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The Least They Ever Gave You (Was the Most You Ever Knew)

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*

They painted up your secrets,
with the lies they told to you
And the least they ever gave you
Was the most you ever knew

*

Mike is used to just barely getting by. He’s used to being alone and he’s used to not having many friends and he’s used to being used by the ones he does have. Or did have. Past tense, because they’re all gone. Trevor and Jenny, gone. Mother, father, Grammy – everyone gone.

At work he’s ostracized because no one wants to hang out with the teacher’s pet with the freak brain; the kid that always reminded the teacher they had homework due when no one else had done it. Even Rachel avoids him whenever professionally possible. He doesn’t blame her, doesn’t think too much about what she probably thinks of him now, and he can’t he be angry with her, can’t expect any less or more from her. It isn’t Mike’s fault she’s not Harvey. But it’s not her fault either.

Days pass brutally, each one a harder punch in the gut than before. Monday is worse than Sunday and Tuesday is worse than Monday and the pattern continues like an invisible fist slamming into his stomach every time something else bad happens.

Grammy dies and apparently that’s the lynchpin in everything going to hell.

He’s owed money to a few people for a while now. A lot of money to a few people. It’s a debt Trevor left him with and one that even with his brain he can’t quite figure out a way around. He’s been throwing what he can at them for a while, and it’s only because he’s working at Pearson Hardman that he’s even able to do that much. But these aren’t patient people, not the kind with nine-to-fives and wives and kids at home; these aren’t people with anything to lose. They’re greedy, have histories of violence, rap sheets to Queens and back, and alarmingly short tempers.

And when Mike doesn’t pay in full, they put the pressure on.

His bonus would’ve covered it, but he still owed the nursing home a year’s worth of late fees, and he had an outstanding balance for the funeral. It all came automatically out of his checking account a few hours before he could prioritize; before he got threatened with a switchblade outside a pub on his way home, and suddenly even the money he’s making isn’t enough. Not even close.

That’s when the whole situation – the whole incredibly lonely status quo – comes crashing in on him. He’s a mile away from work, on his bike, and it’s freezing out, and suddenly he can’t go home. He can’t go home because, he realizes, he doesn’t have one. What he has is a shitty studio in a bad neighborhood in a dated apartment complex with sketchy neighbors, leaky plumbing, and less-than-reliable heat. It’s empty and cold and tiny and there’s never anyone waiting for him there.

There never was.

When he finds himself locking his bike to a light pole across the street from Harvey’s, he already feels both sick and relieved. His anxiety is tempering, but his stomach is flip-flopping. He feels like he belongs here, but he’s not welcome here, and he can’t reconcile between the opposing emotions before he gets to the door and works up the nerve to knock.

Knocking is almost physically painful. And waiting is torture, because while going home to his empty apartment is suddenly one of the most terrifying things he can think of, it would be better than Harvey telling him to leave. And that could happen.That has happened.

Maybe Harvey won’t even open the door, he thinks, and he will be able to take rejection off the table by eliminating the no-win situation. He’ll suck it up and ride his bike the rest of the way home in the freezing wind and keep all of his problems to himself like he usually does and he won’t admit to being dangerously broke or painfully deprived of human affection and approval and he’ll do his best to—

Scratch that, the door opens.

Sometimes Mike isn’t sure if Harvey tries to be intimidating or if it just happens, like some kind of personality trait he can’t quite shut off and isn’t even particularly aware of. Kind of the way Mike comes across as naive but is probably infinitely more jaded between the two of them.

“Hi.” He says quietly, shyly, but his word sails off the walls around the doorway, echoing, mocking him, making him feel like he’s under a microscope, or on a stage.

Harvey just stares at him, but eventually steps to the side to let him in. 

The feeling of being scrutinized – silently questioned, motives examined – doesn’t go away for about three long minutes, even after Mike has walked in, beyond the kitchen, into the living room, where he stands and fidgets.

Nothing about this would be so difficult if Mike didn’t feel the way he did about his life and about Harvey. If he didn’t feel like he was such an orphan and Harvey Specter was, well, whatever an orphan might need, then he could probably stand in his condo without feeling so stupid.

Mike struggles with what to say, because whether or not Harvey’s expression is demanding of an explanation for why he’s showed up on his doorstep at nine o’clock, Mike feels like he owes him one anyway.

“I—uh—”

“Got lost on your way to Brooklyn?”

It’s just like Harvey to make him uncomfortable just long enough for him to start stuttering, and then leap in with an interruption to keep from being a completely unredeemable bastard.

“No…”

“Bike got a flat?”

The way Harvey is teasing and smirking as he walks into the kitchen makes Mike blush, which he quickly hides by sitting down on the couch and not-so-discreetly covering his face with a hand.

“No,” he repeats, and then gives up on thinking of a good excuse. So far Harvey hasn’t kicked him out, so Mike figures maybe less information is better in this case. Besides, he doesn’t particularly want to lie and he can’t figure out a good way to tell the truth. I was lonely and you’re all I have, sounds pathetic even just in his head; he can’t imagine saying it out loud. Plus, while Harvey might actually be all he has, he didn’t come here strictly because of that. If he had other options, he still would’ve picked Harvey. And that in itself – before he even factored in anything else, like money or attachment issues or insecurity – was becoming a serious problem.

