“Is that the last of the boxes?”
Johnny nods as he steps carefully into the house, mindful of Donghyuck scampering around his feet as he does. The box is light enough, labeled “TOWELS” in Jaehyun’s neat print and taped shut with an excessive amount of packing tape. “This is the last of it,” he confirms, dropping the box in the middle of what he supposes will be their living room. His voice echoes around the cavernous room; it’s still so empty, devoid of decorations and the little touches that will make it home.
Soon enough they’ll lay out the area rugs and hang up their framed family photos, enough to muffle sound and chase out the emptiness of the once abandoned house. “We should order pizza, I’ll take the truck back after lunch.”
Hyuck immediately shrieks his joy, crashing into Jaehyun’s legs. “PIZZA,” he wails gleefully. “I want pizza!” His hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat and his face is mysteriously sticky, but Johnny supposes that’s being five, four you. The kid is always just sort of...damp.
“Yeah, I suppose we have to feed you too,” Jaehyun says with a laugh, lifting Hyuck into his arms. He’s tall for five. It’s getting harder and harder to carry him for long periods of time, much to the chagrin of all three. Still, Jaehyun does his best. “Do you want pepperoni?” he coos, stroking Hyuck’s hair back from his face.
“No, I don’t like pepperoni,” Hyuck says with a shrug.
Johnny laughs. “What? Last week is your favourite!”
“Well it’s not anymore,” Hyuck insists, dialing his sass up to eleven. His specialty.
The afternoon is surprisingly carefree despite being moving day. Around four Yuta and Taeyong show up to help them carry furniture upstairs, bringing Jaemin so the boys can play without driving the adults insane. By six Johnny has Hyuck’s new bed put together and Jaehyun and Yuta have set up the master bedroom and the office while Taeyong heats up leftover pizza for the kids. By eight Yuta, Tae and Jaemin are gone and Johnny is having his nightly argument with Hyuck over bedtime.
“But WHY do I hafta sleep?” Hyuck asks, folding his tiny arms. His cute, chubby little face is set with determination, and Johnny has to try hard not to laugh.
“Because the more tired you get the more you annoy me,” Johnny reasons. “And daddy and I have had a long day.”
“You’re just going to make him cry again,” Jaehyun points out. He’s not wrong, as much as Johnny hates to admit it. “Hyuck-ah, come to bed little sunbeam. I’ll read you a story.”
Hyuck eyes him, considering the offer. “I want a song. From you and appa.”
“You drive a hard bargain. We accept.” Johnny tosses the little boy over his shoulder, grinning as he squeals and laughs and squirms on the way to his bedroom. They all brush their teeth and get into their pajamas, and by the time Johnny and Jaehyun are halfway through a soulful rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” Hyuck is out cold.
Johnny and Jaehyun don’t last long themselves. They make it through half a bottle of wine and a lazy attempt at sex before laughing and deciding to try again in the morning when they’re less exhausted.
Johnny grins as Jaehyun cuddles close, wrapping his arms around his husband’s shoulders. Jaehyun smells like the fancy new shower gel he just picked up from the Body Shop, ginger mint something-or-other, and his faded pink hair tickles the side of Johnny’s jaw as they cuddle close. Johnny breathes deep, letting out a content sigh. “This house...this city is going to be good for us. I can feel it.”
He can feel the smile Jaehyun presses into his bare skin. “You deserve this job. You’ve worked hard for it,” his husband murmurs, hiding his face in the crook of Johnny’s neck. “We’re just happy to follow you wherever this adventure takes us.”
Johnny’s heart swells, chest so filled with fondness that he has to squeeze Jaehyun tighter, bury his face in his hair. “You’re my best friend,” he mutters softly, their battle cry. It’s their “I love you,” capturing what they are so much better than any other words every could.
“You’re mine,” Jaehyun returns, fondly biting his shoulder before pressing a kiss to the same spot. He rests his head back down, a comfortable silence falling over them, both men drifting closer and closer to sleep.
The quiet is suddenly interrupted by Donghyuck singing in his bedroom, gentle little strains of the lullaby they’d just sung him. Once he’s dont he says firmly, to no-one in particular, “that’s how it goes, but my daddy and appa sing it best.”
The silence falls again for a brief moment before Johnny and Jaehyun burst into quiet giggles, trying not to alert their child to their laughter. He hates when people have fun without him, and hearing them laughing will definitely result in Donghyuck busting down the door to get to them.
“Oh my god our kid never shuts up,” Johnny laughs, wiping his eyes.
“Yeah, which he gets from you,” Jaehyun snorts.
It takes them a while to calm back down, but soon enough they’re back on the edge of sleep. “Night, Jaehyunnie,” Johnny murmurs, tilting his head to kiss his husband.
“Night, babe,” Jaehyun murmurs back, and soon enough they’re getting their first sleep in their new home. Peaceful. Perfect.
It’s not hard to find their New Normal. Hyuck takes well to his school, immediately making friends that he chatters on endlessly about every evening at dinner. His kindergarten teacher, Jungwoo, sends home cheerful notes going on about how well Hyuck is adapting, how well he’s doing integrating with the rest of the class.
(“Though we may need to address his bossiness before he starts a cult,” he adds, surprising no one at the dining room table, Hyuck included.
“What’s a cult?” he asks, shoving a baby carrot in his mouth.
“There is...no way I’m telling you that yet. Eat you dinner, Jim Jones,” Jaehyun replies.)
Johnny’s job at that radio station is a dream, and Jaehyun is happily working on his next book from home. It’s everything they could have ever dreamed of.
“I think I’ll have my first draft done by next month,” Jaehyun says one evening as they’re watching the news, some story about a little girl who’s gone missing. Johnny tries not to think of how that must feel as a picture of a blonde girl in pink rain boots flashes on screen.
Johnny looks downs at Jaehyun, eyes wide. “Already? Jesus, Flash. You really churned it out!”
Jaehyun has made a pretty decent name for himself in the last few years writing crime thrillers, which has led to some interesting nights where Johnny has had to play “dead body number three” while Jaehyun walks around him in studious circles trying to get the description of the murder just right. His editor, a vaguely terrifying, way-too-quite man names Sicheng, always praises the details given to the corpses. Johnny is careful to never piss Jaehyun off too much.
“Well. It’s always easier to write when I’m happy,” Jaehyun says, sending a warm joy sweeping through Johnny. “And the house is so peaceful when you terrorists are gone during the day, I get a lot done.”
“Watch your mouth, you never know what we may be plotting against you,” Johnny says, wiggling his eyebrows. He’s about to swoop in for a kiss when he hears little feet “pap pap pap”ing down the stairs. “I hear a little boy that’s supposed to be asleep,” he sing songs, looking over his shoulder to where Donghyuck is walking blearily down the stairs.
Hyuck is whimpering though, so Johnny immediately gets up to scoop the little boy into his arms. “What’s wrong, Sunbeam?”
Hyuck whines, hiding his face against Johnny’s chest. “I’m tryin’a sleep but Katie won’t be quiet.”
Ah, Katie. Ever since they moved in Hyuck’s had an apparently rowdy imaginary friend that he blames everything on. If Legos get left out in the middle of the night for Johnny’s feet to find the next day, it’s certainly Katie’s doing. If Hyuck’s bed isn’t made before he leaves for school it’s because he did make it, Katie just unmade it after. She’s shift, that Katie.
“Alright, show me where she is and I’ll make sure she knows the bed time rules,” Johnny says, throwing a quick grin at Jaehyun before heading back upstairs. Once they’re in the bedroom Hyuck points in the vague direction of the window, whining again.
“Alright Katie,” Johnny says in his Appa Voice, laying Donghyuck in bed and tucking him back in. “Hyuckie is a growing boy and he needs lots of sleep so he can learn and play at school tomorrow. And I bet you need sleep too.”
He looks at Hyuck, leaning in to whisper, “Is she buying it?”
Donghyuck nods, running his eyes with tiny fists. “Yeah, she’s sleepy too.”
“Good. Everybody go to bed and I’ll make pancakes in the morning,” Johnny adds, his usual last resort when Hyuck is feeling rowdy and won’t go to bed. Pancakes are the universal bargaining tool in this household, they work on everybody.
Johnny sits on the edge of the bed and stays with Hyuck a bit longer, gently rubbing his back as his son drifts back to sleep. Once Hyuck is out Johnny takes his time admiring him, this tiny, weird little creature that they’ve made. He loves him so much that sometimes it feels like he’s drowning in it. Donghyuck may be biologically Jaehyun’s, but he’s so damn Johnny that there’s never been a doubt that he’s the product of the both of them. From the sweet, bright smile that he gets from his daddy to the unreal levels of sarcasm he gets from his appa, Donghyuck is so very theres that Johnny gets lost in it sometimes.
Stealing one last kiss, he adjusts Hyuck’s blanket once more before heading out, shutting the door and turning off the hall light.
He just misses the way the curtains shudder in the stillness of the room, dancing slightly in front of the closed window.
“Katie” soon become “Katie and Leo,” And Jaehyun and Johnny find themselves setting two extra (empty) plates at the table each night to make Hyuck happy. They also find themselves tucking in three little bodies (two of them invisible) every night when Hyuck goes to bed.
“Katie and Leo like you, daddy,” Hyuck says sweetly one night as Jaehyun cuddles him in his bed, a tiny hand pressed to his cheek. It’s not easy fitting into a bed made for a child, but Jaehyun curls up around his son and makes due.
“Is that so?” Jaehyun asks, turning his head to kiss Hyuck’s palm and trying not to worry about why it’s sticky right after they washed up for bed. Kids. Always mysteriously gross. “Why is that?”
Hyuck pats his little hand against Jaehyun’s mouth, demanding more kisses. “They miss their mommies and daddies,” he explains. “They missed bedtime songs. They like when you sing, it helps them go to sleep.”
