Mike understands now, in a way he didn't, couldn't as a child.
He remembers everything his father said to him then, and he's grateful that his father saw the cold flatness in his eyes the way nobody else did. Daddy knew what he was because Daddy was one too, and he started his training early, which was just as well because Daddy and Mommy both died when Mike was nine.
They had these lessons. He wasn't supposed to tell Mom and Grandma about them. Dad called them man lessons which in retrospect sounds a little pedo-creepy, but they weren't like that. He would just take Mike out for dinner and talk to him, mouth full of red rare steak, or they'd go camping and Dad would show him how to catch and kill squirrels. They were the happiest times of Mike's childhood.
"Never let the innocent suffer," his father said. "The innocent didn't do anything wrong. If you have to kill one, make it quick," he continued, and snapped the squirrel's neck (when Mike was eight Dad let him do the snapping). Then they'd skin and dissect it and make stew.
"Only the guilty deserve to die. If you have to kill, kill a guilty man," Daddy said.
Mike just took it in, soaked it up and tucked it away, because he didn't understand it but he knew, one day, he would.
There was this serial killer in New York in the seventies, really up through the mid-eighties -- he mostly killed men who were repeat offenders, sometimes rapists, and the crimes have never been solved. The police never did a big media blitz and the papers never really caught on because the killings crossed several counties and one or two states, and when they stopped, suddenly, the same year Mike's father died, the police just quietly put the files into cold-case storage.
"We're not like other people," Daddy said. "We have to pretend we are."
"Like playacting?" Mike asked.
"Just exactly like," his father told him, and touseled his hair proudly with one blood-streaked hand.
After Dad and Mom died, Mike practiced his playacting, and he got into the habit of seeming to care, seeming to be the ultimate nice guy. People liked nice guys. Girls liked nice guys but didn't want to fuck them -- apparently that was the rule, at least the boys in Mike's high school classes said it was -- and that suited Mike to his numb, chilly core.
Excepting the squirrels, the neighbor's rabbit, and a dog that Trevor (when they were thirteen) said was a neighborhood menace and should be put down, Mike's first kill happened when he was sixteen. He followed all of Dad's rules, though he didn't realize it at the time.
Piers Ellsworth was a football jock from the rival school. A year earlier during a game he'd tackled one of their schoolmates and, though nobody believed Ben, he'd stomped Schoolmate Ben's ribs so hard one pierced a lung. He did it on purpose, and Ben couldn't play football anymore. Even then Mike wouldn't have made a move, but he was at a house party the night before a game, a year after it happened, and Piers was bragging about how he "stomped that fag", reliving the moment. Mike saw red.
He acted impulsively, but with cool reason. He stood a little too close to Piers, smiled a little too widely, shared his pot, and Piers followed him like a lamb out to the pool in the back. Nobody was hanging out there because it was raining, but Piers agreed with Mike that it was a perfect spot to get a little privacy. The yard lights were out. Piers wanted to do some Ecstasy he had and get his dick sucked.
Such a promising young man, Piers Ellsworth. It was a real shame he got high and drowned in the pool. Nobody missed Mike when he slipped away before the body was found.
Afterward, shaking and elated and still a little high, Mike dried himself off at home (Grandma was long asleep) and lay in bed, and Dad's words came back to him.
Kill the innocent quick. If you have to kill, make it a guilty man. Be meticulous. Vary your methods. Peoples' weaknesses usually lead them into traps. Make it look natural or, if you can't, make it look so vicious the cops are scared.
Next time, he promised himself on that last one. Next time.
He wanted to do it again right away, because for the brief few minutes he'd held Piers' head underwater he'd felt something, he'd felt emotion. But the murder had been sloppy (anyone could have seen) and Mike's elaborate plans to prevent being caught in his next act bordered on the paranoid. His meticulousness drove over into paralysis, and it took some time to balance.
He didn't kill again until he was eighteen and at college. His workstudy job for his scholarship was in the Health office, and he was there the early Saturday morning when they brought in a woman who'd been assaulted. Nina, with a sweet face and pretty hair, who'd been raped.
She said who did it. She knew who did it and she said so, but the campus cops knew that rapes on campus drove the school's reputation and attendance down. They talked her out of pressing charges. They said they'd suspend her rapist for a semester, handle it internally.
