Work Header

Trust Graded on a Curve

Work Text:

Harvey has never had an associate before. So he doesn’t know if they’re all this much trouble, or if Mike is just special. Jessica laughs when he tells her this and while Harvey can’t tell her ‘and also he doesn’t have a law degree’, he thinks it should still be apparent that Mike attracts chaos. Harvey is now repping a fantasy sports tycoon, because Mike smiled at the guy or something. This is the kind of thing that happens when Mike is around. Jessica laughs some more. “And this is a bad thing?”

“I’m saying, if this is what he’s doing now, what the hell is going to be like in a month? Or three months? Do you know how many hoops I had to jump through to get a run at signing my first client?”

She raises an eyebrow. “Of course I do. I put them there.”

“I hate you.”

“No you don’t.”

He doesn’t, no, but Harvey still thinks he deserves a little sympathy. Mike is going to be the death of him. “Like now,” he says, “do you know where he is?”

“No. Where?”

“Neither do I. He had a lead. He left. Which means he’s either going to come back having ruined us all, or with an insight into this case that no one else has even thought about yet.”

“Sounds like someone else I know.”

“You only say that because you don’t have to work with him.”

“I have tried to talk to him,” she says. “He doesn’t say much. He’s a little jumpy.”

“Mike? He’s… I wouldn’t call him jumpy. Twitchy, maybe. Overexcitable. I told him he could sit in on a meeting today and I swear he was about to go in for a hug. He’s way too invested.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And I’m glad he’s a little more relaxed around you. You need the responsibility and he’s a smart kid. I think he could work well for us in the future.”

Harvey still can’t really see that far ahead. He can’t see forward to a time when Mike’s not hanging on his every word, desperate for his approval. Which is strange, because Harvey had never wanted a protégé. He still doesn’t - he doesn’t need that kind of responsibility, whatever Jessica says. But it’s only been a few weeks and already it’s disconcerting to think of Mike not being right there by his side with his wide eyes and terrifying faith in Harvey’s abilities. Ever since their argument, Mike has been bending over backwards to show Harvey that he made the right decision. Harvey doesn’t know what to do with that kind of loyalty.

Harvey says, “If you say so. But when this all comes back to bite us, I need you to remember that you’re the one who wanted me to do this.”

She raises her eyebrows. “I’ll do that.”

“If it was up to me, he never would have got through the doors.”

“Of course, Harvey.”

She doesn’t look like she believes him. Harvey doesn’t really blame her. Keeping his distance never used to be a problem, but for some reason those rules doesn’t apply to Mike. He’s going to have to try harder. If he can’t maintain the distance with Mike around, he’s just going to have to not be around so much. Mike gets more time with him than any of the other associates get with a partner anyway – there’s no reason Harvey can’t leave him in the offices with some paperwork to do. It’ll be better for them both in the long run.



He’s never had a real job before. In all honesty, Mike’s not sure this is a real job either. Harvey has an office the size of Mike’s whole apartment, wears three piece suits that are probably worth as much as Mike’s apartment, and meanwhile Louis stalks around the place threatening to fire Mike for reasons which so far have spanned from ‘refusing to get high with a client’ to ‘wearing the wrong tie to work this morning.’ And it’s one of Mike’s new ties, so it’s not exactly inexpensive. There’s an element of surrealism in everything about working here. So maybe that’s why he feels like he’s drowning in quicksand so much of the time.

He screws up. At least, Louis assures him that he screwed up, and Louis is in charge of him when Harvey’s not around. Harvey’s been not around all week. Mike hates it when that happens.

Louis says, “I asked you to do something for me, Mike.”

“And I did it,” Mike says.

“If that was true, I wouldn’t have been caught out during the deposition now, would I?”

“The- the share division thing?” Mike asks. “I noted that. I even put a sticker on it.”

“Hmm.” Louis keeps staring at him. “You didn’t bring it to me.”

“I thought you would read it.”

Louis shakes his head. “And again, forgetting that I can fire you. Why don’t you just admit that you screwed up here, and then we can move on? I like you. I’m sure we can work this out.”

