sparsenicjade
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AN: Huge thanks to the mods of suitsbigbang, for running this, and for being hugely helpful to me on more than one occasion. Also to forsweatervests, for the GREAT beta, she made it a much, MUCH better story. All remaining mistakes are mine. Also, being used for my "loss of shelter" square on hc_bingo Finally, to biodarkness for my mix.

***


Mike couldn’t say how he knows what’s going to happen when Donna throws out, “Jessica wants to see you,” upon his and Harvey’s return to the office. Donna sounds suspiciously toneless, but that could be for all sorts of reasons. Harvey sounds exasperated as he says, “I won the damn case.”

And maybe that’s why Mike knows. Or maybe it’s because he’s figured out where his phone was and because for all the ways he remembers Trevor, he actually knows him, too. Or maybe it’s just because Mike has an excellent sixth sense for when things in his life are about to go to shit.

He has just enough time to be perversely thankful he paid Lola to make him appear licensed before the New York bar, as well as granting him an undergrad from Hofstra, before he’s all-but running to catch up with Harvey and his own, probably cursed, fate.

*


Jessica does not look at Mike when they enter her office. No, her attention is entirely for Harvey, who is already speaking, already pointing out, “You told me to win. I did what you told me to do.”

For a moment, a sweet, quiet moment, Mike allows himself to believe that maybe Harvey really has done something to piss her off that has nothing to do with Mike. Then she opens her mouth and asks silkily, “Just like that time I told you to hire an associate? As you did what I told you to then?”

Harvey clearly isn’t expecting the attack to come from that direction, which Mike would almost find funny, if, you know, this weren’t his life. Harvey gestures eloquently at Mike. “Yes. Very similarly to exactly like that.”

Jessica’s smile is taut and not at all right. Mike can feel Harvey go still next to him, the way Harvey does when he’s gotten serious about something, when he’s going to win. Only, Harvey won’t win against Jessica, and everyone in this room knows it. She says, “I had a fascinating visitor today.”

Mike’s well aware he hasn’t really been invited into the conversation, that his presence here is nothing more than an object lesson. He doesn’t care. “Harvey didn’t know.”

His interruption startles both of them into looking at him, into remembering he’s there. He focuses in on Jessica and repeats, “He didn’t know.”

“Even if I believed you, which, for the record, I do not: it was his job to know.”

Mike has prepared for that argument, though, because he’s learned a little something from Harvey about staying two steps ahead. And it’s for that reason—because Harvey took a chance on him, taught Mike what Harvey said he would—that Mike has made a promise to himself: he won’t let anything that ruins him take Harvey along as well. “Your visitor, he told you things, details that made you want to dig, correct?”

She blinks. It’s an affirmative. Mike continues, “But it still took you a while to figure out where the cracks in my cover were, yes? And you knew what you were looking for.”

Her lips tighten. “You expect me to believe that working with you, day in and out, as Harvey has, that he never noticed discrepancies, things that should have made him dig?”

“I remember the things I say. It makes it easy not to get caught in a lie. Harvey is hardly the only one who’s worked with me on a daily basis and not caught on. Why aren’t you looking into Louis?”

Mike watches the muscle in her jaw tense. He knows the answer to that question, knows it’s an unfair attack because Jessica doesn’t give a crap about Louis. Harvey, on the other hand, Harvey has the power to betray her.

Harvey starts to say, “Jess—“ but Mike can’t trust him not to do something stupidly upstanding. With Harvey, it always comes at the moments everyone’s least expecting it.

Mike cuts him off. “Even if you don’t believe me, I’m giving you an out. A good one, at that. Who in their right mind is going to believe that Harvey Specter risked his career for some nobody kid?” Mike has to firmly avoid wincing as he voices the words, aware Harvey deserves better. Another time. Right now, there are more important things than Harvey’s feelings. “I’m nothing to the firm. I’m nothing to you. He is. Take the out.”

Jessica’s gaze is cold and flat and, just beneath that, hurt. The layered, almost hidden pain makes Mike want to look away. He does not. She asks him, “What good is he to me if he would do this? If he would risk my firm this way?”

That’s between Harvey and Jessica, but all the same, Mike says softly, “Kind of a vast oversimplification.”

She says, “Get out. Get out and feel grateful that it would be more trouble than you are worth to either sue you or bring you up on charges.”

Mike isn’t precisely grateful, but it is a relief. He tells her, “Not that it matters, but I am sorry.”

“Out,” she says, the word short and sharp. Mike feels like he can see her edges, icy silver and filed to a point. He nods and turns on his heel.

He can sense Harvey’s gaze on him well past the glass door of Jessica’s office. He knows if he turns to look he’ll see an absence of emotion on those features, a blank slate, clean like an admission. Mike keeps walking.

*


Mike has planned for this eventuality. It’s why he’s lived so frugally, despite the substantial income Pearson Hardman has afforded him. He’s got enough put away for the next half year of Gram’s expenses. If he can get his landlord to let him out of his lease, or, at the very least, sub-lease, sell his stuff minus the bike and what will fit into a duffel bag, get back in on test-taking and find an otherwise decent full-time position in retail or something else with flexible hours, Gram will be fine.

The first thing he gets rid of is his phone. It’s the latest generation iPhone, so once he’s wiped it he’s able to sell it for a solid chunk of cash even second-hand. It also means he can stop ignoring Harvey’s calls. Answering them can do nobody any good. If Harvey’s calling to help him, then it’s only going to get Harvey messed up in something that Mike took pains to extract him from. If Harvey’s calling to yell at him, Mike really doesn’t need to hear it.

He divests himself of his stuff through a combination of Craig’s List, eBay and pawn shops. He’ll miss the books. He knows it’s stupid to feel that way when he can remember everything in them, but all the same, some of those were given to him by his parents. It’s the feel of the paper under his fingers, the weight of the book in his hand, the smells books pick up over the years that matter. The words are good for all manner of things, but the books themselves are much greater than the sum of their parts, even the adventures and ideas contained within.

Luckily, Mike’s landlord is shockingly understanding, and helps him find someone to take over the lease. Mike suspects the landlord has taken the opportunity to raise rent mid-year. Mike doesn’t fault him for it.

Mike gets in touch with his test broker, who’s thrilled he’s back in the game. Mike dryly allows himself the thought that it’s nice someone missed him.

He stays over at Jenny’s for a couple of nights, but he doesn’t want to risk running into Trevor, and there have been a couple of close calls. He’s also not ready to talk to Jenny about Trevor ratting him out, or getting fired, or his plans to deal with that. She keeps pressing, though, her questions consistent and passing for sympathetic, if not quite understanding. It’s kind of easier to just find places in the park, or sometimes Grand Central or Penn. It’s warm out this time of year. It’s hardly the first time Mike has been transient. He knows the drill.

He lies on a bunch of job applications, because it’s genuinely the only logical thing to do. He lies about his address, about his career experience, about pretty much everything. He doesn’t think he’ll get away with it in most instances, but in the ones where he will, he has a good chance of getting a job. On the mornings when he has job interviews, Mike goes over to the Y close to where he grew up. There’s nobody he knows there anymore, but the people who take his two bucks and give him a towel and some soap to use in the for-pay showers don’t look at him with judgment in their eyes. If there are too many days in between interviews, he coughs up the money for a shower anyway, since he doesn’t want Gram or one of the nurses to notice him smelling. A shower is three to four cups of ramen noodles—depending on the sale price—which can be two days worth of food, but it’s depressingly easy to get used to going without much sustenance, like falling back into a poisonous, but familiar relationship.

He ends up working behind the counter of a bakery named Sikre that does way more catering business than storefront. The owners are a Haitian couple who came over on a boat essentially cobbled together from twigs during the reign of Baby Doc. Modelaine and Maxime are self-taught and they make the best buchette delice Mike has ever had in his life.

The hours kind of suck, since they involve being awake at four, but he’s also off by two or three most days, and after a few weeks of noticing he calculates everything in his head, Modelaine promotes him to helping with business finances, so it’s more of a challenge than, say, answering phones. They pay him slightly over minimum wage, possibly because they both seem concerned about standards of living, and all in all, if Mike doesn’t allow himself to stop and think about anything, life’s not so bad.

*


Mike tells Gram after a month, when he senses she knows, but also is aware that’s a piss-poor reason to keep on lying by omission. He says, “I lost the job.”

Her expression is sympathetic. “There will be others, Michael.”

“I got fired, Gram.”

“For stealing?”

Mike frowns. “No! Of course not.”

“Sexually harassing someone?”

“Gram,” Mike whines.

“Attacking a superior?”

“Having poor taste in friends,” he tells her, mostly to get her to stop. “And lying.”

“Trevor?” she asks softly.

“I should have listened, I know. I’ve learned my lesson, promise.”

“Young people always think that’s what we old people want.”

Mike shrugs. “Everyone likes being right.”

“Do you? All the time?”

He takes her point. “Not all the time.”

“C’mere,” she says.

He comes to the side of her bed and sits down, allowing himself to be pulled into her arms. It’s not like it was when he was a kid, when her hugs were solid and strong and so infinitely safe, but it’s close enough that he can close his eyes and imagine. He has a good memory.

“There’ll be other opportunities,” she tells him. He allows himself to believe. He tells himself it’s okay if the only person he’s lying to is himself.

On the way out, one of the nurses calls him over. He smiles at her. He likes Janie; she goes out of her way to make sure that Gram is comfortable, and more than once she’s been the one to call attention to caretaking tasks that were being half-assed. “Hey, Janie.”

“Hey, sunshine. Listen, I thought you’d like a head’s up. There’s a good possibility we’re gonna need to change your Gram’s prescriptions. She’s been showing some side-effects that I’ll bet ten-to-one she hasn’t been sharing with you.”

Mike frowns. “Anything serious?”

“Not really, but we wanna keep it that way.”

“Yeah. I mean, of course.”

“The thing is, this is really billing’s department, but they’re gonna talk to you if we have to do it, since one of the new meds doesn’t come in a generic.”

