Marcia stares down at the letter on the official stationery of the Night Elf Embassy. It came by the post. She couldn't have been more surprised if it had come by owl, or bat. Actually, neither of those would have been as surprising as the contents of the letter itself. And it's not just the fact that Dare might have slightly misrepresented his position at the embassy. He doesn't just work there; he is the ambassador.

Picking up the phone, she dials the number on the letter. The line rings three times, there is a click, and then Dare's voice on the other end of the line. "Well, are you taking me up on my offer?" His phone voice deep and liquid, not sickly, and not young.

"Oh, good, I can tell you're well," Marcia says, refusing to be discombobulated by the lack of preamble or his voice. She's sitting at home, even though it's the middle of the week.

"Well?" Dare says.

She takes a deep breath and licks her lips. "It's very generous." The office manager position he's offering is more than just generous; it's perfect. Fifteen minutes on foot door to door— Cindy will never have a "spontaneous" beer party before Marcia gets home from work again. The health insurance is more than decent, the personal day policy exactly what she needs with three kids and two parents in an assisted living situation. Also, it comes just when her hospital has decided to outsource her job.

"What's the catch?" she asks.

Dare snorts. "Isn't the fact that your boss is a blood-sucking parasite catch enough?"

Marcia sits in stunned silence for a moment, then chuckles. "I thought you preferred 'symbiote.'"

When he speaks again, she can hear his smile through the phone. "We do, indeed. I'm glad you agree it's the right term."

"I didn't …"

"I didn't tell you that your plan for divulgement of our … necessity … has worked well."

"Oh, good," says Marcia. She'd seen the article in the paper with his picture in it; it described a genetic disorder plaguing the Night Elves, and about blood banks being set up to counter their society's slow decline. She'd noticed nowhere in the article the mention of "vampires." They are controlling the message, which is good.

"There are a few snags," he says.

"What kind of snags?" she asks.

"Nothing a woman with your sense of diplomacy won't be able to handle," Dare says confidently.

"So you figure I'm diplomatic?" she asks, raising an eyebrow. She knows she is, but she's curious how he came to that conclusion after she barged into his home a few weeks back.

"You went to a gathering with some rather inhospitable relatives while you were dying and managed to hold it together," Dare says.

She shouldn't, but she can't quite resist teasing him a little. "You know, I never told you I was dying." The teasing makes her feel young, and not like the fifty-three-year-old woman she didn't recognize in the mirror this morning.

"You'll need all your diplomacy to deal with our royal family," Dare says in a voice that is so smooth she knows he couldn't have missed the jibe. "Between you and me," he continues, "They've been out in the sun too long. Would you like to come by the embassy tomorrow, say 10AM, for the tour?"

"Sure," says Marcia. "What are those snags, again?"

"You'll see," Dare replies, and for the first time she catches the hint of something almost wicked in his voice. "Oh, and thanks for the bat," he adds just before hanging up.

She blinks at the phone. Is she really going down the rabbit hole again?

Later that night, when she tells her children she'll be working for the Night Elf Embassy, Joshua puts a hand to his mouth and cries, "I'll make you a pendant of holy water!"

Alicia says, "Mom, you don't have to do that to protect us!"

Cindy says, "Don't worry, he won't bite her … professional courtesy."

… and Marcia realizes that the Night Elves might not be controlling the message as well as she had thought.

x x x x

The door to Dare's office slams shut. Outside his office, Marcia jumps up from her desk and darts around it, shouting, "Diamonds!" while whipping out her key.

After three months, Marcia should recognize a "snag" in her plan before he or she enters Dare's office. But this morning she is reviewing applicants for blood donation. Because of the "host bond," donations are mixed and anonymous, but Dare is still very insistent that the donors "not be sociopaths or we may wind up with an Elizabeth Báthory situation … but don't blame us for Attila, Hitler, or Stalin!"

"Marcia!" screams Dare, his voice muffled by the door, as Marcia tries the knob. It's locked … by the reporter no doubt. Inserting the key, she hears Diamonds and six other pairs of feet behind her. She turns the key, pushes, and the door opens.

Dare is by the window, one arm in front of his face, the other holding the stuffed bat she'd given him. He's waving it at the reporter like a priest once waved a cross at him on the street. The reporter is sitting on his desk, dress open at the front. She's leaning back, exposing her neck and breasts, saying, "Take me."

"Make her go away," Dare whines.

"Let's get her out of here, boys!" Diamonds says.

"Another one?" she hears one of the dwarves grumble. Before the "snag" can protest, she's being carried away on her back out the door, the same way the dwarves had hauled away Marcia all those months ago.

Dare peeks out from behind his arm, and then walks over, puts the bat on the desk, pats its head, and falls panting into his chair.

