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The Cost of Harvard

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“Macallan 18.”

Mike eyed the man who had just slid onto the last free stool at the bar. He was startingly good looking, tall, lithely muscled, dark-haired and dark-eyed, perhaps ten years or more older than Mike. What he’d likely shelled out for his suit would have paid Mike’s rent for half a year. Good tipper? The odds of that were about fifty-fifty, Mike judged.

“Hello? Don’t try to tell me you don’t carry it here, because I can see it sitting on the shelf right over there.”

Mike blushed, realizing he’d been staring for an embarrassingly long time. “Coming right up,” he said, and turned to grab the bottle and a glass. He poured an over-generous amount and slid the glass in front of the man. “Are you running a tab?”

The man eyed him up and down. “Sure, why not?” He fished a credit card out of his wallet and handed it to Mike.

Mike glanced at the name on the card. Harvey Specter.

“You’re new,” said Harvey.

Mike shrugged. “Not really. I’ve worked here about six months.”

Harvey’s eyebrows lifted. “Huh. That tells me how long it’s been since I’ve been in.” He laughed shortly. “I’ve been working too hard.”

“What do you do?”

“Would you like to guess?”

One of Mike’s other customer raised a hand to get his attention and Mike gave Harvey a regretful smile. “Duty calls.”

He went to refresh the other man’s drink, and was kept busy for the next ten minutes or so, pouring and mixing and ringing up orders. When things slowed down again, he glanced over at Harvey and found him in a low, intense discussion with another dark-haired man who was nearly as handsome as Harvey. They weren’t arguing, exactly, or if they were, they seemed reasonably friendly with one another despite whatever their disagreement was about.

Mike strolled their way. As he reached them, he saw Harvey place a hand on the other man’s arm, stopping whatever he’d been saying. They both regarded him.

“Are you ready for another?” Mike asked Harvey, motioning at his empty glass.

“Please. And bring one for my friend, here. Put it on my tab.”

Mike grabbed the bottle and another glass, quickly filling the order. He started to move away, but Harvey stopped him.

“Wait a second,” he said.

Mike raised an eyebrow.

“What’s your name?” asked Harvey.

Mike wasn’t sure why he hesitated. His regulars all knew his name. This wasn’t a regular, though, and this felt … different. There was an interest there which, while flattering, also raised his hackles. He’d learned the hard way not to get involved with a customer. That disaster, the Stefan fiasco, had taken place about three years ago, at a different bar, when he’d been new to bartending.

Maybe he was reading something into the question that simply wasn’t there. Why would Harvey be hitting on him when his … boyfriend? … or whoever the other man was, was standing right there?

“My name’s Mike,” he finally said, giving them both a blandly professional smile.

Harvey stuck out his hand. “Hello, Mike. I’m Harvey.”

Mike stared at the proffered hand, and then reached halfway across the bar to grasp it. “Nice to meet you, Harvey.” The hand was large, hard, warm and smooth. Harvey gave Mike’s hand a quick squeeze before releasing him.

Placing a hand on his companion’s shoulder, Harvey said, “And this is Travis.”

Instead of offering Mike his hand, Travis eyed him what might have been suspicion. Certainly, it was an assessing look, the opposite of friendly. Mike didn’t know what to make of it. He tucked his own hands underneath his armpits and nodded once. “Nice to meet you too.”

Harvey glanced at Travis, appearing exasperated with him. Some sort of nonverbal communication passed between them, and then Harvey turned back to Mike. “I guess I’m ready for my bill.”

Mike closed out his tab and returned with a receipt and a pen, setting them in front of Harvey.

The two men sipped their drinks while Mike stood awkwardly in front of them feeling as if he’d been dismissed. Other customers required his attention again, and he hustled around the small space behind the bar to keep up with all the demands. When he finally had a moment to breathe, he realized that Harvey and Travis were gone. The bill was signed, and both of their glasses were empty.

Harvey had left him a hundred-dollar bill as a tip.

 

*******

 

It had never been Mike’s dream to be a bartender. The plan had been to attend Harvard Law and make his mark at a prestigious Manhattan firm. He’d come so close to getting into Harvard, only to see it yanked away from him. He could blame his friend Trevor all he wanted for dragging him into the exam cheating scheme at Columbia that had blown it all up, but he’d eventually come to terms with the painful reality that he’d made his own choices, and ultimately only had himself to blame.

Some days, he told himself he was lucky just to have his current job. It paid well, for what it was, and on a good night the tips were outstanding. He’d been able to afford a decent one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, almost always paid his rent on time, and often ended the month with enough discretionary funds to be able to pursue various forms of entertainment. If, on most of his nights off, he found himself in one Brooklyn dive or another, seated on the other side of the bar, he supposed it was better than isolating himself at home.

Tonight, he was huddled with two of his friends at Beatty’s, a small neighborhood bar two blocks from home. He knew Frank and Chelsie only from the time he’d spent at the bar. Like him, they lived in the neighborhood, but he doubted he’d recognize them if he ran into them at the market or in the park nearby. Their acquaintance began and ended on the barstools at Beatty’s, but during the time they spent there, it felt as if they were as close as brothers and sister. If he thought about it at all, he would have acknowledged that the friendship was artificial, and greatly helped along by the amount of alcohol they consumed together. Still, spending time with them felt familiar and comfortable.

“You should have asked him out,” said Chelsie, running her swizzle stick back and forth in straight lines through her gin and tonic.

Mike had been relating his encounter with Harvey and Travis.

“Which one?” he asked.

“Either.”

“Both,” chimed in Frank, who never let a quip go unquipped, or a snark unsnarked.

“Yeah, right. They looked like they were together.”

Chelsie smiled slyly at him. “But you said the first guy – Harvey? – was definitely flirting with you.”

“Definitely maybe. I don’t think his friend Travis was happy about it either. They weren’t real obvious about it, but they looked like they were fighting, you know how couples do in public? With everything under the surface.”

“Maybe they were fighting over who got you?”

Mike scowled. “First of all, that’s insulting and demeaning.”

“And hot,” said Frank.

“Secondly, they left as soon as I turned my back.”

“And left you that killer tip.” He raised his kiwi daiquiri. “Thanks for the drinks, by the way.”

“But he didn’t leave his phone number, so that’s the end of that.”

They might have pointed out that if that was the end of it, why was Mike bringing it up three days later? Even if they were only fake bar friends, they were good fake bar friends, and usually didn’t call him on his bullshit.

They spent an enjoyable night getting drunk on Harvey’s hundred-dollar tip, playing darts (badly) and gossiping with the bartender about the other regulars at the bar. Before he staggered home, Mike talked Frank into calling his dealer, who showed up around midnight to sell Mike some weed.

At home, he smoked until he fell asleep. Before he nodded off, he muzzily decided that he’d skip Beatty’s on his next night off and go someplace where he could reliably get laid.

 

******

 

It was nearly two months before Harvey showed up at Mike’s bar again. He gave Mike an enigmatic smile as he slid onto the barstool, and then smiled more broadly when Mike set a glass of Macallan 18 in front of him without being asked.

“That answers that question,” said Harvey.

“What question?”

“Whether or not I made an impression on you last time I was here.”

“Oh, don’t take it personally. I remember everyone’s drinks.” He spun away to mix a martini for another customer.

Perhaps ten minutes later, during a brief lull in orders, he found himself in front of Harvey once more.

“Mike,” said Harvey, “I feel like I should apologize.”

“For what?”

“For taking off without saying goodbye.”

“You’d already cashed out,” Mike reminded him.

“Sure, but …” Harvey trailed off, appearing self-conscious, which didn’t quite match up with the initial impression he’d made. His gaze flicked back to Mike. “Hey, you never did try to guess what I do for a living.”

Mike had actually thought about this more than he’d ever admit. He gave him a playful grin. “If I guess right, what do I win?”

Harvey’s eyes darkened, as if he approved of Mike’s question, or as if Mike had just played right into his hands. “How about … dinner? On me.”

This is not what Mike had expected. He hesitated, weighing the pros and cons. “Somewhere nice?”

“Absolutely.”

He’d be breaking his rule about getting involved with a customer, but Harvey had definitely piqued his interest, and surely he’d learned something from the whole Stefan debacle, hadn’t he? If he used his common sense and exercised some caution, he could get everything he wanted – a decent meal for once, and Harvey for dessert.

“Okay. You’re on.” Mike frowned, pretending to give the question deep consideration. “I think … are you an attorney?” A quick internet search had showed him that much, along with a rundown of Harvey’s most high-profile cases, and an indication of his reputation for winning whatever the cost. Basically, the sort of attorney Mike had wanted to be, before his chances for Harvard crashed and burned.

“Very good. You got it in one.” Harvey didn’t seem surprised that Mike had guessed correctly. Perhaps he suspected that Mike had, in effect, cheated. He seemed almost smug, once again giving Mike the impression that he had played directly into Harvey’s plan – whatever that plan might be. “When is your next night off?”

“Monday.”

Harvey handed Mike his phone. “Enter your number.”

It sounded so close to an order that Mike experienced renewed misgivings. A good meal and maybe something more, though … this sounded like a better way to spend his night off than hanging out with Frank and Chelsie again. He typed in his number, handed the phone back to Harvey, and then sidled away to check to see if anyone else needed a refill.

As he moved around the bar, he recalled Harvey’s friend Travis. Had he been more than a friend? Should Mike have asked Harvey to clarify that situation before he agreed to dinner? He had no desire to get in between a committed couple, or to be used as some sort of pawn in a revenge scheme.

He never got the chance to ask, though, because by the time he made it back to Harvey’s stool, he was gone. This time he’d left three twenties on the bar.

 

******

 

Harvey offered to pick him up on Monday, but Mike insisted on meeting him at the restaurant. He hardly knew the guy, didn’t know him at all, in fact, and would prefer he wasn’t privy to Mike’s home address.

The location Harvey texted him was in Manhattan. He wouldn’t give Mike the name of the place and acted secretive enough that Mike came close to cancelling. When he arrived at the appointed place, it turned out to be a restaurant, all right. The only problem was that it was closed on Mondays.

Mike stood on the sidewalk, one hand on his hip, and the other holding up his bike, which he’d ridden all the way from Brooklyn. Was this some kind of joke? A prank on the gullible bartender? Was he being videoed as he stood there looking as stunned and forlorn as if he’d been stood up on prom night?

He shook his head in disgust, preparing to head home, and planning what scathing things he would say to Harvey if he ever showed his face at the bar again, when the front door of the restaurant swung silently open.

“O-o-o-kay,” whispered Mike. “Major serial killer vibes.”

He stayed where he was, debating how much a good dinner was worth to him. Was it worth getting chopped into pieces, or turned in a skin suit? Well, no, but he’d come all the way here, so he might as well see what this was about. Which, he reflected, was probably what every hapless victim told themselves just before they were clobbered with a meat tenderizer.

Pushing his bike forward, he approached the door with caution. Keeping his feet on the sidewalk, he learned forward as far as he could, in order to get a view of the interior. It looked like a closed restaurant should look, dark, with the chairs turned upside down on the tables. In the far corner, one table was illuminated by candlelight, and he could see there were two place settings of fine china, silver and crystal. The two plates, which were on opposite sides of the small table, were covered with warming lids. A bottle of red wine had been opened and stood ready to pour.

In other circumstances, this might have seemed charmingly romantic. In the present circumstances, it felt … off. He barely knew Harvey. This was excessive, over the top, not at all what he’d expected. It spoke of … not desperation, exactly, but something aggressively forward, something arrogant and miscalculated.

He nearly turned around and walked away, but just then Harvey stepped out of the shadows, smiling invitingly at Mike. He appeared sheepish and terribly sweet, all which was likely an act, but it made Mike pause. His mood inched upward from angry to wary.

“Too much?” asked Harvey.

“You think?” Mike entered the restaurant, leaned his bike against the wall, and walked toward Harvey, but stopped with the table still between them. “Do you own this place or something?”

“No, but I know the guy who does.” Harvey extended a hand, gesturing toward one of the chairs. “Have a seat. You don’t want your dinner to get cold.”

Mike sat and waited while Harvey took the chair across from him. “What are we having?”

“See for yourself.” He nodded at the warming lid.

Hiding a smile, Mike lifted the lid, inhaling the fragrances that wafted up to him. There was a ribeye steak that looked like it had been cooked to perfection, new potatoes, and roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Filling but not too heavy. It all looked … perfect.

“Do you approve?” asked Harvey.

“It looks great. Did you make this all yourself?”

“Tempting as it might be to lie and take the credit, no. I borrowed the restaurant’s chef for an hour, and then sent her home. Go ahead. Let’s eat.” He poured wine for both of them.

They were quiet for a few minutes as Mike enjoyed his first steak in he couldn’t remember how long. He wasn’t much of a meat eater these days, except for his burgers, and the pepperoni on his pizzas, but he had no philosophical objections to the occasional red meat.

Across from him, Harvey ate silently and efficiently, wielding knife and fork like an expensive set of scalpels. When the worst of his hunger had been satisfied, Mike started thinking about what came next. Did Harvey expect him to put out? Did he want to? Of course he did. He’d been thinking of little else since the last time he’d seen Harvey. It had been two months since he’d been with anyone, and Harvey seemed like the type of guy who commanded expertise in anything he put his mind to.

The next question was, were they going to do it here, in the restaurant? Unless there was a comfortable cot or mattress in the back room, Mike would rather go someplace with a proper bed. A hotel was fine with him, as long as Harvey paid for it. He was formulating ways to bring this all up, trying to figure out the right questions to pose, when the front door of the restaurant opened.

A man entered, hidden in the shadows, but lightly silhouetted by the streetlights and headlights of passing cars. Was it the owner? Were they about to get kicked out? He glanced at Harvey for guidance, and found that he had risen to his feet, and did not look happy.

“Damn it, Travis, I told you to give us at least an hour.”

Mike looked back and forth between the two of them. Travis? He gathered that this was the guy he’d met briefly at the bar the first night he’d met Harvey.

Travis stalked towards them, stopping just outside the flickering ring of candlelight. “Don’t be like that, Harvey. We share everything. Why should he be any different?”

Mike had a mouthful of meat, which he was tempted to spit out into his napkin. Instead, he chewed carefully, having no wish to choke, and swallowed what felt like a cold, congealed lump of flesh. “What?” he asked when his mouth was empty of food. “Share? I mean … what?”

Harvey was shaking his head. His eyes flashed with anger. “God, Travis, you have the subtlety of a … a … of you. That’s why we agreed that I’d be the one to soften them up.”

Mike lay down his knife and fork and stood slowly, all too aware that he was both outnumbered and out muscled. He couldn’t take one of these guys in a fight, much less both at once. He was fast though. If he picked his moment, maybe he could dart past Travis and make it out the door. He might have to leave his bike behind, but that was better than … than what? What exactly were these two planning? He stopped panicking long enough to actually consider agreeing to whatever it was they had in mind, and then gave his head a rough shake. Meeting Harvey alone had been risky enough. Adding Travis into the mix? No. Not a good idea. Time to bail.

Harvey seemed to have either read his mind, or deduced his intentions from his tense body language. He nodded at Travis, who rushed forward to place a hand on Mike’s shoulder, pushing him back down onto the chair. He might have resisted, but couldn’t quite wrap his head around what was happening, or what seemed to be happening. Later, he would reflect that it was this sort of indecision and paralysis that turned people into victims. For now, he concentrated on remaining calm, and not allowing his dinner to make an unscheduled reappearance.

Letting out a longsuffering sigh, Harvey said, “This could have been handled more gracefully, but Mr. Bull – ” he gave Travis a look of pure scorn – “has violated the china shop once again, so I’m forced to just lay out the bald facts for you.”  

“I think I understand what’s going on here,” said Mike. His heart was beating much too fast. This, he told himself, is why you don’t date customers, and you don’t trust strangers.

“No,” replied Harvey, “you really don’t.” He pushed his plate aside, folded his hands on the table, and leaned forward. “The short version is, you’re being recruited.”

This surprised a snort of laughter out of Mike. “Recruited?” he repeated incredulously. “Recruited for what? The CIA?”

Harvey and Travis both laughed in unison, almost as if they’d rehearsed it. “No, Mike,” said Travis “not the CIA.”

“Then, what?” He wondered if there was some way he could surreptitiously pull out his phone and dial 911.

“An apprenticeship of sorts.”

“You’re going to need to expand on that.”

“It’s pretty simple. Our research indicates that you were pre-law at Columbia, and were accepted to Harvard before the events which led to you being expelled from Columbia and blackballed from Harvard.”

“How did you –”

“We also know that you’ve taken the LSAT’s numerous times. This was undertaken under false pretenses, but your scores were impressive all the same. Additionally – and don’t bother asking again how we know all this because our source prefers to remain anonymous – you also sat for the bar exam, which you aced.”

“Uh, that’s not concerning at all, that you know all that about me,” said Mike, and although he infused his voice with sarcasm, it was terrifying as hell. “Leaving that aside for now, I still don’t know why I’m here.”

“You haven’t connected the dots yet? We’re lawyers. You want to be a lawyer. We can make that happen. You give us a year, and we give you Harvard. We’re talking a full ride. Tuition, books, room and board. Does that sound like something that might interest you?”

Mike was momentarily speechless. “Interest?” he squeaked, paused to take a sip of wine, and tried again. “Of course, I’m interested. But – ” He frowned. “What’s this year you’re talking about? What do you mean, give you a year? Are you offering an internship?”

“No, not that.”

“Then, what?”

Travis gave an impatient sounding sigh. He snagged a chair from a nearby table and pulled it over so that he could sit next to Mike. He was so close Mike could feel the heat rising off him.

“Come on, Mike. You’re an intelligent guy, or so Harvey claims. What do you think?”

“I don’t know. Is it like, a loan? Only I have to start paying it off in advance?” This sounded shady as fuck, but why would two attorneys, at least one of whom (Harvey) had a high profile in the community and a six-figure (or higher) income to go with it, involve themselves in a scam like that? So, not an internship, not a loan. Harvey had called it an apprenticeship, but wasn’t that something like an internship?”

He was still puzzling it out when Travis gave an exasperated huff. “Fine. I’ll spell it out for you.” He spoken in an exaggeratedly condescending tone. “When one attorney has special, tingly feelings for another attorney …” He gestured between himself and Harvey. “And they meet a bartender who also gives them those feelings …” He raised his eyebrows and waited.

Okay. That was anything but subtle. Mike glanced around the shadowy room, wondering how the hell he got himself into these situations. “I’m going to take a wild guess. When you say I would have to give you a year, you’re talking about making myself available for sex?”

“Well, look at that, Harvey. Maybe he’s Harvard material after all.”

Harvey shot Travis an aggrieved look before returning his attention to Mike. “You’ve got the basic gist, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Yes, your body would be available to us, whenever and wherever we choose, but you would also belong to us.”

“I don’t – ”

“We would direct your life for the next year. You’d come stay with one of us, wear the clothes we provide, study the books we give you, follow a diet and exercise regimen directed by us.”

Mike shook his head in disbelief. “But mainly it’s about the sex, correct?”

“We’d be making an enormous investment in you. Much of that is monetary, but if you’re going to rise to the top at Harvard, and after Harvard, you need to be made ready. Refinements are required, and in addition to the cash outlay, we’ll be spending time and effort on you. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that we’d be owed something in return?”

Travis spoke up again. “Don’t forget to mention forging the bonds of loyalty that this will form between us.” His use of air quotes indicated his scorn for those “bonds of loyalty.”

“Some of us,” said Harvey, “still place a high premium on loyalty. However, I consider that an entirely separate issue. This year would be more about forging your unquestioning obedience.”

Mike was seized once more by the urge to run, stronger this time. What they were saying was only made more surreal by how reasonable and matter-of-fact they sounded.

“Mike? What are you thinking right now?”

Mike shook his head, finding difficulty articulating his thoughts. He cut his gaze to Travis, and then back to Harvey. “I’m thinking this us about the craziest proposition I’ve ever received. This is … you guys are shitting me, right?”

“I know you’re confused right now,” said Harvey, sounding almost kind. “You’re thinking that you’ve stumbled onto something nefarious, that you’re far out of your depth.”

Mike chewed on his thumbnail, eyes darting between Harvey and Travis. “I don’t – ”

“No. Don’t answer right now. We’re going to give you the week to think about it. Think long and hard about your dream. Harvard. Practicing law with one of the most prestigious firms in the city.”

Mike allowed himself to seriously consider the offer for about half a second. Then he remembered the sticking point, the thing that had dashed his dream forever. “You know where I stand with Harvard. No way are they letting me in. Plus, I don’t even have my undergrad degree yet. Columbia kicked me out before I completed my final semester.”

“We’ll see to it that you earn the necessary credits during our year together. And you see, your little fall from grace with regards to Harvard is not the obstacle you imagine it to be. We know people that can erase that episode from your history, who can make it as if it never happened.” Harvey paused. “Do we have your attention yet?”

“Oh, you’ve had it all along.”

“And? Do have any questions?”

Only about a million.

“Mike? This is your opportunity. Talk to us.”

 “Fine. I’ll say it straight out: I suspect this is just a weird and convoluted way of asking me to join you in a threesome. There’s no Harvard education, is there?”

Harvey frowned. “So cynical. You’re partially correct. If we weren’t interested in fucking you, we never would have made the offer. We’ll own your body and use it in any way we choose, separately and together, in ways you’ve probably never imagined. Additionally, we would have the right to loan you out to any of our clients or colleagues if we deem it strategic. So, yes. Sex and lots of it. I wouldn’t think a young, healthy guy like you would object too much to that. You’re wrong about Harvard, though. Harvard will absolutely be there, waiting for you when the year is up. All you’ll need is the courage to reach out and take it.”

“And I’m supposed to just trust that you’ll follow through?”

“Of course not. There will be a signed contract.”

“We’ll even sign it in blood if you want us to,” said Travis.

Harvey shook his head in apparent disapproval. “We won’t, actually.”

“Speaking of blood,” said Mike, “would any of mine be spilled?”

“No. Absolutely not. Or rather, minimal amounts only. The contract addresses this, but basically, we’re not allowed to cut you, to beat you so hard that you bleed – ”

“Wait. Hold up. Beat me?”

Harvey continued as if Mike hadn’t spoken. “We are also not allowed to harm you in any way that is irreversible.”

“You were talking about sex, but now you’re talking about hurting me? This just gets better and better.”

Travis let out a scoffing sound. “Are you really that naïve, Mike? You’ve never been tied up and spanked, or whipped, or flogged? If done correctly, it can be immensely enjoyable.”

Mike blushed. He never had. He’d been asked a few times, but it had seemed too far outside his comfort zone. “Oh. Okay. I get it. The light breaks. You’re into BDSM. And no, it’s not something I’ve ever been interested in.” Which wasn’t exactly true. He had a collection of DVD’s that he broke out every so often, and had imagined himself in the role of the weeping, screaming sub in more than one of them. These guys couldn’t know that, though.

Could they?

“We’ll be gentle with you,” said Harvey, eyes gleaming with mischief, “to begin with.”

“Speak for yourself,” Travis added, and gave Harvey a mocking look.

And just like that, Mike was imagining it, imagining himself naked, tied up and vulnerable, with Harvey and Travis hovering over him, one of them grabbing his hair and yanking his head back while the other beat his ass with a paddle. And then there would be fingers inside of him, or maybe a dildo, and he’d be forced to suck someone’s cock, and –

The legs of his chair screeched as he pushed away from the table and stood. “This is … I mean, thanks for the dinner, but this is all too wild. You’re asking way too much from me. I don’t even know why you chose me. Because, I can’t. I can’t get involved in something like this.”

“You love your life so much?” asked Travis.

“That,” said Mike, “is a really fucking unfortunate turn of phrase.”

Harvey sighed, rolling his eyes. “He means your lifestyle, not your life. And the question stands. Do you enjoy bartending so much? Is that what you plan to do for the next fifty years?”

“No. I plan to go back to school eventually. I just need to get some money together. Or maybe take out a loan.”

“Jesus, Mike. You’re not stupid. You know how that ends. You take out a loan, spend several more years in school, maybe get a decent job afterwards, maybe go back to slinging drinks, and spend the rest of your life crippled by debt, still living in the same crappy walkup, never getting ahead, never traveling like you always wanted to, or buying a home, or being able to afford anything nice for yourself.

“Sure, you could go that route. Or you could take one single year out of your life, learn some things about yourself while being pampered like the most treasured of pets -- ”

“Are the beatings part of the pampering?”

“ --  and then go on to get the premier education you always wanted, and come out of it with zero debt and the entire world at your feet. Is it really such a hard decision?”

“Did you honestly think I’d say yes?”

“We figured you’d be smart enough to see the advantages of our proposal. Perhaps you’re not as smart as we thought you were. Time will tell. You have one week to accept or reject the offer. If you reject it, we’ll search out another candidate and never give you a second thought.”

Mike laughed, a rough, cynical sound. “Wow. You two are really something. A couple of apex predators for sure. What if I go to the authorities and inform them of this little scheme of yours? It might not be enough to get you arrested, but surely the New York Bar Association frowns on this sort of thing.”

A brief, ominous pause, and then Harvey and Travis burst out laughing. Harvey’s laughter died quickly, while Travis continued to chortle, so it was Harvey who replied, “Who would ever believe you? I mean, it’s cute that you still have enough faith in Justice, capital ‘J,’ that you would be willing to humiliate yourself by sharing this ridiculous story.”

Harvey’s expression darkened. “Don’t bother. No one will believe you, and your life, your simple little workaday life, will become more difficult than you ever imagined. You’ll never trace your problems back to us, but you’ll know, because I’m telling you now, that we will be behind every bit of misfortune that comes your way. Run to the cops, if you must, but you’ll soon realize that decision was even more misguided than the one to turn down what we can give you.”

His gaze had been fixed on Mike, but now he flicked a glance to Travis. “Let’s leave Mike to think about his future.” He moved around the table, brushed past Mike and led the way out of the restaurant.

It might have been Mike’s imagination, but just before they were obscured by the shadows, he thought he saw Travis place a hand on Harvey’s back, only to have it roughly shaken off.

 

******

 

Thursday night, Mike huddled with Frank and Chelsie around a corner table at Beatty’s.

“You’re totally shitting me,” said Frank, a huge grin splitting his face. “They want to fucking put you through Harvard fucking Law, and all you have to is – ”

“Get fucked,” finished Chelsie, a look of horror on her face.

It wasn’t pure horror, Mike noted. More like fascinated horror. In fact both of his fake bar friends seemed weirdly jazzed by the entire scenario.

“Just tell me you believe me, at least.”

Frank and Chelsie shared a look, which told Mike all he needed to know. Of course they didn’t believe him. Harvey had been right. If even his fake bar friends thought he was lying, what chance did he have that the police, or anyone else, would believe him?

What did it matter anyway? He hadn’t been forced into anything. No one had tried to abduct him. He’d been offered a choice and he’d turned it down, just as any rational person would do. Well, he hadn’t actually turned it down yet, but he intended to. Probably. Still, the reaction of his friends had kind of thrown him.

“Look,” he said, “you don’t have to believe me. I wouldn’t believe me. So, let’s keep it theoretical.”

“Sort of like fuck, marry or kill?” asked Frank. This was his favorite topic of discussion.

“Sure. Sort of like that.”

“Or that movie?” Chelsie put in. “Indecent Proposal, or whatever it was called.”

Frank grinned. “Right. Would you get fucked for a million dollars? Shit, this is kind of the same thing, if you think about it. Except you get fucked – and whatever else – for an entire year, then you have to work your ass off for three years, and then you have to work your ass off for who knows how long at some law firm and then maybe – maybe – you finally get to reap your reward.”

Mike leaned an elbow on the table and rubbed his forehead, trying to coax the incipient headache away. “Would you do it?” he asked.

Chelsie pursed her lips, seeming to think it over. “I might do the million dollars for one night thing, but I don’t think I’d even make it through one semester at Harvard, much less the full three years.”

Frank was staring at Mike, a calculating look in his eyes. “Are you actually thinking about it? And by ‘it,’ I mean the purely hypothetical thing that never, no fucking way, ever happened.”

“No,” said Mike. “Of course not.” Even to his own ears he sounded uncertain.

Was he considering saying yes? On Monday, when he’d blown out the candles and left the dark restaurant behind him, he’d been certain that there was no way in hell he’d go along with such an outlandish scheme.

Three days later, he was having second thoughts.

During those three days, he’d received a letter from his landlord, informing him his rent was going up by two hundred dollars a month. He’d also had his hours cut at the bar, and the owner had called a meeting of all his employees to let them know that he’d put the place up for sale. As things stood now, everything he’d saved up for school would be gone in two months, and in another two months, he might be out on the street.

Of course, he could look for another job, but he had the uneasy feeling that the manipulation of his life that Harvey had spoken of had already begun, even though he hadn’t gone to the cops. That much bad luck in three days seemed too much of a coincidence. He didn’t doubt that if they wanted to, Harvey and Travis could see to it that he became unemployable, and then where would he be?

 

A few more days went by. It was now Sunday. He had one day left before he had to either agree to the arrangement or turn it down. He spent most of the day trying to imagine what a year spent with Harvey and Travis might be like. Travis seemed the sterner of the two, and Harvey the kinder, although only by degrees. They were both ruthless assholes.

He should have unequivocally rejected their offer already, but every time he picked up his phone and started to compose a text to Harvey, he was halted by a fresh wave of the fantasies that had been running through his head all week. One of them was fucking him while the other watched. Or they were both fucking him. Or some stranger was fucking him while Harvey and Travis were somewhere nearby, watching, not watching, fucking each other. It changed every time, but it was always hot as hell. His hand should be callused from all the times he’s beaten off to these images.

That night, because of his recently reduced hours, he had his first Sunday night off in six months. He walked into Beatty’s and found Chelsie with a cast on her wrist and a haunted, vulnerable look in her eyes,

“Mugged,” she replied tersely in response to his question. “Twenty-five fucking years in this city without a problem – not that kind of problem, anyway – and last night – ” She broke off, too upset to say more.

Just then, Frank returned from the bar carrying drinks for himself and Chelsie. “Hey,” he greeted Mike without a trace of his usual humor. “You heard, I guess. They grabbed her purse and pushed her to the ground so hard her wrist snapped.”

Chelsie shuddered. “Can we not talk about it for two seconds? Give me my drink.” She sucked down half the gin and tonic, after which she let out a slow, shaky breath.

“Tell Mike what they said to you. Tell him how this is probably his fault.”

“My fault?”

Chelsie sniffed, her mouth twisting with emotion. “I’m sure it didn’t mean anything.”

“Well, what did they say?”

“Just, ‘say hello to Mike’. Who knows what that was supposed to mean? It could have been a different Mike.”

Mike realized three things in that moment. First, Harvey Specter and Travis Tanner were not joking around. Second, he inexplicably cared more about his fake bar friends than he’d previously realized, and hated the idea of either of them being harmed because of him. Third, and most startlingly, he was going to accept the arrangement, and had intended to all along, despite what he’d been telling himself all week.

It turned out that the chance to go to Harvard far outweighed his multitude of misgivings.

“Don’t worry,” he said to Chelsie. “Nothing else is going to happen to you.”

“Ah ha,” said Frank, “it was your fault. I knew it.”

“No. It wasn’t. Not directly, anyway.”

“You know what, Mike? If I were you, I’d probably just leave.”

“Frank, I swear – ”

“As in, go. Now.”

The bartender materialized with a beer for Mike, took one look at their faces, and beat a hasty retreat.

Mike turned his gaze to Chelsie, but she seemed to be having difficulty meeting his eyes. “Okay. I’ll go, but you know you’re going to miss me.” He spoke with more bravado than certainty. “You’re also going to miss out on all the wild stories over the next year.”

Frank sniffed, shaking his head. “You mean all your fucking lies? I bet what really happened was you got mixed up with your friend Trevor again, and those guys that hurt Chelsie were some of his drug pals.”

Mike hadn’t spoken to Trevor for nearly a year. The last he’d heard, Trevor had left the state. He didn’t say any of this to Frank and Chelsie. They – especially Frank – did not seem inclined to believe anything he said right now. Maybe it was time to move on from Beatty’s. He could always find a different bar to hang out in. Guaranteed there would be another Frank and another Chelsie waiting for him wherever he went.

He threw money down on the table to cover his beer and hurried toward the door. He couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He’d only taken a couple of steps down the sidewalk when he felt a hand on his arm, and turned to see that it was Chelsie who had followed him out the door.

“Look,” he said, “I already told you I was sorry, but if you need to hear it again … ”

“I don’t blame you,” she said. “Not really. Even if it was Trevor.”

“It wasn’t.”

“How can you be so sure?” Her frown deepened. “So … you were telling the truth about those two guys, Harvey and Taylor?”

“Travis. And yes, I am. I know you don’t believe me.”

“I don’t know. I sort of believe. I don’t not believe you.” She gave a bitter laugh. “I’ve seen some weird shit, had some weird shit pulled on me. Guys like Frank lack the capacity to even imagine it, because they never get put into those situations. Rarely, anyway.”

She huffed, sounding frustrated. “What I’m trying to say is, we’re cool.” She gestured at her injured wrist. “This is nothing. Well, almost nothing. And I can take care of myself. Frank wants to damsel in distress me, but I can assure you this will never happen again. As soon as I get this cast off, I’m signing up for every kickboxing and martial arts class I can find. I should have done it a long time ago. I mean, what am I doing walking around the mean streets of Brooklyn without any fighting skills? If you think about it, this is kind of on me.”

Mike barked out a laugh, shaking his head and gazing past her, down the dark street. “That’s total bullshit, and I know what you’re trying to do. It wasn’t on you. If we’d never met …”

“Hey, life is just a bunch of ping pong balls, bouncing around and smacking into one another, all random and shit.”

He smiled wryly. “That’s you’re theory of life?”

“Life, and fate, and the universe and everything.”

“Ha.” Mike shifted his gaze back to Chelsie, wincing inwardly as he looked at her cast. “I’m still sorry about what happened to you, and I want you to know that it’s not going to happen again, not because of me. I’m … taking steps.”

“Oh, shit. You’re gonna take the deal, aren’t you?”

“So, you do believe me.”

She wasn’t smiling anymore. “I believe that you believe these guys are legit. I also believe that you believe you can survive whatever they have in store for you.”

“Come on, Chelsie. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“All I’m saying is, be careful.” Using her good hand, she punched his shoulder playfully. “I don’t want to get stuck with just Frank for company. He’s okay, but a little Frank goes a long way.”

Mike pulled her in for a one-armed hug, careful not to jostle her cast. “If I don’t have to worry about you, then you don’t have to worry about me. I’m sure I’ll see you soon.”

She didn’t have a response for that, other than thinning her lips and shaking her head at him before she went back inside.

 

******

 

On Tuesday, Mike met Harvey and Travis for lunch at a diner near his apartment. They were there to sign the contract and talk logistics.

After they placed their food orders, Mike read through the contract, which was only two pages long. It was both concise and thorough, and laid things out just as Harvey had explained at their dinner. His pen hovered over the signature line, but he paused before signing.