Mike is glad to find that he learned something about keeping a blank expression from Harvey. Just the idea of expenses going up when he’s barely got them under control—if homelessness can be seen as an kind of control—makes him nauseated. “Okay, well, I’ll talk to billing.”

“Just thought you’d want a warning,” Janie says, her gaze gentle.

He reaches out and squeezes her hand. “Thank you.”

She squeezes back. He pretends he can’t feel her watching him as he walks down the hall. It’s hard enough to stay standing under the weight of his own worries. He can’t handle living with anyone else’s concerns for him.

*


When someone finds him, it’s by accident. Mike thinks it’s possible he should have foreseen said accident when Sikre enjoyed some seriously nice press in a few of the more avant-garde publications around town. But he’s got other things on his mind even as Modelaine frames the positive reviews and hangs them on the sunshine-yellow walls of the bakery, so he doesn’t see it coming.

He’s helping with the rolling out of the tart crusts when he hears the shop bell ring on the day he’s found. He waves to Bastian, the apprentice who’s across the room, dealing with the tart fillings, and heads out to the front to help the customer. He almost turns right back around when he see who the customer is.

She blinks, her forehead crinkling up and then says, “Mike?”

He rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “Uh. Hi. Rachel.”

There’s a moment of tremendously awkward silence before Mike pulls it together enough to say, “I’d recommend the sweet potato pie, if you’re wondering. Maxime was taught to make it by his grandmére, it was his first dish ever and it’s pretty mindblowing, so—“

She cuts off his rambling. “Donna was starting to seriously consider the possibility that you were dead.”

“I’m relatively sure Gram would have the paper run an obituary, if that happened.” A second after he’s said it, Mike decides that wasn’t the best approach to take, but it’s out there and he doesn’t owe Rachel anything. He doesn’t owe anyone from that life anything, not even Harvey. They’re even.

Rachel’s eyes narrow. “She and Harvey are freaking out.”

Mike’s doubt must be clear on his face because after a second Rachel admits, “It’s a very quiet sort of freaking out.”

Mike looks off to the side, giving himself a moment to ruthlessly crush the part of him that feels warmed by that fact. Realistically, no good can come of Harvey knowing where Mike is, and if Donna knows, Harvey will know. Mike does not want Harvey’s charity and he sure as fuck doesn’t want his pity and between the two of them and the situation as it stands, he suspects that is all that is left between them. He misses the quicksilver nature of their conversations, the challenge Harvey presented, and the companionship having Harvey allowed him. But those are part of the past. Mike might have had a habit of holding on to things—people—for far too long, but he’s learned that lesson, thanks.

He gives Rachel what he hopes approaches a casual smile and says, “I’ll comp you the pie if you don’t mention having seen me.”

Rachel stares at him with a thoroughly bamboozled expression for a moment and then asks, “Did you really fail a drug test?”

Huh. Mike’s not sure what he expected the rumor mill to produce, but that’s fairly mild, all told. “Yep.”

“I don’t believe you,” she tells him after less than a second’s consideration. “But I also don’t believe that you sexually harassed one of the female partners, blackmailed Louis, or beat up a client.”

Ah. That’s more like it. Mike still would have preferred something a little more inventive and unique, but at least the associates were willing to postulate on his being slightly more badass than failing a drug test. “All true.”

“Maybe you’re completely full of shit and whatever you did is something the firm really doesn’t want getting out. Did Jessica find out about the LSATs?”

Mike is suddenly exhausted. The temperature outside has been dropping rapidly, but he’s not quite ready to resort to shelters. The hot showers at the Y are a blessing, but they don’t entirely wash away the nights of scant sleep in buildings with neither windows nor insulation. And he’s been finding that he can’t live entirely on pastries and extra nursing home food cajoled from Gram’s afternoon nurse, no matter how hard he tries.

He doesn’t want to be having this conversation. “I’ll throw in an apple linzer torte. I know that’s a little pedestrian for you, but trust me—“

“Mike.”

Mike meets her eyes. He knows even as he asks that it’s a temporary fix, that Donna will find out, and that if Donna does not, Harvey will hone in on a weakness Rachel doesn’t even know she’s showing. But temporary fixes have been a big part of his life up until now. This does not feel like the moment to abandon them. “As a friend, just, forget you saw me.”

Rachel swallows. Slowly, she nods. “As a friend.”

For one brief, quixotic second, Mike wishes that friendship were good for more, for a coffee now and then and someone to talk to, but he knows better. He smiles, real this time. “Want anything besides what I’ve already promised you?”

*


In later October, Mike wakes up one “morning” to go to work—four is really more night than morning, and Mike refuses to acknowledge it as anything else—and has lost feeling in his nose, fingers, ears and toes. He considers whether he could start taking different tests, maybe GREs, which are administered consistently throughout the year. It might be a fix, a way to get himself enough income to at least manage project housing. He still has to make it through his savings to qualify for Section 8, so with Gram’s bills, that should be in another six months or so. At least for the moment, though, in the absence of being able to get a second job to start paying him by that evening, he accepts that he’s going to have to start going to shelters at least some of the time.

Mike doesn’t mind shelters in and of themselves. Sure, they’re crowded and a person has to be willing not to be discomfited by a decent amount of crazy, but many of the people who are in them are no different than he is, down on their luck and with nobody else to turn to. The people who work them are generally well-meaning, and the beds are clean and warm.

What Mike hates is that every time he takes a bed, he knows someone else isn’t getting it. That shouldn’t bother him; Mike’s had plenty of practice fronting his needs in life. But he sees the people who get turned away: women with young children, mentally ill persons, the elderly, people who need the bed more than he does. And he can never help but be aware of just how close he and Gram came to that on several occasions. He’s given up his space for a mom and her kid more than once, and he has to force himself not to on the nights when leaving probably really will mean death. Gram’s got nobody else to take care of her.

He reminds himself of this by making sure he makes it to her every day, instead of the every-other day that he sometimes falls into, exhausted by the long hours of being on his feet, biking in the cold, and a lack of adequate food stores to support all the activity. He’s always glad when he gets there, even on the days when he accidentally falls asleep in the chair by her bed and wakes to her watching him, silent and concerned.

He always stands and kisses her then, and says, “Bet you’ve got better things to be doing than watching some delinquent sleep.”

Her general response is to pull him into a hug, which he accepts without a fight. It helps to be able to rest his chin on her shoulder, close his eyes for just another second, and know why he’s doing this, why he isn’t taking the measly amount he gets paid and putting it into an apartment, no matter how crappy.

*


After the articles in the free magazines and papers around town boost business a little, Mike convinces Modelaine to let him hire a PR person to figure out a targeted strategy for turning the bakery into as much of a success as the catering business. The employers Modelaine and Maxime had cooked and cleaned for over the years since their arrival in the States, and solid word-of-mouth helped the catering business grow organically. A store is a little bit harder, but Mike is determined to see them pull in enough to hire more skilled workers and still be making a profit.

Aside from the fact that they don’t ask questions and treat him as an equal despite his junior status and lack of specialized talents, he just thinks they deserve it. Plus, they really want their two-year old daughter to be able to attend college, and Odette has Mike wrapped around her pinky finger but good. In his defense, she’s the pudgiest little pudgeball ever to have existed, and she always, always has a smile for him.

Modelaine gives in after nearly a month of Mike nagging—her words, Mike would call it implementing a strategy of persuasion—and Mike asks Rachel the next time he sees her, “Know any worthwhile PR contractors?”

Rachel, who comes in at least once a week, supposedly for the special, but pretty obviously to check on Mike, asks, “How much is a name worth?”

Mike rolls his eyes. He’s going to comp her something anyway. He always does. The special of the day is flan, and it’s the closest thing to crack Mike’s ever consumed in food form. He dishes up a plate and hands it over the counter. “Name?”

Rachel takes the plate with a smile. “Dylan Rorsch. He used to work for us as a part of Torrenzano, but he left to start his own firm, something a little less…corporate focused. You’ll like him.”

Mike hands her a napkin and a pen. “Number.”

But Rachel has taken a bite and is busy making cow eyes at the remaining flan. Mike sympathizes, so he gives her a minute. She looks up around the time he’s about to start snapping his fingers. “Sweet baby Jesus.”

“Sweeter than that, really,” Mike opines, and hands her the pen.

“I’m going to need a few more of these. Also, can’t I just tell you the number? Won’t you remember it?”

“Yes, but there might, at some point, be someone else who needs it, and your handwriting is better than mine.” Mike’s already packed enough for all the people she actually cares enough about at the office to bother and bring some.

She rolls her eyes, but scrolls through her phone, finds the number and records it for the bakery’s posterity.

*


Mike’s taking out the last trash of the day—he’s stayed on late, since their afternoon counter jockey called in sick—when he hears a bizarre and frankly unnerving sound coming from the dumpster. He’d done a dumpster run midday, and the dumpster had definitely not been wailing like a banshee caught in a hollow log at that point.

Aware that he’s breaking roughly one million rules of health etiquette for bakery employees, Mike hoists himself up the side of the dumpster and looks down. It takes him all of a second to spot the banshee. “Shit.”

Sighing, because he’s not just going to walk away, Mike swings a leg over the rim, then the next and climbs all the way in. The kitten doesn’t even move as he holds his arms out to it, saying, “Okay, little guy, it’s gonna be okay.”

It nips at him a little when he starts to pet it, but it’s more of an experimental nip, a warning that if Mike gets frisky, the kitten has got teeth. Instead, Mike strokes it until it is willing to let Mike pick it up and put it on his shoulder. He then does the best he can to keep it there while he maneuvers himself out of the dumpster.

He looks at it, perched on his shoulder, trembling and with eyes the size of its face, but at least silent, and sighs. He knocks on the bakery door. Maxime answers it with a perplexed look on his face. “It’s unlocked.”

“Yeah, I, uh. I can’t come back in.”

Maxime takes in the picture Mike must present and yells, “Bastian?”

“Yeah, man?”

“You and ‘Laine handle things here for a bit, okay?”

