The way Donna patiently explained it to him later was this: "Mike Ross—sweet, sweet Mike Ross—there's just something about you that makes people want to screw with your head. I think it's the fact that you have the eyes and general cutthroat nature of a newborn fawn."
Whatever. Mike was pretty sure he could have gone head-to-head with Bambi and come out on top any day of the week.
"I think we need to redefine the limitations on what you're allowed to brag about," Harvey said when Mike brought that up, and then smacked Mike on the forehead. "Keep your head back or you're going to get blood all over my furniture, and it costs more than you do."
"Only a little more," Donna said comfortingly.
"You look angry," Mike said to Harvey. Well, the bit of Harvey above Harvey's eyebrows that Mike could actually see with his head tilted back like this looked angry, anyway, but he decided that that was something that in no way should come out of his mouth. And they thought he didn't have a filter on that. Ha. "Are you angry at me? Because I really didn't mean to ruin your—"
"Shut up," Harvey said, and then he was gone, the door rattling a little behind him. Mike hadn't even known that you could close Harvey's office door loudly enough for it to do that.
"He's mad," Mike said miserably. "It's not my fault." He screwed his fingertips tighter into the sides of his nose. "I should bleed all over everything anyway."
"I wouldn't," Donna said, shoving his head back again. Did they train people to do that at Pearson Hardman? "He's not mad at you. You really need to work on your Harvey-speak."
"I got hit in the face," Mike said. "Can't you just translate?"
"Well, for starters," Donna said, "you're bleeding into a monogrammed HS handkerchief. Think about it." She flicked him on the ear and went back to her desk.
Mike thought about it.
Three Days Earlier
The first sign that Mike's life was going to change dramatically for the worse was that the coffee pot was empty when he arrived at work in the morning, and all the hazelnut creamer was gone. It was petty. It was childish. It reeked of Devon. Mike made a fresh pot with the kind of fumbling, Frankenstein's monster pawings and guttural moans that he was capable of at this hour without caffeine running through his system, and then huddled defensively over it, having formed some vague ambition to drink the entire pot and then go break it over Devon's head. No one would have a problem with that. Everyone knew that office coffee etiquette was to make a fresh pot when you'd finished the old one. It was just a basic rule of humanity.
The second sign that Mike's life was going to change dramatically for the worse was that Louis—well, any day that included Louis was instantly worse than a day that didn't, for one, and for another, Louis asking to see him immediately, at once, post haste, and not even picking a single expression but having Rachel tell him all three? Definitely the stuff of nightmares.
The third and final sign that his life was just screwed, honestly, came when Louis folded his hands together to better resemble a creepy idol from an Indiana Jones movie and said, smirking, "So you know that Harvey's a competitive gift-giver, right?"
"No," Mike said, frowning. "How do you compete at that?" Though to be fair, if there were a way to do it, Harvey probably would.
"For Jessica's last birthday, Harvey had a star named after her."
"I think you can do that online now—"
"—and then told her it was best viewed from a Caribbean resort, where he'd booked her a week's vacation," Louis finished.
Mike blinked. "Oh. That is—competitive." He wondered what Louis had gotten Jessica, but decided that his will to live was too strong to risk asking—at least now that he'd had his coffee. "What does this have to do with me, exactly?"
"Harvey's birthday's on Friday," Louis said, with an abashed attempt at innocence that would have come off better if he hadn't still been smirking and looking as if he were salivating over Mike's dawning sense of horror. "It's Tuesday, so I just wanted to make sure you were prepared. I know he's got high expectations."
Exactly one thing stuck in Mike's head. "Why would you wait until Tuesday? I was here all day on Monday—I did all your filing! Why would you not just—"
"Mike," Louis said, smiling the smile of a snake that has just swallowed a particularly plump and delicious mouse, "it's not my job to keep you informed of Harvey's hopes for you, and the basic requirements of workplace etiquette. Me telling you this right now is a sign of my exemplary kindness. Instead of hanging you out to be blindsided, I'm charitably condescending to assume that you don't know the first thing about what it takes to work for someone like Harvey, and I'm helping you."