That’s...a little sad, but Jaehyun likes to encourage his son’s creativity. “Where are their mommies and daddies?” he asks softly, petting Hyuck’s hair.
Hyuck yawns, starting to lose the battle against sleep. “They can’t be with them anymore, now that they sleep in the walls.”
“He’ll grow out of it,” Johnny reasons over lunch a week later. Donghyuck is spending the day with Jaemin and his parents, letting Johnny and Jaehyun enjoy a “daddy appa” day by wandering around the city. They’re out for sushi, trying to find a new favourite location in their new home.
Johnny picks up a piece of his unagi roll, popping it in his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. “Remember the month we were only allowed to refer to him as Prince Haechannie? He grew out of that fast enough.”
“Yeah but Prince Haechannie didn’t talk about kids sleeping in the walls or anything like that,” Jaehyun says wearily. “I mean, I know you’re right, I know it’ll be fine. It’ll just be a little more tiring than usual being a parent right now, I guess.”
“Babe, I think these are the easy years. Hyuck’s going to be one hell of a teenager,” Johnny says with a laugh. “Now eat your gyoza before I do.”
Everything is fine until Jungwoo calls them at home one Wednesday afternoon, a hint of worry in his soft voice. It’s weird enough to get a call from the school. Usually their communications are through notes sent home at the end of each week, ones that say things like, “Donghyuck did great on his spelling homework this week!” or “Donghyuck keeps trying to kiss the other boys, we’ve had a conversation about consent so we should be good!”
Today he sounds vaguely exhausted, which is strange for someone apparently made of rainbows and joy. “I was hoping I could talk to you about Hyuck’s little...friends,” he says gently, and Johnny immediately knows who they’re talking about.
“Katie and the gang?” he asks, unsure what trouble Hyuck’s imaginary friends might be causing at school. Maybe he’s using them to gang up on the other kids. “What’s wrong?”
“Well...” Jungwoo pauses, sighs. “I know it’s just kids being kids, and that he probably just picked the names up subconsciously while you guys were watching the news, but I think we’re going to have to address it.”
Johnny frowns. “Katie and Leo? I thought he got them from our DVD copy of Titanic.” Titanic is Jaehyun’s favourite movie, they have it on Blu Ray and VHS.
“I could...see that, if a third friend hadn’t popped up today. Mei Lin.”
Nothing immediately illuminates for Johnny. “Yeah?” he encourages slowly, hoping he isn’t missing something crucial.
“Johnny, they’re...those are the names of the kids that have gone missing in the last four months.”
Something nervous and sick twists in Johnny’s stomach. He never really lets himself get embarrassed over his parenting skills; kids are wild, you can’t get up in arms over the weird things they do. But the fact that he and Jaehyun have missed this, have missed something so downright creepy...
“Shit.” He shakes his head, running his fingers through his hair. “Shit.”
“I’m sorry to have to call you with this,” Jungwoo adds, “but Katie’s cousin is in our class and I don’t want her upset. I tried talking to him and he just insists those are the names they told him.”
“Yeah, he sticks to his guns,” Johnny murmurs. “Damn it. Okay, I’ll talk to him, we’ll see what we can do. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Jungwoo.”
“Thanks for being so open to the conversation,” Jungwoo insists before they say their goodbyes and hang up.
Jaehyun pops his head out of his office, glasses slipping down his nose and a curious look on his face. “What was that about?”
At least their both home to figure this out now, Johnny would hate to have to stew in this. He groans, scrubbing his palms over his face. “You know how our son is wonderful and beautiful and funny and we love him very much?”
“Oh Jesus,” Jaehyun says warily, walking out to join Johnny in the living room. “What happened?”
They sit on the couch together, Johnny setting his phone on the coffee table. “Apparently all of his little ‘friends’ are named after the missing kids that have been all over the news.”
Jaehyun blanches. “How the hell would he have picked them up?” They’re so careful about watching the news after Donghyuck goes to bed each night, worried that hearing all the horrors of the world might give him nightmares.
“The names are everywhere, I just didn’t put two and two together. Worst part is, one of the kids’ cousins is in Hyuckie’s class,” Johnny laments.
“We’ll talk to him tonight,” Jaehyun says firmly. “He may be dramatic but he’s also pretty reasonable. He’ll understand.”
Donghyuck does not understand.
“It’s their names!” he wails, throwing his hands in the air like he’s facing the worst of all unjustices. His cheeks are pink and tear stained and there’s snot running down his face, and Johnny needs an aspirin.
They decided to talk to him over dinner, even making his favourite - pesto, he likes the “green pasgetti.” Everything had been calm and they’d gotten their hopes up that the conversation would be easy. Now they’re listening to a shrieking five year old have a meltdown.
“Baby, you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings,” Jaehyun says firmly, eyebrows raised. “What if Katie’s cousin hears you and gets sad?”
“Then she can come play with us too!” Donghyuck hollers, face scrunching up in anger.
“Donghyuck Jung-Seo you do not yell like that,” Johnny says firmly. “You’re two seconds away from going to bed right after dinner.” He’s trying so hard not to escalate. You can’t just yell at kids, they don’t have get why they’re being yelled at, it just makes everything worse. But god damn, does Johnny want to yell right now.
It doesn’t help that Donghyuck has no interest in self-preservation tonight. “Fine!” Hyuck insists, folding his arms. “Fine, I want to go to bed!”
“Fine. Finish your dinner and then go brush your teeth,” Johnny says, eyebrow raised. Neither he nor Donghyuck back down, and soon enough Johnny and Jaehyun are sitting in the living room trying to ignore Donghyuck as cries like they’ve beaten him.
“We’ll just have to make sure he understands that there will be consequences if he keeps it up,” Jaehyun says wearily, sipping on the wine he keeps for particularly long days. “And we’ll need to stick to our guns.”
“Is it too late to switch him out for a cat?” Johnny manages to joke. Honestly, this is just as much a punishment for him. He hates sending Hyuck to bed without bedtime snuggles.
They go up to bed a while later, but all Johnny can do is lay on his back and stare at the ceiling. He doesn’t know how Jaehyun is already asleep, his stomach is in knots. He loves being a parent, but he hates this part of parenting. How are you supposed to reason with a tiny, hollering creature that hasn’t yet learned how to reason? How do you walk that fine line between discipline and understanding, where you don’t let your kid get away with shit but you also remember that they are, in fact, a child?
With a sigh Johnny carefully gets out of bed, padding down the hall to Hyuck’s room. He’s just about to push the door open and sneak inside when he hears Hyuck talking.
“You got me in trouble,” the little boy laments. There’s a moment of silence, and then Hyuck’s voice again. “But my daddies can’t see you! They just think I’m pretending!” More silence. “I can’t do that,” Hyuck sighs. “I’m too little.”
Johnny sighs and knocks on the door, interrupting the intense conversation with an imaginary person. “Hyuck-ah?”
Hyuck is sitting up in bed, looking so very tiny in his Paw Patrol pajamas, bottom lip already trembling. “Appa?”
“Oh, bud,” Johnny sighs. He immediately sits on the edge of the mattress, letting Hyuck clamber into his lap. “I love you very much. You know that, right?” He kisses his hair, sighing. “Sometimes we’re going to get mad an argue but that doesn’t mean I love you any less. I love you so much it hurts some times, you know? It’s a really big feeling for just one person.”
“I love you really big too,” Hyuck sniffles. “I won’t play with my friends at school, okay? Just at home.”
“That sounds like a good bargain,” Johnny agrees. “Want to come snuggle with daddy and me tonight?”
Hyuck nods, skinny arms wrapping around Johnny’s neck and holding tight as he’s carried down the hall.
Jaehyun wakes as they climb into bed, eyes bleary. “Oh, hello,” he hums, lifting the blanket so they can slide under.
“I’m sleepin’ here,” Hyuck informs him, snuggling right up to Jaehyun’s chest. “Kay?”
“Sounds good to me,” Jaehyun hums, playing with Hyuck’s hair. It doesn’t take long for him to fall back asleep, clearly not as caught up in the emotional turmoil of parenting as Johnny is.
Tomorrow is Saturday. They’ll be able to sleep in and cuddle all day, and then maybe they’ll go to the park. It’ll be perfect. Johnny feels like he owes it to Hyuck, for not always understanding him just right.
Johnny’s nearly asleep when he hears a noise, so soft he can barely make it out. It’s far away; coming from the direction of the door, the direction of Hyuck’s room.
He sits up a bit, yawns and rubs the sleep from his eyes. With a little more clarity now he listens closer, trying to make out the source of the sound. It takes a moment but he realizes it’s one of Hyuck’s books, the kind with buttons along the side that you can press to make certain characters say certain things.
As he listens he hears Woody exclaim “there’s a snake in my boots!” before being followed by a gruff “to infinite...and beyond!” from Buzz Lightyear.
He startles when a tiny hand pats his own, looking over to see Hyuck staring at him with his dark, intense eyes.
“It’s Leo,” Hyuck says quietly. “He can’t fall asleep without a bedtime story.”
It takes Johnny a while to clue in to the oddness of their new home. He’s a practical guy. It’s easy enough to blame the storybook on faulty wiring, the loud thudding from the attic on bad pipes. It’s easy to write off the weird cold patches as a drafty old house.
In the end, it comes down to Jaehyun.
“Baby, you need to come home now.”
Jaehyun sounds breathless, and for a moment Johnny gets the wrong idea. “Babe,” he grins, biting his lip and checking his watch. “You lonely?”
“Johnny I swear to god I’m seeing things, something is wrong and you need to come home,” Jaehyun says firmly, and the urgency in his voice makes Johnny’s blood turn to ice.
Jaehyun...isn't a super emotional guy. Sometimes Johnny wonders if he'd even call his husband "vaguely emotional." He isn't like Johnny, who cries at every episode of Outlander and any time Hyuck colours a picture for him. Which is fine. It's good really, because one of them is always more rational than the other, which means that one of them can keep a cooler head in times of strife. So to hear Jaehyun freaking out on the phone like this, to hear the tremble in his voice...
"I'll be home in twenty minutes," Johnny says firmly. He searches out his boss, making excuses to a completely understanding Taeil who promises to cover him for the day. By the time he's in his silver Honda Civic peeling out of the parking lot his hands are shaking from nerves.
He’s just down the street and in view of their house when he sees Jaehyun is there, standing in the driveway with his arms wrapped tight around himself. Johnny parks, jumping out and pulling Jaehyun into his arms.
“What the fuck is going on?” he asks breathlessly, rubbing his palms firmly up and down Jaehyun’s back. “Someone’s in the house? Jaehyunnie, please tell me you called the cops.”
“It’s not a fucking break in Johnny,” Jaehyun snaps, his anxiety making him lash out. “It was a little kid. I saw a little girl walk down the hallway and into Hyuck’s room and when I went in after her she was gone.”
Johnny pauses, looking down at Jaehyun with what he’s sure is disbelief in his eyes. He sighs, squeezing Jaehyun tight. “Sweetheart...”
“No, do not look at me like that John Suh,” Jaehyun says fiercely, and fuck, are those tears in his eyes? “I’m not a dramatic person and I have never said shit like this before in my life. So you better believe me when I tell you I fucking saw something,” he continues. His ears have gone red. That’s never a good sign.
Johnny swallows hard. First Hyuck and his invisible monsters, and now this. Since when is Johnny the voice of reason in the house? “I believe you babe, I believe that you think you saw something...”
“No, fuck that,” Jaehyun chokes, turning and storming back into the house, leaving Johnny to scramble after him.
“Jaehyun listen to me,” Johnny pleads, shutting the door before rushing to catch up.
“No, you listen,” Jaehyun insists, not stopping until they’re standing in Donghyuck’s room. “I saw her walk in here, and then I followed her in, and nothing.” He’s starting to pace, agitation getting the better of him. “She was tiny, so much tinier than Hyuckie. And her hair was blonde and she was wearing pink shoes and she looked right at me before walking away.”
He turns, cheeks flushed with emotion and eyes bright. “You have to believe me, Johnny,” he begs, hands clenched into tight fists at his side. “You know I wouldn’t ever make something like this up. I didn’t imagine it, I swear.”
Johnny isn’t a perfect husband. Sometimes he’s lazy after work, and he’s got an annoying habit of losing the match to every pair of socks he’s ever owned. But if nothing else he trusts his man, and if Jaehyun swears it happened then it happened.
“Okay,” he says slowly, taking a careful step to Jaehyun. “Okay. So our house is haunted. What now?”
A look of intense relief washes over Jaehyun’s face. He throws himself into Johnny’s arms, clinging tight like he might change his mind and try to run. “I don’t think Hyuck’s imaginary friends are imaginary,” he whispers, eyes shut tight. “I think those kids are dead, Johnny. And I think Donghyuck can see them.”
The words make Johnny’s head spin. The minute Jaehyun says it he realizes that he’s sort of known, that with the noises and the cold spots and all the other weird shit he’s sort of known all along. There’s something in their house, something other than them.
“So...what do we do now?” he asks, voice hoarse. “There are dead children hanging out in our house. What do we do?”
Jaehyun shakes his head, clearly miserable. “Move again? Find a new place? Go back to Tucson?”
It’s not...ideal. Moving from Tucson to Toronto was their fresh adventure as a family. A chance for Johnny to work for a bigger, better company. A chance for Jaehyun to experience a new city and find new inspiration, to work closer to his editor and publish to a new market. Hyuck is doing well in school. He’s made friends. They’re close to Yuta and Taeyong’s family, something they’ve dreamed of since they all split ways after university. So much of their happiness is settled in this place they’re carving out for themselves.
“No. We’re not running from this,” Johnny says firmly. “We know...we know they’re not malicious, right? They...apparently like us. So we can um. Just ignore that they’re there until we figure something out.”
“And not sleep until we all lose our minds?” Jaehyun says in a small voice.
“It won’t come to that,” Johnny says firmly, fierce and low. “I won’t let it.”
“You look like shit.”
Johnny snorts, blinking wearily at the paperwork on his desk. The radio station is relatively quiet. Most of the PAs and desk jockeys are out for lunch, leaving the small team running the news program that’s on this time of day alone to do their thing. Johnny’s been sitting at his desk for an hour now looking at next week’s programming schedule but his eyes just won’t register the information on the page.
This station, this job, is the whole reason they moved out here in the first place. Working as a regional director for the biggest media conglomerate in Canada isn’t something Johnny thought he’d ever earn, but here he is. Here he is, trying to focus on his work, barely able to keep his eyes open. Here he is, fully aware that Jaehyun is currently editing at Starbucks because he doesn’t want to be at home alone. Here he is, trying to figure out how to navigate this mess without scaring his child.
Here he is, trying to keep it all together.
He looks up at Ten, pushing his glasses up to rub at his eyes. “Thanks, I feel like shit,” he murmurs. “What do you want?”
Ten’s been a welcome addition to their little family group since he and Johnny met a few months ago. He heads the marketing department, and his high level of sass means that Hyuck took to him immediately. He brings his husband Kun by every now and then for wine and pasta nights, which usually devolve into Ten and Hyuck watching Disney movies and singing loudly while the rest of the adults talk on the patio.
Ten snorts, dropping into the chair across from the desk and folding his arms. “To know what’s going on. You’ve been shaking apart lately, Johnny. What’s up?”
Johnny sighs again, glances around Ten to make sure no one is lurking around the door to his office. “You’re going to think I’ve lost it.”
There’s a curious look on Ten’s face, the one he usually gets when he’s peering deep into Johnny’s soul to pick out the pieces of information he needs to hold something against him. “Try me. I might surprise you.”
So Johnny tells him. He breaks it all down, piece by piece, weird occurrence to weird occurrence, from the imaginary friends to the weird things Jaehyun keeps seeing around the house. He tells him about the little girl in the rain boots that Jaehyun is seeing more and more, and about the nights Donghyuck has stayed up crying in Johnny’s arms because there’s too much “noise in his head.” By the time he’s done he’s rubbing at his face, and he feels like he’s aged ten years. He waits in silence for a bit, waits for Ten’s derisive snort, waits for him to lay in about how it’s nuts, how they’re all being ridiculous, or whatever.
Instead he gets a soft, “Is Hyuckie doing okay?”
Johnny looks up, eyes wide. “He’s...alright. He’s better than us because he doesn’t realize it’s weird, you know? He doesn’t get that he’s supposed to be afraid of stuff like this.”
“Which is sort of a blessing,” Ten muses. “And Jaehyun?”
“He’s not as okay,” Johnny barely murmurs. Jaehyun has been struggling. He barely sleeps at night, barely eats, the smallest sounds making him jump and startle. “I feel like a shit husband for not whisking him back to Arizona but like...our money is in this house. We can’t afford it, Ten.”
Ten nods, a thoughtful look on his face. “I might...have a suggestion.”
Outside of the office people are starting to return from lunch, chatting about their current projects, stopping to wave at Johnny as they head to their desks. Johnny manages a weak smile before turning back to Ten. “I’ll try anything, man.”
Ten nods. “Okay. I know this guy and he’s really into astrology and new age stuff, right? And while I may not believe in all of it I know he also works as a medium, and some of the things he’s mentioned to me have been too eerie to be coincidence.”
“Like what?” Johnny asks, shooting a smile to his PA as she brings a fresh coffee into the office.
Ten shrugs, stealing the coffee and taking a sip. “First time he met me he gave me a message from my grandpa. Told me to keep my chin up and keep dancing, which was something he always said to me when I was little.”
It seems insane, but Johnny really is desperate. “I definitely want to talk to him, then,” Johnny insists. “Tonight.”
Ten nods, grabbing his phone and opening his contacts. He scribbles a number onto a post-it, passing it over. “His name is Mark. He’s a fucking nerd, but he’s a good kid. I’ll tell him to expect your call.”
Johnny nods, holding the post-it like it’s some delicate treasure. “Thanks, Ten. Really. This...maybe this is what fixes everything.”
“It’ll all be okay, Johnny,” Ten promises. “We’ll figure it out.”
Once home Johnny spends a lot of time avoiding the Post-It note that he’s carefully laid out on the kitchen table. Instead he texts Jaehyun to tell him that it’s safe to grab Hyuck and come home, starting on dinner for the family.
He continues to carefully not think about it as he chops vegetables, throwing them in a big pan to fry up with rice and soy sauce and egg. He’s still not thinking about it as he adds chicken and leaves it to cook as he starts setting the table.
He hears the door open as he starts plating everything, looking up to see Jaehyun leading a teary Donghyuck in. “What happened?” he asks, eyes wide. His brain immediately conjures up the worst possible scenarios, that there’s been another missing kid and another “friend” added to the group.
Instead Jaehyun looks like he’s trying not to laugh, which immediately sets Johnny at ease. “Donghyuck asked Renjun to marry him on the playground today. Renjun said no because Donghyuck doesn’t have a job yet.”
“I gotta get a job now,” Donghyuck says miserably as he crashes into Johnny’s legs for a cuddle.
“I’ll help you start your resume tonight,” Johnny coos. He lifts Donghyuck, kissing his cheek before walking over to kiss his husband. “How are you, Peach?”
Jaehyun thinks for a moment before answering. “Better,” he says carefully, as if weighing his words. “I’ve thought about things a lot today. I’m trying to see it all from a different perspective.”
Johnny nods, burying his face in Jaehyun’s soft pink hair and breathing deep. “You’ve always been good at that. We’ll talk after dinner, I’ve got some news for you.”
