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Disaster Stories

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Disaster Stories

It was a lot of work. Even with Mike's brain, it was a lot of work: he had no idea how the other associates could stand it. It was August and he felt like he hadn't slept more than four hours a night since he'd started at Pearson Hardman in July. It was not unreasonable to wonder sometimes whether he was losing his mind.

It was shortly after lunch and Mike was in Harvey's office taking notes. Harvey paced in his space ignoring the excellent view, hand-gestures expansive, as he listed all the angles Mike should be trying. Mike enjoyed seeing him this way: it was rare that Harvey forgot he should be cool and delved into the intricacies of legal maneuver. Mike liked him more the more he exposed his inner nerd. A half-smile was dawning on Harvey's face, totally unconscious, as he described the unintended consequences of contract clauses. And then the building got up and stretched.


That's how Mike described it later, still not quite able to put into words how the door in its frame tapped against the strike-plate, glass on steel like a dented bell. The pulls on the lamps swayed in the air between him and Harvey, all by themselves. Mike felt a surprise wave of nausea and the view outside the windows moved subtly, all of it in the same direction. His brain lurched with vertigo as he realized he was the one moving. The whole office was moving.

He leapt to his feet unsteadily, notepad fluttering to the floor. Harvey took two steps and yanked him around and shoved him against the interior wall of the room next to the bookcases and then pushed himself into the same space. Mike stood there with his face mashed against the wallboard and an arm across his back and Harvey's heavy breathing in his ear, and wondered what the hell was wrong with him. With them both, at least, so it wasn't just Mike swan-diving off the deep end on some random Tuesday. Maybe someone had poisoned the water with PCP. It would be funny if Mike were not hallucinating himself.

He shuddered, sweaty and cold at the same time. He counted his heartbeats and waited for Harvey to let him go. The count got up to three hundred, although at the rate his heart was pounding that might only have been a minute or two. Harvey's cologne was thick in his throat.

The phone rang on Harvey's desk and Harvey backed off. Mike took his time removing his face from the wallboard, and put out his hands in case he was still dizzy. The bookcase supported him as he turned around. The phone was still ringing, and Harvey was not answering it. Phones were ringing up and down the hall, a rough discordant jangle.

On the other side of Harvey's glass door, Donna was in her cube on hands and knees, under the desk. Mike watched as she crawled out, tidying her hair as if she hid under a desk every day. Her shoes were on the floor in a pile and she stepped back into them.

"What --" Mike started to ask, but the fire systems started up their spinny lights and played a loud voice that told everyone to evacuate in an orderly fashion. Mike stood there trembling with no idea still what was going on. Harvey didn't even frown at him, just grabbed his wrist and towed him out into the hallway. Mike followed unresisting, still nauseated and trying to control it. The last thing he wanted to do was throw up on his boss's shoes.

And so they all went down the stairs. Donna had her purse with her (she was so good at thinking of things like that) and she stuck with Harvey. Harvey stuck with Mike, literally, because he didn't let go of Mike's wrist even after Mike got down about five stories and started feeling more stable. The concrete walls echoed with feet, low dull rubber soles and the high clatter of heels. Nobody said a word. People queued at the landings, taking turns joining the flow down the stairs, and they seemed patient, uncomplaining, apprehensive.

They were halfway between the 9th and 10th floors when someone above Mike called out, "It was an earthquake." Voices passed that word down, earthquake, earthquake. The backs and shoulders in front of him relaxed. Hands sneaked into pockets and pulled out Blackberries and began to text. Harvey did not look back. He kept a firm grip on Mike's wrist.

"There aren't any earthquakes in New York," Mike asserted weakly, although his brain immediately provided a handful of previous dates and locations.

"Epicenter in Virginia," called the news-voice as if in answer, and again the echo downward: Virginia, Virginia. "Five point nine, they think." Five, nine, five-point-nine, Virginia five-point-nine, earthquake.

Mike turned his wrist to reclaim it, but Harvey didn't let go. Into the lobby, outside the building (it was a beautiful day, sunny and bright), Donna led the way down the block and Harvey dragged Mike along. They had their backs to him: he couldn't see their faces. They obviously had some kind of plan between them, and were following it to the letter.

The street filled with office workers, gabbing and garbling news updates from their cell phones. Traffic went ignored; the taxis blared their horns. When you evacuate a full office building, the people don't all fit on the sidewalk at once, even if they were inclined to stick around in the shadow of a skyscraper that might collapse. And almost every office building in Midtown was evacuating. A hundred people jaywalked at once, or stood together in huddles, or tripped on the curb and fell into the street. Tussles broke out, shoving matches, crowd behavior. Donna led them away from it all.

At first Mike thought they were headed for Central Park, but Donna turned right instead of left, and Mike saw the East River ahead of them. They were about ten blocks too far south to get onto the bridge, and two or three blocks south of the closest access to FDR Drive, but the buildings were smaller and the streets emptier. Mike began to relax, and then began to feel foolish, led around by the hand like a little kid.

"I'm all right," he said, and then louder, more forceful, "I'm all right. You can let go."

Harvey looked over his shoulder. His expression was one of grave surprise. It was possible he'd forgotten he was still holding onto a wrist at all, or that the wrist belonged to Mike. Beads of sweat lined his scalp. He let go without a word.

They stopped under an awning less than a block from the river. Mike could see it glinting in the afternoon sun. Donna thumbed her phone and began reading out updates. Harvey was pale and wide-eyed, and paced in front of them.

"Buildings aren't supposed to move like that," Mike said, mostly to himself. "Buildings are supposed to stay in one place."

"Wait," said Donna, intent on the screen in her hands, "till you're in the office in the middle of a blizzard."

Harvey paced and sweated and did not seem to be following the conversation. He'd done everything right so far: pulled Mike away from the windows in case they shattered, sheltered against an interior wall. Evacuated the building and followed a pre-existing plan to get to a rally-point: if it had been more serious, if it had turned into The Poseidon Adventure or something, he would have been the surprise hero. Surprise to Mike, anyway. Now they were safe and Harvey had run out of right things to do and maybe only just this second was assimilating what had just happened. Mike glanced at Donna and decided to offer him a softball. "Hold on, you made Donna come into work in the middle of a blizzard?"

A blink, and Harvey was back again. "I don't make Donna do anything. Haven't you learned by now?" He gave Mike a mean little smile, but under that was relief for anyone to see. "You, I can make come into the office in a blizzard."

"Great," said Mike, and wondered how long till the evacuation order was lifted.

That night, when he got home and got in the shower at some ridiculously late hour, Mike was surprised to discover finger-bruises all the way around his wrist, like a bracelet. He hadn't thought Harvey had gripped him that hard. He kept his sleeves rolled down for almost a week, till the bruises had faded enough that they weren't recognizable.

*

It was only a handful of days later that Hurricane Irene set her sights on New York. Mike read up on the physics of hurricanes like everybody else with an internet connection in the tristate area, although probably everybody else didn't annoy their boss by spouting random factoids in-between meetings.

"Kind of weird, really," he told Harvey that Thursday. "Circular clocks were invented in the northern hemisphere, and yet northern hemisphere storm patterns all go counterclockwise."

"What does this have to do with contract law?" Harvey asked, and headed out for the conference room.

Mike trotted after him. "University of Miami Hurricanes?"

"They're amateurs. Contract rules are governed by the NCAA. Try again." He was frowning, but he frowned a lot when he was trying not to laugh. Mike had figured that one out his first week.

"Uh, if the storm hits this weekend and the Mets get rained out, the venue has an implied contract with its ticket-holders to reschedule the game?"

"The Mets?" asked Harvey witheringly, his hand on the conference room door. "And it's not an implied contract. All the nonsense you can recite and you've never read the fine print on a baseball ticket?"

Mike had never held a major league baseball ticket in his life. But he wasn't going to tell Harvey that. They went into the conference room. Two hours later they emerged with most of a contract hammered out, and only a gazillion details for Mike to research before it could be finalized. He held the door for Harvey, who walked through it and then said,

"Screws."

Screwballs, maybe. Mike had no idea what he was talking about. "Hammers?" he guessed.

"Screw threads tighten clockwise," said Harvey, as if they'd been discussing this topic for the past two hours, not how to structure stock options in a golden parachute. Mike struggled to keep a grin off his face: he'd successfully (if unintentionally) brain-wormed his boss. Harvey put on an expression of supremely reasonable satisfaction as if he'd solved a Rubik's cube blindfolded. "Counterclockwise is chaos, hurricanes are chaos. Clocks are anti-hurricane."

"Wait, you're basing this whole theory on righty-tighty, lefty-loosey?"

"I don't see you coming up with an explanation," Harvey said, and walked away.

It only took a few minutes' googling to prove him wrong: the direction of screw threads was not standardized till the 19th Century. But no other explanation was forthcoming, and a gazillion details on that golden parachute weren't going to research themselves. They didn't finalize the contract till Friday, and the hurricane was coming on Sunday.

Mike's apartment was in the maybe possibly will have flooding area of the map, so he just packed an overnight bag and slept in his cubicle that Saturday night. At dawn, when the serious winds hit and the building started to sway, Mike brought down coffee for the overnight guard in the lobby, and they spent the morning playing checkers until it began to let up. He was back at work by noon.

*

After a week of licking his wounds, Mike ran into Rachel and invited her out for lunch. She knew a place, of course, and they walked down the avenue in the crisp wind of late fall together, scarves flapping behind them. Mike could feel his ears turning red, and wondered again why the corporate crowd disdained hats so firmly.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked, after two blocks.

It was okay for Rachel to wear a hat. She was a woman, and the rules were just different. She had on something fuzzy, angora maybe, in a soft white that made her look radiant. Her scarf matched, of course. The rules were just different. She asked, "Do you really want to rub elbows with the same people you work with all day?"

Good point. It was nearly impossible to find a firm-free cafe within 500 yards of the building. Midtown was crawling with lawyers, all alike in their high-end suits; at least they could be strangers in suits and not people who'd use your lunch companions against you.

Rachel pulled a hand out of her coat pocket and gestured for them to cross. "So is this the pre-breakup lunch, or is it really a coincidence you ran into me?"

"What?" said Mike, with a foot in the street. He realized it was against the light and stepped back up onto the curb. "Uh, yes it's really a coincidence? And don't we have to be doing something together before a breakup can occur?"

"Hence the pre-breakup, counselor."

Mike sighed. "I guess you heard Jenny and I are quits."

"Kyle might have been crowing about it," said Rachel. "He didn't seem to know why, though."

"Apparently I don't have my head together." Mike kicked the trash at his feet, a mix of leaves and fast-food papers. "I lack drive and don't have a clear goal in life."

"Ouch."

"That's not the best part," he told her. "Her last boyfriend before me sold pot for a living." It felt mean saying that, wonderfully mean, meaner to Trevor than to Jenny, but only just.

"And she traded up to a lawyer and still wasn't satisfied?" Rachel shook her head. "Who's she dating now, the Pope?"

Mike actually opened his mouth to remind her that Jenny knew he wasn't really a lawyer, and boy what a stupid mistake that would have been. He closed his mouth again. He couldn't ask Rachel whether he really lacked drive if she didn't know what he'd been doing with his life for the past eight years.

Clearly she took his silence as reproof. "I'm sorry. That was cruel. And I think being a corporate lawyer is a pretty clear goal."

"That's what I said."

The light changed and they crossed. On the numbered streets, the wind blew less fiercely, but the whole street was in shadow from the tall buildings and the southerly angle of the sun. Mike put a hand up to one of his ears, to make sure it was still there.

"Anyway," said Rachel, offhand. "You're single again, but -- you're not looking."

Mike watched her walk and wondered what kinds of signals he'd been sending. "I'm not not looking," he said at last.

"It's a bad idea, the two of us," she said, her chin tucked into her scarf. "Obviously."

"Obviously?"

They split around a dog-walker and rejoined again. Rachel took her time composing herself. "Listen, Mike, I think you're a good guy. And that you can hear this and not think I'm a jerk for saying it."

"Uh oh."

Her face was sharp, brows drawn together, her skinny form seeming even skinnier as she focused her attention on him. "You're so nice, Mike. You let people walk all over you. I see it all the time. I think I'd walk all over you, and I'd hate myself if I did that."

"Wait, who walks all over me?"

"Um, Harvey. And Louis. And Kyle. And half the other new associates. You're always the butt of their jokes and you never, ever retaliate. Everybody thinks you're fair game."

"Okay, Harvey and Louis are my bosses. I'm kind of paid to let them walk all over me." Mike couldn't tell her that all the rest of it was a side-effect of his fraudulent position. Piss off the wrong person, and maybe they'd look a little harder into why they didn't remember having seen Mike at Harvard. "And anyway, I don't have time for retaliation."

"You let me walk all over you," Rachel said in a small voice. "I knew you were dating Jenny and I kissed you anyway and you didn't stop me."

"It was hot," Mike protested, equally small. And then, irritated, "Didn't you say you had a problem with wanting things you can't have? Maybe now I'm single again you're coming up with reasons why it wouldn't work out."

