Autumn has this way of getting under his skin about things, so even if she only mentions something once Mike feels like it keeps rattling around in his mind until he succumbs.
So in the weeks following her proclamation that he should start dating he genuinely starts to think about it, really for the first time since he left Pearson Hardman (and Rachel and Harvey). Part of him still feels like he's not ready, but he wonders if that will always be there, that maybe he just needs to put himself out there and see what happens.
He doesn't think he's ready to start going out to bars and clubs for the express purpose of meeting someone, but he tries to not be so closed off, starts flirting with some of his customers, actually talks to people other than Autumn at school (and when he sees her watching him from across the room she just winks at him in approval).
Nothing really comes of it, but it makes him feel better. It's another step in the healing process, he supposes, and it's nice to talk to and be with people again. He was always a people person, and he's missed it, getting to know people, hearing their stories, telling some of his own in return. It feels good, being surrounded by people and noise again. And even though nothing really changes, he doesn't feel quite so lonely anymore.
One day he's crossing campus when he passes the Northwest Corner Building. He's passed it a lot over his time here, but every time he sees it he will always remember it from before, and he doesn't know why today is any different but for some reason he finds himself entering it.
He finds the lab easily enough, and of course there Lola is, working away like always. She looks practically the same; her hair is a little longer, but that's about the only difference. He watches her work for a few minutes before tapping on the window, opening the door as she looks up and sees him.
"Well, well, well," Lola says, pulling the plastic protective glasses from her face, "if it isn't Mr Wannabe Suit."
Mike grins. "I thought you said I wasn't the empty suit you thought I was."
Lola just laughs, crossing the room to him. "What are you doing here?"
Mike shrugs nonchalantly. "I was in the neighborhood. Thought I'd see how my favorite environmental activist slash hacker was doing."
"You were in the neighborhood," she replies skeptically. "You here for a case?"
Mike feels that pang whenever the old life is remembered, but he ignores it, shaking his head.
"Let me guess," she says, snapping her fingers. "You and Harvey need my badass skills to track down some more money."
Mike shakes his head again, and Lola starts to look confused. Her eyes rake over him, his jeans and hoodie, and he can see the penny drop.
Mike nods. "Yup. I, uh, I got caught."
Well, technically that wasn't true, but it was easier to sum the situation up with that simple phrase than by trying to explain the chain of events that led to his departure at Pearson Hardman.
"I'm sorry, Mike," she says, and he can tell it's genuine.
"Yeah. Me too," he says.
She looks him up and down once more. "So, you really were just in the neighborhood?"
"I'm studying here too," he tells her.
"Studying what, the law?" she asks, and he knows she only means to tease but he can't help the stab of pain at her words. He does his best to tamp it down though, laughing through the ache.
"No, not the law."
"What then?" she asks, curious.
He takes a small step closer. "Tell you what. Let me take you to dinner tonight and I'll tell you all about it."
She smiles, wide and bright, and says, "Sure."
"Hey, man," Mike says, smiling at Liam as he approaches the counter.
"Hey, Mike," he replies genially. "What's news?"
"Not much," he replies, already starting Liam's order. He takes the bill Liam proffers and gets everything started. He has a laptop bag over his shoulder, so Mike knows he's staying, makes his drink in a mug. "You?"
"Matt is finally moving out this weekend," Liam tells him, holding his hand up for a high five, and Mike happily obliges.
"Nice. You must be stoked to be rid of him at-"
"And Holly. Ugh, she was a nightmare."
"So you getting anyone else in or just going to fly solo for a while?"
"Well, Eloise has been dropping some hints about moving in, but I think it's too soon..."
"Yeah, you're probably right, being together for over a year is definitely too soon to be thinking about living together," Mike teases.
"Shut it you," Liam says playfully. "I just want to be certain. It's a big commitment."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Mike says, even though part of him doesn't really. If he found someone he loved as much as he can tell Liam loves Eloise then he wouldn't let them go. But that's always been his problem: rushing into things, moving too quickly. Maybe he would do better to take things slow.
He slides the full mug across the counter, and Liam picks it up with a, "Cheers. Have a good one."
Liam heads off to his usual spot and Mike gets to serving the next customer. They get hit by a sudden rush (Mike suspects they're all from the same tour group, with their I Heart NY t-shirts and various accents) and the rest of his shift flies by.
He's meeting Lola here, so he changes into clean clothes, and orders a coffee from David. There aren't many free seats around, so he heads over to Liam (who has somehow managed to keep all three seats at his little table) and asks, "This seat taken?"
"Hell no," Liam says, looking up from his laptop. "Sit down. Shift over?"
"Yeah, just waiting for someone to meet me here."
"Girlfriend?" Liam asks, wiggling his eyebrows.
Mike laughs. "Don't let her hear you call her that. It's still early days, too early for the G word."
"How long have you been seeing her?"
Mike could tell him exactly (it had been three weeks, four days and sixteen hours since their first date) but settles for the more roundabout answer of, "About a month."
"What's her name? Where'd you meet?"
Mike can't help but chuckle. "Man, you really are Mr Chatty, aren't you?"
"I'm a writer, details are my life."
"Well, her name is Lola, and we met at school," which, again, not the exact details but still correct in a roundabout way. "But enough of me. I didn't know you were a writer." Although he had suspected something along those lines given how often Mike sees him tapping away at his laptop with a coffee in hand. "What do you write?"
"You must be good, to be able to afford to write full time." Mike sees him here during practically all of his afternoon shifts, so figures he didn’t have other employment. Plus, there's the fact that Mike knows his watch is top of the line and the laptop looks brand new. He's obviously well off.
"Don't know. Haven’t had anything published yet."
"Oh," Mike says, surprised. Maybe he just comes from money. A lot of New Yorkers do.
"And no," Liam says, clearly reading his mind. "I'm not rich. I, uh, I wrote some songs a few years back that did well. The royalties keep me comfortable."
