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Title: My Christmas Always  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG  

Pairing: Clark Palmer/Clayton Webb  

Rating: NC-17  

Disclaimer: All things JAG – Palmer, Webb, Rabb, Candella, Porter Webb, and Markov — belong to Belisarius Productions. However, Porter Webb's family, the staff of the DSD, and the rentboys are all mine.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 12/22/04  

Series/Sequel: This is number 9 in the Soundbyte series and follows Coming Home.    

Summary: Palmer has always been alone for Christmas. Not this year.  

Warnings: m/m. Spoilers for Webb of Lies.  

Notes: Part of the SAC-2004 at:
This is set in the Soundbyte universe, which itself is an offshoot of Mind Fuck. It presupposes that the DSD was never disbanded. I gave Yamamoto the first name of Akira. Thanks muchly to Greg for his marvelous recipe for rack of lamb. The reference to 'Magnum' is Magnum PI. The title is from You're My Christmas Present by Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners. Gail beta'd, of course, and I thank her very much.  


My Christmas Always

By Tinnean


It was standard procedure for the DSD to keep files on all CIA officers. We knew who had a weakness for nose candy, who bet on the ponies, who kept a little apartment across town that he wouldn't want his wife to find out about because while she might be pissed about another woman, she'd become lethal over another man.  

So it wasn't out of the ordinary that I'd been compiling a dossier on Clayton Webb.  

Webb was… interesting. He was born to a family that was not only well-to-do, upper class, and brilliant, but they also had espionage bred into their bones, and it wasn't surprising that he went into the family business.  

Deputy Director of Counter Intelligence for the CIA, Webb was a spook, clever, competent, and hard-working, and although up until that point I'd never come up against him personally, it paid for me to know everything I could about him.  

Then came the incident on the Kamiko Maru.  

Akiro Yamamoto had created a superconductor for the Bradenhurst Corporation, and when he learned that working for Bradenhurst was the same as working for the DSD, he panicked and ran. We'd have let him go, but he took the superconductor with him.  

Quite a few agencies, foreign as well as domestic, became involved; they thought they could get in on a sweetheart of a deal. They all wanted it and didn't care how rough they had to play in order to take possession of it.  

What they failed to realize was what was Bradenhurst's was the DSD's, and we wouldn't give it up easily.  

Paul Candella, the mole in the CIA, was supposed to be working with the DSD, but he got greedy and wanted more than his fair cut.  

*I* wouldn't have chosen Candella as a mole. He was a minor officer in the CIA, and there had to be a reason why he'd been passed over for promotion. However, the Deputy Director of Interior Affairs for the DSD at the time, Robert Sperling, kept me out of the loop; it wasn't my operation.  

And then it became my operation.  

The news of the explosions on the Kamiko Maru, along with the 'death' of a highly regarded CIA officer, swept through the DSD like wildfire. Trevor Wallace, the man who ran the DSD, was not pleased when such a simple operation was shot to shit, and I was called in to clean up Sperling's mess, not the first time that had happened.  

I'd taken care of Candella, watching as he died sucking on a poisoned cigarette. The fact that I'd learned he'd shot Webb had nothing to do with it. Sloppy work was to be neither tolerated nor rewarded.  

But I'd looked into Webb's eyes, muddy with pain from the days' old bullet wound to his thigh but still fiercely determined to see that I didn't get away with what the CIA wanted.  

"You do good work, Webb." I'd been serious, although I'd concealed it with one of those grins that had gotten me labeled a sociopath. He was a worthy opponent. That was the only reason why I was glad he wasn't dead.  

Lieutenant Commander Rabb turned up then, guns a-blazing. It wasn't often that I was caught unaware, but I'd been concentrating on Webb. The bullet hit me in the chest, sending me crashing back against the ship's railing from its force. I took a pretty good whack to the head as well. It left me dazed, but the Kevlar I was wearing protected me from everything but the bruising that would result from the shot.  

Candella wasn't the only one who was sloppy. If Rabb had put his fingers on the pulse in my throat, he would have realized I wasn't dead, and he could have killed me before I had the chance to recoup from the temporary disorientation. He didn't, though. Instead he went back -- to check on Webb? To make sure the superconductor was safe?  

Whatever the reason, I took advantage of it and rolled off the deck and into the murky waters of the harbor.  

The water was so filthy that when I'd returned to DSD headquarters, I'd had to get a tetanus shot. And I threw away the clothes.  

When I had the time, I dug the bullet out of my vest. Sometimes I carried it around in my pocket as a good luck charm.  

JAG, the CIA, the FBI, they all practically creamed their pants to have that superconductor in their hands.  

