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Title: Coming Home  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG  

Pairing: Clark Palmer/Clayton Webb  

Rating: NC-17  

Disclaimer: Not mine. Oh, except for Wills Matheson, Trevor Wallace and his secretary, Romero, Stanley, Browne, Max Futé, Senator Wexler, and his rabbit-y aide, Peter Lapin.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 8/04  

Series/Sequel: This is part 8 of the Soundbytes, an offshoot of the Mind Fuck universe, and follows The Lick Me, Suck Me, Fuck Me Jeans. As I've mentioned, these are not necessarily in chronological order.  

Summary: Clark realizes it's time to move.  

Warnings: m/m, AR because this universe presupposes that the DSD was never disbanded.  

Notes: This starts prior to the events of Blue Velvet, around the middle of September. The management strongly advises against the number of ibuprofen Clark took. Kathy Thorn was the adoptive mother of Damien in The Omen. Thanks to the members of fanfic_med for their advice about Epsom salts, and Tim also. This is for Gail, to celebrate the 4th anniversary of our friendship, 8/8/04 .


Coming Home

Part 1/1


Clayton Webb and I were having a late dinner at Raphael's. The posh Italian restaurant had sort of become our place, and we dined there at least twice a month, in the shadowed alcove that had also sort of become ours. That was where we'd sat back in February, when Clay had bought me a veal piccata dinner for my birthday.  

This time he ordered stufato dei pesci, Raphael's version of bouillabaisse, with a side order of linguine, and he talked me into parmisiana della melanzana.  

"I don't eat purple vegetables, Clay."  

"Eggplant is good for you. Besides, you don't have enough roughage in your diet." He brought his napkin to his mouth.  

"Excuse me? How do you know how much roughage I eat?"  

"I have my ways." Above the napkin, his eyes were green with laughter. He was teasing me.  

"Bastard." It was said without heat; I liked that he teased me. My cock twitched.  

" Clark . I'm cut to the quick!"  

"Sure you are. And I'm just broken-hearted about it."  

"Well, so you should be." He refilled our wine glasses.  

The waiter approached and whisked away the empty antipasto platters. "Are you done with your salads, signores?" At our nods, he took them as well. "Your dinners will be out shortly."  

Clay reached for a breadstick and opened his mouth to say something. He was interrupted by a warm, female voice.  

"Hello, Clay. I didn't expect to see you here!" It was Colonel MacKenzie, the Marine who worked at JAG. She did a good job, and if she'd been a man I'd have tried to get her to leave the military and come work for the DSD.  

"Sarah. I might say the same thing."  

Sarah? I arched an eyebrow at my lover, and he looked puzzled. Ah. So I didn't need to consider her as a possible rival.  

"Webb!" Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. didn't appear too pleased to see him. Did he have something against the man having a decent dinner?  

"Hello, Rabb. You both know Clark Palmer, don't you?" Clay was so polite.  

Rabb turned his glare on me. "What's he doing here?"  

I looked down at the table, at the breadsticks, the wine glasses, the cutlery, then back up at him. "Having dinner? That is what one does in a restaurant, Lieutenant Commander."  

Under the table, Clay nudged my ankle with his foot, indicating he didn't want me to start anything.  

Rabb, on the other hand, seemed to be itching for a fight.  

"I'm going to get you, Palmer! I'm going to nail your ass to the wall!"  

"Beg pardon?"  

"It was your fault, what happened to me in Paris ! You were behind it! I don't know how, but it was all your fault! You're a sociopath!"  

My chair scraped back as I prepared to rise and beat the shit out of him. Rabb had been calling me a sociopath for years, and it was getting old. Just because I did my job well…  

"Sarah, I think you'd better get your dinner companion out of here. I don't know how long I can keep Palmer under control." Clay had his hand on my arm, as if he really was preventing me from lunging at the lieutenant commander, tearing off his head, and using it for a bocce ball.  

The maitre d' came scurrying to our table. "Is there a problem, signores? Lovely signorina, what may I do to assist you?"  

"Nothing. I apologize for the disturbance, signore. Let's go, Harm. I think I'd rather have Thai tonight."  


Colonel MacKenzie gave an almost unnoticeable wince at the whine in his voice. "Harm, you know you won't be comfortable in the same restaurant as Palmer, and I'm not going to be comfortable if you spend our entire dinner glaring at him. I'm sorry, Clay." She studied me for a moment. "I wonder what your two agencies are up to. Let's go, Harm."  

She looped her arm through his, and he barely contained a flinch. Had the Colonel let him feel her claws?  

Clay watched as she practically dragged Rabb out of the place, then shook his head, but before he could say anything, our dinners were brought out and placed before us.  

"Would you like some grated cheese, signores?"  

"Ah, let's live dangerously! Knock yourself out," I told the waiter, and the cheese sprinkled over my dinner like snow.  

