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Title: It Had to be You  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG  

Pairing: Clayton Webb/Clark Palmer  

Rating: FRM    

Disclaimer: Not mine, they'd be better off if they were. Well, except for Watts . He deserves it. However, D.B. Cooper, Bette Johnson, Clay's secretary at State, Darlene Copeland, the Undersecretary, and Anthony and Bryan Sebring (Clay's uncles) are my characters.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 10/05  

Series/Sequel: This is number 13 in the Soundbyte series. It follows Black Coffee.

Summary: Clay's looking forward to a quiet dinner with Clark .  

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

Notes: Soundbytes are an off-shoot of the Mind Fuck universe. They are not necessarily in chronological order. This takes place just before the events of Be It Ever So Humble. Cochon is French for pig. Thanks as always to Gail for the beta.


It Had to be You

By Tinnean


The first thing I did when I got home from spending the evening with Clark Palmer was to call him to let him know I was home.  

"Thanks for humoring me, baby. Have a safe trip, okay?"  

"Sure. I know you don't want to come after me again."  

"Wise ass. I'll see you next week."  

"Yes. Thanks for tonight, Clark ."  

"What can I tell you? I'm the best."  

We both laughed and hung up. Only then did I murmur, "Yes, you are."  

He'd been worried about me making the drive while I was so tired, had even offered to drive me home and catch a cab back into DC.  

Usually I was the one who had to be concerned about my dates. It was a nice change to have someone concerned about me, and I found I liked it. Very much.  

The second thing I did when I got home from spending the evening with Clark Palmer was to check my answering machine. There was one message, and I pressed the play button.  

"Clay, there's been a change of plans." It was D.B. Cooper, a friend and fellow officer at the Company. "You're taking the redeye out of Dulles."  

"Dammit," I muttered to myself. The original plan had been for me to fly out of Reagan in the morning.  

"Sorry about the short notice. Your ticket will be waiting at the Delta counter. I'll meet you there. I've got something that should prove useful." The call ended.  

I glanced at my wristwatch. There wasn't even time for me to take a shower. Clark had sponged off most of the semen that had covered me, but I'd been looking forward to a warm bath, hoping it would help me sleep. I hadn't been sleeping well lately, and this flight would throw off my internal clock even more.  

I took the stairs to my bedroom two at a time, pulled the suitcase from my closet, and packed, and thirty-five minutes later, I arrived at Dulles.  

"Clay. I didn't expect to see you this soon."  

"D.B. It's a damn good thing there were no cops on the 495 tonight. I think I broke every speed limit getting here."  

"Well, you've got twenty minutes until boarding."  

I blew out a disgusted breath and he laughed.  

I handed my ID to the clerk. "You're holding my ticket, I believe? Clayton Webb."  

"Yes, of course, Mr. Webb."  

"I'm checking one suitcase."  

"Very good, sir."  

While she was busy checking me in, D.B. looked me over. There had been no time to change, and I knew I had to look a little rumpled – I'd tossed my clothes off in an effort to get Palmer into me faster, and they'd landed every which way.  

D.B.'s mouth curled in a grin. "So. Are you still seeing that someone who put a smile on your face and a spring in your step?"  


"When are you going to tell me who she is?"  

"When are you going to tell me who you've been seeing?"  


"There you go."  

"You're a spoilsport, Clay."  

"Your boarding pass and your ID, sir. Your flight will be leaving from Gate 14, Concourse B. You'll arrive in Atlanta in approximately an hour and forty-five minutes. Your connecting flight should depart within the hour… "  

"Barring unforeseen delays."  

"Thanks so much for trying to cheer me up," I growled at D.B.  

The clerk tried to bite back a grin. "… to Icheon Airport in Korea . From there it's a little under five and a half hours to Bangkok . Enjoy your flight, sir."  

"Thank you."  

"I'll walk you to the gate, Clay." D.B. fell into step beside me and lowered his voice. "I've got something for you." He handed me a microchip.  

"Thanks. R&D has come up with something new?"  

"In a manner of speaking. This is by way of the late, lamented Michael Shaw."  

"Lamented? Don't you mean *un*lamented?" No one in the CIA had much respect for men who were willing to sell out the agencies for which they worked, but then Shaw hadn't been trying to sell out the DSD; he'd been trying to sell out Clark Palmer.  

D.B.'s grin was sour. "He must have been better than I gave him credit for. There've been no wrinkles that the DSD is even aware it went missing."  

"Hmmm. What does it do?"  

"This'll make any computer anywhere in the world as safe to use as the one in your office. If anyone tries to intercept what you're sending, all they'll get is what looks like Russian pig Latin."  

"That should throw them." I turned it over, then put it in the inside pocket of my suit jacket.  

"Yeah. Well, here we are. This is your gate." He gave my arm a friendly smack. "Watch your ass, buddy."  

"Take it easy, D.B."  

He left, a jaunty swing to his stride, and I handed my boarding pass to the airline representative and walked onto the jet.  


From the moment I set foot on Thai soil the week before, I'd been on the go, and it had been a long, futile week. Now it was time to wrap up what I could, file my report, and catch a flight out of Bangkok Airport .  

Concealing how disgruntled and tired I was, I sauntered into an Internet café, found a machine that wasn't surrounded by kids playing computer games – shouldn't they have been in school? – and casually slipped in the microchip that D.B. had given me.  

I typed up my report, secure in the knowledge that if anyone tried to intercept it, all they would see was gibberish, hit 'send,' emailing it to James Watts, Director of the CIA, and logged out of the program, the microchip once again in my pocket.  

