It could have been worse.
If he had to be thrown from a moving train in the middle of God's back acre, Jim mused, at least it had happened on a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining, its rays bathing the greening prairie grasses in a warming glow, and the birds were not only singing, they were positive trilling as they swooped across the sky, as if to celebrate the coming of warmer weather.
Jim stood beside the tracks, rubbing wrists made raw by the ropes that had bound him and looking to the north. The train from which he'd made such an abrupt forced exit was now the merest speck on a horizon, the smoke from its engine a barely discernable smudge against the blue of the sky.
Brushing the gravel from his coat, Jim considered his position. If Artie had been right about how long they'd been travelling, and he knew Artie was seldom wrong about anything, then he was twenty miles from Hastings. Which meant that he was also about fifteen miles from the railhead. And the railhead was the destination of the now disappearing train.
Jim reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out his watch. The hardy instrument was intact and functioning and showed him it was nearly noon.
Just over six hours to sunset.
He could walk to Hastings in four hours, get his horse, his spare gun, ammunition and supplies, but could he then manage the over thirty miles to the railhead before nightfall without laming his horse? Even with tonight's full moon, he'd be safer waiting for daybreak to set off after the errant train.
Start walking north now, however, and he could easily make it to the railhead in three hours. But he had no horse, no supplies, and his only weapon was the Derringer in his coat pocket that his erstwhile host had overlooked.
Jim frowned and looked back down at his watch. It was a plain timepiece, silver rather than gold, bereft of ornamentation save a simple engraving on its case: For J.W. from A.G. Artie had given him the watch on his last birthday, and that singular fact made it one of his most prized possessions.
Artie was on that train, and not in the friendliest of company.
Three hours to reach Artie, or nearer twenty-four? There really wasn't any choice. Jim gave his coat a final tug, squared his shoulders and began following the rail bed north.
His eyes were fixed on the horizon, but his concentration was miles away with his missing partner. Which is the only explanation for why he never noticed the ominous grey clouds rolling in from both south and north to blot out the sun and sky.
"Why not, Artie? What's wrong with Nebraska?"
"What's right with it? Why couldn't the colonel send us to New Orleans? Or San Francisco?"
"Or even Chicago?"
"Because he needs us in Nebraska."
"And if it must be Nebraska, why not Lincoln? Or Omaha? Those are actual cities. One can attain a certain level of comfort in Omaha that, while not the highest, is certainly acceptable. But Hastings?"
"Have you even heard of Hasting? I certainly haven't. I doubt it even has a decent hotel. Just a bug infested shack where you have to share accommodation with drovers and down on their luck homesteaders."
"Does Hastings have anything to recommend it, other than the fact that the railroad goes through it?"
"Loveless has found something there to attract him."
Artie checked himself mid rant.
"Yes, Jim, I know. Loveless must be stopped from doing whatever it is he has planned, and Colonel Richmond has chosen us for the job. Again." Artie released a heavy sigh. "I only wish the good doctor had chosen a more stimulating setting for his latest nefarious stratagem."
"Cheer up, Artie. At least it's been a mild winter. There's hardly any snow and the prairie grass is already green."
"It will take more than good weather to brighten my spirits."
"Maybe the locals will invite us for a wholesome Easter dinner."
"Consisting, no doubt, of dried beans and salt pork."
"There have been days you would have welcomed a meal of beans and pork."
"Such days have been blessedly few."
"What about..." Jim prepared to launch into a list of their least felicitous assignments, the ones that had them both longing for a hot meal and dry clothes. But his mouth was stopped by Artie's lips as his partner held him firmly and kissed him most thoroughly. Jim could hear his breath sounding harshly in his throat and feel the blood stirring in his groin. He wrapped his arms around Artie, crushing them together before finally, reluctantly, he pulled away.
"Artie, I don't think this is a very good idea."
