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a leader is best when people barely know he exists

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He’s worried he’s changed too much, sometimes.

Late at night, after ending a VLive, his room falls into that loud silence that makes him need his headphones on and volume at max. He listens to demos, hashes out new beats, reconfigures new ones, jots down notes about who needs to record hidden backing vocals.

00:12 - hoseok to repeat jimin’s line x2
00:45 - jin to sing first line of chorus in background of jimin’s line
01:15 - yoongi can rap his reprise as tae sings end of chorus

His pen stops scratching against his paper when everything goes a little blurry. He blinks a few times, but little white dots are clogging up his vision, so he tosses his notebook aside (and hears the pen topple off the desk and laments that it’s gone forever) and buries his face in his hands. He feels tendrils of pain in his temples and rubs uselessly at it. The white lights don’t disappear when he clenches his eyes shut.

He opens them, wincing at the obnoxious light emanating from his PC screen, and squints at the time. 01:23 blinks back at him and he groans. He meant to be in bed by 12:30 at the latest tonight.

It’s fine, he thinks, pushing himself out of his chair and quietly slipping out of his room and padding into the kitchen to grab some water. We have a two-week break - finally - so I can sleep tomorrow, and every other day until we’re back to work.

He flicks the kettle on too; warm drinks help him sleep. He winces at the initial noise it makes, but it peters out quickly enough into staccato puffs of air and he relaxes against the counter-tops, still squinting through the white blotches in his eyes. He watches absently as the kettle boils, gazing at the steam that wafts into the air and disappears into the darkness of the room, and he wonders if he’s changed.

He has, of course—everyone changes, no matter what. He likes to think he’s better than he used to be; he’s learnt from past mistakes and is willing to learn about anything he’s not well-versed in. He knows he used to think and believe some problematic things; he also knows he embodies some of those same things that his younger self mocked.

In their first couple of years as Bangtan, he and Yoongi often found themselves locking themselves up in that tiny dark recording studio, asking each other if they’d abandoned ‘real’ rap by leaving the underground scene. Both scared, both unconfident, both confused and angry, they’d never answered each other’s questions; they would just sit together and burn through energy drinks and put scores of music together and pretend tomorrow would be better.

(But, while Yoongi was his best friend and hyung, Namjoon was the original member and the leader; he couldn’t show all his weaknesses in front of him. During their shared-dorm days, when they all slept in one room, half on top of each other, he’d tip-toe out into the bathroom and tuck himself under the sink and bite his knuckles as hot tears streamed down his face and doubts ate away at him. Then, he’d wake up in the morning, telling the other six scared boys that they’d do good work today, and tomorrow, until everyone knew their names.)

He’d been right—they’d made it. Even if someone didn’t like BTS, they knew of them. They’d performed in so many cities, heard fans speaking every language, found their songs playing on the radio when they stepped into random cafés. They were here now, where they’d always wanted to be: one of the best known bands in the world, making music that meant something to people, with fans who would travel over oceans to come listen to them.

Sometimes he has to remind himself that that’s good, that it’s okay to be proud of this. Sometimes he wants to walk into Yoongi’s studio, sit on the floor with shitty energy drinks, and ask him: “Did we change too much? Did we leave everything we believed in behind?” and he hopes Yoongi would laugh at him, because it’s stupid and unfounded. He hopes he’d say, “No, Joon-ah; this is what we wanted.”

The kettle cuts off, finished boiling the water, and he pours it over the teabag he’d tossed into his cup. (Oh, this is Tae’s cup, he realises, but doesn’t stop pouring.)

He watches a few errant tea leafs escape the bag and tries to push past his headache to remember what his and Yoongi’s last conversation was event about . Snippets of a hazy, sleep-fogged memory spring to mind: he was leaning around Jin on the plane, talking to an irritable-tired Yoongi about… something to do with schedules? Mixtapes?

He puts the kettle back on its perch and rubs a hand over his face.

These are the moments in which he worries he’s changed—in a bad way. When he can’t remember the last time he and Yoongi laughed together. When he can’t remember the last time his band members didn’t look ready to collapse, other than when they covered their dark circles with makeup and smiled for cameras.

It’s fine, he tells himself again, grabbing his tea and sipping it. Break starts tomorrow. We can all sleep a solid week, then I’ll have another week to just have some fucking fun with them.

He grabs a bottle of water as well before heading back to his room, ready to sleep off the headache. When he wakes up tomorrow, he’ll start thinking about how to thank the other guys for their hard work, smiling at the thought of hanging out in Yoongi’s studio and making something together, or just fucking around and drinking gross sodas.

As soon as his head hits his pillow, he’s out.

The shrill sound of his alarm has him bolting upright and scrambling for his phone. He groans and goes to slide it off, remembering today’s the start of his break and he must’ve forgotten to turn off his alarms, when he realises that he’s actually being called. By a manager.

He shakes off the sleep-daze and misses the answer button twice before hitting it properly. “‘Morning, Sejin-ssi,” he says, clearing his throat when it comes out a little too raspy. “Can I help you?”

