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So the effective premise for my "herding cats" AU (which I haven't posted much of yet) is basically that, if people actually would communicate with each other like adults, they could be braiding flowers into each others' hair in a sunlit meadow instead of trying to kill each other and running off into blizzards.

This is, I guess, the endpoint of that premise.  Sometime after The Last Threshold.  The companions of the hall, if they are alive, are not in this fic.

Summary:  Polyamorous hair-braiding in a sunlit meadow.  Artemis/Dahlia/Drizzt/Jarlaxle.  Possibly the most saccharine thing I've ever written.
Wordcount: 2086
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They had fallen into a pond and were letting themselves and their clothing recover before they went on their way. Cloaks and tunics had been shed and draped over branches to dry in the sun. The four of them lounged in the grass, letting the heat and the light evaporate the riverwater from their skin.

Dahlia ignored the mud dripping from her staff and immediately started unbraiding her hair to let it dry faster. Drizzt had flopped onto a sunny patch of grass near the edge of the pond to rest. Artemis was fussing over his dagger, trying to dry it and muttering about rust. Jarlaxle had draped himself over Artemis' shoulders, barely staying out of the way, eyes closed as he drank in the sunlight like a cat. (Artemis had only recently started allowing Jarlaxle to get that close, and Jarlaxle still seemed to be walking the knife-sharp line between proximity and annoyance with uncharacteristic levels of restraint.)

Dahlia was halfway through undoing her braid when she looked at Drizzt and cackled. He blinked at her.

"Kelp," she said.

"Pardon me?"

"From the river. You have kelp in your hair."

He ran his hands through his hair, trying to find it, but Dahlia sat up and reached forward.

"Here, let me." She frowned. "What did you do, tie it in? Get closer, this could take a while."

He arranged himself where she had a better view and leaned back. The fingers running through his hair were soothing. From the corner of his eye, he could see Dahlia poke Artemis's foot with her own.

"Can you finish unbraiding me? It'll take hours to dry, otherwise."

An annoyed huff of air.

"That cloth isn't dry, so all you're doing is working water into the grooves of the metal."

Drizzt shifted so that he could the others reflected in the pond. Artemis had set aside his dagger and settled behind Dahlia to start untangling the braid with an expression that faintly resembled trepidation. Jarlaxle stretched across the area of grass he had vacated, watching the three of them with a wistful smile. He'd pulled off his boots and was letting his feet dangle off the bank and into the water.

"Got one." Dahlia pulled out a strand of green and dropped it on Drizzt's lap. He picked it up and frowned, rolling the green stem between his fingers.

"That is not kelp," he said. "That's starwort."

Jarlaxle raised an eyebrow and poked at the water with a toe, sending ripples through his reflection. "There is a difference?"

"Kelp is only in the ocean."

Dahlia huffed and pulled out another strand. Jarlaxle glanced at Artemis, who was concentrating on the red hair in front of him, and opened his mouth to speak.

"My friend, you have a—" He half-turned, reaching towards Artemis' head. He'd lost his usual ponytail in the pond and his hair hung in wet locks.

"What, another plant?"

"No." He reached forward, extricating an iridescent green water-beetle from a strand of Artemis' hair. He leaned forward enough to put his hand in Artemis' line of sight so he could see the beetle skittering across Jarlaxle's fingers, then returned it to the pond with a graceful flick.

Jarlaxle absently smoothed out the strand of hair he had disturbed pulling out the beetle. When Artemis glanced at him, but didn't object, he ran his fingers through another strand, gently pulling out tangles and separating it into smaller branches.

 Meanwhile, the pile of starwort on Drizzt's lap had grown by three pieces. Dahlia seemed to have moved from removing plants to just finger-combing Drizzt's hair. He leaned back, enjoying the sensation and absently fiddling with the starwort.

"You seem to have overstated the case for your hair," Artemis said quietly. "It seems fairly dry."

"Oh." Dahlia sounded surprised, if somewhat distracted. "I just found another piece of weed, though. Rebraid it for me while I get this out?"

