[image of James West]

The Night of Homecoming

by Taliesin

[image of Artemus Gordon]

The distant sounds of explosions and gunfire came as a distinct relief.

James West, by far the best agent in President Grant's Secret Service, was used to getting himself into difficult situations. And getting himself out of them again. This time, however, he was more than happy to hear the ruckus made by his partner, Artemus Gordon, coming to the rescue.

Time moved in fits and starts, like a bad kinetoscope. Explosions far, then suddenly near, people scurrying about, here, there, then gone, blinking irrationally out of existence. Jim shook his head as best he could, trying to clear the muddled impressions. It had little effect, other than to make him dizzy. He heard shouting, more explosions, saw the soldiers run past, then fall like matchsticks. Finally, a familiar voice in his ear, a familiar hand shaking him by the shoulder.

"Artie." He was unaware he'd spoken aloud until Gordon's relieved sigh reached his ears.

"Thank god! I thought I'd lost you." Clever fingers made quick work of the restraints, throwing off the leather straps which held Jim to the broad metal table. He sat up unsteadily, turning too quickly, and nearly pitched off the table. When his perceptions righted themselves, he found Artie's strong arms around his chest, a broad shoulder under his cheek. He rested there a moment, unsettled by the distortion of his senses, though he knew his very acquiescence would worry his partner. "Are you okay, Jim?"

"Yes. No. Don't know." He mumbled thickly around a tongue that felt a stranger to his mouth. "In...injection."

"That bastard Loveless gave you a shot of something?" Artie's arms tightened slightly about him in impassioned indignation. Jim pressed his forehead against Artie's shoulder in a semblance of a nod. He was suddenly pushed away from his partner's sheltering presence. West tried to focus on Artie's face as he was held at arm's length and scrutinized. "What?"

James managed half a shrug. His left shoulder and arm seemed a million miles away. He was beginning to work up some serious concern.

Jim's distraction allowed Artie to move away and return again almost without notice. The object in his hand appeared a multi-hued blur to Jim, but he guessed it was the rack of test tubes which had been sitting on a nearby table.

"Which bottle, Jim?"

He squinted, trying to bring them into focus, and only succeeded in making himself dizzier. Jim closed his eyes with a sigh, taking refuge in the familiar blackness. A hand patted his cheek once softly, then again, harder. "Pay attention, Jim. Which one?" Artie's urgency penetrated his distraction, and he opened his eyes again.

"Yellow," Jim decided after a long pause. His vision cleared enough to see Artie lift the stoppered vial out of the rack, then crazed again. Artie's hand moved too fast for his eyes to follow, depositing the vial carefully in an inner pocket. Rationally, Jim knew Artie wasn't moving any faster than usual. Even in the midst of disaster, Gordon had a calm, methodical efficiency Jim envied.

"Come on, Jim; let's get you out of here." Artie took his arm in a strong grip and helped him slide off the table. He stumbled as his feet hit the floor, and listed into Gordon. The world skewing sickeningly around him, Jim was relieved to feel his arm lifted over a broad shoulder, an arm placed firmly about his waist, and most especially the warmth and strength of Artie all along his left side, offering unfailing support. He gathered his waning strength to stumble alongside his partner.

It was unpleasantly like being drunk. When intoxicated, however, you find amusement in your own lack of coordination. His mind largely untouched by the drug, Jim found the alienation of his body terrifying.

He remembered the layout of Loveless' current stronghold from his first trip through its winding corridors. Though it had seemed a short journey on the way in, he felt like he'd been stumbling in darkness forever. If not for the sense of strength moving at his side, he might very well have panicked. His vision narrowed and then faded out as the numbness advanced. Finally, it cut off control of his limbs entirely and, with a sort of resigned terror, he felt himself falling.

Artie caught him up in strong arms before he hit the floor, for which he was profoundly grateful. When he went to thank him, however, the words were locked in his throat. He could force neither tongue nor mouth to voice them. He found he'd instinctively closed his eyes against the blurred sight of the stone floor rising so quickly to meet him and could not now reopen them. All his limbs were weighted with lead, stiff and alien to him. To the outside observer, he must have appeared dead to the world, drugged insensate. Perfectly aware, his mind screamed inside his frozen body.

Slung over Artie's shoulder, Jim endured the bouncing ride out of that place. He found time to be grateful for his partner's strength and stubbornness, for he wouldn't have thought him capable of carrying his weight so far. He was also oddly thankful for the completeness of the paralysis, for it prevented him from voicing his terror.

He wasn't used to being afraid. No matter the obstacles thrown at him as a Secret Service agent, James West always prevailed with supreme confidence and a ready wit. Many times he had come close to death, but he'd always been able to rely on his fortitude and cunning to escape the noose. This time, though, he was a stranger to his own body, totally helpless. The fear choked him.

Time was moving in odd jumps again. It was as if he dropped out of it entirely for long periods, then returned to find either nothing, or everything, had changed. If he didn't pay attention, time slid sideways past him.

