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Tongues of Flame
by Gail


Title: Tongues of Flame
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: NC-17 (for m/m sex)
Author's Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me. They never have, they never will, and I am sorry for having borrowed them if it upsets anyone important. But not sorry enough to stop doing it.
Author's Notes: This is for mareen, of course, since it's her series, and for allaire and Thamiris, both of whom showed wonderful confidence in me by recommending the series on their sites and saying that this was an ongoing series. I thought it was finished, but then I'm just the writer. Alex did a wonderfully happy beta, as always, and Tinnean encouraged me to take my time and write it the way it needed to be.
All of this is from Clayton Webb's point of view, except for the second section, which is from Clark Palmer's.
Series/Sequel: Story IV in the "Solstice" Series, an alternative to Parts 4 & 5 of the "Equinox" series.



IV.



And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

-- T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets



* * * * * * * * * * * * *


I'm going through a stack of files and wishing I could just give them to someone else when I hear the knock at the open door. I look up to see Harmon Rabb, and he's smiling at me. What is he doing at the Company? This is not a good idea. I'm about to tell him so when he comes in.

"Hi, Webb. I thought you could help me with something."

His eyes are full of mischief. Oh, no, Harm, not here. Here it has to be business only. I give him a look of warning, but he just keeps smiling.

"Hey, Webb, you got a moment?" Shit. Of course. It's Palmer. If I couldn't tell from the voice, I'd know from the way that Harm's face tightens.

Palmer comes into the room, brushing by Harm, who's staring at him in a way that makes me wish I had some backup. Or a set of handcuffs for each of them. "Oh, hello, Commander." His voice is pleasant enough, but this way leads only to disaster. "Nice to see you again. It's been a while."

I stand. "Palmer, later. Rabb, what do you want?" Get them separated. It's the only way.

Harm is still staring at Palmer, who's giving him an interested, friendly look back. This is hell. I knew it was only a matter of time before they ran into each other, but I was hoping it would be somewhere neutral. Or maybe I was just hoping it would be, oh, never. A stupid thought with D.C. the way it is, but then there's always the chance of a miracle. But not now.

"Congratulations on your promotion, Commander." Palmer's ignoring me, damn him.

Harm manages to get his mouth open. "What are you doing here, Palmer?"

Palmer gives him a puzzled look. "Didn't you hear about my pardon, Rabb? I thought Webb would have told you."

Time to break up this conversation. "Rabb, I'm busy. You'll have to make it fast. Palmer, go." And I give Harm a very hard look, warning him to shut up. He takes an angry breath, but keeps quiet. It won't last long, though. I know him.

"Oh, sure, Webb. It can wait." Palmer's voice is easy and relaxed. Of course. He's not worried about this. He's loving it.

"Just go." He has to have come here to see Harm. I cannot let that happen. This has gone far enough.

He nods and heads toward the door. But just as I think we're all going to get out of this without any kind of major confrontation, he stops right in front of Harm. Now what?

"Commander, I just want you to know that I'm sorry about all the shit I pulled on you. And that I'm glad we're on the same side now." He's got a sincere look on, but this is not going to go over well with Harm. Why the hell couldn't Palmer just shut the fuck up? But this is what he lives for. Still.

"You are lying." Oh, no. I'm not close enough to stop them from killing each other. And Palmer's got a little smile on his face that's going to make it worse. I get around the desk as Palmer answers him. If we all live through this, I am going to have a talk with Clark later. And I'm going to win this time. I swear it.

"Sorry you feel that way. But I did get help in Leavenworth, Commander, just like you told me to. And I found out something really important there, that I don't like prison. 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. And I am." He nods at me. "Webb's got the job of keeping an eye on me to make sure that I do."

I didn't need him to tell Harm that. Of course. That's why he's here. To give me some shit to deal with. Harm turns his angry eyes on me, and Palmer gives me a little grin. If he's lucky, I won't see him again today, because I only have so much patience, and I'm losing it with him.

"Goodbye, Commander. Later, Webb." And he's gone. Harm turns on me at once.