"On the contrary, Jim, I think it's an excellent idea." Artie leaned in and kissed the tip of his chin. "It will take Sam an hour to get the train ready." His tongue traced the line of Jim's jaw. "Here in my room we have the measure of privacy needed." He nibbled on Jim's earlobe. "And we have nothing pressing calling on our time." Artie grinned wickedly and rubbed his hand against the front of Jim's trousers. "Except this."
Jim moaned as Artie's hand inflamed him further. His head arched back and Artie took advantage of the exposed flesh to lick the tender skin of Jim's throat.
"You are the devil incarnate, Artemus Gordon," Jim managed to gasp out.
"Yes, I am. And you're enough to tempt a saint."
"Enough talk, Artie." Jim pushed his partner back and reached for the first button of Artie's shirt. He released each button slowly, deliberately, until Artie's chest was bare before him. "I think it's time that the devil falls to temptation." He let his fingers trail down Artie's side, smiling in satisfaction as Artie shivered with anticipation.
"You only had to ask," Artie said, shucking his own shirt impatiently before tearing Jim's open.
Clothes were swiftly shed and hands and mouths as swiftly occupied with providing pleasure.
As he spent himself in Artie's grip, Jim had to admit that his partner's idea had been the very best.
Jim's first indication that something was very wrong indeed was the wind.
The air had been still all morning--rather too still, Jim realized later--but in the early afternoon a wind began to stir the prairie. Within minutes, the wind was so violent that he was being buffeted about, only holding a straight course with the greatest difficulty.
The wind was throwing so much dust into the air that Jim found it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of him. He tied his handkerchief around his face to keep the dust out of his mouth and nose, pulled his collar up tight, then put his head down and pushed on.
A dust storm wasn't good. Was very bad, in fact, but Jim had survived as bad or worse in the high desert. He only had to keep his eyes down and on the rails and to continue moving and he'd be all right.
Jim struggled on, feeling like he was making no progress whatsoever as he forced his way through the heavy curtain of stirred up dust and prairie grass and twigs. He concentrated only on the fact that Artie was waiting for him at the end of these steel rails and tried to ignore his body's struggles against the elements, just as he tried to ignore the rapidly dropping temperature that was demonstrating the inadequacy of his top coat.
And then, just as he was convinced that things could not possibly be worse, the snow began to fall.
The trip to Hastings took the better part of two days and it was Easter morning when the Wanderer pulled into the town. The day was sunny and warm, far warmer than Jim would have expected for April, and he could see people walking the streets in their Sunday best as the train made its way to the rail yard.
At the moment, Hastings, Nebraska was nothing more than a collection of scrabbled together buildings, but the townspeople clearly had aspirations to something better. As he looked out of the train's window, Jim could see the signs of new construction throughout the town. Buildings meant to inspire civic pride were rising on every corner. Hastings would never rival a large city like Chicago, or even Omaha, but soon it would be the kind of place where people raised their families in relative peace and contentment. Not the kind of place he usually found himself. And not the kind of place that usually attracted Miguelito Loveless.
Artie joined him at the window of the parlour car, taking hold of his elbow lightly as he looked over the town.
"So, Artie, is it everything you feared?"
"Well, it's not as bad as it could have been," Artie said, his words clearly grudging. "There even seems to be a decent hotel." He nodded at the handsome brick building the train was currently passing.
"There does indeed. Shall we see if they're up to supplying an Easter lunch of more than beans and salt pork to two hungry travellers?"
"You're mocking me, Jim."
"I'd never do that, Artie," Jim said with a grin, and then gave Artie a brief hug, a fleeting reminder of the connection between them and a promise of more carnal pleasures to come. They always renounced such pleasures when on a mission and only indulged in them once their assignment was successfully completed. He was once again thankful for Artie's impetuousness when they set out on their journey.
"You, sir, are incorrigible," Artie said, trying and failing to look stern.
"That's not what you said two days ago."
"Incorrigible and a cad."
"Only if you're very fortunate."
"Oh, I'm one of the most fortunate men in the state. In the country." Artie gave up the attempt at sternness and gave Jim a bright and happy smile.
