And then just when Mike gets used to having Jack there, just when he comes to expect him there, Jack wakes up one morning and says that he has to go.
“I’ve been away too long,” he says by way of explanation. “Cardiff needs me.” It sounds a lot more like Gwen needs me, and Mike wonders if New York needs him, too.
And maybe Jack was right, because Gwen’s waiting for them when they make it to the rift to drop Jack off, and Mike recognizes her immediately, even though they’ve never met; she’s got long dark hair and looks like she could kick his ass, easily.
“And what took you so long?” she asks Jack as soon as the three of them stumble out of the TARDIS. “The Weevils have been going crazy for the past week.”
“Now, Gwen,” Jack starts to say, but Gwen doesn’t seem to want to hear it and just rolls her eyes, looks towards Mike and the Doctor.
“Right. Which one of you is the Doctor this time?” she asks, and Mike’s not proud of it, but Gwen is as terrifying as Donna, and so he points to the Doctor.
“The TARDIS is not always the most accurate of travel methods,” the Doctor starts to say.
Gwen looks at the Doctor with one raised eyebrow and then turns to Mike, says, “You should have known better than to return him late like this. The Doctor is how he is, but you seem like a normal one.”
“Sorry,” Mike says, cutting her off a bit. “I just—forgot.”
Gwen smiles at him and she’s got the most amazing teeth. Mike thinks she’s gorgeous.
“Yeah, well, you’re lucky you’re cute,” she says, and she starts to walk away. It’s only then that Jack starts to really say his goodbyes.
“Doctor,” Jack says, and with one hand on either of the Doctor’s cheeks, he leans in, kisses the Doctor on the mouth. “Mike,” he says, and he kisses Mike too.
“Bye, Jack,” Mike says, and he can’t help but notice that the Doctor doesn’t say anything at all.
“Look me up when you get home, Ross,” Jack yells over his shoulder as he jogs after Gwen, and then they’re gone, and it’s just Mike and the Doctor again.
Mike doesn’t think about going home.
“You forgot?” the Doctor asks, and then he laughs when Mike just shrugs. “Come along, Mike.”
And then it’s back to the TARDIS, to all of space and time.
Jack becomes another thing to miss, and with that knowledge, Mike's heart breaks for the Doctor.
"It's not all that bad," the Doctor says. They just killed some time in the TARDIS wardrobe, and now he's trying to rewire something while wearing a casino dealer's visor; the overhead lights shine through the plastic of the brim and make his skin look green.
Mike fixes the top hat on his own head and looks at the Doctor through old-fashioned opera glasses. He says, "How do you stand missing all these people?"
The Doctor looks at him, and he looks goofy, sitting there in a twenty-five-year-old's body and a casino dealer's uniform, but despite that, it's the first time Mike really, truly understands all the things that come with the Doctor's age.
"If I didn't miss people," the Doctor says, "I'd never get to meet people."
Mike thinks of himself, thinks of the Doctor.
Later, some time after that and New Earth and Jack, Mike pushes the Doctor up against the TARDIS controls and presses their bodies flush together.
“That’s, um,” the Doctor says, the surprise written on his face. “Someone really should be flying this thing, or else—boom.”
“I’ll risk it,” Mike says, and then he kisses the Doctor on the lips, because he can't have Harvey, and because he misses Jack and likes the Doctor, and because why not?
But then the Doctor pulls back, looks at Mike with sad eyes, and he says, “You don’t want this.”
“What do you know about what I want?” Mike asks. He can’t have what he wants.
“Nothing,” the Doctor says, and he straightens out his bowtie. “But I know very much about what you’re going to get, and it’s not me.”
Mike doesn’t respond; it’s hard to argue that sort of thing with a Time Lord.
“Sorry,” Mike says instead, and the Doctor smiles, just a little bit, like everything that he’s holding inside is threatening to escape.
“You won’t be,” he says.
Mike's not embarrassed after kissing the Doctor, not even a little bit, but for some reason he starts to feel antsy afterwards and takes to wandering the corridors of the TARDIS when they're travelling. He spends a lot of time in the library, learns how to read Gallifreyan and how to build a spacecraft engine and where in the universe to find hallucinogenic lipstick. There are a couple sheets of psychic paper wedged under a table leg to keep it from wobbling, and Mike thinks about taking them before deciding that he'd never use them.
The Doctor seeks him out after a while, and leans on the doorjamb while he says, "You can have any of the books you want." He doesn't mention the kiss, because when something is important like that, he tends to deal with it by never mentioning it, and Mike's been travelling with him for long enough that he knows that.
"Thanks," Mike says, and he places The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey in the already read pile, "but I doubt this'll be much use to me at home."
They fall silent after that, Mike reading and the Doctor standing, but it's not awkward at all, just the two of them being together like they have been for the past handful of months. Mike hasn't had that with someone for a good long time.
"Well, I'll be around if you need me," the Doctor says finally, pushing off of the jamb to head out, but Mike stops him.
"Hey, Doctor?" he says. "Why me?"
The Doctor smiles like he's about to say something sentimental. "So I could say I knew you back when."
