Sometimes, Chan felt half alive.
Not in a, he didn’t want to be alive sort of way, not at all. It was just that some nights the flow of his work felt more intense, and on his way back to the dorm at three a.m., it seemed as though he could see Audacity’s entire UI behind his closed eyelids as he trudged along the sidewalk, half-asleep but brain still whirring incessantly.
And he continued to feel that way after barreling his way through the front door, greeting Jeongin and Seungmin’s sleeping bodies on the sectional in front of a flickering television. He turned off the TV, and shook them slightly, telling them go to their rooms and they’d mumble and ask what time it was.
He never told them.
That feeling still stuck when he used all of his energy to climb up the bunk bed’s ladder and sling himself onto his soft sheets and pillows barricaded around him like a fortress. Falling into his bunk, he always would get a whiff of home, most specifically, the laundry detergent his mom used. Years ago, when he had hid out in the bathroom of the dorms, crying to his parents about how homesick he felt, his mother had suggested using the detergent to keep him a bit more grounded while he was away from home.
It’s just for a bit, she said. You’ll be home sooner than ever.
And now it had been years.
These were the sort of counterintuitive thoughts the Alive part of his brain chugged out at night. The very much Not Alive part of his brain allowed him to stare blankly at the ceiling, not moving a single muscle as he went and processed every single thought, somewhat uncontrollably. The thinking was a bit easier to manage, and seemed to slip away quicker when he collapsed in bed at ten p.m. after a satisfying dinner with the kids. Not so much so when it was now almost four a.m., and it felt like Chan had been awake for an entire week, with only a few hour-long naps to separate his consciousness. What did the kids eat for dinner? He’d forgotten to ask, and now that he thought about it, he forgotten to make a real dinner for himself.
The subsequent rumble from his tummy told him that the Alive part of his brain must have finally processed his hunger, because if you didn’t know, hunger comes from the brain, not the stomach, as Felix had so adamantly told him once before.
“Channie-hyung, maybe that’s why you forget you're hungry,” Felix stated, a determined look on his face as he eagerly kneaded the dough between his small hands. Chan watched him from the table, not really quite sure how the younger had found the space on the tiny counters to bake bread, but here he was, watching Felix stand up on his tippy toes a little to reach the edges of the dough with a pink apron wrapped so tightly around his small figure. Everything about Felix was pretty small, and it made Chan coo a lot, even if he never let himself do it physically. Instead, he replaced what would be his cooing similar to how he’d treat a little kitten with desperately doting over him. Paying for his meals, the expensive ones, and bringing him coffee, and dropping nearly everything to play Uno with him when they were on break alone at the dorm. Maybe he felt a little guilty for being too harsh in trainee days. Maybe he just needed an outlet for the sort of intense emotions he got looking at Felix like this.
It made him feel a little alive again, on days his brain functioned Half Alive.
“Hyung, are you even paying attention?” Felix whined, and suddenly the younger was only a few feet in front of him, wielding a wooden spoon like it was a sword.
“Yes, yes, I—” Chan shrieked, putting his hands in surrender, the both of them erupting into giggles afterward.
“So what I was saying, was…” Felix started again as he returned to his place at the encounter, rolling the dough over and over again, “… the video said that hunger only comes from your brain. So if your brain isn’t working super well, or you’re focusing it so much on one thing, you won’t feel that hunger. Sometimes, I use that to my advantage, and I focus so hard on practicing a lot, and don’t eat as much. I think it’s a decent system, sometimes.”
The last part made Chan twitch a bit.
Oh, Felix. Was he awake now? Chan figured even if the younger wasn’t wide awake enough and possibly baking a pie in the middle of the night, he could fix something for himself anyways. Sitting up, he shook his head, hair fluffing back and forth, to try and ease the squirming, fuzzy bugs running around in his brain. It helped momentarily as he managed to hop down the ladder and start padding into the living room, his flat feet making ten times more noise per usual, but the bugs returned much too soon, filling his head once again with the Half Alive feeling so characteristic of four a.m.
“Chan-hyung, is it you?” Was that really Felix’s voice?
Sure enough, he turned the corner, and the younger was mixing something in a bowl on the table, biting his lip in a determined fashion as he focused on whatever he had been cooking that moment.
“Yeah. What’re you making, little one?” Chan asked, his voice a little more hoarse. It seemed Alive brain was not exhausting energy on using his voice box properly. He took a seat in front of Felix, lying his head in his arms on the table. He was tired, and it just felt more comfortable. The presence of the younger somehow felt a bit warmer than his bed, and his legs were starting to feel like jelly.
“Kimchi jeon. Do you want some?” Felix asked, looking at Chan’s slumped, tired figure with an inquisitive expression and pausing his mixing. He smiled, a little fond.
“Mmhm,” he nodded and mumbled into his arms. Felix had started telling him about some new video he’d seen today while waiting for his vocal teacher to arrive at the company, and the sound of Felix’s melodic voice seemed to slowly unwind his knotted and mangled thoughts. Soon enough, Chan’s brain wasn’t quite whirring like an engine anymore, and in fact, to the tune of Felix’s mixing and whining about how it wouldn’t come together, he found the bugs in his head silencing, taking a rest, and the fuzziness of before was replaced with something a lot more peaceful.
“Did you fall asleep, Channie-hyung?”
Fall, falling, fell.
The morning after that, Chan woke up in his bed, not really sure how he had fallen asleep. Memories of the night before were hard to come by but he figured he must have just been exhausted, and passed out the second he got home. But later in the evening, Felix had stumbled into his studio wearing the fluffiest white jacket he’d probably ever seen, because it was a nasty negative eight degrees Celsius outside. And well, Felix just looked really, really small.
“Do you wanna go eat, Felix?” Chan had asked a bit instinctively, turning around in his chair to face the younger completely. Felix’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh— oh, no. It’s okay. It’s already ten p.m., and I made chicken at home. I just wanted to see you,” Felix answered warmly, grabbing one of the leather seats and pulling it up next to Chan decisively, burying himself more in his jacket.
“Yeah?” Chan mused, turning back to his desktop and returning back to the song he was attempting to render, and it kept crashing for some reason. He figured Felix just wanted to sit and watch, and he felt more than comfortable with Felix being with him while he worked. He’d done it often before, especially as trainees, because he said he hated being alone and couldn’t sleep. So he would come sit in the studio, sometimes doze off a little, sometimes listen to what Chan had made with Changbin and Jisung today. It was comfortable, it was real, it was everyday.
“Have you been getting enough sleep lately, Channie-hyung?” Felix asked, and the question was a bit out of character for the younger but Chan just shrugged.
“What do you think?” he laughed breathily. Chan was trying to deflect, and something about Felix’s squinted eyes in the reflection of his desktop told him that he knew that.
“You fell asleep at the table last night, you’ve never done that before.”
“I — what?” Chan whipped around now, lifting his hand off the mouse.
“So you were really tired, huh?” Felix’s eyes crinkled and he giggled at Chan’s shocked response.
“I mean.. I.. guess? What happened?” Chan asked, scratching the back of his neck in a slightly nervous manner, the tips of his ears flushing almost immediately. Something about not remembering what he had done with the younger had embarrassed him a little. It was why he never drank around the kids, either.
“Hey, don’t look at me like that. You didn’t make out with me, or anything,” Felix edged on, swatting Chan’s shoulder, a knowing look in his eyes. He knew exactly how to make Chan blush, feel a little out of his depth. How Chan let a twenty year old do that, he wasn’t quite sure.
“Really, though. You just came out to the table when I was cooking something, and you said you wanted some, but you fell asleep at the kitchen table before I could even heat up the stovetop.”
“Oh.” Chan tilted his head. “How did I get back to my bed?”
“You were sort of half awake, so I helped you back. Half functioning, I think. Kept saying you were ‘half alive.’ It was kinda cute.” Felix dug deeper, and Chan’s ears became that much redder. But Chan also felt a slight pang in his chest, realizing he’d emptied out his Half Alive state of mind into the world before he could even really acknowledge what it was, and how to fix it, and well, was it something he needed to fix?
“Don’t look so pained. It’s okay. Sometimes even the leader hyung needs some taking care of,” Felix added simply, wrapping himself around Chan’s arm and hugging it tightly. The older let out a sigh, and closed his eyes for a little, and only when he had pulled his gaze completely from the computer screen had he realized that his eyes were burning, and his head was filling up with cotton a bit, and he was tired all over again. And he wanted to sit there with Felix, all day, all night.
“You’re tired. We should go,” Felix decided, already pulling Chan up with him, and the prospect made Chan’s eyes fly open.
