None of them changed out of their clothes.
The stylist had tried to refute the idea when Sangyeon brought it up initially, but somehow, he’d gently expressed that the boys were really tired and would much rather shower right after taking off the stage outfits instead of changing into something more comfortable for the ride home.
He then swore on his position as the leader - with his precious studio room on the line - that he would ensure that the outfits were handled with care and returned the next morning.
As they piled into their van, still clad in the pristine white costumes they’d won for their performance, Sangyeon had breathed a sigh of relief at his decision.
He’d seen the looks on their faces as the results on the expert evaluation came up, felt their muscles tense beneath their skin, and heard the dismay in their voices that they didn’t try to hide behind bright smiles.
He knew that more than anything, they just wanted to be elsewhere.
The ride back to the door was heart-achingly silent and when the van parked in its designated spot within the parking lot, Sangyeon turned to face his members with parted lips, words fading from his mind at the sight of Sunwoo curling into Chanhee’s side with a sniff.
“For now… let’s stay together. We’ll rest, eat and meet up in an hour for our five-minute talk.”
Initially, being separated into different dorms had been scary and difficult - especially when they considered the new dynamic their relationship had taken. But soon they realized it really didn’t matter how far or daunting the restrictions were. Somehow, they found a way to constantly keep in touch despite their busy schedules and saw each other almost every day.
As the restrictions became lighter, they started having sleepovers at whichever dorm they found themselves in at that moment.
Their manager provided a few instructions concerning their outfits and schedules for the next day and took off, leaving the sullen boys to themselves. It took every ounce of Sangyeon’s will not to address their sadness at that moment, wanting nothing more to see the beautiful, genuine smiles he loved so much, but he wanted to respect their feelings and give them some time to think. They shouldn’t be upset for too long but it was perfectly okay that they were.
Every group competing for kingdom wanted the throne. They were all battling to show they deserved the crown and if they were willing to ‘settle’, they wouldn't have gotten onto the stage in the first place.
After a quick shower, Sangyeon climbed his bed and closed his eyes, trying to think of what to say to his boys and just how to do so.
Last week, they’d come in second. Today, third. He knew the fears in his member’s hearts. They had been both blessed and cursed by performing first. The bright side was that they had performed quickly enough which saved them from spending time being torn apart by anxiety and nervousness like the first week. But it meant that they had to watch everyone else display their talent, with nowhere to run.
He was confident in his team’s abilities - proud, even - and was fully aware that they were among the best. But that was what Kingdom was - a gathering of the best. Each group had something unique and special and no matter how hard they fought to exalt their performance, there was always a voice that whispered. “Did I do something wrong? Should I have taken this step instead? Is there something I lack?”
And he knew his teammates were fighting against these thoughts but the ranking they received today weakened their defenses. He knew because he felt exactly the same.
A gentle knock at his door caused him to open his eyes and he turned to find Eric standing with a white towel covering his dripping hair.
“We’re about to order some food and we wanted to know what hyung would like.”
Sangyeon blinked, frowning his brows in a bid to muster up an expression to suggest he actually had an appetite, giving up exactly seven seconds later.
“Whatever is fine with me.”
Eric seemed to notice but didn’t address it, leaning back out of the doorway to yell, “Hyung said he’ll eat anything.” then turned back to softly ask, “Can I stay with you? Until the food arrives?”
Sangyeon smiled and opened his arms, wrapping them around the younger boy’s smaller frame moments later once he’d snuggled comfortably into Sangyeon’s chest.
The leader waited a bit before mumbling gently, “Are you okay, baby?”
“Not really,” Eric quietly admitted, tightening his grip over a fistful of Sangyeon’s hoodie. “I’m sorry. I know I should be stronger for the team and Deobis, but I’m scared-”
“I know,” Sangyeon muttered, gently lifting Eric’s chin so he could look him in the eye. “I know you’re scared. But it’s nothing to be sorry about. You are allowed to feel however you want about today. You are allowed to be honest about your disappointment. don’t ever feel like you have to hide who you are. Make your own pride, remember?”
Sangyeon grinned easily when Eric giggled and fondly patted his head. “When we face setbacks, we just have to work harder to get out goal. That’s what we’ve always said, right? That’s what we’re trying to teach our precious Deobis. We’re going to be okay.”
The corners of Eric’s lips quirked up and he leaned closer to press them gently against Sangyeon’s pulling back before the leader could return his affections.
“Um-” Kevin called from the doorway, “As cute as you both are, the food’s here and I’m starving. Move your cute butts.”
Eric gasped in an overdramatic display of feigned surprise. “You’re hungry? That’s a first. I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see this happen. I need to write it down. The world needs to know. I need to tell Deobis. Where’s my phone?”
Kevin knew there was no harm in Eric’s words and decided to play along.
“I don’t like you very much.”
“Ha. Liar. You told me you loved me this morning.” Eric teased as he climbed out of Sangyeon’s bed and stepped closer to Kevin.
“That was an unfortunate accident. I meant to say it to someone else.”
“Now you’re not any sense.”
“Well, your face doesn't make any-”
Sangyeon had placed a hand over Eric’s mouth in preparation for future retaliation and pressed a chaste kiss on Kevin’s.
“Can we just go and eat? Please?” he smiled at his dongsaengs.
“Hey!” Eric demanded without any heat in his voice. “Where’s my kiss?”
Sangyeon rolled his eyes and stepped out of the room, casually throwing over his shoulder. “If you want a kiss so bad, ask him.”