Clay laughed. "All right, why not? I'll have some on my pasta." He signaled when he was satisfied with the amount.  

"Buon appetito." The waiter left us.  

I picked up my fork. "Y'know, Clay, I wish I knew what Lieutenant Commander Rabb has against me. I'm really a nice guy."  

"You are, Clark ." He appeared to be categorizing the shellfish in his stew. "Quite frankly, I think there's a latent lust for you under all that hostility."  

I started choking on my eggplant parmigiana. "Oh, jesus, I'm going to have nightmares over that for months!"  

"Well, if you do have nightmares, I'll just have to wake you up."He fished a mussel out of the bowl before him and loosened the flesh from its shell with one of those tiny forks, then tipped his head back and let the contents of the shell slide into his mouth.He swallowed thoughtfully, then touched his napkin to his lips. "What would be a good way to wake you up, babe?"  

As if he didn't know. I growled at him and forked up a bit of eggplant.  

"Are you free next weekend?" His foot went back to rubbing my ankle. "I've got tickets for The Phantom on Saturday night; I can give them to Mother if I have to, but I'd rather not. I promised you."  

"Yes, I remember." When he'd taken me to this restaurant for my birthday, almost seven months before. "I'll check my schedule." But I intended to make sure I was free.  


Most weekends, when I wasn't working, I spent with Clay, and most times we wound up in his townhouse in Alexandria . Almost as much of my wardrobe was there as was in my apartment in DC.  

But this time I brought a garment bag with me. It contained a black three piece suit, a white dress shirt, and a black silk tie.  

They were all new.  

"I like the way you look in that suit, Clark ."  

I opened my mouth to say, 'This old thing?' then shut it. "Thanks, Clay. You're looking pretty edible yourself."  

His suit could have been the twin of mine, although his shirt was pale green and his tie a darker shade of green. Color was high on his cheekbones as he approached me.  

He stood toe to toe with me and leaned his forehead against mine. His breath was hot on my mouth. "I want to strip that suit off you and fuck you over the couch."  

My cock began to swell. Usually I was the one who fucked him. I reached for him, and my fingers flexed on his hip. "But…?"  

He sighed. "It would make us late." 

"We could be fashionably late."  

For a moment he wavered, but, "Don't tempt me."  

"Spoil sport. Okay, fine, Clay. We'll just consider the entire evening as foreplay then. But when we get home…" I sauntered out of the door ahead of him, leaving my promise hanging.  


I'd planned to torment him throughout the entire play, but our seats were in the orchestra, it was a sold-out performance, and fuck if I didn't get caught up in the action on stage.  

I poked him with my elbow. "That isn't the Phantom!" I whispered, indicating the red-costumed, skeleton-faced figure coming down the stairs at the masquerade. "Watch the way he walks. That guy is shorter, too. Jesus, those people are stupid!"  

"No one's ever seen him. Not and lived."  

"I'll bet the Wardrobe Mistress has. How would she get all those letters she keeps whipping out of her pocket?"  

My fingers were tapping restlessly on the arm of my seat. Clay placed his hand over them. " Clark , you're supposed to suspend disbelief."  

"Yeah, well, they are stupid."  

"Yeah, well," he squeezed my hand, "suspend."  


"Did you enjoy it, Clark ?" We'd stopped for an after-theater drink and now were on the road back to Clay's townhouse.  

"Yeah, it was pretty good."  

I had to feel sorry for the Phantom. Poor schmuck  He was ready to give that woman his heart, and what did she do? She went sailing through the Labyrinth with that 'insolent boy,' Raoul. What the Phantom should have done when he had Raoul swinging in that noose was yank his pants down and fuck the idea that he was the one for Christine out of him. Then he should have fucked her, and then he should have thrown them both out of his Opera house.  

"Only pretty good? Wasn't that you standing beside me, giving the cast a standing ovation?"  

"Well… they did a good job and deserved it." I reached across the seat and ran my fingers over his thigh. The muscle jumped beneath my hand, and I grinned. "Thanks for getting the tickets, Clay."  

"You're welcome, Clark ." He pulled the Lexus into his drive and let me out. The garage was too narrow for both of us to comfortably exit the vehicle.  

I waited by the end of the walk, keeping a casual eye on the neighborhood — one could never tell, and it didn't hurt to play it safe — and Clay thumbed the remote and the garage door slid shut.  

I had the key he had given me, but unless I was alone, I always waited for him to open the door. It was his home, after all.  

Once inside, he reset the alarm. I went up to the second floor, prowling through the bedrooms, making sure everything was secure, while Clay did the same on the first floor. We'd both been in the business too long to get careless.  

I hung up my suit jacket and was just unbuttoning my vest when I heard Clay coming up the stairs.  

" Clark ?"  

"In here, baby."  

Sexual heat went through me like a flash fire.  

Clay stood in the doorway, one hand negligently on the door frame, the other on his hip. I let my eyes wander over him, and my mouth went dry.  