“Sure thing.” It’s quiet this time of day, so not really a big deal. Mike’s relieved that if this had to happen, it chose a reasonable time of day to occur, and not five in the morning, when they’re prepping for the breakfast crowd, which, thanks to Dylan’s efforts, is becoming considerable.

Maxime says, “C’mon, let’s see if we can find a kitten somewhere beneath all that dirt.”

Maxime and Modelaine live in an apartment a two block walk from the bakery. Once there, the Mike and Maxime use nearly half a bottle of Odette’s baby shampoo and a few gallons of mildly warm water. Together, they discover a kitten. It has the markings of a calico mix. It is, however, in rough shape. There’s a patch of fur missing on its side from what looks like a burn, and two scratches permanently molded into scars along its nose. It’s nothing but bones with a thin layer of fur and when they finally let it escape from their evil cleansing ministrations, it limps slightly when trying to run and hide from them.

Maxime makes a disapproving noise. “Poor thing.”

He rummages through his pantry and finds some canned salmon. He places a bit of it on a plate next to a shallow bowl of water and the two of them wait somewhat out of sight, so that the cat can feel comfortable approaching the food. It takes a while, but eventually it darts out to launch an attack on the proffered nourishment.. It eats quickly, clearly ravenous.

Maxime says, “Ah. ‘Laine, she’s very allergic to anything with fur.”

“Oh. Oh shit, is she going to be okay with it having been in here?”

Maxime nods. “I’ll scrub everything down, it will be fine. But it can’t stay here.”

“No, of course not.” Mike doesn’t pay attention to the sinking sensation in his heart. “I’ll take it to a vet near where I grew up. They deal with a lot of indigents who bring in their pets, probably know some good shelters.” Mike neglects to mention that they generally subsidize services for indigents who are willing to actually take care of their pets. Mike suspects Maxime and Modelaine at least have an inkling Mike lied about having an address on his application, but they’re tactful enough not to mention it and Mike would prefer to maintain the status quo, i.e., everyone pretending Mike is taking care of himself just fine.

“He’ll be cute once he fills out,” Maxime says, sounding wistful. “I’m sure someone will want him.”

Mike watches the kitten curl up in the pile of rags they’d set out for it. He bites his lip. “Yeah. I’m sure they will.”

*


At the vet Mike learns that the kitten has mites and a cold, but nothing that can’t be fixed with medication and adequate care. He also learns that none of the no-kill shelters are taking cats right now, and even the rescue groups are only taking from shelters in order to alleviate the worst of the overcrowding. The tech who tells him seems sympathetic, so Mike asks, “What would you do, if you found a kitten?”

She sighs. “Honestly? Take it home and risk the wrath of my husband when he notices we have a fourth cat. But I’m a sucker.”

When she’s left the room, Mike looks straight into the eyes of the kitten and says, “You knew what you were doing when you made that soul-sucking sound, didn’t you? This was a plot.”

The kitten swipes at his nose, and, in doing so, loses its balance and rolls over onto its back, where it stays, looking confused as to how it got there. Mike sighs. “Yes, you’re clearly a bastion of evil machination.”

He rubs a finger along the kitten’s stomach. “Fuck.”

It mewls and swipes half-heartedly at the finger, its claws sheathed. Mike has always wanted a pet. His parents had told him he was too young, and then they hadn’t been around to see him get older. Gram couldn’t afford it, and after that he’d never been settled enough to feel comfortable doing that to a living creature.

The shelters won’t take him with an animal. The money he’s making needs to go to Gram’s care. There are so, so many reasons why now is not the time for him to adopt anything, let alone more trouble. But the thought of having found this creature, having rescued it, only to give it a reprieve before possibly being put down, isn’t even sort of on the table. Mike can’t handle that idea.

The tech brings back the medications, and Mike goes up to the front desk and works out payment. When he leaves, the kitten is tucked in his messenger bag, head peering out. He has no idea what he’s going to do with it tomorrow, when he goes to visit Gram. He doesn’t really have much of an idea of what he’s going to do with himself and it tonight, with temperatures in the low thirties. He tells himself he’ll figure something out. He’s good at doing just that.

He bikes downtown to the train station, where he has a locker with all his earthly possessions. He takes his clothes and goes to a laundromat, one of the all-night ones. Mike has, more than once, managed to spend a night there, just by looking like he was doing a load every time someone came in. He thinks that might not be such a bad idea for tonight.

He puts his load in on hot, wanting to kill anything, glad his clothes are long past bleeding, since he refuses to do more than one load. He breathes in the scent of detergent and heat, not so much pleasant as comfortingly familiar. He sits down, setting the kitten on his lap and asks, “What am I gonna call you? I’m not one of those people who feels confident that their cat will know its name is ‘cat’ unlike every other damn cat in the world.”

The cat licks one of its paws. Mike smiles in spite of him. “You take care of that. I’ll do the heavy thinking.”

*


The first day Mike takes ownership of the cat is the hardest, because he has nowhere to leave her during work hours. He ends up using the trash shed in the alley behind the bakery as a temporary shelter for her. He has to hear her cries for the better part of the day until Modelaine brings Odette in and Odette spends the most of the morning playing Peek-a-Boo with the cat. The cat seems unsure of the point of the game, but willing to play along for the benefit of human companionship. The bakery has a security camera on that area, so Mike is able to keep his eye on them while running the front. The game inspires him to name the cat Boo Radley, mostly after one of his favorite characters of all time, but a little bit because Boo is a good name for a cat and it will make him remember this moment, with Odette and the cat easily making each other happy.

When Modelaine makes Odette come in so that she won’t catch a cold, Boo takes up whining again. It’s torturous. Mike promises that he won’t bring her to work again, and apologizes profusely, but Modelaine just says quietly, “Everyone should be so lucky to have someone else rescue them from the garbage.” Mike appreciates her restraint in not pointing out the now-evident fact that she’s hired on an indigent.

Then she tries out the three new items she’s been experimenting with on Mike. Mike tries not to act like it’s the first food he’s had in a while.

As soon as he gets off work, Mike makes his way to the area of town he stays in when he really needs somewhere to crash and a shelter isn’t a possibility. He needs a stable spot, somewhere Boo will be able to stay during the day and know to come back to if she wanders off. It needs to be as sheltered as possible and without previous occupants. It’s early December, this is no easy feat.

The alternative, though, is turning her over to a kill shelter, or releasing her back on the streets to fend for herself, and as much as Mike tries to convince himself that his needs have to come first, he can’t quite manage. It doesn’t help that she’s purring in his messenger bag, butting her nose up against his arm every time it comes within reach.

He finally finds something as the sun is setting, hours past when he began looking. The building smells wrong, somehow, musty, Mike thinks, and too sick-sweet like dead rats. Otherwise, it’s what he needs. He senses the smell is what has kept others away and he can put up with it. There are only a couple of unboarded windows, and they’re in an area of the building he can avoid. The way the building is shaped makes it so that he can almost create a “room” for himself with a little imagination, and judicious use of what Mike imagines were once office dividers.

He lets Boo out, expecting her to explore, but she just curls up in his lap. He gets out the medications and gives them to her. One day of food and medicine and she’s looking much better than she was the day before. Mike’s pretty sure he’s not just telling himself that. At the very least, the limp is almost entirely gone.

Mike unfolds the blanket he put in his bag after laundry the night before and wraps it around first her, and then himself, resting his head on the bag. The floor is frigid and hard against bones that have less cushioning than they used to. Boo is warm against him, though, and he’s got walls around him and a roof above him. Things could definitely be worse. Eventually, Mike manages to fall asleep to that thought.

*


Dylan’s promotion of their Thanksgiving-compatible treats somehow becomes a full-on push for Christmas goodies, despite their noticeable lack of things like cookies with tree-shaped icing. The crowds that Thanksgiving brought in are willing to go with it, though, and bring their friends, evidently, because around the middle of the month, things get crazy with pre-orders and over-the-counter business, along with so many calls for party catering that they have to hire on some extra waitstaff for events and still have to turn down a couple of offers.

Between work and trying to bring Christmas cheer to Gram, who hasn’t been feeling well, it isn’t until Modelaine asks, “Are you feeling well?” her eyes focused and concerned that Mike notices he’s actually feeling like reincarnated crap, thanks.

He smiles for her, though, and says, “Tired, stressed. It’s the holidays.”

She doesn’t precisely take him at his word—he can tell by her expression—but she leaves well enough alone. As soon as he’s off work, Mike thinks about what he’s going to do. He calls the home to have them tell Gram he can’t come by. He makes up a work emergency rather than admit he’s worried he’ll make her sicker. Whatever he has seems like just a cold, but her immune system isn’t what it used to be.

Having a vested interest in both getting a paycheck and not infecting the bakery like some kind of proto-typhoid Mary, Mike splurges on a big bowl of Pho and stays in the restaurant for as long as possible. He goes to a pharmacy and picks up some Nyquil. He just needs to sleep better than he has been, and he’ll be fine. The Nyquil will knock him out.

The Nyquil does knock him out, but when he wakes to the routine licking of his nose by a sandpaper-tongue three precise minutes before his alarm is set to go off, he can barely get his eyes to open. Now that he’s noticed how bad he feels, it’s hard to get himself moving, the ache in his muscles screaming out for him to stay where he is, or—better yet—get himself somewhere with an actual bed and some central heating.

On the way to work, Mike has to stop biking and just breathe several times, which is not exactly normal. His breathing comes with an unhealthy dose of rasping and a desire to cough which he ruthlessly suppresses. He’s not going to start engaging in behaviors that will mean having to take off work and losing the only solid eight to ten hours a day he has in a well-insulated building.

He tries to eat the French toast that Maxime makes with orange juice and nutmeg and that Mike usually loves as a way to start the morning, but it settles heavily in his stomach, and after a few bites he surreptitiously squirrels it away, hoping he’ll feel more up to it later. He puts his mind to his job, and the morning passes in a haze of task after task, but by lunch Mike is seriously considering whether he can leave Boo for the night and get a spot at a shelter. Just one night is all he needs, really, with some more soup and another dose of Nyquil and the world will right itself.

