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One month had dragged past since Jessica fired Mike. Beyond informing him that his associate would not be returning to work after the fact, she never breathed a word of detail to Harvey, opting for the “I’m-not-mad-I’m-just-disappointed” treatment. Harvey couldn’t debate her on it because he had no information to work with, and he knew he was lucky just to keep his own job. It ate him up inside knowing he was powerless in the decision, but it was nothing compared to his boy – his boy, not Jessica’s – being completely erased from existence before he knew what had happened. He hadn’t heard from him or seen him in that month. One day Mike went for dinner and didn’t come back. That was all he knew.

Mike was like a phantom limb. “Donna, get…“ Harvey would catch himself on the cusp of requesting his associate over the intercom every other day or so. Sometimes he needed his insight or an obscure detail that only Mike would recall, but mostly he just wanted to see him and would plan to come up with something once he arrived, as usual. Most of the time Donna would jump in and finish his sentence for him, bringing him a coffee or a paralegal to divert his attention. It never worked.

He waited for a call. An e-mail. Even a fax. A singing telegram. Anything. It was the two-week mark that Harvey had finally found the nerve to call Mike from the office, just to see how he was holding up. Mike wasn’t typically at a loss for words so Harvey hoped that he could do more listening than talking.

The number you have dialed is not in service.

When he hung up that day he had been half relieved that he didn’t have to confront the man he’d failed so badly, and half afraid that something was seriously wrong. He managed to remind himself that just because someone changed their number or forgot to charge their phone, it didn’t mean they were in trouble… but he couldn’t shake the feeling. Although given that Mike had not appeared to make any attempt to contact him, Harvey could only assume that he did not want to discuss his professional demise and he tried to leave it at that. If Mike had wanted to speak to him, he would have taken the initiative to do so. In fact, it was almost insulting. After everything he’d done for that kid, what made him think he could just disappear like that?

That night he opened a fresh e-mail addressed to Mike Ross. In what seemed like a blink of an eye he had three pages of cloaked apologies, backhanded sentiment and stern advice that nobody asked for. Running his eyes over the document, he knew it was more for him than it was for Mike. There was no need to send it to him, and he didn’t know how to say it any more simply. He closed the e-mail before sending it.

Save draft?

No.

It was two weeks after that on a Friday afternoon that Harvey couldn’t take the gaping silence anymore and found himself in his office with his hand on the phone again, realizing that he had no idea what to say if Mike’s phone had been reconnected, because so much time had already passed. Even if he had known what to say or the right way to put it, he knew he didn’t want to talk to an answering machine. The phone just wasn’t going to cut it. E-mail was a joke. The very notion that his messages could potentially be ignored made his blood boil, and if a response was given… well, a voice in thin air or a few black letters on a white screen were hardly proof of Mike’s existence. He had to see him in the flesh. Mike Ross had floated in and out of Harvey’s life so mysteriously that he was not entirely certain that he had ever really existed. The world had continued ticking along without him, but some hidden gear had silently stopped turning and Harvey was the only one who seemed to notice.

He took the afternoon to come up with some kind of plan. There was very little that could be said, so his loose plan was more of an excuse to see Mike than it was a reason. Maybe it would undo the knot in his stomach that had been tightening since the day he disappeared. That was all he could really hope for. He moved his schedule around with Donna’s help and left the office at 3:00.

When he arrived outside Mike’s apartment building, Harvey handed the cab driver some cash and instructed him to wait for a minute. There was no doorman, but the location could have been a lot worse. He’d never been there before, but Donna had no trouble finding his address. She had been extremely careful not to mention Mike or ask about him (much to Harvey’s relief) and it seemed to have taken her by surprise when he asked her to find the address. She didn’t ask any questions, which was good, because Harvey didn’t have an answer for her. Chances were that she knew better than he did anyway.

He pressed a manicured fingertip to Mike’s dented buzzer and waited. The thing probably didn’t work. Mike may not have been home anyway. Maybe he’d moved. The cab driver was watching him impatiently, though Harvey was well aware that his gratuity was sufficient. He buzzed again. Then again.

“What?!”

Harvey’s eyebrows rose at the somewhat familiar voice exploding though the static of the speaker.

“Good. You’re alive.” He tried not to sound too sincere. It was a relief to check that concern off his list, which had been growing by the day.

For a long time there was nothing, but Harvey was patient. He knew that Mike knew it was him. Finally, the front door hummed and clicked, and Harvey waved the taxi driver to move on before he let himself in.

Upstairs, he knocked on Mike’s door only once before it flew open.

“Harvey, what are you doing here?” Mike was blocking the doorway, clearly intent on keeping Harvey out of his apartment.

Harvey examined Mike and made no attempt to mask his roaming eyes. He was a little thinner than the last he’d seen him. He looked pale and tired, and the black t-shirt he was wearing didn’t suit him at all. His face was lined with anxiety and Harvey began to think that perhaps he had waited too long to contact him. Contrary to Harvey’s expectations, the knot in his stomach wound up even tighter, straining around the warm familiarity swelling up inside him, despite the fact that Mike seemed so unlike himself. It was still him. He existed.

“There’s a case I want you to look at. That is,” he added, “if you’re not too busy.” There was no one case in particular, but Harvey had been trying to figure out if he could hire Mike back as an outside consultant without Jessica noticing. The truth was that Harvey had allowed Mike feel to safe, only to watch the legs cut out from under him. He wanted to amend the situation as much as possible and offer a safety net, though a net was useless to someone who’d already hit the ground. In short, he wanted to pay him. Really he just wanted to see him and talk to him on a regular basis, but there would be no reason for that if they weren’t working together. He owed him some kind of security, and there wasn’t much else he had to offer other than money. That’s what it always came down to sooner or later.

Mike tapped a finger on the doorframe. “You do realize that I was fired, don’t you? And yeah, actually, I am a little busy, so if you don’t mind…” He tried to squeeze the door shut but Harvey stopped it with a determined hand. Mike didn’t seem impressed.

“Five minutes.” Harvey wasn’t asking.

“You think I owe you that?”

“No, but I think I owe it to you.”

Mike sighed, his eyes softening just a little.

Harvey looked over his shoulder into the apartment. As much as Mike tried to obscure Harvey’s view, he could see that it was a mess. He couldn’t help noticing the fat, grinning panda bear framed above his kitchen table, and allowed himself an inward smile.

“Fine,” Mike agreed. “There’s a bar across the street. I’ll be down in minute. But I really am busy so this has to be quick.”

Harvey leaned back to save his nose when Mike slammed the door in his face. This wasn’t exactly going as planned. He wasn’t even sure he had a plan at all until he realized that this was not it, but he had to remind himself that his plans and his impulses did not necessarily go hand in hand. He tried not to feel too disappointed that Mike didn’t invite him in, and he made his way back downstairs.

The bohemian pub across the street from Mike’s building was comfortable, relatively deserted and cleaner than he had suspected at first glance. The stained glass windows kept the Monday afternoon light at bay as Harvey sipped an Americano, feeling somehow that his usual impulse beverage – scotch – was inappropriate at the time. This wasn’t social, and it wasn’t business. It was something else.

Not a minute after his coffee had arrived, Mike walked in. He nodded pleasantly at the bartender who greeted him with a comfortable familiarity upon his arrival, then sat down across from Harvey with a deep sigh.

“What do you want, Harvey?” He leaned back in his chair, head tilted to the side inquisitively with a sort of defeated patience on his face.

“I want you to work for me.” That was the simplest response he could offer. Mike was the one. End of story.

“I think that ship already sailed.”

The tall, painfully hip bartender wandered over to the table. “Americano for you as well, or the usual?” He smiled at Mike casually, hands stuffed into his mustard, hound’s-tooth pockets. It was a jarring sight, but Harvey could at least appreciate that he’d dressed that way on purpose.

“Neither,” Mike said, leaning forward and crossing his arms on the table. “Just give me a bourbon. Double.”

“Coming right up,” he said with a nod and made his way back to the bar.

Harvey raised an eyebrow and looked at his watch. It was 3:45pm.

“Fuck off,” Mike mumbled. “You’ve got four minutes.”

Harvey was taken aback by Mike’s crude and aggressive attitude towards him, but he wouldn’t let it show. Wasn’t he just a little happy to see him?

“I want to hire you as an outside consultant.”

Mike laughed, but the amusement on his face quickly faded. “Are you serious? Jessica would –“

“Jessica won’t. We’ll do this off the books.”

“You mean pay me with your own money? Share your salary?” Mike’s face was vaguely twisted in confusion. “I can’t be hearing you…”

Harvey shrugged. “I look at it more as an investment. You help me make money, and I give you some of it.” If he made it sound simple and easy, maybe it really would be.

Mike looked at Harvey with a fragmented hope for a long while. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Harvey watched Mike try to rub the worry and stress from his face with another deep sigh and any trace of openness that may have been there for a moment swiftly closed up.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Mike’s hand fell loose to the table with a heavy thud.

The server placed Mike’s drink on the table and moved silently back to the bar again. Mike took the glass and downed it in two gulps.

“Easy there, sport.” Harvey shifted in his seat and looked him up and down, feeling a little nervous about what could possibly have happened in the 30 days that he didn’t have Mike under his supervision.

Mike wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then raised it to signal to the bartender for another drink. Harvey wanted to grab that hand and slap him with it.

“Listen, I get that you’re…” Mike scratched his head, searching for his words. “You feel guilty or whatever. Don’t. You don’t owe me anything.”

“It’s not about that.” In large, it was about that. “I’m a better lawyer when you work with me.” That was true. It was a part of it.

“You mean for you.”

Harvey shook his head on impulse, but was interrupted when a second glass appeared on the table. Mike reached for it but Harvey was faster. He covered it with his hand, slid it towards himself, and drank it back. He tried not to grimace as he dropped the empty glass on the table.

He needed that.

Mike was wide-eyed. “You’re paying for that.”

Obviously. “Listen.” Harvey cleared his throat. “I’m sorry that this happened to you. But I can’t exactly apologize because I’m not the one who fucked it up. Neither are you. This thing was doomed from the beginning. We both knew it.”

Mike nodded very slightly with a clenched jaw.

“We had a good run…” He flashed a discrete, enticing smirk. “So let’s keep running. Just on a different track. I won’t pay you as much as you made before but you can work from home for the most part.” He didn’t want to rush this, but he wasn’t being given much of a choice. Mike looked spring-loaded, ready to dash for the exit at any moment. He remembered when Mike had once been so eager to sell his talent to Harvey. He missed those times.

“Actually I’ve already got a job,” Mike said, looking pleased with himself, but it was a front. He slipped the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulder. At least some things never changed. “And that’s where I’m going right now.”

