sparsenicjade
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AN: 1) I have scant knowledge of how vet clinics work, nor am I certain board fraud is a felony, although I highly suspect it is. Everything in this story should be taken with a grain of salt; 2) This was written for the to a recipient's specifications: I was unable to work with all of zir's requests, but I hope this hit enough of them to please zie; 3) I wish to thank the mods for EVERYTHING; 4) My beta, , put in a LOT of hours on this fic and made it one million times better, so I want her to know how awesome I think she is.

***



“It’s your turn,” Donna said, and Harvey could tell from the tone of her voice that there was no arguing.

He did anyway. “It’s been my turn the last three times and you’ve managed to take care of the problem.”

“And Louis probably wouldn’t have noticed if the last one I shuffled off to him hadn’t locked him in the pharmaceutical refrigeration unit. Tragically for him, I released my control over the mortals in this facility for about an hour that day.”

Harvey knew he shouldn’t smile. Jessica had been on a tear about Louis suing the clinic under a vicarious liability theory—totally bogus, the school wasn’t liable for court-assigned persons—for a week afterward. Donna had that look in her eyes, though, the one that said she would smile if it weren’t beneath her, so he did.

She did not smile in return. Instead, she sharpened her voice. “So. Your turn.”

Harvey had just begun running through the possible ways to bribe Donna or otherwise cajole his way out the situation when she said, “Relax. This one’s mostly grown and, as far as I can tell, not a psychopath in the making.”

Harvey would never, ever understand why juveniles with animal cruelty misdemeanors under their belts were sent to perform community service at a vet clinic. Even presuming there wasn’t good psychological evidence that that sort of behavior lead to serial killing, it just seemed like letting a crack-addict free in a crack storage house.

“What’d it do?”

Donna did smile at that, sharp and quick. “He took a Vet Board test for a candidate.”

Harvey almost blinked. If he were the type to let surprise show, he might have. “That’s…new. Is he a vet?”

“According to his file, his education goes up through the vaunted end of Bumfuck High.”

Harvey did raise an eyebrow at that. “What’s the sentence?”

“Four hundred hours.” Donna dropped this lightly, as though it was nothing out of the ordinary.

Harvey stilled for a second, frowning. “I thought you said he didn’t kill anyone.”

“I think the judge has pets.”

Harvey sighed. “Four hundred hours.”

“That’s a lot of biohazard waste to clean up,” Donna said with mock empathy.

“Get out of here; I have a job to be doing.”

“One which is not half as important as mine.” Donna strode out, her heels clicking, loud and efficient.

*


Mike’s public defender was clearly overworked and had a somewhat questionable strategy for handling Mike’s case, so he’d fired him and dealt with the issue pro se. Mike thought he had done pretty well for himself, considering he’d never previously cracked a law book. He’d plea bargained out of the fine and, okay, yeah, he probably could have gotten fewer community service hours, but despite the problems it would cause, he didn’t really mind spending time at the vet clinic.

When Mike had gotten caught—ratted on by someone who’d waffled and then decided against using his services, really—he’d tried to figure out a way to keep Gram in the home. It hadn’t been a fantastic care facility, by any means, but the caretakers were extra good to her and it had provided 24/7 care. After running through his options a few hundred times, though, he’d come to the conclusion he needed to bring her home and take care of her himself.

The school’s bookstore had fired him when he’d been charged, which wasn’t surprising. Thankfully, his manager had squeezed his shoulder, and the next thing Mike knew, he had an interview with the local Barnes & Noble.

He’d asked the guy interviewing him, “My old boss mentioned the fraud charge, right?”

The interviewer had shrugged. “It wasn’t an assault charge and we’re starting you at minimum wage, anyway. We’ve hired people with worse recommendations at more.”

Mike had been making nearly twice minimum wage at the school, but he also hadn’t had a criminal verdict entered against him at that point. He’d nodded and held out his hand. “I appreciate this.”

His first day of community service, he woke up at five to give Gram her meds and make some breakfast for her. He’d made food for the rest of the day the night before after closing the bookstore, so he showed her where everything was and reminded her to call if there were any problems whatsoever. If he could get back between the service hours and work he would, but he wasn’t sure how likely that was to happen.

Traffic in an A&M university town was never heavy, but it was non-existent at six, which meant Mike didn’t have to be as careful when biking, and he was able to make it into the clinic early. He chained his bike up out front and went inside. There was an unreasonably attractive woman sitting at the front desk, of course, because nothing said “date material” like, hey, I’ve recently broken the law…and gotten caught.

He took a breath and said, “Good morning, I’m Mike Ross.”

“Ah, our most recent delinquent,” she said without looking away from her computer.

“Uh,” Mike wittily responded, given that he was twenty-six.

She glanced up then and said, “Or just a full-blown criminal. Excellent. I’m Rachel, the night manager. You’ll probably deal mostly with Donna, the day manager. You’re Dr. Specter’s gopher. He’s not in yet, so you’re cleaning kennels until he gets in.”

“Okay.”

“You’re surprisingly lacking in sulleness,” she commented, standing.

Mike shrugged. “I like animals.”

“Nobody likes their crap.”

“I’ve been subjected to worse.”

Her eyes narrowed and for the first time since he’d walked in, it seemed as if she was actually seeing him. Mike was used to that. He was easy to miss or underestimate or just plain ignore. Sometimes it worked to his advantage. Other times, well, not as much. After a second she said, “Huh.”

Then she started walking down the hall and Mike rushed to catch up with her.

*


Harvey rolled into the clinic at around eight with coffee for himself and Donna. She took her cup and said, “Mike the Test-Taking Felon got here early, according to Rachel.”

“And we’re sure he didn’t get someone to do the community service for him?” Because Harvey had been working at the clinic for the better part of ten years and had yet to see someone assigned to it bother to show up early– or even on time, for the most part.

Donna rolled her eyes and turned back to what she was working on. “He’s cleaning the kennels in four. He made three positively sparkle, so I just sent him on.”

Harvey sipped at his coffee and frowned. As a general rule, things that were too good to be true were, and a community service assignee actually being of some use and no annoyance definitely fell on that list. He made his way to three and peeked inside. Sure enough, the room even smelled pleasant, which was actually weird, given that it was full of cats, some of whom had abcesses.

Harvey did a quick walk through the room, checking on each of the patients, making sure they were all settled. Most blinked lazily at him, or slept through his perusal. A few of the healthier, more extroverted cats batted playfully at his hand and he took a couple of seconds to give them some attention.

He left then, going into four, where, if he were a little bit less Harvey Specter, he would probably have dropped his coffee. Because there, smack in the middle of the three walls lined with metal cages in the kennel room, Mike the Test-Taking Felon was rubbing the belly of the pit bull-chow rescue who, so far, had proven too dangerous for anything other than termination. Some flippant kid on the team that had rescued her and the other dogs she’d arrived with had named her Cupcake, and it had stuck. The only reason she was still alive was because Jessica had a secret soft spot for anything that had been used as bait, so those rescues got second and third and sometimes even fourth chances. Jessica took home more than her fair share of the ones that could be saved, but even so, most could not.

Mike looked up at the sound of the door and the dog bared her teeth but didn’t move or rush Harvey or really do much of anything close to truly aggressive. For a second, his expression slid into one that Harvey knew from the nights when he went to bars. Then Mike’s facial features shifted to neutral so quickly Harvey wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t imagined that second of oh-yes-you’ll-do-very-well.

Mike spoke up, “Sorry, I know I’m supposed to be cleaning, but she was having a nightmare, and I just thought—“

Harvey had to ignore the answering rush of interest that filled him at the sight of Mike’s too-blue eyes, the weird mix of puppy-love over what most people would consider a rabid mutt and intelligence evident in them. Instead, he drawled, “You are literate, right? I mean, given your crimes I’m assuming.”

Mike actually laughed. “The sign on her cage?”

“The one that says that we’ve had to stitch up three different techs and not to put your hands anywhere near the bars?”

“Oh, I didn’t, I just hummed. I liked to be woken up like that when I was a kid, after—“ Mike’s eyes slid to the side for a second and then he shook himself. “Well, I figured if nothing else, it would wake her up.”

“And then she opened the lock on her cage and came out to join you?”

“Actually she kept reaching out her paw the way my neighbor’s dog used to when he wanted to be pet.” Mike shrugged. “I figured if I got bitten it was my own fault. I signed a regular crap-ton of liability forms before the night manager would even let me past the waiting area. Anyway, I promise I’ll get back to cleaning in a second; she’s just really sweet and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to spend time with a pup.”

The pup in question was a severely underweight seventy-three pounds of vicious. Harvey was beginning to be suspect Mike caught his ride to and from the clinic on a very sparkly, very personal short bus. “You take your time with that.”

Mike grinned, seeming not to hear the what is your damage in Harvey’s tone. “Hey, thanks. That’s really decent of you. I’m Mike.”

“Dr. Specter,” Harvey said, mostly because it was hard to make fun of someone when he didn’t seem to realize he was being mocked.

“The guy with my gopher leash.” Mike nodded. “Nice to meet you.”

Harvey wasn’t sure he could say the same, but two things were certain: 1) Jessica was going to be over the moon about the rescue’s progress, and 2) things were about to get a fuck of a lot more interesting around this place.

*


Mike left the clinic a few minutes past his clocking-out time. He biked home to check on Gram, who was holding her own for the moment, then went straight on to work, where he stayed until closing. When he made it home afterward, Gram was already asleep, but he could tell she’d managed to make the food he’d prepared for her. He put together meals for her for the next day, making sure breakfast had enough protein and lunch and dinner enough good fats. He had a list from the doctors of everything she needed and a couple of books on how to appropriately fulfill nutritional needs. When he was done, he threw together a peanut butter sandwich and ate it slowly with a cup of milk, then crashed. He would need to be back at the clinic in seven hours and it was a good half hour’s bike ride even at his top speed. Gram needed about forty-five minutes of help in the morning. If he fell right asleep, he could get a little over five hours.

