Title: What Artemus Knows
Fandom: Wild Wild West
Pairing: J/A and A/other
Feedback: justblackchaps at yahoo dot com
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Artemus makes a bold statement, and Jim is angry, isn't he?
Disclaimer: The Wild Wild West belongs to CBS and Viacom. I only play here and often.

********

Artemus knew Jim wasn't interested. It was to be expected. It wasn't even worth discussing, not today or any other, but Artemus was finished pretending. They were best friends and the best of partners. Jim would accept it because of that, and if he complained; Artemus had plenty of ammunition. Jim had made them both miserable with his women, not every time, but often enough.

"We going out for dinner?"

"I have a date," Artemus said. He did--no more lies. He'd live his life the way he wanted. "Maybe tomorrow."

"Tomorrow we're leaving for Denver," Jim said. "Don't be late. Train leaves early."

Artemus nodded. "I'll be home." He took out his pocket watch. His date would be here in about ten minutes. He put his book away, finished his brandy, straightened his cravat, and brushed a quick hand through his hair.

"You look good. Nervous?"

Artemus smiled at Jim's grin. "Very."

"You'll have a good time. Don't worry." Jim laughed. He went to refill his brandy. "I'm staying in tonight, going to catch up on some laundry."

"Funny, Jim." Artemus laughed. He knew Jim enjoyed an occasional evening alone. A brief knock sounded, and Artemus moved to open the door. It was his date, still as good-looking as yesterday. "See ya, Jim."

"Bring your date inside, Artie. At least let me take a look." Jim grinned.

Artemus took a deep breath, but didn't let it show. This was a critical moment in his life. He could lose it all, but he wouldn't; Jim was too good a man. "Alex, come in. We'll have a whiskey."

Jim made an interesting noise. Artemus couldn't exactly put a name to it, somewhere between a gasp and a wheeze. Jim choked. Artemus poured Alex a whiskey. "Here."

"Thanks, Artemus." Alex sipped it. "Good stuff."

"Jim likes the best," Artemus said. He sat near Alex, but was careful not to touch him. That would be laying it on too thick. "We're going to a good show tonight. I'm looking forward to it."

"Jim, um, could come along, if he wants." Alex smiled nervously.

"No, thank you, Alex." Jim went to the desk and sat down. "I have some work to do."

Now that was a lie. Artemus had finished the paperwork earlier, but it was a good lie. He was impressed. Alex looked relieved. Artemus was glad to see it. He'd lost a few dates to his partner, and he didn't want to lose this one before it even got started. "Don't worry, Alex. Jim keeps busy."

Alex looked about. "Nice train."

"Thanks," Jim said. "You work?"

"Alex is a respected lawyer." Artemus stood up. "Let's grab a hack."

"You have your derringer?" Jim asked softly.

"Yes." Artemus took Alex's empty glass and put it on the sideboard. "Good evening, Jim."

"Good evening, Artemus." Jim stood up. "Nice to meet you, Alex."

Alex smiled; his dimple appeared. Artemus steered him out the door, shut it, and sent a prayer skyward. When he came home, things would be different or they'd be the same. He'd find out in the morning. Tonight, he was not going to worry about it.

********

Artemus knew it was time to leave. He dressed slowly. He was in no rush. Alex was asleep, and he would stay that way, his beautiful body still above the covers. Artemus brushed a hand over him once more to savor the sensation. Alex smiled, but slept. Artemus made sure he had everything before pulling the blanket over him. "Thanks."

Alex didn't reply. He burrowed under the blanket. It was enough. Artemus locked the door behind him with his picklock. He put on his hat and went downstairs to get a hack. The sun wouldn't be up for two more hours, at least, and the streets were deserted. He sighed and walked. The night air was cool, refreshing. Alex had been refreshing too, but it was over. Artemus chuckled. It had been the best date he'd been on in years. The first time in too long that he'd relaxed and had a good time with someone other than Jim.

The train station was suddenly in front of him. Artemus saw a couple of sleeping bums and kept moving. The Wanderer was off the main line. He walked the short distance and stopped in surprise. The train was gone. His heart skipped a beat. Jim had been that mad? Was it possible? Artemus didn't waste time. He hunted up the yard manager.

"Where's the Wanderer?"

The yard manager grunted. "I had to move the little varnish train, needed the space for a freight."

"And?" Artemus hated to sound impatient, but he was.

"Little train is this way. I'll show ya." The yard manager pointed and walked. Artemus fell in alongside him. "It has a full head of steam, leaving soon. I bumped the time up."

"You might tell a guy." Artemus had almost missed the train.

"That fellow in blue was mighty unhappy. Not much I can do about it. It's my job to manage the trains, not follow the orders of every rich fellow with a varnish car."

Artemus swallowed a curse word or two. It was the unpleasant reality of traveling by train. It was fast, but dangerous, and they did what the rail men said. It was safer that way. He said nothing else, just walked. The engineer looked down at them both. Artemus waved and smiled. He wouldn't do anything to make their engineer mad, not unless he had to. The yard manager and the engineer got to talking. Artemus swung up onto the parlor car and used the back door.

Jim came down the hallway fast, with his gun drawn. "Artie!"

"Don't shoot. I'm in enough trouble." Artemus grinned, he felt good.

"Yes, you are." Jim put the gun down. "I thought we were going to leave you."

"You'd have left without me?" Artemus knew the answer, but couldn't resist asking.

Jim nodded. He went back to the parlor and stowed the gun. Artemus followed. Things, it appeared, were normal. He glanced at the brandy. It was too early. He should make some coffee, but it was late. He needed some sleep. Yawning, he turned.

"You have fun?"

Artemus could have sworn he heard a touch of ill-concealed scorn in Jim's voice. He knew it wasn't possible. Jim was never petty. Artemus looked at his partner. "Yes."

Jim's face was very still. He looked away before going out the back door, shutting it quietly behind him. Artemus could see him standing on the back step. Jim was lighting a cigar. Nothing different about that, he liked to smoke there. Artemus rubbed his face. Should he broach the subject more openly? No. Jim wouldn't appreciate it. Artemus went to bed. He was almost too tired to think clearly. Jim wasn't going anywhere. They could talk in the morning, or evening, or whenever.

