A/N: Prepare thyself. I warned you about the character projection toward the decidedly friendly and the sticky edges, so don't bother with the OOC complaints. Like I said, we're talking a 300 year projection into the future, and this is written specifically for those of us who feel fuzzy when reading friendship stories.
Artemis tried to open his eyes, to force his groggy mind awake even if it meant more coughing spells. However, the dream he'd been having wouldn't release him—a dream with blurry images of a fight 300 years ago, of the day he'd killed the priest who had sired him, and of the day he'd thrown Jarlaxle out of his life, or rather had tried to. For a moment, he felt the anger of that moment and the frustration of the following months when Jarlaxle had repeatedly contacted him; however, the feelings were followed by a sense of loss that the events could not account for.
Artemis struggled in his sleep, trying once again to regain consciousness, but the dream merely shifted. Now he was in the Netherese Wars, which had occurred some fifty years later, and Jarlaxle was leaning down through the horizon of a dimensional portal, extending his hand to Artemis, who lay wounded on a cliff below:
"Just grab my hand," Jarlaxle yelled. "I can—"
"No!" Artemis called back. "You won't reach me in time, and then that portal will slice you in half!" "I am not leaving you!"
"No!" Artemis called back. "You won't reach me in time, and then that portal will slice you in half!"
"I am not leaving you!"
I am not leaving you.
With the help of the words that had shocked him so much that long ago day, Artemis shook himself awake and gazed up at Jarlaxle, who had held his hand all afternoon—just as he had the day before—never loosening his grip. His crimson eyes had never left Artemis's face, even when he coughed up blood. The drow sat, the permanent fixture of his bed chamber, taking both meals and Reverie in that gold velvet wingback he'd brought just for the occasion. An extravagant gesture: so like him, so familiar. And to Artemis, so comforting—although he wouldn't admit it.
For the first three days, Jarlaxle had simply visited for an hour or two, cheerfully reporting on the attempts of his priests, doctors, and wizards to find an antidote. He'd walked about the room, throwing open windows and encouraging Artemis to have hope. "I have more resources than anyone in Toril," he'd said. "My people will find a cure!"
The following three days had become filled with bitter-smelling medicines like rotten lemons and Jarlaxle pacing the floor by his bed or repeatedly adjusting his coat or hat. "By the end of the day the clerics, at least, should have something," he'd said over and over. "The priests who created this plague cannot have constructed it so well that no other god could find a solution."
However, on the seventh day the wingback chair had appeared, and since then the drow had hovered at his side, as though he were afraid of leaving him.
"Jarlaxle," Artemis whispered. Between his illness, the rainy day, and the red brocade draperies drawn across the windows, he could barely see the drow, but his grip on his hand told him all he needed to know.
"Do not speak," Jarlaxle said immediately. A flash of white in the darkness told Artemis he'd smiled. "I expect you to be stubborn, but for my sake, try to follow the doctors' orders."
"You need to genuinely rest," he replied.
"Drow are more resilient," he quipped, humor and charm his defense, even now.
"You need a bath," Artemis rasped, returning his quip.
"I bathe while the nurses bathe you." He'd grown more serious and squeezed his hand.
"Are you sure?" Artemis said, trying to lighten the mood by teasing him again. Centuries ago, the drow's insufferable sense of humor had rubbed off on him, and Artemis hated to see him grim. At what point had he begun to care so? The moment had been lost in history. "I think you smell—" He choked before he could finish the sentence, setting off a dreaded coughing spell. He jerked up halfway in his four-poster, hacking as though he'd vomit.
Jarlaxle tried to press Artemis back down on the bed, handing him a white handkerchief to cough into. His stomach muscles ached from the endless spells, his throat ripped into a scorching burn. Bright red splotches appeared on the cloth, signaling the truth of his condition. Artemis gasped, a whistling in his throat, trying to get air past the coughing. Jarlaxle waited patiently, wiping his sweating brow with one of his more colorful handkerchiefs.
When the fit had passed, Artemis collapsed onto the mattress, overcome with exhaustion. "Please leave," he whispered for the hundredth time in the past tenday, his simple request betraying the thoughts behind the words. I don't want you infected, and I don't want you to see me this way.
The drow wiped Artemis's forehead once again, then rested his hand there briefly. "I have magical protection," he replied, obviously knowing his friend well enough to understand the man's unspoken concerns.
"Is it enough?" Artemis rasped. "You are ancient now." He gave him a small smile, then gestured with one finger at the brooch Jarlaxle wore at his neck—the brooch he'd stolen from the Archmage of Menzoberranzan when he'd died. "Magic alone keeps you handsome."
"Magic alone has made you look like a corpse for 300 years," Jarlaxle replied with an equally small smile. "But it's made you look like a young corpse and move like a thirty-year-old, and it will save your life now."
