Title: The Night of the Locket
Fandom: Wild Wild West
Pairing: Jim/Artie
Feedback: justblackchaps at yahoo dot com
Rating: NC-17
Beta: Bigmackie
Summary: Jim and Artie run into a lot of trouble around Christmas time.
Disclaimer: All this belongs to CBS.
Advertisement: Part of the 2004 Slash Advent Calendar

********

Jim eyed his partner restlessly. Artemus raised his head from his book and gave Jim a look. Jim returned it steadily.

"What?"

"Nothing." Jim dropped his eyes.

"We had a long day. I'm gonna read." Artemus lowered his head back to his book.

Jim sipped his brandy and moved close to Artemus, looking over his shoulder at the book. Artemus didn't protest, and they sat quietly together, staring at the book. Jim put his hand on Artemus' leg and said, "Turn the page."

"I'm not quite finished." Artemus took Jim's brandy and sipped it. He licked his finger and turned the page. "This interests you?"

Jim made a noncommittal sound. He leaned again. "Is that possible?"

Artemus grunted, but didn't answer. Jim's hand bumped Artemus, and the brandy changed hands. "You should go out."

"I'm enjoying the book," Jim said softly. He breathed deeply. Artemus smelled good. Jim put both of his hands on his partner, casually of course. The pages turned and the level of the brandy dropped. Jim relaxed. It was a good book. And it had been a long day of dealing with one politician after another. The Wanderer seemed a refuge from the madness.

"Ready?"

Jim nodded, even though he wasn't. He hadn't really been reading. Artemus turned the page, his fingers idly skimming along Jim's leg. Jim controlled a soft groan. Artemus left his hand on Jim's knee. The warm pressure made it impossible for him to read. Jim edged just that much closer. He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't resist the warmth. Artemus confiscated the brandy again. Jim watched him drink, the throat muscles jumping. When the brandy was empty, Artemus dipped his finger inside and touched Jim's mouth, quickly.

Jim licked and groaned. He noticed Artemus' smirk right away. "That was cruel."

"Tit for tat." Artemus handed Jim the glass. "Think we'll have any visitors tonight?"

"I hope not." Jim gave Artemus a small pat on the knee, stood to refill their brandies, and moved to the cue rack. Taking his coat off, he went to the table and rolled his shoulders. He gently tapped a ball, watching it roll and collide with the others. Staying over here was a good idea.

"Abandoning me?"

Jim turned and grinned. "It's that or-"

"I see your point." Artemus' gaze lingered on the bulge showing through Jim's trousers.

Jim leaned on the cue. He had to change the subject before things got out of hand. "Good book?"

"Who could read?" Artemus laughed. "But yes. You bought it?"

Jim nodded. "I liked it."

"I can't believe you had time to read." Artemus smoothed his trousers.

"I stayed up late one night. I couldn't sleep." Jim unbuttoned his vest. He was warm. Artemus went back to reading or faking it, and Jim scored a few caroms before growing bored. He went to the back door and stared out into the darkness. The moon was up; maybe a cigar would be nice. He stepped out and lit up. The air was cool, but not cold. The cigar was a good one. Artemus had picked them up somewhere during an assignment. He had a talent for finding good spirits and great cigars.

"Got one for me?" Artemus slipped out the door.

Jim smiled and handed him the last one. "One of us should've gone out."

"You're right." Artemus leaned against a rail.

"So why didn't you?" Jim blew a smoke ring.

"Why's it always my job?" Artemus snipped the end off his cigar and lit up. "You could've gone to the boxing hall."

"The matches were awful." Jim ran his hand inside Artemus' coat. "I'm glad you stayed."

Artemus shrugged. He groaned softly when Jim touched him on the chest. "Tomorrow will be another full day."

"I'm making a break for it. My horse is desperate for exercise. You can handle them."

Artemus lowered his cigar. "Don't even think it! If you're running, so am I."

"I'll saddle your horse." Jim moved closer. "I'm sure Julia missed you tonight."

"She's dead dull, James." Artemus put an arm around Jim's shoulder. "She's perfect for you."

Jim laughed and leaned onto the rail. "I'm done with women for a while."

Artemus laughed too. "Until tomorrow." He flicked out his cigar and tucked it away. "I'm saving the rest for later."

Jim nodded, but didn't do the same. Artemus disappeared inside, and Jim finished his cigar in the quiet of the night. There were things to worry about, but Jim didn't. He simply wished they were far away from here, until the express came through in a roar of sound and wind, blowing his hair awry. He ducked back inside, snuffed out his cigar, and laughed.

"Your hair is crazy." Artemus smiled. "I like it. Wear it that way tomorrow."

Jim ran both hands through his hair, forcing it down. He eyed the seat next to Artemus, but sat down at the desk and looked over their list of appointments for tomorrow. This would be the last of them, and then they were going to New Orleans to chase down some counterfeiters. Jim made a few mental notes concerning the senators they'd see.

"Anyone worry you?"

"Senator Waterford is always trouble," Jim said.

"Yes, but he's mine, not yours. I can handle him." Artemus shut his book.

"He hates my guts for that Astarte business, and I don't blame him, but he needs to move on." Jim put the list down. "There are rumors that he won't be re-elected."

"He'll lose." Artemus stood and put his brandy snifter on the tray. "You'll need to look out for Senator Hayes. He thinks you're nothing but trouble for this administration."

"Some days he's right." Jim smiled. "I'll be on my best behavior."

"Skip the gun. That'll help."

Jim nodded. It was good advice. He put his chin on his fist and looked at Artemus. "I think I'll turn in."

"I may read all night. I'm tense." Artemus held up a hand. "Don't offer me a backrub."

"I'd do it." Jim crossed to his coat, picked it up, and ran a finger down the side of Artemus' face. "I'll leave you in peace."

"Please. Being in this town is hard enough without you making it worse."

"I made the rules. I'll follow them." Jim turned away and went to his closet. He heard Artemus curse softly. Too many politicians and colonels traipsed about this train when they were in Washington. No one gave a thought to the fact that it was the middle of the night. Everything had to be above aboard. Their careers depended on it. He hung up his coat, vest, and shirt before heading forward to the stable car for one last look at the horses. They were fine, half-asleep. He left them, going to the stateroom. Artemus was right inside the door. They grabbed at each other. Jim shoved Artemus back against the wall and kissed him hard.

"We'll leave soon."

"I can't make it." Artemus grabbed, but Jim captured him by the wrists and pushed his arms flat against the wall.

"Yes, you can." Jim refused to let Artemus touch him. It would make this intolerable. "Go read your book."

Artemus took a deep breath and shuddered. "I hate you and your damn rules."

"I do too." Jim kissed him again, pushing his tongue deep and stroking it. He released Artemus abruptly and stepped away. "Go on."

Artemus groaned and left. He'd no more than cleared the doorway when they both heard the knock on the door. Jim pointed. Artemus went. Damn town. It never ended. Jim pondered a shirt. Would Artemus need a hand? No, but it was only polite. Jim shrugged into a white shirt and tucked it inside his trousers. He slid into his red smoking jacket and went to the parlor.

"Jim! I didn't think you'd join us," Colonel Fairchild said. He stood and shook Jim's hand. "Glad you did."

Jim nodded and sank down on a sofa. Artemus was at the desk. Colonel Fairchild was playing billiards as if he lived here. Thank God he didn't.

Artemus gave Jim a look that meant big trouble. "Colonel Fairchild was filling me in on the latest."

Jim glanced at the colonel. "Loveless?"

"He's broken out of jail. We're tracking him. When he's spotted, we'll send you there." Colonel Fairchild puffed up his chest. "We'll get him."

Jim doubted it. More likely, they'd hear from Dr. Loveless, when he was good and ready. "We don't make a prison that can hold that man."

Artemus nodded. "He's too damn smart."

Colonel Fairchild hit the balls around the table. "Rumor is that he's already dead from bullet wounds, but I don't believe it."

Jim snorted. "Not likely. Someone would have turned him in. Even dead he's worth a pretty penny."

Artemus tapped his pencil. "Which direction was he heading?"

"Uncertain," Colonel Fairchild said.

Jim sighed very softly and resigned himself to not knowing, until Dr. Loveless sent him a telegram. Artemus had an identical look on his face. The colonel seemed confident, but they knew better. "What about Voltaire?"

"Gone too." Colonel Fairchild finished his brandy. "Don't miss your appointments tomorrow. They're more important than ever. We need new funds to continue operating."

Jim and Artemus nodded at the same time. Colonel Fairchild racked his cue and shook their hands again. Jim opened the door and locked it after him. Artemus was slumped at the desk. Jim laid a gentle hand on Artemus' shoulder. "Don't worry."

"How can I not? That crazy little doctor has two things he wants to accomplish: kill you and take back California." Artemus wrapped his hand over Jim's and squeezed.

"Okay. Worry. I will too." Jim checked the clock. It was after eleven. "Artie, let's turn in for the night. We could at least hold each other."

"It's not enough, and it's not that late. Someone else may stop by." Artemus looked at Jim. "You go on. I'll read and sleep out here tonight."

Jim didn't answer for a moment. It made sense, but it wasn't what he wanted. "No one knows we share a room."

"I'm not always so sure." Artemus stood up. "If they can count doors, they can figure it out."

"There's a cot in your lab, and all these sofas..." Jim put his hands on hips. "Colonel Fairchild has never even hinted."

"Perhaps he thinks the bunks are still up." Artemus grinned. "We better not. It's just one more day."

Jim didn't want to, but he agreed with a nod. "Good night, Artie."

Artemus went to his book. "'Night, love."

Jim went straight to bed. He'd get up very early. He wanted to take a long ride before his appointments. The bed was chilly, and he wrapped up in the blankets and shut his eyes. He would sleep, whether he liked it or not.

********

Dawn was showing off her colors when Jim dropped the ramp and took his horse down. Artemus was asleep on the sofa; Jim had checked and tucked the blanket around him. It looked to be a nice day, with no heavy clouds. His horse moved out smartly, and Jim pointed him away from the city. For an hour, he wouldn't think, he'd ride.