She walked on in silence, stung. Mike thought to himself that he obviously wasn't incapable of retaliating.

"I'm sorry. That was an asshole thing to say."

"Yeah, it was," Rachel told him. "And you'd probably get more respect with the other lawyers if you said that kind of thing more often."

Mike looked ahead of them down the street: a fruit vendor, and a guy selling pretzels. They were always out here, no matter how cold the weather. "God, Harvey would love it if I took asshole lessons."

She laughed, as she was meant to. "Aw, is he really that big an asshole?"

"I'm not allowed to eat onions at lunch because he claims he can smell them on me. Is it asshole to decree what your underlings can and cannot eat? Maybe you should go out with him."

The goony little smile on her face made clear that she'd already considered that option. "I don't think so."

They walked. Rachel steered them past the tourist stuff and around the corner and there was a little cafe, homey and totally weird for this neighborhood. Mike held the door for her, and they were inside, unwinding their scarves. Mike had so much in common with her, got along with her, found her attractive. They got into line and she was considering him again, something far away in her expression. He couldn't guess what she saw in his face, but her own face was tinged with regret.

"Truce?" Mike asked her.

"Truce," she said, and held out her hand. It was supposed to be a handshake and ended up at hand-holding instead. They examined the chalked-up menu side by side, fingers shyly twined. Rachel said, "So do you think we should go home together once, and really get over it, or just retain the perpetual rain check."

"I'm going to need a pity fuck someday," Mike told her, with his brow comically furrowed. "I'm glad to know I'll be able to rely on you in this matter, counselor."

"I'm not a counselor yet," she laughed.

*

You would think, the big anniversary having come and gone, the September 11th stories would go away. You got two freshman associates, you got three September 11th stories. In the kitchen, in the library, down in Records, once while a couple of guys were standing in a row peeing for fuck's sake. And always in the south-facing conference rooms, before and after meetings. The others would stand at the windows and stare. Mike decided not to tell them that from Midtown to the Financial District was a healthy five-mile bike ride, and the skyscrapers they were looking at were totally the wrong ones.

Most of the new associates were from someplace else (and Westchester County was definitely Someplace Else), so Mike could understand the tourist impulse. The newspapers had done all the tenth-anniversary commemoration, and the cable news channels were still milking it, even in November. The new associate class had been in highschool when it happened (even Mike, the elder statesman at 27), and wanted their teenaged memories to feel important. The older associates, the partners, the secretaries and paralegals who were mostly from here, they found ways to disappear when the stories would start up. Mike was aloof enough as it was, and couldn't usually sneak away. He endured it and kept his yap shut. He was getting better at that.

So he didn't think to wave off Harvey when he walked into the library that time (looking for Mike, of course). Harold was in the middle of telling about a girlfriend who'd broken up with him on September 9th, and Mike was in the middle of wondering silently whether Harold meant "girlfriend" in the kindergarten sense of the word, and he looked up and saw Harvey stalking down the aisle between tables, his lips pressed tightly together.

"My office, now," he said in Mike's general vicinity, and Harold stopped telling his story (which was about cherishing the moment, or something), and at least one face showed a mean little pleasure that Mike was getting his ass whipped again. Harvey turned on his heel and walked out without another word.

Mike gathered up his papers and jogged to Harvey's office, but when he got there Harvey was on the phone, and waved him away. He went back to his cube, baffled.

*

The rumor was, a junior partner was to blame. Went to his kid's holiday dance performance, mingled with a bunch of germ factories, and brought influenza into the hallowed halls of Pearson Hardman. In a week, it blazed through every floor the firm occupied. Mike had had a flu shot (with the time he did in nursing homes, it would be irresponsible not to) and still got sick. He spent Tuesday and Wednesday flat on his back, hallucinating an extended conversation with an eight-foot pizza. Most of the rest of his associate class -- stressed out, under-rested, quite a few of them convinced they were invulnerable -- needed four days or even five, and came back coughing. The only reason Louis didn't fire the lot of them was that he caught it too, and needed an audience for his elaborate self-pity.

Donna never got sick at all. Harvey claimed the same, although he took that Friday off unexpectedly. And unlike most days off, he didn't spend it sending curt little emails badly typed on his smartphone in between whatever it was he did with his free time. Mike wasn't totally stupid.

(He left a bottle of Robitussin on Harvey's desk the following Monday morning, and found it in the trash later that day, unopened. Mike took it home with him. No point in letting it go to waste.)

It was a mess -- snot and legal paperwork really don't mix -- but kind of a normal mess. It was reassuring, that law offices could be thrown into disarray like a grade school class.

The upside of how fast the flu moved through Pearson Hardman was that there wasn't anybody left to infect by New Year's. It was dying down within two weeks of the first infection. Lingering coughs that echoed down the hallways were all that remained.

Although he denied it, Harvey was one with a cough. He acted like he was only clearing his throat now and then, but then he'd close his office door and stand in the blind spot next to it so he couldn't be seen from the hallway and hack away like an old smoker. Mike and Donna shared an amused glance after the first time it happened, but after the third or fourth Mike asked, in a whisper, "Should I bring back the Robitussin?"

"He doesn't believe in doctors," Donna told him.

Typical. Mike left him alone to suffer.

For another week, anyway. The cough didn't go away. It wasn't any worse, but it seemed to be wearing Harvey out. He was paler than usual. Mike thought about saying something, but he wasn't sure what he could say that wouldn't get his head bit off. The guy was fighting off the last effects of the flu, and was too proud to say so. He was going to be cranky, even if he weren't Harvey "tact is for the people who pay me" Specter.

So he wasn't thinking about it when he sat down in Harvey's office that afternoon. He was tired and he had dry-cleaning to pick up and the slapfight in the case in his hands was epic. He was chortling over it to himself (a little) when Harvey walked in. "Okay, go," said Harvey, and Mike started describing the particulars in the file.

"...So the second brother stops answering his phone, and the first brother, he's totally left holding the bag. So he makes his mother call up the second brother, which is awesome by the way -- " Harvey was pacing behind him. Mike went on, "-- and so the mother says she'll cover $5K for the business, but she gives the check to the second brother, and he deposits it in his personal account, which I'm pretty sure is at least a misdemeanor fraud."

"It is," said Harvey. He was standing near his desk, the skin under his eyes grayish. "Would she testify against her own son, though?"

"Does she need to? The check was made out to the business." Mike leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. "Anyway, that's not the best part."

Harvey paced behind him again. Mike was thinking ahead to the best part and he heard a weird noise and instead of what he'd meant to say, he said:

"That's rales." He sat up abruptly.

"What do rails have to do with it?" Harvey asked, irritated.

"No, not the case," said Mike, "You. You walked past just now and I heard you breathing and you've got rales. It's, it's this crackling noise in your lungs. When you breathe. It's a classic sign of pneumonia." With no better idea what to do, he jumped to his feet. Harvey retreated to behind his desk.

"What the hell are you talking about."

"Your lungs. Are infected. Do you really not believe in doctors, because you definitely need to see one."

"I think if I were sick I'd know about it. Get back to the case."

Mike put his hands on his hips. "Okay, um, no. Are you seriously going to do that?"

"Do what." Harvey glowered.

Mike pulled out the big guns. "Donna!"

The door flew open and banged against the far wall and Donna strode in with her hair on fire. "I have a phone on my desk," she reminded them. "Those little keypads -- only ten numbers! I know your huge Harvard brains can count that high."

Harvey opened his mouth and Mike talked over him: "Harvey has pneumonia and he won't go to a doctor and in the interest of you and me continuing to have a boss after next week I need you to twist his arm."

"This is nuts," was all Harvey could say.

"Pneumonia is what killed Jim Henson," Mike reminded him.


"Pneumonia?" asked Donna, still dubious.

"His lungs crackle when he breathes. I spend all my free time with old sick people, I know what that sounds like. Give me a second listen, and I can tell you which lung it is. Or, jackpot, it could be both."

Harvey looked at Donna (appealing) and Donna looked at Harvey (assessing) and Mike kept his yap shut and waited for the inevitable.

Donna said, "Okay, have a seat on the couch."

"But Donna --" Harvey could be so petulant sometimes. She didn't even have to say a word. She raised one finger at him and he closed his mouth. She moved that finger over toward the couch and he went, glowering all the while.

Mike came around and sat next to Harvey. "Okay, turn that way. Just, hold still. Breathe deep." Mike leaned over carefully and put his ear against Harvey's back. The wool of his jacket tickled Mike's ear as he moved from shoulder to shoulder and then down the ribs. "Yeah, here it is." Harvey breathed and in Mike's ear was that noise, like vacuuming up shallow water, like someone crumpling paper in the next room. Mike lifted his head and poked Harvey in the back, right side, down at the base of his lung. Harvey squirmed.

"Okay," said Donna.

"Do you want a listen?" Mike asked her, but she shook her head.

"Hospital it is."

"Don't I get a say in this?" asked Harvey, from the couch.

"Do you want me to call Jessica?" Donna demanded.

Donna always got her way.

*

So Harvey was officially out sick the rest of the day (Donna of course knew a doctor who would see him on no notice), and the next day. But by "out sick" he meant working at home and calling Mike up every half hour. At two in the afternoon, Mike snapped, packed up all the active files he could carry, and took a taxi over to Harvey's building. He was magnanimous enough to pick up hot and sour soup on his way (hot and sour soup is the cure for everything), although it did occur to him that he could feed Harvey sedatives along with the soup and get a little quiet in which to work.

Harvey lived on the West Side, in a doorman building that was twenty stories tall. Mike had kind of thought he'd live someplace more glamorous, the 60th floor or a Lower Manhattan view. His 18th-floor apartment was spacious: high ceilings, open concept, not quite enough furniture to look intentionally sparse. Mostly it just looked like someone had forgotten to decorate the place. Mike's voice echoed in the foyer.

"I hope you have some pants on, I brought your files."

"In here," came Harvey's voice. Mike paced down the white hallway and found the bedroom at the end of it. Harvey had a huge dark-wood bed and was sitting half-upright in the middle of it, five pillows stacked behind his back. The sixth pillow held his laptop. Loose paper lay scattered all around him atop the expensive sheets.

"You look terrible," Mike told him, because he did. The gray under his eyes was deeper and the eyes themselves bloodshot. His forehead was a sheen of sweat and he'd sweated through the undershirt he was wearing. "Did you take the medicine the doctor gave you?"

"My back is killing me. I took a muscle relaxant just a minute ago."

"Jesus, Harvey, you can't mix pills like that." Mike dropped everything on the bed and tore open the bedside drawer. "What did you take? If it's an opioid and you took the liquid codeine, you have to get to a hospital now."

"Stop it." Harvey waved him off. There wasn't anything in the drawer besides condoms, some Lifesavers, and a stopped travel-sized clock. "I didn't take the codeine. It tastes terrible anyway."

"It's supposed to," Mike griped at him. "It's addictive and dangerous in large doses. Uh, I brought hot and sour soup."

"That's only good for sinuses," said Harvey, but he sent Mike off to the kitchen for spoons and bowls all the same. The kitchen drawers had no pulls on them, and the pots looked like they'd never been used. He dragged a kitchen chair back down the hall with him.

They ate, and got down to work. Harvey rubbed his eyes often, and after about an hour his speech began to slow and he lost his train of thought three or four times. Effects of the downer he'd taken, clearly. Mike quietly started to save the files on his laptop.

"Is there anything you need before I get out of here? When's your next dose of antibiotics?"

"You're going?" Harvey asked with dull surprise.

"Eventually?" Mike sat back. There was work he could do by himself remotely, an hour or two's worth anyway. Harvey obviously did not often admit to the need to just plain take care of himself. Mike removed the paper from the bed, and rearranged it in piles on the floor. He had to rummage in the dresser drawers for a dry shirt for Harvey to change into. "Come on, let's get you set up." Up onto the bed, and Mike lifted Harvey's arms one after the other through the old undershirt and then off over his head. It wasn't difficult, if you knew what you were doing and had a compliant patient. Mike got him dressed and mopped his forehead dry.

Suddenly Harvey sat bolt upright and coughed, hard. The pillows fell apart behind him. The bout left him gasping when he was done, and he leaned forward over his knees.

"Dude," said Mike, and put an arm around his back. "That's what the liquid codeine is for."

Harvey raised his head, but he didn't answer. He leaned into Mike's grip and breathed. Mike took his weight, alarmingly aware of the fever in his limbs, and let Harvey regather his strength. He thought of all the nursing home residents he'd seen like this, vulnerable and head-down to hide it, and so Mike was totally unprepared for when Harvey leaned over a little further and kissed him.

It was the real thing, with tongue and everything, and Harvey was a talented kisser. His lips tasted like the Chinese they'd eaten. He hadn't shaved and his skin was rough. Mike gasped a bit and Harvey put up a hand to Mike's face to keep him close.

The logic circuits kicked back in. Mike pulled Harvey's hand away and leaned back. "We can't do this."

