Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the places in this story belong to me; and I don't make any money with this.
A/N: This story is set after Servant of the Shard and That Curious Sword, but it excludes Salvatore's other short stories about Artemis and Jarlaxle as well as Promise of the Witch-King and Road of the Patriarch. It is not a sequel to my first Kimmuriel/Artemis-story, Embarrassing Thoughts.
Thanks to Chi for beta-reading. :)
Kimmuriel Oblodra stretched and lay back on his bed, comfortably sprawling on the soft sheets. He felt relatively safe in his private rooms in the Bregan D'aerthe head quarters, and thus the psionicist allowed himself to relax completely. Normally, he loathed such idleness, but he had barely found any rest over the last days, and a long bath and massage had done him good. A rare smile made it to his cold, smooth features when he thought of the last days - Bregan D'aerthe had been hired by the Eleventh House, which was currently led by an impressively intelligent and ambitious priestess, and their attack on the Ninth House had been simply perfect. Bregan D'aerthe and Kimmuriel's sly planning had played no small part in this victory.
The psionicist didn't enjoy his position as much as Jarlaxle had, but he was nonetheless pleased with his success. But thinking of the stress and pressure of the last weeks, of the countless negotiations with priestesses and wizards, of the many meetings with the Bregan D'aerthe lieutenants that had left him virtually no time for any more intellectual problems, Kimmuriel found once again that he longed for Jarlaxle's return.
He sighed deeply and shook his head. Kimmuriel knew his worth and strong points - he was highly intelligent, cunning, accurate, he understood Menzoberranzan's intrigues nearly as well as Jarlaxle himself. But he also knew that he lacked Jarlaxle's charisma and his way to deal with others, mostly with Matron Mothers. And while Kimmuriel had often scoffed at his leader's charm and wit, he knew that these qualities played an important part in Jarlaxle's - and Bregan D'aerthe's - success. Kimmuriel had learnt very fast how difficult it was to control a band of freethinking rogues, how exhausting it was to deal with volatile Matrons. While Jarlaxle had virtually danced around them, always smiling and charming them, Kimmuriel often felt as if he was out of his element.
The loss of the two most prominent lieutenants besides himself didn't make his situation easier. Berg'inyon's ties to House Baenre had been very useful, and the young fighter had been rather liked by the soldiers - as far as drow liked anyone. But Kimmuriel particularly missed Rai-guy's intelligence and ambition, his good ideas, his power. And, as he had to admit to himself, he missed Rai-guy himself.
Kimmuriel rarely allowed himself to let his mind wander in this way, to let his deeply buried and perfectly controlled emotions creep to the surface, but he was too tired to chase them away. He had not loved Rai-guy - he was above such stupid and pathetic feelings -, but he had enjoyed the wizard's company. He had grown used to - and fond of - their conversations, their nightly meetings, their teamwork. He had appreciated Rai-guy's intelligence - after all, there were few who didn't bore the intellectual psionicist. And while he didn't miss him the way a human might miss a lost friend or lover, he regretted the loss of a reliable partner and of his pleasant companionship.
The psionicist smiled a bit - it reassured him to dissect his feelings like this, because it showed him that he did indeed control them, that there was not the slightest weakness in him. He did this regularly, he checked himself for any flaw to eliminate it thoroughly. He knew that every emotion was a weakness - the blind pride of the Weapon Masters, the violent temper of the priestesses, Jarlaxle's whims - and he wouldn't tolerate any of this in himself. Nonetheless, he realised that he felt somehow ... alone. With Jarlaxle on the surface and Rai-guy dead, there was no one left to keep him company. For whatever reason, this bothered him.
He closed his eyes, determined to find some rest in reverie, but his mind was still too active, and so Kimmuriel opened them again and stared at the ceiling. Jarlaxle's whims, yes. Like staying on the surface to find some adventures, travelling with a grumpy, cynical human.
