The last time Mike saw his parents, they were dressed up. At the time, Mike's seven year -old self had thought it very exciting, had wondered if maybe they were going to meet important people. They'd both kissed and hugged him and told him to mind his grandmother until they got back.
Mike could remember every word he'd ever read and song he'd ever heard line by line, note by note. After a while, though, the memory of what those hugs had felt like faded away as if they'd never been real in the first place.
His grandma died in her sleep. She'd tucked him in one night, sitting next to him and reading aloud, her arm holding him close in a half-hug, as they did almost every night. Then she'd gone to bed and when Mike tried getting her up the next day, she wouldn't wake.
He called 911. The EMTs arrived to find Mike huddled over her, clinging to a body that was already cold and stiff.
The first time Mike's fosters tried sending him on a delivery, Mike asked a question. They put him in the attic for the whole day without food or water. It was cold and damp and Mike emerged with a cough that nobody cared about.
Mike figured he'd wait until the check-in from his social worker. They would have to let her speak to Mike. Only, she seemed to buy their excuse that he was napping and they'd have him check in later. She missed the second check-in, the one after one of the women in the house hit him with a hairbrush until he could hardly walk.
One of the older kids, Trevor, kept telling him not to be stupid, to just do what they wanted. Mike knew his mom and dad and grandma would all have been disappointed in him. At least they weren't around to see.
Mike spent a lot of his time actively not thinking about what he was doing or where he was or anything, really. They sent him to school and although the classes were boring and too easy, there were plenty of books he could read if he was sneaky about it. And later, he could go over the books in his own head as a way of drowning everything else out.
He was deep in the pages of Sherlock Holmes when he was scooped up by a rival distributor and locked in a tiny, dark room. Mike allowed himself one moment to wonder what would happen to him, and then forced his thoughts back into the book.
He fell asleep before he could get started in his "re-read" of A Wrinkle in Time. He drifted in and out of consciousness, using books he'd read to keep himself from panicking in the dark, or allowing himself to feel how hungry he was.
Mike woke up to Harvey's presence, like a guardian angel or something. For a while, Mike thought he was just dreaming, or making things up, hallucinating, maybe. The first time Harvey really spoke to him, Mike figured out he'd been found. Harvey's first words to him were, "I don't think I'm supposed to let you have this."
He'd slowly shared a cinnamon raisin bagel with Mike. Mike told Harvey, "I'm Mike."
"Harvey. I found you. Finders keepers, as they say."
Mike was still tired or else he would have been smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself. "Don't wanna do deliveries."
Harvey's expression hardened a little bit. Mike opened his mouth to apologize—he didn't want to go back in the closet—when Harvey said, "Good, because that profession is illegal, and if you're going to live with a lawyer, it would just get embarrassing."
Mike blinked, struggling to stay awake. "Lawyer?"
Harvey smiled, sharp and soft all at once somehow. "As I said, finders keepers."
Aside from the clinical, professional touches of the medical personnel, the last time Mike had been touched in a way not meant to harm had been when he'd lived with his grandmother. He knew he'd missed the way she'd hold his hand if he was scared, or rub his back if he was feeling sick, or let him tuck into her side when they were sitting on the couch, watching television.
He hadn't realized quite how much he'd missed casually kind touches until Harvey was helping him to stand from the wheelchair they'd made him ride out of the hospital. Harvey's hands were warm and gentle, and before he even knew what he was doing, Mike had thrown himself into hugging Harvey.
Harvey went still and Mike tried to make himself pull away. Still wasn't good, he was pretty sure, stiff definitely wasn't good, and Harvey was as unyielding as a brick wall. Then, right as Mike had gotten up the wherewithal to stand back, Harvey was crouching down, wrapping Mike up tightly in his arms. "Here's the deal, pup. I don't know anything about being a dad. You're gonna have to tell me when you want things, especially things like hugs, and I'm gonna have to do my best."
Mike nodded against Harvey's sleeve. Harvey's best seemed like an awful lot to offer. Mike would have taken second or third best. He tightened his hold as best he could, determined not to let go.