"He's here. You didn't tell me that. You're still keeping secrets from me," he hisses at me.

"This is Company business, damn you, Rabb." I always call him that when we're anywhere official. Safer. "Palmer has done nothing wrong. Nothing. I am keeping an eye on him. You're going to have to trust me on this." And I will be talking to Clark. Just as soon as I'm sure I won't try to kill him. He can't go around baiting Harm, no matter how well he does it. I will not allow it. I don't care who's protecting him, he has to behave.

He takes a long breath, and I can see that he's trying to calm down. "Fine. But I would have liked to know. And there's a lot more I'd like to know about him being here...Webb." He just remembers in time to use my last name. "Clark Palmer in the CIA is right up there as one of my worst nightmares. I really need to know how this happened."

He clearly wants to talk about it now. "I'll tell you what I can." That makes his eyes harden again. "Company business," I warn, and he just tightens his lips. He hates when I say that, but he knows it won't do much good to fight me. I'm not the pushover I used to be.

"You'll tell me all you can." That is a threat. I know him.

"What I can. But later, Rabb." In our code, that means it has to be at night, and I'm sure that he'll take it as tonight.

He reaches out a long arm and pushes the door closed. "Tonight," he says very quietly.

I knew it. "Where?" I keep my voice just as low.

I'm expecting an argument, but instead he gives me a half-smile. "My place is closer," he offers, and I know that he's gotten over at least some of his anger. Good. He knows I'll do what I can, even though it's not always all he would like. It's good to know that he does trust me.

I let a very small smile out and manage to push all thought of Clark Palmer away. Harm's here, and he's what I want to be thinking about.

"I didn't bring a spare suit." A joke, from all the times I've ended up staying the night when I was sure I'd be going home. For a while I just kept one suit in my car for just those times, taking it to the cleaners in between. I reach into my pocket, bring out a couple of twenties and a dry-cleaning ticket. "You want to pick this up for me?"

He cocks his head at me and lets out one of his most charming smiles. "Who said that I was going to let you stay?"

I laugh at that. Harm's good at doing that, getting me to relax, even here, where I should know better. "You didn't. All right, guess there's no need to bother." I go to put the money and the ticket back, but his hand is there, taking them from me.

"Just this once, as a favor to a friend," he says almost shyly. Then his more normal mischievous face reappears. "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 wouldn't recognize me," I return dryly. He's always trying to get me to try blue jeans. I cannot get him to see that the chino pants I wear on weekends are just fine. He looks fine in jeans; I know what suits me. And that is not jeans.

"Maybe I'll just go buy you some now," he says teasingly. "Forget all about that suit. And you'll have no choice but to wear them. I'd make sure of that."

I give him a look of warning, but he just chuckles. I can see that he's actually considering this. "Harm. No."

"Time to get back to the spy business, right, Clay? And I need to go run an errand or two."

That mischievous look in his eyes makes me want to pull him over and see if kissing him in my office would be worth the risk, but it's not safe. "My suit," I say firmly, and he shrugs.

"All right. This time."

And I smile back at him. God, it's fun having him in my life. "Why did you come over, anyway?"

"Felt like it." He slants me another mischievous look. "Any bugs in here, Clay?"

A little late to be asking that. "No. And no, Harm." I know what he's thinking, and we shouldn't do this here. But I want to, and he has to see that.

"I want to," he says very softly and comes closer. It's amazing how quickly his anger goes. He's nothing like me that way. "Just one, Clay. I've had a hard day. Give me a break, will you?"

And before I can do anything but open my mouth to answer, his mouth is on mine and it's just as sweet and wild as always. That ocean is always there, but today it's warm and full of little waves and I can hear people laughing from the shore. I'm not going to drown. I've got him to hold me up.

He releases me with a smile. "Much better," he murmurs, and I smile, too. "Now I can face the afternoon." He waits a moment, then reaches for the door. "Just come over," he murmurs before he turns the knob, and I nod. "Whatever you can find, Webb," he says, his voice so different now.

