“You know I can’t dance to this music, right?” said Andrea.
She stared up at the tall elf looming over her. Prince Finren, of the Kingdom of Elfinair, paused with his hand still outstretched towards her, raising an eyebrow at her. The elf was clad in a blue silken shirt and pants, the entire ensemble lined with silver trim that gleamed beneath the bright lights of the dance hall. His hands were also clad in white silk gloves, and beneath his shirt he wore an actual white silk cravat. His golden hair had been brushed back from his face, proudly showing his pointed elven ears, and was draped over his shoulders in a braided plait to the middle of his back. All in all, Andrea was infuriated at how handsome he was, and regretted taking this assignment of interviewing the prince at the very first Los Angeles charity ball funded by the royal Elfinair houses. She felt her face flush several shades of red at the elf’s proximity to her.
“It is only one dance, Lady Andrea,” he murmured.
He wiggled his fingers, his hand outstretched towards her as if in offering, and had to bite back an actual laugh as he watched the human reporter stare at his hand as if it was life-threatening.
“I told you, Prince,” she replied quietly, “I really can’t dance to this music right now! Can’t you find someone else?”
Andrea Eckers felt herself mentally panicking at the situation in which she had found herself. The assignment from her editor-in-chief, Dan Vicks, had been too good to be true: interview the prince on the current status of human-elven relations, and then attend the charity ball. Andrea had dressed the part, at least, wearing a black designer dress and the prettiest heels she owned that she could barely walk in, but she had underestimated the pull she had felt towards Prince Finren as soon as they had met earlier that day.
Her colleagues at the L.A. Docket had called it “elven sparkles,” the aura of charismatic presence that all elves shared. In addition to elvenkind’s collective voluminous appearance, it was also that gleaming, invisible aura that had captivated humanity as soon as several diplomats of Elfinair had walked through an interdimensional portal in downtown Manhattan and introduced themselves several years prior.
“It seems I must remind you, Lady Andrea, that you are my esteemed guest for the evening,” he said smoothly in reply, “as per your agreement with me several hours earlier. I give you an interview for your publication, and you provide me with the honor of your company during the ball tonight. Or do you wish to cause a possible interdimensional incident between our worlds?”
Finren gestured with a sideways nod of his head, and Andrea looked over in a futile attempt to be discreet. Sure enough, a gaggle of reporters and paparazzi had formed at the entrance to the ballroom and were already taking dozens of pictures of her and the elven prince. Andrea felt her face flush anew, mortified at the picture she was providing at her supposed rebuff of the prince’s hand. If she didn’t take him up on the offer of sharing a dance, her refusal would be all over the internet in a matter of minutes. It would be a glaring slight on current human-elven relations, which were already tenuous, not to mention alienating her newspaper from the royal family.
Andrea took a breath, then looked back at the prince, placing her hand gently in his. The silk was soft against her palm. She heard a collective sigh of relief from the other humans around her and sighed under her breath.
“Fine, I guess we agreed to it all,” she said, slowly standing from her chair, “but you should know, Prince Finren, this music is what I call ‘slow jams.’ I don’t even know how you expect to dance to this…”
Finren chuckled under his breath.
“Please leave it to me, Lady Andrea,” he said as he glided forward with her hand in his.
“Most of my kind have an excellent sense of rhythm,” he continued, “and, as heir to the elven throne, I was taught numerous methods of dancing soon after I learned to walk. Worry not, I am quite certain I will be able to dance even to your so-called ‘slow jams.’”
Even his laugh is charming, she groused mentally. How am I going to not look like a total fool right now?
Finren led her slowly to the middle of the dance floor, allowing Andrea to collect herself before he turned and gave her a polite bow. Andrea attempted what was probably an awful courtesy, but at least the internet couldn’t fault her for trying. The dance floor was empty except for them, and Andrea felt herself mentally flailing, fighting to ground herself. She swallowed, her mouth dry as she felt the eyes of most of the ball attendees on them, as well as the gleam of paparazzi cameras, but Finren smiled and took her hand once more, and Andrea felt the rest of the world fall away.
“Ready?” he asked, awaiting her response.
At her nod, the prince drew her gently forward by the hand, drawing her hand upwards above their shoulders, and placing his other hand against the small of her back. Andrea fought a flinch at the heat of his hand against her, enjoying Finren’s close proximity more than she wanted to admit to herself. She placed her other hand on his shoulder, holding on for dear life as they began to move. She forced herself to raise her head, looking into the elf’s startling blue eyes, and watched as he gave her a gentle smile. She felt them both moving, the prince beginning to lead them in a swaying motion, turning them in a slow circle.
“Focus on me, Lady Andrea,” he whispered, “and ignore the others, if you can. I am familiar with the social pressures of dances, as well as the mental trenches of diplomacy. All that matters is you accepted my invitation to dance. To both of our peoples, you have done well.”
Andrea let out a loud laugh, tightening her hand on Finren’s shoulder as he continued to lead them in a slow dance.
“That’s kind of you to say, Prince Finren,” she said, “but just watch out for me stepping on your feet by accident. It’s been a long time since I attempted any sort of dancing like this.”
“I won’t let you fall,” he said firmly.
Andrea felt like her heart would stop at the sudden determination in his eyes, as he looked at her like there was no one else in the world.
“It’s a matter of royal pride, of course,” he added, and Andrea saw the elf blush slightly at the tips of his pointed ears. “I can’t let the first human to interview the elven crown prince stumble on the very first human-elven dance.”
“Of course,” she said, feeling the aura of the crown prince surrounding them, making her feel like she was floating.
‘Elven sparkles’ indeed, she thought in awe.
The pair listened as the music of the slow jams playing surrounded them both like an invisible haze. She had to hand it to him, Finren somehow had found a rhythm for them after all, dancing and twirling them both as if he had been raised on the genre his entire life. To Andrea, the slow jams music hadn’t exactly fit the uptight elegance of both the ballroom and its esteemed attendees, but Finren made it fit the moment, somehow.
She had no doubt there would be some interesting online articles about them later, a fair amount of gossip to go along with the dozens of likely suggestive pictures that were being taken of their shared dance, but Andrea only had eyes for Finren just then. She had done the assignment, attended the ball, checked off every professional box required. In her mind, she deserved this moment with the handsome elven prince, even if they never saw each other again after this night.
At that thought, Andrea felt herself frowning, and the prince frowned in turn, his hand tightening ever so slightly at the small of her back, as if to keep her close. He drew her closer, leaning down to whisper in her ear.
“I have a proposition for you, Lady Andrea,” he murmured, and Andrea was unable to hold back a shiver.
“Alright,” she whispered shakily, not trusting herself to speak further.
“My father wishes to extend an invitation for a single human to visit Elfinair,” he said, continuing to move them in their shared dance.
“I have consulted with our high council, as well as our elven diplomats present on Earth,” he continued, “and after some deliberation, we have decided it would be best for an ordinary human civilian to be the first to visit our world. Humanity has been gracious in hospitality across your numerous societies, and the king believes it is only right to return the favor. After our successful interview today, I informed my father that I wish the invitation to be extended to you.”
Andrea felt herself stumble slightly against the prince in shock, cursing her reaction as he twirled them smoothly about, covering for her mistake.
“Me?!” she said in a gasp, staring up at him. “W-why me, Prince Finren? Surely there’s other people you could pick—a politician, the President, hell, even a celebrity! Why me?”
“Why not you, Lady Andrea?” he replied with a smile. “You impressed me with the intellectual depth of your interview questions this afternoon. You are willing to indulge royal expectations, including this dance of ours, despite your lack of experience in such matters. An earnest willingness to meet elvenkind halfway is something we have noticed to be more present in human civilians, rather than those of your political circles, or even your diplomats, polite as they are.”
“Then, there are the personal qualities I have observed in you,” he continued. “You have won my respect as one of the few humans I have met, who has had no trace of guile or ambition to win something from me. I cannot say the same of those in your geopolitical stations of power, for it is clear they wish to gain a hold in Elfinair to enrich themselves. As a reporter, you are also both empathetic and observant, two traits that shall be needed as you explore a brand new world. Imagine being the very first reporter to cover the exploration of another universe. It would surely be valuable to your superiors, would it not?”
“Hell yes,” she said, unable to censor herself, earning an honest laugh out of the prince.
Andrea already knew she would say ‘yes’; from a professional standpoint alone, being the first human reporter to explore Elfinair and write that particular story was the chance of a lifetime.
I could even win a Pultizer, she thought in a nearly hysterical daze.
She couldn’t wait to see the look on Dan’s face once she told him. Andrea forced herself to calm down, looking up at Prince Finren with a look of determination, and Finren looked somewhat dazed himself as he gazed down at her.
“My answer is yes, Prince Finren,” she said. “I wouldn’t miss this chance for anything.”
Finren beamed at her.
“Excellent,” he said, and led them both to a stop as their dance finally ended.
“I will let my father and our council know of your intention to accept,” he said, leading her back to her chair by the hand. “I shall be in touch. Until then, Lady Andrea.”
The elven prince drew her hand up, and placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles, his eyes never leaving hers. Andrea sat slowly in her chair, fighting an urge to faint. As Prince Finren walked away, meeting his associates on the dance floor, Andrea reached for her glass of wine with a shaking hand.
Don’t fall in love, she thought to herself with more than a bit of futile desperation.
As she watched the beautiful elf prince speak with his retinue, Andrea laughed at herself under her breath and took another sip of wine.
Too late, she thought. Far, far too late.
She was definitely not going to include that particular topic in the final draft of her article.