Namjoon didn't mind stressing over their upcoming trip to the US and performance on the AMA's. No, he didn't mind it in the least because it allowed him to ignore the other pressing matter which threatened to suffocate him.
Hong Ji Ah.
So the rapper dived into album promotions, music bank performances, interviews on radio stations and reality shows, so exhausted that by the time the members returned to the dorm, his feet twitched with fatigue, and sleep- however little- offered some semblance of respite. The week following his doomed proposal had been the hardest to tackle but Namjoon discovered that work was a good distraction and it kept his mind off the woman who had somehow managed to crawl under his skin. Again. But he tried his best to desensitise himself, to derail his thoughts and steer them away from the contentious matter. And, to an extent, it worked.
Namjoon learned this when he came face to face with Ji Ah after a whole week. She looked stricken to see him and he dredged up every last bit of his strength to smile at her. And from the surprised look on the woman's face, he knew he had succeeded in displaying a strong front.
If only Ji Ah could see the crumbling mess underneath the façade.
But Bang PD's announcement jolted him out of his wallowing, allowing him to focus on his duties as the leader of a group which was breaking its own records and climbing up the music charts, taking everyone by storm. There was an influx of reporters, news channels, entertainment personnel, domestic and overseas, who wanted to interview the boy band. And Namjoon began to realize that Ji Ah might have had a point about this being the busiest he had ever been.
Their latest project was a comeback show that MNet had planned for BTS, one that would focus on the ties between the members and also portray their hopes and apprehensions. For this, their dorm had been turned into a makeshift set with the camera crew interviewing them one by one. The next few days went by in a blur of shoots, performances, endless preening and parading at concerts which left Bangtan drained and tired. But the rapper didn't mind it because these matters were substantial and something he could count on remaining constant. Unlike his spiraling emotions.
Namjoon prided himself over concealing his turbulent thoughts but he couldn't fool his members, especially Jimin. The blonde man had been watching their leader carefully ever since he had returned from wherever he had taken off to after the press conference on the day of the album release. He knew that the rapper was troubled and their debut in the States wasn't the only reason.
"Hyung, it's almost 12 AM," he mumbled, raking his fingers through his mussed hair and taking a seat opposite the leader at their dining table. It had been a long day, one which had ended with the shooting of the concluding segment of their comeback show. The members' faces had been rife with weariness and Yoongi had almost fallen asleep on his feet, inducing Seokjin to carry him to their shared bedroom.
"Jimin-ah? Why aren't you asleep yet?" Namjoon looked across the table in surprise. He had thought that he was the only one having trouble sleeping but that obviously didn't seem to be the case.
Jimin smiled at him, leaning forward and propping his chin on his palm. "I was, until my stomach decided to rumble." He patted it and reached out towards the bowl laden with fruit on the table, plucking a banana lose. The blonde man proceeded to munch on it with relish and Namjoon chuckled softly, trying his best to appear laid-back and calm. But Jimin could see right through him.
"You're worried about the AMA's."
It wasn't so much a question as an observation and Namjoon glanced at the younger man warily, amazed at how easily he had read him. But he shrugged, slouching in his seat and shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his hoodie. "I am. I'm so nervous that I can't even sleep despite being dead on my feet," he replied truthfully, not wanting to deceive the man seated across from him.
"You're not alone, Hyung," Jimin stated softly but firmly. "We're in this together. We've been in this together for over seven years now. And when we're together, we're invincible." He grinned and Namjoon couldn't help laughing.
"You make us sound like the Avengers or a superhero team out to save the planet," he remarked slyly but Jimin merely settled comfortably in his chair and shot him a wide grin, lips parting to reveal full white teeth.
"Why not? But honestly, we're going to be fine, Hyung," Jimin assured him, his voice intoning within the space as he chewed on the banana slowly. "And you know that we've been working on improving our English so you're not the only one burdened with speaking during interviews."
Namjoon nodded appreciatively at this but the anxious glint didn't leave his eyes. "But it's a debut, you know? I'm worried that I might mess up or that people might not respond to us the way we want them to," he confessed, his fears rolled into a tight ball of yarn uncurling in the presence of the sensitive young man. "All the apprehensions which plagued me during our debut years seem to be resurfacing now and…" Namjoon finally raised his eyes to glance at Jimin.
"I'm scared, Jimin-ah."
The blonde man was hardly shocked by the rapper's blatant confession, knowing full well that this was something they all felt, Namjoon feeling it that much more because he felt he was responsible for them as the leader. Jimin slid his free hand across the table and placed it over Namjoon's. "I know. And there's nothing wrong with that." He flashed him a brilliant smile, his eyes crinkling the way they always did when he grinned so widely. "But we can do it. We're stronger now, better. And we can tackle this just like we tackle everything else."
