeyong leaned into the touch he felt his chest tighten.
"Oh, but there is still some of that cream left that the Dreamies made yesterday, I can have some before breakfast?", the leader asked and Yuta looked at him in surprise, "Hyung, why do ask us? There's no one stopping you", he laughed at the unnecessary question. But then Donghyuck saw Taeyong was about to take the cup with red and blue dots, the cup that he used to serve the dessert to the hyungs. In the end he prepared just a small amount of it for some to have a taste because - guess what - everyone was all over Jeno's cream that he made with blueberries and kiwi. The combination sounded weird at first but turned out to be perfect.
Donghyuck made his with orange, waluts and cinnamon. Mark said it reminded him too much of winter and it wasn't for his taste right now. Jungwoo also tasted but didn't say anything, not even Lucas, the one who's always positive about food.
"W-wait, hyung. That's the one with orange-", Donghyuck started already somehow afraid of the older's reaction to it. "The one you made?", he asked in return. Donghyuck nodded and stood still since Taeyong wasn't really fazed by the answer. "There's a lot left from yesterday, we should eat it so it doesn't go bad", Yuta said and eyed the bowl in the other one's hand. "I didn't even know you made that much", he stepped closer and took another look at it, Donghyuck didn't know what to do.
"Did you try it?", Taeyong asked Yuta, already totally taken in to their own little world. Yuta made a sound of negation, "There wasn't a lot in the bowl yesterday so I wanted to let the others have a taste first but then it was all gone", he looked up at Taeyong again when he moved to get a tea spoon. "It was too much cinnamon, I did it wrong anywa-...", Donghyuck wanted to convince them they hadn't missed out on anything but they weren't listening.
He stood there frozen in his place with the mug in his hand, he feared he would let it fall with the way his body had tensed up and made his wrists shake. How would they react? How would they react in front of him? He snapped back when Yuta made hummed in joy and chewed on a bit of walnut as his eyes went round. He nodded his hand and pointed at the cream before he gave thumps up. "That's good, hyung, taste it", he cheered. "Oh, it's really good", he said with a surprised frown and turned to the youngest of them. "Haechan, that's really good", he repeated with an emphasis that Donghyuck hardly believed he was serious. "It's not as sour as the one with kiwi and the walnuts give it some... some-", Yuta tried to explain more to Taeyong who nodded this time. "Crunchy", he muttered in a cute way and took another bite before he left them alone.
"Let's make breakfast?", Yuta didn't waste another second to get started but also seemed in a better mood than a few minutes ago when Donghyuck entered the kitchen. Donghyuck nodded silently and helped him preparing the ingredients and dishes so they could work faster.
The atmosphere was calm and Donghyuck didn't feel like Yuta pressured himself into acting along as if he was about to jump out of the window but he also didn't initiate any further conversation that wasn't related to cooking at the moment. But still, Donghyuck couldn't entirely relax with the thoughts of the former evening replaying in his mind. Why was Yuta so calm and also Taeyong? He had been furious and angry was an understatement for what Donghyuck remembered.
When Yuta has said they had some stuff to do today, Donghyuck didn't expect them to pack their suitcases yet again for a three days trip to Ansan and the sea side there. Donghyuck wouldn't complain even though it meant he was stuck with almost all hyungs he had and all those members he was almost afraid to have around all the time. Well, one point was that Jeno wouldn't be around and so it might losen their tensed situation.
They already left on the same evening and due to their night flight all of them were tired. No one was particularly in the mood of funny stories or joking around. It was rather calm amongst the members, aside from fans at the airport, until they've arrived on the plane and hushed the discussion who's goin to sit next to who.
Donghyuck didn't participate the convo, he thought it would be best if he kept quiet for now. In the end it was Yuta who asked him if he wanted to sit by the window or not but Donghyuck let he older one choose and sat down on the side to the small walkway.
The flight was short compared to what they were used to.Donghyuck could sleep and catch up on his missed nightly rest. Yuta was minding his phone and was searchingthrough Twitter when he felt a weight on his shoulder and looked to his side. Donghyuck had fallen asleep and slid to the side. Yuta smiled sweetly at him, he was always so cuddly- but actually, when Yuta thought about it Donghyuck had really acted differently for some time already. He had become more quiet or aggressive, there was no in between anymore. But also his looks had changed, his cheeksbones were more prominent, the circles under his eyes were darker and he tended to pout a lot. His skin was matte, not as glowy as usual and looked angry. Hm, puberty, Yuta thought.
Maybe he could ask him if he's not feeling well later when they'd arrive at the hotel. Yuta had decided it was best if he would share a room with Donghyuck, the others somehow weren't fazed about it.
The mood over the first days was easy, Donghyuck seemed more relaxed and also the others enjoyed their time together. There hadn't been any incidents with Donghyuck and he turned more soft again, Yuta had to admit he missed it, Taeyong agreed when he had thought out loud.
The last full day before they would leave again another trip was planned for them, just a short trip through the city, nothing special.
Yet, the scenery was beautiful. They were at a village-like spot with a huge market space, some little random candy or fast food shops and a wonderful view above the beach. And so many trees! It was stunning and Donghyuck swore he could stay there forever.
Unfortunaltely, fate obviously took that as a challenge.
Just after they've arrived there as a group, halting there to take in the atmosphere after a nice, satisfying lunch, the group of ten split up. Some went to buy souveniers, Taeyong and Johnny just sat down and enjoyed the mild weather. Donghyuck discovered awesome eye-catching drawings on the wall of an old-style house. He went closer to have a better view, free from people and trees, to take in all the details and he wasn't disappointed at all.
The colours and the style, together with the background of a bright sky and the ambience of many people randomly passing by, incomprehendable talking and calm noses of the water and wind; Donghyuck was overwhelmed.
"Donghyuck, come back. We're about to leave", Yuta yelled over the crowd and Donghyuck had heard it. He had and he also turned his head to search for the face matching the voice that called for him. He had already taken a few steps into the direction of where he came from, but he took a last glance at the mural, he tried to memorize every little thing, the play of colours and the motive of a beautiful young woman, the structure of the ornaments on her face, the flowers and the bird on her hand, the way her hair was blown aside.
But when he finally turned and walked back to where they've splitted off he was alone, no familliar face in sight. They left.
They left without him.
They left him here, alone in a strange city where he could barely communicate through the strong dialect.
His heart started pounding fast and blood rushed into his head, his feet felt cold all of a sudden.
His first instict was to grab his phone and text someone, mostly several people and also in the group chat but much to his panic boiling up even more there was no signal so close to the coastal side, no message, not even a call would go out.
He knew he also couldn't go around and ask someone if they saw in which direction a group of handsome men left, not in a million years. Shit. Why hadn't he listened when Jungwoo asked about their further schedule. He had no idea where the others had already left for in the first place.
