Title: Rules of Engagement
Jim tapped his fingers restlessly on the armrest of the sofa. The other hand was busy with his brandy, and he drank deeply. Artemus would be here soon. It was time to have a talk, and Jim wasn't looking forward to it. It wasn't that he didn't like Artemus - quite the opposite - but he would rather face a firing squad than have this particular conversation. It was going to go poorly. Jim had no doubt about it.
Artemus and Jim spoke only when they had to, about things they couldn't avoid. It had been that way since Quemada. The brandy was empty, and Jim didn't refill it. He glanced at the back door of the Wanderer. It might be a wait. Artemus worked on his own schedule, but he knew Jim wanted to see him. Artemus would get here when he was good and ready. Jim stood up and stretched. His horse was up in the stable car and could use some extra attention. He'd been ridden hard during this last assignment.
Jim placed his snifter down and went through the train to his closet. He pulled off his smoking jacket and hung it up. Unbuttoning his white shirt, he folded it and put it away. No reason to get another shirt dirty. This job was hard on his wardrobe. He stretched and rolled his shoulders, trying to ease muscles pulled tight by tension.
The stable car was dark, and he lit both lanterns to have enough light to see. His black gelding was relaxed in his small stall. Hoof cocked and head down, the horse snuffled at a few leftover pieces of hay.
"Easy, boy." Jim checked all four hooves and felt the long, black legs for hot spots. The horse was sound, and Jim picked up a soft cloth to go over him again. With one last wipe, he patted the gelding's shoulder. "Life's not so complicated for you, is it, buddy?"
Jim tossed him more hay and heard a bell tinkle softly. He picked up a rifle for whoever was coming through the door.
Artemus doffed his hat. "Easy there, Jim."
Jim nodded and put the rifle away. "Evening, Artie." Artemus smiled slightly, and Jim went to blow out the lanterns. "Need a drink?"
"Have I ever said no?"
"Not that I recall." Jim followed Artemus through the door and down the narrow hallway. Artemus stopped at the connecting doorway that led to the parlor. Jim almost bumped into him and realized Artemus wanted Jim to go first. The hallway was narrow enough that Jim found himself uncomfortably close to his partner. Artemus gave him an assessing look. Jim stepped past. His bare shoulder brushed Artemus in passing.
"How are you?" Jim's skin prickled where it had touched Artemus. Jim poured him a brandy. "Do you need to do anything for your horse?"
"I took a hack," Artemus said, taking the drink and toasting Jim. "You wanted to see me?"
Jim sat down near the back door and wished he'd stopped for a shirt. Artemus' brown eyes were raking over Jim as if he were a dessert on a buffet. "We have new orders, but we have a choice."
Artemus raised his eyebrows and stopped sipping. "That doesn't make any sense - not that orders usually do."
Jim wished Artemus would look away. "I'm going to get a shirt and wash up. I'll be right back, make yourself at home."
Artemus saluted with his glass, and Jim beat a retreat. Clothes would help, maybe, and he washed the horse smell off his hands. Splashing a bit of water on his face, he took a deep breath to calm the butterflies. Artemus might surprise Jim with an apology.
Artemus looked comfortable on the sofa, brandy in hand, when Jim returned. He finished buttoning up his shirt, it wasn't tucked in, and he tried to decide the best place to sit, some place neutral.
"Well? I haven't got all night."
"Hot date?" Jim didn't smile as he sat on the
opposite end of the sofa. Artemus smiled enigmatically, and Jim felt the
tension return to his shoulders. It was time to talk and from Artemus'
attitude, there would be no apology forthcoming. "President Grant wants us
"If we must. I'll meet you there," Artemus said, rising to his feet.
"Sit," Jim commanded. "I'm not finished."
Artemus paused, considered the order a moment, and sat back down. Jim was certain that following orders was the thing Artemus hated the most about this job.
"So, go on." Artemus was clearly impatient.
"If you're on your way to a fire, this can wait." Jim was put-off by Artemus' attitude. Artemus shrugged and drank his brandy. He crossed his legs and looked at the door. Jim tried to choose his words carefully. "We have a choice to make, and President Grant wants to hear our answer in person. We can work together full-time on special assignments that he gives out."
Jim ran a hand through his hair. "You're going to work
at the Treasury Department in
"This is blackmail." Artemus finished his drink and went to put the glass on the tray. "Why does he care so much?"
Jim frowned. He didn't know the answer to that. The hair on his arms prickled up, and he met Artemus' probing eyes, but only for a second.
"Jim, what do you know that I don't?" Artemus returned to the sofa, but stood over Jim.
"This time, nothing. I don't understand why this is happening either." Jim heard the hard tone in his voice. "The country's changing, and he wants our help."
"So he gets us or we get shoved aside." Artemus
pulled down his vest. "When is the Wanderer leaving for
"The track is clear in the morning." Jim was face-to-face with Artemus. "I haven't made my decision, and I don't expect you to snap out an answer."
"Oh, well, that's a relief." Artemus brushed Jim aside, yanked open the door, and vanished into the night.
Jim sat back down with a small sigh. That hadn't gone well, but he hadn't expected it to. He really hadn't made up his mind yet. There were things they were going to have to talk about first. He knew what he wanted in a perfect world, but that had been ruined.
Artemus Gordon was a more complicated man than any Jim had ever met. He burned hot to cold; laughed and cried easily; lied, cheated, stole; and lived by his own code of honor. Their partnership was a perfect blend of strength and guile. At least it had been. Forget talking, he could barely look at Artemus. If Artemus rode the train with Jim, it would be a long three days.
Jim wouldn't push Artemus to explain or apologize. Unfortunately, President Grant was the one doing the pushing. Jim had so little of Artemus left, and his commanding officer seemed determined to push what remained right out of Jim's life.
Jim woke with the dawn and swung his legs over to sit up. He automatically ducked his head to avoid striking the bunk above him. The sofas in the parlor were more comfortable than these bunk beds, and most nights he avoided them. Yawning, Jim went to the lavatory and relieved himself. He washed up and heard a noise in the parlor. Moving decisively, he retrieved a gun and stepped around the doorway. Artemus was asleep on a sofa. The noise was snoring.
Well, Artemus was here, but Jim had no idea what that meant. For a long minute, he watched him sleep. Artemus looked almost innocent, with no hint of the devil showing. Jim cursed this damn situation and went back to bed. If Artemus was aboard, the train could leave without Jim worrying.
Coffee. Jim could smell coffee, and it made him drool on his pillow.
"You ever gonna get up?"
Jim jerked up, bashed his head into the bunk above him, and cursed. "Damn it, Artie. Haven't you ever heard of knocking?"
"Why would I?" Artemus held out a mug of coffee. "Here, drink this, and oh, love your nightshirt."
Jim covered himself hastily with the sheet. "Thank you. Now, get the hell out."
Artemus laughed and left Jim with the coffee and a red face. Jim was afraid that he knew the decision Artemus had made. The coffee was wonderful, and Jim stayed in his room until his face quit burning. Then, and only then, did he emerge fully dressed to find Artemus in the parlor.
"Breakfast is on the sideboard," said Artemus. "Don't get accustomed to having it."
"I would never take it for granted." Jim gazed hungrily at the food. "I'm a little surprised you decided to ride the rails with me."
"I enjoy your company, James." Artemus drank his coffee and read a newspaper. He didn't look up. "Not often, but occasionally."
Jim filled a plate and decided not to be insulted. He had been shown quite clearly that he wasn't enough to keep Artemus interested for any length of time. The food was good, and Jim ate two platefuls.
"Thank you, Artie. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to feed my horse."
Artemus waved Jim away, and he went to take off his shirt. His horse was hungry, and Jim gave him a generous helping of oats. While the gelding ate greedily, Jim went over him with a brush. He'd been down during the night. Jim scooped up the manure and tossed it in a special bin that he'd invented. The bin emptied out onto the tracks when Jim pulled a lever. He did this and delayed returning to the parlor. His saddle could really use a cleaning. Picking up a cloth, he sat down on a small stool and began cleaning the leather. He tried not to think as he worked.
"You spend a lot of time out here?"
Jim didn't flinch. He'd heard the small bell that rings when the connecting door to the stable car opened. "Yes, it's relaxing."
"So, you don't play cards, get drunk, or look at girly magazines?"
"I didn't say that." The skin on Jim's back began to burn from Artemus' scrutiny. "There's time on the train to get everything done."
Artemus grinned and patted the gelding on his black hindquarters. "I've always resented the fact that you travel in luxury."
"I know," Jim said. "I've always resented the fact that you get to choose how you're going to get there."
"Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," Artemus said. Jim nodded and turned his saddle upside down to check the fleece. Artemus moved a little closer. "What are you doing?"
"Checking for tears, cockleburs, or anything else that might cause a problem."
"You could hide a pick lock in there," Artemus said.
"Stirrup is the better location." Jim flipped his saddle back over and pulled up a stirrup. "This one has a fold out knife and the other has a pick lock."
"Nice. You do try to think of everything."
"Better safe than sorry," Jim said. "You bring everything you'll need?"
"Yes, I had the wagon shipped on ahead." Artemus found Jim's eyes and captured them. "Have you made up your mind?"
"No." Jim didn't elaborate. Those brown eyes darkened, and Jim waited for a good cursing out.
"Well, damn it, Jim, tell me what the hell is going on with you." Artemus glared down at him.
Jim smiled and shrugged. Artemus liked to curse, and he did it to shock his victims into telling all. The gelding stamped a hoof, and Jim meticulously went over the girth strap. He wasn't going to go out on a limb and let Artemus chop it off behind him.
"Did you bring a saddle?"
"No," said Artemus. "You don't wear a shirt very often."
Jim shrugged his burning, hot shoulders. "Skin is easier to clean."
"Have you heard from
Jim looked up in surprise. Artemus was dancing around the subject. "No, but I'm sure she's doing fine."
"She's a tough lady." Jim turned the girth around. Artemus wouldn't come out and say it, would he? "You have anyone new in your life?"
Artemus looked at his boots. "You know the answer to that."
Jim watched Artemus tiptoe closer and closer to the subject. "You've been living in hotels?"
"And my wagon. You don't really care."
Jim shrugged. "You're my partner."
"Sometimes." Artemus crossed his arms. "If, mind you if, in a moment of insanity, we decide to do this, there are going to be some ground rules."
"Mine or yours?" Jim finished the girth and picked up the bridle to clean. It was almost time to buy a new bit, and a couple of pieces of leather were becoming a bit worn. He looked up at his partner. "Well?"
Artemus glowered down at him for a brief moment and left the stable car. Jim let out the breath he was holding. Artemus wasn't ready to talk about it. Not yet. Jim tightened the leather straps holding the reins to the bit and wished his stomach would stop churning. Life was easier when he was dodging bullets.
After finishing in the stable car, Jim took a bath and made damn sure to lock the door. Artemus had a way of showing up. Jim considered drowning himself to avoid the next three days of talking this over with Artemus.
"You gonna drown yourself?"
"Is there a locked door that can stop you?"
"Oh, hell Jim, we've gone to bathhouses together."
"Not lately, now get the hell out!"
Artemus smirked and gave Jim a look that scrapped off a layer of skin. "Nothing new here."
Jim flipped open a compartment that had a gun inside, and Artemus shut the door behind him. Jim heard him lock it, insolent man. Draining the water seemed like giving Artemus what he wanted, so Jim leaned back and enjoyed his bath. Three days. Could he make it? And after that? Jim considered his decision from all sides of the problem. Life with Artemus would never be simple, and Jim would have to accept all kinds of things that he'd rather not even think about on any given day. Of course, most of those things, Artemus did to save Jim's ass or complete the assignment, making it very hard to criticize. Jim put his hands over his eyes and wished.
The water was getting chilly, and Jim pulled the plug. Time to gird his loins and face the lion. A bit defiantly, he left off the towel and walked down the hallway to the closet. Artemus had already seen it twice today. Jim pulled on a pair of trousers and brushed his hair. It felt good to be clean. The pigeons were cooing at each other or laughing at Jim.
"Henry, Henrietta, how are you two lovebirds?" The birds cooed and flapped their wings. Jim smiled. "You two want another roommate? He's a pain in my ass, but he might stoop to feed you from time to time."
"You knew I was here," Artemus said.
"Well, hello, I didn't see you there." Jim opened a drawer and removed a shirt.
"Now, don't put on a shirt because of me." Artemus grinned wolfishly.
Jim ignored him and put the shirt on, but not quickly. "Don't you have anything to do besides follow me around?"
"Not really. This is boring, as I always suspected it would be," Artemus said. "What do you do for fun?"
"Masturbate." Jim grinned and made a rude gesture. "It's difficult for me to believe that a man with your talents and abilities can't find something constructive to do."
"Careful Jim, that was a thinly veiled compliment, and I find it hard to believe that a good Quaker boy like you masturbates."
Jim made a fist where Artemus couldn't see it. "I think you're always so busy with your other pursuits, that you don't really know me at all."
Artemus' face tightened, and Jim had scored a hit. It didn't feel good. He pushed past and went back to the parlor. A drink was definitely in order. Jim poured himself a whiskey and picked up a cue. He could always stick it in Artemus' dark heart.
"Fifteen points?" Artemus asked.
"Winner gets to lock his door."
"Oh, you can lock it, but it won't keep me out if I want in." Artemus examined his cue. "Is this the one with the gun?"
"Yes." Jim used his cue to push the points back. "And don't worry; I'm out of exploding cue balls."
"Well, I'll have to fix that." Artemus lined up his first shot. "I get the top bunk?"
"If you want." Jim turned away, drank some whiskey, and looked out the window. He counted telegraph poles. The Wanderer was making good time - two and a half more days. "Don't cheat."
Artemus laughed and clicked over a bead. "But I want to win."
"You don't win if you cheat." Jim looked over the table. "Have you made up your mind?"
