The first time Neal propositioned Mozzie in the modern post-Kate era, he just asked. It was casual, almost careless, but Mozzie still tried to be gentle. "I think we make better exes than—you know. Currents. Let's just not, okay?"
It wasn't that Mozzie wasn't tempted: Neal was a thousand watt candle, and Mozzie had no delusions about his own moth-like status. But in the aftermath of Kate and prison, and with the Suit looming in the background, Neal was tangled in a huge sticky emotional web, and Mozzie liked life to be simple. He could be a better friend if he kept his distance.
Of course, Neal being Neal, he took the rejection with all the grace of a spurned baboon. The next week or so were peppered with jibes and condescension, and Mozzie spent more time downstairs in the parlor with June than lounging around in Neal's apartment. Which itself turned out to be a mistake.
"What are these?" asked Mozzie, staring at the red roses Neal was holding out to him.
"They're flowers, Moz. I'm trying—" Neal sighed and dropped them on his kitchen table. "I'm trying to do this right. June said she thought I'd hurt your feelings, so—"
"She said what?" Mozzie resisted the urge to clean his glasses. That was a tell. He threw his hands in the air instead. "Neal, I'm your best friend. I'm thoroughly used to you riding roughshod over—what made her think I had any feelings, anyway?"
"Everyone has feelings," said Neal. "And apparently you've managed to spend the better part of two weeks playing Parcheesi with June without once saying my name."
"Well, maybe that's because not everything in the universe revolves around you," said Mozzie, crossing his fingers behind his back. He wasn't superstitious, except when he was. And as far as he was concerned, the fact that neither of their cellphones had interrupted this conversation yet only disproved the existence of any kind of benign interventionist deity. "Listen, Neal, as much as I appreciate the sentiment, you don't have to do this. We're fine."
"We're not fine," said Neal. His hair was rumpled and frustrated, and his eyes were very blue. "I—"
"I know, I know," said Mozzie soothingly. "You're looking for someone to rebound onto. Someone you know. Someone safe. I get it. How about Alex?"
"Alex is in Italy," said Neal. "Listen, if you don't—"
Which only proved Mozzie's point, as far as he had one. "I'm sure you can find someone else," he interrupted. "I have to go. I have to see a man about a—thing." He backed toward the door. "Antique. Fake. Authenticity documents."
"Need a hand?" asked Neal, but Mozzie was already half-way down the stairs and no power on earth would have made him turn back.
That was conclusive proof then: Neal was only looking for the nearest warm body. Mozzie supposed he should be glad Neal wasn't throwing himself at the Suit—assuming he wasn't. They definitely had some kind of chemistry, despite the Suit's apparently conventional connubial bliss. And that would be disastrous by any measure. If it came down to that, perhaps Mozzie would have to sacrifice his comfortable bachelor existence and step into the breach. But in the absence of that, well, it would be a disservice to his friend to take advantage of his loneliness.
Their first time around had been brief, the sex usually coinciding with the heady rush of a well-executed heist. Neal being Neal, he'd never really acknowledged that it was any kind of relationship at all, and he definitely hadn't refrained from flirting with pretty much everyone else he encountered. Mozzie knew he wasn't in Neal's league, but he did have some self-respect, so after a few weeks of this, he'd called it off. "No" might be a simple monosyllable, but it could still be remarkably hard to utter, and he was grimly proud of the fact that he'd managed to say it to Neal, not once but twice.
After that, he hadn't had to. Until now.
He was going to have to have words with June.
"I just called it like I see it," she said, calmly, when he brought it up. "Much as I enjoy your company, this moping around is beneath you, and Neal is driving himself and everyone else—including a goodly portion of the New York FBI office, if reports are anything to go by—to distraction."
Mozzie pulled himself up to his full height. "I am not moping," he said. "Neal and I are friends. That's all either of us wants. He's just lonely."
"And how about you?" said June, leaning forward and eyeing him shrewdly. "When was the last time you got close to someone?"
"I happen to be seeing a waitress," said Mozzie. "She's cute and well-read. She likes codes."
June arched an eyebrow. "And have you spent any time with her outside of her place of employment?"
"That's not the point." Mozzie stood up. "I'm sorry if I've imposed on you, June. I won't trouble you any further."
"Don't be silly," said June. "Come on, my son-in-law just sent me a Korean remake of Ocean's Eleven. Stay and watch it with me."
"Well—" Mozzie hesitated, then sat down again. It did sound good, and there was still half a jug of mimosas left. June's mimosas were the best in town.
The next day, Mozzie received a text message from Neal, asking for help deciphering an encoded medieval manuscript. There was a fifty percent chance it was a trap, but given that Mozzie had turned down Neal's advances explicitly in order to be his friend, he had no choice but to show up when called upon in that capacity.
Luckily, Neal seemed to be back to normal, neither making fun of him nor offering misguided romantic trinkets. Mozzie settled in with the manuscript, a magnifying glass and a couple of reference works, and Neal made coffee, sat down beside him and peered over his shoulder.
Neal's breath on his ear sent prickles down Mozzie's spine, and Mozzie swallowed and said, "Do you mind? I could use a little space to work."
Neal shifted his chair away three and a half inches at most and started up a rambling detailed commentary on the White Collar Unit's most recent case, his words washing over Mozzie, lulling him into a trancelike state. Or, at least, that was the only excuse Mozzie had for not realizing until too late that Neal had handcuffed them together. Mozzie reached for his coffee mug only to find himself restrained by the tug of steel. His pulse skipped a beat—he hadn't expected Neal to be so determined in his pursuit—but he hid his confusion behind a scowl.
"Very funny," he said. "Unlock them now."
"Not until you've heard me out," said Neal.
