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Company Business
by Gail


Title: Company Business
Author: Gail
Author's Website: Stories and Stuff by Gail, or Precious Gems
Mirror Site @ Angelfire
Updates on the Author's Work: [gemstories] (Mailing List at Yahoo! Groups)
Fandom: J.A.G.
Pairing: Harmon Rabb / Clayton Webb
Rating: R (for m/m sex)
Author's Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, but they do like me. Even Palmer, but of course he does. I got him out of jail legally.
Author's Notes: Author's Notes Thanks Thanks to Tinnean, who gave me the necessary encouragement to get this done, as always. She's wonderful. :-) Thanks to the Whitman Public Library, which kindly and unknowingly gave me a safe place to edit some of this story, and thanks to Elizabeth, who beta'd the gemstories posted version and helped me make it tighter.
This was for Celli on her birthday (7/22/02), because she's a wonderful friend and a fan of Webb/Rabb, and I posted it to gemstories for Scarlet on her birthday (7/24/02), since she enjoys Webb/Rabb as well.
Series/Sequel: Story IV a) in the "Solstice" Series (companion piece to "Tongues of flame").



IV. a)



I ride up to Clay's office with a smile, even after all I go through to sign into Langley. I'm looking forward to surprising him. I've never made it over here, not since we've started this... whatever it is we have. I don't know what to call it. All that I know is that it's good. I think if I started thinking too hard, I'd start pulling away, and I don't want to do that. There's something about Clay that's fun, that makes me relax and enjoy making him relax. I don't think it's going to last forever; hell, it might not last through the next time I get sent off on a case, or he disappears on some mysterious CIA mission, but right now it's good, and that's all I can afford to let myself think about.

I do have a reason for coming here, if asked. I know enough to think about that. Neither of us can afford to have this discovered. I'm asking him to help on a case, and I cannot discuss it in front of anyone else. All right, I'm lying, but dammit, I want to see him. It's been a rotten morning. Paperwork and more paperwork and no end in sight. I had to get away. And no word at all about what the hell Palmer's up to. Actually, that would be a better reason to see Clay. He's told me some about Palmer's release, and I'm trying to deal with the fact that he's got reasons that he can't tell me more, Company reasons, which really is not something I like, but even though Clay keeps telling me that Palmer's not going to be stupid enough to do anything to go back to jail, this is Clark Palmer. He might have fooled the State Department into thinking he was interested in helping them, but sooner or later he's going to revert to type, and I'm going to be ready for him.

I get to Clay's office and see that the door is ajar. I smile and make myself stop thinking about Palmer. He's not here, and he's not going to be here. Palmer in the CIA? Never. He's probably out of the country, looking into this former associate of his who's selling weapons. I'd hate to be in his shoes when Palmer caught up with him. Palmer's a vicious bastard. Maybe they'll shoot each other. There's a great thought.

"Hi, Webb," I say as soon as he looks up from the files he's going through. "I thought you could help me with something."

It's amazing how much pleasure it gives me to surprise him. He's giving me that warning look, that 'stop that, Rabb' look, but it's not going to work with me. I'll close the door, have a few minutes with him, and go back to JAG. No harm done.

Then before I can get into the room, there's someone speaking, and shit, I know who that is. "Hey, Webb, you got a moment?" Palmer, and he's here. How the hell is that possible? I wish that I had my gun as he slips by me and into the office. "Oh, hello, Commander, nice to see you again. It's been a while." And he smiles at me. That bastard is out of jail, in my lover's office, and he dares to act as though we're old friends. I don't have any old friends who've tried to kill me. Well, all right, Clay's gotten me into some trouble, but he does it for the good of the country.

Clay's giving Palmer a cool look. That's my Clay, never gives anything away. "Palmer, later. Rabb, what do you want?"

Good, now Palmer will have to leave. But of course he doesn't move. He probably isn't in Clay's chain of command or whatever they have for that at the CIA. Clay doesn't talk that much about work, even though I've tried to get him to open up, but I know that he has people who report to him.

"Congratulations on your promotion, Commander." Palmer's trying to piss me off. I won't let him. But I have to say something. I can't stand here like an idiot and make it look as if I need Clay to protect me.

"What are you doing here?" All right, not the best thing to say, but it's what I want to know.

"Didn't you hear about my pardon, Rabb? I thought Webb would have told you." How is it that everything that bastard says sounds like insinuation? He knows nothing about us. I give him the hardest look that I can manage, but he just smiles. He always smiles. It's damned annoying.

"Rabb, I'm busy. You'll have to make it fast. Palmer, go."

Clay gives me his hardest look as I open my mouth, and I shut it. All right, it's his turf; he should handle it. But I hate feeling like this, like he's protecting me. I'm the one who does the protecting, and right now I want to throw Palmer out or back into Leavenworth. Out because no one else could find some ex-DSD agent, right. He tricked someone into that, for sure.

