Chapter 1: can't find the phone to call it off
|Class||LAW802: Selected Topics in Corporate Law|
|Prerequisites||LAW800/25.00: Sarbanes-Oxley, LAW801/0.00:Getting It|
A student-driven examination of selected topics in the practice of corporate law, using current case studies.
In September, Mike Ross goes back to school.
Enrollment is highly competitive; there is, as it turns out, only one seat in the class. Office hours are convened whenever the student finds himself in need of guidance, where 'in need of guidance' is defined to mean 'at immediate risk of sending a case down in flames'. The course is pass/fail. The teacher has never before, does not now, and Mike will be fired should he ever appear on ratemyprofessors.com.
Paulsen, Donna is not a particularly nurturing teaching assistant, but seeing as she'll go toe-to-toe with Specter, Harvey (Professor) and unwitting Litt, Louis (Seminar Leader), she's sure to rank highly on course evaluations anyways.
This all comes later because before Mike becomes a student, before Harvey adds 'teacher' to his list of responsibilities, before any of this comes to pass, Mike's world is flipped upside down.
He loses his photographic memory.
"You signed the prenup, that means you don't get to go gold digging now. Harvey, tell her that means she doesn't get to go gold digging now!"
"Gold digging? I know you've spent the past year dicking around on the golf course, so let me remind who you pulled this company back from the brink of insolvency, you narcisstic little--."
"—this company? It's my company, or did you forget that?"
"It's your train wreck!"
Mike doesn't recognize the screaming couple in conference room C, but he doesn't need to in order to get the gist of things. "I didn't think you handled divorce cases," he says to Harvey. Today, his boss is watching the proceedings from his position at head of the table with a detached sort of disinterest.
"Meet Mark and Barbara Hastings, CEO and CFO of Natrulife Pharmaceuticals respectively. They're one of our biggest clients. I do now." He passes Mike a file folder bearing the company name that's about as thick as one of his college textbooks. He flips it open to reveal text just as dense. "I need you to look into both their assets during the 2003-2004 fiscal year. She's claiming he underreported his portfolio prior to the marriage, which would--."
"--invalidate their prenup and entitle her to a larger proportion of the company's current profits, yeah, I got it," Mike finishes. He hasn't handled any of this company's cases yet, but he recognizes the name. "Natrulife – the gummy vitamin people?" They produce a one-a-day adult multivitamin in gummy form, chock full useful things missing from Mike's diet of food truck cuisine and frozen dinners. There's a bottle in his desk now.
"For overgrown children?"
"Hey, I have --," he objects, but Harvey is already smiling knowingly. For someone with a reputation for being as strategically adept as he is, Harvey is awfully immature sometimes. Mike rolls his eyes, and takes a look at the file.
The first page is a summary of the dispute in verbose, archaic wording which boils down to both husband and wife wanting to gut their soon to be ex. As representation for the company rather than the individual, Pearson Hardman must remain neutral in this dispute. Whether Mark invalidated the prenup or not, they need to negotiate a settlement that will satisfy both parties and keep the company running smoothly in the future. Mike's not sure that's possible if the CEO and CFO can't hold a civil conversation with each other, but that's Harvey's problem and not his, thankfully.
Following the summary is a list of disputed assets up to and including the kitchen sink. If their dispute goes to trial a divorce court judge will settle who gets the home in the Hamptons, the cabin in Vermont, the 30' cruiser in Long Island's harbours, and custody.
"They have a kid," Mike notes. Joanne Hastings is seven years old. It's old enough to grow attached to her school and her friends, but young enough to pick up on her parents' fighting without understanding why that's happening. Any lingering amusement Mike harbours over the comically vitriolic couple evaporates instantly.
"I built that company from scratch after college! You've got another thing coming if you think--"
"—Natrulife consisted of two rooms, one computer, and a broken chair when I came in, and you know it."
Harvey shares a long, exasperated look with Mike as he gets to his feet, taking the time to button his suit jacket before interrupting the couple. "Barbara, Mark." Professional etiquette for dealing with clients he isn't overly familiar with would call for surnames, but Harvey knows better than to address a couple in the middle of a nasty divorce by a name also in dispute. They're just lucky the company isn't named Hastings Pharmaceutical. "I'd like you both to meet my associate, Mike Ross."
Mike steps forward to shake both their hands in turn. "Pleased to meet you," he greets them. He'd like nothing more than to bang their heads together for the sake of sparing a little girl he's never met the difficulty of living in two houses, her weekends and holidays split straight down the middle, but Harvey's lessons are sinking in. Part of the job is representing people Mike doesn't like, and if he can't deal with that, he really does need to find another job.
"Now, if you'd both take a seat, we can begin. Mike will sit in on this meeting and take notes on the particulars. Rest assured, we'll determine whether the prenuptial agreement you signed in 2004 is valid."
Mark winds up for another round, halfway to his feet before Harvey raises a hand. "Either way, Mark. Until we know for sure, we're going to uphold it. Barbara, we can discuss what will change if it isn't afterwards. I'd like to remind you both that as a neutral, mediating party, Pearson Hardman will not be taking sides, and we will ensure you both receive a fair settlement."
Much grumbling ensues, but there is little to find fault with in Harvey's even-handed approach and they settle in without further difficulties. The hour passes in a string of passive aggressive snipes. If Mike wanted to deal with that that, he would've stuck around for Louis' big announcement to the associates. Kyle thinks Louis is getting a promotion to Senior Partner, freeing up a junior slot for one of them. Harold thinks the associates are going to get a piece of the big bailout scandal they've only heard rumours about, the company kept confidential but assuredly in the Fortune 500. Mike doesn't have a working theory so much as a sinking feeling that whatever it is will mean even more work for him.
Harvey controls the meeting with an iron fist, bringing it to a close without further incident, freeing Mike up to put a request in for both the Hastings' individual finances and that of their company's before he's due to join the other associates in the law library. As always with Louis, attendance is mandatory, no exceptions granted for grievous bodily injury.
"What about the prenup?" Barbara asks just as they're getting up to leave. Harvey clears his throat pointedly. When that doesn't catch Mike's attention, he kicks him under the table. It's out of their clients' sight, but still damn painful.
"Right!" Mike shoots up, forms in hand. "Mark, we're going to discuss the prenup with Barbara now. You've indicated that you don't wish to be present, but we need you to sign some paperwork to that effect before we do so no allegations of bias can be made against the firm later."
"Fine, whatever," Mark sighs. His phone rings before he can put pen to paper, though, and a glance at the caller ID has him ducking outside to answer the call.
"I'm sorry, Barbara," Mike apologizes. "But we can't discuss the prenup any further with you until he signs that paperwork."
"Of course. As always, things happen on his damn schedule." Her expression is more resigned than hardened; while the insults they were trading equally during the meeting gave Mike the impression her only feelings towards her soon to be ex-husband were of the 'mad' extended family, proof that something tangibly soft underlies the bitterness is staring him right in the face. She might not be able to stand the sight of Mark, but she still cares about him.
"It's just—ugh." Barbara cuts herself off before she can finish the sentence, deflating almost visibly.
"Eloquent as always, Barbara."
"At least I have the tact not to air our grievances out in public, Mark."
"Is that what you think calling me an asshole under your breath is? Tact?" They're too close to each other, right up in each other's face and angry; so, so angry. Mike reads it into the reddening colour of Mark's cheeks and Barbara's offensive stance, his voice raised and her hands flying.
"Why doesn't everybody calm the hell down," Mike says. If anything, his words incite them further.
While neither of them have either alleged or displayed violent tendencies, Mike doesn't like the way things are heading. Not only is he sure Harvey will rip him a new one if one or both of their clients are arrested for assault, it will definitely make things difficult for little Joanna. He gets a foot between them and squeezes the rest of his body into the gap, using his height to compensate for his lack of bulk as he makes himself as big as he can, forcing them apart physically.
A hand snakes around him just as he's turning to seek Harvey's guidance. Mike never does see who it belongs to. Only after he's twisted to catch the appendage does he realize the fist was aiming for the wall rather than the spouse, and by then he's positioned wrong to handle the momentum. He goes right over someone's torso in a tangle of limbs, the world pitching alarmingly sideways before he can get a hand underneath him to brace himself. A hand grapples with the tail of his jacket, trying to break his fall, but it doesn't get a grip in time. Mike's world washes out briefly in a haze of pain before he goes unconscious, skull cracking sharply against the glass table of the conference room.
"Wake up. Right now. I'm not fucking kidding around here, Mike."
Mike can't quite parse the words, but the tone comes across crystal clear. He opens his eyes to a tiled ceiling that he can't place. The lights of his apartment aren't nearly that bright (and uncomfortable though it is, his couch is not nearly that hard), but the room doesn't have the dull antiseptic smell of Grammy's nursing home.
Tentatively, probingly, he touches a hand to his head. It comes away sticky with blood, which he only realizes rather belatedly belongs to him. A strong grip catches his hand on its way down, and he traces it back up the person's arm to Harvey's face. He's crouched on the ground at Mike's side, and Mike can tell there's another person at his head.
"Stay still, Mike," Harvey orders, so Mike stays still.
"-- GCS of 7 immediately following the impact, up to – Harvey, can you get him to say something?"
"Speak," Harvey says.
"—14 after five minutes of unconsciousness. Two inch laceration to the--."
A woman's face leans over him; she looks upside down to Mike, which means she must be the one kneeling at his head, her hand holding pressure on the bleeding wound. This conclusion is supported by the tattered state of her green blouse, spotted with droplets of blood that have gone a dark crimson, flaky where they've dried. "Hi Mike. Do you remember me?"
He doesn't. Under normal circumstances, that would mean he's never met her before. Her tone seems to suggest rather the opposite, though.
"My name's Barbara, I'm one of your clients." Some of Mike's panic over such a misstep must show on his face, because she smiles reassuringly at him. "Don't worry if you can't remember me, retrograde amnesia is typical after a concussion."
That might be true of someone else, Mike thinks, but not him. He can chalk confusion over where he is up to the concussion, but remembering a client he's been introduced to and a file he must have read is something entirely different. He remembers being eight, July fourth, the conspiratorial grin on his father's face as he set illicit fireworks off over a deserted section of the Hudson; fourteen, September sixth, walking into ninth grade science and meeting Jenny's eyes over their assigned lab bench; twenty, April fourth, a week from being legal and pouring the finest bottle of champagne he could scrounge up the cash for over their graves.
Mike doesn't forget things.
"You have medical training?" Harvey asks curtly.
"Mark went through college as an EMT before founding Natrulife. My mother was an ER nurse," she says. The other guy, the guy on the phone with 911 who Mike assumes to be Mark, hangs up the phone and comes to join them.
"Barbara, can you grab the –."
"—already on it, he's bleeding through the gauze and can you--."
"—do some basic neuro checks before the bus gets here?"
A fuzzy memory claws through the confusion of these two finishing each other's sentences in a similar manner, though Mike remembers the tone differently. "I don't think I liked you very much," he says. That's probably rude. Harvey's probably going to have something to say about Mike speaking to a client that way, but Mike has always turned into a bit of an asshole when he has a headache.
He remembers asking Harvey if he handled divorce cases now, but not what his response was. If anything, it freaks Mike out further; he blacked out during a bender once in college, but that memory loss was continuous. This is intermittent.
Barbara smiles. "You were handling my divorce. I don't think I liked you very much either."
From his prone position on the floor, Mike puts two and two together and comes up Pearson Hardman. He looks to his left through the glass walls so contrary to the firm's hush hush character and sure enough, forty floors straight down stare back at him. The view of New York from such an extreme angle is dizzying, compounding the nausea from the concussion and forcing Mike's eyes closed so he can keep the contents of his stomach firmly where they are.