Mike had only helped with her medical admissions form, but he'd heard her screaming in anger -- somewhat enjoyable, though Dad would disapprove of him ever doing that, and he never would. He'd heard her say who had done it.
Murders on campus were much worse for the school's reputation than rapes.
Eric Lind's roommate had come back to their room after a weekend at home to find every inch of Eric's side covered in blood (it would have been rude to do the same to his innocent roommate's things). Eric himself lay on his bed, flayed open, organs carefully spread out around him -- Mike had been reading about Jack the Ripper for History 145 (Industrial To Contemporary). Eric's dick and balls had been cut off and arrived the next day in Nina's campus mailbox.
That might have been a mis-step. Nina had screamed again. Mike had only meant to show her he'd done it for her.
There were other murders after that, but those were the two really big, really defining ones, Mike always felt.
He considered killing Trevor after they got kicked out of school. Trevor was kind of an idiot and surely no-one aside from close family would mourn his loss. Mike might be doing a service to society. But Trevor was a narcissist, the closest Mike had ever encountered to someone like him, which made him somewhat valuable. And anyway Jenny made them food sometimes and always smelled nice and Mike wouldn't want to upset her (learned that lesson with Nina).
When he first started working with Harvey, Mike's heart had leapt at the idea that Harvey didn't care. It was a momentary hope, because Harvey proved with most of his actions that he did care, which made him a liar or at the very least a person in deep denial. Mike, who had to spend all his time pretending he did care, couldn't very well turn cold and predatory now, since Harvey would suspect something.
But the things he could show Harvey about not caring...
Harvey would look so nice with someone's blood slicking back his hair.
Pearson Hardman is a good place for a serial killer, Mike decides, once he's settled in. For one thing, everyone's life is a stress cycle: most of the people around him will work and work until they hit a snapping point, then go out and drink and drink until they pass out. Or they'll have inadvisable sex, or cry in the bathroom, but the point is that they participate in the cyclical nature of everything. They know the way Mike's urges function, the build and the release.
In itself it's nicely designed to curb Mike's urges, which had been getting somewhat out of control (two kills in two weeks was too close together, even if one had been beating his kid in plain view through Mike's third-story window and the other had seen a mugging and stopped to take pictures with her cellphone rather than call for help). Pearson Hardman keeps him busy until he absolutely can't stand it anymore, and then it provides him with a host of potential victims to choose from.
He has fallen into a comfortable habit of work and blood, letting Harvey to some extent control his destiny, teasing Harvey about caring because he himself can't actually care. At night, he dreams about Harvey and jerks off to the idea of a man like him who honestly doesn't care. Like his Dad, who passed on to his son blue eyes, an allergy to shellfish, and compulsions that dead squirrels can't possibly control.
Mike knows he's messed up precisely because he worries more about conflating Daddy and Harvey than he worries about how he took the child-beater's fingers off one by one before he killed him. But women bore him, except when they scream, and men excite him, especially when they bleed, and if he could find a man like Dad, a man who would not flinch from the blood...
Harvey might be close. He wonders, often, if Harvey would flinch. Harvey belongs to a culture of casual brutality -- has allowed himself to be hit, has played violent sports and admired violence in others. When Harvey mentioned he was going to beat the shit out of that guy, that one time, Mike's dick twitched with interest, which it hadn't done independently since Kill #12 fought back (briefly).
He's careful not to draw his victims from Pearson Hardman's clients or enemies too often, though he is planning a trip to Boston in a few years to wipe the smug smile off Travis Tanner's face, along with his lips. While Mike's reasonably sure the police haven't linked all his crimes yet, he can't risk some detective somewhere figuring out that Pearson Hardman is a common factor. He's very proud of his firm, and would never drag their good name through the mud.
On the other hand...
He and Harvey both know that the man they're currently representing in settlement negotiations stole millions of dollars from a hedge fund where a lot of people had retirement money invested. It pains him to shark for this guy, and he can see it pains Harvey to play hardball for him.
Mike makes sure the man's cute little dachshund is drugged, puts him outside in the yard with plenty of food and water for when he wakes, and then takes their client to pieces.
Fortunately he has no kids. Mike hates to kill people with kids. Not that it's ever stopped him, but he doesn't enjoy it as fully as he feels he should.