"Oh, sure, Webb. It can wait." Palmer's not moving, but I'm not surprised. Why would he be able to take orders? I scowl at him, and of course it doesn't do anything.

"Just go." Clay's sounding like he's ready to throw him out, too, and Palmer's actually moving. Good. I don't have all day, and I didn't come here to see Palmer.

"Commander, I just want you to know that I'm sorry about all the shit I pulled on you." Palmer's standing right in front of me, his eyes smiling as they find mine. "And that I'm glad we're on the same side now." Same side? There's no way in hell I'm on his side, or he's on mine. He's my enemy. That will never change.

"You are lying." I'm not going to stand here and listen to that shit without any comment.

I can see that Clay's moving in between us as Palmer answers me, that cocky little smile on his face that I hate so much. "Sorry you feel that way." Yeah, I'll just bet he's sorry. He'd rather I forget all that he's done to me, be as stupid as he thinks I am. "But I did get help in Leavenworth, Commander, just like you told me to." Help? I pity the shrink who had to listen to him. Probably ended up on a couch himself. "And I found out something really important there, that I don't like prison." That's a hell of a surprise. What does he take me for, an idiot? Of course he does. "So I decided that I'd make sure I never went back, and the way to do that is to keep on the side of the right and the good." He nods at Clay, who's watching us both with wary eyes. "Webb's got the job of keeping an eye on me to make sure that I do."

Palmer looks much too happy as I turn my glare on Clay. So all this time he's known about Palmer and kept it from me? I believed him when he said he was telling me all he could and that the rest was confidential. There's nothing confidential about Palmer working for the CIA. Well, fuck that. I'm going to find out all he knows, and this time I'm not listening to any shit about the Company. Damn him. What kind of game is he playing with me now?

"Goodbye, Commander. Later, Webb." Thank god Palmer's gone. I make sure Clay can't get away from me by standing right in front of him.

"He's here. You didn't tell me that. You're still keeping secrets from me." I keep my voice low, but I know he knows I'm angry. I can see it in his eyes.

"This is Company business, damn you, Rabb." Of course that's going to come up. It's always the CIA that matters, not me. "Palmer has done nothing wrong. Nothing. I am keeping an eye on him." I should damned well hope so. "You're going to have to trust me on this."

By the time he's through I know that he means it. That he probably even has good reasons for not telling me. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I trust Clay and that he's a good person.

"Fine. But I would have liked to know. And there's a lot more I'd like to know about him being here, Webb." I almost call him 'Clay', but I'm not supposed to do that in public. It sucks. "Clark Palmer in the CIA is right up there as one of my worst nightmares. I really need to know how this happened." I hope he's not going to try to put me off, because I need to talk about this now.

"I'll tell you what I can." I knew it. He's going to keep things from me. And then it comes again, the phrase I've learned to hate. "Company business."

"You'll tell me all you can." I'll make him tell me everything. I won't leave him alone until he tells me. I'll keep him up until he can't think straight. Then I realize how dumb that sounds. Clay always manages to stay up longer than I do. He wouldn't have any trouble with that.

"What I can. But later, Rabb." Damn. I don't want to wait, but I should have known he wouldn't talk now.

I close the door. I should have done that earlier. "Tonight." I'm not going to take no for an answer on this one. We are talking tonight, whether he likes it or not, so he'd damned well better like it.

"Where?"

Clay's looking at me like I'm the enemy, and I don't want that. I need to stop whatever I'm doing to get him to see me that way. I call up a picture of Clay sleeping, that face I like looking at so much relaxed and flushed with warmth, and it's easy to give him a smile, then.

"My place is closer." And more fun for me, but I don't say that. Clay's into antiques, and although it's a really beautiful place, it's still somewhere foreign, and still the place that he fucked me without a goddamned word. We usually end up at my place. I even have the deodorant he likes, and toothpaste, and of course a toothbrush.

He's smiling now. Good. He looks good when he smiles. "I didn't bring a spare suit."

That makes me smile. Can't have Clayton Webb without a suit, although I prefer him without one, as long as he's safely indoors and at my disposal. The thought of that makes me hard, and I shift in place.

"You want to pick this up for me?" He's holding out some money and a piece of paper that I recognize as a dry-cleaning ticket. I know that my smile is broadening. It's so much fun to tease Clay, and I've got the perfect chance now.

"Who said that I was going to let you stay?" Like I'd throw him out, and he knows that.

He proves that by laughing. "You didn't. All right, guess there's no need to bother."

I have my hand out to stop him from putting the ticket and money away. Of course I'll pick them up. Anything for Clay.

"Just this once, as a favor for a friend." I know that I sound... I don't know, shy, but it's still wonderful that I have him in my life. Still something I'm afraid will vanish. I should know better. Hell, if we got through our beginning, we can get through anything. As long as he tells me the truth about Palmer. I push that away. I can keep teasing him, and I want to. "Some day I'm going to see about sending you in here in jeans and a comfortable shirt. Bet no one would recognize you. Deep cover, isn't that the term?" I know it's the term, but there's nothing that gets Clay going more than me using spook terms. I think he's terrified I'll leave the Navy and try to join the CIA. I'd never do it, and he'd stop it, but it's still something that's on his mind.

"I wouldn't recognize me." He's giving me stern look number seven, the one that says I should stop trying to get him to change anything about him. I smile to myself. I have changed Clayton Webb, and I'll keep changing him. It only makes him happier. I haven't changed anything essential about him. I wouldn't want to.

I keep teasing. I'm having too much fun not to, and that was the reason I came over here, to have fun. "Maybe I'll just go buy you some now. Forget all about that suit." I'd never do that, but I'm sure he thinks I would. "And you'll have no choice but to wear them. I'd make sure of that." It would be fun to make sure that Clay had only the clothes I got for him to wear. Another way of having him. I wonder if he knows why I keep trying to get him into jeans. I know he thinks that I'm harassing him, but I'm not. I know he'd look great in them. I wish he'd just give them a try. I'll find a way. I find myself laughing, then getting an even sterner look. Uh-oh. I'm already up to number ten. I have all his stern looks categorized. I should have; I've gotten them enough over the years.

"Harm. No."

"Time to get back to the spy business, right, Clay?" I know he needs to get back to work. I do, too. "And I need to go run an errand or two."

"My suit." Like I'll forget about that. I shrug.

"All right. This time."

Clay smiles at me, and I know he's gotten that this is all a joke. Good. "Why did you come over, anyway?"

"Felt like it. Any bugs in here, Clay?" I'm going to kiss him. I want him to have to work in here, remembering that my lips were on his. I have enough days at JAG when I remember the times he's come to my office, and, well, not kissed me, but gave me looks that made me wish he had. I want to do better than that here.

"No," Clay says firmly. "And no, Harm." Good, my first name again. And I can see that he wants this, too, no matter what he says.

"I want to." I step closer to him. "Just one, Clay. I've had a hard day. Give me a break, will you?" The words don't matter as long as they keep him still, keep him where I need him to be, until he finally opens his mouth to answer, and I can take it with mine. I keep the kiss brief. I don't want him to be too pissed when he gets his brain back and realizes what I've done.

I break it and feel a smile taking over. He's so damned good to kiss, and his face is relaxed the way it usually only is when we're alone. Good to know that I can do that to him even here.

"Much better," I say and see him come back to himself and smile. "Now I can face the afternoon." I want him to know that he matters, because he does. I'd never tell him I loved him; that's not what we're about, but it might be true. I don't know. I've never had an affair with a guy; how the hell do I know what's going on? All that I know is that I want it to keep going.

I check and see that he's got his work face back on. I wouldn't want to leave him all dreamy in this crazy place. How he can stand it I don't know.

"Just come over," I say quietly as I reach for the doorknob. I know it can be hard for him to get away, and I'll be fine until he gets there. I know he'll find a way to call if things change too much. I make myself get back under control. No one can find out about us, and they damned well won't from me.

I get the door open when he nods. "Whatever you can find, Webb."

He matches my matter-of-fact tone with his own. "I'll see what I can do, Rabb." So formal, and so damned sexy that I want to drag him out now. But he has to deal with whatever shit the CIA decides to throw at him, like Palmer.

Palmer. No. I'm not going to think about him now. I head toward the elevator and hope that I can find my way out of here. I don't want to show these bastards anything.

***

I sign out and get back down to the garage with the worst I have to do being nodding to people who nod to me. No one says a word. Well, this is Spook Central; I wouldn't expect them to talk like human beings. How the hell does Clay survive here? No wonder he couldn't talk to me after... that time.

I'm walking across the concrete when I hear someone behind me. I turn around, and, shit, it's Clark Palmer with that annoying smile still. Doesn't he have work to do?

"What the hell do you want, Palmer?" Maybe I can get rid of him. No. I will get rid of him. He's an ex-con. I beat him. I put that knowledge in my glare, but he just stops and looks at me with eyes that give nothing away.

"I just wanted to apologize, Commander." Dammit, I wish he'd stop calling me that. I know damned well he's laughing about my rank. He's always laughing.

"You already did, and I don't believe you. Drop it and leave me alone." I start walking again before he can say anything more. Good. It's over.

"Oh, I will. I'm glad that you and Mr. Webb are on good terms now." That freezes me. That voice of his and those words, and I'm ready to believe that he knows everything. That he's trying to tell me in his own sick little way that he knows about me and Clay. Could he know? He could. He couldn't. I can't take this.

I turn around and face him. I'm not going to be scared of damned Palmer. "Clayton Webb is a friend. Someone I work with some times. What the hell are you talking about?" I hope that came out right, but I don't think it did. Fuck. Palmer does this to me, makes me lose my cool. I can't let that happen.

