No One Ever Could
"Back so soon, Warden?" Illidan commented as Maiev strode past his cell door. "Couldnt wait to get back here with me, I suppose."
Maiev stopped in her tracks and whirled to face him, scowling through the bars. "I dont trust you for a moment, Betrayer."
"Your confidence in my abilities is flattering, but after nearly two thousand years if I were going to find a way out of this loathsome pit I would have done so by now, believe me." Illidan poked half-heartedly at the unyielding door. "So there must be another reason for your premature return. I cant imagine my dear brother tolerating your company for any longer than necessary, but still "
"Shando Stormrage is still in the Emerald Dream," Maiev snapped. "I report to the High Priestess in his absence. You know that."
Illidan looked genuinely surprised. "Still? Furion is still off in his mystical dreamland of trees and flowers, after all this time? Its been centuries! What is he thinking, leaving Tyrande alone for so long? I would never neglect her so! Imagine, abandoning her for that that Unbelievable!"
Maiev rolled her eyes. "Shes hardly suffering. Shes so busy running the temple and leading our people that I doubt she has time to be lonely. And Im quite sure she doesnt give you a passing thought."
"You dont know that!"
She put one hand on her hip, the other on the wall, and leaned closer to the door, glaring at him with greater malice than the situation really called for. "Yes, Illidan, I do. Its been twenty centuries since you were banished to this prison. Has she ever once come to visit you? Sent you a letter? Shown any sign that she remembers you exist?"
Illidan gritted his teeth and turned his face away from her piercing stare.
"No, she hasnt. And do you know why? Because she doesnt love you. She never has. As a friend, as a future brother-in-law, perhaps, but never in the way you want need deserve to be loved. Never."
Illidan whirled to face her, coiled with rage. Had there not been unbreakable steel bars between them, she might have backed up for safety. Instead she merely raised an eyebrow, smirking at having gotten under his skin so quickly.
"Is there a point to this tirade or are you just exploring a new way to rub salt in my wounds?" Illidan growled.
"My point? My point is that just because your precious Tyrande doesnt truly love you, that doesnt mean no one ever could. So stop wallowing in self-pity. It doesnt suit you. And stop deluding yourself into thinking things will change."
"Doesnt mean no one ever What is that supposed to mean?"
"Think about it, Illidan. You have plenty of time."
"Oh, thank you, as ever, for the reminder, Warden," he sneered.
She gave a mocking snicker and walked away with her head held high.
Although there was no sunlight or moonlight to differentiate day from night, the Watchers of the Hyjal barrow prison still kept a strict schedule to stay in sync with the rest of the Night Elf world. Maiev and her comrades arose promptly at sunset, spent the night training and maintaining the facility, and retired to bed by dawn. Some were on the opposite schedule, of course, so there were guards at crucial areas at all times. Most of the time life was highly regimented, and the Watchers conducted themselves with their trademark discipline.
The day guards were already on duty but Maiev had no intention of going to sleep. Instead she dismissed the two sentinels from the corridor outside the Betrayers cell and peered through the bars, at first not seeing him. Her sharp ears picked up a rustle of movement to the left and she stepped over to look into the corner.
Illidan sat on the rock floor, his back against the front wall of his cell, resting his forehead on his knees. She knew his magically augmented senses made him aware of her presence, but he did not move or speak. Huddled in the darkness, hugging his bent legs to his chest, face hidden against his knees, he looked completely non-threatening. Maiev knew better.
A few minutes of heavy silence elapsed. Finally, Illidan spoke, his voice low and muffled. "Go. Away."
"Im in no mood for this, Warden. Youve caused enough damage with your sharp tongue for one night. Come back when Ive regained some semblance of a will to live."
"Oh, do shut up, Illidan. I told you, self-pity doesnt suit you."
His head snapped up and he glared at her, a muted flare of green light visible behind his blindfold. "Then stop reminding me of every reason I have to wallow in it. In fact, just stop talking to me completely. Thousands of years of confinement is punishment enough. I dont think my esteemed brother figured you into my sentence. Not even he could be that cruel."
"Did you think about what I said?"
He gave a short, humorless laugh. "About how Tyrande never loved me and has most likely forgotten I exist, and how Ill rot away in this hellish prison for all eternity? Yes. Thus the cheerful state you find me in now. As I assume your intent was to verbally kick me in the stomach to make my existence even more intolerable than it already is, you may retire for the day knowing you succeeded. Now please go fling yourself off a mountaintop and leave me alone."