There’s an afternoon rush and Mike isn’t able to leave in good conscience until two hours or so after the end of his shift. He goes back to his “home” and checks on Boo, apologizing for the fact of what he’s about to do. She seems to sense something is wrong, because he has to unpeel her from himself four times before he manages to escape, and even then he’s worried she’ll follow. As luck has it, she doesn’t, or at least, she’s clever enough about it not to get caught.

Mike secures himself a spot at the shelter, takes some Nyquil and sleeps straight on through to morning. He feels a little better when he wakes up, able, at least, to keep down the oatmeal the soup kitchen next door offers him. He makes himself some tea upon getting to the bakery and convinces himself he’s fine for several hours. By the time he leaves, however, he can’t keep his coughing fully hidden, and one of the worst jags has him in the bathroom, vomiting up the tea he’s been mainlining.

He tells Modelaine, “I think I have to take a sick day.”

She takes him to her house and makes him a pot of Haitian Garlic soup, sending him away with the leftovers and telling him, “Come back when you won’t turn the shop into a breeding ground for plague, yes?”

He agrees. He bikes home, which is sheer agony on his lungs and pretty much every other part of his body. He stumbles inside, curls up with Boo—who forgives him after a peremptory few swipes at his face—and pretends that he’s as warm as he is full.

*


By afternoon the next day, Mike has to acknowledge that he’s not getting any better. He’s so, so fucking cold, and he keeps waking himself by coughing. He’s bringing up blood, and even if he thinks that’s just from the rawness of his throat he’s not actually one hundred percent certain of that fact. The bakery doesn’t have insurance for their employees and Mike looked into private financing, but decided, as expensive as it was, he might as well keep an apartment in the city while he was at it if he was going to bother. So visiting a doctor is out. And no shelter is going to let him in looking and sounding like this.

He considers his options. Jenny will probably let him in, but he was kind of a jerk about disappearing on her and not even having the decency to cleanly break things off, so it’s sort of a dick move to show up and ask. Rachel would definitely let him in, but Mike doesn’t really know where their friendship stands, what taking her up on the offer would mean in the long run. Maxime and Modelaine have a kid in their house.

Mike mumbles, “I really should make some more friends.”

Then, telling himself he’s just going to go to the store and get some juice—because it is infinitely easier to lie to himself in this instance—he scoops Boo into his messenger bag and gets himself on his feet. The room spins around him and he has to close his eyes for a few seconds, place a steadying hand against the nearest wall, which isn’t quite as near as he had hoped. When he can open his eyes to a room that neither tilts nor swirls, he starts walking slowly. It takes a lot more air and energy than normal, but he can manage. There’s no way he’s getting on his bike.

He considers where he’s going, where he’s really going, and whether he can make it on foot. Acknowledging that he doesn’t have a prayer, but unwilling to pay cab fare, Mike makes his way to the bus stop. It will take over an hour by bus, but it’s not as if he’s pressed for time. The wait for the bus is interminable—over fifteen minutes, the stop just a post rather than any kind of wind-shelter—but Mike survives, despite his increasing desire to collapse to his death right there on the sidewalk. On the plus side, people give him his own seat on the bus.

He has to change buses once he’s made it across town, which involves another wait. Mike almost sleeps through his stop, but comes to at the last moment. It’s a block away from his destination. Mike considers whether that block is objectively the longest block in the world. And then it is time to discover whether the skills of evading the doormen at Harvey’s condo building have stayed with him despite his lack of practice over the past five months. He’s relieved to find they have.

It’s the middle of the day, Harvey will not be at home, so Mike curls up in the hallway, tucked into the corner against Harvey’s door and hopes against hope that he won’t be reported by curious neighbors before Harvey gets there. Of course, in a building like this, that hope is a pipe dream, and Mike knows it.

He must fall asleep, because he wakes to rough hands jostling him and looks up into the eyes of one of the doormen who is saying, “C’mon, you have to get up—“

Grateful that he recognizes this particular doorman, Mike starts to say, “Ed,” only to be stopped by the capacity—or lack thereof—of his lungs. When the coughing has died down and he’s gained back some semblance of breath, he manages, “Ed, just, just give me a second, okay?”

Ed blinks at him. “Mike?”

Mike does his best to smile and puts his phone to his ear. He really hopes Harvey isn’t in court or in a meeting. For that matter, he hopes Harvey picks up, despite not recognizing the number. It takes three rings, but Harvey opens with, “Who is this, and how do you have this number?”

“Harvey,” Mike says, and that’s enough for Harvey to say, “You sound like hell.”

“Harvey,” Mike repeats, because it’s somehow reassuring to say it aloud, no matter how much Mike might hate that fact. “Can I-- Can you tell your doorman it’s okay to let me in? I just need—“ Mike coughs and coughs and coughs till he gags, and when he straightens up, he no longer has possession of his phone and the door to Harvey’s condo is open.

Ed is saying, “Yes sir, absolutely.”

He hangs up the call and tells Mike, “Get in here.”

*


Mike hasn’t showered in a couple of days and he can smell himself, so he’s not really comfortable getting on Harvey’s couch. That’s fine, though, because a) he doesn’t have the energy to get himself that far into the apartment, and b) compared to the concrete Mike’s been sleeping on, Harvey’s wood floors are soft and warm and will do quite nicely as a resting place.

Ed leaves as soon as Mike’s in the condo, shoving his phone back into his hand, so Mike just sinks down to the floor, plucks Boo out of the bag and moves far enough that if Harvey needs to get in the front door he’ll be able to. Then he curls up and passes out, beyond worn from the trip over and having to fight his way in.

He wakes up to Harvey looming over him with an indescribable look on his face. It’s still awfully light in the condo for it to be night, and Mike’s fairly certain he hasn’t been asleep that long. That’s all unimportant, though. What matters is, “I c’n explain.”

Or, well, Mike will be able to when his lungs stop trying to rise up in rage against the machine, as it were. By the time that happens his vision is darkening from the inability to take in oxygen and evidently Harvey has gone away and come back, because he tries fitting a glass into Mike’s shaking hand, and, when that fails, just tips it lightly against Mike’s lips, feeding him the water in small sips.

Mike pulls back when he feels he can’t take anymore and says, “Thanks.” Talking hurts but he’s well aware that Harvey deserves at least a little bit of context.

“There’s a cat in my condo.” Harvey seems more confused than pissed off about this fact.

Mike blinks. Right, there’s that, too. “Boo Radley. She’s—“ He shakes his head. This is not how he meant to approach this. “We really need somewhere to stay for a day or two. Just till this cough goes away. Please.”

Harvey stares at Mike until Mike has to look away. He can’t tell if the way he feels too, too hot is because of Harvey’s consideration or the fever, but either way, Mike doesn’t have the energy to win this particular staring contest. Finally Harvey says, “You’re going to take a shower and change into something clean and get in bed and sleep. When you wake up, we’re talking about this.”

Mike’s not really looking forward to that, but he knows he’s been granted a reprieve, one that he needs, so he just says, “Yeah. I-- Yes, thanks.”

He’s concentrating very hard on getting to his feet when Harvey hauls him unceremoniously upward. The room spins and Mike’s nausea spikes and he brings back up the water he just drank. It’s agony, especially when the water is gone, but his stomach isn’t ready to give up the ghost.

Harvey holds him surprisingly steady, neither dropping him nor shoving him away. When Mike’s stomach muscles decide they’ve had enough, he murmurs, “Sorry.”

“You’re lucky I was considering getting rid of these shoes anyway,” Harvey tells him dryly and leads him toward the guest bathroom, noticeably more slowly than he’d brought Mike off the ground.

Once they’ve arrived, Harvey starts the shower. Mike shakes his head, trying to clear it. All it does is aggravate the pulsing behind his left eye and start him coughing again. At some point Harvey’s hand comes to rest on his back, Harvey demanding, “Breathe.”

Mike would like to. Honestly, he would. Finally, he manages, and Harvey orders, “Arms up.”

Mike doesn’t even really think before obeying and only mumbles a minor protest when Harvey strips his shirt off, followed by his shoes, socks, pants and boxers. Harvey manhandles him into the shower, which is blessedly hot. The steam feels good when he breathes it in, like it’s making space in his lungs. He stands there for a long time, until his legs are trembling and his eyes having a hard time staying open. He forces them to so that he can wash his hair and soap himself up. When he finishes, he tumbles out of the shower; literally, ending on the floor and trying to figure out how he got there. He notices a towel within reach and takes it, curling up in it, too tired to move. He’s just about to lie down on the tiles when Harvey comes back.

Mike can hear Harvey rolling his eyes as much as see it. Harvey stands him up—slowly this time—and gets him in a t-shirt and boxers that Mike doesn’t remember owning. He pretty much drags Mike into the next room and plants him on the bed. After a second, Mike feels the familiar presence of Boo, curling up next to his head.

“Christ,” Harvey says. Then, “Sleep.”

Mike obeys, but only because he’s constitutionally incapable of doing anything else at that point.

*


Mike wakes up sweating and scared out of his mind, still caught in a dream that’s more terror than anything solid, the smell of burnt metal and flesh in his nostrils and the feeling that he’s lost something he was supposed to keep safe. He only realizes he’s screaming when someone comes into the room.

“Mike!” Harvey yells, sharp and loud.

Mike jerks toward the noise, but it only intensifies the remnants of the nightmare. He makes a move to get away from the new threat, falling out of the bed. It hurts, deep and bright on impact, shocking him, slowing him down.

“Kid, stop,” Harvey is saying, but between the pain and the lingering fear, and the way everything seems too loud, too hot, too much, Mike isn’t listening.

He’s scrambling to get up, get away, when Harvey catches him, hands on his arms, talking at him, and Mike can’t think, can’t focus, can’t get away. He panics, panics and fights, and someone says, “Fuck!” and Mike keeps fighting, but his vision is clouding and he can’t breathe, can’t breathe, can’t breathe.

“Mike,” his captor says, “Mike!”

Mike closes his eyes, stops fighting.

*


The next time Mike wakes up, his brain is muzzy and his body numb and when he tries to move he finds himself connected to an IV. He blinks at that, then blinks some more. Beside the bed, Harvey looks up from what he’s doing and asks, “You in there?”