"You think so?" Namjoon asked, part hopeful part afraid. This was a big step for them and he wanted nothing more than to be a capable leader and lead his team towards the very best they could do and achieve.
Jimin nodded energetically and squeezed the rapper's palm. "I know so. ~Ayy, I never walk alone~," he crooned, belting out his line from the meaningful song. Namjoon chuckled but realized that the other man was looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to complete the song.
"~Ayy, you never walk alone~," he continued, a spark igniting within him at the sound of these words. Of course, he wasn't alone. He had six talented and supportive boys by his side who believed in him even when he sometimes found it hard to believe in himself. In that moment, with Jimin for company in the dimly lit room which constituted of warmth and love, the other members sleeping just a few feet away, Namjoon knew he had nothing to fear.
~You and I, as long as we're together, we can smile.~
"That's it!" Hong Ji Ah bellowed in frustration as she flung the covers of the bed off her lithe figure. "The curiosity is killing me!"
So Min hardly batted an eyelid, not even looking up from where she was perched on her own bed, monitoring the videos their team had recorded of Bangtan during the day. It was drawing close to midnight but instead of losing herself in the addicting solitude of sleep, Ji Ah found herself replaying the past few days over and over again. Namjoon had been nothing but cordial, smiling at her politely, holding open doors, greeting her with warmth.
And it was driving Ji Ah crazy.
"What exactly is the problem now?" So Min inquired calmly, attuned to her friend's random rants which had gotten quite frequent lately. She typed away on her laptop without even looking up at the flushed face of her roommate.
"Kim Namjoon! Kim Namjoon is the problem!" Ji Ah felt the incessant urge to curse but couldn't even bring herself to do it. It was as if her brain was in overdrive with a broken record on loop drilling itself into it.
Why was Namjoon behaving so coolly?
For the life of her, the videographer couldn't figure it out. But anymore deducing blindly and Ji Ah knew it would push her over the edge. She needed answers and she needed them desperately. When So Min finally faced her with raised eyebrows, Ji Ah scoffed bitterly. What was the matter with her?
"Are you going to explain or are you going to leave me hanging, too?" There was no sarcasm in So Min's voice, no hint of a sneer on her face but the question still hit Ji Ah hard. She jumped out of her bed, grabbing her car keys and her coat which had both been strewn across her chaise in the corner of the room.
"Ji Ah? What the hell? Where are you going in the middle of the-"
"I'll be back soon," Ji Ah intercepted her question before So Min could complete it. "I know I'm being crazy but it's like I can't leave this alone, like I need to follow where this tune leads me."
So Min merely looked at her but understanding dawned on her face and she smirked. "That's the sappiest thing you've ever said."
Ji Ah didn't look over her shoulder but she was certain that her friend could see the morose smile on her face as she bounded out of the room.
"There's a first time for every bloody thing." ***
Kim Namjoon decided a breath of fresh air would be immensely helpful in lulling his numb mind to sleep. Patting the younger man on his blonde head, he rose and waved away Jimin's concerns by reassuring him that he would be back soon and that he was only going to take a walk around their block which was safe. And deserted at this time of night, which is what he really craved: the solitude.
Jimin nodded but his lips were pursed in a frown, accompanying Namjoon to the door. "At least take Sejin Hyung with you," he implored lightly but the rapper shook his head.
"Hyung needs his sleep too, maybe much more than we do," he laughed, raising a hand in farewell as he stepped out of their dorm before Jimin could say anything else.
The night was everything Namjoon had expected it to be: silent, warm and bright owing to the moonlight. A slight breeze wafted over him and he inhaled deeply, stretching his arms. This would be a relaxing reprieve.
But no sooner did the thought form in his head than glaring headlights blinded his vision and the rapper almost stumbled when a sleek silver car drove up to their apartment complex. Its roaring engines pierced the silence almost painfully and Namjoon flinched, shielding his eyes from the bright light. He quickly assumed a defensive stance, expecting some delusional paparazzi or armed robbers, or maybe some psychopath to dive out of the car and assault him.
What he did not expect was Hong Ji Ah.
Namjoon simply stood there as her car pulled up to the curb beside him, windows rolling down for her brunette head to peek out. "Just the person I wanted to see. Up for a ride?"
The rapper knew he should refuse, should walk away right now before matters escalated even more than they already had. But he wasn't surprised when he found himself striding over to the passenger seat and slipping in without a word. Ji Ah revved the engine, steering the car onto the road and very soon, they were rolling down the empty streets and Namjoon felt like they were the only souls to exist in the universe.
"I know this is all kinds of awkward and you probably never want to see me anywhere outside of Big Hit," Ji Ah said after a few seconds of silence, "But I wanted to talk to you, to know that you're really okay and that the strong front you've been putting on isn't a façade." She chanced a glance at her companion whose lips had slightly parted as his eyes landed on her.