"No sleeping on the job," Harvey says.
"I'm not sleeping," Mike says. "I'm just not throwing up."
Mark's voice is kinder than Harvey's brisk baritone, but just as demanding. "We need you to keep your eyes open for now, Mike. I'm going to take your vitals while your boss asks you some questions, okay?" Mike's eyelids feel ten times heavier, but he opens them anyways. By now, he knows that Harvey doesn't stop until he gets his way.
"Do you know who I am?" Harvey asks.
"Harvey Specter, secretly a kind and noble soul."
"Alright, he's delusional."
"Harvey Specter, a self-centered dick."
"And don't you forget it, rookie," Harvey says. He's been quiet since Mike woke up, present but distant all the same. The only sign so far that something is out of the ordinary is his lack of suit jacket. Come to think of it, Mike really hopes Harvey's thousand dollar jacket isn't what's resting under his head. No dry cleaner's in the state could get all the blood out.
"You say such mean things, but all I hear is fond."
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
It's not blurred vision that gives Mike a hard time in focusing on Harvey's hand so much as a general lack of stamina. The bone-tired weariness is a condition he usually treats with a liberal dose of Red Bull, but that isn't an option available to him now. It leaves him more obstinate than usual as he tries to balance remembering what happened this morning with answering all their questions with not puking on Harvey's shoes. He looks up to find Harvey's flipping him off, a grin on his face though Mike's blood tinges the cuffs of his shirt. The white linen is crisp other than that, so Mike thinks Harvey's was the hand that tried to break his fall.
"You're an ass," Mike says.
"Well, your vision's fine," Harvey declares. "Now, do you know where you are?"
"On the floor," Mike supplies helpfully. Mike, headache, asshole. Exhibit A. While flippancy is in Mike's nature, direct from his father and his father's mother before him, he's usually less open about it.
Mike sighs. "Pearson Hardman. Fiftieth floor of the building."
"Who was the last justice appointed to the Supreme Court?" Harvey tries next. Mark makes a confused noise, but Harvey just waves him off. "It's 'who's the president' for lawyers."
"Elena Kagan," Mike says.
The paramedics arrive before Mike can complete the arduous task of following Harvey's finger – while it might test his visual ability to track, he's pretty sure the examiner usually avoids performing loop-de-loops. The team fits Mike with a cervical collar just to be safe before lifting him onto the gurney in one smooth movement.
"Hey Harvey," Mike says, grasping for his wrist. As they clear the corner of the conference room door and turn towards the elevators, Mike can see the other associates circling like vultures at the end of the hallway. They must be clearing out of the law library after Louis' big announcement. It's the cherry on top of his piece of shit day. He catches the tail end of Harvey's glare, not the indulgent one he trots out for Mike's midnight puns but the one that says he'll be scorching you and all your subsidiaries as soon as he gets around to it. The associates scatter as Harvey, satisfied with a solid day's work, comes around the side of the gurney to face Mike head on.
"I'm taking the rest of the day off," Mike tells him.
There's the indulgent glare. "You do that."
In the past, Rachel has been known to wield the weapon that is the office grapevine with the precision ease of someone who's been around the block once or twice, with a fine-tuned filter for what's true (Louis went on a date last night; true, her name was Carly), what's speculation (this will end a three year drought; false, Louis' last date was last week), and what needs to be buried (his last date was with Carly, and last night's was their second.) She's entertained by the political theatre that seems to accompany passing the Bar as it means the paralegals are out of the firing line, but the allure of swapping details over another person's love life has lost its charm for her.
Her network of gossips means that she probably knew what hospital Mike would end up at before he did. She shows up just as Mike is returning from his CT scan, ready and waiting for when the doctors see fit to free him. He means to be more grateful for her arrival, but by now he's more than ready to return to his apartment and curl up under the afghan his Grandmother knitted until the world dials it down several notches. Impeccably dressed as always, she towers over him and the foul smelling bucket he's clinging to in heels taller than Mike's broadest tie is wide. One look and she declares him a hot mess.
"Stop mocking me or I'll puke on you," he says miserably.
"I'd like to see you try," Rachel says. "I'm your ride home. Harvey's still in Jessica's office dealing with the fallout, he told me to let you know he'll swing by tonight, by the way. Donna's entrusted me with making sure you don't get yourself any more beat up in the meantime."
"Hey, I don't--."
She stares him down. He thinks about the eleven stitches in his forehead, the IV of fluids taped to the back of his non-dominant hand to level out his electrolytes after the blood loss, and the CT scan they're still waiting on the results for. "Yes, ma'am."
She drags the visitor's chair closer and drops into it gracefully. "That's more like it."
A nurse drops by after five minutes to check on him. The benign smile on his face lures Mike into a false sense of security before the IV is removed from Mike's arm with a brutal but clinical efficiency. He tapes a butterfly bandage taped over the puncture site, noting the doctor will be by to discuss the results of Mike's scan shortly.
When the nurse takes his leave, Mike turns to Rachel for the status update. "How bad is it?" he asks her.
"Your face, Harvey's reaction, or the fallout with the firm?"
The firm is Mike's major concern with Harvey coming in a close second. He's been trying to keep his head down lately, more than aware that it's back on the chopping block if the tides of the Jessica-Daniel schism shift considerably in her favour. His position is tied to Harvey's and while he is part of the rank-and-file unknown of the legal world, Harvey's reputation has been painstakingly built over a number of years. To be thrown out now in the middle of a power struggle would be to throw it under the bus.
"Your face," she says. He makes a disgruntled face which she returns in kind, one hand absentmindedly moving up to push his hair away from the line of stitches on his forehead, inspecting them more closely. "That's gross," she comments.
"I'm sorry my concussion isn't aesthetically pleasing to you." She huffs, but cards a finger through his fringe absentmindedly.
"The fallout with the firm will be minimal," she informs him. "The Hastings tried to accept culpability for the incident, but Harvey had a bird's eye view of how it went down and has written a statement indicating its accidental nature in exchange for the couple paying your medical bills. The clients are happy and the firm's insurance company isn't on the hook, so Jessica's happy."
"And Harvey?" Mike asks bleakly.
She bites her lip. "No comment."
"You won't take pity on the man with the concussion?"
"I'm sure he'll tell you himself." In the meantime, Mike gets to worry about that. Joy.
The doctor arrives with Mike's scans in hand before Mike can prise any more information out of Rachel. She's an older woman, her black hair tied back neatly in a messy bun. She reminds him of his high school physics teacher, who'd always been disappointed with Mike's lack of effort in her class. Mike has the sudden urge to sit up straight and tuck in his shirt.
"Mr. Ross, and…"
"Rachel Zane, I want her here." The typical white lie used to satisfy medical privacy laws is that she's his girlfriend but Mike, headache induced asshole or not, is not so callous as to imply a romantic relationship exists between them. He was the one who initiated the last breakup and if they're going to make another honest go of being just friends, he has to toe the line.
"Alright," the doctor agrees easily enough. "Mr. Ross, Ms. Zane, I'm Dr. Castillo. Your scans show no indication that you're bleeding into your brain, so we'll be releasing you at this time. You can take some Tylenol if the headache persists, but nothing ibuprofen or ASA-based, okay? We need to know if it worsens, or if there are any other acute changes in your mental state. Ms. Zane, I assume you'll be staying with Mr. Ross tonight?"
Rachel flushes abruptly, and Mike ducks his head. Dr. Castillo continues to stare them down, not embarrassed in the least. This is probably a situation she's seen a hundred times before, he figures. Mike doesn't like to think he's lead a cookie cutter life, but the idea they've seen it all before is comforting on a medical level.
"He won't be left alone," Rachel corrects. Dr. Castillo nods, satisfies. She leaves them with the nurse from before, who provides them with pamphlets on warning signs to look for and strict instructions to come back should any of them appear.
Rachel gathers him up effortlessly along with the meager things on his person, her bag, and not one but two copies of the concussion pamphlets. Then she hails them a cab.
While it is platonic by necessity these days, Mike still kind of loves her.
Rachel installs him securely in bed before she begins puttering around his apartment, theoretically tidying things up before Harvey can see the pigsty that precedes the end of the work week, actually doing a very poor job of hiding her intrigue over his place. Aside from today, she's never set foot in his apartment before. Her curiosity shines through now.
Nobody from work has crossed this threshold, in fact. While Mike is not ashamed of his home in any way, he'd been intending to keep it that way. It's a piece of his life he'd wanted to keep to himself if only for a little while longer as the same apartment he shared with Grammy growing up before she moved into the nursing home. Very little has changed from the couch he flopped on as a teenager to the stove she cooked her pot roast on to the dent in the wall in the shape of his fist (it was Trevor related, but it wasn't his fault.) The high scoring tests have been removed from the fridge and the handmade gifts are absent from the shelves but the touches of home remain, including her leftover trashy romance novels on the shelves and the needlework print nailed to the wall just beside the door.
Rachel's investigation reaches the kitchen counter, and she plucks a knickknack from its place in the corner to look at it more closely. "Where'd you get this?" she laughs. It's warm -- not mocking, not bitter, not anything that should inspire such a defensive reaction -- but Mike has to clamp down on some lingering bitterness over this unwelcome intrusion into his privacy before he answers her.
The trinket she's holding up is a relic from Mike's youth. Instead of an emptied out jam jar, they'd used a ceramic sculpture of a cartoon orange for a swear jar. Its features are hand painted, including a joyful expression and black loafers for shoes. There's a slot carved into its back to deposit coins. Even now, he can see the faint crack where the leaf was glued back into place, having cracked where it fell off the counter when Mike was little. It's been wedged into a corner of the kitchen countertop for as long as he can remember, what was once a place of honour gone dusty with disuse as the years have passed. He probably owes it a fair chunk of change by now. It's certainly enough to buy Grammy something nice for her upcoming birthday. He doesn't know where it came from.
Once more, with feeling: he doesn't know where it came from.
"I forget." It didn't make an appearance on the counter until after the crash that killed his parents, of that he is sure; he had been an angry little child for a long time afterwards, and she had introduced it to try and curb the more colourful phrases in his repertoire. The exact story of how it entered their lives has fallen by the wayside, though. Mike finds he has a hard time remembering a time when it wasn't there, tongue stuck out at the corner of its mouth, unassuming in nature while it held onto their change for a rainy day.
Rachel sets it down carefully, adjusting the positioning of the toaster and Mike's alarmingly large pile of unopened mail to box it in. It takes her a minute to parse that fully, but he can see the moment the pieces fall into place as she turns to face him slowly, horror dawning on her face. "Mike, you don't forget things."
"I know," he snipes back at her, mind reeling. Forgetting the origins of a knickknack isn't a big deal, but it sets a dangerous precedent as the memories connected to that object lie outside the reaches of simple retrograde amnesia. What else has he forgotten?
A rising quell of panic – what if what if what if – assaults him when he runs a hand across the threadbare area rug beside the bed and the sensation triggers no further memory. Closing his eyes to focus on its feel and its smell, he forms a more concrete picture in his mind of the concentric multicoloured ovals that make up its design, thinking about the few times he's woken up with his face buried in its shag after stumbling back to his apartment after a night out on the town. Only then does it trigger a memory of his parents hauling it in the door.
It feels different than it should. Through rose coloured glasses, he remembers the smiles on their faces as they knocked over a lamp in the process of rolling it out. Not even that misstep was able to touch their excitement over their first purchase for the new apartment. What's missing are the little details that characterize his memory as eidetic – he should know which of their kitschy art deco paintings were hanging on the wall, which boxes were piled in the corner of the kitchen waiting to be unpacked, and whether or not that damn orange sculpture was in one of them.
A knock on the door sounds before Mike can puzzle this alarming turn of events out.
