From the Heart
Harvey feels the first tendrils of something that's definitely not panic clench his gut together, but he forces it down. This is a negotiation, after all, and if there is one thing he knows how to do, then it's how to negotiate a deal so that he gets what he wants.
To be fair though, most of the lawyers he's normally holding negotiations with don't hold a candle to his current foe. Hard brown eyes are staring back at him, and slowly but surely Harvey gets the feeling that he's not going to sway this particular negotiation in his favor.
So he does what any lawyer, and especially any man, worth their salt would have done – he tries flattery.
"You know that you're the only one who knows how to handle these things. I'd be completely lost without you."
One perfectly plucked eyebrow raises, and somehow Harvey feels just as chastised by that simple action as if his own mother had just given him one of her infamous lectures.
"That's exactly the problem, and the reason why my answer is and will remain no." Donna says, crossing her arms in front of her chest as if to underline her point. "It's your family, Harvey. You know them, you love them, and occasionally you seem to be capable of coherent thought. You should be able to put these things together and buy their Christmas presents all by yourself."
Harvey's palms are getting sweaty at the mere thought of what Donna is suggesting.
"Do I need to remind you what happened the last time I did what you're suggesting I do?"
Donna rolls her eyes at him, but it's clear from her posture that she is not going to budge on this one. Harvey is seriously going to reconsider her Christmas bonus if she keeps this up.
"I do remember all too vividly. In fact, every year since then your sister keeps asking me to remind you that just because she enjoyed her trip to Cuba does not mean she appreciates being gifted with cigars."
"That was one time," Harvey tries to interrupt, but Donna just brushes him off.
"She doesn't smoke. And even if she did, I doubt she'd smoke hand-rolled Cuban cigars."
"Well, we'll never know since she didn't even give it a try! Is it my fault now that she's so narrow-minded?"
Donna shakes her head and shifts her weight from one foot to the other. It's a clear sign that she's losing patience with him, and if Harvey wasn't this desperate for her help on the whole issue with the Christmas shopping, he'd probably see it as the warning he'd normally recognize it as.
"The fact that you'd rather have your sister pick up an unhealthy habit than admit that you didn't put any thought into her present is a sad, sad thing, Harvey. And that's exactly the reason why you're going to make an effort this year, and you're going to make it on your own. I'm not going to bail you out again, and if I receive only one e-mail or phone call that tells me that you gave your nephews shaving kits…,"
"It were quality sets, and Martin said they love to pretend they're shaving just like he does!"
"…that you gave your pre-pubescent nephews shaving kits with real blades, or that you bought your niece an abstract painting…"
"It was called The Dragon and the Princess! Little girls love that kind of thing!"
"It made her cry, Harvey! Linda sent me a photo of the thing and seeing it made me want to leave the lights on at night, so I don't want to hear another word about it. If I ever hear about any present like those again I will make you regret it. No matter if it's an investment into the future, or the work of an up-and-coming artist that's going to double in worth over the next couple of years, this year you are going to buy your family real Christmas presents. Things they can actually use, and which they're happy about. At the very least, you're going to go out and buy your niece and nephews some presents that they'll actually like!"
"They have trust funds!"
"Which is something your sister and brother-in-law are grateful for. And I'm sure the kids are going to appreciate it once they're old enough to understand that Uncle Harvey is putting them through college, but until then they're still children, and they don't want financial stability for Christmas, they want a present that shows them that their uncle cares about them. They don't need expensive gifts, Harvey." Donna's expression softens, and she puts a hand on his arm. "I know that you can do that if you just put some thought into it. I'm not going to help you evade this for another year, Harvey, and that's my final word on it."
She squeezes his arm once, and then she's gone from his office and back at her desk before Harvey can think of a suitable thing to say that would help him dodge this particular bullet. He's not going to sway Donna, that much is obvious from the looks she's shooting him through the his office's glass walls. Which is a problem.
For the past two years, Donna has coordinated his Christmas shopping for him. Not because of any kind of laziness on Harvey's part, and neither because he doesn't care about his family. He does. Harvey loves his family, though at times they drive him crazy. He's just not good at this whole gift-giving thing, and he never has been. It's easier to pick presents for the women he goes out with. There's a framework he can move in with those – a range from flowers and dinners to the rare case of jewelry – that, while it doesn't get him points for creativity, never proved wrong so far.
Family is…it's different. A whole lot more difficult, too. Harvey simply isn't good at translating feelings into gifts, and that won't change just because Donna leaves him stranded less than a week before Christmas Eve. He needs help, and the one person on the face of the planet who could help him refuses to do so.
He's definitely going to reconsider the size of Donna's Christmas bonus.
A knock on his office door tears him out of his musings, and when Harvey raises his head – not in the hope that Donna might have changed her mind and come in here to offer her apologies right along with her help, absolutely not – he is at first a little disappointed to see that it's not Donna but Mike who is coming into his office. But the disappointment quickly turns into an idea.
Mike who oozes care all over the place like a leaky faucet.
Mike who surely has no problem translating feelings into appropriate Christmas gifts.
Mike who quite probably has a whole cache of ingenious gift ideas that he'd be more than willing to share with his boss.
Harvey is a lawyer. He's used to people trying to blind sight him, and one of his strengths has always been his ability to adapt to any new situation and turn it into a win. The beginning of a plan is starting to stir in the back of his mind, but he keeps his face impassive and does his best not to let anything on. Mike is not as good as he is at reading people, but he's not a slouch, either. It wouldn't do to let him in on the fact that something is up too quickly.
Mike steps up to the desk and holds out a file.
"The Panetti briefs, proofed, summarized and indexed, and on your desk ten minutes before the insane deadline you set me. Here you go."
Mike places the folder on Harvey's desk with a flourish, and Harvey picks it up and starts to flip through it. It's good work – and he has come to expect no less from his associate, but considering what he's about to ask of him, it's probably best to go for the carrot instead of for the stick for a change.
"That's good work, Mike."
Mike starts a little at that, just as if he hadn't expected the praise, and Harvey enjoys the small, satisfied smile that flits across his face for a second.
"Uh…thanks. You might want to look over clause 118b once more before you have it signed; the phrasing leaves the client open for litigation. I marked it and made a note. Do you have anything else for me? Because if you don't, Louis wants me to look up precedents for his current case."
Mike's face pulls into a small grimace at the mention of the junior partner's name, but he doesn't seem generally adverse to being subjected to library work for the rest of the afternoon. Harvey knows that Mike enjoys the occasional quiet hour or two in the library, flipping through reference works and taking in insane amounts of information, so he's not going to deny him that today.
"As long as you're done until four; Henderson pushed up his meeting one day."
Mike nods. "Sure thing. I should be long done by then."
"Good." Harvey takes a deep breath. Time to bite the bullet. He'll either do it now, or he knows he probably won't do it at all. Best to take it head-on. "Do you have any plans this Saturday?"
Mike's eyes widen for a moment, as if he had expected any possible question but that, and if Harvey didn't need his associate's help this badly it would be funny to watch him gape like a fish out of water.
Harvey can't suppress the subsequent eye-roll entirely. "This Saturday. I need to get my Christmas shopping done, and I need company for that because if there's one thing I dislike nearly as much as I dislike Louis, it's Christmas shopping. So, do you have time?"
Mike only shakes his head. "You don't like Christmas shopping?"
The question is delivered with a degree of incredulity Harvey would have thought impossible up until this point, and he shakes his head with a sigh. Apparently, he's going to have to explain this in a lot more detail than he thought he'd have to.
"No, I don't. I don't like pushing through throngs of people, I don't like stores filled with frantic last-minute shoppers, I don't like the Christmas music they force you to endure in every single damn store. It grates on my nerves, and I don't have the patience for it. Normally, Donna does my Christmas shopping for me, but apparently she's on strike this year."
Mike raises his eyebrows, and Harvey has the feeling that he still doesn't get the point.
"And why can't you go on your own?"
Harvey sighs. "Because I'll go crazy if I have to face this madness on my own. Worst case scenario is that I do something I might regret, in which case I'll probably need a lawyer of my own, and you're going to be stuck working for Louis for the rest of eternity. And we both know you don't want that."
Mike shudders a little at the thought, but somehow Harvey has the feeling that it wouldn't have taken him painting such a drastic scenario to convince the younger man.
"So you want me to stop you from going on a Christmas shopping rampage?"
"And maybe help me pick out some presents, since I've been told that I'm not particularly good at it."
Mike considers this for a moment, then he nods.
"All right, I'll help you with your shopping. I don't mind Christmas shopping, and I need to get Grammy's present this weekend, anyway. As long as you don't mind combining the two, I'll help you with your shopping afterwards."
"Sounds good to me. Ray and I are going to pick you up at your place at 10 am sharp."
Mike nods again. "Okay. So, unless you have something else you need my help with, I'm going to bury myself in precedents in real estate law until our meeting."
"Have fun," Harvey brings out in way of dismissal, and with a grin Mike turns around and leaves the office. Harvey sits there for a moment, then he breathes a sigh of relief and reaches for the file Mike brought him. He's not yet sure what to expect from this upcoming shopping trip, but he won't have to tackle the whole Christmas shopping mess on his own and that alone is worth something.
Mike is a caring soul, he'll surely have plenty of ideas that are going to help Harvey out of his tight spot. He's going to show Donna that he doesn't need her help with this after all.
Maybe he'll give Donna's Christmas bonus to Mike instead. That'll teach her.
When Ray pulls the town car up in front of Mike's apartment building at 10 am sharp on Saturday morning, Mike is already waiting on the sidewalk. From his position in the backseat Harvey can't be entirely sure, but he thinks the kid might even be bouncing on the balls of his feet, and he can't help the small knot of dread that starts to form in his stomach. If there is anything he likes even less than Christmas shopping, it's Christmas shopping with people who get excited about this kind of thing. When the car pulls up in front of Mike, he pulls open the door and all but leaps inside.
Harvey starts a little, and not only because normally Mike is practically a useless lump of pseudo-lawyer until his third or fourth dose of caffeine. He doesn't think he's seen the kid this bouncy before noon, but his associate's enthusiastic mood isn't the only thing that's unusual. It's his clothes that have Harvey wondering if Ray somehow took a wrong turn and have them end up in the wrong dimension or something. It wouldn't be unheard of, after all. Harvey is pretty sure there was a Star Trek episode with a similar plot at one time.
They're not at the office, so there's no need to dress formally. Harvey is well aware of that. It's the weekend after all, and Harvey isn't wearing a suit either. Instead he's wearing slacks and a button down shirt, no tie, with his warm wool coat on top to ward of the chilly New York December air. Mike…well, Mike is wearing a coat as well, and Harvey isn't taking offence with that. Neither with the jeans or the sneakers because again – it's the weekend.
It's Mike's sweater that really poses a problem and affronts every ounce of fashion sense Harvey possesses. He's not even sure it can be called a sweater. Harvey thinks he prefers the term monstrosity, since it aptly describes the red knit sweater that's hanging all too loosely around Mike's wiry frame. Red isn't a good color on someone this pale to begin with, and the brown reindeer and white snowflake-pattern all over the front are definitely not helping. Harvey is just glad that René is not here to see Mike, otherwise he's fairly sure he'd be banned from the man's store for the rest of eternity.
"What in the name of all that's good are you wearing?"
It comes out a lot sharper than Harvey intended, but Mike merely smiles at him as he fastens his seatbelt. If he notices that Harvey is less than pleased with the outfit, he doesn't let it on, and Mike is not that good of an actor. So he really does think that all is well, and Harvey is seriously starting to consider the alternate reality as a viable explanation for what is happening.
"A Christmas sweater. Trevor got it for me a couple of years back as a gag-gift, and I know that it's actually a couple of sizes too big, but I like it, and there's only a few weeks a year that I actually have a chance to wear it. It's great, isn't it?"
Harvey swallows down the first comment his brain comes up with, because that would put a rather quick end to their shopping excursion and he can't have that. He's still dependent on Mike's help, after all. He can live with the sweater, especially since most of it is covered by the kid's coat.
"That's…one way to put it."
Harvey should have known it wasn't going to stop there. Mike reaches into the inside pocket of his coat – revealing even more of the ugly sweater in the process – and pulls out a CD-case which he surreptitiously hands over towards the front seat. Ray takes it, but before he takes out the CD, his eyes meet Harvey's in the rear-view mirror. Harvey knows that he's silently asking for permission, and with a shrug he gives a half-nod. He's not really sure what makes Mike think that he has gained any kind of music privileges in the car – and yes, those have to be earned and aren't given out freely – but Ray hasn't even started the engine yet, so it's safe to say that nothing has changed about the fact that Harvey depends on Mike's help. It's a give and take kind of situation, and apparently right now it's Harvey's time to give.
Ray puts in the CD, and after a few seconds of silence Sinatra's deep, sonorous voice starts to sound through the car. As far as music choices go, it's not what Harvey expected, and he definitely prefers Old Blue Eyes over any of the indie crap he was worried Mike was going to torture him with, he's not too sure he's ready for something like this at ten in the morning.
Mike just shrugs as the soft sound of strings start to accompany Frank's wish for a "merry little Christmas", the smile still plastered on his face. "Christmas shopping is something you have to get in the mood for, Harvey. You can't act like a Grinch and then expect to come up with ideas for the perfect presents for your family. It's a package deal, really."
Mike's theory isn't entirely convincing, but it's really too early to start a fight about it, especially since Ray is keeping the volume turned on low. If Mike needs Christmas music to go shopping, then so be it. It's still better than trying to tackle this whole endeavor on his own, as long as he makes sure to draw a very distinctive line in the sand.
"If a single chord of Last Christmas disgraces the speakers of this car, I'm going to kick you and your Christmas sweater out of this car faster than you can say Wham! Are we clear on that?"
Mike smiles and leans back against the leather seat. "Perfectly clear. So, where are we going first?"
'First' implies that there will be a 'second' and possibly, dreadfully even a 'third', and Harvey isn't too sure he likes the idea. There has to be a way to get all of his presents in one place, with minimal effort and without wasting an entire morning or more on it.
"You're supposed to be the one with the plan about all this, so you tell me."
Mike seems surprised at the statement. "But I don't know anything about your family. You can't expect me to go find presents if I don't even know who I'm trying to find them for. I don't even know how many people there are in your family, let alone what kind of presents they'd like. You need to give me a little more to work with than 'I have a family, now go find me presents for them'."
It's not that Harvey doesn't trust Mike, or that he doesn't like talking about his family. He loves them, and he's not ashamed of them in any way. But his family is something he doesn't let anyone at the office in on, a part of his life that nobody but Donna is privy to. It's been like that for the past years, and it's difficult to just change everything about that on a whim. But still, he figures that Mike is probably right. He needs to know something to know where to go from here.
"Well, there's my parents, of course."
"Two presents for a start. Good. What do they do?"
The question surprises Harvey, but it's not as if it's any kind of secret. So while he doesn't quite see why Mike thinks he needs to know, he sees no harm in telling him.
"They're both retired. My Dad had his own accounting firm until a couple of years ago, and my Mom was a pharmaceutical technician. If you're looking for the perfect inspiration for their gifts, you won't find it in their jobs, trust me."
Mike raises an eyebrow at him. "Oh, we'll see about that. Who else is there?"
Mike enjoys that he's milking Harvey for private information, the kind of which Harvey wouldn't just give up under normal circumstances. He needs to keep an eye on that. This is not a bonding experience, after all, this is Mike helping him out of a tight spot and nothing more. It's Mike's job as an associate to make Harvey's life easier, even if today's plans are stretching the duties laid out in Mike's employment contract somewhat.
"Eric and Linda, my younger brother and sister."
Mike makes a 'go on' motion with his hand, and Harvey rolls his eyes again. The kid is definitely enjoying this way too much.
"Linda is two years younger than me and married with three kids. Her husband is an editor at a TV network, and before she had the kids Linda worked at a publishing house. Sales and distribution, before you ask. Eric is four years younger than her. Single, not married, no kids that we know of and we all dread the day he might decide to procreate. He's an assistant professor at a technical college, a self-declared geek and most of the time a royal pain in the ass."
Harvey realizes that he can't keep the fondness out of his voice entirely, but Mike merely nods, his face pulled into a frown of concentration as if he's memorizing important details for a legal deal.
"Okay. What about Linda's kids? How old are they?"
"Adam is nine, Charlotte is seven, and David just turned four. They're…well, they're your typical kids, I suppose."
Once more, Mike nods, then he claps his hands once as if he had reached an important conclusion.
"All right, then we'll start with them." He turns towards Ray and says the words Harvey has been secretly dreading would come up sooner or later. "Ray, our first stop is FAO Schwarz."
Harvey lets his head drop against the headrest with a groan. This is going to be hell.
Harvey only has a passing familiarity with Dante's work, but he's pretty damn sure that if toy stores had been around in the late 13th century, one of the circles of hell would have looked like the inside of FAO Schwarz less than a week before Christmas. It's bright and obnoxious, blinking lights and garish decorations everywhere, and it's filled with people in a frantic rush to buy Christmas presents. Why the hell most of them think it's a good idea to bring along their kids will forever remain a mystery to Harvey, but it definitely doesn't help making Harvey's life any easier.
Why on earth do kids have to be so loud?
Of course, it's just as bad that Mike's eyes light up like a little kid's the moment they step through the doors and right into Harvey's personal hell. It's a small wonder he doesn't start tugging at Harvey's hand and starts pulling him along. Instead, he moves them to one of the few quiet spots near a bank of escalators.
"All right, so where do we start?"
Harvey has resolved not to panic, no matter what this day might bring. He would have never thought that this resolution is going to be threatened a mere minute after they set foot into the first store. The mere thought of walking through this store without some sort of plan sends his pulse skyrocketing. He's not made for this, and Mike's seemingly innocent question makes him all too aware of it.
"Well, if you don't have an idea, I'd say we're well and truly lost."
Mike only gives him an eye-roll that says quite clearly that he's doubting Harvey's mental capacities.
"I don't know how things work on Planet Harvey, but unless you have three letters to Santa tucked away somewhere, you'll have to give me something more to work with here. All I know is that you have two nephews and a niece, but that's not really much to go on. So you need to tell me a little more about them and yes, we might have to do a little browsing, but I promise you it'll be worth it. So, lets work our way through this."
Harvey is convinced that Mike is making things more difficult than they have to be.
"All right, then how about we make this quick and easy – video games. All kids love video games."
Mike looks less than enthused. In fact, he looks as if he'd much rather slap Harvey over the back of his head.
"I'm assuming you like your sister and aren't trying to get on her bad side, right?"
"What? What kind of question is that? Of course I'm not trying to get on her bad side."
And not only because he loves Linda, but also because his little sister can be downright terrifying when something rubs her the wrong way. Seeing as he's still on probation from the entire Cuban cigar fiasco, he probably should risk anything this time, not unless he wants to sleep with one eye open for as long as he's at his parents' house for Christmas. So he gives a mock-bow in Mike's direction.
"All right, impart your wisdom on me."
The younger man ignores the dripping sarcasm in favor of another eye-roll.
"Let's declare video games as a no go. Parents usually don't appreciate it when their kids are glued to a screen for hours on end. Not to mention that nothing is more unnerving than listening to a video game soundtrack all day long, let alone three. So we're not going to buy video games, or anything else that makes any kind of obnoxious sounds. We should probably ignore anything with a sound module or batteries in the first place. There's still plenty of other things left to chose from. We only need to figure out what fits. So, tell me more about Adam."
Mike's little speech isn't entirely convincing, but Harvey isn't really sure what other choice he has. And it's not like he has to search his memory for very long to come up with something to say about his godson. He might only see Linda and the kids a handful of times each year, but his little sister is adamant about keeping him up to date with regular phone calls and e-mails.
"Well, he turned nine last month. He's in third grade, hates his piano lessons, and loves sports. He's on a soccer team, and Linda and Martin are going to enroll him in Little League next spring."
Harvey can't help the proud smile that tugs at the corners of his lips. Nobody was more pleased than him to hear that Adam chose to play baseball, and Harvey definitely plans on seeing him play as soon as he can. So yes, he can get on board with a baseball-related present. Mike's thoughts seem to be running into a similar direction.
"Does he already have his uniform? If they enroll him in Little League, he's going to need equipment. You know, a mitt, a bat, that kind of thing."
Harvey simply assumed that his sister and brother-in-law were going to take care of those things once spring rolls around, but it's probably even better if he's the one to buy those things, and right now. Neither Linda nor Martin know all that much about baseball to begin with, and if Adam gets a new glove, he's going to need time to break it in before the start of Little League.
It's a really good idea.
"All right, but we're not going to get what we need here. I'll have Ray take us to a sporting goods store next. If I buy my nephew a baseball mitt, it's going to be a real one and not one of those toys they have around here."
Mike smiles – a little too smugly for Harvey's liking – and holds up two fingers. "So that's one kid taken care of. Charlotte, then."
Harvey takes a deep breath. All right. He can do this. It's not that difficult.
"Right, Charlotte. She's seven and has been stuck in a pink phase since she's been about three. Don't let that fool you, though. She's a lot more sciency than either of her brothers."
Mike raises an eyebrow. "Sciency? Really?"
"You know what I mean. She constantly wants to know how things work, and she examines every bug and critter she can find. She's part of some mini-Girl Scout group, complete with field trips and museum visits."
A smile starts to spread on Mike's face as he starts moving them towards the escalators.
"Something sciency, huh? I'm sure we can find something for her then."
Mike gets a strange gleam in his eyes, and there's nothing Harvey can do but follow him upstairs to the second floor of doom.
They end up getting a My First Microscope set for Charlotte, complete with slides and an age-appropriate book on microscopy. It's silver, not pink, but Harvey thinks she's going to let the flawed color pass since she'll be too busy trying to squeeze everything and anything in between the glass slides.
On their way back to the escalator they pass a display for Cars race tracks, which settles the question of David's present fairly quickly. It confused Harvey at first when his youngest nephew started gushing about McQueen a couple of months back, and after the initial disappointment when Harvey found out that David wasn't talking about Steve McQueen but about a car-character from a Disney movie, he was quick to adapt. After all, there are worse things than having another car enthusiast in the family. He can teach him all about the real Steve McQueen when he's older, maybe in a year or two.
Two presents done with a firm plan on what the third one is going to be, and all that in a little more than half an hour isn't too bad, if Harvey is the one to judge. He's ready and willing to drag their boxes to the register and head out to get the baseball mitt next, but apparently Mike has other ideas. With almost childish glee he gestures for Harvey to follow him to the other end of the floor, and loaded with the two large boxes it's all Harvey can do to keep up and not lose sight of Mike's head in the crowd. There's no chance to ask him what the hell he's still looking for if they already have what they came here for, but maybe Mike needs to look for a present of his own. Harvey can live with that, as long as he doesn't have to chase the younger man down or worse, have someone call him out over the speaker system.
There's too many people crowding the floors, though, and none of them seem to have the least bit of consideration for the fact that he's a man loaded with two giant boxes trying to chase down an over-excited associate. Twice he nearly crashes head-on into women who don't move out of the way fast enough, and those two kids by the Barbie display are damn lucky that years of playing baseball has honed Harvey's reflexes, because otherwise he'd have simply run them over. He nearly loses his footing during that evasive maneuver, and the race track box starts sliding dangerously on top of the microscope box, and it takes an act of acrobatics of almost Olympic caliber so that he doesn't drop anything.
By the time he catches up with Mike he has completely lost track of where in the store they are. He only sees Mike, eyes wide and cheeks flushed from excitement and his mad dash through the story, looking for all the world like Christmas has come early. Harvey steps up beside him, and as his eyes fall onto the floor in front of them, a leaden feeling settles in his gut.
"Please tell me you're not serious about this."
Mike only grins at him – wide and infectious – and before Harvey knows what's happening he steps forward and onto the large floor piano.
"I've wanted to this ever since I first saw 'Big' on TV. Don't tell me you're not tempted, Harvey."
He's not. Really. There's too many people around to even consider making a fool out of himself, no matter if Mike's laughter and his stumbling attempts at hopping out what Harvey thinks is the theme song for The Simpsons almost makes him forget about that. Mike looks ridiculous, all flailing limbs and no sense of rhythm, and not caring in the least what other people are going to think of him.
Harvey doesn't really mind. They're not at work, after all, and they're ahead of schedule, so if Mike wants to take a quick break to play a little, Harvey is going to grant him that. He's not inhuman, after all.
Harvey lets Mike play with the floor piano for a few minutes, ignoring how the stares of the passing people burn into his back. However, the store is packed with Christmas shoppers and there's other kids awaiting their turn in making a fool of themselves, so after Mike's second failed attempt to find the right keys to play out "Jingle Bells", Harvey clasps the two giant boxes underneath his left arm and uses his free right hand to physically drag Mike away from the piano. Immediately, a group of kids rush in to replace him, jumping randomly onto the keys, and Harvey is glad when they finally manage to get out of earshot and no longer have to listen to the horrible noise.
Mike is still wide-eyed and smiling, cheeks flushed with a mixture of excitement and exertion, and if the weird stares he's been getting from other people for his little show bother him in any way, he doesn't let it on. Instead he relieves Harvey of the race track box and steers their way towards the register.
"That was fun."
Harvey feels a smile tugging at the corners of his lips, and he figures that as long as Mike doesn't see it, it's okay.
"Sure looked like you were enjoying yourself."
"I've always wanted to do that. I mean, I've lived in New York for my entire life, and I've never even been inside of this store just once, can you imagine that?"
Harvey can. In fact, he can imagine it only too well, and up until today, that heavenly state has been his reality. Were it not for his nephews and niece, he'd have never set foot in this place voluntarily, and it'd be a hole in his scope of experience he could live with and not lose a minute of sleep over. Apparently, though, it's an experience Mike has been waiting for for a long time.
"One thing to cross off your bucket list, then. #23 – make a fool out of myself on the floor piano."
Mike only laughs, shuffling forward in the line in front of the register as another customer pays and leaves.
"It wasn't #23. And I didn't make a fool of myself, I rocked the house."
"If you say so. I'm fairly sure I saw an old lady start swaying her hips in time to your rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes". She probably flashed back to seeing Elvis rocking the house in her youth."
Mike punches his arm good-naturedly, something Harvey normally would have retaliated for immediately with a sharp rebuke, but at that moment the line shuffles forward again and it's their turn, so his attention is distracted by the brightly smiling cashier who rings them up. While Harvey is signing the credit card slip, he hears Mike decline the offer to wrap their boxes up for them, but before he can react and correct his associate's decision, Mike presses the bag into his hand and steers them towards the exit to make room for the other shoppers behind them. It's only when they're outside on the sidewalk that he manages to stop Mike with a hand on his arm.
"Tell me why exactly we skipped the offer to take those giant boxes to the wrapping table and have them gift-wrapped?"
Mike simply looks at him as if he's grown a second head. "You don't let anyone else wrap your Christmas presents, Harvey. How would that look?"
"I don't know. Good? Professional? It's their job, Mike, and they offer the service for a reason."
"A present doesn't have to be perfectly wrapped, Harvey. It's part of the charm to see that someone put the effort into it to wrap it up yourself. And those people in there spend their entire day wrapping up someone else's Christmas presents, I'd say they won't even notice that we didn't use their service. Now come on, didn't you want to get that mitt for Adam? We can worry about getting everything wrapped up once we're done getting the presents."
Harvey is a bit worried about Mike's inflationary use of the word 'we', but they still have a whole load of presents to buy before the day is out. If Mike insists on hand-wrapping the presents, Harvey will gladly buy him the wrapping paper and tape and then sit by and watch the kid get it done. Besides, Adam's baseball equipment is up next, and that's an area where Harvey can actually shine.
He doesn't call for Ray after all because he remembers that there's a sporting goods store just a block away. In the time they'd wait for Ray to arrive, they can easily walk the distance despite the cold. Mike falls into a bouncing step beside him, prattling excitedly about this and that and everything, and though Harvey would never say it out loud, the kid's good mood is infectious. There's still things he'd rather be doing, a more productive way to spend his Saturday morning than this, but it's definitely not half as bad as trying to get this done on his own.
Compared to the toy store, the sporting goods store is almost blissfully empty. There are other shoppers, of course, and some excited kids running around trying out the equipment, but it's nowhere near as bad – or as loud – as FAO Schwarz was. It's almost relaxing, and Harvey feels way more at home amidst sporting equipment than he does in between brightly colored toy boxes.
He steers them straight into the baseball section of the store, where a large number of gloves and mitts of all kinds and sizes are displayed along the wall. For a moment Harvey just stands there and looks, taking in the sight and smells, remembering the excitement when his Dad took him to buy his first glove. There's just nothing that compares to buying a new glove, of wearing it and breaking it in until the fit is just perfect and it becomes a natural extension of his hand. Those are good memories, and Harvey starts flexing his fingers at the sense-memory of leather against his skin. It's during moments like this when he misses playing baseball fiercely, and unconsciously he starts rolling his shoulder underneath his shirt and coat.
Mike's voice startles him out of his thoughts.
"Should we ask for someone to help us?"
Harvey bristles at the mere idea that he'd need any help to find the right glove, and he quickly shakes his head. He doubts that any of the college students who work here because they have some passing knowledge of sports is going to be able to tell him something about baseball he doesn't know. And he's not going to let an amateur pick out Adam's first glove.
"No, we don't need help."
He strides over towards the display of youth gloves and takes a quick moment to just look over the selection. Ideally, he would have taken Adam along to have the glove fitted, but this will work nearly as well. Adam has neither remarkably small nor large hands for his age, and if Harvey picks a glove with Velcro fasteners on the wrist, they'll be able to adjust it to the right fit.
He picks up a couple of gloves only to discard them almost immediately. No, the real problem isn't the size of the glove.
"Problems?" Mike asks from the side. "I could still call someone to help us out. There's no shame in that, you know?"
Harvey shakes his head and puts down the pitchers' glove he's been holding. His hands will always irrevocably stray towards those, but he has to keep in mind that Adam is not him and might end up playing an entirely different position.
"No, I was just thinking. A lot of kids start Little League when they're younger than Adam is, but up until last summer soccer was the only sport he wanted to play. So there's no telling which position he's going to end up playing."
"Is it really that important?"
Harvey shoots Mike a glare at the question, and that quickly shuts him up.
"You don't know all that much about baseball, do you?"
Mike shrugs. "It's not my preferred sport, really. I'm more of a basketball person, myself."
It is part of Harvey's job to impart his wisdom on his associate, and while this matter might not pertain the law, Harvey absolutely cannot stand the idea that Mike is going through life knowing next to nothing about baseball. He points towards the wall display.
"There's different gloves for different positions. Catchers have mitts rather than gloves, with no individual fingers, but a whole lot of extra padding. They need it, too, because if someone throws a fastball at you, you really don't want the ball to hit your bare hand at 90 miles an hour. Same goes for the First Basemen – they also have mitts, though with less padding, and they're longer to help them field the throws from infielders."
He points out the mitts on the shelf, then moves on to the next kind of gloves. It feels strangely good to talk about this, to see that the knowledge about something that was such an integral part of his life is still there even if he no longer plays the game.
"Now, infielders have smaller gloves with individual fingers, and usually a more shallow pocket because most of the time, they need to get the ball out of it fast. The exact opposite goes for outfielders – longer gloves with deeper pockets, for better reach and to catch fly balls more easily. There's variants on each of those types, and since nobody knows what position Adam is going to be playing, if he sticks with playing at all, you see how that would make picking a glove a tad bit difficult."
Mike nods, and he looks a bit apologetic, as if he's sorry for suggesting getting Adam a glove at all.
"So what are you going to do?"
Harvey turns around with a sigh, studying the gloves on display intently.
"We'll get him a utility glove for a start. Not my preferred choice, but it's the best option for now. It's a bit larger than an infielders' glove, and it's good for playing multiple positions. Once he settles on a position, we can always get him a new one, but until then it'll be more than adequate for playing and for learning how to break in and maintain a glove."
He starts rifling through the choice of utility gloves, looking for an 11-inch glove that he think would fit. He quickly discards everything but two of the models, and after some deliberation decides on the one that's a little lighter. They're both made from real leather – he'd never buy a glove made from synthetic material because he himself never played with anything but a leather glove. There's just something about the smell and the feel of real leather that no synthetic material can replace. The glove he discards might be of a slightly higher quality, but this is about getting Adam used to the sport and the equipment, and a lighter glove might make getting used to wearing it a little easier. Also, Adam needs to learn that the seriously expensive sports equipment is something he has to earn and work his way up to if he's taking the sport seriously. It'll be easier to discard the glove Harvey picked in case Adam decides that baseball isn't for him.
That done, he turns around and easily spots the shelf where the baseballs and glove conditioning sets are put on display. It might be his imagination, but he thinks that he's smelling conditioning oil as he approaches the shelf, a smell that takes him back thirty years to countless hours of working oil into the leather, wrapping his glove and pushing and molding it into just the right shape. It's a great memory, but no good can come out of dwelling on it for too long, so he quickly shakes his head as if to literally shake the memories off and starts looking through the bottles of conditioning oil lined up on the shelf. Mike steps up beside him and picks up a baseball at random.
"So, what position did you play?"
Never let it be said that his associate isn't quick on the uptake.
"I was a pitcher," he answers, surprised that the answer is so easy and almost painless. He picks a bottle of the oil he always used and tries to juggle the glove, the bottle of oil as well as the large bag with the other presents. Mike takes everything from him, leaving him with both hands free to pick a baseball. Harvey knows that he could end it right here and not lose another word about his own playing days, but somehow, it doesn't feel right to let his last statement stand all by itself.
"I played in Little League, on the school team in Junior High, and I then varsity from tenth grade on. We won the State Championship during my senior year."
And hell, it still hurts to talk about it, just like it did last year when Travis Tanner brought it up to goad him. Almost automatically, his fingers close around the ball, fingertips touching for the seams and spinning it until it sits just right. His hand still knows the motions, still knows how to grip the ball to throw the different pitches – fastballs, changeups, or the curveballs that are ultimately to blame for the end of his playing days. His whole body still knows the motions, and he desperately wants to play again, but he's not ready to pay the price for trying.
Mike, of course, doesn't know any of that.
"So you stopped playing when you went to college?"
The question is innocent enough, and it's not like Mike can somehow guess that he's touching a sore topic here, but still Harvey finds he's hesitant to answer. Of course he could lie and say that he just stopped playing, but that's not the whole truth and he doesn't really want to lie about this.
"Never played again after senior year. I started having minor shoulder issues in Junior High, which probably should have been a sign. It was an on and off thing, and it got better with a lot of exercise and technical training, but then I seriously injured my shoulder before the State Championship game. Torn tendon in the rotator cuff, and that was it. I can still play the occasional game if I get the shoulder taped and don't overdo it, but that's about it."
And if he does end up pitching these days, there'd better be plenty of ice and prescription painkillers around, but he doesn't tell Mike about that. The kid is already looking at him with such a sad expression, as if he personally feels responsible for a combination of over-exertion and wrong movements, and a few minutes of shitty luck.
Harvey tries to shrug it off and throws the ball from one hand to the other.
"I got over it. There's two things in life I've always been really good at – baseball and arguing my way out of things. In the long run, law was the more appealing alternative, anyway."
It's a lie, though. Becoming a lawyer is a thought that only ever took shape by the time he was in High School, and until his shoulder gave out, lawyer only ever was his second choice of profession. The injury completely screwed up his priorities and his plans for life, but he tries not to think about that too often. Who knows if he'd have even made it in the world of professional sports. He was good, he knows that, good enough to play the varsity team a year before any of his classmates, but maybe good wouldn't have been enough. At least now, he has a job he excels at.
It's not a discussion he wants to have, though, not right now and preferably not anytime in the near future either. They have shopping to do.
"All right, I think we have everything we need."