And I match it. "I'll see what I can do, Rabb."

He nods and heads down the hall. I don't stay in the doorway to watch him go. I'm Clayton Webb, CIA agent, and I don't do that.

But I can see him walk in my mind. And I'll see him at his place tonight.

***

It's time to see just how well Commander Rabb is doing. I follow him out to the parking garage. He turns right away. Nice, Rabb. You might live if you keep that up.

"What the hell do you want, Palmer?"

"I just wanted to apologize, Commander." I make sure to keep to the more respectful address. He doesn't believe I mean it, and it pisses the hell out of him.

"You already did, and I don't believe you. Drop it and leave me alone."

"Oh, I will. I'm glad that you and Mr. Webb are on good terms now." That stops him. Rabb, god, you're never going to keep your affair a secret from the Navy if you keep reacting like that.

"Clayton Webb is a friend," he snaps. "Someone I work with some times. What the hell are you talking about?"

"Nothing, Commander. Just what you said. I heard you two weren't doing so well working together. Hey, I'm probably wrong."

Give up, give him something to think about. And I'm telling the truth here. I have heard gossip. Only a little, though. But he doesn't understand how an intelligence organization works. He's certainly not qualified to be in one.

"All right. Is there anything else? I do have somewhere else to be."

He should just walk away, but hell, he's asking for this one.

"I told Webb I was sorry for the bugs, but I haven't told you. It was stupid of me. Like you'd do anything that would be interesting." Since Rabb will never believe that I've reformed, I can play him more than I can most people. He's got this thing about me being an evil genius. Flattering, really, except that I'm always supposed to lose to him. I don't like losing.

Now he's very tense. Yes. Good. "Webb said that you put them in when you got out. Is that true?"

Oh, Rabb, you just gave me such a present. I don't know which way to play this one. Can't piss off Webb, but then I can claim he surprised it out of me, or just apologize. Webb knows how I get about Rabb, how Rabb gets about me. Yeah, I can play this one the hard way.

Thank god I think quickly.

"Is that what Mr. Webb said?" Do not give him a direct answer. It's crueler that way. "If that's what he said, it must be true." I smile at him, the way I only smile at Harmon Rabb, the knowing, superior way. Oh, this is beautiful. Rabb is about to explode, about to beat me up, and I'll let him. Only helps my case.

And then he's got me shoved against the wall. "What the fuck are you saying, Palmer? You saying that Clayton's lying to me?"

It's taking a lot not to fight back, but this way is better. First name. Well, that is within the bounds of their 'relationship.' He hasn't done anything too insane yet, except, of course, assaulting me. Should I have him arrested? No, too much grief for Webb. And I've given him a hell of a lot today. Of course, letting Harm get this out of his system will only help Webb later. I know they're seeing each other tonight. Webb really needs to check for bugs more often. I've got a good one in there.

"I agreed with you, Rabb. Is that a crime now?"

"Did you, or did you not, install surveillance devices in my apartment?"

Hmm. Well, it won't hurt to play along. Despite what I told Webb, disclosing this wouldn't do anything to me now. They'd cover it up. I've earned that much already, with the information I've given them on Braddock and his little weapons-sale game.

"Yes."

His grip tightens. Is this one of Rabb's fantasies? Well, let him have his fun. I know that I can break his hold if I want to.

"When did you install them?"

"I don't recall the exact date, Rabb. If you'd let me go, I could check my notes." It is so much fun playing him. His face is flushed and he looks like he's ready to explode. "Would an approximate date do?"

"When?"

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

A good, long time, Harm. Think about that one.

He's pale now. "The place was swept by a CIA team," he whispers.

"I'm good, Rabb. They found what they found, and then I put more in. It's the only way to do it, really." His grip has loosened, but I humor him and stay put. He's too pathetic to do anything but feel sorry for now. "But you're clear now. I removed them myself, everything." I smile at him. "I saw the error of my ways. Wish I could give you all the tapes, but I destroyed those." I could tell him that there's one still around, but I'm not that cruel. And Webb would destroy me. Actually, he might try for this. I'm going to have to be a very good boy for a while. I sigh. It's no fun being a good boy. But I'll manage. I need this life.