Mike looks at Harvey. He tries to say something, but his tongue and throat are dry. Harvey stands and helps prop him up against the backboard. He hands Mike a glass of water, but keeps his hand over Mike’s, guiding the glass to Mike’s lips. When Mike has had all he can manage, he pushes the glass away and asks, “What happened to your face?”

Harvey touches the shadow over his right eye and smiles a little. “You’re pretty scrappy, as it turns out.”

Mike frowns. “I-- Oh. Um. I don’t remember. I’m sorry?”

Harvey sits back down. “Yeah, well, you were running a fever of 105.2 and asphyxiating on the fluid in your own lungs, so I think, this once, I’ll let it pass.”

Despite the levity in Harvey’s voice, he’s holding himself unusually upright, and there’s a tightness to his features that reminds Mike uncomfortably of their sessions with Clifford Danner. As such, Mike is not reassured by Harvey’s momentary magnanimity. “Did we go to a hospital?”

Harvey’s smile is all teeth, not even the hint of soul that he gives clients. “The guy two floors down from me is a physician whose kid I got out of a tight spot.”

“Oh. Right. Of course. You think he’ll consider a payment plan? I have a job. Which, I should probably call them because--”

Harvey cuts him off. “I think you need to tell me what’s going on.”

Mike’s still exhausted down to his very marrow, and worried, because now there are medical bills, too, but he did kind of show up at Harvey’s door, accidentally drag him home from work, vomit on him and punch him, so yeah, an explanation isn’t so much to ask.

Mike looks down at the dark plum duvet and tries to marshal his thoughts, make things simple. “Gram has bills. I don’t have a college degree or anyone to recommend me without having to get into how I, y’know, committed fraud. I have savings, but only so much, and keeping a place was going to drain them. I should’ve gone to a clinic when I started having the sniffles, but I didn’t. That’s it.”

“You’ve been homeless since you quit,” Harvey says flatly when Mike has managed to stop the coughing jag that followed on his clearly-too-long string of sentences.

“Since I was fired,” Mike corrects, since even if he walked out first, they both know how that had to go. He coughs again but it’s quick and whatever’s in the IV is making it hurt a hell of a lot less. “And don’t make it sound like some Lifetime movie. I wasn’t planning on staying that way forever.”

“Oh yes, me suggesting that living rough for the better part of six months is a poor decision definitely rises to the level of outright drama queen.” Harvey’s focus on Mike is intense, and his jaw is tight enough that Mike imagines it hurts.

“Harvey—“

“Why didn’t you call? You know I’m capable of cleaning up your messes.”

There are so, so many things Mike has to say to that, but he’s short on air, so he chooses, “Which would have undone everything I had just bothered to do.”

Mike’s hit the real point of contention, he can tell. Harvey’s shoulders have risen a notch, and his face is just a shade too blank. His tone is incredibly controlled when he says, “Something you should never have done in the first place.”

“You’re welcome,” Mike tells him, fighting to keep his eyes open.

“Mike—“

“You held up your end of the deal, Harvey. There was no point in you being destroyed when you didn’t have to. I’m a recycler—hate unnecessary waste.”

“You working some minimum-wage job is unnecessary waste,” Harvey practically growls.

“But unavoidable,” Mike mumbles. “They pay me a little over minimum wage.”

Harvey’s gaze burns, dark and inscrutable, but Mike is too tired to parse it, to figure out where this round of intensity is coming from. After a second, Harvey lets out a sharp, frustrated breath. “Lie down before you fall asleep sitting up.”

“I think the meds—“

“Yeah,” Harvey says, shaking his head.

“Thanks for—“

One of Harvey’s hands curls into a fist. He snaps, “Don’t, Mike. Just. Don’t.”

*


The next time Mike wakes up he has Harvey tell him exactly what the doctor said—viral upper respiratory infection that allowed for bacterial pneumonia to flourish—and repeats it to Maxime, leaving out the parts about malnourishment and sleep deprivation. Maxime responds with a succinct, “Shit.”

Mike brings his knees up so that he can rest his forehead on them. “I know it’s the holidays, I totally get it if you need to replace me.”

“Mike,” Maxime says, sounding more gentle than usual, which is strange, because Maxime’s a gentle guy, “we’re not letting you go. We are going to have to bring in someone seasonal, but we probably should have anyway. You were working way too many hours. Besides, you brought our revenue up twenty-six percent last month alone with your ideas. We think it’s going to be more this month. I’m not sure we can afford to lose you.”

“Oh,” Mike says. He feels like crying, which is stupid, because that’s good news. “That’s-- Thanks, Max.”

“Get some rest. Feel better. Call us when you’re up to at least talking business.”

“Yeah, will do.”

Ready to sleep again, but holding it off, Mike calls his grandmother’s room. She picks up with a distracted, “Hello?”

“Hi Gram,” Mike says, closing his eyes, enjoying the sound of her voice, even far away.

“Michael! The nurses said you were ill.”

“Yeah, I got-- I’m pretty sick. But I went to the doctor and I’ve got medicine and a, uh, friend is helping me out, so I’ll be better, promise.”

There’s a moment’s pause and Mike almost opens his mouth to say something else when Gram says softly, “I wish it were me taking care of you.”

Mike does cry a little then. He can’t help it. He’s tired and his chest hurts, everything hurts, really, and he doesn’t know how he’s going to make the next billing cycle because he keeps fucking up and it will be his fault if she ends up in some all-forsaken state facility and he just can’t stop himself.

Gram asks, “Mike? Michael? Are you all right?”

Mike does his best to make his voice sound normal. “Yeah, Gram. Yeah, I’m fine. I wish it were you, too. But I know you’d be here if you could.”

“You get some sleep, baby. Call me when you feel better.” From the tone of her voice, Mike can tell she’s not fooled. Despite himself, he wishes she were here. He could use being touched by someone else, especially by her, but anyone, really, at this point, just not to feel so damn alone.

He’s just hit then “end” button when Harvey comes in the door. Mike sniffles and then coughs and in between coughs tries to get out, “Could you—please, just, just—go somewhere else.”

Harvey either doesn’t understand or ignores him because he silently crosses the room and works to straighten the sheets, make the bed seem a little bit less like a pit of disease and sloth. It makes Mike furious because he’s held up this whole time, he hasn’t cried once and it’s not fair that Harvey’s seeing this, when he really, honestly can’t stop, can’t pull himself together.

But Harvey just helps Mike lay down and pulls the covers up over him, rubbing gently at his shoulders. He says, “Do what you gotta do.”

Mike keens. Harvey mercifully leaves him to it.

*


Mike loses a week in a haze of antibiotics and sleep with the occasional break for sustenance. Sometimes Harvey is there, sometimes not, Mike can’t really keep track. Donna comes at some point.. She sits with her bare feet on the bed, miles of legs making a bridge between them and the rest of her, leaning back into a bedside chair. He blinks at her several times, and she rolls her eyes at him. He tries to say, “I haven’t even done anything.”

He must say something, because she responds with, “Shut up, rookie,” and moves to the bed. She pets his hair—her hands cool and her rhythm steady—until he falls back asleep.

He stumbles into the bathroom at some point during the week and notices a self-cleaning cat litter—probably more expensive than Mike’s bike—tucked neatly in the corner. He has four seconds, precisely, to feel warmed by it before he has to hustle back to bed to pass out again.

Eventually, though, he starts to really wake up. It’s hard, mostly because he doesn’t want to. If he wakes up he has to figure things out, has to solve his own problems. The thought keeps sending him back to sleep. One day it doesn’t, though, so Mike roots around the condo until he finds a legal pad and a pen and starts writing a contract that’s the first step to things not falling apart any worse than they already have.

He makes himself eat something and then drifts away again, but he wakes up to find Harvey home. Mike pads out to where Harvey is working on his couch. Harvey looks up and says, “Look at that, you’re mobile.”

“More or less,” Mike whispers. His throat is still pretty raw from all the coughing. He sits on the couch and hands Harvey the legal pad. “I did the numbers I knew, but I need you to plug in the others and sign.”

Harvey’s eyes scan over the document for all of sixty seconds before he tears the pages from the pad and rips them up.

“Annoying,” Mike comments, “because that took me two hours, but ultimately pointless, because I can just recreate it.”

“I’m not loaning you money at a 5.2% interest rate so that you can first, not die, and second, keep your grandmother in adequate care.” Harvey’s tone is even, but his hands are curled suspiciously tightly over his knees.

“Five point seven?” Mike counters.

“Stop,” Harvey says, clearly expecting to be listened to.

“Look, if you can suggest another personal lending institution—“

“You’re not paying me back for your own medical expenses.” His attitude suggests incredulity, but Mike hears the belligerence beneath it.

Mike stares at Harvey. “Okay, you know what? Fine. I’m not going to argue, because you probably got a significant amount of it comped and you hold all the cards on that one and it’s not worth my severely depleted energy. So let’s get to the real issue.”

Harvey spreads his hands, as if to say fine. “How much are you making?”

“Nine an hour, thirteen fifty for overtime, which I pick up a fair amount of, over the table. Three grand every four to six months, under.” Mike keeps his gaze up as he says this last, not letting on how much it costs him. It’s ten times worse, now, taking the tests, but the money is necessary.

Something flickers in Harvey’s expression, but he doesn’t say anything, just asks, “Expenses?”

“After Medicare, Social Security and her annuity, Gram’s care is seventy a year.”

Harvey waits, then prompts, “Other expenses?”

Mike shrugs. “I eat mostly from the bakery or wherever I can pick things up. I grab a can of tuna as a treat for Boo occasionally, but we’re self-sustaining. There’s laundry, generally about three dollars a load every week and a half. The showers at the Y every other day for a buck. That’s pretty much it.”

Harvey is silent for a moment. When he speaks, it’s soft. “So, after FICA et al, you’re making about thirty-two a year, thirty-one minus expenses. Where’s the other thirty nine coming from?”

“Right now, savings. That’ll carry me for another six months.”

