beekeeperofeden: (sword)
[personal profile] beekeeperofeden
Summary: Further missing scene pre-Maestro fic. Follow-up to "As the Ice Will Go." Artemis inches slightly closer towards tolerating Jarlaxle again.
Wordcount: 1369

Nothing lit the abandoned building except for occasional flashes of lightning, filtered through the dusty windows. Inky shadows obscured the rotting floorboards that creaked with every gust of wind or ripple of thunder. Fortunately --or perhaps unfortunately, since it meant they could see the mold creeping out of the dark corners of the room-- both of the people within had darkvision.

Water puddled on the floor as they peeled out of their sodden clothes. Jarlaxle overturned his hat, pouring out rainwater that had collected along the upturned brim.

"This is the only safehouse Kimmuriel doesn't know of," he said by way of apology. Artemis drew a finger along the windowsill, leaving a line in the dust.

"It'll do," he said, wiping the dust off. A dull ache when he moved reminded him that the cut across his ribs wasn't quite healed. A dull ache in his chest when he looked at Jarlaxle reminded him that he'd be better off running far, far away. He ignored them both and walked over to inspect the hearth. There were bird dropping splattered across the stones.

When he looked up, Jarlaxle was still standing by the door, hat in hand.

"You're still here," Artemis said.

"My cloak is still wet." A crack of lightning exposed the room in white. The patter of rain against glass crescendoed as he spoke. "And even I'm not shockproof."

With one more sour look at Jarlaxle, Artemis leaned against the wall and drew his weapons. He pulled a dry rag from a leather pouch and began to dry and oil each of them in turn, starting with his jeweled dagger and belt knife before moving on to the smaller knives hidden in pockets or under clothing. As he worked, Jarlaxle walked over and settled on an empty crate to watch. Artemis considered driving him off, then decided it didn't matter; Jarlaxle already knew where he kept his knives.

The silence that settled over them was almost companionable. If Artemis ignored their surroundings and made himself forget several decades, he could almost imagine the two of them back in Heliogabalus, doing exactly this. He didn't dare glance at Jarlaxle, unsure if he would see the same echoes of remembrance there, and not sure how he'd feel if he did.

Safer to break this now, he decided.

"What are you expecting to get from this?" he asked. He used the dagger he was holding to watch Jarlaxle's reflection. Jarlaxle stared at him and for a moment, his smile flickered out of existence.

"I know not what you mean."

"Everything has a price." He recognized one of Alegni's favorite aphorisms as it left his mouth and spat, as much to remove the bitterness as to give himself a moment to hide the shudder. "Your assistance most of all. I'd know it now."

In the dagger, Jarlaxle's expression was almost mournful. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. He sighed.

"I'd ask your forbearance," Jarlaxle said. Artemis raised an eyebrow, wondering what request Jarlaxle had considered, then held back. "I wish to tell you about what happened in Baldur's Gate."

"Why?" He was out of daggers to clean. For a moment, he considered dirtying them with Jarlaxle's blood, but he reminded himself of Dahlia and resisted.

"It might make you hate me less."

You think anything could do that? Artemis thought. But what he said was

"And that is worth the effort to you?"

"Yes."

"If you cared so much for my regard, perhaps you shouldn't have given me to the Netherese."

Jarlaxle winced at that.

"They were only supposed to have you for a few hours."

There it was. The thing he'd been trying not to think about since Jarlaxle said it in Port Llast.

"Why would you tell me that?" His voice sounded raw to his own ears. A thousand moments of frustrated daydreams and false hopes all surged back in an instant, ripping open wounds that had been scarred over for decades.

Jarlaxle seemed to realize he'd stepped into something fragile. He drew back and waited several moments before answering.

"It's true. If you--"

Artemis cut him off with a glare and stood up. He walked over to the pile of broken furniture in one corner and broke off a chair leg. Jarlaxle shifted on the crate but didn't otherwise betray any fear. He raised his eyebrows as Artemis walked past him to the hearth. Another crack of lightning illuminated the room.

"Artemis?" Jarlaxle sounded bemused.

Artemis didn't answer.

"Why are you climbing up the chimney?"

To get away from you
, Artemis thought. But what he said was

"There is a bird's nest up here." He coughed as soot got into his mouth. "If I start a fire, smoke will fill up the room."

Now that Jarlaxle couldn't see him, he tilted his head down and took in deep breathes, rattling the chair leg against the nest overhead to obscure the sound. His hands shook. He meant to come back. The realization was both exhilarating and terrifying. He meant to come back but something stopped him.

How dare he tell me this now.


He waited until his breathing settled and then reached the chair leg up until he felt resistance. Sticks and feathers fell on his face. He jabbed at it furiously until the way was clear, then climbed back down.

When he emerged, Jarlaxle smiled. In the flicker of lightning, he could see his arms were streaked with soot. Jarlaxle pursed his lips.

"You have feathers in your hair," he said, fingers tapping against the crate. Artemis ran a hand through his hair, shaking out ashes and downy feathers. From the way Jarlaxle's eyes lingered on his face, he suspected he'd missed some. He shrugged and turned to making a fire.

"I accept your price," he said, organizing broken pieces of furniture into a tripod. "You can tell me your side of the story."

Jarlaxle uncoiled like a spring and opened his mouth. Artemis cut him off.

"After we rescue Dahlia," he said.

Jarlaxle closed his mouth. Was he wondering if Artemis was going to renege, to ignore him again once he'd gotten his half of the deal? If he did, it would only be what Jarlaxle deserved. But no, he wanted to know now. At least, he thought he did. But if this was the only coin he had to buy Jarlaxle's cooperation, better not to spend it now. He went back to lighting the fire.

As it crackled into life, Jarlaxle leaned forward.

"What you want-- this task is a dangerous one," he said. Thunder rumbled in the distance. "We might both die."

Artemis glanced at him and shrugged. He'd long ago resigned himself to death and he no longer cared what happened Jarlaxle.

"What is your point?" he asked.

"Just that you must care for her very much," Jarlaxle said wistfully. He reached toward the flames, letting the dry heat brush across his fingers.

I used to care just as much about you, Artemis thought. But that wasn't enough for you then. He bit his tongue hard enough to hurt until he'd swallowed the desire to say that out loud. No sense giving Jarlaxle any more information than he already had.

"I imagine your cloak is dry now," he said instead. "Do you not have information to search for?"

Jarlaxle drew his hands back from the fire with a sigh. His boots made no sound as he walked over to the door and draped his cloak around his shoulders.

"I'll return when I've found something," he said quietly, his hand at the latch. Artemis nodded. A small part of him marveled; Jarlaxle had never been so easily pushed away before. He could feel the same edge of fear that he got from trying to block an attack that didn't come, sharpened by the knowledge that another lunge was coming and he couldn't dodge what he didn't see.

After Jarlaxle faded away into the rain, Artemis wondered if he should find somewhere else to hide. Jarlaxle had betrayed him once before, after all. What if this was another trap?

He didn't make his decision for several hours, until the flame had died entirely.

-

A note about the title. The Ninth Parry (also called "Cob's Traverse") isn't a parry at all. It's running away indefinitely instead of trying to engage.
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