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my soul laid bare

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“I’m going to rip out Ralph’s mane and make a scarf out of it.”

Namjoon looked up from his notes to see both Yoongi and Suie drenched. She jumped down from his shoulder, shaking off the water. The carpet was already staining and would probably smell awful tomorrow. He quirked an eyebrow.

“The brat decided it’s a good day to take a bath in his water bowl that is only one-fifth his size, and knocked it straight towards my direction.”

He laughed, because that was Ralph, alright.

Yoongi threw his beanie at him, then stormed off to the wardrobe on the other side of their practice space.

Namjoon wondered if he should go borrow a hair dryer or something for Yoongi’s leather jacket.

He could feel Ralph coming closer, and as expected, the kid poked his head into the work room, sheepishly looking around.

“He went to change.”

Seemingly relieved, Ralph padded towards him, before rubbing his head against Namjoon’s calf.

“I didn’t mean to.”

“I know.”

He petted Ralph’s head, and in no time at all, the brat was purring and trying to climb into his lap, despite being three times heavier than Namjoon.

When Namjoon was still young and Ralph hadn’t settled into a form yet, Namjoon had often carried him around, letting him settle in for a nap while Namjoon did his homeworks or worked on lyrics. The habit hadn’t changed for the five years ever since the daemon had settled into his permanent form of a big badass lion, only that it now worked the other way around. To this day, Namjoon still thought of it as a mistake.

His daemon was basically an overgrown puppy. No king of the jungle aura whatsoever.

He was also very clumsy.

And a big baby. He might die from being glared at by Suie, and poor Namjoon would have to follow him just because the daemon was so, so soft-hearted.

(Namjoon had always wondered if he had passed off all of his scaredy-cat genes to Ralph.)

Yoongi returned to the work room in brand new t-shirt and jeans, leather jacket probably being dried off by a poor stylist intern. As soon as he laid his eyes on Ralph, the lion visibly curled in closer to Namjoon. Yoongi squinted his eyes.

Suie, following behind Yoongi, fur only half dried, straight up glared. She trotted towards Ralph, chin held high and carrying the aura of Her Highness who had come to visit peasants. Ralph pressed back further.

“Idiot.”

The cat said ever so gracefully, with just a hint of annoyance in her voice to indicate her disdain towards Ralph. Yoongi made no move to stop her, instead taking out his laptop and settling onto the sofa for a producing session.

Namjoon patted Ralph, and the lion looked up at him once before dropping his eyelids, the poster of a nice child being scolded.

“I’m sorry.”

Suie tilted her head, swatted at Ralph’s tail once before trotting away to places unknown.

Namjoon could feel Ralph relaxing against him.

He pushed the daemon away. Useless brat.

*

When Ralph settled in Namjoon’s second year of high school, only a few months after he had become a trainee, he had visited home to show Mom the form. Mom had patted Ralph's head, and said he was so much like Namjoon.

He had thought about that a lot, too.

Ralph settled almost as big as a real North African lion, big-boned with a very furry mane. It wasn't impossible for someone to have a big daemon within the city, but it was pretty rare. Daemon size had something to do with nurture and the dense population of the city along with its limited space did not allow for the nurturing of such large demons.

 

Before Ralph, the biggest daemon he had encountered was the dalmatian daemon of a middle school classmate who had settled right before they graduated. Namjoon didn't exactly care about Ralph's size to do the whole training regime thing that half of his male classmates did for their daemon. Too fake for his liking - the act of trying to buff up your daemon in an attempt to inflate your ego and win the dick-measuring contest.

So Ralph's size was probably because of him. The daemon doctors had told him something about chemical balance and genetics that made no sense to him but ultimately led to Ralph overgrowing his usual size. He could have been a small Asiatic lion, but somehow grew very big towards the end of his settlement. Namjoon thought to himself that the likely reason of Ralph growing so huge was that he had settled during his fight with his parents regarding career paths. The daemon had been his only anchor, so solid and silently supporting him; that he had understood Namjoon's wish somehow and had tried to become better, bigger so Namjoon had something to hold onto.

After all, Ralph was an extension of Namjoon’s soul, and what was the point of him being there except for being another attachment for Namjoon, a reward as well as a responsibility.