He was asleep before his head hit the pillow and through the better part of the cold shower he used to kickstart his morning; cheaper than a hot shower, and superior for waking a guy up. He had his morning coffee while making sure Gram ate breakfast and took her pills. He checked to make sure the television and dvd remotes were easily accessible, that she had fresh Sudoku puzzles and crosswords to play, and that her yarn basket was full up in case she wanted to knit. Then he kissed her goodbye and made his way to the clinic.

The night manager was out front, getting into her car when he was locking his bike, so he waved hello to her. She smiled back like she thought he was a little touched. Mike suspected it was because the clinic wasn’t particularly within easy biking distance of, well, anything.

The day manager, Donna, was already at the desk. Mike said, “’Morning. Can I drop by four and see how Cupcake’s doing before I do whatever it is you need?”

Mike saw the my-aren’t-you…special expression on Donna’s face, and he’d figured out that Cupcake didn’t precisely play nice around others, but he felt certain if he’d been ill-used in fighting arenas and then given a name that was clearly a joke, he’d be pretty pissed, too. Donna said, “While you’re at it, go ahead and feed the patients in four.”

“Yeah, just tell me what I need to do.”

Donna tilted her head. “The judge didn’t really know what he was doing when he sentenced you, huh? You enjoy this way too much.”

“She, and I think she figured seeing the animals I was endangering by my actions would be punishment enough.”

“Is it?”

Mike worked to keep his expression blank. “I knew the consequences of my actions before I took the tests.”

Donna stared at him. Her look wasn’t judgmental but it was slightly mystified. “You don’t seem entirely lacking in a conscience.”

“Looks can be deceiving,” he quipped.

“And knowing part of a story can be infinitely more dangerous than knowing none of it,” she responded, busy straightening the inbox file on her desk. It was already quite neat.

He bowed his head for a second. “Touché.”

“C’mon. I’ll show you where the food is. After that, there’s some kennels that need cleaning.”

“Imagine that,” Mike said wryly. Donna snickered.

*


As a general rule, Harvey was disinclined to work with other people. Jessica and Donna were both exceptions that proved said rule. Jessica was the foremost expert on domesticated animal epidemiology in the country, and Donna was Donna. It wasn’t as if he made exceptions for just anyone.

Mike the Test-Taking Felon was nowhere near the list of people acceptable for Harvey to work with. If they were planets, Mike the Test-Taking Felon would not reside in the same galaxy as Harvey’s list. Which was why, even knowing Mike had to have pretty extensive book knowledge of veterinary medicine, given his crimes, it was something of a surprise when Mike asked, “Has Carlotta been checked for heartworms?”

Carlotta was a three year-old Maine coon mix who had been admitted last night. Harvey started to dismiss the question out of hand when he stopped. “She’s in congestive heart failure.”

“Right, I—“

“Why do you think it’s heartworm?”

“Lack of response to the Enalapril.”

“There could be—“

“A million reasons for that, I know, but, call it an instinct. What would it hurt to try a course of Ibermectin?”

It wouldn’t, which Mike obviously knew. Harvey gave him a look. “An instinct.”

“I recognize that you have less than no reason to trust me, but I really am pretty good at animals, in general. I taught myself everything I could. I can recite Merck, Plum and Coté to you in the area of six different species front to back. And explain to you what everything means. To wit, I’m not pulling this out of my ass.”

Harvey sat still for a moment before reaching over his shoulder and grabbing his copy of Merck and flipping to a random page. “Antibody-mediated cytotoxic reactions, go.”

“Type II reactions occur when an antibody binds to an antigen present on the surface of the cell. This antibody-antigen complex then can activate the complement pathway, resulting in cell lysis or—“

“Okay,” Harvey said slowly, seeming to actually notice Mike for the first time since they’d met.

“Okay you believe me, or okay you’ll try the Ibermectin?”

“You’re kind of a pushy little shit for someone undergoing court disciplinary measures,” Harvey pointed out, but his tone was absent-minded, as though he was busy thinking.

“Yeah, it’s a problem,” Mike said, seemingly unconcerned. “She’s a sweet cat.”

Annoyingly, Harvey agreed. Cats were something of a weak spot for him, not that anyone was allowed to be privy to that information, or bring it up. “Okay, but if the Ibermectin doesn’t work, you’re paying for it.”

Mike stilled for a second, but then nodded. “Fair.”

Harvey stood up. He had medicine to administer.

*


Carlotta made it, which was a relief not only because Mike really liked her, but because Mike was annoyingly invested in Dr. Specter not thinking Mike was an idiot, and because he didn’t have the money to pay for the meds. If he couldn’t get an advance on his paycheck from the bookstore, he wasn’t going to make rent this month. He was pretty sure his landlord would work with him—he’d lived there for the better part of three years now and had been a decently exemplary tenant—but he didn’t particularly want to find out.

Mike’s correct diagnosis really did seem to have convinced Dr. Specter Mike wasn’t going to kill something while nobody was looking. In fact, on occasion the doctor would grab Mike from whatever storeroom he was restocking, or data he was entering, or kennel he was cleaning and sit him down in a consult room during a patient’s initial examination. Specter was pretty incredible to watch in action. Now that Mike had seen it, actually, he was surprised he’d managed to notice something the doctor hadn’t.

Watching Specter, in general, was more of a treat than Mike would have preferred. Specter was too fucking smooth by half to actually exist in real life, except there he was every day, doing so. Mike let himself watch, because he knew his limits, but he did not and would not give into the annoying, incessant desire to bare his damn throat every time Specter gave him an order. Metaphorically, Mike had done that with Trevor all the time, so he knew the kind of trouble it could get him into. He was okay with the fact that he liked being ordered around, had read enough psychology texts to know it wasn’t indicative of mental illness or defect or deviance. He wasn’t okay with giving that power over to just anyone.

Mike was scrubbing the break room one day when the door opened. Mike was halfway behind the fridge and didn’t really feel the need to check and see who’d entered. When he pulled himself free and was straightening up, trying to finger-brush the dust bunnies out of his hair, the other person said, “So you’re Mike the Test-Taking Felon.”

“I prefer Ross, but whatever, really.” Even if Mike had been inclined to argue, the woman looking at him was wearing shoes she could easily kill him with and looked as though she wouldn’t hesitate.

“What’s got my associate head of Domestics so entranced by you, Ross?”

My associate head of Domestics? “You’re Dr. Pearson.”

“Not an answer to my question.”

Mike blinked. He really had no idea, and honestly, he thought she should be asking Specter. “I think it’s mostly amusement. I’m something different.”

She looked suspicious for a second and then sighed quietly. “He’s more trouble than he’s worth.”

Mike raised an eyebrow. He’d only been here a couple of weeks, but he doubted that was true. “He’s brilliant.”

“He seems to think the same of you.”

“Really?” Mike didn’t mean to ask that, didn’t mean to even react, but given that Specter had spent the overwhelming majority of their time together razzing Mike over his legal missteps, the reveal came as something of a surprise. Mike studiously ignored the way his heart beat a little faster in the wake of learning Specter thought of him much at all outside their time together, let alone positively. Mike was less than amused by his sudden regression to thirteen years old.

At the question, though, Dr. Pearson smiled. It wasn’t precisely friendly, but it wasn’t overtly hostile either. “You can let him know I told you that.”

“Whatever kinky thing the two of you’ve got—“

Dr. Pearson laughed. “This how you treat all your court-ordered community service supervisors?”

“Still getting used to the whole thing,” Mike admitted, aware he probably shouldn’t have gone there.

“Oh yeah. Harvey deserves you,” she said, then turned on her very shiny black heels and click-clacked her way out of the break room. For the first time, Mike wondered if maybe he should have begged for a jail sentence.

*


Harvey had had good students before. Admittedly, bad ones came a lot more frequently and were generally more memorable by sheer dint of the way the brain worked, but he’d had them. None of them held a candle to Mike, which was both interesting and different and kind of depressing, all told.

Mike was early every single morning, according to Donna, so Harvey knew if he came in at the break of dawn he’d catch Mike before he got started on all the crap jobs nobody else wanted. He bothered to do so on a Thursday, stopping first for coffee and deciding to grab a second one. He hadn’t ever seen Mike drinking coffee, or consuming anything, for that matter, but worst came to worst he’d have a second coffee for himself.

Mike was in with Cupcake, who was evidently his first stop every morning. The dog still wasn’t letting anyone else near her. Harvey was pretty sure they were going to have to put her down if Mike wasn’t willing to adopt her, but he hadn’t brought it up because something told him he didn’t want to see Mike’s expression when Harvey delivered the news. Harvey walked in to the kennel room and set the extra coffee on the nearest surface he could without going too close. To his surprise, Cupcake blinked over at him, but didn’t growl or make a threatening move.

Mike said, “Morning.”

Harvey said, “Coffee.”

Mike brightened, then looked suspicious. “What for?”

Harvey rolled his eyes. “I can already make you do whatever disgusting chore I have in mind, I don’t really need bribes.”

“Which only makes it more freaky that you’re bothering.”

“It’s called ‘being nice,’ Ross.”

“I’ve heard the talk, Specter, that’s not your strong suit.”

“Drink the coffee, before I tell your P.O. you’re violating parole.”

Mike laughed. “Nothing like a good threat for motivation.”

He took the coffee, though, so Harvey considered himself to have won. When Cupcake was back in her kennel and Mike was following Harvey down the hall, Harvey said, “I’ve got a procedure at nine. I want you to scrub in with me.”

“You’re the boss,” Mike said easily. He looked intrigued, though.

In truth, it wasn’t that interesting a surgery: pretty run-of-the-mill dachshund spinal repair. They’d even caught it early, so there was a high probability of success. Harvey just liked the careful way Mike watched things, watched Harvey, when Harvey was doing what he was best at. And Harvey was more than self-aware enough to admit that and take advantage of it. “So don’t do anything that’ll mean you need to shower before entering an OR.”

