The river mirrors the sky, a series of navy starlit ripples glimmering back and forth as Chanyeol moors his boat. With a rugged arm, he aims the looped rope around the pier anchor, drawing himself closer to the shore. Beside him, the lamppost casts an otherworldly cerulean haze across the wooden planks, washing them with a cool hue that births an air of calm. All is still, quiet, yet there are sylphlike figures gliding effortlessly through the vast trees, moving as if their feet never do quite touch ground. Just seeing them makes Chanyeol’s heart hasten, for it means his love is near.
He has been gone from this place for too long, though a ranger must do his duties diligently and punctually, or so his old master had once told him. For over a year, he has been riding the north, keeping quarrelling kingdoms at peace through negotiation and, regrettably, sometimes force. In truth, it has aged him; he feels like his bones are now brittle, his strength waning. The raging men of the earth have blighted his youth.
Yet here, time is at a standstill.
As his sturdy leather boots plod along the wooden planks of the dock, he gazes up through the colossal milky trees and beholds the sight of a million stars glowing among the canopy. This place never ceases to astonish him, to truly rob his lungs of breath until he is scrambling to hold onto even a gasp.
Magic and flame are the only sources of light, save for the moon. Glowing crystals illuminate the walkways that spiral up the mighty trees and the lithe huts which rest on the thickest branches. Elven architecture is one of swirls and curves, every structure fused into the ground or the sky as if it grew in tandem with the nature surrounding it. In the cloak of darkness, Chanyeol’s vision is consumed by the gleaming snowy embers shaped into orbs, hanging in intricately designed glass spheres that are born from the buildings.
Despite the endless paths and properties that would leave a wanderer lost, Chanyeol knows precisely where he is going. He strides through the mammoth roots, neck craned with rejuvenated will to perceive the climb that awaits. His desired set of stairs lies towards the middle of the forest, where the most powerful and ancient of the elves live and breathe – and, from his own experience, the most beautiful.
His love is a dazzling beacon with silken black hair that runs down to his hips and a petite body carved from the finest diamonds mined by dwarves; on his face, a smile so remarkable that many an elf has fallen at his feet, professing their undying devotion. One could say he is the gem of the elves, the finest treasure that every species seeks and longs for, and yet Chanyeol, a haggard, heavy-handed ranger from the north, is the one he has fallen in love with.
Their worlds could not be further apart, in truth. Chanyeol is a mortal man; his skin will wither and age, his mind will grow to fail him the greyer his hair comes to be. Weakness shall prevail. His love, however, will live until the earth’s dying day. His flesh shall never wrinkle and his knowledge will only broaden, his soft locks remaining as glossy as they were on the day he was born, over two-thousand years ago. So Chanyeol will die, and the man he shares hearts with will go on alone, to face the end without a hand to hold. Though it is a grim prospect, Chanyeol knows that nothing he can do will grant them an escape.
Elves bow their heads to him out of respect as he passes. They meander through the trees in iridescent white robes, the silver woven into the layers catching in the moonlight. With every step, their dress lingers in the air around them, their hair floating almost as if they are underwater. Chanyeol recalls his first visit, remembering how he had been overwhelmed by their flawless beauty. Their wounds always clear and no blemish mars their skin; they seldom even have a hair out of place. Of course, their grace now pales in comparison to a creature infinite times more breathtaking. For where a regular elven being appears dull to him, his love shines with the splendour of a glacial sun.
He first encountered his love five years ago when he had breached the borders of the forest, an injured man yelling for help. Irate soldiers from the north had come to harm him with a vengeance, their motive, displeasure, with how he had handled a certain compromise between their kingdom and the next. They had brought knives and daggers, a bloodthirsty malice smouldering in their eyes, and they had stabbed at his stomach without a tinge of hesitation. If it were not for his own horse pummelling his attackers with its tough hooves, he would not have made it out alive.
He had crawled across the dewy moss and the long grass, clutching his bleeding wounds with one hand while his other grappled for purchase on the brush, casting a trail of red behind him. The elves are known as expert healers, and his love’s grandfather remains unbeaten to this day.