Jim pulled his horse to a stop and stared at the Wanderer. Was Artemus up? Jim smiled and went home. He brushed and fed his horse a good ration of oats before turning his attention to Artemus' chestnut. The horse was getting fat. Jim cut back on the ration of oats and gave him a pat on the rump. He locked the ramp and headed for the lavatory to clean up. There was plenty of time to change before breakfast and his first appointment. He pushed open the door and refused to let his gaze linger on his partner in the tub.

"Morning, James."

"Hey, Artie." Jim stripped off his shirt and shaved. He kept his eyes on his face. "We going out for breakfast?"

"Let's eat here," Artemus purred.

Jim had a feeling they weren't talking about toast. He didn't sneak a glance, but he suspected Artemus was touching himself. "I'm going stark raving mad."

"I'll have company." Artemus chuckled. "Did you have a nice ride?"

Jim knew his face was hot, and his trousers were tight. "It didn't last long enough, but it was hard and fast."

Artemus groaned. Jim had to look and wished he hadn't. He took a deep breath and watched his partner finish. Artemus stared right back at him and orgasmed up his chest. Jim felt his knees tremble. This was so unfair. He gripped the sink.

"I need to buy supplies, if we're leaving tomorrow." Artemus' voice was businesslike, as if he hadn't just driven Jim wild.

"We will." Jim bit his lip. They simply had to. He turned back to the mirror. "Your horse is fat."

"Healthy, like myself." Artemus laughed.

Jim shook his head. His partner wasn't fat. "I can do this," he muttered.

"James, just one kiss?"

Jim put his razor away and wiped his face. "I won't be able to stop."

Artemus chuckled. "That was the plan."

"I hate you and my rules." Jim didn't listen for the answer. He grabbed up his shirt and went to the closet. He took several deep breaths and dressed quickly, before Artemus came in and found him naked. That would be his undoing. Leaving off his six-shooter, he stuffed a derringer in his coat pocket, and went out to the parlor. He could smell the coffee, and he sat down to enjoy a cup. It would take away the remaining chill of the morning.

Artemus wandered in, fully dressed, after Jim had downed two cups. "Are we going together?"

"Our appointments are in opposite directions." Jim fiddled with his empty cup and hesitated. "But I'd like that very much."

"I'd hoped so." Artemus slipped in some cuff links that he pulled from the desk. "Christmas is coming."

"What are you getting me?" Jim took his cup and saucer to the galley. "I already have your gift."

"You do?" Artemus groaned. "Jim, that's cruel. I'll be searching for it until Christmas Eve!"

"That's the fun of it." Jim laughed. "I promise you'll like it."

Artemus growled softly, "I'm not getting you anything."

"Good." Jim found his hat. "Ready?"

Artemus looked about. "Let me find a hat."

Jim went out and hailed a cab. He sat and waited for Artemus, smiling. Artemus was fun to tease. He took presents very seriously. The door opened, and Artemus stepped up and sat next to him. Jim tapped the top twice and smiled at his partner. Their hands joined between the seats. He wanted more than that, much more, but he'd take what he could get for now.

"Anything I should remember?"

"Don't be a smart mouth." Artemus frowned and squeezed Jim's hand. "Even if you want to strangle someone."

Jim shrugged. "I'll do my best. Meet me for lunch?"

"How about that place near the White House? They have good wine."

"Sounds fine. We need to check in with Colonel Fairchild this afternoon. He might have information on Dr. Loveless."

Artemus nodded. "Right after lunch. Are you armed?"

"Of course. Yourself?"

"Derringer and exploding cigar." Artemus made sure the curtains were shut on his side of the carriage, and Jim did the same. "One kiss."

Jim waited. He'd let Artemus do the work. Artemus cupped Jim's face with his free hand and moved him closer. Their lips met in nothing more than a caress. Jim waited. Artemus pulled away and smiled. Jim did too. He licked his lips and brought Artemus' hand up to kiss the back of it. Artemus groaned very softly, and the carriage stopped. Jim gave Artemus another squeeze and opened the door. It shut behind him, and Artemus was gone. Jim glanced at the sun. How long until lunch?

********

Jim was late to lunch. Senator Hayes had been stubborn and long-winded. Jim had been glad his six-shooter was at home. He'd have caressed it for sure, and that would have caused problems that President Grant didn't want to deal with today or any other.

Artemus waved him over to the table. "James, where the hell have you been?"

Jim glared at him, but bit back a quick reply. He took a deep breath. "If I talk about it, someone's going to pay, I swear."

Artemus laughed softly and poured Jim a healthy glass of a red wine that smelled very good. Jim drank more than was polite before looking at Artemus, who was grinning. "Better?"

"Yes." Jim put his hat on top of Artemus' hat and ran a quick hand through his hair. "Did you order?"

"It'll be here soon." Artemus nodded. "We're almost done."

Jim took another sip. "Yes." He didn't want to talk, just drink and eat. Once his stomach was full, he'd feel more congenial.

Artemus refilled Jim's wine glass. "Relax."

Jim felt the nudge of Artemus' boot under the table. He nodded. Artemus didn't say anything else until after lunch was finished. Jim appreciated his partner's silence. "How did your appointments go?"

"Waterford is going to be difficult, but he's not going to be re-elected. I'm certain of it. There is already jockeying for his seat on the committee. He's grasping for one last heroic gesture."

Jim wiped his mouth with his napkin. "You don't want to know what I think."

"I know what you think, and you're right." Artemus picked up the empty bottle. "Another?"

"No." Jim was full. "Hayes will toe the line, but he's going to complain the whole way."

"All bluff and bluster, but he'll do what's right. He just wants to yell at you." Artemus shrugged. "I understand the feeling."

Jim laughed, not loudly. "Did you bump into President Grant?"

"Yes. He wants to see you at four." Artemus checked his pocket watch. "We are leaving tomorrow."

"Good." Jim's eyes followed the watch. "Artemus, your watch is worn. When are you getting a new one?"

"Never." Artemus shrugged and put it away. "No news on Dr. Loveless. He's vanished."

"No surprise." Jim sighed. "Let's go. You buying?"

"Of course not. You invited me." Artemus picked up their hats, separated them, and handed the blue one to Jim. "And thank you."

"You're a rogue."

"I'll wait outside." Artemus headed for the door.

Jim dug his wallet out of his jacket and paid, leaving a generous tip. He smiled. Artemus always knew how to cheer him up. He went out and found Artemus on the boardwalk. "Meet you on the train for dinner?"

Artemus shook his head. "I have a date with Julia--the last one I might add."

"She may cry." Jim put on his hat. "So..."

"Train leaves in the morning. I'll be on it." Artemus gave Jim a wink and strode off.

Jim shouted after him, "You better be!"

Artemus didn't even look back. Jim flagged down another hack. His next appointment was at a private residence. He had enough time to make it back to the White House and meet with President Grant. And Artemus? Jim would have to wait until the morning, and that was too long.

********

Jim paid the cab driver and counted the lights on in the parlor. Artemus had been there, but left again, probably out with Julia. Jim unlocked the door and tossed his hat. He sagged down in a chair, scrubbing at his hair. He was tired. He'd never admit it, but these meetings wore him out more than a fistfight and a long ride. He finally let out a long, deep sigh. Artemus wouldn't be home until morning. He'd had enough of temptation and would no doubt give Julia a tender farewell. Jim laughed aloud. Artemus was a scoundrel. There was a knock on the door, and Jim immediately answered it.

"West!"

"That's me," Jim said. He stepped outside, instead of inviting Waterford in. "How can I help you, Senator?"

"I hate your guts!"

"I'm fully aware of that." Jim almost reached out to catch the weaving senator before he tumbled down the stairs, but he righted himself at the last moment. "Anything else?"

Waterford glared at him. Jim stared out at the carriage and made a sharp gesture. Waterford's lackeys needed to come get the man. "She's dead, you know."

"I know. You should go home." Jim made a quick grab for Waterford that kept him from flipping over the rail. "Please."

Waterford used the moment to punch Jim in the face. "I've lost it all, because of you!"

Too much whiskey weakened the punch; Jim didn't fall down. He wiped his mouth and didn't know what to say.

Waterford reached inside his vest pocket and pulled out a lock of braided hair. "This! This is all I have left of her! Are you happy, you sanctimonious shit?!"

Jim couldn't and wouldn't argue. It was over. He found a good grip on the senator's arm and marched the senator out to the waiting carriage. "Go home."

Waterford climbed inside, still cursing and mumbling. Jim slammed the door and yelled up at the driver. "Take him home!" The driver nodded, and the carriage pulled away. Only then did Jim feel his face. It wasn't bleeding. He went back up the stairs and turned out the light on the back step. It would discourage visitors. Going to the lavatory, he wet a washcloth and pressed it to his cheek. For a drunkard, Waterford threw a good punch.

Jim looked at the man in the mirror and sighed. He should go out tonight and find a woman. It wasn't what he wanted, but it would do. He tossed the cloth aside and went to saddle Artemus' chestnut. The horse needed some exercise. Even a ride to a whorehouse would help. Jim buckled on his six-shooter and made sure the lights were in a pattern that said 'nobody home.' With that, he was gone.

********

Jim watched the sun come up from the back step of the Wanderer and shivered. Today, it was cold, and there wasn't enough whiskey in him to ward it off. The train was being stoked. Soon, she'd be ready to head south. He listened carefully and started to smile. A hack was coming up what passed for a road. It stopped. He folded his arms, leaned against the door, and waited.

Artemus staggered out. He tossed the driver some money and careened in the train's general direction. Yawning, he laughed up at Jim. "I'm not that late!"

"Better late than never," Jim said and pulled the whistle twice. Now they could leave. He looked Artemus up and down. "You can't be drunk. It's not possible."

"Just tired. I was drunk, I think, for about five minutes, but it passed." Artemus grinned. "How was your night?"

Jim rolled his eyes and opened the door. "Go get some sleep."

"James, sleep is the last thing I have in mind." Artemus shut the door, pulled down the shade, and stood up straight. "The last thing."

Jim stared at the wide-awake, very sober man in front of him. "I never know when it's an act." He laughed. "And I should."

"I know." Artemus took a step and laid his cheek alongside Jim's. "Who hit you?"

"Senator Waterford." Jim knew exactly where Artemus had been from the smells on his coat.

"Is he dead?" Artemus kissed Jim, right beneath his ear.

"No." Jim laced his fingers through Artemus' hair and shook him gently. "It's not his fault."

"Yes and no. I don't think much of him." Artemus nuzzled him. "I'm not waiting one more minute."

"Yeah, you are." Jim didn't want to talk about the senator either. He took off his coat and rubbed his arms. The heat would be up soon. He unbuckled his gun and stowed it away. "I'm going to make some coffee."

"Let's just fall into bed." Artemus moved about the parlor, doing this and that. "Me, on you."

Jim grinned and went to make coffee. His belly needed something in it. The whiskey was long gone. Artemus trailed in and took over the job after a minute or two. "I saw my horse in town."

"I was riding him." Jim leaned against a cabinet and enjoyed the heat from the stove. "He's lazy."

"Me too." Artemus rubbed his hands together. "It's cold. We need to get to California. Quick!"

"I second that motion." The train lurched, and Jim immediately secured a lone cup and saucer. Artemus braced himself with a hand against a wall. Jim moved to him. "Not soon enough."

Artemus nodded and kissed Jim gently. "I hate Washington more and more as the years pass."

"Not as much as I do." Jim dipped his hand in Artemus' vest and ran his thumb over the embossed train on the pocket watch lid. "Let me buy you a new one."

"Nope." Artemus took the watch from Jim's hand and stowed it. "That one's special."

"I gave it to you." Jim frowned. "I should be able to buy you another."

Artemus gave a small sigh. "If you must know, come here and look inside." Like many pocket watches, this one had two sides that opened; one for the face and the other for an inscription. Jim remembered trying to decide what to have put there and had settled for one word, 'Artie', it seemed to say it all. Artemus carefully opened the second side, making sure the watch was flat in his palm.

Jim looked inside it and felt a jolt of surprise. He whispered, "A lock of my hair?"

"Yes. Good luck, in case I need it, which I don't, not usually, because of my tremendous amount of skill." Artemus shut it quickly and put it away. "It's good luck."

"Not because you're afraid I'll die, right?" Jim hoped his heart wasn't on his sleeve.

"No, James. You're indestructible, just a reminder and a promise." Artemus smiled and winked.

The hair had been tied tightly with a small scrap of a blue ribbon. Jim blushed slightly. "That's romantic," he whispered and blushed deeper when Artemus speared him with those dark brown eyes. Artemus cleared his throat. He looked away. Was he angry? Or ashamed of the sentiment? Jim continued, "You could still put the hair in a new watch."

"James, give up. I'm not doing it." Artemus turned and checked the coffee. "I'm starting to feel my hands again."

Jim breathed a sigh of relief. Artemus wasn't going to laugh at the blurted out words or call him a maudlin fool. Jim had been going to buy Artemus a new watch, but now he was glad that he hadn't.

Artemus shot him a quick look and moved to trap him against the cabinets. Their hands met, and fingers entwined. Jim wrapped his arms around, forcing Artemus' arms back. Artemus leaned, and they kissed fiercely. Jim was warm now. He let Artemus have his hands back, and they immediately wandered up and down Jim's body. He didn't mind a bit.

"Coffee?"

Artemus groaned. "Alright." He checked again and poured two mugs. "What did you and President Grant talk about?"

"Not much: Dr. Loveless, Waterford, trains, whiskey, horses, the usual." Jim took a cautious sip. It was good. He blew on it a little more. "How was Julia?"

"More than fine." Artemus glared at him. "So fine that I caught her in the arms of a young cavalry officer."

"Seventh?"

"How would I know?" Artemus sounded disgusted. "Women are so unfaithful these days."

"That's why you have me," Jim said softly.

Artemus gave Jim a slow smile. "I had almost forgotten."

Jim doubted that. He took his coffee out to the parlor and allowed himself to relax thoroughly on a sofa. Artemus was close behind and sat almost on top of him. They drank their coffee in silence; the rhythm of the train was soothing. Jim glanced over at Artemus and wrapped an arm around him. The sun was fully up now, shining brightly in the windows. The parlor car was also a touch warmer.

"Bath?"

"We should. You smell." Jim took a sniff. "What gutter did you sleep in?"

"The one on the east side of town." Artemus put his empty mug down. "You?"

"West, of course." Jim finished his mug and took them both to the sink. He stretched, yawned, and headed for the tub. Artemus would catch up. He never passed up a bath. Jim had just started the water when a very naked Artemus stepped inside the room and caught him in a bear hug. "Surprise a man."

"You like surprises." Artemus kissed the back of Jim's neck. "You don't seem to be in any rush for us to renew our acquaintance."

Jim laughed at the turn of phrase. It was true. He wanted to enjoy it, even wallow in it, and smelling good would make it last longer. "Let's get clean."

"And dirty." Artemus tucked his hand around Jim's privates. Jim moved away and got in the water. Artemus knelt down and poured a pitcher of water on Jim's head. "A little eagerness wouldn't be amiss. It might even be taken as a compliment."

Jim wiped the water from his eyes and started soaping. "Maybe I want it to last and last."

Artemus dumped some water on Jim. "Were you with a girl last night?"

"Six or seven." Jim scrubbed his hair, and Artemus rinsed it. "You?"

"I stuck with men." Artemus laughed when Jim's wet hand took a grip on him, far below the belt. "Why?"

Jim was gentle, but he wanted to squeeze the truth out of him. Artemus never told Jim where he'd been or what he was doing. It was almost annoying. Jim gave a playful yank and stood up to rinse off one last time. He stepped out, and Artemus got in. Jim grabbed the soap and started washing his wayward partner.

"I regretted the rules more than ever this trip," Jim said.

"Good." Artemus grinned. "Maybe you'll change them.

Jim smiled back at him. "Maybe I will." He wouldn't. They couldn't, but he'd like to do it. "You could invent a better alarm system."

Artemus washed his face. "I'll give it some thought." He stood up for a last rinse. Jim moved away and began to dry off. He handed Artemus a towel and dried his back for him.

Artemus returned the favor and added a kiss. "You missed me."

It wasn't a question. Jim rolled his eyes. "Of course. And it wouldn't kill ya to tell me the same."

"Would you believe me?"

Jim thought about that while he hung up the towels. Artemus showered his women with flowery phrases and compliments. Jim received none, not that he wanted any, but an occasional--he banged the side of his head to get some water out. He felt the water dribble out and wiped his ear with a grimace. He hated that.

"Well?"

"I was thinking, but I lost my train of thought." Jim hung up the towels. "You're a scoundrel and a flatterer, but yes."

"Maybe later. Right now, I'm through talking." Artemus took Jim by the hand and started walking toward their stateroom. Jim went along eagerly. His skin prickled in the cool air, and he practically pushed Artemus on the bed. They wrapped up together under the covers. Artemus had managed to be more on top.

"We have a new engineer this trip," Jim said softly. He moved his hands around Artemus' body. "It could mean trouble."

"Why?" Artemus kissed the hollow of Jim's neck and pulled them closer.

"He just seems to be a hard-ass." Jim laughed when Artemus squeezed him in that location. "I told him that the parlor car was off-limits."

"Did he spit or look away?"

"Both." Jim ran his hand through Artemus' damp black hair. "And he brought his own firemen."

"Shit." Artemus claimed Jim's mouth.

Jim let his banked fire blaze up. He'd deal with engineer if he had to, but right now, he had other things he'd rather be doing. Artemus moved with him. It had been too long since they'd touched each other like this, and Jim wanted it to last all day. He slowed Artemus down. "Do we have to rush?"

"Hell yes!" Artemus licked, bit, and sucked.

Jim gave up trying. He grabbed and tried to get on top. Artemus' weight held him down firmly. He struggled. Artemus laughed. Jim went limp. "Fine. Do what you will."

"That's what I like to hear." Artemus kissed Jim fiercely and then lingered over the next one. "It's my turn."

Jim had known it. "We're both getting a turn today."

Artemus groaned and moved. Jim smiled. At this rate, Artemus was going to be finished soon. Jim reached and took a strong hold, not gentle. Artemus yelped and stared, holding still. "Yes?"

"Now that I have your attention, lay flat on your back!"

Artemus grumbled, but did it. Jim moved over him, kissing, and nibbling. Artemus arched up and thrust them together. Their cocks rubbed and bumped in a wild rhythm. Jim was fast losing control. It had been so long. He gasped and plunged his tongue deep in Artemus' mouth. Artemus sucked Jim's tongue and gripped him by the ass.

"Oh, God," Jim whispered. He spent on Artemus' stomach, his hips jerking.

Artemus laughed softly. "Turned out you were the one in a hurry."

"Very funny." Jim drew back and tried to catch his breath, staring at Artemus' hard cock. "I'm done. Let's sleep."

"Now who's funny?" Artemus dipped his finger in Jim's seed and tasted it. "You taste good."

It was Jim's turn to laugh. "If you say so. I'll get a towel."

"Don't." Artemus smeared his hand in it, rubbing it into Jim's skin. He sat up and maneuvered Jim around until he was on his hands and knees. "May I have this dance?"

"It would be my pleasure." Jim relaxed.

Artemus grabbed the salve and didn't fool around with going slow. He held Jim by the shoulders and powered into him. Jim went from shock to pleasure very quickly. "You feel so good."

"Artie!" Jim couldn't think past that one word. It felt incredible and was just what he needed from his partner.

"James," Artemus said softly. He reached around and took hold of Jim's cock, working it up and down. Jim gasped and dropped down to rest on his elbows. His brain was on fire, and his body burned away to ashes. It lasted long enough to erase his frustrations.