His vest hung open over his flat stomach, his tie was loosened, the top buttons of his shirt were undone, and his feet were bare. His obvious arousal marred the smooth line of his trousers.  

"You're not planning on sleeping in here, are you?"  

"Only if you're joining me."  

"My bed is more comfortable." He pushed off the door and sauntered toward me.  

"I've noticed. Why is that?"  

"The better to have my way with you."  

"Devious to the core. I like that about you, Clay."  

"I thought you would." He wrapped my tie around his fist and gave a slight tug. "Come on, tough guy."  

I didn't tell him he was wrinkling my tie. I didn't care. I followed him down the hall and into his bedroom, leaving a breadcrumb trail of clothes as I went, until all I wore was that tie.  

The overhead light was off, but lamps scattered around the room cast a warm, sensual glow over the room.  

The lightweight summer bedspread had been folded back to the foot of the bed. On the night tables on either side of the bed were tubes of Wet and a handful of condoms.  

Clay really hadn't been taking a chance when he'd sucked me off on my birthday. I'd been so wrapped up in my job that I hadn't gone to bed with anyone, male or female, in at least six months.  

The DSD, a conscientious employer, saw its employees were tested periodically, and I was clean. Which Clay had known, having managed to get hold of my records.  

After that incident in the men's room of Raphael's, and in an effort to persuade myself that I wasn't obsessing over that CIA spook, I'd fucked Michael Samuelle, the Section One level 5 cold op who was my friend, but even then, I'd used a condom, and not simply because it made sense. I never let anyone get close to me.  

Until Webb.  

The little voice in the back of my mind had finally shut up with the snarky comments. Maybe it was simply overjoyed that I'd found myself in an actual, honest-to-god relationship, and with Clayton Webb, of all people. Whatever it was, I intended to enjoy the blessed silence.  

More importantly, I intended to enjoy Clay.  

He used the tie to bring me close to him, then lifted it off my head, curled his hand around my neck, and brought my mouth down to his. The kiss hinted of need. His tongue flicked out and probed the seam of my lips, and I groaned, but he didn't take advantage of my open mouth to ravage it. Instead, he drew back.  

"Lie down, babe." His voice was hoarse, but his eyes were steady on mine. He tossed his tie aside to join mine somewhere on the floor, removed his shirt, removed his trousers. The corner of his mouth curved in a grin. "I'm waiting, Clark . On your back."  


He waited until I had arranged myself on the bed, then lay down on top of me, lining up our cocks. "I'm going to fuck you tonight, Clark."  

"You won't get an argument about it from me." I paused for a beat. "Are you going to spend all night just talking about it?"  

Clay laughed. "Oh, no." He twined his fingers with mine and extended my arms above my head., lazily humping his hips so his cock teased mine. He nipped at the side of my throat, distracting me so that when he released my hands, I just kept them where he'd placed them.  

By the time I realized my wrists were no longer manacled, Clay had gone on to explore other horizons. He was running the fingernails of one hand over my ribs to my nipples, while the other palmed my flank, and his tongue traced my collarbones.  

I worked a hand between us and found one of his nipples. Always extremely sensitive, it was already an erect nub, and when I stroked my fingertips across it, he gasped and shuddered and twisted my nipple with enough force that I arched up into him, smearing precome along his cock and against his belly.  

"Dammit, Palmer, you know what that does to me!"  

"Then don't dawdle, Webb. I've been waiting all night for this." I angled my head up from the pillow and looked into his eyes. His pupils had dilated, and they were dark with passion.  

"I've been thinking about this all night," he panted. "I wanted to get you in the men's room and do you in the stall."  

"In the theater, Clay? All those bluebloods would have been shocked." I loved that I could make him so out of control.  

"In the theater, in that place where we stopped for a drink, fuck, even in the back seat of my car!"  

"Jesus, Clay! Stop toying with me, and fuck me!"  

He reached across to the night table, got the tube of Wet, and slid back off my body until he was kneeling between my legs. I spread them wider and planted my feet on the mattress, opening myself to him.  

I watched as he opened the tube of lubricant, as he squirted some onto his fingers, as he parted my ass cheeks. My cock was hard against my abdomen, oozing drops of precome. I bit my lip and tried to prevent myself from shaking so hard. When he finally touched my hole, dipping a finger into it, I was unable to contain the cry that was torn from my throat. My head fell back against the pillow, and I arched up, taking his entire finger into me.  

" Clark …"  

"More, Clay. Dammit, more!"  

He had two fingers inside me, stretching me, curling to rub across my prostate, making me shake even more.  

Clay must have put on a condom — hell, I saw him toss away the empty packet — but I was so far gone he could have taken me bareback and I wouldn't have even thought to  protest.  

His cock slid into me, and I was filled by him.  

His arms were braced on either side of my torso, and I was surrounded by him.  

" Clark ."  