"That'll be Harvey," Rachel mutters, still staring at Mike worriedly. "Stay here."
Propped up in bed through the combined efforts of all the pillows in his possession, Mike blinks back at her. "Where exactly do you think I'm going to go?"
By that point, she's already let Harvey into the apartment and accepted a plastic bag bearing the logo of the drugstore chain with a franchise on the corner. She tips its contents onto the bare corner of Mike's kitchen table. He eats breakfast there three days a week, five if it's slow at work or he's making a trip to the nursing home that day. Among other things Harvey's haul includes a bottle of extra strength Tylenol, an icepack more effective than the frozen peas Mike favours, and the most recent copy of the Wall Street Journal.
The man himself shrugs off his coat, hanging it beside Mike's on the back of the door. He's dressed down for the occasion in a buttoned Henley and jeans that Mike recognizes from the insider trading case last year, when he'd shown up to Harvey's apartment about three sheets to the wind.
"You're not wearing a suit," Mike says, awed.
"Did you think I sleep in one?"
Mike's considered it before. "Kind of."
"Yeah, well apparently watching your associate take a header into a glass table calls for something a little more casual after hours. Who knew?"
Rachel, looking entirely too amused with this situation for her own good, takes advantage of Mike's silence to hightail it out of there. "I'll be off, then. Feel better, Mike. Don't think you've gotten out of discussing…things," she says vaguely, with a pointed look at Harvey's turned back.
The door shuts quietly behind her, leaving Mike alone with Harvey's complete and utter attention. It is not an altogether great feeling.
"You don't have to stay, you know," Mike says in between lackluster bites of pizza. The pie is hot and greasy and pitch perfect, New York's finest in all its glory, but his heart isn't in it. The local anesthetic has worn off and the stitches in his forehead now throb in time with the headache. "I'll be fine for the night."
Comfortable with his boss as he is, it's awkward to be lying on the couch while Harvey eats pizza straight from the box at his kitchen table. Seating is scarce in the small room which functions as both a kitchen and a living room, so the only other option is Grammy's upholstered reclining chair. Mike's claimed the couch for his own as his right by way of concussion. If there isn't legal precedent for that now, there will be by the time he's finished.
"Can you produce someone else to ensure you don't bleed into your brain overnight and slip into a coma?" Obviously dinner hasn't made any headway in softening the blunt force of Harvey's less than stellar mood. He's still annoyed.
"No." Jenny's out of the relationship, Trevor's out of his life, and Mike's life revolves around the central pillars of work and sleep right now with other biological needs coming in second to that. He's currently lacking something in the way of friends.
"Then shut up."
Mike knows better than to argue with that tone. He goes back to his pizza.
They've put the TV on in the background to drown out the uncomfortable silences, ESPN commentary on the Yankees' current line-up compensating for their inability to hold a conversation. Mike didn't play much baseball as a child, so he knows only enough about the sport to hold a conversation, but this is relaxing. He drifts off to the sound of the commentator rattling off the season's developments, offering insight into promising new rookies and criticizing the latest roster changes.
Mike's thirty floors off the ground, the unforgiving concrete of the city's sidewalks growing closer and closer as floors of the clear glass panes and gleaming steel beams characteristic of the city's skyscrapers whip past, the wind in his hair and his heart in his throat. He's falling hard, falling fast, reaching out for something to grab onto when a hand shakes his shoulder.
He startles awake to find he's on the second floor, not the thirtieth. The only steel in the familiar walls of apartment 2B is in the appliances, and it would take a bird with poor vision indeed to mistake its windows for a clear view. Harvey retracts his hand when Mike sits up, the pillow underneath his cheek slipping onto the floor.
The TV that was tuned to ESPN is now showing the original Godfather. Johnny Fontane's dulcet tones serenade the wedding guests as Don Corleone plots, so Mike assumes some time has passed since he fell asleep. Harvey's sitting in his Grammy's recliner, which strikes Mike as a particularly absurd visual and cracks him right up. It could only be made better if there was knitting in hand.
Harvey leans forward to check Mike's pupil response with the penlight he keeps on his keys and then asks for the next line of the movie.
"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," Mike recites alongside Marlon Brando. For somebody that takes classic gangster movies as seriously as Harvey, he seems remarkably at ease with having handed Mike one of the most memorable lines in cinematic history on a silver platter. He really is off his game tonight.
"I'm not sure I can keep an associate with such an atrocious Corleone impression," Harvey says. "Now, what's the date?"
The next time, Harvey asks Mike to recite the alphabet in reverse.
"That's to test if you're drunk," Mike says.
"Are you telling me you can't do it?"
"Of course I can. That's not the point."
Harvey flicks the light on at 3:13. Mike's irritable before he even rolls over, moodier than mere sleep deprivation would cause. The desire to be comfortable won over the desire to be lazy two concussion checks ago, when he hobbled from the living room to the bedroom and curled up in the Mike-shaped impression in the pillows from before dinner. In the background, the third part of the trilogy plays quietly on the television. An open can of Dr. Pepper rests on his coffee table, a coaster underneath it. Mike doesn't even use coasters, and it's his damn table.
"I'm Mike Ross, you're Harvey Specter, it's 2012 and the president is Barack Obama. Now fuck off, I'm going back to bed."
Mike, headache, asshole. He's going to call this one 'Exhibit B' and hope that he hasn't been fired the next time he wakes up.
The vaguely homicidal tones of Mike's iPhone alarm ringtone sound late in the morning by weekday standards, coming in at nine on the dot. There's a piece of paper wrapped around the thin form, and he reads the note by LCD backlight rather than turning on the light switch.
Take a long weekend, I'll get one of the other associates to run the Hastings' financials. I don't want to see your ass in here until at least Monday. Ray can pick up anything you need in the meantime.
Also, text Donna before nine-thirty so she knows you're not dead.
Mike must look awful indeed if Harvey has put the never-before-seen phrase 'long weekend' into writing, but he's not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. If the worst comes to pass, if the memory loss isn't a fluke, if it doesn't go away—well. Mike's going to need a day.
Chapter 2: lost count of drinks and time
A towering evergreen overlooks the graves of James and Catherine Ross. The land in its shadow gets two hours of sun in the morning and a further two in the evening, leaving the grass in the area a rich and healthy green. It was a sapling when Mike was younger, branching out over time as he's come back over the years.
He hasn't visited since taking the job at Pearson Hardman, unsure if his change in fortune would last and unable to tell them until he was sure it would. That makes it at least a year since he last knelt before their gravestone to tell them of his life. The bouquet of fresh flowers he lays on the mantle is half apology for that, consisting of lilies for her and the brightest flowers the florist had in stock for him. James Ross was a man of questionable taste whose first principle of design was the louder the better.
They were killed in a car accident when he was young, much younger than the average person his age has memories of. If Mike is being honest, most of the information he has stored inside his head is useless outside a highly competitive game of Trivial Pursuit. What he's most afraid of losing is the sound of her laugh or the feel of his stubble, her love of reading or his talent for handiwork.
Each of the memories called come when called, so to speak, but they're different. He remembers remembering them differently. They used to play out before his eyes like a home video in 1080p, but now the focus is on his parents rather than the scene, the insignificant details fuzzy as a layer of sentiment calls up how he'd felt at the time. Six year old Mike had thought his father silly but had no qualms about belting out the opening bars to Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy with his Dad as they sang into a wooden spoon, splattering spaghetti sauce all across the counter. Seven year old Mike had been scared but focused on keeping his balance during that first unaided wobble down the street on his bike. The pride on her face had been entirely worth it.
It should give the memories a touch of nostalgia. It should be a gift. It should make him happy. In the end, it just troubles him. What's to keep those memories from degrading further? Who's to say he won't wake up tomorrow morning missing one of them, maybe two? Today he doesn't remember where the swear orange on the counter came from. Maybe tomorrow he'll forget the way his Dad drew out words like coffee, emphasizing the syllables differently. No program in the world can burn those moments to DVD. They don't sell external backup drives for your own mind.
If he can lose his oldest memories, the ones that matter most, what's to keep him from losing everything else, too?
Ray picks him up from the graveyard with a concerned eye for the sterile bandage taped to Mike's forehead, though he keeps his questions to himself. Mike tells him the whole story anyways. Aside from being the soul of discretion, Ray's a good listener. He asks all the right questions, makes sympathetic noises in all the right places, and doesn't laugh at Mike essentially tripping over his own feet (much.)
He does refuse to play Mike's country CD. Mike doesn't correct his assumption that the music is his usual fare. The last thing in the world he wants to tell Ray – the last thing in the world he wants to tell anyone – is that it reminds him of his Dad. He doesn't talk about them and people don't generally ask. It's a system that's worked for many years now.
Harvey's distinctive scrawl is all over the track list in the case resting on the passenger seat, meaning it's probably the CD they played on the ride in this morning. Mike settles for that instead.
"Where am I taking you?" Ray asks, signalling into traffic.
With everything that's on his mind, there's only one person in the world who might be able to cheer Mike up. "Rickling Rehabilitation and Nursing Centre, please."
There's nothing like a swift kick up the behind from his Grandma to snap him back into the right mindset.
A nurse is just clearing away the remains of his Grandmother's lunch tray when he knocks on the door to her room. Normally he'd treat her to either peanut butter cups or scotch mints as a snack, but she's on a restricted diet now. They haven't discussed it, but he knows it's because the new drug the doctors are trying is affecting her kidney function; sometimes Mike wishes he'd never seen her chart.
"Who is it?" she calls out to him. There's no way she could miss him standing in the doorway.
"Your favourite grandson," he says, already smiling.
"Couldn't be Mike. It's the middle of the work day, I'm almost positive he's off showing the other lawyers who's boss." Despite the number of stories he's told her, she remains convinced that his job consists solely of courtroom glamour rather than paperwork mountains. She has one of the caregivers keep a scrapbook of newspaper articles on the cases he's won. If anyone other than the firm were to be specifically named it would be Harvey, but she keeps them anyways. Privately, he thinks she uses it to brag about him to the other residents on the floor.
"My boss gave me the day off," he says, turning to give her a view of the bandage.
Her face softens immediately, and she gestures him towards her. "Come here, let me look at you." She shifts over on the bed to make room for him to sit, peeling the bandage back with careful fingers to reveal the stitches beneath. "Do I need to beat somebody up?"
Mike doesn't doubt that she'd do it. Give her a cane and the name of his assailant and she'd be set. "If anything, you'd be beating me up," he says wryly. He's not that clumsy a person as a rule. Of course, try telling her that after she lived through the adjustment period of his growth spurt. She clucks at the wound but covers it up again, releasing him to take his usual chair in the room.
"Tell me everything. But first, did you eat breakfast this morning?"
Mike can't lie to his Grandmother. He learned a long time ago that she has a sixth sense for things like that. Luckily for him, breakfast can be defined as anything from a couple of stale crackers and a glass of apple juice to leftover pizza. "Of course," he says.
"And it wasn't just cold pizza?"
"No, Grammy." He had an orange as well.
"Good. Now, tell me everything."
Mike doesn't make it back to his apartment until just before dinner, by which point both his wallet and his heart are ten times lighter than when he'd set out. There is no letting Edith Ross win at poker, there is only playing your hardest to be schooled anyways.
Only after he's finished cobbling together a small salad to go with his chicken fingers and taken the edge off his headache with a Tylenol does he let his mind drift back to work. His inbox is only a manageable beast when he keeps on top of things throughout the day, so he shudders to see what has become of it now.
The answer? 113 unread emails greet him upon sign in. Approximately half are of them are inbox fodder. He gets carbon copied on emails regarding any case he's worked, from confirmations that the client's administrative staff has received the relevant paperwork to invoices sent by the firm. The theory is that it will keep him apprised of any changes, but he doesn't bother reading them and he doesn't know of an associate who keeps up with them. Anything urgent is usually marked as such, anyways. Louis has a particular affection for mixing correct grammar with caps lock that is as baffling as it is amusing.