A horse, this time. The sound of one, at any rate, and of Artie's familiar voice swearing with a viciousness unlike him. The smell of the horse was very close, and Jim finally figured out that he was draped face down across it. Just as he thought he had it all figured out, a broad hand rested warmly at the small of his back and he realized he was draped over the horse in front of Artie, and very likely cutting off all the circulation to his partner's legs. A shifting of the muscles under him, first Artie's, then the horse's, brought about the queasy feeling of motion.

Fighting nausea, Jim let himself drift off again.

A bright sunny day. The sound of children playing. A homestead, like many others, a little poorer than most maybe, but proudly maintained.

A man was just visible in a far field. A boy and girl, barely into the first hint of early adolescence, chased around the perimeter of the house, either avoiding chores, or finished with them. A woman, not tall but with pride in her carriage, strung fresh-smelling washing on a line, looking up every so often to check on her youngest, a small boy playing in the dirt with the undiluted joy of childhood.

She was almost finished with the washing when the dark-haired boy tugged at the hem of her dress and proudly offered her a mashed bug. She laughed and tousled his hair. The last of the washing on the line, she gazed with a mother's pride at her son, who, still clinging to her dress, stood on sturdy little legs and stared about him with bright-eyed interest. "Come Jamie, time you were clean as well."

She lifted him into her washing basket with an effort, and picked it up again, swinging around to make him laugh.

In the field there was a sound like small thunder which made even the child's smile fade.

Jim returned to himself surrounded by the familiar smell of the train. What the devil had that been? So real and so familiar, like a memory. But no images like these lived in his memory.

He could hear Artie's concerned voice, and then Colonel Richmond's abrupt tones, but he didn't bother trying to make out the words. Not yet. But even as he puzzled over the brief vision, Jim could feel it slipping away into a grayness he was oddly afraid to probe.

After a brief discussion, to which Jim listened avidly in an attempt to distraction himself from both his condition and his confusion, Colonel Richmond agreed to sit with him while Artie retreated to his lab. Jim was both surprised and grateful for the consideration. Richmond's brusque attitude had never completely hidden his affection for the agents under his command, but Jim had never witnessed him so overtly concerned before.

Though he couldn't see him, Jim could hear the Colonel move restlessly around the parlor where he lay motionless on the couch. Richmond didn't talk to the "unconscious" man or touch him, but his very presence kept the demons at bay during Artie's absence. It seemed a very long time.

"Well?" Richmond's brisk question was accompanied by the scrape of a chair which hinted at his rising. It was Jim's first clue that Artie had returned.

"I don't know, Colonel. I just don't know." Artie sounded both tired and discouraged.

"What does that mean?"

"The drug is some sort of paralytic sedative. I can't be more specific than that. Knowing Loveless, it could be just about anything. At any rate, I've never seen its like before."

"You mean you don't have an antidote."

"I mean precisely that. It should wear off on its own, but I can't make any predictions of how long that will take." He sighed. "We'll just have to wait it out."

"Long-term effects?"

"None that I can tell. Again, we'll just have to see."

Now it was Richmond's turn to sigh. Jim would have joined in, had he any control over his breathing. That happened purely on automatic reflex now, over which he had absolutely no control. It was a highly disturbing sensation.

"By the way, what happened to Loveless?"

"I'm afraid I don't know. I was more worried about Jim. The little doctor's disappearances are never lengthy, though. We'll hear more of him soon, no doubt." Richmond made a small sound of annoyance, and Jim could easily picture him shaking his head.

"I'd like to stick around until he comes out of it, but I received a telegram from the President just before you returned. Command appearance, I'm afraid."

"I'll see you out," Artie offered courteously.

No, don't leave. Please don't leave me alone!

But they couldn't hear him, and in less than a minute their footsteps faded, leaving Jim alone in his mind. As an interrogation technique, the damn drug would have worked like a charm. Left alone somewhere until this stuff wore off, unable to move or see, completely helpless, he'd very likely have been willing to say or do almost anything to prevent a repeat occurrence.

Unseen, inside the prison of his body, Jim fought for freedom. The silence impinged on his very soul, and the failure of every effort to move even the smallest muscle drove him further into a blind panic. Finally, the darkness stepped in again with blessed relief. Or so he thought.

Thunder on a clear day.

A child's ears were not yet trained to recognize the difference between thunder and hoofbeats, or hoofbeats and gunshots. The adult, seeing now through those child's eyes, did know the difference. He saw and recognized the fear in the woman, while the boy could sense only that something had upset his mother.

The woman and both adolescent children stood frozen, staring with uncomprehending eyes to the far field where a man no longer plowed. Three masked figures on horseback approached faster than fear itself, their very looks an evil omen.

The child, in his mother's washing basket, was set down in the shadow of the door. Her hand lightly touched his head in love and fear and prayerful farewell. Then it lifted the rifle leaning against the wall just inside the door.

The marauders rode down on the homestead. She braced the gun against her shoulder and pulled the trigger. One of the men swayed in his saddle, then fell. His heel caught in the stirrup and the spooked horse bolted, dragging the corpse behind it. There was no time to reload. The other two outlaws fired as one, and the woman tumbled to the dusty earth. It was a mercy, perhaps, for if she had lived they would surely have raped her.