With trembling hands he approached one of the fastfood shops and greeted the elderly man, just to indicate that there was a possible language barrier. The man leaned down towards him to hear better over the sizzling of the stove. "What can I get you?", the man answered with a strong dialect and a hoarse voice. "Hi, um, do you have Wi-Fi?", Donghyuck asked as short but precisely as possible. If he could get an Internet-connection even if just for a minute, he could send a message via WhatsApp, or maybe the others had already texted him?
The man only let out a noise of confusion and frowned. "Wi-Fi? Internet?", Donghyuck asked again and pointed to his phone. But not even his pleading eyes could help the man to detect his helplessness. "No, not customer. No Wi-Fi", the man shook his head no and leaned back. He obviously was waiting for the younger one to leave. "Please, I just need to send one message", Donghyuck didn't want to give up yet, he didn't want to wait here all alone. What if he got caught?
He also couldn't just leave, though. What if they'd come back to get him and he was gone with no possibility to find out where he could be?
But the man only turned away to do something else in the back of the street-sale cabin of the restaurant. Donghyuck huffed and let his shoulders slump down in frustration. What could he do now? Ask somewhere else?
He was scared, so so scared. What if someone recognized him but wouldn't leave him alone now that he was alone. No hyungs or managers to shield him. What if they said something or asked questions and then said something bad on the Internet?
He considered going back to the house with the murals, there were a lot of plants with big leaves that create a hard to spot corner. That's when he saw a small building with the WC signs - public restrooms! Never in his life did he think he would be happy to be able to go there. He could hide there.
But what if the hyungs came back and couldn't find him? Would they leave again and he had no chance of getting back?
He still took the opportunity and hoped the others would be able to relate to his thoughts and look for him if they came back.
If - he repeated in his thoughts. That's how far it already had gone? He wasn't even sure they'd come to get him.
He just hurt himself, this one wasn't on the hyungs.
He made his way to the small house with the two doors and went inside the men section. It was empty but the light was switched on and it even looked decent.
He checked his phone to see he still hadn't any messages due to no signal. Fuck. How was he going to spend the time now? The phone back in his pocket he checked the mirror but he saw nothing he didn't already know. Out of boredom he washed his hands and even picked on his finger nails where he just ended up scratching the seensible skin around his finger tips.
The first time the door opened from the outside a man came and went straight to one of the stalls. Donghyuck was fast to wash the soap off of his hands and dry them with some paper towels. The man left a few minutes later without a further incident. The next time someone came in and Donghyuck leaned on the wall and checked his phone, more as a cover, nontheless he noticed how the man starred through the mirror. He felt disgusted as well as disgusting. As soon as the man left Donghyuck washed his hands again.
The third time he heard the door opening he didn't know how much time he had already spend in the small house, he hadn't checked the time. But as soon as the sound of creacking appeared in his ears he made his way to one of the stalls and locked it.
The panic took over him again and he was stressed to keep his breathing calm, a few tears rolled over his cheeks. The sounds from the outside seemed to lessen and become dull but he stayed in the little cabin without making one noise. The man also just washed his hands like the one before and left. Donghyuck wondered how many times the door would apen and colse until he could come out, on the other hand, he didn't want to come out at all.
Then the door creaked open again and fell close heavily but that didn't matter - the steps that sounded through the room were familiar. These were Taeyong's steps.
"Hyung?", Donghyuck asked with a shaky voice, then opened the lock and stepped out of the cabin, he couldn't have been more relieved to see the older man. "Oh my God, there you are! Where have you been?", Taeyong answered immediately and grabbed his shoulders instead of welcoming his hug.
Tears build up in his eyes again but he ignored it. He had to explain, for now. "'M sorry. I was looking at the house when Yuta called but then I stayed another second and when I wanted to come back, everyone was already gone. No one was there!", he cried out as he remembered the moment of panic. As he looked back into Taeyong's face Donghyuck could tell he wasn't listening, he only starred at him as he spoke, waiting so they could leave eventually.
"I also tried to text you but I had no signal and the man wouldn't let me use the Wi-Fi. I'm so sorry hyung, I tried to but I couldn't call", he went on since the older one didn't seem to relax. "Yeah, it's alright. Just come now, the others are waiting", he hushed and dragged Donghyuck out of the restrooms. And indeed, Taeil, Johnny and Jaehyun were standing there, waiting for them.
"Let's go", the leader muttered without wasting another minute on explanations. They had to go back and search for Donghyuck, after all. The rest who stayed back were doomed to occupy the staff.
Taeyong bumped Taeil's shoulder and walked a few steps with him but then walked ahead with the other two. Taeil waited a second for the youngest to catch up and held his hand out for him to take. Donghyuck smiled tiredly and gratefully interwined their fingers. God, he had missed the touch and the feeling of safety as soon as one of the hyungs was with him and held him in any kind of way.
At first Donghyuck would have assumed the members would have fought each other to not be caught with him but now the firm grip from Taeil's hand made him feel differently. It made him feel at ease; they had come back to pick him up and didn't even fuss about it. And now the very oldest hyung - one of Donghyuck's favorites - was there holding his hand so tightly as if he never wanted to let go ever again. As if he was afraid to loose him aga-
That was it?!
He held him so he couldn't get lost again? So they wouldn't need to put an actual leash on him? Like he needed to be kept from running away, like a little child. Within a second he wasn't happy anymore. He felt betrayed in a way, stupid and uncormfortable even.
Taeyong had just been too tired to deal with his bullshit. Taeil was holding his hand just because Taeyong had asked him to do so. Johnny and Jaehyun were just there for mental support.
Now Donghyuck wanted to run away.
"Um... Hyung?", he asked quietly, Taeil only turned his head to face him with raised brows. "I-... I don't feel like holding hands right now", he muttered an explanation and already attempted to withdraw his fingers from the other one's. Taeil looked surprise, "Oh, suddenly", he obviously mocked. Donghyuck stopped in his tracks for a second, feeling undoubtly attacked. "What? I haven't held any of hyungs' hands for more than a month", he revolted with a sour tone and pouted facing the ground as he intended to walk along but Taeil still held his hand and pulled him back where he stopped.
"Are you out of your mind?", Taeil could only respond in a breath, his features twisted into an angry frown. Donghyuck hadn't noticed how rude and impolite his reaction was and didn't realize how harshly he had just attacked the very oldest of his members. His eyes grew wide as his own words hit him, his mind started racing and he forced an immediate apology but all he could do was to stutter half-sentences, "O- oh my... Hyung, I- I didn't-... I didn't mean t-to s-", but Taeil interrupted him with his voice even sounding calm in disbelief. "I... I don't know what to say." Donghyuck didn't dare to say anything back and watched after the older one as Taeil ripped his hand from their hold and went to catch up with the other three.
