A/N: I apologise for keeping you waiting for so long. The situation had become so tangled that I really didn't know what to do, and the search for a solution took much more time than I had expected. But now here it is: the last chapter. I won't write an epilogue, so this is really the ending. Enjoy. ;)
The following day was probably the strangest and most uncomfortable of Artemis' - and Kimmuriel's - life. The drow was as restless as a caged animal, pacing through the room and cursing whenever he wasn't in meditation to prepare the fight he thought inevitable. Artemis was plainly miserable. He tried desperately to think of another solution for their situation - a solution that wouldn't end with either Kimmuriel's or Jarlaxle's death.
He hardly managed to restrain Kimmuriel, whose cold facade had given way to barely controlled anger and hatred. The psionicist wanted to get rid of Jarlaxle as quickly as possible. He wanted Bregan D'aerthe back, and he wanted to be sure that Artemis would never again betray him - although he certainly wouldn't admit the latter to his lover. The human tried to gain time, hoping that both Kimmuriel and Jarlaxle would calm down and find a more sensible outcome.
The smile that appeared on Artemis' lips when he thought of the tender moments he had shared with Kimmuriel was therefore not without bitterness. They were both more at peace with each other than ever, but Artemis knew that this would not last. Not as long as the conflict with Jarlaxle had not been solved.
The assassin startled when he heard Kimmuriel stand up after he had spent another hour lost in his plotting. Yet Artemis didn't turn around and just continued to look out of the window.
"You are lying to yourself, Artemis," the drow stated, staring at Artemis' back. "You know there is no other way. We have all made our choices, and there can be no peace between our decision and Jarlaxle's."
"Do you think I will stay with you if you kill him?" Artemis asked and finally turned around, glaring at the drow. Kimmuriel seemed surprised, but anger quickly returned into his eyes.
"You chose me over him. I will go insane if I stay here. I need to return to Menzoberranzan! Getting rid of Jarlaxle is the only way for us to stay together."
Artemis sighed. He knew how right Kimmuriel was, but he could not hate Jarlaxle, despite his hard words during their last meeting. Jarlaxle was certainly not without fault, but he was still rather a victim here, and Artemis felt guilty for what he had done to him. He loved Kimmuriel - although he would never use this ridiculous word himself - but he doubted that he could accept to stay with the man who had killed his only friend.
"Artemis," Kimmuriel whispered, stepping closer towards the human and softly caressing his cheek. Artemis leaned in his touch, biting on his lip to suppress a pathetic, hopeless plea to make the drow change his mind.
Kimmuriel kissed Artemis, nuzzling against his strong body, hoping that his touch would calm the hesitating, troubled human.
"Do you want me to stay for another few hours before I return to Menzoberranzan?" the drow whispered in a seductive voice.
Artemis refused to look at him. He was hardly in the mood for such games now, but what if Kimmuriel did not return? Jarlaxle was a formidable foe, even for the powerful psionicist. Artemis didn't dare to remind the drow of this - Kimmuriel was arrogant, but nonetheless aware of Jarlaxle's power. There was no reason to provoke the drow now.
But if Kimmuriel died, Artemis would certainly regret to have wasted the last hours he could spend with him. And he knew Kimmuriel well enough by now to be sure that the drow would make him forget his troubles for a while.
"Stay," he answered, his voice hardly audible, yet he knew that Kimmuriel would hear - or at least feel - him. He shoved the drow to the bed and pushed him onto it, following him immediately.
Artemis woke up a few hours later - after they had rested - when Kimmuriel stirred in his arms. The drow seemed determined to leave now. He quickly got up, ignoring Artemis' sigh, and dressed, checking carefully that he had all of his magical items. When he turned around to look at Artemis, the assassin stared at him with cold, grey eyes.
"I will be back soon," Kimmuriel promised confidently. Artemis snorted - what pleasure would he feel to see Kimmuriel again, knowing that his lover had killed Jarlaxle? Was this not the last time he could look at Kimmuriel without hating him?
"Do you want me to defeat him, or would you prefer my death to his?" Kimmuriel asked in a sudden fit of anger.
"I do not want him to kill you, and you know that," Artemis answered icily. The drow's features softened, and he bent down to kiss the human - a kiss that was willingly returned, but it still seemed strangely bitter and sad. It was almost a goodbye, for even if Kimmuriel returned, their relationship would be once again put to the test.
