Disclaimer: Say it with me now ~ me ... don't ... own.
Summary: Even as Mike was saying the words he knew it was a mistake. There is no going back from something like that, but maybe that's what he wanted, that self destruction, a final fuck you to Harvey and the world at large. Intellectually and with the wisdom of distance Mike knows he should've done anything other than tell Rachel, that maybe his relationship with Harvey would've been salvageable had it not been for this one last thing. But now he knows that there is no way back from this.
That's it. It's all over. He has officially lost everything he cares about.
Authors Notes: Yet another in the 'Mike's secret gets found out/Mike gets fired/Mike quits' sub-genre which I have written a crazy amount of fic for. One day I will stop writing these fics.
Something to be aware of before reading: Since it's never explicitly stated how long has elapsed in canon (to be honest I'm convinced even the writers don't know) for the purposes of this fic the events of the pilot occurred in June 2011 and the season two finale occurred in February 2012 (this fic takes place directly after the season two finale). Just something to keep in mind throughout the fic.
Title comes from a song by Josh Groban called, appropriately enough, If I Walk Away.
A big thank you to smartalli for being my sounding board/beta/fountain of knowledge for all things American/queen of contractions etc etc. I can't even begin to enumerate everything she did for me with this fic. Seriously. I can be the absolute worst sometimes and she somehow manages to put up with me and I don't know how but I love her for it. :O)
futures that all might start someday
For the first time in his ten month tenure at Pearson Hardman, Mike calls in sick.
He knows it's weak and cowardly, but he doesn't know what else to do. He can't face them, any of them, but most especially Harvey and Rachel.
His mind just keeps replaying it, over and over again - Harvey's face in the bathroom, telling him he wasn't the best lawyer he'd ever seen, that look of hurt and betrayal covering every inch of his expression, the words 'you're fired' now running through his head like a mantra. And when he isn't thinking about Harvey he's thinking about Rachel, her face when he told her the truth, the feel of her hand slapping against his skin, her confusion and hurt as she re-dressed in the file room, walking away without another word.
He can't believe things spiralled out of control so fast. It feels like in just a matter of hours he's lost two of the most important people in his life. And he has already lost so much this last year. You'd think it would get easier, that it would hurt less as time wore on. But it doesn't. It hurts more.
He honestly doesn't know what to do. He sits in bed all day long, staring at the walls, wondering how the fuck he can possibly fix this.
He should be too smart for this. He should never have gotten into this kind of situation. For someone with an IQ as high as he has he sure has a singular talent for getting himself into downward spirals and situations that had no escape.
What hurts most of all is that he'd only wanted to help Harvey. Even though he originally told Jessica no, even though he was saving himself from being reported to the Bar, the only reason he eventually gave in was because he thought it would ultimately get Harvey what he wanted: his name on the door.
Only not only did that not happen, he lost Harvey's trust, he almost lost his job, he ruined his relationship with Harvey (possibly forever) and then because he was spiralling and dizzy from what happened with Harvey he did literally the stupidest thing imaginable and told Rachel.
Even as he was saying the words he knew it was a mistake. There is no going back from something like that, but maybe that's what he wanted, that self destruction, a final fuck you to Harvey and the world at large. Intellectually and with the wisdom of distance Mike knows he should've done anything other than tell Rachel, that maybe his relationship with Harvey would've been salvageable had it not been for this one last thing. But now he knows that there is no way back from this.
That's it. It's all over. He has officially lost everything he cares about.
It takes all day for Mike to gather the courage to face Harvey.
He drags himself out of bed, showers and dresses slowly. He feels so lethargic, and more than a little scared over what's about to happen. But he knows this isn't something he can put off forever, and more than anything, he owes Harvey this.
The cab ride over feels like it takes forever and yet when he arrives at Harvey's building he feels like he's arrived too soon. He's so not ready for this. But he breathes deep and steady as he makes his way upstairs, and when Harvey opens the door to him he's surprised when Harvey doesn't immediately slam it closed again.
The look of anger, however, is completely expected.
"What do you want, Mike?" Harvey asks.
He stands there, body blocking the entrance to his apartment, and Mike can't help but think about all the other times they've shown up unannounced and uninvited at each other's places, how they would just barge straight in regardless, and now not only is Harvey not letting him in, but Mike isn't forcing him to either. It's like that very first time, when Mike showed up here drunk, and Harvey just scowled and closed the door in his face. It's another manifestation of all that lost trust and time. Here they are, back where they started.
"We need to talk."
"I'm not interested," Harvey replies, and this time he does try and close the door in Mike's face.
But Mike saw it coming, and he blocks the door before Harvey can close it. "Harvey, there's something I have to tell you," he reiterates, the guilt and anxiety finally bleeding through.
Harvey can obviously sense the significance of this statement, and with an expression Mike has seen far too many times before (where he's already disappointed with Mike and bracing himself for further stupidity) he walks back inside, leaving the door open for Mike to trail in after him.
Mike can feel his hands shaking as he walks into Harvey's condo. He tries not to think about all the other times he's walked into this room. He doesn't succeed.
"What is it, Mike?" Harvey asks when they halt in the lounge. His voice is so cold that Mike practically shivers with it. He's been on the receiving end of many an emotion from Harvey, but never once, not even at the lowest point in their relationship, has Harvey ever addressed Mike with such detachment, like he is so far beneath Harvey's notice.
And he thought this was going to be hard before.
"I told Rachel our secret. And then we slept together."
He expects Harvey to rage and yell and swear. He expects to see throbbing veins and a hard, pursed mouth. All he gets is Harvey's sigh of resignation as he sits down on the sofa.
He looks at Mike for a moment, then eventually says, "What do you want me to say, Mike?"
"I don't know," Mike replies, genuinely bewildered, thrown by this unexpected reaction. "Maybe a plan for what to do next?"
"There is no plan. There can't be. You did the one thing I told you not to do. There's no going back from this."
"But-" Mike stammers, for once at a loss for words. "So, what? That's it? You're giving up?"
"I'm saying that this is a situation entirely of your own making. And I warned you - if you kept making shitty decisions, that I would hang you out to dry. You did this. You can deal with the consequences."