“Hi, Namjoon-ah. I’m sorry to bother you so early…”

He pulls the phone away for a second to check the time, fighting back a sigh when he sees it’s only just past six. He wanted to sleep in until midday—but he’s an idol in one of the most successful bands in the world, so he swallows back complaints and switches on his professional mode as he replies: “Don’t worry about it. What can I do for you?”

Sejin’s heavy sigh sends loud static through the phone and Namjoon grimaces, head protesting against the noise. He thought he’d be fine after sleeping. “Again, I’m very sorry about this, but…” Sejin huffs, sounding annoyed despite himself. “There’s no easy way to ask this of you, so I’ll put it simply: would you guys be able to postpone your break by another week?”

Namjoon takes a little too long to register the words. “Uh,” he says, grabbing his half-empty bottle of water. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“Can you guys postpone your break? You’ve been invited for interviews with two big companies, one of which wants you to do it alongside EXO, and it’s hinted that Big Bang might have a small segment on there too. There’s also an invitation for a game show—”

He goes on, explaining all the work-related roles Namjoon thought he could forget about for a fortnight. He shuts his eyes and tries to listen, but there’s a weird fog weighing down his mind and he can only catch snippets of it. All he can think of are his members’ faces falling if he asks them to postpone their break; recalls their fistpumps and shouts of relief when they closed their last show. He imagines Jin’s making plans to visit home—probably Taehyung too, probably all of them, and he can’t not let them do that.

“Namjoon-ah? You with me?”

“Yes, sorry, I was just… thinking about it.” He sighs. “Sejin-ssi, the last thing I want to do is disappoint you, but I don’t think we can agree to this,” he says, letting his head fall against the wall and staring at the ceiling. “Everyone’s exhausted; we just closed a show, got home from the tour—”

“I understand, Namjoon-ah, I do,” Sejin said, sounding like he was fighting back frustration too. “You can refuse if you really can’t do this,” he added, “but BigHit think it’ll be great for not only your image, but also TXT’s—they’d be on the game show with you. On top of that, the interview with EXO will be streamed to the US too; there’ll be live translations, but they also want a segment in English…”

Namjoon swallows, throat dry, and Sejin must hear it because he stops talking for a moment. Namjoon sighs, picks at the fabric of his pants, and glances at the calendar on his wall. “We’ll only have to postpone it by one more week? You’re sure?”

Positive, Namjoon-ah. You’ll receive the full two weeks’ holiday—”

“Make it three, Sejin-ssi,” he cuts in, because he needs to do something to make up for the disappointment. Telling the others this might make some of them cry; he could at least get something for them out of this.

Sejin doesn’t respond right away.

Namjoon exhales shakily. “Please, hyung.”

“Okay.” Sejin sighs and Namjoon hears papers rustling in the background before Sejin begins typing rapidly. “I’ll have to speak to Sihyuk-ssi, but I’m sure he’ll allow it.”

Namjoon nods weakly. Somehow, he still feels like he’s doing the wrong thing, even if he got them an extra week’s break. “Right. Okay, can you send me the schedule and all the details?”

“Just did,” Sejin replies. “Thank you, Namjoon-ah. BigHit appreciates this so much, and TXT really will benefit from this—”

“I still have to speak to the others first,” Namjoon cuts in. “Don’t take this as agreement yet; they have to say yes too.”

Sejin pauses for just a second. “Of course, yeah. Please let me know by midday, okay?”


“Thank you, Namjoon-ah,” he says again, a lot more serious this time. “I am sorry about this.”

“Yeah, it’s fine, Sejin-ssi,” he says, because he has to, even if it’s not fine at all. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Take care, Namjoon-ah.”

He hangs up and tosses his phone across the room, burying his face in his hands.

He listens to them wake up, one by one, cringes at every ‘good morning!’ he hears, because he’s going to ruin it.

He waits until he hears coffee brewing and cereal being poured and spoons clinking before dragging himself off of his bed. He hesitates at the threshold before the kitchen, drinking in the warm atmosphere for a few precious moments. Jin’s leaning against the counter, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, laughing as Jimin tries to hit Jungkook for something. Everyone’s chuckling around their cereal and he breathes a small laugh too.

It catches Jin’s attention, who looks up and smiles at him. “Morning, Joon-ah,” he says, then puts down his cup to pour coffee for Namjoon. He feels guilty for it already, but Jin just holds it out to him with a raised eyebrow. “You can come in, you know?”

He does, because it’d be weird not to, and he doesn’t want to set that mood. He smiles as he accepts the cup with a small, “Thanks, Jin-hyung.”

“No problem,” he says, picking his own back up. He glances away when Jimin screeches and Namjoon also looks around, but they both decide it’s nothing when they see he’s just tackled Jungkook to try and get him in a sleeper-hold. “Hey, you okay?” Jin asks. Namjoon’s gaze snaps back to him and he grimaces at the concern on his face. “You look tired.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, sipping his coffee just for something to do. It’s a non-answer, but he doesn’t quite know how to bring up something that would ruin everyone’s week.