“Donna had some filing for me.”

“You’re making her wait?” Harvey asked, his tone indicating the level of folly he considered such a move to be.

You wanted me,” Mike pointed out.

“Yeah, tell me how that excuse flies,” Harvey said, as he unlocked the door to his office.

Mike sighed. “Have fun getting someone to clean your kennels when I’m dead.”

*


By his third month, Mike could intubate, start a line, take vitals and take care of other minor assistance activities. He was pretty sure Harvey wasn’t supposed to be letting him do any of this stuff, let alone as often as he did, but Mike wasn’t going to argue. For one thing, it was awesome. For another, Harvey fought dirty. Mike only argued when it seemed like it might be worth it. Which, notably, was why Cupcake was still alive and keeping Mike company on his cleaning rounds every morning.

Also, there was the part where Mike kind of wanted to make out with Harvey in the janitorial closet, or wherever he got the chance. Mike made a concerted effort not to think about that aspect of why he was so damn easy about everything Harvey asked of him.

Mike, admittedly, wasn’t sure what he was hoping to get out of that situation. Cupcake was pretty docile when with Mike, but as of yet hadn’t shown signs of accepting the attentions of anyone else. Mike would have taken her home in an instant if he could have afforded it, but Gram had to come first.

For that reason, Monday was Mike’s favorite day of the week. Unless he could garner himself a second extra shift—he regularly picked up a first from one coworker or another—Monday afternoon was his day off once he had performed his clinic hours. This meant he could make Gram and himself a lunch and they could play games or watch a movie and just have time together.

Gram was the one person he could talk to about Harvey and the things he was learning at the clinic. He could admit to her, “Sometimes I wonder what he would do if I screwed up and made something worse.”

“His job,” she guessed. “Alternatively, damage control.”

Mike laughed. “You’re placing a lot of faith in a guy you’ve never met.”

She looked at Mike knowingly. “I’m good at reading between your lines, kid.”

Mike wished he knew what the hell was lying between his lines. He felt certain that if he were able to get some more sleep he’d also be able to sort out his own feelings, but at the moment, five hours a night was a gift, and an unusual one at that. And other than Monday afternoons, when he ate with Gram, he was living off ramen and peanut butter-white bread sandwiches, neither of which could exactly be considered brain foods.

Tuesdays were also pretty awesome, since Mike got to crawl in bed at the same time Gram did on Mondays, which generally wasn’t any later than eight o’ clock. Sleep was his new favorite hobby, and even if he didn’t precisely feel rested on Tuesday mornings, they were way better than any other day of the week, and Mike was willing to appreciate what he could get currently. When he’d first started the community service, he’d told himself it would eventually be over and he’d have more time for a second job, which would mean more food, if not more sleep. Now, though, the thought of not getting to puzzle out diagnoses and scratch Cupcake’s belly and make Dr. Specter laugh when he clearly didn’t want to just depressed Mike. Worse was the thought of not having the chance to accidentally brush his fingers against Dr. Specter’s when Mike “grudgingly” brought him coffee, or getting to be the person the other man trusted to bounce ideas off of, even if Mike’s store of knowledge wasn’t extensive enough to truly help. He pretended it was just an adversity to change, but the pretense wore thinner with every interaction between Dr. Specter and himself.

Right now, though, he was ignoring it. He wouldn’t be done with his sentence for the better part of the next three months. He would tell himself to get over it when it actually hit.

*


Harvey walked in on a Thursday morning later than usual due to a speaking engagement. He had gotten used to just finding Mike when he was ready for him, so when he’d hung his coat up, changed into his lab coat, and refilled his coffee, he began checking the stock and kennel rooms. He found Mike in one of the pharmaceutical storerooms, which wasn’t unusual in and of itself, nor was Cupcake being there with him. Cupcake spent pretty much all day with Mike, so long as they weren’t in with a patient.

Rather, it was the fact that Cupcake was lying on a large dog bed, curled on her side, with six extremely scrawny kittens snuggled up against her belly. Harvey took a sip of his coffee, nodded at Cupcake when she opened her eyes to give him a—at best—half-hearted glare, and asked, “Who’s the father?”

Mike smirked. “Ha, ha. Oh, the cleverness of you.”

“Peter Pan? Really?”

Mike looked up from where he was organizing the sedatives. “You knew the reference.”

“I had a crush on Mary Martin when I was a kid.”

Mike opened his mouth and then shut it. “Well, okay.”

“No, seriously, where’d the kittens come from?”

“Rachel’s neighbor found them on the side of the road, and I guess knew Rachel worked here. Rache said it was murder just getting them in the car, and then when she got them here they weren’t taking any liquids or anything.”

Rache? Since when are the two of you on nickname terms? Harvey thought, then tamped down on the—completely irrational and annoying flare of jealousy in his stomach—keeping himself focused. “And so, naturally, the thing to do was introduce our killer mascot to them.”

“That was an accident,” Mike said. “I was taking her on my rounds and didn’t know they were in boarding room three. By the time I noticed, she had already begun grooming them and bullying them into taking water.”

“Of course she had.”

“Sometimes a dog just needs the chance to prove herself, I guess.” Mike didn’t sound like he was trying to make a point, but Harvey heard one in the response, all the same.

“You move them in here because it’s quiet?”

“That, and Cupcake handles Donna pretty well. She’s willing to grab anything needed from here, so it felt like a good solution.”

Donna hadn’t mentioned that little tidbit to him. Harvey was beginning to wonder what else he was missing. “So are you free to help me go over X-rays or not?”

“I thought we’d covered the part where you’re my boss.”

Harvey rolled his eyes and swung the door open, holding it for Mike. Mike took his sweet time going on through.

*


Mike had a month and a half left on his sentence when Gram fell while at home by herself and broke her hip. Mike was pissed at himself, because he’d been tired, and forgotten to check that he’d moved any obstacles in the kitchen or the living room out of the way. He was pretty sure the only reason she’d even had a problem was because he’d left a chair where it was not normally placed and was in the way.

He got a call from the hospital around the time he was leaving the clinic in order to check on her before work. Instead, he biked over to the hospital. The doctor reassured him she was going to be fine, so long as she got the proper pain medications and had someone to help her out around the house. Mike made all the correct noises and nodded at the right times.

He called into work. He had a couple days of paid leave stored up, so he figured taking one wouldn’t be such a big deal. Then he sat by Gram’s bed through the night, pretending to sleep, trying to figure out how he was even going to get her home. The last time he’d had to transport her, he’d borrowed Trevor’s car, but Trevor had disappeared off to bigger and better horizons, taking his car with him. He tried not to think about the bigger issue, like how he was going to afford home care, or even the meds, for that matter. Mike had talked to the nurses at the front desk. Between Medicare, social security, Gram’s pension and Mike’s health insurance through the bookstore which, luckily, covered elderly dependents, he could cover the bulk of each, but there was a chunk that still needed to be paid for, and Mike had no idea where the money was going to come from.

He arranged for the hospital to keep her until he could get back from his clinic hours, and then begged Donna to shift a few of his hours to the next Monday, when he could stay as late as needed. He left early and got Gram home in a cab.

While she was sleeping, he applied for every credit card he could, hoping one of them would come through. He wasn’t too optimistic. He’d gotten into trouble with credit card debt after Gram’s health first started failing, before he’d broken into the test-taking gig. His credit was shit, and he doubted having a criminal record really helped. Plus, last time had been before the market had gone to crap, back when they were giving out credit cards like candy. He was well aware it wasn’t quite so easy now.

In the morning he had to drag himself into the clinic, muscles screaming for the entire bike ride from sheer exhaustion and a headache that could seriously wake the dead wreaking havoc on his equilibrium. He took his time cleaning, because it didn’t take thought and there was a rhythm to it that was somewhat soothing.

Cupcake left the kitten litter and followed him around like she hadn’t since her brood had shown up. He patted her head and skritched behind her ears and pressed his face to her neck for a bit, letting himself close his eyes and just lean against something willing to hold at least some of his weight.

When he pulled back, Cupcake licked at his face, carefully, like a question and he said, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

He stood up and repeated, “Totally fine.”

He took “fine” on as a mantra when he had to stop halfway home and steady himself, waiting for the dizziness to pass. He would find a little more to eat that night, cut down the rest of the week, and everything would be completely fine.

*


Harvey had been talking to Jessica about the possibility of hiring Mike on in some administrative capacity and letting him continue to learn well before the last month of Mike’s sentence. Harvey knew it took a while for her to warm to his less conservative ideas, even if they always turned out well; at least, almost always. There were a few instances Harvey preferred not to dwell on. And yes, Mike was kind of a fuckup six ways from Sunday, but he was smarter than any student Harvey’d ever seen go through the clinic and so far Harvey had never seen an animal react with anything but utter devotion to Mike’s mere presence. There was also the fact that Harvey had never turned down available eye-candy, but he hadn’t mentioned that in his arguments to Jessica. He suspected she knew anyway.

He hadn’t mentioned anything to Mike because until they found funding for the position, it seemed foolish to ask if he’d be interested. The grant had just come through the day Mike passed out in the hallway. Harvey hadn’t mentioned it to Mike yet, as he was waiting to celebrate a little over lunch. Instead, as they were walking from one appointment to the next, Mike played the nineteenth century maiden and fainted.

Harvey had vaguely noticed Mike looking a little under the weather, and even that his facial features were becoming sharp in a none-too-healthy way, but he’d chalked it up to winter flu season, or something equally innocuous in a young, to-all-appearances-healthy young man. He found Mike on his knees next to Cupcake and the—quickly growing—kittens, the morning in question. Harvey opened with, “We not paying you enough to actually work, or something?”

There had been a beat longer than usual between the question and Mike’s comeback—a lame, “This place shines like the top of the Chrysler Building, Miss Hannigan,”—which should have tipped Harvey off there was something wrong, but at the time, Harvey’s mind had been focusing on the unusually busy docket for a Friday morning waiting for him. “C’mon, we got patients.”

