Jim West awoke with a start, his heart pounding in his chest. He held himself very still, forcing his breath to slow down and trying to determine what had disturbed his sleep.
There was nothing. No enemies trying to break into the train, no calls for help from the crew. Absolutely no reason for his being wide awake at some no doubt ungodly hour.
He sighed, and turned onto his side. And his hand encountered a warm body beside him. He jerked back in surprise, his mind struggling to make the last step to wakefulness.
The body beside him shifted, and wrapped an arm comfortably around Jim's middle before drifting back into sleep.
That arm was solidly muscled, and the body that now lay snuggled against his side was definitely male. Was, in fact, one Artemus Gordon.
As that realization dawned, Jim came fully awake, his memory completely returned.
The mission had been like any other. There was another madman, another crisis, another chance to save the nation. And Jim and Artie stopped him, at great personal cost. Just like always.
What had not been like always was what happened afterwards. They were safe in the Wanderer and should have been throwing back a shot of bourbon, basking in the glow of a job not only survived, but well done. Instead, they found themselves, excitingly, impossibly, locked in each other's arms, trembling with spent adrenaline and exhaustion and what could have been a hint of fear, had they not been two fearless heroes, serving their country.
Even now, Jim wasn't sure who initiated the kiss. All he knew was that he felt Artie's lips touch his own, lips that were surprisingly soft, astonishingly tender. They froze for a moment that both stretched out forever and lasted no time at all. Then something ignited within Jim and he went up in flames like bone dry tinder tossed into an inferno.
He crushed Artie in his arms, and reveled in the sensation of Artie's strength holding him in turn. He struggled to escape from the jacket that was suddenly as constraining as shackles. Artie helped him remove the offending garment, and threw off his own as well.
Somehow they made it to Artie's room, the closest one, helping as much as hindering each other in the race to shed the rest of their clothes. They stood naked, exposed to each other as never before. As they came together, Jim luxuriated in the feel of skin against skin, hardness against hardness.
Jim trailed his fingers down Artie's back, enjoying the feel of the broad back beneath his hand. He heard Artie's breath catch in his throat, and then they were on the bed, and could not touch each other enough.
Jim arched in passion as Artie's hand grasped his member. They moved together, past thinking, living only for the moment, for the completion that they both strove towards. Their emotions fanned the flames higher until Jim was sure that all that would remain of him would be embers.
Afterwards, they lay sprawled on Artie's bed, hands stroking an arm, a flank, a cheek. They drifted to sleep like that, limbs entwined, the sheets pulled up carelessly, shielding them from the slight chill of the Indian Summer night.
And now James West found himself stalked by sleeplessness in the darkness before dawn.
Strangely enough, the pleasure he had shared with Artie was not what seemed to be disturbing him. True, it wasn't something he had consciously desired, but he was self-aware enough to know that he loved Artie more than any other living creature and he had never given a tinker's damn about what anyone thought of him. Anyone except Artemus Gordon, that is.
No, what was bothering him was the silence.
Neither he nor Artie had said a word throughout this extraordinary evening.
Not that he expected to have much to say himself. He was a man of action. But Artie... Artie was the man of learning, of philosophy, of words. He would have expected Artie to talk up a storm, to have theories and postulations for what had happened, and why. But Artie had remained as silent as himself, and they had fallen asleep with only the whispers of flesh between them.
Jim needed the words, needed Artie to give a label to the new connection between them. But Artie had not supplied the words, and he couldn't find them himself.
Exhaling sharply, Jim tried to banish the thought. He turned on his side to face Artie, his partner's face now limned in the dim light of pre-dawn. Jim rested a hand on Artie's chest and closed his eyes, seeking to take sleep by force of will.
Jim awoke the next morning alone. The bed clothes beside him were thrown back, the bed itself long grown cold. He rescued his trousers and shirt from where they lay crumpled on the floor, quickly pulled them on, then padded barefoot down the corridor to his own room. He washed, dressed in fresh clothes and then headed down to the sitting room, unsure of the reception that awaited him. Did Artie hate him so much that he couldn't bear to wake next to him? Was he disgusted? Embarrassed? Was that why Artie had been so uncharacteristically silent the night before?
The scene that greeted him in the sitting room was, after all his imaginings, completely normal. Artie was in the midst of consuming his breakfast, reading a paper that Sam must have procured for him from the town they were in.
