"Hong Ji Ah!?"
Namjoon blinked rapidly, his jaw agape at the sight of the woman standing before him. He grappled with his conflicting emotions at seeing her again as he studied Ji Ah, whose eyes darted about the room furtively, looking everywhere but at him.
Ji Ah was taller now, her shoulder-length brunette hair streaked with shades of magenta. She was clad in loose blue pants, a jacket concealing the tank top she had donned underneath it. His ex-girlfriend's features had transformed too; the smooth contours of her face radiating a maturer look, her big round eyes displaying a stronger sense of conviction.
"RM in the flesh I see," she said with a forced cheeriness as she finally met his puzzled gaze. Her tenor was just as he remembered it, deep and musical, a sound which had been, at one point, soothing to his ears.
"Why are you here?" Namjoon finally pulled his voice from the recesses of the bewilderment that had subdued it. But his eyes widened as Ji Ah waited for him to connect the dots. "You're the representative from MSL?" he asked in disbelief.
Ji Ah shrugged her shoulders as she strode towards him. "I am indeed. You obviously weren't expecting it by the looks of it."
"No kidding. I haven't seen you in eight years!" Namjoon had begun shaking with irrepressible anguish.
"Let me make this very clear, Nam- uh, Mr. Kim, that I'm here on a purely professional basis. This is my job, but if it's going to be a problem for you, tell me right now." Ji Ah eyed him curiously, in a way which made her gaze seem like it was traversing the very depths of Namjoon's soul. A hint of a smirk appeared on her face. "You can't do this, can you?"
Exasperated at the tone of her voice which was imbued with the teasing note of their past, Namjoon scrambled for a witty reproach. Coming up with none, he decided to advocate his defence in a curt manner.
"You'll find, Ms. Hong, that I have matured quite a bit. And this is part of my job, too." He willed his rising unease to quell. "So why should I be unable to do it?"
Ji Ah laughed as she pondered over this. "You're lying."
The rapper shot her an incredulous look as he folded his arms. "I am, most certainly, not."
But he was and even if the leader of BTS wasn't aware of it himself, Ji Ah was. There was no doubt that Namjoon had acquired a wisdom quite beyond his years, a fact that had aided in his growth. But a part of the puzzle was still missing.
Let's see if we can find it, shall we? Ji Ah thought with glee. Her desire to see exactly how much of a changed man Namjoon really was got the better of her.
"Then prove it," she challenged him, a grin spreading over her face as she took a seat on one of the chairs placed opposite a cluttered desk. Her eyes roved over sheets of music haphazardly scrawled with hasty letters for a fraction of a second before settling on her ex-boyfriend once more.
"Huh? Why should I have to prove anything to you?" Namjoon inquired skeptically, not being able to read the covert meaning of her statement.
Ji Ah merely smiled. "You guys, from what I'm told, are planning a new series of mini albums and MSL will be documenting the creation process of all of them."
Realization dawned on Namjoon as her words sunk in. A series of mini albums. And the members and he had been thinking of making four such albums over a period of two years.
"From the look on your face, you seem to have grasped what I'm getting at," she continued, averting her gaze which now rested on a couple of portraits mounted on the wall farthest from where she was seated. Swirls of muted colours dotted the canvas of one, the silhouettes of two intertwined figures a glaring contrast against the otherwise dull hues. The other painting featured an abstract range of images, each more undecipherable than the last. Much like the underlying currents in this room, Ji Ah thought. Fitting. "Are you ready to allow me to be privy to all your secrets for a couple of years? Won't it make you uncomfortable?"
Namjoon gritted his teeth in frustration. Ji Ah was deliberately provoking him, something she had always done, but the truth of her words was apparent even in his fuddled state of mind. In all honesty, he wasn't sure if he could give his best if Ji Ah was there to document every moment of the album-making. I guess I've still got some obstacles to conquer, he thought bitterly as he considered Ji Ah's words. Was he still lacking if she still perceived him in the same light even after all these years?