"Nothing, Commander." That's a lie. He's always got some kind of purpose, and it's never good for me. He still wants to get me; I don't care what he said. And this is part of that. "Just what you said. I heard you two weren't doing so well working together. Hey, I'm probably wrong." And he thinks I'll fall for that.

"All right." I know that Clay would say this should end now, if he didn't say I'd been an idiot to stay here and talk to him, but I'm not going to let him think I'm scared of him. "Is there anything else? I do have somewhere else to be." I wait. There's going to be something else; this is Palmer. But I can handle it.

"I told Webb I was sorry for the bugs, but I haven't told you. It was stupid of me." Something's not right. Palmer never admits he's wrong. Never. I keep my eyes on him and wish I had my gun. It's a lot easier to deal with Palmer when I know I can shoot him. "Like you'd do anything that would be interesting." Of course. A jab. But damn, the bugs. I hate thinking about them. What if they hadn't just been put in? What if he had some over at Clay's? Clay told me the one time I asked about that it was not possible, and he said it in a way that I had to believe him. But my place he got into. All right. I have to ask.

"Webb said that you put them in when you got out. Is that true?" He won't tell me the truth. I shouldn't bother. But maybe I can tell from how he lies what is the truth. I can do it with witnesses; I should be able to do it with him.

"Is that what Mr. Webb said? If that's what he said, it must be true." Not an answer at all. That bastard.

I take his suit jacket at the shoulders and shove him against the concrete wall. "What the fuck are you saying, Palmer? You saying that Clayton's lying to me?" God, I've lost it, and I don't care. He's so fucking smug, so fucking cool. How can he be? This is my life we're talking about.

"I agreed with you, Rabb. Is that a crime now?" I've got him pinned, and he's still calm and mocking. Goddamn him.

"Did you, or did you not, install surveillance devices in my apartment?" He's staying here until I get an answer. I doubt that anyone in the CIA would give a damn if I took him out and shot him, except Clayton, and he might not, either. But I won't let Palmer drive me over the edge. He'd laugh as I pulled the trigger. I've had nightmares about that.

He's smiling, and my hand clenches as I hear his answer. "Yes." But we're not through yet.

"When did you install them?" Can't have been too long ago, but I have a bad feeling about this. This is Clark Palmer we're talking about here.

And of course he deliberately makes it harder for me. It's what he lives for, I'm certain. What the hell would Palmer have done if I hadn't shown up? Taken candy from little kids? Tortured animals? Yeah, I can see him doing those. He's insane. He should be locked up somewhere and drugged until he can't remember his name.

"I don't recall the exact date, Rabb. If you'd let me go, I could check my notes."

Check his notes? He's got a file on me? Of course he does, but he knows damned well when he installed them. I know he does. I can see it in those mocking eyes.

"Would an approximate date do?"

"When?" He's not going to play with me. I'm going to stay focused.

"I've had you under surveillance since I received the assignment to neutralize Colonel Vickers."

Oh, my god. Years now. Years of bringing home friends and dates, laughing, talking, with Palmer in on it all. Memories of things I would never want him knowing run through my head, and I feel like I'm going to throw up, but I don't.

"The place was swept by a CIA team."

"I'm good, Rabb. They found what they found, and then I put in more. It's the only way to do it, really. But you're clear now. I removed them myself, everything." Like I can believe him when he's smiling like that. What the fuck am I going to do? Clay will know. I hope Clay will know. "I saw the error of my ways." If he expects me to buy that, he's crazier than I think. "Wish I could give you all the tapes, but I destroyed those." No way he did that. I can see it in his smile. There's at least one tape out there. Palmer is smart, but I'm smart, too.

I can't help what I say next. "You fucking bastard."

And then, my god, he says what I've been telling myself he can't know. "You really should think about telling Webb how you feel about him. You might be surprised. He's a nice guy. He'd do it out of pity, if nothing else."

All I can do is stare at him. He knows I want Clay. He probably even knows what happened between us back then. I shot off my mouth pretty bad when I got back from Clay's place that second time. Palmer knows.

But maybe, just maybe, he's playing me. I have to assume he is. I make myself let go of him and step back. "I suppose you think you're being funny." I like how I sound: cold and certain. Nice to know some of Clay's control has rubbed off on me.

"Just remembering some things you said, Commander." He does know. There's no way to deny that now. But I have to keep quiet. Clay would tell me to do that. Does Clay know about this? No. Not Clayton Webb. I have to believe I know him well enough to say that. If I don't, then I don't think I want anything to do with him. A Clayton Webb who could keep this from me is a Clayton Webb I don't want.

Palmer's still talking, but I don't catch any of it until he says: "I was wrong, again," and turns away. That breaks my stupor.

"Palmer!" He's not getting away that easily, and he stops and looks at me. That mockery's always there. I wonder if anyone in the CIA has thought about beating him up. I hope so, and I hope they decide to go ahead and do it soon. "Go to hell."

He grins and comes right back with a smart remark, and of course one that reminds me of that time he had me captive and came too damned close to blowing me up. "I'm sure we'll both be there in due time, Rabb. Take care."

He's gone before I can say any more, and I get out of there as fast as I can. When I get back to JAG, I shut myself in my office and try to work, but Palmer's words hammer through my head, and I can't get anything done. He knows about me and Clay. He knows everything. I have to talk to Clay, but I can't until tonight. It would be insane to try and talk about this over the phone, and I can't go back over there. Palmer would make sure to be there, I know he would.

***

Finally I give up and remember I have to pick up Clay's suit. I get out and just make it there in time, and the simple normal actions of talking to the man who's minding the front counter and handing over the ticket and the money help me calm down. I go to the store to get something for dinner, but I can't get excited over anything, and I give up again. I'm not hungry, anyway. If Clay is, he can order take-out or eat crackers. I've got those.

It gets bad again when I get in my apartment. This is where I should feel safe, but now I don't. I'm certain there aren't any bugs here now, because Clay wouldn't lie to me about that, and he's told me time and time again that the team he sent over got everything, but what if Palmer fooled him?

By the time Clay gets there, I'm on my second beer and wound too tight. I glare at him as soon as he's inside.

His smile fades, and he gives me a concerned look and takes a step toward me. "Bad day?"

I bite back my answer. It's not his fault, I tell myself again, but it's not helping. Maybe it is his fault. He should have told me about Palmer. Goddamn him. Fucking Webb, always keeping secrets, and this one could get me in trouble. What if Palmer hasn't destroyed the tapes? What if he sends one to someone, anyone? The Admiral, the Secretary of the Navy, hell, just to any TV station or newspaper would do. Palmer would love to destroy me. I know that from our little talk.

I walk toward him, and he's smart enough just to stand there. "Tell me everything you know about Clark Palmer being CIA." I hope he can see that I mean this. I want every stupid little detail.

He sighs, then takes off his overcoat and hangs it up before answering me. I hate when he plays these little games with me. He'd damned well better stop soon, if he doesn't want to find out how it feels to get his nose broken again. I'm close to hitting him, even though I don't want to be.

"Drop it, Rabb. It's Company business, not your problem."

Goddamn him. Not my problem? Whose problem is it? Doesn't seem like anyone's paying any attention to Palmer, and that is going to change now.

"Clark Palmer is my problem. He put bugs here." I glare at him and sweep my hand around to cover the whole room. "He recorded me."

Clayton looks even more tired, but I don't give a fuck. I want answers. "He is not your problem. I told you, the bugs were only there for a little while."

He's lying to me. After we agreed to tell each other the truth, he's fucking lying to me. I stride over to him and get in his face. I'm glad right now that I'm taller than he is. I want to intimidate him. I want to get to him. "I do not care what those tests said, he told me that they've been there since the Vickers trial. The Vickers trial, Webb!"

"When the hell did you talk to Palmer?" Oh, shit. I wasn't going to tell him that. Not yet. Maybe later. Like I have a chance in hell of keeping something from him. His eyes are steady on my face. How the hell is he so calm? "Today. You talked to him today."

I swallow and make myself answer. "In the garage."

"I need to know what he said to you."

Oh, no. I can't tell him that Palmer knows. I can't. I swallow again and wish I could just end this now, but I've gotten Clay's interest, so that's not going to happen.

"I told you." It's worth a shot. He might buy that.

"Harm. What is it?" Damn, he didn't buy it. He comes a step closer, but I turn away from him. I don't want him knowing how stupid I was. I know now that I was stupid. I should have just ignored Palmer and walked away, but I never manage that with him. He gets me every time. "I thought we were going to talk to each other now." He's not going to let up at all. "You were pretty insistent about that at the hotel. If that's changed, I'd like to know."

He means, if I'm going to lie, I'd better be prepared to do it well and often, and he knows I can't. It takes a minute to answer, but I know now that I have to. "There's something I haven't told you." Clay gives me the time I need to continue. "He knows that I wanted you. That I've been wanting you. He has proof." I know he has proof. This is Palmer.

I don't know what I expect Clay to do, but I'm surprised when he does nothing but answer calmly. "I'm going to talk to Palmer. It's the only sane thing to do."

Sane thing? No one can talk to Palmer and expect to get anything more than lies. Clay has to know that.

"No. I'll talk to him. It's my problem." I don't want to, but it's better than Clay having to talk to him.

"No. Palmer and I work together now."

"And if you step in and fix this for me, he's got all the proof he needs to know that there's something going on!" Why isn't Clay getting this? Maybe he had a worse day than I thought. Palmer probably gives him shit all the time.

He surprised me with what he says next. "You're right. How about you just drop it, and I will, too? Palmer's not going to do anything stupid. He knows that I'm watching him." That's good news, and I take a long breath. Maybe this will be all right, but I'm still not sure. Something's wrong, but I can't figure out what. Maybe it doesn't matter. I know I can be paranoid where Palmer's concerned, see things that aren't there. "If he tries anything more, then we'll have to take action."

