Author's Note: This is the sequel to Taking Off the Masks, a continuation of The Legacy story line in its AU permutation. Again, Linndechir has written Artemis, and I have written Jarlaxle in this scene.

Partners in Defeat

--

Jarlaxle groaned, stopped on a boulder, and mopped his forehead with a handkerchief, resting his throbbing leg.

He was sure that he had evaded any pursuers and was quite alone in the barren ravine, and the silence all around him confirmed that.

The break was bad. If he was right, his leg was actually snapped in two underneath the skin and muscle. The only reason he was walking was because he applied the ill advised remedy of splinting with what he had on hand. He looked down at the strips of what had once been his shirt tied around one of his less lethal magic wands. I need to acquire a healing artifact from now on, he thought. This is simply unacceptable.

After a moment, Jarlaxle hauled himself to his feet again and forced himself to limp on, suppressing a moan.

He could hardly believe he'd been beaten. Disbelief still fluttered in his heart whenever he thought of that gigantic panther breaking his leg. He'd been attacked by a giant panther. Why did Drizzt have a giant panther? It was simply not fair. He appreciated magical items more than that Do'Urden brat. He should have a panther at his beck and call. See whose legs would get broken then.

His sulking was interrupted, and quite irrevocably, by the sight of the battered body of Artemis Entreri lying at the base of the cliff in front of him.

Jarlaxle frowned at his friend's body for a moment. He didn't like this at all. He didn't want to approach the assassin. But he was in Jarlaxle's way...

The drow mercenary limped closer.

The assassin was covered in contusions from hitting every jutting rock on the way down, covered in bloody scrapes, and showed signs of battling Do'Urden. His left arm looked dislocated, and the arm folded under him looked broken. His forearm rested at a wrong angle, and the wrist looked broken as well. Jarlaxle winced. It looked miserable.

He also didn't doubt that while he had one broken leg, Artemis probably had two.

The kindest thing to do would be to leave him, Jarlaxle thought. He couldn't help identifying the assassin's broken body with the corpses of goblins he saw on the streets of the Menzoberranzyr slums.

He didn't, though. He knew subtly that he wouldn't have, anyway. He knelt closer, firing new pain in his leg, and took Artemis' pulse. Jarlaxle straightened, firecrackers of pain behind his eyes, and sighed. He was still alive.

It wasn't very drow-like of me to do that, he thought. But he winced a little and shook his head, still staring at the assassin. If I failed, anyone could've failed.

Jarlaxle put up with the agony of bending down again and putting extra pressure on his broken leg to get Artemis up, off the ground, and slung over his shoulder.

Why do I care? he asked himself. He resumed his limping retreat. Maybe I still want what I had from him, even though he'll probably want never to do that with me again.

--

The first thing Artemis felt when he woke up was pain, not from one wound, but from many - the feeling reminded him a bit of his childhood, of how he had felt after his father had beaten him, but it was worse. He groaned softly and opened his eyes, almost grateful for the darkness in the room. His vision was blurred, and his head hurt so much that he could hardly adjust to the magical infravision.

He couldn't remember what exactly had happened. He remembered fighting Do'Urden, and he knew that at some point that halfling had been there ... he also remembered falling down ... but he couldn't find any connection between these things, and he had no idea where he was and how he had come here. Ignoring his confusion and his pain, he forced himself to sit up, looking around in the room.

--

The magical stone buzzed in Jarlaxle's pocket. There was movement in Artemis' room. That meant the assassin was awake - if he hadn't had his best soldiers guarding the room on pain of dismemberment or death, he might have doubted this. But he knew that no one would get past those soldiers. The movement had to be Artemis.

He still limped, but Triel had started his leg on the mend, so he was able to carry his head high and smilingly nod at his soldiers when he passed them in the hallways.

He ignored his limp, and he knew that they would too, for fear of catching his temper.

Not many things did, but he prided himself on being unpredictable enough to keep his soldiers in line.

