Author's Note: Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri do not belong to me. I am not R.A. Salvatore; nor did he ask me/beg me/force me to write this. In fact, let us keep hope that he shall never read this, shall we? Also, this story is derived from the idea that Jarlaxle and Artemis' affections are directed towards each other. That means this is a male romance.
Jarlaxle approached him carefully, taking pains to remain unobtrusive in the situation. He hesitated for a moment, listening to Artemis' stilted conversation with the barmaid as the shadows of the inn flickered unevenly across the assassin's face to the rhythm of the limited wind toying with the chandelier of melting candles overhead.
Then he decided it was time to make his presence known. "Ah, have you ever considered that you might be trying too hard?" For the past couple weeks, he'd been treated to the puzzling show of Entreri taking some form of interest towards the female of his species whenever they were in town.
Artemis turned to him, his face impassive and his eyes emoting a question.
"Why don't you simply ask the woman to sleep with you?" the dark elf said, smiling at the plump blonde maid in such a way that she felt included in the conversation. Somehow, the elven mercenary's charisma kept his question from sounding crass or crude.
Without a word, the assassin turned and walked past him with a swirl of his cape, which spoke louder than any words the reserved man could have spoken to express the dismissal. Jarlaxle watched thoughtfully as Artemis Entreri walked out of the room, out of the entire inn, presumably to catch some fresh air or some other token thing humans seemed to say when they wanted to be alone.
Jarlaxle decided to go after him.
First, out of curiosity, Jarlaxle trailed him at a safe distance, wondering where he would go in this small town of wooden houses, chimneys leaking pale smoke against the dusk, those remarkable shades of orange, brown, purple, and blue overhead almost enough to distract the dark elf, even after so many months above ground…but not quite.
He hid in a shadow ironically created by a street lamp, which the humans had erected to drive darkness out. Instead, Jarlaxle found that lights invariably strengthened the darkness around them, almost as if the shadows had to fight in response for their territory.
The assassin appeared to be aimlessly walking around. Of course, the drow mercenary kept a healthy skepticism of the picture of Artemis boredly glancing at a darkened shop window, since he knew that rarely did Artemis Entreri do things without a purpose.
After three more streets, all of which were deserted, poorly lit, and smoky-smelling, Jarlaxle began to admit with mingled shock and dismay that Artemis did seem to be aimlessly wandering. What, then, was his human partner thinking of? The dark elf thought that he must either be intruding upon something immensely private, such as a waking reverie, or something completely meaningless, in which case the mercenary from the Underdark would be annoyed.
To settle the case, he sneaked behind Artemis' back until he was close enough to allow a whisper to be heard, and merely chuckled, knowing that Artemis would divine several things from his display of amusement, chiefly that it was Jarlaxle himself, and not someone else who crept up behind him for dubious reasons.
The assassin spun around, all on alert and perfectly ready to kill someone. Jarlaxle stood patiently with a slight smile on his face, allowing Artemis time to sheath his weapons again. He didn't. "You've been following me," he said.
Jarlaxle inhaled deeply and exhaled. "Enjoying the night air."
Artemis pointed his dagger at the dark elf mercenary, barely pricking Jarlaxle's skin through the thin cloth of the white shirt he wore under his vest that day. "Following me." His expression brooked no argument.
Jarlaxle shrugged. "Perhaps. But what are you doing out here?" He gestured to the sky. "Enjoying the display as orange turns to pink, and pink mellows out to purple, and purple cools to blue…?"
Artemis openly glowered. "Hardly."
Jarlaxle stroked his chin and tipped his head thoughtfully. "This is to be a guessing game, then?" he asked, his face lighting up with anticipation.
Jarlaxle actually took a step back as Artemis wildly overreacted. "Why do you never leave me alone?" he snarled.
Jarlaxle reassessed his position and his companion's temper. "I am your partner," he said. He decided on a soothing smile. "I simply wished to assess your wellbeing –" Artemis made a noncommittal sound of disbelief. " –because I rely on you to help me carry out our very profitable business venture," he added hastily. "After all, it's not every day that it's as easy as this – nor would it be, without your unique skills and knowledge of the silk carpet industry."
