Never for acclaim, always for country.

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Happy Holidays...
Cutie pie
The holidays were Annie's favorite time of the year; all the parties, the weather, the reasons to put a fire in the fireplace in the guest house... all of it.

When Clay asked her to the party on his mother's behalf, she was both excited and a little worried. Worried because she wasn't sure she was up to that kind of socializing and because she wasn't sure that she fit into the world that he managed on the side so effortlessly. And because she knew that he would look absolutely incredible in his tuxedo, Annie went on the hunt for a dress that would do him justice. The very last thing that she wanted to do was embarrass him.

The excitement came from the shopping. A dress to match the jewelry she had, though not what she used to have, was in the cards for her and she planned to make sure that she looked incredible. What she found was going to make him smile, she was sure of it.

And when he arrived to pick her up, she opened the door with a smile before doing a little turn to show herself off.

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A black tie affair that he had to attend because Porter couldn't. It was never a set of circumstances he enjoyed at least spending time with Annie would be worth it and the food would be excellent.

When Annie opened her door, he couldn't help his smile. She looked fantastic and was sure to make everyone else at the club jealous.

"You look amazing."

His smile combined with the way he looked made her skin flush and her own smile softened in return.

"You don't look so bad yourself, though..." She reached out and gave his tie a tug, even though it didn't need any kind of straightening at all. Any excuse to touch him, though? She'd take. "There. Perfect."

"Was it crooked again?"

Clay hated bow ties. He could never get them straight and always felt like they were choking him. From someone who wore neckties every day, he never understood why that was but it happened.

"No." She gave him a sweet smile before she confessed, "I just wanted an excuse to touch you before we had to leave."

Then she stepped back and reached for her clutch, something red that matched her dress. "I'm guessing we should get going before we get distracted." Truth was, she was already distracted. "Club?"

"You don't need an excuse to do that." Other people might, but Annie? Never.

Clay helped her into her coat before taking her arm,"Let's go."

He really just wanted to get this over with so he could enjoy being with Annie afterward. Since her return from Amsterdam, he was determined to rebuild what they had based on as much honesty as possible. It was taking some getting used to on his part, but it was happening.

He was steady and comfortable and with her hand on his, she felt like things were status quo, even if they were off to his mother's country club where things for them were definitely not status quo.

In his car, she reached over and put her hand on his thigh to keep her heart rate normal. Nerves seemed to get the better of her whenever they did something like this and she didn't want to have it happen now. "So, what kind of party is it?"

"Just dinner, dancing, holiday cheer, and an open bar." Clay put his hand on hers between shifting gears, "It should only be for a few hours."

Then it dawned on him, Simon, Lena, and the FSB knew Annie's cover. "Did you get a new job yet?"

Best to get the story straight in the car.

"So, clearly we're going for the open bar," she teased as the car got closer. Annie knew Clay was an excellent dancer - and by extension could make anyone else look like an excellent dancer - but without him, she felt like she had two left feet. As for holiday cheer, she'd felt lacking recently.

And then there was the lack of a new cover story. "Not yet, no." A deep breath. "Ideas?"

"It is the best part. The food's always pretty good."

He hoped the party did it's job and let Annie have some fun. She needed it after everything she'd gone through recently. It would also let her just be Annie Walker, not Annie Walker CIA Agent.

"You could always say you're in between jobs. There are enough layoffs lately it's completely believable and won't get you trapped when the new cover does come through."

"So, I'll look like a slacker, rather than someone who's gainfully employed?" She grinned at him as they drove. "I might as well just tell them that I'm your kept woman."

She knows that she's not anything like that, but it's amusing for her to joke about it. It's not like she can tell anyone what she does do for a living and she'll have to wait for a proper cover anyway. It doesn't dawn on her until after she's said it that he might not like the joke, especially considering they're just now reviving their relationship.

"No one will believe that, not for a second."

Annie never gave the impression, as far as Webb was concerned, that she'd be anyone's kept woman.

"Hopefully, no one will ask and make it easy on both of us."

"They might, considering the way I'm dressed." Then she looked it over. "Well, no. I'm not quite... glittery enough."

Still, all the teasing was fun and she laughed. "You know they love to contrast and compare lives, just to make sure they're all keeping up with the Joneses. They'll ask, I'll deflect. It'll be fine, don't worry."

