Description: What if Entreri uncorked and actually confronted Jarlaxle about the past? Jarlaxle comes to settle their differences, and Entreri speaks his mind.
Disclaimer: Belongs to RAS and Wizards of the Coast, not me. No profit is being made.
Author's Note: I'm not sure when this story is set. Just some time after RotP. It could be after TLT. It could be anywhere in between.
Part I: The Wolf
When Artemis Entreri answered his door and found a brightly dressed drow with an oversized hat on his head, he nearly slammed the door in Jarlaxle's face.
As though sensing this, Jarlaxle extended the silver-headed cane in his hand and pressed it in the middle of the door, holding it open. "Before you shut me out, hear me out."
"Go to the Nine Hells."
"I already have." Jarlaxle grinned. "Or, technically, the Abyss. It's not worth a return visit."
Entreri stared at the drow, but despite the smile, Jarlaxle didn't seem to be joking. "So that is what's wrong with you."
Knowing nothing short of a full magical barrage by the likes of someone such as Elminister would stop the drow, Entreri stepped aside. "Make it quick. I'm not in the mood."
"You never are." Jarlaxle swept inside. He wore a crimson hat with a matching silk, crimson shirt. As per the style of the age, the cuffs were flared, and a matching red and cream doublet was fitted over the shirt. This was offset by a black piwafwi, black pants, and shiny black boots. The usual mass of jewelry accompanied the outfit, of course.
In short, to Entreri's eyes, Jarlaxle had not changed in the intervening years since he'd last seen him.
Entreri shut the door behind Jarlaxle and watched the drow tour his sitting room. "Meager." He ran a finger over the top of black leather chair.
"Practical," Entreri corrected.
Jarlaxle plopped into the leather chair, crossing his ankle over his knee.
Entreri remained standing, leaning against the wall behind the settee.
"It is time to settle our differences," Jarlaxle declared.
Jarlaxle smiled with a flash of white teeth. "More than luck, I should say."
"I doubt it." Entreri crossed his arms over his chest. He had meant to go out later, so he was already wearing his full complement of magical items. Items enough, he hoped, to withstand psionic prying, should Jarlaxle be using such a trick.
"But our troubles stem from a basic source," Jarlaxle said, tilting his hat back to better see Entreri's eyes. "You believe I acted maliciously when I did not."
"Your misunderstanding comes from a basic source," Entreri replied, eyes narrowed. "You think this problem doesn't go back to the very beginning of our association."
Jarlaxle tilted his head. "Is that so?"
Entreri smirked. "It began the day you ordered me to go to Menzoberranzan with you."
"That was an offer."
"It was an order."
The mercenaries gazed at each other.
"You didn't enjoy your time there, I know," Jarlaxle said. "But I enabled you to get free."
"As your pawn to save Drizzt Do'Urden."
Jarlaxle merely shrugged.
Entreri's eyes narrowed again. "You enslaved me."
Jarlaxle held up one finger. "I meant to help you. To show you that – "
"My life means nothing?"
Jarlaxle just smiled.
"Well, you took from me all I had," Entreri snapped. Before, he could never have spoken of this. Before, he would have never allowed himself to admit this.
This was not before.
Entreri stared down at Jarlaxle. Hard. "I wandered around in utter depression for seven years."
"If that was all your life was founded on, I did you a favor," Jarlaxle said lightly. Then, more seriously: "You're capable of much more."
"That was not your decision to make." Entreri stalked the room, pacing from the door to the front window of his apartment. "That is what makes me insane with rage about Do'Urden and you. You both think you can make judgment calls just by intuiting things about me but without having actual facts."
"Do enlighten me."
