"It should be illegal," Kang So Min muttered under her breath, her eyes fixated on Kim Seokjin as his voice blended melodiously with Jeon Jungkook's. "So much beauty should be illegal."
Ji Ah shot her a contrite look, a sign of warning on her face as she adjusted the camera lens before handing it over to Jae Chan. The videography team was currently gathered in Bangtan's studio to cover the recording of 'Pied Piper'. PDogg, their burlesque, executive producer, was monitoring the boys' progress as they took turns to sing and rap their respective parts.
"Namjoon-ah," he said through the mic attached to the control board, "you'll need to be a little more audible. The sound of the pipe is overlaying yours."
The rapper nodded as he attempted to rap once more, this time heeding PDogg's advice. He and Yoongi added a few more modifications to the song while Hoseok inquired whether the overall effect of the tune could me magnified, especially with regards to the intensity of the pipe.
Ji Ah was awed, never before having engaged herself with the making of an album in such close quarters. The tenacity of the members and their strong determination to ensure the deliverance of a perfect song was an impressive sight to behold.
"I wonder how they do it," So Min mused as they filed out of the room once the recording process had ceased, making their way towards the refreshment counter. "All these idols. Writing, producing, singing, rapping. It's incredible!"
"No kidding. They don't miss a beat. And I can barely drag myself out of bed every morning," Ji Ah deadpanned, her skin still tingling with the deep undertones of Namjoon's voice. "Though I wonder how ARMY will react to the lyrics of the song. Namjoon and the boys have really outdone themselves with this one!" She laughed but instantly chastised herself for addressing him by his name. I need to be more mindful, she thought quickly.
So Min peered at her friend teasingly, but any suceeding retort was buried beneath Jae Chan's words.
"We're moving to the practice room in fifteen!" the videographer announced as he gulped the last dredges of his lukewarm beverage. Ji Ah and So Min grabbed the coffee mugs lying on the counter, draining them dry as they scrambled to take up their positions.
Dance rehearsal huh, Ji Ah thought, this should be fun.
Bangtan's practice room resembled the one Ji Ah had seen in a couple of Bangtan Bombs released by the Big Hit staff. It irked her to admit that she had occasionally indulged in them, Namjoon's dancing skills always providing an enjoyable reprieve. He had certainly improved over the years, but the stiffness hadn't quite left his bones.
A stiffness which seemed amplified today. Son Sung Deuk, their suave choreographer, shook his head in exasperation as Namjoon flailed his arms out of formation for the millionth time. Seokjin seemed to be struggling too, but even he was surprised at the rapper's more than usual lack of balance.
"Kim Namjoon!" Sung Deuk exclaimed in frustration. "What is the matter with you today?"
Namjoon apologized profusely as he tried to focus. Ji Ah watched as the practice session continued, her eyes following every movement Namjoon made intently, much to her chagrin.
And he was acutely aware of it. Namjoon had always been conscious where dancing was concerned, but Ji Ah's presence exacerbated his embarrassment whenever he made a mistake. For the life of him, he couldn't comprehend why it mattered. Namjoon just knew that it did.
The electro-pop tune of 'DNA' reveberated within the space as Bangtan continued to toil and train. Hoseok and Jimin constantly assisted the others, and as the hours ticked by, Namjoon, too, had gotten a handle on his situation. Sung Deuk allowed the members to take a break, his words eliciting a collective sigh which resonated throughout the room.
The boys shuffled out, their bodies sweaty and limbs wobbly with exhaustion. Namjoon followed suit and had almost reached the restroom when a voice stopped him in his tracks.
"I must say, you're not as slow a learner as I thought you'd be," Ji Ah said cheekily as she grinned at him. "Though it seems that you're a little distracted today."
"I'm just tired," he returned calmly, surprised at his composure. "But I'll manage."
Ji Ah raised her eyebrows. "Is that the reason? And here I was going to offer to fabricate some excuse and leave, so that you could dance in peace." She stifled a laugh as Namjoon's face blanched. "But I guess that's unnecessary now."
"You really are unbelievable, you know." He gazed at her evenly. "Not everything is about you." But there was no real bite to his words.
Ji Ah shrugged, her demeanor suddenly transforming. "You possess an unquenchable perseverance, RM," she asserted slowly as she studied him. "I don't think anything can stop you from getting the job done."
Namjoon stared after her receding silhouette as Ji Ah walked away. She had the most extraordinary ways of restoring his resolve, the rarity of her thoughtfulness striking him out of the blue. He returned to the practice room with a clarity he had never expected would sprout from a conversation with Ji Ah of all people.