Without a word, Marcia goes over to the percolator—the device that keeps the fresh pig's blood from coagulating—and pours him a mug of it..

She has learned many things about Dare in the past few months. For instance, she knows that Diamonds is Dare's grandniece, by marriage, of course, not by blood. One of his daughters is married to a very nice dwarf and she has adopted four little baby dwarves. Dare has extolled the virtues of grandchildren over lunch frequently. Vampires do eat. The tiny amount of blood they drink doesn't have many calories.

She also knows that he was—and is—supposedly one of the most feared and respected vampires in all the realms. The reason he is the ambassador here is because he has a lot of experience on Earth, primarily hunting down rogue vampires who had disobeyed the travel ban. It's a little hard to believe sometimes. This is one of those times.

She hands him the mug and he takes it with shaky hands. "This is all your fault, you know," Dare grumbles.

He always says that. Vampires have a more devoted following than Marcia had imagined. She nods, and says, "I know."

He finishes off the mug. He has access to the blood bank, but only drinks animal blood, for some reason. Marcia's not sure if it's because he thinks human blood should go to the less fortunate, or if he has some other reason for his abstinence. She's not sure why she doesn't just ask.

Dare looks around his office and then out the window. "What a beautiful foggy day. Where do you want to go to lunch, Marcia?"

Her gut does a little twist at that.

He stands up very quickly. "Oh, but wait. Before I forget …" Walking over to a bookshelf, he says, "I know that Joshua is feeling a need of inspiration for that fashion show, and I thought, perhaps, ah …" He picks up a parcel wrapped in paper, walks over, and hands it to Marcia. He stands too close. She ducks her head and takes the parcel a little clumsily. The paper falls away, and she's staring at a book. Elves in various sorts of glittery attire walk across the cover. It's magic, very literally.

"Elven fashion for the last two thousand years … you'd need an encyclopedia for all the Earth fashions in the same time frame," he says, sitting down on the desk. "But perhaps it will spark Joshua's muse." Dare knows about Joshua's muse's recent absence because a few days ago, over lunch, Joshua had texted her thirty-one times. Instead of being mad, Dare had read the messages over her shoulder.

"It's beautiful," she says. And priceless. Elvish works of art and literature are still rare, especially originals. She could sell this book to Sotheby's and all her financial problems would be over … forever.

"It's a gift," he says casually.

Marcia swallows. She won't ever sell it.

"So where should we go to lunch?" he asks. "I think I might be in the mood for garlic … does Italian or Chinese suit you?"

How to be diplomatic? "You had Italian yesterday," she says.

His lips purse. "True. But you weren't with me."

"Cindy was with you," she says. Did that sound snippy? She didn't mean it to sound snippy.

"Hmmmm … she seemed to be wandering a little far afield," Dare says, shaking his head.

Marcia huffs. "I hate that open campus lunch policy." Cindy had, according to her, "just bumped into Dare," but Marcia's not sure she believes it.

Dare raises an eyebrow at her. "Is something bothering you, Marcia?"

Marcia looks at the book with the glittering elves drifting across the covers. Many things are wrong. But she thinks … she thinks this might be the way to put them all to rest. Drive a stake through it, so to speak. She winces. "Cindy … well, I think she might have thought … well, the way she was talking to Alicia … I think she may have thought yesterday's lunch … was a date."

She remembers Cindy leaning against the door of Alicia's room, saying, "Dracula took me to lunch … he paid and everything. He's so handsome, and the way he looked at me, it made me feel like I was the only person in the world."

Dare bursts out laughing.

When Marcia looks up at him in alarm, he stops.

"Oh, right, I'm sorry. That is … disturbing, and I shouldn't have laughed," he says contritely.

"It's easy," Marcia says, her jaw getting hard, "to see how she might have gotten that impression."

Dare snorts and rolls his eyes. "Yes, we have so much in common."

"She's a seventeen-year-old girl who lost her father, who thinks she is abused because she is used as a pawn by her godmother … and she's looking for a father figure to save her!" Marcia bursts out.

Dare's face gets very serious again, and his eyes soften. "Ah …"

"You spend a lot of time with us," Marcia says. This is true. His home is past hers, the kids' bus stop is on the way, and almost every night he winds up walking the three of them home …Sometimes he talks to Joshua, sometimes he talks to Alicia, and sometimes he talks to Cindy. It has been a good thing. Alicia stands a little taller when he talks to her; she says it's because she 'isn't about to show fear to him.' Cindy has started doing her homework more regularly. Marcia is still not sure what Dare said to encourage that. And Joshua no longer gets bullied, because he's met at the bus stop by 'Dracula.' A few times she has wanted to invite Dare into their house for dinner; but, considering how exciting dinners with her family can be, she has been embarrassed and afraid.