“And after that?” Harvey does not actually look as if he wants to hear the answer.

“I was thinking a second job, maybe a night cleaning crew or something. That’s good for another twenty or so, but I haven’t figured out the last nineteen. I think I may get a raise between now and then, if the bakery keeps doing as well as it has been, so it might only be the last eighteen. But just in case I don’t come up with something brilliant, however far-fetched that eventuality might be, this is my back up.”

“Mike—“

“Nineteen a year isn’t that big a deal for you and I’m going to make good on the loan, it just might take me a while, is all.” It lies between them that when Gram passes away he’ll have plenty of time to pay Harvey back. Mike isn’t going to say it and evidently Harvey has just enough compassion not to bring it up, either.

“Or you could do doc review for me at seventy-five an hour—like all our other skilled contractors—under the table four or so hours a day and we could forget all of this.”

“Jessica would have a kitten-cow half-breed litter right on your doorstep.”

“Jessica doesn’t have to know.” Harvey smiles in a way that Mike knows gets most people to do whatever the fuck Harvey wants.

“Yeah, we saw how well that worked out last time. Also, I don’t think we need to add tax fraud to our list of sins.”

“Says the guy who’s pulling in twelve grand a year under the table taking tests illegally.” The statement is shockingly free of judgment, if not frustration.

“Necessity is the mother of desperation, but you’re not desperate and you can afford the loan.”

“Would you take the nineteen free and clear?”

Mike just looks at him.

Harvey looks right back. “Well then. I believe we have a stalemate.”

“To make it clear, I am not acknowledging that your stalemate logic has won this round of our standoff by walking out of this room and faceplanting in the next.”

“Of course not.” Harvey does not laugh. He probably thinks he’s being generous.

Mike mostly hates him at this moment. “I mean it.”

“I believe you.”

Mike flips Harvey off, just for good measure, and because it makes him feel better.

*


Two days of negotiating with Harvey and getting nowhere later, Mike takes stock of the situation and decides he’s probably not going to win this round. This does not, under any circumstances, mean that he doesn’t have choices. He runs a load of laundry, writes a thank-you note, packs himself and Boo up, and takes the bus to see Gram. He’s in no condition to bike, even assuming his bike is where he left it, chained in his squatting space.

He cajoles the nurses at the front desk—who are relieved to see him—to bend the rules a little and keep Boo with them. It doesn’t take too much work, not once Boo works her magic with winding herself in and out of their legs. He gives her a wink and mouths, “good teamwork,” before making his way to see Gram.

He’s well out of the time period in which he would have been contagious, and if he’s not completely healed, he’s close enough. He knocks softly on her door and allows himself to wallow a little in the smile that stretches over her face when she looks up, seeing him. “Hi, Gram.”

“Get over here,” she says, and he obeys. The hug he gets out of it is warm and familiar and almost everything he needs.

When she pushes him back a little to survey the damage she makes a disapproving face, but soothes his hair back and just says, “It’s good to see you.”

“You too. Sorry I didn’t bring any treats.”

“I’m gonna be the fattest broad in here, the way you keep feeding me.”

Mike rolls his eyes. “Says the most glamorous woman in New York.”

She pats his cheek. “Sweet talker.”

Mike grins. “If I remember correctly, I was up last time we left off our gin rummy tournament.”

“Like hell you were, Mr. Perfect Memory.”

Mike laughs, and lets his grandmother school him at cards.

*


Mike sleeps in the pews of a church that night. It’s drafty, but heated more than where he would be sleeping otherwise. He misses the ambient temperature of Harvey’s, the pillow-top mattress and eight hundred count sheets. But he’s safe, and Boo’s with him, and he has Gram in his life. Things could be worse.

He drops Boo at their “place,” grabs his bike and makes his way into work before the sun comes up, making it on time despite having to stop to gasp for breath four or five times on the way in. Maxime takes one look at him and asks, “Are you sure you should be here?”

“Promise,” Mike manages to get out, and knows it doesn’t sound as convincing as it could. Maxime looks as doubtful as he can without outright writing it across his forehead, but he lets Mike get to his duties. At some point Mike finds himself with a bracing cup of English breakfast tea, honeyed up just right. He takes his pills and greets their first customers with a smile. It’s a busy morning.

There’s a new guy, the seasonal help. He’s also Haitian and Mike’s starting to think he might have beaten the odds getting this job. Reggie has some of the most expressive ink Mike has ever seen lining his arms and when Mike asks, Reggie grins and says, “My girl did that. She’s amazing, yeah?”

Mike blinks. “It’s making me consider a tattoo.”

After that, they’re fast friends. Also, Reggie’s Haitian Creole is about three hundred percent better than Mike’s, despite his concentrated efforts to learn, so they’re largely able to split customers by primary language, which makes business run infinitely smoother.

Mike’s helping with the post-breakfast/pre-lunch re-stock, grabbing the tray of fruit cake that people are buying like it might get them through the apocalypse, when the store bell rings. He tells Reggie, “I’m heading out there anyway, I got it.”

He smiles when he sees Rachel, but knows something is wrong the minute he sees her face. It takes him a second but he looks behind her, out the window, and sure enough, there’s Harvey, chatting with Ray, the both of them drinking coffee and acting like it’s not thirteen below outside. Rachel sounds miserable when she says, “I’m sorry.”

Mike waves his hand. “I know him, it’s okay. How’d he figure it out?”

“Evidently Donna’s suspected I knew for a while but was saving the information for when it was really needed.”

Mike knows better than to question how Donna knew. Honestly, Mike wouldn’t be surprised by scientific evidence that Donna has telepathic powers. Mike grabs Rachel a piece of the mango coffee cake she has a serious problem around and says, “Sit. Enjoy. I’m gonna go…talk.”

She takes the cake but something in her expression makes Mike ask, “What?”

“Are you really squatting?”

It occurs to Mike that Harvey got Rachel to cave by nothing more persuasive than telling her the truth. It’s almost as charming as it is humiliating and annoying. He cuts off a wince and says, “I can take care of myself, Rache. Enjoy the cake.”

Then he grabs his latest cup of tea and goes to deal with the real problem.

*


Mike nods at Ray and extends a hand. “Good to see you.”

“You too,” Ray says, taking the hand and squeezing. Then he says, “Later,” and gets back in the car.

“Now we’re making nice girls cry to get what we want?” Mike asks, looking at Rachel, who is studiously working on her cake.

There’s a second where Harvey takes his hand out of his coat pocket, as if to touch Mike. Then he slides it back inside. “Get in the car before you give yourself a relapse.”

“Yeah, I’m not getting in a vehicle which you control by proxy.”

“Or we could do this in the bakery,” Harvey suggests, all butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth.

“Or out here, since that’s your option.”

Harvey snaps, then, which is interesting, mostly because Mike isn’t expecting it. It’s not that he hasn’t seen Harvey snap before; he has, at Louis, during the Cameron debacle. It’s that Mike has never expected Harvey to snap over him, especially not now, when neither Harvey’s reputation nor job rely on Mike in any sense. Harvey’s words come fast and sharp and targeted. “Stop being proud to the point of stupidity, Mike. It’s going to end with you dead and your Gram fuck only knows where.”

Mike knows he should walk away. He doesn’t actually think Harvey will follow. This is as far as Harvey is willing to go, he suspects. So yes, he should just go back into the warmth and safety and isolation of the bakery. Instead he spits, “Stop acting like you know a fucking thing about it, Harvey.

And suddenly they’re back eight months earlier, Harvey earnest and straightforward and, “So tell me.”

But this isn’t a problem with Trevor, this isn’t something Harvey can fix with his suave certainty and sheer willpower. Mike hesitates, and probably would be able to hold out if Harvey’s gaze didn’t soften, if he didn’t say, “Mike, please.”

Fucking stupid magic words. Mike shakes his head, but he says, “I can’t be your project, Harvey. Not anymore. I can’t. Not even to have somewhere to sleep and know that Gram’s going to be okay. Maybe especially not for that.”

Harvey frowns, just slightly. “You’re not making any sense.”

Mike laughs, because he doesn’t know how else to respond, because there’s nothing else to do but cry and Mike’s scared he won’t be able to stop this time, because. He leans in and kisses Harvey. It’s cold and Mike knows his lips are chapped. It’s hesitant and aggressive all at once. It’s an apology. “I just can’t, Harvey. Not feeling the way I do. At the risk of being stupidly proud, and worse, melodramatic, it’ll kill me quicker than this fucking winter.”

Mike does his best to smile for Harvey, self-aware and sharp and full of irony. Then he does what he should have done ten minutes earlier, and goes back inside.

*


Harvey follows him. Oh, it takes a few minutes, but Mike’s just ground the beans for a fresh batch of the fair trade Ethiopian blend Modelaine favors when the shop bell rings and Harvey says, “That’s not a reason, that’s a challenge.”

“No,” Mike says. Nothing else, just that. Harvey will have to figure out in his own time that Mike is not available for his games, not something to win or lose, not any longer.

“Poor choice of words,” Harvey acknowledges. “But I believe I deserve a chance.”

Mike looks up from the order catalog where he’s keying in the necessary amounts of butter for next week’s shipment. “Really? Why is that?”

In the corner, at the table, Rachel chokes on a bite of cake. Mike pours a glass of water and goes to hand it to her, which is possibly a tactical error, because it gives Harvey time to consider. It’s worth it for the look of sympathy Rachel flashes him. He walks back to the order manifest and Harvey says, “Because I gave you one.”

“That’s the best you can do?” Mike looks at him. “We’re even, I believe, on that score.”

“Because you would have died of pneumonia if I hadn’t let you stay.”

“Vaguely coercive, so I suppose it has that—“

“Because I miss you. And I’m asking you to give me one.” He doesn’t even lower his voice to say it. He looks at Mike, straight at him, and if there’s a hint of vulnerability in his expression, there’s no uncertainty.

Mike hadn’t actually realized there was something Harvey could say that would make him consider letting Harvey have his way. Which, in hindsight, was foolish: of course Harvey would find that right thing, that crack, that possibility. Mike doesn’t want to just cave, though, doesn’t want to make it easy, so he counters, “Give me the loan.”

