"What was the inspiration for this concept?"
Seated in the air-conditioned auditorium, Kim Namjoon pondered over the reporter's question. It was a wide octagonal space with rows and rows of chairs neatly lined together. More than half the seats were occupied by reporters and news outlets, the remaining scored by a few lucky staff members who had been allowed to attend the press conference as the audience. Overhead lights twinkled and cast shadows across the tiled mausoleum floor, the chilly air combating the clammy autumn breeze effectively.
The members flanked Namjoon on the dais upon which a long table and comfortable chairs had been set up and he spotted Sejin's silhouette down the aisle to his left. Microphones and bottled water littered the surface and the rapper grabbed a mic to answer the question.
It was the day of the album release and so far, it had been met with fervor and positivity with millions of fans taking to social media to express their love for it. 'DNA' was already topping the charts, and Jimin's intro 'Serendipity' followed not far behind. And now, in the midst of a press conference to address the concept and making, the leader of BTS marveled over how ARMY's immense support never ceased to amaze him.
"Like we've always tried to convey, individuality is important. But it's so easy to lose track of what really matters in this fast-paced world. Talking about the youth has always been our forte but this time, we wanted to show how loving oneself is just as crucial as loving someone else," he finally answered, the members and reporters jotting away on their notepads fervently.
Yoongi reeled a microphone towards him, continuing from where Namjoon had left off. "And through these series of albums, we hope to show that there is nothing wrong with taking a leap of faith and chasing after what makes you happy, be it love or anything else."
At the center of the room, perched behind Jae Chan's shoulder while he focused the camera on the members stood Ji Ah, latching onto every word that was being said. They were eerily reminiscent of what had passed between her and Namjoon on that fateful day eight years ago but she knew that this was the true evolution of Bangtan; 'Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa' had paved the way for their flight with 'Wings' and now 'Love Yourself' was the beginning of their journey towards attaining closure.
A shuffling sound followed and another reporter took up the mantle. "Has anything specific been instrumental in the making of the album?"
For the slightest of seconds, Namjoon's eyes flitted towards Ji Ah. But they glanced away just as fast before she could even register their pressing weight. "A great many things have served as our starting point: our lives, our journeys, our relationships with the people who have, in some way, influenced us," he remarked thoughtfully and he could see Jungkook and Jimin nodding in his peripheral vision.
"And also our desire to express that there are many different kinds of love," Seokjin added, his fingers stroking his chin. "And that they're all just as important to growth and well-being."
The reporters took note of the answers Bangtan provided, the focus of the questions finally moving towards the tracks on the album. Hoseok jumped up the minute the MC asked them to show the point choreography of 'DNA', dragging the maknae along to the centre of the narrow platform.
"What would you call it if you had to name this step?" the MC, a burlesque man in his mid-thirties with rimmed glasses resting on the bridge of his nose, was asking and Yoongi's hand instantly shot up.
"The 'gum stuck to my sole' dance," he declared, obviously proud of his witty retort. The room erupted in good-natured laughter and Ji Ah chuckled at the rapper's amusing reply.
"'Pied Piper' sounds like a seductive track," the MC pointed out, studying the members intently as he waited for a response.
Taehyung let out a snicker and Yoongi grinned as he grabbed the mic to answer. "Well, what better way to sweeten the blow of a thought-provoking message?"
"But on a serious note," Namjoon quickly interposed, "we tried our hardest to not offend fans with the underlying nuance of the song, even though it is somewhat curt and harsh."
Laughter reverberated within the walls of the room and the press conference began to approach its end. The members explained the context behind the conception of each track but when the MC inquired about the 'Outro', Namjoon hesitated.
"It's a little difficult to explain this track," he began slowly, sidling his head to study Hoseok and Yoongi in turn. "It feels like the culmination of the album and yet it's more of a starting point."
"Is there any particular person for whom you might have written the song?"
The question hung in the air like the sword of Damocles, just waiting to descend upon Namjoon. Sharp intakes of breath seemed to collectively echo in the auditorium, the walls of which seemed to be closing in on them and Ji Ah suddenly found it very hard to meet the rapper's gaze which was burning through her. Much to her chagrin, she very much wanted to hear Namjoon's answer, though she knew that most of his part in the song would have been borne out of his extensive imagination. But Yoongi came to his rescue.