The kitchen is a bloodbath by the time he's done, and he'd like to stay and maybe make a hamburger or two, but he can't find a meat grinder and anyway Harvey will want him in by seven tomorrow, so he really should get going. He bundles up his packages and leaves through the back, stopping to pat the sleeping dachshund on his way. (He's wearing gloves. Can't be too careful these days.)
Harvey calls him at five in the morning.
"Get dressed," he says. Our client's been murdered."
As it turns out, the police think Mike was the last person to see the client alive, since he walked him to his car after their meeting. Harvey, who has appointed himself Mike's legal representation, accompanies Mike and the police to the scene of the crime. Mike isn't sure if the police just want to impress on him how serious this is, or if they want to scare him into some kind of, what, confession? Mike's in the clear; he sent the client off in his car and then biked home, and that was where he spent his whole night, for all anyone but the dachshund knows. He can show them the briefs he proofed, if they want.
Mike watches Harvey's reaction when they're faced with the blood-spattered kitchen and the pieces of client still lying around. Harvey looks pained, briefly, then sighs and mutters, "Lost his business."
Perhaps he underestimated Harvey. Mike stifles a giggle under cover of retching, and the cops hustle him out while Harvey rolls his eyes and talks about weak stomachs. In the mirror, after washing his face, Mike can see the reflection of Harvey watching him from the hall. He can see relief smoothing away the worry lines around his eyes. With this client dead, his secret bank accounts will start showing up, and they can do for his victims after his death what was a conflict of interest for them during his life.
"What do you think of the guy who did that?" Mike asks, over lunch. Harvey, despite all his talk of weakness, took Mike to a quiet restaurant and is making him eat, as if to make up for that morning.
"You want a profile or something?" Harvey asks, amused.
"Okay." Harvey wipes his mouth and settles back. "He picked a night his wife was out of town and put the dog outside, so he didn't choose him at random -- he had some specific beef with him that he didn't have with the dog or the wife. But the level of anger you need to do something like that..." He shakes his head. "Whatever our client did to the guy, he wasn't just pissed at him. The killer was working something else out, too. But he kept control -- that's an organized, efficient murder, despite the..." Harvey waves a hand, indicating the pieces, the smears of blood.
"You think one of the people suing him did it?"
Harvey considers Mike. "Do you?"
"I don't know," Mike says, but he slips -- for just a second he lets the flat, numb part of himself show in his eyes, and he knows Harvey sees it.
Harvey just sips his water and takes another bite of salad.
Sometimes Mike keeps souvenirs and sometimes he doesn't -- Dad told him to never be predictable -- and in this case he kept the teeth, because they're less messy than the soft bits. He cleaned them meticulously, intending to do something entertaining with them, but in the end he gives them to Harvey. He knows this might be a mistake, like the package for Nina was, but he looks on it more as...as a test.
The building x-rays all packages that come from the post office or shipping companies, but they don't run the people who work there through any special security. Mike sneaks the teeth into the office packaged in cotton in a small box, wrapped in a ziplock, at the bottom of his messenger bag. At his desk he makes sure nobody is around and then pulls the box out of the plastic bag, placing it on his keyboard. "Harvey Specter" is written on it in red ink -- he should have done it in blood, but blood is so hard to write with and you have to do it really fast.
He goes off to procure some breakfast from the vending machines in the Associate kitchen, and 'by chance' meets Rachel there, who walks him back to his cube and thus witnesses his puzzled face when he finds a small box labeled "Harvey Specter" on his keyboard. He picks it up, shakes it, frowns at her.
"I better run this up to him," he says. This is kind of fun, all this cloak-and-dagger.
"Package for you," he calls, leaning in Harvey's doorway and tossing the box across the room. Harvey catches it, studies it, listens to the rattle when he turns it around. "It was on my desk this morning." Technically true.
Harvey sets the box down and slits the tape with his thumbnail, opening it. He continues to study the contents of the box, his frown increasing, but he doesn't seem especially put off. Which is good. Mike spent a long time making sure those teeth were very clean.
"Gift from an admirer?" Mike asks. Harvey looks up at him. "Come on, what's in it?"
"None of your business," Harvey replies.
"I want to know too," Donna says, over the intercom.
"Donna, call Detective Boman with the NYPD," Harvey said. "I think we may have found our deceased client's missing teeth."