Namjoon exhaled the breath he had been holding, deciding to be honest with her. "I'm not okay." He sensed Ji Ah freeze at the words and hurried to clear the air, "But I'm dealing."
He watched her shoulders relax slightly but the frown didn't leave her face. "I'm sorry, Namjoon. I'm sorry it has to be this way."
"What about you? Are you okay? Do you still stand by what you said?"
The question was like a blow to Ji Ah, her lips struggling to deny it, struggling to tell him that there was a chance, however small, that her feelings were beginning to change. But instead, she said what Namjoon needed to hear right now. "I do."
He sighed but was surprised to find the hurt he had expected to feel dissolve into something else: acceptance. "You know, for what it's worth, you make a fair point." When Ji Ah raised her eyebrows, he splayed his palms and studied her. "I have hardly any time to sleep let alone manage a relationship. So I understand your decision."
Ji Ah's eyes scrutinized him in their peripheral vision and from what they could gauge, Namjoon seemed to be telling the truth. "Worried about the AMA's?" she successfully deviated from the topic for the rapper's expression changed.
He smiled sheepishly, glancing at her askew. "I guess it's pretty obvious huh," he remarked drily and Ji Ah allowed herself to smile for the first time in his presence since his proposal.
"It is to the people who know you." They were gliding down the streets of Seoul, blinking streetlights casting halos over the pavements and sidewalks. Decorative frills and lights festooned several storefronts alerting them to the arrival of Chuseok in a couple of days.
Namjoon sidled his head to watch the numerous shops and eateries flashing by and smiled. "I guess so."
Ji Ah bit her lip, wondering if it was wise to say what had popped into her head, especially now. "I would always support you, you know. Whatever Bangtan decides to do." She glanced at him sideways to find the rapper looking at her intently. "Whatever you decide to do."
For a few seconds, Namjoon didn't reply, their gazes locked but Ji Ah could see the wheels turning in his head. "That means a lot to me, Ji Ah. More than you'll ever know."
But she did know. And the videographer wanted nothing more than to assure him of the fact but she held back, her chest caving in from the effort of having to do so.
This isn't the time, she tried to convince herself.
"You're a good driver," Namjoon observed after a few minutes had elapsed, turning to her with a smug look. "I might be better though."
Thankful for the digression, Ji Ah snorted. "Says the guy who doesn't even have a license."
"So what? I'll get it at some point," the rapper huffed indignantly and Ji Ah laughed. There were hardly any vehicles on the road apart from theirs and she rolled the hood of her car down, chuckling as Namjoon's eyes widened with his head tipping upwards to explore the sky which was now visible. A cool breeze rushed towards them, their hair rippling with the force of it.
"Yeah, when you're deemed harmless enough so the traffic police doesn't have to worry about you causing mayhem on the streets," she laughed, the sound blending with the howling wind in Namjoon's ears.
"Oh, but I'm dangerous in other ways, too, you know," he countered with a smirk and Ji Ah could feel her cheeks turning red at the suggestive nature of his words. Was Namjoon flirting with her?
"Huh, sure. We'll see about that," she answered, aware that her voice was shaking. Because the streets were mostly empty, she tilted her head to watch the moon, ever present as the car lolled down the smooth roads. She could feel Namjoon's eyes on her. "So, you seem to be excited about being on a ride at this time of night," she blurted out suddenly to fill the silence.
A shuffling sound followed and Namjoon almost looked shy. "I've…I've never done it before," he said in a low voice, turning his head away.
"You've never gone for a midnight drive?" But Ji Ah wasn't surprised by this, knowing the rapper's inclination towards bookstores and cycling down the Han River to ease his stress, his schedule so full that a midnight ride would be the last thing on his mind. This was probably Namjoon's first time driving down the deserted streets of the sprawling city after midnight without a manager or his members and savoring the thrill of being wild and free.
Even if it was just for a little while.
"But you know what I feel right now?" he quipped, his gaze meeting Ji Ah's once more, more determined, more certain, more unwilling to leave hers. "I feel like we're the only two people in the world, Ji Ah."
The videographer was tempted to agree but the weight of Namjoon's words was distinctive and she didn't want to dwell over what he might or might not be insinuating. She merely nodded mutely, directing the car back towards his dorm.
And when Namjoon slid out of his seat, almost reluctantly and bidding her a silent goodbye, Ji Ah couldn't deny the contentment that spread through her veins, the same contentment etched on the rapper's face. In the same way she hadn't been able to deny the little thought pounding relentlessly against her skull for the duration of her car ride with Namjoon.
~This is what it feels like to be alive.~
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