Entreri did an about-face, staring him down again. "When I was a child, I was repeatedly told I was useless and worthless. That I was nothing, that I would never become anything, that I wasn't worth the crumbs they fed me. After years of this tender care, I ended up in the streets by myself, fighting to survive – foraging for food like a damn rat. But I did survive, and I was picked up by the Basadoni Guild. There I learned I did indeed have a talent: I was an exceptional swordsman. It was marketable skill. I wasn't worthless, useless rubbish. I was the best. And then you dragged me to a place that striped all that from me. The thing that gave me value meant nothing there. There were 20,000 others just like me." He sneered. "Oh, yes. That is a great gift, Jarlaxle.
The drow was silent for a moment. "You are worth more than your swordsmanship."
"My swordsmanship is all anyone is interested in," Entreri said, leaning against the wall once more, this time by the window. "Or my skills as a thief."
"You have much more than that," Jarlaxle said. "Intelligence, cunning, the ability to read others. I realize Idalia's flute is a sour memory for you, but you proved you have an excellent ear for pitch and music. Also, do you remember the silhouette you painted of me on the wall of our apartment in Heliogabalus? I'd never seen you paint anything before, but you rendered a perfect outline of me. You have unrealized musical and artistic talent, my friend."
"I'm not your friend." Entreri crossed to his curio cabinet, where he'd begun collecting various daggers that caught his fancy. One had a golden snake encircling the grip to create the guard. "Or, rather, you are not mine."
Jarlaxle watched him. "I meant to ease your dourness from you. I wanted you to be happy. My goal was to lift whatever pall rides over your head so that you could appreciate life, enjoy living. You have always known you weren't happy, but you never did anything to secure happiness for yourself. Or even to enjoy the most basic things, like food and sex."
Entreri tapped the glass, staring in at the hissing snake head at the end of the sheath. "But you were not considerate or careful about how you did so. Even if I accepted your claim that friends help even when they are not asked, what did you really think would happen when you dragged a human down into Menzoberranzan? Or when you gave him a magical item no one knew much about – one that plays around with your mind? You didn't know what was in my mind or in my past for it to dig up and filter itself through."
"And yet to live with a closed heart is a tragic thing."
"My heart is scar tissue," Entreri said, turning away from the cabinet. "And it has scabs on it from your bungling. Do you know what happens if you tear off a scab prematurely? Scar tissue. Do you know what happens if you cut at scar tissue? More scar tissue." He stared at Jarlaxle. "If you took a drowling into Bregan D'aerthe and he was terrified of spiders, would you throw him into a pit of spiders to cure him?"
Jarlaxle shook his head.
"Of course not," Entreri said, barely pausing. "You would put a small spider on the opposite side of the room from him and slowly work him over to it. Likewise, magically ripping the top off my head and figuratively spilling all my brains out wasn't the way to heal me."
For the first time that Entreri had ever seen, Jarlaxle's gaze fell to his lap, and he didn't answer.
"You epitomize the old saying 'With friends like you, I don't need enemies,'" Entreri said, perching on the arm of the settee. "Everyone is so convinced they know who I should be. Everyone is so convinced that I shouldn't be me. The only person who has ever accepted me exactly as I am is Dwahvel, and she's the only person I've truly been able to call friend. You don't 'befriend' someone, or associate with someone, for who you think you can turn them into. And certainly if you decide you want to help them, you do it with their permission, and you make sure what you're doing will actually help instead of making them worse."
"But you were intent on never changing," Jarlaxle said, meeting his gaze again. His brow furrowed. "You were intent on never facing your past, never reclaiming your right to happiness, never enjoying what your intelligence and talents could rightfully win for you."
"It would have been kinder to split open my skull with an axe."
Jarlaxle held up both hands in a gesture of surrender. For several minutes, silence reigned.
When Jarlaxle finally spoke, his voice was quiet. "I have regretted that you were hurt, my friend. As I said earlier, it was not my intention. Even though it failed abysmally, all I wished to do was help, and I gained no satisfaction from seeing you hurt instead."
Entreri ended up staring out the window because there was really nothing to say to that. Admittedly, it was better to know that Jarlaxle at least felt bad about the damage he'd caused. Better than thinking he didn't care or that he'd even enjoy the destruction and suffering.
