"Well maybe if the client would actually let me look at their books, I could find the evidence that Valenti is cooking them."
A frustrated sigh and a hand through already messy hair accompanied the complaint, but Harvey just rolled his eyes and entered the elevator when the doors opened. This was the fifth time Mike had brought up this argument and—however much Harvey agreed with him—he knew it just wasn't going to happen, a fact that Mike apparently needed repeated. Again.
"And maybe if you wish hard enough, an unemployed fairy godmother will hear you and change Robert's mind. Until then, I suggest you look elsewhere for the proof that we—"
A shudder and a very loud clank with the slightest harmony of screaming metal cut Harvey off. A tug on his arm as Mike grabbed at him for stability prompted him to look over and he caught a glimpse of Mike's surprise as they both scanned the car in a vain effort to see what had happened.
"That was not a good sound," Mike stated obviously, forcing Harvey to repress the need to roll his eyes again.
Then the lights went out.
Harvey frowned, but didn't bother trying to look around again. There wasn't anything to see after all, since the emergency back-up lights hadn't come on—a fact that was more worrisome than just the elevator getting stuck between floors.
Harvey was just beginning to wonder if he should even try to place a call on the emergency line when he realized two things: 1. The fistful of his expensive suit jacket that Mike had been clutching had changed to an iron-fingered grip that circled Harvey's bicep, and 2. The puppy analogy had been an appropriate one for Mike, because in the pitch black he sounded even more like one than usual, tiny whimpers escaping him every few seconds.
He seemed to realize what he was doing though and the sound stopped, replaced instead by several very loud swallows.
"So, um..." Mike started.
Harvey waited for the rest of it, if only out of morbid curiosity.
"Is this a bad time to mention my paralyzing fear of the dark?"
Harvey might have taken that for the joke it was obviously intended to be if not for the aforementioned clutching of his arm and the whimpers, combined with the strain and tremors that infused Mike's voice now.
Harvey did roll his eyes this time because the situation most definitely warranted it and Mike couldn't see him anyway. "Yes," Harvey said simply and shook his arm to free himself of the limpet formerly known as his associate.
The severity of Mike's problem with darkness became apparent to Harvey when he succeeded for a brief moment before a terrified cry was followed by Mike lunging out of the void to reattach himself, no longer settling for just a hand on his mentor's arm. Mike turned into a damn octopus when the lights when out and if Harvey was really as heartless as he claimed, he'd have fired Mike for this embarrassing display even if no one could see it.
As it was he looked in the general direction of Heaven and pleaded for strength.
"Mike. Mike! Michael."
He got no response and it took a moment for him to hear that Mike was mumbling under his breath, the pattern in tone and barely heard syllables suggesting it was a mantra of some kind. Mike's increasingly panicked breathing said it wasn't working.
As tempting as it was to let him pass out and spare them both this entire ordeal, Harvey brought up the hand that wasn't being crushed against his body and placed it on Mike's back.
"Breathe," he ordered, adjusting his own respirations to a pace and depth that would help calm his associate if Mike gave them a chance. "Breathe with me, Mike," he said after a moment, infusing the tone with more of an order than would not be denied.
Mike continued to mumble, but his back pushed harder against Harvey's hand and the time between gasps grew until they were even and steady breaths. Or close enough anyway.
Mike started to convince his muscles to release Harvey before the order had to be given to do so, and Harvey's own muscles relaxed in response. Maybe there was hope for the kid yet.
As he calmed, his words became more intelligible until Harvey could clearly hear, "Two-thousand eleven. The year is two-thousand eleven. It's not that night, it's two-thousand eleven. I survived. I got out." An audible swallow and a grief-filled voice repeated, "I got out. I got out. I got out."
And suddenly, Harvey understood.
For a long time, he hadn't known the specifics, but when Mike's background check had come through—thankfully after the appropriate records had been changed so that his Harvard degree was on there—Harvey had known a little bit more about his associate's tragic past.
He knew the date of Mike's parent's deaths, and that before living with his grandmother in Brooklyn he'd been a California kid, born and raised in Oakland.
But somehow, he'd never connected the two together: October 17, 1989. The day an earthquake struck the World Series being played in San Francisco.