"You really think this is the best way to procure a receptive audience?" asked Mozzie. "Handcuffs? Where did you get them, anyway?"
"I borrowed them from Peter," said Neal. "When he wasn't looking. That's not the point." He moved his chair four inches closer. "Moz—"
"If this is about the sex, then this is harassment," said Mozzie, starting to panic. He wasn't sure his position would hold up under cross-examination. What if he succumbed? It could only end in awkwardness and misery. "I've told you I'm not interested."
"It's not about sex," said Neal quietly.
Mozzie made the mistake of relaxing a fraction.
"Or—not just the sex." Neal licked his lips with the tip of his tongue and met Mozzie's gaze. He seemed startlingly earnest. Mozzie searched for tells, some sign that Neal was conning him, but it was just Neal being Neal. "I know you said we're better as friends, and I'll respect that—"
Mozzie snorted and jangled the handcuffs chain.
"I will." Neal bent his head forward and fixed his gaze on some indeterminate spot between them on the table. His cheeks were hot—Mozzie could feel them from here. "But if there's a chance—I can't stop thinking about you. Us. You're brilliant and crazy and paranoid, and you chose me as a friend, and I—That's important to me, Moz. It always has been."
"Could have fooled me," muttered Mozzie, considering the last few weeks of barbs.
"I'm sorry." Neal moved his hand closer to Mozzie's on the table. "Listen, I know I screwed up before. Back in the day. I wasn't what you wanted, but I really think you should give us another chance."
"Why?" said Mozzie. "So you can flirt with everyone you meet and leave me for the next pretty face that walks in your door?"
"I won't," said Neal quickly. "I'll stop flirting. I'll—"
"Oh please." Mozzie sat back and shook his head. "You can't not flirt. You have to seduce everyone—at least metaphorically. The only reason we're even having this conversation is because I said no to you, and no one says no to Neal Caffrey."
"It's not like that." Neal leaned in closer, and Mozzie scraped his chair back to get away. "This isn't a rebound or a conquest. This is a realization."
He sounded serious. Earnest. Mozzie sighed. "Explain."
"You are the only person in the world who gets me," said Neal, in a rush. "The only one."
"Of course," said Mozzie, not bothering to hide his bitterness. "It's all about you."
"And I'm the only one who gets you." Neal put his hand over Mozzie's, and Mozzie tried to make himself pull away, but he couldn't.
"You bought me roses," he said instead. "Red ones."
"I'm willing to admit I've made some mistakes. I was floundering, and June was persuasive." Neal lowered his voice. "Tell me what you do want."
But Mozzie wasn't finished. "What about the Suit?"
"Peter?" Neal sounded surprised. "What about him? He's playing for the other team, man. He's—he sees everything through the eyes of the law—me included. I mean, yeah, I like him, but not like this. Not like—" And Neal leaned in, slowly and carefully, and pressed his mouth to Mozzie's. His lips were dry and warm and every bit as sensual as Mozzie remembered. He smelled faintly of cinnamon.
Mozzie sat very still and tried not to hyperventilate.
Eventually, Neal gave up and pulled away. Or maybe he hadn't given up. "Tell me what you want," he said again. Insisted.
Mozzie took off his glasses and cleaned them before he could stop himself, making Neal's cuffed hand dangle like a puppet's. "A modicum of respect would be nice," he said, half to himself. It was relaxing, not being able to see Neal's face. Then, as soon as he thought that, it was disturbing: what if Neal were laughing at him? He put his glasses back on.
Neal was gazing at him with hope in his eyes. There was no other word for it. Hope.
"A commitment to a lactose-free lifestyle," said Mozzie, emboldened. Apparently hope was contagious. "Equal rights to the remote control. Opera on Saturday mornings. Sex. Kisses. And absolutely no comments on MPB."
"MPB?" said Neal.
"Male pattern baldness," said Mozzie. "I know you're out of my league, but I don't want to be reminded about it every time I turn around."
"When have I ever—?" Neal stopped. "What are you talking about? I'm not out of your league."
"Oh, really, Mr. Half the Denizens of Manhattan Routinely Swoon at My Feet?" said Mozzie, and then instantly regretted it. "Look, it's just a fact. If you're prepared to live with it, then I suppose I can overlook—"
"No." Neal looked almost stern. "We're in the same league, you and me: we're both brilliant at what we do. I just happen to have a different skill set from you."
"Perfect hair and teeth, and the body of a Greek god," said Mozzie flatly. "Some skill set."
"Well, I can't help it!" Neal tried to get to his feet, apparently needing to vent his inexplicable frustration, but thanks to the cuffs, he fell straight back into his chair and pulled Mozzie off-balance so Mozzie nearly ended up in his lap. "And it's pretty useful actually, and most people don't complain, so maybe you could just lower your impossible standards a little and—"
"Okay," said Mozzie.
Neal stopped mid-rant and looked at him. "Are you sure? Because last time you dumped me after a couple of weeks, and that really—"
Mozzie smiled fondly. Neal had a tendency to babble sometimes. In Mozzie's experience, once he got started, the only thing to do was to take matters into one's own hands. So Mozzie gripped Neal's shoulder to steady himself, and he kissed him. Thoroughly.
Neal's response was heady and potent, and Mozzie could feel parts of himself that had been dormant for years—mind as well as body—unfurling, stretching, coming alive.
When he'd finished, he knew he'd lost the battle. Neal looked dazed and pleasingly rumpled, with his tie askew. The handcuffs had mysteriously fallen to the floor.
"Opera on alternate Saturdays?" Neal bargained.
"Every Saturday," said Mozzie, firmly. Maybe losing wasn't so bad: he could still negotiate terms.
"Okay." Neal grinned, pulled him close and nuzzled his neck. "Every Saturday."