“How, exactly,” he said, “would you define my role for the next year? Short version. Boyfriend? Sex worker? Sub?”

Harvey and Travis shared a look, both appearing amused by the question. “I find labels so limiting, don’t you?” Harvey’s question was directed at Travis.

“Sometimes they’re useful,” said Travis. “You’re welcome to apply whatever label makes you feel most at ease. ‘Apprentice’ is fairly apt. The truth is that for the next year, you’re ours. Full stop. We own you.”

“Right. And, according to …” Mike ran a finger down the page, pretending to look for a particular clause, even though he’d already memorized the entire thing. “According to paragraph three, section two, you’re permitted to share me with whomever you choose.”

“To be fair,” said Harvey, “if and when that occurs, one of us would be present at all times to supervise and place any necessary limits on their access to you.”

Travis’ face took on a pained expression, and he waggled one hand back and forth. “Present? I mean, we’d be nearby, but not everyone appreciates an audience.”

Mike stared at him. He set the pen down next to the unsigned page. “Who, exactly, are you envisioning? I mean, as the recipient of, well, me?”

Travis frowned thoughtfully. “Clients and colleagues, mostly.”

“Not ‘mostly,’ exclusively,” Harvey said firmly.

“Ah, Harv, come on.”

“He’s not a goddamn party favor.”

Their gazes locked again. “Wow,” murmured Travis, “I guess your experience was a bit different than mine.”

This comment caught Mike’s attention. He’d assumed that Harvey and Travis had cooked up this arrangement between the two of them, perhaps as a way to spice up their sex life. Now, based on that offhand comment, it sounded as if their way to Harvard had been paid in the same way Mike’s would be.

Harvey’s expression had softened at Travis’ words. “I know. You didn’t have it easy, did you? But if you’re looking for vengeance, you’re going about it the wrong way. We can use our apprentice, as is our right, but abuse is out of the question.”

Mike had read the contract, and had to wonder what Harvey considered abuse. At least half the stuff spelled out by the contract contained the potential for abuse, if you wanted to get technical about it. He kept his opinions to himself. His eyes were wide open, and he knew (or thought he knew) what he was getting himself into.

“I would prefer not to give up my apartment,” he said into the thick silence. Of all the things required of him, this rankled the most.

Harvey turned his gaze back to Mike. “We can’t force you to break the lease, of course, but we can assist, and insure you aren’t stuck with any fines or penalties. If you decide to retain it, you’ll need to have the resources to keep up your rent payments. And since you’ll be quitting your job at the bar …” He trailed off, as if no further explanations were required.

“Can I get a different job?”

Travis shook his head in apparent disgust. “Look at that, Harvey, he hasn’t even signed the damned thing, and he’s already trying to weasel out of it.”

“I’m not trying to weasel out of anything. I’m the one taking a risk here. It would be nice if I had some kind of escape contingency in place.”

“We’re not going to rewrite the contract for you,” said Harvey, “or make it easy for you to quit. If you decide you can’t go through with it, we can all walk away right now, no harm, no foul.”

“Yeah, except for the harm you’ve already done,” Mike muttered.

“What are you talking about?” Harvey sounded genuinely confused.

“Oh, come off it. It can’t be a coincidence that in one week I got a rent increase, my hours at the bar were cut in half, I may not even have that job in a month, and a friend of my was mugged, which I never would have connected with any of that other shit, except the mugger mentioned my name.”

“And you think we had something to do with your bad fortune?”

“Didn’t you? Like I said, it’s too much of a coincidence. You warned me you could mess with my life, and clearly that was no idle threat.”

Harvey’s eyes had narrowed as he regarded Mike, taking in what he was saying. He let out an aggrieved sounding sigh and eyed Travis with disfavor. “We agreed to give him the week, no pressure.”

Travis’ answering grin was utterly unrepentant. “Without a little pressure, he’d have turned us down, and we’d be back to square one, with no apprentice and the deadline looming.”

Now, that was interesting. Nobody had mentioned a deadline before. Whose deadline? What were the consequences if it wasn’t met?

“If you’ll notice,” said Harvey, “he hasn’t signed the contract yet.”

Avoiding their gazes, Mike stared down at the table and fiddled with the pen, aligning it with the two-page document. “How big,” he asked slowly, “is this apprenticeship program? Obviously, there are at least two law firms involved. Has every lawyer at those firms submitted to this arrangement?”

“We can’t tell you that,” Harvey stated.

Travis laughed cynically. “Why the hell not? He deserves to know. I wish I’d known, all those years ago. Whether you admit it or not, I’ll bet you do too.”

Harvey propped an elbow on the table and rubbed at his forehead, as if he’d developed a sudden headache. He opened his mouth to speak, but the waitress arrived with their food just then. The three of them sat in silence as she set their plates on the table, asked if they needed anything else, and then marched back to the kitchen.

“Look,” said Harvey, “all you need to know is that both Travis and I signed the same contract you see in front of you. We each spent a year like the one you’re about to.”

“Assuming he signs.”

“Assuming he signs. We made it through, we thrived at Harvard, and if you were to ask any non-biased observer, they would likely tell you that we’re two of the toughest closers in Manhattan. Somebody saw something in the two of us, and made an investment which paid off for everyone concerned. Now it’s your turn. We see something in you.”

Mike took a bite of his burger, set it back on the plate, and wiped fingers and lips with a napkin. “Is it some kind of secret society?”

“No,” said Harvey.

“Yes,” countered Travis every bit as firmly.

Harvey bit back a groan. “It’s secret,” he conceded, “but it would be a stretch to call it a society. If forced to label it, I’d say it’s a narrowly defined tradition.”

Which didn’t tell Mike much of anything, but did raise a few new questions. “Wait. Are you telling me that if I sign the contract, stick it out for the whole year, attend Harvard and, presumably, gain myself a spot at one of your law firms, I’ll be required, at some point, to team up with another dickhead and recruit my own apprentice?”

The brief silence that followed his question seemed more than a little telling.

Harvey finally replied, “It’s not a requirement. Not, that is, unless you want to move past junior partner and perhaps someday get your name on the wall.”

“So, you’re saying …” Obviously, that was exactly what they were saying. Every name partner at either of their firms had served out a year in the same way as was spelled out in Mike’s contract. “Is it just … I mean, how many firms participate in this tradition?”

“You may possibly earn the privilege one day to learn the answer to that,” said Travis. “That day is far, far in the future.”

“Travis is correct. Right now, today, you have to decide.” Harvey reached over, picked up the pen, and offered it to Mike. “Do you want to go after your dream? Do you want to earn a seat at the grownup table? Or do you want to wallow in mediocrity for the rest of your life?”

Mike gave a huff of annoyance, but he took the pen from Harvey. As it hovered over the signature line, he smiled grimly, imagining he smelled a whiff of brimstone in the air. The pen descended and he signed away the next year of his life.

Chapter Text

Giving up his apartment turned out to be every bit as unnerving as Mike had anticipated. It wasn’t the apartment itself, which wasn’t anything special. It was what it represented, namely his independence and his ability to earn rent every month without needing anybody’s help. He was young enough that this still meant something. It would likely be years before he found himself in that situation again. Granted, his next apartment would presumably be a vast improvement over the old one, but for now, he once again would be dependent on someone else to keep a roof over his head.

He packed up his clothes and arranged for a truck from a local charity to come collect the furniture and dishes and pots and pans and the rest of the things he’d accumulated. It was surprising how all that secondhand and discount store stuff had leant the illusion of weight to his life. It had kept him anchored and secure, but had also, he now realized, been holding him in place somewhere he didn’t want to be. With it disposed of, he felt lighter, more mobile.

Except … he wasn’t, was he? He’d be tied (perhaps literally) to a new location for the next year. The rewards were enticing, but he was frankly scared of what Harvey and Travis had in store for him. It was just another weird twist, he told himself, in the disjointed, meandering journey his life had become ever since he lost his parents.

Everything felt new. He’d jettisoned all the friends he’d once had. Trevor was gone. Frank, and possibly Chelsie as well, evidently wanted a break from him. All he had now was himself, and the path to which he’d committed. Whether Harvey and Travis became fellow travelers on that path, or more obstacles to overcome, remained to be seen. Until that was determined, he was essentially on his own.

Strangely enough, that made the prospect of whoring himself out in return for a shot at Harvard easier to accept. He didn’t have to explain himself or rationalize his decision to anybody. All he had to do was keep moving forward and allow the experience to unfold in whatever way it would. And, of course, fight to hold onto to at least a piece of himself in the process.

 

******

 

On Monday, one of them, either Harvey or Travis, sent a town car to Brooklyn to pick Mike up. He’d been worried about what to do with his bike, but they’d thought of that, and a temporary bike carrier had been affixed to the trunk of the car. The driver helped Mike get his baby situated on the carrier, and didn’t object when Mike threw his suitcase and duffel bag in the back seat and took the passenger seat in front next to the driver, who introduced himself as Ray.

Mike usually had no problem conversing with strangers. This was too awkward, though. Just from the sidelong glances Ray was shooting his way, he deduced that he was at least partially aware of Mike’s situation. Which brought up a question that Mike hadn’t thought to ask before. Was he the first apprentice of Harvey and Travis, or had there been others before him? As he mulled it over, he came to the conclusion that perhaps he’d rather not know the answer to that.

Soon enough, the car pulled up to the curb in front of a tall apartment building which appeared to be fairly new construction. Everything was bright and shiny and sharp-edged, including the concierge, who let Mike inside when Ray vouched for him, but continued to eye him with more than a little suspicion as he stood next to his bike and luggage in the elevator, and the door closed on both the concierge and Ray.

Mike let out a sigh of relief, and then had to smile to himself. What was there to be relieved about? He’d agreed to unfettered sex with two men he barely knew, and an untold number of people he’d never even met. The weirdness quotient of his life was officially off the charts.

 

******

 

“Where’s Harvey?” asked Mike, prowling around the living room, trying to ignore his nerves, which felt like a swarm of bees just underneath his skin.

Travis had arrived minutes after Mike, and let him into the apartment, which he explained belonged to Harvey.

“He had to work late.” In the kitchen, Travis went straight for the liquor cabinet with the familiarity of someone who had spent a lot of time here.

“Are we waiting for him?”

Travis shook his head. He’d only taken down one glass. He poured himself a shot, left the bottle on the counter, and joined Mike in the living room, gesturing at Mike’s belongings with his glass. “Tomorrow you can move your bike down to the underground parking. As for the rest of your things, you can unpack them later. Your bedroom is at the end of the hall, although more often than not, the bed in there will go unused.” He sipped his drink, eyeing Mike shrewdly.

“Is tonight going to be one of those nights?”

“That depends on Harvey. If he’s not home before I’m done with you, you should probably assume you’ll be sleeping alone.”

Before I’m done with you.

Mike swallowed hard, wishing that Travis had offered him a drink, but unsure if he had the right to ask for one. “So … what now? Should I get undressed?”

“Sure. Go for it.” Travis sat in the recliner and stretched his long legs in front of him, settling in to watch Mike.

Day one, thought Mike, picturing a calendar in his mind and marking a huge, black “X” through the first square. One day at a time was an exceptionally trite saying, but it certainly applied here. He’d take each day, each situation as it came, and before he knew it, the year would be up, and he’d be on his way to Harvard.

He was no virgin, had hooked up plenty of times, and there had even been a couple of guys he’d considered boyfriends, although those relationships had never made it past the first month. None of those encounters, whether they’d lasted a month, or a night, or ten minutes, had ever felt as … He searched for the right word. As cold-blooded as this one. That could be attributed to the whore angle, he supposed, or perhaps the being owned angle.

He toed off his sneakers, stripped off his t-shirt, unfastened his jeans and stepped out of them.

“Let’s lose the undies,” murmured Travis.

Mike shimmied out of his briefs and kicked them aside. He stood naked in front of Travis, wondering what would be expected of him next. Travis appeared to be wondering the same thing, weighing all his options.

“You any good at blowjobs?” he asked.

Mike shrugged, not sure how to answer. “I guess so. No worse than the next guy.”

“Scale of one to ten.”

“Uh.” None of this felt the least bit sexy to Mike, but Travis had a wicked gleam in his blue eyes. At least someone was enjoying themselves. “Maybe a six? Seven?”

Travis gave him a comical grimace. “Not great, Mike. Well, we’ll have you up to a solid ten in no time. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes.” Sitting up straighter, he set his drink down on the end table and unfastened his pants. “Come on over here. Do your thing. We’ll call this your baseline.”

Mike knelt between Travis’ spread knees and did his thing.

 

******

 

Mike had Travis halfway down his throat, straining for more as Travis petted his head and spoke breathless words of encouragement, when he heard the key in the lock, and the front door swung open. His back was to the door, but his assumption that Harvey was home was confirmed when he heard his amused voice.

“You started without me.”

Mike tried to raise his head, but Travis shoved him back down.

“Yup.” Travis bit back a grunt. “Just breaking him in a little.”

“I can see that.”

Harvey strolled closer, shrugging out of his suit jacket and loosening his tie. “How’s he doing?”

“He claimed,” Travis panted, “he was only a six or seven.”

“And he was exaggerating?” Harvey perched on the arm of the chair, rested a hand against Travis’ neck and kissed him, long and slow and thorough.

When the kiss ended, Travis said, “I’d rate him as a nine, easy.”

“Impressive. I do know how to pick them.” He ran a knuckle lightly down the side of Mike’s face, pausing at the place where his check was hollowed from sucking on Travis. “That’s some nice technique, Mike. Do you think you could get us both in your mouth at once?”

Travis’ body seemed to like this idea. He jerked up, causing Mike to gag, but said in a strained voice, “Wait your turn, Harvey.”

“That’s not how we do things. We agreed, remember?”

With a low sound of annoyance, Travis gave Mike’s hair a sharp tug. Mike pulled off and looked up at Harvey, struggling to catch his breath.

“Well?” asked Harvey. He already had his pants unfastened and his half-hard cock in his hand.

“Are you serious?” asked Mike in a voice made raspy from his recent exertions.

Harvey dragged Travis to his feet. The two of them loomed over Mike, each with cock in hand. They were similar in size, Mike noted. Travis’ cock was slightly thicker, Harvey’s longer and more elegant. Mike licked his lips, knee-walked closer to them, and indicated Travis’ drink with a nod of his head.

“Do you think I could get a sip of that first?”

Harvey was the one who reached for the glass and held it to Mike’s lips. Mike opened up and let the single malt scotch slide down his throat. He coughed once and said, “More?” The next sip went down easier, both soothing his throat and calming his nerves.

“In case there’s any doubt,” Mike said hoarsely, “I’ve never done two guys before.”

“But you’ll give it a try,” said Harvey. It was a statement, not a question.

Mike licked his lips again, tasting scotch. “Sure.” He reached for them, but Harvey stopped him with a palm against his forehead.

“Tip your head back. No, not that much. Good. Now open wide. We’re going to control everything, the angle, the pace, the depth. Keep your mouth open and relax your throat as much as you can.”

The situation felt less intimidating with his eyes shut, so Mike squeezed them tight and waited. The head of the first cock – whose, he didn’t know -- rubbed his check, dragged wetly across his lower lip, and poked inside his mouth to rest against his tongue. The head of the second cock pushed in next to the first.

“Close your mouth around us and suck,” came the whispered instruction. Mike was pretty sure that was Harvey.

It was a mouthful, but not impossible. He suckled on the cock heads, finding it completely manageable, at least so far. Nobody was demanding too much of him. If the sounds he was hearing were anything to go by, his efforts were appreciated, and wasn’t it nice to be appreciated?

The two cocks pushed deeper, nudging the back of his throat and stretching his mouth. He moaned lowly and tried to swirl his tongue around both of them, but found it too awkward. Someone’s hand palmed the back of his head, urging him to take more. Blindly, he reached for the base of their cocks, hoping to regain some control, only to have his hands slapped away.

“Take it.” This rough command came from Travis.

“Put your hands behind your back,” Harvey instructed, voice strained. “Mouth open as wide as you can. Throat relaxed. Remember to breathe. That’s good.”

One hand held either side of his face, bracing him and holding him in place. One hand belonged to each man. They thrust into his mouth, hard, fast, rough. He was choking, gagging on them, on their length and combined girth. It was uncomfortable and alarming and exhilarating all at the same time. He grabbed quick little breaths when he could, but it wasn’t enough. He was growing more oxygen-starved and lightheaded by the second.

As the tandem face fucking continued, Mike lost track of time. He was so incredibly turned on, and his dick was hard and aching. He wished he could touch himself, bring himself off just like this, but Travis and Harvey’s instructions had been clear. His hands stayed behind his back.

He couldn’t breathe, needed to breathe. Salty tears leaked from underneath his eyelids and trickled down his face.

And then his airway was clear, his mouth empty. Surprise caused him to open his eyes, which was a mistake because he was instantly hit in the face with dueling loads of cum. It got in his eyes (which he quickly shut), his mouth (which stayed open to catch as much of it as he could), his hair, on his chest and belly. Between the two of them, he was pretty well coated.

When the deluge finally stopped, he waited a few seconds before opening one stinging eye to find Harvey and Travis locked in an embrace, kissing one another as if they were only ones in the room. Mike’s t-shirt was on the floor not far away. He reached for it and swiped it across his face, trying to clear the worst of the jizz from his eyes. He wasn’t sure what was allowed of him, if he could get up without permission, go into the bathroom and get clean, so he waited, rock hard and dying to touch himself.

After a few seconds, Harvey and Travis broke apart and stared down at Mike.

“Oh, look,” noted Harvey, “he really does have a nice looking cock.”

“Looks a little painful at the moment,” Travis added.

Mike gazed hopefully back at them. “Any chance you’re going to let me come?”

Harvey and Travis exchanged a look. One or both of them may have rolled their eyes.

“We almost never practice orgasm denial,” said Harvey. “If you ever want to test the limits of obedience, I suppose we could explore that. Is that something you get off on?”

Mike wasn’t sure how to answer that. “I, uh, get off on getting off,” he said, but even he could hear the ambivalence in his voice.

Travis sighed, appearing amused. Addressing himself to Harvey, he said, “I’m getting the sense that this one wants to be pushed.”

“Maybe.” Harvey didn’t sound entirely convinced.

“You’re right. We don’t have to figure this all out tonight. For now …”

“Shower?”

“Shower. Come on Mike. We want to show you what I firmly believe is one of the best features of Casa Specter.” Travis offered Mike a hand and helped him to his feet.

Led by Harvey, they trooped down the hall into the master bedroom, and from there into the en suite bathroom. Mike’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head at the size of it. A huge tub, large enough to hold all three of them at once, stood in the center of one wall, beside a floor-to-ceiling window that looked out on the Manhattan skyline. Next to the tub was an equally enormous shower with walls and floor tiled in cream, copper and black. There was a rainfall showerhead mounted in the center of the ceiling, body sprays on the back wall, handheld showerheads on either side, a bench and a series of metal bars and metal rings whose purpose he could only imagine.

Mike watched with frank interest as Harvey and Travis stripped. The both obviously spent plenty of time keeping their solidly muscled physiques in peak condition. Travis was slightly broader, noticeably hairier, and perhaps an inch shorter than Harvey. When he turned his back to Mike and Harvey to turn on the water, Mike noted with a jolt of shock he hoped he managed to conceal, that his back held a network of faint white scars.

Maybe Harvey had seen his reaction, and perhaps it was intended as a distraction when he said, “That was really fine work tonight, Mike. You took us like a champ.”

Travis turned from adjusting the water temperature to add, “Maybe we’ll try for three next time.”

Harvey groaned. “God, no. We tried that once, remember? The logistics are impossible.”

Mike was still trying to absorb that fascinating exchange when Harvey grasped his arm and drew him into the shower. Both men stepped in with him, turning and manipulating him, soaping him up and rinsing him off as steam rose and swirled around them. Then, in a move that had Mike gasping with astonishment, Travis went to his knees in front of him at the same time Harvey knelt behind him.

“Oh, God,” he choked out.

Harvey had parted his ass cheeks and was tonguing lewdly into him while Travis sucked down his cock in a way that would have made Mike feel like a rank amateur, if he’d been capable of processing anything more than pure sensation. If he had envisioned what a threesome with Harvey and Travis might entail (and he had), it had never resembled anything remotely like this.

He wasn’t complaining. He wasn’t doing much of anything besides trembling and riding waves of spiraling pleasure. Harvey’s tongue muscled deeply into him, zeroing in on his prostate and causing Mike’s knees to go weak. For balance, he braced his hands on the shoulders of Travis, who was sucking and slurping with abandon. He could have come solely from the sound of Travis’ desperate, hungry grunts.

With two such skilled mouths working him, it didn’t take long before he gave a raw shout and erupted down Travis’ throat. Harvey removed his tongue and rose to hold Mike underneath his arms, keeping him upright as Travis continued to suckle and Mike detonated in wave after wave of mind-melting bliss.

 

When awareness finally filtered back into the bomb crater that had once been his brain, Mike discovered that he’d been washed clean once again, the shower had been turned off, and Travis was toweling him dry while Harvey propped him up. When he was reasonably dry, they herded him down the hall to what was to be his bedroom. Travis disappeared and returned with Mike’s suitcase and duffel bag, which he set inside the door.

“Get some sleep,” said Travis. “One of us will wake you up before we leave for work, and fill you in on what to expect tomorrow.”

Harvey pulled back the covers, and Mike crawled into bed. He blinked sleepily as they tucked him in, left the room, and closed the door.

“Holy fuck,” he whispered to himself. Had he actually considered not doing this? He’d never come so hard in his life. It wasn’t just that, though. Better even than the screaming orgasm was the sense of being cared for, of having the full attention of those two men on him. Well, they had said he’d be pampered. He could only hope tonight hadn’t been a one time thing meant to catch him off guard and get him complacent before the beatings began.

It was only day one, he reminded himself. Three hundred and sixty-four to go. He supposed he’d be feeling different if the night had ended with him drenched in cum, and his throat aching from both their cocks. It hadn’t ended that way, and at the moment the only thing he regretted was being left in here to sleep alone.

He wondered idly if Travis was spending the night. They lived separately. How often did they sleep under the same roof? How often did they bring a third party into their relationship?

He reached for the second pillow on the bed and added it to the first, trying to get comfortable. He’d just begun to doze when he heard the first sounds drifting over from next door. A low moan was followed by a muffled string of violent curses. Someone called out. It must have been Travis, because he shouted Harvey’s name. A steady thumping began, and after a moment he recognized it as the tap of the headboard against the wall.

Wide-eyed, Mike stared at the ceiling. They were really going at one other, from the sounds of it. The thumping accelerated, increased in volume. He imagined them in there, pictured first one of them, and then the other on top. Between the two of them, who topped? Did they switch off? Mike recalled the scars he’d glimpsed on Travis’ back. Had Harvey given those to him? He didn’t want to believe that. The scars weren’t new. Mike was no expert, but he’d guess that those scars had been acquired long ago. Harvey had hinted at some rough treatment Travis had received during his stint as an apprentice.

Mike shuddered. Would he walk away a year from now with similar marks? From everything that had transpired so far, his best guess was that if Travis had anything to say about it, he might, but Harvey objected to some of his more extreme tendencies. Mike could only hope he’d serve as a buffer, or a moderating influence.

The delicious languor created by his orgasm and the unexpected care the two men had shown him was rapidly fading as uncertainty and unease returned. Next door, things seemed to be heating up even more. The headboard slammed into the wall, the bedsprings creaked, and both Harvey and Travis let loose with a series of full-throated shouts. There was nothing tender there that Mike could discern, just furious, energetic fucking. Furious, energetic fucking that didn’t seem likely to conclude any time soon.

He experienced a twinge of jealousy, which was absurd, and really, it wasn’t jealousy so much as a sense of being on the outside looking (or listening) in. He’d liked being the center of attention but now he felt ... excluded

“They’re not your boyfriends,” he lectured himself severely. It was confusing, though, and it was only bound to get more confusing as the year progressed.

Deciding to follow Travis’ advice and get some sleep, he rolled onto his side. He considered jamming a pillow over his ear to block out the sounds coming from next door, but had to admit that he was totally getting off on it. He wrapped a hand around himself and even though he’d come like a freight train not that long ago, his cock began to plump. He stroked himself, syncing his movement to the rhythmic thud of the headboard against the wall. After a while, he rolled over onto his knees, leaning on one elbow while continuing to stroke himself.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to imagine what it would feel like to have one of their cock’s inside him, pumping away. For that matter, what would it feel like to have them both inside at once? This thought sent a renewed surge of heat through him.

Shuddering as he masturbated furiously, he held himself just at the edge of release until the thumping stopped abruptly and someone – was it Harvey or Travis? – bellowed, “Fuck! Oh, f-u-u-u-c-c-c-k-k, yes!”

He could hear the bed shaking, could hear them both cursing, low and savage, as they chased their aftershocks, and Mike was coming right along with them, even as he stuffed a corner of a pillow in his mouth to stifle his own desperate gasps and moans.

Carefully, in slow motion, he collapsed onto his side. His heart continued to race, and he kept the pillow jammed against his face until he had his breathing under control again.

“Jesus,” he whispered against the bedspread, a faint slur of exhaustion in his voice.

For the moment, everything was quiet next door. Had they heard him? Did it matter? By getting himself off, had he violated some rule which hadn’t yet been explained to him? Well, if he didn’t know the rules yet, this could hardly be considered a violation.

The last thing he heard as he drifted to sleep was the sound of low, intimate laughter.

Chapter Text

Someone knocked on Mike’s door at what felt like a ridiculously early hour. When he pulled on some clothes and staggered out to the living room, he found only Harvey, fully dressed and sitting at the breakfast bar with a mug of coffee and a copy of the Wall Street Journal in front of him.

“Did Travis leave already?” asked Mike.

“Mm hmm.” Harvey read for another few seconds and then tossed the folder paper down on the countertop. “He took off around two.”

“Oh.”

“Pour yourself some coffee and sit with me for a minute.”

When Mike was settled across the counter from him with a steaming, heavily cream-and-sugared mug of coffee, Harvey slid a sheet of paper across the counter to him.

“Your schedule for the week,” he said.

Curious but wary, Mike lifted the paper and read out loud. “Exercise one-hour minimum. Breakfast. Online coursework three-hour minimum. Lunch. Reading list three-hour minimum. Household chores including grocery shopping. Prepare dinner. After dinner at owners’ disposal.”

Owners. Oh, man.

That was today’s schedule. Other days included fittings with a tailor, dinner out with Harvey and a client, and trips to the dry cleaner, presumably to drop off and pick up Travis and Harvey’s suits.

“That ought to keep me busy.”

“I would expect so.”

Mike scanned the list at the bottom of the page of law textbooks which comprised his reading assignment, and somehow kept his expression neutral as he smugly noted that he’d already ready every book on it, and thus had the contents firmly ensconced in his memory. That would free up three hours each day for doing whatever he wanted. Additionally, he doubted he’d need the full three hours for coursework. So far, his new life didn’t seem all that taxing, except, of course, for all the pre-scheduled sex. Buy, hey, a guy’s gotta nut, right?

He took a closer look at the item listed for Thursday evening at seven. “Dinner with H. and Royce Fairview. H. would be you, I’m guessing?”

“See, I knew we picked a winner.”

“And Royce Fairview is …"

“The owner of several boutique pet stores that are about to go national, and my newest client. He’s signing the retainer agreement at dinner.”

“And I’ll be there because …"

“Because of your contractual obligations.”

Mike took a sip of coffee. “Throwing me right into the deep end, huh?”

“Possibly. Royce is generally a sweet guy, but admittedly, after three martinis all bets are off.”

“So, I should wait until he’s finished his second martini and then …?”

“No. We wait until after the third martini and then take him upstairs.”

“We? Upstairs?”

“You heard me. Dinner is at the Chilton. Dessert is on the fourteenth floor.”

A fresh bout of nerves brought a sour taste to Mike’s mouth.

Let the prostitution commence.

He set his mug carefully on the counter. “Will Travis be there too?”

“Royce Fairview is my client. If and when Travis makes you available to one of his clients, it will just be him there to supervise or join in as requested.”

Oh, man.

“I get it. No crossing of the streams.”

Harvey’s answering smile was lewd. “That would be up to the client, now wouldn’t it?”

“Ha. Good one. Don’t you have a job to get to?”

“I’d watch that smart mouth of yours if I were you.”

Harvey stood up. Mike figured he was on his way out the door, but instead he went into the living room and came back with three boxes. The largest was the size and shape of a new laptop, which is what it turned out to be.

“This is for your coursework,” said Harvey. “If you keep it in good working order, you can take it to Harvard in a year. If you fuck it up with porn viruses, you’ll be required to repay us.”

“I’m not currently employed, remember?”

Harvey smiled gently, shaking his head. “One, you are employed in a very real sense. Two, I never said the repayment would be monetary.”

Gulp.

“Duly noted.”

Harvey regarded him for a moment, opened his mouth, and then appeared to reconsider whatever he’d been about to say. A smaller box joined the computer on the counter. “This is your new phone.” The third box was placed in front of him. “This e-reader has everything on your reading list pre-loaded.” One final item appeared – an Amex card. “This will cover groceries and other incidental purchases. Don’t abuse the privilege.”

“Wouldn’t think of it.” Mike picked up the card and examined it. Harvey and Travis must have put a rush on it, since it was in Mike’s name.

This was all more than generous, more than he’d expected. He wasn’t sure where the whisper of resentment had bubbled up from, but he swallowed it down with an effort. “This is … a lot. I don’t want you to think … That is, people have told me, more than a few times, that I can be a sarcastic little shit.”

“Gee, I hadn’t noticed.”

“You’re not making this any easier.”

“This? This what?”

“My apology. What I’m trying to say is thanks for all this.” Harvey fixed him with an inquisitive look, but didn’t say anything, so Mike continued, “If I sometimes get defensive, or go on auto-snark, it’s because I’m way, way out of my depth here. I fully understand what’s expected of me, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.”

“I know.”

“I swear I’m going to give it my best effort.” He paused, chewing on his lower lip. “Can I tell you something, though?”

“Can I stop you?”

“This thing about me sleeping with your clients to seal the deal or whatever, is, I don’t know. It seems really off brand for your firm.”

Harvey arched an eyebrow, appearing amused. “And how would you know what is off – or on – brand for my firm?”

“I did my research. I read up on Pearson Hardman.”

“And what did you conclude from your research?”

“They want to appear completely top drawer so that they attract the cream of the corporate crop, thus their tradition of hiring only from Harvard.”

“One firm can have a number of different traditions.”

“Prostitution being one of them?”

Harvey shook his head, a look of disappointment on his face. “I can’t stop you from twisting yourself up in knots trying to define, or justify, or whatever you call what you’re doing right now, but may I remind you that you entered this agreement with your eyes open?”

“I know that, but –”

“Enough. I don’t want to hear any more about it. You’re more than welcome to have all the misgivings you want, just do us both a favor and keep them to yourself.” His eyes narrowed. “Unless this is your fumbling way of telling me that you’re tapping out already?”

“No. It’s not. I’m just … I don’t know … I wanted to let you know how I feel.”

“Feel free to squelch that inclination if it should reoccur.” Harvey’s tone had gone ice cold. “Let’s get one thing straight. I am not your friend, or your therapist, or your confessor.”

“Okay, but what exactly are you?”

Harvey quirked his mouth and lowered his brows, considering – or pretending to consider – the question. “I suppose there are a handful of loaded words you could use. But maybe just think of me as your sponsor.”

“My sponsor. Wow. That’s a nice euphemism, I suppose, but I think we both know exactly what you and Travis are to me. My sugar daddies.”

Harvey’s eyes darkened in what could have been either anger or disappointment. He stepped behind Mike, chest brushing his back, and trailed his fingers from one ear down the side of his neck. “If you insist on labels,” he murmured, “pick another one. I don’t want to hear that one come out of your mouth again. Understood?”

Mike couldn’t control the shiver that ran through him at Harvey’s touch. “Yes. Understood.” Even as he spoke, he filed this bit of knowledge away for later. If he ever wanted to get under Harvey’s skin, he’d found an effective way to do so.

“My advice?” said Harvey. “Just take things as they come, moment to moment. Try to manage your expectations.”

It wasn’t a particularly edifying answer, but Mike nodded. Evidently this was enough to mollify Harvey. He moved to Mike’s side, grasped his chin in one hand, and kissed him. His coffee-flavored tongue filled Mike’s mouth as his other hand slid up beneath Mike’s t-shirt to caress his back.

The kiss ended before it had a chance to go anywhere, but it had lasted long enough to leave Mike half-hard and panting when Harvey, with a casual, “See you tonight,” headed out the door.

 

******

 

Travis arrived that evening while Mike was cleaning up after dinner. Mike and Harvey hadn’t spoken much during the meal, but Mike had managed to pry out of him the reason he was staying here, rather than with Travis.

“He travels out of town much more often than I do.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Something about being a shit-stirrer requires him to show up in person.”

“Aren’t you a shit-stirrer too?”

Harvey’s mouth twitch could have been either a smile or a grimace. “No, I’m more of a shit-smoother. When someone like Travis shows up to throw a wrench in the works, I’m tasked with making the machinery function again. In fact, that’s how Travis and I first met.”

“I thought it was through the secret not-society of philanthropic sex fiends.”

Harvey stared at him for nearly a full minute before shaking his head. “No. Stop fishing for information and eat your dinner.”

That had been the end of that, at least for tonight, but Mike was certain that if he kept at him, bit by bit over the next year the full story would come out.

 

******

                                                              

“I say we tie him up and take turns fucking him,” suggested Harvey.

“Seems kinda basic.” Travis eyed Mike, who stood naked in front of them, shifting from one foot to the other as they discussed his fate for the evening.

“Nothing wrong with a good, hard fuck.”

“Certainly not. But I’m thinking …”

“Riding crop first?”

Mike turned to glare at Harvey, who raised both eyebrows enquiringly.

“What?” asked Harvey. “This was all spelled out in the contract.”

Mike was getting sick of hearing about that damned contract.

“I know. I just …” He trailed off, trying to picture it, tilting his head to one side as intriguing images paraded through his mind. Being naked as he was, it was impossible to hide his rapidly filling cock.

Travis laughed. “See that? He’s totally into the idea. Okay, consider me on board as well. Should we take him to my place?”

“Another time. Don’t want to scare him off. Tonight, we’ll just tie him to the bed.”

And what was that all about, Mike wondered? What sort of a set-up did Travis have that Harvey didn’t? It sounded as if he would find out eventually, but for now all his attention was focused on what was happening right here.

He followed Harvey and Travis into the master bedroom. Harvey beckoned him over to the bed.

“Get up there on your hands and knees, facing the headboard.”

When Mike was in position, Harvey and Travis each took one of his wrists and drew his arms out to either side before tying soft rope around his wrists and looping the other ends around the top of the headboard. The position wasn’t uncomfortable, but he could already feel the stretch in his shoulders and back.