If Annie wanted to be more glittery, she should have mentioned it as he kept everything he'd given her after she gave it back to him.

"You look amazing. Anything they say will just be because they're jealous, the women because they aren't you and the men because they can't have you."

As far as her deflecting, Webb was sure Annie would be just fine when it came to handling the people at the club.

"Yeah," she murmured, dipping her mouth toward his ear as they moved together. "Being just Annie and Clay. We don't get to be just us very often."

She trailed off, brushing her lips against his cheek before tucking her head against his neck and swaying slowly to the music, the dance itself going by the wayside. The steps didn't matter to her so much as being close to him. "I've missed being just us."

"Almost never," Clay whispered back leading the dance just a little bit. Then Annie got comfortable against him and he was perfectly willing to forgo the rest of the party and head right home.

"Me too. Us, together."

"We'll have to do something about it, this spending time together thing."

It was whispered against his skin before she lifted her head and gave him a pretty smile. "Are you and your mother spending Christmas day together or did you make other plans?"

"I'm sure we'll think of something. We're smart people," he said it with a smile. Spending time with Annie during the week or otherwise would be fantastic.

Clay loved that smile, "We're going to church on Christmas Eve then spending the day together. What are your plans?"

"I don't have any," she admitted, though she then felt a spike of guilt, hoping it didn't sound like she was angling for an invitation. With Danielle gone, there was very little from keeping her from getting Chinese and sitting in front of the television and watching 'While You Were Sleeping'.

The song ended and she (very reluctantly) stopped swaying with him... until another song started.

Clay never thought Annie was angling for anything when it came to his personal life, except maybe a trip to Manderly. He also didn't like the idea that she'd be spending Christmas alone.

The next song started, and he couldn't help himself, "Come with me. Mother always makes enough for dinner, one more person won't matter. Besides, she likes you."

Annie was constantly angling for a trip to Manderley, even when she wasn't. Always. And Christmas alone this year mostly felt like a penance to be paid rather than a simple punishment, so she wasn't too very upset about it... not until she'd heard Clay's plans.

Plans that now included her if she wanted them to, and she did. So she nodded, a smile appearing again. "Okay. I like your mom, too."

More than she had in the beginning. In the beginning, Porter had terrified Annie.

"I'll let her know." In Clay's mind, it was the least Porter could do considering Annie was dealing with this club party.

He also knew that Annie still wasn't entirely comfortable with Porter, but she was fine every time they met. He was just glad he'd never told her she was one of two women he ever wanted to meet his mother.

Porter intimidated Annie not because Annie didn't feel good enough for their country club lifestyle or because of Clay himself, but because the woman herself was so intimidating. Annie barely knew anything about her, which meant that she had no idea what the woman was judging her on.

She didn't say any of this to Clay, not ever, choosing instead to keep herself in the holiday spirit of the party, which wasn't a bad party. When the second song ended, she smiled up at him. "Drink?"

At this point in her life, Porter was just happy her son found someone. The age difference didn't matter, and Clay'd spent too much of his life around women only after him for his money to continue to pick women like that. Annie was basically free and clear, especially after Porter found out she worked for The Company. It meant Clay even managed to find someone that understood his job.

"Always," he said with a smile at Annie. Far be it from him to refuse a drink from the open bar.

Annie wasn't sure what would be worst: being someone that his mother disliked because he liked her so much or being the one that was okay because well, time was up as far as she was concerned and there just wasn't anyone else, so okay. She'd do.

Neither option was particularly appealing, which was another reason that Porter intimidated Annie. Annie was afraid that, at one point, the older woman was going to speak her mind and she, Annie, was going to be on the receiving end of every blunt word.

With Clay's agreement, she slid her hand back into his arm and headed for the bar. This time, she ordered their scotch and returned his to his hand.

"So, tell me what your mother wants for Christmas, and follow it up with what you want for Christmas."

Clay took a sip of his drink almost as soon as it was in his hand, "Surprisingly, my mother and I are just happy that we're able to still get together for Christmas. That's more important to both of us than whatever we could give the other."

He figured it was surprising considering his car and his mother's house.

"I've always liked everything you've bought for me. My mother's been wearing a lot of scarves lately."

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