“I didn’t…”

“Mike. Mike. I know you think that you managed to impress Jessica by landing a client, and I’m sure that you did, but if I was to come to her with this, who do you think she would believe? Especially if I were to mention certain other… proclivities.”


“I mean, who’s to say what I could find out if I dug a little deeper? We both know Harvey’s covering up something for you.”

Louis leaves that one out there, hovering between them. And Mike remembers, the way he remembers everything Harvey says, that if Harvey gets caught in another lie, Jessica Pearson is going to fire him. Louis might not be a lawyer of Harvey’s standard, but he’s probably good enough to find out that Mike and Harvey are lying to everyone. Mike can’t be the person who gets Harvey fired. He owes Harvey better than that.

Mike sighs. “What do you want, Louis?”

“I told you what I wanted. Admit that you made a mistake, and then I’ll tell you how you’re going to make it up to me.”

“Fine. Fine, I’m sorry. I messed up. What do you want me to do?”



Harvey doesn’t understand how someone like Mike, who is so damn smart, can keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

“I’ll get it done,” Mike protests, talking over the top of Harvey. “I swear, it’ll be done by the end of the day.”

“It better be, because we need to take it to court tomorrow.”

“And we will.”

“It should have been finished six hours ago.”

“Louis-.” Mike starts to say.

“If you don’t stop using Louis as an excuse for you not doing something I asked you to do, we’re not going to last very long.”

Mike looks down at his desk, his shoulders pulled in tight. He says, “He asked me to read some briefs for him.”

“Wasn’t that what you were doing on Monday? When you – again – failed to complete a fairly simple task that I asked you do for me?”

“Yes, but Louis-.”

“I don’t care. Get it done. And if Louis asks you to do something else, tell him you’re busy.”

Mike looks like he’s going to say something more, but clearly decides against it. He just exhales heavily, and nods. When Harvey walks away, Mike starts dragging his pen down the side of the paperwork again. It still looks like Louis’s stuff, but Harvey isn’t going to call him on it. If he needs help, he can come and ask for it. He knows where Harvey is and it’s not Harvey’s job to chase him down over every little thing. He needs to learn.



Mike drops the proofs on Louis’s desk and tries to get out again as quickly as possible. Louis stops him. “Mike. Have a drink with me.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t, I have work to do for Harvey.”

“And where is Harvey?”

“He’s in a meeting across town.”

“Which means you work for…?” He leaves the question dangling, though they both know the answer. Mike doubts that Louis screws over the other associates with quite this level of determination though. Louis has it in for Mike because Mike belongs to Harvey. Unfortunately knowing this doesn’t help Mike think of anything he can do about it. It is what it is.

“I did what you asked me to do,” Mike says. “But now I need to go through the submissions for Harvey.”

“Sit,” Louis says, and Mike does. What else can he do? It’s all very well for Harvey to talk about the hundred and forty-nine other things to do with a gun to your head – this isn’t Harvey’s only shot. If Mike lets Louis go to Jessica with even a suspicion, this could all be over. And Mike knows, has probably known from the time that Harvey chased him down in the lobby with Mike’s pass in his hand, that he won’t drag Harvey down with him. He’ll swear under oath that Harvey didn’t know a thing about it and the worst they’ll be able to accuse him of is insufficiently investigating the academic history of his associate. Mike will be the one they get to tear to pieces.

Louis says, “It’s fascinating, the interest Harvey has in you. He’s never cared about the associates before. It’s one of the few jobs he’s never tried to take away from me.”

“Okay?” Mike’s not sure where this is going.

“And then you come along, and suddenly he’s taking you along to hearings and letting you get the credit for closing cases. Partial credit, anyway, this is still Harvey we’re talking about.”

“That’s not really…”

Louis laughs, “I mean, if you were a woman, you know what they’d be saying, don’t you?”

“I don’t know what you’re…”

“Or, maybe Harvey’s not that discriminating.”

“Louis, are you seriously trying to suggest…?”

“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just saying that Harvey’s covering for you, and Harvey doesn’t do anything that doesn’t benefit Harvey, so there must be some reason for that.”

Mike answers before he can think about it. “Yeah? Well it’s not that I’m blowing him.”