In the days that succeeded, he had been cared for and catered for, his feelings for a particular elf beginning to grow and grow with each passing dose of medicine. Although he had the appearance of a boy, his love had been a hundred lifetimes older than he. It came as a surprise to learn that in all those years, the elf had never been wed, never taken a wife or a husband, never loved another. It made Chanyeol, a rugged solider usually deemed unworthy and replaceable, feel like he stood a chance. The elf, no matter how preposterous it would be, could be his.
He seized that chance; he scampered after it like a starved dog until it was safe in his vice-like claws, never to be lost to another man who may come along one day in need of help, just like he had done. The star is his now. For an infinite forevermore.
His feet start to take him up the staircase, steps shallow and curved, formed from the natural wood around them. The arched roof guiding him up is supported by lissom columns, winding and spreading out towards the base to resemble the roots of trees, the very ends dripping down past the stairwell, as if melting. Above his head, the same glass spheres house glistening chalky flames, the light constant and soft. This place is the epitome of peace, harmony, tranquillity, the elegance unrivalled all across the earth. No kingdom is as winsome or as heavenly as this.
Around him, other elves are ambling up and down spiral staircases, some in groups and some alone. They are a species that rarely talk to one another, as some are so deeply connected that they need barely think their thoughts to enunciate them. Having co-existed for thousands of years, it is a wonder they have not forgotten what their voices sound like at all.
With the arctic blue brilliance twinkling beneath him, Chanyeol crosses an arcing bridge towards another tree, the railings crafted like the tendrils of plant stems, coiling and twisting in decorous patterns that intertwine and envelop his walkway. Despite his aching legs and his sore muscles, he feels calm here – like all he would have to do to drift off to sleep would be close his eyes, perhaps blink. Dreams in this place have been known to, on occasion, prophesise the future, and Chanyeol thinks back to the date of his third stay, three years ago, when he had been told his love would select him above all others.
“I want no other, my darling. I long only for you.”
By now, the subject of his ever-growing affections will know that he has arrived. Chanyeol ponders his current state; has he just been playing the harp? Or reading, even though he has read all the books in this land a hundred times over? Perhaps he had been stargazing, admiring his brothers and sisters in the skies. And soon they will be reunited after thirteen moons spent apart, a long overdue celebration.
It takes another couple of tedious minutes before he stands on a platform, eyes trailing up the magnificent structure of an elven edifice, sculpted from drooping roofs with sleek spindle supports embedded into the thick branches of the towering trees. It is tall and slender, elongated as if the earth is dragging it down towards the lichen and moss, and inside blazes a delicate array of white and azure lights. Steps lead up to the front door, taking Chanyeol further towards the canopy than he already is, what with him being a hundred feet away from the ground.
The entrance hall floor is chiselled so finely from wood that it is completely smooth. Lines of pillars make walls obsolete, the forest on both his left and right even though he is inside with a roof over his head. Another flight of steps lies before him, and stood at the top is his wonder.
His lustrous hair is parted into three sections, one coursing down his back and two others pulled forward over his chest, tucked tidily behind his quaint, pointed ears. Glorious ivory silk caresses his svelte body, cascading in delicate layers of varied colours and opacities over his curves. Just as Chanyeol remembers, his skin is glowing, almost as pale as the ornate gown he adorns, with a moon-like luminescent sheen to it. Piercing eyes of icy lapis lazuli bore down on him, a pair of dark eyebrows framing their lids with a faint arch. His face is slim and pointed, proportionate to the size of Chanyeol’s calloused hands which begin to tingle in excitement.
Feet paused at the bottom step, Chanyeol is caught in awe at the perfection of his love like a man with his legs entombed in a swamp. His heart flourishes at the sight, pounding vibrantly and healthily; it soars over the treetops and high above the moon, only coming to a halt when it is by the side of the star it has been parted from. He feels his breath depart him, shoulders relaxing into a rewarding slouch which allows every tense muscle in his back to go lax. The trying journey has all been worth it now that he has this spectacle descending the stairs one by one before him, pace leisurely and unhurried. His love, the epitome of art.
