A Year and a Day

an excerpt

Chapter One

April 1

Niall was bored. He'd been in the human world for ten months and three days and had decided that there was nothing special to hold him in such a terribly mundane realm. Not when his own realm was full of so much magic, wonder, and limitless possibilities. In contrast, humans were so unimaginative and far too dependent on those little computers they carried in their pockets. They rarely lifted their heads long enough to appreciate the incredible splendor of their world, much less took the time to connect with those around them.

Sure, there were good points. Some humans were gifted storytellers, a talent that had survived the generations, and Niall made an exception to his general distaste for modern technology when it came to going to the movies. It was a delightful experience to be so immersed in story after wild story, but not enough to make him wish his time away from home would never end.

The one thing he would miss, however, would be the glorious array of natural beauty. It was part of why he had taken to the human pastime of jogging--all the better to appreciate the scenery around him. Especially since that scenery often included some rather attractive humans in some fantastic, skimpy clothing. The fae were, on the whole, a beautiful race themselves. But humans had such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and he would never tire of looking at them. At least from a distance.

Naturally, Niall had been in the human world for ten months and six days when he found a reason to consider staying.

He was on his afternoon jog along Bear Lake, following the two-mile strip of shore bordering Haven City, Utah, going slower than usual just to enjoy the mid-April sunlight and the crisp lake breeze in his hair. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone stepping out of the lake. Considering how cold the water must be, the sight was enough to slow Niall's jog to a brisk walk.

The man was wearing a wetsuit that clung to every inch of his tall, slim frame. His hair, dark and wet, was pushed back from his face. He reached for a towel on the rocky shore, then briskly rubbed his face and hair before draping the towel over his head and grabbing a pair of glasses. With brisk, efficient movements, he began peeling off his wetsuit, completely oblivious to the way Niall stumbled over his own feet at all that lean muscle and pale skin being revealed.

Without even considering what he would say, Niall adjusted course, heading for the man and calling out, "Hi there!"

The man looked up, visibly startled. "Oh," he said. "Hello."

"I'm surprised to see anyone swimming this early in the year," Niall said, bright and probably a little too upbeat.

"Yeah, well, I didn't want to swim in the pool today. I wanted the lake."

Niall nodded stupidly. "It's beautiful out today." By now he was close enough, so he offered his hand in greeting. "I'm Niall."

"Ben." He took Niall's hand in a strong grip and quickly released it with a shy smile. "I'm not used to seeing someone as tall as I am."

Ben had lovely brown eyes the color of the earth, and Niall wanted to keep them on him as long as possible. "Believe it or not," he said with a small laugh, "I'm considered average in my family."

Ben raised an eyebrow. "That's a little frightening." He started rubbing the towel over his arms and chest again, shivering, goose bumps rising on his skin. He wrapped the towel around his shoulders. "It's nice to meet you, Niall, but I need to get inside before I turn into ice."

"Oh!" Niall dragged his gaze up from Ben's chest, blushing furiously. "I'm sorry!" He stumbled back a step, then stopped. "I know this might sound strange since we've known each other all of two minutes, but would you like to have dinner with me? Somewhere less cold?"

"Uh, yes?" Ben pulled the towel closed over his chest as another shiver ran through him. "I mean, sure. I'd like that."

Niall grinned and stepped close again. "Good," he said. "Great."

Ben nodded. "Give me your phone. I'll put my number in and get yours. Then I can text you my address."

"Phone?" Niall blinked for several seconds, trying to understand. "Oh, right. I--" He laughed nervously, suddenly and painfully aware of how strange he must look. "I don't actually have one. I've never really had much use for one before now."

"No phone?" Ben's mouth dropped open. "Oh, okay." He was quiet for a few seconds. "Maybe we should just meet somewhere, then."

"Sure," Niall said. He stooped and gathered up the rest of Ben's things, then handed them over with tentative hands. "I'm not from around here, so why don't you pick the place?"