Kimmuriel thought of his last meeting with Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri, the human assassin and Jarlaxle's partner, several days ago. They met regularly, as Jarlaxle wanted to be informed about everything that happened in Menzoberranzan. He couldn't break his ties to the city and his band of mercenaries if he wanted to return one day, and Kimmuriel - who wanted this return more than he would ever admit - informed him thoroughly, always trying to intrigue Jarlaxle with the current events. But until now, nothing had fascinated the mercenary leader enough to make him leave the surface.
Suddenly, Kimmuriel remembered something rather odd about this last meeting. Entreri had been with Jarlaxle, as always, but while the human normally just stared at him in complete hatred, there had been another expression in his grey eyes this day. The psionicist had noticed this strange glare, the rare flaw in Entreri's discipline, and had risked a glimpse at his thoughts, surprised at how easily he could overcome the usually perfect mental defences of the strong-willed man.
The human's thoughts had been so confused and disturbed that Kimmuriel had hardly discerned anything, but for a split second he had seen lust. Lust. Artemis Entreri having lustful thoughts while looking at him, Kimmuriel.
The psionicist sat up as he realised this. Jarlaxle's unending questions had drawn off his attention then, and the turbulent events of the last days hadn't left him enough time to ponder about these strange feelings he had detected in the assassin's mind. He had believed Artemis Entreri to be above such weakness - actually, it was the only thing he really respected about him: his complete control over the feelings humans normally succumbed to.
It was no understatement to say that Kimmuriel and Artemis Entreri hated each other with singular intensity. Kimmuriel despised humans in general, and that Entreri proved all his prejudices wrong by being as intelligent, skilled, quick, devious as any drow amplified his hatred. Entreri just didn't fit into Kimmuriel's world view, and the psionicist couldn't bear this. He had humiliated and insulted the human so often that his mere sight seemed to make the assassin mad with anger. Kimmuriel had lost count of the situations that had nearly led to a fight between them. Had it not been for Jarlaxle, he probably would have killed the human already.
And now this. Artemis Entreri desiring him. The psionicist knew he was handsome, but he hadn't expected Entreri to have an eye for this. Nor could he return such feelings. Kimmuriel genuinely preferred males to females, unlike many drow males who only turned to their own gender because sleeping with females generally was humiliating and painful. But a human? It was disgusting.
Wasn't it? For a moment, Kimmuriel hated his analytic, systematic mind that wouldn't allow him to dismiss the idea of desiring a human without thinking it through. Kimmuriel closed his eyes and brought Entreri's image back to his mind, along with the words Jarlaxle had uttered once, "He's rather handsome for a human." Yes, compared to most humans, Entreri probably was attractive: slender, not too tall, with fine, striking features and calm, dark eyes.
The drow opened his eyes again when a sudden inspiration came upon him: wasn't this weakness Entreri had revealed a beautiful opportunity to humiliate him in a completely different way? Kimmuriel had never had any sexual interest in a human, but the prospect of defeating the assassin in a different manner than in battle - something Jarlaxle wouldn't allow - changed the psionicist's point of view quite a bit. The idea of playing with the human's desires intrigued him, and even though he had never expected to find anything appealing in Entreri, the prospect of teasing him just to let him drop in the next moment made Kimmuriel see the assassin from a different angle.
The whole idea amused him so much that he actually chuckled, something he did so rarely that it sounded strange even to his own ears. But Entreri's unexpected weakness and the equally unexpected opportunity to toy with the hated human offered him a perfect chance for a little entertainment after the tiresome last weeks.
At the same time, far in the East and on the surface, Artemis Entreri was entertaining a pleasant thought of a different nature: he imagined plunging his dagger in the throat of his so-called partner. Only the knowledge that the drow was certainly protected against any attack retained him from doing it.
"Just leave me alone," Entreri growled in utter exasperation. "Go down to the tavern and woo some bar maid, or whatever you do normally when you're bored, but stop pestering me."
"I'm not pestering you!" Jarlaxle exclaimed, seemingly hurt. Of course, the assassin thought, now he's again acting as if I had wronged him. "I'm merely trying to help you."
