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Josh knows that the phone call ended as soon as he re-enters their doorway. He holds his stare on the other and tries to gauge what happened, or what to say. The house is silent for now, and he may be getting old, but he doesn't like breaking the comfort that it holds.

His hazel brown eyes, they always found him. He holds his stare even as footsteps approach him. Josh wordlessly makes room on the sofa, arms already reaching out to catch the other. Josh knows he is as sturdy as any leader of his position  could be, but he also knows the man behind the easy smiles and the prickly cold duality. 

It's been a long, long day.

He thinks he heard a soft sigh as soon as he feels the younger man curl right beside him. For someone who's taller than most people, Sejun tends to make himself smaller. Just another of his contraditions, he mused. Sejun has an unwavering confidence that anybody can practically feel from a few feet away, yet he also demeans himself like he could never take himself so seriously. 

The man who just got off the phone call, straight-backed and voice a soft, low baritone, is an entirely different person who's now slouched to his side. Josh feels the younger's head slump on his shoulder. 

In these moments, he lets the silence reign until Sejun is comfortable. Until then, he only offers his presence.  He knows Sejun likes that. Less on the words, less on the grand gestures. For a hopeless romantic, one would think he'd be overtly affetionate, too. Then again, it's just another of Sejun's contradictions.


"Si Ken?" He finally asks, and he breathes the words like a soft sigh. 

Ken, bless his soul. He's undeniably the missing flavor the group has heen looking for. His personality is an entirely different puzzle piece and yet he fits so easily. Sometimes, though, sometimes, he forgets that his quirks aren't for everybody to see, especially now that they're idols.

Josh thinks that part of being an idol is just being ridiculous. Then again, they're supposed to be relatable while being good role models. Mild cussing on live definitely went beyond that rule. He understands it, really.

Ken does, too. He's as matured and responsible as the rest of them. Still, Josh still felt the need to give him the talk anyway. Just to be sure. 

"Ayos lang. Napagsabihan ko na kanina.." Ken actually was lucky today. He and Sejun, being stuck as the oldest in the group, often found themselves playing cops for the three younger members. Josh got the "good cop", of course. Everyone knows how effectively scary Sejun is when on a roll.

So yes, Ken got lucky.

".. Hindi naman siguro yun big deal, no? Anong sabi ni Teacher?" He asks. Sejun hums in an answer, "Same old. Alam mo na yun. Basta next time, bantayan nalang natin. Alam ko namang nag-aadjust pa lang din si Ken hanggang ngayon.."

Honestly, Ken is already better that way. Unfiltered. Genuine. Even the fans know that already, and it's one of his more endearing traits they love of their second youngest. Then again… They're walking on a path made up of different lines and rules now.

So, Josh just nods. He'll keep an eye, no doubt. The rest of them will. Ken is trying, that's what matters the most. They'll be there to help.

"Si Jah?"

The question of their youngest makes the atmosphere lighter. Justin, their youngest, has always tried not to cause a ruckus. He's diligent, cheerful, thoughtful, and is the kindest of them all. He has his insecurities that takes all four (amd sometimes more) of them to help ward away but it's not a problem for now. After all, they just got back together in the condo, no special performances, no new routines, no nothing. Justin's well for now. He's as bright and corny as his normal self that hearing from him personally after months of being apart makes him soft. A little.

"Tulog na. Lagpas 10 PM na kaya." 

Sejun huffs into Josh's shoulder, rubbing his eyes with one tired hand. "Good. Madami tayong gagawin bukas."

The last member to check up on their daily list is spoken not soon after. It's Josh's turn to ask. "Si Stell?"

Sejun blinks, wriggling himself from his side until he's almost fully seated on Josh's lap.

Good. Josh thinks. Like a cat, he finally becomes comfortable enough to melt into the couch. Better even, he finally gets his human heater back.

"Sabi niya, mas okay na siya nung nag-usap tayong lahat kanina.." He yawns, breath tickling Josh's neck and chin, then continues,  ".. Babalik din yun. Siguro after practice bukas, kain tayo sa labas. Mag invite ka na din kung sino available. Magugustuhan niya 'yon."

Stell's situation is a bit different. Over the months they've only been limited to interacting through chats and calls, it was clear that Stell took it the hardest. He's an outgoing person. He loves being around people, friends and family alike. He loves talking, and would never want to stay in one place. He has a boundless energy none of them knows where he gets from.

The quarantine didn't make things easy for him. Being their mood-setter and happy pill most of the time, everybody saw how Stell was quieter and somber. They worried. Even the fans worried to the point that it became a frequent topic on Twitter.


They couldn't do anything about it much then.

Now though, they're back together. They had a long open forum just last night, too. They talked. And talked. And did things together again. They all missed that, by the way. So maybe it's a lot easier to address Stell's sadness because they all felt that way, too. 

Josh feels absolutely tired already thinking of tomorrow, but he somehow finds the excitement weighing more than anything. A playful smirk crosses his lips then, "Ako bahala."

"Pag prank na naman yan…"

"Hoy, hoy wala akong sinabi!"

Sejun snorts, disbelieving. His brown hues peek from his lashes, drowsy and yet still managing to convey that he is unimpressed. Josh laughs, adjusts his hold on this big, lousy, puddle of a grumpy cat in his arms.


The younger makes a soft grunting sound, but nonetheless buries himself further. Maybe Sejun wants to make home in Josh's ribcage. It's impossible and mobid, but Josh gets a silly warmth in his gut thinking of it. 

The older notes that the tension in his shoulders finally subsides. He shifts only slightly so the couch could be more occupied. Sejun doesn't even retaliate.  On a normal day neither wouldn't even want to be caught dead in this position, but today was an exceptionally long day.