"Do you even want to know why I told her? I told her because-"
"I don't care. Whatever your reasons, I just can't care anymore, Mike. I am so fucking exhausted of all the shit you've pulled. I thought you betraying me to Jessica was the last straw but this is-"
"I didn't betray you, Harvey! I was trying to help you."
"By selling me out?"
"I was trying to help you get your name on the door, like you've always wanted." Mike protests, because despite everything that's happened, he did have Harvey's best interests at heart.
And Harvey scoffs, voice finally starting to rise in anger. "Why does everyone think I need their help to get my name on the door? I don't, okay? I don’t need your help. That's not how our relationship works."
"And how does it work?" Mike asks, despite how scared he is of the answer. Because this is it. He needs to know what the fuck Harvey is thinking, how Harvey feels about him, and he thinks that in this moment he might actually get an answer.
Harvey's voice is so hard when he replies, "You do what I tell you and keep your nose out of my business."
Mike recoils, actually physically takes a step back, puts more distance between them (at least, more of the physical kind, there is already more than enough of the emotional kind). "I can't do that, Harvey," he says, because it's true. He can't. Mike cares too much now (in truth he cared too much about Harvey from the outset), but after this last year, there's no one he cares for more than Harvey. He can't undo all those feelings and, even more importantly, he can't pretend that they aren't there.
"Which goes to show why we can't work together anymore."
Mike can't believe it. He knew it was bad, knew this was the worst place he and Harvey had ever been, but this…
"You can't mean that," he says feebly, hoping more than believing it to be true.
"I do," Harvey says, and Mike knows him too well. He knows that Harvey means it.
"So what does this mean?" Mike asks, mind spinning. He's never felt more confused, more alone. "Do you want me to leave Pearson Hardman?"
Harvey doesn't say anything. He just stares Mike down, and the stillness of the room is so overwhelming he can practically hear the blood racing through his veins. It takes a moment for Mike to interpret Harvey's silence and when he does the realization hits him hard in the chest.
"Holy shit. You do. You want me to leave."
Harvey shrugs, uncaring. "Stay or leave, I really don't give a fuck. But as for the rest of it, you and I, we're through."
Mike's never put much thought into the whole fight vs flight thing, but he feels the weight of it in this moment, torn between wanting to flee from Harvey's cold and disapproving glare and needing to stay and fight, to try and fix this. He wants to throw up. He wants undo every action that got him to this point. He wants to cross the room and shake Harvey and just get him to understand.
"Harvey," Mike says, and it doesn't even sound like him, voice completely raw and wrecked. "Please. We need to make this better. I need to make this better."
And Harvey finally stands. He looks Mike right in the eye, sighs sadly, and says, "You can't. Just go. I don't want to see you again."
It's the last of Harvey's orders that Mike will ever follow.
When Mike enters the Pearson Hardman (or whatever the fuck they are called these days) building, he braces himself, eyes continually scanning the room, waiting for the inevitable attack.
It's strange. He's never been legitimate, but until this moment, he never really felt like a fraud. But he feels it now. He looks around, sees everyone blissfully going about their own business, and he can't help but wait for the inevitable blow. Because Harvey doesn't want anything to do with him and Rachel knows the truth and Jessica didn't fire him (and he tries not to wonder why the hell she saved him when Harvey tried to fire him – because really, he thought she would've jumped at the chance to get rid of him) but he fully anticipates that she will change her mind and sooner or later he'll be gone.
He sits at his cubicle, boots up his computer, but he hasn't even logged in before the anticipation becomes too much and he's up off his chair and walking across the floor.
He knocks on the glass door and Rachel looks up, her face contorting into myriad expressions (in the first three seconds alone he catches anger, surprise, embarrassment, remorse and disgust). He walks in without being invited and shuts the door behind him.
He can't help but think of the other night, the way they had come together, the anger and lust and the inevitable implosion after all the ups and downs since they had met. So, "I'm sorry," are the first words out of his mouth. And he is. He's sorry for lying to her all this time, for beating a system that held her back, for not being better, but most of all for using her after everything that happened with Harvey earlier that day.
"I don't care," she says, and yeah, Mike figures he deserves that.
"Have you told anyone?" he asks, and he immediately thereafter feels like the biggest asshole for focusing on the confession and not the sex part of the evening's events, but it's too late now anyway.
"I made an appointment with Jessica this afternoon to tell her."
He doesn't blame her. Honestly. Out of every employee at Pearson Hardman Rachel is the one who has the most reason to be upset by his deception. He doesn't begrudge her attempt at revenge at all.
"She already knows," Mike says, and he can see Rachel doesn't understand, so he gives her a very abridged version of who knows what.
"So," Rachel says when he's said his piece, "Harvey, Jessica and Donna all know?"
Mike nods. He adds Rachel to his list of accomplices (because that's what they are – he is committing fraud and if anyone outside the firm found out they would all be implicated) and suddenly he knows what he needs to do.
"But you don’t have to worry about it. Because I'm going to quit."
He can tell he's surprised her. In truth, he surprised himself. But he just can't do this anymore. It's not fair to put all these people in danger. It's not fair to be doing the job that Rachel can't. It's not fair that he can't work with Harvey anymore.
"Really?" she says, scepticism thick in her tone.
Mike nods, sitting forward in his chair. "Look, Rachel, I'm sorry, okay. About everything. But especially about the other night. I like you, you know I do. I really like you. But I know that after this, you could never trust me enough for us to be together, and I don't blame you. Our timing has never quite worked out, and I wish things could've been different. But we could never last, and I think deep down we've both always known it. So. I'm going to see Jessica, and after I walk out of here, you'll never have to see me again."
She just stares at him. He can see her eyes bright with unshed tears as she keeps his gaze, but she doesn't protest. With one last nod and deep breath he stands and walks away.
His name on her lips stops him before he's left her office. It's harder than it should be, to look back at her, but he forces his gaze to hers.
"Good luck," she says softly, and he smiles sadly at her before walking away.
He can't believe he's going to do this.
And yet he can, because he's going to, and a part of him always knew this couldn't last forever. That part of him did think it wouldn't be so soon though. That part of him hoped he would have years, maybe even decades, before he was inevitably torn from this life.
