He’d just gotten out of college for the summer, with one year left to go.. A hefty textbook under one arm, a knapsack over one shoulder. He was surprised, as he walked down the road, to note that there wasn’t anyone out and about. Sure, it was morning, but even this early there ought to at least be kids riding around on bicycles.

He glanced this way and that, trying to take in the environment around him as he walked, squinting a little in the fiercely bright sun. He thought maybe he could hear distant children’s voices and laughter. Maybe at the public pool, he thought though he couldn’t be sure.

The air was still, everything brilliantly colored as if it had rained the night before. As his sneakers moved over the pavement, he saw that here and there on the fresh-mowed grass, little white and brown mushrooms popped up through it.

He’d always loved how mushrooms sprung out after the rains. His mother would tell him stories of how some were fairy houses, and some were fairy seats, and some formed rings where they would dance on full moon nights…

And now his twenty-first birthday was coming and his mother was dead ten years but he still remembered the fairy stories. He admired a particularly brilliant fairy seat, the top a warm orange. His mother had called it a candy cap.

There were dozens of mushrooms in the field he was approaching, the field that ended the street where he turned onto his home road. He thought he might as well take a look. He loved walking through grassy fields anyway, and mushrooms were so pretty.

It was an easy walk, though it had rained recently the ground wasn’t muddy, and the grass smelled like it had been mowed just before the mushrooms came up, if that was possible.

He took it in like a drug, his mood picking up from the uneasy state it had been earlier.

His feet made no sound in the grass. He let his head fall back and his arms spread wide as he spun slowly in the grass. The birds singing raucously in a tree near the edge of the field, a sound that carried but was soft where he turned not quite in place.

And then suddenly, as he wobbled to a stop, it was dead silent, except for his breathing. He straightened, looking around abruptly.

There was a sound, or more like an unsound, a lack of anything in particular, and a book fell onto the grass.

The young man, almost twenty-one, just out of college for the summer, was gone. The book laid on the grass just outside of the one thing his mother had told him to avoid since he’d been a toddler. A bird flew over the perfectly laid out fairy ring, casting a shadow over the fading footprints.

It was cold and stuffy and sounded wet but it was dry as far as he could see, which wasn’t far at all. His arms went automatically around himself. A gust of air shivered past his lips, coalescing into a soft silvered fog.

Where am I? He wondered, a little fuzzily, as he looked around and above, and even below him. Around his shoes, on the floor that was apparently stone, was a dusty white circle that trembled into nothing, carried off on a barely felt breeze that rose goosebumps on his skin.

Suddenly there was a light, warm, yellow, almost painful after the dimness of this cavern that he seemed to have found himself in, and he winced his eyes shut and threw up a hand to shield them.

“Not again,” a voice said, and someone grabbed him roughly, giving him a little shake and turning him back and forth. “No worse for wear it seems,” the voice said, slowly registering as male in his confused ears. His hands dropped, and he became aware of a tall, slender, improbably beautiful man with cinnamon colored skin, golden eyes that nearly matched the flame of the torch in one hand, and dark hair that somehow seemed to be the same blue as the night-deepening sky once the stars began to appear. “You all right?” the man asked.

“I- I think so,” he said. “Where am I?” He looked around again, frowning in confusion. “One minute I was in a field, now I’m… here. Wherever here is.”

The man gave him a lopsided smile and tucked a lock of hair behind an ear that looked distinctly pointed. “I’m afraid you’re in Underhill… the middling realm between the Summer and Winter Courts… come with me, there’s little time before you freeze. And the last you want is an Unseelie knave finding you.”

Instead, of course, of going with the elven man, unquestioning, he set his feet. “Why? Why should I be afraid of them?”

“Foolish boy,” the elf hissed, for he was most certainly an elf, “the Unseelie court will ravage you beyond recognition!” His eyes flared so brightly that the young man stumbled back a step.

“Well, thank you, I’m sure,” the young man said, “but I will just have to take my chances. I have no proof that you’re anymore trustworthy than anyone else.” And frankly, being ravaged didn’t sound all that awful. He did have a dirty mind, though that probably wasn’t what this man had meant.

The elf sobered abruptly, and straightened. “Very well,” he said. “If you will just give me your name, I will tell you mine and you will see that I am entirely trustworthy.”

“Nonsense,” the young man said. “I’ll give you nothing, and I don’t want to know your name. Good day.”

The elven man frowned deeply, but he’d been dismissed, and he had not won this little game.. Muttering to himself, he disappeared back down the tunnel from when he came.

