Baekhyun’s day begins with a bang and what he believes to be a mild heart attack. The doors to his room burst open and screams startle him awake. Baekhyun almost falls off his bed before he realizes it's just the pixies bringing him breakfast, not an ax murderer ready to hunt him down. Surprisingly, he might have preferred the murderer.
While Lily pulls the curtains open and Baekhyun groans at the bright light hurting his eyes, Daisy and Marigold set the tray with bread, butter, and fruit on his lap. The bitter scent of hot coffee makes his mouth water and turns his stomach over with temptation.
"I'm not hungry," he lies.
“Eat, eat, eat! No one likes cloudy skies!” Daisy says as if that sentence made any sense. She balances a forkful of watermelon with her tiny arms and feeds it to Baekhyun. The human turns his head and moves away but she follows relentlessly. Trying to crawl away from the vicious fairy-food, Baekhyun knees the tray, spilling hot coffee everywhere.
“Ouch- Stop it, Daisy!”
"Oops," Daisy smiles, still wielding the fork like a weapon. Hastily, she makes a blunt attempt to push the food in his mouth, but Baekhyun slaps the fork out of her tiny hands. The clinking sound of silverware hitting the wooden floor sounds triumphantly in his ears.
Desolated, the pixies stare at the fallen food and spilled coffee. Once again, the human managed to ruin their meal.
"I can't believe it! You will make the skies gray again!" Marigold cries out, her usual golden shine becoming slightly blue.
"How dare you, Filth !" Lily turns to Baek. "Marigold is crying! She’s the most annoying when she cries!”
"Marigold is always crying," Daisy argues. "Leave the cutie human alone!"
Marigold and Lily gasp, turning their impetuous focus to her. Energetically, the three start to push and pull one another, angry screams so high-pitched, Baekhyun can barely understand a word. Great, now not only is Baekhyun famished and wet from spilled coffee, he's also about to have a migraine from all this shouting. Furtively, the human side glances the door. The pixies are immersed in the fight, it would be so easy to get away.
"Hey!" Against his better judgment, Baekhyun raises his voice to get their attention. "Stop fighting, you'll get hurt!"
He lunges forward, grabbing Marigold and Lily with one hand each. They screech and slap his thumb in protest, but it only tickles a bit.
"So you'll eat? Eat, eat!" Daisy shines, flying around erratically.
"No, Daisy. Now please, the three of you, get out of my roo- HEY!" A deep sting hit him as teeth pierce his thumb and he lets go of Lily. She smiles at him victoriously, displaying teeth smeared with his blood. "What is wrong with you?"
"Oh please, a pixie's bite barely hurts," she rolls her eyes.
"Only your pride!" Marigold adds.
Daisy sucks on her thumb, staring at the human with bright, hopeful eyes. "Can I bite too? On the nose, please ."
"What? No!! Now leave, the three of you!" Baekhyun frees the fairy from his grasp and points to the door. Honestly, he should've sneaked out when he had the chance.
"Come, girls. Leave the thing to starve,"
"Starve, starve and let us have Sunshine forever!" Marigold shows her tongue, banging the door on their way out.
Baekhyun's first instinct is to hop back to bed, cover his head with a pillow and try to get back to sleep, but not only are the sheets ruined, but he is on a ticking clock. Every minute Baekhyun spends away from home is another minute for him to slowly starve to death, or worse — try his luck at eating fairy food. He must find a way back before he's too weak to walk properly, there's no time to waste.
Given that he's just a human, Baekhyun doesn't know the first thing about traveling between realms. The only plan he came up with last night was to make his way back to the gardens and see if there's some sort of portal there. It may be a weak plan, but it's better than staying locked in his room waiting for that stubborn King to have a change of heart.
The clothes Sehun gave him are too thin and fragile for an escape, but his old coat is no were to be found so they'll have to do. Carefully, Baekhyun peeks out of his room scared to find another servant waiting to beg him to eat.
Just like the day before, the halls are empty. Only the white statues are there to witness his escape. Every time the human turns a corner or opens a door, he comes face-to-face with one of the ghastly things. They're awfully life-like and posed in such ways that it seems they might move given the opportunity. Baekhyun is all alone to venture on aimlessly, yet he can't shake the feeling that he’s being watched.