Instead he lasted a total of ten months.
It was the most transformative, eventful, important ten months of his life. He had lost and gained so much. But now it was over.
He hovers outside Jessica's doorway and it doesn't take long for her to call him in. He walks into her office, and when she waves an arm he sits in the chair opposite the sofa on which she is sitting.
"What can I do for you, Mike?"
"I came to give you my resignation, effective immediately," he says, and all the nerves and uncertainty finally leave him. For the first time in days (weeks, months) he feels calm. He feels relieved.
He can tell she's surprised but she is also one of the best lawyers he's ever met and she schools her features within nanoseconds.
She seems to consider her words for a moment before saying, "When I found out the truth about you, I wanted you gone. But Harvey fought for you. He convinced me to let you stay-"
"Blackmailed, you mean," Mike interrupts, and the receiving glare he gets makes him wish he hadn’t.
Jessica just ignores his outburst and continues. "He convinced me to let you stay, and I understand why. You're smart, you have a lot of potential here. I know things have been tough lately, for all of us, but you don't have to go."
Mike can't believe he's on the receiving end of this speech. Though he wouldn't exactly call this her fighting for him to stay, she's giving him the chance to reconsider his resignation, and given everything that's happened in the last year (and really, how to even begin to enumerate everything at this point…), he wouldn't blame her in the least for jumping for joy at his leaving.
"Yeah, I really do," Mike tells her. And it's the truth. He can't be here anymore.
Jessica regards him for a few moments, then averts her eyes and asks softly, "Is this because of Harvey?"
Mike doesn't reply, can't even look at her, and his evasion seems to be more than enough of an answer for her.
"He'll get over it," she says.
He should listen to her. He really wants to listen to her. He wants to hold on tight to any glimmer of hope that says he and Harvey can be okay again. And though he would never claim to know Harvey better than someone who has been in his life for decades, he doesn't think it’s a lie to say he knows him pretty well, to say he knows him differently than Jessica or Donna or anyone else. And he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that Harvey won't get over it, and even if he did, things would never be the same again. Their relationship has been permanently changed because of this, and there is no going back.
"No, he won't," he tells her, because she doesn't understand just how deeply Harvey's hurt goes. She can't know about how they trusted each other so implicitly from the moment they met and now that's broken. She doesn't understand how much Harvey means to him, and how the loss of his friendship (and fuck Harvey and his protests, Mike will always believe that they were friends) will change him irrevocably. "Harvey brought me into this life. I literally would not be here if it wasn't for him. And I don't want to be here without him."
He knows that Jessica can see that he's serious, and she nods, accepting Mike's resignation.
Mike stands, and she does too. He steps forward and shakes her hand, says, "Thanks for everything. I'm sorry for putting you in this position and being in any way dangerous for your firm."
She just smirks at him. "No, you're not," she says, eyes twinkling with laughter.
And Mike can admit that he doesn't regret it enough that if he had the chance to do it all again, he'd probably do it the exact same way (apart from, you know, selling out Harvey and telling Rachel their secret before sleeping with her), but that doesn't mean he isn't sorry for a lot of the other stuff too.
"Good luck, Mike."
"You too," he replies, before leaving the office.
He goes back to his cubicle to grab his things, packing up the only personal item he has (a picture of him and Grammy he keeps in the second drawer of his desk) and walking away without a word to any of the associates.
He thinks about it for a good twenty seconds, weighing his options, before he decides to detour to Harvey's office. His chest constricts the closer he gets, but releases when he sees the office is empty. He doesn't know if he feels relieved or saddened by this.
He turns his attention to Donna, and smiles. Though they had a bit of a rough time during the whole 'destroyed memo' debacle, he still likes her, respects her, and appreciates everything she does for Harvey.
He leans on her cubicle for one last time and says, "I came to say goodbye."
Donna doesn't even look up from her computer, continues typing as she says, "It's eight am - boss man won't be happy to hear about you skipping out this early."
Mike's brow furrows with confusion and holy shit, Harvey hasn't told her. Anything. Not about Harvey trying to fire him, or about the reason for Mike's absence yesterday, or what happened with Rachel or the fight they had last night. Nothing. Mike doesn't know what this means (how Harvey hasn't told her, how she hasn't figured anything out for herself), but it has to mean something, right?
If it does, he can't figure it out.
Donna seems content to just keep working, so he pulls out his staff ID card and places it on her desk. She finally looks up at him then, and he repeats, "I came to say goodbye."
"What?" she asks, her face falling with realization. She stands and winds her way around the cubicle walls to stand in front of him. "Explain."
"I just gave my resignation to Jessica. I'm leaving."
But Mike just feels so tired, and he can't go through this again. So he sighs and says, not a little bitterly, "Ask Harvey."
He tries to walk away, but she blocks his path. "I'm asking you," she insists. Because she's Donna - of course she won't give up.
"Look, let's just say I made some mistakes, and the only way to atone is to leave."
"Does Harvey know about this?" she asks, because she always seems to know how to get right to the heart of the matter.
"No. But I'm sure Jessica will tell him when he gets here."
"I'm calling him," she says, making to reach over the cubicle wall to the phone, but Mike reaches out a hand to stop her before she can.
"Don’t. Donna, please. Harvey will tell you everything when he gets here. He might not know about this, but believe me when I say he won't be surprised when he finds out."
Donna looks at him, concern clear on her face. "Mike, what happened?"
But Mike just needs to leave. Every second he lingers here he risks running in to Harvey, and he can't, he can't see him after last night. He just needs to get out of here.
So Mike smiles, leaning over and kissing her cheek. "Do me a favor? Look after him," he says, eyes inadvertently flicking to Harvey's office.
Donna nods, smiles softly at him. "I always do."
He gives her one last hug, and this time when he tries to leave, she lets him go.
When he gets home, the first thing he does it take his suit off, right in the entryway of his apartment. The second thing he does is collapse on the couch and cover his face with his hands and try with all his might not to cry.