It was a real shame, then, that they all came to the same conclusion, the superconductor was a wash, one of those costly experiments that just wasn't worth the time or material -- or the hassle -- it took to obtain it. And they laughed at the DSD for being saddled with the expense.  

Of course, the DSD had the last laugh. We had the real thing; I'd replaced the one in the case with a dud.  

But after that, getting information on Webb became personal. It was kept in my own computer, buried behind firewalls, and if any attempt to access it was made, the computer was programmed to self-destruct.  

I posed as an old school friend and interviewed his mother, supposedly for the Philips Exeter alumnus newsletter. She even allowed me to take some pictures of the photos she displayed with such pride.  

Markov, Porter Webb's 'butler', had searched me. The little device I'd carried had gone undetected and had done its job, causing interference with all the CIA surveillance equipment Webb had had installed.  

My tracks should have been covered; there should have been no way for him to discover that it was I and not Matt Robinson who had breached the security of his mother's house.  

Somehow, he did discover it, and when he did, he initiated the first of the mind games that would result in us literally in bed together — he bought me dinner at Raphael's for my birthday. After dinner, he followed me into the men's room. He backed me against a wall, dropped to his knees, and went down on me. I thought he was going to suck my brains out through my cock.  

Of course I had to repay the favor. A short time later I broke into his townhouse in Alexandria, cuffed him to his bed, and showed him he wasn't the only one with a very talented mouth.  

I didn't want an affair, and I didn't want a relationship. It was sex, pure and simple.  

Only… I'd gone to Massachusetts for a funeral, and he'd come after me.  

And when he'd gone to Paris on CIA business and got himself kidnapped, I'd gone after him and rescued him.  

So now we were a couple, sort of.  

After my apartment in Forest Heights was destroyed in an explosion – someone who shouldn't have tried to get in -- I'd moved back to the apartment I'd lived in before. It made things a little awkward, since the agent I was training to replace me lived right below, so most weekends had been spent at his townhouse.  

But since I'd moved to a condo in a gated community in Alexandria called Aspen Reach — I grimaced at the name – he would as often as not spend the weekends with me.  

The master bedroom in my condo had a large walk-in closet. Along one wall were some of Clay's suits and shirts so he could go directly to Langley or State come Monday morning, a few sets of casual clothes, and even a pair of boots, jodhpurs and a riding jacket. I'd freed up a couple of drawers in the double dresser for socks, undershirts, and shorts.  

We had an arrangement to meet at Raphael's a couple of times a month. From there we'd do something, go to a show or a movie or a little place we knew of for drinks. Once we saw Rabb there, at the back of the bar, talking intently to someone whose face I was unable to see, but who struck me as familiar. We walked out without him seeing us.  

As long as Clay was in town, and I wasn't working…  

The Company's policy regarding the retirement of active officers from the field was different from the DSD's.  

Then again, the DSD didn't expect many of its agents to survive to the mandatory retirement age of 35. It was a tough occupation; I carried my share of scars.  

I'd fudged my birth date and had stayed in the field longer than any other special agent. According to the files the DSD had buried somewhere, I was 37. Trevor Wallace, the man who ran the DSD, had commented on the day I'd been officially retired to a desk, that he had kept me active for two years longer than policy.   

It was actually five years. I had turned 40 that February. I still had no clue how Clay had learned that was my real birthday.   

When I walked into the restaurant that Friday night, Raphael's was crowded as usual. Not that it mattered. I'd called earlier to make a reservation.  

After dinner we were going to see a movie. Clay had a weakness for Kurosawa, and The Seven Samurai was playing in some art house.  

He hadn't arrived yet. I took a seat at our table in the alcove. The menu rested across my plate. I'd wait a bit to see if he was going to show up.   

There had been a few times when I'd be there ahead of him, perusing the menu, and the waiter would approach with a written message that simply said, 'Sorry,' and I'd know that Clay had been sent out of town on assignment at the last minute to clean up someone's mess.  

I'd burn the note in the candle's flame and crush the ash between my fingers, then order dinner.  

Sometimes it would be a repeat of our first dinner together, on my birthday, penne a la vodka followed by veal piccata.  

I was casually studying the other diners, when, "Hi." Clay had arrived. "Sorry I'm late."  

I grinned at him. "No problem. I just got here myself."  

He sat down and reached for his menu. "What looks good?"  

"I thought you might pick something out."  

"All right." He glanced through the menu, then closed it. "How about something simple tonight?"  

"You in a rush to get me alone?"  

"Always." He smiled, and the tip of his tongue touched his upper lip. "The house salad and Ravioli di Salmone?"  

"Sure. I'm easy."  

He laughed quietly.  

Our waiter approached the table with a basket of breadsticks. "Signores?"  

