A/N: Please remember this is basically h/c. Do not read if you do not like the genre.
Jarlaxle knocked on the thick oak door and awaited a response. Since he felt well enough to walk around after supper, he had decided to visit Entreri's office and speak with the paranoid man. Although he expected to be rebuffed again, he had to try once more before leaving the Copper Ante.
An extended pause followed Jarlaxle's knock, then finally Entreri opened the door and allowed him to enter. "I have little time for idle chatter," he said, gesturing for Jarlaxle to take a chair.
Jarlaxle sank gratefully into the wingback; his leg was beginning to burn. "Is there trouble afoot?"
Entreri scowled at the drow, then walked to his liquor cabinet, where he removed several small vials and potions and began storing them in his belt pack. "Of course." He hesitated, then continued. "The new Pasha of Basadoni has ordered a hit on me. His three top assassins are competing to eliminate me."
Jarlaxle frowned. "Dangerous for you and also bad business for them. You are allied with a neutral guild, so their plan will backfire politically."
Entreri shrugged and sat behind his desk. "But the return of Artemis Entreri to Calimport was marked with unease."
Jarlaxle dipped his head respectfully. "Of course." He watched his friend carefully, seeing his golden opportunity to re-secure Entreri's trust. "What do you know about these assassins?"
Entreri gazed at the drow a moment, then leaned back in his chair. "The first is Hari, Pasha Jasal's top assassin and current top dog of the city. I've met her only once, but I can tell you she is not to be underestimated." He propped his elbows on the chair arms and interlaced his fingers over his stomach. Jarlaxle smiled to himself, enchanted as always by Entreri's confidence and air of command; the ex-assassin was on guard but not panicked.
"The second is Omero, Jasal's second lieutenant," Entreri had continued. "He is infamous for his poisoned daggers and exceptional stealth. The final is Jaknel, who is Jasal's heir. He's the upcoming new star of the guild."
Jarlaxle nodded. "Threat level?" Although the drow had faith in his friend, he also knew the man was in his mid-forties now. Age was not on his side—unless the Shade life-force could sufficiently compensate.
"High," Entreri replied bluntly. "Both physically and politically. Jasal does not consider his son a threat like a Matron Mother would consider a daughter. Jaknel is his pride and joy, his legacy and his future."
Jarlaxle grimaced and felt genuine concern for his friend's safety. His instincts had been correct—this was his first real chance, and probably last chance, to prove his motives were mostly based on feelings of kinship and not pure greed. "Very well. I will stay with you until this danger is past."
Entreri narrowed his eyes. "I didn't ask for help."
"No, you didn't." Jarlaxle smiled. "But I am offering."
Before Entreri could respond, a figure dropped down from the vaulted ceiling and landed on the desk. The two mercenaries toppled over their chairs in their haste to stand. Entreri drew his weapons and blocked in an X-formation to stop the downward swing of the assassin's sword. Jarlaxle, though, had been forced to duck and roll to avoid the flight of two small daggers.
Omero, Jarlaxle deduced, quickly assessing the weaponry of this stocky Calishite dressed in solid black. He readied his own magical bracers in preparation for stabbing the assassin in the back, but Omero kicked the oil lamp off Entreri's desk and into Jarlaxle's chest before vaulting to the floor.
Jarlaxle tried to catch the lamp in order to avoid disaster, but he didn't have time. The lamp knocked against his arm and fell to the floor, splattering oil on the rug. The flame ignited the oil immediately, catching the rug on fire.
Reaching inside his cloak, Jarlaxle pulled out a wand that would spray forth ice and snow, but he immediately realized the blast radius would catch Entreri as well. Keeping the wand securely in hand, he jumped backwards toward the door. "Hurry!"
As though reacting to the plea, Entreri cornered Omero against the far wall and delivered a fatal blow to Omero's gut. With a shout of pain, Omero clutched his abdomen and slumped to the floor. Without pause, Entreri whirled and jumped upon the desk, then leapt over the growing flames. As soon as he cleared, Jarlaxle iced down the room, finishing off Omero in the process.
Entreri opened the door, and the two fled, coughing from the smoke, into the hallway. They leaned side-by-side against the far wall and took deep breaths.
"I suppose you occasionally have your uses," Entreri said, smirking.
Jarlaxle grinned. "That's a start."