Donghyuck followed slowly and tried to control his breath. He didn't need another experience like before, alone in the middle of somewhere he didn't know. He watched how Taeil squished himself between Taeyong and Jaehyun and turned his head to talk to the leader. Donghyuck could imagine what kind of language the oldest one used by the way Taeyong's and Johnny's head whipped to their side.
Johnny looked back at Donghyuck and slowed his steps so their youngest one could catch up with him. None said a word but Donghyuck took the hand that was offered to him yet again. "You need to calm down", Johnny voice sounded calm in his ears but it triggered something in Donghyuck's memory. He recalled how Taeyong had bawled him out the other day last week.
Get a grip of yourself.
Just calm down from whatever trip you're on.
That shit hurt.
But Donghyuck knew had screwed up again; how was that even possible at this rate?! He even wrote everything down that had gone wrong during the last two months. He listed down all the reasons which the other members had to be mad at him; everything that was wrong with him (and of course everything that was wrong with him, as in "Reasons why hyungs like Jeno better" - that was literally the heading of the list pointing out what Jeno had that Donghyuck himself couldn't provide to his members).
But unknown to him the stack of paper with notes and songtexts wasn't the best chosen hide-out for such a list, even more when Jaehyun tended to sort these papers at least once or twice a week. Therefore Jaehyun had found the list the day they came back home.
He was genuinely surprised at the words; why in the world would Haechan have written down such things, and all about Jeno? Was he trying to mock them? Was his fight with Jeno settled so deep beneath his skin?
Although he wanted to pay more attention after the new information, he couldn't. In the back of his mind he shoved everything connected to "Haechan" into a drawer titled with something along the lines of 'rather not' so he didn't actually pay mind except for the obvious changes: Donghyuck hadn't been as loud as before, he'd react rather annoyed or aggressive - if he was around at all...
He also hadn't any spare time to think about it to enlarge the thought of Donghyuck's behaviour to the cause of it. And now, as he was sitting in his office-chair next to Johnny, laughing and listening to music.
This time, Taeyeon joined them to chat and discuss rather company-internal topic but also to do what their broadcast was for, to get in touch with fans. "So, let's come to a new topic. Well, it's not really new but it's always different. I've scanned through some question your fan sent you and picked out those which were frequently asked and some I've never seen before", she laughed and Johnny and Jaehyun returned a smile. If Jaehyun was being honest he was so tired of the questions every fan would ask and think they'd be different or funny, gosh!
"So most questions have a 'would you rather' kind of style and ask which situation or option you would choose", Taeyeon explained and Jaehyun kept his smile for the camera; if it hadn't been there he would have rolled his eyes until he popped a vein. Johnny also chuckled - fake - and mumbled something about how surprising it was.
"No more fan meetings or no own NCT concerts?", was the first question and Jaehyun had to actually think about it. "One, two, three", she counted for them to give their answers but both idols hesitated. Johnny made weird face of distress before he let out a fitting noise and Jaehyun laughed. "Uh... I think...", Jaehyun wanted to give an answer but hadn't decided yet. "I think I don't like this question. Who-", Johnny wanted to continue but interrupted himself as he joined the other two's fit of laughters. "Who would ask somethi- who would want to think about that?"
Back at the dorm Donghyuck also chuckled through the darkness at their reactions. He should officially be in bed already but technically he was and so he liked to listen to NCTnightnight. It always calmed him down to listen to Johnny's and Jaehyun's voices when they were freely talking and laughing genuinely, he could never hear enough of that.
Well, meanwhile he could scratch that (even though he didn't really want to and would never say it out loud) with how their situation developed. If Donghyuck was honest he would even go as far as to say he felt uncomfortable more often than not when he saw them talking amongst each other and spare him a glance once in a while but never included him if it wasn't necessary.
"Okay, next question. Mark or Haechan?", she asked, moving on without further conversing; Johnny and Jaehyun answered just as fast. "One, two, three."
There was a pause before both of them laughed. Johnny's voice was a little louder and Jaehyun sounded like he whined. "Ah, Haechannie, I'm so sorry", Johnny said but didn't stop laughing."Eh, so fast?", Taeyon was surprised, "How come?" Johnny sighed and Jaehyun also didn't fancy to deepen on the topic. "Uh... Lately, I don't know. It's just that Haechan is the youngest and after Mark left NCT Dream, he's somehow ot as childish anymore", Johnny tried to reason and Jaehyun nodded. "Yeah, Haechan has more contact with the youngest members out of all of NCT and... it shows", he laughed the last part as it sounded mean otherwise. "But Haechan is 127's youngest so he's allowed to be goofy and boy-ish. Maybe there's also a point as we are a lot older than him", Johnny added and Taeyon nooded in understandment. "Ah, yes, because you two are so old", they laughed", it's difficult to close the age gap."
Donghyuck wanted to smile, too, but he couldn't. He wanted to laugh with them, too, but he couldn't. He wanted to say something sassy back but he couldn't.
He wanted to ignore the sting in his chest but he couldn't.
He wanted to blink his vision clear again but he couldn't.
He wanted to stop the tears but he couldn't.
He wanted to sleep. He couldn't.
He wanted to them to see.
He wanted to forget.
The next time he woke up - to his surprise - he looked over to Jaehyun's bed as he did it every morning to see he lay there, sleeping soundly. He just stood up and left their room to wash his face in the bigger separated bathroom. His eyes still showed signs that they had been swollen, the skin beneath was red, dry and angry. The small pimples on his temples hadn't gotten better.
He felt like his body weighed ten times more than yesterday and his stomach was twisted upside down. The headache spreading from a random spot on the back top of his head wasn't helping at all.
He hadn't checked the time yet but back in the bedroom he saw the sun was already rising, dance practise would start in about two hours, he estimated. Time for breakfast - in case he could force himself to eat something.
In the kitchen his thoughts were approved. It was 6:23 in the morning so he started making breakfast. The next one to enter the kitchen was Mark but they remained silent, there was nothing to talk about - until he left somewhat randomly only to come back with the Dream members in tow. "Oh, Haechan-hyung made breakfast?", Jisung asked a little surprised, more in a pleased way. The older one only nodded with a soft expression on his features. He was too exhausted to speak or to put it differently: He was anticipating another argument if he said anything.
"Can we take it to practise? We already ate something...", Chenle asked automatically directed at Mark who only shook his head and giggled. "Don't have to ask me", he said with amusedly risen eyebrows. "I'm sure we can, Haechan, do you mind?", Renjun answered Chenle's question indirectly as he addressed Donghyuck.
The latter didn't verbally comment but only made a mixed gesture of nodding and shaking his head, in the end he agreed on packing the food up in portions and carried it along separately in a plastic bag in case the tupperware wasn't sealed properly.