He was thinking about that as Ralph curled into his own rug in the back of their dance studio, extra floor space set aside so all the daemons could stay out of the way as Bangtan ran through their usual intense dance practice. He thought of the inconvenience Ralph's size brought to them - he always had to sit in the corners of restaurants because Ralph would block the walkway if seated anywhere else, and his daemon would need extra large of everything. He had even made Namjoon almost miss a few flights over the short span of his idol career due to being too big to be admitted into planes and having to take an extra seat.

But he also thought of the big and clumsy way Ralph's limbs laid, knocking into things too often, intimidating people unknowingly. Of the way people took a step back and reevaluated Namjoon once they saw Ralph, the truest representation of Namjoon’s inner being, the indisputable king, purely raw power.

 

Namjoon didn’t have to strip people of prejudices against him, because Ralph alone had done that.

Ralph was big and clumsy but also fucking awesome and his. Definitely his.

*

There were a lot of social norms that followed the existence of daemons. No touching unless it was consensual, no talking unless it was to very close friends and family, etc.

Ralph wasn't exactly breaking them, because Namjoon wouldn't explicitly stop the Bangtan members from touching or talking to him, and he cared even less when the others' daemons were in the picture. But Namjoon could say the kid was toeing the line.

A month after Seokjin and Jinah came to the dorm, Namjoon woke up to his daemon being cuddled up to by the orange fox without complaint, while being fed and petted by Seokjin. The overly friendly traitor.

The easy way he could get into Suie's space was unsettling, and Namjoon often had to rescue him from her sharp claws. But most of the time, Suie was content to sit daintily on Ralph's ribs while he lied lazily on his side, pawing softly at the lion’s fur and messing up Namjoon's three hours worth of grooming. And let's not mention the admiration in Ralph's eyes each time he saw Yoongi working his magic in music production.

Namjoon had to take him out for walks sometimes, but ever since Hoseok had offered to take him along while walking Mickey, Namjoon had noticed Ralph being more and more interested in fetch, and worse, Hoseok indulging him. Seeing his lion trotting around the dorm with rubber balls of various colours made Namjoon shudder. Ralph was definitely an overgrown puppy in the wrong form.

Jihyung was the one to indulge Taehyung on one of his rants since he was hers, but when Jihyung slinked away to unknown corners, leaving Taehyung behind to pout his way through a pack of potato chips with two packs of ramyun, Ralph would nudge into Taehyung's lap and let Taehyung talk his ears off about the newest anime, before looking at Namjoon with begging eyes so Namjoon had to sit down for one episode. Taehyung and Ralph wore identical big grins on their faces at his concession, but Namjoon ignored them.

 

And let him not mention, Ralph would act like a teenage girl with a crush whenever Jungkook was around, settling onto Jungkook's favourite love seat in the living room and giving Jungkook and Moon full rights to pet him, or curling up next to them instead of Namjoon during movie or game nights. He always happily acted as a makeshift table, holding snacks and when Jungkook grabbed one, he would purr in contentment as if he had done so well.

But Namjoon also knew Ralph was an excellent judge of characters. Not counting the countless jealous or opportunistic peers he fended off for Namjoon, the one time Ralph had been hostile to a trainee, Bighit had later found out he was harassing female trainees outside of practice hours.

So he supposed it was a good thing that Ralph liked all his band members.

But the one Ralph adored the most was Jimin, and secretly, Namjoon thought Ralph had an excellent sense for whoever needed him the most. Though Para was very cute, Jimin needed something to cuddle at times where he felt down, to offer him unmatched warm and big Ralph could always provide that, curling around Jimin and acting as a backrest. Ralph could be very talkative with Seokjin or Taehyung, but with Jimin it was soft whispers into his ears, encouragements that his human or any other Bangtan members could never say out loud due to embarrassment, but which Jimin still needed to hear anyway. It only took Ralph and Para combined fifteen minutes, twenty tops, to bring that eye crinkling smile back to Jimin's face.

Ralph was very protective of Jimin.

When Jimin had fainted and fallen down from their Japanese fanmeeting stage, Ralph had let Para sit on top of his head and had almost barged his way through one of the curtains. The only thing that had stopped him had been Jimin returning backstage and Namjoon combing through his mane, once, comforting, before returning to calm down the crowd. When Jimin had come out to greet the fans with Para sitting on his arms, Namjoon had been able to sense Ralph, as close as physically allowed, following Jimin's every move.