Then he looks up at Mike, and Mike knows he should fake a reaction, but he can't; Harvey's cool gaze has pinned him, stripped him, and flayed the secret out of him in an instant. Consciously, perhaps Harvey doesn't want to know.
Under the surface he already has, Mike suspects, for a long time.
The day is exciting. They rope off Mike's cube with tape and go through every inch of it. Mike and Harvey are both questioned, in a discreetly out-of-the-way conference room on another floor. Rachel corroborates Mike's story of finding the box on his desk. One of the detectives goes down to the building security office to review the tapes which, of course, show nobody entering who shouldn't have. A coroner calls the detectives to report that the teeth are a match, but there's one missing (rear molar, gold crown). Mike is re-questioned about whether he opened the box, whether there was a note with it, whether he remembers seeing anyone on his way in to work.
Mike knows that questions are better than explanations. An elaborate explanation can get you tripped up and tangled in a lie. If you just say you don't know, there's nothing for the cops to really investigate.
Both he and Harvey decline police protection.
Once he gets his cube back he tries to get some work done, but Mike is gratifyingly the center of attention, asked to recount the story and re-describe the body. He enjoys it, but in spare moments he pictures Harvey's face when he opened the box, the cold appraisal, and the way Harvey said "There goes the day," when the police showed up.
Mike has, by now, been stringing both Jenny and Rachel along for several months. Dad told him always to respect women, but Jenny's no angel and Rachel knows he's dating Jenny and still keeps chasing him. He's also been exchanging hand-jobs in the bathroom with Seth, because he can't stop thinking about the Harvard Trivia night when Seth said "I bleed crimson" and Mike thought, I bet you do.
But he wants Harvey.
Rachel, of course, knows about what went down with the teeth and has been checking in on him all day, touching him, leaning against his desk. He calls Jenny when he sees Rachel heading towards his cube and is pouring out his day to her as Rachel stops, hears, passes him by like she intended to go somewhere else. Jenny of course wants to snuggle and bring him hot soup, but he tells her he'd prefer to be alone, to decompress from the day, and they make a date to meet the following evening.
He's not sure how to play this with Harvey, but the game has started, so he has to follow through. He's considering going to Harvey's place, much as he hates to be off his own turf, when the decision is made for him: while he's cooking dinner there's a knock on his door, and when he opens it Harvey is outside.
"Wow," Mike says, because it's expected of him. "You're actually making a house call. What, did someone ship you his missing ass too?"
The ass is, according to the serial killer biographies Mike has read, the most delicately flavored, tenderest part of the human body. Most cannibals claim to have roasted them. Mike owns a meat grinder.
"You eat yet?" he asks, when Harvey just looks at him. "I got burgers in the pan."
"Not yet," Harvey says.
Harvey nods, so Mike tosses him a beer from the fridge. Harvey slams the cap off against the counter with quick, efficient brutality. He retreats to Mike's bookshelf and leans against it, watching him flip the burgers.
"There's an evolutionary theory," Harvey begins, after a long silence that Mike finds perfectly comfortable but probably should be awkward. "Psychologists think that our unease around certain people is a base fear reaction to subtle, abnormal cues that indicate dangerous individuals."
"Yeah, I read the DSM-IV once when I was bored," Mike answers. "Onions?"
Mike slices some onions into the fat in the pan, sauteeing them next to the burgers.
"It's generally characterized in people unaware of the presence of psychopaths as 'the creeps'," Harvey continues.
"It's technically called Antisocial Personality Disorder now, not psychopathy," Mike corrects, fetching some hamburger buns from a cupboard. "At least, last I heard. Seems like it changes every week now."
"The first time we met, I thought you were a little too cool about being on the run from the cops," Harvey continued. "I figured maybe I was just weirded out by your abilities."
"Most people are." Mike slips the burgers out of the pan and tucks them onto a plate, tenting them with foil before putting them in the oven to stay warm. He drops the buns into the fat, next to the onions, and they sizzle as they toast.
"But that's not it, is it?" Harvey asks. Then, after another swallow of beer, "What are you, Mike?"
Mike glances up at him and and lets the mask fall. He watches Harvey's reaction (another long, slow sip of beer, a steady gaze).