“I’m impressed. You always drink like that before work?” Harvey knew his time wasn’t up yet, but he was desperate to keep Mike talking; to keep him in that chair by any means short of physically holding him down.

That thought should not have sparked the subtle arousal that it did.

“I don’t know.” Mike’s fingers curled around the strap of his bag. Every inch of his body seemed plagued by tension. “It’s not like you don’t drink during work hours.”

“It’s a little different.” A celebratory champagne, or a scotch with a client over a meal as a social gesture, but he never used alcohol as a coping mechanism at work. Mike was coping. “What the hell is it that you’re doing?” There weren’t many workplaces that would allow their employees to show up in his state. It wouldn’t have surprised him if he’d had a few drinks in his apartment before he showed up. He was distracted, clumsy and irritable.

“It’s just… a job, alright?” He shifted uncomfortably with a strange, short laugh. He was embarrassed.

Harvey raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “Tell me you’re not wearing some kind of sandwich board in Times Square.” He couldn’t imagine what Mike could possibly be embarrassed about, especially given the job he was trying to do the day they first met.

Mike shook his head and stood. “Thanks for making an appearance, but I’m late.”

Harvey was just as quick to his feet. He moved around the table between Mike and the exit before he could leave. His pulse was racing, and he couldn’t control it, and he didn’t know why. “What’s gotten into you? You look like shit. Tell me what’s going on.” He tried on his Boss voice but it didn’t seem to help.

Mike’s eyes locked onto Harvey’s, and it looked like he was about to make a confession before he said: “I’m going.” And he did. Quickly.

Harvey cursed himself for losing him (again), but he wasn’t gone yet. He handed the bartender $40 and tried not to sprint as he followed in Mike’s tracks.

Mike was already a block up the street, but Harvey more or less managed to catch up without running.

“You’re in some kind of trouble,” Harvey called, falling a few paces behind, hands tucked into his pockets. “I can help you.”

“You’ve ‘helped’ me before,” Mike called, keeping his pace.

It bit at Harvey, and truthfully, Mike may have been right not to trust him. For the first time, he realized that Mike was truly angry with him. It was fair.

A cab rolled by but Mike made no attempt to hail it. He must have been heading for the subway. If he was that late for god-knew-what, it meant he wasn’t being paid enough to justify a taxi.

Harvey could feel Mike slipping away and something told him that if he let go now, he wouldn’t see him again. But that didn’t mean he was going to literally chase him across Brooklyn.

“Where are you going? At least let me get you a ride,” he offered, not knowing what else to do.

Mike slowed and allowed Harvey to catch up with him. He finally turned.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked sincerely.

“Why am I trying to help?”

“Yeah.” Mike shrugged as if it were a completely reasonable question.

“Because I need you to…” Harvey couldn’t finish the sentence, so he settled for: “I need you.” It was the simplest and most honest explanation, but the look on Mike’s face told him he wasn’t allowed to leave it there, so he quickly pressed on. “Haven’t we talked about loyalty? Well, this is it. We’re a team, Mike. We look out for each other.”

“You sound like Trevor,” Mike snapped.

Harvey bit his tongue and tried not to lose his patience. “I don’t see how.” It was a truly offensive comparison.

“You are, you’re exactly like him! You people latch onto me because you can’t feel good about yourselves unless someone else is dependent on you.” He planted his feet inches from Harvey and spoke very clearly and firmly: “Let. Me. Take. Care. Of. My. Self.” His blue eyes were burning. “Don’t think I can’t see how selfish you really are.”

Mike was standing his ground, basking in the impact of his hard-hitting words. But it wasn’t true. Harvey had always wanted Mike to be independent. That didn’t mean he wanted him to be alone. But could he really deny that he was selfish? It didn’t matter – Mike shouldn’t have been trying to convince himself that he didn’t need help when something inside him was screaming that he did. Regardless of Harvey’s motivations, he did want to help.

“Aren’t you going to tell me how selfish I am?”

Dissatisfied with Harvey’s response, Mike shook his head and turned to continue his march towards the subway.

Suit yourself, Harvey thought. Had it been anyone else, he would have let him walk away, but he couldn’t do it. In a moment of impulse he lunged forward and grabbed the strap of Mike’s messenger bag. Mike jolted and twisted, swinging his fist at Harvey and missing, taking him by surprise. With his grip tight around the strap, somewhere in their clumsy scuffle, the bag flew off Mike’s shoulder and landed on the sidewalk between them. Both of their eyes landed on the cellophane pouch that slipped out onto the pavement. Inside the pouch were four tiny white pills.

Harvey felt a little numb as he watched Mike scramble to pick up his bag and put the contents back inside. For a moment he thought that maybe it was too late for Mike, and that he was more troubled than Harvey had imagined. But he quickly banished that thought at the sight of Mike hunching over the bag on the sidewalk in total defeat. Mike took a moment to himself before he stood up.

Harvey waited for an explanation. There was nothing he could ask that Mike couldn’t anticipate.

“I’m not using anything.” Mike was looking across the street as a couple passed by, pretending not to notice the confrontation.

Harvey discretely breathed a sigh of relief. He believed him. “You’re dealing. Since when?” He smoothed his suit jacket down with his hands.

Mike looked at Harvey. “I’m not selling anything, either.”

Harvey tried to process this as quickly as he could, before Mike ran off again. “So it’s not for you, and it’s not for someone else…” 

“I have to go,” Mike cut in. He adjusted the strap, but he didn’t move.

“No you don’t,” Harvey said, finally seeing Mike’s exterior splinter, just a little. He wanted to be talked out of it, whatever this job was. That briefest moment of hesitation gave him away – he was letting Harvey in without admitting to it. “You don’t have to.”

“I don’t want to,” Mike admitted quietly, looking anywhere but at Harvey’s face. He exhaled. “Shit, I’m sorry I tried to hit you--”

Harvey shook his head. It didn’t matter. “Give me the pills,” he demanded. He wanted to understand what Mike was going through, but he didn’t have time to fish.

Mike looked up at him doubtfully. “If I don’t come up with rent by Monday I’m losing my apartment. I’m out of choices. You don’t understand. I can’t afford not to go.”

“You’re trading in one problem for another.” That much was certain. “Give them to me.” He extended his palm. Mike sniffed, his eyes red and glossy, though he tried to conceal it. Harvey had never seen him this close to breaking down before and it almost made him nervous.

“This isn’t your life,” Harvey told him. Surely it was what he wanted to hear. “This isn’t the person you want to be.” The longer they spoke the more Harvey understood that it didn’t matter where Mike was going. His responses told him that it was something he didn’t want to do; somewhere he didn’t want to be. And that was all Harvey needed to know. Sometimes people got themselves into dangerous positions with nobody to tell them to stop, and something told Harvey that Mike had nobody.

Harvey could see the moment that Mike physically gave up, and seconds later, he slapped the small plastic bag into his palm. Harvey closed his fingers around it.

“I guess I’m your problem, now.” Mike crossed his arms. “There’s no plan B. Just so you know.” He waited, having nothing left to do.

Harvey nodded and tried not to smile in relief. Wanting to get rid of the stuff in his hand as quickly as possible, whatever it was, he moved to the edge of the sidewalk and dropped it into the sewer.

“I’m so fucked!”

Harvey looked back at Mike. He was pacing side to side with his hands clasped around the back of his neck.

“You’re not. But despite what you might think, I didn’t come here to take care of you. That’s not what I do.” Sometimes it was exactly what he did, but he didn’t want to trample on the independence that Mike was so adamant about maintaining. “What I am willing to do is try to put your talent to good use, and maybe that means convincing you to stop wasting your time with stupid shit you’ll only live to regret.”

“I’m so tired of using your money,” Mike confessed, leaning against the brick wall behind him out of sheer exhaustion. “You’re always bailing me out. The signing bonus, the bribe, the rookie dinner–“

“Investments,” Harvey explained.

“$40,000 dollars, Harvey!” Mike’s voice was hushed so as not to draw too much attention from a few more pedestrians passing by.

“And you brought in millions. Look, I’m not going to stand here and pat you on the back and tell you everything is going to be alright. I don’t know that. But as far as your rent goes…”

Mike had a complex look of distain and hope.

“If you won’t let me hire you, consider it severance.” Harvey considered how much Mike was probably paying for his apartment, and amended: “Part of your severance. I’m assuming you didn’t receive any parting gifts, of course.”

“I had to give it all back. Everything.” Mike closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the wall.

Harvey’s stomach sank. “What do you mean?”

“I had to empty my bank account back into the company so that Jessica wouldn’t sue me for back pay.”

That was news, and Harvey had a hard time wrapping his head around it. “Jessica told you to do that?”

Mike opened his eyes and looked at Harvey. “I thought you knew.”

Well, that would explain why Mike was acting distrustful and bitter towards him. “If I knew that, don’t you think I would have done something about it?” Harvey had no idea that Jessica would put Mike in such a vulnerable position after he’d done so much for the firm, regardless of his false credentials. Didn’t she know that he had no back-up plan? A part of that was Harvey’s fault, convincing him that he didn’t need one.

“I kind of thought it was your idea.”

“Why would--?” Harvey stopped himself when a man and his Pomeranian pushed between them. “You know what… we’re not going to talk about this here.”

Mike shook his head. “But my place is—“

“Private,” Harvey finished. A part of him loved invading Mike’s space. He knew how nervous it used to make him at work to find Harvey waiting in his cubicle. He didn’t like seeing Mike sad or lonely… but nervous was different. “You’re going to fill me in on everything,” Harvey explained, “and you’re going to let me cut you a cheque, and I’m not giving you the option to refuse.”

Mike didn’t disagree, as obvious as it was that he wanted to. Maybe the bourbon had worked as a double negative in Harvey’s favour, affecting Mike’s already clouded judgement and convincing him to listen to someone who was offering a solution. It was only a financial solution, and perhaps temporary, but it was something.

They quietly walked the two blocks back to Mike’s apartment and up the stairs. He reluctantly let Harvey in, dropped his bag on the floor, and locked the door behind them.

The space was highly disorganized, but not dirty. He attributed Mike’s reluctance to Harvey’s high standards, because it wasn’t as bad as he’d initially thought. There were things covering just about every inch of surface area, and each one of those things said something about Mike. But as he turned around, examining the room, something struck him as odd: the book shelf was empty.

Mike caught him looking. “I sold them,” he explained.

Harvey looked at Mike and followed him to the kitchen table. The two chairs did not match. How did a person come across two chairs from different sets? How was that possible?

“I don’t really need them once I’m done anyway,” Mike said as he sat.

Harvey took a seat across from him. It was true that Mike was a walking library, but there was something sad about a person who loved to read and didn’t own any books.

Harvey pointed up at the wall beside them. “What’s the story with the panda?”