"Now, here's a fair deal," the drow said and smiled at his partner, making a theatrical gesture with one arm. "You tell me why you are so bad-humoured, and I leave you alone."
The assassin - who had, until now, lain on the bed and tried to get some sleep - looked up and stared at the drow with such a murderous expression in his eyes that Jarlaxle actually thought he might have gone too far. At least for a split second.
"That's hardly what I would call a 'fair deal'," Entreri snarled. But seeing Jarlaxle's tireless smile, he realised that the drow would not leave him alone. He never did.
Sighing, the assassin sat up. "In case you didn't notice in the months we've travelled together - I'm always 'bad-humoured'," he said in the same voice as if he were talking to a particularly slow-witted child.
"Ha!" The triumph in Jarlaxle's unbearably melodic voice made Entreri wince. "But not like this! There's something on your mind, and not only today, but it's been like this for several days. This morning you nearly killed a bar maid just because she called you 'handsome one' ... by the way, she was rather pretty, you should have -"
"Jar - lax - le." If Entreri had said "Drizzt Do'Urden", his voice probably couldn't have sounded more venomous.
"Oh, yes, sorry, where was I? Well, you're not just bad-humoured, you're - I'm sorry to say that, Artemis, I really am - you're unbearable," Jarlaxle finished with an exaggerated sigh.
Entreri blinked, and while Jarlaxle expected to see anger and hatred in the assassin's eyes, the human just looked weary. "Just go away," he repeated, and there was a strange ring in his voice that made the drow comply. He didn't know why, but he knew that he had to leave him alone now, that Artemis wouldn't forgive him easily if he didn't.
The sound of the door being closed behind Jarlaxle was accompanied by a deep sigh of relief from Entreri. The assassin sank back on his bed and buried his face in the soft pillows. It was always annoying to have Jarlaxle pressing him with countless questions, but in this particular case, Entreri would rather die than tell him what was on his mind. He wouldn't be able to look the drow in the eye anymore if Jarlaxle knew - Entreri was barely able to look at himself in a mirror.
He was ashamed. He was distressed. He knew that he had failed miserably, that he had lost control over his emotions. For the first time in his life, he felt something remotely akin to love - or actually, it was closer to a strange, sick fascination and longing, a desire that had turned into something more emotional. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the person he wanted so badly that it nearly drove him mad was a drow. Oh, and not Jarlaxle - even that would have been unbearable -, but a drow he hated even more. Kimmuriel.
Of all people it had to be the reserved, disdainful, racist psionicist whom Entreri had thought to hate profoundly. Kimmuriel, who had never looked at him with anything else but complete scorn and hatred in his eyes. Kimmuriel, who would gladly torture and kill him, just because he would think it amusing. Kimmuriel, who had unintentionally done to Entreri what nobody else had ever done: ripped open the assassin's perfect discipline and control.
Entreri felt sick, and even though he had eaten nothing the whole day long, he wanted to vomit, as if he could spit out these disgusting, unexplainable feelings. He realised that he was sweating and took a deep breath. He had to calm down, to regain control. Jarlaxle mustn't find him in such a state when he came back, or he would somehow make him tell everything. Jarlaxle was able to do that. And Entreri would have to kill him for knowing this. He tried to steady his breath and wiped the sweat off his brow.
I have to think clearly, he told himself, struggling with the panic that kept coursing through his mind. Kimmuriel. Kimmuriel was everything Entreri hated about drow. While Entreri could have understood if he had fallen for Jarlaxle's charm and sympathy, his efforts to understand and help him, there was absolutely no reason in the world to fall for Kimmuriel! Kimmuriel was a nightmare, he was an unbearable, cruel, harsh bastard who enjoyed insulting and humiliating him.