He steers them towards the register, giving Mike no chance but to follow. Once the glove, ball and oil are paid for and stowed away in yet another bag – not gift-wrapped either, courtesy of Mike, Harvey checks his watch and is surprised to notice that it's already past noon. They spent more time looking for the glove than he thought. He pulls out his cell and sends Ray a quick text to pick them up at the next corner. He's getting hungry, and he's pretty sure Mike won't say no to some hot food, either.
"How about some lunch? Donna mentioned this Italian Place over on 22nd that I wanted to try out."
Mike's smile is wide and answer enough, and Harvey feels some of that somber mood fall away from him as they step back out on the street. The kids are taken care of, and they can discuss ideas for the rest of his family over lunch.
Maybe this whole Christmas shopping thing isn't quite that bad after all.
The restaurant is surprisingly small and low-key, and the food is really good. It's not too full, so they're seated immediately, and within twenty minutes they have steaming plates of pasta standing in front of them. Harvey watches in amusement how Mike hungrily digs in as if he was on some sort of schedule.
"So," Mike asks between two bites of fettuccini, fork waving dramatically over his plate. "We already got three of the presents covered, and so far you're not doing half as bad as Donna said you would. I'd say that's cause for optimism."
Harvey takes his time chewing and swallowing his mouthful of food. "I'd say we haven't tackled the hardest part yet. The kids were easy compared to the rest of them."
"Three down, four more to go," Mike comments wisely, contemplating the issue over a few more forkfuls of pasta. "So let's start with your mother. Other than being a retired pharmaceutical technician, what does she do? Any hobbies, things that she likes to do?"
Harvey actually has to think about that one for a moment. "Well, she's pretty passionate about her grandkids, but I think it'd be illegal if I went ahead and bought her another one."
Mike just looks up at him with an expression that says something along the lines of really? That's all you can come up with?, and Harvey has to admit that it probably wasn't the most helpful statement.
"She's in some kind of book club, but according to my Dad that's only a front for her and a couple of friends to meet twice a month, drink margaritas and exchange gossip. He swears they've been reading the same book for close to nine months now, so I don't think we'll be getting anywhere with that. The only thing I can think of is that she always wanted to go to Milan, but she's afraid to fly, otherwise I would have put her on a plane years ago. So it's not like a plane ticket and a reservation in a five star hotel is going to help me out of my Christmas present dilemma, either."
Mike frowns over his last forkful of pasta and puts down his fork and spoon.
"What's in Milan that she wants to see?"
Harvey isn't sure if he'll have to explain this further, but Mike immediately nods.
"The opera house. Your mom is a fan of the opera?"
Harvey shrugs. "It's not like she gets much opportunity to go, but yes. Seeing an opera at La Scala is something she's been talking about for ages, but with her fear of flying it's never been a possibility."
Mike grins as if he's just found the solution to all their problems.
"Well, of course I'm no expert on the subject, but here in New York we have this thing called the Met. They play operas, and I hear they're pretty good."
The statement takes Harvey aback a little. "You want me to buy her tickets to the opera?"
Mike shrugs. "Why not? It's something she likes, apparently."
"Right, it's something she likes. But if I buy my mom tickets for the opera and she takes my Dad along, I can as well spare myself the trouble of buying a gift for him because he's going to be pissed at me anyway. He hates the opera just as much as my mother loves it. He's never going to forgive me if she drags him all the way to New York just so that he has to sit through two hours of what he calls 'that horrible screeching'."
Mike laughs. "Well, she could always take a friend. Or, here's an even better idea, how about you take her?"
"Yes, you." Mike makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world, something which Harvey doesn't quite agree with. Mike, on the other hand, seems to like his idea better the more he thinks about it. "It's a great idea. She comes out to New York, the two of you spend a day or two with each other, you show her around the city and take her to the opera. I'm sure she'd like that. And it wouldn't just be about the opera, it would be about the two of you spending time together. And that's kinda what Christmas is all about, isn't it?"
Harvey has to agree, at least to the thought that his mother would probably love it if he spent some time with her here in New York. Harvey is not the biggest fan of the opera, either, but he definitely doesn't hate it the way his father does. He guess he could sit through an opera if he had to, at least as long as it's not Carmen. And his mother is so excitable about these things that it could even be fun.
"I'll have to check the Met's schedule, but the idea is not bad."
Mike's smile widens, and then suddenly his eyes grow even wider as another idea occurs to him.
"You could even make it a theme!"
Now Harvey is well and truly lost.
"The opera? Because I just told you that my Dad hates it, and while I'm not entirely sure about Linda's stance on the matter I'm fairly sure Eric is not going to be too excited about going to the opera, either."
Mike rolls his eyes at him as if Harvey is a particularly daft person, and Harvey is really starting to doubt that this whole shopping idea was such a good idea if it nurtures this degree of insubordination. Before he can say anything on the matter, though, Mike continues to explain his thoughts.
"You could give all your family members a present like that, one that has to do with you spending time with them. I mean, how often do you see them?"
"I don't know. A couple of times each year. On Christmas, and for birthdays, maybe five or six times a year. Else we talk on the phone, and Linda keeps sending e-mails with pictures of the kids."
Mike nods excitedly. "See? And I guess if you asked them, they'd all say you don't see each other nowhere near often enough. Donna said I should watch out that you put some thought into your gifts, that they show that you care, and if your presents say 'hey, I want to spend more time with you', it can't really get any better than that."
It's…well, Harvey has to say that it's not a bad idea. Mike can't possibly know it, but his parents are forever complaining that they don't see him often enough. And it might even be a good thing to have all of them here and spend some time with them outside of the usual pandemonium and stress that mark birthdays and Christmas celebrations in his family. Also, it gets him thinking.
"My Dad might hate the opera, but I could take him to see a game here. He'd like that. My brother, too."
Mike raises a curious eyebrow. "A Yankees game?"
That actually makes Harvey laugh.
"Hell, no. Dad might have sat through countless games while I was still pitching, but he's definitely not a baseball fan. Him and Eric are heathens just like you with no real appreciation for the game. No, I was thinking the Knicks. I can get courtside seats, they're going to love that."
Mike's eyes grow as wide as the saucers their coffee cups arrive on.
"You can get courtside seats for the Knicks?"
Harvey shrugs in response. "Yes. I have a client who can get me tickets if I want…"
"The New York Knicks?"
"No, the Springfield, Illinois Knicks. Of course the New York Knicks, what do you think?"
Mike's expression is so disbelieving Harvey has to choke down a laugh, though he can't keep the smile off his face entirely.
"It's one of the perks of the job, Mike. High profile clients are usually very attached to their investments. Our job is to help our clients keep their investments. If we do our job right, they tend to be very grateful for it. And suddenly, courtside seats for the New York Knicks suddenly no longer seem out of reach."
Mike just shake his head, his astonishment still visible. Sometimes Harvey forgets that his associate is still inexperienced in how the world of corporate law works, and he tends to forget that not all their clients are helpless pro bono victims. Most of them are very rich people who above anything want to stay as rich as they are, if not get even richer. Prime seats at a basketball game are not something these people even have to think about as a way of expressing their gratitude for a string of well-negotiated deals. It's how their jobs work, and sooner or later Mike will stop being so surprised about these things. Harvey has to admit, though, he really hopes that Mike takes his time learning that particular lesson.
"So," Mike finally says after a couple of moments. "That's your parents and your brother taken care of. What about your sister? If you were to bring her to New York for the weekend, where would you take her?"
Harvey has the feeling that if Linda had a weekend away from her husband and kids, she'd probably use it sleep for twenty hours straight and then maybe curl up on his sofa with a book for the rest of the time, but that's not what Mike is asking. Compensating the stress of being a mother aside, though, the answer is surprisingly easy.
"Art. She's into art."
Mike shakes his head with what Harvey would almost call exasperation. "Art. Man, this is going to be a tough one, then. It'd be so much easier to find something she'd like if we were in…I don't know, New York, where there's gotta be thousands of museums and exhibits one can go to. Seriously Harvey, this isn't half as hard as you make it out to be. If you know what kind of art she likes, I bet New York has got at least one exhibition on it. So what is it? Old masters, modern art, something else entirely?"
It's almost funny to watch Mike's eyebrows climb up to his hairline. "Comics?"
"Graphic novel art, to be precise, because apparently there is a difference. At least that's what Linda claims every time someone calls them comics. She doesn't hesitate to use arm punches to illustrate her point, either, so I'm inclined to avoid the word comic whenever she's within hearing range. But that's her thing. She studied art, but it always came down to graphic novels in the end."
Mike nods. "So the publisher she worked for before she had the kids…"
Harvey waves a hand in a you got it gesture. "Graphic novels. Good job, Sherlock."
Mike gets his thoughtful face for a moment, then he shrugs. "Well, I'm pretty sure that if there's a museum for that somewhere, you can find it in New York. Although…does she draw herself?"
It's a simple question, but Harvey can't really help how it opens up floodgates.
"She does. Or at least, she used to. I honestly don't know if she still has the time for it these days, but back when we were young she did."
"Is she good?"
Harvey has to bite back a chuckle. "I'm fairly sure I'm under some sort of fraternal obligation not to judge her too harshly. To be honest, I really don't know enough about it to say either way. But I know Linda well enough to say that if she had been a good enough artist to make a career out of it, she would have gone for it. Drawing always stayed a hobby, though, so I'd say she's an amateur who does it for fun. Why do you ask?"
Mike shrugs. "I was just thinking that instead of taking her to a museum, you could sign her up for a class."
"An art class?"
"Yeah. One of Jenny's friends went to a painting class at an art school and kept on raving about how brilliant it was. It might be worth checking out if they offer weekend-classes or one day courses for graphic novel art. Then she could come to New York for a weekend, spend some time with you and spend a few hours in class. Who knows, it might motivate her to start drawing again. If you think that's something she'd like, of course."
Harvey thinks about it for a moment, but he's pretty sure that Linda would enjoy that, even if she won't pick it up again regularly. His little sister has always been very passionate about art, even if it was something nobody else in her family could really relate to.
"What's with the grin?"
Harvey looks up from his last sip of coffee. He wasn't aware that he's smiling, but he hasn't really thought about Linda and her drawing skills for a long time, and there's some pretty good memories attached to those thoughts.
"I think she'd like that. I'd never hear the end of it, of course, but it's a good idea, Mike."
"What does that mean?"
Harvey hesitates, but only for a moment. It's obvious that Mike is curious about his family, and while that curiosity oversteps boundaries Harvey would insist on keeping intact if they were at the office, they aren't on the clock here. More than that, Mike is helping him out, so the least he can do is give him a story in return.
"She probably thinks I never appreciated her creative efforts. There was this one time, I was about fourteen or so, when she did this art project at school. It was some sort of black and white comic strip, and she was so insanely proud of the thing. And then I…well, without incriminating myself, I allegedly participated in the comic strip's early and unexpected demise."
Mike catches on immediately, and his eyebrows raise in astonishment. "What did you do? Tear it apart?"
"Who do you think I am? Just for the record, despite whatever sibling rivalry might exist, I never willfully destroyed her project. And whatever Linda might say about it, she was the one who started it. So really, it's all her own fault."
"You lost me there. It's her own fault that her comic got destroyed?"
It's not quite a lie, but there's the hope that Linda will never ever hear about this conversation, anyway.
"It definitely is. You see, sometimes when both our parents were at work, Linda and me had to look after Eric. The kid was a hazard, really, so it's safe to say it didn't exactly rank amongst our favorite activities. It was clearly Linda's turn to watch Eric that day because I had baseball practice in the afternoon, but she decided to sneak out and go to the mall with her friends instead. Since that left me to deal with a cranky seven year old when I had better things to do, it was clearly within my rights to keep Eric occupied with an activity that was both educative as well as a good practice for his focus and manual dexterity."
Putting it like this, it really sounds like a reasonable thing to do. Harvey can't quite fathom why Linda made such a fuss about it back then. Mike looks mildly confused, though.
"What did you do?"
"I gave the comic to Eric and told him that Linda was short on time and needed some help coloring it. He was very enthusiastic about it, and to be fair I think the end result was way better than what Linda came up with on her own, even if she didn't quite agree."
Harvey shrugs, but he can't quite hold back a laugh. "I did. But as I said, it was totally justified. Linda didn't talk to me for nearly two weeks afterwards, which incidentally was the same amount of time I ended up being grounded for my alleged crime, even though I still retain that I was completely innocent."
Mike just shakes his head. "Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. So, should I call Jenny and ask her to get in touch with her friend? Maybe she'll know where they offer classes for that kind of thing. It might save us some research time, and I really don't know enough about this stuff to say which class would be good and which to avoid."
Mike offers it like it's no big thing, like he doesn't already spend his day off finding presents for people he never even met. More so, Mike doesn't offer it because he thinks it's expected of him, but simply because that's just the way Mike is. It's a trait Harvey still hasn't gotten used to because it stands out amongst the cutthroat mentality of nearly everyone else Harvey deals with on a daily basis.
"I'd be grateful."
Mike nods. "All right. Jenny should still be at work until around three, so I'll give her a call later."
"No problem. Now, we should get going."
Harvey looks up in search of their waitress and signals for the check. "Right. Before we go home, didn't you want to go and get some presents of your own?"
Mike's frown is immediate and in all honesty it confuses Harvey a little.
"What do you mean, before we go home? Do you seriously think we're done already?"
Harvey quickly takes stock, but comes up with all immediate family members accounted for.
"Well, yes. We have a present for everyone, so what else do we need?"
Their waitress steps up to their table and their conversation stops while Harvey hands over his credit card, waits for the waitress to return and signs the receipt. It's only when she has left and Harvey puts a good tip on the table that Mike picks it up again.
"You don't just give your family an envelope with tickets and enrollment confirmation for an art class. Seriously, Harvey. You need something else for each of them, even if it's just something small. Something to unwrap. You know, a present."
A little of the horror Harvey is feeling at the thought of a prolonged shopping trip must be showing on his face, because Mike laughs at him as they get up and grab their coats.
"Come on, it won't be so bad. The worst is over; now we're only looking for some additional gifts."
Harvey is still struggling with the concept of additional gifts on top of regular gifts, but apparently there's some sort of Christmas present code here that he's not aware of and that Donna always took care of previously. He should have known that this wasn't going to be easy, but there's nothing left for him to do but follow Mike out of the restaurant.
"All right, where to next?"
Mike's blue eyes are wide and excited, just as if their next step is going to be Disneyland.
"We need to find a bookstore."
The bookstore is just as crowded as Harvey expected it to be, but it's obvious from the moment they step through the door that Mike feels right at home here. He leads them through the rows of shelves like a General leading his one-man army into battle, and Harvey can't do anything but trudge behind him and hope that they're going to get out of this alive. Within half an hour, they manage to pile a tome on Italian opera houses for Harvey's mother as well as what feels like half a shelf of children's books into Harvey's arms. They weigh about a ton, which is something Harvey's hours at the gym definitely did not prepare him for. However, according to Mike children can never have enough books, and since Harvey put the fate of his Christmas shopping into his associate's hands, he can't really say anything against it.
Instead, he obediently follows Mike to the checkout counter, pays for the books and once more refuses the very reasonable offer to have them gift-wrapped by someone with way more experience and expertise in the field than he has. Harvey has the sneaking suspicion that he's going to spend the rest of the day getting hopelessly tangled in tape and wrapping paper, but Mike's enthusiasm about the whole shopping trip is catching and once they get the heavy bags stowed away in the trunk of the car, he finds he doesn't mind all that much.
Their next step is an art supply store where they buy a set of markers to give to Linda along with her enrollment in art class, and it's only after they go and get a bottle of his favorite Scotch for Harvey's father that Mike asks for a detour in order to buy a gift of his own for the first time that day.
It turns out that there's a comic book store just around the corner that Mike wants to go to – of course it has to be a comic book store, Harvey thinks. Of all the places to go shopping in New York City, Mike needs to go to a comic book store to buy a present for someone called Ben.
Apparently, Ben also works for Pearson Hardman, though up until this morning Harvey would have sworn that he doesn't know anyone by that name in the firm.
Harvey is distantly aware that Pearson Hardman has an IT department. A couple of months ago his laptop crashed beyond his or even Donna's ability to fix it, threatening to take important client files to the great beyond during its demise. Just a little while later a pale and thin guy from IT came into his office, clucked his tongue a few times, did some things Harvey couldn't even pretend to understand, and had his computer up and running again in less than twenty minutes. So yes, Harvey is aware that they have an IT department, and that the people working there are doing a good job. What he didn't know was that there's a guy called Ben working in the IT department, or that Mike is close enough friends with the guy that he needs to buy a Christmas present for him.
He's not even going to start mentioning that buying a Christmas present for an IT-guy in a comic bookstore is about as cliché as it gets. Instead, he silently follows Mike into the store, and as his associate relays his apparently very specified wish to one of the sales assistants, Harvey starts walking around the store. There's plenty of comics in the store, of course, none of which really manage to catch Harvey's attention, but the store holds other items, as well. There's a large wall display with DVDs, posters and cardboard cutouts and other assorted paraphernalia, but Harvey immediately drifts over towards the corner of the store that's devoted to action figures.
Harvey has always been more at home amongst sports items. He openly admits to the huge baseball card collection he had in his youth, but that doesn't mean it's the first time he's been inside a comic book store. Of course that was back in the day, when the original Star Trek series was the best thing on television. Times have changed, apparently, because now there's plenty of other figures stocking those shelves which Harvey doesn't really recognize, and it takes his eyes a bit of roaming until they finally fall onto the familiar shape of the Star Trek arrowhead badges. He steps closer to the shelf and picks out one of the boxes at random.
It's a Captain Kirk action figure, only it's not the Captain Kirk of Harvey's youth, and how awful is it that some kids these days probably aren't even aware that there was another Captain Kirk before the new one?
"You wanna buy yourself something for Christmas, as well?"
Harvey doesn't startle at the unexpected sound of Mike's voice right next to him, even if his fingers tighten around the box for a moment.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Harvey replies and puts the box back in it's place. He's pretty smooth about it, too, but Mike has that grin on his face that clearly says that the puppy found a bone he wants to chew on for a while.
"Oh no? Captain Kirk is the man, does that ring any bells?"
"I was talking about the real Captain Kirk. This," he points to the box, "is not the real Captain Kirk."
"Ah. So you're not a fan of the reboot, then."
"I didn't say that. I have seen it. My judgment is still pending, that's all."
Mike looks at him for a long moment, amusement clear on his face. "So, no reboot Captain Kirk action figure for you then. Duly noted. To be honest, I didn't figure you for the kind of guy to own action figures, anyway. Maybe if they're collectibles, but not for any other reason."
Harvey feels a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. "You don't figure me for the kind of guy, huh?"
Mike's eyes widen slightly. "What, are you trying to tell me that you actually own a Star Trek action figure? You, Harvey Specter, own a tiny plastic version of Captain Kirk?"
"Owned, past tense," Harvey finds himself replying without really thinking about it. "Believe it or not, even I was an impressionable youth at one point. Also, as you pointed out, Captain Kirk is the man, so there's no shame in it."
Mike is clearly amused by the admission, but somehow Harvey can't really bring himself to care all that much about it.
"So the Captain met his untimely demise when you outgrew playing with dolls? Because that would be a pity. If you had kept him, he could keep Joy's doll company."
"Nice try, but I can neither deny nor confirm that Joy in fact gifted me with a doll shaped after my likeness, nor that I kept it in the unconfirmed case that she really gave me one. Also, you don't play with action figures, you reenact. There's a difference. Besides, the only reason why a certain Captain Kirk action figure did not survive to become a collectible is my brother, who I think I already described as a heathen."
"Yes, because he doesn't like baseball. If there is a connection to your Star Trek doll, I fail to see it."
Harvey is pretty sure that his associate is using the word doll deliberately, and he's not willing to let that slide.
"It was an action figure, not a doll, and that distinction is something you should keep in mind. And yes, my Captain Kirk action figure ceased to be because my brother is a heathen, there is a definite connection there. That Eric doesn't appreciate baseball is already bad enough, but sadly he's also always been a Star Wars fan without any sense of other people's property. Apparently, he liked to stage epic battles between Darth Vader and Captain Kirk in my absence, and ultimately, Kirk lost – his head as well as a few assorted limbs. It's a pity, because even without original packaging the figure would be considered a collectible these days, and even though Eric was only six years old at the time, the blame still fully lies with him."
Also, Harvey a grown man, and definitely not the kind of grown man who still worries about collectibles and action figures, no matter that he gets a feeling of nostalgia thinking about the good old days when the case of Roddenberry vs. Lucas was the biggest worry on his mind. Mike only looks at him with a funny expression on his face.
"So you're saying your brother broke your doll."
"No, what I'm saying is that in a fit of childish exuberance my brother destroyed an action figure that could very well be a priceless collectible today."
"Yeah, you see, you keep repeating that, but all I'm hearing is 'My brother broke my doll'." Mike is grinning widely, and before Harvey can get another word in, his face suddenly lights up and he raises one hand. "Hold on, I've got an idea."
He rounds the shelf with the action figures, eyes scanning the shelves until he utters a small exclamation of triumph and pulls a box from one of the boards. When he holds it out for Harvey to see, it's all Harvey can do to suppress a groan.
"A Darth Vader action figure? Seriously? Did you listen to any part of the traumatic childhood experience I just related to you?"
"Nostalgia, Harvey. Your brother and you have this cute little story about those dolls in your past, and nostalgic presents are always good, so really, it's a combination you can't beat. Besides, you said that your brother is a geek, and it doesn't get much geekier than giving someone an action figure for Christmas."
"Says the man who went to a comic bookstore to buy a present for an IT-guy."
Once more, Mike raises a hand at him, finger outstretched and actually waggling at Harvey. "You are in no position to judge another man's choice of Christmas presents. Besides, the figure has a removable light saber. You can simply take that off and put the ticket for the game into Darth Vader's hand. How awesome is that?"
Awesome really isn't the word Harvey would use, but he grudgingly has to admit that Mike is right. Eric is going to love the damn thing, and if Adam lays his eyes on it those two will probably fight over it for all of Christmas. In any case Eric is going to be happy about it, and Mike is practically bouncing up and down in front of him, so Harvey does what every other reasonable person would have done in this situation. He grabs the box out of Mike's hand and walks over towards the register where he pays for it. This time he refuses the offer to have it gift-wrapped right away and accepts the bag with the relieved feeling that it's over now. He's done, he has bought all his presents, and his life can finally return to normal.
As they step out of the store and into the icy air again, Harvey takes a deep breath.
"That should be it. I have a present for everyone, plus an additional present for everyone because apparently that's required, and that's about all I can take for today. So, where do we go from here?"
Mike looks at him for a few seconds, then casts his eyes down as if he's hesitant to ask his next question.
"I need to get Grammy's present, but we'd need to go to Brooklyn for that. I know it's out of the way, and I can get a cab if you'd rather go home."
The fact aside that Mike already told him he'd need to get his grandmother's present this Saturday, the least Harvey can do after Mike spent such an insane amount of time picking out Harvey's Christmas presents is to give him a ride.
"Nonsense. Let me give Ray a call; he'll get us there faster than any cabbie could."
Harvey is slightly surprised to notice that the address Mike gives Ray takes them to a residential area in Brooklyn. There's no shop or store in sight as they get out of the car, but Mike determinedly turns towards the building behind them and walks up the stairs. Harvey follows him, eyes roaming across the building to see if maybe there's a sign up somewhere in one of the windows to signal that there is anything but ordinary apartments behind that front door, but he can't find anything. Mike presses a bell marked 'Walters' – not the name of any business Harvey is familiar with – and a few moments later they are buzzed into the house.
Mike leads them up the stairs to the second floor where they're greeted by a middle-aged woman at one of the doors. She's maybe between forty to fifty years old, a bit on the plump side and with hair that's going gray in places, and she's clothed in dark pants and a dark green sweater. It's not exactly business attire, and it only helps to further Harvey's curiosity about this whole situation.
In any case, Mrs. Walters has clearly been expecting Mike, and if she seems surprised by Harvey's presence, she doesn't let it on. She greets them and immediately ushers them through into the apartment. Harvey still can't quite figure out what the hell all this has to do with Mike's Christmas present for his grandmother, but sooner rather than later their presence here has to explain itself somehow. From the glimpses he gets of the apartment – a narrow hallway with a coat rack, a glimpse into the kitchen on their way past the door – doesn't give him any clues. It's only when Mrs. Walters opens a door to their left and ushers them through that Harvey finally understands.
The room they enter might have been a second bedroom once upon a time, at least it would make sense judged by the size and layout of the apartment, but Mrs. Walters has converted the room into a studio. There's a large table in the center of the room, two tables with sewing machines in front of the windows, and a shelf stacked with bales of fabric covering an entire wall. Harvey's eyes dart around the room, taking in the dress form to his left with what appears to be an unfinished cocktail dress draped over it, and the sewing patterns and pictures taped to almost every inch of the one wall that's free of shelves and things stacked against it.
It's a private sewing studio, which explains the lack of advertisement outside. As Harvey is still trying to take everything in, Mrs. Walters walks over towards the large table and reaches for a folded stack of fabric.
"I finished it last night, Mr. Ross."
She unfolds the fabric in her hands and spreads it out on the table. Harvey can't help it, he is curious and steps closer to take a better look. It's a quilt which Mrs. Waters is spreading it out for Mike to inspect, which the younger man does almost reverently. Harvey doesn't know much about sewing, but the intricate pattern of squares and triangles that spiral in and out of each other looks hellishly complicated. He looks up at Mike to find an almost wistful smile on his young associate's face as he traces one of the seams with his index finger.
Mrs. Walters smiles proudly, rightfully so if Harvey is the one to judge. The quilt looks amazing, and if she really sewed it all by herself, she has plenty of reasons to be proud of it.
"Thank you, Mr. Ross. Now, I did try to use the beige fabric with the flowers for the back like we initially decided on, but it didn't really fit all that well with the front colors. The light rose colored fabric matched much better, even if the flowers were slightly bigger than the little you can see of them in the picture."
She turns over one corner to reveal the backside of the quilt. Where the front is an intricate pattern of different fabrics, pastels ranging from blue and green tones to different shades of lilac, the back consist of one single piece of soft and light-rose colored fabric with small flowers imprinted on it. The stitching from the front makes the fabric puff up in small pockets that repeat the pattern from the front. Harvey can only agree with Mike – the quilt is beautiful, and it looks like a lot of time and effort went into creating it.
"It's perfect," Mike reassures her, and when he looks up at Mrs. Walters with a blinding smile on his face, Harvey feels an almost painful twang in his chest. "Grammy is going to love it."
"I hope she will." She starts folding up the quilt with quick and efficient, well-practiced movements. "It's a pity that you can't see the entire quilt in the picture, but I think we got as close to it as possible. Which reminds me," she quickly walks over towards the wall where she put up the patterns and sketches and removes one of the images taped to the wall. "I know it's just a copy, but I figured you would want the picture back."
Mike takes the photograph with a smile and puts it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. "Thank you, Mrs. Walters."
"Oh, the pleasure was all mine. It's not every day that I get to sew a quilt, and this one has been a wonderful challenge."
She quickly folds up the quilt into a pillow-sized package and wraps it up in a sheet of brown packing paper. There's not a word mentioned about payment, so Harvey assumes that Mike and Mrs. Walters already took care of that through one of their previous meetings. He is sure, however, that a hand-sewn customized quilt doesn't come cheaply, but the wide-eyed look of wonder that's still on Mike's face somehow tells him that his associate thinks it was money well spent.
Mrs. Walters transfers the package into a large paper bag which Mike picks up with a reverence that is almost too much to bear, and amidst a flurry of thank you and you're welcome, dear as well as the obligatory Merry Christmas, Mrs. Walters escorts them back to the door and out of the apartment. Mike remains silent as they make their way down the stairs and back out on the street. The wind has picked up and it has gotten remarkably colder, which makes Harvey long for the warmth of the car, but Ray is nowhere to be seen. He probably had to drive the car around the block to find a parking space that wouldn't block the flow of traffic, so Harvey pulls out his phone and dials Ray's number, letting it ring twice to let Ray know that they are done. It's a well-established system of communication between them, and barring any traffic catastrophes Ray is going to be here in less than five minutes.
Mike is clutching the bag as if someone is going to steal it away the moment he so much as thinks about putting it down on the ground while they wait. A quilt is something Harvey would have put firmly into the 'presents for elderly relatives'-category, anyway, whether it's hand-sewn or bought in a store. Mike however treats it like something that's more than that.
"So, your grandmother gets a hand-sewn quilt?"
Mike smiles, still with that wistful note to it, and without further prompting he pulls the picture Mrs. Walters returned to him back out of his coat pocket. Harvey takes it out of Mike's hand and takes a good look. It's clearly an old photograph, a bit on the grainy side and discolored with age. The fact that it's a copy of the original photograph does not help enhancing the quality, either, and now Harvey understands what Mrs. Walters meant when she kept repeating that the picture didn't show all the details she needed.
The picture shows the inside of a bedroom, the edge of a dark wooden wardrobe and the back of a closed door with a robe hanging from it. In the center of the picture is a bed with a folded quilt lying at the foot end. The quilt is folded so that the underside isn't really visible except as a brighter edge around the top, and the colors in the picture are too faded to really distinguish them, but Harvey recognizes the pattern from the quilt he saw in Mrs. Walter's studio earlier.
"My great-grandmother made the quilt and the robe for my Grammy when she got married. Grammy really loved them, but the robe got too threadbare as the years passed, and the quilt met an unfortunate accident the day before Grandpa Jimmy stopped smoking."
Harvey raises an eyebrow as he hands the picture back. "An accident?"
Mike shrugs, but there's something sad in his eyes as he recounts the particular memory.
"Grandpa Jimmy smoked exactly one cigar a day. It was his vice, and Grammy always said that everyone is entitled their one vice in life. But one day he dropped one of his cigars and it burned a hole right through the quilt. It was damaged beyond repair, and Grammy was devastated. Grandpa Jimmy swore off his daily cigar right afterwards, but of course that was too late to do anything to save the quilt. I was really small when it happened and I didn't even live with my Grammy back then, but it was obvious she really loved that quilt, and I figured that now that I can afford to have a new one sewn for her, she might enjoy it. It's not the same as the original one, of course, but I hope she'll like it."
And that right there is the difference between Mike and him in a nutshell. If Harvey were to buy a gift for an elderly relative, he might pick a quilt for practical reasons. It serves a purpose, and if he took some time picking it he'd ensure it was quality made and looked good, and the moment the clerk at the store gift-wrapped it for him, he wouldn't lose any sleep over it until the Christmas reveal.
Mike, however, Mike bought his grandmother a quilt because there's a story behind it. There are memories attached to that quilt, good ones and bad ones, and that makes it a thoughtful gift, one that Mike obviously spent some time and effort on, one that shows how much he cares. Knowing his associate, Mike is going to agonize whether or not his grandmother will like his gift until the moment she opens the wrapping paper on Christmas, even though it should be obvious that she's going to love it.
It's the kind of present Harvey is forever going to fail at on his own, even though he cares about his family, too. He's simply not good – helpless, emotionally stunted or, if Donna is to be believed, completely inept – at transferring those feelings into gifts. It's something he can admit to, though. He can acknowledge Mike's superiority in this field; after all that is the reason why they are here today in the first place.
"I'm sure she'll love it."
It's almost a throwaway line, something Harvey feels he is expected to say after Mike's last statement, but Mike lights up so much at those few simple words that Harvey is taken aback by the reaction. Even more so, he is convinced it's the truth. Mike's grandmother is going to love his gift because she knows Mike and will undoubtedly know and appreciate the thought process that led to him buying it.
The moment between them stretches on, Mike keeps smiling that wide open and honestly touched smile at him and it's getting too close to something Harvey isn't prepared to deal with. He doesn't have moments with other people, not with people he works with and especially not on a sidewalk somewhere in Brooklyn. Harvey knows that he was the one to break certain boundaries first when he asked Mike to meet him outside of the office for this private shopping trip, but that doesn't mean he's ready to deal with all the feelings Mike is constantly projecting.
Rubbing his hands for warmth, Harvey looks down the street to see if Ray is anywhere in sight. There's no trace of the town-car yet, but it can't be long now.
"Ray should be here any moment. So, what's our next stop?"
And just like that, the smile drops from Mike's face.
"What do you mean?"
To say that the response is confusing would be an understatement. "Well, we got a present for the IT-guy and one for your grandmother. That can't be all the people on your Christmas list. So, who's next?"
Even as he says the words, he knows it's exactly the wrong thing to say. But it's too late to stop himself, and he can only watch as Mike's face falls even further and his hand tightens around the handle of the paper bag until his knuckles stand out stark white against his skin.
Harvey knows what Mike's next words are going to be even before he says them.
"There's nobody else."
It's a soft-spoken admission, and from the look on Mike's face it is clear that he didn't intend for it to come out sounding this sad and broken, but the words are out there now and there's no taking them back. To his credit, Mike catches himself and immediately tries to downplay it.
"I mean, I already have all my other presents. I got yours and Donna's present last weekend, and I had to order the scarf for Jenny online because the nearest store that sells them is a four hour train-ride away. It was just the quilt that took so long in the making, otherwise I'm always early to get done with my Christmas shopping."
Mike might have been quick to recover, but it's obvious that he still needs to learn a lot about the subtle art of deflection. His babbling is anything but convincing, and though Mike really tries to put on the confident act and forces a smile to his face, Harvey can't help that he still feels like he kicked a puppy. It's obvious that Mike doesn't want to talk about it, though, so Harvey decides that it's about time to show his associate how good deflection really works.
"Good. That means you'll have time to help me with that insane amount of presents you refused to have professionally gift-wrapped."
Mike's eyes widen, but Harvey thinks there's also relief written on his face at Harvey's change of topic.
"You really thought I was going to let you sneak your way out of this? There's a trunk full of presents that need to be wrapped, and with any luck I'll manage to attach wrapping paper around the square boxes and the books, but I'll draw a line at Adam's baseball glove. Since you instigated the no-gift-wrapping-movement, I think it's your job to make sure all gifts end up looking presentable, especially the ones that aren't square and flat and thusly easy to wrap."
Ray pulls up at the curb at that moment, saving Mike from having to answer. But some of the excitement returns to his eyes as he carefully places the bag with the quilt on the seat and reaches for his seatbelt.
"We're going to need wrapping paper and tape. Maybe some bows and tags."
Harvey sinks back into his seat with a sigh. He should have known that this couldn't possibly be over without yet another trek to an overcrowded store.
Ray makes a last stop at a department store where they purchase what feels like enough wrapping paper, bows, tags and tape to gift-wrap every single book in the Pearson Hardman library. Mike vanishes for a few minutes while Harvey is having his patience tested by standing in the insanely long line at the checkout counter. When Mike returns, he drops two cartons of eggnog onto the conveyor belt. Harvey raises a questioning eyebrow at him, but Mike merely shrugs and claims that eggnog is the beverage of choice for any Christmas-related occasion, including the wrapping of presents, and that's that. Harvey sees it as the weak excuse to indulge in the consumption of alcohol it is – cheap alcohol, in this case – but Mike's previous excitement seems to be flaring up again and Harvey doesn't have the heart to stomp it out right now. His earlier kicked-puppy expression is still too fresh in Harvey's mind, so he pays for the eggnog without saying anything and ushers them back into the car so that Ray can finally take them back to his place.
Another half an hour later they're finally there, and with Ray's help they manage to lug the trunk full of bags and packages into the elevator and up into Harvey's apartment. After this day, Ray has definitely earned his Christmas bonus, that much is for sure. For now though, he wishes them a good weekend and is gone, leaving Harvey alone with a mountain of unwrapped Christmas presents and an all-too cheerful associate who is still wearing that ridiculous Christmas sweater. Now that Mike has taken off his coat, the monstrosity looks even worse, at least three or four sizes too big for Mike's frame and hanging off his shoulders like an oversized, red nightmare. With reindeer.
