Disclaimer: Neither Artemis nor Jarlaxle are my characters.
Author's Note: This is part of a series, and does not make sense outside of that context. The series is AU as of Servant of the Shard.
This happens directly after the Final Chapter of A Test of Faith. It didn't seem to fit into the story, and it wasn't the start of the new story I'm trying to write, so it's like an interlude, its own very small story.
There was shocked silence in the room. The only movement was the dust motes gently dancing in the sunlight streaming through the window.
Artemis Entreri felt cold, even though it was warm under the covers, and he was fully clothed. He felt soaked through, though he was dry. Hearing the name of the drow's prevailing goddess was what brought on this unnatural chill.
There was no warmth emanating from Jarlaxle's body. Though Artemis was pressed right up against him, the drow's skin felt as cool as a corpse's. The cold numbness was bone deep.
Artemis had never heard Jarlaxle speak that way. He'd mentioned the name of the goddess before, but never with that burdened, dead tone to his voice. Jarlaxle had mocked, lightly dismissing Lloth as he would a fly, flicking his fingers at it to send it into flight without even looking at it. That had impressed Artemis; and heightened the assassin's impression that no matter who it was, if Jarlaxle even worshipped a deity at all, Lloth wasn't in his consideration.
Artemis leaned over him, so close that the assassin's breath was against Jarlaxle's cheek. He kissed Jarlaxle on the lips.
Uncertainly, awareness flickered back into the drow's visible eye. Jarlaxle continued to stare at the wall, an unusual, stinging pain visible in the depths of his eyes. He stirred involuntarily, felt Artemis' lithe form against him, and let Artemis hold him. 'You're still here?' he considered asking, but that would be rude, and really wouldn't serve any purpose except to hurt the assassin's feelings.
The coldness in the room was receding somewhat. The assassin's breath against Jarlaxle's cheek finally registered as hot. Artemis kissed Jarlaxle on the lips again, closing his eyes when he felt the drow respond this time, pushing back. Then the drow abruptly broke away. Jarlaxle scowled at the wall, reeking unfriendliness.
Artemis squeezed his companion, regaining feeling in his hands. The assassin turned Jarlaxle until the drow was resting on his back. Jarlaxle didn't resist, but didn't help either. The drow pointedly looked at the ceiling with an expression of utter apathy.
The assassin met Jarlaxle's lips, kissing him slowly, with a painstaking gentleness that made the drow submit to Artemis in spite of himself. Artemis' callused hand was on Jarlaxle's bare shoulder, gripping his collarbone and pressing down on him, and the assassin's other hand was on his arm just above his elbow. Jarlaxle could feel the fabric of Artemis' pants brushing the outside of his thighs. The assassin was kneeling over him, straddling his body.
He was tired, almost unbelievably so, and yet he felt a familiar longing as Artemis managed to arouse him. He was robbed of the ability to sigh by Artemis' mouth over his, so he contented himself by rolling his eyes. You are unbelievable, Jarlaxle thought. Can't you leave a man alone?
As if in response, Artemis rubbed his whole body over Jarlaxle's, apparently deciding that kneeling was too draining, and rested on top of the drow, trapping Jarlaxle under the assassin's full weight. He nuzzled Jarlaxle and kissed the drow's neck.
"I'm sorry," Artemis said.
"For what?" Jarlaxle was this close to prying Artemis' lithe, muscular body off him. His hands twitched.
"Everything," the assassin said. "Your problems." He stopped kissing Jarlaxle's neck and looked at the drow seriously. "Your suffering. I am sorry." He gestured, meeting Jarlaxle's eyes somewhat reluctantly, not giving into the urge to look away. Jarlaxle was intrigued. "That is why I…" He jerked his head in a downward motion, conveying their present situation. "I didn't know what to say."
Jarlaxle opened his mouth to ask what the meaning of his behavior was, but Artemis caught the obvious next question and answered it before Jarlaxle could ask why the assassin had suddenly stopped.
"You looked…angry. At this." Artemis looked away. He propped himself up, his hands palm down on the bed. "I behaved…wrongly. I am sorry." A tight feeling in his stomach burned. The emotion was hard to pick out when he was tangled in this situation, but he identified it as frustration. That might not have been the truth, but it would do for a label, and it was better than continued speculation about what else it may be. Pain…? Shame…?