Well, technically it struck a national forest some miles away, but it was strong enough to send shock waves through the entire Bay area, including the stadium where the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants were warming up for the third game in the series.
Harvey had been watching the pre-game show on TV and had stared in shock along with the rest of the country as the stadium began to shiver and shake on live television.
Harvey didn't know exactly where Mike's parents—and Mike, too, from the sound of it—had been. There were only 63 deaths, an amazingly low death toll attributed to the number of people who had been watching the game instead of driving home at what was normally rush hour traffic.
Wherever it was had been dark, obviously. Harvey tried to think back... A freeway and a bridge had collapsed, but Harvey was pretty sure the bridge had only killed one person. The others were a mall and... something with bricks. He wasn't really a history buff or an earthquake fanatic, so the exact details escaped him, but he thought the freeway was in Oakland. Probably the most likely place for them to have been.
Damn. No wonder the kid was terrified of the dark.
The Nimitz Freeway was built double-decker construction: one direction of traffic layered on top of the other. When the 6.9 magnitude quake hit, it had caused the upper level to collapse onto the lower level, crushing many of the cars and trapping many who survived the initial impact in a sandwich of concrete, rebar, and automobiles.
Harvey had no idea how long it would have taken rescue workers to get inside there and pull people out, but he imagined it was probably at least a few hours. He did remember hearing that some people only survived because of on-the-spot amputations to free them from the debris.
A few hours trapped in a car in the dark with your parents either dead or dying just inches away? It would be traumatic for an adult, let alone an eight-year-old kid. No wonder he was freaking out.
"Mike?" Harvey said, his voice considerably more gentle than before.
Mike tensed briefly, his breathing growing harsher, then he said, "Harvey?"
It was a question that asked more than, "What do you want?" It asked if this was reality, if he was really here in 2011 with his mentor, Harvey Specter, stuck in an elevator in their office building, or if it had all been some kind of fucked up dream and he was still back in 1989 in Oakland, California, trapped in a pitch black hell.
"Yeah, kid, it's me. I need you to pay attention, okay?
He felt Mike nod, quick jerky movements of his head against Harvey's shoulder.
"I need you to tell me where you are."
A shudder rippled through Mike's body and his grip tightened for a moment, then he said, "N-New York?"
"That's right," Harvey said, keeping his voice even and low. "Where in New York?"
"Um..." Another shudder, but Mike gritted his teeth (Harvey could practically hear them squeaking.) and said, "Manhattan." He then anticipated the next question and rattled off the address of the building. He swallowed and confessed, "I don't... I don't know what floor," like Harvey was going to be disappointed in him for not being that specific.
"That's okay. Who am I?"
"Harvey Specter?" Then Mike's head shot up suddenly, a fact Harvey knew only by the rush of air it caused, and said, "Harvey, are you hurt? Did you hit your head?"
Mike's hands released him and were suddenly crawling over his skull—nearly taking out an eye on the way to probing his scalp for blood or other indications of a wound. They came back down and gripped his shoulders and Mike said, "I can't find any blood. Do you feel light headed? Did you lose consciousness?"
And they were back to panicking.
There was a moment of flailing when he tried to shift Mike's hands from his shoulders and Mike tried to move his hands to Harvey's arms, during which Harvey took a sideswipe to the nose, but he'd had far worse in both the ring and on the diamond, so he ignored it and instead focused on latching onto Mike's wrists and pinning him down.
When the kid was firmly trapped between Harvey's taller, wider bulk and the wall of the elevator, he spoke again.
"Michael James Ross. You need to calm. Down. Now."
"Can't—" Mike gagged and choked. "Breathe!"
Harvey knew he wasn't crowding that closely, but he stepped back a bit anyway and said, "You can, Mike. Focus on that. Focus on breathing in and out. Listen to me and follow along. You can do it." Harvey exaggerated his breathing and made it clearly audible for Mike to hear.
Mike's voice cracked when he said, "I'm trying. I swear I'm trying, Dad. I can't—" He coughed then, hacking like he really couldn't breathe, like his lungs were clogged with dust and debris.
Shit. That wasn't good.
When the hell were they going to have the lights back on and the damn elevator moving again?
Harvey's thoughts were interrupted by a broken, "Can... Can you hear Mom? I can't— Dad, I can't hear Mom. She's okay, right? Mom? Mom!"