Yeah, that was a likely interpretation of this whole thing. Mike wasn't stupid. Louis just wanted to watch him run around for the rest of the week trying to make Harvey happy. Well, Mike wasn't going to fall for that: freaking out over what to get Harvey, the man who had everything, for three whole days, just to make Louis happy?
Hell, he'd do it in two.
And Louis could bite him.
Unless he hit a wall and realized that Harvey was literally the man who had everything.
Or, as he summarized to Donna: "If there's something Harvey wants, he probably already has it. If he doesn't have it, I can't afford it. I might as well make him a card out of macaroni and glue."
"Oh, and he could put it up on his fridge," Donna said. "Unless you were a grown man."
"I'll have you know that my macaroni art is amazing, and has even been called bold and innovative."
Donna raised her eyebrows. "By your grandmother?"
"She has insight! She owns one of those books of Edward Hopper paintings." He put his head down on her desk until she swatted the back of it with a file. "What are you getting him for his birthday?"
"A card," Donna said. "And my continued glorious presence."
"I have a glorious presence," Mike said hopefully.
"Oh, sweetie," Donna said. "Your tie's been on wrong-side out all morning. I don't think you're making it to glorious."
"What?" He looked down and, scrambling to pull it off and fix it, said through clenched teeth, "Why didn't anyone tell me about that?"
"It's on Louis's Twitter feed," Donna said. "And the Pearson Hardman interoffice Tumblr."
His heart sank. "Does—does Harvey check it?" He hadn't seen Harvey yet today. Maybe—
"Well," Donna said reluctantly, "he does, but he's been out all morning, so unless he checked it on his phone, he couldn't possibly—"
Mike's phone buzzed. Because the universe hated him, it was a text from Harvey: "You can't dress yourself now?" He showed Donna.
"It's playful," she said.
"It's pretending to be playful. Really he wants to kill me. I can tell. Look, he used an emoticon of a devil face!"
"Maybe for his birthday you could develop the skills of a trustworthy fifth-grader," Donna suggested, "and learn to put your clothes on correctly?"
Mike slumped over again. "I'm going to go drown myself in a sink."
And that was just in the first half hour. He spent the rest of the day prowling around Harvey's office, considering and rejecting possible options: autographed sports memorabilia? He couldn't afford anything worth having. Rare vinyl record? Right, because Harvey didn't have nine million of those already, and of course he wouldn't mind Mike digging through the collection to see what was there and what wasn't. Weird, slightly creepy painting of a doll-thing on a swing? Like he was going to add something else to this office that would give him nightmares—the one Harvey already had was bad enough. Its eyes followed Mike around the room. Maybe if he offered it a dead goat or something it would tell him what Harvey wanted for his birthday.
In a saner world, Mike would just ask—it had gotten him by with Trevor for sixteen years, hadn't it?—but he couldn't shake the feeling that that would be, to Harvey, the epitome of "not getting it."
Not to mention it would completely reveal that he had only just now realized when Harvey's birthday was. He didn't know why Harvey couldn't just get Facebook like the rest of the world. They could play FarmVille together!
Which was maybe why Harvey didn't have Facebook.
The office having proven a complete dead end, Mike settled for staring intently at Harvey, hoping for an epiphany.
Harvey glanced up from his file. "Do you need a reminder on the firm's sexual harassment policy?"
Mike had been thinking about color-coordination and whether or not Harvey would like a waistcoat. "What?"
"The staring. I know I'm irresistible, but—"
Desperation forced the words from his mouth. "How do you feel about smoking jackets?"
"First of all," Harvey said, "interrupting. Secondly—" He stood up and walked out of the room.
"You realize you just abandoned your own office to prove a point, right?" Mike called after him. "That's really childish, Harvey!"
He accidentally looked at the painting again and winced. It would probably come to life and kill him if he didn't think of the perfect birthday present.
"So that's a no on the smoking jacket, then?"
"He thinks they make people look like Sherlock Holmes villains," Donna said over the intercom.
"I'm a little surprised he doesn't consider that a plus." He stole a butterscotch hard candy from Harvey's secret drawer stash to make up for all his pain and suffering. It tasted like anxiety and high expectations.