Mike doesn't seem to mind his attire in the least, but given everything Harvey knows about his associate, that doesn't exactly come as a surprise. Instead of reconsidering the way he is dressed, Mike is holding up the cartons with eggnog like a proud hunter displaying his kill. It's obvious that there's a question somewhere in that gesture, and Harvey is so resigned to his fate that he merely nods into the direction of the kitchen while he goes to clear off his large dining table.
First order of business is to take care of the presents he didn't buy yet, so Harvey sits down on the couch and boots up his laptop, calling up the Metropolitan Opera's website first. Unlike the rest of his family except for his mother, he doesn't explicitly hate the opera, though he could think of better ways to spend his time. At least he gets to pick the performance, which means he can discard the operas he absolutely doesn't want to see right away.
For example, he's not going to sit through the Götterdämmerung, or any other part of the Ring Cycle, thank you very much. Any kind of Wagner opera is completely out of the question as far as he is concerned. It's a little too heavy for Harvey's taste, and while Mozart in general seems like a much more appealing alternative, the Met is only showing Don Giovianni, and that's not exactly one of Mozart's more cheerful pieces, either.
In the end, he books two tickets for Anna Bolena by Donizetti starring Anna Netrebko. He doesn't know the opera, but he knows Anna Netrebko, and once a little online research reveals that Maria Callas famously performed this opera at La Scala back in the 1950s, the decision becomes ridiculously easy. Maybe this whole putting some effort into a present idea has its merits, though he'd never admit that out loud in front of Mike or Donna.
The prices are ludicrous, but if Harvey is going to take his mother to the opera he's going to do it properly, which means he's not going to seat her in a back row somewhere. For a moment he can't chose between seats right up front or seats up in one of the boxes, and he has honestly no idea whether it makes any difference sound-wise. In the end, he figures that his mother is going to enjoy the experience of sitting in a box looking down on the rest of the opera house and the stage a lot more, so the decision is made. He books two seats in a Grand Tier box and sends a quick prayer that the Met doesn't print the price on the ticket, because otherwise his mother is never going to let him hear the end of it.
There's still plenty of time to pick up the tickets before Christmas, so with a feeling of satisfaction he pushes the laptop to the side. As he gets up from the sofa he notices that while he was booking the opera tickets, Mike was busy spreading out the gifts all over the large dining table. He even sorted them in neat little piles by their recipients, and has started removing the price tags. There's two glasses of eggnog standing in the middle of the table, and before Harvey can even muster up a word of protest, Mike pushes one of the glasses into his hands and clinks his own against it.
"Bottoms up. We have a lot of gift wrapping to do."
It really doesn't leave Harvey much of a choice, so he takes a sip of the concoction. The eggnog tastes just like he expected, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but aside from a slight aftertaste of cardboard, it's not quite as revolting as he expected it to be. So far, so good. Now he only needs to take charge of the gift-wrapping endeavor, then maybe they'll manage to get this done sometime before midnight.
"All right," Harvey says resolutely as he puts the glass down again. "I'll take the flat, square and single packages. Everything that's unshapely or consists of objects of different shape is within your responsibility. Make sure that they no longer look unshapely once you're done wrapping."
Mike looks at him as if Harvey is a completely hopeless case – though a hopeless case of what exactly, he isn't too sure of – and slides over a roll of wrapping paper and some tape.
"All right, how about you take the microscope and the race track, and I'll take the glove and the bottle of scotch. We'll split up the books once we're done with that."
It sounds easy enough. It looks easy enough. Harvey can absolutely manage such a simple task, so he unrolls the wrapping paper and goes to work.
A bit more than an hour later, there's a pile of crumpled up wrapping paper beneath the table that mark Harvey's failed attempts. There were six of them, but twice of those times he almost had it before the wrapping paper tore at the last moment, and he really can't be blamed for the fact that Mike bought wrapping paper of sub-par quality. Sub-par tape, as well, because it seems to be sticking a lot better to human skin and hair than it does to wrapping paper.
By some act of magic though, most of the presents are wrapped up and look presentable with only a few of the books still left over to be wrapped. While they were busy wrapping, Mike has become more and more generous in topping their eggnogs. The slight cardboard taste remains, but Harvey has to admit that the stuff is not quite as bad as he has imagined.
It's probably also due to the large amounts of cheap alcohol that Mike infused him with that Harvey doesn't mind how his own associate has downgraded his responsibilities from wrapping to putting bows and tags onto the finished presents. There's no way Mike could have possibly missed all of Harvey's failed attempts at wrapping, but that doesn't mean Mike has any right to declare him inept at it and assign him a menial task. It's a job that doesn't exactly require skill or dexterity – or any kind of coherent thought process, really, but Harvey has to admit that in the end their gift-wrapping is progressing faster this way.
Half an hour ago Mike interrupted their wrapping session to call his friend Jenny, so admittedly they didn't spend an entire hour on wrapping those gifts. At least half of that time was spent calling Jenny's friend Marie about that art class she visited, followed by looking up the art schools Marie recommended online before they finally settled on one of the schools that offers regular weekend classes. He booked a course but deliberately left the date open. As a mother of three with a husband who is often busy during the weekend, Harvey thinks that it's probably for the best if Linda can pick the date of the course herself.
So now he only needs to call Kurt about those Knicks tickets for his father and brother later tonight, they need to finish wrapping up the remaining books, and then they're done. Harvey is experiencing a slight buzz from the cheap alcohol, and Mike is still happily humming Christmas songs under his breath as he attaches the tape to the wrapping paper. All in all, this day could have been worse.
"So, what is your deal with Christmas?"
Then again, the day is far from over.
"What do you mean," he responds, not taking his eyes off the bow he's currently trying to attach to one of the packages. However, if the alcohol is making Harvey feel slightly buzzed, it definitely makes Mike more talkative.
"What I mean is what's up with the whole Grinch thing you've got going on. Or which Donna says you've got going on, at least."
That makes Harvey look up. "Donna called me a Grinch?"
Mike nods, though he looks as if he doesn't particularly want to. "Yeah. Well, she said you'd prefer to ignore Christmas completely, and that you'd probably use work as an excuse to not go and celebrate it with your family if the firm didn't close over the holidays. And today, it…it just doesn't fit. I mean, yes, you do kinda suck at the whole gift-giving thing, but it's obvious that you care about your family, and you don't really get to see them often, so…" Mike shrugs, narrow shoulders poking against the too-big sweater he's wearing. "I don't know, Christmas sounds like a good chance to spend some time with them."
It's obvious that Mike wants to know more, that he's curious about Harvey's family now that Harvey himself has opened the door a little by taking Mike along on today's shopping trip. Still, Mike has no way of knowing that the answer to his question isn't as easy as it might seem. Mike has no idea that the dynamics of Harvey's family are a lot more complicated than they seem, or that when Harvey was in his early twenties, the mere thought of all of them celebrating a peaceful Christmas together seemed impossible.
There is no way to put all that in a few simple words, though, and no way in hell is Harvey going to recount his entire family history with all its ups and downs – especially not the downs – now of all times. Not today, and not anytime soon. Preferably not at all.
"It's complicated," he eventually replies. It's not a satisfactory answer, he can read as much from Mike's expression as the younger man fixes the last strip of tape in place. However, it's enough of an answer for Harvey, and the fact that he continues despite his resolution not to is solely to blame on the eggnog.
"I don't mind seeing my family, and I don't mind spending time with them. What I do mind is the whole fuss about Christmas, and how it turns perfectly rational people into a crazy parody of their normal selves. My family? By and large, they're normal people. Rational people. Put them together on any day of the year, and they remain perfectly normal people. Put them together on Christmas, and they turn into a crazy version of themselves. My Mom becomes a recluse who spends the entire time in the kitchen, agonizing over whether or not she'll get everything just perfect. Hell, days before anybody even arrives she becomes obsessive about cleaning and decorating every free space in the entire house, and it only gets worse the closer it gets to Christmas. The kids are on a forty-eight hour sugar high, my brother and sister are constantly at each other's throat, and my father hides out in his study the entire time to escape the pandemonium. It's exhausting, it feels forced, and I'd really rather avoid it if at all possible."
Mike furrows his brow and it seems as if he's about to say something in response, but Harvey can't let that happen. He really doesn't want to dwell any more deeply on this. So before Mike can get another word in, Harvey throws out some real, professional and top-level deflection and distracts Mike with a question of his own.
"Judged by your…attire and enthusiasm, you have a different opinion on Christmas, I assume?"
Mike's eyes visibly brighten. "Are you kidding me? I mean, what's not to love about Christmas? The cold and the snow, all the lights and decorations, and it's the one time of year where people are actually nice to one another." He looks at Harvey and gives half an eye-roll. "Okay, maybe not everybody, but most of us mere mortals really make an effort."
Harvey knows he can't quite keep the sneer off his face entirely. He really dislikes fake cheer and fake friendliness, and Christmas is the one time during the year when ever single interaction seems to be loaded with fake cheers and even faker smiles. He really can't be blamed for making a conscious effort not to join in on that charade.
"People are just as likely to stab you in the back even if they're smiling at you. Christmas doesn't change a damn thing about that."
Again, Mike regards him with that strange expression, the one that looks almost pitiful, as if there's an important point Harvey is just not getting.
"Which is why people usually spend Christmas with their family. There's a lot less back-stabbing involved."
Harvey chuckles. "Depends entirely on the family, I'd say. So, the Mike Ross Christmas experience is filled with seasonal cheer. Clearly, that's not surprising."
Mike shrugs and fiddles a little with the last bow that he was about to attach to the package containing Adam's baseball glove.
"It's what I grew up with. My Dad had to travel a lot for work, and sometimes he only came home on the morning of Christmas Eve. But no matter what, he was always home for Christmas, and that made it special. My Mom and me, we always prepared everything – the food, the decorations, everything except for the tree. And once Dad was home, my parents put on some Christmas music the three of us decorated the tree together. Sometimes we were really late with it if Dad only got home at noon or even past that, but we always waited for him so that we could decorate the tree together." A wistful smile crosses Mike's face, and he blinks a few times and takes another sip of his eggnog before he continues.
"The trees always ended up looking crooked – too much tinsel and straw stars at the bottom, where I was decorating, clustered ornaments, clashing colors because neither my Dad nor me really have a feeling for proper decoration. But my Mom never changed any of the decorations around once we were done, and she always insisted that our trees were perfect because they had 'personality'. It was always like Christmas didn't really start until we had decorated the tree together."
There's a faraway look in Mike's eyes and a suspicious sheen to his eyes, and Harvey has absolutely no idea how to deal with an associate in emotional upheaval. It's not exactly his field of expertise. Mike is silent for a moment, and when he finally takes a deep breath Harvey is surprised to hear the ever so slight shudder in it.
"Anyway, I loved that it was always just us during the holidays. Grammy and Grandpa Jimmy usually came by sometime on Christmas Day, but else it was just us. After…when I came to live with Grammy, she did her best to make Christmas special, but it was different. We always had people over, friends of hers who didn't have any family in New York and who would have been alone otherwise. And that was fun, but it just wasn't the same. And these days…well, it's just us. Some of her friends have moved away, some have passed, so it's just Grammy and me."
It sounds incredibly lonely, in a way Harvey can't possibly understand. He shifts a little uncomfortably on his chair, not knowing if Mike expects some sort of reaction from him or if he has already forgotten that Harvey is even in the room with him. This is exactly why he doesn't do this caring and sharing, because there's always the danger that it reveals something he's not equipped to deal with.
Mike is sitting there, still fiddling with the bow on Adam's present, and if anything the glassy sheen in his eyes has gotten even worse. So bad that Harvey is worried that Mike is actually going to start crying the next time he's going to blink, and that is something he wants to avoid at all costs. He's had ample practice in dealing with Mike's tendency to over-share by now, but anything beyond that is unexplored country which Harvey feels no desire at all to set foot into.
"So you're going to visit your grandmother in the nursing home over the holidays?"
It's not the most graceful evasion, but it seems to do the trick. Mike blinks a few times, fortunately without the spilling of any tears, and when he turns back towards Harvey he seems to be more in the present again, less caught up in his ghosts of Christmas past.
"No, I'll take her to my place for Christmas."
That statement actually manages to take Harvey aback.
"You can take her out of there, just like that?"
Mike laughs. "It's a nursing home, not a prison. Grammy is mobile, after all. She just…after that heart attack a few years back, she never fully recovered, and there's some other medical issues that came up afterwards. She can't live on her own anymore, can't do any household chores or anything, and trust me when I say that someone needs to make sure that she takes her meds, but there's nothing that keeps her in the home over Christmas. We're not going to take any long walks or anything, and as long as she takes her meds and there's a hospital within calling distance in case something happens, she's fine to leave and stay with me for a while."
It sounds like Mike spent plenty of thought on it, and Harvey truly doesn't know enough details about Mrs. Ross' medical condition to make any judgment on the matter. But Harvey knows Mike's apartment, and he can't really imagine two people staying there for any length of time without the small room feeling cramped. Even assuming that Mike is going to surrender his bed to his grandmother, there isn't even a bedroom door separating the bedroom from the living room. Hell, the bedroom isn't so much a bedroom as more of a niche in one of the walls of the living room/kitchen. It's definitely not the kind of place where one should take their elderly grandmother for Christmas.
The thing is, Mike looks happy about the thought. There's an almost wistful smile on his face as he puts the now perfectly wrapped quilt back into the paper bag. Mike is happy to be spending Christmas in his crappy apartment because he's going to spend it with his grandmother, and it's no big leap to assume that there have been times in the past when her health didn't make that possible. Harvey can only imagine what that was like.
The realization is so sudden it's almost painful. Mike is lonely. Even with his grandmother around, it's just the two of them – no parents, no brothers and sisters or any other relatives around to celebrate with.
As much as Harvey would prefer to just spend a quiet Christmas on his own with a good glass of Scotch and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation playing on the TV instead of driving up to Connecticut, that would be a deliberate choice. As much as his family grates on his nerves, as many unresolved and half-resolved conflicts there are in their past, they're still around for him to celebrate Christmas with. He still has a mother who fusses and frets over seemingly insignificant things the entire time, a brother and a sister who drive him up the wall with their constant bickering, and a father who's good-naturedly laughing to himself as his niece and nephews seem stuck in a constant loop of 'Uncle Harvey, look!', 'Uncle Harvey this' and 'Uncle Harvey that'.
They're noisy, and yes, they're annoying and have no sense of personal boundaries at times, but they're his family and he feels like a selfish jerk for wishing for a quiet Christmas without them when faced with Mike's very real and unchangeable loneliness around Christmastime.
It's right there on the table in front of him – those stacks upon stacks of presents Harvey agonized over and would have never managed to pick out on his own that take up nearly the entire surface of the table. Mike's two packages look almost lost next to the sheer amount of Harvey's gifts, and it feels wrong because Harvey is sure that Mike would love to buy more gifts if only he had more people to buy them for.
Harvey has to admit, Mike is really good at picking the right presents.
They finish up and put the last bows and tags onto the presents, and Harvey feels a sense of satisfaction settle inside of him at the sight. The two cartons of eggnog are empty – Harvey has no idea how that happened, but the slight buzz in his head tells him that he played a significant part in its consumption. He doesn't really remember, but Mike has been sneakily topping their glasses all afternoon long, so maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise.
Besides, the main part is that they're finally, blissfully done.
"That's it," Mike says with a grin and leans back in his chair. "As soon as you call that client of yours about the basketball tickets, you're all set."
Harvey can't hold back a smile of his own. "Thanks to you." Because despite rumors to the contrary, Harvey doesn't mind giving credit where credit is due. "I appreciate the help."
Mike shrugs. "You're welcome. Besides, it was fun, and you're not nearly as helpless at this whole thing as Donna made you out to be."
"Still, you've got a knack for this whole gift-buying process. More of a knack than I'll ever have, in any case."
Again, Mike shrugs, but a smile spreads on his face at the same time.
"Buying gifts is a lot like being a lawyer, actually."
Another reason Harvey is glad that the eggnog is empty, because had he been drinking at this precise moment, it would have led to a lot of undignified spluttering.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, for a large part a lawyer needs to figure out what the client wants, and then make sure that they get it. And sometimes what a client wants is not what their lawyer thinks is best for them, but in the end they call the shots. It's the same when buying a present, really. You need to figure out what the other person would want and get it for them, even if you don't like the gift yourself, or think it's ridiculous or useless or whatever. In the end, if it makes them happy, it's the right gift." He shrugs again, somewhat awkwardly, as if he's convinced that Harvey is going to shoot down his explanation in not time at all. "At least that's how I see it. And it seems to have worked out today, so…Q.E.D. and all that."
Harvey chuckles with a shake of his head. Of course Mike would say something like that. It's right up there with caring about everyone and everything, that one trait Mike hasn't lost even after his prolonged exposure to the cutthroat world of law.
Maybe it's a trait Mike shouldn't lose, despite everything their work throws at them.
And maybe Harvey shouldn't have drunk so much of that damn eggnog, if it sends his thoughts this close to becoming sentimental.
"Of course. In any case, I'm grateful that you were there to apply your theory to my problem."
Mike smiles at him brightly. "You're welcome. But I should get going, I still have some things left to do at home."
"Of course." Harvey gets up as Mike slides his wrapped presents back into the paper bag. "Let me call Ray, he can give you a ride home."
Mike shakes his head. "No, I'll just grab a cab. It's no problem, really." He picks up his bag and goes over towards the hallway to put on his coat, finally covering up the monstrous red Christmas sweater. With his hand already on the doorknob, he turns around again and gives Harvey a somewhat nervous smile. "Don't forget the Knicks tickets for your brother and father. And…thanks. I had a lot of fun today."
With another flashed smile he's gone and has pulled the door closed behind him, leaving Harvey standing there, wondering if he heard right and Mike really just thanked him for coming along and helping him pick out his Christmas presents.
Apparently, he did.
Harvey has drunk far too much eggnog to contemplate this now.
Once Mike is gone, Harvey downs a large glass of water in the hope that it's going to help dilute the alcohol – not to mention the preservatives and god knows what else – that's floating through his bloodstream thanks to the large amount of eggnog Mike infused him with. The cold water helps clear his head a little, though a slightly queasy feeling in his stomach remains as a reminder never to let Mike buy their alcohol again.
Not that there's going to be another time, since this was definitely the only occasion on which he's going to entertain his associate in his home, alcoholic beverages and the regaling of family anecdotes included. It's…not how he does things.
He clears away their glasses and starts to clean away the mess they left on the table. He puts the wrapped presents back into bags and gets a trashcan for all the leftover wrapping paper and bows. He's about to bunch up some scraps of paper when he sees something sticking out from beneath the colorful pile that is definitely not wrapping paper. Pulling it out, he realizes that it's the picture Mike gave to Mrs. Walters to sew the quilt after. It must have slid out of the bag when Mike took out the quilt to wrap it, and though Mrs. Walters said that it was not the original, Harvey carefully puts the picture aside before he clears away the remaining trash. Somehow, it would feel wrong to just throw the picture away, even if it is just a copy.
The cleanup takes less time than anticipated, but even once he's done and his living room is back in its previous impeccable state, the strange feeling in his chest doesn't let up. It feels not quite like there's something he's forgotten, more like there's something he still needs to do before he can come to rest. It's a weird feeling that Harvey is absolutely not used to, and he can't really explain where it's coming from, can't put his finger on what exactly it is that makes him feel so uneasy.
He paces up and down the apartment a few time under the pretense of cleaning up when there really was no urgent need for any of what he did. He figures that if he already has this restless energy to deal with, he might as well use it for something useful.
He takes a quick shower next and puts on a worn pair of sweatpants and a shirt before he returns to the living room and settles on the sofa with his phone. He still needs to call Kurt about those Knicks tickets, and he'd better get it done before the cheap alcohol eats away the part of his brain that's responsible for remembering things.
The call is amicable – Kurt has been his client for a long time and through some rough scrapes, and so Harvey knows he can't get by with a quick 'hello Kurt, I need courtside tickets'. They exchange pleasantries and make small talk for a little while, even though Kurt has to know that Harvey calling him when their next regular appointment isn't scheduled for another three months can only mean one thing, but that's okay. Harvey is in a good headspace, slightly buzzed but not really drunk, and Kurt is an interesting character, so he barely notices that nearly fifteen minutes have passed before either of them even mentions basketball.
Another five minutes later, Kurt assures Harvey that it's absolutely no problem to get him courtside seats for the next time the Knicks play the Celtics, and they hang up with the promise to go out for drinks some time next month. Harvey puts the phone away with a content sigh and leans back into the sofa. It's not the Yankees against the Red Sox, but it's probably the next best thing. For a moment, just a second, he imagines Mike's face had he been listening in on the conversation, and he has to smile at the wide-eyed look of astonishment he's sure his associate would have sported.
If you only know the right people, it's absolutely no problem to get the things you want without too much effort. It takes a lot of work and dedication to get there, but once you reach the point where you can reap the benefits of your hard work, life gets a whole lot easier. It'll take time, and even more work, but if Mike doesn't give up he's going to reach that point a lot earlier than Harvey did in his life.
Until he does, Harvey will just have to keep an eye out on him.
If anybody asked Harvey why he asked Kurt for four tickets instead of three, however, he's not too sure what his answer would be. Still, he figures he has some time left before he has to find an answer to that particular question, and after all the help Mike gave him today, the least he could do was get him a Christmas present.
The tight feeling in his chest eases somewhat as soon as he hangs up the phone, but it doesn't vanish entirely. He's probably about to develop a case of serious heartburn from the cheap eggnog, so Harvey decides to dilute the stuff with another large glass of water and watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for a while before he calls it an early night.
The movie is old and even though in Harvey's opinion it's not the best one Chevy Chase ever made, but it's about the only Christmas movie Harvey can stand to watch. There's just something about the absolute madness the family falls into the closer it gets to Christmas that Harvey can relate to. Tonight, however, the movie fails to capture him the way it normally does.
He is used by now to the fact that Mike can't help but care all over the place. It's just the way his associate is, and all that Harvey can do is help Mike learn how to suppress it in situations where it'd be really damaging. It's not like he can stop Mike from caring, and to be perfectly honest with himself Harvey doesn't know if he wants to, either.
Still, all that is no excuse for ruining Harvey's favorite Christmas movie for him. Watching it is Harvey's very own Christmas tradition, but tonight all he can think of when he sees Clark Griswold's frantic attempts to try and save his family Christmas is that Mike would love that kind of chaos.
It's unfair, and that thought pulls Harvey up short because he doesn't do this. He doesn't emphasize, doesn't make other people's problems his own, but for some reason he can't help but keep thinking about the kid's defeated expression and his glassy eyes when he talked about what Christmas used to be like with his parents. The thought sneaks in unbidden and doesn't leave him alone again – and Harvey is fully ready and willing to blame that on the cheap alcohol, as well.
It's unfair. There, he thought it again, just as petulant as his niece and nephews do when they don't get their will, only minus the foot-stomping. It's unfair that Mike wants nothing more than the big family Christmas he can't have, and Harvey keeps wishing for some quiet time to himself even though deep down he really wouldn't want to miss his family. They're loud and intrusive, at times they're too much to handle, and they definitely know how to push all of Harvey's buttons and don't hesitate to do so, but Harvey doesn't really want to imagine being in Mike's shoes.
So yeah, it's unfair. The thought bears repeating, especially now that he has the alcohol to blame for his trip down emotion-lane.
A thought is stirring in the back of his head, one that Harvey discards as ridiculous right away, but it won't quite go away no matter how much he tries to ignore it or push it aside. It's ridiculous, really. It'd be blurring lines, and Harvey doesn't even want to consider blurring, and besides, Mike would never agree. Mike's grandmother would never agree. Hell, Harvey is pretty damn sure that if he was sober, he himself most certainly wouldn't agree. His family…well, they'd probably be excited about it, but then again it has been established that Harvey's family is anything but normal, and that their main goal is to make Harvey's life as difficult as they possibly can. So what they would or wouldn't agree to is completely beside the point.
It's a ridiculous thought, but just like that nagging feeling in his stomach it won't go away. Harvey would love to just call it a day, fall into bed and sleep the stress of the day away, but even though he goes through the motions shrugs into a pair of comfortable pajama pants and an old t-shirt, fatigue won't come.
His fingers are itching to pick up the phone, though he has no idea who to call. That's not true, though. It's right there, at the back of his head, but he has already decided that it's a completely ludicrous idea, so he won't even go there. He is not going to call Mike and invite him to spend Christmas with his family in Connecticut just because the kid is desperate for a big family Christmas and instead is going to spend the holidays cooped up in his minuscule apartment with his grandmother. No matter how insane the idea seems that two people could comfortably spend time in that shoebox Mike pays rent for. No matter that Mike's grandmother probably is a lovely woman who has earned a little more comfort over the holidays. No matter that Mike, too, has earned to spend Christmas without that sad expression on his face which he had earlier.
It's still a ridiculous idea.
Besides, it's not like Mike would ever say yes, even if Harvey were to suggest it.
The reason for that? Exactly. It's a completely ridiculous idea, that's why. So really, Harvey is just wasting time thinking about it.
With a sigh, he lets himself fall backwards onto his bed and closes his eyes. He's ready and willing to go to sleep, but his mind is still all over the place, though he keeps circling back to the wistful expression on Mike's face, and after another half an hour of staring at the ceiling, Harvey admits defeat and sits up with a groan.
Whatever was in that eggnog has totally screwed with his normal thought process, that's the only explanation. Before Harvey can remember how rational thinking is actually supposed to work, he's out of bed and back in the living room booting up his laptop. When that's done, he composes a quick e-mail to Donna and hits send before he can have second thoughts about it. Normally, he wouldn't bother with written conversation, but even he knows better than to disturb Donna after ten p.m. on a Saturday night while she's probably busy ruling her minions or achieving the next step on the way to world domination. Harvey might be her boss, but he's neither stupid nor suicidal.
As he closes the laptop, some of the tight feeling in his chest eases. He gets up from the couch, turns off the lights and heads back into the direction of his bedroom. Just as he sits down on his bed in the hope of finally falling asleep sometime soon, his phone on the nightstand vibrates with an incoming new text message. He picks it up, and his face pulls into a smile as he sees that it's a text from Donna with the information he asked for, just as if she had it ready to hand the whole time because she knew he was going to ask for it sooner or later.
Harvey wouldn't put it past her. Maybe she has earned that Christmas bonus after all.
He puts the phone back on his nightstand, turns off the light and lays back down. It's too late now, so he's going to make that call tomorrow and then the ball is going to be in Mike's court. It's a free country, after all, and Mike is completely at liberty to say no if he doesn't want to. But that's for tomorrow, and he won't keep wracking his brain about it for any longer. Not tonight.
For tonight, Harvey closes his eyes and sleeps.
It's weird, almost funny really, that when Harvey wakes up the next morning, the idea of inviting Mike and his grandmother to spend Christmas in Connecticut doesn't seem as hilarious – or as completely insane – as he expected it to. He would blame the hangover from the cheap eggnog, but other than a slightly furry feeling in his mouth he doesn't seem to suffer any ill effects. Once he's showered and dressed, he doesn't feel different than on any other ordinary Sunday morning.
The only real difference is that idea that's stuck in his mind and won't go away, and the contact information that Donna texted him last night waiting on his phone. He deliberates over some coffee whether or not he's really about to do the right thing, if he's not about to cross boundaries that can't ever be put up again once he does, but in the end that nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach won't go away, so he picks up the phone and dials.
In hindsight, Harvey is surprised how quickly this one call creates a momentum of its own. He would have probably encountered a lot more resistance if he had taken this to Mike first, and maybe that is exactly the reason why he doesn't talk to his associate first but instead calls Mike's grandmother.
Harvey knows only too well that it's almost impossible to argue with a mother – or in this case, grandmother – who has made up her mind about something. He's not privy to any of the details of what is said between Mike and his grandmother after he makes the call. All he knows is that Mike's grandmother is a charming lady who seems surprised by the invitation, but surprised in a pleasant way that indicates she's not completely averse to it.
Still, inviting Mike's grandmother won't get him out of asking Mike in person, even if he is sure that she mentioned the call to him during his regular Sunday visit. By the time Harvey gets around to it first thing on Monday morning, it's obvious by his associate's reaction that he already knows about the call between Harvey and his grandmother. He's just as wide-eyed and surprised as Harvey imagined him to be. There's an undercurrent of disbelief in his reaction, too, just as if he thinks Harvey makes a hobby out of calling elderly women over the weekend to jerk their chains a little.
It takes some convincing to let Mike know that yes, Harvey is indeed serious about this invitation and no, Mike is not obliged to say yes just because Harvey is his boss. In the end, however, it takes a lot less convincing than Harvey anticipated, and he puts a large part of that down to Mrs. Ross softening Mike up to the idea before Harvey even asked Mike in person.
It's almost funny to see the different emotions play out on Mike's face, each and every one of them one Harvey has anticipated, before he finally says yes. It doesn't go without a lot of 'are you sure?' and 'you really don't have to, Grammy and me will be fine', with a dash of 'are you sure your family is all right with it?' on top of it, but Harvey knows Mike, knows him well enough to read the spark of excitement on his face at the invitation. If that hadn't been there, Harvey wouldn't have prodded and would have let Mike decline the invitation politely, but definitely. As it is, that excitement and pleasant surprise is there, so Harvey won't take no for an answer – especially not since it doesn't take long for Mike to say yes.
Still, over the course of the following week Mike keeps shooting him these disbelieving glances, just as if he expects Harvey to jump up and yell 'Psych!' any moment now. This insecurity is definitely something the kid needs to work on, especially since even if Harvey made a habit out of screwing with his employees like that, he'd still never stoop low enough for such a public display of immaturity.
It doesn't matter, though. Mike and his grandmother are coming to Connecticut for Christmas, and Harvey is dead set on making sure that Mike enjoys himself. He doesn't question why it seems so important to him all of a sudden, because ever since that day he went shopping with Mike there's been that weird gnawing feeling in his chest that won't go away. He can no longer lay the blame on the eggnog, either, so he simply has to accept the fact that apparently he wants Mike to be happy for the holidays. Why that is so is something he's going to ponder at a later point in time. It's best to leave these things unquestioned for now and focus on the three days of noise, mayhem and his mother's cooking that lie ahead of him. If anything, Mike's presence might give him a convenient excuse to escape the madness in case it gets too much.
And this is how, about a week after their shopping trip, Harvey steers the rented sedan out of the city with Mike in the passenger seat and Mike's grandmother in the backseat. Mike keeps shooting him suspicious glances from the side, as if he wouldn't be surprised if Harvey was planning to drive them to some deserted place in order to drop them off in the woods somewhere. And really, Harvey might be an ass sometimes, he's the first to admit that, but he's not cruel.
Besides, Mike's grandmother – call me Mary, please – is a charming old lady, and Harvey would never leave her to fend for herself. On the contrary, Harvey checked – and double checked, though nobody will ever know about that – that this trip won't be deteriorating to her health. But Mike as well as Mary Ross herself have assured him that she has all the medication she's going to need for the next three days, and that she'll be fine as long as she doesn't exert herself. Still, Harvey is going to make sure that especially the kids with all their restless energy are going to stick to a few simple rules. And just in case something happens, the next hospital is less than ten minutes away – again, Harvey checked – and he knows that one of his parents' neighbors is a retired GP.
Mike's grandmother should be fine, even if the kids are probably going to demand their fair share of attention from both Mike and her. His niece and nephews are pretty excitable about new people, and it's a rarity – or rather, a completely new thing – that Harvey is the one to bring along someone new for a family meeting.
The drive to Haven takes a little less than two hours, and it's good that Mrs. Ross is chatting amicably with Harvey for most of that time. It's good because the closer they get to their goal, the more silent and nervous Mike seems to become. It helps to ease the tension to tell Mike's grandmother a little more about his family. It's nothing he didn't tell Mike during their shopping trip already, but maybe it'll help reassure especially Mike that he's not about to enter some sort of lion's den.
Harvey gets that the idea of spending Christmas with a bunch of strangers might seem alienating at first, but his family isn't exactly normal. His mother always had an open house policy, and not even the disaster that was Eric bringing along his then girlfriend for Thanksgiving a few years back was able to change that. When Harvey called her a few days ago to tell her about the additional visitors, she was excited about it. Of course she immediately started insinuating ulterior motives on Harvey's part, as well, but that is something Harvey is going to set right as soon as he finds a few quiet minutes with her.
The main thing is that Mike is worrying needlessly, but that's probably something his associate won't truly believe until he sees it with his own eyes.
By the time Harvey pulls up in front of his parents' house, snow crunching underneath the tires as he drives on the curb, Mike is definitely looking a bit pale, and if he thinks that the way he's rubbing his palms against his thighs is surreptitious, he's got another think coming. Harvey parks the car right behind his brother-in-law's station wagon. His parents' car is in the driveway, and his brother's car is parked right across the street, which means everyone is already there. That's good, because it means they'll only have to go through the introductions once. Maybe Mike will be a bit more at ease after that.
Harvey cuts the engine and unbuckles his seat belt.
"All right, here we are."
Mike turns to look at the house, and in the profile view Harvey can see his Adam's apple bop up and down as he swallows heavily. Harvey follows his gaze and tries to see the through Mike's eyes, like someone who hasn't lived in it for a large part of his life. Still, he can't see anything that would someone grow pale and nervous like Mike is – though admittedly, Harvey is sure that this has more to do with what's waiting for him inside the house than anything else.
His parents obviously went the whole nine yards as far as Christmas decorations are concerned. It's not even noon so the Christmas lights aren't on yet, but Harvey can see cords and small bulbs wrapped around the front porch, the windows and roofline, and in all honesty Harvey is glad that he wasn't around to witness the nerve-wracking process of putting them up. His father and ladders are not exactly a match made in heaven, and once you add gravity into this particular equation, it's a small wonder they never had to celebrate Christmas in the ER.
Still, Mike is staring at the house like a lamb being led to slaughter, and it's about time to put a stop to this. Besides, it's getting cold now that the engine and the heater in the car are turned off, so there's really no point in lingering any further. Harvey opens his door and gets out, and as if that had been the sign Mike was waiting for he tears himself out of his stupor and does the same. By the time Harvey has rounded the car and has taken Mary's bag out of the trunk, Mike has helped his grandmother out of the backseat.
"What a lovely house," she remarks, and if she's feeling any similar kind of anxiety as her grandson is, she's definitely a lot better at hiding it.
"Thanks. Maybe we should get inside though before we freeze out here. My mother would definitely see that as an affront on her hospitality."
He hefts Mary's bag higher on his shoulder and stays by her side while Mike hooks his arm through hers and guides her up towards the house. The driveway is completely cleared of snow, which means that his father must have cleaned it as recently as this morning – or, more likely, he guilt-tripped Eric into doing it somehow – but still Mike keeps a firm hold on his grandmother's arm and Harvey too finds himself looking out for her steps so that she doesn't trip. A fall before they even manage to get inside would definitely be a grand way to completely ruin this holiday.
They make it to the front door without incident, though, and Harvey quickly opens the door and ushers them through. It's warm inside, that's the first sensation that hits him, and once he closes the door behind them Harvey experiences the same almost overwhelming feeling he always gets when he steps into the house. The smell of food cooking in the kitchen assaults him, mixes with the scent of wood polish from the hallway furniture and other scents that he can't define but which are uniquely tied to this place. There's the muffled sound of voices carrying over from the kitchen, and loud jumping steps that are probably coming from the kids sound from upstairs, and despite everything that happened in the past, this still feels like coming home.
He revels in that feeling for a moment or two before he ushers Mike and his grandmother further into the house and moves to take Mary's jacket from her. So far, nobody seems to have noticed their arrival, but there's the tried and tested Specter family-way to remedy that.
"Mom! Dad! We're here!"