Mike thrashed again in his grip and Harvey didn't know what would be better: hold him down so he couldn't hurt himself trying to move about in the dark or let him go so he wasn't reliving his worst nightmare.
Mike answered the question for him when he suddenly went boneless in Harvey's grasp and started to slide down the wall.
"Whoa!" Harvey said and followed him down, crouching beside the huddled, shaking ball of limbs that was his associate.
"I can't hear either of them any more," he whispered, but it didn't seem to be directed at Harvey. "They're dead, aren't they? They're dead and now I'm gonna die too."
The distinct sounds of soft sobbing echoed so clearly in the void that was pure darkness.
Harvey wished he were anywhere but there right then.
Actually, he didn't mind being there. He'd never had a problem with the dark. Sometimes he sought it out to help hone his thoughts even.
Mike though... He fervently—desperately, even—wished that Mike was anywhere else right then, wished it with every fiber of his being.
With an exhaled breath that didn't really do anything at all for him, Harvey shifted around so that he was sitting next to Mike. He carefully put a hand on the kid's shoulder, relieved at first when there was no jumping or flinching. Until he realized that was because Mike was so deep in his flashback that he didn't even know Harvey was there.
Harvey grimaced and did the only thing he could think of: He talked.
Words had always been his strong point, his saving grace, and his greatest weapon. He used them then and prayed they wouldn't let him down.
He talked about anything and everything he could think of that didn't have to do with darkness and earthquakes and dead parents. His first case. The Brelowski briefs due next week. The time Jessica had to cut his tie in half to save him from the fax machine. How he used to go to the beach as a child with his little brother and they'd pretend they were castaways outrunning Long John Silver and Blackbeard and look for buried treasure—and the time they found it in the form of a bottle they fished out of the ocean that had a twenty dollar bill and a faded letter they couldn't quite read tucked inside of it.
He talked and talked and talked until he was wishing he had a bottle of water to just moisten his throat at least.
It took him a few minutes after that to realize that Mike wasn't shivering so badly and his conversations with himself and his dead parents had ceased.
Harvey stopped in surprise and after a moment, Mike said, "What did she say?"
"Huh?" Harvey said intelligently.
At some point during the last—hour? two? He pulled out his phone and checked. Two and a half hours and still no bars to call for help. He should have checked that earlier, but he'd been a little occupied and reception was notoriously bad inside the elevators to begin with.
At any rate, at some point Mike had shifted over until he was leaning against Harvey again, one hand tightly wrapped around Harvey's arm and his head resting against Harvey's shoulder.
"What did Donna say when you told her that Cameron thought she should dress up as one of Santa's elves?"
Harvey remembered what he'd been saying and snorted.
"She didn't say anything to me. She marched into his office, closed the door behind her, and came out ten minutes later with that grin of hers plastered across her face. Cameron avoided her for the next three months and even after that he never quite felt comfortable around her again."
Mike snorted. "Well, it sounds like he wasn't a complete idiot."
Harvey chuckled. "No. But even if he had been, he'd have gotten her point. Donna isn't afraid to use small words, gestures, illustrations, and demonstrations to get her point across, if need be."
"That's true," Mike murmured.
A moment passed, and then Mike, trepidation thick in his voice, said, "How much longer do you think it's going to be?"
Harvey checked his phone again—and then slapped himself in the head. "Oh," he breathed. "Oh I'm a fucking moron!"
An incredulous cough from Mike came back. "Excuse me?"
It took Harvey a moment to find the menu option he wanted, but when he did he grinned in triumph—and promptly handed his phone to Mike.
Who took it and gave Harvey an odd look—one that could be seen in the glow of the phone's light.
"I set it to stay on permanently," Harvey explained, gesturing to the phone with a finger.
Mike's eyes widened and then his hand cautiously released Harvey's arm and moved to cup the tiny device with the oh-so-welcome light source. He was staring at it like it held the answers to life, the universe, and everything.
Harvey was just glad he could see the strain bleeding out of Mike's features. He could also see the dried tear tracks, but Mike rubbed a hand over his face and erased most of the evidence soon after that.