He was stressed out enough on Thursday to approach Louis, which was actually an indexed sign of the impending apocalypse. Judging by the way Louis made him grovel first, he absolutely knew it, too. Mike was surprised Louis didn't have him lick his shoes and fetch the paper before he let him sit down, gather up the fragmented remains of his self-esteem, and say, "I have no idea what to get Harvey."
"For his birthday?" Louis said, presumably just to be an asshole.
If it were Harvey being an asshole, Mike could have just said, No, for Arbor Day, and watched his mouth twitch a little when he tried not to smile—which was exactly why it was Harvey that he wanted to buy a present for and not Louis. His brain actually rejected the possibility of buying Louis a birthday present, anyway—if he thought about it too long, he'd probably slip into a coma.
"Yes, Louis," he said. "For his birthday. Tomorrow."
"Well," Louis said, leaning back in his chair. "You've obviously come to the right place."
Somewhere in Louis's basement was a meat locker full of bodies, Mike decided. He said nervously, "You know, maybe it doesn't matter. I could just get him something small. I mean, it's the thought that counts, right?"
"Okay, 'it's the thought that counts,'" Louis said smugly, "is what people say when they're too cheap or too lazy to buy the right thing. You think Harvey cares that you thought about him?"
"Maybe?" Probably not. Harvey liked expensive things—not so much because of the money as because of the exclusivity of them. He liked Scotch, and autographed basketballs, and rare records; he liked three-piece suits, for some reason that Mike admittedly couldn't process. He wasn't the kind of person to be impressed by thought. The gift had to have value. Anything less, and it would be like sticking a tag on the wrapping paper that said, I know you effectively saved my life, but I don't really care, here's something cheap that I bought at the last minute.
He did have a last-minute option bought and wrapped already—something that he'd bought months ago because he'd seen it and gone Harvey in some weird Pavlovian response—but he'd rather keep it to himself. It wasn't getting it. It wasn't Harvey, it was—it was a present for the person he just thought Harvey was sometimes, when Harvey would actually show up at his desk with hot tea and honey the time he spent the whole day coughing himself ragged. It was a present that was something between the two of them instead of something just for Harvey. That wasn't a birthday present, and Harvey wouldn't like it, anyway.
"Trust me, Mike," Louis said, and Mike really was tired, because he actually did, "Harvey doesn't give a damn about thought. He cares about results."
"Louis, are you going to give me an idea or not?"
"Oh, I will," Louis said. He was actually preening now. "But you're going to have to earn it."
Earn it apparently meant do all of Louis's paperwork, which coincidentally included four thousand pages in desperate need of proofreading. Given the amount of red ink he had to splash over the pages, they'd apparently been typed up by a toddler having a seizure.
"I thought you worked for me," Harvey said. "I distinctly remember hiring you despite my better judgment, but apparently I was wrong, and it was Louis who hired you, because all of a sudden, you're not around when I need you, but you are at his beck and call."
Mike put his pen down. "I'm working out a reciprocal exchange. And you only texted me because you couldn't remember who played Strasser in Casablanca. I think you have my phone number mixed up with Google."
"It was Conrad Veidt," Harvey said.
"I know it was Conrad Veidt. I saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari while stoned, I'm not going to forget Conrad Veidt. Why are you here, exactly?"
"I was looking for my associate," Harvey said pointedly. "Looks like a pipe-cleaner with puppy eyes? Can't shut up? About this high?" He held his hand up a good three inches shorter than where Mike's head would have been, which Mike took issue with:
"I'm taller than that."
"I wouldn't know. It's been so long since I've seen you standing."
"I have to finish this," he said. He couldn't handle this right now. It was nine o'clock already and he probably wouldn't finish all this until two in the morning, which would just give him enough time to catch a few hours of sleep, badger Louis in the morning, and run off for Harvey's gift before the firm broke out whatever cake and extravagance they officially had planned for tomorrow.