Entreri watched the drow preen before the mirror. The sight was so familiar that it tempted him to grin for a reason he didn't understand. Jarlaxle turned right first, sizing up his profile. He positioned his red eye patch over his right eye and tilted the corner of his hat up on the left. He smiled at himself and then turned left, repositioning the hat and eye patch as he did. With a second smile he faced forward and ran his hands over his leather vest, bare muscled abdomen, and the top of his new leather pants.
"You look dazzling as usual," Entreri said with a smirk. "You can stop inspecting yourself."
Jarlaxle faced him and tipped his hat. "Thank you, my friend."
Entreri once again bit back the urge to tell Jarlaxle not to call him "friend," but he found he felt slightly less irritated about it. "For the tenth time, you don't need to do this," he said. "I told you I don't need help, and in any case, I'm not sure you're healed enough to attempt it."
Jarlaxle lifted one long, slender finger and wagged it. "Now, now. I already said I would help you."
Entreri signed and gave up. After the attack the previous night, Entreri had decided to draw his attackers into the open. Jarlaxle had insisted on shadowing him and assisting, and now that night had fallen, the two mercenaries were preparing to head into the streets.
Jarlaxle pushed his rainbow-colored cape over his shoulder and gestured with one ring-laden hand toward the door of his room. "Shall we proceed?"
Entreri knew he was doomed to suffer the drow's interference, so he simply led the way up to the Copper Ante's roof. He was determined that Dwahvel and her guild would not be destroyed by Pasha Jasal's machinations, so he leapt from roof to roof in order to draw the assassins out into the city. He hid himself well enough to feign stealth but not so well that he couldn't be detected and tracked. Jarlaxle followed at a safe distance, completely hidden in the darkness.
After a half hour's stake out on an inn roof, Entreri perceived the movements of his new opponent. Two guild soldiers—disguised but obvious from their furtive glances—entered the alley opposite him. Entreri suspected that this meant Jaknel stalked him; Hari would be too professional and prideful to make use of common soldiers.
Entreri briefly wondered if he could take down Jaknel without killing him; Jasal's anger over the boy's death was sure to cause a political disaster for Entreri. However, the ex-assassin knew that sparing Jaknel really wasn't an option—the only way to stop an assassin was to kill him. It was a matter of pride.
Entreri descended into the nearest alley and prepared to condemn himself to another several years' banishment from Calimport.
Apparently taking the bait, Jaknel stepped into the alleyway behind him, no doubt preparing to sneak up and stab him in the back. Entreri drew his weapons and turned to face the young man.
Jaknel, who appeared to be in his late teens, had the same coal black hair and dark grey eyes as Entreri had. The boy drew up short, raising his sword and dagger before him, and Entreri was struck with the feeling he was facing a younger version of himself. Same lean build, same confident posture, with his shoulders pulled back and his chin up. Jaknel's eyes did not have the cold sheen that Entreri knew his possessed, though; the boy did not hide his emotions well.
"The legendary Artemis Entreri," Jaknel said, smirking. "If you weren't such a fossil, I'd say I was honored to fight you."
Entreri kept his expression utterly stony. Overconfident, he thought.
"What? No reply?" Jaknel twirled his dagger once, then snapped his wrist as though he would throw.
"You talk too much," Entreri said, charging him. He feinted a strike at Jaken's knee, pulling back as the boy moved to block and slashing toward his neck instead. Jaknel tried to duck and leap to the side all at once but tripped and fell instead. As Entreri angled his sword for the kill, a flash in the corner of his vision alerted him to danger. He jumped backwards and brought up his sword in a block, expecting to see one or both of the guild soldiers.
Instead, he found himself locking gazes with a slim, leather-clad woman he'd only met once before: Hari. She lunged with both of her swords, which Entreri rushed to block.
"I'm surprised you would lower yourself to work with Jaknel," Entreri said, pushing his blades against hers.
Hari's white teeth shown as she smiled. "Unlike the others, I do not underestimate you."
Entreri didn't respond. Two young professional assassins against one older ex-assassin. If Jarlaxle was ever going to help him, it needed to be now.
Jarlaxle had descended from the rooftops and disabled the two soldiers who had been accompanying the young man he suspected was Jaknel. Entreri need not be ambushed from behind as he dispatched the assassin. When he turned and glanced across the street, however, Jarlaxle didn't see what he expected. Instead of finding Entreri standing over a corpse, Jarlaxle saw him trying to fend off both Jaknel and a tall brunette woman who had to be Hari.