The young man let out a heavy sigh, and shivered. It was still frigid in this spot, in the joining of tunnels, but he wasn’t sure where to go. He looked down each tunnel in front of him in turn, except for the one where the dark haired elf had come from. They were all dark, save for one. Here, a silvery light emitted.

Taking the risk, knowing that he was stuck here until he was granted leave, he took several bracing breaths, and started ahead down that tunnel. This light seemed soft and kind, unlike the light from before.

The tunnel let out into a room, one that was decorated in jeweled tones of blue and green and purple. Everything was silvered wood and silver metal, and in the middle of this room sat a man with black satin skin and ivory hair caught up into a careless knot laden with braids and loose hair.

A wing of that hair hung down over the side of his face as he bent over the harp that sat in his lap, fingers idly stroking a soft tune out of the silvery strings. It was warm here, and everything was soft, without sharp angles or hard edges. Everything swirled and curved and gave beneath touch, including the floor he stood on.

And then the man looked up. His eyes were the color of garnets, and seemed warm and kind. “Good day,” he said, his voice almost like the strings of the harp and for a moment, the young man seemed to think they did have the same voice.

“Ah, good- good day,” he said, shifting his feet. He felt the chill seeping out of his bones.

“What are you called? I am called Bryn.” His long fingers settled on the strings, and they fell silent. He tilted his head in curiosity.

“I am called…” he hesitated. His nickname resonated through his head, neighbor children in his memory calling him by it, a former boyfriend goodnaturedly shouting it across a lawn, a whisper from his mother over the phone. “Chris,” he said, finally. It wasn’t his true name, but it would suffice.

“Chris,” the man said. His ears came to fine sculptured points. He set his harp aside, and stood with a grace that no human man could muster. “It is a good name,” he said. “Thank you for allowing me to call you that.”

Chris nodded. “Sure,” he said, scuffing the toe of his sneaker against the soft, deep-piled carpet. His bag was still over his shoulder, somehow.

“Sit, if you need,” the man said, with a slight bow. “I will bring tea.” He started toward the far side of the room, which opened into another that Chris had not noticed before, and then stopped suddenly. “Do you have coin? Silver perhaps, or copper? No steel. Or marbles, or candy?”

Chris frowned then, fumbling in his pockets as he set his bag down and moved toward one of the cushions that resembled a beanbag chair made of velvet. He had a few pennies, a marble he’d found a week ago in the middle of a parking lot, scarred but the scarlet and blue eye in the middle still glinting, and a mint leftover from a drive in dinner two days ago.

He pulled out the handful. “Will this do? I’ve got an old key too…”

The man– elf, for that’s what he was– shook his head. “No, the key is far too valuable for such a simple exchange. Tea and a marble will be fine.”

A little confused, Chris nodded and put the rest away and rolled the marble between his palms once he’d sat down. It took some thinking to remember one of his mother’s warnings from when he was young.

Never take a gift from a fae, always make a trade.

Oh. Of course. And this elf seemed intent on following these rules, too. It wasn’t long before he returned with a silver tray laden with steaming cups and a plate of little fancies the likes Chris had never seen. Oh some were like cookies, and some like little cakes, but some of them seemed like snail’s shells and others like flowers waiting to bloom, and others still like little fish.

He set the marble on the tray. It seemed right. The elf bowed again once the tray was set down. “A fair trade,” he said. “This is a beautiful item.” He picked up the marble, and it caught the light, turning abruptly to fire. Chris’s eyes nearly crossed for a moment looking at it.

When he looked away, green and purple dots danced across his vision briefly before fading.

The tea, he discovered, on picking up a delicate porcelain cup and taking a sip, was brilliant. Better than brilliant. It tasted like roses and honey and cream, and something woody, and he found himself drinking more than he’d meant to. He tried some of everything on the tray, deciding he liked the snail shells and cakes the best.

The elf smiled and drank tea and ate the little cakes, and said nothing at first. “There are two ways you may leave, if you wish,” he said, then, almost out of nowhere.

Chris looked up from his third cup of tea. Was the marble enough? He set down a penny, then another, next to the marble, and then the candy as well. He had a few pennies still, and the key. “Uh… what would those be?”

“The first,” the elf said, sitting forward. It was then that Chris really noticed the dark blue shirt embroidered heavily with leaves and flowers a shade darker than the fabric, and the matching colored trousers that looked almost like suede, tucked into boots blacker than his skin. “The first is that you must make a sacrifice. Time here passes differently than where you are from. You will lose a year there for every day here beyond the first. You can request to lose as little as possible, and should your request be possible, you may only lose a few months.”