He sighs, shutting his eyes. They can refuse, he knows; they can say no, and he’ll accept that and have to tell management. They might be pissed, might question why Namjoon’s a leader if he can’t get them to agree to ‘just one more week’, but he won’t make them do it. He won’t.

He throws back the rest of his coffee and says, “Guys, I’ve gotta ask you something.”

Jin and Taehyung are the only ones to look at him. Yoongi’s half-sleeping with his head in his arms, and Hoseok apparently started joining in on Jungkook and Jimin’s impromptu wrestling session.

“Guys, it’s important,” he says, and Yoongi finally lifts his head up. The other three apparently didn’t hear him, though, because they were still laughing and shoving each other. God, his head hurts. “Everyone, listen to me.” He sounds calm, thank god, even though he’s sure his hands are shaking slightly.

“Guys, chill the fuck out and come sit down,” Yoongi adds.

They finally look away from each other. One look at Namjoon’s face has them sliding into their seats and he—sometimes he hates that. Sometimes he doesn’t like that he has to slip into his Leader Persona and they look at him like he’s one of the managers, like he isn’t their friend. He wants to say guys I don’t wanna do this but they asked me and I feel guilty either fucking way, please make this decision for me, I don’t know what to do—but he can’t say that. Instead, he spreads his hands out on the counter in front of him (not sure if he’s grateful for the barrier between himself and all of them), and sweeps his gaze across them all.

“Okay,” he starts, “you aren’t gonna like this.”

“Great start,” Yoongi says, “keep going.”

The other snicker.

Namjoon just sighs. “Sejin-ssi called me earlier.”

The snickering stops.

It’s hard for him not to look away, but he manages. He looks Jin in the eyes as he tells them: “BigHit want us to postpone our break—”


He blinks, looking over to Jungkook.

He looks embarrassed by the outburst, but not enough to take it back. “We just had our biggest tour yet,” he says, frowning, “we—we’ve broken records, we’ve won awards, we’re in talks for more collaborations… We’ve been working so hard for so long, hyung.”

Namjoon feels his heart sink. “I kn—”

“Namjoon-ah,” Hoseok says, softly, and Namjoon’s eyes snap to him. “Knowing we’ve had this break coming… is all that’s kept us going.”

He closes his eyes again, gritting his teeth. “I know, guys, I know,” he mumbles, because he does. “Which is why we can say no, if you want to.”

They visibly relax at that—except Yoongi, whose scowl only deepened. “If we want to?” he repeats, scoffing. Namjoon frowns. “So you’re saying it’s all on the rest of us if we don’t agree to this.”

Namjoon blinks slowly, then shakes his head. “What do you mean?” he asks, head throbbing. He presses the back of his hand over his forehead.

Yoongi grunts. “You know what I mean,” he snaps, but Namjoon isn’t sure he does. “Tell us, Leader-ssi: what is your decision?”

Something’s clearly wrong, he realises, perhaps belatedly. He tries to push past the sleepiness and sore eyes to grasp onto Yoongi’s words, to catch the meaning hidden under them, but it slips through his fingers. He doesn’t know why Yoongi’s so annoyed. “I’m fine with doing it,” he says, because he can’t not be.

“There it is!” Yoongi says, barking a sardonic laugh that makes Namjoon’s head hurt. His chair screeches as he stands. “Well, guys, hope you haven’t packed your bags, because we’re staying in Seoul another week.”

“What?” Jungkook asks, twisting to look at Yoongi and then Namjoon again, brows furrowed.

Jimin and Taehyung mumble something to each other before glancing between the two boys standing.

“Yoongi-hyung, chill,” Namjoon says slowly, reigning in his frustration. Wasn’t it obvious he didn’t want this either? “I said if you don’t want to do this, we don’t—”

“You know what? No, it’s fine,” Yoongi snaps, glaring now. Namjoon frowns back, confused and kind of upset. “I don’t care. I’ll play idol a little longer. What’s one more week?” He snorts.

Namjoon shakes his head, huffing. Stay calm, it’s not his fault, he’s tired. “Think about it before you decide, Yoongi-hyung. Just tell me by midday.”

Yoongi laughs—a mirthless bark, then storms out of the kitchen. Seconds later, his bedroom door slams.

Namjoon scrubs a hand over his face. He’ll have to speak to him later, but for now—the rest of Bangtan have turned back to look at him, reluctance written over their faces, weariness etched into their shoulders. He did this to them.

“I mean it,” he reiterates, trying to smile, “if any of you really can’t do this, I’ll let the managers know right away. You can say no.” To dissolve the heavy atmosphere, Namjoon breaks eye contact with them to pour more coffee for himself. There’s a pregnant pause as he finishes it, taking a big sip before he turns back to them.

“I don’t mind, hyung,” Jimin finally says. He drags his eyes off his hands to smile at Namjoon, but it doesn’t look real at all. “I’ll do it.”

Hoseok sighs then, rubbing his neck. Namjoon looks at him and he smiles too, but his eyes don’t crinkle at the edges this time. “Someone’s gotta keep Yoongi-hyung in line!” he declares. “I’m fine with it too.”

You’re not, neither of you are , Namjoon thinks, but just smiles at them.

“Namjoon-hyung?” Taehyung calls.