“My God,” said Travis in almost a reverent tone, “look at that ass. I want to do things to that ass.”

“You can start with this.”

Mike craned his neck to look back over his shoulder and saw Harvey handing Travis what had to be the riding crop. He shivered, and some small sound must have escaped his throat, because Harvey stepped closer to place a reassuring hand on his back.

“I didn’t think I’d like it either,” Harvey said confidingly into Mike’s ear. “The trick is to relax as much as possible and just let it happen.”

My new motto, Mike decided, holding back a hysterical guffaw. He shut his eyes and tried to do as Harvey had suggested. He had a split second of warning, the briefest whish as the crop descended and struck his bottom with a bright sting.

“Shit,” he bit out. Travis didn’t give him time to recover. Another strike fell in nearly the first spot as the first.

Nope. Do not like. Bad touch.

“Wait,” he gasped. “Pause. Time out.” He would have made a “T” out of his hands if they hadn’t currently been tied to the headboard.

“Problem?” asked Harvey.

Both he and Travis moved from behind him so that Mike could see their faces. Their nearly identical expressions of annoyed inquiry might have been funny in other circumstances.

“Yeah, there’s a problem. Don’t I get a safeword or something?”

Harvey laid his hand on Mike’s ass, fingering the spot which still throbbed. “You signed a contract, remember?”

“Sure, sure, but I’ve read up on BDSM practices, and in order to be safe, sane, and consensual – ”

“There’s nothing safe about this,” snapped Travis. “There’s nothing particularly sane about it either. It is, however, clearly consensual, and we have the contract to prove it.”

“Maybe we should give him a safeword,” said Harvey.

“Really?” Travis sounded incredulous. “Did they allow you one?”

They? Mike nearly forgot his stinging bottom as he pondered this. Exactly who had sponsored Harvey?

“No,” said Harvey coldly. “They should have.”

“Coddling him is not part of the program. He needs to toughen up, and if you’re suddenly too fucking tenderhearted to witness a simple ass whipping, feel free to leave.”

Harvey made a sound of exasperation. “I live here.”

“Then I’ll take him to my place.”

“He’s not ready for that.”

“Uh, guys?” No reaction. “Guys?”

They turned their attention back to Mike, almost as if they’d forgotten he was there, never mind he was the subject of their disagreement. “Yes?” asked Harvey, sounding impatient with the interruption.

“It’s cool. I probably wouldn’t ever use it anyway. I just thought it was, you know, part of the standard protocol.”

“Protocol?” This was Travis. He appeared as exasperated as Harvey.

Harvey set a calming hand on Travis’ shoulder. “It’s his second day.” To Mike, he said, “Let’s clear up one thing right now. In spite of the obvious overlaps, this is not a BDSM arrangement per se. We’re not your doms. You’re not our sub. You’re just … ours.”

Travis was frowning down at Mike. “If you’re ever going to be even a competent attorney, you’ll need to get better at understanding contracts.”

Mike was tired of arguing. It obviously wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He was growing cold, and his shoulders had started to ache under the strain of being stretched. “Fine. No safeword, then. Can we get this over with?”

Travis hefted the crop, but Harvey stopped him with a hand on his arm. “In my home, you may use the generic ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ if you’ve reached, or are approaching, your breaking point.”

“Whatever,” Mike muttered. He was already having nostalgic memories of two cocks stuffed down his throat, and Harvey’s tongue in his ass. Especially of Harvey’s tongue in his ass.

Travis had moved out of his line of sight. A second later, the crop landed on his ass again.

“Ouch,” Mike deadpanned softly, but didn’t say anything else for the next ten minutes or so. All the noises he made – and there were plenty – were subverbal.

Travis lit up his ass like a pro. At first, the hits felt like a slow-moving swarm of mosquitoes, stinging randomly, each point of contact separate and distinct. Mike soon discovered that the less he moved, the more he remained still and relaxed, the less it hurt. Oh sure, it still hurt, but as it went on, and more territory was covered, the pain disbursed, and the flicking strikes from the crop felt more like, quick, bright enhancements to the delicious, spreading heat.

Through it all, Harvey stood where Mike could see him, watching impassively as Travis worked him over. Not long after Mike began tugging on his restraints and humping air, Harvey spoke quietly to Travis.

“Enough.”

The strikes continued.

“Travis. He’s there. Enough.”

This time, he must have gotten through to Travis, because the strikes stopped. Mike could hear Travis’ loud, rapid breathing. He didn’t sound out of breath so much as massively turned on. After a few moments, the crop touched Mike again. This time the tip slid down his spine to the split between his ass cheeks and continuing until it prodded his balls. He bit his lip, fearful for the first time. Was Travis going to …? But the next instant he heard the crop hit the floor, and then the rustle of clothing which he assumed was the sound of Travis undressing.

Harvey freed Mike’s wrists and spent half a minute or so massaging the circulation back into them. He positioned a pillow under Mike’s hips and then handed a condom to Travis. While Travis prepared himself, Harvey prepared Mike. He sat next to his hip, bottle of lube in hand, and drizzled some into Mike’s crack. When he cupped one cheek to pull them apart, heat exploded through Mike’s backside, making him wild with need. Gasping, he ground his cock into the pillow.

“Settle down,” Harvey admonished, just before he plunged a lube-slick finger into Mike’s hole.

“God,” Mike choked out. “You’re going to make me come.”

“No one’s stopping you. You’ll enjoy it more if you wait.”

Harvey plunged two fingers in and out of Mike.

“Move aside,” Travis ordered, his voice rough and raw with need.

Not rushing, Harvey finger-fucked Mike some more. He withdrew and moved up the bed to sit next to Mike’s head, with his back to the headboard and outstretched legs crossed at the ankles. Except for his suit jacket, tie and shoes, he was still fully clothed.

As Travis forced his cock into Mike none too gently, Harvey laid a hand on his head, stroking softly. Travis, without giving Mike much time to adjust to him, pushed all the way in. His hands gripped Mike’s hips, thumbs rubbing hard against his crop-heated bottom. Mike lifted his head and shut his eyes, groaning long and deep as Travis began a slow, steady plunge, in and out. The feel of his hands and his groin against his abused ass was incredible. Mike rocked back to meet Travis’ thrusts, gasping and cursing under his breath at each hot flash of pain.

He opened his eyes to find Harvey’s gaze on him. Mike dropped his own gaze to Harvey’s crotch, where his erect cock tented the fine wool trousers. Without thinking, Mike reached for him. Harvey caught him by the wrist.

“I’ll get you off, too,” said Mike, mildly surprised at the way his words slurred.

Harvey gave him a half-smile and shook his head.

“I can suck you. Just get a little closer.”

Harvey shook his head again. Maintaining eye contact with Mike, he unbuckled his belt, lowered his zipper, and maneuvered his stiff cock out of his underwear, so that it stood like a proud tower, wavering only slightly. Eyes still locked with Mike’s, he reached for a condom, tore the packet with his teeth, and handed the condom to Mike. “Put it on me.”

Mike could have fainted with desire, if Travis hadn’t currently been fucking him with such abandon, jolting his body with each thrust.

“Y-you’re gonna fuck me too?” Mike asked, so turned on he could hardly get the words out.

“That is the plan that was floated earlier,” Harvey replied, cool as ever. “Go on. Put it on me.”

Mike’s hand’s trembled as he rolled the latex down Harvey’s hot length. He tried to lean in for a lick, but Harvey slid off the bed and stood up, condom wrapped cock bobbing against his belly, and stepped out of Mike’s view. When he spoke again, he was somewhere behind Mike.

“Maybe I’ll fuck Travis instead,” said Harvey, “while he fucks you.”

“Get away from my ass, Specter,” Travis growled breathlessly. “And wait your goddamn turn.”

“Aw, don’t be like that. Maybe I can hurry you along.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be – ah, fuck. Jesus Christ, you bastard. No, don’t stop, keep doing that.”

Mike couldn’t see what Harvey was doing to him, but moments later Travis gasped and sped up, pounding into Mike as if he’d just shifted into a higher gear. Then he froze, stuttered, and heat filled Mike as Travis came inside him.

He winced as Travis unceremoniously pulled out, winced again as Harvey shoved right in and took possession of his ass.

To begin with, his thrusts were slower, more deliberate. He held Mike’s hips, manipulating the angle, and after half a dozen strokes, he found Mike’s prostate. Mike gasped and reached for himself, but Travis was there, apparently back from disposing of his condom. He sat on the bed and replaced Mike’s hand with his own, masturbating him with maddening slowness while Harvey continued to target his prostate with ruthless accuracy.

Mike was so close. He was ready to fly over the edge, to catapult into space, but he needed more. Just a little …

He wrapped his hand around Travis’, trying to show him what he wanted, but Travis stopped his movements altogether. Mike rocked back to meet Harvey’s hard thrusts, and then forward to fuck into the his and Travis’ joined hands. He continued for long minutes, but at some point he lost the rhythm, was no longer in sync with Harvey, was just desperately humping, chasing after blessed friction.

Using his free hand, Travis gave Mike’s ass a sharp smack, then another, and another. Mike choked off a curse as he started to come, shaking and crying out as his vision whited out.

He came back to himself with his head resting on Travis’ thigh and Harvey still pounding into him.

“That’s it,” Travis whispered in his ear, “take everything he’s giving you.”

As if Mike had a choice. The bed shuddered and shook. Harvey wrapped his arms around Mike’s middle and gave him half a dozen more strong, punishing thrusts before biting down on his shoulder and growling into his damp skin as his hips jerked and jerked and he emptied himself into the condom.

Eventually he collapsed on top of Mike who in turn fell against Travis. He shivered when Harvey finally pulled out. Travis pulled him closer, cradling him in his arms. Harvey returned from the bathroom to join them on the bed.

Kisses were shared as Mike lay passively, eyes shut, too exhausted to move. He received his share of kisses, on the lips, the neck, the shoulder. He began to get drowsy and was balancing on the edge of sleep when a cold hand touched his bottom.

“Augh,” he groaned, prying his eyes open.

“It’s just some lotion,” Travis told him. “You’ll thank Harvey for it tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Mike slurred. He lay face down, halfway on top of Travis, while Harvey stroked lotion over his bottom. It felt a little better already.

He jerked awake when one of them turned out the light. He blinked into the darkness. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was and why he was here.

“Do you want me to leave?” he asked.

In response, Travis tightened his arm around Mike’s waist, and Harvey plastered himself to his back. Mike was too warm, and he was lying in the wet spot, but none of that seemed to matter. He’d never been more content to stay right where he was.

Chapter Text

Wednesday started off as pretty much a repeat of Tuesday. Mike worked out in the building’s gym, made himself waffles for breakfast, and raced through a week’s worth of coursework for the three NYU classes he’d been signed up for to finish out his undergrad degree. He ordered pizza for lunch and spent three quality hours on Netflix during which he dozed intermittently.

His ass still hurt, inside and out, but every time he thought about what had caused those aches, he couldn’t help grinning like an idiot. Even though he knew that there was plenty about his situation that was both wrong and more than borderline shameful, his orgasm-stupid brain couldn’t seem to dredge up a single fuck to give.

“I’m one lucky sugar baby,” he mused out loud as he sucked down another one of Harvey’s beers. His year of servitude was off to an amazing start.

The alarm on his phone went off, signaling that his three hours of “reading time” was up, and it was time to start thinking about dinner. He briefly considered cold pizza but figured that wouldn’t go over too well with Harvey. He could go out and buy ingredients to cook something, but really, why? The show he was binging had another two episodes to go, his new Amex card had unlimited credit, and there was an entire city of excellent restaurants out there who would be more than happy to deliver whatever he wanted right to the front door.

He was saved from even this minimal amount of effort when, at five-thirty, Harvey texted to let him know he had to work late, and that Mike should find dinner on his own. That solved that. Cold pizza it was. He lounged around for a few more hours, getting mildly intoxicated on a variety of craft beers, but had the presence of mind to toss out the pizza box and beer bottles in case Travis showed up.

By seven-thirty, neither Harvey or Travis had yet put in an appearance, and Mike tried to convince himself he was more relieved than disappointed. After all, obedient little fuck toys needed the occasional night off too. If he’d had some advance warning, though, he could have gone out, maybe headed over to Brooklyn to check on Frank and Chelsie. As it was, he turned on a ball game, broke out the expensive scotch, and settled in to get good and drunk.

Just before eight, he was roused by the sound of the key in the lock. He was expecting Harvey and tried to conceal his disappointment when Travis strolled in instead. It was too late to hide the glass in his hand, so he gave Travis an unrepentant smile and sat up straighter.

“Just in time for happy hour,” he said, pronouncing each word with care.

Travis laughed. “Yes, it is, but not in the way you mean.”

Mike waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Why, Mr. Tanner, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

Travis snorted, only mildly amused, and loosened his tie. “The great thing about our arrangement is that I don’t have to waste any energy on seduction. All I have to do is this.” He snapped his fingers once. “And this.” He pointed at the bedroom. “And tell you to take off your clothes and get in there.”

Usually, scotch made Mike belligerent, but he hadn’t reached that stage yet. He felt relaxed and, yes, more than a little horny, so he obligingly stood up and left a trail of clothes on his way into the master bedroom.

“Run us a bath,” Travis called from the kitchen.

Since Travis couldn’t see him, Mike heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. It wasn’t the order that irritated him so much as the imperious tone. He supposed he’d have to get used to that, and the quicker the better.

Travis appeared in the bathroom doorway carrying two glasses and the half-full bottle of scotch. He stared down at Mike, where he squatted next to the tub.

“Should I add bubbles?” asked Mike.

Travis looked as if he was trying not to laugh. “I don’t think Harvey owns any.”

“Darn.”

Travis set the bottle and glasses on the floor next to the tub and began to undress. “We’re better off without them. You’ll thank me later.”

Whatever that meant.  Mike adjusted the temperature, cocked an eyebrow at Travis, and when he got a nod in return he climbed into the tub, only a little unsteady. After shedding his clothes, Travis climbed in and settled at the opposite end of the enormous tub, facing Mike, who had to wonder where this was headed.

“Why are you so far away?” he asked Travis.

Travis responded with a question of his own. “Were you on the swim team in high school?”

“What? No.” He’d never been on any teams, except for that one autumn when he’d turned out for cross-country. That had only lasted a week and a half. He’d quit when he’d been asked (ordered) to submit to a random drug test which he’d known he would fail. He told his grandmother, and anyone else who gave enough of a shit to ask, that he’d needed the time to study.

“You’ve got the build for it,” said Travis.

Mike didn’t say anything in reply.

“How long,” asked Travis, “do you think you could hold your breath?”

“Um.” Weird question. “The normal amount of time, I suppose.”

“Let’s find out.”

“I’m not sure what …”

Travis made vague motions in the direction of his own groin.

It took a few seconds for Mike’s alcohol-soaked brain to put the pieces together. “Oh. You want me to …? Underwater?”

Travis grinned at him and nodded.

Mike frowned, considering the logistics. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem very safe.”

“It’s two feet of water, Mike. If that.”

“I guess.” Mike looked doubtfully at him. “You’re not going to hold me under, or anything like that?”

Travis grabbed either side of the tub. “My hands will remain right here at all times. Scout’s honor.”

“I’m having a hard time picturing you as a boy scout.”

“Mike …” His expression was mild, but the warning was clear.

“Fine. I’ll try, but don’t expect miracles.”

Shifting around in the tub so he was on his knees, Mike took a couple of deep breaths, held the last one, circled Travis’ cock with one hand, and thrust his head under the water. After enveloping Travis with his mouth, he made the mistake of sucking strongly, which caused him to swallow a mouthful of water. He lifted his head and coughed to clear his windpipe.

“You okay?” asked Travis, sounding unconcerned.

Mike wiped water from his eyes. Travis was leaning back in the tub, a glass of scotch in one hand.

Mike coughed some more, until he managed to rasp, “What happened to not moving your hands?”

Travis shrugged, one side of his mouth quirking up into a mischievous smile, and took a sip of scotch. “I’m not wearing my watch, but I’d estimate that as about five seconds. I’ll bet you can do better than that.”’

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” The last word ended with another bout of coughing.

Figuring he’d learned something from the first attempt, Mike inhaled a deep breath, held it, and submerged his face for another try. This time, he skipped the suction and bobbed his head up and down, gliding lips and tongue along Travis’ shaft. He kept it up, counting off the seconds in his head, until his lungs began to burn, and he saw stars behind his eyes. He broke the surface again, spraying water everywhere, and sucked in deep gulps of air.

“Thirty seconds.” Travis sounded mildly impressed, and more than mildly turned on. “This time, stay under long enough to make me come, and I’ll give you a reward.”

“Yeah? What kind of reward.”

“I’ll let you know when you earn it.”

The water had sobered him up somewhat, and Mike was growing tired of this game. He was beginning to suspect that Travis got a charge out of watching him struggle. Still, he was obligated to service Travis, reward or no reward, so he might as well play along.

With another deep breath, he pushed back underneath the water. Using the buoyancy of the water to his advantage, he maneuvered Travis’ rigid cock halfway inside his mouth and sealed his lips tightly around it to give it some alone time with his tongue. Palming the base, he stroked rapidly until he felt Travis tense and begin to arch up a little. With his free hand, he reached past his balls and zeroed in on his puckered entrance. The water made it easy enough to slip inside and locate the bundle of nerves. Travis’ hips jerked up sharply. Mike heard the muffled sound of the glass hitting the floor and shattering, and then Travis had his hands in his hair, but he wasn’t shoving him down, he was yanking him up and off.

Mike lifted his head out of the water, and didn’t have enough time to jerk out of the way of Travis’ foot, which kicked out and caught him in the chest, knocking him on his ass, and slamming his back into the curved end of the tub.

Travis surged to his feet, shedding water, and glared down at Mike. He made for an impressive sight: wet, naked, angry, and more than a little intimidating.

“What the fuck,” growled Travis, voice harsh and deadly, “do you think you’re doing?”

Mike panted, momentarily at a loss for words. He realized he was cowering and forced himself to sit up straight. “You said to make you come.”

“With your mouth, you piece of shit. Your mouth. Not like that.”

Mike rubbed his chest, wondering if he’d get a bruise there. He’d certainly have one on his back, which still throbbed from the impact. “Most guys enjoy a bit of fingering,” he said defensively.

Travis climbed out of the tub and grabbed Mike under one arm, pulling him up and out. Mike slipped on the wet floor. Instead of steadying him, Travis kicked Mike’s foot out from underneath him and forced him to his knees. “Down,” he ordered, and then, “stay.” He stalked into the bedroom and came back seconds later with a condom in one hand.

Mike wasn’t thrilled about getting fucked on the bathroom floor by a Travis who still appeared thoroughly pissed off. He rose slowly to his feet and put out a hand to ward him off. “Hold on,” he said.

“No.”

“I think you need to calm down. Obviously, I made a mistake, crossed some line I didn’t know existed. That doesn’t give you the right –”

“The right? Oh, sorry, Mike. You must be thinking of your life before you signed that contract. This is your life now, and I have every right to do whatever the fuck I want with you. Right now? I want to fuck your ass on the floor. So, get on your fucking knees and assume the position.”

“There’s a bed right next door.” Which so wasn’t the point, but Mike was stalling for time, trying to marshal an argument persuasive enough to prevent what seemed inevitable.

Travis took a step toward him. “You don’t deserve the bed.” He made as if to slap Mike’s hand aside, but instead, in a lightning quick move, he grabbed his wrist, spun him around, bent his arm up at a painful angle, and shoved him roughly against the wall.

Acting on instinct more than good sense, Mike fought him. He jammed his free elbow hard into Travis’ ribs. His reward for this was to have his captive arm pushed higher, to the point that it felt as if it wouldn’t take much more pressure to do some serious damage.

“Motherfucker,” he gasped. “Get off me.”

Travis kicked Mike’s feet apart. “You don’t like the floor? Okay, then. Up against the wall works for me.”

“Stop,” Mike gasped. “Goddamn it, Travis. Stop.” As his panic built, his voice rose in volume. “You’re going to break my fucking arm. That’s not allowed. It’s right there in your precious contract. Get your goddamn hands off me!”

“What in the hell is going on here?”

Mike looked over his shoulder to see Harvey standing in the doorway. He didn’t know him well enough yet to know if he should feel relief or alarm at his sudden appearance.

Travis didn’t release him. If anything, he increased the pressure on his arm. “I’m teaching this slut a little lesson in manners.”

Mike let out a grunt of pain.

“Perhaps,” said Harvey, moving closer to them, “you could accomplish that without damaging him.”

“I wouldn’t have to if he would submit like a good little –”

“Travis. You’re clearly hurting him. Let him go and step back.” Harvey’s voice was low and soothing. He set a hand on Travis’ shoulder and Mike felt him flinch, which sent a jolt of pain through Mike’s shoulder.

For a few seconds, it felt as if Travis teetered on the edge of violence, against whom Mike wasn’t sure. He could have gone in either direction. Then he let go of Mike and spun away, breathing harshly. Mike turned slowly around and caught Harvey’s eye, who gave a subtle jerk of his head, indicating that Mike should leave the room.

Mike didn’t waste anytime hurrying out of there and to his bedroom, where he shut the door and stared at it. He began to shake from reaction. What the hell had just happened?

Low, angry voices drifted down the hall and he cracked the door open, trying to hear what they were saying, but this proved to be impossible. Their voices rose and fell, and eventually he couldn’t hear them at all, so he shut the door again. He pulled on pajama pants and a t-shirt and crawled under the covers. His body and hair were still damp, and he shivered for a few minutes as he tried to warm up.

After perhaps half an hour, he heard the front door close, and sat up in bed, heart beating fast. Had one or both of them left? If both, should he pack up his stuff and get the hell out of here? He hated to give up on his dream of Harvard, but he hadn’t signed up for assault. Had he?

Someone knocked softly on his door. “Come in,” he said warily, and breathed out slowly to hide his deep relief when it was Harvey who came through the door, and not Travis.

Harvey was still dressed in suit and tie, and he looked amazing as always. He also looked angry and tired. “I have Travis’ version of what happened tonight. I’d like to get yours.”

Mike immediately went on the defensive. “Oh, would you? And why should you take my word over your Harvard educated lawyer boyfriend?”

Harvey sat down on the edge of the bed and regarded Mike. “What do you think he said?”

Mike scowled. “Some sort of vile slander, no doubt.”

Chuckling, Harvey shook his head. “Dial back the drama, Mike. Tell me what happened. That’s all I’m asking.”

So Mike told him, leaving nothing out. When he was done, Harvey nodded thoughtfully.

“It matches up with what Travis told me. He wouldn’t say exactly what you’d done that set him off, but I figured it was something like that.”

“You figured?”

“I know him pretty well, and most of his … issues.”

Mike let out an annoyed huff. “Well, it would have been nice if someone had given me a little warning, or a list of dos and don’ts.” He stared down at the comforter. “I was only trying to please him.”

Harvey sighed. “Try not to hold it against him. He had a couple of real sadists for sponsors up in Boston. You saw his scars the other night?”

Mike nodded slowly, remembering. “What did they do to him?”

“I’ve never gotten the full story, but from the little he’s shared with me, I gather it was a rough year.”

Mike was quiet for a minute as he absorbed this information. “Any advice on how to avoid setting him off like that again?”

“This stays between you and me, but obviously, penetration of any kind is a no-fly zone for him. Other than that, the best way for you to handle Travis is to do whatever he tells you to, and if you’re unsure, ask for clarification.”

This wasn’t a terribly satisfying answer, but Mike nodded to indicate that he understood. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Can I stop you?” Harvey’s gentle smile took some of the sting out of retort.

“Why two of you? I mean, I get that it’s part of this tradition. You mentioned Travis’ two Boston sponsors, and I’m assuming you had two as well?”

Harvey nodded.

“Okay, but why?”

“Shouldn’t that be self-evident?”

“It’s not.”

Harvey sighed, as if frustrated with Mike’s obtuseness. “This year is about, among other things, forging bonds of loyalty. Those bonds shouldn’t be mistaken for anything of a more sentimental nature. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Mike nearly laughed out loud at that. As if he could mistake this for anything other than what it was. Was Harvey afraid he’d fall in love with him? What a joke. He nodded again, though. “I think so. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Good to hear.” Harvey patted his leg. “We’ll give Travis a couple of days to cool down and get his head on straight. We’ve got the dinner meeting with Fairview tomorrow night, and Travis is going out of town for a couple of days. It’ll be just you and me this weekend. Think you can handle that?”

“Sure,” said Mike, voice drenched in sarcasm. “I’ll do my best not to feel anything of a ‘sentimental nature’ during our alone time.”

“That’s all I’m asking.” Harvey’s gaze flitted away, and then back to Mike. “How are you feeling? Are you tired?”

Mike knew that Harvey was giving him an out, and if he chose, he could spend the rest of the night alone in his own bed. He only hesitated for a second before answering, “What? No. Not really.”

“Good. I’m going to take a shower. Wait for me in my bed.” He stood up, took two steps toward the door, paused, and turned back. “And lose the clothes.”

Nope, nothing sentimental about that.

 

******

 

Even though he’d claimed he wasn’t tired, Mike was half-asleep by the time Harvey came to bed. When Harvey slid underneath the covers behind him and draped an arm over his middle, Mike couldn’t help tensing. The pain in his back flared up at Harvey’s touch.

Harvey nibbled his earlobe, and Mike shivered.

“I’m sorry Travis hurt you,” Harvey whispered.

Mike remained still as Harvey placed a line of kisses down his neck to the top of his spine. He hated that it felt so good, and resented Harvey a little for not just leaving him alone for the night after what had happened earlier. But it did feel good, god damn it, and Mike’s stiff, knotted up muscles slowly loosened and relaxed as Harvey continued kissing and stroking him.

“Turn over,” Harvey murmured.

Mike rolled onto his stomach.

“Other way.”

Surprised, Mike flipped onto his back and gazed up into Harvey’s face. His expression was enigmatic. He neither smiled nor scowled, just studied Mike as if he was a riddle to be solved. It was unnerving. Mike didn’t particularly want to be solved in that moment. “What?” he asked.

Instead of answering, Harvey pressed his body to Mike’s and just held him, face tucked against his neck, breathing in his scent. For some reason, this disturbed Mike more than if Harvey had simply left him on his belly, shoved in, and fucked him without the foreplay.

Harvey lifted his head and kissed Mike for long seconds, filling his mouth with his tongue, nipping his lower lip, cupping his bottom with both hands to grind their groins tightly together. Finally, he let Mike breathe again so he could reach across him for lube and a condom. He prepared Mike with care and patience, taking far more time than was necessary, driving him slowly out of his mind as he stimulated his prostate with an almost ruthless focus.

Mike rocked his hips to meet the thrust of Harvey’s fingers. He had a brief flash of memory, of trying a milder version of the same thing on Travis, and being met with his blind rage. As he lost the rhythm, Harvey paused his movements and studied his face. He withdrew his fingers and wiped them on a tissue, which he tossed into the wastebasket. Without a word, he handed Mike the condom.

This was going to be a thing, Mike realized, being required to put the condom on Harvey. Not that he minded. Being allowed to touch Harvey’s gorgeous cock was no hardship. He ripped open the wrapper and rolled the condom on, lingering a little and letting his fingers trail up and down his length. Harvey handed him the lube. Mike squirted a generous amount on his palm before wrapping it around Harvey and pumping slowly up and down, watching Harvey’s eyes darken as he knelt above him, knees straddling Mike’s thighs.

After a while, Harvey grabbed Mike’s wrist, halting his movements. “That’s enough,” he grated. “You’re very good at that, but I intend to come inside you.”

The brief words of praise warmed Mike all the way through. What was that about?

Harvey arranged Mike’s legs so that they draped over his thighs, grabbed his ass to pull him closer, and pressed the head of his cock to Mike’s entrance. Mike moaned as Harvey slowly filled him. He loved this, loved bottoming. He didn’t mind switching up occasionally, if that’s what his partner wanted, but this was by far his preferred role. He took in quick gulps of air as he adjusted to Harvey’s size, and groaned with satisfaction as Harvey pushed all the way in.

“You like that?” whispered Harvey, sounding smug.

“Yeah,” Mike breathed, and thrust up.

“Put you legs over my shoulders.”

What a joy to be young and flexible, Mike thought, easily obeying the order. Harvey grasped the back of his thighs and leaned in, bending him nearly in half. He began to move, setting a strong, steady rhythm. Mike could do little besides take what Harvey gave him. He reached up and took hold of the headboard, just hanging on for the ride.

Harvey’s expression was intense and focused as he pounded into Mike. He didn’t speak, barely made a sound other than his increasingly labored breathing. The bed bounced and Mike’s legs flopped above him. He felt like a rag doll, a thing made for Harvey’s usage, for Harvey’s pleasure, and he should have minded, but he didn’t. He would have happily let Harvey fuck him all night, until he grew too sore to bear it. His own cock was fully erect and smacking him in the stomach with each bounce of the mattress. He kept his hands where they were, clamped to the headboard, and let his arousal build and build, until he knew just the slightest touch would send him flying over the edge.

Harvey sped up, indicating that he was probably close. Mike unpeeled one hand from the headboard and wrapped it around his own cock, stroking himself to rapid completion. He gave a raw, wordless shout, and then another and another as he spilled over his fist. Harvey froze inside him, and Mike could feel his hot pulses through the thin latex of the condom. Harvey shook and shook, growling as he emptied himself, biting down on Mike’s shoulder. Slowly, both their shudders subsided.

Harvey lifted off him, allowing Mike to unbend, straighten his legs and drop them to the mattress. Still connected, Harvey gazed down at him, some undecipherable emotion in his dark eyes. A faint sheen of perspiration covered his forehead and chest. He opened his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but closed it again.

Mike winced as Harvey pulled out of him. A wave of exhaustion hit him and he exhaled slowly, barely aware of Harvey leaving the room and returning to clean him up. By the time Harvey crawled into bed beside him, Mike had flopped onto his stomach and was nearly asleep. Just before Harvey pulled the covers over both of them, Mike felt him freeze beside him, and then trail his fingertips over his back.

“Did Travis do this do you?”

“Huh?” Mike lifted his head and tried to look over his shoulder at his back to see what Harvey was talking about.

“You’ve got a bruise coming in. Looks like it’s going to be a monster.”

With a noncommittal grunt, Mike relaxed back into the mattress.

“Mike, you have to tell me. Was it Travis?”

“Partly. Mostly it was your tub.”

Harvey cursed under his breath. Mike was still trying to work out whether it was at him or at Travis as he drifted to sleep.

Chapter Text

Mike moved through his schedule on Thursday in a state of low-level panic. Tonight, everything would get real. More real. He was scheduled for dinner with Harvey and his client, Royce Fairview, following which Mike would be served up for dessert. He hated the idea. Mostly hated it, expect for the parts that intrigued him. Something about being casually handed over to a stranger was tapping into kinks he’d never known he possessed. He suspected it was because Harvey was doing the handing over, but shied away from digging too deeply into that theory.

Harvey’s instructions that morning had been clear. He should wait until late afternoon to shower and shave, put on his nicest suit (which also happened to be his only suit), and wait outside the building for Ray to pick him up at six-thirty. Dinner was at seven and dessert was … well, evidently however long it took Fairview to knock back his obligatory three martinis.

He took advantage of his free time after lunch to look up Royce Fairview online, and was somewhat reassured to see that he was a pleasant enough looking middle-aged man with a slight build, floppy brown hair and mild hazel eyes. He tried to convince himself that this would all be fine, that at least he’d have the opportunity to get to know the man a little over dinner. Still, by the time he climbed into the front seat of the town car next to Ray, his stomach was in knots and he wasn’t sure he’d even be able to eat his dinner.

When he walked into the restaurant, Harvey and Fairview were already seated, enjoying what Mike assumed was their first drink. Harvey spared him a brief, hostile glance, which Mike deduced had something to do with his cheap suit. Fairview, on the other hand, stood quickly, nearly knocking over his martini glass, and shook Mike’s hand enthusiastically while his gaze raked him up and down and back up again. He looked much the same as he had in his photos, except that his hair was shorter and more expertly styled. It made him appear older, more sophisticated, less … mild.

Mike took his seat, feeling more than a little awkward. What was the etiquette regarding small talk with the complete stranger who, in a little more than an hour, was going to lay claim to your ass? He was saved from trying to come up with an answer to that when the waiter materialized at his side to take his drink order. By the time he’d decided on a vodka tonic, and chose which brand of vodka (the priciest they had, because why the hell not?), Harvey and Fairview were deep in discussion about the upcoming IPO, and didn’t bother to try to include Mike.

Which was fine. It was easier to just suck down V&T’s and let the conversation flow past him. Food was ordered, along with a bottle of wine for the table. Mike picked at his baked chicken, pasting on a wide, toothy smile whenever Fairview turned his gaze on him. Harvey had warned him not to drink too much, so after two drinks and one glass of wine, he switched to water. He wasn’t sure how serious Harvey had been about getting three martinis into Fairview, but he’d only witnessed him drinking two. Maybe the two glasses of wine also counted.

After the plates were cleared away, Harvey pulled out a thin sheaf of paper, which Mike assumed was the retainer agreement. He set it on the table in front of Fairview and handed him a pen. As he took the pen, Fairview shot a quick glance at Mike, and then signed with a flourish. Harvey added his signature, and the document went back into his inside pocket. They shook hands, and even though Mike knew this was about their business relationship, he couldn’t help feeling as if they had just finalized his bill of sale. Or, more accurately, his rental agreement.

He looked to Harvey for guidance as to what came next, but he avoided Mike’s gaze, and slid a key card across the table to Fairview.

“We’re in agreement?” asked Fairview, pocketing the key card.

Harvey didn’t look happy, but he nodded. “I’ll send him up in five minutes.”

Fairview laid a hand possessively on Mike’s shoulder, and it took every ounce of willpower not to shake it off. He sat completely still until Fairview had exited the restaurant and headed toward the elevators.

“You’ll send him up?” Mike whispered harshly. “Are you actually leaving me alone with him? What happened to you being there?”

Harvey pressed his lips together and signaled the waiter for their bill. “I’m not leaving. I’ll be waiting for you in the bar.”

“The bar? How is that going to help if things get, you know, weird or whatever?”

“Trust me. You’ll be fine. I know Royce.”

“Like you know Travis?”

“Mike …”

“Yeah, yeah. ‘Something, something contract’. I get it.” He scowled across the table at Harvey.

Harvey’s stern expression softened almost imperceptibly. “Just get through the evening. If it helps, your client service obligations don’t occur all that often. Maybe once a month, if that.”

“That’s just your clients. What about Travis’?”

“The same.”

Mike did the math on that in his head. It wasn’t complicated. The possibility existed that he’d have to sleep with a couple of dozen strangers in the next year. It wasn’t exactly high-volume sex work, but he had to wonder if Harvard was really worth it. If the sick feeling in his stomach was anything to go by, the answer was … perhaps not.

It was Harvard, though. Motherfucking Harvard Law. His dream. His future.