Mike mostly slept and ate for the first couple of days after Harvey'd gotten him back to his condo. When he finally began waking up for significant periods of time, Harvey said, "I've got to go back to the office. Jessica's going to have kittens any day now. You're welcome to stay here, and I'll find someone to stay with you, or you can come with me. There's not much to do at the office, though."
Mike was ten, a big kid, and could definitely sit still and quietly all day so long as he kept Harvey in his line of sight. "Can I go with you, please?"
Harvey packed a few juice boxes and held Mike's hand when they went outside. When they got in the car, Harvey introduced Ray, who allowed Mike to pick the music. Harvey buckled Mike in and grinned when Mike chose the stuff his grandma had always listened to. Harvey said, "Kid's got good taste, huh, Ray?"
Harvey's office was cool. Donna was pretty and she knew where the hot chocolate packets were. The view from the window made Mike feel like he could see everything, ever. Harvey had a couch that was a nice place for naps, and lots of good records. Best of all, there was a library.
Mike liked to hole up under one of the tables in the library, dragging out one of the books that Harvey called a recorder. Harvey said it had cases in it, but Mike just liked the stories. More than once Harvey had woken Mike up when he'd fallen asleep curled next to one of the open recorders.
The only fixture at Harvey's office Mike wasn't sure about was Jessica. She wasn't mean or anything, but everyone was a little bit afraid of her, even Harvey. Mike thought that was a good reason to be a lot afraid.
He tried to just stay away, but one day she came into Harvey's office while Mike was lying on the floor, reading one of the new mystery books Harvey had gotten him. Harvey was always buying him books, even though Mike kept telling him all he needed was a library card. Mike didn't have time to scrabble out and go hide until she went away.
Harvey and she were definitely mad at each other about something, even if they were both being quiet about it. Jessica looked as put together as she always did, but Mike was too familiar with her body language to be fooled by her appearance. Mike had stood that way too many times himself, the fear of losing something important, maybe already having lost it, making everything hurt.
Before he even knew what he was doing, Mike was across the room, his arms around Jessica's waist, his head resting at about stomach level. He was vaguely aware that both of them had stopped speaking, but he just held on, because Jessica was still standing with that hidden brokenness inside her. After a moment, she asked, "What's your kid doing, Harvey?"
"Hugging you," Harvey answered. Mike could hear the smile he knew Harvey wasn't allowing on his face.
Jessica murmured something about smart asses. "Is there a reason he's hugging me?"
Harvey's voice was softer than usual when he said, "Well, he does like hugs."
"They make me feel better," Mike told them.
"I'm not really good at…hugs," Jessica said.
"Because nobody gives you any," Mike said. "You just need practice."
After a second, she laughed, a startled sound. Then she worked to pry him off of her without hurting him. She looked down at him for a moment, then asked, "Are you trying to make me feel better?"
Mike shrugged. "Maybe if you felt better, you wouldn't be so scary."
It was Harvey who laughed that time, not bothering to hide it. Jessica gave him a Look, but then returned her attention to Mike. She bent down so they were roughly eye-to-eye. "Scary's kind of an important thing for someone like me to be."
"Oh," Mike said. He thought for a second. "But…but not sad, right?"
She opened her mouth, then closed it. She tried a second time and came up with, "I'm not sure. What I do, who I am, requires loneliness."
Mike hated the feeling of loneliness. It was worse than sadness. He didn't have any good ideas of how to fix the problem, though, so just leaned in to give her another hug. "Hugs make me feel less lonely, too."
This time, her arms slowly came up to return the hug. "You might be on to something."
Harvey gave the best hugs, so far as Mike was concerned. Sure, Mike knew he was biased, but there was something about the solid human warmth and strength of Harvey's hugs that would always make Mike feel safe.
After that day, though, there was never a time when Mike was at the office, or Jessica came to the condo, when Mike didn't make her take a second or two for a hug. When he was sixteen, she yelled at him that she didn't have time for his nonsense before going silent, stricken at her own words. Mike didn't make her apologize—even though he knew, for him, she would—just leaned in and gathered her up and said, "Sorry things are bad, Aunt Jess."
She squeezed tighter than ever before and murmured, "Not so bad now, kid."