I opened my eyes, and, snared by the intensity of his gaze, found I could neither shut them nor look away. I surged up and wrapped my arms around him, pulled him down, and took his mouth in a kiss that was hot and wet and hungry. His hips moved in a steady rhythm, and I locked my ankles behind his back as he thrust into me again and again, driving me to the brink of orgasm.  

Clay tore his mouth off mine, gasping for breath, but he hardly gave himself a minute to catch it before he fastened his lips against the spot where shoulder and neck joined and began to suck hard.  

"Clay! Please!" I knew that would leave a visible bruise, but I arched my neck to give him better access.  

"Yes!" His fingers were around my cock, his thumb pressing firmly on the slit, and I shivered and clamped down internal muscles and began to shoot come between us.  

Clay's mouth came back to mine, and he swallowed my moans, then gave them back to me as his movements became more erratic. I tightened my embrace, and he stilled, gasped my name, and came.  

His breath against my throat was warm and damp, and gradually slowed as we both came down off our sexual high. I thought he had eased into sleep, but when his cock slid out of me, he rolled to the side, removed the condom, and tossed it in the direction of the wastebasket on his side of the bed.  

"Need to… get a washcloth… and… clean us up." But he really was on the verge of sleep.  

I stroked his cock, gathering the remains of the fluid that coated its sides, and rubbed it into the semen on my belly.  

In the morning I'd probably be itchy, but I'd have our mingled scents on my body. Better yet… I pulled Clay into my arms, and we were plastered together from chest to groin.  

In the morning we'd both smell of us.  


The telephone rang, and the warm, pliant body that was writhing under my hands stilled.  

I pulled off his cock. "Fuck it, Clay. Let the machine pick it up."  

"Ca—can't, Clark . It's Mother."  

Fucking Caller ID.  

Clay tried to roll toward the night table, but my finger was still up his ass, rubbing against his prostate.  

" Clark !" He groaned, gave a full body shudder, and clenched around my finger. I took pity on him and eased my finger out of his body. "What you do to me!" He stretched a long arm, and retrieved the receiver. "Webb."  

I snickered at his automatic response, even when he knew it was his mother on the other end of the line. He pulled a face, not bothering to pretend he hadn't heard me.  

"Mother. Is something wrong?"  

I stiffened at that possibility, and Clay saw. He listened on the phone for a moment, then shook his head.  

He had lost his erection, which didn't surprise me. Porter Webb was a classy lady, and sporting a hard-on when she was around was crass to say the least. Her son was not crass. 

I nuzzled his cock out of the way and licked his balls. He tasted good. He smelled good too, of sleep and sex and … trust. He shifted, winding his fingers in my hair and giving a warning tug. 'Behave,' he mouthed, then returned to his conversation.  

"Yes, Mother." He grabbed the pillow that I'd been sleeping on and placed it over his groin, and I laughed silently. I loved watching Mrs. Webb wind him around her little finger. "Oh… er… Mother, I'm not sure…"  

What wasn't my lover sure about? I stopped laughing when he handed me the phone.  

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" I hissed, trying to avoid taking it. "I can't…"  

"She knows you're here, Clark ," he hissed back at me. "Now take the goddamn phone!"  

"Fuck." I swung around until I sat on the edge of the bed, putting some distance between my lover and myself — after all, I was about to speak with his mother — and cleared my throat. "Mrs. Webb?"  

"I apologize for calling so early, Clark …" Her voice was warm but brisk. No one should be that awake so early on a Sunday. Not if they weren't in bed with a man who was so hot his presence set the sheets to smoking. "…however I wanted to be sure you were joining us for lunch after our ride."  

Clay had been at me, and been at me, until I'd reluctantly agreed to get on a horse, but there had been no suggestion of having lunch with his mother. Had he intended to toss that at me once I was at the mercy of the nag he'd mount me on, and in front of Mrs. Webb?  His innocent expression told me 'yes'.  

"Damned spook!"  

He had the audacity to look injured, and I bared my teeth at him to let him know I wasn't buying it. He laughed.  

"Uh… Mrs. Webb, I don't think that would be a good idea. I'll take my own car, and Clay can drive you home."  

"You don't have your car, Clark ," he murmured.  

I covered the mouthpiece. "You can damn well drop me off at my place so I will have my car," I growled at him.  

"Not going to happen, babe." He stacked his hands behind his head and whistled something I didn't have the patience to recognize just then.  

Maybe I could persuade his mother, "There really isn't any need for you to have me over for lunch…"  

" Clark , are you insulting my hospitality?"  

If it had been my old lady on the other end of the phone, I'd have said yes and hung up. "No, ma'am! Of course not! I…"  

"Good." Was she laughing at me? "I'll see you both at eleven. Give Clayton a kiss for me. Good-bye, Clark ." There was a click in my ear.  

"You set me up." I hung up the phone, then leaned over grudgingly and brushed my lips against his cheek.  