Instead of making it to the gardens as planned, Baekhyun stumbles upon a gorgeous room. A set of stairs covered with a red carpet lead to a golden chair decorated with rubies. The throne room , Baekhyun notes to himself, awed by the grandness of it. The ceiling is painted with images of beautiful elves worshiping a golden Sun, and the windows are so big and crystal clear that they fill the whole place with light, even though it's cloudy outside. Instead of hanging from the ceiling, the crystal chandeliers fly in place, twinkling magically every now and then.
Sadly, Baekhyun doesn't notice half of the wonders of the throne room, eyes going straight to the handful of statues in there. It's as if they're drinking from empty cups and laughing without a sound. One of them, a tall lady with a daring dress, is posed to hold her hands to her chest and stare at something in adoration.
Taken by curiosity, Baekhyun walks closer to the statue, the back of his head tingling the closer he is to her. The look on her face... It's as if she is in love. Standing beside her, the human spies at the direction she is looking, ending up staring at the throne.
"Oh please, Chanyeol has a statue that's infatuated with him?" Baekhyun laughs nervously, though he doesn't know why.
Despite being made entirely of stone, the lady's clothes look like they'd be soft to the touch. His hand moves on its own, eager to brush the cold stone with its fingers.
"What are you doing here?"
Baekhyun jumps in place, tripping back and hitting his back against a broad chest. He looks up and comes face to face with an unamused Chanyeol. Without the scowl clouding his features, the elf is undeniably handsome. His dark eyes alone are worthy of the thousand tales humans tell about him. With a tilt of his head, Chanyeol reminds Baekhyun that he’s expecting an answer.
"I- hm..." The human falters, stepping away from the king as if he's on fire.
Chanyeol barely blinks. If he noticed how flustered Baekhyun was with their closeness, he doesn't mention it. "Well?"
"I wanted to see the garden again," Baekhyun says. It’s as close to the truth as he dares to get. So far, the Fairy King has been lenient with him, but Baekhyun doesn’t want to push his luck in case Chanyeol decides to lock him in a tower somewhere and throw away the key.
The King cocks an eyebrow, fighting back an amused smile. "You were looking for the garden... in my throne room?"
"I'm lost." Baekhyun shrugs. Honestly, he's too relieved to feel embarrassed about his wacky sense of direction. This may be the first time he's happy to see a fairy, even if it is just because the empty halls and creepy statues were starting to get to him. "Is that a problem?"
"No, of course not. You're allowed to go anywhere as long as you don't cross the outside gates." Something somber crosses the King's eyes as he says those words but he's back to his cocky smile so fast Baekhyun is sure he imagined it. "I'll arrange for someone to give you a tour, a Prince shouldn't get lost in his own castle,"
Mentally, Baekhyun can only wish that someone will be higher than three inches. Sehun wasn't pleased to answer his questions, but at least that fairy didn't bite. To his surprise, instead of leaving or calling a servant right away, the King offers him his arm.
"Come on, I'll escort you to the garden for now," he says, and no matter how hard Baekhyun looked for it in his eyes, he just couldn't find any disdain hidden in them.
But he won't be fooled by appearances. Just like the night before, the King's kindness doesn't feel genuine, only better practiced.
"I can follow you just fine." Baekhyun walks past the King.
Chanyeol closes his hand into a fist, mumbling to himself.
"Make the stupid human happy..."
"Nothing," Chanyeol says. This is going to be harder than he thought. "Let's go then."
Ideally, Baek would make a mental map of the way to the garden, but he keeps getting distracted by Chanyeol's sharp profile and his low voice as he walks with his hands on his back, making small talk. It's beyond ridiculous, the only good thing about the elf is his appearance, but Baekhyun can't help it. He's only human after all, not used to beings with pointy ears and enchanting smiles, even if Chanyeol's smile isn't as truthful as Baekhyun would like. Step after step Baek has to remind himself that none of Chanyeol's questions about his first night in the castle and if Baek's room is to his liking don't mean that he cares.
When they reach their destiny, Baekhyun walks to the fountain and hunches forward, dipping his fingers in. The crystalline water is cold to the touch, refreshing as it seeps through his fingers and relieves the stinginess of Lily's bite.
He chances a glance back at the elf observing his movements. Great, how is he supposed to explore the garden for some sort of portal if Chanyeol won't leave him be?
Though Baekhyun sees a couple of statues in the distance crouched as if to tend the flowers he's not as troubled by them this time around. Birds chirp lively from the trees and bees fly from flower to flower buzzing along with the pleasant summer breeze. Here in the open, the statues aren't as ghastly because they're surrounded by life.