I shake my head, but not to say no, just to do something. "I hate that he knows things about me." I hate saying that, but this is Clay, and I can't help myself. His eyes have that concern in them that gets to me. I keep going. "But all right, I'll survive." I make myself sit down on the couch, and Clay sits down beside me. I'm glad of that. Having him here helps. "He said all the tapes were destroyed." I want to hear what Clay thinks about that.

"All right, let's assume that he's telling the truth."

What the hell? But he works with Palmer, and maybe he knows something I don't. Probably. "Clark Palmer telling the truth. All right. But I can't believe it."

"Then why are you believing him on anything?" Should have known that would be next, but I have something else to tell him, and I need to get it out. Need to know it's not true. Unless it is.

I take a breath and say it. "He said that I should tell you how I felt. That you'd," I swallow and see how his eyes show his concern, "fuck me out of pity."

Now the concern is anger. Not at me, at Palmer. I got the answer I needed. He does want me.

"I am not here out of pity. You know better than that. Stop feeling so damned sorry for yourself."

Clayton Webb doesn't pull his punches, and I don't want him to. Still...

"You didn't hear him. He was..."

He doesn't let me finish. "I know how Palmer is. I get to see him all the time."

And doesn't enjoy it. That's good to know. I have to smile at that.

"Lucky you. All right. I believe you. But next time, don't keep things from me."

He surprises me by putting his hand over mine and leaving it there. "I won't."

All right, then. "I'm hungry," I say after a minute. And I am. "Want to get a pizza?"

He grimaces, and I laugh. He's not a pizza fan. "How about some Chinese?"

And it's back to normal, which is good. I like normal with Clay.

***

But the next day I find myself thinking about the whole conversation too much. I don't have that much to do, since all my cases are simple ones right now, nothing interesting. I can't get it out of my head how calm he was. How it seemed like he knew more than he was saying. Not that that's a surprise, but that something that was wrong is still wrong. Really wrong.

When I leave for the day, I find myself heading toward his place, and I don't get out my phone to call. That's when I realize that I'm thinking about Clay as though he's the enemy. Not good, but I don't stop. He's hiding something. I'm going to find out what it is.

***

I know where he hides the key, and he's not there when I get there. I'll make it quick, in and out, and with any luck he won't know I've been here. I'm beginning to wonder what the hell I'm thinking. Maybe Clay is hiding something, and maybe it's nothing to do with me. Maybe it's some stupid CIA thing. But I still go over to his tapes and go through them. I find a few unmarked ones, but when I put them in the VCR and check, they're stuff from Masterpiece Theater. I grin. This is so stupid. I should stop.

Then I pick up one that's labelled Bowl Game. Clay watches college football? This I've got to see. The handwriting doesn't look like his when I look closer, but then maybe he borrowed it from someone. I put it in and hit play and watch.

I shut it off after a few moments. That was me. Palmer gave him this tape. He and Palmer worked together? No, Palmer doesn't work with anyone. I make myself think. He said that Palmer came over to talk to him when he got out. Palmer must have brought this over and shown it to him. So that's what got him to talk to me. He knew I wanted him. Knew about the bugs. Goddamn Clayton Webb. He just won't stop being a CIA agent. Won't stop playing games. Well, Webb, guess what. I'm on to your game, and I'm going to make sure you know that.

But dammit, I thought we had something good here. No, can't think that way. Not here, not now.

***

I'm glad that he drops his bag of groceries when he sees me waiting for him.

"Nice to see you, Clay." Nothing but contempt in my voice.

He picks up the bag, and I know he's buying himself time before he answers. "What are you doing here?"

He knows what I'm doing here. He's too shaken not to. "You told me where your spare key is. I used it." Come on, Webb, be your usual brilliant self. Don't screw up now after you've screwed up everything between us.

I want to laugh when he finally looks at the TV. That's right. I found your fucking tape, proof you conspired with Clark Palmer to get me in bed. What did Palmer get out of it? I swallow. Do I really want to know? No.

"So Palmer showed you a tape of me getting off, and you decided then that I was worth talking to?" It took Palmer to get him to talk to me. I don't know if I can ever forgive him this. "Well, Clay, you really managed to fool me. Congratulations." He's staring at me, looking like his world has ended. Hell, mine already has. I've got no sympathy for him. "But you did make it worth my while." A memory of him doing that flashes into my mind, Clay lying beside me, his fingers stroking my nipple and his other hand on my hip. He looked so happy. I take a quick breath and push it out of my mind. "Hope you enjoyed yourself."

That one hurt him. Good. I want him hurt.

He takes a breath himself before speaking. "Why did you go looking for it?"

