He never thought it would end this way.
In truth he never thought it would end at all. Which is stupid and fucking juvenile now that he thinks about it. But if he had ever thought about it, imagined their end, he would've pictured raised voices, maybe a possession or two being thrown across the room before Mike walked out the front door, slamming it behind him.
The reality isn't anywhere near as dramatic. It is his simple and broken, "I can't do this anymore, Harvey. I really want to but I can't." It is his arms around Harvey's neck, squeezing tight. It is his lips pressing gently to Harvey's in a farewell kiss. It is the soft click when Mike closes the door behind him.
The apartment suddenly feels cold and empty, even though he knows it's ridiculous, because literally nothing in the physical space of the room is different. He stands numbly in the middle of the lounge for a long time. When the shock wears off he starts wandering aimlessly around the apartment. His fingers trail along the back of the couch but no longer find Mike's ties thrown haphazardly across it. He paces the length of the kitchen and sees Mike's half-drunk cup of coffee resting in the sink.
When he can't take it anymore, the silence and stillness, he stumbles to his bedroom. Their bed (no, his bed, it's his bed again) is still unmade. He stands with his back to it as he undresses, the quiet of the room pounding in his ears. He flicks off the light and climbs into bed. And if he sleeps on Mike's side of the bed, rests his head in the indentation of the pillow and breathes a familiar scent, well, there is no one there to catch him.
Every time he sees Mike his heart hurts.
He misses who they were outside of the four walls of Pearson Hardman. He misses who they used to be before this thing between them started and ended. He misses him.
Not that he lets it show. He is a goddamn professional and always will be. And they kept their work relationship the same throughout the personal (if failed) experiment that was Harvey and Mike have more than friendly feelings and express the aforementioned with lots and lots of fucking so it continues long after their personal relationship ends. So they still work together, because wasn't that the problem anyway and it would make no sense to give that up too.
Or would it?
Harvey can't deny that he had thought about it. Thought about giving it all up for Mike and the life they could have together. But he doesn't know who they are away from here, away from this life that brought them together in the first place, so he didn’t deem it worth the risk. And Mike knew that, could see it in his eyes, so he did the only thing he could and tapped out.
Only now they still have to spend eight, ten, twelve hours a day together and he can't look at Mike and not think about Mike's skin beneath his hands, Mike's mouth roaming over his body, Mike's cry of complete and utter joy and contentment as he comes, like Harvey is the only one who could ever extract that noise from his throat.
He can pretend, and Harvey is very good at pretending. So he pretends that everything is fine, that everything has gone back to how it used to be before, that the whole thing never happened and everything is as it should be.
No one notices the change, the slight shift in how they interact with each other, and for that he is grateful. Not that he expected otherwise, because no one noticed when they went from colleagues to lovers so he can't imagine why anyone would notice when they went back again.
Though sometimes he wonders if he is working with a bunch of idiots (not that he didn’t think that even before Mike came into his life) because sometimes it's all that he can see, all that he can feel, and he doesn’t know how everyone can't see it too.
But he's glad. Because he broke so many rules bringing Mike in as his associate and even more starting a personal relationship with him and after months of living and loving in secret Mike couldn’t take the secrecy anymore, felt like his whole life was a lie, and something had to give and in the end it was them that they let go of.
Because their work is too important, to both of them, and he couldn’t let his life's work go but nor could he ask Mike to give up the job he had offered him that turned his life around and send him back to god knows what. It is their blessing and their curse. This job brought them together but it's also what tore them apart.
Days turn into weeks which roll into months and he still wants him. He tries not to. He really wants to not want him still. But he can't help it. Mike is there, under his skin, humming in his veins, always there and he can't escape.
He can admit, if only to himself, that he has actual real-life feelings for Mike. That he had some (if not all) of them from the moment they met. It took a long time for anything to actually happen ("I've wanted this for so fucking long," Mike whispered into his ear that first time) and he regretted that now, all that time lost dancing around something they both wanted.