Jarlaxle brushed past the guards in front of Artemis' door and swept inside, closing it after him. A broad grin of relief stretched across his face to see his associate sitting up and conscious.

Artemis had just started examining the bruises on his bare torso, and judging by them he had been badly injured before somebody had at least partly healed him. He still felt incredibly weak, and he didn't trust his legs enough to stand up.

He flinched when the door opened - obviously his senses and reflexes weren't reliable anymore either. However, he felt relieved to see Jarlaxle. Artemis realized only now that he had to be in the Underdark, but he hadn't noticed the strange stone walls and the heat before.

"Jarlaxle," he stated, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounded. He had to cough suddenly, and it took him a few moments before he managed to speak again. "What happened?"

Jarlaxle laughed, but it was much subdued, and his eyes were sad as he shook his head. "We lost. To put it succinctly. You're here because you would have died. The job is over - Vierna's dead, after all, so that shuts the book on their little brother-sister feud - so I can't hold it against you for failing a job I was never going to see payment for anyway." Jarlaxle directed the assassin's attention back to his wounds with a nod and a pointed look. "As to that, I scraped you off the floor. You were already far gone. Someone made sure you had a long drop and a sudden stop." His grin was mirthless.

Artemis nodded, but he wasn't quite sure that he fully understood the consequences of Jarlaxle's words right now. They lost ... Artemis Entreri never lost. He never failed at a job ... he never lost a battle against anyone. But he had lost against Drizzt, hadn't he? Artemis groaned again, cursing his headache.

"I can't remember everything. I think I was hanging at the edge of the cliff and that halfling caused me to fall," he said slowly, more to himself than to Jarlaxle. But suddenly his eyes widened and he gave the drow an unbelieving, suspicious stare - and he actually managed to look suspicious despite his pathetic state.

"Why did you help me? I was dying, I failed, you don't need me anymore. There was no reason for you to bring me here."

Jarlaxle had known all along he would have to face Entreri when he woke up, but he hadn't wanted to. He didn't like having to explain himself, and he knew that only the truth would do, and if he did tell the truth, he might not be believed.

It's my job to put a framework on the truth that makes the most sense for my clients, Jarlaxle argued to himself. If I can't do that, I've broken more than my leg.

So he tried to evade the truth with fancy words.

"I am an opportunist," Jarlaxle said. "In truth, I was planning to get rid of Vierna as soon as I had the chance. I would have preferred that I had claimed her valuables first, but Drizzt Do'Urden did not seem to share my priorities." He sighed. "Of the two of you, I vastly prefer to associate myself with you, rather than that spider-worshipping monster. I suppose, if you have to be vulgar about it, you are my payment for Vierna's job. I have to turn a profit somehow. As far as I'm concerned, meeting you has been a profit," he added to stem off any objections.

He grinned.

Even in his current state Artemis was deeply offended by Jarlaxle's words, and he sneered angrily, not even slightly appeased by the drow's last sentence.

Jarlaxle was surprised, to say the least. He took a step back.

"Your payment?" Entreri repeated. "What am I, then? Your prisoner? A replacement for the soldiers you lost fighting against Do'Urden's friends? How do you expect me to be 'profitable' for you?"

In his anger he seemed to forget his pain for a few moments and even managed to get up, although he still didn't look very intimidating, only half-dressed, bruised and a bit dizzy. He suddenly felt very helpless. Jarlaxle had saved his life and brought him back to the Underdark, and while that was probably better than dying, Artemis knew that everything had its price.

Not knowing what that price was scared him more than anything else. He owed Jarlaxle his life, and he needed the drow to survive.

"How could you be a replacement when you are so much superior?" Jarlaxle stammered. "I -" Zaknafein would have understood, he thought rebelliously, but he knew better than to say that to this man. He caught the fear in Entreri's eyes and acted on it, coming forward and trying to make the human sit back down on the bed, his hands reaching for Entreri's arms.