"More like 'persons'. We wrote this song thinking of what people in love might experience, how they would feel, what the sensation of being whole is," he explained in a lackadaisical manner and the members seemed to heave in relief.
"And through this song," Namjoon added confidently now, spurred on by the older man's statement, "we wanted to show that love comes with its own share of conflicts. There is happiness but there is also pain. It's a complex feeling which incorporates a range of emotions, both good and bad."
Ji Ah processed his words with an intensity that surprised her. But she realized that she agreed with what he had said; love could heal but it could also scar.
After all, weren't Ji Ah and Namjoon the perfect example of that?
But the videographer shook her head, dragging her eyes from Namjoon's face to skim through the sheets nestled in her arms. Despite that, Ji Ah was aware how hungrily she seemed to be lapping up every syllable that he spewed.
Namjoon paused to formulate the words that had, for some time now, taken root in his head. "I'm saying that there might be a person I love, that this person is a wonder but is also an answer." He didn't miss how Ji Ah's head whipped up at this, continuing with a newfound strength. "That she's my 'her' but at the same time, she's also my 'tear'."
The expression on Ji Ah's face was inscrutable and Namjoon suddenly wanted to laugh at the connotations the song held. He had unconsciously poured out his feelings for her without even realizing. He knew that now.
And Namjoon decided to stop denying it. As Ji Ah's eyes widened, he decided that he no longer wanted to suppress the emotions that had been steadily building up within him. In the confines of the auditorium, the people were relegated to the background and all he could discern was Ji Ah, standing there, looking at him just like he was looking at her; with unmasked emotion though he couldn't be sure how to read hers yet. No matter; there would be plenty of time to figure that out after this ended. Because Namjoon knew now, he knew without a shred of a doubt that the person unconsciously mentioned in the 'Outro' was her. Hong Ji Ah.
Boy, was he in trouble.
The last hour dragged on and Namjoon threw himself into making the final statement that the reporters would be using in their press releases. To his disappointment, Ji Ah's team had been dismissed nearing the end of the conference, which meant that he couldn't speak to her on the premises. But that was a minor obstacle. He did know her address.
And once the press conference concluded, the rapper found himself leaping out of his chair and grabbing a copy of the physical album from where they were stacked in their changing rooms. He sprinted out the entrance of the building, motioning towards one of the minivans which had just pulled up on the curb. Before anyone could so much as understand what had happened, the vehicle was weaving between the traffic of Seoul, the driver steering it towards the address Namjoon had given him.
Ji Ah's apartment complex looked much the same during the day as it had during the night. When Namjoon strode through the automatic doors, the guard at the entrance, a young man in his late twenties, jerked out of his chair and stared at him openmouthed. The rapper realized that he looked out of place in his dapper suit and the man had most likely caught their press conference on the news.
"K-kim, Kim Namjoon," he stuttered nervously and Namjoon shot him a quick smile.
"Can you buzz me up to Hong Ji Ah's floor please?" he requested politely and the man nodded, punching a few buttons on the intercom and signaling that he was good to go. The rapper thanked him, bowing as he did so and rushed into the elevator. Nervous anticipation flooded him and he knew that he would have to tread carefully. Ji Ah was nothing if not obstinate and she seemed to have made up her mind to keep their relationship platonic. He had no idea how he would ease her out of that resolution, he just knew that he had to.
When the doors pinged open, Namjoon found the flat she shared with So Min by memory, straightening his tie and hair before ringing the bell. Ji Ah answered instantly, clad in a cotton pullover and shorts. Her hair was mussed from the shower she had just taken, damp droplets sliding down her strands to pool on the floor.
"I didn't believe Choi when he told me it was you," she remarked in amusement, letting the rapper in. "What are you here for?"
Ji Ah guided him towards the couch and he plopped onto it. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee lingered in the air, the videographer inquiring if he would like to have some. Namjoon refused and surprised her by grabbing her hand and pulling her down next to him. He whipped out the album from his blazer pocket and handed it to her.
