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Asking a Question

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Sometimes Keats thought he spent more time struggling with writer’s block and thinking than he actually did clattering at his typewriter. He paced the office, he flung darts at various possessions (occasionally even at the dartboard,) and he leaned back and pondered the ceiling fan as it spun circles above the room.

Lately, the list of writer’s block activities had broadened to include talking to Ellen. The young woman seemed to have taken “you’re keeping me from my work” as an open invitation to visit whenever she pleased. She always knocked, of course, and asked if she could stay, but when she considered “I’m working now” to be encouragement, it was hard to refuse her. Closing the door in her face might have discouraged her, of course – but if he did that, she might actually leave.

Not that Ellen was always a distraction. Keats wasn’t sure what the girl got from spending her free time in the Netherworld, but apparently she enjoyed it enough that she was content to do nothing more there than sit and read back issues of Unknown Realms or study one of the textbooks she dragged along with her. Possibly she wanted to increase her exposure to the Netherworld for her messenger duties – and if so, Keats’s small, folk-free realm wasn’t a terrible choice.

Keats sighed, sitting back and glaring at his typewriter as he rubbed his neck.

“Are you making much progress?” Ellen asked sympathetically.

“Enough,” Keats said. “It will go faster when the deadline gets closer – it always does.”

“Of course,” Ellen said. She bit her lip. “Keats…”

He waited a moment, but she seemed to have gotten lost in thought instead of finishing her sentence. That wasn’t terribly unusual for Ellen, though. She’d finish what she’d wanted to say eventually, as soon as she’d worked through it in her own mind.

While he waited, Keats went over the outline for his article in his head again. Maybe it would flow better if he changed up the order…

“Keats?” he heard Ellen say again as he leaned back in his chair, watching the fan spin lazy circles. “May I ask you a question?”

He waved at her to continue, not moving from his position. Considering the other times she’d started such a conversation, there were good odds she wouldn’t get farther in than this. He saw no reason to stop his fan watching regimen until Ellen managed to get on with what she wanted to say.

“Well, I suppose it isn’t really a question,” Ellen corrected herself. Circling the topic, Keats noted. “And you don’t need to answer – not if you don’t want to.” She hesitated again. “You are listening, aren’t you? You’re awake?”

“Yes,” Keats said. “Though I can’t say I’m sure what I’m listening to.”

“No,” Ellen agreed, her voice softer than ever. “Well, I just wanted to say – I wanted to ask –“

“You said it wasn’t a question,” Keats reminded her, when she trailed off again.

“It isn’t,” Ellen said. “Not exactly.”

It was all enough to make Keats rather curious. “Isn’t it?” He raised his eyebrows up at the circling fan. “What is it, then?”

“It –“ Ellen paused. “Well, it – that is, I – I wanted to ask –“

“You’ve said that part,” Keats said. “Several times now. Not exactly front page interview material.”

Ellen was silent for a moment. Then she stood, heels clicking on the hard floor as she circled the desk to stand in front of Keats and block his view of the fan. She bit her lip, looking rather more nervous than she’d sounded, which was quite a feat. “May I try something?”

Keats shrugged. It was hardly as if Ellen would do anything terrible to him if he agreed. “If you like.”

Ellen looked down at him a moment longer, pondering whatever odd thoughts went through her head. Her mind went in so many different directions from the way Keats’s thoughts worked, he could never quite figure her out. Was it really that much easier for her to think when she was looking at him?

Apparently it was, because Keats could spot the moment that hesitation flowed to decisiveness in her expression –

 -- right before she bent down, grabbed his shoulders, and kissed him.

Keats froze. In his mind he held her closer, kissed her back, didn’t let her go – but in reality he sat statue-still until Ellen pulled away.

She didn’t go far, leaning over him with her hands braced on the back of the chair. He could feel the weight of her medallion, fallen forward from her chest onto his, resting just above his heart.

“So that was the question you’ve been trying to ask me?” Keats said at last.

Ellen’s face turned a light pink. “Yes,” she whispered, and her breath touched his lips in a fading echo of her kiss. “Was it – was it all right?”

Keats looked up into her eyes, and he smiled. “What do you think?”