"Something about how you talked about him was... wrong. You knew too much, and you weren't surprised." I have to give him that much. I'm not a liar, even though he is. "I want this destroyed, Webb." More than that, I want it never to have existed. "I want your word that there are no more copies." Will I be able to trust his word? "And then I'm going after Palmer and putting him back in jail. He hasn't changed. And he'll screw up sooner or later. If you're in with him on anything else, get out. I'll get you, too. Just put one step wrong, Webb."

His face goes from hurt and trying to hide it to anger as I talk.

"Just jail, Rabb? Why don't you get that gun and go kill him? Kill me?"

I couldn't kill him. Palmer, sure. But not Clay. Not even after this.

"All right. I'll destroy it. You left it in the VCR?"

He gestures toward it, I nod, and he hurries over to it. I glare at him as he passes and keep glaring as he leans over.

"Give it to me." I want to destroy it myself.

He takes out the tape and offers it to me, and I grab it. "I have Palmer's word that this is the only copy. I wouldn't advise asking him that question. I'll talk to him."

I don't want to talk to Clark Palmer again in this lifetime, so he has nothing to worry about. He is worried. I can tell. Probably that Palmer will tell me more about what the two of them have going on.

He's quiet after that and stares at me. Waiting for me to go, I'm sure, but I'm not ready to yet, and he's going to have to put up with it. I want to understand him. Why did he do this? Did he ever give a damn about me?

"What the hell are you still doing here? Get out."

Like hell I'm getting out until I'm ready. "You are not going to order me around, Webb."

"And you are not going to order me around, either!" He's got his fist cocked and raised, but after a moment he drops it.

"Maybe I should make you do what you saw me do, Webb. How would you like it if you were on tape, jerking off for everyone to see?" That would be justice. Of course, I wouldn't do it.

"And how do I know that I'm not? You think you're the only one who's worried about exposure? Jesus, Harm, this isn't all about you!"

"It's Palmer. Of course it's about me." Doesn't he remember anything about what Palmer's done to me?

"Fine. You go right ahead and believe that."

He spins on his heel and stalks out of the room, and I think again about going, but no, I'm not ready. He can have his temper tantrum and bang things in the kitchen, although when I listen, he's not banging anything. Fine. I've got to think, and to do that, I need room to pace.

Why did he do it? To get me in bed with him. That's obvious.

But Palmer? Why Palmer? How could he trust Palmer? Is Clay that rotten a person?

No. But I still can't accept this. I should go home and get drunk and start thinking about what the hell I'm going to do next, but I don't want to leave. I have to leave.

If I leave this way, I may never come back. I can't do that. I have to understand this. And to do that, I'm going to have to give him a chance to tell me more about this.

He'll come back out if I stay here. I know Clay. Yeah, not as well as I thought, but I'm sure of that.

I keep pacing, calming down with the movement, then I hear a chair scrape back, then footsteps, and he's there, glaring at me, and I almost smile with how familiar this is in a weird way. Maybe I've been too hard on him, but I don't think I have been. God, he believed Palmer. He never talked to me. What the fuck was he thinking?

"Harm, what the hell are you doing here?"

He's still mad. Hell, I'm still mad, and I've got more reason to be.

"Trying to figure out why the hell you kept that tape." The truth. I'm not a liar like Palmer or him. "It doesn't make any sense." I sit down on the couch. Maybe he'll follow my lead and sit, too. "Why, Clay?"

He might answer me now, might even tell me the truth.

"Why? Because I just did. Because I didn't think." He's still standing, and he bites out the words. Clayton Webb not thinking. Unheard of. Or is it? "It happens, Harm. One night Palmer was here wanting me to make you pay for information on him with sex," so that was what Palmer wanted, "and the next night you were taking me to a hotel." So things happened that quickly. Still, he should have said something. "And there was work," with Palmer involved, no doubt, "and we were spending as much time as we could together," good tactic to appeal to my memories, "and I forgot about it. I am human, Harm. Maybe you're not."

He knows that I am. "Palmer wanted you to do what?" I want to hear him say it again.

"You heard me. You know that I didn't."

He's not going to sit down or discuss it. I've got all the answers from him I'm going to tonight. I stand. "I know. I'll call you, Clay." To tell him I want to try again, knowing all I do, or to tell him I don't want any part of him.

"Will you?" He glares at me, nothing more than I expected, and I nod.

"I need some time to think about this."

"Stay away from Palmer."

Not a problem. "I don't want to hear anything he has to say." I take a breath. "You should have told me right away."

"I know."

"Stay away from JAG." He'll come if he needs our help, but I don't want to see him there on some pretext.

He nods, and I turn and walk to the door.

***

I pull into a parking lot and smash the tape to pieces and throw it into a dumpster. At least that's done. Then I drive home, take a shower, drink a beer, and go to bed. My cell rings at three, but it's a wrong number.

***

The next day I'm furious with him, and I almost go over to Langley to tell him so, but then I'd have to deal with Palmer. God knows what he'd have to say now, and I don't want him knowing about this. Clay will deal with him.

Strange how I still trust him. Strange and telling.

