It is the day before Samhain that she gets the letter. The first one, anyway--the one that sets things into motion, like a leaf plucked off its branch and carried by the wind.
“It was on my windowsill,” Sarah says, handing her the slightly damp envelope. “It has your name on it, though, and I’m not enough of a heathen to read other people’s mail.”
With a laugh, Ellen thanks her and takes it. She would think it odd that her neighbor doesn’t seem at all fazed by the fact that said letter came in through the window, but Sarah, Ellen can tell, has seen her own fair share of oddities.
Ellen , it reads--as it should--in the blocky text of a typewriter. you’re a hard woman to find.
I certainly hope that this letter reaches you safely. I do despise relying on folks for my postal services but, alas. The office of Unknown Realms isn’t exactly a location that lends itself to the Dublin post.
But no matter; the Netherworld has been awfully quiet, even for the unrest among the faeries, so it comes as little surprise that I haven’t seen much of you over the past...year?
She smiles and absently touches the pendant around her neck. Had it really been so long since they had last seen each other? She supposes that must be the case; her own work, so far from the strange idylls of the Netherworld, has stolen her so from the more rural places where the veil to other realms she might have spent her time is far thinner.
I must confess that their predicament--the deliberation over new leadership--would make for a fascinating article, but the faeries are far from the ideal interview subjects. They speak in riddles and have the attention span of sparrows. They do ask about you, though. I think some of them, given their druthers, would have you for a queen.
Ellen cannot help but chuckle at that.
While I don’t expect you to, if you do choose to write back, just put the return address on the envelope. Mail it as you would, I’ll get it. Most likely.
A pristine signature closes it, dark and looping but clearly identifiable as “Keats”.
I really have to say, I’m a bit flattered that you took the time to write to me. I might even say that I think you miss me, but I don’t want to presume.
He drums his fingers on the desk. She’s written back by hand; he shouldn’t be surprised, but something in him appreciates the authenticity of it. Besides, she has nice handwriting.
I’m sure that you’ll be able to make something of the story about the faeries. Perhaps if you offered some aid to them from time to time they wouldn’t be so inclined to talk in circles. I am, however, still laughing at the fact that some think I would be a good leader...I can barely keep an eye on a kettle, let alone any number of subjects. (I’m sure the royal robes are lovely, though.)
Keats grins and leans back. The golden lamp outside the window bathes the page in a soft tangerine color; the letter is a welcome distraction from his deadlines and from the chatter of the Samhain festivities beneath his window, and he adjusts his glasses just so, only barely aware of the smile still gracing his face.
It is rather sweet that they still think of me, though. I ought to go back someday soon. The Faery Lord may have been a terribly misguided man, but his people are genuine.
“Tell that to the little bastards who stuck burrs in my hair the other day,” mutters Keats, fingering the edge of his bangs, uneven where a particularly stubborn thorn had refused to unstick without the intervention of scissors.
And I hope to see you soon as well! I must apologize--the art gallery has a big exhibition coming up in November and I’m to make sure everything goes smoothly...maybe one day I’ll actually have a piece of my own in one of their shows, but until then…
Speaking of which, perhaps you could do a piece on the show? I don’t know how much you care about art, but it might be interesting. Just a thought.
P.S. I live the next window over, the next time you decide to write.
A simple signature--if that much--punctuates her letter. Outside, Keats hears cackling and whooping. A glass bottle smashes on the sidewalk and its owner shrieks. Keats closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose, Ellen’s letter still clutched in his other hand.
The deadline can wait, he decides, looking back at the typewriter.
While I appreciate the idea of offering the faeries my help, I can’t say I could stomach it in practice. But thank you, all the same.
Ellen rolls her eyes at that and sticks her paintbrush in a mason jar filled halfway with water.
That aside, I’m rather amused by the fact that you still can’t seem to make tea properly. Invest in a timer, perhaps? And don’t leave the bag in for an infinite amount of time, it makes it bitter. If you were to become the leader of the faeries, the one saving grace may very well be the fact that someone else would make you tea.
As for your suggestion, I must politely decline. Art is not, as one might say, my beat--but again, thank you.
She can’t say she’s altogether shocked that he’s turned her down, but disappointment still pricks at her heart. Stubborn old man , she thinks, picking up a clean brush--thinner than the one in the murky water and better suited for detail--and pressing the tip of the handle to her pursed lips.
The hero of her painting still has no face; he hasn’t for a good week. No interpretation of the Welsh prince Culhwch in any work has particularly captured Ellen’s heart, and she sets the brush back down in frustration. She turns back to Keats’s letter.
Additionally, I hope you don’t feel any rush to return to the Netherworld too soon; I’d hate to interrupt your work (though you seem fine doing so with my own). I can’t help but feel that you assume I’m terribly lonely here, which is not the case. I am fine by myself, and get more than my fair share of social interaction when Belgae decides to fill your role of strolling uninvited into my office.
He, on the other hand, seems rather lonesome.
But no matter. Best wishes on getting your art into a gallery; I’m certain the curators are simply far too preoccupied with their own interests to really see what you’re offering.
Did Keats, stony-faced reporter extraordinaire, just offer her a compliment? Ellen shakes her head and snickers. Below his signature, there is a post-script:
I don’t know what sort of royal robes the faeries would stick you in. All of their clothing appears rather uncomfortable and I can’t say I would wish that upon you, charming as it might look.
Ellen feels her cheeks warm, and reaches for her mug of tea without looking. She puts her lips to it, only to taste paint on her tongue, and gags.
After receiving a cryptic letter from a Hellrealm denizen, several messages from someone claiming descent from the Morrigan herself, and a package from Fir Darrig filled with pinecones and a messily-scrawled thank you note (for what Keats had no idea), Ellen’s letter at the week’s end feels heavensent.
He had thought perhaps his comment at the end of his letter had been just bold enough for misinterpretation, but now scoffs at his own nerves as he tears open the envelope. He hasn’t even seen her in person in months and yet Ellen’s high-strung tendencies are rubbing off on him. Or so he likes to think, anyway.
You have no idea how happy you’ve made me; I had no idea you thought so highly of my art!
He smiles, pleased if not a little perplexed. Compliments do tend to drive one’s art, he supposes, and reads on.
Maybe the day you attend an art show is the day those “preoccupied” curators ever give me a spot in their galleries. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.
She’s persistent. But not wrong.
Now, as for Belgae, since you’ve mentioned him I’ve been rather worried about him. It seems to me that you are too. I’d imagine that he’s lost one of his closest companions in Livane...oh, I feel absolutely terrible. Tell him I send my hellos, please!!
And I know you’ve said that you’re not lonely, but staying locked up in your office when you’re not out gathering information can’t be good for you. And since you won’t say it, I will: I really do miss you. I hate to interrupt your work, but you seem more than happy to indulge me whenever I write, so I think it’s only appropriate that we see each other face-to-face...besides, I’ve been wanting to return to Doolin for a while now.
“Awfully forward, aren’t we?” he says, taking off his glasses for a moment. He takes a minute to trace her lettering with his gaze; it’s got such a visually pleasing angle to it, and every so often one letter will swoop into the next, a thin, faint line of graphite connecting them like a cobweb.
He knows he won’t be able to say no; it’s not that he misses her--well, truth be told, he hates the word. It has a certain desperation to it in his mind, and desperation is a terrible sensation…
Keats places his glasses back on his nose, and rubs his temple, feeling the creep of the bastard sensation that might be wistfulness (not desperation, nothing of the sort) in his mind.
As for the tea, I’ll have you know that I do not leave the bag in for an indefinite amount of time. I leave it in as long as you do, and frankly I don’t know what goes wrong. When the kettle doesn’t boil over, I mean. Maybe a timer is a good idea, I will give you that.
Lastly, I just want to say that, if the cloak the faeries gave me is any gauge, their clothing is perfectly comfortable. And I do look charming in it, thank you.
Good luck with this month’s issue,
Good luck, indeed. He sighs and reaches across the desk, flipping through his notes for the in-progress issue of Unknown Realms . It proves no help to his writer’s block, and he sits back with a huff. A ballpoint pen follows him, clattering onto the floor in his wake.
Keats looks from the fallen pen to Ellen’s letter. A reluctant thought that is quite far from continuing his journalistic endeavors culminates in his mind, and he reaches down.
“So, who is this guy? The one you’re writing to?” Sarah asks; she’s come over for tea, and Ellen watches her carefully as she glances at her watch after placing the teabags in water.
Ellen still isn’t sure what she’s doing wrong.
“He’s...a childhood friend.”
Sarah raises one dark eyebrow.
“Sort of...it’s complicated,” Ellen says, looking at the letter in her hand.
Dear Ellen, it reads, and she realizes she has never before actually seen Keats’s handwriting. It looks frantic, all sharp edges and quick, long loops.
You...are unbelievably stubborn.
She laughs, and Sarah leans over her shoulder.
“You could fool me,” she remarks.
“It’s more a matter of logistics,” Ellen admits.
“Ah, you two are long distance?”
Sarah’s American accent makes the “long” sound slightly smug, and Ellen quickly protests.
I should absolutely expect that of you, but I constantly find myself surprised. It’s almost pleasant--but that’s off the record. You cannot quote me on it.
Belgae sends his warm regards; he’s taken to spending more time at the Bridge House. He looks awfully out of place there. He appears quite possibly the least-dead out of all of the patrons, but he is also invisible so I shouldn’t speak so soon.
“And what was this mystery...pen pal’s name?”
“Heh, like the poet.” Sarah looks back at her watch. “Does he write you poetry?”
“Goodness, no,” Ellen snorts. “I don’t think he would be caught dead associating with any sort of poetic material. He is a journalist, though.”
“Oh? What does he write for?”
“I doubt you would know it,” she says.
“It’s...a magazine, called Unknown Realms .”
Pensive, Sarah moves to check on the two cups of tea. Ellen looks back down at the letter.
I guess I have no real choice in this matter, do I? You can’t see, but that was punctuated by a very heavy sigh.
“You know,” says Sarah. “I have heard of that. Didn’t know it was still in print.”
There is an odd pause as Sarah daintily takes out the teabags and hands Ellen her cup. Sarah turns to face the unfinished painting of the Mabinogion legend that sits in the corner of the room.
“Culhwch and Olwen?”
“Oh, yes,” Ellen sighs. She puts her chin in one hand. “I doubt I’ll ever finish. I haven’t got a face for the prince, nothing’s come to me.”
“The hero who falls in love with the giant’s daughter after hearing only her name,” Sarah muses. “If you think about it, it’s essentially him falling in love with a word, isn’t it? With letters , even.”
“I suppose so,” replies Ellen warily.
A smile creeps across Sarah’s face; she hides it behind the blue lace-patterned edge of the teacup.
“What’s this Keats look like?”
Ellen follows Sarah’s gaze to the canvas, and she feels her face grow hot. It’s...perfect, as much as she hates it. She can see in her mind’s eye how the dull violet of the tunic offsets shaggy chestnut hair and sharp cheekbones, and she presses her palms to her now-burning cheeks. Sarah’s chuckle echoes in her ear.
I’m sure people will talk if you mention that our correspondence convinced you to come back , reads the last line of the letter on the countertop. I suspect they’d think I wrote you a series of--god forbid--love letters.
Ellen glances back up at Sarah, who wears a smirk as wide as the River Liffey, and she feels herself smiling in return.
He’s gone to the pub, left the office of his own accord. He’s not heeding her advice, he tells himself.
Of course, he’s taken her letter with him.
As a matter of fact, my stubbornness is one of my finest traits. I don’t know why you’re surprised, though...is it because I’ve actually managed to sway your decisions by some magical means?
She’s drawn a little smiley face after the rhetorical. Ganconer slides him a second glass of whiskey, and Keats can feel the other half-live’s stare upon him.
“What’s your question?” he asks.
“What’re ye so transfixed on?”
“It’s a letter.” Keats swirls the whiskey idly in its glass. The enormous furred half-live eyes him in expectation, and he sighs. “From Ellen.”
Ganconer lets out a wheezing laugh.
“An’ you’re certain of that, lad? Not another one of the fair ladies’ plans?”
“Mhmm, quite certain.” He leaves it at that before downing the whiskey. It burns in his chest and he looks back at the page, tapping a finger on the glass’s rim.
I do wonder what sort of magic that might be.
But anyways--I have my heart set on returning to Doolin, at least for a few days, in the next week. And no, I guess you don’t really have much of a choice in the matter, but you could at least admit outright that you don’t at all mind.
“She’s coming back to Doolin, you know.” The words fall out of his mouth, and Keats finds that he’s smiling as they do. Ganconer hums.
“Excited t’ hear it,” he says, blowing a smoke ring. “You seem pretty happy about it, too.”
Keats shakes his head, still unable to wipe the grin off his face. He feels the weight of a couple of the other half-lives in the pub--Charlie, Frizzie, most likely--pausing to gaze at him.
Now there’s a headline, he thinks. Local Journalist Breaks Frosty Exterior To Giggle Like A Moonstruck Fool Over Netherworld Messenger--Pub-goers Shocked!
He hears Ganconer chuckle again.
“Sounds as though she’s managed to dislodge something in that there chest o’ yours.”
“She’s done no such thing, don’t get ahead of yourself.”
And who’s to say you haven’t been writing me love letters? Let them talk, I’d say.
I’ll see you soon,
Another smoke ring drifts across the bar.
“Aye, you can say it all ye’d like,” Ganconer muses.
“I will, thank you very much.” Keats lays the letter flat on the wooden counter, face-down. “I’m a journalist. I don’t stand for baseless claims like that.”
“Suit yerself, then.”
It is the end of November, and Doolin is just as gray as the day she arrived over a year ago. The wind nips at her cheeks, whips at her braid and threatens to whisk her hat away should she not hold tightly to it.
By twilight, the wind has calmed, but the shadows of the village chill her to the core as she marches up to the tavern. She pulls her jacket tighter around herself with a shiver.
A warm welcome greets her at the Bridge House. Frizzie’s cold, bony fingers grasp Ellen’s wrists as she’s led further in, met with a wave of elated chatter from the other guests. The tavern is warm, alight in yellow and gold, and all memory of the winds outside fades from Ellen’s mind as Jimmy passes her a drink, stuttering his hellos.
Her eyes scan across the room when she gets a free moment. She’s not anticipating anything--anyone--in specific, she tells herself. In fact, she knows better than to expect Keats to be there, much less waiting for her to show up.
Ellen cranes her neck, just in time to catch the eye of the guest seated at a table in the corner of the pub. He adjusts his spectacles, moving to stand.
Some entirely unhelpful instinct instructs her to turn away, and she does, quick and awkward, sliding a lock of fair hair behind her ear.
“Everything alright, Ellen?” asks Fir Darrig, whiskers twitching. “You look flushed.”
“Oh,” she says, voice a bit too high for her own comfort. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches a glimpse of violet, and she hears the tavern door rattle closed behind her. “Yes, fine. I...just a minute--”
Across the table, Frizzie leans over to whisper something to Damona. The pair giggle and Ellen lets out a huff, but they wave her on. With a roll of her eyes, Ellen drags herself away from the wooden table and dashes out the door; her footsteps soften from clicks upon the hardwood floor of the inn to barely-there noises of the soles of her boots pressing into short, rough grass.
“I didn’t know if you would come outside or not, to tell the truth.” Keats stands looking out over the cliff that the Bridge House sits upon. A full, silver moon sitss in the clouds like a round and watchful bird in an illuminated nest, its image reflected far below in the choppy water that surrounds the isle. “That little duck out of sight once you saw me wasn’t what I’d expect from a girl who’s just traveled a few hundred miles to see m--”
Ellen doesn’t wait for him to finish the thought and trots forward, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in the faded Celtic knot pattern upon the breast of his duster. She hears him exhale hard with the contact and grins, murmuring:
“I’m a little hurt you would doubt me.”
It comes as a surprise that Keats does not immediately remove her from his person; it is even more so when he puts a hand on her shoulder in what seems like an attempt to hold her closer. She halfheartedly blames it on the cold night air. She knows he does too.
“Well, my apologies,” he says. “Most people hardly take looking right back down at your brandy after making eye contact with someone as a sign that you're pleased to see them.”
A scoff against his chest.
“I...I don't know what got into me. You made me nervous. And it was beer, not brandy.”
“Oh, my mistake.”
Finally, Ellen releases him and steps back, hands in the pockets of her jacket. As he removes his glasses to rub off a speck of dust, he looks more tired than he did when she last saw him, dark circles under his eyes just a touch more pronounced in the moonlight.
“It's good to see you,” she says. He puts his glasses back on; the glass catches the moonlight in an almost comical manner.
“You too.” A gentle laugh. “Gods, I hope no one from the pub saw that.”
Ellen laughs in return.
“What do you suppose we'd tell them if they asked?”
“I don't want to think about that,” Keats groans.
Ellen rocks back on her heels in the silence that follows. It's odd, she thinks, now that they're here face-to-face the conversation has come to such a standstill.
“This doesn't have to be as...awkward as we're making it,” she says.
Keats raises an eyebrow above the rim of his glasses. A breeze blows past, too cold for its own good, and sends Ellen's hair into her eyes. She closes them and holds onto her hat, but as the wind dies down she feels the fleeting touch of a hand against her temple. Keats draws back after moving the hair off her face.
“I--sorry,” he stammers. If only out of habit, one of Ellen's hands fingers the medallion at her neck, but the other catches Keats's wrist, pulling him closer.
“So,” she says, squeezing his hand. Her face is unbearably hot all of a sudden, and she is more than glad that she is wearing gloves lest Keats realize how clammy her hands are. “D’you think you'd say you were writing me love letters after all?”
“If they were to ask?” Keats manages to inquire, nodding in the direction of the tavern. Ellen laughs.
“If I were to ask.”
