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A Stranger Kind Of Madness

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He's a boy when you first meet him, oversized glasses that you're not sure he needs hanging hopelessly off the tip of his nose. He bows to you and calls you sunbae like a respectful and respectable young man should do, though you cannot help but hear contempt in his voice and you decide that he will be out before the week is through.

He cannot dance or sing, he isn't pretty. You reevaluate first estimates and wonder if he'll last the day.

When clumsy feet and missed highnotes have been worn to death, they change the pace. They see your disbelief at his presence and they play with it as Bang sunbaenim is wont to do,

“Namjoon, why don’t you show us some of your own work?”

The boy doesn’t even wait for a backing track. He is young but his voice is deep, his words clever and calculated. He slips into English more often than you can keep up with and though you can’t understand it beyond the cursing it still sounds important, like the fire in his eyes would take more than a rejection to put out.

When he falls silent you don’t know what to say; he’s good, very good, you don’t need to know the first thing about hiphop to know that (and you don’t know the first thing about hiphop) but what use is talent if it’s the wrong talent?

“Kwon-ah, Namjoon here will be part of the new group,” Bang tells you slowly, like he expects you not to understand. 

You don’t understand.

Not that it matters.

You smile as best you can, you smile though you’re sure the poor kid is the victim of some terrible practical joke, “welcome to Big Hit,” you shake his hand. His grip is firm and his expression is stony, solemn, stubborn. You fear he may be taking this too seriously.

You don’t see him smile till a year later. 

There’s a group of them now, Namjoon, Ikje, Donghyuk and Hunchul look like they might just be the final lineup. Hoseok and Yoongi train tirelessly, but you’ve heard them talking in the practice room after dark, “there’s no room for a dancer in Bangtan, and who in their right mind would pick the kid who got second place?” You don’t say anything but if they asked you, you’d agree. 

Ikje shines the brightest, but Namjoon works the hardest and it shows. When you’re recording - a process that always keeps you up long past midnight - you find him sitting outside the studio waiting for his turn. He hasn’t been home.

His mum broke his microphone.

“What are you listening to?” you ask, pulling on an earbud to get his attention. He scowls at you,

“Tupac,” he snaps, then a beat later, “sunbae,”

“Call me hyeong,”

He doesn’t say anything, just stands and bows as Changmin, Seulong and Jinwoon leave the studio, leaving him free to take their place. He slips silently into the producer’s chair that is, as far as you’re concerned, the wrong side of the soundproof glass. His fingers slip into position, he opens up a file in a program that you’ve never understood the workings of and –

It’s not envy, because there’s nothing to be jealous of, but you wish you knew how he did that.

He glances back over his shoulder as he adjusts his headphones and the smile that stretches his lips as his feet begin to tap along to the beat is brighter than you would have thought possible.

You sigh, he can’t sing or dance, but he might just be pretty enough after all. 

“What does East Side mean?” you march across the practice room floor to where Namjoon has cocooned himself in the far corner, he blinks at you like you’ve gone mad, it brings you up short.

“I just…people talk about it a lot…but I,” you don’t know what happened to your words, but Namjoon’s gaze is a force to be reckoned with, he’s all too good a sussing people out, “I don’t speak English,” he blinks again, you think he’s wasted as the maknae. 

“So you listen to hiphop now?” his voice is flat. You don’t know where to start with that question. You don’t understand what Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, Eminem, what any of them are saying, you don’t particularly like the beats and the music videos are annoying, but you can’t deny that you have an opinion. 

Opinions do not form out of thin air.

There’s Wu Tang Clan and De La Soul on your ipod, though you always skip those tracks and you know that you’ll take Jay Z over 50 Cent any day of the week but you also don't care, not really. You know you only know these hings because Kim Namjoon made you think it was something worth knowing. He is a knock-kneed teenager and apparently you now listen to hiphop because of him. 

The silence goes on too long and Namjoon gets bored, “I’m going,” he mutters, which is all wrong because it’s early, way too early,

“But you have practice,” you feel dumb just saying it. Namjoon shakes his head,

“The others got cut, we’re starting from scratch.”


“I’m sorry,” you call after him, but he’s already gone, replaced by the excited chatter of Hoseok and Yoongi looking happier than you’ve seen them in months. 