********

Artemus knew he should get up. There was no reason to, as the train would travel with or without him standing, but he should make some coffee and talk to Jim. Artemus checked his timepiece. It was five o'clock, in the evening, he assumed. He sighed. He'd cook dinner, eat, read a book, and come back to bed. It was a good plan. Jim was playing solitaire when Artemus entered the parlor. They glanced at each other.

"Morning, Jim." Artemus grinned.

"Hey." Jim looked back at his cards. "No reason to get up."

"I know." Artemus went to the galley. He cleaned and cooked, taking Jim a cup of coffee. Jim said thanks. Artemus nodded. It was another normal day of traveling, except that he was afraid it wasn't normal at all. He set the table and put the food on it. "You gonna eat?"

Jim looked up. He paused. Artemus' heart flinched. Was this partnership slipping away? The moment passed. "Yes. Thank you."

Artemus nodded and filled his plate, pouring some half-decent wine for them. "You sleep?"

"Some." Jim began to eat. "You didn't have to cook. I know you're tired."

What to say was the question. Artemus didn't have the answer. He'd like to protest, but didn't have the courage. He was tired from staying up all night in the arms of another man. Finally, he managed. "I slept enough."

"Good." Jim drank some wine. "We can do better than that."

"I agree." Artemus shrugged. They'd had worse and had drunk it with a smile. "I apologize if you were worried."

"Hell yes I was worried. I rode over to the theatre, but you weren't there." Jim's green eyes flashed. "Maybe telling me where you were going to be would have been a good idea."

"I didn't know where we'd be or I'd have told you." Artemus kept his voice low. This was a quiet conversation, nothing more. "I do apologize."

"Don't let it happen again," Jim growled.

Artemus discarded his first two answers. He finished eating. He'd been hungry but wasn't any longer. His stomach hurt. Jim's back was as stiff as a board. Jim was clearly upset, even angry. Artemus wasn't going to apologize again. Twice was enough. He hadn't been late. Cleaning up the dishes instead of talking seemed the best course. It would give Jim a chance to cool down. Jim didn't offer to help. He left the table, and Artemus heard the door to the stable car close. Jim would talk to his horse.

Yawning, Artemus finished up and went to read his book. He idly pushed a red ball across the billiards table on the way past. Living his life the way he wanted was going to have repercussions. He'd known that. Jim was a good man. He'd get over it. Artemus wasn't as sure today as he was yesterday. He sighed. It had been the better with Alex than anyone in recent memory, but it might not have been worth it.

Jim came into the parlor and picked up a cue. Artemus kept his nose in his book. Jim's spine spoke volumes. "So tell me, Artemus, what did you do on your date?"

Artemus began to think he'd made a colossal error. He put his book in his lap. "We had dinner, talked, and went to a hotel room for a nightcap. I left. Anything else you'd like to know?"

"No show?"

"No. We decided not to go. We'd both seen it." Artemus kept his tone even. He resented this line of questioning, but given the circumstances, understood it.

Jim hit a ball fairly hard. Artemus picked up his book. This wasn't over, but he'd wait for the rest of it. Jim circled the table. He leaned over. Artemus noticed the view for the thousandth time, but he was always careful not to directly look at Jim's perfect ass. Jim glanced over at him. "It wasn't a date."

"Well, okay. It was dinner. I shouldn't have phrased it that way." Artemus had used it on purpose, but he'd back away from it, for Jim's sake.

"It was nothing more than business." Jim took the shot, stood up straight, and glared at him. "Right?"

Artemus felt the earth slide from underneath him. Jim wanted the comfort of a denial, and things would go back to normal. Blood pounded in Artemus' ears. He had a choice. Jim was giving him one. Artemus snapped his book shut and stood up. He met Jim's green eyes and didn't flinch away. "It was nothing but pleasure." And he left the parlor, going to his bed. He heard the sound of a fist hitting something wooden. His bed was cold and hard. He shivered and shut his eyes. Sleep wasn't possible, but neither was facing his partner. He'd hide in his bed for a year or two. Tossing and turning, the night passed slowly. He did sleep. He was sure of it. His body forced him up, and he slipped on his trousers.

Jim was in the lavatory. Artemus stumbled over something, or nothing. He was tired. Reaching for anything to keep him upright, he grabbed Jim, not intentionally. Jim's bare skin was hot, so hot. Jim moved away. Did he push? Artemus wasn't so sure. He saw the edge of the dry sink coming up, but couldn't find his balance. The thud was loud. His vision dimmed, but didn't fade away. His face found the pain and thrust it through Artemus' body. He was on the floor.

"Artie?"

Artemus stayed down. He didn't look. "Just, don't." The words didn't make much sense to him, but Jim got the message. He was gone. Artemus' hand found the door, and he slammed it. If Jim had shut the door to begin with, this wouldn't have happened. Jim never shut the damn door or wore a damn shirt! Artemus' guts clenched. He pulled himself up and used the necessary. His body hated him. Disgusted with himself, he looked blearily in the mirror. His eye was going to swell shut, and the colors were going to be brilliant. Pulsing, his face mocked him. Stupid. Stupid. He found a bit of water in the pitcher and washed his hands and face. Shivering, he went to find a shirt.

Jim wasn't in the closet. Thank God. Artemus dressed quickly in a white shirt and clean, casual trousers. His boots were by the bed, and he went to put them on. He was up. He'd stay up. Inspecting his face again, he sighed. In another fifteen minutes, he'd be unable to see out of that eye. Damn it! He went out to the galley, but there was no ice in the icebox. He'd been going to buy it at their first stop with supplies. This day was lovely, really. The thought of food made him want to retch, but he fixed breakfast. Jim would eat it. Artemus managed a piece of toast before Jim came through the door.

"Artemus!"

"What?" Artemus didn't raise his head from his coffee, his eye shut from the swelling. "I fell."

Jim sat down with a thump next to him and reached. Artemus stared with his one good eye into Jim's green ones. Jim's hand fell away. "I'm sorry."

"You didn't do anything. Did you? I fell." Artemus pointed at the food. "Eat." He drank his coffee. Jim said nothing more, and Artemus didn't look at him. Artemus' coffee was empty. He didn't refill it. Jim hadn't pushed him. It wasn't possible. Artemus quivered again. He went back to the lavatory. Coming out, he saw Jim duck around the corner. What was Jim doing? Artemus had no idea, but he was getting a whiskey and lacing it with some opiate. His face, head, and guts would thank him. Maybe, he'd sleep.

"You okay, Artie?"

"Sure." Artemus measured out the proper amount and stirred it into the whiskey. He couldn't see Jim. "We need ice."

"We'll stop soon. I'll go get it." Jim sounded eager.

Artemus nodded. He took his whiskey to the sofa by the door. The sun was up. It might be a nice day. Jim was still out of Artemus' vision. He hadn't pushed him. They were fine, still the best of friends. Artemus knew it. It had to be true.

"You going to sleep the day away? You've been sleeping a lot lately."

Artemus drank his whiskey. His guts hurt. "You angry with me?" He had to know.

There was more silence than Artemus found comforting. "I didn't understand. And I still don't," Jim said.

"I prefer men. Simple. No more women. I'm through lying."

"I never asked you to lie!"

It made Artemus a little nervous that he couldn't see Jim. Artemus finished his drink. It had a bitter aftertaste. It would kick in soon. "It's not going to make a difference in my work."

"I never thought that."

Artemus shut his eyes. He couldn't think of anything to say. They were fine. Jim hadn't pushed him. Artemus wondered what he should be doing besides sitting. He couldn't think of a thing so he tried to relax. Jim was a good man. Artemus knew it.

The train went down the tracks. Artemus didn't sleep. His mind wandered, and his aches and pains faded, but he didn't sleep. Jim was doing this and that. Artemus could hear the noises. He tried not to sigh, but failed. Everything had been simpler yesterday or had it been the day before. He dozed, but jerked awake when the train stopped. Pushing to his feet, he swayed, shook his head, and found his feet. Jim was suddenly right there. His hand reached, but Artemus looked in those green eyes. Jim wiped his hand on his trousers. It was a rare insult.

"I get it already." Artemus understood the message, no touching, not ever again. He felt the blow keenly when Jim turned away, saying nothing. "You did push me."

"Yeah." Jim put on his hat and went out the door. "I'll get the supplies. You rest."

Artemus shrugged. Jim was gone. It didn't matter. Finding his hat and gun, Artemus left the train too. There would be a saloon. His guts griped halfway there, and he availed himself on the town outhouse. The whiskey at the saloon was awful, and Artemus leaned his face, the half that wasn't sore, into his hand. He should have stayed in bed with Alex. This had been so simple back then.

"I got everything," Jim said.

"Fine." Artemus couldn't see him. Would his eye ever open? "How long?"

"We got an hour or two." Jim moved around to Artemus' other side. "I'm going to find a whore."

Artemus would normally be surprised at Jim's crudeness. Jim was a gentleman. Today it seemed natural. Artemus shrugged. He glanced around and found an empty table, taking his whiskey there. Jim pulled out a chair. Artemus held up his hand. "Go find your own company."

Jim flinched. He turned on his heel and went to the bar. Artemus didn't even take a look at Jim's ass. He drank his whiskey. When the bottle was half-empty, a young man joined him. Artemus blinked. "Can I help you?"

"I thought you could use some company." The young man pulled out a deck of cards. "Poker?"

Artemus stared. "Who are you?"

"Drew Allen." Drew grinned. "We've each been sitting at our own empty table. Let's talk instead."

"Let's not." Artemus groaned. "Find some other soul to pester."

Drew reached and pointed almost but not quite touching Artemus' face. "You should see the doctor."

Artemus shook his head. "You should leave."

Jim's big hand fell on the lad's shoulder. "Good idea. Beat it, boy."

Drew gulped. He stood up and took his cards elsewhere. Artemus looked away. "Done, Jim?"

"You and the boy finished?"

Artemus left the table. His stomach ached, and the outhouse was a walk. From there, he went to the train, slumping down on the sofa. Jim slammed the door. His hands were on his hips. He was angry again. Artemus felt exhausted. "What?"

"Is this how it's gonna be from now on? I'll find a woman, and you'll find a man, or a boy?"

Artemus shut his eye. "I don't fuck children." He hated that word, but he used it. Standing up, he refused to back down. "Jim, push me, shove me, kick me, but don't accuse me of that!"

"I thought I knew you," Jim whispered.

"I do know you. You're a fine, decent man that I'm proud to call my partner. What I did means nothing to us." Artemus hoped not.

"Are you so damn sure?" Jim's nostrils flared. His hands were fists.

Artemus had thought he was sure, but his face put doubt in his heart. He put a hand on his face. "You're pushing me away. I'll go."

Jim looked so stubborn and angry that Artemus sat back down. "I can't watch you do it, Artie."

"I'll request another partner in Denver and wait there. It's the best I can do." Artemus spread his hands. "Will that be enough?"

Jim whipped away. He was gone down the hallway in a blink. Artemus pinched the bridge of his nose. He checked his pocket watch. He should cook something, but his stomach gurgled at the thought. He knew he should do something. What though? Go after Jim? Go lie down? Leave?

Artemus went to bed. He did fill an ice bag first and take it with him. His face yowled at the cold, but he gritted his teeth and took it as punishment for Alex. Nothing was free in this world. One stupid date that he'd pay for until he died.

*********

Artemus knew Jim was in the room. It was dark. Had he slept all day? He rolled and encountered the ice bag. It was wet and warm. "James?"

Jim knelt by the bed. "Are you feeling better?"

Artemus was dreaming. No. He lurched up and bolted for the lavatory. He shut his eyes and lived with embarrassment. It was one more emotion that he'd rather not have in the litany that resounded in his heart. Jim had refilled the pitcher of water, and Artemus gratefully washed his hands. Stepping out into the hallway, he leaned against the wall. His knees shook; not enough food in the past two days.

"You need to eat."