Mike seemed to snap to for the first few moments, even inserting a question in the second examination Harvey hadn’t bothered to ask but ended up being informative. So it was something of a surprise when halfway between the exam rooms of patient three and four, Mike put a hand out to the wall to steady himself and said, “Harvey, I need a sec.”

Approximately two seconds later, Mike’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he crumpled in a messy heap on the floor. Harvey stared for longer than he should have, not entirely believing what he had just seen. Then he said, “Fuck,” and called Donna.

*


Mike’s head really, really hurt. He’d had migraines for a while, as a kid, after he lost his parents. The doctors had put it down to stress and grief and had given him painkillers, and they’d eventually gone away. Now, it felt like they were back.

Also, someone was poking at him. He cracked his eyes to see who, but didn’t recognize the woman standing over him. Her hair was incredibly black against the glare of the room’s florescent bulbs, but her hands were at least warm. Well, relatively warm, given whatever he was lying on was seemingly refrigerated. The smell of antibacterial cleaner, which had almost become comforting over the past six months, was making him want to vomit.

He batted ineffectually against hands pressing at his glands, and the stranger said, “Back with us, huh? That’s good, you weren’t out for that long.”

Out? Mike wanted to ask, but the thought of talking made him nauseated. He closed his eyes again.

She said softly, “When was the last time you ate something?”

It took him a couple of seconds, but he managed to tell her, “Yesterday.”

“How much?”

The pain in Mike’s head was starting to recede to a manageable level. “Sandwich.”

“What time?” she pressed.

“I don’t-- Late. Midnight, maybe.” When he’d gotten home from the store he’d been too hungry to ignore it any longer. He’d cut back on food when the credit card hadn’t worked out, trying to find money anywhere he could. So far he’d just managed to pay the stay-at-home nurse by selling off the last his parent’s valuables, including their wedding rings.

She held a glass of water to his lips and he tried to take it from her, but his hands were shaking, so mostly he just kept them up for the sake of appearances. When he’d taken a few sips, he pulled his head away and asked, “Got any Tylenol?”

The girl rolled her eyes. “Not that’s going to take care of your malnutrition issue, but sure.”

“Malnutrition?” asked a voice from over in the corner.

Mike blinked and looked over, previously unaware they weren’t alone in the room. Harvey said, “You totally freaked Cupcake out.”

“Um,” Mike said. He noticed his fingers twitching and stilled them, forcing the embarrassment and irritation out of his voice as he asked, “Don’t I have to agree for you to be in here? Doctor-patient confidentiality?”

“Good thing Lola left med school her third year in to switch to the furry track,” Harvey said, but his expression seemed a little gratifyingly guilty.

Mike started, “I’m still pretty sure—“

“Why are you malnourished?” Harvey interrupted, leaning slightly forward, intense in a way Mike only saw him when he couldn’t figure out what was wrong with a patient and was taking it as a personal insult.

Mike glared. “That’s really none of your bus—“

“You collapsed in my hallway,” Harvey argued.

Lola added her glare to the picture, though. It was an impressive glare. Mike wondered if she had learned it from Donna or Rachel. Lola ordered, “Go away.”

“I’m your boss,” he reminded her.

She put her hands on her hips, “And if Mike here were four-legged, I would be all about listening to you. But I’m not. Go away.”

Once Harvey was gone, Mike said, “Thanks.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, looking displeased. “You’re suffering from exhaustion, too.”

Mike shrugged. “Things are a little rough right now.”

She looked indecisive for a few seconds and then said, “You should let him help, you know? Dr. Specter? He’s kind of a dick, but he also made it so I could switch without too much of a loss in credits or having to retake classes, and he took me on as an intern when nobody else would touch me.”

Mike ran a hand over his face. “Yes, well, the breadth of difference between an ex-med student and Test-Taking Felon is considerable.”

Lola didn’t look so sure. She confirmed his suspicions, telling him, “Never know until you ask.”

*


Harvey thought about putting pressure on Lola to talk to him because Mike had scared him, which was annoying and deserved revenge, but in the end, he let her pass and instead went right to the source. He hovered over Mike as best he could—and he could hover extremely well—crossing his arms. “What’s going on?”

Mike glared, but Harvey was inured to Mike’s glare on a good day. When Mike spoke, he just sounded tired. “All due respect, Doctor, you’re only my community hours overseer, so it’s actually none of your business.”

Harvey kept his expression blank, despite feeling a little bit like his own cat had just decided to scratch his face off. Evenly, he told Mike, “Kid, if that’s all I was, you wouldn’t know what the inside of an exam room in this facility looked like unless you were cleaning it.”

Mike curled up on himself, his shoulders hunching. Slowly he said, “I appreciate you getting someone to look at me when I—“ he made a useless, vague motion with his hand. “It won’t happen again, promise.”

Trying a different tactic, Harvey said, “Zane thinks it’s anorexia. Is it?”

That wasn’t entirely the truth. What Zane had actually said was that Mike looked like he had lost a dangerous amount of weight since he’d started, but Harvey had noticed there were very few things that got people speaking like anger did. Sure enough, Mike’s gaze whipped to Harvey, his eyes narrowing. But after a moment he just shook his head.

Harvey rolled his eyes. Compassion wasn’t really his strongest gift. There was a reason he’d chosen to work with animals. They were bigger medical mysteries and decidedly less annoying than humans. That said, once Harvey put his mind to knowing something he was damn well going to find the information, so, in this case, Ross was going to spill, one way or another. “Are you taking tests again? Or maybe something more illegal? I hear a guilty conscience—“

“Fuck you,” Mike said softly.

Harvey almost grinned. Gotcha. Instead he said, “Excuse me?”

“I realize that the test-taking crossed a number of ethical and legal lines, but at least it meant I could take care of what was mine.” After a second, Mike blinked, clearly not having planned to say anything.

Harvey drew up a chair and sat down. “Now we’re getting somewhere. What, exactly, did taking the tests mean you could take care of?”

Mike rubbed a hand over his face. Harvey, more than willing to be patient, waited.

*


Mike hadn’t meant to talk about what was going on, about Gram and the bills and being hungry, but it was as though, once the right question had been asked by the all-too-wrong person, he couldn’t stop talking. When he finished his throat was sore, and the headache which had receded just enough for him to think and keep his eyes open was back with a vengeance, and all he wanted to do was just lay down on the dog-size exam table and sleep forever. Instead he brought his knees up and curled over them, closing his eyes.

There was a knock on the door, and Mike heard Harvey go to it, mumble something to the person there, and then close it again. After a second there was the sound of something being placed on the exam table next to him, and Mike struggled to get his eyes open.

Harvey handed him a cup. “Start with the juice. Go slow. Lola doesn’t think you’ll puke, since you’ve at least been eating something, but she doesn’t want to test the theory, and given that I’m directly within range of anything you bring up, neither do I.”

Mike didn’t say anything, just took the cup and sipped. The citrusy taste was a little too sharp going down, but it only took a matter of minutes for the sugar to reach his bloodstream and help him to feel a little better. He rasped, “Thanks.”

Harvey took the cup away from him and put a carton in Mike’s hands. “Chicken noodle. It’s actually fairly decent. I think they must buy an actual brand-name can.”

Mike really couldn’t care less. Now that the juice had settled, he was ravenous. He went slowly anyway. He knew enough about the body to know better than to scarf the soup. After a moment he said, “Not that creepy doesn’t turn me on, or anything, but don’t you have something better to do than stare at me while I’m eating?”

“I’m thinking. You’re just in a convenient spot at which to stare.”

“Your thinking is annoying. And creepy.”

Harvey shot him an exasperated look. “Are you like this with all authority figures? Or am I just special?”

Mike rubbed his forehead. “Is there a correct answer to that question?”

Harvey tipped his head in acknowledgment. “What do you get paid at the bookstore?”

Getting mad earlier hadn’t achieved anything for Mike, so he tried a different tactic. “Please stop.”

“Mike—“

“I can’t talk about this, okay? I can’t. I hold it together by not thinking about it, by doing what I have to do when I have to do it and hoping like hell it’s enough. But I can’t-- Enough. Enough.

Quietly, and with more understanding than Mike would have given him credit for, Harvey said, “I understand. I do. But I think we could offer you more, here. First in the hours you’re not finishing for the court, and then, later, more regular hours. It would mean less biking around, less energy being expelled. It won’t take care of everything, but it’s a start, and I’d imagine I could get my bank to let me co-sign on a credit card for you.”

After a second, Mike looked over at him, feeling a little embarrassed by his less-than-charitable thoughts of the moment before. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why help a guy with no high school degree and a criminal record?” Mike wasn’t so stupid that he wouldn’t take pity if it would mean taking care of Gram, but it was surprising—annoying—to him how much he wanted it to be something else, anything else, from Harvey.

Harvey’s expression slid into one of disbelief. “You’ve been here for five months, Mike, and life-skills aside, you’re not stupid. Why do you think?”

“Because you’re not actually the cybertronic demon you regularly appear to be?” Mike hazarded.

“Finish your soup,” Harvey said.

“Already done.”

Harvey gave him back the juice. “Then drink up. We’re late for scrubbing in on a tumor removal.”

Mike almost pressed the point, but something told him Harvey had actually given him an answer.

*


Harvey left work early and went to the main hospital, back into the administrative offices, where Orrin was, predictably, working late at his desk, behind his computer. Orrin looked up and asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“Can’t a man miss his baby brother from time to time?”

Orrin threw Harvey a knowingly amused look. “What do you need?”

Harvey didn’t bother to deny it. If he’d just wanted to see Orrin, he’d have texted and set up a meal, not come to see him at the office. “Know any elder care nurses who would be semi-affordable for a side gig?”

Orrin tilted his head. “Our parents are both in the prime of health and, last I checked, you were still dating persons your own age or younger. What could you possibly need hospice personnel for?”

“I plan to pawn mom and dad off on you when it becomes necessary. Friend of mine needs some help.”

