Mike is good with numbers, so he knows it’s just a matter of time. The twenty-five grand signing bonus goes straight to Gram’s next six months, and is little more than a down payment. In total, the year will cost seventy nine thousand. Medicare won’t defray the cost for a private room in a non-government facility, and her social security is negligible, maybe ten grand of that at most. Realistically, Mike needs to put away at least forty-five thousand to make sure that’s covered.
Even in Brooklyn, in his shithole of a one-bedroom, rent is about sixteen grand a year. Utilities, taking out cable, but not internet, since he sometimes needs to connect from home, run at close to fourteen grand. He gives up his non-work phone, “inherits” the suits from Trevor, and gets around commuting and parking fees with the bike.
Harvey lowballs him with a salary of one hundred. Mike knows it’s pitiful compared to the other associates’ one fifteen, but he’s also got no real recourse. And he understands, too. Harvey figures Mike doesn’t have debt. He figures this way, Mike pays off, one way or another. It’s not what Mike would do if he were Harvey, but it doesn’t surprise Mike or even really disappoint him. One hundred plus the twenty-five is a fuck of a lot more than Mike’s ever had before. It’s just unfortunate that Gram’s bills have gone up so damn much.
He forgoes medical insurance, praying to whatever deity landed him Harvey Specter’s interview—rather than the police’s tender mercies—that he doesn’t have a bike accident, or untimely cancer. After FICA and the rest, he’s still left borrowing off his credit card. On the upside, at least he qualifies for a credit card on which to borrow at this point.
He researches cards and finds the one with the lowest interest rate, but he’s still not crazy about the idea of taking on more debt than he has to, so he cuts corners where he can. He learns exactly how long he can go without anything to eat before becoming woozy and making Harvey give him the, “Your work is a reflection of me” speech, or worse, just the glare that conveys the whole sentiment. He learns how to make a medium pizza last for four meals, how to stretch a carton of ramen for two, a can of generic tomato soup for two, a pot of Folgers transferred to a large travel mug for a whole day.
He gets used to the low-level ache that takes up residence in his skull, and the way biking to work and back leaves him panting and faint. He learns familiarity with the sick, hollow sensation at his center, and the way his hands shake if he doesn’t pay attention. He tells himself all this is normal, that this is what working for something feels like, that there will be raises and things will get better.
Then his bike gets stolen.
Mike recognizes that it’s his own damn fault. He was running late and he didn’t check the lock. This is New York, for fuck’s sake. If he were being really careful, he’d remove the damn front wheel. Fault or no, though, it’s a pretty serious setback.
He considers his options and short of going to Harvey and renegotiating his salary—not going to happen—or starving to death—counterproductive—Mike figures he’s got one choice. His job hours don’t leave time for a regular second job, but he can generally get a couple of nights a week after ten free, particularly Saturdays, which is all he needs.
Mike forcibly makes himself not think about what Harvey will say if he finds out, about how very fired and done Mike will be if this gets out. It shouldn’t. He’s worked for the company he goes with before, in tight spots like this, and it’s very discreet. If Mike tells his handler who and what he needs to avoid, nobody will probably ever be the wiser.
After all, it’s not as if men hiring an escort want that known, no matter who the escort is or what he does “on the side.”
Mike puts the call in, specifies, “Private dates, with possible extras, but only for a grand or up. No parties, period.”
His handler says, “Nice to hear from you. Been awhile.”
Mike bites his tongue.
It’s an extra five to seven hundred on a week where he can fit a date in. A grand if he gets down on his knees afterward. Most of it goes to paying off the credit card bills, getting himself a new bike and the new shoes Harvey insists on. Sometimes, though, he can afford Chinese. A dinner size serving of something breaded can make three meals. It means he can have cereal most mornings, even if it has to be dry on the weeks when he hasn’t been able to schedule a date.
The dates are annoying: he’d rather be sleeping, or hanging with Gram, or doing anything that isn’t pandering to men and women who think he’s a shiny toy. The dates, however, generally mean a meal—Mike wishes asking for doggy bags on “dates” wasn’t frowned upon—and make it so he’s only mildly buried under credit card debt, rather than head under water.
It’s working out fine until Mike gets greedy. He’s been relatively free all weekend after closing out discovery on one of Pearson Hardman’s class actions and his handler asks him to take a Saturday and a Sunday. The thought of eating two full meals two days in a row is too much to resist. Even better, then Sunday date wants extras, so between the seven hundred on Saturday and the grand on Sunday, Mike’ll probably be able to eat fairly regularly for a couple of weeks. If things get a little more regular like this, he might even be able to consider putting some of his paycheck toward medical insurance, maybe.