He's staring at me. "You fucking bastard."

"You really should think about telling Webb how you feel about him," I say very softly. Oh, I know they've fucked, made it all up, but he shouldn't know that I know. "You might be surprised. He's a nice guy. He'd do it out of pity, if nothing else."

And now I've really got him. He's thinking back, wondering if this is all about Webb pitying him. All right, I don't give a fuck any more if Webb's happy. He'll have to deal with me. I can get him with guilt about leaving me with the DSD and their experiments. I have proof of what they did to me. It'll do.

And fuck, Rabb's earned this one. More than once.

He lets go of me and steps back. "I suppose you think you're being funny." His voice is very cold. Good control.

"Just remembering some things you said, Commander," I counter. I can't tell him that I know about those other two times, because he will be talking to Webb. "Maybe I'm wrong. It's happened before." I make sure to smile. "I am sorry to have upset you again, Commander. I'll be sure to stay away from you from now on. I just thought it would be good to get things out in the open. I was wrong, again."

And I turn away and head back to the stairs.

"Palmer!" He's calling for me. Well. I stop and turn around. He's glaring at me. "Go to hell."

"I'm sure we'll both be there in due time, Rabb. Take care."

I make a few mental notes as I take the stairs two at a time: stay away from Webb today, at least until after lunch; think about how I'm going to spin this one to Webb when he does find me, which he will; get in touch with another couple of Braddock's sources and end this charade. I need a victory now, and I can have one.

Although that encounter in the garage certainly felt like a victory to me.

***

I cannot believe that we're having this conversation. I really cannot believe it. I hate it. After all we've been through, he still will not let this go. And I am in no position to tell him what he wants to know.

"Drop it, Rabb. It's Company business, not your problem." It's worked before and worth a try, but it only makes him look more stubborn. He's clearly tired of hearing that. I wish that I could just tell him the truth, but I can't. How can I tell him that I almost made a deal with Clark Palmer about him, that in a way I did make a deal? No. He'd never forgive me. And I want him. Even though I know he's not interested in anything more than a friendship with occasional sex, right now he is in my life and I'd like to keep it that way.

"Clark Palmer is my problem. He put bugs here." He gestures around the room. "He recorded me."

I thought we'd gotten over this one. "He is not your problem. I told you, the bugs were only there for a little while." I should be more used to lying to him, but I'm not.

"I do not care what those tests said," he's in my face now, hissing, "he told me that they've been there since the Vickers trial. The Vickers trial, Webb!"

"When the hell did you talk to Palmer?" I'm going to get to the bottom of this, right now. And then I know. "Today. You talked to him today."

"In the garage."

Well, no wonder Palmer was impossible to find. He had good reason. I'm going to kill him. No, cancel that. I'm going to make his life a living hell. And I can do that. He'd better not try any of that guilt shit on me. Although that also explains the file that showed up on my desk, about the DSD experimentation program. Oh, Palmer, I am really going to give you a lecture when I catch up with you. And I'm not looking at that file. It's irrelevant.

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

Something flickers across his face, something like guilt. "I told you."

"Harm. What is it?" I step closer, but he frowns and turns away. "I thought we were going to talk to each other now," I say as evenly as I can. "You were pretty insistent about that at the hotel. If that's changed, I'd like to know."

That makes him take a long, slow breath. "There's something I haven't told you."

I wait. This looks serious. Could Palmer have told him about our talk at my place that night? But I can't see Harm feeling guilty about that. Punching me, sure, but not guilt.

"He knows," he hesitates, "that I wanted you. That I've been wanting you. He has proof."

The tape. Palmer told him about the tape. But not that I have a copy? Clearly not.

"I'm going to talk to Palmer," I say flatly. "It's the only sane thing to do." He wants something. I'll give it to him. Or I'll make him know it's out of the question.

