“Hey, buddy,” Mike said gently, stirring the new guy from his thousand-yard stare.
Mike was done with his end-of-night checklist, and there were only so many times that he needed to wipe down the bar before it was time to call it good.
“When Merle leaves,” Mike nodded toward the door where Merle Barr, the town’s aptly named barfly, had just exited, “it’s time to close up.”
New Guy had been the talk of Hilts’ Bar since he rolled into town yesterday in a car that cost more than most houses around here. First impressions had been: (1) wow, he’s obnoxiously attractive, and then (2) wow, he's lost. Mike pegged him as a Manhattanite, high roller, out here to detox or soul search or otherwise figure out how to unfuck his life somehow. Mike could understand. Not that he’d ever had more than $200 in his bank account while he’d been there, but Mike knew firsthand that New York wasn’t all Broadway dreams. He’d come back here with his tail between his legs. Upstate was where you went to get right. Someone should put that on a town bumper sticker.
New Guy had said exactly three words to Mike (“Johnnie Walker. Green.”) since he’d come in, and a few quarters-worth of blues had come out of the jukebox. Mike quietly refilled his glass when he needed it, but otherwise had left him to his thoughts.
Now the man gave one last swirl to the dregs of his whiskey and met Mike’s gaze. His voice was gravelly from disuse and alcohol when he said, “This place is named after The Great Escape character.”
Mike whistled, impressed. No one ever knew that. Mike hammed it up and quoted, “Something's coming. I can feel it, and it's coming right around the corner at me, Squadron Leader!”
By the time he said the last of the line, New Guy was quoting it along with him. A hint of a grin was there and, just as quickly, it was gone. Too bad. A smile would look good on him. Kind of appealingly Steve McQueen-ish.
He laid a $100 bill on the counter. The hollow look was back on his face when he walked out.
“So, Ghost Ranch,” Mike said by way of a conversation starter in the Screws and Nails section of the hardware store. It was an apt place to run into him, Mike thought. He tried to school his face into something other than Pervy Ogler.
Word gets around a small town fast when someone moves into the (supposedly) haunted cabin on the hill. Mike didn’t believe the name was true, of course. It was just a place with a rickety old porch swing that did the job when he had needed to play hooky and smoke up as a brooding teenager. He hadn’t been up there in years. No one had as far as he knew.
New Guy put a box of roofing nails in his basket. They joined a caulk gun, a hammer, and a baggie of washers. He looked Mike over in a sharp, calculating way that made Mike feel like he was up in front of a jury.
Lawyer, then, Mike decided. He’d bet that crisp $100 on it.
“Is that what they call it now? Whose brilliant idea was that?” New Guy sounded… unamused.
Mike shrugged. Not that New Guy saw him do it since he was already moving down the aisle toward the hanging sign labeled Door Hardware. Mike followed him out of curiosity as much as anything. Ok, morbid curiosity. It’d been 6 years since Mike got booted from Columbia’s prelaw program, and a part of him still wanted to pick at that scab apparently. Bonus that New Guy’s t-shirt fit his shoulders just right and Mike hadn’t gotten laid in far too long. So, morbid curiosity mingled with lust. A good and wise mix.
“It’s been called that for as long as I can remember.”
“Which is… how long exactly?” New Guy looked up from a bin of hinges with anger lining his face. “Sixteen whole years?” he snapped.
Christ. Okay, jackass, that came out of nowhere. Just trying to make some small talk. Mike muttered exactly that when he went over to find the gasket he needed for the bar dishwasher, leaving New Guy to hopefully get some personal improvement along with his home improvement.
“Whiskey. Water,” came the command.
Mike knew it was coming. He'd seen him walking up. He'd heard the bell just fine. He just wasn't particularly interested in this guy's self-entitled crap. Bartender, here to serve, yes. But adding New Guy’s current tone to yesterday’s crack about Mike’s appearance was why Mike leveled him with his best you’ve got to be kidding me face instead of getting the bottle off the shelf.
New Guy rolled his eyes. “This is about the hardware store, isn’t it?”
“Hey, there’s no law saying you can’t be an asshole,” Mike replied magnanimously. “There’s also no law saying I have to serve you. Assholes are not one of the protected classes under Title II of the Civil Rights Act.”
His lips flattened, but he seemed to want the drink more than he wanted the fight… kind of. “Please, Mikey , may I have a whiskey and a water?”
It was Mike’s turn to roll his eyes because there were layers of What The Hell in there. Manipulation seasoned with condescension topped off with a mocking humor that Mike actually enjoyed, but mostly, how the hell did he know his name?
“You always need the last word, don’t you?”
New Guy raised his eyebrows pushing wrinkles into his forehead. That hint of a grin was back, like he was saying why don’t you try me . This fucker. He was infuriatingly attractive. Probably liked to fuck in front of mirrors.
Mike shook his head, grinned, and poured the drink. He replayed the hardware store encounter in his mind while he got the water.
“Mr. Sherman,” Mike said, sliding the drink over. “That’s who called me Mikey. You overheard it and now you think you can call me that.”
“It’s your name, isn’t it?”
Mike snorted, “To old people.” He decided to poke at him. Fair play for his egregious underestimation of Mike's age. “I guess you qualify.”