Jaehyun smiles wearily. "I could use some good news. Come on sunbeam, let's change into cozy clothes and wash our hands."
"I'll just get dirty again," Donghyuck sighs, trudging after Jaehyun once he's been set down.
Jaehyun laughs. "I don't doubt it, kid."
Dinner is calm. It feels well deserved after so many tense evenings, which seem to be the new normal as they settle further into the house. Tonight they stop worrying about ghosts and haunted hallways, instead listening eagerly as Hyuck gives a spirited account of his day.
"An' then Nana said that he an' Jeno were already married, so me an' Renjun should get married too," he said, waving his spoon emphatically. "An' Jisungie was gonna marry us but then Renjun said he wasn't gonna. And then he told on me when I said he had to!"
"Love hurts sometimes, kid," Johnny nods. "I had to convince your dad to marry me, too."
Donghyuck looks at Jaehyun, eyes wide at the apparent scandal.
"Okay, in my defense, your appa was a jerk when we were younger," Jaehyun defends to their five-year-old. "I wasn't going to marry a jerk, Hyuckie."
Hyuck considers this for a moment. "He's still a jerk."
"Oh good. Now he calls people jerks, A-plus parenting," Johnny deadpans as Jaehyun laughs.
Once dinner is consumed and they've convinced Hyuck not to call his appa a jerk they send him off to play, tackling the dishes together. It's comfortable standing side by side with Jaehyun, Johnny's arms wrist deep in sudsy water as he scrubs the plates.
"So," Jaehyun says, taking a bowl and drying it before putting it away. "You said you have some sort of solution to our...problem?"
"Maybe not a solution just yet, more of a next step," Johnny explains. "Ten got me to tell him the whole story today."
"He's good at strong-arming information out of people," Jaehyun snorts.
"No kidding. He says he knows a guy who's...a medium, I guess?" Johnny shrugs at the disbelieving look Jaehyun shoots him. "If there are ghosts then there must be people who can talk to them, right?"
At that Jaehyun is silent for a moment, considering. "I suppose that's true," he finally sighs, resting his hip against the counter and folding his arms. "How do we know he's not some con artist, though?"
"Because Chittaphon has an intensely keen eye for bullshit," Johnny explains, because he’d considered that very question the entire commute home.. "Because he's probably the only person I trust not to get conned by someone with a business card and a liberal arts degree."
"I have a liberal arts degree," Jaehyun points out, eyes wide.
"And you're the worst con-artist of them all," Johnny says solemnly, shrieking and ducking when Jaehyun splashes soapy water in his direction.
"So who's this psychic?" Jaehyun snorts, grabbing a cloth to wipe down the table. "Is it the Long Island Medium? Can we call the Long Island Medium?"
"Sorry to let you down but his name is Mark," Johnny says, draining the sink and rinsing his hands. “I can’t remember how Ten said they met, but I guess they’ve known each other for a little while now.”
"That's a very normal sounding name for someone who can speak to the dead," Jaehyun snorts. As sarcastic of a bitch as he is, it's good to see this side of him again. Jaehyun has been withdrawn since starting to see things around the house. Johnny loves seeing him in his element, drinking white wine and judging people.
Johnny laughs. "I don't know. It just gives me hope that maybe he's not completely full of shit." Once his hands are dried he walks over, pulling Jaehyun into his arms. "Seems like you're feeling better."
"I'm not," Jaehyun says honestly, twining his arms around Johnny's waist. "I'm just trying to see it from the most positive angle possible, I guess. If we're being haunted then...then it's just kids, and they don't want to hurt us." He rests his head on Johnny's shoulder, sighing. "It's sad, don't you think? Hyuck says they like it when we sing them songs. They want to play and hear bedtime stories. Isn't that sad, Johnny?"
"It's pretty sad," Johnny agrees, pressing a kiss to the top of Jaehyun's head. "Who knows, maybe this Mark guy is legit and we can do something to help them. I guess we'll see, right?"
Lying in bed that night, Jaehyun snoring lightly with his face buried in Johnny’s armpit, Johnny feels like their luck might be changing. Like maybe, despite everything, this can still be their home.
He wants his family to have an oasis, a place that feels safe at the end of every day. He wants to fill the walls with photos of Hyuck as he grows up, birthday parties and school photos and proms and graduations. He wants Hyuck to feel good coming home every night, to look back on this time in his life and have those vague, blurry memories that make up our recollections of childhood.
Maybe this Mark guy is the key to all of that.
He's considering what sort of psychic is named "Mark" when he hears their bedroom door slide open, a soft creak cutting through the silence of the night. He really needs to get some WD-40, the wind disturbing the door wakes him up all the time.
"What's wrong Hyuck-ah?" he asks through a yawn, not bothering to open his eyes. This isn't an uncommon occurrence. Hyuck has a hard time sleeping, it's pretty often that he wakes up in the middle of the night to climb into bed with them. At some point they'll need to start encouraging him to sleep in his own bed, but it feels kind of shitty to tell a five-year-old to fuck off. Especially when Johnny likes the cuddles, too.
Hyuck climbs up carefully on Johnny's right, Jaehyun pressed to tightly to his left. His little body barely causes the bed to dip but Johnny can just barely feel it, just barely feel the way his little body lays on top of the blanket as he takes his place against Johnny’s side. He smiles softly and turns his head, ducking down to kiss Hyuck's forehead.
There is no one there to kiss.
Johnny sits up so quickly, reacts to violently, that he nearly sends a very startled Jaehyun tumbling to the floor. His heart hammers in his chest as he looks at the bed, the emptiness next to him, where he could swear he just felt a small body snuggling in.
He can hear the sound of someone crying.
"Hyuck?" Jaehyun asks as he sits up beside Johnny, voice clouded with sleep and confusion.
"It's not Hyuck," Johnny chokes, blood running as cold as ice through his veins. "It's...it sounds so far away, but it's right here. Don't you hear it? It's right here."
The crying continues for a few moments, the soft, sorrowful lamentations of a child filling the darkness of their bedroom, somehow silent and violently loud all at once. Both men are as still as death as they listen, eyes wide.
Johnny jumps as Jaehyun moves closer, peering into the darkness as if he might see something if only he looks hard enough. "It's okay," Jaehyun starts to whisper, voice thick with emotion. "It's okay," he repeats, the same way he does when soothing Hyuck after a bad dream. "It's okay. It's okay. It's all okay."
After a few moments of Jaehyun's soothing mantra the crying stops. All Johnny can do is sit stock still, fingers grasping at the sheets, trembling from head to toe. His heart feels like it might beat out of his chest.
Only when Jaehyun strokes a hand over his arm does his breathing start to regulate, his jaw unclenching. He still trembles, but he doesn't feel like he's about to shake apart. "They're lonely," Jaehyun whispers, sorrowful and afraid. "And they're frightened."
His arms wrap around Johnny's waist, pulling his husband close. "I'm sorry you had to experience it, but...at least we all know now, right? If it's all three of us then...then we can't all be crazy, right?"
Johnny isn't so sure. He feels pretty crazy.
"Duckie baby, I need you to put your Legos away and go change out of your pajamas, please," Jaehyun says as he rushes through the house, fluffing pillows and running a duster over the top of photo frames. Johnny wonders how dusty things can actually be, they just moved in. Still, he knows better than to ask stupid questions when Jaehyun is on a tear. Instead he continues wiping down the windows, occasionally glancing past to watch for a car pulling into their driveway.
Donghyuck, though, doesn't have the same survival instinct. "Why?" he asks, still working on building what seems to be a hair salon on wheels. "I don't got school today, it's pajama day."
"You don't have school today," Jaehyun corrects. "And it is not pajama day. Clothes. Now."
That immediately earns him a full-chested whine from Hyuck, who throws himself onto his back. "Weekends are pajama days! I don't want to!"
Johnny can see the meltdown coming from both angles. He swoops in, picking Hyuck up and tossing a quick "I've got this" over his shoulder. "We're having company today," he explains to Hyuck as they head down the hall, patting his bum. "You need to get dressed because not everyone wants to see you chilling in your Paw Patrol jammies."
"But it's pajama day," Hyuck says, so softly that Johnny's heart sort of breaks for him. It's been a long few months. Not only has Hyuck had to move countries, but he's been thrust in the middle of Johnny and Jaehyun's anxieties about whatever is going on in their house. That’s a lot for such a tiny dude. All Hyuck wants is to wear his damn pajamas and play Legos. But on the flip side of the coin, Jaehyun is an insane person when he's stressed...
"Okay, how about this?" Johnny asks, sitting on the edge of Hyuck's bed with his son in his lap. "Today we'll change and clean up and get fancy so daddy feels a little more calm. He gets a little anxious when he meets new people, so he just wants us to get a little dressed up." Before Hyuck can interrupt he adds, "And then Monday you and I will stay home and have a do-over jammy day with daddy, and we'll have pancakes for dinner and watch movies and cuddle all day."
Donghyuck gasps. "I get to stay home?"
"One day won't kill us," Johnny says with a grin.
Hyuck nods, clapping his hands. "Okay okay okay put me down I gotta get dressed."
Johnny leaves him to do his thing, returning to the living room to clean up the Legos. He manages to not step on any, a blessing in and of itself. “Is he getting dressed?” Jaehyun calls from the kitchen.
“Yes and we need to chill out, he’s stressed,” Johnny calls back. “I’m letting him stay home on Monday for a redo pajamas day.”
Jaehyun returns to the living room, frowning. "Am I being a bad father?"
"God no," Johnny snorts. "You're being a completely normal human being, and you’re an amazing father. Better than me, at least. We're all stressed, as long as one of us can level set we'll be fine. I'll level set today."
Jaehyun opens his mouth to speak, but he's immediately cut off by the doorbell running. His eyes go wide and he looks at Johnny before rushing to the foyer to answer. There's a beat and then Jaehyun says, "You must be Mark!"