"My father's son," he says finally, and flips the buns out of the pan, onto two plates. The onions follow, and then two perfect, medium-rare patties. He doesn't like a lot of salad on his burger; it just cuts the flavor of the meat. "Condiments are in the fridge."
Harvey sets his beer down on the little dining table and gets mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles out of the fridge. If he notices the blood-stained packets wrapped in butcher's paper, he doesn't say anything.
Mike dumps ketchup on the meat, layers it with pickles, and flips his burger together, helping himself to potato chips from the open bag on the table. Harvey sits, looking down at his dinner, then back up at Mike, who has taken a huge bite, pink juice dripping down his chin. Mike smiles, closed-lips (talking with your mouth full is inconsiderate).
"This is madness," Harvey murmurs, still staring at his food.
"Don't let it get cold," Mike chides, and Harvey carefully spreads a tiny amount of mayonnaise on his bun and places it delicately on the burger. He's breathing hard through his nose.
"Harvey," Mike says gently. Harvey looks up, and Mike can see no prey-fear in his eyes, just worry and doubt. "It's just beef tonight. Trust me."
"Why?" Harvey asks.
"Well," Mike says, "I was raised to believe only the guilty should suffer. I would never feed you anything against your will. Unless you've been killing people and not telling me, there's no reason to torment you."
"That's rich, coming from you," Harvey replies, doubt still in his voice, but he takes a bite of the hamburger. Mike watches in amusement as he visibly tries to taste if there's anything in it other than beef.
"What is it you want, coming here?" Mike asks. "You want...proof? A confession? Answers to questions?"
"Would you tell me?"
Mike thinks his father would like Harvey very much.
He reaches into the pocket of his jeans, finds a hard little object, and places it between them on the table. The gold cap on the tooth glitters in the light.
Harvey moans low and bends his head over his food like a prayer, hands clasped between his knees under the table.
"I would tell you anything, Harvey," Mike says. It's not a lie -- he has found his true north, and there is nothing he wouldn't suffer to gain it: prison, death, torture.
"How many?" Harvey gasps out.
"Twenty-three, including him." Mike takes another bite of his hamburger. "None of them were innocent."
"Michael -- " Harvey's shoulders heave. Mike sets his food down, wipes his hands and mouth carefully, and slides around the table, falling to his knees at Harvey's side.
"I'm always very careful, I'm so careful, I'd never get you in trouble," he says, and rests his cheek on Harvey's leg. Harvey's body jerks like he's going to pull away, but he doesn't. "He was a bad man, Harvey, Dad told me it was okay if they were bad people. The innocent should never suffer," he repeats, recites.
"Madness, this is madness -- "
"Harvey, Harvey," Mike presses his face into Harvey's thigh, one hand curling around his leg desperately. "I thought you would understand, I hoped you would understand..."
Harvey stills at this, not even breathing. There is a long moment where the silence rings in Mike's ears, blood pounding behind his eyes. Then he hears the soft rustle of fabric, and feels Harvey's warm hand cradling his head.
He raises his face and sees that he has been misreading Harvey's distress. He thought it was the panic of a good man coming down to his level, but in Harvey's eyes he sees that it was much simpler than that. Fear, yes, but only of commitment (how cliche). Uncertainty overridden by excitement. Anticipation of pleasure.
"Oh, my brave boy," Harvey murmurs, and Mike's heart jumps. "Do you know how long I've been looking for you?"
His fingers slide around to tip Mike's chin further up, his dark eyes searching Mike's face.
"I could never do it," Harvey whispers. "No matter how much I wanted to."
"I can," Mike says quickly, maybe too quickly. "I can, Harvey, I would for you."
Harvey runs his hand through Mike's hair, makes a pleased noise when Mike leans into the caress.
"I know, I know," Harvey says.
His hand tightens in Mike's hair and he stands, pulling Mike up, the pain sharp and sweet. Mike scrambles to his feet and is pulled into a kiss, bites Harvey's lip until it bleeds, rakes his fingernails fruitlessly down Harvey's chest.
"Ah," Harvey says, shoving him back. "Don't mess up the suit."
Mike surges back into him, face buried in Harvey's neck, and when he feels hands tugging on the backs of his thighs he jumps up, lets Harvey carry them together to the bed in the corner, lets Harvey tumble down on top of him.
"Is that him in the fridge?" Harvey gasps out, hips jerking in the circle of Mike's thighs, Mike bucking up to meet him.