He can't believe it's finally real. He had always known this day would come, but it was always placed in a vague future, one of those things you know is going to occur you just don't know when. Like Mike always thought he would get married and have kids and it's just there, waiting in his future for him to catch up to. His leaving Pearson Hardman was always looming in his future, but he thought it was much further away, actually after the marriage and kids thing, only real life decided not to play by his rules and here he was, alone and unemployed.
He can't stay here like this. He knows he could sit here and wallow all day and send himself spiralling even further. And it's tempting, but he just doesn’t want to think about it anymore. He doesn’t want to relive the last forty-eight hours, he doesn't want to think about the future, he doesn’t want to sit there and have his mind focus on every little thing he's done wrong, every step that he wishes he could undo to have this whole thing never happen.
So he does everything he's been putting off because he never had any time. He cleans the whole apartment, from top to bottom. He washes all his clothes and sheets and remakes the bed. He pays all his bills. He goes grocery shopping, coming back with enough food to stock his near empty fridge and pantry. He catches up on his completely full DVR.
And when it's time to go to bed, he sleeps for nearly twelve hours straight.
In the morning, Mike can't put off reality crashing down around him.
He has no job. He has no income. He checks his phone with nothing but a fool's hope that Harvey or Rachel (or maybe Donna or Jessica, or hell, even Louis) has tried to contact him. But there are no missed calls.
He has no friends.
It's a weird feeling, to know that you've burnt every bridge, destroyed every good thing in your life. He'd never felt like an orphan until Grammy passed, but even then he hadn't felt alone because he had Harvey.
Now he has nothing.
Fuck it, he is going to wallow today. He figures he deserves it, deserves one day to mourn the loss of everything he held dear. He is going to stay in bed all day and eat crappy food and drink whatever he wants and cry and be angry with the world.
And tomorrow, he is going to sort his life out.
Despite the hangover, Mike determines to get out of bed and start working on his new life. And the first thing he decides to do is move out of his apartment.
There are too many memories here now. Memories of Grammy and Trevor and Jenny and Tess and Rachel and Harvey and it feels like this space doesn't even belong to him anymore. It's the vault which keeps their memory locked up, and Mike can't live right in the middle of it. Because he looks at the couch and sees him and Trevor, beer bottles in hand, yelling at the TV as the Mets bomb out. He looks at the bed and he can see him and Jenny, lounging in the sheets, soft morning light streaming through the window. He looks at his kitchen table and he sees him and Harvey, sharing secrets they'd never told anyone else, Harvey's face relaxed and open.
He can't stay here.
The first option that springs to mind is the apartment he bought for Grammy, but he only considers it for about five seconds before deciding to sell it. Because, as great as the apartment is, and despite the fact Grammy never saw it, he knows that he would always be haunted by the memory of that day, standing in the empty room, the disbelief rolling through his body at Rachel's words.
So he resolves to sell the apartment and move somewhere completely new. As tasks go it's a pretty good one. He can occupy his days by organizing the sale of Grammy's apartment, looking at new apartments, packing up his belongings into a million boxes.
Turns out, finding the new place is easier than he anticipated and the packing up of his apartment was just as hard as he imagined it would be. Mike finds an apartment in the same neighborhood, actually only a few blocks away. It's slightly bigger than his current place, though not by much, and it has the added bonus of an actual separate bedroom.
But packing up everything, deciding what to keep and what to throw, makes everything so real in a way nothing else really has. It's that final door closing, proof that there's no going back, proof that he is moving on in every sense of the word.
It's been two weeks since he left Pearson Hardman. He hasn't heard from anyone (although if he's honest not hearing from Harvey is all that really matters) and every day it's starting to feel more and more like something he had created in his mind, a dream so vivid he's convinced it was real.
Mike is logging on to his online banking to organize payment for his new place when he notices that his account balance is considerably higher than he expected. As in, he has to blink a few times to make sure he isn't imagining that his last pay is fifty thousand dollars higher than it should be.
Once the shock wears off he takes the payoff (from Jessica) with the spirit with which it was intended: thanks for all your hard work, good luck with your future, I never want to see you back here again.
Like she even has to worry about that.
He stares at his bank balance. It's the most money he's ever had in his whole life, and if he continues to live frugally (and he basically lived the same way whether he was scraping by on odd jobs and LSAT tests or when he was earning $180k a year), he doesn't have to worry too much about running out of money any time soon.
Which means, for the first time in as long as he can remember, he's free to do as he chooses. His whole life he's had a lot of his choices taken away from him. Some of them were admittedly his own fault (like the whole being kicked out of school and his life plan falling apart thing), and he never for one second begrudged his financial commitment to Grammy or considered her in any way a burden. But for the first time, the whole world is open to him. He has the time and the means and the freedom to do what he wants.
Now he just has to decide what that is.
Mike sells Grammy's apartment at a break even rate. He never cared about making anything on it, just wanted to sell it as soon as possible and recover all his costs. He pays out the lease on his current place, signs the lease on the new apartment, and boxes up every possession he wants to take with him.
Moving day finally arrives, and Mike wakes genuinely excited. The movers will be here at ten, so the first thing he does is shower, and when dressed he packs up all the last minute stuff (the bed sheets, some clothes and toiletries, food and kitchenware). When he checks his phone just before ten he sees he has a missed call.
It's from Harvey.
Mike nearly drops the phone in surprise. He stares at the notification, willing it to make sense. But it doesn't. Because Mike has been gone for over a month and Harvey's never called before and he just can't reconcile it.
The timestamp indicates that Harvey called when he was in the shower, and Mike's thankful for small mercies, because honestly, if he'd seen Harvey calling he doesn’t know if he would've wanted to answer or not. He's glad the decision was taken out of his hands.
There's no voicemail, and Mike doesn't call back. The movers arrive with impeccable timing and the day is spent moving into the new apartment and unpacking everything and shopping to restock the fridge and he doesn’t have to think about Harvey and that fucking missed call.
And it's just so like Harvey, to pick today of all days to call. Because it's been a month and Mike finally feels like he is moving on. He misses Harvey, of course he does, feels his absence like a hole in his chest every single day. But Harvey basically cut him off, and even though he wishes things had ended differently, as much as he wants the whole thing to have never happened so he could still be at Pearson Hardman by Harvey's side, it did happen. And Mike is self aware enough to admit that he was kind of scarred by the whole thing, and he doesn't want Harvey ripping open his wounds.