“Your filial loyalty is touching,” Orrin told him, to all evidences sincere. At least to anyone who didn’t know Orrin. “And by ‘friend’ would you mean your pet felon?”

Harvey resisted the urge to wince. “I’m never allowing you to buy me a drink again.”

“Years too late, brother mine.” Orrin smiled beatifically. “Why isn’t he going through Hospice?”

“Financial issues.”

Orrin raised an eyebrow. “How’s he gonna pay anyone I recommend?”

“He’s not. I’m going to pay them and take it out of him partly in trade, partly by way of personal loan.”

Orrin blinked. Harvey went back over his words. “Not that kind of trade. Christ.”

“Then what?”

“You know that program the clinic instituted last year? The community outreach one?”

“The one where its staff has to perform a certain amount of hours of said outreach per month?” Orrin asked.

“That precise one.”

“You’re going to pawn your contract-specified community service onto this guy?”

Harvey waved a hand. “He’s much better at the whole giving-a-crap thing than I am. He’ll probably even enjoy it.”

“There is something missing from your soul,” Orrin told him.

“And yet, you love me.”

“I have to, it’s a biological imperative.”

Harvey gave him a Look. “How many times a day do you guys have to call social services in this place?”

Orrin blinked. “No, seriously. Missing something. From your soul.

Harvey grinned. “Knew you’d see things my way.”

*


Mike argued when Harvey hustled him into his Mars Red SLK350 Roadster around the time Mike would be heading home and then on to the bookstore. He had given his two-weeks as soon as Harvey had come through with the official clinic job offer, but that still left him another ten days at the store. Harvey, though, just said, “You’ll be on time, get in.”

And, well, the Benz had heated seats and drove very smoothly and while Mike was eating more regularly, now that Harvey seemed to feel the need to bring in bagels every morning, it was still a hell of a lot better than biking in the negative twelve wind chill they were experiencing. Even so, “You gonna bring me my bike?”

“No, but I will pick you up from work and take you back to the clinic.”

The clinic was closer to Mike’s place than the store was, so that actually worked out fine. “’Kay. There a reason for this sudden beneficence that doesn’t have to do with a delayed pity reaction?”

Harvey didn’t even look over at him. “We have errands to run.”

“What kind of errands?” Mike didn’t really expect an answer, but he didn’t have it in him not to ask.

To his surprise, Harvey was shockingly straightforward. “Appointment with the bank and then your future home care personnel.”

“Excuse me?” Mike asked.

“Well, not that the rotation of veterinary interns we have playing out their indentured servitude through helping with your grandmother hasn’t gone swimmingly these past few days, but a professional would be better, don’t you agree?”

Mike agreed to absolutely nothing. He hadn’t even agreed to having the interns help, but Donna, Rachel, Lola and even Dr. Pearson had ganged up on him and it was clear the better part of not being killed by someone’s brain was just to shut up and go along with the plan. He didn’t have that feeling with just Harvey and him in the car. “I looked at the clinic’s offer. Even with overtime, I can’t afford someone at the house.”

“You can if you can get some credit extended to you while you’re starting to make a living wage,” Harvey argued.

“I told you, I already applied—“

“The bank manager is a guy I know from college. I’ve saved his dog twice from her tendency to eat anything that stays still long enough. I think we can work something out.”

Mike took a deep breath, then another, reminding himself that he needed the help; more importantly, Gram needed the help. After that he managed to say, “Thank you.”

It was then that Harvey looked over, just briefly, but Mike caught the flash of surprise in his expression. All Harvey said was, “You’re welcome.”

Mike scrubbed a hand over his face and forbid himself to wish that things were different, that he could take care of things himself and be free of his sentence and be sitting in this car with Harvey under different circumstances. Instead to admitting any of that, though, he said, “Nice car.”

Harvey smirked. “I like her.”

*


Given that his job pretty much was his life, Harvey tried as best he could to keep the personal and the professional separated. Jessica opined this was just a pretty-sounding excuse for an endless series of one-night stands, but Harvey didn’t need excuses for his sexual behavior so he was fairly certain that aspect of himself was just from deep-rooted, better-left-untouched psychological trauma. Jessica probably would have rolled her eyes at that explanation, however, so he let her believe what she wanted.

It was hard to be sure of where the lines were, though, when Harvey suspected that if he didn’t take Mike to lunch every third day or so, he might end up finding the kid in the hallway one day, Cupcake guarding his body from any hungry dogs and birds that might be roaming the clinic. Nobody wanted that, not least of all because Cupcake probably wouldn’t move until Mike was decaying right there on the linoleum, which would just piss the janitorial staff off.

And it was hard to have lunch with a guy every third day and not find out a little something about him, like, say, the fact that he’d been damn good at soccer in high school. Harvey considered soccer something to watch if there wasn’t, say, even a good chess or poker match available on ESPN, but he could appreciate the athleticism of it. They both cared just enough about college basketball and the local school’s team to have sustained conversations about it. Somewhere in all of this sports talk, Harvey found himself admitting to a short amateur career in baseball and the shoulder injury that cut off that avenue of advancement in life.

Mike canted his head at that. “Was vet school a second option, or a distant second?”

Harvey hesitated. He hadn’t talked about this sort of thing with anyone in a long time, not even Donna, who was the closest thing he had to a friend. “Neither, really. Jess was gunning for tenure at the time I was an undergrad. She wanted to start that clinic we have now, the pre-vet one?”

Mike nodded. The undergrads terrorized the clinic while under strict supervision every Monday and Thursday. It was a nationally-renowned and unique program.

Harvey shrugged. “I was in her BioChem course and she recruited me as a guinea pig. I was good at this stuff even then, with no real training or knowledge. It was pretty clear it was the right direction.”

Mike’s smile was half-hearted. “Do you ever regret it?”

Harvey shook his head, a smile playing at the corner of his eyes. “Wouldn’t do me any good, would it?”

Mike went back to concentrating on his sandwich, his face a little scrunched, reluctantly thoughtful. “No, guess not.”

*


It turned out—strangely, but nonetheless—that Cupcake was good at settling just about any traumatized animal turned into the clinic, from kittens to a couple of abandoned baby squirrels to the fricking snapping turtle they’d somehow ended up with after a freak accident involving the local fire department. Mike scoured the universe of grants to find one that would allow the clinic to keep her on as a service dog to animals. Eventually, he found one that didn’t precisely fit, but with some tweaking would work.

Mike knew exactly nothing about writing a grant, so he braved the lion’s den and asked for Harvey’s help. Harvey bitched a bunch but actually taught him the ropes, and even pulled Donna in because she had more experience at the grant process. It meant extra, unpaid work, but Mike wanted to make sure Cupcake wouldn’t be put to sleep, and after a few conversations with Harvey, he knew the only way for that to happen was for her to stay at the clinic.

During the last proofing session, Donna brought in coffee before she left for the day. Harvey took his and then actually stuck around, which surprised Mike. He told Harvey, “I can do this. It’s just grammar and sentence structure at this point.”

“Mm,” Harvey said, and kept reading.

Mike shrugged and went back to the portion he was working on. He was nearly finished with his coffee—the only real indication he had that a considerable amount of time had passed—when Harvey said, “You do most things on your own.”

Mike looked up. “So do you.”

Harvey said, “I suppose it looks that way from the outside.”

Mike thought about pressing, but no matter how often they ate together, Harvey was still his boss. “Is this about me offering you the chance to go home relatively on time?”

Harvey quirked an eyebrow. “More about your pattern of trouble accepting help for yourself.”

“I asked for help on the grant,” Mike pointed out.

“You asked for help for Cupcake,” Harvey said.

“You ask for help a lot?”

“I at least let people know when I need it.”

Mike didn’t feel it was all that odd that he had an aversion to rejection, which was most of what he’d known in the context of asking for help. He just said, “Old habits, all that.”

Harvey reached over and grabbed the papers Mike was holding. “Go do a check on the kennels and go home. I’ll put the changes in.”

“I told Gram and her nurse I’d be late anyway—“

“Home, kid.”

Mike stood. “Okay, well, thanks.”

“See you in the morning.”

Mike nodded, and kept himself from pointing out Harvey was acting oddly. That was Harvey’s prerogative, Mike supposed.

*


Harvey finished up with the changes and made his way over to Jessica’s office. She looked up. “Still here?”

“Thought I’d do a little work for a change. Make it so you don’t have to feel bad about letting me keep my job.”

“Thanks for the consideration,” she told him, already clearly not paying attention to him any longer.

Harvey sat down in front of her desk. He ran his gaze idly over the pictures of her pets, former and current, dozens of them, all rag-tag breeds with eyes or ears or legs missing, or sometimes just personality disorders. Jessica saw more potential in the world than she liked to admit. “I need you to transfer Mike so he’s directly under Chandler’s authority.”

Jessica stopped writing. “Why?”

Reina Chandler was possibly the foremost authority in large animal veterinary care in the eastern region of the US, if not the whole country, a bona fide superstar. The daughter of a rancher growing up and the wife of one in her adult years, people speculated it ran in her blood. Harvey went for the theory that she was just incredibly smart and had loved the animals she worked with from the moment she had opened her eyes. Either way, her reputation was impeccable, and she ran her own department.

Harvey didn’t come under her authority much, but she was technically his superior. Harvey was next in line for the small animals department, but Aaron Hardman was still Chandler’s colleague at the moment. Hardman was old as G-d, and Harvey was pretty sure he was never going to die, let alone retire.

In any case, Chandler was the best answer to his problems for two reasons: 1) Harvey had never met someone less judgmental in his life. She took people for who they were and learned to work with it. She would give Mike the chances he deserved; 2) perhaps more importantly, with Mike under her direct supervision, Mike would have an easy and clear way to complain to someone who was above Harvey on the food chain if he was feeling pressured or ill-treated.

Harvey simplified all of this for Jessica, because he knew damn well she paid attention to everything that went on at her clinic. “Because if not you’re going to have a sexual harassment lawsuit on your hands, probably.”