Jarlaxle wrapped his arms around Artemis, plucking at the backs of the assassin's arms. "I shouldn't have told you those things – I shouldn't have taken it out on you. You didn't ask for it. All you asked for was that I tell you what I had been thinking – and I went and turned it into a tirade – an unnecessary tirade," he amended, trying to get Artemis to look at him. "I should be the one apologizing to you." He gazed at Artemis' face searchingly, trying to latch on to any sign that the assassin was listening to him.
"I should have explained," Artemis muttered. "The things I did to you could have constituted an attack. I should have left you alone." He still wasn't looking at the drow. His jaw clenched, and then unclenched. "I'm no better than a rapist."
Jarlaxle saw that this line of thinking was dangerous for the assassin. He forced himself to think of something, even as his emotions weren't back under control yet. The drow mercenary narrowed his eyes at his partner. "And how many rapists do you know stop before they even begin in order to explain how sorry they are?"
The assassin stared at him, turning pale under his southern complexion. Jarlaxle felt his body trembling. Artemis opened his mouth, but for a moment, nothing came out.
"Artemis?" Jarlaxle asked. He was frozen in place, stunned. The breath was almost knocked out of him when Artemis collapsed on top of him, shaking. Is he sick? Jarlaxle wondered, looking at the assassin in alarm. He stroked Artemis' back comfortingly, trying to decide what to do. It couldn't possibly be what I said, could it?
"Every time," the human man said, and Jarlaxle felt another shudder pass through the assassin.
Incredible, Jarlaxle thought. It was an observation tinged with disbelief. He felt suddenly detached from the situation, overwhelmed with curiosity. This is the second confession of the hour from this man, who managed to remain secretive for the entire time I have known him, until now. A blockade being burst was the first image that came to Jarlaxle's mind. More emotion than he'd ever seen from the assassin was rolling off of Artemis all at once, like waves of mist and fog in a forest appearing out of nowhere. Where had all of this come from?
What would happen if I remained silent and let him say what he will? the drow mused. He has nothing holding him back, now. Perhaps if I don't interrupt, I shall learn more than I'd ever hoped to in a lifetime.
Jarlaxle wrapped his arms around Artemis, cradling him. He felt the muscles of Artemis' back through the assassin's thin shirt.
"Every time," the man said again, struggling with his feelings. He'd never felt so embarrassed. Out of some innate weakness, he was in the arms of the man who had until recently been his business partner. He was perverting the relationship they'd had. The very stable, comfortable relationship they'd had. And why? Artemis tasted bile in his mouth. He was still running from what had happened to him nearly forty years ago? He was a joke. The assassin was horrified. He could feel his face burning.
He was a – a victim. He was a victim. His solely detested form of life on Toril. They weren't even intelligent beings. They were creatures; scurrying from place to place like rats, gathering under any available form of protection to shield them from responsibility for their own lives so that they could continue their disgusting sniveling.
Why? Why would anyone seriously consider holding out a helping hand to those cringing piles of flesh taking up space on every street corner? They were useless. Brainless. It was their fault –
Artemis squirmed. He could feel wet streaks trailing down his cheeks, tracing lines as visible as daggers tracing lines of blood from his eyes all the way down his face. He was useless – a failure. He'd run from it, and it had still come. He'd been conquered.
His humiliation mounted, until he couldn't stand remaining silent any longer, knowing that Jarlaxle could see his downfall. His eyes were closed, but visions of his humiliation were etching themselves in his mind's eye. "Jarlaxle, it wasn't my fault," he said. "It wasn't my fault that I didn't run away from him sooner. It wasn't my fault." If he was going to go down by losing everything anyway, then he would go down with the same last declaration of freedom from blame that others uttered. He could feel his sins burning his words into the air.
A hand touched his burning cheek. It felt cool and soothing by comparison. It didn't register with him whose hand it was until it occurred to him that they were alone.
"We'll get away from here," Jarlaxle's voice said softly. "We'll get away from here, and then we'll do something new."