The Doctor decides to hold true on his promise for Gumblejack, and so he takes Mike to Boggaset Sector VII for a quick bite to eat. Only because it's the Doctor, a quick bite to eat turns into a quick bite to eat and a chance at death in the blink of an eye, and Mike doesn't know how he didn't see this one coming.
Boggaset Sector VII is a desert planet, nothing but sand for miles and miles, with pop-up cities coming and going. When the TARDIS lands, the planet's in the middle of a sand storm, and Mike and the Doctor duck out, cover their faces as they run for the restaurant.
"This is going to be hell on the paint," the Doctor says, referring to the TARDIS, and Mike just rolls his eyes.
"On what planet is fish the number one dish in a desert?" Mike asks rhetorically, and when the Doctor just shoots him a look, he adds, "I know, I know."
And then he gets caught in quicksand. He's up to his knees before he even realizes it, and he shouts for the Doctor, who just barely hears him over the sound of the wind. Sand is getting in Mike's eyes, his mouth, his ears, and this is categorically Not Good.
The Doctor whips out his sonic screwdriver, and when it fails to work, he holds out a hand to calm Mike down. He doesn't step any closer than he already is, just outside the radius of the quicksand, and he says, "Quicksand? In the Silfrax Galaxy? Well, that's a first." And then, as if realizing his mistake, he adds, "Don't worry, Mike, I will get you out of this."
"Oh my god," Mike says to himself, because this is it for him; he can honestly say he never expected to go out this way, so at least there's that. "This is my Sinai Desert and you are my Lawrence."
"What are you talking about?" the Doctor asks. "Branch! I need a branch! Do you see a branch?"
"Lawrence of Arabia; are you kidding me?" Mike says. He's up to his waist now. "And there are no branches. We're in the middle of a desert!"
The Doctor looks at Mike for longer than Mike would like, to be honest, because every second that ticks by is one second longer that Mike's sinking and sinking and sinking. But then the Doctor snaps out of it, says, "The TARDIS will have something!" He jogs about ten feet away before rushing back and saying, "I always preferred the Princess Bride, anyways."
And Mike is doomed.
It started when Mike first saw Harvey.
Harvey was absolutely everything Mike had ever wanted to be: smart, successful, good-looking. Mike had wanted to be him, but even more than that, Mike had wanted to be with him, and so when he walked into that interview and Harvey had asked, "What if I'm inclined to go the other way?" Mike had thought, You won't be, and, Hire me, and, I could be good for you.
And Mike thought, Sold.
The Doctor ends up saving him with a pool skimmer that he found somewhere on the TARDIS, and Mike thinks his life can't get any more embarrassing.
"Let's never talk about that again," he says, as they're sitting down inside at a table. He shakes the sand out of his hair and watches as the Doctor does the same.
"As you wish," the Doctor says, and Mike just kicks his shin underneath the table.
It's all worth it, though, because the fish is the best Mike's ever had, even though it's got two heads and four tails and looks like the product of environment contamination. If Harvey were there, he'd be talking lawsuits, finding out what sand company dumped their sand into the pond or whatever, and that's Harvey through and through, always with his eyes on the prize. Mike wonders if he'd ever have been like that, if he hadn't gotten caught; he wonders if he could have been that good.
Mike asks, "Do you ever wonder what you'd be like if things had gone down differently?"
"I'm the last of my kind," the Doctor says. "Of course I wonder."
Mike nods to himself because he knew that already, knew what the Doctor's answer would be before he even asked the question, and he says, "Thanks. You know, for the pool skimmer thing."
"Don't be silly, Mike," the Doctor says. "I haven't a clue what you're talking about."
Afterwards, almost as if the Doctor's apologizing for Boggaset Sector VII, or as if he knows what's coming before Mike himself does, he takes Mike to Darillium.
"You'll love this," he says, and there is a weight to his words that Mike picks up on, but only barely understands. "The Singing Towers are really, really cool."
And they are. Mike thinks that they've come to a time before anyone else has discovered them, because it's just him and the Doctor, for the entire time that they're there, just the two of them and the Towers.
The Towers are massive, natural stone towers that stretch up to the sky all around them, and when the wind blows, threads through the spaces between the towers, it sounds like a song. Mike's never in his life heard anything so beautiful, so multi-faceted, and although the concept of it all is simple, the end result is not, and the song makes its way through the grass and the trees, calls out the flowers to bloom and birds to sing. It puts the fish on Karas don Kazra don Slava to shame. Mike look around him, his shoulder pressed firmly into the Doctor's, and he does not blink and does not speak and does not move, just commits it all to memory and prays that nothing ever happens to take this away from him.
Next to him, the Doctor's eyes are wet, although he's not crying.
"The last time I was here was one of the best and worst nights of my life," he says, and it cuts Mike to the quick because he's never seen anything more beautiful than this, than right here, except for New York and the curve of Harvey's spine as he hunched over case files.
And Mike's finally okay with knowing that maybe nothing will ever top that.
They travel to a few more places after that—1870s London, Tivoli in 2220, Verd in the twentieth month of its first year in existence—before the Doctor starts to look at him when he thinks Mike's not looking. Mike doesn't say anything, not for a long time, because while the Doctor's looks, he's not Jack, and so he's got to be looking for some other reason entirely.