"From your mother." I deliberately turned my back; I was annoyed with him, dammit, and had no intention of letting him think that I'd kissed him of my own free will.  

"Now, Clark …"  

"I told you I didn't have riding boots, and you said I could wear a pair of yours."  

"Isn't it fortunate we're the same size?"  

That remark was beneath my notice. "You know Markov hates my guts. He'll probably slip something into my food."  

"Something that would leave you at my mercy? Damn, I wish I'd thought of that." He reached for the phone.  

"What are you doing?"  

"I'm calling Markov."  

I gritted my teeth. "I've changed my mind, Webb. Just for that, I'm not going to blow you."  

"Fine by me."  

What the fuck? Before I could say something really stupid, like, 'Are you telling me it's over between us?' he dragged me backwards onto the bed, and I found myself flat on my back.  

Clayton Webb was in top notch physical condition; he was a superb fencer and an Olympic-class horseman. It was just that when I had him under me, when he was moaning and begging, it was hard to remember.  

He worked his way down my body until he was settled between my legs, gave my cock a leisurely lick, and grinned at me through that lock of hair that was always falling over his eyes.  

"Remember your birthday, Clark ?" How could I forget it? It was the first time those lips of his that were grinning so cockily had been wrapped around my cock. "I'll blow you."  


Clay threw his mother up into her saddle, and then swung up onto his horse.  

"Just don't kick him," he told me as I mounted the blue roan the groom was holding for me. How difficult could following such simple instructions be?  

But Blue reacted every time my heels brushed against his sides and continually broke into a trot that had me bouncing in the saddle, rattling my teeth.  

I'd warned that fucking flea-bitten, sway-backed, hay-burning refugee from a glue factory that I had a gun and had no problem using it if he made me look bad in front of my lover. Obviously, he hadn't taken my warning seriously.  

I studied Clay's posture in the saddle and copied it. I'd shoot the nag later.  

Clay and his mother became involved in a conversation about family, and I listened.  

"I understand Uncle Tony's back from the Coast, Mother."  

"Yes. He's staying at the Manor with Uncle Jeff and Ludovic. It's odd. Tony and your Uncle Bryan were never that close when they were younger."  

I'd known Clay was the equivalent of royalty in the intelligence community; the Sebrings, his mother's family, had been in the business since at least the American Revolution, and on his father's side there had been a Webb ferreting out information during the Spanish American War.  

My father hadn't hung around long enough for me to start third grade, and the closest my mother came to being a Mata Hari was picking up men in a bar.  

I lost track of time, which was stupid on my part, but I was fascinated by their family dynamics. By the time we returned to the stable, I realized my error. My body was making me aware of every mile we'd ridden over.  

My ass was sore, my balls felt like they were on fire, the insides of my knees were chafed, and the muscles in my thighs complained with every step I took.  

After I dismounted and handed the reins to the groom who was waiting for us to return from our ride, I managed to walk to the car without limping, and then to sit through the meal at Mrs. Webb's home without giving the least hint of how uncomfortable I was. It took an extreme act of will, but I did it.  

By the time we were ready to leave, all I wanted was some serious drugs.  

"Excuse me, I'll just use the bathroom before we go."  

Clay and his mother smiled at me, and I escaped to the downstairs john. I locked the door and opened the medicine cabinet.  

"Thank god!" I groaned. Ibuprofen. The regular dosage was one. I took two.  

I used the john, washed my hands, and took another two tablets, just to be on the safe side.  

Markov glowered at me as I walked out of the bathroom. "What, did you think I'd pinch the commode?"  

"I wouldn't put it past you, Palmer."  

I held out my arms and turned in a slow circle, a condescending grin hiding my discomfort. "As you can see, it isn't concealed about my person."  

He curled his lip, turned on his heel, and stalked away. I went in the other direction, to the front foyer.  

"Thank you, Mother." Clay accepted a small brown bag from her. "All set, Clark ?"  

"Yes. Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Webb."  

"You're very welcome." She walked us out to the car. "I hope we can do this again."  

// Not in a million years.// I smiled at her.  

"Good-bye, Mother." He kissed her cheek.  

"Good-bye, sweetheart." She went up the steps and waited.  

Clay opened the door of his Lexus for me, and I was concentrating so hard on appearing normal that I didn't even realize this was not something he would normally do until after he had done it.  

I lowered myself cautiously to the front seat, winced, and buckled up. When were those fucking pain killers going to kick in?  

"I'm driving you straight home." He walked around to his side of the car and got in. "You're sore, Clark ."  

"No, I'm fine."  

"You're sore." He put the key in the ignition, not looking at me. "Wave to my mother."  

"Huh?" But he leaned forward and waved, so I did also. Mrs. Webb smiled and waved back, watching as Clay drove down the length of her driveway. When I looked back, she was still standing there.  

"She'll stay there until she no longer sees me."  

"She used to do that for your father."  