Fortunately, Harvey doesn’t demand any answers that night. He brings Mike a glass of water instead.

“Here,” he says, and then ribs, “Lost puppy.”

He throws clothes and blankets at Mike onto the couch and within the hour, Mike’s out like a light. After all, it’s a lot easier to fall asleep without a draft or the deafening silence of being completely by yourself.

 

 


 

 

Mike thinks he’s been keeping all of his personal struggles to himself, but Harvey picks up on his unrest. The way he’s always on edge, the way he tries to be good and perfect and timely but snaps for no reason, the way he holes up in the file room as a means of staying away from everyone, the way he looks exhausted and pale and hungry and stressed all the time. It’s beyond the usual.

His phone vibrates to hell and back. By seven, Mike doesn’t know how much longer he can stave off his debt for. He feels like he’s aged ten years in two weeks, like stress has personified into something tangible, like it’s sludge running through his veins, making him old, and tired, and stretched thin, and – damn it – scared.

He knocks on Harvey’s door for the second night in a row because he’s not exactly sure there’s no one waiting outside his own place with a gun, and he’s a month behind on rent and he really doesn’t want to run into the super.

This time, Harvey lets him in again but looks at him a little longer, with a little more concern. He gives Mike about twenty minutes of silent permission, which the kid uses to fix his makeshift bed on the couch – which was still mostly intact from the night before. Then Harvey goes for the throat.

“You wanna tell me what’s going on?”

“What?” Mike’s weak attempt at stalling is to play deaf.

“You heard me,” Harvey says. “You’re distracted at work, you check your phone twenty times a day, you’re chewing your fingernails off, you never eat, and you show up on my doorstep at night. And all you want is a place to crash? Come on, Mike. Do I look like an idiot?”

Mike looks at the floor and shakes his head.

“So then tell me what the hell is going on,” Harvey demands, stepping between Mike and the coffee table. “And don’t—”

“Nothing,” Mike says quietly.

“—Lie,” Harvey sighs, a little too late.

Mike scoffs. “Please. This whole…” He motions between them. “Our whole…relationship is based on a lie, I mean, the first thing I said when I met you was ‘Rick Sorkin.’

Harvey frowns, “I’ve never lied to you,” he says , his tone serious. “And you’ve come a long way since Rick Sorkin and a briefcase full of pot.”

Not really, Mike thinks. He’s as still as possible, a frail statue perched on the edge of a cushion, and Harvey seems like a giant towering over him.

“Can I just…” Mike’s voice is small, possibly ashamed. “Stay here, tonight? Tomorrow I’ll get my shit together, I promise.”

Mike knows better than to make promises he probably can’t keep, but right now he’s just trying to survive, and survival is all about getting from one moment to the next. If he thinks too far ahead, he’ll probably give up.

Harvey looks at him for several more seconds, nods, and leaves the room.

 

 


 

 

Mike goes back to his apartment the next two nights, but it’s just as awful as – if not worse than – he remembers. It’s cold and silent and there’s more than a few eviction notices pushed under his door. He has ten days to get out.

He has six new voicemails and he can’t bring himself to listen to any of them. He deadbolts the door and tries his hardest to sleep. It’s so much easier when he’s warm and he knows, in the back of his mind, that Harvey is ten yards away in the next room. Here, he just tosses and turns and worries.

The next day he feels perpetually sick to his stomach. Every time someone says his name he jumps. His startle response is off the charts, and for good reason.

When he shows up at Harvey’s door that night, it’s out of instinct and despair. His head is pounding, his jaw is throbbing, nose pouring blood and soaking his clothes and dripping all over the floor. He already feels bad, already feels guilty, but he needs help. There’s nowhere else he can go, and nowhere else he particularly wants to.

If yesterday was a punch to the gut, today is a punch to the face (literally).

It takes Harvey a second longer than he’d like to admit to notice what the hell is going on before he grabs Mike by his tie and hauls him through the door.

“What the hell—“ he starts, but stops, because he knows, and guilt hits him, hard, and fuck him for letting it reach this point, fuck him for not intervening before it got this bad. He puts his sleeve up to Mike’s split lip, and he’s not sure if it’s because Mike flinches or if it’s because it’s a really fucking expensive sleeve, but, he pulls back. “Mike…”

Mike would really like to respond, but he’s a little too winded – from the cold and from running – and he’s a little too traumatized, and in a little too much pain. He follows blindly and silently as Harvey tugs him toward the bathroom, leaving a trail of blood drops.

Mike didn’t expect anything when he’d knocked on the door. He’s learned not to. Harvey is both fickle and routine. Mike knows he’s closed the door in his face before and also that he’s let him crash on his couch more than once without the third degree, and he’s not quite sure what to make of all that conflicting information. Then there’s the way Harvey is always looking at him, always slipping in a suggestive comment, but then quickly turning around and treating him like an indentured servant. The only thing Mike’s figured out is that he can’t figure him out.