The conversation in the kitchen stops, and Harvey barely has the time to put Mike's and his own jacket on the coat rack before the kitchen door opens and his mother comes out into the hall. She's wearing an apron tied over her clothes and there's a smear of flour on her cheek, which is as clear a signal as any that she's currently deeply submerged in an advanced stage of cooking and baking. Normally she hates being interrupted in her tightly scheduled kitchen regimen, but right now there's a huge smile on her face as she steps towards him and opens her arms.
"Harvey, you're finally here!"
She hugs him, tightly and thoroughly, before she pulls him down to press a kiss on his cheek. Harvey hugs back, and when she releases him he bends over to wipe away the flour from her face.
"It's not even noon yet, so we can't possibly be late."
"You say that now, but wait until you see how much is still left to do before tonight. But we'll worry about that in a moment."
Harvey doesn't doubt for one second that his mother has everything planned out to the most minute detail. Quite probably, she has a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C in place in case an unforeseen disaster derails Plan A from happening, and knowing how much his mother revels in that kind of thing, he doesn't worry one bit. For now, they should probably get Mike and his grandmother settled first. His mother has already turned towards her guests, and Harvey quickly steps in to make the introductions.
"Mom, I want you to meet Mike and Mary Ross. Mike, Mary, meet my mother…"
"Helen," his mother interrupts and shakes first Mary's, then Mike's hand. "Just call me Helen. It's so good to meet you."
"Thank you so much for having us," Mary says, and Harvey has the distinct impression that the only reason why Mike remains silent is that he's still slightly stupefied by the fact that no, this really wasn't a mean trick on Harvey's part and yes, he really brought them home to celebrate Christmas with his family. One of these days, his associate and he need to have a little talk about when he's serious – always – and when he's trying to take the piss out of Mike – not nearly as often as Mike thinks he does, and never when Mike's grandmother is concerned. But that's for another time. Right now, his mother quickly moves in to reassure Mary before Harvey can even think about intervening.
"Oh, we're were all excited when we heard that Harvey was bringing guests for the holidays. Believe me, it's a pleasure to have you. Now, I'm sure you want to get settled after the drive up here, and the rest of the family is dying to meet you." She turns down the hallway and, in a voice that Harvey remembers only too well from countless instances in his youth, calls out. "Ben! Harvey and his guests are here!"
It's pretty much the call for pandemonium. Harvey sees his father come out of the living room at the same time that what sounds like a herd of elephants stampeding towards the stairs. It has to be the kids, a fact that's further proven my his brother-in-law's voice unavailingly trying to call them back. It's probably going to be a mere matter of moments until the whole family is going to be assembled in the front hall. Harvey would be worried about Mike – who is still looking somewhat flabbergasted at…well, Harvey isn't sure whether it's at the fact that he's standing in Harvey's childhood home or anything else, but he's definitely looking as if his head is still trying to catch up with the last five minutes or so. Harvey would worry about that, but at that moment his father is drawing him into a hug, and he's somewhat distracted from his associate.
It's a flurry of hugs and greetings from that point on. He has no idea when Linda or her husband Martin came down into the hall, but there they are, and of course if they're here the kids are not far behind. Linda regularly sends him pictures, so Harvey considers himself pretty up to date on all things concerning his niece and nephews, but he last saw them about four months ago and Harvey finds himself startled by how much they have grown and changed. Charlotte's hair is much shorter than in the last picture he saw, and she's proudly displaying a large gap in her upper jaw where two baby teeth fell out. David and Adam have both grown quite a bit since the last time Harvey saw them, and for a good while Harvey is busy crouching down in front of them, listening as all three of them try to tell him everything important that happened over the past four months, at the same time, and definitely not in their indoor voices.
Finally Linda manages to pull the kids back with the promise that they'll have plenty of time to tell Harvey all their stories later. Harvey straightens back up into an upright position, and it's a good thing Linda intervened, because his knees were starting to protest against the crouched down position. He turns to see how Mike and his grandmother are holding up against his family's exuberance, but before he has the chance to even so much as glance at his associate, his vision is blocked and he's caught in a hug that's a mixture of an embrace and a flying tackle. He actually has to take a step back to compensate for the momentum, but his arms automatically go up and wrap around his brother's shoulders to return the hug.
"Harvey! I was starting to think you'd bail on us."
Harvey just holds on tightly for a moment, because he loves his family, he really does and is finally at a place where he can admit it unreservedly, but Eric has always been special – especially during the bad times. So he allows himself to indulge in the hug for a few moments before he draws back and gives his brother a skeptical look.
"I said I'd be here. Why the hell would I bail out on that?"
Eric shrugs. "You stayed in New York for Thanksgiving."
"I had to work. Besides, Linda is never around for Thanksgiving either."
"Yeah, because she's with the in-laws. Family trumps work." Eric replies with a grin, and Harvey only now realizes that he finally got rid of that ridiculous goatee he was sporting for their mother's birthday. It's a pity, really, because it was a real cornucopia of teasing material right there. But that's something that needs to be revisited later. For now, he should really check to see how Mike and his grandmother are holding up against the onslaught of his family.
"Well, I'm here now, so your Christmas is saved. We'll talk later, I need to check that the rest of the family hasn't scared Mike and Mary off already."
He turns to look for his guests and finds Mary already chatting amicably with his parents. The kids however are crowding around Mike, and Harvey decides to intervene. The three of them are probably going to rope Mike into being their personal entertainment for the holidays soon enough, but the least they can do is wait until Mike has unpacked his bag.
It's an amusing sight, though. They have built themselves up in front of Mike, whose expression is torn somewhere between deer caught in the headlight and indulging amusement. Charlotte, as always, acts as both the spokesperson and the ringleader for the three of them, and Harvey can't quite suppress the smile as he watches her stand right in front of Mike, arms crossed over her chest as she puts him through the first stages of interrogation.
"What about snow forts?" Harvey hears her say as he steps closer. "We're going to build a snow fort in the garden. It's going to be really big, and you can help. Do you know how to build a snow fort?"
It has already begun. If Harvey leaves the children to it, they'll have Mike sign over every spare minute of this visit for their personal entertainment within the first half hour of his stay in the house. It's probably best to set some ground rules now, before they go completely overboard and declare Mike their personal slave for the next three days.
"I don't know," Mike replies before Harvey can intervene. "I'll gladly help out, but I've never built a snow fort before. Someone will have to show me what to do."
Charlotte cocks her head to the side in deliberation before she nods once, her decision made.
"You can help David fetch the snow, and Adam and I will build the fort. It'll be fun!"
"All right, how about we hold off on all construction work until after lunch?" As one, the kids turn towards him – and honestly, it's a little creepy when they do that, even though David is always toddling after his siblings, looking for clues and reacting with a second or two of delay. Charlotte is about to protest, but Harvey holds up his hand to stop her. "Mike has been here for all of five minutes, and we've been stuck in the car for the past two hours. Give him a chance to unpack his bag, get settled and get something to eat, and then you can ask him again if he wants to help with your fort. Besides, I really doubt that Grandma is going to let the lot of you trudge snow all through the house before lunch."
Sometimes, Harvey thinks his mother has bat-like hearing, because she immediately spins around at those words.
"Oh no. We'll have lunch in less than an hour, and I told you no snow forts before that. You can do to the garden whatever you want in the afternoon, then you're not underfoot while I get everything ready, but not before that. Weren't you all playing upstairs until lunch? Come on, get going, let's give our guests some chance to settle. They'll still be here in the afternoon, but it's not polite to leave them standing in the hallway for the entire time."
Maybe his mother's love for the opera and classical music comes from the fact that she's a superb conductor herself. In less than a minute, she manages to direct the children back upstairs with their father, Linda is dispatched into the kitchen to watch whatever is cooking in there, and Harvey is told to surrender his car keys to Eric so that he and their father can get the rest of their luggage. His mother really would have made a great commander in any kind of military organization, because everyone obediently follows her commands without question. She gestures down the hall, and Harvey quickly picks up Mary's bag.
"All right. Mary, we have set you up in the downstairs guestroom. That way, you won't have to navigate the stairs a couple of times each day, and you have the downstairs bathroom all to yourself."
She leads them down the hall and into the guestroom, where Harvey deposits the bag on the bed while Mary takes a look around.
"The bathroom is right next door. Make yourself at home, and if there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask."
Harvey is pretty sure that Mary would have been just as happy spending the holidays in Mike's tiny shoebox of an apartment, but there's genuine warmth in her face as she turns towards Harvey's mother with a smile.
"Thank you so much, Helen. It's really wonderful that you're having us."
His mother just waves her off. "Oh, it's a pleasure, Mary. Just make yourself comfortable, I'm going to show Mike where he is staying."
They leave Mary to her unpacking and return to the front hall, where Eric and Harvey's father are just depositing the rest of their bags from the car. His Dad looks around surreptitiously, undoubtedly trying to make sure that there are no kids within earshot, before he catches Harvey's eye and leans in closer, his voice lowered to an exaggerated stage whisper.
"We deposited the presents in the garage with the others. They should be safe from curious eyes there. Here's the rest of the bags, and with this one I wasn't too sure whether to put it with the presents or not."
He lifts up a brown paper bag which Harvey immediately takes out of his father's hand and gives to his mother.
"Donna sends this and she made me swear an oath not to even think about taking a peek, so here you go. I just hope I didn't transport something illegal across state lines."
His mother's eyes widen and she immediately pulls the bag close to her chest – and really, that's all the clue Harvey needs to figure out that the bag probably contains chocolate of some sort. Sometimes, the woman is all too predictable.
"That's wonderful of her. Tell her I said thanks, and that we really need to catch up the next time I come to New York. But let's finally get you settled. Now, Linda and Martin are in Linda's old room, and we put the kids up in the attic. Mike, you're going to be staying in Harvey's old room and Harvey, you're going to share the basement with Eric."
Harvey has had the sneaking suspicion that he was going to be the one to draw the short stick in the room distribution, but he can see the logic behind it. Eric's old haunt in the basement is the only room in the house with two beds, and they can hardly ask Mike to share the room with Eric. Not only would it be impolite to make his guest share a room, staying with Eric would probably scar his associate for life, as well.
Just as his mother finally moves to show Mike upstairs, Linda calls her into the kitchen on some sort of culinary emergency. Harvey can't smell anything burning, so his best guess is that it's not bad enough to justify the almost panic in which his mother races off to heed Linda's call, but he knows better than to comment on it.
"Never mind her," he says to a still somewhat flabbergasted-looking Mike. "Mom gets a little territorial about her kitchen over the holidays. Come on, your room is upstairs."
Harvey leaves his own bag standing in the hallway for the time being and starts to walk up the stairs. Mike follows him, his own bag slung over his shoulder.
"You all still have rooms here?"
Harvey stops on the first landing and turns towards Mike. Up until now, his associate has been pretty quiet and subdued, at least by his normal standards. But looking back, Harvey realizes that this is the first time they've been alone ever since they collected Mary from the nursing home this morning. Harvey knows that his family can be a little overwhelming at first, so maybe it's not that surprising that Mike remained rather quiet until now.
"Just nominally, really. Mom and Dad run a pretty open house and often have people staying over, so really they're mostly used a guest rooms, or for whatever new hobby my mother has picked up. Besides, the whole house has been a work in progress for as long as I can remember, and Dad keeps on renovating. The downstairs guest room used to be Dad's study, then he turned it into a sewing room for my Mom. I actually don't remember what it got turned into after that, then it was a library for a short time before my parents decided they absolutely needed another guestroom. Dad's most recent pet project is the attic, and if they put the kids up there I guess he fixed it up enough to make it habitable."
They've reached the door to his old room, and Harvey opens the door with a flourish. "So if you were hoping to see any signs of my ill-spent youth, I'm sorry I have to disappoint you."
Mike moves past him and drops his bag onto the bed with a grin. "Pity. I really expected a Top Gun poster over the bed, or at the very least a tiny casket with the remains of your Captain Kirk doll on a shelf somewhere."
"It was an action figure." And really, Harvey is not going to have that conversation again, and neither is he going to educate his hopeless associate on proper burial procedures in space. That Captain Kirk action figure never saw the inside of a casket, but he's definitely not about to tell Mike that. "The bathroom is just across the hall. Make yourself comfortable. I'll be downstairs to unpack my stuff, and I'm sure Mom is about to finish lunch soon. Just follow the stampede once she calls, the kids will unerringly lead you to where the food is."
Mike smiles at him gratefully, and the smile is so genuine and relieved that Harvey doesn't quite know what to do with it.
"You're welcome. If you need anything, just call. Someone's always bound to notice in this house."
He closes the door behind himself and takes a deep breath. He's not quite ready to analyze why the knowledge that Mike is here over the holidays feels so right. He has no time to contemplate it, either. He still has to unpack and make sure that Eric doesn't get any ideas about hogging the entire wardrobe and room to himself, and then hopefully it'll be time for lunch soon.
Let it never be said that Harvey Specter doesn't have his priorities straight.
Harvey often has the feeling that time somehow speeds up whenever he comes home for any kind of family holiday. He barely manages to unpack his bag and move all of Eric's stuff from the comfortable bed near the window to the crappy bed by the door in order to occupy the good bed himself, before his mother's voice upstairs is already calling everyone for lunch. They're going to have a huge Christmas dinner in just a few hours, which to Harvey negates the need for yet another meal at noon. He's not going to tell his mother that, though. It's a battle greater men than him have fought and lost, so he's not even going to try. His mother is incapable of simply fixing a couple of sandwiches and tell everyone to get out of her feet, so Harvey is not going to complain about actually having too many home-cooked meals over the next three days.
So the whole family settles around the kitchen table for his mother's spaghetti and meatballs, and it's a far cry from Harvey's usual lunchtime. The food is delicious, the kids are loud and unusually rambunctious, to the point where Martin has to forcefully stop a food fight from breaking out. But still everyone seems relaxed about it, and Harvey has to admit that noisy as it might seem, this feels relaxing and good.
Mike looks like Christmas has literally come early this year, eyes wide as he watches Harvey's family interact. At one point Martin engages him in a conversation, and when Harvey looks over at Mary he finds her deeply engrossed in an exchange with both Linda and his mother – and heaven help him if the women are already conspiring this early in the day. As glad as he is that Mary isn't just sitting there quietly but rather seems to be enjoying herself in the company of his mother and sister, in Harvey's experience chatting women means plotting women, and that is something he has learned to tread very lightly around. You never know what they get up to when you're not looking.
Lunch is relaxed and unhurried, and it gives Harvey the chance to catch up with his brother a little, but once everyone is done eating his mother immediately tries to shoo them all out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. Mike, of course, turns out to be the kind of guest who insists on helping with the cleanup, and the subsequent small battle of wills ends with Harvey's mother allowing him to help with clearing the table and putting everything on the counter near the dishwasher before he, too, falls under her order of everyone out of my kitchen.
It will never cease to amaze Harvey how a modern, liberated woman like his mother can revert like this during Christmastime, but he's not going to start a fight about that. Growing up they all had their fair share of household chores to do, and if his mother insists on having absolute control over her kitchen for once a year, he's going to let her have it. He's definitely not going to fight for his turn with the kitchen towel.
Besides, it's not as if she doesn't have properly instructed Harvey's father to assign whatever tasks are left over to everyone else, so Harvey is not worried that anyone is going to get bored from a lack of assignments. Before he himself gets whisked away to help do whatever still needs doing however, he does witness how his niece and nephews make sure that Mike will be well occupied for the rest of the afternoon, as well.
With Linda and Mary having stayed behind in the kitchen, apparently it falls to Martin to make sure that the kids are properly occupied and get in nobody's way for the afternoon. Harvey just about witnesses how Martin says something to Adam with a nod of his head towards Mike, and Adam takes a deep breath, turns and walks over towards Mike.
Harvey has to stifle a smile. He knows that his godson isn't really shy, but around strangers he's usually content to let his sister do the talking. Charlotte is a lot more candid and a lot less self-conscious around strangers than her older brother, a fact Harvey likes to bring up whenever Linda tries to tease him by saying how much her children resemble them when they were kids. He was never tongue-tied around strangers, and more than once it was Linda who pushed him forward in order to hide behind him.
Now though, it's obvious that Martin has put his foot down and decreed that if the kids want to drag Mike into whatever game they've cooked up, they need to go the polite way about it and ask him first instead of just assuming he's going to follow their every command. It's a valid lesson to learn, even though Adam looks distinctly uncomfortable as he stops in front of Mike and looks up at him.
"So…we're going to build our snow fort in the garden now, and you can help. If you want, I mean. It's going to be fun, you'll see."
It's not quite a question, but Mike overlooks that and nods his head. "Sure, I'd love to help. I just need to go upstairs and get my gloves and a hat. I'll be with you guys in a few minutes, okay?"
Adam nods. "We'll be in the back garden. The password to the fort is Spiderman rules. You and David will be in charge of getting the snow."
And with that cryptic statement, Adam turns and storms off towards the back door, Charlotte and David following suit. Martin follows with a small eye-roll, probably to make sure that the kids actually remember to put on boots and coats in their enthusiasm to finally get outside, but when Mike turns towards Harvey, he looks a little bewildered.
"There's a password?"
Harvey simply shrugs. After a couple of years, he has learned just to go with the flow and not to question these things.
"Apparently, so you better make sure you don't forget it. Knowing them, they won't let you into the fort you have yet to help build in the first place without it."
Mike shakes his head with a small smile. "Why do I get the feeling that I have no idea what I've let myself in for?"
"Because that's exactly the case. A word of advice?"
The hopeful expression on Mike's face is almost comical as he nods his head enthusiastically. "If this whole situation involves passwords before we've even left the house, I'd say I need all the help I can get. So yes, sensei. Give me advice."
"It's okay to say no to them. Actually, it's encouraged. They're like sharks that sense blood in the water. If they get the feeling that you'll do anything they want, they're going to walk all over you for the rest of the holidays and trust me, that's not going to be pretty."
Mike looks a little queasy at those words, and Harvey almost gives in to the strange urge to reassure Mike that they're just kids, after all, and that he's going to be fine as long as he doesn't mind dragging around buckets of snow for the entire afternoon. He doesn't say anything, though, because Mike is quick on the uptake. He'll figure it out on his own. And if he can't handle three kids for an hour or two, Harvey seriously needs to reconsider if he's going to let him handle any clients in the future.
Mike vanishes up the stairs in order to properly equip himself for his backyard snow adventure, and before Harvey can even think about sneaking away for a little peace and quiet, his father is coming out of the living room and gestures for him to follow. And really, what choice does he have but to simply fall into his assigned role and go with the program? It's a small price to pay for plenty of home-cooked meals and three days during which he doesn't have to worry about any of his clients.
So pulls on his jacket and follows his father outside, and he actually manages to suppress the rising feeling of dread as to what is going to come next for about a minute or two. Then his father goes into the garage to get the ladder, and Harvey immediately reaches into his pants pocket to make sure that he's got his phone on him to call 911 if he needs to.
Seriously, it's Christmas Day and his father is still obsessing over the lights. Somehow, Harvey has the feeling that this can't end well.
As it turns out, his father noticed this morning that a few of the lights around the front porch are not working and is dead set on replacing them before nightfall. Harvey thinks it's a waste of time, really, but Benedict Specter can be stubborn as a mule when he set his mind to fixing something, so Harvey resigns himself to holding the ladder while his father climbs up and exchanges the bulbs. Of course it would be a whole damn lot easier – not to mention a lot less nerve-wracking – if his father let him do all the climbing, but Specter men have never been known to do things the easy way, so Harvey silently holds the ladder and hopes that his father doesn't fall off.
And Harvey has to admit that this is…kind of nice, actually. They never were the kind of people who did those typical father son bonding moments, but other than a few moments during which Harvey is convinced that his father is going to slip and fall off the ladder, and that they're going to spend Christmas in the ER worrying about broken bones, this is actually…well, not fun. That'd be stretching it for sure, but it's not that bad. Really.
They manage to catch up a little, which mostly means that in between checking and exchanging light bulbs, Harvey's father is telling him news about neighbors and acquaintances that Harvey isn't always too sure he actually knows personally. Harvey in turn tells his father a few things about his life in New York, though not too much because otherwise his Dad is just going to launch into yet another repetition of how apparently his life consists of nothing but work and doesn't he think it's about time he changed that?
By now Harvey would say that his relationship with his parents has improved well enough for them to have in depth discussion about these things that don't end in shouting matches, but not over Christmas. He'll play it safe and keep things superficial to avoid any kind of conflict over the holidays, just like pretty much any other American family does at this time of year.
They're working at the front of the house, but occasionally the kid's voices from the back yard drift towards them. They're not clear enough to make out what they're saying, but it all sounds peaceful enough to Harvey. He distinctly remembers that it sounded different when the game of cops and robbers went wrong last fall and Eric ended up tied to a tree for over an hour, so for now he's going to assume that Mike has it all under control. For now, there's no loud calls for help, so he's going to count that as a win.
Which is good, because it takes well over an hour to check and change all the light bulbs around the front porch. By the time his father is content that everything is going to look perfect once it gets dark outside, Harvey's feet are numb, his face feels frozen, and if his father were to lose his ongoing struggle with gravity now, Harvey isn't too sure he'd still have enough fine motor skills left in his fingers to properly operate his phone and call for an ambulance.
He doesn't even bother to hide his relief once his father declares that they're done, and he hurries to put the ladder back into the garage before his father can get any other crazy ideas that involve scaling parts of the house on rickety ladders. As soon as the ladder is out of sight, Harvey hurries back into the house before he can get roped into yet another unnecessary scheme of last minute decorations.
The warmth inside the house feels like a welcome reprieve, but he leaves on his jacket as he walks over towards the kitchen in search of something hot to drink. It might be a good idea to check out back for a minute, too, just to make sure that the kids haven't buried Mike in the basement of their snow fort or anything.
Eric is coming out of the living room as Harvey is halfway towards the kitchen, looking well-rested and smug, and not half as frozen as Harvey feels at that moment. His grin widens as he spots Harvey, and he walks over towards him, stretching languidly with an exaggerated yawn.
"Hey, brother of mine. Let me tell you, the best thing after one of Mom's lunches is lazing around on the couch for an hour or two. It's warm and cozy in there, you should really give it a try. You look positively frozen."
Normally, a smug comment like this would earn Eric a slap on the back of his head at the very least, but Harvey isn't sure he has enough control over his fine motor skills to not actually knock his little brother unconscious if he tries. He doesn't think that would quite jibe with the whole Christmas spirit his mother is so insistent on spreading.
"You're an ass," he grumbles in response, rubbing his hands together in an attempt to get some warmth and maybe a minimum of feeling back into them. "I've been stuck out there in arctic conditions for the past hour and a half, trying to keep Dad from falling off that ladder while you took a nap? Maybe I should let Mom know that you seem a little unoccupied. I'm sure she'll find something to keep you busy."
Eric shakes his head. "Oh no, you won't. I've done my fair share of chores before you even deigned to arrive. It snowed last night, in case you didn't know, and the first thing Dad did once I got here was to hand me the snow shovel and tell me to clear the driveway. I swear, it was like being fifteen all over again. I needed a little rest and quiet after that, not to mention that I earned it."
"You keep telling yourself that. I need something warm to drink now before my hypothermia gets any worse, and then I should probably make sure that the kids haven't completely corrupted Mike. Or tied him up in a snow drift, come to think of it."
Eric laughs at that with a shake of his head. "Oh, I'm fairly sure they're getting along just great. Though Mom did wonder why he asked her for any kind of large square plastic containers she could spare earlier, but from what I saw out the window he's got things under control."
Harvey already has his hand against the kitchen door to push it open, but at those words he stops and looks at his younger brother.
"And it never occurred to you to go outside and help him keep your nephews and niece entertained?"
Eric just shakes his head with a crooked grin. "Nah, I'll wait for them to come back inside where it's warm before I reprise my role as their favorite uncle. Let Mike tire them out a little first."
"You're an idiot," Harvey says before he turns away and steps into the kitchen, but he can't really keep the fondness out of his voice entirely. Spending any amount of time with Eric tends to have that effect on him, but since there's no one else around to witness it, he figures he can let it slide for now.
If the air in the hall seemed warm to him, the kitchen feels nearly tropical, almost too warm against his lined jacket even as his hands are still stinging from the change from the cold back into warmth.
With the warmth comes the smell, too, of the meatball sauce from lunch, the dinner roast in the oven, and all the other different things that are quietly cooking somewhere. However, his mother's lavish dinner preparations currently don't seem to require any kind of active supervision, because his mother and Mary are sitting at the kitchen table, cups of tea in front of them and engaged in a lively discussion. There's no sign of Linda anywhere, but there's a third mug on the table, which means she can't have gone far or for long.
His mother and Mary were talking quietly as Harvey entered, but stop as he grabs a mug from the cupboard and fills it with coffee from the percolator.
"Are you and Ben done with the lights?"
"I'm not entirely sure about Dad, but I'm done with the lights, trust me. If he wants to climb around some more in the freezing cold, he can get Eric to hold the ladder for him."
His mother smiles indulgently and nods her head towards a large pot on the stove.
"If you happen to go out back, tell Mike and the children that I made hot chocolate for them. Of course there's coffee or tea, too, if Mike prefers that. They've been outside for well over an hour; someone should make sure that they don't freeze to death out there. Not to mention that I'd like to know what they needed all those plastic containers for."
Harvey tips is mug into her direction. "You're just worried about the state of your garden. But don't worry, I'll check in on them for you."
It's getting too warm in the kitchen, anyway, so Harvey takes his mug and leaves the room again. Eric is nowhere to be seen as he crosses the hall, but through the front windows he can see his father's jacket-clad figure in the front yard. No doubt he's still busy trying to fix some last minute details nobody else would even notice, but as long as it doesn't involve any more ladders, Harvey doesn't see the need to get involved. Instead, he turns towards the back door to go and see what Mike and the kids are up to.
The cold air hits him as soon as he steps out onto the back porch, and his hands reflexively tighten around the warm ceramic. He takes a few steps along the porch until he stops in front of the large living room window and puts his mug down on the banister of the porch railing. Mike and the kids haven't noticed his presence yet, which gives him the opportunity to watch them for a few moments.
Harvey doesn't quite know what he expected the snow fort to look like, but he definitely didn't expect the project to become quite this large. Normally, a good third of the garden is taken up by his mother's flowerbeds while the rest is covered in lawn. Over the past hour, Mike and the kids managed to clear off most of the snow from the flowerbeds, so much that in places the dark earth underneath is showing through.
Now he also understands what Mike needed the plastic containers for. To Harvey's right, Charlotte is busy shoveling snow into an assorted number of various containers – Harvey thinks he can make out an empty family-sized vanilla ice-cream box and a number of large Tupperware containers. Once she's done filling them she firmly beats the snow a few times until it's packed tight, then she waits for Adam and Mike to carry the containers across the garden.
It's a far cry from the division of labor the kids suggested earlier when Adam told Mike that it was his and David's duty to fetch the snow, but Harvey guesses they adjusted to the most efficient system over time. And efficient it is, if the size of the actual fort is anything to go by. It's not so much a real fort as a wall of snow, curving away from the house, and they managed to build it to quite an impressive size. If Harvey had to guess, he'd say it's about eight feet long and a bit more than three feet high – definitely high enough for the kids to crouch down and hide behind if they want.
Harvey has to admit, it's an impressive feat those four have managed, even if pressing the snow into bricks made their progress a lot faster. As Harvey watches, Adam and Mike place another load of snow blocks onto a part of the wall that's still lower than the rest. While they fill any remaining gaps with loose snow and press it tightly to keep it in shape, David is busy on the other end of the wall, using a small Tupperware box to put small battlements on top of the wall. He nearly has to stand on tiptoe to reach that high, but even from a distance Harvey can tell that his youngest nephew is smiling widely as he works.
"How many more?" Charlotte yells across the garden from where she's still stomping snow into containers.
"About three or four more loads," Mike calls back. "Want me to take over for a while?"
Charlotte shakes her head. "No, I'm good!"
"You're doing great! Once we're done with the main wall, we can stack the armory."
Harvey doesn't even want to know what Mike means by that. He has the feeling that those four have cooked up a very elaborate plan for all this ever since they left the house. It's probably best to leave them to it.
"Are you sure he's really a lawyer?" The question and the new voice take Harvey by surprise, and he nearly knocks his mug off the banister as he turns around. It's Eric who has joined him on the porch, down jacked in one hand and a steaming mug of his own in the other. He puts the mug down beside Harvey's as he shrugs into his jacket and zips it up. "Because he sure as hell would have made a great architect, too, and he seems not half bad as a babysitter, either."
Harvey snorts and picks up his discarded mug again. The coffee has already cooled down, so he quickly takes a few long sips before it goes completely cold.
"I'll keep that in mind in case one of our clients ever needs us to build an igloo or something."
Eric steps up beside him until they're standing shoulder to shoulder, watching Mike and the kids stack even more snow bricks onto their fort.
"So," Eric says after a few moments. "Mike."
There's something strange in his tone that Harvey can't quite define. He turns to look at Eric, but his brother keeps his eyes trained on the building process in the garden in front of them. For a moment he contemplates simply ignoring the remark, but he knows that his brother is going to say what he wants sooner or later, anyway, so he decides to play along.
"What about him?"
Eric shrugs. "Nothing. He seems like a great guy, and the kids obviously like him."
Harvey tries to keep his face and voice impassive, but something in his stomach tightens at the tone in his brother's voice.
"Nothing. It's just unusual for you to bring someone home for the holidays, that's all I'm saying."
Harvey thought he might have to justify his decision to invite Mike home for the holidays in front of a number of people – Mike himself, most of all, as well as his parents and maybe even Donna. The one person he didn't think was going to give him a third degree about it was Eric, and the unexpected turn really takes him by surprise.
"What's so unusual about it? We work together,…"
"He works for you," Eric interrupts, and Harvey concedes with a shrug.
"Fine, he works for me, if that makes any difference to you. And I invited him to spend Christmas with us. End of story."
"Right." There's a smug smile on Eric's face, like he knows a secret he won't let anybody in on, but Harvey decides to ignore it. One thing he really doesn't need over Christmas is to get into a fight with his brother of all people. Still, Eric seems blissfully unaware of the fact that he's walking on thin ice with what he's saying. "And you have such a habit of mixing work with your private life. You're always inviting the people you work with back home with you. I mean, just take Donna. She's been working for you for how long now? Ten years? More than that? That woman practically runs your life, and you brought her here exactly once, and that was not for Christmas. So excuse me for trying to figure out what makes Mike so special that you start breaking your ironclad rules for him."
It's the one question Harvey himself doesn't have an answer to. He tried to find a satisfying explanation as to why the thought of Mike celebrating Christmas alone in his crappy apartment seemed unbearable enough to him to extend that invitation, but he came up empty. It irks him that he can't come up with a perfectly rational answer right away because he doesn't do things that aren't perfectly rational. He's not impulsive, or led by his feelings or any kind of crap like that, but the decision to invite Mike to Connecticut seems to be exactly that.
It's already bothersome enough to try and figure this out in his own head; if he worries about what Eric thinks on top of that it's only going to get more complicated. Still, Harvey knows Eric, and he is aware of how well Eric knows him in turn. There's no doubt as to what his little brother is insinuating, and that is something he needs to cut off at the root.
"We work together, and that's all there is to it." It really doesn't sound as convincing as Harvey thinks it should, and he crosses his arms in front of his chest as if that could somehow reinforce his statement. "He wanted to take his grandmother to his shoebox of an apartment for the holidays. If you ever saw the place, you'd know that it's grossly negligent to let even one person stay there for any length of time, let alone two."
"Harvey Specter, ever the altruist."
"Believe what you want, but consider this: if I hadn't brought Mike here, it'd be one of us crawling through the snow with the kids right now."
Eric considers those words for a moment as they both look at Mike and the kids – or rather what little they can see of them, hidden behind the wall of their fort as they are. Eventually, he inclines his head to the side in a half-nod.
"There is that, of course."
Harvey is so good at what he does because he can sense an opening to his advantage like a shark senses blood in the water. Right now he really doesn't want to keep discussing his deeper reasons for inviting Mike, not with Eric or anybody else. Deflection is a useful too, and though in this instance it's not as smooth as he might have liked – in fact, it's probably anything but smooth – it's going to do the trick. Hopefully.
"So, is there any particular reason why we've been talking about me ever since we got here? You haven't even mentioned work once, which has to be some sort of new record for you. It's not like you to be so tight-lipped about it when normally you can't seem to shut up about it."
It's true, too, so it's not as if Harvey has to lie in order to draw attention away from the question why he invited Mike over for Christmas. It is unusual that Eric hasn't mentioned his work even once since they arrived. Now, Harvey doesn't claim that he always understands exactly what his brother is talking about, but it's not like that ever stopped Eric from going into excruciating detail about it before.
Harvey is no stranger to basic mechanics and electronics. Being a car enthusiast is not something that is limited to driving for him, though it has been well over a decade since he had enough time to really tinker around with an engine. Still, working on a car engine for fun is one thing, Eric's degree in electronic engineering is something else entirely, and Harvey learned early on to admit that most of the things his little brother does for a living go way over his head. He knows that beside his teaching assignments, Eric does research on…something to do with digital circuits, and that's about as far as he's able to follow. It involves a lot of complicated diagrams and equations, and no matter how often Eric insists that he's no computer technician, Harvey feels reassured to know that there's someone he can call should his laptop ever start to act up. Else, he always just mentally tunes out when Eric starts talking geek.
Eric started teaching classes as part of his PhD degree and stuck with it afterwards, and somehow Harvey always assumed that this meant that his brother has settled on a career in academia. Especially since as far as Harvey can tell, Eric has always been enthusiastic about teaching, but his prolonged silence now is a clear sign that something is up. He takes a sip of his coffee, never mind that it has to be cold by now, and takes a long time to align his mug with the edge of the banister before he answers.
"They're renewing my research project. I'll get the funds for two more years from next August on."
It sounds like good news. Actually, it should be great news considering that Eric's been worried about his funding after the end of the academic year. However, he doesn't sound too excited about it, which, to be honest, is somewhat confusing.
"That's good news, isn't it?"
Eric shrugs and leans his elbows onto the banister, kicking the tip of his boot against the wood as if he was trying to knock snow off his soles.
"I've also been offered a job."
That comes as a surprise indeed. "You mean you got headhunted? What has the world of academia come to?"
Eric shrugs somewhat uncomfortably. "It's not exactly an academic position."
"What, a job in the private sector? My little brother goes corporate? Congratulations."
Eric doesn't look as if congratulations are in order, though, and instead keeps knocking his boot against the wood of the porch railing. He's still not looking at Harvey, though, so something's definitely up.
"Well, they definitely offer a whole lot more money, that's for sure. And it would be a nice change of pace, I think, to be a part of developing something and putting it out on the market instead of constantly worrying about whether or not they're going to cut my research funds a few months down the line."
"Yet still you don't seem too excited about the offer, so where's the catch?"
Eric sighs and runs a hand over his face. "The job is in San Diego."
And yes, Harvey can see why Eric is hesitating to accept the job offer. Harvey's first instinct is to tell his brother that he'd be stupid to pass an offer like this up, but on the other hand – San Diego is on the other side of the country. It's hard to find a place that's farther away, actually, unless Eric decides to move to Hawaii, or maybe Alaska. And yes, Harvey is aware that his brother is thirty-two years old and can make his own decisions on where he lives, but still…San Diego.
Who the hell wants to live in San Diego?
"That's not exactly in the neighborhood."
"No, it isn't." Eric sighs and runs a hand through his hair before he finally turns and looks at Harvey. "Just don't tell Mom or Dad about it yet, or else it'll be nothing but good advice and meddling for the next couple of days. I'd really rather wait until I have some idea of what I'll do about it before I tell them."
"Okay. Just if you decide to take the job, don't let Mom talk you out of it again. No matter what she says, it's just a six hour flight. It's not the end of the world if you move away."
