Yuxi (yuxo) wrote in homin_yongwonhi,

contest entry #1 - a house is not a home (1/2)

Title: A House is Not a Home
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Inspired by waaaaaaaaaay too many episodes of SyFy's Ghost Hunters and Discovery Channel's A Haunting.
Summary: Yunho and Changmin move into the home of their dreams. When strange things start occurring while Changmin's home alone, he starts to wonder if he's imagining things or even losing his mind – especially when Yunho thinks he's overreacting. Then it starts getting serious.


A House is Not a Home


Changmin stands in the entry-way of the house, just inside the front door. His gaze takes in the empty sitting room to his right, just waiting for their furniture to be brought in. He pans across to his left, down the hallway that disappears into the kitchen then up the stairs that lead to the three bedrooms. He still has yet to understand why they need three bedrooms for just the two of them, four if he counts the dogs, but he can't deny it's nice to have the extra space.

And to know that it's all theirs. Only theirs.

He jumps a little when strong arms wrap around his waist, but he quickly relaxes against the familiar chest behind him. "You just about gave me a heart attack," he scolds as Yunho rests his chin on Changmin's shoulder.

Yunho presses an apologetic kiss to the side of Changmin's neck, inwardly grinning at the little shiver it draws. "Sorry, baby," he murmurs back before turning his head to observe the empty house with Changmin. "It really is gorgeous, isn't it? And we might as well have stolen it for the price they were asking."

Humming a quiet agreement, Changmin rests his own arms over Yunho's and snuggles into the embrace. "We really did get lucky, like it was waiting just for us or something. Our dream house." They stand in the quiet for a few more moments, the late-afternoon sunlight pouring through the living room's big bay windows.

Yunho finally breaks the peace, pulling away then chuckling at Changmin's low noise of protest. "Come on, Minnie. The movers should be here any minute now, and we can at least carry in the few small things we have in the car."

=====


Changmin shifts in his computer chair, hands poised over the keyboard, staring at the screen. His editor wants the next chapter for his new novel by the end of the month, but he's still stuck at the beginning, debating whether he should reveal the big turning point in this chapter or the next.

He types out a few sentences, just to see where they take him, then pauses. After reading the small paragraph over again, he highlights and deletes the whole thing. Not good enough. With a disgruntled huff, Changmin slouches back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. Mangdoongie lifts her head from her resting place on the floor, and Changmin sighs before shrugging at her.

When Yunho had first started talking about moving out of the city, Changmin had been thrilled. Their tiny apartment stood in the middle of a busy neighborhood that never seemed to quiet down. The steady stream of noise had been a constant distraction whenever Changmin tried to write. He'd assumed the peace of the suburbs would allow him to focus and help his writing.

He'd been wrong. It was too damn quiet.

With a scowl twisting his lips, Changmin growls a low, "You suck," at the blank document on the screen and shoves away from the desk. He heads down the stairs to the kitchen, hoping a quick break and a cold drink will kick-start his brain. Then he gets to the doorway of the kitchen and stops.

The drawer to the left of the sink is pulled all the way out, hanging into the empty room. He'd pulled a spoon for his cereal from that drawer earlier, but he clearly remembers closing it. With a bewildered shake of his head, Changmin crosses the room and pushes the drawer shut again. Maybe he just hadn't closed it all the way last time, allowing it to slide open again. This time, he ensures wood meets wood. At his heels, Mangdoongie lets out a low whine then turns and runs back up the stairs.

After grabbing a can of soda from the fridge, Changmin completes a circuit of the first floor of their new home: from the kitchen into the attached formal dining room, then from the dining room into the now fully furnished living room. Once there, he pauses to look out through the giant windows he'd fallen in love with at their first viewing of the house.

The neighborhood outside lays quiet, most of the neighbors off at their middle-class, 8-to-5 office jobs. The street, besides Changmin and one stay-at-home mom on the corner, is practically devoid of life during the day. With a quiet sigh full of mixed emotions, Changmin drains the rest of his soda and heads back towards the kitchen.

He freezes as soon as he crosses the doorway, chills running over every inch of his skin. The drawer, the one he knows he closed tight this time, lays wide-open again. Along with every other drawer and cabinet door in the kitchen. Changmin attempts to draw a deep breath then breathes out a quiet, "Oh my god…"

Slowly, almost hesitantly, he walks around the room and closes everything once again. And then, as if to test… something, he walks to the doorway that leads out into the hall. He stands there for a few long seconds, listening for the soft slide of wood sliding against wood or the squeak of old metal hinges that would indicate anything opening up again. Nothing. Complete silence.

Changmin relaxes a bit. He's a creative writer. That's what he does. Yunho's playfully scolded him more than once for letting his imagination run faster than his logic. The laughter at himself quickly dies, though, when he turns to look back at the kitchen once more.

This time, every other door and drawer is opened: first drawer, second door, third drawer, and on down the line. He wants to explain it away somehow, tell himself maybe the house's foundation is somewhat crooked. And yet… it's such a clear pattern. Perhaps if it had been all of them again, he could lie to himself that way. This, though, he can't quite rationalize, no matter how good his imagination is.

He backs out of the kitchen, not wanting to take his eyes from the scene. Only when he gets all the way to the other end of the hall where the stairs start does he turn away, sprinting up the stairs to his writing room. He slams the door closed behind him before collapsing into his chair and snatching his cell phone from the desk.

Out of sheer force of habit, Changmin starts to dial Yunho's number. Just before he hits the call button, though, he stops. Yunho is one of the youngest office managers in his company with huge ambitions to climb the corporate ladder even higher. He consistently packs his days full of work, and Changmin doesn't want to be the cause of any distraction.

He clears out Yunho's number and punches in his best friend's number instead. "Hey, you busy right now? No? How about meeting me for lunch?"