Artemis snorted. "Even after all the shades I had to fight and kill, I don't have enough of their life force to save me." He stopped, catching his breath. "The scholars finally do something worthwhile and discover the existence of germs, and—"
"—and then the priests of Velsharoon make a weapon of it," Jarlaxle finished for him. He took his hand again. "I feel certain that my wizards, priests, and doctors are close to a breakthrough on the antidote. Please, hang on."
Artemis exhaled heavily. Jarlaxle rarely spoke to him so openly, rarely showed him such affection. Always with him, it was riddles and jokes, extravagant plans and unnecessary risks. The drow's simple, honest plea told the man more about his condition than any doctor's prognosis or coughing spell. He was going to die, probably within the hour. However, because his dreams had reminded him of the past, there was one thing he wanted to say first.
"I kicked you out of my life once," Artemis began, his voice scratchy from all the coughing. "In Memnon all those years ago, I told you goodbye, to fare well or fare ill. At that moment you deserved it, but I wanted to say—"
Jarlaxle shook his head. "You kicked me out because I pushed too hard—or perhaps I should say I was too manipulative in my approach. It worked out for the best, though. Do not dredge it up now." He laid his free hand on his shoulder. "With some effort, we worked through it. That was for the best as well."
Artemis smiled faintly. He would have never dreamed that a drow—especially this drow—would have proven to be his friend. What an adventure it had been, he thought, their arriving at such a point. It was worth recording for the sake of history, if he cared about such things.
"Thank you," Artemis said suddenly, his own honest emotion scaring him. He had stood by Jarlaxle's side through a thousand assured deaths, but the mere thought of telling the drow that he cared for him terrified the man more than Shades, demons, and dragons combined.
Jarlaxle smiled again, that flash of white teeth so stark in his ebony face. How Artemis would miss that smile, those quirky clothes that changed in style but never in bad taste!
"You're welcome," Jarlaxle said, and Artemis knew he had understood his message. "But don't you dare die yet. My sources tell me that from the ashes of the Zhentarim is rising a mercenary guild worse than anything you saw in Menzoberranzan so long ago. I need you at my side; the world is changing yet again. Not to mention there are some priests we have to punish for your illness—for this entire Plague."
So many exploits, past and future, wrapped into a single sentence. Artemis tried to grin.
Jarlaxle leaned forward, squeezing his hand hard. "I finally found my freedom," he whispered harshly, his tone revealing that he found the words difficult. "I found it by your side. Don't you dare leave me now."
Artemis did smile then, appreciating the drow's bald honesty. "Neither of us possesses enough magic to live forever."
He saw it then—a telltale glimmer in the drow's eyes that vanished as soon as it appeared. "Don't live for forever. Live for tomorrow. I will see you through this."
Artemis nodded once. Trust and love were curious things, like faith and hope, and over the years he had learned to give himself to them. "You haven't failed me for many centuries." He relaxed into the mattress and let himself drift off to sleep.
Knowing a drow kept vigil over his bed.
Artemis Entreri sat on his veranda, watching a schooner set sail from the dock. Gazing at the early morning sun reflecting off the ocean and listening to the waves had become a pastime of his about fifty years earlier; they instilled a sense of peace in him. To be out on the veranda, breathing fresh air after spending two full tendays in bed, was enough of a blessing to last him a hundred lifetimes. He had thought he'd die in that sickroom, surrounded by bitter-smelling vials and hushed conversations between nurses and priests.
The veranda doors swung open, and Jarlaxle strolled out, his crimson hat sitting at an angle on his head. The drow held a tall glass filled with some fancy liquor concoction which smelled to Artemis like grapefruit juice and orange juice mixed with Firewine. That drow was ever experimenting with drinks, food, clothing, and who knew what else. He sat beside his friend on the wooden bench, took a sip of his drink, and smiled.
"I told you I would see you through it," he said, sharing a private grin that belonged to only them.
Artemis snorted. "Arrogant drow."
Artemis shook his head, starting to speak of the rare but heartfelt words Jarlaxle had uttered during his illness, but he found himself unable to verbalize the bond that had cemented their friendship. Quickly shifting topics, he began instead to mention the business of distributing the new-found cure to the Red Plague. However, he realized that sometimes Jarlaxle didn't come to do business, didn't want to chatter—that sometimes, Jarlaxle merely wanted to be with his one and only trusted abbil. So Artemis simply smiled.
The friends relaxed, shoulder-to-shoulder, and watched the sun rise. Even though they'd lived beyond their time, there would be time still, adventures still. Time enough and adventures enough to die on their feet, swords in hand.
They wouldn't have it any other way.
A/N: Thank you to Darkhelmet and Chi for beta reading.
Like I said at the beginning, I've managed to write another short story that could be a novel-length affair. Like with "The Day After," I might come back at a later date and expand this. For now though, please simply enjoy it as it is—even if it is a touch sticky around the edges from a spattering of sap.