In his tenure at Pearson Hardman Mike did a bit of work in the entertainment world, and he knows the kind of money songwriters make from royalties. He's clearly trying to downplay it (either from embarrassment or modesty) but Mike knows more about royalties than he can let on, so he thinks his songs had to have been massive hit singles or album songs by popular artists, so he's probably heard them.
"Pleeease tell me what they were," Mike says, hands clasped together in the classic begging gesture.
"Not a chance in hell," Liam laughs.
"I bet they were super pop-y songs, weren't they. You totally wrote songs for Britney, didn't you?"
They're both laughing now, and that's how Lola finds them. Mike smiles up at her, and she simply sits on the arm of his chair, leaning down and kissing him hello.
"What's going on?" she asks, looking between them.
"Nothing," Mike says, trying to calm down. "This is Liam. I'm pretty sure he wrote If U Seek Amy."
"The Britney Spears song?" Lola asks as she looks between them, confused, like she can't believe it's true but doesn't want to give offence if it actually is.
"Asshole," Liam says to Mike, who just shrugs. "I'm Liam, you must be Lola," he says, reaching over and shaking her hand. "Ignore everything this loser says about me, it's all lies. And really," Liam turns to Mike, "I'm slightly concerned about your obsession with Britney Spears. You might have to watch this one," he adds to Lola, and she just nods solemnly in agreement.
"Hey, stop ganging up on me," Mike protests, and they all laugh. "Come on," he says, standing. "We should go. See you next time, Liam."
"Keep it real, man," Liam replies, waving at Lola before going back to work.
Mike makes it into work early, so he grabs a coffee and even though he really should use the extra time to study for his upcoming exams he decides to give his mind a brief reprieve and instead reads one of the complimentary newspapers that get ignored by their customers most days.
He's really only skimming the articles as he turns the pages, but then something catches his eyes that he can't ignore. There's an article that mentions Harvey, and though part of him wants to close the paper and pretend he never saw it he knows that's an option he would never take. So he surrenders to the inevitable and reads with rapt interest.
Apparently there had been a systematic attempt to siphon money from the accounts of The Robin Hood Foundation, one of the city's biggest charitable organizations. Not only had Harvey helped discover who was responsible, but he helped ensure their accomplices were also brought to justice to suffer the full wrath of the DA (good ol' Terrence Wolf).
The article makes brief mention of Harvey's associate. His name is Bennet Ristov. Mike can't help but wonder what his story is, where he came from, why Harvey chose him to replace Mike, what their relationship is like...
A mixture of pride and anguish rolls through Mike as he reads. He's so happy to hear any news about Harvey, to know he's still out there and doing good, going above and beyond and actually caring despite his claims to the contrary (because reading between the lines of the article he can tell that Harvey was the driving force behind this). He's prepared for the familiar pang, the regret at no longer being part of that life, but it's not as strong as it used to be. It's been over a year since he left - he's actually been gone longer than he was ever there - and he has a new life now, is happy again, and he's finally feeling okay with that distance.
The last week of the school year is brutal, with exams and assessments and regurgitating everything he's learnt over the last year. He barely sleeps, keeps cramming for as long as he can, because despite his eidetic memory these kinds of tests aren't necessarily about what you know but how you apply everything you've learned.
But he makes it through, and on the Friday evening he goes out to dinner with Lola, Autumn and Alistair to celebrate.
It's a great night, full of laughter and food and friends, and when they finally make it to bed (they crash at Lola's because it's closer) he is really fucking happy.
You wouldn't know it to look at her, but Lola is the best baker he's ever met. It was something her mom taught her when she was younger, and whenever she's covered in flour and sugar she feels that connection to her.
Mike can relate. He has vivid memories of riding around the city with his parents when he was a kid, and every time he rides his bike he remembers those days.
He wakes late one morning to the smell of chocolate and his mouth waters. He stumbles out of bed and wanders to the kitchen. Lola's still in her pajamas, the cotton shorts and t-shirt covered in flour when she turns and greets him.
Mike smiles, moves into the room, kisses her good morning. She tastes like sugar.
"Whatchya making?" he mumbles, rubbing a hand over his face.
"Triple chocolate cookies," she replies with a grin.
Mike sneaks a finger into the bowl and steals a taste. She playfully hits him on the back of his hand in admonishment, but immediately softens when he moans in appreciation. "Sooo good," he tells her, and she beams at him.
"Okay, suit man, out of the kitchen."
"Why? It's not like I could mess it up anymore," he laughs, looking around his kitchen.
Lola doesn’t even bother to look offended. After all, it was she who told him that the messier the kitchen the yummier the outcome. "No, but you are very distracting."
"Oh really?" he says, sliding closer, slipping a hand beneath her t-shirt. "Wouldn't want that, would we?"
And he presses his mouth to the side of her neck, dropping gentle kisses there, tongue dipping out to taste. Lola sighs, head tipped back, as he nibbles on her skin. She drops the spoon she's holding onto the bench and spins so she can wrap her arms around him, press her mouth to his in a deep kiss. He meets the embrace with equal ardor, pressing her between the kitchen counter and his body, hand sliding up under her tee.
The cookies, when they are eventually cooked two hours later, are delicious.
Being on break from school gives him more free time, but most of the staff at CAU are also students, and there are only so many shifts to go around, so for the first time in almost a year he finds himself with an abundance of time on his hands and unsure what to do with it.
Lola is away for the week (doing family bonding time), and Autumn has gone up to Vancouver to visit Alistair, so after his shift he lingers around the counter, chatting with Katie and Sun when they aren't serving customers.
It's with relief that he sees Liam come into the shop. "Hey man," he says, surprised, because Liam usually isn't in at this time.
"Mike, hi," he grins. He looks him up and down and sees him not in uniform (well, the branded t-shirts they wear), asking, "Are you not working? Do you love the place so much you just can't leave?"
"Dude, I am so bored," he says, and Liam laughs.
"Come on, let's grab a drink. I'm buying."
