Their relationship had changed. That was painfully clear.
They lay in the bed in silence. Jarlaxle absently stroking Artemis' chin, his eyes looking over the top of the man's head. Artemis lying on top of him, warmed by the drow's body, hyper-vigilant to every sound and movement in the room. He couldn't stop his awareness of how tiny motes of dust fell through the room, highlighted by the sun through the window. Or the sound of his and Jarlaxle's breathing, sighing in and out, sometimes overlapping.
Jarlaxle didn't want to say it. He didn't want to say how Artemis wasn't his friend; he was…a key, or a new, small part inside of Jarlaxle, something sustaining him that could kill him. The drow mercenary felt that Artemis could either choose to keep him alive, or could choose to kill him, and now, in this stage, he could no longer try to manipulate Artemis' decision.
He thought of the woman who had been carrying his child. The pain that brought him was enormous; it didn't show on the surface; his expression didn't change, nor the rate of his breathing, but the pain was there. He'd grown so close to her…She had treated him like an equal, something that near broke his heart, a strange sensation to have in the Underdark, where everything had a price and nothing mattered. She mattered. She had mattered. There was never anything abusive between them, not even an occasional barb, a cruel jest, an insinuation. Then he'd said it. 'Get rid of it.'
The recollection of his own voice saying those words caused a physical reaction, an actual twitch, an involuntary muscle spasm.
"What's the matter?" Artemis asked, staring him in the eyes. "Am I hurting you?"
Jarlaxle didn't know whether or not he should answer. He felt somehow as if Artemis could sense if he answered truthfully. "I hurt myself," he said. "It's of no consequence."
He could see confusion in the assassin's eyes. And a struggle. Entreri almost didn't ask him this. "When?" Artemis asked.
"A long time ago. It's healed. I only accidentally touch it the wrong way when I'm thinking." Jarlaxle hoped he wouldn't have to elaborate.
Artemis' eyes traveled down Jarlaxle's bare body. "Where?"
The drow mercenary sighed. "Not like that," he said. "It's… It's inside. Now leave me alone."
"You don't have to talk to me as you would a child," Artemis said. "By 'inside', you mean it's something that you're thinking about." He paused. "A memory."
Guess or not, Artemis was correct. Jarlaxle shifted irritably. "My memories are not on display."
"I can hurt you," Artemis said, raising an eyebrow and pinching thumb and forefinger around one of Jarlaxle's earrings.
"I don't need your brand of concern," Jarlaxle said.
"And this was such a tender moment," Artemis said. His expression was mocking. "Now you've ruined it."
"I do not have to divulge every thing that crosses my mind," Jarlaxle said, pushing him away with anger on his face. His skin felt hot.
Artemis was on his hands and knees now, and what he wanted to do was try to curl up with Jarlaxle again. His body stiffened in silent warning, his instincts honed into a feeling of danger. He knew he would only be hurt if that's what he did. His more childish compulsion to return to Jarlaxle's arms was overruled.
It filled him with longing – how could he approach the drow without inflicted pain? He tried to find some way to rationalize Jarlaxle's anger with him. He searched, and found it. The assassin curled up on his own side of the bed. "You've been alone too long," he said. "You're not used to sharing anything you're thinking. I doubt you did much of that when you were leading those mercenaries of yours."
Jarlaxle gave pause. There was truth to something Artemis was saying, there. He didn't want anyone else to know what he was thinking. It was his first line of defense, a deeply buried habit of keeping those things to himself so that he could be inscrutable to everyone around him. Safe because it threw their calculations, entertaining because it frustrated others.
But maybe… But wouldn't it be profitable to tell Artemis what he was thinking? They were supposed to work together, not apart. Artemis could participate in his plans more fully if he could tell the assassin what was going on in his mind. If he could only trust Artemis enough to make himself be forthcoming, the rewards might be exponential. The drow tried to focus on that impersonal sort of sharing, and not the intimate thing Artemis was implying.
"Very well," he said, bestowing a dazzling smile upon his friend. "What would you like to know?"
"What you were thinking," Artemis said.
Ah, good. "When?" Jarlaxle asked.
"Right now," Artemis said.
Jarlaxle's smile wavered. Damn. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Artemis frowned. "I do. Now cough it up. What was so important that you changed the subject three times?"
"Two," Jarlaxle said, beaming brightly, and attempted not to show his level of unease. "I have only changed the subject two times." He held up two fingers and wiggled them in front of Artemis' face.
"Now three," the assassin retorted, instantly taking the opportunity Jarlaxle had unwittingly given him.
The drow looked surprised, then sank back to the pillows and pouted. Artemis never got the better of him. This isn't fair. He mulled it over, then brightened as he thought of using flattery. Given Artemis' past, he'll have had scant little of that, Jarlaxle thought. "All you need know is that you're the perfect man for me," he said, and folded his arms behind his head jauntily.
The hurt look in Artemis' eyes wiped the smile off his face. "You're avoiding the question," the assassin said. His expression was subdued, and he looked down at the bed instead of Jarlaxle.
"With less ease than usual, or else I'd have been successful, eh," Jarlaxle said, Artemis' reaction in turn subduing him.
"None of the ease which has come to be associated with 'usual'," Artemis said. His expression now slipped into something darker that resembled melancholy. "Thanks to me, there is no 'usual' anymore."