He knows, intellectually, that it wasn't perfect. He hasn't slipped into rose-coloured nostalgia yet and he knows their relationship wasn’t the personification of sunshine and butterflies. But that didn’t mean that the genuinely happy and perfect moments weren't true too. Like when he would wake up first and see Mike, all soft features and scruffy hair, and when Mike eventually opened his bleary eyes he would smile softly at him, like Mike couldn't believe he was real. Or when Mike would order his favourite food for dinner and it would arrive at the apartment just a few minutes after he did. Or when, on the rare occasion that he couldn’t sleep, Mike would find him on the couch and slip a blanket over his shoulders before joining him, pulling him down to lie on his chest so he could listen to Mike's heartbeat as he fell asleep.
He has never hated his work, not for one day. Sure, there were times he was frustrated with cases and there were clients he genuinely detested and there were cases he lost, but he always picked himself up and moved on to the next thing. He has never dreaded coming in to work, he has never looked for an excuse to miss meetings and bail on dinners.
But that was before. Before Mike. And now all he can think about is how much he doesn't want to be here anymore, how much he wants things to be different.
He thought time would help. He thought it would make things easier but all it's done is make the pain worse, the longing more intense. He doesn't know how to endure it, how long he can keep pretending, how long he can sit next to Mike in meetings and walk the hallways with him and work late side by side and act like he doesn't want more.
He stares at Mike, unable to tear his eyes away from his mouth as he babbles on about the contract and the loophole and he doesn't know how or why it happens but before he can stop himself he blurts, "How can you stand it?"
Mike freezes, doesn't even turn to look at him, just stares at the contract. When he finally lifts his head, meets his gaze, Harvey doesn't hesitate for a second, instantly surging forward and kissing him. He can feel Mike tense at the unexpected touch but he doesn't move away. Harvey gently touches his fingertips to Mike's cheeks and Mike finally starts kissing back but it only lasts for a few seconds before Mike pulls away, getting up from the couch and walking out of the office without looking back.
Mike avoids him after that. Harvey doesn't blame him. Because Mike told him, he tapped out, but Harvey is a selfish bastard and he wants it all even after Mike has told him that he can't have it.
But the absence only makes Harvey's resolve stronger. It reinforces what he already knew but didn’t want to acknowledge. He gave up too quickly, and he never gives up on anything but somehow chose a hell of a time to start. But he can't do this anymore. He can't pretend. He needs to fight.
He thinks about cornering Mike in the copy room or waiting until after night has fallen and everyone has left but realises that this is a conversation that needs to take place as far away from Pearson Hardman as possible. So he gives Mike a half hour head start before hailing a cab and giving the driver Mike's address.
He pounds on the door, hard and loud, and he knows Mike is there, can practically feel Mike standing on the other side of the thick wooden door. It's a proximity awareness he has never experienced with anyone else, not even his brother or Donna, and he can feel the pull like a tangible force, the reverberations echoing in his chest until it almost hurts.
Mike finally opens the door and invites him in with a wave of his hand. Harvey nods and shucks off his coat, throws it onto the back of the threadbare couch he knows is more comfortable than it looks. Mike has shut the door and is approaching slowly but Harvey's can't hold back, can't help himself; he closes the gap between them and kisses him. His hands cradle Mike's jaw and he can feel Mike's hands settle on his hips and between kisses he murmurs, "I'm sorry. I should have fought harder for you."
Mike breaks away with a sigh, but presses their foreheads together. "I didn’t want you fighting for me, Harvey. That wasn't what this was about."
Mike pulls away, and Harvey feels the loss of contact like a cool rush through his veins. He watches Mike take a few steps back and he fervently hopes that is the only distance that still exists between them.
"I know. And it was wrong to keep us a secret," Harvey concedes, taking a seat on the couch.
Mike sits at the dining table, out of arms reach. He doesn't know whose benefit that's for. "I wouldn’t say it was wrong. It was a necessary evil and I understand why it had to happen. But I was already living one lie at work, I couldn’t add another big one on top it. It was too much. I couldn’t take it."
"It was unfair to make you try. I see that now."
