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Game Theory

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"So how long have you known Neal?" Peter asked. He was perusing the storage unit with an intense, cataloguing interest. Mozzie had found him waiting outside the employees' entrance to the building, leaning against the wall and reading a paperback. Bringing Peter in had felt like the lesser evil.

Mozzie was impressed that Peter knew he would be using this particular storage site tonight; it was one of his three auxiliary bases. It wasn't where he lived, but the comfortable way Peter fell into step as Mozzie led the way, the familiarity Peter had with the layout of the building, made Mozzie think about moving. Sooner rather than later.

The book Peter had shoved carelessly in his coat pocket was written by Mozzie's thesis advisor for the degree he never finished. Coincidence? He thought not.

"Oh, ages," Mozzie said. He watched Peter scanning the names of the books on the shelf over the workbench. Having a suit in his space made Mozzie tighten up to the point where he felt like he was bleeding nervous energy. "Sit down." He pointed at the sofa. "You want some Coke or a juicebox or something?"

"I'm good, thanks," Peter said. He sat, folding the coat that he'd taken off over the arm of the sofa. Mozzie grimaced. That was the difference between Neal and Peter right there. There was no soul or elegance in Peter's gestures. Probably for the best in the long run, but grating if one had an appreciation of the finer things. "I'm not here to make threats," Peter went on, leaning forward, looking up, and oh, honesty and intelligence were not half as comforting as their opposite.

"We both know why you're here." Mozzie shrugged, rolling his hunching shoulders, trying to get the tension out. "I'm good for Neal, and you'd be a fool to mess with that. You're not a fool, right?"

"You do anything he asks of you," Peter said, clasping his hands, elbows on his knees, still watching Mozzie but with that faint feline curve to his mouth that said he knew just how his body language was being read. What Peter did not say was, Neal will do whatever I ask.

"I'll consider any problem he presents to me," Mozzie corrected. That was important, and Peter nodded affably, like he'd expected that.

"You have a lot of interests," Peter said. "Neal's not your only. . . friend."

Mozzie sat down on the ugly coffee table he was borrowing from Unit 24 across the hall. He pressed his hands flat against the painted wood. "Right now, he's the most interesting one."

"Is that going to be a problem?"

"Are you asking me my intentions?" Mozzie asked, suddenly amused, because he'd thought he was having a difficult conversation and suddenly found himself on safe ground.

Peter spread his hands. "Neal is under my protection." He finally looked away, with a controlled breath and a sigh. "Yeah. I am."

Mozzie grinned. "Relax, G-Man. There is honor among thieves."

Peter cocked his head and gave Mozzie a disbelieving sideways stare. "No. There isn't." He stood, stretched his shoulders back, and picked up his coat. "I'll see myself out."

"So the suit thinks I'm your boyfriend," Mozzie said, turning the rook in his fingers around a full turn before placing it precisely on the board. "You should put out more."

Neal looked up from under his lashes. "That was back in the honeymoon phase. We're an old married couple now. We're beyond sex." He touched a knight, a pawn, fingers walking over to the castle with a laziness broken when he moved the piece with quick economy.

Mozzie nodded. "We connect on a spiritual plane." He nudged his remaining bishop forward with a finger to the base. Neal had been off his chess game after getting out of prison, but he was almost as good a player now as he'd been before the whole arrest thing, and the Kate thing. The better he got, the more pleasure there was in beating him.

"Checkmate in three?" Neal asked, his chin resting studiously on his knuckles as he took in the pieces, posed with meditative calm as if watching the patterns of possibilities and inevitabilities tangle together.

"No," Mozzie said, smiling as he lied.

Neal reached for his queen, then pulled his hand back. "Do you know what I love about you?" he said, with a ghost of his devastating lost-little-boy smile. "You don't expect anything from me."

"I'm as free as a bird," Mozzie agreed. "You don't love that, it terrifies you." He shrugged. "Much as I hate to admit it, the suit's good for us."

Neal raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement and sacrificed his queen. "Maybe I'll take you out dancing some night."

"You take me out dancing all the time," Mozzie said, and went back to the business of winning.