Jarlaxle narrowed his eyes at the assassin. Not melancholy, but… shame? Regret? "'Thanks to you', nothing," the drow said. "What you did is not any different from what I did."
Artemis' face stilled, and his eyes betrayed the sentiment that he didn't believe the drow. "Save your pity."
"Pity does not enter into this, I assure you," Jarlaxle said. "I speak nothing but the truth when I say that I am as much responsible for a share of the blame as you are. Now…" His expression softened. "Stop this. What use is it to harm yourself so?"
The more he got to know Artemis, the more he saw that the man was a walking conflict of changing moods. He would be happy, then sad, for no discernable reason. Now was no exception. They'd been talking, and the assassin had been unaffected; now he was taking personal insult to whatever Jarlaxle had said and retreating into a close-lipped depression.
"You don't want me."
Jarlaxle smacked the bed with his fist. "Confound it, we were just through this!" He instantly changed his demeanor to imploring, and reached out towards the man. "Come here."
It was the same. It was always the same. I close my eyes, and I come to him anyway. Artemis closed his eyes. He could feel himself trembling, slightly, slightly enough that he hoped Jarlaxle missed it. He inched towards the drow painfully on elbows and knees. Jarlaxle encircled him and gently drew him closer with his thin, muscular arms.
"I'll tell you," the drow mercenary said, his voice betraying irritation. "Does that make you happy? I'll tell you." Jarlaxle paused. "I was thinking about my life before I met you."
There was a part of Artemis that still expected some punishment for his impudence in pressuring the drow. He nodded. "Go on."
"I was having trouble answering you…" Jarlaxle said, beginning to sound strained. "…because you are asking why I cannot have children."
Artemis' head snapped up, locking eyes with him incredulously. "Excuse me?" He's been plowing through the female population ever since he got here. I thought impotence wasn't even a question.
"You have asked why I am unable to conceive children," Jarlaxle repeated. He was serious. If anything, he enunciated his words more precisely. "I am unable to have surviving children because of a deal I have made which is a binding contract to the effect of making the fate of my soul my own business."
"A demon," Artemis guessed. He could imagine Jarlaxle running afoul of one of the Nine Hells and signing a deal in order to escape. What that would have to do with children he had no idea. "You made this arrangement with a demon."
"She knew my nature even as I was born, She knew I wouldn't have any interest in men, She knew I would eventually give in to my lust," Jarlaxle said. He was distant.
"Wait, 'she'?" the assassin said, startled. He had to readjust his thinking about demons, then.
"We had a child."
Now Artemis was thoroughly confused. "You and what woman?"
Jarlaxle seemed to snap out of it long enough blink and him and say, "Zulameza," as if the assassin ought to have been listening more closely.
A drow woman, Artemis thought. "Oh." So this was a long time ago.
Jarlaxle returned to his own world of bygone musings. "She could have killed me then or there, but she gave me a chance. Kill Zulameza and the child, and I would be allowed a second chance to live."
"You killed a woman and your unborn child?" the assassin said skeptically. He didn't think Jarlaxle had had it in him to do such a thing, even if it meant the sacrifice of his own life.
But the drow shook his head, shook his head as a look of pain passed through his face. "I meant to compromise. I told her to get rid of the child."
"You mean, an abortion?" Artemis said. He'd heard of such things, but he'd also heard that it likely as not almost killed the woman in the process. Foul concoctions to poison the sleeping baby worked just as well to poison the woman carrying it. His brow furrowed in a deeper frown. "She died in the process?"
"An abortion?" Jarlaxle said, staring at the assassin incredulously. "No, not an abortion. The woman hung herself." Why would you think she would get an abortion? his expression said at Artemis.
"She –" Artemis' lips moved silently, as he was apparently speechless. "What? Why would she do a thing like that?"
Jarlaxle narrowed his eyes at the man venomously, almost regretting this story enough to consider killing Artemis for making him embark on this sordid tale. "Because she made me the center of her universe," Jarlaxle said. "Things I did and said mattered to her. She told me I was a father, and I snapped at her to destroy the object that was giving her so much joy. She wanted that child. If I couldn't accept it, she – I –" He ran an agitated hand over his shaved head. It was rare that he became to emotional to finish his sentences.
Unreasoning hate was coursing through his veins, and he knew that it was hindering his ability to think clearly. He automatically disregarded any compulsions to torture the assassin… to torture Artemis to death over a period of months for putting him through this brand of hell.
"Then…Why?" Artemis said, pressing against Jarlaxle in a small, subconscious attempt to be comforting. "Why do you carry on with every maid that crosses your path?"
"Infertility charm," Jarlaxle said, holding up one hand. Artemis examined it, but didn't see anything that looked like anything of the sort. Apparently it was one of Jarlaxle's many rings, which would explain why he never took them off. He looked away from Artemis, choosing instead to stare across the room. His face was a mix of bitterness and disgust. "It doesn't matter anymore."
"What sort of demon would do this to you?" Artemis murmured, hesitantly stroking Jarlaxle's cheek. "Have you ever thought about defeating it? Surely you are powerful enough to free yourself after all…" Something in the drow's face made him trail off, stopping.
"She's not a demon," Jarlaxle said. His face slowly drained of emotion. His expression turned wooden. "She's Lloth the Spider Queen."