Harvey opened his eyes. They were glassy. "Yes we can."

"You know what, no, we can't." Mike shucked Harvey off him and jumped to his feet. He paced beside Harvey's bed. "I know you, and I know that you break rules but you don't break rules like that. And that this is your version of having a conversation with a giant pizza, and while I'm flattered to be your giant pizza, there are ramifications here, major life-altering and workplace-altering ramifications, and, and, this is not the kind of huge life-decision you make when you think your associate is a giant pizza, okay?"

Harvey watched him pace. "You brought pizza too?"

"No," sighed Mike, and sat back down in the kitchen chair. He was pretty sure he couldn't just up and catch pneumonia like that, but it was just as well Harvey didn't have Mono.

He futzed around with his laptop while Harvey kneaded the pillows back into a pile. Mike didn't reach out to help him. Harvey settled himself groggily on the pillows and nodded off at once.

His neck was at an awkward angle, that would cramp up if he slept more than an hour or two. "What would you do without me?" Mike asked him, and rolled him to a more comfortable position.

*

Harvey came back to work, hard-charging and merciless as ever. Mike would almost have believed he'd imagined the whole "I was deathly ill and didn't know it" thing except for Donna, and the way she shook her head when Harvey wasn't looking. Donna hadn't gone to Harvey's apartment, though, and Mike hadn't told her about it. He hadn't told anyone about it, and probably Harvey didn't remember a thing. It might as well not have happened. No harm, no foul. Mostly.

Except that he looked at Harvey differently. It shouldn't matter, that maybe in between womanizing he was sometimes into... man-izing. Or maybe not: maybe he'd thought Mike was someone else, a woman, a giant pizza. He'd been pretty stoned. It shouldn't matter, but Mike kept glancing at him surreptitiously, alert to any little blinky light-displays that might spell out clues one way or the other. Being picky and precise and wearing nice clothes didn't make you queer, unless all the lawyers on Park Avenue were queer. Being an ex-athlete didn't make you not queer. Being totally convinced you could still smell bananas in the hallway two hours after the peels had been disposed of on a different floor made you a lunatic, but it didn't say anything about whether you were into guys or not.

Mike was obviously losing his mind.

He was out for lunch with Rachel a couple of weeks later and thought about bringing it up with her. He opened his mouth to start a hypothetical, and then thought better and closed it.

"What." She slurped her carrot-ginger soup daintily, careful of her gray sweater. She looked perfect, as always.

"Nothing," Mike told her, and took a bite of his sandwich. "Well, it's complicated."

"That's what I'm here for," she told him. "Seriously, anything. I'll even talk politics. What."

Mike squirmed a little in his seat. They were in the same little cafe far away from their building, and they hadn't yet seen anybody else from Pearson Hardman there. It was an open seating area, though. The next couple over was practically at Mike's elbow, arguing in low tones about what movie to see on Friday. The clatter of dishes over by the kitchen punctuated every sentence.

"Okay. So, not a hypothetical." Mike stared into the holes of his rye bread. "So I'm about to turn 28, you know that, right?"

"Yes, Methuselah. I know you're older than most of the other associates."

The pulse in his temples had to be visible from space, and he hadn't even said it yet. He composed himself, and then said quietly, "So is that too old to re-evaluate being straight?"

She considered it. The couple at his elbow went on discussing the potential merits of Blammo III: The Explosioning. Rachel stirred her soup absently, and then glanced up and her expression changed. "Oh, you don't mean not-dating-women, do you. You mean yes-dating-men."

Mike could feel the blush in his throat. "I don't know, I guess not. You know what --"

"It's not too old," she interrupted, very serious. She reached out and grabbed his hand. "People get where they're going at whatever speed they can travel."

He had no idea what that meant.

"You can be 40 and re-evaluate," Rachel told him, still earnest, "or 50. Or 85. I am so glad you told me. You know about my mom, right?"

Mike lifted his hand so she would have to let go. "No, who's your mom?"

"My parents got divorced when I was fifteen, because my mom met Lauren. My dad was really devastated. For a long time, but it got better and he's okay with them now. My mom said she'd never thought about women before Lauren, and maybe that's a lie to spare everybody some drama, but late-blooming bisexuality is not exactly unheard-of."

"Oh Jesus," Mike said to himself. The couple next to him talked on, oblivious.

"It's not a bad thing," she said. "I mean, I know corporate lawyers are dick-swinging chuckleheads. They say stupid stuff all the time, about everything, you know, racial and against women too, and I've heard plenty of the gay stuff. But they're not the world, you know? They're just your job. You can't let your job screw up the rest of your life."

Mike decided not to say that that was exactly what was happening, that his job was affecting his life so powerfully that it might eventually turn him gay. "I'm not even thinking about that yet. I just. This guy I know, from outside of work," he clarified, "this guy kind of let me know he was interested, and, I don't know."

"Don't know what to say, or don't know whether you're interested back?"

Mike examined the melamine table. "I just don't know. I'm too old for this shit, you know? I have no problem with girls. Girls are awesome. I have been happy with girls for a really long time and this highschool shit is really messing with my head."

"Well," said Rachel, and looked at him steadily, "is he good looking?"

"No. Yes. He's --" He was going to have to keep making stuff up to keep her off the track. "He lives on my block, about my height, and he's got a lot of personality. Like, the kind of guy who fills the room when he walks in."

"Nice eyes?"

Mike attempted a dispassionate analysis of Harvey's eyes. They were dark brown, so dark they looked black in anything but direct sunlight. His focused attention could be pretty overwhelming, but that didn't have anything to do specifically with his eyes, did it? "I guess?"

"So what did he say? To let you know."

There were some things Mike was just not going to mention. The blush was in his neck again, though, he could feel it, as clearly as he could feel the memory of a hand on his face and a tongue in his mouth. It was strange that it was so fresh in his mind, as if it had happened that morning instead of weeks ago.

"Mike," said Rachel, and then said his name again to get him to look up, "Mike, as your friend, I am telling you that you need to re-evaluate. If he can make you look like that then no, you are not 100% straight."

"Look like what?" Mike asked, guiltily.

Rachel gave him a knowing little smile. "You looked like you were thinking about kissing him."

Mike buried himself in his sandwich so he wouldn't have to say anything.

*

Mike didn't get to see the Great Coffee Debacle of 2012, he just got to deal with the aftermath. He didn't even know a debacle was in progress; he was just walking down the hall when Harvey poked his head out of some corridor, pointed at Mike, and said, "Follow me."

A senior partner tells you to jump off a bridge, you seriously consider doing it. When your own senior partner tells you to follow him into a bathroom, even if you've got some vague qualms about it in the long run -- Mike followed. There was time to think about it, because it was the locked senior partners only bathroom and Harvey had to fish out his keys to get them in. Mike stood behind him, awkward, and listened to Harvey swear.

He was not a swearer, overall. He was also not the sort to do embarrassing sex-things in the workplace, so the first scenario that had popped into Mike's head was probably not actually in the offing. Harvey let them in and Mike stood there in the middle of ridiculous marble splendor and then Harvey turned toward the mirror and it became obvious what was wrong: his white dress shirt had a fresh coffee stain in the middle of it.

"What's your neck measurement?" Harvey asked, as he undid his tie.

"Me? I, 15 and a half, why?"

"It's plain and I hate the collar, but it'll have to do. Hurry up."

Mike put a hand to his collar. It was a normal collar, on a normal shirt, that had been drycleaned and pressed like the best shirt Mike ever owned. The only reason Harvey hated it was that it wasn't custom-made and sewn by the hands of elderly Italian men. Automatically, Mike undid the top button.

"I can't wear that tie, though. I don't think I can even tie a necktie that skinny. What year do you think it is, 1984?"

"Uh," Mike said, as he shucked off the buttons. "You know I was born in 1984, right?"

Harvey made a noise of disgust in his throat, and then his dress shirt was off and he was standing there in his undershirt. He examined it for evidence of coffee, found it unmarred, and waited impatiently for Mike to finish undressing. Mike was having trouble with where his eyes were supposed to go. He wrestled his way out of his sleeves head-down, on the off chance Harvey was looking at him.

"I close this merger in ten minutes. Donna might have one of my old spare ties in her desk. Go fetch it and tell that research flunky he's fired."

Mike had just enough sense not to go bounding down the hallway without any dress shirt at all. Harvey was pulling on Mike's shirt with half-voiced gripes about the weave of the fabric. Mike snatched up Harvey's stained shirt, buttoned it haphazardly, and sped off on his errand.

So he kind of looked like he'd been mugged by a coffee-wielding bandit as he jogged toward Donna's desk. A white-faced stranger tried to accost him near where he'd first seen Harvey, but Mike strong-armed him out of the way and arrived in front of Donna half-winded. "Need a necktie," he gasped.

"And a makeover, puppy, what kind of fun have you been having?" But while she said it Donna yanked open her drawers and hunted on his behalf. "You know, I used to keep spares for Harvey, but I stopped doing that about the time he figured out how to wipe his own ass -- Yeah, I don't have any."

"Oh shit," said Mike, and ran back down the hallway. The white-faced stranger was there again, and this time Mike stopped for him, because he was wearing a really nice dark-red necktie.

"It was an accident! I came around the corner and I didn't even know he was there!" The stranger got a handful of Harvey's shirt (it really was nice fabric, something shiny and patterned in it, despite its being a single color), and babbled some more at Mike. Who realized suddenly who he was talking to.

"Are you Research Flunky? Did you just spill coffee on Harvey Specter?" The man nodded, frantic. Mike took him by the shoulders. "Okay, I tell you what, you are not fired. As long as you lend me your necktie."

"What?" But Mike had obviously learned something about giving orders, because Research Flunky already had one finger at his throat, and had the tie off in about a second. "Here, here," he said, and actually reached out and turned Mike in the direction he was heading. "My wife gave it to me. You can keep it."

And so Mike got to knock on the senior partners' bathroom door, still looking more like a wino than like an attorney, and wait for Harvey to let him in. Harvey was grousing about the shirt again, seriously, it was fine, so Mike just flipped the skinny end of the tie over his shoulder and slid the silk under the collar points, his palms flat against Harvey's chest. Harvey's hands darted up to take over and they bashed fingers awkwardly. Mike stepped back, out of the way.

"It makes you look reedy," Harvey said, chin high, as he focused on his reflection in the mirror. "Narrow collar, narrow necktie. Try a spread collar and a double Windsor some time. You'll seem more imposing." His hands flew on the silk, that high-pitched noise of dense fabric being whipped in circles around a new-formed knot.

Mike watched him straighten the fat triangle at his throat, and tug at the collar points. He re-tucked the shirt at the side, resettled the sleeves (which were a little long), and actually held out two fingers to measure the tie's distance from his belt.

"You look good," Mike told him, forgetting himself.

Harvey grimaced into the mirror in response. "It'll have to do. My jacket's in my office. Conference room in -- four minutes."

Mike looked down at his state of dishevelment. "I don't think you want the client to see me right now."

Harvey spared him a glance. "Probably not," he conceded. "I'll fetch it myself."

"Cufflinks," Mike remembered, and scooped them up off the ledge below the mirror.

"Leave them on my desk," said Harvey.

And off he went, down the hall to his office to put on his jacket and knock the client's socks off. It was only after he'd gone that Mike realized that he and Harvey wore the same size shirt, more or less. Obviously a spread collar and a double Windsor did make you look more imposing.

But Harvey would be able to make do with a standard collar. With his jacket on, nobody would be able to see the box pleat at the back of his shirt's yoke. (Harvey's shirts had the pleats hidden in weird places known only to elderly Italian tailors.) Maybe somebody would notice that his cuffs were held with white plastic buttons, but probably not. They would all look where Harvey directed, of course. He could do a merger in a clown suit if he wanted to.

Mike went back to the library and did his research in a ridiculously luxurious dress shirt and his sad, rejected skinny necktie. The fabric was fine against his shoulders and he hardly dared wrinkle it by rolling up the sleeves. It smelled like Harvey, like his sweat and his cologne. Mike spent the whole day inhaling that smell.

*

It was an associate-eat-associate world out there. Unlike a university library, the firm's library just wasn't big enough for a researcher to go find a quiet spot and get some work done; it was all there, out in the open, and unless you wanted to look stuff up at 5 AM, you had to look stuff up in the presence of your peers. Who were constantly bickering and backbiting like middle-schoolers.

Earbuds worked sometimes, until Kyle started ripping them right out of Mike's ears to make sure his dire pronouncements on the state of somebody's continuing employment were being heard. Sometimes if Mike was fast enough he was able to flick Kyle's fingers and make him curse. (Friendship with Trevor had been good for a few things.) But the impulse to gossip was not to be gainsaid, come hell, high water, or an incredibly bored audience.

Paula was the culprit today, 9th in her class at Harvard (and one of the few who had wondered, vaguely, why Mike had not been up there in the top ten with her) and passive-aggressive as they come. "I just hate how he treats Harold," she said again, one table over, her eyes scanning a directory of federal circuit decisions. Mike was reading up on insider trading, and wasn't even sure whom she meant. Everyone treated Harold badly, Paula not least. "Somebody ought to say something," she added.

