carmilla: (Slash)
[personal profile] carmilla
SUMMARY: They're nowhere special, looking for a happy ending.


There was something wrong, and Bart couldn't figure out what it was.

They were in another sheriff's office on the outskirts of another small, sleepy frontier town. A few days back, another group of bad men had been summarily dispatched. His scheme had been brilliance itself, as usual, this time involving the premature invention of sticky back plastic. He'd been particularly proud of that one. As normally happened in such circumstances, the townsfolk had voted him sheriff as a gesture of gratitude. Some of them even deigned to look him in the face, although most still seemed wary of shaking his hand - he wondered from time to time whether they thought he was somehow contagious. And now he and his partner were taking a week or two of rest before they moved on again.

And yet, as Bart looked around the room, he couldn't help the feeling that all was not business as usual. He knew he'd taken care of everything he had to; the town was quiet, his monthly letters to Rock Ridge had been written, his horse was stabled and fed. No, it was something in the office itself that wasn't right. At first he couldn't put his finger on what was out of place; the office was neat, Jim was sleeping in his chair with his hat tilted over his eyes, and in the cells at the back of the room the town drunk was snoring loudly, at peace with the world. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Then, he noticed the whiskey bottle dangling from Jim's fingers.

Gently, he removed it, placing it on the table. He was puzzled; it was a month and more since Jim had last drunk himself to sleep. Sometime after their first meeting (Bart smiled briefly at the memory of Jim hanging upside down from his bunk) and before they'd set off to `nowhere special' to set the world to rights, he'd simply stopped. Perhaps it was rediscovering a use for his shooting skills; perhaps it was having a purpose again. Perhaps, as Bart secretly hoped, it was simply having a friend again. In any case, as far as he could tell, there was no reason why Jim should have hit the bottle again now.

He was unsure of what to do - Jim always had his moments of secretiveness, private jokes he wouldn't share, little looks and gestures he wouldn't explain. The man was unreadable when he chose to be; one of the reasons Bart still hadn't figured out exactly what was going on between them, a source of almost daily frustration. But on the other hand, what was happening here might be serious; or just maybe, it might help him to answer that question.

Reaching a decision, he lightly shook his partner's shoulder. Jim blinked, taking a lazy moment or two to bring the world into focus, and smiled his crooked smile.

"What's to do, partner?"

"Nothing. Just wondering what you felt the need to celebrate without me." Bart nodded to the bottle on the table.

"Oh, that." Jim winced; the after-effects of the whiskey were clearly beginning to make themselves known. "It was nothing, nothing really."

"So, you just felt a sudden hankering to pass out, maybe wake up upside down and have me manhandle you round the office?"

"Well, I'm not saying that wouldn't be nice." Again that lopsided grin. "Wasn't specifically what I was thinking of, though." He glanced at the table again, past the bottle, to where a bundle of letters was waiting for the mail wagon.

Somewhere in the back of Bart's brain, something clicked into gear.

"Jim, this wouldn't have anything to do with me writing to Lily yesterday, would it?"

His partner's eyes took on a particular faraway cast that Bart recognised. Earlier, he might have called it unreadable; now, he was pretty sure it meant that his friend really didn't want to answer that question. The thing in the back of his mind was shouting 'Told you so!' at the top of its voice, and he was beginning to feel like a fool. Because he could only think of one reason why Jim would care whether he wrote to Lily or not. And if he was right, then he hated to think of how much time he'd wasted.

"Listen...." What was the best way to bring this up? "Lily would have ridden with me, if I'd asked her. I didn't. I asked you. She knew what that meant." Do you? he added silently. "Would be wrong after that to deny the lady a little correspondence."

Jim sighed.

"I know that. Don't fret yourself over the whims of a washed up old gunslinger with more sentiment that sense." He smiled, a little ruefully. "I promise I won't make trouble for you, partner."

He'd missed the point. But then, they'd both been missing the point for quite some time now; perhaps even since the first time they met. Bart raised his eyebrows as a particular memory of that meeting stirred.

"So, partner, I'm guessing what all this means is... that you'd rather not play chess anymore?"

Jim's head jerked up; clearly, he remembered what Bart was talking about. He drew in a deep breath, and let it out again, a little shakily.

"Well - that depends on whether anything else if on offer."

Bart slid a hand round the back of his partner's neck.

"Oh, I think we can come up with something," he breathed, as he leant down to join their lips together.

Five minutes later, the drunk rolled over in his cell. He opened his eyes a fraction; then, dismissing what he was seeing as nonsensical, went back to sleep.

~

As the cinema lights went up, only two of the audience were left seated. Bart was leaning back in a contented way, his boots propped up on the seat in front. Jim was smiling at him.

"I'm glad we stayed for the post-credits bit. That's my idea of a happy ending."

And he slid an arm around Bart's shoulders as the one of the attendants cleared his popcorn bucket away.
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