On their way to the studio building Donghyuck walked with Jisung and Chenle in front of him and Jeno and Jaemin as the last ones behind him, at least until Chenle decided to annoy Renjun in the early morning hours and Jaemin took his chance with Jisung.
Donghyuck pouted unconsciously again as he considered taking the opportunity of catching Jeno alone. He slowed down his steps until Jeno had caught up with him and they walked next to each other in silence.
"Jeno?", the younger one started quietly and sort of uncomfortable. "Hm?", Jeno responded immediately and turned his eyes to Donghyuck. "Um... I'm sorry...", he pressed out in one breath before he could back out, "f-for being so rude to you. There was absolutely no reason for me to behave like I did", he admitted with genuine regret. Jeno's eyes widened, a little in confusion, mostly in surprise.
"Ah", he let out a sound of being caught off guard and gave Donghyuck an eye-smile. "No need to. You never actually attacked me, so I don't feel like you owe me an apology", he answered with a soft voice but he obviously saw the disappointment in Donghyuck's features. It hadn't been easy for him to confront the barely older one. "But thank you for thinking about me, still", then Jeno's hand found its way to Donghyuck's shoulder. Donghyuck knew it was meant as a gesture of comfort and affection and luckily this time he didn't feel like the touch was burning his skin. "Let's just do our best", Jeno added and Donghyuck felt a weight was lifted off his shoulders but at the same time he felt like an idiot.
He had been stressing about what Taeyong had spat at him the other day - even if Donghyuck knew that Taeyong didn't know much about what he said. And now, a good week later, he could find the opportunity and the courage to confront the target of his moods only to be metaphorically slapped in the face for his stupidity.
"Yeah, let's do that", he smiled back and surpressed a frustrated sigh.
Dance practise went by easily, the tension in the air was definitely lifted off like they'd been set free from a cage. Jokes were made and pranks were played; everybody cheered when they could have a longer break to enjoy what Donghyuck had cooked in the morning even if it was cold already.
Donghyuck fought through the three hours, mentally, emotionally and physically, though his movements were more sloppy due to his lack of rest and tensed muscles. Therefore he reasoned he'd stay back and go over a few parts again when the others already packed up and headed for the exit.
"Really? I though we might eat lunch together with Kun-hyung", Jaemin said a little surprised but no one made an efford to argue; they still felt like they were all together moving on thin ice.
As soon as he was alone Donghyuck sat down on the floor and took out his phone to search for the choreography video of Whiplash. He watched it over and over again, then he stood and started imitating the movements of the arms first, then the steps and movements through the room. Only the first twenty seconds, he decided was enough for a start and went to plug in his phone to the speakers.
He stood in front of the mirror and tried to copy the dance moves as good as he remembered. But he wasn't satisfied, he wanted it to be perfect. Time flew as he repeated the motions in alternating with sitting down and watch the video again.
Back at the dorm Jaehyun was suprised when Chenle suddenly appeared walking through the hallway towards the kitchen. "Hyung, do you have red onions here?", he asked no one in particular and Jaehyun didn't waste a second to think about it - he didn't know anyway.
"Are you already back?", Chenle pouted a little at his ignored request. "Yep, do you have any?", he responded eagerly focused on the onions. "Are all of you over at your dorm?", Jaehyun followed Chenle to the kitchen area but stopped to lean against the counter. "Haechan stayed, wanted to practise more. Jaehyun-hyung, do you know if you ha-", Chenle grew annoyed with Jaehyun's attempt to change topics. What was his problem with onions?
"I don't kno-", Jaehyun answered as Taeyong joined them. "What's going on?", he asked at the scene in front of him with Chenle rumaging though the kitchen drawers and cupboards and Jaehyun watching him. "Hyung, do you have red onions? Kun needs them", Chenle turned to the oldest one with big eyes. "Um- I don't think so. Only the normal ones", Taeyong said and Jaehyun as well as Chenle hurried out without another word. "Huh?!", Taeyong made in utter confusion when he was left alone all of a sudden.
When he headed back to the living area where Johnny and Yuta had waited Jaehyun came back to him with a paper in his hand. "Hyung?", he yelled before Taeyong was in sight for him. "Yes? Living room", Taeyong answered and stopped in the middle between the funtinures. "You remember when Haechan was acting up the evening before we left for Ansan?", the next question out of context, alright, Taeyong thought to himself. "Yes?", he responded with furrowed eyebrows. "What exactly did happen when you took him to your room?", Jaehun then asked further. "Well, I scolded him for how he behaved and that he should take a step back", Taeyong explained summed up whereas he left out the the crying part.
"Is that all?", Jaehyun seemed suspicious and Taeyong looked at him in confusion. "Well, look", he came closer and showed the paper to Taeyong, "He wrote down things that Jeno is better at than him. And now he stayed back again to practise more", Jaehyun reasoned his worries but Taeyong didn't get it. "I think he feels bad, like he's... he... Like he has to compete with Jeno", Jaehyun searched for the right words and extented his arm again for Taeyong to take the list he had found the day before.
Taeyong took a look at the words scribbled down shakily and muttered to himself, "Not as good at dan-... Hyungs don't like... Jeno is better at baking? What is this?", he asked as questions blew up in his head. What the frigg was going on? "Why did he write about Mark, too?", Taeyong asked as he looked at it again. Jaehyun remembered what he and Johnny had said at the broadcast the night before.
Then Johnny and Yuta appeared next to him. "Can I see?", the older one asked calmly. It only took him another second to put it together. "He feels like we don't like him anymore?", he also frowned like Taeyong did. "Well, he was upset with the cookie thing", Yuta thought back to the many times Donghyuck had pouted or reacted annoyed when he was evaluated by the others, "And also when Jisung talked about the Whisplash choreography. I really thought he would be the first one to learn it but he seemed so frustrated about it", Yuta remembered the bitter tone in Donghyuck's voice when he said no one taught him. Jaehyun then nodded his head eagerly, "Yeah, he had asked Mark so many times, he really liked it", he also looked at Taeyong who seemed stressed by now.
"So... he's mad at us?", he asked to confirm his conclusion. "Well, at least there is no actual fight with Jeno, right?", Johnny asked then and Jaehyun nodded as it sounded logical, "But we always assumed it and blamed him?", he asked again to which Taeyong nodded, too. "I'll go get him", he then stated as if they had decided who'd pick up their son from his soccer play.
But instead of acting calm he rushed to pick up his phone and put his shoes on. He even took a second hoodie jacket after he put one on - he had something in mind, something that he didn't like.
When he arrived at the gym building he rushed in and followed the music, when he opened the door the was greeted with the huge hall empty except for the figure completely dressed in black. He already wanted to call for Donghyuck when the younger one dashed his phone away from him with an angry shout before he hid his face in his hands.