"No." His voice is stubborn. "I'll talk to him. It's my problem."

"No." I glare at him. "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!"

Well, he already knows that. But Harm isn't ever going to hear that from me. "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. If he tries anything more, then we'll have to take action."

Harm shakes his head, and I think I'm going to have to argue, but it's not what he means. "I hate that he knows things about me," he whispers. "But all right, I'll survive." He hesitates, then sits on the couch. I sit down beside him. "He said all the tapes were destroyed."

They will be. "All right," I say carefully, "let's assume that he's telling the truth."

"Clark Palmer telling the truth," he mutters. "All right. But I can't believe it."

"Then why are you believing him on anything?" I've got him there.

His eyes have despair in them. "He said that I should tell you how I felt. That you'd," he swallows, "fuck me out of pity."

I will kill Palmer. Is this his real revenge? Making Harm feel like this? He's insane.

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

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

"I know how Palmer is. I get to see him all the time."

That gets him to smile, briefly, but it's better than nothing. "Lucky you." He takes a breath. "All right. I believe you. But next time, don't keep things from me."

I reach over and put my hand over his. "I won't," I say quietly and hope that I can keep this promise.

***

I get to Palmer's office right after he does.

He looks up at me and puts down his cup of coffee. "Oh, hi, Webb. What's up?"

I push the door shut behind me. "Stop harassing Rabb."

He smiles. "But it's so much fun. Hey, did you get any last night?"

"Do not even start that." He asks as though he has a right to know, and he doesn't.

"You don't know how to have fun, Clayton," he says sorrowfully. "I'm telling you, you could do better than him. I can introduce you to some guys."

I just stare at him. As though I'd trust anyone he said was interested in me. "Shut up, Palmer."

He tilts his head and says nothing. A good start.

"No more talking to Rabb. No more telling him things he does not need to know. No more idiocy."

He's taking notes, damn him.

"Stop that."

"Oh. But I thought it was important?" That innocent look.

"Right now, what is important is that you listen to me, remember what I've said, and implement it. Do you understand?"

"Does Harm fall for the caveman side of you, Clayton?" he breathes. I really want to beat him up now. "O.K., O.K.," he's laughing now, "I'll be good. I'll be so good that you won't recognize me."

"I destroyed the tape you gave me," I say next. His eyes narrow at that, and he stands. "I figured that would be your next thing, to tell him I had it." I haven't destroyed it yet, since I spent the night at Harm's, but I will tonight. I know now that I've been an idiot to hold on to it. It's hidden, but the point is that it's wrong that I have it at all.

"Hell, Clay, I figured you already had. Told him, that is. You two being so close and all."

"You were going to be good," I say evenly, and he shrugs.

"All right. But he isn't as stupid as he looks sometimes. What are you going to do if he figures out how you knew how to get him?" Palmer is enjoying this. There are days when he's fine to work with, a good partner, reliable, brilliant, nice, even. This is definitely not one of those days.

"Tell him the truth," I say very quietly. It's all I'd be able to do at that point, but it isn't going to get to that point. It can't.

"Then you're an idiot, Webb. Lie. You know you can do that."

"You could do that. I couldn't."

"Yeah." There's something in Palmer's face that disturbs me. Sadness? Maybe. Although I don't know why he'd be sad. "You couldn't." It's gone now. "All right. I've got a team going after Braddock. They've already recovered the stolen weapons, but I thought you'd want him, too."

"Of course we want him. You got a tip?"

"I got lucky. And smart."

Braddock. This is why Palmer got out of prison, to help catch the former DSD agent who had gone into weapons sales. And he's done it. Now what to do with him?

"It's a big world, Webb. You know that."

Did I say that out loud? No. I never do that. "And your point is?"

"That there's room enough for you, me, and even Rabb in it. As long Rabb learns how to use his brain. Not that there's that much chance of that happening."

"You really haven't given up this idea of revenge on him," I say very softly.

He laughs. "Oh, no. But Harm's doing a great job of that for me."

My eyes narrow. "We are not having this conversation."