Breathing in the fresh air, Baekhyun dries his hand with his clothes and looks around with wide eyes. Hopefully, he looks like an awed visitor instead of a stubborn mortal looking for a way home. There's no portal in sight, at least not one Baekhyun can see, and no marks on the grass of ancient runes or anything of the sorts. The flowers aren't stuck in vases nor are they neatly arranged by type. They're free and wild, making their own beautiful arrangements. Even the fountain is embraced by vines. Here, no man-made structure can overcome nature.
"Do you enjoy being outdoors, Baekhyun?"
Another boring question. It's vague enough that Baekhyun won't mind giving an answer yet personal enough to make him open up. For as long as Baekhyun can remember, he always loved to run and play under a deep blue sky, that's part of the reason he didn't mind walking all the way to Yixing's house in the woods to make deliveries. With time, he had to replace short days of playing outside with long days of sewing behind locked doors.
"Yes, I guess I do," Baek explains curtly.
"Let me give you a tour," Chanyeol gets closer, once again offering his arm. "If we follow the stone path, you'll get to see the entrance to the castle."
Baekhyun is thorn between refusing his hand once again or caving in for the sake of keeping the appearance of a willing guest when his stomach makes its presence known with another hurtful growl. Wincing, Baek hugs his belly, urging it to stop making noises. A tailor's life may not be glamorous, but he's not used to going without food.
"You still haven't eaten," Chanyeol notes with dissatisfaction. "I ordered my pixies to feed you.
"I didn't feel like it. It's my choice to eat when I choose to," Baekhyun scoffs.
"What do you gain by being stubborn?" Chanyeol barks, then catches himself and tones down. He's been trying to keep his cool but at every turn all the human does is insult him and for what? An old woman and a miserable life as a peasant. "There are worse fates than marrying a fairy King," he muses.
"Really? I can't think of a single one," Baekhyun spits back without pause. This jerk thinks too highly of himself and it's up to Baekhyun to put him in his place. Anyone who has a statue to gaze at them lovingly deserves to be taken out of their high-horses. "Especially if the Fairy King in question goes out of his way to make the groom feel like a burden on their first day together." Chanyeol stiffens, his smile faltering. "So excuse me if I'd rather marry a poor peasant back at home than some snobbish elf who can't get himself a groom without resorting to kidnapping."
In a flash, Chanyeol is upon him, a firm arm holding Baekhyun's waist to his. Baekhyun gasps and hits him in the shoulder but the man doesn't budge, holding Baek's fist in place so he can't move or hit again. "To marry an elf," he purrs sweetly, though with a heat in his eyes that make the human stop squirming. "would bring you great fortune. I could be good to you, I cannot lie or cheat. In my kingdom, mortals don't age and with my touch," Chanyeol leans closer, whispering in Baek's ear and sending chills down his spine. "lovers are wholly satisfied."
Trapped like a mouse, Baekhyun is suddenly aware of how close they are. Chanyeol's thumb caresses his waist with a silent promise that turns his cheeks red and Baek looks away. Getting the reaction he wanted, Chanyeol laughs mockingly and lets him go as abruptly as he had caught him, smiling as the human trips back without him to hold him up, but manages not to fall.
At the end of the day, humans are all easy to tempt.
"What good is a mortal husband? Your kind is as trustworthy as a cornered cat." Chanyeol raises his head, words no longer honeyed, but stern. "You bring me no riches, no status, nothing but headaches and crying pixies. I'm the one who should be throwing tantrums left and right."
"THEN TAKE ME BACK HOME!” Baekhyun screams.
Hungry and humiliated, the human sits on the fountain and looks up, fighting stubborn tears from falling down. Frustration finally got the best of him but he still has enough pride to refuse to let that brute glimmer in his misery.
"She looked so small ..." he trailed off to stop a sob as the last memory of his grandma fallen on the snow came to him. "If you had a heart, you'd understand. Humans can lie, but at least we can love too."
With his heart in pieces, Baekhyun looks down. Chanyeol sighs and kneels in front of him, but the human evades his gaze by hiding his face with his palms. If only the fountain was louder, then Baek could sob in peace knowing that the running water would drown out the sound. But as it is, he can only swallow his sadness before it overflows. Neither of them moves, Chanyeol patiently waiting for the human to compose himself before carefully taking his right hand.
"Don't touch me," Baekhyun protests weakly, but Chanyeol pays him no mind, brows stitched together as he stares at the smaller's tiny bite mark.
"Lilly." The answer tastes bitter in his tongue, and Baek's mood doesn't improve when Chanyeol smiles proudly.
