Ji Ah lurched after the pickpocket, who seemed to have realized that the brunette-haired woman was in close pursuit. He picked up his pace, but the assistant videographer didn't relent, agilely maneuvering her way through the throng of people, never once losing sight of him.
Namjoon caught up with her, frequently throwing backward glances, his anxiety spiking as the paparazzi- two males and three females- began to close the gap between them. Ji Ah realized this too, rounding a corner and darting down a deserted alleyway. She pulled out her phone and hastily dialed the person who she hoped would be able to come to their aid.
"Ji Ah Noona!" a cheery greeting followed a couple of shrill rings and Kim Taehyung's excited voice rang through the speaker, echoing in the hollows of the empty lane. "What's up? By the way, are you with Namjoon Hyung by some chance? All kinds of rumors-"
"Taehyung-ah," Ji Ah interrupted him quickly, her legs pounding against the graveled footpath, Namjoon hastening beside her. "I need your help although I can't explain everything at the moment. Can I count on you?"
"Of course!" he said without any hint of hesitation and Ji Ah's spirits rose. They could conquer this yet.
"I'm about to send you our location," she said, her breath coming in short rasps as she gasped for air. "I want you to come pick us up. And alert the police while you're at it."
"Hold up, what? The police?" Taehyung's loud exclamation caused even the pickpocket to throw a cautionary glance over his shoulder.
"Not now, Taehyung-ah," Ji Ah almost pleaded, willing her body to move faster. They were in close range of the perpetrator; one more leap and she would be able to reach out and touch him. "I just need you to trust me on this."
Taehyung seemed to have understood, hanging up as Ji Ah tossed her phone to Namjoon, who caught it reflexively. "Send him the location."
"Why can't you-" But before he could complete his question, he received his answer in the form of Ji Ah lunging forward and grabbing the thief by his collar. The rapper watched in incredulity as she tackled him to the ground by landing a swift kick to his torso, her arms trapping the man in a chokehold.
Ji Ah looked up to find Namjoon staring and raised her eyebrows while the man thrashed around wildly in her grasp. "I used to take taekwondo classes in middle school remember?"
He did remember. How could he forget, when their first meeting had been Ji Ah punching him in the gut because she had thought Namjoon was ogling her.
Ji Ah fished around the man's pockets, ignoring his guttural protests as she pulled Namjoon's phone out. The rapper had texted Taehyung their location, and he now returned her device, claiming his own from her outstretched palm just as a siren began wailing in the distance. Ji Ah rose, dusting her pants, her eyes resting at the paparazzi which had finally caught up with them. "Keep your mask up," she advised Namjoon, striding in their direction.
"This man here," she indicated innocently to the figure still prostrate on the ground, "is a pickpocket. Watch over him till the police get here please?"
Before the flabbergasted group could voice a reply, Ji Ah grabbed Namjoon's elbow and steered him towards the other end of the alley where a minivan had pulled up on the curb mere seconds ago. Seokjin's face leaned out of the window and he waved his arm animatedly. "Hurry the hell up! We need to get back before Sejin grounds our asses for the rest of the year!"
Shivers ran down Namjoon's spine when he reflected on how close he had come to causing a scandal. Fortunately for him, the untoward mess had been cleared up without garnering much attention from the staff at Big Hit. He and Ji Ah had been reprimanded for taking off without informing anyone, but had the managers known exactly what had happened, a simple scolding would have been the last thing they would have to worry about.
But as things stood, the pair had been let off with a warning to avoid such scruples in the future. Ji Ah, however, knew it wouldn't be too long before she was summoned to Mi Na's office. But Bangtan's charismatic leader was relieved that the matter hadn't reached Bang PD's ears. And Namjoon had another piece of news to rejoice over.
He was going home.
Not just him, but all the members had been permitted by the CEO to take the last week of August off. Since they had less than a month to go before their comeback, he had advised them to de-stress and had encouraged a visit to their respective hometowns. Not only would that be a helpful repose, but would also allow the members to meet their families after a long time, something which would contribute to their wellbeing.
And so, a day later, most members had already departed and Namjoon found himself seated in a car tasked with driving him to Ilsan. He gazed out of the window, his eyes exploring the sprawling city of Seoul as it flashed by. And as he neared his destination, happiness filled him like a bubble. Namjoon was going home.
It would be wonderful to see his family again; he missed them. And his friends too. Friends he hadn't met in years.
His hometown spread out before him like a picturesque canopy, fields and shrubbery flanking the roadsides. The route gradually emerged into the heart of the city, tall buildings and structures shooting towards the sky. Plaid houses and shops lined the streets, people milling about, discovering the sights Ilsan had to offer, sights Namjoon was well acquainted with.