"The things Louis has you do," Harvey said, "aren't more important than the things I have you do. In fact, they're much less important, and the way you can tell is that it's Louis asking you to do them. Now drop those on his desk, or pawn them off on whoever is stupid enough to take them, but you're with me. If we don't make it through the Kosinski—"
"I have to work on this, Harvey! It's important! If I don't finish this by tomorrow, Louis won't—" He stopped. He'd been yelling. At Harvey.
Harvey looked at him steadily. Then he dragged another chair over and sat down opposite Mike. Waiting for him to say something reminded Mike so much of the time he had been caught in middle school letting Trevor copy his algebra test and he'd had to slink home knowing that his grandmother had already gotten the phone call and would just be sitting there waiting for him in her armchair, her face half disappointment and half anger, wanting to know why a boy as smart as he was had to do such stupid things. When Harvey looked at him like that, Mike wanted to go hide in his room.
"Okay," Harvey said. "Want to tell me what's going on? Why you're suddenly in Louis's pocket and having some sort of breakdown?"
"I think the first half of that explains the second," Mike said.
"And that would be understandable if you hadn't already spent the whole week staring at me, talking to yourself, and complaining about those people on eBay who snipe your auction at the last minute. I hate to say it, but this may be one situation where all the blame doesn't fall on Louis."
"When we had that heat spell, you blamed Louis for global warming. Remember? We agreed that every time he won a case, a polar bear died?"
"And trying to sidetrack me," Harvey said, "isn't going to work. What's bothering you?"
When in doubt, there was always one standard that he could fall back on to make Harvey leave him alone: "Why? Do you care?"
Game, set, Mike.
Except Harvey said, "No, Mike, I don't care at all. I'm thrilled to have an associate who works for another partner, can't keep his mind on what he's doing, keeps secrets from me, and won't answer a direct question." He stood up. "When you're finished here, do the Kosinski paperwork. It'll be on your desk."
And just like that, he was gone.
Grammy had balanced the disappointment and anger a little more towards disappointment than Harvey was managing, Mike thought. He was starting to feel a little sick to his stomach now. Then he realized that he had his bad memories mixed up: this wasn't the time he'd gotten caught letting Trevor cheat, it was the time he'd wiped out on his bike and had tried to hide it because he still found Grammy crying in the kitchen sometimes about his parents and she got so nervous when he was out, so he'd gone to bed early to get the blood off his knees and hide the evidence, and she'd knocked at his door more than once, asking softly if he were all right. Did he need anything? Did he want to talk? Was everything okay?
Mike put his head down against the table. He should have just answered the damn question. Harvey was worried about him—well, had been worried about him, anyway, until Mike had pissed him off.
All he had to do was finish Louis's proofs, finish the Kosinski paperwork, get Harvey's present, eat a piece of cake at Harvey's party, and then he could go into a coma and sleep for a week, and Harvey wouldn't be mad at him, and no one could say he didn't get it.
All he had to do was get through the next twenty-four hours, and he'd be fine.
The second Louis came in, Mike burst through his office door and slammed the files down on Louis's desk. "Done. See anyone else do four thousand pages of proofs in a night? No, I don't think you do."
It was the sort of strutting that Harvey would let him get away with as long as no one else was watching, but Louis just looked at him with thinly veiled condescension and said, "You did what you get paid a remarkably high salary to do. Congratulations on meeting the minimum of my expectations." Yeah, he was definitely never going to buy Louis a birthday present, that was for damned sure.
"Fine," Mike said. He checked his watch. Six-forty-five. He had an hour to run out and get something for Harvey and still get back (relatively) on time. "What about your end of things? You promised me the perfect gift idea."
"I didn't promise you the perfect gift idea," Louis said absently, rifling through the stack of papers. "That's an important discrepancy you noticed here about separating the claims… I promised you a gift idea. It's amazing how you can catch something like that in writing, but when someone's just talking to you, your eyes glaze over. It's like you don't even listen. I'm doing you a favor by pointing this out to you now, because it's really going to impact your career in the long run."
Possibly proving Louis's point, Mike couldn't follow any of that. He was pretty sure that had something to do with the zero hours of sleep he'd had the night before.
Then everything clicked. "Oh God," he said. "You're going to screw me on this, aren't you."