Afterwards, the rest of Bangtan had found Jimin backstage, resting and ready to be taken to a hospital for check-ups and Ralph had been there, the daemon closest to Jimin aside from Para, standing tall and growling at whoever dared enter into Jimin's personal bubble.

Jimin had smiled at him tiredly, and extended his hands outwards. Ralph had only nudged it once, before snapping his head back and glaring towards the direction of a sound technician making a little too much noise while packing up his equipments.

Namjoon had wanted to scold him, but it had been a public space where he knew Ralph wouldn't be too friendly in, keeping up his strong appearance. It was a defense mechanism which his mom's daemon taught Ralph when he was very young, to protect Namjoon from outsiders, and ever since Ralph settled, he had only used it occasionally, but very accurately.

Suie had attempted to swat at him to calm him down, touching nothing since he was too tall for her to reach. But it had received the desired reaction, as Ralph had visibly relaxed and come back to Namjoon's side. Namjoon had patted him, reassuring, tapping a rhythm only the two of them knew.

Jimin had been only away for three hours, fortunately only a few bruises worse, but Ralph had stayed up all night.

*

 

One of the things about idol culture was this. Outside of this space, everyone seemed to remember, don’t touch daemons other than your own. It’s rude, it’s offensive, and if the daemon was pissed enough, they were justified in attacking you and their human wouldn’t be punished by the law.

But more than once, Namjoon had had fans reaching out in an attempt to touch Ralph. It happened too often for his liking. Ralph could huff once and people would snap out of their trance, realizing that the daemon they were trying to touch could bite off their heads but for other members, it was always an upsetting experience. None of the other daemons was big enough, intimidating enough, to deter the more overzealous portion of their fans from trying to reach out and touch them.

They often had security with them, big guys with intimidating daemons of various species, some almost as big as Ralph. Their managers were often hired with their daemons taken into account too, no small animals, not because they wanted to discriminate but because small daemons shouldn’t be subjected to the stressful job of possibly being harassed while their human was working. So all of them could scare off most of the daemons and some of the humans too.

But Jakarta was especially bad.

(It shouldn’t have been so bad, but Namjoon had been feeling suffocated these past few weeks. He had discarded more drafts than he could write, had nothing to show for the next album except insincere words and it was slowly draining him -- this hellish schedule, the world closing in on them, not letting them enjoy their success, trying to bring them down.)

Though unwillingly, most of the smaller Bangtan daemons were in their respective travelling bags, except for Jinah who was big enough to be piggy-backed by Seokjin, and Ralph was walking alongside a security’s German Shepherd daemon. The surge of the crowd as they exited from the Arrival gate was sudden. Pressed in from all sides, too closely packed for his comfort, Namjoon wanted to reach for Ralph. But he was too far away, pushed to the back of their entourage and three people away from Namjoon.

Mickey barked, almost whining but Namjoon could only hear her very faintly, the sound of people around them screaming too loud.

A hairy hand reached out to grab his. It was Jihyung, reaching out from her travelling bag. Her tiny almost-human hand became his anchor. Taehyung put a hand on his lower back, pushing him forward so he could keep walking.

They stopped at the exit, waiting for the van. The crowd surged forward, as if intending to block them from ever getting out of the airport.

Namjoon held his breath, dizzy, and wished Ralph was with him.

A roar rose above the noise of dozens of girls, and Namjoon could hear again. Ralph’s voice was clear, ripping through the chaos. For a moment, silence descended, most of the daemons taking a step back. The lion shouldered his way through the security, letting Jungkook and Seokjin pat him, nudging Taehyung once, before ducking his head under Namjoon’s palm and let his fur get caught in the spaces between Namjoon’s fingers. The noise level had already risen again around them while Ralph moved forward, but his ears didn’t hurt anymore, and the feeling of pelt against his skin was grounding.

Their bus arrived, and Namjoon boarded, with Ralph’s nose bumping the back of his leg.

*

The percentage of the population that had a daemon of the same gender was reported since the 80’s to be between 5 - 15%. This number was big enough; with all other data too diverse to draw any conclusion from other than it happened very naturally. The same report also made extreme objections to the idea of there being a correlation between one’s sexuality and one’s daemon gender.

