This post was rewritten as part of the Great Revision. Unlike the previous one, which I reluctantly classified as non-canon, this one is canon.Author’s Note
The next time Mirium saw Keelath, months had passed since their last letters. Tyrric had spoken to her about it, expressing disapproval with their choice not to re-marry. After a few snippish arguments, he had lapsed into silence and refused to speak any further about it, and Mirium had mostly put it from her mind.
Seeing Keelath standing outside Tyrric’s study then, his black armor coated in ice, his helmet shielding his face from view, brought the uncomfortable issue swiftly wheeling back. She was surprised by the sharp pang of loss at seeing him, and no matter how strongly she tried to will herself, she couldn’t turn away.
She surreptitiously tailed Keelath as he reported in to Tyrric. It had something to do with the war with the Alliance, and Keelath’s loyalties. Their talk was not entirely calm, though Mirium couldn’t hear the words. When Keelath left Tyrric’s study, Mirium felt a breath of cold air proceeding him down the hall, as if heralding a hailstorm.
Nevertheless, she steeled her nerves and made as if to accidentally run into him, though her shoulder knocking against his breastplate was purely intentional.
She quailed when he rounded on her, blue eyes flashing out of his helm, brighter than any quel’dorei’s could possibly be. She looked up at him, and he down at her.
“Hi,” she said.
He gave a brief nod, expression hidden by the fierce mask of his helm.
Mirium looked at her fingernails, feigning nonchalantness, but the pounding of her heart was anything but nonchalant. “Oh, I, uh, wasn’t aware you were back on the estate, but since you are, do you, er, think you could sit and chat for a bit?”
He didn’t answer but to tip his head up. Mirium swallowed. He was so much harder to read as an undead. She looked at his hand, encased in a gauntlet, then pried the plated glove off of him, so she could latch her fingers around his. His flesh was cold enough to feel like ice. She bit back a wince and instead smiled up at him.
Keelath seemed to bear the contact for a little while, before taking his hand back. “Where do you want to talk?”
“Anywhere is fine.” She hesitated. “The garden?”
“My ice is bad for Tyrric’s flowers.” Was it just her, or did he sound slightly resentful?
“Can’t you just, you know, tone it down a bit?”
Keelath stared at her, and she thought she felt the air grow warmer–just a bit.
“Okay, so maybe not the garden,” she said quickly. “The pond?”
A grunt answered her. She turned to walk, and Keelath followed silently after. They passed along a couple corridors, into open air and then back out of it–in the manner of elven buildings everywhere, some of the halls of the manor were open to the outside world. She paused in what was little more than a covered patio, taking a breath of the sweet-scented air. Tyrric had planted mageroyal all along the verge, and the scent took her back to memories of the cottage she had shared with Keelath and their son, long before the Scourge had ever become a word on the tongue.
“Oh, Keelath,” she said with a sigh after a few long minutes of his silence. “What are we going to do?”
He followed her glumly when she started walking again. “About what?”
“You. Me.” She turned around and walked backwards so she could see his expression, but it was hidden by the helmet. “Ugh, take that thing off, won’t you? I want to see your face.” When he didn’t, she stopped him, planting herself up front of him and putting her hands on his chest.
“I have nowhere to put it,” came Keelath’s plaintive voice.
“So carry it!”
The helmet reluctantly came off. His expression was grim, and his face was less well-preserved than usual. Perhaps because he no longer had a reason to keep it maintained for her? The skin was a little more flaccid, a little more pale and patchy. She could almost see his teeth through the thin, translucent skin making up his cheeks.
They looked at each other for a long moment. Mirium decided it was as good a time as any, even if they were standing in the middle of a hall.
“Keelath, I know we agreed it was over between us, but… I’m worried about you.” She bit her lip. “Tyrric’s worried about you. He had a go at me about it earlier. Even Medi’s worried, and she doesn’t usually notice these things. Are you sure you’re, you know, all right?”
A muscle tightened in Keelath’s jaw. “I am fine, Mirium.”
“See, you say that, but you’re chilly enough to freeze flesh off the bone. You barely visit your brother, and when you do, you’re in and out like a great angry felbat. Keelath, what’s going on?”
Keelath closed his eyes, trembling as if struck. Then he made as if to forge past her. She stepped in his way and pushed him back. He was surprised—she was a good deal smaller than he was, yet her momentum stopped him.
“Nothing that can be helped,” he finally said. “It’s better to just let it alone, isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” said Mirium unhappily. “But maybe we’ve been trying that, and you just seem all the more upset for it. Tyrric had a word for it. You’re off ‘nobly suffering’, all by yourself, on the front.” She couldn’t help a sniffle. “And it’s my fault, isn’t it?”
Keelath stared at her. “No. We made our decision. I’ve accepted that.”
“Just because you’ve accepted it, doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it!”
Keelath’s expression turned baffled. “And?”
“And, well, your feelings matter too, you great big lunkhead!” Mirium winced tears away. “You do still have feelings, don’t you?”
Keelath shifted. “Mirium, this isn’t really the time or place.” There was an impatience in his voice she wasn’t used to, a subtle threat in his words.
Mirium swallowed hard and took a step away from him. She couldn’t forget what he was. He had never spoken to her like this when he had been alive, even when she had been at her most emotional–when Evelos had wanted to join the First War efforts. And yet…
His face became pinched at her movement, and he began to move forward again. There was something there, some pain, no matter what he said.