Laughing, the point man ran down the boy who raced tearfully to his mother's side. The other snatched the little girl down from a tree, dropping her carelessly onto her brother's body at an angle which, mercifully, broke her neck.

The homestead stood silent but for the frightened wail of the child.

They burned it, for there had been nothing there worth stealing. As the two survivors rode away, they tossed the basket, with the boy in it, into the river.

"Sorry to be gone so long, Jim, I ... Jim?" Artie's voice sounded just short of frantic. As well it might.

Reaction to the previously unimagined memories shuddered through Jim's paralyzed body. His heart pounded painfully in his chest, his lungs working like a bellows to keep time with his racing pulse. Sweat poured off him, soaking his clothes, and obscuring the tears on his face.

"Merciful heavens, James, you're burning up!" Artie's arms encircled him, lifting his torso upright to ease his tortured breathing. He could vaguely hear Artie murmuring something about unexpected reactions, and knew from the tone of his voice he was blaming himself for leaving Jim alone. He concentrated on calming himself, almost more for Artie's sake than his own.

He couldn't voluntarily slow his breathing; it and his heart obeyed his body's instinctive panic. The more he tried to control it, the more his lack of control frightened him. Finally, Artie's soothing touch and his own determined calm began to assert themselves. His breathing slowed as he felt his heart resume its usual pace. Artie's arms remained around him and he took strength and comfort from the uncharacteristic embrace. When it loosened, his silent protest was most emphatic. But Artie didn't let him go; he merely shifted his grip and stood up.

Jim found himself cradled in Artie's arms. There were easier ways Artemus could have moved his partner into the other room -- slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, as when escaping his recent imprisonment, for one -- but instead he gathered Jim into his arms and, cradling him close to his chest, carried him into the bedroom. Head and one arm resting on Artie's broad shoulder, his back and legs supported by strong arms, Jim was surprisingly comfortable. Not once in his adult memory could he remember being carried this way. Sweetness curled in his chest as Artie settled him carefully on the bed.

However, panic nearly ensued when Gordon immediately stepped away. Despite the familiarity of the smell of his room and the texture of the bedclothes under his limp fingers, Jim felt abandoned in some sort of limbo. He consciously fought the terror back and waited impatiently for Artie's return. Artemus was back within minutes, though he could hardly have known how important his quick return was for the man lying so misleadingly silent and still.

A clatter as something was set on the bedside table. The sound of water pouring from a pitcher into a bowl. Then the mattress dipped on one side with Artie's weight. Jim was reminded of the time Artemus had spent as a surgeon's assistant during the war, as his partner touched him with masterful efficiency and tender care. The coolness of the damp cloth stroked over his brow, passed gently over his eyelids and smoothed down his cheeks, wiping away the sticky salt of sweat. There was a pause, and the sound of the cloth being dropped into the water. Artie's hands returned, working impersonally on the buttons of his shirt as his voice murmured constant reassurance.

When one was unconscious, there were no wants or discomforts, large or small. The body simply didn't exist. For Jim, the body existed; it merely refused to obey his commands. If he were simply unconscious, he could escape the frustrations of confinement. On the other hand, he would be unaware of how he was treated. He wondered if Artie had been so gentle with him the many other times he was unconscious. He rather suspected he had.

His clothes, damp with fear-sweat, were efficiently stripped away, leaving no concessions to modesty. Jim ought to have felt shamed, or at least self-conscious. But Artie's calm voice never hesitated in its gentle monologue, and James could not find it in him to be concerned. The damp cloth began its careful cleansing once more, stroking down his neck and across his chest in broad cooling swaths. His arms and legs were lifted and swabbed with easy care, and a firm hand between his shoulderblades lifted his torso with unexpected strength to slide the wet rag around his back. Jim was relieved when a light sheet was thrown over him without any attempt being made to approach his more delicate parts. He was equally thankful that he didn't seem to be capable of blushing at the moment.

The feel of Artie's hands smoothing so masterfully over his body, even masked by the cloth, had been startlingly erotic. Fortunately, it seemed only certain involuntary reactions were possible under the aegis of the drug, and arousal apparently wasn't one of them. Even as he mentally sighed in relief, Jim wondered at his reactions. This wasn't like him at all. Oh, he was willing to admit that he loved Artie, to himself at least. But it wasn't that kind of love. At least ... he hadn't thought it was.

Artie vanished again while James was puzzling over his disturbing reaction, but returned before panic set in. There was a scraping sound as Artie pulled a chair up to the bedside, and the faintest rustle of clothing as he settled into it. Astonishing, really, how adept Jim was getting at hearing and translating such noises. A faint sound of movement, and the sudden sensation of warmth and power hovering over him. Artie's palm was pressed to his brow as the other hand sought out and settled on his wrist. After several long moments, he sat back again with a sigh.

"Well, you don't seem to have a fever, and your pulse has slowed again." Despite the direct reference, Artie's tone indicated he was speaking to himself. "I just wish I knew how soon that damn drug will wear off."

You and me both, pal.