But regret or guilt did not erase the past. Although Entreri doubted it, his uncle could have regretted molesting him, but that could never change the amount of trauma he had incurred.
"I have always admired you," Jarlaxle said. "Your fortitude, your will, your confidence, your self-possession. I have admired your intelligence and cunning and your skill with a blade, the way you improvise and think ahead. And, yes, my attention has ever been on that and so much more: who you could be."
"Is there no place for us to begin again?" Jarlaxle asked.
Entreri doubted that his answer mattered one way or the other. If he said no, Jarlaxle would simply vanish for a decade and then show back up again, some insane venture tucked in his pocket. "That is less the point than your manipulation of me."
"Are we not both manipulators?" Jarlaxle arched a white eyebrow. "Have we both not manipulated each other to get what we want?"
Entreri shook his head. "The only thing I ever gained off of you was Charon's Claw, and not in any direct sense. Also, the only reason I did that was because I needed it and the gauntlet to fight Kimmuriel and Rai'guy."
Jarlaxle gazed at him silently.
Entreri met the stare.
Long moments passed.
"You never asked me what I wanted," Entreri pointed out. "You never asked what I needed."
"You were aimless."
"No one is truly aimless," Entreri said. "Everyone is going a direction all the time. Some people are unconsciously running away, and some people are unconsciously trying to reclaim the past. Some people are unconsciously repeating past traumas, and some people are unconsciously acting out that which they have always known. But no one is doing something for no reason whatsoever. They simply feel aimless."
Jarlaxle inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Wise words."
"I paid much for the wisdom," Entreri sneered.
Silence reigned for a moment more.
"Ultimately, my issue is with the fact that you did what made you happy without considering the effect it would have on me," Entreri said. "You called yourself my friend, and you set out to help me. But when presented with the opportunity to have something you wanted, you went for it without counting the cost to me. And you did this having always claimed to understand me, perhaps better than I understood myself." He shook his head. "I am not surprised, of course. You are drow, and you are a mercenary. To be a traitor is in your nature. But your offer of friendship was initially real, which makes your betrayal greater. More absolute." Entreri frowned. "While I am not disillusioned, I am deeply disappointed in you."
It was very faint indeed, but Jarlaxle flinched just slightly.
Entreri stood. "People often say that it's better to have loved and lost than to never love at all. I don't agree. Calihye's offer of a relationship, your offer of friendship . . . to have things I wanted or things I could actually hold onto brought just within my grasp only to be torn away is far more hellish than to never have them." His voice, his expression, were flat. "Before, I could only look in from the outside and imagine what it might be like to have those things. Now I have tasted them – just a sip of water for a man crossing an endless desert – only to have them ripped from me."
Jarlaxle stood as well, clearly taking his cue to leave. "I can see your argument, although I hold the opposite view." He paused. "Then you're saying forgiveness is not possible."
Entreri walked to the door, opening it. "Forgiveness is a gift." He had granted his mother forgiveness for selling him into slavery. He understood why she'd done it, and he understood that she'd killed her own heart by doing it. "It is not the same as acceptance. While it is true that forgiveness never means that what happened is all right, it is also true that forgiveness does not mean a restoration of a relationship – partnership, friendship, or otherwise. After all, I am the guardian of my own safety."
Jarlaxle gazed at him a moment, then tipped his hat. "Farewell, Artemis."
Entreri watched him leave without responding.
When he shut the door, he knew it would not be the last he saw of Jarlaxle. The drow would return one day, probably sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, Entreri would be constructing more fortresses around his heart.
He could never afford to leave himself open to Jarlaxle's machinations ever again.
A/N: So if you read me often, you know I'm a huge proponent of SotS and the friendship that was supposed to grow between Artemis and Jarlaxle. I also once said I'd never write a tragedy. Well, I don't necessary believe a projection of this storyline would be an automatic tragedy, if that helps anyone, and I frankly have some steep angst to work through. Therefore, more parts will follow.