Harvey takes a quick breath, like he thinks he’s won this round. “For a certain collateral.”

This should be good, because Mike doesn’t own anything worth having. “Sexual favors?”

“Gauche.”

Mike shrugs. He’s been called worse things.

“You taking the guest room in Donna’s place.” And, interestingly, it’s at this point that the uncertainty any normal human being would have had throughout this conversation creeps in.

“Donna—“

“Said it would be fine until you could get back on your feet.” Harvey’s words come out quickly, too quickly, as though he’s rehearsed them.

“No she didn’t.”

“There were layers to the conversation,” Harvey admits. “But she really did offer.”

Mike doesn’t understand what he’s done so wrong in his life that he’s being tempted like this; heat and a bed and conversation and a chance with Harvey. He mutters to himself, “If it looks too good to be true and smells too good—“

“Mike.” Harvey has both his hands on the counter now, in a weird imitation of supplication.

“What about Boo?”

“Donna has a cat. Themis is the meanest feline-seeming creature I have yet to encounter, so Boo’s gonna have to establish some territory and stick to it, but Donna won’t mind.”

The last time Mike took a leap like this it was Harvey offering it. Mike doesn’t know that he can handle things falling apart so grandly again, once was really more than enough. He also doesn’t know that he can do this one his own anymore. “I’m giving this a thirty day trial period.”

Harvey smiles then, settling back in his own skin, self-assured and annoyingly confident. “Plenty of time.”

*


Harvey leaves Donna’s address and a key with Mike before buying two dozen love cookies—or, as Mike calls them, Cinnamon Perfection—collecting Rachel, and heading out. Rachel calls, “Bye,” as they leave.

Mike texts her a couple of seconds later. “You’re forgiven. This time.”

After work he takes his time biking back to his “quarters.” The air stings in his throat, his lungs, and he has to stop over and over just to breathe, but for once he feels like he’s actually got somewhere to go, like he wants to get there.

He packs his stuff and Boo onto the bike and makes his way to Donna’s. The sun is going down by the time he gets there. He has to show ID at the desk and the guard makes him sign a bunch of papers, but evidently Donna mentioned he’d be showing up, because they set him up with a key card that will allow him to bypass them on a regular basis.

He lets himself into the apartment and is careful not to touch anything. Nonetheless, a Persian mix with its tail missing hisses at the two of them. Boo climbs atop Mike’s head. Mike decides to worry about whether his cat will get eaten while he’s not looking at a later date.

He finds the guest room easily enough. There’s a chest of drawers, so Mike moves his clothes into them, folding the duffel and placing it on the high shelf in the small closet that is also his. He places the few books he’s kept on the windowsill. It’s not much, but for the first time since leaving his apartment, it feels like something he might be allowed to call home.

He leaves Boo closed in his room and goes downstairs to ask the guards where the nearest market is. There’s a bodega a block over, so Mike goes and grabs ingredients for a simple dinner and an arrangement of flowers that’s just outside-the-box enough for Donna to appreciate it. He’s halfway through cooking when he hears her come in and calls, “Hi, Donna.”

She pads to the kitchen, evidently having taken her heels off once inside the door and says, “Hello.”

He turns to her and finds himself unable to speak, unable to just say thank you, mostly because she’s looking at him with nothing but a thin veneer of apathy over her hurt. Finally, he finds it in himself to say, “I’m sorry. I wanted to give him back to you without complications.”

“You’re an idiot,” she tells him.

He nods. She crosses her arms over her chest and says, “Smells good.”

Understanding forgiveness in all its forms, Mike smiles. “Pour yourself a glass of wine and put your feet up.”

*


Between the shop and the catering business, Mike starts pulling eighty hour weeks leading up to Christmas, slipping out to see Gram when he can. He cleans the apartment every moment he gets as a sign of appreciation, and occasionally catches glimpses of Masterpiece Melodrama otherwise known as Boo-and-Themis-figure-out-who’s-alpha.

Rachel is the only person he sees regularly, as she still makes it a point to stop in at the bakery once a week and eat a full piece of cake while catching him up. He tells her, “After the holidays, we should try meeting somewhere where we can both sit down while chatting.”

She grins. “I was starting to think I was going to have to knock you out and drag you along to get that to happen.”

“You never even brought up the idea of getting together as friends.”

She rolls her eyes. “This might have escaped your notice, but you’re kinda prickly, Mike Ross.”

He snorts. “Oh, yeah? You wanna be the pot or the kettle today?”

She takes a sip of her tea and tells him primly, “Kettle, please.”

Christmas Eve arrives without Mike noticing and he resigns himself to giving baked goods as presents, partially because loan or no, he’s still not exactly swimming in it, and partially because he’s completely forgotten to shop in the midst of everything.

He spends a couple of hours Christmas Eve at the home before helping out with a catering event and making his way back to Donna’s to crash for a little bit before staffing another catering event for Christmas Day, and making sure to visit Gram’s for an hour or so. By the time he gets back to the apartment it’s dark out and he’s exhausted, still not having completely recovered from the illness.

He hears noise coming from the kitchen and goes to say hi and goodnight to Donna before crashing. Donna, however, is not in the kitchen. Harvey is. Harvey is, in fact, cooking in the kitchen—Boo crouched on his right shoulder—and still managing to look like he has everything in hand and Is The Boss, Thank You Very Much. Mike’s life is so utterly annoying sometimes.

“My cat is on your shoulder.”

“Observant, Ross.” Harvey distractedly pets said cat.

“You don’t like cats.”

“No, I don’t like Themis. Nobody but Donna likes Themis.”

“In fairness, Themis doesn’t like anybody but Donna.”

Harvey nods. “It is a mutually agreeable situation.”

“Harvey?”

“Mike?”

“Are you cooking in Donna’s kitchen without Donna here for a reason?”

“It’s Christmas,” Harvey says, like that makes any sort of sense.

“Technically, not really.”

“Technicalities are for work, not play. You missed most of it working and my nearest family member is in Afghanistan, so I thought we’d make a go of it.” Harvey concentrates suspiciously hard on whatever he’s got on the stove as he says, “If that’s not interesting to you, we could just be having a date.”

There are so many things going on at once, Mike’s brain starts talking over itself. Finally, he says, “Christmas late is better than Christmas never.”

Harvey’s frame relaxes a quarter of an inch. Mike doesn’t smirk, but it’s a close thing. Instead he asks, “Do we have libations?”

“Wine for now, eggnog for later.”

“I like your style, Specter.”

Harvey glances at Mike over his shoulder with a come-hither expression. “I’ve noticed.”

*


To Mike’s delight, Harvey has not made anything fancy, just old-fashioned Christmas foods: honey-roasted ham, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. It’s all fresh and made with unreasonably high-end ingredients, but it’s simple comfort food. For dessert there are gingerbread cookies, just a tad spicy and oh-so-chewy. The eggnog is strong, but Mike actually has the next day off, so he lets himself have a cup.

Harvey is charming as they eat, too charming. Mike feels like a desired client, so he throws out, “Afghanistan?” just to get something real out of Harvey, to throw him off whatever his game is.

Harvey’s expression shutters for a moment, but then he takes a breath. “My brother. Army engineer officer. He has another six months on this tour.”

“Didn’t know you had a brother.” It makes Mike wonder how many other things he doesn’t know, how many things he doesn’t even know to ask, if Harvey will ever let him see where the questions lie.

A smile plays at the corner of Harvey’s lips. “We’re very different.” Ruefully, “You’d like Miles.”

Knowing that if Harvey is serious about this, about having Mike, that Mike has a right to push, Mike still feels as if he should give something back. “I always wanted a sibling.”

“They have their uses,” Harvey says, cool, casual, but Mike has some ability to read between Harvey’s lines, scant though it may be.

“Merry Christmas,” Mike says softly.

Harvey narrows his eyes. Mike shrugs. “Thanks. I haven’t had a Christmas dinner that didn’t involve creamed corn or cranberry Jell-o in…well, it’s been a while.”

“Could be worse,” Harvey tells him, although there’s something soft in his expression as he says it.

“Oh?” Mike plays along.

“Donna’s family is of good German stock and they believe heavily in doing weird things to potatoes at this time of year. Half of Jessica’s family is British, and nobody knows how to ruin Christmas food like the British.”

Mike grins. “I had a Christmas pudding once. It wasn’t the worst thing ever.”

“Ringing endorsement, kid.”

Mike laughs. It feels good to just be amused, just have a moment where he can sit back and be warm and not worry about Gram and feel full and breathe and have company he enjoys. He’s taken aback by the kiss Harvey leans into give him, but not so much so that he can’t kiss back, can’t follow Harvey’s mouth a little when Harvey pulls away. Mike tilts his head.

Harvey’s looking at him in a way that’s distantly familiar, almost the way Harvey concentrated on him that day of the interview, like he’s something Harvey’s never seen before, something Harvey can puzzle out if he just works hard enough. After a moment, Harvey murmurs, “I got you a present.”

“When I say you shouldn’t have, I really mean that.”

“I know,” Harvey responds. It’s clear Harvey would have a hard time caring less. He hands Mike a card.

Mike rolls his eyes, but opens it anyway. There’s a picture of a cat with a Christmas bell around its neck on the front. Inside, Harvey has written in the blank expanse, “Best stuffed crust in NY, so I’m told.” There’s a gift card for a pizza place not too far from Sikre inside.

Mike closes the card and looks at the cat for a minute or so, thinking. Harvey asks, “Mike?”

“That’s…surprisingly thoughtful and useful.”

“I suppose this is morbid curiosity speaking, but if you think I’m such an asshole, then why am I even here? What the hell was the whole kiss in front of Sikre? Why make such a big deal about me helping you out? Or is it just that you want to sleep with me? Because it’s not as if I’d turn you down.” This last is said sharply enough that Mike feels it, cold like steel.