Chris swallowed hard. Of course, that made sense, but it was still startling. “And the other?”

“The other…” the elf sighed at that. “It is not often spoken of, but one may enact a trade, though it is specific, and considered private. Many will not even suggest it, but as you asked, I must answer.”

Chris sipped tea silently. It must have been a big deal if the elf– Bryn, he remembered suddenly—was reluctant to talk about it. He waited.

Bryn hesitated, and then with a quick breath, goes on. “One must exchange intimacies.” He said nothing else.

“Is that all?” Chris said, in a cavalier tone, as his heart raced, thudding against his ribs and making him feel like the cup was trembling in his hands though it never moved. “How much time would one lose?” He asked, looking at the elf, though Bryn’s gaze was locked on the soft carpet.

“None at all,” he said softly, “but there is one thing, the reason why it is not often discussed. It is called The Longing. You will wish to return forever, and if the elf who exchanges intimacies with that person does develop it as well, they may pine away to nothing.”

Oh.

Chris drank too much tea, and it spilled over and poured onto his shirt. He yelped and snatched up a pure white handkerchief that seemed to burst from nowhere, and patted himself down with it. “I- I see. I suppose it’s an informed risk,” he said, voice shaking. “Just like the other. A few months lost, a year here three centuries there. Pining away for someone… are there ways to find Underhill? Would another fairy ring bring me here?”

“It is difficult to say,” Bryn said, his eyes still rooted to the floor. “It is inexact as much as I have been told, but no one has tried and succeeded to my knowledge.”

That did make things more difficult, but the chance to return with no time passed was very tempting. “What if I agreed?”

Bryn’s deep red gaze lifted from the floor again suddenly to Chris’s face, startled. “The risks–”

“Never mind the risks,” Chris said, sounding more adult than he was, not even quite twenty-one yet. “I’m willing to accept the risks. Especially if it’s you I’m sharing intimacies with.”

He hadn’t thought the elf could look more startled. It was clear he couldn’t visibly blush, but something about his expression said he was. “I-it could be, if you’d like.”

Chris nearly scoffed. “Yes, especially if I did not have to with the other elf I encountered.” He went on when Bryn’s expression became questioning. “Long dark hair, kind of tan, doesn’t like the Unseelie Court, flashing eyes. Kind of rude if you ask me.”

Bryn let out a soft laugh that sounded like the wind blowing. “Ah, yes. I know of whom you speak. Many are not fond of the Winter Court. But enough of that.” He held out his hand to Chris. “Shall we then?”

Chris decided it wasn’t in his best interests to question the this-and-that of the Courts. Bryn had been kind, and that was what mattered. And as this was an exchange, as stated, there was no concern there either. He reached out and took the elf’s hand, which was warm and soft as though he had never done labor, even his fingertips were not rough from playing the harp.

Bryn led him from the room, to another which had been artfully hidden from view until approached. Whether this was elven magic or architecture didn’t much matter. Chris’s stomach was a riot of butterflies. The room that could only qualify as the bedroom was nothing like his own, except for the bed.

Tapestries lined the walls. Windows peered out into preternatural gloom, that glimmered and glittered. His bed was almost imposing, a winding metal thing that crossed a four-poster and a tree. The bed itself was covered in light, airy linens and heavier velvets and was piled high with pillows of every sort. He couldn’t help himself; he pulled away from Bryn and flopped on the bed amidst the pillows, all silver and blue and gray.

It was like lying in a cloud. Oh he’d dreamed of such a cliche since he was still a young teen, but had learned it was next to impossible. Oh to live with the fae, he thought, unbidden, and felt a crush of homesickness at the thought of leaving everything behind.

Bryn sat with him on the bed, and traced delicate dark fingertips along his profile, making him shiver and close his eyes. “I will do nothing without your consent,” he said softly, and Chris’s eyes opened to see that dark gaze, which seemed to have brightened to crimson.

“Yes,” Chris said, with some voice in the back of his head warning him careful careful careful! “Anything…” the last came out a whisper, but with no hesitation.

Bryn took his words at face value and bent down to brush his lips over Chris’s profile the same way his fingers had. He didn’t linger, and his lips made their way down over the other man’s chin and down over his throat, leaving him tingling and vulnerable in a way that was almost arousing on its own.

The elf’s fingers were deft as they unfastened the buttons at the collar of the shirt. His lips found Chris’s collarbone, and he let out a huff of air. And then the shirt was gone, who knew where, baring his chest and there were hands brushing softly and methodically over his skin.