She stepped back into his way, with a gulp and then a glare. “That is not the right answer to that question, mister!”
Keelath huffed a sigh and turned fully to her. “Alright? Alright. Fine. No, no I don’t have feelings, Mirium. No memories, no feelings, except what drives me to keep on everyday instead of lying down and letting the hunger or the final death overtake me. I warned you. I warned you both, Tyrric and you. Why do you not listen to me? I told you this would happen eventually, that I would lose myself and you would get hurt if you insisted on keeping near me.”
“Oh, Keelath.” Her nerves wavered. “I do listen to you, every time you speak—“
“Then listen to me now. Stop worrying over it. It won’t bring back what was lost. It won’t make anyone feel better. This—what I am—doesn’t change. …and I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too,” murmured Mirium. They stood looking at each other, and then something — an instinct or a vain hope, perhaps — drove her to fold into him for a hug. The cold metal of his breastplate stuck to her cheek, but she gamely ignored it.
Keelath mimiced a movement in his throat like a swallow, though she knew the muscles weren’t the same in his cobbled-together body. “I don’t mean to upset you,” he rumbled low, and at least that much, his deep voice, hadn’t changed. “I just don’t think you—any of you—understand.”
She looked up. “So help me?”
Another swallow. “When I look at you, half of the time, I don’t even know you,” Keelath admitted. “The times I do, I remember you as a wife, but that’s all. No feeling. No passion or attachment. No nothing.”
“The same. I speak to him for courtesy’s sake. I can’t reclaim what we were.”
“But it hurts you. That’s still a feeling, Keel.”
Keelath grunted, and he relented enough to put an arm around her. Though it made her shiver, she counted it as a victory. “It gnaws. I can still read people’s emotions even if I can’t join in. Their disgust and fear. I see Tyrric’s hope and love for me, and I see it crashing down every time I must disappoint him. A little memory gone, an inside joke I didn’t laugh at, something I might have believed then but don’t believe now. But I can’t lie to him, Mirium. I can’t change myself to fit this fantasy of his, even if I could remember what it was.” Keelath looked away. “Nor is that the worst of it. He doesn’t know the things I have done as a knight of the Lich King.”
“Keelath.” Mirium reached up to his shoulders to brace him, shaking him until he looked down at her. “It doesn’t matter, what you’ve become or what you did. You are—were—in our hearts, and we’ll always support you, even more so knowing how much those things pain you.”
“Ah,” said Keelath, and his tone was sardonic, turning to the hiss of a hunting predator as he went on. “What if they did not pain me? What if there was no guarantee I would not do such again? The murders, the tortures, the blood—as enticing as courtship once was to me as a living man. What if I even lived for it…?”
Mirium suppressed a shudder and tilted her head up defiantly. “I don’t believe you’d say it that way if you were truly okay with it.”
Keelath broke away from her. “And maybe I’m not, but it’s on an intellectual level only, do you understand? I can’t be with you. Eventually, the hunger would be stronger than my mind. Among my own kind, there is little danger of snapping and accidentally killing somebody, but among the living, there always is.”
A wild thought overtook her. She knew he could raise the dead to be like him—Forsaken. What if he did that to her? What if they could be together that way…?
Just as quickly she realized the foolishness of that thought and banished it. “Okay,” she said cooly. “You’ve given me the party line. Now what do you really feel?”
Was that a crack in his eyes? “Mirium…”
She stood on her tip-toes, the better to look the tall man in the eye. “I lived through the Scourge attack and witnessed a lot of horrible things, Keelath. And I’ve lived with Forsaken and even made a few friends among them. I helped them through their troubles, much like I’m trying to help you. I wasn’t born yesterday! So you tell me now, under all that doubt and fear, what do you really feel?”
Keelath was quiet for a long time, staring at her, then staring into space. “Loss,” he finally said.
“Yes.” Mirium closed her eyes. “And?”
“Jealousy. Shame.” He looked down at her. “Longing.”
She nodded and stood on her tip-toes again to kiss his lips. He kept them pressed together, and she soon relented. “I’m trying not to give up, Keelath,” she told him, “but you speak to me like you want me to.”
“I merely don’t see the need to keep beating your head on a stone wall,” Keelath replied. “I am not trying to take away your hope. That is your gift as the living.”
“It can be your gift, too. It once was, when we were all young.”
“So Tyrric has told me.”
Mirium looked down. “So, you plan on leaving again? Before the night has passed?”
There was another wisp of something unspoken in his eyes. Mirium caught it and stretched up to kiss him again. This time he responded, only slightly, opening his lips, one hand touching her waist.
“I love you, Keelath,” she whispered into his mouth.
“I know that I once did, too.”
It struck a soft place inside of her, and she hid her sudden tears by tucking her head against his breastplate. At first her wet cheek stuck to his icy armor, but then the whole thing misted and dripped. Keelath said nothing and held her stoically.
“You know,” she said through a sniffle, “this is proof you still love me.”
“Any other death knight would have left, sooner than allowing the chance their armor should rust over.”
That got an honest smile of him. His arms came a little closer around her, but he didn’t close for a third kiss.
Finally Mirium stepped away. “Go on, then. But write me. Frequently, and about everything.”
Keelath regarded her. Then he said, “Very well,” and turned to walk away.