“Watch it, kid.” But there was no heat behind the threat and the smirk was playing at his lips again.
Mike left him to his drink and was rewarded with another $100 at the end of the night.
He’d spent the morning thinking about Ghost Ranch and how it was probably falling down around this guy’s ears. Hell if Mike knew why he cared. He didn’t even know his name yet because he kept paying in cash. No credit card receipts for Mike to creepily interrogate.
No, Mike knew why he cared. He just didn’t really want to admit it to himself. It was about this guy being a pretty attractive dick with -- Mike assumed -- a pretty attractive dick. Even more than that, he’d earned about a million points with Mike when he knew The Great Escape well enough to quote it back. Gramps had named Hilts’ Bar after his favorite movie, and Gramps had been Mike’s favorite. When Mike was little, every Friday was movie night at Hilts’. Gramps hung a white sheet on the outside wall and projected them right onto the building like a drive-in. It was formative. Some grandparents let you have an extra cookie. Gramps (and Grammy, too) let him get away with staying up way past his bedtime to watch movies at a bar.
All of that added up to Mike making a beeline for New Guy in the produce section of the grocery store.
“As much as the gratuitous tips are appreciated, I’m starting to think I should be doing something other than pouring a bottle,” Mike smiled. He knew his way around a tool box. He could be helpful.
New Guy’s brown eyes went wide and then amused (neither of which were the reaction Mike had been expecting at his, albeit oblique, offer to help up at the cabin). He finished bagging an exceptionally large cucumber and putting it in his cart before he answered.
“That’s forward,” he said, raking his gaze over Mike slowly. “What makes you think I need to pay for that kind of thing?”
All of the blood rushed into Mike’s face in a mortifying flood.
“Oh. God. Not what I… You were at the hardware store and then… I'm not… I didn’t mean that you… Look, I only have sex for free .” He slapped a hand over his face and grimaced. What the hell.
Amusement greeted him when he managed to uncover his eyes.
“Good to know.” New Guy held out his hand for Mike to shake. “And I’m Harvey Specter, so you know who you’re embarrassing yourself in front of from now on.”
“Great, thanks,” Mike mumbled, taking Harvey’s hand, but then he went cold. “Wait--” He was even more mortified as pieces slipped into place. Shit. Ghost Ranch . Specter . No wonder New Guy Harvey had reacted the way he had to that nickname.
Harvey seemed to follow Mike’s inner turmoil. “Don’t call it that again and show up tomorrow after breakfast to help me rehang the back door.”
“Deal,” Mike croaked. He was still holding Harvey’s hand, so he shook it again.
“Sorry I accidentally mocked your name,” Mike blurted and then plowed ahead to change the subject by asking, “Where’s the drill and the level?”
Harvey stood there on the sagging front porch, next to the rickety swing, and took a leisurely sip of his coffee. His face read amused. It was like he was waiting for Mike to continue his trend of sticking his foot in his mouth.
“Look,” Mike said, trying to reassert some dignity. “A hundred dollars isn’t gonna get you more than an hour, so let’s get it done.”
His words hung there between them while a full and blindingly beautiful smile spread across Harvey’s features. It changed him into a whole other person. Granted, he was now a person who was laughing at him, but Mike would take it for the smile lines around Harvey’s eyes alone.
So, Mike failed at having dignity, clearly, but he did know how to level a door. Grammy’s had needed rehanging about six months ago. A couple of shims, a couple of screws sunk through the jamb was all it’d take.
Problem was, they found out about 10 minutes later, Harvey had no shims.
“You have an axe?” Mike asked, letting the temporarily level door sag back out of alignment.
“I need it fixed, not demolished.”
Mike rolled his eyes and held out a hand. “Axe.”
“Shed,” Harvey said, mocking his monosyllabic request.
A log from the stacked firewood and five minutes were all Mike needed. He held up a half a dozen thin, wooden wedges and announced, “Improvisation.”
“A bartender do-it-yourselfer who can cite federal labor law and classic movies,” Harvey mused. “You are wasted out here.”
Mike had heard that before. Hell, he’d told himself that before. But he loved their little town and he loved Grammy. Instead of dwelling on it, he drove in the last couple of screws.
Harvey looked suitably impressed when they finished the whole job in less than half an hour. “Good return on my investment, MacGuyver,” he said.
“Should keep out the riff raff,” Mike agreed, surveying their handiwork.
“Let’s find out,” Harvey smirked, before swinging the nicely squared door shut in Mike’s face.
Harvey drank beer at the bar that night, back to being morose. This time, at least, he managed a half dozen words when he asked Mike to turn the TV to the baseball game. Even said thank you, so that was progress.
A bachelorette party came through. Mike did his best Cocktail routine complete with bottle flips. They ate it up and, like every time, he ended up with a bridesmaid trying to feel him up.
“You’ve got lipstick,” Harvey said, pointing to Mike’s face with the neck of his beer after the party had left to the next bar.
“Is it my shade?” Mike joked. He thumbed at his cheek to get it off.
Harvey chuckled. “She leave lipstick anywhere else?”
Harvey’s eyes were back on the baseball game, but Mike felt like he was listening carefully for his answer. If Harvey was fishing, Mike could give out a few hints.