His mouth full of toast, Artie greeted him with a wave. Jim smiled wanly in return and took his own place at the table,
They spent breakfast, and the whole morning, exactly as they had on hundreds of other such days: wrapping up the loose ends of their mission, pursuing their own studies and exercise and behaving completely normally. Artie did not mention the night before at all. In fact, the one time Jim tried to bring the subject up, obliquely, subtly, Artie deftly deflected the topic to one less fraught with complications. And Jim thought he detected just a hint of pain in his friend's eyes.
By the end of the day, Jim was beginning to think that the previous night had been a phantasm of his imagination.
And then it happened again.
A casual touch from Artie before bedtime turned into an unexpected embrace, and then flared into a passion that neither of them could ignore. They ended in Jim's room this time, but the result was the same. And again, Artie disappeared before Jim awoke.
So, the pattern was set. During the day, they both went about business as usual. At night...at night, it was anything but. One of them would eventually drift to the other's room, as if pulled by some force that neither of them could deny, and they would end up tangled together in the sheets,
And still there was only silence between them at night. Communication took place through their bodies, at some elemental level that made talking irrelevant. Or impossible.
Several times Jim tried to speak at night. Mostly, Artie would stop the words with his own mouth, inflaming Jim's passion with his tongue and taste and scent. Once, though, Artie simply placed a finger on Jim's lips and gave him a look filled with such devotion and distress that Jim's breath caught in his throat, all thought of speaking ripped from him by the maelstrom of competing emotions--affection and protectiveness and pain--that tore through him and left him gasping. Their love making that night had a particular sweetness, and a particular edge.
And love making it was, of that Jim had no doubt. The natural affection between them had grown and deepened to the point where it was beyond any other bond Jim had shared with another person. 'Love' was the only word that seemed to define what existed between them. It was the only solid point in his world anymore. All else was quicksand beneath his feet.
However much the pattern frustrated him, he took some comfort in it. They might not talk about it, might obscure it during the day, but at night he could demonstrate his love, by action if not by word.
And then the pattern broke.
After two weeks at loose ends, they were sent on an assignment--another madman, another crisis, another chance to save the nation--and as abruptly as they had started, their nocturnal dalliances ceased.
There were no more visits to each other's room, no more embraces in the sitting room, no more passionate kisses.
But there was still the love. There was still silence between them on this one topic. There was still pain haunting the corners of Artie's smile. And there was still an ache in Jim's gut that he couldn't quell.
Late at night, he often found himself standing before Artie's door, his palm resting against the grain of the wood, wishing for the courage to simply knock on the door and break the silence between them for good. Or for ill.
But he restrained himself, and they did their job and things went on as they would.
And Artie was captured.
It was not the first time. It wouldn't be the last. But this time...this time Jim felt something in him crack when he realized that his partner had been taken, that Artie's life depended on his competence. That if he failed, Artie would die.
He did not fail. He rescued his partner, his friend, his heart. And then he and Artie foiled the madman, stopped the crisis, saved the nation.
And found themselves back in the sitting room of the Wanderer, exactly where they had begun.
Looking at Artie, Jim saw his own love and fear and pain mirrored back. And he decided that the silence had gone on between them long enough, that now it was time for the truth to be spoken.
Still holding Artie's gaze, Jim took his hands. Artie tried to pull away, but Jim put all his strength into holding his partner, quieting him, gentling him. And when he was sure that Artie would not run, he spoke.
His words broke the silence between them into countless glittering shards, shards he hoped he would not cut himself on.
He told Artie how he felt, what it meant to have Artemus Gordon as a partner, a friend. A lover. A torrent of words flowed from him, words that had been dammed up for too long, that threatened to drown them both. But Jim wouldn't let them drown. The hold he had on Artie was a lifeline for them both.
He spoke until all the words were exhausted, until the flood had become a trickle. And only then, when there were no words left because they had all been spoken, only then did he draw Artie into an embrace, held him tightly as his partner trembled and fought and shook and, finally, accepted.
And the passion between them ignited again.
Only this time there was no silence. This time there was laughter and tears, jokes and confessions. This time they shared their thoughts as well as their bodies. This time they used words as well as flesh to express their desires.
And this time, when Jim awoke in the middle of the night, heart pounding, unsure of where he was or what danger he might be in, Artie was able to gentle him back into sleep, with kisses and caresses. And words.
Drifting back to sleep, wrapped in the comforting arms of his partner, his friend, his lover, Jim was secure in the knowledge that no matter the distance that separated them, they would always be together, and no matter the quiet that surrounded them, there would never be silence between them again.
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