Mike glanced up. “No story. I saw it at a yard sale.”

That might have explained the mismatched chairs as well.

“I liked it,” said Mike. “I bought it.”

“And what’s the story with the pills in your bag?”

Mike blinked and chewed his lip.

Harvey wasn’t going to ask again. He could wait him out.

“They’re tranquilizers,” Mike finally confessed.

Harvey nodded in encouragement. “Okay. For you?” He promised himself that he wouldn’t lose his temper, regardless of the information Mike was so close to divulging.

Mike looked up. “I told you, no. I don’t take pills. Fuck, I don’t even smoke anymore. Anyway, they’re not… recreational.”

Harvey was proud of Mike for not returning to his old habit, believing that he was being truthful, but he was at a loss to the meaning of the tranquilizers in his possession, and he didn’t like that.

“So what,” Harvey began, “you’re working in an animal hospital?”

“Yeah, I wish. I mean, does it matter? I’m not going – the stuff is gone – so let’s forget about it.”

Harvey wasn’t willing to drop it, but he’d give it a little more time. “So what makes you think I’d tell Jessica to take your money.”

“I thought maybe it was a compromise, to protect me. It was better than being sued, right?”

“Mike, I didn’t even know you’d been fired until you didn’t show up for work. You earned that money. I would never take it from you.” He was insulted that Mike thought he would do something like that, let alone to neglect to discuss it in advance.

“It happened really fast,” Mike said defensively, as if realizing he’d made a poor assumption. “I didn’t know what went wrong. I still don’t know. I’m fired, Jessica has some kind of deal for me, and suddenly my bank balance is zero and I don’t hear from you. God, Harvey, you never called me…” He buried his head in his hands.

Harvey swallowed. “I called.”

Mike peeked out between his hands. “No you didn’t.”

“Yeah, I did.”

Mike appeared to think for a moment before he shoved his face back into his hands again. “Fuck, my phone. The charger melted a few weeks ago, I couldn’t get a new one right away.”

“Gobal warming,” Harvey jested. He didn’t want to know how Mike melted his charger.

Mike looked up again. “Sorry… I would have answered.”

Harvey nodded and didn’t bring up the fact that Mike hadn’t tried to contact him. But that wasn’t Mike’s job. It was Harvey’s. At first he'd told himself that there was nothing he could have said to undo Jessica’s decision, so why say anything? But seeing that Mike was hurt told him that it went beyond professional reasoning or some selfish way to exorcise his guilt. It was okay to call as a personal courtesy. He shouldn't have been looking for excuses to avoid it. He should have called again. He should have just sent the damn e-mail. He should have visited sooner. Instead, he had been too busy trying to hack off that phantom limb once and for all, because Harvey Specter didn’t get attached.

“So then what?” Harvey pressed carefully. “You needed to make some money…”

Mike propped the side of his head on his hand, looking out the window. “I couldn’t find a job. I’m almost 30 and I don’t have a resume. That’s a big red flag. Obviously I’m never setting foot in another law firm. I tried tutoring but I suck at teaching. I got a job serving tables but I got fired on my first day.”

Harvey almost smirked. “How did you manage that?”

Mike leaned back in his chair and dropped his hands in his lap. “These assholes in restaurants. They order something, change their mind, then tell me I got their order wrong. I don’t forget these things. So what if I don’t use a notepad.  I don’t have the patience for liars who waste my time, meanwhile I’m supposed to suck up, pretend like it was my fault, and then take their order out of my pay? I think not.”

Harvey could relate.

“So I called up my test guy. I didn’t want to do it,” he quickly added before Harvey could comment. “It was getting too risky…”

Harvey nodded. The “job” that Mike was on his way to must have been an exam. It would explain why he wasn’t really dressed like himself, and Harvey could understand how severe the inconvenience would have been for someone if he failed to show. But where the pills factored in, he still wasn’t sure. Stimulants he might have understood, but not tranquilizers.

“Apparently, that’s what everyone else has been thinking,” Mike continued. “Too risky. Nobody’s hiring test-takers right now, they’re finding ways to cheat on their own. I’d already maxed out my credit card to pay for my Gram’s medical expenses and buy myself food, and my shoes fell apart, and, you know, my phone broke, and my tire bust…”

Harvey struggled not to tell Mike to get to the point.

“So I’m, like… begging this guy for work.”

Harvey was struck by Mike’s honest blue eyes when he sat up straight and looked at him. Every once in a while they caught him off guard. The desperation he was recalling hadn’t left him yet – he was still right in the middle of it.

“…Telling him I’ll do it for next to nothing. But he says he doesn’t have anything. It’s a dry season. So I sold some stuff, a week goes by, and I get a call. He asks me how desperate I am; how flexible I’m willing to be. I say very.” Mike scoffed at himself and shook his head. “And very.”

Harvey looked him up and down, his stomach feeling heavy. Mike wasn’t doing anything to give himself away yet, but Harvey was beginning to understand that he wasn’t on his way to take a test.

“So he patches me through to another guy. And he’s got something for me. Three hundred dollars and I don’t even have to use my brain.”

Harvey suddenly became very aware of his own shallow breathing and realized he was grinding his teeth, so he stopped. He couldn’t unclench his jaw, though. Maybe Mike didn’t need to go on, but he had to know that he wasn’t jumping to unfair conclusions. Mike was looking at him like he needed him to say something; to interrupt. But Harvey couldn’t do that. Instead, he watched him sink back lower into his chair and duck his head. Harvey didn’t want him to feel humiliated, but he had to know for sure.

Mike crossed his arms, uncrossed them, picked at his thumbnail as he mumbled something quietly into his chest, then crossed his arms again.

“I can’t hear you,” Harvey said, honestly.

“It was only a hand-job,” Mike repeated through the faint sneer on his lips.

“For three hundred?” Harvey asked. It was a frivolous question, but it was the first thing that popped into his head, and he wanted to distract himself from all of the turmoil that was beginning to bubble up into his chest and throat. He tried to hold down a lecture. There was so much he had to say on the matter, but it was already done.

Dammit, Mike. You didn’t have to do that.

Mike nodded. “Because he wanted a natural blond and blue, and because I hadn’t done it before.”

Harvey couldn’t keep himself from wondering if Mike was referring to sex-work, or to giving a hand-job. Or both. He determined that it wasn’t relevant enough to ask. He was probably better off not knowing.

Mike’s face had turned red. He was staring bitterly out the window again. The apartment seemed very quiet all of the sudden.

“How did it go?” Harvey didn’t really want to know the details, but he was trying to show Mike that he wasn’t judging him. He obviously hadn’t spoken about it to anyone yet. Maybe it would have stayed a secret if Harvey hadn’t pushed him.

Mike’s eyes flickered up to Harvey’s, but only for a moment. “I don’t know. I remember it happening. I’ll never forget it…”

Until that moment, Harvey had never considered the drawbacks of a photographic memory.

“But it feels like it was someone else doing it.” Mike squinted a little, looking at the table as if he was trying to play back the memory in his head. “Like someone told me the story, and I can picture it, but I wasn’t really there when it happened. I remember I was thinking the whole time that I had no idea how he figured it was worth three hundred dollars. I didn’t do that much – I just wanted to get it over with. I mean, couldn’t he just jerk off?”

Harvey was glad to hear that Mike hadn’t put much into it. Some stranger with money should never have had the satisfaction of anything more than going through the motions. Harvey knew guys like this. They couldn’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and when their paid companions were emotionally indulgent, it only removed them even further from reality. Harvey was sickened by the whole thing. Paying a human being to use their body for sexual gratification was a line that he absolutely did not care to cross.

“He tipped me $40 after anyway.”

Harvey rubbed his eyes. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked. It was only making him angry. “And the pills?” That, he did want to know about.

Mike exhaled deeply. “He wanted me to come back. I said no. I didn’t want to do it again, with him or with anyone.”

“Good,” Harvey caught himself saying.

“But then my landlord was getting on my ass about the rent…”

Poor choice of words, Mike.

“He’s already given me a two-week extension. I thought I could come up with another way to make the money, but I couldn’t figure anything out. I was still $600 short. So I sent a message down the vine that I needed $600. He said he’d give me seven. But he wanted—“ Mike stopped himself for a moment. “Everything.”

Harvey had to lean across the table to hear Mike as his voice had progressively decreased in volume. He was worth more than $700, especially if he’d never been fucked by another man… which still wasn’t exactly clear and, Harvey reminded himself, not important. Although Harvey had never and would never pay someone for sex on principal, he wouldn’t have offered someone like Mike less than $10,000 for the whole package. Hypothetically.

“But you didn’t do it,” Harvey pressed hopefully. He didn’t want to pose it as a question because he was only willing to receive one answer.

Mike looked at Harvey apprehensively for a few seconds, then shook his head. “No. But I said that I would. I bought some rohypnol. It’s cheap.”

Harvey sat back and exhaled. The fog had cleared and Mike had finally given him what he wanted to know. Mike had planned to drug his client and steal his money. If Harvey had waited ten minutes longer to see him, that’s exactly what he’d be attempting to do.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Mike snapped, but Harvey didn’t know how he was looking at him. “If you met this guy, you wouldn’t feel bad for him.”

Harvey opened his mouth to object, but Mike continued:

“You should have heard the shit he was saying to me.” He looked like he was about to list off some key phrases but decided against it, thankfully, and shook his head. “He’s a good-looking guy. There’s a reason why he can’t get people to fuck him for free.”

The physical discomfort Harvey was experiencing by Mike’s words was becoming unbearable. He reminded himself that he’d asked to hear it, but still, he had to stand up and shake off the feeling. He ran a hand through his hair, collecting his thoughts as he walked across the apartment and back. “What do you think would have happened if he caught you? Or if the rohypnol didn’t work?”

“It wasn’t an impulse purchase, Harvey, I looked it up. I thought this through.” He was sufficiently audible again.

“Mhm. And when he woke up? Then what?” Harvey was pacing. He planted a hand on the back of his chair and held himself still. The apartment suddenly felt unbearably small.

“He doesn’t have my real name and neither does the guy my friend sent me to. And anyway, he’d risk incriminating himself if he reported me.”

“Which is exactly what these guys count on when they assault prostitutes.” He clasped both hands on the back of the chair to keep himself from walking over and shaking Mike like crazy. “It’s illegal, Mike. Prostitution is illegal. I’m not saying that it should be, but it is. You have just as little protection as he does if something goes wrong, and believe me, if you kept this up, sooner or later, something would go wrong. You think these guys aren’t paranoid about being ripped off? Think again.”

“It’s not even like that, Harvey, I’m not a prostitute. I never planned to keep anything up. Jesus, how can you even—“

“Open your eyes. Look at yourself. You’re hooking. You’re buying roofies. You’re ordering four shots of bourbon just to get you through the afternoon.”