"Second most fortunate, Artie," Jim said, returning the smile. Artie bumped him affectionately with his elbow.
They readied themselves to venture forth to the town. Jim put on his gun belt, enjoying as always the secure feeling of the holster against his thigh. At the last minute, he put his Derringer in the pocket of the light topcoat he wore in place of his heavier winter coat. When Artie was ready, also armed and similarly dressed, they left the train and headed for the hotel.
The townspeople they encountered were friendly enough, sparing nods and smiles for the two strangers walking in their midst. The owner of the hotel, one Louis Forest, was likewise pleasant, showing Jim and Artie to a table in his dining room where he was just beginning to serve the noon meal.
"See Artie." Jim nodded at a neighbouring table. "No salt pork and beans to be seen. Just baked ham, mashed potatoes and rutabaga. You can't complain about that."
"Better than I expected," Artie agreed. "But not as good as we'd see in New Orleans."
"We're not in New Orleans."
"Maybe after we're done here..." Artie looked hopeful.
"If the colonel doesn't have any plans for us, we could spend some time in New Orleans."
"Splendid." Artie rubbed his hands together eagerly. "There is a restaurant we simply have to go to."
"No matter the city, you always have a restaurant to recommend."
"Of course," Artie said with wounded dignity. "I am a civilized man."
"Or a glutton."
"A gourmet, surely."
Jim chuckled, but their argument was interrupted by the arrival of their meal.
In spite of being plain home cooking, the food was excellent. It was produced in the kitchen by Mrs. Forest, who visited their table with her husband to make sure that her guests enjoyed their meal. Artie heaped courtly praise upon Mrs. Forest, until she returned to the kitchen, red-faced and giggling. It was left to Jim to settle the bill.
"What do we owe you, Mr. Forest?"
"Three dollars, Mr. West."
"And worth every penny, I assure you,"Artie said.
"You're very kind, Mr. Gordon."
"It's been a pleasure." Jim laid the money on the table as he and Artie stood. "I hope we'll be able to visit your establishment again soon."
"So do I, Mr. West. Do you plan on staying in Hastings long?"
"A few days, perhaps. We have some business to attend to."
"With the other gentleman?"
Jim shared a look with Artie.
"What other gentleman would that be?" Artie asked. His question would sound casual to anyone who didn't know him, but Jim could hear the tension in his voice.
"An odd little man. And I do mean little. He arrived here several days ago with a servant as tall as he's small. He said he has business here as well, but it's not with anyone I know." Forest puffed out his chest. "I pride myself on knowing everyone in town."
"That does sound like an acquaintance of ours," Jim said. "Is he staying here?"
"Not here, no. I've heard he has his own private railcar and engine, so I imagine it's somewhere in the rail yard."
"Thank you, Mr. Forest." Jim gave him his most winning smile. "And if you see the gentleman, we'd appreciate if you didn't tell him we're here. We'd like to surprise him."
"Oh, absolutely, Mr. West." Forest bowed once and went off happily to attend to another table.
"Well, Artie, it looks like Loveless is definitely here."
"So it does." Artie aimed a wry grin at him. "Shall we go track our little madman to his lair?"
"That is what the government is paying us to do."
Side by side, Jim and Artie left the hotel and headed back to the rail yard.
There was no doubt in Jim's mind that this was a fully-fledged blizzard. Within minutes of the first flakes falling, flurries of white surrounded him. If the dust storm had been difficult to see through, the snow was utterly impossible. He could barely make out the tracks at his feet, and was keeping to the rail bed by feel rather than vision. So long as he could feel the ties under his feet and kick the rail with his boot, he knew he was going in the right direction. But if he lost the rail...
If he lost the rail, he was dead and he knew it. People died in blizzards like this every year. Farmers became lost between their houses and their barns and died still holding their milking pails. Children were lost on the walk home from school and only found when the spring thaw revealed their bodies. One didn't take weather lightly on the open prairie.