Johnny gets up and wanders over to see for himself.
There are two men standing in the doorway, neither of whom look like they're the "medium" type. One is a short, nerdy guy in a polo shirt and jeans, his dark eyes wide behind his glasses. The other is tall and handsome in that "surfer dude" way, right down to his tank top and board shorts.
"I'm Mark," the short one says, grinning awkwardly as he offers his hand to Jaehyun. "This is Yukhei. He's..."
"I'm his boyfriend," Yukhei offers, smile wide and easy. He’s definitely the socialite of the group, it’s easy for him to find a spot for himself in the conversation, in the space. Mark seems more than happy to stand slightly behind as he does so. "Mark's scared of kids so he asked me to come and help."
"And our kid is pretty scary," Johnny admits, stepping forward. "I'm Johnny."
Mark shakes his hand, smiling. "They're all scary. Ten said you've had like...a lot going on since you moved in?"
"Yeah," Jaehyun sighs. "That’s one way you could put it. Come on in, get comfortable and we'll tell you the whole story." He leads the group in, instructing the boys to make themselves comfortable. "Can I get you anything? Water? Iced tea?"
"I'm okay, thanks," Mark says. "Is your son here?"
"Yeah, it took some time convincing him to get going today," Johnny says, sitting in the chair across the table from them. He tilts his head back, hollering towards the stairs. "Donghyuck, we've got company!"
From somewhere down the hall there’s a squeak followed by an “I’M NOT READY YET!” Johnny glances at Jaehyun who just shrugs.
“Just a warning, Duckie is going to try to boss you around,” Jaehyun warns. “He tries to test anyone who walks in the door.”
Mark looks vaguely nervous but Yukhei only laughs. “We’ll be fine. I’ve got a baby brother who’s the same way, I’ve had practice.”
They make small talk for a few minutes until finally, finally, they hear tiny feet coming down the stairs. Johnny looks up at Donghyuck and immediately has to bury his face in his hand so he doesn’t laugh.
Donghyuck has abandoned the outfit Jaehyun laid out for him in favour of something with more... flair. Instead of a t-shirt and jeans he’s in his Princess Elsa dress, traipsing into the living room like royalty. He’s decided to ditch the blond wig that came with the costume, instead wearing the tiara over his wild chocolate curls. “Okay I’m here,” he announces, waving his tiny hand like he’s Princess Diana.
Jaehyun is unfazed. “Didn’t feel like pants?”
“No, we have company,” Hyuck says loftily, climbing into his daddy’s lap. “Gotta dress nice.”
Yukhei looks perfectly charmed, hands clasped in front of his chest as he watches with obvious heart eyes. “Hey, nice dress!”
“Thanks,” Hyuck sniffs, nodding regally. “It’s for special ‘ccasions.”
Mark looks between them all for a moment before diving in. “Hey Donghyuck, I’m uh... I’m Mark. Did your dads tell you why I’m here?”
Donghyuck shrugs. “Cause my friends are all dead.”
Johnny feels sort of bad at the look of shock on Mark’s face. “Five year olds are two things–whip smart and blunt as hell. Just talk to him like you’d talk to us,” he explains. “He can keep up. And if he can’t he’ll tell you.”
“My daddies say I’m too smart,” Hyuck adds, a statement that sounds more like a warning.
“That’s good, it’s good to be smart!” Yukhei says cheerfully. “What about your friends, are they pretty smart?” It’s obvious why Mark brought Yukhei to run interference, he clearly loves kids. It’s obvious that he’s resisting the urge to pat his lap to try and convince Donghyuck to come sit with him instead.
“Katie’s smart,” Hyuck says, leaning back against Jaehyun’s chest. “She likes math. Leo’s kinda dumb.”
“Do I... chastise him for calling a ghost dumb?” Jaehyun mutters softly. Johnny shrugs.
Mark leans forward, an interested look in his eyes. “How do your friends talk to you, Donghyuck?”
Donghyuck looks at Mark, considering him for a long moment. “I want to sit on your lap,” he finally announces, climbing off of Jaehyun and on to Mark instead. Without waiting for permission he settles himself down, snuggling right against Mark’s chest.
Johnny grins as Mark looks terrified. “Oh yeah, he’s found an easy target,” he laughs. “I told you, you can’t let him smell your fear.”
“What if I drop him?” Mark whispers, eyes wide.
“Babe, he’s fine. You’re fine. You look super cute right now, I love seeing you with kids,” Yukhei assures. “So your friends, Donghyuck?”
Donghyuck’s face, usually so keen and considering, suddenly seems miles away. His little hands worry at the skirt of his dress as he thinks, working wrinkles into the gauzy blue fabric. “They can’t say words,” he mutters, little eyebrows knit together. “They put pictures in my head.”
Jaehyun looks at Johnny, who reaches over to give his hand a reassuring squeeze.
Mark's face, moments ago a picture of vague terror at the idea of holding a child, now shines with something closer to excitement. Understanding. "That happens to me too, Donghyuck. Sometimes they show me pictures too. It’s like they want me to see what they see, so they can help me understand what they feel."
Hyuck seems to consider him for a second. There’s a strange vulnerability on his face, the kind that makes it clear that he’s at an age where teasing is becoming an unfortunate reality and he’s not sure if he can take peoples’ words at face value. He wants Mark to be telling the truth, but he just isn’t sure.
"Promise," Mark nods. "What kind of things do they tell you?"
Hyuck shrugs, taking the hat off of Mark's head and putting it on his own. "Dunno. Lots of things. What songs they like. Their favourite colours." He looks up, face solemn. "They miss their mommies and daddies."
Mark glances at Yukhei, who sighs. "That's sad, Hyuck. Did they say why they can't see their parents anymore?" he asks, absently rubbing Mark's back.
"They're stuck in our house. They can't get out," Donghyuck sighs. "It's dark where they live."
Mark looks up, eyeing Johnny warily. "You haven't like...searched your house or anything, have you?"
Johnny looks at him, eyes wide. "Have we searched our house for bodies? No," he says, voice pitched high. "What the hell?" He looks to his husband for backup, but finds Jaehyun looking at his hands with a guarded expression on his face. "Jaehyunnie," he says slowly, stomach turning. “Please tell me you didn’t…”
"I checked," Jaehyun says, voice small. "I was...I was scared their bodies might be here somewhere. So I checked."
"By yourself? Without telling me?" Johnny asks, eyes wide. He feels insane. "How would we not know if bodies...if bodies were..." He frowns, taking a deep breath. "I don't want Hyuck here for this."
"But we might need him, Johnny," Jaehyun argues.
"Not if Mark can do what he says he can," Johnny says, trying not to snap. He and Jaehyun are on the same team. He's not going to freak out. It's all just stress.
Still, the idea of Jaehyun hunting around their house, digging around like there might be corpses hidden in some dark corner, makes him tense up in a way he can't quite explain. "What if you have found something?" He suddenly blurts. "What would we tell the cops?"
"The truth!" Jaehyun says, throwing his hands up. "That we're all losing our minds hearing kids running around our house at night and we put two and two together!" They’ve pushed themselves to the far corners of the couch so they can face each other, putting way too much distance between them.
Johnny opens his mouth to argue when a small voice interrupts him instead. "Guys, don't fight," Donghyuck pleads, staring helplessly from Mark’s lap.
His eyes are wide and he's wringing his hands together, so very tiny, so very scared. Johnny feels like an asshole. They've been so good for five years about keeping their disagreements away from Donghyuck, talking things out rather then getting heated. That spirals into guilt over taking his fear out on Jaehyun, the love of his fucking life.
"I'm sorry Hyuck-ah," he says weakly, patting his lap. Donghyuck immediately scrambles over to cuddle against him. "Remember how daddy said appa used to be a jerk?" He sighs deeply, glancing at Jaehyun. "Sometimes that jerk is still in there, I guess."
Jaehyun reaches over, cupping Johnny's cheek. "We're just anxious," he says softly, thumb rubbing over Johnny's cheek. "It's okay. You're okay."
There's a pause, and then a soft sigh. "Goals," Yukhei whispers, looking a bit starry eyed.
Johnny snorts, huffing a laugh into Hyuck's hair. "I would like you to be somewhere else, though. Want to go play with Jaemin?"
"Yes! Maybe Renjun can come over," Hyuck says, starry eyed.
Yukhei looks up, eyebrows raised. "Renjun? Huang Renjun?"
"Yeah, they're in the same class," Jaehyun explains, already texting Yuta. “Donghyuck got a time out the other day for trying to argue Renjun into marrying him.”
Yukhei laughs, eyes wide. "Small world! Huang Yukhei," he says, pointing to himself. "Injunnie is my little brother."
Donghyuck stops. Looks at Yukhei with wide eyes. Slides off of Johnny's lap, moving over to climb into Yukhei's. He puts his hands on the man's face, eyes serious. "We're gonna get married," he whispers as if speaking it into existence.
"Oh, rad," Yukhei laughs. "I can't wait until the wedding." Johnny is beginning to see why Mark brought his other half along, Yukhei really is amazing with kids. Nothing makes him flinch.
They manage to get everything sorted, and it’s not long before a curious Yuta is giving a quick knock before walking in to grab Hyuck and his overnight bag. “Jung-Suhs?” he calls, peeking around until he finds them in the living room. “I’m here for your child. I’m going to put him in a big bubbling pot and use him for a magic spell.”
Donghyuck immediately goes shrieking from Yukhei to Yuta, who picks him up and tosses him around like he weighs nothing at all. “Hyuckie!”
“Uncle Yuta!” Donghyuck crows. “We’re havin’ a sleepover!”
“Heck yeah we are,” Yuta grins. “Hey Jaehyun. Johnny boy.”
