"Excuse me sir, are you his partner?"
Neal stumbles on the question, looks up at the nurse asking it. Peter's right there, for one. For another, Neal can't even remember in his panic whether New York extends legal rights to partners, especially partners who aren't in an official union, especially partners who are felons. But on the other hand it can't hurt, one more thread linking them, one more little tug pulling Mozzie back this way, towards consciousness and not being dead. And it's not a lie.
"Yes," Neal says quietly. The nurse nods and touches his wrist.
"This way," she says, just as quietly. Neal doesn't look at Peter; he wonders if he'd see cynical resignation ("Neal's lying again") or mild disbelief ("Him and Mozzie?"). He doesn't actually care.
If he and Mozzie weren't...doing this thing they've done, this weird little sex tango for like the past eight years, it wouldn't matter. Neal loves Mozzie, owes him as much as Mozzie thinks he owes Neal, depends on Mozzie, needs him in his life. He missed him when he was in prison, read Mozzie's letters (in code, usually more than one) like a lifeline. Sex is the least part of them, but if sex is what will get him in to see him, that's fine.
"Hey buddy," he says softly, when he's standing at Mozzie's bedside, staring at all the wires and tubes, at the paperwork he's expected to fill out, waiting for him on the chair. Outside he can hear Peter's voice; he must have badged his way in behind Neal. Peter's asking about Mozzie's condition, arranging for guards on the door. Inside, though, it's just the little bubble of NealandMozzie, the soft hiss of machines.
Mozzie has to wake up and be okay, because Neal can't lose two lovers in a single year. He can't.
Neal is at the hospital every minute he can be, when he's not helping Peter chase Larssen. There's a little pile of books in a box behind the nurse's station and they let him borrow one, some thriller he cares nothing about. He reads the funnier parts out to Mozzie until that starts to feel pathetic, and then he keeps his peace. He falls asleep reading, the book carrying over into the dream (it's much more interesting in the dream).
He's shaken out of it by the beep of Mozzie's monitors letting him know Mozzie's waking up, and Neal catches his breath. He's never seen anything as good as Mozzie all tanked out on drugs and confused and awake.
After that it gets easier, now that he's seen Mozzie's okay, but there are still problems. Mozzie is drily amused at being the Invisible Man, and remarkably serene about being in the hospital -- serene for Mozzie, anyway -- but there's a tension between them Neal doesn't understand. Mozzie barely returns the kiss he gives him when he has to leave, doesn't touch unless Neal touches first. It hasn't been like that since early days, when they were just screwing around because Neal was young and horny and Mozzie was hot and available.
"Look, I'm not gay," Mozzie said, the first time Neal tried to kiss him, high off his first day of work for Adler.
"Do you have to be?" Neal asked, and groped Mozzie's dick, which was, if not gay, then at least fervently bi.
"You make a compelling point," Mozzie said, and now here they are and Neal is Mr. Bliminse's nice boyfriend and Mozzie won't kiss him. Again.
Neal was with Mozzie before Alex, before Kate, even if it was a casual just-sex thing back then. He was with Mozzie after he got out of prison, because Kate would have understood, and again after Kate died. Maybe Neal should mark that somehow. Maybe Mozzie's pissed that Neal said he was his partner, but they've never really been formal about it. Maybe Mozzie doesn't want to be seen kissing Neal in public, even the private-public of his hospital room.
He's going to ask Mozzie, he really is. Neal's a coward but he's not that much of one. Before he can, though, Mozzie blurts out that he narc'd on Neal to Peter.
Neal wants to put his head in his hands and cry, it's so stupid. Mozzie saved him and thinks Neal's going to hate him for it. Poor Mozzie's not in possession of all the facts, and he hates not knowing everything, so Neal takes five minutes to explain why he's not a snitch and how Neal doesn't hate him. And then he kisses him, right there in the hospital lounge in front of everyone, and this time Mozzie kisses back, presses his nose to Neal's cheek and inhales.
"I was scared, Moz, I was really scared," Neal says.
"Me too, kiddo," Mozzie answers. He has incredibly soft, dexterous fingers, and they hook in Neal's collar and brush his pulsepoint, like sculpture, like he's leaving a physical mark. God knows he's left enough you can't see.
"I'm gonna catch the guy who did this and make him pay," Neal promises.