"I am." His voice is hard, too. "We had a deal. You broke it. That's how it goes."

"You leave him alone." I know that I sound stupid and I don't care.

"I am leaving him alone. He's after me."

That's insane. I know that he knows better, but I've got something else to talk with him about. "And that little show in the garage was about, what?"

"Just a little revenge, Webb. You should have seen his face. Oh, he wants you so damned much." He's whispering now, his hands resting on the desk as he leans toward me, his eyes glittering with what I'm sure is passion. I don't even want to think about what turns Clark Palmer on, although I've had moments when I've speculated. I should have known that someone else's torment would be the key. He licks his lips, confirming my hypothesis. "You must be good." He straightens, and that passion is gone, and he's back under control. Mercurial is a fine word for Clark Palmer. "Rabb's a big boy, Webb. If he can't play with the other kids, then he should just stay home where it's safe. He isn't doing that, so he's fair game."

"You will use up your credit with the Company and with State at some point. And then you just might need to do something more than help with one case to keep your ass safe. Why are you determined to make me your enemy?"

He stares at me for a long moment. "You really think I want you against me? Webb, if I thought I had a chance to get on your good side..." His voice dies away, and his smile is wry. "I know better than that. Even getting you Rabb did nothing to change how you felt about me. I'm just," he shrugs, "giving you the Palmer you want."

This is interesting, and I am not letting it go, even though he might just be trying to play me. I don't think so. I'm good at reading him. "The Clark Palmer I want," I repeat slowly, "is one who works with me to the best of his ability. Who trusts me. Who doesn't fuck with my friends. If I get him, I'll back him at need." I wait.

He stands absolutely still. "I can do that," he says finally.

I nod and swallow. I believe him, but whether or not he'll really be able to do this, I don't know. But I'm willing to try. "Then I'd say this meeting is over," I say and head for the door.

"Webb." His voice stops me as I'm opening it. I don't turn. "Try and keep Rabb away from here, all right? He...he really brings that out in me."

"I can do that," is all I say, echoing him, and I make it out into the corridor.

***

I get through the day without any more drama, then drive home. On the way I stop at the market and pick up a steak and bread and manage to find some lettuce in the salad bar that meets my standards. A compromise. The beef, because it has been a strange day, and the salad, because it would make Harm happy. The steak would make his eyes narrow, especially the size of it, but I'm not about to tell him. Just because he's given up some of the good things in life does not mean that I have to.

I open the door and drop the damned bag. Rabb is standing in my living room, arms folded, glaring at me.

"Nice to see you, Clay," he spits out.

I bend over and pick up the bag, then answer him. "What are you doing here?"

"You told me where your spare key was. I used it."

There is definitely something wrong. I glance over and see that the TV is on, as is the VCR...oh, shit.

He's smiling, but his eyes are very cold. "So Palmer showed you a tape of me getting off, and you decided then that I was worth talking to? Well, Clay, you really managed to fool me. Congratulations. But you did make it worth my while." His lips tighten. "Hope you enjoyed yourself."

"Why did you go looking for it?" It's not going to do any good at all to argue with him right now. And I really need to know that one.

"Something about how you talked about him was...wrong. You knew too much, and you weren't surprised." Always a lawyer, always looking for the crack in the witness. He shakes his head. "I want this destroyed, Webb. I want your word that there are no more copies. And then," his smile chills me, "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."

"Just jail, Rabb? Why don't you get that gun and go kill him? Kill me?" I am angry. I thought I'd solved this one. I had solved it, and now he has to go and ruin it. "All right. I'll destroy it. You left it in the VCR?"

He nods. I start toward it and have to brush by him, and the scent of him hits my brain, and all I want to do is stop and hold him. Tell him I'm sorry, tell him the whole damned story.

But when I glance up at him, his eyes are still cold. And I'm not going to beg. I screwed up, but I could have done worse, and I was trying to protect him. Trying to help. Trying to give him what he wanted.