"This is for you," he said almost shyly and Ji Ah raised her eyebrows questioningly. "It's funny, how before anyone else, I wanted you to be the first to have it."
Ji Ah ignored the unsettling feeling generated in the pit of her stomach at these words and smiled instead. "Is that right? Then it'd be my honour to accept it." She grinned, running her fingers over the ridges of the album as she held it. "Though I imagine a lot of ARMY's would love to personally receive a copy from you."
Namjoon laughed at this, glad to find Ji Ah in a complacent mood, though it did nothing to assail his nerves. "I, um, I actually wanted to talk to you about something."
"Hmm?" she replied absentmindedly, busy flipping through the photobook and appreciating the visuals of each member.
"I was wondering how you would feel about giving our relationship another shot."
Ji Ah's head snapped up at the speed of lightning. Was Namjoon really saying what she thought he was saying?
"I know I suggested keeping our relationship purely platonic," he explained with raised palms, "but I've realized that I was simply delaying the inevitable."
"The inevitable being what exactly?" Ji Ah asked, unable to muster any other coherent question, her mind drawing a blank.
"The fact that I would've fallen for you no matter how hard I tried not to," Namjoon's voice was unwavering now, a stark contrast to the turmoil unraveling within Ji Ah. "When I was explaining the Outro, I realized that I was talking about you, all the feelings you incite within me, all the thoughts. And I decided to stop fighting it like I'd been doing all this time."
"Namjoon , you do understand that this is impossible right?" Ji Ah tried to plead with him. She needed him to comprehend that they couldn't do this even though every nerve in her body seemed adamant that they could. "We were toxic for each other then. What makes you think we'd be any different now?"
"Because we are different now! I kept thinking that that was the problem when it's actually the solution," Namjoon appealed to her, trying to break through her barricades. "We've grown up and we've learned. I know that if we work towards it, we won't make the same mistakes again."
Ji Ah shook her head, aware of the effort it required. Pain, she could feel so much pain at having to shoot the hopeful man down. But there was no other choice. Happy endings were the stuff of fairy tales, not of their tedious and fleeting existence.
I'm sorry, but I can't afford to have you sabotage your life in any way, was the only thought hovering in the air.
"This is a distraction. It would hinder you and you have such a busy schedule already, Namjoon," she countered in a low voice, her heart wrenching at the hurt that flashed in his eyes.
But Namjoon tried to persist, not wanting to admit the doubt that the videographer might not feel the same way. "Ji Ah, will you at least think about it?"
"I can't, Namjoon. I can't put both our lives in peril, especially not at this juncture in your career." Her features twisted into a grim expression and Namjoon clenched his jaw in frustration. Why was she bringing up something they could find a way around? But a desolate thought dawned on him and he looked her square in the eye.
"Tell me you don't feel the same way," Namjoon challenged her and Ji Ah's face contorted with pain. "Tell me you don't feel the way I do and I promise to walk out of this apartment and pretend like we never had this conversation."
That was the problem. Ji Ah still couldn't figure out how she felt after all these years, couldn't pinpoint what the rapper meant to her. And she didn't want to lie to him, not after everything they had been through. It was too painful, too unfair. And so she said the only words she could dredge up the courage to, even though they weren't what Namjoon wanted to hear, weren't remotely close to what she wanted to say.
Borrowed time, an unwelcome voice in Ji Ah's head chimed, borrowed time is what you have with him.
"I don't know."
Namjoon waited, but when she didn't display any signs of elaborating, he sighed in resignation. Shooting her one last muted glance, he rose to step out of her apartment.
Ji Ah let lose a cramping breath, wondering how they would face each other after this. The videographer had no idea of the storm that churned in the rapper's eyes as he exited the complex, his heart feeling like it had been lanced through several times. But somewhere deep down, Namjoon had anticipated such an outcome even though it pained him to admit it. The irony of his answer at the conference wasn't lost on him.
Ji Ah was most certainly his 'her' and was, once again, his "tear'.
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