"Maybe you should," Mike said vaguely, and turned the page.

"Clearly nobody else is going to," she sniffed. She touched her hair, which was shellacked into one of those weirdly popular bun-doughnut-thingies. He'd asked Rachel about it finally, and she explained that it was a women's hairstyle that still looked good even if you slept at your desk. Mike clearly had not had to think about this kind of thing. Paula was wrapped up in her rant now, and wasn't even looking at the directory any more. "I feel bad for you, really. I heard he didn't even want to hire an associate at all."

Ohhhh. They were talking about Harvey. Who'd yelled at Harold, it was true, just last week over a mistake in the prioritizing of tort actions. He'd turned around and made Mike recite the statute (which of course he could), for maximum possible humiliation points all around. Mike and Harold bonded about it after, actually.

"The only reason he hired me," Mike said, impish, "was that I told him I was a petty crook. He said he needed that kind of experience in an associate."

"You lied to get into this position?" Paula's outrage was in danger of ripping the directory in two.

It wasn't nice to do, but what the hell, he was tired and punchy and so over the office gossip. "Do I look like a petty crook?" he asked her. And then before she could think up a response, "Besides, it's not like I don't know where some of his bodies are buried."

This was irresistible bait. Paula stood up and came around the table, in case he needed to whisper. "Yes?"

"Weeell," and Mike drew it out just to see her lip curl with anticipated schadenfreude, "He told Donna to get the old mayor on the line. I only overheard a little bit, but I definitely heard him say, 'Don't make me call the papers about it.' So --"

"Really."

"He saw me hovering in the doorway right then, and he wrapped up the call. You know, all business, like I hadn't caught him at anything." Mike was warming to it now, the way the story spun itself out of nothing. He'd forgotten the joy of criminal improv, how in the middle of things you just had to go with the lie, had to devote yourself to it and see it through to the end. There were a lot of aspects of scam artistry he'd hated, but making up stories -- that was the good part. "I looked in his Contacts folder later, and --"

"My associates are industrious and thorough!" Louis sang from the doorway. "I am sure I don't see them standing around doing nothing during billable hours!"

It was perfect. Mike put on a hunted look and got back to his insider trading. Paula scurried to her abandoned directory and flipped pages like a madwoman. By the end of the day it was all over the building.

Mike collected them for a week: hilarious conjectures about what, exactly, Harvey might know, about whom, and why he would be threatening to use it now. Among other things, it made clear that corporate law associates have a dastardly imagination, a low opinion of Harvey, and absolutely no faith in the honesty of politicians. And juuuuust enough discretion that Harvey never got wind of it at all, although the glares Donna shot in Mike's direction proved she knew everything.

They were still talking about it the following Monday morning. On a coffee hunt, Mike walked into the kitchen and heard Harold wonder vaguely why it always had to be blackmail.

"Well of course," said Owen, Paula's comrade-in-arms. "He clearly wants to stop Giuliani from running for president again."

"Is there any blunder in Giuliani's life that isn't public already?" Mike asked, half-joking. Obviously none of them had lived in New York during Giuliani Time, but they read the tabloids, surely. "The man went on SNL in drag."

"He was so great during September 11th," Paula said breathlessly.

That again.

"And that's why it's always blackmail," Owen concluded, sagely.

Mike just shook his head and walked away. "You can't fight City Hall," he said, to nobody in particular.

*

It was Rachel's birthday. (Okay, it was the day after: nobody should have to go out with work-friends on their actual birthday.) A couple of other paralegals organized a thing, and somehow they knew to include Mike. He was the only associate invited, and the only guy.

Mike settled into a hotel bar booth with four women he didn't know and Rachel. The seat was leather and the table a marble slab or something, and huge chandeliers hung down from the ceiling, minimally lit. A piano tinkled unobtrusively in the corner. Mike couldn't recognize specific people in the other booths and at the tables and bellied up to the bar, but he could recognize their type. They were the type that went to Pearson Hardman to handle their problems. The diamonds in those ears and on those tie tacks were real.

It seemed like an odd place to go out, really. Mike was under the impression that unless you actually wanted "Esquire" after your name, you didn't bother with the markups and the attitude at places like these. But Rachel sat in the middle with a glow about her, and the four other women nodded at one another, knowing. So maybe wanting "Esquire" was what this party was about after all. Maybe that was why Mike had been invited.

He knew how to play along. He drew out Rachel's friends about their view of the office, the foibles of partners he didn't know, or knew only glancingly. It was a game among them, the way Mike would profess ignorance and inspire another story that turned out to hinge on Rachel's brilliance, diplomacy, or mind-reading skills. Mike hadn't laughed so hard in a long time, and he regretted a little how few of the paralegals he knew more than to say hello to. Associates weren't really encouraged to make friends outside their own ranks.

"Ah," stage-whispered Cherine, a white woman old enough to be Rachel's mother. "And look who graces the stage on your night, sweetie."

She was smart enough not to point. Harvey was approaching the bar, client in tow. It was that shmucky Zambrano kid, age 25 and worth about a billion. He was the only man in the entire room who wasn't wearing a necktie. Clearly, being worth a billion had its perks.

"That's my boss," Mike told them all, unnecessarily. Cherine gave him a pitying look but Elisa next to her leaned in to interrogate.

"You would know. Is it true he blackmailed Giuliani out of a presidential run this time?"

"I heard," added Franny, on Rachel's other side, "that he loaned one of his clients a million dollars he was so sure he would win."

Mike and Rachel shared a chuckle. "I can neither confirm nor deny," Mike said. "Seriously, he would probably kill me if he even knew I was talking about him and oh my god he's right behind me, isn't he?"

Rachel burst into cackles a tiny bit too loud for the room. She slapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide, and Mike delighted in watching her shoulders shake as she laughed it out under control. Not too many heads had turned. Harvey had his back to them, either ignorant of or ignoring their presence. He was drinking something amber-colored with the Zambrano kid.

"You know the oldest rumor about him," said Gayle. She was the oldest of the group, and had been working at Pearson Hardman since the 1980s. When she'd first come on board, there were no black or female partners, and now the managing partner was both. Franny and Rachel turned to her, expecting another joke, but Mike had already guessed what she was going to say. Gayle leaned back and put her fingers on the stem of her wine glass and said, "That he slept his way up. That he was Ms. Pearson's plaything."

Rachel was opening her mouth to object to that -- god, she was loyal -- but Gayle wasn't finished.

"It was the kind of rumor you didn't repeat unless you wanted to believe it, but I heard it often enough." She raised her chin, as if nodding to Harvey on the other side of the room. He had his back to her. "It was slander, of course. Ms. Pearson has better taste than that."

Well, Mike laughed. Franny and Elisa had considering looks on their faces. "Oh, no way. Don't even think it," Rachel told them, chuckling. "I have it on very good authority that he would never date inside the office."

"You've been talking to Donna," Mike accused, and Rachel didn't deny it.

"To Donna," she proposed. "May she someday be director of the CIA."

Everybody at the table could drink to that.

They lasted another round (Mike paid, because he had a pretty good idea how much more money he made than any of them) and chatted idly, but the evening wound down after that. One by one the other women left, to catch trains or taxis or the boring old subway. They all gave Mike significant looks before they went. Rachel sat with her arms out in the wide expanse of dark leather seat, her silky top shining in the dim light, and sighed with a smile on her face.

"You look like you belong here," he said, and meant it. She only leaned her head back and gazed at the chandelier. Mike thought about how to say it, the expectation of Rachel's coworkers pressing on him. "You look like someone in control, someone who can seal a deal over a handshake. You look like someone who can win over anybody else in the room, and make them see things your way."

"You're trying to sell me on law school," Rachel said, eyes still on the ceiling.

"Is it working?"

"Maybe."

"Will it work better if I ply you with another drink?"

"Maybe," she said again.

They'd cleared out their tab, so Mike went up to the bar to ask for two more glasses. He stood there with a hand in his pocket, tapping his credit card idly on the bar while he waited. Twenty feet away, at the other end of the bar, was Harvey. He'd rid himself of young Zambrano, probably with a handshake and a promise to have Mike look up some fantastically obscure details for the last page of a contract. A place like this wasn't Zambrano's scene anyway: too civilized, too quiet. The idea of Harvey in a bass-pounding nightclub was too funny not to chuckle over.

Harvey stood twenty feet away, one hand on the bar, the other on the forearm of a woman in a black cocktail dress. Mike considered them as objectively as he could: the man in the power suit and the woman in the skimpy dress. He slicked back, she fresh and blonde, red-lipped, with those bouncy Shirley Temple curls that were apparently in fashion again. He was tall and trim; she was slim but not model-skinny. He was 40 and she might be 22.

She gave Harvey an artless smile and Mike could just see the crinkles at the edge of his temple as he smiled back. She was wearing cheap earrings, and if Mike could tell from across the room, then Harvey could certainly tell. He was intentionally picking up a waitress or a college student, somebody on a rare splurge, somebody he wouldn't ever have to see again. Maybe it would be thrilling for her, That Time I Did It With A Raging Capitalist, and she'd remember it fondly rather than wonder why he hadn't called. Mike supposed that Harvey's apartment might look so unfinished in order to discourage guests from staying.

The two glasses came and Mike signed the slip and turned away. He slid back into the booth next to Rachel and set her glass down in front of her. "What?"

Her smile was very stiff, guarded. "Harvey saw you. Don't look." Mike had no intention of looking. The man could do whatever he wanted with his free time. Rachel glanced over and whatever she saw relieved her: she let out a long breath.

"So law school," Mike said.

But Rachel was not having a second of it. She hunched over and hissed at him, "Why didn't you tell me your mystery man was Harvey?"

"Mystery -- man --?" Mike realized his spluttering was basically giving him away. He slumped. "How did you know?"

She blinked. She put a hand on her wine glass, and moved it on the table for no reason. She lifted it to her lips and took a sip. "You didn't see him. Just now. The way he looked at you."

"What way?" It was weakness even to ask.

"He told you he was interested?" Rachel demanded. She had that narrow little chin, like an extra pointy finger. She'd be so good in a courtroom.

"He's never said a word. As far as I know, he's straight."

Just the tilt of her head told him how badly she doubted his sanity. "He just tried to eat you up with his eyes at twenty paces. If he's straight then I'm a Supreme Court Justice."

"I like the sound of that. Justice Zane." It was an obvious ploy to change the topic.

Rachel held his gaze for a long time. She smiled faintly, something wistful. "You know what else Donna said to me?"

Donna, Donna, they hadn't mentioned Donna in an hour. Mike shook his head.

"She said, Once you go there, you can never go back."

"She's also the one who told you he never dates inside the office," Mike reminded her. "So I'm safe."

They finished their glasses, slowly. They didn't talk any more about law school. They didn't talk about Harvey's sex life either, but Mike looked over as he stood up to leave and the blonde with the red lips was at the bar alone. Harvey had already gone home, without her.

*

When June rolled around, associates started talking about the Hamptons. Mike knew fuckall about the Hamptons except what he'd gleaned from F. Scott Fitzgerald and reality television. He'd never been east of Syosset.

Even in summer, when everyone is desperate to flee the city, there was still plenty of work to do. Mike labored in the office early and late, because the office had central air instead of a wheezing window-unit. Harvey was usually there, not as early and not as late. If anybody would have gone to the Hamptons, it would be Harvey, where he could wear white suits and drive some terrifically expensive sports car and drink liberally and... play golf? Okay, Harvey was not a Hamptons kind of guy. Workaholism trumped luxury pretty much every time. Mike was coming to recognize this fact.

So they were both in the office when the call came in from Victor Grand. Mike was in his cube, puzzling through weirdly imprecise contractual language (not what it meant, but why it would come back so vague, as if the parties were seeding loopholes), and Harvey shouted down the hall for him.

"You bellowed?" Mike asked, as he jogged to Harvey's door.

"Pull the Grand file. The old man's circling the drain, maybe as early as this weekend. He wants a codicil."

Grand, Grand, Mike had never dealt with the Grand file, because (it turned out) Harvey had handled the sale of his hugely valuable company seven years ago, and the old man had not needed an attorney since. Mike ran down to Records and yanked on archive file cabinet handles while Harvey packed up his laptop. They met back up at reception, Mike with dust on his knees and Harvey with his briefcase and Mike's satchel.

"Ray will be here any second, what took you so long," is how he greeted Mike. And then the inevitable: "And what did you do to that suit."

"They need to vacuum in Records more often," Mike said, and took his satchel. They got out onto the concrete (only warm now it was 6 in the evening, not the desperate sizzle of midday) and Ray was waiting, cool as ever. Mike climbed in next to Harvey and plopped the thick file onto his knees for reading.

"You'll like Victor Grand," Harvey told him. "He's 89."

"You said he's, I quote, 'circling the drain'?" Blunt as ever, Mike thought.