Nevertheless, when Namjoon debuted and everyone found out Namjoon’s daemon was a male lion, he could literally tell what everyone was thinking through their glances, because as majestic as Ralph could pretend to be, he was still male.

It didn’t bother Namjoon much while doing domestic activities, because Korean netizens were willing to tear into anyone who could even hint at discrimination based on daemons, too concerned with perfect images. Ralph was often the subject of many debates on how beautiful a daemon could be, and extremely rarely on what Namjoon’s sexuality was.

Overseas though, it was all free game. Bighit screened interview questions quite thoroughly, but any reporter could decide to get something out of their press pass and ask the question anyway. With every camera in the room rolling and every laptop being filled with reports, the idol in question was likely expected to answer.

As Namjoon digested the question, a very simple comment on the nature of one’s daemon’s gender, he thought of the diplomatic ‘No comment’ that the B1A4 leader dished out every time it was asked of him or the subtle refusal of the implications made by that guy from Teen Top, as well as the answer Bighit had imposed on him. None of it had ever felt right.

He could imagine Ralph backstage right now, being the designated pillow for the other daemons, lazily pawing at Suie’s white fur, snapping his jaws on Jinah’s tail and teasing her endlessly. His train of thoughts stopped at the airport, the golden gleam of Ralph’s coat of short fur that he couldn’t see through his sunglasses. There was nothing to be ashamed of.

“I think everyone’s allowed to make any assumption regarding one’s daemon, but it does not mean these assumptions are true. To me, my male lion daemon is simply a reflection of myself, and I hope he receive as much love as I do.”

Several of their staff in the room looked displeased, but Jimin’s hand caught his under the table. It was enough. He would never regret standing by his daemon.

*

Nights overseas were different from nights in Seoul. Namjoon would often be stuck in dance practices or writing more materials so he could rotate them around beats and match the right verse with a suitable melody. But overseas, he could rest without the unease, too tired to care.

He exited the bathroom and found Jimin with a jacket on, looking ready to go out.

The kid tapped his shoulder and gestured towards his daemon. Ralph was lying on his side, facing the windows, too still for a night of sharing the same room with his favourite Jiminie.

“Talk to him.” Jimin whispered, before heading for the door. Para flew up to his shoulder once, touched her beak to his cheek in resemblance of a kiss, before taking off after Jimin. Namjoon kicked the door shut behind them.

He approached the bed, then circled around so he could sit facing Ralph. The lion’s eyes were unfocused, forlorn and it reminded Namjoon of four years ago so much, when Namjoon had decided to go the idol route without knowing fully how much it could chip the passion from his person.

He missed it more than Namjoon did, the peace, the quiet, the unrelenting steadiness. He had gained more than Namjoon and their blood family to love now, a few siblings richer and chasing the dreams, but the lion was still silent and bitter when reminiscing old times.

If Namjoon let him be, he would curl in on himself, would stick to Namjoon’s side, not a word spoken, until he could find his footing again. Namjoon stopped the hand that had instinctively been combing through the soft mane, tugging instead.

He looked up at Namjoon, and they had a silent fight for a few seconds before the tension in Ralph’s body lessened a bit. Namjoon stood up to turn off the air conditioner, then opened the balcony door and walked out. He settled into the beach chair, a hand extending out as if waiting for something.

Ralph reluctantly stood up from his position on the bed, and padded over to Namjoon, placing his chin in his human’s hand. Namjoon scratched it a few times, before pushing the lion’s head closer and onto his lap.

“I wished we could be famous without...” Ralph said, before closing his eyes.

 

You mean, without me slaving myself for listenership, without us being in the spotlight all the time, without people trying to touch you, without you feeling inadequate for not being able to protect me, Namjoon thought, looking up at the sky but it was starless and he laughed out loud, the sound dry in his throat.

 

“I’m not going to a mental hospital with you.” Ralph looked up, disgusted.

 

“I wanted to make a metaphor about the stars and how they shined the brightest because the sky was dark, comparing it to us, but I guess it’s too good to be true.”

 

The lion huffed, amused.

 

In the far right corner, a lone star shined despite the light pollution.