“Alternatively, you could just keep it in your pants.”

“Jess.”

She looked up. After a few seconds she shook her head. “Would it have been so hard to let him finish his sentence and go off and work somewhere else so this didn’t affect my life’s work? Really?”

“He was practically starving himself. Nowhere else was gonna give him a chance at advancement, a real job, not with his record.” Harvey had told her this when he’d brokered the deal to bring Mike on board in the first place, but it bore repeating.

She gave him a look that told him the question had been rhetorical. He stared right back. He accused, “You like him, too. You like how the animals react to him.”

Her expression didn’t change, but she said, “I’ll talk to Chandler.”

*


Harvey brought Mike coffee the next morning and asked, “How do you feel about cows?”

Mike took a sip. “I’m grateful to them for providing the cream for certain caffeinated beverages.”

“That it?”

“Should I have deep feelings about cows?”

Harvey rolled his eyes. “In that case, how would you feel about the chance to work with Dr. Chandler?”

Mike shifted. Chandler was a legend in her own right. But she also wasn’t the person who’d seen potential in Mike, who’d given him a chance when nobody else would have. “You pissed at me?”

“If I were pissed, I’d fob you off on Louis, or tell Donna you were the one who killed the succulent in the front lobby.”

Mike actually knew who had, but it had been an accident, and he didn’t feel that Howard deserved to be permanently maimed for it. “Okay. So—“

“I can be your boss, or I can make a play for you, but both at the same time would be creepy and I would never believe you weren’t just a little worried about your job.”

Mike blinked. He looked at Harvey, put-together, gorgeous, wealthy Harvey, and blinked again. “What?”

It was Harvey’s turn to look surprised. “Seriously? I’ve been taking you to lunch for over a month now.”

“Because you felt sorry for me,” Mike told him. Not that he really wanted to admit to knowing he was taking pity from a guy he’d rather be impressing, but it was a significant point in this context.

Harvey shook his head. “Not in my genetic makeup.”

Mike took several moments to process. “Chandler,” he said, interest threading his voice.

“You’ll like her,” Harvey said softly, with something Mike suspected was hope. It threw him.

Slowly, he nodded. “Cows are…interesting.”

*


Harvey was checking up on a post-op patient about a week later when he heard Mike’s voice behind him. “I’m kind of surprised to find out you’re totally chickenshit.”

Harvey finished what he was doing, and only then did he turn around. “How’re the cows?”

“We’ve mostly been working with horses so far, some emergency stuff, and it’s been awesome. In other news, I’m undistracted from my purpose here.”

“Mike—“

“If you really just wanted me out of your hair then have the balls to say it to my face instead of making up some big story about—“

“How about dinner? Sometime this week?”

Mike stood there with his mouth slightly open, and Harvey honestly couldn’t believe he actually liked the kid, but all intellectual sense aside, he just couldn’t seem to help himself. “I thought it might be considerate to give you some time to settle in, get to know Dr. Chandler and all, but since you have the patience of a three-year-old; Mike Ross, would you like to go to dinner with me?”

Mike closed his mouth and visibly calmed, his jitters stilling. It was an inelegant way of showing it, but Harvey enjoyed the way Mike’s desire was neither hidden nor cool. Mike countered, “Somewhere I can afford.”

Harvey rolled his eyes. “Hardly.”

Mike’s expression was blank for all of a second before he nodded slightly, more to himself than anything, and said, “Don’t be an asshole.”

Harvey spread his hands. “What you see is what you get.”

Harvey settled back on his heels and waited Mike out. Mike’s body language was tense, but after a bit he broke a smile. “Fine, whatever.”

“Seven-thirty, Friday.”

“Eight, I need some time with Gram. She’ll be asleep by the time we get back.”

“Okay,” Harvey agreed. “I’ll pick you up.”

“Yeah, you warm up the car real nice for me.” Mike’s voice had dropped an octave in a way Harvey knew was meant to be a joke. It still managed to go straight to his groin.

Harvey took a deep breath in order to have a second for recovery, then waved his hand imperiously. “Get out of here. Go be productive. I vouched for you, you know.”

“Well, in that case,” Mike grinned, and left.

*


Mike wouldn’t allow himself to change more than once before Harvey picked him up. Gram wiped the floor with him and the homecare nurse in poker a few times. Mike ran over Gram’s night meds and checked to make sure everything was in order twice before he went out. The nurse assured him that was what she was getting paid for, and Mike knew that, but unless he was at work, he wasn’t used to leaving Gram alone at night.

Gram told Mike, “Don’t come home on my account,” with a knowing look in her eye.

Mike made sure the night nurse had his cell and kissed Gram. “Sweet dreams.”

Harvey was precisely on time and Mike slid into the comfortably heated passenger seat. “Hey.”

Harvey nodded. “Gram all set?”

“I was informed I have no curfew.”

Mike did not miss the look in Harvey’s eyes when he glanced at Mike before putting the car in drive. There was just a bare hint of danger—and promise—in the gaze. Harvey said, “Well then,” and drove.

*


Harvey did not set the ground rule disallowing for any work-related talk explicitly, but he steered them away every time they started to get close. He let Mike talk about Cupcake, but Cupcake was an exception to work-related topics, mostly because it was hard for Mike not to be happy while discussing Cupcake.

Mike told him about learning poker from Gram at the age of twelve, and how he still sucked at it anyway. Harvey laughed at Mike’s self-deprecation, his ease with acknowledging what he was good at, and what he was not. He reciprocated by saying, “I tried to learn the piano when I was a kid.”

“Tried?” Mike prompted. He added challenge to the statement by running his foot up the inside of Harvey’s leg.

Harvey almost rolled his eyes, because they weren’t teenagers. Then Mike pressed his heel to Harvey’s crotch with just the right amount of pressure. Harvey reached down and removed Mike’s foot, doing his best to say with all composure. “My teacher referred to me—quite kindly, actually—as tonally challenged.”

Mike tilted his head. “You shouldn’t have to have good tone to play the piano.”

Harvey took the second of Mike being confused to engage in his own bit of teasing with the tip of his shoe. “Enough that you can tell sharps from flats.”

Mike’s eyes widened and he sat up straighter. “Wow, that’s… I mean, really?”

Harvey nodded, pulling back. “Same problem with guitar, unsurprisingly. Ruined my aspirations of being the next B.B. King.”

“Sure that was the only thing in your way?” Mike asked, his smile all teeth.

Harvey smiled his most innocent smile in response. “What else could there have been?”

“Well, sure,” Mike agreed easily. “I wanted to be a cosmonaut when I grew up.”

“A cosmonaut? Specifically?”

Mike shrugged. “Gram was friends with this Russian lady. Everything always sounded cooler in Russian.”

“They have better swear words, too.”

Mike ducked his head and grinned. Harvey laughed.

*


Once back in the car, Mike hesitated for less than a second before allowing the glass or two of wine to chill him out enough to ask, “Wanna take me somewhere and sexually harass me?”

“You sure do know how to tempt a man,” Harvey said softly, thoughtfully.

Mike reached over to touch Harvey’s chin, get him to look Mike’s way. “Tempted?”

Harvey raked his gaze over Mike. “Seatbelt.”

Mike quirked a half-smile and complied. Harvey gunned it, which was gratifying on a number of levels. Harvey pulled into a house that had been built about seven years ago. Mike remembered, because he’d never seen anything like it locally; all straight lines and modern design. He’d always wondered who the owner was. Now that he knew, it made complete sense.

When Mike didn’t get out of the car fast enough, too busy putting pieces together, Harvey pulled him gently from the car. Mike let himself be pulled against Harvey, let Harvey press him up against the car and kiss him until he could barely feel his lips. Then Harvey said, “Enough of this,” and pretty much dragged Mike into the house.

On the way there, Mike, nearly breathless from the full force of his arousal, managed to ask, “What, I don’t get offered a drink, first?”

Harvey looked over his shoulder. “I’ve waited over half a year for you, Ross. We’ll go back to seduction afterward. I promise to be nice and thorough.”

Mike had waited just as long. Granted, he was pretty used to that and he suspected Harvey was not. All the same, he believed Harvey would find the latent gentleman in himself once they’d shed some of the sexual tension, so he just said, “Holding you to that.”

Mike had the brief sense the inside of the house was as cool as the outside, but then he was busy being way more interested in getting Harvey’s pants undone. Harvey, as luck would have it, was willing to help out with that.

Mike sank to his knees, feeling kind of easy, but also having missed sex. He’d been able to manage a few casual hook ups when Gram had first moved in, but after the conviction there hadn’t been time left in the day, and most of the time the energy it took just to consider sex had been overwhelming.. This was better, sex with someone who was more than just his dick, but Mike couldn’t even pretend he wasn’t beyond ready to reconnect this way, skin to skin, mouth to cock, dirty and sweet and maybe just a little quick, but still fulfilling.

Harvey’s cock was as hot as the rest of him, not too long, but thick. Mike reached up and squeezed Harvey’s balls before sliding over just the head, giving a strong suck. Harvey’s breath caught and Mike swallowed him slowly, slowly, humming shortly when Harvey bottomed out against Mike’s throat.

Harvey gasped appreciatively and wound his fingers in Mike’s hair. He tugged a little, enough to force Mike just a bit further onto him. Mike moaned, his cock jumping slightly. Harvey panted, “Yeah.”

Mike gave as good as he got, pulling off an inch or so, and letting his teeth just barely graze the skin. Harvey grunted and just pulled Mike’s hair again. Mike went with it, trying to take Harvey in ever further. Harvey went taut, and Mike squeezed, his hand still fondling at Harvey’s balls. Harvey muttered, “Fuck.”

Mike kept Harvey on edge for as long as he could, but eventually Harvey began to shake, his legs wavering and Mike gave in, pulling back just far enough to swallow. He slid off of Harvey with what he damned well knew was a self-satisfied smile.

