Title: The Night of the Merry Gentlemen
Fandom: Wild Wild West
Feedback: justblackchaps at yahoo dot com
Summary: What could be worse than Dr. Loveless?
Disclaimer: All this belongs to CBS.
Remember, Christ, our savior, was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan‛s power
When we were gone astray
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh, tidings of comfort and joy.
"Could use some of that," Jim muttered to himself, but from the look Artie gave him, the words hadn‛t gone unnoticed. He coughed and rubbed his hands together.
Artie was definitely staring at him now. "James, my boy, perhaps we should bow out of tonight‛s festivities."
Jim was disgusted that he didn‛t have the energy to muster up a glare. "I think the President expects us to be here until the last senator wobbles home."
"That could be tomorrow afternoon," Artie complained. He gave Jim a nudge. "Let‛s at least go inside. The carolers will leave soon, and you don‛t need to be out in this cold."
"I‛m completely well, and I am never sick." Jim checked to make sure that Colonel Richmond was near the President. "Inside is fine."
They ducked in the door and were assaulted by the smell of pine and whiskey and roasting meats. Christmas in Washington was in full swing, and it was possible that everyone in town would be drunk by morning. This party was their third in two days, and the President loved them all.
"Warm up by the fire," Artie said softly. "Please."
Jim decided that arguing wasn‛t worth his time. He moved to the big fireplace, caught a champagne off a tray, and settled into a big leather chair. The party moved around him, and he didn‛t much care. Artie was doing his best life of the party act, and Jim was glad to be out of it.
"Jim, darling, why are you hiding by the fire?" She was lovely and soft-spoken and everything that he desired in a woman - just not right now, but he eased up and bowed over her hand.
"Hello, Candice. Merry Christmas." Jim toasted her with his drink. "You‛re looking beautiful this evening and every other."
Candice blushed prettily and swished her fan. "Always the charmer."
Jim was slightly ashamed that all he could think of now were excuses to avoid her company. He put on his best smile and sipped his champagne, grateful when Artie appeared behind her and swept her off to dance.
"Still under the weather, Jim?"
"I‛m not ill," Jim said patiently.
Richmond didn‛t look convinced. He drained his whiskey glass and smiled. "Well, there‛s no place you have to be for a week or so."
Jim didn‛t repeat the fact that he wasn‛t been sick. He had a slight cough. Artie acted as if pneumonia was a foregone conclusion.
"Did you see a doctor?"
"No." And he wouldn‛t. Artie was bad enough. "Is that your wife?"
Richmond peered through the crowd. "Excuse me, Jim."
Jim smiled and saluted him with the champagne. He settled into the chair again, grateful for the warmth and the wide sides that provided some privacy. When a cough rumbled in his chest, he covered his mouth and was glad that Artie wasn‛t around. It was cold and miserable out, and a cough was the least of his troubles. Dr. Loveless was still on the loose, and that was worrisome.
"Why the frown, West?"
Jim stood immediately. "Mr. President, do you need anything?"
The President shook his head brusquely. "Of course not! But you look a mite puny."
"Thank you." Jim smiled and sipped his drink. He didn‛t take offense. President Grant was instantly distracted by someone else, and Jim decided to walk the perimeter of the party. It couldn‛t hurt to be careful. Not ten steps later, Artie was at Jim‛s shoulder.
"Drink this instead," Artemus said and handed him a mug, taking the champagne. Jim didn‛t protest. The champagne was flat, and the hot toddy smelled good. He smiled his thanks and moved away from the big doors that led out to the balcony. They weren‛t open, but a stiff breeze was sneaking through and he was cold enough.
Artie walked with him, but said nothing, of course, he didn‛t have to, the look on his face was enough to make Jim groan.
"I‛m not sick."
"Of course not," Artie said cheerfully. "You‛re never ill."
"That‛s right." Jim nodded and took a sip. It did make his throat feel better, and he realized that by accepting the drink, he‛d lost the battle. "Okay, so I have a cough."
Artie grinned quickly at him. "I knew you were a reasonable man. Let‛s get you home."
"No." Jim wasn‛t backing down on that point. "The President may need us."
"To carry him up to bed?" Artie dramatically stretched his back. "Jim, I‛m not a young man any longer."