Instead of sitting down Artemis evaded Jarlaxle's touch, backing off several steps.

"You need to relax, and to rest," Jarlaxle said. "As impossible the request may be." He raised an index finger firmly. "You are a prisoner only by virtue of the fact that there is no way for you to survive in this city on your own at the present time. I am allowing you to stay here and recover as an honored guest - not a slave. I don't doubt you choose not to believe me, but I am telling the truth when I say it never crossed my mind to trap you."

The assassin's angry glare showed clearly that he didn't believe a single word Jarlaxle said, and the compliments - whether they be true or not - didn't change anything about that.

Jarlaxle sat on the bed, head bowed defeatedly. He didn't want to look at Artemis' face when he was being glared at like that.

"So you're just letting me recover here out of the kindness of your heart? And then? We had a deal concerning Do'Urden; I never agreed to work for you any longer," Artemis said, his voice still rough and getting very aggressive, as if he was trying to mask his fear with his anger.

"I would have asked you, had you succeeded. I mean to say, had things gone according to plan. I would have asked." Jarlaxle looked up at him. "How can I ask a dead body?" he asked, trying to inject his reasonable tone into the conversation once more.

Artemis winced a bit - Jarlaxle's words were a clear reminder of his failure. He should have succeeded. If he had killed Do'Urden he wouldn't be in this situation. "And are you asking me now?" Artemis said warily. "If I refuse will you let me return to the surface?"

Jarlaxle smiled through his sinking heart. "Would you refuse? Would you rather go back to your life as a pasha a second time having failed to reclaim your integrity from Do'Urden? You did not strike me as a masochist."

"I would rather go back to my old life than live in a world I know nothing about. I wouldn't need to be pasha again," Artemis replied, although he didn't seem entirely convinced. He had been one of the most powerful men in Calimport - becoming a pasha at some point had almost been the logical consequence of this. "But you haven't answered my question. If I refuse, for whatever reasons, will you accept that decision?"

People don't refuse when I offer them a job, that rebellious voice rose in Jarlaxle's mind again. At this moment he immensely disliked playing games he didn't know the rules to with a stubborn human who had the arrogance to ask him questions such as this when he was nothing but a battered, vanquished prisoner. He forced himself to remember Artemis Entreri's ignorance and be as fair of a human business partner as he could.

But how he hated the niggling, unspecific phrase 'for whatever reasons'! Now that was not fair.

Jarlaxle passed a hand over his face. "How you try my patience. If you so desire that world above you have come from - and I certainly can't see anything that great lying ahead for you there - then I promise I will return you. Fine? All and well? Do you wish to make me hand-clasp upon it as well, while you're making demands?" He couldn't help looking at Entreri icily. He was so angry.

Artemis narrowed his eyes and stared at Jarlaxle, now quite surprised. He had known, of course, that Jarlaxle's smiles and friendliness were only a facade, but he had never seen the drow like this. He still sneered, but finally he just shrugged.

"Fine," Artemis said simply, his voice just as cold as Jarlaxle's. Not that he trusted the drow - far from it - but there was nothing more he could say or do now. "For the moment I have no choice anyway," he added, once again aware of the pain in his whole body. If he returned immediately to Calimport he probably wouldn't survive a single day.

Jarlaxle felt himself give in. He hadn't meant to treat Entreri like a beaten dog. "Now, don't take it that way. I am still your friend. You are lucky. You could have met much worse a fate than to be taken with me. I have agreed to let you go when I find the opportunity. What more do you want of me?" He stood up and spread his hands. "I have tried my best for you, and you want to leave. Why does it surprise you that I am offended? I have not met a human like you, and you reject me. Am I to ignore that? I am being more than fair. Most would have left you to die in slow pain."