"Blast!" he cursed, sprinting toward the fray. His leg still ached from his previous wound and shot spikes of pain down to his ankle and up his side, but he ignored it. He approached Hari from behind, dropping two daggers from his bracers and hoping to kill her before she knew she was under attack. But by some means—magical or otherwise—she sensed the danger before he struck, and jumped to the side, leaving the daggers to hit the wall harmlessly.
Immediately, Hari charged him, and Jarlaxle lost ground just trying to ready his swords. He managed to raise his blades in time to parry her first attack, but he quickly realized that this assassin handled her two scimitars like a drow. She blocked Jarlaxle's strikes and pressed forward, trying to corner him in the alley, and his throbbing leg slowed him. All the running had aggravated the wound, causing him to limp—and sloppy foot work could get him killed.
"I expected more from a drow," Hari taunted, "even one reportedly skulking around Calimport on and off for the past year. Where is that great prowess that is so legendary?"
Jarlaxle didn't bother to answer. He parried her high strikes and ducked under her blades, spinning behind her. He had the advantage, but his left leg tried to give out, causing him to stumble. Hari was already whirling around, pulling her blades close. In that instance, Jarlaxle saw his death—she would drive her sword straight into his side. He would have proved himself to Entreri, but only by dying. That would achieve nothing.
Desperate, Jarlaxle scrambled to correct his stance and struck out with his right-hand blade; Hari slashed with her left-hand sword as she turned. Jarlaxle's blade pierced her right side, biting into her kidney and intestines, but her sword also connected and sliced through his left thigh.
They both collapsed to the ground, each gushing blood from the wounds.
Entreri slung the blood from his sword and dagger and sheathed them, then glanced at Jaknel's corpse. The boy's grey eyes stared blankly at the night sky, the same vacant gaze Entreri had seen hundreds of times in his life. Yet this time, he felt a moment's pity for the boy and his father—for a life uselessly wasted and a parent's grief. Still, the moment passed quickly, leaving Entreri to curse them as fools and to ponder his fate. Even after losing his top three assassins, Pasha Jasal would move all the nine hells to avenge his eldest son and heir. Entreri would have to flee—again.
With a sigh, Entreri turned toward Jarlaxle, expecting him to be leaning against the wall with a body at his feet. Instead he saw Jarlaxle once again collapsed on his side in the fetal position, his left leg gushing blood. Beside him was Hari's corpse, lying face up in a pool of blood.
"Jarlaxle!" Entreri ran to the drow's side and began inspecting the wound.
Jarlaxle chuckled, but it sounded more like a cough of pain. "Apparently I wasn't healed enough . . . to fight."
"Fool," Entreri spat, ripping strips off his cloak to use for bandages. "Not only have you killed yourself, your recklessness has now caused me to ruin my best cloak." His words were mostly bravado, however. The wound was so deep he could see bone. He quickly bound the leg, tying the bandages tight to stem the bleeding. Jarlaxle had begun panting with pain.
"Hold on," Entreri said, worried. Why had Jarlaxle insisted on accompanying him if he wasn't healed enough? He had severely jeopardized his life by engaging Hari in such a condition! Had he miscalculated? Impossible . . .
With the bandages finished, Entreri fished a small vial of healing potion from his belt pack; it was all he carried. Once Jarlaxle drank it, Entreri would have to rush him back to the Copper Ante for real treatment.
Repeating his actions of three days earlier, Entreri pulled Jarlaxle's upper body into his lap and supported his head. "Healing potion," he said, sounding kinder this time in spite of himself. Jarlaxle choked down the liquid and then collapsed against Entreri's chest. The ex-assassin held him still, giving him a chance to bring his breathing under control.
"What a pain you are," Entreri said as he found himself staring at the drow's delicate face again. To put himself at such risk, the drow obviously wanted him as a partner once more. But why was the drow going to such effort? It wasn't as though the drow could trick him into forgiving him overnight.
Dwahvel's words returned to him: Humans with his personality also become quite protective.
"Protective?" Entreri muttered, bemused. Was it possible that the drow was developing a streak of genuine caring? He stopped to reconsider Jarlaxle's behavior at King Gareth's palace. The drow had returned to rescue him despite the fact Entreri had rejected him at the psionic door. He had rescued him with nothing to gain and everything to lose, since Gareth had mobilized against them. Entreri had meant to be rid of Jarlaxle forever and had resented the unasked-for rescue, but the truth remained that the only possible motivation Jarlaxle could have had for saving him was . . .