Harvey, still shaking, nonetheless dragged Mike up to his feet, kissing him aggressively. He said, “Not bad. Wanna see how it’s really done?”

Mike bit Harvey’s lip. “Enlighten me.”

Harvey said, “One rule.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

Harvey’s smile spread warmly against the skin of Mike’s neck. “Is that agreement?”

“Tell me what the rule is and we’ll see.”

“No coming until I say so.”

Harvey’s palm found its way to Mike’s crotch just as Mike’s cock absolutely leapt at that suggestion. Mike tried to slow his erratic breathing, tried to nod so Harvey would know he was agreeing. Harvey growled, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

He then slowed things way, way down. Mike’s muttered a frustrated, “Oh, fuck you,” as Harvey took his time slipping Mike’s shirt off, paying attention to his nipples.

Harvey bit down and laughed at Mike’s yelp. Mike scowled and Harvey just said, “Shut up,” and bit Mike’s other nipple. Harder.

Mike smuggled his hands under Harvey’s shirt and dug his fingers into Harvey’s shoulders in retaliation. Harvey arched into it. By the time Harvey had gotten Mike’s pants off and crawled his way back up Mike’s legs, Mike was doubting his stamina and Harvey hadn’t so much as looked at Mike’s cock.

Harvey tugged at Mike’s arm and Mike let himself be led a few steps forward and pushed up onto the nearest counter and onto his back. Harvey bent Mike’s legs so that his feet were flat on the counter. Mike heard him reach around to a drawer on the side of the counter and glanced over, but Harvey leaned over and kissed him by way of distraction. It worked.

Harvey pulled away from Mike’s mouth, licking a path down his torso, and over his cock. Mike bridged up into it and Harvey, obligingly, sucked him down. Mike cried out, his fingers scrambling for purchase on the side of the counter, something to keep him grounded. Harvey drew off and rumbled, “Remember the rule.”

“I hate you,” Mike told him.

“Mhm,” Harvey said, around Mike’s cock. Mike’s eyes rolled straight back.

Mike felt like he’d almost gotten a handle on himself when a slick finger slid inside him and dragged along his prostate, aimed and practiced. Mike groaned. “Not fair.”

Harvey came up again. “Coherency is not going to convince me to let you come.”

He bobbed back down, catching the head of Mike’s cock in his throat and swallowing. Mike whimpered. Harvey added a second finger and a little more twist. Mike whined. “Please, oh. Please.

Harvey sucked hard at the crown of Mike’s dick before whispering, “No.”

Mike squirmed and begged, but he made himself hold on until the edges of his vision were beginning to gray and Harvey finally, finally said, “Come.”

*


Harvey swung by kennel room three and picked up Cupcake on his way to the horse stalls. There was a foaling Cupcake was absolutely in love with, and the sentiment was fully returned. The foal’s mother seemed uncertain about the nontraditional relationship, but willing to allow it, and Mike loved it when Cupcake visited since he didn’t get to see her as much, having transferred units.

Harvey hadn’t been able to see Mike the first couple of days of the week, between an emergency down in Chandler’s department, and a couple of administrative duties in Harvey’s. He didn’t know if Mike would be able to slip out for a bite, but he thought he’d try. At the very least, they might be able to sneak back to Harvey’s for a nooner. Harvey had taken to keeping his desk very clean; and his coat closet; and the en suite bathroom in his office. All in all, it had been nearly six weeks of good dates and even better—and more regular—sex.

Two days was a while for them not to see each other at all, and Harvey wouldn’t have admitted it aloud, but he hoped he was able to catch Mike because he kind of missed the soft edge of Mike’s humor, and the consideration almost always somewhere in his expression. Donna was right: Harvey was turning into a creepy Hallmark card.

He made his way to the stables and put Cupcake in the stall with her newest darling before looking around to find Mike. Instead he found Chandler and one of her residents checking a sprain on a patient. Harvey said, “Dr. Chandler.”

She finished what she was doing and glanced up. She smiled and said, “The kids call me Reina, Harvey.”

Harvey tried not to call his colleagues by their first name in front of the students, but she had seniority and the kid who was with her never worked with him. “Reina, then. Mike around?”

She frowned slightly at that. “He took a sick day.”

That was odd, because Mike hadn’t even texted to mention it, and had seemed perfectly healthy two days before. “Did he seem sick yesterday?”

She shook her head. “No, but I’m not gonna question it. He deserves a day.” She lowered her voice, “He works harder than any of these wusses the school keeps sending me.”

Harvey took it for the thanks it was and told her, “Cupcake’s in with the new foal. I’m gonna make a call.”

“Sure,” she said. Harvey already had his phone to his ear as he walked off.

*


It hadn’t been some master plan of Mike’s not to let Harvey know Gram had come down with a flu and ended up back in the hospital, it was just that every time Mike went to text Harvey, he couldn’t figure out what to say that wouldn’t make it seem like he was asking Harvey to show up and be there. Mike thought things were going pretty well between them and all, but Harvey didn’t seem like the kind of guy who went in for codependence.

Mike was napping in Gram’s room when his phone buzzed against his leg. He’d been up most of the night. He and the night nurse had taken Gram in around nine. The hospital had worked to get her fever down and rehydrate her. Mike had been at the hospital ever since, and it was about noon when his phone went off. Gram was sleeping, so he slipped out of the room and answered. “Hey.”

“Sick day?” Harvey asked.

“Gram,” Mike replied.

“She okay?”

“Flu got out of hand. They’ll release her tomorrow.”

There was a beat before Harvey asked, “You okay?”

Mike ran a hand over his face and said, “Yeah, fine.”

“Mm.” Then, “Want me to bring you some dinner?”

“The hospital’s out of your way.”

“See you somewhere between six and seven,” Harvey told him, and hung up. Mike leaned against the wall, and tried to pretend like he didn’t suddenly feel just a little less exhausted.

*


Mike’s grandmother woke up while Harvey was getting Mike to eat. Mike noticed immediately, standing and saying, “Hey, Gram, how you feeling?”

Harvey stayed seated, watching Mike fuss over his grandmother. She looked past Mike and said, “So this is the boyfriend, huh?”

Mike gave her a reproachful look but just said, “Harvey, my grandmother, Adelaide; Gram, Harvey.”

Harvey made his way to her bedside. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

“Addie. Ma’am makes me feel like I’m dying.”

Harvey smiled. “Addie it is.”

“Take my grandson home, would you? If you don’t he’s just going to sleep sitting up all night again, which is a stupid plan, but he doesn’t listen to his doddering old grandmother.”

“Gram—“ Mike interjected.

He was outnumbered, though, and Harvey could see the concern underneath Adelaide’s bluster. “Certainly. I’ll bring him back bright and early, and we can get you out of here, too.”

“I’d appreciate that, young man,” she told him.

“I’m not—“ Mike started again.

“Kiss me good evening, Michael,” Adelaide told him.

Mike looked between the two of them a few times and then just shook his head. “No fair.”

Adelaide gave a Cheshire cat grin. Mike leaned over to kiss her forehead, and obediently followed Harvey out of the hospital.

*


Mike fell asleep on the way home, waking up only when Harvey opened the car door on Mike’s side. Mike blinked a few times and yawned. “Oh, sorry.”

Harvey said, “C’mon,” and held out a hand to pull Mike from the car.

Once inside, Mike was uncomfortably aware this was Harvey’s first time seeing his place and Mike hadn’t had a chance to really clean in well over a week. He said, “Sorry for the mess.”

“This is pristine compared to what my place would look like if I didn’t hire someone to clean up after me.”

Mike didn’t really believe that—he’d seen Harvey’s office, after all—but he threw Harvey an appreciative smile. He leaned in and kissed Harvey, sweet and without any real intention of taking it anywhere. “Thanks for the ride home. I’m just gonna straighten up some, and then—“

Harvey closed his hand around Mike’s forearm. “You should go to bed.”

Mike tried to shake himself loose, but it wasn’t his best effort, the touch was too comforting. “Yeah, that was next on the list of plans.”

“The straightening will keep,” Harvey said, beginning to maneuver Mike toward the back hallway.

Mike didn’t struggle so much as attempt to duck away, despite his arm still being held hostage. “I know, but—“

“Mike,” Harvey said firmly, and something in the delivery of it made Mike pause.

He cocked his head. “Mm?”

“You’re exhausted.”

Mike frowned. “I’ve had worse. You know that.”

Harvey shook his head. “That was before you had help.”

Mike looked at Harvey for a long moment and then gave. “What are you suggesting?”

“I’m inviting myself over, obviously. You shower, I’ll straighten a little bit, we’ll sleep it off together.”

Mike hesitated a second but admitted, “Sounds good.”

*


Harvey felt Mike awaken before the alarm went off, tension marking every inch of him. From beside him on the bed, Harvey murmured, “You trust me?”

Mike said, “Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you. Sleep some more, I’ll make coffee.”

“Answer the question.”

“Harvey—“

Harvey opened his eyes, making sure not to let his own nerves show. He couldn’t even say if he wanted the answer to be yes, thought maybe it was too soon for that. But he knew he didn’t want the answer to be no, and that was enough to put him a little on edge. “The question.”

Mike sighed. “More than I do most people.”

Harvey was willing to take that response. It was a fairer one than he’d really expected. He calculated the risk of his next question and finally decided Mike deserved the benefit of the doubt that he wouldn’t freak out. “Ever engaged in any dominance and submission scenes?”

Slowly, Mike said, “This town isn’t a thriving hotbed of sexual variety.”

“So, no?”

“No,” Mike agreed.

“But not for lack of interest?” Harvey pushed. He wasn’t a morning person by nature, but being needed when he wanted to be needed had always had a sharpening effect on him.

“No,” Mike repeated, slowly, clearly waiting for Harvey to get to the point and perhaps a little afraid that Harvey might actually do so.

“You know how it works? Theoretically?” Harvey asked.

A number of expressions flitted through Mike’s gaze, starting from closed off, passing through mild terror and landing on curious. “What I’ve read.”