"I'm sorry for the short notice," Johnny says, getting up to give Yuta a one-armed bro hug. "It's just...a lot. And I don't want him scarred for life."
"Fair," Yuta says, glancing at Mark from the corner of his eye. "Anything yet?"
"Sort of," Johnny murmurs. "He's going to start looking around, I'll let you know tonight what happens."
Once Donghyuck has cleared out Mark nods resolutely, standing from his spot on the couch. "Okay. Let's get it."
At first it's a whole lot of nothing. Mark looks around the house, occasionally stopping, closing his eyes, and listening for something Johnny can't hear. Sometimes he looks present, sometimes he looks like he’s miles away. While Johnny half expects Yukhei to fuss and worry the entire time, he’s pleasantly surprised that he stands back and stays out of the way until needed.
They make it through a few rooms before Mark sighs, seemingly frustrated. "I'm not getting a lot," he admits, glancing at Yukhei. "Like...I can feel them, but they're not saying much."
Yukhei clucks his tongue, squeezing Mark's shoulder. "You'll get it, babe." He looks at Johnny and Jaehyun, adding, "He says it's sort of like radio stations. You'll flick around, get a few things here and there, but it can take time to find the right frequency."
Jaehyun hums, hugging tight to Johnny's arm. "Most of the stuff we've seen has happened upstairs," he says, glancing to the stairs. "Hyuck's room, sometimes ours. Should we try up there?"
"Oh hell yeah, let's go where they are," Mark says enthusiastically. He immediately blushes. "Sorry, dead kids, shouldn't sound so excited.”
"I'm not even going to pretend to understand," Johnny murmurs to his husband, leading them up to the bedrooms.
Hyuck's room, unsurprisingly, seems to light up the parts of Mark's brain they've been waiting on. He walks in, eyes huge as he takes it all in. "Oh yeah. They're...they're not in here right now but like...I can tell they spend a lot of time in this room," he whispers. One hand reaches out, fingers stretching forward like he’s testing the waters, waiting to see what he hits. “Oh wow. There’s a lot.”
"How do you know?" Johnny whispers back, almost afraid to speak any louder.
"I can just feel them," Mark murmurs. He closes his eyes, rocking back and forth from foot to foot as he...does whatever it is he’s doing. Listens. Takes it all in. "It's...a good feeling. Happy. They like it here."
"They...they like Hyuck," Jaehyun says, voice weak. "They like to play with him."
"I can tell," Mark says. "They see this as their room too. I can see...I can see them. Running around." He opens his eyes a bit, swaying. "There are so many of them."
Johnny nods, rubbing at his eyes. "Katie, Leo and Mei Lin.”
Mark looks up, and the expression on his face is pure confusion. He looks between Johnny and Jaehyun before shaking his head. "No it's...it's a lot more than that."
Jaehyun stops. Blinks. Looks up at Mark like he's personally insulted him. "What do you...what do you mean it's a lot more?" Mark doesn't answer. His face is far away, eyes slightly glazed, lips moving as he whispers something to himself. Johnny glances to Jaehyun whose lips are pressed tightly together in a thin line, nostrils flared.
"He gets like this, when it's uh...happening," Yukhei says apologetically. "He gets super focused on what they're saying I guess, tunes everything else out." Carefully stepping across the toys strewn over Donghyuck's floor, Yukhei crosses the room to Mark. "Come on babe, earth to," he murmurs, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "You here?"
Mark snaps back to attention, eyes going wide. "I need to see your room," he says, looking at Johnny."
"Our room," Johnny repeats, feeling like he's driving a car and he can't control the breaks.
"Yeah, your room," Mark insists enthusiastically. "Where is it?"
Johnny glances at Jaehyun, who still looks too freaked out to speak. "Um...this way. Come on." He leads the little group down the hall, past the spare bedroom and the guest bathroom, into he and Jaehyun's room. It's a decent size. Definitely bigger than their room in Tucson, which was more like a closet than a bedroom. That was before Jaehyun's publishing deal, before Johnny got in with the uppers at the station. There's even an en-suite with a huge master bath that is somehow still covered in toys and Hyuck’s clothing.
In the middle of it all is their bed, the perfect size for two grown men and a five-year-old who sleeps like he's learning Muai Thai in his dreams.
"This is it," Jaehyun murmurs, looking around. "Our room."
Mark's face turns soft, curious. He stares at the bed for a moment but...no. Not at the bed. Just beyond it. "Oh," he murmurs, head tilting to the side. "There you are. We’ve been looking for you."
Johnny feels Jaehyun's hand slip into his, holding on tight. He squeezes gently before extricating himself, instead wrapping his arms tight around Jaehyun's shoulders instead. "Who? Who is it?" he asks quickly, heart racing in his chest.
Mark is ignoring them again, walking slowly to the bed. "You don't have to be afraid of me," he murmurs. "I'm just here to help you, little guy. We're all here to help you." He pauses, eyes fluttering shut. One hand stretches vaguely in front of him like he's reaching for something that he can't quite see. "You're scared of me," he whispers, biting his lip. "You don't have to be scared. No one here is going to hurt you."
Johnny can feel Jaehyun shaking, can hear the hitch in his breath as he tries to hold tight to his composure. "Tell him...tell him we're here," Jaehyun says, voice wavering. "We're right here."
Mark turns at that, smiling softly. "He knows. He's hiding in here because he feels safe with you guys." Jaehyun makes a wounded sort of noise and Johnny holds him tighter. "Your names Leo, huh?" Mark continues. "It's nice to meet you, Leo. I'm Mark."
Johnny watches in interest as Mark continues to talk seemingly to himself, his voice a constant chatter filling the bedroom. He can feel the tightly wound coil of Jaehyun winding tighter and tighter, can see everything he’s doing to stay strong.
Jaehyun is...he's so fucking brave. Johnny's seen him deal with so much bullshit in their lives together, has seen him scared but staring his own personal demons right in the face, time and time again. All Johnny can do is hold tighter, try to steal some of his courage and to make sure Jaehyun knows he’s there.
Mark takes his time communicating with Leo. Occasionally he talks out loud, occasionally he’ll go into that trance like state again where he glazes over and mutters to himself. The entire time Jaehyun and Johnny cling to each other like lifelines.
It's about ten minutes before Mark looks up, smiling softly. "He says he likes when you both sing them to sleep. He likes your voices."
"Thank you, Leo," Jaehyun whispers, still trembling with emotion. "Can he...can he tell us how he got here?"
"I can try. He gets shy," Mark murmurs. He shifts to kneel, sitting on his feet. "Hey, buddy, how come you're here and not with your mommy and daddy?" He closes his eyes, humming softly. Tilts his head as if listening. When he speaks his voice wavers, as if he himself is frightened of what comes next. "He says...he says he doesn't want to say. He's afraid that if he talks about him he'll come back."
"Who will come back?" Johnny asks, gruff. "Who's he afraid of?"
Mark frowns as he looks over at him. "The monster that lives inside the walls."
Jaehyun and Johnny look at each other, eyes wide. If this were Donghyuck, their living, breathing child, they would coo over how monsters aren't real and bring him into bed for extra cuddles. Make him feel safe. They would sleep securely knowing that there was no real danger, no threat to the life that they'd worked so hard to raise into a sassy, mouthy child of five.
But now...how do you soothe a child that's already dead? How do you assure them that monsters aren't real when ghosts aren't supposed to be real, either? Johnny is lost, floating untethered, praying something will anchor him back to reality.
"So he can hear us when we talk to him?" he asks, swallowing hard. When Mark nods he takes a breath, deep and shuddering. "Leo, listen buddy," he starts, still clinging to Jaehyun. "Whatever you're afraid of, we're...we won't let it hurt you."
Jaehyun nods emphatically. "We don't know how yet but we'll help you, okay? Johnny...appa and I are going to do everything to keep you safe."
Johnny feels gutted. Like he needs to sit. But he stays on his feet because that's what Jaehyun needs right now.
"I can help," Mark says softly. "Not all in one day, it's...it's a lot sometimes. But I can come back whenever you guys need and we can chip away. Maybe..." He looks to Yukhei, who gives a small nod. "Maybe we can figure this out before more kids disappear."
Jaehyun smiles weakly, pushing his hair from his face. “We appreciate that. More than you know. It’s one thing when it’s happening to you, but the fact that it’s happening to Hyuckie…”
“Having a kid changes you,” Johnny finishes for him, voice still rough with emotion. “There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for that little nerd.”
That night, after Mark and Yukhei have gone and after Johnny and Jaehyun have had a decent stress cry together, they lay in bed pressed close. Jaehyun's head is on Johnny's chest, listening to his heartbeat, fingertips absently stroking over Johnny's arm. Johnny's clings tight around Jaehyun's waist as if he might float away if he lets go. They tangle their legs together, and what starts as cuddling evolves into soft, desperate love making. They need the connection. They need to feel as close as possible. They need to feel whole.
Afterwards, as they continue to hold tight to each other, Jaehyun presses kiss after kiss to Johnny's shoulder. "I love you," he murmurs, voice thick with emotion. "I love you. I'm so sorry this is happening to us."
Johnny hums, strokes Jaehyun's hair back, kisses his forehead. "We'll figure it out together," he whispers. "Just like everything else. We'll do it as a team."
"Hyuck-ah you are awfully rowdy for a kid..." Johnny checks his watch. "...fifteen minutes away from bedtime. Don't you think it's time to start winding down?"
Donghyuck shakes his head, hopping around the living room in his underpants. "Nope! I'm dancin' so I get tired! I'm not tired yet!" He shimmies around the couch in circles, whipping out all the moves he’s learned from the sixty-three million times he’s made them watch the musical Cats since he discovered an old VHS tape at a yard sale.
Jaehyun hums, busy recording the late night dance party to post on Twitter. "That's sound logic."