“This is one day out of my entire screwed up life!” Mike looked hurt and desperate. “Give me a break.”

“You’re--!” Harvey stopped himself and breathed through it. He wouldn’t judge. He wouldn’t lecture.

“Harvey.” Mike stood and walked around the table and rested his hand on the same chair back that Harvey was gripping. “I had no choice. I was out of options.”

Didn’t Mike know that Harvey was always an option? Didn’t he know he could have asked him for help?

“What was I supposed to do?” Mike continued. “Accept that tomorrow I’d be living in a shelter, or try to take things into my own hands?”

Another poor choice of words, Mike.

“Take control right now and tell me you’ll work for me.” Harvey needed to put the past four weeks into the past as quickly as possible. “With me. Whatever you want to call it. A mind like yours is a terrible thing to waste, and I mean that.” But quite honestly, so was his body. Too bad there was no job that seemed to demand equal commitment of both. And he hated Mike for making him think that way, as fleeting as those thoughts were. “Understand that I’m asking you for help. I’m not here to do you a favour. I didn’t know you were in trouble when I came here today.” That was just a feeling.

Suddenly Harvey realized how close they were standing. He sat down in his chair again, and Mike eventually did the same opposite the table.

“I don’t feel right about this,” Mike said.

Harvey laughed. He couldn’t help it. “But you feel right about drugging someone and stealing his money?”

“No, but it would be easier.”

Mike was full of surprises today, and Harvey was realizing that he understood less about him than he thought.

“Why?”

“Because I would actually be doing something, and he’s got it coming to him. You come here and offer me money, but you’re really not giving me anything to do. Where’s this case you want me to help you with? You didn’t bring anything. What the hell am I supposed to do from my apartment? No offense, Harvey, I know it comes from a good place, but you’re delusional if you think this can work. I don’t want your financial support out of some twisted sense of obligation…”

Well, he nailed it. Harvey bit his tongue.

“…I want to earn a living.”

“And that includes stealing?”

“I put a lot of prep work into that.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“What do you want me to do?”

Harvey swallowed and drew a circle on the table with his finger before laying his hand flat on the surface. Something was going on. He didn’t like what Mike was doing. Maybe he wasn’t doing anything at all, but Harvey still didn’t like it. At least, he told himself not to.

“I need money, today.” Mike seemed confident, but there was a contradiction in what he was saying.

Harvey raised an eyebrow. “I’m offering it to you. Right now.”

“That should tell you how shitty I feel about taking it from you. Over and over again.” Mike glared at Harvey. “I’d borrow it if I thought I could pay it back, but I don’t think I can. It would be a lot easier for me to accept it if you let me do something for you.”

Harvey took a few measured breaths. “I didn’t bring any files with me.” Harvey reached inside his jacket and withdrew a pen and chequebook. “But I’m going to give you an advance. And you’re going to take it, because you don’t really have a choice.” He touched his pen to the cheque…

“I could still go. I could still do it.”

Harvey looked up at Mike and saw a little boy threatening to run away from home if he didn’t get what he wanted. He couldn’t be serious. “I just threw your strategy into the sewer.”

“There’s a chance the roofies wouldn’t have worked out anyway. I was prepared for that.”

Harvey tapped his pen against the cheque book. There was no way he would let Mike go. It was an empty threat, but it bothered him that Mike knew how much it got to him. And it really got to him.

“How much do you need?” Harvey asked. “Not just bare bones, but how much do you need to get back on track?”

“Do you think I’m attractive?”

“Is ten grand a good place to start?” Harvey deliberately ignored Mike’s question and began to fill in the cheque with a hand that was not as steady as he would have liked. It was about time he got out of there. “How much have you had to drink today?” Harvey asked passively as he signed his name.

“Yes or no?”

Mike didn’t honestly seem that drunk, but he did seem strangely at ease all of the sudden, now that the anger was gone. He could have been discussing traffic or weather, with the faintest look of wide-eyed expectation that Harvey was so accustomed to seeing on his face.

Harvey tore the cheque out from the book and slid it across the table. “Black isn’t your colour.” It really wasn’t.

As much as Harvey should have seen it coming, he didn’t. Mike, without missing a beat, lifted the black t-shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. That would have been Harvey’s cue to get up and walk away, but all he could do was try to keep breathing. He was worried about Mike’s state of mind. That didn’t necessarily mean he needed to stay, but he managed to justify it. He couldn’t remember what colour Mike’s pants were. Blue jeans most likely. Or were they black? He wouldn’t allow himself to move his eyes to any part of Mike’s body but his face.

“What is it that you think you’re doing?” Harvey looked at the brick wall outside the window when Mike didn’t respond. “Put your shirt back on. Take the damn cheque.”

“You do want to take care of me,” Mike observed, challenging what Harvey had told him earlier.

Harvey didn’t want to take care of Mike. He just wanted to take him.

“I want to do what’s right,” Harvey specified sternly.

“I think you want to do what’s wrong. Otherwise you would have walked out the door by now.”

A hot chill ran through his limbs. Harvey wanted to deny it, but he didn’t want to lie, so he said nothing while another opportunity to walk out slipped past him. There was no end to the wrong that he wanted to do.

“Haven’t you ever thought about it?” Mike’s voice had grown a little deeper with Harvey’s discomfort feeding his confidence. Mike sounded like he knew what he wanted, and Harvey knew exactly what he was referring to. He thought about it almost every time he looked at him, and even more when he wasn’t around. There was something about the warm daylight that made this conversation more difficult than it could have been in the dark.

“If you’ve thought about it – about us,” said Mike, “say nothing.”

Harvey blinked, trying to think of something to say – a diplomatic and honest way to deny what he wanted – but nothing came to mind. At least he knew his stone cold gaze was unfaltered. The last thing he wanted was for Mike to see him scrambling. If he was going to give himself away, he might as well have looked like his silence was purposeful.

Mike seemed to shed a little more tension at Harvey’s lack of response. “I know you think I’m kind of fucked up right now. I am, but I’m thinking clearly. I know what I’m doing.”

“And what are you doing?” It was the second time he was asking, and again, Mike would not, or could not, respond. “I thought so.” Harvey shook his head. “I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but I don’t see why this is coming up now.” It was more of a surprise than he was willing to let on. He knew that Mike respected him, and maybe even liked him sometimes, but had written off any small signs of sexual attraction as misconstrued professional appreciation. A part of him was saying that this was the wrong time… but would there ever have been a right time?

“I don’t work for you anymore.”

Mike had a point. If Harvey hadn’t hired Mike the day they met, he probably would have tried to get him into a room at the hotel. The second Mike started to quote from the BarBri Legal Handbook, he knew he had to have him in some capacity. Once they were already working together, it was too late for sex. It had never been a possibility while Mike was his associate, and this was the first time he’d seen him since he’d been fired. But Harvey wasn’t sure that Mike wanted what he thought he did. No doubt something about him had been jolted by what he’d done to make some cash. It had obviously affected him profoundly, and Mike may not have been able to see himself clearly enough to know it.

Mike’s knee gently bumped Harvey’s under the table, prompting him to stand again and move to the kitchen counter. Once he was up he realized it might have been wiser to keep his hips under the table before his body betrayed him and revealed his arousal. He turned to the sink so that he couldn’t see Mike’s toned shoulders or the bed behind him, found one of two glasses on the shelf above, and poured himself some water. Not exactly trusting the cloudy liquid, he didn’t drink it.

“Talk to me when you’ve got your life together,” Harvey said to the glass, unable to shut down the advance completely. He’d wanted it for so long that he couldn’t entirely deny him.

When Harvey heard a phone vibrating he checked his pocket, then realized it was Mike’s. He looked back and saw Mike examining the number on the phone’s display.

“Don’t answer it,” Harvey said quickly. He could read who it was on Mike’s face.

Mike’s eyes darted up to Harvey’s. He answered the call. Harvey rolled his eyes.

“Yeah.” Mike rubbed the back of his neck. “Tell him he can jerk off. I’m not going.” He hung up and dropped the phone on the table, awaiting Harvey’s approval.

“That’s a start,” Harvey told him. It was a relief knowing that, having cut off the other option completely, Mike had to accept his payment. “Now take the cheque. Put your shirt on. Go to the bank and deposit the money. Call me next week when you’re sober and ready to work.” He poured the lukewarm water down the drain. Slowly.

“I’m sober now,” Mike asserted. “I had two shots. So did you. Big deal. What do I have to do to convince you that I know what I’m doing? I want to fuck you, so I must be crazy? I know you want the same thing, and you’re pretty much sane, right?”

Harvey opened his mouth and prayed that something responsible would come out before the words I want to fuck you resonated too deeply. “I’m not saying you’re crazy, but if I was saying that, it’s because you had sex with a stranger for money, and now you don’t want me to pay you unless it’s for sex.”

“I didn’t have sex with him,” Mike stated firmly.

“You put your hand on his dick and got him off. I don’t know what you call that – maybe you call it cuddling – but I call it sex.” It struck him that Mike didn’t deny wanting to be paid for his body. “And I don’t hire bodies. I hire brains. And I don’t sleep with employees or co-workers.” That was set in stone.

“I’m not your employee today,” Mike pointed out again. “Not until I take your money.”

Harvey shook his head. Mike was trying to back him into some kind of corner and he didn’t have time for these antics. It wasn’t a conversation he was prepared for. The problem was that Mike was actually winning this ridiculous debate.

Harvey moved to pick up the shirt off the ground and hand it to Mike, but when Mike took the shirt from his hand their fingers grazed and, before Harvey knew what had happened, his hand was cupping Mike’s cheek. He wasn’t sure how long he had been standing there like that before he realized what he’d done.

Fuck.

“Don’t you want to?” Mike was staring up at him with those hopeful, expressive eyes that he could barely ever stand to look at for more than a few seconds without drowning. His pink lips were parted just a little, pleading for attention. He imagined pressing his thumb between those lips and it took everything in his power to resist. Mike knew exactly what he was doing.

Of course Harvey wanted to.

“I don’t think you know what you want,” Harvey explained, masterfully avoiding the question, although the answer was already obvious. He discretely stroked Mike’s cheek with his thumb as he moved his hand away. His palm instantly longed to reconnect with the warmth of Mike’s skin. Even if he could walk away right then, he knew that something had irrevocably changed between them with that touch.

“You have no idea what I want.” Mike moved his hand to Harvey’s belt. “I know you want to take care of me. That’s why you came here. So then do it. I’ll let you take care of me. And yourself.”

“I thought you didn’t want me to take care of you.” Harvey breathed deeply as he watched Mike turn his attention to the belt, unbuckling it. And he let him do it.

“I don’t want your money,” Mike clarified. “Unfortunately it’s a necessity, but it’s not why you’re here. And like I said, I’m your problem now. That was your choice. So deal with me.”

“I know this isn’t about me,” Harvey breathed as his belt flipped open. He couldn’t believe that Mike was twisting their conversation to make it sound irresponsible of Harvey not to fuck him. “This is about the john, isn’t it?”

“It’s not about either of you. This is about me.” Mike pressed his face against Harvey’s abdomen and, instinctively, Harvey brought a hand to the back of his head.

God… it felt right.

“You need this as much as I do,” Mike said, looking up at Harvey again.

Harvey exhaled deeply and tried to collect himself. “I don’t ‘need’ anything.” Harvey drew his hand away from Mike’s soft hair. He didn’t appreciate that his attraction, which he had worked quite hard to keep discrete, was so obvious to the younger man. Mike saw right through him, and somehow Harvey hadn’t seen that the attraction was mutual. There was no way he should have missed it. So the only explanation was that this was new for Mike, which meant he couldn’t trust it. He pushed Mike back at the shoulder and did his belt buckle up again. Immediately, the other set of hands moved to push his away in order to undo his belt once more. Harvey caught his wrists and met his eyes.

“You don’t know what you’re doing.” Mike’s pulse ran strong beneath his fingertips.

“I’m doing what you don’t have the balls to do yourself,” Mike hissed. His blue eyes were burning.

That just about did it. He was beyond words at that point. If Mike wanted to push and push, Harvey could only deflect so many times before he pushed back. So he did. Even if only to call Mike’s bluff.

Mike blinked and attempted to conceal his apparent shock when Harvey leaned in and pinned his shoulders against the window frame. The plant behind him teetered in its pot on the sill. It was the only sound in the room. Neither one of them were breathing. Mike’s fingers grasped at the table to keep from slipping, not that Harvey’s strong hands gave him that option. He saw Mike’s throat contract as he swallowed nervously. It was only a small victory, challenging that abrasive confidence, but a victory nonetheless.

“You’ve got no right,” Harvey explained, slow and steady. “Don’t tell me what I’m capable of.”

Don’t tempt me, Mike, or you’ll find out.

Mike took a few breaths. “Then show me. Give me something, Harvey.”

Harvey looked down at the bare, muscled shoulders under his hands and was reminded that Mike was a grown man – not a boy. He wasn’t as fragile as he seemed at times. “What the hell is it that you’re looking for?”

“Anything,” Mike breathed. “Fuck me, hit me, I don’t care. Just make me feel it.” Mike’s legs hooked around the back of Harvey’s, and the stakes went up. “I need to feel something.” His eyes were wide and dark with need.

“Don’t think I’m not willing to do either of those things,” Harvey warned. Both had occurred to him in the past half hour – neither realistically, but now that Mike was begging for it…

Christ. He had to get himself under control.

“If I don’t get this from you, I’ll find someone else,” Mike threatened, tightening his legs around Harvey’s. “But I don’t want someone else.”

Harvey ached. He hadn’t particularly wanted anyone else in a long time, either, but he was torn. Yes, Mike was a grown man, but he was also emotionally unstable. Clearly dissociation was a real problem for him. Mike had worked so hard to distance himself from what he’d done for some money and what he was about to do before Harvey showed up that he couldn’t come back to himself. Harvey could see it because he knew exactly what it was like. The same thing happened to him when he had to defend someone he knew was objectively in the wrong. Sometimes he was on the wrong side, and he knew it, but it was his job to be the best. Afterwards he always needed to find some way to plug his soul back into his body; come back into contact with himself after putting his truths aside for the job. Personally, Harvey usually opted for the shooting range or the treadmill rather than fucking his boss when he needed to cope.

It wasn’t easy, but Harvey released Mike’s shoulders and stepped back. “I’ll pay for therapy if you need it, but that’s not my job.” He moved quickly across the apartment towards the door, ready to congratulate himself for being a responsible adult…

“I don’t want you to pay for anything!” Mike called after him when his hand touched the doorknob. “I just want you to be the selfish, inconsiderate asshole you normally are. Why is that so hard for you all of the sudden?”

Harvey heard Mike’s chair scrape against the floor, signalling that he was on his feet, which prompted the impulse to knock him back down again. Harvey inadvertently switched to auto-pilot, circled around the couch and returned to the kitchenette.

“Fine,” Harvey resigned, refusing to address the question which, while rhetorical, was valid. He’d had enough of being the good guy when Mike’s efforts to insult him were so relentless. “I didn’t want to do this with money on the table, but if you really want me to treat you like an object, I will.” Harvey stepped up to Mike, reached down and worked his fingers roughly at the fastening of his jeans as they stood nose-to-nose.

The acceptance in Mike’s expression as Harvey unzipped his pants was unbelievable, responding only by closing his eyes. It angered Harvey, who’d expected him to back off when the reality kicked in. He wanted to snap him out of it; to show him that there was no good in being used. He just wished that it didn’t turn him on so much. He didn’t want to admit that there was a very slim chance that Mike was right about everything; that this really was what they both needed.

The warmth of Mike’s half-naked body, so willing to be abused, was overwhelming. Apparently Mike had meant the things he said, and Harvey wasn’t prepared to stop himself. Harvey slipped his hand around the back of Mike’s neck and pushed him towards the sink before while he still had enough self-control to hold off from completely indulging in the flesh he’d been silently craving for months. Mike stood there leaning against the sink, his open jeans threatening to slip from his waist, as he waited for more contact. The muscles behind his shoulder blades flexed and shifted as he breathed deeply and quietly, and oh fuck… this was really going to happen.

Harvey watched him. The lust in his veins stung like poison. He had come to the apartment as a provider, a friend and a mentor, but now all he wanted to do was take back what belonged to him by any means… and Mike was asking – no, demanding – to be taken. He’d spun out of control without supervision and needed to find his place again. Mike trusted Harvey to bring him back. It wasn’t really about the money, and Harvey was out of arguments.

At least when things went sour, just like things always did, he could tell himself that he’d tried.

Harvey stepped up behind Mike and slipped the jeans over his waist, which fell effortlessly around his ankles. He dragged his fingernails across the waistband of his briefs in a daze, pulling their hips together. He’d imagined doing it so many times, but he never imagined that it would be so easy. There was no subtle, ongoing suggestion. There was no seduction. No guessing game. Mike was simply laying it out for Harvey to claim.

The feeling of Mike’s smooth, taut flesh was almost familiar as he ran his hand from the base of his neck to the small of his back, as if he’d already done it a hundred times before. Perhaps it was Mike’s hunger for any and all sensation that alleviated Harvey of any particular expectations. He felt he could do anything, but he wasn’t sure he trusted that feeling yet.

Testing Mike’s willingness to be used the way he claimed to want to be, Harvey wrenched his arms around his back and held them there with a stiff grip. Mike made not a fraction of an effort to release himself, a small hum of surprise being his only reaction. It wasn’t as if Harvey wanted to be fought off, but he wasn’t used to having such a docile partner. The young man in his arms, so full of trust, was just a toy waiting for Harvey to wind him up.

“You wanna do this or not?” Mike looked back over his shoulder with a strange, weary lust swimming in his eyes.

“Shut up.” Harvey realized he’d taken too much time to stare and think. He tightened his grip on Mike’s forearms and pressed the length of their bodies together. “You asked me to be selfish. That’s what you’re getting.” He touched his nose behind Mike’s ear, nudging his head forward again, and ran his lips along his hairline, down the side of his neck where he parted his lips and tasted his skin for the first time.

Mike moaned softly and gratefully, and pushed his hips back. Harvey had taken a dangerous leap in speaking to him that way, but the soft noise and eager arch in Mike’s spine signalled his approval.

Anything, I promise, I’ll do it… anything you want…” Mike whispered distantly.

A powerful excitement caught Harvey off-guard when he realized that Mike Ross was finally going to do as he was told. As Harvey dragged his tongue across Mike’s neck, eliciting a shaken sigh, he couldn’t even remember why he would ever have tried to refuse him. Suddenly, he could only process what was right in front of him: a talented, gorgeous, desperate, half-naked young man with sweet, warm skin, begging to be used. He said he would do anything, but since he’d given Harvey permission to take all he pleased…

“What choice have you got?”

Mike whispered something incoherently that sounded a little like: “Thank you.”

Harvey released Mike’s arms to let his hands roam across the body in front of him, taking in as much as he could, his palms committing the texture of his skin to memory. He pressed his shoulders forward, bending him over the sink, amazed by the ease of it. Every time he saw Mike leaning over a table or desk at work he struggled against the impulse to bend him over it and fuck his heart into his throat. Of course, that would never happen, but this was happening and it wasn’t happening fast enough. Harvey ran his hands down Mike’s back and hooked his fingers inside the snug cotton briefs, slipping them down over his knees with no resistance. Mike began to work his shoes and pants off with his feet as Harvey brought his hands back up his thighs, squeezing his ass when he arrived there, then continued sliding this fingers all the way back up to his neck again.  The throat beneath his touch contracted when he took it into his grip, pulling him upright again, bringing Mike’s entirely nude body up against his suit.

The growing bulge in Harvey’s pants nudged against Mike’s ass, prompting them both to instinctively push against each other with rough impatience. Harvey reached down to squeeze a handful of the smooth flesh pressing back against him, imagining what it would feel like to sink himself deep inside that warm, pleading body. He wondered, as he so often did, how Mike would like to be fucked, and what would get him off the hardest. What would make him scream? Beg? What would make him cry? Then Harvey realized that, for once, there was absolutely nothing stopping him from finding out.

Mike’s throat vibrated against Harvey’s palm with a moan, and Harvey’s cock pulsed and strained against the restrictive clothing in response. Up until then he’d maintained his composure to a respectable degree, but his physical impulses were coming too quickly now to hold back. He wrapped his free arm around Mike’s waist and pulled him in tight, grinding against his ass and pressing his lips and tongue to his neck.

Mike began sighing and gasping, waking up in Harvey’s arms. Harvey was relieved. He didn’t want to fuck a doll.

“Do you like this?” Harvey bit down gently on Mike’s ear lobe, stroking his throat with his thumb.

Mike swallowed hard and took Harvey’s free hand from his waist, guiding it downward until it landed on his erection. That answered the question.

“Good.” Harvey squeezed, and then smiled against Mike’s hair when he was rewarded by a deeply satisfied moan.

A genuine enjoyment rose up in Harvey, surpassing the strange mixture of experimentation and duty, which lingered now only vaguely, somewhere beneath his half grin. He worked his fingers around the slick tip of Mike’s eager, leaking cock for a minute, grinding up against him the whole time. He loved the way Mike felt in his hand, and he was responding so beautifully to every touch that Harvey became lost in the rhythm, wondering if he would come in his pants before he could convince himself to move away.