Harvey nodded. “You have any sexual triggers I should know of before we even continue this conversation?”

Mike gave it some thought. “None that I’m aware of. I don’t think I’m into serious pain or humiliation, but I can’t really be sure.”

“Fair. Have a safeword?”

“Will I need it?” Mike countered.

“I won’t start without one, regardless of what I think a sub will need,” Harvey stated plainly. He’d done plenty of stupid things when he was younger, less experienced, but he’d learned from his mistakes. He wasn’t sure precisely what he looked like at the moment, but he had the sense that even the firmness with which he’d drawn that line was appealing to Mike.

“Okay,” Mike said. Then, after a bit, “Bike.”

Harvey held back the laugh that wasn’t at Mike, but might seem like it was. Instead he moved to where he was sitting on the edge of the bed and look back at Mike, who was watching him with a wary but willing expression. Harvey extended his hand. “C’mere.”

*


Mike took a breath, a moment, and then committed. He went to Harvey, allowed Harvey to strip away the boxers and t-shirt he wore to sleep, to position Mike over his lap.

Harvey’s fingers worked away at spots that had wound their way into knots over the past week, the past months. He was talking, his voice a low stream of calming sounds, but the words were less important than the sentiment, a continual stream of Harvey telling him to let go. Mike tried, he really did. He breathed into the pain of the knots being pushed into, released. He just couldn’t, not entirely. There was too much happening in his mind, always, too much that he couldn’t even necessarily reach, but it was always there, outside his grasp, a buzz that wouldn’t quite allow him to release, relax. Mike almost snapped at Harvey, spit at him to stop telling Mike to do something he couldn’t. Instead, he took one breath, and then another, until the worst of the misdirected anger began to subside.

The first smack took him by surprise after Harvey’s concerted efforts along his spine. Mike’s eyes—closed—startled open and he gasped. It didn’t hurt so much as stung a little bit, and the warmth that followed in the wake of the impact was not unwelcome. Mike ventured, “Harvey?”

Harvey soothed his hand over Mike’s back. “Let go, Mike.”

Then his hand came down on Mike’s ass again, and again. The pain grew quickly and Mike struggled, but the weight of Harvey’s hand on the small of his back was enough to keep him down. That, and he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to get away. The sensation upon contact was sharp, but then dulled and stretched into something encompassing, something keeping him right there with Harvey, precisely where he wanted to be. Everything was intense, almost too much so, but so, so safe, in a way he’d never experienced before.

Harvey was talking again, quietly, so much so Mike was surprised he could hear Harvey over the loud crack of Harvey’s hand hitting Mike’s ass, the harsh panting of Mike’s own breaths. The words didn’t make much sense, mostly snippets of sound, such as, “okay, okay,” or “good, that’s good.”

The pain crescendoed, Mike becoming dizzy with it and he was about to beg, to say, please--but somehow, not bike, he knew that wasn’t what he wanted—when instead he felt something in his chest crack and found himself choking out a sob. He did struggle then, struggled to stop, because Jesus, really? but Harvey just quickened his pace and soon Mike couldn’t do anything but lie there and take it, lie there and let the emotions take him, overwhelm him, and wind down until he was practically asleep again. Only then did he notice the spanking had stopped, Harvey was running soothing hands over his back, making comforting, but not quieting, noises.

Finally, when Mike was just about to drop over the edge of sleep, Harvey asked softly, “Better?”

Mike took a breath. It came easily. “Much.”

*


Harvey allowed himself a few minutes of floating along with Mike, the heat in his hand traveling up through his arm, diffusing through the rest of his body. Then he gently herded Mike to his feet and corralled the both of them into the shower. He propped Mike against the wall and washed him from head to toe. Harvey could tell Mike was slowly coming back but he didn’t want to rush it, particularly not now, just when Mike finally seemed willing to take his time.

Harvey rustled around until he found Mike’s scrubs and got him dressed. He made coffee, eggs and toast, and gave Mike a couple of ibuprofen as well. He let Mike eat in silence before standing across from Mike and putting a hand to Mike’s chin. Gently, he brought Mike’s face up until they were looking at each other and spent a little while searching for signs of panic or shame or other emotions that would poison what they’d just done. He noted a little bit of shyness, but nothing that alarmed him.

Harvey asked, “How’re you doing?”

“I think I’m gonna stand for most of today,” Mike admitted, accompanying the statement with a smile and a blush.

“You move around a lot anyway. Nobody’s gonna notice.”

Mike nodded, taking a breath. “I’m-- I’ve got a lot going on up here.” He pointed to his head. “But none of it hurts anymore.”

Harvey considered that for a moment. Mike was an adult, one who had been taking care of himself for a long time. Harvey said, “All right, but you have to tell me if any of the thoughts start to hurt or upset you, or even make you nervous.”

Mike looked unsure, so Harvey continued, “You have to promise, or we can never do anything like this again.”

It took a while, but slowly, Mike said, “I promise to talk to you if I’m freaking out.”

“Not precisely what I want,” Harvey told him. “But it will do for now.”

By the time they left the apartment, Mike was looking good, better than Harvey had seen him looking in a while. It made Harvey want to take him right back inside and have his way with Mike, but Adelaide would be waiting by this time, and both of them were due into the clinic by ten, so Harvey would have to be patient. Not his greatest strength, by far, but he could manage.

He looked over as Mike was making a snide comment about something in the blog he was checking on Harvey’s phone and thought, yeah, he could manage.

*


Mike had just helped deliver a calf when Harvey found him around lunch time. Harvey gave him a once over and said, “Appetizing.”

Mike grinned. “We named him Blueberry for just that reason.”

Harvey made a face. “I’ll bet.”

Mike said, “Let me clean up.”

“Take some more ibuprofen,” Harvey said quietly. Then, at a more regular decibel, “Lounge, ten minutes.”

“Yes, sir.” Mike gave a faux-salute and rolled his eyes.

Harvey’d had Donna order in stuffed crust pizza, since Mike had an unholy love for the stuff. By the time Mike made it to the lounge, Harvey had the day nurse on the phone so Mike could check in. Mike did and when he hung up, Harvey asked, “Everything fine?”

“Yeah,” Mike said, and then dug in with an appreciative, “Soooo hungry.”

Harvey told him, “You need to come by and play with Cupcake before you leave for the day. She’s pissed you didn’t come see her this morning.”

Mike winced. “Bet that’s making everyone else in the department real thrilled.”

“Lola distracted her with a few abandoned ducklings,” Harvey said.

“Well played.”

Harvey smiled in acknowledgment. “Still, stop by.”

Mike ate a few more bites, his expression smug. “Nothing like being indispensible.”

“Job security,” Harvey agreed.

Mike seemed to fidget at that sentiment. Harvey gave him a bit to spit out whatever was on his mind, but when he didn’t, Harvey prompted, “Mike?”

Mike stilled for a moment. When he spoke, it came out so quickly, nearly all the words were slurred together. “Reina thinks I should go back to school.”

“Of course you should,” Harvey said. He’d been waiting until Mike felt more settled about his salary and Gram’s caretakers and all the recent changes to start talking with Mike about possible ways for that to happen, but if Chandler was going to pave the way for him, he was more than willing to help things along.

Mike blinked. When he spoke, he sounded resigned. “There’s no of-course about it. I’ve been here for over eight months and you’ve never so much as mentioned the idea. There’s Gram’s medical expenses and—“

“And a ton of reasons why it would be hard, but no reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t.” Harvey cut him off. “You’re one of the smartest people I’ve met in my life and the fact that you can’t do the things these jerk-off kids get to because of a piece of paper is pure bullshit.”

“Harvey—“ Somehow, he managed to seem even more weary than he had the moment before.

Harvey shook his head. “There are details to work out; I get that. But as I mentioned before, you’re smart. You can work them out. Especially with a little brainstorming.”

Mike took a few bites, chewing slowly. Harvey let him think. Eventually, Mike said, “I wonder if there are scholarships for felons looking to change their lives in a positive way and contribute to society?”

Harvey grinned. “That’s the spirit.”

*


Mike was well beyond sore by the time he helped Reina with her last rounds for the day and made his way over to the small animal kennels to play a bit with Cupcake. He was surprised to find he didn’t really mind. If anything, the physical reminder kept him a little calmer than usual. All the same, he was glad he wasn’t going to have to bike home.

Harvey found him there and handed him a cup of coffee and more ibuprofen. Mike kissed him by way of thanks. Harvey kissed back, holding him longer than Mike would have stayed. Mike didn’t fight it. Rather, he asked quietly, “Is this something you do always, or just when I—just when things feel out of control?”

Harvey stepped back, away from Mike and Mike recognized the intent in the move, appreciated being given space for the conversation they were having. Harvey asked in an equally quiet tone, “What do you want?”

Mike made himself look directly at Harvey as he said, “I don’t know.”

Harvey smiled at the answer. It was a complicated smile, but not an unhappy one.

Mike spoke up before Harvey could say something else: “What do you want?”

“A lot of things,” Harvey said, bizarrely earnest for the moment. “Mostly, a functional relationship.”

Mike nodded slowly. “I think—“ He shook his head. “I know I’d like to experiment a little. What we did, it was good in a certain way, but I’d like to at least try other things, see how I feel.”

Harvey reached out and ran his thumb over the skin of Mike’s neck just once. “A little experimentation never hurt anyone.”

Mike, needing a moment to think clearly, to recover just from Harvey’s touch, the implicit promise in his voice, went back to scratching Cupcake’s belly and ears. Harvey asked, “Think, if we stopped by, I could get Mrs. Ross’ permission to abscond with you for a night?”

Mike’s voice wasn’t quite steady, but he got out, “You’d better have cash ready. She only sells me off to the highest bidders.”

Mike heard Harvey’s soft sound of amusement. “We can stop on the bank on the way there.”

Mike kissed Cupcake right between the eyes and stood. “In that case, we’d better get going.”

Harvey gestured with a hand. “Lead the way.”


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile