Author's Notes: This would be my first Folklore fic ever. It's rather long, and it involves Ellen, Keats, and a lot of dialogue. It's not a pairing fic, although you can certainly read into it if you want. :) Anyway, I hope any fellow Folklore fans who happen across this enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I only own a copy of the game; the rights aren't mine.
Laid to Rest
Ellen wasn't quite sure how she'd come to be here. 'Here,' in this case, was the outside of a door that, when opened, would lead her into a realm of the Netherworld.
She'd been summoning it a lot recently, though not consciously.
Not for the first time, she raised her hand to knock, and, like every time before, she lowered that same hand without doing so.
The door opened anyway. It gave Ellen quite a shock in so doing, as this was not part of the normal routine, if she could venture to call it such.
An aggrieved-looking Keats peered at her from the inside of his office.
"If you're going to insist upon opening the portal every day, you could at least be a bit less obvious about it," he said in lieu of a greeting.
"I'm sorry," Ellen said, meaning it. "I'm not really sure, myself, why I keep coming here…"
Keats spared her a look over his glasses.
"You're not doing it on purpose?"
"No," she admitted, shaking her head. She didn't miss the intrigued look that crossed his face.
"So it's happening a bit like how you found HellRealm?" he queried, and Ellen was fairly surprised that he wasn't taking notes. He was using his journalistic interrogation voice.
"A little," she allowed, frowning. "But nothing in particular seems to trigger it – with HellRealm, it was the video tape, if you recall…"
Keats was nodding thoughtfully.
"Well," he said after a moment, "it seems there is only a single logical conclusion that one can come to, given the evidence."
When he saw that she wasn't going to fill in the blank, he gave a long-suffering sigh.
"Hopeless," he muttered, then resumed his normal tone as he finished the thought: "For some reason, you need to be here."
"Need…?" she asked meekly, wracking her brain. Why would she 'need' to bother Keats? He'd made it quite clear the last time they'd spoken that she was little more than a nuisance to him, and she certainly did not want to be one…
Keats looked pensive for a moment, then sighed a second time and stepped to the side.
"Well, come on, then," he prompted at her hesitation. "The sooner we solve the mystery, the sooner I can resume my work."
Ellen stepped inside, and Keats shut the door behind her. He motioned for her to put her hat on the rack and moved back toward his desk himself. He made it halfway there before he paused, glanced at her briefly, and entered the kitchenette instead.
Ellen loitered in the hallway, looking around. Aside from, perhaps, the placement of some of the books and papers, nothing seemed to have changed since the last time she'd been here… at the end of it all.
"It's very peculiar," Keats said, rounding the corner, and Ellen nearly jumped out of her coat. Keats shook his head.
"What in the world are you standing around in the foyer for?" he chided, indicating the chair she'd sat in last time – still set in the middle of the office. "Honestly, sometimes I can't even begin to imagine what you're thinking…"
Ellen sat down slowly, folding her hands in her lap as Keats rounded the desk to sit as well.
"What were you saying was peculiar before?" she ventured.
"It's been nearly six months, hasn't it?" he responded.
Ellen gave a nod.
"And suddenly you needed to see me again."
Ellen tried not to balk at him.
"What makes you so sure that it's you?" she asked, suddenly fascinated by his desk lamp.
Keats held up his hands.
"What else would you possibly come here for?" he reasoned.
"Perhaps to read your magazine," she said, trying to save face a bit. As usual, Keats was having none of it.
"Please," he snorted. "Do you even know its name?"
"Unknown Realm," she said, smiling when he had to switch from disdainful to impressed.
"Lucky guess. In any event, there must be something troubling you. You've been here every day for the last week."
Ellen flushed with embarrassment.
"But you didn't say anything…"
"I was waiting for you to knock."
Ellen ducked her head.
"Why didn't you?"
"I wanted to," she said quickly, flustered even though she was fairly certain she wouldn't offend him by being honest. "I was just…"
"Nervous," she corrected.
Keats sat back in his chair and gave her a long, hard look.
"Are you frightened of me, Ellen?"
"Why would I—?"
"Then why the week-long hesitation?"
"It's been a long time since—"
"I didn't want to bother you—"
"What did you think would happen if you did?"