He’s a good leader, a very good leader, you worry that you should be more like him. The other boys of Bangtan adore him and they respect him, in equal measure. It’s a blessing that he’s scary enough when angry to keep Jungkook in check, but it’s just as valuable an asset that he’s weird enough to keep pace with Taehyung. 

He can’t dance but his singing’s not so terrible, and you feel like ‘pretty’ may be the wrong word.

“You’re staring,” Changmin mutters as you watch them rehearse, all part of the evaluation process (as if any of them are getting cut this time round). He’s smiling like he’s teasing but it sets you on edge because you were staring, you have been for a while,

“His dimple annoys me,” you counter, and Changmin’s not grinning anymore,

“He’s 17, don’t even go there,”

Namjoon shouts something in English that no one else understands and then cracks up at his own joke. Idoldom may not be his dream but he’s a far nicer person under it than hiphop. His dimple comes into view and it’s not even a little bit annoying,

“Hyeong, what do you take me for?” you hiss back. It’s a concerted effort to meet his gaze.

“Changmin hyeong, Kwon hyeong, ahhhh, we were wondering if you could maybe come back another day? Only we’re not quite ready yet,” Namjoon looks like he’s trying very hard to be sheepish, but his unshifting grin gives him away. 

“Sure, we’ll be here at midday tomorrow,” Changmin stands, “be ready, we don’t want you guys getting sloppy”

You try to add something to that, but your words feel used up.

“It sounds like Black Skinhead,”

Namjoon blinks at you; you’ve never seen him more surprised,

“It is Black Skinhead,” he stares at the computer, “well, more or less. How did you know that?”

You shrug like keeping up with a music scene you have no interest in is nothing, “what, I can’t try out something new every once in a while?” 

Namjoon throws back his head and laughs, long and loud, “you’re full of surprises hyeong,” he giggles, “next you’ll be telling me you know which label Frank Ocean’s signed to,”

“Odd Future,” you reply, you don’t even breathe, “like Tyler the Creator,”

Namjoon gapes at you, “hyeong you’re so much cooler than I thought you were,”

A shy smile spreads across your lips, and you like to pretend that the grin he gives you in turn is sympathetic to it.

September 13th 2013 is an odd day. The building is quiet, too quiet, you shouldn’t even be here, but you were busy the day before, and there are some things that you will never convince yourself aren’t necessary. 

Namjoon is alone in the practice room, he shakes his head as you walk in (ready to lay on belated ‘Happy Birthday!’s), “the others didn’t bother coming in,” his voice sounds rough, you don’t know if you want to tease him or nurse him back to health, so you just laugh,

“Figured you wouldn’t be up to it?”

He shrugs, “not like I’ve never gotten drunk before,”

You don’t know what to say. Namjoon’s face is blank, serious, like the face of a boy you once decided wouldn’t last a week.

He’ll probably never be able to dance but when he sings his voice has a unique charm, he is so much more than pretty.

And you’ve known him since he was what? 15?

The silence grows awkward and you fumble for something to say. You hate this, you’re good with words, good with people, it’s not your fault that Namjoon’s better.

“I do feel kind of crappy though,” he says, self deprecating smile coming into play. You sort of want to throw up.

“I know a few tricks for that,” you try out a smirk and it feels more natural, more like the person you’re supposed to be, but your bottom lip gets stuck between your teeth and Namjoon stares at you like you’re the final piece of a less than difficult puzzle.

Why do you have to be so obvious?

“Hyeong-“ you turn to leave, hoping that he’ll follow you, hoping that he won’t, he grabs your wrist.

He’s taller than you, he’s stronger than you, you don’t know when you came to know the colour of his eyes so intimately.

His lips are soft, his tongue is subtle, he kisses you like the two of you have been doing this for years.

It’s like someone tipped a thesaurus into your head. You know exactly which words to use to describe the pounding in your chest and the roaring of the blood in your veins, the tenderness of the hand at your jaw and the firmness of the one at your waist. But to speak now? To break this? It would be madness.

So you save your words, for as long as it takes (and who knows how long it does take) for Namjoon to pull away and stare at you, the same as ever, only up close you can see that his eyes burn deeper holes in yours than first anticipated. 

You laugh in his face, not to be mean, just because you can,

“We raised you right, kid,” you mumble into your shared personal space, growing smaller by the second. He tastes like toothpaste and stale alcohol and you have no idea how you could ever have doubted him.

And hangover cures can wait till later.