His assassin friend seemed only minutely less hostile.
The dark elf decided to take a stab at it. After all, sometimes unexpected risks worked to his benefit; he could afford to take a few losses. "Tell me what's troubling you," he said, radiating a blend of gentle concern and warm compassion. "It will make you feel better."
Entreri snarled, "I don't need to feel better."
Jarlaxle sighed. "As you will," he said. He turned around and walked down the middle of the street, shoulders displaying an attitude of defeat.
After a moment, he could hear almost undetectable footsteps, Artemis reluctantly following him.
In spite of his better sense, Jarlaxle paused, then listened for Artemis' response. No footsteps. Jarlaxle grinned evilly to himself. He kept walking, then as he turned the corner of the street, he paused again. The assassin's footsteps accordingly paused along with him. In some mad way, he realized in a corner of his mind that he was playing some kind of ill advised power game, however small, with Artemis.
He resolved to stop, and quelled the impulse the next time it came. He felt a sense of loss, but then, relinquishing control even in small ways always caused Jarlaxle a few furtive pangs of regret. He walked back to the inn without further incident, making sure that his partner was in tow.
Once inside, he waited, leaning against the doorframe. Not five minutes later, Artemis appeared. His expression was dull with fatigue. He lifted his eyes to Jarlaxle's warily, then walked past, and ascended the threadbare carpeted stairs to the second floor, where their room lay.
After waiting long enough to be sure that Entreri had reached their room and was beginning preparations for the night, Jarlaxle slipped up the staircase and through the door of their shared room.
The assassin was trapping the window with a singularly ingrained looking expression of suspicion. The dark elf paused against the door frame. With a slight toss of his head, the plumes of his wide-brimmed hat bounced. "As I said," he said without waiting for Artemis to finish what he was doing, "have you ever considered that you might be trying too hard?"
"What do you mean by that?" Artemis asked, his fingers working the delicate metal contraptions with practiced ease, though Jarlaxle noted tension in the movements of his fingers. If Artemis had been using the drow signing language, he would have been saying 'I don't trust you'. That was well enough. Jarlaxle cut him some slack for betraying it so obviously because he was a human.
"I mean," Jarlaxle said, shutting the door and applying his own trap, this one magical in nature, by applying one of his wands to the wooden frame, "you are not doing a good job of initiating sexual relationships."
"And you want to help," Artemis said with an implied sneer.
"Why?" Artemis suddenly turned to face him, almost as if he were trying to disconcert an answer from Jarlaxle by surprise. Well, it won't work, Jarlaxle thought, slightly miffed.
"It's distracting you." The mercenary became subtly wheedling. "And it need not be that difficult."
The assassin made a flat gesture with his hand. "I am not going to allow you to use me in some sort of game."
Jarlaxle frowned. "What game?"
Artemis threw himself down on the flat, stiff bed and cupped a pillow to his head. "Keep it that way."
Jarlaxle sat down on the opposite side of the bed and crossed his legs. "I am serious."
"Are you well?"
"I've had about enough of this," Jarlaxle snapped.
Artemis smiled unpleasantly. "Good."
The dark elf, irritated, no longer felt merciful. "I happen to know that you are not as indifferent as you pass yourself off as," he said. His eyes narrowed, though he still wore the eye patch, so only one was visible.
"It is a common affliction where I come from to not know which direction in which your affections lie."
Artemis considered saying, "The lack of loyalty in drow society is an elemental fact," but he knew that that would just anger Jarlaxle, and the drow mercenary was speaking of something different. He just listened, clutching his pillow.
"To put it bluntly," Jarlaxle said, leaning towards him, "I believe you do not know the difference between being attracted to a woman and being attracted to a man."
Deadly silence. "If you have said what I think you have just said, you are dead where you sit," the assassin said. His face and neck were slightly flushed with anger.
"Then you had better make sure that what you thought I said and what I said are indeed the same thing," Jarlaxle said, his voice taking on the same tone. His face was devoid of humor, and he stared at Artemis quietly.
