1

June was taken aback by Lee Sik's suggestion, or rather, command. The other idols on the stage were also surprised. However, they were also curious—was June really worthy of joining their stage?

"I only allow great singers on my team," Mr. Lee Sik said. "The production team might have agreed for you to sing with us, but I can't blindly accept a person who hasn't been here since the beginning."

June pursed his lips, hesitating on what to do.

"So, unless you show me that you're worthy of singing my song, I have no choice but to show you hostility," Lee Sik added.

The two of them locked gazes, the middle-aged man almost burning with passion.

"Are you up for the challenge, young man?"

The room was silent for a couple of seconds. However, it was broken by the sound of wood scraping against the floor. June stood from his chair and walked toward the stage, his gaze still on Lee Sik.

Lee Sik smirked and made way for June on the centerstage.

"No mics. No anything. Just you and the instrumental," the veteran singer said.

June nodded while the others made their way down the elevated platform. They settled in their original seats and intently watched June, whose face couldn't be read from where they were sitting.

Nico smirked as he looked at the idol. He might seem confident now, but he'll soon crumble if he doesn't show Lee Sik a great performance.

During their very first practice, the production team actually enjoined a lot of idols to perform with the one and only Lee Sik. Nico was confused at first—he thought he had already been chosen to be a part of the final line-up.

However, it was an audition of some sort. From 25 idols, Lee Sik narrowed it to 4.

Lee Sik believed he had made the greatest line-up from the list of idols he was given, so now that June barged into the picture, he didn't want to give him any special treatment.

He first needed to prove that he was deserving to sing 'Father.'

"Whenever you're ready," Lee Sik said, snapping June out of his thoughts.

For a moment, June was lost in his thoughts as he stared at the music sheet.

"Am I going to sing my lines?" June asked.

"No," Lee Sik smirked. "Sing the third chorus."

June read the lyrics of the third chorus and felt a pang in his chest.

When Jay first informed him of the lines he was going to sing, he was disappointed with how scarce it was. However, he was thankful at the same time—since he didn't have to sing the third chorus.

'Father' was a very special song because its lyrics portrayed an unspoken truth. It was about the sweet relationship of a child with his father and how it turned bitter in the end. It was even more touching as it was written from the first person's point of view.

June wasn't too fond of it because it reminded him too much of home.

In Rising Stars, he had come to terms with the loss of his mother—his beautiful mother whom he treated like home.

His father, on the other hand, was a gray topic.

"I'm ready," June said.

Lee Sik nodded, went to the music player, and fast-forwarded it to the second verse.

As the lonely tune of the piano and the gayageum played, June closed his eyes and felt the emotions of the wordless instrumental.

At first, he didn't want to sing with the weight of his past—he didn't want to get emotional.

However, as he stared into Lee Sik's eyes a while back, June felt like it was what he was looking for.

The chorus neared, so June took a deep breath and rid his mind of any distractions.

It was only him and the song.

The room fell into a hushed silence as they listened to the melody that enveloped them like a familiar embrace.

"I watched the strong man use his strength…

…to inflict wounds within arm's length."

The first few words tumbled from his lips, and a ripple of uncertainty swept through the room. His voice cracked at the word—'wounds,' causing the others to exchange glances.

Nico was satisfied, but at the same time, he kept his gaze on June, who didn't seem bothered by his slip-up.

Xion frowned as he watched June, his heart feeling strange.

Mimi, on the other hand, was ready to fall in love again. With the utterance of his first words, she was already enamored.

"I stood, I watched, I couldn't do anything,

But resent the man who became my nothing."

As June continued, it made sense to the people watching that the crack of his voice was deliberate. He was able to deliver the lines just like how a broken child would sing it under the moon.

His voice was pleasant and soft, pleasing to the ears yet painful to the heart; and even without the fancy runs and well-rounded belts, he had captured the hearts of everyone in the room.

It was as if he had tapped into an unseen well of emotion.

The room fell silent as he sang the last two lines of the third chorus.

Lee Sik, who once had a disinterested look, now watched the stage intently.

When the veteran singer was given the chance to perform at the year-end show, he knew he wanted to make a tribute to his biggest hit—'Father.' It was a song embedded deep within his heart because it spoke of his personal story.

However, despite it being his greatest hit, he had only performed it live once. For the young Lee Sik, singing it was far too painful.

As time healed all wounds, he realized that singing the song didn't hurt as much anymore. But now, as he listened to June's version of the chorus he painstakingly wrote, he couldn't help but feel an ache within his heart.

It was as if he was transported back to the past, where he was a mere teenager, writing a resentful letter to his father.

When the short vocal performance ended, the room remained in a state of suspended silence. Xion looked down at his lap and shook his head in disbelief at what he just heard.

Nico felt emotional; however, he kept it in since he didn't want to give June the satisfaction of seeing him being touched by his performance.

Mimi looked at June with glassy eyes, wanting to run to the stage and give him a comforting hug.

Tres, on the other hand, nodded in acknowledgment. He admitted he was a bit biased when June suddenly joined the line-up for the special performance. However, as he listened to the short chorus, he realized that they needed June.

He also remembered Uno's words about June—'We're on the same level now, but I don't know until when. So, I have to work even harder than before.'

June cleared his throat, causing the others to snap out of their thoughts.

Then, he gazed into Lee Sik's eyes once more.

"Was I worthy?" he asked.