"It's okay, Harvey. We did what we thought we needed to do but it didn't work. It never could have, really. And we know that now. So it's time we both moved on."
He sounds so rational, so indifferent, so unlike the Mike that Harvey knows. He wants to fight, but how can he now? How can he hear those words and feel nothing but defeated?
The simple answer is: he can't.
He knew there was a reason he had avoided feelings for so long. Because yes, when everything is good and everyone is happy it feels fucking amazing. But the flip side of that, when everything comes crashing down in a heap of broken words and lost possibilities, it's unbearable and there is no going back.
He shouldn’t have started it. It wasn’t worth it, those five months of smiles and laughter and all those touches and kisses, so many he can't even remember most of them, because they became so normal and natural and he didn’t think he would have to catalogue the memories away because one day he wouldn’t have them anymore. And they have actually been apart now for longer than they were together and he feels so fucking stupid for still caring, for still wanting, for wishing for a way back.
It's torture, seeing Mike every day, knowing what it was they had and lost, knowing that Mike is completely okay and fine and doesn't miss him.
He would have believed that too, would've believed the lie that Mike told him, would have let everything slip out of his grasp had it not been for, of all people, Jessica. The woman whose wrath they feared, the one person who could destroy their careers (the thing they clung to in lieu of each other), ended up being their saviour.
"So, court was interesting today," Jessica tells him without preamble as she strides right into his office.
"I didn’t know you had court today," Harvey says, looking up from his laptop.
"I didn't. I had to meet with Judge Walken and while I was there I remembered that the pro bono you gave Mike was finishing up today so I slipped into court to watch his closing."
Harvey grabs a pen from the desk, needs something to hide the twitching of his hands. "Really?" he says, aiming for indifferent. "And?"
Jessica just stares at him, smiling slightly like she knows some big secret. Harvey vehemently hopes that she knows nothing. "You've trained him well, there's no doubt. But he hasn't quite picked up on all your lessons."
Harvey's brow furrows in confusion and with that cryptic remark Jessica ups and leaves again. He thinks about it for two seconds flat before calling out, "Donna, I need the transcripts from Mike's case today."
The words don't change no matter how often he rereads them. He stares at them until they blur but still they remain the same.
Ms Stephens was a respected member of the company, well-liked by her colleagues and customers, and the only reason she was let go was because she told the truth. She couldn’t live a lie so she brought her partner to a work event and the next week she was fired. No one, not you or me or Mr Matthews, can tell her who she can love. It is a right we are all afforded under the law, not to mention the unwritten law of human decency. And I don't pretend to be an expert, but I'm sure you have all felt love for someone at one point or another. Now, can you imagine hiding that, having to pretend like this person who means so much to you doesn't even exist? I can, and let me tell you, it's an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But I didn't have Ms Stephens bravery. I gave up, because that was easier than admitting that I was just plain scared. And it's something I still regret. But Ms Stephens would never accept a life where she couldn’t be herself, where she couldn’t be the best possible version of herself. The first day I met her, she told me that her whole life changed the day she met Emma. She told me that everything felt more immediate, more important, that it changed her whole outlook on life. And isn't it funny, but when we look back at her performance at work, from the day after she began seeing Ms Thomas her sales went up. Mr Matthews benefited from their relationship, as long as he didn’t have to acknowledge it existed. As soon as he was confronted with it, and when I say confronted of course what I mean is that Ms Stephens brought Ms Thomas as her date to a work event during which they both remained perfectly professional, Mr Matthews fired Ms Stephens for "poor performance" and "causing disruptions". I think we all know the only poor performance and disruptions that occurred were on behalf of Mr Matthews, not Ms Stephens.
He told Mike, the first day they met, that he reads people. It's a skill that has gotten him very far, a cornerstone of his work life. And he should be able to read Mike better than anyone else. Given the amount of time they have spent together over the years, given the extremely personal and intense relationship they have, given that when they met Mike was a fucking open book, he should have no problem whatsoever seeing past his façade to the truth.