Just when Johnny walked closer he saw how the shirt already stuck to Donghyucks back and was soaked, his skin glistened with sweat. But Dream's practise was over like one and a half hour ago? Only the sound of the door shutting when it fell into the lock had Donghyuck jerking up and whipping his head around to face the older one.
Johnny was shocked by the sight, Donghyuck's hair was totally messy, his skin redder than ever and extra shiny beneath his eyes. He was crying. "-ung?", he choked out a sob as his features were taken over by a guilty expression and Johnny was overstrained by the amount of new information.
Johnny didn't understand why Donghyuck looked so pained and as if he was caught red-handed but to the younger one the switch between frowning and raising his eyesbrows and the confused looked in his eyes made him look like he was about to bawl at him for staying after and not coming home in time without texting anyone. But didn't the others tell them?
His breathing became shaky and his lips quivered when Johnny turned to his side first to set down the volume of the speakers before he walked up to Donghyuck. He wanted to asked what was going on but as he came closer he could literally watch the younger's eyes filling with new tears and the alarm bells rang his his head. He opened his arms and whispered, "Oh, come'ere", whereas he had to initiate the hug when Donghyuck stayed put with his shoulders slightly curling inwards.
It still took him another minute to warm up to the embrace and put his hands around Johnny's waist. The taller one could feel the heat radiating from Donghuck and also his pounding heart in his chest pressed against his upper stomach. His little frame shook and as the seconds passed by the hug became tighter, as if Donghyuck was afraid Johnny would push him away any second.
It was a choked out sob that ripped Johnny from his thoughts and he cooed when he realized Donghyuck was actually crying. He brought a hand up from his back and patted his damped hair. "Oh, Channie", he didn't know what else to say. All he knew was that he actually had no idea of what was hurting his younger member so much. All he could imagine to it was that the hyungs were at fault for a greater part, otherwise Donghyuck would have come to them. But he seemed so small and quiet lately, and then there was this issue with Taeil - with Johnny one of his dearest persons.
When it had occurred back in Asan and Taeil spoke about it to him and Taeyong, Johnny also thought about it and tried to remember the last time Donghyuck had come to him for any sort of affection or attention but he couldn't put a finger on it. And just barely half an hour ago when Jaehyun mentioned the list it dawned to him that something was going all kinds of wrong.
"Hyungs have been so mean to you, hm?", he whispered bent downwards so his mouth was closer to the younger one's ear. Donghyuck only nodded in response and Johnny disliked it twice, for one, because he nodded at all and second because how eargerly he nodded his head up and down. "Not even asked you how you've been", this time he sniffeled and turned his head sidewards so his face wasn't pressed against Johnny's chest anymore.
"'M sorwy", he cried out but Johnny was quick to shut it down. "No, no, no. Channie, it's not your fault", he loosened their hug and bent his knees to take a closer look at Donghyuck. "Something was going on. And we noticed it", Johnny tried to explain how this wasn't on Donghyuck, "But never asked you what's bothering you."
Johnny's heart ached at the sight in front of him. Donghyuck's face was all red and his skin was angry, little pimples and even scratches spread over his forehead and cheeks. And with the tear stained glistening parts beneath his eyes and the way he avoided Johnny's gaze with what looked like shame in them, Donghyuck looked like a little helpless child, absolutely lost with no way out.
"We only jumped to conclusion and probably made it all so much worse, hm?", Johnny asked again, seeing that Donghyuck wasn't able to talk by himself, nor in the mood to be honest. His chest was rising aprubtly with hiccups and he convulsively tried to fight sobs and sniffles.
"But now we can talk about it, right? We can go home and solve all this all calmly and nicely. No shouting or scolding, 'kay?", Johnny's father-feelings came out and took the better of him. Donghyuck would lie if he said he didn't missed or craved it. But he had been so convinced Johnny didn't even want to talk to him because of all the trouble he had caused.
Donghyuck didn't answer. The thought of facing Taeyong and Taeil after all that happenend had him feel cold and uncomfortable. And just yesterday Johnny and Jaehyun said they'd prefer Mark over him without hesitation. He wasn't ready yet. He only shook his head no quickly and pressed himself back into Johnny's chest. Johnny let out a huff of surprise but put his arms back around the younger one.
"Do you want to stay here a little longer?", he asked softly as he tried to calm Donghyuck down from his stress level. Even though he was doubting he was the number one person the younger one would want to go to right now, he considered after such a long time that they've been distant Donghyuck would welcome anyone to show him affection or at least sympathy. "It's going to be alright", he hummed and started stroking Donghyuck's neck when he only nodded against Johnny's chest again.
It took them twenty minutes, whereas it could have been ten but Donghyuck seemed to spend every moment of the process of packing up and telling Johnny that he was ready twice. He stopped every few minutes and just repeated words and whispers to himself after he had said them out loud for Johnny to hear, that the older one wasn't sure who he was trying to convince.
"Do you want my jacket? It's a little chilly outside", Johnny asked a moment before they left the building but Donghyuck refused, somehow still caught up in his mind of distancing himself. Johnny's eyes grew more worried again but Donghyuck ignored that, too, and refused to believe the meaning behind it. He couldn't believe after the whole two months everything should be fine from one day to the next. It couldn't work out like that. Maybe the older members had planned something? Wrapping him around his favorite hyung's finger so the tension could be lessend in the phase of another comeback with busy shedules and no time for drama?
Sooner than expected they arrived at the dorm and Johnny did everything for Donghyuck. Carried his bag, opened the door, helped him taking off his own hoodie jacket; Donghyuck felt almost weirded out by it. Why was Johnny so nice to him? Sure he often slipped into the father role but lately it had only been for scolding and telling him off, so why the change all of a sudden? Even yesterday he had openly said he'd bias Mark over him.
He was about to enter the hallway when Taeyong, Yuta and Jaehyun approached them. Donghyuck's heart sank and his face grew hot in a matter of seconds when he saw the three of them more or less blocking the way and with Johnny still behind him he was practically caged. "Hey, Haechannie, um look", Taeyong began and his voice sounded strange in Donghyuck's ears. Something was going to happen, he could feel it. "What is this?"
Oh god, no. This couldn't be real. Donghyuck prayed he was just sleeping and having a nightmare. Taeyong held up a little paper with something scribbled on it.
Donghyuck knew it all too well, and with the way Taeyong presented it to him, with his fake-question and fake-confusion Donghyuck knew they had him where they wanted him and Taeyong was going to scold him again for attacking Jeno like this. But Johnny said no scolding?! He panicked. He started stuttering and rambling something - anything, just to end up fleeing as best as he could. He literally ran to his shared room and tears already burned at the corners of his eyes again.
God damn it, could he stop crying over everything for at least once?!
He didn't care about the calls and words the four older men followed him with and he couldn't care less that they watched him from the door as he rumaged throught the stacks and folders of papers and notes. Where was it? Where?!