"I'm the only one allowed to hold her."
"Duly noted," Baekhyun huffs. At least when he's focused on anger the human doesn't feel the urge to cry.
Chanyeol brings his hand to his lips, resting them on the wound. Baekhyun's heart jumps, and somehow he manages to stay still and not slap the taller away. "Your pixies were rude to me today," he says, if only to distract himself from the softness of Chanyeol's lips on his skin.
"Don't worry, they're just mad there's no sunshine to bathe in." Chanyeol backs away but doesn't release the human.
"I don't see how that's my fault."
"The weather changes to fit my mood," he explains.
The human rolls his eyes. "So? That just proves it isn't my fault."
They stare at one another, the rude human and the proud Fairy King, both too stubborn to understand each other's point of view. Chanyeol releases his hand, smart enough to realize that if the mortal wants a fight, he'll have it.
“I’m not a monster, Baekhyun. Regardless of how I feel about you, I take no pleasure in watching you starve yourself over nothing.”
"Over nothing ? Is that what my Nana is to you? I know we humans don't mean much to you but that doesn't mean-"
Chanyeol raises a hand to cut him off, his voice sounding as tired as he looks. "That is not what I said and you know as much."
Baekhyun huffs, not giving in. Crossing his arms, he looks away at the statue of a horned fairy just in time to watch a bird land at a nest on its head.
"Look, this is your second day here. You've refused my food so far and I ask you to end this now. Before it becomes a real problem and you end up hurting yourself."
"I wouldn't have to hurt myself if you took me back home."
It takes Chanyeol a lot to suppress his groan. For how much longer must he repeat himself? They can't have the same argument every time they see each other. Eternity is long enough as it is. They're both trapped in this bargain, so it's best to just live with it rather than fight fate at every turn.
"Indeed, that may be true. But I can't do that. You've made your side of the story known, Baekhyun, but never stop to consider mine. I am physically unable to break a promise, and I promised you my hand in marriage and all the responsibilities that come with it. That is the only thing I have that is as precious as my life, and you can't be a fairy’s groom on mortal grounds. I understand that I could've been gentler bringing you here and I plan to be more careful in the future."
"That's it?" Baekhyun laughs incredulously. "You understand you could've been gentler ? No apologies?"
"I'm a Fairy King," he says with a lopsided smile. "We don't apologize so easily."
Baekhyun clicks his tongue, resisting a smile. This idiot doesn't deserve it , he thinks to himself. But... maybe Baekhyun has his fair share of guilt in this story. It's not for lack of warning that he made a bad deal with a dying fairy. At the time, with blood pouring from his wound and cold air freezing his lungs, Chanyeol would probably have agreed to any demand. Baekhyun should’ve asked for a simple blessing or at the very least a chicken that laid golden eggs.
So what if he asks for something else now?
Baekhyun chews on his lips, eyes back on the bird cleaning its wings, but not really seeing the animal. If he can't go back, maybe Chanyeol could bring his Nana to live in the palace too? She could marvel over the clothes and explore the castle with him. It's not the life they'd imagined but it's not a bad one to live.
The bird flies off, leaving him no choice but to stare at the marble statue — creepy and lifeless in spite of its beauty, just like the rest of this place. No, he can't damn his poor Nana to this empty palace. Whatever life he has to suffer, Baekhyun will endure it on his own. He looks back to the Fairy King, who's eagerly awaiting an answer, his gaze falling to his feet as his cheeks heat up in shame.
"...fairy food..." Baekhyun whispers.
"What did you say?"
"What happens if I eat fairy food? Is it poisonous?" The question that has been haunting him finally leave his lips, though Baek feels like an idiot for making it.
“Oh... I was a fool.” Chanyeol’s eyes soften, doing weird things to Baek’s stomach.
It's the hunger . The human reminds himself. Just the two days of hunger getting to me, and definitely not his stupid eyes.
Blind to the mortal's inner turmoils, Chanyeol shakes his head. "Yes, of course that’s what's been bothering you. I completely forgot…” he mumbles to himself, getting back up. Then, he stares right at Baekhyun, all signs of weakness gone from his features. Before Baekhyun is the same entitled fairy King who stole him away. “The food I offer you is not enchanted and you’d notice it right away if it was. There’s a glow to fairy food that is hard to miss.”
“You’ve been starving yourself over nothing and I hope you’ll stop now."