Jim refused to grin. He took a bigger drink and pointed his backside at the closest fireplace. Artie had a good point, and he obviously knew it, but leaving early would be noticed and considered rude. It wasn‛t even midnight.
Artemus suddenly raised his eyebrows. "Wait. Over there. Is that?"
Jim reacted to Artemus‛s voice. It wasn‛t panic, but it was getting there. "Go left." He went right, keeping his eyes on him. Brushing aside several grasping hands, he cut across the dance floor. He ran the last few steps. "Stop!"
The giant of a man never stopped, turning fast to swipe out with his huge fist. Jim ducked, saw Artemus get into position, and they tackled him together. Artemus went low, and Jim went high in a tangle of limbs and muffled curses. Subduing Voltaire was a job for five men, but they kept at it until he lie motionless.
Jim searched him for weapons of any sort, but came up empty. "This isn‛t over."
"Probably a distraction." Artemus was sitting on Voltaire‛s back, wiping his forehead.
"You secure the President. I‛m going to find Richmond." Jim didn‛t have any shackles, and Voltaire wasn‛t the real threat. It was Dr. Loveless, and the priority now was getting the President out of here. Artemus was gone quickly, and Jim stood on Voltaire‛s back to spot Richmond. Finding Dr. Loveless in this crowd would be impossible.
A cough seized him and he did his best to ignore it. Richmond was by the punch bowl, and Jim headed there with no delay.
"Dr. Loveless is here." Jim coughed again. "Artemus is getting the President."
Richmond looked alarmed, as well he should be. "Quickly now."
Jim dashed ahead to secure the stables. Getting the President back to the safety of the White House was imperative. He pushed open the door, felt a prickle on the back of his neck, and slapped it. A horse neighed and he collapsed.
The room swung into focus and Jim tried not to cough, but it was as if his lungs were furious at the knock out drug. The hacking continued far longer than it should, and he was grateful when it stopped. He tried to breathe, gulped, swallowed hard, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Talking seemed impossible.
"Why, Mr. West, I believe you‛re ill."
Jim stopped worrying about breathing and got to his feet. He brushed off his trousers, facing his nemesis. "Dr. Loveless, always a pleasure." He could only hope that he sounded firm, but he was afraid that had wheezed out of him.
Dr. Loveless tilted his head to the side. "And a sore throat?"
Jim wasn‛t going to answer that. He took a good look around the lavishly decorated parlor. Voltaire was in the corner near the door, but there was no sign of Antoinette. "What‛s your business this time?"
"No holiday greeting for your oldest and dearest enemy?" Dr. Loveless twirled his cane. "Do you have a fever?"
"Is Artemus here?" Jim went to the window to look out, but it told him nothing. He could have been in any home in Washington. Voltaire eased to his feet, and Jim headed straight for him. Now was as good a time as any to fight this battle.
Dr. Loveless made a tsking noise. "Mr. West, you are still an ill-mannered lout. I invite you here for Christmas and I barely receive a civil greeting!"
A terrible sneeze burst from Jim‛s nose and he had to stop. Voltaire grinned, and Jim wavered between pure anger and embarrassment.
"Voltaire, don‛t engage Mr. West. It‛s obvious that the poor man is deathly ill." Dr. Loveless almost sounded as if he cared.
"I hate these games," Jim snapped. He rounded back on Dr. Loveless. The little man was sipping sherry and pointed at the decanter, but Jim wasn‛t falling for that trick. "If you‛ll excuse me, I have a party to attend."
Dr. Loveless lifted his glass. "First, a toast: to Mr. West, while he may look rather limited, he has never failed to amuse me."
Jim put his hands on his hips. And coughed. He could feel a fine sheen of sweat breaking out on his forehead, and his tuxedo seemed tight. "Any chance you‛ll choke on it?"
"More chance that you‛ll fall over from that fever you‛re sporting." Dr. Loveless smiled, showing all his teeth. "It would be ironic if, after all my attempts to kill you, you were swept away by a common cold."
"You won‛t be that lucky." Jim gave Voltaire another look and considered going through him to get out of here.
Dr. Loveless smirked like he always did. "What did you get me for Christmas? I do so love surprises."