He shoved his chair back and stood. “What’s the room number?”

Harvey gave it to him.

“Great,” said Mike with a cynical smile. “I’ll try not to keep you waiting too long.”

 

******

 

Fairview answered the door wearing only a white terrycloth robe and carrying a martini glass in one hand.

And there’s martini number three, Mike thought. Let the games begin.

“Can I fix you a drink?” asked Fairview.

According to Harvey, Mike was cut off for the rest of the evening. His nerves were wound tight enough to snap, though, and he wasn’t going to make it through the next hour without something to calm him down. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll take a vodka tonic. Might as well make it a double.”

Fairview’s suite boasted a full bar, and he set about mixing the drink while Mike wandered around the room, admiring the furnishings and the view of Central Park. “This is nice,” he said, honestly impressed. “Did Harvey spring for this?”

He turned around to find Fairview right behind him with his drink.

“This. And other things.” He handed Mike the glass and then placed a hand on his bicep and ran it slowly down his arm. “That’s what I like about Harvey. He looks after his clients.” He sipped his martini. “I can guess what this suite cost. How about you? How much did you cost?”

“Me?” Mike gulped down half his drink, took a step back, and continued to prowl around the room, feigning interest in every piece of furniture he passed.

 “Yes, you. Did you cost more or less than the suite? I’m guessing more. Are you worth it?”

Mike almost protested that he wasn’t for sale, but remembered Harvard, and his new laptop, and phone and Amex card. He was absolutely for sale, and despite all the vodka, his brain still possessed the capacity to do the math and figure the approximate cost of tuition plus everything he was being “given,” divided by the number of encounters like this one he’d have over the next year, which came to a great deal more than the suite likely cost. He gave Fairview a weak smile, not bothering to answer the question.

Fairview let it go. He tossed back his martini and advanced on Mike. “How does this usually work?” he asked.

It was an effort, but Mike kept the smile on his face. “Ah, I think we just … do the deed.”

Fairview frowned, as if expecting him to say something more informative.

Mike suppressed a sigh. Okay, Ross, think like a prostitute. “I suppose, uh, tell me what you want?”

This seemed to be exactly what Fairview had been waiting for. He smiled slyly and slipped a hand into the pocket of his robe. “Well, since you asked.” He pulled out a leather dog collar, two inches wide and covered with metal studs.

“Um.” Mike froze as his mind tried to process what was evidently being asked of him. He supposed it made a certain amount of sense, in a farcical way. Harvey had told him Fairview owned a chain of pet stores.

Ergo …?

He wanted to laugh, but didn’t dare. What he wanted even more was to get this over and with and get the hell out of here. “Okay, I suppose I could –”

From the robe’s other pocket, Fairview produced two other items which Mike didn’t recognize at first. Then Fairview held them up to show Mike a pair of furry ears and a costume dog’s nose meant to fit over his own.

Ruh roh.

“It would mean the world to mean if you’d wear these. It’s completely up to you, although I’m sure you want Harvey to get a good report from me. And it’s totally up to you whether you bark, or growl, or, I don’t know, even howl a bit when I’m in you, but if you could at least give it a try, I would absolutely love that.”

Fuck. My. Life.

Mike’s smile curdled a little – more than a little – but he maintained it. He slipped off his suit coat and loosened his tie.

 

******

 

Harvey was just where he’d said he’d be: waiting in the hotel bar with a drink in front of him. When Mike spotted him at a table by himself, he limped over to join him, grabbing Harvey’s drink and downing the whole thing in one long swallow.

Harvey raised his eyebrows.

Mike knew he probably looked a mess. He hadn’t bothered to clean up or check himself in the mirror. He’d just thrown on his clothes, shoved his tie and underwear in his pocket, and fled. “Don’t,” warned Mike, “say a goddamn thing. Don’t ask questions. Don’t speak to me. Don’t even fucking look at me right now. Just get me the hell out of here.”

“What are you – ”

Mike pointed a finger at him. “I said, don’t.”

“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

“Are you, like, genetically incapable of doing as you’re asked?”

“It’s more environmental than – ”

Growling in frustration, Mike gave up arguing and headed for the exit. He was pacing agitatedly up and down the sidewalk when Harvey hurried out to join him.

“Why are you limping?” Harvey asked. He handed his ticket to the valet.

Mike just shook his head, mouth pressed together.

The headlights of a passing cab illuminated them. Mike heard Harvey’s quick inhale. He guessed what Harvey had seen, and was proven correct when Harvey stepped closer, grabbed his shoulder in a viselike grip, and pulled his shirt collar away from his throat.

“What are these marks? Mike? Why is your neck rubbed raw and starting to bruise?”

Mike wasn’t going to answer him, had vowed to himself that nothing that happened in that suite would ever become known, not from his lips. Harvey wasn’t stupid, though. He was acutely observant and was jumping to conclusions. Unfortunately – or fortunately? – they were the wrong conclusions.

They were given a reprieve from what Mike predicted would be an epic blowup, when Harvey’s Audi pulled up at the curb. Harvey tipped the valet and they both climbed inside the car.

Mike chanced one look at Harvey as they pulled into traffic. His jaw was clenched tight, working back and forth. Mike wouldn’t have wanted to be a molar in his mouth right then.

“It wasn’t –” Mike started to say, at the same time Harvey grated out, “He made you wear his collar? And you let him?”

It was the second point that seemed to bother Harvey more.

“Don’t blow a gasket. It wasn’t that kind of collar.”

“What do you mean? It was a collar. He never should have –”

“It was a dog collar.”

“And?”

“And the guy owns a chain of pet stores.”

A couple of beats of silence. “And?” Harvey repeated.

Mike shook his head, staring out the passenger-side window. “And nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”

A free parking spot miraculously appeared at the curb on their right. The Audi squealed to a stop. Harvey parallel parked with three vicious, economical jerks of the steering wheel and accompanying sharp stabs of brake and accelerator. The car rocked once and was still. He turned off the ignition.

“Tell me,” Harvey ground out. “Tell me everything.”

Mike steepled his hands and rested his forehead on them. It was clear that Harvey was not going to let this go, but Mike’s earlier mortification had been replaced with burning anger, which made it easier to get the story out.

“Fine. You want to know what happened? Okay. First, as if the whole situation wasn’t already awkward as fuck, he asked what my going rate was. I evaded that one, of course, since it’s so much more complicated than he knows. Then he told me to wear the collar. I wore the collar. I wore the dog ears. I wore the dog nose. And when he leashed me, I fucking walked at heel on my hands and knees until the Viagra finally kicked in and he fucked me over the back of the couch, which kind of spoiled the whole canine aesthetic, but what do I know about what goes on in the backrooms of Fairview Pet Emporium?”

To Harvey’s credit, he maintained a straight face through the whole retelling. “I … see. That doesn’t explain why you’re limping.”

Mike stared at him incredulously. “That’s what concerns you most about tonight? Not that your newest client is a dog fucker?”

Harvey’s façade cracked slightly at that, but he managed to choke off his surprised laugh. “It’s called a fetish, Mike, and is not, I believe, all that uncommon. No reason to get so worked up about it.” He wrestled his solemn expression back into place, adding a scowl for good measure. “And I’ll thank you not to kink shame my client.”

“You’ll thank me … Okay. Okay.” Mike crossed his arms over his chest, fuming. “Can we go home now?”

Harvey didn’t reply and didn’t make a move to start the car.

“Well?” Mike’s voice cracked.

“Why were you limping?”

It seemed a real possibility that they would sit here forever unless Mike answered the question. He breathed in and slowly breathed out, struggling to bring his temper under control. “When he was plastered against my back, balls deep inside of me, I reached for myself, to, you know …”

“To bring yourself off.”

“Right. Well, apparently that was not considered appropriate dog behavior, so he …”

Harvey turned in his seat, angling his body toward Mike. His eyes were inky pools of concern. “What did he do?”

Mike inhaled again. A tiny bubble of laughter lodged in his chest as all at once the absurdity of the whole encounter crystallized in his mind, and his umbrage lessened. “He –” His mouth twitched. “He smacked my nose with a rolled-up newspaper.”

“No,” Harvey breathed.

“Yes. It took me by surprise, I can tell you. My head jerked back and hit him in the nose, causing his knee to buckle forward into mine, sending us both to the floor. Hard. I’m limping, but I think he may have sprained his penis.”

Harvey stared at him, visibly fighting not to laugh. Being Harvey, he won that fight, but only with what seemed a heroic effort. “That is …” He shook his head. “Nah. I’ve got nothing.” He started the car, pulled away from the curb, and drove home without another word.

He didn’t make any demands on Mike that night, and they slept in separate beds, which was fortunate because if Harvey had so much as touched him again that night, Mike might have punched him right on his perfect jaw.

 

******

 

Harvey was still in the apartment when Mike got up Friday morning. By unspoken, mutual consent, neither mentioned Royce Fairview. Before he left, Harvey gave Mike a five-minute lecture on the importance of dressing well, a not so subtle reference to Mike’s ninety-nine dollar suit (which he’d bought for fifty-percent off because the trouser legs weren’t the same length).

After Mike’s workout, Ray picked him up to take him to Harvey’s tailor, and he was measured for several suits. Harvey had already called with instructions on fabric and style, so all Mike had to do was stand still, move his arms up and down, and wonder where the hell he was going to be wearing these absurdly expensive masterpieces. It hardly seemed worth it for his twice-monthly client service obligations. Presumably, he’d be removing his clothes as soon as he was alone with the client.

At Mike’s request, Ray stopped at a grocery store on the way home, so that Mike could pick up supplies for dinner and the coming weekend. While Ray was circling the block, Mike slipped next door to the deli and had them whip up a couple of sandwiches for lunch, one of which he handed over to a surprised Ray.

He spent the afternoon watching television again and drinking most of a six-pack of beer. Just in case there remained even the barest sliver of free space in his brain which would allow it to replay the events of last night, he got out his phone and plugged up that figurative hole with his sudoku app.

Even though he didn’t dwell on the details, (rough leather scraping his neck as Fairview tugged on the leash; tongue adhering to the roof of his mouth after Fairview tucked a foul-tasting dog biscuit between his lips), he’d been mulling over his situation, stacking up how much he’d hated the two hours he’d spent with Fairview against the tantalizing lure of a law degree from Harvard. He could deal with Harvey, and was even beginning to look forward to the time spent in his bed. He could maybe deal with Travis if he didn’t flip out on him again. The rest of it? The other men he hadn’t even met yet? He just didn’t know.

Between Thursday and Friday night, when Harvey walked through the door, he came close more than once to just packing his bags and leaving. If he’d had anywhere to go, he might have done it. It made more sense now why he’d been forced to leave both his job and his apartment behind. He was effectively trapped, with no easy way back to his previous life.

So, he stayed. And after he’d served Harvey dinner and cleaned up afterwards, he followed Harvey into the bedroom, stood passively while he peeled him his clothes from him, and allowed his sugar daddy, who was actually more of a pimp as it turned out, to use him however he chose.

Chapter Text

When he woke up on Saturday, Mike was determined to put Thursday night behind him and move on. He fixed breakfast, which they ate together, Harvey reading his newspaper, and Mike playing with his phone. Harvey left for a few hours to do some work at the office, and Mike sampled a couple of new shows on Netflix before settling on a documentary about some cult from the seventies which alternated between infuriating, weirdly sexy, and achingly sad.

He was supposed to be doing coursework, so when Harvey returned around eleven, he had to do a bit of verbal tap dancing to explain his lapse. Judging that partial honesty would be better than none at all, he told Harvey how he’d gotten caught up during the week, and would get back at it on Monday. The truth was, he’d already completed a month’s worth of work, but knew from experience the wisdom of not advertising all your strengths unless it became necessary.

Harvey seemed to accept the explanation. He asked Mike if he’d like to drive to the East Village for lunch, and Mike eagerly agreed. He wasn’t exactly confined to the apartment, but he’d seen enough of those four walls in the past week that any excursion, even with Harvey (especially with Harvey), sounded like a treat.

They ended up at a Vietnamese place that served a tasty pho. They slurped away in silence for a few minutes, and then Harvey asked, “How’s the reading going?”

Mike froze mid-slurp. Using his chopsticks, he tucked four inches of noodles into his mouth and swallowed. “It’s going good. Really good. I’m learning lots.”

“Any questions? Confused about anything?” Harvey’s tone seemed almost too casual, but Mike stupidly ignored the tiny red flag that popped up in his mind.

“Nope.”

There was no response from Harvey, who resumed eating, working his way steadily to the bottom of his bowl. Mike’s appetite had diminished, but he pretended to eat with just as much gusto as before. He’d had plenty of experience lying, and while it didn’t come naturally to him, he’d long ago managed to squelch his guilt reflex. For some reason, he felt bad about lying to Harvey. Which made no sense.

Perhaps, despite his earlier resolve, he was still harboring resentment over the Royce Fairfield fiasco, and believed that, at least for a day or two, he possessed the moral high ground (if anything about his life these days could be called moral), which made the small lie permissible.

Nothing more was said about Mike’s reading, and he breathed a silent sigh of relief. They drove home in what felt to Mike like a companionable silence.

 

******

 

Saturday night, Mike stripped eagerly and planted himself in Harvey’s bed without being asked. Harvey didn’t remark on this new level of compliance, but it must have fueled his lust because his technique that night was more energetic than usual, even bordering on rough. Mike didn’t mind. He welcomed the feel of Harvey’s cock pounding ruthlessly into him, his fingers cruelly squeezing Mike’s nipples until he screamed, and his teeth marking and bruising his neck and shoulder.

His orgasm ripped through him like an explosion, Harvey’s followed soon after, and then they both dropped quickly into sleep. Mike might have preferred some post-sex cuddling, but Harvey rolled away from him as soon as they were done, putting nearly a foot between them, and maintained his distance for the rest of the night.

Sunday was another quiet day. According to Mike’s schedule, this was a free day for him, and he spent it on the couch watching football, followed by a couple of crime series on Netflix. Harvey was on his computer most of the day. He raised an eyebrow when Mike ordered pizza for dinner again but didn’t complain out loud.

A couple hours after dinner, Travis showed up. Mike hadn’t expected to see him again until tomorrow at the earliest. Had Harvey known he’d be here tonight?

The answer to that question was evidently yes. Harvey drew Travis into the kitchen where they conducted a quiet, intense conversation which Mike couldn’t hear. There was a lot of frowning and nodding. He hoped Harvey was issuing a warning to Travis to watch himself with Mike. For his part, Mike promised himself he’d be careful where Travis was concerned, so as not to cause a repeat of what happened a few days ago.

When Harvey and Travis returned to the living room, they beckoned at Mike to follow them into the bedroom. The by now familiar low simmer of excitement began, as he imagined what they might have planned for him tonight.

“Undress,” Harvey ordered, even though Mike already had his shirt off and his jeans halfway down his thighs.

“Lie flat in the middle of the bed,” added Travis, “face down.”

Mike may have wriggled a little in anticipation, grinding into the mattress, as Harvey and Travis worked together to tie his legs and ankles to the head and foot of the bed. They stuffed two pillows under his hips to elevate his ass. Mike licked his lips. Would it be the crop again, or something new? As long as he got fucked afterwards, by one or both of them, he’d count this night in the plus column.

When they had him positioned and restrained to their satisfaction, Harvey let the proverbial hammer drop. “Welcome to your weekly evaluation.”

“My what?”

“Normally you and I would discuss your progress Monday morning over breakfast, but considering the special circumstances, I wanted Travis here to handle your discipline.”

Mike swallowed hard and looked over his shoulder at them, eyes wide with disbelief. “Discipline? What did I do wrong? Is this about what happened with Travis? I thought that was settled. I didn’t know –”

“Mike,” said Travis, his voice like a whip, “shut up and listen.”

It was an effort, but Mike closed his mouth.

Now it was Harvey’s turn to speak again.  “I want to talk about your reading assignments.”

A premonition of dread crept up Mike’s spine. This would have been the time to come clean, but unwisely, he waited to see what Harvey had to say.

“You told me yesterday that you’d been making progress on your reading, and that you didn’t have any questions about the material.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said.

Catching Travis’ eye, Harvey shook his head sadly. “Travis and I don’t agree on a number of things, but one thing we do feel the same way about is liars.”

“Liars,” Mike repeated flatly.

“Yes. Liars. We don’t care for them.”

“We hate them,” said Travis.

Harvey frowned thoughtfully. “I think it would be more accurate to say that we hate they lies they tell. And it makes us angry, because it demonstrates a lack of trust and, worse, a lack of loyalty.”

Mike was beginning to get an inkling where this was headed. His stomach sank and he tugged reflexively at his bonds.

Harvey stood with his arms crossed over his chest. “You know I purchased your textbooks online, right?”

Mike glanced over his shoulder at the two of them. “Sure. Makes sense.”

“They get downloaded to your e-reader, but they also remain in my online library.”

“Cool.” Cool, cool, cool. (Shit, shit, shit.)

“Did you know that I can go online, sync my library to the e-reader, and it shows me, for each book, the percentage of what you’ve read so far?”

“I – ” Of course he’d known that, having had an e-reader of his own for several years. He wanted to groan as it dawned on him how neatly he’d been caught, but stifled the sound and let out a soft sigh instead. He chanced another look at Harvey and saw that he had his molar-grinding face on again.

“All zeros, Mike.”

Fuck.

“Harvey –”

“Don’t.”

“It’s not what you think.” Mike wanted to yell in frustration. It seemed a shame to waste perfectly good bondage on a lecture, not when this could all be so easily resolved.

“What,” said Harvey, voice low and deadly, “did we just tell you about liars?”

“You don’t like them. I totally get that. But –”

“Travis. Show Mike what’s in store for him.”

Travis, who had been standing out of Mike’s line of sight, moved next to Harvey. In his hand was a long, thin piece of wood which, if forced to guess, Mike would have said was a cane. Travis smiled at him. “I can guarantee you’re not going to like this. You’ll remember the lesson, though.”

“Whoa. Hold on. Just listen to me for a second.”

“Would you like me to gag you before I beat your ass?”

“Beat my ass? You can’t do that. We’re supposed to negotiate shit like this.”

“Incorrect.”

Oh, right. Neither Harvey nor Travis played by any rules other than their own.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mike saw Harvey walk to the window to stare down at the city, as if he didn’t want anything more to do with this.

“I read the books,” Mike practically yelled at them. “I read all of them.”

“Compounding your lie is not helping your case,” said Travis.

“I can prove it.”

Harvey shook his head, as if disappointed with Mike. “Gag him,” he told Travis.

“Goddamn it.” Mike began to struggle in earnest. “Red!” he shouted. Before he could repeat the word, Travis shoved a thick piece of cloth between his teeth and tied it tightly around his head with quick, economical movements. Then he lifted the cane, took a couple of practice swings and moved to the foot of the bed.

Mike tensed in anticipation, which probably made the first strike hurt even worse than it would have. The cane struck the meat of his ass, stopping the breath in his throat. The initial hit was bad enough, but a second later a hot wave of pain lanced through him. He yelled into the gag, producing only a weak, muffled sound.

A second strike landed, and a third. Mike’s heart trip-hammered inside his chest and he bit down hard on the gag. He let out a helpless groan as the hits continued. His ass was on fire. The cane struck his sensitive inner thigh and he screamed, and then screamed again as it found his ribs.

Rage swelled at the unfairness of it all. The pain was nearly unbearable. Then, making everything a hundred times worse, Mike began to cry. He’d always hated breaking down in front of other people, but he couldn’t stop himself. Self-pity merged with the rage, and he cried harder. In the end, perhaps it was the tears that saved him. Harvey spoke lowly to Travis before going over to him to stop his arm.

Mike could hear Travis behind him, breathing harshly. The cane clattered to the ground somewhere in the vicinity of the closet. One of them exited the room and then the other followed, leaving Mike alone. He shook and shuddered with reaction. Even that small movement set off new waves of pain through his ass.

After a time, his tears slowed, turning into sniffles, and finally stopped. The gag was unpleasantly damp inside his mouth, soaked with his drool and tears. He tugged at the ropes that bound him to the bed, but only succeeded in tightening the knots at his wrists and ankles.

He wasn’t sure how long he was alone in the room, but it was enough that he began to worry that they weren’t going to let him go anytime soon. Would they leave him here all night? Anger cycled into worry, which cycled into mild panic, and back to anger.

Eventually, Mike heard one set of footsteps return. Without a word, Harvey sat on the bed to apply a soothing lotion to Mike’s bottom. Even this touch, however well-intentioned, caused Mike to flinch. The pain from the caning went too deep for the lotion to reach. He shook his head, trying to communicate to Harvey that he didn’t want to be touched.

Harvey sighed and set the lotion aside. After a minute he spoke in a low, weary voice. “Don’t lie to us again. If you take anything useful from this lesson, let it be that.” He sighed again, more deeply. “You couldn’t even make it through one week without fucking up, could you? Is this the best we can expect from you? It seems a rather shitty return for the investment we’re making in you.” He untied the gag and removed it from Mike’s mouth. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself? Consider your words carefully. No more lies.”

Mike’s first instinct was to tell him to go fuck himself. Instead, he called up in his head the list of books on his reading list, mentally opened the first book to chapter one, and began, in a voice that shook, to recite the exact words written there, include every bit of punctuation. Continuing in a low monotone, he made it all the way to page two before Harvey stopped him.

“What the hell is that?”

“You know what it is,” Mike bit out. “Book one on the reading list. If you don’t believe me, look for yourself.” He doggedly resumed his recitation.

After a moment, Harvey left the room and returned with Mike’s e-reader. He followed along for perhaps a minute as Mike spoke.

“That’s enough.” He glared at Mike. “How the fuck did you do that?”

“Like I tried to tell you, I read the book already, like, two years ago. I’ve read all those books.”

“But how –”

“I remember everything I’ve read. It’s just the way my brain works. If we had the time, I could recite the words from every book on that list, start to finish.” No response. “I’m not expecting an apology, since I doubt that’s something you’re capable of, but could you at least get these fucking ropes off me?”

It took Harvey longer than it should have to produce the pair of shears he kept in the nightstand drawer and cut Mike loose.

Mike sat up, decided sitting was a bad idea, and got to his feet, grimacing and rubbing circulation back into his wrists.

Harvey tapped the screen of the e-reader a few times. “Introduction to Torts,” he said, “chapter five.”

Mike bit back a growl and began reciting the specified text, not stopping until Harvey raised a hand to indicate he’d heard enough.

“Okay,” Harvey conceded with apparent reluctance, “you read the books. I’ll grant you that. But why the hell didn’t you say something sooner?”

“I tried. You weren’t listening. And then Travis shoved that gag in my mouth.”

“No, I meant before today. As soon as you saw the list and realized you’d read everything on it, why didn’t you admit it?” His eyes narrowed. “No, let me guess. You figured you’d take your three hours of free time each day and tell yourself you’d gotten one over on us. Is that it?”

Mike shook his head tiredly, not so much to refute Harvey, but to indicate that he was done. Done explaining himself. Done being abused by two pompous assholes. Done breathing the same oxygen as Harvey Specter. Moving like he had just aged fifty years, he limped and shuffled down the hall to his own bedroom. By the time he got there, and shut the door with a satisfying slam, fresh tears leaked from his eyes. Impatiently, he wiped them away with his knuckles. He considered the closed door for a moment before opening it a crack, unsurprised to discover that Harvey had followed him.

“I know there’s no lock on this door,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster – which wasn’t a lot – “but consider it locked just the same. If you try to touch me …”

“I won’t.” Harvey’s gaze indicated that he wanted to say more. He didn’t, though, just hesitated for long seconds before turning to leave, looking every bit as exhausted and pained as Mike felt, which was so not fair.

“Fuck,” Mike muttered. He shut the door more quietly this time, made it to the bed, and collapsed face down on top of the covers.

He wondered how long it would take for the throbbing in his ass to subside. If it still hurt this bad in the morning, he decided, he’d take a trip to Brooklyn and have Frank hit up his dealer for some pain meds. While he was there, he could discreetly inquire whether either of his friends knew someone with a spare room they were looking to rent. Because, at that moment, he was so done with Harvey and Travis and yes, even Harvard Fucking Law.

 

******

 

Mike’s grandmother had told Mike more times than he could remember, at some of the lower points in his life, that things would look better in the morning. It hadn’t been true before, and it did not prove to be the case for Mike when Monday morning arrived.

His own anguished groans woke him up. He was so stiff and sore he could barely make it out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom. As he was limping back to his room, with the intention of collapsing and attempting to sleep for a few more hours, he heard his name spoken quietly behind him.

“Mike,” said Harvey.

Mike ignored him and kept walking (limping). Nothing could have persuaded him to respond to Harvey, much less turn to look at him.

“I’ve drawn you a bath.”

Except for that.

Mike paused and looked over his shoulder. “I’m listening,” he said.

“It’s nice and hot, with Epsom salts and analgesic powder added to make you feel better. I’ve turned the jets on. And …” He held up a bottle of ibuprofen and shook it invitingly. “After you take some of these and soak in the tub for a while, I’ll put some more lotion on you. I guarantee you’ll feel one thousand times better than you do right now.”

Mike wanted to stay mad at him. He did stay mad at him. Mostly. But he wasn’t about to turn down the bath and the pain relievers if there was any chance they’d lessen his current agony. He gave Harvey a curt nod and followed him to the master bath. Since he hadn’t bothered to dress last night after the caning, it was just a matter of allowing Harvey to help him into the tub. He gasped as his bottom sank into the water and gave Harvey an accusing glare.

“Just give it a minute,” said Harvey.

Mike gave it a minute. As advertised, the heat, the gentle pulsation of the jets, and whatever Harvey had added to the water, all slowly worked their magic. He unclenched his jaw and relaxed his shoulders.

“Better?”

Mike gave a reluctant nod.

Harvey handed him two ibuprofen capsules. Mike swallowed them and washed them down with the water Harvey passed him.

“Tea might be better for you,” said Harvey, “but if you prefer coffee …”

Was this considerate man really the same Harvey who had stood by while Travis savagely beat his ass? The same man who had dispassionately ordered him gagged so he couldn’t get his side of the story out until after the damage had been done? Mike wondered now, if he had been able to put forth his explanation, would he have received the punishment anyway? Maybe Travis would have caned him, but as a prelude to sex, rather than as discipline? Would it have felt any different? Might he have enjoyed it in a different context?

“Mike?”

Realizing he’d gotten lost inside his head, he forced himself to focus. “Um. Coffee, I guess. Lots of cream and sugar.”

Harvey left, and returned a few minutes later with a large mug of coffee fixed just the way Mike liked it. He set it on the rim of the tub. Instead of leaving him alone to bathe in peace, as Mike had hoped, he stayed, leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets. He was already dressed for work, except for his suit coat. Mike was annoyed by how handsome he looked, and how his mind went straight to the last couple of nights spent in his bed. Even at his roughest, his touch had thrilled Mike. It would have made things much less complicated if that hadn’t been the case.

“I called Travis after you went to bed,” said Harvey.

And just like that, Mike was right back to resentment. “Oh? Did you congratulate one another on successfully quashing my outbreak of independent thought and behavior?”

One side of Harvey’s mouth tucked in. Mike had thought he’d gotten pretty good at reading him, but now he couldn’t tell for sure if that was a look of disapproval or stifled amusement.

“Are you expecting an apology?” Harvey asked.

“From you?” Mike laughed bitterly. “No.”

“Good instincts.” Harvey moved closer to the tub and squatted next to it, bracing one hand on the edge, and trailing the other through the water.

Mike was tempted to splash him.

“Maybe,” Harvey continued, “we could agree on a reset.”

Mike said nothing.

Harvey’s fingers made contact with Mike’s knee, seemingly by accident. “If you promise to be completely honest with us going forward, both Travis and I will agree to hear you out to avoid any future misunderstanding.”

Mike pulled his legs in and wrapped his arms around his knees. Harvey withdrew his hand.

“A reset implies I’m sticking around.”

Frowning, Harvey rose to his feet and took a step back, arms folded across his chest. “You’re calling it off?”

Was he? When he’d woken up this morning, Mike’s mind had been made up. Now, mellowed by the warm water and pain relievers, he began to have second thoughts. Most of the week had been okay, and some of it had been amazingly good. The rest of it, though, had been truly awful.

“Can I ask you something?” said Harvey.

Mike grunted. “Ask away.”

“Why would you hide that from us, that incredible memory of yours?”

“Because … it’s a strategic advantage. It’s sort of like hiding the fact that you know a foreign language. The Portuguese guy doesn’t know you speak Portuguese, and so he says all the things he doesn’t want you to know, and reveals how he really feels about you.”

“Huh. I suppose that makes sense.”

“And sometimes if they know, people want to take advantage of you. My friend Trevor knew about my memory, and he talked me into helping him cheat. If I’d kept it from him, I’d be finishing up Harvard right about now.”

Harvey was silent for a minute, seeming to think this over. “You remember the words,” he said at last, “but do you know what they mean?”

Mike was growing tired of talking about this. Other people tended to view his eidetic memory as some kind of freaky superpower, but more often than not, it only got him into trouble. “Yes,” he replied tartly. “How do you think I passed the bar exam?”

“Would you mind if I tested that claim?”

“What? Right now?”

“Do you have somewhere else to be?”

Mike huffed, frowning. He reached for his coffee, which was just out of reach. Harvey handed it to him, and he sipped. It had grown lukewarm while they talked, but it still tasted good. As he drank, he tried to decide how angry he still was at Harvey and Travis. The soothing properties of the bath had improved his mood, but he didn’t know if he could continue with the arrangement. Still, if Harvey wanted to quiz him, why not go ahead and dazzle him? Mike could use a boost to his self-esteem.

“All right,” he allowed. “Ask me anything you want.”

For the next ten minutes, in between sips of coffee, Mike answered Harvey’s questions. They started with the basic theory found in the textbooks, and moved on to specific, complex questions of case law. Mike never faltered. He quoted statutes and precedent and almost laughed out loud when Harvey tried to trip him up on Sarbanes-Oxley.

Finally, apparently satisfied that Mike was at least more intelligent than your average trained baboon, Harvey stared down at him, looking impressed.

Mike tried not to preen. “I’m out of coffee,” he said, fighting a grin.

Without a word, Harvey went to get him a refill. When he handed it to Mike he grimaced, as if about to say something that pained him. “I know you’re not happy with us right now,” he said. “And maybe you have cause.”

Mike nearly performed a classic spit take. Was Harvey actually admitting to being wrong about something? “I’m listening,” he said neutrally.

“Mistakes were made.”

“Nice use of passive voice,” Mike muttered.

“In spite of any resentment you might still harbor – ”

“Might?”

Harvey’s sigh edged toward a growl. “I hope you’ll stay, regardless. Look, Mike, I already knew you were intelligent. This memory thing, though. That’s a game changer. With Travis and I guiding you, and a Harvard education under your belt, I believe you have the potential to become one of the best lawyers this city has ever seen. The only question is, do you have the courage and the stamina required to turn that potential into reality?”

“You want to talk about stamina?” Mike scoffed. “I’m the one who took twenty fucking hits from that cane. Do you think you could have handled that?”

“What makes you think I haven’t?”

Mike’s eyes narrowed on Harvey as he tried and failed to picture it. Harvey Specter, restrained and helpless, weeping from the pain and humiliation? “Let’s just say I’m skeptical.”

“My sponsors didn’t let me get away with anything, and believe me, I tried. One, in particular, relied heavily on discipline as harsh, or harsher, than what you experienced las night. She may have wielded the cane with more finesse than Travis, but I can assure you that it hurt every bit as much.”

Mike’s mouth may have fallen open. “Wait. Did you just say ‘she’?”

Harvey smiled, shaking his head. “You do know they allow woman to be lawyers these days, right?”

Ignoring the sarcasm, Mike listed the name partners at Harvey’s firm in his mind. It was a short list. Pearson and Hardman. And Jessica Pearson was the only woman.

Harvey must have realized that he’d figured it out. He smiled ruefully. “Yes. Jessica was one of my sponsors.”

“And Daniel Hardman was the other?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell me who it was?”

“Definitely not.”

Mike was suspicious of how easily Harvey had admitted to Jessica Pearson, how a man so close-mouthed had let that “she” drop.

“Do you still … I mean, do you and she …”

Harvey laughed. “No. I served my year, and that was that.”

“Served? Kind of like prison?”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t suggest that to her when you meet her.”

Mike froze with the coffee mug halfway to his mouth. “I’m sorry, did you just say, when I meet her?”

 Harvey’s smile turned smug. “Well, yes. Didn’t I mention that? You see, something else Travis and I discussed was how to keep our precocious little apprentice busy and out of trouble. Since you’ve already completed the reading list, we agreed that practical experience would be the logical next step. You’ll have to meet Jessica first, and we’ll need her approval, but if she gives it, you’ll be spending your afternoons with me at the firm.”

“As what?” asked Mike, too surprised to remember that he hadn’t actually forgiven Harvey and Travis yet, and wasn’t even sure he’d be here after today.

“We’ll call you my intern.”

“How much does that pay?”

“An education from Harvard.”

“Ah. So, nothing.”

“Not nothing.” Harvey checked his watch. “That’s the offer. I’ll give you the day to think it over. Now, I’m guessing that water is starting to get cold, if your goosebumps are anything to go by. Let’s get you dried off and get that lotion on you so I can get out of here.”

Mike might have argued, just on principle, but Harvey was right. He was starting to shiver. Also, he really wanted more of that lotion, and knew he’d have a tough time applying it himself. He stood, shedding water, and accepted a hand from Harvey to step out of the tub. Harvey plucked a towel from the rack. Mike tried to take it for him, but Harvey won the brief tug-of-war and toweled Mike dry, using extra care on his sore bottom.

They moved to the master bedroom, and Mike stalled in front of the bed. This was all too reminiscent of last night.

“Can we do this in my room?” he asked.

Harvey shrugged. He grabbed the lotion off the nightstand and followed Mike down the hall.

Even though they’d changed locations, it was still a struggle for Mike to make himself vulnerable and lie face down with Harvey behind him. Seeming to sense this, Harvey sat next to his hip and gave his shoulder a pat that was probably meant to reassure him. Still, Mike jumped a moment later when Harvey’s wet hand made contact with him, only partly because his ass was still so tender.

The lotion felt wonderful, though. Mike had to admit that Harvey had been right. After the bath and the ibuprofen, he felt so much better than he had before. When Harvey lifted his hand, probably preparatory to leaving, Mike rolled to his side, grabbing Harvey’s wrist.

“Can you do that a little bit longer?” he pleaded.

After a couple of seconds, Harvey gave a terse nod. Mike rolled back onto his stomach, pillowing his head on his crossed arms. For the next few minutes, the only sounds in the room was their breathing, and the faint, liquid smack of lotion on skin.

“I don’t know for sure,” Mike said after a time, “if I’m going to stay or not. If I do, I want a couple of changes.”

“Go ahead and ask. I’m not guaranteeing anything.”