=====


Changmin makes the trek back into the city, using the hour-long subway ride to collect his racing thoughts. Now that he's away from the house, he feels almost foolish for letting himself get carried away. When he gets to their agreed-on restaurant, the same one they've habitually met at since middle school, he almost has himself convinced that the whole experience wasn't nearly as big as he'd originally thought.

He waits for 15 minutes or so, lost in his thoughts, before hearing a loud, "Min!" shouted from the entrance. Looking up from his intensive study of the condensation on his glass, he smiles a greeting as his friend approaches.

"Hey, Su." Junsu grins as he settles across from Changmin in the booth. They chat lightly until the waitress approaches to take their order, then a bit more until their food arrives.

When they're both about halfway through their plates, Junsu finally calls off the small talk. "So, spill it, Min. I know you didn't call me all the way out here just to make inane observations about the weather. You sounded pretty shaky on the phone, so what's up?"

Changmin takes his time to chew and swallow the food in his mouth then pauses for another moment to sip at his water. "It's… kind of strange. Or maybe not. I don't know. But either way, something happened in that house today, and I just had to get out of there for a while."

Junsu's brow creases. Changmin, as a general rule, always speaks clearly and concisely, blunt bordering on harsh. This newfound stuttering and backsliding worries Junsu. "What happened, Minnie?" After one more small hesitation, Changmin releases the whole story in a torrent of words. When he finishes, silence falls over the table as Junsu runs through the story again in his head.

"You think I'm crazy," Changmin sighs when Junsu simply stares at him. "And why wouldn't you? I was there and think I might be crazy."

Junsu shakes his head. "I don't think you're crazy, Min. I know you too well for that. If everything happened the way you said it did, I think whatever's happening in that house is crazy. But not you, Minnie."

Torn between feeling relieved and upset, Changmin quirks an eyebrow. "If?"

Junsu rolls his eyes. "Yeah, Min. If. Stop being so defensive. You have a tendency to exaggerate things sometimes, make them more exciting. Don't even try to deny it. Just an occupational hazard, I suppose. Tell me you didn't do that here, though, and I'm going to believe you. Kind of in the 'best friends' job description."

"I didn't exaggerate anything, Junsu," Changmin promises, waiting for Junsu's accepting nod before letting himself relax. "I just… I don't get it. Why all of a sudden? We've been there for almost three weeks now, and this just pops up out of nowhere? It makes no sense."

"Are you so sure it's out of nowhere?" Junsu questions, brow creased in thought. Confused, Changmin waits for him to finish. "I mean, just… think back to the beginning, Min. Are you absolutely sure nothing else has happened in the last three weeks? Anything you may have brushed off as your imagination or sounds an old house makes? Anything at all out of the ordinary?"

Shaking his head, Changmin immediately starts to deny the questions. Then he pauses as he remembers an incident. Then another one. Then another. "There have been… a few things. I guess. Just stupid stuff, though. The dogs growling or barking at nothing. Floors squeaking. But they're all hardwood, so that's to be expected, right? Or I'll hear whispers even though I'm the only one there, something touching my hair. That house is 50 years old, though, Su. I'm sure there are drafts and stuff all over."

"I'm sure there are, Min." Junsu nods, agreeing with then summarily dismissing Changmin's rationalizations with the same action. "But considering what happened in your kitchen today, can you really write it off so easily now?"

And Changmin knows he can't, knows he won't be writing off anything anymore. He's certainly not ready to put a name to it yet, but Changmin can't keep pretending that everything's fine and normal in that house. Not anymore.

=====


Weeks pass. While the incidents don't seem to escalate, they certainly aren't going away either. Changmin debates over and over again whether he should talk to Yunho about it or not, but he decides against it every time. Yunho has more important things to worry about, and while the events certainly freak Changmin out, they have yet to do anything more than that.

He reclines on the couch, head propped on the arm with his knees bent and feet flat on the cushion. Taepoong sits on the floor next to him, whining and nudging Changmin with his nose. Distracted, Changmin simply runs a hand over the dog's head. "You really should tell him, Min," Junsu scolds him lightly through the phone pressed between Changmin's ear and shoulder. "Yunho wouldn't like that you're keeping something like this from him, even if he has been busy lately. You know how protective he gets."

Sighing, Changmin rolls his legs over and shifts to lay on his side. "I know, I know. I just… He's already so stressed out when he gets home every night, and I don't want to add to that with- What the hell was that?" Changmin shoots up off the couch, spinning around to check out the whole room.

"What? Min, what happened?"

Slowly relaxing, Changmin sinks back down onto the couch and rubs a hand over the back of his neck. He winces when his light touch sends of a wave of stinging pain radiating from the area. "I… I don't know. Something touched me. On my neck. And now it, it burns." He walks into the hallway, craning his head around to check out his neck in the mirror by the door. Three short, dark red marks stretch across his skin. "Scratches. I… I have scratches on my neck."

"What?" Junsu nearly screeches. "What in the world could have scratched you like that?"

"I don't know. It's like, three, evenly-spaced lines. Like claws from an animal or something." Changmin walks down the hall into the kitchen, tearing off a paper towel from the roll then wetting it with cold water and holding it against the marks. He hisses with the first contact, but the coolness draws the burning sting from his neck.

Junsu is quiet for a long moment, and then, "You have to tell him now, Changmin. No more excuses. I wasn't going to push you as long as it was just some creepy moving objects and stuff, but… it's actually hurting you now. I don't understand what's going on in that house, but Yunho needs to know."

Drawing a deep breath and holding it, Changmin closes his eyes as he rests his forehead against the wall. "I know, Su. And I will. On his next day off, I promise I'll tell him. He doesn't need to deal with work all day then come home to craziness like this."

=====


Yunho's next day – and usually his only day every week – off is that Sunday. He lounges on the couch, relaxed into the corner with Changmin tucked under one arm and curled against his side. He absent-mindedly feathers his fingers through Changmin's hair as they watch a rerun of some weekly drama. Really, the flickering TV serves more as a way to break the silence than anything else; neither of them pays much attention to the actual content of the show.