This, naturally, is when Harvey chooses to return early from his meeting. From the doorway, Harvey says, “He’s not blowing you either, Louis, just in case you were wondering.” He smiles, sharp. “Your opinions of my dress-sense notwithstanding, I don’t pimp out my associates. I don’t like to share.”

“Harvey,” Louis says, “we were just kidding around, you know that.”

“It’s funny that Mike would have time to do that, seeing as how he still owes me a filed injunction.”

Louis turns to Mike, all faux innocence. “He didn’t mention that. Maybe you should run along and do that, Mike. I wouldn’t want to keep you away from Harvey’s work.”

Mike escapes past Harvey into the hallway. Harvey follows him back to his cubicle. “I’ll get it done,” Mike says. He wants to say ‘Louis wouldn’t let me leave’ but Harvey has made his opinion on that kind of excuse pretty clear.

Harvey just nods, and disappears towards his own office. Mike gets back to work. He promised Harvey he would get it done, so that’s what has to happen.



Drinks with the client go long but Harvey heads back to the offices anyway. It’s two a.m. but that doesn’t mean he’ll have a problem getting in, and he wants to grab the rest of the paperwork to take home with him.

Donna’s gone already, of course, but there’s a light on in Harvey’s office.

“Jesus Christ.”

Mike is asleep, head lolling dangerously towards the back of the couch. The paperwork Harvey had asked for is sitting on the table in front of him. He has something else on his lap – more briefs to proof, probably, since there’s a highlighter sitting on the top.

Harvey sits on the edge of the table and checks over the papers. Mike’s done a good job, even if he did push ‘by the end of the day’ to its limit.

Harvey shakes Mike’s arm and the kid startles into awareness, holding his hands in front of his face. “Jesus,” Harvey says again. “Calm down. It’s only me.”

“Harvey? What are you-? Oh.” Mike pulls his shirt collar straight like that’ll help him think. “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to… yeah.”

“You couldn’t just have left the papers on my desk?”

“Donna said you were coming back. I wanted to make sure you knew I had them done on time.”

“I was supposed to be back earlier. Though she knew I was with Klosterman, and he’s always a pain in the ass.”

Mike shrugs. “She said you might be a while. I wanted to make sure.”

He looks mostly asleep still so Harvey takes this as the opportunity to ask, “Why were you doing Louis’s work this week? You work for me.”

“What? I wasn’t. I- he- He said I screwed something up.”

“Did you?”



“No! I didn’t, but he… I don’t want to get fired.”

“If anyone’s going to fire you, it’ll be me,” Harvey says.

Mike, of course, takes this as the reassurance it wasn’t meant. He smiles, and the tight line of his shoulders relaxes. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Harvey just sighs. “Don’t make me regret it.”

Mike looks at him, eyes still blurry with sleep but so earnest. “I won’t.”

Harvey kind of wants to shake him. He wants to say that he’s not sure what Mike thinks he did to warrant this kind of devotion but it’s not something to be relied on. He wants to say the only person you can ever really rely on is yourself. He says, “Go home. Get some sleep. Shave, shower, come back in. Tell you what, take the morning, come in for twelve, okay? Because right now you look like shit.”

Mike’s face falls. “What about the hearing?”

“Don’t worry about it. I managed to charm judges long before I had you, I promise.”

Mike nods but doesn’t seem much happier about it. There’s no pleasing some people.



Gregory says, “Aren’t you supposed to be in court right now?”

“Harvey’s in court. I have depositions to read.”

Gregory might be smirking or he might not: Mike has lost the ability to tell. Everyone who works here is pretty good at lying, and the default facial expression is somewhere between knowing and sardonic. Mike should probably be working on that. Harvey says he shows too much.

The thing is, he’s been working here nearly a month and he still doesn’t really know why Harvey hired him. Other than boredom - which is Harvey’s own stated reason - Mike has no idea why Harvey hadn’t thrown him straight to the cops. And even if he hadn’t done that, there was still no compelling reason for him to hire Mike, ignoring the gaps in his education and the way he was carrying a briefcase full of drugs.

