“Keelath, I wanted to apologise to you.” They were sitting on the beach just outside Lellith’s magicked-up hotel. Mirium ran her fingers through the sand, trying not to think of the souls that had gone into the making of this place. Everything felt so real, even when she also knew it was not.
Across from her, Keelath sprawled on the same artificial sand, his lack of armor and weapons showing his ease–or perhaps just his resignation to Lellith’s power over him. In response to Mirium’s statement, he made a disbelieving grunt that he turned into a hesitant joke. “Apologize for what? When was someone going to tell me that you owed me an apology? I must have missed that particular memo.”
“For my behavior these past couple years.” The joke didn’t land; Mirium felt her shoulders bunching up under her ears in shame, and with a deep breath, she forcefully relaxed them again.
Keelath gave his head a little perplexed shake, looking over at her. “Explain it to me?”
“I was becoming someone I hated,” Mirium said. “Someone cowardly and weak.”
“You have more than enough reason to be so, after what you were put through,” said Keelath sternly.
“Maybe, but that’s not who I am,” Mirium said, her voice and eyes distant. “It was just…confusing. I felt in constant vertigo, couldn’t figure out why my heart said one thing and my head another. But then I realized this was one of those rare times my head knew better than my heart–or no. M-my intuition knew better than my wild emotions. I was indulging in those emotions, choosing the easier path of wallowing instead of addressing what was there in front of me. It wasn’t the right choice.”
Keelath frowned softly. “I suppose I always assumed it’s what you wanted and needed. Wasn’t it?”
Mirium shook her head vaguely, but it wasn’t clear to Keelath if she had actually heard him. “I had kept questioning, ‘why me?’ I questioned what I did to deserve this. I questioned, thinking I couldn’t be at fault somehow, for a victim is never at fault. Then I realized that that kind of thinking is pretty well useless, just a shifting of the blame.”
“You blame yourself?” asked Keelath, not able to keep all the incredulity from his tone. “For Talthan’s actions?”
“No, no, not quite,” replied Mirium. “Only Talthan is responsible for Talthan’s actions. But I was responsible too for letting it go as far as it did, not listening to Tyrric when he warned me something was off about Talthan, two decades ago. Not getting out sooner, not caring more for Medi’s well-being to get her out sooner, letting myself believe all the lies Talthan told me even though I knew better, moping for what must have been half a decade over the whole incident as a result. Forgetting even Evelos…
“And I realized that was the cause of the vertigo. That forgetting of myself…disrespecting myself in order to hang on to something I thought I deserved, as the terrible person I’d grown to believe myself to be.”
“Sweetheart,” Keelath murmured, then paused. “That is heavy stuff,” he finally remarked and reached out to touch her hand.
“Is it?” Mirium asked, with an attempt at a light-heated joke herself, but then she started shaking. She pushed the anxiety out as a nervous chuckle, that also came with tears. She let them fall across her cheeks, their warmth comforting somehow, then wiped them away. “I remember the old me, now: the strong me who’d ride the buck out of any wild courser and sing on any stage, no matter how tough the audience. I dare to think that that me was just naive to the true evil in the world, and hence foolhardy and reckless, but she wasn’t. I wasn’t. I remember the red flags Talthan showed me, and I knew in my heart just where I was supposed to put his nonsense. I chose to ignore that, hoping or believing if I was just good enough, the prophecy I saw wouldn’t come to be.” Her throat started to close up. “He would magically come to love me properly through my force of will alone. It was arrogant. And I was…resentful. I wanted someone to just scoop me up and pat me on the head after all the horrible things that had happened and tell me they’d all take care of it. And I got exactly that. And I got exactly what comes with that: a cage.”
“Please don’t stop me,” Mirium interjected. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep going if you stop me.” She took another difficult breath. Keelath gave a nod and went silent. Mirium started again. “Then when you returned, I tried to make of you that same saviour–that slavemaster. It was..safer than feeling everything I was feeling, the flood finally released from the dam of my stupidity–and his spell on me breaking. I put expectations on you that weren’t fair, expecting you to be around me all the time, to just weather my instability no matter how stupid you thought I was being, to force this child on you, to force you to keep…living when it’s so painful for you. Worrying for me all the time while you had wars and your sanity and the rest of the family to think of as well…”
“Mirium…” Keelath silenced her with a touch of her cheek. “I would have worried regardless of whether I thought you were being reasonable. You are my wife.” Cupping her chin, he put a kiss next to his touch. “You speak of disrespecting yourself, but don’t also disrespect me by assuming I wouldn’t have told you if the burden was too great. A person will think and feel many things in the heat of the moment, it’s true, and still make heartfelt decisions in spite of those things. I had my misgivings; we both know that. But I decided ultimately to be with you. I still do.”
