Title: The Night of the Christmas Past
Fandom: Wild Wild West
Pairing: J/A
Feedback: justblackchaps at yahoo dot com
Rating: NC-17
Beta: mlmcats - purr
Summary: Artemus is alone, again, damn it.
Disclaimer: The Wild Wild West belongs to CBS and Viacom. I only play here and often.
Advertisement: Part of the Slash Advent Calendar of 2003
Note: Part one of two

********

Another year gone. Artemus was alone. Every Christmas, he spent two weeks by himself. How long? Too long, and not long enough for Jim. The train was in the roundhouse for its usual end of the year complete overhaul. Washington was full of quality hotels. Unfortunately, Artemus was in Baltimore. Not so fabulous.

Artemus refilled his whiskey glass from the bottle he'd purchased upon entering the saloon. This hotel was at the most a three-star, and that was being damn generous. The whiskey was tolerable and went down smoother with every drink.

The weather outside was cold, gray, and wet. Artemus refused to consider leaving the hotel for any reason, even a decent bottle. He'd had enough whiskey to consider feeling sorry for himself, but he pushed it away. So what, he was alone. No big deal. He drank a silent toast to his partner, wherever he was, and decided not to dwell on that either. Glancing about the saloon, his eyes rested briefly on an old piano. Perfect.

The rest of Christmas evening was whiled away playing the piano. It took his mind off Jim, and he earned a jar of tips. Not bad. This Christmas was definitely worse than others were in the past. He closed down the bar. The bartender waved him over before he went upstairs.

"Thanks for the entertainment," said the bartender. "Helped pass a lonely Christmas."

"Here, have the tips," said Artemus. He had plenty of money. The bartender took them and gave Artemus a look. He returned it steadily. "Name's Artemus Gordon."

"Ron Jacobs, nice to meet ya." Ron stuck out his hand, and Artemus took it in his. The grip lasted. "I have a room in back."

"Mine's upstairs," said Artemus. "But yours sounds fine."

Ron locked up, and Artemus watched. He shouldn't be doing this. Sure, Jim was in bed with two or three girls at this very moment, but Artemus was usually a bit more selective. Ron gave him a sweet smile. Artemus returned it. He was tired of being alone on Christmas, and Ron was better than a cold bed. How much better he'd soon find out.

Artemus left Ron early the next morning. He hated to sneak off, but he didn't want a repeat of last night's performance. It hadn't been bad, and it hadn't been Jim. The ache in Artemus' heart grew a bit broader, and from now on, he'd stick with women. They didn't hurt so damn much. He went upstairs to pack and change hotels. This Christmas was over, and that was about the only good thing he could say about it.

*********

Artemus drummed his fingers on the desk. It was December 20, and Jim was packing. His horse was saddled and ready. The Wanderer was pulling into the train yard outside of Boston where they would take their year-end layover, and Jim would vanish for two weeks, unless Artemus could stop him.

"Hey Jim, why don't you hang around this year?" He didn't say, Ôwith me', but it was there, hanging in the air.

"Na, I've made plans."

"And they are?" Artemus didn't look at his blue-clad partner. He didn't want to seem desperate, even though he was.

"Same old, same old," said Jim. He buckled on his six-shooter and disappeared to the front of the train.

"Damn," said Artemus. No luck. Another Christmas alone. He rubbed his face and tried to think. How many years? Not enough, it seemed. "I'll miss you."

"What, Artie?" Jim walked back through the swinging door.

Artemus looked up at his stunningly beautiful partner. His heart caught in his throat. He wanted to say so much and had only enough courage to say, "Have a good holiday."

"Thanks, you take care, and I'll see you in two weeks." Jim smiled, waved, and went up front to the stable car. He was gone.

Artemus considered following him and begging for mercy, but that wasn't an option. Jim wouldn't appreciate an emotional display. He never did. Artemus stood up and went to pack. It was time to get going. Somewhere, anywhere would do.

*******

Bullets whistled by Artemus' ears. Jim's too. They took cover behind a conveniently placed wagon and returned fire. Three down and three to go. Artemus took careful aim and hit the ground. Blood ran, he cursed, and shot the bastard in the ankle. Jim took out the other two, and Artemus pulled a handkerchief out to press to the wound.

"Artie, you alright?"

"Sure, it's a scratch," Artemus lied and passed out.

*******

The town doctor poured whiskey on Artemus' bare shoulder.

"That, sir, is a travesty."

"Shut up, Artie," said Jim. "Do it."

The forceps went in and dug around for the bullet. Artemus reached for Jim and managed to grab his forearm. Damn, that hurt. Artemus held on and squeezed. It didn't take longer than a year or two before the doctor fished out a bullet and wrapped Artemus' shoulder tight.

"Ease up, Artie."

Artemus let go of Jim completely and pushed the doctor away.

"You're done, doctor." Artemus swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Pay the man, Jim."

Artemus stiffened his spine, found his shirt, and headed for the door. One touch was one too many today. Jim caught up with him in the muddy street. They headed for the Wanderer, and Artemus didn't look over at Jim. Up the steps and into the parlor. Jim poured two drinks, and Artemus took his to quarters, stripping off his bloody shirt. The bandage was already soaked with blood. Amateur. Artemus cut the bandage off and rewrapped it tightly, packing around the edge of the wound carefully.

The Wanderer lurched, and Artemus compensated easily. Where were they off to now? His shoulder hurt like hell, and he mixed a little opiate in his drink. He pulled off his boots, drank it quickly, and lay down. This was getting old. He was getting old.

"Need anything?"

Artemus didn't look, or say the first words that popped in his mind. His eyes closed, and he kept them shut. Jim would go away in a minute or two. And he did. The opiate helped Artemus sleep.

*******

The fever set in that night. It woke Artemus up and helped him stay awake. His skin burned, and his head felt big. He lit a lantern and checked the wound. It was angry looking. He went to his lab and found some carbolic acid to clean the wound, again. No way was he wasting whiskey. The bandage went back on, and he shook a little from the fever. It was very late. The train was clicking along in the dark, and he went to the parlor car. Lighting a lamp, he sat at the desk. The telegram was where Jim had left it.

Washington Stop

Short and to the point. Artemus glanced at the calendar. It was December 20, and the trip to Washington would take only a day. Damn, the year was almost over. Another one gone and he wouldn't get it back. Jim would be leaving, at least they were in Washington, and Artemus could find a halfway decent hotel. He dropped his head into his hands and sighed. Could he do it again? It might be time for a change.

"You should be in bed."

Artemus jumped. Jim had a way of sneaking up on him. What to say? Artemus leaned back in the chair. "Washington?"

"Year-end maintenance and two weeks vacation," said Jim. He was dressed in his blue pants and boots. Nothing else.

Artemus felt the beads of sweat pop out on his forehead. His fever was edging up. He stood up and breathed deep. Jim was on the gold sofa, looking perfectly at ease. He didn't have a care in the world. Artemus fixed himself another whiskey and one for Jim, reluctantly. Anger bubbled alongside the fever.

"Well, when we get there, you haul your ass out of here like usual. It's been a long year. I need a break from you, your damn horse, and fixing you breakfast all the fucking time." Artemus slugged the whiskey back. He swayed on his feet. Jim said nothing. He sipped his drink and looked unconcerned. Artemus wasn't quite done. "Really, go pack your shit. Don't waste a damn minute."

Artemus slammed his empty glass down and went to his quarters. Jim could fry in hell, or maybe that was the fever frying him. Artemus lay down and hoped Jim would be gone when the opiate wore off. It was better that way.

*******

The train was stopped and silent when Artemus swam up to consciousness. The opiate left his mouth as dry as a desert. His fever was gone. The shoulder was sore and hurting. He groaned and stuck out his tongue. Blech.

"That's not a pretty sight, Artie." Jim's half-naked body was leaning in the doorway.

Artemus gave Jim a baleful glare. "You're supposed to be gone."

"Yeah, I know."

"So, beat it. Get the hell out of Dodge." Artemus stood up and moved to Jim. He took a small step back to avoid him and anger tore through Artemus, leaving him light-headed. "Out. Go. Goodbye. Adios. Don't let the ramp hit you in that sweet ass."

Good lord! God, had Artemus said that? He turned away and leaned against the wall.

"You're hurt. I don't want you to pass out in the mud somewhere and die." Jim was trying to be reasonable, and it sent the anger spiraling upwards. Artemus grimaced and began tearing the bandage off. It wasn't bloody. The wound had shut during the night. It was ugly, but would heal.

"I'm fine. See? Leave. Me."

Artemus sat down on the bed and put his face in his hands. He didn't much like himself, and he wasn't fond of Jim at this moment.

"I hate Christmas."

"So do I," said Artemus. Ten thousand words clamored in his throat. He choked them all back. "Get out of the way, I need to piss."

Jim laughed, and Artemus went to the lavatory to clean up. He felt better after washing up and putting on clean clothes. Food. He could smell food. Was he hallucinating? Nope, there was food on the green table in the parlor, and Jim was eating. Artemus sat down and stared.

"I went to get food."

"Thank you, Jim." Artemus took refuge in politeness. He was stunned.

"I figured you'd be too tired to cook." Jim smiled and a dimple emerged. "Silas wants us off the train."

"Okay," said Artemus. He ate and tried not to think of anything, especially dimples.

"You feeling better?"

Artemus flicked his eyes heavenward. Jim, who never said anything, wouldn't shut up. "Yes, I'm fine. Don't wait around on account of me."

"You were pretty angry last night," said Jim.

Nothing. Artemus said nothing. Maybe that would stop this conversation. He ate and drank his coffee. It wasn't bad.

"You don't like my horse, do you?"

"He's a pain in my ass," growled Artemus. "Can we just eat?"

"Where are we spending Christmas?"

Jim grinned, and Artemus tried to rein in his temper. It was racing out of control. A deep breath and another. Jim couldn't be serious. Artemus refused to believe it because even a bit of hope would kill him when Jim rode off without a look back.

"Why is this holiday any different than the others, James?" Artemus threw down his napkin and pushed his chair back. "I'm sure you have business and friends elsewhere."

Artemus went to pack, pushing through the connecting door hard enough to make it bang. Damn Jim. After packing quickly and efficiently, Artemus went to saddle his horse. Jim's black stallion neighed, stomped, and kicked out at Artemus. He stepped around him and jerked up his saddle. His shoulder screamed a protest, and the saddle thumped down hard on the back of the horse. The gelding didn't look at that happy about it either. Artemus whispered an apology and finished tacking him up.

"You're bleeding again."

"Damn it, Jim. Stop sneaking up on me." Artemus whirled to face him.

"Why are you so angry?" Jim spread his hands in what looked like confusion.

Artemus swallowed a rude answer and another one. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"

"No, my time is my own. I'm not riding off and leaving you here with all your friends and wild parties while you're bleeding." Jim stepped close. "Someone needs to keep an eye on you, and make sure you make it back to the hotel safe."

"What friends? What parties?" Artemus felt his forehead. This time he had to be hallucinating.

"Don't play innocent, Artemus. It doesn't suit you."

Artemus patted his horse's rump and glared into Jim's green eyes. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Every year at Christmas, I take it easy, and you tear up the town." Jim held up a fist and began counting on his fingers. "In Boston, last year, there was Carl, Diego, Michelle, Linda, and some Italian fellow. I could go on."

"James, you have the wrong man." Artemus licked his lips and wanted to spit. An Italian fellow? "Every year at Christmas, you ride off to God knows where, and I spend two weeks alone in some dingy hotel. Baltimore was the worst in recent memory, but last year wasn't very grand. Hell, we were in Boston. It was freezing rain, and I can only eat so much chowder."

Jim shook his head. "That's not what I heard."

"They lied." Artemus dropped the ramp and took his horse down. "How many years, Jim?"

Jim put his hands on his hips and looked stubborn. Artemus loaded his horse. He swung up and rode away without a glance back. There was a hotel somewhere waiting for him to check in and bleed on the sheets.

Washington was cold, gray, and miserable. Artemus pulled his jacket around him and wished he'd brought his overcoat. He'd been too angry with Jim to think clearly. Wild parties? The man was delusional. Christmas this year might see the end of this partnership. The mud slopped around his horse's hooves, and he started looking for a hotel. Washington did have grand ones, but he needed some place different.

Artemus kicked his horse into a trot. A short distance outside of town there was a rooming house, and that was his destination. He could heal in peace and quiet. By the time he rode into the stable yard, he was cold and tired. It was late afternoon, and it was starting to get dark. Winter was miserable in Washington. The stable boy rushed out to take his gelding, and Artemus gave him a coin. He smiled, and Artemus unloaded the horse. He went in the back door with a short knock.

"Artemus Gordon, you are a sight for sore eyes."

Artemus' teeth chattered. "F-f-f-flora, it's good to see you again."

"Get over here by the fire. You'll catch your death out there." Flora smiled and took his bag, pushing him to the kitchen table by the warmth of the fire. "I'll get you some stew."

"You're as beautiful as ever," said Artemus. "Is there room for one more tonight?"

"For you, there's always room, you liar." Flora served him stew and bread. "Take off your coat. It's wet."

Artemus slowly shrugged out of it, and she exclaimed, "You've been shot! Get that shirt off."

"It's two days old, Flora. Nothing we can do." Artemus grabbed her around the waist and rested his head on her ample bosom. "It's nice to be pampered."

"Liar, thief, fraud, swindler." Flora laughed.

"She certainly has your measure," said Jim.

Artemus shut his eyes. "Make him go away."

"Jim West is your best friend," said Flora.

"Not anymore," said Artemus. "He shot me in a fit of rage. I'm here hiding out."

"Oh, Artemus, you are a liar." Flora went to Jim and kissed him on the cheek, pulling his head down to get it done. "Go to the fire, handsome."

"You're as beautiful as ever," said Jim. He grinned and swatted her gently on the back of her gingham dress.

"You two are a pair. I turned sixty-five this year. Did you two get me anything for my birthday? No."

Artemus glanced at Jim and whispered, "I thought you took care of that."

"I reminded you," said Jim. He sat down opposite of Artemus at the table. "You said you had it taken care of."

"Liar," said Artemus. "You need to ride on."

"I always stay here. You go," said Jim.

"She was my friend first," said Artemus. "Leave. Now."

"Ouch!" Artemus and Jim yelped together.

Flora twisted Artemus' ear and Jim's. "Why are you boys fighting? You've been together for years."

"That's the problem," said Artemus.

Jim rolled his eyes. "He's feverish. Been rambling for days."

Flora filled a bowl for Jim and pushed it at him. "You two eat. Don't talk."

Artemus smiled. This woman he loved like no other. He didn't look at Jim square on. Why was he here? Flora waited until Artemus was through eating before removing his bloody shirt with a rip. It hurt, and he flinched.

"Baby," whispered Jim.

Artemus kicked him under the table. Jim didn't even have the courtesy to grunt. Flora cleaned and rewrapped Artemus' shoulder. He gritted his teeth and glared at Jim. Ass.

"You have a room for me tonight, Flora?"

"You'll have to bunk with Artemus," said Flora. "He won't mind."

"I won't?"

"Of course not. Jim's your partner. Remember? He's saved your life more times than I can count."

"I saved his butt a bunch of times, too," said Artemus.

Jim looked smug. "He's an ungrateful wretch. He can sleep in the barn. I'll take the room."

"James, he's ill. You can share. At least this Christmas, he won't be pining around, wishing you were here."

"What?"

"What?"

"Oh Artemus, three years ago you spent two weeks here, sulking. Even I got tired of you," said Flora. She cleared the table and began to wash dishes. "Jim, you shouldn't ride off without a word of where you'll be."

"Artemus is the life of the party. He doesn't need me around," said Jim.

Artemus picked up his things and kissed Flora on the cheek. "I'll be upstairs. My usual room?"

"Yes, it's ready," said Flora. "Jim will be up in a minute."

"Too bad," muttered Artemus. No chance Jim would bunk in the barn. He was enjoying tormenting him. Ass. What an ass. Artemus lit a lamp, put his clothes away, and washed up. This room had a small private lavatory. Flora saved it for her best customers. What were they talking about for so long?

Artemus looked about the small room. It was warm, cozy even. The bed was good-sized, but he didn't want Jim in it with him. They'd shared more times than Artemus could count. Tonight was different. Artemus pulled off his boots and shucked off his pants. If Jim saw Artemus in his short clothes, he might leave. Artemus pulled the coverlet down and sat back on the bed, resting against a pillow.

Jim opened the door and walked in as if he owned the place. "Comfortable?"

"Yes, and you should leave," said Artemus.

"Flora won't let me." Jim scowled. "Bossy woman."

"That's how you like them."

"Yeah, I know." Jim began undressing, and Artemus watched. Dinner and a show. Jim didn't seem to notice. "How is your shoulder?"

"Oh, shut up about it. You don't care."

"Artie, you're a cold bastard today."

"Yep, it's Christmas. I'm always cold this time of year."

"You don't go to wild parties and stay up to all hours of the night?"

"I have occasionally with President Grant, but in general, no, and I'm a little ashamed of the fact." Artemus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why?"

"You didn't have sex with all those women and men?"

"Not to my knowledge. I mean, I'm no saint, but, did I have a good time?"

"Oh yeah," said Jim. He went to piss. "I was jealous."

"Too bad I missed it," said Artemus. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Here and there," said Jim. "I need to get away once a year."

"From me."

"Not you, everyone else."

"Now who's a liar?"

"Don't ever call me a liar, Artie," growled Jim. He stood over Artemus and put a finger near his nose. "Never."

"You've been avoiding me. Don't deny it."

Jim put his finger away and stripped off the last of his clothes. Artemus gasped and reached out greedily. Jim hopped over him to land on the other side of the bed.

"I won't deny it. You know this is a bad idea."

"I don't care anymore." Artemus got naked and lay down next to Jim. Their hips were touching, and it felt like the fever had returned.

"I do." Jim laced his hands behind his head, narrowly missing jabbing Artemus in the head. "Our partnership is more important than a good fuck."

"You think I'm good?" Artemus grinned.

"That's what I hear. I'm not going to change after we fuck."

Artemus groaned. "Stop saying that, or I'm gonna cum on myself. I don't expect you to change into a devoted husband."

"You better be sure," said Jim.

Artemus sat up in the bed and crossed his legs. His cock was standing straight up. It was eager to get on with it. Jim stretched. Beautiful from head to toe. Artemus traced a finger over Jim's stomach muscles, but avoided touching his hard cock. One touch and Artemus would be lost.

"I'm tired of being with you and alone."

Jim sighed and put a big hand on Artemus' thigh. "I know, but our job is more important."

Artemus trailed his finger up and circled Jim's nipples. "At one point I would have agreed with you. Now, I'm not so sure."

"Trust me." Jim smiled and moved his hand up higher. "I don't want any problems in the morning. This job is hard enough."

Artemus looked down and bit his lip. His cock oozed on Jim's warm hand. This simple touch was worth almost any price. Could Artemus keep this casual? He glanced out the window into the dark night. He was desperately tired of being alone, and the hand felt so good.

"Okay, we'll do it your way."

"I was hoping you'd say that," said Jim. He sat up, pushed Artemus down, and got on top. "Let's be careful with your shoulder. Flora won't like blood on the sheets."

Artemus laughed and pulled Jim down for a long kiss. "Let's get her something nice for Christmas."

"Good idea. What about you?"

"Oh, I got what I wanted for Christmas, better late than never."

Jim grinned down at Artemus. "You'd complain if you were hung with a new rope."

Artemus slapped his hand down on Jim's ass and grabbed tight. "Make me happy, Jim."

"I'll give it a try, but there not much hope."

"Oh, there's plenty of hope here," said Artemus. He ran his hand under to squeeze Jim's cock. It was iron wrapped in satin. Jim gasped softly, and Artemus stroked it. "You feel so good."

Jim thrust and kissed. Artemus groped, grabbed, and tried to make up for so many lonely nights.

"Partner, slow down a little."

"No, you might change your mind."

Jim laughed. "That's not gonna happen, but did you bring any salve or anything?"

Artemus stopped licking Jim's nipples. "Uh, well."

"I didn't either." Jim rolled off and they lay side by side again. "Flora?"

"Think you can keep a straight face?" Artemus grinned. "Of course you can. You could play poker with the devil."

"My cock's so hard she's bound to notice." Jim pulled on his pants. There was a bulge, a big one.

"Leave your shirttail over it." Artemus idly stroked himself.

"Get your hand off that, and I'll go," growled Jim. "If I'm going to wait, so are you."

"What a grouch," Artemus grumbled, but laced his hands across his stomach obediently. "Go on, before I fall asleep."

"I'll wake you up," promised Jim with a wicked grin, and he was gone.