A further quarter are from the firm in general. Accounting needs billable hours in for the next pay period by noon at the latest, human resources is announcing that the mandatory seminars on workplace harassment will be taking place next week, and IT is warning that the firm's servers will be going down for two hours next week to do general maintenance.
Four have been filtered out as being from a partner other than Harvey. One of those is from Daniel Hardman, wishing him a speedy recovery from his concussion on behalf of the firm in general. Harvey has said that Hardman has a sinister plan and Mike would trust Harvey if he said the moon was made of cheese, but so far he hasn't seen a character other than that which Hardman is trying to convey: that of a reformed man. The others are from Louis. The subject lines refer to a competition of some sort, but Mike has no idea what he's talking about.
From: Louis Litt
Subject: OFFICIAL CONTEST RULES: First Annual Pearson Hardman Mock Case.
To: Group: Associates
In accordance with yesterday's announcement, next week Pearson Hardman will be holding its very first mock case. As the art of the mock trial tests your aptitude in front of a judge, this will test your skills outside the courtroom. It will require creativity, ingenuity, and a greater knowledge of the law than you peons usually demonstrate to me.
First thing Monday morning, each of you will receive identical case files and be given twenty-four hours to prepare a plan. The contest will take place in three stages: opening, middle, and endgame. After each stage, your plans will be judged by partners Jessica Pearson and Daniel Hardman on the basis of creativity, applicability, and ramifications going forward. The weakest performing associates will be eliminated after each round.
You may choose to work in a team, but in the end only one associate will be selected to work with one of the partners on an upcoming case. You may have heard rumours that it involves a Fortune 500 company. I can neither confirm nor deny these, but the winner may want to begin brushing up on recent developments in copyright law.
Anything stored behind either an electronic or physical lock is considered confidential. Breaking into another associate's desk or laptop will be considered cheating and disqualify you from the contest.
Everything else is fair game.
Good luck. Don't fail.
That explains the associates' email chain he's been copied on, some fifteen replies in length by his estimation. It's entitled 'Survivor: Pearson Hardman.' Amanda probably named it, since she has a thing for reality shows. Kyle might have as well, though. A contest where competitors vote each other off the island? On second thought, it was definitely Kyle.
More public pressure is the last thing Mike needs on his first day back at work since bleeding all over the office. After the disastrous ending of the mock trial, he has something to prove to the partners now. Changing a reputation is harder work than creating one from scratch, Harvey's treatment of Hardman shows him that.
The timing couldn't be worse. Where the associates might have united against the newest hire Steve, Mike's concussion will put him back into the limelight. And with the hit to his—
-- to his memory. Oh Jesus wept, his memory. It's not photographic currently, maybe not ever again if the condition persists; he hasn't entertained actually entertained the idea of this being long term yet.
What if he doesn't remember the law?
Mike doesn't need a day. He needs three years of law school.
Mike gets up early enough on Monday morning that the sunrise is still somewhere over the Atlantic. Sunday was even less productive than Saturday on the memory front. All those years it was just a party trick good for getting free beer in bars, but now that he's actually using it to make a living, it's dried up and left him up shit creek without a paddle.
He takes the long way into work, choosing to bike through the park rather than take the subway. The trees are eerily still in the aftermath of last night's rain, the streetlights overhead illuminating them with a soft glow that doesn't quite reach the shadows. He's always liked the damp, isolated feel of the calm after the storm, the ground soaked through and kicking up mud as he rides. This could be the last morning he travels this route. He can't be a lawyer with a fake degree if he doesn't have a very real knowledge of the law.
He's always known this day might come – it almost did, when Jessica found out – but he never thought it would happen this way. There's no blaze of glory, no noble sacrifice; there's just him and his memory (or lack thereof.) He wishes he'd never stepped in between Barbara and Mark Hastings, wishes he wasn't so clumsy, wishes he'd insisted on going to Louis' damn meeting and been nowhere near the conference room on Thursday morning. Life's never particularly cared what he wants before, though, and it's not about to start now. He lost his parents to a drunk driver, his scholarship to allegations of academic impropriety, and his best friend to drugs. Nothing lasts forever, he knows that. He just hoped this would last a little while longer.
It's still dark when he passes through the firm's lobby with a cup of coffee in hand and a nod to the lone security guard manning the desk at such an early hour. The only other people on the elevator ride up are traders from the investment firm a few floors above Pearson Hardman. They're always in early to prepare for the opening of the stock market. On the whole, you can pick them out of the crowd because they're jittery, just a tad on the wild eyed side. They never stop thinking, even when they're conversing. He doesn't recognize any of them, used to seeing the people who cover the Asian markets and head out around the time he usually gets in.
He worked the night shift once during college, and it screwed up his sleep schedule for months afterwards. He doesn't know how they manage, but he doubts much in the way of a social life is involved.
The bullpen's empty just as he hoped it would be. Even the most eager of the associates won't be in for another hour at minimum. When you work the amount of overtime they're expected to, you learn to sleep in when you can. It'll be their last respite for awhile with Survivor due to begin today and last the week.
Mike has no idea where they are on the Hastings divorce, but he always has a backlog of other work to keep him busy. As an associate, he's responsible for filing paperwork, writing briefs, and developing arguments. His work is thorough and when he's not working with Harvey, his turnaround time is second to none. Mid-levels and partners are starting to take note, and he's getting more and more requests for him to handle their documents specifically.
Assuming that it hasn't been reassigned, there's a set of company bylaws that need to be proofed from Fred Holmes calling Mike's name. Mike always jumps at the cases from Holmes' department of Mergers and Acquisitions. While the length of the assignments turns most associates off, Mike appreciates the extended deadlines, the documents often not needed for a week or more. The larger the company, the slower the change; legal work happens at a glacial pace on the corporate level, and Mike appreciates being able to leave the office while the sun is still in the sky once in awhile.
The yellow highlighter is for typos, the pink for small mistakes, and the blue for loopholes with the potential to bite the firm in the ass one day. On average, the breakdown on any given document is sixty percent yellow to thirty percent pink to ten percent blue. Mike's always been a statistics person, though, and he keeps a record of the partners' individual ratios. Harvey's ratios are 80:20:0, rounded; in the entire time he's been working here, Mike's taken the blue highlighter to Harvey's documents three times and it's just not enough to skew the ratios upwards. Paul Porter down in bankruptcy's are 50:30:20; his documents usually need another round of revisions before they can be finalized.
Six pages in with the pink cap in his mouth as he highlights the phrase 'a quorum shall consist of a majority of shareholders or representatives entitled to vote on shareholders' behalf' and clarifies majority to mean of outstanding stock rather than of individual persons, the clue-by-four hits him smack in the face.
Hiding from the cops in an interview for a newly minted lawyer with his briefcase of weed spread out on the floor beside him, Mike told Harvey, "Once I read something, I understand it." Mike doesn't need to remember everything he's ever read to retain his understanding of it. He's studied legal handbooks, taken tests, and written briefs. The law is something he's put his time into, something he's learned, something he knows independent of his ability to parrot it.
He's been a lawyer for just over a year now. Some of it had to stick.
The other associates begin to drift in just before eight, bright eyed and well rested. Many of them stop by Mike's desk to ask how he's feeling. They're actually a friendly bunch for the most part. New hires take a lot of shit as low man on the totem pole, but if you survive that then the late nights and early mornings they spend together engender a spirit of camaraderie and a culture of coffee runs. There's a system of unspoken rules that govern how they keep the peace with each other in the cutthroat world they've chosen. Stealing someone's case to get ahead is acceptable but ruining it is not, rounds at the bar are purchased in order of seniority, you don't talk about Fight Club. It's their Geneva Convention.
"Does it hurt?" Harold asks, staring openly at the wound. Mike's covered it up as best he can, slapping a band aid over the line of stitches that's mostly hidden behind his fringe, but it's still visible if you're looking for it.
"I bet Mark Hastings took a swing at you," Kyle surmises. "Specter would orchestrate a cover-up to keep that quiet." There were no witnesses to the accident outside of the room, but the office grapevine has never let that get in the way of a good story before and it's not about to start now. It's a double edged sword, often as wildly off base as it is accurate. Mike can't wait until the focus moves onto somebody else.
"Good morning, ladies and gentleman," Louis bellows, striding into the bullpen. He's never happier than when he's addressing the associates, more comfortable ordering people about than relating to them. He's kind of a dick, but then so is Harvey. At least Louis didn't leverage confidential information from his Grandmother's medical file to win a case.
"The moment you have all been waiting for has arrived! Meet your client: thirty-eight year old Justin Hayes, CEO of Arrowhead. The company is suing rival tech company PrecisionTech for infringing the company's patent with a new GPS-enabled running shoe they're developing. The catch: you must settle this case without going to trial."
Mike listens carefully, paying attention to the way Louis phrases things. The details will all be in the file, but the ground rules laid down now will set the stage for the rest of the week. Don't go to trial is not the same thing as don't threaten to go to trial, in the same way that the threat of filing for sanctions is better than actually filing for sanctions. There's a lot of mileage to be gotten out of threatening without acting. It's something he expects the other associates to struggle with, most of whom cut their first legal teeth in a New York courtroom somewhere.
"Sorry to interrupt, Louis," Harvey says, leaning against the open doorframe casually as he calls attention to himself. He doesn't look sorry in the slightest. "I need to borrow Mike here for a few minutes. We have a case."
"Partners were instructed not to assign any new work to the associates for the duration of the mock case," Louis objects.
"But this isn't new work. This is a continuation of the case he was working on for me last week, which was assigned before this competition was announced." He looks pleased with himself, a smile on his face that doesn't so much straddle the line between charming and smug as it embodies it.
Louis looks frustrated. Angry Mike could deal with, but frustrated doesn't sit right. Mike will confess to not understanding the rivalry between Louis and Harvey, but this is Louis' moment. The Hastings case will wait a few minutes.
"This is my bad Harvey, I should have warned you I'd be a little late this morning. We're just getting the details on the mock case now. I'll be in your office with the Hastings file in ten minutes, tops."
Harvey fixes him with a look that says he knows exactly what stunt Mike is pulling and is unimpressed with his diction, his attire, and his life choices, but isn't going to call him out on it. In public, at least; Mike's sure there's a lecture waiting for him behind closed doors.
For a spit second, Louis looks completely poleaxed. He recovers smoothly though, drawing himself up to his full height. "Yes, well…stay on the ball next time, Ross. As I was saying, you must settle this case without going to trial. Hayes' company is negotiating a merger and any problems with their flagship product could cause shareholders to pull out, keeping the merger from going through."
The room is quiet as Louis he pushes his sleeve up to look at his watch, the associates lying in wait for a more concrete dismissal. "What are you waiting for?" Louis asks. "The case files are on the cart behind me. Your twenty-four hours began thirty seconds ago."
Mike manages to escape the dog pile at the cart with all his limbs intact and a copy of the case file to boot, but it is a near thing. He brings it with him when he goes to see Harvey. Just because he's friendly with the other associates doesn't mean he trusts them. He learned his lesson about playing by the honour code during the mock trial.
Donna stops him before he can enter Harvey's office, beckoning him over. "How's the head?" she asks quietly, tone warm as she turns away from her computer screen to give him her full attention.
"I still have a bit of a headache," he admits.
"Do you actually, or are you just going to tell him that so he'll go easy on you?"
There's no judgement in her tone, just curiosity, so he answers honestly. "Mostly the second. What are my chances of it actually working?"
