Chapter 1: Prologue
Mike has read a great many books in his life. Some of them he's even read more than once, though with an eidetic memory that's not really necessary.
But he likes the feeling of the paper under his fingers and he likes the look of the black stark against the white page, the orderly lines of text contrasting with the uneven blocks of paragraph. Those are parts of the aesthetic appeal of books that are dictated by practicality over intention, but, like the ridges left by a brush in oil paint, it adds a dimension of texture to the work.
Sometimes reading for him is more about the physical act than the words themselves: the smell of a book, sharp and new or old and poignant; the texture of the paper, slick and cool or warm and rough; even the sounds of reading, the swish of pages turning, the faint murmur of his fingers sliding across the paper, the creaks and cracks of the spine as he opens or closes it.
Sometimes he's not even looking at the words as vehicles for meaning so much as parts of a visually artistic whole like the tiny dots of paint in a Van Gogh pointilistic composition. Serifs are especially intriguing to him, the curlicues that give a word a little bit of class just by being what could easily be mistaken as a stray blot of ink or a smear.
(He likes the serif fonts better than the sans serif because, given his own penmanship skills, he can appreciate the extra work required to add those little bits of flair.)
Mike has read a great many books in his life and, while sometimes he does love the visceral, tangible act of holding a book in his hands more than the message, it is mostly about the stories contained in those tiny lines and swoops and swirls. From a distance, where the letters merge and blur until they lose their individual significance, all books look the same, but whatever they may look like from that distance, up close, where you can distinguish and interpret each of those tiny blots of ink into works of art, where meaning crosses over into imagination, they become even more spectacular—they become everything.
Mike has read a great many books in his life about love and war, about science and religion, about the meaning of the universe and the pointlessness of existence and he's never failed to find the magnificent vistas hiding behind the screen of letters absolutely entrancing.
(Even when the books are dry and boring recitations of things like crop yields over a decade, because behind those facts were lives lived, fortunes lost, and virtues won, all amidst the tangled up emotions of humanity, even if the author was unable to include them in this account. Mike has a really vivid imagination and has become an expert at reading between the lines on a page, a talent he desperately wishes he could transfer to reality and apply to the people he interacts with every day.)
Outer space and inner mind, deserts and forests and oceans and glaciers, all are never too far away. Ancient history and distant futures, sparkling palaces and filthy hovels, bustling metropolises and solitary hermitages... Books are mankind's pinnacle of achievement in the realm of travel: You can go anywhere, see anything, meet anyone, and visit anytime in the whole of history that was and history that wasn't.
Mike has read books and read books and read books until it felt like words were leaking out of his ears, sliding down his face, and then slipping down his spine like an ice cube on a particularly brutal summer's day, making him shiver with the sweet torture.
And in his truly masochistic moments when he is in need of some good pride-cleansing mockery, he thinks of confessing to someone—anyone—that his impossible dream is to write one of these books, that others might read it and see the pictures he sees in his mind, hear the tales hiding his heart.
But then, he can't even write a damn grocery list, so making it to the top of the New York Times' Bestsellers' List is pretty unlikely.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
If there is an afterlife, the first thing Mike's going to do (after hugging his parents and his Grammy) is find whoever decided that the word for someone who literally can't remember how to spell words should be as fucked up a spelling as ”dysgraphia” and kick them in the nutsack. Repeatedly.
It's especially galling for Mike because he has perfect recall of what he reads, but when he tries to make those words come back out via his hands, it's like someone replaced the neural pathways with that map from the old Looney Tunes shorts where Bugs was forever missing a left turn in Albuquerque.
He can recite every single word he's ever read until his tongue falls out of his head, but ask him to put it down on paper (even electronically rendered paper in a word processing program) and it looks like something a kindergartener scribbled on the first day of school. If he's lucky.
Not that he's let this stop him.
Well, okay, it might be part of the reason he started smoking pot slightly more than recreationally in the first place, which one could argue did a great deal toward stopping his forward progress in life until Harvey showed up and made him see what he was doing to himself, but that's beside the point. Really.
Since that day that he stumbled into the biggest mess of his life—and, subsequently, right out the other side—he's had no choice but to reach around, grab that monkey on his back, and throttle it into submission. Though maybe it was more like giving the monkey a stern talking-to and pretending like that meant something, because all the determination in the world can't teach Mike how to speak monkey.
The point was, dealing with his dysgraphia wasn't a “find the cure” type of situation, it was just a “learn to exercise infinite patience while fighting a daily battle for coherency in written media” kind of thing.
Mike was a shit soldier and his patience was almost nonexistent, especially when it came to things he thought he should be able to do but couldn't. But he was also stubborn as a mule when he wanted to be and he could exercise enough patience when he really had to.
It didn't hurt that he had a guardian angel sitting on his shoulder in the form of Donna, who had examined a handwritten note he'd been forced to scrawl exactly three days into his tenure at Pearson Hardman, looked up into his eyes, noted the blush creeping slowly up his cheeks, and said, after the longest pause in Mike's life, “My job is forty percent scheduling Harvey's meetings and then reminding him he has them, fifteen percent transcribing those same meetings, and forty-five percent looking damn good while I guard the entrance to his lair. Guard work is mostly boring once you've got the reputation established and solitaire is getting old.”
Mike frowned and said, “What?”
Donna rolled her eyes and said, in an only slightly less cryptic explanation delivered as she propped her elbows on the desk, laced her fingers together, and rested her chin on the bridge that created, “My e-mail box is always open if you want to send me other stuff to transcribe.” And then she pulled a sheet of paper out and rewrote his note in perfectly legible handwriting without once referring to a dictionary.
Mike should have been offended by this assumption on Donna's part that he would appreciate her interference, but, after tamping down the surge of jealousy at the casual display of a skill he was incapable of mastering, he was too busy being relieved that he'd never have to reveal to the Great Harvey Specter that his 'golden boy' had the orthographic skills and penmanship of a five-year-old.
He mumbled a thank you and turned to retreat to his desk—and die from embarrassment if there was indeed a God—when she stopped him with a, “Mike?”
He looked back and she said, “Three fourths of the people in this building would head out the door barefoot if they were forced to try walking even a yard in your shoes, let alone a mile.”
He half smiled and shook his head. “You can't say that. If they'd been born like me—”
“The hell I can't.” She waved a dismissive hand. “The circumstances of their birth are irrelevant except for how much easier it made things when it came time to paying for tuition. Most of them ended up at Harvard because someone told them that was where they were going to go and they ended up here because that same person probably told them failure wasn't an option and we like people who aren't failures at Pearson Hardman. But if they'd had to really work for it? To want it badly enough that they said 'Fuck that noise,' to whatever obstacles came their way?” She shrugged one shoulder. “These floors would be a lot emptier is all I'm saying. You, however, would still be here.”