"Yes." He didn't ask how I'd known that. We drove for some time in silence.  

I shifted from one ass cheek to the other, trying to get comfortable with no luck. A glance at my watch told me it had been fifteen minutes since I'd taken the ibuprofen. Shit. Another five minutes at least before it began to work.  

" Clark , I want to explain something to you, and then I want you to explain something to me." The only time I saw him this serious was when business was involved. He didn't wait for a response from me. "You're experienced in many things."  

"Excuse me?"  

"You're a forensic artist…"  

Well, I liked to think so, but why was he bringing that up now?  

"… you fence…"  

Yeah, we'd dueled to a draw. The man was good, I'd give him that.  

"… you've played the saxophone…"  

That had been years ago, before the DSD, before I'd even enlisted, and it wasn't in any of my records. How the fuck had he learned about that?  

"You going somewhere with this, Webb?"  

"I just assumed you could ride, also. Why didn't you just flat out tell me you hadn't been on a horse before?"  

"Beats the hell out of me," I growled. No way was I going to tell him it was because I liked him thinking that there was nothing I couldn't do. "Would you have changed your mind about me joining you?"  

"No. But I'd have given you another mount. Blue really is good-tempered, but his gait can be a bit jarring for a beginner." A bit? "Next time I'll give you Kathy Thorn."  

"You're so sure there's going to be a next time?" Where did he get the names for his horses?  I watched as he glanced sideways at me and the corner of his mouth quirked.  

"I have no doubt that after a remarkably short amount of time, you'll become a very capable horseman."  

"Don't try and get on my good side now, Webb. I'm still pissed at you."  

He chuckled.  

"Y'know, most people don't laugh when I tell them I'm pissed," I groused.  

"No, I imagine not. I'm sorry for that. And I'm sorry I pressured you into going riding, Clark ." His apology was so sincere that I had no choice but to forgive him. No one ever apologized to me. But I wasn't going to let him know he'd gotten to me.  

"Oh, what? Like I couldn't have just said no?"  

"You could have said 'no', babe. Why didn't you?"  

"Do you think you're so irresistible, Webb?"  

"I don't. But I think you do."  

I looked out the window and pretended I hadn't heard that.  

"Ah, look. We're home." He was insufferably cheerful.  

"I'm home. You still have to drive back to Alexandria ."  

"I know, but not until I make sure you're all right."  

He found a parking space half a block from my place, and we got out and walked back. Well, he walked. I limped. That damned ibuprofen had barely taken the edge off my aches. I should have doubled up on the amount I'd taken.  

He was carrying the brown bag, and I wondered briefly what was in it. Leftovers from lunch, maybe?  

I let us into the building, and we began to climb the stairs up to my apartment on the third floor.  

"Mr. Palmer, are you all right?"  

That just took the fucking cake. I paused on the second floor landing to glower at my agent. Matheson stood there with a plastic garbage bag in each hand. When I'd introduced him to the rentboys who owned this building earlier in the spring, the last thing I'd expected was for him to develop a relationship with one of them and wind up moving in with him.  

"I'm peachy keen, Matheson."  

"Yes, sir, of course. My mistake." He took in Clay's presence beside me, and his expression became blank. I knew he had to have recognized him from that night in the morgue when we'd found him and another CIA officer trying to determine if that was my body on the slab. "Excuse me." He stepped around us and continued down the stairs.  

Clay met my eyes. He didn't ask if this was going to be a problem, and I didn't tell him that if it was, it was my problem.  

"Come on. You need a hot bath."  

"Yeah. That sounds good."  

We continued up to the third floor and down the corridor. I unlocked the series of deadbolts that secured my front door and let us into my apartment.  

"Get undressed. I'll start the tub." He'd been in my apartment often enough to know where everything was. "I've got something that will ease the soreness out of your muscles. Mother gave it to me before we left. Epsom salts."  

"Fuck. How'd she know I'd be so sore?" I took the bag he handed me and examined the contents while he removed his riding jacket and hung it over a chair, but I became more interested in watching as he rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt.  

"Mothers are like that, Clark ."  

I shrugged. Couldn't prove it by me.  

Clay took back the bag, ran his lips over the side of my neck, and went into the bathroom. In a matter of seconds I heard the water running.  

I stripped off my shirt and let it lay where I dropped it, and undid my fly, but when I attempted to toe off my shoes, I realized it wasn't going to be that easy. I was still wearing the boots I'd borrowed from Clay.  

"What's wrong, babe?" he asked as I limped into the bathroom.  

"Remind me to shoot myself the next time I let you talk me into going horseback riding." I lowered the lid on the john and sat down gingerly.  

" Clark , you handled Blue really well!"  

"Yeah, and that's supposed to make me feel good? You're not limping."  

"Do you know how long I've been riding?"  

"Since you were three."  

He paused in the act of pouring the Epsom salts into the water.  

"Oh, was that a rhetorical question?"  

