Disclaimer: You have come to a place that allows people to submit fanfiction. You most likely already know this; that means that you also have a full understanding that characters you are familiar with from R.A. Salvatore's work, Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle, are his characters, and not mine. You are not being charged money for this, and I am writing about them in a purely speculative and unofficial way.
Author's Note: This comes after Trying Too Hard, A Test of Faith, and Interlude. They are no longer the canon characters because of character development. However, their personalities as portrayed have come about as a result of reasonably realistic guesswork on my part about how they could have evolved as people in the situations of my first three fanfiction stories.
Artemis was contemplating death.
He'd stayed up all night writing on a piece of parchment in his cramped handwriting. He'd bullied the timid innkeeper into letting him borrow the paper and the inkpot and quill.
After dinner, he'd gone down to menace the man into lending the supplies to write his letter, and when he'd come back Jarlaxle was gone. He'd mysteriously left the room, taking his colorful cloak and his hat and pretty much everything else the elven mercenary owned, except for a pair of hoop earrings and a sandwich, which he'd left on the desk. Artemis had taken this as an invitation and eaten it around midnight, wondering how Jarlaxle had known that the assassin would get hungry.
The elf still wasn't back now. That was the way Artemis wanted it, so he didn't waste time second guessing whether or not Jarlaxle was doing something he disapproved of.
The assassin raised an eyebrow, still staring at the gleaming blade of the dagger.
After all, Jarlaxle's business hardly mattered now. What mattered was whether or not he could stop himself before he made quick work of himself.
Artemis took in the beautiful gleam of the polished metal in the golden light of the morning flooding through the window across the room and laughed at himself. The effort was almost painful. His ribs ached in a way that he hadn't felt before any other time other than being kicked.
When I became an assassin, I never thought I'd be working to kill myself. It was ridiculous. Asking himself to take out a target that was none other than himself for a sum of gold. How do you pay yourself when you are dead because that is what you have been paid to do?
Just for a lark, he tried to figure that out. The assassin wondered if he was stalling, but indulged his amusement for the time being. Perhaps if I wrote a will bequeathing my own reward for killing myself to Jarlaxle after I'm gone because of the result of the job.
Artemis scratched his chin, grimacing at the heavy stubble on his face.
He hadn't shaved for three days, and it showed. Jarlaxle had made a comment about his face brushing against Artemis' feeling exactly the same as trying to wash his face with a sheet of splintered plywood instead of a washcloth. Artemis had taken pity on him and slept with his back to the elven mercenary instead. For some unnamed reason, he didn't want to shave. He willfully chose not to. Something made him need this rebellion in regards to self-care.
Again, Jarlaxle hadn't commented, or even suggest in passing that the assassin shave. The elf was giving him his space. Which was profoundly unnatural. But what did it matter?
He scratched his chin again.
It could be a trick. Jarlaxle could be trying to use his own curiosity against him and try to get him to rethink his suicide plans. The elf had an uncanny ability to keep three steps ahead of him. What if Jarlaxle correctly interpreted him? Jarlaxle could be purposefully leading him on by being mysterious and stoic. Jarlaxle could be trying to manipulate him by giving him space.
Jarlaxle could be off picking blackberries for all I care. Just do it.
"I'm disappointed," a pleasant voice with an elven lilt said from the doorway behind him. The assassin glanced over and could see Jarlaxle poised in the doorway, one hand casually on the doorframe as he leaned against it, crossing his legs and looking for all the world as though he'd stepped out of some obscure land where pirates and noblemen were one and the same. The dark elven mercenary tilted his head. "I thought you'd at least have scratched yourself by now. After all, I left you alone for a full twenty-four hours. Where's your drive?"
Artemis gave a start and sent the dragger clattering to the floor from his limp hand. The words burst out of him without any intention of his to say them. "You're not wearing your eye patch."
Jarlaxle waved at him with a regal seeming nonchalance. "I thought you'd like that," he said. "I discovered that I'll be needing both eyes shortly, so it will be best not to have a magical item that impairs my ability to see."
His eyes, though red, a color the assassin would once have looked upon as unnatural, were really quite handsome. They were intelligent eyes, and even though they had no pupils, there was something calming about looking into them. There was a lost space of time where Artemis didn't realize he was staring, but he eventually said, "So that's what you've been up to." His voice rasped, so he cleared his throat, but he didn't know what else to say.