Drizzt's fingers stilled. He was worried that the request would shatter the unspoken peace that they'd somehow created. But Artemis shrugged and started separating Dahlia's hair into strands.

Drizzt eyed the starwort in his lap, then the pile of Jarlaxle's belongings. His hat was conspicuously absent, apparently lost somewhere downstream. He started weaving the starwort together. There was a cluster of birdsfoot trefoil and another of violets in the grass overlooking the pond. He plucked several blossoms and wove them together with the starwort.

Unknownst to him, Jarlaxle was struggling. He'd started braiding Artemis' hair with every expectation of being pushed away. Now that he'd gotten this far, he realized he'd used the basis for the braids that drow nobles used to indicate their rank within the house.

Habit, he cursed silently. He hadn't done braids like this for centuries, but his hands had made them anyway. He wasn't sure that he could braid something that wasn't somehow an indicator of drow social ranking.

If he was assigning a rank anyway... he glanced forward at Drizzt. Technically, this would have been included in the younger drow's education. But since House Do'Urden's structure had been a bit lacking, perhaps Drizzt wouldn't recognize the pattern that Jarlaxle wanted to use.

With a grin, he started braiding. As he reached the end of one of the strands, he noticed Artemis cursing under his breath. The twists he'd been trying to include in Dahlia's hair were rapidly undoing themselves.

"Having difficulty, khal'abbil?" Jarlaxle asked in drow.

"This isn't something I ever learned to do."

"Let me help." He leaned forward, rested his chin on Artemis' shoulder, and stuck the end of the braid in his mouth to stop it from unraveling while his hands demonstrated a pattern that would work in Dahlia's hair. After a couple passes, he handed it back to Artemis, who had learned it as quickly as he learned everything else.

Jarlaxle enjoyed a moment of rest, then heard a choking noise ahead of him. Drizzt was turned around and staring at him. Specifically at the braid in his mouth. Drizzt's hands flew through the series of signs. Consort braids? Really?

Jarlaxle grinned around the hair and signed back. They seemed appropriate. And they look nice.

Drizzt opened his mouth but seemed to lack the words. Entreri tried to turn his head, but went in the wrong direction and tugged the untied braid away from Jarlaxle.

"What did you do to him?" he asked as Jarlaxle caught the braid between his fingers and resumed his work.

"Nothing." He pressed a light kiss to the nape of Artemis' neck. "I think he's just flustered. Braids look good on you."

"I want to see," said Dahlia. She turned, but Artemis' hands were tangled in her hair and he was tugged forward with a growl. She raised an eyebrow. "They're crooked."

"I haven't done anyone's hair for a few centuries now," Jarlaxle admitted sheepishly. "I'm rather out of practice."

Artemis was still glaring at Jarlaxle.

"Turn your head, please," he said. "I need to get the other side."

Artemis did not turn his head. Dahlia leaned back and kissed him.

"They do look nice, even crooked," she said. Drizzt made another noise that sounded like a creaking hinge, then went back to focusing on whatever he was making in his lap. Artemis sighed as he saw all his work on Dahlia's hair had been shaken out, then went back to it.  This time he started weaving the stems of small blue-and-white flowers in with it.  Jarlaxle scooted a bit closer to the water to be able to reach the hair he hadn't braided yet.

Drizzt looked back and untangled his hands from the flowers and starwort. Does he know the terms of this relationship? he asked in sign.

"Can you translate?" Dahlia asked Artemis.

"No," he said sourly. Jarlaxle laughed.

No one but you will recognize the significance, in any case, he responded. He bit his lip. Anything less than this seemed... incomplete.

Drizzt nodded, reluctantly ceding the point. Dahlia poked him in the side.

"Didn't you mention once that dark elves use braids to mark social class?" she asked.

Artemis' shoulders stiffened. Drizzt sighed.

"It's a little more complicated than that," he said.