"I know that wasn't in my dossier, but somehow I'm not surprised you had no trouble coming up with that tidbit."  

I also had no trouble learning the name of his first pony. Maybe one day I'd get him to tell me why he'd named it Darling.  

Clay finished shaking the granules into the tub, crumpled the bag, and tossed it into the waste basket. He ran his fingers along the curve of my ear. "Sit back. I'll give you a hand with those boots." He straddled my leg and took the heel in both hands. "Okay, push."  

The material of his jodhpurs stretched taut over the curve of his ass, and I swallowed, letting go of my irritation, and reached out to caress the firm muscles.  

"You're supposed to place your other foot on my ass and push." He grinned at me over his shoulder.  

"That would be an abuse of a fine ass." But I leaned back and did as he told me, and he freed my left foot from the boot and then my right, and pulled off my socks as well.    

"Now strip and get in the tub. We can order in…"  

"Not necessary. I've got some frozen dinners in the freezer." I stood and pushed my jeans and shorts down, trying to conceal my discomfort.  

"All right. Lean on me, would you?" He waited until I did, then got my clothes off me. "I'll put a couple in the oven. When you're done, we'll eat, I'll give you a massage -- I had a feeling this might come in handy -- " he took a tube of something from his pocket and waggled it before me, "and then I'll have to leave."  

"You're not staying over, Clay?"  

He paused at the door. "I didn't think to pack my over-nighter, and I'm sure you're aware that Watts has called an early meeting for tomorrow. I'll need to be on the road by 5 in order to get to Langley in time for it."  

"Right. Damn." And The Boss had scheduled an 8 AM meeting as well. I stepped into the tub and eased down into the steaming water with a groan as the heat began to relax my muscles. "You could have stayed if you left a change of clothes here, y'know."  

"You never gave me any indication that you wouldn't mind if I did that." He walked out of the bathroom.  

I stared at the empty doorway. I never had, had I?  

When I'd moved back into this apartment, I'd left some of my things at his townhouse. Why hadn't I asked him to do the same? I closed my eyes and gave it some serious thought.  


I was on my stomach, as boneless as a mass of Jell-o. Clay, who'd never undressed, was seated on the backs of my thighs, his palms flexing on my ass. The liniment he'd used had a pine scent, and my bedroom smelled like a Christmas tree.  

"I think that should do it, babe." He dropped a kiss on the back on my neck and got off me.  

"Thanks, Clay. You've got magic fingers, you know that?" I opened an eye and watched as he rolled down his sleeves and fastened the cuffs. "Fuck. I have to get up and lock the door behind you."  

"That's the price one pays for paranoia." He opened a drawer, took out a pair of shorts, and handed them to me.  

"That's the price one pays to stay alive." I eased them on and stood up, relieved to find most of the soreness gone.  

"I was kidding, Clark ."  

"Right. I knew that." I grinned to show I was kidding him back, but his eyes told me I hadn't convinced him of that. I followed him out of the bedroom.  

"Give me a call when you know what your schedule is like." He draped his jacket over his arm and reached for the doorknob.  

"Clay." I tipped up his chin and kissed him. His mouth softened under mine, and he cupped the base of my skull, pulling my head down to deepen the kiss. We were both breathing heavily when we finally came up for air. "I'll free up the weekend if I can."  


"Webb." He raised an eyebrow. "Drive carefully."  

"I always do."  

I closed the door and snapped the locks in sequence.  


I ran into Matheson as I was on my way up to Mr. Wallace's office. I was stiff because I'd ridden a horse for the first time. I had no doubt he was stiff because he was the one who had been ridden the night before.  

"Matheson." I crooked my finger, and he followed me into the stairwell.  

"Mr. Palmer."  

"Do I need to talk to you about last night?"  

"No, sir." He licked his lips. "May I say something, Mr. Palmer? You've been working for the DSD for longer than any active agent. I'm not about to second guess your actions."  

"Good." I turned and started up the stairs. He was shaping up to be a good special agent, and I really didn't want to kill him.  

Still, it might be a good idea to find another place. That apartment was only supposed to be temporary anyway.  

And when I moved into my new home, I'd tell Clay it was time for him to keep some of his things there, so he'd still be able to spend the night with  me, even if he had an early meeting the next morning.  

I exited the stairwell, not even breathing hard — Epsom salts really worked wonders — and walked down the corridor that housed the administrative offices of the DSD.  

The harpy who guarded The Boss' sanctum peered at me over her glasses, then nodded toward a tray that held a number of coffee mugs and some Danish.  

"The others should be arriving shortly."  

"Thank you." This was going to be one long fucking meeting. I picked up a mug and a blueberry Danish, tapped lightly on the door, and entered.  

"Mr. Palmer."  

"Mr. Wallace."  

"I'm glad you're early. I want to fill you in on a small problem before the others get here." He spoke rapidly and succinctly, and my fingers clenched. I stared down into the pastry- and-fruit-filled mess in my hand. The Boss' lips twitched, more a sour expression of agreement with my reaction than of actual pleasure.  