The kettle in the kitchen began to whistle, and Ellen sprang to her feet as though she'd been bitten.
Keats stood as well.
"I'll get it," he said firmly, and brushed past her.
Ellen's left hand closed around her mother's pendant, a habit she'd had since childhood. She was still standing awkwardly in the middle of the room when Keats returned, two steaming drinks in hand.
"Sit, sit," he urged, handing her one of the teacups. She clasped it with both hands as she sank back down to the chair.
Keats made his way back to his seat and regarded her seriously.
"Are you all right?"
She made a point of ignoring the businesslike lack of concern in his voice.
"I… think so," she said haltingly, sipping her tea with great care. She was trembling.
"What just happened?"
Ellen wondered that, herself. For a moment she had felt just as she had –
"–in the courtroom," she murmured, and Keats looked at her oddly.
"Your questioning me like that," she said, "reminded me of the trial. In HellRealm."
"Hmm… Perhaps we're getting somewhere," he mused. "Do you remember it often?"
Now that he brought it up…
"Yes," she said. "Do you… do you think they were right, Keats?" she asked tentatively. "Do you really think I was – am – guilty?"
"We've been over this," he told her. "You were not responsible for the deaths seventeen – well, I suppose it's almost eighteen, now – years ago."
"That wasn't what they were accusing me of," she said quietly.
Keats raked a hand through his hair.
"You're something else," he muttered. "I'm not a therapist, Ellen; I'm a journalist."
"I know that!" she said defensively.
"Then why is it that you seem to have come here to work out some deep, psychological issue you're facing? Surely there must be someone – in the world of the living, no less – more suited to this sort of thing…"
"I don't… I don't know," she said, curling her hand more tightly around her necklace. An idea struck her.
"Perhaps it's because I still owe you for that time."
"Again," Keats said with an air of impatience. "We've already discussed this: you owe me nothing. I didn't save you for your sake; we needed to get to the Netherworld Core."
She ignored his callous tone and pressed on.
"Not that; I know we settled that. I meant your interview."
He perked up slightly, intrigued.
"When you entered the courtroom," she said hurriedly, "you said you'd like to 'interview the defendant.'"
"But you never did. So I still owe you an interview. Just think, Keats! An insider's look at the courtroom proceedings in the land of judgment…"
He studied her for a long moment, cogs visibly turning in his head. Finally, he gave her a wry smile, pulling his glasses off to look at her fully.
"So, I get a story, and you get to pour your little heart out to a willing listener, eh?"
Ellen felt her hope dimming; he'd seen right through her.
"Why not?" he finished, and Ellen tried not to appear shocked.
Keats chuckled at her.
"How could I refuse with a pitch like that?"
A wave of relief passed over her.
"Yes, yes. Always with the gracious platitudes. And we really need to work on your headlines," he said, shaking his head.
He replaced his glasses and pulled out his tape recorder. At her nervous twitch, he regarded her seriously.
"There's no hypnosis involved in this sort of interview," he assured her. "Now, tell me what started the whole mess."
"I suppose… it started because I went to Doolin," Ellen began, but Keats shook his head, cutting her off.
"Of course; where else would it start but the beginning? Silly me for asking. Let's try starting with the trial and working our way backward."
"All right… When I reached the court, I was immediately taken into custody," she explained. "The Faery Lord seemed to have been expecting that outcome all along, but I was completely shocked."
"And yet you stuck by him, right to the bitter end," Keats muttered, rolling his eyes. "When you were detained, they put you in that cage, correct?"
"Yes. It was a special cage that nullified the powers of the Cloak of Sidhe."
Keats leaned forward.
"Is that right?"
"Which, naturally, implies that they've held other Messengers in the past," he mused.
She nodded again.
"And what did it feel like?" he asked.
"What did what feel like?"
"Existing in the Netherworld without the Cloak on," he clarified. "For instance, did you feel faint? Tired? Was it painful?"
"It…" Ellen struggled for the right words. "It felt… I felt… helpless. Weaker. I couldn't summon my Folks; I had no way to defend myself."
"Is that how you feel now, then?" he asked.
For, indeed, she was in her street clothes even now, despite Keats office being in the Netherworld.
Ellen shook her head.