“You are here,” Mike says as slowly and as calmly as he knows how, “because of times like this, when you make cranberry sauce because it’s plain and I’ll like it. Or you buy two dozen cookies from my business, because Donna likes cinnamon treats. Or you tell me things about yourself that nobody knows. You’re here because you let me see the parts of you that are more interesting than your stupid expensive ties and your annoyingly white teeth. You’re here because I don’t want to sleep with you, not when that’s what everyone else gets to do.”

“Everyone else,” Harvey says tightly.

Mike stands his ground. Harvey knows damn well what he means. And if they’re going to do this, if this is going to work, Harvey can’t win every fight.

Finally, Harvey says, “I didn’t hire another associate.”

It’s so out of left field that Mike blinks. “What?”

“Jessica didn’t mention it at first, and then she mentioned it all the time, and threatened and even punished me with pro bonos, but I just-- Won. And I don’t, with her.”

Mike has never heard Harvey admit defeat. The closest he came was in the Danner case, and even then, defeat had looked something like fierce determination. But Mike thinks about how Harvey hadn’t followed him that day at the office, had stayed with Jessica, had spent months looking for him. And now, evidently, he’s been willing to risk his job over something as relatively stupid as having Mike be his only associate. Mike swallows. “Is Donna gonna kill us if we have sex at her place?”

“Absolutely.”

“Are you sober enough to drive?”

Harvey waves a hand airily. “We can get a cab.”

“I’m just-- I’m gonna put on my shoes.”

Harvey nods his head in approval. “Good idea.”

*


Mike has been undressed by other people before. It’s not something that happens to him every day, but Jenny did it once or twice, and he had a girlfriend in his post-college dropout years who enjoyed that part of getting down to business. Harvey makes him think the act needs to be redefined. With other people it’s always been about the process, maybe a little about the discovery involved. With Harvey it’s about control and service and knowledge all at once and Mike is painfully hard by the time Harvey has only pulled Mike’s hoodie over his head.

Harvey uses his mouth during sex with all the finesse he does in the courtroom, just more actual connection. Mike tries to reciprocate, to give back, until he catches a flash of Harvey’s eyes and realizes that isn’t what Harvey wants at all. Harvey wants him to take.

Which is all well and good until Harvey is completely naked as well, sleek and warm and perfect the way Mike has always imagined. Then there’s nothing that can stop Mike from exploring a little bit. Harvey compromises, settling them into a sixty-nine loop.

Mike laughs around Harvey’s cock when it occurs to him that Harvey, even in this, wants to win. He laughs, and then he lets Harvey have his way. There are times when he doesn’t mind so very much.

*


Mike awakens to mid-day sun and an empty bed, but there’s a note on Harvey’s pillow. It says, “Some of us have to work, sleepyhead. There’s food in the fridge.”

Mike closes his eyes and just lays there for a bit. Boo is curled up against his midsection. They’d taken her last night so that she wouldn’t be eaten while they were busy having carnal relations. Mike had informed Harvey he wouldn’t be able to survive the guilt, and Harvey had decided he had a vested interest in Mike’s survival.

He’s tired from the emotions of last night, from the non-stop work of the season, from the fact that his body is still recovering from pneumonia, from starvation. For the first time in a long time, though, maybe even before Pearson Hardman, he doesn’t feel like he’s tearing himself from bed when he finally rolls out and makes his way to the shower.

When he’s dressed, made the bed, and eaten some lunch, Mike collects Boo and heads back to Donna’s. He drops the cat off then bikes over to see Gram. It’s only a little after five when he gets out but there’s a text on his phone from Harvey. “You’re not where I left you.”

Mike rolls his eyes and calls Harvey. “Went to see Gram. And since when do you ever get to your place at five?”

“Since I thought I might grab an early dinner with you before I have to go to a cocktail function.”

Mike honestly doesn’t know whether to be touched or annoyed. “Okay, so, unlike when I was contractually bound to follow your orders and therefore had to develop a sixth sense around your desires, now you’re actually going to have to use your words when you want to have a date.”

“Yes, foolish of me to presume that you might want to spend your day off inside, rather than biking around the city in slushy conditions with a wind chill of negative fourteen.”

“Puts hair on your chest.”

“That, Michael Ross, is a lost cause.”

“You weren’t complaining last night.”

“Wow, mature.”

“If you want maturity, may I suggest someone not eight years your junior?”

“All the best trophy wives are in their twenties.”

“You say the sweetest things.”

“I’ll compound it by picking you and your bike up and buying us all burgers.”

“My bike could use the protein.”

“Tell me about it. Skin and bones, that thing.”

And Mike may not have a sixth sense for when Harvey is going to want him, exactly, but he can still hear the things Harvey doesn’t say just fine. “See you in a bit.”

*


Donna and Mike don’t generally catch each other, both of them busy with their own lives, but there are nights when Mike will take home the bakery’s books and Donna will happen to have an evening at home, curled on the couch with Themis, the two of them quietly at ease with each other. It’s one of these evenings, a couple of nights before New Year’s, when Donna says into the silence, “Since this is terribly cliché, I presume you’re well aware that I will destroy everything dear to you and let you live with the pain if you hurt him?”

Mike looks up from the accounts he’s balancing and tells her quite solemnly, “I would expect nothing less.”

Her mouth twists a bit into something that is not precisely a smile. “Where’s that kid who was always scared of me?”

“Believe me, Donna, I have the good sense to consistently find you terrifying.” He starts to go back to what he was doing.

She stops him with a simple, “He—he’s never going to say this. So I am, but just this once. When we couldn’t find you? Mike, after the first month I had to go over to his place a couple of nights out of every week and make sure he so much as pretended to get into bed. I spiked his scotch at one point. If you decide it’s over – I get that you have that right, that he doesn’t possess you – but you can’t do that again. You cannot.”

“I was trying to keep him safe.”

“He doesn’t need a keeper.”

“And yet, he needs you.”

Donna sucks in a breath, but then smiles. Even so, she says, “Promise. Promise me.”

Possibly because he owes her that much, or possibly just because she’s right, Mike says, “I promise, Donna. No disappearing this time.”

She stares at him, gaze thoughtful, and mutters, “I should make you sign something,” but she lets it go.

When he gets up to head into his bedroom, he drops a kiss on her head and says, “Sweet dreams,” and she allows both, so Mike knows she believes him.

*


Mike bikes to Harvey’s place when he gets off work in the afternoon hours of New Year’s Eve. He’s got a lot on his mind. Maxime and Modelaine have approached him about being on point for expansion of the bakery into another location up near Columbia. Mike will be the one to help choose the location, put it together, and run it when everything is in place. It’s a big offer, one that excites him with its prospects in a way nothing has professionally since leaving the firm.

He doesn’t expect Harvey to be home, doesn’t actually expect Harvey to be back before midnight, but Mike finds himself wanting to be there when the clock strikes twelve. Harvey’s given him the key via Donna, so he lets himself in and starts to consider the issue of dinner.

He’s tucked himself into the couch, reading Harvey’s copy of Beaumont’s Preachin’ the Blues, when he hears the elevator. He glances over his shoulder to see Harvey stepping off. Mike frowns. “Don’t you have a party or something to go to?”

“Nice to see you, too.”

Mike goes up onto his knees on the couch as Harvey comes over and leans into the kiss Harvey takes for himself. Mike says, “Forgive me for assuming you would need to be The Great Harvey Specter on New Year’s, as much as any other night.”

“I told Jessica I was bringing you to anything I had to wear a tux to, and she gave me the night off.”

Mike blinks. “You—you didn’t.”

Harvey smiles, but it’s neither his happy smile nor his seductive one. It’s more complex and more revealing. “She’s my oldest friend, Mike. I did.”

“Harvey—“

Harvey shakes his head, once, cutting Mike off. “She may not want you risking her firm’s reputation, but she doesn’t think you’re bad for me, as a person.”

Mike thinks back to what Donna said about Harvey in the months that Mike had been—to their knowledge—missing. He wonders if Jessica came over, put Harvey into bed, cursed Mike for having come into their perfectly ordered world and destroying what she had built up. “Or maybe she’s just afraid to make you choose.”

“Jessica is inured to fear. I don’t think she actually experiences it, or has the part of her brain that can.”

“You know that’s not true.

“I know she knows I wouldn’t walk out on her.” Harvey’s words are just a little bitter, a little resigned. They are also even, stable.

“You almost did. You would have, that day, if I’d let you get a word in edge-wise.”

Harvey’s eyes widen momentarily. “Professionally, maybe, but—“

“Harvey, c’mon. We both know that for the two of you, those lines are so blurred they’re more like eraser marks at this point.”

Harvey backs away a bit, asking, “Why does it matter? So long as you win, it shouldn’t—“

“Because she’s your oldest friend.”

Harvey makes what, for him, is a face. “This isn’t some Trevor-redux.”

“No, both of you deserve better,” Mike agrees.

Harvey narrows his eyes at that. Mike shrugs. Harvey rolls his eyes. “All right, I’ll talk with her. But not tonight. Tonight, I have off, and we’re going to use the reservations I made at Le Cirque, so I can watch you be hilariously impressed and come back here and,” Harvey smiles, slow and suggestive, “ring in the new year.”

“I didn’t bring anything to wear to a nice restaurant.”

Harvey walks away. “It’s cute how you forget that I’m always ahead of you.”

*


Mike cannot say if it means something that the first time he wakes in Harvey’s bed with Harvey still next to him is on the morning of January first. It feels like it should, but he’s not going to say that aloud.

Outside, snow is falling. Not nearly enough to make the city appear clean or white, and Mike is glad for that. He always finds that particular illusion a little eerie.

He stretches a little, wincing slightly at the ache of his muscles. Harvey is an athletic little fuck in bed. Mike really hopes the smile on his face isn’t as satisfied as it feels.

Harvey rolls over, still asleep, pinning Mike just a little. Mike could escape should he really want to. As it is, he’s got nowhere to go. The bakery is closed, as is the firm. Later, maybe the two of them will work a little, sitting at Harvey’s breakfast counter, with the lazy cadence of a day more off than on.

For now, he sinks further into the bed, closes his eyes, and thinks, yeah, happy New Year.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile