“and this is the map of my heart, the landscape
after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is
a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me
tight, it’s getting cold.”
― Richard Siken
A year passes in what feels like a blink and suddenly it’s late winter again and there are patches of snow of the ground and the air bites his lungs when he goes outside. His hair is still lavender, because he likes the reminder that spring is coming around again - that the bare trees are going to bloom.
It’s late winter and he has eight songs that he’s pulled straight from his bleeding chest. Each of them hurts, each of them heals, each of them is his. One belongs to Yoongi and Hoseok, as well, and that perhaps is the one he listens to the most because it feels weirdly like history correcting itself. Coming full circle. Like Arthur, the Once and Future King. They were, so many years ago, Suga, Rap Monster, and J-Hope, and here they are again - so very different and yet their voices blend just as well as they did before.
Namjoon has eight songs, and he thinks they’ll be enough, for a start. He thinks of the pendant that he wears around his neck every day and calls the album Moonchild.
(“I love it,” Yoongi tells him.
“It’s very you,” Hoseok says, his delicate fingers playing with the necklace resting against Namjoon’s bare chest.)
Eight songs - barely anything, and yet they all feel years long. In some ways, he supposes, they are. He’s been carrying them cocooned inside of him for so long, waiting for them to become butterflies.
His hands shake at one in the morning when he sets up an official Twitter account as RM. He takes a selca with his phone that’s a little grainy, very clearly amateur, but it feels appropriate. This is him without a company, without a label, without a barrier, sitting on his couch in pajama pants and a soft blue sweater that Taehyung told him went nice with his hair.
He feels vulnerable, like all his bones are on display - his messy innards. And it's terrifying, it's so fucking terrifying, but a part of him chose this the moment he refused to go back in the closet, refused to lie like everyone wanted him to, refused to keep hiding. And now it's time to honor that choice. So he sets the picture as his profile and he makes his account public, creating a first post to officially announce his return to the internet and tease about new music coming soon ... and then he shuts his laptop and crawls in bed between Yoongi and Hoseok because he doesn't want to be there for the initial comments, for the moment of discovery. Maybe people won't think this is an official account. Maybe they'll assume it's a hoax or a fan page. Or maybe he'll wake up to a flood of hatred.
The chances feel 50/50.
"Stop thinking so loud," Yoongi murmurs in his ear. "It's going to be okay."
"How do you know that?" Namjoon asks, because he's feeling very young right now and he needs reassurance and Yoongi has always been good at that, even when they were seventeen and eighteen and Yoongi was every inch as scared as he was.
"Because I choose to believe it," Yoongi says. "No one can know anything for certain, Joon-ah. You or I could go out tomorrow and get hit by a fucking bus. It's what you choose to put into the world, yeah? I decided, not soon enough, that I didn't want to live in fear of what might happen. That I wanted to look at the future and see hope there. So ... everything is going to be okay."
"You're both too introspective for your damn good," Hoseok mutters, sounding half-asleep. "Even if this tanks, Joonie, you'll still have us. The kids. Seokjin. That's the important stuff. So don't worry about everything else so much, okay? Go the fuck to sleep."
And Namjoon laughs, a band around his chest loosening just enough for him to breathe.
In the morning, his hands shake even more as he opens his laptop. As he stares at the follower count that has already swelled to over one hundred thousand overnight, a lot of them are Korean, but just as many aren’t - usernames in languages he doesn’t understand. Some have terrible things to say, and he blocks those without looking too closely at the comments, but a lot of them are excited. Are supportive.
(Maybe, just maybe, there are more people out there who don’t hate him than ones who do.)
Yoongi shuffles past, clutching a mug of coffee, and stops to rest his chin on top of Namjoon's head. "Told you," he says. "I'm always right about these things."
And Namjoon can't bring himself to argue.
(When he's first putting the album together, Yoongi mentions that Jungkook is actually a very good singer, and has Namjoon considered adding another musical guest to his lineup? Namjoon hasn't, but one song feels like it's missing something. So he invites Jungkook over to his apartment one Saturday morning and asks if he'd like to try recording with him. Jungkook's eyes grow even bigger than normal and his mouth drops open and he fidgets restlessly in his chair.
"Me?" he asks in shock. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Namjoon says, because he's thought about this. About everything this song means and Jungkook in the theatre at the MOMA, saying that he doesn't want to be angry, explaining why he doesn't like Lee Changdong's films. "It's called Everythingoes."
Something like understanding crosses Jungkook's face, followed by wonder, followed acceptance. "Okay," he says and he looks radiant with excitement, seconds away from bouncing in place.
His voice is everything that Yoongi said it would be, everything Namjoon was hoping for, and when he's done singing, he wipes tears off his face and Namjoon gets up and pulls him into a hug, trying to convey his gratitude and his love through the press of his chest against Jungkook's and his fingers curled tight in the thin fabric of Jungkook's t-shirt.)
The follower count continues to balloon throughout the day. Two hundred thousand now. Three. He stops watching it. He doesn't search RM or Kim Namjoon or Rap Monster to find whatever articles are being printed or whatever speculation is happening in the social corners of the internet. He just lets everyone know, in Hangul and English, that the album is coming out in two weeks. That it's different than anything he's done before, but he's different now. He hopes, in the end, they can understand that. Maybe he isn't the only one out here trying to change.
And the two weeks pass so fast they feel like a train whipping by him on a subway platform - a rush of air and a screech of metal, gone in almost a blink. Suddenly, it's launch day and he feels like he's going to rattle out of his skin. Like suddenly his body has shrunk too small to contain the enormity of the hurricane raging inside of him - Category 5 winds lashing against his sternum.
("It's going to be okay," Yoongi tells him like a mantra. "It's going to be okay, Namjoon."
The others offer to come over, as well, but it's only Yoongi and Hoseok he wants. They should have been there for the very first album and it's only fitting that it’s them on either side of him for this one. He's releasing it on iTunes for only four dollars, and on Soundcloud completely free, because he doesn't need the money. Because this isn't about the money, not this time.)
Eight songs. All of them so personal they feel like living things - like ghosts that drift through his apartment when he can't sleep at night. When he stares at the ceiling and turns words over and over and over in his head.
The cover art is simple - just a full moon and a handful of fluffy clouds that he asked Jungkook to draw for him - and stripped back like everything else. He loves the artwork, is already planning on getting it framed, but he thinks the most important part is the dedication. He included it on the iTunes page and the SoundCloud page:
To Y & H,
Thank you for loving me now and before, and for forgiving all the years in between. I'm so glad we made it and I love you to the moon and back.
They haven't seen it yet, weren't there when he set up the pages, and he's not sure he wants to be in the room when they read it, even though he's expressed that sentiment so many times over the past thirteen-odd months with his mouth and his hands and what feels like every centimeter of his body. This is the equivalent of shouting it from the Empire State Building, though - screaming it out over the tops of all the other skyscrapers, for millions of people to hear.
Fuck he's so scared, but he isn't taking any of it back. Not a single thing.
"Okay," he says with a deep breath. And another.
"Okay," he says and clicks the button in iTunes and then SoundCloud. "It's live."
Hoseok pulls him in for a kiss first, hand tangled in his hair. "So fucking proud of you," he breathes against Namjoon's lips and Namjoon can't seem to stop shaking.
He lets them take him to bed. Press him to the mattress with their fingers and their thighs and their hips. Peel away the barrier of his clothing and strip him of all his metaphorical armor and then take him apart in pieces - his mouth, his nipples, his stomach and thighs and lower - Yoongi's mouth on his cock and then Hoseok's and then both of them together, and he shakes shakes shakes as he watches them kiss against his skin, as he gives himself over to them completely and reminds himself that he is loved.
No matter what, by the two most important people in the world, he is loved.
(Even if the worst happens.)
(But the worst doesn't.)
The album ... charts. It hits number one on iTunes in 55 countries. It debuts at number 75 on the Billboard 200. It charts in Korea. Yes, it's number 98 out of 100 on the Gaon Albums Chart, but it's fucking there. He can't believe it. He stares at the page, at Moonchild right there in black and white letters, and he tries to decide if he should laugh or cry.
"I told you," Yoongi says again when he sees the numbers, pressing a searing kiss to Namjoon's temple. "I told you, Joon-ah."
Everything's going to be okay.
He reads the reviews, even though he knows that he probably shouldn’t. Most of them are largely positive, expressing surprised delight at his sudden shift in sound, at his transformation from Rap Monster into RM. They talk as though this was an instant change - like he went to bed as one thing and woke up another - and not a slow and painful evolution. A creature crawling from the boiling sea and learning to walk on land one agonizing step at a time.
But maybe that’s okay, he tells himself. Maybe they don’t need to understand - the important thing is that he’s walking on land, right? He’s become a butterfly. (People only ever really care about the butterfly and not the long process of metamorphosis.)
What’s more important are the messages the start trickling in - the people that begin to tweet at him. They thank him, for his bravery. They tell him that they’re like him. They tell him that they’re hiding and trying to figure out how to stop. He tries to encourage where he can, though it never feels like enough, and he stores each message in a box in the corner of his heart, thinking about what Hoseok said last year.
These are the people that matter. These are the ones he’s doing all this for.
Which is why he’s here now: in his studio three weeks after the album’s come out, adjusting his camera with unsteady hands. He doesn’t have access to VLive anymore, so he’s doing this on YouTube. He fluffs his hair, which Taehyung recently helped him dye to a kind of pinkish gold and smooths his hands down his yellow sweatshirt. Tries to remember the last time he did a livestream. Almost two years ago, maybe? In his apartment in Seoul, with a modern painting he’d never liked in the background, and dressed in all black. A big chain around his neck and hair platinum blonde and shaved at the sides.
There’s a plant behind his head now - a fern that he’s named Toru - and the edge of a Basquiat art print that Taehyung gifted him with, telling him that he needed some more color on the walls of his studio.
His mind feels like it’s going a million miles an hour as he clicks the button to take him live. He’s been debating doing this all week - nervous about actually sitting down in front a camera. But the speculation just keeps growing about his album dedication, about Y & H, about the rappers featured on Tear with him, about SUGA who has producing credit on all but two of the eight songs, and he feels that he should probably address some of it. He left without a word, too, and while he doesn’t owe anyone anything, he’s come to accept that, he still wants a chance to explain himself at least a little.
So he’s live and the viewers are pouring in. Once again, more than he expected: almost ten thousand people and climbing. He’s already decided that he’s going start in English and switch to Korean if need be. He tried to time this so it’s not the middle of the night in Korea, but he’s still not sure what the ratio will be.
In the end, it’s about seventy percent international and thirty percent Korean, spread out across over 50,000 viewers. He gives them a little tour of his studio, showing off his plants and the artwork and the little flags he’s put on his desk, a rainbow pride one for himself and Yoongi and a bi pride one for Hoseok.
Questions flood in after that, about the flags and his dedication and he hesitates here. It’s one thing to be dating a man, but two of them? At once? While they’re also dating each other? He knows that’s far less acceptable, and he hasn’t even told his parents yet (though he increasingly suspects that his mom somehow already knows, probably because of his incredible lack of subtly when it comes to how much he loves Hoseok and Yoongi).
But no more hiding, he told himself that. The ones that already hate him can continue to do so, and the ones that decide to hate him for this aren’t worth considering, anyway.
“They’re my partners,” he says into the camera. “I’m not … they’re going to stay anonymous for now, but they’re my partners. And yes, I’m dating them both. Yes, they know about each other, we're in a polyamorous relationship. Yes, they’re both men. Yes, the album dedication is for them - it wouldn’t have gotten made without them.”
Some people leave the chat and a few disgusted comments flood in, but then there are others like omg so cute! and are the flags for them? and that dedication was sooo romantic oh my god and he lets out a long, relieved breath.
“I love them both very much,” he says softly. “Let’s leave it there for now?”
And generally they do. Questions turn back to the album and what he’s doing now and his plans for the future.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to do a tour anytime soon?” he says, scratching his cheek. “It’s … logistically it’s a lot to plan, and I don’t have a company anymore. Or the resources I used to. And I think that maybe a little more personal healing needs to happen before I can consider getting on a big stage again. But I’ll think about doing a couple live sessions? Maybe we can start there? That way, everyone would get to listen, too, and not just an audience in one country.”
People seem to be very on board with his idea, at least. Many want to know if the guest rappers on Tear will perform with him and he smiles and promises that he’ll ask them.
Yes, he tells them, he’s going to stay in New York - officially immigrated last year - but he’ll back to Korea to visit. Yes, he’s really proud of the album. Thank you, he likes his hair, too, and the sweatshirt was a gift from a friend. Yes, he’s happier these days, more himself. No, he doesn’t think he’s going to go back to making the same music he used to. This is the first album that’s really felt like his in a very long time.
"The thing is," he says near the end, setting his phone on his desk so he can articulate this properly, "I wasn't myself. I was living a lie. From the clothes I was wearing to the music I was making to the apartment I was living in - none it felt genuine. It was an image I was projecting into the world. A carnival mask I was wearing. And behind that mask, I was crumbling. I'm not happy about what happened with the tabloid - who I wasn't going to name but you know what, fuck it. I'm not happy about what Dispatch did. It was fucking wrong - no one should be outed against their will. But I ... in the end it forced me out of hiding. Forced me to make a decision. And it was so hard, but I like to think I made the right one." He gestures to himself. "This is who I am. I need glasses because my eyesight is shit, especially when I read, and I like comfy sweaters and plants and walking through the city when it's raining and my partners would tell you I'm a massive nerd - and they would be right. Oh, and I'm gay, but I probably don't need to tell you that anymore, right? Anyway, the point is: Rap Monster wasn't real and I wanted to be real again. So hi. I guess I should have started with that. Hi." He waves at the camera. "I'm Kim Namjoon, but you can call me RM. I don't know where this journey is going to take us, but I'm excited to be on it with you. Thank you for loving the album. Thank you for accepting the new me. I'll work hard to bring you more music in the future. Until then, please take care of yourselves. And if you're still hiding parts of yourself from the world, please don't be ashamed of it. We're all on different journeys and you know the truth, no one can take that from you. I'm going to try hard to make my Twitter a safe place, too. You can come there and rest, if you need to."
He makes a heart with hands and blinks at the answering flood of hearts on the screen. Several people also include a stream of rainbows and he has to swallow back tears as he signs off. He sits in his studio for a long moment after, head tipped back against his chair as he breathes in and exhales out slow. That went ... better than expected. He's sure there will be articles tomorrow, screaming about the fact that Rap Monster is dating two men - the HORROR, the DEPRAVITY - but he doesn't intend on reading a single fucking one of them.
Instead, he goes to the house and he cuddles Holly and then cuddles Yoongi and Hoseok when they get home from work.
"Do you want us to watch it?" Hoseok asks.
"If you want, I don't mind," Namjoon tells him. "I talked about you a little bit. But nothing personal, I promise."
"Yah," Yoongi says, "we still haven't talked about that fucking dedication. Do you think it's okay to make me cry, Joon-ah?"
"Or me?" Hoseok asks, looking just as betrayed.
Namjoon threads his fingers through theirs and smiles sheepishly. "I just ... I love you. And I don't mind keeping that private, but I don't want to keep it hidden."
"You're the worst," Hoseok informs him, face scrunched up like he's disgusted, so Namjoon just presses their foreheads together. Hoseok grunts in protest but doesn't pull away, fingers curled in the sleeves of Namjoon's shirt. He feels the weight of Yoongi's chin on his shoulder, Yoongi's arm wind around his waist, and shifts to tuck his face against Hoseok's neck.
"I'm not taking any of it back. It's out there now, thousands of people have seen it."
"The worst," Hoseok says again.
"So terrible," Yoongi agrees. "But I love you."
"I mean," Hoseok says with a huff. "I guess I do, too."
He's not sure how it gets started, but he notices that not long after his livestream his fans (kind of hard to believe he still has those) have taken to calling themselves Moonchildren. He loves it, honestly, and he can't make an official fancafe or a fanclub like he would have in Korea so he settles for tweeting about it.
Love you, Moonchildren. It's your time.
"I think I want to start a label," he says to Yoongi on one of their designated nights.
Hoseok is out with some friends from the dance studio, going to a club in Manhattan, but the two of them are exhausted after a long shift at the restaurant. Namjoon offered Yoongi a massage (has been watching YouTube tutorials since Yoongi complained about back aches last month) and now he's rubbing firm across Yoongi's bare shoulders, trying to work some of the knots out.
"A label?" Yoongi asks him, sounding a little sleepy. This probably isn't the best time for a serious conversation, but it's been bubbling inside of Namjoon for nearly a week and he can't keep it contained any longer.
"Yeah. Or maybe more than that? Like a record label that can sign artists, but also somewhere that provides resources to young artists, especially queer artists and artists of color. I want to help give them a platform."
He's been thinking about since he finished the album, turning over vague ideas in his head, and he knows it's a long way off - probably a couple years - but he's excited about it. About the possibilities.
"And a safe space, to grow in their craft."
Yoongi sits up, a soft expression on his face. "I would love that, Joon-ah," he says. "If you go forward with it, I want in. Whatever help I can give you."
"Thank you," Namjoon says, kissing him. He'd known that Hoseok and Yoongi would support him, but it's nice to have an actual declaration. "Now lie back down, I'm not finished yet."
"Aye, aye," Yoongi says in English, saluting him, and Namjoon laughs. Tickles his ribs in retaliation before he goes back to easing the tension in Yoongi's spine.
And eventually, his hands drift a little lower, to the waistband of Yoongi's underwear, and he murmurs,"okay?" Yoongi nods and lifts his hips to help.
"Didn't know this was - ah - part of the massage program," he says as Namjoon's fingers brush gently over his rim.
"For you it is," Namjoon says, kissing his shoulder, the back of his neck and drinking in the sounds he makes when the first, then the second finger slips inside.
He tells Hoseok about the program, too, the next day, and watches Hoseok's whole face light up. "God, Joonie, so many of my kids would kill to be a part of something like that. Sign me the fuck up."
Which means they're really doing this thing, and through his giddiness Namjoon thinks about what Yoongi said, not too long ago, about looking at the future and seeing hope.
Several magazines reach out for interviews, including one or two Korean ones, and Namjoon turns them all down. He's said everything he needs to say and he doesn't need a spread in a magazine to help him. This time around, it isn't about the fame. Or the money. Or how big of a stage he can play on.
So apart from a steadily growing fanbase that he tries to engage with regularly, his life remains pretty much the same. He still works at the restaurant, though now only two nights a week. He still goes on field trips with the kids and lets them wreck his living room with their various projects. Jimin is trying to teach him how to ballroom dance and he's not sure if he's actually making any improvements, but it's fun. Jungkook has shyly asked if Namjoon and Yoongi could show him more about music production, so now he comes over every other week to work with one or both of them on some songs. Taehyung landed a coveted spot in a big showcase at the end of the Spring semester and has taken to spending all his free time at the studio on campus, frantically trying to finish all his pieces in time. Namjoon brings him dinner, once in awhile, but mostly he thinks Seokjin's handling "not letting Taehyung work himself to death" duty very well.
(He says he has a lot of practice from dealing with Yoongi and no one argues that point.)
Some other artists reach out to him about collaborating, and he's excited about those possibilities, too. About the label that he's slowly drafting a business proposal for.
There are still people that hate him and still smear campaigns that run in various mediums both in Korea and internationally. There are still days when he can't handle being on the internet, when the urge to ball himself up and hide from the world becomes overwhelming. There are days where he second-guesses himself and days where he hates himself and days where he wants to drink until he passes out. Usually, he lets Hoseok and Yoongi hold him, then. Remind him of what's important. Remind that he's gained far more than he's given up. Remind him that life fucking sucks sometimes, but often tomorrow looks better than today.
He thinks he's healing, though, as winter begins to yield to Spring again. Even on the nights he can't sleep.
Like this one.
He finds himself in the living room at three a.m. with tea steaming in his Ryan mug. He thinks about Richard Siken and the poem that Yoongi recited for him in Seoul. Forgiveness, milling out in the yard. He imagines himself at that kitchen table, across from Forgiveness. Or maybe, actually, he's Forgiveness. And across from him is Kim Namjoon at eighteen, about to make the worst mistake of his life. Across from him is Rap Monster, hiding his eyes behind sunglasses and his insecurities behind a mask of confidence.
He imagines himself reaching out and taking their hands. Telling them it's alright now, do you see? we're alright, in the end.
He wonders if they would believe him. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn't matter. The important thing is this: the last piece of Guilt breaking loose from his chest with a crack of bone and the rush of air surging into his lungs.
(At last, he can fully breathe.)
Floorboards creak and there is Yoongi at the end of the hall, squinting and sleepy. "What are you doing?" he murmurs. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Namjoon says, rubbing at his chest where he can almost feel that age-old wound starting to close. "I'm good."
Yoongi huffs at him and holds up a hand. "Then come the fuck back to bed. It's freezing out here."
It is, Namjoon realizes. This house is old and the cold seeps through the edges of the windows easily. Spring is coming, but winter hasn't given up yet and they're expecting snow in the morning.
"Okay," he says and lets Yoongi take his hand. Lead him back down the hall to the bedroom. He lies down in the middle of the bed, feeling Yoongi slot against his back and Hoseok shift to him in sleep, arm draping across his side. Holly snuffles from the corner, chasing rabbits in his dreams, probably, and Namjoon nuzzles Hoseok's cheek while sinking back into Yoongi's hold.
Tomorrow will come, and even if it isn't better than today, it'll still be here. He'll still have it.
And the important thing, the most important thing, is this: finally, he is where he belongs.