So when Harvey starts cleaning the blood off his face with a warm towel, Mike isn’t exactly expecting it, but he’s not completely shocked either. In fact, he figures the odds are just as good for Harvey to throw the towel at him instead. It’s just the way it is. Of course, whenever Harvey leans more on the side of caring than not, Mike always responds a little differently – with a quicker heartbeat, a mild tensing of his spine, a sudden pervasive drying of his mouth. In a way, it’s a kind of self-defense mechanism; enabling fight-or-flight mode, prepared for or trying to prevent the inevitable soul-crushing should Harvey suddenly stop and decide to just be an emotionally bankrupt dick again.

But he doesn’t stop this time. He pats the counter and Mike obliges, hopping up on to it and then wincing as pain shoots up his arm. Harvey reaches out immediately to steady him the way a parent puts their arm in front of a kid in the passenger seat during a sharp turn.

He presses the cloth gently against Mike’s nose and holds it until the bleeding eventually stops, which isn’t less than three full minutes. He turns it and puts the clean side against Mike’s lip.

“How much do you owe them?”

Mike’s eyes widen. “What?”

“You think I don’t know what it looks like when someone owes somebody money?” Harvey raises an eyebrow and adds, “Plus, I can read you like a book. Trevor left you a debt, didn’t he?”

Mike admits, with a shaky breath, “…Yeah.”

 He breaks eye contact immediately. His plan was never to make his problems Harvey’s problems. He didn’t even have a plan. He just didn’t want to be alone.

 “How much?” Harvey persists.

“A lot.”

“What’s ‘a lot’?”

Mike shifts nervously, “Just a lot, okay? I don’t…I don’t wanna talk about it, Harvey. I’ll handle it. I just needed a little time.”

Harvey isn’t defensive. He just slowly, cautiously wipes the cloth along Mike’s face, cleaning up all the blood. “It looks like you’re out of time, Mike.”

Mike lowers his head. Harvey’s right. He never really had time and he certainly doesn’t have the money.

“Stay here,” Harvey tells him. He tosses the cloth into the sink and leaves in favor of getting an icepack.

Harvey’s bathroom is huge and bright, almost blinding. Mike turns briefly, and slowly, to look behind him in the mirror, and when he does, his breath catches. His eyes are already ringed with black-purple bruises, his jaw the same shade, lip split in three different places. The light reveals everything. He looks like shit, in fact, his appearance rivals how he feels inside, physically and emotionally. There’s a sudden, resounding question of, what the fuck do I do? that goes through his head, and for the life of him, he can’t figure out the answer. He turns around, tries not to cry, and waits.

When Harvey returns, he nudges Mike’s knees open with his thigh, stepping in close to him, which Mike decides is way closer than is necessary to simply put an ice pack along his jaw. It’s just another thing for Mike to file away in his mind, in the overflowing compartment he’s labeled Harvey’s Mixed Signals, to see if it will help him determine what the hell Harvey wants from him and if it’s more, or less, or nothing at all.

 “Who are these people, and how much do you owe them?”

Harvey’s question catches Mike off guard, and he can’t stall any longer. “They’re, uh, some old clients of Trevor’s. I don’t really know the whole story. I just know he screwed them out of a lot of drugs and money over the years. They knew we were friends so I guess…”

 “When they went to collect, he sent them to you?” Harvey predicts.

Mike nods silently.

Harvey tilts his head, “And they did this?” He nods toward Mike’s battered face.

Mike takes a deep, shaky breath, “I went to give them what I had tonight, uh, to buy some time, and—and—they said, well, it better be all of it, but I didn’t have all of it,” he chokes on his voice as it breaks. “So they just…they just…”

“Okay, okay,” Harvey says, stopping him. He’s never been very good with being comforting, but it comes a little bit easier to him where Mike is involved. He gives him a few seconds to recover, to relax, before he continues.

“I asked you how much, Mike.”

Mike doesn’t answer. He’s torn between telling the truth – disappointing Harvey, because how the fuck did he end up owing so much money to drug dealers that he’d never even personally dealt with? – or lying – and pissing Harvey off, because how could he possibly lie to his face after everything he’s done for him? These people would have probably already killed him if not for the fact that he looked like someone somebody might miss if he didn’t show up to work the next day in his shiny suit.

He owes Harvey everything. That’s the only way he can describe what he feels. But it isn’t necessarily a bad debt, not like the kind he owed the dealers; not even monetary, not really. It’s more of an emotional debt. And it isn’t something Mike wants to run away from. He wants to repay it. He just isn’t sure how to, or if Harvey will even let him.

“Five-thousand?” Harvey guesses.

Mike shakes his head.

“Ten? Fifteen?”

Another shake of the head.

“Jesus, Mike,” Harvey sighs. He pulls the icepack away from Mike’s jaw because he knows it must be painfully cold by now but that Mike won’t complain about it. “No wonder you can’t pay this people.”