“No one has left anything anywhere recently. It’s a shame really. I have moves.” He flipped the tequila bottle one more time before he put it back on the shelf.
The corner of Harvey’s mouth ticked up, but he kept his focus on the TV.
“You should come back for Trivia Night and see some of them,” Mike said.
“Maybe I will.”
Mike tried to be subtle when he watched him. It didn’t really matter if he got caught though. He couldn’t embarrass himself much more after the grocery store debacle. So, he learned that Harvey Specter was not a beer label peeler. He liked the pretzel mix more than the peanuts. He wasn’t enough of a snob to avoid Budweiser, and he wasn’t enough of a hipster to pretend drinking it was somehow ironic. He liked baseball and muttered at the TV when he didn’t like the way the teams were playing. Mike could appreciate that. He never looked at his phone, which is some kind of record in today’s day and age. That probably confirmed Mike’s jab that Harvey was in fact an old man on the inside. So did the fact that Merle sat down with him for a good half hour and talked vintage cars in between rounds of trivia.
Mike also learned -- or suspected anyway -- Harvey was flirting with him. More than once he caught his eye and took an unhurried drink of his beer. The way he let the bottle catch his lower lip was not subtle.
“Why do you know the capital of South Sudan?” Harvey was far ahead of everyone in the trivia standings… except for Mike. It was clearly bugging him, but he also seemed impressed so Mike was counting it as a win.
“Because I read the news sometimes. It’s the world’s newest country. Split away from Sudan in 2011. What, are you living under a rock down there in the city? No Google there?” Mike leaned on his elbows on the bar and tried on his best innocent expression.
“You also got that question right about prime numbers.”
Mike shrugged. “I like math.”
“And the one about Monet versus Manet.”
“That one was a lucky guess. I’m more of a comic book guy than a classics guy.”
Harvey rolled his eyes. “You’re a walking Wikipedia. I’ll just take you with me and then I’ll never need Google again.”
Mike poured him another beer. Not Budweiser this time. He gave him his favorite, just to see what he’d think.
Harvey took a sip and raised it in a small toast to Mike. “You’d make a good lawyer.”
That stung. Harvey didn’t know it did, but it did. “In another lifetime maybe,” Mike said quietly, moving down the bar because he didn’t want to think about that tonight.
At closing Harvey left another hundred along with a bar napkin. Mike’s stomach leaped at the prospect of finding Harvey’s number there… but it was titled To Do and itemized things to fix at the cabin. 8:30 SHARP was scrawled rapidly beneath it.
What in the goddamn hell.
“Corporate law explains why you're such a douchebag.”
“Come again?” Harvey took half a step closer. He jutted out his chin and angled his ear toward Mike in a pose that looked like a practiced intimidation. His body language dared Mike to say it again.
Mike was too annoyed that Harvey had presumed he’d hop to and be here at the crack of dawn to fix his cabin. (Mike wasn’t thinking too hard about how his annoyance was also flavored with the fact that Harvey hadn’t tried to pick him up. And how Mike still regretted the law school-free path his own life had taken.) So no, he didn’t care that Harvey was irritated at Mike’s name calling, and Harvey’d heard him just fine.
“Walking Google. Remember calling me that? I did some research.”
Harvey looked him over consideringly. The loosening tension in his shoulders gave away the moment he relented.
“Walking Wikipedia was what I called you,” Harvey said, eyes twinkling.
“Oh my God, you are such an asshole.”
“You’re the one who came over at 8:30.” Harvey ushered Mike inside the cabin and poured him a cup of coffee.
“Because you needed to hear my true opinion of you,” Mike said, taking the coffee and letting Harvey add a dollop of the proffered cream. That was probably the gesture that made Mike let go of most of his bad mood.
The interior of the cabin was surprisingly tidy for a place that hadn’t seen occupants for decades. This must be how Harvey was spending his days. A bucket was upside down on the side of the sink, a gray rag draped over it to dry. The idea of Harvey on hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom was both amusing and mildly arousing.
“I take it you saw the articles about--” Harvey considered his words for a moment and then said, “--why I’m here.” His body language didn’t give much away. Considering his line of work, he probably had the world's best poker face.
Mike sipped his coffee. He needed this cup and about five more after spending all night down an internet rabbit hole reading everything he could dig up on Harvey Specter, J.D. High school baseball star, NYU, Harvard, DA’s office, youngest partner in his firm’s history. His list of accomplishments was ridiculous and explained at least half of his douchebaggery. It didn’t explain Harvey’s quiet introversion every night at Hilts’, though, and the few recent articles mentioning Harvey were vague at best. There was a recap of Pearson Specter Litt’s annual report that closed with, “Specter left the firm unexpectedly. When asked for comment, Pearson said, “Harvey is the best closer this city has ever seen.”” A blog titled Dirty LAWndry cited an anonymous source inside the firm who said Harvey hadn’t left willingly. That source was questionable, but it fit with Harvey’s demeanor.
Mike had decided in the wee hours of the morning to look for what wasn’t in the articles instead of what was. Harvey didn’t look ill or show any signs that he was recovering from an addiction, so he could rule that out. If he’d left town for some kind of sexual indiscretion he’d have been chasing every piece of ass in Hilts’ starting with that bridal party. Tigers don’t change their stripes. Nothing in the articles said anything about disbarment, so if something sketchy happened it wasn’t enough for that. The thought had crossed Mike’s mind that he was in Witness Protection, but he was still using his real name so Mike rejected that possibility almost as soon as it occurred to him. Still, showing up in a small town to play handyman on the hill had to be a big clue about why he was here. A family connection, maybe.