So, after a blissfully peaceful night's sleep in his new apartment, the first thing he does the next morning is change his number.
His whole life, Mike's wanted to be a lawyer. If he'd known then what he knows now, maybe he would've chosen a different career to obsess over.
Because he can never be a lawyer now, not ever again, and he is twenty-eight years old with no education and no career goals and barely any work experience that isn't illegal.
He spends a solid week going over different options, trying to decide whether he should go back to school, actually give college a proper shot, or whether he should just try and find some entry level work and work his way up that way.
He soon realizes that his time at Pearson Hardman has essentially ruined him, and he wouldn't be happy at some low level position. He wants more, wants to be tested and engaged. He wants a career and not just a job.
With that decision made, it's just a matter of deciding how he wants to spend the rest of his life, so, a small decision really. He considers his strengths, his interests and passions. He thinks about teaching, loves the idea of imparting knowledge onto impressionable minds. He considers journalism, because he's loved to write ever since he was young, and he likes the idea of investigating and looking for those small but important details and educating the masses with what he finds. He thinks about medicine, the possibility of saving lives, bringing relief to people, to just being able to help.
But what he ultimately wants is psychology. Because he's intrigued by the way the mind works (how could he not be with a mind like his?), is fascinated by the different ways people behave and what exactly makes people tick, wants to help people and loves the idea of helping others rebuild their lives, like he is attempting to right now.
He applies for multiple courses across multiple colleges - he's not an idiot - and hopes for the best.
Mike approaches the application task with a near unprecedented zeal. He vaguely recalls this process from a decade earlier, the forms and essays, and it should make him feel like he's regressed to his eighteen year old self, but on the contrary, it makes him feel empowered.
He's been distracting himself by focusing on the move and everything that went with it, but in those other hours when he found himself with an abundance of time and nothing to do to fill it, he had longed for some kind of goal, something to keep him focused like his work used to. He's gone through every DVD he owns, re-read his favorite books, cleaned his apartment on a near daily basis - anything to fill the hours so he doesn't sit there and angst over everything he's lost.
(Even though he sometimes does that anyway.)
So yes, he throws all his energy into his applications. His essays are a thing of beauty (if he does say so himself) and it feels so good to be working again, using his brain for something worthwhile. He'd missed it, actually using his mind and trying to think of the best way to frame an argument and figuring out how to persuade someone to his intentions. He loves playing with that line between what's true and what isn't, what statements he can make and get away with, refuses to lie outright but gets as creative as he can.
He starts to feel alive again.
With his focus being on the college applications, it takes until early afternoon for Mike to remember.
One year ago today Mike started at Pearson Hardman.
He had gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing, at not thinking about what happened. Distractions had been the order of the day, and it had worked well, stopped him from dwelling on what was, what could've been.
But the realization that it's been exactly one year has a crushing effect on him. He can't stop his mind from imagining what would've happened if he'd still been working with Harvey. He probably would've bought him some kind of gag gift, presented in flowery paper with a 'happy anniversary' card, just to get an eye-roll and smirk out of the older man. And he would have. Harvey would've given Mike shit for it, but he still would've opened the present, kept whatever Mike had given him.
And maybe they would've gone for dinner or drinks after work. Harvey wouldn't have made a big deal of it, definitely wouldn't say it was in celebration of twelve months coming and going. He would've just dropped by Mike's cubicle at the end of the day and tilted his head, and Mike would've stood and followed wherever Harvey lead.
And suddenly Mike can't breathe.
He wants it back so badly, misses that every day ease the two of them had. He hasn't allowed himself to think about Harvey too much in the last couple of months because he knew nothing good would come of it. And it's stupid, to be grieving the loss of someone who when asked would say they were boss and subordinate and that's it, grieving more than he mourned the loss of his last two girlfriends. He and Harvey didn't "break up". He didn't get his heart broken (okay, maybe he did), he shouldn’t be missing him like a phantom limb (but he really does). He misses him so much it vibrates throughout his body, makes him antsy and confused, and he just needs to get out.
Mike barely has the presence of mind to grab some essentials as he practically runs out the door, and he just keeps going. He's never been much of a jogger (biking was always his exercise of choice), but he can't stop, doesn't want to stop and think and hurt. He listens to his ipod, tries to drown out the world at large, just focuses on the road ahead as he pounds the pavement.
But twenty minutes into his run his ipod decides that of the four thousand songs he has it should play Herbie Hancock and Mike immediately comes to a dead halt in the middle of the sidewalk, breathless and panting and so fucking overwhelmed. He's besieged with memories of late nights in Harvey's office, the two of them lounged on the couch, the city sparkling below as they worked through their case, Harvey's music softly filling the room.
He can't take it anymore.
When he starts running again this time it's with purpose. He jogs to his old neighborhood, visits an old acquaintance, and arrives home minutes later with two thick joints in hand.
He quickly showers and changes, collapsing onto the couch, rolling a joint back and forth between his fingertips. Drugs have been so pivotal in his life this last year. The drug deal that led him to the Chilton, to Harvey. Quitting for Harvey and the new job (new life) he offered. Getting high with Tom Keller, and Harvey's face when he realized. Going back to them after Grammy's death. Harvey not only not scolding him for getting high but actually smoking up with him. Harvey being open with Mike, more than he'd ever really been before, spilling secrets at Mike's tiny dining table, so comfortable and more open than he'd ever been. Getting high with Tess, feeling his life spiral out of control again, hating himself for everything he did and everything he was. Finally getting clean again, wanting to prove to Harvey that he can get his shit together.
He doesn't want to go down that road again, but the desire to just not think is even greater. His head is full of Harvey and loss and he just needs it to stop.
"Here's to you, Harvey," Mike murmurs, lifting the joint mid-air in salute before putting it between his lips and lighting it. He eases back into the couch, takes a deep drag, and closes his eyes.
He can finally stop thinking.
Mike wakes with a foggy head, a broken heart, and a vow to never smoke up again.
With all his applications submitted, Mike's life becomes a waiting game.