And there was nothing Jim could do about it except keep moving and try to reach the railhead while he still had the energy to do so. Stop moving, let the cold overtake him, succumb to the temptation to sit down and sleep that was even now beginning to seep into his bones, and it would be Artie looking for his body when the snows melted. Assuming Artie managed to escape from his captor's clutches without assistance.
More determined than ever, Jim pulled up his collar even higher, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and resumed his slow trudge north.
They were several blocks from the rail yard when Jim saw him: the unmistakable figure of Voltaire, Loveless' major-domo, striding down the street ahead of them. A nudge from Artie's elbow told him that his partner had seen the man as well.
A shared look between them and they set off after Voltaire. Jim began to feel optimistic. Perhaps this assignment would be easier than most. Perhaps they would be visiting New Orleans, and Artie's promised restaurant, sooner than he'd hoped.
They followed Voltaire at a leisurely pace, sliding into doorways when their quarry looked in their direction, or using friendly townspeople as concealment. Soon enough, for the town was not large, they came to the rail yards.
Voltaire strode quickly past a passenger train waiting at the platform for the last of its passengers, and then ducked around a freight train. When Jim and Artie caught up with him, Voltaire was just passing the Wanderer. Jim willed him not to recognize their train; whether he did or not, he gave no indication, just kept walking past a boxcar.
Jim and Artie approached the boxcar carefully. There beyond it, on the last set of tracks in the yard, was a single private car and an engine. As they watched, Voltaire disappeared through the front entrance of the railcar.
A quick glance at each other, and they made their careful way to the car, halting at the front.
"Do you want to go first, or shall I?" Jim asked, drawing his gun from its holster.
"Oh, by all means, after you," Artie said, gesturing him forward with a sweep of his arm.
Before either of them could move, the door to the railcar opened and Miguelito Loveless emerged, a pearl-handled pistol held in one diminutive hand.
"I do hope you both will join me, gentlemen." Loveless' high voice was bright with amusement. "I have been so looking forward to your arrival."
"I don't think you realize that we are the ones in charge," Jim said.
"Perhaps, Mr. West. And perhaps not." Loveless' smile should have been all the warning that Jim needed, but it came too late. There was a movement in the corner of his eye, and Jim realized belatedly that Voltaire had circled around behind them.
"Artie, watch out," he started to say, but he didn't get much beyond his partner's name before there was a sudden pain in his head and a grey curtain descended upon him. Then all was darkness.
When Jim lost the feel of the rail at his feet, he was certain that he'd wandered off the railbed, that he was lost, and his heart lurched in his chest. Not because he feared his own death--he'd accepted the possibility of dying years before at Antietam, where he'd seen half his company cut down by Rebel fire and had survived only by luck or divine intervention--but because he feared that his failure would mean Artie's death. If Jim was dead, there would be no one who knew that Artie had been captured by Loveless, no one to rescue him, no one who even knew he was in need of rescue, and that was not acceptable.
He forced down the panic that threatened to rise within him and stopped moving, stopped the mechanical lifting of one foot after another that had kept him going throughout the storm, kept him going when he couldn't see more than a few inches through the wall of snow surrounding him. For a moment he stood there, transfixed, his fingers and toes frozen with cold, his face wet with melting snowflakes. He was afraid that whichever way he moved, it would be the wrong way, would take him away from the rails and away from Artie.
And then instinct took over and he somehow knew, completely and absolutely, to stretch out his arms and take a single step forward.
When his hand encountered the rough wood and metal of the rail bumper, Jim nearly cheered with relief. This was the end of the line. He had somehow reached the railhead.
Jim allowed himself a thin smile. In this weather, there was no way that Loveless could have travelled from this place. And in that case, Artie could not be far.
He hung on to the bumper as he cast his eyes around him, trying to penetrate the wall of swirling white that surrounded him. At first there was nothing, nothing but white and shadow. But then, just as he was about to strike out blindly, to move somewhere in the hope that luck would send him in the direction of his partner, there was a slight calming of the wind and a momentary lull in the falling of the snow and he saw it. Over to his right was a large, dark shape. He memorized the direction of the object, even as the blizzard closed around it again, then, giving the bumper a final pat, he set off, hoping what he'd seen was not a illusion, not the result of too many hours spent staring into a blanket of white.