He was surprised to see that he felt sorry for losing his temper at the assassin. He felt guilty at the look in Entreri's eyes. To a person who was never used to feeling guilty about anything he wanted, this sensation was almost frightening and definitely confusing.

"I have to explain my failure as well," Jarlaxle muttered, turning away. "I don't need a self-absorbed assassin wallowing in his."

Artemis wasn't sure how much of Jarlaxle's apology and guilt was genuine - he never knew that with the unpredictable drow, and that was probably one of the reasons Jarlaxle fascinated him as much as he made him uneasy. "I know. As you said, most would have left me to die, so I have every reason to question your motives when you saved me. You're a pragmatist, like me, you don't do things just because I am your 'friend'." He said that last word as if he wasn't sure what exactly it meant - Artemis didn't have friends, and although he respected Jarlaxle and even liked him a bit, he wouldn't call the drow his friend.

"And your failure is less ... personal," Artemis added, his voice so low that it was hardly audible. He sighed and sat down on the bed, in too much pain to remain on his feet.

Jarlaxle was instinctively hurt by Artemis' accusation. He felt as though someone had shoved him in the chest. Zaknafein would understand, that part of him in the back of his mind said again, but this time it was a wail. I do do things just because I am a friend. I don't do much, but it's something!

"I am not a pragmatist all the time," Jarlaxle muttered, sitting on the bed next to him. "I don't have to do things for a reason. I am the most powerful male in Menzoberranzan besides Gromph Baenre. I can do things...I want..."

Aremis wasn't sure if he felt comfortable with having Jarlaxle so close to him. He still remembered that one night, and his own loss of control still confused him. He managed to hide his thoughts quite well, though, and just scowled like he usually did. "You said yourself that you saw me as your payment for this job," Artemis reminded him. "Hardly a friend's words." The assassin didn't sound offended this time - in a way it was more comforting to believe that Jarlaxle regarded him as a useful tool than as a friend.

Jarlaxle gave him a puzzled look. "I don't understand."

The human just looked confused for a moment. He wasn't exactly an expert on friendship, but he knew that friends weren't supposed to see each other as tools. "Either you help someone because you think it is profitable, or you help someone purely because you like them and don't want them to die. You don't think of a friend as profitable or not," Artemis explained. "Friendship isn't rational, it isn't useful. That's why it is such a foolish thing."

"Yes, I can," Jarlaxle protested, hardly letting him finish. He felt attacked. "I do. Part of it is profitable, and part of it is enjoying your company. I can so have a friend who is also an asset. Why is it that I can't have both?"

"Enjoying my company," Artemis snorted and shook his head. Now the drow was just being absurd. As if anyone had ever enjoyed Artemis' company. "If I stay here, how will we work together? You told me, back in Calimport, that the drow had enough assassins."

"I also told you that I was ever expanding the ranks of my organization," Jarlaxle said. He gave the assassin a reproachful look. "Why are you being so combative? I am not the strange one of the two, you are. You talk to me for hours on end and claim your company is not enjoyable."

"I am also the one who finds himself currently at someone else's mercy," Artemis spat, surprised by his own words. He quickly forced himself to calm down, or at least not to show how uneasy he was. "And I have no idea why my company should be enjoyable to you. I'm sure you have better things to do than being here."

"How kind of you to send me back to the Matron's arms from which I escaped barely a half hour ago," Jarlaxle said. Frustration burned, hot and acidic, in his heart. "I'll be sure to give you a complimentary spider. Or are you suggesting that I try to strike a conversation with one of my soldiers? Drow only know how to rule by fear. My soldiers are too afraid of me to withstand a conversation for more than five minutes without wondering if the entire thing leads up to execution. Or do you suggest going back to my office and reading dry reports? I have a stack a hundred pages thick every day, most of it inconsequential or things I have gleaned myself. Or shall I just go to the nearest temple and pray at service?"