To San Diego. Harvey still can't wrap his mind around that. It's already hassle enough to get to Connecticut for family meetings, but San Diego is another thing entirely. It's too damn far away, that's what it is, and as soon as he's back in New York Harvey needs to put some research into this whole matter, and the San Diego crime statistics are the first thing he's going to look into. Just to make sure.
Eric draws breath to reply, but before he can say anything, something hits the banister between them with a loud whack and a fine spray of snow lands on the sleeve of Harvey's jacket. The impact is followed by a loud giggle, and as Harvey looks up he finds Adam and Charlotte stand just a few feet away from the porch, practically radiating mischief. He has no idea who threw the snowball – though if it was Adam, Harvey won't give up hope for a possible future as a pitcher on his part. In the end, it doesn't matter, because one of them did throw that snowball and that is a declaration of war if he has ever seen one.
He casts a quick glance at Eric, and sees the answering glint in his brother's eyes. That's really all the answer Harvey needs. He turns back towards the kids while at the same time he inches closer and closer towards the steps leading from the porch into the garden.
"Oh, you want a fight?" He tries to inflict his voice with as much menace as he can, and Charlotte giggles and takes a few steps back towards the fort. Clever girl. "You're on!"
Eric immediately vaults over the banister – bringing certain death to whatever plants their mother has been trying to grow beneath it – while Harvey takes the more dignified way down the steps. His gloves are stuffed into his jacket pockets, and he loses precious time getting them out and pulling them on before he can scoop up the first fistful of snow.
By the time he has the first snowball formed and ready to throw, a hail of snowballs is already raining down around him. Now Harvey understands what Mike meant when he said they needed to stock the armory. They must have stacked piles of snowballs behind the wall of their fort, ready to throw them at a rapid speed. Harvey manages to get off a shot that hits Adam in the shoulder when suddenly Mike's head pops up from behind the wall of the fort. Harvey sees his arm move and just narrowly manages to duck the snowball aimed in his direction.
Who the hell knew his associate had such an arm on him?
"Retreat!" Mike yells at Adam and Charlotte. "We'll cover you!"
Adam and Charlotte take off towards the safety of the fort, and Harvey is too busy trying to dodge the flurry of missiles launched in his direction to even think about a counter attack. Mike has a good aim on him, and what David lacks in precision he definitely more than makes up for in enthusiasm. His loud giggles ring through the garden as he launches snowball after snowball in Eric's direction, and while he doesn't have the reach to really hit Eric, he keeps him from getting any closer to the fort.
Well, collateral damage is part of any battle, and sometimes, sacrifices have to be made. The beginnings of a plan are stirring in the back of Harvey's head, and since he's the one with the plan, Eric…well, Eric is the bait.
That's just how things fell; he's sure Eric is going to understand eventually.
"Eric!", he yells at his younger brother. "Charge on David's side!"
Eric immediately follows the command, easily dodging David's throws even as their youngest nephew's giggles turn into a shriek of alarm as he realizes that his uncle is coming right for him. And as predicted, Mike, Charlotte and Adam immediately turn towards him, focusing all their efforts on helping David keep Eric away from rounding his side of the fort.
They leave their other flank completely open, and that's what Harvey was hoping for. He scoops up a large fist full of snow and darts off to the right, ready to take the fort from there while their backs are turned. And it works. With Eric just a few feet in front of the fort playing the part of the overwhelmed attacker, their attention is focused on anything but Harvey sneaking up in their backs.
The first thing Harvey sees as he rounds the side of the fort is the large stacks of pre-formed snowballs lying right behind the wall of snow. Mike and the kids have enough ammunition to thoroughly drench him and Eric if they want to, but if he can only manage to get to the stack of snowballs closest to him, then the odds of this snowball fight might just change…
Just as Harvey reaches his goal and lifts his arm to launch the mother of all snowballs against the back of Mike's head, Charlotte suddenly turns around to grab for a snowball from another pile. She sees him standing there, arm raised and snowball ready to be launched, and her eyes go wide and she opens her mouth to scream for help. Harvey needs to act fast, or his plan is going to go up in flames.
"You help Uncle Eric and me, and I'll make sure you get as many of grandma's cookies as you want."
Charlotte hesitates for maybe half a second, but then the bribe does its trick and she grabs a fresh armful of snowballs and launches them at her older brother. Harvey aims for the back of Mike's head at the same time, and he can't stop the laugh that escapes as the snow hits Mike's knit cap with a satisfying thwack. Mike spins around, which really is all the invitation Harvey needs to launch another handful of snow right at his face.
His aim is still true even years after he last pitched anything with the intent to hit, and the way Mike splutters against the snow in his mouth and nose is more than just satisfying. Charlotte needs no further invitation to launch an attack of her own, and Mike's eyes widen almost comically as he understands what's going on.
"Traitor!" He yells at the boys. "Charlotte has defected!"
Harvey seriously doubts that Adam, much less David, know what defected means, but they don't really need a reason to team up against their sister.
It's pandemonium from there as Mike tries to keep the remains of his troops together with Eric attacking from the back, and Harvey and Charlotte from the front. There's a hail of snowballs coming from all sides, and Harvey is convinced that half of the snowballs that hit him are the results of friendly fire. It doesn't matter, because the kids are obviously enjoying themselves if their delighted shrieks as they manage to stuff snow down the back of Eric's shirt are anything to go by.
Harvey sees movement from the corner of his eyes and turns around just in time to see David come charging towards him with an armful of loose snow. He has no time to dodge, but he does manage to grab David by the waist and pull him to the ground. With a loud battle cry he rolls them through the snow until a small snow drift stops them and Harvey comes to a rest on top of David who is grinning up at him, cheeks flushed red from excitement.
"Oh, so you want to dunk snow on me?"
He tickles David's sides and the small boy squirms beneath him, though it's probably more a reflex because it seems unfathomable that he could really feel anything beneath all the layers of clothes he's wearing.
"Do you want me to dunk snow on you, show you what that feels like?"
He scoops up a palm full of snow and holds it over David's face. David starts squirming in earnest now, valiantly trying to kick out of Harvey's hold. He's still laughing so hard that he barely gets a word out in between.
"Stop…Uncle Harvey, please…stop!"
Harvey contemplates mercy, but in that split second of hesitation there's boots crunching in the snow beside him, and before he can move there's a tug on his jacket and something icy runs down his neck. He jerks back and tries to make a grab for his attacker, but Adam runs past him just out of reach with a whop of laughter, and before he can do anything against it, David wriggles back to his feet and runs off behind his older brother.
"This means war!" He scrambles back to his feet and grabs as many snowballs as he can carry before he starts after the two. "You better run, because if I catch you, you're going to get it!"
He starts chasing them across the garden, but Adam and David aren't stupid. They split up and try to get him back from both sides. Within a minute he's run out of snowballs, resigned to scooping up snow to make new ones when a voice from the back porch interrupts the battle.
"All right, kids! That's enough!"
Harvey ducks a last missile coming from Adam's direction and turns to see his mother standing on the back porch, arms crossed in front of her chest. Once she has everyone's attention, she points a thumb into the direction of the back door.
"You've been out here for hours, you need to get warmed up. There's hot chocolate in the kitchen, and I don't want to see anyone carrying snow all through the house."
It shows how much his mother is used to obedience from her children and grandchildren alike, because she turns around without another word and vanishes back indoors. The kids cast pleading looks at both Harvey and Eric, and even Mike, in turn, but not even Harvey is daring enough to disobey a direct order from his mother on Christmas day.
"All right, kids, you heard your grandma. Time to go back inside."
Charlotte starts towards the back porch with a disappointed sigh, and Adam makes move to follow, but Harvey is halted by an insistent tug on his sleeve. Looking down, he finds David standing in front of him, cheeks still flushed a bright red as he grins up at him.
"Uncle Harvey, can we stay outside? Just five more minutes?"
"Sorry champ, no can do. You heard your grandma. Come on, let's get inside before that hot chocolate gets cold."
Before David can even think about trying to bargain for more time in the snow, Harvey picks him up and tosses him over one shoulder, holding him in place with one arm as he marches back towards the porch. David seems to enjoy the ride and he squeals happily as Harvey pretends to drop him before he sets him down on the porch.
It's a bit of a shuffle to get the kids out of their snow-covered clothes, stripping off the soaked layers of clothing until only the dry clothes remain. It will never cease to amaze Harvey how many layers of clothes Linda manages to put on the children without rendering them completely immobile, but after what seems like endless minutes of clothes seemingly everywhere, the kids are on their way to the kitchen, the boots are piled up near the back door, and Eric is carrying an enormous pile of jackets, mittens, hats, sweaters and pants in various states of wetness into the laundry room to dry.
"You know, bribing your niece to turn on her own brothers was an unfair move."
Mike is just as flushed as David was earlier, and somehow that makes him look even younger than he is. Harvey ignores the small twinge in his stomach that he can't quite place, and looks at his associate with one eyebrow raised.
"I was merely exploiting a known weakness to my advantage. I hope you paid attention, because that's something lawyers do quite regularly out there in the real world. Besides, Charlotte is a middle child and the only girl. Trust me, normally it doesn't even take the promise of cookies to make her sell her brothers out."
Mike huffs. "Right. But let me tell you, without that treason you wouldn't have stood a chance. We had enough ammunition piled up to completely destroy you."
"If it lets you sleep at night, just keep telling yourself that. Though giving credit where credit's due, that was a pretty impressive snow fort you managed to build."
Mike's entire face lights up at those words, just like it does every time Harvey compliments him on a job well done – and he knows he does not do that as often as Mike's work might merit it, but that is because he wants for him to keep striving to do better in everything he does.
"The kids were a great help," Mike ads quickly. "They worked really hard, and they're clever. The armory was Adam's idea."
Harvey probably should have guessed that his godson was involved in that particular aspect of the snow fort construction. He's going to have to compliment him on it later. For now, he could really do with a coffee or some of that hot chocolate to warm up, and then he needs to wrangle some homemade cookies from his mother in order to pay his debt to Charlotte.
And just maybe, these past two hours have tired out the kids enough so that he might get an hour or two of peace and quiet, preferably inside, where it's warm. He's had his fair share of snow for the day.
A/N: So, this one took a bit longer to get out than I had initially anticipated - nearly half a year, really. I'm sorry for that. The truly ridiculous thing is that the part I was stuck on were the first couple of paragraphs of this chapter, nothing more. It was just a few insignificant paragraphs, but they really threw me back. Sorry for that. But now that that's over, I really hope the rest of the story is going to come out a lot faster.
This part grew to nearly 10.000 words, so I hope that makes up for the incredibly long wait.
I have huge thanks to say to smartalli who patiently helped me with all my baseball-related questions in this chapter. Without her help, I probably would have made a complete ass of myself with my nonexistent knowledge of the sport. Any remaining mistakes are mine and probably due to me rearranging the things she helped me with.
Harvey doesn't really get any peace and quiet after that, and he should have known that hoping for it was a pipe dream. Once his mother has distributed hot chocolate all around, Linda tries to whisk David away for a belated nap. It's obvious even to Harvey that the kid is dead on his feet, but still he protests loudly against going to sleep until Eric finally manages to convince him with the promise of a bedtime story. At six years, Charlotte considers herself way too old for a nap, but she isn't one to pass up a free story, so she follows them up the stairs, and Harvey really isn't surprised when Eric comes back down not even ten minutes later and declares that both kids are fast asleep.
It should be the chance Harvey has been waiting for to finally get an hour or two of elusive downtime without any interruptions, but he should have known that it wasn't going to be that easy.
First he has to go back down into the basement to change out of his shirt which is wet and clinging to his shoulders where Adam stuffed snow down his back. While he's down there, he once again moves Eric's stuff from the good bed by the window to the crappy bed by the door and resolves that the next time his brother gets any illusions about where he's going to sleep the next two nights, he'll skip the subtle approach and just toss Eric's stuff out of the room entirely.
Once he gets upstairs, though, any thoughts he might have had about seeking out a quiet spot to relax for maybe an hour or two evaporate. His father intercepts him almost as soon as he reaches the top of the stairs, and for a second or two Harvey is worried that his immediate future is going to involve even more ladders and climbing around in the cold. By the time he has come up with something that might count as a suitable excuse – he simply can't afford to lose any of his fingers to frostbite, not in his job – his father has already steered them into his old office and pushes a stack of papers towards Harvey.
It's contracting paperwork for getting parts of the roof replaced the next spring, and because Harvey knows that his father doesn't really need any advice on dealing with either contractors or renovation works around the house, he sees it at the segue into more catching up between them that it's meant to be. At least this time that it doesn't take place in the freezing cold outside, and with no immanent danger to his health and general wellbeing, Harvey finds that he doesn't mind at all.
They chat about old family friends and acquaintances, their conversation always steering clear of any topics that might carry the potential of any kind of conflict, and in the end Harvey is surprised to realize that an hour has passed once he leaves the office.
Of course the first thing that happens afterwards is that Harvey runs into his mother, which means he immediately gets tied up into running errands around the house, and slowly but surely Harvey realizes that the first time he's going to have some quiet time on his own is going to be in the evening, once everyone else has gone to bed. And even then, he'll still be facing the struggle to get Eric to accept that there's no way Harvey is going to sleep on the crappy bed by the door before he'll actually be able to lay down and get some well-deserved rest.
Still, somehow he doesn't mind that he's being kept busy throughout the afternoon. If he really wanted to spend his holidays lazing around in front of the television, he could have stayed in New York, would have stayed there instead of coming here. But he came to Connecticut instead, so he can hardly lock himself up in a room and avoid everyone else. Instead, he uses the chance to catch up with his family a little more thoroughly than their monthly or less frequent phone conversations allow him to.
He does take the time to make sure that Mary is all right every once in a while, though, just to make sure that the kids aren't bothering her, and that she's not sitting around on her own somewhere. He needn't have worried, though, because every time he catches a glimpse of her, she seems to be enjoying herself just fine. She stays in the kitchen with Harvey's mother and Linda for quite a while, chatting and laughing and setting off all of Harvey's alarms about plotting women and just how much scheming three of them can get done in the span of three days. He probably doesn't really want to know the answer to that.
Later in the afternoon, he sees her and Adam engrossed in what looks like an intense game of checkers, and judged by the desperately focused expression on Adam's face, Mary Ross is not someone who subscribes to the theory that adults should let kids win. Apparently, Mary isn't so much beating as destroying Adam at checkers, and yet instead of giving up in frustration like Harvey might have expected his nephew to do, Adam listens raptly to whatever it is Mary is telling him as she collects three of his pieces in one single move.
Huh. Who would have thought. But Adam doesn't seem frustrated, there doesn't seem to be any temper tantrum just waiting to be released, so Harvey guesses that it's okay. Surprising, yes, but definitely okay.
The one person Harvey really only catches glimpses of for most of the afternoon is Mike. He almost always sees him in passing whenever his mother is sending him on another errand around the house, but from the few quick glances Harvey gets, Mike has no issues keeping himself occupied. He and Martin seem to have hit it off and continue the conversation they started at lunch. The next time Harvey passes by the living room, Martin is gone and instead Mike and David have their heads bowed over a puzzle on the coffee table. Harvey is sure that a little later, an elaborate game of tag is going on in the house because there's giggling, shrieking and running all over the place, and Charlotte nearly runs him over on her way to the staircase as she dashes away, and a moment later David and Mike follow her in hot pursuit.
All things considered, it's probably a safe bet to say that Mike seems to have no issues keeping himself occupied while Harvey spends some time with his family. And it keeps the kids occupied, as well. Not that Harvey minds spending time with them, he really doesn't. But he's the one family member they see the least often, so whenever he's around they're normally glued to his side as soon as he walks in the door. Apparently this time, the novelty of having Mike around seems to win out over their rarely seen uncle.
It might be a relief that for once he doesn't find himself in the position of being the automatically assigned babysitter, but that doesn't mean he's evading the kids. Absolutely not. Which is why he doesn't even think about protesting when at some point after the game of tag is done, Charlotte pretty much physically drags him into the living room because they're playing cards and, as she puts it, it's really no fun unless there's as many players as possible.
And it is fun. Admittedly, Go Fish is not Harvey's preferred choice of game, but the kids enjoy it, and Harvey thinks that Linda and Martin would have a few choice words for him if he only so much as thinks about introducing the children to a proper game of poker. So Go Fish it is. Of course, the kids are ridiculously easy to read and almost always give themselves away and make it far too easy for Harvey to guess which of them is holding the cards he needs. But he doesn't exploit it as much as he could. After all, Mike might think he's more subtle about it, but he's got plenty of tells that Harvey's only too willing to exploit, and besides, it's a lot more rewarding to beat someone who has already passed puberty. Mike is the only one who makes it that easy for him, though. Mary has one hell of a poker face, and that turns even a game like Go Fish into a challenge.
They play quite a few rounds, and then a game or two of Snap because David insists on it, but when that seamlessly leads over into an epic battle of Spoons, Harvey makes a graceful exit. He loves the kids, he'd even go as far as to say that he enjoys spending time with them occasionally even if that means playing childish games, but he has to draw a line somewhere, and Spoons definitely lies across that line. Way across the line. He's talking miles here.
The afternoon passes surprisingly quickly, and before Harvey knows it, it's already past six. There has never been any kind of timetable as to how his family celebrates Christmas, but the one hard and fast fixture is that they're having dinner at half past six on Christmas Eve, and everyone better be at washed up, dressed properly and sitting at the dinner table at that time, or else face the wrath of Helen Specter. Harvey can't remember anyone ever being late for Christmas dinner, not in his lifetime, but someone must have made that mistake at some point. There's no other explanation as to why especially his father seems petrified at the mere idea of one of them being late for dinner.
The Specters have never been a family that practiced religion, they don't go to church on Christmas Eve, or any other day of the year really, and there's preciously few traditions surrounding the holiday in Harvey's parents' household, but at a quarter past six Martin and Linda start herding the kids upstairs to get washed up and changed to make sure they'll be ready in time for dinner. Harvey sees that as his signal to go downstairs to freshen up and get changed, too. He's glad to see that Eric seems to have received the message about their sleeping arrangements for the night, because his brother's things are still lying on the bed with the saggy mattress by the door.
He changes into a simple button down shirt and dark pants, because even though there's no real dress code to Christmas dinner at his family's house, he knows that his parents appreciate the effort. Mike could probably get through with showing up in jeans and a t-shirt because he's a guest, but if Harvey dared to do that, the very least he'd receive would be a very serious Frown of Disapproval, and his mother is the only person Harvey knows who is able to convey capital letters with a simple frown.
Just as Harvey arrives back upstairs in the hallway, Mike comes bounding down the stairs. He's dressed in a dark blue shirt and pressed pants which miraculously survived the journey to Connecticut almost free of wrinkles. There's an excited gleam in his eye as he stops beside Harvey with a grin on his face and cocks his head to the side slightly.
"It smells delicious in here," he says with an appreciative sniff of the air. Harvey can't help but agree, and if he's honest with himself, his mother's cooking is something he's been looking forward to for days.
"It does. And I sure hope that you're hungry, because I may not know what exactly Mom has been cooking all day long, but I do know for a fact that there's going to be plenty of it."
Mike rubs his hands excitedly. "I'm sure it's going to be great. And I thought it smelled just like my Grammy's apple pie earlier, which is the most awesome pie in existence, so if it smells like that I'm sure it's going to taste delicious."
At that moment Mary comes down the corridor towards them, and they wait until she has reached them before Mike hooks his arm into hers and together they walk to dinner.
There's no real dining room in Harvey's parents' house. There once was, Harvey is sure of that, but it fell victim to one of his father's bouts of redecoration over the past decades. Instead, holiday dinners are traditionally served at the large dining table in the living room. Harvey guides his guests there, where the rest of the family has already assembled, and for a few minutes it's a flurry of activity, with everyone seemingly randomly rounding the dining room table, sitting down only to get up again in search of a different seat. Finally everyone has found their place, with the kids seated between Linda and Martin on one side of the table, and Harvey sitting between Eric to his right and Mike to his left on the other side. Mary is sitting on Mike's left, and Harvey's parents taking the two remaining places on either end of the table.
Once he sits down and looks across the table, Harvey realizes that he was right. There is plenty of food, and plenty might still be an understatement. There's a huge Christmas Ham in the middle of the table, surrounded by enough vegetables, side dishes and gravy pots to keep the family fed for days. Which is exactly what is going to happen, and large part of the enjoyment is going to be seeing how his mother is going to manage to turn the leftovers into what will seem to be completely new dishes come tomorrow. For now, though, they have all taken their place, and Harvey's father clears his throat. Everyone falls silent and turns to look at him.
"You all know that I'm not someone to make big speeches."
To his right, Harvey hears Eric suppress a snicker, and he tries to surreptitiously elbow his little brother in the ribs. Eric jerks to the side dramatically, so of course everyone at the table notices and the force of two parental glares are immediately directed their way. Their father shakes his head, but the corners of his mouth tug up slightly in a smile he's trying to suppress.
"And since it seems that some of you have issues with sitting still for a minute, I'm not going to make any big speeches now."
This time, the chuckle is barely audible, and it comes from Harvey's left. Harvey keeps his elbow reflex in check, though. He and Mike are definitely going do have words about how it's not funny to hear your boss being scolded by his own father, but he's going to save those for later. For now, any further action is only going to delay the start of dinner, and those are completely unacceptable terms in Harvey's book.
"I just want to say that I'm glad to have all of you here tonight. It's far too rare that we have the whole family together like this, all our children, our grandchildren, and some new friends. It's wonderful, and I'm grateful that you're all here. Now, I know I'm not endearing myself to anyone if I keep talking while there's all this delicious food on the table, so I'm going to keep this short." He raises his glass, and everyone at the table mimics the action – predictably, only Linda's quick reflexes save the table from getting drenched as David is a little too over-eager in reaching for his glass of milk.
Ben tips his glass into the direction of his wife at the other end of the table. "Thank you Helen for what I'm sure is going to be a wonderful dinner. Merry Christmas everyone. I'm really grateful that you're all here to celebrate with us."
There's a chorus of "Merry Christmas" around the table as everyone drinks to his father's – mercifully short – speech, and then…well, then it's time to eat. Bowls and plates are passed around, and food is dished out to the rising background chatter of 'pass me the mashed potatoes, please', 'where's the gravy' and 'if you want dessert, you'd better eat those green beans first'. Harvey tries to make sure that Mike and Mary don't get overlooked in the pandemonium that is his family scrambling for food, but he probably needn't have worried. Mary is seated directly next to his mother, after all, and his mother takes being a host seriously, so Harvey really isn't surprised that most of the dishes pass Mary and Mike first before they're even handed to another member of the family.
The chatter dies down as everyone around the table starts eating, and really, talking is overrated when there's a meal like this on the table. The food is delicious, there's a good wine to go along with it, and though Harvey would be hard-pressed to admit it openly and out loud, this feels good. There was a time when it seemed impossible to have a peaceful family holiday like this, one that feels comfortable and not strained, but that was years ago. More than a decade, really, almost two. Maybe it's time Harvey stopped thinking about it at such lengths.
Conversation picks up again as dinner progresses. Mike and Martin really seem to have hit it off, at least that's the only explanation Harvey can come up with why they're once more engaged in a hushed and intense conversation that nobody else seems to be able to follow. Still, it's good to see that Mike doesn't need an intermediary to keep himself entertained, and by now he has realized that he doesn't need to worry himself about Mary, either.
So instead, he focuses on the food on his plate, the banter with Eric, and whatever excited stories the children are trying to tell him from across the table. Apparently, neither Adam nor Charlotte have given up on their snow fort yet and plan to keep expand on it the next afternoon. Someone might have to tell Mike of that, because Harvey has the distinct feeling that his associate has a firmly assigned role in those plans, even if the kids haven't deigned to tell him that yet.
They eat until Harvey feels like he'll burst at the seams if he only eats one more bite, and just as he thinks that he'll be content to just sit here for another hour or two until someone rolls him out of the room and down to his bed, when his mother announces that it's time for dessert.
There's a bustle of movement as everyone around the table starts to help clearing up the table and carrying the leftovers into the kitchen to make space for dessert – and Harvey would help, really, it's just that he can't move. Linda and Martin return with coffee and hot chocolate for the kids, and his mother carries a plate with a pie that simply smells mouth-wateringly delicious.
Harvey really should have left out that second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy in order to leave room for this. Though he can't help but wonder, because his mother is renowned for many culinary feats, but generally baking isn't one of them.
Mike however has an absolutely rapt expression on his face and stares at the pie like he's ready and willing to propose marriage to it. Harvey leans over towards his left and tries to keep his voice down as much as he can.
"I gotta warn you. My Mom's a great cook, but a horrible baker. Something always goes wrong."
Mike shakes his head. "Oh, I don't think we need to worry about that."
Before Harvey can make more of this cryptic remark, his mother picks up the knife and starts slicing up the pie.
"Mary is a godsend," she says as she starts cutting the pie into slices. "My pear-cranberry-pie suffered a little mishap,"
"Thank god, and may it rest in peace," Eric mutters a little too loudly, unsuccessfully trying to cover his words up by a fake cough, which earns him a glare from his mother.
"You don't have to eat dessert if you don't want to, Eric. So maybe my strengths lie elsewhere, but once my pie turned out a little…too thoroughly baked, Mary stepped in and shared the secrets of her apple walnut pie with me. So this year we're going to have a traditional Ross family Christmas dessert, and I'm very grateful that she's sharing this with us."
Harvey's eyes turn towards Mike at those words, and there's a definite watery shine to his eyes that speaks a lot about how many memories are associated with that particular dessert on this particular holiday, so he turns away and pretends not to have noticed. Mike seems touched but not unhappy, and Harvey can live with that for now.
Besides, the pie is absolutely delicious, and even though Harvey is much too full to get down a single bite more than his one slice, he seriously contemplates hiding away the leftover pie so that he won't have to share it with anyone else. The most awesome pie in existence, indeed.
They sit and talk for a while after dessert, and Harvey is convinced that he's not the only one at the table fighting a food-induced comatose state. It's only when the kids are starting to get restless that they finish their coffees and get up. Everyone helps clearing the table, which is about as much interference as Harvey's mother allows before she starts to shoo them out of the kitchen once more. This time, Harvey doesn't even consider protesting and forcing her to accept help in the cleanup process. Her simply wants to sink down in the nearest comfortable seat and bask in his food induced bliss for a little while.
Alas, it's not meant to be, because as soon as he steps out of the kitchen and tries to hone in on a comfortable place to spend the next hour or so in, a hand clamps down on his wrist in an iron grip and he finds himself physically dragged along the corridor and into his father's deserted study.
Linda merely glares at him, and only releases the vise-like grip on his arm once she closes the door behind them.
"I can walk on my own, you know?"
Linda rolls her eyes at him as he massages the skin on his wrist. Damn but his little sister has a firm grip on her.
"I know, but you're also not always the quickest on the uptake, and I really wanted to get this over and done with before anyone else notices that you've vanished. I've been trying to catch you alone for the entire afternoon."
"Level your complaints at Mom and Dad, would you? They've been keeping me busy during those few precious minutes when I wasn't keeping your kids occupied."
Linda smiles and shakes her head. "Poor, poor, Harvey. Can we be serious for just a minute, though?"
"Is anything wrong?"
She shakes her head. "No, of course not. Though that might depend on your answer to my next question."
Harvey spreads his arms. "If it's important enough to drag me to a clandestine after-dinner meeting, then by all means go ahead and ask."
"I talked to Donna last week."
Harvey frowns and tries to come up with whatever transgression Donna and Linda might have been conversing about that led to him being dragged off just now, but for the life of him he can't come up with anything. So he does what he does best – he tries to get to the bottom of the matter.
"And what have you been talking about that makes you drag me off during the first quiet moment I've gotten all day?"
"Donna said that she went on strike this year."
"You know, Pearson Hardman employee regulations clearly state that…"
"Harvey." Up until now the tone of the conversation has been playful, almost teasing, but now Linda's voice takes on a much more serious tone. "I'll best get to the point if you're already ready to deflect. Donna told me that she refused to help you with your Christmas shopping this year. And Harvey, I love you, and the kids love you, but everyone in this family knows that despite all your good qualities, you suck at picking presents. Now, I don't care, and neither do Mom and Dad, or Eric, but your nephews and niece are a bit too young to understand that. So what I want to know is if Martin and I need to break out the emergency stash of 'Uncle Harvey is trying, but he just doesn't get it'-presents."
Harvey can't believe his ears. "You have an emergency stash of presents for the kids just in case someone doesn't know what to get them?"
"No, actually we have an emergency stash of presents in case you don't know what to get them. Do I have to remind you about the snarling dragon painting fiasco? Because I'd much rather not face a repeat of that."
Harvey shakes his head. He guesses that Linda has a point, somewhere, but the lack of faith is really disturbing. He does a quick mental check of the gifts he and Mike bought the previous weekend. He's pretty sure that the kids are going to like them, but even if for some reason they don't absolutely love them, he's convinced there's not going to be any tears about them.
"I might have…misjudged things in the past, but I promise you there's not going to be a repeat of that this year."
Linda doesn't look convinced, and Harvey has to admit that he might not have the very best track record where this is concerned, but a little trust in his abilities would really be appreciated right now.
"But you're not going to tell me what you got for the kids?"
Harvey thinks about the baseball glove, and how convinced he is that Adam is going to love it, and shakes his head with a smile. "No. You'll have to wait until tomorrow morning, just like them."
"Okay." Linda sighs. "I'll hold you to it, though. No snarling dragons, no shaving kits, no Cuban cigars this time."
Linda cocks her head to the side. "Somehow, I'm still not entirely reassured."
"Would it help you if I told you that I had help with my shopping?"
"What? But Donna said she wasn't going to…" The moment Linda understands is visible on her face, and a frown starts to appear on her face. "Mike." She shakes her head. "You sent your associate gift shopping for you? Really?"
"He helped," Harvey contradicts. "I didn't send him anywhere. I asked for his help, he agreed and we went shopping together. He…might have pushed me in the right direction a few times. And that's all I'm going to say about it."
Linda smiles and shakes her head slightly. "Mike, huh? Interesting."
Not really, at least not from where Harvey's standing. Mike is his associate, it's not that far-fetched to think that he'd help him out in this situation of need.
"What's interesting about that?"
"Never mind." There's something in her voice that sounds exasperated, almost as if Harvey is missing a point deliberately, but before he can really think about it any further, Linda continues. "The kids like him, and he must have the patience of a saint because he put up with their exuberance all day long already. If he wants a few minutes on his own you should warn him. Adam said something about game time in the attic before they have to go to bed, so unless Mike wants to get dragged into endless rounds of card games, he should make himself scarce for a little while."
Mike would let the kids drag him upstairs, and he probably wouldn't even mind, but Linda is right. He's their guest, not the kids' new entertainment unit.
"I'll let him know."
"Good." Linda nods. "So, I can rely on there being no tears or terrified children come tomorrow morning?"
"Linda, your lack of faith is hurting me." He presses a hand against his chest with a dramatic flourish. "Deep, deep down, in my very special place."
"You're an idiot," Linda replies with a swat at the back of his head which Harvey easily ducks before he turns and opens the door.
Okay, so Linda has precedent to doubt his abilities to find the right presents for his family, but this year he is actually sure that he didn't get it all wrong. Which yes, admittedly, is something he has to thank Mike for. And considering Linda's warning that the kids are trying to rope him into yet another round of being their personal source of entertainment, maybe warning him about it is only fair. That is, if they don't have his hapless associate in their clutches already. If that's the case, Mike is beyond even Harvey's help.
There's no sign of Mike in the living room as Harvey passes it, and neither is he in the kitchen where Harvey's mother is finishing up putting the dishes in the dishwasher while she's chatting to Mary who is seated at the kitchen table. Harvey is about to go upstairs in search of Mike when he sees a figure move outside. The dim porch light and the milky glass inlay of the front door make it hard to tell who it is, but on a hunch Harvey grabs his jacket from the hook and opens the door.
It's indeed Mike who is walking up and down the length of the front porch. He has his jacket zipped up to his chin, has a scarf wrapped around the neck, and he's rubbing his hands together even though he's wearing gloves. Harvey scoffs silently as he shrugs into his own jacket and zips it up. It's not that cold, after all.
"Fair warning," he says as Mike turns towards him. "Linda says the kids are looking for you. So unless you're in the mood for endless card games with ever-changing rules, you might want to wait out another few minutes before you go back inside."
Mike shakes his head with a slight smile. "What if I like card games?"
"They also have Twister set up in the attic."
Mike grimaces. "On the other hand, maybe I will stay out here for a little while longer."
He leans against the porch railing and looks out at the street, though Harvey would be hard pressed to say what could possibly be so interesting about the view.
"Remember what I said about how it's okay to say no to them? Because I'd hate to repeat myself."
"I know. And the kids are great, they really are. Your whole family is great. It's just that it's…"
"A bit too much?" Harvey guesses, and Mike nods with a small smile.
"Yeah, a bit. I guess I'm not used to being around so many people over the holidays anymore."
Harvey considers himself to be a bit of a lone wolf himself, so he understands the sentiment completely. He turns towards the driveway, and nods his head for Mike to follow him.
Mike hurries after him, boots clanking on the wooden porch steps as he hurries to catch up.
"Where are we going?"
For a second, Harvey doesn't know what to say because it's not like there's a plan to any of this other than to escape the pandemonium that is his family for a little while.
"For a walk, to work off some of that dinner. And with any luck, the kids will have settled into one of their games by the time we come back and you won't even come into the situation where you actually have to say no to them, because we both know how that would end."
"But…shouldn't we tell someone where we're going?"
An amused smile spreads on Harvey's face. "If this were 1982, I might consider it. I doubt anyone is even going to wonder where we've gone. And if they do, they know how to use a phone."
Mike falls into step beside him as they walk down the street. All neighbors have dutifully cleared their sidewalks from the snow, so the only sound is the occasional crunch of some leftover snow or gravel beneath their boots. The silence doesn't feel oppressing, though, and even if it did Harvey wouldn't know what to say. It's not like he had any kind of plan to take Mike on this walk. Hell, he didn't plan on going for a walk in the first place. If he did, he might have thought to bring a pair of gloves at the very least. Now all he can do is stuff his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket and hope that he won't slip on a random patch of ice, because he doubts he'd be able to bring them out again quickly enough to brace his fall.
They walk in silence for a couple of minutes, but it feels so good to be moving after the opulent dinner they had that Harvey doesn't feel the need to fill the silence with idle chatter. And it's good to get away from the noise and constant activity in the house, if only for a little while, even if it's actually a lot colder out here than Harvey initially anticipated. It's easy to get lost in his head for a little, so he's actually a bit startled when Mike breaks the silence.
"You know, when I tried to picture what Christmas with Harvey Specter might look like, this isn't really what I imagined."
Harvey is startled for a moment, but he can't help the smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth as he tries to imagine what kind of scenarios Mike came up with in his head. Probably, it were scenes of Dickensian dimensions.
Mike huffs a laugh. "No. I mean, last Tuesday I had to endure a lecture from you because my tie was askew before a client meeting, and just a few hours ago I watched you roll around in the snow with a four year-old. It's a bit hard to reconcile these two images in my head."
"To you, it might just be a tie that's askew, but to your client, you send the message that you don't have an eye for detail. Or worse, that you simply don't care about the details. It's subtle, but it's there, and if there's one thing a client wants, then it's a lawyer who will take care of all the details for them, no matter how insignificant they might seem. I really hate to repeat myself, but in our line of work, appearance is everything, and that is only one reason why that is so."
Mike turns towards him with a slight frown on his face, but though he slows down a little, he doesn't stop.
"So appearances don't matter here?"
It's a loaded question, though Mike probably isn't even aware of it. Harvey takes a moment to try and come up with an answer that will stop Mike's line of inquiry before he touches upon the questions that Harvey is not ready to answer.