"Give it to me," he says suddenly. I don't say anything. Why bother? I wish to hell I'd been smart enough to think of destroying it before now.

I hit the eject button and wait for the tape to come out. When it does, I grab it, turn, and hand it to Rabb. "I have Palmer's word that this is the only copy," I say evenly. "I wouldn't advise asking him that question. I'll talk to him."

If I can ever manage to drag myself out of this room. Right now I doubt that I will.

I expect him to walk out, but instead he just...stands there. Watching me. I don't care. How can I defend myself? I know what I did, why I did it, what it's cost me and what I got in return, but this is Harmon Rabb, commander in the United States Navy, lawyer, pilot. The man who was once my lover and now clearly will never be again.

I make myself breathe. "What the hell are you still doing here?" I have had enough shit for one day. "Get out."

"You are not going to order me around, Webb," he spits out.

"And you are not going to order me around, either!" I want to take a swing at him, but instead I glare. I will not be reduced to violence.

He takes a step toward me. "Maybe I should make you do what you saw me do, Webb," he says in a very low voice. "How would you like it if you were on tape, jerking off for everyone to see?"

"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!"

He stares at me again. "It's Palmer," he says finally. "Of course it's about me."

Of course. He's still got this damned obsession with Palmer. Why would anything change?

"Fine. You go right ahead and believe that." I turn away and head into the kitchen. He'll leave sooner or later, and I'm not going to beg. It wouldn't do any good, and I'd hate myself.

But when I check, he hasn't. He's just standing there, staring at the wall. I know that I have some good paintings, but he's seen them all. No, Harm's thinking. Maybe there's hope after all.

I stay out of his way. I'm not hungry any more, but I go ahead and put together a salad and slice some bread. The steak goes into the refrigerator. I'll have it tomorrow night.

I get through about half the salad and bread, then I hear him pacing and get angry. What the hell does he think he's doing? He doesn't live here. I do.

I get up from the table and head into the living room. He turns to look at me, and the sight of his face makes some of my anger go away. Nothing new there.

"Harm, what the hell are you doing?"

He shrugs. "Trying to figure out why the hell you kept that tape. It doesn't make any sense." He sits down on the couch, that same couch I fucked him over. I'm sure he remembers, but he doesn't seem to care. "Why, Clay?"

"Why?" I echo him. "Because I just did. Because I didn't think. It happens, Harm. One night Palmer was here wanting me to make you pay for information on him with sex, and the next night you were taking me to a hotel. And then there was work, and we were spending as much time as we could together, and I forgot about it. I am human, Harm. Maybe you're not."

He ignores my dig. "Palmer wanted you to do what?"

"You heard me." I'm not going to go into that. It's not the issue. "You know that I didn't."

He stands. "I know. I'll call you, Clay."

"Will you?" I'm still angry.

He nods. "I need some time to think about this."

"Stay away from Palmer." My voice is too sharp, but he just nods again.

"I don't want to hear anything he has to say." He looks at me with eyes that are much calmer than I would have expected. "You should have told me right away."

"I know," I say quietly. If he's expecting me to apologize, he's going to wait a long time. I made my decision. That's done.

"Stay away from JAG." And he's gone. I stand until I hear the door shut. I don't know what's going to happen, but it could have been worse. I take a deep breath and go back into the kitchen. I might as well try to eat some more. Nothing's going to happen tonight.

I make myself go to bed, even though what I want is to go over and make Harm talk to me, make everything all right. It doesn't work that way, and I know it. But I don't like it at all.

***

Three weeks go by without any word. I don't call or go over to JAG. The last thing I want is to have him look through me or blow up because I didn't do what he wanted. If there's any chance Harm and I can survive this, I want it.

After our talk, Palmer is easier to work with. He stops playing games at the Company and just gets his work done, well and creatively, although within the Company's rules. Maybe that's all that Palmer wanted, to know that I'd be on his side. I don't know. I'm too busy trying to get my own work done. Budgets, reviews, plans, requests...it's not easy being a deputy director of anything at the CIA. But it's my job, and the one I want.

