When Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday
Disclaimer: Artemis, Jarlaxle, Dwahvel, and all other recognizable characters belong to R.A. Salvatore and Wizards of the Coast. No challenge to the copyright is intended or should be inferred. The following story is meant to lick the wounds of the fans who love Artemis and Jarlaxle, and it will never make any profit.
Random note: I wrote this entire thing by hand in airports and on airplanes. Since I was stranded at Chicago-O'Hare, I'm profoundly grateful I took a notebook with me. My hand still hurts, though.
Warnings: Warm-n-fuzzy with h/c undertones. Don't read if you don't like fuzz.
He had visited once a month, every month, for a year. Entreri had watched him, this charming drow with the wide white smile and graceful hands. He had scrutinized the uncovered red eye that glittered with mirth and even the arrangement of the rainbow-colored cape folded over his shoulder. Entreri had expressed disinterest, yawned through stories of the drow's adventures with Athrogate, and finally done a surveillance job for them. Yet he had remained emotionally distant, wary of the mental prison the drow could create through the manipulation of words and magic.
Still Jarlaxle came, and this time he was a tenday early.
A crack like thunder shook Entreri's Copper Ante office, knocking over his ink well and jarring coffee out of his cup. Slayer, the pit bull Jarlaxle had given Entreri earlier that year, jumped to her feet and growled. Orange smoke filled the room, obscuring the mahogany furniture and richly woven rugs, and then Entreri heard a heavy thud. Suspecting the culprit, he stood and waited for the haze to dissipate, wondering at the clumsy entrance. Why hadn't Jarlaxle had Kimmuriel open a psionic door for him?
Entreri didn't expect the answer he found.
When the smoke cleared, Entreri saw Jarlaxle lying on his side in the floor and clutching his left leg. A gaping wound ran from his hip to his knee, pouring blood. Blood also gushed from a gash on his temple, and a crimson burn raced up his left arm.
"By all the gods!" Entreri said, reacting to the emergency before he remembered he wasn't supposed to care. He rushed to his liquor cabinet, which held mostly potions and poisons, and opened the doors. For a moment he paused, unsure he should help the brutally manipulative drow and thinking that at the least he should make demands first. He glanced back at Jarlaxle, who had curled into the fetal position, and felt a stab of worry he didn't understand. Resolved to help the drow, he turned back, grabbed a healing potion, and brought it to him.
"By all rights I should let you die," Entreri snapped as he rolled Jarlaxle onto his back. He lifted the drow upon his lap and supported his head. "Healing potion," he said, curtly. He felt irritated suddenly—put upon and even a touch unguarded. Those were not feelings he welcomed.
Jarlaxle said nothing and began sipping. It took five minutes to get the potion down his throat given his laborious breathing and pain convulsions. Finally, though, Jarlaxle collapsed against his lap with a deep sigh and closed his eyes. Entreri watched the gashes begin to pull inward as though unseen hands stitched the flesh and tendons together. The redness began fading from the burn as the drow's skin evened out.
"Thank you," Jarlaxle whispered, his eyes still closed.
Offering no response, Entreri simply stared at the smooth ebony forehead and gracefully arched white eyebrows of his ex-associate. Long white eyelashes fringed his closed eyes and played contrast to his black cheeks. His nose was narrow with an elegant dip that suggested noble blood, and the net effect caused Jarlaxle to look like a porcelain doll.
Entreri shoved away the thoughts. The drow wasn't delicate or vulnerable; it was an illusion created by the fine, small bones of elves. In truth, Jarlaxle was one of the most dangerous mercenaries alive.
Slayer came to her master's side, sniffed the drow, and whined.
"I know," Entreri replied, having picked up the human habit of conversing with his guard dog. He glanced at her and assumed his command voice. "Slayer! Dwavhel!"
Slayer's ears perked, and she barked once before running out of the room. It had taken Entreri an entire tenday to train the dog to fetch Dwahvel, but he and the guild-mistress had agreed that Slayer could be invaluable in an emergency.
Jarlaxle opened his eyes, both of which were uncovered, at the sound of Entreri's command. He sifted slightly, then gazed at the ex-assassin. "What shall you do with me now, my friend?"