"No… it's different, here. The atmosphere isn't the same…"
Keats took a sip of his tea, nodding, and seemed to accept her answer.
"To continue with my earlier line of questioning, I suppose the HellRealm court doesn't offer its accused a defense attorney?"
Ellen shook her head again, looking down at her hands.
"There's no need for one. Not when they have that mirror…"
"A mirror…? Oh, yes. That odd little bird creature was perched on it when I came in. What purpose does it serve in a courtroom, though?"
"It reflects only the truth."
"Does it, now?" Keats asked, raising an eyebrow.
"It's undoubtedly accurate," Ellen responded, then grew quiet.
"And what exactly was your crime?"
Ellen closed her eyes as she tried to answer him without remembering the noise.
"I was convicted of donning the Cloak of Sidhe – a forbidden practice – for my own selfish purposes, and using its power to bring the faeries to other realms."
"And the mirror reflected this?"
"It showed me donning the Cloak," she said slowly. "But the bird on top was the one narrating."
"You and I both know that you didn't bring the faeries from realm to realm with malicious intent," Keats said. "They followed you more so than you 'brought' them, anyway."
"But the fact remains that I did put on the Cloak, and I did it in selfishness – to see my mother."
Keats waved at her dismissively.
"You were in a state of shock; it could hardly be called a rational decision."
At her perturbed look, he went on.
"Putting on an ancient magical garment after having just met a pub full of Halflives for the first time – all after having received a letter signed as from your supposedly-dead mother? I hardly think that could be considered a regular occurrence. Not even my curiosity goes quite that far."
"When you put it like that, it does seem rather unnatural, I suppose," Ellen admitted.
"Most people would have been skeptical at best; at worst, they'd be panicking."
Ellen considered his words. It did seem to be an argument in favor of her innocence. Still, Keats' explanation didn't solve everything.
"I shouldn't have used the Cloak," she said. "It wasn't mine to use—"
"Oh, I'm not sure I believe that," Keats said, cutting her off. "If it wasn't you, then we never would have made it all the way to the Core."
"But…" Ellen swallowed, unsure of how she could get Keats, of all people, to understand her turmoil.
"When Scarecrow brought me to the Henge," she spoke carefully, "the Cloak was… someone was already wearing it."
Her hands shook slightly.
Keats looked confused for a moment.
"That would be O'Connell's girl, Lucy, correct?"
"Yes. I didn't know it at the time, but…"
Keats tapped his chin, thinking.
"Wasn't she already long missing by then, though? I mean, by Samhain."
"Yes," Ellen said again, her voice small. "She… she was… dead."
Keats considered this briefly. Then his eyes widened.
"So, when you say she was 'already wearing' the Cloak when you found it, you mean…"
Ellen looked away from him, trembling. She couldn't answer him. She could hardly believe what she'd done – how far she'd been willing to go – just to see her mother. And although she was happy – so happy! – to have seen her mother again, the things she had done from the very beginning to get that chance…
She wished she hadn't brought it up. She wished she hadn't been so desperate that she'd ignored everything around her and become completely engrossed in her own need. If she hadn't, maybe O'Connell could have found closure; maybe the Faery Lord, and Livane, and Scarecrow would still be alive. Maybe…
Ellen was shaking uncontrollably, so much so that she nearly lost her grip on her teacup. A split second later, Keats had snatched it up and was standing over her, his free hand on the back of her chair.
"Now, now," he chided her, "deep breaths, my dear."
Ellen did as instructed, breathing deeply until she'd calmed down somewhat. Keats handed the teacup back to her and she held onto it carefully.
"Drink some of that tea," he told her, hovering nearby for a moment longer before returning to his chair. It occurred to Ellen that she hadn't even noticed him leaving it.
"When you're ready, I want you to tell me how you found out about the Cloak in the first place."
Through her nervous haze, she noticed that he was being remarkably patient with her today. And he'd made her tea exactly as she liked it. Partially to distract herself from thinking of Lulu, she studied Keats' face curiously. He was arranging papers on his desk, apparently to give her more time to compose herself. She felt rather embarrassed at having gone into such a state at what must have looked to him like very little provocation, but he wasn't teasing her about it. His eyes were hidden by the glare off his glasses.