I'd already checked out of the hotel where I'd been staying, so I caught a cab directly to the airport.  

When my flight from the Far East set down in Dulles three quarters of an hour late, I was even more exhausted than I'd been when I'd left Bangkok almost twenty-four hours before.  

By the time I deplaned, went down to baggage claim, where fortunately my suitcase was among the first to arrive on the carousel, then waited for a shuttle to take me to the lot where my Lexus was parked, the sky had lightened considerably.  

I'd be driving home through rush hour traffic.  

Meanly enough, and because I was so tired, I blamed Director Watts for specifically having had those arrangements made for me. It was a 40-minute drive to my home in Alexandria from Dulles, whereas if I'd flown into Reagan, as I would have if the plans hadn't been changed at the last minute, it would only have taken me about ten minutes.  

Because of the traffic, the drive wound up taking me more than an hour, and by the time I pulled into my drive, I could cheerfully have lynched Watts . He wasn't my most favorite person in the world.  

Since I had no intention of taking my car out again until this evening, I parked it in the garage. My priorities were shower and catch up on all the sleep I'd missed, meet my lover, Clark Palmer, for our usual Friday evening dinner at Raphael's, then spend the weekend in bed with him ...   

The thought of the things Clark and I would do in bed, which normally would result in me with an embarrassing hard-on, left me unaffected, and I groaned. I was more exhausted than I'd realized.  

I unlocked the door to my townhouse, stepped inside, and shut it behind me. The cool air smelled of furniture polish, floor wax, and a potpourris of apples, cloves, and cinnamon. The cleaning company I employed had been by while I'd been away.  

I leaned against the door and rubbed my eyes with my free hand, then straightened, my attention caught by the flashing light on my answering machine. I dropped my suitcase and stabbed the play button.  

"Clayton, I'm calling about our riding date on Sunday. You said you anticipated being back on Friday, but if I haven't heard from you by Saturday, I'll assume you won't be able to make it. Oh, and if Clark is still looking for a place to live, I may have something. I'll give him a call when I know more about it. Take care of yourself, sweetheart. I love you."  

"I love you too, Mother," I said softly to the machine. It pleased me that she was willing to take a hand in finding Clark a new home. I wished I could be there to see his reaction when she called him.  

I wished he felt comfortable enough with our relationship to let me stay at his apartment more frequently, but I could understand his reluctance, since a DSD agent lived in the apartment right below his. On the few occasions we had wound up there and run into Matheson, his agent, Clark was always on the alert, like a predator ready to defend what was his.  

I blinked, a little surprised to find that I liked the idea of belonging to Palmer, of him belonging to me.  

I'd never done sex lightly, and because of my job I'd had to be careful of being involved with a civilian, whether male or female. There had been long stretches where I'd gone without any physical intimacy, and frankly hadn't seemed to miss it, and I'd wondered if perhaps I had a chemical imbalance.  

All that changed when I realized Clark Palmer was so curious about me that he'd impersonated a friend from my Phillips Exeter days and persuaded my mother to give him an interview. My invitation to dinner on his birthday was supposed to have been nothing more than a clever way of letting him know I was onto him, but somehow it had gone beyond that, and I'd gone down on him in the men's room of Raphael's exclusive restaurant.  

And now we were lovers.  

The next message began to play, drawing me out of my reverie, and I smiled.  

"Hi, baby. I know you're not home yet, but..." Clark muttered something under his breath, and I went very still. Did he realize what he'd said? There was a beat of silence. I waited to see if he'd ask me to erase the message. Instead, "I'll… uh… let me know when you get back. Raphael's isn't the same without you. Uh… G'bye," he finished in a rush and hung up.  

My smile broadened. He'd called just to hear my voice on my machine.  

Another message started, and that smile faded into a frown.  

"Webb, it's Director Watts. I know you're away just now…" And didn't he sound happy about that? "… but when you return from your trip on Friday… "  

My trip, which had been less than useless, and I was certain he'd known that when he'd sent me on it.  

"… you'll be needed at State. You should be flattered. The Undersecretary asked for you specifically." Director Watt's attitude toward me since that debacle with Prinzip had wavered between falsely jovial and patently resentful.  

The Company's inaction – *his* inaction – when I and other officers of the CIA had been kidnapped and held in a Paris warehouse was something that under another director would have been unacceptable.  

Clark Palmer had been the one to come to our rescue, with some help from an associate of his from Section One.  

"By the way, I'll expect your report regarding this mission on my desk by Monday." Obviously he hadn't checked his email. "Have a nice weekend, Webb." There was a click and then the hum of the dial tone.  

"Bastard," I snarled at my hapless answering machine.  

The last message began. "Mr. Webb, this is your Lexus Dealership. We're calling to confirm your appointment on Friday at 11 for an oil change and tune-up. Please give us a call if you're unable to keep your appointment."  

I sighed and went into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee brewing, then retrieved my suitcase and carried it upstairs to my bedroom, where I laid out a clean suit and took a shower. I'd erase the messages another time, after I'd added Clark 's latest message to the tape I was compiling.  


The shower helped, although not as much as I'd hoped.  

I dragged myself out of the bathroom and eyed my bed with regret. I'd never been able to sleep on trans-oceanic flights, and I particularly loathed flights that crossed so many time zones that I arrived before I'd actually left.  

I was still dragging when I finished dressing. The thought of preparing breakfast left me even more tired.  