One of Bryn’s fingernails flicked across his nipple and he shivered, an unfamiliar sensation, but a welcome one. His tongue soon followed, though not for long. Chris wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to do the same, but when he opened his eyes again, he could see that Bryn’s embroidered shirt had fallen open and bared an expanse of fine, dark flesh. He brushed his own fingers over that incredibly soft skin, and then pushed himself up, pressing his face into the crook between neck and shoulder, and sliding one hand into the elf’s shirt, tentatively, but with no hesitation.

Bryn let out a low sound and that encouraged him. He pulled the shirt open further, pressing his hands to hot skin, and his lips to the curve of the elf’s swan-like neck. He reached up and let down his hair. Chris was engulfed for a moment in a sweet, spicy curtain of warmth. He pushed a hand into it and discovered it was as soft as a dandelion fluff.

Bryn’s face turned to his, and their mouths met, suddenly and passionately, tongues flickering together briefly before the elf pushed him back down onto the bed and nearly tore off his shorts. His briefs were next, and Bryn merely tossed them away before attending to his own. The trousers had no fastenings aside from a single tie at the waist, and fell away to reveal that he wore nothing beneath.

Once fully nude, his ivory hair trailing down over his chest nearly to his waist, Bryn was a sight to see. He felt like a man in the desert finally given water.        Bryn fell onto the bed with him and pressed his cheek into the hollow of his shoulder, and those delicate fingers found and stroked along the underside of his cock.

Just those simple touches and Chris felt like he was on fire. His heart beat faster, and his stomach roiled with butterflies again. His cock grew harder and harder with each touch of Bryn’s fingers. The elf’s teeth found his collarbone, pinching but not breaking the skin and for a moment he felt like he would reach orgasm from that alone.

Bryn draped one leg over both of his, almost pinning him down and stroked him in earnest, and his mouth opened, wide and breathless. He felt the heat of Bryn’s hand on him, and it seemed to set fire to the rest of him. He was aware of every movement of that soft hand, tingles rushing from the back of his neck to the bottoms of his feet and everywhere in between.

He tried to find himself in the fog that was taking over his brain and pull himself out enough to reciprocate, but instead he found himself arching in response to Bryn’s touches, gasping, clutching at the covers on the soft bed, nearly sinking into it at the same time.

A sharp silver bolt shot down his spine almost before he could register it, and he let out a low groan deep in his chest when it coiled in his balls. He came so hard he thought he saw stars for a moment.

Bryn’s earlier words of sharing intimacy rattled through his brain in a very wobbly sort of way, and he fumbled with shaky hands to try to find the elf’s body next to his. He could feel more than hear the elf’s soft rumble of laughter.

“It is simply sharing the experience, my friend,” he murmured softly next to Chris’s ear. “Nothing less, nothing more.”

He found himself very relieved to be hearing this because his entire body (and most of his mind) wanted to succumb to the elf next to him and let him do whatever he damn well pleased. Fuck me senseless he wanted to say, but his lips fumbled and mostly only air came out, and Bryn chuckled again.

“Well,” he said, “if that’s what you like, then I shall do as I am commanded.” He smirked down at Chris as his soft hair brushed the young man’s chest. He very much knew the effect he had, and it was clear on his face, though the gentleness still appeared in his eyes despite the slight arrogance that was there as well.

Just that smirk had him feeling as if he could be aroused again soon, and he knew it must have been magic… it had to be. This place had to be full of it, and the idea that he could be reduced to mumbles and still get it up again in such a short time seemed otherwise impossible.

He watched in fascination as Bryn’s fingers danced slowly along his skin, leaving behind warmth and new tingles that had faded from before. It was then he noticed with some vagueness, that Bryn’s nails had been lacquered a dark blue and were slightly longer than he was used to.

It had been so close to his birthday when he’d been overworld… was it his birthday now? Had it passed? Was he twenty-one now? Or was that just a frivolity of a mostly distracted mind? Bryn’s nails scratched over the skin of his lower stomach, teasing the fine hairs there, and he forgot everything, possibly his own name, and melted into the bed.

He jolted suddenly, eyes wide, to feel hot breath against his cock. Would he–? But Bryn was preoccupied with arousing him, and nothing more, and pressed fluttering kisses to the fine skin at the inside of his thighs. He felt his cock growing hard again.

Bryn suddenly rose to his feet and went to a table that had a silver chest on it. Next to the chest was a hand carved wooden container. He picked it up and went back to the bed, sitting next to Chris.