"Friendship," Entreri said aloud, stunned. How had the drow come to feel such apparent kinship for him? He would have to weasel the information out of Jarlaxle at some point if they were to remain in contact.
With a frown, Entreri put his hand on Jarlaxle's forehead to check his temperature and make sure he wasn't growing cold with shock. The drow opened his uncovered eye and smiled at the touch. He seemed dazed. "What?"
Entreri didn't dare repeat the revelation; trust still needed to be rebuilt—or perhaps built for the first time. One act of self-sacrifice wasn't enough to wipe out years of manipulation and one decisive betrayal over the dracolich, but it was a first step. An impressive first step. "I need to get you back to the guild."
Jarlaxle nodded his head slightly.
"I have to carry you again," Entreri continued. It was going to look strange, especially considering he would have to employ the "female" style once more, but he would stick to the shadows.
Entreri supported the drow's weight as he repositioned him, then he gathered him into his arms and stood, careful to avoid the leg wound.
The bleary-eyed Jarlaxle wrapped his arm around Entreri's neck and thumped his head against his shoulder. "Why my leg?" he muttered. "It's always my leg."
Entreri smirked, remembering that early in their acquaintance Jarlaxle had broken his leg. "Because you live life on the edge of disaster."
The drow just chuckled.
Jarlaxle propped himself up on pillows and smiled at Entreri as he entered the room. He had never had anyone react with such concern when he was injured—not once in his life. Entreri's words had been harsh and sarcastic as usual, but the drow had seen the genuine care beneath them. Now the wave of warmth Jarlaxle felt in response to that concern overwhelmed him, and he didn't know what to do with the emotion.
Entreri sat on the edge of his bed and didn't smile back, but his eyes were less cold. "How are you?"
Jarlaxle had to release his feelings somehow, so he beamed at his friend and punched Entreri's arm. "Well enough to face a dragon by the end of the tenday."
The ex-assassin snorted. "Dragons. Why must it always be dragons with you?"
Jarlaxle couldn't stop grinning, and Entreri seemed to sense his unusual mood because he reached out and squeezed his forearm briefly.
"I'll have to leave tonight," Entreri said, growing solemn. "Pasha Jasal reacted to his son's death just as I predicted. The price on my head is so high every bounty hunter and assassin in Calimshan, Amn, and Tethyr will be after me. I'm heading for Waterdeep as soon as night falls."
Jarlaxle frowned. "I'm going with you."
"You're still too injured, and I didn't ask for your help."
Jarlaxle felt such a strong desire to win the argument that he nearly climbed out of bed. Entreri grasped his shoulders to stop him, but Jarlaxle intercepted the move by grabbing his forearms. "Don't be stubborn, Artemis. I'm well enough to ride, and as your friend I can offer help at any time—and should!"
Entreri glared at him, but after a moment, Jarlaxle realized the anger wasn't too deep. "Meddling fool," the ex-assassin growled.
Jarlaxle gave him a small smile, hoping to thaw him out.
This time Entreri returned the smile with a smirk. "I wouldn't have told you my intentions if I were going to refuse your offer."
Jarlaxle blinked, realizing he'd been had, and then grinned. "Bastard."
Entreri snickered, then gave Jarlaxle a pointed stare. "Just make sure you offer your help, not force it on me, and that you offer it openly. If you respect me, I won't have to tell you to go to hell again—or kill you."
Jarlaxle nodded, accepting the fair warning for what it was. "And if you refrain from double-crossing me, I won't have to kill you."
Entreri snorted, no doubt having expected the mutual bravado and boundary declarations, and Jarlaxle grinned in return. They were both well aware that their peace treaty was tentative and that trust would have to be regained on both sides, but despite this, Jarlaxle felt confident that their partnership would hold. If Jarlaxle had any say in the matter, this time their kinship would count for something more lasting and permanent.
"I'll have a horse prepared for you," Entreri said. "Do have your preening complete by the time I return." He stood, paused, and then slapped Jarlaxle on the shoulder before he left.
Jarlaxle's smile didn't fade even after the door closed. He hadn't felt so happy since his and Entreri's first escape from Calimport. After all, he'd accomplished his goal—he had reclaimed his traveling and business partner.
And, perhaps, his friend.
A/N: If RAS had ended RotP in a similar way, I would've loved him forever. I would have overlooked every plot hole, characterization error, and pacing problem. I wouldn't have complained about anything at all. This is what I really wanted, so that's the way I'm going to write it.
Thanks to Darkhelmetj and Chi for beta reading.