"How does a lovely cell overlooking the Potomac sound?" Jim tugged at his collar. He could not afford to look weak in this situation, but he wanted to lie down and shiver. The good news was that he wasn‛t hot any longer.
"They really aren‛t that lovely. Trust me." Dr. Loveless sighed dramatically. "How long have you been sick?"
Jim went back to the window. He could jump out it, but then he wouldn‛t know what Dr. Loveless was planning or if Artemus was somewhere close. "Let‛s get this over with."
"I was going to insist you stay for the evening, but I can see you‛re peaked, and while it‛s delightful, I have no desire to become ill." Dr. Loveless made a sharp gesture. "Voltaire,-"
The next words were cut off when Jim began to cough. He hated to get out his handkerchief, but he did, and he wanted to curse when he punctuated the coughing fit with a large sneeze. If he lived to be a hundred, he would always be glad that Artemus wasn‛t here to see this debacle.
"I‛ve had as much as I can tolerate." Dr. Loveless used his cane to stand and went towards the door. "Voltaire, see him out and give him his gift. Next year, I expect more from you, Mr. West."
Jim moved to intercept him - a poor attempt to salve his pride - but Voltaire was too quick, and they faced off as Dr. Loveless disappeared into the darkened interior of the home.
Voltaire smiled and held up one finger. "You were naughty this year," he growled.
"You‛re not exactly nice." Jim went for his derringer, but it wasn‛t there. He watched Voltaire‛s hands, but all he did was reach in his pocket and produce a small package. Jim didn‛t want to take it. It was probably a bomb.
"You‛ll like it. I did." Voltaire wasn‛t reassuring in the least. He punched with his left, Jim ducked and countered, but his fist was caught. He woke up on the sidewalk; his head pounding.
"Drunk already!" She swished past him, and he staggered up. He had to find a hansom, and he forced himself to move. Aching and shivering, he walked as fast as possible. It seemed to take forever to find a cab, and he did his best to gather himself during the long ride to the White House. The place was lit up like a Christmas tree, and he stumbled down, tossing a dollar up to the driver.
Jim caught him by the arms, relieved. "The President?"
"Is fine. We all are, except you." Artemus kept hold of him. "Where have you been?"
"Loveless wanted to exchange Christmas gifts." Jim shivered. He was more wet than dry, and he could feel a cough rumbling in his chest. "Did you-"
"Of course I did. Everyone is on alert or out looking for him," Artemus interrupted, taking off his coat and putting it around him. "Let‛s get you back to the train. The President is in for the night with a troop of our finest around him."
Jim sneezed. He couldn‛t think of an argument. Dr. Loveless had just wanted to talk to him. This time, the President hadn‛t been in danger. The crazy little man was probably halfway to California by now.
Artemus commandeered a buggy, and Jim let himself be bullied into going home. He had to put up a token protest, but that‛s all it was. He knew he was done for the night, and he didn‛t want to hear about it.
"So, he just turned you loose?"
"I sneezed and he was so repulsed that he fled the building." Jim fished out his handkerchief and wiped his nose.
Jim pulled Artemus back from where the little package had fallen to the floor. Voltaire must have put it in Jim‛s pocket. "Don‛t. Loveless gave it to me."
Artemus pointed at it, opened his mouth, shut it, and then swallowed hard. "I‛ll throw it out."
"I‛ll do it." Jim eased forward and gently plucked it up off the floor. It wasn‛t ticking, but with Dr. Loveless, that didn‛t mean anything.
"It‛s beautifully wrapped."
"He does everything well." Jim held it in the palm of his hand, curiosity battling with caution. He put it back in his pocket. "Later. Maybe. After we soak it."
Artemus laughed nervously. "Did he say anything?"
"Next year, he expects me to get him something." Jim laughed at Artemus‛s expression. "And he hopes I expire from the common cold."
"Over my dead body," Artemus muttered. The buggy stopped, Artemus shooed him out, and they were in the train quickly. The warmth was very welcome, and he shivered. Artemus pulled the shade down. "No visitors tonight. You head for the tub. I‛ll get you something to warm you up."
"Make it a double." Jim didn‛t slow down until he was soaking in a hot tub, wishing he would stop coughing. He tried not to think about the events of this evening.