His robes pool around his feet in magnificent waves curling behind him; not even his shoes are visible, the materials are so long, yet Chanyeol knows precisely what pumps encase his feet: the silver ones that bind in criss-crossing patterns all the way up to the knee. The shadowy tresses of his hair waft on the breeze, framing a lucent face forged of radiant, pure skin.
Chanyeol releases the breath he realises he is holding when his love ceases moving on the step just above his, subsequently levelling out their height. His face shows little emotion, not a smile nor an arch of the brow present, yet his eyes are bursting with intrigue and joy, glad that his pining is at an end. Under Chanyeol’s fingertips, his cheeks are cool to touch, the former’s digits webbing back into the roots of his feathery, ebony hair as his love’s bowed lips purse in concentration. Crisp, oceanic eyes slowly rake every inch of his body, searching for wounds or scars of injuries past, eager to know his condition. They pause on a finely raised line cut across his right temple, an angelic hand then rising to trace the imprint with the lightest of touches.
“A vexed man made this mark,” his love tells softly, eyes distant as he traverses Chanyeol’s memories. “You met him in a tavern. He noticed your gold and sought to rid you of it. My darling fought back.” The sharp eyes are on him, as is the faintest hint of a smile. “My darling won.”
Chanyeol closes his eyes, relishing the feel of his love’s hand planting itself firmly against his cheekbone. “Baekhyun.” The ranger says his love’s name just for the sake of saying it. To have it on his lips again with the owner materialised before him is a blessing beyond the power of any god.
“You have aged since I saw you last,” Baekhyun whispers airily, merely a small taste of his true voice resonating. His love appears sorrowful without reason, as though bereft of a thing he loves. With a blink, the expression is expelled. “You are weary, my one.” His stooped lips finally honour him with a proper, glistening smile. “We must find you a place to rest.”
With finesse, he glides to the side and holds out his arm, ready to loop it around the crook of Chanyeol’s elbow. They ascend the stairs together, conjoined, and go on to navigate their way through Baekhyun’s spellbinding home.
“I am relieved to have you returned safely,” Baekhyun sighs, majestic eyes ahead. “I have been watching over you, for as far as my eyes could stretch.”
Chanyeol sedates his pace a little, drawing his love to a stop and shifting to face him with only a slither of distance. “You should not,” he responds in warning. “It drains you to see that far, do not think I don’t know.” His knuckles graze from Baekhyun’s temples to his chin, feeling the kiss of each fine hair against his scarred skin. “You need not worry about me.”
Baekhyun’s lips curl, exhaling in soft laughter while averting his eyes. “Telling me not to worry is as futile as asking the sun not to rise every morning. I shall do so anyway.” Gently, his lip brush gently over the corner of Chanyeol’s mouth, his eyes lingering open to monitor the expression on the other’s face, a dragon in the onyx. “My grandfather is in his study,” he speaks in steady, hushed tones, eyes ardent as they tour his features. “It is unlikely that he has detected your presence. Chanyeol, you can kiss me now without restraint. No one will disturb us.”
“My love.” Chanyeol’s eyebrows arch, palms pressed against the apples of Baekhyun’s cheeks. “I desire more than a mere kiss.”
Those words cause something to stir between them, mutual impatience, it seems, and without a second to waste Baekhyun is taking him by the hand and leading him through his house. Gazebos, bridges and corridors they pass, each window designed to match the midrib and veins of lime leaves. Rooms have not doors, but archways, all spaces thus interconnected and fluid. Chanyeol knows Baekhyun’s room to be the highest in the house, another two flights of stairs wrapped around a neighbouring tree taking them up to the circular platform embracing the bark.
Baekhyun barely makes a sound in his haste, whereas Chanyeol’s thick boots plod along the ground and his breathing is ragged. His enthusiasm awakens Chanyeol’s spirit and desire, and as soon as they make it to Baekhyun’s room his body thrives, alive.
His love’s bed, a resplendent four-poster with aquamarine drapes twinkling with bright sapphires, lies at the inner edge pointing out to the view through the pillars at the forest, a million lights glinting back at them, surpassing the luminosity of the moon. In the midnight, Baekhyun’s skin glows subtly, just enough to remind Chanyeol of his immortality.