"Don't be melodramatic, Mike," Louis said. He waved his hand over the files. "This is good work. When you think about it, later, you'll be proud that you did all this, and helped repair an important bridge in our relationship that's honestly been a little sabotaged by how often you take Harvey's side. This is what important. Not Harvey's birthday."
"You promised," Mike said. He felt absurdly like he was going to start crying. He was two seconds away from insisting that none of this was fair.
"Yeah, I promised you a gift idea. Ties are always good." All of Louis's attention was back on the files. He didn't even glance up. "You can go now. Probably should, I mean, the party's going to start at noon and you'll have to be back way before then, so—"
His dream exit speech for all this would have been something like this, "You know, Louis, if you'd just asked me to do the proofreading for you, I would have done it. But now I just want to remind you that I grew up in a really shitty neighborhood with a lot of friends who went down dark roads, and I'm pretty sure that I could find someone who, for a hundred dollars, would be willing to make sure that you're never in a position to screw me or anyone else ever again. So think about that. See you at the party."
It would have been cool and threatening and totally under his control.
What came out of his mouth instead was, "You're a jerk."
Yeah, Mike, Harvey said inside his head. That'll show him.
He went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. Just to sum the situation up, he had no present when Harvey was probably expecting an awesome present, he'd gotten Harvey mad at him for nothing, Louis was an asshole, and he couldn't even come up with a good exit line. He leaned against the sink and tried to think. There was the backup present in his desk that Harvey would smile politely over and then never give another thought to, but at least surrendering to it would mean that he could lock himself in the break room and catch an hour's worth of sleep. Or he could chug a pot of coffee—maybe have someone shoot some adrenaline into his heart Pulp Fiction-style—and pray that somewhere outside someone was selling some Harvey-tailored stolen merchandise for a price he could actually afford.
He dragged himself upright and shambled down the hall.
He almost ran into Rachel.
"You look like a zombie," she said.
"Coffee," he said. "Birthday."
"Kind of sound like one, too."
He tried to process that and couldn't. "Coffee," he said. He nodded vaguely at her and kept his course for the break room, only to almost bump into Devon as he was leaving.
"Ross," Devon said. "You look like shit."
"Coffee," Mike said.
Devon smiled. He took after Louis in his smiles—it always looked like he was only smiling because he noticed that you had bird-crap on you, or something. "Yeah—you're going to have to make a fresh pot. All out." He raised his own mug and took a pointed sip. "Maybe if you'd gotten here a little earlier, then none of this—"
His brain felt like a skipping disc. Louis had finished him off. He'd never be able to have a coherent thought again. Desperately, he said, "Coffee?" with what sounded horribly like a whine. Harvey would have given him coffee. He would have mocked him, but he still would have given him coffee. He had the half-baked, currently very scrambled theory that this related somehow to the milk of human kindness in general, which Harvey had and Devon and Louis didn't, and maybe it was like a Good Samaritan kind of ultimate moral test, whether you'd help some caffeine-starved zombie locate coffee or whether you'd just stand there and drink it right in front of him. Furthermore, all of this tied in somehow to an overarching determination of why some people deserved awesome birthday presents and other people just deserved to be punched in the face or possibly assassinated by reasonably priced contract killers.
He grabbed Devon's lapels, hoping to impress all of this upon him and deliver a grand summarizing speech about how you had to choose the kind of person you were going to be, and how this was one of the crucial moments in Devon's life that would determine his humanity or lack thereof.
Of course, what came out instead was, "Coffee?" in a very piteous voice.
"God, Ross," Devon said, picking Mike's fingers off his jacket with obvious disgust. "Get a hold of yourself. Just make some more."
He hoped that Devon was savaged by lions. He didn't try to tell him that, because he knew by this point that what would probably come out would be either another petulant, "Jerk" or, worse still, a bellowed "COFFEE!" delivered with his fist shaking in the air. He settled for glaring at Devon and continuing his shamble into the break room, where he stared at the empty coffeepot with absolutely no instruction manual appearing in his head for how to work it.