He used to be quite good at waiting around, doing nothing, whiling away the hours in his apartment. But that was before. It was back when he had Trevor and the pot and no desire whatsoever to amount to anything. It was before Harvey came crashing into his life (or did he crash into Harvey's? Mike thinks arguments could be made for both). It was before everything.
And now the wait is insufferable. His life is put on hold. He can't make any major decisions about anything until he knows either way.
He thinks about getting out of the city for a while, but knows at least here he can keep himself busy as opposed to holing up in a hotel somewhere else. So he keeps to a routine, fills his days with errands and exercise and reading and he tries not to feel like he's just waiting for his life to begin.
The first offer he gets is for Journalism at NYU.
Mike stands in the foyer of his building, letter in shaking hand, so fucking excited.
He reads through everything as he heads upstairs, walks into his apartment with a grin big enough to break his face. His head spins and he wants to scream with joy.
But then he looks up, eyes flitting around his empty apartment, and his face falls as he realizes that he has no one to share the moment with.
Mike gets offered a place at Columbia in their Psychology department, and he accepts.
His life becomes full throttle again, going through the admission process, dealing with the course payments (between his partial scholarship and the money he got from Jessica he should manage to get out the other end relatively debt free), organizing his timetable and familiarizing himself with the campus and preparing the course materials and reading his textbooks...
He feels settled again. He can't believe he missed his life being chaotic but he did, finally feels like himself again as his mind is constantly going in three directions at once.
The morning of his first class dawns warm and bright. He heads to campus, nervous but excited, manages to find his class with time to spare. And when he sits in the lecture, letting the professors words roll over him, he feels home.
The first person he speaks to outside of polite nods and 'hey's' and answering the professors questions is a girl in his Mind, Brain, and Behavior class. They've sat next to each other for the previous three weeks when one day she just turns to him mid-class and says, "Is it just me or does Bailey look exactly like Professor Lupin from Harry Potter?"
Mike looks to their professor at the front of the class, his floppy hair and tweed jacket, and he can't help bursting into laughter. The pair in the row in front of them turn and glare at him, and he quickly shuts up, turning back to her and whispering, "Oh my God, you are so right."
She smiles at him, holds out her hand. "I'm Autumn."
"Mike," he replies, shaking her hand.
After class he invites her for a coffee, and she accepts. They go to a coffee place a few blocks away and settle into a couple of chairs in the back corner.
He basically asks her for her life story, mostly because it feels so good to be having an actual conversation with someone that lasts longer than two minutes, but also because if he keeps asking her questions maybe she won't ask about him. Because when the time comes, when she asks what he did before, he doesn’t know what he'll tell her. He doesn't want to lie anymore, but doesn’t know how to begin to tell the truth.
He asks where she's from ("Northern California") and where she's living now ("Astoria") and how old she is ("late twenties, and you look like you're old enough to know better than to ask a woman her age"). He finds out about her family back in California and her boyfriend who's currently working in Vancouver ("he works in television, spends half the year in Canada and half here in New York") and her aspirations to work with underprivileged kids, maybe as an art therapist. They talk about the classes they have in common, the ones that they don't, their professors and classmates and anything else that comes to mind.
It takes nearly an hour for her to get in a question of her own. She sips at her coffee for a moment, looking thoughtfully at him before putting the mug aside. She leans forward in her chair, her legs crossed and hands clasped in her lap, and asks, "So is this you practicing to be a therapist? Keeping the focus solely on me, not volunteering any information about yourself..."
She's smiling gently at him, and he can't help but laugh. It's funny, because she looks like a therapist, with her honey-colored hair cascading over her shoulder in a side plait, square glasses with dark purple rims that she's always nudging back up her nose, her completely serene and open expression.
It makes him want to tell her. He wants, just for once, for a relationship to not have a big lie hanging over it. Wants something simple and easy. But it's not only his secret to tell, and he may not have seen Harvey or anyone from Pearson Hardman in six months, but this is a secret that has no expiration date. Not to mention it's something that's been used against him before by people he trusted.
"Maybe. Maybe I just don't know how to be honest anymore," he says with a resigned shrug.
Autumn looks at him for a few moments, considering. Mike knows between his evasions during their whole time together and that last very loaded statement he has just given himself away, basically just waved a flag screaming I have issues and secrets and I'm totally screwed up.
"Do you want to?" she asks gently.
And Mike really does. But he just can't. He avoids her gaze, hating himself for not even being able to form a casual connection with someone new without dragging everything down with his angst. He doesn't want this one thing to take over his life. He wants to move on, to be his own man again. He just doesn’t know how.
"Tell you what," Autumn says brightly, sitting back in her chair. "Just tell me one thing. Tell me one true thing about your life from this last year, and I promise not to ask again until you're ready to tell me of your own volition."
He thinks about everything that's happened in the last twelve months, all the ups and downs. He thinks about all the things he can't tell Autumn, all the lies and secrets he will forever keep. He thinks about moving forward with his life, trying to connect to someone new, figures Autumn deserves something truly real. So he tells her something he hasn't told anyone, something he tried not to acknowledge, something he didn't even realize until very recently.
"The last place I worked, I think I fell in love with my boss."
Mike's heart beats hard in his chest as he finally admits what he never wanted to. Although he figures if he can confess to anyone it would be her, someone who knows nothing about him or his life, who won't pass his secret on to anyone Mike cares about knowing. But it's surreal, saying the words out loud.
She's smiling at him. "Wow," she says, "here I was thinking you'd tell me about where you lived or what your hobby was, but you just went straight for the good stuff, huh?"
He can't help but chuckle. He likes Autumn, how easy it feels to be around her, the way she can seemingly put up with all his eccentricities. Because he seriously just went from refusing to say anything about his life to admitting to falling in love with someone, and she's awesome enough to just go with the flow.
"Does she know?"
"He. And no, he doesn't. Things didn’t end well. I haven’t seen him in six months."
Her face is full of nothing but sympathy. She opens her mouth like she's about to say something, but seemingly changes her mind. But going with the in for a penny, in for a pound mentality he quirks an eyebrow at her, silently giving her permission to ask away.
She leans forward slightly, voice low and gentle as she asks, "Do you still love him?"
Mike doesn't even need to think about it. "Yes."
Mike gets a job at a coffee shop (it's called CAU, and when asked what that stood for even the manager didn’t know), one that's close enough to campus that he can get there easily enough for his shifts after class, but far away enough that it's not full of students 24/7.
He's never done work like it, but he's good with his hands, and the memory kicks in so he can read all the instruction manuals and memorize the prices of everything in the first ten minutes, reducing the need to bother the manager training him with annoying questions. Granted, theoretical knowledge isn't the same as practical, and there is a difference between doing something and doing something well, but he figures that will come with time.
Autumn comes and visits him at the end of his shift, and hers is his last drink of the day, Mike making her a latte she declares is delicious.
"Come on you," she grins when Mike steps out from the staff room, "Skyfall isn't going to watch itself."
Mike smiles, crossing the room and kissing her cheek in greeting. "Actually I'm pretty sure the movie will run with or without us."
"Spoil sport," she playfully slaps his chest, as they walk out of the shop. "So, how was your first shift?"
"Good. Although I think I need to work on my fake smile and small talk because the tips aren't what I was anticipating."
"Yeah, you are the shy and retiring type. Need to bring you back out of your shell. Come on, let's practice."
"Role play?" he deadpans. "Seriously?"
"Come on, you better get used to it, you know we're going to have plenty of these in class soon enough."
Mike doesn’t mention that he got more than enough practice with role play during his time at Pearson Hardman. They've become firm friends these last couple of months, and over that time he has told her quite a lot about his life before Columbia. But he hasn't told her anything about his tenure at Pearson Hardman, hasn't spoken about that year of his life at all. It's a black hole in the story of Mike, and though he hates keeping something that was so important and intrinsic to who he is secret, he figures it's better than the alternative.
Maybe he'll tell her one day. He hopes so, anyway.
"Ugh, fine," he agrees
Autumn smiles and says, "Okay. Here we go." And then she puts on a fake voice, high pitched and overly enthusiastic. "Hi, how are you today?"
"Hi, what can I get for you?"
"I'd like a medium half-caf no-foam non-fat vanilla soy latte please."
Mike bursts into laughter, and she joins in while simultaneously admonishing him that he can't laugh at the customers orders.
They continue role-playing until they walk into the theatre, with Autumn coming up with as many complicated orders and annoying personas as she can imagine and insisting Mike has to be polite and charming each time.
Winter descends on New York with a flurry of snow and Christmas decorations everywhere and holiday music that is nigh on inescapable.
It's a busy month. School is ending for the year, and he picks up some extra shifts at the coffee shop. He had been warned that their patronage always increases over the colder months, and Mike figured everyone else might appreciate the time to be with their families and participate in all those holiday traditions he left behind years ago.
Plus, the money was helpful.
His last class is on December 21, but he blows it off in favor of doing the only shopping he needs to do for the holiday season (even though it's actually not Christmas related). He then spends a good hour in line at UPS, mailing Harvey's birthday present to him.
He hadn't known what to get him, only knew he couldn't not get him something. He'd wandered the stores for hours (near torturous in the pre-Christmas crowds), trying to find the perfect something. Because it wasn't as if Harvey needed anything, and with the added restrictions of the present needing to be something small and unbreakable for when it got hauled around the city by uncaring delivery people, it kinda narrowed the field of options.
But he's happy with his choice: a metallic blue and silver striped silk tie - the most expensive skinny tie he could find.
He attaches a plain white card with Happy Birthday, Harvey. M. written on it and sends it off so it will arrive the next day, his actual birthday.
Mike spends the 22nd at the coffee shop, the day flying by in a mad rush of people wanting hot beverages and bemoaning the constant lines and the ringing of Christmas Carols a constant background buzz. His shift finishes at 6pm, and he's more than happy to hand over to Katie when she walks in the door.
He heads into the staff break room, changes out of his dirty t-shirt into a clean one, and checks his phone for messages. There aren't any, but having the phone in his hand, he's overwhelmed with the desire to call Harvey.
He hadn't felt the pull so strongly in months. It's probably a combination of exhaustion and the emotions of the holiday season weakening him, but he incredibly finds himself standing in the small room and dialling Harvey's cell number from memory (though he at least has the forethought to block his outgoing number).
Mike can't say anything. It's been nine whole months since they had last spoken and he still sounds exactly the same and Mike can't speak.
Mike's heart pounds hard in his chest and he wants to say something, is desperate to reconnect and move past everything that happened. But when he opens his mouth nothing comes out. He has no words.
The silence stretches on between them. He can hear the older man's even breathing and he wonders why Harvey hasn't just hung up already.
Mike ends the call and quickly drops the phone on the table as though he had been physically burned by it. He collapses onto the nearest chair, eyes staring at the offending item, and he can't breathe.
He's so stupid. What the fuck was he thinking? There was a reason he cut himself off from everyone, why he hasn't tried to get in contact with them this whole year. But sometimes he just misses Harvey so fucking much it's like a physical weight pressing down on his chest and he doesn't know how to make it stop. He wants - needs - it to stop. Because he can't breathe, is practically hyperventilating as the emotions crash down on him, and he doesn't know what to do.
He manages to get his breathing under control enough to shuck on his coat and throw his phone into his bag. He wipes an errant tear from his cheek before stepping out into the store, putting on a fake grin and waving at his co-workers as he leaves.
All Mike knows in this moment is that he doesn't want to be alone. So he navigates the insanely crowded subway system and heads over to Autumn's.
It's only when he's knocking on her door that he thinks it was probably a douche move showing up here unannounced three days before Christmas, that she's probably busy or not even at home. But then the door opens.
It's not Autumn.
"You must be Alistair," Mike says, recognizing him from the photo Autumn had shown him the first day they met. Mike holds out his hand. "I'm Mike. I'm Autumn's friend, from-"
"Columbia," Alistair says, nodding. He shakes Mike's hand warmly. "Good to meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
Alistair smiles, opening the door. "Come in."
Mike steps into the warm apartment, and Alistair takes his coat. He has just handed it over when Autumn walks into the room.
"Mike. Hi," she says brightly, and Mike doesn't even have time to reply before her eyes are narrowed and her whole face changes, instantly concerned. "What's wrong?"
Mike laughs mirthlessly, and he can feel the emotions prickling at his eyes. Autumn immediately crosses the room and throws her arms around him, and he can do nothing but hold on tight, burying his face into her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Mike says when she releases him. "Sorry for just turning up here. I just didn't know where else to go."
"It's okay," she says soothingly. "Come on, let's talk."
"I'll leave you two to it," Alistair says, and he shakes Mike's hand once more before slipping from the room.
"What is it?" Autumn asks as they sit on the sofa.
"Do you remember that guy I told you about, the one I used to work with?"
She nods. "Harvey."
"Right." He had told Autumn his first name, but other than the fact they used to work together and Mike had realized he was in love with him after he left, she didn't know anything else. "It's his birthday today. I called him, but when he picked up I couldn’t say anything."
"Oh, Mike," she says sadly, resting a hand on his arm.
"But you know what the weird part is? He knew it was me. I didn't say anything and I blocked my cell number and somehow he still knew it was me."
"So he was thinking about you. It was his birthday, and he was thinking about you. That's gotta be a good sign, right?"
But Mike still couldn't comprehend it. "But to what end? It's not like we can go back. You should've heard the things he said the last time we saw each other. It was…" He can't even find the words to explain how fucking heartbreaking it was hearing all those words spilling from Harvey's mouth. "I miss him. I really do. But at the same time, I'm not sure if I really want to see him again either. Does that make sense?"
Autumn nods understandingly, and he feels a surge of affection for her. He takes a deep breath, tries to calm down. "I'm sorry, I swear I'm not usually this much of a basket case over one phone call," he says, laughing to try and lighten the mood. "I'm sorry for crashing your evening. I don’t even know what I'm doing here. I guess I just didn't want to be alone."
"Hey," she says, bumping his shoulder with her own. "What are friends for?"
"Thanks. I really appreciate it."
"Come on, dinner's nearly ready. You're staying to eat it."
"No," he says, standing. "Thanks, but I don't want to intrude."
"Nonsense. Come on, I really want you and Alistair to get to know each other. Plus, I'm not convinced that if I leave you alone you won't spend the evening pranking Harvey."
Mike laughs. "Well, when you put it like that…"
Mike works what ends up being the coldest day of winter.
The shop is, unsurprisingly, practically deserted for the vast majority of the day. Even in a city as busy as New York no one wants to venture out into the bone chilling nineteen degree weather if they don't have to, and Mike is pretty sure the only people he serves all day are tourists.
At least until after lunch, when a man who looks vaguely familiar walks in. He's rugged up in a thick coat, beanie, scarf and gloves, so the only thing Mike can see is a small patch of his face between his eyes and mouth. His eyes are blue, his lips thin. He looks a few years older than Mike, and when he meets Mike's gaze he smiles warmly.
"Fuck, it's freezing out there," he says, taking off the gloves and beanie now he's inside, flakes of snow falling to the floor before melting.
Mike laughs. "Looks like it. I hope you weren't out there for too long."
"Nah. My place is only a few blocks away."
"What on earth possessed you to leave it?" Mike asks, because the only reason he got out of bed this morning was because he had to.
"My roommate and his girlfriend are driving me insane. Let's just say they were bored and I have very thin walls. I wasn't getting any work done so figured I'd come grab a drink, maybe set up shop here."
"Fair enough," Mike says, pulling a mug from the nearby bench. "Caramel macchiato, right?" he asks, ringing up the drink on the till.
"Yeah," the guy replies, surprised. "Thanks. I'm Liam, by the way."
"Mike," he replies, shaking the hand which Liam has extended. "Good to meet you."
Liam hands over the cash (with a ridiculously large tip, and Mike smiles in gratitude when told by Liam to keep it) and Mike gets to work making his drink.
A few more customers drift in and out for the rest of his shift, but it's still mostly quiet. Mike cleans every surface he can, reorganizes all the supplies, and when no one is looking flicks through one of the complimentary newspapers and reads what's going on in the world.
When he leaves for the day Liam is still there, on his third coffee, typing away on his laptop. Mike waves, and Liam lifts his drink in a farewell salute.
"I think you need to start dating," Autumn tells him.
Mike practically does a spit take with the water he's drinking. Talk about random. He gulps the water down and levels a glare at her. Autumn doesn't look in any way disconcerted by Mike's level ten scowl. If anything, she's amused by it.
"Come on," she coaxes, "you need to get out there. Have some fun."
"I have fun!" he insists.
Autumn just gives him her best bitch, please look. "When? When you're in class or buried in the library? When you're at work? When you lock yourself away in your apartment for entire weekends."
"Yes," Mike says, but it sounds stupid when she puts it like that.
The truth is, while his life isn't exactly fun, he's not discontent either. Between his life at Columbia (and all the work that comes with it) and the hours he puts in at CAU he's kept busy enough that he doesn't have time to think about all the things his life is missing. And okay, he doesn't go out partying or drinking and he doesn't date, but he finds joy in other places, like hanging with Autumn or joking around with the guys at work.
He doesn't need anything else.
"Is this about Harvey?" Autumn asks.
"No," Mike tells her, and it's the truth. It's not about Harvey, it's about him. School and work keep him busy and occupied and even though it can be stressful at times his life has finally started to even out from all the ups and downs of the previous few years. It's a juggling act, and he's worried by adding a new element, he won't be able to keep everything going and it will all just fall apart. "I just don't think I'm ready. And besides, where am I going to meet anyone?"
Autumn scoffs. "Gee, I don't know. How about one of the thousands of people on campus? Or the hundreds of people you serve at CAU each day? Or, I know, crazy idea, but you could go to a bar and see what happens."
Mike laughs, packing up his books ready for their next class. He doesn't respond, and Autumn packs up too, so he thinks that's the end of it.
It's not. "I have this friend-"
"No," Mike says, perhaps a little too vehemently. Autumn blanches slightly, and Mike immediately feels guilty. "Sorry." He puts an arm around her shoulder as they walk to class. "Thanks, but like I said, I'm not ready. Maybe one day."
"I just want you to be happy," Autumn tells him, and Mike is so glad they met that day.