“I could’ve,” Mike says weakly. “I mean, I was, with my bonus, but I owed…I owed the nursing home a lot of money and then the funeral—I didn’t realize how much it all was and then, everything just started happening at once, you know? All of a sudden there was the funeral, and rent, and the nursing home was telling me I owed them, and then I started getting calls from these guys, or they’d show up outside of work, and then rent again, and I was so stressed and I couldn’t…I can’t catch a break, Harvey.”

 Harvey looks back, quiet, repressed sympathy on his face that Mike either doesn’t see very often or has heretofore misinterpreted as pity. Mike is suddenly suspicious.

“What are you gonna do?” he asks.

“I’m gonna take care of it.”

“No,” Mike shakes his head weakly. “No, Harvey, you don’t have to do that.”

“Not really your call,” Harvey replies, motioning him off of the counter and keeping a gentle hand on his shoulder to steady him. “Besides, what good are you to me if you’re dead?”

Mike sighs and lets Harvey guide him into the living room. He sits on the edge of the couch, noticing for the first time since he was ushered in, blood everywhere, that the blankets from the night before are still where he left them. With Harvey being as organized as he is, Mike can only determine that he knew he would turn up again and decided he might as well be prepared. Mike feels both a little bad, and a little relieved at the realization that, maybe, even if he’d shown up without bruises, Harvey never intended to tell him no.

Harvey lingers nearby for several minutes, cataloguing Mike’s movements as he crawls under the blankets, watching for any signs of a concussion or some kind of delayed trauma beyond the conspicuous. When Mike seems like he’s going to survive – at least physically – Harvey leaves him with a glass of water, Advil, and a brief, affectionate sweep of his fingers across his forehead; a touch that Mike still feels the ghost of long after Harvey walks away.

 

 


 

 

At Harvey’s insistence, Mike works from home – Harvey’s home – for two days, while his black eyes and swollen lip heal, or at least improve to some state better than ‘fucking terrible’. They did a number on him, and Mike keeps busy with the files Harvey leaves for him, to keep from flashing back to that night.

Meanwhile, the phone calls have halted altogether. Mike does the math; figures out that Harvey has either returned the punishment, paid the debt, or threatened serious legal action. Whatever it was, Mike is grateful.

He still has no idea where he’s supposed to go from here, and he’s finding every possible distraction available to avoid facing his problems any time soon. He hasn’t been home to his own apartment in days, and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t have one to go back to anyway. Part of him thinks that idea should panic him even more; essentially it means he’s homeless, and in New York City, apartment hunting with a drained bank account isn’t exactly a thing people do with much success. But the rest of him is overwhelmed with relief at the prospect of sleeping absolutely anywhere but there. Just recalling the sheer loneliness of it is almost enough to make him feel strangled. And he decides then, between brief pages three nineteen and twenty-five, that wherever he ends up can’t feel much worse than that.

Harvey calls him at lunchtime and Mike feels like having found their smoking gun is hardly the least he can do. It’s really just his job. Outside of it, he still owes Harvey more than he knows he’s capable of repaying. And Mike knows that Harvey knows that; knows that financially, Mike can never give him back the money. And there’s not a whole lot else Mike has that Harvey needs or even wants, not as far as Mike knows, and it begs the question –  why? Why is Harvey helping him so much? His favors far exceeded the bounds of work now. Mike loses himself in thought and struggles to figure out if it has anything to do with those mixed signals, or the way Harvey stepped so close to him, or why he’d unnecessarily touched his forehead with a little more affinity than Mike thinks he deserves.

He was no closer to deciphering Harvey and his actions when he walks in that night.

“Did they sign?” Mike asks, from the living room.

Harvey smiles, “Oh, yeah. John Hancock on the dotted line.” His face falls, however, when he looks at Mike and is reminded of just how badly bruised his face is. He makes an effort not to look surprised, and instead adds, “Good work today.”

Mike looks down and grins. It’s cautious pride.

He takes his time – a lot longer than needed – to organize the files he’d spread all over Harvey’s table, and get them neatly back into a pile. He’s putting off the inevitable, which is, getting the hell out before his presence becomes one hell of an awkward elephant in the room. Mike’s stalling is painfully evident to Harvey who immediately notices the way he’s shuffling the same papers over and over, and the way he’s biting his injured lip out of anxiety or self-loathing or both.

Harvey scans the room. Nothing is out of place, and the blankets Mike used the night before are folded into a neat square on one cushion – put away, and yet, easily accessible for future use. The same goes for the few pieces of clothing he’d borrowed – they’re folded together in a small pile, condensed, ready to grab, and yet, just in reach.

Mike has all the signs of someone who is prepared to leave, but has nowhere to go.

Harvey watches him. A strange, almost empty feeling takes hold of his chest. Seeing Mike hurt, and lost, and broken is hard, but it’s much worse watching the kid trying to hold it together; pretending to know what he’s supposed to do, kicking ass at work but being completely railroaded by every other aspect of life and falling apart trying to hide the shame of it all.