Chanyeol lays his love down against the silk sheets, the long, thick strands of his ebony hair cascading over his shoulders and onto the pillows. He savours Baekhyun’s body like he is his last meal, kissing up his neck and across his face before finally caressing his lips to a sweet sigh. Clothes greet the floor not long after, the diamonds in Baekhyun’s skin shimmering spryly when their naked bodies mould into one another, exchanging all that can be reciprocated. Baekhyun is soft in his hardened hands, compliant. With resin gathered on his fingers he prepares him in a pace of leisure, admiring each quirk of his love’s brow and each gasp which parts such splendent lips.
The night lingers on, shielding their misdeeds from the smouldering eyes of the sun, though Chanyeol has made love to Baekhyun many a time, even in the absence of a wedding ring. Some would deem it immoral, others, heresy, yet they care not. They hold each other in their arms, no distance left between, and find that their mutual devotion outshines the disgust of all those in the uninvolved third party.
With an intricate accuracy, Chanyeol kisses constellations across Baekhyun’s chest, leaving his blossoming marks with the identity of blushing roses. His love pants and pulls at his hair, a lust in his eyes so thick that it has them oozing without constraint. Skilled practise allows Chanyeol to paint Taurus over a slender chest and down tapered ribs towards a narrow waist. Although his canvas is breathing heavily and writhing at every star, it hinders neither his precision nor his determination until finally, the universe bursts in an array of glittering cosmic dust and the stars come shooting to embrace them.
A private and personal moment is shared between them, the world parted from them as they float through their own abyss, entwined by the hands, roped together for an eternity. Baekhyun’s skin gleams from perspiration, his plaint fingers combing through Chanyeol’s hair with unreserved affection. He kisses him, a pledge of allegiance imprinted on his lips, before he stands from the bed and slips into a fresh pale robe, robbing all candlelight.
Lying on his back with his arms folded behind his head, Chanyeol’s eyes roam the room with lounging intrigue. Between the pillars, the leaf design is repeated, a motif carried all throughout Baekhyun’s home by the request of his grandfather. Neat bookshelves line the perimeter of the room, as does a standing mirror and a large, varnished chest full of his folded clothes. Tree root patterns entangle over the domed ceiling, winding down to form the statues of elves against the columns with their arms bent outwards and hands cupped, supporting flickering candles in dainty jars inked with turquoise. Several additional tall candelabras are based around the bed and the reading chairs on the other side of the trunk, the metal they are formed from wringing around ten waxwork candles, all wicks lit.
Chanyeol adores the view of Baekhyun gently ambling towards him, robe still untied and allowing him to view the central slice of his love’s body, modesty and all. Truly, it is sublime.
“My darling, tie it for me?” the elf asks tenderly, holding the two ends of the gown cord in either hand.
With a smile, Chanyeol obediently raises into a sitting position and swings his legs off the bed, accepting Baekhyun between his knees by pulling him closer. He kisses his stomach as if it is nothing less than sacred before he tucks it safely inside an abundance of silk. Their mouths meet once more, Baekhyun boring down from above, before he wanders to the windows. The ranger takes a moment to clothe himself, redressing only the lower half of his body, before he makes to follow.
“I have missed you, terribly so,” Baekhyun breathes, resting both hands on a pillar and overlooking his domain. A drop below, a shallow pool reflects the stars inside a ring of ferns. “Though, while you were away I had time to think according to my own wishes. With no one to influence my thoughts, I came to sound conclusions.”
“What is it you speak of?” Chanyeol murmurs, lacing his naked arms around Baekhyun’s cinched waist and resting his stubble-ridden chin atop his bare shoulder, his jaw running seamlessly around the cap now that the robe has slipped. For Chanyeol to have finally held his love in his arms again is a sensation that feels akin to enlightenment. There is no more left to accomplish in this life. Not when he has Baekhyun stowed away in his clutches.