He looks at him, raising his eyebrows. Part of him hopes he’ll say I don’t feel up for it, sorry, so he can cancel and tell everyone not to worry and Yoongi will leave his room and they can just watch a movie together before everyone goes home to see their families. But instead, he stares at Namjoon for a little too long, before beaming at him.

“I’m happy to do it too.”

He hears Jin sigh and hides his own grimace behind a sip of coffee. “Okay,” he breathes.

“I will too then,” Jungkook mumbles, not even looking at Namjoon anymore. He’s staring at his hands, where he’s picking at his nails. Normally Namjoon would tell him to stop, but he feels too guilty to rebuke him.

“You don’t have to,” he says weakly, because they all seem to think they do.

“I think I do,” Jungkook mumbles, then gets out of his chair and leaves the room.

Taehyung glances at them, then looks at Namjoon apologetically before getting up to follow him. Jimin does too, offering Namjoon a smile, and then he’s gone as well.

Hoseok stands when they hear a door shut. Namjoon looks at him. “I’m gonna check on Yoongi-hyung,” he says, and then it’s just Jin and Namjoon.

Namjoon drops his empty cup in the sink and slides into the now-empty chair beside Jin’s. He nudges his shoulder. “Hey… you haven’t said anything in a while.”

Jin hums.

He folds his arms in front of him and tears his gaze off of him. He eyes the clock - 11:43 - and sighs. They have until about 12 to let Sejin know their decision.

“I’m gonna tell them we can’t do it,” he says quietly.

“You can’t.”

He looks up at Jin’s words, but his hyung still isn’t looking at him. He frowns. “But none of you want—”

“No, we don’t,” Jin agrees in a monotone that shuts Namjoon up. He doesn’t like it when Jin sounds like that. Finally, his dark eyes meet Namjoon’s. “But you do, so we’ll do it.”

Namjoon wants to tug at his own hair or punch a wall, but—“We don’t have to do it, I told you.” I don’t want to do it.

“No, but you’re the leader. You’re a big reason all of us are here,” Jin says, looking down at his phone again. Namjoon tries to catch a glimpse, but Jin’s already hit the stand-by button. “Sejin-ssi and the others only need to hear your decision, not ours.”

“That’s not—I came to ask you guys, not tell you,” he says desperately, wanting Jin to understand, to look at him. He wants to act like he isn’t the leader, wants to call Jin ‘Jin-hyung,’ and just laugh with everyone.

But Jin pushes away from the table, tucking his phone in his pocket and finishing the remainder of his coffee in one big gulp. “And we’re telling you: it’s fine. Go ahead and tell Sejin-ssi we’ll work another week, Namjoon.”

He leaves the room, and Namjoon’s alone.

Namjoon had told Sejin that they agreed on postponing their break, but the other man’s relief didn’t console him at all. He’d snuck out of their apartment—not that he needed to since they were all holing up in their rooms—to attend a meeting about the upcoming week, sorting out the schedule, figuring out logistics with TXT and EXO, getting briefed on what the game show entailed.

Feeling overloaded with information, Namjoon requested print-outs, which he is now holding under his arm as he shuffled back home. He unlocks the door and steps inside, a little relieved to hear laughter from the living room. It stops when he enters, and he tries to keep the smile on his face.

“Hey,” he says.

There’s a too-big pause before Taehyung smiles at him. “Hi, Namjoon-hyung.”

No one else speaks, so Namjoon clears his throat (dry, because he hadn’t drank anything yet today) and starts passing the print-outs to everyone. “So, this is our week’s schedule. It should be e-mailed to you too, but I asked them to give us physical copies too—”

“Thanks,” Yoongi bites, clearly meaning the opposite of what he said.

Namjoon stuffs his hands in his pockets before clenching his fists. It’s not Yoongi’s fault; he’s just angry, he’s upset, he’s lashing out and Namjoon can’t blame him for it, as long as it doesn’t affect work. So he just nods.

“One of the interviews is in English?” Jin asks, sighing.

“Yeah,” Namjoon says. “It’s being broadcast on an American radio station, so it’ll be a live online interview.” He looks at them all, sees Hoseok’s head fall against the back of the sofa and Jungkook biting his lips, and has to say something to ease the burden. “Don’t worry, everyone’s English has gotten way better, and I’ll translate anything you guys don’t understand—” He staggers when Yoongi lands a solid hand on his shoulder.

Stop it, Joon-ah.” And, really, hearing Yoongi say his name affectionately despite how angry he is twists Namjoon’s stomach into knots. “You keep—” He stops, shakes his head, and huffs. “Why do you keep trying to control everything?”

He frowns. “I’m…” just trying to help. “I’m not, I just—wanna make this week easier on you guys. I don’t want you to stress.”

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because Yoongi wrenches his hand back like he’s been burnt. “Don’t want us to—? If you gave a shit about that, you wouldn’t have agreed to the extra fucking week of work.”

He bristles, digging his nails into his palms. “I said you guys didn’t have to—”

“Bet you wanted the English interview, bet you asked for it, because you love being the fucking leader and you love showing that you’re so fucking good at English.” He slams his shoulder into Namjoon’s as he passes him. “I’m going to sleep. Don’t wake me up.”



