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Summary: Sellswords!era. (Probably between SotS and PotWK.) A brief, frustrating conversation about emotion.

(I wrote this last week while the parts of my brain responsible for actual human communication were malfunctioning. I'm not sure if it quite works the way I want it to. The later dialogue is the part that's important to me, but I'm not sure how well the early dialogue sets it up.)

-

Artemis Entreri glanced at the door of the tavern as it swung open and let in a current of cool night air. He wasn't expecting anyone that he and Jarlaxle had dealt with today to come after them, but the assassin hadn't survived as long as he had by assuming he was safe. But the newcomers were unarmed. Shopkeepers of some kind, if he had to guess.

"You did well, there." Jarlaxle was studying him. The corners of his visible eye was crinkled in what seemed to be genuine delight. "In the alleyway."

"Hmm?" Jarlaxle didn't usually feel the need to compliment his fighting skills. Entreri turned his attention away from the door. Moving made the bruises along his ribs hurt, but he was sure they'd be gone soon enough.

"Talking to the boy. I did not expect you to get the information that quickly." Jarlaxle was still watching him intently, and Entreri realized he was looking for a reaction. He took a sip of his mead to hide the downward quirk of his lips.

"He was old enough to be attacking us, he was hardly a boy."

"You seemed understanding of his situation."

"His allies were dead and he did not flee quickly enough. Anyone could have seen how limited his options were."

"Still," Jarlaxle persisted. "It was more tact than I've grown to expect from you. I was growing concerned."

"And are your concerns finally gone?"

"Doubled, rather. You can be diplomatic when you try."

"But I do not care to try."

"Hence my concerns."

The sound of shattering pottery froze all conversations across the room for a brief moment. After reassuring themselves that no one had died and nothing interesting was going on, the rest of the tavern patrons resumed their conversations. The sound returned to its soft buzz. Entreri glanced at Jarlaxle and considered his words.

"I do not care to be constantly wearing a mask," he finally said, running his fingers along a crack in the table.

"Is that truly how you see it?"

"That is truly how it is."

"Allowing someone else to affect that immovable object you call your emotions is not a mask." Jarlaxle frowned at him and Entreri wondered when this conversation had stopped being about the boy. For a brief moment he regretted not just killing the last of the ambush when he had the chance; this conversation would be very different if he had.

Why was this so difficult for Jarlaxle to understand? It wasn't about the experience of the emotions, it was about demonstrating them. Putting on a smile to make sure that other people knew he was happy served no purpose. And it was exhausting. And more often than not, no one believed it anyway.

Jarlaxle wasn't smiling right now, Entreri noted. That was unusual. Even when he was angry, the mercenary tended to keep a smile on until the very moment it was no longer useful. So right now he was trying to make sure that Entreri knew he was displeased.

Eventually, he looked away, red eyes scanning the room. Even if Entreri did start smiling on command, the next thing Jarlaxle would likely move onto would be the correct proportion of eye contact depending on the circumstances. It wasn't like he couldn't already mimic it when it was necessary, but to do it constantly would another exhausting layer to maintain.

Stop trying to fix me, damn it.
But if he said that, would Jarlaxle listen? If he didn't consider Entreri a project any more, would he finally give up and move on to someone he could mold?

"I would think you'd know better than anyone how to distinguish between an illusion and reality," he said eventually.

"The illusion forms the reality, my friend."

"But it is not a prerequisite. You can have the reality without the corresponding illusion." And the metaphor was getting away from him. He dug his fingers into the edge of the table in frustration.

Jarlaxle opened his mouth to respond. Entreri scowled at him and cut him off.

"Enough," he said. Jarlaxle would talk in circles around him until he found himself agreeing with whatever the drow wanted. The only defense was to end it before it started.

Jarlaxle smiled at him and shrugged.

"Very well, abbil." But he was restlessly tapping the table and Entreri made a mental note to watch out for further attempts to resurrect this discussion.
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