He had gone perhaps twenty steps, and was mulling over whether he should return to the end of the rail while he still had a hope of finding it, when the dark shape loomed up in front of him. It was a railcar: Loveless' railcar sitting on a separate siding.
Jim put his hand around the Derringer in his pocket, hoping that he could still manage the small weapon with fingers gone numb from the cold.
He circled the car, keeping one hand on its wooden side as a precaution against losing his way even as he kept the derringer in his other hand. The howl of the wind prevented him from hearing any noise from within the railcar, but he could see, barely, the lights on in the front compartment. Which meant that his best bet for getting in and finding Artie was from the back.
Blowing on the fingers of his right hand, Jim pulled himself up onto the back of the train and opened the door, hoping that the sound of the storm would cover his entry. Once inside, he knew what to expect. He had been here before, though not for long. To his right were two doors, behind which he expected were storage rooms. The third door, straight ahead and limned in light, led to Loveless' living quarters on the train. If luck was with him, Artie would be in one of the storage rooms. If not, well, he'd tackle that problem when he came to it.
Moving carefully, he opened the first door. In the dim light of the small room he could see only trunks and baggage, not a missing Secret Service agent. Closing the door, he moved to the second one and opened it.
The light in this room was even dimmer and it seemed empty. His spirits fell as he considered the possibility that Loveless was keeping Artie close to him. If that was the case, it would be more difficult to free Artie. A third alternative he did not consider: that Artie was dead, used by Loveless for whatever nefarious scheme he'd planned and then discarded. Though Jim had no doubt that Loveless was that ruthless, he was depending on the fact that Loveless hadn't yet had time to carry out the plan that called for Artie's expertise.
"Damn it, Artie, where are you," he said softly, giving in briefly to the frustration he felt even as he began to work out at way of storming Loveless' sanctuary at the front of the train and emerging with both himself and Artie alive.
Jim West froze, certain that he was hearing things, that he'd passed to the point where the howling of the blizzard buffeting the railcar turned into the one voice he most wanted to hear. But then he looked around and realized that the room was not entirely empty, that there was what looked to be a bundle of clothing in the far corner.
"Artie?" he said, not daring to hope that he had found his friend.
The bundle of clothing moved, and even in the murky grey light of this windowless room Jim could see that it was indeed Artemus Gordon, bound hand and foot and more than slightly dishevelled, but alive. Jim came to with his head pounding in time to the chattering of the train's wheels on the tracks. Shaking off the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him, he swallowed once and opened his eyes.
He was tied to a wooden chair in what must have been the parlour of Loveless' railcar. His gunbelt and Artie's were both visible just out of reach and Loveless was standing by the window, giving whispered orders to Voltaire. The prairie landscape passed by the window at full speed.
"Jim." Artie's voice was pitched low. "Are you all right?"
Twisting his head to the left, Jim could see Artie, also tied to a chair and sporting a spectacular bruise under one eye.
"I'm fine," Jim said, even if it wasn't entirely true. "How about you? You're looking worse for wear."
"I made the mistake of tackling Voltaire when he knocked you out. I was persuaded that was a bad idea."
Jim chuckled, knowing how tenacious Artie could be when challenged. "I wish I could have seen that."
"It wasn't pretty, Jim. I'm rather happy you weren't awake to see my humiliation."
"How long have we been moving?"
"About twenty minutes. I was beginning to be afraid you weren't going to wake up."
"You know me, Artie." Jim smiled reassuringly. "There's no keeping me down."
"Mr. West." The voice of Miguelito Loveless broke into their conversation. "I'm so glad to see you've returned to us."
"Kidnapping a government agent is a federal offence, Doctor. The full force of the law will be brought down upon you."