"Thanks for the help, partner," Johnny says dryly. "C'mere Ducky. I want a cuddle before bedtime."
Donghyuck seems to consider it, knowing full well the dancing is driving Johnny nuts and enjoying the reaction. Still, he can't resist a pre-bedtime cuddle. He dances his way over, clambering on Johnny's lap. "Can I go to school in my unnerpants tomorrow?" he giggles, covering his mouth with a tiny little hand.
Johnny snorts. "I'm not even going to answer that, goofball."
"You're a goofball," Hyuck responds, snuggling up against Johnny's chest. "Daddy, stop takin' pictures!" Despite his demand he cheese it up, giggling as he makes a face in Jaehyun’s direction.
"I refuse, you're both too cute," Jaehyun grins. "You going to have some good dreams tonight, Ducky?"
Donghyuck sighs, shaking his head. "No daddy, I can't. I don't have dreams anymore."
Jaehyun sets his phone on the table, grabbing his water bottle to take a sip. "Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Because the monster in the walls eats them," Donghyuck says simply.
Johnny is so startled that he nearly drops his son from his lap. If this were a normal situation, if they weren’t constantly walking on eggshells in this house, it would just be another weird thing their son said. But none of this is normal and every flag is a red one. "What monster, Hyuckie?" he asks, glancing over at Jaehyun. Sure enough Jaehyun looks just as alarmed.
"The monster that took all the kids away and ate them up," Hyuck said solemnly, as if the topic is grave but of no real concern to him. "He lives in the house with us."
It concerns Johnny. "You don't...isn't that scary, baby?" he asks cautiously. It’s not like he wants to scare his son, he just needs answer.
Donghyuck shrugs. "Katie says it's okay cause my daddy and my appa are here! Monsters can't get me because of you, right?"
His childlike innocent, his absolute trust in them raises a lump in Johnny’s throat. Every now and then he’s hit by a wave of emotion that’s staggering, this stark realization that this tiny little person, for all his weirdness, for all his sass, is theirs. They made him, they’ve raised him, and Johnny would jump in front of any bullet for him.
"Exactly," Jaehyun says, leaning forward to stroke Hyuckie’s cheek. "We'll always keep you safe, baby boy. Always."
Hyuck nods. "See? It's okay. I'm okay!"
"Out of the mouths of babes," Johnny mutters. "Come on kiddo, bed time." He stands, Jaehyun following close behind as he heads upstairs with Hyuck in his arms. He walks right past Hyuck’s bedroom, instead heading to their own.
Hyuck looks up curiously. "Am I sleepin' in here tonight?"
"Oh yeah," Johnny mutters. "You're sleeping in our bed until your eighteen."
"Appa that's funny," Hyuck chuckles. "I'll be grownup and married by then! Renjun and I gotta have our own house!"
"Nope. You can both just live here with us," Johnny says, gently tossing him on the bed.
"You're funny," Donghyuck giggles. "Are you going to sing me a song?"
"Of course we are," Jaehyun coos. "What song do you want? Does Leo want to hear You Are My Sunshine again?"
It should feel strange, integrating the wishes of dead children in their nighttime routine. Instead the words `new normal, new normal` keep repeating in Johnny's mind again and again. He can't turn his back on a little one that needs him. Alive or dead.
Instead of You Are My Sunshine, Donghyuck requests While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Johnny and Jaehyun get a pretty decent harmony going and by the end of the song Hyuck is out cold. They take their usual few minutes to admire him, petting his chocolate brown curls, making sure he’s tucked in perfectly before sliding in on either side.
"Goodnight Hyuck-ah," Johnny whispers, leaning down to kiss his forehead.
"Goodnight Ducky," Jaehyun sighs, doing the same.
They stay to watch him sleep for a moment, Johnny momentarily enraptured by his little nose, his tiny little lips. They stay until they grow tired themselves, only leaving to turn out the lights downstairs before crawling into bed themselves.
That night, Johnny dreams.
He doesn't dream very often. He never really has, something about constantly being overworked and exhausted by his child or something like that. He feels like he's never well rested enough to remember his dreams. Tonight though...tonight his they’re vivid. He can feel the tension on his brow, the bile rising up the back of his throat. He can smell the sweat that comes from an acute sense of terror, thick around him.
He's standing at the end of a very long hallway, a hallway that looks like the one in their house, other than the fact that it goes on for miles. On either side he sees door after door after door, ones that look just like the door to their bedroom, to Donghyuck's, to the guest room down the hall.
Behind him he hears Jaehyun sobbing.
Before him he hears Donghyuck screaming.
"Donghyuck?" Johnny's heart beats a tragic rhythm in his chest, like it's trying to point him in the right direction. His mouth is dry. He knows he needs to move, but his feet can’t seem to pick a direction. He knows that every second he waits is a second he is further from his son, but a step in the wrong direction could be catastrophic.
"Donghyuck I'm coming!" Johnny wails back, trying to put himself into motion.
There's...something wrong with his feet. It's like no matter how hard he pushes himself off of the ground, no matter how fast his legs move, he just can't seem to pick up speed. It's almost like there's a weight attached to his back, dragging him down.
He can still hear Jaehyun, his broken cries tearing through Johnny's brain and causing a pain he's never experienced. "Find him!" Jaehyun chokes, voice frantic. "Johnny, find him!"
Johnny tries to fight through whatever is holding him back but he can't shake loose the invisible weight slowing him down. "Donghyuck!" he calls, voice high from tension and fear. "Baby I'm coming, okay? It's okay, appa is coming!"
"I don't want to sleep in the walls!" Donghyuck cries, voice far away and only getting farther. "Appa I don't want to go away with him!"
Johnny looks down, eyes going wide as he realizes their hallway carpet has turned to tar. Black, sticky tar that grips at his bare feet, swallowing him up to the ankles. He tries to pull free. Trips, falls face first into the mire. It's pulling him under.' "Donghyuck!" he shouts, tears hot in his eyes. "Donghyuck I'm coming, I swear!"
Johnny wakes with a jolt, the fear of his dream still covering him like a heavy fog. He's trembling, shaking from head to toe, so badly that he has to wake Jaehyun.
"Mm, what's wrong?" Jaehyun slurs as he comes to. The moment he sees Johnny he sits up, frowning. "Baby what happened? Are you okay?"
"I just had the most fucked up dream," Johnny chokes. On any other day he'd be ashamed of the tears in his eyes. “I’m so sorry, I had to wake you up, I just...fuck, I had to…”
Jaehyun immediately pulls him close, threading his fingers through Johnny's hair. "It's okay, baby. You're fine, it was just a dream. I'm right here with you." He kisses Johnny's hair, running firm palms over his back. "Shhh, sh..."
Slowly, inch by brutal inch, Johnny starts to calm down. "Fuck I was in this hallway and you were freaking out and Donghyuck..." He suddenly sits up, eyes huge. "Where's Donghyuck?"
Jaehyun looks confused, pink hair sticking up in every direction and sleep still clouding his eyes. "Mm?"
"Ducky fell asleep with us last night," Johnny says, scrambling out of bed. "Where is he?"
In a flash sleep is cast off and Jaehyun is up, running to check the bathroom. He must not find anything because right after he tears out of the room and into the hallway, down to Hyuck's bedroom. Johnny follows close on his heels, heart racing.
"He's here somewhere," he says, more to calm himself down. When he sees Donghyuck's bed still made from that morning he tears the blanket back in some mad hope that he might be there, hidden underneath. He even gets to his hands and knees, checking under the bed like there’s room for anything but a few socks and some random toys..
"Johnny," Jaehyun moans, voice thin and high with fear. “Johnny, where is he?”
"Downstairs, maybe he wanted water," Johnny tries, racing to the stairs.
Donghyuck isn't in the kitchen. He isn't in the living room or the back yard. They check Jaehyun's office and the spare bathroom downstairs but their son is nowhere to be found. "Hyuck!" Johnny calls, as loud as he can manage. "Donghyuck where are you!"
"I'm calling the cops," Jaehyun chokes, hands shaking so badly he can barely dial 9-1-1. "Johnny I can't...I don't know..."
Johnny feels like the world is closing in on him. He can feel the black tar from his dream pulling him down, dragging him to his knees as he sinks to the cool tile of their kitchen floor. "Hyuck-ah," he whispers, eyes shut tight. It's like his voice won't go any louder, like he can't yell like he so desperately wants to. In the back of his consciousness he can hear Jaehyun talking to a dispatcher but he feels stuck. Trapped in this moment. "Hyuck where are you..."
His brain goes to everything that's happened in the last few months. Ghosts. Goodnight songs. Monsters in the walls. A houseful of children that don't belong to them but somehow have became theirs through death. Jaehyun talking to invisible children while he folds laundry. Hyuck going on and on about his new "friends."
"What do I do?" he asks, tears in his eyes.
He's so caught up in his terror that he almost doesn't feel the tug at his sleeve. It's soft. Weak. So gentle that Johnny almost thinks it's Hyuck, trying to get their attention. But when he turns there's nothing there.
Johnny almost manages to convince himself that he imagined it, that it was just his sleeve shifting in a weird way as he moved. But then he feels it again, this time a little more persistent.
"Jaehyun," he whispers, swallowing hard. Jaehyun doesn't respond, naturally too wrapped up in talking to the cops to hear him. Instead Johnny takes a deep breath. "Are you...here?" he asks, voice soft. Words gentle. He feels the tug again. Twice this time, in quick succession, like when Hyuck sees a toy he wants at the store. Johnny tries to remember what Mark said, about it being like radio stations. He closes his eyes and does his best to listen.
Suddenly there’s a knowledge in his brain that he doesn’t know how he got, a sure answer waiting at the front of his mind. "Katie," he whispers to himself. "Katie?" Another tug. "Can you show me which way he went?" When Johnny stands Jaehyun looks over, but Johnny is too invested in potentially finding his son to explain. Instead he follows the phantom pulls, leading him this way and that.
He ends up standing at the door to the basement, heart beating a pounding rhythm in his chest. "Down there?" he asks quietly. "Is this where I'm supposed to go?" This time instead of a pull he feels a gentle push, as if from a second set of hands.
"Okay. Okay," he breathes. "Let's go."
Their basement isn't anything special. Most of the stuff down there is out of season holiday decorations, power tools, their heavy winter clothes. There's a decent collection of boxes that they never got around to unpacking, things they’ll find in years to come when they’re ready to gut the house to do a yard sale. Johnny picks his way around the maze of boxes, eyes squinting in the dim light allowed by the high, thin windows that basements always seem to have.
"Hyuck?" Johnny calls out gently. It's quiet down here, he doesn't want to startle his sunbeam. "Hyuck-ah, are you in the basement baby?"
He makes his way to the light swinging in the middle of the room, pulling the chain to click it on. Everything is cast in a watered down yellow glow, barely more useful than the moonlight. "Okay," he murmurs. "What now?"
He's turning in a slow circle, checking all the nooks and crannies, when he hears the noise. It's soft. Dull. Sort of like...small hands hitting against a wall, but muffled. "Hyuck?" he says, louder this time. "Donghyuck are you down here?"
There's a pause, and then the sound resumes. Louder this time. Johnny closes his eyes, taking a shuddering breath. "Can you guys tell me more?" he begs. "Please. I...I don't understand, I need your help."
This time there's no soft tug, no gentle push. This time Johnny hears a child's laughter, as clear as day, running past him in the direction of the far wall. He turns, blood going cold. "There?" he asks, following the sound to the corner.
There's not much to see. Just a bare wall, a bunch of hockey gear propped against an old door they brought down when they replaced the one leading to the backyard. He looks carefully, peeks behind every box and every bit of unwanted furniture for his son, but finds nothing.
Johnny shakes his head. "I don't understand," he begs, tears springing to his eyes once more. "I need...please!"
He's pushed again, and this time it's not gentle. Johnny falls hard into the sports gear, things clattering noisily left and right. The door, already a shitty piece of rotting wood that he really just needs to drive to the recycling place,, falls to the side with a loud bang.
Johnny groans roughly, sprawled out on the floor. "What the fuck," he hisses, placing his hand on the wall to support his weight as he stands back up.
The wall moves slightly under his touch.
Immediately he reaches an all-new level of high alert. He shuffles to his knees, pushing gently, watching the wall move under his fingertips. His fingers trace along the panel, finding the seams, trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. Sure enough when he pushes on the left side of the paneling the right side swings out and he's able to remove it completely.
"Oh my fucking god," he whispers, eyes huge. Another push, once more, gentle against his back. "Yeah don’t worry," he chokes. "I'm going."
The panel he pulls away isn't huge. Probably about four feet tall by three feet wide, just enough for him to shimmy through. He flicks on the flashlight on his camera, reaching out to grab one of the hockey sticks as an afterthought.
Inside is...he'd call it a crawl space, if he weren't able to stand to his full height with a few feet to spare. It's just an empty space between the basement wall and what must be the outside wall of the house, wide enough for him to walk comfortably. Johnny steps carefully. The air is muggy and warm in this weird crowded place, and there's a smell in the air that makes his stomach turn. With wide eyes he carefully walks down the length of the...hallway, whatever it is. Step after step, praying for the best. Unwilling to imagine the worst.
He must reach the end of the wall. Ducking to avoid a cobweb he turns left, and when his eyes adjust to the new space what he sees tears a scream from his chest.
Donghyuck is there. Alive, blessedly alive, though terrified as he shoves himself into a corner, making himself as small as he can. In the other corner, eyes wide and hollow looking, staring at Johnny with a glassy gaze, is a man in filthy, tattered clothes.
Johnny has never seen anything like him. He’s tall, thin, so thin that he looks almost inhuman as he looks at Johnny with eyes that seem to reflect the beam of the flashlight. Johnny’s a pretty rational guy. He’s seen some shit in his life, taken it all in stride, but this...this he can’t manage. There is a man in their house. He has their son. He looks like some sort of cryptid you’d see on a back page of the Weekly World News, and when he stands his limbs sway like he’s a willow tree pulling it’s roots free.
"Appa!" Donghyuck shrieks, and Johnny snaps the fuck out of it.
Everything happens very fast. Donghyuck scrambles to his feet, trying to get to Johnny. The man, ghastly and pale with long arms and large hands, reaches out to grab him. The moment the man tries to grab his son Johnny swings the hockey stick.
Johnny isn't a violent man. He's broken up a few bar fights in his time, and that's the extent of it. But seeing someone looking to hurt his son...Johnny aims for the head. He swings hard. He watches with a dull sort of relief as the man goes down.
The hockey stick clatters to the ground as Johnny kneels, scooping Donghyuck up and holding him close. "I didn't want to sleep in the walls!" Hyuck wails, face red, gasping for air. Johnny is dazed. Dizzy. But he's got Hyuck.
"It's okay, buddy," he whispers, clinging tight as he starts to walk back to the panel he'd crawled in through. "Appa's got you now. Everything is going to be okay."
They stay with Yuta and Taeyong for a few days. The police say it's a necessity, they've got to comb the house inside and out looking for any other hidden places in the layout. And honestly, that's fine. They're not ready to go home.
"They said from the look of it he'd been living there for years," Jaehyun said wearily. There are dark circles under his eyes, the coffee in his hand doing nothing to help how exhausted he is. His hands shake so badly that the hot liquid threatens to spill from the side, so Taeyong takes the mug gently from his hands and sets it on the table. "Other than the...the bodies, there was a decent amount of clothing and old food.”
"We kept thinking rats were dying in the basement, but then the smell would go away for a while," Johnny adds. He's got Hyuck on his lap, and no matter how much he whines that he wants to go play with Jaemin, Johnny and Jaehyun just can't let him go. Johnny’s going to cling to him like this until he’s thirty.
"Jesus," Taeyong whispers, stricken. "How...how many?"
"Thirteen," Jaehyun whispers, staring into his coffee cup. “They’ve already positively ID’d the bodies and contacted the families.”
Yuta shakes his head, rubbing his hands over his face. "How the hell was he getting in and out?"
"The little windows up by the ceiling? They were just big enough," Johnny explains. "He was...god, he was thin. Thin and long. It was terrifying."
"And quiet,' Jaehyun adds. "Quiet enough that he was able to just lift Ducky out of bed without him waking up."
"Any idea who he is?" Yuta asks, biting his lip. He's got Jaemin in his own lap, the four year old not quite sure how the hell he got roped into this boring party. Every now and then he’ll whine and try to squirm free, but Yuta just adjusts his hold. "Is he still at the hospital?"
"No, and yes," Johnny says. "They haven’t been able to get a name or anything out of him, he apparently doesn’t say anything. Once he's physically okay they'll move him to a psych unit for further questioning."
"I hope he doesn't wake back up," Jaehyun mutters.
Part of Johnny wishes the same. The rest of him knows he needs answers. The parents of thirteen dead children need answers. They deserve justice.
"Okay, million dollar question," Taeyong says. "Are you moving?"
"No," Jaehyun says firmly.
Johnny looks over, eyebrows raised. "No?"
"No," Jaehyun repeats, whispering this time. "We can't...we can't abandon the rest of them, Johnny."
And really, that's all he needs to say. Because as terrified as he's been, as fucked up as everything is, Johnny can't abandon thirteen lost little kids. Not even dead ones.
In a week they'll go back. They'll seal that wall and the windows in the basement. Set up a security system and a few cameras on the property. They’ll look into therapy, do everything they can to find a way to feel safe in their home again. But for now they just hold Donghyuck tight, at ease now that the monster in the walls is gone.
"Come on, hurry up!"
Renjun snorts, stepping carefully through the snow to follow Donghyuck to the front door. "I'm going as fast as I can, it's not like they've been home to shovel the driveway."
"You're such a grandma," Hyuck complains. He springs happily through the snow like some sort of labrador, grabbing his keys from his coat pocket and finding the right one. "Dad said they left money for pizza on the kitchen counter, and appa said there's beer in the fridge."
"Your parents are so cool," Renjun groans, finally making it to the front steps and following Donghyuck into the dark house. "Where did they go again?"
"Miami," Hyuck informs him, shutting the door and getting out of his snow boots. He works on peeling out of his winter clothes as Renjun does the same, stripping down to their jeans, hoodies, and socks. "Appa said he needs the sunshine."
"Next time ask your rich parents to take us with them," Renjun says, poking Hyuck's side. As his boyfriend works on turning on the lights he looks around, letting out a soft hum. "This is the house you grew up in?"
"Yep. We moved here when I was...five or something," Donghyuck says, taking off his coat and chucking it on the couch. "I was here until I moved into the dorms for uni. You like?"
Renjun grins, pressing a swift kiss to his cheek. "I like. It's beautiful."
"Excellent." Donghyuck sneaks an arm around Renjun's waist, pulling him close. "We can totally light a fire and drink hot chocolate and be super gay later."
Renjun laughs, letting himself be held. "I'm excited. I also need to pee. Bathroom?"
"Ummmm use mine," Donghyuck says, pointing to the stairs. "Up, first door on the right."
Renjun turns, this time kissing him sweetly on the lips before slipping away and heading upstairs.
The minute he's gone Donghyuck sits on the couch, hands settled on his lap. He looks around, a soft smile on his face as he takes in the state of the room. Lately Jaehyun’s been on this redecorating kick, the walls full of new paintings, the furniture all fresh and different. It looks good. Still, it feels like home. The home he’s always known.
He grins, biting his lip. "Hi guys," he says softly, seemingly to no one in particular. "Miss me?"