Entreri bit back the urge to say "We were never friends" and returned the slender drow's gaze. Despite his admonishments to himself, the thoughts returned: covered in blood and torn clothing, Jarlaxle seemed fragile, as though he could be easily hurt and killed—not the confident demigod of endless convenient tricks.
Jarlaxle waited patiently for his answer, and Entreri noted that his pupils were dilated. "Get you a room," he finally answered, his tone brusque. "I'll interrogate you later."
Jarlaxle smiled, and Entreri saw blood on his teeth.
Entreri heard approaching footsteps, and then he saw Dwahvel round the corner into the office, Slayer at her side. "Artemis? What is it?" Then her gaze fell upon the drow. "Oh . . ."
"He'll need a room," Entreri said. "And another healing potion."
Dwahvel seemed to collect herself, then nodded. "I'll have to house him in the officer's quarters. We still have an empty room. And you'll have to carry him upstairs."
Entreri immediately envisioned carrying Jarlaxle piggy-back style, but he realized it would aggravate the still-raw leg wound. Slung over his shoulder? No, the blood on Jarlaxle's teeth might be evidence of internal injuries. He sighed and looked down at the drow. "I'll have to carry you like a woman."
Entreri could see the question mark forming in Jarlaxle's mind, but he didn't explain. He extracted himself from under the drow's torso and then gathered him in his arms, careful to grasp his knees below the injury. Then he stood, lifting the drow with the power of his legs. Jarlaxle grasped his shoulders and grinned with genuine amusement.
"Oh, I see," he said. "In drow culture, this is how females carry males or other females to bed."
Entreri considered the fact that the average drow female was taller and larger than the average male and decided it made sense. To a certain degree, drow culture was the exact opposite of Calishite culture. "Very well. I'll carry you like a male drow."
Jarlaxle laughed, but the sound was faint and wispy, telling Entreri he was still injured.
"Let's go," the ex-assassin told Dwahvel, and she nodded and led them up three flights of stairs, past the Halfling brothel on the second floor and to the guild quarters on the third. The officer's quarters—including Dwahvel's and Entreri's—were in the right wing of the roughly U-shaped building and overlooked the center courtyard. Jarlaxle was given the room of a recently-killed officer whose girth had been so extensive he'd used a human-sized bed.
Dwahvel turned down the bed covers and went to call for water, bandages, and potions. Entreri laid Jarlaxle in bed and shook away the thought of how slender and light-weight he'd been. It made him seem too . . . human. Too real.
"Thank you," Jarlaxle said. "I must say, I've never been carried like that before, so it was an interesting experience." His smile was coy.
Entreri raised an eyebrow. "A female has not carried you to bed?"
Jarlaxle scrunched his nose in distaste. "I would not dare trust one to. In past time, I had some who wanted to, but I always distracted them from their plan." He winked.
But you trusted me? Entreri thought. He sat on Jarlaxle's left side, and when the water bowl and cloth arrived, he bathed the wounds himself so he could assess the remaining damage.
"This hasn't completely healed," Entreri said, wiping the blood from Jarlaxle's leg. "In addition to another healing potion, you'll need a few days' rest."
Jarlaxle had propped himself up on the pillows and was watching Entreri closely. At the ex-assassin's diagnosis, he sighed dramatically. "I suspected as much." He felt of his cheek and grimaced. "I also seem to have bitten through part of my inner cheek."
Entreri turned his attention to the drow's face and wiped the blood from his left temple. Jarlaxle accepted the treatment quietly, although he shivered when Entreri applied the cold cloth to his neck.
"What madness did you sink yourself into this time?" Entreri finally asked as he cleaned the last of the blood and inspected the drow's head wound.
Jarlaxle smiled finally. "Well, Athrogate involved himself in a dwarven war and left me alone to face a rather incensed pair of Harpers—one of which turned out to be a gold dragon."
Entreri stopped inspecting the head wound and stared incredulously at the drow. "And you didn't arrive as a corpse? I wonder that your magic tricks and luck held out." He paused and frowned. "If you bring the Harpers down upon the Copper Ante . . ."