His breath hitched when he realized it his list wasn't there anymore. Maybe it fell to the floor when Jaehyun opened the window or something?, he tried to push his fear aside and looked around the floor, even under the desk and his bed but Jaehyun's voice cut him off of anything he was about to do.
"Haechan...", he called twice, approaching him and grabbing his shoulder but still without a hint of anger or annoyance. Then he slightly shook his head when he continued, "I gave it to him." Donghyuck didn't need any clearification but he also didn't need Jaehyun's sympathy as if he understood what storm broke loose inside of hid mind.
His eyes filled with tears to fast they immediately rolled down his cheeks and fell to the floor in thick, heavy drops. He sobbed and wanted to claw at something. His legs gave out and he sunk to the floor, the remaining three pairs of eyes weren't helping at all. He cried for real, it wasn't crying anymore but just wailing with his mouth opened.
It broke Yuta's heart to see the youngest one among them crying his heart out like this, it reminded him of a little baby that saw its mother dissapearing, so helpless and lost. Jaehyun needed a second but came closer to him to crouch down right in front of him. Donghyuck didn't physically react to him, only lifted his hands to cover his cheeks. He didn't even attempt to stop his cries. "Haechannie, don't cry", Jaehyun said somewhat dumbfoundedly but he meant it. There shouldn't be a reason to cry except for relief. Donghyuck seemingly wasn't relieved at all.
Even when Jaehyun put his arms around the younger and made him lean against his shoulder Donghyuck wouldn't show any signs of slowing down. Then Johnny apeared behind him and ushered him away. "Let me...", he only whispered as he just squished himself between Yuta's and Taeyong's frozen bodies. "Hey", he said just like earlier when he had entered the room. Donghyuck's head lifted and he looked even more damaged than what Johnny could have ever imagined.
Jaehyun slowly retreated and Donghyuck reacted for the first time since he broke down. He stretched his arms out and let out another loud choked cry as he even made grabby hands at the older one. Yuta's chest hurt and he had to turn away before he'd started crying himself at the scene in front of him. Donghyuck legitly looked like a lost baby, desperate to find his way back home. It hurt him to see his favorite younger member in a mental state like this, knowing he's also responsible for it.
Johnny kneeled down in front of him to embrace him and even lifted him up to sit back down on his bed with Donghyuck sitting in his lap, crying into his neck. Rocking them back and forth slowly didn't have an effect on his condition, not even whispering sweet sayings into his ear, reassuring him that it was going to be alright now and his hyungs were still there for him. Jaehyun stayed as the only one when Taeyong dragged Yuta away, back into the living room.
Donghyuck was too caught up in his headspace, he was scared and having flashbacks to the day when they baked cookies, when they prepared the dessert, when they cooked Jeno's favorite dish, when Taeyong scolded him and when he felt so lost and alone.
At the airport to Ansan, when Yuta volunteered to sit and room with him, when he got lost and Taeyong picked him up.
When Taeil was so angry at him and hadn't even looked at him again.
When even Johnny told him to step back.
And even his roommate said he'd prefer someone else.
His body felt so hot and icky. Dried sweat stuck to his skin and his clothes already started smelling and he was pressing himself right into Johnny's face. He felt so sorry and guilty for them. How were still putting up with him?
When his throat felt sore and he had troubles breathing right he leaned back a little, just to have some space between him and the older one. Johnny's arms were still around him, now loosely as the younger one seemed to be more or less steady. He inhaled through little sniffles and hiccups but the sobs quieted down for a moment. "Take your time, you're alright", Johnny told him just above a whisper, "Don't worry, it's okay."
Jaehyun had sat down next to them just to be there, he didn't say anything. But it had a contrary effect on Donghyuck, he felt like they waited for him to finish up. Johnny told him that they could finally talk it out now several times. So was he acting up again? Was he overreacting? He knew many reasons why they could be upset with him, after all.
"Haechannie, Taeyong isn't mad at you", at Jaehyun's words Donghyuck burried his face back in the crook of Johnny neck. Of course he was! Why would he say such things? "You know, there is a real big misunderstanding and Taeyong is really bad at showing that he's worried right now. He didn't mean to sound rude when you came back", Johnny nodded at that even though Donghyuck could only feel it. The hands carressing his back slowed down but never stopped.
"Haechan, I promised you there would be no scolding and I wil make sure to step in if any of the others will only say something in that direction", he was back at rubbing up and down Haechan's shaking frame. "It's just not fully solved. Why don't we see where the others are and talk it out?", Johnny tried explaining everything neutrally so Donghyuck wouldn't feel like he owed them an explanation. The side of his head started feeling hot when Donghyuck kept stroking his hand over Johnny's ear, but he didn't mind it, he had heard several times that touching someone's ear can be calming for individuals persons, and if Donghuck was one of them, Johnny wouldn't stop him. But he got it wrong, Donghyuck was still feeling icky, the last time brushed his teeth was this morning and he had eaten in between. He covered Johnny's ear and neck so his sweat, tears and probably also snot wouldn't spill on Johnny, just holding him in his lap must be gross enough.
"Hm, why are you covering my ear?", Johnny asked then with a playful smile on his lips when he realized Donghyuck's fingers weren't occupied with the shell of his ear or his er lobe but his hand was just fully laid between his head and Donghyuck's as he continued sniffling and hiccuping. Donghyuck jerked back a little and wiped his face with his arm when Johnny and Jaehyun simultaneously seemed to understand when Donghyuck wiped his hands on his shirt and the faded black farbic showed dark spots. Jaeyhun almost cooed but got up to get tissues. "Aw, Channie, I don't mind when something gets onto my shirt. We can wash that, but we can't wash away what has happened, right?", Johnny tried to make a point to tell Donghyuck he and their close relationship was more important.
Jaehyun came back with tissues and a cloth drenched in cold water and offered both to Donghyuck. "You don't mean any harm and we know that. You're our maknae and we should have been more attentive. When I found the list I thought maybe I should pay more attention but I couldn't, I haven't seen you since. But now we have all of the members here at one spot, so let's take that opportunity", Jaehyun said and watched Johnny helping Donghyuck wiping the sweat from his face and neck with the cold cloth. Donghyuck still avoided eye contact but also his sniffles had stopped, just his mouth twitched from time to time as he tried not to cry again.
"Can I change first?", his request was almost not audible through his hoarse voice and Johnny misunderstood it for a second. "Yeah, of course, put on something comfortable. Do you want us to wait here?", Jaehyun answered and Johnny combed Donghyuck hair down with his fingers after he had pushed it up from his forehead for him to wipe it. Jaehyun already stood up but turned on the spot, "Do you want one of my shirts?", he suggested because he knew Donghyuck always found comfort in his members's bigger sweaters and jackets, and sometime it were Jaehyun's oversized shirts that he wore to sleep. Jaehyun never admitted it but he found it cute that Donghyuck found so much comfort in his members. The younger one nodded quietly and also got up from Johnny's lap but not without patting down his sleeves above his shoulders were he had crumpled up the fabric. Johnny smiled at him sweetly.