Ben named a small diner that Niall fortunately recognized. They arranged to meet, and Ben gave a small smile. "It was good to meet you," he said. "I'll see you tonight?"

Niall nodded, a touch too enthusiastically. "I wouldn't miss it." He lingered another beat, but when Ben shivered again, Niall knew he was making an ass out of himself. "I'll let you go," he said. "See you soon, Ben."

"Yeah, see you tonight," Ben said. Clothes bundled in one hand, the arms of his wetsuit swinging next to his legs, he headed for a small building several feet away and disappeared inside, once more rubbing the towel over his head.

Niall stood there for a moment longer and then turned around to head back to the cabin he'd rented for his stay. He had to get ready for later and try to figure out how not to be such a complete idiot the next time they met. "Phone," he muttered, singsong mocking himself. "Oh, I don't have a phone!"

****

Ben poked through his closet. He didn't really date and wasn't sure this was a date and had no idea what to wear. He finally decided on a simple green button-down with his nice jeans. Locking his door behind him, he started the short walk to Lee's, burying his hands deep in his jacket pockets.

He opened the door and immediately spotted Niall already in a booth toward the back. It was hard to miss that bright red hair on such a tall man. He himself was about six-two, and he thought Niall was a shade taller. With a smile, he slid onto the bench across from Niall. "Hi again."

Niall smiled, looking relieved. "Hey," he said. "Glad you made it."

"Of course." Ben said. "Have you already ordered?" Great. Really smooth. He almost hoped this wasn't a date, because he was awkward and certainly making a bad impression. He just never knew what to say.

"I thought I'd wait for you," Niall said with a shrug. He had a faint accent that was more melodic than a definite lilt but enough to mark him as from way out of town. "I figured it wouldn't hurt to try to make a good second impression after I was such a weird one this afternoon." He blushed, the freckles on his fair skin showing up in sharp contrast. "Sorry about that."

Ben shook his head. "You're fine," he said. He felt heat bloom in his cheeks and knew his blush had to match Niall's. "I'm not exactly suave or clever myself."

Niall laughed, a light sound that turned several heads. Not that he seemed to notice, since Niall had yet to take his eyes off Ben. He leaned forward, arms on the table. "Would you mind if I asked an awkward question?"

"Go for it," Ben said. Niall's eyes were almost impossibly green, so beautiful Ben couldn't look away. He leaned in, mirroring Niall's pose. "What do you want to know?"

"Is this..." Niall trailed off and blushed again. "Would you object if this was a date?"

Ben shook his head, still mesmerized by Niall's eyes. "I wouldn't object at all," he said softly. Heat started to curl in his stomach, now that he knew he could want. Niall looked warm, solid without an ounce of fat on him. At least, not that Ben could see. "I'd like that."

He curled his lips in between his teeth and bit down lightly. Hopefully that would make him shut up.

"Oh good." There was that big smile again, Niall's eyes crinkling at the corners as he leaned just a hair closer. "That could have gone terribly wrong, couldn't it?"

"I suppose it could." Ben smiled back, relieved when the waitress chose that moment to come to their table. "Hello, Olivia."

The girl popped her gum. Her blonde hair was caught back in a bouncy ponytail, a pink ribbon that matched the uniform dress tied around it. "Hi, Mr. Ross. You ready to order?"

"Just a cheeseburger, no pickles or onions, and fries. And a Coke." He watched as she wrote it down and turned to Niall with a questioning look.

Niall flashed a bright smile at Olivia. "I'll have the same as my friend here," he said.

Olivia flushed. "I'll be back with your food soon," she said, dimples on clear display.

"Thank you, Olivia," Ben said a touch firmly. She shot him a pouty look and left. He shrugged apologetically at Niall. "One of my students," he said.

"She seems like a nice enough girl," Niall said, immediately turning those eyes back on Ben. "So you're a teacher, then?"