The human's hand twitched involuntarily with a murderous urge. He slowly sat up, propping himself up on his elbow. He turned to face his elven companion. "What," he said with difficulty, "did you say?"
Jarlaxle paused deliberately. Artemis was beginning to tire of his dramatic mannerisms, and this one in particular. "I said," and he paused again, his voice draining of anger, "I said, perhaps you are confused. It would not be the first time, or the last. It is one of the great commonalities between races that most of us must spend their time going through life confused." He shifted to a weary, even doleful, expression. "I want to lift your confusion."
Entreri resisted the urge to ask if this was another one of the elf's speeches. "I would say you are pretty confused yourself," he said, his expression impassive.
"We are all confused in our own little way," Jarlaxle agreed. "But you…you take the cake, my friend."
"I thought you had barely finished saying that my 'problem' is common."
The dark elf sighed. He leaned back, fingered the brim of his hat, and then set it aside, choosing to lie down, at least temporarily. "But your contradictory nature compacts it," he said.
"Thank you." There was a backhanded compliment in there somewhere, and Artemis acknowledged that he had to have some kind of merit if Jarlaxle found him complex. The master of complexity, he thought, and stifled a yawn. Neither of them had slept in the past forty-eight hours, he realized. They'd been too busy running, running themselves ragged. Escaping the usual threats to their lives. He rubbed his eyes. "What do we do this for, anyway?"
Jarlaxle sat up and froze, eyes wide. "I, what?"
He felt as though somehow he'd made a mistake. "Never mind." He hunched back down in the bed and lifted the gray comforter over his shoulder, trying to cut off the unintended switch in conversation.
The first honest admission he'd made to me all day – no, longer than that, all four last months, and I react too clumsily to get more out of him, Jarlaxle thought, cursing himself. "I didn't mean to invalidate the importance of your thought," he said, choosing his words carefully.
The stiffness in Artemis' shoulders relaxed imperceptibly, but the elf caught it. "It was merely unexpected." The man nodded slightly. Jarlaxle felt surprisingly better, as if he'd offered an apology and it had been accepted. He stopped. Wasn't that what I just did? The dark elf thought. How queer. I apologize frequently, but never sincerely. How queer life is.
"It would do us well to get some sleep," Jarlaxle said, more loudly than necessary, as if he were making some effort to cover up what had just happened against all rational course.
That was the last thing he remembered before Artemis' rhythmic breathing proved him to be asleep, and the sound, in turn, lulled Jarlaxle to the point where reverie could pull him into its embrace.
He awoke a few hours later, finding that his head was against the white down pillow and that his hat had ended up clutched in his hand rather tightly. What was he doing that had caused him to grab his hat? He felt groggy, which was unusual, as reverie was nothing at all like sleep, except when he was exceptionally drunk, and he rarely ever imbibed to the point where it intruded upon his rest.
He'd tried sleep in his day, always willing to do anything once, and sleep felt remarkably…like this.
Jarlaxle sat up, holding a hand to his head at the spot where it ached. I was dreaming about us. You and me. He glanced over at the assassin.
His dark hair was mussed, and his expression was twisted into an unpleasant grimace of mingled pain and despair as he shifted slightly against his side of the bed, tugging the covers along with him.
Jarlaxle sighed. I didn't really need them anyway, he thought.
There had been nothing very unusual about his reverie. He had been dreaming mostly about the exploits of the last seven months, going from the mountains to isolated citadels, to small towns, to forests, anywhere where anyone had a job they were capable of doing, for a reasonable fee. He remembered quite vividly, for some reason, Artemis' disgruntled attempts to chop wood in return for lodging at the only house for miles around in the blizzard that had struck that winter, leaving them at an old man's mercy. Artemis had found him unbearable. It took all of Jarlaxle's charm to keep him from killing the old graybeard and keeping the cottage for himself. Something about that had given rise to what, for all intents and purposes, amounted to a nightmare, tonight.
Jarlaxle glared into the night and rubbed his head. What do I care if he kills some old human? This crabbiness was immediately replaced by a stab of fear that he might do such an unnecessary, cruel gesture towards his own kind someday, if the drow mercenary wasn't around and wasn't on guard enough to stop him. Why do you do this? For every step forward, you take two steps back, my friend. Don't you want to triumph over this depression you are in?