Mozzie laughs in his ear. "What's the Suit think about that?"
"Revenge in the justice." Neal repeats what Peter told him the night before.
"I hate to say it, but in this case the Suit might be right," Mozzie says, gently pushing Neal back. Neal studies his face, curious. "Listen, don't risk a murder trial for me, okay? That defeats the purpose of killing your lover's attacker."
"It'd be highly operatic," Neal points out.
"I won't come visit you in prison."
"You never did that anyway."
"Leave opera to the Italians," Mozzie says firmly, and lets Neal go.
Mozzie has built a fractal for Neal, out of bendy straws and electrical tape on a hospital cafeteria tray. He must have been working on it for a while. Neal thinks about Mozzie sitting quietly in Neal's loft -- well, no, not sitting quietly, probably mumbling equations to himself and going Aha! and Eureka! and tapping his fingers. Mozzie's not quiet, which is one of the things that scared Neal when he was in the hospital.
He unveils the fractal like a gift, and it is, but it's a terrible gift. As soon as Neal says Adler they both know just how much shit they're in.
"You should stay here tonight," Neal urges. Mozzie shakes his head. "Come on, please -- "
"It's safer if I'm not," Mozzie says, and Neal knows that's true, but truth is not something he has any particular respect for. "I'll go to Open-Door, it'll be fine."
Open-Door is Mozzie's safest safehouse. Neal scowls. "Fine, but I'm taking you there. No, Moz, this isn't up for debate, you go with me or not at all. I can disable that wheelchair in ten seconds," he adds.
"You're lucky I tolerate you," Mozzie grumbles, as Neal packs up some clothes for him and gets the digital key to Open-Door he keeps in a book in the shelf.
They have to take a cab, one of the big van-sized ones, because Mozzie's wheelchair oddly enough won't fit in the Jag. Neal gives the driver two hundred bucks to let him drive, just to make sure they aren't tailed.
"You drive a cab in New York before?" the driver asks, looking faintly impressed with Neal's skills.
"Not legally," Neal says with a grin. From the backseat, Mozzie calls out "Red Honda on your five -- never mind, it's turning."
When they're finally safe at Open-Door, Mozzie rolls around inspecting everything. Neal putters, not wanting to leave, knowing that he can't stay long or Peter will wonder what's so fascinating to Neal Caffrey about some random building in Chinatown. (It's the basement. Above them, there's a grocery store that can supply all of Mozzie's needs and, for the tip Neal will give them, deliver the food down through an old dumbwaiter.)
"Are you sure you'll be okay?" Neal asks.
"I'll be fine," Mozzie says.
"What if you need -- "
"I have a phone," and now Mozzie looks irritated. "I'll call if I need help."
"Keep it on you," Neal says.
"Neal, stop hovering," Mozzie snaps. "I'm not incapable! I'm just..."
Neal ducks his head. "Tired?"
"Yes." Mozzie rubs the bridge of his nose. "Tired. Can you..." he gestures at the bed in the corner. Neal turns the covers back, then stands there feeling awkward, wondering if he wants help. Mozzie reaches out and Neal grasps his arm, the thick upper biceps, muscles shifting under his hand. He stands with little assistance, hunching slightly as if protecting his wound, and then leans forward and kisses Neal, startling him.
Neal bends into it, moving his arm around Mozzie's waist half to pull him close and half (maybe a little more than half) to make sure he doesn't fall. When Mozzie pulls back, his eyes are the same luminous sea-blue they were when Neal showed him the tracking anklet, their first meeting face-to-face in almost four years.
"You could stay a little while," Mozzie offers.
"Are you sure?"
"You're warm," Mozzie answers, nuzzling into Neal's neck, but his hands aren't seeking comfort -- they're on Neal's ass. Neal takes his wrists and holds them up between their chests.
"You were shot a couple of days ago," he says gently.
"I wasn't shot in the dick," Mozzie says. Neal considers this.
"You make a compelling point," he allows. Mozzie reaches for his tie, but Neal shakes his head.
"You, in bed," he says, and gives Mozzie a little lift, one hand on his hip, the other on his arm, helping him. He unbuttons Mozzie's shirt and tugs it off, fingers drifting over his skin, warm -- alive -- and the rough tape, the white bandage.
"They shaved your chest," he says, laughing.