********

"I'm going to go check the horses," Jim said softly in Artemus' ear. "I'll be right back."

"Get me a pail of oats while you're out there." Artemus took hold of Jim and pulled him into another long kiss. "I'm hungry."

"Want me to add hot water and make a hot mash?" Jim kept his mouth away, but that didn't deter Artemus, who just moved his mouth lower. "Um, the horses can wait."

"I thought so." Artemus laughed.

Jim laced his fingers through Artemus' hair. Everything could wait.

********

"I am going."

"I know." Artemus kissed Jim's spine, all of it, bottom to top.

Jim began to think he'd have to use force to leave the bed. He smiled when Artemus burrowed into Jim's back. Their bodies molded together. Jim sighed. He wasn't going anywhere. Hopefully, the horses wouldn't starve. This is what came of too much time in Washington. A small bell chimed, and Jim moved fast. He yanked on his spare set of pants and pointed at Artemus. "Stay put."

Artemus shrugged, turned away to the wall, and curled up. He'd probably go back to sleep. Jim ran a hand through his hair and stepped out into the hallway. Their new engineer came through the connecting door without a pause. Jim moved to meet him decisively. This was unacceptable.

"What is going on?" Jim planted himself in the hallway with his hands on his hips. This fellow needed to understand who ran this train, and it wasn't him.

"We're going to make a quick stop here for wood. There's a town, if you need supplies." The engineer loomed over Jim, not that it would matter. "Where's your partner?"

Jim didn't move. "Again, this car is off-limits. If you need to stop, stop; we'll take care of our business and give you the all-clear to leave."

"That's not how it works, West. I'm contracted to get this train to New Orleans. We'll run on my schedule--not yours. Mess around and I'll leave you behind!" The engineer inched closer. "And tell your drunken partner the same."

Jim took a deep breath. They had to have an engineer. "I'll speak to my partner."

"See that you do," the engineer said and marched back the way he'd come.

Jim reset the trip alarm in the stable and fed the horses, giving them a quick brush. As soon as the train stopped in New Orleans, he might throw their engineer in the ditch--hard.

The door to the parlor car opened, and Artemus came through, glancing about. "All clear?"

"Yes. If I shoot him, can you drive the train?" Jim put the brush away. "Don't think I'm joking."

"I know you're not, and yes, of course." Artemus gave his horse a pat on the rump. "We do need supplies; the ones I ordered weren't delivered. It's a store I've used before, but-"

"I'll stay here and make sure he doesn't leave." Jim rubbed the back of his neck. "Did you pay up front?"

"Of course." Artemus shrugged. "At least it wasn't my money."

Jim laughed softly. They both heard the train whistle blow. "Get yourself organized and get back."

"Yes, sir," Artemus blew Jim a kiss and went to the door. "Saddle my horse."

Jim agreed. It would make it faster. He saddled the lazy beast quickly and dropped the ramp as soon as the train was fully stopped. The horse lurched down the ramp, and Jim held him while Artemus mounted. "Don't dawdle."

Artemus nodded and trotted off. The town was a short distance away from the line. Jim planted himself on the ramp to wait. The train couldn't leave if the ramp was down, and it wasn't going up until he said so. His stomach grumbled, but he wasn't moving, even for coffee. He could hear them throwing wood. It was a little odd. They should have left Washington with a full load. Well, every engineer was different, and some were worse than others. The sun moved across the sky. Jim stood up and stretched. Artemus should have been back.

"West! Where's that sot of a partner of yours? Time to leave!"

Jim turned to face what was becoming a major annoyance. No one insulted his partner, not twice. He moved to him. "Artemus, who is twofold the man you'll ever be, should be back any minute. We'll wait!"

The engineer sneered. "I have no use for drunks. He has five minutes, and we're leaving. He can catch up on a fast freight."

Jim cursed at him. "The hell we will! This is my damn train! You're the engineer!"

"Exactly. Five minutes." The engineer spat and went back up front.

Jim went to get his gun, buckling it on and returning to the ramp. There was still no sign of Artemus. Something was wrong. Jim saddled his horse fast and tossed a few things he might need in the saddlebags.

"Well?"

It was the damn engineer. Jim whirled. "I'll go get him. Keep this train here!"

The engineer shrugged, didn't answer, and was gone. Jim grabbed his hat, some extra cash, and pulled his horse out. Immediately, the ramp went up. He mounted fast. The Wanderer gave a blast and began to move.

"Damn it!" Jim moved his horse away. What the hell was going on? He couldn't very well gallop up alongside and blast the engineer, even though it was tempting.

The parlor car passed slowly. One of the firemen stood on the back rail. He grinned and tossed Jim a package. "Compliments of Dr. Miguelito Loveless!"

Jim caught the package and drew his gun, but the fireman ducked back inside. The Wanderer was picking up speed; she'd be gone soon. He slammed his heels into his horse and raced after his train. The black horse leveled out, came up alongside fast, passed the stable car, and headed for the cab. A fireman leaned out with a rifle, and Jim shot him dead with no regrets. His horse swerved away, but Jim forced him back and took aim at the engineer. Nothing to see but a shoulder, but Jim hit it. He was sure of it. A log sailed out the door, heading right for them. Jim yanked the stallion to the right, but the log slammed into the back of Jim's thigh. His horse stumbled and nearly fell. Jim clung to the saddle. When he righted himself, the Wanderer was too far away.

Jim circled his horse around and stopped at the dead fireman. He dismounted and to his shock, his leg crumpled. He held onto the saddle horn and rubbed his thigh frantically. He didn't have time for this! He took a tentative step and knelt by the fireman. Quickly, he searched the fireman's pockets, but there were only wood chips. "Damn it!" His leg wanted to buckle. The muscle trembled. He threw himself back on his horse and looked for some cover. A patch of woods not far from the town would have to do. It probably didn't matter. Someone was most likely watching him, but he pushed his horse in that direction and didn't take a deep breath until he was in the cover of the trees. He wouldn't dismount again until he had to.

Carefully, Jim unwrapped the package; most likely, it wasn't a bomb. Opening a small box, he stared down at the contents--a locket. On the front were two masks: one laughing, and one crying. Jim took it out gently and felt his heart clench. He'd known Dr. Loveless had Artemus, but this meant there had been considerable planning behind it--the supplies, the engineer, the stop, and now this. He opened it carefully. Inside was a hair ring made of intricately braided black hair. His clenched heart squeezed a little tighter. Was this all he'd have left of Artemus? He shut the locket with a snap and refused to believe it. Why? He stopped that line of thought. The little doctor was crazy; there was no reason to it. The locket had a clasp for hooking onto a necklace or a fob. He hadn't worn his watch, so he opened the small compartment on his belt buckle and stowed it away in there. Safe. No room for bullets now, but that was fine. He crumbled up the package and tossed it away angrily. His leg throbbed, and he rubbed it some more.

Jim pushed his horse into a wide circle around the town. He spotted nothing strange or unusual, so where was Artemus? Jim began to think his only choice was to ride into town and let them catch him. He looked everything over again and did just that, riding straight for the telegraph office. Dismounting, he tried desperately not to limp through the door.

The attendant nodded at him. "Payment in advance."

"Sure." Jim filled out the telegram to Colonel Fairchild and paid. The attendant looked it over and tossed it on a pile. Jim caught the man's arm. "Today?"

"I'll get to it." The attendant pulled away and went behind his desk. "There's the door."

Jim shook his head. "Now! I'll stand here until it's done." The attendant ignored him. Jim moved around the desk and drew his gun. "I mean now!"

The door opened, and a big, burly sheriff walked in with his gun drawn. "Jed, who is this jasper with a gun to your head?"

"Somebody in a big rush. I don't ever rush." Jed picked up a pencil.

Jim holstered his gun. "Sorry. I'll be leaving."

The sheriff laughed. "Right." He waved his gun at Jim. "Come on. Two days in jail--threatening the telegraph officer."

"I don't have time for this! My name is-"

"He knows your name, Mr. West," Dr. Loveless interrupted with his usual wide grin. He sauntered through the doorway with his own particular brand of grace and style. "He doesn't care. I paid him not to, so take Mr. West to jail, Sheriff."

The sheriff pulled Jim's gun from his holster. "Move!"

Jim glared at Dr. Loveless. None of this was a surprise, and it always paid to let the little doctor think he had the upper hand. "We're not finished here."

"Correct, Mr. West." And Dr. Loveless was gone.

The sheriff took Jim to jail with a firm hand. Jim was tempted to try to escape, but his leg hurt so badly; he wouldn't get far. He stumbled in the cell when the sheriff pushed him. His pride wouldn't allow him to crumble to the floor. The sheriff laughed at him. "Clumsy, aren't ya?"

"Mr. West is never clumsy," Dr. Loveless said. He was sitting on a cot in the adjoining cell. "I fear he has injured himself."

"Where is Artemus?" Jim straightened up and forced his leg to do it. Pain pushed up his back, and sweat broke out on his brow. "You do have him."

"Did you get my present? When a loved one dies, it's all the rage to have a keepsake made from their hair. It's something to remember them by." Dr. Loveless stood up and adjusted his cravat before opening his cell door.

Jim had to act as if he didn't care. He knew it, but--"Damn you! Where is Artemus?"

"It was simplicity itself." Dr. Loveless stayed far away from Jim's cell. "In prison I had plenty of time to think. If it weren't for the food, it wouldn't be all that bad."

"I can get you back there--fast." Jim edged towards the cell door.

"Mr. West, your humor falls flat today. Mr. Gordon is dead, but I'm not going to kill you, just everyone you love. When the country is in a panic, California will be a plum for the picking, and you? You'll be too busy grieving to care."

Jim didn't hear much past the word 'dead.' He didn't believe it, but if anyone could do it, it was Dr. Loveless.

"Sheriff, keep him here for two days. His leg is injured. That works in your favor. You'll have to search him for a lock pick, but you and four or five other men can handle that." Dr. Loveless paused in the doorway. "You will excuse me; I have a train to catch."

Jim pulled the knife from the sleeve of his shirt and threw it. It should have lodged in Dr. Loveless' black heart, but he deftly blocked it with his cane. "Now that was uncalled for, Mr. West. Sheriff, do your duty."

Jim watched Dr. Loveless hobble away before turning his attention to the sheriff. "Four men? You're yellow, aren't you?"

The sheriff unlocked the door. "I don't need four men. You're a little fella."

Jim spread his hands. "You killed my partner. You might need those other men."

The sheriff stepped inside and drew his gun. "Sorry about your friend, but a job's a job."

Jim watched the gun. He'd have a chance; he'd wait for it. "Okay, don't shoot. I'll behave."

"Yeah, I thought you would." The sheriff struck out with his other hand. The blow was slow, and Jim could have avoided it easily, but that wouldn't get rid of the gun. Jim took it. He hit the floor, groaned, and didn't move. The sheriff nudged him with a boot. "You weren't so tough."

Jim didn't hesitate when the sheriff leaned over to search him. He'd worry about his leg later. The sheriff was big, but slow, and Jim took him down to the dirt floor. Pressing the sheriff's gun against his head, Jim said, "You have one chance to tell the truth."

"What? Yes!"

"Where is my partner?"

"Dead! I shot him! He's in a ditch outside of town. His horse is in the stable!" The sheriff gasped. "I should've followed orders."

"Yes, you should have." Jim pulled the hammer back. "Where is Loveless going?"

"He didn't say. This was a simple job for cash--nothing more!" The sheriff gulped and ate dirt.

Jim shuffled out and locked the door. First, he'd check the ditch, and then, if necessary, he'd come back and kill the son of a bitch. Leaning against the wall, Jim took a deep breath. He found his gun in the sheriff's desk and went out the door. He grabbed the reins of his horse and headed for the stable. His leg dragged, and he watched everyone. He had a feeling he wasn't going to make it. The big chestnut was in the stable. Jim could see him from the door.

"The stable! Come on!"

"Damn it!" Jim didn't look to see who was yelling. All that mattered was getting away. He forced his horse inside the barn and shut the big doors, locking them. The stable was dark, and he limped to Artemus' horse. He was still saddled. A shadowy figure rose from the hay, and Jim drew his gun. "I'll shoot!"

"Please do. Finish the job."

Jim barely heard the whisper. The door began to sway and bang from the men on the other side. He grabbed Artemus, and they both nearly fell. "Artie."

"You should get the door," Artemus said. "We have company."

Jim clutched him. "It would be rude to leave them there." He leaned Artemus against the stall and stumbled to the door. He tugged it wide open, and four men crashed inside. Jim stayed behind the door and waited for his chance.

Artemus stepped out from the stall. He looked awful. "Care to try again, boys?"

The men stopped dead in their tracks; one turned to run. Artemus laughed dramatically and threw up his arms at them. Jim saw the small projectile. They probably didn't. A flash of light and smoke billowed all around them. Jim ducked around it and put Artemus on his horse. Artemus galloped straight through the smoke. Jim made it halfway in the saddle, and his horse followed. He managed to swing his leg over, but couldn't use the stirrup.

Jim didn't try to stop his horse until he saw Artemus waver in the saddle. "Pull him in, Artie!"

The big chestnut slowed. The black caught up with him, and Jim landed on the ground with a thud. Artemus slid from the saddle, and Jim caught him--barely. They both hit the ground, tangled legs and blood between them.

"Well, that was ugly." Jim's leg had taken the full weight of his partner. Not moving seemed the best idea, at least for a moment. Artemus made no sound, his head pillowed on Jim's chest. Jim quickly checked for a pulse. It was there, but Artemus had lost more blood than was good for a man. Looking about, Jim could see no easy solution to these problems. What he needed to do was gallop for Washington. President Grant was next on the list, but--

"Jim, what's going on?"

"Dr. Loveless. He almost succeeded in killing you. Now he's going after President Grant," Jim said. He pulled Artemus' coat back to see the bullet wound. The bullet had hit Artemus in the side, but below the ribs. There was plenty of blood; it had matted the shirt red. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll live, but it won't be any fun for a few days. Get on your horse and get going. I'll be fine." Artemus gave Jim a nudge. "Why aren't you moving?"

"I can't. My leg." Jim rested his head on Artemus for a moment. "I'll get moving."

Artemus clutched his side and struggled off him. Jim looked first. It hurt, throbbing and strumming. He rubbed it. Pain tore up his back and down his leg. He had to get up. There was no choice in the matter. Artemus caught Jim's eye. "A break on your thigh might never heal right."

"I know." Jim flexed the lower part of his leg. "I don't think it's broken."

"Well something's wrong with it." Artemus crawled to a tree and leaned against it. "Think they'll follow?"

"Probably not." Jim got his good leg underneath him and surged up. He stood on one leg. His left leg hung uselessly. It wasn't broken, he hoped, but it might as well be for all the good it'd do him. "We've got to keep moving."

"We can make it to the Wanderer," Artemus said.

Jim shook his head. "Train's gone. Loveless stole her."

"So, I'm shot, you're crippled, we have no train, and Dr. Loveless is taking it to kill President Grant?" Artemus shut his eyes. "Is that a good analysis of the situation?"

"Excellent." Jim whistled his horse over and tossed the saddlebags on the ground. "There are bandages in there. Let's get you fixed up."

"Ouch!" Artemus held perfectly still while Jim tore off the shirt, but declared, "The bullet went through!"

"I needed to check." Jim made sure the bleeding had stopped. He rummaged in the saddlebags and found some whiskey, poured it over the wound and wrapped it tightly. "You're a mess."

"Me? You can't even walk, and there's nothing I can do to help that," Artemus said softly, gripping Jim on the shoulder. "What are we gonna do?"

"Keep moving. I shot the engineer. With any luck, he'll bleed to death. Here."

Artemus grasped the bottle and took a long drink before he handed it back to Jim. "It's going to get cold tonight."

"I know." Jim rubbed a bloody hand across his forehead and drank some whiskey. "You ride in front. I'll hang on to you."

"And when I pass out?"

"I'll try to keep you from falling."

"You ride in front." Artemus struggled to his feet, pressing his bandage. Jim helped him put on his jacket, as his shirt was ruined. "That way I can just slide off the back. You land on that leg wrong again and it will break!"

Jim whistled up the horses again. "How about you just tie me over the saddle?"

Artemus laughed. "Good idea. Got any rope?"

Jim went through the saddlebag again and found a short piece. "Not big enough."

"It'll work. Come on." Artemus put his arm around Jim, and they made it to the horse.

"Down!" Jim pulled on the reins and brushed his hand against the horse's knee. "Down!"

"Handy horse to have along with us on this adventure."

Jim didn't have energy to laugh. The black settled down to his stomach. The surge up would hurt like hell, but Jim would make it because he didn't have a choice. He eased into the saddle, his balance precarious at best. Artemus looked him over. "Hurt?"

Jim bit his lip in an effort not to curse. "No."

Artemus took hold of the leg. "Sit more sidesaddle. I'll tie your leg to the saddle horn."

Jim shifted his weight. Artemus helped him put the leg in front of him. It was damn awkward. The horse began to rock. "He's getting up whether we like it or not."

Artemus tied quickly. "Hang on!"

Jim held on and saw black dots swirling in front of his eyes. He gasped once and tried to find a seat. His butt was too far back, but his weight was all on his right leg. His left hurt, but he'd make it--how far was the question. Artemus handed him up the reins. Jim could see blood on the bandage. "Can you get up behind me?"

Artemus looked around, went over to a big rock, and climbed up it slowly. "Come get me."

Jim nudged his horse towards the rock and gained a new appreciation for women who did this regularly. Some women hunted the fox sidesaddle. It didn't seem possible. He stopped the black, and Artemus got on slowly. Jim tried not to lean back into him, but Artemus scooted forward and wrapped them together. "Let's go."

Jim nodded and pushed the horse in the direction of the rail line. Artemus' horse would follow. They'd keep moving until they could go no farther.

********

The sun was high overhead. It wasn't warm, and Artemus shivered against Jim's back. "I wish I'd planned for this."

"Me too." Jim could hardly think. He knew they had to keep moving and that was all. "Think we'll find a town?"

"I doubt it." Artemus put his head on Jim's shoulder. "You okay?"

"Feel great. You?"

"Oh yeah. Hey, when we die, think we'll get medals?"

"How will they find us? Follow the bread crumbs?" Jim pushed the horse along faster. His horse was made of strong stuff, but carrying two men was beginning to wear him out. "We need to switch horses."

"If I get off, I may never get back on."

Jim shut his eyes. He felt the same. "He said two days--two days."

"Yeah?"

"We need help." Jim pulled the horse to a stop. "Think, Artemus!"

Artemus groaned and burrowed his head into Jim's back. "Wait! Doesn't a freight train come up this line? We usually travel at top speed out to that siding, wait about an hour, and then keep traveling."

"They didn't go far enough. Would they be stupid enough to go backwards the whole way?"

"Yes. They have to be going backwards." Artemus groaned again. "Loveless is betting they can beat the freight train back to Washington."

"That freight train has two engines. They'll never make it," Jim said softly. "But that leads us to--how can we get aboard?"

"We'll have to flag them down." Artemus leaned up slightly. "Fire alongside the tracks should do it."

Jim took a good look around. They'd need some deadfall. "Come on." He got the horse moving again, but stopped about a half mile further up the line. "Artemus, slide off."

Artemus gripped Jim's arm and dismounted. He grunted and sagged right to his knees. Jim untied his leg. "Down!"

The big, black horse also grunted and went down slowly. Jim held on and then tumbled the short distance to the ground. The horse got up. Jim and Artemus didn't. They lay together in a heap.

"Jim?"

"Artie?"

"Let's lay here a minute."

"Good idea." Jim shut his eyes and took a deep breath. He was better off than Artemus. He had to push through this. "Cold?"

"Yes."

Jim didn't like this. Artemus was bound to get sick. With a shove, Jim stood up. Artemus was shivering and pale. Jim unsaddled his horse and put the blanket on Artemus, adding his coat, and the other horse blanket. He hopped to the dead tree and started breaking off limbs. At least his arms still worked. Finding one that was about right, he tested it out as a crutch. It'd work, as long as he didn't fall on it. He made his way to Artemus and made sure he drank some whiskey.

"Stay awake for a little while longer, Artie."

"I will."

Jim let the horses drag the wood to a good level spot near the tracks. Finally, he collected some brush and leaves and went to start the fire. It blazed up quickly, and he watched it carefully before going to get Artemus. "Come to the fire. It'll help."

Artemus got up shakily and stumbled to the fire. Jim put him on a horse blanket. The fire did feel good. Jim glanced at the sun. It'd be dark in another two hours. The train would come. He'd have to keep the fire going. He levered himself down, the stick broke in half, and he dropped to the ground near Artemus.

"You know how to make an entrance."

Jim heard the words dimly through a haze of pain. He wanted to cry and laugh, but he settled for wrapping himself around Artemus. "Warm?"

"Much better. I'm not fevered, not yet--just weak."

"Good. Rest. I'll watch the fire." Jim tossed his crutch into it. He kissed Artemus on the forehead. "Glad you're alive."

"Thanks. Me too. It was nip and tuck there." Artemus curled into Jim, resting on him, breathing deeply. "If I hadn't had my good luck with me, I'd be dead."

Jim couldn't find a spot that didn't hurt, and Artemus sagged against him. "If this is good luck, I don't ever want bad luck."

Artemus laughed softly. "We'll get him, somehow."

"Dr. Loveless planned this down to the last button. He might succeed yet." Jim would do all he could. He hoped it was enough. Artemus was asleep. Jim fed the fire and waited. Once, he opened his belt buckle and took out the locket. He should toss it in the fire, but it was lovely. Was it Artemus' hair? Jim would ask and maybe then throw it out. He stowed it away and watched his partner sleep.

The sun began to set, and Jim thought the train would be coming past soon. He threw all the wood on the fire. It blazed high.

"Hey, I'm hot!"

Jim laughed, and they pulled away to a safer distance. "Still bleeding?"

"It seems to have stopped." Artemus handed Jim his jacket. "Put this on before you freeze to death."

"In this heat?" Jim took it and put it on. He made sure the horses were safe and well back. There came a rumble in his boots, and he grinned. "They're here."

"Pray they stop."

"It'll take them a while." Jim listened. They were slowing. Whistles blew and blew. Both engines roared past them, nearly knocking them down. "Big train."

"No joking." Artemus took Jim by the hand. "Put your arm around my shoulder."

Jim did, and he hopped closer with help from Artemus. The caboose was close. The conductor looked out, and Artemus collapsed. Jim groaned and nearly joined him in a heap. It was drama, but the train did stop.

"You gents in trouble?" The conductor pointed a rifle at them.

Dumb question, but Jim answered politely. "James West of the Secret Service, my partner and I have been injured. We need your help."

The conductor blinked, raised his lantern, and said, "Yes, sir. I've heard of you. Let me get help."

Jim nodded. There was shouting and more questions, but he kept it short and simple. The horses were put in a car with some hay. Jim and Artemus were helped into the first cab. It was warm in there. Very slowly, the trains began pulling again, a delicate job requiring nerves of steel. Jim made sure Artemus was comfortable on a little cot in the first wood car.

"Rest."

"I don't want to miss the fun."

Jim tucked him closer. "I'll wake you." He used handholds to make his way back to the engineer. It was time for a long talk.

********

Jim let himself drowse along with Artemus. They'd been fed and had plenty to drink. Jim intended to see these fellows got a reward of some kind. He was sure they'd prefer money. Artemus had curled up enough to let Jim sit at the bottom of the bunk.

"We've seen 'em!"

Jim snapped fully awake, got up, and nearly fell down. The fireman caught him. Jim struggled to the cab. "Where?" He had to shout.

"About a mile ahead; I can see their light!"

Jim couldn't see a thing, but this engineer was on their side. "Please don't hit my train."

"That'd be a mess. We won't!" The engineer smiled as if he were having fun.

Jim wished the sun would come up. Artemus was suddenly beside him. They exchanged a long look, but no words. Artemus helped him back to the cot, and they sat together.

"Plan?"

"We need one," Artemus said. "How about we shoot everything that moves?"

"I like it." Jim pulled the blanket around Artemus, and they held hands underneath it. "You have anything that explodes?"

"Nope."

"Two guns; that's all we have."

"And a huge train full of guys," Artemus said. "He thinks I'm dead, and you're in jail. What if-"

"Yeah, that might work. He'll have to hire a cab."

"So, they'll have to walk to the station." Artemus nodded. "How's your leg?"

"Better, but I won't stay in the saddle long."

"You won't need to, and neither will I. We'll let the railroad handle our wayward engineer."

"I want to kill him personally." Jim pushed his hair off his forehead. "Slowly."

Artemus laughed. Jim joined him. A fireman stepped back to them. "Need anything?"

"We need to get to our horses," Jim said. "And when you run my train off the line, we need you to stop and beat the shit out of our engineer."

The fireman grinned. "We'd planned to do that!" He pointed towards the back. "The only way is around the engine. I do it, when I have to."

Jim and Artemus looked back. "I don't suppose we could stop?"

The fireman glanced at Artemus and chuckled. "Not likely."

Jim squeezed Artemus' hand. "Think you can make it?"

"Me? How about you?"

"I'll make it. Come on," Jim said and stood up. Artemus tucked a shoulder under Jim's armpit, and they followed the fireman to the door. He opened it. Jim stared in awe at the huge engine.

Artemus whispered in Jim's ear, "Let's not."

Jim shrugged. "We gotta. You go first. If I fall, don't stop."

"Thanks for those comforting words." Artemus released Jim and looked back once before jumping. Jim's heart was in his throat, but he watched carefully. There were plenty of handholds, and Artemus made it. Jim took the breath his lungs had refused to draw until his partner was safe. He stood in the door and took several deep breaths. He jumped. His leg banged against the iron horse, and he was sure he screamed, but it tore away in the wind. Clenching his jaw, he made his way across the face of the engine, relying on his arms, not his legs. On the last handhold, a hand reached, and he was inside, stumbling.

The engineer grinned in Jim's face. "Crazy!"

Jim took a breath and nodded. Artemus took hold of him, and they made their way through the cab to the wood car. They leaned against a stack of wood and both breathed deeply.

"Wow, we're stupid."

"No kidding." Jim pulled Artemus' jacket apart. He checked the bandage--no blood, not yet.

Artemus looked at Jim's leg. It was shaking. "You're shaking, James."

"I can't help it." Jim shrugged. "Let's do this. We're not getting any stronger."

Artemus nodded, and they went through the wood car. The horses were in the first freight car, but there was no connecting door. They'd have to go around. "I'll go first and open the door."

"I should do it."

"You don't have the strength." Jim wasn't going to stand here and argue. He pushed himself onto the freight car and traveled across it to the door, yanked hard, and prayed he didn't slip. The door opened, and he fell inside. He hit the floor hard and didn't want to get up, not right away.

Artemus helped him up. "Fool man. Sit here. I'm going to saddle the horses, and then we'll rest until the train stops."

Jim crawled to shut the door. That done, he pulled himself up and made it to his horse. His breath came hard and fast, and his leg wouldn't stop trembling. He wanted to curse himself for being a weakling. Artemus had to feel worse than this! Jim grabbed up his saddle and put it on his horse.

"James, quit muttering curse words. I'm doing okay." Artemus finished his chestnut. "We'll both see a doctor today."

"Is there any whiskey left in my saddlebags?"

Artemus looked and brought Jim over the bottle. "Do we have to attach all these fancy straps?"

"No. Just the bridle and saddle."

"What are they for?" Artemus tossed them on the floor. "Funny, I've never thought to ask."

"They help keep his head down." Jim swallowed a bracing mouthful of whiskey and slipped on the bridle. "He does have a tendency to rear."

"If he's better with that, I'd hate to see him without."

"You will." Jim laughed. "He'll do fine. I might fall on my face."

Artemus and Jim went to put their backs against the slats. They dragged some straw around them to keep the worst of the cold away. Jim put his head on Artemus' shoulder. Artemus kissed him. "You'll make it. Dr. Loveless brings out the best in you."

Jim handed Artemus the bottle. "He sent me a package after you left."

"Did it explode?"

Jim smiled and took the locket from his belt buckle. "Look inside."

In the pale light of the morning, Artemus held up the ring of hair. "It's mine."

"How can you know?"

"Last week I got my hair cut. The barber did a terrible job--far too short. I refused to pay him. He shrugged and swept my hair into a box." Artemus put the ring away and handed Jim the locket. "I thought he was crazy."

"No, just another one of Dr. Loveless' little helpers." Jim stowed the locket away. "I like your haircut."

"I look terrible." Artemus tucked Jim closer. "So, you thought I was dead."

"Well, I wanted to see the body, but I was worried. It seemed a lot of trouble for a lie." Jim made sure not to touch Artemus' side. "Should I throw it away?"

Artemus touched Jim's face. "It is a beautiful locket. Suits me, don't you think?"

"Yes, but the source." Jim cradled Artemus' hand. "I'll think about it."

"It's funny. He knows us better than most people do." Artemus kissed Jim tenderly. "Keep it."

Jim shut his eyes and relaxed into the warmth of his partner. The train pushed on into the night, and the sun came up. Artemus shook him. "Come on. It's show time."

They eased up together. Artemus helped Jim get on his horse. "Okay?"

"I'll make it. The first jump will be the worst." Jim caught Artemus by the hand. "Tie my leg to the stirrup."

Artemus did it quickly and moved to shove open the door. "Shit!"

"Loveless?"