“I saw you resigned from your firm unexpectedly,” Mike finally responded, fishing a little for Harvey to fill in the blanks. Six years of bartending had taught Mike a few tricks about getting people to spill their stories.
Harvey nodded but didn’t elaborate, so Mike went out on a limb.
“The articles didn't say much that was incriminating. But based on what I didn't find, I’m gonna guess you made an enemy of someone powerful. More powerful than you and, at the least, they backed you into a corner you couldn’t get out of.” Mike watched Harvey closely as he spoke.
Eventually Harvey said, “You read too many John Grisham books.”
That was a deflection, but it wasn’t a denial. Mike made the judgement call to keep questions about Why here? and What now? for a different time.
Harvey was done with that conversation. His expression was closed off and his posture was a little too stiff. Mike let the subject drop. Now didn’t seem like the time to push.
Harvey asked, “Plumbing or painting?”
“Michael,” Grammy said in that tone that made Mike know he was being obtuse. “Do you remember what you were like when you moved back home?”
Six years had given him a lot of perspective. Life up here, the slow pace of it, had let him finally deal with the pain he'd never really gotten over. Losing his parents, losing Gramps, losing a chance at the one career he thought he wanted. It helped that Trevor didn't come back with him. Priorities were clear up here. He was making better choices now.
Or he had been until he decided to mention Harvey to Grammy. She was too damn good at reading between the lines.
Grammy filled Mike's silence. “What I'm saying is, this Harvey of yours sounds a lot like what I recall you behaving like.”
“Grammy, he's not my Harvey.”
“Hmm. Was that the point I was trying to make?”
It wasn't. Mike knew it wasn’t, so he changed the subject.
“I'll make popcorn,” he said. It was their way of saying the other was right, or they cared, or they missed family. Popcorn was Ross family comfort food.
“Good,” Grammy smiled. “I want to watch that Temple of Doom movie again.”
“Harrison Ford is too young for you, Grammy.”
“Hush your mouth.”
Friday found Harvey sitting with Merle again. It was weird, but seemed like a good thing -- neither Merle nor Harvey were smilers, and both of them were doing a lot of it while they chatted -- until Mike realized that Harvey was matching Merle drink for drink.
When Mike was expelled from college, he barely had a sober night for a month. Alcohol or weed, one or the other, sometimes both. Whatever it took to forget the disaster that his life was at the time. More than that, drinking and smoking were to forget about wallowing in his self-pity… which, he eventually realized, was easier to do without the mind-altering substances.
Here was Harvey doing the same thing. Grammy was right.
Merle eventually staggered out, slapping Harvey on the shoulder a few times and saying, “You are the spittin’ image of him.”
Harvey was left sitting at the bar, grin fading. His head was a little too loose on his neck when he looked over to Mike. His grin reappeared.
“Mike. When are you gonna take my obvious hints?”
“About what? Changing jobs? I like it here. People are nice. I get to take care of Grammy, keep up the Ross legacy.” He gestured at the bar. His eyes flicked to the smiling picture of Gramps over by the cash register.
Harvey stood up and leaned across the bar, grabbing the front of Mike’s shirt. “I’m not talking about that. Although--” he clumsily poked Mike in the chest with his other hand, “-- I reserve the right to reintroduce that at a later date.”
His breath smelled like whiskey. His hair was disheveled. It was a glimpse under his armor. Appealing as it was to see him loose like this, Mike hoped he wasn’t going to say what he thought he was going to say.
“Go home with me and let me make you come,” Harvey said, dragging his lips along Mike’s cheek to whisper this in his ear.
“Fuck,” Mike gasped. He had said exactly what Mike hoped he wouldn't. Harvey was way too drunk for this, and going home with him was exactly what Mike had been fantasizing about since he’d first laid eyes on him.
“Fucking is a possibility,” Harvey slurred.
“Not tonight it isn’t,” Mike replied. When Mike pulled back and loosened Harvey’s fingers from his shirt, he could see how wide Harvey’s pupils were blown. God it was tempting. “Come on. I’ll drive you home.”
Harvey seemed to regain some of his sobriety at that. He nodded. He was silent for the short ride up the hill.
Mike hauled Harvey up the cabin’s porch steps and into his bed.
“What did Merle mean when he said you look like him? Who did he mean?”
“Mmm,” Harvey mumbled. He was having trouble focusing on Mike's face when he looked up at him. “You're too nice for my bullshit,” and then he brushed his thumb across Mike’s lips and passed out.
“Fuck,” Mike whispered to the room. “What the fuck.”
“How much do I have to over-tip you to get up on the roof to pound nails?”
Mike acted like he was considering saying no or asking some astronomical amount. But by this point, he’d help for free. He’d help just for Harvey’s company. Maybe he’d get a smile at some point. Smirks were good, but now that Mike had experienced the full wattage of a Specter smile he would never, could never have enough. Plus, Harvey was interesting and for right now he was sober and able to offer consent. He wasn’t sure, though, how much Harvey remembered from Friday night.