“Guess I’ll go practice my English,” Jungkook says.

Namjoon turns to watch him stand, tossing his controller to Taehyung. He doesn’t look at Namjoon as he leaves, once again.

Before anyone else can excuse themselves to get away from him, he heads to his room, yanks his headphones on, and listens to music in languages he doesn’t know.

“Your makeup’s done, Namjoon-ah,” said the makeup artist, patting his arm.

He smiled at her through the mirror. “Thanks,” he said, heaving himself up to go join the rest of his boys. Their conversation lulls as he approaches but he just smiles at them. They’ll be mad this week, but then they’d have a break and be back to normal. Right now, Namjoon can swallow the knot of anxiety and let them be upset, be their outlet.

“You guys ready?” he asks to fill the silence.

“Are you?” Jin counters. “It’s in English.”

Namjoon blinks. “Uh… yeah, I guess,” he says, scratching his neck. “Hopefully it’s just basic questions and we can answer them easily.”

Yoongi scoffs and Namjoon frowns, wants to grab him and shake him and ask why he’s so angry, why they’re all so upset with him when he told them they didn’t have to agree to this. But he can’t; it’s unprofessional. Even so… Yoongi’s his friend, and he really doesn’t want this weird thing to last any longer. Maybe I can speak to him quick before the interview.


“Guys, we’re ready for you!”

Hoseok claps, a bit too loudly. “Let’s get this show on the road!” He slings an arm around Jimin’s shoulders as they head out together.

Yoongi doesn’t even look at Namjoon and it—hurts.

He inhales deeply and sends a (hopefully convincing) smile to Jin. “Jin-hyung, will you stay near me?”

Jin sighs and shuts his eyes a second, then just says, “Yeah, sure, Namjoon,” and follows the others.

Namjoon wishes he hadn’t asked at all, and just feels worse when he takes his seat in the middle next to Jin. Usually Jin leans closer to him, presses their thighs together, claps his shoulder to reassure him, but he’s got his legs crossed and arms folded and is looking straight ahead of him. Yoongi’s in the back, to the right; Jungkook to the left, and Taehyung in the centre. Jimin’s on Namjoon’s left, Hoseok beside him, and no one’s said a word to him. Usually before English interviews, they—they at least say some thing.

“Ready guys? We’re going live in two minutes.”

Namjoon tries to swallow, but his throat is too dry. “Yeah,” he forces out, smiling because he has to. “We’re good.”

It goes fine—at best. At worst, there may be compilations of awkward moments. Long pauses, blank stares of confusion, a couple of questions he had to reconfigure so they didn’t sound rude, a few answers he didn’t know how to translate into English. It really isn’t that bad.

But Namjoon kind of feels like he could cry.

Because—they usually always tried. Jungkook would string together a sentence and look at Namjoon for confirmation even though he usually got it right. Jin would notice Namjoon struggling and start throwing out answers that made him relax enough to speak again. Hoseok would hear his awkward hahaha and spout something that would make everyone laugh and take the edge of stress off.

“Okay, last question! This might be too much to ask, but could you drop any hints about your next album? Themes, anything at all?”

Of course they can’t; don’t the journalists know this? Haven’t they interviewed enough songwriters and music artists to realise that this is a waste of a question? But he can’t say that, so he translates the question and waits.

And waits.

He turns to his band members, but Jin’s staring straight ahead and Jimin’s mumbling something to Hoseok. Namjoon clears his throat, laughs, and repeats it in Korean, looking desperately at Jungkook, who isn’t looking at him.

“Um…” He starts, fiddling with a ring on his finger so that no one sees his hands start shaking.

“Maybe—food,” Taehyung says suddenly. In English.

Namjoon’s head whips around to him, and Taehyung’s hands fall on his shoulders. He leans into it, holding his breath so the mic won’t pick up any shaky sighs. “Ahaha—food? What does that even mean?” he asks, has to keep this going to mask the awkwardness, to end the interview on a high note.

“Mm…” Taehyung hums. “We have themes of… youth? Um, learning to grow and, uh, love yourself?” He looks uncertain about his English, but Namjoon could hug him. His English is perfect; he’s perfect. He squeezes one of Taehyung’s hands that’s on his shoulder, half-afraid he’d remove them.

“Don’t stop, keep going,” he encourages, and maybe “don’t stop” was about holding onto Namjoon rather than about answering the question.

“Food is important! We need to show love for food. It helps us grow.” Taehyung nods.

Namjoon laughs, a little less forced this time. “You’re right,” he says, “we’ll write songs dedicated to everyone’s favourites.”

“Oh, what are all your favourite foods?” the interview pipes up. Unscripted, but easy, simple; an easy note to end the interview on.

“Anything with meat,” Namjoon says, “but if you want a recommendation, come to Korea and try samgyeopsal—it’s so worth it.” He twists his neck to look at Taehyung. “You, Tae?”

“Hmm… Japchae,” he says.

Namjoon turns to Jin, feels his heartbeat pick up. He shoves his ring down a little too hard and stops moving his hands.

“Jin-hyung likes too many foods to pick one,” Taehyung fills in, because he’s an angel.

Jin turns to him and laughs lightly and Namjoon tries to feel relieved, but he’s just—Jin totally ignored him but responded to Taehyung right away.

“Rude,” Jin declares, laughing. “I like naengmyeon… lobster, chicken… Ah, actually, Taehyung-ah’s right, I like a lot.”

The others laugh and Namjoon tries to as well, but it hurts his throat when he does.

Spurred on by Taehyung and Jin’s responses, the others answer the question too. They all bid ARMY goodbye and the interviewer thanks them all, then the cameras switch off and the staff dissipate, and the boys are told to get ready to leave.

They’re already heading to the exit together, walking side-by-side in the stretching hallway, and Namjoon thinks they look good as a group of six: symmetrical.

He trails behind them, not bothering to catch up.

Just five more days ‘til their break. It’d be fine.

Five more days is Namjoon’s first thought when he wakes up.

Today, they have to record the episode for that game show with TXT and EXO before they’ll head to a costume fitting, then in the evening they have to go record backing vocals, and Namjoon isn’t ready for any of it.

No one’s in the kitchen when he gets there. He starts brewing coffee and considers just having that for breakfast, but knows that’s a bad idea. He checks the time – 06:12 – and decides to make everyone breakfast. They don’t have to be up for about half an hour so even if he fucked up a couple of eggs, he’d get enough right by then for everyone to eat.

He measures everything first and checks recipes and timings on Naver before starting, then stops procrastinating and pours pancake batter in the pan. He shouldn’t be nervous about this, but he rarely cooks; isn’t good at it. Besides, he never really had to; his mum cooked for him before he moved out, then Jin did most of it during their debut year, and for a long while now they’ve had chefs and nutritionists to do it for them. But Jin always enjoyed it when he did it, and seemed touched whenever someone else made something, so… he wants to try.

Maybe it’s some twisted form of bribery, but Namjoon decides not to dwell on that.

The first pancake burns because it was too thin and the heat too high, but he realises what he did wrong and easy circumvents that on the next ones. Eventually, he has a huge stack of buchimgae, and then cooks rice, kimchi, and cucumber soup. “ Shit ,” he hisses when the knife slips off the wet cucumber and into his thumb. He drops the knife with a clatter and runs cold water over the cut, grimacing. Blood seeps out quickly, but it isn’t too deep. He dabs it with tissue and keeps a bit wrapped around it because he doesn’t know where plasters would be.

He turns on the kettle when he hears the first tell-tale door opening and footsteps padding down the hall, dishing up some of the buchimgae and spreading out the side dishes.

Jin steps into the kitchen, scratching the back of his head, and—completely blanks Namjoon as he goes to grab the kettle.

“Oh, uh—I made tea already, hyung,” Namjoon says, grabbing the cup he’d just poured and handing it over—a bit too enthusiastically, as a few drops spill out. He laughs sheepishly, on the cusp of too shrill, and Jin stares at it for a second.

“Oh.” He wraps his hands around the cup. “Thanks.”

Namjoon swallows, then laughs again. “Yeah, don’t mention it. I, uh—made breakfast, too. It’s buchi—”

“I’m not hungry,” Jin says. “I’ll grab something after the meeting. Thank you anyway, Namjoon.”

Then he’s gone.

Namjoon slides a few of the pancakes into a tupperware box with a helping of rice and kimchi, then slides it in the fridge for later, mind carefully blank.

“Morning, Joonie-hyung.”

He stands too quickly and hits his head on the fridge door. “Fuck.” He rubs his head with a wince, waiting for the inevitable laughter—but it doesn’t come. He blinks, kicking the fridge door shut behind him, as Jimin glances over the counter full of food. Namjoon grins, rubbing his nose. “Aha, I—thought I’d make breakfast. ‘Cause I woke up early, so…”

Jimin actually looks at him and he smiles, relieved.

“That’s really sweet, hyung,” Jimin says, dropping his gaze to the food again, then looking up with a sad smile. “But I’m cutting my carbs until our break…”

Namjoon falters. “Oh. I mean, that’s fine, you can just leave the rice…”

Jimin’s brows furrow together as he looks at the buchimgae, then smiles nervously up at Namjoon again. “I’d. I’d rather just have some of the soup,” he says, grabbing the bowl and eyeing it like it personally offended him.

Namjoon fights down the instinctive fine, whatever, I don’t care that bubbles up because that isn’t rational. Pushing past the initial cloud of defensiveness, he takes in Jimin’s posture: he’s wrapped an arm around his stomach and he’s staring at the food a bit too intensely. His fingers twitch on the spoon and he’s mumbling under his breath.

“…hundred or so…”

It takes Namjoon a couple of seconds to process it and a spark of nausea jolts up his spine. “It only has about fifty calories, max,” he says.

Jimin’s head snaps up, eyes wide, before he laughs weakly. “Oh. Right.”

“Jiminie,” Namjoon says, sitting down across from Jimin because he doesn’t want to tower over him when he asks: “Are you counting calories right now?”

“No—well, yes—don’t look at me like that, Joonie-hyung, it’s not what you think.”

Namjoon frowns. The fact that Jimin knows what his assumption was… “Okay,” he says, trying to relax his shoulders. “Okay, so what’s up?”

Jimin sighs. “I’m just… tracking my calorie intake until our break.” He pauses. “A dance move in one song that Hoseok-hyung and I have to do together has him lifting me up, I want it to be easier.”

“Jimin,” he says. Jimin’s eyes lock onto his. “The tour is over. You don’t need to do that move right now.”

Jimin runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah…”

“Jimin, look.” He does. “It’s okay to keep on track of what you eat, but make sure our nutritionist knows what you’re doing. It’s easy to fall back into old habits.”

Jimin’s eyes widen, mouth falling open. “Namjoonie-hyung, that’s—I wasn’t trying to…” He trails off.

Namjoon folds a hand over his. “I believe you, Jiminie. Just—if you are ever struggling, you can talk to us. Any of us. Or none of us, as long as you speak to someone. You’re an idol, yeah, but you’re also Park Jimin—we want to keep that around. Don’t try to make yourself less than you are, okay?”

Jimin’s eyes are a little too bright and when he tries to speak, he chokes on a breathy sob.

“Ahh, Jiminie, no,” he says, standing to go to the other side of the counter, wrapping him in a hug.

Jimin sniffs into his shoulder, threading his own arms around Namjoon’s back. “Sorry, I. I really have been better,” he whispers. “I eat what I should, not what I think I should, I just. When we’re working, I can’t stop thinking that I need to control my intake more. I… I worry that one day we’ll perform and it’ll be fine, and the next we’ll perform and people will be Tweeting about how I look like I’ve gained weight…”

Jimin,” Namjoon breathes, pulling away to meet his eyes. “I can’t lie to you and say you’ll stop thinking that way, and we can’t control what people write online. But for all those faceless people who slate us, there are countless fans holding up lights and cheering your name, there’re six guys here who’d do anything for you, there’s your family who are so proud of you every day, and you’ll get to see them next week.” Jimin cracks a small smile. “Even if you’ll never completely stop thinking about how you look or how many calories is in something, it’ll get easier to work past that. You can be aware of what you’re doing and still enjoy it anyway.”

Jimin looks away for a second before meeting his eyes again. “Namjoon-hyung…” he starts, but then dips his head.

“Yeah, go on,” he says softly, rubbing his back. “Ask whatever.”

Jimin chews his bottom lip and sighs at the floor. They sit in silence a while, ticking clock echoing in the kitchen, and Namjoon thinks maybe he’s decided against saying whatever it was he was going to say. Maybe he should offer to make tea—

“Have you ever experienced anything like this?”

His hand falters on Jimin’s back.

“I mean… I know you’ve never had an eating disorder,” he continues, and part of Namjoon is glad he can finally say it without sneering or rolling his eyes (because he didn’t used to believe it even after they all begged him to eat and saw his ribs during dance practise), but part of him aches to hear it, wonders if Jimin would’ve never struggled with this if he hadn’t joined Bangtan. “But… you say things, sometimes. Like you get it, even though you haven’t experienced it.” He looks at Namjoon, tears teetering on the edges of his eyes.

Namjoon grabs tissues and hands him some, watches him dab his eyes while he tries to collect fragmented thoughts and piece them together into something legible.

Sleepless nights in nameless clubs tucked in shadowed alleyways. Sweaty bodies, pounding hip-hop music, lyrics he’d scream into a cacophony where he wasn’t heard. Exhausted days, falling asleep on his school desk, waking up to someone pouring milk down the back of his shirt. Going home and writing lyrics and stuffing them in-between Epik High CDs when his mother came in to make sure he was doing homework.

“Yeah,” he says, and Jimin stares at him, inhaling sharply. “I dunno what I’d call it,” he confesses, sinking into that old feeling to try and explain it. That deep sea that clogged your lungs. “Before Bang PD heard my music—before Sleepy mentioned me to him, I performed underground and uploaded music to some site.” God, it’s surreal to remember. “Everything I wrote was… angry. I was angry—at least, for a while. But as soon as my mother stopped telling me to be quiet and do my homework, as soon as I was alone… I was left empty.” He stared at the countertop, at the little indent where Jungkook once cut through an onion without using the chopping board, and the little scar of a reminder remained there. “Every day I walked to school with my head full of white noise. Sometimes during class I’d make a scene just because I… needed people to acknowledge me.” He grimaces. “It sounds ridiculous, saying it out loud.”

“It doesn’t,” Jimin says, softly, tears teetering on the edges of his eyes. “Keep going. Please.”

He inhales deeply. “I went to these clubs more and more, listening to other rappers.” He huffs a laugh, wincing. “I started believing all the shit they said, all the problematic things. Sometimes I knew it was wrong, but I’d just accept it anyway because I didn’t want them to think less of me. I just regurgitated their words so they’d accept me.” He shakes his head. “It worked and for a few moments I’d feel good. Someone would toss me a beer and I’d drink it and pretend I didn’t hate the taste, then they’d talk shit about girls and I’d nod along.” He traces the counter-top’s scar. “I just listened to their poison because I needed them to accept me. I didn’t even like them, didn’t know them really, but I wanted to fit into the role of a rapper so bad that I lost parts of myself in the process.”