"Oh, I don't think it will. Not for some time, at any rate. And by that time, I will have achieved my goal and the wishes of the United States government will be completely irrelevant."
"And what is your goal?"
"Oh, the usual. The turning over of California to my control. Payment for the trouble I have endured."
"Surely you don't need us for that."
"Oh, that's where you are wrong. You are integral to my plan." Loveless smiled, a disconcerting expression. "Or rather, your colleague is."
"Artemus?" Jim was surprised. Loveless did not often involve Artie in his schemes.
"Yes, Mr. Gordon. I believe he possesses some information that I can use."
"Not that I'll share it with you," Artie said.
"I believe that you will, Mr. Gordon. It's been said that I can be very persuasive."
Jim ignored the implied threat to Artie and concentrated on prying what knowledge he could from Loveless.
"What information do you need from Artie?"
"Oh, I'm afraid that would be telling, Mr. West. And I don't want you knowing anything more than you do right now. Especially since you are completely superfluous to my plans." Loveless looked over to his servant. "Voltaire."
Voltaire moved over to where Jim was, cutting him loose from the chair and picking him up bodily.
"What are you going to do him?" Artie's voice was forceful but Jim could hear a hint of panic in it. Panic that he had to admit he was starting to share.
"Why, I'm going to get rid of him, of course. Voltaire, you know your orders."
"No!" Artie shouted, struggling with the rope that bound him. Jim tried his best to resist Voltaire, but he had no chance against the giant.
He was dragged out of the parlour as Artie continued to yell his name. Voltaire carried him through a cramped hallway with two doors and then out onto the back of the car. From there, with the wind whipping around them and the clatter of the tracks sounding in their ears, Voltaire threw him from the train.
"James, you're alive." Jim couldn't see Artie's face very well in the dim light of the railcar, but he could clearly hear the relief in his voice. "I thought he'd killed you."
"That may have been his intention, but Voltaire only threw me off the train."
"I thought you were dead. And Loveless, damn him, didn't tell me any differently."
"I'm here now, Artie." The thread of desperation he heard in Artie's voice called to Jim's own fears for his partner. He put down his gun, took Artie's face between his hands and kissed him, putting every ounce of the joy he felt that they were alive and once again together into the meeting of their mouths. Artie's mouth opened under his and the heat of his tongue began to banish the chill of the blizzard that had taken up residence in Jim's core.
Too soon, he pulled back, very aware that they still needed to extricate themselves from Loveless' plan.
"I've got to get you untied."
"I'd appreciate it, Jim. I think I've lost all feeling in my hands."
Jim set to work on the knots that bound Artie, his task made more difficult by fingers grown clumsy from the cold. It took far longer than it would normally, but Jim finally released the last of the knots. As the ropes that had restrained him slipped to the floor, Artie stood and took Jim into his arms. Jim felt a catch in his throat as he was held tightly by the person who meant the most to him in the world.
"Thank you, Jim." Jim felt rather than heard the whispered words. "Thank you for coming for me."
"You've done the same for me. A dozen times."
"Maybe it's the storm, but this time felt more final."
Jim didn't respond. Caught in a world of freezing white, Jim hadn't been sure that he would survive this mission. Unable to articulate his feelings, he simply wrapped his arms around Artie.
It was Artie who finally broke the silence.
"Enough of this sentiment." Artie released his hold on Jim with clear reluctance. "Shall we stop Loveless?"
"I'm afraid that Loveless isn't about to allow himself to be stopped."
Jim and Artie both turned to the door of the room to find Miguelito Loveless, a gun in his hand and Voltaire at his side.
"I should have known that throwing you from the train wouldn't be enough to stop you, Mr. West. You are the most stubborn, determined man I have ever met." Loveless turned to his servant. "Voltaire, take Mr. West outside and kill him." He aimed his gun unwaveringly at Artie. "Mr. Gordon, you will remain where you are."
Jim poised on the balls of his feet, determined to fight to the end. When Voltaire came toward him, he attacked, managing to throw the larger man off balance and between Artie and Loveless.