Marcia licks her lips nervously. "It might be better … if we, you know, take it easy for a while."

She closes her eyes and exhales. There, that's done. Now she'll just come up with a reason to skip lunch.

"Is that really what's bothering you?" says Dare.

No, it isn't. Marcia wraps her arms around herself and looks at the floor. What's really bothering her is that she is attracted to her boss, who is not just her boss, but out of her league and wrong for her in so many ways. She's not sure how it happened. Usually, with younger men she finds them cute … but a little … well, young. She likes men with silver in their hair and creases in their foreheads, and laugh lines. Men who have loved and lost, and lived, whom she doesn't have to explain things to, about grief, and children, and life, because they understand. The problem is Dare understands, too. And two days ago, it had nearly cost her everything. He'd taken her arm in his after lunch, a gesture she's sure he learned during a short visit to New York in the 1800s. She'd looked up at him at precisely the same moment he'd looked down at her, and she almost melted. Worse, she'd stood up on her tiptoes, and then she'd almost kissed him. If that truck hadn't honked its horn … better not to think about it.

"Because if it is, I think I have a solution … to everyone's problems," says Dare.

"Oh," says Marcia, not knowing where he is going with this, but hoping there will be a way for her to wiggle out of lunch.

She sees him wave a hand in the periphery of her vision, and the door slams shut. She gasps and turns her head. "Did you use magic to close the door?"

He puts a hand on top of her left one. Her arms are crossed, and his hand covers her hand and part of her arm … and she goes hot all over. Marcia feels her face go completely red. She looks down at his hand on hers, so he doesn't realize she's blushing like a schoolgirl.

"I could be a real father figure to them, if I became their father."

After those words come out of Dare's mouth, it takes what feels like a century for Marcia to put them together. "What?" she blurts out. She must have misheard, because the words don't really make sense.

"We're perfect together," Dare says. "You're diplomatic, and you're brave …"

She blinks at that and he says, "You thought your life was in danger when I brought back Cindy's silly shoe, but you didn't lose your head. I could see you, thinking about where to hide your children, possibly thinking of what sort of kitchen implement you might use as a stake. I was almost expecting you to push me off the balcony."

Her lips part and she feels her heart stop. He had picked up on that?

"Your advice is spot on. Your handling of my royal family's …" He grimaces. "Eccentricities, is inspired."

"Anyone could have told them that asking about potential blood donors' virginity status would bring about a political firestorm," Marcia says.

"But no one did," Dare says. "We make a good team … I mean, I think that I am good for your family."

And hadn't she just been thinking exactly that? She swallows. It's not a speech a young man would give, not at all. It's something an older man would say. And that is what makes it right, and more romantic, rather than less.

She hears him gulp. "We can't get married on Earth with the current state of inter-hominid marriage laws, but in the Night Elf kingdom it would be acceptable. It would make a lot of my fellow elves extremely jealous, but I don't care." He squeezes her hand. "And you don't need to worry about it being a polyamory situation where I have a vampire wife as well. I've had children, already."

"What?"

He winces. "At one time it was practiced. Not just a male vampire and a human woman and vampire woman; it went the other way as well. I've always personally felt with three you tend to triangulate." He shudders. "I have enough of being diplomatic with my job. I don't need that at home."

She stares at him open-mouthed for far too long. "I look like your mother," she stammers at last.

His lips purse, and he pulls her hand to his stomach. He looks to the side, and then back at her. "Nooooo … she has pointed ears, and fangs … and is blonde …" His voice says, I know this is a trick question. I just don't know what. He smiles sunnily. "She'll adore you!"

Sometimes he seems old and immensely wise, and sometimes he seems just … clueless. "When we go out to eat," Marcia says in a slow, careful voice, "At least three times, people have mistaken me for your mother. And … you … laugh."

"Because … it's … funny," he says in the same careful voice. He smiles again, and this time it is wicked. "I don't think of you like my mother at all." His voice is just as wicked as his smile. A mouth that just drank pig's blood shouldn't look as sexy as it does.

Marcia still stands frozen. "I'm going to get very old … very quickly … in the grand scheme of things." Don't kiss him, she tells herself, think of the pig's blood, think of the pig's blood …

Dare stands up, and he's very close, too close. He clutches her hand to his chest."First off … just as vampires look, I am told, 'too beautiful' to human eyes, humans look the same to us. But … moreover, if you are my wife, my host, you won't grow old. You might even look younger …"

She looks up and finds him gazing down at her hand.

"That's the symbiotic benefit we're not supposed to talk about." Not looking up, he adds, "And you won't get cancer again."