Jarlaxle held up his hands and shook his head. "No, no. They stopped me from gaining the piece I meant to acquire. They have no reason to give chase. I just needed a safe location to teleport to."
Entreri smirked. "And what made you think I wouldn't let you bleed out? You have hardly been a blessing to me."
"Better to bleed out than to spend your final moments being shredded by a dragon."
"Fine." Entreri couldn't argue that, but a wave of anger washed over him. "Rest here while I'm still in a decent mood. Your healing potion should arrive shortly."
The ex-assassin abruptly set down the washrag and stood, leaving Jarlaxle without further comment. As he headed downstairs to his office, he felt inexplicably irritated about the drow's assumptions . . . even if they were true. Was Jarlaxle going to use this opportunity to worm his way back into his life?
Entreri decided he wouldn't let him.
Jarlaxle relocated to the wingback chair Dwahvel had provided for him and gazed out the window at the courtyard. A copper statue of Brandobaris, the Halfling god of rogues, stood with arms outstretched amidst swirled designs of obsidian stones and raked sand. Charming, really, for such a harsh climate. This was Jarlaxle's second morning spent at the Copper Ante, and the drow felt a touch stir-crazy.
Dwahvel had visited him three times and had impressed him with her keen mind and sharp wit. He could see why Entreri liked her. Artemis, however, had only visited once around noon the previous day, and he'd been as sour as usual. At least I am being well-fed and given good medical care, Jarlaxle thought. In another day, I will be able to walk again, even if I am not completely recovered.
The problem, though, was the human. During his first night of recovery, Jarlaxle decided to turn this unfortunate circumstance into profit by re-securing Entreri as a partner. He had never wanted to lose his friendship in the first place—he had meant to work with the human until he retired or got himself killed, whichever came first. But he'd overplayed his hand in his efforts to open Entreri's heart, and he still felt pangs of remorse when he remembered how badly Entreri had been hurt.
Still, Jarlaxle had given him a year to regain his equilibrium, and Entreri persisted in freezing him out. What strategy could the drow use to win back his friend?
The door opened, admitting a surly ex-assassin. "I see you're still breathing."
Jarlaxle smiled. "Indeed. I should be back to my normal self soon."
"May the gods preserve us."
"Not at all. I add interest and flair to the world."
Entreri snorted. "Not in the way you think, but at least you're lining our pockets with gold for your room and board."
A knock sounded at the door, and a Halfling servant entered carrying a breakfast tray filled with croissants, danishes, fruit, cheese, juice, and coffee. He set them on the table by Jarlaxle and retreated.
"Halflings do know how to serve good food," the drow murmured, picking up a cheese danish.
Entreri looked like his stomach had turned. He poured himself a cup of coffee and took it black.
Jarlaxle shook his head. "Still denying yourself the pleasures of life, I see."
Enteri sighed and set down his cup. "If you can nag me over my lifestyle, then you're already fully healed."
Testy and blunt, Jarlaxle thought. "I am not nagging you. I have always wanted you to learn to enjoy your life!"
"Enjoying life does not include being mentally raped by magical flutes." Entreri picked up his cup again and sipped his coffee, but his true anger showed in the way his jaw flexed.
How to get past the ice? Jarlaxle set down his danish. "I did not know it would cause such damage. Yet, in spite of everything, I do believe you are happier for having faced your demons."
"Perhaps. But it wasn't your decision to make, especially since you couldn't predict the amount of damage I would incur." Entreri's expression was perfectly stoic.
Jarlaxle held in a sigh. Nicely parried. "I wasn't aware any damage would occur at all. As I told you before, friends help even when not asked."
Entreri slammed down his cup. "I never asked for any friends either. When I wanted a friend, I chose to return to her on my own." He stood. "Do rest today. I want you out of here by dawn tomorrow."
Jarlaxle watched Entreri stalk out and found he'd lost his appetite. "Our first real conversation in a year," he muttered to himself, "and you lose your temper."
Words were empty and cheap, Jarlaxle knew. He would have to demonstrate his true intentions through actions.