Mike coughed, the heat of the blush surging back up into his cheeks, and said, “I have to go finish the Sprignemwumbenlimdismunm...” and fled.
Because his Grammy had instilled in him proper manners, he showed his gratitude for Donna's help—and her discretion—with lattes, muffins, and regular contributions to her chocolate drawer.
When Harvey caught him at this one day, he was able to say with a completely straight face that he subscribed to the historically common ideology that offering sacrifices in advance was generally more successful than pleading for mercy after the fact. It was even mostly true in this case.
Donna had accepted her coffee with her usual nod of acknowledgment and told Harvey that he could learn a thing or two from Mike.
Harvey had given Mike a glare and said, “Do you have something to proof or do I need to find you more work?” which forced him to turn and hurry back to his desk, biting back the laughter that had bubbled up, both from seeing Donna own Harvey and relief that his secret was still safe.
The day that Mike overheard Donna flaying Kyle alive for making a flippant comment about how some people shouldn't be lawyers if they couldn't even use spellcheck was, perversely, one of the happiest in his life.
She so thoroughly blistered the other associate's ears in her quietly scathing way that he'd made his excuses to Louis and left early, skipping the next day as well, and only returning the day after with a huge bouquet of flowers and a dozen of her favorite chocolates.
Donna was, of course, not placated that easily and Kyle spent a good week walking on eggshells and twitching at every staccato step of a woman's heel on the floor.
The side effect of scaring all the other associates into censoring their commentary on the topic was a bonus worthy of a delivery from Donna's favorite restaurant and a nod of gratitude from across the hall as she accepted the warm styrofoam container.
She'd inclined her head regally in response and gave him that half smile that said that she had enjoyed taking Kyle down a notch regardless, but the lasagna was a nice thank you.
After he found and thoroughly beat the coiner of the term “dysgraphia”, Mike's next stop in the afterlife was to find Noah Webster and Gustav Tauschek and hug them to within an inch of their afterlives, the former for his creation of the dictionary and the latter for his patent for the first optical character recognition or OCR device.
Mike had a love/hate relationship with the dictionary because, more than any other book, his eidetic memory failed him there. He could recite the definition, part of speech, and freaking etymology of each and every word inside its pages—in alphabetical order, no less—but he still couldn't spell them correctly without going back to that original source to check—an activity that was torture in its purest form for someone like him, because, despite what they said, dictionaries weren't really the best reference for someone who couldn't spell.
Mike's feelings about the OCR, on the other hand, were purely of the positive slant. It was the only thing that allowed him to actually do any proofing in any kind of reasonable time frame, a task which made up at least half of his work on a daily basis.
Because he was unable to spell most words on his own, spellcheck was, like the dictionary, his salvation and his torturer all at once—and it was, unfortunately, limited to digital documents. Therefore, to ensure the correct spelling in the hard copy documents he checked over, he was forced to add a few extra steps. First he scanned it into digital form using one of the behemoths in the copy room set to OCR, then he opened it in Word and ran spellcheck. After that came the grueling process of looking up each flagged word in the dictionary one by one to check the meaning and ensure he picked the right one from the drop-down list, carefully scrutinizing letter-by-letter to ensure he didn't flip anything around.
Needless to say, the online Merriam-Webster dictionary was always one of the open tabs in Mike's browser and a thoroughly worn hardback copy of the same was tucked into his desk for when he couldn't use the computer.
There actually was a fairly easy solution to Mike's problems—some of them anyway.
Mike had heard of speech recognition software—science fiction coming to life in the best way possible—as early as ninth grade, but it wasn't until college when he actually got to try it out. It was slow and required time and effort to train the software to recognize your own specific speech patterns and it still made a lot of mistakes, but it made a hell of a lot less than Mike himself when typing and it didn't charge him a six pack of beer per page like Trevor.
Unfortunately, it also cost several hundred dollars and required personal ownership of one's computer. Mike hadn't bothered to buy a computer because Trevor had one and he did all of Mike's typing anyway.
So he'd forgotten about it and six months later he'd been out on his ass anyway thanks to the Dean's daughter failing Algebra. Without all those classes to fill his time and demand he do the impossible each and every day, Mike's need for a program to take his spoken words and write them for him diminished greatly.
In fact, he forgot about it entirely until he showed up at Harvard that week and realized that, shit, he was going to have to do a lot of freaking writing as a lawyer.
It didn't change his desire to pursue this career path—never had, because Mike knew that in the courtroom he could learn to be eloquent as hell and that was what mattered to him—but it did make him seriously consider the feasibility of his (other) seemingly impossible dream. He'd dialed Harvey's number three times that week to tell him he'd changed his mind, but only pushed the send button once and that was by accident. One embarrassing conversation about ties later and he'd hung up.
It had taken every last ounce of willpower he had not to find the nearest dealer and buy enough green to pass a month in a smoked out haze, but he'd thought of his Grammy and Harvey taking a risk on him and told himself over and over not to pussy out until the urge passed.
The sight of an undergrad sitting on a blanket wearing a headset into which he was dictating a paper on the mitochondrial role in production of adenosine triphosphate sparked a memory that took Mike back to his own college days and the wonders of modern computing in regards to voice-recognition technology.
Mike had grinned, vowed to get himself a copy of the program for his own use with his first paycheck, and gone to continue his exploration of the law library.
A handful of paychecks later and Mike still hadn't gotten the program, mostly because of the cost. The basic home version was only a hundred dollars and Mike might have shelled out for that, but they had a legal version too and that would be a much wiser investment. Unfortunately, commensurate with its worth to Mike's career, it had a price tag about seven hundred dollars higher than the general use program.
With suits to buy—and then re-buy because he hadn't spent enough the first time apparently—bills to pay, and take-out to order in on late nights, Mike hadn't quite scraped together that needed sum.
Thus his undying devotion to and eternal gratitude for Donna.
Still, he put away every spare dollar he could and pined for a day when he could actually get sleep instead of copy-pasting one more freaking word into an online dictionary search field.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Given the number of deceptions Mike was juggling in his life these days, you'd think he'd have been more prepared for when one of his card houses came tumbling down.
And yet, somehow, he wasn't.
The day had started normally enough, except for the part where Donna wasn't waiting at her desk when Mike came in with her coffee. He'd frowned at her empty chair for a moment before Harvey passed him with a, “She's not here. She cracked a tooth at dinner last night and is currently at the dentist having a temporary crown fitted.” Harvey had also taken the opportunity to steal the coffee Mike had brought since, obviously, Donna wouldn't be needing it. He grimaced at the taste, but kept drinking it as he entered his office and took a seat at his desk.