Donghyuck took the yellow shirt Jaehyun offered him from their closet but disappeared in the bathroom to firstly wash his hands, face and neck with fresh water from the faucet. Jaehyun and Johnny shared a look filled with relief but also anticipating what was still to come. Jaehyun peaked into the bathroom when Donghyuck was just about to put on the fresh shirt. "Oh, did the managers put you on a diet again?", he asked with surprise. Donghyuck's shoulders looked more boney, his collarbones were visible in the middle under his neck and his arms and waist were thinner than Jaehyun remebered. "No", Donghyuck looked at him with equally wide eyes and slightly shook his head. "You look so thin", Jaehyun reasoned calmly not to alarm the younger one.
Johnny nodded from where he was still sitting, already in the dance studio he had notices Donghyuck's spine felt more present than he could recall and also now when he had been sitting in his lap even his butt had felt boney against Johnny's thighs. "Haven't eaten a lot with all that trouble going on?", Johnny shrugged his shoulders and Jaehyun nodded at him, it sounded like their Donghyuck who always had a bad stomach under emotional pressure.
Donghyuck came out and Johnny stood up, "Ready?", he asked and Donghyuck should have known they'd already planned the talk and weren't going to "see where the others were", as Johnny had suggested it. But they insisted on it so much and he just wanted to end this fake-caring because even though he enjoyed being babied by Johnny and Jaehyun he knew at some point they wouldn't want to do it anymore. He nodded and Jaehyun offered his hand to take as Johnny walked in front of them.
In the living room the others really had waited for them but Johnny signaled to keep it down and be more careful. Jaehyun guided Donghyuck to the space between Taeyong and Yuta and sat down across from them next to Mark. Johnny sat on the floor between Jungwoo's knees.
"Are you feeling better?", Taeyong asked him to start a conversation. Donghyuck nodded and bend a little forward as Yuta put his hand behind his back and supported his upper body on said arm. His hands were in his lap and even though the scene - all of them sitting together - was so familiar it had a bitter aftertaste for Donghyuck. "Yeah, they told you you're good?", Taeyong asked again and moved some strands on Donghyuck's temple out of habit. He nodded again but didn't move otherwise.
"Good, but you know we're not completely over with it", he then said and also his voice changed a little but Taeyong tried so remain speaking softly. Dongyuck only repeated nodding his head but this time he ended up looking at his lap, with his head bowed down more. "It's alright, we'll just talk and it's fine", the older one reassured and Donghyuck started to believe that Taeyong really hadn't meant to scold him again. "But we still want to know what it is with that list. Why do you think... What is it that you actually think about us at the moment, Channie?", Taeyong tried to stay open minded and not just assume things and put words into Donghyuck's mouth.
But the question sounded like a trap, no matter what he said he would worsen everything again. "Um... Just that... uh", he didn't know what Taeyong wanted to hear, nor what the others expected. "Do you really feel like we don't like you anymore", Mark asked. He knew he was one of the first person to push Donghyuck away when he was approached but putting a thought like into his friend's mind was too cruel. The latter's head shot up and he stared with Mark with wide eyes. "Uh, n-no, that's not it", he said impulsively but in reality it was the truth. A truth Donghyuck didn't want to realize. Mark kept quiet, he wasn't about to argue since it could be the way how Donghyuck was living through the situation and that didn't mean it was the general truth.
"We know that something changed, Haechan", Taeyong then continued, still trying not to accuse Donghyuck. "It's just that you changed, we probably also changed. But something has happened and it caused a row of other things to happen but now we're here. To talk about it", he explained further, unaware of how much actual truth he just spoke. "And from our point of view it started when you changed. You didn't talk to us anymore and if so then you were in a bad mood", Jaehyun told him as he thought it was a start and gave Donghyuck an idea of how to tell them what's on his mind. "But you certainly had a reason for that, didn't you?", he also knew better than to make him feel guilty and lifted that weight off of him.
Johnny nodded again, "Yeah, I still can't comprehend how you survived so long without any cuddling. It must have been something really big for you to refuse cuddles and kisses from us." All of them nodded in unision, but not even really aware of the lack of physical contact. But Mark could really agree with that, Donghyuck hadn't come to him for longer than he could remember.
"And did I guess it right that we hyungs were mean to you?", Johnny referred to when he picked him up from dance practise and Donghyuck was already crying back then. Donghyuck looked at him and his features turn soft and sad. Taeyong bend down a little to see the expression on his face, "It's okay to say it, Hyuckie. If we made you upset that's not your fault", he tried to encourage him to speak up. This had to end.
"B-but I'm sorry for acting up all the time-", he choked out with a shaking voice. Taeyong put an arm around him, "That's alright. We know, we know you aren't a mean person, that's why we're worried", he told him and rubbed his shoulder. Donghyuck paused and surpress his sobs, Johnny could see it in how his face twitched. "But hyung-...", Taeyong nodded for him to go on, that they would listen, "They were so... so... They always cared about Jeno", he pressed but no one seemed to get the hang of it so no one reacted. "B-but that's okay, hyung. It's okay if you love Jeno more. Everybody loves Jeno. Jaeminie loves Jeno and- and Mark also loves Jeno", they still didn't get it, how was it about Jeno again? "I love Jeno", Donghyuck exclaimed frustrated but he only meant to say his sour feeling were unnecessary.
But then it clicked in Yuta's mind, every incident stood somehow in connection to Jeno; the cookies, the dessert, Mark's dance lesson he was excluded from. "You think we like Jeno more than you, so you're...", he tried to make up a theory about Donghyuck's behaviour but trailed off since he didn't have one up his sleeve. "So you... you thought that... ", he tried to make something up and Donghyuck turned to look at him. "I was so upset. Because you always put Jeno first", Donghyuck ended but he looked conflicted.
He lowered his head again, he didn't feel like he had the right to put the blame on them, and started crying. He didn't even want to but it was the only thing that felt like relieving all the built up feelings. "And then you thought it's your fault because you weren't good enough?", Mark asked in shock. "But Haechannie", he trailed off, proving him wrong was the only thing on his mind.
"But I was so disrespectful and always mean", he justified the fact that the other members shouldn't blame themselves. "Everybody was all over Jeno and liked everything he did more and I got so mad at him but it's not even his fault!"
"And then we only told you to stop with that", Johnny said slowly, "You didn't even know what to do anymore, hm?" Donghyuck hid his face in his hands when he nodded. "Missed hyungs so much", he whined and let himself fall against Taeyong's chest when he put an arm around him.