As he shut one of the books lying open on the desk, his wrist bumped the tape recorder, and Ellen noticed with a start that the little red light wasn't on. Nor was the tape spinning.
"Oh, no! Keats, your tape…"
He titled his head at her, one eye visible for a second before the glare covered it up again.
"Hmm? What of it?"
"The battery in the recorder must have run out," she said forlornly. "I hadn't noticed—"
Ellen began to apologize, but Keats simply chuckled at her.
"Ellen, I never turned it on."
She stared at him.
"But I saw you…"
"You saw me press the stop button," he corrected her.
"But why would you…?"
"It was just for show," he said with a shrug.
"But…" Ellen was terribly confused now. "I thought… you… an article about…"
Silence fell over them as they sat facing one another. Keats' expression was completely unreadable to her; she felt as though she'd just walked into another trap.
A minute passed, and still they simply stared at each other. Ellen's hand found its way back to her pendant, her eyes never leaving Keats' face. She waited, feeling suffocated, for him to say something, anything…
"Let's get back to the story, shall we?" he suggested finally, and Ellen steeled herself. "Tell me how you found out about the Cloak of Sidhe. Perhaps that will be the key to determining your guilt or innocence; after all, you didn't know about the Cloak before you arrived in Doolin, did you?"
"No," she affirmed. "Frizzie was the first to mention it to me, but it was Scarecrow who led me to it and taught me how to use its powers. It was all very sudden. I saw Lucy's body – I didn't know who she was, of course. I approached her; I was afraid that the corpse might be my mother's. When I reached out… her body turned to dust, and the Cloak attacked me."
"It attacked you? On its own?"
"Yes. It was as though it were possessed. Scarecrow fought it off, and then…"
"Then it allowed you, per se, to put it on," Keats finished for her.
"Yes, I believe that is exactly what happened," Ellen agreed.
"And that was when I came in," Keats commented.
"Was it?" Ellen asked, surprised. "I had no idea…"
"I followed you there at Belgae's prompting," Keats informed her. "He seemed to think that you were going to be a hazard to the Netherworld."
"Why send you after me, then?" she asked. "How did he know that you wouldn't be the same?"
Keats shrugged his shoulders.
"The gentleman seems to have read me like that book he's always carrying."
"Still… it seems a little odd that he would charge a stranger with the task of stopping me…"
"The intention was never to stop you," Keats said calmly. "In actuality, he told me that I was to take you from the Netherworld. In effect, I went against his wishes after all. But I believe he was only worried that you would be influenced by the Faery Lord to thwart Livane. You weren't – not in the end, anyway – and therefore, it all worked out."
Ellen looked pensively into her teacup. For a moment, neither spoke, but then Keats once again broke the silence.
"What are you doing? Scrying?"
"Reading the future in your tea," he revised himself.
"What? No, I—"
"It was a joke," he said, shaking his head. Having regained her attention, he went on. "Anyway, the night of Samhain, I suppose you were too distracted to notice myself and Belgae."
"You're right," she said apologetically, "I didn't."
"More evidence that you were caught up in the moment and not fully aware of what was going on," he said decisively. "Now, one more important fact that we've yet to address…"
Ellen looked up at him expectantly.
"You said that, in court, they told you that using the Cloak was forbidden, did you not?"
"That was what they said."
"And had anyone – Frizzie, Scarecrow; anyone – informed you of that before you entered the courtroom?"
Ellen thought hard. She was certain that nobody had. It had shocked her when she'd found out; she'd been under the impression that Messengers – those who'd donned the Cloak before her – had been welcome guests in the Netherworld.
She shook her head.
"No one had said a word about it," she said. "But… even if I'd known, I probably would have—"
"Ah, but you see, that is not what was being discussed," Keats said, smirking. "What you 'would have' done in any given circumstance is irrelevant. Facts are all that matter, and the facts are these: you donned the Cloak with no knowledge of its status as a forbidden item, and you did so with no goal in mind but to see your mother."
He looked at her smugly as he loosened his tie, reclining in his chair.
"I believe that would make the verdict 'not guilty.' Case closed."
Ellen tried to return his grin, but she couldn't quite manage it. He noticed it immediately, just as she'd feared.
"You don't appear to be very relieved," he pointed out. "Have I overlooked anything? Or is there something else?"