Well, he would just have to prove her wrong.
"I can do it," he said with more certainty than he had displayed for the first time since their encounter.
Ji Ah quirked her brow with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Then I'll make you a deal, RM," the syllables rolled off her tongue like honey as she rose, approaching him with a lilt to her steps. "You show me that you can, indeed, handle a blast from the past, and I promise to leave and find a replacement for myself."
"That's the most ridiculous proposition I've ever heard!" Namjoon scoffed as he regarded her suspiciously.
Ji Ah nodded nonchalantly as she extricated a bunch of papers from the folder she had been carrying. "Fine, then. I'll just leave these here for your CEO to look over and then return with my team tomorrow." She shot him a leery smile. "And watch you fumble for words and actions for the next two years."
Namjoon tried not to bristle at her condescending tone. "I'm not that same fifteen year old kid anymore, you know," he returned indignantly as she cocked her eyebrows. "I'm a professional."
"I didn't say you weren't a professional, Mr. Kim," Ji Ah replied amiably. "I just said you weren't ready."
Namjoon hesitated as she saluted him, turning to walk away. What did she mean by his not being ready? And her proposal...it was childishly preposterous, no doubt, but if it provided him with a chance to be rid of her, then would it be so inappropriate of him to take it? After all, two years was a very long time. And he could do without an unneeded distraction.
"Wait," he called out as Ji Ah's head poked around the door. She looked at him questioningly and the rapper sighed deeply.
"So you're saying," Yoongi began apprehensively, "that the assistant videographer of our documentary-"
"Is your ex-girlfriend?" Jimin finished for him hurriedly. Yoongi shot him a reproving look but the sandy-haired man promptly ignored it. The rest of the members had gathered in the living room of their dorm as soon as Namjoon had returned. And all of them gaped at the news he had delivered just moments ago.
"Talk about awkward," Seokjin stated cheekily, assuming his usual carefree manner as he popped a handful of gummy bears in his mouth. Jungkook nudged him seriously.
"I don't think this is the time to be eating, Hyung," he whispered nervously. The eldest swatted his arm away as he continued bingeing on the snacks.
"My eating is not going to change the fact that Joon's ex-"
"Okay, that's enough," Namjoon interrupted wearily as he flung himself onto the bean bag lying opposite the couch.
"Isn't this like a breach of ethics or something?" Hoseok posed the question to his members. "I mean, they do have personal history right? And that could compromise this project."
"Personal history no one has a clue about," Yoongi pointed out. "On what basis do we lodge any redressal?"
Taehyung scrutinized Namjoon's face carefully as the rapper rubbed it dispassionately. "Can you trust her not to reveal your relationship?"
He nodded as his gaze met that of the second youngest of the group. "That's one thing I can definitely trust her on. If she had wanted to stir up any kind of scandal, she would've done it a long time ago." But he knew that no matter what her shortcomings, Ji Ah wasn't manipulative.
A thoughtfulness had marked Hoseok's features while Namjoon had been dispelling doubts regarding Ji Ah's trustworthiness. "Hong Ji Ah, was it? Isn't that the girl who dumped you during freshman year in high school?"
"Wait, what? She dumped you?" Jimin asked in disbelief as their leader closed his eyes and nodded subtly.
"And yet you accepted the proposal," Yoongi's voice was soft but Namjoon could clearly discern the concern lacing it. "Won't this be difficult?"
"I'll do it, Hyung. It's infinitely better than having her around for the entire duration of the making," he replied slowly, his mind fixated on showing Ji Ah that he had indeed changed for the better. Yoongi looked doubtful but remained silent while the rest of the members offered all the advice they could conjure to assist Namjoon.
The leader's confidence began seeping into his bones again as he strengthened his resolve. If he could only show Ji Ah that he was fine, that he had built upon the advice she had proffered all those years ago and turned it into his motto, then she would have to accept that he was no longer the impulsive, headstrong boy she had left behind.
Namjoon would do this, he had to. Not for Ji Ah's sake, but for his own.
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