Entreri paced down the length of Dwahvel's office floor, turned on his heel, and then paced back up.
"His presence disturbs you," Dwahvel noted dryly.
Entreri halted and stared at her. "I do and don't believe him. He is and isn't lying."
The Halfling cocked one graceful eyebrow.
Entreri fell into his chair—the human-sized one Dwahvel had bought for him—and sighed. "In his own twisted way he was trying to work toward our mutual benefit, I suppose. But—"
"But his motivations are always mixed?" Dwahvel smiled. "So are ours."
Entreri smirked. "Exactly. I wouldn't trust me, and I certainly don't trust him."
"He sees the world in terms of a master plan. He sees organizations, super structures, and macro businesses," Dwahvel said. "When he looks at you, he sees your whole life—past, present, and future. When he first met you, he saw your potential and everything you could be in addition to what you had already achieved. Those with personalities like his show care by helping people to achieve their full potential. Mercenaries like him add mutual profit to the scenario: what you could both gain if your potential was maximized."
Entreri rubbed his fingers under his chin, feeling the fine stubble that had already grown on his face since early morning. Dwahvel's words made sense, and she would know best since she had a certain element of that personality herself. "But I don't need help."
"You don't want help," Dwahvel corrected. "But that is not all that is there. The longer Jarlaxle lives in human society, the more he will adapt. Humans with his personality also become quite protective."
Entreri considered the way Jarlaxle had left him alone to face the dracolich and snorted. "He would have to stay on the surface another century to come close."
Dwahvel chuckled. "I trust your judgment, of course. But if it helps any, I believe he genuinely cares for you."
Entreri wasn't sure how to feel about that. Jarlaxle, care about him? In a human sense?
An urgent knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
"Come," Dwahvel called.
One of their top spies, Frudel, entered and bowed. Today the tiny blonde Halfling was disguised as a child, but her professional persona shined through her outfit. "Urgent information, mistress," she said.
Dwahvel nodded. "Report."
Frudel folded her hands behind her back. "I have verified that the Basadoni Guild is indeed plotting to assassinate Master Entreri."
"Fools," Dwahvel said, clenching her fists. She thumped one on her chair-arm. "How can they be so dense?"
Entreri frowned. He and Dwahvel had played a careful balancing act for the past year to keep peace with the guilds. Entreri had kept his activities minimal for the first six months by taking lower profile spy missions, but lately he had branched out to take high-stakes jobs. Apparently the restructured Basadoni Guild felt threatened.
"The new pasha, I assume," Entreri said.
Frudel nodded. "Pasha Jasal has become convinced that you're rebuilding your networks and influence in order to resume command of the Basadoni Guild. He's deployed his top three assassins in a contest to be rid of you."
Entreri flexed both hands and smiled an evil grin. His pulse immediately accelerated at the thought of a challenge. While spy work left his soul more at rest and provided a mental workout, he had missed the pure adrenaline and fire of sword-fighting. What few battles he'd faced had been dreadfully easy. "Let them come."
Dwahvel slanted a look of half-irritation and half-fondness at him, then returned her gaze to Frudel. "Who did Jasal deploy?"
"Omero, Hari, and Jasal's son, Jaknel."
Entreri cursed. Omero he'd expected. Even Hari, who would prove difficult since she was the current top assassin in Calimport. But Jaknel? "He's sending his eldest son?"
"With the Basadonis having regained their former power, you were already in danger," Dwahvel reminded him.
"But Jasal worships his son. If I kill the brat—"
"You'll be unable to set foot in Calimport until Jasal dies," Dwahvel finished. "Especially with the Rakers making overtures of an alliance with him. He would never rest until his son was avenged, and if he adds the Rakers' power to his own, he'll be unstoppable."
Entreri smirked. So, he was in yet another dangerous situation with no foreseeable outlets: familiar, challenging, and annoying at all once. He would survive as always, but perhaps not without a loss of some kind. With that thought, he put his hands on the pommels of his weapons—Charon's Claw and the vampiric dagger. He was in need of their services once again.
A/N: Chapter 2 will be up in about a week. Thank you to everyone who reads and/or reviews!