"What do they mean?" Jarlaxle winced at the knife's edge in Artemis' voice. Even small things provoked his distrust, these days. Jarlaxle hadn't gotten used to it yet. Drizzt opened his mouth to answer, but paused as Jarlaxle shook his head. Artemis saw the exchange and scowled.

"Tell me, or I'm taking them out."

Jarlaxle pulled his hands away.

"They're the braids used to identify a consort of the head of house," he said. "I suppose the comparable standing on the surface is a lover or paramour."

Drizzt frowned slightly. Jarlaxle wasn't technically lying, but he'd used the braids that indicated a highly valued consort, one who had been taken on for their skills and political connections, and who would not be easily discarded. A more accurate translation would have been ­husband, rather than lover.

Artemis looked at him, clearly hoping for a more reliable source of information than Jarlaxle. Drizzt coughed. Artemis glared at him.

"That is accurate," Drizzt finally said. "Though he's understating a little."

Artemis's eyes narrowed as Jarlaxle's widened.

"Go on."

 Drizzt looked at Jarlaxle's stricken expression, then took mercy.

"Depending on what the consort brings to their house, the matron may consider them disposable. The braids Jarlaxle used indicate the exact opposite."

"So you're broadcasting to anyone who can read these that they should try to use me as a hostage?"

Jarlaxle shrugged.

"Technically yes, but anyone who can read these will be so offended by seeing a noble's braids on a human that they'll be distracted from the battle." Jarlaxle tugged on one of them softly, making sure it would stay in. "Kimmuriel in particular would be appalled, but that's specifically because it's you."

Artemis grinned.  "Very well. They can stay."  The patch of flowers he'd been using for Dahlia's hair was bare. He pointed at one next to Jarlaxle's knee.  "I'll need some of those."

"What are you doing?" Dahlia asked. This time when she turned, Artemis was ready for her and moved with her head.

"You will see when I am done."

Since Dahlia was distracted anyway, Drizzt took the opportunity to walk around and lean against Jarlaxle's back.  He wrapped his arms around him in a one-sided hug, being sure not to obstruct Jarlaxle's attempts to tie off the last part of the braids.  Jarlaxle leaned back with a low murmur of contentment.

Drizzt placed the starwort-and-flowers wreath on Jarlaxle's head, lightly brushing the tips of his ears with his fingers.

"To replace your hat."

Jarlaxle looked at his reflection in the water and smiled, tilting it to a slightly jauntier angle.

Artemis turned to look.  "It is less offensive than your old hat.  You should get someone to cast a preservation spell on it so it never wilt—"

He was cut off by Dahlia—who had managed to get a good look at her braid while he was snarking—spinning and tackling him.

"I was removing plants from Drizzt's hair," she said, fingers dancing over the exposed skin of his neck and stomach. "Why would you add plants to mine?"

Rather than respond, he squirmed and tried to tickle back, only slightly impeded by trying to avoid defend all points of vulnerability.

"You can't trick someone into being married to you," Drizzt said in Jarlaxle's ear.  He could feel as Jarlaxle's shoulders shook with suppressed laughter, though whether at the statement or the intense swearing in front of them was unclear.

"Of course I can."

Drizzt made an exasperated noise into the back of Jarlaxle's neck, which only provoked more laughter.  Jarlaxle shifted so he could push a lock of Drizzt's hair (now starwort-free) out of his face.

"I assume you're happier without being assimilated into the structure of my 'house'?"

"Yes."  Drizzt looked forward, to where Artemis was starting to lose the war with Dahlia.  "Although, as far as houses go, this one is not terrible."

Jarlaxle poked Dahlia in the side with his foot, distracting her long enough for Artemis to make a break for it.

"I believe he's also ticklish behind the knees," he said to Dahlia as she scrambled after him.

"Whose side are you on?" Artemis demanded as he was tackled again.

Jarlaxle just laughed.  Drizzt dodged as the tickle-fight got closer, and Artemis and Dahlia paused long enough to cooperate in pushing Jarlaxle back into the stream with a splash.
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