He accepts without really thinking twice about it.
He gets out of the office at six on Saturday, out of the date by eleven and has what feels like practically a whole night to himself. He works from home on Sunday—most of the firm does—and is dressed for the second date by eight sharp.
The guy is older, charming in a way but mostly controlling. Mike’s used to that. It’s a big reason why people hire escorts: it’s harder to control someone you’re not paying to be in your control. It doesn’t set any alarm bells off until Mike stops eating midway through his steak and the client says, quietly, firmly, “Finish.”
Mike isn’t hungry anymore. He doesn’t have the same appetite he had before he started cutting down on meals. He smiles and says, “I’m full.”
The client’s responding smile tells Mike he should get the fuck out of there, but even if he might not need this job right here, tonight, he needs the money he’s getting from these dates, and his handler is not going to take it well if he just cuts out. The client just repeats, “Finish.”
There are worse things than overeating, Mike figures. He cuts the steak into tiny pieces and makes himself eat, one by one by one.
Mike’s feeling pretty sick by the time they go up to the client’s hotel room. He’s trying to pay attention, to act like he cares about the things the client is saying, but mostly he’s trying to breathe, and not throw up. He wishes he hadn’t agreed to extras.
He did, though, so he goes down on his knees. The client tells Mike exactly what to do, exactly what he likes. Normally, Mike would kind of appreciate that: it takes the guess work out of it, and Mike prefers to put as little effort into this part as possible.
The client bids him swallow, so Mike does. It’s nothing Mike hasn’t done before, nothing he hasn’t done time after time, but the semen hitting his throat is just one thing too much, and before Mike can so much as turn his body, he’s vomiting all over the client’s shoes.
He’s not even done when the client’s wing-tip makes contact with his stomach. Mike curls up even harder, retching more and thinks, get to the door. Mike can throw a punch, and has been in a fight or two, but the client is bigger than him, and not currently sick. If Mike can get in the hallway, he’ll be fine.
The client kicks him again, though, this time in the side, the kidneys and Mike changes his game plan to protect head, present small target. The guy will probably wear himself out, he’s a paper pusher. Mike babbles facts about human physiology and endurance to himself, the sound of his thoughts the only thing keeping him from panicking. He doesn’t want to panic.
A kick that’s meant to target his head hits his wrist and white starred explosions of pain burst so bright things start to black out. Mike has the vague feeling that some part of him is being stomped on, and then the black takes over.
Breathing hurts. Mike blinks his eyes open. He’s on the floor? But it’s carpeted. He doesn’t have carpets.
He blinks again. He takes a breath that’s too deep and moans. The moaning just hurts more. He tries to work backward. His memory is usually more reliable.
Breathing isn’t the only thing that hurts. He’s tired. He lets his eyes close again.
There’s a sound. Knocking? Oh. He should answer the door.
Mike tries to push himself up, but there’s something wrong with his wrist. It can’t help. He licks his lips to get some moisture in his mouth, tell whoever it is to wait. His lips taste salty, like blood.
The knocking goes away. Mike thinks he’ll just go back to sleep. But there are voices then, and oh, they must have a key. Mike frowns. No, that’s wrong. Nobody has a key to his apartment.
Someone says, “Sir?”
Is Harvey here? People call Harvey “sir.” And sometimes Louis. Mike really hopes Louis isn’t here.
The voice says, “Sir!” again, sharper this time, and then, “Someone call 911.”
Mike wonders if someone is hurt. He should care. He wonders if this is what Harvey feels like all the time, not caring. It’s kind of nice. Mike’s just going to get a little more sleep, if that’s all right with everybody.
The person says, “Sir,” again, sounding mad or concerned or something Mike would normally be able to figure out. Mike really just doesn’t give a crap.
Mike wakes up in the hospital. He doesn’t have quite the same level of perfect recall around smells that he does with words, but between the car accident that took his parents and his grandmother’s decline in health, the smell of antiseptic and bodily fluids is permanently cemented in his mind.
He can’t feel much of anything. He definitely can’t remember how he got here. He vaguely remembers the client. Maybe the client called an ambulance? That seems odd.
Out of the corner of his eye, he notices a flair of red, and then Donna is looking up from her iPad, saying, “Oh, hey, you’re awake.”