"I know." Artemus refused to look in Jim's beautiful eyes. "Please. Leave me alone."

Jim crossed his arms. "Are you sick? You look it."

Artemus shook his head. "I don't think so. I'll eat and be fine." He headed for the galley and made sure not to stumble. One more fall might break his face in half.

Jim took the coffee pot. "Go sit down."

"I can-"

"Move!"

Artemus slunk into the parlor and collapsed on a chair that was close. He put his head near his knees and breathed. After a while, Jim brought him some coffee. Artemus drank it. It wasn't as good as his was, but this was no time to be choosy. Next, Jim plunked a plate of toast in Artemus' lap. Artemus picked up a piece and started to chew. His hand shook a little. Shame was thick in his throat.

"We can stop for a doctor."

Artemus didn't look at Jim, sitting his favorite chair with his legs crossed, sipping his coffee with all his usual aplomb. "I'd rather we didn't."

"One more day will see us to Denver." Jim sounded businesslike. "You can go to the doctor there. I'll inform Colonel Sharp that you're ill."

"Trying to get me fired?" Artemus forced himself to eat two pieces of toast and drink all his coffee. He took his plate and cup to the galley, washing them out quickly. Gently probing his eye encouraged him to get another ice bag. He took it to the sofa and lay down with it on his face.

"No." Jim used a cue on a ball. Artemus heard it. "We need to talk."

"We've done nothing but talk. You've made your position clear." Artemus swallowed hard. "I should have never-"

"You're right. You should have never. Leave it at that!"

"Fine," Artemus said. He was afraid his voice sounded weak. Pushing up, he went back to his bed. At least Jim wasn't there. Another night passed with excruciating slowness. He slept a little and rushed to the lavatory only once. Jim stayed away. Thank God. Artemus went to the galley once and found some cheese to eat. It tasted like ashes, but it was food. Determined to fix his problem, he prepared another whiskey with opiate. It would knock him out and settle him down.

"Another one? You're definitely seeing a doctor."

Artemus hadn't seen him. Jim was in a dark corner, and he didn't emerge from the shadows. Artemus drank it fast before Jim could intervene. "I'll pack and get off your train. You can wash your hands of me."

Jim growled, "You're a fool, Artemus Gordon."

"Truer words have never been spoke." Artemus was sick of his bed, but it was a refuge from his partner. He took a step in the doorway. The room smelled of sickness, and it was him. He sagged against the door and rubbed his face.

"I don't want you to leave."

Artemus sighed. "I'm too sick to argue."

"I thought you weren't sick." Jim pointed. "Go lie down."

"Do I have to?" Artemus sniffed. "My room needs cleaned, and I don't have strength."

"I'm not doing it either. Go to my bed. Take a bath first." Jim took a sniff of his own. "You stink."

Artemus didn't particularly like Jim's tone, but he went to bathe anyway. He rushed. The opiate was going to kick in, and he was going to be face down somewhere. Drying off, he felt the first effects. He hung up the towel and staggered into the hallway. His legs gave out. The ceiling in the hallway spun.

"Artemus, get your ass in bed!"

Artemus responded to the command, but only made it to his knees. Jim yanked him the rest of the way up. Jim's hands were hot. Artemus pulled away. Jim didn't want to touch him. He wobbled to the bed and fell.

********

Artemus knew Jim was talking, but he couldn't quite make out the words. Jim was probably just fussing at him. "Let me sleep, Jim."

"We're in Denver. I want you to go see a doctor." Jim spoke harshly. "Come on, Artie. Get up."

"I'm fine. Leave me alone." Artemus rolled away.

"Colonel Sharp is here."

"Shit!" Artemus got out of bed fast. He put his hand against the wall to steady himself, looking down. He was very naked. "Get out!"

Jim smirked. "I've seen it before."

Artemus wanted to slap that smirk away, but he controlled himself. He found his energy and went to dress, quickly. Jim didn't follow. Artemus dressed casually and went to the parlor.

"Artemus! I was beginning to think I'd go for a doctor." Colonel Sharp set down his coffee and shook Artemus' hand. "You should make the coffee."

"I know," Artemus said. He sat down fast before he fell down. "I'm doing much better."

"You look sick." Colonel Sharp sat back down and reclaimed his coffee for another drink.

Jim handed Artemus a cup of coffee. "Thanks, Jim."

"You're welcome, Artie." Jim found a seat. "Well, we're here. What's this all about?"

"It's a simple job, but now that I've seen Artemus, I only want you, Jim. Report to the governor this afternoon--2 p.m. He's expecting you and will fill you in on the details." Colonel Sharp frowned. "Artemus, don't do a thing, not that you could. A stiff breeze could knock you down."

Jim laughed. "It did earlier."

Artemus contented himself with sulking. He shrugged and drank his coffee. His stomach grumbled. Was that a good thing? He wasn't sure. Jim shot him a look. Colonel Sharp studied them both. "Everything okay here?"

"Sure," Jim said. "We'll take care of this."

"Artemus, go to a hotel. That's an order. Rest. See a doctor, if you're not much better by the end of today, and no more opium." Colonel Sharp snapped out the words.

Artemus only flinched at the word opium. "Yes sir." Jim smiled. He would be pleased to get rid of his sick partner. "I'll make sure he obeys those orders."

Artemus doubted he'd ever be back. He stood up, swayed, caught himself, and said, "I'll get packed."

"You can ride with me," Colonel Sharp said. Artemus went to pack a few clothes and his book. His eye was open today. It still hurt, but he could see. Finished, he went back to the parlor. Colonel Sharp stood up. "Let's go."

Jim smiled and waved. Artemus put on his hat and left, climbing in the hack behind Colonel Sharp. There was an uncomfortable silence, and then the colonel said, "He hit you, didn't he?"

"No, my god, no." Artemus shook his head. "I fell in the lavatory. I was too sick."

"I know a lie when I hear one, even a good one." Colonel Sharp patted Artemus' knee. "We'll find you a new partner."

"I don't think Jim wants that. I fell." Artemus leaned forward to emphasize. "Talk to Jim. Please."

