Why do we fall? So that we learn to pick ourselves back up. Batman Begins
The thing about living in the middle of New York City is that it's expensive. The kind of expensive that someone like Mike couldn't afford all that easily. The kind of expensive that led to scrimping and saving, to skipping meals and wearing socks that already were more holes than fabric.
How was it that he was making less money since working at Pearson Hardman? Before, when he'd taken the LSATs for struggling or lazy law school hopefuls and done other odd jobs, he'd been able to get by, been able to eat, and been able to take care of his grandmother's ever-rising bills.
But now…now it was like the world was conspiring against Mike Ross. He was not usually prone to paranoia, but how else to explain the fact that his rent and his grandmother's bills had gone up astronomically in the space of a couple of months?
He was working ninety hours a week, more if you counted the amount of work he was doing from home, but he couldn't live like this anymore. Even Harvey had pointed out that he was losing weight (his exact words were "are you trying to work on your figure, princess? Because the emaciated prison look was so ten years ago.)
And it wasn't like his second job was difficult. Okay, maybe there were better places to work than a twenty-four hour convenience store in a truly shitty part of town, but he needed a new bike and he needed to eat and he needed to keep his grandmother in a good home. He needed sleep a lot less.
"Why is your face like that?" Harvey asked one morning when he and Mike stepped into the elevator together.
The younger man sighed, tugging his bag tighter across his shoulders, "That's so sixth-grade, Harvey. Can't think of better insults?"
"What? No, let me use small words. You look tired. I do not need tired associates."
"I was up late doing the Jefferson brief." Mike defended, and it was most of the truth. He had been up late, and he had done the Jefferson brief, he'd just brought it to work and done it in the hours-long lulls between customers. And he'd been standing for six hours, which is why his legs felt like they were going to give way.
"Then drink more coffee. Appearance is everything."
"Really? I didn't know that. You should definitely remind me of that more often," Mike groused, and Harvey hit him with a don't-be-a-smart-ass glare. Mike kind of smiled, though, sensing the subject being dropped.
With any luck, he might have gotten away with it. Moonlighting wasn't so much forbidden as unheard of. Not many people could work fourteen or fifteen hours, rush home for an apple and a two-hour nap, work for six hours, and then, if he was lucky, catch another hour nap and a shower. It was wearing him down, and Harvey's comments about his weight continued because, ironically, the job he'd taken to help pay for food was seriously crimping his eating habits.
But he only needed to do this until his grandmother's newest therapy, an eight-week session of drugs, finished. He would quit the convenience store job and was hoping that by the time she needed the therapy again he'd get a small raise from Pearson Hardman. It was only for eight weeks. He could keep a secret for that long.
"Tell me you're not selling drugs." Harvey had said unexpectedly one morning a month into his two-month plan.
"I'm not selling drugs," Mike said, caught off guard, and maybe the sincerity in his voice was what made Harvey look up and scrutinize him carefully.
"You need to sleep more."
"According to recent studies, about a third of American adults get less than the recommended eight hours of sleep." Mike pointed out, raising an eyebrow so that Harvey knew that Mike was including him in this number.
"You look like death warmed over. It's depressing to see first thing in the morning."
"I'm sorry," Mike said, rolling his eyes obviously, "maybe you forget what being at the bottom of the food chain is like, Harvey. I'm supposed to be staying up past my bedtime. How else would I get all this done?" He dropped a pile of briefs onto the desk, smiling a little at Harvey's incredulous expression. At least his job was good for getting all the work done.
Three weeks left to go, and Mike was getting used to the cycle, getting better at hiding it. He would sleep Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, and that was enough of a break to not completely destroy his body. And it was only three weeks (three weeks!). There was a light at the end of the tunnel.
It would have worked, too, if he hadn't ended up in the emergency room.
The thing about living in the middle of New York City is that it's occasionally dangerous. Occasionally, it's very dangerous. At the end of one night when Mike was counting down the minutes until he could clock out and catch another hour of sleep, the bell at the entrance chimed. Mike barely even glanced up from the paper. He was trying to get his tired brain to focus on legalese and it was not working very well.
The mugging was despicably average. A huge guy who could have been a bouncer or an ex-wrestler held up a gun and asked Mike for the money. Mike pressed the button under the desk for 9-1-1, all the time feeling his heart pounding his chest because oh-my-God that gun looked lethal. The guy saw him press the button and whacked him over the head with the butt of the gun (the gun turned out not to be loaded) then kicked him, kicked him, kicked him while he was down, then stepped over his body to get to the money.