Somehow that was the right thing to hear. His chest expanded and contracted in heaving sobs that he couldn't hear, but he felt washing through him, carrying his surges of despair. He slipped into a dark place that quickly became sleep.
He dreamed of having to chase people in the darkness, a feeling of helplessness on all sides, a feeling he suddenly realized stemmed from the fact that all his weapons were missing and he wasn't wearing his leather shirt. There were arms and hands reaching out of the darkness, disembodied. He had to keep running, fixing his gaze straight ahead towards his goal. He avoided their clutching grasp, absently knocking them aside with the sweep of his arm or a rough nudge of his shoulder. All through the plunging darkness, he was aware that he couldn't get anywhere because he was asleep.
Then he was rudely thrust down, bodily slammed into a surface that yielded under him. In a confused tangle of flailing arms and legs he tried to get on his feet, alarmed that he might be dumped to the floor, but his descent was stopped, and the soft material bore him up on all sides.
He was blinded by white, and a mouth forced itself over his. He reacted almost instantly, going wild, hitting, elbowing, scratching at the body on top of him.
The shirt was ripped off him by a hand with long nails that raked at his skin. He yelped into the mouth of his attacker.
Then he felt a male groin pressing into his own similar region.
He twisted away, catching a brutal slap on the left side of his face, and vomited violently. The moment he was finished, he was yanked upwards by his hair.
His vision was still hazy as he looked into the face of his attacker. One of their arms cocked back, and he saw it coming, but he was immobilized by a feeling of despair from his head to his feet, making his legs weak. The strong hand slapped him across the mouth. He didn't fall to the floor. He could feel someone holding him up.
He was tossed to the floor on purpose, dumped at their feet, then doubled over as a crushing kick to his ribs defeated the fleeting thought he'd had of getting up. They kicked him again.
He shook his head, nearing unconsciousness, and squinted upwards as the man leaned over him. The face stayed there without Artemis experiencing recognition.
Then a voice caused a jolt through him like an involuntary surge of electrocution. "Boy, you will cry, and then you will kneel with your back to me and receive thirty lashes." There was no emotion in that deep voice.
The assassin's head hurt as much as though he had a concussion. He was almost overwhelmed by the rolling wave of faintness that came over him. His stomach experienced a pulling urge like a tide, irresistibly tempting him to throw up again. He moaned, resisting.
Suddenly it came to him that there was a reply he was supposed to utter. It almost split his skull. His mouth wouldn't work at first. He felt a stinging in his lip; it was split. Then it came rushing back to him. "I'm not going to do what you say!" Artemis said it with all the volume he could manage, emptying his lungs into it. Then he tried to recover, breathing heavily, a heavy numbness clinging to his limbs insidiously.
"We shall see," the voice said. It was uncompromisingly grim.
Artemis gave him a bleak smirk that he didn't feel, but he knew it was expected of him anyway, so he did it. "There's nothing you can…do to me."
"You will cry."
"We shall see," Artemis said. He squinted suspiciously at the man towering above him. His vision was beginning to clear. He thought he knew what…
A cold sound of mirth that the assassin could never call a laugh assaulted his ears. The cold face never stopped looking at him, cruel lips twisted into an expression of amusement.
The assassin felt the grip on his consciousness slipping like a length of greased rope in his hand. He felt pain and stiffness awakening in his body as he was taken from the dream, waking up.
When he became fully alert, he found himself in bed with a falling sensation and sat up with a stifled intake of air that sounded too much like a gasp for Artemis' comfort. The room was dark, and he judged it to be in the middle of the night. The time when he should have fallen asleep. Not in the middle of the morning, as he had. He was partially entangled in Jarlaxle, and was suddenly far too warm. His mouth was sour with the taste of bile. At least that part of the dream wasn't wholly fabricated on the part of his traitorous senses. His headache came back with full force, throbbing.
"Why is it that some people drink to become ill, and others are blessed by having it thrust upon them in their normal condition?" Artemis said, holding a hand to his head.
Jarlaxle stirred against him. "I don't know," the drow murmured. His voice was a little thick; it sounded to Artemis as though Jarlaxle had been resting deeply. That didn't bother Artemis as much as it could have. By now he was used to the drow wakening him in the middle of the night and vice versa. Jarlaxle tightened his arms around Artemis' waist, holding him close. The action belied his casual words. "What is the matter?"