His free hand comes up to run through his dark hair, and Ellen watches him bite his lip in a moment of boyish self-consciousness.
“In that case, I'd probably say that I...missed you terribly, and that at this point, it would be foolish to deny that I was.”
There's a smile, sheepish yet smug, spreading across his face now, and Ellen can see in him a certain peculiar grace that she might even think reminiscent of a prince from a time long past; her hand leaves the medallion and grips his lapel, pulling him down to her as she stands on her toes to meet him.
His lips are warm, and she can't help but be surprised--her judgment tells her that a half-live like Keats should be cold to the touch, but his warmth is a welcome refuge from the frigid November air.
Keats tilts his head into the kiss, leaning into her with more force than she anticipates. She almost stumbles, but feels him tug her closer and all of a sudden they’re chest to chest. Ellen pulls away for a second, both her hands now laid flat on his chest. As his breath lingers against her own, she finds herself acutely aware of his grip on her upper arms.
“Sorry,” she whispers--again, more out of habit than anything.
“ Ellen .” Keats rests his forehead against hers, then shifts and presses a chaste kiss to her cheek--more of a nudge than a real kiss--and she grins. “ Why are you apologizing?”
“For...I...don’t know.” And she doesn’t. There is a warmth deep in her chest that serves to ground her, and everything in the moment just feels right to her. Her cheek twitches as she breathes out in some kind of relief, scratching against the coarse stubble along his jawline. “You need to shave.”
They’re in some odd sort of embrace now, Ellen resting her cheek against his, Keats with his hands still wrapped lightly around her arms. Sighing, Ellen moves her hands up to his shoulders and as he draws back, she feels her heart pound at the sight of the wide smile on his face.
“Do I, now?”
“Yes.” As if her heart couldn’t beat any faster, it opts to skip a beat as Keats reaches out to tuck a few strands of misplaced flaxen hair back behind her ear. “You’ll be a true outlander in another year’s time.”
Keats laughs at that. It’s a hoarse laugh, and one she doesn’t get to hear often.
“An outlander…” he sighs, taking both her hands in his. “You wouldn’t let me.”
“No,” Ellen says. “No, I wouldn’t.”
Keats awakes on his couch to the nosy rays of morning sun peeking their way through his blinds, and a warm weight upon his chest. Ellen raises her head as he shifts, messy blonde hair like spun gold in the sunlight.
“Morning,” she murmurs, resting her head back atop his bare chest. His coat lies draped across her back like a cape, strikingly dark against her pale, freckled shoulders.
“S’pose it is,” he sighs, reaching for his glasses on the coffee table.
Ellen reaches up to trail her fingers across his rough cheek, feather-light touch moving down Keats’s jaw, his neck, and coming to fiddle with the collar of his open shirt. A shy smile alights on her face, and she leans forward to press a kiss as light as her fingers on his collar to his lips.
She looks tired, he realizes, and his thoughts are proven correct as she yawns upon pulling away.
“Sleep well?” he asks in amusement.
“You’re not the most comfortable person in the world.”
“Why don’t you move, then?”
She doesn’t answer, simply raises an eyebrow and puts a palm to his chest.
“You’re warm,” she says after a while.
“So are you.”
Keats laughs as her cheeks go pink, but stops when her brow furrows and she glances away. He touches her chin.
“Are you going to ask me to leave?” she asks, green eyes focused intently on him all of a sudden. He feels like a deer in headlights, caught off guard by her question, and realizes that he probably should, that he has an article to write and it would make more than enough sense for him to do so.
But really, to his surprise, he finds he would much rather have her stay.
“You did say you hate to interrupt my work,” he begins, and sees her grimace, face growing redder with each word. “But...you were right when you said I was more than willing to indulge you, whenever you wrote. I don’t see why things should be any different now.”
Ellen tries her hardest to hide her smile, pulling his longcoat tighter around her and pressing her face into his chest, but to no avail.
“After all,” Keats continues, coaxing her to look back up with a hesitant touch to her cheek. “I think I’ve gotten used to having you so close to me, if I’m not being too forward.”
“Too forward…” She gives it an exaggerated moment of consideration, thumb stroking along his collarbone. He shivers and feels a blush spread across his face despite himself. “I doubt it.”
He raises a hand to push up his glasses, but Ellen beats him to it, two slender fingers sliding the spectacles up the bridge of his nose before her hand comes to rest back on his cheek.
“You must love being right,” he quips as she leans forward again.
“About me. About the fact that I missed you, and about...whatever this is.”
She giggles and whispers against his mouth:
“Yes, I suppose I do.”
Shutting his eyes, Keats smiles and closes the space between them.