So they grab some drinks (a blended mocha for Mike, an iced coffee for Liam – Mike hadn't made one hot drink all shift, summer was well and truly here) before sitting at Liam's usual table.
The conversation flows easily, just as it has since they first met all those months ago. After a good twenty minutes Mike notice's Liam's ever present laptop and realizes something.
"So, you never told me about the novel you're writing. What's it about?"
"Not quite sure yet, which is a problem considering I've been writing it for six months," Liam laughs good-naturedly. "I'm trying to play with the idea of someone being pulled into a situation they aren't prepared for, in this case the high stakes world of art theft, and how they deal with it. It's part thriller part character study. At least, that's the plan. I'm just trying to figure out how to put a bit of a twist on the story so it feels new."
"And how's that working out for you?"
"Not at all," Liam laughs. "I have an idea, it's just trying to keep it feeling credible, you know."
Mike nods in understanding. He tries to find out more details, but Liam doesn’t want to get too specific for fear of jinxing it, which Mike doesn’t necessarily understand but respects.
"Well, if you ever want someone to bounce ideas off, you know where to find me," Mike offers. "I have a knack for shedding new light on situations if you ever get stuck on something."
"Thanks. I'll let you know."
Mike asks about his influences, which leads them to enthusiastic discussions on the merits of Salinger versus Capote, the emphasis on Shakespeare, and the state of the current literary world when people such as Stephanie Meyer and E. L. James can top the bestseller lists.
They are still debating the latter topic (well, not so much debating as thoroughly agreeing and heatedly bemoaning what some people consider literary merit) when Liam's cell rings. He apologizes with a wince as he pulls the phone out of his bag, Mike dismissing the apology with a wave of his hand.
"Hey baby," Liam says, which means it must be Eloise. "That's awesome. Totally. Yeah. I don't mind. Okay, good, sounds like a plan. See you there." He hangs up, puts the phone away. "El got off work early."
"We're going to catch a movie. Hey, you should come with."
"Oh no, thanks," he says. Admittedly he has nothing planned for the evening, but he doesn’t want to crash their evening out together. "I should just head home."
"To do what?" Liam asks, and Mike can't come up with an answer. "Come on," he says beseechingly. "You know you want to."
Mike laughs, asks, "What are you seeing?"
"Eloise wants to see The Internship but my vote is for Much Ado About Nothing."
"Joss Whedon, nice. That'd get my vote."
"Well, now you have to come," Liam says, and apparently that settles it.
Mike's Independence Day plans are brought to an abrupt halt when Lola breaks up with him.
He hadn't seen it coming, but he doesn’t blame her either. Because as much as he likes her, and he really does, he knew she wasn't it for him. And he thinks she must've known that, probably felt it herself, and he doesn't begrudge her wanting to be free to find someone who loved her the way she deserved.
Because Lola is awesome. And she deserves more than what he could give her.
But that doesn't mean he isn't sad to be losing her. They talked it out like rational adults, and they agreed to be friends. Though he'd balked at the cliché of it all, he actually thinks that they will follow through on it. Because they might not be in love with each other, but they still care about one another, still like one another. They just weren't meant to be.
They were together for three and a half months, and Mike thinks that he deserves a couple of days to mope about it. He had been planning to attend a party one of the girls at work was throwing, but he texts his apologies and spends the weekend on the couch watching a marathon of Roland Emmerich films (because what else says I love my country more than watching it being repeatedly destroyed?).
Autumn is missing Alistair, and she begs Mike to come to her place and keep her company (like it was some massive chore for him to go hang out with his best friend). So he rocks up on her doorstep with pizza and ice-cream and she declares her undying love for him, making Mike laugh.
They set up camp on the couch, flick through the TV guide until they come across a M*A*S*H marathon, eating and talking crap like usual.
Mike can't say why today is any different, why it's now and not one of the hundreds of other days he and Autumn have spent together, but he's suddenly overwhelmed with the need to tell her the truth, to tell her everything. Maybe it's the way she makes him feel warm and safe and home, or because he's sick of lying by omission, or because he doesn't want this one thing to define him anymore, and he figures that a secret only has power when you keep it.
So when he finishes his ice-cream he puts the bowl aside and says, "Do you remember that first day we met? How I said I didn't know how to be honest?"
Autumn nods slowly, clearly anxious about where this is going.
"I've never lied to you. But I think you know there's a lot I haven't said. But, if you're interested, I think I'm ready to tell you."
Autumn puts her food aside, turns to give him her full attention. "Are you sure? Because I figure there's a reason you've basically avoided talking about that year of your life before I met you. And if you want to keep it secret, that's okay. You don't have to tell me."
"I know, but I want to. I just have one condition." At her nod, he continues with, "You can't tell anyone, not even Alistair. It's just, it involves other people, and if the wrong person found out..."
Autumn pauses, just regards him for a moment. "It's not - you're not in any kind of trouble, are you?"
"No," Mike hastily assures her. "No, it's nothing like that." And he thinks that if all this time she's been imagining that he was on the run from the law or was in trouble with the Mafia or something that the truth is going to be rather anti-climactic.
She seems relieved, and she nods solemnly, saying, "I promise."
Mike takes a moment to gather his thoughts. Now that he's here, now that he's actually telling someone, he kinda doesn’t know where to begin. He figures the best way is to just jump right in with all the gory details.
"Okay, the short version is, the place I worked before I started studying - it was a law firm. I worked there as a lawyer."
"You never told me you went to law school," she says, confused.
"That's because I never did."
He can see her process his statement for a few moments before she takes a deep breath and says, "Okaaay, pretty sure I'm gonna need the long version."
So Mike tells her. Everything.
Liam has a scar along his left arm. Mike noticed it a couple of months back, the first time he saw him in a t-shirt once summer hit, but didn't say anything, didn’t ask about it. Whatever it was from was clearly serious, because the scar is long and thick, and Mike did briefly wonder if it was self inflicted but figured it wasn't any of his business.
But then one day they're chilling together in the coffee shop, like they have been doing at least once a fortnight if not more for the last five months, and Mike is tired from a particularly grueling shift and he's kinda just staring into thin air. Only, when Liam looks between Mike and his arm a few times he realizes his 'thin air' happens to directly line up with Liam's scar. He shakes himself, sits straighter in his chair as he looks apologetically at Liam and says, "Sorry."
"It's fine," Liam immediately assures him. He idly runs a finger along the scar. "Pretty badass, huh?"
Mike chuckles. "Yeah."
"I came home one day to find this guy robbing my apartment-"
"You don't have to tell me," Mike interrupts. Admittedly he was curious, but he didn’t want Liam to be uncomfortable, to feel obligated for to tell him something that would only bring back bad memories.
But Liam dismisses him with a wave of his hand. "It's fine. We're friends right? Friends tell each other this stuff."
And Mike smiles, because they are friends. Which is weird, because they don’t know anything normal friends would know about the other, like where they live or when their birthday is…
"Okay, if you're sure."
Liam nods easily. "Well, like I said, I interrupted someone robbing my apartment. He collided into me as he tried to run out. There was a scuffle. I wasn't really thinking, should've just let him go, but in the moment your brain just shuts down and it's instinctive to try and stop them. Anyway, he had a knife, and he got me, dragged the knife down my inner forearm."
"Fuck," Mike breathes.
"Yeah. It was touch and go there for a while. I lost a lot of blood. There was nerve damage, I couldn't really move my fingers for a while, had to undergo physical therapy to get the movement back. It was hard, not gonna lie, but I'm fine now."
"Did they catch him?"
Liam shakes his head. "It's fine," he says, the sound of someone resigned to the situation. He clearly hasn't held grudge. Mike admires him for that - he definitely held onto things for longer than he should. "And it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Nothing like a near death experience to clarify what exactly it is you want out of life."
Mike smiles. While he didn't get the life or death situation, he's no stranger to life altering events, and he can totally relate. "I would imagine so."
"I started writing, as soon as I was physically able, and things just kinda snowballed from there."
"Until you ended up writing number one hits for ... Kelly Clarkson?"
Liam laughs, open and unabashed. "Nice try, man."
"Can't blame me for trying," Mike grins.
"I never do."
Before Mike knows it, summer is over and he's heading back to Columbia.
It takes a couple of weeks to readjust to the routine, but he'd actually missed it, and was looking forward to burying his head in his books again.
He's heading to work after class one day, enveloped in the sounds of the city, when he looks up to see a familiar figure walking down the street towards him. He stops practically mid stride, grips the strap of his ever present satchel at his chest, wonders if she'll miss him in the crowd.
Rachel sees him when they are about ten metres apart, and he can see his own shock mirrored on her face. But then she smiles, walking towards him with purpose, and Mike can't help but brace himself.
"Mike," she says, smiling happily at him.
"Hey, Rach," he replies cautiously. "How are you?"
"I'm well. You?"
"Yeah. Good." There is an awkward pause, and because it's the middle of a work day Mike asks, "What are you doing here?"
Rachel flushes slightly, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "Going to law school, actually."
"Really?" Mike asks, surprised but genuinely happy for her.
She nods. "Yeah. Since the merger with Darby the whole thing about only hiring from Harvard kinda went out the window, so I'm studying at Columbia and can still work for Pearson Darby when I'm done."
"I hope they kept their promise to pay for it."
Rachel laughs. "They tried to get out of it, saying they'd agreed to pay for Harvard and not Columbia, but would you believe Louis of all people convinced them to pay for it still."
"I can actually," Mike says, because Louis could be staunchly loyal when he wanted to, and Mike knew the truth about what happened with Rachel's Harvard application.
"And what about you?" Rachel asks.
But Mike can't tell her. He feels a fierce defensiveness of his new life, and he needs to keep everything separate. It might be childish, but he doesn't care.
"Oh, you know, this and that."
Rachel furrows her eyebrows at his evasion. "Come on, Mike," she says, playfully. "You can tell me. I'm sure it's not all that bad."
He knows she just means to be friendly, catch up properly, but it all comes flooding back, how her insistence to know his secrets set him on the path he's on now. And he's long since gotten over everything that happened, but he can't help the resentment that bubbles in his chest.
He doesn't want to fight about it, but nor does he want to lie about his life, like he's ashamed or something. Because he's not. He loves his life, is doing well at school, has made some great friends. It's not at all where he thought he'd be at this point in his life, but he's happy, settled, and he refuses to let Rachel disturb that.
"Who's the lucky guy?" he asks instead, figuring it would just be easier to change the focus of the conversation back to her. She blinks at him for a few moments, confused, until Mike nods at her left hand, and the large diamond ring.
"Oh," she says, avoiding his gaze. "His name is Bennet Ristov. He's-"
"Harvey's associate," Mike says, remembering that article from all those months ago. "You're engaged to the guy who replaced me?" he asks, incredulous.
Rachel laughs a little guiltily. "I know, I know. Harvey wasn't too pleased, let me tell you. But he's a good guy. You'd like him."
Mike lets that information roll around in his head for a few moments (it's vaguely perverse, but given how everything went down with him, Rachel and Harvey, it somehow also makes complete sense) before he smiles at her, tells her genuinely, "I'm happy for you, Rach."
"Thank you," she says softly.
"Look, I have to run, or I'll be late for work."
"And that would be where?" she asks, but Mike just laughs, kissing her cheek in farewell.
"Take care, Rachel."
Mike starts to walk away, but the temptation to know is too great. He'll never have an opportunity like this again. So he turns and calls Rachel's name. When she turns he just looks at her for a moment, gathering the courage to eventually ask, "How is he?"
He doesn’t specify who he's asking after, but given the way Rachel looks at him (sad and knowing with just a hint of fondness), there's really no need. She looks like she's weighing her words slightly before saying, "He's fine. Good. You know Harvey, conquering the world one day at a time."