Only, like being with Mike has made Harvey more open to the emotional side he always denied he had, being with Harvey has made Mike more closed off to the world. And he has no idea what is going on inside Mike's head anymore.
Mike is always there, skirting around the edges of his perception. He could be in a room with over a dozen people and it will be Mike that he can feel, can hear, even if he is across the other side of the room. It's a presence he is always aware of. Only now, he can't see beneath the surface.
He tries. He pays even more attention, in a completely subtle way of course. He watches his face and body language and listens for all the words that go unspoken. He thinks he sees something, hints of the same longing and regret that permeates Harvey's every waking moment, but he doesn't know if it's real or just wishful thinking.
But he needs to know, needs to make one last ditch effort, can't let this go for sure until he knows there is no hope left.
This isn't a conversation that can take place at work, not even in the other hours where the hallways are dark and everyone has left for the day. He considers a restaurant, creating a work dinner with a client who mysteriously doesn't show, leaving them alone for hours on end. But if the evening goes as he hopes, they will want something much more private than a restaurant.
It takes some planning and conspiring, but he makes a plan. He and Mike take a client to dinner (what Mike doesn't know and Harvey doesn't say is that Anita Swift is a long-term client, one he would even go so far as to call a friend, and all the work they discuss this night is a complete work of fiction, entirely for the plan Harvey has set in place for the evening) and Harvey promises said client that the contracts she needs will be on her desk by 9am the next day. Which means they need to get straight back to work after they farewell Ms Swift.
He tells Mike that he had a feeling this would happen, so everything they need is back at his condo, since it's closer and more comfortable to work in. As he says the words he watches for any sign from Mike, some hint as to how this makes him feel, but Mike is a blank canvas.
They head up to Harvey's place. He unlocks the door and strides in, leaving Mike to trail in after him. He turns back, watches Mike cross the threshold, and for the first time he can see a hint of something from the younger man. His eyes go wide, just for a moment, before he turns his gaze to the floor, like he can't even bear to see the room. It's a small thing, but Harvey knew that this would be the one place that could unhinge him.
Having Mike here again, he can't help but think back on all the time they spent here together, in varying states of undress, all the touching and talking and food and movies and lazy Sundays, not to mention the fucking (all of it, all the time, from the quick and rough and desperate, to the times they were slow, dragged out every touch and kiss, didn't break eye contact for one second). He knows it's dastardly but he hopes that in bringing him here that Mike thinks about all that too.
He pours them both a scotch, presses the drink into Mike's hand. It's not that he's trying to get him drunk (he has not sunk that low) but a bit of liquid courage couldn't hurt. He wasn't above using every play in the book to win this.
They settle themselves in the lounge and start working. Mike's attention wanders, and on any other occasion that would be annoying but tonight it's exactly what he was hoping for. He finally has them together, alone, and he can feel Mike's defences lowering and when he thinks the moment is right he says, "If I asked you something, would you promise to give me an honest answer?"
Mike's brow crinkles, whether in response to Harvey breaking the protracted silence or because he can tell this is going to be personal not professional, Harvey can't tell. He keeps their gazes locked together as Mike thinks about it, until he eventually nods, slow and uncertain.
"Do you still love me?"
Mike physically flinches at the words, their boldness and certainty, because never once in all their time together did Mike tell him he loved him. But Harvey knows it's not arrogance on his part that means he can pose the question this way. He says it because there are some undeniable truths, things you can't fight, statements you know to be true even if you never say them out loud, and the fact that they were in love is one of them.
Mike takes a slow, deep breath, but is brave enough to look him in the eyes when he replies with, "Yes. Every second."
There are literally no words to describe what he feels when Mike's words penetrate his brain. It would take days to list all the emotions that rush through his body in a matter of milliseconds. He can't speak, can't think, all he can do is stand, walk the few steps it takes to close the gap between them, and hold out his hand. Mike takes it instantly, allowing himself to be pulled from the seat and into Harvey's arms. They kiss desperately, passionately. He presses his body to Mike's, wants to feel every inch of him, desperate to make up for lost time.