I throw myself into my cases and tell myself I'm not going to think about him for now. He'll wait or he won't.

My strategy works well enough until I wake up at three in the morning with a hard-on, moaning his name. I pump it and pretend that it's Clay.

After I come, I lie on my back and stare at the ceiling. Do I want to be alone again? I don't have to be. All I have to do is come to terms with what Clay did and call him. Simple enough. The trouble is that I'm not sure that I can come to terms with it. He believed Palmer, for god's sake. Fucking Palmer of all people.

Because he wanted me. And maybe because he was trying to protect me. Maybe if he hadn't played along with Palmer, Palmer would have found another way.

I sit up. That has to be it. I'll call Clay tonight and see where we go from here.

***

"Webb." He sounds stressed and tired. Well, I'd be stressed and tired if I had to work for the CIA and be responsible for Palmer.

"I hoped you'd be there. I'd like to buy you dinner. Are you free?" He might not be, but it's a start.

"Where did you have in mind?" Playing it close, as usual, but I can't blame him.

"How about that place you had the veggie burger?" Which would be the restaurant where we talked before I took him to the hotel and made love to him. That's the only place to the best of my knowledge that he's had a veggie burger, except for my place. He liked mine.

"No. It's out of the question."

But he doesn't suggest an alternative, and he doesn't sound mad, so I make my next suggestion. "All right. I knew that was a long shot. How about my place?"

His answer comes after a long minute, and I know that he gets that this is a serious offer of more than dinner. "I thought you offered to buy me dinner."

"I'll pay for the takeout." The food doesn't matter. Getting together with him does. "I've thought a lot, and I think I understand why you did what you did." I wait for him to say something, but he doesn't, so I have to say it. "I'm trying to apologize here."

"Don't strain yourself." He sounds better now, probably smiling. Clay has a great smile. I hope I see it tonight, and it would be even better to wake up to it. "All right, dinner at your place sounds fine."

Now to settle the menu so that we can end this call and he can get to me. "Pizza all right? I know it's not your favorite, but it's fast, Clay. And I was hoping to do more than just eat dinner with you. I'm heading out now. Will you meet me at my place?"

"Yes."

"Good."

I call the pizza place I use and order a mushroom and onion, half sausage for Clay, then fit the key into the ignition. I'm smiling as I turn it.

I'm going to see Clay tonight.

***

The dinner is awkward, and it's my fault. I can't seem to relax with him once he's there. I keep thinking about fucking Palmer and the deal the two of them made. Maybe I should have waited longer.

"Does this mean you're through being angry at me?" Clay surprises me by bringing it up, but I'm glad. I don't want this awkwardness between us.

"I want to be. I'm trying to be." I'd like to tell him that he's imagining things, but that would be a lie, and we've had enough of those. "That fucking Palmer... Are you sure that's the only tape?"

"I threatened him with everything I could think of, but he swears it is. I think he's telling the truth." Hard to believe, but Clay looks as certain as he sounds. "I searched his apartment and his safe-deposit box and his office. Nothing there. I know he could have copies hidden anywhere, but I really don't think he does."

"And if he does, there's nothing I can do about it." Nothing at all. Palmer can fuck up my life any time he wants to. "All right. Thank you."

"I should have told you. I couldn't."

I feel the tension in me drain away. This is the Clay I know and want. "That offer must have sounded pretty good to you, after how I acted. If someone had offered me a way to get to you and not have to deal with our past, I might have taken it, too."

Clay doesn't say anything, but he's probably surprised to hear me say that.

"Come on, Clay, I know I'm hard to deal with. It's all right." I stand and hold out my hand. "We could talk about this all night, but I really don't want to." I know what I want, and it's not conversation. It's Clay.

"All right." Clay takes my hand, and I pull him up against me.

"Does this count as our first fight?" It's safe to tease him again with his arms warm and solid around me. I won't let him go.

"I thought you wanted to stop talking?" He kisses my neck, then bites it the way I like.

"Yeah." With what his mouth and teeth are doing to my neck and his hands on my back and ass, I can't talk, just moan and gasp. But I still manage to get my hands in and start undoing his shirt so that I can touch him.

I pull myself away from him, but only so that I can talk. "How about the bed?"

"How about it?" He's teasing me. He knows what I want with the bed, but I'll say it, if it'll get him there quicker.

"Come on, Clay." I reach for my top button and undo it, then the next one. "I want to make you come." Maybe I'll suck him off or maybe it would be a good night to let him fuck me. I don't know yet, but I will when it's time.

"I want to make you come, too." He smiles and rubs my nipple through my undershirt, which is almost enough to get me to forget about the bed. "I want you to come while you're fucking me."

That's more than I thought I'd get for a while, but I'm not going to complain. My cock jumps at his words.

"No problem," I say and walk toward my bed and take clothes off as I go. I can hear Clay following behind me.

I still don't know what to call what we have, but we have it again.


~ End of Story IV a) in the Solstice Series ~


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