First Pillar, Justin
No one gives blunter advice than Sejun, especially where their craft was involved. Sure, it made him a little too cold and a little too standoffish amongst other trainees back then. But an early stage, people like Justin could see the markings of a leader in him. Throughout the long journey, he watched him grow as a performer, a dancer, a singer, a writer, but most importantly he watched him grow into a steady pillar for the rest of the members to lean on and look up to.
He's blunt, but not mean. He gives Justin the straight facts: what to improve, what he suggests to do, what he does wrong and how he did overall. Other people might feel that his words often come off as abrasive, but no. Justin doesn't want to be coddled; he wants to learn. He wants to grow. Sugarcoating never worked for him. He knows it for himself, and Sejun knows this. Sometimes he'd cry not just on the inside, but Sejun is quick to remind him the whys like why he's still here. All in the same bluntness and sharpness. No, he never cursed. He just phrased things the simplest way. Like Ken does. Except that Ken is usually quiet and reserved, sometimes a little shy to speak up unless asked.
"Jah, masyadong off ka sa tono."
"Jah, praktisin mo muna lines mo."
"Jah, kaya mo ba? O lilipat kita ng linya?"
"Jah, bumagal ka sa intro."
"Naubusan ka pa ng hininga, itiming mo kasi."
That's why no one also gives the best compliments other than his leader. When Sejun does tell him he's doing something right, something great, he knows it's not for show. It's not for the fragile heart everyone seems to agree he has. When Sejun says he is doing good, Justin thinks and feels the compliment is true and well-earned. Because Sejun knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of worse words, worse insults, worse criticisms. Justin knows because he sees the other when he comes out of the meeting room taking the brunt all by himself after long discussions with the management. He sees the other laughing and making a joke out of the hate and doubts they read online. Even those that were said to their faces, he just handled as calmly as he could, caught the harder questions and answered them himself, drawing them in with his clear vision and intellect. He knows what and how to hurt, that he doesn't let anyone else go through it senselessly.
So when Sejun treats him with food or things, or maybe pats his head, or maybe laughs a little too much at his and Ken's corny and weird jokes, Justin knows their ice prince is just cold for show.
Second Pillar, Ken
Ken never would hit his members, even when, and especially when they're annoying. But he would be lying if he said he never thought of it or that he was close to doing it. It was no secret that out of the five of them, Sejun has got to be the easiest to get irritable. He's also got the sharpest and fastest tongue (he's not a main rapper for nothing!). A combination of those traits and you get a leader who acts as the mother of their group, complete with the sniper gun and the laser beams.
Ken doesn't hit his members, especially his older brothers, but sometimes Sejun can be annoying. Overbearing. He knocks on his door at random times to remind him to get out and get some sun. He eyes him with a steely glare until Ken brings that pitcher of water to his room. He makes sure Ken eats, drags him with Josh when they excuse themselves that they didn't bring lunch to practice.
He'd ask Ken how was his new writings coming up, right when Ken loses his muse. He'd remind Ken not to be late (he never does these days, not anymore). He'd suddenly include Ken's name in conversations he is not mentally present for at times! (Thankfully, he never does that in interviews, though.)
Ken knows he has his own little world most of the time, and he knows he likes to spend his own time there. But Sejun doesn't let him. He grabs him by the ear (metaphorically, thank god) and pushes him into the sunlight. He could very well fight his way out of the older's grip, but Ken knows that Sejun knows that he won't.
Sejun knows that somehow Ken likes it. To be reminded, to be pulled back into the world when he's spent too long a time in solitude, to be included, to be looked after. To be noticed. Because sometimes Ken forgets that even though he's the last member to join, he's still a part of them. That kind of bold declaration from a person who is Sejun? That's a firm fact and nobody would ever dare question it. Not even himself.
Third Pillar, Stell
Stell knew Josh the longest. They practically go way, way back before they were trainees. And he loves his friend, their oldest brother. They shared a lot of experiences and memories in the past, aftef all. Sejun on the other hand, he knew the next longest among the four of them. They met on his first day at the training, and he probably stared too weirdly at the other like somebody watching a documentary but yes, they became friends quickly anyway.