Who told him, Harvey wondered, taking a deep, sympathetic breath, that there was some rule, some law, that said he was obligated to carry the world on his shoulders – that he was supposed to, or that he couldn’t ask for help, and if he got it, he didn’t deserve it? Harvey thought about the sharp blow(s) he’d delivered earlier that morning (along with a few strong legal suggestions) to a couple men who had reeked of nicotine and nefarious intent, and he only wished he could inflict the same payback on whoever – or whatever – had made Mike feel so unworthy to start with.

“Going somewhere?” When Harvey finally speaks, it seems to catch Mike off-guard, and he obsessively straightens a stack of papers before he turns around.

“Um, well, I, um—“ he stutters and points to the door. “Yeah, I was—I just figured you probably…I’m gonna go.”

Mike doesn’t want to push his luck, or overstay his welcome. And he doesn’t want to risk breaking down about anything else either, which is bound to happen under Harvey’s convincing stare and prying questions, and Mike’s also afraid if that he does, Harvey will either try to help him again, or he won’t. And neither of those options sits very well with him. The first makes him feel like shit and the second one makes him feel, well, like shit.

The thing is, Mike didn’t used to be this jumpy or socially inept around Harvey, and the truth is, most of the time he isn’t. At work he separates his growing feelings well (and whatever else Harvey picked up on wasn’t because Mike’s bad at hiding his problems, it’s just because Harvey’s that good at reading him). It’s just snowballed into this emotion that he doesn’t completely understand and is crushingly heavy, and after spending this much time this close, Mike can hardly breathe under the weight of it all.

“Hey, hey,” Harvey says, gently, reaching out his palm as Mike tries to flee past him like the tornado he is. He presses it to his chest, stopping him short. “Stay…Mike.”

“Harvey, I don’t want—“

“You’re not. It’s okay.”

Mike sighs, relief washing over him in overdue waves. He wanders toward the couch, sitting down, making himself small, trying hard not to take up too much room or time or energy or money or effort.

He doesn’t want to be Harvey’s problem; not anymore than he already is by not having a law degree. He doesn’t want to be an obligation. He doesn’t want to be this person Harvey is stuck with. He doesn’t want to leave a bad taste. He doesn’t want to inconvenience or disappoint. But more than any of that – and the thought makes him physically flinch – he doesn’t want Harvey to regret him. Logically, Mike figures Harvey probably has at least fleeting moments where, for both their sakes’, he regrets hiring him, or hell, even meeting him at all. But Mike doesn’t want to him to regret extending him this compassion that has strayed so far beyond the job and their initial professional bounds (which, let’s be honest, were never all that professional to start with). He’s already this thing that happened to Harvey that Harvey can’t legally come back from. He doesn’t want to invade Harvey’s entire life based on his own irresponsibility and an exhausting emotional attachment that he can’t even admit to let alone accurately describe.

“Did you eat?”

Harvey’s voice draws Mike from his paranoia. He shakes his head. Harvey looks displeased.

“I thought I told you to help yourself to the kitchen?”

Mike shrugs, “I can’t really cook, Harvey.  And your stove is from the future.”

Harvey scoffs, but smiles. “Alright,” he says, and fishes his cell phone from his pocket. “Takeout it is then.”

 

 


 

 

Mike argues with him to return to work the next day, but Harvey insists that it will just prompt too many questions, and since his Harvard secret isn’t out, there’s no reason to risk letting his injuries expose him one dirty little secret at a time.

Harvey is halfway out the door that morning, when he stops, and backtracks into the living room. Heretofore Mike hasn’t altered his schedule in any way. His life, yes, but not his schedule. After all, Harvey is nothing if not routine. And he’s tempted to pass right by Mike as he normally would, leaving the kid to be rudely awoken by his alarm clock in an hour or so, and greeted with the work Harvey’s left in a (large) pile beside him on the coffee table. But this particular morning, he catches his eye and that same part of Harvey that felt empty is rearing its head again; pulling at strings he didn’t know he had, strings that make him feel things, things for Mike, things like affection and affinity and desire and empathy and loyalty and commitment and protectiveness, and he’s pretty sure there’s a particular collective name for all of them, but he refuses to acknowledge what it is because the implications scare the hell out of him.

He’s lured by these feelings, over to the couch, where Mike is sound asleep in the most uncomfortable position Harvey has ever seen and can’t quite figure out how he’s even in, with one arm under him, one arm hanging off the side, and one ankle brushing the floor.

“Mike,” he whispers, nudging his arm.

Mike rolls over with a grunt, eyes apparently greatly opposed to the light when he opens them to find Harvey towering over him.

“You can go sleep in my bed,” he tells him, and, to make his motives sound more practical than emotional (though he knows it would probably go over Mike’s head either way) adds, “I’m leaving, and you’re falling off the couch.”  

It takes Mike at least a full minute to figure out where he is, what day it is, and exactly what Harvey is trying to get him to do, before he wakes up enough to stand and stumble toward the bedroom.

“I need all the past employers from the Drift case by eleven thirty,” Harvey calls, an afterthought, on his way out.

Mike nods and gives a sleepy salute just as the door closes. He wanders into Harvey’s room and falls face-first onto the bed. It doesn’t take him long to fall back asleep, but before he does, he wonders. Wonders briefly when his life is going to become less of a guessing-and-waiting game, when it will be less hoping and more knowing. It’s better than it was, of course, without the looming threat of money-hungry enemies and below par living standards and outstanding bills, but still, everything is up in the air. His future hinges on Harvey, and he can’t figure out where Harvey stands because he uses varying actions that confuse instead of words that Mike understands.

He inhales into a pillow, the scent sedating him, the breath only just preparing him for the day ahead, the week, the month.

His whole life.

When his phone wakes him up an hour later, he feels like he’s still holding that breath, still dangling on the precipice of some meltdown he’s helpless to stop. He dives into work, keeping Harvey’s pillow under his arm while he reads, and he hopes he won’t notice that he’s switched them, because the one he had smelled like Tide and this one smells like Harvey and Tide is much less comforting.

 

 


 

 

While Mike wanted to avoid his presence becoming a problem, it seems like his inability to accept that Harvey genuinely doesn’t mind his presence is what’s actually ramping up the tension between them. At home, Mike can hardly make eye contact because he feels guilty. It nearly brings Harvey’s blood to a boil trying to communicate with someone who won’t look at him when they talk, and it bothers him that Mike thinks so low of himself in the first place.

Between their sharp, curt responses, the way they blade their bodies toward each other, and Mike’s ill-healing face serving as a constant reminder of his sins and Harvey’s vengeance, it’s safe to say that when Mike returns to work, things are more than a little hostile.

It’s strictly business – except business is weighted down by the fierce pull of everything else that isn’t. All of their words outside of work – and everything Mike makes Harvey feel, and everything Harvey has done for him, and the way he touched his face, and his head, and Mike’s mental box of Harvey’s Mixed Signals that he’s relabeled more appropriately to, What The Fuck, Harvey? – successfully take all potentially productive work conversations and beat them down to nothing but empty space and silent questions.

Mike gets his things from his place on a Tuesday, at Harvey’s request. It’s hardly a suitcase at most, and it lives beside his spot on the couch, almost like there was always a vacant place for it there.

But on Thursday, their company is so strained, it’s a hundred and eighty degrees from the week before; night and day from kind words and takeout or even civility.  And it hurts.

There’s enough awkward silence and quiet denial to fill the streets outside and it adds to Mike’s anxiety and insecurity and suddenly, he can’t handle it anymore. It’s not a moment of weakness – he’s been strong. It’s a culmination of the past week and a half, and all of his problems are peaking into one massive breakdown that he knows he should’ve seen coming, because he was a walking red flag and everything he touched fell apart.

He does a half-assed job of stuffing his things together and makes a tearful bolt toward the door. Harvey catches up to him, words flying in his ear and out the other, except for the last few.

“Where are you gonna go, Mike, huh?”

Where are you gonna go, Mike? The question slams into his ear drum like it was screamed, when it wasn’t, like it was accusatory, when it wasn’t, like it was mocking him, when it wasn’t.

“Home,” he lies, struggling with the locks while trying not to drop his belongings.

“Yeah? And where’s that?” Harvey flattens his palm against the door and calms his voice. “I know about your apartment, Mike.”

Mike’s voice is briefly panicked, “How do you—” he starts, and then he drops his head and sighs, frustrated. “Nevermind, of course you know.”

“I asked you a question, Mike.”

Mike tugs on the doorknob. “Harvey, just let me out,” he whines. “Please.”

“Not until you tell me where you’re going!” Harvey persists, raising his voice just a little, just enough to make it happen; to make Mike break.

“I don’t know! Somewhere, anywhere, I’ll figure it out,” Mike is shaking his head wildly. “You don’t want me here, Harvey, okay? I’m—I’m a mess! I drain you. Financially, professionally, emotionally! And I don’t wanna do that to you—I don’t wanna do that because—”

Harvey takes a breath, opens his mouth, lets his hand fall from the door to Mike’s shoulder. “Mike—“ he breathes, but the name is all he can manage before he’s cut off.

Mike’s voice breaks in, interrupting at a loud, pained, emotional, wrecked-to-the-nth degree kind of decibel. His eyes are welling up. He drops his things to the floor.

 “I don’t wanna do that because I love you!”

Silence takes over so suddenly, Mike feels like he’s been shot point-blank in the chest. He only manages to maintain eye contact for about one second and then the full weight of what’s been said comes barreling down on both of them, and he turns away, the color draining from his face, all of the air knocked out of his lungs.

Mike can think of a dozen times he never wanted to be anywhere except with Harvey, but right now, trapped between him and the door, and suffocating under his own confession, he wants to be anywhere else. He wants to dissolve into a pile of nothing on the heap of clothes at his feet; undo his very existence.

