Title: The Night of the Dreamweaver
Fandom: Wild Wild West
Pairing: Jim/m, Jim/Artie
Feedback: justblackchaps at yahoo dot com
Beta: Islaofhope and Miss Kitty Sunbeam
Summary: Jim has trouble with reality after an encounter with Dr. Loveless.
Disclaimer: All this belongs to CBS.
Author‛s note: Originally published in Sin and Salvation 1
Jim whimpered very softly. He didn't think he'd ever made that sound before, but it was the only sound he could force from his mouth. It was embarrassing as hell. He leaned against the wall and tried to take a deep breath, but his shallow breathing would have to be enough. Pain nibbled at him. Gingerly, he raised his shackled hands to feel his face. It would scare the ladies away, for sure. He heard the door open, and he ignored it. Nothing good would come through that door. Nothing and no one.
"He's ready for more."
Jim stiffened his spine. He wouldn't pretend that he agreed, and he couldn't think of a snappy answer. Not thinking was becoming easier and easier. He felt plenty, and none of it was good. Huge hands grabbed him, and he only managed to squirm as the blow hit swiftly. Fight! He screamed it silently, and he struggled. Didn't he? Feelings that he didn't want rushed through him, and he quivered. He should've been able to resist, but he drifted away. When he was able, he focused his eyes on the white cane. The white cane. The small hand handed it to a giant hand. Up and down. The pain was muted by everything else that overwhelmed him. His eyes fluttered shut, and he endured the pleasure. The pain was fine; it was the pleasure that made him want to die.
"James?" The name sounded familiar, but it drifted away. "Come on, buddy. Stay with me." Jim tried to hold onto the words, but they were gone. His eyes snapped open, and he gasped in pain. People swam in and out of his vision, and he groaned softly. He tried to sit up, but was unable. Staying down, he tried not to give up, but it all swept over him, pushing him down and away. The very essence of who he was teetered on the edge of nowhere before spilling over, and he was lost.
"How long do you think you've been here?" The voice was melodious and horrible, all at once.
Jim didn't know, and he didn't care, but after all this time, he'd learned one thing: if he didn't answer, he'd be beaten - again. "A long time."
"It's good to see you've kept that strong intellect." The little man laughed raucously. Jim tried to remember who this was, but gave up. It was too hard. The little man strutted very close. "What's your name?"
"Jim." Jim knew that. Nothing else, but he knew that. He ducked his head and tried to think. Another soft sound came from the back of his throat.
"You are a sorry fellow, and I think you're finally sorry enough." The little man handed the cane to the giant. "One more for old time's sake?"
Jim covered his head. "Yes." Any other answer would mean a worse beating. The cane descended once, and again, and it didn't stop. He didn't fight, run, or do anything but cover his face. It would end when the little man grew bored, and finally, he did, taking the cane back. Jim quivered in his chains and lay still.
"That was remarkably satisfying. I'm off to England, but I don't want you to think I've neglected your future." The little man chuckled and went to the door. Jim didn't struggle up. He watched, silently, and then he shut his eyes.
"Jim, buddy, it's me. You can do it." This voice was sweet, low, and it poured over him as a cool stream of water.
Jim rolled his head that direction. "You're not real, not this time." He laughed softly and felt too much. The voice whispered away on the wind, and he swallowed what he was given. Colors filled his eyes, and he flinched in surprise when the door smashed open. Two men came inside. They forced him up, stripped him naked, released the chains from the wall, and he could only shake.
"Come along now."
Jim reacted instantly to the firm order. He would go. The two men laughed, and even though he walked, they shoved him. They threw him in the back of a wagon, shackled him to a ring, and he lay there trembling. It was night. Stars twinkled, and a cool wind blew across his naked body. He was out of the small room, and he almost ached for it back.
Hard breath crashed in on him, sweat covered him, and he panted. Light pierced his eyes. "What?"
"You were dreaming, that's all."
Jim rubbed his eyes. He ached, but that was normal, and he sat up slowly. Looking about the small room, he saw no one. He'd dreamed the voice, again. By inches, he moved to the wash basin and cleaned up. If he shook, he ignored it. He'd exchanged one small room for another, but he knew they would come and beat him. They always did, before they did other things. He traced his hands down, wincing at the bruises, but no blood, this time. The chains were gone. He couldn't remember being without them, and the lack of weight was mystifying. Lying down again, he shut his eyes and found a dream to live.
The door opened with a bang, and he had no idea what to do, so he put his back to the wall and waited.
"Well, he's beat up. Look at those bruises!" The woman's voice was shrill.
The big man shrugged. "He's trained, willing, and some men like to hit them around."
Jim waited. He would not talk or do anything else. He'd learned his lessons well.
The woman walked to the edge of the cot. "He's handsome, but thin. I don't know."
"Two hundred dollars and a bargain at that price. There are others that will want him, if you don't." The man crossed his arms. "Kneel down!"
Jim slid off the cot and knelt instantly. His knees twinged when they met wood. He didn't wince as the woman brushed his long hair away from his eyes. She stared at him. "I'll take him."
The man laughed. "I thought so. I'll deliver when I receive payment."
"I'll have it sent around." The woman nodded. Jim waited. She had bought him. What did it mean? The man shut the door behind the woman and smiled. Jim didn't resist. He'd known it was coming. He did was he was told, and he lay quiet during it.
The man buttoned his trousers back up. "I'll miss you, but a job's a job."
Jim was never sure what to do when it was over. The times he'd been unconscious had been a relief. He sat up and put his back to the wall while the big man laughed and left. Jim cleaned himself off at the basin and went to lie back down. He breathed slowly and shut his eyes. The big man hadn't beaten him, and Jim wondered why.
Jim shuddered. He wouldn't listen. It wasn't real. He smiled though and wished it were true. His world swung around, and he bolted awake. He didn't know the voice that came to him when he slept, and yet, he loved it. Staggering slightly, he made it up and to the bedpan in the corner. When he was done, he stumbled back to the bed and threw himself down. He had to sleep. Sleep.
"Time to go."
Jim went to the big man and slipped into the clothes that he held out. Clothes: white shirt, brown pants, and boots. He hadn't worn these in - how long? The pants weren't the right color, but they fit. "Thank you." He meant it. To be covered felt good, even if it hurt in spots.
The big man put his hand on Jim's shoulder and squeezed hard. "No trouble now."
Jim shook his head fast. The big man led him out the door, down three flights of stairs, and to the street. He took a heady breath and squinted in real sunshine. People brushed past him, and he stared until he stepped in the hack. The big man sat across from him. The hack started off, and Jim looked out the window. So much to see. The disappointment when the hack stopped was bitter in his throat - another small room waited for him. The big man took a good hold on Jim's wrist and dragged him out and into a big house.
The woman was there, and she nodded. "As promised. Good doing business with you."
"Enjoy him." The big man laughed. Jim didn't watch him leave. He was gone, that's all that mattered. The woman gave Jim a small smile. Jim had seen it before; he was hers now.
"Are you hungry?"
Jim hesitated; there was only one answer that kept him from a beating. "No, ma'am."
She tilted her head. "You're lying, hoping to avoid a beating. I've seen it before."
"I'm sorry." Jim covered his face. He would be beaten now.
"Sit at the table, and after you eat, Glenda will take you upstairs. Do as she says, and there won't be any trouble." The woman touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Okay?"
Jim nodded and went to the table. He didn't understand all this, but he could do what he was told. Later, there'd be a bed to rest on, and he could dream of the velvet voice.