"Don't make fun," Mozzie orders. Bossy, but Neal likes that. He noses along Mozzie's shoulder, licks the smooth skin of his pec, bites his nipple gently. Closes his eyes and rests his forehead just above the bandage.
"Two millimeters," he says. Mozzie's hand threads in his hair, rubbing little circles on his scalp.
"Thickness of a nickel," Mozzie says. "Thickness of human skin. The MEMS microphone's only two millimeters square -- "
"Not helping," Neal answers, carefully unknotting the drawstring at Mozzie's waist. He can see Mozzie's erection, bulging against the fabric. He tosses him a brief grin and then kneels, pulling off the hospital-issue loafers, the thick socks.
"Not exactly erotic," Mozzie remarks.
"We've done more with less." Neal stands again and wraps Mozzie's arms around his neck, taking his weight as his hips hitch up, pants and underwear sliding off under Neal's hands. He eases Mozzie down until he's lying on his side, looking up at Neal, and sometimes Neal just wonders. What the hell goes on in that complicated head? Because as well as he knows Mozzie and as good as he is at reading people, Mozzie's a cipher. There's always another lock in him to pick.
It's okay though. They both like it that way.
Neal is keenly aware of Mozzie watching him as he undresses, tie-cufflinks-shirt-undershirt, belt-pants-socks-and-shoes. Mozzie taught him how to wear a suit; if he was ever impressed by Neal's body, he never showed it. He appreciates it, but Neal prefers Mozzie's "yes, this is mine" look of calm acceptance to most of the compliments he's ever had.
He turns Mozzie onto his back and crawls over his body, careful of the bandage but a little greedy nonetheless. Bites Mozzie's broad shoulder, kisses the inside of his elbow, licks a line up his stomach.
"Ticklish!" Mozzie gasps, twitching, and then he groans -- not a good groan. Neal's head jerks up.
"Sorry, sorry -- "
"Don't be," Mozzie pets his head absently, and Neal arches into it.
"I'll be careful, I promise," Neal says, and bends to nuzzle against Mozzie's thick thigh. He can feel the muscles there relax, slowly.
Mozzie's cock is hard, lying along his stomach. Neal doesn't screw around like he normally might, egging Mozzie into something a shade off annoyance, just to hear him say Will you please suck my cock already. It took months to get him comfortable enough with Neal, with being with a guy, to make Mozzie talk so openly. That was a long time ago, but Neal still likes to hear it.
Not today. Instead he rests a hand on Mozzie's hip to keep him steady, keep him from moving too much, and sucks tightly around the head of his cock. Mozzie lets out a long, satisfied sigh. Neal smiles and arches his neck a little, deepening it, working his tongue against Moz's cock. Careful and slow, because Mozzie has a hole in his chest. Neal has handled delicate vellum, chemically volatile paint, tissue-thin plaster; Mozzie is solid and immovable, beautifully stubborn, and if he's momentarily fragile he won't always be. Neal can be patient, when it suits him.
Mozzie moans, not in pain this time, and gasps out, "Neal -- that's -- " and tightens his hand in Neal's hair. Neal pulls against it, little pinpricks of pain reminding him they're both alive, and tries to go deeper. "Neal!"
Neal pulls off, licks his lips, licks Mozzie's cock. "Mm?" he asks, thumb rubbing Mozzie's hip.
"That was appreciation," Mozzie informs him, staring up at the ceiling. "Go back, do that."
Neal licks him again. "Are you sure? 'Cause I can -- "
"You're so difficult, why are you always so difficult?" Mozzie asks, not really annoyed.
"Keeps me from being boring," Neal replies, and slides his lips around Mozzie's dick, which is something else that keeps him from being boring. As with art, as with anything worth doing, he has made a thorough study of cocksucking, both objectively as a technique and subjectively to Mozzie's personal taste. He has blown Mozzie at three in the morning in the armoury hall of the Art Institute Museum, over lazy afternoons in a dozen different safe houses, and once in front of Kate (she asked nicely). He has fucked Mozzie and been fucked by him and robbed people and forged paintings and grieved and bickered about a thousand important and unimportant things with Mozzie. And he loves when Mozzie makes that noise, halfway between ecstatic and frustrated, loves when he goes incoherent and struggles a little and says Oh, oh I -- oh there --
His orgasm sounds a little painful, but when Neal raises his head, licking his lips, Mozzie's smiling.