Ellen wrung her hands, searching for the answer.
"It's just… I still…"
She shook her head helplessly.
Keats removed his glasses once again, his eyes searching hers as though he thought he might be able to read her mind. After a beat, he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"Ellen, why are you so determined to be found guilty when you so obviously desire to be found innocent?"
She looked at him, stunned. Was that really what she was doing? Keats always seemed to have a better idea of the big picture than she did; could that really be what he saw in her?
"I don't know," she said, her voice nearly a whisper. "I'm… I'm afraid… afraid of it happening again."
"It won't. For one thing, Yama was defeated. For another, I just proved your innocence," Keats said matter-of-factly.
"'But' nothing. What brought this on all of a sudden?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, is there something going on in the living world that's making you feel judged, for instance?"
"No… it isn't like that. It's just…"
"After I returned to Dublin, I was suddenly all alone again, just as I'd been before I received Regine's letter. And lately, I've just felt this overwhelming sense that… if you hadn't arrived when you did… and just now, I never could have proven myself innocent of those crimes if you hadn't known what questions to ask…"
"Stop right there," he ordered her, using the same tone he had when he'd assured her that she wouldn't fail at entering the Core. He'd been right, then, too.
He always seemed to be right.
"Pull yourself together," he continued. "You fought your way through six realms and the Netherworld Core with no prior knowledge of their existence and inadvertently saved mankind from a future filled with terror. You reconnected the realms and rebuilt the bridge between the living and the dead. You've proven yourself quite capable of being responsible with the Cloak of Sidhe; you never abused its power. Why, then, are you still convinced that you're incompetent and should be judged unworthy? And just whose judgment are you afraid of?"
Ellen drained the last of her now-cold tea, delaying the inevitable. Keats waited, but sat perfectly still this time, his eyes fixed onto her from behind his glasses. Apparently, he had nothing left to organize on his desk.
"I did none of that alone," she said, with as much conviction as she could muster.
"Care to elaborate?"
"You and the other Halflives, the Faeries… even Livane, in the end. Without all of your help, I would have been lost. I never could have accomplished any of it by my power alone."
Keats 'tsk'ed at her disapprovingly.
"And somehow you think that means you're useless."
It wasn't a question.
"You know how powerful Livane was," Keats said. "You fought her yourself – without help, I might add."
Ellen quickly interrupted him.
"I had my Folks," she said.
"Yes, yes; as did I. You weren't exactly carrying a giant spear, now, were you?"
He motioned to silence her attempts at protesting.
"As I was saying, Livane survived for over 5,000 years. She was incredibly strong; she resisted the Faery Lord's every attempt to track her down and undo what she'd done to the Twin Trees. But do you think she did all of that alone? No," he answered for her, not giving her a chance to reply. "She had Belgae, and who knows what other allies in the past, and then eventually, when her confidence began slipping, she had Belgae recruit yours truly. So, you may notice that not even a woman as powerful as Livane got where she did without assistance, even though she was quite a bit older and more experienced than you."
Ellen mulled over his words. He certainly had a point. If someone like Livane needed help once in a while, someone like herself was entitled to the occasional help as well.
She felt, for the first time in months, like she was actually something more than helpless. She had felt overshadowed by all the times others had stepped in when she couldn't go forward alone, but she was beginning to realize that she was strong in her own way. She was a fighter – when she had to be – and a unifier. She was a Messenger; a priestess. And she seemed to have many more allies than enemies.
Ellen turned to Keats, who was cleaning his glasses with a handkerchief, appearing to be quite finished with their conversation. A thought struck her, and the elation she'd been feeling dwindled somewhat to be replaced by confusion.
"Keats?" she asked, and the other looked over at her questioningly.
"Helping me. Again."
He regarded her casually.
"I didn't do it for you."
"Of course not," Ellen said hastily. "But… still. Thank you, all the same."
He didn't say anything. Ellen was feeling a little bolder now, thanks to Keats' bolstering of her confidence, and so she decided to ask him something that had been nagging at her for a while.
"If you don't do it for me, who or what do you do it for?"
Keats blinked at her as though it was the most bizarre question he'd ever been asked.