“Understood. First, if you and Travis find it necessary to punish me again – I’m not saying you will, but if you do – I want you holding the cane, or paddle or whatever. Not Travis.” He wasn’t sure what prompted him to ask for that. He hadn’t even decided to stay, but everything he’d seen of the two of them told him that he’d receive more mercy from Harvey.

Harvey didn’t answer him directly. “What else?” was all he said.

“If I use my safeword, you have to fucking honor it.”

After giving Mike’s bottom one more slow swipe, Harvey tossed the lotion onto the nightstand and wiped his hands with a tissue. “Yes, to that,” he said. “That was my error last night. I said you’d get a safeword while you were here, and I ignored it. I regret that.”

“Wow. That almost sounded like an apology.”

Mike turned his head and watched as Harvey walked to the door.

“I want your answer tonight,” Harvey reminded him.

“What if I say no? Will you kick me out on the street, just like that?”

Mike knew Harvey was a complete bastard and an unapologetic hard ass, but it still shocked him a little when Harvey replied in a cold voice, “Yes. I absolutely will.”

 

******

 

Mike thought about that answer all day.

On the one hand, it infuriated him enough that he wanted to say, fuck it, and take his chances on the street.

On the other, more colossally screwed up hand, he wanted to use it as an excuse to stay. He wanted to tell himself that he’d tried to make good choices, but Harvey had made it impossible.

Against his will, his thoughts went to Harvey’s unexpected kindness that morning, the way he’d known just what to do to ease Mike’s suffering. He’d even brought him coffee – twice – which was a weird thing to focus on, but Mike did so anyway.

What ultimately decided him was simple vanity. Harvey had spoken about Mike’s potential, about the possibility of him becoming one of the best attorneys in Manhattan. What a perfect way to show the world that he wasn’t a perennial loser who never seemed to get anything right. Not that the world gave a shit. They’re weren’t a lot – if any – people paying attention to Mike Ross and his choices these days.

Nobody but Harvey and Travis. And if that wasn’t the definition of comedy – or tragicomedy – Mike didn’t know what was.

Maybe they’d had their bumpy patch, he reasoned (rationalized), and things would go more smoothly from now on.

It was just as likely that last night was a taste of more to come.

His brain went round and round, spiraling inexorably inwards, toward the murky truth at the center of it all – he still wanted Harvard, he still wanted Harvey, and in a sick way that was difficult to admit to, he still wanted Travis and the opportunity that had been hinted at for Mike to explore some of the kinks he’d only fantasized about in the past.

Every way he turned, every choice available to him, filled him with anxiety.

At least here, he had a roof over his head, food in his belly, and a blazingly bright future at the end of it all. He also had the chance, almost immediately if Harvey could be believed, to do actual work at a law firm.

And, most intriguingly of all, he’d be able to meet Jessica Pearson, one of Harvey’s sponsors. He was curious about her, and about their relationship, both past and future.  

There were plenty reasons to leave, but even more reasons to stay. One more week, he told himself. He’d give it one more week. If his two sponsors managed not to be awful human beings for one week, he’d stay the next week after that as well.

With the decision made, his exhausted brain finally let go and he sank down into sleep. As he did, a half-remembered lyric teased its way through his head.

… ‘Mama, I come to the valley of the rich, myself to sell’. She said, ‘son, this is the road to hell.’

Chapter Text

In person, Jessica Pearson turned out to be even more impressive and imposing than in the photos of her Mike had found online. After little more than a perfunctory introduction, Harvey left Mike alone with her in her office.

He tried not to fidget, tried not to tug at his cuffs or smooth a hand over his already perfectly smooth tie. This was easier to achieve than it would have been in his old suit. Harvey’s tailor had put a rush on the first of his new ones, and it fit him like a dream. Even the most beautiful clothes, however, were no defense against the flop sweat which had begun the moment Jessica fixed her gaze on him, and got worse when she rose from behind her desk and stalked over to him.

Instead of offering a hand for him to shake, she studied him closely, seeming to take in every imperfect detail. Even without her heels, she was probably an inch or two taller than him. With them on, she towered over him. He half-expected her to order him to drop to his knees and lick her beautiful Valentino pumps. Odds were good that he would have complied without protest.

Smiling graciously, Jessica indicated the couch in the middle of her office. “Let’s take a seat and get comfortable.”

Comfortable did not feel like a viable option, but trying not to appear as awkward as he felt, Mike perched on the edge of the seat.

Jessica got straight to the point. “You were expelled from Columbia for cheating,” she said.

Mike’s flop sweat got floppier and sweatier. “Yes. Uh, yes ma’am.”

One elegant eyebrow arched. “And you were banned from Harvard.”

“For life. Probably. But Harvey said – ”

“Do you see Harvey in here right now?”

Mike swallowed hard and resisted the urge to tug at his suddenly too tight collar. “No, ma’am.”

“You were working as a bartender, I believe, when Harvey found you?”

A nod from Mike.

Jessica crossed her long legs and sat back. “Normally, I would say you’re not remotely Pearson Hardman material. I’m told you come to us with a special talent, however.”

Mike could only hope she was referring to his eidetic memory, and not his newfound ability to suck two cocks at once. Her next question confirmed this.

“Would you mind if I test this alleged memory of yours?” she asked. “Not that I don’t trust Harvey, but he’s been known to overstate the facts on occasion.”

“I doubt he would do that. He seems pretty, uh, uncompromising?”

Her smile in response was enigmatic. “He absolutely would, in order to get what he wants. But as I said, he’s not here, and although he has every right to choose whomever he wishes to mentor, I have the final say as to who is allowed to work at my firm. I’m inclined to say no, but if your brain is as special as he says, I may reconsider.”

Well, fuck. No pressure.

Mike nodded again to indicate that he understood, and Jessica launched into a Q&A session far more complex and intense than the one to which Harvey had subjected him. Mike’s responses were quick and sure, and after a few minutes, he and Jessica developed a rhythm of sorts to their rapid-fire back and forth. Confidence surging, his nervousness sloughed away. To someone who was used to keeping the extent of his intellect under wraps, it felt exhilarating to put it on full, unbridled display for once.

He never faltered and never stumbled, and twenty minutes later when Jessica finally ran out of things to ask him, the warm satisfaction that filled him was almost as delicious as a post-coital buzz.

Jessica stared at him, unblinking. Maybe Mike was imagining things, but the tiniest bit of respect seemed to shine in her dark eyes.

“All right,” she said, voice threaded with faint amusement, “I guess Harvey was right about you. You may tell him he has my permission to let you intern here.”

He assumed the interview (grilling) was over, but she remained where she was and continued to dissect him with her eyes. “Tell me,” she said, “how are things going otherwise with Harvey and Travis?”

He felt himself blush. “By ‘otherwise,’ you mean …”

“Exactly what you think I mean. They both have strong personalities. I know that Harvey is uncommonly skilled in bed, and can only assume that Travis is more than capable of holding his own. Harvey never would have carried on with him for so long if that wasn’t the case.” She tilted her head, waiting for a reply.

The truth was, Mike didn’t know how to answer her. He briefly considered whether this might be another test. The contract contained a comprehensive non-disclosure section. Did that include Jessica? She was part of this whole thing, and was above Harvey on the food-chain, so he decided it would be alright. That didn’t mean he was going to provide her with all the filthy details.

“Travis can,” he said. “Hold his own, that is. They have different styles. Different, uh, preferences.”

She took a moment to digest that information. “What about the two of them together? Just the two of them. I never could quite picture that.”

Mike squirmed uncomfortably as he remembered his first night with them, and the sounds of their loud, enthusiastic fucking next door. “I haven’t been invited to spectate, but judging from what I could hear …” He used his hands to mime an explosion. “Incendiary.”

“Interesting,” was all she said.

The door opened, revealing a balding, dark-haired man. “Jessica,” he said, “I – oh.”

“I’m busy Louis, and what did we say about knocking?”

“Yes, I can see you’re busy.” Without being invited, he walked into the room, scrutinizing Mike. “This is him, isn’t it? Harvey’s boy.”

Mike tensed. Did everybody at the firm know about his arrangement with Harvey? He’d assumed it would just be Harvey and Jessica.

“Yes, Louis. This is Mike Ross.”

Mike stood and held out his hand, but Louis didn’t move to take it. One side of his mouth lifted in a sneer. “Fucking Harvey,” he said. “I’m the better attorney. My billables blow his out of the water every goddamned month. You only moved him ahead of me because he’s one of yours.”

Jessica sighed and shook her head. “And you’re one of Daniel’s. What is your point? Harvey got senior partner on his own merit. You’ll get there soon enough, and when you do, you’ll be able to recruit your own apprentice.”

“Yeah? Well, I know the rules, and I call dibs on him.” He pointed at Mike.

“Dibs?” asked Mike, affronted.

Jessica’s look of exasperation hinted at a difficult history with Louis. “You can’t call dibs, Louis. Only Harvey and his co-sponsor have the right to decide who gets access to Mike.”

“But, you – ”

“Yes, as Harvey’s sponsor, I have rights that no one else does.”

“Wait,” said Mike, “are you saying …?”

“I am.” She stepped up to Mike, not quite touching but still as intimidating as fuck. “Anytime I want your tight little ass, it’s all mine.”

And, yes, Mike’s mind immediately went there. Jessica wearing a strap-on, pegging him to within an inch of his life. He felt hot and cold all over, and almost missed what Louis said next.

“That’s right. You and Cameron. Has he heard about this little snack yet?”

Cameron?

“Louis,” said Jessica warningly.

“What?”

“I suggest you go find some work to do. Now.

Louis didn’t look happy. (Mike suspected he rarely did.) He gave Mike one more hostile, searching look before he left the office. Mike breathed out slowly, feeling as if he’d just dodged a bullet. Then he remembered what Louis had said.

“Cameron?” he asked.

Jessica looked as if she would prefer to ignore the question. She didn’t. “Harvey’s other sponsor,” she said tightly.

“First name? Last name?”

“Whichever it is, I would recommend that you avoid mentioning the name to Harvey.”

“Oh, sure. Of course not.”

Oh hell, yes.

As soon as he could figure out how to use it for leverage, Mike was so going to mention the fuck out of that name – after he did some research to find out who it was.

“Hmm,” she said, frowning as if she didn’t believe him. “We’re done for now. Go find Harvey and earn your pay.”

“It’s nothing. My pay that is. So …”

“A Harvard education is not nothing.”

“You sound like Harvey.”

“Good. I trained him well.”

“Did Harvey cry when you caned him?” The question burst out of him before he could censor himself. He listened in mild horror to the echoes of it in the air between them.

Jessica blinked at him. The air seemed to crackle between them. “I’m sure you realize, Mike, that as Harvey’s sponsor I am not only entitled to fuck you whenever I choose, I can also discipline you at my discretion, any time I see fit.” She traced the whorl of his ear with one long, sharp, blood-red fingernail. “If you really want to know how my cane feels, just say the word. I can make that happen.”

Mike’s gulp sounded theatrically loud in his ears. He simultaneously did and did not want to know what her cane felt like. He felt his face go red as he struggled to formulate an answer.

Jessica laughed at him. “You are adorable. Adorable does not a successful attorney make, however. Get the hell out of my office, and try not to mess anything up too badly while you’re here.”

Mike got the hell out of her office.

 

******

 

Mike had expected he would get a desk of his own, most likely hidden away in one of the firm’s workrooms. Instead, Harvey kept him in his office all afternoon, shoving stacks of documents at him, mainly for simple proofreading, but occasionally to get his opinion on questions of law. Mike dug into the work with gusto.

He was secretly pleased that Harvey kept him close, and even more pleased when halfway through the afternoon, Harvey crooked a finger at him, indicating he should follow, and led the way to a file room crammed with overflowing shelves. He locked the door and ordered Mike to drop his pants and lean over the nearest empty shelf.

He fucked him right there in the cramped aisle.  

“Oh, God, Harvey,” Mike grunted rhythmically as dust bunnies and stray pages sifted to the ground around him. His pants were bunched around his ankles, his arms braced on a metal shelf, his back bent at nearly a ninety-degree angle, and his ass thrust out to give Harvey optimum access.

They hadn’t fucked since Saturday night. It was Thursday now, and although Mike’s ass still suffered residual soreness from the caning, it had stopped being oh-fuck-don’t-touch-me sore two days ago. He wondered if the rattling shelves could be heard out in the hallway, and his already painfully hard cock leaked more pre-come.

“Touch yourself,” Harvey whispered in his ear. “And try not to come on important documents.”

Mike grabbed himself and stroked wildly. “Oh, God,” he gasped. “Oh, fuck.” He shot far too quickly, which, under different circumstances, might have embarrassed him. In that moment, it felt so damn good he didn’t care.

Harvey continued pumping into him for several more minutes. By the time he came, growling curses into Mike’s neck, Mike was half-hard again. Harvey noticed. Still buried inside Mike, he jacked him roughly. Breathlessly, Mike begged him to stop, but Harvey kept at it until Mike’s exhausted cock twitched and dribbled a few more drops onto the shelf.

Harvey pulled out, removed and tied off the condom, and set it next to Mike. “Clean up in here,” he ordered. “And grab us both some coffee on your way back to my office.”

With that, he exited the file room without locking the door, leaving Mike to wrestle his pants back on and clear away the evidence of the past fifteen minutes.

He walked down the hall in a daze, feeling as if everyone he passed knew exactly what he’d been up to. Fuck. Was this going to be a daily occurrence? He could only hope.

Harvey’s assistant, Donna, leered at him as he passed her desk. He gave her a helpless grin in return.

“File room?” she whispered.

He hesitated, and then nodded. He’d already figured out that Donna was privy to everything her boss did at the office.

“That place has more DNA in it than a crime lab.” She gave a delicate shudder. “Next time, insist on the workroom down on forty-two south. The carpet is nice and thick. Stay away from the couch in the corner, though.” She grimaced comically. “Sticky.”

She was destroying his buzz, probably on purpose and simply to amuse herself. He edged past her and into Harvey’s office.

Harvey barely glanced up from the document on his desk. “Where’s my coffee?”

“Shit. I forgot.”

The smug look on Harvey’s face should have been annoying. He had every right to be smug though, since he’d effectively fucked Mike’s brain into a useless pile of mush.

 

******

 

Mike hadn’t seen Travis since Sunday night. According to Harvey, he’d been out of town, and wouldn’t return until the weekend.

The weekend arrived, and there was still no sign of him.

Unlike a week earlier, this Saturday and Sunday were relatively uneventful. Mike spent a few hours on his coursework, watched television, and went for a couple of long bike rides. Saturday afternoon, he slouched on the couch, bored out of his mind, waiting for Harvey to return from wherever he had disappeared to. When he showed up around five, there was no talk of dinner. He dragged Mike into the bedroom, stripped him, and laid him out on the bed.

Mike wanted to make a flippant comment about Harvey’s lack of patience, but something in his eyes warned him off. He worried for a second that he’d done something wrong, but quickly realized that Harvey wasn’t angry, at least not with him. He worked his mouth and fingers slowly over every inch of Mike’s skin, tracing his collarbone, licking his abs, feathering fingertips over his sensitive inner thighs.

He’d always been possessive, but this was different. Rather than asserting a claim to which Mike was contractually obligated to submit, he was seducing him with deliberate tenderness.

Mike trembled and moaned under his touch. Part of him wished Harvey would revert to his usual, more aggressive style, so that they could each chase their orgasm while maintaining a safe, emotional distance. Tonight, Mike was finding it difficult to remember that there really was nothing more to their relationship than simple friction and combustion.

“Harvey,” he whispered, unable to stop himself. “Yeah. Right there. Fuck. You have to fuck me. Right fucking now. Please.” He repeated the words in varying combinations, over and over again.

Harvey took Mike’s cock in his mouth and deep-throated him, surprising a raw shout from him.

“Yes. God, yes.” He clamped his lips together, stopping all the nonsense that threatened to spill out. Threading his hands through Harvey’s hair, he gave himself over to sensation, riding the fine edge of surrender for long minutes. Then Harvey poked a finger into his hole, bent it with unerring accuracy and scraped his nail over Mike’s prostate.

Mike jerked spasmodically as he cried out and came. Harvey pinned his hips to the bed while he milked Mike’s cock with his mouth and tongue and throat.

“Enough,” Mike rasped. His spent cock had grown too sensitive. “Please, Harvey. It’s too much.”

Harvey let Mike slip from his mouth. He rose to his knees and gazed down at him, his cock bobbing heavily. As he caught his breath, Mike tried to read what was in Harvey’s gaze. It disturbed him a little to find nothing there, almost as if Harvey had carefully wiped every emotion from his face. The moment stretched and stretched. Harvey blinked slowly and said without inflection, “Turn over.”

Mike shivered and rolled onto his stomach. He grabbed a pillow and clutched it tightly to his chest, shutting his eyes as he listened to the sounds of Harvey retrieving supplies and preparing himself. Harvey grasped his hips and pulled them up, and then Mike felt the head of Harvey’s cock nudge his entrance.

In different circumstances, he might have objected to being fucked after he’d already come. With Harvey, it was different. Despite the mistrust he still felt for him, despite the low-simmering, ever-present resentment which he’d chosen to ignore, Harvey’s touch affected him as no one else’s ever had. He wanted to spread himself open, to welcome him in, to give him free, unfettered access to every bit of him.

He grunted as Harvey forced his way in. It hurt at first, but he breathed through it and soon he was pushing back energetically to meet Harvey’s thrusts. This wasn’t about chasing his own pleasure. He could have lain passively and let Harvey take what he wanted, but he chose to do this for Harvey.

He was performing a service, simple as that. It felt shameful, like he was giving up something a person shouldn’t be expected to, not unless there was something deeper and more meaningful to the relationship. He’d already handed over his body for a chance at Harvard. This, now, was extra, unasked for and purely voluntary.

Complicit. That was the word for it, he decided.

He’d fooled himself into believing he’d settled into his role of jaded and world-weary fuck toy, but here he was, playing the overly enthusiastic whore, angling for extra credit.

The realization sickened him a little, but it didn’t deter him. He kept moving, driving back onto Harvey’s cock with strong, eager thrusts, employing every trick he knew to amp up Harvey’s pleasure. When he felt him freeze and release hotly inside of him, when he heard his growl of pleasure, Mike shoved his face into the pillow to hide the stupidly pleased smile which took him longer than it should have to erase.

 

******

 

Sunday, with Harvey sitting six feet away, and under the guise of working on his NYU courses, Mike began the search for the identity of Harvey’s second sponsor. One name, Cameron, was all he had to go on.

He began by searching for lawyers with that last name who were members of the New York Bar, and got a lengthy list of possibilities. He tried going down the list one at a time, drilling down on each individual, but the list was long, and the results were frustratingly thin. He could see where they worked and when they’d been admitted to the bar, but not much else, unless they’d worked on some newsworthy case, or received a promotion. None of them currently worked at Pearson Hardman.

On a whim, he tried searching Harvey’s name. This gave him dozens of unique hits, mostly related to cased involving his high-profile clients. Then he tried a combination of Harvey Specter and Cameron, and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

As it turned out, Cameron was the first name, not the last, as in Cameron Dennis, District Attorney of New York City. An image appeared on his screen of a much younger Harvey, taken during his years working as an assistant DA under Dennis.

Wowzer.

He didn’t realize he’d spoken out loud until he heard Harvey’s absent, “What’s that?”

Mike carefully closed the laptop. “Nothing. Not a thing.”

Harvey’s look was skeptical, but after a moment he seemed to dismiss Mike, and went back to his own work.

Unable to resist, Mike opened the lid and returned to the webpage he’d been on. Yep, that was Harvey all right, although not nearly as polished and forbidding as he appeared now. The hairstyle was a fashion crime. A fashion felony. Mike saved the image to his favorites.

Evidently, Harvey had not gone directly from Harvard to Pearson Hardman. He’d made a detour to the DA’s office. This raised the obvious question of why he’d left. Had it been his own choice, or had things not worked out with Cameron Dennis?

Mike zoomed in on a photo of Dennis and examined him carefully. He had a full (borderline glorious) mane of grey hair, a long face, intelligent eyes, and a cynical twist to his mouth. He wasn’t what Mike would call handsome, not Harvey-handsome, but there was something about him, some vibrancy and strength which leant him an attraction all his own.

Of course, now that he knew his identity, he couldn’t prevent himself from imagining him with Harvey. Were there threesomes with Jessica? Somehow, he couldn’t picture that. Jessica seemed to possess too much innate dignity to engage in three-person naked Twister. On the other hand, sex and dignity did not generally reside in the same zip code.

When he wearied of research and mental porn, he shut the laptop again and set it aside.

“Hey,” he said, and waited until Harvey heaved an annoyed sigh and glanced up at him. “Is Travis coming over tonight?”

A prolonged, inky stare from Harvey. “No.” He turned his attention back to his work.

“Did you break up with him? Did he break up with us?”

“Mike …”

“I know, I know. You’re trying to work, even though you’re no longer an associate, and have nothing to prove.”

“I’ll always have something to prove. We all do. The moment you relax your standards is the moment your career is over.” A beat of silence. “If that sounds too daunting, tell me now.”

“No. Not daunting. Kind of sad, though. When do the rewards come for all that hard work?”

Harvey gave him a grim smile. “Look around you. This doesn’t look like a reward to you?”

“Oh, so it’s all about things. Stuff. Possessions.” Mike wasn’t sure why he was arguing this point. Mainly, he just bored and wanted to get a rise out of Harvey.

“It’s not all about the stuff.”

“No? So, you’d be okay with living in a shithole apartment with a view of the rat-infested back alley?”

“Getting nostalgic for your old place?” Harvey put his work aside, stood, and walked to the kitchen. “Do you want a drink?”

“Sure.” Mike watched as he poured them each a glass of scotch. When Harvey handed him one, Mike held it up to the light, admiring the color. “I think I get it. You’re in it for the expensive alcohol.” He took a drink, savoring the burn.

Appearing deep in thought, Harvey paced in front of Mike, and then turned to stared down at him. “You want to know why I do it? Why I put in the long hours and tolerate the daily bullshit?” He used his glass to gesture around the living room. “Sure, I appreciate this lifestyle, this place. But what gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that somewhere out there – ” He gestured at the Manhattan skyline visible outside  the window. “That somewhere out there is someone, or multiple someone’s, who believe that they’re going to get the better of me. And it becomes my great pleasure to disabuse them of that notion.”

Mike couldn’t help it. He laughed out loud. “That’s a lot of words. Far more than you need. Why don’t you just admit it? You like to dominate. To impose your will.” He mentally steeled himself and asked, “Did you get to impose your will when you worked at the DA’s office?”

The temperature in the room seemed to drop fifty degrees.

Harvey stared at him frostily. He took another sip of scotch, and then another, before responding. “Do you believe you can get the better of me, Mike?”

Mike raised his eyebrows. Did he believe that? “Not today. Probably not tomorrow. But at some point in the future, yes. Absolutely.”

Harvey smiled at him. “Brave words. I look forward to proving you wrong.”

“Are you going to answer my question about the DA’s office?”

“No.”

And that was that. Conversation over.

 

******

 

Monday morning arrived, along with Mike’s evaluation and his schedule for the week.

“No complaints,” said Harvey in a grudging tone of voice. “None, that is, that rise to the level of disciplinary action.”

Mike might have felt more smug about that, but his attention was focused on the appointment scheduled for Wednesday night.

“Who,” he asked, “is Charles Forstman?”

Harvey grimaced. “He’s a client of Travis, and, I’m sorry to say, your next client service obligation.”

“Sorry to say? Why? What’s wrong with him?”

Carrying his coffee mug to the sink to rinse it out, Harvey spoke with his back to Mike. “He has too much power, and too little conscience. He likes to meddle in peoples’ lives simply for his own entertainment.”

“Hmm. How does he feel about dogs or the furry life in general?”

“I think you mean cosplay – ”

“Let’s not nitpick.”

Harvey shrugged into his suit jacket. “I can almost guarantee that you have nothing to worry about in that area with Charles Forstman.”

“In what area should I worry about him?”

It took Harvey longer to answer than it should have. “In every other area you can think of.”

“Huh. Well, that is the opposite of reassuring.”

Harvey chewed on his lip for half a second, before seeming to realize what he was doing and smoothing out his expression. “Look, Mike, if you’re expecting me to intervene on your behalf, I can’t do that. You agreed to this, and Travis is well within his rights.”

“Yep. Definitely not calming me down here.”

“You’ll be fine. As long as …”

“As long as, what?”

“Just keep the conversation to a minimum. Don’t reveal anything personal about yourself. He likes to get inside people’s heads. As soon as he has the slightest inkling of what makes you tick, he’ll exploit that and then … All I’m saying is, be careful.”

“Okay. Aside from that, does he have any weird kinks I should be aware of?”

“I have no idea. Would it matter if he did? Do you have some threshold for weirdness?”

Mike shook his head helplessly. “Whatever it was, I think I passed it a couple of weeks ago.”

 

******

 

That night, they lay in bed together following another round of toe-curling, heart-stopping sex. Harvey had rolled onto his side, with his back to Mike, and appeared on the verge of falling asleep, his breaths slowing, growing soft and even.

It must have been a combination of the dark room and his current state of relaxation that worked together to lower Mike’s inhibitions. He heard himself ask, “Do you think either of your sponsors will ever assert their rights, over, you know, me?”

Harvey stopped breathing for a few seconds. “You’re not Jessica’s type.”

“Were you?”

“Not really. We made it work, though.”

Mike let that sit for a minute, before blurting, “What about Cameron Dennis?”

Harvey made a sound like he’d received a soft punch to the gut. He remained frozen in place, staring at the far wall. Mike wished he could read his expression.

Finally, “What about him?” he asked, voice carefully neutral.

“Did you make it work? Were you his type? Was he yours?”

A long, drawn out sigh from Harvey. “You’ve made your point, Mike. Now let it drop.”

“What point?”

“That you’re a clever boy. I’d pat you on the head and give you a treat, if not for your recent canine trauma. I’ll even concede that you may be the smartest one in the room. You hold none of the power though, and if you insist on playing these little games with me, it won’t end well for you. Understood?”

It should have been satisfying to get under Harvey’s skin so successfully. Why, then, was Mike feeling a vague sense of regret, as if he’d trespassed where he never should have?

“Mike? Do you understand?” Harvey had raised his head to look back over his shoulder.

“Yes,” he bit out. “It’s just … It’s difficult not to be curious.”

“Many things in life are difficult.”

“But – ”

“Stop. I don’t want to hear another word about it. If that is an impossibility for you, go sleep in your own bed.”

Mike’s pride insisted he should take him up on that. He remained where he was.

Harvey let out a soft, nearly inaudible huff. “Go to sleep,” he muttered.

Mike did, but it took him over an hour to get there.

Chapter Text

Travis finally showed up Tuesday night.

Mike was home alone, camped out in front of the television as usual, having been dismissed and sent home by Harvey at five as a reward for a job well done. At six-thirty, he heard the key in the front door lock. Travis strolled in, his gaze scanning the living room and kitchen before zeroing in on Mike.

“Harvey’s working late again?” he asked.

Mike’s heart sped up as he recalled the last time he’d been alone with Travis, and the last time he’d seen him, the night of the caning. Trouble seemed to follow the man around, at least trouble for Mike did.

“Yep,” said Mike, “it’s just you and me.” He paused the movie he’d been watching.

Travis moved aimlessly around the living room. He seemed keyed up.

“You want to go on a field trip?” he asked.

Mike’s nerves ratcheted up another notch. “Maybe. Where are we going?”

“I thought you might like to see my place.”

Mike could admit to himself that he was curious, but he was also more than a little apprehensive, after some of the hints that Harvey had dropped.

“I don’t know. What’s there that Harvey doesn’t have?”

“Privacy. Toys. Various types of equipment.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Mike didn’t agree right away. Travis had him at “toys,” and sealed the deal with “equipment,” but why should he give in so easily? Travis still had a lot to answer for.

“Maybe I don’t feel safe with you.”

Travis clasped a hand to his chest, a wounded expression on his face. “Moi? I cherish you, Mike. You know that.”

“Right. I didn’t feel all that cherished a week and a half ago.”

A heavy sigh from Travis. “That was all a misunderstanding. Harvey explained it to me. He said you were over it.”

Feeling stubborn, Mike crossed his arms over his chest and stared past Travis at the far wall.

Travis sat next to him on the couch, leaving plenty of space between them. “I get it Mike. I’ve lost your trust. So, let me earn it back.” He nudged Mike’s foot lightly with his own. “It’s going to be a long, long year if we allow this unpleasantness between us to fester and grow.” He nudged Mike again. “Come on. I’ll play nice, I promise.”

Mike was tempted.

“Like … play, how? Exactly.”

“Tell you what. I’ll take you over to me place and let you see the setup. Then you can choose what you want, and I’ll make it happen. How does that sound?”

It sounded like something he’d been waiting for his entire adult life. Possibly. Or not. He wanted it (probably wanted it), but he left Travis in suspense a while longer, pretending to think it over.

“Well … Okay. But I get a safe word, and if I say I want to leave, you have to bring me back.”

“Absolutely. If I hear any protests from you, we stop immediately.”

Oh, really? Did Travis think he was that stupid? “No gags,” said Mike firmly. “That’s my first stipulation.”

Travis chuckled, as if Mike had caught him out trying to be sneaky. “No gags. Got it.” He tapped his own temple. “Smart thinking. Anything else?”

“I reserve the right to add to that once I see what’s on offer.”

“Fair enough. Shall we go?”

Here was Mike’s last chance to stave off potential disaster. As he usually did, he ignored the opportunity and nodded his head. “Sure. Let’s do this.”

 

******

 

It was a twenty-minute drive to Travis’ place, during which Mike took the opportunity to quiz him about a few things about which he’d been curious.

“What can you tell me about Charles Forstman?” Harvey had already filled him in, but he wanted to see if Travis’ information matched.

“Oh, that’s right. You get to meet him tomorrow night.” Travis tapped the steering wheel as they sat at a red light. “Let’s see … what can I tell you? He’s a highly astute businessman. He’s used to getting what he wants. There are rumors about some business concerns on the, shall we say, shadier side. My firm and I steer clear of those and only handle his legitimate businesses.” The light turned green, and the car shot forward. “What else can I tell you? He hates Harvey.”

“Harvey? Why?”

Travis waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, some feud in their past. To be fair, Harvey hates him just as much. Probably more.”

“Does Forstman know about my connection to Harvey?”

“Not from me, but he has sources everywhere, and he always does his research. So, yes, I’m sure he knows.”

Mike frowned, considering the ramifications. “Should I be worried?”

“What? No. Probably not.” Travis shot a quick glance at him. “Maybe a little, but, no. No. You’ll be fine.”

Another ringing endorsement of Charles Forstman. Fantastic.

Mike decided to change the subject. “What’s going on with you and Harvey?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

He shrugged. “You seemed pretty into each other when I first met you.”

“Your point?”

“I don’t know. We haven’t seen you for a while.”

“First of all, just because you haven’t seen me doesn’t mean Harvey hasn’t. We talk nearly every day, usually about you. Secondly, I wouldn’t say we were ever ‘into each other,’ as you put it.”

“Oh. So, fuck buddies?”

Travis’ mouth twisted wryly. “More like fuck allies. Occasional conveniences for one another.”

“No wedding bells in the future?”

Travis’ booming laughter seemed to ricochet around the car’s interior. “My God, you are hilarious.” It took a couple of minutes for his laughter to die down.

Weirdly, Mike found the news that they were not romantically attached to be a relief. Which … why? What did he care? He suspected he knew the answer to that was, but preferred not to dwell on it. He changed the subject again.

“I, uh, found out the names of Harvey’s sponsors this week.”

This seemed to neither surprise nor interest Travis. “Oh? Good for you.”

“So, maybe you’d like to tell me about yours.”

The sedan jerked, nearly swerving into a car in the next lane. A horn blatted at them, and Travis flipped off the other driver laconically.

“That was a long time ago,” said Travis. All the humor had left his voice and face.

“Up in Boston, right?”

“I take it back. You’re not hilarious so much as fucking annoying.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to talk about it?”

“That means …” Travis went quiet as he mulled this over. “You want me to talk about it? Fine. When we get to my place, I’ll do just that.”

Something in Travis’ tone – something hard and malicious – should have warned Mike, but he was too focused on the night ahead and how it would likely culminate in another mind-blowing orgasm.

 

******

 

Home for Travis was a gorgeous loft apartment in Soho, with exposed bricks and support beams, wide plank hardwood floors, and an abundance of brushed steel and black leather. Travis stood watching Mike as he prowled around the space, taking in all the details.

“Um. Wow?” It was impressive, but not a style he’d choose for himself. Like Harvey, Travis seemed to go for a modern, sleek style, even if his was somewhat rougher around the edges.

The expansive living room slash kitchen slash dining area opened onto a master bedroom with no visible doors. So far, it all looked fairly standard and non-threatening.

“The place came with two bedrooms,” said Travis, fixing himself a drink. “I converted the second into a playroom. Come on. I’ll show you.” He led the way down a short hallway.

“Cool. Like for video games, and pool and – Oh.”

Mike stared through the open doorway into a space that aligned closely with some of his favorite masturbatory fantasies.

“Yeah,” said Travis, clearly amused. “Oh. Go ahead. Take a look around.”

Mike edged into the room, trying not to gawp at the spanking bench, the bondage table, the St. Andrew’s Cross, and the other pieces of furniture whose uses defied his imagination. A glance toward the ceiling showed him a rope and pulley system with a heavy metal hook hanging from the bottom. Multiple hooks, metal loops and bars set at various heights lined three of the plain grey walls. Dozens upon dozens of crops and paddles and canes and floggers and whips hung from the fourth wall, which had been painted a lurid shade of red. In one corner stood a medium-sized bed with a headboard and footboard which appeared custom made to accommodate all manner of ropes and cuffs.

“This is …” Mike turned to give Travis an uncertain smile. “This is really something.” He frowned, remembering a previous conversation. “And yet you say you’re not into BDSM.”

Travis shrugged. “I do what I want. Call it BDSM adjacent if you like.” He moved toward Mike and ran a hand down his arm. “Don’t look so worried. Remember, you signed on for this.” His tone softened. “I’ll be careful with you. Whatever you decide you want, I won’t hurt you. Much.”

Mike chewed his lower lip. Fuck. He wanted this. Every bit of it. But people who knew more than he did about this kind of thing had safeguards in place for a reason, didn’t they? “I don’t know …”

“Then find out. Play with me. Give me a couple hours and you’ll never want to go back to that safe, vanilla stuff that Harvey prefers.”

Mike didn’t want to say so, not with Travis potentially a few minutes away from wielding an instrument of pain against his tender flesh, but if he had to score them, Harvey was clearly the frontrunner. Travis could hold his own, though.

“Okay,” he said, “I’m in.”

“You’re ready to put yourself in my hands, completely and without hesitation?”

It was suddenly difficult to breathe. Mike nodded his head.

“Yes?” Travis prompted.

“Yes,” Mike managed to get out.

 “Good. Now tell me what you want.”