He tears his eyes off the counter to look at Jimin, who’s staring into the distance, deep in thought.

“It wasn’t me,” he continues. Jimin looks up at him. “I was hurting myself, acting like that. I hated myself every time I laughed at jokes about gay guys, I felt sick every time I flirted with a girl just to impress other dudes—and for a while I thought I’d become an alcoholic just because I was too scared to turn down drinks. The first time they got me to try weed, I went overboard, Jimin.” He runs a hand through his hair, scrunching his nose in disgust, recalling the heavy scent of weed and smoke and cologne in a dingy nightclub somewhere in the streets of Ilsan. “I had a bad trip—I dunno how, but I ended up in the toilets, hyperventilating and puking for hours until someone dragged me out of the club at 3am. I passed out—don’t remember it, but I must have, because I woke up in an alley beside a dumpster… and I did it three more times, just ‘cause I felt like I had to live down to these guys’ expectations.”

Jimin’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. “Hyung…”

“Jimin, if you live your life trying to please other people, you’ll never please yourself.” He shakes his head. “Every target you set—you’ll reach it and it’ll never be enough. You’ll kill yourself trying to attain the unattainable.” He grabs one of Jimin’s shoulders, curling his fingers into the fabric of his shirt. “You’ll always live with this, Jimin, but you don’t have to let it define who you are: you’re more than your disorder. Don’t try to be less than you are.”

Jimin blinks and the tears finally escape, dripping down his cheeks. His breath stutters and he brings up an arm to wipe his face, but then abandons the idea halfway to throw his arms around Namjoon instead.

“Thank you, Monie,” he breathes, voice shaking.

He squeezes him and holds in the sigh of relief when he feels hard muscle and not pointed bones. “You never have to thank me for this, Jiminie,” he says, quietly, “just don’t leave us, yeah?” He’s going for joking, but it sounds a bit too strained.

“Oh, Joonie,” Jimin says, pulling away to smile at him through his tears. “Never.”

Namjoon smiles back, heart feeling a little lighter, because it feels like Jimin’s okay with him again.

The game show goes well enough, but Namjoon’s tense the entire time, heart racing a little too fast every time one of the others avoid his gaze or take too long to respond to something he says—but Taehyung and Jimin seem fine with him, laughing at every sarcastic quip he makes, even when Yoongi rolls his eyes.

(He sees the TXT members exchanging glaces every so often, after an awkward lull in conversation, but thankfully no one else seems to notice anything.)

It goes absolutely fine, honestly, so Namjoon isn’t sure why he can’t quite get his breathing under control by the time they’re doing the final challenge. It’s a questions-and-answers segment and Jin and Jungkook get to pick their teams. Usually for this sort of thing everyone picks Namjoon first, claiming his brain holds as much trivia knowledge as Naver, but he’s the last one left.

“We have an equal number on each team,” Jin jokes around laughter, but Namjoon thinks he’s serious, “so maybe Joon-ah should sit this one out.”

“We’ll take him,” TXT’s Soobin pipes up, smiling. “We’ve only got five members, after all.”

Hahaha,” Namjoon laughs. “I appreciate it, guys. Man, my own band doesn’t want me!” He’s trying to sound teasing, but to his own ears it’s strained. “I’m heartbroken!”

“Join our team, hyung!” Jimin calls, waving. Jin glances at him and away again and Namjoon feels like he’s been punched in the gut.

“No, no, you can’t win me back now,” he teases, but his palms are sweating and his throat hurts a little.

The rest of it goes well; he ends up winning alongside his group with Soobin and Yeonjun. He highfives them and they laugh together, but he—he really wants to leave. He just wants to sleep.

Finally, blessedly, the cameras cut. He powers through quick conversations with TXT and EXO, mostly on autopilot and barely remembering what they even said, before he thanks everyone on-set, bows to the producers, and bids their managers farewell as they’re dismissed. His face hurts from smiling and he finally drops it as soon as he exits through the stage door.

“Namjoon-hyung?” he hears Taehyung call.

“One sec’, gotta use the bathroom!” he shouts back, rushing into the nearest one and bolting the door shut behind him.

He leans against it for three seconds before his legs give out and he’s sliding to the floor. His breath catches in his throat and stays there. He clenches his fists, nails digging into his palms, and repeats to himself: four more days, four more days, four more days.

He isn’t sure how long he’s been huddling on the bathroom floor but jumps when his phone pings. He nearly drops it in his attempt to fish it out of his pocket. God, doesn’t he even have time to wallow in self-pity, just for a few minutes?

car’s here joonie-hyung ᶘ ᵒᴥᵒᶅ (11:47)
idk what emoji is meant to convey but it resonates with me anyway (11:48)

He breathes a weak chuckle, heaves himself up, and plasters a smile on his face before leaving the bathroom.

Just four more days.