This was where all the trouble had started. This was where everything had gone wrong. This coffeepot—and probably Devon—was to blame for the train-wreck of the last week, for his complete inability to come up with a good gift idea, for Harvey being mad at him, for Louis winning, for there never being any coffee—
"Are you just going to stare at that all day?" Harvey asked, breezing in. "You do remember how to make coffee, right? Because if you haven't finished the Kosinski paperwork, that's how you're going to have to start filling your time. Starbucks is hiring."
He shouldered Mike out of the way and started to make a fresh pot.
Mike stared at him like he was a miracle.
He was everything that was good and right about the world. He was who Mike wanted to grow up to be. Mike really did want to make him a card out of macaroni and glue and see if Harvey would put it on the fridge.
"Coffee!" he said. He bit his tongue. "I mean happy birthday."
"Oh," Harvey said. "Thanks."
"I kept trying to think of something," Mike started, because he didn't have anything, and he didn't have any time, and he still didn't really have any coffee, but it was really funny how everything was getting sort of dark and lacy around the edges of his vision. Like he'd stuck his head through some of Jenny's sexiest lingerie. He blinked. "Trying to think—something to get you—because Louis—coffee?—Louis said—"
Then, as Harvey would curtly summarize it to him later while handing Mike his monogrammed handkerchief to bleed into, he fainted like a debutante and fell face-first into the counter.
So all of that, essentially, had led to him sitting on Harvey's couch with a nosebleed and a massive headache, trying to summarize his week for Harvey and Donna as Donna grew increasingly more amused and Harvey grew increasingly more—well, increasingly scarier—until he stormed out.
Mike stood, said, "Ouch," and went outside to see Donna.
"Go sit down," she said without looking up. "We wouldn't want you to swoon again."
"I didn't swoon," Mike said. "I had an exhaustion-relate collapse that was all Louis's fault anyway. Not unlike global warming."
"True. So what was the secret gift that you bought Harvey that you didn't think he'd like that I'm ninety percent sure he just want off to find on his way to kick Louis's ass?"
Mike's brain was still a little bit in Coffee? mode, so it took him a second before he paled. "No, you don't think he's really—"
"Of course he's going to kick Louis's ass," Donna said impatiently. "He may like screwing with your head, but that doesn't mean other people get to, especially Louis, and especially over him."
Mike had no problem with Harvey chewing up Louis and then using Louis's femurs to pick little bits of Louis out of his teeth. "The present," he said. "He's not really going to go looking for the present, is he? I mean, of everything I said, that's like the least important thing—"
"Harvey loves presents," Donna said. "I bet he crawled into every closet in his house when he was a kid trying to find out everything he was getting for Christmas. You can't tell him that you bought him a present and then not tell him what it is." She tapped her pen against her teeth. "I think I'm going to make you a PowerPoint of important Harvey information."
"I'm going to pass out again," Mike said.
"It can't be that embarrassing. You wrapped it. You obviously intended to give it to him at some point."
"But not for his birthday, with all these expectations!"
Donna pointed back into the office. "I don't have time to deal with your insecurities right now. Some of us actually have work that we have to do even when we're not being blackmailed by one of our supervisors. Go sit down, breathe, drink coffee, and wait for Harvey to get back. And if I were going to hand out free advice to anyone, I would tell you that any story that could conceivably start with, 'Louis told me' is not a story that you need to take too seriously. Go. Sit. Caffeinate."
Mike went, sat, and caffeinated. At least his nose had stopped bleeding—though it was pretty sad when that was the best thing you could say about your day. At least the injury that I sustained due to passing out from stress and exhaustion has stopped being actively inconvenient! Glass half full! And at least Harvey was going to yell at Louis for being mean to him. That was something. It was one of those things that he hadn't known that he wanted someone to do until someone started doing it—he'd always taken it for granted that he would have to be the one to take care of everything, because he didn't want to worry Grammy, and he couldn't count on Trevor.
But he'd passed out, conked his head, and woken up with Harvey there. And then Harvey had helped him back to his office and given him coffee and expensive personalized linen that he was allowed to bleed on.
"Okay," he said to Donna the Omniscient and Omnipresent. "I thought about it. The Harvey thing."
"Conclusions?" she said through the intercom.
"I just really wanted to get him a good birthday present," he said. "And not because Louis said that he expected one, but because I wanted to. Because he's Harvey."
"And you're Mike," Donna said quietly. "And he knows that."
Mike closed his eyes and tried to believe that that would be enough.
His continued inglorious presence. At least he had his tie on right today. He did, right? He opened one eye. Yeah. So at least he had that part taken care of.
When Harvey came back, Mike said, "My nose stopped bleeding, but I don't know what to do with your handkerchief—or why you have a handkerchief—"
"New rule," Harvey said, completely ignoring him. "When Louis tries to interpret my psychology for you, ignore him. Or run in the opposite direction. Under absolutely no circumstances are you to take his word for it and work yourself into what I can only assume is a state of nervous exhaustion more appropriate for a Victorian bride than a goddamn lawyer. Louis assumes that I'll ride you about my birthday because it's what he would do. In fact, it's what he does do, year after year, which is why I personally have the policy of giving him a spectacular present on a day I pick entirely at random."
"Why give him a present at all?"
"Because Louis is a good lawyer," Harvey said. "And my life is more entertaining for perplexing him on some annual basis. My life is not going to be more entertaining if you give yourself an aneurysm every year."
"I bet you always choose the perfect presents. I'm supposed to be you."
"Every metaphor," Harvey said, "does not need to be taken so literally. And I have it on good authority that I'm what lesser mortals call 'impossible to shop for.'"
"Your brother and I are not lesser mortals," Donna said over the intercom.
"You're not," Harvey said, "and he only is when compared to me."
"Where do I fall on this scale?"
"You're a puppy," Harvey said. "You're not on the scale. Only people are on the scale."
"Puppies are mortal," Mike said. "They're mortals."
"Trust me," Harvey said, smirking. "You don't want to be on the scale."
Well, that was probably true. Whatever. Harvey owned a monogrammed handkerchief—he wasn't in any position to be passing value judgments on people.
"Do you know what I do for my birthday, Mike?" Harvey wasn't smirking now, he was just looking at Mike with the intensity he ordinarily reserved for judges, other senior partners, and people who—in his words—mattered a little more than the big-eyed puppy who persisted in following him around at work. "I come here. I get a card from Donna and a gift card from Jessica, who has a personal policy of not buying presents for people when she can make them buy them for themselves. I eat cake—and I always ask for strawberry just so Louis can't have any, as my present to myself—and I do my job. I don't, traditionally, babysit associates who pass out in the break room because they have so much gift-related anxiety that they've let themselves be blackmailed into an all-nighter after presumably not sleeping much the rest of the week, either. You passing out, getting a bloody nose and a head injury? Is not my definition of a good day. It's on the list of things that tend to ruin days."
"You have too many lists and scales," Mike said absently, and then—"Wait, me being hurt ruins your day? You totally—"
"I think your head injury," Harvey said loudly, "is affecting your hearing now."
"Donna, didn't he just say—"
"Donna, you work for me," Harvey said. "You don't have to answer him."
"Whatever," Mike said. "I know what I know. I heard it." He tried with a strange lack of success to heave himself to his feet. "Come on, let's go eat cake and not give Louis any."
"Down," Harvey said. "Sit."
"I hate it when you do that," Mike said, "and I'm only down and sitting because I'm still a little dizzy, not because you told me to." He then realized that he sounded like a four-year-old, and settled for crossing his arms and training a death glare at Harvey that would have been easier to maintain if he weren't thinking about cake and what Harvey had said about his day being ruined.
Harvey held up a box. It was wrapped in blue and red striped paper with a leftover green Christmas bow stuck on it slightly crookedly, and it didn't take Mike any time at all to recognize it.
"Were you just holding that behind your back the whole time?"
"Perfect posture is another thing you never learned at Harvard," Harvey said.
"I think sometimes you just make up these classes." He considered smashing his face against something to make his nose start bleeding again. Maybe go for double points and shatter the goose egg on his head, too. "Don't open that, Harvey, come on. It's stupid."
"No," Harvey said, all faux-patience, "it's a present. Stupid is you listening to Louis and giving yourself a bloody nose. And what was with you and the coffee?"