Glenda sighed in exasperation. Men whores were fine, not that they'd ever had more than one, but this one was a wreck. "Sarah, what were you thinking? He can't piss without someone telling him to!"
"I know. I felt sorry for him." Sarah sighed. "He was cheap, and I couldn't bear to think of what that brute had been doing to him."
"You've always had a soft heart, which is why I'm your business partner!" Glenda threw up her hands. "We'll make our money back, once his bruises are gone, which could take weeks."
Sarah shrugged. "Let him heal, but I think he could handle one a day."
Glenda stared at her partner. "Okay, you're not that soft-hearted."
"It's a business. We've managed to make a living, provide a service, and help some people that are worse off than us." Sarah smiled. "He'll be worth it. I can tell."
"You do have good instincts. Okay. One a day. We'll see how he does." Glenda gave Sarah a hug and a kiss. "You're a good woman."
"James. Drink this."
"Don't leave me this time," Jim whispered and kept his eyes shut. He could still see the blue clothes he'd worn and the gun on his hip. It had all been so real. Rolling to his side, he groaned softly. Sleep called him again, and he went eagerly.
The door opened with a drawn-out creak, and he put his back to the wall and waited. It was Glenda, and she smiled at him. "Jim, you hungry?"
"No, ma'am." Jim didn't hesitate. He was never hungry.
"You should be. Come down to dinner with the other girls, and then you can sleep some more." Glenda put out her hand. Jim took it because he thought he was supposed to, and he went with her to the table. The table was full of girls, and he sat. They laughed and talked, but ignored him, and he was glad. The food was good, and he ate all the cook gave him.
"Is Jim your name?"
Jim looked at the woman. "Yes, ma'am."
"You're polite!" She laughed. "Hey, Glenda, is the new boy broke in?"
Everyone looked at him, and he could do nothing but hope he wouldn't be beaten for all this. Glenda came back to the table. "Go on upstairs, Jim."
Jim nodded and practically ran. He didn't understand this, but he'd been fed, and the small room was a relief. Lying down, he put his hands between his thighs and waited. It wouldn't be long. Dreams hovered right out of sight, and he welcomed them.
Jim got up instantly. "Yes, ma'am."
"He's for you." She didn't smile. "Yell if you need anything."
The young man moved into the room, smiled, and started working on the buttons of his expensive suit. Jim understood now. It had taken an extra day, but it was time. Glenda left quickly, and Jim waited. He knew what would happen, and it did.
The telegram was short. He's alive stop
Artemus crumpled it. It meant nothing, other than Dr. Loveless wasn't finished playing his game.
"Yes." Artemus returned to his brandy.
Jim cleaned himself off and dressed immediately. He hadn't been beaten, just knocked around a little, and it was over. The clothes were welcome, and he hoped they wouldn't be taken from him.
Sarah stepped inside. "You alright?"
"Yes, ma'am." Jim wrapped his arms around himself. "May - May I keep the clothes?"
"You're not running around naked!" Sarah stepped close. "They aren't supposed to hurt you. You yell if they do, and I'll send Rocky in to help."
Jim concentrated on the words. He wasn't sure he understood. "Yes, ma'am."
Sarah touched his hair. "Have you always been a whore?"
A gun, blue clothes, a dark horse, and a voice surged up through him, and his answer could only bring pain, but he said, "I don't know."
"You're safe here. Rocky doesn't allow any trouble." Sarah smiled. "Eat, rest, no more today."
Jim nodded. He didn't dare say another word. Where was the little man? Sarah gave him a pat. "Go rest. I'll have someone bring you dinner. I think my other girls are jealous."
"Thank you," he whispered. He shook as he went to lie down. Was this a trick? Why had no one beaten him? He never did anything right, and none of this made sense. Sarah shut the door, and Jim shut his eyes. Whispers washed over him. Words he had never heard before, and he tried to listen. It was hard, and he dreamed.
"There's a new whore over at Sarah's."
"There's always a new whore somewhere." Artemus puffed his cigar. He didn't care one damn bit.
"A man. Has an ass-"
Artemus threw up his hand and walked away. He hadn't wanted a man for a very long time, and he never would again.
Jim liked Glenda. He did, and he wasn't sure he was supposed to. The other women thought Glenda was a harridan, but he knew better. She was tough because she had to be, and she was fair, and she never hit him. He brushed his hair back and wondered again why it hung so low.
"There. Feel better?"
Jim nodded. He liked his weekly bath, even if he got the water last. "Room now?" He learned that he could talk, some, and no one would hit him. He hoped.
"If you'd like, you can go sit in the parlor. There are several men asking for you. You could choose." Glenda straightened Jim's collar.
"Which one." Glenda traced her hand around his face. "Just one."
Jim bit his lip. "How will I know?"
"Pick one you like. The rate is the same." Glenda let the water drain out. "Go on."
Jim went, but he paused outside the parlor door. He wished for a gun and looked at his hip. It should be there, but it wasn't. It was only a dream. He had to live in this world, and it was full of men, nothing else. His hand pushed aside the curtain, and he nearly cringed when all eyes turned to him. It was Sarah that saved him. She took him by the hand and put him on a sofa. "Sit a little, Jim."
"Thank you." Jim liked her. She was never harsh. The music began again, girls laughed, and men chuckled. Jim decided not to look at the man that sat down next to him.
Jim nodded. The man smiled. It was to be him tonight, but Jim had been told to choose, and he managed a look around the room.
"Make room." A dark-haired man pushed the blond aside and sat down. "You'll enjoy my company much more."
Jim stared at the dark hair and clasped his hands so he didn't touch it. He swallowed with difficulty, the smoke curled around him, and the blond complained, "I got here first!"
"Sarah said that he gets to choose." The dark-haired man smiled. "So, which of us is it?"
Jim couldn't think. His breath came short, and he had to get to his small room. He stood up, and the dark-haired man did also. Jim looked at Sarah and nodded. She smiled. "Jim, go on up while I take care of business."
Sarah had seen the effect that a clean, unbruised Jim made on her crowd. She had managed to make her money back over the last month, but now it was time for some profit. "Sixty dollars."
The dark-haired man glowered. "His rate was ten."
Sarah turned to the blond. "You?"
"I'll pay it!" The blond reached for his wallet. Sarah smiled.
The dark-haired man growled, "He picked me. He's mine." And he paid without another complaint. Sarah tucked the money away. Jim could stay with one man a night, since he was making three times as much as the other girls. His rate may go up again. A haircut might be just the thing.
Jim waited on his bed. He knew what to expect, but there would be no hitting. Sarah could hit him, or Glenda, but no one else. It was the rule. He unbuttoned his shirt slowly. An old bruise or two twinged, but he didn't care. Dark hair. He liked dark hair.
Glenda rolled over and squeezed Sarah's breast gently. "Have you noticed he only picks dark-haired men?"
"I did." Sarah sighed. "I upped his rate to one hundred. No one blinked an eye, not after the new clothes."
"He does look good in blue." Glenda laughed. "Men are crazy."
"They are." Sarah kissed her gently. "Two a night?"
Glenda skipped her hand down. "Let's not get greedy."
"Ask him," Sarah insisted.
"If you want." Glenda wasn't sure Jim couldn't handle it. He was still so fragile. "Why is it important?"
"You know what the money goes for, and we need more of it." Sarah wiggled and pulled Glenda close. "He may run off, and we'll have missed a chance to do some real good."
"Jim will never leave, unless you tell him to. He's scared of everything." Glenda thrust her hips. "I'll talk to him."
Jim groaned softly. This dream was more real than the others. He could feel it, taste it, hear it, and he wanted it to stay.
"Come on. It's going to be okay."
Pictures flashed through him: horses, guns, trains, fists, dark-hair, trains, and brandy. Oh God. "Please!"
Jim put his back to the wall and gasped for air. His vision swam. Where was he? A woman's hands touched him, and he clasped her to his chest tightly. She gasped, and he looked in her face. "I'm sorry."
Glenda held him another minute before moving away. "You okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jim said automatically. His eyes didn't see her for a minute though, and he wiped his sweaty hands on his trousers.
"Do you need a doctor?"
Jim didn't know what he needed. He took a harsh breath. "I like you." It was honest.
"Well, thank you. I like you too, Jim." Glenda patted his hand. "Can you do two tonight?"
"Yes, ma'am." Jim nodded. He wouldn't argue with a command. Would he?
She sighed. "I knew you'd say that. Jim, some whores run away. Did you know that?"
Jim put his hand to his heart. "I have a duty." He would never, could never, leave. "Two, but please, dark hair."
Glenda furrowed her brow. "You're making the blond perverts in this town mighty sad."
"I'm sorry." Jim covered his face. "Two. Please." He didn't know what else to say, and he heaved a sigh of relief when the door shut. She hadn't hit him. Two would be fine. It didn't matter. None of them was the right one. Men filled his nights, but the dark-haired man of his dreams was just that - a dream.
"That spectacular whore over at Sarah's prefers dark-haired men."
Artemus sighed. He'd really been in San Francisco too long. "Leave off."
"I'm trying for him tonight."
"Give over. You like women - lots of them." Artemus didn't believe it. He glanced at the telegraph. It was almost time for another one. "My retirement papers are official."
"I know. I thought you might want to celebrate with a man that always wears blue and prefers dark-haired men. They're calling him - Blue Boy. Though I understand that he's scarcely a boy. All man is what I hear."
Artemus rubbed his face. "Good night." He stowed the paperwork away. He'd finish the week and then move on. Stretching, he gathered his things. Blue, huh? Well, there had only been one man in blue for him. No reason to go. None at all.
Jim shut his eyes, shifted on his knees to get comfortable, and did his job correctly. The dark-haired man made all kinds of noises, but Jim wished the fellow would shut up. Someone else was whispering in Jim's ear, if only he could hear him clearly.
"This is kind of you." Artemus raised his hand. "I'll miss all of you." There were cheers and raised glasses. He didn't shed a tear. It was time to leave.
"Artemus, after this, we're re-locating to Sarah's. You're coming."
Artemus gave up. It was the least he could do to show his appreciation for the party, but no men. A woman would do.
Jim brushed his hair back. "I like my hair short." He did. It was out of his eyes.
"Are you going to the parlor tonight, Jim?"
Jim hated doing that, but Sarah depended on him to do it, occasionally. "Yes, ma'am."
Sarah nodded. "Thank you. You don't know it, but you've helped feed a lot of poor children. You have my thanks."
Jim didn't understand that a bit, but it didn't matter. "Thank you." He tried to smile.
She pointed at the door. "There's a line of impatient women behind you. Go."
Jim went fast and ducked his head when he passed the next girl. She laughed and patted his ass, and he looked away. The girls were nice. He stopped outside the curtain and took a deep breath. He could do this. He'd pick two and get the night over. He had a dream waiting for him.
Artemus sighed heavily and let himself be dragged through the door. He found a sofa and sat. His friends snatched up this woman and that, but he waited. There was no rush when no one was the one he wanted.
Artemus heard the whisper. He didn't bother to look. There was no man for him here.
Jim did manage to look the room over. There was a group of men here tonight that all seemed to know each other, but one man sat alone. Dark hair. Jim figured that was his man. He found a sofa and kept an eye on him, but the man seemed lost somewhere else, idly fondling a girl or two, but not going upstairs. Jim had two blonds sitting on either side, always touching, nearly pleading, but they weren't the right ones, and they knew it.
Jim heard the voice clearly, and he looked behind him. No one.
"Please, Blue Boy," came a soft whisper.
"No, thank you. I'm sorry." Jim was always polite. He caught the eye of the girl in the dark-haired man's lap. She smiled and surrendered the field. Jim had never approached a man. He never had to, but tonight he wanted this man and one other. Sarah needed the money. "May - May I sit with you?" he asked low and soft, barely heard above the music. Smoke swirled around him.
The dark-haired man turned his head, looked, his eyes widened, and he jumped up. "James!"
Jim flinched in real fear, but he managed the proper words. "Will I do tonight?"
"Jim, my God." And the dark-haired man collapsed. His friends rushed to his side, and Jim faded away. He had to find Sarah, but it was Glenda that tended to the problem. Jim watched the man taken upstairs. They'd get a doctor.
Jim turned again to another man. "No." And he strode after Glenda. There might be bruises and blood for that, but he didn't care. He had to see the dark-haired man. Glenda met him at the door. "He's awake. He's demanding to see you!"
Jim clutched his chest and whispered, "Is he angry?"
"Very." Glenda grabbed him. "Run. Get your stuff and run."
Jim shook his head. He never ran. He'd take it. "No. I'll go to him."
"I'll put Rocky outside the door. One shout and he's gone!" Glenda poked a finger in Jim's chest. "You're too valuable!"
"It'll be okay. I promise." Jim licked his lips. He saw the door, it was miles away, and each step took forever. Several men looked at him, and they all grinned. There was a time he'd have had to take them all.
"I'm here," Jim said. The men filed out of the room, but one stopped and swatted his ass. Jim didn't care. "I'm here."
The dark-haired man folded Jim into a tight embrace. "James. My God. I thought I'd lost you forever."
Jim shut his eyes. The voice roiled over him, dreams swirled through him, and he knew. "You're the man in my dreams."
"It's me, Artemus." Artemus smiled at him and held him. "Come sit on the bed. We'll talk."
Jim went with him and started on his buttons. "It's still a hundred, no matter what."
Artemus stared at him. "Jim?"
Jim nodded. He liked this man. "I've been looking for you. I thought you were nothing but a dream."
"I'm real. You're here. My good God." Artemus kissed him. "What did Dr. Loveless do to you?"
Jim pulled his shirt off. He didn't know any doctors, but he finally had this man, and he was going to enjoy him for the short time he was here. "You think you could come back soon?"
Artemus, such dark hair, laughed. "Put your shirt on. I'm taking you home."
"Sarah owns me." Jim started on his trousers. That wonderful voice, he didn't want it ever to stop. "Keep talking while we do this, okay?"
Artemus took a good hold of Jim's chin and stared into his eyes. Jim was worried for a brief second, and then he had no worries. Artemus stood up. "Please, stay here for a minute. I'll be right back."
"Sure. Lavatory is down the hall." Jim went back to work on his trousers. He wanted this man. This man. Only this man.
Artemus strode down the hallway until he found Sarah. She frowned and put her hands on her hips. "What's the problem?"
"That man is Jim West!" Artemus threw up his hands. "He's not a whore!" His voice boomed out.
Sarah glared. "I bought him from a man that finds whores. Jim was completely beat up. We helped him get back on his feet."
"His back, you mean," Artemus growled. This was way beyond far too much. "He works for the government, or he did."
