Author's Note: This story is not connected to any of my other stories. It is AU as of the end of Servant of the Shard. It assumes that Jarlaxle and Artemis ended up in Unther, during the period in which Mulhorand has conquered the country and killed Gilgeam. I wrote this story by request of Ariel D, so no comments about ripping her off. ;p She asked for a hurt/comfort story and my choice of setting is okay by her.
Warning: The purpose of this story is fluff.
You have been so warned.
This is ridiculous, Artemis thought. The moment we enter this clearing, a slew of men suddenly flood in, ready to fight us. He met the situation with the sense of irritation and exhilaration that he was beginning to identify as the normal result of doing a job with Jarlaxle.
The assassin deflected his opponent's sword out wide and then stabbed him.
Across the clearing, Jarlaxle fought four or five men at once, laughing like a maniac. Their attackers seemed far more interested in cutting down an outrageously garbed drow than a small, slim Calishite.
Artemis shook his head. They'd left Messemprar a week ago on their mission, and Jarlaxle hadn't stopped having fun yet. He was tempted to ask Jarlaxle what was so fun about stopping an arms dealer who was backing a group of rebels, but he knew better. Jarlaxle would come up with another answer that didn't make sense, such as it was their solemn responsibility to fight for Unther's freedom from Gilgeam's followers, supporting Mulhorand would open doors for them in the expanding empire, and wasn't the scenery beautiful.
He easily turned and gutted an opponent who didn't think he'd been paying attention. He had to step on the man's throat to meet the thrust of another attacker. Entreri had to admit he didn't feel much regret at the dying man's strangled response.
In one, two, three strokes, the next man was down.
"Artemis! Watch out!"
Artemis heard a whizzing. He brought Charon's Claw up just in time, deflecting the arrow. "Take care of it!"
"I will!" Jarlaxle called back.
Entreri charged in the opposite direction, laying into a tight knot of swordsmen. The spellcaster they were trying to protect stammered out a spell and threw a bright green bolt of some sort.
Artemis knew better than to let the unknown spell hit him. He tore off his cloak and flung it out in front of him. The green energy hit his cloak and burst, burning through the wool with a foul-smelling hiss.
"Acid," the assassin commented, cutting down the swordsmen. They fell to the ground almost at the same time, like dominoes. He came face to face with the mage. "That's not very polite."
The mage drew breath to make a retort.
Artemis stabbed him in the stomach, and then slit his throat.
He turned just in time to see a figure fleeing into the woods. There was only one person that could be.
"Damn it! The archer got away." Artemis kicked a rock in frustration. "Do you think he'll reach the others in time to render our plan inoperable?"
He turned, surprised, at the lack of response, naturally expecting Jarlaxle to have joined his side in the few seconds since the battle ended. Jarlaxle always did.
His heart skipped a beat. Jarlaxle was…lying on the ground. The mercenary was reaching for something. Artemis followed the direction of Jarlaxle's useless groping and saw the mercenary's healing orb several feet away, butted up against a protruding stone.
Why didn't he cry out?
"Jarlaxle?" Artemis was already moving towards his companion before he consciously made the decision.
Jarlaxle stopped reaching towards the fallen orb the moment he heard his name and instead spent the next few moments before Artemis crossed the clearing forcing a smile onto his face. Artemis saw it all with rising disbelief. He didn't say a word. He didn't say a single word…to let me know.
Artemis stood over Jarlaxle, trying to gather his thoughts. "What happened?" But he saw it clearly enough. The shaft of an arrow protruded from Jarlaxle's bare abdomen, high and to the side.
"A minor setback," Jarlaxle said, his voice as strained as his smile.
Artemis didn't ask the question that was on the tip of his tongue. Why didn't you – why don't you – ask me for help? "You're bleeding," he said flatly.
"A little," Jarlaxle said. "I will rise in a moment." He tried, as a matter of fact, to lift himself up, only managed to shift by a few inches, and lay flat on his back. "I am…resting."
There was so much blood. Artemis Entreri's stomach clenched, and he wondered why the smell of blood suddenly came back to him as clearly as if he were nine years old again. He'd become hardened to the sight and smell of blood so quickly, become…detached.
Artemis shook his head, trying to shake off the gut-wrenching impact. Why was he suddenly so thin-skinned? Why did he feel so hot and tight and constricted? What was this feeling, this half-remembered, horrible feeling?
He dropped to his knees beside Jarlaxle, trembling. He took the drow mercenary's twitching hand in his own. Artemis found himself muttering, "It's alright. I'm here now." His mind was somewhere far away, looking at another death. When he came back to the present, he looked into Jarlaxle's eyes and saw death reflected there, too. He squeezed Jarlaxle's hand. "I'm here now."
He helped Jarlaxle into a sitting position. The drow's breathing labored noisily, made harsh by pain. The arrow…Artemis touched its bloody steel head and wondered at the wealth of arms dealers who could send anonymous archers to shoot bits of steel through people. "It missed your internal organs. Trust me."
Jarlaxle let out a laugh that was more like a sob. "It only hurts."
"Yes." Artemis found himself rubbing Jarlaxle's back, preparing Jarlaxle for the pain that was to come.
Jarlaxle, somehow sensing his thoughts, tensed. "No, wait."
Artemis inwardly cursed. "Shh. Relax."
"No – k-khal –"
"I have to," Artemis insisted. The sick feeling in his stomach grew as he imagined Jarlaxle's screams. "As soon as possible. How else am I going to be able to heal you?"
Artemis couldn't fool himself that Jarlaxle's responding sobs sounded anything like laughter. "Promise me that it won't hurt."
"Jarlaxle –" I can't lie. I can't lie about that!
Artemis put his hand on the arrow quickly, trying to cut Jarlaxle off.
Jarlaxle flinched, and to his wonder, he let go, physically unable to go through with it as long as Jarlaxle made that expression.
"Just promise me it won't hurt!"
"I have to do this. It's not my fault," Artemis insisted.
"Alright!" Artemis snapped, absurdly turning his anger on the mercenary. "It won't hurt! You hear? It won't hurt!" Sheer anger gave him the strength to rip the arrow out of Jarlaxle's side.
Jarlaxle didn't make a noise. Somehow, incredibly, he held his breath in, at the cost of the tears streaming down his face. He turned and wrapped his arms around the assassin, leaning against him. "Thank you, khal abbil."
Artemis touched Jarlaxle's side. "You're still bleeding."
"It didn't hurt that much."
Artemis stared at Jarlaxle in surprise. He didn't understand anything that had passed between them: his concern, Jarlaxle's demand for a promise that Artemis couldn't possibly fulfill, Jarlaxle's subsequent silence.
"You'll still bleed to death," Artemis said. He let go of Jarlaxle long enough to retrieve the orb that had rolled out of Jarlaxle's reach. When Artemis returned, Jarlaxle wrapped him back up in his arms. He rested his head on the assassin's collarbone and closed his eyes.
Entreri healed him without comment. When the glow of the orb finally faded, he ran his hand over Jarlaxle's abdomen to make sure the drow was healed. A surprisingly tiny scar was all that remained. He helped Jarlaxle stand up and assessed the damage with a snort. "You're filthy."
"I am?" Jarlaxle looked down at himself.
"You're covered in your own blood," Artemis said.
Jarlaxle sighed. "And blood is like wine."
Artemis raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
"It's a bitch to get out."
Entreri rolled his eyes. "Your vanity is intact."
Jarlaxle turned and smiled over his should coquettishly. "Mm-hmm. Not a scratch."
"Shall we chase after one fleeing, cowardly archer?" Artemis asked, gesturing in the gentlemanly way.
Jarlaxle tipped his hat to the assassin.
As they stalked their prey through the woods, drawing inexorably nearer to the rebel hideout, Artemis found himself staying much closer to Jarlaxle's elbow, looking constantly around them for any signs of danger. Why? he asked himself. What would I do even if there was another archer waiting for us? What could I possibly do? He was no more immune to a sudden death than Jarlaxle was. Would he take an arrow for the mercenary?
Artemis faltered in his step. Jarlaxle glanced at him, but other than a slight smile, the drow made no response. Artemis Entreri almost halted because unwanted self-awareness had suddenly crashed down upon him in a tidal wave. He would. He would take an arrow for Jarlaxle, knowing that it might mean his death.
Artemis looked at Jarlaxle in barely concealed wonder. I care. I care about him that much. He shook his head. But why?
Jarlaxle met his eyes, and he turned quickly away, scanning the forest for danger. For a moment, he tried to argue with himself, saying to himself that Jarlaxle was a mercenary, a client ultimately like any other client, a partner. But then he stopped short, struck by the connotations that word now had for him. A partner. Yes, a partner…A partner as in someone who shared things with him. A partner: someone to share his successes and disappointments with, a person to share his burdens and his joys.
Annoyingly, he felt his throat tightening. A person…to share his joys.
Did he have joys? Thanks to Dwahvel, he knew that he did. He could laugh as well as despair, smile as well as sneer…and, perhaps, love instead of…despise?
Artemis scowled. This thinking brings me nothing.
"Do you see anything?" Jarlaxle asked softly.
"Nothing," Entreri said, glad to be called back to the task at hand. "If he is going to warn his cronies, he hasn't reached them yet."
"Good," Jarlaxle said. "All may still be well." All the same, Artemis noticed Jarlaxle had a dagger in each hand, ready to throw.