Jarlaxle advanced into the room, his boots rapping smartly on the wooden floor. "You can have this if you want," he said, tossing a thin, flexible object through the air. It was black.
Artemis caught it without thinking and found it was a string with a bit of cloth attached to it… He stared down at it in incomprehension. He fingered the object for a moment, and then his gaze snapped back to Jarlaxle. The assassin was frozen in surprise.
"You always displayed a fascination for it, my friend," Jarlaxle said, shaking his head and making a face at Artemis as though he couldn't understand what was so fantastic. "It became harder and harder to keep you from pulling it off my face anyway." The elf shrugged. "But on the other hand, I never expected you to tolerate something so bright in color, so I had it changed to black. You seem to be able to wear that color, at least, if black can really be called a color."
The bastard had neatly smoothed over his imminent suicide attempt. Artemis looked at him coldly. "What is the meaning of this?"
Jarlaxle frowned at him incredulously. "What do you mean, what is the meaning of this?" He closed the distance between them and took the eye patch from Artemis' hand, touching the assassin's arm and shoulder in reassurance before slipping up behind the man.
Jarlaxle carefully brought the eye patch down over Artemis' head and adjusted the fit so that it rested over Artemis' left eye. He walked Artemis over to the mirror above the dresser. "Well, how do you like it?" he asked.
The assassin was overwhelmed. It felt strange not having the use of both of his eyes. Seeing his face in the mirror with three days' worth of stubble, his hair tangled and free around his shoulders instead of being neatly brushed and tied back, and an eye patch over his left eye was like staring into the face of a total stranger. He felt no surge of recognition at all. "Who am I?" he murmured.
"You tell me," Jarlaxle said, smiling broadly, which Artemis could see reflected in the mirror. The elf nudged his shoulder playfully. "You could be anyone you wanted to be. You don't have to be Artemis Entreri the assassin." He gestured flamboyantly. "You could disappear without a trace, leaving stories in your wake for bards to tell to taverns full of drunk listeners and children for generations." He slapped Artemis' shoulder in a congratulatory way. "And you could reappear as whoever you want, therefore getting twice the glory of the ordinary person! One great man, with two identities! What do you say?"
"I don't think I can pull it off," Artemis said. The expression on his face was impassive, but his visible gray eye reflected in the mirror was intimidated. It was too much to think about in such a small space of time. His head was spinning. "I don't know if I want to do this."
"Then what can you do?" Jarlaxle asked, wrapping his arms around Artemis' waist and gently pulling him into an embrace, looking at them both in the mirror. The action betrayed the calm with which he acted and revealed the true worry that beat through him like the ever-present pulse of his heart.
The assassin paused. The man in the mirror that he was supposed to be looked less and less like anyone he knew; if there had been a passing similarity between him and the image of himself in the mirror, it was beginning to slip from his grasp. There was a spurt of primal terror lighting his gray eyes. He could still pick up the knife. If Jarlaxle truly cared about him, he wouldn't stop Artemis from ending the painful illusion of reality around him.
"End it all because you can't go on any longer as Artemis Entreri?" Jarlaxle spoke directly into Artemis' ear.
Artemis wondered if he'd betrayed more than he'd thought, perhaps even so far as to have looked at the dagger still lying on the floor behind them. But then again, he didn't have to for Jarlaxle to know what he was about. The dark elven mercenary implied that he knew the whole time.
"Why can't you cut yourself loose from your identity without stabbing yourself in a place that you need most if you are to keep going?" the dark elf asked. "It is not a good enough reason to end your life just because Artemis can't advance any further. An identity is just a name. After a while, you start building it up into something greater, a force to be reckoned with. But at the end of the day, it's still possible to sever it from you completely and start again if it doesn't turn out the way you'd like."
"How many names do you have?" Artemis asked. The assassin's voice was dead sounding. He only wanted to lie down and never be forced to remain on his feet again. This excuse for a life had gone on long enough. He was through living because people around him thought that he would provide amusement at his continued existence. He closed his eyes and felt his body begin to tremble.