"I don't know who you are or what you want, but Jim is mine. If he wants to leave, he can, but you can't take him!" Sarah gestured for her security man. "Go back and get done or I'm getting him someone else!"
Artemus let the rage pour through him. Dr. Loveless had done this, the little bastard! "I'll go back." It was all he could do. No one here from the office knew Jim. Colonel Richmond was in Washington. Artemus went back quickly before Jim disappeared into a puff of smoke. It had been so long, and he threw open the door harder than necessary. Jim flinched and went to his knees. He was naked.
Jim hadn't planned on going to his knees, but Artemus looked angry, so it was safer. "I'm sorry."
Artemus came to him and lifted him to his feet. "Jim. Jim. Don't you know me?"
"You said your name was Artemus. I know you. You talk to me in my dreams." Jim smiled. Artemus smelled good.
"Your name is Jim West. We were partners. Dr. Loveless got hold of you and did God only knows what." Artemus held him tightly again. "You've been missing for what seems like forever!"
"I - I don't remember." Jim furrowed his brow. "There was a little man. He would beat me, but he taught me what to do. Sarah doesn't hit me. I like her."
Artemus pulled him down on the bed, and they sat together. Jim licked his lips and waited. Artemus sighed and held him a little closer. "Come with me."
Jim shook his head. "Buy me, and I will."
"What?" Artemus kissed him. "Jim, you're not a whore."
"Sarah bought me. You can buy me." Jim thought it sounded very reasonable. He groaned softly. "I have to do one more tonight, so we have to get started. Or I can go get someone else to join us."
"James. God. Don't you know who you are?"
Jim shook his head. He didn't know, and it didn't matter. He waited for Artemus to tell him what to do. They always did.
Artemus stared at his partner. Jim, it was Jim, didn't remember anything, or not much. There had to be solution here. Artemus wasn't leaving him to be used by any more men.
The door swung opened. "Your time is up. Out!"
Jim sighed and seemed to crumble. Artemus held him another moment before pushing him away. "No. I'm not leaving here without him."
Artemus stood and readied himself. He always had something somewhere. "How much do you want for him?"
Sarah's mouth fell open. "What? He's making me a fortune!"
"I'll give you ten thousand. Tonight." Artemus knew it was a monstrous sum for a whorehouse. "Tonight."
Sarah gasped and swayed. "Ten thousand," she whispered.
"Ten thousand American dollars, but he leaves with me." Artemus tugged his vest down. "I'll send the money round tomorrow."
"You don't have it. It's a trick." Sarah took a step closer. "Jim, come here!"
Artemus watched Jim obey. Jim clearly didn't want to, but he covered his face and went to his mistress. This was all so wrong. Artemus pulled his gold pocket watch out. "See? I have it. Keep this as a down payment."
Sarah's eyes narrowed and she snatched it. "It's gold."
"Yes. Worth about two thousand." Artemus nodded. "He's mine."
Another woman stepped in the door. Artemus didn't know her, but she went right to Jim. "Jim, dear, do you want to go with him?"
Jim looked at her. "I dream of him."
"I thought so. Sarah, let him go. It's time." The woman stood straight. "But we're keeping the watch."
Artemus nearly dropped to his knees to thank her. "He was never a whore!"
Jim made a soft sound, as a man does when he's been hit hard. Artemus nudged the woman aside and held him. Sarah sighed. "Fine. Take him."
"Sarah, my love, you have a soft heart," the woman said.
Sarah took hold of her. "This is your fault, Glenda. We could have been wealthy!"
"We are, dear." And they left together - arm in arm.
Artemus maneuvered Jim to his clothes. "Get dressed."
"Yes, sir." Jim put them on fast. He didn't know where he was going, but he'd follow this man anywhere. "Thank you."
Artemus took him by the hand. "We're leaving."
Jim managed a smile and followed him out the doors into the night air. This was all a dream. He'd wake soon. He always did.
Jim groaned. His eyes were gummed shut, and his mouth felt like someone had poured sand inside it. He crossed his arms and hugged himself. Talking seemed impossible, so he didn't try. He heard a soft whimper escape his lips.
"Please, Jim. Wake up."
Jim didn't want to - it'd all be a dream again. He felt his arms tremble. It was then he felt the pain. A cane whistled down on him again, and he remembered. "Artie?" His voice was weak as a newborn foal.
"That's right. I know you hurt, but I'm here."
Jim felt the hands on him, and he bit his lip as not to gasp. He did hurt. "You beat me." It had to have been him. "You bought me and beat me."
"James. No. Please." Artemus' voice was far away, but he sounded upset. "Jim."
"No more," Jim choked out. He hurt enough. He held himself tighter and struggled to open his eyes. "You."
But it was farther away, and Jim didn't believe it. He gave up on his eyes and felt a dream settle over him. A dream of men. It yanked him back, and he went without a sigh.
Jim put his back to the wall fast. "Yes, sir." He liked Artemus very much. "I dreamed of you again."
"Was I kissing you?" Artemus joked. He was full of laughter and high spirits. Always talking and making broad gestures. At first, it had been intimidating.
"Not yet." Jim smiled. He couldn't complain about his new life. Artemus had insisted they travel in style. "Where am I?"
"Somewhere outside of Kansas City. Do you want to get out when we stop?"
Jim liked his small room on their private varnish car hooked to a passenger train. "No, not unless you go with me." He rubbed his arms. "I have bruises from last night."
Artemus sat down next to him. "I guess I lost control. You have my apology."
"I'm used to being hurt." Jim managed not to cover his face. Artemus always yelled at him when he did it. "Will you sell me like Sarah did?"
"No. You're mine." Artemus kissed him on the forehead. "Is there anything you need?"
Jim never knew how to answer that. He leaned against Artemus and sighed. Artemus bore him back to the mattress. Jim didn't mind. He'd expected it. The voice whispered in his ear, and it soothed him as they progressed.
"Jim, do you want me to hit you?"
Jim saw the cane. He knew what it meant. There was always pain. He was used to it, and he already hurt. There was no reason not to do it. "The cane is the right way to do it."
Artemus chuckled softly. His hand reached for the cane that hung on the bedpost. "Once more won't kill you. Will it, Mr. West?"
"It's true," Jim whispered. He'd been without pain for a while, but it was back, and he'd live with it. When it was over, he collapsed, drank the whiskey that Artemus handed him, and fell asleep quickly. Dreams tugged at him, and he sank into them gratefully. Somewhere, he wore a gun and rode a horse instead of a cock. Pain nagged at him, but he didn't care.
The dream voice whispered to him, "James, I know you hurt. Try to wake up."
Jim whimpered, "You did it." He covered himself and wished his dreams would go away. No more. No more.
Jim's head snapped over, and he sobbed, "No." And the dreams shattered. He bolted up and put his back to the wall. The smack of it reassured him that he was awake. The aches and pains made him grit his teeth. He was awake. No more dreams. Another small room and he wasn't sure which one. Which one? He was naked. There was a cane, and he clenched his fists. That was all the answer he needed. This waking nightmare would never end, and his dreams couldn't save him. He stared at the door. Who would come through it was the question, and he decided he didn't care. His days of cowering were over. No more! And the door slammed back. He refused to cover his face, and his breath whistled through his teeth.
"Are you awake?" Artemus maneuvered a tray of coffee in the door, shutting it with his foot, and putting everything on the small nightstand.
Jim stared. This wasn't what he expected, and he didn't know what to say. "I don't know."
"Opium can do that to a man." Artemus sat down heavily in a chair by the bed. "How's the pain? I see you yanked off your clothes again."
Jim shrugged. "Are you going to hit me?" It was the only important question.
"Why would I do that?" Artemus opened a chest and tossed Jim some drawers. "Did you steal my girlfriend back in St. Louis?"
"Well, yes." Jim caught them without thinking. He glanced at the cane. "Dr. Loveless had a cane."
"That's it. You insisted on bringing it with us." Artemus looked sympathetic and poured two cups of coffee. "Drink your coffee. It'll help you think clearly."
"I don't see that happening." Jim picked it up though and gave it a sip. "I feel awful."
"You should." Artemus sat down close and lifted Jim's eyelid all the way. "You're doing better though. I think you're finally lucid."
Jim didn't like the touch. He didn't trust it, but he allowed it. The coffee was good, and he didn't slide on his drawers until it was gone and the cup back on the tray. His muscles ached, and bruises dotted him. "Who did this to me?"
"Dr. Loveless, mostly." Artemus moved back to his chair. "I restrained you when I had to, so, I guess you could blame me for some of it."
Jim rubbed his head. "You did this to me."
Artemus sighed. "You've been saying that for days. I feel awful about this, but I've had few choices."
"Did you pay Sarah?" Jim lay down, his aching back insisted on it.
"Who's Sarah?" Artemus put his coffee down. "And Glenda?"
Jim opened his mouth, shut it, and rubbed his face. That wasn't real? Or was this a lie? He didn't know anymore. "Are you lying to me?"
Artemus stood up and stretched. "The bedpan is there. You'll need it soon."
"Why?" Jim asked a shutting door. He didn't have the strength to chase after him. The cane laughed at him. Time passed, and he didn't sleep. He needed something, but he wasn't sure what, and so he waited. Artemus came back with a wet towel, handed it to him, and left again. Jim washed his face and rested. When the first cramp hit, he gasped in astonishment. His body tensed, his stomach twisted, and he made it to the bedpan by inches. Again, and again. He used the towel and tried not to fall down. Gentle hands held him, and a smooth voice whispered nonsense in his ears. He sagged and vomited again.
"It begins. Now the hard part," Artemus said in Jim's ear.
Jim gasped for air and didn't have the strength to ask why. He felt lighter than a cloud and heavier than lead. His body cramped, and he held onto Artemus.
"He's resting," Artemus said.
"How much longer?" Colonel Richmond asked.
"I backed him down off it slowly, but the last part is up to him. He has to suffer." Artemus clenched his glass. "He doesn't understand any of it. He thinks I did this to him."
Colonel Richmond was silent. It was condemnation enough. Artemus lowered his head. He was guilty.
"Artemus," Jim said, "I can't eat another bite."
"You look like a skeleton." Artemus put the bowl down.
Jim shrugged. He didn't want to talk about why. Dreams nagged at him still, and it would be too easy. He licked his dry lips.
"You'll always want it," Artemus said softly.
"I know." Jim wouldn't meet Artemus' eyes. "You go on. I need a minute."
Artemus nodded, grabbed up the dinner tray, and left. Jim put his feet on the floor and stood. Every bone, muscle, and patch of skin on his body ached. He staggered to the door and went left instead of right. With each step, he gained strength, and he managed the hop over to the stable car just fine. He stumbled to his horse and leaned against him. Sweet, black hide smelled so good, and he did nothing but breathe. He was awake. He knew it. This was real. His horse snorted loudly, and he laughed weakly. Finally, he sat on a bale of hay. The smell out here was good, and he didn't want to go back to the small room, even when his teeth chattered, and his stomach began to hurt. How much longer?
Jim looked up, and Artemus was there. "No! No! No more!"
Artemus rubbed his face. "I've done all I can. The rest is up to you." And he walked away.
"You did this!" Jim sagged to his knees. He held his stomach tightly. No more vomiting, but the pain was intense. He dropped to the floor and tried to dream, but it couldn't happen. His fist slammed into the floor, and he hit his head next. Dark swept over him, and he rejoiced in the blackness.
"Get out of here!" Jim hated this. Hated. It. He lurched off the bed and slammed into Artemus. They grappled, until Artemus abruptly released him. Jim shook him. "Leave me alone!"
Artemus' brown eyes were sad. "Okay. I'll go."
"Thank God." Jim slipped down to the floor to sit and rock back and forth. "If it wasn't bad enough that you haunted my dreams, you're here every time I wake up! I can't take it!"
"I'm sorry." Artemus stepped to the open door, but stopped short of leaving. "I'm packed. You don't need a bed nurse any longer, and I'm not the man to be your partner. Colonel Richmond will assign someone else."
Jim rubbed his heart. It hurt. He didn't understand any of this. "You're leaving?"
"Yes." Artemus shuffled his feet and stared at the floor. "I'm sorry for what I did. I don't blame you for hating me."
Jim pulled himself up. He needed a whiskey, desperately, maybe with a spoonful of opium stirred in it. His teeth clenched. Yes! No. Christ. His eyes fluttered shut. "I'm half the man I was. Get out. Save yourself."
Artemus stepped and brushed a kiss across Jim's forehead. "Goodbye."
Jim waited until his partner was gone before leaning against the wall. He looked down at his wasted, bruised, pathetic self. Someone should have had the mercy to put a bullet in him. He made it to the whiskey and poured himself a glass. Trying to sip it slowly, he drank it all and shuddered from the bite of it. The glass was empty, and he needed something more. The glass fell from his slack hand as he stared at where the opium was kept.
"Thank you for taking such good care of my cane. It's a favorite of mine."
Jim whipped around, nearly fell, and braced himself on the back of the sofa. "Loveless!"
"Are you still, shall we say, in a haze?" Dr. Loveless laughed. "I waited until that partner of yours packed and left. I knew he would. Look at you."
"I'm more than man enough to kill you." Jim took a step. Dr. Loveless raised the cane, and Jim fell back that step - one step was too far.
"That's right. You remember." Dr. Loveless smirked. "I enjoyed those beatings tremendously. Would you like another?"
Jim wanted to crumple. And he wouldn't. Damn it. He stiffened his spine. "I hate you."
"It's mutual." Dr. Loveless lowered the cane slowly. "Take your opium, you'll feel better." And he was gone with a flourish, his laughter trailing back behind him. "Weakling!"
Jim collapsed. The dark that grabbed at him wasn't kind or gentle. It bit. No one spoke to him. No one whispered at him. No hands touched him, and he ached. He raised his head and pushed up to his hands and knees. "Enough. Enough!" No one answered. He made it up as far as a sofa and sat down with a grunt. He knew now. He knew, and it wasn't Artemus' fault.
"Mr. West?" The voice followed the tentative knock that he'd refused to answer.
Jim turned to face the door. "That's me, broken in body and spirit, but me."
She smiled tremulously. "Colonel Richmond sent me to help."
"What's your name?" Jim rubbed his temples. He needed some rest.
"Glenda, sir." And she shut the door behind her.
Jim laughed softly. He made his way back to the bed and fell on his face. She covered him with a blanket, and he slept.
"You walked out on him?"
"He threw me out." Artemus paced. "There's a nurse there. He doesn't want to look at me any longer. What could I do?"
"How about ignore the fool?"
"Mr. President, have you ever managed that?" Artemus stopped pacing and stared in the direction of the rail yards.
"Well, no." President Grant sighed. "Give him three days, and then go get something you forgot."
Artemus nodded. That was a good idea. He'd do it. "Yes, sir."
Jim did everything the nurse told him to, and he slept. He had to get his strength back and go after his partner. Nothing else mattered.
"I could get you some opiate to help you sleep, sir."
"No. None. Never." Jim clasped his hands together. "Don't ever!"
Glenda shrank back and nodded frantically. Jim felt bad about yelling, but one more dream and he was lost. He fumbled his way out to the back rail. Artemus was there. Jim blinked and wondered if his coffee had been laced with the stuff he wanted so badly.
"James?" Artemus smiled. "Are you okay?"
"Am I awake?" Jim wasn't sure. He put his hand out and grabbed a handful of Artemus' coat. The fabric rolled in his hand. "Are you real?"
"Of course. I forgot a few things." Artemus didn't pull away. "I'll be just a moment in and out."
Jim shook his head and leaned until they embraced. "We have to talk."
"Sure." Artemus set him away. "You look better."
"Good, because I feel wretched." Jim tried to laugh, but didn't manage it. "Dr. Loveless was here - right after you left."
Artemus wrapped his arms around Jim and pulled him back close. "God. As if I didn't have enough guilt staining my soul, now this. Did he hurt you?"
Jim breathed in the smell and relaxed for the first time in what had to be years. "He'd come for his cane, and he wanted to use it on me."
"I'm so sorry, Jim." Artemus' voice cracked. "It's my fault."
"No," Jim said firmly. He pushed away and stood up straight. "I remember. It was not your fault. He did it to me. You rescued me, again, and did your best in a terrible situation. You're not to blame, for any of this."
Artemus shook his head. "I was late getting there, and then when I got you here, I gave you a big dose to help with the pain."
"You didn't know." Jim glared into stubborn, brown eyes. "I'd have done the same. How long did it take before you realized I was addicted?"
"Close to a week. You asked for more and more, and I gave it to you. You were a solid mass of bruises, not to mention a broken rib, and your face." Artemus stopped. His voice had fallen to a whisper. "You'd ask, and I just couldn't say no."
Jim poked Artemus in the chest with his finger. "Not your fault."
"I should never have left." Artemus rubbed a quick hand through his hair.
"Now, that was your fault. I was sick!" Jim threaded his arm through Artemus' arm. "Help me inside. I'm still tired."
Artemus helped him sit and put a whiskey in his hands. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, shut up. I drove you away. I was angry." Jim smiled. "Someday, I'll tell you why."
"I know why." Artemus flushed and tugged his collar. "In rather graphic detail."
It was Jim's turn to flush, and he almost choked on his whiskey. "It was a dream in a dream in a dream."
"You would wake and seem normal for a minute or two, but then you'd demand it." Artemus stared in his whiskey glass. "And I'd give it. I don't like myself very much."
Jim understood that feeling all too well. "How long?"
"A month since I found you." Artemus glanced at the connecting door. "Where's your nurse?"
"She was making the bed." Jim took another drink and stared at his partner. "Can I go with you to your hotel?"
Artemus' eyes dashed up and clashed with his. "Of course."
Jim sighed with relief. He was very tired of his small room. "Thank you. I apologize for all this. I should have been stronger."
"Don't say that." Artemus stood. "I'll pack you a few things."
"I'll help." Jim finished his whiskey before going forward. Artemus and Glenda were working efficiently, and Jim, in the end, did nothing but watch.
"He's been a good patient, sir," Glenda said softly. "Not a word of complaint."
Artemus laughed. "It must be your sweet face and charming ways. I still have bruises!"
Guilt wormed its way in Jim's heart, and he stopped watching them and went to saddle his horse. By the time he was finished, he was drenched with sweat, but he didn't care.
"Jim, you should have let me saddle your horse."
"I know." Jim leaned against the saddle. "Is she gone?"
"Yes, but she wants to come back and soon." Artemus winked at him. "The ladies do love you."
"She was nice." Jim stopped there. He hadn't touched her. Artemus dropped the ramp, and Jim went down with his horse. Quickly, before his legs gave out, Jim threw himself in the saddle. His breath was harsh, and he gathered his reins and wits carefully. "This is real."
Artemus didn't answer. He'd shut the ramp and go out the back door. The chestnut was tied there. Jim nudged his horse to the back of the train to wait. The wind caught his hair, and he realized he'd forgotten his hat. He was a disgrace, and the way he shook just emphasized that. Artemus came out and tossed him his hat. "You're a proper gentleman, Jim."
Jim bit back a harsh retort, but his glare must have said volumes.
"You are." Artemus tied everything down and mounted.
Jim nodded. "You know what I feel like."
"Yes." Artemus booted his chestnut, and Jim followed, after clapping on his hat. Jim concentrated on staying in the saddle and let Artemus handle everything, from the hack to the stable boys to carrying the luggage. Artemus tossed the bags on the bed. "I have an appointment with the president."
Jim ringed the bedpost with his hat. "Does he want to see me?"
"Not today." Artemus stayed turned away. "This is concerning my resignation."
"I thought I dreamed that!" Jim slumped down on the bed. Shock clanged through him. He was losing it all. What Artemus had said about graphic detail came back to him. Jim rubbed his legs. They ached. Artemus hadn't moved or spoken again, and Jim began to think that they honestly didn't understand each other. "Let me see your bruises."
Artemus shrugged. "They're fading." He still made no move. "You've had enough of me ordering you around. You know where the tub is. I'll be back."
"Are you resigning because I'm a whore or because you're sick of me?" Jim tracked the emotions that raced across Artemus' expressive face. "It's the whore thing, right?"
"You were in an opiate haze, your worst fear took over, and probably Dr. Loveless helped that along. Did you think you were only beaten?" Artemus went to the door, but instead of going out it, he put his back to it. "Probably wasn't him, but it was someone."
Jim shut his eyes and tried to remember, but it was impossible to thread his way through the dreams, the haze, and the truth. "So, you're resigning."
"I already did." Artemus crossed his arms. "They wanted you in a sanitarium and me off to another assignment. Even President Grant wouldn't listen, so I quit."
"Huh," Jim grunted out. Words failed him.
"I don't want you to think that they haven't been worried or upset. Why, President Grant was furious with me for leaving you the other day." Artemus seemed to hug himself tighter. "They just felt that I shouldn't be doing the nursing."
Jim wasn't sure what to say. "And now?"
"Now, they want me in the service and gone while you get your strength back." Artemus suddenly rubbed his face. "Tell me what to do."
"I don't even know what I'm going to do. Do what you think is right." Jim felt overwhelmed. He'd need a day or two to sort it out. He tugged off his boots and started on his shirt, and when he looked again, Artemus glanced away. Jim stood and slipped his loose trousers right off. No need to undo the buttons. "Artie, did you? Did we?"
Artemus wrenched open the door and fled, his face ashen. Jim sat back down and stared at his bare feet. That was an answer, of sorts, but whether it had been yes or no was a mystery. Probably yes, but maybe no. He might have insisted on it. He'd wanted Artemus badly in that one dream. So many dark-haired men had marched through his dreams, and they had all taken a turn at him. Had they all been Artemus? Jim grabbed one of the robes that the hotel provided and wrapped it around himself tightly. Shouldn't his body remember? He slipped out of the room and down to the bath. It was empty, and he locked the door. Only when he was chest deep in bath salts and hot water did he think of it again.