“You’re right,” Mirium murmured. She thought about it a moment, then repeated, softly, almost ashamedly, “You’re right.”
“It sounds like you’ve found some measure of wisdom in this, though, and I’m glad you’re no longer feeling so lost,” Keelath added.
“I kept trying to find the bottom of my fear so I could face it,” Mirium murmured, “but in one sense of it, there was no bottom, because the fear itself was…overblown.”
“Oh, yes, very overblown after Talthan tried to have you killed,” Keelath remarked sarcastically.
“No, I mean…maybe misdirected is a better way to put it. I was afraid of myself, of the monster I thought I was becoming. There’s a power in being a victim, you know. The world is vast and callous and nothing you do will much sway it, but if you take even a little of that on by claiming the world’s woes are somehow your fault…well, you always have the power to fix your own faults.
“Yet no matter how many times I tried to fix myself, it never worked…because I realize now, I wasn’t the one broken. I wasn’t the monster. It was Talthan, and I was at first too infatuated, and then too scared, to act on that.
“And it was the same, when you died…”
She trailed off. Keelath looked at her. “I’m here now.”
Mirium shook herself free of a sob.
“I’m here now,” Keelath repeated, shifting closer to comfort her, but she was already continuing.
“And I lost it. I wanted so badly to be able to make the situation be okay again–partly by blaming Evelos for leaving to fight in the same war that had killed you. Blaming myself for letting him. But as you’ve told me countless times, nothing of that situation was anything I could’ve controlled. Evelos didn’t do anything wrong. I hadn’t, either, except in making rather more upheaval over it than I needed to. All that…flailing around trying to change what couldn’t be changed, instead of just focusing on what I needed to do, and… doing it.” Her voice choked off.
Keelath glanced at her again. She breathed heavily, and a little squirm of anxiety brushed Keelath’s insides. She had been leaning on him greatly these past two years, and he had felt the pressure of it, like an incessant gnawing in his stomach, a pain not his own that he had still felt responsible for, to try and carry or fix it for her.
Thankfully, or so he admitted to himself, she was able to calm herself on her own this time. Her breathing slowed, and she lifted her head a few moments later. He shifted so she could tuck up against him if she wanted, but she declined the comfort with a look. And Keelath unexpectedly felt relief and some pride at her returning strength.
“So I’m sorry,” Mirium murmured. “I’m going to make a pledge to you, Keelath. No more excuses. No more forgetting the strength I have, the roads I’ve walked to prove it. No more believing the lies that I’m just a monster. I may not always get this right, but I know I’ve got a good head on me and centuries of experience. I don’t need someone telling me it’ll all be okay. I know it’ll be so. I don’t even need for it to be okay, to still get through it.”
“Real strength is when you know you may have the ability to change things, but then realizing you don’t have to,” murmured Keelath. “To stay your hand when it is wise, even if that is most uncomfortable.”
Mirium nodded. “The right path is rarely–I might say never–the easiest. I had let my desire for having a little utopia–perfect comfort in the face of all the darkness–blind me to the ugly reality hanging over my head.”
“Common enough failing,” remarked Keelath.
“But one I should grow beyond now,” said Mirium. “It’s long past due. I’ve been straying far from the path I was meant to take. I can do so much better than I have been.”
Keelath dipped his head to kiss her again, this time on her lips. “You always can. But Mirum…if ever you doubt yourself, just remember who you are in the present moment has always been good for me.”
Mirium smiled mushily up at him, and he returned it with a smile of his own.
“You are a strongly driven woman, and I am a strongly driven man. When we stand together, Mirium, nothing can stand against us.”
“What a sin’dorei thing to say,” she murmured, tweaking the corner of his jaw lovingly, finally relaxing into his arms.
Keelath let out a rasping chuckle. “No. It is Forsaken.”
“But you are not,” Mirium murmured, silencing any protests with a hand over his mouth and a mischievous grin.