"Yunho," Changmin starts, quiet and not entirely sure what he's going to say. "Can we… talk for a minute?"

Yunho hums a soft agreement without taking his eyes from the screen. Changmin pulls away to sit up and grabs the remote to switch the TV off. Blinking at the interruption, Yunho turns to look at Changmin. "Well, alright then. What's going on, baby?"

Changmin bites one corner of his lower lip and huffs out a breath from the other side of his mouth. "I… I'm not entirely sure. There have been some things going on in the house, things I'm not sure how to explain. And… I just wanted to talk to you about them. Just to see what you think, maybe. Well, and because Junsu told me I had to or he would do it for me, considering what happened a few days ago."

Eyebrows knitting together as Changmin stutters out his explanation, Yunho attempts to process exactly what the other man is trying to tell him. "What, exactly, are these 'things' you're talking about, Min?"

Changmin takes a deep breath, attempting to brace himself for whatever reaction Yunho may have. "Just… little things. Mostly. Whispers, doors opening, stuff being moved around. Something touching me. And I know it sounds ridiculous, Yunho. Trust me, I know. But it's starting to get really weird, and I just… had to tell you."

Silence falls between them, every tick of the clock seeming to take an hour to Changmin. "You think our house is haunted," Yunho finally replies, disbelief with a touch of amusement coloring his tone.

Amusement. Directed at Changmin and something Changmin is taking more than seriously. He feels a small part of his heart splinter a bit at the fact that Yunho obviously considers it some kind of joke. "I never said that, Yunho. Never once did I use that word. I was just trying to tell you that there's something going on I can't explain, and it's scaring me. But fine. Whatever. If that's how you want to act about it, just forget I said anything. Not like you're ever around to help me with it anyway, even if you did believe me."

He stands from the couch, evading Yunho's hands as the other man reaches for him. "Min, wait," Yunho protests as Changmin heads for the stairs. "Just come back for a minute and talk to me."

"Why?" Changmin snaps, spinning around to pin him with a steely glare. "So you can laugh at me some more? At the fact that I'm being practically terrorized while you're off at work all day?"

"If this is about my hours-"

"It's not about your work, Yunho!" Changmin explodes, and Yunho stills. Changmin has never shouted at him – or anyone else for that matter – in Yunho's memory. And that, more than anything else, shows him that Changmin isn't just pulling some elaborate joke on him.

Changmin watches the nearly heart-broken, lost-puppy look of realization sweep over Yunho's face then sighs. He grasps at the last shreds of his anger, but they're quickly slipping away in front of that expression. "If it were about your work," Changmin continues, a bit more quietly, "I would have said that. I wouldn't make up some crazy story about something even I can't really explain."

Nodding his understanding, Yunho moves over to Changmin and wraps his arms around the other's waist. "I know, baby. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brushed you off like that." And just like that, the last vestiges of Changmin's anger melt away. Almost as if it had never been a part of him in the first place.

=====


It starts to become part of their daily routine when telling each other about their days: Yunho discusses new clients and interesting co-workers while Changmin fills him in on how many words he'd gotten done and everything the house did that day. Yunho still can't quite bring himself to believe in ghosts, certain that there's a logical explanation for every occurrence. Changmin always seems to feel better after talking about it, though, so Yunho listens.

A few days after their near-fight, Yunho rushes through the house as Changmin nurses a cup of coffee in the doorway to the kitchen and watches with a small smile. The power had flickered sometime during the night, all the digital clocks in the house flashing 12:00 when the two had woken up that morning. Including Yunho's alarm. He's now dangerously close to being late when he is, under normal circumstances, habitually early.

Finally, Yunho slips his suit jacket on and walks to Changmin. Setting his mug on the kitchen counter, Changmin straightens the other man's tie then presses a quick kiss to his lips. "Try not to drive too crazy, okay? Even if they're so strict at that company of yours that they'll fire you for it, I'd rather you clock in a few minutes late than wind up in the hospital."

Yunho kisses Changmin again then smiles. "Of course, baby." One more kiss before he tears himself away and heads for the front door. He reaches for the hooks of keys hanging by the door then pauses. "Minnie, have you seen my keys?"

A confused frown replaces Changmin's smile. "No. You always hang them right there, on the first hook. It's practically a ritual."

"Well… they're not here," Yunho replies. "Are you sure I put them here yesterday?"

Changmin replays the day before in his head: watching from the kitchen as Yunho had stepped in the front door, leaned back to leave his dripping umbrella on the small porch, closed the door behind him and slipped his keys onto the peg. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure. But, I guess, let's just look around the living room just in case."

Between the two, they have the whole living room covered in a matter of minutes, Changmin's nearly neat-freak tendencies not making it difficult. When the keys still haven't turned up, they head upstairs to search the bedrooms and even Changmin's office. "Damn," Yunho hisses as they move back down the stairs. "Where in the world could they have gone?"

Changmin reaches the bottom first and looks over at the key rack, hoping to get some kind of idea. Instead, he finds exactly what they've been searching for. "Yunho?" he interrupts the other's quiet rant. "Aren't those your keys? Right there on the normal hook?"

Blinking once, Yunho looks around Changmin just to see his keys hanging exactly where they're supposed to be. "Those… weren't there earlier." Changmin nods, and they stare at each other for a minute. Yunho breaks the stare with a curse. "Shit, I can't do this right now. I'm late enough as it is. We'll talk when I get home tonight, okay?" With one final kiss to Changmin's temple, Yunho snatches his keys from the rack and rushes out the door.

Changmin suppresses a shudder and rubs the goosebumps from his arms, not at all liking the idea of being home alone all day now.