Things aren’t coming together as quickly as they usually do for Mike, so it takes him a couple of seconds to remember that although Gram is his next of kin, he put Donna as his emergency contact. Mostly, he’d just figured that if something happened to him, she was the only person who might possibly convince Harvey not to fire him. He’s pretty sure he hadn’t expected her to come to the hospital in such a hypothetical emergency situation.
He looks around and his eyes settle on a cup that looks as though it might contain water. Donna stands, evidently seeing where he’s looking, and takes the cup, putting the straw to his lips. Mike takes a couple of sips, using the time to think. He suspects whatever meds he’s on are causing the delay in his thought process.
If he remembers correctly, and he usually does, he got last night’s money upfront. So that’s one problem taken care of. But even if where he was and what he was doing when this happened doesn’t get back to Harvey—unlikely—and Mike is able to keep his job, he still doesn’t have health insurance.
He tells Donna, “I have to get out of here.”
Donna sets the cup back on the stand. “Yeah, no.”
“Broken wrist, two broken ribs, several more bruised, sluggish internal bleeding, and a regular art show’s worth of superficial wounds. You’re not going anywhere.”
“I’m not insured.”
Donna rolls her eyes. “That’s ridiculous, Mike. The firm has one of the top policies in the city. You want me to have them check again for a head wound?”
“It’s an opt-in policy.”
Donna looks at him for a long moment. “You’re kidding.”
Mike really wishes he were, at the moment.
Donna’s jaw tightens. “You’re really that much of an idiot?”
Mike doesn’t want to get into the financial choices he’s needed to make, lately. Honestly, he really just wants to go back to sleep. But to do that, he needs a home, and if he doesn’t get out of here soon, affording one might be an issue. “Donna—“
“Shut up, rookie,” she says.
Mike opens his mouth but she’s already walking out of the room. “No, really, shut up. And if you’re not here when I get back, I will do enough damage that the only way you leave this hospital is through the morgue.”
Mike lets her leave in silence. He doesn’t try to get out of the bed.
When Mike next awakens, the color of sky outside his window tells him it’s late night, possibly even early morning. He’s still not feeling anything. Harvey is sitting in a chair, suit in place except for the tie. It’s nowhere to be seen, the top buttons of his shirt undone and lying open. Mike stares, trying to reason as to whether he’s actually awake, or if this is the most vivid and realistic dream he’s ever had with just enough detail to tell him it’s not real.
Harvey does not look up from the folder he’s marking to say, “You’re lucky Donna is a fucking goddess of administrative espionage. You’ve got a policy backdating to six months after you started.”
Probably not a dream, since Mike’s still in deep shit. He likes to think his subconscious would give him a break. “PPO or HMO?”
“You honestly think I asked?”
Mike is not going to cry. For one thing, he only cries when pissed off or frustrated, but Harvey doesn’t know that, and Mike can see how, in this situation, it might look like something else. For another, Harvey is sitting there, period. “I can’t run numbers if I don’t know.”
Harvey does look up at that. “Work performance suggests that you have, at the very least, not upped your habits to anything like cocaine. You live in a shithole. Donna says the doctor suggested that the beating might not have been as damaging had there not been months of malnutrition weakening your system, so the money’s not going to some need to eat sushi with gold flakes in it, or whatever dumbass food habit I could think of. You don’t have school debt. So where, exactly, is the money going? Prior gambling habit? Sex addiction?”
Mike wants to tell Harvey that it’s really none of his business, but Harvey hasn’t brought up the whole thing where Mike was found half-beaten-to-death in an anonymous hotel room, probably by hotel staff, and that’s more than a little suspicious. Mike settles for, “Medical bills. Credit card debt.”
Of course, this is Harvey, so instead of taking that completely reasonable explanation at face value he thinks for a long few seconds and then states, “Medical bills.”
Mike recognizes it as the interrogation it is, but two can play that game, even if Mike is currently drugged to the gills. “Mm.”
“Did you forget to mention some horrible chronic disease to me at any given point in our nearly year-long association?”
“Didn’t you say something about Donna being a goddess at administrative espionage?”
“Less than five minutes ago, Mister Eidetic Memory.”
Standstill. Mike’s still tired, despite the fact that he’s done nothing but sleep. “Harvey—“
“Where’s the money going?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because you represent Pearson Hardman and evidently you’re making up the other half by living up to the popular image of lawyers as whores.”
Mike lets that one lie for a second. When Harvey opens his mouth, starts to say, “I didn’t—“ Mike says calmly, “Get out. Before I call the nurse who reminds me of Donna.”
There is no such nurse, but clearly Harvey believes there is, because for the moment, he lets Mike have the upper hand.