At least, not if he was then going to leave Mike here in the office while Harvey goes out and does all the work. If he didn’t hire Mike because he thought he would be good at this, then what’s Mike doing here? Maybe Harvey told Mike to come in late today so he could soften the blow when he fires him later.

Mike’s pen skids across the page. He tries to focus again. If Harvey was going to fire him, he wouldn’t bother trying to soften the blow. He would just come out and do it. So maybe he just really needs these depositions examined. If he didn’t trust Mike to do that, he wouldn’t have asked him.

Mike gives up, and goes to find Rachel. If nothing else, she makes more sense than Harvey. If she’s busy, she’ll throw him out, and if she isn’t, they can have a nice argument about something. Either way he needs the distraction.



When Harvey gets back from court, Mike isn’t in his cubicle. He tries his own office, just in case, but Donna is equally stumped. Apparently Mike definitely came in about eleven (earlier than Harvey had told him) because he came to see if Harvey had left him anything else to do.

Harvey walks back through the office to find Rachel Zane. That’s usually where Mike is when he goes missing. Though he’s not there now.

“Have you seen Mike Ross?” Harvey taps the side of her doorway.

She grins at her desk. “You try the ladies bathrooms?”


Rachel looks up. “Oh, sorry.” She’s never been as nervous around him as the other paralegals, but she’s never said much either. “I didn’t realise it was- sorry. No, I haven’t seen him since about one-thirty.”

“So what was with the crack about the women’s bathrooms?”

“It’s just, you know, when he’s upset…”

“Why would he be upset? And why would you know what he does when he gets…?”

She shrugs. “He talks to me when he thinks you’re mad at him.”

“And that happens a lot, does it?”

“Often enough. Look, is he okay? Because he seemed a little stressed out earlier, but nothing more than usual.” She looks concerned. Harvey wishes he could say he doesn’t know why Mike brings out this response in people, but he understands it better than he would like.

“He was working on something for Louis,” Harvey says. “Do you know anything about that?”

She frowns. “No.”

“Mike doesn’t like Louis.”

“No,” she corrects. “Mike’s scared of Louis.” She nods her head for emphasis, like this makes perfect sense.

Harvey nods back at her, saying thanks, but not thinking about much beyond her twin assertions that a) Mike is upset about something and b) Mike is scared of Louis.

Harvey knows enough to comprehend that using Louis as a scare tactic to get Mike to do something will work. But the prospect of having to deal with Louis is scary to plenty of people. It hadn’t particularly occurred to him that Mike sees Louis as someone who’s actually a threat. Maybe because it’s so far from the way Harvey could ever see Louis.

Mike is in his cubicle now and, as if he’s been conjured up just by thinking of him, Louis is leaning over the desk. Mike is hunched over his work, with his mouth pinched tightly closed.

And Harvey can see it now, the way Mike’s whole body looks like it’s trying to get away. Like he’s terrified of what Louis could do, if he decided to make Mike’s life miserable. Which is a little bit insulting, because it implies that Harvey couldn’t stop Louis any time he wanted. Or maybe Mike just thinks that Harvey wouldn’t.

“Mike,” Harvey calls. “C’mere, what do you think you’re doing? I’ve got a job for you.”

Mike turns around, a smile opening across his face. Looking so goddamn grateful that Harvey nearly chokes on it. Mike ducks under Louis’s arm and comes to walk beside Harvey, falling into step. Harvey bumps Mike’s shoulder with his own and tries not to notice that whatever he was trying not to do, he’s already lost.



It’s another morning where Harvey has gone off to do grown-up lawyer things and left Mike to fill in forms. Except this morning Harvey had turned his head to say over his shoulder, “Work in my office if you want, I’ll talk to you when I get back.”

Donna glared at Mike a little when he came to take Harvey up on the offer, but she did let him in.

Mike loves Harvey’s office. The décor is slightly terrifying, not unlike Harvey himself, but the view is something else. It makes him wonder what Harvey’s apartment is like.

Mike ducks his head out of the office to ask Donna, “If Louis comes looking for me, would you pretend you haven’t seen me?”

He expects her to say something cutting and turn him down, but she just nods. “Sure thing. Though I can’t be held responsible if he chooses to look through the glass.”

“Oh. That’s- thanks.”