Kimmuriel opened his mouth, but whatever it was he had wanted to say, he kept it to himself. After a last glance at Artemis he opened a gate to Menzoberranzan and stepped through it. As Jarlaxle had said, this could only be settled by force.
Artemis stayed in bed, not because he expected to find any further rest, but because he couldn't bring himself to get up. As if it mattered. He didn't even know what he wanted to happen, which outcome he preferred. He was feeling sick and confused, and he longed desperately to be back in Kimmuriel's arms, without any worries on his mind.
His conscience told him that he should have gone with Kimmuriel and tried to keep them from fighting, but he doubted that the psionicist would have accepted that. It would have been vain, anyway, and Artemis knew that he couldn't have stood to watch either of them die. He could only hope no that Kimmuriel would prevail - and that he would be able to forgive him.
Kimmuriel stumbled when another lightning bolt hit him, followed by several throwing daggers that embedded themselves in his torso. His psionic defences had collapsed under Jarlaxle's continuous assault, and Kimmuriel was in too much pain to concentrate and rebuild his defences, let alone to attack.
The next blast from Jarlaxle's lightning wand made Kimmuriel's legs give in under him, and he tumbled to the ground. For all self-discipline, he couldn't make his battered body obey and get up again. His mind was numb, too unfocused to use psionical powers that were his only weapon.
The loud steps of heavy boots, accompanied by jingling jewellery made his headache worse. When the noise stopped, Kimmuriel looked up to see Jarlaxle standing beside him - tired and dishevelled from a long fight, but unharmed despite the injuries the psionicist had managed to inflict upon him. He had obviously drunk a healing potion since Kimmuriel had fallen down.
Jarlaxle didn't move, he just stared down at the wounded psionicist.
"Finish it," the younger drow hissed, painfully aware that the fight was over, that he had no hope for victory left. All he wanted was to stop the pain.
"Giving up already?" Jarlaxle asked, trying to sound cheerful, but his voice was strained and hard. "And here I had an offer for you."
"There is nothing I can give you, so how could we possibly strike a deal?" Kimmuriel asked weakly. He didn't expect any sensible offer from Jarlaxle, but his survival instincts asked that he took every possible opportunity.
"You are the best lieutenant I have, and you are perfectly familiar with the latest intrigues. You are useful, and I wouldn't want to do without you. As my lieutenant, of course, not as my co-leader," Jarlaxle explained. His feelings were perfectly masked behind his trademark pragmatism, as if Jarlaxle had decided to solve this conflict on a purely intellectual level. Kimmuriel wasn't sure whether he should feel relieved or worried. Probably both.
"State your terms," the psionicist demanded, finally remembering who and what he was: a drow, and a particularly callous one on top of that. He needed to save his life now; in such a moment, there was no place for feelings and principles. The small bottle - certainly a healing potion - that Jarlaxle pulled out of a pocket was a clear reminder of this.
"I heal you, and you will once again be my lieutenant, just like before our journey to Calimport. You work for me like before - not against me. If I learn that you are using your position to take your revenge on me, our deal has ended," Jarlaxle explained matter-of-factly. He wasn't afraid of Kimmuriel: their fight had shown that he could beat him, and Jarlaxle knew that Kimmuriel was, feelings or no feelings, most of all a pragmatist.
"You take me back in," Kimmuriel snorted, intrigued despite himself. "And what do I have to do to earn this generous gift?"
"You will leave Entreri," Jarlaxle ordered, his voice suddenly cold and almost aggressive. Kimmuriel stared at him, not believing what he had just heard. He was so surprised that he even managed to fight down his pain for a moment.
"You can't be thinking that he will return to you. He chose me and - "
"I do not want him back," Jarlaxle cut him short. "I don't want to see him ever again, not even to hear of him. But he won't be yours. I want him to be alone, I want him to suffer what he made me suffer. I want him to know for the rest of his miserable life that I took away his happiness."
If Kimmuriel had had any strength left in his body and mind he would have lashed out at Jarlaxle for these words. It had been so hard for him to recognise his feelings for Artemis, to gain the human's trust after everything he had done to him. And now that they had finally found a bit of peace together Jarlaxle asked him to leave Artemis, to destroy what they had built up so painfully.
How could Kimmuriel accept this offer? How could he live without Artemis now that he had tasted the sweetness of trust and intimacy?