Artemis just listened silently to the drow's words, not showing any reaction at all until that last sentence. He snorted softly and shook his head - everything was probably better than praying. The assassin didn't know what to answer, though. He couldn't imagine what Jarlaxle expected him to do or say ... As if Artemis was any better at small talk than any drow.

The assassin's reaction broke him down. He said what he had been trying to keep from spilling from his tongue in the first place. "You have made me realize that I am lonely, and desperate," Jarlaxle said softly. "This is the person you are at the 'mercy' of. I should almost say it is you who has an advantage to twist. I want something of you no one else can give me, and I don't have any way to take it from you." He remembered what he had meant to do when he entered the room, before they had started arguing. He took a hip flask from his belt and handed it to the assassin. "If you want to do something about the pain, drink this. It is a cocktail of liquids and herbs to deaden pain and swiften healing. I have been using it myself for my leg."

Entreri gave Jarlaxle a surprised look, at a loss for words. He tried immediately to figure out what Jarlaxle was hoping to gain by saying this, but his mind was still working too slowly due to the pain. Artemis took the hip flask, though. He stared at it for a few moments, but he didn't drink anything. He doubted that Jarlaxle was going to poison him after saving him, but he wouldn't put it past the drow to give him some strange drug - especially after these enigmatic words that he wanted something ... Again, Artemis found himself thinking of that night in Mithral Hall. "What is it you want?" he asked finally, but he didn't look at Jarlaxle this time.

"If you won't take it, I will," Jarlaxle said, pulling the flask back and taking a swig of it. He made a face. "It tastes terrible, but my knee is throbbing. If I let this go on, it will swell."

Artemis stared intently at Jarlaxle, watching him drink and swallow. Finally he sighed and took the flask back to take a sip himself, not even grimacing at the taste, before he returned the flask.

Jarlaxle looked over at Entreri curiously, turning over the question in his mind. "I think you know what it is I want. I am not accustomed to begging the way I must when a priestess is holding a whip over me, but if I have to explain..."

Jarlaxle's words made Entreri shift uncomfortably, and he probably would have stood up if his legs hadn't hurt that much. "I told you it was a mistake. It is not going to happen again. It was careless and unprofessional," Artemis said, hardly audibly, refusing to look at the drow. "We both should have known better."

Jarlaxle felt his gut knot, and he knew it wasn't the potion, even as foul as it was. "You don't believe that, or you would look at me."

Artemis snorted and looked up, meeting Jarlaxle's gaze. His eyes were hard and cold as always, but he couldn't keep a slight trembling out of his voice when he answered. "I do believe that. What's more, I know it. I don't trust you, and unless you're more foolish than I thought you don't trust me either."

"That night in Regis' bedroom involved trust," Jarlaxle challenged. "I may not trust you to guard my back during a losing fight, but I trust you to touch me and not try to hurt me when we're alone in bed."

"That trust was foolish. It was an open invitation to betray me," Artemis replied, lowering his gaze again. Why didn't Jarlaxle understand? The drow should know that trusting, caring was a weakness begging to be exploited. The day Jarlaxle wouldn't need him anymore he could simply kill Artemis when the assassin was weak and vulnerable ...

"I don't trust you not to hurt me. In bed or afterwards," he said after a short pause, his voice completely devoid of any emotion. Still, Artemis wasn't sure how long he would manage to hide how much he, too, wanted this ... He couldn't deny that he had enjoyed that night, that he was just as lonely as Jarlaxle claimed to be.

Jarlaxle's mouth dropped open stupidly. He couldn't wrap his head around Entreri's words at first. He was a drow trying to argue his points as a human and Artemis was now arguing his points as a drow. The drow mercenary blinked rapidly. "You - you don't -" He didn't dare ask Artemis to repeat it, in case he would. He didn't think he could bear to hear those words again.

For a moment, he grappled with the impossibility of satisfying human and drow logic at the same time. His first impulse was to say, 'You tricked me!' But he didn't say it.

He stood up, took off his hat, and slipped off his eye patch. He dropped them on the floor. He raised his arms out defiantly. "Then do with me what you think you fear I will do. If you choose to be a drow, do what it is you think drow do. Un-arm me, strip me, slap me, stab me...What do you think is the fate of my friends? Do it. See if you have the intentions to back up your sentiments."

At first Artemis just continued to stare at the floor, hoping that Jarlaxle would simply go away. He didn't know how to deal with such a situation - he wasn't like other humans. But while everyone Artemis had ever known had been pushed away by the assassin's behavior, the drow stayed ... Artemis looked up in surprise when Jarlaxle suddenly stood up and spoke again.

For a few minutes he didn't say anything, but at last he finally looked Jarlaxle in the eyes. "I have no wish to hurt you. And I do not think that you will hurt me, either. I just cannot be sure that you won't," Artemis said finally, but his voice wasn't even half as calm as before. He slowly stood up and made a step towards Jarlaxle before he stopped again. "And this has nothing to do with you being drow, or me acting like one. I wouldn't trust you any more if you were human."

Jarlaxle slowly dropped his arms. He didn't understand. He had no way of knowing what life was like for humans on the surface except accounts of human slaves he'd met in Menzoberranzan, usually living in the slums. What he heard of their culture from them was nothing like the statement that Artemis didn't trust anyone.

He stayed silent for the longest moment in his life. "But I need you."

A flicker of surprise and insecurity appeared in Artemis' eyes - he hadn't expected these words. Actually he would have expected Jarlaxle to leave already half an hour ago, too angry at him to continue this pointless conversation. Artemis knew that he shouldn't believe Jarlaxle, but the drow seemed strangely honest in that moment.

"You have spent centuries in this city, thriving in it; you said that yourself. I don't know what you would need me for," Artemis said. He knew that Jarlaxle didn't mean this, but he was too unfamiliar with the idea of anyone wanting, needing him for anything else but his services as an assassin.

Jarlaxle felt a little tremor go through him. "Because I thrived does not mean that I was happy. Or that I did things I do not regret doing." He took a step forward and stopped, not trusting himself to make the right move. "Those things, however, are not the point." The moment he thought about that, he became stuck. "Or perhaps they are," he said to himself, rubbing his chin. "There is no one in this city I have not threatened with my activities, no one who doesn't want to kill me, capture me, or use me to get the means for their ends. No one left to trust. No one was there in the first place."

Artemis just snorted and turned away - as if his life had been any different. He had no one in Calimport he could trust, and most people there would be equally eager to kill him. And that was why he couldn't bring himself to trust anyone ... especially not someone as clever and pragmatic as Jarlaxle.

Jarlaxle snapped out of his recollections and looked up at Artemis with hurt. "You did those things with your fingers. Those nice things. You touched me so softly..." So softly I am in pain whenever I remember it. "I need you. I need you to do it again."

The assassin looked positively outraged. "You -" he started, clenching his fist as if he wanted to hit Jarlaxle. "You saved me because you want me in your bed?" Of course, he should have seen this coming as soon as Jarlaxle had started to talk about that night in Regis' room, but somehow Artemis had thought - hoped, even - that it had not just been about the pleasure he had given the drow.

Jarlaxle stood and stared at him. He hadn't expected to be the butt of Artemis' anger again. Not about this. Not again. He felt his face throb with all the heat that was pouring into it. Still, his offer stood. He lifted his chin up and faced the assassin dead on. "Then hit me, if you think so." Go ahead. It won't matter. But he was shaking so much that he knew he couldn't hide how he really felt. Even if he told himself differently. He was blinking back tears. He thought he'd known his heart had been inured after being broken so many times as a child. He was wrong. He'd just been...so wrong. He had to bite down on his tongue to keep the tears back.

Artemis actually looked like he was going to hit the drow, but only for a second until he unclenched his fist and simply shook his head. This was so confusing ... Jarlaxle wasn't acting like he was only using him - unless this was just a very clever way to manipulate him. After another moment of hesitation Artemis sat down on the bed again.

"I don't understand you. I don't understand what you want, or why you want it from me," he admitted, his voice now softer. In a way he knew - everything had felt so right, so comfortable during that night, but he couldn't understand why someone as intelligent as Jarlaxle was ready to ignore all caution just to get more nights like this.

In his surprise, Jarlaxle let his determination not to cry slip, and a tear that had been welling up for the entire time finally escaped and slid down his cheek. "You laughed. You liked it when I told you that you did nice things." The assassin's mood swings, he realized, frightened him. There was something more frightening about Entreri's lack of predictability than Zaknafein's had been, and Zak had scared everyone, including Malice. That was one reason she always beat him so much.

Instead of approaching the assassin, Jarlaxle backed away. He didn't want to be in close like he was before and then have Artemis turn violent. If he'd been any closer moments before, Artemis really would have begun to beat him.

Jarlaxle concentrated on making his voice level when he responded. "I wanted you to touch me. The things you did before and after. Not in the middle." His frustration welled up again. "You make it sound like I raped you. You...You were the one that demanded I do what I did!" Then his eyes widened. He didn't mean to make any accusations.

Unlike Zaknafein Artemis was, however, not an exceptionally violent person. He threatened, and he killed, but he hardly ever hit anyone; he never became violent simply because he lost his temper. Not even now that he felt almost like an animal cornered without any way to escape.

"I'm not accusing you of anything, Jarlaxle," the assassin replied evenly. "I don't say it was your fault; it was mine, and I have no excuse for my own failure. I asked you to do it because I wanted it, because I like it." He took a deep breath - it felt strange to talk about this, especially to a man he had no intention to touch ever again.

"But it's nothing I should have asked from an associate. Nor should you ask me to touch you. There are other ways to get what we had that night, with other people." Artemis didn't look as if he believed a single word of what he felt, but he did his best to sound convincing.

Jarlaxle knew that if he went up and tried to kiss Entreri, he may as well throw himself into the Clawrift, because the assassin would never speak to him again.

He lowered his eyes, and sat down on the floor. Nothing he had tried on anyone else had any effect on Artemis Entreri. It didn't matter that Artemis didn't believe his argument, it mattered that the assassin intended to stick to it. To get a cold, flat explanation was rebuttal enough. Jarlaxle shut down. He'd never been refused anything he wanted by another male before. And no one had ever told him after a night of vith that they didn't want him for the same sexual reasons that had attracted them to him.

He rested his head on his arms. He didn't know what to do.

To his own surprise Artemis found that it hurt him to see Jarlaxle like that ... The drow looked so small, without that big hat, sitting on the floor and looking so depressed. Artemis wasn't quite sure, but he believed that he was actually feeling guilty. He had done this to Jarlaxle, it was his fault ... Of course, it was Jarlaxle's fault to allow himself to care that much, but that old argument didn't even convince Artemis himself.

After a while he leant forward, but he didn't touch the drow. "Jarlaxle, I'm ... I'm sorry." He wasn't sure why he had said that - apologies were meaningless. What people did was what mattered, not what they said. But he had to say something, anything, and he couldn't thing of anything else.

That was the last thing holding back Jarlaxle's tears. No one had ever apologized to him. There wasn't such an idea in drow culture. Everyone had just hurt him, and liked it. It was all so bad anyway that he didn't care that he was sitting there and crying in front of someone he was supposed to have the upper hand over. He just needed to. He'd never felt so much like dying in centuries.

Artemis groaned when Jarlaxle started to cry. This is simply ridiculous, his reason told him, but Artemis couldn't help but feel sorry for the drow. Worse, he even wanted to give him some comfort ... except that he had never done anything like this before. He did nothing for a few minutes before he stood up and sat down, still a bit awkwardly despite the potion, beside Jarlaxle.

Again hesitating he put a hand on the drow's forearm, not caressing him, only letting his hand rest on the warm skin. He wished Jarlaxle would stop crying ... He didn't know how to deal with someone who was crying. He was an assassin. He didn't need to know things like this!

Jarlaxle whimpered. "I just wanted you to touch me. Why do you touch me now? I asked, and cajoled, and begged, and accused...I did everything I knew how to do." He closed his eyes, soaking up the feeling of Artemis' hand on his arm before it was taken away from him. Tears still rolled down his cheeks. "I don't know why you wouldn't give your fingers touching my skin and then change your mind now."

Artemis looked down at his own hand on the drow's arm, as if he was wondering how it had got there, but he didn't take it away. "I ... do you want me to stop? I'm not touching you the way you want me to ... I just don't want to see you like this," Artemis said, trying to convince himself as well as Jarlaxle. He really just wanted Jarlaxle to stop crying and leave, he wasn't hoping that this would develop into more ... did he? Not liking where his thoughts were going Artemis forced himself to continue, "You're not being yourself, Jarlaxle. And you seem to think that I am someone I am not. That night, that wasn't anything like me. I couldn't give you what you want, even if I wanted to. Just calm down, please." His voice sounded almost pleading now - he had to end this absurd situation.

Jarlaxle raised his head and looked at him. He couldn't see anything in the assassin's eyes. "You don't...you didn't know what I was talking about?" He gingerly touched Artemis' hand with his hand, silently begging Artemis not to move. "This - your hand on my arm, touching me - this is what I wanted. What I want. I need. You didn't know what I was talking about when we were lying in bed after finishing?" He couldn't believe that was true. "You are so different because...when we were together, you...did those things with your hands. You rested your hands on me without hurting me. You didn't scratch, or slap, or bite me...you just put your hands on me...and...it felt nice." He blinked, and squeezed out the last of his tears so that he could start thinking rationally again. "You don't know drow don't do that, do you?" Jarlaxle asked. "You touched me with your hands, and you didn't hurt me. Before you even had an orgasm. When I have a drow partner, I have to make him or her so tired they can't move in order to rest my hand on them...and then they usually slap me away."

Artemis couldn't meet Jarlaxle's gaze, he just stared on the floor. "I know what you meant. I had no idea about what drow do or do not, but I know that right now I am just touching you to make you calm down, nothing more," Artemis said quietly, and as if he remembered only then what he was doing he pulled his hand away.

"If somebody touching you like that is all you want ... every human whore would do," he added. "For me, those things are just ... side effects. I'm used to receiving them, not to giving them." Artemis felt so tired of this whole discussion; he didn't even know why he was putting up with it. He wasn't the tender, considerate lover Jarlaxle wanted to see in him; he just wasn't as sadistic and uncaring as drow apparently were.

Jarlaxle picked up his hat in one hand and his eye patch in the other. Then he stood, turned, and replaced them on his head. He'd taken all the abuse he could stand, apparently; blessed numbness spread through his veins. The mercenary didn't think he could speak if he tried. His mind was achingly blank.

But he paused. In that hesitation was the hope flickering inside him, past the numbness, that somehow Artemis would change his mind - that he would soothe his pain, like he did that night, as if he cared.

Artemis didn't immediately get up again, but he looked up at Jarlaxle. His gray eyes seemed much less cold now. He should be relieved that Jarlaxle was leaving ... before they could do something stupid again. But a part of him wanted to hold the drow back, wanted to embrace and kiss him ... Yet even if Artemis had been ready to give in to that wish, he wouldn't have known how to tell Jarlaxle that he wanted him to stay.

Jarlaxle didn't hear anything. His hope died. He was finally convinced by Artemis' words. There hadn't been anything that other night. There wasn't anything at all. That last death put his heart completely to rest in the gray, numb zone it had always been living in.

He walked to the door, opened it, and left.