The phone held Mike's attention for a good five minutes when he exhaled heavily and shook his head and said, "I'm sorry, Harvey."
"For what?" Harvey asked, casting a sidelong glance Mike's way that was totally missed in the fixed stare at the light of the phone.
"For..." Mike waved a hand, reassuring Harvey that he was getting better since he could let go of the light with one hand now. "You know, freaking out on you."
Harvey snorted. "Mike, if anyone has every had a legitimate reason to 'freak out' over a situation like this, it's you."
Mike frowned and looked at Harvey and then his eyes widened. "What did I say?"
"Nothing much," Harvey lied. "But I'm a skilled people reader, remember, and—"
"No, seriously, Harvey, what did I say?"
The lights came back on then and Mike almost leapt to his feet, gripping the railing and the phone, but staring at the overhead illumination.
Harvey stood as well and held a hand out for his phone.
Mike only hesitated for a second before handing it over. Harvey tucked it in his inner jacket pocket, but didn't change the lighting settings just yet—just in case this was a false hope.
Mike's hands went into his pockets and his gaze went to the floor and he asked again, "What did I say?"
Harvey sighed. "Enough that I know how difficult it was for you when your parents passed and why you're—rightfully—afraid of the dark. Enough for me to say with a great deal of sincerity that I'm sorry you had to go through that."
Mike turned and leaned against the back wall. "Yeah," he said. "Me too." He cleared his throat and his eyes flickered up briefly as he said, "Thanks, um, for not... making fun of me or anything."
Harvey frowned. "You really think I would?"
Mike shrugged. "I don't know. No, I guess. I just..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I've taken a lot of flack for it. In the past. Kids at school, friends at parties in college..." He shrugged. "Being afraid of the dark? Especially as an adult? That's pathetic."
Harvey's lips pressed together in annoyance. "No, people who make fun of someone who suffered a serious trauma and who has a legitimate phobia as a result of said trauma? That's pathetic."
Mike shrugged again, but he was smiling just a little bit.
The elevator started moving with a jerk and it descended to the next floor down and stopped, the doors sliding open as if nothing had gone wrong in the first place.
Harvey let Mike precede him out of the car, the kid's quick pace carrying him through the crowd that had apparently been waiting for them, and which included a goodly portion of the firm it seemed.
Jessica was at the front with Donna who watched Mike speed out of there and tilted her head at Harvey. He nodded for her to follow, conveying with his eyes that she should be careful with their puppy. She'd no doubt read his body language and maybe even seen the lingering evidence of his tears and would handle the kid carefully—and scare off anyone who was going to be a hindrance instead of a help.
"Are you two okay?" Jessica asked as Harvey walked out of the car.
"Fine," he said, watching until Donna disappeared, then shifting his attention to his boss. "What happened?"
She frowned and shook her head. "We don't know. It was almost an hour before we even knew something was wrong at all. You never showed up downstairs and Ray called Donna who confirmed you'd gotten on the elevator. She tried both of your phones, but couldn't get through and that was when Mary Ellen," she said with a nod at the secretary, "noticed that no one had used the elevator you were in for some time and that the light overhead was out."
"What happened inside the car?"
Harvey shrugged. "It stopped and the lights went out. They only came on about five minutes before it started moving again."
"And you didn't call for help because...?"
"There wasn't any way to do so. We had no cell reception and there was literally no power in the elevator at all. Not even emergency lighting came on."
Jessica did not look pleased at this. Harvey suspected that whoever maintained the elevators was going to be having a bad week.
He couldn't quite find it in himself to feel any sympathy for them.
"If you'll excuse me?" Harvey said. Jessica nodded and Harvey made his way through the crowd to locate and check on his associate and his secretary. Behind him he heard Jessica dispersing the crowd until he rounded the corner and saw Donna lingering just outside the men's room door, leaning in slightly to eavesdrop.
"What happened?" she asked upon seeing Harvey, her brow creased with concern.
"I'll fill you in later."
She gave him a stern look and he said, "Really. This is not something to be discussed where the office ears can hear it. How's he doing?" he said with a nod for the door.
"He threw up. Twice. Now he's just running water. Harvey," she said, putting a hand on his arm to stop him before he went inside.
"I know. I'll take care of it."