Always ready to embarrass him, Baek's stomach growls again, and the human groans into his hands for the lack of a hole big enough to fit himself in. He should've just asked... all that food last night and he didn't get to taste any.
Chanyeol chuckles, even a feisty human can be adorable on occasion. "Fairy food isn't poisonous," he says, compelling Baek out of his shell. "In fact, you'll never taste anything sweeter."
"But it does something," Baekhyun presses, composing himself. No use feeling stupid now. "Otherwise, my grandmother wouldn't forbid me from eating it."
"Yes, humans who eat fairy food can never return to the human world. They get stuck in our realm and no spell, no enchantment can change that."
Trapped in fairyland.
Baekhyun gets up abruptly, holding onto the King's sleeve. "How about another bargain?"
"Baekhyun, I don't think-"
"No, hear me out.” This is crazy, Baekhyun knows it even as he paces around excitedly. He could keep searching for a way back on his own without any proof that he may find one. Or ... he can just have Chanyeol make a way back for him.
Yes, this could work. Even if Baek went back today without the King's help, Chanyeol could easily kidnap him again, but not if he has permission to escape. This is risky, but it’s the only way. Baekhyun thinks over every word, every syllable that's about to leave his mouth. He can't bargain with his grandmother's life by bringing her here, but there's nothing stopping the human from bargaining for something else. He turns on his heels, waving his arms at the intrigued fairy. "Hide a portal back to the human world somewhere in the castle. If I find it, I get to go home and you'll leave me be."
Taking one step closer to the human, Chanyeol laughs incredulously. "Are you proposing a game? You do realize that for it to be a bargain I need to gain something as well.”
Despite the sarcasm, curiosity gleams in Chanyeol's eyes and his ears twitch for more details. Baekhyun's not sure if the shiver inside him is from the adrenaline of making a new bargain, fear of what could go wrong, or simply hunger.
"You'll be rid of me." Baekhyun points to himself, making his point with a cheeky smile.
Chanyeol circles him like a shark, slowly but ready to strike at any moment. "No. That's not good enough. You're not as annoying as you think," he says, all business. "Besides, it's good to have a new face around. Someone else to distract my pixies for once."
"You-" Baekhyun tsks. He was hoping Chanyeol would see the light, understand that this is an easy answer for their predicament. The thing is, Baekhyun doesn't have anything to offer besides, well, himself. And Chanyeol already has that in a way.
But not in the one that matters.
"Set the date of our wedding. It needs to be at least one year and a day from now," he starts, remembering that fairies love intricate deadlines. "If I find the portal before the ceremony, you’ll leave me be forever, but if I don't..." he breathes, grounding himself. "I'll eat fairy food and never bother you to take me home again."
"I see..." Chanyeol halts in front of him, eyes glistening with the proposition while his head thinks over every possible loophole. His mortal Prince has finally proven to be interesting. Rashly, he grabs the human by the back of the neck, forcing Baekhyun to look him in the eye.
"Why would you make such a bargain? That's a dangerous game for you, and I have nothing to lose by playing it."
" Exactly . So playing it shouldn't be a problem," Baekhyun insists, not backing down despite the elf being mere inches away from his face.
The problem with making bargains with humans is that they're never willing to hold their end of the deal. If Chanyeol agrees to this — and that's a big if — he needs to make sure Baekhyun isn't planning on cheating. Chanyeol lets him go, but Baekhyun stays in place, staring the King proudly in the eye, taunting him to take the bet.
"A year and a day is too much," Chanyeol says. "Seven weeks is more than enough to plan a wedding."
Baekhyun wrinkles his nose, waving at the castle. "Your palace is huge!"
"Not huge enough," Chanyeol shrugs. “Surely a brave human like yourself can find a mere portal in seven weeks.”
"Seven months then."
"Three, and you'd better accept the deadline before I back off entirely," Chanyeol says with a boyish smile.
Son of a bitch! He's enjoying this. This is why fairies are so dangerous to humans. The only reason Chanyeol has to toy with the deadline is because he wants Baek to squirm. Let him have just enough time to finish his task, but not enough hope that he'll make it. Though neither of them wants to marry, Chanyeol would rather have the satisfaction of winning this bet than let Baekhyun go home too easily.
"Fine," Baekhyun answers between gritted teeth. "But I have conditions."
"Oh, I sure hope so," the King nods, offering his hand yet again. "You may tell me all about them on the way to the kitchen.”
As Baekhyun takes Chanyeol’s hand, the cloudy skies give way to Sunlight once again.