"I'll do that." Colonel Sharp didn't believe him. More protestations wouldn't convince him, so Artemus leaned back against the squabs and rested. He'd eat at the hotel, but no more sleeping until bedtime. He had to get back on a schedule. The colonel dropped him off at The Carleton.

Artemus smiled--nice hotel. "Thank you, Colonel."

"I'll be checking in with you." And the hack with the colonel inside was gone. Artemus went up the steps, a bellboy took his bag, and he checked in, taking a key. He went up to his room and shut the door behind the bellboy. Washing up only took a minute, and he was back downstairs in the dining room. His stomach growled. That was hunger. It had been a few days, but he remembered it. He ate sparingly. It seemed prudent. After eating, he went back to his room and down the hallway to another bath. Feeling cleaner and much more alive, he went to his book and a quiet day alone. It'd be dull, but that was just what he needed.

********

"Did you hit him?"

"Did he say that?"

"Answer the question, Jim." Colonel Sharp put his hands behind his back. "If you need a new partner, I want to know."

"No. I did not hit him. I pushed him. It was an accident. I don't want a new partner."

"I'll speak to Artemus. He may have a different point of view." Colonel Sharp gestured at the door. "Dismissed, West."

"Yes sir."

********

Artemus knew a good night's rest would put him on the right track, and it did. He felt much better the next day and ate breakfast to prove it. Not toast, a real breakfast that made his stomach stopped grumbling at him.

"Artemus?"

Artemus turned and stood. "Join me for breakfast, Jim?"

"I've eaten. I was checking on you."

"I'm feeling much more the thing." Artemus sat back down, putting his napkin in his lap. "Have you seen the governor yet?"

"Yes. It's security. He needs some men hired and trained. I could do it in my sleep." Jim snagged a cup and poured himself some coffee. "You could come back to the train."

"I would, but Colonel Sharp wasn't happy." Artemus smiled. "I think I'll wait here until he sends me back."

"If he does." Jim looked away, anywhere but Artemus' eyes.

Artemus wondered what was going on behind that, but didn't ask. He'd find out one way or the other. Jim finished his coffee and stood up. Artemus desperately searched for something to say. "Thanks for taking care of me on the train."

Jim pointed at Artemus' face. "I took real good care of you." He left with that hanging in the air. Artemus watched him go. They needed to talk, but every time they did, this got worse, not better. Maybe Colonel Sharp was right, and they needed new partners. Artemus shook his head. He'd rather quit and work in Washington. He'd been so sure that he knew Jim West. Breakfast finished, he paid the bill and headed upstairs. A nap seemed ridiculous, so he went for a walk. Three blocks later, he was exhausted. His bed was the best choice now, and he went back for a nap, waking after lunch. His stomach wouldn't stand another meal so he went to sit in the lobby and watch the people. It was dull, but he knew he wasn't up to much more.

"Artemus?"

Artemus looked up. "Colonel Sharp, good to see you."

"Let's get a whiskey." Colonel Sharp shook Artemus' hand. "There's a saloon close by."

"Of course." Artemus followed the colonel, and neither man spoke until they were sitting at a table with a bottle and two glasses. "How can I help you?"

"Eat more and rest." The colonel filled both glasses. The silence was thick. Artemus waited for the other shoe to drop. "One more time--did Jim West hit you?"

Artemus saw sparks in the eyes of Colonel Sharp and didn't quite understand it. "You have my word as an officer and a gentleman. Jim West did not hit me."

"He pushed you."

Artemus saw the truth. Jim had told the colonel, no use pretending now. "Yes, I stumbled, grabbed, he pushed, it was more of a nudge, and I fell, striking my head on the edge of the dry sink. It was an accident."

Colonel Sharp took a drink. "And does Jim shove you down often?"

"Colonel Sharp, I don't understand these questions. Jim and I are partners. We trust each other." Artemus noticed his untouched whiskey and took a cautious sip. His stomach stayed quiet. "There are no problems." None that he'd admit to, not today.

"Artemus, it's time for some candor. I know what kind of man you are. If Jim has a problem with it, and he's abusing you, I want you out and with a new partner. I'm not losing one of my finest because of a misunderstanding."

Artemus clenched his hands together. Years of working with Colonel Sharp clicked into place, and he relaxed slightly. "Colonel, I'm discreet, which you're aware of. Jim and I have discussed my reassignment. If we can't come to an agreement here in Denver, I will come to you directly."

"Your word?"

"My word." Artemus refilled both glasses. "Are you satisfied?"

"For now. Jim will be working for the next three days. You stay in the hotel until you know which way he's going to jump." Colonel Sharp stood up and picked up his hat. "West would be a fool to let you get away."

Artemus had to think on that. What was the colonel alluding to? Artemus wasn't sure. He corked the whiskey and took it with him. His stomach could only take so much. The hotel bed looked comfortable again, but he read his book instead. When dinner rolled around, he headed back downstairs and ate a light dinner. He was put at a table with another fellow. The conversation was surprisingly lively. His name was Don Layton, and he was a businessman in town, passing through to California. They departed with a handshake. Artemus squeezed a little harder than necessary. Don covered Artemus' hand with his own. They smiled.

"Tonight?"

"No," Artemus said. He was too tired. "Tomorrow. Let's have dinner again."

Don smiled. "I look forward to it."

Artemus returned the smile. He went to his room and spent the rest of the evening relaxing. It was boring, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Going to bed early was fine. Tomorrow night, he'd be busy.

********

Artemus knew he'd see Jim today, but when was the question. He hoped it was before dinner, since he'd made plans that Jim didn't need to be privy to. Breakfast bled into lunch and a nap and still no Jim. Artemus began to worry. He should catch a hack over to the governor's mansion, but there was no guarantee that Jim would be there. It might be a wasted trip. Jim would show up when he did, and Artemus would deal with it. If they were going to be partners, Jim would have to get used to it.

His book was finished, and Artemus was getting hungry. He checked his pocket watch. It was six, definitely time to meet Don. Artemus dressed carefully, no reason to look like a bounder, and went downstairs. Don was in the foyer, sitting, clearly waiting for Artemus.

"Good to see you, Don." Artemus stuck out his hand.

Don shook it warmly. "And you, Artemus." They smiled.

"Artemus?"

Artemus' heart dropped through the floor. He picked it up and said, "Jim! I was wondering when you'd turn up today."

Jim grinned. It was his best. Artemus groaned. Jim looked Don over. "I haven't met your friend."

"Don. Jim." Artemus tried not to sweat. "Don and I were just heading to dinner together. Perhaps I could speak with you in the morning?"

Jim's grin didn't dim. "But Artemus, my dear, you promised me dinner too."

Artemus blinked at the blatant and excellent lie. His wit failed him. Don looked at them. "Is this true, Artemus?"

Artemus opened his mouth to deny it. Don was slipping away, and Jim wrapped his arm around Artemus' waist and said, "Artemus and I have an understanding, a relationship, so to speak."

Artemus gave up. "Sorry, Don."

"I'll go elsewhere. Enjoy your evening." Don left the hotel with a straight back. He'd been insulted, but he'd find someone else.

"Jim, unhand me."

Jim removed his hand, brushing it over Artemus' backside. "Dinner?"

"I shouldn't." Artemus nearly flinched at the intimate touch. Jim was playing a game, teasing. Artemus came to the reluctant conclusion that he hadn't known Jim West at all.

"I always have first claim on your affections, right?" Jim led the way to the dining room and slipped the maitre'd enough to ensure them a private table.

Artemus began to feel manipulated. He didn't bother answering until after a bottle of wine had been delivered, opened, and approved, by Jim, of course. "Why did you do that?"

"You're my date tonight." Jim poured two glasses. "I know Don was handsome, but I like to think that I hold a place in your heart."

Artemus leaned close. "Who are you?"

"Jim West, your partner, and the man who's taking you back to your hotel room tonight." Jim flagged down the waiter while Artemus was choking on that statement. He ordered for both of them. "You need to eat."

"I have been. Any more and I'll get sick." Artemus tried his wine. It was good. "Colonel Sharp has grave doubts about our partnership."

"I intend to put those doubts to bed tonight," Jim said softly. "I assume he wants you to reassure him?"

"Indeed he does. Can I?"

Jim smiled. He sipped his wine. "You'll think of something to say. You always do."

"Not always," Artemus grumbled. If he did, he'd be having dinner with Don.

"Your face looks awful. I'm surprised you could get a date."

Artemus recoiled at the insult. It was true, but geez. "Thanks to you," he hissed.

"Yep. I did it. I'm sure that over the years, I'll pay for it." Jim looked down and smoothed his napkin. "I apologize. I reacted without thinking."

"Too bad your reaction wasn't to hold me tight." Artemus leveled a shot off Jim's bow.

Jim cleared his throat, but said nothing, and in that moment, dinner was served. They ate together. Jim chatted about the job. Artemus listened. He'd done nothing but nap.

"Have you fed my horse lately?"

"Nope." Jim smiled. "Sold him."

"Excuse me? I don't remember authorizing the sale of my horse."

"Where's your sense of humor? Did it get knocked out of your brain?" Jim frowned. "We're on a date. Have fun. Remember?"

"Yeah. Yeah." Artemus pushed his plate away. His stomach was complaining. "No dessert. I'm done."

"Okay. I'll walk you home." Jim paid the ticket and stood up. "You're a cheap date."

Artemus growled softly. He'd about had enough. Jim's face was going to sport a few colors here in a moment. Jim was as good as his word, walking Artemus right to his hotel door. "Can I come in for a night cap?"

"No." Artemus unlocked the door.

"Please."

Artemus groaned. That wasn't fair! He nodded. "One, and then beat it. I'm tired."

Jim poured a whiskey. Artemus declined his to hasten this process, but Jim took off his coat and tossed it on a chair. "That's better."

"Jim, don't get comfortable."

"Comfort isn't what I had in mind." Jim made sure the door was locked. "Tell me, Artemus. What would you and Don be doing about now?"

Artemus shrank back. He would not discuss this for Jim's amusement. "More jokes at my expense?"

Jim put his whiskey down and came over to where Artemus was standing. "No. Just curious. I have my own ideas, but I could be wrong."

Artemus took refuge on the bed. "I'm sure you are. I'm dead dog tired, James. I'll speak to the colonel tomorrow and see you on the train."

Jim unbuttoned his vest. He removed his cravat and collar, leaving his shirt open at the neck. "I can see words aren't going to get this job done, but luckily, I've always been a man of action."

Artemus suddenly had a nasty feeling in his gut, and this one was different from the one he'd recently experienced. "James. You--"

"Don't tell me what I want, Artemus Gordon. If you're too stupid to see it, I'll show you." Jim pulled a chair up near the bed and sat down, unbuttoning his trousers. He pulled out his cock and stroked it. It was hard.

Artemus felt his mouth go dry. "I don't understand."

"I know. I was angry because it wasn't me, fool. I shoved you because I was angry it wasn't me. I wanted you to deny you'd been with him and tell me that you'd saved yourself for me!"

Artemus dropped off the side of the bed and knelt in front of Jim, resting his head on Jim's thigh. "No."

"Yes!" Jim rested his hand gently on Artemus' head. "I wanted you to ask me, not sit with some damn dewy-eyed boy!"

"Sorry," Artemus whispered. "I knew-"

"You knew nothing and were too big a chicken to ask. I see that now." Jim put the tip of his cock on Artemus' face and groaned. "I'm not saying the idea didn't take a minute to get used to, but it wouldn't have killed you to at least look at my ass once in a while."

"I've done nothing but stare at your ass." Artemus smiled. He licked Jim's cock. Slickness appeared on the top, and he licked it off. Jim groaned and played with Artemus' hair. "Jim, I know-"

Jim tapped his cock against Artemus' lips. Artemus gave up. He knew what Jim wanted, and it wasn't talk. The groaning was nice to hear. Jim tugged Artemus' hair. Artemus looked up. Jim smiled. "You look tired. Let's get on the bed."

Artemus stood up, but kept a grip on Jim's cock. "I rested. I knew I'd be busy tonight."

Jim put a finger on Artemus' chest and pushed. "This is gonna stop. No more picking up strange men."

"Just strange women, right?" Artemus knew Jim. This was ridiculous talk.

Jim removed Artemus' hand and walked away, he turned back. Artemus noticed the cock had been put away. Jim tapped his lip with his forefinger. "You have to choose. Every other man you run across, or me. You can't have both."

"Why not?"

"Because I can't bear to watch it. It feels like someone is pulling out my guts and tying them to-"

"That's enough. I get it." Artemus sat down on the bed. He touched his face. Jim hadn't exactly proven he cared.

Jim came over and put a finger on the bruise. "I can't undo it."

"It shows a lack of understanding and consideration for me." Artemus couldn't decide. How many men was he giving up for Jim?

Jim stripped off his clothes, dropping them to the floor. "Give me a chance."

Artemus knew he was lost. Jim was naked. His cock dared Artemus to say no. "Okay."

Jim chuckled and removed Artemus' clothes. They kissed once. Jim made it a quick one. "If you mutter the name 'Alex' during this, I'm getting my gun."

"What?"

"I've never seen you look so much like a cat that had fallen in cream until that morning in the hallway. Even my gun didn't dim your self-satisfied air of 'I've been fucked silly.'" Jim used his big hands to snug their bodies together. "I wanted to kill someone."

"Jim dear," Artemus whispered in Jim's ear, "I did the fucking."

Jim laughed. "I don't know why, but that makes me feel better."

Artemus knew why. "You want my ass. You--nobody else."

Jim stared right in Artemus' eyes and said, "Yes."

"You ever been taken?" Artemus licked Jim's ear. His cock nudged Jim's thigh.

"No, and if we do, you won't be taking, I'll be giving." Jim stroked Artemus' cock with a firm hand. "You still angry?"

"About my date? Yes. About the shove? No." Artemus found Jim's ass with one hand and Jim's cock with the other. Their breath quickened. "We'll see how this works out."

Jim didn't answer, but he gave Artemus a look that meant trouble. Artemus moved Jim's ass faster. Jim grunted and shot come all over Artemus. "Well, James, you always were quick on the trigger."

Jim took a ragged breath. He sagged a little. Artemus massaged out all of the come. Jim blushed. "Now I can think clearly."

Artemus laughed. "Is that what it takes?" He gasped and arched when Jim put his mouth on Artemus' cock. "Jim, no, don't!" One taste of Jim's mouth was enough to send Artemus shaking to an orgasm of his own. Artemus knew from that moment that he'd keep himself to Jim. It'd be stupid not to.

Jim came up grinning. "Everything becoming clearer?"

"Crystal clear." Artemus smiled. "You done?"

"I'm going to teach you better than to insult me." Jim moved his hands all over Artemus' quivering body. "You deserve me, Artie."

"Maybe so." Artemus smiled. "Alex was cute too."

Jim bit him. Artemus made an undignified noise. Jim laughed. "Well, you're the expert. What do you use?"

"To what?" Artemus furrowed his brow. Jim sighed, flipped Artemus over, tugging him back, and up. Artemus gasped. "Hey!"

"What?" Jim asked sweetly. He draped himself over Artemus, kissing and rubbing. His cock prodded Artemus in a tender spot.

Artemus loved Jim's heat and the feel of the satin skin. He desperately wanted this, but he couldn't. It'd kill him. "James, love, please, don't even consider it."

Jim stopped. "That sounded like no."

Artemus went flat and rolled over. Jim didn't stop him. Artemus ran a hand through Jim's hair. "Jim, we're going to have to wait."

Jim looked him up and down. "You were throwing up."

"Wrong end." Artemus knew his face was red. "It'd hurt."

"Oh, sorry." Jim sat down and rubbed his face. "I guess Don was getting it up the ass."

Artemus choked. Jim shouldn't talk so crudely. He wasn't a cowboy. "That was the plan. Yes."

"Best laid plans go to waste." Jim shrugged. "Should I go get Don?"

"Get the salve out of the dresser instead. If we're going to do this occasionally, you should know what we're getting into." Artemus smiled. "That way you can change your mind and go back to smiling and fondling your gun when my dates stop by."

Jim hesitated. When he did go, it was slowly. He tossed it in the air on the way back. "I guess I have to put up or shut up."

"Right." Artemus caught the salve. "I'd like to talk dirty to you, but I just can't."

Jim kissed Artemus roughly. "It doesn't bother me. Tell me what you want."

"Okay, but if you run out the door, we'll forget this happened."

"Sounds like a plan." Jim laughed.

Artemus knew how lucky he was to have Jim as a partner, and this could ruin it or make it forty times better. He'd have to do it right the first time. "Put, uh, well, I can't do it. We've been polite to each other for too many years."

Jim wiggled around and got his stomach. "This way?"

"That'll be fine," Artemus said weakly. His vocabulary was failing him. Alex had known what he wanted. Jim wanted to discuss it. Artemus took a deep breath and looked down. His cock wasn't even hard. "I'll rub your back."

Jim was looking over his shoulder. "I get the feeling you're not all that interested."

"I'm in shock." Artemus straddled Jim's ass and put a dab of salve on his hands. Jim tucked a pillow under his face and groaned from the first touch. "You wiped your hand on your trousers."

"I was sweating. I wanted to throw you down and make you see." Jim moaned. "Every time I thought we were coming to an understanding, you drugged yourself senseless!"

Artemus traced a scar or two. Jim's bronze skin was so firm and smooth that even scars couldn't diminish him. Artemus scooted back farther and rubbed Jim's ass. He didn't want to talk anymore. Jim would be surprised at that, but Artemus didn't want the distraction. It wasn't that he'd waited for this perfect ass, because he hadn't, but now that he was here, it felt as if he'd endured a lifetime of want. He smoothed his hand around and explored the crevice thoroughly with his hands and tongue. Jim groaned and twitched. Artemus moved completely off him and spread Jim's legs far apart. Jim adjusted his hips to accommodate his cock.

"Now?"

"Hush." Artemus stared. He couldn't help himself. It was only an ass, but what an ass. His hands moved of their own volition, rubbing and teasing. He rolled Jim's balls and massaged gently at the entrance to Jim's body. Artemus' cock leaked. He was certainly hard now. Jim let out a squeaky breath. He might be a little worried. Artemus looked up and found those green eyes. "This will feel very good. Relax."

"You sure?"

"Have I ever lied to you?" Artemus smiled.

Jim laughed and put his head back down. The tension ran out of his body. Artemus pressed his finger inside and nudged that nub. Jim's hips came up. "I had no idea."

"Most men don't." Artemus went slow and easy, making room. He watched Jim to make sure he still wanted this. Some fellows backed out at strange moments. It was as if they suddenly realized a cock was going in their ass and panicked. But Jim just seemed to be enjoying himself, groaning and clutching the pillow. Artemus slicked his cock extra thick. "Push back."

Jim gasped, "I'm gonna come."

"Wait a minute." Artemus nudged only the knob of his cock in Jim's body. "Push."

Jim pushed back, and Artemus sank deep. "Artie!"

"I know. Wait a minute." Artemus braced himself on his arms and flexed, giving Jim's body some consideration. "How ya feel?"

"Hurt for a second. But now, Artie, stop talking."

Artemus laughed and moved, not too fast, but using some of his inches. Jim was everything Artemus had ever wanted, but he'd only known it in this minute. Their bodies came together. Artemus shook. His ability to reason failed him, and he thrust wildly, crying out, "James!"

Whatever Jim was doing, was perfect. Artemus orgasmed and couldn't contain his sobs of joy. For the first time, he wasn't fucking. He rolled to his side and took Jim with him, gripping Jim's cock, and stroking with his still slick hand. Jim arched back and emptied himself. "Artie."

The name was soft and said with love behind it. Artemus knew it. He relaxed down, but rubbed the seed around Jim's chest. "You feel so good."

"Artie, promise me that I'm your only man."

Artemus didn't answer quickly. Jim deserved a measured answer. "You're the only man for me." And he was right there on the train. "I love you, Jim."

"I knew you did, but getting it out of you wasn't easy." Jim caught Artemus' hand. "So, um, what are you going to tell Colonel Sharp?"

Artemus kissed the back of Jim's neck. "That the problem was put to bed and resolved."

"Funny, Artie, but since he doesn't know, he can't guess."

Artemus smiled. What Colonel Sharp knew wasn't any of Jim's business. It would only cause trouble. He shut his eyes, but opened them when Jim scooted away. Jim returned from the dry sink and washed them both off.

"You bleeding?"

Jim looked down. "What?"

"Turn around. Let me see." Artemus took the towel and cleaned Jim, no blood. "You're fine."

"If you'd have told me that, I'd have never done it." Jim put the towel in the washbasin and returned. Artemus got under the covers and lay flat, his hands behind his head. Jim crawled in with him. "You feeling okay?"

"Yes. I'm well. Thank you." Artemus straightened out his arm and played with Jim's hair. "When I wake up in the morning, will you be gone?"

"If you get up noon, yes." Jim laughed. "I'm going to be hungry in the morning."

Artemus closed his eyes. "Me too." He was tired. "Any regrets?"

"Not punching Alex in the face comes to mind." Jim's lips brushed against Artemus' neck, kissing until their mouths met. "And not catching you when you fell. You?"

"I should have told you, not just invited Alex over." Artemus pulled Jim down for another kiss. They were delicious. "Sorry about that."

Jim reclaimed Artemus' mouth, thrusting deeply. Artemus groaned and clasped Jim to him strongly. Jim ground them together. "I can't do this again."

"Me neither."

They laughed. Jim smiled and a dimple emerged. Artemus kissed it. "I love dimples."

"Yeah. I know." Jim scowled. The dimple vanished.

Artemus shut his eyes and forgot about 'what's his name.' "Your dimples."

Jim snorted. They curled around each other.

********

Artemus knew this was the beginning of more arguments, more problems, and, hopefully, lots more sex. His face was close to one of Jim's nipples, so he sucked on it, gently. Jim groaned and wrapped his fingers in Artemus' hair. "You coming home today?"

"I hope so." Artemus licked it some more until it was hard and nubbly. "I know you love me."

"I did think I made it pretty obvious." Jim sighed and shoved Artemus away. "I've got to use the necessary."

"You're so romantic in the morning." Artemus yawned and padded after Jim. Might as well get it done. "You're off to the governor's mansion?"

"Yes, after breakfast. I'll be back in the evening for dinner." Jim smiled. "I have a date."

"Who's the lucky girl?" Artemus asked before he saw Jim's smirk. "Never mind. I'll keep my schedule clear."

"Good thinking. If I have to break up another date, someone's getting a fist in his face," Jim growled and raised his hand, making a large fist. "Yes, I'm a brute."

"I was thinking idiot, but brute will do fine." Artemus went to get dressed. He was hungry and considering finding a date just because he could. "Really Jim, you're not going to give up the girls."

Jim was silent until he was completely dressed. Artemus gave him time to think. When his gun was buckled in place, he said, "I will give up women and men until we decide different."

"Men?!" Artemus choked on his spit. He grabbed Jim by the lapels and shook him. "You said-"

"And I told the truth." Jim wrapped his hands around Artemus' wrists. "Think about it."

Artemus did, and he came to the correct conclusion. He hoped. "If you'd have been less discreet, we wouldn't have had this problem."

"If you had chased women with less enthusiasm, we wouldn't have had this problem."

"But-but-but . . ." Artemus released Jim and put his head in his hands. "I thought . . ."

"You were wrong." Jim straightened his cravat. "Wrong."

Artemus opened his mouth again and shut it. "I'll speak to Colonel Sharp so I can be home tonight."

"You do that. I'll pick you up around six." Jim smiled. "Breakfast?"

"Please." Artemus let his world settle back down around him while he drank his coffee and ate bacon and eggs. Jim didn't talk. Artemus was glad. It gave him a chance to take a breath. How? What? Artemus shook his head and caught Jim's grin. "Oh, shut up."

Jim laughed softly. "You should have known."

********

End


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