It was silent, but no longer lonely. Jim could hear the occasional faint rustle as Artie turned the pages of his book. He lay there feeling oddly out of sorts, not to mention left out, until Artie shifted in his chair and began reading aloud. James wondered if this was the usual treatment, or if the silence unnerved Artie as much as it did him. He was even more surprised when Artie's hand took his. It was pleasant, actually, he decided after an unmeasured time listening to Artie's rich actor's voice while Artie played absently with his fingers. Most pleasant indeed.

James listened to Artemus read for a long time, letting himself drift with the words or, more often, just the sound of Artie's voice. After a while, however, those traits which made him a superb agent refused to brook his cowardice any longer. Whether a side effect of the drug or of his own panic, those visions had to be dealt with, their meaning at least considered. Just now, with Artie at his side, he felt secure enough to risk remembering.

James West had no memories before the orphanage. His earliest memory was waking there, as if for the very first time in his life. He was about seven. Everything before that was blank, a clean slate. He had never permitted himself much curiosity about his parents, or indeed any aspect of the life he had led before that awakening. It was just as well, for there was no one who knew enough to answer questions on the matter. He had only ever asked once about his name and had considered himself perfectly satisfied with the answer: the name "James" had been sewn inside his collar, and the drifter who had brought the boy to the orphanage had come out of the west and returned there. That was all.

It was possible these visions were part of the memory that had existed before the slate was wiped clean. Though he had observed them as an outsider, Jim was increasingly convinced he had been watching himself. It was a past life he had never before been capable of dealing with, so it was hardly surprising he could not bear to watch it from within himself. But why? Why now? James West always lived in the present and the future; the past have never been of any interest to him.

Perhaps it was not the drug but the situation which brought it back to him. He had never been inclined toward soul searching, but there it was in black and white. He couldn't bear to be out of control. The drug put him in a completely dependent position; he couldn't even tend to his most basic needs, let alone protect himself. The mastery he had worked his whole life to obtain: over his body, work and position; all that had been stripped from him in a matter of minutes. For the first time in his life since the black hole that was his childhood, James West was forced to depend entirely on someone else. It terrified him to his very core.

He had never before realized he was so controlling. It took this experiance, and the memories it provoked, for him to realize and understand his need for control. Even with no conscious memory of his past, he had lived in fear of his childhood helplessness. The more he thought about it, however, the more certain he was that this was perhaps the single deepest truth of his character. He was also forced to acknowledge that Artie knew, had perhaps always known.

Artie had never balked at taking orders from a man several years his junior, both in age and experience. Jim had always unconsciously assumed Gordon recognized his superior skills, but he now began to rethink that rather arrogant assumption. Artie's own talents made him as effective a Secret Service agent as Jim; if he was not as good in a fight, he was more adept at talking his way out of (and occasionally into) things. His talents meshed well with Jim's, which was why they proved so efficient a team. No, if Artie had taken Jim's orders without question, and he had, it was not due to any sense of inferiority. Jim strongly suspected it was because Artie knew Jim needed to be in control.

But control was an illusion, and the more he invested in his desire for the unobtainable, the more easily it could be stripped from him. It was a sobering realization.

The very act of thinking on the childhood incident had brought on a cold sweat, and as his mind struggled with the implications, his body reacted as if to a physical threat.

"Jim? How are you, buddy?" Artie's concerned tones recovered Jim from his unpleasant distration. A wet cloth passed gently over his face, soothing away the signs of agitation. Slowly his heart stopped pounding in his chest as he relaxed under Artie's tender care.

Jim drifted with the gentle damp strokes of the cloth. Artie bathed him down to the waist before pulling the sheet back up over his newly-clean chest. This time, undistracted by his nakedness, Jim listened to the softly murmured reassurances that tumbled from Artie's lips, and was amazed at the number of endearments which crept into the soothing litany. What had he been missing here?

When James was awake under such care, Artie took his cues from his partner. Jim growled and groused, and accepted his partner's assistance with much thanks, but little grace. Artie was always there, patiently accepting both thanks and the occasional curse without complaint, but he remained mostly silent. Here and now, Jim was getting a taste of Artie's true feeling. He had no doubt that this was indicative of Artie's bedside manner when he was dead to the world. It was too practiced, and entirely too familiar, to be new. Only when James West was unconscious did Artemus Gordon reveal the depth of his affection. There was something terribly sad about that.

"Fight it off, James love, fight it off." Artie's voice was soft counterpoint to Jim's racing thoughts. "Don't let Loveless win. I need you here with me." His fingers brushed Jim's cheek with undisguised tenderness, his voice dropping to a whisper. "I love you." Jim wanted to shout and weep and jump for joy, to beg Artie's forgiveness and catch him up in his arms for all eternity, all at the same time. He was filled with emotion for which he had no outlet, and his chest ached with it.

A gentle hand stroked Jim's hair hypnotically. He relaxed into the sweet feel of it, and wandered off into a sleepy twilight without any idea how he'd been led astray. His last waking memory was the light brush of Artie's lips against his own.

Sleep drifted into wakefulness with no warning. Some significant time passed before Jim was aware that he had woken, and thought to try moving. Sometime during the night, the drug had partially relinquished its hold on him, and he was able to open his eyes after a brief struggle. The faint predawn light was so beautiful, it brought tears to his eyes.