“A balm to ease friction,” he explained, and Chris nodded, understanding. Bryn opened the jar, and the gel-like substance inside was a soft translucent gold. It nearly disappeared on his fingers except for the shine. He set the jar aside and gestured at Chris to put his legs up.

The gel was cool for only a moment, and he dug his heels into the bed with a slight shiver before it warmed enough not to notice except for the wetness. He watched in wide-eyed fascination as Bryn spread the balm over his cock with barely a twitch. He felt his own throb in response, and he caught his breath, biting his lip in anticipation.

Bryn looked down at him from where he sat, eyes dark again in the shadows. “Do you want to be above or below when I take you?” There was only a faint indication in his expression that he might be blushing.

“Um- uh… above.” He swallowed hard. He’d done this a few times, and he’d always wanted to be on top like that. Happy birthday to me???

Bryn smiled, genuine and warm but also with an edge that made his stomach knot up and his cock twitch. “Very well. My personal preferred way, if I must be honest, and I suppose I should be.” He laid next to Chris then on the bed, and reached out to pull him over on top of him, drawing him down into a passionate, tongue-teasing kiss, before pushing him back, and pulling his knees to rest on either side of his narrow hips.

Chris stared down at the dark-skinned, ivory-haired elf beneath him, at his angular, almost strange face, and the eyes that caught the light like crimson gems, and at his proud cock where it stood upright from soft, cream colored curls, and felt his whole body tremble for a moment.

He lifted himself up and shifted so that Bryn’s cock was behind him, pressed up against his ass. He closed his eyes and felt the elf’s hands reach for his hips, pressing upward, the length of his cock parting and stroking along the length of the cleft, teasing the opening.

He shuddered and let out a soft sound. Bryn’s hands tightened on his hips. He pulled back and pressed upward again, and again, teasing him and heightening his arousal until he just wanted to slam down on that hard cock.

Chris managed a breath, and then another, before he pulled back just a little. He opened his eyes suddenly when he felt the head of the elf’s cock press against that opening. He quivered as he felt it slip inside just a little. But Bryn seemed of a mind to tease, and he rocked his hips slowly, pushing just that little way in and back out again and felt like he might die.

He felt his body giving in, wanting more, wanting to take everything Bryn would allow. And he did, finally, pushing in all the way, until his ass was cradled by the curve of Bryn’s hips. He let out a soft moan and ran a hand over his aching cock. He wanted, in that moment, to come so badly.

He felt Bryn’s thighs flex only a moment before he pressed his hips into the bed and then thrust upward again, and he shuddered. He reached down and rested his hands on the elf’s smooth chest and moved, thrusting back against him in imperfect counterpoint. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered.

Sweat slicked down his back and on the insides of his thighs as they moved together, but it was glorious. His skin tingled and his mouth felt dry, but it didn’t matter. Bryn gripped his wrist with one hand, and his eyes opened to see faint beads of sweat along his hairline, and down the center of his chest.

Frankly the world could have ended and Chris wouldn’t have cared. His body grew tense and his thighs quivered and ached. He only moved faster against the thrust of Bryn’s hips. He felt a burn straight to his core when Bryn rubbed against him the right way, and his toes curled.

Bryn seemed to sense that he’d found the right spot and continued, moving faster, and making that burn spread through his body. Suddenly, without any warning, unlike before, he was coming and he couldn’t stop, his thighs clenching and his cock throbbing. Nothing came from his body but a stream of nonsense words and shudders, and somewhere in the midst of it all, he felt Bryn’s cock throb as the elf came. He felt the rush of heat, which set him off one last time before he nearly melted into Bryn’s arms.

They laid unmoving for some time, breathing in each other’s ear, the only movement aside from Bryn’s fingers trailing down his spine.

Eventually, though, Bryn rose and helped him from the bed, and helping him dress, finding every last piece of his clothing even when Chris had forgotten where it might’ve gone. Once dressed, and with his knapsack on his shoulder once more, it was almost as if nothing had happened. But Chris knew, that softly worn feeling… he knew.

As Bryn led him out to the tunnels again, to the grand space midway between the Summer and Winter Courts, he noticed there was something sad on the angular face. It only grew more noticeable as Bryn raised a hand to the stone wall of the tunnel, and a bright light replaced the stone, and he could see the grassy field again.

“I’ll come back,” he said, a promise he didn’t know he could keep, and stepped through the shimmering light. The sun landed on his face and arms, and the air was still as warm as when he’d left.

He stepped out of the fairy ring and onto the bare grass, and looked around. There was nothing to hint that anything had ever been different. He put his hands in his pocket, and touched the key. I’ll come back, he thought, more surely this time.