He didn’t try to say it, it just came out. And he doesn’t feel relief. He doesn’t feel like he got some big secret off his chest and all is right because now it’s out in the open and he can’t take it back. No, that’s precisely the problem. He can’t take it back. He can’t, because it’s true, and he knows it, and Harvey knows it, and there’s nothing liberating at all about having said it. There’s no relief from the act of admitting how he feels, like poets and movies try to convince. All that’s there is panic: sheer, paralyzing fear that courses through him like stress and sludge’s much crueler sister. Stress is slow, at least – it built over time; wore him down gradually. But fear is a sudden, ruthless predator, attacking instantly and viciously, oil in his blood that he can’t absorb, and nothing can temper, and it mauls and mauls, tears his nervous system down to shreds, leaving only tremors and sweat behind when it finally backs off. And even after that, after he’s clawed his way past Harvey, he can feel it coiling in the pit of his stomach, not leaving, not surrendering, but lying in wait of the next available opportunity to railroad him into a lightheaded human train wreck of tears and muttered apology. He doesn’t stand a chance against this kind of thing.

The living room seems larger than ever. He makes it to the middle and it feels like it’s swallowing him alive. The walls are suddenly further away; his perspective skewed. The blankets on his side of the couch are distant. It’s just him, and too much space, and a persistent ringing in his ears.

Everything that’s brought him and Harvey together could probably be described as some categorically right or devastatingly wrong set of circumstances; some completely absurd turn of events, and he has no idea if it was definitely meant or be or definitely not supposed to happen. And dropping a bomb like he did isn’t just something he can sweep under the rug. It’s there now, on the air, hanging heavily like smog or a bright, blinding traffic light. The consequences of this could be monumental, and from where he’s standing, Mike can’t imagine a scenario in which they would be exactly the good kind as opposed to the bad kind. And he feels like he’s screwed up all over again, given another stressor to settle on Harvey’s shoulders; another problem for him to deal with.

Mike doesn’t expect a strong hand to land gently on the back of his neck, but then again, he is standing in Harvey’s living room, and he does look more than a little shell-shocked, and Harvey has been more liberal with his hands lately.

So maybe he expects it as much as he doesn’t.

“Mike.”

Mike flinches, like hearing Harvey say his name is physically painful. The hand on his neck squeezes in reassurance.

“Harvey,” he says, voice audible, but only just barely, hushed almost entirely by guilt. “I’m sorry.”

Harvey just looks at him, sighs, and puts an easy pressure behind his hand, turning Mike toward him, pulling him in, against his chest. He can tell Mike’s beyond resistance at this point; his pride stripped, ego deflated. He accepts the embrace, collapses into it.

Harvey holds him. He lowers his chin only an inch, and he’s pressed into Mike’s hair, and he’s inhaling, and he realizes – this is a slippery slope. This is the line, the line that’s been there from the start, that they’ve done well not to cross, but are currently verbally and physically trampling all over.

For Mike, it would go straight into the What the fuck, Harvey? box, only he doesn’t seem to notice, because his head is still buried against Harvey’s chest, and he’s distracted with doing his absolute best not to cry, and when he fails, doing his absolute best to not do it like a complete lunatic in the process.

Harvey knows the underlying problems here. And it’s not the one Mike has recently unveiled, but maybe because that isn’t so much a problem as a revelation and maybe it’s not really even much of that, either. Maybe it was all just a matter of time. The real problem, Harvey knows, is Mike’s inability to let him take care of him without thinking he has to move heaven and earth to even the score. And the other problem is Harvey’s own inability to tell Mike anything in a way the kid can actually understand.

So he pulls back, enough to push Mike off by a few inches, look him in his teary, red, puffy eyes. He’s not studying him as much as he’s just temporarily distracted by his tears and the way his face is still emblazoned with residual yellow-brown bruising from the fight he’d sorely lost.

Then, almost like it’s a knee-jerk reaction to looking up at Harvey or having to hold eye contact so long after their hiatus from doing just that, Mike surges forward, only love propelling him, and no other conscious thought interrupting that emotion long enough to stop him. He presses his mouth hard against Harvey’s, stomping and shitting on that theoretical line and not caring, not thinking, just doing – just doing what he’s been able to stop himself from doing for so long before all these walls crumbled down and made it impossible to not give in.

Even when the partial reality of what he’s doing hits him, Mike still can’t bring himself to stop. He’s whining, kissing hard and desperate and needy, fingers curling into Harvey’s shirt, trying to pull him closer, standing on his toes to reach him better, to kiss him deeper, to convince him, to thank him; to just be as close as he can possibly get.

 Harvey almost kisses him back – almost. Mike catches him so off-guard, he leans into it before realizing this is the slope and this isn’t just slipping – this is spiraling down the side of it head-first. His body tenses. He gives Mike about seven seconds to come down from wherever he is in his head, and when he doesn’t, he slides his hand between their chests, literally prying their bodies apart, then carefully but purposefully uncurls Mike’s fingers from his shirt, guides him backwards, backwards, backwards until he’s at arm’s length.

Mike’s mouth is pink, shiny and wet, his face flushed, expression likely on its way toward guilt but currently only displaying almost angry disappointment.  Harvey thinks longer than he’ll admit that his self-control might not be enough in this situation. It takes everything he has not to reach out, grab Mike’s collar, haul him back in and teach him how to really kiss, or be kissed, or whatever, but he manages, instead turns around and leaves the room without a word.

 

-

 

Mike is on the couch, in a disturbingly small, cramped shape at one end, face leaning against his hand, when Harvey returns. He folds himself even smaller, but doesn’t look up.