Had they done it? He ran his hand down through the water and touched himself intimately. A slight ache answered his fingers, and he knew the truth. Artemus' guilt had little to do with the opiate and everything to do with Jim's ass. Jim buried his face in his wet hands and rubbed. Now what to do? Playing the part of the injured maiden certainly wasn't his style. He'd wanted it, no doubt about that, and he'd gotten it. Some part of him whispered that it would be nice to remember it. He grabbed the soap and went to work. After this, he needed to sleep and then eat again. Licking his lips, he concentrated on that, not what he really wanted, needed, and ached for each minute.
"I brought you a tray, Jim."
The voice drew him up for a dreamless sleep, and he opened his eyes lazily. "I thought you were gone."
"I have a room down the hall." Artemus put the tray on a small table. His brown eyes were so far away.
Jim sat up with care for a few remaining twinges. "What did you do?" That was all that really mattered.
Artemus paused and his answer came slowly. "I didn't go. I went down to the saloon and sat with a bottle of whiskey."
"One or two." Artemus went to the door. "I'll check on you tomorrow."
Jim waited for him to leave, but he was hesitating. Was he hoping? Jim grew irritated quickly. "I know you fucked me."
"I'm sorry." Artemus nodded. "I did. I wanted to, and I did and it was wrong. Hit me if you want."
"We hadn't. Ever. What made you want me?" Jim didn't find himself attractive, not lately.
Artemus ducked his head, looked away, and shrugged. "I've always wanted you, and suddenly you wanted me."
"Did you beat me?" Jim didn't think so, but he wanted to ask. He'd think about the kissing later.
"Lord, God in heaven, no! I thought, I thought, you were awake, and we had grown closer. When you grabbed the cane, I didn't understand, but then, then, I realized that for you it was all another dream." Artemus covered his face with his hands, and his hat fell unnoticed to the floor. "I deserved it, and that's why I left. I couldn't face the guilt."
"I caned you?" Jim got off the bed fast. He had to see, he had to know it was real. "Take your shirt off! Now!"
"No!" Artemus yanked at the doorknob, but Jim slammed it shut. "Absolutely not!"
"Christ! No wonder you ran for your life." Jim was grateful to be steady on his feet, because his world was falling in on him. "Why did you let me hit you?"
Artemus whooshed out a breath. "I didn't let you. You went crazy when you spotted the cane. I should have thrown the damn thing out."
"I beat you," Jim said again. It made it real. He swallowed hard and finished, "With Dr. Loveless' cane."
"Yes, after we made love," Artemus said very softly. "I managed to get you to take a small dose in some whiskey. You calmed down and fell asleep. That was your last taste of it."
"I dreamed that you beat me. My God, get out of here. Take that assignment," Jim growled as guilt swept over him and threatened to choke him. He hadn't even remembered hurting his partner, his best friend, and the man he'd made love to. "Don't look at me again."
Artemus didn't look at him now. He grabbed up his hat. "It was my fault."
"There's enough guilt here for both of us." Jim pulled the door open. Artemus didn't look back, and Jim didn't blame him. Now that he knew, it was obvious that Artemus was stiff, sore, bruised, and beaten. He was even limping, not much, but enough. Jim slammed the door, slid down it, and lay in a heap. If this situation got any worse, he was crawling to his gun and using it on himself. He laughed bitterly.
Guilt, anger, pain, and more guilt poured over him. He should've been stronger! Fought harder and resisted the opium. He should have been more of a man. And he'd wanted Artemus, badly. He wouldn't lie to himself and blame his partner. No. He'd ached for it. He'd wanted to run his fingers through dark hair and kiss him. Had he always? He wasn't sure, but he wanted him now. Even now.
Reluctantly, he pulled himself together and made it to the table. The food tasted like dirt, but he ate it. He had to regain his strength. It was the only way he could fight the insane desire for opium.
A knock on the door made him stumble up, and he tied his robe again before answering it, but he no longer cared that he was a disgrace. "Good evening, Colonel."
"May I come in?"
"I'm not decent, but of course." Jim nearly laughed at the perfect words. He moved aside. "I have coffee."
Colonel Richmond shook his head. "Are you aware that Artemus skipped out on his appointment today?"
"Yes," Jim said shortly. He waited for more bad news. There had to be more.
The colonel swept off his hat and shuffled his feet. "How are you?"
"Now you ask." Jim found a chair and put his sore body in it. "You know. You hired the nurse."
"Yes." The colonel shrugged. "My apologies."
Jim had almost had enough. His anger churned in his belly along with dinner. "You've given up on me, but you still have Artemus. He's across the hall. Go sign him up."
"Jim, it's not like that."
"I guess I should be grateful you didn't toss me off the train." Jim fussed with his robe to hide the fact that his hands were shaking, whether from anger or longing for opium, he didn't know.
Colonel Richmond had the grace to look embarrassed. "There was some talk of moving you, but I squelched it. Jim, talk to Artemus. Convince him to come back to the service."
"I did. I sent him back to your loving bosom." Jim narrowed his eyes and snarled, "When did I resign?"
"You're on leave, but all of us assume that you'll resign."
"Of course." Jim nodded. "No one ever beats this."
"You'd be a security risk - a big one." The colonel didn't back down or babble. He was secure in the truth.
Jim got up and poured himself another cup of coffee to wash the bitterness away. This wasn't unexpected, but it still rankled. "I'll resign. Let me gain enough strength to ride over and do it properly. Artemus will make up his own mind. You treated him poorly, and you know it."
Colonel Richmond shrugged. "Difficult times. Thank you, Jim. I'll be in touch."
Jim nodded. He put the coffee down and extended his hand because good manners required it, and Colonel Richmond had done nothing but react to bad situations. They shook hands, and he was out the door. Jim sat back down to finish his coffee. This wasn't over. He could feel it. There'd be more, and Artemus would have to decide, but it should be easy now.
A small knock sounded on the door. "Jim? Can I come in?"
"At your own risk!" Jim stayed in his chair. He wouldn't get up. Artemus would be nervous enough.
Artemus strolled inside. He was acting calm, but he was a good actor. "Richmond was here."
"Yes. I'm to convince you." Jim smiled, but it was small. "I did that already." A touch of sarcasm couldn't hurt.
Artemus poured himself some coffee and found a chair. "I wasn't going to come over here."
"Good decision." Jim pointed lazily at the door. "It's safer out there."
"I'm not worried." Artemus took a sip, and Jim watched him closely. "What shall we do?"
"You're talking like we're partners." Jim liked it, but it wasn't the truth any longer. All they were now was disgruntled lovers.
Artemus smiled. It wasn't expected. "Aren't we?"
"Were all those men you?" Jim snapped right back. He had to know.
"Jim, you were hallucinating!"
"We're not partners." Jim hated those words, but it was the truth. They both let out a grunt and small sigh. Perhaps they weren't partners, according to the Secret Service, but wasn't there something that tied them together beyond all that? Jim had always thought so, but that had been before he had turned out to be so damn weak.
Artemus rattled his cup in his saucer. "You decide. I can't."
"Decide what? I'm expected to resign. You already have."
"Jim West. You can have whatever you want." Artemus' brown eyes were bold. "All you have to do is demand it."
Jim rubbed a hand across his brow. There was a time when that was more truth than not, but now? He was uncertain, and as he stared at his partner, visions of dark-haired lovers crept over him, and he was forced to adjust his robe. Artemus' eyes flicked there, but there was no smile of invitation, nothing but a steady hand drinking coffee and brown eyes that were deep indeed.