"I mean, it can't be for the story, this time," she pressed, "because you weren't recording our conversation or writing down notes…"
For the first time that she could recall, Keats actually began to look uncomfortable.
"What difference does it make?" he asked.
"I'd just like to know," she answered honestly.
He shifted to his right, opening one of the desk drawers. He peered at something inside it, then looked at her again.
"I have no idea," he said with finality.
Ellen didn't believe him for an instant.
"You're hiding something from me, aren't you, Keats?"
"Why would I have anything to hide?"
"If you didn't, you would just answer me."
They faced off, and Ellen felt her resolve slipping. She thought that perhaps she should have just left it at 'thank you;' she'd pushed him too hard. But at the same time…
"I've a right to know, haven't I?" she pleaded. "It must be something important, and it obviously involves me somehow…"
Keats abruptly slammed the drawer shut, startling her.
"Well, this is starting to become more trouble than it's worth," he said crossly.
Ellen flinched slightly, hurt.
"You got what you came here for; I think that's enough for today."
"Why, all of a sudden…?"
Keats ignored her and turned to his typewriter.
Ellen clenched her fists in her lap, her mind racing, trying to come up with a way to convince him.
"Is it because you have to?" she asked. "Is there some condition that I'm not aware of that forces you to help me when I ask for it?"
"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "There is nothing supernatural at work here; nothing's forcing me to do anything for you."
"Then why do it?"
"Because," he said, suddenly turning to her. "I take my job very seriously."
Ellen stared at him, speechless. What did he mean, his 'job'? His job was writing for Unknown Realm…
When Keats noticed that she was still there, he sighed deeply, his fingers pausing over the keys.
"The Cloak chose me," he finally relented. "As Belgae explained it, when a Messenger is chosen, Guardians are chosen as well."
"Guardians?" Ellen asked. "This is the first I've heard of any such thing…"
"Because I was in the chamber when you put on the Cloak, I was apparently 'chosen.' However, I'm free to help you or let you be; all it did was give me the power to absorb Folks' IDs, same as you."
Ellen watched him as he spoke. He was trying to act nonchalant, but he was obviously conflicted about the nature of his admission.
"Now you know," he concluded abruptly. "So if you're quite finished—"
"So you help me out of a sense of obligation?" she persisted, and Keats groaned, rubbing his temples.
"Read between the lines, Ellen."
She blinked at him.
"If it's not because I have to, then what is it because of?" he prompted.
"…You do it because you want to?" she ventured.
Keats sat back in his chair.
"Give the girl a prize," he said sardonically. "Are you satisfied now?"
"I think I can live with that," she answered, smiling at the exasperated look that he gave her.
"Good. Then kindly remove yourself from my office. My productivity for today might still be salvageable… if I don't sleep…" He continued to grouse under his breath.
Ellen just kept smiling as she scooped her and his empty teacups and took them back to the kitchenette. The last remnants of guilt and self-doubt had vanished from her mind at the knowledge that Keats cared – in his odd way – about her wellbeing, and furthermore, that he believed in her, even when she didn't always believe in herself.
She washed and dried the cups, as well as the small stack of dishes beside the sink, as a courtesy, then returned to the office, standing behind her chair.
"No more questions," Keats said firmly.
"No more questions," Ellen echoed, smiling softly.
"With any luck, this will have stopped your subconscious from opening the portal without your intending to," he said, his tone businesslike once again.
The clicking of his typewriter's keys filled the resulting silence between them.
"I suppose I've well overstayed my welcome," Ellen said. "I'll take my leave, now."
Keats responded with the same one-handed wave he'd seen her out with the last time she'd left. She moved to the foyer, retrieving her hat. She lingered there for a moment with her hand on the doorknob, feeling as though she should thank him again, but knowing that he would only find it bothersome.
And so, without another word, Ellen opened the door and stepped through, secure in the knowledge that there was someone on the other side who was looking out for her.
End Notes: This fic got its start from the bit about Ellen owing Keats an interview and sort of blew up and out from there. Poor Ellen; according to the game guide, she's never had any friends, and then she tries to make one out of Keats and Keats is just… well, he's Keats. XD; And, of course, poor Keats just wants to be left alone. They've got their work cut out for them, those two.
Comments and criticism are welcomed and appreciated.