"What?" Mike says finally, because this is the twenty-third time he's caught the Doctor watching, and it gets annoying.
"You can tell me, you know," the Doctor says. "You're the only person I've ever wanted to hear it from."
But Mike's not sure he's ready to say it, and so instead he says, "Wow. Care any less and you could give a guy a complex."
The Doctor just smiles at that, because they both know that, if anything, he cares too much. And so Mike says it.
"I'm ready to go home, Doctor."
And it feels good.
The Doctor drops him off in the middle of Manhattan, and Mike almost can't believe it until he steps out of the TARDIS and sees the buildings and feels the sun and smells the air. And suddenly, he’s home, and he doesn’t know why he stayed away for so long.
“Ah,” the Doctor says, like he finally understands. “So this is how it looks, Mike Ross in his element.”
And Mike just smiles, wide and unrestrained, because he’s home.
“Let me buy you a hot dog for the road,” Mike says. It’s the least he can do, but the Doctor just shakes his head.
“I’ve got all of time and space to see to,” he says, adjusting his bowtie. “Besides, I think you’re busy,” and then he jerks his chin towards something over Mike’s shoulder.
Mike glances behind him and—it’s Harvey, walking down the steps, and Mike has no clue how he didn’t notice that they were standing outside the Pearson Hardman offices.
“Mike,” Harvey shouts, and he keeps walking towards Mike like it’s a regular day. He looks good—even better than Mike remembered—and his hair is back, his hands in his pockets.
"Here to rehire me?" Mike says lightly, a small smile on his face, because looking at Harvey after all this time just reminds him of everything he never forgot, and he thinks that he'd like to keep Harvey around, in whatever way he can.
Harvey looks at Mike like he is too stupid to be worth his time, like he can't believe the words coming out of Mike's mouth, and he says, "The fact that you remember everything makes this redundant, but I'm going to say it again anyway: You work for me. Louis cannot fire you," and it doesn't make any sense because Harvey knows that Jessica knows, that Jessica fired him and—
I’m putting my things back in their place, the Doctor had said. There’s no point to being me if you can’t help out a friend.
Really, Mike should have seen it coming.
He turns around to thank the Doctor, but the Doctor’s already gone, and the TARDIS is gone with him, and all that’s left is Mike and Harvey and New York.
“Hey,” Harvey says to get Mike's attention, and he’s right there, after all this time, just an arms length away. “This is what we’re going to do: we're going to the client’s office to tell her about this bullshit settlement offer, and when I say that, I mean we’re going to tell her about this bullshit settlement offer; don’t accidentally convince her to sell her company or liquidate her assets or take an early retirement. Don't try to be funny; don't try to be likeable; don't try to be relatable.” Harvey grabs his phone out of his pocket, sends a quick text as he talks. “If you do any of that, I’m giving you to Louis for a month and having Donna restrict your access to my office.”
And Mike knows that he should respond, should roll with the punches because he knew things would be different when he got back, that he’d feel out of step, only now that he’s back, things are the kind of different he's always wanted but never expected, and he can’t just make it work, can’t go back to the way things were. And so he kisses Harvey, right there in the middle of the street, because he can and he wants to and because he’s not going to waste any more time, not when he finally has time on his side. His hands are awkwardly on Harvey’s arms, and there’s a few inches of empty air between their chests, but their mouths are pressed together and Harvey kisses back, confident and in control.
When Mike pulls away, Harvey smiles at him, the kind of smile that makes his eyes crinkle at the corners and that makes Mike’s heart skip a beat.
“Well, shit, Rookie,” Harvey says. “Took you long enough.”
“Took me long enough?” Mike asks; he doesn’t understand.
“You never were too bright,” Harvey says, and then he turns around and starts walking towards Ray’s car, parked at the curb. “Why do you think I hired you?”
And Mike can’t believe that, so he rushes to catch up, says, “Whoa, whoa, I thought you hired me because I was smart and I—you’re joking. Right.”
Harvey doesn’t respond to that, but he smiles and slows down enough so that Mike can catch up and walk beside him.
Mike likes that.
Two days later, they’re in bed together, the view from Harvey’s apartment spread out like New Earth around them, and Mike likes that, how it’s almost like he’s still with the Doctor, only Harvey’s there, too. He’d pick this a million times over the rest of the universe, though, if he had to; the feel of Harvey’s chest pressed to his chest, the feel of Harvey’s skin on his skin, nothing in the bed except for their two bodies and that’s it. He thought he liked Harvey in a suit, but it turns out he loves Harvey out of one, stripped down and vulnerable, and not caring because it’s just Mike.
It makes Mike want to tell him.
“So what changed?” Harvey asks, because Harvey is the smartest man Mike’s ever met, and so of course he notices that something is different, even if he doesn’t know what or why or how.
Mike doesn’t really know any of that, either.
“Six months or four days ago, I met someone named the Doctor,” he says, and it turns out that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know how to explain what he means by that.
Harvey smiles like he already knows.