"Grad student," Ben corrected. "I have to teach as part of my program here." He looked up as Olivia brought them their Cokes, taking one of the straws she left and peeling the paper off. "But I only have a couple of classes. What about you--what do you do?"

Niall shrugged. "Not very much of anything right now. I've been taking a year off, seeing the world, though I suppose when I go home I'll have to go into the family business in some way or another. Mergers, acquisitions, contract law," he offered before Ben could ask. "My family's always been big on some form of industry or another."

"What parts of the world have you seen? What were your favorites?" Ben took a sip of his Coke before poking at the ice with his straw.

"I've been all over by now," Niall said. "Last month, I spent a week in a hut on the beach in Thailand. Absolutely beautiful. Lovely people there too. My landlady was probably the oldest hu-- person I've ever met." He took a sip of his Coke, full lips wrapped around the straw. "What kind of program are you in?"

"Folklore," Ben said with a wry grin. "I fly my nerd banner high."

"Really?" Niall propped his chin on his hand, his eyes lighting up with interest. "I have to confess, my favorite part about traveling has been hearing the local stories."

"Be careful, or I'll start interviewing you." Slightly stunned by the brilliance of Niall's smile, Ben felt the curl of heat from that afternoon return. "I study the stories and the legends and myths behind them."

Niall laughed that bright laugh of his again. "If it means I can get stories out of you in return, I'd say that's a fair bargain," he said just as Olivia returned with their burgers.

Ben sat back to allow her to set his plate in front of him. "Thank you," he murmured to her. To Niall he said, "I don't really have stories. I learn about other people's stories."

"The same could be said about me," Niall said with a shrug. "But a good story has, historically speaking, always been worth its weight in gold."

"Truer words," Ben said. He took a bite with a little moan. All the food at the diner was wonderful, but he especially loved the burgers. He chewed and swallowed before continuing. "Stories were frequently traded for food or lodging at one time."

Niall made a soft sound of agreement as he tucked into his own meal. They passed the rest of the meal in quiet conversation, the usual first-date-getting-to-know-you stuff that never went too deep or got too complicated. At some point their feet got tangled under the table, but Niall only smiled and tapped Ben's foot with his own without pausing in his story involving a rickshaw, three goats, and a very irate dumpling vendor.

Ben left his feet where they were, enjoying the weight of Niall's against his. He nearly choked laughing at Niall's story, taking a swallow of his Coke before scooping up some ketchup on a fry. "You're not serious," he said, still snickering.

"I am!" Niall said. "I had to pay a small fortune for those goats and their dinner, all because of a flat tire! I'll tell you, I walked everywhere I went the rest of the time I was there. Much cheaper that way."

"Your life is definitely far more adventurous than mine, no question." Ben finished off his fries and sat back, Coke in hand. "I love this diner. Food's simple and cheap and absolutely delicious. Do you want anything else?"

"I couldn't eat another bite," Niall admitted, pushing away his nearly empty plate. "You're right--the food's delicious. Though I'll admit it's the company I want more of."

Ben felt his face flush and hurriedly signaled Olivia for the check. "We could watch a movie, I guess? I can't afford the first runs, but there's a dollar theater on the other side of campus, or I've got a lot of DVDs at home. Unless you have another idea?"

"I love movies," Niall said, digging out his wallet. "I've seen just about every movie out right now."

"Oh. Well, there's not much else to do here." Ben shrugged. "I don't hit the drinking scene anymore. I'm too old for the college parties."

"You have movies back at your place?" Niall asked. "We could do that, if you'd like." He blushed. "I just don't want to be too pushy."

"I wouldn't have offered if I hadn't meant it," Ben said. "But it's not a euphemism. It's just movies."

"No, I mean, yes, of course," Niall stammered. He stopped, closing his eyes. "I swear, I'm not normally this much of an idiot."

Ben laughed softly. "I'll take it as a compliment." He took the check from Olivia with a smile and a thank-you, tugging his wallet out of his pants.

