Keelath’s flesh was cool against hers. The death knight rarely took breaths, just as he rarely needed sleep, and both notions pervaded Mirium’s thoughts. She could almost believe she was lying next to a corpse, and that notion had startled her out of sleep in the middle of the night at least once.
But that’s what he was now, wasn’t he?
She kept her breathing long and slow, but she was fairly certain he knew she was awake. Except for the occasional stroking of her hair, he said nothing. It touched her at the same time as it pained her; he remembered that sometimes she was best left to collect her thoughts by herself. That he was demonstrating such tenderness now made her feel lesser inside, like she was a spoiled child turning her nose up at a thoughtful gift.
But the mixed feelings about their relationship remained.
Keelath’s return had brought a rush of tangled emotions: surprise turning to cold shock, a mix of horror and delight, anxiety and longing for closeness. Part of her felt like a young woman again, being courted for the first time, while another felt old and tired and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Guilt over her choosing of Talthan and her behavior due his manipulation swirled in her stomach; that Keelath could still love her so cleanly felt undeserved, and that he could still love at all despite his undeath felt like a lie.
She wondered, too, at their future. Their time as Baron and Baroness of Dawnmist had effectively come to a close. Their chosen heir now lived in Stormwind, in exile, and gave no signs of being inclined to return, even if he could. The barony itself has passed to Tyrric as the next blooded heir, and he was well on his way to making little heirs of his own. Keelath was now bereft a title and fortune, which had been ceded to her and to his brother at his death; that he was penniless and dependent on the charity of his younger sibling while at the estate he had once ran clearly wore on him.
Nor would he ever father more children for a new legacy of own, Mirium knew. He had shown her the truth of that the other night. The only thing original to his body now were his bones, pulled from his grave a decade or more after his death; his true flesh had long since withered away. What covered him now was a mix of illusion, flesh-crafting, and a spirit’s memories made manifest. The Lich King had seen little reason to grant his followers fertility, and just the thought of that made Mirium shudder, even though it also woke an insatiable yearning in her belly. Her two children, Keelath’s legacy and that of Talthan, were now corrupted beyond redemption in sin’dorei society, and she knew Tyrric once believed her the common link in both of their attained taints. Another child might redeem her, if not them…
She tried to put such selfish thoughts away. She also honestly enjoyed motherhood. Though she was no longer estranged from Medyfivol, and her relationship with Evelos was tentatively hopeful–should he survive his current predicament, that is–it still saddened her to not have them closer at hand. She remembered Evelos’ sleepy toddler kisses placed on her chin, and Medi’s many attempts at gifting her and Talthan flowers—most of which were decidedly not flowers and often torn up or come bearing a trailing mass of mud and turf. Mirium smiled sadly at the memories.
Never again? Not while she was with Keelath, maybe. But then, Keelath had not asked for her hand in remarriage. She was free to seek another if she wished, though she knew it would probably hurt him deeply.
His lungs rattled slightly as he drew the rare breath to answer. “Yes?”
Conversation started, her nerve almost failed her. How could she explain all of this?
Keelath’s hand stilled as if he read her mind. He had always been doing that; 3,000 years was a long time for two elves to get know each of the other’s idiosyncrasies. She almost wished he could read her mind in full now, but was also glad he couldn’t.
“What will we do, after Tyrric and Alelsa return from their honeymoon?” she finally asked.
A pause. “I have my service to Warchief Sylvanas. You are free to stay or to go as you please.”
She turned over to face him. The night was not quite moonless, and it took a moment for her to pick out the contours of his ear, cheek, and shoulder. His eyes were closed to keep their innate glow from upsetting her attempts at sleep.
“What would you do if I did go?” she then asked, shyly, trying to keep the damning guilt from her voice though he was sure to pick up on it anyway.
Light flickered under his eyelids, as his eyes opened halfway. “Serve my Queen. Attend to the manor as my brother requires.”
She reached out to touch his face, and the wrinkles of a faint scowl were backlit by his eyes.
“You are thinking of going,” he said, question more than statement.
She couldn’t lie to him. They had known each other for far too long. “Yes.”
“I understand,” he said after a moment’s thought.
“Of course I am saddened,” he answered, as his eyes lifted to meet hers.
“I feel like I am abandoning you, or worse, spitting all over your love.” Mirium said the painful words haltingly.
“No,” he said, and then he paused. “My memory will continue to fail, and I cannot please you as I once did. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“Life isn’t fair,” Mirium murmured, and she wriggled a little closer, so their noses were almost touching as she looked into his eyes. Their glow was brighter with Scourge-light, though there was a lack of life to them that made them seem dimmer all the same. “Un-life either. Feelings don’t necessarily care.”
“I wouldn’t be a man if I couldn’t control my feelings,” said Keelath with a huff.
“You wouldn’t be a man if you didn’t have them, either.”
It unexpectedly hit a sore spot in him. “Is it my impotence that upsets you, Miri?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Mirium replied as her spirits fell rapidly, “but I won’t lie; that’s part of my worries.”
Keelath sat up and turned away, so Mirium could just see the curve of knobs making up his spine. She didn’t have any comfort to give him.
“It’s a fine repayment of my rescuing you,” he said eventually, tone bitter.
“I’m sorry,” Keelath said quickly, maybe too quickly. His shoulders drooped as he leaned forward, almost as if he’d hug his own knees.
“I’m…sorry too,” said Mirium, and she put all the wretchedness she was feeling into the apology.
Keelath looked off to the side and seemed to relax, though it was difficult tell with the death knight. “Would you rather spend the rest of the night alone, then?”
Mirium didn’t answer, because she wasn’t sure. On the one hand, it was comforting to have the company of a loved one again, but his touch, like that of a dead thing, still unnerved her on a level she couldn’t yet push aside, either.
“I’ll go,” Keelath offered, but she still didn’t reply. “We could get through this,” he said next.
“We could, but sometimes, maybe it is better to just let go…start over,” Mirium said unhappily.
With that, Keelath quickly rose, clothed, and left. He moved quietly in respect to her and shut the door tight. Mirium turned over, punched her pillow, then cried into it. Dimly she could hear the hooves of Keelath’s undead courser pound the ground, as the death knight fled to his duty. The hoofbeats echoed in the blighted woods for many minutes, and she recognized the route of his patrol, circling the manor, heading first for the Dead Scar were the mindless undead still lurked.
The choice wasn’t lost on her: its meaning unintentional though it may have been. Mirium hugged her pillow tight and wondered what she was throwing away.