Mike’s soft moans quieted. A half minute later he coughed, which was when Harvey realized he was gripping his throat too tightly. Immediately, he released Mike from his clutch. Before he could move away completely, Mike’s hands reached back and hooked into the pockets of his suit jacket, pulling him back in.

“It’s good,” Mike assured him, tipping his head back against Harvey’s shoulder with his eyes closed. “I like that. I want that.”

Harvey bit down on his lip, heart racing in nervous excitement, continuing the contact but half-wishing he knew how to stop. He slipped his hands around Mike’s waist and ran them up across his chest. With his face buried in Mike’s hair, he rolled a small, firm nipple between his fingers and pinched him experimentally, to the point that he knew it would hurt.

Uh-huh,” Mike whined, bringing a hand back behind Harvey’s neck. He shivered against Harvey’s chest.

Harvey relaxed his fingers and pressed his forehead to Mike’s shoulder, somewhat conflicted. He didn’t like to hurt people, but he wanted to make Mike sigh and shiver like that again. With every hum of approval, Harvey became more confident that he wasn’t going to break Mike if he let himself go. He moved his mouth to his boy’s shoulder, kissed him, and drew back his lips to drive his teeth down against the flesh. Mike cried out and dug his fingers into Harvey’s scalp, holding him in close. Encouraged by the response, Harvey moved his hand to the other nipple and twisted hard, teeth still embedded in his shoulder.

“Fucking yes, oh fuck,” Mike ground out between his teeth.

Harvey released him and leaned back, steadying both of them with his hands on Mike’s hips. Mike had fallen forward against the counter again, his back expanding with deep breaths. He looked down at the red marks on Mike’s shoulder and listened to him panting softly. Trying to clear his mind, Harvey let his head fall back and closed his eyes, breathing deeply the way Mike was. It was no use. The final thread of reason and restraint he’d been hanging on to could no longer bear the weight of his overwhelming need. When it finally snapped, he leaned in to devour Mike’s neck with his teeth, lips and tongue, occasionally nipping at his earlobe and nuzzling his hair. Harvey had to have him, and that was all that was going through his head. He released Mike’s hips to finish opening his belt, undid his fly, and slid his pants and briefs a few inches down his hips, but only as much as necessary. He took the comfort of Mike’s body into his arms and pressed his aching cock up against his ass.  

Mike groaned and immediately began to rock back against him. Harvey responded with rough, firm thrusts on the torturous verge of penetrating him, leaning back to watch as he slid up and down the crease of Mike’s ass. In the diffused afternoon light, Mike was entirely on display for him. On the other hand, save for a little adjusting, Harvey was still wearing all his clothes. He loved how exposed Mike seemed by contrast; how shameless and helpless and needy he was. He loved that need so much that he was almost reluctant to satisfy it.

Harvey half-watched as Mike reached frantically up to the top of the microwave, knocking over a couple of cans before he found a bottle of vegetable oil. He popped the lid off with his thumb and handed it back to Harvey.

Harvey took it, glad they were on the same page, and poured himself a handful of the oil. He swiped his palm down the centre of Mike’s ass, reaching under to massage his balls for a few seconds, before he slid his fingers back up and pressed two of them inside his body.

Mike shuddered and exhaled loudly, seizing tightly around the fingers after only an inch or two.

“Let go,” Harvey instructed, pressing his fingers deeper. When Mike wouldn’t relax the surprisingly tight muscle around his fingers, he moved his dry hand under a thigh and pulled Mike’s leg up, propping his knee against the countertop and pinning it there with the weight of their bodies. “Let go,” he repeated against his ear, leaning into him, doing whatever he could to make him open up.

Mike reached across the sink to hang onto the taps. “I’m trying,” he rattled out over a shaken sigh. His toes curled against the knob of a drawer underneath the counter, trying to keep his leg where Harvey put it. It was one of those times that Harvey could justify giving him credit for trying.

Harvey pulled his fingers out and brought his hand down on Mike’s ass with a wet smack, which was met with a sharp cry. God, he loved that sound, but his hand had a mind of its own and had already worked its way back into the crease of Mike’s ass, nudging the hole with his fingertips until the warmth of his body encased them again. Even if he wanted to fuck Mike before loosening him up, it wouldn’t have lasted. He was incredibly soft and smooth inside but felt even tighter now, which shouldn’t have been possible. The muscles in his back and shoulders had tensed visibly. A massage at this point was out of the question.

“Tell me you’ve been fucked in the ass before,” Harvey thought out loud. He leaned over Mike’s torso, and licked the back of his neck, tasting the sweat that was beginning to rise to his skin.

“I’ve been fucked in the ass before,” Mike echoed into the sink, but Harvey didn’t know if he was telling the truth or just repeating back the information he’d requested. Regardless, he pressed his fingers in to the base. Mike could take it. He’d made it clear that he was ready for everything.

When Harvey reached around to give Mike’s cock some attention, however, he found that his arousal was diminishing. He sensed that his moment of hesitation was noticed by Mike, so before he had a chance to respond to it, Harvey slid his arm under his chest and yanked him upright again. He dislodged his fingers from Mike’s body and his knee from the counter as he pulled Mike around to face him.

Mike’s eyes were heavy, lips parted, cheeks deliciously flushed. He was staring at Harvey and the eye contact was unbearable. Though cloaked with genuine arousal, there was too much pain and uncertainty there. Even though those feelings weren’t directed at him, Harvey avoided the gaze by dropping his eyes to Mike’s semi-erect cock and his body followed. He found himself on his knees before he planned to be there.

Harvey wrapped his slippery hand around Mike and began to stroke him. Mike was shifting, his hips jerking, so Harvey moved an arm around the small of his back to keep him still. He watched as Mike grew completely hard again under his touch – it didn’t take long. He drank in the sight and scent of him until he absolutely couldn’t help but taste him as well. Holding him still with both hands, Harvey slid his lips over the silky head and swiped his tongue over the tiny, wet crease. His mouth began to water instantly, and he dropped his mouth further down Mike’s shaft.

“It’s too good, stop, Harvey.” Mike was using his grown-up voice, but Harvey didn’t care. “Please, I can’t –“ Mike cut off his own protest when his throat closed around a silent gasp, raking his fingers through Harvey’s hair.

Harvey ignored Mike’s plea and, with one arm still steady behind his back, he moved his still-slick fingers between Mike’s hard thighs – cyclist’s thighs, he noted – and worked one back into his body again. The shaky knees on either side of him opened just a little bit. This time, with his lips and tongue at work, Mike stayed hard. He was still protesting (now in a slightly higher pitch), but not because he didn’t like it or didn’t want it. Harvey closed his eyes and worked a second finger into Mike’s body, pressing deep, circling his tongue around his swollen head the whole time. One hand disappeared from his hair as the other began to tremble.

“Don’t make me come yet,” Mike half begged, half ordered. The hand that had been stroking his hair began tugging with a sincere desperation to the point that Harvey had to pull his mouth away with a wet smack. He grabbed the protesting hand and held it fast against the cabinet, never doubting for a second that Mike was getting exactly what he wanted out of this. He wished he had more hands because the squirming was difficult to manage, though the fingers inside his body seemed to lend a tentative steadiness. Harvey heard some dishes rattling in the rack above as he skimmed his tongue down to the base of Mike’s cock. He’d already given up on trying to keep his face clean, and poured his efforts into feeding Mike’s arousal until he was dying to get him off right then. He couldn’t understand why Mike would resist.

When Mike begged him to stop again, he couldn’t help but imagine how this would play out in court if it was someone else. Between the alcohol, emotional disturbance, financial coercion, position of authority and the word “stop”, consent would probably be the biggest issue. But he was allowed to get away with it, and he fucking loved that.

Harvey enjoyed a long lap of his tongue inside Mike’s hip bone as he increased the speed and pressure of his fingers, bending them a little to find that sweet spot…

That was when he felt the blade on his throat. He didn’t know what it was until it slid a fraction of an inch across his skin, biting at him.

He moved his mouth away from Mike’s body and froze, his eyes darting up to meet Mike’s. The younger man was panting heavily.

“What is this?” It was the same tone he would use when faced with a ridiculous settlement offer. He knew what it was. He just couldn’t grasp it.

Mike blinked but didn’t respond, though Harvey didn’t really expect an answer. He withdrew his fingers to snatch the knife away (which was thankfully resigned without struggle) but his grip never left Mike’s wrist, even as he stood. His nervousness about having a blade against his throat mingled indefinably with his arousal in a strange, electric pleasure. Based on the erection pressed against his abdomen, that was probably the point.

Mike licked his lips and dug his fingers into the flesh of Harvey’s ass with his free hand, compressing their naked groins between them as if no interruption had occurred.

Harvey was an inch from tossing the knife out of reach and giving a lecture when suddenly he was overcome by how grateful he was that Mike was with him and not… well, anyone else. The boy was too trusting of people, and sooner or later that was going to come back to bite him. Maybe he shouldn’t have even trusted Harvey, although Harvey had spent so much time convincing him that he was trustworthy that he couldn’t scold him for it now. But what exactly did Mike trust him to do?

“Turn around,” Harvey instructed. He let go of Mike, switched the knife into his dry hand, and brought it under Mike’s chin once they were back-to-chest again. Harvey tipped Mike’s head back with the encouragement of the tool. “Scary, isn’t it?” He didn’t really want to scare or hurt him, but keep him present and alert. Surely he wouldn’t notice or care much that it was only the dull side pressed against his skin.

“Do it,” Mike breathed. “Fuck me. Like this.”

A flare of arousal ran screaming from his head to his toes. Harvey gave himself two and a half seconds to come to terms with the fact that he was about to fuck Mike Ross at knifepoint with a cheque for $10,000 on the table three feet away. Had it been a dream, it would have been a perfectly reasonable metaphor for their working relationship. But they no longer had a working relationship, it wasn’t a dream, and Mike was still asking, more or less, to be pinched.

“Put your hands on the counter,” Harvey instructed. Mike did as he was told, no questions asked. If only it were always that easy. Perhaps it was a matter of incentive. Harvey positioned himself behind his eager boy and pressed the dull side of the knife a little harder against his throat, feeling him swallow under the blade. “Don’t let go,” he added, not completely trusting that Mike wouldn’t accidentally harm himself if he made any sudden movements. Harvey was driving and he didn’t want Mike grabbing the wheel.

“Okay,” Mike whispered, smart enough not to nod his head in his current position.