She smiled slightly and let him pass, making herself comfortable against the wall to keep anyone else out.
Harvey entered and found Mike leaning over a sink and splashing water on his face. He slid his hands into his pockets and watched the younger man in the mirror until Mike met his eyes.
Slowly straightening and wiping a waiting paper towel to over his face to dry the water off, Mike regarded his boss and mentor in the mirror in return.
Harvey wondered what he saw, what that brilliant brain of his really made of Harvey Specter.
"So," Mike said, running more water to wash his hands and breaking eye contact.
"So?" Harvey asked.
"So I hope you don't think I'm going to keep buying your bullshit about not having a heart. If that wasn't caring, I don't know what is."
It was said in a teasing tone, but the sincerity and gratitude in Mike's eyes kept Harvey from spitting out his immediate response.
He shrugged one shoulder instead and said, "Yeah, well, extenuating circumstances..." Mike was grinning and Harvey couldn't help doing the same after a moment. "You're welcome."
Mike was still a little pale and there were tight lines of stress around his eyes and his mouth, but he seemed to be doing much better now. Still, if he did just throw up twice, it would be cruel to make him keep working today.
Harvey jerked his head toward the door and said, "Get out of here. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
Surprise flooded Mike's features and he turned to actually face Harvey instead of talking with his reflection. "What?"
Mike looked like he really wanted to take Harvey up on the offer, but he hesitated, then asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah I'm sure. You look like shit." Harvey arched an eyebrow. "Unless you really want to get started on the Brelowski briefs. All one hundred and forty-three binders' worth..."
"Uh, no. Thanks. I'm— I'm good." Mike quirked a smile. "Thanks."
Harvey's gaze flicked to the door. "Git."
Mike vanished and Harvey followed at a more sedate pace.
Donna paced him as he walked back to his office. "You sent him home?"
He shrugged. "He wasn't going to be much use to me today anyway."
Donna smiled wickedly. "Boy, has he got your number."
Harvey made a face at that and she just laughed because he couldn't deny it.
Before Harvey left that night, he took a moment to Google more information about the quake that had stunned a nation and orphaned a young Mike Ross.
There wasn't anything specific enough to tell Harvey how long it was before Mike himself was freed, but it was probably at least a few hours and could have been up to a few days. The last survivor was pulled out four days after the fact, though he died of complications in the hospital a few weeks later.
The pictures of the collapsed bridge and the shredded rebar supports hanging out of the support columns like curled ribbon were enough to horrify Harvey who couldn't imagine being in that mess for ten minutes, let alone hours or days.
And yet, if you had never been stuck in Mike in the dark for an extended period of time, you'd never know he'd survived such a tragedy.
The kid had chutzpah, that was for sure.
Donna popped her head in and said, "Leaving soon or should I call for dinner?"
"No, I'm going."
His voice or his expression must have tipped her off because she entered and shut the door, crossing to see what was on his screen. He leaned back in his chair and shook his head.
"He was a lucky kid."
Donna snorted a laugh. "He's still a lucky kid."
Harvey arched an eyebrow.
"He was a little bit of a mess when you found him and adopted him. Now he's... making progress. A lot of progress, given where he started," she said honestly with a tilt of her head.
Harvey snorted and she shrugged. "He's had a rough life, but he hasn't let it beat him."
"He almost did," Harvey said, thinking of the pot and the desperate situation that had come so close to tipping him into dealing the stuff.
"But he didn't," she countered. He hummed and looked at the screen again.
"Okay," she said and reached forward to close the lid of the laptop. "Time to go. Come on. Up." She waved a hand at him.
Harvey grinned at her tone, but followed her orders and stood.
They shut off the lights and left the office and were walking down the hall when Harvey stopped and looked at the elevator ahead of them.
Donna's gaze flicked between the him and the innocent-looking conveyance, and then she looped her arm in his and pulled him forward to the stairwell.
"They said it's fixed, but I'm not taking any chances with you tonight. I have better things to do than sit in a dark elevator until morning. Come on."
Harvey smirked to cover up the twinge of anxiety he'd felt at the sight of the double doors.
"I'm sure we'd think of something to do to pass the time."
"Or, we could take the stairs and skip the gym in the morning. I like that plan much better."
They chuckled together as the door closed behind them.