James West was in love.
Artie supposed it was inevitable. He didn't know why he was so surprised that Jim had actually fallen in love. Jim was definitely a woman's man. Everywhere he went, he had women practically falling at his feet. No surprise there; Jim was an attractive man. And he liked women. He liked women a lot. But maybe because of the lifestyle that meant that Jim and Artie were always on the move, neither of them had ever seriously thought of settling down.
Her name was Abigail, though Jim usually called her Abby. Jim had literally bumped into her one day on a street in Washington. They had struck up a conversation, and Jim had offered to buy her lunch as an apology for bumping into her. Lunch became dinner, and dinner turned into dancing. He saw her the next day, and the next, and it appeared to Artie that Jim had become absolutely besotted with her. He hadn't stopped talking about her from the time they left Washington for their next assignment until they actually had to concentrate on catching the latest crop of bad guys.
To Artie's astonishment, Jim actually used some of his long stored-up leave time to go back to Washington to see Abigail. Soon he was spending all his time between assignments trying to find ways to get Abby from Washington to wherever the Wanderer had ended up so that they could spend time together.
Abigail seemed like a nice enough girl. Artie had to admit that he liked her, but he couldn't see what it was that Jim saw in her, what made her special enough that Jim had wanted to see her more than once, unlike most of his other female companions.
On one rare night when Jim was not with Abby — she hadn't been able to make it to the little town in the back of beyond where the Wanderer was currently stationed — he opened up to Artie over dinner. Artie treasured this time with his partner; since Jim had started seeing Abigail, Artie hardly ever spent any leisure time with him.
"Artie, I think I'm ready to settle down."
Artemus hoped that his jaw hadn't dropped open too far. As it was, it took him a moment to find his voice, and even then, all he could say was, "You're kidding."
Jim smiled at his partner's astonishment. "I know it must sound strange, but I really mean it. I think Abby is the one for me, forever."
"Jim, I don't want to rain on your proverbial parade, but have you thought about this? What kind of life would it be for Abigail to be married to you while you're running around the country on assignments for the Secret Service?"
"I have thought about it, Artie. Abby lives in Washington; her family's there. I can ask for permanent assignment to Washington."
Artie almost choked on his glass of wine. "You can't be serious, Jim. A desk job — you? Maybe in a few years, when you're older, but now? That's not you, Jim. Besides, what would I do without you?"
Jim smiled, a little bit sadly, Artie thought. Or maybe that was wishful thinking on his part. "You're the best partner an agent could ask for. I have to admit that I'll miss you. But I'm sure Colonel Richmond will find you a new partner."
"I don't think so. I've been spoiled having you for a partner all these years. I can't imagine working with anyone else." He thought for a moment or two. "Maybe I'll go back to the theatre. I kind of miss it, sometimes." That was little more than a half-truth. He didn't miss the theatre that much. The acting opportunities he got in his work with the Secret Service were, in a way, more fulfilling to him than trodding the boards performing Shakespeare had been.
What he missed most about the theatre was the acceptance he had found there as someone who enjoyed the company of men as much as, or more than, the company of women. He'd long considered himself an equal-opportunity kind of man. But he couldn't show that side of himself while working for the U.S. government. So he'd gone along with his partner to the brothels, the whorehouses, enjoyed the companions Jim had found for him, and never let on that he preferred being with Jim to being with any woman.
"You'd really quit the service?" Jim asked. "I don't know what to say."
Artie smiled. "Don't have to say anything, Jim."
To his surprise, Jim caught him up in a hug. "If there's one thing I'll regret about marrying Abby, it will be not having you around every day. Promise you'll at least visit once in a while."
Artie promised, but he knew that he wouldn't keep that promise. Maybe he'd visit Jim and Abby once or twice, but he was already making plans to find a travelling theatre group, one that was not based in Washington. He didn't want to intrude on Jim's married life, and he didn't want to see Jim with Abigail any more than was absolutely necessary. He didn't want to give up his relationship with Jim, but he knew he couldn't share Jim with anyone, no matter how nice she was.
He returned the hug, but broke away as soon as he could. At that moment, he wanted more than anything to kiss Jim. He knew he couldn't do that, but it was very difficult to restrain himself. He'd been in love with his partner for quite some time. It hadn't been easy to see Jim with women, but he'd found comfort in the fact that Jim always came 'home' to him. Now Jim would be going home to Abigail.
When the Wanderer arrived in Washington, Artie and Jim went to Colonel Richmond's office — Jim to put in for his transfer, and Artie to tender his resignation. The Colonel obviously had some mixed emotions about this situation. He congratulated Jim warmly on his impending engagement, but was not happy to be losing what he described as his "best team."
The two agents were given a few days off while the paperwork was processed. Artie's resignation would take effect once Jim was situated in his new position, so he was still an agent for a few more days.
Outside Colonel Richmond's office, James and Artemus stood and looked at each other. "I guess that's it, then," Jim said finally. "Are you going to find a hotel for the night?"
"No, I think I'll stay with the Wanderer until my resignation takes effect. Everything I own is still on board, and I'm about to become unemployed, so I may as well take advantage of the free accommodation while I can. What about you? I guess you have to find a place to live until you're married — assuming, of course, that Abigail accepts your proposal. You haven't asked her yet, if I recall."
Jim pulled a small box out of his pocket. "That will be rectified tonight," he said with a smile. "I'm picking her up at her parents' house at eight, and we're going to the best restaurant in the city." He named a very expensive establishment, and Artie whistled.
"And how are you going to afford that?"
"You must have noticed that I haven't been doing a lot of entertaining recently," Jim replied.
"You mean, no whorehouses."
"Well, if you put it like that.... But since I've stopped patronizing those establishments, I've been putting aside the money I would normally have spent there." He looked at the time. "Speaking of the Wanderer, I'd better get back there myself. I have to get ready for a big evening."
Later that evening, when Jim was waiting for the carriage that would take him to Abby's house, Artie asked: "Are you coming back tonight, or will the celebration be an all-nighter?"
Jim laughed. "No, Abby isn't that type of girl. She lives with her parents, remember. I'll be back, but don't wait up for me or anything. I'll probably be pretty late."
When the carriage arrived, Jim turned to Artie. "Wish me luck, Artie."
Artie was the one who initiated the hug this time. "Break a leg, partner." Then he wished he hadn't said that last word. He and Jim weren't going to be partners any longer. He watched the carriage leave, and wished there were a way to stop his heart from breaking.
Contrary to what Jim had told him, Artie did stay up to wait for him. He wanted to congratulate his soon-to-be-ex-partner on what he assumed would be a successful proposal. He watched the hands on the clock move, and as they reached the wee hours of the morning, Artie began to worry. He was familiar with almost all of the places in Washington that Jim and Abby were likely to go after their dinner, assuming that they didn't go straight back to Abigail's parents' house to announce their engagement, and none of them were open this late. There were certainly some less-than-reputable establishments that were open later, but Abigail didn't seem like the kind of woman Jim would take to a place like that.
Could Jim be spending the night at Abby's house? Artie didn't think so. If Abby lived on her own, then that might be a logical conclusion, but he doubted that her parents would want Jim to spend the night under their roof before he and Abby were married. Besides, Jim had said that she wasn't that kind of girl.
When dawn broke and there was still no sign of Jim, Artie knew that something was wrong. He wasn't certain how he knew; there were many possible explanations for Jim's absence. Maybe Jim had decided to get a hotel room. Maybe he'd had too much to drink and was sleeping it off somewhere. Maybe Abby had turned him down and he was too embarrassed to face Artie yet. Maybe Abby's parents didn't mind letting Jim spend the night in their house. After all, Abby had seemed, if not wealthy, then at least well-off enough to travel around the country to meet Jim, so maybe her parents had a big house. Maybe Jim and Abigail had eloped!
But Artie dismissed each of those possibilities in turn. They just didn't seem like Jim. The James West that he knew wouldn't let Artie worry about him like this. And he would know that Artie would worry. He'd teased Artie about it sometimes, called him a worrywart, but he would never let Artie worry unnecessarily. Something was wrong. He didn't know what it was, but he had to do something about it. Jim needed his help. He was sure of that. Maybe Abby did too.
Now the question was how to find Jim. He didn't know where Abigail lived. He didn't even know if Jim had made it to Abby's house. But he had to start somewhere, so he decided that his first stop would be Colonel Richmond's office.
"What do you mean, West is missing?" asked the Colonel skeptically.
"He didn't come ho... back to the Wanderer last night," Artie explained.
"Wasn't he seeing his wife-to-be last night? He probably spent the night with her."
"No, he told me specifically that he wasn't going to be spending the night with her. He said she's not that type of girl. Even when she came out to meet him between assignments, they never spent the night together. She always stayed the night in a hotel or a boarding house, and he always stayed on the Wanderer."
Richmond sighed. "Look, Gordon, James West is a grown man. He's on leave right now, so he's not my responsibility — or yours, either, for that matter. He'll show up eventually, when he feels like it. I'm sure you have better things to do than worry about your ex-partner."
Trying to control his temper, Artie replied: "Until his transfer comes through, I consider Jim to still be my partner. I think I know him well enough to know that if he said he was coming back to the train last night, then that is what he planned to do. What I plan to do is to go look for him, with or without your help."
"Suit yourself, Gordon, but I'm sure he's fine." The tone in the Colonel's voice indicated that Artie had been dismissed.
Artie's next stop was the livery stable that Jim had hired his carriage from. After asking a few questions and showing his Secret Service identification, he was introduced to the man who had driven the carriage. Artie took the man aside to question him.
"I don't know anything," said the driver. "I picked up your friend, and I dropped him off at his lady's house. That's all."
"I don't believe you," Artie replied. "Why did you drop him off? Why didn't you take him and his lady to the restaurant?"
The driver shrugged. "Lady had her own carriage."
Artie knew this was not true. Jim had told him that Abby didn't have her own carriage. Her parents had one, but they weren't planning to use it. Besides, if Abby had the use of a carriage, Jim wouldn't have bothered to hire one; he'd just have ridden to her house on horseback.
Artie pulled his gun and stuck it under the other man's chin. "Why don't you tell me the truth?"
The story soon came out. The driver had been paid — by whom, he couldn't say — to pick up Jim, but not only Jim. After they were what had been judged a safe distance from the train, he had picked up two more passengers — men with guns, who overpowered Jim. Then they all went to Abigail's house, where a "lady," who Artie assumed was indeed Abby, had met them and directed the two men to carry Jim into the basement. The driver had been paid handsomely, and he'd left them there.
So apparently dear, sweet Abby, to whom Jim was completely devoted, was not so sweet and innocent as she seemed. And Jim was in trouble. The driver didn't know what had happened to Jim after he was taken inside the house, or what the armed men had intended to do with him. He also didn't care. Artie was sorely tempted to pistol-whip the man, but he had more urgent things to do. So he got the address and directions to Abby's house, and he went in search of his partner.
When he arrived at the house, it occurred to Artie that he could have dragged the carriage driver to Colonel Richmond's office and used him as proof that Jim was in trouble. The Colonel would likely have assigned someone to go to the house with Artie. But if Artie and Jim had been in the field on assignment, there would have been no backup. This was no different. The two of them had been in this kind of situation before, and they'd always come out of it somehow. If Jim was in trouble, he would count on Artie to save him, and Artie would save him.
Peeking into a basement window, Artie could see Jim tied to a chair while Abigail and an armed man stood over him. A few years before he had started working with Jim, Artie had been friends with a deaf man who worked in the theatre. His friend had taught him to read lips. He now used this talent to try to interpret what Abigail was saying. He couldn't catch all of it, because she wasn't facing him, but he caught enough to know that she was verbally abusing Jim, laughing at him for having been "gullible" enough to fall for her.
Artie was furious, but he couldn't just run in there with guns blazing. He needed to get into the house without being caught, and free Jim. He had to find out just why Abigail was holding Jim hostage, and what she was up to. If she was planning some sort of crime, she would have to be stopped. He hoped that she and her friends hadn't hurt Jim too badly.
He continued observing what was happening through the basement window until he saw Abigail and her henchman leave Jim on his own. Then he jimmied the window open and slipped silently into the basement. He could from the look on Jim's face that Jim had been expecting him but was still very relieved to see him.
"About time you got here," Jim said with a grumble. Artie just smiled and continued working on the ropes that bound his partner. He knew Jim wasn't serious.
"How many are there, Jim?" Artie asked.
"Abigail plus two armed men," Jim answered.
"Do you know what they want?"
"Abigail told me she's working for Loveless, but I haven't seen any sign of the good doctor since I've been here."
"She must be pretty self-confident if she thinks she can hold you with just two men, even if she wasn't expecting me to show up," Artie mused.
"That's the puzzling thing," Jim agreed. "I don't know if she expected to hold me here until Loveless arrives, or if it's just part of some plan to humiliate me."
When he'd finished untying his partner, Artie put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "I'm sorry this happened," he said. "I know how much you were looking forward to last night."
Jim avoided his gaze. "Yeah," he said.
Not wanting to pry into his friend's feelings, Artie just patted his shoulder and said, "Come on, let's get out of here."
"Not so fast," said a voice. Two gunmen faced them. The two Secret Service agents looked at each other.
"I'll take the left. You take the right," Jim said to Artie. That was all that was needed. They made short work of the gunmen.
Jim picked up the rope that had been used to tie him up. "I'll tie up these two fellows here. Why don't you go upstairs and look around, see if you can find any sign of Loveless."
Artie wasn't sure why, but he didn't like the idea of leaving Jim alone. He told himself he was being silly, and went upstairs to search the house.
After searching the main floor and finding nothing, Artie was just about to go up to the top floor of the house when someone called his name. Not Jim, but Abigail.
"Well, well, if it isn't Mr. Gordon. Or should I call you Artemus? After all, I feel like we should be friends."
Artie wheeled around, his gun drawn.
"Oh, surely you wouldn't shoot me, Artemus. After all, I'm a woman. You don't shoot women. However, there's nothing to stop me from shooting you." Abigail pulled her own gun. "I'm sure Dr. Loveless will be pleased to know that not only have I broken Jim West's heart, but I've also killed his closest friend."
Artie felt like he was paralyzed. He knew that he should pull the trigger and shoot Abigail, but he couldn't do it. She was Jim's girlfriend. Jim loved her. What would Jim do if he killed her? And he would have to shoot to kill. He knew that just shooting to wound wouldn't be enough. She would kill him with no compunction; he would have to do the same to her.
He decided it wouldn't hurt to at least try to reason with her. "Put the gun down, Abigail. You said we should be friends. You don't want to kill me if I'm your friend. And you don't want to hurt Jim. He was going to ask you to marry him."
Abigail laughed. "Oh, I know he was going to propose to me. That's why I had to make my move last night. I couldn't carry on the charade any longer. It was fun while it lasted. I only wish that dear Miguelito had been here to see it. I'll tell him all about it, of course." She stepped towards Artie.
Artie pointed his gun at her, but he knew he wouldn't be able to shoot her. "Don't come any closer, Abigail."
Another laugh. "Oh, you wouldn't shoot me, Artemus. You wouldn't do that to Jim." She cocked her own gun.
"He wouldn't, but I would, " Jim said, stepping out of the shadows. Abigail turned toward him, and he pulled the trigger, shooting her dead. Then he hurried to Artie's side. "Are you all right? She didn't hurt you, did she?"
Artie was too stunned to say anything for a moment, which seemed to worry Jim even more. So Artie mentally shook himself and turned to his partner. "No, I'm all right. She didn't hurt me. What about you? Are you all right?" He doubted Jim would admit it, but he had to feel something about having just shot the woman he had been planning to marry.
Jim looked at him for a long moment. "Let's not talk about it," he finally said.
When everything had been taken care of at Abigail's house, Artie and Jim were summoned to Colonel Richmond's office. They had a lot of questions to answer. The Colonel apologized for not listening to Artie when he had first reported Jim missing.
When all the questions about Abigail had been answered, Richmond had another question. "What happens now?" he asked. "West, should I tear up your transfer request? Gordon, what about your resignation?"
Artemus waited to hear Jim's answer, because his future actions depended on Jim's decision. If Jim chose to stay in Washington, then Artie would stay as well. He'd let his resignation stand, but he'd stay in the city and find a job there. But he hoped that Jim would choose to resume their partnership and go back to their old life.
In response to the question, James turned to Artie. "Artie, if I go back to working in the field, can we still be partners?"
"Of course, Jim."
"Colonel Richmond, can Artie and I still be partners?"
Richmond agreed. "You are both still officially on vacation for a few more days," he reminded them.
"I'd rather go back to work right away," Jim told him.
So it was that James and Artemus went back to the Wanderer and back to the way things had been before Abigail. They had an assignment almost immediately, and more assignments followed that one. They didn't have any time to talk about what had happened in Washington, what had happened to Abigail. Which, Artie thought, was maybe a good thing.
Work did slow down eventually, though, and the train pulled into a small town in the western territories for some overdue maintenance, leaving the two agents somewhat at loose ends. This was when Artie realized that things were not as they had been before Jim met Abigail.
Jim was quiet and withdrawn. He spoke only when necessary, and spent most of his time in his room with the door shut. In the evenings, he went out for long walks — alone. Women didn't interest him; they had met various women on their assignments, many of whom had shown an obvious interest in the handsome James West, but Jim had all but ignored them. A few times, Artie had even found himself apologizing for his partner's rudeness.
Artie was torn. He didn't want to pry into Jim's private life, but he was Jim's partner, and his best friend, and he didn't think Jim would talk to anyone else, if he would talk to anyone at all. He tried to drop hints, to indicate that he was willing to talk, if Jim would open up. But Jim didn't show any signs of opening up.
Then Artie received a telegraph from Washington, and things began to fall into place.
That night, when Jim left for his nightly walk, Artie headed out after him. He hadn't followed his partner very far when Jim stopped in his tracks.
"Artie, why are you following me?"
"Because I'm worried about you," Artie replied as he caught up. "You've barely said two words to me that aren't related to whatever we're working on since we left Washington. You shut yourself in your room every day, and you go out alone every night. Frankly, I've been worrying that one of these nights, you're not going to come back."
"Would it matter if I didn't?" Jim asked.
Artie was shocked to realize that Jim was serious. "Of course it matters! It matters to me!"
Jim looked up at the sky. "You know, a long time ago, before the war, I used to go to church on Sundays. And the preachers used to talk about heaven, how we go up there when we die — if we're good enough, I guess. I don't know if I'm good enough.
"But it makes me wonder if maybe there's something better up there" — he indicated the sky — "than there is down here. There's not much down here for me, that's for sure."
"Nothing down here but me," Artie offered. "I'm here for you."
That got a smile from Jim. "I know that, Artie. I guess I haven't been a very good partner to you the last few weeks. I'm not sure I'm even still your partner."
"Of course you're my partner. What makes you think otherwise?"
"I'm not sure if I'm even still myself. Since the whole thing with Abby, I've tried to figure out how I could make such an error in judgment. How could I let someone like her get under my defences like that? It's not like me. After what happened, I don't think I can let myself love anyone, ever again. I'll be constantly analyzing every move, wondering if they're in league with Loveless or plotting something behind my back.
"You and I have met plenty of women, and certainly bedded more than a few, but there were never any strings attached. I never let myself even think about developing feelings for any woman. I don't know what was different about Abigail."
"I do," Artie told him. He took out the paper on which he had transcribed the telegraph message. "They searched Abigail's house in Washington and found a hidden laboratory. It took some time, but they analyzed the chemicals, and one of them was some sort of pheromone derivative. It apparently makes the wearer completely irresistible to their chosen, er, victim."
"I don't understand. How would it work only on me and not on every man in her vicinity?"
"From what I understand, she would have had to put some of the chemical on you as well as on her for it to work." Artie tried to read Jim's face in the moonlight. "Does that make you feel better?"
Jim shrugged. "About Abigail? Maybe. But not about the rest of it. I don't know how I'll ever trust another woman, and even if I could, where is there room in my life for love? You and I never stay in one place long enough to develop any kind of real relationship with anyone." He closed his eyes and sighed.
"Jim," Artie said softly, "there is room for love. Open your eyes, and look at me."
Jim did as he was asked. "Artie, what do you mean? Do you mean — you?"
"Yes, I do. I've loved you for a long time, and what happened with Abigail doesn't matter to me. You're still you. I believe in you, and I love you."
"You really feel that way about me, after everything that's happened? How can you trust me? I can't even trust myself. Part of me is still frightened that Loveless has some other woman waiting out there with that pheromone chemical, ready to convince me to give up my job, break up our partnership. What if you and I became lovers, and then some woman came along and I fell for her like I did Abigail? What would that do to you?"
Artie shook his head. "I don't think that would happen. I think that if you and I were lovers, that chemical wouldn't work on you. Granted, I have no scientific evidence to back up that theory, and I don't particularly want to test it. But let me ask you something. Why did you shoot Abigail?"
"I shot Abigail because she was going to shoot you, Artie!"
"What was going through your mind at that particular time? Were you thinking about how much you loved her, about how you and she were going to get married?"
"No, nothing like that. All I could think of was that you were in danger, and I couldn't let anything happen to you. It didn't matter who she was or what she had meant to me, because you.... You mean more to me than she does. Did. God help me, if she had hurt you...." His voice trailed off.
"I think that says enough. If that chemical had still been working, you wouldn't have been able to shoot her. But you cared enough about me to overcome the effects." Artie smiled at him and held out his hand. "Come here." Jim looked at him but didn't move. "Jim, come here. Take my hand." Jim did as he was told this time. "How does that feel?" Artie asked.
"It.... It feels right. It feels.... It feels like coming home." There was a sense of wonder in Jim's voice. "Artie, I haven't had a home in as long as I can remember — except the Wanderer, and you."
Artie gripped his hand. "I know that it isn't exactly commonplace for two men to have this kind of relationship," he said. "But I can't help the way I feel about you, and I think you feel the same way about me. We're already as close as we can be without being lovers. Why shouldn't we take the next step?"
"Have you done this before — been with men?" Jim asked.
"Yes, I have, when I was in the theatre. Relationships of this nature aren't frowned upon there, the way they are elsewhere. Why, does that bother you?"
"No, it doesn't bother me. I just.... If I do this with you, will you show me the way? Show me what I need to know?"
The smile Artie gave him was gentle and full of understanding. "Of course. There's not a lot that you need to know. Most of it comes naturally." He pulled his partner closer to him, and kissed him gently. After a brief hesitation, Jim returned the kiss.
"Artie, we've known each other for years, but I feel kind of like I just met you. I feel like a teenager who's in love for the first time." He smiled. "I haven't felt this way in a very long time." Then he frowned. "Am I supposed to feel like this?"
"Jim, being in love with me might feel different from how you've felt before, not because I'm a man, but because I'm your best friend. You're bound to feel different. That's not a bad thing. At least, I hope it's not."
"No, Artie," Jim said with a relieved smile. "It's not a bad thing at all. It's a very good thing."