Artemis considered explaining about the dream, the disorienting lapse of time from the morning he thought to have only just happened. "My head hurts."
The drow made sympathetic noises. "Can I help?" Jarlaxle asked, kissing him on the lips. He moved a hand upwards to rub the back of Artemis' neck.
Artemis winced. The muscles there were sore. He recoiled, leading Jarlaxle to hastily take his hand away. The room was starting to spin with the force of his dizziness. He felt trapped, he wanted to get away, somehow, but he knew on an instinctual level that the world outside of this room he shared with the drow wasn't safe. Wasn't safe? He slumped in Jarlaxle's arms. "I'm more tired now than when I fell asleep," he said. The assassin scowled grumpily.
"You fell asleep rather suddenly," Jarlaxle said, brushing his fingers against the assassin's rough, unshaven cheek. He absently tried to untangle a lock of Artemis' dark hair, a mild expression of his constant craving for order. He knew this compulsion of his. It was often his only comfort when he was in the midst of a difficult plan.
It struck him that their proximity to each other was unusual; for two weeks they had been apart at virtually all times. Now they were together again. Jarlaxle could lean forward and kiss Artemis' forehead if he chose to do so. And for a moment, he considered it.
Artemis smelled strangely; the soap provided in the wash room mingled with a musky smell Jarlaxle wasn't familiar with. It was almost like nutmeg. The drow didn't think that Artemis' grooming habits included perfume. "Why do you smell like nutmeg?" He frowned in an expression of curiosity and tilted his head.
The assassin looked at him incredulously, a small smile on his face. "Why do you care?" he asked.
"Why do I care?" Jarlaxle said. "Curiosity, of course!" He raised his index finger into the air, wondering as he did so if the man could even see that well in the darkened room. He grinned.
"Then to satisfy your curiosity…" Artemis said, wiggling out of Jarlaxle's arms and reclining comfortably on the bed beside the drow, holding his arms behind his head and closing his eyes. "I have no idea what in the nine hells you are talking about." As he spoke a broad grin was spreading across his face.
The drow mercenary shrugged and flopped down in the feather bed, shifting until he was comfortable. He let out a sigh of satisfaction. "You can't win 'em all."
There was comfortable silence between them. The lack of pressure drew Artemis out. He cautiously looked around, confirming for the twelfth time that the room was safe. No one was there but them, and the darkness was still. The bed was warm, he was comfortable, and the only person he trusted was alert next to him so close that their bodies brushed each other.
A flicker of insecurity tainted Artemis' thoughts. He turned onto his side, facing his companion. The assassin swallowed heavily. There was no way that Jarlaxle could know he was about to say something that he only had once chance to say. It was something he'd only say once, and if Jarlaxle turned away or left or fell asleep at the wrong moment…He didn't know what would happen, but it would be bad.
He reached out and clutched Jarlaxle's waist, pinning one of the drow's arms between them. Artemis didn't feel Jarlaxle push him away. He tried to still his pounding heart. The drow's thin body was warm and reassuring in his embrace. "Jarlaxle?"
"Yes?" Jarlaxle asked. He looked back at Artemis patiently.
"My father beat me."
Why did I say that? the assassin thought. He thought he was going to die from a heart attack for a moment. That was the most irrelevant thing he'd ever said before in his life. He may as well have uttered, 'trees grow with branches facing up and roots in the ground'. He wanted to take his head in his hands. Only sheer, panicked willpower prevented him from doing so.
"What else did he do?" Jarlaxle asked. His expression was gentle. His words were calm, carefully measured.
"He sexually assaulted me," the assassin said. His companion's calm was infectious. It seeped into Artemis as if he were absorbing it directly from Jarlaxle's body. "And told me that if I ever told anyone, that I would die because the earth would open up and hellhounds would chase me until they ripped me to pieces." Sullenly, as though he expected Jarlaxle to start making fun of him, he turned his head away and said, "I was afraid of dogs. He had three. He almost let them bite me. When he saw I was afraid, he said that they would eat my fingers if I was…disobedient."