“No problem. Harvey doesn’t like Louis in his office anyway.”

“And yet he lets Louis borrow me any time he leaves the building.”

She looks at him in disbelief. “Harvey’s warned Louis away from you at least once a week since the day you started.”

Mike has to take a moment to run that sentence through his brain a few times. “I’m sorry? He came to me with the- but I was the one who said something to Louis. Not that it had any long term effect.”

She keeps looking at him with her scarily effective ‘you’re beneath my notice’ glare. “It might have more of a long-term effect if you would stop running every time he calls. And then Harvey wouldn’t have to go and yell at him so often.”

“Harvey- Harvey yelled at Louis?”

“More than once. So stop your whining, and go and get some work done.” She softens her tone, just a little. “And pull the blinds. I won’t tell anyone where you are.”

He goes back into the office and sits down. This time, the paperwork is a good distraction. Mike’s not sure what to do with a world where Harvey actually… He knows Harvey likes him well enough to be defrauding the firm to hire him, and that’s not insignificant. It just hadn’t occurred to him that Harvey would come right out and defend him to other people. It’s been a long while since anyone did that.

Mike starts going through the papers. He needs to make sure Harvey doesn’t regret it.



Harvey gets back to the offices in the evening and Mike is sitting there with his shirt-sleeves rolled up, surrounded in paperwork. He grins up at Harvey from the couch. “Hey.”

“Hi. I hope you’re going to clear this up before you go.”

“Of course. How was the meeting?”

“We made some progress. I wanted to talk to you, they brought up something about some assets being hidden in the first round of-.”

“Here.” Mike pulls a page from one of the seventeen piles and hands it to Harvey. “That one?”

“That’s it. This is referring to another set of documents, do you know where…?”

“I requested them a few hours ago. Maybe they delivered them to my cubicle. You want me to go check?”

“That’d be a thought.”

Harvey shakes his head as Mike jumps up and heads out the door. He seems in a better mood anyway, whatever’s going on with him.

Five minutes pass, and then another five. Harvey gets up to go and find his wayward associate. He can give him another lesson about keeping Harvey waiting.

Except that he gets to the cubicle, and Mike’s not there. One of the other associates (Harvey never knows their names) says, “Louis wanted him for something.”

Harvey’s going to kill him. He’s not sure which one of them yet, but he’s definitely going to have to kill someone. He heads towards Louis’s office, and finds the door open.

Mike is standing halfway between Louis’s desk and the door, poised to leave.

Louis is saying, “I was looking for you today, Mike.”

“I was around. I was working on something for Harvey.”

“I think we’ve had this conversation before.”

Harvey had missed the beginning, the first time he heard this. This time, Mike says, “And I told you that I work with Harvey. And he didn’t… you’re not going to find anything. Even if you do convince Jessica to fire me. You won’t get anything on him.” He still looks scared but he holds his ground on this. Like here, finally, is where he’s taking a stand. On whether or not Louis can get Harvey fired.

On the plus point, Harvey now knows who he needs to kill. Clarity of purpose is important. He makes his entrance. “Louis. I believe we’ve spoken about this before.” He puts his arm around Mike’s shoulders, wondering at the sudden shiver. They don’t have a particularly tactile relationship under normal circumstances. Harvey has punched him in the arm a few times, but that’s always been as far as it goes. Mike is of a height with Harvey, but so damn skinny that Harvey can feel the shift of muscles when he tries to relax.

Louis says, “We were just having a friendly chat.”

“I’ve heard about your friendly chats. Stop having them with my associate.”


“Maybe I wasn’t clear. Mike works with me. I don’t want you anywhere near him.”

Louis says, “I oversee all of the associates, Harvey, and you spend so much of your time out of the office with clients. Someone needs to keep an eye on him.”

Harvey shrugs. “So I’ll bring him with me. I don’t want you asking him to work on your cases, or taking him out to fucking tennis, or having little meetings in your office. I catch you anywhere near him again and that’s it. Rest assured that anything you could dig up on me, I’ve got worse on you. And Jessica likes me better. Which one of us do you think would end up out on their ass?”