Mike decided on his fee. “How ‘bout we say a six-pack and a round of Q&A?” It was a risky ask, insinuating that he was going to pry into Harvey’s reasons for being way the hell out here in the sticks. But Mike would rather have insights than cash.
“Deal,” Harvey said immediately, and Mike was suddenly worried that he’d gotten the short end of something.
He found out what exactly the next morning when he was halfway up the extension ladder and Harvey ambushed him.
“So, question number one: Why are you here and not somewhere kicking ass and taking names like you should be?”
Mike looked down at Harvey’s smug face. He was fairly sure Harvey was looking at his ass.
“Here in particular? On your roof? I’m here because you quit your job and came to my town to soul search. And I’m a sucker for a charity case,” Mike replied, avoiding the real answer to Harvey’s question.
It wasn’t that he wouldn’t tell Harvey his story. He’d definitely tell him what a fuck up he’d been in college. It was that he wasn’t going to make it easy on him.
Harvey seemed to appreciate Mike’s nimble side-step. That charming curl at the right corner of his smirk was back.
“My turn,” Mike said. He knelt at the edge of the roof and reached down so Harvey could pass up the bucket of nails and hammers. Mike should really get a housewarming toolbelt for the guy. “Question number one: Why are you here and not somewhere kicking ass and taking names like you should be?”
Harvey crested the ladder and let out a snort of amusement. “You are a little shit.”
Mike shrugged and grinned and started yanking damaged shingles. It’d be easier for Harvey to answer this one if Mike wasn’t staring him down. He had a feeling about that.
After a few minutes of alternating pounding and the squeak of pulled nails, Harvey answered.
“I left to save my firm. You were right about everything you guessed, which, by the way, is impressive and I return to my question about why you’re here and not putting that big brain to better use.”
Harvey held up a hand and met his eyes for a moment to keep him from winding up into a rant. Mike knew, however, he hadn’t heard the last of that particular question.
“I thought you said you have Google out here.”
Harvey nailed down a new shingle before he started up again. “The short version is that he’s a sociopathic billionaire with a vendetta against me from years ago. He was bankrolling a competitor of ours to steal our clients. I made a deal to resign if he would cut off the cash.”
Mike didn’t respond right away. That story was absolutely crazy. Who has that happen in real life? And before he could stop himself, he said, “John Grisham called. He’s suing your life for copyright infringement.”
Shit. Mike braced himself. Harvey had never yelled at him, but it felt like now was the time it could happen. That was more insensitive than the accidental pun about Harvey Specter’s Ghost Ranch.
An interesting series of expressions went over Harvey’s face. Anger -- which Mike expected -- and then what looked like resignation, maybe some surprised curiosity, followed quickly by something Mike definitely did not expect. Harvey was cracking up. It started slowly, but within seconds Harvey’s whole body was shaking with laughter.
“Seriously, Mike,” Harvey said later when they were sitting on the porch swing in the shade, cooling off with a couple of beers and leaving the rest of the roof work for tomorrow. “What’s your story?”
“Didn’t look me up?”
Harvey shook his head. “When I left New York, I decided to take a sabbatical from that too.”
“Are you becoming a monk?”
Harvey grinned and took a drink. The bottle pulled at his lips again, and Mike felt a touch of heat in his gaze. “I’m not giving up all my vices, no.”
Mike looked away while he still could. Plus, he wanted Harvey to know about him. What he didn’t want was his pity, which was the common response when Mike told this story. Something told him that wasn’t going to be Harvey’s reaction. Corporate lawyer douchebags were not prone to fits of empathy, Mike thought fondly. In this case, that was a good thing.
“My parents died in a car accident when I was 11. Grammy raised me after that, but I was, as you say, a little shit for most of those years. Went to the city, to Columbia for college. Pre-law actually.”
Harvey’s eyes were on him. He could feel it. “That explains some things.”
“I fucked it up though. I got caught selling test answers.”
“Jesus. What the hell, Mike?”
“Someone I thought was a friend, whose friendship I really needed after Mom and Dad died, took advantage of my--” Mike tapped his temple. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I take responsibility for the choices I made.”
The porch swing squeaked softly. It brought back the dull pain of hours spent here hiding from everyone. Teenage angst compounded by loss.
“I used to come up here actually.”
“Yeah, this swing and I are like this.” Mike held up two crossed fingers.
“K-i-s-s-i-n-g,” Harvey teased.
“More or less,” Mike chuckled, pleasantly surprised that Harvey went there. “Sorry for trespassing. I didn’t think anyone really owned the place, so I’d come up here to get away from everything.”
Harvey nodded consideringly. Mike felt like he understood.
“Mike Ross?” The person on the other end of the line sounded like they were coming through a walkie talkie.
Mike looked down the bar. The regulars were here. Merle and his buddies had dragged Harvey into a card game. Whist, by the looks of it. A wash of well-being went over Mike. He considered yelling over to the table that Harvey had finally found some other old guys to do old guy things with, but the person on the phone interrupted his thoughts.
“I need you to come to the hospital. Your grandmother was brought in by our paramedics.”