Mike’s actually awake when Donna comes back. They’ve started to wean him off the good stuff, which has two negative repercussions: first, he’s in a fair amount of pain, and second, it’s bringing his thought process into greater clarity, where he’s aware that he now has insurance to backpay and a hospital bill that’s going to involve a deductable.
Donna stands in the doorway and tells him, “PPO. Harvey said you wanted to know.”
“Donna—“ Mike stops, trying to figure out how to make it clear that he appreciates her efforts without it seeming like she has the right to do things like this in the future.
“He also told me to find out what was going on.”
Of course he had. What was a little thing like constitutionally-protected privacy to Harvey Specter. For that matter, what was the likelihood Harvey Specter would even acknowledge constitutional protection of privacy if it didn’t suit his ends? “It really is none of his business.”
Donna nodded and actually came in the room to stand by Mike’s bed. “I told him that, when I figured it out.”
Mike’s smile felt bitter on his lips. “Well, thanks for that, I guess.”
Her look is both unimpressed and something that Mike can’t read. Normally, he would say it was uncertainty, but this is Donna, and she doesn’t do uncertainty. She says, “I found the, ah, service you were using to try and remedy the situation.”
Mike quirks an eyebrow. Administrative espionage indeed. In spite of himself, he’s a little impressed.
She crosses her arms over her chest, and doesn’t precisely look at Mike. He tells her, “It’s not the first time I’ve done it, Donna. You don’t have to—“
“They’ll let you out of here tomorrow morning if you have someone to look after you.”
As an avoidance tactic, it’s not bad. Mike is silent for a second too long, he can feel it, and when he says, “Yeah, I’ve got-- I’ll call someone,” it doesn’t go over the way it might if he were on his game. He’s not the smoothest liar in the world to begin with, but this is definitely not his most shining moment.
Donna’s eyes narrow. “Why am I your emergency contact, then?”
“Easier to get hold of you than Harvey, and the firm needs to know.”
“Sure, but an emergency contact could contact me.”
“One more step.”
“I can take care of myself, Donna.”
“Clearly,” she says, and something under her breath that might be, “Jesus Christ on fucking pogo stick.” Mike doesn’t really catch it, but he gets the sentiment. After a second her arms fall to her sides and in a quick, awkward motion, she combs her fingers through his hair. It’s momentary and a little jerky and so nice Mike has to keep himself from arching into it.
She sighs and asks, “What the hell are we gonna do about this, kid?”
“We’re not doing anything,” he tells her, since Mike isn’t exactly sure who “we” is, but the only “we” there’s ever really been in Mike’s life consisted of him and his grandmother, and Mike’s positive that’s not what’s being referenced here.
“Mm.” She pats his hand, and this time the gesture is more sure, and reassuringly condescending. “Sure we’re not.”
To Mike’s surprise—because he really expected Donna to thoroughly undermine him—the hospital lets him check out the next day. They make him sit in a wheelchair to get him to the exit. It’s discomfiting, but Mike sees their point: the hallway feels long, even seated and being wheeled along.
He plans on calling a cab once’s he’s out the door, but Ray’s waiting for him. Mike thinks he ought to have expected that. He climbs in the front seat of the car and says, “Hey, Ray.”
Ray seems a little apologetic when he asks, “You know I’ve got to take you where he told me, right?”
Mike is well aware of how Ray’s life works. He’s not entirely certain their lives are so different. “Yeah, man. It’s cool.”
“You wanna lay back, get some sleep, that’d be all right.”
Mike takes him up on the reclining offer, but the shocks or no, the car isn’t quite smooth enough to make it so that Mike’s not aching after every single bump. He closes his eyes anyway. He imagines they’re going to the office. He knows where it is.
They don’t go to the office. They go to a high-rise Mike has never been to before. Donna’s waiting at the curb. Mike gets out and says, “Um.”
She says, “C’mon. If you fall down out here, I’m not dragging your ass inside.”
Mike thinks that might be a lie, but he’s not really willing to test her. He follows her inside. They get inside a glass elevator and go up to the twenty-third floor. They step out into a condo that’s roughly four times the size of Mike’s apartment. It’s completely unfurnished.
Donna says, “There’s a bed. C’mon.”
Mike pads along behind her. The bed in question looks heavenly. Mike’s is a double with a mattress that he got off Craigslist. This looks like something from an Ethan Allen showroom. Mike doesn’t really want to know, but in the end he has to ask, “Where am I?”
“15 Liberty Street. Condo unit twenty three C.”