“No, no — it’s okay. Seriously. I should get a few more things done,” Chan assured him, but to no avail as Felix was shaking his head before he could even get a word out and pulling on his arm.
“No, hyung. Every time you do that, you end up just working ’til the morning anyway. Let’s just go.”
“It’s okay. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine!” Felix asserted, his voice raised much higher than before, and dropped his hands to his sides, effectively letting go of the older. Chan had jumped, and was taken aback, and then straightened his posture in the chair, his expression becoming a lot sharper.
“Yongbok-ah?” he asked, almost for clarification. Like a silent Did you really do that?
“No, you’re not going to do the whole leader hyung thing, either,” Felix huffed, getting visibly more agitated, and he stood up from his seat. The younger crossed his arms indignantly, and despite how fluffy, and small, and cute his entire appearance was the exact opposite aura was radiating off him.
“What are you talking about? Felix, I’m okay. Seriously. You don’t need to do this,” Chan answered, a bit off-handedly, and he was going to turn back to the computer screen when Felix suddenly exploded.
“Can you listen to me for.. for once, shit, please? And not act like your own well-being isn’t important? I’m serious!”
“My well-being is important, but I can make my own decisions, I’m an adult. Why are you acting like this?” Chan countered, his voice much colder than before. He was starting to get frustrated with Felix’s impatience, and apparent distrust in the older, and he figured this was the only way to get his frustration across, and his way, what he wanted.
However, Chan had instantly regretted his change in tone as soon as he saw the younger deflate immediately, cowering in on himself like, well, yeah, you guessed it, a kitten.
“I’m — I’m sorry, I didn’t.. I didn’t mean it like that, I trust you, I just… you don’t seem completely okay right now, I guess? I just, I’m sorry, I should just go, I’m sorry—”
“Felix, no, no I—I didn’t mean to snap at you,” Chan added quickly, heartbeat picking up worryingly fast as he watched Felix began to gather his things, heading for the door in a beeline. He tried to grab the sleeve of Felix’s jacket but it was just that much out of reach, everything was out of reach.
“No, I’m sorry, I’ll see you tomorrow I guess? For practice, I’m sorry, goodnight.”
And Felix was gone as quickly as he had tiptoed into the studio.
Chan felt like half a person.
It was a little after eleven thirty when Chan decided to head back. He realized Felix was upset so he didn’t want to chase after him like Park Seojoon in a drama, but he also didn’t want to make him feel like he didn’t care about what happened either. Because he did, and it was starting to eat him up a little.
The air felt much colder on his cheeks walking home than yesterday, despite wearing the exact same brand of shorts, hoodie, and parka. Everything felt a bit colder to Chan, like the air was itching to get inside him and freeze up his organs. Maybe that’d be a little relieving as of now, and feel better than the existential dread he was feeling so deep in his chest.
He counted the pavement tiles below his feet as he debated whether or not he even deserved his position in Stray Kids and JYPE, whether he really acted like a good hyung to the members, whether he deserved the shelter his parents had worked so carefully to provide for. He was too mean, he was cold, he wanted his way even when Felix was screaming in his face that he was doing it out of care.
All for a shitty song he knew he’d trash and restart the next morning.
Chan was hungry and wanted to stop by the convenience store, but quickly waved away the thought. He felt too ashamed for some reason. Too ashamed to face a convenience store worker, who didn’t even know what happened? What a joke.
The dorm front door appeared in front of his face quicker than he would’ve liked and he tentatively unlocked it, stepping inside and knocking off the bits of snow that his shoes had collected throughout the walk home. He placed them carefully on the ground, wincing a little seeing Felix’s wet converse placed haphazardly about. It was too cold to wear converse.
“Did you do something?” he heard Minho’s voice cut into the air, and Chan looked up, seeing him sitting on the couch with Jisung’s head in his lap. Something was playing on the television, an anime, but he couldn’t really tell what it was, and clearly Jisung was not that interested either, as he was completely passed out on top of Minho’s thighs. He looked peaceful sleeping.
“Felix. You know what I mean,” Minho answered nonchalantly, choosing instead to stare at the locks of hair on Jisung’s head as he brushed his fingers slowly through them.
“A bit. We got into an argument. I’m going to, uh. Talk to him,” Chan said a bit sheepishly. It had been so while since arguments like this happened in the dorm, they felt a little immature, so far away from the person that Chan thought he had grown up into.