Mike barely heard the rest of the call because his insides were suddenly hollow. He fumbled the receiver back onto the cradle. Where were his keys? He patted his pockets, feeling like his arms and hands weren’t really connected to him. Maybe that was true in a sense. Without Grammy, he wasn’t a real person anymore.
“Mike,” Harvey said sharply.
His hands were on Mike’s shoulders. He felt it distantly when Harvey squeezed. Other than the handshake and Harvey’s drunken proposition, it was the first time they’d touched, Mike noted absently. He hadn’t seen Harvey walk over here. Merle and everyone else had concerned looks on their faces. They were huddled up to the bar, calling his name too.
“Mike, what happened?”
“I need to get to the hospital,” Mike croaked. And then he was silently crying.
Harvey sat on the stone bench outside the funeral parlor with him. Mike appreciated it. It was hard to imagine how he would’ve gotten through that meeting in there by himself. It’s not that Grammy had been young. She wasn’t, and Mike knew he was going to find himself here eventually. But that didn’t mean he was ready. Still, it was better than it could have been. Grammy had left instructions about all of this in her will.
In the middle of the night last night -- or this morning, the time was blurring together -- Harvey’d stood in the kitchen doorway of Grammy’s house while Mike dug through the metal safety box. It was dusty from being on top of the fridge. Mike loved her so much in that moment. Standing there with her will in his hand, looking at the empty teacup she’d rinsed and put upside down in the sink. He reached over and straightened the old picture of himself from his Little League team where it was hanging from a magnet. Grammy always kept that one because he was missing one of his front teeth. She said it kept him from being too cute to look at. He silently thanked her for planning ahead, writing down what she wanted, so he wouldn’t have to choose how she… how to…
“My dad died a few years ago,” Harvey said quietly next to him on the hard bench. “I didn’t want to go to the funeral. It felt too much like saying goodbye.”
Mike laughed, short and wet. “You surprise me.”
Mike didn’t have the energy to put it all into words, how he’d felt that same way when his parents had died. So he just said, “Thanks, Harvey. You didn’t have to stay.”
Harvey looked toward the mortuary’s parking lot. He’d driven them here. “Do you want me to take you home?”
“No,” Mike said immediately. He couldn’t be in that house right now. He’d lost too many people there. He’d lost everyone.
“Come on,” Harvey said, tugging on Mike’s sleeve until he stood.
He drove them back to the cabin. Mike collapsed on the porch swing, pushing it slowly with one overhanging foot. Harvey went inside but left the front door open. It was a nice gesture. So was the mug of tea that Harvey made for him. The thing that finally made Mike’s tears fall again, though, was when he heard Harvey making phone calls to make sure Hilts’ was running ok in his absence.
Eventually Mike slept, and when he woke up he was under a blanket and the moon was up. His tea had gone cold. Through the open front door, Mike could see Harvey sleeping on the couch. He’d shoved a couple of pillows under his head to prop himself up so he could see Mike.
The swing creaked when he stood. The porch boards did too when he walked inside. Harvey didn’t wake up though.
“Thanks,” Mike whispered. He pushed an imaginary strand of hair off of Harvey’s forehead. “Thank you,” he said again.
The sound of his shoes on the gravel road was therapeutically loud as Mike walked back toward town and the house he’d grown up in.
He stood in the living room in the dark for a long time, trying to feel Grammy. His mind went back to Christmas here as a kid. Gramps had spent months growing his beard long so he could pretend to be “Santa’s younger and better looking brother.” Grammy had patted his belly and wondered out loud if Santa got his round shape from beer like Gramps did. Mike smiled at the memory.
His eyes found the bookshelf in the corner. It was half-obscured by an armchair. Mike turned on his phone’s flashlight and crouched down to see the bottom row of books. There in the middle was his old Curious George book that his parents had gotten him when he broke his arm falling off the monkey bars. He flipped it open and read the inscription he knew was there.
Remember, the people who love you will always be there to help when you’re in trouble.
Love, Mom & Dad
Mike saw Harvey leaning against the big oak tree in the cemetery after Father Walker finished the rites. His black suit fit him impeccably, somehow making him even more handsome. The thing that made Mike smile, though, was his Wayfarer sunglasses. He looked like he was cosplaying a Hollywood gangster.
“What’s up, Mr. White?”
Harvey reached out and squeezed Mike’s shoulder again. The warm weight of it felt good.
“Funny you mention that, Orange,” he quipped.
Mike wondered if it was too cliche to fall in love with someone over movie trivia, or while at a funeral. Either way, his feelings about Harvey Specter were becoming a thing.
“Up for movies at my place?” Harvey asked.
Mike hugged him then. It was probably too desperate, but to hell with it. Harvey surprised him.
“You’re a mind reader,” Mike mumbled into his shoulder.
He smelled good too.
Harvey shed his suit coat and pulled a laptop onto the table.
“I thought you gave up the internet,” Mike said, slumping onto the couch.
“I had my assistant courier my laptop up.”
Mike shook his head. “Your behavior is ludicrous. We could have gone to the gas station and rented something for less than five bucks.”
“They don’t have the classics. I have the classics. You need the classics right now, ergo--” He gestured to the computer and then plugged in some speakers.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Mike said quietly. After a long pause, he continued. “Hilts’ was Gramps’ bar. He used to show movies on the outside wall every weekend the weather was good.”