I put my coffee down and used a napkin to clean my palm. "I'll…"  

"… delegate. Yes?"  

"Of course. I was about to say I'll put Matheson on it."  

"Excellent. I'm pleased with him, Mr. Palmer. He's developing into a quite competent replacement for you." The intercomm on his desk buzzed, and he depressed one of the buttons. "Yes?"  

"Browne and Mr. Stanley are here."  

"Send them in, please."  

The door opened, and the two men entered. Browne had been returned to Stanley 's department after he'd finally been cleared for anything more active than desk duty. We were both relieved.  

"All right, gentlemen, if you'll take a seat…"  

The intercomm buzzed again. "Romero is here."  

The chunky Italian came sauntering in. In one hand was a Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, and in the other was an Egg McMuffin. It was obvious that he'd somehow managed to get them both super-sized.  

Mr. Wallace smiled. "Let's get started."  


The long fucking meeting finally came to an end.  

Romero had drawn some figures on a piece of paper he'd pulled from his pocket, occasionally scratching his jaw with the pencil's eraser. "Yeah, this'll do it. I'll get started on it right away. Catch ya later." And he was out the door.  

Stanley 's grin was positively evil. Having lost a leg had done nothing to lessen his ability to appreciate mayhem. "I'll get my team right on it." He nodded at Mr. Wallace and headed for the door. "Browne, I want you to run this by that pet sawbones of yours."  

"Uh… Mr. Stanley, it might be better if you have someone else talk to Max. I'm not his favorite person at the moment."  

"Oh, for the love of… Haven't you taken him to bed yet, Browne?"  

The door closed on Browne's answer, and The Boss shook his head.  

"Browne is a good agent, but he seems unable to keep a handle on his love life. Much like the rest of mankind, I'd wager."  

I murmured something noncommittal. I didn't have that problem. I took my lover to bed on a regular basis, whether at my place or his, and made damned sure I kept him happy. Of course I wasn't about to tell that to the man who ran the DSD.   

I prepared to leave.  

"Just one second, Clark."  

I got a bad feeling in my gut, but I kept my expression smooth. "Sir?"  

He handed me an ivory envelope. I slid my forefinger under the flap and flipped it open. Inside was a vellum card the same color. //You are cordially invited…//  

Fuck. "Another embassy do?"  


"So, who's going this time?" As if I didn't have my suspicions.  

"You, of course. You'll need to keep an eye on Senator Wexler and that rabbit-y aide of his."  

"Peter Lapin? Yes, sir." There was no chance of persuading him to send someone else. I could tell by the set of his jaw. "Do you have any objections if I throw a scare into the good Senator?"  

"I wouldn't object if you could scare the bastard into a heart attack. And you did not hear me say that."  

"Say what, sir?"  

"Yes. Now, as to this ball. You're going to need a new tuxedo."  

I cleared my throat. "I only wore the last one once. It's practically brand new."  

"You wouldn't want them to think that was all you had in your closet, would you?"  

"And I'll be representing the DSD."  

"Precisely. Well, you have three weeks until the ball. I'd suggest you see about selecting a new one and getting any alterations done as soon as possible."  

"Yes, sir. Anything else?"  

"I think that will be all."  

I turned and started to walked out.  

"Oh, Clark ."  


"You might want to take this with you." He held out the invitation.  

I took it from him and left.  


I  took some time during lunch to go to Putting On the Ritz, a formal shop that carried de la Renta tuxedoes and guaranteed to have them ready when they said they'd be ready. When I returned to my office, I started working on a backlog of paperwork. I intended to take Saturday, the whole day, off.  

And if anything unexpected came up, I'd just delegate. To Matheson.  

It was late by the time I logged off my computer and shut it down for the night.  

My cell phone rang as I was leaving the building. "Palmer."  

"Hi, babe. How are you feeling?"  

Clay. "The Epsom salts helped a lot." I was a little tired…  

"You'll be over then?"  

"You bet." I couldn't picture myself ever that tired.  

"Good. I made you that Italian pasta you like."  

"Rigatoni a la vodka?"  

"Yes. I'll see you in about forty-five minutes?"  

"How about twenty minutes? Traffic isn't too bad."  

"Drive carefully."  

"I always do." I echoed his words of the night before.  

He laughed softly. "Bye, babe."  


As I got into my car, I mused about him calling me 'babe'. He'd been doing that quite a bit lately. I liked it.  

I looked at the newspaper I'd picked up on my way back from Putting On the Ritz. Maybe Clay and I could check out the real estate section after dinner.  

I switched on the radio, and Johnny Mathis' voice swelled from the speakers.  

//Tell the folks to meet me, I'm comin' home…//  

It was what Clay had been whistling the morning before.  

I put the car in gear and headed for Alexandria .