Of course, Entreri had always noticed how beautiful Kimmuriel was - it was actually one of the things that bothered him most about the psionicist, and about drow in general: he thought it absurd that so beautiful beings could be so cruel. In the beginning, Kimmuriel's beauty hadn't really affected him, but for some reason, he had found himself thinking more and more often about the drow at night. And in the last days, this purely carnal desire had perverted into a more emotional longing, a feeling that Artemis Entreri was so unused to that he simply couldn't handle it. Entreri reminded himself that there was absolutely no reason to think of Kimmuriel as a lover, a partner, that Kimmuriel was certainly even more unable to love than Entreri himself.
Normally, this method worked very well whenever emotions and fears troubled him, but this time, Entreri was at a loss. No matter how much he tried to put his thoughts in order, to convince himself that this whole thing was completely and utterly ridiculous - he still felt this strange ache in his stomach. The image of the psionicist invaded his thoughts, and despite his attempts to chase it away, the only clear thought that crossed his mind in this moment was that he wanted Kimmuriel, that he wanted to touch him, to be touched by him, to explore his body, to find some feeling in him.
When Jarlaxle returned to their shared room later in the evening, he found Entreri lying on the bed in an awkward position, completely entangled in the sheets, soaked with sweat and sleeping a most troubled sleep.
The drow sighed and stared down at him. "I'm worried about you, my friend," he said more to himself than to the sleeping assassin, but Entreri woke up nonetheless. His dagger was in his hand before he even opened his eyes, but when he saw Jarlaxle, he put the dagger back on the night table, yet he didn't relax.
Jarlaxle sat down on the edge of the bed and smiled at the assassin, but his visible eye clearly showed concern. Artemis averted his eyes and shifted uncomfortably.
"Don't call me like that," he said quietly. It actually didn't bother him anymore, because Jarlaxle really had been a friend to him over the last months, but maybe he could change the subject. Unfortunately, it didn't work.
"Then, as your partner, I need you to be reliable and competent, which is hardly the case if you don't rest easy at night," Jarlaxle said - maybe this more rational argument would get through to the stubborn man. "It could help to tell me what bothers you. Maybe I could do something about it."
"I assure you that I am 'reliable and competent'. You can't help me, you can't change it, so there's no reason to bother with telling you. Now let me sleep, I'm tired," Entreri growled and turned his back to Jarlaxle. To his surprise and relief, the drow really went to his own bed without another word. Entreri hadn't known that Jarlaxle was capable of such an act of mercy, but he decided not to question his good luck and fell asleep soon enough - even though he was sure that his dreams would again be haunted by the cursed drow.
Despite Entreri's restless night, they resumed their journey southward early the next morning. The assassin had decided to leave Heliogabalus almost immediately after the incident with the shade, and Jarlaxle hadn't opposed him, glad that his usually indifferent companion seemed to care for something. Yet Artemis' mood had worsened even more, and the last evening had heightened the drow's curiosity and concern. Jarlaxle wondered if there was any relation between this shade or another event that had occurred in Heliogabalus and Entreri's bad humour.
He studied his companion carefully, not for the first time on this day: Artemis had regained control over himself and seemed once again perfectly cold and restrained. But Jarlaxle had come to know his friend very well, and he saw the uncertainty that gnawed at him, the distressed, pained expression in his eyes that made his usual frown even darker. Artemis seemed less attentive than usual, more focused on his thoughts - whatever they might be - than on his surroundings. He did his best not to look at Jarlaxle the whole day long, and he hadn't said a word except for some curt answers when the drow had asked him something.
They had been travelling for several hours when Jarlaxle tried once again to start a conversation, ignoring Entreri's angry scowl.
"You still haven't told me why you insisted on leaving Heliogabalus," he said casually, the usual smile on his fine, handsome face.
"There was no need to follow me if you preferred to stay there," Artemis snapped, but he regretted his words almost instantly. Of course, Jarlaxle was annoying, but he was, except for Dwahvel, the only friend Artemis had ever known - even though it still seemed completely absurd to him to call a drow his friend. At least it was less absurd than loving a drow, he thought a second later, but he quickly banned this idea from his mind.