"It's different. Or are you trying to tell me that the Mike Ross who works at Pearson Hardman acts just the same as Mike Ross when he's around his grandmother? Because I know for a fact that that's not true. This is my family, Mike. They knew me long before I even thought about going to law school. There's a lot more history here that has nothing whatsoever to do with my life in New York, that I don't exactly take home with me once I leave."
He hopes that the unspoken message is clear. Harvey takes great care to keep his family life private, even if not necessarily separate from his every day life in New York. There is the occasional visit, and it's not like he refuses to take his family's phone calls while he's at the office, but that's about as far as he's willing to allow things to mix. The only person who knows his family is Donna, and else there is only Jessica who actually knows any details about them even if she never met them, and that's how he'd like to keep it, too. The less people know Harvey even has a family, the better, especially since he works in a world where every emotional attachment is a weakness just waiting to be exploited. So there's not going to be any fond reminiscing about Christmas at the Specters' in between briefs and depositions, and Harvey hopes Mike understands why he wants to keep these things apart.
Mike merely tips his head to the side slightly as he acknowledges Harvey's words. Even in the dim lighting of the streetlamps, Harvey can see the sly smile on the younger man's face.
"Harvey Specter, ruthless lawyer during the day, Uncle Harvey over the holidays. It's nothing Bruce Wayne would write home about, but I guess it's a start on this whole double life thing."
Harvey chuckles, though the last thing he wants to do is encourage his associate any further. "Let me tell you one thing – if it ever came to a competition, my condo could hold its own against Wayne Manor."
"Does that mean you have a butler like Alfred? Secret rooms that you keep hidden from prying eyes? A pole on which you slide down right into the Batcave in your basement?"
"Not that you'll ever know."
Mike shakes his head with a laugh. "Seriously, though. I honestly admit that when you first told me you were an uncle, I couldn't really see it. The fact that you were kinda helpless in the whole gift-getting process didn't really help, either. But I have to say that you have the whole uncle-part down pretty well."
"What, you didn't think I'd know how to deal with kids?"
Mike shrugs and stuffs his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket. "I don't know. I figured you'd be more…distant, or something. Not getting into snowball fights and indulging in endless games of Go Fish."
"Well, you've met the kids. They are good at involving people in whatever they're up to, even if it's not exactly voluntary at first."
Mike tilts his head, and it's obvious that he's curious. It's probably understandable. The children aren't exactly part of Harvey's daily routine, but they have been a part of his life for so many years now that it sometimes catches him unawares how other people react with surprise when they see him interact with his nephews and niece for the first time. And he must admit that snowball fights with children don't exactly fit into the image of Harvey Specter, best closer in New York City. It's just that that's not all there is to him; most people simply never get to see the other sides.
Not so Mike. Harvey opened that particular door all by himself, so he probably owes him a bit more of an explanation.
"When Linda got pregnant for the first time, I had it all planned out. I'd set the kid up with a trust fund and leave all the goofing around to Eric. After all, I was a senior associate at that time, and it was only a matter of time before I'd become junior partner, I figured I wouldn't have a lot of time to be spending with them, anyway. That way, they'd get one fun uncle out of the deal while I made sure that they wouldn't have to worry about going to college later on."
Mike's head perks up again curiously.
"So what happened?"
"Linda, I guess." Harvey shrugs. "Apparently, she had a plan of her own, and as she's wont to do she didn't consult me before she put it into place. When Adam was born and I came around for the standard meet-the-baby visit, my plan was to look into the crib, say some nice things and then leave and set up the trust fund. Instead, suddenly I had a baby in my arms and Linda said 'Meet your godson, he needs a new diaper'. And that was that." He stops himself, but his mouth doesn't seem to get the message his brain is sending, because he continues talking even though he didn't plan on it.
"Whatever plans I had about the degree of my involvement with the children, Linda simply overruled those. Let's just say that back then things in our family were…complicated. Having the kids around, it helped mend a lot of broken bridges. Also, it doesn't really hurt that apparently being the absent uncle automatically promotes me to being the favorite uncle whenever I do happen to be around."
Mike doesn't ask, though Harvey can tell even in the dim light of the streetlamps that he wants to. He can't help but feel grateful for it, though, because he doesn't plan on tainting the image Mike has gotten of his family by telling him stories of their less than presentable past. Let bygones be bygones and all that.
"Well, I don't know about the favorite uncle-part, but in my humble opinion, the kids turned out pretty awesome."
That is definitely something Harvey can agree on. They walk in silence for a little while, and Harvey is surprised when they turn a corner and the baseball field comes into view. They can't have been walking for more than ten minutes, and somehow the distance always seemed longer as a child, when he was in the back of his parents' car, or riding there on his bike.
The field is dark, barely illuminated from the street lights, but Harvey doesn't need to see it to remember exactly what it looks like. The streetlights reflecting off the snow are enough to make out the bleachers, and the dark shadows of the dugouts, and even though the light doesn't stretch that far, Harvey knows exactly just how far the field stretches until it ends by the chain-link fence that separates it from the public park beyond.
There are tracks around the diamond and throughout the field, marking where some of the neighborhood kids must have played a game in the snow earlier today. A short one, judged by how few tracks there actually are, but then again it is Christmas Eve and the kids were probably called back in by their parents pretty quickly. Or they lost a ball in the snow somewhere, and Harvey still remembers how difficult it can be to find a ball in ankle-deep snow if you only take your eyes off it for just a second. Especially if you don't see where exactly it landed.
It's weird that they ended up here. Harvey had no intention of taking Mike to the baseball field, but then again there was no plan to this entire walk. His feet must have automatically taken him down the one road he most frequently took during his childhood. It's not surprising, really. He has a lot of fond memories of this place – countless practice hours, his first Minor League and Little League games, the infamous post-game brawl of 1985, kissing Sarah Wilcox behind the bleachers after their first championship celebration…
Oh yes. Definitely good memories.
"So, I guess this is where we're going to end up tomorrow when Adam decides to try out his new equipment."
The words tear Harvey out of his reminiscing, but they make him chuckle. "Yeah, I guess so." After breakfast, probably, once that first rush of digging through all their presents has abated somewhat for the kids. And it should be fine, he thinks. There's bound to be some bats and old gloves left in the basement somewhere, and even if they're not enough people to play a real game, they can throw some balls, and he can give Adam his first few pointers about the sport. Of course, that's only going to happen if Adam actually wants to. "If he likes the glove, of course."
This time, it's Mike's turn to huff out a laugh.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. Earlier, after that game of tag, we got to talking about sports, and he started telling me all about how he's going to start playing baseball in the spring. He's so excited about it, I'm pretty sure that any baseball-related present is going to be a big hit with him."
"I sure hope so."
Harvey can't help but feel a bit nervous about it despite Mike's words, and that's not something he's used to at all. For once he put some effort into this whole issue with the Christmas presents, and now he can't help but worry that it might not have been enough. It's completely irrational, Harvey would even go as far as to say that it's insane, and he absolutely can't say how other people do this year after year, holiday after holiday, and on top of that seem to enjoy it, too.
People like Mike, who is still babbling away beside him.
"Adam also said that he's hoping you'll play with him, but that Linda and Martin told him that he shouldn't pester you too much about it because of your shoulder. I got the feeling he really wants you to show him some things before he goes to his first training session, though."
"I think we can arrange that." It's nice to hear that Linda is worrying, but Harvey's shoulder injury definitely isn't so bad that he can't throw a couple of balls around with a nine year old. He can't pitch with any seriousness anymore, but he's not made of glass either. It's not like he'll be throwing fast- and curveballs, after all. Worst case scenario, he's going to spend an hour or two with an ice pack on his shoulder when they get back. It's really nothing to get worked up about.
"So this is where you played, huh?"
Harvey lets his eyes roam across the field again. It is, at least most of it is. The bleachers have been redone at some point after Harvey stopped playing, and the area around the field has changed quite a bit over the past twenty-five years, but it's still essentially the same field.
"Practice sessions, and home games in Minor and Little League, yeah. So you could say this is where it started."
It ended only a few years later, just a few miles from here on his high school's baseball field, but Harvey forces that thought aside. This here right now feels good and comfortable, and he doesn't want to taint it by thinking about the painful ending to what once amounted to his dream career. Not here and now.
"Were you any good?"
Harvey turns his eyes from the field and looks at Mike, one eyebrow raised. The light from the streetlamp behind him is hitting the back of Mike's head, lighting up his hair an almost too bright shade of blond, and while it's throwing shadows across his face, Harvey can still see the challenging grin tugging up the corners of his associate's mouth.
"Were we any good? I'll have you know that we won the district championship two years in a row, and that the last game of our second championship season was so amazing that people still talk about it today."
Which is probably stretching the truth a little, but Mike doesn't need to know that. In the weeks after the game, it definitely was the topic of all neighborhood conversations. At least of the people who cared about baseball, or those who had kids on the team, which practically made up most of the neighborhood, anyway. And damn, but it was a great game.
Mike doesn't look like he believes that the game could have possibly been that important or amazing, which is something Harvey absolutely can't let stand.
"Okay, so here's how it went down. Top of the sixth, one out, Guilford had runners at second and third, and we were up by one run. Marcus Garza was our pitcher, but he was getting tired, so Coach called me in."
"Dramatic," Mike mumbles, and Harvey resists the urge to give him a shove with his shoulder to reinforce the seriousness of what he's recounting.
"You better believe it was. I had struck out their next batter before, and I knew I could do it again with a combination of fastballs and changeups. I struck him out before he even knew what was going on. But then I was facing David Parker, and the last time I faced him before that, he hit a double, and I gave up two runs."
That last time also ended in David Parker running his big, foul mouth after the game, which resulted in the equally infamous post-game brawl of 1985, and in Harvey getting benched for three subsequent games. The lecture he received from Coach while he was sitting in the dugout, holding an ice pack to his rapidly swelling eye was epic, but it was absolutely worth it. David Parker had it coming for a long time.
Mike looks at him, his interest piqued. "So what happened?"
Harvey shrugs, though he can still feel his pulse accelerate slightly as he remembers the feeling of standing up on the mound, of the ball in his hand as he stood there facing David Parker, knowing that he wasn't willing to give him the satisfaction of a single hit, knowing that this time, it really counted for something.
And he still remembers the feeling of calm that came just before he made that first pitch, the feeling that this time he was going to come out on top, and not David Parker. It was the first time Harvey felt that this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
It was a rush.
"I struck him out. Hell, he didn't even see those balls coming."
Mike grins. "Forget about the curve ball, Ricky. Give him the heater!"
It takes Harvey a second to get it. "Major League? You chose this moment to quote Major League to me?"
Mike shrugs. "What can I say? Coach Brown just begged to be quoted in this scenario."
Harvey just shakes his head. "Your Coach Brown needs a lot of improvement, that's all I'm saying."
"My Coach Brown is flawless, and you know it."
"I'd say it ranks right after your Stallone on the list of impersonations you desperately need to improve on."
He says it with a certain fondness in his voice, though, and he really hopes that this evening won't end with the two of them standing near the baseball field, screaming "Adrian" into the night. On a New York sidewalk you might get through with that and nobody bats an eye at it, but here it's bound to get back to his parents sooner rather than later, and he really doesn't want to face the embarrassment of such a scenario.
Mike doesn't take their banter any further, though. He's no longer facing Harvey either, but has his eyes trained on the field. There's a wistful expression on his face as looks at the pitcher's mound. He's not really seeing the snow-covered field, though. Harvey simply knows that he's trying visualize what Harvey just told him. He's probably picturing the sunny day, the screams and cheers from the people in the bleachers, the sound of the ball hitting the catcher's glove after the batter misses.
Something in Harvey's chest gives a funny lurch as he realizes that this is something that's typically Mike. To Harvey, it was the simple recounting of a childhood episode, a mixture of a little bragging and some fond reminiscing, but Mike isn't just taking this with an indulgent smile and a nod of his head like most people would. No, he's trying to picture it, committing it to memory, add it to the list of things he knows about him in an attempt to form a greater picture. Harvey has no doubt at all that Mike is not going to forget about this story anytime soon, no matter how insignificant the anecdote might seem to anyone else.
He does the same, Harvey realizes, with all the things that Mike tends to share – and sometimes over-share – left and right. And in the beginning he didn't want to know all the pesky little details about Mike Ross' life, all the emotions he constantly broadcasts as if his life depends on it. But Harvey filed away every little bit of information Mike gave him in order to get a better picture of the associate he had hired on a whim, without properly thinking it through.
He needed to know as much as he could in order to do his job, to keep their secret and to watch his own back in case things went sour, so he filed away every last bit of information Mike revealed – the drugs, Trevor, the LSATs, his grandmother, his soap opera of a dating life, everything.
Knowledge is ammunition, after all, and the main thing is to always make sure that you have that one more piece of information than the opposition. That one bullet more in your gun, in case someone else holds theirs to your head.
He has no idea when that changed, but he only now realizes that it did. A year ago, Mike's sadness about not having anyone to buy Christmas presents for except for the few people in his life would have been just that. A piece of information, the knowledge that aside from his last living relative, Mike really has no strong social ties to anyone outside the office.
This year, that knowledge made Harvey want to change it for Mike, it made him want to take Mike and his grandmother to Connecticut for Christmas to give him the big family holiday he's been wishing for. He saw that something was broken and he wanted to fix it for Mike. That fact alone should have told him something, but Harvey chose to ignore the message.
And now they're standing here, at the one place that meant more to him than any other during his childhood, the place where he noticed for the first time how much he loved to win, the place where he first poured his heart into something because it meant the world to him, the place where he first kissed a girl because it suddenly seemed incomprehensible how he had not been interested in doing so for the past thirteen years of his life…
His body makes that half-step towards Mike before his brain even has the chance to catch up with what he's doing. Mike chooses that moment to turn back around towards him, and Harvey's only chance is to make an awkward side-step to cover up what he had been about to do. A frown starts to spread on Mike's face, obviously confused by the way Harvey steps closer only to turn away again, and he really needs to get things under control before Mike starts asking questions and this whole thing becomes awkward.
"We should head back."
His voice is strangely rough, but if Mike notices that, he doesn't let on. Instead, he simply nods. "Sure."
They turn around and set off down the road again. It's about time, because by now Harvey's fingers are frozen for the second time that day, and no matter how much he flexes them inside the pockets of his jacket, the warmth doesn't return to them. Still, even as he clenches and unclenches his fingers, his mind is reeling with something else.
He almost kissed Mike.
He was about to turn around, and if his brain hadn't decided to start working again right as Mike turned around, he would have completed that step and kissed Mike.
The weird thing is that the thought of it doesn't even seem strange. It wasn't a conscious decision, not by any means. It wasn't even something he had planned on doing, not tonight and not at any point in the future. It's almost as if his body decided to do it without consulting his brain first, and that is something that never happened to him before.
It makes sense, though, in a weird and twisted way.
It makes sense how much it bothered him to see Mike so upset over how much he longed for the big family Christmas he couldn't have – so much that he broke all his ironclad rules and brought Mike and Mary to Connecticut with him. And if he's already being honest with himself, it probably started before that day when they went Christmas shopping.
He just didn't realize it.
Why the hell didn't he realize it?
Or maybe he did, and just didn't acknowledge it. It's probably not a coincidence that he and Mike have been spending more time lately than they did before. A year ago the only reason why he might have found excuses to get Mike out of Louis' clutches would have been to spite the junior partner – and that only if he hadn't delivered Mike into the other man's clutches as some sort of punishment in the first place. Yet only last month he completely made up an allegedly important case he needed Mike's help on simply to get Mike away from the all-nighter Louis was trying to force upon him. And why? Because there was a Rocky marathon on cable and watching it alone would have been boring.
Yeah, he probably should have seen this coming.
Thing is, he didn't, and now he nearly went ahead and kissed Mike. Which is ludicrous for many reasons.
The work together, for crying out loud. That alone should be reason enough.
Not to mention the fact that Mike never once gave any sign that he might feel anything similar for him.
This is ridiculous, really.
And he's not going to wrack his brain about this now. He almost made a mistake, but he caught himself in time. No harm, no foul. Mike never needs to know.
But as they walk back towards Harvey's parents' house in a silence that is maybe a slight bit more strained than it was before, Harvey can't help but think that things were a lot easier when the biggest worry on his mind was whether or not Sarah Wilcox would kiss him back that day underneath the bleachers.
Life was definitely a lot easier then.
This one is a shorter update compared to the last one, but the end of this chapter was the one place where I could feasibly break it off before the next big chunk. Let's just say that the upcoming day is going to be very...eventful. ;-) So instead of waiting until I have all that typed out and make you wait for another 10.000+ words update, here you go with a little introspective Harvey to tide you over. I'm typing more as we speak.
They get back to the house just in time to catch the kids' bedtime, and if there's one thing that always serves as a good distraction, it's them. Harvey is glad for the distraction from his thoughts about what he nearly did just a few minutes ago. The children are visibly excited about the upcoming morning – and the mountain of presents waiting for them, no doubt – but the day seems to have exhausted them enough so that there's not as much protest against bedtime as Harvey might have expected.
He and Mike have barely closed the door behind them and hung up their jackets when Linda and Martin herd the kids past them and Harvey finds himself in the middle of the daily good night ritual. Charlotte gives him a hug while Adam – at the ripe old age of nine now too mature now for an over-abundance of hugs and public displays of affection – walks by with a tiredly mumbled "Good night, Uncle Harvey". It's David who seems most tired as he shuffles past with his eyes almost closed already. He's hugging everyone in sight, and it's almost comical how Mike's eyes widen as David stops in front of him and hugs him around the legs with a tired "Night". He hugs back after a second, ruffles up David's hair before the little boy turns towards the staircase and tiredly starts to climb upstairs, but the slightly dazed expression stays on his face for a little while longer after David vanishes out of sight.
Mike seems genuinely astonished to be included in this small family ritual, but Harvey is not surprised in the least. The kids have always been open towards new people, and Mike probably doesn't even know how much of an impression he made on them by voluntarily crawling through the snow with them for hours.
The rest of the family, Mike and Mary settle in the living room while Linda and Martin are getting the kids into bed, and a conversation picks up before Harvey has even lowered his frozen body into an armchair. It's…comfortable, almost as if they've been doing this many times before and tonight isn't the first time any member of his family has met Mary and Mike. The room is warm and the feeling is slowly returning to Harvey's numb fingers and toes as he sits there and tries to listen to whatever anecdote his mother is regaling now. Most of the conversation is passing him by, though, even though he keeps his head up and pretends to follow what's being said, but he doesn't really participate in it. For one, he's still pleasantly drowsy from dinner, now even more so than outside in the cold air. And what little coherent mental capacities he has in full working order are still busy thinking about one thing, and one thing only.
He almost kissed Mike.
Well, two things.
He almost kissed Mike, and it's absolutely fucking crazy.
Mike is sitting in an armchair just a few feet away, but Harvey studiously avoids looking into the younger man's direction because he knows that once he does, he'll just keep staring at Mike while he tries to figure out just what the hell is going on with him.
He almost kissed Mike.
He wanted to kiss Mike.
This…it defies description, really. It's a monumentally bad idea, of course. The thought of the implications alone is enough to make Harvey's head spin. They work together, and that alone is reason enough to not even consider it a possibility. It's one of Harvey's ironclad rules – you don't shit where you eat. The few gratifying moments in the bedroom are never worth all the implications that come along with having sex with a coworker. There have been plenty of temptations over the years, and Harvey resisted each and every one of them without so much as a second thought or more than a minute of regret.
Getting involved with a coworker is a monumentally bad idea, no doubt about it.
Only, it doesn't really seem like a bad idea. Mike is…well, he's not just a coworker. He's Mike, and that's a strange position nobody else ever held in Harvey's life before, not until Mike stumbled into that hotel room with a briefcase full of pot a little more than two years ago. So yes, Mike might be something other than just another coworker, but still the rule should apply. Yet even now, a little while after he almost slipped up and kissed Mike, it doesn't seem like a mistake he barely just avoided. Rather, it's starting to feel like a missed opportunity, and that doesn't even make sense. For one, Harvey Specter doesn't miss opportunities. It's just not done.
But even more importantly, it's Mike. Over the past two years, he has steadily snuck his way further and further into Harvey's life, and it's not even that Harvey can honestly claim he didn't notice. He did. He allowed it. Hell, he encouraged it. Having Mike in his life has been an interesting experience so far, to say the least, but he can't say he'd want to miss it.
But it's one thing to lower some of the barriers and let Mike in, even if that was never part of the plan back when he hired him.
It's another thing entirely to almost kiss Mike.
That's in a completely different ballpark altogether. So what if Harvey is realizing that he maybe – maybe – started to fall for his associate without even noticing. He still can't just force that realization upon Mike and kiss him just because it suddenly seems like a good idea. Mike has never given any indication that he's interested in more than what they have – a work relationship, and maybe a budding friendship. Harvey would deny even that vehemently in public, but they both know that it's the truth. He doesn't banter with any of the other associates – hell, he can't even remember their names most of the time – he doesn't care whether any of them become the best lawyers they can be the way he does with Mike, and he most certainly doesn't order them pizzas during late nights at the office or invites them over for movie marathons at his condo.
So yes, there is more than a mere work relationship between them, but there is absolutely no sign whatsoever that it's anything more than friendship from Mike's side. He never once even gave an indication that he's interested in men in general. It's always only been Jenny this, Rachel that, the girl from the coffee shop here, Nancy from the county clerk's office there. So Mike most likely is straight, and he really doesn't need his boss to come on to him, and over Christmas at his boss' family home on top of that.
That settles it.
This whole thing is off limits. Harvey is going to give himself a night's worth of brooding about how the hell he could have missed something this big in the first place, and then he'll do what he always does – he'll compartmentalize it and deal with it, and come tomorrow morning he'll simply do his best not to think about it at all.
It'll go away eventually, Harvey's sure of that.
It's easy to come to this conclusion here and now, in his parents' living room, while everyone else around him is talking, catching up and getting to know each other, not really noticing that while Harvey pretends to look interested in the conversation, his mind is actually miles away. He does make a conscious effort to pay attention, to involve himself in the conversation, but more than once he can feel his thoughts straying again.
It's been a long day, and maybe he should just go to bed, give himself his half-hour of brooding about this, and then do his best to grab a couple of hours of restful sleep.
Mary is the first to bid them good night, and as Mike leaves the room with her to bring her to her room, Harvey quickly hurries to the kitchen to get himself another beer. His parents, Linda and Martin might not have noticed anything amiss, but he can feel Eric's eyes on him the moment Mike leaves the room. Eric has always been perceptive about his moods, able to look behind his poker face even when everyone else in his family couldn't. Harvey really doesn't want for his brother to start asking questions right now.
They sit in the living room for a while longer, but previous Christmas experience has taught them all that the next morning is going to start early. The children might have been compliant with their bedtime, but there's absolutely no doubt that they're going to be up long before the crack of dawn tomorrow morning in order to get to their presents.
There's a tried and true system in the Specter family to keep the whole Santa came in the middle of the night to leave the presents-illusion alive. Harvey is not sure about the details, but at some point at a ridiculously early hour his mother is going to get up, wake up his father despite all his protests, then the two of them are going to sneak downstairs to get the presents out of the garage and take them into the living room to put them under the tree. Harvey has never been awake to witness the details of this procedure, all he knows is that there will be coffee by the time his mother wakes up the rest of the family, and while that doesn't make up for getting up so early on one of the few days off he gets a year, it at least makes it bearable.
In the light of that, it's not really late when his parents head to bed. Harvey feels fatigue creep up on him, as well. He's had an early morning, and the drive up here as well as the rest of the day are taking their toll. And tomorrow is probably going to involve a lot more running around in the snow and generally keeping the kids occupied, so it might be a good idea to call it an early night.
He's not the only one who has that idea, so it almost seems as if they call it a night by some sort of silent agreement. Linda and Martin linger for a little while longer because one of the kids is inevitably going to show up at some point to try and stay up in order to wait for Santa, but Harvey's parents and Mike bid them goodnight and head upstairs, and Harvey heads down into the basement to get ready for bed.
There's no sign of Eric yet by the time he has changed into his pajamas and comes out of the small bathroom, so fortunately there's not going to be any fighting over the good bed. Harvey doesn't even bother to turn off the lights. Instead, he sinks down on the mattress of the bed by the window, pulls up the blanket and beats his pillow into a comfortable shape before he relaxes back into the mattress and closes his eyes.
He's dead tired; he should be asleep in a couple of minutes. No problem at all.
He's still no closer to falling asleep when he hears his brother's steps come down the stairs a little while later. Eric tries to be quiet as he comes into the room and grabs his sleep clothes. He needn't have worried, of course, because Harvey is no closer to sleep than he was when he went to bed in the first place.
This is ridiculous.
Harvey rolls over in bed to the sound of water running from the adjacent bathroom and tries to will himself to fall asleep.
This isn't him.
He is not someone who loses sleep over…over the fact that he has a weird crush on his associate and didn't notice until he almost kissed him this evening. The mere thought is ridiculous. It's simply not something Harvey Specter does.
Eric comes back into the room, and though Harvey has his eyes closed he notices that he turns off the lights before he walks over towards the second bed and lies down with a sigh.
Harvey's answer is a low grunt from underneath the blankets that sounds a lot more tired than he actually is. But maybe, if he only pretends that he's on the brink of falling asleep, his body will get the message and finally drift off.
Preferably before he keeps pondering the question why this whole situation bothers him so much.
So maybe he has a crush on Mike. Or at least that's what he might call it if he was a lovesick teenager. He's thirty-nine years old and as such has long outgrown the immature concept of a crush, but there's not really another word to describe it for what it is.
So, he has a crush on his associate. It's still no explanation why he's lying awake at night when by all means he should be catching up on some sleep. It's not the first time he became infatuated with someone in one way or another, and Harvey has never been thrown for a loop like this before. It can't be because Mike is a man, either. Harvey has been attracted to men before. Hell, one of the few relationships in his life that deserve to be called that was with a man. So technically, the realization that he has a crush on Mike harbors nothing, absolutely nothing new, but still this is the first time Harvey can remember that he's lying awake at night, brooding over things.
It's just not what he does. It's not the way Harvey Specter copes with these things.
If his attraction is not reciprocated, then that's the way it is, and life goes on.
If his attraction is reciprocated…well. Those are usually the nights that end up sleepless. In a much more enjoyable way than this.
So what the hell is so different about this whole thing that he can't just dismiss it for the mere infatuation that it is and move on? He's pretty sure that he didn't change over the past years, but if it's not him, then what is so different about this whole situation? What is so different about Mike that makes him react like this?
"All right, Harvey, what's going on?"
Eric's voice startles Harvey out of his contemplations, surprised that Eric is still awake. He turns towards his left and does his best to give his voice the tired tinge of someone who was about to fall asleep before their inconsiderate younger sibling woke them up.
"What do you mean?"
His pretence is probably not really convincing, because Eric gives a snort in response.
"You've had this quiet and brooding act on all evening long. Maybe Mom and Dad didn't notice, but trust me that I did. And now you're lying here and you're so tense that I can barely hear you breathing, and you're trying to tell me that nothing's going on?"
Harvey should have known that if anybody in his family was going to notice that something was going on with him, it would be Eric. He'd have much preferred if nobody noticed anything at all until Harvey has figured out a way to deal with it himself, but one thing that was always reliable was his brother's perception. One thing's for sure, though, he's not going to get into a lengthy discussion about his emotional state in the middle of the night. Not even with his brother.
"I have a lot of things on my mind, that's all."
There's the sound of rustling blankets as Eric turns over in bed. In the darkness of the room, Harvey can barely make out his brother's shape on the other bed. From Harvey's perspective, he's just a dark shape against the even darker background, with only his face and one of his arms that he has stuffed under his pillow and head discernible in any clarity.
Still, he doesn't need to see Eric to imagine the expression on his face.
"Anything you want to talk about?"
"Not really, no." Harvey turns onto his back with a sigh and stares up at ceiling. "It's nothing to worry about, really. I'm just having a hard time trying to switch my mind off. I'm not really used to having time off anymore, I think."
"You're sure that's all there is to it?" Eric's voice doesn't sound like he believes him, but they've always respected each other's boundaries enough to leave things alone if the other asked for it.
"Yeah, I'm sure. And now, less talking, more sleeping. Mom's gonna barge in here before the sun is up, we should at least try to get some sleep before that."
"You're probably right. So how about you try not to keep me up with your silent brooding. You might be long past the point where it still matters, but some people need their beauty sleep to look their awesome self come tomorrow morning."
For a moment, Harvey considers pelting his brother with pillows in response to that, but then he'd either have to sleep without one or get up to retrieve his missile, and both options don't sound too enticing to him. So instead, he merely rolls onto his side with a snort.
"You're an idiot. And now shut up and let me sleep."
For a minute or two, there's the occasional sound of a blanket rustling or a mattress creaking as they both try to find a comfortable position, but after that the rooms fall silent. It doesn't take long for his brother's breaths to even out into a gentle snoring, but somehow the sound doesn't aggravate Harvey like it normally would. He doesn't know how long he lies there and listens to it, but eventually Harvey drifts off and falls asleep as well.
Thanks for reading. As always, please let me know what you think. Thanks a lot.
Gosh, thank you all so much for still sticking with me through this. I'm beyond the point where I still have the right to come up with any excuses, this part really didn't want to offer a point to break it up before it reached more than 10.000 words. All I can do is repeat my promise that I will finish this story (and it's really not that much longer to go now). So thank you all for sticking with me; you are all amazing.
I'm taking a few liberties in this chapter - Jeremy Keane is completely made up, I have no idea about graphic novel art in general and classes on it in particular, and neither do I know really much of anything about jazz records. I also still don't know anything about baseball and baseball cards. I googled as much as I could and hope that the information sounds somewhat credible at least.
The tie is real and can be purchased at thinkgeek.com if you so desire. ;-)
Harvey is woken from his pleasant and dreamless sleep by a loud knocking sound. He experiences a short moment of disorientation when he realizes that he's not in his bed, and not even in his condo, and a low mumble to his left tells him that wherever he is, he's not alone, either. It's a disconcerting feeling until a moment later the door opens and he hears a voice that lets everything else fall into place.
"Boys, it's time to get up. The kids should be up in a little while. There's coffee once you get dressed and come upstairs."
Harvey sits up with a groan as his mother flicks on the light before she closes the door again and her steps retreat up the stairs. He rubs his eyes and blinks against the sudden onslaught of light as he fights the urge to just sink back into the mattress and go back to sleep, and damn the consequences. In the end, it's the promise of coffee that makes him swing his legs over the edge of the bed. He catches sight of the alarm clock on the bedside table and groans again as he realizes that it's barely seven in the morning.
"God, it's way too early for this."
Eric is nothing but a lump underneath the blankets, but at the sound of Harvey's voice the lump stirs and Eric's head pokes out from under the blanket. He's sporting the worst case of bed head Harvey has ever seen, and the way he's blinking owlishly into the rough direction of Harvey's bed states clearly that he's nowhere near anything resembling an awake and coherent state. It brings back memories of countless times when that tousled head of hair was one of the first things Harvey saw upon waking up, either in the hallway on his way to the bathroom, half-awake at the breakfast table, or even in Harvey's own bed. As a child, Eric was terrified of thunderstorms, and more often than not that meant he cam crawling into Harvey's bed whenever the sound of one of them woke him up.
But that was more than twenty-five years ago, and these days it's rare that Harvey even wakes up in the same city as his brother, much less the same house. Not something that's going to get more frequent if Eric decides to take that job offer in San Diego, but he's not going to think about that right now.
"Man, this sucks. Mom waking me up at the crack of dawn? It feels like being in high school all over again," Eric mumbles as he buries his face in his hands.
"At least there'll be coffee," Harvey says and with a tremendous force of will throws off the blanket and lifts himself to his feet.
"I'm going to need coffee after a night on this torture device. Just so you know, I'm going to fight you for that bed tonight. This mattress is killing me."
Harvey snorts as he picks up the bundle of clothes he's picked out and turns towards the bathroom.
"I wouldn't try if I were you, kiddo. I'm not going to give it up without a fight."
Eric just waves him off and sinks back onto the bed as Harvey goes into the bathroom. He's going to take a shower after breakfast, in the far more spacious and comfortable master bathroom upstairs. So for now, he contents himself with splashing water on his face until he feels at least semi-awake, then he brushes his teeth and pats his hair into some semblance of order before he puts on a pair of jeans and a Henley. That'll have to do until later. It's not like his family hasn't seen him scruffy like this before.
When he gets back into the bedroom, Eric has once more become an indiscernible lump underneath the blankets.
"Come on, Eric. Time to get up."
The only answer he gets is a low mumble that maybe, just maybe, and with a lot of good will, could be interpreted as something sounding similar to 'five more minutes'. Well, if Eric thinks he's going to get through with that, he has miscalculated. Harvey is not going to face three loud and excited children on a Christmas rush on his own.
In passing, he grabs a corner of Eric's blanket and tugs, pulling it clear off the bed. Eric is lying on the side, and the speed with which he manages to roll up into a fetal position as soon as the warmth of his blanket is gone is remarkable for someone who is still more asleep than awake. The low whine that accompanies that movement is something Harvey files away for future reference, because it's way too good to pass up the on that kind of future blackmail material.
"Stop acting like a toddler and get up. The kids are going to make your life hell if they have to wait to unwrap their presents because their least favorite uncle couldn't be bothered to get out of bed."
"You're evil," Eric mumbles, but at least he finally sits up in bed. Harvey takes that time to grab a pair of socks that he shrugs into before he puts on his shoes. "You are evil, Mom is evil, and the kids are evil, too. I'm starting to think that this whole Christmas thing is just an evil ploy in order to torture me with sleep deprivation."
"Says the guy who bragged about taking a nap yesterday while I nearly lost my fingers to frostbite fixing the decorations with Dad." As he passes the bed, he can't quite resist the urge to ruffle up Eric's already spectacularly unruly hair even further. His younger brother tries to bat his hand away, but with his eyes still half-closed his aim is more than a little off. "It's not that bad. You just need to drag yourself out of bed and in a couple of minutes, you'll be properly caffeinated and staring in awe at the amazing Christmas present your big brother got you."
Eric snorts and slowly pushes himself out of bed and to his feet. "I love you, man. I really do, but we both know that this whole gift-giving thing really isn't your strong suit. So you might want to look for another incentive to get me out of bed at ass o'clock on Christmas morning."
Harvey pretends that the remark doesn't hurt, but he can't deny the small sting in his chest. He knows he's not exactly awesome at buying presents on his own, but it can't really that bad.
"Well, you are up, so I'd say it worked."
"I'm only up because I want to see your face when Linda breaks that box of Cuban cigars over your head. I didn't manage to get a picture the last time it happened."
Harvey laughs and turns to open the door as Eric slowly makes his way into the bathroom. A repeat of the Cuban cigar fiasco is something he really doesn't have to worry about this year, but still he can't deny the small ball of anxiety in his stomach at the thought of what his family is going to say about their presents. Mike seemed confident that they're going to like them, and that's reassuring, but still he can't help but worry.
He's simply not used to all this.
There's no sign of the children yet when he arrives upstairs in the kitchen, but everybody else seems to be there already. His father, Linda and Martin are crowded around the coffee machine as if it promises some sort of salvation, while his mother and Mary have taken the more civilized route and at least managed to take their coffee to the kitchen table and sit down.
Mike is standing next to his grandmother, about to pull out a chair to sit down. He's dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a red knit sweater – though thankfully not the monstrosity he was wearing during their shopping trip. At Harvey's mumbled 'good morning', he turns around with a smile, and something in Harvey's chest clenches almost painfully as those blue eyes light up as they turn towards him.
Harvey makes a beeline for the coffee machine to hide the fact that he's sorely tempted to just stop in his tracks and stare at Mike for a little longer. It's a good thing Eric isn't here yet, because his brother would have undoubtedly noticed the slight hesitation in Harvey's steps as soon as his eyes fell on Mike. It's a good thing he didn't stumble in here half-asleep, otherwise he might have done something embarrassing like giving Mike a hug instead of a verbal good morning. That sweater he's wearing looks soft and comfortable, and it would probably feel really great to just fist his hands into the fabric and pull Mike against himself…
Come on, Harvey, get a grip on yourself.