Namjoon's body moved with newfound vigour, his movements more distinct and organized. Sung Deuk nodded approvingly and the members shot him encouraging smiles. Ji Ah grinned as she watched him nail the footwork he had been unsuccessfully grappling with just minutes ago.
Feeling surer of himself, Namjoon attempted a particularly tricky move, one which involved a slight jump to step into position. Engrossed in perfecting it, he failed to notice Seokjin endeavoring to flex his arm which accidently jostled Namjoon. The members watched in horror as their leader stumbled, his ankle twisting with an audible crack as he tumbled to the ground. Ji Ah winced as she heard Namjoon yelp, his hand massaging his sprained ankle.
"Namjoon Hyung!" Jimin yelled as he rushed to the injured rapper's side. "Can you stand?" He extended his arm, slinging the other one around Namjoon's shoulders.
The leader's face convulsed with pain as he stood, his eyes shut tightly. The room descended into a flurry of activity as the staff bellowed for first-aid.
"I think he needs a doctor," Jae Chan observed as he studied the already swollen ankle. "And immediate medical care."
"But our usual van's out for maintenance, and our other vehicle will take at least 20 minutes to get here," Hoseok pointed out woefully as a wistful Seokjin continually apologized to Namjoon, who waved his concern away with a pained smile.
So Min perked up as she smiled at Hoseok. "There's no need to worry! One of us can take him to the hospital."
"Who?" Ji Ah quirked her brows at the red-head's statement. Multiple pairs of eyes turned to her as she realized what So Min was getting at. "Hold on," she began queasily, her pupils dilating.
To say the silence was awkward was a gross understatement. Ji Ah stared straight ahead as she drove, her fingers clutching the steering wheel tightly. Namjoon fumbled with the radio stations, his indecision in picking a channel further augmenting the uncomfortable air.
"Does it still hurt?" Ji Ah finally asked as she glanced at him sideways.
Namjoon considered lying but decided against it. Deceiving Ji Ah wasn't going to relieve the ache he felt deep in his bones, let alone his ankle. "It does, but I'm okay."
His companion didn't look convinced but refrained from pushing him further. Ji Ah didn't think it was her place to pry. "We're almost there. Just hang on."
She pulled into the driveway of the emergency room encased in the outer chamber of Seoul General. The hospital loomed over them as Ji Ah helped Namjoon walk, their proximity, to his utmost disbelief, intensifying the heat in Namjoon's veins.
A physician stood waiting for them, already having been informed of the pair's arrival. She examined Namjoon's ankle with the scrutiny of a trained orthopaedic. "You're going to need to rest for a couple of days." Any protest he might have voiced died on the rapper's lips as the doctor fixed him with a strict gaze. "No strenuous activities of any kind. Which obviously means no dancing."
Ji Ah empathized with Namjoon's sense of desolation, knowing full well how a respite would affect him. "Just a couple of days, Joon-ah," she said softly.
Namjoon stiffened at the familiarity of the endearment and Ji Ah slapped herself mentally. Before she could rectify the situation, the physician gestured for him to raise his ankle so she could dress it in gauze. Namjoon's face was unreadable, and never before had Ji Ah craved a zombie apocalypse more.
She supported his frame in silence as the two of them made their way towards her car. A couple of girls, ARMY's by the excited beams on their faces, began pointing in their direction and Namjoon cursed his lack of foresight to don a mask.
"I don't want them to see me in such a pathetic state," he stated nervously as he watched them approach.
Ji Ah looked at him dubiously. "Well, they've obviously spotted you. And we can hardly make a run for it." She motioned towards his ankle and he groaned.
Namjoon had never been consumed with sticking to an image, but maintaining the one he had was important to him. He didn't want ARMY's, who were aware of his clumsiness, to be further acquainted with his unflattering sides. The fact that they would begin to view him as anything other than strong and reliable scared him beyond reason.
Ji Ah watched as these thoughts buzzed through Namjoon's head and squeezed his shoulder. "Don't worry. They know you and they love you. All of you. Right from your wise persona to your bumbling, adorable, dorky self," she said quietly. "They'll always have faith in you. You just have to believe in yourself too." She helped Namjoon lean against the car and rushed to conceal herself within it. It would be inconvenient if Ji Ah was spotted with him now.
Still processing Ji Ah's words, Namjoon gawked in wonder as the teenage girls strode towards him. His unwarranted fears instantly evaporated as the leader's fans expressed their concern and wished him a speedy recovery, though not without squealing every once in a while. Namjoon signed a few notebooks as he bade them a fond farewell, helping himself into the car.
Ji Ah turned the keys in the ignition without a word and Namjoon sneaked a glance at her.
They'll always have faith in you. You just have to believe in yourself too, she had said.
And in that moment, Namjoon almost did.
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