“What the hell was that about, Mike?”

He expects Harvey to say something, but he doesn’t expect that. It’s louder and harsher than he expected, angrier and more accusing than he’s prepared for, and he feels claustrophobic when Harvey walks closer.

“I don’t know,” Mike mumbles, looking at his hands.

“What?”

He winces. “I said I don’t know, Harvey!”

He’s annoyed now. He told Harvey the truth. He feels like that should explain any and all actions from the kiss on out. And the suddenly idea that Harvey might be pretending not to have heard him is somehow worse than having told him to begin with.

He can’t win.

Harvey sits down a few feet away. Mike is crawling inside with frustration: if Harvey has such a problem with everything he does, why doesn’t he spare him the lectures and just kick him out?

“If you’re so mad at me, why don’t you just let me lea—”

Harvey grabs the closest thing to him – the remote – and flings it across the room. It hits a liquor cabinet, loudly. “Because I don’t want you to leave me!”

Startled, Mike recoils, looks away with widened eyes and stays statue-still. Equally startled, Harvey falls quiet and looks alternately at the floor and the glass he’s just broken.

After a stretch of uncomfortable silence, he stands up and walks out of the room again for good. Mike watches him leave, and all he can think is, yeah –

What the fuck, Harvey?

 

 


 

 

If Thursday was the levee breaking, Friday is a restrained team effort to get the water back in.

 Mike puts a hundred and fifty percent into the case their working on, which isn’t less than his usual, except he’s trying hard not to appear distracted. His conversations with Harvey in the office return to normal, for the most part. It’s like everything has come to a loud, impulsive peak and now the only thing left to happen is for things to slowly simmer down until they’re able to confront the status quo, which seems to be – given last night’s revelations – that they both love each other. But how the absolute hell does that work out with the rest of their tangled lives?

It’s almost midnight when they try to figure it out.

Mike is on the couch, clutching Harvey’s hijacked pillow, and he might be pouting, maybe, a little, but he won’t admit it, not when Harvey walks over with a glass of whisky.

“Hey.”

Mike shrugs. “Hi.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Harvey tells him, and bam, suddenly this isn’t some competition of the tritest greetings – it’s serious. “You know that, right?”

Mike scoffs.

Harvey sighs and sits on the edge of the coffee table. “You don’t know owe me anything, Mike,” he repeats, staid.

“I owe you everything!”

 His voice is strained. He looks at Harvey, almost in disbelief, like how can you not already know that? How can you not see that?

“Why do you think that?” Harvey asks softly, looking at his drink.

“It’s not what I think, Harvey, it’s just…what I feel.”

 “Look, whatever I do, that’s my decision, Mike,” he explains. “And you don’t owe me anything. All right? You don’t owe me money, or time, or –“

“I know,” Mike shakes his head. “I know, I just…”

Harvey looks him straight in the eyes, like he did when he told Mike he trusted him. “You’re a good lawyer. That’s all you have to be.”

Mike nods slowly, almost reluctantly. It’s hard to take compliments like that when he’s still struggling not to see himself the way he used to be: high and desperate and wasting time, or even more recently, bleeding and fleeing from his past. It’s a tough reality.

He exhales.

Harvey nods back, reaching out and running his hand through Mike’s hair, leaning closer, smelling slightly like expensive scotch, kissing his forehead, and lingering, not rushing, not regretting, and finally, finally, finally – this is a language Mike understands.   

“You’re gonna be okay, Mike,” Harvey tells him, still close, nearly whispering. “I promise.”

Mike voices what remains of his doubt a few seconds later, when Harvey gets up to walk toward the kitchen. “How do you know?”

“I guess you’ll have to trust me on that one,” Harvey replies. And he sounds so sure, so certain, so much less terrified of the future than anyone else Mike knows, that he can’t help but trust him.

“Oh, and Mike?” Harvey turns around, his fingers shifting nervously around his glass. “Last night, by the door?”  

Mike looks up, “Yeah?”

“Me too.”

Mike feels his veins clearing of fear, stress, and whatever miserable creature had taken hold of him is now rushing out of his system in search of better host, because it’s not him anymore. He feels safe, sated, calm. Like he belongs here and he’s welcome here. And he’ll be okay, because Harvey promised. And said he loved him, the best way he knew how. To hell with everything else.

He’s enjoying this somewhat foreign feeling of peace when he hears his name again, looks across the room to see Harvey standing by the bedroom door.

“You coming?”

It’s the first time Mike hears nothing but his pulse in his ears without it being a bad thing. He stands up, heart pounding, makes it halfway to the doorway when he stops, hearing Harvey’s voice again. It's a mildly distant call that’s trailing off, more of an afterthought than an actual request.

“…and bring my pillow back!"

Mike almost chokes on his own saliva and laughs, stumbling back to grab the pillow. He heads in the direction of Harvey's voice and suddenly, all of his fear and skepticism and doubt seems ridiculous; understandable, but unwarranted. Of course love would work out with the rest of their tangled lives. How could it not?

It's been there all along.