The possibilities were overwhelming. Mike eyed the red wall, gaze traveling over the implements hanging there. He paid extra attention to the collection of canes, recalling the excruciating pain Travis had dealt out, and mentally drawing a thick black line through that option.

The crop hadn’t been too bad. He’d kind of liked that after he got used to it. But why choose pain at all? Maybe someday he could explore impact play in depth, but he’d prefer to do that with almost anyone but Travis, who didn’t believe in rules and safeguards.

It was his choice tonight. He could ask for anything he wanted. “Bondage,” he finally announced. “I want you to tie me up.”

“Is that all?”

“Do you have a dildo that’s sort of normal sized? Like, nothing too extreme.”

“What color would you like?”

This surprised a laugh out of Mike. “Um. I don’t care. You can pick the color, but I want you to fuck me with it. And I want to come, but not right away. Not, uh, until you say I can.”

Travis was nodding, agreeing with everything Mike proposed, which made him feel like he maybe he owed him a concession.

“I guess you can come inside me,” said Mike. “Or, I don’t know. Jerk off over my back.” He felt himself grow warm. “Or on my face. And –” He hesitated before deciding to just go for it. “And if you want to call me names, that would be okay.”

“Names?”

“Yeah, you know, like, slut, and fuck toy, and, uh, tell me how dirty I am.”

“Gotcha. Is that all?”

“Yeah.” Now that he’d managed to get it all out, Mike relaxed a little. He grinned at Travis. “Hey, look at that. We’re negotiating and everything.

Travis rolled his eyes. “Don’t get used to it.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good. First things first. Take this.” Travis held out his palm, revealing a small white pill.

Mike balked. “What is that?”

“No hesitation, Mike. That was the deal.” A pause. “Trust me.” He regarded Mike with warm intensity.

Mike stared at the pill, conducting a brief internal debate. Logically, he knew it was supremely stupid to swallow a pill before knowing what it might do to him. This felt like a test, but a test of what? Trust? Courage? Intelligence?

In the end, he reasoned that he’d never had a problem with pharmaceuticals in the past, and who knew? Made he’d get a sweet little buzz out of the deal. He put the pill in his mouth and then accepted the tumbler of scotch from Travis to wash it down. He handed the glass back and fixed Travis with an exaggerated expectant look, prompting a chuckle from him.

“You won’t feel the effects for a while,” said Travis, “which will give us some time to prepare.” His expression grew serious. “Take off your clothes.”

Mike stripped. When he was naked, Travis beckoned him over to the bed. Mike glanced back at all the bondage furniture and felt a twinge of disappointment. “Looks who’s vanilla now,” he grumbled.

Travis gave him a quelling look. “I intend to give you what you asked for.” A pause. “You still trust me, right?”

“Sure. So, what’s the plan?”

Travis eyed him from head to toe, as if considering, and then moved around the room, opening drawers and collecting a coil of rope, scissors, lube, and a blue dildo, all of which he placed on a table next to the bed. “The plan was to tie you up in a pretty little package and stimulate your prostate for a couple of hours until you screamed for mercy. Or until you wanted to scream. That dildo has a lovely little vibrator setting that will make you sit up and take notice, except that you won’t be able to sit or do much of anything else when that pill I gave you kicks in.”

“Say what, now?”

Travis stared blandly back at him.

“Did you roofie me?” asked Mike, halfway hoping the answer was yes. If he was knocked out, he would slumber peacefully through whatever Travis had planned for him. Of course, he might miss out on some of the good stuff, but he was quickly beginning to believe he’d made a huge miscalculation by coming here alone.

Travis laughed sharply, shaking his head. “Hell no. What would be the fun in that? I want you awake and feeling everything. What you took was a mild paralytic. In approximately ten minutes, you’ll lose the use of your muscles. Like I said, it’s relatively mild, so your lungs won’t be compromised, but you won’t be able to move otherwise. The effects typically last upwards of an hour. You’ll be back to your normal self within a few hours, with aftereffects no worse than a mid-sized hangover.”

Mike’s heart had begun pounding in alarm. And wasn’t his heart a muscle? What the hell did Travis think he was doing?

“Hey, man. No. Goddamn it. This isn’t cool. I’m out.”

“You’re voiding your contract?”

“What? No. I’m stopping this.” Mike couldn’t seem to draw a proper breath. His legs felt close to collapsing, and a tremor had started in one hand. Was that impending panic, or the drug starting to take effect?

“Well, I don’t have to stop, do I? You swallowed the pill, like the trusting little lamb you are. Now I can do whatever I want with you.” He frowned theatrically. “Don’t look at me like that. Consider this an object lesson, something to draw on years from now when opposing counsel looks you straight in the eye and asks you to trust them.

“I think I should call Harvey.” Mike actually reached for his phone, only to realize that it was still in the pocket of his jeans, which were folded up with the rest of his clothes on the other side of the room. He took a step in that direction and his knees buckled.

Travis grabbed his arm to keep him from falling, frowning as he peered at Mike’s face. “Huh. I may have misjudged the timing slightly.”

“Misjudged?” The word slurred badly, as if Mike had a mouthful of sand. He tried to shake free of Travis’ grasp, but his limbs were already going weak, and weren’t responding properly to his mind’s commands.

“Let’s get you situated before you fall on your face.” He sat Mike on the bondage table, buckled a pair of leather cuffs around his wrists, stood him up again with a shoulder under his arm, and maneuvered him into the middle of the room, directly underneath the hook attached to the pulley.

When Mike realized what he had in mind, he tried to struggle, but the connection between mind and body was now almost fully disconnected. “Red,” he said, or at least tried to say. It came out closer to, “Wuh.”

Travis pulled the thick hook down and slipped it through one of the connecting links of Mike’s cuffs. Then he adjusted the height of the ceiling chain until Mike stood – or swayed – with his arms stretched over his head, and his feet barely touching the floor.

“You can probably balance on your toes for a short while,” said Travis as he loosened and removed his tie, and shrugged out of his jacket, “but once the paralysis really sets in, you’ll just be a slab of meat, hanging from your arms. In the meantime, I’m just going to sit over here and enjoy my drink. Oh, wait. I almost forgot.”

He went to a cabinet set against the wall, rummaged through one of the drawers, and came back with a blindfold, which he slipped over Mike’s eyes.

“Wuh,” Mike rasped, fighting to keep his feet on the ground, but finding it impossible with the chain swinging first one way, and then the other. He could feel his muscles seizing up.

Mike tried to stay alert to where Travis was, and what he might be doing. Would he change his mind and use one of those canes or floggers on him after all? He didn’t hear Travis make a move toward the red wall, but as the swaying chain slowly moved him in a circle, he began to grow more and more disoriented.

His left leg stopped working first. The right one put up a valiant fight, but before long he was hanging limply from the chain, feeling as if his arms were about to be pulled from their sockets. In the darkness behind the blindfold, the passage of time felt glacially slow. Discomfort turned to burning pain, and he couldn’t even scream or plead for it to stop.

He was trapped in misery and forgot to listen for sounds of Travis, and so was surprised when he came up behind him and wrapped his arms around his middle, taking the pressure off his shoulders. The scent of whiskey teased Mike’s nostrils.

“How does it feel to lose control?” Travis murmured in his ear.

Not great, thought Mike a bit hysterically. Not at all as he had fantasized. He couldn’t nod, or shake his head, or flip Travis off. Neither could he gasp out his relief and gratitude when he felt the hook being lowered and then removed, and his arms fell to rest in front of his body.

Demonstrating the strength that Mike had suspected he possessed, Travis hefted him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Seconds later, panic gripped Mike as he fell through air, but it only lasted an instant. His back hit what could only have been the mattress. He bounced once and was still.

He felt the cuffs come off his wrists. Travis flipped him onto his stomach and tied his arms behind his back, winding soft rope around and around, all the way up to his elbows. Using what Mike guessed were separate lengths, he tied his ankles to the bottom corners of the bed, spreading them into a wide “V” shape. He finished positioning him with a pillow under his hips.

Mike’s heart thudded inside his chest, steady and insistent, and he could only be thankful that it was still doing its job. None of his limbs were currently do their job, or his mouth, or tongue, or neck. He was completely powerless, at the mercy of Travis Tanner, who he was beginning to suspect might be seriously unbalanced.

And what did that make Mike, who’d placed himself in this predicament after giving it less thought than which toothpaste to buy?

Something wet touched his bottom. That was the lube, he guessed, relieved that he’d be shown that bit of consideration at least. Then Travis’ fingers were inside him, stretching him and opening him up. With his muscles currently on hiatus, this proved to be an easier job than usual. The fingers curved, finding his prostate. Mike couldn’t move into the touch, couldn’t jerk his hips or touch himself, or make a sound to acknowledge the bright burst of pleasure that shot through him. All he could do was lie there and experience sensation with no outlet, which was a diabolical sort of torture he would never have imagined.

When the fingers withdrew, he guessed what was coming next, and could do nothing to prevent it. Travis inserted the tip of the dildo into his rectum and slowly pushed it in. It was significantly larger than two fingers, not quite as large as Travis himself. It filled Mike up, just at the edge of discomfort. Again, if he’d been able, he might have shifted his ass, or leaned on one hip in an effort to accommodate the foreign intrusion. In his current state, he could only accept it.

Travis pulled the dildo halfway out before pushing it in deeper. He fucked Mike with it for several minutes, cupping his ass with one hand as he did so. When it was as deep as it could go, with no warning he switched on the vibrator. Electricity seemed to spark up Mike’s spine. He needed to curse, to hump the mattress, to stroke himself wildly, but all of those needs remained locked inside his inert body.

This pleasure that was also torture seemed to go on forever. Travis had said he wanted to spend hours on him. He’d also said that the paralysis would only last an hour, so in theory there was a time limit to Mike’s suffering. He was trapped in the dark, trapped inside a body with no will of its own. He hadn’t been sure he could get hard in his condition, but as it turned out, he very much could. Again, though, he couldn’t shift to accommodate his stiff cock, could only lie with it mashed up against his thigh.

In his mind, he pleaded with Travis to give him relief, to reach underneath him to stroke him off. Instead, Travis switched the vibrator to a higher setting and left it there. The mattress moved slightly as Travis stood up. Mike listened intently. He decided that Travis had gone to pick up his drink, and imagined he could hear the liquid in the glass, followed by the soft swallow when Travis lifted it to his lips.

Moments later, Travis was back. He sat near Mike’s hip and touched his bound arms, pushing them higher, stretching him just to the point of pain, and then stopping, as if he knew exactly how hard far to press. His warm hand touched Mike’s back, sliding slowly across his skin, down past his shoulder blades to his spine and coming to rest on his hips He leaned in to kiss the back of Mike’s neck, gnawing gently.

And then he started to speak, low and intimate.

“You’re so curious about my Boston sponsors, so I’ll you. Just the short version. They used to keep me tied up for hours and beat me raw. I was blindfolded, gagged, drugged, always with something different. They never warned me in advance. Sometimes it was the same stuff I gave you tonight. Sometimes a strong sedative, or Viagra, or amphetamines. The worst was the hallucinogen. LSD probably. Cut with speed. I still get nightmares about it.”

He adjusted the dildo, pulling it halfway out, shoving it back in, twisting it inside of Mike. He altered the angle so that it rested against Mike’s prostate, buzzing against it, buzzing through his nerve endings.

“I would never treat you like that. Well, just this once. I wanted to show you, so you understood how lucky you are.”

He placed several more kisses on Mike’s neck and halfway down his spine and then, still seated next to Mike, leaned away and back again. Something crackled, a sound that Mike recognized as a condom wrapper being torn open. He waited tensely, wondering if it was possible to lose his mind from the feel of the vibe inside him. Even as he thought this, it was switched off and removed.

Seconds later, Mike felt Travis on top of him. He entered Mike in one slow, steady movement and wrapped his hands over the top of Mike’s shoulders. “You feel so fucking good,” he growled against his neck. “It’s a shame I have to share you with Harvey.” He pulled halfway out and plunged back in. “He may have found you, but he sure as hell doesn’t know what to do with you now that he has you.”

Travis jerked his hips again. Seemingly done talking, he palmed Mike’s ass and rocked into him. This was all kinds of wrong. Was Travis actually getting off on this? As he continued to fuck him, Mike began to grow angry. The longer it went on, the angrier he became. Just as with his earlier arousal, the most frustrating thing was he had no outlet for his anger. He couldn’t curse, or push Travis away. He was nothing more than inert matter. A thing. A hole.

Eventually, he would cease to be inert. The drug would wear off and his muscles would start to work again. When that moment arrived, he knew exactly what he was going to do.

 

******

 

In spite of himself, Mike was impressed with Travis’ stamina. While it wasn’t easy to keep track of time with the blindfold in place, it seemed to Mike that Travis fucked him steadily for a good thirty minutes or more. By the time he was done, Mike’s ass felt numb. His brain felt numb. His shoulders ached. His pulse pounded with a rage unlike anything he’d known before.

Finally, Travis froze, shuddered, and released into the condom with enthusiastic sounds of satisfaction. He didn’t pull out right away, but lay on top of Mike, pressing him into the mattress with his solid weight.

Mike gave an experimental tug at the ropes binding his wrists. He felt his muscles contract, barely more than a flinch, but it was encouraging. He managed to wriggle one of his toes, but lay completely still after that discovery, playing possum, biding his time.

He flinched as Travis pulled out, and hoped he hadn’t noticed. The weight disappeared from him and he heard Travis move away before returning to untie him and roll him onto his back. He removed Mike’s blindfold and stared down at him, an unreadable expression on his face. Mike tried to remember whether or not he was supposed to be able to blink.

“How are you feeling?” asked Travis.

Mike didn’t react.

Travis frowned. “I’m going to let you sleep while I grab a shower and dinner. After that, I’ll drive you back to Harvey’s.” He threw a blanket over Mike and left the room.

Now that he was alone, Mike got busy trying to get his body back in working order. He wiggled his toes some more, until he was able to move his feet. Turning his attention his hands, he moved his fingers one at a time and curled first one hand and then the other into a loose fist. To begin with, it felt as difficult as executing a deadlift in Olympic weightlifting. As the minutes ticked past, more and more of his body came back online.

Travis had been gone for perhaps twenty minutes when Mike finally managed to push himself up into a sitting position. His arms trembled when he leaned back on them, but they didn’t collapse. He took a moment to catch his breath before shifting his legs around, one at a time, to fall over the side of the bed, feet pressed to the floor. A tremor ran up and down his legs, as if his muscles were flexing and trying to get back into the game.

For several minutes, he just breathed, reasoning that if he inhaled and exhaled deeply enough, fresh oxygen would clean the drug out of his system more quickly. Maybe the rush of adrenaline from his anger would serve the same purpose. He waited, gathering strength, and then pushed to his feet, only to have his legs collapse, sending him crashing hard back down to the mattress.

“Fuck.”

His voice was back, anyway. He muttered a few more choice curses just to limber up his tongue and vocal cords. Spotting his clothes all the way on the other side of the room, he nearly gave up and admitted defeat, but he wasn’t sticking around here a second longer than he needed to. Working in gradual stages, he lowered himself to the floor and started belly crawling. Frequent pauses were required, but by the time he’d reached the pile of clothes, he was moving with noticeably more confidence, although he still required a few minutes of rest to recover.

Getting into the clothes was an ordeal in itself. It probably took him fifteen minutes to complete the process. He could hear Travis speaking on the phone in the main room of the loft. From the words and phrases that drifted into the playroom, Mike deduced that he was talking to one of his clients. He hoped the call would be a lengthy one, and it seemed he might get his wish. He was lacing up his sneakers, fighting with an annoying lack of fine motor control, and could still hear Travis. It sounded as if the call had devolved into a heated argument.

He measured the distance to the door with his eyes. If he could just get his legs to work he could get the hell out of here. A bonus would be getting both his arms to work as well. Holding onto the edge of the bondage table, he heaved himself to his feet. Balance was touch and go for a few seconds, but once he stopped swaying, his legs seemed willing enough to hold his weight. He took one lurching step forward, and then another, using whatever piece of furniture was closest to keep himself upright.

When he made it to the doorway, he paused, breathing hard and reconnoitering. Travis was not currently in his line of sight, but he could hear him talking. It sounded as if he was somewhere near the kitchen. Mike shook out his arms, flexed his knees a few times, and decided it would have to do.

Luck was with him as he strode into the living room with a gait that would have made Frankenstein’s monster laugh and point. Travis was sitting on a stool with his back to Mike, and was engrossed in his conversation to the degree that he didn’t hear Mike’s inelegant approach. Mike figured he had one chance. He got within three feet of Travis and folded his hand into a fist, remembering to tuck in his thumb like Trevor had taught him when he was twelve years old. He’d never had much luck in a fight, but he’d also never had the element of surprise on his side, and he had no intention of getting involved in a protracted struggle with Travis.

He took one more stealthy step, cocked his arm, and let fly at the side of Travis’ chin with every ounce of pent up rage he possessed. It was a damn good punch. Travis head jerked to the side and he fell of the stool, banging his elbow on the way down. He reclined on the floor, rubbing his jaw and staring up at Mike accusingly.

“What the fuck, Mike?”

“Red,” declared Mike with perfect diction. “Fucking red, asshole.”

He shuffled toward the front door as fast as he could, praying his knees didn’t buckle on him. As his hand closed around the doorknob, he heard that fucker Travis behind him, down on the floor where he’d left him, chuckling, clearly amused.

“Better ice that hand, Mike,” he called after him. “I’ll text you the details about Forstman tomorrow.”

Mike slammed the door behind himself and rage-summoned an Uber on his phone as he rode the elevator down to street level.

 

******

 

Harvey wasn’t home yet when Mike returned. He stood in the living room, hands on hips, surveying his surroundings and trying to decide what to do next. He was still somewhat unsteady on his feet, but suspected that was only partly physical.

Fuck. He couldn’t believe he’d actually begun to accept this fucked up arrangement. What he’d conveniently forgotten – what he always forgot whenever he tried to take a shortcut in life – was that everything had a hidden cost.

Not so hidden anymore. He shuddered as his remembered the feeling of being unable to move, of being completely helpless while Travis …

He grimaced, desperately trying to convince himself that this latest indignity shouldn’t bother him so much. Whether he was an active participant or not, it was all about him being used. About his body being used by two men who knew little or nothing about him. Maybe they’d fooled him those first few nights into thinking they cared about him. Why should they care, though? As they were so fond of pointing out, he’d signed a contract, and he was absolutely replaceable.

He’d known all that and had accepted it.

What really stuck in his craw was Travis – that fucking asshole Travis – allowing him a safeword and then denying it to him by taking away his ability to speak it out loud. The thought of it made him want to rage-Uber right back to Travis’ loft and hit him again. His hand throbbed at the memory of the first punch. Any other time, he would have headed to the kitchen for ice – or a bag of frozen peas – but he’d endure the pain and swelling before he took any advice from Travis.

A stiff drink, on the other hand, sounded like a splendid idea. He went into the kitchen and found Harvey’s expensive scotch. After considering and rejecting the idea of a glass, he carried the bottle to his bedroom and settled in for some serious drinking – and some serious contemplation of his options.

He heard Harvey come home perhaps an hour later. Mike pretended to be asleep (passed out) when Harvey cracked the door open to check on him. Without a word, he closed the door. After a bit, Mike heard Harvey’s door close. He waited another half hour, and then got up and started to pack.

Chapter Text

Mike didn’t make it out the door at the crack of dawn, as he’d planned during his drunken, manic packing spree of the night before. Instead, he’d finished off the bottle of scotch and passed out face down on the bed. When he finally dragged his eyes open and peered at his watch, it was past ten in the morning. It didn’t matter. Harvey wouldn’t know anything was different about today until Mike failed to show up for his afternoon of interning, and it would probably take him a while after that to act on that realization.

Nursing a hangover, he took his time, indulging in one last cup of Harvey’s excellent coffee before finishing up the final few weeks of coursework and submitting them. He may never make it to Harvard, he thought morosely, but at least he’d finally earned his bachelor’s degree. Maybe that would be enough to land him a decent job, somewhere between a bartender and a lawyer.

When the pain in his head had receded to a manageable level, and he was fairly confident he wasn’t going to puke anytime soon, he went back to his bedroom and stared down at his things, hands on hips. He couldn’t bring both the suitcase and duffel bag with him if he also intended to take his bike. Plus, until he found someplace to stay, he needed to travel relatively light. Sighing, he opened both pieces of luggage and pulled everything out before repacking as much as he could fit into the duffel bag. He shoved what was left into the suitcase and pushed it to the back of the closet. Maybe the next sugar baby to occupy Harvey’s spare bedroom could make use of it.

After lugging the duffel bag into the living room, he placed the phone and laptop Harvey had bought him on the counter and set the Amex card next to them. He turned to leave, and then turned back again. Harvey and Travis still owed him something for the last few weeks. Taking a moment to check in with his pride, he found it at about fifty-percent efficiency. Strong enough to leave, but weak enough to stuff the phone in his pocket and the Amex card in his wallet.

He figured he had maybe a day’s worth of use of each of them. Harvey could cancel them whenever he wanted. He could also probably track Mike’s movements if he wanted to, but would have no reason to do so for the next several hours. Playing it safe, Mike turned off the phone. He checked his watch. Just past noon. Beatty’s had been open for an hour already. He couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, or anyone but his bar friends to turn to.

He took one more look around, considered writing Harvey a note, but hadn’t a clue what to say. If Harvey didn’t already have the story of last night from Travis, he would eventually, just as soon as he called Travis to ask if he’d seen Mike today. Would Travis tell him the truth? Yes, he probably would, being the unapologetic psychopath he was.

Knowing he’d likely never see Harvey again – and he’d certainly never share a bed with him again – filled Mike with sharp grief. And how pathetic was that? Finally, growing fearful that if he lingered any longer he’d change his mind, he placed his apartment and building keys next to the laptop and slipped out the door.

 

******

 

By the time he reached Beatty’s, Mike was almost ready to chuck the duffel in an alley and leave it there. Trying to ride his bike in traffic while balancing the unwieldy thing on his back had proved unbelievably nerve-wracking. He locked up his bike and carried the duffel into the bar.

Neither Frank nor Chelsie were inside. It was too early for them. They were likely still at work. He claimed a stool at the bar and ordered a burger and a beer, settling in for a long afternoon of self-pity and alcohol.

With a full stomach and enough beer in him to anesthetize his nerves, he took a chance and turned the phone back on. He saw one text from Harvey, which he couldn’t bring himself to read, and another from Travis. He bit the inside of his cheeks debating, and finally opened Travis’ text. It was an address in Manhattan, and a time, 8 pm.

Oh, right. He was supposed to pay Charles Forstman a visit tonight. Well, that was not fucking happening. He deleted the text.

Next, he called the bar he’d used to work at. The owner, Todd, took his call, apparently only for the satisfaction of telling Mike that he wasn’t in the habit of rehiring disloyal little shits like him, and he’d be smart not to show his face in there again. None of which seemed fair. Mike didn’t bother listening to the entire rant, and hung up on him mid-self-righteousness.

He turned off the phone and stared down at it, shaking his head. So, that was one option crossed off his very short list. No job and nowhere to stay. He sighed. There was only one thing to do in a situation like this. He looked up at the bartender, Gwyneth, who was hovering nearby, as if sensing a mind-obliteration emergency brewing. He gave her a weak smile.

“Could I get a whiskey?” He handed her the Amex card. “Guess I’ll be running a tab.”

She poured him the drink and set it in front of him.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” she said, “but it sounded like you were looking for work?”

He took a gulp of whiskey and coughed once. “Just trying to get my old job back. Bad idea.”

“So, you have experience bartending?”

“Sure. A few years’ worth.” His eyes narrowed as he looked at her. “Are you hiring?”

“It’s just a couple of nights a week, but those nights are Friday and Saturday. You’re a regular in here, so I know you’re aware how packed this place gets on the weekend. You’d be working your ass off, and you’d be in karaoke hell both nights, but the tips are phenomenal. Interested?”

“Hell, yes. Do I need to fill out an application?” He wasn’t drunk enough yet not to feel a niggle of worry about the quality of the reference he’d get from Todd.

“Nah. I’m the bar manager. You seem like a reasonably reliable guy.” She grinned impishly. “Expect for the budding drinking problem. There’s no drinking on the job, by the way.”

“Oh, this? This is an anomaly. I’ve had kind of a shitty twenty-four hours.”

“Hey, it happens. And if it turns out to be an issue, I’ll just fire your ass.” Another wide smile. “Can you start this week?”

It was Wednesday. He just had to survive for a couple more days somehow.

“Absolutely.”

“In fact, can you come in Thursday, so you can train with me? I’ll even split my tips. Ya know, if you’re not too awful.”

He threw back the rest of his whiskey. “I’m not too awful.” At bartending, he silently amended. At every other aspect of his life, he sucked.

 

******

 

Chelsie showed up around six-thirty. Mike greeted her like a long-lost relative, throwing his arms around her and hugging her like a python.

“Whoa, Drunky McDrunkerson,” she laughed, prying his arms off her. “Let’s take it down a notch, shall we?”

He dragged her over to their regular table in the corner, and then went back for his duffel, which he stowed under the table. “I’ve got so much to tell you,” he slurred.

Wincing, she waved a hand in front of her face. “Geez. Nobody light a match around this guy.”

“Ha, fucking, ha. You’d be drinking too, if you were me. Speaking of which, I’m buying. Knock yourself out. Get whatever you want and keep ‘em coming.”

She got up and came back with four tequila shots, complete with salt and lime.

Mike laughed. “Now who’s McDrunker … McDrunk. Whatever. What’s got you drinking tonight?”

“The usual. Nothing special. Life. Shitty job. Shitty apartment. And what are you doing here? I thought you were all snuggled up in Manhattan with your sugar daddies.”

“Ugh. Don’t remind me. That’s over. More like sugar duddies.”

“How tragic. Tell me everything.”

She edged her chair closer and they each took a shot, wincing and then puckering at the tartness of the limes.

He was drunk enough by now that sharing all the highlights and humiliating lowlights of the past few weeks made perfect sense and didn’t sting as much as it would have if he’d been sober. He told her about the double blow job, the riding crop, the caning, his evening as a dog. He played it off for laughs, exaggerating some of the more outrageous moments, until they were both convulsed with laughter, tears rolling down their cheeks.

“Which particular thing,” she gasped, “was the final straw? I mean, I can’t believe you stuck it out for as long as you did.”

“Well, it wasn’t all bad, or crazy, or crazy bad. The one guy I was staying with, Harvey, he was sort of amazing in bed.”

“So, you put up with the beatings and humiliation and, and, client service? You put up with all that shit just for the sake of a good lay?”

“No. It was for the chance at Harvard. Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve said?” But that was a lie, and he knew it. Harvard had been the justification, but every morning when he’d woken up not knowing if he could continue, he’d stayed just for another chance to spend time with Harvey at work, and to feel his touch, to feel him moving inside him, to sleep in his bed all night. His growing addiction to Harvey had clouded his judgement and shredded his sense of self-preservation.

“So?” Chelsie prompted, elbowing him in the ribs. “What was it? What did they do to you that finally drove you over the edge?”

Mike fumbled for the salt, licked the side of his fist, and sprinkled it on. Both hands were trembling. He felt Chelsie’s sharp gaze on him. He licked salt, took the shot, and sucked the lime.

“We might need more drinks,” he told her.

Chelsie hesitated, studying his face. Her amusement had faded. “Mike …”

He pounded a fist on the table, fake grin pasted on. “More drinks, woman.”

After a moment, she got up with seeming reluctance and went to the bar.

 

******

 

“You should go to the cops,” Chelsie said. Her flashing eyes, flared nostrils and thinned lips telegraphed her anger, although her voice remained soft.

“And say what? I asked for something and he gave it to me? That I signed a contract? That I whored myself out to two strangers? Yeah … no. I’m not going to do that. It would be their word against mine anyway.”

“But he assaulted you.”

“No. He didn’t.”

“Yes, he –”

“No!” he barked out. “That’s not what happened. Just drop it. It doesn’t matter. I consented. I asked for something and he gave it to me.”

“Bullshit. That’s not consent. He drugged you.”

“And I consented to be drugged. I did what I did. I survived. Now, I intend to get very, very drunk and do my best to forget all about it.” Which would be an impossibility, given his memory, but luckily there was an endless supply of alcohol in the world.

He surged to his feet and walked unsteadily to the bar. Knowing that Gwyneth would soon be his boss, he did his best to appear at least marginally in control of himself, even though he couldn’t disguise how shit-faced he actually was.

“Could we get two more rounds?” he asked with a smile.

She seemed to consider the request, and gave a short nod. “Two more, and then you’re cut off. And you have to promise not to get behind the wheel tonight.”

“Absolutely. I promise.”

She prepared the shots and set them in front of Mike, along with a plate containing more lime wedges.

“I’m going to cash you out,” she said.

Mike stood, swaying a little and nerves jittering as he waited for her to total up his tab and print a receipt. As he signed for his drinks and added a generous tip, he asked, “What time should I be here tomorrow night?”

“Can you make it by seven?”

“Sure. Uh.” He bit his lip. “Can I ask you a favor? I have some stuff with me I don’t want to be carting around all night. Do you mind if I leave it here?”

“Stuff?”

“Just some dirty laundry I didn’t get done today. I promise I’ll take it with me tomorrow.”

Gwyneth shrugged. She pointed at a closed door next to the jukebox, with the word “Office” stenciled on it. “Throw it in there before you go.”

 

******

 

Frank had arrived, and had joined Chelsie at their table. He gave Mike a faintly hostile look while Mike set two shots in front of Chelsie, and kept the other two for himself.

“Mike’s buying tonight,” Chelsie announced.

“I was buying,” said Mike and tossed back his first shot without benefit of salt or lime. “I’ve been cut off, so I’m out of here.” The second shot went the same way as the first.

“Just because you’re cut off, doesn’t mean you have to leave,” said Chelsie.

“Or stop paying,” grumbled Frank.

Without a word, Mike stood up, wrestled his duffel from under the table, and hauled it across the room to toss in the office. He started toward the front door, but changed his mind, turning so quickly that he nearly tripped over his own feet. He made it back to the table and stood there swaying, one finger pointed at Chelsie’s face.

“What I said earlier? All that stuff? That’s between you and me, okay?”

“Got it,” she replied, hands lifted in mock surrender. “Vaulted.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” He caught sight of Frank’s smirk out of the corner of his eye and pivoted to face him. “Oh yeah, big guy? You got something to say?”

“Not a thing.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Mike was dimly aware that reason and good sense had left him several tequila shots earlier. A few years ago, this sort of nonsensical belligerence might have escalated into a fight, which he would inevitably lose. The only thing that saved him tonight was the fact that Frank was still completely sober.

“I’m going home,” he told them, with as much dignity as he could muster. It wasn’t until he was outside in the cool night air that he remembered he didn’t currently have a home. He’d come to Brooklyn with some vague notion of begging for a few nights on Chelsie’s couch. He might have gone back inside to plead his case, but his booze-soaked brain had a better (different) idea. Gwyneth may have cut him off, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get served at a different bar. In fact, he knew just the place. He’d go see Todd, have a few more drinks on good old Harvey Specter, and maybe give good old Todd a piece of his mind while he was there.

He fumbled for his phone, tapped it impotently for nearly a full minute before he remembered it was turned off, and finally powered it up with the intention of summoning a ride. The first thing he noticed was that he had four missed calls and eight unread texts from Harvey, and two unread texts from Travis.

He grinned triumphantly. “The shit’s officially hit the fan,” he whispered to the night air.

As he’d done before, he ignored Harvey’s messages (and ignored his motivation for doing this), and opened Travis’.

Asshole Travis: “Reminder – C. Forstman expects you at 8.”

Mike checked the time. Ten minutes past eight. Oops. He read the second text, which had arrived two minutes earlier.

Asshole Travis: “Sack up, kid. Duty calls.”

He grimaced. “Ugh. He’s the absolute worst.”

Would there be repercussions for Travis if he didn’t show up? He could only hope so. Forgetting about Todd and the Uber he hadn’t yet summoned, he unlocked his bike and began pushing it down the sidewalk, thinking as deeply as his tequila-pickled brain allowed.

He needed a place to spend the night. Luckily, he still had a no-limit Amex card in his wallet, so he decided his best plan was to head back to Manhattan and check into the priciest hotel room he could find. First, though, he’d have another drink. There were plenty of bars nearby he could slip into. All he had to do was pick one.

He tested the idea in his head of going back to Harvey’s and pleading for one more night under his roof, but almost immediately rejected that. That bridge wasn’t quite burned to the ground yet, but it was most definitely smoldering. Better to keep moving forward.

He laughed out loud as a random thought flitted through his head. Travis had mentioned that Harvey hated Charles Forstman for some mysterious reason. Exactly how angry might Harvey be to hear that Mike had ditched him, threw his fucking arrangement back in his face, and banged Charles Forstman all night for no other reason than sheer spite? Would Harvey even care, though? Doubtful.

As it turned out, that was one of his last lucid thoughts of the night. His stumbling steps halted in front of a bar even seedier than Beatty’s. He propped his bike against the wall and didn’t hear it when it crashed to the sidewalk as he pushed through the front door and serpentined his way to the bar. The bartender either didn’t notice his unsteady gait or didn’t care. He served him, and kept the drinks coming.

 

******

 

A tiny and diabolical someone was trying to drill their way out of Mike’s skull. He groaned, and then groaned again when the drilling increased in intensity.

“Fuck me,” he whispered into the sheets. With his eyes still shut, he felt around for a pillow, and pressed it over his head.

He lay that way for several minutes as his head continued to throb. Nausea ebbed and flowed inside him. He tried to remember where he was and how he’d arrived here, but was only able to pry loose a series of shadowy, disjointed memories that jumped from an unfamiliar bar to the interior of a car to … Pain spiked and he abandoned the effort. He must have checked into a hotel as he’d planned, but figuring out which one he’d landed at could wait.

When he heard a door open behind him, he assumed he’d slept past his checkout time, and it was the maid come to clean the room.

“Do not disturb,” he croaked. “I’ll pay for another night.”

“Considering you never paid for the first night,” came a low, amused voice which he guessed was not the maid, “I’d say that’s a rather empty offer.”

“Urgh,” was all that Mike could manage in response.

“I’ve got something for you that should make you feel better.”

“If it’s not a gun, fuck off.”

Soft laughter. “If you’re going to get as shit-faced as you were last night, you need to be willing to accept the consequences.”

“I accept death. I welcome death.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Travis warned me you could be a handful, but I didn’t believe him. Now I see what he was talking about.”

Synapses creaked back to life in Mike’s brain and fired reluctantly. Travis? Why was the not-maid talking about Travis? Risking exploding eyeballs, he dragged the pillow off his head and looked over his shoulder, squinting at a light which seemed brighter than the surface of the sun, but was actually just the overhead lamp.

“Who the hell are you?” he rasped at the blurry figure silhouetted by the light.