"Yes," said Harvey, undisturbed. "That was his line."

"He called you himself? How close to the drain is he, then?"

"Am I a doctor or am I an attorney?" Harvey asked, and pinched about a hundred pages off the top of Mike's tower of papers. "I haven't talked to the man in seven years before today."

Ray wound his way carefully through Manhattan traffic while Harvey and Mike sat reading, side by side. And Harvey was right: Mike liked Victor Grand. He scanned old correspondence (which invariably opened with, "You Soulless Twerp --") and found reference to at least three ex-wives, a few no-good sons, a granddaughter on whom the rain would not dare to fall, and a rotating pair of Great Danes he liked to take with him when he toured his pencil factories. Harvey had a weird look on his face as he read. Mike might almost have called it -- nostalgia.

"Oh my god, you're Soulless Twerp?"

Harvey did not even look up. "He can call me Shirley if he pays his bill on time."

"So did he say what he wanted to change?" Mike asked, having located the will at the bottom of the stack of papers.

"He's cutting out his granddaughter, it sounds like. I might have to twist his arm to keep him from pulling a Leona Helmsley."

Ray pulled onto the Expressway as Mike looked up in dismay. "Wait, the granddaughter that can do no wrong?" he asked, as he pulled on his seatbelt.

"You okay with taking the Whitestone?" asked Ray from the front seat.

"Yes," said Harvey, still examining the papers. It wasn't clear whether he was answering Ray or Mike.

The car sped up while Mike asked, "Would he really leave it all to a pair of Great Danes?"

"And make me administer the estate? He might try."

Harvey hadn't put his seatbelt on. It was one thing in Manhattan, where you were lucky to get up over 30 miles an hour even when traffic was light, but on the Expressway they were doing almost twice that. Ray was an excellent driver. "Seatbelt," Mike reminded him. His fingers walked through the stack on his lap and found a copy of the granddaughter's birth certificate. Her 19th birthday was in a month. "He can do it, can't he? Just have a spat over nothing and cut her off."

"If he feels like it." Harvey was reading intently and didn't put on his seatbelt.

It bugged Mike to hear it said so casually. He stared out the window at the heavy traffic, fast and aggressive and full of expensive cars on their way to Connecticut. The sun was far over in the west, behind them, and shadows lay criss-cross on the roadway. Mike considered his own grandmother, what horrible offense it might take to drive her away. She'd raised him alone, grieving, and tried to turn him into a responsible adult, and mercifully didn't quite understand that she had failed.

Mike clutched the papers on his lap and felt betrayed at having liked Victor Grand only twenty minutes ago. He wondered if the granddaughter knew that she could be excised from the family Bible with the stroke of a pen, just like that. He said, "Put on your seatbelt, Harvey."

"In a minute."

The SUV in front of them rode its brakes at 70 miles an hour. Ray was skilled, and kept them barely a car's length behind. The shoulder belt creased Ray's jacket and held his necktie snugly in place. The bile in Mike's gut turned over, and he opened his mouth without knowing what he was going to say.

"Did I ever tell you," he asked, too loud, "how my parents died?"

Harvey said nothing, didn't even look up from the page he was reading.

"We were out on Long Island, coming home from the beach." Mike didn't usually tell it like that, we instead of they. It bothered people when he did that. He was surprised to find he enjoyed the tightening of Harvey's mouth, was looking forward to shocking him. "Summer day, a lot like today actually. Five-car pileup on the LIE." Ray could hear, obviously, and drew in a breath. Mike waited for him to interrupt with a protest, and he didn't.

Mike relished the details, bitterness coating his throat. "I was in the back seat, wearing my seatbelt. My mom and dad, they'd grown up before they were mandatory, you know, didn't take them that seriously. My father got speared on the steering column, pretty much an instant death. My mother went through the windshield. I could hear her moaning in the road after the cars were all stopped. I couldn't see her because I was stuck in the back seat with my seatbelt on. Some stranger pried the hatchback open and dragged me out and carried me away so I never saw. I fought him. Kicked his shins, bit his hand, drew blood. He called me a nasty little shit but he didn't let me go. Put your fucking seatbelt on, Harvey."

Harvey sat with a stubborn jaw, and looked out the window. Mike turned away, fuming, so angry it didn't mollify him when a minute or two later Harvey pulled on his seatbelt. Ray never said a word. He kept on driving. It was another hour before they would get to Victor Grand's house, and try to argue him out of disinheriting his granddaughter.

*

Mike had been in the library so long his eyes were starting to cross. It was almost midnight, and he was pretty sure he was the only person in the office (to say nothing of the building) so it didn't occur to him that it was a bad idea to whistle to himself as he headed down the hallway to pack up and head home.

He realized he was whistling along to something faint. It was syncopated, cool, and he turned the corner and realized Harvey's office was lit. Harvey was playing records. Harvey didn't usually play records unless he was in a bad mood.

"Oh, was that you strangling a robin?" was how he greeted Mike in the doorway.

"Whistling keeps me awake," said Mike.

"I bet."

Harvey circled around back to the record player. It was a very old song, little crackles in the background of the recording. Mike recognized it now: Ellington. Take the 'A' Train. The horns started up and it was positively cheery. Harvey frowned at the record and picked up his glass again.

Only once before had Mike seen him like this, late at night, waistcoat unbuttoned. His necktie lay low on his chest, the top button of his shirt open. He was contemplating the rich deep yellow-orange color of the liquid in his glass: Scotch, probably. He usually drank Scotch in his office. He didn't usually drink that much of it at once. Harvey turned to see if Mike was still there, and his movements were fluid, well-oiled.

He wasn't drunk, properly. Mike was not sure that Harvey ever got drunk. His gestures became bigger and his voice lower, but he never slurred his words or mis-located himself in space the way drunken people do. He was strangely graceful, mostly because he was strangely more willing to move than when he was sober. He eyed Mike and then rolled the liquid in his glass without spilling a drop. "Thirsty?" he asked.

"Got to bike home," said Mike. "Another time."

"Another time," Harvey repeated. He sipped from the glass and then put it down on his desk. "Victor Grand died an hour ago."

Mike leaned in the doorway. "God, that old asshole."

Something in the liquor or the music was sublime. Harvey raised his head with a faraway look. "He revoked the codicil this afternoon. Pretty much everything goes to the granddaughter. In trust till she's 21." Cut out and cut back in over the course of a month: the foibles of rich people were dizzying.

"Well," Mike sniffed, "I guess that makes him a little bit less of an asshole."

"I should send you to guilt-trip all my clients."

Mike smiled a little. It sounded like a compliment. "Is that what this is about?" A gesture around the room sufficed for context. "Celebration?"

Harvey's eyes slid sideways, reticent. "No."

With a sigh, Mike braced himself to go. He knew not to intrude where he wasn't wanted. Harvey reached out a hand to his desk, but instead of the glass he picked up a folded card. "She sends me these things every damn year," he said, in dull protest.

Mike said nothing. The record had moved on to something slower, moodier. Harvey glided across the carpet and handed the card to Mike. It was a small flowery thing, not at all to Harvey's taste. Mike flipped it open and saw that the handwriting on it was feminine, all loops and circles that spelled out: "Mr. Specter, I think of you still. Yours, Saundra."

There was no client Mike knew of named Saundra. He followed Harvey with his eyes as he crossed the room to the wall of records. He knew them by heart, of course, and didn't have to hunt for the one he wanted. He pulled down a paper sleeve delicately and returned to the record player. How he could handle the fragile vinyl in his advanced state was just another one of those mysteries: he switched out the new record for the old, and set the needle with precision. The Ellington record he held between his two thumbs, flat so that its etched circles reflected the city lights. When the new record started Harvey put away the old one.

Piano spilled out of the speakers, saxophone. Mike didn't recognize it. Harvey nodded at it, though, and turned away.

"It's been eleven years, and she still sends me a card," he said. "She can't let it go. It wasn't that big a deal."

Mike came into the office and sat down on the couch, ready to listen. Harvey fussed a little, picked up his glass and then put it down again. He leaned against his desk.

"I don't remember what she looks like." Harvey found his knuckles fascinating. "Just what she wore, what she smelled like. She had this godawful perfume, something with roses."

Mike waited out the quiet amid discordant piano chords.

"Anybody would have done it," Harvey insisted, and for the first time he looked up. His eyes were shadowed under his brows. Mike held his gaze.

"But you're the one who did," Mike prompted.

"We'd been there since 8 in the morning. Deposition work. A partner was asking the questions, but I was the one who'd written his script. He didn't have the chops. I'd written the script I could pull off, but he couldn't pull it off. The witness saw right through him."

Eleven years ago Mike was a senior in highschool. Eleven years ago Harvey was 28 and still a relatively new associate at Pearson Hardman, two years behind his classmates because he'd done time in the prosecutor's office, honed his skills there.

Harvey stared into the middle distance. "They interrupted us to tell us the building was being evacuated. They didn't say why. The elevators were commandeered for people in wheelchairs, so we had to take the stairs. We were on the 12th floor." He thought for a moment. "She was black. Mid-fifties, I think. She wore a wig. And that kind of pantyhose, old-lady pantyhose, that looks like crepe paper."

"Saundra?"

"Yes," said Harvey. "Saundra. She had arthritis in her knees."

"She couldn't take the stairs," Mike surmised.

Harvey paused. It was possible he was realizing just at that moment that he didn't want to tell. The lines around his mouth deepened.

Mike's heart thumped. He realized it aloud: "You carried her down the stairs."

In his arms, or on his back in a fireman's carry, or in a chair with someone else helping. The details were irrelevant.

Harvey walked away from his desk and back toward the record player. Mike had forgotten there was even music on, but Harvey hadn't. "You can always hear it," he said, one ear cocked toward the speakers. "When Monk plays, he hums along to himself in a different key."

The only sound in the room was music. Indeed, Mike could hear a little hum, rhythmic, uneven, a breathless whine between teeth that followed the piano. Harvey fixed an annoyed expression on his face.

"They wouldn't let me go back up for my jacket and briefcase. Once we got down to the lobby. I don't know where everyone else from the firm was, I just didn't want anybody to get their hands on my briefcase. I don't think they let me back up the stairs till noon."

"She writes you a card every year," Mike repeated, because he knew at last what day they were talking about.

"I don't know why. We were on 14th Street." Harvey picked up his glass again, casual. "She could have stayed on the 12th floor and been perfectly safe."

Mike stood and reached out slowly and took the glass away from Harvey. He did not resist. It was almost empty anyway, and Mike finished it off. The record played on, the pianist humming to himself gently as he went.

"She thinks of you still," said Mike softly.

Harvey's mouth turned down. "It's not that big a deal," he said.

*

It was flattering to be included in client dinners, even if that meant being required to explain percentages while everybody else got to eat dessert. The desserts looked really nice too, profiteroles and bite-sized apple pies with those artistic little drizzles of chocolate sauce on the plate. Harvey was rolling a profiterole across his plate with Mike's coffee spoon, brandy in his other hand, while he listened to the litany of profits.

The client was impressed, of course. The clients were always impressed. That was the point of this kind of dinner, all the stops pulled and the full blast of their combined intellects on showcase. That profiteroles were roughly spherical, and could occasionally (clumsily) be rolled, well that was just icing on the cakes Mike didn't get to taste. His place-setting was full of reports and calculations: he'd had to rehearse even to be trusted with a cup of coffee at his elbow.

(Harvey had tried to insist on espresso, both because the cup was smaller and because it was more sophisticated; after the first time, when he found out how fast Mike talked when hyper-caffeinated, he gave up.)

The deal was not formally sealed that night; it would be obnoxious to drag a client up to the office and make them wait around on paperwork after such an opulent dinner. But Mike had been to three of them now, and the handshake with which the dinner ended (Harvey's hand, and then Mike's as an afterthought) was as formal and unrescindable as crossing your heart and hoping to die. Mike was ready with his smartphone calendar, and booked a conference room for the next morning.

"You're the greatest," said the client, a big rangy man. He clapped Harvey on the arm one last time and ducked into his waiting car. Personally, Mike did feel like the greatest, though he was the one with an armful of awkward papers while Harvey could stand in the evening cool with his hands in his pockets. He pulled out one hand, phone at the ready.

"You're really calling Ray?" Mike asked him, agog. "It's three blocks." It was gorgeous out, crisp but not cold. The day had been achy-bright, perfect early-fall sunshine, and now it was the sort of evening when everybody stayed outside just on the memory of summer. And to call a car for a three-block ride was ridiculous, even for Harvey.

"I like to make sure he's got work." Harvey seemed amused, tolerant. He shrugged and put his hand back in his pocket. "We can walk."

They walked. The streets were full of people even at this hour, clinging to outdoor cafe tables and stumbling together toward bars, laughter loud in the air. That part of Midtown had a reputation for stuffiness, which was mostly true, but Harvey wasn't the only power suit who decided to stroll after a working dinner.

Back at the office, Harvey only had to collect his briefcase and go home, while Mike would have a couple hours of prep work to do for the morning. But that didn't matter for now; they were in the city and part of its flow, the hubbub around them a reassuring wave of sound. Headlights on the taxis up the avenue made patterns of yellow, queueing and unqueueing at stoplights as they changed. A breeze came up and rattled the leaves, knocked a few of them off so they flew into the night and crashed against the newspaper boxes. Mike felt the warm glow of mastery, not of something like a test that he could ace without thinking, but of a hard task hard-won, something he'd worked for, something he owned. By his side, Harvey was content to be silent.

They stopped at a corner and waited for the light. The huge bank of windows to his right, a dimly-lit lobby, reflected the street back to him. The people passing by, strange refractions of the streetlights. The reflection in the glass was how he caught Harvey looking.

He never caught Harvey looking, never caught him at anything (unless illness counted), but the plate glass window gave up his reflection to anybody close enough to see it. He was a little behind and to the right of Mike, closer to the windows. He was looking at Mike while Mike looked at Harvey's reflection.

Harvey was looking at him and Mike remembered how Rachel had called it "eating you up with his eyes at twenty paces." His face was relaxed as it usually was not, his mouth soft as it usually was not. He brought his jaw forward a little, as if he had a bit of his bottom lip between his teeth and was worrying it absently. His forehead was smooth, unbothered. He was thinking about something he'd thought about before, and would think about again, familiar as the shape of his own hand, unchanging. He was looking directly at Mike's face with a hunger not desperate but steady, patient, persistent. The instant Harvey realized he'd been caught, his eyes flicked away and his mouth tightened up.

Mike gave up looking at Harvey. Instead he looked at his own reflection, at his own shocked and dazzled smile. With great difficulty, he schooled his expression to a Harvey-worthy inscrutability.

The light changed. They walked the last block back to Pearson Hardman. They didn't say anything to each other.

*

And then the big disaster struck. It had to happen someday, right? Mike was quietly fired after sixteen months of working for Pearson Hardman. Laid off, even. With severance. He'd be able to file for unemployment.

He was the only person laid off that day. Jessica told him, "I wish you luck in whatever you pursue" in a way that made clear that he would not be pursing corporate law, or any kind of law, in his future. The game was up.

Mike didn't see Harvey at all that day. Jessica was smooth: she had Mike into her office and then out of it again first thing on a Monday morning. Before Harvey would be in; before any of the other associates were in. She'd gotten up early just to fire Mike with the lowest possible drama quotient. He was kind of impressed.

She told him to leave any effects in his cubicle. They'd be mailed to him later. It created more effectively the impression that he'd burned out and quit over the weekend. Less than twenty minutes after he'd chained up his bike outside, Mike was back on it, pedaling home with a pit in his stomach. The late-fall morning was chilly, and he worked up a sweat going uphill at top speed. It didn't matter any more if he stank up his dress shirts. He wasn't going to need them.


He got home and threw himself into bed and slept for ten hours. He awoke to his phone ringing. Mike did have a little caution, and checked who it was before he answered. Rachel. He decided he could talk to Rachel.

"Hey," she said. "Are you all right?"

"I just woke up," Mike told her, although that was probably obvious from his voice.

"No I mean, did you finally snap and beat Harvey to death? Kyle told me you quit over the weekend."

Oh, that. "Uh, it's complicated."

Rachel made a small frustrated noise. "You remember what they did to me that time. If they're fucking around with you, you have every right to go interview with the competition. I know they'd be glad to have you."

"Rachel, I --"

"Oh my god," she interrupted. "Did Harvey do something? Did he like sexually harass you or something? Mike, you need somebody on your side on this."

"No, it's not. Nothing happened. It's complicated, but not like that. I just..." The lie was implicit in every gesture of Jessica's from that morning. He had the severance agreement, signed and countersigned, still in his satchel. "I just couldn't take it any more. The hours, and the pressure."

Silence from Rachel. Mike privately thought that she had the best endurance skills on the planet, and would find that lie baffling but acceptable. After a long while, as Mike was hunting around on the floor for his socks, she cleared her throat and asked, "But you'll still be a lawyer, right?"

"I don't know, Rachel."

"You'll be such a great lawyer," she said, and her voice cracked a little. "You don't have to compete with the big firms. You can still be a great lawyer in a little brick office building on Staten Island or somewhere. You can do so much good."

Way to make a guy feel rotten. Mike sighed and told her a little bit of the truth. "Look, it all just happened. I don't know what I'm gonna do yet. I just need some sleep and some time to think."

"If you want to talk," she said. "Any time, just call me. And if you want to go hang out a shingle on Staten Island, I, ...maybe you'll need a really excellent paralegal to show you the ropes."

"Thanks." Mike stood there in his underwear in his tiny apartment, and struggled to come up with the right thing to say. "Rachel, thanks."

"Call me," she said again.

"I will," he promised.

He hung up and went and found some pants to put on. He checked his phone. While he'd slept, he'd gotten five calls from Harvey's cell phone, but no voicemails. Mike wondered to himself why on earth Harvey was calling from his own phone, when any further connection between the two of them would be the kind of proof Jessica needed to catch them both. She wasn't stupid, and Mike couldn't have pulled the scam off without an inside contact. Without Harvey. If they acquired sufficient proof, they could have him disbarred.

Clearly Harvey's ego was not allowing him to comprehend this possibility. Mike turned off his phone's ringer.

*

So he was fired. Fired, fired, fired. He'd been fired plenty before, and it sucked how much this one stung. He rode his bike out to his grandmother's nursing home with it in the back of his head, like a playing card tucked into the spokes: fired fired fired fired fired.

The suits might be useful someday if he ended up working long cons. He didn't think they'd be useful in any legitimate employment he could scare up, especially not if they asked him why he'd left his previous job. Maybe he'd wear one of those suits to Gram's funeral someday. Maybe he'd burn it after that, burn everything he owned, and get on a bus to someplace else where nobody knew his face.

Lot of thinking on bike rides. That and the leg muscles are what they're good for. By the time he arrived he'd worked out how to tell Gram (layoffs, the bad economy) and what to tell the administrators (COBRA, although he didn't know yet how he'd pay the premiums), and all that was left was what to do with himself. Mike wasn't ready to think about that yet.

He locked up his bike outside and headed in like the old days: like the days before Pearson Hardman. The days when a shirt with any kind of collar was nicely dressed. He unrolled the right leg of his jeans and walked through the lobby and his brain noticed Harvey Specter stabbing the buttons on his smartphone, but didn't assimilate that fact till Harvey followed him onto the elevator.

So yeah, Mike did the anonymous elevator nod thing and then gaped comically, all while Harvey stood there, hands in pockets, with a smirk on his face. "What are you doing here?" Mike asked him.

He wasn't wearing a suit. That was part of it. It was a Tuesday and it was late afternoon, but it wasn't that late in the afternoon that a newly-minted senior partner would just cut out for the day. Not with enough time to change into something expensively sporty and that excellent leather jacket and go all the way to outer Queens to loiter near an elevator. Harvey wasn't wearing a suit and he was still smirking.

"You weren't answering your phone," he said.

Mike stabbed the door-close button and then the one for the top floor of the building. "You can't be seen with me," he hissed.

"I don't think they post spies in elevators. And anyway, I'm on leave."

The elevator climbed and Mike watched the numbers come and go. "I don't know what that means," he said at last.

"It means you didn't get caught, Mike. I did." Harvey inclined his head in response to Mike's stare. "I said the wrong thing to Jessica and she put two and two together. I'm on unpaid leave for the next year. To care for a sick relative, officially."

They hit the top floor, so there might have been some kind of head-rush going on from the effects of gravity. Mike said, "I thought they'd have you disbarred."

Harvey chuckled. The doors rolled open. "They probably would have, a year ago. But you've done too much work. Your fingerprints are on too many cases. They can't afford the scandal." Two people got on, not together, and kept their eyes to themselves. Nobody seemed to notice that Mike and Harvey had not gotten off at their destination. The elevator started down again.

Mike bit back the first five things he was going to say, because you don't say things like that in front of strangers in an elevator. They got all the way down to the second floor before he could think of anything appropriate: "What happened to Donna?"

"Nothing happened to her. She's at work today. I just got a crabby email about the new partner she's been assigned."

The lobby doors opened and the people got off. Not Mike or Harvey. The doors closed again and they stood there in the car and it didn't move. After a minute, Mike hit the button again for the top floor.

"So basically what you're telling me is that you got away with a slap on the wrist, and I got fired." He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"What I am telling you," said Harvey, turning to face him, "is that Harvard polices its brand name ferociously, and prosecutes anybody who misrepresents himself as having attended. Neither it nor the state of New York has or will have any interest in you."

"So basically," Mike said, smaller, "what you're telling me is that getting fired is a slap on the wrist."

"It's a step towards the next thing." Mike heard that and studied his shoes resolutely. Harvey modulating his voice to the sweet-persuasion setting wasn't nearly as effective after you'd heard it employed in a conference room a whole bunch of times. "And you weren't answering your phone."

They were at the top floor again. The bell rang and the doors opened. Nobody was waiting to get on this time.

Harvey waited till the doors had closed to say, "Because I have a few ideas."

"Ideas?" Mike gave a mean laugh. "I don't know how to break this to you, but your last bright idea was fraud."

"Yeah," said Harvey, mild. "And we got away with it for a long time."

Belatedly the car started downward again, called to the lobby. Mike stood there silent, steaming. He re-settled his feet in response to the elevator's lurch.

"Your talents are wasted as a paralegal, and they're dangerous as a con man." Harvey's face had gone vulpine now: in for the kill. Mike knew every one of the expressions he made when closing a deal. "So you can't be a lawyer. You can do something else: write for Congressional Quarterly or go do research for a think-tank, or go on Wall Street and make a billion dollars shorting the behaviors of the federal regulatory agencies. You could do all of that and where are you instead? You're back in a sweatshirt biking around Queens like a kid."

Mike's pot boiled over. "I'm a kid? I'm a KID? Do you think I wouldn't go out and do any of that if I could? Harvey, I have one year of college. Not even: those credits must have expired by now. I have sixteen months of working at a firm that will deny I had anything to do with them. I don't have a resume and I don't have any contacts and I don't exactly have the capital to start my own hedge-fund." The exaltation of getting to yell at Harvey Specter fell away and left a hard burnt core of anger. "You could do those things, because you went to Harvard. Let me remind you, I did not go to Harvard."

Harvey tightened his mouth and was ready to argue. But they hit the lobby again and the doors rolled open again and someone got into the car with them. They stood on opposite sides of the elevator, grim-faced, a granny with a walker between them. Mercifully she was only going to the third floor.

Mike just wanted the whole thing to be over. He waited for that granny to get off the elevator so he could go see his own. Instead of the top floor, he hit the button for seven, where his Gram actually lived. Harvey ignored that gesture and said, "You are such a fool."

He said it low, wearily rather than as an accusation. Mike stood miserable beside him and had no answer.

Harvey went on: "You are so ridiculously talented and you have no idea how to apply that talent effectively. You should have gone to Harvard. You should still. I'll write you the recommendation letter."

Mike thought about punching him in the face, and then thought about the humiliation of tears, and then the bell rang and they were at the seventh floor.

"Will you please just let me fail," Mike groaned, and stepped right into Harvey's space and kissed him, hard and fast. He had just that one moment to register the heavy-lidded surprise of Harvey's eyes. The doors were open. Mike walked out of them and down the hallway to talk to his Gram. The doors closed behind him.

*

He came out of his grandmother's room at least an hour later, maybe two. The sun had set while they talked. Harvey was in the hallway, patient, a coffee cup in his hand. He still had his leather jacket on, and leaned against the wall like some kind of movie icon.

Mike rubbed his face. "What do you want."

"What's she got?" Harvey asked, eyes narrow in that acquisitive, inquisitive way he got when speccing out a deal. "The nurses wouldn't tell me."

"They're not allowed to tell you," Mike told him, bristling. And then because he couldn't think of any reason why not: "She's had a couple of strokes. A couple dozen, actually, if you count the tiny ones. She can't walk any more and a lot of her fine motor control is shot. Her language is still good, but the memory and cognition --" He raised his hand and shook it, so-so.

"She's your only living relative."

"Yeah."

"Is she dying?"

"No!" Mike stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Not -- not like you're thinking. She's like the San Andreas fault. We're just crossing our fingers against the big one that's statistically got to happen someday."

The corner turned up on Harvey's mouth. "And then it all falls into the sea," he said, kind.

Kindness was about the last thing Mike could stand right now. He turned toward the elevators. Harvey threw away the coffee cup and caught up with him.

"You shouldn't be biking at night," Harvey said. They had to wait for an elevator and it was eternity. Harvey went on, "You'll get hit by a car or something."

"God," Mike asked, half-crazed, "You didn't make Ray drive you out here, did you?"

"Taxi," said Harvey. The doors opened and they stepped into the elevator. It wasn't the same elevator as two hours before, but they all looked exactly the same on the inside. Mike stabbed blindly at the lobby button as Harvey said, "They can fit your bike in the trunk. We're both headed in roughly the same direction."

Mike felt his weight descending. He was hot, or maybe the elevator was hot. Or maybe Harvey was hot and radiating it in all directions. Mike didn't have sixty bucks on him for a cab ride, and he didn't have a job any more where he could make sixty bucks in about an hour. He nodded, eyes on the floor.

Harvey led the way out of the elevator and called a cab. Nerveless, Mike paced his way out the front, found his bike, and unlocked it. He thought wildly about just swinging a leg over, just taking off and leaving Harvey behind him. It would be a dramatic thing to do. Foolhardy. Exactly the kind of thing Mike Ross would do, and then regret. He stayed where he was.

"Five minutes," said Harvey behind him, and came up beside Mike. It was comfortable weather, a little warm for October. Harvey stood there in his leather jacket with his hands in his pockets like he didn't have a care in the world. The hospital lights behind him highlighted his smile lines with little shadows. He was looking at Mike.

He was looking at Mike, the way you look at a puzzle or a broken key or a hopelessly snarled knot. His eyes seemed black in the dim light. A funny little smile played across his lips and then he banished it.

"What," Mike said.

Harvey considered his words. He actually lowered his head and looked at his shoes for a moment. "So the elevator."

"Yeah?" Mike asked wearily. He'd surely said some stupid things, but he wasn't the only one.

"It was a long time coming," Harvey said softly, maybe only to himself. "I didn't think you'd --"

The taxi pulled into the lot. Harvey shut his mouth. They squashed Mike's bicycle into the trunk and slid into the springy seats.

"Manhattan," Harvey commanded, while Mike was thinking about Harvey's olfactory fussiness. Most cabs smelled like feet, or if you were unlucky like wet dog or puke. There was a reason he usually called Ray for a ride.

They sat quietly side by side for a little while, till the driver got on the highway and pulled out his cellphone. They bounced over potholes together and the skyscrapers' outlines stood out in front of them.

Harvey said, his voice low and quiet, "I didn't think you'd make the first move."

Mike had to reel back through the last parts of the conversation, before they'd gotten into the cab. Obviously they were not talking about the stupid stuff each of them may or may not have said. "I didn't." Mike didn't like the pleading note in his voice, and tried again. "You did. Last winter, when you had pneumonia."

Harvey looked out the side window at nothing. He took a big breath, and let it go. "I thought that was a fever dream."

"No," Mike said, testy at such a self-serving lie. "No, it wasn't."

He could feel Harvey turn his gaze. They were too close in that ridiculously wide seat. Their knees jounced together, a little painfully, but they didn't move away from each other. Mike risked a glance, and sure enough that look from Harvey. It was uncertain, curious, but not afraid. Mike wooed himself with that ridiculous confidence. He won himself over with it. Harvey seduced strangers all the time, right? This time he didn't even have to do anything. He sat still and let Mike close the distance between them.

Not being planted on someone too startled to respond properly, this time it was the real thing, chapped lips and all. He rubbed his cheek against Harvey's, and then went back for his mouth again. Harvey was ready, and ridiculously restrained. They pressed their faces together and breathed each other's air and kissed again, chaste like in old black-and-white movies, lips closed against each other. Harvey's palm was warm against Mike's chest, not a grip, just something to lean on. Mike had a fistful of shoulder in response. He was sweating. It was overwhelming.

He broke off, mostly just to get his breath and ask himself if he was really doing this, really putting the moves on his only-just-ex-boss, or letting aforementioned put the moves on him. There were a lot of things wrong with the scenario, reasons to say no, reasons to back away and make up an excuse. Harvey had an astonished little smile on his face, eyes crinkling at the corners. He lifted a hand and slid his palm up Mike's jaw and leaned in again. And now there was tongue, that was serious, that was the kind of thing you couldn't tell yourself the next day it was just a clumsy accident. Tongue was intent. Tongue was melty-warm and awesome.

They were both breathing hard and the air was thick when the cab driver looked in his rearview and shouted, "Oi! Is not Taxicab Confessions in here!" Mike startled and Harvey broke off just enough to shout back,

"Aw, shut up." Mike laughed hysterically and Harvey looked at him and laughed a little too.

They kept their hands on each other, still tentative. Harvey pressed his forehead to Mike's and said, "Come home with me."

Mike suddenly remembered getting into the taxi, how Harvey had ordered it to Manhattan despite Mike living in Brooklyn. He backed off, nonplussed. "You can't tell me what to do any more," he said.

Harvey's gaze was steady, patient. "I'm asking you." He leaned over and whispered directly into Mike's ear: "Please."

The reasons to say no were all still there, still salient, still very good reasons. "Okay," said Mike. What the hell, right? In the morning, they'd have an excuse never to see each other again.

*

So that was different. Mike had never tried to fit his bike into an elevator before (you balance it on its rear wheel). He had never walked his bike down an 18th-floor hallway, gears ticking loudly in the evening quiet. He'd never thrown the kickstand and just let his bike sit there in someone's living room while that someone came up behind him and kissed the back of his neck. He'd never let Harvey take his hand and lead him down the hall and tumble him into that gigantic dark-wood bed.

Whole world of new. The buttons were backwards, when you unbuttoned a man's shirt on someone else. The belt was backwards. They shucked off their clothes and Mike rubbed his foot up an unshaved ankle. The hand on his hip was bigger than a woman's hand. It was Harvey's hand, smooth, well-manicured. It was everywhere.

Mike had seen Harvey shirtless before, in this very room. But he'd always hewed to the straight-guy code, Never Look Too Close At Another Dude, and the straight-guy code was definitely on its way out. Mike explored with his eyes, and then shyly with his fingertips, maybe a little bit with his mouth. Pale skin, a few liver spots on the shoulders, sparse chest hair. Ribs, a little ticklish. Muscular flank. Something firm against his thigh he wasn't ready to think about yet. Harvey pressed against him, steady, fearless, but Mike had kind of been expecting to get flipped over and ravished or something, and that didn't happen.

Harvey seemed to enjoy Mike's neck very much. Mike could take a hint and responded in kind, and that was the secret formula, as Harvey shuddered and hunched in close. This one little spot behind his ear was clearly the key to everything. Mike rolled them over for better access and Harvey lay there gasping and let Mike do whatever he wanted.

"God, you," Mike mumbled into Harvey's ear.

Harvey burst out laughing. Their ribs and chests collided and Mike could see it in his throat too. He kissed that throat, because he could, because it was something he hadn't done to Harvey before.

"I'm glad I've finally convinced you to think of me as God," Harvey said, and rolled them back over again. He worked his way down Mike's torso and stroked Mike's thigh and gave him a blowjob. Harvey was very skilled. Mike had no idea what to do with this new information. He came quickly, with surprise and a high clear gasp that seemed to echo off the ceiling.

When he returned to himself, Harvey was at his side, half across Mike's body. He was very warm, and didn't seem to mind the sweat on Mike's chest. That thing against Mike's belly, that firm thing, okay that was an erection, and Mike lifted his head to deal with this new reality. Harvey cut off his view and kissed Mike, very thoroughly, while he captured Mike's hand and brought it down. Yeah, we're doing this, Mike thought to himself, and then had a dick in his hand and he pretty well knew what you were supposed to do with that.

Harvey's face turned bright red before he tucked it into Mike's collarbone. Maybe he did that to hide his red face; maybe he did that to muffle the funny noise he made when he came a minute later, like a well-controlled sneeze. Mike kind of thought he did it so that there wasn't any maneuvering to do when he feel asleep right after. He already had an arm across Mike, already with his cold toes against Mike's ankle. Mike lay there in silence for a little while. He wasn't tired at all.

"I've never done that before," he told the ceiling. Suddenly his throat was sore as if he'd been shouting. He swallowed and the sensation didn't go away.

"Mm," Harvey murmured, not as asleep as he seemed. "You're pretty good at it."

"I mean never," Mike said, a little shaky. He wasn't sure why he was arguing the topic, except that someone needed convincing. "Never looked at a guy, never watched gay porn, no 'questioning' period in college." Mike tried to make air-quotes but one of his hands was tucked under Harvey's elbow.

"Never?" Harvey raised his head. His eyes were heavy, his hair in disarray. "You and that Trevor kid --"

"I don't think playing doctor when you're nine years old counts. We pretty much discovered girls together." Harvey lowered his head again. Mike closed his eyes and took a deep breath and waited it out. The pinpricks in the backs of his eyes came, but he swallowed again and they subsided.

Harvey lay silent for a long time, long enough Mike was pretty sure he was just going to nod off again, and then he told Mike's collarbone: "I have. Done that before. Not very often."

"Yeah, I figured." The muscles against him tensed up a little. Mike chuckled to himself and said, "I know you're Harvey Specter and everything, but you weren't just born knowing how to do that."

Harvey relaxed again. "Yes of course I was," he said mildly, and was asleep.

*

Mike awoke in the dark in a strange bed. There was no sound of traffic outside. The sheets were ridiculously soft. Harvey's bed.

Mike sat up and looked around. Bedside table, lamp they hadn't bothered to turn on, diffuse light from the hallway. The dresser on the far side of the room. Piles of clothes on the floor. On the other side of the bed was a huddled shape, a body. Harvey, curled up on his side. His back and shoulders were exposed, and the back of his neck.

It was a huge bed, easy to climb out of without waking anyone. Mike was hungry and wanted a wash, maybe not in that order. He fished around on the floor for his underwear and pulled them on. It was difficult to tell whose socks were whose. Mike noticed a clock on the dresser: it was ten at night. They'd only been a few hours.

The bicycle was going to be a problem. Prop open the apartment door, lift the rear wheel so the gears don't make noise, maneuver bike out, shut apartment door. Mike didn't have a key so he'd have to leave it unlocked. He pulled on his jeans, winced at the sound of his belt buckle, and settled his feet into his shoes. Shirt, sweatshirt, just a second or two to fondle the leather jacket that didn't belong to him. Time to get out of here.

The lamp switched on behind him. "Takeout menus are next to the silverware," came Harvey's voice, thick with sleep. He squinted in the yellow light. He propped himself up on one elbow, the sheet dangerously low on his hip. From that angle, he couldn't see that Mike had his shoes on.

"I, uh," Mike fumbled a thumb over his shoulder. "I was just... gonna go."

"You're not hungry?"

Harvey had that way of making his way seem like the only reasonable way. Mike gave a little grimace and backed into the doorway. "Yeah, I gotta go."

It seemed cowardly to just turn and leave. He waited for Harvey to acknowledge the plan of action, or even argue with it. Harvey neither acknowledged nor argued. He looked Mike up and down, his gaze sharpening by the second, the classified mega-computers in his head churning through the data. Probably he could smell the sex on both of them. The whole room smelled that way, even Mike could tell.

"You've got to go," said Harvey. It was like a slow-moving farce, too slow to be funny. Of course Mike didn't have to go. It wasn't like either of them had work in the morning. Harvey had surely slept with enough strangers that he knew how to navigate a little morning-after (evening-after) awkwardness. He knuckled sleep out of one eye and considered.

To give himself something to do, Mike crouched down and tied his shoes. He straightened up just as Harvey said:

"I'm going to visit my brother in Chicago on Thursday." Mike knew that, actually. Until two days ago, he'd had read-only access to Harvey's calendar. "I'm staying for ten days, not five. I'll be back on November 2nd."

"Okay?" asked Mike, clueless. He resisted the urge to edge toward the door.

Harvey untangled himself from the sheet. "Do you think you can be done by then, or do you need till the new year?"

Mike wracked his brains for some task he'd left unfinished, and then realized: he was fired. No more tasks. "What do you want?" he asked, sharp against the likelihood of humiliation.

"I want a lot of things," Harvey said, almost too quietly to be heard. He sat up and rested his elbows on his knees. "Right now all I want to know is if you'll be ready by the second, or need more time than that."

"Ready for what?" Mike demanded. He couldn't bear for Harvey to look at him like that. The whole point was to go to bed with him once, to wrap up their whole weird intense relationship with a final exclamation mark, and walk away.

Harvey sat still on the bed, totally unselfconscious, totally naked. "To be done with failure and start the next thing."

That again.

"I don't know what that is," said Mike, and his voice sounded small.

"I don't either." Harvey gave him an ironic little smile. "I guess we'll find out."

Mike said, "I'm going now," and determined not to hesitate, he turned toward the hallway.

"Goodnight," Harvey said to his back, and turned off the bedside lamp.

*

To prove to Rachel that he wasn't actually in dire straits, Mike invited her over for dinner. Nothing fancy, something they could cook together. Something that would let her see that he did own more than one plate (not matching or anything) and could do his own laundry and was not eating cold pizza in his underwear. (He'd only done that for the first three days. Four, tops.)

She arrived with a bag of ingredients in one arm and a potted geranium in the other. Her face was solemn when Mike opened the door. "I thought you lived in a better neighborhood," she said.