Jarlaxle was sure it was a depression. The same kind of depression that afflicted thousands of drow in his home city. He feared the kind of loss of feeling and zest for one's own life that Artemis, and people like him, suffered for most of their lives. The human kind, he reasoned, had a moral center and motivation that, if not missing from drow consciousness, was deeply buried. Being untrue to this moral center could cause such melancholia and apathy that Jarlaxle witnessed in Entreri.
Maybe he only wanted to believe it, but the dark elven mercenary thought that secretly, Artemis blamed himself for every bad deed he'd ever done, and continued to do them as a punishment for himself that only drafted him into the circumstances under which he brought himself more pain, more punishment, more suffering. Are you sure? he asked himself. I let go of my own cycle of destruction long ago, and the key to the workings of a conscience is to never do anything which would rub it the wrong way. A conscience is like…a cat, he thought suddenly. Rub it the wrong way, and it bites. Or claws furniture.
He watched his friend contemplatively. His stomach tightened in uneasiness and hope. If only I could teach him the key to managing his conscience.
…Then he won't need me anymore, Jarlaxle thought, startled. I have to stop thinking. Too many unexpected thoughts in one day is damaging to one's confidence, and I need all I can get.
"I am needed," he murmured to himself, tensing defensively. "I am always needed." He didn't realize he had spoken out loud.
Until, that is, Artemis woke up and heard, through the fuzzy filter of half-consciousness. "Mm?" he said, trying to focus. If it was urgent, he needed to know.
"No, no, go back to sleep," Jarlaxle said.
"Mumbling," the assassin said, and before he could make himself clearer, he lost his grip and slipped back into his dream.
Blast it. At times like this, Jarlaxle wished he had need of the longer resting process that Artemis was currently in the grip of. His mind was too active for his liking.
And yet, he couldn't leave, because if the assassin ever woke up before daybreak, he would see his friend's absence as a gesture of betrayal. He never said so; one look was enough, when Jarlaxle sauntered through the door to give greetings to the newly awakened. He'd learned never to do that again.
But what is the point of watching you sleep? Jarlaxle thought. He peered at his friend more closely. You're resting uncomfortably, true, but grown men hardly need their business partners comforting them after a simple nightmare. He lay his chin in the palm of his hand.
He smoothed over our previous conversation, the elf realized. The things I said about his sexuality, and he effectively caused me to drop it, when talking about it was my own idea. The drow mercenary experienced a flash of increased admiration for his partner, smiling down on him as he turned his head slightly towards Jarlaxle, furrowed brow smoothing out into a dazed expression.
Oh, how I wish you were awake right now, Jarlaxle thought, feeling a surge of childish selfishness and the need to be entertained. The conversations we would have! We really do have conversations about almost anything, the dark elf thought. The results are always illuminating. It isn't often that I get to say something that is truly on my mind or in my heart. Even if you do shun it and pretend to change the subject.
My goodness, attached, are we? he said to himself, amused. I haven't been so aroused since…He quickly put the memory out of his mind. It was a painful one. And not particularly one of his best moments.
And that is why you're never going to touch him, Jarlaxle decreed, looking at Artemis. Even a little? With effort, he held himself back. No. He would not appreciate that. Though he may be interested in men, you would never be his type. Jarlaxle sighed.
His only piece of fortune in the whole messy business was that Artemis could not read any of his thoughts. If the man could, he would have a lot more explaining to do before the assassin would trust him within arm's range again.
Oh, come now, you know nothing would come of it anyway. After all, attraction is not a science. I've felt attracted to torturers before. That doesn't mean I'd actually want to be in bed with them, Jarlaxle told himself. This is exactly the same. Another random attraction. Another random attraction.
In the end, he decided to take the chance of slipping away from the room for an hour or two anyway, reasoning that if he got back before daybreak, Entreri wouldn't be too vexed with him. He simply had to get out of there. It was beginning to feel like a stone box with no way out.