"No, that hurt!" Artemus watched as the train shuddered to a halt. "Let's ride."

Jim took his horse out. He hadn't held onto the saddle horn since he was a youngster, but this morning he hung on for dear life. The horse landed hard, but stayed up. Jim kept his seat and nearly fainted from pain. Men were boiling out of the freight train and jumping in the Wanderer's cab. Jim looked back. Artemus and the chestnut landed well. He stayed in the saddle, but banged his chest on the saddle horn. Jim saw him pale and nearly fall. "Artemus!"

Artemus wrenched up straight, found his stirrups, and they were side by side. Their traitorous engineer was being dragged from the cab. He was fighting and cursing, and he was getting the beating of a lifetime. No one slows down the freight. Jim and Artemus rode past him. They paused at the back door and looked. Voltaire and Dr. Loveless were dashing toward the train station.

Jim slammed his heels into black hide and gritted his teeth as they raced towards the two running men. Voltaire scooped up Dr. Loveless and ran faster. Artemus was a half-stride behind. Jim leaned over and untied his leg. He waited, held his breath, and jumped.

Voltaire grunted and dropped to his knees. Dr. Loveless scooted away without a look back. Jim held onto Voltaire, drew his gun, and slammed it. Voltaire collapsed, and Jim went with him, losing his gun. Jim tried to roll up, but couldn't. Artemus rode right around Dr. Loveless, herding him back to Jim.

"No! No! No! You're dead, and you're in jail!"

Jim stared at Dr. Loveless and didn't even try to stand. "The devil is in the details."

"Bah!" Dr. Loveless dropped his valise. "I'll have to do it myself." He drew a derringer from an inside pocket and fired. Jim's guts exploded in pain, and he knew nothing more.

**********

"James!"

Jim blinked and tried to focus his bleary vision on something. "Artie?" He knew it was barely a whisper.

"You're alive."

"Says who?" Jim found his hands and put them on his stomach. Ouch! He felt a glass against his lips, and he drank deeply before he managed to get his eyes to focus on the face of his partner. "Artie."

"Yeah, it's me." Artemus wiped Jim's face with a wet cloth. "The doctor is here."

"Dr. Loveless?"

"No, a ten dollar doctor." Artemus patted him. "Let me help you back to the bed. He'll look at you there."

"You?"

"I'm done. Patched up. I'll be fine." Artemus helped Jim up and back through the train.

Jim tried to sit on the bed. He was afraid that he'd just collapse. The doctor bustled in right behind them. "Leave, leave, leave. I'll take care of him."

Jim hated to turn Artemus loose, but he did. Artemus went out with several looks over his shoulder. Jim turned his attention to the doctor.

"Strip off your pants. I'll look at your leg."

Jim struggled up, released his belt buckle, and stared down at it. He set it aside for later and tried to shuck off his pants. The doctor had to help. "Hurts?"

"Yes!" Jim wished the doctor had let him keep his drawers.

The doctor poked and prodded, twisted and bent, before he spoke. "You've pinched a nerve. It'll heal with daily massages and hot compresses. Stay off it. Ice will help that huge purple welt on your stomach."

Jim looked down. No wonder he'd passed out. It looked like he'd been hit with a sledgehammer. The doctor put him under the covers. "Rest. I'll hire a nurse for you."

"That won't be necessary, Doctor Kane. I know all the good nurses here in town." Artemus came in and sat in a chair near the bed. "Thanks."

The doctor nodded. "If you need anything, I'll hurry back."

"No, thanks," Jim said. "You're sure my partner will be fine?"

"He should eat lots of steak, but he'll be fine. No infection; that was the key."

Artemus escorted the doctor off the train and returned to Jim. "Let me help you with that shirt. It's filthy."

Jim began to unbutton it. "Leg, Artemus, not arms." He took the shirt off and tossed it.

Artemus picked up Jim's gun belt and sat down on the bed. "It saved your life."

"Good belt buckle." Jim leaned back and smiled.

"No, look." Artemus handed it to him. "The locket inside the buckle stopped it. Don't know what it's made out of, but not your regular tin."

Jim stared at it. The smashed bullet had lodged firmly in the locket. He opened the latch, wiggled them out, and grinned. "Wouldn't Dr. Loveless hate this?"

"I'll make sure and tell him." Artemus smiled and pulled the hair ring out. He held it in the palm of his hand.

"Keep it, Artie. It's your hair." Jim tugged him close for a kiss. "When do I get my first massage?"

"After I hire a nurse," Artemus said. He closed his hand around the hair ring.

Jim laughed. "Tell me what happened."

"Well, I thought you were dead, so I dismounted, picked Loveless up, and shook him like a rat."

"You didn't!"

"Yeah. I was pretty hot." Artemus looked away. "Some men from the freight train rushed up. I had them take you inside, get a doctor, and three of them sat on Voltaire, just to be sure."

"Did Loveless screech the entire time?"

"Yes. And then Colonel Fairchild arrived."

"Well, I'll be damned. Jed did send the telegram." Jim held his stomach and laughed. "I came close to shooting him."

Artemus furrowed his brow. "I'm missing something. You can tell me later. Anyway, Loveless and Voltaire were carted off, our engineer was taken to the hospital before he goes to jail, and we are scheduled to leave for Denver tomorrow."

"Why?"

"After we heal, we'll look over security at the Denver Mint and continue to San Francisco." Artemus smiled. "Sound good?"

"Excellent. What about New Orleans?"

"Well, the counterfeiters ran afoul of a voodoo queen, and that was the end of that." Artemus pushed Jim's hair off his forehead. "Rest. I'll bring you some dinner and give you that massage."

"Thank you, nurse." Jim grinned and wiggled to get comfortable. His leg hurt like hell, but it would heal.

Artemus dropped a kiss on Jim's forehead and left the room. "It'll give me a chance to thoroughly search the train for my Christmas present."

Jim laughed. Artemus never forgot the important things in life, but he'd never find it. Jim shut his eyes and relaxed. Artemus would be back.

*********

The smell of food brought Jim awake. Meat. He sat up fast. "Artie?"

"Dinner, James. Hungry?"

Jim nodded. "I don't care if that's my horse. I'm eating it."

Artemus put a tray in Jim's lap. "It's Voltaire."

They laughed together. Artemus found a spot on the bed and ate off his own tray. Jim didn't look right or left. He ate. When his stomach started to groan, he drank a little brandy and glanced at Artemus. "Feeling okay?"

"Tired." Artemus' steak was long gone. "I'll turn in after we eat."

"Do we need to worry about visitors?" Jim ate his green beans.

"Officially, we're not here, but I'll set the alarms." Artemus finished his tray and stood up. He paused for a moment to press on his bandage. Jim worried to see it. Artemus should be the one in bed, not him.

"Can I help?"

"Can you walk?"

"I can hop." Jim handed Artemus the tray and threw back the covers. He stood on one leg and braced his hand against the wall.

"I'm very impressed; now lay down before you hurt yourself." Artemus took the trays and left.

Jim made his way slowly to the lavatory and back towards the stateroom. Artemus passed him in the hallway. Jim leaned into him. They kissed. "Bed?"

"I'll be right there," Artemus said. He went off towards the stable car.

Jim sank down on the bed and let out a sigh of relief. He felt fine, well, not really, but he'd fake it around Artemus. The train was chilly, and he slipped under the covers, wishing for some drawers. Artemus came around the corner in nothing but drawers and climbed into bed with him.

"I'll rub your leg."

Jim ignored that and pulled Artemus against him, carefully. Kissing the nape of Artemus' neck, he said, "Rest. I insist."

Artemus tucked Jim's arm around him tight. "I love you, James."

Jim controlled his shock. He smiled and whispered, "Artie."

********

Jim limped slowly through the train to saddle his horse.

"Jim, let me."

"You're not in any better shape than I am!" Jim went through the connecting door. "I'll make it."

Artemus grumbled and saddled his horse. "We're coming right back. No saloons. No whorehouses!"

"I'm doing fine!"

"No, you're not!"

Jim ground his teeth in frustration. Another week and he'd be healed. Artemus, on the other hand, needed to take it easy. Last night, he'd torn his scab right open. They glared at each other. Artemus dropped the ramp, and they took their horses off the train. Jim coaxed his horse down and got aboard. In town, he'd have to jump.

"See."

"Oh, shut up. Your shirt was bloody last night!" Jim kneed his horse up alongside the chestnut. "You're doing too much."

"I'm doing fine." Artemus adjusted his hat.

Jim wanted to smack the back of Artemus' head. To distract himself, he gave Denver a hard look. Some snow, but not much, had fallen on the city. The going was sloppy. He couldn't wait to get back to the Wanderer.

********

As usual, Jim nestled around Artemus and kissed him. Artemus sighed. "Sorry about today."

"Yeah. I was an ass." Jim pulled away a little. "Roll to your back."

Artemus did, and Jim looked at him closely. "You are healing."

"You are too. We just need to take it easy." Artemus stroked his hands down Jim's arms.

"I want you."

"You're still hurt."

"I don't care." Jim leaned over and kissed him hard, sliding his tongue deep. "I want you."

Artemus sighed. "It might help. I almost shoved you down and humped you today."

Jim burst out laughing. "You're so eloquent, and so rude."

"It's a gift." Artemus reached up and pulled Jim down for another kiss. "You'll have to be on your stomach."

"I know." Jim licked and kissed his way down Artemus' chest and concentrated below the waistline. "You'll owe me."

Artemus chuckled. "Good." He pulled the covers up over them. "Christmas is coming."

Jim was glad for the warmth. He didn't reply.

********

"You found your gift yet?"

"Nope." Artemus handed Jim a whiskey and sat down near him. "Tell me if you need anything."

"Truth is--I didn't buy you one." Jim grinned.

"Lord, you're a bad liar." Artemus took a drink. "It's okay. I have my gift for you, picked it up in Denver."

Jim sipped his whiskey. "Too bad. I was hoping for another gift, more personal and intimate," he drawled out the last word to emphasize.

"You couldn't manage it." Artemus picked up his book. "Shall we read?"

"Yeah." Jim relaxed into the curve of Artemus' back. He'd get well. He drank a little whiskey and smiled.

********

"I love San Francisco," Artemus said. "We have two entire days before we have to report to some colonel or another."

"Let me guess; Colonel Sharp?"

"No, some new fellow by the name of Richmond." Artemus smiled. "I had a friend during the war--James Richmond, but it couldn't be him."

Jim shrugged. They'd find out in two days. You gonna hit the whorehouses hard?" He picked up a cue and stepped carefully to the billiards table. It was a joke. If Artemus tried to leave, Jim would take him to the ground and sit on him.

"You know what tonight is. Time to put up or shut up."

Jim laughed and hit the ball. "You cooking dinner?"

"I'm having it delivered in about an hour." Artemus checked his pocket watch. "And then we'll open our presents."

"Greedy. That's what you are." Jim leaned against the cue. "So what are we going to do for an hour?"

Artemus gave him a slow smile that made Jim want to kiss him. "You need your massage."

Jim groaned. "Let's play cards."

Artemus took the cue from Jim's hands and led him back to the stateroom. Jim went along, even though he was mostly healed. He still limped, but he could walk.

"Strip."

Jim put his hands on his hips. "You just want me naked."

"That's a possibility." Artemus started working on Jim's buttons. "Do you mind?"

"Well." Jim put his smoking jacket on the chair. "Not really, but I do want to eat."

"We have time." Artemus rubbed Jim's shoulders and kissed him right between the shoulder blades. "How does your leg feel?"

"Better." Jim lay down flat and waited for the sweet touch of Artemus' hands.

Artemus took his time, rubbing the salve deep. Jim controlled a hiss or two. It did still hurt. "James, you still need to take it easy."

"We have two more days." Jim found Artemus' thigh and rested his hand there. "And you?"

"I'll be ready." Artemus leaned over, and they kissed deeply.

Jim sighed with pleasure. He could spend a day or two like this before going back to work. Dr. Loveless had been hard on them both. "Merry Christmas, Artie."

"James my boy, the only Christmas that's merry is the one I spend with you." Artemus grinned. "How's that for sweet talk?"

Jim laughed and sat up. "Pretty good. Now tell me about my eyes."

"Well, they're kinda strange." Artemus stared in Jim's eyes. "I never know whether they're going to be green or blue, or some mixture. Sometimes they give me the shakes."

"Oh, you will turn my head with such flattery." Jim put his head on Artemus' shoulder. "I'm getting dressed."

Artemus put a hand on Jim's chest and pushed him flat. "Only when I'm finished, and I'm not." He kissed, teased, and licked his way down Jim.

It made Jim groan with desire. "I'm really very easy to get along with."

Artemus didn't answer.

********

"Dinner was excellent, Artie. Thank you." Jim grinned.

Artemus wiped his mouth with his napkin and smiled. He raised his glass. "To presents."

Jim drank to that. "To prisons."

"Good ones." Artemus refilled their wine glasses. "All in all, it's been a good year."

Jim leaned into his fist and thought about it. "The best part was you."

"Every time you say something like that, I stare at your mouth, convinced that you've been replaced-"

"By Dr. Loveless?" Jim pushed his chair back and relaxed. He wasn't insulted, not yet.

"Well, yes." Artemus took another drink. "I believe it would surprise your colleagues to know that you enjoy handing out a bit of flattery now and again."

Jim shrugged. "Never know. I can shut up in the future." He rubbed a quick hand through his hair. "And I think I will."

Artemus frowned. "Now, don't go all grouchy on me. You have to admit, a man with your reputation-"

"Doesn't hand out compliments often or easily." Jim took his brandy and limped to a sofa. "I guess I thought you knew me better."

Artemus didn't say anything, and Jim sipped his drink. His partner should know how much Jim loved him. Jim put his brandy on the side table and stood up. "I'm going to check the horses, before I find myself naked again."

Artemus laughed. "Fine." He started puttering with the dishes.

Jim did toss some hay, but his main purpose was to retrieve Artemus' gift from the oats. He hefted it gently and leaned against a partition. This partnership wasn't always easy, but it was the best thing he'd ever had. He snuffed the lantern and went towards the front. Artemus was waiting in the hallway for him. They exchanged a small smile.

"James."

"Artie." Jim didn't try to move past him. "Parlor or stateroom?"

"I turned off the lights and set the alarms." Artemus put his arm around Jim's shoulders. "I'll clean up in the morning."

"I'll help." Jim sat on the bed and shoved off his boots. His leg groaned at him. "You first?"

Artemus removed his coat and boots before leaning back against the headboard. "Nope. You first. I waited the longest." He smiled.

Jim set the gift down and stripped off his vest and shirt. He took a long stretch.

"Any day now."

Jim laughed. "After our recent conversation, I'm embarrassed to give it to you."

Artemus wrapped a gentle hand around Jim's arm. "I never meant to anger you. You're a tough man. It's always a surprise, but I like it."

Jim shrugged. "Okay." He stopped there and handed Artemus the small package. "It might require some explanation."

Artemus raised his eyebrows and quickly opened the wrapped box, looking at the item nestled inside. "So, explain."

Jim moved close enough to look in the box and put both hands on his partner--thigh and arm. He had to touch. "I wanted you to see yourself like I see you."

Artemus pulled out the miniature portrait and stared at it. It fit in the palm of his hand. When he didn't speak, Jim wanted to squirm with nervousness. He fought not to blush.

"I look..."

"Strong, confident, poised, intelligent, discerning, and kind. I know." Jim looked away. He'd really said too much. Artemus didn't answer. He blushed. Jim hadn't expected that reaction. "Make a joke if you need to."

Artemus laughed softly. "This is no joke. This is unexpected and charming. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Jim nearly sighed with relief. He'd been afraid of gales of laughter. He unbuttoned his shirt and slipped out of it. Christmas presents were hard for him, and he hoped he hadn't failed too miserably this year. Artemus leaned to the side and placed the miniature on the small bedside table. It looked good there, but would look even better on the desk. He opened the drawer, pulled out a tiny package, and tossed it to Jim. Jim caught it, of course. He glared at Artemus. "You didn't even bother to hide it."

"Plain sight is always the best place. I found your package two weeks ago." Artemus grinned. "Really, James, the oats? So obvious."

Jim laughed and twisted around to lean into the crook of Artemus' arm. He opened the box with a rip and poured it out on his chest. It was a locket. He turned it over and smiled. No masks, but two letters entwined around each other: J and A. The first locket had been silver; this one was gold. He opened it, knowing he'd find the hair ring and pleased to be right.

Artemus kissed Jim. "What do you think?"

"Can I put it in my belt buckle?"

"I'll be disappointed if you don't." Artemus tugged Jim closer.

"Thanks, Artie." Jim grinned. It was lovely. Now he'd always have a piece of Artemus with him. Good luck, for sure. "Let's hope it doesn't have to stop a bullet."

"It can. It's steel, with 24-karat gold leaf on top. I'm not taking any chances." Artemus pulled him into a long kiss. "You know how I feel about you."

"Yes." Jim did. He was certain. After a small pause, he changed the subject. Curiosity had been eating at him. "So, who did you hook up with that night in Washington?"

Artemus looked away. "No one."

"That is difficult to credit." Jim checked Artemus' wound one more time. It could stand a little tussle. "Very."

"I saw my horse at Madame Lucille's, and I almost joined you, but I knew if I saw you I'd drag you to a room and--"

"Make me enjoy every minute of it?" Jim finished for him. That could have been fun. He wished he'd thought of it. "I nearly got a girl, but it wasn't what I wanted."

"Me neither." Artemus licked Jim's nipples. "I played cards all night."

"You can tell me where you've been." Jim felt Artemus' hard cock prodding him. "I won't mock you."

"Yeah. Well. A little mystery is good for a man." Artemus licked Jim on the lips and pushed his tongue inside.

Jim groaned and arched. He loved that. Artemus let him breath. Jim reached for Artemus' buttons and said, "Let's finish the job."

Artemus did most of the work. He rubbed Jim's leg. "Okay?"

"I'll be fine." Jim reached and pulled Artemus down on top of him. Their groins nestled together. Artemus groaned and refused to put his full weight on Jim. "I can take it."

Artemus shook his head. He smiled. "It's your turn."

Jim caught a quick breath. He'd been hoping for that. He smiled. "You'll have to get on your stomach."

Artemus grabbed Jim's hand and helped him sit up. "I know."

Jim got out of the way and found the salve they always used. He trembled a little. It had been too long. He rubbed Artemus' back and made him groan. Only then did Jim get down to the good part. He kissed, caressed, and tried to make it last. Artemus was so warm, strong, and felt so good under Jim's hands.

"Artie, I do."

"I know." Artemus twisted his head towards Jim, and they kissed.

Jim shut his eyes and lost himself in a rush of pure ecstasy. It was perfect. He relaxed down and nibbled at Artemus' neck. "You want a turn?"

"You sure?"

"Well, it is Christmas." Jim sat back and withdrew slowly. "Let me get a towel."

Artemus nodded, and Jim returned to clean them both off. Jim let it drop on the floor and found himself swept into toe-curling kiss. He woke up flat on his back. Artemus moved on top of him, kissing and stroking until he wanted to ask politely for some more.

"Artie."

"Yeah, hold on. Tell me if this hurts." Artemus picked up Jim's leg and nudged inside. "Okay?"

Jim's hands clenched onto Artemus' shoulders. Jim couldn't think of a thing to say. He let his hands roam about, but was careful. They moved together until Jim began to climax. Artemus caressed him fully and let out a sound of complete delight. Jim felt thick and heavy. It was good.

Artemus got the towel and cleaned them both up again. Jim slipped under the covers and reached for Artemus. They spooned together until Jim rolled over and faced his partner.

"What?" Artemus' eyes were half-open.

"Merry Christmas." Jim kissed Artemus and didn't stop.

********

The End


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