Mike nods. It feels strange, to be this close to Harvey, if only in a roundabout way. He could ask her for more details, find out everything, quench that low level desire that constantly hums in his veins to know about Harvey. But it feels like a dangerous path to go down, so he suppresses the desire like he always does, nodding at Rachel with thanks.
"Do me a favor? Don't tell him you saw me." He can tell Rachel wants to object, so he takes a small step forward. "Please."
Rachel just looks at him. "If you're sure..."
Mike nods. "I am," he quickly assures her. "Thanks, Rach."
And this time he walks away without looking back.
Mike can't be sure if Rachel will keep her word, and for the next few weeks he feels constantly on guard, always looking over his shoulder, half expecting Harvey to pop up out of nowhere.
But he never does, and Mike can't work out if he's relieved or disappointed.
Mike has a class with Autumn on the day of his birthday (they had two classes together last year but only one this year) and even though he's pretty sure he only mentioned his birthday to her once, about six months ago, she has somehow managed to remember, throwing her arms around him when he gets to class and pulling a present from her bag.
"You shouldn't have," he tells her, but she just waves him away.
"It's not much, but I couldn't let your birthday pass unmarked."
The present, while not particularly large, draws the attention of some of their classmates, and he finds himself on the receiving end of a multitude of well wishes, which uses up all of the time before the lecture starts.
After class they go catch a movie (Autumn lets him choose, so Sin City 2 it is) before going for dinner. Alistair calls to say happy birthday, and he gets a text from Lola with a simple 'happy birthday suit man'. Autumn insists they stop for cake on the way back to her apartment, and they watch a Pixar movie before Mike falls asleep on her couch.
It's the best birthday he's had in years.
Autumn decides that, despite Mike's protests, she is going to set him up.
She assures him it'll just be a casual thing, and Alistair is down for the weekend, so the four of them can just go out to dinner. Mike tries in vain to protest, but he doesn't really have a leg to stand on, because he and Lola broke up three months ago, and though he's not completely over Harvey (he thinks a part of him never will be) he also knows that he'll never see the man again. So he reluctantly assents.
When Mike gets to the restaurant the three of them are already there. Autumn introduces Mike to Asher (Mike idly wonders if Autumn knows anyone whose name doesn't start with A) and Mike reaches over and shakes his hand before the four of them sit down.
Asher is a lifelong New Yorker, who met Autumn overseas about five years previous, and when she moved to New York they reconnected. He has dark, shaggy hair, and looks to be about mid-twenties. He's dressed neat but casual. He works in the accounts department for the Lincoln Centre. He's smart, attractive, funny...
And Mike feels absolutely nothing.
It's an enjoyable evening, and Mike wouldn’t be opposed to hanging with Asher again in a completely platonic fashion. But there's no spark there, for either of them, so when the evening ends Mike says goodbye and goes home alone.
"So, any plans for Thanksgiving?" Liam asks while he waits for Mike to make his coffee.
"Nah," Mike says.
Autumn was flying to Canada to spend the weekend with Alistair, and thus ended his social circle. But he was fine with it. He'd spent last Thanksgiving holed up in his apartment eating junk food, the one before that was spent working at Pearson Hardman, and the several before that were spent lounging in Trevor's place with take-out and the PlayStation. He hadn't had a traditional Thanksgiving in forever.
"Why not?" Liam asks good-naturedly.
There's a pause as Mike considers his words, and then he tells him, "I don’t really have much of a family. It's fine," he adds, when Liam's face falls. "I'll just crash at home, get some studying in."
"Man, hell no. You're coming to dinner with us."
"No," Mike immediately says.
"Relax," Liam says, raising his hands in a placating gesture. "Don't worry, it's not a big thing. It's not even on Thanksgiving. Some friends of mine and I always have dinner together on the Wednesday before. It's for those of us who either have no family or have family too far away to spend the holiday with. That includes you, my friend."
Mike's instinct is to say no. The impulse to keep everyone at a distance, to not get too involved because that way lies heartache, it's always there.
Liam can obviously see his hesitation, and when Mike hands him his drink he grins and says, "Don't worry, it's still two weeks away. That's more than enough time for me to wear you down."
Mike laughs, and he knows whether he wants to or not, he'll be going to that dinner.
Mike's running late, feeling harried and out of breath when he makes it to the restaurant. He spots Liam as soon as he walks in the door, heading over to the table.
"Sorry I'm late," Mike says as soon as he's within earshot, and Liam waves the apology away, standing to shake his hand.
"Don't worry about it. You aren't even the last one here," Liam tells him. "Everyone, this is Mike. Mike, this is everyone."
Mike laughs awkwardly as everyone turns to look at him. He waves, gets a chorus of "Hey" in return, before heading to the foot of the table and the spare seat there. He greets Eloise and she actually introduces him to everyone. Apart from Liam and Eloise there are four other people, and Mike greets them all, before Eloise pulls him into a conversation she and Ravi are having about one of their mutual work colleagues.
Mike's entree is delicious, and everyone is eagerly awaiting their mains when it happens. He's in the middle of a conversation with Heidi about their favorite restaurants in Brooklyn when Mike hears a familiar, "Hey, sorry I'm late."
Mike allows himself a couple of seconds of denial before looking up, eyes flicking to the other end of the table, to see Harvey standing there. The older man's gaze is focused on Liam but after they exchange greetings Harvey looks around and finally sees Mike. His face falls, overcome with shock, and Mike can feel himself returning the expression.
Mike takes a deep breath, tries to keep his voice calm and even, despite the fact his heart is pounding in his chest and he has to put his hands in his lap so no one sees them shaking slightly. "Hi, Harvey."
The table has descended into silence, everyone looking curiously back and forth between them. Mike, for his part, can't tear his gaze away from Harvey's. He's missed that face.
"You two know each other?" someone (Mike thinks it was Charlie) asks.
"We used to work together," Mike says.
"Whoa," Liam says, and Mike turns to him. "You're Mike Ross? Harvey's associate with the crazy awesome mind Mike Ross?"
"What is he doing here, Lee?" Harvey asks Liam, and suddenly everything falls into place.
"Wait, you're Harvey's brother?" Mike asks, and Liam just nods, grinning like an idiot, and Mike feels like everything is spinning out of control.
"Lee?" Harvey presses, and Harvey clearly isn't at all happy to see him, so Mike stands and says he'll leave.
"No, wait Mike," Liam says, standing too. "Let's all just calm down, shall we? Mike, Harvey, sit down, and let's enjoy a nice, calm dinner, okay?"
Mike looks to Harvey to gauge his reaction, and he just nods and sits in the empty chair at the head of the table. Mike slides back into his chair, and tries not to feel too hurt by the way Harvey starts talking to Charlie like Mike isn't even there.
When everyone has finished their main courses Liam decides they should all say what they are thankful for, but to keep things interesting, "One of them has to be serious, and the other as silly as you like."
Everyone chuckles, and before anyone can agree or disagree to these terms Liam says, "I'll start. I'm thankful for my big brother, who has supported me our whole lives. I wouldn't be the frankly amazing person you see before you without him. And I'm thankful for Eloise setting our kitchen on fire, because I now know how to be a fire fighter." The table erupts in laughter, while Eloise buries her face in her hands, embarrassed. Liam leans over and presses a kiss to her temple before saying, "Okay El, your turn."
So Eloise gives her thanks, and they all take it in turns. Mike smiles the whole time, loves hearing everyone's random thoughts as they give thanks for things as simple as a neighbor who doesn’t password protect their wifi and as amusing as the sexposition in Game of Thrones.
When it's Mike's turn, he doesn't know what to say. His eyes briefly flick across the table to Harvey. They'd been doing that basically every few minutes since Harvey arrived, and sometimes when he looked at Harvey it was to discover the older man already gazing down the table at him. The whole group was looking at him, but all that mattered was Harvey, the way he held his gaze, the ache in Mike's chest when their eyes met.
"I'm thankful for the people who risked more than I can say and took a chance on me. Whether it worked out or not, it doesn’t matter. The initial act was more than enough, more than I could ever repay, and despite the outcomes I'll always be grateful. I'm also thankful for peanut butter M&Ms."
When Mike chances a look at Harvey there is a small smile playing at his lips. Mike suddenly remembers one evening, working in Harvey's office, both of them slightly loopy in the midnight hour and throwing peanut butter M&Ms across the room at each other. Mike wonders if Harvey's remembering that night too. But then Cody starts talking, and he turns his attention to him.
Harvey is last, and he tries to get out of it, but Liam pulls the brother card out. Harvey chuckles, gives him a smile Mike has never seen before. Mike had only heard him talk about his brother a couple of times, but he had heard the affection in his voice, and now he's seeing it first hand, the way Liam needles him, how Harvey gives in with an indulgent smile. It's a side to Harvey that Mike has never known, and he wants to see more of it.
And Mike is suddenly overwhelmed with all those feelings he's spent the last year and a half trying to ignore. He fucking missed Harvey, every day, and he has no idea how he's going to be able to walk away after tonight. Even though he hates the analogy it really does feel like getting a hit of his favorite vice after a lifetime of abstinence, and he doesn’t know how he's going to go forward after this. Because he's purposely kept his distance from Harvey, but now the universe has thrown them into the same room and there is no going back from that. There's no way he can cut Harvey off again now that they've reunited.
But maybe it's too late. Maybe Harvey doesn’t even care. Maybe Harvey still wants nothing to do with him, and his worry about Harvey seeking him out is all for nothing.
Mike is so caught up in his own thoughts he doesn’t even hear what Harvey is thankful for, is only pulled back to the present when their waitress appears with everyone's desserts.
Mike eats slowly, answers whenever he's asked a question, but he's finding it increasingly difficult to be so close to Harvey and not be able to talk to him. Really talk to him. This whole time they haven’t really exchanged a word, the closest they've come being when the whole table got into a debate about the merits and cost/benefit ratio of the New York City Marathon. But Harvey hasn't sought him out, made any kind of effort to bridge the gap between them, so Mike remains rooted in his seat.
After dessert Ravi and Heidi sneak outside for a smoke, and Liam plops down beside Mike in Ravi's vacated seat.
"So," Mike says, "you're the famous Lee Specter."
Liam laughs. "Well, it's still Liam, only Harvey calls me Lee. But it's funny, I was just about to say the same thing to you."
Mike tries not to think about the implications that Harvey had talked about him to his brother, but he doesn't succeed. He struggles to wrap his mind around the idea that Harvey told Liam about him, must've more than once based on Liam's reactions. He wonders what they talked about, but decides now is not the time to ask.
"So you really didn’t know?" Mike can't help but ask, because he knows it's a small world, but this is ridiculous.
"That you were the same Mike who worked for big bro? Of course not. How could I? I didn't even know your last name, remember," Liam nudges him playfully, and Mike chuckles. "Why, does it matter?" he continues, suddenly serious again. "If I had known and told you Harvey was my brother would you have come here tonight?"
"Honestly, I don't know," Mike admits.
A moment of silence settles between them, but it's still easy, just like it's always been. He had that with Harvey from the start too, an instant connection, and Mike idly wonders what it is about the Specter men that pulls him in.
He chances a glance at Harvey to find that he's watching the two of them, face unreadable. And strangely it's knowing that Harvey is watching that gives Mike the strength to keep going. It emboldens him, and he can still feel Harvey's gaze on them when he turns back to Liam.
"When I said we worked together," Mike murmurs, "you immediately knew exactly who I was."
Liam nods, shifting slightly closer and speaking in hushed tones. "Harvey told me about you, when you were working together. He told me the truth about your background, why he hired you."
"What did he say?" Mike asks before he can stop himself. It's too tempting, to get this insight. He doesn’t think anyone would blame him for asking.
"You know Harvey," Liam says, and doesn’t that seemingly innocent statement just cut Mike to the bone. "It's not always what he says that's most important. Sufficed to say, I knew you were important to him, and he didn’t take your leaving too well."
Mike can't help but scoff. "He wanted me to go," he points out. "He said he never wanted to see me again."
"I know," Liam says, and Mike wonders what else he knows about that last conversation they had. "I also know that he was lying."
Harvey is the first to leave.
The table is enveloped in loud chatter and Mike and Ravi are talking but the movement from the corner of his eye of Harvey standing from the table catches his attention. He looks over to see Harvey saying goodbye to Liam with a kiss pressed to the top of his head and Eloise reaching over to squeeze his hand in farewell. Harvey briefly looks down the table at Mike, and their eyes meet for a few quick moments before Harvey shrugs on his coat and walks out the door.
Mike is paralyzed by indecision. Part of him is desperate to go after him, to seize this opportunity, to see if there is any way he can reconnect to Harvey. Because now that he's seen him again, he wonders if they could still fit into each other's day to day lives, and he can't stop his imagination from conjuring scenarios like Harvey stopping by CAU for a coffee or going out for drinks after Harvey gets off work or meeting for dinner, he and Harvey with Liam and Eloise.
Because for all that he fell in love with Harvey, for all that he misses learning from Harvey as his boss, what he misses most is his friendship.
But Mike can still hear the last words Harvey ever spoke to him rolling around in his mind, still feels the hurt as acutely as he felt it that day, is still mad at Harvey for cutting him off. And he doesn't know if he would just be inviting more pain by seeking Harvey out.
Mike looks to Liam, desperate for some advice, and Liam just nods at him across the table. Mike lets out a shuddering breath, mouths thank you, and after a quick goodbye delivered to the table at large he grabs his coat and rushes out of the restaurant into the cool city air.
He expects to have lost Harvey in the crowds. But what he gets is something he could never even conceive: Harvey, standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, seemingly waiting for him.
"Hey," Mike says, closing the gap between them. It feels so surreal to be talking to him after all this time. His heart is beating a wild tattoo in his chest, nerves flooding easily throughout his body. But underneath that there is warmness, a tickling of happiness sitting in his stomach at finally being within reaching distance of the person he still loves most in the whole world.
"Hello, Mike," Harvey replies, and his tone is neutral, his face guarded, and Mike doesn't know what's going to happen.
"You heading home?" he asks, even though that sounds like something to end a conversation and not begin one. But it's been so long, he doesn't know how to navigate this. Harvey nods, and Mike barely asks, "Can I walk-?" before Harvey says yes and they start walking in the direction of Harvey's condo.
Mike has imagined their reunion hundreds of times, with dozens upon dozens of scenarios crossing his mind. But now that it's actually happening, all the words he had in his head leave him, and he doesn't know what to say.
Harvey isn't talking either, and Mike can't just keep walking in silence, so he opens the conversation by saying, "Liam's great."
That smile is back, and Mike wants to keep Harvey smiling, always. "He's the best."
"Small world, huh?" Mike laughs lightly, relieved when Harvey joins in.
But then silence descends once more, and Mike doesn't know what to say. He can feel the walls between the two of them, and he wants to knock them down brick by brick. But it's been so long. He doesn't know where or, just as importantly, how to start.
"How've you been?" Harvey asks, tentatively, and when Mike looks at him it occurs to him for the first time that maybe Harvey feels as lost as he does.
And Mike can't do this. He can't do this polite, tentative, talk around the issue or pretend like it never happened thing. Because it did, and Mike knows that they both fucked up, but walking down the street together as they've done a thousand times before, he can't dance around this anymore. If Harvey is still pissed at him, if he still wants nothing to do with him, then fine. He'll respect that. He'll be devastated, but he'll respect it and walk away. But if not, if Harvey wants to maybe resolve this, then Mike just needs to know.
"Look, Harvey," Mike says, pulling on his arm so he stops walking and faces him. "Just tell me. Are you still angry about everything? I know I messed up, okay, believe me, I know. I've had plenty of time to ruminate on all my mistakes. But you fucked up too. We're both to blame for what happened. But I want to fix things, and if you don’t then you need to tell me before we go any further."
Mike's breathless from his pronouncement (not to mention the nerves creeping in that he won't get the answer he wants) and the words settle between them. He can't read Harvey's face anymore, so he has no idea what's coming next.
"I'm sorry," Harvey says, and that was so not what Mike was expecting to hear. "I can't believe you actually believed me when I said I never wanted to see you again. I was pissed, which I still maintain I had every right to be, but I overreacted and I'm sorry."
Mike reaches over and wraps his hands around Harvey's arms. "I'm so sorry," he tells him earnestly, and he can feel the regret prickling at his eyes. Because he did this. Yes, Harvey overreacted, but Mike was the one who fucked up in the first place, he was the one who cut and run. He's regretted that decision many times since he left, but he's never felt it more acutely than he does in this moment.
Harvey nods in acknowledgement, and Mike steps back, lets his hands fall back to his sides. "When I found out you quit," Harvey begins, and it's the cue to keep walking down the street, "I was still too pissed to care. But after a few days, when I started to calm down, I got angry for a completely different reason. I wanted to call, try and talk through it, but I couldn’t find the courage to pick up the phone and dial."
"You did eventually," Mike says, remembering that missed call.
"Only took a month," Harvey smiles, which Mike returns. "But you didn't pick up. I figured you didn't want to talk to me."
"I was in the shower. And you didn’t leave a message."
"You didn't call back," Harvey says, and Mike stops the one up-manship because he knows he'll lose. "And when I called again a few days later, the number was disconnected. So I went to your place, but you'd moved."
"Like you couldn't have found me if you wanted to," Mike says, and he suddenly realizes that when he purposely cut everyone off part of him had been hoping that it wouldn’t matter, that Harvey would find him anyway. But he never did.
"You're right. I could have."
There's something significant about the way Harvey says it, and he rolls the statement over in his mind a few times. It takes a few seconds, but when he realizes he breaks into laughter. "Oh my God, you totally got Vanessa to spy on me, didn't you?" he asks, knocking Harvey's shoulder playfully so he knows he has no hard feelings.