"Devon never makes a fresh pot, it drives me insane."
"It is inhuman," Harvey agreed. Then, without anything else, he just started opening the box, proving once again that the amount of control Mike had over the events of his own life was negligible at best. He stared at his shoes, because when in doubt, he could at least always control his line of sight.
Until Harvey put two fingers under Mike's chin and lifted it up.
Having Harvey Specter's complete attention was something Mike wouldn't really wish on anyone. It definitely wasn't something he was up to without sleep and complete mental processing.
"You have to help me out here, Mike," Harvey said, with more gentleness than Mike would have expected from him. He held the book at his side. It didn't look like anything much. It was just a small, trim paperback that Mike could have recited cover to cover if he'd wanted to.
He would have been prepared to explain it to Harvey on any other day, when there hadn't been build-up, head injuries, nosebleeds, sleeplessness, Louis-related head games, and all this weird insecurity to contend with. He took a deep breath. He'd just have to power through it and not flinch when it got obvious that Harvey was just pretending to like it. It didn't matter. It hadn't been a big deal when he'd bought the book—it had just been something he'd seen on a street-side bookstall and grinned at—and if it had been a big deal when he'd inscribed it, well, that was something else that he could have dealt with if he were functioning a little better, and the stakes weren't what they were. If it weren't Harvey's birthday. If Harvey hadn't realized that all of this mattered to him in some way that he really, really didn't want to have to put into words, and yet had, sort of, when he'd opened up the cover and scrawled that note on the title page.
He sighed. If he had to do it, he might as well get it over with. "I wrote a note on the front page."
Harvey opened the book and read it. Mike, of course, remembered what he'd written there a month and a half ago, when Harvey's birthday wasn't even on his mind, when he'd just thought that this was something he would save for someday, when the time was right:
Thought you should have a copy of this.
I owe it everything.
Harvey looked back at him, his finger still stuck between the pages.
Mike said, "It's the novel I read in elementary school—the one I told you about. How I knew the guys in the hotel were cops. How I met you." He pressed his fingernails into his palms. "I mean, obviously it would have been better if I could have gotten you another creepy painting with a swing—"
"Mike," Harvey said. "You didn't really spend all week thinking that you were going to come up with something that would top this, did you? Because that's the kind of stupidity usually reserved for Louis's minions."
There was a sudden lump in Mike's throat. He looked very hard at everything in the room that wasn't Harvey.
Because maybe he didn't speak Harvey as well as Donna did, but he knew when Harvey meant what he was saying. It was like the audio equivalent of having his full attention—he had Harvey Specter's full sincerity. And Harvey liked the book. He really did.
And Mike wanted to tell him that sometimes he would be walking into Pearson Hardman, and a feeling almost like vertigo would slam right into him, and he would think that his whole life had been created by the most ridiculous series of coincidences. If they hadn't raised the rates on his grandmother's home right when they had. If the drug meet hadn't been scoped out. If Harvey had been interviewing in some other hotel. If Rick Sorkin, whoever he was, had actually shown up on time. If he hadn't, in elementary school, found this novel misfiled in the library and decided to read it. It had taken all of that to get here, to get this. To get Harvey. He wanted to say all that, but he sort of had already. He'd written it in the book, and Harvey had understood it.
They had their own version of getting it.
"I was worried it was going to be lame," he said.
"It's not lame," Harvey said. "It's—meaningful. Thank you."
"Louis said it wasn't the thought that counted."
"Louis," Harvey said, "doesn't think like you do. With you, it counts for plenty." He was running his thumb a little up and down the spine of the book, petting it, and Mike smiled.
He'd wanted to find the perfect gift, and he had. And his head didn't even hurt anymore, not really. What he wanted now was cake. Delicious strawberry cake that Louis couldn't eat without risking anaphylactic shock, which would probably make it taste even better.
"Happy birthday, Harvey," he said. "Cake?"
"Cake," Harvey agreed, but before they left to go get it, Harvey went over to his desk and put the book down very carefully, next to the baseballs and the custom marble paperweight, the things he had that were valuable. It looked like it belonged there.