She just laughs. "Oh you don't even know, do you? Mike, he stomped around the firm in a snit all of Friday because the associate they stuck him with didn't recognize a line from Highlander. Of course, he also finished the briefs two hours later than expected, but it was mostly the first that pissed Harvey off."
Mike doesn't know what to make of that, so he opts for not saying anything at all. It's usually the safer option.
Harvey's waiting impatiently when Mike pushes the door to his office open, arms crossed over his chest disapprovingly. He doesn't say anything about Thursday's events or Mike's kindness towards Louis today when he hands over the file.
"Wait, you were serious about the case?" Mike asks, flipping the folder open.
"I'm always serious," Harvey says, like fifty percent of the things he does aren't solely for appearance's sake. "As it turns out, what Barbara Hastings thought was her husband hiding funds to screw her in the prenup was an employee of Natrulife embezzling from the company. We need to track down who did it and look into getting those funds back. I need you to go through the company's books more closely and see if you can find anything while I go see the happy couple to find out if they know anything about this."
"Louis did tell you about the mock case, right? All the partners are watching? The impression I make now will last, I need to do well? Are any of the things you told me during the mock trial ringing a bell now?"
"So do both," Harvey says, like it's easy, like splitting his time is something that worked so well for Mike the last time.
"It's my first day back at work and my head hurts," Mike points out. "No sympathy whatsoever?"
"That's why I bought you the economy sized pack of Tylenol," Harvey says, referring to the supplies he picked up for Mike on Thursday night. "For moments just like this."
"Yeah, you're a giver."
He crosses paths with Rachel on his way out of Harvey's office and keeps right on walking, hoping that she won't notice. She's going to want to talk about his memory loss, and Mike's got more on his mind than hashing out in gory detail exactly how screwed he is. Rock, meet hard place. Luck is not on his side today, though, and she calls out to him.
"Mike. Hey, Mike!" she yells after him, her heels sounding more quickly as she speeds up.
When it becomes clear that he's not going to outpace her without breaking into a run, he stops to let her catch up. "Oh, hey Rachel! I didn't hear you calling."
"Right," she says slowly, drawing the word out in a way that suggests she knows he's full of shit. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better, I wasn't sure if you'd be in today."
"You know Louis, you're not exempt from mandatory meetings unless you're bleeding."
"And then not unless you're about to pass out, yeah, I know," she smiles. "Want to grab lunch? You can tell me all about what this thing I hear they call a long weekend is like."
There's no way to say no without looking like he's avoiding her even though that's exactly what he's doing, so Mike accepts that he's going to spend an hour at a restaurant he's never heard of before eating food he can't pronounce but which is delicious anyways. Rachel's a reliable lunch partner like that.
"Sure, sounds great," he agrees.
Their walk takes them past the conference room where it all began. He's surprised to find the room still roped off. It's not like it had been a crime scene, so he'd expected that maintenance would have cleaned it up by now so they can all carry on with their lives.
Closer inspection reveals the table's been pushed up against the far wall under the projector. There's a crack in the frame that Mike suspects matches the one in his head. The chairs are scattered around it, leaving the room looking barren. The carpet has been rolled up and shoved unceremoniously in the corner, clearing the way for two workers to measure the dimensions of the room for its replacement.
"When they had trouble getting the blood stain out, Harvey insisted they replace the whole thing," Rachel says quietly. "I've never seen him that upset before."
Chapter 3: in one moment, it all implodes
Lunch takes place at a small deli ten minutes from the office, its entrance easy to miss beside the mammoth sized Starbucks it borders. They serve the single most perfect Reuben Mike's ever had the privilege of consuming.
"I don't get it," he says around a mouthful of sandwich, "what are they seasoning their Thousand Island dressing with?"
Rachel stops picking at her BLT, having worked up the courage to say what she needs to. "Look, Mike…I'll confess I had an ulterior motive for asking you to lunch today. I know you might not want to talk about it, but I'd like it if we could."
He swallows abruptly, preparing himself for a conversation that promises to be unpleasant from start to finish. "Look, Rachel…"
She cuts him off. "I took the LSATs a few weeks ago. I know it's awkward, it's a taboo topic between us since you used to cheat for people, but I just needed to tell somebody."
That is…not what he was expecting. Then again, Mike's track record tends towards episodes of self-centeredness when his position as a lawyer is threatened. He keeps his head in a crisis only when that crisis doesn't threaten him personally. "Rachel, that's great!" She still looks dubious, so he keeps going. "No, seriously, I'm happy for you! I didn't even know you were thinking about trying again."
"I didn't want to tell anybody in case it didn't go well," she says.
"Does that mean it did?"
"I won't know for sure until the results go up at the end of the week, but I feel good about it. I took your advice and stopped psyching myself out over every minor detail, I didn't run out of time…I know it's not graded, but I've been a paralegal for six years so I know my writing sample was kickass." She looks happy -- more than happy, she's practically glowing, nervous though she is.
"Rachel Zane, attorney at law. It has a nice ring to it. I want a business card when you have them made, I'll put it on my fridge," Mike says.
She laughs. "First though, I wanted to ask how you would've answered this multiple choice question…"
He returns from lunch to find that someone has placed a tiki torch with a battery powered light beside each associate's desk. Mike inspects his own carefully, which has a sign labelled 'ROSS' taped to its body. It looks like somebody made a trip to the dollar store over lunch.
"Does Louis know about this?" he asks.
"I'm almost positive he's responsible for it," Harold mutters.
That turns out to be false; a partition separates Mike's desk from Amanda's and he sees the plastic bag tucked underneath her chair when he passes by. He rolls with it anyways, since the display is less likely to be taken down if people assume it comes from a partner. He likes the acknowledgement that they're competing primarily for the entertainment of an audience.
Plus, it adds a little ambiance to the dull workspace that is his second home on nights like this one is shaping up to be.
"I assume your request for a leave of absence will be crossing my desk shortly?" Mike realizes three things in a very short period of time: 1) there is somebody other than Steve with him in the bullpen; 2) the object of realization number one is speaking to him; 3) the voice of realization number two belongs to Harvey. That's as far as the train of logic gets before Mike processes Harvey's words and his heart stops, because what a leave of absence means is that something in Mike's life has changed and Harvey isn't expecting Mike to come into work as a result.
"Why's that?" Mike asks. Harvey betrays nothing sinister in his posture as he leans against Mike's cubicle, hands clasped loosely and hanging over the wall.
"It looks like you've missed your calling in reality TV," Harvey says, slow and easy.
Oh. The tiki torch, Survivor, Harvey is making a joke. He should probably respond to that. "What can I say, Jeff Probst does it for me."
"I'll add that to the list of things I didn't need to know about you," Harvey says around a smile. He's different at night, more indulgent and less formal. He's no less the slick, well groomed, charmingly manipulative closer that he is in the daytime, it's just that the night makes him something more. It only adds.
"I dropped by Natrulife's corporate offices today to have a talk with the Hastings. Both of them say they knew nothing about the embezzlement and I believe them, but the high employee turnover during the recent economic crisis gives us too wide a suspect list. What did the financials turn up?"
"I'm still working on them. So far it looks like most of the money came out of R&D. I found lists of supplies that were paid for but not received, invoices for testing there's no records of, and employees who only exist on paper. There's no record of them signing employee contracts, filing for the company's health insurance, or attending department meetings."
"You aren't through with those yet? I guess the mock case means more to you than the Hastings," Harvey comments.
Mike recognizes that Harvey's pulled his punch in the same breath as he doubts Harvey was aware there was even a punch to pull. The cruellest version of what he said is a cross between 'than the couple who saved your life' and 'than the couple who paid your medical bills.' Between the firm's health insurance and Mike's savings it's a bill he could manage nowadays, but it's something that would have crippled him even a year ago. That's the kind of distinction that's always going to matter. It's not a battle he wants to fight, something too steeped in history to make it worth the effort, but it gets Mike's hackles up. "I've been so busy with your work that I haven't even looked at the mock case yet, and I need a plan that's going to impress the Pearson and Hardman of Pearson Hardman by tomorrow morning!"
In lieu of a response, Harvey turns his attention to the open bankers box on the desk containing the Natrulife financials. Mike's system for keeping track of what files he's read through is not a particularly complicated one, and Harvey pulls the smaller pile of the two piles out. "Contract renewals are next week. If our embezzler is still with the company, we need to catch them before that without tipping them off that we're on to them. Finish your stack, I'll handle these. Who was head of R&D in 2003? I'll start there."
Shit. The current head is Lauren Chavez, but she only took the position in 2008. The head in 2003 was…Ralph? Rick? The name must have been on two dozen of the documents that Mike's read, but he's blanking on the name. It's eminently frustrating and if this is what everyone else's memory is like, Mike doesn't know why they haven't snapped at him yet for his lack of patience. "I haven't gotten that far yet," Mike covers, and Harvey actually looks up from the file he's reading to stare at him.
"Hey, so the associates are ordering dinner tonight from that little Italian place I know you like – oh don't look at me like that, last time you ate all of your portion and then some of mine. Do you want anything?" As far as diversions go, this one is so far under water it's keeping company with the Marianas Trench. Mike only escapes unscathed because Harvey's the kind of person who doesn't call a bluff until he knows what's behind it. It's a postponement, not a deflection, and Mike has absolutely no idea what he's going to do when he runs the clock out.
Mike finishes up with the Natrulife financials just as the food gets there and the remaining associates descend upon the delivery man with all the fervour of the truly hungry. Roughly half have already left for the day, either satisfied with their strategies or putting the finishing touches on it within the comforts of their own home. The remaining few are working on other things as Mike is under the precedent Harvey established this morning. Aaron was tapped for a case by a partner in Real Estate last week and Steve's been putting extra hours in for the past week or so trying to get up to speed.
Mike wants to tell Steve what nobody told him: things will get easier as you get better. Now that time has passed, he understands why it's not something they tell the new kids. Some lessons have to be learned firsthand, and this is one of them.
He drops by Harvey's office, pulling up just short of knocking on the door to announce his arrival. It's something he does when he's nervous. Worse, it's something Harvey knows he does when he's nervous.
The bag with both their meals in it is balanced on top of the box of files, and Mike's proud that he manages to set it down on the corner of the table without spilling anything. "Food's here," he says, setting the box on the couch to make room. "I didn't find anything else in the financials. How are your files going?"
"I'm almost positive the head of R&D – Randy Miller, by the way – is our guy. I'm gathering a folder of evidence to bring to the Hastings on Thursday," Harvey says. He looks at Mike oddly when he says the name, which doesn't make sense. Mike is sure he kept the internal head slap over the name – not Ralph, not Rick, Randy, goddamnit – off his face.
"That's great! Well, not really, he's ripped them off for at least three million, but you know what I mean. If that's settled, I'm going to start working on the mock case then," he says, backing up towards the door. It sounds rushed to his ears. He can only imagine what it sounds like to Harvey's.
He has one hand on the door when Harvey calls his name. He turns back slowly, poker face firmly in place.
"Mike, is there anything you want to tell me?" Harvey says. He's looking at Mike the way they look at clients, like he knows there's a problem and it would be in Mike's best interest just to tell him now. There's one key difference, though; while Harvey makes his client's problems go away, his solution in this case likely involves making Mike go away.
Mike remembers when Jessica found out, when Harvey said 'sit down' and 'listen' and in the split second before he followed it up with 'I'm proud of you' he'd looked not annoyed but resigned, and Mike had known. Harvey had been planning on firing him. If he tried that once, there's nothing stopping him from doing it again, is there? It isn't as if he knows what made Harvey change his mind the first time. He doubts WWHD is what did it. Harvey's entirely too satisfied with himself to need Mike's ego boosts.
"No," he says.
When Mike walks out the door, he doesn't look back.