Unable to lift his head, Jim slanted his eyes down the length of his sheet-clad body, and caught a glimpse of Artie's dark locks. His partner had apparently fallen asleep at his bedside, and now slept peacefully, if somewhat awkwardly, with his head and one arm on the mattress next to Jim. After a prolonged struggle, Jim was able to shift his fingers just enough to touch Artie's soft hair. He licked his lips, imagining he could taste Artie's kiss on them still, and smiled to himself.

With a murmur and a yawn, Artie shifted and came suddenly awake on nearly falling out of his chair. He sat up and rubbed at his face, clearly trying to sort his sleepy thoughts into some logical order. When he finally glanced up and saw Jim looking back at him, the shocked joy lit up his face so brightly Jim almost wanted to look away.

"Jim!" Artie rose and leaned over West, pressing his palm to Jim's forehead with an impersonal practicality at odds with the intense relief evident in his voice and expression. "One minute."

He was gone with startling suddenness, and back just as quickly. Jim was embarrassed when he saw that Artie had brought a chamberpot to help with the unavoidable result of his extended incapacitation, but Artie was as calm and unruffled about it as if he were helping Jim straighten his cravat. The necessaries taken care of, Artie disappeared again and soon returned, utterly unconcerned with the intimacy of his assistance.

Artie settled comfortably on the side of the bed. His hand lightly touched Jim's tousled hair, then slid quickly away, as if wary of how much it revealed. "Here, you must be thirsty."

Realizing that he was, indeed, parched, Jim waited impatiently for Artemus to hold the glass to his lips. He needed his partner's careful assistance to lift his head enough to sip at the water. It slid over his dry lips and tongue, and down his arid throat like a boon. He turned his head away from the glass when he had enough, and Artie put it back on the table, settling his head to the pillow with greater care than that given the fragile glass.

Then, his hands reaching almost involuntarily to close over West's bare shoulders, he stared intently into Jim's eyes, undoubtedly well acquainted with his partner's obstinancy in the face of injury. "How do you feel?"

Jim blinked, his lips moving to frame a response to Artie's cheerfully grave question. However, though the drug was slowly waning in his system, his voice remained frozen in its powerful grip. Artie frowned in concern when his partner shook his head slightly.


West fought with all his formidable strength and willpower against the paralysis and managed to slowly lift his right hand. He weakly clasped Artie's arm, a smile hovering on his lips. His left arm felt encased in stone as he focused his will on it. Painfully slowly, as heavy as granite and about as flexible, the arm responded. Jim reached up to grip Artie's shoulder and pull him closer.

Though his voice was frozen, Jim's eyes spoke eloquently, and Artie was no fool. Guided by West's powerless grip, he leaned in to gather his partner into a close embrace. The feel of those strong arms enclosing him brought tears to Jim's eyes. He forced his left arm further up to lay heavily along Artie's shoulders and, after a minute, was able to lift his right arm to encircle his waist. Jim's face was pressed against Artie's neck and his lungs' complaint in the tight embrace went unnoticed.

After a moment, Artie tried to draw back, his movements stiff and self-conscious. Jim declined to let him go. Though there was no power in his limbs, the fierceness of his embrace communicated itself to his partner. Artie sighed and stopped trying to pull away.

With Jim unable to support his own weight, the half-stooped embrace soon became uncomfortable for the older man to sustain. Artie did not attempt to break Jim's hold this time, but merely shifted on the bed so that he might lie down next to his friend. Both their comforts thus assured, he resumed the tight embrace and they lay silently for some time.

Finally Artie pulled back firmly, and Jim let him. Artemus propped himself up on his elbow, one hand still trapped under Jim's back, the other lightly rubbing his bare shoulder. He looked down at James, his eyes both joyful and confused. West tilted his head back slightly, offering his lips to Artie in a manner both obvious and artless. He expected his partner to recognize the offer for what it was and take him up on it. He was half right.

"Jim?" Artie sat up, disentangling himself completely from his disappointed partner. He ran a shaking hand through his tousled curls, not quite looking at West. Eventually, after a deep breath and another pass through dark locks, he met Jim's eyes. "Are you sure you're feeling all right? What's the matter?"

"Artie." It took an effort, but Jim found his voice, hoarse and halting though it was. "Come back."

"So you can talk. That's nice to know." Artie's voice sounded oddly hurt, and he made no move to return to their comfortable embrace. "And you must be feeling better if you're back to your old teasing." He stood.

"Don't go." Some of Jim's panic must have shown in his eyes, for Artie stood irresolute, not quite willing to stay, not quite ready to leave. Jim sighed, knowing his unintentional mistreatment of Artie's emotions in the past was entirely to blame for the misunderstanding. If he'd always ignored Artie's feelings before, why should the older man believe his offer to be in earnest now? "Not teasing. Please sit down." After a moment, during which they both held their breaths, James found his "command" voice. "Artemus..."

"That's more like the James West I know." Strangely reassured, Artie sat down on the chair by the bed. Jim eyed the distance between them and sighed, earning himself a puzzled glance. "What's going on, Jim?"

"Paralyzed, Artie. Not unconscious. I heard..."