Artemus delivered another hot toddy and stared down at him. "Warmer?"
"Much." Jim took a drink and leaned back to relax. "Thank you."
"All that trouble just to talk?" Artemus had shut the door, and now he leaned against it. "He‛s getting crazier."
"I have no doubt about that. He might have planned to kill me but couldn‛t bring himself to stay in the same room with all my germs." Jim didn‛t laugh. He was serious.
Artemus gave a soft grunt. "Whatever works." He stretched and yawned. "I‛ll go put a pan of coals under the bed."
"And get an extra handkerchief." Jim stayed until most of the heat was gone and then soaped quickly. He surged out, grabbed up a towel, and headed for the warmth of the bed. Artemus handed him a handkerchief, and he got under the covers fast.
"Put on your long handles," Artemus had obligingly put them in the bed to warm up. Jim coughed, covering his mouth, and when he stopped, Artemus was holding him close. "James, my boy, you‛re sick."
"Can‛t get anything passed you." Jim was glad for the warm body against him. He was drowsy from the hot toddy. It had been a strong one - Artemus‛s special recipe.
Artemus rubbed Jim‛s arms gently. "Get some sleep."
Jim pulled him that much closer to ward off the chill and fell asleep. He woke himself up coughing several times, always glad that Artemus was close. The smell of coffee forced him awake again. He rubbed his eyes and sat up to take the mug that Artemus was holding.
"Thanks." Jim looked him over. "What?"
Artemus had that look on his face. "Can I open it?" He held out the little package.
Jim had forgotten it, and he wasn‛t sure opening it was a good idea. "It could be a bomb or powder that makes us burst into flames or God only knows." He sipped the coffee, watching Artemus think about it.
"I know, but-" Artemus sighed. "Curiosity and all that."
"We don‛t want to end up like the cat." Jim took it and looked at it again. He gingerly shook it.
Artemus sat down on the edge of the bed and tilted his head. "You hear that?"
"My ears are clogged." Jim threw caution away and handed it to him. "You‛re the munitions expert."
"I was hoping you‛d get around to remembering that." Artemus instantly began to unwrap it.
Jim caught him by the arm. "Can I get under the bed first?"
Artemus laughed, his eyes sparkling. He deftly removed the paper without tearing it and then eyed the little, wooden box. "Hold this. I‛ll be right back."
Jim quickly wrapped his hands around his coffee. "Can‛t."
"Chicken." Artemus took it with him, and Jim drank his coffee. He was tired and achy, but there was no place he had to be until tonight.
"Did you feed the horses?" Jim asked when Artemus came back.
Artemus sat back down close and nodded. His hands were busy at the box. "Just about got it. There was a trick, of course."
"Of course." Jim put the cup on the side table. "You could change your mind and go toss it out the back door."
"There it is." Artemus smiled as the top swung open. "Odd."
Jim agreed with that. The whole evening had been bizarre. "Empty?" He couldn‛t tell, but Artemus tipped the box over and Jim caught the tiny bell that rolled out. "Any minute it‛s going to explode."
"It‛s a bell." Artemus stared down at it. "It must be a message."
"A gloomy one." Jim quoted softly, "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."
Artemus picked it up and shook it. It tinkled merrily. "John Donne, but it could just be a bell - a symbol of Christmas."
Jim shrugged. "There are always layers." He coughed, took the offered handkerchief, and blew his nose. "I‛m going back to sleep."
"Since we‛re not dead, I‛ll rub some of my ointment on your chest." Artemus put the bell back in the box, placing it on the side table. Jim finished his coffee and scooted back down to lie flat. He‛d get well fast. He tried to relax, sure that Artemus would take care of anything that came up. When gentle hands touched him, he lazily opened his eyes and breathed in the pungent smell as Artemus rubbed.
"That‛s awful," Jim said softly. He didn‛t mind it, but he had to complain.
Artemus kissed him on the forehead before continuing. "Rest."
Jim shut his eyes again and did just that. He dreamed of clock towers ringing their bells and woke, sweating and panting. Artemus was there, running a damp, cool washcloth over Jim‛s body.
"It‛s okay," Artemus said softly.
Jim caught his breath, loosening his grip on Artemus‛s arm. "Work?"
"We‛re on vacation. You can be sick." Artemus wiped Jim‛s forehead. Jim slumped back flat and didn‛t protest the medicine or the fussing. He was too sick. The day passed with Artemus humming Christmas carols, and Jim listening between naps and medicine.
Jim woke up fast, reaching for the gun that hung on the bedpost. "What‛s wrong?"
"Nothing." Artemus caught Jim‛s hand and smoothed his hair back. "How do you feel?"
"Better." Jim hoped so, at least. He wasn‛t sure, but he wasn‛t coughing and his face didn‛t hurt as badly as it had. "You?"
Artemus laughed and shook his head. "I can fend off your germs." He helped Jim sit up. "I want you to eat."
Jim was more than willing to do that. He settled against the pillows as Artemus left him to get some food. The bell still sat next to the bed, and he picked it up to look at it. A little thing of no consequence and yet a powerful reminder of the conflicts both behind him and ahead.
"You look better," Artemus said as he came in with a tray. He put it on Jim‛s lap and sat down in a nearby chair that Jim didn‛t remember being there before he‛d become ill. He ate and drank under Artemus‛s watchful eye.
"See. I‛m well," Jim smiled and finished his toast. It was enough, with an egg, to fill him up. "How‛s my horse?"
Artemus looked confused. "We have horses?"
"Very funny." Jim sipped his coffee, and Artemus cleaned away the mess. "I gotta get up today."
"Why?" Artemus asked. He sat on the edge of the bed and pushed off his shoves. "I‛m exhausted from nursing you. Make room."
Jim smiled and made sure not to spill as Artemus made himself comfortable. By the time the coffee was gone, Artemus was snoring. Jim patted him on the shoulder and got up with a long stretch. There were a few things he wanted to do, and his horse seemed glad to see him. A few telegrams after that, and he was ready to rest again. He hated being sick, but it was better to get it over with while he was on vacation.
Artemus muttered something and Jim didn‛t move close enough to wake him. He listened to him breathe, and he was surprised again at how much comfort he took from it. Maybe it was all the gunfire that made him worry.
"Sleep again?" Artemus put his hand on Jim‛s arm.
Jim turned to him. "I think I‛m taking that Christmas carol a little too seriously."
Artemus gave him a squeeze. "You needed it. You‛ve worn yourself to the bone. You were bound to get sick."
"So much to do," Jim said softly. He moved and Artemus was there.
"We shouldn‛t," Artemus said, but Jim heard the waver. They both wanted and needed the touch. They always had. Jim shrugged and reached for Artemus‛s lips. Artemus kissed Jim‛s fingers and Jim stroked them down to buttons that opened easily.
"James," Artemus whispered. His voice was smooth, and his need was easy to hear. Jim kissed him hard to encourage him - a flawless plan. Artemus reacted as hoped and his clothes were on the floor without further delay.
Jim pulled him on top, and he seemed confused for one second before making sure to keep most of his weight off. They nestled together, moving slowly, neither rushing, mouths reaching. Jim shut his eyes and did nothing but feel the skin on him.
"Don‛t fall asleep." There was a laugh inside Artemus‛s voice.
Jim pulled, kissing him again. He gasped, and they rocked together. Artemus made a quick movement, rolling them so Jim was on top. Jim arched his back and shoved against him. Artemus slipped his hand down and grasped them in one hand. He groaned and Jim matched him. Jim‛s skin tightened, tingles broke out all over his body, and he stilled as he lost control. Artemus slid his hand around Jim‛s neck, caressing, and they kissed.
"I might need to rest now," Jim said and winked.
Artemus grinned and found something to clean them up. "Lazy Secret Service man."
Jim fell asleep with his arm draped around Artemus.
"Merry Christmas, James."
Jim toasted him with his brandy snifter. "And a Happy New Year, Artemus." He drank deeply, watching his partner do the same. "This year, we‛ll get him."
Artemus smiled and went to sit at the desk. "I‛m sure we will."
Jim stuck his hand in the pocket of his smoking jacket and rolled the little bell around. "I will," he whispered. He sat down on the gold sofa and smiled. "Where to next?"