"I'm Jason DeFry," her date said, smiling nervously.

"DeFry, eh?" He repeated, perched on the edge of the stool like a cat about to spring, his verbal repeat a way of filing it away in that fact-retentive mind of his, and unsettling his opponent. She was clearly uncomfortable with our being there, and as I watched the three of them and introduced myself, I thought back too late to their interaction by the elevator as I came off and she left. He'd mentioned she had a date, and she was angry about something, the sparks flying between them as he said something about her gut never working out. I hate when I come in in the middle of their conversations-- I mean, they're speaking English, but it's impossible to tell what they're talking about.

"Did you know that she had a date?" I asked, and he didn't meet my eye as he said, "Slipped my mind."

She was confused, and beginning to be furious, and he was watching the poor bastard sitting across the table from her like a hawk, then started interrogating him in a seemingly harmless manner.

Seemingly harmless-- and yet, clearly, not. As much as I was supposed to be their therapist, and as much as this situation clearly highlighted some of the underlying tensions in their partnership, I couldn't help but take his side. "He's never been married," I added to what was quickly becoming a bad scene out of a romantic comedy of errors, as I watched his reaction when her date got up to double-cheek-kiss her. Studied amusement, studied being the operative word. I've been a fool. I shouldn't have accused him of not having years of psychological training, what, less than an hour ago? That look he gave me as he mumbled "serious impulse control issues" around his mouthful of cereal should have tipped me off. You don't get to be a Special Agent without being able to play a deep game. The fact that his Ranger file was so confidential that they wouldn't give me a copy to read, even though I'd insisted that the information could be important to my assessment of their continuing ability to work together should have told me something. Come to think of it, there was very little information in her security file about her overseas humanitarian work, which I suppose gave them deep secrets in common to keep.

"Coldplay," I added, then said it again, unable to stop myself. I should keep my mouth shut, stay out of his attempt to interfere in her private life, his blatant attempt to manipulate her and undermine her feelings of security about the date she had chosen, all of it finally apparent to me. She, however, looked annoyed and confused, but did not glean his deeper intention, behind what to her must seem like the annoying interruption of what? a brother? surely she wasn't that obtuse. I was violating every canon of objectivity I had sworn to uphold, but my admiration and shock as I finally realized the depth of the game he was playing overrode every sense of neutrality I'd ever parroted back in my counseling clinic, and I found myself reinforcing his assurances that her date was a loser. And, I mean, he was. I mean, Coldplay? I got a little too carried away, though, when I told her she was hot, though of course it's true, I mean, you'd have to be blind not to think so But as I said it, he shot me a split-second look as he made the decision of whether I, too, was competition, or merely an idiot. Please, I'm just an idiot, I thought to myself, willing him to hear and agree with me, silently. Apparently he did, as he turned his attention back to her, content to have disrupted her evening, and annoyed and distracted her. A less deep player would have tried to wrap things up, then and there, but he? He knew better. Having drawn her attention back to him, he refocused the subject to a more neutral, yet shared topic, work, shifting but maintaining the focus on him throughout.

Really-- it was brilliant, and if he hadn't needed the reinforcement of the work excuse that my profiling brought him, I'd never have seen him in action, seen this completely different side of him, and a completely unguarded, unsettled, side of her. I was amazed, now, that he'd allowed me to come, but I suppose he'd have found a way to get me out of there if I hadn't played along. But by saying it? "He's never been married?" I'd helped realign the two of them, against the date, reinforcing her instinctive defense of her partner against her date's mis-assumption of what was ocurring in the conversation. Now, I'd taken his side, and there was no going back, even if I'd wanted to. He was too much of a master player not to have boxed me in, not just for today, but from here on out. He would use every resource at his disposal, and I now had no doubt that if I ceased to be useful, or worse, began to obstruct him, then I would be disposed of, most definitely.

How long had he been playing this game? From the start? From the first time he rescued her, or she him? Before or after that line he once mentioned, and that clearly no longer meant anything to him, as much as he pretended to observe it as he dragged her, slowly, patiently, inexorably, toward whatever realization he wanted from her. Coming in two years into their partnership had done me no good-- I didn't see them enough out of the office to know how far this had come. More field observation would be necessary, before I could possibly tell, though at this point, it would be either a futile academic exercise, or an active aiding and abetting of his plan. And how long was he planning to play it? That pesky best friend/older brother role was not one he intended to play much longer, if I had to guess.

- - - - - - -

The next time I saw them both together, it was for our regular session, and I was taken aback at the way she responded to his gibe about "naked guys in her apartment." Something happened there, and her attempt to claim that he was the one with a problem discussing their other relationships was a little too heated, and she failed to consciously notice how nonresponsive his "I do alright for myself," was, as his body was turned completely towards hers. His apparent deflection and his refocusing of the conversation by taking credit for "being a good influence" on her ideas of monogamy though, provoked a reaction from her that I don't think even he was expecting, after I attempted to redirect the conversation with my babble about surrogate relationships. Surrogate, my ass. He wanted to be in a surrogate relationship with her about as much as I wanted Coldplay tickets. But the way she responded, seizing on my psychobabble and admitting both that she felt "the sting of rejection" and that all her relationships were "temporary?" Even he was taken aback, and paused for a moment before replying so intimately that I felt like a voyeur in my own office. He never took his attention from her as she gazed back at him, and I was shut out, completely, a mere observer as I watched her expression shift and her chest heave with some deep emotion. And then, he decided she'd had enough, and he again deflected the moment, joking about "a purely conversational basis," and replacing her broken date with himself for the evening, her attention fully focused, still, on him.

I knew he would never allow it, but I was so fascinated by what had just happened that I couldn't help but try to follow, to see if he'd include me in the next stage of the game. I was surprised when she was the one to cut me off, though, recovering quickly enough to throw my own words about forming bonds outside their partnership at me, to uncontestable effect. And the split-second look he gave me as he helped her on with her coat? It was clear that if I ever mentioned out loud to anyone, even to them, what had just happened here, he would find a way to dispose of me as a tool that had ceased to be useful.

It wasn't a game, though, I realized. I'd been using the wrong metaphor. He wasn't playing a game-- he was playing for keeps.