Wooyoung wakes on his knees, chained and dripping in angel’s blood. He can’t see where he is – he certainly isn’t in his bedroom anymore, and there is a distinct lack of warmth that he’s grown used to falling asleep with over the past months. There’s breathing.
His, he thinks. Someone is whispering.
He can’t see who it is, his movements limited severely by the heavy steel chains slung from the unseen ceiling and twined thickly around his arms. They weigh him against the cuffs that keep his wrists suspended and apart, and yes, his breathing is coming a little quicker now, the beginnings of fear tinging his thoughts. The chains are cold, but his hands are warm. Wet.
His limp fingers drip with ichor, as though someone dipped his fingers in gold before trussing him up. Hazy, he watches the rivulets now run down his wrist, soaking into the delicate sleeves of his tunic.
His night shirt.
He must have been taken then, he reasons, but he has no memory of it. He suspects that the throbbing in the back of his head is responsible for that.
Wooyoung shifts his knees marginally closer and tries to straighten, only to whimper at the pain that flares along his suspended arms.
How long has he—
“You’ll want to be careful not to move too much,” says a voice. “You’ve been asleep for quite some time, and I wouldn’t want you to call our guests too early.”
Wooyoung lifts his head, again trying to pinpoint the voice through the darkness. Blood-matted strands of hair frame his periphery – his own blood this time, perhaps – but beyond that he can see that he is in a small dark room, empty save for the two lanterns to his left and his right. They provide just enough light for him to recognize the floor – wooden, dark, like the floors of his manor – and the striking crimson markings sprawled all over it.
Wooyoung knows an angel’s cage when he sees one. It is the most complex one he has ever seen anyone attempt, and the precision with which it has been painted suggests that this summoner in particular has had years of experience. Wooyoung recognizes each angelic sigil from his studies, from the outer to the innermost: silencing, protecting, summoning, warding, grounding.
One of them, comprised of two sharp lines that curve north to west and east to south to form a four-pointed star, is Seonghwa’s sigil.
Wooyoung jerks, instinctively trying to reach for the amulet that always hangs home around his neck, but the chains rattle and hold him fast. He can’t feel it, he realizes, his heart crawling up to his throat. Someone’s taken it. Someone’s—
“Ah, you’ve figured out who our guests will be, I assume.” The same voice comes, only more amused than before. Guests?
Past the dull thudthudthud of his heart, Wooyoung hears soft footsteps. The striking of matches.
Gradually, the room lightens with a hazy glow as the unseen voice lights candles around the room.
Wooyoung startles at the sight of two figures hunched in one of the corners of the room. One of them is slumped against the other, who has an arm curled over his shoulder, pressing them close together. The second man’s eyes are trained on him: dark and indiscernible from where Wooyoung kneels, but Wooyoung imagines there is contempt there, if the protective way he holds the angel is any hint why.
The angel’s hand is bundled with cloth, his eyes shut. A staccato trail of ichor connects him to a bowl that sits along the innermost arc of silencing sigils, and Wooyoung feels a little sicker now about the blood dripping from his hands.
Seconds later, a pair of leather boots comes into view, leading up to an imposing figure in dark, clean-cut clothing. He is no noble, despite the gold and silver that hang from his long coat. The savage edge to his smile tells Wooyoung that.
“You woke up just in time,” his captor coos, stepping carefully over the painted sigils and kneeling before him. Wooyoung instinctively flinches, but he doesn’t have very far to go, and he opts to stay still as the man’s warm hand ghosts over his cheek.
His captor is beautiful, is the truth, someone who might have once caught his eye across a long dining hall or perhaps even a ballroom, but it’s likely not the best time to be considering that. The man’s eyes are striking, accentuated by small silver studs at the end of his brow, and they remind Wooyoung of the mischievous fae that starred in so many tales of his childhood. When he crouches in front of Wooyoung, careful not to disrupt any of the sigils, Wooyoung can see his face quite clearly.