The coffee helps a little to regain some of his senses, even if almost has to shoulder Martin out of the way to get to the coffee machine in the first place. Now all he needs is a change of topic to take his thoughts off the way they seem to be circling endlessly around Mike all of a sudden.
"How is it possible that the kids aren't awake yet?"
Linda just shrugs with the kind of smile she often gets when she's about to impart a piece of wisdom about child-rearing.
"I have no idea, but I have learned not to question these things. Sleeping children are something to be cherished, Harvey. Besides, I have no doubt that they're going to be up in no time at all, so caffeinate while you still can."
And Harvey does. He downs half a cup while still standing next to the coffee machine, then he refills his cup and sits down at the kitchen table. He's too busy trying to drink his coffee and wake up fully to engage in too much conversation. He does manage to ask Mary and Mike how they slept because it's the polite thing to do, and of course because he hopes that their night was comfortable, but it's not a topic he dwells on for too long. The thought of Mike spending the night in Harvey's old bed in the bedroom he still thinks of as his leads his thoughts down a dangerous path.
He really thought that a good night's sleep would be enough to get over that turmoil of conflicting emotions inside of him, but apparently it only made it worse.
He's halfway through his second cup of coffee when Eric comes walking into the kitchen, looking marginally more awake than he did earlier. At least now his eyes are open and he's walking in a more or less straight line, which probably counts for something. His damp hair is testament to the fact that he probably achieved this state by sticking his head under some cold water. Harvey can't stop a smile from spreading across his face. His brother has never been a morning person, but this is taking it to entirely new levels.
Eric barely has the time to fill a cup of coffee and take a sip before sounds from upstairs announce that the time of early morning reprieve is over. At first it's just muffled voices, but then there's the sound of a door slamming and feet pounding down the stairs as the voices grow louder and more excited. Linda goes over and opens the kitchen door to stop the kids from running straight into the living room while Harvey quickly takes another sip of his coffee while he still can.
A moment later, the children come bounding into the kitchen, Charlotte and Adam first with David tagging a little behind. All three of them are still in their pajamas, their hair tousled and from what Harvey can see Adam sports a spectacular pillow crease across his cheek, but all three of them are bright-eyed and wide awake.
As soon as the children appear in the kitchen, it feels like someone suddenly found the volume button and turned it on full. Harvey can't even make out the separate voices, but in between crowding around their parents and bouncing up and down in excitement, all Harvey can hear is a constant chorus of 'it's Christmas', 'Santa was here, right?', 'did he bring presents?' and 'can we go see what Santa brought us?'
It's adorable, even if it's far too loud for Harvey's liking at this early hour, and it only tapers off once Martin puts down his coffee and lifts David up and settles him on his hip.
"All right, you three. First of all, good morning and Merry Christmas."
There's a mumble of 'Merry Christmas' in reply, but it's only half-hearted if Harvey's the one to judge. The kids settle down a little after that, but it's obvious that the calm is not going to last for long. Charlotte and Adam are practically bouncing where they're standing, and it reminds Harvey of the Christmas mornings of his own childhood. Looking back, his parents always seemed to find ways to keep them from going for the presents straight away. Back then he thought it was a deliberate means of torture, but now he can see how it's actually kind of fun if you're on the other side of it.
"Okay, I haven't checked yet, but it is possible that Santa dropped by during the night," Martin continues, juggling David slightly on his hip as he walks towards the kitchen door. "So how about we have a look?"
Adam is halfway through the door before Martin has even finished speaking, and Martin can only hold him back with a firm grip around the hem of his pajama top.
"Remember, you can look, but nobody starts unwrapping anything until everyone is settled in the living room."
The kids immediately storm out of the room, and it's probably not a good idea to keep them waiting for too long. They all get up and follow them into the living room, where the kids are already crowding around the Christmas tree in the corner, lifting up packages and reading tags in an attempt to figure out which are theirs.
Harvey doesn't even want to contemplate how early his mother and father have gotten up this morning to drag all those presents from the garage into the living room and arrange them under the tree. It probably took them quite a while, especially considering that they had to do it in silence so that no sound of a door banging or a package dropping would wake the kids up while they were at it. The children can sleep through almost anything, but when it comes close to Christmas, they seem to develop bat-like hearing for these kind of things.
"Can we start unwrapping now?" Adam is clinging to a large box with a green bow on top, his eyes wide and pleading. "Please," he adds almost as an afterthought.
Martin puts David down, who immediately hurries over to his siblings and starts to reach for the biggest package in sight. Harvey is still clinging to his half-full cup of coffee as he settles into the corner seat on one of the sofas with a sigh. A moment later, Mike plops down beside him after making sure that Mary is seated comfortably in one of the armchairs. Their legs are almost touching, and Harvey has to draw a deep breath and force his thoughts not to dwell on it for too long. It doesn't really help that a moment later Mike leans over even further and drops his voice into a whisper so that the children won't be able to hear.
"I always wondered how this worked. The kids believe that those presents come from Santa, but there's a tag on each of the packages that says who it's really coming from. And they never once question that?"
Harvey almost laughs. Trust Mike to over-think something like this when it's quite clear that the kids' thoughts are on something else entirely. He knows he never once questioned where his presents came from back when he was young.
"Mike, they're nine, seven and four years old, and they're faced with a stack of presents that's almost as tall as they are. I highly doubt that they even think to question where those gifts are coming from as long as they do get here bright and early on Christmas morning." He watches how the kids start piling their packages around them underneath the Christmas tree, Adam helping David identify the ones that are meant for him. "Besides, I'm convinced that at least Adam and Charlotte no longer buy into the whole Santa story, anyway, and just keep up with the pretence to indulge their parents."
Whatever answer Mike is about to give is cut short when Harvey's father clears his throat and stops Adam from ripping into the wrapping of his first gift.
"Okay, kids, you know the rules. I know you all want to dig into those presents, but you know how we do this. So, how about you distribute the rest of the presents before you start unwrapping yours?"
The announcement is accompanied by a dramatic sigh from both Adam and Charlotte, but they obediently start sorting through the presents, checking tags and sorting them into piles. Harvey is sure that his parents already did that when they first brought the presents into the room this morning, but the kids excited rummaging ruined whatever system was in place. They're extremely motivated, though, so they get the job done quickly and start distributing the packages. It's funny to see Mike's eyes widen as Charlotte piles what looks like four or five packages into David's arms and points him into Mike's direction. It's clear to Harvey that Mike didn't expect anything more than maybe a present from his grandmother, but he clearly jumped to conclusions before he ever met Harvey's family.
Mike takes the packages from David, who unloads his burden with a cheerful 'Merry Christmas, Mike' and a toothy grin, and Harvey would probably relish his associate's stunned expression for a lot longer if it wasn't for Adam all but dropping an even larger stack of wrapped packages into his lap. One of them is positively huge, but flat and not all that heavy, and he can't suppress the small childish stab of curiosity at the thought of what the hell could possibly be in there.
He has to reign in his curiosity for the time being, though, at least for as long as the children are still distributing the packages all around the room. And it's good practice. He wouldn't want to let on that a small part of him can relate to the childish glee he can so clearly see in the children's faces. And in Mike's if he's being honest.
A few minutes later, all the presents have been distributed, which means that there's packages and boxes everywhere in the room, and the children are back in front of their own piles underneath the Christmas tree.
"Can we open our presents now?" Charlotte whines, her fingers already fiddling around with the tape of one particularly large box in her pile of presents. "Please?"
Harvey's father smiles, and Harvey just knows that he would love to drag this on for a few more minutes just to see the children writhe a little more, but eventually he takes pity on them.
"Keep in mind that those presents are not the most important part of this holiday. It's so much more important that our whole family is here, together. But yes, Charlotte, you can open your presents now. Merry Christmas everyone."
There's another chorus of 'Merry Christmas' around the room, but it's quickly drowned out by the sound of wrapping paper being ripped apart as the children start tearing into their gifts. Harvey just sits and watches for a few moments, highly entertained by the display the children provide. They're almost like a pack of wolves tearing into their prey, and Harvey half expects them to snarl at each other if one of them only so much as gets too close to one of their siblings' gifts.
As much of an entertaining display as it is, everyone in the room is occupied with unwrapping their gifts – next to him Mike is digging into his own presents with a fervor that would make the children envious – and it would seem strange for Harvey to be the only one to sit there and just stare at the others. Besides, he is curious as to what is in those packages, even though apparently he has much better self-control than anybody else in the room. Evidence of that is that he doesn't start with the large flat package, even though he has absolutely no idea what could possibly be in it, but instead carefully unrolls the paper around the tubular package on top, because he already knows what's in it.
Linda has turned it into sort of a tradition over the past years to collect the pictures and other arts and crafts projects that the children do for him over the course of the year, and each year for his birthday and for Christmas he receives a couple of months' worth of drawings, handicraft works and the occasional clay sculpture. By now, Harvey owns more paperweights and clay ashtrays than he could ever possibly use even if smoking was allowed on Pearson Hardman premises. But he's keeping them all – because Linda would kill him if he ever threw away something the kids made for him – and dutifully puts them on his desk in his home office. It's good that he barely ever takes work home with him, because there's barely any space left on his desk to put down a folder let alone do any serious work, but at least he can proudly say that he kept all the gifts the kids have given him.
The pictures he keeps, too, and while he might not put them up on the fridge or his living room walls like others are wont to do, he still appreciates them. To be honest, it surprises him how often the children seem to think of him considering that he sees them only a handful of times each year.
He can't stop a smile now, either as he looks through the drawings. It's easy to see who drew what, with David's still very childish colorful drawings and Charlotte's apparent penchant for drawing horses lately. There's only one picture that Adam drew, probably because he's about to separate himself from the things he considers childish, but Harvey is strangely relieved to find that the one scene his godson drew appears to be the picture of a boy on a baseball field, bat raised and ready to strike. There's a larger figure standing on the pitcher's mount, an almost gigantic glove on one hand and a ball in the other. Strangely, there's also what looks to be a dinosaur and a lion standing in the background, which doesn't really make sense to him, but if there's one thing Harvey has learned over the past years then that children have their own brand of logic. He's pretty sure that there's a perfectly valid explanation for their presence.
Harvey is no art critic, so he carefully rolls the pictures up and puts them back into the tube before he starts on the next package. That one is from his parents, even though Harvey tells his mother every single year that they really don't need to get him any gifts for Christmas. It's yet another of their family rituals, because just like every year his mother steadfastly decides to ignore him and gets him a gift, anyway. Or conspires with his Dad to get him a gift, in this case.
Harvey knows that the bulky part in the package is a bottle of his favorite whiskey. He and his father do that every year – his father gets a bottle of his favorite Scotch, and Harvey gets a bottle of what his father assumes is his favorite Scotch. Mostly, they exchange a bottle of Glenlivet against a bottle of Highland Park and end up breaking at least one of them open together, so it's definitely the kind of tradition Harvey can live with.
Else the package contains something that consists of a very soft fabric, which Harvey first has to peel off from around the bottle of Highland Park before he realizes that it's a scarf. Of course it is a scarf, and of course that's his mother's handwriting because he's thirty-nine years old and has been living alone for twenty years now. Of course he still needs his mother to buy him clothes. But he has to admit that it's a very nice scarf, soft and a very dark charcoal that's going to fit well with most of his coats and suits. And of course his mother knew that, because…well, Harvey has no idea how exactly she knew that, only that he's absolutely sure she did.
He's about to fold up the scarf and put it down next to the sofa along the bottle of scotch and the drawings when something else falls out of the package. His fingers close around the small square piece of plastic automatically, and he knows what it is long before he looks down at what he's holding. He once had dozens of these, if not more, some of them for collecting, some of them for trading with his friends, and a preciously few that were valuable enough to warrant being put into a plastic casing to protect them.
And of course the one that lost more than twenty-five years ago, which is still something he gets angry about if he only lets himself think of it, because he just doesn't know how it could have happened. The one baseball card he absolutely never wanted to part with, because it was the one autographed card he possessed, an autograph he himself got when his father took him to the Yankees Stadium for the first time at the age of eleven.
He hasn't seen that particular card in over twenty-five years, and although he knows that it's not the same card as the one he owned as a kid, he still can't help but stare at Ron Guidry's face for a few long moments before he finally looks up.
His father looks up from the present he's currently unwrapping – Harvey's bottle of Glenlivet by the looks of it – and he smiles when Harvey holds up the baseball card.
"Ah. When I was in Dunbury with Art, he dragged me into a card shop to get something for his grandson. I saw this while I was waiting for him to finish, and I remembered what a drama it was when you lost yours, so I thought I'd get you a new one. Maybe it's a little late, and surely not as exclusive as those signed balls your have in your office, but it's something from way back when you got started with baseball."
"I…" And damn if his throat doesn't feel a little tight at his father's words. "Thank you, Dad. It's really great."
His father smiles at him. "You're welcome. Just make sure you don't lose this one, as well, because I'm too old to deal with another temper tantrum about lost baseball cards."
That makes Harvey laugh. "I'll do my best."
It's not because of that warning that he takes almost reverend care as he puts the card down on top of his other unwrapped gifts. When he straightens up again, Mike is grinning at him from his seat beside him.
"See? Nostalgia. I told you that it was a great starting point for picking out presents, and your father just proved me right."
He did, though Harvey won't admit it out loud. But he's absolutely right. It's not the most exclusive signed baseball card there is, and it's probably not the most expensive one they had in that card store, Ron Guidry isn't the most famous Yankees player there ever was either, but it's one card that means something to Harvey. A whole damn lot if he's honest with himself, but he has to stop himself from thinking about that before he gets sentimental.
It's one thing to agree that Mike is right, and another thing entirely to admit to it out loud and face the gloating.
So instead of saying anything, Harvey slides his finger underneath the tape of the big square and flat package and starts to open it. He gets as far as to tear open the paper on one side of the package before a shrill voice cuts through the room.
"Mom! Dad! Mom, Dad, look! Look, look, look what Uncle Harvey got me!"
It's Adam, though his voice sounds much shriller than it usually does, and Harvey's head snaps up as for some reason his heart starts beating faster in his chest as he turns to look at Adam. He's standing in the middle of a pile of unwrapped gifts and discarded wrapping paper, the baseball glove in one hand and the new baseball in the other, bouncing on the balls of his feet excitedly as he holds them up for his parents to inspect. A moment later he's right in front of them, as if they couldn't possibly make out what he's holding in his hands from five feet away and shows them to Linda and Martin.
"Uncle Harvey got me a baseball glove! How great is that? Now I can practice before training starts, isn't that awesome?"
"It's great," Martin replies with a smile and a ruffle of his son's hair, and Harvey catches the warm, grateful smile Linda throws him over the top of Adam's head. Harvey can't help but feel a little giddy inside at Adam's obvious joy, and relieved at Linda's reaction and grateful at Mike for pushing him in the right direction with his gifts.
It's an almost too introspective moment, but it lasts only for a few seconds before Adam comes bounding over towards him and Harvey barely has the time to put his still unwrapped package away before he suddenly finds himself with an armful of nine year-old who's trying to squeeze the life out of him, the glove getting squished somewhere between them.
"Thank you, Uncle Harvey. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Harvey laughs and hugs Adam back for a moment before he pulls back a little to look him in the eye.
"You're welcome, Adam. I'm glad you like glove."
"Like it? I love it! Can we go outside and practice with it? Can you show me some tricks? It's not snowing, and it's not that cold. Can we? Please?"
Even if he absolutely didn't want to, there's no way Harvey could say no to that begging look just a few inches from his face. He squeezes Adam's shoulders and steadies him as the boy scrambles back into a standing position in front of the sofa.
"I insist that we break in that glove together. After breakfast, okay?"
Adam flashes him a blinding smile and then hurries back to the pile of presents he still has to unwrap. He carefully puts the baseball down but tries to keep the glove on as he starts to unwrap his next gift. It doesn't really work, not the way he wants to, so he can't help but pull it off. Still, he keeps it in his lap even as he turns his attention to his other gifts, and Harvey can't help the swell of pride he's feeling at the sight.
He only turns away when he feels Mike's eyes on him. His associate is smiling widely, and the moment Harvey looks at him he gives him a nudge with his shoulder.
"I told you that there was no need to worry about whether or not Adam is going to like the glove."
Mike is right, but Harvey can't really find the words to say so. He gives him a smile that he hopes doesn't convey too much material for further teasing about how much he obviously cares, and goes to pick up the discarded package he has yet to unwrap. This time, it's his mother's voice that stops him before he can get any further in tearing off the paper.
"If Adam is anything like his uncle, it's going to be hard to make him put down that glove even for just a few minutes."
Harvey gets a bad feeling about where this is going. "Mom…"
His voice holds the kind of tone that makes associates stop dead in their tracks and drop whatever they're doing in order to listen to him, but his mother merely pretends that she hasn't heard him at all and turns towards Mike. He is leaning forward with interest, and Helen seems glad for the rapt audience and lowers her voice in a fake-conspiring whisper.
"His first year in Minor League, Harvey was obsessed with his glove. He dragged it everywhere, except for maybe the bathroom."
"Mom, I really don't think Mike wants to hear those old stories."
"Oh, trust me that I do." Mike laughs. "Seriously, a child version of you dragging a baseball glove everywhere he goes? This is gold. I bet you had it lying right next to your bed every night."
At that, Helen laughs out loud. "Oh, I wish it had been that easy, but nothing about Harvey was ever easy. He tried to keep that glove on even in bed. He practically curled up around it and on top of it so that we couldn't pull it off. We always had to wait until he was asleep before Ben could untangle him and pull it off."
Mike laughs out loud at that, and despite Harvey's indignation at the way his mother is just throwing around embarrassing childhood anecdotes, it's a sound he'd really love to hear more often.
"You went to bed with your glove?"
"I was nine years old!"
Mike only laughs. "This is awesome! There wouldn't happen to be any pictures, would there?"
"No, there are no pictures," Harvey interrupts before his mother gets any ideas. He can live with her telling an embarrassing story or two, but if she starts breaking out the baby pictures, this is going to get ugly.
His mother just laughs, but Harvey isn't fooled so easily. She might think that he didn't catch her mouthing 'later' at Mike, but he did, and he's going to do his best to stop that from happening. He really needs to keep an eye out on those two, to prevent any potential blackmail material from changing hands.
There's no imagining what might happen if Donna would lay her hands on childhood pictures of him. His life would never be the same again.
Finally Harvey gets the chance to tear away the wrapping paper from the large square package he's been trying to unpack for the past minutes. He reveals a large picture frame, and at first glance he assumes that it's pictures of the kids in it. Linda regularly sends him e-mails with pictures of them, but knowing his sister she probably thinks that he really needs to have some actual copies of them, if only to make sure that the pictures don't end up forgotten on a hard drive or a server somewhere.
It takes Harvey a moment to realize that it's not only pictures of Adam, Charlotte and David in the frame, though. In fact, there's at least one picture of each family member that Linda put into the frame, cutting and overlaying pictures to get as many images as possible into the allotted space. There's a picture of his parents that must have been taken last Christmas, a shot of Linda and Martin at a beach somewhere, a picture of Eric and Harvey sitting on what looks like the leather couch in Harvey's office, though Harvey has absolutely no idea when that picture could have been taken, and what he dismissed at first glance as a picture of David actually turns out to be a snapshot of Eric when he was four or five years old.
He'll have to take a closer look at those pictures later, because he suspects that there are a few more images he doesn't expect in that frame. He gets the intent behind it, though, and he knows what his sister is trying to say with this gift. She's told him more than once that she thinks his apartment is too impersonal, that it looks like it could just as well come out of a catalogue on modern living. And she's right, in a way, because he's just not the kind of guy to surround himself with personal riffraff and knickknacks, or even a lot of personal photographs. Still, it's not like he's trying to deny the fact that he has a family whenever he's not with them, though apparently Linda thinks that he could do with an occasional reminder.
Maybe she's not exactly wrong about it.
When Harvey looks up, he finds Linda looking at him from across the room, and he gives her a smile in an attempt to let her know that he gets it, and that he appreciates what she's trying to do. Judged by the smile she's giving him in return, she understands, but then Charlotte tugs at her sleeve to show her something, Linda turns away from him and the moment is broken.
Well, there's still plenty of gifts in need of unwrapping that should distract him from this sentimentality that's practically radiating through the room.
"Oh my god! Harvey!"
It's the second time in just a few minutes that he's interrupted right at the point where he's almost done unwrapping a present, but his mother's voice sounds genuinely shocked, and it's an instinctive reaction to jerk his head up and see what he has done to make her sound like that. He finds her sitting with the large tome on opera houses on her lap, and in one hand she holds the opera ticket Harvey put inside it. Her other hand is clamped in front of her mouth, and the situation would be almost comical because it's such a clichéd reaction, but then she looks at Harvey and there's such a look of pure astonishment and disbelief on her face that Harvey is getting a bit worried that he's been completely off with this present.
"This…" she waves the ticket at him almost shakily, as if to visually underline what she's talking about in case he hasn't noticed it yet. "This is a ticket to the Met."
She says Met in the same reverend way conspiracy theorists half-whisper the word Roswell, so maybe he wasn't that far off, after all.
"Yes, it is."
"For Anna Bolena."
Harvey nods. "In my defense, it was either that or the Ring Cycle."
Normally, his mother would have a witty response to that readily available, but right now she merely keeps looking down at the ticket as if she can't really believe that it's real.
"You got me an opera ticket. A ticket for a Grand Tier Box seat at the Metropolitan Opera. For me."
Slowly but surely, Harvey is getting worried that he has broken his mother somehow.
"I did. Actually, I got two tickets. I figured you'll come to New York, we'll get all dressed up, I'll take you to dinner, and then we'll watch Anna Netrebko perform."
"That's…Harvey, I can't…This is amazing. Thank you so much."
There's a moist sheen in her eyes, and Harvey really doesn't really know how to deal with that. He wanted her to like his gift, of course he did, but that she's this touched about it was something he didn't expect. To be honest, he doesn't really know what to say in response.
Turns out he doesn't have to say anything, because his father steps in before Harvey has to think of a possible response.
"I have to admit that now I'm a little scared to find another opera ticket in here." He lifts the envelope that was in Harvey's package for him. "Please tell me that I'm not going to have to sit through an evening of women screeching in Italian."
Helen elbows her husband into the ribs, and the truly horrified expression on his father's face at the prospect of having to go see an opera is so hilarious, Harvey almost wants to drag it out for as long as he can. But then again it wouldn't be in the spirit of Christmas to torture him like that.
"Do you honestly think that if I wanted treat Mom to a great night out in New York, I'd send her to the opera with someone who despises classical music? I'd never hear the end of that one, Dad, from both of you."
His father points towards the envelope again. "So you promise that there's no opera ticket in here?"
Harvey just shakes his head. "Why don't you take a look and see for yourself?"
His father puts a finger underneath the flap to open the envelope and looks at his wife.
"I'm just saying this preemptively. I mean, I would go to the opera with you if you really wanted me to, I'm just saying that it would probably be a lot more enjoyable for the both of us if I wasn't forced to listen to all that pomp and circumstance that some people call music. It's just not my…oh my God." He pulls the ticket out of the envelope, looks at it for a second and then back at Harvey. "Are those courtside seats?"
Harvey draws breath to reply, but Eric interrupts before he can say anything.
"Did Harvey get you a ticket for the Knicks game, too?"
His father just nods, still looking a little dumbfounded. "A courtside seat for the Knicks against the Celtics."
"Awesome." Eric grins widely and turns towards their sister. "What about you, Linds? A boring night of opera, or an exciting night out in New York with your Dad, your favorite brother, and Harvey?"
"I don't know, I haven't looked yet."
She pulls Harvey's present out of the small pile of packages beside her and starts to peel away the paper. Again, Harvey can feel his pulse quicken as he watches her tear into the wrapping paper. She frowns as she pulls out the pack of markers and the envelope on top of it. It's obvious that she doesn't really know what to make of the gift, but then she pulls the registration confirmation out of the envelope and starts readings. Her eyes widen as she reads what's on the document, and Harvey can clearly see her eyes scan the page a second time before she looks up, her eyes even wider than before.
"Harvey, are you serious?"
It's mildly disconcerting that his family's initial reaction to his gifts seems to be incredulity, but apparently he has to accept the fact that his presents over the previous years have not exactly set the bar very high.
"Of course I'm serious. Unless you don't want to go, of course."
At those words, Linda clutches the registration letter a little more firmly. "Unless I don't want to go? Are you kidding me? I didn't even know Jeremy Keane was teaching classes."
"Six weekend courses per semester, there should be a list with the dates in there, too. Just pick the one that fits best and we'll get you signed up and you'll come to New York for the weekend."
Linda shakes her head. "But…Harvey, I haven't done any drawing in over a decade."
"So?" Harvey shrugs. "Doesn't mean you can't pick it up again if you want to."
Linda keeps staring at the document in her hands as if she still can't believe it. Eric keeps looking in between them with a frown on his face.
"Somehow, I have the feeling Jeremy Keane isn't the newest trade for the Knicks."
Linda's head snaps up. "Jeremy Keane isn't a basketball player. He's one of the best graphic novel artists there are. I met him at a convention once, at the start of his career, but by now he's so well-known and in such a high demand that I would have never thought that he's still teaching workshops. He's such a great guy, and his art is brilliant. To spend a whole weekend in class with him is going to be amazing."
Martin gives her a frown in reaction to her visible enthusiasm. "Do I need to get worried here?"
"What? No!" Linda turns towards her husband, and when she sees the smile he's trying to suppress she shoves him in the shoulder. Harvey is pretty sure that she would have added a choice word or two if the kids weren't listening in. Instead, she lets her husband pull her close and press a kiss on top of her head while she still clutches the registration letter in both hands.
"Harvey, this is amazing. Thank you so much."
"You're welcome." Harvey can't help the swell of pride he's feeling at her obvious joy over his present. He's not going to deny credit where credit is due, though. "And Mike helped me pick out the right place for the class, so I can't really claim that it was all my doing."
"In that case, thank you, too, Mike."
Mike waves her off before she even finishes speaking. "A friend of mine took a class at that school and recommended it, that's all. But the main part was all Harvey's doing; he only needed a few pointers in the right direction."
Linda smiles indulgently, and Harvey simply knows what she's thinking at that moment. He definitely needed more than a mere few pointers in the right direction, and Linda knows it, too. Fortunately, she decides not to tease him about it for once, and instead points towards the flat package on Harvey's lap.
"All right, now you need to look what Eric and I got you. That one's from us."
Harvey picks up the present and spins it in his hands once. It's distinctly record-shaped, and this can either be a great thing or a really horrible one. Harvey loves music, but his taste and that of his siblings…well, it differs somewhat. He wouldn't put it past Eric to have bought him a record as a gag gift, either. It wouldn't be the first time, after all. But Linda seems genuinely excited at seeing Harvey unwrap their present, and she definitely wouldn't let Eric buy something like The Smurfs Greatest Hits like he did for his last birthday.
Donna had a field day once she saw that thing, and ever since then she keeps trying to place it in obvious spots on his record shelves whenever she thinks he's not looking.
Curiosity finally gets the better of him and he starts tearing at the paper. It's indeed a record sleeve he reveals, and once he turns it around to look at the cover, he's pretty sure that he's staring at it somewhat dumbly for quite a while. He blinks, but the image doesn't change. He's indeed holding a copy of Blue Train by John Coltrane, and as he flips it over again he realizes that it's not just any pressing, either. It's the purple label pressing with the New York City street address on the label, which is astounding because the only reason why Harvey doesn't own a copy of this record yet is that it was exactly this pressing he's been looking for.
It's not in mint condition, which actually calms Harvey somewhat because he knows the price that mind conditions are sold for and he doesn't want Eric and Linda to spend so much money on a gift for him. But while the sleeve shows definite signs of wear and maltreatment, the record as such only has a few surface scuffs that really shouldn't influence the sound quality at all.
It's an amazing gift, but Harvey has absolutely no idea how his brother and sister could have possibly known that this record was missing from his collection so far. When he looks up, he finds both of them looking at him somewhat nervously, though Linda is definitely better at hiding it than Eric is.
"I…thank you. Really, this is great. But how did you know that I was looking for this record?"
Eric leans back in his seat with a grin, suddenly a lot more relaxed. "Oh, the hardships I've taken upon me to make this possible for you, dearest brother of mine. How we knew about the record is I called Donna – we had a nice long chat, by the way – and she gave me your record guy's number. Turns out he had a whole list of records you told him to be on the lookout for, and he was actually just about to call your about this one."
Of course. Donna flat out refused to help Harvey with his Christmas shopping, but the moment Eric calls for help she drops everything and gives him what he wants. Once he's back at the office, they really need to have a conversation about where she places her priorities.
Mike, on the other hand, seems to have a completely different issue with what Eric just said.
"You have a record guy, too?" The look on his face when Harvey looks at him can only be described as incredulous. "Do you have a guy for everything? I mean, there's your suit guy – who, if I might add, is just a tad bit creepy with all his talk about inseams and measurements – and now you have a records guy, too? Any other guys I should know about? I don't know, a hair guy? Tie guy?"
Harvey laughs. "Well, if you put it that way, there's this one guy whose job it is to do all my boring, tedious paperwork so that I have time to enjoy the upsides of being a lawyer."
"Ha ha ha Ha ha."
Harvey leans back into the sofa with a smug smile and can barely suppress the childish urge to stick his tongue out at Mike. His associate really is too easy sometimes.
"What? It's the truth. A lot of people would be honored to be my paperwork guy."
"You know what you really need? You need a guy to write your wish list, because you're impossible to shop for."
Mike, however, seems to be on a roll and interrupts Harvey before he can even finish his sentence.
"I'm serious about this. Maybe you should have a gift registry somewhere." His eyes suddenly light up and he leans forward on the sofa, pointing a finger at Harvey. "Or here's an even better idea. It's a good, time-honed tradition that far too few adults still indulge in. How about next year, you'll make it easier on all of us and simply write a letter to Santa?"
Harvey knows he's doomed the moment his mother starts laughing. Mike frowns in confusion, and Harvey thinks he has maybe a few precious seconds before things get seriously out of hand here.
"Great suggestion, I'll take it under advisement for next year, how about we all go back to unwrapping those presents now?"
It's weak and he knows it. Quite probably, his mother would have ignored him even if he had come up with the most convincing argument, so he's not even surprised when she turns towards Mike and continues on as if she hasn't even heard him.
"Harvey hasn't written a letter to Santa in over thirty years, so good luck trying to get him started on it again. Although the last time he did, his letter to Santa turned out quite legendary."
Harvey can barely suppress a pained groan. "Mom, please not that old story again. We've all heard it before, there's no need to rehash it again."
The moment he sees that gleam in his mother's eyes, Harvey knows he has lost. There is no way she's not going to tell that particular embarrassing story now. She always managed to find a way to rehash it in the previous years, and now that she has found a captive audience in Mike and Mary, she's not going to let that opportunity slip through her fingers.
God, if any of this comes back to New York and starts making its rounds at Pearson Hardman, Harvey's life as he knows it is going to be over.
"I've never heard it," Mike adds with a sly grin, and Harvey decides there and then that his associate is a backstabbing little opportunist. And he's never going to take him serious ever again after this.
His mother just waves him off and turns towards Mike, and Harvey knows when to admit defeat. It's like a train wreck in the making, and far beyond his abilities to stop it now.
"The children always used to write letters to Santa back in the day. I was pregnant with Eric the year when Harvey was seven and Linda was five. Eric was due in early January, but my doctor said it might be possible that I'd go into labor early, so we told Harvey and Linda that it was possible that they'd get their little brother for Christmas."
Mike turns towards him with a grin on his face, and Harvey simply knows that he's trying to picture him as a seven year old. If Harvey has any say in the matter, Mike is never going to see picture proof of anything his mother is recounting, but somehow he has the feeling that's it's going to be a fulltime job to keep her from breaking out the family albums.
"Anyway," his mother continues, "I didn't go into labor over Christmas and Eric was born in early January just as he was supposed to be, and to be honest I didn't spend any more thoughts on how I had told the children that Santa was going to bring them their little brother. At least not until I came into Harvey's room one morning when he was at school and found a letter to Santa on his desk."
"Which constitutes an invasion of privacy, in case anyone cares," Harvey interjects, but both his mother and Mike just wave him off.
"Harvey wrote a letter to Santa, in January?"
Helen nods. "He did. And not just any old letter to Santa, either. It was a letter of complaint."
Mike's laugh is open and absolutely carefree, and for a moment Harvey almost forgets that it was bought at his own expense because he enjoys hearing it so much.
"No, I'm absolutely serious. I still have it somewhere, but I'm not sure where exactly."
"Thank god for small mercies," Harvey mumbles, but it's not as if anyone was still paying attention to him. Especially not his mother, who continues as if he hadn't said anything.
"But basically it said something like 'Dear Santa, thank you very much for the new bike, it's really great. But can you please take back the little brother you brought me, all he does is cry, and I already have a sister I never asked for, I really don't need a brother, too.' It's the most amazing letter to Santa I've ever read."
Again, Mike laughs as if this is the funniest thing he has ever heard in his life. "He didn't."
"Oh yes, he did."
Mike turns back towards Harvey, eyes shining with amusement. "You wanted to return your little brother to Santa?"
"I was seven years old!"
That only prompts another bout of laughter. "Really? For a lawyer, you have a string of very bad arguments here today. 'I was nine years old.' 'I was seven years old.' God Harvey, this is amazing."
"In my defense, just in case anyone is still listening, all Eric did was cry, and during those few times when he wasn't crying, he was staring at you. It was kinda creepy, and it's not my fault that my own parents fed me the lie that Santa was involved in this whole mess."
If anything, it only prompts Mike to laugh even harder, hands over his stomach as he almost bends double on the sofa, and in Harvey's defense he's far too busy taking in the sight to notice the missile aimed at him. It's only when the balled-up wad of wrapping paper hits him square in the forehead that he tears his eyes away, glaring at Eric who was the source of the missile.
Eric just glares right back. "I'm glad you all find the story so amusing. It's not like you're laughing at my expense or anything."
Harvey just grins and tosses back the was of wrapping paper. "I hate to break it to you, but you were a creepy baby. Like a scene straight out of The Omen, really."
He mock-shudders and then turns his attention back to the still unwrapped gifts in front of him. Maybe, if he just focuses his attention on something else, his mother and the rest of the family will get a clue and stop talking about his most embarrassing moments from over thirty years ago. With Mike's memory being what it is, there's absolutely no way Harvey is going to live this down if it goes any further. Mike never forgets things, and he has a talent to bring them up again at the most inopportune moments.
The next package is actually two separate packages glued together with what has to be the better half of an entire roll of tape. The technique as well as the garish red and green wrapping paper with the grinning reindeer and brightly colored baubles on it already give Harvey a good idea of who this gift is from. So he's not really surprised when he hears Mike's voice from the side.
"This is from me. Though you're…you know, kind of impossible to shop for, but I gave it a shot anyway."
Mike sounds distinctly nervous, though Harvey really can't explain why. After all, he is the one who has serious issues finding the right gifts for others, and after their shopping trip Mike should know that. So unlike Mike, Harvey isn't really worried that whatever is in that package will be completely off base.
Harvey starts tearing the paper off the top package, and then takes the lid off the flat box he finds inside.
This…it's pretty damn obvious that the box holds a tie, and the irony of Mike giving him a tie for Christmas aside, it's not even that unusual a present, but…everything else about it is just wrong. It's not a skinny tie, and that's pretty much the only good thing that can be said about it. How on earth did Mike think that he was ever going to wear a monstrosity like this one. It's not just the fact that it's made of nylon…oh, who is he kidding, of course it's because it's nylon. That and everything else. First in line of contenders as to why Harvey Specter is not going to be seen dead wearing this particular tie is the color.