The figure moved closer, resolving into a man holding a glass of something green. “I’ll tell you that as soon as you drink this.”

Mike eyed the drink suspiciously. “What is that?”

“Just a little concoction that has served me well over the years. Kale, apple, fennel, ginger, lime … I can give you the recipe if you want, but I guarantee it will make you feel better in a matter of minutes.”

Mike made hoarse, grumbly sounds as he maneuvered himself into a sitting position. “Hand it over.” At that moment, he didn’t care what was in the glass. Whatever it was couldn’t possibly make him feel worse than he already did, and if there was a chance it could lessen his suffering, he’d take that chance.

“Chug it all in one go,” the man said. “The less of it you taste, the better.” He handed the glass to Mike. “Wait one second.” A wastebasket appeared next to Mike on the bed. “Just in case.”

Mike shut his eyes and gulped the green drink, which didn’t taste as bad as he’d feared. When he was done, he hugged the wastebasket to his chest and waited to spew. Several minutes passed. The throbbing in his head subsided to a bearable level, and his nausea lessened.

“Thanks,” he whispered, and opened his eyes. “I may possibly survive.”

“Despite your best efforts.” This was said with a strong note of disapproval.

“I, uh, have some questions.”

“I’m sure you do. First, there are pain relievers on the nightstand, along with water. The bathroom is through that door over there. Take a shower. Get dressed. Then meet me in my office, which is down the hall, the second door to your right. We have some things to discuss.”

Not a hotel, then. Which made sense, since he’d never heard of a hotel that sent attractive older men to your room to rescue you with hangover cures. Although, maybe that should become a thing.

“Michael? Did you hear me?”

“Huh? Yeah, sure. Who are you again?”

A dry chuckle. “Shame on you. You didn’t do your homework. I can assure you that I did mine. I know exactly who and what you are.”

“Maybe you could share that with me,” Mike muttered. His stomach gave a slight lurch, but calmed almost instantly. “For now, could I at least get your name?”

The man shrugged. “I’d have expected someone as smart as I’d assumed you are to have figured that out by now. I’ll cut you some slack due to your recent impairment.” Smiling, he extended a hand. “Michael James Ross, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charles Forstman, and I am going to change your life.”

Mike’s stomach lurched again. Surprising both of them, he vomited violently into the wastebasket.

 

******

 

The pain relievers helped, and the shower helped even more. By the time Mike was clean and dressed in his own clothes, which had been washed while he’d been passed out, he felt infinitely better, so much so that he was ready to face the music in regards to last night. He wasn’t sure what had happened, didn’t know what, if anything, he’d done with Forstman. He’d woken up naked, but didn’t have any suspicious soreness, and didn’t spot any new marks or bruises on his body while he was in the shower. That didn’t rule out blowjobs, given or received, but surely he’d have some memory of that?

Well, perhaps not. He didn’t remember arriving here, or interacting with Forstman or any of his staff. It was all a big, fat blank. He would have to throw himself on the mercy of Charles Forstman to get the answers he needed. Having reached that depressing conclusion, he left the bedroom and went to find his host.

Forstman was in his office, as he’d said. The room was enormous. In addition to an old-fashioned mahogany desk near the window, there was what amounted to an entire living room set, with couch, two love seats and a recliner. A huge flat screen television was bolted to the wall.

The coffee table was loaded down with eggs, toast, bacon and fresh fruit, along with a steaming pot of coffee. Mike’s stomach growled at the sight of the food.

Forstman chuckled and got up from behind the desk, gesturing toward the food. “All guaranteed to continue your convalescence. Fix yourself a plate.”

“Are you going to tell me what happened last night?”

“You eat. I’ll talk.”

Mike’s stomach still felt a little iffy, so he only helped himself to a modest amount of food before settling on the couch. Forstman came across the room and sat next to him.

Mike took a bite of toast. “I feel like maybe one of us owes the other an apology, but I can’t remember what went on last night, so I’m not sure who is owed what.”

Forstman regarded him thoughtfully. “Have some coffee.”

“I don’t think that’s going to help my memory.”

“Perhaps not, but you look like you need it.”

There seemed no point in arguing, so he fixed himself a cup of coffee. Forstman watched him drink, until he was apparently satisfied that he’d had enough. He picked up a remote control and pointed it at the television.

“This will answer your first question,” he said. “The building has security cameras at the front door. This is what they recorded last night around eleven-thirty.”

He clicked the remote and Mike saw a figure weaving up the sidewalk toward the door. He realized with mild shock that he was looking at himself.

Onscreen Mike yanked on the glass front door, rattled it, and yelled something inaudible. A doorman appeared in the open doorway, one hand outstretched to ward Mike off. A rapid back and forth took place between them, with a lot of scowling from the doorman, and a lot of almost falling from Mike. Finally, the doorman retreated inside, closing the door in Mike’s face. Mike peered through the glass, hands cupped around his face, and yelled some more. He’d begun banging the flat of his hand against the door when the doorman returned and, with what appeared to be great reluctance, let him inside.

Forstman paused the recording. “The doorman said you kept yelling something about ‘the enemy of my enemy.’ You were getting nowhere with him until you mentioned that Tanner had sent you. So, he called me, and I told him to let you in.”

“I guess this is the point where I swear off alcohol in perpetuity.”

“Wait. I haven’t told you the best part yet.”

Mike was fairly certain he didn’t want to hear this, but he waited obligingly for Forstman to share the next appalling thing he’d done.

“Let’s just say, you owe me a new pair of shoes, along with the cleaning bill for the entryway carpet.”

He could only envisage two methods of inflicting that kind of damage. Wincing, he said, “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but please tell me I puked on you.”

“You did.”

“Ah.” He hid his red face behind the coffee cup. “And after that, did we … did you and I …?”

Forstman smiled sourly. “Projectile vomiting is not one of my turn-ons.”

“Yeah. Okay. Fair.” Mike took a bite of bacon and chewed on it while he thought. “Why did you let me in after that? Why not have my thrown into the street?”

“Because after you threw up and before you passed out you had some interesting things to tell me.”

“Such as?”

“You had a lot to say about Harvey Specter.”

Mike winced. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but what exactly did I say?”

Forstman smiled coldly at the question. “I gathered you’re quite fond of the man.”

Mike nearly spluttered at this, reddening once more. “What? Not even close. I despise him. He’s the devil. He and Travis are like a satanic tag team, what with the tempting and, and the debauchery and so forth.”

“Calm down. It’s all right. Some people go for temptation and debauchery. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The real question, though, is how does Harvey feel about you?”

“Feel?” Mike took a closer look at him. He appeared far too interested in the answer to that question, reminding Mike of Forstman and Harvey’s alleged animosity toward one another. “First of all, you’re assuming he has feelings. If he did, they would be something along the lines of contempt and disdain where I’m concerned.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Harvey doesn’t give a shit about me.”

Forstman’s smile grew positively wolfish. He held up a cell phone that Mike recognized as the one Harvey had given him. “His voicemails and texts messages seem to tell a different story.”

Mike made a grab for the phone, but Forstman held it out of reach. “What the fuck, dude? That’s private.”

“You gave it to me last night. You also provided your password.”

Mike shook his head in disgust. “Drunk Mike is the worst,” he muttered. Something occurred to him. “Hey, that thing’s turned off, right?”

“No. I even charged it for you.”

“Shit. That’s just great. I’m ninety-nine percent sure he’s got it set up to track me down if he wants to.”

“Ah. That’s right. You’re currently AWOL. I couldn’t help noticing that you hadn’t even read his texts yet.” He tapped the phone, using Mike’s password to unlock it. “You really need to hear this. I found myself quite moved.”

Mike groaned. “Please don’t.”

Forstman ignored him. “The first one came in around one-thirty yesterday afternoon. ‘Where the hell are you?’ Half an hour later, ‘get your ass in here now.’ There are several more in that vein, but let’s skip ahead to six o’clock. ‘On my way home. Be there or I’ll turn Travis loose on you again.’ Wow. I know Travis well enough to recognize that for the threat it is. I shiver just to think of it.”

Forstman was looking far too entertained.

“Okay,” said Mike, “that’s enough. I get it. Harvey was pissed. Tough shit. He’ll get over it.”

“But I’m not finished yet. Somewhere around nine, the tone changed. Here’s where it gets good. ‘Damn it, Mike. Where are you?.’ Then, ‘Just let me know you’re okay.’ And – oh, this is so touching – at midnight, ‘I found your bike. Are you hurt? I promise I’m not mad. I just need to know you’re okay.’ Tell me those aren’t the texts of a man with feelings.”

“They’re the texts of a man whose …” Mike searched his mind for the right word. “Whose investment got away.”

Forstman leaned back and crossed his legs, the pose of a man settling in for a lengthy discussion. “Let’s talk about that. Oh, you don’t need worry about violating your non-disclosure agreement. I know all about the whole apprentice and sponsor tradition and what it entails.” He shook his head, a half-smile quirking one side of his mouth. “Lawyers. What a bunch of headcases, right? You sure you want to join that circus?”

Mike was sure, even after all that had happened. He didn’t say so, just stared stonily down at his congealing eggs.

Forstman’s voice went soft and intimate. “Yeah, you are. It’s written all over your face. Things didn’t work out so well with Harvey and Travis though, did they?”

Mike shrugged.

“It’s not surprising,” Forstman continued. “Between the two of them, they have more issues than the New York Post. You’re better off without them.”

Like the idiot he apparently was, all at once Mike felt like crying. To cover the moment of weakness, he drained his coffee cup and poured himself another, fussing with the sugar and cream until he’d regained control of himself.

“I was doing fine before I met them,” he said. “I’ll be fine now.”

“You were a bartender. Nothing against the profession, but I did a bit of digging on you, and I get it. I see what Harvey and Travis saw in you. You’ve got potential kid, and it seems kind of a shame to let it go to waste.”

Mike shrugged one shoulder listlessly. “Life doesn’t always work out like you want it to.”

“Yeah, but the thing is, it still could.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just tell me one thing, Mike. Be honest with me. How much do you still want to go to law school? Scale of one to ten.”

“Twenty-five.” Mike blinked away the stupid, helpless tears that filled his eyes.

“I can make that happen.”

Mike’s plate fell from his hand and hit the coffee table with a clatter. He set the coffee cup down more gently and rose to his feet. “Been there, done that. Hard pass.”

“Mike,” Forstman rapped out, voice hard and drenched in authority, “sit down.”

Mike’s knees buckled and he sank back down onto the couch.

Forstman’s eyes were very blue, and filled with what Mike suspected was a wholly counterfeit sincerity. “What I’m about to propose,” he said, “is nothing like the deal you got with Travis and Harvey. I’ll pay your way, full ride, and you come work for me when you’re done.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“I don’t need to vet you. Travis and Harvey have already done all the work on that front.”

“I vomited on your shoes.”

 “A story we can amuse people with for years to come. Sort of a professional ‘meet cute.’”

The whole conversation was totally nuts. Mike’s headache began a resurgence. “Look, there is no way in hell I intend to work with Travis. Like, ever.”

“Who said anything about working with him?”

“He’s your attorney. Are you planning to fire him?”

“Not at all. He’s very useful to me. I’m talking about making you in-house counsel. If you turn out to be the hot shit everyone seems to think you are, I’d have you handle the parts of my business that Travis won’t.”

“The criminal side,” said Mike before he could stop himself.

Forstman’s expression darkened. “You don’t need to go getting all high and mighty on me. I know about all the little scams you’ve been running, with and without your buddy Trevor. You’re no saint.”

“Jesus,” Mike muttered. “Whatever happened to the concept of privacy?”

“Before you reject the offer outright, consider this. No matter what you might think about some of my more irregular business concerns, you would not be committing any alleged crimes yourself, just defending me and my associates against possible repercussions. Everyone is entitled to legal counsel, even a guy like me. It’s no exaggeration to say that the rewards to you would be immeasurable. The sky’s the limit.”

In spite of himself, Mike found himself considering the proposal. Forstman was right. Everyone was entitled to legal representation. No matter where Mike went to work, odds were good that he’d eventually find himself in the position of defending someone with questionable ethics. Working for Forstman would be a learning experience, if nothing else. He could always quit if he chose to. His hopes, which had felt so thoroughly dashed not that long ago, began to reanimate.

Except …

“What about right now, before I start law school? Would anything be required of me now?”

“You’re a nice-looking kid, but if we’re going to be working together someday, it’s better not to get involved.”

“So … nothing? No down payment on law school?”

“Well …” Forstman hummed thoughtfully. “There might be the occasional favor here and there. Easy stuff. No big deal.”

“Such as?”

“Such as, maybe a package might need to be discreetly delivered somewhere. Or I might need someone with a memory like yours to visit a competitor’s establishment and take mental notes. Like I said, easy stuff. A young guy like you might even end up having little fun in the process.”

None of that sounded so bad. “What about Harvard? I’m banned from there, but Harvey said he had connections, and thought he could get me in.”

“Hmm. That might not be possible. What about Yale? Or you could stay in town and attend Columbia.”

“I’m sort of banned from there too.”

“No problem. There’s NYU. Princeton. Tell me what you want, and I’ll make it happen.”

“Except Harvard.”

“Is that a deal breaker?”

Harvard had been the dream, but maybe it was time the dream was updated. “I hear Yale isn’t too bad.”

“Yale it is.” Grinning, Forstman stuck out his hand. “Let’s shake on it. If you want to make it more official with a contract, I’ll have my team get right on it.”

Mike wasn’t sure what made him hesitate. Life had given him another chance. He was once more being offered what he wanted, only this time without strings attached. Well, different strings, but not ones that would claim another piece of his soul every time he turned around. The bonus was that whether he realized it or not, Forstman was also presenting him with the opportunity to exact a bit of revenge. When Harvey discovered that the man he hated had been able to offer Mike a better deal than he had, and that Mike would be working for him and not Harvey, even if he didn’t regret the loss of Mike himself, knowing that his enemy had gotten one ever on him had to sting at least a little bit.

“I’ll shake your hand for now,” he said, “but I also want everything spelled out in writing.” He grasped Forstman’s hand, trying not to wince when it closed around his with surprising strength. As they shook, a soft chime sounded somewhere in the apartment.

Staring into Mike’s eyes, Forstman lifted on eyebrow and smiled. “Sounds like we’ve got company. Right on schedule.”

Chapter Text

Mike expected to see Harvey walk through Forstman’s office door. He didn’t expect him to be accompanied by Travis. He tensed immediately, unconsciously digging his fingers into the arm of the sofa, as if preparing to hold on when they tried to drag him out of here. He breathed slowly, in an out, and reminded himself that they had no rights over him, and that he had a new, powerful ally in Charles Forstman.

Forstman greeted them both as if they were old and treasured friends, ushering them into the room and offering them coffee and breakfast, which both declined. Mike didn’t miss the extra sharpness in his gaze when he spoke to Harvey, or the smug, secretive smile that played around his lips. As for Travis, Forstman shot him a glance which promised they would be having a long and not so friendly chat in the near future.

Mike could barely meet Harvey’s gaze. He took a bit of satisfaction in noting that Harvey appeared as rough around the edges as he felt, as if he’d had little, if any, sleep last night. He hadn’t shaved this morning and hadn’t styled his hair in the usual way. Everything considered, he had no right to look as devastatingly handsome as he did.

“Mike,” said Harvey, in a low voice infused with an emotion Mike couldn’t identify, “I’m here to take you home.”

Mike glanced at Forstman, who appeared vastly amused, and then at Travis, who was staring back at Mike with a tight smile. He half-expected everyone to pull a gun in few seconds and go all Reservoir Dogs on one another.

“I’m not going back,” Mike stated as firmly as he was able, which was approximately half an order of magnitude firmer than a Tupperware container full of warm jello.

“Look, Mike – ” Harvey sent Forstman a hostile glare which would have melted the face off of a weaker man. “I recognize that you have certain legitimate grievances. I’ve spoken to Travis, and have made him aware that he crossed a line with you. Crossed several lines, in fact.”

Travis said nothing, but when Mike took a closer look at him, he was surprised to realize that he seemed almost apologetic. Still, too little, too late. If he was angling for forgiveness, he was destined for disappointment. They both were.

“No,” said Mike.

“The three of us need to sit down together and talk about this. I’m sure we can work something out, and figure how to go forward with our arrangement. We’re both willing to make certain concessions and changes to the contract.”

“No.”

Harvey glanced at Forstman, who was looking positively jovial by now, and ran an agitated hand through his hair. “Mike … My God, you’re stubborn, but there’s really no point. You may as well say yes, because we both know you have nowhere else to go.” He jerked a thumb at Forstman. “I’m sure he’d agree you’ve already overstayed your welcome.”

“Not at all, Harvey,” Forstman said. “I regret to inform you, there’s been a change of plans. Mike has a new sponsor.” He grinned, malicious, hugely entertained, and not at all regretful.

Mike nearly laughed out loud at the look of alarm on Harvey’s face at this news. He settled more comfortably on the couch, prepared for the fireworks to fly between Harvey and Forstman. Instead, it was Travis who spoke up.

“What has he promised you?” he asked Mike.

“The same thing you did, without all the bullshit strings attached.”

“Really? No strings? That would be a first.” Travis turned to Forstman. “What did you do? What the hell did you promise him?”

Forstman laid a hand on Mike’s knee, which may have been meant to reassure him, but felt more like a claim of ownership. “We decided Yale would be a more suitable fit for him. He’ll do a few little jobs for me in the meantime, and after he graduates, I intend to groom him to become my in-house counsel. I won’t even require him to whore himself out to achieve his goals.”

“Imagine that,” Mike added, giving Harvey a dark glare.

Harvey and Travis exchanged a look, and then sat next to one another one across from Mike and Forstman.

Travis spoke again. “Define,” he said, “‘a few little jobs.’”

Mike scowled at him. “He’s not talking about hand jobs, or blow jobs, asshole. Even if he was, you two don’t have a lot of moral high ground in that regard.”

Ignoring Mike, Travis growled, “Answer the damn question, Charles. Don’t forget, I know you, and I know all about your sleazy business ventures.”

“You don’t know shit,” said Forstman, “and you calling me sleazy is goddamn hilarious. Who sent Mike over here last night? That was all you. The poor kid had to drink about a gallon of booze just to get up the nerve.” He squeezed Mike’s knee.

Mike lifted a finger. “Um, for the record, that’s not exactly how it happened.”

Harvey’s gaze focused on Mike. “After your night at Travis’ place, I understand why you left.” He gestured at Forstman. “No matter how you feel about us, or the contract you signed, this is not a solution. He’s not a man you want to get involved with. It may seem as if he’s promising you everything you’ve ever wanted, but I guarantee you the price he exacts will be far worse than anything you might have endured with us.”

“Let’s talk about that,” Mike replied. “He only wants me to deliver some packages and hang around with some of his employees to help him improve his business. What about you? The last time I was at work with you, you made me suck you off in a bathroom stall.” He left out the fact that he had enjoyed every second of it. “And Travis? I don’t even know why he’s here. If you think what he did was so bad, why are you even still hanging around with him?”

“We can discuss all that, just not here.”

“The high and mighty Harvey Specter,” drawled Forstman. “You think you’re too fucking good to be in my presence?”

“You’re damn right I do.”

Unable to contain his curiosity, Mike asked, “What exactly happened between the two of you?”

Silence.

“Well?” said Harvey. “Go ahead and tell him. Tell him all about how you screwed me over at the DA’s office, and used my own brother to do it. About how you’ve never gotten over how I managed to slip out of your slimy grasp, thanks to Jessica Pearson.” He looked back at Mike. “I told you he likes to play games. Why do you think he’s so willing to spend all that money on you, someone he met less than twelve hours ago?”

Hiding his unease, because Harvey wasn’t wrong about that last part, Mike shrugged. “He sees something in me, like you did. It’s an investment. He won’t just get a great attorney, he’ll get my gratitude and in turn, my loyalty. I’d say that’s worth the money.”

“You don’t get it, Mike. It’s not just about money with him. Money is a distant third on the list of things he cares about. You want to know what number one and number two are? Getting back at people and controlling people. He wants to get back at me by controlling you. I guarantee it won’t go well for you. Just from the fact that I’ve shown up here to pull your ass out of the fire, he believes he can strike back at me by ruining you. If you stay, that’s what he’ll do. He wants you to deliver a package? Chances are it will be filled with drugs, or worse. Meet with his employees? Which ones? The traffickers? The swindlers? The guy that will hack off a finger if you look at him wrong?”

“Oh, my God,” Mike scoffed. “Dramatic much?” His feigned unconcern was a complete smokescreen, which Harvey could probably see right through. The more he learned about Forstman, the more unsure he became about their deal. Would he ever learn his lesson about not jumping into things before he knew exactly what he was getting into?

“Just giving you the straight facts,” said Harvey. “My advice? Get out now, while you can. If you’re foolish enough to stay, I give it six months, tops. You’ll either be dead, or in jail.” His tone softened and his voice went husky. “And that would be a damn shame.”

Forstman shifted restlessly on the couch, shaking his head, lips pressed into a tight line. “Still the same self-righteous prick, I see. I didn’t do any real harm to you or your brother, and you know it. Marcus got the restaurant he wanted, although I can’t say he deserved it. You never wanted to admit to yourself what a supreme fuckup his was, did you?”

“Shut your goddamn mouth about my brother.”

“And as for you? I didn’t do anything to you that you didn’t allow me to do. I simply revealed who you really were. If you can’t handle that uncomfortable truth, that’s your fault, not mine.”

“Bullshit.” Harvey had his fists clenched, as if he’d like nothing more than to take a swing at Forstman’s face. “You threatened to destroy my career if I didn’t play along. You set me up, and did your damnedest to fuck over both Marcus and me.”

“Then you ran to Jessica with your tail between your legs like the little bitch you are. You couldn’t handle your own shit then, and you can’t handle it now. You couldn’t even handle one pathetic loser dropout.” Forstman gestured at Mike. “You managed to run him off after only a few weeks. He despises you. I’ve only known him for, as you say, less than half a day, but I guarantee if I asked him to drop to his knees right now and suck my cock, he’d do it and thank me for the privilege.”

Mike opened his mouth to protest that he didn’t despise Harvey, and no, he had no plans to suck Forstman’s cock, but before he could speak, Harvey lunged at Forstman, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and lifting him to his feet. Both Mike and Travis moved to intervene, but Harvey was too fast for them. He had Forstman across the room and up against the wall, still holding his shirt, with his other arm jammed up against his neck, before either of them were halfway there.

“You can do what you want to me,” he growled, “but leave Mike alone.”

Mike watched, not certain what to do, as Travis latched onto Harvey’s shoulder and tried to pry him away from Forstman.

“Harvey,” Travis barked, “it’s not worth it. Do you want to end up with a lawsuit on your hands?”

“Do it,” gasped Forstman with a grin on his face. “I’ll wipe the floor with you. Ask Travis how many people I’ve sued for less, and how many times we’ve lost. The answer, if you’re curious, is none. So, go ahead. Hit me. When Travis calls Mike to the stand as a witness against you, he can tell the jury all about your unprovoked attack, and for good measure, he can tell them about the contract he signed with you, and all the unspeakable things you coerced him to do.”

Travis wrestled Harvey off of Forstman and forced him back a pace, but he continued to go at it verbally with Forstman. They hurled insult after insult at one another, and threat after threat, while Travis continued to play the peacemaker, or at least try to.

Mike didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to think. His enthusiasm for Forstman’s offer dwindled with every damning thing out of Harvey’s mouth, and every confirming retort of Forstman’s. Clearly, Forstman had only considered Mike a pawn all along in his longstanding war with Harvey. Was law school even on the table for Mike, or had Forstman’s offer simply been another cruel mirage that would turn to so much sand in the desert?

While the other men’s attention and aggression was focused on one another, Mike edged out of the room and stared down the hall at the front door. He could make his escape now, and it would probably be several minutes before anybody even noticed he was gone. The temptation was strong to take everything Harvey said at face value, but what if it was all a lie? What if Forstman was sincere about his offer?

Mike sucked in several deep, calming breaths and returned to Forstman’s office.

“Shut up,” he requested in a normal voice, and then more loudly, “hey, shut up. Everyone just be quiet.” No response. “I said, shut up.” They all ignored him, so he picked up the ceramic tray filled with breakfast food and flung it at the wall. It hit with a resounding crash, shattering to pieces. Cold bits of egg stuck to the wall. As first one, and then another piece of egg slid to the floor, the room went completely silent.

“Thank you,” he said, voice drenched in sarcasm. “Harvey and Travis, you need to leave. Now. We have nothing more to discuss, and there’s nothing you can say to convince me to go with you. Charles, you and I need to have a little talk.”

Forstman looked revoltingly smug. “You heard him, guys,” he said. “I win. You lose. Get out before I call my security detail in here to have you thrown out.”

Harvey shook his head in frustration, locking gazes with Mike. “You’re making a mistake.”

“Wouldn’t be my first this month, or even this week.”

Travis had hold of Harvey’s arm, and was trying to drag him out the door.

Harvey’s dark eyes seemed to bore into him. “Mike, just think about what you’re doing. Come with us now. Please.

“No.”

Harvey let out a harsh breath which managed to convey his deep disappointment with Mike’s decision. “Keep the phone, then, and the credit card. Call me when you realize you’re in too deep.”

“Can I go back in a time machine to about three weeks ago?”

He could hear Harvey’s molars grinding together. Harvey stalked to the door to join Travis, then whirled back to face Forstman. He pointed a finger at him and snarled, “If any harm comes to him as a result of his association with you, you’ll have me to answer to.”

“And me,” said Travis, surprising everyone.

“That’s rich,” Mike muttered.

They stood side by side, staring at Mike for several seconds.

Then Harvey gave a frustrated growl and they both turned to go, leaving Mike alone with Forstman.

“Holy shit,” Forstman crowed. “That was delicious. Even better than I’d hoped.”

The only reply Mike could manage was, “What?”

“Did you see Harvey’s face. It was like he’d taken a hard punch to the gut. And he begged. The great Harvey Specter actually begged. That was well worth one pair of ruined shoes.”

Mike was stunned. Every bit of friendliness and he’d shown toward Mike earlier had disappeared.

“Is it true?” Mike asked. “About Harvey’s brother?”

“It’s true that Marcus Specter was a degenerate gambler who dug himself a hole so deep, it took someone like me to pull him out of it. More than anything, Harvey resents me because he wasn’t able to be the hero for his brother, riding to the rescue.”

“What about the DA’s office?”

“What about it? I discovered a weakness, and I exploited it. That’s what the business world is like. That’s what life is like, kid. Exploit, or be exploited. Learn that lesson, and you’re halfway along the road to success.”

“So … that’s what you’re doing here, right now, to me? Exploiting me?”

“Exploiting your connection with Harvey? Maybe. Exploiting your talents? Absolutely.”

Mike huffed out a sigh and shook his head. “You’re operating on an assumption you haven’t yet verified, which is that I have any talents useful to you. If you’re as good a businessman as everyone seems to think, that would be completely out of character. Which tells me that pretty much everything you’ve said to me, everything you’ve promised, is a big fat load of bullshit.”

Forstman surprised Mike by throwing back his head and laughing, long and heartfelt. “You figured that out a lot faster than I thought you would. So, kudos for that. Maybe next time someone offers you something that sounds too good to be true, you’ll perform your due diligence before taking the bait.”

Part of Mike wanted to punch Forstman in the face, like he’d done to Travis. Mostly, though, he found himself impressed by the sheer, ballsy amorality of the man. He was a dick, but he owned his dickishness and used it to bend the world to his will, all while having a laugh at everyone else’s expense.

Obviously, there would be no Yale in Mike’s future. There would be no law school at all, not now, not anytime soon. Probably never. He did what he’d done every other time life had kicked him in the balls. He recalibrated.

Holding out his hand, he said, “I’ll take my phone back, please.”

Forstman fake-pouted. “You’re leaving? There’s no need for that. If you’re looking for work, I’ll bet I could find a spot for you in my organization that would suit you. I’m sure you’d do great in the sex trade side of things. If a couple of guys like Harvey Specter and Travis Tanner would take the trouble to come over here and plead to get you back, you must be quite the tiger in the sack.”

“Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not, but I know one thing for certain. You’ll never find out.”

Forstman was still laughing when Mike took the phone and left.

 

It must have rained the night before, because when he exited the building onto the sidewalk, the air felt cool and damp and fresh. He breathed it in, taking in huge gulps of it to drive out the lingering effects of his hangover. He started walking not in any particular hurry. There was plenty of time before he needed to be back at Beatty’s.

He’d take the subway to Brooklyn, he decided, and then treat himself to one last good meal courtesy of the Amex card. Later, he’d ask Chelsie about sleeping on her couch for a few days. Everything was going to be fine, he told himself. Nothing irreversible or irreparable had happened to him.

He was going to be all right. Eventually. Just as soon as he got rid of the gigantic, burning ache in his heart and managed to forget the expression – which looked like pure grief but couldn’t have been – on Harvey’s face when he’d told him no for the final time.

Chapter Text

Three Months Later

 

“Macallan 18.”

Mike stiffened, but only for a moment. The voice behind him was female, not male. It was, however, familiar. He turned slowly and regarded Jessica Pearson, who sat on a barstool in Beatty’s, poised and elegant and perfectly at ease.

And wholly pissed off.

Warily, Mike poured her drink and slid it in front of her.

“Yours is not a face I ever expected to see in here,” he said. Or ever again.

It was seven o’clock on a Friday night. The bar wasn’t as packed as it would be in another hour or two, but it was getting there.

Jessica sipped her drink. “I wanted to come and see for myself.”

“See what?”

“The amazing career opportunity that caused you to turn down a free ride to Harvard.”

Mike snorted. “Free? I think we both know that’s not true.”

She took another drink, and then gazed at him, enigmatic smile firmly in place. “My father was a surgeon,” she said.

He frowned at the apparent non sequitur. “And? So?”

“So, my road to Harvard was much simpler. My father would have preferred medical school for me. We fought, but he conceded eventually and paid my way.”

“This is fascinating, but my other customers –”

“My point,” she interjected crisply, “is that I acknowledge a certain lack of … visceral understanding of what Harvey, and Travis – and you for a brief time – experienced in pursuit of something that was given to me as part of my birthright.”

Mike stared at her flatly. “Excuse me for one moment,” he said, grabbing the bottle closest to him and striding over to the table in the corner where Chelsie and Frank were sitting. “Holy fucking shit,” he whispered. “Do you know who that is?”

They strained around him for a view of the bar.

“A goddess fallen to earth?” asked Frank.

“Stop that. You don’t get to be smitten. It’s her. Jessica Pearson.” Mike frowned, trying to remember if he’d ever mentioned her to them.

He must have, at least to Chelsie, because her eyes went wide and her mouth opened in a perfect “O.”

“What’s she doing here?”

“I don’t know. Having some sort existential crisis, maybe?”

Chelsie bit her lip and leaned closer to Mike. “Is she staking a claim?”

“A what?” he barked out, and then glanced around to see if anyone had noticed his outburst. He lowered his voice and said, “No. She can’t do that. Not anymore. I don’t think she would, even if she could.” He looked over his shoulder to find Jessica staring straight at him. “God, she’s freaking me out. What should I do?”

“You could always eighty-six her,” Chelsie suggested. “You have the power.”

This seemed to offend Frank. “Don’t you dare. Hey, why don’t you introduce her to me?”

“Ugh,” said Mike. “Dream on. I have to get back.”

Ignoring Frank’s pleas and Chelsie’s laughter, Mike walked back across the room.

Moving behind the bar, he checked on his customers, refreshing drinks and plunking bottles and cans of beer in front of them. As he worked, he pondered Jessica’s words. From there, his thoughts turned inevitably to Harvey.

For the first two weeks after he’d left Forstman’s place, he’d been both dreading and hoping that Harvey would show up here one night. Maybe he’d beg Mike to come back, or beg his forgiveness. Mike hated how much he missed him, how many nights he lay awake on Chelsie’s couch and stared up at the ceiling, remembering his nights with Harvey. After several weeks had passed with no Harvey, he’d begun to come to terms with the reality that the episode was over, the chapter was closed, and Harvey would never be a part of his life.

Now, here was Jessica Pearson, stirring up all those emotions he’d so resolutely put away.

When all of his customers were taken care of, he reluctantly returned to Jessica and gestured to her empty glass. “Would you like another?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’m not staying. Before I go, I wanted to ask you for a favor.”

“A what, now?”

She chuckled. “Oh, I know perfectly well how presumptuous that sounds. We barely know one another, but unless my instincts are completely off, I think you care at least a little bit about Harvey. He clearly cares about you.”

“Sorry, but your instincts seem to have experienced a catastrophic failure. The only thing between Harvey and me was the contract we signed, and that’s been torn up. Figuratively speaking, that is. For all I know, it’s been torn up literally as well.”

Jessica reached into her purse and pulled out a fifty-dollar bill, which she laid on the bar. “You may be gone, but sadly, you’re not forgotten. The legacy you’ve left behind is …” She narrowed her eyes and studied him. “Well, I suppose the best way to put it is that full-scale rebellion, led by Harvey and Travis, has broken out against a tradition that has been in place for more than a century. Both have adamantly refused to look for another apprentice to fill your place. Travis has taken a leave of absence, and rumor has it he’s returned to Boston in search of closure or retribution or some such nonsense.”

Mike swallowed hard at this news, adjusting his opinion of Travis ever so minutely. “What about Harvey?” he asked.

She grimaced. “Harvey has gone so far as to threaten to leave unless the firm cancels every contract currently in effect and discontinues our participation in the system.”

This was even more surprising than the news about Travis, and hit Mike with surprising force. He turned away to hide his reaction, taking a moment to fix himself a mug of coffee, and then turned back.

“Is it a real threat, do you think, or just a bluff?”

“Harvey rarely bluffs, and never with me. He means it.”

“But you’re not going to let him leave, are you?”

“That’s up to him, not me. I can’t stop him. I don’t think he’ll follow through. He knows the consequences if he does.”

“What consequences?”

“He’d be unable to practice law in New York state for five years. If and when he did decide to return to his practice, he’d be automatically blackballed from the most prestigious firms in the city, all of which follow the same tradition he’s turned his back on.”

Good for Harvey.

“You said you were here to ask me for a favor. What favor?”

“I’d like you to go see Harvey. Talk to him. Tell him you forgive him. Tell him whatever you must to get him back on track.”

“And why the hell would I do that?”

“Someone needs to make him see the foolishness of his current course of action. I seem unable to do so.” She paused. “I could make it worth your while. Just name your price.”

A harsh laugh burst out of Mike. “Wow. Just … wow. You all can’t stop yourselves, can you? Don’t you get it yet? I don’t want your fucking money.”

“No? You really want to work here forever?”

“Maybe I do. They pay me an honest wage for an honest night’s work. That’s the only type of transaction I’m interested in these days. No more of the ‘something for nothing’ bullshit, because the ‘nothing’ always ends up costing way too much.”

Her dark eyes seemed to drill into him. “You’ve got quite a lot to answer for, Mike.”