Artie's eyes closed as the blood drained away from his face. He swayed alarmingly in his chair before abruptly jumping to his feet. It was pure chance that Jim caught his wrist before he escaped the room, and purest will that he was able to hold onto it.

"Sit down, Artie. Sit!" With voice and hand, James reeled Artemus in, finally coaxing the dazed man to sit on the edge of the bed. Jim released Artie's wrist and let his hand slide up his arm to rest against the unshaven cheek. The paralysis was starting to fade fast, and he was able to put together a complete sentence. "I heard every word you said. Sweet music..." Artie opened his eyes finally, to look down at him in something akin to wonder. "Don't deny us both, Artemus. Please."

"I don't know, Jim," Artie demurred hesitantly, "that drug..."

"Is already wearing off. Please, Artie..." This time Artie obeyed the commanding fingers tangled in his hair and the desire in bright eyes, and leaned down to kiss James West.

It was different, Jim thought, while he still could think. The chiseled strength of Artie's mouth on his was unlike any woman Jim had ever known. Even his taste was subtly different, and the sensual musk of his scent unmistakably male. Jim moaned, losing himself in Artemus. Strong hands framed his face, supporting his neck as his head was lifted to meet his lover's consuming need. It was like nothing he had ever experienced or imagined, and he couldn't foresee ever getting enough of it.

When Artie finally broke away, Jim complained breathlessly, trying to lead him back into the kiss. Artemus ducked out of Jim's grip with ease, an unwanted reminder that he was hardly up to his usual strength, and spent several endless minutes staring into his eyes. Jim wasn't sure exactly what Artie was looking for, but he met the coffee-brown eyes steadily until it seemed they were satisfied. Only then did Artemus return to Jim's embrace.

Artie's lips burned as they paused briefly on his before sliding away. Jim arched his neck to encourage the wandering exploration of that talented mouth. He squirmed restlessly under Artie's meticulous examination, panting as every inch of his chest was quartered by demanding lips and tongue. When gentle teeth enclosed a nipple, Jim cried aloud, his hands diving into Artie's thick, dark hair to hold him to the sensitive nub. Jim had never before been made love to -- the women of his acquaintance had always demanded he be the aggressor -- and he was astounded at his body's response to Artie's tender exploration. When he thought he could bear it no more, he gently pushed his partner away. Artie looked at him with hurt eyes.

"One of us is overdressed," Jim managed when he'd caught part of his breath. His speaking look made it clear who he meant. Artemus blushed on realizing he was fully clothed but for his jacket and boots. He hesitated a moment, his gaze passing over Jim's body, naked but for the thin sheet draped up to his waist, and grinned suddenly. "No," Jim's soft command stopped him with his fingers on the top button of his vest, "let me."

Artie's hands fell lax at his sides, and he obediently settled on the edge of the bed at Jim's direction. Jim found it a bit of a struggle to sit up, as the effects of the drug had left his limbs somewhat weak, but determination brought him upright without assistance. His normally nimble fingers were slow on the shirt buttons, but Artie didn't seem to notice. Jim glanced up to see Artie's eyes fixed steadily on his face, an expression of wonder in their depths. He grinned and stole a quick kiss before returning to the task at hand.

Jim swept off shirt and vest in one impatient gesture, and lowered his lips to Artie's bare chest. The salty taste was pleasant, and Artie's soft whimper when he lapped over an erect nipple was all he could have desired and more. Jim's hands ran at will over the broad chest he had bared, exploring the flat planes and the resilience of hard muscle with eager curiosity. The blunt fingers tangled in his hair finally pulled his head up to meet Artie's eager mouth, and James groaned on being enclosed once again in a hard embrace. Chest to chest in their nakedness, feeling the brush of crisp body hair against sensitive nipples, the heavy muscles of Artie's shoulders fitting Jim's palms with something that could only be perfection, Jim's mind reeled with sensation.

He found himself lying flat on the bed again, with Artemus splayed over him. The weight felt good, and he arched into the curve of Artie's body with a shaky moan. The inquisitive tongue left his mouth bereft as Artie pushed up to look down on him.

"Are you sure, Jim?" He had never heard Artie's voice like that before: husky with arousal and an octave deeper than usual. He blinked up at him for a moment, then laughed.

"Do you really have to ask?" Jim took one of Artie's hands and boldly led it down to his hardening flesh. After a brief hesitation, Artemus slid his fingers down, outlining Jim's erection through the sheet, and driving the last breath of air from his lungs. He had none left to moan when the sheet was flung unceremoniously aside and his aching flesh taken in a experienced hand. The smooth perfection of Artie's fist sliding up and down his cock forced his head back as he writhed in pleasurable torment. His body slick with sweat, Jim tossed and whimpered, pushed mercilessly closer and closer to climax.

"Artie! Artie, stop!" James grabbed desperately for Artie's hands. The older man stilled instantly.

"What's the matter, Jim?"

"Not... not that way." He seemed unable to catch his breath, and his cock wept imperiously for its loss. Jim sighed and released Artie's hands, which immediately began soothing his trembling muscles, as if gentling a high-strung horse. Artie bent to lay light kisses over Jim's hips and thighs, the faintest brush of his breath over Jim's aching cock nearly setting him off again. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. "I want you, Artie."