The car finally turned into a residential section, brick houses erected on each side. Peace and quiet lingered in the air, a soothing fragrance wafting in the breeze. The scent of home.
Namjoon geared himself as the vehicle halted at a modest two-storey house, a small, well-maintained lawn leading towards the porch with a cushioned seating area. The scent of cinnamon lathered the place, a warm fuzzy feeling building in his chest as he approached the front door.
Before he could ring the bell, the door swung open to reveal a tall girl, her jet black hair pulled into a bun. She was clad in a tracksuit, sweat matting her fringes as she pushed them out of her eyes and pounced on Namjoon.
"Oppa!" Kim Geong Min, his younger sibling, shrieked with all the enthusiasm of a five-year old. "I didn't know you were coming today!"
Namjoon chuckled as he enveloped his sister in a warm hug. "I wanted to surprise you guys. Are mum and dad home?"
They were. His parents expressed their delight at Namjoon's unplanned visit, urging him to do it more often. The rapper laughed with them, his eyes drinking in the sight of his family, contentment stitching every thread that had come undone owing to his stressful work schedules. After an hour of conversing and relishing the succulent taste of his mother's food, Namjoon decided to meet a couple of his friends whom he had informed about his plan beforehand.
Lee Jun Ho and Choi Hye Jung had been Namjoon's childhood companions. The three of them had grown up together and their lives had been marked by similar experiences until he had signed a contract with Big Hit. The trio had chosen an old playground as their meeting spot, the perfect place to reminisce the memories of their younger years as they exchanged stories about their present selves.
"So," Hye Jung, a slim woman with long magenta tresses embraced Namjoon, smiling at her friend, "you've finally decided to grace us with your presence." She rolled up the sleeves of her shirt, perching on a wooden bench and patting the space next to her. Namjoon laughed, hugging Jun Ho and seating himself beside Hye Jung.
"What can I say? I've been busy," he replied and Jun Ho, slicking back his auburn hair, whistled, slapping Namjoon's chest.
"Busy touring the world? Yeah, we know all about that." He shot Hye Jung a knowing look and she nodded solemnly.
Namjoon studied their faces, wary of how his friends perceived him now. He hadn't met them in almost five years and he wondered if his fame had altered their opinion of him even in the slightest.
"I hope you guys don't think I've neglected meeting you on purpose," he began slowly, shooting glances back and forth between Hye Jung and Jun Ho. "It's just been a crazy couple of years."
Hye Jung's face smoothened in comprehension. "I know, Joonie. We both do. And you know we'd never hold it against you."
"You could be the President of South Korea and we'd still treat each other the way we always do," Jun Ho added, ruffling Namjoon's hair.
He loosed a breath at this, wordless relief glinting in his eyes. Namjoon had always worried that his friends would accuse him of forfeiting their friendship owing to his profession. And he was beyond thankful that Hye Jung and Jun Ho didn't feel that way in the slightest.
"No matter how famous you get," Hye Jung winked at him as she slung her arm around his shoulders, "to us, you'll always be that kid who destroyed everything in his vicinity and had to rely on us to assist him with his getaways."
Jun Ho was nodding vigorously. "And the kid whose clumsiness almost always got his ass kicked." He smirked, nudging Namjoon playfully. "And we had to constantly save it."
The rapper grinned, pulling both of his friends into a hug. "Y'all have no idea how much I miss you."
Hye Jung pecked his cheek, her eyes gleaming with tender affection for Namjoon. "We miss you more."
Jun Ho squeezed his shoulder in assurance but his features were lined with mischief. "Though I liked your mohawk better," he stated teasingly and the rapper smiled.
They strolled towards a convenience store, Jun Ho eager to relive their childhood by indulging in ramen. Namjoon and Hye Jung chortled at his childishness but he only puffed his cheeks, handing them both a cup each. Occupying one of the booths at the front of the store, the trio chatted away merrily, the time a mere speck in their galaxy of infinite memories. And Namjoon felt like he had truly come home.
He remained there at the table long after Hye Jung and Jun Ho had left, savoring the delectable taste of serenity and fulfillment. After a little while, Namjoon decided that it was time to return home, rising to leave when a brown-haired girl, donning a uniform stepped directly into his path.
He flinched in surprise, his eyes widening at how familiar the girl looked. Her hair was pinned at the nape of her neck, her fingers gnawing at her bag straps nervously. It was only when the girl bit her lip did Namjoon realize whom she bore a marked resemblance to.
Hong Ji Ah.
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