Maiev leaned forward, grasping the bars tightly, reining in her temper. "I meant, did you think about what else I said?"
Illidan straightened out his legs and leaned back against the wall with a sigh. "Which? The part about how my darling Tyrande is left all alone for centuries at the time while Malfurion ignores her in the Emerald Dream? Or the part where shes never even bothered to send me a letter? You covered all the low points quite adeptly."
"No, you vile, thick-skulled idiot!" she hissed, trying to avoid being overheard by anyone passing by in the main corridor. "The part about how just because the high and mighty Tyrande doesnt care about you, that doesnt mean no one else could or does."
He snorted skeptically. "Ah, right. I somehow failed to notice the line of eligible women clamoring to meet me. Im sure theyre all dying for the chance to be attached to a disgraced betrayer spending eternity in a dank barrow prison. I am, after all, quite a catch."
"Sarcasm suits you far better than self-pity, even if the two are a bit intermingled at the moment," Maiev said.
"Im glad I could match your perceived model of my own personality. Is that what you wanted? Good, then you can leave me alone."
"Illidan, come here."
"Why? Did you think of another way to humiliate and degrade me?" He stood and approached her, but it was clear he was doing so to confront her, not because she had asked him to. "Do you have any inkling of the power I wielded before I was confined down here? Do you have the slightest idea what I could have been?"
He grasped the bars, being careful not to touch her hands, and leaned closer, breathing heavily as he continued with vehemence. "Do you have even a glimmer of understanding of what its like to have your future stolen, your dreams torn to shreds, your greatest achievements turned to shame, your entire way of living forbidden, your contributions rejected, your efforts mocked, your love spurned? Do you?"
"I" she started, but he cut her off.
"You strut around here in your high-heeled boots and your ostentatious helmet, thinking youre better than me, better than everyone else You disgust me."
"I am better than you, Illidan, which is why Im on this side of the bars and you are not."
He gave her a disgusted, patronizing look. "Youre been lucky in your life, Warden. The ideals you so zealously pursue have been on the right side of the law so far. Someday that may change. Someday you may find yourself as the only sane voice among a crowd of madness. Someday you may find yourself capable of things you would never dream of now."
Maiev slid her hands up the bars, seizing his wrists. "Are you quite done?"
She gripped his wrists tighter, digging her nails into his skin, but he did not flinch or draw away. "Because as Ive been trying to get through to your twisted excuse for a brain, there is someone who cares about you, and it is not, never has been, and never will be Tyrande Whisperwind."
He frowned uncertainly, noticing the subtle change in her aura. "You surely dont expect me to believe " He let his voice trail off, unable to even speak such an absurd notion.
"Youve been imprisoned here for two millennia, now is not the time to be choosy."
At last he attempted to free his wrists, but she was much stronger than she looked, and her nails dug in painfully. "Id gladly spend another two millennia alone rather than allow you to"
"To what, Illidan?"
"Dont think I planned, or even wanted, for this to happen. I detest you, you foul traitor." She loosened her hold on him ever so slightly. "But I cant help it. Somehow Ive grown to admire you. After all this time, anyone else would have descended into madness and despair. Yet here you are, just as cheeky and aggravating as the day we first dragged you in here in chains."
"Such fond memories," he scoffed.
"You have great strength in you, strength that has nothing to do with the Wells power," she said, even as he failed to detach himself from her grasp. "You say I have no idea what you had before, what you were on your way to becoming Youre wrong. There is greatness in you that has not faded even after all that has happened."
"Even after putting up with your insufferable prattling for two thousand years," he added, giving up the struggle to free his wrists.
She grinned wickedly. "Even after that."
"If you think Ive stuck around because I enjoy your company youre sadly mistaken, Warden."
"No, no, Im under no illusions about that. But since youre here " She drew one of his hands to her mouth through the bars and kissed the purple indentations left by her fingernails.
He shuddered, whether from revulsion, pleasure, or merely having all the blood run out of his arms from having them elevated for so long, even he could not say, and backed away out of her reach. "Listen, I dont know what sort of game this is youre playing now, but I want no part in it. You may find it amusing to toy with my heart but Ill not allow you to mock me."
"Mock you? Im doing no such thing, you clod! I just told you I admired you and cared for you, and"
"While simultaneously insulting me and nearly drawing blood!" he interrupted, rubbing his sore wrists. "Sorry, Warden Shadowsong, Im neither foolish nor desperate enough to play along with this. Leave me alone." He laid down on his cot with his back to her and fell completely silent.
After glaring at him for a minute Maiev made a disgusted noise and stalked away.