"You have me." Artie nipped sharply at Jim's inner thigh without looking up. Jim growled softly and moved his leg away.

"No. I want you inside me."

Artie pulled back to stare at Jim with shock in his dark eyes. "Are you sure you want that?"


"Jim, no matter how careful I am, it will hurt the first time. Perhaps... perhaps it would be better to do it the other way around." Jim watched with gentle amusement as the flush on Artie's cheeks deepened at the truth he had just admitted in so roundabout a fashion.

"Maybe another time. This time I want you."

Artie silently mouthed the words "another time" and grinned with undiluted joy. It was only in that moment that James realized Artie had thought this would be the only time. He shook his head in a combination of amusement and, oddly, annoyance, and pulled the man to him for a long and possessive kiss. Trust Artie to set aside his own feelings to offer whatever Jim needed. Artemus was too intelligent not to have realized the emotional consequences of making love to a man he surely believed did not return his love. Jim found it both endearing and enraging, simultaneously awed by the depths of love thus demonstrated and appauled at his partner's willing sacrifice. The emotional turmoil lent passionate intensity to his kiss. By the time he drew away they were both panting. Artie seemed perfectly willing to lose himself in the simple pleasure of their embrace, but Jim was determined to have more. He pushed Artie gently off the bed.

"In the top drawer of the bureau, Artemus, I think there's something we can use." James didn't have any personal experience of this sort, but he did have some idea what it would involve. A tiny ray of fear burst in upon him, but he pushed it aside and concentrated on the pleasure of watching his lover. Artie returned with the bottle of lotion in mere seconds, the growing light of a new day painting his bare chest with color. Jim took the bottle from him and set it aside, then guided him into place by the side of the bed with a hand on each hip. "You're still overdressed, Artie," he grinned, his fingers working on the fastening to Artie's trousers.

Artie groaned as his pants, which had grown too tight from their recent activities, were pulled carefully down his legs, setting his swollen cock free. Propped on one elbow, Jim stared in wonder at the organ which bobbed just about at eye level. He'd never really looked at another man's cock before, and was oddly surprised at the beauty of Artie's. He leaned forward to rub his cheek against the eager erection, careful not to scrape it with beard stubble. Artie whimpered and climbed into the bed with him for another kiss.

This time, bare skin touching down all the length of their bodies, the meeting was like a small explosion. Gasping, Jim rolled to settle Artie on top of him, welcoming the larger man's weight as he did the tongue which sought to invade his mouth. Artie's cock settled heatedly next to his own, and the feel of their erections sliding together very nearly sent them both over the edge. Jim drew away first, still focused on his goal, and stilled Artie's gently thrusting hips. He waited until dark dazed eyes met his own, then put the bottle of lotion in Artie's hand.

Artemus swallowed nervously. He carefully shifted off Jim, leaving him as much room to move as the narrow bed allowed. James turned on his side and threw his thigh over Artie's hip, leaving his body open to his lover's touch. Artie poured some lotion onto his fingers and wrapped both arms around Jim's back, leaning in to kiss him as he slid his hand down to the curve of his partner's ass. Their erections fenced gently as Artie carefully prepared him for what would come next.

Jim tore his mouth from Artie's and pressed his forehead into his lover's shoulder with a groan as the tender fingers entered and stretched him. His thighs trembled, but he held tight to Artie and forced himself to remain still until the instinct to close down against the invasion faded. Once his resistance died, Artie's fingers plunged deep, waking a pleasure he hadn't expected. Before long he was moaning, writhing uncontrollably against Artie's hot body. Open-mouthed, he sought the kiss that would make him complete.

"Now, Artie," Jim panted against his lover's neck, "do it now."

"James, are you --"

"If you ask me if I'm sure again, Artie, I won't be responsible for my actions." Strange that, even in the heat of the moment, there was room for laughter. Sex had never been like this before.

"Okay, then. On your stomach, Jim." He blinked up at Artie, who smiled tremulous reassurance. "It'll be easier that way."

"Oh." Jim rolled to his stomach and propped his forehead on his crossed arms. He trembled a little, deep inside where it didn't show, as he felt Artemus crowd between his spread legs. The position was fitting: one in which another man owned his body and his pleasure. He wasn't afraid of Artie, but he was afraid, a little, of himself. He wasn't entirely certain he could let even Artemus take complete control over him, but he was determined to try. Artie had willingly given him the lead in all things over the years, even this, and now he needed to give something back. The only thing worthy of Artemus was everything. Artie leaned over to press a kiss to the nape of his neck.

"Lift up a little, Jim." He did and Artie's hands grasped and spread his buttocks. He felt the snub head of Artie's cock press lightly against him, then begin to push inside.

"Oh god." Unbidden, the groan escaped his compressed lips. Artie immediately froze.

"Jim, am I hurting you? Should I stop?"

Unable to find his tongue, Jim shook his head, pressing his back up against Artie's warm chest. He felt more than heard Artie's sigh. After a moment, he pressed forward again.