Someone who cares little about who knows his identity, Wooyoung thinks faintly, or perhaps someone who wants his identity known.
Or someone who is confident they will have no witness in the end, Seonghwa’s voice cautions in the back of his thoughts.
“My parents are dead,” Wooyoung rasps, “and I haven’t heard from my brother in years. If you wanted ransom, you should have just taken the money when you were in my home, not…” He winces, tugging gingerly on his chains once more before easing the strain on his arms again.
“But I’m not after your money,” says his captor, more kindly that Wooyoung would like, and Wooyoung would scoff if it was the mention of his parents that sparked it. “I think we both know that, Wooyoung.” He stands.
“I think you’re making a mistake.” Wooyoung tries to move without thinking, only to be yanked back by the chains with yet another jolt of pain. He hisses. “No- No one needs to be hurt. You can leave with—” He glances at the other two, “—with the others, and I’ll wait. I’ll wait before breaking the circle.” The fear of someone getting hurt urges him to plead, “Please.”
His captor does hesitate, but it’s not sympathy in his eyes. It’s disdain. Incredulity, as if he can’t believe Wooyoung would ask for such a thing. “I only want what you’ve taken from me.” He stands, shaking his head.
Wooyoung watches his every movement, the pain growing distant as he steps to his left, the tip of his shoe pointed to Seonghwa’s sigil.
“On the day of the summer solstice,” his captor murmurs, “I summoned four angels. A cardinal guardian of the north.” A step from Seonghwa’s, he pauses by another sigil, another that Wooyoung wishes he didn’t recognize. “A cardinal guardian of the west.” A sharp line downright that arcs into a half moon before twining left: San’s. “A cardinal guardian of the south.” A line that rises into a high sun: Jongho’s.
Realization settles, cold and quiet, in Wooyoung’s chest.
“Yet it was only a cardinal guardian of the east who found me.” His captor clicks his tongue, closing in on Wooyoung again. “See? See what he was willing to sacrifice to find the others of his kind.” He takes Wooyoung’s chin between his fingers and guides him to look at the figures in the corner again. “Now, I don’t know who you think you are,” his grip suddenly tightens, startling a small noise from Wooyoung, and his eyes are bright with something malicious, “how you captured those angels, or in what ways you’ve corrupted them, but I can promise you that it will be nothing compared to what I will—”
“Hongjoong,” one of the figures speaks up quietly, but warningly, “you promised Yunho you wouldn’t hurt him.”
His captor – Hongjoong, Wooyoung will remember that – laxens his hand. “I did.” He sounds remorseful. Wooyoung’s not sure about which part. “Just finishing up the final touches, darling.” His lips curve into a smile as he reaches behind him, and a moment later there’s a thumb sweeping warm and wet over Wooyoung’s bottom lip. Then Hongjoong pulls out a familiar amulet from his breast pocket.
“Angels can’t stand the blood of other angels,” he explains kindly, dipping Wooyoung’s mother’s amulet in gold before lowering it around Wooyoung’s neck. “They can sense every impurity that the angel has absolved, all the suffering the angel has witnessed and taken for their own, all within a single drop of ichor. They can be weakened in this way. Yunho tells me that some angels have even died when doused in the blood of their kind. Did you know that?”
Wooyoung feels the pendant come to rest against his sternum, unnaturally warm.
“There,” Hongjoong hums, easing back. His gaze rakes over Wooyoung like a sculptor admiring his work. “Stunning. Isn’t he, Mingi?” He doesn’t receive an answer from ‘Mingi,’ who Wooyoung presumes is the second figure in the corner.
Unfazed, Hongjoong straightens and picks his way out of the circle.
“Now,” he declares, smiling, “let's open the doors, hm?”
He approaches the outermost ring of silencing sigils. It has rendered them undetectable to angels thus far, guaranteeing that one would not be able to find them until Hongjoong was ready— until now.
Hongjoong scrapes the toe of his boot over the line.
The circle breaks.