"Five," Jarlaxle said. His embrace tightened slightly as he saw Artemis' expression change yet again to defeat. Jarlaxle thought that the assassin was trying to keep him talking along enough to escape. "It's not my real name, you know. If you can call it that. It's more accurate to say 'birth name', don't you think?" He paused. "Is Artemis your birth name?"
The assassin's head sagged forward, and then he nodded, seeming more tired and aged for the gesture.
My, my, the dark elven mercenary thought. I thought you'd at least have changed it when you ran away. Jarlaxle kissed the wearied assassin on the cheek. "I have a solemn vow never to say mine. That would cause too many waves. No one would ever let me rest if they knew I was still alive."
"That name…Jarlaxle…is something you made up?" Artemis said.
"You like it?" the dark elf grinned, impulsively squeezing him. "I think it fits me." He paused. "Much better than Uryd," he said. He pronounced it 'er-yid'. "That was my street name. I was young then, hardly a ten year old by your standards when I stopped using it in favor of something more musical to the ear."
"So…what does 'Jarlaxle' mean?" Artemis asked. He blinked, opening his eyes again. The normal color was returning to his face, and he felt less dizzy. It showed in his renewed steadiness on his feet, and his gray eyes darkened, some measure of reassurance in his visible eye when he looked in the mirror. "Or does it mean nothing, since you made it up?"
The elf hoped that meant what it seemed to and the assassin was feeling better. The man had worried him. Jarlaxle's grin broadened. "'Jarlaxle' means 'laughter coming from an alley where there is no one standing', or, if you wish to interpret it less literally, laughter that is mysterious in nature, possibly to disconcert whomever has the pleasure of hearing it."
"You can get away with calling yourself that?" Artemis said, turning his head to glance at his dark elven companion dubiously.
Jarlaxle rocked back on his heels and shrugged his shoulders with gleeful carelessness. "You can get away with calling yourself anything." He kissed Artemis on the lips. The man melted into his arms unthinkingly for a moment, warm and trusting.
Artemis pulled himself away again with difficulty. "But what do I call myself?"
"I suggest that you call yourself something natural from your home country," Jarlaxle said. "After all, one man from Calimshan looks very much like another, wouldn't you say? Especially since we are among northerners." He smiled slyly. "Might I suggest a name that has become very popular around Calimport?"
The assassin gave him a glare that said, 'you're about to say something absurd, aren't you?'
But for once, Jarlaxle was serious. The smile reached his cunning eyes, warming them. They almost seemed to glow. "'Rathad'. How does that strike you?"
"Who needs a name like Artemis anyway?" Artemis said. He adjusted his eye patch in the mirror, settling it squarely over his eye in satisfaction, making sure it was in the right place. "It's always gotten me into trouble. I'd like not having a name that sounds like a woman." He nodded at himself. "Rathad it is." He turned fully to face his hopeful companion and said, "Now see if you can find me a change of clothing. I'd hate to have to be reduced to stealing clothing from a dead man."
Jarlaxle eyed the weapons at Artemis' belt. "Shall I dispose of those for you while I'm at it?"
It made cold sense to Artemis that if he wanted to change identities, he couldn't carry around any of his weapons. They were as good as signing his signature to a document stating his name change for the public to read at their leisure. He felt only mild regret. That was a more positive response than he'd hoped from himself at the prospect of parting ways with his weapons and getting new ones. "What did you have in mind?" he asked.
Jarlaxle knelt in front of Artemis and unbuckled his companion's belt, his eyes fiery with curiosity about what he was going to do in order to dispose of the fascinating weapons at Artemis' disposal. "I wouldn't presume to choose two weapons for you and give them to you without your ever getting a chance to see what the selection is yourself. I've been busy gathering the likeliest candidates for you to deliberate in the training room at the Bregan D'aerthe arsenal." He stood, coming away with Artemis' belt, and folded it neatly in half.
"Didn't Kimmuriel mind that you used that space for something like this?" Artemis said, smiling in amusement.
"Well, he doesn't run the whole place by himself," Jarlaxle said, huffing indignantly.
The assassin resisted the urge to laugh at him. He took in a deep breath and exhaled. He felt lighter than he had in decades. He felt a sense of freedom, almost as if he could out right now and do anything he wanted, simply to do it. It was incredible. He closed his eyes and imagined that he was a bird. He almost felt as if he really had wings. At that realization, the man did laugh, shaking his head.