The pain in his body, however, reminded him immediately of the fact that his life - with Artemis or without him - would end in a few minutes if nobody healed him.
The psionicist closed his eyes, his slender hands clenched into fists. There is no freedom, only survival. It was a principle he had lived by for centuries - it was the only reason he was still alive, unlike the rest of his House, unlike Rai-Guy.
What worth were hopes and feelings when they got him killed?
It took Kimmuriel hardly more than a few minutes to make up his mind. He opened his eyes again and looked up at Jarlaxle, who was waiting patiently. Kimmuriel slowly stretched out his trembling hand and said in a voice that almost failed him, "Agreed."
Jarlaxle grinned, but his usually amused expression was simply bitter and cruel now. He gave Kimmuriel the bottle and watched as the psionicist drank the potion. They countless burns and stabs on Kimmuriel's body quickly healed, and he staggered only slightly when he got up.
As soon as the pain in his body gradually disappeared, the desperation in Kimmuriel's eyes was replaced by hatred and anger. But they both knew that the younger drow wasn't going to attack Jarlaxle again - he valued his life too much.
"You can return to Artemis to tell him of your decision, but don't take too much time to say farewell. I want you back before evening for a full report on Bregan D'aerthe's latest involvement," Jarlaxle explained coldly before he turned around and walked towards his office. It was only when the door was safely closed behind him, when he was alone and undisturbed by curious gazes, that Jarlaxle allowed his carefully suppressed feelings to resurface again.
He sank on his chair and cried.
He hadn't been surprised when Kimmuriel had returned and challenged him for leadership of Bregan D'aerthe. Jarlaxle had been prepared for the fight, and although Kimmuriel mastered several powers that even Jarlaxle's defences, like his eye-patch, couldn't completely fend off, the mercenary leader had never doubted that he would defeat his lieutenant. Kimmuriel was powerful and intelligent, but so was Jarlaxle, and the mercenary leader was better equipped with magical items, and he was far more experienced than the younger drow.
While Jarlaxle had waited for Kimmuriel to return, he had initially planned to kill his rival, maybe even torture and humiliate him. But his pragmatism had quickly defeated his thirst for revenge - Kimmuriel was indeed incredibly useful ... and making Kimmuriel leave Entreri would probably be even more painful for the human than Kimmuriel's death.
Jarlaxle had been content with his plan, he had hoped to find some consolation in the misery he would inflict on the man who had betrayed him and on his rival. But here he sat, crying, trembling, and probably just as miserable as Kimmuriel and Artemis.
He had never really wanted to hurt Artemis, he still liked him. Of course, he was disappointed and grieved, and he knew that he could never accept what his former partner had done to him, but for all his hatred and pain he couldn't help but miss Artemis. Jarlaxle hadn't lied to Kimmuriel when he had said that he didn't want Artemis back, but that didn't change anything about the fact that he still dreamt of a world in which Artemis had chosen him instead of Kimmuriel.
It took him a while to calm down and bottle his feelings up again. Jarlaxle carefully wiped the tears off his cheeks and put his eye-patch back in place, forcing his trademark smile on his face. His little excursion to the surface, including his friendship with Entreri, had been a complete failure, and it was time for him to readapt to the realities of Menzoberranzan. And in Menzoberranzan tears were out of place.
Artemis sensed that someone had entered the room, but he did not dare to look up. He pressed his face into the pillows, unable to confront the death of one of the two most important people in his life.
A wave of different, indistinct emotions washed through him when he heard Kimmuriel's voice whisper his name. The human finally sat up, slowly, and turned to face the psionicist. He furrowed his brow when he saw Kimmuriel's bloody clothes, but the drow didn't seem wounded. His eyes were, however, colder than ever.
Artemis got up and went towards him, tenderly touching Kimmuriel's cheek. The psionicist winced and took a step backwards.
"Is ... did you ...?" Artemis asked hesitantly, confused by Kimmuriel's strange behaviour. He would have expected the psionicist to be triumphant and basking in his victory, not so reticent and distant.
"Kill Jarlaxle? No, he's alive - and that seems to be your main preoccupation," Kimmuriel snorted aggressively. He knew he should enjoy the last minutes he would ever spend with Artemis, but then again, it might be easier to forget him if he destroyed what bit of happiness they had.
"It is not," Artemis sighed, but he didn't want to resume this fruitless discussion. "What happened?"