Palmer knew I made it a point never to miss the first meal of the day; he also knew I preferred to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients, but the last time he'd stayed for the weekend, he'd brought a brown grocery bag filled with frozen breakfasts with him.  

'I've got better things in mind for you than spending the morning cooking, baby,' he'd told me, the corner of his mouth quirked in a grin. I'd let him stock my freezer, then had caught his arm and pulled him after me up the stairs and into my bedroom.  

'You're a natural bottom, Clay,' he'd murmured in my ear as he pushed my legs back and slid into me, the burn quickly morphing to pleasure. 'Who'd have thought?'  

'I guess you think that makes you special…' I'd groaned as he licked the line of my jaw. '… getting a Webb to lie down for you?'  

'Baby, I think that makes you special.' And he'd framed my face with his palms and kissed me, ravaging my mouth as thoroughly as he ravaged my body.  

Remembering the torrid love-making that had followed, my cock twitched, but I was still too tired for it to do more than that.  

I scrubbed my face and poured myself a cup of coffee. While it sat on the counter, I took a box from the freezer.  

Pancakes and sausages, courtesy of Aunt Jemima, went into the microwave.  

And it wasn't bad.  

The drive into the Capital was uneventful, and I dropped the Lexus off at the dealership and took advantage of their courtesy service to get a ride to State.  

When I arrived there, it was to find a strange woman at the desk in my outer office.  

"Mr. Webb isn't in just now." Her stare was cool. "May I help you, sir?"  

"I'm Webb."  

She turned red. "Oh, Mr. Webb! I'm so sorry! I wasn't expecting… didn't recognize… " She coughed to cover her sudden fluster. "I didn't think you'd be in."  

I raised an eyebrow.  

"Just yet!" she added hastily and offered a weak smile. "I'm Darlene Copeland."  

"Ms. Copeland. Where's Ms. Johnson?" Bette was the woman who was assigned to work as my secretary whenever I was in State.  

"Oh, er… She… um…  I was just told I'd be filling in for her. For today."  

"I hope nothing is wrong." Bette couldn't hold a candle to Janet, my secretary at the Company, but she was a hard worker, and I liked her.  

"I'm sure everything is… " She coughed again. "Can I get you a cup of coffee, Mr. Webb?"  

"If there's any fresh."  

"I'll brew a fresh pot."  

"That isn't… "  

"I don't mind."  

"That will be fine, then; thank you. Dark, very little sugar."  

"Yes, sir." There was relief in her expression. She rose and came from around her desk, the skirt she wore flirting around her knees, and she hurried out.  

This was getting odd.  

I went into my office and closed the door, deciding to use this opportunity to call Clark . I took out my cell phone and hit speed dial.  

"Palmer." Impatience in his voice, and I wondered who'd been pissing off my lover.  

"Hi. It's me." I didn't have to tell him who 'me' was.  

"Hello, me."  The impatience was replaced by a smile, and hearing it made me smile myself and feel less tired.  

"I'm just calling to make sure we're on for dinner tonight."  

"It's Friday, isn't it? I'll see you at Raphael's at eight. Want me to make the reservations?"  

"If you wouldn't mind?" I studied the stacked files on my desk. There was even more than Watts had insinuated. "I've got a ton of paperwork to catch up on."  

"Sure thing."  

"Thanks. And speaking of reservations..." He'd agreed to spend some time with me, away from the bustle of DC. After this past week I was looking forward to getting away even more.  

"I called Taylor House. We're booked for a week from Sunday. I also booked a flight out of Reagan down to Key West ."  

"You do good work, Palmer."  

"You're not just finding that out, are you? Okay," briskly. We both knew a conversation at work wasn't the wisest thing. "I'll see you about 8 tonight?"  

"About 8, then. Bye, babe."  


I shut my phone and put it down on my desk. After dinner we'd probably drive back to my place, and then we'd…  

Well, if I knew my lover, we'd spend most of the weekend in bed, aside from the time we spent with my mother.  

That reminded me. I needed to call Mother to confirm Sunday's ride.  

The answering machine at the house in Great Falls picked up. Markov's voice spoke. "We're not here. Obviously. Leave your name and number, and we'll get back to you."  

Rather than leave a message, I decided to try the mobile phone in her car.  

Mother picked up on the second ring. "Clayton! Are you home?"  

"In a manner of speaking. I'm back in DC."  

"Working? Director Watts hasn't given you some time off?"  

"No. He left a message on my machine. Undersecretary Sinclair asked that I come in today."  


"On top of that, the Lexus is in the shop for an oil change."  


I shrugged, even though she couldn't see me. "It's time."  

"You sound tired, sweetheart." There was concern in her voice. "How are you?"  

"Tired." Damn. I hadn't wanted that to slip out.  

"Did you want to cancel Sunday?"  

"I'm not that tired," I lied. I'd be better after a good night's sleep. Inane platitudes. I stifled a groan.  

"Of course you're not," she agreed dryly.  

I decided to change the subject. "Have you talked to our mutual friend about the condo?"  

"Not yet. I wanted to gather as much information about it as I could. I'll be in the Capital shortly – I have a fitting at Madame Rosa's, that embassy ball, if you'll recall – and I thought I'd give him a call and see if he's free to view it today."  

"That's a good idea. I'm having dinner with him tonight, and I'll see about bringing him along on Sunday."  