The theft concerned Mike less than the surge of adrenaline flooding his veins at the thought of Donna being gone. Sure, he could make do—probably—but what if he couldn't? He'd come to rely on her secret assistance and with her track record of never missing a day that Harvey himself didn't miss and that Mike therefore had plenty of notice of, he hadn't planned for this eventuality, an oversight he was now seriously regretting.
Still, he could do this. He just had to stay cool and breathe and try not to have to write anything until she got back. He could do his job. He could.
It would be nice to know how long he was going to be working on an ulcer, though. “When is she coming back?” he asked, stuffing his shaking hands in his pockets and striving for nonchalance, but failing pretty hard if the look on Harvey's face was any indication.
He didn't call Mike on it, though, just saying, “She got an early appointment so she should be here within an hour or two. You can offer your morning obeisance when she arrives. Until then, I need the notes from your meeting yesterday with Bronson ASAP.”
“Of course,” Mike said and turned, hurrying away before Harvey could ask why he suddenly looked like he was about to vomit.
Mike had given Donna the jumpdrive with a copy of the recording of the meeting yesterday, barely catching her before she left, and she had promised to have the transcribed hard copy on his desk first thing this morning. The chance that she'd been able to get it done in the midst of her own problems was slim, but he checked his desktop, drawers, and email just in case. No such luck.
He had the original recording, of course, but it would take him the better part of the morning to make any kind of presentable copy for Harvey and “ASAP” in Harvey-speak meant “ten minutes ago”.
Mike cursed, but there was nothing he could do—short of asking another associate for help, but, really, he'd rather face Harvey than deal with the Harvard Douches knowing his secret, especially on a day when Donna wasn't here to fillet anyone who dared mock him. If only Rachel wasn't on vacation this week...
He sighed and settled his earbuds, then cued up the pertinent part of the meeting and pressed play.
Mike managed to get the rough draft down and gave it a quick scan for any mistakes that didn't have to do with spelling specifically, clicking the auto-spellcheck option to off so he could focus on something besides the plethora of red squiggles. Thankfully his particular form of dysgraphia didn't include other grammar issues like punctuation, and typing did help a little since he didn't have the added burden of not being able to make his hands form the individual letters the way he wanted them to, but at the end of that initial sweep he knew that he still had a long way to go.
He glanced at his watch and winced at the time that had passed since Harvey's request for the notes. He resolutely set his jaw and kept going, though. He'd get as much done as he could before Harvey came looking for him.
Which was about three seconds later. Of course.
“For your information, Mike,” Harvey said, causing him to jump and very nearly yelp in surprise, “'ASAP' is an acronym which stands for 'As Soon As Possible', not 'Whenever The Hell You Feel Like It'. That would be 'WTHYFLI' and doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as smoothly.”
Mike was painfully aware of that, actually, acronyms being another personal demon he had to deal with on a far too common basis, but he just hunched his shoulders without thinking about it and said, “I was just finishing—”
“Typing it up? I can see that. That's the problem and we'll be discussing how you keep putting Louis' work ahead of mine later. However, today's your lucky day, kid. That's been pushed aside in favor of something else. Come on.”
Mike felt relief swell and ebb and swell again like a particularly pleasant tide washing through him as he tapped out the quick command to lock his station and stood to follow Harvey.
Maybe Fate didn't hate him. Maybe it wasn't the cruel bitch everyone said it was. Maybe—
“What's this?” he asked as Harvey handed him a stack of loose papers when he crossed the threshold into Harvey's office.
“The Berninger/Myers merger.”
Mike froze, eyes locked on the blur of words on the top sheet as they lost their focus.
Then again, maybe Fate was exactly what everyone said it was: a conniving little whore who seriously needed a damn hobby that didn't involve screwing with people just because it could.
Donna might have gotten around to proofing this for him. She really might have. Except, the previous statement about a bitchy Fate was especially true for Mike lately, so probably not.
He would have done it himself, however long it would have taken, but he'd been a bit swamped this week with Louis dumping all manner of crap on his head in addition to Harvey's usual demands. Donna had said if he typed up the original and made sure it was legally sound, she'd do the spellchecking. It wasn't supposed to be needed for another three days, so he'd told her she didn't have to rush on it.
He sincerely hoped she'd ignored him on that last part.
“Have a seat and stay awhile,” Harvey said and Mike jumped and looked at him with an expression no doubt akin to a deer's on the Jersey Turnpike when it suddenly discovers it's playing chicken with the Mack bulldog.
He realized he'd been standing there in the doorway too long when Harvey gave him an odd look. Mike hurried to take a seat on the couch, but it wasn't his usual slouch of surrendering to the comfort of the well-designed piece of furniture. He was stiff and tense and his eyes went back to the papers in his hands as he desperately wished that he was able to spell at least well enough to check and see if Donna had ignored him, though if that were the case it wouldn't matter, now would it? Unfortunately, because he had it memorized, he couldn't be sure if the words he was reading were what was actually on the page or just his memory supplying the correct answers for him.
Mike sensed more than saw Harvey shake off his unusual behavior like a duck shedding water, then look to his own copy of the document. After a moment the question Mike had been dreading was answered when Harvey snorted in amusement.
His eyelids slid shut and it was all he could do to not burst into flames of embarrassment right then and there.
The next mistake was announced with a bark of laughter that had Mike cringing, followed by a second and then a third that dissolved into outright chuckling.
Harvey flipped to the second page, obviously no longer reading now so much as scanning it to get the full picture.
“How someone can be so intelligent and yet so stupid is beyond me,” he said as he continued, brow furrowing.
It was only just barely that Mike managed to swallow the whimper and contain the flinch the statement provoked.
“Some of these aren't even words...” Harvey murmured in amazement.
A knock at the door had both of them looking up to see Louis and, shit, Mike was grateful to see the man. How screwed up was that?
Until, of course, Harvey opened his smugly smirking mouth. “Louis, I know they can't all be Mike, but do you have any standards for hiring new associates beyond a pulse and a degree from Harvard?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Louis asked, frowning as he entered the office and crossed to where he could take the offered document from Harvey.
Mike glanced at the door, wondering if he could escape without them noticing.
Louis gave the first page a quick once-over, then flipped to the next. “Oh my— What the hell is this?”
“I know, right?” Harvey said, grinning widely now as he played with a pen, tapping it on his lip and gesturing with it as he spoke. “You'd think if they were that bad at spelling, they'd at least learn how to use spellcheck.”
“What is— I can't even read what that says. Is that supposed to be 'fiduciary'? Because it looks more like 'fuchsia', but last I checked there wasn't such a thing as a purplish-pink obligation to one's stockholders.”
Harvey laughed out loud and said, “Check the bottom of page six.” He clicked the end of his pen against his teeth while he waited.
Louis flipped over to the page in question and his eyebrows crawled up his forehead as Mike slid lower in his seat. “Seriously what—” He shook his head. “This isn't one of mine,” he said, tossing it back on the desk.
“It sure as hell is,” Harvey countered. “Remember, my associate is the one that actually knows what the phrase 'attention to detail' means. I highly doubt he'd confuse the words 'fiduciary' and 'fuchsia' or whatever the hell that's supposed to be. Your associates, on the other hand, are the ones that put Santa into seventeen consecutive paragraphs about the conditional transfer of assets overseas.”
Louis didn't look pleased at the reminder, but he could hardly deny it.
Or maybe he could. Mike didn't know. He didn't stick around long enough to hear, instead mumbling something that bore a distant resemblance to an excuse and staggering out the door.
He nearly knocked Donna over as he rounded the corner, but she caught herself and braced him as well and said, “Mike?”
“I have to—” Mike gulped in air and tried to calm down but—shit—he could feel the moisture welling up in his eyes. “I have to go,” he choked out and left her behind, restraining himself from running only because it would draw even more attention that he really didn't need right now.
When he reached his bike, though, all bets were off and he pedaled down the street like he was being pursued by the very hounds of Hell.
Donna watched Mike go, then turned toward the office door where she could hear Louis asking what was wrong with the kid.
Donna was curious about this herself so she dropped her purse next to her chair as she passed it and entered the office just in time to hear Harvey say, “He's probably embarrassed that whoever he got to do this for him did such a piss poor job,” as he gestured with the document.
Donna crossed over and snagged it out of his hand, realizing what it was just as Harvey said, “You've got to see this! Go to page six at the—”
She lifted her gaze and nailed them each in turn with a glare, then said, “What the hell is wrong with you? Both of you.”
“—Bottom...?” Harvey trailed off. He exchanged a look of confusion with Louis as Donna stalked over to the door and shut it. She flipped the lock, then turned back to them and held up the papers in her hand.
“I will forgive a certain amount of ignorance because Mike asked that I not say anything to either of you, but I only agreed to that because I had assumed that both of you were past the seventh grade and capable of behaving like grown fucking men. If I'd suspected otherwise I would have dragged him in here and made him tell you that he is dysgraphic.”
Harvey and Louis both reacted with surprise to that announcement, the former's eyebrows rising and the latter's jaw dropping.
“That means that even though he can take words in like a copy machine when he reads, and even though he can parrot those same words back like a damn recording, he has difficulty doing the same thing when it comes to putting them down on paper. His handwriting is mostly illegible unless he takes an insane amount of time to focus on precisely forming each letter—and even then it tends to look like he scribbled it in a hurry—and he would lose a spelling bee to a kindergartner, but that doesn't mean he's an idiot and both of you should know that by now.”
She jabbed an angry finger in the direction of the hallway where Mike had vanished. “That kid is brilliant in ways that neither of you will ever fully understand, and the fact that he busts his ass like he does to please both of you despite his personal challenges and the extra shit you shovel on him in the form of your little game of one-upmanship only means that he's more dedicated than either of you give him credit for.”
She looked at each of them, still glaring, and then slapped the document down on the desk, poking it with a finger as she said, “You look at this and see someone too stupid to be a lawyer because they can't use spellcheck. I look at this and see someone who is already more successful than the both of you combined because this is the first time in nine months that either of you saw even a hint of his disability and you two are supposed to be the best at seeing what people try to hide.”
Louis opened his mouth and Donna said, “Shut up, Louis.” He closed it again, but she remained focused on him. “I suggest that the next time you see Mike in a private setting—even if you have to arrange it yourself—you apologize to him for being an utter asshat and that in the future you take what you have learned here today into account when assigning him work and deadlines. Got it?”
Louis nodded. “Yes. I understand and I will—“
“Beat it,” Donna said with a jerk of her head and Louis turned and left in a quick-time retreat.
When the door was shut again, Donna turned to Harvey, crossing her arms over her chest and canting her hip.
“As for you...”
He was smart enough to be regarding her warily, all signs of amusement gone.
“You are going to stop talking now and listen. I know that's a difficult thing for you to do sometimes, but your other option is to watch me walk out that door and never come back.”
Harvey's jaw snapped shut with an audible click of his teeth. He straightened up in his seat and focused every last ounce of his attention on her.
“Good boy,” she said, enjoying the way his eyes narrowed and his metaphorical hackles rose briefly at the reminder that it wasn't so long ago that Harvey had been the puppy, not the master.
She nodded at the document and Harvey's eyes obediently went to it.
“That was not supposed to be returned to you for another three days and there are other documents that were needed in the meantime, so I've not yet edited it for him. It was on my list of tasks for this morning which means that my dental emergency is the only reason you are now aware of Mike's situation. Now that you do know, however, I expect you—even more than Louis—to think very carefully about what this means for both of you. I know that you are generally adept at navigating potentially awkward social situations, but this little display,” she said with a waggle of a finger, “tells me that you might need some help here so I'm going to give you three things to keep in mind.
“Number one: Don't assume Mike can't do any of the work you formerly assigned him. Obviously he can, because he's been doing it from day one and he's kicked ass so far.” Harvey quirked his head and she correctly interpreted that and said, “I really only check a few things for him, mostly when you and Louis are too caught up in your pissing contest to remember that Mike is the one you're both pissing on.” She capped that with a significant look.
He did seem to be a little abashed at that and Donna felt some of her ire dissipate. At least he was aware of the problem there and now that she'd mentioned her feelings on the matter, she knew he'd do something about it—to avoid her wrath, if nothing else.
She'd take that for now.
“You can still trust him to proof your paperwork and make you look good, just keep in mind the extra work he has to do and don't overload him. There are other associates in that bullpen and if you don't trust them, well, it wouldn't kill you to do some of this work yourself.”
A grimace of disgust crossed Harvey's face and Donna was actually able to grant him a small smile at that. “Yeah, well, remember what life was like before Mike and count your blessings. Proofing your own briefs once in a while is still a massive improvement, right?”
Harvey's head bobbed to the side in agreement.
“Number two: Remember that he's lived with this his entire life and he knows his own limits and abilities better than anyone. If you're not sure if he can handle something or if he needs help then ask him. Don't assume because, as has been previously stated, he's a brilliant kid and more then being able to handle challenges he needs them. He just needs them in achievable portions, just like anyone else.
“And lastly, number three.” Her voice went flat and cold like a breeze off the Antarctic ice pack, her gaze drilling into Harvey. “If I ever catch you behaving in a way that reminds me that not all of Cameron Dennis' lessons were in how to win in the courtroom, I will keep my promise to walk out that door and I won't look back.”
She didn't ask him if he understood because she saw it in the fact that his expression was one of genuine alarm and he made an aborted movement to speak, but checked himself and looked to her for permission.
She just watched him for a moment. “Tread lightly,” she finally advised.
Taking her warning to heart, he paused another moment before saying, “I'm only asking this because I'm trying to understand.”
She nodded for him to continue.
“He uses it. He uses the hell out of it. But he still has to verify a lot of words with a dictionary to be positive it's correct. That takes a lot of time and effort on his part and when you and Louis compete to see who can more effectively bury him in paperwork...” She shook her head. “If he doesn't have an ulcer by his one-year anniversary I will be shocked.”
Harvey looked a little guilty and Donna said nothing to assuage that because the image of Mike's face when he ran out of here, the way his voice cracked and his hand on her arm trembled, was still very fresh in her mind—not to mention the number of mornings she came in and found him asleep at his desk trying to appease both of his impossible bosses.
“Why didn't he say anything?” Harvey asked, waving his hand to indicate both the document and everything she'd said.
An eyebrow arched.
“Oh come on, Donna,” he said. “You're acting like I would have bitten the kid's head off.” He held up his hand when she gave him a look of incredulity. “Okay, so this morning is pretty solid evidence against my humanity, and I'm not saying that ignorance is an excuse, but as you said, he's been here nine months. It's not like I start each day with a good roast of the associates for all their many personal failings.” He bobbed his head to the side. “Even if it would be really easy to do.”
He winced as soon as he said it, but her lips firmed and she said, “That's why. That and the fact that he has brought other problems to you and your solution has generally been to tell him to find a way to fix it himself.” She propped one hand on her hip and flicked the other dismissively. “Well this problem he already knew how to fix and he had ample precedent to support the notion that mentioning the extra work required would not get him even an ounce of sympathy in this office. Really, what did you expect him to do?”
“He should have trusted me,” he said with slightest hint of exasperation and petulance.
She crossed her arms over her chest, eyes narrowing. “I seem to recall the two of you having a conversation about that and I didn't say anything at the time, but Mike had a very good point: That road goes two ways. He needs to earn your trust to sit at the adult table and handle more responsibility as you give it to him, but you need to earn his trust too. You're his boss and you need to prove that he can trust you to take care of him—and not just that you'll make sure he doesn't screw up because of the reflection it shines back on you.”
Harvey stared at his desk, the fingers of one hand tapping on the glass top as he considered her words. That was enough to melt most of the rest of her anger with him. He could be one hell of an inconsiderate asshole, but she knew about the feelings he tried so hard not to have and that it was pure fantasy that his morals were based solely on an interest in not complicating his life further.
Which is why he would take what she said to that supposedly non-existent heart of his and use it to make himself a better person. Her job here was done—for the moment.
She gave him a crooked grin and said gently. “Harvey.”
He looked up and met her gaze fully.
“He wants to impress you. He wants to do everything you ask of him and more. You took a big chance on him and he knows that. He wants to be worthy of that risk, to make you proud of him and to make you not regret the choice you made. But he's only human, Harvey, and he's still just a kid so he'll try to push himself further than he can realistically go just because you asked him to. Keep that in mind, all right? There's a difference between high expectations and impossible demands and it's your responsibility as his mentor to make sure that you only give him the first.”
She gave him another minute to think, then stepped to his desk and scooped up the file. “I'm going to go edit this. You should probably find out where Mike went and tell him that he's not fired.” She set the file on her desk, thought for a moment, then dug into her filing drawer and withdrew a folder.
Returning to Harvey's desk, she laid it down. “If I might make one last suggestion?”
Harvey smiled, because after all this time as her boss he knew very well that she wasn't actually asking and it wasn't really a suggestion, but he nodded anyway.
“This would work nicely as both an apology and an investment.”
Then she left him to his thoughts, closing the door to his office. She paused there for a moment to watch him open the file and pick up the sheet inside, brow furrowing as he studied the paper.
She huffed a little sigh of relief, both unhappy with how this had all finally played out, but glad that it was, at least, done. She'd never liked keeping this from Harvey and had, as she said, only done so because it was Mike's decision to make.
But now it was out there and they could all move forward together and Donna didn't have to pick sides anymore because they were a team, united and whole like they should have been from the beginning. Finally.
She made a mental note to go have a more thorough discussion with Louis after his lunch appointment, then set up the small easel she used to hold documents and began typing.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Mike didn't entirely remember what happened after he left the sidewalk in front of Pearson Hardman.
He went into something of a fugue state at some point on his ride home and didn't come back to himself until he was sitting in his apartment with a freshly rolled joint in one hand and a lighter in the other.
He dropped them both with a yelped, “Shit!” and backed up on the couch like the weed was going to leap up and into his mouth, forcing him to inhale and break his promise to Harvey.
Mike groaned and wiped a hand down his face, looking around to try and get a sense of the time, ending on his watch. It was early afternoon on Tuesday, so that was good. He was only missing just over an hour. Not long enough for him to have actually smoked anything without still feeling the effects—and he most definitely wasn't feeling them.
His eyes went back to the white paper roll and he swallowed convulsively. A trembling sensation drew his gaze to his hands which were shaking with the desire to pick up the blunt, flick the lighter, and let all this stress just bleed away.
It wasn't withdrawal, per se. The need in him wasn't connected to the chemicals in the illicit plant so much as it was the memories of peace he'd felt while under the influence of those chemicals, peace he could really use right now.
Okay, so maybe that was a kind of withdrawal, but it wasn't from an addiction. He hadn't had any desire to smoke since he'd decided on the quad at Harvard that he was going to do this thing with Harvey, this crazy scheme that just might work.
Right up until it hadn't because Mike was a fucking idiot who'd let himself be persuaded that he could fake being smart long enough to live one of his two dreams and play at being a lawyer.
Mike wasn't even aware when his arms wrapped around his chest, a gesture he'd adopted when his parents had died and that he'd finally abandoned only after years of gentle reassurance and love from Grammy. It had never been a conscious thing on his part and his therapist had said that it was a self-defense mechanism, a physical manifestation of a subconscious desire to be wrapped safely in the arms of his lost family and that it would stop when he again felt safety and security in his life.
So it wasn't really a surprise, then, that he was doing it now, even if he didn't recognize it.
He was, instead, focused on memories of one of the worst days of his life as it bubbled up from the depths of his mind. He shivered and curled up into a tighter ball, the marijuana forgotten in the sweeping tide of remembrance.
It was at a brand-new school, confusion and shock from being orphaned only just beginning to fade as he adjusted to life with his Grammy and without his parents. There was a school-wide assembly, his class sitting on the stage. He hadn't understood what was going on, having drifted in and out of attention the whole week as fresh waves of grief assaulted him. He knew there must have been an explanation given, because none of classmates were confused.