"He defeated me," Kimmuriel stated, the humiliation and bitterness clear in his voice and his eyes. "He offered me my life and my position in Bregan D'aerthe under one condition - I have to leave you."
Artemis just stared at him, too dumbfounded to react. The possibility that Jarlaxle might win and not kill Kimmuriel had never occurred to him, but was it not even worse to live without Kimmuriel, knowing that the drow was still alive?
"I accepted," Kimmuriel continued when Artemis did not answer. "To save myself."
For several minutes they just stared each other in the eyes. Artemis needed time to digest this unexpected news, and Kimmuriel had to fight hard to keep from embracing and kissing the other, from showing him how difficult this decision was for him. Finally Artemis nodded and laughed bitterly.
"So we are back where we were. To a life limited to survival."
"There is no life without survival."
"Yes. But I had just started to think that there might be more to life than only survival," Artemis said, his voice weak with sadness. For his whole life, he had refused feelings and relationships because they would weaken him. And after his short fantasy of love and trust, reality had caught up with him again. To feel, to love was to die.
"We were fools to believe that," Kimmuriel answered almost soundlessly. He hesitated for a moment before suddenly wrapped his arms around Artemis, pressing himself against him and kissing him desperately.
The human was too shocked for a moment to respond, but then he returned the kiss just as passionately, clinging to Kimmuriel as if their physical closeness could deny the bleak reality. Kimmuriel finally broke the kiss and just buried his face against Artemis' shoulder.
"If I hadn't given Jarlaxle hope, he wouldn't -" Artemis started, but Kimmuriel cut him short.
"Don't. Blaming yourself doesn't change anything," the drow whispered. Artemis was right, of course, but then again, Artemis wouldn't have turned to Jarlaxle if Kimmuriel hadn't mistreated him so badly. If Artemis was to blame, Kimmuriel was to blame as well - and the psionicist didn't particularly like that thought.
"Do you think I could talk to Jarlaxle?" the human asked, although he doubted that he had any influence on Jarlaxle left.
"He refuses to see you ever again. Nor will he let me see you again," Kimmuriel sighed and kissed Artemis.
When their lips parted Kimmuriel immediately drew back, lest Artemis might touch him again. He should finish this quickly before he lost the strength to do it - before he might even get the stupid idea to renounce to his deal with Jarlaxle and stay with Artemis.
"I have to go," he stammered when Artemis wanted to approach him again. The assassin bit on his lip and nodded. He opened his mouth several times, but he didn't find the right words for this moment. Again several minutes lapsed. The both of them were trying to think of something to say, something to do, anything that would make their parting easier.
Eventually Kimmuriel just placed a faint kiss on Artemis' lips before he left. Artemis stared at the dissipating blue gleam when the psionic gate closed again. He tried to hold on to the feeling of Kimmuriel's kiss, to the image of his beautiful face - but now that the drow was gone, the events of the last weeks seemed suddenly unreal.
Like a dream, and he had finally woken up to the life he had always known.
He did not know how long he just stood there before he regained control over himself. Slowly, hesitatingly, he picked up his dagger that had been lying on the nightstand. His fingers closed around the hilt of his trademark weapon, but for once the familiar weight in his hand failed to comfort him. A sad, distorted smile appeared on his features.
"Survival," Artemis Entreri whispered and laughed joylessly.
A/N: It is done! You have no idea how relieved I am that I finally finished this story; writing the last chapters has been more of an ordeal than anything else. It actually feels kind of strange that it's finished after all these months of racking my brains to get these stubborn bastards to be nice to each other. ;)
Anyway, as the ending isn't very happy I feel like I have to justify myself for it. First of all, I assure you that I tried desperately to think of a happy ending that would have been in character and logical after everything that happened in this story - that's why it took me so long to write this last chapter. I eventually had to realise that there could be no happy ending. Actually, I had already decided about a month ago that the only ending would be either Jarlaxle's or Kimmuriel's death (for those of you who want to know - I would have killed Kimmuriel). And then, just as I wanted to start writing, I had the idea you see now in this last chapter. It's not happy, I admit, but it is - in my opinion - still better than every other solution. So don't lynch me for not writing a happy ending - it was impossible.
Thanks to everyone who has read this story so far, and especially to those who have reviewed it. I'm looking forward to hearing your opinion on the ending, and I hope that a few of the lurkers who haven't reviewed yet (I know you exist!) will reward my last effort with a review. :)