Don't mistake it; he loves all of his members in their own unique ways. However, Stell is also an affectionate person who likes physical contact with anyone he cares about. He didn't have to adjust much to the kind of training their teacher put them through as a group. Though the rest of the members try their best too, he finds himself most comfortable wih Sejun.
Even when he tries to deny that he's the most affectionate out of all of them, he knows his actions are often unconscious. He holds hands, lays his head on another's shoulder, leans on one member's side or poke at ticklish spots, fixes another's hair or their clothes, drags whoever is lagging behind, never shies away from getting too close or coming in contact, and he loves all kinds of hugs.
To think that their so called "strict" and "easily irritable" leader is the one he engages with the most in these physical contact is nothing short of surprising for Stell. With Sejun, he gets to have that older sibling kind of feeling- the one that's both strict (read: scary!) and caring (read: softie!). Sejun lets him be and do all these things with him, after all. When everyone expects their leader to be straight-laced at all times, he surprises everyone (except the four of them) with his silly, childish side, and his affectionate, clingy side.
Most importantly, Sejun reciprocates unabashedly. Sejun is not afraid of initiating contact either and he doesn't care if there were cameras or not. It's just the way he is, it seemed. He is the kind of person who never holds back on anything, including his actions.
Stell is invitably drawn to that kind of confidence; makes him a little braver, surer. The rest of their members consciously follow, too. They try to be more open, and try to feel less shy about the bonds they formed together. For Stell, it makes him a little more comfortable and less alone. Despite what people say about their preferences, he is quite sure of his own but it helps that he's not the only one who thinks the same. For that, he admires this older brother just a bit more.
Fourth Pillar, Josh
Josh is a strong person. Anyone who knows him well enough knows this. Hell, with all that he's breen through, the fact that he was standing still is testament to his fortitude. Nobody could question that.
He grew up having to rely on himself for so long, may it be in solving a problem or motivating himself. He's more used to gritting his teeth in silence; pushing, training, practicing until his outputs were up to the standards. He's more used to finding a way out, and having to deal with all sorts of words thrown against him.. all on his own.
Now though, he's trying to change his old habits. He has a group now, a family of five people whom he may not see eye to eye with at times but whom he was confident that they were looking in the same direction. All five of them are looking up, and none of them will stop at anything until they reach the top. These bunch of whacks also became his safety net. It was scary, the thought of finally having someone to depend on or lean on when he's to bent and exhausted. It was like knowing the cheat codes of a game. Except, Josh knew nothing was wrong with it. Nothing was wrong with letting loose a little and trusting other people to have his back. Nothing was wrong.. He just needs to get used to it.
He just needs to admit that and many things. Like how he looks to Sejun, their leader only a year younger than him, when things go rough and the world just seemed to go brittle under their feet. How he subconsciously looks forward to Sejun dragging them in a huddle and saying prayers (prayers that took him a long time to believe in again) then saying their mantra in a low but steady voice. How he puts his trust in Sejun's compositions despite the odds starting slow in their favor. And now that they're starting to gain momentum, he looks to their leader's calm and confident countenance. He draws from there when things get more excited and hyped that he can't think. Because who wouldn't be excited? Who wouldn't get wired and pumped with adrenaline when they're finally getting there? Sejun, brutal and blunt like the cold winter. Sejun, warm and calm like the spring- he tells them to look ahead. He reminds them they're not quite there yet, but if they persevere and do better, they eventually will.
So when Sejun gives him the rap lines, he does his best. When Sejun gives him the verses that he knows he usually gives to anybody else but him, he gives his damned hardest. Sejun knows he's trying against all odds and what people say about his talents and his position. Josh thinks it's the younger's own way of patting his back and giving him that push without denting too much of his old pride. It's like in every piece that he's given, every task, Sejun says, "Go, get it. Slay it. You're better than what they and you yourself think."
For someone who was constantly doubted and put down? That's a lot.
Fifth Pillar, Sejun
What time is it? What day is it? Honestly, Sejun doesn't know. He does know he's runing out of time, of words, ideas, of brain cells?? Of air??