It’s not Seonghwa who comes first, but San, arriving so quickly that Wooyoung is rocked backwards precariously by the ripple of space. San catches him with a hand on his shoulder and another on his cheek, tugging him back forward and into the circle of his arms. “Wooyoung.” San’s eyes are dark and bright all at once, dancing with emotions that Wooyoung knows are bubbling dangerously beneath their surface, and he gives no warning before he’s on Wooyoung. San kisses the way he feels, and San kisses him with fury.
“Stop,” Wooyoung breathes, breaking away and desperately trying to pull back despite his chains and despite every fiber of him that sings for San, that aches with missing him. He wishes one of the others had come. No, he wishes none of them had come at all. “Don’t— Don’t touch me.”
San’s eyes flash. Hurt blooms over his face, overshadowing the rest of his anger and worry. “Wooyoung, what do you—”
His hand sweeps along Wooyoung’s cheek, and Wooyoung’s heart sinks because he sees the moment San finally recognizes the taste of ichor. San freezes and his expression shutters, his eyes still trained on Wooyoung but rapidly growing distant, so distant—
“San, don’t.” Wooyoung uses every bit of slack that his chains afford him so he can lean towards San. He hisses in frustration when he can’t get close enough to force the other to look at him, and he can only call for him, “San, come back. Come back to me.”
To his relief, it’s enough. San flinches, his hand falling from Wooyoung’s cheek as color floods back into his eyes.
He looks at his bloodstained hand with a silent, terrifying wonder.
He looks at Wooyoung, and for a moment, Wooyoung is afraid he wasn’t enough after all.
But then there is another shift in the air, and a second familiar voice says calmly, “San. Let me see him.”
Wooyoung nearly weeps in relief at the sound of Seonghwa, straining against his chains again. Seonghwa will make things right. Wooyoung doesn’t want anyone hurt, he just wants to go back home, and Seonghwa has always been the one to point them there.
“S’angel’s blood,” Wooyoung rasps, hoping his urgency will get through to him if not San. “Seonghwa, it’s not safe here, we have to leave.”
Seonghwa brings him in instead, hand warm on the back of Wooyoung’s neck and pressing their foreheads together. “Calm,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss to the freckle beneath Wooyoung’s eye, “you don’t have to be afraid,” and this time Wooyoung almost cries because he knows there’s ichor there too, and it’s getting all on them, and why aren’t they— “Hold still for us,” Seonghwa hushes.
Wooyoung feels the chains sway, but not from him, and he looks up and sees that Jongho has come too. He’s standing by Wooyoung’s side, face tightly schooled into neutrality as he closes his hands around the chains and sears them with fire. Wooyoung’s left arm is freed soon, and he whimpers at the soreness as Jongho begins helping him lower it. “Hurts,” he says thickly.
“I know.” Jongho’s gaze turns to him, softened. “Almost done.”
“Thank you,” Wooyoung whispers to their youngest, catching his hand briefly and squeezing it. He’s faintly aware of his own trembling. Jongho must feel it too; he presses a soft kiss to the inside of Wooyoung’s wrist before guiding his arm to rest over San’s shoulder, who braces him wordlessly.
“How long have you been here?” Seonghwa asks, gentle but firm.
“I don’t know,” Wooyoung answers honestly, ignoring the weight of San’s gaze on him. “I can't remember, just— I want to go home.”
Keep their attention on him. Keep them from noticing the marks on the floor, keep them from noticing the other eyes in that room watching them.
“He’s kept him here for days.”
Wooyoung has never felt such palpable relief and fear all at once.
Yeosang has come too.
Wooyoung glimpses him past Seonghwa and San: standing before the edge of the grounding circle, lined with sigils potent enough to strip even the strongest angels of their powers. Yeosang isn’t facing them – facing Hongjoong, perhaps, or the others in the corner, or perhaps they’ve all gathered to watch the four of them in the circle now – but the lines of his shoulders are relaxed.