That night, Mike curls up on the couch with a beer in hand and a fully charged laptop at the ready. He spends one hour on the mock case and three researching concussions. There's no point in impressing the partners if he doesn't expect to last the month, anyways. One of the other associates can have the win as his parting gesture of good will. Preferably Harold; Kyle and Amanda formed an alliance while Mike was out of the office this morning and have been lording it over the other associates ever since, like they expect they'll make it to the final two through the power of their combined intellect alone. If only this mirrored the setup of Survivor a little more closely and Mike could actually vote them off the island.
Wikipedia, WebMD, and the Mayo Clinic all conclude that there is nothing conclusive whatsoever about post-concussion syndrome except for what he already knows. It blows chunks. The effects could just as easily last months as they could go away tomorrow, assuming that some seriously fucking specific retrograde amnesia is an effect. Retroactive loss of eidetic memory? He's not sure what the name would be for what he's experiencing, if it even exists.
The internet is too busy arguing over the logistics of a photographic memory to troubleshoot it. Everyone and their uncle seems to have an opinion; in one thread alone, Mike finds an armchair neurologist claiming that it isn't biologically possible, one person who claims to have it (and a resulting three people who call troll), and someone who took an intro to psych course in college fretting about the psyche of someone who never forgets a thing. Mike's psyche is doing just fine, thanks for the concern, although it'd be better off if his memory were to return.
He can't fake it indefinitely. That barely worked today, when he had the immediacy of the injury on his side. Looking up precedents and double-checking facts takes time that he's never needed to account for before, and the other partners are going to notice the increase in turnaround time. Sooner or later, Harvey's going to call on him to recite something from memory and Mike's going to be caught red handed. He already suspects something.
His job is hanging by a thread of indeterminate length, and Mike…Mike needs to cut the cord before somebody else can do it for him. He owes Harvey that much.
He'll give it the week; seven days, 168 hours, 10 080 minutes. If his memory hasn't returned by Friday afternoon, he'll come clean to Harvey and resign from Pearson Hardman. Until then, the only way to keep the secret is to keep as much distance from him as possible.
Avoiding Harvey Specter for the day is a multi-faceted effort that involves a high degree of cunning. It's a mere coincidence that all Mike's cunning culminates in a handwritten note left on Harvey's desk informing him that he's tied up in mock case proceedings all morning and has a doctor's appointment all afternoon.
To be fair, he has to get it past Donna by convincing her that the note really wants to be on Harvey's desk and Mike is only the conveyor of its wishes. When that fails, he agrees to refer to Harvey as the Commander within her hearing by the end of the week. (She won't tell him why, and he's not entirely sure he wants to know.)
"Did anybody get the license plate of the truck that hit me? I want to sue."
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"I see dead people."
Mike has never wanted to bless Louis' dramatic tendencies before, but he might have to rethink that stance now. While the partner's motivation for judging the first round of Survivor in the library was likely opening the venue to anyone with even a passing interest in the law to witness the partners' systematic erosion of the associates' arguments, confidence, and self-esteem, it works out in their favour. At least it leaves them the bullpen as a safe haven where they can lick their wounds. Mike's plan had been the strongest and even he hadn't escaped unscathed.
Each team had been expected to defend their plan to the partners as they assessed its strengths and weaknesses bluntly. It's almost worse that they were polite from start to finish, tailoring their comments to each associate's level of experience. The well rounded critique is an art Jessica Pearson has mastered, and she always leaves Mike with the feeling that while she believes he has potential, he has wholly underwhelmed her and she expects him to do better next time.
"Steve, Aaron," Amanda croaks. She clears her throat and stands up a little taller, visibly composing herself before striding across the room. "The partners have spoken. It's time for you to go." With that, she flicks the off switch on the back of their plastic torches.
For a long minute, nobody moves. Most of the people in this room (read: everyone except Mike) have been through four years of undergrad and three years at the prestigious Harvard Law. Now they spend their days parodying reality shows. It seems eminently ridiculous; in the end, that's the best part. The tension breaks as suddenly as it had formed as one associate laughs and then another, with Mike joining in just as the first wave of post-adrenaline hysteria sweeps the room.
"Losers buy first round at Chaser's tonight," Kyle announces, grabbing the coat off the back of his chair. "Hey Ross, you in?"
It makes the most sense to go. The concussion proved Mike's pickings for an emergency contract are alarmingly slim, and making friends at work is likely the only way it's going to happen with the hours they keep. On the other hand, he doesn't need anyone else to ask why he's quitting if the worst does as it tends to do and comes to pass.
Rachel may not understand, but she'll get over it with time. Harvey's going to be the hardest. After all this time, after everything Mike's said ("Maybe it's time I started trusting someone else.") and everything Harvey's done ("What makes you think I'm not fighting for you?"), it'll be time for Mike to ask one last favour of Harvey Specter. He wants – he needs – to bow out gracefully from this one, to take a fall on his sword for someone he cares about just one last time.
"Can't, I have a date with the SEC's rules for disclosing non-liquid assets," Mike says, enduring the good natured 'ooh' that is his due as the associates filter out until only Harold remains, standing in front of Mike's desk awkwardly.
"Hey, uhm, do you need any help with that?"
"With the…SEC?" Mike asks blankly.
"Yeah. I could use some more experience with corporate tax law and you've looked really tired ever since you came back. It's win-win." He's not even trying to leverage it. Mike has absolutely no idea how he's survived this long. Consciously, he knows the soul of a hardened lawyer lurks behind that sincerity – Harold's plan took third behind Mike's and the Kyle/Amanda alliance's – but he's not there yet.
"I have this handled, but you can help with Holmes' bylaws if you want."
"That's the Trent merger?" Harold asks. When Mike nods, Harold digs the files out of the mess on the cart and settles in to work beside him.
Bona fide lawyer or not, Mike knows one thing for sure. Harvey would eat Harold alive.
Mike's options for avoiding Jessica in the hallway include ducking into a nearby storage closet or pretending to be talking on the phone. Since the first is a little desperate and the second rude seeing as she is the managing partner of the firm, he sucks it up and nods politely at her as she passes.
"Mr. Ross," she says, turning to face him head on. He realizes that she intends to chat with him too late, and abruptly reconsiders the supply closet option. She's more intimidating now not because she knows for sure he's a fraud but because he's seen firsthand just how skilled she is. The moment his presence becomes disadvantageous, he's out on his ass.
"You did well today. Showing that you were prepared to go to trial before offering PrecisionTech an alternative was an innovative idea, if it a little risky. It could just as easily have backfired and lost you the competition. What made you think it wouldn’t?"
The truth is that he hadn't been sure it would work, at least not fully. He'd hoped it would, not only because being tied up with the mock case is integral to avoiding Harvey until Friday. "I've seen it before," he says instead.
"Hmm." It might not be the right answer, but it certainly doesn't seem to be what she was expecting. He can't judge from her tone whether she's impressed or not, which is just as well. Jessica's the kind of person whose good opinion you find yourself desiring, and he'd rather not know if her estimate of him just went down.
"Have a good evening, Mr. Ross."
"You too, Ms. Pearson."
Donna struts into the bullpen just as Harold's finished the last of Mike's busy work and taken off to join the other associates in getting tipsy but not plastered. Literally, she struts; it's impossible not to in the heels she's wearing, three inches tall with thin blue straps encircling her foot all the way up to the ankle. The matching evening gown drapes over one shoulder and falls just above her knees. Her long hair has been swept into a casual updo, a diamond clip holding it neatly in place. She looks like a woman on a mission, and it's one of the hottest things he's even seen.
"What's the occasion?"
She raises one eyebrow. "Who says I need an occasion?"
"Nobody, absolutely nobody. Anybody who's ever said that is wrong and I--."
"That's enough, kid," she says, but she's smiling. "There's a benefit tonight for the American Cancer Society. Anyways, I thought you were taking the rest of the day off after your doctor's appointment?"
He frowns. "I left that note on Harvey's – right, never mind," he cuts himself off, because she's crossed her arms and he's remembered exactly who he's dealing with here; Donna and her infinite wisdom keep track of anything with the ability to affect her and hers. "I had some work to finish up, you know how it is."
She inclines her head. "I do."
Fuck, he's going to miss her. Plenty of people understand the demands of the job but not one of them understands the demands of working for Harvey the way that she does. She is Harvey's lexicon and his conscience, and that is only the part that Mike's gotten to know. People that only see her attitude do a disservice to her heart. Knowing Donna, she probably likes it that way. "Donna – if I don't get a chance later, I just want you to know…you're a wonderful person, and I'm honoured to know you."
He holds her eyes as she searches his. What she's looking for is a mystery to him. She's not often serious, alike with Harvey in that respect, and he doesn't know quite what to do with her full attention on him. "Mike, is everything okay?" she asks quietly.
It was his last comment that did it, Mike thinks. Harvey's team functions on a diet of sarcasm and pop culture references. Any deviation from the norm is bound to catch attention. "Fine. Everything's fine."
He means it to be reassuring, but the line in her forehead just deepens, the corner of her mouth turning down at the corner. He's never seen quite that look on her face before. If he had to guess, he'd say she's debating whether or not to say something, but that doesn't make sense. Donna's the kind of person who says what she's thinking like it's her philosophy on life. "If you ever need to talk, I'm here. Anything you tell me stays between us. I promise you the Commander will never know."
"Are you ever going to tell me why Harvey hates being called that?"
"It's not my secret to tell. Which proves my point."
There isn't much he can say when she's offering what he wants most but can't have. He doesn't doubt that she'd keep her word, but he doesn't want to put her in a position where she has to lie to Harvey. It's not an easy task. Harvey figures it out eventually, and then he sulks. For ages. When you're in the right, it's unbearable. When you're in the wrong, it's even worse.
She knows that something's wrong, he knows that she knows, and to deny it now would disrespect them both. He settles for saying, "I'll keep that in mind."
"You do that," she says quietly, the affection in her tone compensating for Mike's inability to form words. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mike."
"See you tomorrow, Donna."
Wednesday morning finds them gathered in the library again for the judging of Survivor's round two, when they find out whether their responses to the countersuit levied at them by PrecisionTech have been enough to keep their heads off the chopping block.
Mike sees money change hands behind the scene because he's looking for it. Aaron's running the unofficial betting pool on the outcome. He wonders what his odds are, his mock trial record poor but his reputation that of Harvey Specter's golden boy.
"You ready for this, Mike?" Harold whispers as Jessica calls for the crowd's attention.
"Is anybody?" Mike whispers back.
In a move so widely regarded as historic that it will be part of office legend by the end of the day, the Kyle and Amanda alliance goes down in flames when they try and backstab the other at the same point in the proceedings. In further evidence that Mike doesn't Get It in the manner expected of him, the two of them laugh about it with each other afterwards. On the bright side, it means Harold and Mike advance to the final two by default and Mike doesn't have to think past the panic of the wrenches they're sure to throw.
Hardman falls into step with him on the way back. Mike's not an idiot. He can see that Daniel wants to have a conversation in the same way that Jessica did, and he turns right towards Daniel's office rather than left towards the bullpen.
"Please, have a seat."
Mike feels oddly vulnerable seated while Daniel remains standing, but sees no other option. To refuse someone who is essentially his boss would be rude without proper cause other than the unsettling feeling he gets in the pit of his stomach when he thinks about what Harvey told him. The man who stands before him with his hands clasped behind him disarmingly is the same man who lied about using stolen money to help his ailing wife and used it to pay off his mistress instead.