The few seconds he was hidden from Loveless' aim was all Artie needed. One second Jim was fighting futilely for his life with Voltaire, and the next there was a deafening bang and Voltaire was staggering in pain.
Jim didn't wait to find out what had happened. He dealt a punishing blow to Voltaire's head, knocking him out, then leapt over his body and had the gun from Loveless' grasp before the doctor could react.
Holding Loveless by the collar, Jim looked behind him. Lying on the floor, Voltaire was unconscious and bleeding from a wound in his thigh. Standing over him, Jim's Derringer held steadily in his hand, was Artie, looking as valiant to Jim as any medieval knight errant.
"Thank you, Artie," Jim said, hoping those few words conveyed the full weight of the gratitude and pride and love he felt for his partner at this moment.
"You're welcome," Artie replied, and though they were in the company of two mortal enemies, Artie's eyes said everything that his words could not.
When Jim awoke in the middle of the night, the fire in the grate had faded to mere embers and the room had grown chilly. Though Louisiana in April couldn't compare to a spring blizzard in Nebraska, Jim was still feeling the cold more than usual, so he forced himself out of the relative warmth of the bed. After building the fire to a comforting blaze, he returned to the warmth offered by the blankets and his companion.
"Jim, you're freezing." Artie complained sleepily, even as he pulled Jim closer.
"But you're not," Jim said, burying his face in the comfort of Artie's shoulder and enjoying the feel of skin meeting skin.
"Why do I put up with you?" Artie asked, wrapping his arms around Jim's back.
"I don't know, Artie. Why do you?"
"It's a mystery," Artie said, then took his mouth in a deep and searing kiss that left Jim erect and wanting more.
"You're not tired?" Jim asked, looking at Artie speculatively in the flickering glow of the fire.
"I seem to have woken up." Artie smiled impishly and wriggled his hips, thrusting his hardened cock against Jim's.
"You certainly have," Jim said, then ran his tongue up the length of Artie's throat, enjoying the power he wielded as Artie arched his neck in pleasure.
They built their desire slowly, having spent their impatience earlier in the evening, when Jim had taken Artie with an energy and drive that showed them both that he had finally recovered from his ordeal in Nebraska.
This time, they were both gentle, shaping desire with loving touch and fond caress. Jim finally reached his climax as Artie gave him one final stroke, and Artie was not far behind him. Jim held Artie in the aftermath of their loving as their breathing slowed and Artie at last drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Unlike his partner, Jim found that he wasn't at all tired. He lay awake, a comforting arm around Artie, and considered yet again how lucky he'd been. He'd survived the elements and he and Artie had managed to capture Loveless, Voltaire and the hapless engineer that Loveless had hired, stopping Loveless crackpot scheme to use Artie's chemical knowledge to create a compound to poison the water supplies of Washington and New York. They'd bandaged Voltaire's wound and kept them confined for the four days the blizzard had lasted, and the two days more that it had taken Colonel Richmond to respond to their telegram and send someone to take Loveless into custody.
No, that wasn't entirely true. After the first day, Artie'd had to keep watch on their prisoners entirely by himself. Jim had succumbed to a cold severe enough that Artie expressed his fear that it was pneumonia. It was Jim's illness that had allowed Artie to convince the colonel that two weeks rest in New Orleans was in order.
In spite of Artie's plans for indulgence in the Crescent City, they passed their first week in the hotel room as an ailing Jim recovered his strength. But now that Jim's energy was returning, they'd spent the last four days exploring the city by day, and the geography of their desire by night. They had only two more days before they were to return to the job, and Jim would be sorry to see the end of this sojourn, even as he was eager for a return to activity.
Jim could not ask for a better life. His profession allowed him to serve his country, gave him a sense of accomplishment, but it was Artie who gave his life its sense of completeness. He would travel through blizzards or deserts or Hell itself for Artemus Gordon, and consider himself lucky to do so.
Placing a kiss on Artie's forehead, he settled in to wait for the dawn.
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