She can see where they might want to keep that quiet. Vampires could wind up hunted to extinction … or something. But then Marcia takes a sharp breath. "I never told you I had cancer."

"No," he says. "But I guessed when I realized you could see our fangs." He shrugs, eyes still downcast. "We have an innate glamour that hides them. Humans who are very close to death … they can see them … and humans in other, emotional, non-death situations."

"You healed me …"

His eyes meet hers, and he looks very old again. "No, I will never say that I did. Please … don't even think of it. There is no compulsion to take up my offer, Marcia."

Marcia looks down at her hand, and laughs softly. "Usually, on Earth, an offer coming from my boss would be considered compulsion."

She feels his hand loosen, looks up, and sees a pained expression on his face, as though she's struck him. "That was the most undiplomatic observation of all time," she says, pulling his hand to her lips and closing her eyes to kiss it.

A coil of hair has fallen in front of her eyes, and he brushes it back. "Does this mean you'll …?"

"I'm saying I'll consider it." She swallows. "But … you should have dinner with my family. You might change your mind."

When she looks up at him, his lips are parted. For the first time since she was ill, she can see his fangs. He doesn't have to explain to her that it has nothing to do with death this time.

He's not the perfect vision of a prince in a fairy tale, but then she's not a princess either.

x x x x

Marcia doesn't have Dare over for dinner that night. Instead, she broaches the subject with her family first.

"You're so old," says Cindy. "But I guess you're both evil and made for each other." She gets up from the table, goes to her room, and slams the door.

Alicia says, "Mom, you don't have to do this for us."

Joshua, looking at his book, says, "Go for it, Mom. I've been telling everyone at school you've been dating him for months."

"What?" says Marcia.

He waves a hand. "Why do you think all the bullies at school leave me alone now?"

Turning back to Alicia, Marcia says, "I am doing it for myself, too. I like him."

Alicia shrugs. "If you're happy."

Marcia looks after Cindy. "Would it help her if I tell her he likes me because I'm old?" And then realizes she's said the thought out loud.

"It might give her hope, Mom." Alicia says. "Joshua's got fashion. I've got good grades … she just thinks she's only pretty."

Marcia notices she's not slouching at all.

x x x x

Cindy hugs Marcia. Maybe grudgingly, maybe shyly, Marcia can't tell. "You look beautiful," she says. "Joshua outdid himself on the dress." The wedding dress, made by Joshua of elven silk that appears to be shimmering water, is beautiful.

Marcia pulls away. "You look beautiful, too," she whispers in her ear. "But you're more than that. You'll figure it out." Cindy nods, and the moment is uncomfortable. Marcia doesn't believe there will ever be a magical moment when it all comes together, but bit-by-bit, maybe someday.

Cindy stands in front of Dare. "You look old."

"He does not look old, he looks older," Marcia says. He's given himself some gray hairs, laugh lines, and crow's feet.

Dare shrugs. "Magic? Is there anything it can't do?"

Marcia hadn't asked him to change his appearance. He had done it himself, saying he was worried about the kids "not respecting him as an authority figure." It's an illusion, and if Dare doesn't maintain it, it will fade. Judging by the way Cindy responds to it, it was a good idea.

Likewise, Dare hadn't asked the first time he drank Marcia's blood; she'd just bitten her lip and then kissed him. Judging by how easy it has become for him to maintain his illusion of age after she started giving him blood, it was a good idea.

Behind them, a carriage drawn by griffins comes to a stop.

"Don't worry," says Joshua, with his hand on Diamonds. "We'll have fun with our dwarf cousins while you start your happily ever after."

Diamonds snorts. "You won't have too much fun."

Dare huffs. "Happily ever after, not at all. I'm literally a pain in the neck, and your mother can be stubborn."

Marcia elbows him, and he elbows her back.

Alicia, quiet the whole time, breaks into sobs at his words. Everyone in the party goes silent.

"Alicia?" Marcia says, going to her.

Her usually stoic, unemotional daughter throws her arms around her neck. "Thank you for giving me a real fairy tale. A fairy tale I can believe in."

~Fin~

My fans loved this short so much they asked me to write a longer version. So I did … the expanded novel of Magic After Midnight: After the Fire Book 2 is available now on all retailers-I write under my real name, C. Gockel out there in the wild. There is more nookie, trips to Vanaheim and the land of the dwarves, aggravated would-be-goddesses, and Dare's adorable fear of spiders.

Magic After Midnight is based on my I Bring the Fire universe. It's all about Loki, Norse God of Mischief. If you want to read more in this world, Wolves: I Bring the Fire Part I is free on all retailers.

If you enjoyed this short story, please leave a review!