"Come up here," he orders. Neal slides up along his side, stopping to kiss his chest, to brace a hand on his stomach and feel the warmth of it. Mozzie kisses him, fingers still tight in his hair, and Neal shifts so they can press their foreheads together. He's hard and a little desperate, hips hitching against Mozzie's thigh, mumbling in Mozzie's ear, it's good and you're amazing and I missed you.
Neal's a romantic. Mozzie is...a little more pragmatic.
"You didn't have time to miss me," Mozzie says, nudging his knee against Neal's legs. "Up, more. Up," and Neal gets the picture, pressing his face to the crown of Mozzie's head when Mozzie's deft, soft fingers wrap around his cock. It's good like this, because there's enough leverage for him to rock into his grip, so Mozzie doesn't have to do as much. He ruts and moans, still talking, half-phrases and cut-off sentences, dirty encouragements, fuck yeah, Mozzie, tighter, touch me, God.
He's been stupid, all this time, screwing around, and yeah he loved Kate but he should have -- should have --
"Mozzie," he gasps, and comes all over Mozzie's hand in a hot rush, in this bed in Open-Door because beautiful, paranoid Mozzie has a thing for safehouses and arrogant young con men.
After, Neal knows he really, really has to go, but they have to talk first, too. He cleans them up and curls around Mozzie, hand resting on the bandage, too light to hurt, or if it does Mozzie's not showing it.
Moz almost died. Neal's damned if he's going to keep on as they have, Not Talking About Things.
"You need to know something," he says. Mozzie shifts a little, adjusting the fit of Neal's chin against his shoulder.
"What?" he asks, and when Neal's silent, he groans. "What did you do?"
"I might've outed us to Peter," Neal says. "I didn't mean to, they asked at the hospital if I was your partner -- "
"He knew," Mozzie replies. Neal pauses.
"How did he know, Mozzie?" he asks.
"I don't know! I just know he knew. Couple of months back..." Mozzie shoots him an only slightly guilty look. "That time he ruined Tuesday."
"Mozzie, I swear, if you'd just let me, I'll pay for the -- "
"It's not important," Mozzie says primly.
"You're never going to let that rake go," Neal points out.
"No, I'm not. Anyway," Mozzie says, "he took me aside and told me he knew and if I hurt you he'd hang me off June's roof by my thumbs."
Neal feels oddly warmed by this. It's nice to know Peter is creepily stalking his boyfriend to make sure he treats him well.
"I promise I won't let Peter hang you off June's roof by your thumbs," he says.
"I wasn't especially worried. I'm not planning on hurting you. Anyway, El's on my side."
Neal laughs and kisses Mozzie's ear, rolling over him to get out of the bed. Enough revelation for one day. "I gotta go. See you tomorrow? Here? I'll bring dinner."
"No, I thought I'd go jogging tomorrow," Mozzie retorts. Neal smiles at him as he knots his tie. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"Sure," Neal tightens his tie and reaches for his pants.
"If I..." Mozzie pauses. "You don't think there should be some kind of...sign?"
Neal frowns. "What?"
"Semiotics. Symbolism. Partnership. Something representative," Mozzie plunges ahead. "Just to make the thumb-hanging risk worth it, you understand."
"What, you want a ring?" Neal asks, amused, because Mozzie always did have the balls to bring up the stuff Neal couldn't.
"No, I don't need anything that -- "
"I'll get you a ring," Neal interrupts, and bends over to kiss him again. "I'll get rings. You want plain gold or diamonds?"
Mozzie looks shocked. There's a breathless minute when Neal thinks maybe Mozzie didn't mean that much commitment, but Neal's never been very good at half-measures.
"Surgical steel," Mozzie says finally. Neal raises an eyebrow. "I like steel. It's easy to clean and I already have an autoclave."
"Okay, steel," Neal agrees. "I'm sure I know a guy."
"I know a guy," Mozzie replies.
"See? I know a guy who knows a guy." Neal tosses his hat onto his head. "Seeya, buddy."
"Look after yourself, kiddo."
Neal lets himself out of the safehouse and stops in the Chinese grocery above it to buy some fish for dinner and a bag of the candied ginger sweets that June likes. He keeps the receipt for Peter (who will ask) and continues on his way, a pleased smile curling his lips.