Johnny was really surprised how much Donghyuck had suffered under them and their ignorance to cry so much. Taeyong sat upstraighter and rubbed his back. "And you had no one to talk to, hm?", Yuta cooed, stroking his hair. "I just thought it's my fault and I shouldn't be comlaining- like, I know that I'm annoying and bratty", he whined and Jungwoo and Doyoung both grimanced at his words. They were sensitive when it was about their younger members and their well-being, mental and physical.
"And I just made everything worse, even when I tried to stay out of the spotlight so there would at least be no comparision but then it was with the dance practise and also the vocal teacher said things...", Donghyuck only frowned harder when he recalled the first time he noticed how much he was compared to Jeno. Taeyong suddenly gasped and let himself fall to the floor to kneel in front of Donghyuck, cupped his face and looked at him with a panicked expression.
"And then I scolded you!", he almost yelled in distress and gripped his hair with both hands. "And I told you to apologize and- oh, Haechannie", he spoke fast and incomprehendable for the others. He pulled Donghyuck towards him and hugged him firmly. "And I said so many mean things and then you wrote that list", Taeyong cleared the question about the list more or less.
"What do you mean?", Jaehyun asked because when he wanted answers from Taeyong he said something different. Taeyong sighed and put his forhead against Donghyuck's before he spoke, "That was the evening before we went to Ansan. I pulled Haechan away into my room and scolded him that he should stop this stupid behaviour and apologize to Jeno. And he was crying so hard but I said I didn't even care", he looked so guilty and stroked Donghyuck's cheeks who continued to cry silently. "And then I asked you what's wrong with you and you just stood there so scared because I was so mean for no reason", then he leaned in and kissed his cheeks and nose several times. "I'm so sorry, baby, so sorry", he muttered between smooches and pulled Donghyuck down for a semi-comforting hug.
Jaeyhun pouted at that. How could Taeyong act like that? It was really too harsh. Then their silence was disturbed by Taeil who had another single schedule this morning so he was met with nine people spread all over their living room. Then his eyes landed on the trio on the couch with Taeyong kneeling in front of their maknae and Yuta looking like he was there to make sure he didn't pull Donghyuck to the floor, too. He walked in closer and looked at everyone as no one spoke. "What's going on?", Donghyuck tensed in Taeyong's grip and his eyes were wide as if he was prey under Taeil's gaze. Then Taeyong remembered the incident in Ansan, when they couldn't find Donghyuck anymore.
He moved a little to the side, much to Donghyuck's distaste. "We were just talking", he then said and smiled up at the older one. Sicheng snorted and said something for the first time then. "Talking", he repeated sarcastically, then turned to Taeil. "We sat down with Haechan because of... what happened", Taeil nodded slowly and turned back to look at Donghyuck's pleading eyes.
"Taeil-hyung, I'm sorry! I will never talk to you in informal speech again, I promise!", he exclaimed in a rush as if he was afraid to be grilled by Taeil's mood. But Taeil smiled at him softly and came closer until he was the one to sit down in front of Donghyuck. He took his hands and tried to find the right words. "Of course you will talk to me informally again, Haechannie. You're my favorite maknae and you shouldn't be afraid of having fun with your older members", Taeil spoke and took Donghyuck by surprise. "Ho-how many maknaes do you have?", he pouted at the information that there were more. Johnny and Doyoung also frowned in confusion. "Well there is Jisung, our over-all maknae", Taeil started and Jungwoo kept count with his fingers. "Then there is Chenle, the youngest Chinese member", Sicheng nodded his head once and Yuta also approved silently. "Then YangYang, as WayV's maknae and then there's you, 127's maknae. That even makes you the oldest of NCT's maknae-line", Taeil grinned at him and watched him relax. Taeyong seemed to malfunction as he tried to understand the logic, wasn't the maknae line always just some of the youngest members in general? Well with twenty-one members and a certainly growing number in the future it would become hard to keep track on that but somewhere Taeil was right.
"Aren't you mad at me?", Donghyuck whispered after a short pause and only audible for the three person right next to him. Taeil cupped his face with one hand and took both of Donghyuck into the other. "No, it later made sense to me what you said and I wasn't in the best condition either. You can explain everything to me later, or one of the others does if you don't want to talk about it anymore. But as it seems... you all-", he turned around to look at everyone else but returned his attention to Donghyuck, "have talked it out, so don't worry."
"So... Do we have to fight over him now for cuddles or can I just decide I'll go first?", Jungwoo asked quietly and pointed at Donghyuck after Taeil had stood up again to put his bag away but then stopped at the request. "No, I'll go first, I'm his best friend", Mark argued but rather matter-of-factly and already sat up on his knees from his crossed-leg position.
"Um, no. I'm his roommate and under these circumstances I'll go first."
"But I'm his favorite hyung", Johnny said, disappointed that it didn't seem to count. "Hey, I'm his favorite hyung", Taeil pouted at him from the side and lightly slapped his shoulder. Sicheng laughed, "I thought you'd say you're the oldest and don't have a lot of time left."
"But- but I'm the leader."
"I'm the only Japanese!"
"I am-... I'm his mom", Doyoung claimed desperately just to join the argument.
Jungwoo laughed at every statement and the act of desperate need of having Donghyuck for themselves. With each shouting the laughing increased and also Donghyuck started with a giggle but it soon turned into the loud thigh-slapping-laugh of his. Yuta, Mark and Johnny looked at him in awe, it's been way too long since they've heard it.
"I still want to go first", Jaehyun then said flatly. Mark scoffed, "You're his roommate, you'll have the whole night", he called out. "How many people are going to be sleeping with Donghyuck tonight?", Jaehyun shot back as if he was really worried about Donghyuck's bed's capacity but Yuta laughed loudly and cheered, "We'll have a slumber party!"
"So first of all", Donghuck spoke up through the chaos, "I'm going to take a shower", and was already about to get going but Jaehyun couldn't hold back. "Are you going to cry again? Fr-from relief? Should I come with you?", he asked quickly and Taeyong as well as pretty much everyone gasped. "Jaehyun!", Taeyong exclaimed with a bewildered look.
"No, if anyone will share a shower with Channie it's going to be me!", Mark still swore on his best-friend-privilege. "Mark, you're straight as hell, you're not going to shower with Haechan", Johnny turned him down quickly.
"So I'll take shower now and you can discuss who's going to be with me when and where, okay?", Donghyuck laughed at the way none of them wasted another second after he turned around. "So can we agree on cuddling in shifts?", Yuta suggest and Sicheng rolled his eyes. "Wait!", he shouted, "Haechan! Let me come with you!", he whined and fake-cried.
Haechan bit his lips as a smile spread on his face. He felt so relieved and happy. His hyungs still loved him and he would always love them just as much, no matter how many other members there would be.