“You should.” Minho turned around, facing him again, a scary sincerity in his gaze. “Chan-hyung, he seemed really upset. Whatever happened, it wasn’t good.”
“Um, yeah. Yeah, I know. I am. Thank you, Minho,” Chan replied, hitting himself internally that he couldn’t really come up with something better, but he was much too focused on other things, and as he padded down the hallway to his, Changbin’s, and Felix’s bedroom the bugs in his head were starting to get too loud again, and the Alive part of his brain was going Felix, Felix, Felix, Felix, Felix.
Chan didn’t even bother knocking, so he wasn’t sure why he was surprised at the sight of Felix lying down on his bed, staring at the ceiling, the rims of his eyes a worrying red. It felt too close, too familiar for comfort; Felix’s position, the blankness in his eyes as he stared so deeply into the waves of the ceiling. Chan felt like that a lot, it wasn’t good, and he didn’t want Felix to feel like that. He really hadn’t been okay, lately.
“Felix, it’s me.”
“Hi,” the younger said, barely moving, with a soft voice.
“Can we talk? Well. We need to, I need to,” Chan was going to try to sound a bit bigger and less fragile than he actually was, but his desperation ramped up quickly and he sat down on the edge of Felix’s bed, playing with the cuticles of his thumbnails that were already dug deep beyond belief.
“Yeah, um. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for making it seem like I didn’t trust you with your own body—” Felix was too good, much too good for him.
“No, you don’t.. you don’t need to apologize, Lix. I’m sorry, because I was wrong, and I was frustrated and took it on you. You’re right, I haven’t been sleeping a lot lately, and I’ve felt really weird. I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t.. uh, I guess, stable enough to look after you kids, too?”
And that’s when Felix sat up and attacked him in a tight hug, one that squeezed his organs maybe a bit uncomfortably but felt so incredibly grounding, and calmed Chan’s racing brain and heart a little. Felix’s head was resting right against his chest, under his chin, and a deep breath in allowed him to smell the younger. Maybe it was a little weird, but he really liked how Felix smelled. It was a bit of vanilla, and cinnamon, and…
Oh. Felix used the detergent from Chan’s mom.
“Channie-hyung, don’t s-say that. It’s okay. We can take care of you, too,” the younger muttered into his chest, and the guilt only ate at Chan a bit further when the stutter in his voice indicated that the younger had started crying a little. Chan petted his hair, albeit a little hesitantly, and took another deep breath in.
“You can. That’s okay. I’m just so, so, so, so tired.”
“Are you feeling ‘half alive’ again?” Felix giggled as the younger lifted his head from the older’s chest after a few minutes of reassuring silence, but his arms stayed tightly wrapped around him.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Chan sighed and couldn’t help the grin that edged its way onto his features. He couldn’t help it. Felix was contagious in that way.
“You should go to bed, then, hyung.” Felix had begun to unwrap his arms carefully.
“Uh, uhm—! Wait.”
“… Yeah, Chris?” Felix stopped his motions immediately, furrowing his eyebrows a little in confusion as he stared up at the older expectantly. Chan took a deep breath. He had an idea, and it was a little scary to act on it. He could do it right? He could ask for help?
“Do you… mind if I sleep here? With you? You just, uh.. you smell nice. And I like it here, and, um—” Chan started to stutter.
“Wow, I didn’t have to do it this time, hyung. Your ears are already red,” Felix laughed, pointing excitedly at the sides of his head and Chan groaned inwardly, flopping back down on the covers and hiding his own reddening features with his hands. He didn’t quite enjoy how he wore his heart on his sleeve so openly, but if it made Felix laugh, maybe it was alright.
“Yes, that’s a yes by the way. If you want to.”
“Only if you want to,” Chan countered from behind his hands.
And so that night Chan was snuggled to sleep, and this time the Not Alive and Alive parts of his brain didn’t battle to shut down thoughts, or didn’t leave him so lifeless that he felt like he couldn’t move even if his human body was erupting in flames. In fact, the Not Alive brain had subsided completely, like it had only been a visitor the months Chan had come to know it.
The bugs were quiet, too. They were asleep. Or soaked in pesticide.
He lied beside Felix, and took in a few weird deep breaths, just to smell vanilla, and his mom’s detergent, and maybe a bit of kimchi. Felix hadn’t brushed his teeth because he had whined, hyung, I’m so comfy already!
And that was okay.
It was gonna be okay.