He has to believe that people can change. Rachel's taking on the LSATs again and she'll continue to do so until she passes. Harvey switched career tracks from a civil servant in the District Attorney's office to a high paid private lawyer. On his own, Mike is a poster boy for a major life upheaval. Devil's advocate says that these are false equivalencies, that Rachel has possessed the kind of stubbornness all along which had doomed their relationship from the start but will serve her well as a lawyer, that Harvey left because of his ethics and not his finances, that all Mike really needed was a kick in the pants to get his life back on track.
"I see Harvey is teaching you well." There's no hidden meaning in the statement that Mike can find, no subtle insults. Mike wonders how Hardman can work so easily with the people who blackmailed him out of his own firm. If he has any malice towards them, he's hiding it well.
"I'm learning a lot from him."
"Your performance this week has been…impressive," Hardman compliments him. His casual lap of the room brings him by the small bar tucked into the corner. "Drink?"
"I'm good. And thank you, sir."
Hardman nods an acknowledgement, making his way back to his desk. Mike notes that he doesn't pour himself a drink, either. "I wonder if you'd be interested in working on a case with me. Next week when the mock trial is finished, of course. I wouldn't want to overwork you."
"I was hired as Harvey's associate, so I usually work his cases," Mike says carefully. He's in over his head with this conversation and there's no way he can see to end it without declaring his loyalty is to Harvey first. While it's true, it's also a card he can't take back later.
"I'm sure he can manage without you for a little while."
By necessity, Mike's the kind of person who makes split-second decisions. It's both how he ended up running from the cops and how he pulled himself out of it. Time is a luxury and there's no guarantee he'd be any closer to an answer after its passing.
"I'm in, then," he says. If he's not here next week then none of this will matter for him anyways, but how he leaves things with Hardman will have repercussions for Harvey going forward. It's better not to sour that already brittle relationship unless he absolutely has to.
"Excellent. I'll let Harvey know by the end of the day."
"Let me know what?" Harvey says. His voice is closer than Mike expects, and he turns to find Harvey strolling into the room casually.
Hardman keeps a bland expression, voice never deviating from baseline mellow with just a hint of disapproving. "This is my office, Harvey."
"And this is my associate. The door was open."
"That isn't an invitation."
"My mistake." Harvey stops just short of the desk, resting one hand on the back of Mike's chair in a casual but unmistakeably possessive gesture.
"Mike, you're late for our meeting with the Hastings. Ray's waiting downstairs," Harvey says. He only has eyes for Hardman, the two of them locked in a battle that has very little to actually do with Mike. The meeting he's supposedly late for is bullshit. It might very well exist because Harvey's smart that way, but this is also the first Mike's heard of it. He's not about to contradict Harvey though, not when he's coiled this tight.
The tight line of tension in Harvey's shoulders reads like a storm brewing on the horizon. Mike's never seen Harvey quite like this, the thrown gauntlet almost vulgar in its openness. Mike's on his feet without thinking, only hesitating when Harvey remains in place. "Are you--?"
"I'll meet you there. I need a minute."
Harvey's not the kind of guy who needs backup or the kind who would appreciate Mike sticking around to provide some anyways, but it isn't until he tears his attention away from Daniel and nods crisply that Mike feels comfortable leaving.
Chapter 4: there's joy not far from here
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Ray doesn't look at all bothered when five minutes pass and Harvey's nowhere in sight.
"I was hoping I'd see you today, Mike. How do you feel about a compromise?" Ray asks, holding a CD up between thumb and forefinger.
Mike's not quite sure what this compromise entails, but it isn't as if he usually has control over what type of music is played in the car. This makes for a refreshing change. "That sounds good."
As the opening notes to the Doobie Brothers' Black Water begin, Mike realizes what he was getting at. This is Ray's way of making up for refusing to play Mike's country music earlier. Harvey sure knows how to pick his friends. They finish out the track and half of The Devil Went Down to Georgia before Harvey slides in smoothly beside Mike, buttons his jacket, and tells Ray they're ready to go.
He looks angry, not the imminent blow up of something that will fade as quickly as it had risen but the slow fuse burn. He's simmering, Mike realizes, and whatever had transpired in that office after he left hadn't been enough because Harvey's not the type of person who lets his temper idle. He gets even, exacting a price for wrongs either witnessed or perceived. Mike may be a numbers person, but Harvey's the one who keeps track.
"In my two years with the District Attorney's office, I handled just over eighteen thousand cases," Harvey says. While his eyes are focused on a point just outside the window, Mike is almost positive that's not what he's seeing. Harvey's years before Pearson Hardman are something he Does Not Talk About but his years working under Cameron Dennis, working alongside him, learning from him, being mentored by him…they fall under the special clause of No, Seriously.
There are skeletons in Mike's closet that need never see the light of day again. He gets it.
"That means I've seen everything. Nothing fazes me anymore." When Harvey turns, Mike sees that his mood has changed in tone. He looks solemn. Harvey takes all his cases seriously but this is something different. This is a promise. This is what it looks like when Harvey brings the full weight of the best closer in New York to bear, a reputation whose whispers don't stray far from the truth. Mike's unbelievably glad he isn't the cause of this mood, clueless as he is to what that might actually be.
"Gabby Stone. You found out her company was setting her up for insider training. Quentin Sands. You found out he wouldn't have tampered with the ALS drug because he had it himself." Then, because Mike is a good and thorough student, he presses until it hurts. "Mike Ross. You found out he was a college dropout who'd passed the bar anyways."
Harvey looks at him like he's completely lost the plot. "And you think these fazed me? No. I proved Gabby's innocence, saved Quentin's drug, and as for you…you're still here, aren't you?"
Mike already knows those things. That was kind of the point. He'd thought this was Harvey in a moment of weakness and come prepared to do battle with evidence of all he has seen Harvey's accomplish. Instead it's a show of strength, and Mike cannot for the life of him figure out why now. He's never doubted that Harvey's capable of these feats.
This, Mike concludes, is the point where he realizes that while Harvey's intentions are drifting along at cruising altitude, he remains firmly landlocked.
"It's impossible to solve a problem if you don't know it exists. I do better with more information, not less," Harvey continues.
He can't know just how close he is to the truth, Mike reasons. If he knew that Mike's photographic memory is gone, Mike would know, and they would be having a conversation about that. Say what you want about Harvey, but he doesn't leave people in limbo.
"We are going to see the Hastings, right? That wasn't just a ploy to free me from Hardman's clutches?" In deference to his confusion, Mike leaves his response intentionally open ended so they can either transition into talking about the case or Harvey can continue being vague in a way that's disgustingly unbecoming.
Mike really hopes he goes with option number one. Tomorrow's the day he's set himself to resign, but if Harvey doesn't stop being passive aggressive in an unusually sympathetic way then Mike's going to be forced to move that timetable up just to put himself out of his misery. Looking upon his time at Pearson Hardman fondly is dangerous, since he already knows the benefits of the position outweigh the detrimental effects it has on his life outside of work. Give Mike enough time to see his Grandmother and enough money to support her, then everything else is gravy. The chance to put the legal knowledge locked up inside his head while helping people to boot is the entire accompanying turkey dinner.
He doesn't want to resign, not really, but his only other option for staying includes blackmailing Harvey into letting him stay. It would probably work, but only for a little while, and it would burn that bridge in a spectacular fashion. It was something he was willing to do on day one, but it's out of the question now.
"Yeah," Harvey says. "As it turns out, Mark and Barbara want to see the guy whose life they saved."
Crap. Mike had forgotten that part.
Mark gets to his feet when he sees them enter, making his way over with a smile on his face. When Mike ducks his head obligingly to give him a better look at the wound, Mark critiques the ER doctor's suturing technique absentmindedly. It's not the weirdest thing someone's said in response to his head wound (that award goes to Steve, who had suggested he thinks the day off would be worth the injury; Mike thinks Steve should be impressed he held his first breakdown of the job off for so long), but it's right up there.
"How are you feeling?" Barbara asks, and he turns to find her sitting on the couch, glass of wine in hand. It's a little early in the day to be drinking at only half past two. She must catch him staring, because she feels the need to explain. "Harvey tells us you've found out who's responsible. I know my employees too well for there to be a comforting answer."
"I'm doing well, thank you for asking," Mike says. "And for – well, everything else."
"It was nothing." Barbara waves him off, standing to get her own look at Mike's stitches. "It looks like those are healing nicely. They'll be coming out shortly, then?"
"I have an appointment for Friday."
"If we're all done fawning over my associate, I believe we have some things to discuss." As usual, there's no real bite to Harvey's tone. Flippant comes second only to charm in his standard list of responses.
"Tell me about Randy Miller…"
In the car on the way back to the firm, Harvey's too busy gloating in a job well done to pick up the threads of their earlier conversation.
"They're thinking about reconciling," he says to Mike, a smug grin on his face. And Mike's the one who cares too much about his clients. Yeah, sure.
"Oh my god. You're secretly a romantic, aren't you?" He can picture it now, Harvey rooting for the star crossed lovers to overcome the odds and find their happily ever after. "Be honest, did the Notebook make you cry?"
"I'm offended that you think I've seen that movie."
"I'm going to take that as a yes."
Rachel accosts Mike as soon as they step off the elevator, taking his hand and dragging him down the hallway after her. Mike shoots an amused look at Harvey over his shoulder as he follows obediently, and Harvey mostly fails at making his eye roll appear something other than tolerant. Harvey was never even remotely on board with the Mike and Rachel relationship, but his animosity seems to have settled down now that they're firmly in friendship territory. He knows Harvey considers her the best of the paralegals by a long shot. If pressed, he might even admit to liking her.
Mike's never seen Rachel quite this frazzled before, as the standard of professionalism to which he aspires. Harvey's too much of a dick, Donna's worse than Harvey, and Louis is…well he's professional, but Mike will never consider him a role model.
She talks at him as she manoeuvres them around both people and corners, what she's saying lost in translation as the words all blur together. He catches 'LSAT' and that combined with the general note of unrestrained panic in her voice tells him that the results must be in.
The breakneck pace ends just over the threshold over her office when she stops dead, releasing his hand as she looks from the open laptop back to him with wide, nervous eyes.
"Have you looked yet?" he asks her, but he already knows the answer to that is no. If she's passed, that would have been the first thing out of her mouth. If she's failed, they wouldn't be having this conversation in the office. The odds are they wouldn't be having this conversation at all, actually.
"What if I've just been fooling myself?" she asks. "What if this time is just like all the others?"
"Can I tell you something?" When she nods, he continues. "The first time I went for my learner's permit, I failed."
"You got it eventually, though," she mutters, unimpressed.
"No, you don't understand. I broadsided a police cruiser during the test. Not fast, we were only going about ten or so, but seriously, I guarantee you: you cannot possible fail worse than I did."
"A police--?" Mike nods, and she starts to laugh. It's a snort at first, which quickly turns into uncontrollable hiccups as she pictures a sixteen year old Mike, gangly even then, and the look on his face after impact.
"Do you want me to look?" he offers when she's finished, the gales subsided as the nervousness creeps back.
"If you pass, I'll take you out for dinner. If you fail, Donna will take you out for drinks," he agrees easily. She nods, drawing herself up confidently and circling the desk to see the laptop.
"Here goes nothing," she says dubiously, entering her username and password. Mike could probably catch a glimpse of the screen if he moved a step or two to his left, but he stays where he is.
He can see the moment she finds the results because her face transforms instantly, flickering on a long moment of disbelief before she lights up, happy in a way that makes him happy too. It's bittersweet that she should take the first step to becoming a lawyer just as his career as one is coming to an end, unfair in a way that sours his mood and unsettles him. The changing of the guard does not always come willingly, though, and there's little Mike can do about it now.
"I'll still get Donna," he says.
She doesn't deserve her moment being ruined by a kid who's not quite done playing dress up yet.