When the police arrived they arrested the guy, who'd gone four blocks and then stopped in a shop for a cup of coffee. An ambulance took Mike to a nearby hospital despite the fact that he told the EMS that he was fine, and could get home if they just dropped him off at his apartment.
"SOP, man." A twenty-something guy had said, probing his head wound, "And you got beat up good. I'm surprised you're still conscious."
"Adrenaline." Mike said, and then passed out from sheer exhaustion, so he couldn't really protest when he was shuttled off to a room.
How Harvey Specter came to learn about the incident was entirely the fault of one Peter Kettering. Dr. Peter Kettering was looking over Mike's charts (which were extensive, mostly stuff from childhood, but Harvey wouldn't know about those until later) when a nurse poked her head in the room and said that the guy's emergency contact was living in some state like Montana or Michigan and obviously couldn't come to pick him up.
If Mike had woken up before that point, he certainly would have signed himself out AMA, but he didn't, which is why Dr. Kettering lingered in the room and wondered if this scrawny-looking kid had anyone looking out for him in the world.
"Ross," he muttered to himself, and the word tickled some memory in the very back of his mind. "Mike Ross…" Where had he heard that name before?
Peter Kettering had a habit of talking to anyone he met, and he found Harvey Specter, who lived in the apartment above him, endlessly fascinating. They weren't bosom buddies, but if they happened to come into the complex at the same time they'd often take a detour to a nearby café and talk over drinks. Two intelligent, ambitious men with a lot in common.
Now, Mike Ross wasn't the least common name in the world, but Kettering decided to give it a shot. He had Harvey's business card in the back of his wallet somewhere, a leftover from some long-ago first meeting. He could give him a call, ask if that young kid he had working for him had showed up for work yet. Ask if Mike Harvey happened to be pale, and thin, and scrawny, and work at a twenty-four hour convenience store in a bad part of town.
It was a long shot, but Kettering would never forgive himself if he didn't try to find someone to be there for this kid.
When Harvey got the phone call, he was just starting to get really pissed that his associate was late. Again. So he was a little distracted when he picked up and said, "Hello?"
"Harvey? It's Peter Kettering." Harvey made a small noise of surprise while Peter rushed on, "This may be a strange question, but has that new kid you hired, Mike Ross? Has he showed up to work today?"
"No…" And Harvey would never admit to anyone that his heart sped up, or skipped a beat, or something, because right at that moment he remembered that Peter Kettering was Dr. Peter Kettering. That he was calling from a hospital. That this could be something bad.
"Maybe you should come down here, Harvey."
What Harvey was expecting was a bike accident, and he was mentally kicking himself for not telling Mike that he could borrow his car any time he wanted. How many times had he just commented on the sad state of Mike's clothes, as if he didn't know that the kid had just rode through rush hour traffic on the in them?
What Harvey wasn't expecting was to find out that not only was Mike beat up by some thug, but he was beat up while working another job. That got him just steamed enough to barge into Mike's room as he was attempting to put on his coat. "What the hell were you thinking?"
If the Holy Mother had just flung open the door and started doing cartwheels, Mike couldn't have been more surprised. "I…Harvey, why did they call you? I was just going to sign myself out. Am I late? What time…?" He glanced at the clock over Harvey's head and blanched, "Sorry about that."
"You have another job?" Harvey seethed, "When do you have time for another job?"
"I don't, really. But I needed the money." At Harvey's expression, Mike got defensive. "You're the one who keeps telling me to eat more."
"We pay you, don't we?" Harvey asked, exasperated. "Why did you have to take on a minimum-wage gig in the murder capitol of the world?"
"New York isn't even close to being the murder capitol of the world."
"Not anywhere near the point." Harvey said, struggling to control his temper. Why did he care so much? What was it to him if the kid had another job?
"It wasn't supposed to interfere with my work with you," Mike said, suddenly sounding so pitiful that Harvey looked at him, really looked at him, and saw the bruises and cuts all over his body, "But, you know, my grandmother's bills really pile up, and then rent, and I had to buy new suits and stuff for work and I had no money at all."
And then Harvey realized why he was so upset, why hearing about this other job completely set him over the edge. "You could have asked me." He said, the words dropping from his mouth like stones hurled. "You could have asked me."
Mike was a little stunned when Harvey walked out on him, left him on the hard bed struggling to put on his coat, wincing every time his cracked ribs moved. When he got to the front desk, though, he was told that Harvey had covered his bill, "and he left this," the nurse said, handing over a piece of paper.
DON'T BOTHER SHOWING UP TO WORK TODAY.
Mike took a deep breath. What had he been expecting? Not this, he admitted, and nearly crumpled up the paper before he saw that there was more writing.
THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE FIRED, IDIOT. GO TO BED.