Kookheon knew he was good.
He didn't even need the countless compliments from trainers and trainees alike to tell him that. But he didn't have the fansupport that many other trainees had. This was his second survival show, yet he still didn't manage to rank higher than around the upper middle.
He saw it coming of course, way before the actual ranking announcement. And of course he had those thoughts that anyone would in his situation.
Maybe if he tried a little harder, was a little louder, drew a little more attention to himself. Maybe if he got just a little more screentime.
But he also knew he was doing as much as he could. He was already injured and already pushing past his limits. And it wasn't like him to show his darkest emotions to millions of strangers for a couple pity votes.
In the end it was enough to see members from his beloved 'Move' team standing there. It was enough to see his labelmate Yuvin sit down in his seat with a look of pride and hope, smiling sadly when he caught Kookheon's eyes.
It had always been him. He had cried for Yuvin when his friend couldn't show off what he had worked so hard for and he had encouraged Yuvin time and time again to go for that main vocal spot he wanted so badly. He had laughed with him during late night meals and practices and he had held him tight during the nights it was all too much.
And he would continue to do all that even if Yuvin would be taken away from him now. Even if Yuvin got to debut when he wouldn't. He would always be there, looking up with him with a smile and proud eyes, keeping his own tears inside, no matter what.
That was the one thing he was completely sure of.
The only thing.
Because he had no idea where to go from here. Because Kookheon had failed, again. His second survival show. Secretly he had hoped he would be successful this time, because it was the second time. Hoping his experience and maybe some of his fans would have carried over. But that hope was gone now.
He could join survival shows as much as he wanted, but there would always be someone better than him. Some prodigy child, some jokester that stole everyone's heart, some bright-eyed kid that worked harder than he realistically should.
He would always be overlooked, ignored. Maybe he just wasn't meant for this.
But was else was there?
Kookheon couldn't give up. For the way the people in the audience looked up at him with bright eyes and high expectations, waving around banners with his name in flickering lights. For the way the trainers gave him compliments, their satisfied faces watching the choreography he had worked so hard on. For the way the younger trainees would come up to him, fidgeting and not daring to look him in the eye, softly thanking him for his help and training when he didn't have to do that. For the way his debuted teammates whispered the words to him, clutching his body tight after the finale, desperation turned to relief, no longer trying to keep in their tears. "Don't give up, Kookheon. Please don't give up." For the way he knew none of it was for the camera's, for the intimate, emotional moments he'd spent with all these people, the unspoken words between them, the weight they had all carried together. For the pride he felt for them.
And for Yuvin. For the way his eyes went darker and darker the more trainees got announced for debut during the dreaded final episode. The way he slowly saw the last bit of hope his friend had kept despite knowing better slowly die out. The way he ended up alone on his side of the stage, all the trainees surrounding him having been called one by one to come up to the debut stage. The way he tried to be happy for them, tried so hard, but Kookheon could see the disappointment on his face.
He couldn't give up. For Yuvin.
Because he knew his friend needed someone to keep him going. To ensure him of his talent, and that good things were coming his way. To hold him and ground him and remind him of everything they had managed and achieved already.
He couldn't give up, because if he did, Yuvin would too.
And he would never let that happen.