"You should," Niall said with a grin. "And I can pay. I did ask you out, after all."

"Oh," Ben said. He tried to hide his relief. He wouldn't be broke if he paid, but he wasn't exactly flush either. He handed Niall the check. "Okay, thank you."

"My pleasure," Niall said as he left enough to cover their bill and a very nice tip. "Do you live far?"

"Not at all. I walked here earlier, in fact." Ben gestured for Niall to precede him out of the diner, then waved in the general direction of his apartment. "Follow me."

They strolled together, chatting amiably until they reached home. Ben fumbled slightly with the keys as he opened the door. "It's not much," he said, "but it's home."

Before Ben could step inside, Niall kissed his cheek once. "Thank you for welcoming me into your home," he said.

"Of course," Ben said. He stepped in, turned the lights on, and held the door open for Niall, closing it when Niall was inside. He glanced around quickly, relieved to find things relatively tidy except for the mountain of books and papers on the kitchen table. Waving at the bookshelf full of DVDs against the far wall, he smiled at Niall. "Go pick something. I'll get a couple of beers."

Niall spent a long time looking over Ben's movie selection. Finally he pulled one out and waved it at Ben. "Is this one any good?"

"That's not really a good question," Ben said, setting a beer on the coffee table and sitting down on the sofa with his own. "If I own it, I like it. So I'll say yes no matter what you pick." He glanced at the case Niall was waving at him. "But that one's pretty funny."

Niall fussed with the DVD player, loading up the movie before he joined Ben on the sofa. "You've got a nice setup here," he said, sipping his beer as the movie started.

Ben nodded and swallowed. "Yeah, it's not bad for a grad student." He flashed a grin at Niall. "I managed to get a single apartment rather than having to share. So I can usually have quiet when I need to think." Ben found himself edging closer to Niall's warmth. He cleared his throat but didn't move back.

The movie played as they watched in silence for a few minutes. Finally Ben turned to Niall, letting the motion edge him even closer. "Where are you staying?"

Niall jerked a thumb vaguely behind them. "I have a place near the lake," he said. "Rented it for the next couple of months." He smiled and lifted his arm, then rested it along the back of the sofa, behind Ben. "I figured Haven City would be as good a place as any to unwind after all my traveling."

"Makes sense," Ben said vaguely. He stopped talking, and they watched the movie, laughing at the jokes, Ben even saying some of the lines along with the actors. Underneath everything, though, was the hum of attraction that only got stronger the longer he sat there next to Niall.

Eventually he felt Niall's hand rest on his shoulder, Niall sliding that much closer. "Is this okay?" Niall asked during a quiet part of the movie, his breath warm over Ben's ear.

"Yeah," he whispered, "it's fine." He edged in until he was pressed into Niall's side. He was no longer paying any attention to the movie, his mind entirely focused on the line of heat from shoulder to knee.

Niall nosed at Ben's cheek, kissing him softly just at the bend of his jaw. After a few seconds, Niall trailed light kisses down Ben's neck. Ben tilted his head slightly to give Niall room to work and put his hand on Niall's leg, feeling the solid strength of his thigh under his jeans.

He wasn't going to sleep with Niall tonight, but that didn't mean some kissing wouldn't be good.

Sharp teeth nibbled at Ben's pulse point, a careful scrape that caught his breath in his throat. Then Niall moved back up, cupping the side of Ben's face and turning him in for a kiss. It was all soft, loose kisses, with Niall sucking on Ben's lower lip once before he laughed softly. "I've wanted to kiss you for hours."

"I might let you kiss me for hours," Ben murmured, smiling against Niall's mouth. "If you can take it, because I meant it when I said no sex."

"I think I can wait for it." Niall flicked his tongue against the seam of Ben's lips. "Open up for me?"

Ben parted his lips to let Niall's tongue slide inside. He met it with his own, letting them tangle together. He ran the tip of his tongue against Niall's teeth and the roof of his mouth, slowly exploring. When he pulled back, he pressed his lips against Niall's again quickly. "You know, we're missing the movie," he murmured.