Clay gave him our order.  

"And would you care for wine with your dinner?"  

"Yes." Clay smiled at him, and I didn't understand why the waiter wasn't melting under that smile, but it was his good fortune that he wasn't. He'd been our waiter for as long as we'd been coming to Raphael's, and I wouldn't have wanted to kill him.  

Not to say that I wouldn't have if it looked like he was even considering making moves on my lover.  

The waiter did one of those Italian hand gestures, and the wine steward bustled over.  


Clay ordered a wine that would compliment the salmon in the ravioli, and we waited while the wine steward poured some into our glasses, and then left.  

Clay was silent, picking at a breadstick, which was a little unusual for him, and I cocked an eyebrow at him.  

"Something going on I should know about? Or shouldn't know about? In which case you know I'll make it my business to find out about it."  

"I have no doubt, Clark ." His smile was a little wry.  

Our salads were brought out before I could ask him what was putting those frown lines between his eyes. The waiter offered the pepper mill, and Clay nodded, and there was the rhythmic ratcheting of the pepper being ground over his salad.  

"Signore?" The waiter offered it to me.  

I shook my head, he gave a short bow from the waist, and left.  

Once we were alone and had begun to eat, "It's almost Christmas." Clay seemed particularly interested in a leaf of arugula.  

"You could say that," I agreed cautiously. It was the beginning of December.  

He put down his fork and looked across at me. "I always spend Christmas with Mother."  

"Yeah, so? You can do what you want, Webb. I don't have you on a leash, you know."  

"Don't be such a pain in the ass, Palmer. What I want is for you to spend it with Mother and me."  

"You… uh… you do?"  

I reached for my glass of water. If I drank the wine, I was sure I'd swallow it wrong and choke on it.  

Christmas had never meant much to me. The last time I had spent Christmas with family had been just before my father left. Uncle Steve had joined us, and I'd gotten a pocket knife and a BB gun. "Just don't shoot your eye out, Short Stuff."  

That was before my old lady started hitting the bottle with a vengeance, and it had been the best… it had been a good Christmas.  

"What does your mother think of that idea?"  

"Mother is all for it. She'll be calling you to confirm. Face it, Clark . She likes you. So do I."  

In spite of the fact that I was sipping water, I choked.  

"Yeah, well, Markov doesn't, and he's gonna be seriously pissed, Clay."  

"Are you going to let that keep you from joining us?"  

"Hell, no!" Clay wanted me there, and nothing would keep me away. "That'll just be icing on the cake!" I started to grin. "I even know what I can give him for Christmas."  

"Now, Clark "  

"Are you going to finish that last olive in your salad?"  

As I'd hoped, the abrupt change of topic distracted him.  

"Here." He impaled it on his fork and offered it to me.  

A quick glance around the restaurant showed that no one was close enough to observe. I leaned forward, parted my lips, and took it from his fork, a replay of what he had done with the roasted peppers on my birthday.  

"Jesus!" he whispered, his eyes hot, "I want you!"  

"Good," I growled at him, feeling blood pool in my cock. "The feeling is mutual."  

"Will you mind if we skip the movie tonight?"  

He had to ask?  

"Nope, I won't mind at all."  


The next morning we were in my kitchen. I was frying bacon and eggs for our breakfast while Clay brewed the coffee and toasted some whole wheat bread he'd insisted we buy. I couldn't see anything wrong with WonderBread — I mean, didn't it build strong bones twelve ways? – but I'd been over-ruled.  

Clay's cell phone rang. He flipped it open and glanced at the read out. "Good morning, Mother."  

He listened for a minute, then handed the phone to me.  

"Good morning, Mrs. Webb. How are you feeling?"  

"Good morning, Clark. I'm well, thank you."  

"Are you? This cold weather we've been having hasn't gotten to your hip?" Since that 'accident' in early October, she'd needed a small base quad cane to help her get around. Her orthopedist promised it wouldn't be for much longer.  

"Just a twinge now and then."  


She breezed on. "I hope I haven't called at an inopportune time?"  

"No, ma'am. We were just making breakfast."  

"Are you ever going to stop calling me 'ma'am'?"  

"No, ma'am."  

"I was afraid of that." She chuckled. "We'll get into that another time. I don't want to keep you. I'm calling to confirm dinner on Christmas."  

The woman was like an iron butterfly. She looked so fragile, so delicate, yet underneath she was stronger than most men. There was no point in arguing with her. Like her son, she'd find some way to overturn any objection I could come up with.  

And I didn't want to come up with an objection. I wanted to spend Christmas with my lover and his mother.  

"Yes, ma'am."  

"Splendid. Now, we usually have rack of lamb with a mustard, breadcrumbs, and herbs topping, orzo with olives and pepper sauce, roasted asparagus, roasted potatoes with rosemary, and steamed broccoli."  

"Sounds good to me, Mrs. Webb." I had to swallow, my mouth was watering so much. "Who's going to do the cooking?" She wouldn't be able to stay on her feet too long.  

"Oh, Markov cooks for me. He's an excellent chef."  

Among other things. I covered the mouthpiece. "You didn't tell me Markov was cooking. He's going to put something in my portion that will make me sick as a dog!"  

"He didn't poison you when you had lunch with us that first time we went riding."  

I winced. "Don't remind me. I was so sore from that damned horse I could barely sit through the meal. If Markov wanted to put me out of my misery, I'd have thanked him on my knees."  

"Y'know, Clark, I'd really prefer you on your knees for me."  

"Jesus, Webb! I'm on the phone with your mother!"  

The bastard laughed.  

"Clark, are you still there?"  

"Yes, ma'am. Sorry. Dinner sounds delicious."  

"Good. We generally have dinner around 3, and we can open presents over dessert."  

Dessert? "Mrs. Webb, would you mind if I brought dessert?" I knew a place in Cambridge that made fabulous desserts, and I had plenty of time to order it and have it delivered.  

"Why, no, Clark. That would be so sweet of you."  

I winced again. 'Sweet' was never a word used in conjunction with me. "Do you want to talk to Clay again?"  

"Yes, please. Good-bye, Clark. It was nice speaking with you."  

"Uh, same here, Mrs. Webb. Take care of yourself. Clay." I gave the phone back to him.  

"Hello again, Mother." I listened in on his side of the conversation. "No, you're right, the ground is too hard to go riding tomorrow. Do you want me to… Oh, you are? Well, tell Uncle Jeff and Ludo hello from me and that we'll see them at Arlington. Yes, I love you too, Mother. Bye." He switched off his phone and put it away.  

"That was easy." I leaned against the counter. Clay had been worrying over how to get out of that ride without insulting her. In spite of what she might think, her hip wasn't up to a gentle walk on horseback, even if she rode sidesaddle.  

"She's going into Maryland tomorrow to visit with my uncle." He went to the cupboard that held the coffee mugs and took two down.  

"Who's 'we', Clay?" I turned and picked up the egg turner, and slid the eggs onto a couple of plates. Strips of bacon that had been draining on paper towels joined them.  

"Hmmm?" He filled the mugs with the freshly brewed coffee.  

"Don't go all CIA on me, Webb. You told your mother that no doubt *we'd* see them at Arlington."  

"You aren't going to let this go, are you? No, I didn't think so." He came to stand before me, his hand cradling my cheek. "My father died on New Year's Day in 1978." When an Air India Boeing 747 exploded near Bombay. I nodded. "He'd been away for three weeks, and we hadn't had the chance to spend that last Christmas together. Ever since then, if I've been at home, Mother and I spend some time on Christmas day at Arlington."  

"With your father."  

"Yes." He turned away, blinking rapidly, and I pretended I hadn't seen.  

"So your uncle and this Ludo character are going to be there too?"  

"Yes." He cleared his throat. "Uncle Jeff and Ludovic Rivenhall will be there this year."  

"This year?"  

"My uncles take turns every year."  

"Nice family."  

"I've always been fond of them. Do you have any objections to meeting them?" Clay took the plate with the buttered toast and put it on the table in the nook off the kitchen.  

"You want them to meet me?"  

"Well, of course. Why wouldn't I?"  

"The CIA thinks I'm certifiable, and your uncle is CIA."  

"*Was* CIA, and why am I not surprised you're aware of that?" The question must have been rhetorical, because he didn't wait for me to answer it. "He knows what you did, Clark , after Mother's 'accident'."  

"Don't know what you mean, Webb. I didn't do anything." I picked up the plates with the bacon and eggs and carried them to the table.  

"No. Of course not. It was some strange woman who beat on Mrs. Wexler's face…" Clay brought the coffee mugs and set them down beside each plate.  

"Well, it was." I'd managed to track her down. Modesty Blaise. She was an old friend of Porter Webb's, and she'd given me a small bouquet of violets to give to Clay's mother while she was still in the hospital.  

"… and Peter Lapin's neck was broken by a freak twist of fate when his car overturned that night."  

I shrugged. "There's a reason why wearing seatbelts is the law."  

" Clark …" I imagined my expression was bland. He sighed and let it go. "We'd better eat before this gets cold. There's nothing as unappetizing as congealed eggs." He closed his fingers around my forearm. "You'll come?"  

"Don't I always come?"  

"On Christmas." His mouth tightened, and he gave my arm a shake, and I realized how much this meant to him.  

"Didn't I already tell you yes? Yeah, baby, I'll be there with you."  

"Thanks." He leaned toward me and brushed his lips across mine. Before I could pull him closer and deepen the kiss, he drew back. "Now, let's eat. Then we can discuss how you'll be decorating your condo. I understand your condo association is having a 'best decorated condo' contest."  

How the fuck did he know that? The flyer had been slipped under my door the other day.  

"You've got a great terrace, and the wrought iron railing will be perfect. We can get lights and garland and a blow-up Santa and Rudolph. And how about a wreath for your door? Ornaments-R-Us is sure to have everything we'll need."  

"Ornaments-R-Us? There's no such…" He was fighting to keep a grin off his face. "You're fucking yanking my chain!"  

"I'm sorry." No, he wasn't. "I couldn't resist. Well, we can go pick up a tree for your living room."  

"I have one. And don't look so disbelieving. I do." I sat down opposite him and picked up my fork. "I'll take the tree out of its box, put it on top of the television, and I'm done."  

"On top of the television?"  

I shrugged. "It's a foot tall."  

"And that's all there is to it?"  

"Yeah. Besides, that will give us plenty of time to go back to bed." He arched his eyebrow. "Listen, Webb, if it's a choice between putting up decorations or sleeping with you, sleeping with you wins hands down. Don't you know that by now?"  

He reached across the table and squeezed my hand. "Then let's get started, babe. The sooner we finish eating and get the tree up, the sooner we can go on to more interesting things."  

I liked him calling me 'babe,' something he didn't do often.  

//Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, Palmer? Dude, you have got it so bad.//  

'Dude'? Jesus, I was calling myself 'dude'. And what was so wrong with warm and fuzzy? //You have a problem with that?//  

//Nope. Just never thought I'd see the day.//  

//Yeah, well, neither did I.//  

//Oh, how the mighty are fallen.// Fucking little voice was laughing at me. I growled at it, but my heart wasn't in it.  

Usually I had no reason to celebrate the holidays; I'd be out in the field or putting in extra time at DSD headquarters.  

This year it looked like I did.  

"Problem, Clark ?"  

"No." Maybe it was the holiday season, maybe it was because I'd found someone I could let into my life. I grinned at  my lover, dipped a corner of the whole wheat toast into my egg yolk, and bit off the end. "No problem at all."  


The Christmas cards I'd received were on an end table.

I'd recognized the address on the envelope. I'd lived there before I'd moved to my apartment in Forest Heights , and again after that apartment had been destroyed in an explosion. Theo and the other rentboys who lived on the floor below had sent me a card every year. Depending on who chose the cards, some had been silly and some had been sappy. This one was decidedly silly. I hadn't expected one this year since they'd retired from the profession and two had gone to the West coast, while Theo, the remaining one had stayed behind in DC. I opened it and was surprised to see Matheson's name included with Theo's. Well, the agent I'd been training to replace me in the field had been living with him since late spring.  

The sappy card, lonely footprints in the snow, heading toward a sickeningly quaint village, arrived from LA a day or so later, from Paul, formerly known as Pretty Boy, and Spike, the youngest rentboy, who was his lover. Paul's almost illegible scrawl filled me in on what had been happening in their lives. He was working the night shift in labor and delivery, and Spike had actually been spotted waiting tables at a trendy restaurant and offered a screen test. I laughed and shook my head, wondering if I'd need to take a trip to the coast to make sure that was on the up-and-up.

A card from my Uncle Steve and his wife Lily turned up on my desk at the DSD with my office mail. The envelope had the Boston address of the Bradenhurst Corporation on it, and had been forwarded by personnel to DSD headquarters. For a moment I considered tossing it in the trash, then decided against it. After I opened it, I wished I had tossed it. It was one of those cards that had a picture of the entire family gathered in front of a fireplace. Inside it wished me peace and love for the coming year. I didn't throw it away, but I didn't display it either.

The one from Romero, head of R&D, also had a photo on the front, but it didn't come near making me ballistic as my family's card. The photo was of his son, AJ, sitting on Santa's lap. The kid had a big smile on his face and a death-grip on Santa's beard. Romero had scribbled, 'Looking forward to a New Year filled with Big Macs,' and I'd known his wife, who insisted that he watch his cholesterol, hadn't seen it.

The white card with a thumbnail-sized picture of a cardinal on the limb of a pine tree in the upper middle was from Mr. Wallace. My yearly bonus had been in it. I could use it to pay off twelve months' worth of mortgage on my condo and still have enough left over to put in that offshore F.Y. account.

Porter Webb's card had a Thomas Kinkade image of a house, the sort only seen in paintings or the rich side of town. Its windows were lit with a warm, yellow glow, snow covered its gabled roof, smoke from numerous chimneys curled up to the night sky, and people were gathered on the veranda that encircled the first floor. She'd signed it, in her elegant handwriting, With warmest regards, Porter.

And then there was Clay's card. It was another one that hadn't come in the mail. I'd found it in my suit pocket the previous Monday, after I'd spent the weekend with him. It was a snowy forest scene, trees decorated with glittering snow flakes. The moonlight spilled down upon it, the only source of illumination. I'd opened it, and there had been no cute phrase, no trite sentiments, simply, Yours, Clay.  


It was the start of Christmas week.  

Clay had been out of town for a few days, and when he came back, he'd called me and we'd met at Raphael's. From there we'd gone to his townhouse and spent the weekend in bed.  

"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve." He was standing in front of the mirror above the double dresser, fussing with his tie. "How do you feel about spending the night here?"  

I shrugged into my shoulder holster and limped to stand behind him. I'd been at him all night, and just before dawn he'd decided it was his turn. He'd been buried so deep in my ass I knew I'd be feeling him all day. And I was half-hard at the thought.  

"Let me do this for you." I brushed his hands out of the way, pulled his collar down, and ran my lips over the side of his neck.  

"Sure." He leaned back against me, and while I began to work on his tie, he slid his hands behind me and flexed his fingers on my ass. I rocked my hips forward to let him feel my arousal. "Mmmm."  

I nipped his ear. "You're distracting me."  

"Sorry, tough guy." But he continued running his fingers over my ass. "So, what do you say? My place is closer to Arlington. In the morning we drive to the cemetery."  

I abandoned the tie and slid a hand under his waistband. He was wearing boxers, and I traced the shape of his cock through the material. His cock twitched under my touch. He turned his head into my neck, gave a soft groan, and licked the skin.  

"We'll get hot and sweaty in front of your Christmas tree again?"  

He'd called in the middle of the week. "I've got this gorgeous live tree, babe, but I'm going to need your help to put it up and get it decorated."  

Once I got there, I could see why he needed help. The Douglas fir was about eight feet tall, and we'd had to wrestle it into his music room, which had a vaulted ceiling. Fortunately there was a six foot ladder in his garage. I'd brought it in while he sorted through his decorations and laid out what seemed like miles of lights. We'd paused in the middle of decorating to have the pizza I'd stopped for. When we went back to the music room, Clay had picked up an ornament and reached up to place it on a branch above his head. His sweater had ridden up, exposing a swath of muscled back. 'Clay.' We'd exchanged a look, and then stripped off enough clothes to get at the good parts and sixty-nined each other. It was a good thing he didn't have a nativity scene. We surely would have shocked the holy family.  

It was only as we were coming down off our sexual high that I realized the hard wood floor might not have been such a good choice; my hip was sore, and he'd winced a bit and massaged his hip, but if I got to have him, a few aches and pains were worth it.  

"Yes," he nuzzled the side of my neck, "we'll do it Christmas Eve and again Christmas morning, have breakfast, open the gifts we got for each other… "  

I did some rapid calculations. The dessert I had ordered from Rosie's Bakery in Cambridge had been delivered with time to spare and was sitting in my fridge. The present I'd commissioned for Porter Webb was wrapped and ready to go, as was the gift I'd picked out for Markov. I had no doubt Clay would have warned him he'd be getting something from me, and I just bet it burned his butt he'd have to reciprocate. I also found something for Jefferson Sebring and Ludovic Rivenhall, nothing much, but it was the thought that counted.  

"I'll need to stop at my condo first to get everything."  

"I'll have dinner ready then."  

I gave his cock a final squeeze, then took my hand out of his shorts and went back to fixing his tie.  

"Finished." I stepped back from him, patted his ass, and grinned at his reflection in the mirror. Clay was looking flushed and heavy-eyed. "Know something, baby? If you didn't have that long ride to Langley, I'd strip off your clothes and bend you over this dresser. I'd only take enough time to lube us both up, and then I'd pound into you."  

"Bareback?" The color in his cheeks became hectic. "No condom, babe?"  

Nothing between us, my cock driving into him, his back passage like heated velvet. I gave a full body shudder and swallowed.  

He turned and pulled me to him. We were both so hard, a couple of thrusts and we'd be coming in our pants like teenagers.  

"It's too bad I'm not working at State today," he whispered against my lips. "It's only a half hour ride, and if we were fast, I'd only be fifteen minutes late."  

"But you are working at Langley. And the only time I'll take you fast is if we have time to go slow afterwards." I stroked the hair back off his forehead and kissed him. "I've got to go."  

"Drive carefully. I'll see you tomorrow around 6."  


It was 'tomorrow,' and it was past 6.  

Some idiot in public relations had fucked up, I'd had to clean up his mess, and now I was running late. And I still had to put in an appearance at the Christmas party.  

I was alone in my office. Ms. Parker, my secretary, had logged off her computer and gone down to the lunchroom, where the party was being held.  

I dialed Clay's number.  


"I'm going to be late. I'll let you know when I get home."  

"Thanks for calling."  

"Will dinner be ruined? Do you want me to pick something up?"  

"No and no. I've got it covered. Don't have an accident rushing to get here."  

"Right. I'll see you later."  

I trotted down to the lunchroom. I didn't see Matheson there, but then I'd given him an operation of his own to run, and I hadn't seen much of him all week.  

Mr. Wallace was about to make his annual holiday speech, the usual stuff about how we'd all contributed to the smooth running of the DSD, how well the agency had done, how sure he was we'd all meet expectations for the new year.  

It was basically the same speech every year, and he wisely kept it short. His concluding remarks were greeted by applause. He nodded and shook hands, quickly surrounded by deputy directors.  

There was a punch bowl on a table, filled with some red liquid, fruit and ice cubes bobbing in it. I picked up the ladle, filled two cups, and took a quick sip. It was non-alcoholic, although I was certain it wouldn't stay that way long.  

The Boss seemed relieved when he spotted me approaching him with the punch. "Cup of cheer, Mr. Wallace?"  

"Thank you, Mr. Palmer."  

The people who had been around him left hastily.  

We tapped glasses. "Happy holidays."  

"Happy holidays, sir."  

He looked around at the support staff and junior agents who were sending nervous glances our way. "I believe I'll leave. As long as I'm here, this party won't get under way."  

The same could be said for me. "I think I'll leave also."  

"You do tend to make people nervous, Clark ."  

"Then I've done my job."  

That made him laugh. I opened the door for him and followed him into the corridor. His driver was waiting, holding his overcoat.  

"I understand you're taking a few days off."  

"Yes." I wasn't going to tell him it was so I could spend the time with someone who worked for the CIA. "Personnel suggested I use up some of the time I've accumulated."  

"Good idea. You didn't have much opportunity to use it while you were out in the field."  

Between vacation time, personal and sick time, and holidays, I had almost a whole year banked, even excluding the two weeks I'd spent in Paris after that shit Sperling screwed with an operation I'd been running and good men had died.  

Mr. Wallace extended his hand, and I shook it. "Merry Christmas, Clark ."  

"Merry Christmas, sir."  

His driver held the door open for him, and he left.  

I looked at my watch. Fuck. I was so fucking late!  

The stairwell door opened just as I approached it, and Matheson stepped into the corridor. Whatever – *who*ever – he was thinking of was making him very happy.  

"Cute card you sent, Matheson."  

"Sir?" He stopped in mid-stride, and his expression became cautious.  

"Santa's sled dangling off an outhouse roof, the reindeer all tangled in their harnesses…"  

"*Excuse me*?"  

"… telling off the fucking animals, 'I said the *Schmidt* house, goddammit!'"  

"Oh, shit." He turned white.  

"Excuse *me*?"  

"Sorry, sir."  

"Next time you send me a holiday card, Matheson, I expect it to be more appropriate."  

"Yes, sir. I'm very sorry sir, you can be sure it won't happen again, sir…"  

"Matheson, who really sent that card?" I had no doubt that Theo had picked it out. That type of card was right up his alley. He'd sent me one a few years before with a dark-skinned Santa, and when I'd asked why an African-American Santa, he'd had the nerve to give me that wide-eyed look of his and swear Santa had spent the off-season, when he didn’t have to make toys, in Florida, and he just had a tan.  

I was curious to see if Matheson would roll over on his lover. After all, he'd pretty much done that when he'd told me that, prior to his demise, his friend Mikey Shaw had lusted after my corner office, Matheson's office now, and had every intention of ousting me from it.  

Matheson's expression smoothed and became blank. "I did, sir. It was my choice, a very poor choice. I promise you it won't…"  

"Do me a favor." I was pleased with my agent, although naturally I wasn't going to let him know that, and decided to let him off the hook. "Tell Theo if he sends me a card like that again, I'm going to show him what Santa really should have done to those incompetent reindeer. If you're going to the party, you'd better get a move on. It's already underway."  

"Yes, sir. Um… happy holidays, Mr. Palmer."  

"Yeah, yeah." I went into the stairwell and took the stairs two and three at a time. I was So. Fucking. Late.  


Since I was so fucking late, an extra half hour wouldn't make much difference. I called Clay to let him know I was home, then showered and shaved and changed into jeans and a polo shirt. I ran a comb through my damp hair and put on my overcoat. DC was having an unseasonably cold winter.  

It took a few trips to bring the gifts down to my car. Porter's and Clay's were both bulky and awkward, and I didn't want to drop them.  

I found myself whistling 'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.'  

When I was a few blocks away from his house, I speed dialed his cell phone. "I'm almost there."  

Clay was waiting for me as I turned into his driveway. I caught him in my headlights. He was wearing a cream-colored, fisherman knit sweater and dark trousers. There was a light breeze blowing, and it mussed his hair.  

I doused the headlights, switched off the ignition, and got out of the car. Clay didn't kiss me – we could be seen by inquisitive neighbors – but I could tell by his body language that he wanted to.  

Instead, we shook hands. He tickled my palm with his middle finger, and I growled at him. His grip tightened, and then he let go.  

"I love this time of year." He tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and drew in a deep breath. "Especially when I can be at home."  

The air was cold and crisp. I copied his actions, but kept my eyes opened. The sky was like black velvet. Clouds drifted across it, and stars winked out, then reappeared.  

"It smells like Christmas."  

I exhaled, a long white plume in the night air, then unlocked the trunk with the wireless remote.  

Clay gazed up and down the street. "This is a safe neighborhood, Clark ." Every single house on the block was lit up. Lights framed windows and verandas, draped shrubberies, and spilled from eaves, and their color was reflected on the frost that covered the grass. He smiled as he looked into the trunk. "Do you really feel it's necessary to bring the gifts into the house?"  

"Clay, I don't care how safe this neighborhood is; I have no intention of leaving these presents in the trunk of my car." I took out the long, flat package that was Porter's, and put three smaller boxes on top of it, and the box that held tomorrow's dessert and gave them to Clay. I was going to carry his gift myself. "Take these into the house, okay? The box from Rosie's Bakery goes in the fridge; it's a Chocolate Orgasm." I paused. "Ever have one?"  

"Not a chocolate one, although I must say it sounds interesting."  

"Yeah." I thought about Clay orgasming under my hands, and my mouth went dry. "The presents can go under the tree."  

"All right." His smile told me he was reading my thoughts. "But I still think you're over-reacting."  

I slammed the trunk shut, activated the alarm, and followed him into the house.

"Clay," I said as I nudged the door shut behind me, "in spite of this being the season of peace on earth, good will toward men…"  

"That's 'toward men of good will.'"  


"'Peace on earth toward men of good will.'" He was laughing at me.  

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. In spite of that, there are a lot of scumbags out on the streets. If anyone tried to hotwire my car to steal it, it would explode. If anyone tried to jimmy the trunk to get at the gifts, in case I was so stupid as to leave gifts in there, it would explode. Either way, the gifts would be destroyed, and I'd be seriously, seriously pissed."  

"And there would be one or two dead perps."  

I gave him a look. "I should care about them?"  

"No, of course not. What was I thinking?" Clay locked the door and set the house alarm. No neighborhood was ever that safe. "Did you get a print for Mother? I know she mentioned how much she likes Thomas Kinkade's work."  

"No, it's just something I had commissioned for her."  

"Oh?" He raised his eyebrow.  

"Forget about it. I'm not going to tell you what it is."  

"Spoilsport. And is that my present you're clutching to your bosom?"  

"Jesus, Webb!"  

He started laughing. "All right, Clark, I won't tease you. Why don't you put it under the tree, and then we'll have dinner."  

I was relieved he let it go. The closer it got to Christmas, the more nervous I got about what I was giving him.  

I sniffed the air. "Something smells good."  

"Boeuf bourguignon. Mother got this recipe when she and I spent a summer in France."  

In 1980, when he should have been in Moscow, riding for the US at the Summer Olympics, only the Game had been boycotted that year, and so he'd been in France  instead. I was on the fencing team. We could have met… If the Games hadn't been boycotted, we would have met…  

I shook my head. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. We hadn't met in 1980. It was that simple.    

I tuned back in to what Clay was saying about dinner. "… and the longer it cooks, the richer the flavor. All I had to do was wait for your call before I started the potatoes boiling and sautéed the mushrooms."  

"Clay, I'm sorry. I wanted us to spend more than a few hours together on Christmas Eve."  

"It's okay, babe. We have tomorrow." The gift was between us, but he still managed to make that kiss satisfying. His fingers tightened in my hair, and I sighed into his mouth. He drew back, and there was happiness in his eyes. "Go on. Put that under the tree and get cleaned up. The table is already set. I'll put the salad out and pour the wine."


End Part A

To Part B