They aren't known for PDAs or sweet talks. Fans barely shipped them together, and that's saying something considering they have the keenest eyes and wildest imaginations. Usually, people are even more surprised to see them together like this, actually. It's like the two of them in this view was something of an improbability; that they just don't seem to show any sparks whatsoever.

Josh doesn't mind. 

For that, Justin often called them an "old, married couple". He cracks up imagining Sejun as the grumpy old man lounging on the porch all day, but other than that, he really doesn't mind the comparison either.

They don't need the world to know what worlds they see when they catch glimpses of each other. They don't need other people to see what each smile and touch mean to them. They don't need to know about the secrets they keep in between their shared spaces and quiet moments. 

Once upon a time, Josh wouldn't have wanted this. He wanted someone he could be loud and proud with. He wanted the kind of love he could shout at the top of buildings. He wanted to feel the pride of holding someone's hand and showing it for the world to see.

Once upon a time, he would have hated this kind of silence.

But as Sejun looks up to him, palm on his chest and cheek resting on that same palm, Josh thinks he likes this better now.

"Ikaw?" He finally asks. Any other time and any other person could ask that and Josh would answer confidently, indifferently. Now is different. Sejun is different.

"Ako? Hmm..." 

Sejun begins tracing abstract patterns on his shirt, waiting patiently. Josh tries not to be distracted by the warmth of his fingers and the goosebumps left on his skin. 

He focuses on this moment, this parchment of time where everything is silent and vulnerability is welcomed with open arms.

Even when the quarantine started, they never seemed to run out of things to celebrate for. Recently, their fans even surprised them by topping the social chart. They had many interviews and guesting, local and international, too. They even bagged awards even without doing much during the lockdown. Brands also reached out to them, and now they're working on too many ads and partnerships than they could ever imagine. 

They wouldn't get any of this if it weren't for their supporters. Their A'TIN. The five of them know they don't deserve any of this, not yet, but their fans do.

And that's why he's scared. Because they don't deserve this. Not all of this. Not all of this in just a short time, too. Josh, for all his claims on being realistic, experienced too many heartbreaks in his life that waiting for the "other shoe to drop" has become a norm to him now.

He's not the only one who feels this, he knows. They each coped with it differently, too. Josh's own method happens to be.. well, pretending to ignore the looming, heavy feeling settling on his shoulders and just grits his teeth through it.

Fake it 'til you make it, he'd always say.

Not a day passes by that he does not worry what he can do, what he should be doing, and how he should be doing to be enough. To be deserving. Not a day passes by that he looks up to the skies, hesitant and confused as if he's hoped too many times before and then get burned in the same number.

He's brought to his senses when something touches his cheek. Sejun blinks up to him blearily, breaths fanning across his skin that leaves goosebumps. 

Sejun..

Sejun has his own demons, too. He has his own fights that none of them could help. The red-rimmed eyes, furrowed brows, puffy eyebags tell far too much of sleepless nights and unknown sacrifices.

If one day, he decides he's tired of it, what then? If he leaves, what then?

If they all got tired and thought better for themselves, what then?

The Sejun in his present frowns. His fingers begin to trace and comb through Josh's scalp, saying without words that he's overthinking again and he should pull the brakes.

Josh carefully takes the gentle hand from his hair so he could hold them. He thinks for the seventh time that their hands are comically different. Not just in size, but in the stories told by the placement of their bumps and callouses. In any light, their intertwined fingers make a pretty unusual picture. Asymetric, like two pieces from different puzzles stuck together in just the right way.

"Natatakot ako."

Sejun smiles. It's not because of the what the admission meant, but it' the fact that he himself admitted to it. His smile is soft around the edges  with just the hint of his braces. His eyes crinkle at the sides, but only slightly. His brown hues hold a certain kind of fire, like earth burnt in flames. Like always, his intensity lives behind those eyes. Like always, Josh tries to decipher each story and emotion hidden there.

He sees not a pity, not a condescension. He sees fear. He sees uncertainty. He sees pain. 

He sees courage. He sees stubbornness. Faith, too. But all of those Sejun- no, Paulo's eyes look him with, it's that subtle but fierce love that Josh's gets the most.

And that calms him more than anything.

Paulo leans forward to plant his lips on his forehead and his nose. Josh catches them when it landed on his own lips. Paulo doesn't say anything much, but the way his hand cups his cheek and his arm wraps around him possessively- protectively- he doesn't need to.

They're both trembling, holding each other like fragile glass, but there's no reason to be strong for now. Josh knows that tomorrow they'll be back to who they are, but for now this weakness will be theirs and theirs alone.


 

"-no ba 'yan. Aga-aga, nagkakalat mga tatay na'to.." Justin mumbles as he throws the blanket carefully to cover the two adult figures sleeping on the sofa. He tries to imagine how painful wrecks their limbs and necks would be when they wake up, but Justin has enough self-preservation not to disturb the two.

"Ju-aah..?" A sleepy, hoarse voice sounded from under the soft blanket.

Justin freezes almost literally on the spot, "..Po..?"

"Ikaw maghuhugas ngayon.."

Someone snickers behind him. Ken, the idiot, had the nerve to laugh while forgetting to turn the camera sound off.

".. Kayong dalawa, ha.."  Sejun starts, almost sweetly with his husky, morning voice.

"Ingay n'yo." Josh grumps. He shifts, startling everyone in the room except for the one he tucked protectively between his side and the furniture.

"Gising na ba sila?! Good mORNING!!!!-"

"STELL!!!" Ken and Justin feared for their lives right then and there that they forgot screaming the older's name was, in fact, counterproductive.

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"…  Humanda kayo."