He even had a vague notion that the principal had stood up and said something to the rest of the school who sat in the auditorium seats across from them, but he could not have repeated a single word. He'd been trying not to think about how they'd had chocolate chip cookies at lunch and they were nothing like his Mom used to make.
He came back just as the first chair was vacated and Tiffany Abernathy walked across the stage to the waiting microphone.
“Your word is 'cat',” a voice said from somewhere below the edge of the stage. “The cat chased the mouse into the barn. Cat.”
A fresh wave of horror swept over Mike as he realized what was going on, and before Tiffany could do more than open her mouth and say “Cat,” she was cut off by the sound of Mike's strangled squeak and the crash of his chair as he tried to push away violently and ended up tipping over. Murmuring swept the crowd as everyone looked at him, a few insensitive souls tittering and giggling at his fall.
His teacher, Miss Carter, hurried to see if he was okay, but he scuttled away and then turned and scrambled to his feet, running for all he was worth. He didn't remember dodging the other adults he passed who all tried to reach out and snag him, he had only the story Grammy told him later to fill in the blanks.
He just remembered running until he couldn't make his legs move anymore, falling when they finally gave out on him, then lying on the asphalt of the playground, gasping like a beached whale after he rolled to a stop. Someone gathered him up in their arms and carried him to the nurse's office eventually, but he was only aware of the terror and nausea roiling in his stomach. He might have thrown up once or twice, he wasn't sure.
All he knew was that he wanted all of this to go away. He wanted to be able to spell and write like the other kids his age.
He wanted to be normal.
Those same feelings welled up now and he whimpered and pulled his limbs in tighter, wishing he could just keep shrinking until he collapsed in on himself and ceased to exist.
That wouldn't be so bad a fate, would it? It wasn't like there was anything here for him. He'd screwed up again, his stupid brain getting him in trouble because it just didn't work the way it was supposed to.
He had let down Donna and Grammy and lied to Harvey—twice now because he swore he'd never smoke again and yet he had a joint all rolled and ready to go, didn't he?
All because he was a fuck up. A stupid fuck up that couldn't even spell words that fucking kids could spell. His stupid fucking brain...
Mike was so locked into his self-flagellation that he didn't hear the door to his apartment open or the thanks spoken to the building super, the call of his name or the footsteps that crossed quickly over and circled the couch. He didn't hear the muttered oath at the sight of himself in a shaking ball of tension or the curse when the blunt was spotted, picked up, and tucked into an inner suit coat pocket.
He wasn't aware at all of the other person's presence until a hand landed on his knee as a soft voice said, “Mike.”
His reaction, as high-strung as he was right then, was not flattering. Much like that day long ago in the auditorium, he squeaked and flailed, pushing back until he went over the armrest and hit the floor with a grunt and then a groan as the pain sparked and flared along all the places he'd impacted. His head was the loudest protester and he hissed at the tenderness of that section of his skull.
He did hear the footsteps this time as they followed and he rolled over just in time to see Harvey crouching down at his side, reaching out to lay a hand on his shoulder. Mike twitched and tried to escape again until he hit the couch and was forced to stop.
Harvey had halted and begun to retreat, though, when he saw that reaction, worry carving deep lines into his forehead.
“Mike? You with me now?” he said warily.
Mike swallowed, eyes darting around, flicking to land on Harvey's before moving on again. “I— What— I mean...” He closed his eyes. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
A lack of an immediately forthcoming answer had Mike's eyes cracking open until the sight of Harvey rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand, a grimace of discomfort on his face, caused them to pop wide the rest of the way.
”Harvey?” he asked.
“Donna informed me of the many ways I am a jackass, explained in very precise detail just what it took on your part to keep this from me for this long and why you'd go to such trouble, and then told me to come fix it. I haven't seen her that mad since the first time Cameron hit on her,” he confessed.
Mike thought he should laugh at that, maybe at least smile, but, much like when he tried to write, he couldn't quite get the muscles needed to do what he asked of them.
“Mike,” Harvey said, forcing his gaze back down, “I'm sorry. I should never have said those things I did. They were rude and uncalled for and completely inappropriate. The fact that I didn't know who I was saying them to is irrelevant and it won't happen again.”
Mike had to cover his mouth with a hand lest the—almost certainly hysterical—giggle building up inside break free. Harvey Specter was apologizing to him. He really had fucked up, hadn't he?
Harvey's gaze turned wary and speculative and, after a moment, he stood and then bent to reach a hand back down. “Come on. There's no need to have this discussion on the floor.”
Mike's own hand hadn't moved from where it covered his mouth and the other was at his side as his eyes skipped between the hand and the eyes of the man it belonged to. Finally he nodded and reached out, accepting the offer.
Harvey smiled, eyes crinkling just a little at the edges, and then he yanked and Mike popped up so fast his head spun a little, the throbbing momentarily increasing as the blood surged and ebbed. Harvey took advantage of that moment to guide him back to the couch to sit.
Mike took his spot in the corner and pulled his legs up again, though he didn't hug them quite so tightly this time.
Harvey sat at the other end looking about as uncomfortable as Mike had ever seen him and a desire to stop that, frankly, disturbing image was what had Mike's mouth opening. Before he could say whatever his brain had lined up, though, he spotted the plastic bag on the coffee table and cocked his head. “What's that?”
Harvey's eyes followed Mike's gaze and he reached over and snagged the handles, lifting it and holding it out to Mike. “A peace offering and an apology.”
Mike was curious but cautious as he accepted the bag, letting his legs down a little so he could nestle the bag in his lap. He peered inside and froze. His eyelids fluttered a bit as he tried to decide if he was really seeing this and what it meant if so.
“Donna mentioned that she'd talked to you about this, but that you'd said it was a little out of your price range right now. Well it's not out of mine and if you need it to continue to be the kick-ass associate that you've been thus far, it's in my best interests to provide it for you.”
Mike looked up and his gratitude for both Harvey's understanding and the gift of the legal edition of the speech recognition software must have shown in his eyes because Harvey's face morphed into that uncomfortable configuration that meant that there were far too many feelings floating around right now where anyone could see them.
Mike was pretty sure that if he were to strip down and go streaking through the courthouse yelling out his name and his association with Harvey, the man would be less discomfited.
“Thank you,” Mike said, hugging the box to his chest for a moment and grinning like an idiot.
Harvey cleared his throat and said, “You're welcome. And, Mike, in the future, you should inform me of,” he waved a hand, “problems you have doing your work so that I can address them. I won't always give you the answers or do it for you or even say what you want to hear, because some things you need to learn to do on your own, but bring me the issue and let me, as your mentor, decide whether it's a problem that falls into that category, all right?”
Mike looked away and said honestly, if hesitantly, “You're not always the easiest person to approach about that kind of thing.”