=====


The house, save for the dim hallway lighting, stands dark by the time Yunho gets home. He'd fully intended on getting home early that day to discuss the keys incident with Changmin, but his boss had stopped him on his way out the door to invite him to dinner with most of upper management. Changmin had reassured Yunho on the phone that he was spending the evening out with Junsu anyway. Even so, Yunho has tomorrow off and fully intends to spend it making tonight up to Changmin.

Yunho slips his shoes off then lifts them onto the shoe rack with his toes. Hanging his keys in their normal place, he makes the mental note that he has them in the right spot then heads for the stairs. He can only figure he'd absent-mindedly left them somewhere else last night for them to not be there this morning and then… What? a voice in the back of his mind asks. They put themselves away while you and Changmin tore apart the house looking for them?

Shaking the thoughts away, Yunho slips as quietly as possible into the bedroom. Changmin lays curled up on his left side facing the door, his mouth slightly parted and a lock of hair falling across his closed eyes. Yunho takes a moment to just look at him, smiling softly. As much as he hates when work keeps him out so late, he will always love coming home to this view.

After another second, he tears his eyes away and moves to his dresser. He leaves his clothes pooled on the floor despite knowing he'll catch hell for it in the morning and pulls on his most comfortable pajama pants. Double-checking that the windows are closed and locked, he crawls into bed behind Changmin and pulls him back against his chest. Changmin snuggles closer, and Yunho drifts into a peaceful sleep.

He isn't sure what wakes him, sets his senses on high as he sits up in bed. The moonlight through the windows sheds just enough light for Yunho to look around the room and see nothing out of place, Changmin still snoring lightly beside him. As he turns to check the rest of the room, though, a small movement from Changmin's side of the bed causes him to reach over and switch on the bed-side lamp.

He turns back and watches the slight flutter of Changmin's hair, as if caught in some kind of breeze or draft. But the air isn't moving. It'd been cool enough that they'd turned off the air conditioner, and he'd feel anything coming in through the windows before it touched Changmin.

Then, as Yunho watches, the strands of hair lift away from Changmin's head, twisting and braiding then unraveling again in the air. Changmin stirs, blinking sleepily. "Yunho? What're you-" The hair pulls taut, and Changmin's eyes widen, instantly alert, as he reaches for the back of his head. "What's going on?"

Yunho shakes his head, eyes wide, at a loss for any words. And before he has a chance to think of a response, Changmin's whole head jerks. Releasing a startled shout, Changmin attempts to pry away invisible hands. He jolts again, slipping partially off the bed with the force of the pull and instinctively grasping at Yunho. Yunho holds him firmly with one hand and tries to untangle Changmin's hair with the other. "Hold on, Minnie. Just hold on to me."

Another violent pull forces a pained cry from Changmin, tears sliding down his cheeks. "Get it off me, Yunho! Get it off!" But there's nothing for Yunho to push off, nothing there for him to fight against. Changmin jerks again, slides another couple inches closer to the edge of the bed. Yunho watches as small clumps of Changmin's hair flutter to the ground, spots of blood appearing on his lover's scalp where the hair had been ripped out.

Changmin lets out a choked sob, clutching at Yunho's arms. "I'm trying, Minnie," Yunho attempts to reassure him. "Just keep holding on, baby. I'm trying." He really can't do anything, though, can't make it stop. His own helplessness infuriates him, and he passes a darting glare around the whole room. "Just let him go, dammit! Leave him alone!"

One more vicious wrench, more hair falling to the floor. And then, just as quickly as the attack had started, it stops. Changmin's hair falls limp against his head again, and he crawls over to bury himself in Yunho's arms as he sobs. Yunho holds him close, chest heaving to catch his breath, the adrenaline slowly draining from him. He passes one hand over Changmin's head, and his fingertips come away bloody.

Sighing, Yunho knows he should move them into the bathroom, clean Changmin up and patch up what he can of Changmin's scalp. And he will, Yunho tells himself. He will. But for now, Changmin is crying and clinging, and Yunho wants nothing more than to just hold him close and safe. "I'm sorry, Minnie. I'm so sorry." For not believing you. For not being able to help you. For letting you get hurt.

Changmin cries himself back to sleep almost an hour later. Yunho lays awake, vigilant, and holds him for the rest of the night. When he finally deems it a decent hour, he grabs his cell phone and calls Yoochun. "Oh, this better be good," Yoochun growls, probably without even checking the caller ID first if Yunho knows his best friend.

"Hey, Chunnie," Yunho replies, apologetic for waking him and quiet to avoid waking Changmin. "Listen, I'm sorry to bug you on your day off, but… is there any way you can come over later? We had… an incident a few hours ago , and Min's going to need your professional skills."

Yoochun blinks as he sits up, still half-asleep but interest definitely piqued. "What kind of incident requires the skills of a hair stylist?"

There's a long enough pause on the other end of the line that Yoochun pulls his phone away to check that the call is still connected. "It's… kind of hard to explain over the phone," Yunho finally says. "I'll give you the full story when you get here, promise. Just bring over anything you'll need for a bleeding and raw scalp. Almost like open wounds in places."

"Open… Yunho! What the hell happened to Minnie?" Yoochun jumps from bed and throws on the closest pair of jeans as soon as he hears Yunho's words. He moves to his bathroom, tossing shears and combs and shampoos and scalp treatments into a bag. Yunho doesn't reply to his question, and Yoochun's stomach drops. "Yunho. Tell me you didn't…"

"God, no! Yoochun, you know me. You know I would never hurt Min."

The vehement protest soothes something in Yoochun that had clenched as soon as he heard about Changmin's injuries. "Of course, Yunho. I know. It's just, you're being so mysterious, you know? And the force needed to cause the kind of damage you're talking about… I just had to check."

Yunho nods, even if Yoochun can't see him. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess. But Yoochun, when you say the 'force needed', what are you talking about here?"