"It's not so bad," he told her, and led her over to the kitchen to decant the groceries. "The rent is fantastic."

"I bet," she said. "God, how much do you owe on those loans?"

He was planning to tell her, but not so soon. After the meal, that was still the best time. She noticed his pause and looked up. "I don't. No debt. Let's make dinner."

Rachel set the geranium on the windowsill and peeked subtly at Mike's bed. He'd made it specifically for her, just to prove that he'd think of a detail like that. He had bachelor tastes and bachelor standards of what constitutes furniture, but his grandmother hadn't raised a slob. Rachel turned around, took a breath, put on a smile, and set out to conquer dinner.

And it was nice to move around someone in his kitchen, to be working with someone on a task. He put on sports talk radio just for the background chatter, and she changed it to classical. Something thundrous, crashing, inspirational. She chopped onions and cried, and then Mike took over and they made him cry too. They went into the pan only half-chopped, but it didn't matter.

Mike opened the wine and Rachel tutted as he poured it liberally over the chicken. "Leave some to drink," she said. He pulled down glasses for the two of them.

"My parents are teetotallers," Rachel told him. She sipped, and licked her lips. Mike never would have guessed.

"Who taught you how to drink wine, then?"

"Gayle, mostly. She took me under her wing when I first started at the firm."

Mike smiled. "She wants you to succeed."

Rachel held the bowl of the glass cupped in her palm and swirled it. The red of the wine was rich and deep, and refracted a small prism across her face momentarily. "I don't want to leave her behind," she said at last.

"Who says you have to?" Mike said, stirring the pan. "You come back after 3 years, you can work with her again. You can recruit her when you leave to start your own firm."

"Mike, come on. I'd flunk the LSAT, I know it." She put down her glass abruptly and took the spoon away from him. Honestly, it didn't need any more stirring, but she clearly needed something to do.

It still wasn't the time to tell, but a few clues wouldn't hurt. "You're talking to the guy who's taken it 12 times, you realize."

She spun around. "God, is it that bad?"

"No! It's easy for me." Mike grimaced, and buried that grimace in his wine glass. "So easy I took it for other people, they paid me I mean. I don't think I could pass for a Rachel, but I could tutor you. Teach you all the tricks. There's one testing day left this year. You could do it."

Rachel pointed the spoon at him. "Wait, you cheated on an exam?"

"I helped other people cheat on an exam," he said, and put a hand on her forearm to push the drippy spoon back toward the countertop. "There's an awful lot of people out there who don't test well. Some of them are at Harvard now."

She had a funny look on her face, half-curious and half-appalled. Mike was saved by the oven timer, and they distracted themselves pulling out the warm bread.

"You don't have to move to Boston, even. You could go to NYU or Cardozo or someplace local. Any place. Pearson Hardman promised to pay for it, right?"

"Right. But --" Rachel cut the bread with a bit more vehemence than was necessary.

"Three years from now, Harvey will be back and at the top of his game. You think he wouldn't hire you?"

"You know him better than I do. Would he?"

"Just to see the look on Louis's face," Mike told her.

"Louis." She smiled to herself. "By the way, don't be surprised if he tries to get you to come back."

"I'm not going back, Rachel."

He'd been trying for a firm tone, but she talked on as if he hadn't spoken. "Now Harvey's on leave taking care of his grandmother, Louis seems to think you'll be willing to come back and work for him directly."

Taking care of his grandmother, was he? As far as Mike knew all of Harvey's grandparents were dead. "God," he laughed, "I'm really not going back."

Rachel laughed, but it was obvious she wanted to ask. Mike deflected her with setting the table (such as it was) and then dinner was ready.

She said grace to herself, then lifted her glass. "Good choices, and good luck."

"Amen," said Mike, and drank.

They ate. It was good. It was civilized. It felt like an adult thing, not a couple of kids toking up and drinking vodka and Tang in front of the Cartoon Network. Maybe it was the wine, or just the companionship. Mike finished his plate and set the silverware aside. It was time.

"I'm not going back," he told Rachel. She sat forward. Of course she wanted to know. "Because I can't. I didn't quit; Jessica fired me. With good reason."

He told her everything. Absolutely everything, from the SAT to the bar exam and back. He knew she would feel betrayed, and maybe yell at him, and probably never want to see him again. He was not prepared for her to start crying.

She wasn't theatrical about it, just a few tears on her cheeks that she wiped away subtly. Mike stumbled to a halt, but she flapped a hand at him to ignore her reaction and continue. Without thinking, he put his hand palm up on the table for her, and only realized that she might easily reject that gesture when she accepted it, and grasped his fingers.

"So you can't be a lawyer," she concluded for him, when he'd gone way past the point and bogged down in irrelevant details.

"No," he said, and met her eyes for the first time.

"Harvey was in on it the whole time," she said, with resolute anger. The tears were forgotten now.

"It was his idea," Mike said. "I never would have tried it on my own."

"God, what a jerk. Is there anything you have on him? Any way you can --"

"Rachel." Mike wanted to think that it was out of character for her to be thinking of retaliation at a time like this, but he also thought it was exactly that sort of trait that made an effective corporate attorney. Hit 'em back hard, harder than they hit you. Always look for an angle. There was a terrible fearful flutter in his chest as he said, "Rachel, I slept with him."

"Oh, no," she moaned. He seemed genuinely to have shocked her. "Oh my god, he's such a bastard."

He was a bastard whose face turned red. Who was ashamed of his red face, and hid it away. The memory of it was visceral, vertiginous. Mike took a swallow of wine to distract himself.

"I figured, what the hell, right? Literal kiss-off. Get it out of my system, and what's one more one-night stand to him?"

Rachel was not the kind to allow defensive irony to go by unchallenged. "Mike, that's worse. That he would do it when you're vulnerable like that. That he would wait one whole week after you weren't his employee any longer, and then make a play for you."

More like one whole day actually, and -- "I wanted it. I mean, I wanted to know. There wasn't going to be any other opportunity to find out." The catalogue of new information was still fresh in his head. He stood up, and began clearing the plates. It was only two steps from the table to the sink, but two steps was enough to give him a little distance to think. He looked to his right, at the scraggly gray-green geranium in the window, its cheery little blossoms like red raindrops.

"Mike. Mike," Rachel said, firm. She stood up too, and came up close, and put a hand on his shoulder. "You deserve better. Don't let him walk all over you."



"I seem to be the one doing the walking," Mike said, forcing lightness into his voice. "He wanted me to stay."

He listened to that come out of his mouth.

Rachel held the wine bottle up to the light, and only the dregs were left. She poured them out into his glass. She brandished the empty bottle by its neck, jokey-but-not. "I'll help you kick his ass."

"How are you not a lawyer already," he asked her, smiling.

"You really think so?" she asked, but it was hardly a question any more.

*

There wasn't any reason, now Mike was unemployed, to go into Manhattan. He did it anyway, rode the subway onto the island and then all over, Bowery to the Bronx and back, aimless. He lent an ear to the mutterings of homeless people and gave tourists directions and stared at the neighborhood maps in Spanish Harlem, the Lower East Side, Museum Mile. It was too cold for biking now the weather had turned.

A great many scenarios passed through his brain as he passed through the tunnels of New York. He could guilt-trip Harvey into a payoff big enough to keep Gram set for the rest of her life. He could hire on as Louis's shadow assistant, to ghost-write legal briefs for him and be paid out of pocket. He could spend the next six months acquiring a paralegal cert from a community college, and see if anyone was hiring. He could go call up Victor Grand's granddaughter, who was rolling in the dough, and see if she needed any off-the-books legal advice. It wasn't past the realm of possibility that one of Trevor's old friends might need some quiet legal help. Drug dealers needed shell companies too, right?

But mostly Mike thought about what to say to Harvey. Whether to call him or go to his place or just casually run into him, whether he could get his own back or whether he should cut his losses. Whether getting a payoff would constitute the former or the latter. November 2nd came and went, and he still hadn't decided.

A few days after that he was walking on the West Side. He avoided Midtown, especially Park Avenue where he might run into someone he'd known at Pearson Hardman, but the West Side seemed safe enough, Clifton and Hell's Kitchen and the upscale bars of Chelsea. He was walking down a side street and saw a familiar black car, and saw a familiar black-suited man standing beside that car with a cup of coffee.

"Mike," said Ray, with a surprised smile. "Long time no see."

"Yeah," said Mike.

"You want coffee? I'm buying."

Mike wasn't sure whether that was charity, or just ordinary friendliness. They'd found some kind of understanding, he and Ray, after the thing about the seatbelts on the Whitestone Bridge. "Sure. Thanks."

They stood together in the cold and drank coffee, steam rising onto their faces. It was shit coffee, but it was nice to be drinking it with Ray. The companionable silence didn't last long enough, though. "Hey, if you're looking for Mr. Specter he'll be done here in a few minutes."

He'd known it, of course. The minute he saw Ray, he'd known, and accepted that cup of coffee knowing, without letting himself realize he'd known. Mike looked up at the building on the corner. The Music In Schools Foundation: Harvey sat on their board. With a full slate of work, Harvey never attended their events and hardly perused the newsy emails the president sent out every month. But he didn't have a full slate any more. A board meeting would give him something to do.

Ray shrugged, philosophical. He finished his coffee. "I'll wait in the front seat," he said. He would never drink his coffee in the car, of course. Too many chances to spill, and ruin the upholstery.

This was the moment in which Mike could run away. Or he could go for the really dramatic option, and be waiting in the back seat and scare the crap out of Harvey as he climbed in. Instead he just stood there like the fool he was, and finished his coffee on the sidewalk. He didn't have to nurse it long, maybe five minutes. The double glass doors opened and a few well-dressed people walked out. A different black car up the block accepted a woman in a brown fur jacket, and pulled away from the curb. Harvey stood on the sidewalk and checked his smartphone.

He looked good. In the past few weeks he'd had a haircut (Mike hadn't). It was too cold for the leather jacket, so he was in his overcoat, but his throat was bared to the elements, covered only in a dark sweater. He turned around and started walking and saw Mike.

"Hi," he said, and the flattering thing was, Mike had surprised him. His eyebrows were high and his forehead scrunched up. He walked right up to Mike and stopped, and they stood face to face. Mike wondered if his clothes were up to snuff today (he was in jeans again), and then realized Harvey had no right to editorialize on his choices any more.

"Board meeting?" Mike asked. Harvey didn't seem to hear the question.

"It's good to see you."

There were ways to say it that insinuated, or speculated, or judged. Harvey said it straightforwardly, as a statement of fact. Mike didn't know whether to say the same back. He looked at Harvey, at the steam of his breath, at the pink already marring his ears and throat and the tip of his nose.

"I wasn't ready," is what popped out of Mike's mouth. "I wasn't ready yet."

Harvey inclined his head a little, like a nod but more subtle. "And now?"

They were standing outside in the cold, for some reason. Mike rubbed his wet nose and said, "I can't be a lawyer."

"No," said Harvey, and for the first time Mike saw regret. "But --"

"I'm not going to Harvard."

Gloomy, Harvey looked away. At the car, at the fact that Ray was sitting comfortably in the front seat. He could get in that car and be driven away and they'd never have to see each other again. Mike's throat hurt as if he'd been shouting.

"It's 400 miles away," he said. He swallowed. "I can't leave my grandmother like that. And anyway I don't think they take transfer students. City College makes a ton more sense."

He'd surprised Harvey again. His lips parted and Mike saw his breath, a hot little haze through which his eyes glowed.

"I got expelled for cheating. That's not the kind of thing colleges take lightly." Mike's swallowed again but his throat didn't feel any better. His voice shook as he said, "I'd need a really kick-ass recommendation letter."

Harvey was breathing hard, wreathing them both with steam. "I'm pretty good at those," he said softly.

"I --" The pinpricks in Mike's eyeballs threatened. He fixed his gaze over Harvey's shoulder and blinked a couple of times and Harvey stood there and let him do it. If he'd put out a hand just then Mike would have backed away, and that would have been disastrous. Somehow he knew not to do that. "I don't want to fail," Mike strangled out at last.

"You don't have to," Harvey told him. They were hardly a foot away from each other. Harvey only had to lean his head forward and he said it directly into Mike's open mouth, a rushed hot little whisper. "You don't have to."

Mike shut his eyes and let Harvey kiss him. It was chaste, it was nice. Mike thumbed his own cheek dry and turned that into a grip on Harvey's face. He was the one this time who initiated tongue. On a sidewalk in Clifton, in front of anybody, Ray waiting in the front seat. Harvey let him do it, and got a fistful of Mike's shoulder to keep him there.

They ended up with their foreheads pressed together, leaning against one another like timbers in a roof. Mike was cold, and he felt a little foolish. He straightened the lapels of Harvey's overcoat.

"I told Rachel," he said, because he couldn't think of what he was supposed to say at a time like this. "Everything. In case she comes up to you and tries to, I don't know, beat you to death with a wine bottle."

"I'll take that under advisement," Harvey chuckled, and led him back toward Ray's car.