Harvey nodded stiffly. “So Donna has informed me. She's also made it clear that it's a personality defect I will fix or that she will abandon me to my own ineptitude.”
Mike smiled a little more widely at that and his reaction seemed to be what Harvey was waiting for because he relaxed a little too.
Then he reached into his pocket and withdrew the joint. His voice hardened when he said, “And this is never an acceptable answer.”
Mike nodded, adrenaline spiking once more. “I know. I'm sorry. I didn't— I don't actually remember buying it.”
Harvey arched an eyebrow and Mike explained, “It was a... I guess you could say, a defense mechanism really. One that got horribly out of hand, but that had good intentions at the start and, yes, I do know what road is paved with those.” The eyebrow came down, but Harvey still looked angry.
“Look, between being kicked out of college and almost becoming a drug dealer I held a few jobs. I had to, right? Living is expensive. None of them lasted very long and it was only the more recent jobs that ended due to my, um, habit. Part of the whole reason I got into pot in the first place was because I kept getting fired or quitting after my... my problem became too much of an issue for me to keep working there.”
“They fired you because you have a learning disability?” Harvey said in disbelief. “Mike, they can't—”
Mike interrupted with an upraised hand. “I know. I even knew it then, but fighting it would have required bringing even more attention to the fact that the average five-year-old is more accomplished at writing than I am. It's... not exactly something I want to make a public affair of, you know?”
Harvey sighed in resignation, but didn't continue the argument.
“When I'd lose a job, I'd come back to the apartment Trevor and I were sharing and he'd offer me a joint to help me relax so for just a little while I could not think about what I was going to do now and how I was going to pay for Grammy's bills and why I hated my stupid fucking failure of a brain.”
The bitterness in Mike's voice had gotten pretty potent by the end there and Harvey said, “It's not your fault, Mike. You can't help—”
“I know,” Mike snapped. Then he apologized because it wasn't Harvey he was pissed at. “Sorry. But I do I know. I've read everything I can get my hands on about dysgraphia and I am well aware of how out of my control this is. But when piece by piece your life falls apart and every time you try to put it back together you encounter another dumbass who thinks you're faking it or brain damaged or just plain stupid...” He shrugged. “It can be hard to remember things like how it's not your fault.”
Harvey's expression shifted minutely and when Mike realized that the anger was being transferred to the jerks he'd had to deal with, well, it made continuing easier.
“Anyway, I was less motivated to find a job because so far that plan hadn't been working out as well as I'd hoped. Combine that with the stress of not having a steady source of income and not having hope that I could keep a job even if I could find another one and Grammy's health problems and Trevor getting in trouble again and again and...” He shrugged once more. “Pretty soon it was just easier to stay high as much as possible than deal with all the shit down here in reality. But I still needed money—for the drugs if nothing else—and so Trevor helped me find some people who needed help taking tests.”
Harvey's eyes narrowed. “And that's the part I don't understand. Given your... difficulty with writing, how did you—”
“I stuck mostly to multiple choice, true/false, and matching tests. Depending on the subject, I'd even do short answer because if spelling didn't matter, I could still get the answer right enough. I hated those tests, but I could do them. Sort of. The only ones I flat out refused to do were essays.”
“The LSAT has an essay section,” Harvey pointed out.
“No, it has a 'writing sample',” Mike corrected. “It doesn't affect your score, it's just sent on to the colleges you apply to. When you take the LSAT as often as I did, you get to know pretty much all of the questions in the bank. Then it was a matter of having the person I was testing for write an essay for each one and reading it over so I had it memorized. The handwriting was crap and the spelling sucked, but almost everyone I took the test for either didn't need the writing sample to impress anyone or they were doing so badly on their own merits that nothing I wrote could hurt them any more than they hurt themselves.”
Harvey snorted. “Kid...” He cut himself off and shook his head, tucking the joint away in his pocket again. “Is there any more?” he asked.
“I honestly don't know, but if there is it's going down the toilet as soon as I find it.”
Harvey scrutinized him for a moment, then nodded. “All right then. You can spend the rest of today getting that set up,” he said with a wave of his hand at the box still resting in Mike's lap, “and I'll see you tomorrow morning.”
Harvey was almost to the door when Mike said, “Thank you, Harvey. It's...”
His words failed him and he frowned and looked away, but Harvey just said, “You're welcome.” He opened the door, added, “And if any of the other associates or paralegals or anyone at all gives you trouble again—”
“I'll send them to Donna,” Mike said.
“Good boy,” Harvey said with a smirk. Mike returned the expression and then Harvey gave a last nod and was gone.
Mike exhaled slowly, gaze dropping down to the box in his hands. He smiled crookedly and then laughed softly as he rubbed a thumb over the picture on the front of a beaming young woman wearing a headset.
Harvey could disparage Trevor all he liked, but the reality was that if it hadn't been for that briefcase of pot, Mike would still be wasting his life. Who could have guessed that choosing to become a pot dealer would be one of the best decisions he had ever made?
Chapter 5: Epilogue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Whereas, the company shall not be held liable for any damages suffered as a result of using this product...”
Harvey continued typing his own work while Mike paced and dictated to his computer a contract for one of their new clients. He couldn't very well dictate at his cubicle where it would disturb the other associates—especially since most of them were still unaware of Mike's disability anyway, a situation he much preferred—so he spent the time in here when he needed to enter something into the computer.
He could have—and sometimes did—find an empty conference room to work in, but usually only when Harvey was having a meeting or otherwise needed the quiet. The latter happened less and less as time went on, the background sound of Mike's voice becoming a familiar and welcome one, like Harvey's records.
Well, maybe not that welcome.
But it was a pleasant sort of white noise most of the time, and Harvey could ignore it if he chose to do so. He even found that it was occasionally beneficial to his own concentration, something about the steady cadence of Mike's voice reciting legalese in one form or another helping Harvey's own brain stay on track and work more efficiently.
Donna opened the door and entered, setting a stack of files on Harvey's desk and then moving over to hand Mike a bottle of water and a jumpdrive with the transcribed notes from yesterday's meeting, no doubt.
He tapped the button on the headset to mute the microphone, then took the bottle of water with a, “Thanks, Donna,” downing half of it without stopping. After he'd recapped the bottle and set it aside, he took the drive.
Harvey watched them talk for a moment about the files on the drive and other documents and projects, smiling as Mike made some subtle joke and Donna laughed abruptly. They all worked a lot more smoothly together these days, even with the changes they'd had to make to their formerly established routines.