The sun's in his eyes when he wakes on Thursday morning long before his alarm has even thought about going off. There's a headache stirring behind his left eye that has little to do with last night's celebrations and everything to do with beginning his post-concussion ritual one last time, checking if he remembers his parents on their last anniversary (yes), his personal information including social security number, bank PIN, and Pearson Hardman email login (yes), and the exact wording of IRC Section 168 k (no, though he can paraphrase it enough to apply it properly.)
There are six suits in his closet this morning, the others at the dry cleaner. Two of them are Trevor's, one was a gift from his Grandma that doesn't fit anymore, and three are from return visits to René. Harvey's personal tailor has not yet warmed to him, but Mike doesn't get the impression he's particularly warm towards anyone, with the possible exception of his assistant Marie. He doubts he ever will, now.
The hardest part is going to be telling Harvey. Mike's already decided to resign immediately following telling Harvey about his memory, before he can lose his nerve.
Harvey…Mike's not blind, Harvey shows affection by giving people shit; the harder of a time he gives you, the higher the standard he holds you to. Mike's not sure exactly where he stands in Harvey's eyes, but the other man has invested more than a little bit in Mike's development as a lawyer. Harvey cares enough about him that he won't fire him even though he should, and Mike can't let him do that. He is, in his own roundabout way, doing this for Harvey.
If only he could be sure it was the right decision.
The tables in the law library have been set up so Mike and Harold face one another, with Jessica and Daniel sitting at a ninety degree angle from them to oversee the proceedings. Mike spies Louis' handiwork at play.
Harold looks ready to hurl when Mike sits down across from him, straightening up when he realizes he's not alone, even more so when he realizes Mike is the other person in the room.
"Good luck today," Mike tells him. Harold might be his only remaining competition in the mock case, but there's no need to play mind games. What happens this morning is out of their hands now, the winner up to the partners to decide.
"You too, Mike," Harold says. "May the best lawyer win."
The thought strikes him that this ridiculous. He doesn't want to spend his last day with the firm arguing over a case that doesn't exist anyways. He has nothing left to prove to these people.
"Mike," Harvey says.
On the other hand, it's something to keep him occupied until The Conversation.
Harvey's right in his face when he turns around, looming over him in a gesture designed to be intimidating. It's damn well hitting its mark, because Mike is pretty sure the only reason Harvey didn't open with something stronger is that Harold's in the room as well, oblivious to the tone of the conversation taking place.
"Can this wait? I have to present in half an hour."
Wordlessly, Harvey pulls an envelope out of his jacket, holding it up for Mike's inspection. Mike left it on his own desk this morning, but Harvey's name is written neatly on top. It's Mike's formal letter of resignation.
"Harold, I might be a little late. If I don't make it back in time and Jessica calls it, then I forfeit, congratulations on your victory."
Donna's at her desk when they walk by. She takes one look at Harvey's face and picks up the phone. "One hour?" she asks him.
"Clear it for two."
"Explain," Harvey demands of Mike, whirling on him as soon as they're through the door. "Right goddamn now."
In the version of events Mike pictured, he envisioned having more control over the conversation. Maybe this is better, though. The possibility of chickening out has been removed for him from Harvey's complete inability to stay out of Mike's business.
"You weren't supposed to find out that way. I was going to tell you in person--," Mike says.
"—that you're quitting?" Harvey slaps the envelope down on the desk. Through the intercom, Donna gasps, and Harvey hits the disconnect button without tearing his eyes away from Mike.
"Quitting. I give up. I've tried giving you time, I've tried being subtle, I've even tried asking Rachel what is going on in that head of yours." Mike takes a minute to parse that statement. He's having a hard time picturing Harvey talking to Rachel about him, let alone expressing concern about him.
"Listen, I know," Harvey continues.
Shit. Mike sits down on the couch hard, cradling his head in his hands. All that time spent avoiding him, all those drafts of the speech he'd planned to give, and of course Harvey goes and figures it out first. He wonders if it was Rachel who let it slip, though it's likely that even that was inadvertent. He hasn't discussed it with her since the night of the accident, so she doesn't know how damning that information actually is. She still thinks he has a legitimate law degree to fall back on, after all.
Harvey perches on the coffee table, sitting opposite him. His knee presses up against Mike's as he leans in, lowering his voice so Mike has to pay closer attention to hear what he says. "Just tell me what he has on you."
What? The list of follow up statements Mike had been prepared for runs the full spectrum from concerned to angry and back again. Are you sure it's permanent? (Yes. Mike tells everyone his parents died on impact. The truth is that they didn't, that his father made it to the hospital, that he didn't succumb to his injuries for a full two days that Mike spent at his bedside. Mike no longer believes in the possibility of recovery.) You know what that means? (Yes.) I'm sorry. (He…doesn't have a response for this one; he's not sure if Harvey's sympathy is something he wants or not.)
"I know you're being blackmailed. I don't know about what."
Oh. Oh. Well, that puts the scene in Daniel Hardman's office yesterday into perspective. Storming in during a private conversation had been a bit much even for Harvey. He's territorial over his employees, but not to that extent.
"I'm not being blackmailed," he says, because apparently that's something that needs to be said now. Life was a lot more black and white when he was a cheater for hire that just smoked up once in awhile.
Harvey doesn't move. "So what, then?" He still looks concerned, staring at Mike like the mountains should pack up their snowdrifts in preparation for an imminent move, like all Mike needs to do is say the word and Harvey will put his life back in working order. He wants very badly to believe it, but life doesn't work that way. Nobody can win all the time.
"Last week when you stayed at my apartment the night of the concussion, I told you that I was fine, remember?" Harvey nods, attention still intent on Mike, but the lines around his eyes soften just slightly like he knows what's coming. "I lied to you."
"I lost my photographic memory."
Harvey just stares at him, searching Mike's face for any indication that he's lying now. When he seems assured that Mike's telling the truth, he leans back. With eyes closed, he blows out slowly, shaking his head. He looks relieved, which makes exactly zero sense.
"Do us both a favour and lead with that next time. I thought you were about to tell me that you were bleeding into your brain!"
It's not an unreasonable assumption. Though the initial CT scan turned up nothing, there's always a chance. He's been operating under the assumption that his brain is fine (aside from the obvious) because the chances of a neurologist believing his story are slim. Mike has no way of proving that his memory was once eidetic outside of eyewitness accounts. Assuming he could even convince them of that much, which is a stretch, he doesn't like his chances that they'd be able to fix it without risking further damage in surgery.
"You heard me, right?" Mike asks dubiously.
"Yeah, your party trick's gone, I heard you. You're also not dying." Harvey's actually, genuinely smiling now, and he claps a hand on Mike's shoulder that tightens reassuringly as he huffs a sound of amusement.
"I was never dying!"
"News to me."
"And you don't want to…I don't know, fire me?"
"It looks like I need to pawn some more pro bonos off on you. I assumed you knew that firing somebody because they develop a medical issue is a lawsuit waiting to happen," Harvey says, as if Mike is the one who hasn't thought this situation through. His words only fuel the hope Mike has been trying to stamp out for days now. He'd had hoped for nonchalant acceptance in the same way he hopes for snow on Christmas Eve and Friday afternoons off, but he'd never dared entertain the idea of it actually happening.
"You do realize I can't get through documents faster than the other associates? Memorize documents on sight? Impress clients by quoting the terms of their contract back to them?"
Harvey's deadpan remains firmly in place. "Welcome to the club, champ. Answer me this, though: Stable Shelters case. How much money was taken?"
"Just over 150 million."
"How did we delay the vote in the sale of McKernon motors?"
"Robert Stensland was never officially voted in by the board as CEO."
"The first time we met, I quizzed you on stock option backdating. How'd you win?" It's the first time Harvey's ever actually admitted that Mike beat him that day. It was also the first time Mike believed working at Pearson Hardman was something he could genuinely pull off, when he developed a plan more concrete than taking the twenty-five grand signing bonus and running at the first possible opportunity.
"Sarbanes-Oxley," he answers easily, even though it's irrelevant. The specifics have absolutely nothing to do with the point that Harvey's making.
"So there are some holes in your memory, and we'll deal with those. You're still capable of practicing law, or you wouldn't have been on track to win the mock case before you forfeited to Goldilocks."
"You can't know that I would've won." Harvey levels a look at him that suggests he really should know better by now.
Before Mike can ask exactly how Harvey intends to deal with the holes in his memory, Donna knocks on the office door. "Incoming." There's a lilt of amusement to her voice that tells them just who's about to walk through the door.
"I knew that you couldn't handle the pressure, Ross."
And there's Louis now.
Mike assumes from his smug expression that the mock case has been settled in his absence and Harold crowned the victor. While it means Mike may never impress the partners, he's strangely unbothered about that. It seems he's impressed the only one whose opinion matters to him.
"He was looking for a challenge," Harvey says, getting to his feet to face Louis directly. It's sweet, in a Harvey Specter sort of way, but Mike is one of those damsels who like to slay their own dragons.
"Circumstances beyond my control demanded I forfeit this morning," Mike says instead, pointedly ignoring Harvey's snort of derision. He shoots a warning look over his shoulder in the time it takes Louis to adjust to Mike's reasonably polite attitude. "I know the case was your idea and you put a lot of work into it. I'm sorry I didn't get to see how it ended."
Harvey's cough sounds suspiciously like the words 'suck up.' His real achievement is not cutting billion dollar deals for breakfast but having convinced Jessica that he is mature enough to hold the title of Senior Partner.
"Yes, well…" Louis says, faltering in the face of Mike's gracious attitude. He shifts his weight onto one foot, looking extremely uncomfortable with the current course of events. The nicer you are to him the nicer he is to you, Mike has noticed. Louis wants Harvey's respect, and if he can't have that, he wants to beat Harvey at his own game.
"There was a dramatic twist in the end. You wouldn't have seen the conclusion coming, I guarantee you."
"I'm sure the other associates will tell me all about it," Mike says.
"See that they do." Louis leaves without further insulting Mike, which is a win in its own right.
"You're only encouraging him, you know," Harvey says.
"Somebody needs to."
Harvey doesn't say anything, but then again, Mike hadn't really been expecting him to.
"Hey, how do you explain this? You never call a bluff without knowing what's behind it." Harvey's spent enough time with Mike to recognize when he's trying to use someone's answer to hoist them on their own petard, and wisely says nothing. "You didn't know I had lost my memory."
"Of course I did."
"You thought I was being blackmailed. Or that I was dying."
Harvey just waves him off. "That's bullshit." He's smiling now, though, encouraging Mike to indulge him in his delusions. Mike can't help but return it in kind.
"Now, we need to lay down some ground rules to manage this situation. For example, we're going to have you take the Bar again…"
Two days a week, Mike takes a class at the Harvey Specter Centre for Continuing Education. There is no final exam for LAW802: Selected Topics in Corporate Law. There is, however, an overwhelming amount of case studies.
After Mike proves that he can still pass the Bar with flying colours (though not with a perfect score, and this time it isn't intentional but a mistake that Harvey will never, ever let him forget), their lessons widen in scope to cover the art of being a lawyer.
On the night that they discuss what Mike needs to remember from any given document and ways of doing so that don't involve rewiring his brain, Harvey proves that he is a bitter, bitter man. He makes Mike set not only every article but every amendment of the United States Constitution to an album of the Spinners.
On the night that they discuss the art of drinking with a client during billable hours, Mike retaliates by going shot for shot with Harvey until the other man professes that he's happy Mike didn't die.
(It's a start.)
In October, Mike enrolls a new student in ROSS100.
Harvey does, in fact, put him on ratemyprofessors.com.
It's been awhile since I broke the 10,000 word mark on a fic, but the satisfaction in writing clean through that barrier and out the other side is enormous. A heartfelt thank you goes out to the people that have been reading, reviewing, and leaving kudos.