Harvey’s gaze stayed fixed on him for long enough that Mike fidgeted out of his own suit coat for something to do. Harvey was putting a bottle of beer in Mike’s hand by the time he untangled himself.
“I know,” Harvey said finally.
“What do you you mean you know?”
“I mean, I know the half of it you haven't told me yet. I know that your grandfather showed movies at the bar,” Harvey answered.
Mike stared. Harvey hit play and then settled in next to Mike on the couch.
“I’m here ,” Harvey elaborated, “because we came here when I was a kid. My whole family used to come here before that all went to shit. My brother and I would sit out there on a blanket watching old black and white movies.”
“That's how you knew the Great Escape reference,” Mike realized.
Harvey nodded. “That was a long time ago. We stopped coming when I was in middle school.”
Harvey took a drink. When he spoke again, anger made his voice taut. “My mother had an affair, and I was the only one who knew. She asked me to keep her secret from Dad, and I did for years.”
“Yeah. It was a shitty thing to do to a kid.” The opening credits were starting to roll across the screen. Harvey looked to the laptop and then back at Mike. “Look, I know what it’s like to be surrounded by people but to still feel alone.”
Mike swallowed a surprised sob. That was exactly what he felt like right now. He had a whole town mourning Grammy with him. He had Hilts’. But the only one who was making him feel like he wasn’t completely unmoored was Harvey.
“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Mike whispered. It was all he could do to keep his voice from cracking.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Columbia right away?” There was no resentment there. He was just making a point.
Mike understood. Trust took time when you had betrayal in your past.
“You’re a pair of pants and a dance number away from Risky Business ,” Mike said through his buzz.
Four beers and the proximity of Harvey’s warm body had the words tumbling out of Mike’s mouth. It was hard to watch a movie with him right there, less than an arm’s reach away and looking like that . One too many buttons undone on his shirt, looking relaxed and sexy as hell.
Harvey grinned, one of the good kind of smiles. He had an arm across the back of the couch and one ankle crossed over his knee. It made his shirt pull across his chest.
“I would never wear white socks with this shirt.”
“Maybe you should take it off then,” Mike said.
His words hung there between them. The movie murmured on in the background, casting light and shadows on Harvey’s face.
Mike put his empty bottle down on the table clumsily. It clattered and he had to scramble to get it to stay upright. He was hot all over from beer or embarrassment or the look that Harvey was giving him.
He shifted closer to him, trying hard not to sprawl across him like a jackass and mostly succeeding. Concentrating hard to keep his hands steady, he reached out and loosened the next button on Harvey’s shirt. Harvey let him, keeping motionless, so Mike undid another and a third before Harvey’s hand closed around his wrist.
“Wait,” Harvey said. He hooked Mike beneath the chin with a finger and drew him so close that Mike felt every word on his lips when he said, “Not tonight, but soon.”
Mike let out a frustrated sigh. Then he closed the last of the distance between them, pressing their mouths hard together to say some drunkenly frustrated combination of fuck you and I’ll wait .
He fell asleep nestled under Harvey’s arm to the sounds of the Rat Pack on that tiny silver screen.
Tuesdays were the slow day at the bar. That was a good thing, since it was only Mike’s third day back since Grammy’s funeral. He’d spent most of those days accepting casseroles from neighbors. He shared the food with Harvey, and they'd watched a lot of movies. Or rather, Mike had slept off his exhaustion on the cabin’s couch while movies played on in the background. He appreciated Harvey's sense of propriety, because Mike's emotions had been too raw to do anything other than sit together.
Maybe Mike's feet had ended up in Harvey's lap a time or two, and maybe Harvey gave exceptional footrubs.
But now, mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, no one else was at Hilts’ except Harvey. Mike liked it when it was just the two of them. He was the right person to be alone with so that being alone didn't hurt as much.
Harvey sat across from Mike and worked on his laptop. Now that he had it, it seemed like the dam had broken on his involuntary sabbatical. It was good though. The lost look was gone from Harvey’s eyes. It was replaced by a fire and determination that Harvey occasionally aimed at him when he looked up from his screen. It had Mike feeling like he was going to vibrate out of his skin with curiosity and lust. That was a common sensation around Harvey, and it was a welcome improvement from the emptiness he'd feel for the last week.
“What are you working on?” Mike finally asked.
“You know that Merle drinks in an attempt to dull the pain from a workplace injury.”
Mike nodded. It was a sad story. The factory that had employed half the town had been bought out about five years back by a multinational. Bottom line was their only line, and they’d laid off everyone over the age of fifty citing lack of revenue for the “downsizing.” Worse, they gave them next to nothing for benefits. Merle was old-school. He was from a generation that said hard-work sometimes meant pain, so he never complained.
“I’m pulling together a class action.”
“You’re doing that for them?” Holy crap. Forget corporate douchebag. This was the kind of thing Mike had dreamed of doing when he'd started at college.
Harvey raised his shoulders. “Partly for them. Partly for me to get back on my feet.” He really looked at Mike then. “Partly to say thanks to you.”
“I got you something, too,” Mike blurted.
“Is it a paralegal?” Harvey joked.
“No, but it’s at least as tasty.”
Harvey’s eyebrows went up at Mike’s innuendo. They went up higher when Mike pulled out the bottle of 18 year old Macallan that he’d had his distributor drop off this morning.