Pulling the phone away from his ear just long enough to throw on a t-shirt, Yoochun heads for the door. "Well, I mean, obviously I won't know anything for sure until I can look at him and see what I'm working with. But, from what you've said, I'm guessing his hair was ripped out, right? Probably by the roots?"

A small agreement sounds from the other end of the line. "That's pretty intense. Just try it, Yunho. Grab a handful of your own hair and pull. You'll get a few strands that break off and come out. Maybe even a few actually at the root. But to pull out big enough clumps to cause significant scalp damage and bleeding is… crazy almost. I've never seen it before."

Yunho sighs, the sound both frustrated and heartbroken in Yoochun's ear. "Listen, Yunho, I'm leaving my apartment now, okay? I'll be there in about an hour, and I'll be able to tell you more then. If he wants to wash up, tell him he can rinse with water only but to not put anything else on that head until I get there. Okay?"

"Yeah, I'll let him know when he wakes up. And thanks, Yoochun."

Yoochun scoffs, shaking his head. "Whatever. What else are best friends for? Though I will accept payment in the form of a good lunch once we're done." He grins as Yunho laughs, quiet and cautious but a laugh nonetheless. "See you soon, Yunho."

=====


They set up a hair-washing station in the kitchen, a tall stool in front of the sink and a rolled towel to cushion the counter. Yoochun uses the attached hose-and-nozzle to rinse Changmin's head with warm water to get off as much of the dried blood as he can. After that, he scrubs the hair with an extra-sensitive shampoo. "So are you two ever going to tell me what actually happened here?" he asks as he washes.

Changmin tenses under his hands, and Yunho sighs. Yoochun looks over at Yunho and continues to massage Changmin's head, hoping to get the younger man relaxed again. "Come on, guys. Give me something here," Yoochun prods when neither starts to speak. "Looks like Minnie was grabbed by his hair then just dragged around the room."

Another long pause before Yunho finally says, "He… kind of was."

Yoochun whips his head around to stare at Yunho, his hands faltering in their rhythm until Changmin makes a protesting whine, and he starts up again. "Okay, wait. What? Explain it to me. From the beginning."

Changmin closes his eyes and leans back further into the sink, almost as if trying to escape the conversation completely. After rinsing the shampoo suds out, Yoochun starts to massage in a cream conditioning ointment. "Remember that talk we had last week?" Yunho starts to explain. "About Min having trouble adjusting to the house?"

Yoochun nods, clearly recalling the exchange in his mind. "Yeah. You said he had some kind of haunted house theory or something."

"Well…" Yunho trails off, making a vague helpless gesture in Changmin's direction.

"Wait, wait. You're saying a ghost did this?"

Groaning, Yunho rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I don't know if it was a ghost, Yoochun. I don't know what it was. But it grabbed him by his hair and tried to pull him off the bed, and I couldn't do anything to help him except hold on. And even that, I think, was only because it was letting me. Like it was playing with us or something."

=====


Changmin holds his phone in one hand and the glossy business card in the other, flipping the card over and over between his fingers. Junsu had presented it to him the day before, tucking it into his pocket when he'd hesitated to take it. "They're associated with my university," Junsu told him, "so you know they're not a bunch of crazed whackos or anything. Just… call them, Min. At least talk to them and see what they can do for you."

He hasn't discussed it with Yunho yet, the only reason Changmin is still hesitating. They've both been more volatile lately, and he's not entirely sure how Yunho will react to Changmin making this call without talking it over with him first. "It's just a phone call," Changmin reminds himself. "Not like I'm signing a contract with them or anything." With one final deep breath, he punches in the phone number.

=====


"Alright, Changmin-ssi. I've got your phone number here, and I'll give you a call back in a day or so, okay? Yeah, talk to you then." Jaejoong sets his phone back onto his desk, brow creased in concerned thought. "Minho," he queries without looking over at his second-in-command, "do we have anything planned for this weekend yet?"

"Just that old farm property down south," Minho replies after a quick glance at the schedule on his desk. "It's one of those 'just for fun' things you like to take sometimes more than anything serious, though."

Nodding, Jaejoong considers his options for a long minute. "Call the owners for that one. Tell them we're sorry but we have to reschedule for a later date. I have a feeling this call I just got is way more urgent right now."

Minho pauses in his search for the farm's phone number to look up at Jaejoong. "What's going on, hyung?"

Jaejoong half shrugs, half shakes his head. "I'm not sure. Thought it was just going to be a typical haunted house thing: voices, footsteps, stuff moving around. Then this kid says he's been scratched and had hair ripped out of his head."

"That's… definitely not normal," Taemin points out from his desk.

Jaejoong stares at him for an extended moment. "Yes, Taemin," he finally replies. "I had actually managed to figure that out all on my own. Thank you. You provide a refreshing air of obvious to our cozy little office here."

With an unaffected grin, Taemin shrugs and reaches for the paper Jaejoong had been jotting notes on during the call. "Is this the address then? I can text Onew and get him started on digging up some history on the place."

Jaejoong nods. "Yeah, that's it. Let him know I want at least some basics by tomorrow afternoon before my call back to Changmin-ssi. Not sure the history will be a whole lot of help here, but at least it's a starting point."

=====


"I can't believe you would do this without even talking to me first." Yunho paces the floor in front of Changmin's seat on the couch, voice in full-on lecture mode.

Like he's scolding a small child, Changmin thinks with an inward sneer. "I didn't do anything, Yunho," he actually replies out loud. "It was just a phone call. I just wanted to talk to them, see if they could tell me anything about all this stuff going on."

"Just to talk. Right. Then imagine my surprise when I answer the phone tonight to them asking if it's okay for them to come out this weekend," Yunho bites out.

"That's kind of perfect then, isn't it?" Changmin asks, only half sarcastic. "You won't be around to get all annoyed by everything going on."

Shaking his head, Yunho pauses in his pacing to fix a glare on Changmin. "I don't want a bunch of strangers running around the house when I'm not here."

"Then stay home."

"I have that conference-"

"It's an optional trip, Yunho!" Changmin finally snaps, patience stretched thin by the long days of unexplainable events and Yunho's absence. "You told me yourself. You're not leading or even involved in any of the presentations. You just want to go so you can suck up to your boss some more."

Yunho opens his mouth to retort, but a thunderous crash from the kitchen cuts him off. They trade a look before running towards the sound, only to stop short in the doorway. Every cabinet door hangs open, and every single dish they own lays on the floor completely shattered. Changmin fights back tears, all the frustration and anger and helplessness breaking him down. Swiping at his eyes, he turns away when Yunho reaches for him. "I don't care what you do this weekend, Yunho. I really don't. But I'm calling that group back and telling them the sooner they can get here the better. I can't deal with this anymore."

=====


Yunho and Changmin hardly speak over the next few days. Changmin calls Jaejoong back the next morning and arranges for the team to come in on that Friday afternoon and stay the weekend. On Tuesday, Yunho tells his managers that he'll have to miss the conference due to an unforeseen family issue. A seed of resentment settles itself in his stomach, even as his brain tells him that it was ultimately his choice; Changmin hadn't forced the decision on him, as much as Yunho would like to blame him for it.

When they do finally start speaking again, Changmin almost wishes they hadn't. He's not even sure what they're fighting about now, not sure what had set them both off. The tension between them had simmered under the surface for the last couple days since Yunho had canceled his conference plans. And now, the day before the investigation team is set to arrive, all the pent-up negativity boils over.

They're both in it just to hurt the other right now, Changmin realizes. Neither tries to make a point or prove the other wrong; they just want it to hurt. And it really does hurt, he thinks. Every pointed barb that flies from his mouth just to tear Yunho down rips a piece of himself away. Changmin hates every second of it, but he can't seem to make himself stop.

And then he says something, and he knows it crosses a line. Even as the words leave his lips, Changmin wishes to snatch them back. Before he gets the chance to do anything, though, his head whips to the side as a burning pain crawls up the side of his face. He turns back slowly, and Yunho's hand still hovers in the air as if preparing to hit him again.

Yunho clenches his hand and forces it back to his side as he stares into Changmin's wide, shocked eyes. No pain in them, not yet, but Changmin's cheek is already darkening into a deep red Yunho knows will bruise. And only then does the fact finally sink in that he's just hit Changmin. "Oh, god, Min…" He reaches out, but Changmin jerks away from his touch and backs away. "Min, wait, please. You know I didn't-"

But Changmin ignores the words, turns his back and runs up the stairs. From the direction his footsteps take, Yunho knows he runs into his office instead of their bedroom. Yunho debates just curling up in the hall, the force of his shame pressing down on him so heavily, but in the end, he drags himself up the stairs and turns into the empty bedroom. Without changing out of his clothes, he flops onto the bed and drifts into a restless sleep.

=====


Yunho wakes to Taepoong standing at the foot of the bed and growling in the direction of the door. Rubbing his eyes, Yunho sits up in the bed and tries to see what set the dog off, but nothing seems out of place. And Taepoong doesn't relax, no matter what Yunho tries. Then, as if the animal had been waiting for it, a terrified scream rips through the house.

Yunho's eyes widen. "Changmin," he breathes out as he jumps from the bed. Within seconds, he's out of the bedroom and standing in front of Changmin's office. He tries to open the door, but it's locked. Another scream pours from the room. "Changmin?" Yunho shouts as he pounds on the door. "Changmin, let me in! Please, baby. What's wrong?"

Changmin lets out a choked sob and a panicked, "Y-Yunho! Yunho, help me!" Yunho throws himself against the door over and over again, determined to break it down if nothing else to get to Changmin. The door hardly moves, though. Changmin lets out one more yell, and the room falls silent. With an audible click, the doorknob unlocks and turns. Yunho shoves it open then runs into the room.

Knees drawn up to his chest, Changmin huddles in the corner between his desk and the wall. The blankets he'd been sleeping with lay in a messy pile in the opposite corner, as if they'd been tossed across the room. Yunho kneels down next to Changmin on the floor, gathering the trembling figure into his arms. Changmin clings to him, crying quietly.

Smoothing the sweaty hair from Changmin's forehead, Yunho attempts to calm him. "It's okay, Min. I'm here now. You're okay," he murmurs.

As Changmin slowly begins to calm down, Yunho picks him up and carries him into their bedroom. He still has no idea what actually happened, but Yunho knows neither one of them wants to stay in that room any longer. Only when he has Changmin settled into the bed, both Taepoong and Mangdoongie curled at the foot, does Yunho ask the question. "Min, what in the world happened in there?"

Closing his eyes as he burrows deeper into the blankets, Changmin takes a deep breath before starting. "I was just laying there, couldn't fall asleep. And then… I don't know. My blankets just flew across the room, like they'd been ripped off. I- I tried to get up. To leave. I wanted to come back in here. But there was something… It was holding me down. I couldn't move. And then… then it started to- to touch me. My chest and my stomach and my legs." He fights back a sob at the memory, pausing for a second to collect himself. "And then I could feel it start pulling on my pants. That's when I finally managed to start yelling."

"You never locked the door."

Changmin shakes his head. "I heard you, and I tried to get up. But I couldn't move, no matter what I did. Then it was just… gone. I curled up in the corner, knew it wouldn't let me come to you. And then I heard the door open, and you were there, and… God, I was so scared, Yunho. I mean, it's scary when it's pulling my hair and scratching me and stuff, but for it to do that…" He trails off, the thought alone churning his stomach.

Pulling Changmin tight against him, Yunho presses a kiss to his forehead. He can't even imagine what he would do if this… whatever had actually followed through with what was obviously a very clear threat to Changmin. A show of power, really. Because it could take whatever it wanted from Changmin, and Yunho would be completely helpless to stop it. It's playing with them at this point; the fact swells the anger already clenching at Yunho's chest.

=====


They spend the morning quietly, curled together on the couch. For lunch, they drive into the city and treat themselves to a nice meal at their favorite western-style restaurant. They normally prefer to spend Yunho's days off at home together, but both of them welcome the excuse to get out of that house for a little while. By the time they get back, they have less than an hour before the research team is set to arrive.

A knock sounds on the door half an hour later and 10 minutes early. Changmin practically races to answer it, Yunho not far behind. After flinging open the door, Changmin pauses and stares at the man on the other side. If it weren't for all the equipment being unloaded from the two big vans on the street, Changmin would be certain they'd been set up. The man who introduces himself as Kim Jaejoong looks like he belongs on a runway in Europe, not in haunted houses.

Jaejoong's first thought is that he's just walked his team into something far bigger then he'd prepared for. The purpling bruise on Changmin's face and the haggard, harassed near-panic in both men's eyes tells him this isn't going to be any normal haunting. "Before we do anything else, why don't you two take me on a tour of the house and explain what's been going on?" he suggests.

He pulls out his notebook and pen as Changmin starts right away, there in the entrance hall, with Yunho's disappearing and reappearing keys. They then move through the rest of the house: drawers opening and closing in the kitchen, voices in the dining room, being scratched in the living room. When they head upstairs and Changmin describes all the attacks up there, including the most recent one the previous night, the bad feeling in Jaejoong's gut solidifies into a heavy mass. "Beyond the moving keys, has Yunho been the focus of any other incidents?"

The two men trade a look before shaking their heads. "I honestly didn't even believe Changmin at first since nothing ever happened while I was here," Yunho explains. "And even the key thing I could kind of brush off. But… it's kind of hard to keep denying it while something's ripping the hair out of his head."

Changmin cringes at the memory, and Jaejoong mentally winces in sympathy. "Okay, and in all these events, you've reported hearing things and being touched or attacked. Seen things moving. But have you ever actually seen anything behind them? Apparitions or masses or even just shadows you couldn't explain?"

They both shake their heads again, and Changmin's stoic mask starts to crack to show the pure fear underneath. "Is- is that bad? Should we have seen something?" he asks, voice shaking. Jaejoong almost thinks he may fall apart completely; then, Yunho takes his hand. Changmin grips it like a lifeline, takes a deep breath, and shakes away the rising panic.

Jaejoong smiles inwardly at the display and attempts to reassure the younger man. "It's not bad, Changmin. It's not really anything one way or the other. I just wanted to make sure I knew exactly what we were dealing with so we could get our equipment set in the right spots."

Leaning lightly into Yunho's embrace, Changmin flashes Jaejoong a grateful smile. "Sorry. I'm not usually the freak-out type, but… we've just been a little bit on-edge lately," he explains. "It feels like I'm just jumping at everything now. So I'm really glad you're all here. If nothing else, I know I'm not going crazy now."

=====


The team took about an hour to set up all the cameras and other recording devices, using the notes Jaejoong had taken during the walk-through as a guide. After that, they'd split up into pairs and divvied up the tasks they wanted to complete that night. Changmin and Yunho had then headed up into their bedroom, both to stay out of the team's way and to hopefully catch up on some rest.

Jaejoong watches the bank of screens they set up in the living room, cameras covering as much of the house as possible. He can see Minho and Taemin in the office upstairs, conducting an EVP session from what he can tell by looking at them. Onew and Key have an EMF meter in the kitchen, checking for any abnormalities there.

Jonghyun lets out a light snore from the seat next to him, and Jaejoong rolls his eyes. As soon as the other two pairs are done, they'll be doing a floor-to-ceiling sweep of the house with the thermal cam. Might as well let the kid catch a quick nap while they wait.

Jaejoong takes a moment to watch Yunho and Changmin asleep in their bedroom. He's supposed to wake them when he does the thermal scan so he can get their room, too, but he's not sure he'll have the heart. Sleeping, all the tension and anxiety has drained from Changmin's face and leaves him looking years younger. Now, Jaejoong can tell he's right around Onew's age, possibly just slightly older.

Key's voice over the walkies breaks him from his thoughts. "Hyung, is anyone walking around out there right now?"

Taking a second to check that Minho and Taemin are still stationary, Jaejoong replies, "Nope. Min and Min are upstairs, but they're not moving. And the homeowners are asleep."

"Well, we're hearing footsteps in the hall. Heavy ones," Onew reports.

Jaejoong blinks, leaning to the side to look around the monitors into the hall. Nothing. "Guys, I don't know what you're hearing, but there's no one even in the hall. I'm looking at it right now. And I certainly don't hear anything."

A long silence, then Key's voice comes back. "Then… what are we hearing? Because, seriously, it sounds like someone's stomping around right outside the kitchen door into the hallway."

Staring blankly into the emptiness in the hall, Jaejoong runs over the possibilities in his head. None of them appeal to him, but it's really still too early in the investigation to draw any solid conclusions. "Just make a note of it, time and location. We'll make sure to listen for it when we're reviewing all the footage tomorrow. Maybe the DVR in there is picking up something we're not getting out here."

The two acknowledge the order, and the walkies go quiet again. Jaejoong resumes his vigil at the monitors, making sure the rest of the house stays just as peaceful as he'd left it. The silence doesn't last long. As Jaejoong watches, Changmin starts to toss around in the bed. He thinks it may just be a nightmare at first, but then Changmin's eyes shoot wide open. Changmin clutches his throat, clawing at something Jaejoong can't see.

The thrashing wakes Yunho; he sits up in the bed then turns to look down at Changmin. As soon as he does, his eyes widen. His hands hover over Changmin's at the younger man's throat, but he's obviously at a loss for how to help. Jumping from his chair, Jaejoong heads for the stairs just as Yunho yells, "Someone help him! He can't breathe!"

Jaejoong takes the steps two at a time, sees Minho and Taemin pass the landing as they run across the hall. He gets to the bedroom and pauses behind the other two members of his team, just inside the bedroom door. Gasping and wheezing, Changmin scratches at his throat; Jaejoong can almost imagine he's having some kind of panic or asthma attack. Almost, but not quite.

When Changmin's hands fall away, they can all see the deep impressions of long fingers digging into his neck, dark bruises already forming around them. Yunho turns from Changmin to look at the three standing near the door, eyes panicked and pleading.

Changmin's eyes start to flutter as he struggles less and less. Jaejoong pushes his way between Minho and Taemin to stand in the middle of the room. "Whoever or whatever you are, this is no longer your house," he announces into the air. "You don't belong here, and they don't want you here. Let him go, and get out."

A low, growling chuckle echoes through the room, and Changmin sucks in a raspy breath. He releases a few rough coughs as Yunho pulls him up into a tight hug, murmuring softly in his ear. Jaejoong turns away to let them have their moment. "It's cold in here," Taemin whispers when Jaejoong faces them, holding up the digital thermometer.

"What's your reading?" Jaejoong asks, stepping closer to keep the conversation from interrupting Yunho and Changmin.

"It was 9.4 when we first walked in, but it's up to 14 now. Started rising when Changmin-ssi took that first big breath," Taemin replies.

"And the rest of the house?"

Minho glances at his notebook before answering. "All the rooms we've documented so far have been in the 23 to 24 range."

Jaejoong takes a minute to process the information, sorting then mentally filing it away. "Alright. Make sure you guys have this down in your notes. How about your work in the office? Were you just about done in there?"

"Yeah," Taemin answers with a nod. "We were just wrapping up the EVP when we heard Yunho yell."

"Why don't you guys head downstairs, then?" Jaejoong suggests. "Have Key and Onew wrap up what they're doing in the kitchen, then wake up Jonghyun if he managed to sleep through all that. Chill out in the living room for a little while." He hesitates, and the other two just look at him. "Don't go anywhere alone. That laugh before Changmin was released was not friendly, and I think it'll look for opportunities to run us out of here. Stick to pairs at the very least, even if you're just going to the bathroom."

Both boys nod before turning and heading out the door. Jaejoong listens to their footsteps fade down the stairs before turning to face Yunho and Changmin still on the bed. They watch with weary eyes as he settles into the plush chair in the corner of the room. Taking the chance to observe Changmin's battered and bruised form, exhaustion in every line of the younger man's face, Jaejoong sighs. "I think I may have a better idea what we're up against now."

Expectation and a glimmer of hope surface in their eyes as they continue to look at him. "So… what's going on? What have you figured out?" Yunho prompts, Changmin sinking further into his embrace. Yunho absent-mindedly runs his fingers through the other's hair without taking his eyes from Jaejoong.

"From everything you told me earlier and everything we've seen and heard tonight," Jaejoong starts, "this isn't just a regular ghost. Now, keep in mind that this is mostly theory right now, but I'm thinking this thing in your house is a lot darker than that. Possibly demonic."

Changmin's eyes slip shut in tired resignation. Yunho gasps, staring for a long moment before stuttering out, "D-demonic?"

"You've been fighting a lot, right?" Jaejoong points out, a statement in the form of a question. "More than usual. And probably more… heatedly also."

Yunho and Changmin exchange a look, but Jaejoong's dark eyes leave no room for disagreement. "Yeah, we have. We never really fought much at all before all this started happening. But we just figured with everything going on…"

"That it's only natural, of course," Jaejoong finishes. "Added stress that neither of you really knows how to deal with, so obviously your tempers would be a bit shorter." They both nod in agreement, and Jaejoong smiles his understanding. "First thing you have to know, guys. This thing in your house? It feeds off all that: the fear and anger and every other negative emotion you two have been experiencing over the last couple months. It all only makes this thing stronger. That's where it's getting all its power from."

Sighing, Changmin finally opens his eyes again. "So… it's our fault? We've been making all this happen?" he asks.

Jaejoong shakes his head, leaning across the gap between the chair and the bed to lay a comforting hand on Changmin's knee. "No, not at all, Changmin. But this entity has the ability to… help exaggerate all those emotions, bring out all that negativity. And, in turn, it feeds from it. So what would have once just been a minor annoyance to you guys suddenly becomes a huge fight."

"Then what do we do about it?" Yunho finally speaks, tightening his hand around Changmin's. "How do we make that stop?"'

"Well, I generally suggest couples counseling to my clients," Jaejoong replies with a small smile. "But really, anywhere that you guys can go, get it all out of your systems far away from the house. That way, you can come back and present a strong, united front. It won't completely get rid of all the fear, considering what's going on here, but it will certainly help a lot."

Both Changmin and Yunho go over the possibility in their heads, Yunho already running through the list of couples counselors he's heard some of his coworkers mentioning. "That won't stop it, though, right?" Changmin asks. "You said that it won't stop all of the fear, which means there will still be things going on to be afraid of."

Jaejoong nods. "You're right. It will be a step in the right direction, but it certainly won't cure the whole problem. Next step after that would be to get someone in here to bless the house, whatever religion you two feel comfortable with. From what I've seen, the denomination doesn't matter, just the faith in it. Every religion has some form of a house blessing, so you just need to pick the one that works for you."

The two exchange a look this time, a silent conversation running between them. After a minute, they look back to Jaejoong with a small nod from each of them. "Alright," Yunho says. "And after that?"

"After that… we'll see where we are," Jaejoong tells them. "Decide from there what, if anything, we'll need to do."

=====

PART 2
Tags: *fic contest 2010
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