Much of Mike's work around the office could now be done with the speech transcription software, but client meetings often didn't fall into that category—especially since not everyone liked their confidential meetings with their attorneys being recorded in a sound file that could end up in hands not bound by attorney-client privilege. In those cases, Mike took the best notes he could in a form of shorthand he and Donna had developed together that reduced the amount of writing he had to do and helped keep him from getting fatigued or strained, then she typed them up into a more universally understood format. Mike would read over it to ensure it was all as he remembered and then Harvey—or whoever else needed them—got the polished copy.
It wasn't a conventional arrangement by any means, and when Jessica had found out—after discovering Mike doing his thing in a conference room one day—it had sparked a meeting among the four of them and a few appraising looks on her part, but she couldn't deny that it worked and, well, Harvey's unique style was part of the reason she valued him so much. She already knew that Donna wasn't going to be forced into any molds and the whole point of having Harvey mentor Mike was to teach the kid all of his tricks anyway, so she just told them to keep up the good work and left.
The fact that the new arrangement's increased productivity made Louis even more jealous of Harvey and covetous of Mike was just the sweet, sweet icing on the proverbial cake.
Mike ended the conversation with an apologetic reminder that he had work to do and Donna nodded and started to leave, giving Harvey a smile as she passed him that subtly reinforced how she was pleased with the way he'd put her advice to good use.
Then Donna stopped at the door and said, “Oh, Mike, I almost forgot! I got a call from Gina. She really liked what she's read of your manuscript so far.”
Harvey leaned back in his chair, work forgotten for the moment, and watched as Mike's head ducked, a faint pink rising in his cheeks.
“Really?” he said. “It's not, uh...” His eyes darted to Harvey, who thought about pretending he wasn't listening, but decided that Mike could still use a little work on his confidence and instead let his genuine curiosity show through.
Donna must have agreed because she didn't say anything either, just waited for Mike to finish his thought.
It took him a moment and his voice was quieter than normal, but he said, “It's not... stupid?”
Donna beamed at him. “Nope. She said she only had one problem with it.”
Mike swallowed, looking even more nervous, and his eyes again flicked to Harvey, but when he saw no censure there he squared his shoulders and said, “Which was?”
“That she already wanted more of it than she had in her hands,” Donna said with a wink and then actually left, shutting the door and returning to her desk.
Mike just stared after her, blinking a little, then he looked to Harvey and cringed, turning quickly to face his computer and unmuting his microphone. His voice wasn't quite so steady as before as he spoke, but he doggedly kept going, standing in place for a moment before he sat down and pulled the laptop onto his knees. That his attention was only half on his work was perfectly obvious.
Harvey twirled his pen and considered his associate for a few moments before glancing to Donna. She wasn't looking his way, but her posture, attentive with a slight tilt to her head and only slow and subtle movements of her arms, indicating she was typing but her focus wasn't fully on it, said she was listening to hear his reaction to her calculated revelation.
Harvey considered, then gave his response, his tone casual as he said, “You planning on leaving your job as a fake lawyer to become a real author?”
Mike's shoulders twitched as he shrank down a little and he tapped the mute again to say, “I'm not... It's just a— a short story I've...” He cleared his throat. “I mean,” he clarified with a shrug of his shoulders. “It's not anything spectacular. Just something that's been in my head for awhile now.”
Harvey had a feeling that “awhile now” was a lot longer than a few days or weeks. It wouldn't even surprise him that it had been there for years and only Mike's belief that he couldn't write had held him back from sharing it with anyone outside of an oral rendition—and maybe not even then.
“I didn't know you had an interest in writing stories,” Harvey said honestly.
“I— I mean, I guess...” Mike stopped talking and stared at his computer, his fingers nervously tapping on the keyboard, though not hard enough to input any of the characters into his document. “It's a stupid thing—” he mumbled.
“Is it going to interfere with your work?” Harvey asked. He saw Donna twitch and then turn to regard him with narrowed eyes, but he ignored her for the moment.
Mike's head popped up and shook back and forth vigorously. “No! Never! I know I have to do this first,” he said with a wave of his hand to indicate the firm. “It's my number one priority still. It's just, now that I have the software and... I have a little more free time without having to scan and cross-reference as much so—” He looked away and Harvey could practically see his metaphorical tail tuck between his legs and his floppy, pointed ears flatten back along his skull with guilt and shame.
“Relax, Mike,” Harvey said gently. “I'm not against you having a hobby.” Mike's eyes shifted to Harvey and this time they held hope.
“You're not? I mean... What happened to 'a hundred hours a week'—”
Harvey snorted. “Anyone who actually works a hundred hours a week is doing something wrong.”
Mike bit his lip and Harvey remembered that not too long ago Mike probably had been putting in a hundred hours a week, which only validated his statement, but they'd corrected that mistake so he didn't retract it.
Then he made his expression stern and pointed the pen at Mike and said, “As long as you're still getting your work done on time and with the same high quality I've come to expect, it's not a problem.”
“Of course! Yes! Always!”
Harvey held the expression for a moment, then turned back to his work, leaning forward. “Then I'd like a copy of your story.”
His peripheral vision showed Mike freezing into place.
“What?” he finally said, voice strained.
“I want a copy of your story. It's got to be pretty good if Gina likes it.”
“I...” Mike floundered like a landed bass for a moment.
Harvey let him while he signed a page with a flourish, then said, “I did say it wasn't supposed to interfere with your work.” He gave Mike a pointed look.
Mike started and then looked at his computer. He unmuted the mic and picked up where he'd left off, still a little shaky for a few minutes until he became immersed in the work again.
Harvey made sure the smirk was only visible on the side of his face Mike couldn't see and then glanced up at Donna who was smiling back at him as she nodded her approval.
Harvey let his shoulders relax just a little bit more and then followed his own advice to Mike and returned his focus to his work. It wouldn't do to have his own protégé showing him up, after all. Well, any more than he already did.
And yet, somehow, Harvey didn't mind that as much as he probably should have.
This was at times painful, at times cathartic, but always worth it to write. Thanks to huffydoo for the prompt and GallowsHumor for the much needed beta. Thanks for reading! Please leave me a review if you enjoyed it! Or even if you didn't... *shrugs* Whatever the case, I'd love to hear from you.
Mike has a learning disability in English. He struggles with spelling and grammar. He tries using spell-check but it is often a frustrating experience. He avoids writing like the plague but he has good and creative ideas. Usually Donna secretly takes anything other then general case notes. She takes and types them so that people will deal with the content and not the process. She doesn't like the smart-ass comments of people making comparisons between spelling and work ethics or intelligence. One day Donna is late with a dentist appointment. Harvey reads the brief, unsigned. He starts joking with Mike and everyone about the writer, etc. He thinks he's being witty. Mike is laughing on the outside and he is crying on the inside. He finds an excuse to leave work debating getting high, feeling again like a screw-up. Donna hears about the floor show and rips into Harvey. Just as Mike is about to take a hit, Harvey shows up at the door.