"I'm waiting for you to tell me what you want." Artemus poured a whiskey and sat down to watch Jim.
"I'm not going to do that. You're going to have to make up your own mind." Jim scored a carom and racked a bead over. "Your shot."
"But you love giving orders." Artemus didn't rise.
"Not to you." Jim leaned against his cue and waited patiently. "I do it because you need them from time to time or we wouldn't get the job done."
"You do it because it makes you feel like a big man." Artemus took his shot, cursing softly.
"You think I give you orders because I need to feel important? You certainly think a lot of yourself." Jim smiled and scored. This game was over.
"Somebody has to." Artemus sat down and began disassembling the cue. Jim waited, but it was clear that Artemus was through playing. "Go ahead without me, you always do."
Jim put the cue down on the table so he didn't snap it in half from frustration. What next? He was a little afraid to spend any time cleaning his gun. He might accidentally shoot someone with brown eyes - not fatally, but somewhere painful.
"Are you dreaming about hurting me again?"
"What gives me away?"
"That very small smile that graces your face only when you are doing violence or thinking about it." Artemus laid out the parts and began inspecting each one. "You don't like me very much, do you?"
"Artie, we've known each other for years. It's only recently that we've had difficulties. My feelings for you aren't that simple."
Artemus slid Jim a lazy look. Jim looked at his boots. Damn. He'd said too much and handed Artemus a fistful of ammunition to use against him. He forestalled any more comments by leaving the parlor. He went through the galley, grabbed up an apple, and went to his bunk. Munching, he slid off his boots and lay back flat. He hadn't shut the door. No lock on this train could keep out Artemus. Jim ate his apple. He'd just jumped from the frying pan into the fire. He'd said the word 'feelings.' Stupid. He was stupid. Artemus would use that ammo to blow him away.
Jim threw his apple core directly at Artemus' chest as hard as he could. Splat! Jim grinned.
"Damn it, Jim. That was a clean shirt." Artemus brushed off the seeds. He started unbuttoning his shirt and cuffs.
Jim watched the show. "Mess with the bull."
"I get the horns." Artemus frowned. "You're scarcely a bull. Maybe a steer."
"That insult comes too late and too little. Try again." Jim laced his hands across his chest. "Really, Artie, I expect more from you."
Artemus took off the shirt and glared at Jim. "What's left of this partnership will never work if we're forced to live together."
"It will definitely cut down on your free time. Trains run on schedules." Jim shut his eyes and crossed his feet.
"Tell me about those feelings."
"So you can laugh at me? I don't think so." Jim heard the amusement in Artemus' voice. This was all a big joke to him.
"I don't have feelings. They are such an inconvenience," Artemus drawled.
Jim could almost believe that. "Tell me why you're here with me." It was a command.
"You know why."
"Yes, I suspect I do, but you've don't have enough guts to talk about it." Jim sighed as if he were sad.
"Jim, that was fine acting," Artemus said. "You made it clear then that you didn't want to talk about it, ever."
Jim heard the tap of Artemus' boots as he approached the bed. Artemus ran a hand through Jim's hair. Jim opened his eyes to see Artemus on one knee by the bunk. It was somewhat of a shock, only because it was the last thing Jim had expected from his partner.
"And I wish President Grant hadn't forced this conversation on us. But here we are." Jim tried not to enjoy the hand on him. "Admit it Artie, you don't want to be tied down to this train and me. You have other things you'd rather be doing to other people."
"That young man meant nothing to me!"
"Just like I don't."
"I don't understand why you continue to compare my affairs to how I feel for you?"
"How can I not, Artie? That young man had brown hair, green eyes, and muscles to spare." Jim pushed Artemus' hand away. "You love to bed men who fit a certain look, and you threw him out the door without even a goodbye."
Artemus blushed and looked down at his hand. "He wasn't what I wanted."
"How many brown haired men have you thrown out? Ten? A hundred?" Jim got to his feet. Artemus got out of the way quickly, moving well back.
"I never counted." Artemus turned his back on Jim.
Jim glared and clamped down on the urge to hit someone. "I refuse to be nothing but another one of your cast offs. I'm worth more than that."
"Sounds like your choice is made. You're too angry to ever work this out."
"Damn right, I'm mad. An apology from you would be a start."
"I'm not apologizing for who I am." Artemus put his hands in his pockets. "If you want me for a partner, you're going to have to ask - and nicely."
"I'm not ever going to beg." Jim put his hands on his hips.
"Seems we have nothing to talk about." Artemus turned, and their eyes clashed. Jim didn't look away and wasn't surprised when Artemus did. He left without looking back.
Jim was too angry to consider napping. His stomach hurt again from too much talking. He paced in front of the bunk bed, with his hands clenched in front of him, and tried to calm down. An apology wouldn't have killed the stubborn fool. Ask nicely? Fancy words that meant Artemus wanted to see Jim begging. Knowing Artemus, he probably wanted Jim on his knees. He groaned at the thought, and his cock twitched. Adjusting himself, he took a deep breath.
Artemus was always the right man to have at Jim's side in a rough spot. If only Artemus had stuck to women, they wouldn't have this problem. Sighing deeply, Jim sat down on the bunk and rubbed his face with his hands. Why did everything with Artemus have to be so damn complicated? Jim lay down, and he put his arm over his eyes. Time passed, and no solutions presented themselves.
Giving up, Jim stretched and went to the parlor car. Artemus
was in the galley, cooking. Jim idly picked up a book, but he was too restless
to read. He played a few points on the billiards table. His anger was gone, and
all he felt was regret. This partnership could have been so much more, if only
Jim hadn't hunted up Artemus at the hotel that day after dropping off
Something hit the floor in the galley that sounded like metal. Jim knew he shouldn't, but he went to make sure Artemus hadn't burned himself. He hadn't, and Jim told himself to walk away. Instead, he stood in the doorway and watched. It could have been so sweet. Artemus glanced at Jim only once. Jim swore he could see sparks in the air. Artemus wanted him - badly. Artemus wasn't afraid of Jim's anger. For all Jim knew, he'd made Artemus want it more. Jim told his boots twice to leave, but they seemed rooted to the floor.
"Will I get any?" Jim wanted to bite his tongue off. Walk away, walk away, but he couldn't.
"Why do you want it?" Jim didn't dare smile. "You said earlier that I wasn't anything special."
"No, I said there was nothing new, but that doesn't mean it's not perfect."
"You've had it a hundred times before."
"Very cheap imitations. I want the original." Artemus didn't look at Jim. "Under me, moaning and crying out my name."
Jim gasped softly at the mental image. It made it impossible to reply immediately. When he could speak again, all that came out was a weak joke. "You are such a snob, Artie."
Artemus turned and grinned. "Yes, I want only the best."
Jim leaned against a cabinet. A compliment to turn Jim's head. He was vain, but not stupid. "Nice try. Is your decision going to hinge on whether you can seduce me over the next two days?"
"Yes, no, maybe, I don't know." Artemus put another piece of kindling in the stove. "You've got me spinning in circles."
Jim laughed. Artemus was confused? "We do need some rules."
"Can I make them?"
"Sure, but I don't have to follow them, do I?" Jim laughed some more. "Tell you what, you write them down, and I'll circle the ones I'm willing to go along with."
Artemus stirred something that smelled delicious. "Okay."
Jim stepped behind Artemus, very close behind. Jim was hungry, and he knew how to get some food.
"May I have some," Jim whispered in Artemus' ear. Jim saw Artemus quiver. "Please."
"You cheat, why shouldn't I?" Jim flicked his tongue out and over Artemus' ear. Artemus groaned deeply. Jim smiled with pleasure. For once, he had the upper hand. "Well?"
"What?" Artemus turned and tried to catch Jim's lips. "Give me something, don't tease."
"One kiss for dinner?" What could a kiss hurt? Two more days and this would all be over.
Jim moved in closer. Artemus wrapped a hand around Jim's neck, pulled him to his lips, and did nothing. Jim controlled a groan of anticipation. Slowly, Artemus pushed his lips into Jim's, and they were kissing. Jim didn't shut his eyes. He stared into Artemus' brown ones. Artemus teased Jim's lips open and tasted him. Jim's groin tightened. Artemus' tongue stabbed deep. The kiss lingered. Jim found his hands gripping Artemus tightly. Artemus' eyes twinkled, and Jim wrenched his mouth away. Artemus tried to hold him, but Jim jerked free.
"A kiss, nothing more, ever."
Jim left the galley and tried to make his erection go down. He cursed himself for being a fool. Why couldn't he just resist the man? He adjusted himself in his trousers, poured himself a brandy, and sat on the sofa. Breathing deeply, he tried to figure out why he thought he could tease Artemus and get away with it. Artemus could seduce a nun. Jim had no chance at all.
By the time Artemus came out into the parlor, Jim had his cock under control. His heart was something else entirely, and it began to race. He knew it was stupid and even foolish to want Artemus, but Jim did and to hell with all those other lovers.
Jim put his head in his hands and moaned. Artemus had him right where he didn't want to be, in the palm of Artemus' greedy hand. Artemus put a plate down in Jim's lap and sat down right next to him.
"You can move away a little," Jim said.
"No, I'm comfortable right here." Artemus grinned and got closer.
Jim was tempted to stand and eat, but he had to pick his battles. Artemus could have this skirmish. Jim picked up his fork. His thigh lay alongside Artemus' thigh. The food was delicious, and he concentrated on eating. At least, he tried, but Artemus was making it extremely difficult. The man was eating as if it was a religious experience, and he was trying to convert Jim.
"Have you made your set of rules?" Jim paused. "Not that we'll need them, but you should keep busy."
"I do like to keep busy." Artemus licked his fork suggestively. "The first one is that we always sit this close."
"I don't think so." Jim's eyes betrayed him by following every movement of that agile tongue.
"Number two – you walk around without your shirt on as frequently as possible."
"Okay, I'll give you that
one." Jim placed his fork down on his empty plate and took it to the
kitchen. It gave him the opportunity to try to collect his scattered thoughts
and take a deep breath. The sight of Artemus' tongue had breached his walls. He
didn't want this. Say it again. He wanted an apology and nothing else.
"Are you hiding, again?"
"Artemus, I give. You win."
Jim's hard fought control broke in half. His throbbing cock was in charge, not
his good sense. Forget an apology. Jim wanted Artemus. Now. "Take me to
bed, fuck me until we get to
"I can keep you in bed for two full days?"
Trust Artemus to hear only what
he wanted. Jim ripped his shirt off and buttons flew everywhere. He was going
Artemus took a small step back. "Jim, you think so little of me."
"You want me for a toy, and you'll toss me aside when you're done, just like all the others." Jim pressed Artemus against the counter and ran his hands over him. "Once we do this, our partnership is over."
"James - Jim - stop," Artemus said. "You can't know that."
Jim didn't stop. He ripped open Artemus' trousers and pulled out what was inside. It was only half-hard, but got a lot harder when Jim dropped to his knees. He ran his tongue over Artemus' cock. It was better than Jim had imagined. Artemus groaned and grabbed Jim's head. Jim grasped Artemus' wrists.
"God, Jim. Don't break my arms," Artemus gasped.
Jim ignored him and sucked. It was what Jim wanted and forget the consequences. Artemus had won, broken Jim down. All it had taken was one wet kiss. Artemus pulled Jim's head back and forth. Jim took the cock as deep as he could and wanted more. Artemus was making quite a bit of noise. Jim exerted his considerable strength and pulled his mouth back to the tip, licking the slit.
"You gonna come for me?"
"Jim, why are you doing this?"
"You wanted it. Well, you got it." Jim brought his mouth down again and sucked hard.
Artemus tried to pull Jim off, and he went deeper. When Artemus' cock slid all the way down, Jim swallowed.
"Damn, James," Artemus croaked.
Jim felt it when Artemus went over the edge. With a strong yank, Jim had Artemus' hands behind him. A bit deeper, and Artemus poured his seed down Jim's throat. Jim took it all and didn't let up until Artemus tried to collapse. Releasing him, Jim stood up and pulled Artemus against him.
"Uh, yeah, you want me to . . ."
"Oh, don't bother. This is all about you, isn't it, Artie? What you need and want. I'm nothing but another whore, right?" Jim turned Artemus loose and left him there, gasping in the galley.
Jim's trousers were incredibly tight, and he unbuttoned them on the trip down the hallway to his bunk. His cock was so hard it hurt. He sat on the edge of his bunk and pulled his boots and pants off. Lying down, he tasted Artemus and fisted himself. He was so damn frustrated with this whole situation, but the hard part was over. Now Artemus would walk away, and Jim could try to find a life elsewhere. His cock oozed, and he slicked himself with it.
"What do you plan to do with that?"
Jim didn't answer. He rolled to his side away from Artemus and stroked himself. Artemus crawled on the bunk. Jim felt his skin ignite and begin a slow burn where it met him. Jim slowed down a little, and Artemus bit him on the neck. Artemus reached over for Jim's cock, and they bumped hands.
"Can't I masturbate in peace?"
"Good Quaker boys don't masturbate." Artemus bit Jim's arm until he got what he wanted. "I don't suppose there's any chance I can convince you of my sincerity."
"'Dear James, I'm leaving, sincerely Artemus.' That I'll believe." Jim licked his lips and thrust. Artemus' touch was heaven on Jim's skin. Beads of sweat broke out on his brow. He was losing control. His eyes shuttered to half closed, and his mouth fell partly open - almost there. Artemus pushed a finger in Jim's ass, and Jim orgasmed like a freight train coming out of a tunnel. He swore that he saw lights and heard bells ringing.
"Who are you again?" Jim tried to control his breathing.
"Your partner." Artemus eased his finger out of Jim and left the bed. Cold air hit Jim's sweaty back. Jim rolled to his stomach, and he saw Artemus returning. Artemus nodded. "Stay right there."
Jim quivered from the orgasm. He had no idea what Artemus was doing, and Jim didn't care until he felt a slick cock nudge against his ass. Artemus pushed Jim's legs further apart. Jim considered running from the room, but he'd said it, so he had to go through with it.
"No, it's not like you're hanging around for any length of time. Use me and leave me; you'll feel better in the morning."
Artemus sucked a breath as if Jim had hit him. "All these years, and you think I'll throw them away."
"Shut up and do it."
Jim pulled up his legs, resting on his knees. "Your friends in
Artemus made no sound, and Jim didn't look at him. "Rule number three – no talking while I'm fucking you."
Jim grunted and cried out when Artemus penetrated him. It hurt and felt so right. Artemus used plenty of salve and took his time, but he fucked Jim hard. Jim made plenty of noise, but didn't talk. Rule number three was fine with him. His own cock was limp at first, but Artemus kept a steady rhythm, and Jim got hard again. Artemus reached around and stroked Jim with a slick hand. Jim shut his eyes, and the sensations chasing through him swept him away.
Artemus stiffened and choked out a gasp or two. Jim came on his stomach, and he clenched Artemus' cock tight. Artemus stopped moving. "Rule number four – we're gonna do this every chance we get."
Jim didn't want to get the sheets dirty since he had to sleep on them. He looked back and pushed Artemus away with a spread hand. Artemus' cock slid out, and Jim was empty. He quivered a little and went to clean up. After a minute, Artemus joined him in the lavatory. They didn't look at each other. Jim wiped himself off and took a long piss. He needed a whiskey and some sleep.
Jim favored Artemus with a look in the eye, but didn't speak.
"How do you, uh, feel?" Artemus' eyes shifted away.
"Relieved." Jim didn't elaborate. There was whiskey in the parlor, and that was his destination. He poured Artemus a drink. It was only polite.
"Thank you, James," Artemus said, taking the whiskey.
Jim nodded and went to sit on a sofa. He doubted his legs would hold him very long. Artemus watched him with eyes that looked haunted. Jim shrugged it off. It was done. All the decisions had been made.
"Two more days of this might kill me," Artemus said.
Jim suspected that this was a weak attempt at a joke. He drank his whiskey down and went to look out the back door. The sun was going down, and he was beat.
Jim whirled to face Artemus, who was right behind him. "Así es la vida, right, Artie? I'll live."
"So your decision's final? I thought this would force your hand," Jim said. "Well, a promise is a promise. I'll be your whore for two days."
Artemus flinched. He looked down and put a hand in his hair. "I, well-"
"Damn it, Artie. I know you can't look anyone in the eye after you've had him in bed. Hell, I'm lucky you're not forcing me off the train. Forget it. We're done. It was a good partnership. Let it die a peaceful death." Jim pushed Artemus onto the sofa and placed the empty glass down before he threw it out a window.
"Rule number five – no talking after I fuck your ass."
Jim laughed bitterly and went to his bunk. He was bone tired after that fucking. Artemus could hurt a man and make him love every minute of it. Jim pulled up a blanket and was asleep.
The sound of Artemus snoring above him woke Jim up. It was very dark in the little room - must be the middle of the night. Jim remembered that he hadn't checked his horse one last time, and he groped in the darkness until he found his trousers. He pulled them on and went down the dark hallway. He'd light a lantern when he reached the stable car.
The light cast over the sleeping
horse. He was down in the hay. Jim smiled and didn't disturb him. This horse
was a good one - steadfast and loyal. Jim sat on a bale of hay and dimmed the
light. He put his head in his hands and wanted to weep, but he wouldn't because
men don't cry. Well, Artemus did from time to time, but he hadn't had a father
like Jim's. Artemus hadn't had a father at all, from what Jim could tell. He
glanced around the stable car. He'd miss this when he moved to
The gelding surged up, and Jim was instantly on his feet, looking for a weapon.
"You slept with your damn horse?" Artemus' voice rang through the stable car.
Jim stopped looking for a gun and started reassuring his horse. The gelding snorted and stamped his big hooves. Jim wished for boots. "Yes, now lower your voice."
Artemus put his hands on his hips and glared, but reined in his voice. "I give you my best, and you sleep with your horse."
"It didn't mean anything to you." Jim shook out the blanket and folded it, stashing it away. He had to step around an angry Artemus to do it. Artemus took Jim by the arm and shook him. Jim blazed up to angry, and punched Artemus in the kidney. He fell gasping to the stable floor, and Jim glared down at him. "I'll be your whore, but not your whipping boy."
Artemus tried to breathe for several long minutes. Jim sat back down on the bale of hay and watched. It wouldn't be long, and Artemus would be shouting again. Artemus groaned more times than Jim could count.
"That was rotten, Jim."
"You deserved it. Now come on." Jim pulled Artemus up and helped him back through the train to a sofa. "Sit down and take it easy. I'll get you some whiskey."
"Thanks. Don't ever do that again."
Jim poured two whiskeys and took one to Artemus. "That's a promise that's easy to keep, since we won't be seeing each other."
Artemus shot him a glare and took the whiskey. He sipped it slowly. His brown eyes reprimanded Jim. Jim didn't feel guilty at all. Nobody messed with him like that. Nobody.
"No breakfast for you."
"Nothing new there," Jim said.
"Come here and give me a kiss so I know you still love me."
Jim could see those brown eyes glinting. The devil was in them. "Now Artie, no one kisses whores."
Artemus ripped his eyes away, and Jim went to the galley. He rummaged until he found the beef jerky. Sucking it, he went back to his bunk. Sleeping a while longer was in order, and when the train stopped for wood and water, he could go find some real food. Chew, suck, and chew. The beef jerky kept Jim's mouth busy, and he refused to think of anything or anyone with brown eyes.
"I could get hard watching you do that." Artemus leaned against the post of the bunk beds. "Rule number six – no hitting Artemus."
Jim shrugged and chewed. "I
can't see me agreeing to that one. You'll come see me in
Artemus sat down at the end of the bunk, making sure not to hit his head. "Uh, well."
"Never mind." Jim finished the jerky. "I'm gonna sleep until the train stops, and then I'm going out to get some dinner."
"Can I come along?"
Jim rolled to his side and shut his eyes. Artemus could sit there all day if he wanted. It took a while, but Jim fell asleep.
When the train halted, Jim woke up instantly. He was alone, thank God. Dressing quickly, he exited the train through the parlor door, striding past Artemus. Jim swung down and walked up to the cab. The sun was high overhead. The day was breezy and cool. It was good to be outside.
"How long, Silas?"
"I'm gonna fix a few things, so a couple of hours."
"Don't leave without me," Jim said with a grin.
"I'll blow the whistle before we leave." Silas disappeared inside the cab.
Jim went to the stable car and pulled down the ramp. He had a choice: ride off and don't be polite to Artemus, or he could pretend they were still partners. Ah hell, he was never any good at being rude. He put the ramp back up and went to the parlor.
"You want to go?" Jim buckled on a six-shooter and found his wallet.
"I can't believe you're asking." Artemus stood up and located his gun. "You usually just leave."
"I don't do that." Jim straightened his jacket. "Unless I have to because the bad guys are getting away."
"That's most of time." Artemus checked his wallet and followed Jim out the door. "You getting your horse?"
"Nah, he needs some rest."
"Tell the truth now. Do you often sleep with your horse?"
"Only when the idiot above me snores," Jim said, "loud enough to shake the train."
Artemus laughed, and they walked into town. Jim gave everybody and everything a good look. He didn't want any trouble today, but on the other hand, a rousing fistfight might feel fine.
The saloon was busy with the usual mixture of cowboys, town folk, and riff-raff. Artemus got a table while Jim ordered two plates and a bottle of whiskey. Someone starting banging on a piano, and Jim saw Artemus wince.
"He plays just as good as you do."
"Ouch, you're not in a good mood today." Artemus grinned at the barmaid bringing their plates. She smiled at both of the men and put their plates in front of them. "Thanks, honey, you busy later?"
She laughed and patted Artemus' cheek. Jim pulled her into his lap. "She'll be busy with me."
Jim slipped a dollar in her blouse. She giggled and pressed her hand to her bosom. "You two are such handsome gents that I'll find time for both of you."
Artemus pulled her away from Jim. "I'll keep you busy all night."
"That'll take care of one problem. I'll give President Grant your regards." Jim picked up his fork and started eating. Playing was fun, but his stomach was empty. Artemus let the girl get back to work.
"I don't really need her anyway," Artemus said. "I've got you."
Jim choked and took a big drink of whiskey to wash it down. "What's rule number six again?"
"You need to remember rule number four." Artemus began to eat.
Jim had to admit that he'd lost track
of the rules. He wasn't going to abide by them unless Artemus gave him a good
reason. Jim made inroads into his plate and cast his mind over the available
supplies on the train. They'd only needed enough to make it to
"I wonder who'll get the pigeons." Jim didn't say it loud. He was just thinking. "Artemus, I'm heading over to the general store."
"You're inviting me along?"
"What is it with you? Come, or don't, you have a choice." Jim finished his food and stood up. "Don't make this hard."
Artemus growled something under his breath, and Jim left him to his plate of food. Jim muttered a few choice words and pushed through the swinging doors. This kinda shit was why they spent so much time apart. Nothing was ever easy with that man.
Jim picked up a bag of apples at
the general store and spent a pretty penny on some scented oil. It was
honeysuckle and only stocked for the whores in town. Great for massages and
things Jim tried not to imagine Artemus doing to him. It wasn't working. Jim
was going to
"You sure you want that, Mister?"
"Busy night." Jim felt his face grow hot. The storekeeper grinned, nodded wisely, and rang up the purchases. Jim took his red face and his package out to the street. It wouldn't be long and Silas would be ready to go. The saloon doors flew open. Artemus came flying out, pursued by three tough-looking fellas. Jim placed his package down carefully on a nearby chair, cracked his knuckles, and stepped in front of his partner, who was groaning in the dirt.
"Get out of the way," the biggest fellow snarled.
"What'd he do?" Jim smiled. This was just what the doctor ordered.
"Cheated at cards, and we're gonna beat it out of him."
"I understand the sentiment perfectly, but I can't let you do it," Jim said.
"Get out of the way."
Jim sensed they were through talking. Artemus was still down, but Jim knew it was all an act. Punch, punch, duck, shove, kick, punch. Jim moved like a machine, mowing down his opponents. He tried not to hurt them too badly. Artemus had cheated, after all. When the street was clear, Jim grabbed Artemus under the arm and pulled him up. "Faker."
Artemus pretended to stagger, and Jim retrieved his package. The local sheriff wandered up, and one of Artemus' victims quickly filled him in on the situation. Jim groaned very softly. This sheriff was a tough hombre. He wore his gun slung low because he knew how to use it. They needed to get out of here.
"How'd you fellas like a night in jail?"
Jim grinned and pulled out his badge. "Federal Marshal, just retrieving my prisoner. Couldn't let your townies here trounce him."
"Oh! Well, that's okay then, but leave town, now, before he starts any more trouble."
Artemus looked hangdog, and Jim gave him a push towards the train. "We're gone, Sheriff. Nice town ya got here."
"And I plan to keep it that way," the sheriff said. He gave Jim and Artemus an escort to the train. Jim pushed Artemus up the stairs and pulled the rope. Far up front, the whistle blew twice. Artemus went on inside with a smirk, and Jim stayed on the back step until the Wanderer was moving down the line. Artemus was playing a game of billiards and drinking whiskey when Jim stepped inside. Jim placed his package down on the desk and sat down. He dug out an apple.
"Thank you, Artemus."
"You're welcome, but you're sure I did it on purpose?"
"There's no way those cowboys could have caught you otherwise. What impressed me was your timing. I could have been late."
"You're rarely late. Toss me an apple, will ya?"
Jim chose an apple and threw it at Artemus. He caught it without really looking. Neither man spoke for a time. Jim unbuckled his gun and stashed it in the desk with his wallet. He took the apples to the galley and put the oil on the tiny dresser near the bunk beds. Artemus was still in the parlor when Jim went to feed his horse. He took his time and straightened the stable car before going to have a bath.
"You're starting to smell better," said Artemus. "Rule number seven – always take a bath after shoveling shit."
"You writing these down? I'm starting to lose track." Jim dunked his head, came up wet, and began to soap himself.
"I'll get on it." Artemus left the lavatory.
Jim watched him go with a small smile. He'd miss the big idiot. Jim made sure he was very clean. Artemus hated dirt. Jim was finished being angry. At this point, he was resigned to his fate. He toweled off and went down the hallway, naked. Artemus reached out with a long arm and pulled him inside their stateroom.
"Oil? Jim, you are a whore."
Jim allowed Artemus to push him against the wall and fondle him. "I take my commitments seriously."
"Yeah, it's one of the things that I find very irritating, but this time it's working in my favor."
Artemus' hot hands branded themselves onto Jim's damp skin. Jim gasped as Artemus' mouth and hands caressed up, down, and over him. Artemus pushed Jim's hands behind his back and clicked on manacles.
"Hey!" Jim's eyes popped wide open, and he began to struggle. Artemus pinned him against the wall and seemed to like the wiggling.
"I was your prisoner earlier, now it's your turn." Artemus put his tongue to work. Jim stopped fighting and sagged against the wall. He was in so much trouble. Artemus might never let him go. "Time for rule number three."
Jim might have had a chance to remember that rule, but Artemus sucked him and every bit of brain drained out. Heat, wet, pressure, touch. He was going crazy. His hands pulled against the iron, and his knees tried to fold. Artemus pulled his mouth off.
"You taste good." Artemus grabbed hold of Jim's wet hair and tugged him to the bunk beds. "We've got to get better sleeping arrangements."
Jim searched his lust-soaked brain and found rule number three. Artemus turned Jim's hair loose, and he pushed Jim onto his back. He almost clipped his head. Artemus stood by the bed and took off his clothes. His eyes never let Jim's face. Jim chewed his lip and worried that he was going to like this far too much.
Artemus picked up the oil and came to the little bed. "You do remember rule number three?"
Jim nodded. He was willing to play along because he didn't like talking during sex anyway. Artemus opened the bottle and poured some onto the palm of his hand. The smell of honeysuckle invaded the bunk. Jim groaned, trying to get comfortable with his hands manacled under him. Artemus started at Jim's nipples and went south. Jim could only squirm and hope Artemus didn't kill him with pleasure. Was it possible to die from feeling too good?
"I feel bad corrupting a Quaker boy," Artemus said.
Artemus didn't look repentant. Did he ever feel guilty? Jim doubted it. Artemus massaged Jim's thighs. Jim rolled his eyes. Heat was pooling in his groin. He was being corrupted by the devil himself. It felt so damn good. Jim wished Artemus would abide by those damn rules, but apparently they were only for him. Artemus lived by his own set of rules. He lowered his mouth to Jim's cock, and Jim stopped thinking. Smell, touch, wet heat, and the sight of Artemus' black hair made Jim wild with passion. Grunting and flailing, he orgasmed into Artemus' hot mouth. Jim's head spun around backwards, at least that's what if felt like, and his hands clenched the blanket.
"Please." Jim didn't know why he said it or what he wanted, but his mouth wouldn't stay shut any longer.
Artemus stopped sucking and licked his way up to Jim's mouth. "Did I just hear you beg?"
Jim shook his head, and Artemus chuckled. It was an evil sound to Jim's ears. Artemus kissed him, and he turned his head away, dragging their lips apart. Damned if he'd kiss Artemus. It was too intimate, and made Jim think Artemus could really care about them.
"Come on, Jim. Give me your tongue." Artemus whispered in Jim's ear. Jim clamped his mouth shut, and Artemus licked him. "All right then, I'll settle for your ass."
Artemus' slick hands went down under Jim's balls. One hand spread him. Fingers probed inside. Jim hissed. He was a little tender from last night. Artemus got a little more oil and made sure Jim was slick.
Jim wasn't sure how Artemus was going to get this done, but it all became clear when he lifted Jim's knees up and pushed them back. Artemus was going to fuck him like a woman. Jim was so tempted to kick him in the face. Jim's manacled hands went flat. Artemus centered himself and was about ready. Jim looked up into those eyes.
Artemus entered Jim's body with a quick push. Halfway in, Artemus stopped for a moment and flexed. Jim looked down, and Artemus began to stroke Jim's half-limp cock. The oil felt warm and good. Jim lost the fight, and Artemus knew it.
"Kiss me," Artemus breathed.
Jim's lips parted of their own volition, and Artemus thrust his tongue and cock deep inside Jim. Fireworks went off inside him. More movement, and Jim's body was taken over by Artemus. Jim moved at Artemus' command, and the orders were coming hard and fast.
"Rule number eight – your ass is mine," Artemus growled in Jim's mouth.
Jim jerked, and his cock poured out between them. Artemus slowed way down and shuddered. His tongue jabbed deep, and Jim sucked it. Only their mouths moved, and he went limp. Artemus pulled his tongue out and pushed back off. Jim put his legs down and refused to look Artemus in the face. This didn't mean a damn thing. Artemus was punishing Jim and doing a bang-up job of it.
Artemus idly traced a finger through the seed on Jim's stomach. Jim tried to bring his breathing back under control. He was done for the night and possibly the next day. Artemus didn't seem in a hurry to get up and be gone. He rubbed Jim some more.
"Roll to your stomach."
Jim turned over a little awkwardly. Artemus rubbed the muscles of Jim's back and down his manacled arms. Jim tried to get off the bunk, but Artemus pushed him flat. Artemus oiled Jim's ass, backs of his thighs, and balls. Jim caught his breath and couldn't believe what he was feeling. Artemus was trying to get Jim going again.
"I think ten rules ought to be enough." Artemus rubbed Jim's calves and feet before working his way back up. "Rule number nine – no fucking women unless I get to watch, which I will, quite happily."
Jim groaned at the thought. Artemus liked to watch? Jim's cock stiffened a bit more, and Artemus took advantage of it, rubbing and teasing. This had to stop. Jim couldn't take it.
"Artie, stop," Jim gasped.
"Ah James, rule number five."
"Fuck your rules, unlock my arms." Jim tried to sound authoritative because he felt a little desperate.
"Beg for me, Jim, or abide by the rules."
Jim swallowed hard. Artemus would take off the cuffs when he was done playing. Jim had to survive that long. No begging. Jim didn't beg for anything. Artemus stroked Jim's balls one more time and stopped. Jim sighed with relief.
"Roll to your side."
Jim wanted to get stubborn, but he could see the end of this so he rolled against the wall. Artemus lay down flat on the bunk and pulled a very slick Jim on top. Their cocks rubbed together. Artemus moved Jim back and forth using his ass. Jim arched up and tried to get away, but his ass was held firmly. Slick skin shoved and Artemus smiled up at Jim.
"I have one more day," Artemus gloated.
Jim struggled, and it only made it sweeter. Artemus came first, and it hit Jim on the stomach. Jim took a little longer, but Artemus wasn't quitting. Jim gave up fighting, again, with a quiet curse and curled down on Artemus. Their mouths hooked up, and Jim shook with it when it happened. It made him gasp, "Artie, please."
"I like the sound of that." Artemus released Jim's ass and brought his hands up to Jim's head. "Kiss me."
Jim kissed him and shut his eyes. He'd been broken by sex. Great sex, but it was still sex, and it rankled in his heart. Artemus was a mean son-of-a-bitch to do this to him.
"Thank you, James. Let's go to sleep." Jim wanted nothing more than another bath, but Artemus rolled him to the side and tucked them together. Jim's head was firmly pushed to Artemus' chest. "Your horse can manage alone tonight."
Jim smiled at the hint of jealousy evident in Artemus' voice. Staying awake seemed like work, and Jim fell asleep, in spite of the manacles.
Waking up took forever. Jim couldn't seem to find his arms, and his whole body was sticky. He groaned, and felt a nipple against his mouth. Artemus was holding Jim tightly against him.
"Artie, I need some water."
"To drink or clean off with?"
"Both." Jim's arms were stiff, and he flexed to loosen them up.
Artemus sighed. "I'll go make coffee, but you stay put."
Jim said nothing. Bullshit. He was finding a way out of these cuffs. Artemus got off the bunk and turned up a lantern. Jim scooted to the edge. As soon as Artemus cleared the door, Jim would find a picklock. Artemus glanced over at him and yawned. Jim smiled innocently.
"I have to piss, you?"
"Definitely," Jim said.
Artemus grabbed Jim by the manacles and took him to the lavatory. Jim couldn't think of a thing to say. Artemus was nuts! That didn't stop Jim from pissing when Artemus took hold of him. Artemus pissed next, but he kept a firm hand on Jim.
"One more day," Artemus sighed. "You promised, and you never lie, cheat, steal, or break promises."
"I never agreed to this," Jim growled.
"You said, 'take me to bed,
and fuck me until we get to
"Feed my horse," Jim said.
"Where's my please?"
"Artie, please," Jim choked out. He was furious.
"I really do love the sound of that." Artemus pointed at the bed, and Jim went to lie down. "I'll make coffee. You can masturbate, if you want."
Jim hunched a little. He was sore back and front. His cock felt wrung out. Artemus laughed and left the room. Jim glared. One more day, and for him it passed extremely slowly. Artemus did let him out of bed. Jim spent that time on his knees, sucking Artemus' cock. Jim's temper began to smolder and by the last painfully exquisite orgasm, He was madder than hell.
The Wanderer blew her whistle loudly and pulled into the station. She was home, and Jim was free. Artemus took off the manacles, turned his back on Jim, and left the room. Jim rubbed his wrists and began to plan a murder. It had to look like an accident. By the time Jim was washed and dressed, he'd come up with three different, beautiful scenarios, and all of them ended in the painful death of Artemus Gordon.
Jim went to the parlor to find his prey and found only a pot of coffee sitting near a note.
See ya, Artie
Jim crumpled the note and cursed until he ran out of words. Artemus was gone, of course, and Jim would never see him again unless he was willing to hunt him down. Looking at the clock, Jim straightened his coat, buckled on his gun, and went to saddle his horse. He was due in President Grant's office, and then, he'd come back to pack.
The streets of
Jim did have to admit that Artemus was one fine lover, better than any woman had ever been. The wait lasted long enough that Jim paced, making the secretary nervous. Finally, when Jim was ready to snap, the door opened, and he went inside. The office was large and spacious. President Grant pointed at a leather chair in front of the desk, and Jim took it. The smell of cigar wafted through the room.
"Well, West, what'll it be?"
Jim shifted his feet. "Artemus
has already said no, so there's no reason to bother. I'll go to
President Grant narrowed his eyes and leaned in. "Gordon is sitting over there, waiting to hear your answer before he makes up his mind. You two drive me crazy."
Jim swallowed hard. President Grant was unhappy, to say the least. "He doesn't want this."
"How do you know that?" President Grant's voice was getting louder. "Do you two ever talk, or just chase the ladies?"
Jim saw Artemus rise up out of his chair. President Grant pointed at the floor and Artemus sat back down with a thump. Jim grinned, but stopped when the president turned back to him.
"What do you want from Gordon, West?"
"An apology," Jim ground out.
"Gordon, what's the one thing that will make this partnership work?" President Grant tapped his ashes and placed his cigar down. "Speak up!"
"I want him to ask me, nicely," Artemus said.
Jim didn't hear a trace of smugness. This was what Artemus really wanted. Would it be so hard? Yes! Jim twisted his little finger nervously. There was no way President Grant could fix this.
"West, say please." President Grant leveled that finger at Jim.
"What?" Jim shot to his feet. "I will not beg him to be my partner!"
"Sit!" President Grant's finger never wavered, and Jim sat back down. President Grant crooked his finger at Artemus, and he came over to stand by Jim's chair. "Gordon, say you're sorry."
"No sir, I'm not, and I won't lie so Jim can condescendingly tell me that he forgives me!"
Artemus was almost shouting. Both men were breathing hard. Jim didn't look anywhere but at his president. His nails left marks on his palms.
"You two are a couple of stubborn fools who don't know how to give an inch. I don't know why I put up with you." President Grant leaned back in his chair. He picked up his cigar and took a long drag on it. "Jim, do you want Artemus to travel with you to assignments and be a real partner, someone you can rely on?"
Jim would never lie to President Grant, but that truth simply wouldn't come out between his clenched teeth.
"Artemus, are you sorry that Jim thinks so little of you? I can't imagine what you did, and I don't want to know!"
Jim whipped his head around and saw the blood drain out of Artemus' face, leaving him white and shaken. The truth hit Jim hard. Artemus was sorry, even if he couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Yes, I do want Artemus as my partner. Please," Jim said. The words hurt, but were true.
"I am sorry for what I did to make Jim angry with me," Artemus said. His brown eyes seemed big, and they fixed on Jim's face. "But . . ."
"Shut up while you're ahead,
Gordon," President Grant snapped. "I have a problem out at rail's end,
and you two are going to fix it. If I hear a word that this partnership isn't
working out, you'll both spend some time as privates stationed in a fort near
"Yes, sir," Jim said.
"Thank you, sir," Artemus said.
"Dismissed! Get your orders from Colonel Fairchild and get out of my capital!"
Jim grabbed Artemus by the coat. He wasn't moving, probably stunned, and they were out of the president's office. Both of them were breathing hard, and they stood for a moment staring at each other.
"I need a horse."
"We'll ride double, but come
on," Jim said. "
"So true." Artemus paused in the hallway. "Did that please nearly kill you?"
"Yes, now let's go."
"Good, because saying sorry almost stopped my heart."
"Shut up, and let's get moving," Jim said. "We can bicker about this on the train."
Artemus nodded, and Jim smiled.
It was evening before Jim was able to sit down on the sofa and relax. There'd been a lot to do today to make sure they could leave as soon as the line was clear, and they'd worked together as partners. It had been a pleasure. Artemus' new horse was in the stable car, and Artemus was somewhere, stowing his things away. Jim stretched and loosened his cravat. Artemus came down the hallway, headed right for the sofa, lay down upon it, and plunked his head in Jim's lap. It was more than a surprise; it was over the top.
"Yeah, Jim." Artemus shut his eyes.
"Why did you do it?" Jim wanted to push Artemus on the floor, but didn't.
"I never thought you'd have me. You're always perfect. I wanted you so badly that I settled for a cheap imitation." Artemus found Jim's other hand and clasped it across his chest. "When it was over, I hated myself and threw them out."
"Idiot. You could have just told me," Jim said.
"You already disapproved of me. I couldn't bring myself to do it."
"Are you really sorry?" Jim wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.
"Yes. It was a mistake." Artemus smiled. "Did you really beg for me?"
Jim growled, "Yes, and I'm not making a habit of it."
"I'm not worth it to you, am I?"
"Artie, I said that I meant it. Drop it."
Artemus laughed. "You'll always disapprove of me and my methods. That won't change."
"I like you just the way you are." Jim cautiously began running a hand through Artemus' hair. "I was raised a bit stricter than you."
"I'll corrupt my Quaker boy yet." Artemus squeezed Jim's hand. "You know that I'll lie, cheat, and steal. You hate all of those things."
"Corrupt me some more." Jim moved their hands down to Artemus' groin and rubbed. "Artie, time after time, you've done those things to protect me or make sure we succeed. Other than that, you're pretty harmless."
"Harmless? James, you're going to hurt my feelings." Artemus opened his eyes and winked at Jim.
"You don't have feelings, remember?" Jim leaned down for a quick kiss. "What's the last rule?"
Artemus laughed before answering, "Rule number ten – we're sticking together, even if it hurts."
Jim laughed softly. He had been sticky and aching. "Finally, a rule that makes sense." He shoved Artemus on the floor.