James hung his head and closed his eyes. Hard hot flesh moved slowly inside him, stretching him unbearably as it invaded the sanctity of his body. He bit his tongue hard to stifle another groan. James West was no stranger to pain, and it had often been worse then this, but never so intimate. Sweat ran down his face and back as he shook with the effort of holding it in. It took him some time to realize that Artie had stopped moving.

"It's all right, Jim. Breathe now." Artie's hands tenderly petted his back and sides, and smoothed his hair, gentling him with an expert touch. He whispered endearments between soft kisses. "You have all of me. It's okay."

Jim turned his head to meet Artie's lips, taking gentle reassurance in the soft depths of his mouth, in the warm august taste of him. He realized suddenly that the pain was gone, and suspected it had been more the fear of losing control than actual physical distress. Other, vastly more important, sensations remained. Artie lay over him, most of his weight settled on his forearms to give Jim room to breathe. His cock was buried to the hilt, and Jim imagined he could feel the rapid beat of his lover's heart in that hard shaft surrounded by sensitive tissues. He was filled with heat and solid flesh, creating in him a sensation of completion he hadn't before realized he lacked.

Jim felt blanketed in warmth and smooth flesh, and if Artie's body controlled every avenue of escape, it also guarded every angle of attack. Nothing and no one could get to him with Artie there. Not now, not ever. Far from feeling trapped, Jim had never felt so protected or so loved in his life.

"More, Artie. Move," he commanded when he could bear the stillness no longer. Artie's soft laugh brushed against his hair.

Jim braced himself for the resumption of pain when Artie began to pull out, but none arose. Instead, there was only the intoxicating slide of flesh against flesh as Artie withdrew to the tip, then thrust slowly home again. When the impaling cock fully sheathed itself once more, it touched off a deep-seated shock of pleasure which shuddered through Jim with disconcerting power. It was as much like the pleasure Artie's fingers had brought him as a thunderstorm was like a spring shower. He felt Artie's chuckle shiver through his chest as he gasped in surprise.

Artemus didn't wait for any further instructions. Certain now that Jim felt no pain at his possession, he began to thrust in earnest. Out to the tip, in to the root, over and over, picking up the pace as his body demanded, and Jim's gasped pleasure approved. Jim shuddered under the assault, pleasure crashing in waves through his body. He thought he had reached the limit of his endurance when Artie's hand slid under him to enclose his neglected erection. The caressing hand moved in time with the plundering of his body, and within a few brief strokes, pushed him over the edge. He heard himself cry out as orgasm raced through his body, and shuddered mindlessly at the pleasure of the hand which continued to stroke him as he came.

When his mind cleared, it was to realize that he hadn't taken Artie with him in his last mad rush. The older man's fingers tightened bruisingly on his hips as he thrust with single-minded absorption into Jim's welcoming body. Murmuring encouragement, Jim began lifting his hips to meet each thrust, feeling each return of Artie's cock into the sheath of his flesh with a keen pleasure that had nothing at all to do with arousal. Artie's hands suddenly left his hips, his arms closing about Jim's chest in an embrace so tight as to threaten his ribs. With a final thrust, Artie groaned Jim's name loudly as his body spilled itself into his lover's. Jim felt the rush of hot seed fill him and bared his teeth in a possessive grin; he now owned as much of Artie as anyone ever had, or would.

The lax weight of the older man was heavy on Jim, but he lay content under it. Artie breathed soft and deep near his ear, sleep weighing every limb. James fought his own desire to doze, intent on inscribing every sensation into the book of his memory. He rejoiced in the loose embrace of Artie's limbs, the warm and heady smell of sex, and the continued joining of their bodies. It was with a certain sense of loss he felt Artie soften and slip free. But more important than any of the purely physical sensations was the feeling of utterly peaceful security. Jim was almost sad to feel Artie stir into wakefulness.

"Jim." It was just a sigh of breath, followed by the soft press of lips against his shoulder. Obviously believing him asleep, Artie slid carefully away and rose from the bed. Jim rolled over to watch Artemus soak a cloth in the basin on the bureau and clean himself up perfunctorily. He rinsed it out and turned toward the bed, stopping short when he saw Jim watching him. After a brief hesitation, Artie strode over to the bed and tenderly wiped the evidence of passion from Jim's skin. When he was done, he began to turn away, but Jim grabbed his hand. Taking the soiled cloth, he dropped it carelessly on the floor and tugged Artie into the bed and his close embrace. Artemus relaxed compliantly against James as he pulled him down and curled around him. After a very long time, he sighed.

"Please don't think I'm not grateful, but I need to understand. Why me, Jim? Why now?"

"Why not?" Artie drew away suddenly, and Jim sat up to grab him. He stared for a long moment at his lover's averted face and sighed. "I won't pretend to know, Artie. Maybe this finally made me realize how much I need you." He ran a caressing finger lightly down Artie's stubbled cheek. After a minute, Artemus turned to face him, a faint smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

"The great James West admits to needing someone? I suspect that's a greater achievement even than getting you to say you love me too."

Artie kissed him before he could work out a reply to that one, and Jim sank into his loving embrace with a sigh of homecoming.


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