“For many moments, I have thought on this carefully and considered numerous things,” Baekhyun continues to talk in riddles, one hand layering over Chanyeol’s on his stomach while the other remains against the wood. “Things like my home, my grandfather. You, my darling. I cannot think of a night where I have not lain awake with my eyes sewn to the ceiling, pondering my decisions. For a time, I had been terrified about what my conscious might uncover. And what my conscience would tell me to do. Would it order me to follow the path my heart detested?”
Only lightly, Chanyeol angles his head a little and presses a kiss to Baekhyun’s slender neck, then his pointed ear. “Tell me your conclusions,” he breathes warmly against the shell, feeling it twitch under his lips as the wispy hairs bristle.
Baekhyun bows his head, vivid eyes contemplating their entwined fingers. “I have liked you since the moment my eyes came across your face. And I have loved you since the moment you smiled at me. I have decided that it would be selfish of you to live and die beside me while I go on. My darling, Chanyeol, what purpose does my life hold without you in it? I would face an eternity of grief, my grandfather smearing it in my face that he told me it would be like this ever since the first night. So I have come to the conclusion that I will not go on without you.”
“Chanyeol.” His whisper cuts him off, willowy form spinning in the hold of Chanyeol’s arms. With eyes imploring, Baekhyun goes on. “Please. Do not weigh me down with guilt. It has taken me many moons to accept my decision, and I have already talked it over with the elders. They do not agree with it but… they realise now that nothing they can do will change my mind.” His breath catches, diamonds in his eyelashes. “I want a life with you. I do not want to wake up every morning and watch you age while I remain the same. I do not want to be frozen like this any longer. I want us to grow old together, Chanyeol, not just you on your own. I want us to be normal, I—”
Chanyeol frowns at the tear tracks, bringing one hand to blur the lines until a crystalline sheen has formed. “Baekhyun, you cannot give up your life for me. Your family.” This is a dangerous topic of conversation, one that Chanyeol has been gingerly evading whence the beginning. He loves Baekhyun, yes, but he cannot accept this sacrifice. Although it proves to him how devoted his love truly is, he cannot stand by and let him give up all that he has known and all that would be, just for him.
His love’s face crumples, betrayal and rejection swimming through his frosty irises like an ink in colourless water. “Please do not stand here and say you think me a fool. I am not being selfish in forsaking things that matter not to me. My grandfather will board the ships soon and sail beyond these lands into the west, never to return. What do I have here, if not you? And if you are all I have, why can you not truly be mine for as long as a man’s lifetime may be? Is it against all lore to want to die in your arms where I know that I mean something?”
“Baekhyun, my love.” He caresses the black locks through his fingers, combing them gently from his face and over his tapered ears. “You would still live longer than I. You would be alone after my death in a world we cannot predict the life of. What if you are the sole person left alive?”
“I would be mortal,” he hisses urgently, eyes wide in rebuke. “The day you die is the day I throw myself from a cliff, Chanyeol. As I am now, I hold no power over my own life. I could not end it even if I wanted to.” With one shaky breath, he hardens his gaze. “That aside,” he says, freshly collected, “I was not requesting your permission, my one. This is the resolution I have embraced and will act upon.”
“My Baekhyun, my love,” Chanyeol hushes him insistently, still carding through his hair before cupping the base of his head. He smiles, though it is pained. “Why must you be so stubborn?”
The elf laughs nasally before he sniffles, bobbing his head with an endearing smile. “Because I love you,” he answers in earnest, tracing the lines of Chanyeol’s face with his fingertips at the same time as closing the distance between them. “I refuse to be parted from you, even for a day. I cannot give you children, but I can give you every last piece of myself and my heart. And you may keep it, as my gift to you. You dare not return it, my darling.”
Breaking into a smile, Chanyeol leans his forehead down, gasping minutely when he remembers how cool Baekhyun’s skin is on his. “What a wondrous gift,” he comments kindly, allowing his eyes to rest. “There is no turning back if you do this,” Chanyeol reminds his love, neither stern nor sharp, only comforting, accepting.
“Then it is good that I do not intend to turn back. Not even at the very end. Chanyeol.” The ranger opens his eyes, blinking through the galaxies in Baekhyun’s. In an echoing whisper, Baekhyun then announces, “I choose a mortal life.”