"You still have all your fingers," Jarlaxle said, keeping his voice soft. The drow tried to re-establish eye contact. He brushed a strand of hair from Artemis' lips and watched the assassin's face concernedly. He wondered whether or not his friend having ten fingers was a sign of some sort of defeat at the hands of the assassin's father.
"He let one of them bite my arm once." Artemis was quiet for a few moments. His gaze wandered to his right arm. He hardly seemed to notice. His gray eyes were detached. "I almost lost the use of it once. I thought I was only going to have one arm. There was blood everywhere."
"Did it hurt?" Jarlaxle asked; he knew it was an unusual question, but asking it of people who had suffered major injuries often had surprising results.
"Not really," Artemis said. His absent expression didn't change.
Jarlaxle nodded, making a noncommittal noise.
Most likely Artemis couldn't remember. The things he said were to the effect that his childhood had more or less ended around the age of five years old, which the drow took to mean the man had run away from home then. And besides which, most people either blocked out the memory of something that involved that much pain, or their bodies implemented mental protection against the pain once it reached a certain point.
"Pain doesn't really hurt you, does it?" Jarlaxle said. It was a question, but he was also making a statement and leaving it up to Artemis to contradict him.
The assassin shook his head restlessly. Artemis rested his head against Jarlaxle's chest. The familiarity in that gesture was something he'd expect to be punished for if Jarlaxle were anyone else.
The fact was, he reminded himself, a bitter expression crossing his face, every time he'd tried to show some affection towards his father it had been mocked and then beaten out of him. He was told that people didn't want him. He was a meaningless by-product from a woman tainted by evil. That he may look human, but he was really a creature that wasn't worthy to wear a human face.
"Tell me; do you truly believe that I've fulfilled my father's expectations of me?" He was embarrassed by these words, too, but he tried not to show it. Artemis reminded himself that he was a feared and respected assassin, and not worthy of such foolish questions, but he had to try to swallow away tightness in his throat.
"And what expectations do you think your father had of you?" Jarlaxle asked, giving Artemis a piercing stare. "Whatever they were, I doubt you would actually want to fulfill them, so you must be asking me out of some fear that you've played into his hands."
The embarrassment Artemis felt became stronger. He didn't say anything else, telling himself that he'd been stupid enough already to ruin his reputation with Jarlaxle for all his years. He squirmed slightly. But he didn't want to retreat, perhaps giving up what comfort the drow could offer him with closeness.
Jarlaxle worked his trapped arm free, feeling pins and needles rush up and down the length of it, and slipped his arm around Artemis' waist. Jarlaxle kissed the assassin on the lips. He looked Artemis straight in the eye. "I assure you, if what you say about him is true, this is not in his plans. You have escaped, he can no longer torment you, and you have made it so that it is virtually impossible to place you in a state of physical weakness ever again. In addition, you've been brave enough to take someone aside and confide in them, as much as you ever have been able to, and you have a reliable ally." He searched Artemis' eyes. "Me."
The words that so easily fell from the drow's lips comforted him. Artemis felt soothed in a foreign way he had never experienced before. All his muscles relaxed one by one, until his entire body was limp. He let out an involuntary sigh as he felt this happen. The assassin closed his eyes. Artemis was at peace because he felt that he had run some sort of marathon and reached the end. He believed Jarlaxle. In a corner of his mind he knew, with certainty that he rarely had in his life, that he would never question this peace Jarlaxle gave him ever again.
The drow cradled Artemis in his arms, holding the human man close, and had the sensation through which he found meaning in the world ever more strongly when he was thinking about Artemis. He didn't know what to call it other than that he cared about the outcome of his friend's life.
He usually experienced these feelings about things. When he'd come to the surface, he'd looked at the setting sun and fervently hoped that it would come up again – he still felt that incredible feeling as the mammoth ball of light descended into a place where he couldn't watch it anymore, letting the night come out.
The only person he really had now that he felt that way about was in his arms. Currently the only place where he felt safe. "Artemis…" Jarlaxle kissed the incredible man on the cheek. He thought he should say something, something that was nagging at him uncomfortably, almost as if he'd forgotten something that could get them both killed. But he couldn't think of it.