“He drew the silencing circle first,” Yeosang continues. His voice is the sound of a hundred. A thousand. “Then he chained him. Then he drew the rest. And he's been waiting since.”
Jongho burns through the last of the chains. San presses kisses to Wooyoung’s hair as he guides Wooyoung’s other arm around him too, and Wooyoung is too exhausted to insist he doesn’t need his help.
In the corner of his eye, he sees Seonghwa stand to full height. “San. Yeosang. Take Wooyoung home.” It’s rare that he commands them like this, leaving no room for argument.
“This is an angel’s cage,” Yeosang says, not turning.
“And none of us belong in it.” Seonghwa’s voice tightens. “Yeosang.”
Finally, Yeosang moves, and Wooyoung shifts on worn knees to welcome him when he kneels by him and San.
I told you. Yeosang’s voice is furious, crowding the edges of Wooyoung’s mind as he reaches for one of his hands. I told you not to leave the manor without telling us. I told you it wasn’t safe.
“Amazing.” Hongjoong’s thin voice cuts through the silence. Without Yeosang there, Wooyoung has a clear view of his captor pacing the outside of the circle in excitement. “Ah, ah,” he warns when Seonghwa steps close to the edge, “one foot outside, and you’ll burn. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to be safe.”
Seonghwa’s posture stiffens. The air dips into a chill. “Who else knows about us?” His voice is diplomatic, but Wooyoung knows that that is no promise of mercy.
“No one else but us here.” Hongjoong looks almost affronted. Wooyoung can see now that Seonghwa towers over the other man, but Hongjoong doesn’t seem intimidated at all. “Truthfully, he,” he tips his head towards Wooyoung, “is already one too many. It should have been just me from the beginning.”
“And,” Seonghwa drawls, “who do you think you are?”
Hongjoong comes to a stop in front of him. “I was - am - your summoner. Your true summoner.”
Wooyoung feels a sudden anger swell within him, before he realizes it’s Yeosang bleeding into their bond— “Don’t,” he mumbles, grasping weakly for Yeosang’s sleeve. “Not worth it.”
“Amazing,” Hongjoong says again, laughing in delight at the exchange. “He has you— I didn't think he would, but he has all of you. You, however—” His eyes are fixed on Yeosang, and Wooyoung feels a flare of protectiveness. He doesn’t want Hongjoong looking at Yeosang that way, at any of them that way. “There should only be three of you. You don’t belong, do you?”
What happens next happens too quickly: Wooyoung’s hand is suddenly empty and Yeosang is on his feet and out of the circle, past every ring and every sigil. An invisible force seems to move with him, driving Hongjoong across the room and slamming him up the wall, and with a single snap of Yeosang’s arm he’s driven halfway up to the ceiling, gasping around an unseen grip around his neck.
“Don’t,” Yeosang seethes, “you ever—”
“Hongjoong!” The one named Mingi shouts in alarm, at the same time Seonghwa barks, “Yeosang!”, and then Seonghwa is out of the circle too, striding towards Yeosang. Mingi doesn’t take long to react too, rushing to intercept Seonghwa, and Wooyoung feels San’s grip around him tighten with how badly he’s thrumming to join, senses still heightened by the lingering taste of angel’s blood.
“Jongho,” Wooyoung utters, ignoring the scream of his muscles when he grabs Jongho’s hand between his, “take us all home,” and he knows Jongho’s powers always take a toll on him, but Yeosang isn’t relenting and Hongjoong is wearing the face of a man who thinks he’s going to die and Wooyoung’s goddamn terrified that he is, and he knows it will haunt them all if he lets it happen. “Jongho, please,” he begs, over the growing chaos of the room, over the voices, the voices and voices and voices.
Jongho meets his gaze.
The youngest squeezes his hand and nods, barely perceptible. He lets go of Wooyoung’s hand to smooth his palm over the floor.
He closes his eyes, and Wooyoung closes his eyes with him, and then—
The room is quiet. The cage is empty.
They leave nothing behind but the faintest scent of sulfur.