Sangyeon situated himself on a couch in the living room, wordlessly watching as Chanhee and Jacob sorted through the food orders, handing the appropriate takeout containers to their rightful owners and when Eric and Kevin walked in a few minutes after he did, hand in hand and sporting pink cheeks, he knew they’d taken his advice.
Jacob held out two containers to the younger boys while Chanhee handed two to Sangyeon.
“I thought you might be in the mood for some meat so I ordered you some galbi with some side dishes, if you want something else, I’m sure none of us will mind sharing with you.”
Sangyeon received the containers thankfully, using his free hand to tug Chanhee closer so he could kiss his forehead.
Chanhee hummed with a blush and patted his cheek. “Anytime, hyung.”
Once everyone had been served, there were choruses of “Thank you for the food! Eat well! Eat lots!” and a glanced around told Sangyeon that even though he hadn't expected it, they’d all gathered to eat together. The sight was greatly reassuring because usually, it wasn’t uncommon for some of them to isolate themselves whenever they were upset.
Today, however, they’d chosen to dwell with the others and quietly let themselves be comforted without needing to ask.
It was one of the things he’d loved about his group… about his boyfriends.
“Um…” Sangyeon paused as ten pairs of eyes turned to him. “I know I said we’ll talk later but… is it okay if we do it now? Since we’re all here. We can eat and talk, so the food doesn't get cold.”
Younghoon looked around the room and spoke up for the rest of them. “Sure, hyung.”
“Does anyone have anything to say before I go?” Sangyeon questioned as he always did during their group talks, giving the other boys a chance to bring forth their concerns before he did.
Initially, the boys were silent. Then as Sangyeon began to nod, Changmin quietly spoke up.
“Do you think what I did was wrong? By saying I wasn’t satisfied with 3rd place. Should I just have-”
“Have what? Lied? Pretended that we were cool with it?” Juyeon interrupted from his side of the room.
“You said what we were all thinking. And anyone would feel the way we do in our shoes.” Haknyeon said, reaching out to hold Changmin’s hand.
“But what if we can't-”
“Give me your phone.” Sangyeon cut Changmin off, holding his hand out.
Changmin pouted with a glint of frustration in his eyes. Sangyeon merely moved closer and waited until Changmin stuck the hand that wasn’t clutching onto Haknyeon’s into the pocket of his hoodie, pulled his phone out, and handed it over to the leader.
“I know you’re upset. We weren’t within the top 3 teams that our rivals expected to win. We came in 2nd last week and just when we expected to go higher, we were placed one step lower. It hurts. And it’s scary because it looks like we’re not being taken seriously and we’re surrounded by so many good teams. But we will get there. We will rise to the top. Just like we did last year on Road to Kingdom.” Sangyeon said calmly, finally taking his eyes off the phone he’d been tapping away on.
He held it out to its owner and softly prompted. “Read it.”
Changmin bit his lip uncertainly but took his phone back, eyes floating over the screen quickly. His lower lip quivered and he cleared his throat before reading the tweet out loud.
“Guys… The Boyz are counting on us to take them to first place. They trusted us with such an amazing performance so we should show our gratitude by voting and streaming!”
“Read the next one.”
Haknyeon peered over Changmin’s shoulder and used his free hand to scroll to the next tweet.
“The Boyz deserve better! Let’s stream and vote and give them the kingdom they worked so hard for!”
Kevin scooted closer and read another. “When next any of our Boyz do a vlive, let’s hold a heart event to support and encourage them.”
“Changmin said he wasn’t satisfied and that’s okay. Neither are we. Let’s fight harder to reach the top. The Boyz x Deobis Get it? Got it!” Changmin sniffed, wiping at his eyes, letting Haknyeon pull him close.
“This is not the end. We won't let it keep us down. Because we have each other and we have our Deobis. They know us well enough to have expected us not to be fine with settling for 3rd place. Well enough to promise to do more. And we can't let our beloved fans do all the work, can we?”
Changmin shook his head as he wiped at his eyes and some of the boys verbally disagreed.
“So what will we do?” Sangyeon queried, sitting back.
“Trust Deobis.” Sunwoo declared as he crawled towards Changmin. “They trusted us to deliver great performances that would make them happy. Let’s keep doing that and trust them to take us to the top.”
“When did you get so mature? I could’ve sworn it was yesterday that Kevin was begging you to do the dishes.” Changmin teased, gasping as Sunwoo playfully pulled him out of Haknyeon’s arms and into his instead.
“I resent that.” was all the younger whispered before leaning down to kiss Changmin.
“Okay, eat up guys. Cheer up and get lots of rest. We have work to do tomorrow.” Sangyeon prompted, making a show of removing the covering of his own containers and taking a bite of his saucy meat. “We’ll win. Get it?”
“Got it!” his team chorused in response.
“Can we have a sleepover? Maybe watch a movie?” Eric requested from his spot between Hyunjae and Jacob.
“Only if it’s a horror movie.” Changmin countered with a mischievous grin.
“I’ll buy any of you cowards whatever you want if you can last half an hour without screaming.” Changmin offered, dimples flashing excitedly.
“Guys-” Jacob tried to dissuade the forthcoming chaos but was too late.
“You’re on.” Sunwoo accepted on behalf of the league of scaredy cats.
Sunwoo was also the first to lose, burying his face in Sangyeon’s chest ten minutes into the movie. Changmin had been kind enough to not gloat about it, merely running his hand through Sunwoo’s soft curls and gently pecking his forehead.
Later that night as Sangyeon slowly drifted off to sleep with heavy limbs and a warm heart, he felt thankful to be surrounded by a team he loved so much without restraint.
With them, he’d already won.