Harvey quickly snatched the near-empty bottle of vegetable oil again, emptied it over Mike’s ass, and dropped the bottle to the floor. He guided himself with his hand, pressing his aching tip against Mike’s hole. Even slathered with oil, it took an unexpected amount of pressure to breach him. When the resistance finally subsided, Harvey turned to liquid, pouring his body over, around and into Mike’s, consuming him entirely.

Mike gave a sharp, hard groan behind closed lips and a tremor ran through his body from top to bottom. Harvey could feel it resonating against his own body as they melted together. He tried to remember to keep a steady hand on the knife as he slowly drew himself out a little before easing back in. The pull of Mike’s snug body reached all the way up into his brain. This time when he reached around to touch his boy, he was rock-hard.

“Good.” If Harvey’s approval turned Mike on, it excited Harvey on twice as much to give it to him.

Harvey was vaguely conscious that he wasn’t wearing a condom, but he knew for a fact that he was clean and he trusted Mike, assuming that he would have stopped him if there was any likely risk on his end. But for now he was endlessly grateful for flesh-on-flesh. The clothing separating them only amplified the raw sensation of being inside Mike’s body. It baffled him that there was so much pleasure here residing between them, all this time, and only now had they chosen to indulge in it. He couldn’t tolerate the idea that someone else could take this from him, because nobody else would ever appreciate Mike the way he did. Nobody else shared their bond. Nobody else deserved him the way Harvey did. For better or worse, they had earned each other.

Harvey took Mike’s ear between his teeth and tugged gently as his hips found a strong and steady rhythm. It wasn’t long before Mike released his clenched jaw and a stream of moans and whines emptied from his lips, punctuated with each thrust.

Harvey noticed when Mike released the counter with one hand, and quickly caught his wrist, putting it back where he’d instructed him to keep it.

“Do what I tell you,” Harvey growled. It was for his own safety… and a little because it excited the fuck out of Harvey. He moved his hand back to Mike’s cock and pressed his lips to his neck.

You don’t have to think or choose or try right now. I’ve got it. I’m taking care of it.

“Harder,” Mike choked.

Harvey complied and heard Mike’s fist bang down on the countertop. He squeezed his eyes shut, sweat beading at his temples, as he drove himself inside again and again. Mike’s hips rocked to meet him with every thrust, crying out each time, aggressively increasing the tempo until Harvey knew he couldn’t last much longer. He carefully moved the knife down across Mike’s chest, protective of the tender flesh beneath his chin.

With his eyes closed, Harvey didn’t notice when Mike’s second attempt to grab the knife was successful. By the time he felt Mike’s fingers cover his, he had already dragged the blade across his chest. Harvey didn’t realize that in moving it down from throat to chest that he’d rotated his wrist and pressed the sharpened edge to Mike’s skin. When he saw a thin red glaze on the metal, he dropped it into the sink and dragged Mike’s hands behind his back, still buried deep inside him. There was too much going inside his body to decipher the most appropriate response to Mike’s self-destructive streak, so he said nothing. It was obvious that Mike was still trying to get Harvey upset with him, so he made a deliberate effort not to be. There was a problem though: Mike trusted him intensely, but he wasn’t letting Harvey trust him back.

“I said… harder…” Mike groaned.

Harvey wrapped his fingers around Mike’s throat again. “You said anything that I want,” Harvey reminded him. “Remember? What I want is for you to fuck like a good boy and stop giving me reasons to walk out.”

Mike gulped.

“Don’t you want to be a good boy?”

Mike nodded, but he would have agreed to anything in that moment. Harvey knew that Mike wanted to be roughed up. He understood it and he could relate. But everything he seemed to do to encourage aggression was really just acting as motivation to stop altogether, and Mike needed to understand that. When he slowly pulled out, Mike made a sound of protest mingled with discomfort, as if it hurt to stop. And it did.

“Lay down,” Harvey told him, turning around and shoving him towards the bed. Mike stumbled dizzily and fell back onto the bed, knees bent, propped up on his elbows.

Harvey loosened his tie and tossed it onto the bed next to Mike, then finished undressing himself. He laid his clothes over the back of Mike’s sofa and joined him in a little over a minute, taking pleasure in the distinct sense of intimacy about someone else’s bed. Normally he was the one to take people home, and not the other way around. Being in Mike’s bedroom (if you could call it that) was almost nostalgic even though he’d never been there before.

Mike was holding on to Harvey’s tie, opening his knees, encouraging Harvey to settle between them. There was a tidy, three-inch red stripe above his left nipple. The blood was already drying and there was no mess. It could have been much, much worse. His short hair was mussed, cheeks red, skin moist… he wasn’t the same pale, anxiety-ridden person who’d opened the door to him earlier. He was alive now. Blood and tension aside, he looked completely perfect. He was perfect. Harvey would have given almost anything to hear what was going on inside his head right then. No matter how good his body looked and felt, his mind would always be what excited Harvey the most.

When Harvey knelt between Mike’s legs, he didn’t even have to ask before Mike handed him the tie. He tried not to grin too much at the gesture as he took the tie, shoved Mike onto his back and quickly set to the task of affixing Mike’s wrists to the headboard. This wasn’t usually how he conducted his sex life – only occasionally and never the first time – but he and Mike had very specific and complimentary needs at that moment. They were finally in tune. He pulled the final knot tight, letting him feel the bite of the fabric, and dropped his hands into the mattress on either side of Mike’s shoulders with a sigh.

Harvey gazed down at the man underneath him: hands bound, knees splayed, eyes soft and locked on Harvey’s. His chest rose and fell with shallow but steady breaths. The air was heavy with their mutual lust. Harvey sank to one elbow and cupped Mike’s cheek as he bent his head to kiss him in a sudden impulse that he was barely familiar with. He had to remind himself that it wasn’t taboo, but it felt so forbidden that he almost wondered if he was allowed to do it. The warmth of Mike’s lips gripped his chest and made him ache so deeply that he had to pull away, but Mike tipped his chin up and Harvey couldn’t resist. He pressed their mouths together more firmly this time, parting his lips just a little. He felt the tip of Mike’s tongue slide between his lips, so Harvey responded with his own tongue, moving it against the other. A moan vibrated against his mouth, but he wasn’t sure whose it was.

Harvey slid his hand from Mike’s cheek all the way down to his thigh, guiding the position of Mike’s hips as he pulled his knee towards his chest. Mike was all too eager to tilt his hips up and wrap a leg around his, with his other knee hooked inside Harvey’s elbow. Harvey moved his mouth to Mike’s jaw, excited by the rough, barely-there stubble against his lips and the tip of his tongue. It wasn’t that it had been all that long since he’d last slept with another man, but kissing was normally reserved for women. There was nothing female about his companion – the circumstances were simply exceptional.

Balancing on one elbow, Harvey took himself into his hand and pressed against Mike’s still-slick ass. Mike’s breath rasped out against his ear in short, shallow bursts, anticipating Harvey’s next move. He pressed forward slowly, sinking all the way into Mike’s body, rewarded by the sweetest moan he’d ever heard, heating his blood. His chest tightened as his breath rushed out of his lungs, overwhelmed by how different it felt to have Mike wrapped around him while they were face to face on the bed. There was something that felt authentic about this; something undeniable.

Harvey took Mike into his hand and stroked him slowly, watching his face. His eyes were open but distant and unfocused. His lips were pressed together in an attempt to contain his subdued moans as Harvey withdrew halfway and pushed back in again. This time when their bodies connected, Mike’s eyes blinked closed and his mouth went slack with a deep, throaty sigh. Harvey wanted to keep unwinding him until he was nothing but a pile of string. When he began to rock, it took a few moments for Mike to meet his rhythm, but when he did, their bodies quickly began to move in time. If Mike was new to this, he wasn’t shying away from it. Soon their thighs were damp with sweat, sliding together hard and fast like two parts of a well-oiled machine.

Harvey’s mind filled with steam. He was overtaken by an instant where all the pieces of their individual puzzles seemed to slide together into a perfect picture. This was meant to be. It was working. God, it felt right to have Mike Ross tied up underneath him. The one he’d chosen above all others. Truly his. Only his. Willing. Finally. Maybe all along. Damp skin. Wet eyes. Helpless. Strong. Perfect. Always. Always…

Always.

Harvey bit his lip, nearly at his tipping point. Mike had gone limp, relying on Harvey to hold him at the right angle, his throat loosely rattling out a few whimpers now and then. His expression was lost to Harvey – where was he? Harvey pushed past the wave of release threatening to crash down on him and pressed his lips to Mike’s temple, tasting a bead of sweat on his lips.

“Stay here,” he spoke against his ear. “Say something.”

“I’m dizzy,” Mike panted softly.

“Say something else.” Dizzy wasn’t going to be a problem unless he passed out. He was still somewhat conscious. Harvey prayed that Mike wouldn’t pass out because he didn’t want to test his ability to part with the soft, snug flesh wrapped around him, opening for him with just enough resistance… but he had enough self-control to slow down a little. It wasn’t easy to hold off after all those months of foreplay.

“This feels…” Mike sucked in a shaky breath and moved his lips to soundless words. His fingers curled around Harvey’s tie, not fighting the restraint, but embracing it and what it represented: safety and trust. The two things Mike had starved himself of, and exactly what Harvey was giving by taking him.

“How does it feel?” Harvey was too close to start asking those kinds of questions, but Mike started it and he couldn’t help himself.

“Feels… I feel like… I’m… hurt me.”

“What?” The word “hurt” sharpened Harvey’s mind, but he wasn’t sure what Mike was telling him. The cock in his palm was still hard and slick.

“Hit me.” Mike pressed his forehead up against Harvey’s. Harvey shook his head against Mike’s in objection without bothering to consider it, but he continued: “I need you to hit me. Please. Do it…” His head fell back against the pillow again with his eyes closed. “Make it hurt. I want it, Harvey, please…”

Fuck. Mike was begging him and Harvey wasn’t in the mood to debate. He wanted to give and take simultaneously, but not withhold. If several inches of his body weren’t buried inside the younger man at that moment, maybe it would have been easier to object. Harvey released Mike’s cock and touched the back of his hand to his cheek, which was flushed pink, and wet with sweat and tears. Mike was already in pain. He could feel the hot, slick texture of that flawless agony, and it should have been enough. Harvey was anticipating the sound his hand would make against Mike’s skin when he threw his arm back… but seeing Mike squeeze his eyes shut and bite down on his lip in expectation of the sting, Harvey’s arm faltered and couldn’t do it. He realized he was holding his breath when he exhaled, and he wrapped his fingers around Mike’s throat instead.

“Stop trying to punish yourself,” Harvey warned. “It’s not your job to decide that. It’s mine.”

Mike groaned through his teeth in frustration, hands rattling against the headboard. “Fuck you, Harvey,” he pressed through his clenched jaw, his voice distorted through the pressure of Harvey’s fingertips digging into his throat. “Fuck me,” he choked out alternately, rocking his hips insistently.