He must still be in shock when he lifts the monstrosity out of the box to take a closer look. Why, he could not say. Maybe it's a strange fascination with the horrible. The fabric feels just as cheap as it looks, and up close the color is even more garish than Harvey initially thought.
Garish, but also strangely familiar. It's a weird beige color, with a yellowish tinge that Harvey can't quite define. He can't place it, and though Harvey is sure that no tie ever should be that particular shade of color, he is pretty damn sure he has seen that particular shade of yellow somewhere before.
Then he unfolds the tie completely and his eyes fall onto the wide end, and he throws back his head and laughs as his eyes fall onto the Starfleet arrowhead sewn into the fabric.
"You got me a Starfleet tie? In command gold?" Because now that he knows where to place it, of course he recognized the color. He's just not used to seeing it outside of uniform shirts on his TV-screen.
"God, you should have seen your face!" Mike laughs next to him. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone look at a tie with such a horrified expression before."
"It's nylon, Mike."
"Well, apparently they don't make them in silk. My personal theory is that expensive fabrics simply refuse to be dyed in that garish, mustard-yellow color."
"You probably should quite while you're ahead, Mike. There will be no mocking the command gold while I'm around."
"Aye, aye, Sir." Mike gives him a salute and starts to unwrap the last package in his lap – which happens to be Harvey's own gift to his associate. Harvey quickly puts the tie back into the box and starts to unwrap the second package. Anything to take his mind off Mike unwrapping his gift. Harvey really can't say why he's so nervous about it, other than that it's one of the few presents he had to pick out on his own with no help from anybody else, and it's already been established that he pretty much sucks at that. And he really wants Mike to like his gift, but has to admit that it's more than just remotely possible that he won't, and so it's really no big surprise that his heart is beating a bit faster than normal in his chest.
He's sorely tempted to look over from the corner of his eye, but he forces himself to focus his attention on peeling the paper off the larger package Mike gave him. He tears away the paper, and for a moment is confused because the first thing his eyes fall onto is once more the Starfleet arrowhead. Confused, he pulls the box free entirely, and he's pretty damn sure that he's smiling quite goofily when he realizes that he's holding a box containing a 1974 Captain Kirk action figure in almost mint condition.
It's not the same action figure he had as a child. His didn't have a phaser and holster clipped to its uniform, but that's not really the point. The point is that despite all his teasing on whether or not an action figure counted as a doll, Mike remembered their short conversation about it and actually went out of his way to find something similar for him. It's something so typically Mike, and Harvey really should have known that somehow Mike would find a way to find a gift for him which at the same time somehow manages to convey Mike's lesson about how when in doubt, nostalgia is always the way to go.
Besides, it's Captain Kirk. James Tiberius Kirk.
It's awesome by default.
As he turns to the left, he finds Mike sitting beside him, the book that Harvey painstakingly wrapped up the night before they left New York clutched in his hands as if he's afraid that someone is going to take it away from him. Before Harvey can even say anything about the Captain Kirk figure he's still holding, Mike speaks with an almost awed note in his voice.
"This is a first edition."
Harvey nods. "Yes."
It is a first edition. Not a first print, though, because before he went looking for it Harvey wasn't even aware there were even more detailed distinctions than different editions, but somehow he doesn't think Mike cares particularly much about that right now. Harvey was a bit worried that he went a little overboard with this one. Not so much with the book as such. But there is a dedication on the front page, on a separate sheet because not even Harvey is heathen enough to deface a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, and sooner or later Mike is going to read it and understand the reason why Harvey chose that particular gift, and then he'll probably get even more emotional about the whole gift than he already is. Not to mention what will happen once he finds the ticket to the basketball game that Harvey tucked between the pages in lieu of a bookmark.
He's almost relieved when Eric's voice momentarily tears his attention away from Mike.
"Dude, is that a Captain Kirk action figure?"
"Don't call me dude," is the almost automatic response, but Harvey finds himself clinging just a bit more tightly to the box with the Star Trek collectible in his hands. "And yes, it is a Captain Kirk action figure, which is a great and very thoughtful gift. Thank you, Mike. And because it's a gift, Eric, you are going to keep your grabby hands away from it."
Eric laughs and lifts up the Darth Vader figure Harvey gave him. "What, you're afraid Captain Kirk is going to lose another round against Lord Vader?"
"It's a collectible, Eric, which means grown ups don't take it out of the original packaging just to tear off its limbs in a staged battle scene."
Eric just rolls his eyes. "You're no fun at all. So what, are you going to just leave the figure in its packaging and put it on a shelf somewhere? Or maybe you could put it on the windowsill in your home office, right next to that creepy doll that looks just like you."
Mike's laugh is loud and triumphant. "I knew it! I knew Joy must have given you one of her dolls as well. Come on Harvey, you can tell me. Does it have slicked back hair? Is it wearing a vest? I bet it's wearing a vest. It couldn't possibly look like you without one."
Harvey throws Eric a look that he hopes does convey how much of a traitor he is, and when that doesn't show any effect at all he launches another wrapping paper missile at his brother's head for good measure. Eric is about to retaliate, but their father takes away the wrapping paper with an admonishing look. It's probably for the best to stop this before it gets out of hand, because if the kids get the feeling that it's okay to throw around wrapping paper missiles, things are going to get messy, and Harvey is pretty sure that his mother is going to make them clean it up.
At least it served as a diversion from anyone getting overly emotional, and they can all go back to unwrapping their presents in peace. The kids are unusually quiet, completely submerged in the process of pilfering through their piles of presents. They seem content, and Harvey takes it as a good sign that David is already busy trying to get the parts of his Cars racetrack out of the box, and that Adam is still holding the baseball glove in his lap even as he roots through his other presents.
So all is good on that front. Mary, too, seems to be absolutely content with how the day is progressing. She seems to absolutely love the quilt and was actually touched to the point of tears when she unwrapped it, and Harvey could practically see how the weight was lifted off Mike's shoulders at her reaction, just as if he had had any reason to really worry that she wouldn't like the gift.
Though he can relate to the feeling, because while Harvey was absolutely sure that Mary would love the quilt, he was a tad bit more worried about his own present for her.
It had been a bit of a struggle to find a suitable gift for an elderly lady he knows almost nothing about, and within a limited timeframe on top of that. He was fairly content with what he came up with, even if René almost had a fit when Harvey asked him for a referral. But in the end, with the help of the picture of the original quilt which Mike forgot in his condo, Harvey got her a robe. Not one exactly like the one in the picture, because the last thing Harvey wanted was to try and upstage Mike's gift to his grandmother, but one that fits the quilt in pattern and color.
Mary loves it. Not as much as the quilt, that is obvious, but Harvey doesn't begrudge Mike his shining moment, not when he put so much thought into his gift for her and is so obviously proud of how much she loves it.
Harvey was so engrossed in the whole exchange and unwrapping of presents that he didn't even notice that his mother left the room, at least not until she suddenly appears in the doorway behind him.
"All right everyone, breakfast is ready. Afterwards we're going to clear up this whole mess here and then you can go back to your presents."
The last part is clearly aimed at the children, but apparently the promise of food seems to be enough to tear them away from their newest toys. They all but run out of the room, with the rest of the family following suit at a slightly more dignified pace. Harvey takes a moment to put his gifts into a neat pile on the table, and the bottle of scotch onto the shelf out of reach of small, grabbing hands. When he turns towards the door, he's surprised to find that only Mike is still in the room with him. He seems to be waiting for Harvey to finish, because as soon as he turns around, Mike takes a step towards him.
"I…" Mike takes another half step towards him, then does a little weird shuffle as if he's not quite sure what to do with himself. It looks oddly like the weird dance David performs when he has to go to the bathroom, and Harvey almost laughs. Almost, because before he can even consider any kind of reaction at all, Mike draws a breath and takes another step forward, and suddenly he's right there in Harvey's personal space and wraps him in a tight embrace.
"Thank you," Mike says in a raspy voice. "For the gift, and for Grammy's gift, and for taking us here for Christmas."
Harvey is startled for a second or two, but then his arms wrap around Mike's back almost on their own accord as he hugs back. He doesn't quite know what to say in response, because if anyone should be thanking somebody, it should be the other way around. He just doesn't really have the words to say it out loud, though, so instead he holds on just a tad bit more tightly for a moment.
He realizes he was right, too. It does feel great to just bury his fingers in the soft fabric of Mike's sweater and hold on, even if just for a few seconds.
But that's another thing he probably won't tell Mike about.
Actually this chapter was supposed to end at a different point, but I'm still struggling to get there, so I thought I'd give you this part in the meantime. I hope to have the rest before Christmas, but ust in case - Happy Holidays to you all!
Breakfast is mostly a loud affair, because while the kids were easily separated from their presents with the promise of food, that still doesn't stop them from making elaborate plans about how to use them for the remainder of the day. Harvey already promised Adam to try out the new glove with him, and over the course of two cups of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs he gets signed up to participate in David's car racing tournament, which is established over the protest of his mother who is not too enthused about the idea of a racetrack being built around her Christmas tree. Charlotte also assigns him a firm part in whatever 'trying out her experimental lab kit' entails. It's probably a good thing that his niece insists on Mike being there for it, too, because if anything he might prevent them from blowing up the house in the name of science.
Basically, it means that the children have taken it upon themselves to make plans for the entire day, and they make it quite clear that resistance is futile, so Harvey resigns to his fate of not getting any moment of peace and quiet today, either. He really should have known better than to expect any of that when he decided to come here for Christmas.
The only respite he gets is for a few short minutes after breakfast, when he goes upstairs to take a shower. Though Harvey has to admit that it'll probably be for the best if he's not left with too much time on his own to think. While he's standing under the hot spray and lets the water beat down his shoulders and back, all he can think about is Mike, and the way it felt to bury his hands in his sweater and pull him close.
It felt right.
It shouldn't feel that way. It should feel wrong, because this isn't him. He doesn't fall for people like that, to the point where just being with them and around them suddenly seems vitally important. He has always been someone who formed very few true and deep emotional attachments, and suddenly Mike gradually snuck his way into Harvey's life beyond his control, filling up a space Harvey didn't even know needed filling, and he finds he is completely ill-equipped to deal with it.
He can admit to himself that he is attracted to Mike. What he can't really deal with is that apparently this goes quite a bit beyond a mere physical or sexual attraction. No, because if this was a mere case of sexual attraction, there'd be ways to deal with it. Get it out of his system if Mike was so inclined, or force himself to get over it in favor of keeping their working relationship intact.
But it's not just a sexual attraction. That is there, definitely, and Harvey has to force himself to stop thinking about it because there's no way he's going to jerk off in his parents' shower while the rest of his family is just a few feet away. So no, it's not just physical attraction. He still has no idea how it could possibly sneak up on him like that, why he didn't realize that there was more to their daily interactions than a mere working relationship, but now that he dared to think it, it seems almost impossible to push that thought away again.
He wants to be with Mike. He enjoys the thought of having him close, knowing that he's here, and that he's happy being here.
It's…Harvey doesn't know what it is. Only that it's complicated, and risky, and that he doesn't even know if Mike feels anything remotely similar for him. Probably he doesn't. He never gave any indication that he does. Which makes all this highly inappropriate on top of merely being a confused jumble of emotions. This is the perfect example of a sexual harassment suit in the making, and it has got to stop now.
Mike is his associate.
Over the past year or so, he has become a friend, though Harvey would be hard pressed to admit to it publicly.
A coworker – a subordinate coworker at that – and a friend, that's all Mike is. That's all he can be, if they both don't want to jeopardize their careers and the lives they live right now.
So that's his answer, right there. Whatever Harvey might be feeling about the matter, he's not going to put what they have at risk, neither their friendship, their working relationship, nor their jobs. They're going to enjoy their remaining time here in Connecticut, and then they're going to go back to New York and fall back into their lives, just the way they did before the holiday.
It's with that resolution that he steps out of the shower. It's a good plan on how to proceed, and if he just sticks to it then nobody, especially not Mike, needs to know what has been going through his head for the past day or so.
It's a great plan.
And it works.
Of course it does, because once Harvey Specter has set his mind to something, he sees it through to the end. Sure, it helps that the moment he steps out of the bathroom, Adam practically drags him downstairs to start showing him how to use his new glove.
Unfortunately, despite all of Adam's enthusiasm, the very first stages of breaking in a new leather glove are not all that exciting. They do manage to commandeer the stove despite his mother's protests, and while it heats up Harvey goes into the garage because last he remembers, there's still a box with some of his old equipment up on a shelf somewhere. He needs to shift a few cardboard boxes around, but finally manages to unearth two of his old gloves and some baseballs in a box underneath his father's workbench. He takes them back into the house and ignores his mother's pointed look as he puts them on the kitchen table.
"I hope you're not planning on using any of that oil or mud on my kitchen table. I know it's been a while, but I thought you'd still remember the rules."
Harvey tries to give her his best innocent look, but before he can even begin to negotiate on whether or not it is fair to send them out into the cold, Adam almost bounces in his seat.
"We're going to use mud?"
"Apparently not here, we aren't." Harvey replies out of the corner of his mouth, but of course his mother has heard him, if her determined glare in his direction is anything to go by.
In all honesty, Harvey doesn't even know whether they have rubbing mud. He didn't bring any with him, but it's probable that there's going to be some around the house somewhere. It might be worth investigating whether or not there's really still some mud in the house. They've got a brand new ball to use it on after all, and Adam needs to learn these things.
So for the rest of the morning, he does his best to teach Adam as much about baseball and the treatment of a new glove as he can. He shows him how to tie it up around a ball, how to beat it into shape and properly form the pocket, and he gives him step by step instructions on how to work on the glove day by day so that it'll be ready for spring training. Adam still has time before training starts, so there's no need to speed up the process excessively. Harvey does put the glove in the warm stove for a while to make the leather easier to form – much to his mother's chagrin and to Adam's wide eyed astonishment – but in the end there's only one proper way to give a new glove a used feeling, and that's using it.
They go into the back garden and for almost an hour and a half, Harvey keeps throwing balls for Adam to catch. He does try to put some variations into it, doesn't always aim for the glove but makes Adam run for the balls, and shows him some of the basics of throwing a baseball while he's at it. Honestly, Harvey expected Adam to grow tired of it pretty quickly, but in the end when they do go back into the house it's not because Adam wants to, but because his nose and cheeks are a bright red from the cold and Harvey has the sneaking suspicion that Linda might just kill him if Adam caught something from being out in the cold for too long.
It's when they get back into the hall that things start to get weird for the first time that morning. Harvey sends Adam off into the laundry room to put up his wet jacket and tells him to go and get warmed up a little while he goes to get them some rubbing mud and the new baseball to use it on.
Which means he has to find some rubbing mud first, and while Harvey is absolutely sure that there has to be a pot of it around somewhere, he has no idea where to start looking for it. The new ball is still in the living room along with the rest of Adam's gifts, and with any luck Harvey is going to find his father there to help him with the search for the elusive mud.
His father is not in the living room, but most of the rest of the family is, and the scene is quite different than the one earlier this morning. Charlotte, Linda and Mike are sitting at the dining table, Charlotte's new experimental kit open on the table between them and a plethora of small tubs and plastic bags set out. Charlotte and Linda are going through some sort of booklet while Mike it rooting through some of the tubes in search of…Harvey's not entirely sure he wants to know what, but he makes a mental note to check if his parents still keep a fire extinguisher underneath the kitchen sink.
On the far side of the room, Eric has cleared the space around the Christmas tree and is busy constructing the racetrack with David, though Harvey is not sure how much help his youngest nephew actually is. He seems to be directing the way Eric is supposed to stick the single parts together to form the track, but judged by the way Eric's hair is sticking up at odd angles, the task seems to be a slight bit frustrating. Just as Harvey is about to ask if anyone knows where his father is, his mother comes back into the room with a plastic container in her hand.
"All right, I've got the baking soda right here." Seeing Harvey, she puts the container down on the table and points towards the direction of the kitchen. "Martin is making some hot chocolate for Adam right now. You should get something hot to drink, too, the two of you have been out there for hours."
"I will, I just need to find Dad first. Or do you know if we still have some rubbing mud around anywhere?"
"In the garage," Eric interrupts, getting to his feet. "I saw some on the shelf under the window when I got the snow shovel yesterday."
Harvey is about to turn back towards the door and head for the garage when Mike's voice makes him stop.
"Did you know that there are only two people in the entire world know the exact location of the source of Blackburne Rubbing Mud?"
Harvey turns back towards Mike. "What?"
Mike just shrugs. "Only two people know where exactly that mud comes from. The entire Major League Baseball uses it, but only two people actually know where to get it. It's as much a secret as the recipe for Coca Cola."
"And you just randomly know that?"
Mike shrugs, a crooked smile on his face. "This really still surprises you?"
Harvey shakes his head. "I guess it really shouldn't."
Mike's grin widens before he turns his attention back to whatever science experiment he is cooking up with Charlotte, Linda and Harvey's mother, and Harvey takes that as his clue to leave and go find that rubbing mud. At first, he doesn't notice that Eric is following him, but once he reaches the front door he notices that his younger brother is right behind him, pulling his jacket off the hook as Harvey opens the door. It is a bit confusing, seeing as Harvey thinks he's perfectly capable of finding the garage on his own, but he assumes that if Eric has a reason for coming along, he's going to let him know.
"Is he always like that?"
It takes Harvey a second to catch up on who his brother is talking about.
"Yes, Mike. Is he always like that, spouting off random pieces of information as if it's the most normal thing in the world?"
The genuine surprise in Eric's voice makes Harvey laugh. "Yes. And before you ask, no, you can't turn it off and no, you never really get used to it." He pulls open the garage door and heads over towards the shelf where Eric claims he saw the rubbing mud.
"Is he some sort of genius? Because he and Martin were talking about basketball earlier, and he kept on rattling of statistics without even pausing to think about it. Let me tell you, that was scary."
It's a weird situation, because while Harvey himself still finds himself surprised by the extent of Mike's memory from time to time, on an intellectual level he knows that it's there. So even if Mike divulges yet another piece of obscure information at a seemingly random moment, Harvey is no longer as completely stunned by it as he was during their very first meeting. It has become such an integral part of who Mike is that Harvey never once considered telling his family about what Mike's mind is capable of in advance, either.
"I honestly don't know if he's an actual certified genius, but he does have an amazing memory, that is for sure."
"Just how amazing are we talking here?"
Harvey shrugs and makes his way over towards the shelf underneath the window. "Once he reads something, he never forgets it."
Eric gives a low whistle. "That must come in handy."
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't. Come to think of it, I probably should make him read the manuals to all my household appliances, then at least I'd have someone I could call when my DVR starts acting up again. But as useful as his memory is, he keeps forgetting his phone at the most random places, he still uses a bike to get around the city, and he seems to be locked in some sort of epic, long-winded battle with his alarm clock, so I'd say the advantage of his memory comes at a price."
Harvey starts rooting through the contents of the shelf, but before he can even start looking in earnest, Eric reaches towards the back of the shelf and grabs the white tub with rubbing mud. He holds it out to Harvey, then tosses it in the air with a flourish and catches it again.
"See? Told you it was there. So, now that we've completed the important mission of finding the elusive rubbing mud, maybe we can finish the conversation we never got to have yesterday."
Maybe Harvey is particularly slow on the uptake today, but he doesn't really know what his brother could possibly be talking about.
"The one where you told me you might move to San Diego?"
"Nonsense." Eric waves him off. "I'm going to let you know once I make up my mind about that. No, I'm talking about the conversation about Mike which you cut off so abruptly after I pointed out how highly unusual it is that you brought him here for the holidays."
Harvey leans back against the workbench with a tired sigh, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He really thought they were done talking about this, and it's not exactly helping his resolution to stop thinking about what he might or might not be feeling for Mike.
Eric raises an eyebrow and mimics Harvey's posture, leaning against one of the wall shelves that line the garage, arms crossed in front of his chest and the tub of rubbing mud tucked to the inside of his elbow. It's almost as if he's trying to hold the mud hostage until he gets his answers, which is a pretty ridiculous endeavor. For one, it's not as if Harvey's life depends upon whether or not he gets his hands on that mud, and even if it did, he's pretty sure he could take on his little brother and wrestle the mud from him if he had to.
"Eric, I really have no idea why you're so hung up on this."
"Because I've been watching the two of you, and I have to tell you, I'm not buying what you're selling. You can talk all about how Mike is just your associate, but if I see the way you act around him, I'd say you're full of shit, Harvey."
"Watch it, Eric."
Eric's tone is playful, but the sharp rebuke is out before Harvey is even aware of what he's doing. He doesn't want to provoke a fight, not really, but he also doesn't want Eric to start poking and prodding at things Harvey isn't even sure of himself. If Eric notices that Harvey is getting defensive, however, he doesn't let it on.
"What, did I hit a nerve? You might be able to keep up the pretence in front of Mom and Dad, and everyone else, but you don't honestly think you can fool me? Because I've seen the way you look at him when you think nobody's watching, and you can't tell me that to you Mike is nothing but your associate."
Harvey pinches the bridge of his nose with a tired sigh. "Can we please not talk about this right now?"
"About what? About the fact that there's something going on between Mike and you?"
That's pretty much the core of the problem, really, and Harvey can't hold back a sigh. "There's nothing going on between Mike and me. He's my associate, which means he's my subordinate. He's also a friend. But that's all he is. It's all he can be."
Eric just stands there and watches Harvey with his head cocked to the side, just as if he has just said something particularly interesting.
"All he can be? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Harvey rolls his eyes. "I don't know when exactly you turned into a hopeless romantic, but here's a few facts for you. I'm Mike's boss. Office politics are tough, and interoffice relationships are not exactly encouraged. Interoffice relationships with such a power imbalance as there is between Mike and I? That's one hell of a complicated thing to pull off, and there's no telling what it might do to both of our careers. That aside, Mike is ten years younger than me, he's straight, and he never so much as indicated that he has any interest in me whatsoever. So tell me, why again are we even having this conversation?"
Eric shakes his head. "Really? Office dynamics and age difference, that's what you've got? I know that it deeply affected you when Ashton and Demi split up, but trust me that not all relationships with an age difference go down that road. And it's the 21st century. Just because someone doesn't broadcast the whole spectrum of their sexual orientation doesn't make them straight by default. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that's something you of all people should know. So your point is?"
Harvey can feel the muscles in his shoulders and arms tense. He's not angling for a fight, but Eric has this uncanny ability to push his buttons that makes it hard for him keep any kind of mask in place, and right now it's an ability Harvey does not particularly appreciate.
"My point is that there's nothing going on between Mike and me, and nothing is going to happen between us, either."
Eric shakes his head. "You know what I find interesting about your whole feeble attempt at rationalizing your relationship with Mike, whether it really is platonic or not?"
Harvey knows that Eric is not going to stop before he has said what he wants to say, so he gestures for him to continue.
"By all means, impart your wisdom on me."
"I just think that it's interesting how in the entire flood of your protests about age, and office politics, and all the other reasons why Mike and you are friends and nothing else, you never once said that you're not attracted to him. Which pretty much leaves me with the impression that you are attracted to him, but are too worried that he might not return those feelings so you make up all those reasons why you shouldn't even give it a try."
Harvey shakes his head and pushes off the workbench. "Think whatever you want, but I'm not going to stay here and have this conversation."
He crosses the distance between them and takes the tub of rubbing mud out of Eric's hand. Before he can turn towards the door and leave the garage, however, Eric's hand clamps around his wrist and stops him.
"For what it's worth," Eric says, and his voice has softened remarkably, "I think that this is doing you good, however it's going to turn out. I don't think I've ever seen you this relaxed around someone who is not family before."
He releases his grip on Harvey's wrist and takes a step back, as if he's unsure how Harvey is going to react. But really, the last thing Harvey wants is to spend his remaining time in Connecticut struggling with a family quarrel on top of everything else. So he rolls his eyes and lifts up the container of rubbing mud.
"I'll take it under advisement. So, now that we've successfully spent about fifteen minutes finding this mud, and filling our annual quota of caring and sharing while we were at it, do you think we can go back inside? Any longer and Adam is probably going to desert his baseball career before it even begins, and I shudder to think what David has constructed in the living room while you were gone. Mom is going to go berserk if she finds a miniature Daytona Motor Speedway going around her Christmas tree."
Eric nods and gestures for Harvey to step out of the garage. "We probably should go back inside for the warmth alone. Maybe this whole trip was completely in vain, anyway. Who knows how long that rubbing mud has been standing in the garage in the first place."
Harvey pulls the garage door closed and hurries to catch up with his younger brother.
"It's mud. What on earth could possibly spoil about a tub of mud? It's essentially wet dirt; I really don't think we need to worry about it having gone to waste on a garage shelf."
Eric shrugs, but there's a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "You heard what Mike said. Only two people know where that mud even comes from, so who knows what kind of bacteria are living in it. I've watched a horror movie or two about swamp monsters. If you're really lucky, the stuff came to life while it was sitting on that garage shelf and is ready and willing to take over the world as soon as someone is stupid enough to open the lid." He pulls open the front door and gestures for Harvey to walk through first, clapping him on the shoulder as he passes. "So, it was nice knowing you, big brother. You know, just in case you get attacked by flesh-eating swamp bacteria in a little while."
Eric flashes him another grin before he vanishes into the living room. Harvey just shakes his head, tosses the container with the mud from one hand into the other before he sets off down the hall towards the kitchen in search of Adam. He's pretty damn sure that worrying about flesh-eating bacteria in baseball rubbing mud is a little bit of an overreaction, but then again he learned a long time ago not to take his brother too seriously, anyway.
As it turns out, the mud is a little dry, and also a little cold, but Harvey isn't about to prepare for a Major League Baseball game here. With the help of a little warm water he makes it usable, and for the next half hour he and Adam retreat to the back porch where he proceeds to show his godson how exactly to make a new ball playable. And maybe they end up overdoing it a little, but with any luck his mother won't see the obvious mud stains on the porch steps until long after Harvey is safely back in New York.
It's unlikely, but he clings to what little hope he has, because he really doesn't want to contemplate being forced to scrub the porch steps before he leaves.
It's surprising how quickly the day passes after that. Once he and Adam are done and cleaned up – not a small task, because somehow that mud has gotten everywhere, and Adam has even managed to get it into places Harvey could have sworn were completely covered by his clothes – Harvey goes back into the living room where he immediately gets caught up in the tail end of Charlotte's science experiments. He distinctly remembers baking soda volcanoes from his school days, and in fact the whole thing seemed a lot more impressive back then, but Charlotte seems excited about it, and the overall mess is kept within a limit, so Harvey is willing to label it as a success.
They have lunch, over the course of which Harvey learns that Mary and his father of all people seem to have struck up an unexpected alliance, though he has absolutely no idea what those two could have possibly been talking about for the entire morning. But Mary seems well-entertained by whatever it was, and that is the main thing in Harvey's book.
The afternoon bears witness to the First Annual Specter Racecar Tournament, dubbed thusly in a combined effort by Eric and Adam. They play until they each of them has raced everyone else for ten laps, and in the end Harvey emerges fourth out of seven. Of course, the sad lack of a podium place is solely to blame on the fact that he was clearly given the inferior car as well as the inferior track for most of his races. Well that, and the fact that his brother is a big old cheater, and that he could hardly beat David when the kid was so excited about getting his own racecars for Christmas.
For what it's worth, Harvey can live with his fourth place, especially since he still came out on top of both, his father and Mike.
They do end up playing a proper round of baseball that afternoon, too. Adam starts begging pretty much as soon as they finish the racecar tournament, and for once in a life of negotiations Harvey doesn't even try to win. It's probably due to an acute overdose of coffee and homemade cookies that he doesn't even notice when he's being duped into something, and only when he, Mike and Eric are on their way to the baseball field with the kids does he realize that Linda and Martin probably orchestrated all this in order to have an hour or two of childless peace and quiet at the house.
There's a few local kids at the field tossing a couple of balls, and they seem almost glad about their arrival. It will probably never cease to amaze Harvey how efficient kids are at organizing things if only they consider their goal worth pursuing. In the short time it takes Harvey and Eric to unload the supplies they brought – all the balls, bats and gloves they could still find around the house, as well as two large thermoses filled with hot chocolate provided by his mother – Adam and the local kids have already split them up in teams and Harvey is all but ordered onto the pitcher's mound.
A whole lot of fun, if Harvey is honest with himself. They're not playing in any seriousness, and after the first few minutes nobody is really keeping score anymore. Mike is proving surprisingly adept at the game even though he claims to never have played beyond tossing a few balls around as a child. Granted, he pretty much sucks at batting, but he's not half bad at catching and throwing, so while it's not a win Harvey is not yet ready to count him as a complete loss, either.
For his part, Harvey spends most of the game on the pitcher's mound once the kids figure out that he is the only person on the field who can throw with any precision. And it feels good to stand on the mound again, throwing balls without that absolute intent to strike out the batter for once. It's fun to correct stances and grips, to yell and cheer encouragements and generally not behave like a New York City lawyer in a $12.000 suit, if only for a day.
The game starts to deteriorate after they take a break to hand out the hot chocolate while it's still reasonably warm, and when not even half an hour later David and two of the other boys start building a snowman in the outfield, Harvey decides to call it quits. It'll be getting dark soon, anyway, and there's very little protest when Harvey tells them to pack up the equipment.
They linger long enough to make sure that the other kids make it safely into a house down the street, then they set off on the trip back home. It's only a short distance, but still David somehow manages to complain for long enough until someone takes pity on him. What is surprising is that for once it's not Eric who caves to his demands, but Mike who crouches down and offers up his back for a piggyback ride.
When he straightens up again, Harvey catches a glimpse of his face, cheeks reddened from the cold and a big smile on his face, as if carrying a four year old in wet snow clothes on his back is everything he could have possibly asked for this Christmas. The unhidden happiness on his face and in his eyes hits Harvey almost like a physical blow, a pang of almost-but-not-quite-pain somewhere below his sternum, and although he answers Mike's smile with one of his own, the intensity of the feeling makes him look away.
It's too much, too soon, and it gets harder and harder to suppress the sudden urge to just lean in and kiss Mike.
Harvey no longer knows what to do about it. He's in deep, and tumbling farther and farther into something he has absolutely no control over every time Mike looks at him, every time he smiles at him or does one of the hundreds of other things that Harvey would have found annoying mere days ago but can't help find almost…endearing now.
It's highly disconcerting.
And still Mike keeps on smiling at him, keeps on chatting about this and that all the way home as if he has no idea what it does to Harvey. He probably hasn't, and that should already be sign enough. Mike doesn't notice that something is shifting in the way Harvey looks at him, and if there was any way Mike reciprocated those feelings, surely he would have noticed that something has changed in the way Harvey reacts to him.
It's highly confusing, and this is exactly why Harvey doesn't do this. No strings attached sex is easy for the very reason that there are no strings attached, no emotional ties to complicate things. It's exactly the reason why Harvey always preferred that approach to the emotional entanglement of a proper relationship. It's something that worked for him for more than twenty years now.
Trust Mike to be the one to just stumble into his life, suitcase full of weed and caring all over the place, and throw that, too, completely upside down.
Harvey is glad when they reach his parents' house, and the task of getting the children out of their wet snow clothes and putting the equipment away takes his mind off his circling thoughts about Mike. Once the children are settled in the living room to try out some of their new board games with their parents and Mary, Harvey quickly goes down into the basement. It's a tactical retreat, and definitely not a flight of any kind. Besides, his jeans and socks have not escaped the afternoon in the snow unscathed, and he really should change into dry clothes.
More than anything, though, he needs a moment of quiet to himself. So he doesn't immediately go back upstairs once he has changed, but instead he lies down on the bed and stares up at the ceiling.
He's screwed, and it doesn't take a lot of self-reflection to realize that.
He is falling in love with Mike, or rather tumbling headfirst into it without any shred of control over it whatsoever, and it's not a new thing, either. It has been creeping up on him for some time now, and he just didn't see it for what it was until now. Only now he does, and ever since he almost kissed Mike at the baseball field last night, the urge to do just that keeps rearing its head at the most inopportune moments.
He needs to get a grip on this.
He needs to get a grip on himself, because no matter what he thinks he feels for Mike, these feelings are not reciprocated, and he can't force himself onto his associate like that. He needs to find a way to force it all down into a small ball of unresolved feelings that he can learn to ignore.
Absolutely fucking easy.
Harvey presses the heels of his hands against his eyes and breathes out a deep sigh. Or maybe he could just stay down here in the basement for the rest of the evening to avoid getting himself into any potentially embarrassing situations. Sure, sooner or later someone is going to notice his absence, but until that happens he can maybe get a few minutes to just wallow in his misery in peace.
Which is also something he never felt the urge to do, and he absolutely blames that on Mike, too.
He does get a few minutes to himself, but that's just about it. It's probably not even half an hour later when the door opens and his brother's voice tears him out of the vicious circle his thoughts are caught in.
By now Harvey has his left arm thrown over his eyes to block out the light, and while he's pretty sure it looks more like a dramatic gesture than he intended, he doesn't lift it even as he makes a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat in reply.
There's the sound of steps on the floorboards and the slight creak of a mattress as Eric sits down on the other bed.
"Are you all right?"
Eric sounds genuinely worried, so Harvey lifts his arm off his eyes and puts it behind his head.
"I'm okay. Just tired, and my shoulder hurts."
It's not even a lie. There's a painful pull in his shoulder that has been spreading more and more ever since he came back in from the cold. It was to be expected, even though he didn't really pitch with any intensity earlier on. But he has thrown a lot of balls today, and his shoulder is not used to that kind of strain anymore. It's not the worst pain he ever had from his old injury, and it's going to pass quickly if he only gives his shoulder some rest, but for now it's a welcome excuse as to why he's hiding out in the basement, brooding.
"Do you want me to get you an ice pack?"
Harvey shakes his head and sits up on the bed, ignoring the sting of pain from his shoulder as he does so. The pain is going to go away on its own in a day or two, and while it's a convenient excuse for his behavior, he doesn't want anyone to make a big fuss about it.
"No, I'm good. I just needed a little time out."
Eric is watching him with his head cocked to the side as if he's trying to read between the lines and figure out what Harvey is not saying. Inwardly, Harvey steels himself for deflecting another barrage of uncomfortable questions, but eventually Eric sighs with a shake of his head.
"Listen Harvey, about earlier…"
"Forget about it," Harvey tries to interrupt, but Eric is having none of it.
"No, just listen for a minute. I didn't want to give you a third degree, and I get that you were pissed at me when I kept on going on about you and Mike. I'm sorry."
Harvey sighs and rubs his hands down his face. "I'm not angry, Eric. I just…I really don't want to talk about it, okay?"
Eric nods and after a moment gets up from his perch on the edge of the bed and stretches out a hand to help Harvey up. Harvey allows his brother to pull him to his feet.
"Just – if you do end up wanting to talk about it and haven't exhausted your monthly caring and sharing quota yet, you know I'll listen, right?"
Harvey rolls his eyes, but gives his brother a gentle shove against the shoulder that hopefully disperses any intention of hugging him which Eric might develop.
"I'll have you know that it's a very small quota that's easily used up, so you'd better not sit and wait by the phone."
Eric laughs. "I do have Donna's phone number, so I have my ways of keeping tabs on your life if you don't volunteer any information. Don't think you can weasel out of this one. Now, on a much more cheerful note, Mom actually send me to come looking for you because dinner is almost ready."
Harvey feels like he has done nothing but eating excessively good meals ever since he got here, but still the prospect of dinner is enough to lure him out of the basement despite the fact that Mike is up there and inevitably Harvey is going to start thinking about the same things over and over again.
They'll be going back to New York the following morning, and maybe all he needs is a little distance to figure out a way to deal with all those emotions he's not used to. And until then, he'll manage somehow.