“I’ve got a lot –” He let his breath out with a rush as the unfairness of her charge locked up his brain for a few seconds. To cover, he picked up a bar rag and began rubbing it in a circle on the bar top, wiping away imaginary moisture. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of his customers signaling to him, but he ignored them.

“You’re wrong,” he finally managed to get out. “I don’t have a goddamn thing to answer for. It’s a fucked up system that creates damaged, fucked up humans like Travis. And, I’m guessing, like Harvey, except that he hides his damage better. You admitted you can’t know what it feels like to go through what they did, and you’re right. I know, though. It fucks with your head. It takes advantage of your dreams and ambitions and you’re asked to decide how far would you go to achieve those ambitions.” He gave a bitter laugh. “Sort of a metaphor for life, I suppose. How many people fail the test? How many take the deal and don’t realize how steep the price actually is until they’re in too deep?”

“Everyone takes the deal, kid. Everyone’s weak, and venal and craving a chance to get what they want at bargain rates. Everyone takes their goddamn medicine and endures until they come out the other side, then they go on and live their lives, and take their turn in the driver’s seat.” With a half-smile, she waved her index finger in a circular motion. “And the wheel goes round and round and round.”

“It can go around without me, because fuck everything you just said.” He grabbed the fifty-dollar bill from the bar and turned to the cash register to make change. When he turned back to hand it to her, she was gone.

 

******

 

The Amex card Harvey had given Mike had been cut into tiny pieces and thrown away as soon as Chelsie agreed to let him stay at her place. He’d kept the phone, although it hadn’t been turned on since the last time he’d seen Harvey. At first, he’d kept it off because he knew it would be a beacon, informing Harvey exactly where he could find him. Even though he sort of, maybe a little bit, did want Harvey to find him, he wasn’t going to make it that easy for him, or provide that reassurance that he hadn’t stayed with Forstman.

After Harvey failed to put in an appearance, Mike left the phone turned off and forgot about it. It seemed he needn’t have bothered. If Jessica Pearson had located him, Harvey must know where he was working.

Tonight, after his shift was over, he let himself into Chelsie’s apartment, moving quietly so as not to wake her. She’d left the bar a few hours earlier with a guy she’d been hanging out with lately. Her bedroom door was closed. He could hear creaking bedsprings and faint moans and knew it was going to be another ear buds and Metallica kind of night.

Mike sat on the couch and dug through his duffel to retrieve the phone. He cradled it in both hands and stared down at it for long minutes, indecisive. Was he about to reopen a door which it would be better to keep closed?

Finally, curiosity overrode his misgivings. He powered up the phone, groaning as the notifications for text messages and missed calls created an extended, late night, anxiety-inducing symphony. All the messages were from Harvey, which was the only good news. Having Travis trying to get in touch with him as well would have been too much.

Sighing, he read the first message, which was dated the day after the scene at Forstman’s.

“Travis says you left Forstman. Good call.”

Two days after that: “Can we talk? I promise I won’t ask you to change your mind.”

Another week went by, then: “It may (or may not) interest you to know that I’m making some changes. I’d like to tell you about them.”

After that, the messages came at about the rate of one every day or two.

“In case I didn’t make it clear, I’m sorry. About everything.”

“Travis is gone. We’re done.”

“I have your bike.”

“You haven’t charged anything to the Amex lately. Are you getting by okay?”

“Donna asked about you. I think she’s worried.”

“Please reply. One word. A simple ‘yes’ to let me know everything is all right.”

A long stretch of time passed with no texts. The last one had arrived the previous day. When he read it, Mike’s heart seemed to stop for several seconds inside his chest, and then it resumed beating, too had and too fast and too cramped with pain.

“I guess closure is out of the question, so I’ll just say goodbye.”

That was it. Nothing more.

Mike had already resigned himself to the fact that he’d never see Harvey again, but this felt terrifyingly, heartbreakingly final. He couldn’t understand his reaction. He hated Harvey, right?

(Liar.)

Okay, perhaps hate was too strong a word. The thought of Harvey still hurt, but the thought of never seeing him again hurt more.

His finger hovered over the phone. Should he reply to the last text?

He winced at the thought of opening himself up for more hurt. Renewed contact with Harvey could only lead to more emotional bullshit, and he’d definitely fulfilled his quota of emotional bullshit for the year.

Behind the closed door of the bedroom, someone screamed.

Mike turned off the phone and dove back into the duffel in search of his iPod and ear buds.

 

******

 

Sunlight slanted through the blinds. Chelsie was tiptoeing around the creaky floorboards, preparing to go on her morning run.

“Sorry,” she whispered, when she saw him watching her. “I was trying to be quiet.”

He yawned. “A little late for that.”

Chelsie blushed and grinned at him. “I know, right? God, he’s just so …” She shivered. “Just … wow.”

“Is Just Wow gone already? And does he have a name?”

“Yes, and his name is Dan. Again, sorry about all the, you know, ruckus.”

“It’s your place. You can be as loud as you want.”

They’d never talked about how long Mike would be staying with her. So far, she seemed to be willing to let him use her couch for as long as he needed. If she was getting serious about Dan the screamer, though, he guessed it wouldn’t be long before she was wishing she didn’t have an audience out in the living room every night.

For now, he could afford to pay her a modest amount of rent, and Gwyneth had hinted that she might give him Thursday nights, in addition to Fridays and Saturdays. Even with the great tips, there was no way he could manage a place by himself. He’d have to find another source of income.

Chelsie stood up from tying her key to her shoe. “Think you could start the coffee while I’m out?”

“Sure, no problem.”

He gave her a lazy wave as she slipped out the door and locked it behind her.

He frowned, still mulling over his options. Writing term papers and taking tests for entitled brats didn’t hold any appeal. His best bet was to check into other bars in the neighborhood and see if anyone was hiring. He wouldn’t say anything to Chelsie, and she was too nice to insist he leave, at least not right away. He’d figure his shit out and then give her the good news.

 

Three weeks later

 

Mike didn’t see much of Dan over the next few weeks, but he heard him. Mike had been teased often enough for being extra loud during sex, but he had nothing on this guy.

He was more anxious than ever to find a place of his own, but hadn’t had any luck finding that all important second job. Even with his third night at Beatty’s, he was nowhere near being able to swing rent on his own. On the plus side, he’d been saving his tips, and figured he had just about enough for a security deposit.

Maybe he’d have to look for something in a different field. How hard could it be to flip burgers, or stock shelves at Walmart, or wherever? The only difficult thing about it was actually acquiring a job. Nobody seemed to be hiring right now.

He assumed he still had plenty of time to find something, until he walked out of the bathroom one Saturday morning in his just his boxer briefs, thinking that he was alone. He wasn’t alone. Dan was standing in Chelsie’s kitchen wearing Chelsie’s short, pink Hello Kitty robe, getting ready to scramble some eggs.

“Hey,” Dan greeted him, with what seemed to Mike like unwarranted enthusiasm, “it’s Mike, the man.”

In his mind, Mike tested the countering phrase Dan the man, and decided a grunt was safer.

“You want some eggs?” asked Dan.

“Uh. Is Chelsie here?”

“Nah. She’s out doing her running thing. It’s just you and me.”

“How about that?”

Mike hadn’t missed Dan checking him out with his elevator eyes. To be fair, Mike had been checking him out too, and he was semi-hot in a dark, dorky, brooding sort of way, but Mike wasn’t the one in a relationship.

“There’s coffee,” said Dan, nodding at the full pot on the counter. “Help yourself.” He cracked several eggs in a bowl.

Okay. Mike could see what was going on here. Dan was marking his territory. Never mind that Mike had paid for the coffee. Dan was clearly delineating their roles. Mike was the guest, and Dan was the host. He wondered what Chelsie’s feelings were on this, and then paranoia kicked in and he worried that Dan was acting on instructions from Chelsie meant to ease Mike out the door.

Mike poured himself a mug of coffee, doctored it with milk and sugar, tasted it, grimaced, and added another spoonful of sugar.

“So …” he said, searching for something to talk about. “No work today?”

Dan beat the eggs with a fork as he regarded Mike. “Saturday. It’s my day off.”

“Huh.”

“You too, right?” Dan gave him a bland smile and poured the eggs into a hot frying pan.

Mike sipped coffee and made a vague mm-hmm sound. He wandered back into the living room and sat on the sofa amidst the rumpled sheet and blankets he hadn’t yet folded and put away for the day.

“Hey,” said Dan, “I should probably apologize.”

“For what?”

“I know we get a little loud sometimes. That Chelsie, though. She’s one wild lady.”

Unlike Chelsie, Dan’s apologies sounded more like bragging. “How nice for you.”

They were both quiet for a minute or two, then Dan spoke again. “You know, I’m no slouch myself. In the sack, that is.”

Yep, bragging. Kill me now.

Mike shut his eyes. “You really don’t need to – ”

“I could show you.”

Mike’s eyes popped open. “What did you just say?”

“I mean, I know you like guys. I like guys too. And girls. I’ll fuck anyone, anytime, anywhere. As long as they’re hot. And you, my friend, are smoking hot.”

“Wow. That Chelsie is one lucky gal.”

Dan grinned at him. “I hear the sarcasm in your voice, and I get it. But Chelsie knows what I’m like, and she doesn’t care. She basically gave us her blessing. Says you could probably teach me some of your moves, improve my technique. Not that there’s anything wrong with my technique now, mind you.”

“My moves?”

“Yeah, from, you know, when you were sort of, technically, a prostitute? I know you only dabbled, but you had to learn some good stuff, right? So, what do you say? You could give me, like, a master class, so to speak.” He waggled his eyebrows.

Mike stared at him, blinking slowly. “I’m, uh, exploring celibacy at the moment.”

“Oh. That’s a shame.” Dan turned back to the eggs. “Shit. I think I burnt these. Oh, by the way, Chelsie didn’t want to hurt your feelings or anything like that, but she’s really ready for you to move out. Like, soon.”

The feeling was mutual, and growing more mutual by the second.

“I’m trying,” said Mike, knowing that he sounded more than a little whiny. “I need a second job, but I can’t seem to find anything.”

“I hear ya.” Dan spun toward Mike, pointing the spatula at him. “Hey, I just remembered. My brother-in-law owns this bike messenger company. He’s always looking for riders.”

“Is that where you work?”

Dan turned back to the smoking pan of eggs. “Nah. We don’t exactly get along. You should definitely check it out, though. I’ll write down the address for you.”

Even though Mike knew Dan had ulterior motives for helping him find employment, he was grateful for the tip all the same. “Can I say I know you, or is that a bad idea?”

“Yeah, maybe don’t mention that right away.”

It sounded like a good lead, and the idea of spending time outside getting exercise sounded appealing, and a nice contrast to serving alcohol in a dark bar three nights a week.

Except …

He closed his eyes and bit back a groan. To be a bike messenger, you needed a bike. In one of his texts, Harvey had mentioned that he had Mike’s bike.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Annoyance and something that felt suspiciously like elation warred within him. If he wanted his bike back, he needed to go see Harvey. The choice had essentially been taken away from him. No byzantine rationalizations or long, dark nights of the soul required. No crawling back or eating of crow. The excuse to do exactly what he’d wanted to do all along had presented itself, and he would have to suck it up, be an adult, and go get the bike back.

Alternatively, he could keep living with Chelsie – and Dan – until he lucked into another job, which didn’t seem like it would be happening anytime soon. In the meantime, he’d be running into Dan every day, fending off his advances, and while there was zero chance that he’d sleep with him, there was an excellent chance that he’d punch him in the face, which was apparently something he did now.

He needed the damned bike back.

Ignoring the smell of burnt eggs drifting from the kitchen, and all the stupid things coming out of Dan’s mouth, he turned on his phone. There were no new texts from Harvey. He reread the last one he’d gotten.

“I guess closure is out of the question, so I’ll just say goodbye.”

Mike’s finger hovered over his phone as he tried to compose a text in his head. No, he finally decided. No text. He’d go see Harvey in person, get the bike and get out. No problem. No fuss, no muss. It was Saturday morning, so Harvey would be at home.

Even with all that settled, it still didn’t prevent Mike from dying a thousand cowardly deaths as he showered, got dressed, grabbed the phone and headed for the subway.

 

******

 

Mike assumed he’d have to argue with and cajole the doorman of Harvey’s building to let him in. Instead, the man seemed to expect his arrival which, after he thought about it for a second or two, made sense. The phone was still turned on, and he had it with him. If he’d been monitoring the locator app, Harvey would have seen Mike making straight for his place.

His stomach was tied in knots as he took the familiar elevator ride up to the top floor. When he got there, Harvey’s door stood open. Mike halted just on the other side of the threshold and knocked lightly on the door frame.

“Come in,” he heard from the living room.

Mike entered, and immediately pulled up short at the scene in front of him. Neatly piled moving boxes lined the walls, which were empty of the photographs and paintings they’d once held. The larger pieces of furniture were still there, but the legs of the dining room table had been removed, and the table itself was tipped on its side, leaning against the wall. The stools which had surrounded the breakfast bar had been stacked and set near the front door.

Mike’s gaze flicked past Harvey to the hallway that led to the bedrooms. If he looked inside those, would he find the bedframes taken apart, and the mattresses lined up on their sides, waiting for movers to take them away?

He looked back at Harvey, who was watching him with that familiar dark gaze.

“You came,” Harvey said, voice as opaque and emotionless as Mike remembered.

“I …” The words stuck in his throat. “I just saw your texts. Well, I read them recently. A few weeks ago.”

Harvey’s intense stare was making him nervous.

“I’d, uh … I only came to get my bike.”

Harvey’s eyes flashed with something that looked like disappointment, and Mike realized how that must have sounded.

“And,” Mike amended, “I suppose I was curious.”

“About?”

“About the visit I had from Jessica. She said you were thinking about leaving.” Mike lifted both hands and gestured around the room. “Is that what all this is about?”

“It is.”

“Ah. That brings up two more questions. “Why, and where are you going?”

Harvey sat heavily on the couch, the façade crumbling as he appeared all at once sad and defeated. “As to why, after your spectacularly failed apprenticeship, I came to certain realizations which should have been obvious to me years ago, if I hadn’t been so focused on my goals.”

“What realizations?”

“Do you really need me to spell it out for you?”

“Yes, I think I’d like you to.” When Harvey didn’t reply at once Mike added, “Or you could just tell me where I can find my bike and I’ll take off.”

“It’s downstairs in the parking garage.”

“Goddammit, Harvey. You’re the one who wanted closure, or to say goodbye or whatever. So, let’s do this. What happened in the last few months?”

A long silence, then, “You happened,” Harvey murmured.

Mike was still processing that reply when Harvey gestured toward the seat next to him. “Sit down. I’m not sure it will make any sense to you, but I’ll try to explain.”

Mike hesitated, and then sat.

After appearing to weigh his words, Harvey began talking. “Unlike you, I’d never planned to be a lawyer. It wasn’t my dream. I had other dreams. I was going to pitch for the Yankees, win half a dozen World Series and twice as many Cy Young awards. All that went to shit when I fucked up my arm. I was floundering when I met Jessica, working in the mailroom at her firm and wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life. She saw something in me and offered me the same deal I offered you. I didn’t hesitate, didn’t spend so much as one second navel-gazing or fretting about pride, or consequences, or anything like that. I took the deal and signed my life away. Unlike you, I stuck it out for the entire year.”

“Well, bravo for you.”

“I’m not bragging, but what you went through for those few weeks? I went through all of that for a whole year. Neither of my sponsors were as damaged as Travis, but some of the men and women they loaned me to …” Harvey frowned and shook his head as if remembering something that still pained him. “I never paused to consider what it was costing me. I powered through and kept moving forward. My sights were firmly fixed on Harvard and my new goal of becoming the toughest, most ruthless lawyer this city had ever seen.”

“Why was that your goal?”

“Because if I could become that, I wouldn’t have to feel, or care, or trust anybody ever again.”

“Jesus, Harvey. How’s that working out for you?”

Harvey’s mouth tightened. “It was working fine. Great, in fact. And then I met you.”

It wasn’t even noon yet, but Mike felt like he needed a drink. “I don’t … I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

“No response required.”

Feeling restless, Mike rose and paced to the window past neatly labeled boxes. He kept his back to Harvey, because that way it was easier to ask the questions that needed to be asked. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“I’m saying that you got to me, Mike, just blew right past all my defenses. I’m not sure how you managed it. It might have something to do with your honesty, your vulnerability, and your courage. It might be your amazing mind. I’m guessing it had a lot to do with your tight little ass, and those sounds you make when I’m moving inside you.”

Mike felt himself blush. He kept staring out the window. “Which all adds up to … what?”

Behind him, Harvey sighed. “Which all adds up to, I managed to fuck up something that could have been incredible, before I even know what I was fucking up. I hate that I hurt you, and made you doubt yourself.” He let out a harsh laugh. “I thought I was protecting you from the worst that Travis might do. I failed at that too, but you know what? I think he actually believes he was doing you a favor by providing you with such a stark demonstration of what the contract meant at its ugliest, most basic level.”

“And what is that?”

“Power, control and degradation. And I guess his little demonstration worked, didn’t it?” A short pause. “He does feel bad about he did.”

“You almost sound sorry for him.” Mike swallowed hard, not sure if he wanted an answer to his next question. He asked it anyway. “Are you and he still …?”

“No. God, no. That ended at least a week before you left. I didn’t want him anymore by then. I only wanted you.”

Mike turned, finally, and stared at Harvey. His thoughts were buzzing with arguments and harsh accusations, but Harvey – strong, arrogant, selfish, and supremely confident Harvey Specter – looked so broken in that moment that Mike didn’t have the heart to pile on. He asked the question that Harvey hadn’t answered yet. “Where are you going?”

Harvey looked away for a second, and then back at Mike. “Seattle. I’m moving to Seattle.”

Chapter Text

“I’m moving to Seattle. I put out some feelers and heard back from a firm there that was looking for a new partner. It’s considerably smaller than Pearson Hardman, and they’ve been around for less than ten years. I’ll be able to help them grow, and they’ve promised me my name on the wall within the next year or two, if everything goes well.”

He might have said more, but Mike’s brain had seized up at the mention of Seattle and he stopped actively listening. Harvey was moving all the way across the country? He must be hallucinating, or in the throes of one of the many nightmares he’d endured for the past three and a half months. Finally, he got his voice back.

“Why Seattle? I mean, Jessica did mention you wouldn’t be able to practice here if you left Pearson Hardman, but surely there must be somewhere closer?”

“I needed a change. A radical change. I’d hoped, maybe …” Harvey trailed off and gave a forlorn huff of laughter. “Well. You didn’t respond to any of my texts. Even so, message received.”

Mike was seized by the desire to move closer, to reach out and smooth the furrow from between Harvey’s brows. He remained where he was, on the other side of the room. “When are you leaving?”

“The movers should be here in about an hour. I’ll let them in and leave them to it. My flight leaves tonight at five.”

“Tonight? You’re just leaving everything behind?”

And everyone.

“Not everything. I’m taking my things. I’ve already leased a house in Seattle, with the option to buy.”

“That’s not what I was asking, and you know it.

“Mike …” Harvey sighed. “After all that’s happened, this is the only thing that made sense.”

The heaviness that had been building in Mike’s chest became so acute he was afraid for a moment he was having a heart attack. “I …” He gulped oxygen and tried again. “I want you to know that I’m not angry at you. Not anymore. Well, not much.”

“You should be.”

“Maybe. But there’s not a lot of room for anger, what with all the missing you.”

Had he really said that out loud?

The distant, cynical look had returned to Harvey’s eyes. “Missing me? Your complete and total radio silence suggests otherwise.”

“I was waiting for you to make the first move.”

“I did. I texted you.”

Harvey sounded angry, which in turn pissed Mike off.

“You know what I think?” Mike asked.

“No, but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.”

“I think you’re running away. I think you’re a coward.”

What?

Harvey sounded so offended by the notion that Mike nearly laughed in his face.

“You could have found me if you really wanted to, with or without your stalker GPS app. Texts are easy, especially if you’re not expecting a reply. If you had something to say to me, you should have come to Brooklyn and said it to my face.”

Harvey was quiet for several seconds, a series of emotions chasing one another across his features, finally resolving into a contained sort of sorrow. “You claim you’re not angry at me. Much.” A grim smile flickered on his face and was gone. “I think you’re lying, and that’s fine. If it helps you to stay angry at me, stay angry, but at least be honest with yourself. When it was just the two of us together, it was good. Better than good. And I’m not only talking about the sex. You challenged me. God, you made me laugh.”

“I don’t remember much laughing.”

Harvey shrugged one shoulder. “I do most of my laughing on the inside.”

“Are you laughing right now?”

“Not even a little bit.”

No, he clearly wasn’t. If anything, Harvey looked closer to tears than laughter. Mike walked slowly back across the room and sat next to him.

“I wish …” began Mike and trailed off. He saw Harvey wince, and tried again. “I wish we’d met under different circumstances. We didn’t, though. What’s been done can’t be undone.”

One side of Harvey’s mouth turned down. “I take it back. Closure sucks.”

It felt to Mike as if they’d begun talking in circles. “Look, I should probably just grab my bike and go. I’m sure you’ve got a lot to do.” He waited for Harvey to say something. When he didn’t Mike rose and walked toward the door. He had his hand on the doorknob when Harvey surged to his feet.

“Wait. Mike, wait a second. There’s something I need to give you.”

Mike folded his arms and leaned back against the door while Harvey went to the kitchen counter and shuffled through a stack of papers there.

The “something” turned out to be a plane ticket to Seattle. Harvey handed it to Mike, who held it in his hand, staring down at it as his stomach gave a strange flutter. The date of the flight was today, leaving at five o’clock.

“What is this?” he asked.

Harvey shook his head. His jaw had gone tight, and Mike could see his Adam’s apple jerking up and down as he swallowed past some obstruction in his throat. “Isn’t it obvious? It’s in your name. I bought it when I bought mine. For one brief, insane moment I had this hope that you might feel a little of what I’d begun to feel for you, and that you could forgive me, and we could try to work our way towards something that I never believed I could have with anybody. I was going to ask if you would consider taking this wild chance with me. It was just a thought. A hope.”

Harvey swallowed again, whispering, “And a stupid, pointless prayer that was never going to be answered, because you wouldn’t even speak to me. But you’re here now, and this may be the last time we see one another, so what the hell? I’ll ask the question, you can tell me to get fucked, and that will be that.” He inhaled sharply. “Could we try? Would you give me a chance? Will you come with me to Seattle?”

Mike was rooted to the floor, his tongue welded to the roof of his mouth. What was there to even say to all of that? It felt as if Harvey had just clawed his own heart out of his chest and tossed it bleeding and still beating onto the floor in front of Mike, offering it to him with zero expectation of having it accepted.

“I …” It was too much. Mike had no idea how to respond to this new, vulnerable Harvey. He almost missed the old version, the one who made it clear that he didn’t give a shit what Mike decided to do, but would take his acquiescence as his due. Harvey with every one of his defenses down unnerved him. “I should go grab my bike,” he said weakly. “I’m working tonight.”

Harvey’s defenses snapped back into place with an almost audible click. “Of course,” he said. “I understand. You have a life.” He spun on his heel and stalked back to the living room. “Keep the ticket. Maybe you can exchange it for a flight to somewhere you’d rather go.”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture.”

“Sure. Who doesn’t appreciate a good gesture every now and then? You remember the code to get into the garage? Oh, look who I’m talking to. Of course you remember. It’s a good thing you showed up when you did. I should have donated that bike weeks ago, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to go near it, much less touch it. It may have accumulated a substantial coat of dust, but I assume it’s still in good working order. Just be sure to be careful in traffic, since you haven’t ridden for a while. I mean, I don’t know why you didn’t come by sooner, if you needed it – ”

“Harvey.”

“ – so badly. It’s not like I was holding it hostage.”

“Harvey. Stop. I’m sorry I sounded so dismissive. I don’t hate everything that you said before ...” He waved his hand vaguely. “Before all of that. And I … I know I shouldn’t, but I do have feelings for you, being the idiot I evidently am. Feelings other than the residual anger and resentment, which, let’s face it, has mostly dissipated by now. That might never have happened without the aforementioned feelings.” He paused and took several deep breaths, trying to get his thoughts back on track. “But in spite of those inconvenient feelings, how in the hell can I go to Seattle with you? I have a life here.”

“Oh, you mean your important bartending career? I believe they do have bars in Seattle, Mike.”

“No, not because of that. Although, sidebar, there’s nothing wrong with being a bartender, you miserable snob.”

The corners of Harvey’s mouth inched up in what appeared to be a reluctant smile. “Whatever you say, you bleeding heart socialist.”

“I don’t even know what the fuck that means.” Mike let out a huff frustration. “Look, the problem is our history. And you haven’t said what you’d expect from me if I went with you.”

“What I’d expect?”

“Yes. In return for the airfare and, I’m assuming, your financial support until I can land a job and find a place to live. That won’t come anywhere close to what you would have spent on Harvard, so what did you have in mind? A month of servitude? Two months? What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Harvey turned away for a moment, seeming to collect himself, and then turned back to face Mike, walking slowly across the room until they stood less than a foot apart. He didn’t reach out to touch him, but his dark gaze felt as if it seared Mike’s flesh.

“You’ve misunderstood my intentions, and I suppose I only have myself to blame for that. My offer is not transactional, not this time. What do I expect? Nothing. I’d hoped you might decide to stay with me long-term, but your acceptance is not contingent upon that. I want us to clear the board and start again. I’ll have your ticket changed to roundtrip, if that eases your mind. Call it a vacation. Stay for a week, explore the city, and let’s get to know one another without that bullshit contract standing between us.”

“I don’t have any vacation time saved up yet.” It was a weak excuse, but it was the only one Mike could muster in that moment.

“Work it out. Call it a family emergency. Just don’t say no. Not again. Please.”

God, the man was good at his job. Best closer in New York, indeed. Except he would no longer be in New York. Doubtless he’d become the best closer in Seattle, but what did that even mean? Best in the land of latte-swilling, flannel-wearing, ferry-riding, socks-with-sandals, mildewed-from-all-the-rain, pothead left coasters? Mike dredged up all the unflattering Seattle-based clichés he could think of, most of which were probably decades out of date. In his mind, he tried to place bespoke suit wearing Harvey Specter amongst their ilk, and just couldn’t picture it.

Maybe … Maybe the only way to convince himself it was real was to fly out there and see for himself. He gave a little jump as a warm hand touched his arm. Harvey was gazing at him unblinkingly, as if trying to telepathize him into saying yes. He took hold of Mike’s other arm and stepped closer, until Mike was trapped between him and the door.

“You have nothing to lose, Mike. Nothing to fear. I’ll put you up in a nice hotel, if you’re worried about staying with me. I’ll give you spending money. If you decide to stay, I’ll help you find a job doing whatever you want to do. I’ll give you anything you want and ask for nothing in return. Say yes. Leave with me tonight.”

Perhaps if Harvey had kept his distance, Mike might have come around to agreeing with him. As it was, he felt trapped and claustrophobic, and that caused both his temper and is anxiety to spike. Reaching behind himself, he fumbled the door open, stepping out of Harvey’s loose hold and into the hallway.

“I have to go,” he said with a catch in his throat. “Thanks for keeping my bike safe.”

“Mike …”

Harvey would have undoubtedly said more, and perhaps ultimately convinced Mike, but just then the elevator opened and three men in coveralls, with a hand truck, a dolly and a clipboard, exited into the hallway. The movers had arrived.

Without another word, Mike slipped onto the elevator just before the doors closed, and pushed the button that would take him to the parking garage, pushing and pushing until the doors closed with what felt like diabolical slowness, blocking out, inch by painful inch, Harvey’s stricken expression.

 

******

 

It was well past noon by the time Mike rode his bike back to Chelsie’s place. The door to her bedroom was closed, and he could hear the latest round of sex-yodeling in full swing.

“Christ,” he muttered, equal parts repelled and jealous. At least some people were having regular, satisfying sex. To be fair, Mike could have that too. All he had to do was place his trust in Harvey. Oh, and move three thousand miles away.

Then again, he could take Dan up on his offer (sanctioned by Chelsie, if you could believe Dan), with an eye towards forming a throuple. That would solve his housing problem, which was an attractive notion, except it would be sure to create a dozen more problems in its place.

Fuck. Just listening to the two of them together had his dick plumping inside his pants. He thought about laying down on the couch, diving under the covers and beating off to the free porn soundtrack being broadcast around the apartment. How sad would that be, though? Sad and more than a little creepy. Resigned, he went in search of his earbuds and his Metallica playlist.

 

******

 

Sandman had entered half a dozen times already by the time Chelsie staggered into the living room wearing Dan’s Ed Hardy t-shirt. When she saw Mike, she clapped a hand over her mouth, giggling helplessly.

“Oops,” she got out, “didn’t realize you were here. We found this Kama Sutra demo on Pornhub, and we’re working our way through it.”

“Um. Gross.”

“Look who’s talking, former boy toy.”

“Ha. Good one.” He tossed his earbuds on the coffee table and regarded her sourly. “Please tell me you’re finished with all the gymnastics and hog-calling.”

She shot him an apologetic grimace. “I just came out here to grab some water. Gotta stay hydrated.”

“So they say.”

In the kitchen, she prepared two tall glasses of ice water. On the way back to the bedroom, she paused in front of Mike and gave him a long, assessing look. “You know, Mike, some of these positions require three people.”

“No.”

She bit her lip. “Please? Dan really likes you.”

“Maybe Frank would oblige you.”

“Get serious. Have you seen him with his shirt off? He’s got the hairiest back I’ve ever seen. Come on, Mike. You’re right here. Dan and I are in the zone. And you do kind of owe me for giving you a place to crash.”

Mike allowed himself to consider it for a few seconds, to imagine himself getting up off the couch and following her into the bedroom. Even that much made him nauseous. “Sorry. It’s a no from me.”

Chelsie pouted, appearing perhaps five seconds away from stamping her foot. She shrugged. “Fine, but we’re going to be as loud as we want to be, so you can just sit out here and think about what you’re missing.”

She went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Mike stared listlessly at the closed door as the sounds started up again almost immediately. He did as Chelsie had suggested and thought about what he was missing. He wasn’t thinking about Chelsie or Dan, however. It was Harvey he saw in his mind’s eye, conjuring him so strongly he could almost feel Harvey’s lips on him and his strong hands roaming over his body.

“Fuck,” he moaned, eyes shut and both hands pressed to the top of his head. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Then, allowing no time to talk himself out of it, he reached for the phone and called Gwyneth at the bar.

“I’m so sorry,” he told her, “but I have a family emergency and I’ll need to be gone for a few days. Maybe up to a week.”

When she pushed him for details, he lied through his teeth and kept it vague, murmuring something about an aunt in Seattle, and although he could tell she wasn’t happy, she sighed and told him to call her when he got back.

It took him less than five minutes to pack. He scrawled a note to Chelsie, ignored the reproachful look his newly liberated bike seemed to be giving him, and headed out the door, using the phone to call a cab as he trotted down the stairs. It was two o’clock, and he had three hours to get to the airport.

 

******

 

Mike changed his mind four times on the cab ride to the airport, and changed it back just as many times. The universe seemed ambivalent regarding his decision. The cab was stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes. When the two-car collision that had caused the snarl cleared and traffic began to flow again, the rear tire blew, and a replacement cab had to be dispatched.

By the time Mike was dropped off, checked in, had checked his duffel bag, and made it through a long, winding line at security, the plane to Seattle had begun boarding. He found himself loping through the terminal to the gate, which was of course the furthest away, and clutching his boarding pass in one hand.

I’m in rom-com hell, he thought as he jogged, but that appalling notion didn’t slow him down. A dozen or so passengers still waited in line when he arrived at the gate. He skidded to a halt at the back of the line, breathing hard and ordering his hammering heart to calm the fuck down. The line inched forward, and finally it was his turn.

The gate agent took his boarding pass, performed some sort of computer hocus-pocus, and handed it back with a smile. “You’re in seat 2-D, Mr. Ross. Have a good flight.”

Having never flown before, Mike didn’t recognize the seat assignment as first class. As he walked through the jetway and onto the plane, he was aggressively second guessing his decision (or fifth guessing, to be completely accurate), and not paying close attention to his surroundings. He stepped onto the plane and there, right there, two rows back from the front, sat Harvey, seat reclined, legs stretched in front of him, with his eyes shut.

Thankfully, Mike was the last passenger to board the plane, so when he came to an abrupt halt in order to just stare, there was nobody behind him to slam into his back, or curse at him for holding up the line. Distantly, her heard the sounds of the door being closed, and somebody – the pilot he guessed – welcoming everyone to the flight.

He took a step forward, and then another, and eased himself into seat 2-D, next to what, he presumed, was seat 2-E. Harvey’s eyes popped open, and he whipped his head around to stare at Mike.

“You came,” he rasped.

“I did. I’m not sure why, but I did.”

“It doesn’t matter why. All that matters is – ”

He was interrupted by the flight attendant, who had stopped at their row to take food and drink orders, to assure them that their every need would be met by him during the flight, and to make additional promises of attention and pampering that Mike ignored in favor of drinking in the sight of Harvey.

When they were left alone again, he said, “I took some time off, like you suggested. I have no idea if this is going to work out. I’m … frankly, I’m skeptical, but …” He bit his lip, not sure what he was trying to say, and finally settled on, “I’m here.”

“Yes. You are. That’s more than enough for now.”

They both fell silent as the crew went through the pre-flight safety demonstration, and the plane left the terminal and taxied to the runway. They buckled themselves in, and before Mike had mentally prepared himself to be flung into the sky, the plane was racing down the runway, picking up speed, throwing them back against their seats.

“Holy shit,” he gasped, wholly unprepared for the violence of the take-off.

Harvey, by contrast, appeared perfectly calm. “Have you ever flown before?” he asked Mike curiously.

Mike shook his head. He must have looked a little wild because Harvey reached over and grasped his hand as they reached the end of the runway and angled into the air, lifting and accelerating like a rocket with a lower than normal trajectory. Mike clenched his jaw as his ears popped, clutching Harvey’s hand like a lifeline, and wondering what the hell he’d been thinking.

Soon enough, though, their angle of ascent shallowed, and they burst from the low clouds into dazzling sunlight.

“Wow,” Mike managed in a strangled voice, “that wasn’t horrifying at all.”

Harvey smiled at him. He gave Mike’s hand a squeeze, but didn’t let got of him. “It’s just the takeoff that’s difficult. Should be smooth sailing from here.”

“Right. Except for the turbulence. And the landing. And the possible crashing.”

“Didn’t you hear the captain? She’s not expecting any turbulence. There won’t be any crashing, just a nice, soft landing, and I’ll be right here, holding your hand the whole time.”

It shouldn’t have sounded like adequate protection against all the horrifying things that could go wrong on the flight and in Seattle, but Harvey’s hand was warm and strong, and at that moment it felt to Mike as if he had all that he needed. He knew that for the first time in a very long time, everything would be all right.

 

The End