"So we are," Niall said back. He slid his fingers into Ben's hair, pushing it back and away from Ben's face, and trailed light kisses up Ben's cheek and to his ear. "Would you rather I stop?"

"No," Ben said simply. He turned, putting his knee on the sofa between them so he was facing Niall. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Niall's again, putting a hand on Niall's knee for balance.

"Good," Niall breathed, curling his free arm around Ben and pulling him closer. They kissed like that for what felt like ages, slick mouths and curious tongues meeting slowly over and over until Niall had Ben on his back, both of them fighting the slow, abortive movements of their hips. Niall pulled back enough to press his face into Ben's shoulder, breathing ragged. "I should stop, shouldn't I?"

Ben was panting too, body burning, hotter than a kiss had ever caused before. "Yeah," he forced the word out. "Yeah, we should."

Niall nosed at his neck, sucking gently. "Do you want to stop?"

"No, but we need to. I can't do this already. I barely know you." Ben arched his neck, giving Niall more room. It felt so good--the weight of Niall's body pressing him into the cushions, the pull of Niall's mouth at his neck, even the hard line of Niall's cock, hot against his own. He managed a weak smile. "I'm not that kind of girl."

"I never thought you were," Niall said with a soft laugh. He rocked forward once, both of them groaning at the friction. "I should go." He kissed Ben again, a little bit dirty this time as he slipped his tongue into Ben's mouth.

Ben sucked on it once, then pushed Niall gently away. "Stop. You should go now while I can still let you."

Niall sighed but let himself be moved. He stood, adjusted the hard length of his cock beneath his jeans, and offered Ben a hand up with a grin. "At least tell me I can see you again?"

"Of course," Ben said, grabbing Niall's hand to pull himself up. He dropped his gaze briefly to Niall's erection pushing against his jeans, then hurriedly looked away. He wanted to feel that without their clothes in the way, wanted to know what it was like to have it inside him. He sighed. Not yet. "I'm free most nights, but I have to take time to work on my thesis."

"I could cook for you," Niall suggested, drifting closer before taking a deliberate step back. "Sorry."

Ben waved dismissively. He understood--he was having a hard time staying away from Niall too. But oh, a home-cooked meal he didn't have to make himself, hopefully something a little more complex than Ramen noodles. "I'd really like that," he said, smiling at Niall. "I'd love a nice meal at home."

"Tomorrow night?" Niall asked. He kept looking at Ben's lips, kept licking his own, and it was so distracting. "You can come to mine. I'll cook, and you can tell me about this thesis?"

"Sounds good. Where do you live? I know you said you were renting, but I need to know which condo. Wait, you don't have a phone. Let me grab some paper." He still couldn't quite believe Niall didn't have a phone.

Niall blushed faintly as he wrote down his address and what must be an actual-to-goodness landline number. "It's on the edge of town," he said. "One of the cabins on the hill?"

Ben nodded. "I know where you mean." He took the paper from Niall. "What time should I be there?"

"Would it be too weird if I said the sooner the better?" Niall asked. He'd come close again, and this time he didn't stop himself from kissing Ben. He kept it carefully close-mouthed but lingered to press a few more kisses, grinning against Ben's mouth.

"A little bit," Ben said. He smiled and returned the chaste kisses. "Dinner isn't until late evening tomorrow, and I have classes and research to do."

Niall huffed playfully. "Fine, then. Six? I'm on vacation, remember; my time is completely open."

"Six is fine," Ben said. He led Niall to the door. "I'll be there."

"I look forward to it." Niall gave that thousand-watt smile again. Then he pulled Ben in for one last, lingering kiss. "Goodnight, Ben."

"Goodnight," Ben echoed as Niall slipped through the door. He thunked his head against the frame. This would either end badly or be incredible. He could feel it.