Jarlaxle looked at him attentively, fascinated by the short display of emotions on the assassin's face. "I wouldn't be a good friend to let you leave," he said softly, not showing that Entreri's words had stung him - Jarlaxle rarely showed what he felt, too entangled in his own web of bluffs and deceptions. "By the way, there wasn't much in Heliogabalus that held any interest at all ... and like you, I don't feel like hunting goblins in the north."
"I don't want to meet another shade, that's all," Artemis answered. While his words didn't tell the whole truth, they weren't wrong either. Since their fight against the shade, Entreri had felt very uncomfortable in the city, always expecting more of these strange creatures to show up.
"Did the shade's lifeforce that you absorbed also cause your bad humour?" Jarlaxle asked, still smiling, but with a hint of annoyance in his smooth voice. The landscape hadn't changed much over the last hours, and the drow was starting to feel bored. He needed something to entertain him, but Entreri had apparently decided that he didn't want to be entertaining today. He snorted and growled something that even Jarlaxle's keen elven ears didn't pick up.
The drow decided to drop the subject - maybe Artemis would be more talkative later. And Jarlaxle had learnt over the last months that more curious questions made Entreri only angry and more close-lipped. But Jarlaxle didn't remain silent for long - Jarlaxle probably wasn't even able to.
"So, where are we going now? Farther to the south? To Impiltur maybe, and then to the Sea of Fallen Stars? And there, we could board a ship and go - well, nearly everywhere!" Jarlaxle had studied maps in Heliogabalus, and since then he had been constantly talking about the different lands he wanted to visit.
Entreri only shrugged. He didn't mind where they were going as long as it wasn't Menzoberranzan, and Jarlaxle's chatter got on his already frayed nerves. He stopped listening to the drow, all the more as he found his thoughts again drawn to Kimmuriel - he wondered how he would manage to restrain himself next time he had to see the psionicist. Maybe he shouldn't accompany Jarlaxle to the next meeting ... but then, he longed to see Kimmuriel again, to hear his beautiful, smooth, cold voice. It seemed impossible to imagine this voice filled with lust, tenderness, sympathy, and yet Entreri found the idea of Kimmuriel moaning into his ear rather intoxicating ...
His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when he heard the psionicist's name from Jarlaxle's lips. How had his mad companion changed the subject in such a short time from their potential destination to his lieutenant? Entreri stopped and stared at Jarlaxle, with obvious worry and embarrassment in his face. Jarlaxle couldn't possibly know, could he?
"What?" Artemis stammered, too confused to think of anything more intelligent or eloquent. Jarlaxle stopped as well and turned around, his gaudy cloak sweeping around his slender body.
"I said that we'll meet with Kimmuriel in a week, and that we should tell him about the shade. It would interest him," the drow said slowly, obviously confused by the human's behaviour. He had never seen Artemis Entreri so unaware, so disoriented, so nervous.
The assassin stared at him for several seconds in bewilderment, before he suddenly grabbed Jarlaxle's wrist and pulled him close, his confused expression replaced by an angry, threatening scowl. "Don't mention him," he hissed.
"But I..." Jarlaxle started, so taken aback that he didn't even try to escape the human's grasp. He knew that his friend hated Kimmuriel, but he had never reacted so violently just because Jarlaxle had brought up a meeting with the psionicist.
"I don't care. Don't mention him!" Entreri repeated more forcefully, before he released the drow's wrist and spun around to continue on his way.
Jarlaxle softly rubbed his aching wrist and stared at Entreri's back for several seconds until he followed him slowly. Something was definitely wrong with his companion: his bad humour, his taciturnity, his irritability, his inattentiveness, and now this outburst. But Jarlaxle - clever Jarlaxle who could read others so easily - was unable to figure out what was tormenting Artemis.
Yet he was no one to simply accept this: he would find out where Entreri's grief and trouble came from, and he would help him. Because Jarlaxle always needed to understand everything that happened around him. And because Artemis was his friend, a most fascinating friend.
Because Jarlaxle hoped that he could maybe use this opportunity to get closer to his reserved, cold companion.