“Rest, Mike. I told Harvey I’d get you settled, but that explaining was his job. He’ll be here when he finishes with the Carrier deposition.”
Mike tenses up at the mention of the Carrier case. “It’s Tuesday?”
“Wednesday, and don’t even think about it. You’re not going in and I’m not bringing you files or a smart phone or anything that you can work on or think about working on. Get in bed, close your eyes, and go to sleep.”
Donna rolls her eyes and walks out of the room, but Mike can hear her puttering around as he climbs into bed, can hear the murmur of her speaking on the phone even as he falls asleep.
Mike wakes up having to go to the bathroom. When he’s done, he follows the lights to the kitchen. Harvey’s sitting on the lone bar chair, work papers spread out over the counter. Mike says, “Hey.”
Harvey points to the two bottles sitting out on the counter. “Take your meds.”
“Does this place have glasses?”
“Bottled water in the fridge.”
Mike goes and grabs one. It takes more energy to open the bottle than usual, and by the time he’s actually taken both meds, he’s all but panting. Somehow, without noticing they’ve even switched positions, Mike ends up on the stool, Harvey leaning against the counter.
Mike asks what he deems to be the most central question of the moment: “Where am I? And Donna already gave me the address, so a contextual answer would be appreciated.”
Harvey smiles, a little. “One of the uninhabited condos in my building. Or, at least, it was uninhabited until today.”
Mike considers this for a moment. He gets that Donna and Harvey pitied him enough to get him out of the hospital and didn’t want to be bothered with having to go all the way to his place or, alternately, just leave him there against medical orders, but even so, this plan doesn’t really make a lot of sense. “Why am I here?”
“Because this place is free. And nicer than your rathole.”
Mike knows he’s not at his best, really, but, “What?”
Harvey shrugs. “I bought my condo when they were building this place. They needed investors and my guy told me it was worthwhile. He was mostly right, but with the economy being the way it is, this place has been sitting vacant for two years. At least I know you’ll take care of it. You can always buy it when things get better. You’re year end is coming up and I’m going to raise you to the one eighteen four fifty that the other associates’ll get. Between the two, you can probably get rid of the credit card debt and go back to actually eating without taking on a second job.”
Mike takes a breath. He gets that that whole monologue was really quite tactful for Harvey, all things considered, and he knows the smart thing would be to keep his mouth shut. “I don’t need your charity.”
Harvey smiles again, but this time it’s sharp, all teeth and no soul. “Yeah, Mike, you do.”
Mike opens his mouth, but Harvey just rolls right over him. “Look, my strengths and weaknesses being what they are, I know pretty much fuckall about what it means to be a friend. And given that Trevor was your oldest and bestest, I don’t think you’re that far ahead of me when it comes to this. But there are things you need that I can help out with and I’m pretty sure that’s how friendship works, at least a little.”
These are all true facts that Harvey has just stated. He’s forgotten something, though. Mike may not know much, but he knows this. “Friends,” Mike tells him, “care about each other.”
Harvey winces just slightly. Mike barely sees it, but he does. Then Harvey nods and says, “I know they do, Mike.”
Mike’s actually never been a gracious winner, but he feels like maybe he can manage, just this once. Softly, he asks, “This place have any food in it?”
“There’s an Italian place a couple of neighborhoods up that’s willing to deliver for what I tip.”
The idea of accepting more charity grates, but at the same time, Mike realizes that admitting some semblance of human emotion was probably far more painful for Harvey. “Have a menu?”
Harvey hands Mike his tablet. The menu has already been pulled up.
Sleepy in the aftermath of having eaten well, Mike asks blearily, “Isn’t Jessica gonna be kinda suspicious about that type of raise?”
Harvey nudges at Mike where he’s resting his head against the counter, pushing him off stool and catching him when his legs don’t stand as steady as they should. “Hey, hey.”
Mike leans in a little, enjoying the solidness of Harvey, the warmth of contact without any expectations behind it. Harvey starts walking them toward the bedroom. “Let me worry about Jessica.”
Since that’s really all that Mike can do, he murmurs, “’Kay.”
Harvey laughs a little and all-but dumps Mike onto the bed. Mike fumbles a bit, but manages to get himself under the covers. He’s just closed his eyes when he feels the weight of Harvey settling onto the other side of the bed. A peek confirms that Harvey’s sitting with his back to the headboard, a client file on his lap.
Mike asks, “Staying?”
“Friend,” Harvey says.
Mike smiles tiredly. “Mm. Friend.”