"Don't pressure him, sweetheart. If he'd prefer not to ride… "  

"He'll ride, Mother. If only to prove to the horse who's the boss." There was a tap on my door, and my temporary secretary let herself in. "I have to go now, Mother. I'll see you on Sunday."  

"Yes. Take care of yourself, Clayton. Goodbye."  

"Goodbye." I frowned at the woman standing before my desk. "Yes, Ms. Copeland?"  

"Your coffee, sir. I also have a list of the meetings you need to attend."  

"Meetings?" I stared at the stack of paperwork. I'd been under the impression I'd been called in to deal with that.  

"And the Undersecretary wants you to join him in the dining room for lunch at his usual time."  

"All right. Damn." I gestured toward the files. "I don't know when I'll be able to get to these."  

"Oh, I can have someone take care of them for you, sir."  

"Can you?" Then why had the Undersecretary insisted I come in today? This was getting even more odd. "That's very efficient of you. Thank you. Now, who am I supposed to see first?"  


Shortly after 1, I excused myself from a meeting that was as futile as my week in Bangkok had been, and joined the Undersecretary in his private dining room.  

"It's good to see you again, Clayton, although I must say you're looking a little worse for wear."  

"It's been a difficult week. You understand I can't talk about it."  

"Of course not." He sat, and I took the seat to his right. "Sample this fruit cup, why don't you? Samuel is trying something new. It has a strawberry dressing."  

I tasted it. "Very good."  

"Samuel will be pleased to know you're enjoying it. He always said you have the palate of an epicure." He reached for a roll and began to butter it. "Tell me. How is your uncle, Clayton?" Undersecretary Sinclair had been at State since the Johnson administration. He'd known my Uncle Tony and had readily agreed when he'd asked him to give me a cover position as his assistant.  

"Uncle Tony is doing well, thank you."  

"I think we were all quite surprised when he followed Bryan into retirement." He frowned.  

Bryan should have been given the position now held by James Watts. When he'd been passed over for it and learned that it was Watts ' intention to reduce him to a glorified pencil pusher, he'd decided there was nothing more for him at the Company and retired to the West Coast.  

"They've found a mansion that's reputed to have been the home of Ramon Navarro at one time. While Bryan is working on 'CIA', Uncle Tony is overseeing its restoration."  

"I imagine he's cutting a swath through all the ladies in Hollywood , young and old alike."  

I paused in taking a bite of my own roll. I wasn't about to tell him that Uncle Tony had fallen in love with a woman who was a third his age, and who had a child from a previous relationship. Mother had flown out to California to meet her and the girl, and had returned home ambivalent.  

'I've never seen your uncle so besotted,' she'd told me.  

'Over this woman, or over the fact that she brings him a ready-made family?'  

'Truthfully? I was unable to tell. Tony won't hear a word against her, not that I was foolish enough to say anything.'  

Sebrings might dally where they would, but once they fell in love, it was forever. Webbs were like that too.  

'And she?'  

Mother had shrugged. 'She rides. At least they have that in common.'  

'Don't be difficult, Mother. You know I meant, what are her feelings toward Uncle Tony?'  

'She seems to care a great deal for him. Whether that's as a spouse, a father for her child, or a meal ticket, remains to be seen.'  

'Do you want me to look into her background, Mother?'  

'That won't be necessary, sweetheart.' She'd given a tight smile. 'I have a… friend keeping an eye on how things go.' She still kept in touch with people she'd known when she'd broken Russian codes during Project Venona. 'If this woman breaks my brother's heart, she'll have me to answer to.'  

And they called women the weaker sex.  

I turned my attention back to the conversation.  

"Your uncle always was a cool customer!"  

"The California climate seems to suit him," I remarked, being deliberately obtuse. The Undersecretary laughed.  

"Anthony is a good man; one of the best." He began to speak of his earliest days at State, when Anthony Sebring II had taken a young law clerk under his wing and began grooming him to become undersecretary, and the meal passed pleasantly.   

However, I was no clearer as to why I'd been called in to State today.  

After a dessert of lemon mousse in an edible chocolate cup, he touched his napkin to his mouth and rose from the table. I followed suit.  

"Well, I imagine I've bent your ear enough, Clayton." We walked out of the dining room and back to his office. "It was kind of you to come in and join me for lunch, especially after returning so recently from the Far East ."  

"Excuse me, sir, but I thought you had requested me to come in to clear the paperwork on my desk?" I worried my lip. No one outside my department was supposed to be aware of that mission.  

"Why would I do that? There are plenty of young men, and young women, if it comes to that, who are more than capable of entering those reports."  

Why, indeed? "Perhaps I misunderstood."  

"From where did you get those instructions?"  

I gave a quick glance around the crowded corridor. "Where do you think, sir?"  

"Like that, is it? If I recall correctly, your caller, who I'll allow to be nameless for the time being, was also responsible for the fact that the rescue of you and other members of the Intelligence community this past spring was thanks to the efforts of the DSD and not the CIA."  

"I wasn't aware that was known by any other than Director Watts, Admiral Chegwidden, and Director Wallace."    

"Information has a way of leaking out, my boy." He gave me a shrewd look. "You're too much the son of your parents not to get to the bottom of this. I have no doubt that you will."  

I said something noncommittal, and we shook hands. "It was good seeing you again, sir."   

I returned to my office.  

"Oh, Mr. Webb, the Lexus dealership called." Ms. Copeland picked up a yellow post-it. "Your vehicle needs an oil filter, but they're out of the ones for your model. They're having one flown down from their New York affiliate, but it won't get here until after hours tonight. They'll work on it tomorrow. Also, they apologize, but they have no vehicles available to loan you."  

And there were no rental agencies either? I was too tired to give more than a passing thought as to what the fuck was going on.  

"All right." I could take a cab to Raphael's after work, then have Clark drive me to the dealership tomorrow. "Thank you."  

I went into my office and shut the door. The number of files remaining on my desk seemed greatly reduced. I sat down and turned on my computer, and while I waited for it to warm up, I checked my cell phone for messages.  

There were two.  

Clark . Short, sweet, and it felt like a slap in the face.  

"I can't make it tonight. Sorry."  

What… ? For a second, I couldn't catch my breath.  

The other message was from Mother. "I'm going house-hunting with Clark , sweetheart."  

I was abashed at how quickly I'd been ready to think Palmer would throw me over.  

"It's a condo in Aspen Reach, listed by Francesca Dashwood, Allison's sister-in-law. Allison asked me to send some business her way."  

Mother would do it as a favor to the woman who had been a sorority sister and her matron-of-honor, as well as my godmother.  

" Clark is insisting on driving me home from Aspen Reach, so I'm going to insist he stay for dinner. If you want to keep your usual Friday arrangement, I would suggest you call Markov. He's in town and will be more than happy to have someone to talk to on the drive home."  

I dialed Markov's cell phone.  

"Clay! How was your trip?" Markov would know about it – he'd been FBI before he left to become Mother's butler cum bodyguard.  

"A complete waste of time. I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."  

"Of course. Will you be joining us for dinner tonight? Oh, wait. I forgot. It's Friday." He sounded disgruntled.  

"As a matter of fact, I will be joining you, if you'll be kind enough to pick me up at State. I need a ride."  

"What's the matter with the Lexus?"  

"Nothing. It's in for an oil change and a tune-up."  

"Didn't you just have that done? Damned imports. Okay, I'll pick you up – when?"  

"About 4:30?"  

"Good. That should get us home in time for me to make something… special for dinner."  

"Whatever you'll be making, you'll have to make sure it's enough for four."  

"I know. Your mother told me we'd be having a guest." He sneered the word. "I don't know how you can trust that man, Clay!"  

"He saved my life, Gregor."  

"So buy him something as a token of your gratitude."  

"I think I owe him something more than monetary remuneration, don't you?"  

"Maybe, but I just hope you don't give him your heart!"  


"Shit! Pretend you didn't hear me say something so stupid! I'll see you at 4:30 , Clay." He hung up.  

For a second, I couldn't catch my breath. I'd never worried about giving away my heart – I'd had my one true love back when I was fifteen, and he'd spurned me, and since Webbs and Sebrings only loved once, that had been my chance at the brass ring, the golden ticket. When Palmer came into my life and eventually my bed, that was the last thing that had crossed my mind.  

The phone on my desk buzzed, providing a welcome distraction. "You have another meeting, Mr. Webb."  


At 4:30 on the dot, Markov pulled up in the Towncar.  

I opened the passenger door, got into the front seat, and waited for him to say something about our previous conversation.  

"You're looking tired, Clay."  

"Good afternoon to you too, Gregor," I said dryly. Apparently he had as little desire to bring it up as I did.  

He scowled at me, waited until I buckled up, then eased the car away from the curb. "What's the story with Watts sending you to Bangkok ?"  

"That was supposed to be classified."  

He snorted. "I might not have been CIA, but I was a damned good FBI agent."  

"Everyone seems to know I was in Bangkok . Even Undersecretary Sinclair."  

"Hmmm. It sounds as if there was a leak."  


"But there's something else bothering you."  

"There was a message from Watts on my machine when I got home this morning, telling me the Undersecretary had requested me to come in to State today, ostensibly to clean up some paperwork."  


"But when I got there, the Undersecretary knew nothing about it. He said it could have been dealt with by anyone in State."  



"And that trip to Bangkok was worse than useless."  


"And this isn't the first wild goose chase he's sent you on."  

I leaned my head back against the headrest. "No."  

"Sounds to me like general pissiness on the Director's part."  

I had to laugh at that, but it did sound passive-aggressive, now that I thought about it. "But why? That's the epitome of unprofessionalism."  

"If I recall correctly, he's had a wild hair up his ass since that FUBAR in Paris . He wasn't happy that someone not CIA was involved in your rescue."  

"But Mother was going to have someone come looking for me anyway. Benjamin Monroe, if I recall correctly."  

"Yes. However, Monroe wasn't DSD; he was someone your uncle, who had been CIA, recommended."  

"Still… "  

"Clay, Palmer stuck his nose where it wasn't wanted. Or needed."  

"But if Palmer hadn't stepped in… " I was trying to be reasonable, but I found it difficult. I should have known he wouldn't pass up an opportunity to snipe at Clark . "… I would have wound up dead, Gregor. I have no doubt about it."  

"Yes, well, *I* do! You're the son of Neville and Porter Webb. You'd have gotten yourself out!"  

"No, Gregor, I'd be dead now," I reiterated, and I could hear him grind his teeth. "Palmer's a good man, and I… like him." I hoped he hadn't noticed the minute hesitation.  

"You're infatuated with him."  

"I'm not fifteen any more." When it had been time to go home from the wine country of Bordeaux , I'd left my first lover with avowals of everlasting love. Average height, with dark, gypsy looks, I'd been positive he was the love of my life. When the single, stilted letter I'd sent him – even at fifteen, I knew better than to commit anything indiscreet to paper – was returned with an equally stilted note from his parents informing me Philippe had been sent away, and I was never to attempt to contact him again, I'd been certain my heart had cracked in two and would never heal.  

'I won't tell you no one dies of a broken heart, Clay.' Gregor had sat beside me, his arm around my shoulders.  

'But no one does?'  

'No one does.' He rubbed my arm, his attempt at being reassuring, and surprisingly, it did help. 'And one day you'll look back on this time with fondness, and if there's any regret, it will simply be that you wasted a moment of time grieving over him.'  

He took his eyes from the road for a second to meet mine, then shook his head and seemed to deflate. "And you're not going to stop seeing him just because I happen to think he's wrong for you."  

"I'm not fifteen, Gregor," I said once again.  

"No, you're not."  

"And I know what I'm doing."  

"Do you?"  

"This is my life, Gregor."  

"All right. But I should have shot him before I let him step one foot into your mother's house."  

"You didn't know it was him."  

"Don't remind me. Who'd have thought he would do something so unpredictable." He snorted. "What am I saying? Palmer's middle name is unpredictable!"  

I laughed, but leaned forward to turn on the radio. The station was a classical one that Mother favored, and Debussy's Clair de Lune filled the car.  

Gregor took the hint and concentrated on driving us to Great Falls , and twenty minutes later pulled into the garage.  

"I've got some plump, fresh shrimp that will make a nice scampi," he said as we entered the house.  

"That calls for garlic, if I recall."  

"Yeah. A lot of it." He grinned, and in spite of his best attempt to appear innocent, that grin was evil, but I couldn't prevent myself from smiling back at him. "Why don't you go up to your room and lie down for a while?"  

"You know I won't be able to fall asleep."  

"Try anyway."  

"Yes, Papa."  


I went up the stairs to the suite of rooms that had been mine since before I'd entered Phillips Exeter.  

The room was spotless, not a speck of dust on the furniture, not a wrinkle in the curtains or bedspread that Mother had changed seasonally, even though I was no longer living there.  

On one wall were framed photos of the horses I had ridden. Darling, my first pony, Jack Be Nimble and Quasimodo, the horses I would have taken to Moscow with me for the 1980 Summer Olympics, and Montezuma, the horse I took to Seoul and the Pentathlon in the summer of '88.  

Trophies and blue ribbons from show jumping and dressage competitions were in a cabinet that my father and I had built together when I was nine. It wasn't perfect, but I treasured it. I smiled. I'd heard some choice words when he'd slipped with the hammer and hit his thumb, and he'd made me promise not to repeat them in front of Mother.  

On the opposite wall was a bookcase that held classics such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Count of Monte Cristo, and A Tale of Two Cities.  

Beside the bookcase was a pair of crossed dueling swords. I thought briefly of the sword Clark had in his living room. It had belonged to Basil Rathbone, and Clark had provenance stating it had been used by the actor in The Mark of Zorro, Captain Blood, and The Adventures of Robin Hood.  

I removed my suit jacket and loosened my tie, and went into the bathroom to freshen up. I didn't bother lying down. The occasional nightmare I'd been having had escalated over the past week to the point where I was reluctant to even try to sleep; I knew that had contributed to my exhaustion.  

I crossed to the bookcase and took down a book. There was a window seat fitted in the bay window that overlooked the back lawn, and I made myself comfortable on the padded cushions. I began to leaf through The Three Musketeers.  

My eyes grew heavy, the words blurred, and before I realized it, I had dozed off.  


I sat in a corner of the cell, my arms wrapped around my knees, trying to conserve what body heat I could. The cold and damp had seeped into my bones, and I shivered uncontrollably. A heavy chain shackled me to the wall. It had started to rub my ankle raw, and I no longer paced the confines of my cell.  

I'd lost track of time, had no idea how long I'd been imprisoned in this place. I was starting to believe that I was destined to die here.  

Had they forgotten me, the people for whom I worked?  

When I heard the key in the lock, I looked up, expecting to see Max, the little Frenchman who had been caring for me in between beatings administered by Etienne and Gaston, henchmen of the madman who'd had me kidnapped.  

Instead, it was the dastardly duo themselves.  

Rather than have them think I was intimidated by them, I hauled myself to my feet.  

"That time again, is it, boys?"  

Gaston glared at me. Then his expression shifted to a combination of sly and lecherous. He spoke to me in French. "M. l'Administrateur has a visitor who is most desirous of … "  His leer became even more pronounced. "… having you on your knees before him."  

"I kneel to no man."  

"You fool! You will kneel to Clark Palmer!"  

"Palmer?" My heart gave a stutter.  

"Ah. You know the man. I look forward to seeing him fuck that pretty mouth of yours."  

"In your dreams, cochon!"  

A hard flush colored his cheeks, and he backhanded me. I rolled with it, otherwise he could have easily fractured my cheekbone.  

"'Tienne," he snarled, "free him."  

"Gaston… " The larger man seemed uneasy. "I do not think… "  

"That is your trouble, imbécile! You do not think! Do what I say!"  

"Bien sur." Etienne's tone was resentful, but he obeyed him.  

They dragged me down the long, dim corridor, Gaston muttering in detail what Palmer intended to do to me. Sodomy, both oral and anal, featured greatly in it.  

"And once this Clark Palmer is done with you, then it will be our turn, eh, 'Tienne?"  

But I knew that escape and retribution were in the offing. Palmer, my lover, was here to rescue me.  

I'd been in the White Room before, had been drugged and beaten there, and I couldn't prevent a shudder as the two shoved me through the doorway, but I was ready to put on the performance of a lifetime.  

"Ah, Mr. Webb," the Administrator murmured, "you're here just in time to say au 'voir to Mr. Palmer."  

"I should have known you'd be behind this… " I started to growl, but then I caught sight of him, and the words caught in my throat.  

This wasn't how it was supposed to be.  

Battered, broken, bloody – Clark gazed at me, all trace of his normally cocky attitude vanished, and I felt myself turn as white as the room.  


"Yes, Mr. Webb!"  

A shot rang out, reverberating in the confines of the room, there was a sodden thud, and my body flinched as if it had taken the bullet.  

Clark lay on the floor, a small, neat hole between his eyes, which stared sightlessly at the ceiling. Blood pooled beneath his head, obscenely red on the stark white floor.  

"No! He can't be dead!"  

"Oh, but he is, Mr. Webb."  

I went to him, one faltering step at a time, like an marionette whose strings were sliced through, and dropped to my knees. I gathered his lifeless body in my arms and cradled his ruined head. Blood soaked into my sleeve.  

"Such a disappointment, I'm afraid. His weakness for you, you see, Mr. Webb. He was no longer the perfect killing machine." He grinned at me, the expression in his eyes showing he had parted complete company with sanity. "And now I'll shoot you."  

He pointed the gun at me. In a matter of moments I would be dead. I thought fleetingly of Mother, of my uncles, of friends who would mourn my passing, but I was uncaring. My lover was already dead.  

I watched as the Administrator's finger tightened on the trigger.  

The gun fired and…  


I jerked upright, lost my balance, and slid off the window seat onto the floor. My stomach heaved, and I scrabbled to my feet and bolted into the bathroom, emptying my stomach of the lunch Samuel had worked so hard to create.  

I leaned against the commode and shuddered. It had only been a nightmare.  

'Only.' I gave a short laugh. That nightmare had been haunting me for weeks now, growing increasingly more violent, until now, in every one, Clark Palmer was killed.  

Finally, I rose to my feet, splashed water on my face, and rinsed out my mouth. Under control once more, I tidied my appearance and returned to the bedroom, put on my jacket, and went downstairs.  

Markov gave me a sharp look, but all he asked was, "Were you able to catch forty winks?"  

"You know I'm good for nothing if I try to take a nap."  

"I didn't ask you that."  

I gave a huff. "No, you didn't." Stubbornly, I refused to answer. What good would telling him about the nightmare do?  

"You look like shit, Clay, and your mother is not going to be happy with me."  

"You're not my nursemaid, Gregor."  

"No. But I'm your friend."  

"Then be my friend, and please don't nag."  

His eyebrow climbed toward his hairline. "Yes, *sir*!"  

"Asshole." But it was muttered softly under my breath so he wouldn't hear. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt him. "Gregor… "  

"Never mind. They're here."  

"How do you know?"

"I heard the car pull into the drive."  

I opened the front door and stepped onto the steps just as the car pulled into the drive. Mother got out, and I hurried across the lawn to greet her.  

"You're looking tired, sweetheart."  

"I'm very glad it's Friday, Mother. It's been a long week. I was at State today." I couldn't take my eyes off Clark . He was alive, not a single drop of blood obscuring his looks, not a single broken bone protruding through his skin. "You know how that can be. On top of that, the Lexus needed to go in for its 3,000 mile tune-up. It's a good thing your message let me know that Markov was in town. I called him and got a lift." I was rambling.  

Mother was aware of all of that. There was concern in her eyes.  

"Mrs. Webb!" Markov's hands were fisted on his hips.  

"I'm coming, Markov." Mother took my hand, and I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. She must have accepted it, because she let me go and turned to join Markov on the steps.  

Clark came around his car. "Webb. I wasn't expecting to see you here."  

"Mother's message also let me know she was going house-hunting with you. What did you think of Aspen Reach?"  

"The community is okay." He fell into step beside me, and we walked toward the house.  

"Only okay? What about the condo?"  

"Barring any unforeseen difficulties – and I don't think there will be any, they're getting desperate to unload it – it's mine." He was in a very good mood.  

Mother paused, looked over her shoulder. "Goodness knows Francesca worked hard enough to sell it. And that isn't all she was selling." She smiled grimly, climbed the steps, and disappeared into the house.  

"*Francesca*?" I stopped dead. Was that why he was in such a good mood? Was he becoming interested in this woman? Clark walked past me. He didn't even realize I was no longer beside him.  

And then he did. He stopped and looked back at me. "Clay?"  

"Should I be jealous?" I didn't wait to hear what he had to say. I'd been tortured by nightmares, and he'd been screwing around.  

"She isn't my type, Webb."  

I ignored him and went into the house. He was right behind me, and he pinched my ass. When I turned to glare at him, he grinned at me.  

"Unless she's hiding them behind blue contacts, she doesn't have hazel eyes."  

"And you mean to say that if she did, you'd find her… interesting?"  

His jaw dropped. "Clay, what…" Now he was concerned?  

"Well, if you want to fuck her, don't let me stop you, Palmer." I brushed my hair out of my eyes and gave him a cool look. Webbs did not reveal to anyone the fact that they were bleeding inside. I started to walk away from him.  

"Are you kidding?" He grabbed my arm, jerking me to a halt. "You think I'd do something like that to you?"  

"Why not? You're…" Before I could tell him that he was free and over 21, he pulled me against him and slammed his mouth onto mine.  

I could have freed myself easily. He may have been DSD, but I came from a long line of officers, agents, and spies. I could have taken him. If that had been what I'd wanted to do.  

But I didn't want to do that. I sighed into his mouth and leaned into him.  

"Webb, what the fuck is up?"  

"I just needed to know… " That I wasn't setting myself up for a fall. "I'm sorry. It's been a bitch of a day, ending an all-time bitch of a week."  

"You're gonna do that one time too often, and then…"  

"You're going to leave me?" Oh, that was very smart, Webb. Why not just come right out and tell the man you've got it bad for him?  

"No. CIA idiot. I'm gonna knock you on your ass."  

"You've already knocked me on my ass."  

"I have?"  

"Didn't you know?" What was the point in trying to deny what I felt for him. He was Palmer. He'd probably already figured it out, and since he wasn't laughing his ass off, maybe … I kissed him and whispered against his lips, "I'm disappointed in you."  

"Damned spook. Come on. Markov will think I'm molesting you."  

"Speaking of which…"  

"Molesting you?"  

"Smart ass. No. Markov. He drove me here." I thought of my Lexus, in the shop and with no available transportation. It wasn't a big deal, but it was annoying. "I don't have my car, and I'm going to need a ride home."  

"No problem. I'll drive you back to your townhouse."  

"I knew I could count on you."  

"Want to stop and check out my place on the way back?"  

It took me a second to realize what he was talking about. "Oh, your condo?"  

"Yeah." There was pride in that one word.  

"Clayton!" Mrs. Webb called from the dining room. " Clark ! Dinner is getting cold!"  


After dinner, we had coffee in the small parlor at the back of the house.  

"Sweetheart, you look so tired."  

"I'll be fine, Mother. I just need a solid night's sleep."  

"In that case I think you've had enough coffee, Clay." Palmer could be a pain-in-the-ass, but since he was a live pain-in-the-ass, I let him take my cup.  

"Pushy so-and-so," I muttered loudly enough for him to hear me. I didn't want him to think he could run my life. He grinned and winked at me.  

I studied him as he took Mother's cup as well and walked out of the room,  an easy confidence in his stride. There was no trace of the hopeless despair of my nightmare.  

But then, I was no longer asleep.  

"Clayton, I'm serious about you looking tired." Mother's words brought me back to the small parlor.  

"That seems to be the general consensus. However, I left word at both State and Langley that short of a national emergency, I wasn't to be called this weekend." I couldn't prevent a yawn. "Sorry."  

"Perhaps we should call off our Sunday ride."  

"I'm not an invalid, Mother."  

"No one said you were, Clay." Clark was back in the room, and he exchanged glances with my mother. Did they think I needed to be babysat?  

I opened my mouth to tell them I was quite capable of taking care of myself, but Clark gave me a look and closed his hand over my arm.  

"C'mon, tough guy. I'll drive you home."   

I would have protested, but I had no ride. "Fine," I muttered. I refused to be embarrassed by the petulant tone.  

I followed him out to the car and let him open the passenger door for me, but when he would have buckled my seatbelt, I slapped his hands away and glared at him. "I'm not a child, Palmer!"  

"That's a damn good thing, baby. What I have in mind for you would get me arrested if you were."  

"Ha, ha."  

He leaned down and kissed me, then straightened and shut the door. Once he was behind the wheel, I opened my mouth to take him to task for kissing me in front of my mother's house, where any of her neighbors could have seen.  

"No one's around, baby. Do you think I didn't check? Now wave goodbye to your mother, Clay." And he grinned and put the car in gear.  


The rhythm of the tires on the pavement was almost hypnotic, and if he talked on the drive home, I was too drowsy to hear. He parked and came around to my side, opening the door for me again.  

"Hey." Still more asleep than awake, I gazed up and down the street. We were in front of his apartment building. "This is your place, not mine!"


'You're a devious bastard, Palmer."  

"Yeah, and you like me that way."  

I did.  

"Come on." We went into the building. My eyes slid shut for just a second. "Sit, baby."  

I blinked and looked around. Somehow he'd got me up to his apartment, and had me stripped down to my shorts and undershirt and in his bed.  

"You can fight with me in the morning. You need to sleep now."  

"I don't want to fight with you."  

"Oh, yeah? You could have fooled me."  

"You liked 'Cesca."  


"The real estate woman. Was she pretty?"  

"Oh, her. No."  

He didn't remember who she was, and he didn't think she was pretty. That made me feel good. But I didn't want him to think I was jealous. "Not jealous, y'know."  

"No, I can see that." There was amusement in his voice. "Clay, I like you..."  

"Like you too."  

"I would never give you a reason to be jealous."  

"Never say never. Just... tell me first."  

"Okay, baby. I would, but I really don't have room in my life for more than one person."  

"That sounds good. Thought we were going to stop at Aspen Reach." A yawn caught me unaware. "I'm sorry, babe."  

"It's okay. What's the point in showing… "  

It was becoming hard to make out his words. "Excuse me?" I blinked and tried to focus on his face.  

"Go to sleep, baby."  

The pillow was so soft, and that order was so easy to obey. He settled the covers over my shoulders, and I felt him drop a kiss on my jaw.  

The bed dipped, and I knew he had joined me in bed. I sought his warmth, and his arms came around me.  

"'S nice," I mumbled, and fell back to sleep.  

And for once, I didn't worry about the nightmares.



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