Artemus laughed and got comfortable on the bed. He was tired, but he wasn't going to miss this. He could sleep later, much later. It began to rain on the window. Could he keep this casual? He'd loved Jim forever and making love with him would seal the deal. Artemus wanted nothing more than to tell Jim that he was loved. Those words would have to stay unspoken, locked in Artemus' heart, or Jim would be furious. He didn't want any problems, no entanglements, nothing but companionship and great sex. Artemus groaned, and his cock twitched. Half a loaf was better than none, and this Christmas he wasn't alone. That gift was worth the price Jim wanted for it. The door opened, and Jim slid inside, shutting it quietly and locking it. Artemus asked him the question with a look.

"Yeah, I got it, but that Flora," said Jim. "She knows too much for her own good."

"Details. I want details."

"She said that I was to treat you nice, and she gave me a wink."

"No, not possible. She's, well, an old woman. It would never cross her mind."

Jim tossed the salve to Artemus and began stripping again. "Oh, it's crossed her mind and crossed back."

Artemus opened the salve and gave it a sniff. "Nice."

"She knows us, Artie. We can't stay here and do this!"

Artemus sighed, and picked up his cock again. Might as well finish the job alone. Like usual. Jim was pacing and watching.

"Okay, I won't argue with you, you jackass."

"Artie! Stop that."

"Jim, she thinks we're up here fucking, so even if we don't, she won't believe it." Artemus smiled and stroked.

Jim stopped and came over to the bed. "I hate to say this, but you're right. Roll over and hand me that salve."

"Wait a damn minute, who said you got tops?" Artemus didn't stop moving his hand. Jim put his hand over Artemus', who gave the job over to him willingly. Better, and better.

"I did. Do you have a problem with that?" Jim put his mouth where his hand stroked.

"Jim, you have a huge tongue." Artemus ran his hand through Jim's perfect hair. "I guess one night wouldn't be a problem."

Jim raised his mouth and licked up the shaft. "One night?"

"Two?" Artemus was losing control. Jim's mouth was hot, wet, and wicked.

"Whenever I want?" Jim applied more pressure.

"Okay, okay," gasped Artemus. "I do get a turn, right?"

"We'll see," said Jim. He stopped talking and went back to sucking.

Artemus shut his eyes and tried to make it last longer. It wasn't working. He groaned from his balls and watched with amazement as Jim swallowed. Artemus quivered and dug his nails into Jim's shoulders. That man's mouth ought to be against the law.

"Roll over, Artie," said Jim, after a last lick. "I can't wait any longer."

Artemus rolled over, but was careful to put a pillow under his shoulder. It couldn't take much of a beating. He heard the top of the salve come off and spread his legs as much as he was able. Jim was breathing hard and crowding close. Artemus was about to find out what all those women enjoyed so much, and he held his breath in terror or anticipation. Which, he didn't know.

"Relax," said Jim. His greased fingers made a path down Artemus' spine and dropped in behind. "You want this."

"I do? Yeah, I do, but, well, never mind, I just."

"Shut up, Artielove," Jim said. He pressed in a finger until it hit knuckle.

Artemus saw stars and thought that perhaps he heard a band playing. Love? What? Jim said what? The finger moved in and out, erasing all conscious thought. His breath came out with a whoosh, and he wanted to scream. The other tenants would not appreciate that. Two fingers made him buck and choke down a cry.

"Don't hurt yourself," said Jim.

Artemus tried to say something, but it didn't come out, and he wanted more. Jim exchanged his slick fingers for his slick cock, and Artemus raised his hips. He wanted it all, and Jim was the man to give it to him.

Boy, did Jim ever! Artemus was sure his eyes were rolling in the back of his head. So good, so damn good. His cock was hard again, and Jim snaked a hand underneath to stroke it tight.

"Jim, you are killing me."

"You deserve a nice holiday,"  Jim whispered in Artemus' ear. He then proceeded to bite and lick it.

Artemus groaned, and Jim went a little faster. He suddenly stopped, wiggled his hips to get deeper, and orgasmed. Artemus joined him with a sigh of pure satisfaction. Jim rolled them to the side and rubbed the cum on Artemus' sweaty stomach.

"Don't want to get the sheets dirty."

"Funny, Jim," gasped Artemus. "You'll have to forgive me, I need to pass out."

Artemus shut his eyes, and Jim laughed. They were hooked together, but neither was in a hurry to move.

"Finally, a Merry Christmas." Artemus smiled.

*******


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