“Hey look,” Harvey said, taking the bottle and admiring it. “It’s older than you are.”
“That’s funny, because you that would make you--”
“A man who is willing to wait.” Harvey met his eyes in a way that said he was serious.
When Mike regained his ability breathe after that earnestly romantic statement, he retorted, “Why do you have to steal my thunder like that?” He reached across the bar and pulled Harvey closer by the back of his neck. “This bottle of whiskey was my ploy to get your pants off.”
“So now you are trying to pay me for sex?”
“Meet me out back in 5 minutes and you’ll find out.”
Harvey got up and turned over the OPEN sign. He flipped the bolt to lock the front door. “Why not now?”
Mike came around the bar. He kept his victorious fist pump on the inside for now, but finally . “Good point, counselor. Why not now?” He pulled Harvey’s hands to his hips and put his own arms around Harvey’s shoulders.
The first, sober touch of Harvey’s lips to his was so long overdue and yet perfectly timed. It was gentle and not just about the heat that had been percolating between the two of them for weeks. Both of them were putting everything out there, trusting each other to hold each other’s pasts, their wounds and mistakes and flaws, close to their hearts. The power of it had Mike helplessly surging forward, hands buried in Harvey’s hair and tongue seeking out the touch of Harvey’s in turn. Harvey groaned and tightened his hands around the curve of Mike’s ass.
“Fuck,” Mike gasped.
“Genius idea,” Harvey said, working his way down the side of Mike’s neck. “Come up with that one all on your own?”
“I’m full of good ideas. Try me.”
Harvey kneaded at Mike's ass, pressing his fingers against the seam of the denim. His goal was crystal clear.
Mike eased them toward the back office, kicking the door mostly closed. Really, at this point, he could not have cared less. All he needed was his hands on Harvey.
“Come here,” Harvey growled, yanking Mike closer still by his belt. Their hardening cocks bumped together through the layers of fabric. “I have so many things I want to do to you.”
“Yeah?” Mike’s hands tangled with Harvey’s as they unzipped each other’s pants. “Name one.”
Harvey silenced him with wet kiss that had Mike throbbing with need in his half-open clothes.
“First of all, I’m going to jerk you off until the only thing left in that brain of yours is my name. Then, when we get somewhere horizontal, I’m going to fuck you so hard you won’t remember your own.”
Mike’s hips jerked, shoving the bulge of his cock into Harvey’s palm.
“Good,” Mike panted. “Good plan.”
Harvey slid his hand inside Mike’s boxers then. He cradled Mike’s balls, watching Mike’s face for cues as he massaged them. He tugged a little and Mike's mouth dropped open.
“Yeah,” Harvey intoned. “Let’s get you out of those.”
“You too,” Mike said when Harvey shoved at Mike's jeans. It was almost comical when Harvey tried to shove at his own pants at the same time. “A little desperate?”
“That's the pot calling the kettle black,” Harvey chided.
Mike's laugh transformed into a groan when their fists closed around each other's cocks. Harvey let out a hiss of pleasure when Mike stroked up and over the head.
“I can't wait to get my mouth on you,” Mike said, gripping him harder and enjoying the tremble that went through Harvey's body.
Harvey pushed away enough to spit down between their flushed bodies, letting the saliva ease the pull of his hand.
“Lick,” he ordered, palm at Mike's lips.
He did more than lick. He sucked Harvey's fingers inside his mouth two at a time until Harvey's eyes blazed with lust and his hand shone with spit.
Harvey spread the wetness over himself, pulling overhand on his cock and then giving a few rapid, underhand pulls. Mike filed away Harvey's masturbatory technique for later. Just in time, too, because Harvey's promise to make him forget everything but Harvey's name was coming to bear. Harvey put Mike's hand back on his cock, and took Mike in his grip.
“That's it,” Harvey gasped into Mike's mouth.
Their knuckles bumped, colliding over and over as they stroked each other. It was all Mike could do to keep a tight rhythm. His entire world narrowed down to this man in this moment and their shared objective.
“Fuck, Harvey, I'm gonna--”
But Harvey beat him there, grunting and kissing the words out of Mike's mouth as his come spilled warmly over Mike's fist.
Mike loosened his grip when Harvey spasmed, too sensitive to let Mike keep stroking him.
“Come on, Mike,” he rasped, barely taking a breath to recover from his orgasm before sliding his palm up and over the too-sensitive crown of Mike's cock. He linked his free hand with Mike's, palm to palm and laced their fingers despite the stickiness of come coating them both. He took up a punishing pace on Mike's cock, whispering that's it when Mike buckled against the desk.
“I want you to come.”
Harvey kept his promise later that night at the cabin. Mike had never come so hard in his life. He was more than surprised when Harvey confessed the same thing when his softening cock finally slipped out of Mike's body.
“You're sex drunk and saying things,” Mike said, pushing Harvey’s boneless body around until he made him the little spoon.
Harvey pulled Mike's arm tightly around him, pulling his hand up to kiss each finger. “I am indeed sex drunk, but I know what I'm saying.”
Mike pressed his forehead to the back of Harvey's neck to keep the confession he wanted to make silent for now. They had time to figure out the rest. For now, this was all that mattered.