He can't tell. The world feels like the chilly arctic, and his muscles are protesting, and his bones are aching. His skull wants to explode, and his body feels like one big limp noodle that refuses to cooperate. What is happening? He groans, hearing somebody call out his name. He tries to open his eyes but the lights hate him. He immediately shies away from them and tries to curl up. Somebody's hands are touching him and they felt like fire. He tries to get away from it but it's pointless? At one point he almost feels like he was falling through space, then floating in it, but that would just be ridiculous a thought.
Several moments later, he lands on something soft that he actually sighs. He musters as much energy to finally crawl into the corner of this beloved fluffy haven. A blanket of warmth then envelopes his entire body. It not quite enough to calm the winter inside his bones but he huffs and mumbles a thank you, nonetheless. At least somebody out there was trying to help him from this unexplained misery.
Several points from then on, he tries to be lucid to no avail. Sometimes he hears someone talk in whispers. Sometimes they're just gibberish and that he's listening from under water. Sometimes, he feels something move near him. Sometimes, he feels fingers running through his scalp. Then again, he also feels kind of like he got plowed by a truck so he couldn't trust anything he just feels. A distant voice tells him to sleep, and yeah, okay, sure. Sleep. Yes, sleep sounds good. Sleep is very, very good-
Next time he wakes up, he finally is lucid enough. He blinks through the soft light and wonders where it could come from. The TV is on, almost muted, but aside from that, no lights were on. He's in the living room, his brain sluggishly supplies.
A little concerned how he got there, he tries to move only to panic slightly when he couldn't. He's covered with layers and layers of blankets,but he finds himself welcoming the heat.Then he heard the distinct sound from the only member of the group who snores. Josh. He's on the floor, leaning against the sofa where apparently he's laying on (when and how? Sejun yet knows). The remote remains on his slack hand, while his head is tilted slightly that it brings a weight to Sejun's curled arms. Speaking of weights, a hand rests on his head, and judging from the thigh he's lying on and the faint scent of strawberry it was Stell's. Next to Josh was Justin, both arms crossed on the sofa as pillows as he slept, sitting on the floor. Ken was squeezed on the farthest end of the couch, having Sejun's legs on his lap.
Sejun blinks. And blinks again.
On the coffee table in front of them, his precious scratch papers were placed neatly on top of each other. Then, it hits him. The busy schedule, the sleepless nights trying to come up with a song, the pressure of the management and the fans to step up their game and ride their growing momentum. The countless plans they had to brainstorm for days.
He knew he was burning the candle from both ends. He just... probably didn't care as much as he should. It wasn't a priority. Everyone depended on him, and he had a job to do. So this was probably his own body telling it's own two cents about whatever he was doing.
Oh, this will be fun to explain to the guys tomorrow.
Speaking of which, he looks down to the four grown men huddled around a sofa, trying to fit in to small a space. They remain blissfully asleep which is good. They deserved to have some rest. After all, it was supposed to be a rest day and yet here they are. Sejun knows he rarely got sick, but when he does, he doesn't hold back on it either.
He sighs. He looks back to the four faces he's come to know and grown to cherish. They don't know this, and maybe he should make an effort on saying it, honestly, but when Sejun doesn't know where to haul his strength from- he only looks at them and he'd feel a little better. They don't know this, but when he runs out of words, ideas, braincells, and even hope- he only needs to see them.
Case in point, "Go Up" was borne out of their desperation, but it was also borne out of him drawing his last dregs of energy from these bunch of crazy people who dreamed crazy big dreams together with crazy him.
They don't know these, but when everything, including himself, fails him, he only needs to see them, so he doesn't dwell on the uncertainty ahead too much; to feel them near, so he stops acting as if he was alone and isolated; to hear them bickering and exchanging banters and corny jokes, so the silence doesn't drown him.
They don't know that they've become so much to him that it's almost scary, giving this much value and worth to people and hoping they wouldn't run away with it.
But someday. Someday, he can say it to them. Properly. Honestly. Sincerely.
For now though, he just builds enough courage to say the simple words in the still night air as a whisper, "Thank you."
If Sejun only noticed the four grown men were secretly awake the whole time, none but the slight quirk of their lips would have given them away.