Harvey can feel it roll through his body, from the tingling of his skin to the thudding of his heart, every inch of his body and soul is taken over by one feeling: hope.
He can't stop staring. He knows he should, but whenever he tries to he remembers that Mike is in his bed (their bed, could it possibly be their bed again?) and he has to check he isn’t a figment of his overactive imagination.
Mike is lying on his back, buried under the doona, his head tipped slightly in Harvey's direction but his eyes are closed, his breathing steady. His expression is familiar, and Harvey has missed it, that look that says he is happy and relaxed and completely satiated, like he has just been given everything he wants in life and couldn’t possibly desire one more thing.
Harvey tries not to think too hard on the implication of that, and is saved from his thoughts by Mike opening his eyes, blinking lazily at him. Mike smiles, slowly, his whole face brightening. But then, as though some dark cloud has stolen over his thoughts, the smile slips from his features, a look of consternation taking over.
"What's wrong?" he asks, even though he can guess where Mike's thoughts have taken him.
"You know what," Mike answers. But just in case adds, "What do we do now?"
Harvey has been thinking about it a lot, weighing the options, considering the pros and cons. "I could go to another firm."
"You can't do that, Harvey," Mike says sadly. "You're Senior Partner, you bought in, and you could never leave Jessica. Pearson Hardman is where you belong and I couldn’t ask you to leave just for me."
"It wouldn't be just for you. It would be for us."
Mike reaches over, takes Harvey's hand in his. His fingers run lightly over his skin. "Come on, Harvey. You couldn’t leave Pearson Hardman and you know it."
"I could quit. Completely."
From the moment Harvey got in to Harvard he has never wanted to do anything else, but he wants Mike more, will do anything for this to happen. Mike looks surprised at his offer, like he is only just now realising the lengths Harvey will go, and as hard as he tries he still can't wrap his brain around the idea that Harvey would give this all up for him. But he would. In a heartbeat.
"Harvey, being a lawyer, practising the law, it's what I do but it's not who I am. Being a lawyer is who you are. I could never deprive you of that, because it's part of who you are and I love who you are."
Fear starts creeping in, plays at the corner of his subconscious waiting to attack. He didn’t expect this, fully anticipated that Mike would grab onto any option that would keep them together. He thinks, is terrified to consider the possibility, that despite everything that has just happened Mike wants to keep things the way they are. But then Mike shifts closer, presses his lips to his own. The kiss is slow, soft, so full of love and promise that all the doubt slowly melts away.
"I take it you have an alternative proposal," Harvey says, after Mike has pulled back from their embrace, sat up on the bed, legs crossed and ready for business.
"Isn’t it obvious? It's me. I have to leave. I'm the one who doesn’t have a law degree. I'm the one who has put your career in jeopardy not once but twice. I need to quit and I will do so happily if it means I get to keep you."
"I can't ask you to do that," Harvey says, because he didn't expect this. He should have, really, should have seen it from every angle, but it never occurred to him that Mike could want them to be together this much that he would give up his career.
"You didn't. I offered. I always knew this job wouldn't last forever so I've been putting money aside every fortnight for when the day inevitably arrived. And I will gladly give up my job if it means I can have you, we can have this. So, Mr Specter," Mike sits straighter, puts on his most professional voice, "I hereby tender my resignation as your associate at Pearson Hardman and give my two weeks notice."
A smile quirks at the corner of his lips. "Do you always resign your job while completely naked? Is this a thing with you?"
Mike grins, quickly leaning down and kissing him. But when he sits back up he remains silent for a few moments, gives them both the time to let the reality sink in. Because this is serious, this is all in, this is wanting this to last forever.
"I take it you accept?" Mike asks, his voice suddenly serious.
Harvey can hear all the implications beneath his words. He isn't just asking if Harvey will accept his resignation, he is asking if he will accept the promise of a new life together, if he will accept the risk that comes with changing everything between them, if he will accept that there is no going back from this, for better or worse, this is it.
Harvey doesn’t hesitate. "I accept."