Author's Note: An idea I had to write down before the fullness of the scene escaped from me, but I don't know where it fits in continuity. I know it is post SotS, but the rest is hazy. Imagine, for instance, that this is after Jarlaxle and Artemis become bounty hunters, and they are wandering around the north. In any case, this is just an interesting one-shot that may or may not make it in some form into one of my other stories. I hope you enjoy.
Jarlaxle and Artemis sat in a tavern after a long day of tracking goblins and their kin in the mud and the rain. Artemis drank from a glass of whiskey to warm up. He'd suffered the worst, since Jarlaxle's hat had enchantments to keep the weather off. Once they'd started heading back to town, the assassin had begun sneezing at every other interval. They were alone in the tavern, of course, since every other customer had immediately cleared a safe zone around the grinning drow, and the bartender wasn't too friendly either. Artemis had thought he might have to repeat the performance he'd given Gentleman Briar. Luckily for the surly bartender, he'd been wise enough to serve them amicably.
"I understand that most humans your age have children somewhere," Jarlaxle said, sipping his wine. He put his feet up on the table, propping the back of his chair against the wall in the corner.
"Was there a point in there somewhere?" Artemis asked. "Or were you merely trying to impress me with how much you've learned about humans in your short stay here?"
Jarlaxle waved a hand and smiled. "Just curious."
Artemis narrowed his eyes. "Your 'just curious' is another man's 'desire to have the tongue cut from his mouth for asking that which is not his business of a volatile partner'."
Jarlaxle chuckled. "Yes, that."
Artemis drew his jeweled dagger. "I will."
The drow snorted. "I was merely curious, as I said. I wonder why you have not shown any interest in leaving a legacy for ages to come, in lieu of living as long as the elven peoples do. You must know your time on this realm is short."
Artemis sipped his whiskey with an expression of dangerous calm. "A baby is not a legacy I want to leave behind before I die."
"A baby grows up to be a man."
"If he is lucky."
"If he is lucky," Jarlaxle conceded. "Your offspring might inherit some of your luck."
Jarlaxle laughed. "Come, my friend, do not interpret your fortunes to be so lowly. You have survived, have you not?"
The assassin looked at him contemplatively. "Having just survived is not the standard of living a child wants to have."
"It has served me well enough," Jarlaxle said, looking puzzled. "I was a boy who was near death more often than not. Children are tough. Sometimes tougher than adults may be." He toyed with his glass of wine, having ceased to feel any interest in drinking it. He was too interested in the conversation.
"Still, that is not a reason to bring a child into a world of hardship," Artemis said. His dark gray eyes were troubled. "It is not up to me to decide the fate of a child. I have no desire to play at being a god. I would not know what to do with a child if ever I were responsible for its care."
"Then leave it in someone else's care." Jarlaxle shrugged. "I don't plan on ever raising children. It is enough that I have them. It is not acceptable in drow society for a male to raise children anyway."
"It's not the same here," Artemis said through gritted teeth. "The only thing worse than having a child with some woman is not being around to see to its care."
Jarlaxle furrowed his brow. "I don't understand you."
"Children are raised by both a mother and a father here in this realm," Artemis said, his voice strained. "If I were not there to care for my own child, some other man would be. I doubt that my desire for my child's best interests would carry over to some stranger I have never met."
Jarlaxle looked incredulous. "The mother and the father of the child raise it themselves? How does that – how can that possibly – work?"
Artemis smiled humorlessly. "It doesn't. Not most of the time, anyway. Especially if the original father is away or abandoned his family."
"Then why do they bother?" Jarlaxle asked. "Why do humans bother?"
Artemis shrugged. "Because it is the way they have been raised, and the use of any other way is met with society's criticism or blame."
"Is that the way you were raised?" Jarlaxle asked. He looked as though he couldn't believe that was the case.
Artemis gave him a strange smile. "I was raised by no one other than myself." He pushed out from the table. "I used to believe that being a success would draw my father to me, when I first was becoming an assassin. I thought that if I could attain perfection, he would come out of the shadows. That he would want to be associated with me." He stood. "Do you know what I learned?" Jarlaxle shook his head. "I learned that my father abandoned me when I was a baby because he didn't want to be associated with me. No matter what that meant. I ran away from the man pretending to be my father – a poor job he did, at that – and I have never seen the man responsible for bringing me into this world." Artemis pushed in his chair with a disturbingly happy smile. "If I did, I would kill him for what he's done." He put on his bolero. "To answer your question fully, Jarlaxle, the only position worse to me than a priest residing over a community is a father. Now, I think I will take a walk. It's a little stifling in here."
He left the tavern. Jarlaxle watched the door swing shut with a stunned expression on his face.
He didn't know what to make of what he'd just been told. Either he'd been sold a pack of lies to keep his mouth shut, or – this was the possibility that kept Jarlaxle glued to his chair – he had been trusted with the cause of Artemis Entreri's pain. He didn't know which to believe. He looked uneasily at Entreri's whiskey glass. It wasn't much full. Hardly enough to make the assassin drunk, but still…Jarlaxle speculated it might have been enough to loosen the assassin's tongue.
And he trusts me, Jarlaxle thought.
He didn't know why that revelation made him so uncomfortable.