Harvey increased the pressure on Mike’s throat for a few more seconds before he raked his fingertips down his chest again and took hold of his cock, pumping him hard as he thrust relentlessly. They were both well past the breaking point, their mingled breaths hot and uneven. Every cell in Harvey’s body was screaming in delicious agony and he knew that any second… any moment…

Mike lifted his forehead to Harvey’s again, his body lurching rhythmically at the impact of Harvey’s hips knocking against him without compromise. There was no slowing down now – speeding up was the only option. The bed creaked underneath them, headboard slamming against the wall. Mike’s breathing quickened and his cock twitched, loud sighs of resignation evaporating from his lips as their eyes locked for the briefest, desperate moment. Before Harvey could expose his weakness again by looking away, Mike squeezed his eyes shut, holding onto his breath for a moment. The headboard thudded even harder behind his straining wrists as he groaned and sobbed in total abandon. Harvey would worry later about whether his silk tie would ever be salvageable. It crossed his barely-conscious mind that he could deduct the expense from Mike’s fee, before he slapped a memo across his brain to remind him that this was not about the money, or the tie. All that mattered in the world was the release he saw on Mike’s face before he felt it spilling out over his hand and pulsing around his own cock.

“I need you, Mike,” Harvey confessed against Mike’s cheek. It was all he knew. He had him now, but this time he needed to keep him; needed to hold on.

Mike half laughed, half cried in response, unable to speak through the orgasm claiming his body.

The shuddering legs around him tightened, a heel digging against his ass, holding him inside, trying not to let him withdraw. And that was how Harvey came: pushed as deep inside Mike as he could go but still pressing, rocking, with his now-soiled hand lifting up to grasp Mike’s bound ones, a mess of white-knuckled fingers and silk twisting together. He dropped his face to Mike’s neck, muffling his bottomless groans as he emptied himself deep into Mike’s body. All of his senses seemed to melt into one ongoing raw sensation as the two men surrounded each other. The knot in his belly snapped and evaporated, leaving behind nothing but liquid pleasure rippling through him from top to bottom.

Harvey slowly blinked his eyes open and his senses began to separate and clarify again. He helped himself to a languorous taste of the skin straining over a collar bone before he was able to bring himself to let go.

They were both still gasping for air as Harvey blindly worked his fingers at the tie around Mike’s wrists with his face planted against Mike’s neck. In one motion he pulled the material loose, withdrew from Mike and collapsed onto his back with the tie bunched loosely in one palm. The cool air floating in through the open window was a shock to his body after basking in Mike’s heat and he wanted to pull him in again but didn’t have the strength. The light had changed a little and he’d entirely lost track of time. Exhausted, Harvey managed to blink his eyes open and look over at Mike.

He was on his back, breathing hard, holding one of his wrists against his chest, massaging the life back into the appendage. Harvey knew that the pink and purple marks from the tie would have been enough to make him hard if he were capable of snapping back that quickly. Just like the imprint of his teeth in Mike’s shoulder and even the dark red stripe on his chest. It was proof. Tangible evidence. That’s what Harvey believed in. In time, though, the marks would fade and there would be nothing linking them to their offense.

Harvey watched as Mike lifted one knee up and rolled halfway onto his side, tucking a hand between his legs. He was trying to discretely examine himself in such an honest and curious way that made Harvey believe that it had been a first for him. Allowing him a private moment, Harvey looked down at his own body, barely recognising himself. The sweat was evaporating quickly, and the come on his hand and cock would begin to dry soon. By the time he noticed the pink flecks of diluted blood streaked across his fading erection, Mike was already getting up out of bed.

Harvey sat up against the headboard. “Alright?” He had no idea what kind of answer he expected. Mike wasn’t alright. It was more complicated than that.

Mike shot a sated gaze over his shoulder with a faint, sideways smirk that offered more of a relief than Harvey could have anticipated. “I will be. I need a shower.” He took a step towards the kitchen but stopped to prop himself against the wall beside the bed, clearly lightheaded.

Harvey instinctively moved to the edge of the bed and reached out to place a steady hand on Mike’s back. Mike breathed deeply against his touch and after a few seconds, Harvey ran his hand down to Mike’s ass, thumbing his buttocks apart carefully. Mike let him do it without question.

“You haven’t done this before,” Harvey observed. The redness and swelling between his legs was not out of the ordinary but there was a chance Mike didn’t know that. Still… he should have given him more time. Mike should have been the one to dictate the pace – not Harvey.

Mike touched his head to the wall. “That obvious?”

“No, actually.” For the most part. Of course, he’d lied when asked directly… though it was never exactly posed as a question. Harvey ran his hand back up the small of Mike’s back. “The swelling goes away in a few hours.”

“Oh,” was all Mike said. He didn’t sound relieved, but almost disappointed.

Harvey watched Mike push himself off the wall and amble across the apartment. His expended body was smeared with sweat, oil, tears, come and a few specks of blood. It didn’t make him look vulnerable, but reminded Harvey how strong he was; how much he could take. There was something so primal about it that a part of Harvey didn’t want him clean. Mike had always been the messiest part of his life since they’d met anyway.

Mike paused by the kitchen table and looked down at the cheque. A sliver of guilt pricked at Harvey’s chest.

“Towel,” Mike mumbled, gesturing with his thumb towards a clean tea towel on the kitchen counter before he disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door behind him.

Harvey exhaled deeply. The moment Mike left his sight, it was as if his sphere of consciousness suddenly made space to take in reality. He sat in the stillness of the room listening to the water running behind the closed bathroom door and wondered what the hell they were supposed to do now.

He took it one step at a time and began by pushing himself to his feet. As he walked through the kitchen, he glanced down at the cheque like it was some kind of strange omen. Harvey knew he hadn’t paid Mike for sex. They both knew it. The money was on the table before the intimacy was. So why did he feel like shit all of the sudden?

Harvey retrieved the towel that Mike had directed him to, dampened it in the sink, and began to wipe himself down. He worked quickly, suspecting that Mike may not want to see him when he came back out of the bathroom. This had been Mike’s fix, despite the fact that his fix ironically seemed to involve breaking himself down. To say that Harvey enjoyed it was an understatement, but it wasn’t a fix for him. This was… it. Mike was it. He needed him just as much now as he did before he ever touched him. That’s why he felt like shit. Not because they’d made a mistake. A mistake could be written off as a fluke, and this couldn’t be.

“Well done, Harvey,” he mumbled to himself and threw the washcloth into the sink. Of all things, he wondered what Donna would have to say about this.

Harvey dressed himself, save for the vest and jacket which he was in no mood for. Mike reappeared just as he’d finished, looking clean and wet with a towel around his waist. He looked at Harvey, but said nothing as he walked behind him towards his dresser. Harvey swallowed down a bitter taste and finished putting his shoes on as he listened to Mike opening and closing some drawers, rummaging for clothes.

Harvey draped his jacket and vest over his arm and leaned back against the couch. He had to say something before he left, but he wasn’t sure what yet. Mike was still dressing so he casually averted his eyes. He noticed that the cheque was no longer on the table, and felt thankful that Mike had finally picked it up.

“Thank you.”

Harvey looked up to see Mike folding the cheque neatly in half and tucking it into his pocket. He was in a pair of faded jeans and a red t-shirt, and he looked like himself again.

Harvey nodded. “Listen,” he began carefully, “I don’t want you doing anything stupid. If you run into some trouble… tell me. Every time.” There was no way in hell Mike was going to put himself back into contact with… whoever it was. “I mean it.”

“You mean the next time I need some cash?”

Harvey nodded. “If you’re so keen on earning it, the option of working together is still on the table—“

Under the table. It won’t work out, Harvey.” He seemed sure of that.

Harvey tried with all his will to appear indifferent. “Then consider it a parting gift.” At least he’d made an effort to clarify that Mike hadn’t worked for the cheque yet.

“I’m not going to see you again, am I.” It wasn’t a question. It seemed that Mike was telling him nicely. Apparently, he had everything he needed now, and there was nothing wrong with that.

Harvey studied Mike’s expression.

Mike studied Harvey’s.

He couldn’t bring himself to answer, though it was surely rhetorical. Harvey wanted more than anything to grab on and hold on. He couldn’t bear the idea of losing his boy again. The past month had been agony. Mike Ross was his discovery; his investment; his friend. His.

It was a shame.

“I’ll pick up the phone if you call,” Harvey said decidedly as he turned and walked right out the front door, closing it behind him. He took a deep breath and paced down the hallway, fishing into the jacket slung over his arm for his cellphone to see if a car was available.

It was fun while it lasted.

“Harvey.”

Harvey stopped at the top of the stairs and looked back to see Mike walking towards him. There was something in his hand: his crumpled tie.

Harvey tucked the phone back into his jacket.

“You forgot this,” Mike told him, extending the handful of wrinkled silk.

Harvey was halfway to a “keep it” but something else was happening far more quickly. The tie was suddenly on the floor of the hallway and Mike’s hands were on his face. They were kissing. Harvey wrapped both arms around Mike and pulled him in, completely unclear as to who initiated the kiss but fully embracing it. Their lips parted, but Harvey held on, cupping the back of Mike’s head as it dropped against his shoulder. The scent of Mike’s shampoo became mingled with the scent that was still all over Harvey’s body, and he drank it in. Mike’s arms slid down to wrap around Harvey’s back. The unbound embrace was new and good.

I want my life back,” Mike whispered. “I want it back, Harvey, I want it back so bad...”

Harvey held him tighter and closed his eyes. “I know.” He stroked Mike’s damp hair. “Me too.”

Mike eased out of the embrace and gave Harvey a look of confusion.

Harvey was about to clarify that he wanted Mike to have his life back, too, when he realized that he was in fact referring to his own. Everything had changed when Mike left. He could barely remember a time when he existed without his associate. “I want you back,” he told him.

Mike gave a short laugh and shook his head as if it were a preposterous idea. “How?”

“I’m the smartest person you know,” Harvey boasted, part-joking. “And you’re a very close second. Between the two of us, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to come up with some kind of plan. But let’s talk about it over dinner. I’m starving.”

Mike blinked. “Okay,” he agreed, sounding a little surprised. “Let me get my keys.” He moved towards his door.

“And grab your wallet. It’s on you.” If Harvey paid it would start to feel like some kind of date.

Mike turned and raised an eyebrow. “In that case, I hope you like falafel.”

Harvey shrugged. “Who doesn’t?”

Mike paused in the doorway and seemed to consider something for a moment. “It’s really good to see you, Harvey.”

Harvey smiled to himself as he watched Mike disappear inside the apartment. This visit was finally going as planned.