"Yes," Mike moans. He scrambles to push Harvey's jacket off, tug his tie over his head and his shirt soon after. Harvey gets both hands in his hair and pulls again, pinning him down to the bed.
"That was stupid, giving me the teeth," Harvey mutters in his ear. "Don't be stupid again."
"No, I won't, I won't," Mike babbles, trying to squirm out of his jeans.
"In that case, you and me, my boy..." Harvey releases his hold on Mike's hair, and Mike can feel him undoing his fly, shoving his pants down, "...we're going places."
Mike whines and arches his back. Sex usually seems so undignified, so messy, all those fluids -- but Harvey is promising him a lifetime of kills, promising to guide him, to tell him when it's time. Harvey has Mike's dick in his palm and is rubbing the swollen head with his thumb, his own cock bumping against Mike's searching hand. Harvey is going to call him my boy like Dad did and Mike will kill on command for him and bring him presents and it will be so good.
He's hardly aware he's coming until Harvey grunts and presses a hand to Mike's throat, the other smearing come up his belly as he holds him down. Mike chokes, relaxes, tilts his head back, and Harvey says, "Oh fuck, oh fuck, you're so -- " and Mike passes out.
Mike wakes to find himself clean and warm, tucked up against another body under the blankets on his bed. Usually this would make his skin crawl; he fakes the normal human desire for contact well enough, but he doesn't actually like people touching him. Still, this seems nice. He feels sheltered, in a way he hasn't since he was a child in a sleeping bag on one of Daddy's camping trips.
The skin of his throat is tender when he touches it, and the body behind him moves, warm breath stirring the hair at the back of his head. He takes the wrist of the arm draped over his waist and raises it, kisses the pads of Harvey's fingers.
"Don't get all soppy on me, kid," Harvey says against his neck.
"I once bit the thumb off a child molestor," Mike says. He nibbles at the heel of Harvey's hand.
"Then I guess I don't need to worry," Harvey answers. Mike rolls onto his back as Harvey props himself over him, taking his hand back, fitting it gently to what is undoubtedly a ring of bruises around Mike's throat.
"All for you, always for you," Mike offers, eyes closing. Harvey's hand doesn't tighten, just rests there warmly.
"And only for me," Harvey adds, his voice dark and threatening. "Can I control you?"
"We'll find out," Mike promises, but he thinks, Yes.
"I'm not your daddy, Mike," Harvey says, and Mike rolls over to press his face to Harvey's warm chest, to bite hard enough to bruise at his collarbone.
"No, you're better," Mike says.
Harvey can't kill. It's his only flaw, that he wants to but he cares too much, is too human to try it, and Mike finds himself both disgusted by and envious of the inability. But relationships are all about compromise, after all.
He worried, for a while, that Harvey didn't truly understand. If it were Louis in Harvey's place, Mike knows, by now he would have been commanded to kill Harvey or Jessica, to smooth the path for Louis's ascent. Jenny or Rachel might order him to kill the other (though Jenny isn't on speaking terms with him anymore and Rachel lost interest a while ago).
Harvey has never suggested such a thing. He wants only the best for Mike, and is choosy in his selections. On occasion he's told Mike to be the one to pick, which always makes Mike vaguely uneasy, but Harvey understands the rules and would be disappointed and angry if Mike chose an innocent.
Harvey has a magnificent kitchen: black granite, sleek brushed steel, red-stained hardwood. He has all the high-tech gadgets, beautiful bamboo stirring spoons and carbon-fiber whisks, flawless white porcelain plates. Cooking in Harvey's kitchen is a joy and privilege.
Harvey has never asked what's in the food Mike cooks for him there, but he's never hesitated to eat it, either. Mike makes the tenderest hamburgers, and only for Harvey. Though Harvey's been saying they should throw a dinner party, show off Mike's talent in the kitchen.
Mike's collars hide the occasional bruise around his throat. Harvey's vests sometimes conceal blood spots on his shirts from scratches or bites underneath. It works for them.
Mike is a realist about these things. Someday, maybe, a true-crime journalist will write a book about them. He doubts the writer will get it right, but he hopes they will, and if he's still alive he'll be honest about it with them.
Because this is a love story, the one true love story Mike could ever have.
Daddy would be so proud of him.