"Maybe," Harvey admits with a smile, and it suddenly feels like old times. Harvey is looking at him, open and free, and he wants this back, has missed this with every fiber of his being. But then Harvey's smile fades, and it's serious again. "But I figured if you had changed your number and moved apartments then you probably didn’t want to be found, at least, not by me. My number hadn't changed, and I knew that big brain of yours would never forget it, so I figured that if … when you were ready to talk, you knew my number. But you never called. I may have gotten slightly anxious about you, so I asked Vanessa to check if you were okay. I told her not to tell me where you lived or what you were doing or how to get in contact with you. I tried to respect the boundaries you clearly wanted. I just wanted to know you were okay. And she said that you were. She said you were happy."
"I am," Mike tells him, and Harvey looks relieved to hear it directly from Mike. "I have a good place, good friends. I'm not in any trouble, not taking drugs or anything. I'm doing okay."
"I'm glad," Harvey says, holding his gaze for a moment before looking away. "So, what have you been doing with your life?"
So Mike tells him about school, about Autumn, about his job at CAU and how he and Liam became friends. Harvey in turn tells him about life at Pearson Darby, how the new managers are all assholes who don’t understand the Harvey Specter genius ("Big surprise," Mike says with a grin), about his associate, about Donna's elopement with Jamie Cohen (hotel entrepreneur extraordinaire), about the renovations he's doing to his condo.
It would be a lie to say it felt like nothing had changed, but it wasn't as bad as Mike feared it could be. They end up taking the long way to Harvey's place, purposely going blocks out of their way just to give themselves more time, and as such they walk and talk for hours.
Mike can feel it, the attraction he has to Harvey. It still hums in his veins but he tries his best to ignore it. Because this wasn't about his feelings for Harvey. It's about the possibility of repairing their fractured friendship, and he isn’t going to let unrequited feelings get in the way of that.
They're a few blocks from Harvey's place when it happens. Mike gets the sense Harvey wants to say something, and he figures that after everything that happened they need to be open with each other, so he asks, "What is it?"
Harvey looks like he's debating with himself, and he eventually pulls on Mike's arm, drags them from the center of the sidewalk so they're standing against some random shopfront.
"Didn't you ever wonder why I was so mad at you?" Harvey asks, kind of incredulously bemused, and it's the first time since the very start of their conversation several hours ago that the events of those last few days have been broached.
"Because of what I did?" Mike says, an unintended question, because what other explanation could there be? He thought it was fairly obvious really, but the way Harvey's acting makes him start to think that maybe there's more to it.
"When Donna destroyed that memo, I was pissed. But I didn't fire her. Not like I tried to with you."
"Okay," Mike says, drawing the word out as he considers Harvey's words. But he still doesn't get it.
Harvey huffs out a sigh, and it's so familiar that Mike wants to laugh and smile but there's something else going on here, so he holds himself back. "I cared about you," Harvey says, voice low, like it's physically painful to say the words. At Mike's dumbfounded expression he elaborates with, "I cared about you more than I cared about Donna. I cared about you more than everyone, idiot brothers aside."
Mike can't look away from Harvey's gaze, but he still doesn't get it. He tries to, looks at it from every conceivable angle, but nothing makes sense. Harvey is staring at him like he desperately wants Mike to figure it out and when it's obvious that Mike can't, Harvey rolls his eyes and steps forward, hands to Mike's face before he leans in and kisses him.
It doesn't feel real, the slide of their lips, the way Mike automatically reaches out, hands grasping at his lapels to keep him in place. The crisp night air has made their skin cold and lips chapped but it doesn't matter, because Harvey's lips move against his and Mike opens his mouth to deepen the kiss and it's everything he's ever wanted.
But then reality catches up, and Mike pulls away, physically steps back from Harvey. Now that the moment's over he's angry and more than a little confused.
"What, so you liked me? That's why you fired me? That was why you never wanted to see me again?" Mike demands answers, because he's fucking overwhelmed and he thinks answers are the only way to stop his head from spinning.
"What I'm saying is that I was mad, because you hurt me in a way that no one else in the world could have. I reacted badly, obviously, and I'm sorry."
Mike could stay mad, but what would be the point. Because he was the one who started them on this path. Everything that happened was his own fucking fault, and he can't blame Harvey for reacting the way he did.
"Didn't you ever wonder why I told Rachel our secret in the first place?" Mike asks with a smile, deliberately echoing Harvey's statement. Harvey shrugs, so Mike tells him. "Because I felt like I'd lost you. What happened with Rachel that day, telling her and sleeping with her, it wasn't really about her at all. It was me reeling from losing someone I loved and, as always, not dealing with it in an appropriate way. It was never really about her at all. It was about us. Everything was always about us."
Harvey kisses him again, surging forward with an almost violent intensity. Mike takes the kiss as his due, his lips forming a faint smile which Harvey kisses away.
"Do you wanna come back to my place?" Harvey asks against his mouth.
But Mike pulls back, shaking his head. Harvey looks vaguely hurt, so Mike quickly wraps his arms around his neck, keeps him close.
"I shouldn't. Don't get me wrong, I really really want to. But we haven’t seen each other in nearly two years and this evening has been kinda intense and I think we should just step back and take a breath. I don’t want to rush into something either of us will regret. Given everything that's happened, if this is something you want - and for the record, I really fucking do - then we should go slow. But I'll tell you what," he says, pressing his lips to Harvey's. The older man returns the embrace, and Mike uses the distraction to slide his fingers under Harvey's coat, to pull his cell phone from his coat pocket. He breaks their kiss, stepping back enough to give himself room to punch his number into Harvey's phone. When done, he holds the phone out for Harvey to take, and he does, both hands wrapping around Mike's and keeping him there. "You have my number now. You can call me. If you want."
Harvey smiles slightly. "If I call, will you pick up this time?"
Mike grins, leaning over and kissing him. "Yes."