The phone rings. "Webb," I say tersely. I hope it's not another problem. It's seven, and I'd like to get home at some point.

"I hoped you'd be there." It's Harm, and he sounds calm. "I'd like to buy you dinner. Are you free?"

I wonder if this is the only discussion we're going to have. I doubt it. But I'm not going to say no. "Where did you have in mind?" I parry.

"How about that place you had the veggie burger?" I can hear the smile in his voice, and it makes me smile, too, but I know that it's not going to be this easy, and I'm not going back there.

"No. It's out of the question." I think about suggesting somewhere, but this is his game, so I don't.

"All right. I knew that was a long shot. How about my place?"

I don't answer right away. I'm not sure what he means by that. "I thought you offered to buy me dinner."

"I'll pay for the takeout. Clay, I've thought a lot and I think I understand why you did what you did." He pauses, and when I don't say anything, he continues. "I'm trying to apologize here."

That makes me smile. He hates to say he's sorry as much as I do. "Don't strain yourself. All right, dinner at your place sounds fine." It'll be quiet there, and if he decides that he needs to hear more about Palmer's offer, it'll be private enough for me to feel comfortable telling him.

"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." His voice is suddenly low and dark, and I can feel the blood rush to my cock. It might be a trick, that voice. He has to know what it does to me by now. "I'm heading out now. Will you meet me at my place?"

"Yes." I wet my lips, then decide not to say anything about Palmer or our fight now. It can wait.

"Good." He hangs up, and I take a deep breath. Time to find out what's really going on.

***

He's at his place when I get there, and we get through the pizza and beer without talking about much more than the weather. I decide to make the first move and put down my bottle. He looks at me, then away. He's been doing that all through the meal. I'm tired of it.

"Does this mean you're through being angry at me?"

"I want to be," he says finally. "I'm trying to be. That fucking Palmer..." His fists are clenched now. "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." I'm not going to hide anything from him about this. I don't want this to rise up and get me again. "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," he mutters. "All right. Thank you."

"I should have told you," I say abruptly. He's trying. I need to reach out, too. "I couldn't."

"That offer must have sounded pretty good to you, after how I acted," he surprises me by saying in reply. "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."

I stare at him. Is this Harmon Rabb? He's surprising me.

His mouth twists into a smile. "Come on, Clay, I know I'm hard to deal with. It's all right." He stands. "We could talk about this all night, but I really don't want to." He holds out his hand.

I know what he's doing. He's offering an end to the argument, and I'm willing to take it. We can always talk later. "All right." I take his hand and let him pull me up against him.

He laughs when he gets his arms around me. "Does this count as our first fight?"

"I thought you wanted to stop talking?" I murmur against his neck, then let my teeth sink into it, and hear his gasp with satisfaction.

"Yeah," he manages, then he's just making sounds that I know very well, and I let myself enjoy them. I thought I'd never get to do this again, never get to feel this soft skin, touch this firm and now known body, and I'm so glad that I was wrong.

I feel him tug at my shirt and pull away enough for him to get his hands where they need to go to get it out. He starts unbuttoning it, then his fingers start stroking my nipples, and oh, god, I want him. I don't care how; I want Harmon Rabb so badly.

He pulls away and looks at me. "How about the bed?"

I can feel myself smile. "How about it?"

Now he's smiling. "Come on, Clay." He starts unbuttoning his shirt, and that he's still so casual and relaxed with me is wonderful. "I want to make you come."

That sounds great. "I want to make you come, too." I reach out and brush a fingertip over his nipple through the undershirt, and hear his sharp intake of breath. "I want you to come while you're fucking me." I really want him to. I like fucking Harm, but I like being fucked by him, too.

"No problem," he says in a husky voice and heads toward his bed. I follow, watching him strip as I get out of the rest of my clothes.

I thought this was gone. I was wrong. It's never going to be easy being in this relationship, and I still don't know how long it's going to last, but that doesn't matter. We're together now. That's what matters.


~ End of Story IV in the Solstice Series ~


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