He gives Louis a moment to let that sink in. And then he steers Mike back out the door, and down the hallway. Mike is laughing.

“What?” Harvey asks. “Too much?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Don’t think this means that I like you.”

“I would never think that.” Mike smiles widely at him, like he’s fooling no one. And also like Harvey has done something he doesn’t quite believe, which is something of a contradiction. Mike breaks away from him to grab the papers from his cubicle on the way, and they take them back to Harvey’s office.

Harvey scans through them while Mike drifts towards the window and looks out.

“You think I’ll have an office like this some day?” Mike asks.

Harvey comes to stand beside him. “You think this view’s nice, you should see my apartment.”

Mike turns to look at him, blinking slow. He leans in, and Harvey can see what’s happening before it happens and he doesn’t stop it. He waits until Mike’s lips are pressed against his and then asks, “What is it that you want?”

Mike pulls back, flushed. “I want- I don’t know. To make you happy.” He corrects himself, “I mean, not to disappoint you,” and Harvey’s not sure which is more damning. Mike’s stepping back now, looking scared of Harvey and that was never quite true before. He was scared of Louis, but not Harvey. Because Harvey wasn’t the one who caused the bad things – he was just the one who didn’t stop them happening. Mike still doesn’t quite trust him to do that.

“You’re a fucking mess, you know that?” Harvey says.

Mike’s eyes turn down, and he bites his lip. He’s so easy to wound and it’s exhausting sometimes. Harvey’s never had anyone who cared so much about what he thinks.

Harvey says, “You’re so bright, and so sharp, and yet you’ve somehow managed to sabotage every good thing that you’ve had, and I don’t know if that’s the drugs or just your bad taste in friends, but it’s amazing. You don’t trust anyone, up to and including the one person in your life who’s actively trying to help you out, and yet you unerringly end up tangled up with exactly the wrong people. Like Gregory and the briefing, or Louis, God knows how many times. You’re basically a disaster area right now, and you have no idea what you’re doing so you’re going to keep making these mistakes for a while.” He takes a breath. “But you know what? All of that’s okay. Because you’ve got me.”

Mike looks back at him, eyes wide. “What?”

“I don’t know how many times I can say this. Stop worrying about Louis, or Jessica, or getting caught out. And… I’m not saying don’t worry about disappointing me, because that should absolutely be your primary concern. But don’t act like it’s going to happen overnight. You’ve already made mistakes, I’ve already dealt with that. I’ve got you, okay?

Mike nods. “Okay.”

Harvey watches him. Because if he wants to pretend the other thing didn’t happen, Harvey will let him. It’s a bad idea, and they both know that, so Harvey isn’t going to push.

Mike meets his eyes, the way he does when he’s choosing to be brave. “And the…”

“Come get a drink with me. We’ll see how it goes.” He won’t push, but he’d like to see what happens next.



Mike owns a number of suits now - between the ones he liberated from Trevor, and the few he’s not allowed to wear when he’s out with Harvey because they didn’t cost thousands of dollars apiece. But his favourite is the one he bought from Harvey’s tailor – it was the most affordable one they had, and it’s still the most expensive piece of clothing Mike owns. Mostly he likes it because Harvey smiles at him when he sees it, and then, with a glance at the door, straightens out the lapels. They’re close enough to kiss and while they don’t do that, Harvey brushes his thumb along the underside of Mike’s jaw before stepping back.

Harvey says, “Come on, we’ve got a hearing to get to.”

“I’m coming this time?”

“I have been reliably assured that you’re going to wow me this morning. So yes, you’re coming along. Who knows, we might get finished early.”

“You mean we could leave before eight-thirty?”

“Could do. I think I promised to show you my apartment tonight. If we get finished, that is. And of course, we’ve got to win.”

Mike laughs. “That is pretty good motivation. I hear you’ve got an amazing view up there.”

Harvey grins at him. “So come on. Let’s go.”

Mike follows Harvey out of the door, brushing against his shoulder. He’s still not sure whether or not this counts as just another example of his bad decision-making. Today, though, there is just the case, and the prospect of the view from Harvey’s apartment. So today he chooses to trust that maybe they won’t screw this up too badly. Good things have to start somewhere.