"This day has been over the top." Jim hesitated to speak frankly, but he had to tell Artemus. Artemus had to know the truth. Still, Jim waited until he had to ask, "May I share a confidence with you?"
"Of course." An immediate answer and a look that promised complete discretion.
Jim spat each hateful word out fast and hard. "I hunger for it. Hunger. I would put a bullet in someone's hide for even a small amount. Or I'd tell them whatever they wanted to know. How can Colonel Richmond trust me? I don't trust me."
Artemus stood up and stretched. "Would you? Really? I have some." He reached in his coat pocket, pulled out a brown bottle, and dangled it in the air. The potential of that was incredible - enough to keep a man happy for days. Jim shuddered and found he was holding himself rigid. It was be so nice to dream again, leave it all behind, and fade away. He frowned. It had been nice? No, it had been awful, but he had to have it. He opened his mouth to deny his need for it, but nothing came out, and he found himself standing in front of Artemus, his hand gently caressing the bottle. How he'd gotten over here wasn't important, the fact that he was here was the reality of the situation. He wanted it. Wanted. It.
"I can't be trusted."
"I will give it to you, if you can strike me." Artemus merely stared at him. "One blow, weak or strong, to the face."
Jim raised his fist immediately, but the blow never landed. He gasped in pain, nearly fell to his knees in supplication, and remained standing only because of the thin walls of his pride that kept him straight.
"You can go back to that world, where you were a whore, beaten daily, with only your dreams to keep you comfort," Artemus said very softly. "Or do you think your guilt will give you a better dream this time? You paid for each drop of this, and you will again."
Jim folded to his knees. He wanted to retch on the floor. "God. The guilt."
"Yes. And it will eat you alive before this does." Artemus put the bottle in Jim's hand. The bottle was smooth, almost slick, and heavy with hell and heaven. Jim watched his hands shake, and his weakness roiled inside him. He was here, on his knees, for this, and he'd never knelt for anyone or anything. Shame, anger, and humiliation clogged his throat, and he had to swallow them down with a huge dose of guilt. He clutched the bottle to his chest and tried to reason with his raging need. Useless, he was useless. His knees began to ache, but he couldn't muster the strength to rise.
'Take your opium, weakling.'
Jim looked at the bottle again and rubbed it across his cheek. He should have-. His brain stalled. He should have what? There had been no escape, no way to fight. But now. Now he could find the strength to beat this. He was no weakling.
'James, you can do it.'
He lowered his head and found the strength inside him that Artemus knew was there. With one smooth movement, he stood and threw the bottle out the window. The tinkling of the glass as it hit the floor was real to him. This was real. He was James West, and he didn't kneel, didn't break, and didn't quit. Ever.
When he turned back towards the door, he was alone. He blew out the lamps and crawled under the covers. He would sleep, and tomorrow he would spend the day standing on his feet instead of crawling. Dreams crept over him, and he held a dark-haired man. They laughed together until Jim raised his fist to demand his opiate.
"Artemus!" Jim sat up. The cry faded away into the night. He rolled out of bed, pulled on his robe, and padded down the hallway. The door was no barrier, and he shut it quietly behind him. "Artemus."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm awake." Artemus didn't move. "Guns, knives, or explosives?"
Jim laughed softly. "I don't need anything."
"Please let me sleep. I haven't for longer than is healthy." Artemus sat up slowly. "And you could use some also."
"That's why I'm here." Jim didn't hesitate. He'd made up his mind on the short walk to Artemus' room. He dropped his robe, slipped under the covers, and shut his eyes. He listened to them both breathe. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Artemus threw his arm over Jim and tucked him tight. Jim almost flinched, but it was a comfort to be held, and true sleep came to him. When the night was over, he heard the quick intake of breath before Artemus said, "James." Jim put his finger over Artemus' lips. Artemus said nothing then, and Jim was glad. They lay together to start the day, and Jim knew he had the strength to face it.
"He's ready," President Grant said.
"He's a risk. You know it." Colonel Richmond sipped his whiskey.
President Grant lit his cigar. "This didn't break him. It made him stronger. No one and nothing can touch him now."
Colonel Richmond shrugged and set his glass down. "I expect you're right. You know him best."
"I do." President Grant nodded. "Don't worry. Send them."
Jim undressed leisurely after feeding the pigeons. The familiar rocking of the train felt good under his feet. They were going to an assignment, and he had every confidence that they could face it and succeed.
"Turning in early?"
Jim hung up his trousers and considered his answer carefully. He smoothed his hair back and took a minute to look at himself; he'd avoided it until now, but he was better, much better. He was fit. Ready.
It was the truth, and Jim nodded when he heard it. "I am. Did I thank you?"
"More than once." Artemus leaned against the doorjamb. "You'd do it for me."
Jim would, but he prayed he would never need to do it. That was a hell that Artemus didn't need to visit. "Join me in bed?"
Artemus gave him a long look. "I'm not sleepy."
"Me neither." Jim shut the closet door and waited to hear the answer, or for Artemus to walk away. They'd slept together nearly every night, but nothing else. No gentle touches or even a kiss, just an arm flung over and breath against the back of his neck. He'd liked it, and every night it had given him strength to face the next day. He waited now. Artemus didn't look inclined to do it, and there were so many reasons for him not to consider it.
"Wouldn't you prefer to find a lady?" Artemus opened the top bottom of his shirt.
Jim knew his answer would decide this forever, and he found his eyes lingering on the patch of skin that had been exposed. "I've had some time to think, and I know what I want, but if you'd rather not, I respect that. It was our first time, and I hurt you."
"You did." Artemus pinched the bridge of his nose. "But I was eager, and I should have known you were too sick. My fault."
Jim shrugged. He didn't have an answer for that. "We've grown closer, even if I don't remember most of it."
Artemus laughed softly. "It was nothing to write home about."
"I get nothing but insults." Jim laughed though. "I'm still going to bed." And he nudged his way past. Artemus slid a hand down him. It was a promise, and Jim smiled as he walked down the hallway. He found a comfortable spot on the bed. He'd have company soon, and it wouldn't be a dream. Artemus came quietly into the room and hesitated before joining him on the bed. Jim wasn't sure how to touch him, and he did so hesitantly. There weren't any bruises.
"Leg still hurt?"
"No," Artemus said quietly, and he rubbed Jim's stomach. Their hands faltered and stuttered, as if they'd never caressed a body before.
Jim could sense Artemus' passivity and wondered if he'd have to take control to please them both. He wasn't sure he wanted to do that. The hurt he'd done lay between them, and it forced him to ask, "Can you trust me?"
Artemus let out a soft sound and pulled Jim on top. They moved together, and Jim squirmed as Artemus' hands clasped his ass and squeezed. He had his answer, and it was a satisfying one. Their hot skin slid and slipped as their breath came quick, sweeping him to a state of ecstasy that was genuine. So true. Artemus held him tightly and kissed him deeply. Tingles erupted all over Jim's skin, and he gasped around Artemus' thrusting tongue.
Seed splashed between them, and Artemus' impassioned groan pushed Jim to do the same. His head floated away to a sweet place and dropped back with a roar. And it was real. They continued to touch each other, and Jim rolled to his side, but stayed close.
Artemus sighed softly. "Nice."
Jim had no word to describe it. He shut his eyes and took great pleasure from the feeling of complete trust and love. It was better than opiate, and he should know. His hands still trailed around Artemus' body, and he didn't want to turn him loose. A soft doze stole over him, and he smiled. A dream edged closer and held him tightly.
"Sweet dreams, Jim."