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Mike had been in the copy room for so long, at that point, that he just assumed anything being printed on printer #2 (Moby Dick, the Great White Printer, as the Associates affectionately called it) was his new assignment.

Louis had taken to simply sending everything for Mike there, without comment beyond a cover sheet reading ATTN: M. ROSS if it was coming from another partner or, if Louis had work for him personally, FOR THE BITCH. Which Mike didn't appreciate, but couldn't really argue with.

Louis's bitch, to be farmed out to whoever Louis wanted to impress. For ten days -- well, only three more now, that was something. It was mostly gruntwork, and all of it was boring, but on the other hand at least Louis wasn't interacting personally with him, wasn't trying to take him to any more athletic clubs or "bond" with him. Eugh.

Plus, while it was a monumental assload of work, Louis hadn't yet fully grasped how fast Mike could get through it, which usually gave him time for a nap in the file room or some quality Angry Birds on his phone before the next assignment came through.

He missed Harvey, but Harvey was pissed off at him right now and cranky in general, according to a sympathetic email from Donna, so the space apart was probably just as well.

The point was, when Moby Dick began spewing out a new set of documents, Mike turned off Angry Birds and grabbed the pile, which had no cover sheet on it at all, and set to work. There weren't any orders, either, but it was obvious the brief needed proofing and there were some financial spreadsheets that had to be cross-checked and verified, so Mike broke out his special green "financial" highlighter and set to work.

About half an hour later, as he was drafting a memo that some of these numbers seriously did not add up, a white-haired man in an expensive suit walked into the copy room. Mike watched, covertly, as the man checked all the printers, lifted some lids, and then poked the fax machine.

"I'm sorry, can you help me? I'm looking for a brief that I think went here," the man said finally, and Mike looked up. "My assistant's out to lunch and I'm afraid I'm not as...techonological as I should be. I have no idea what printer I sent it to, and the file is somewhat sensitive."

"Well, that's the fax," Mike said gently, "so probably not there."

"Oh," the man looked lost. "I haven't actually sent a fax myself in years. They do look a lot more complicated now."

Mike hauled his laptop out from under a stack of folders and opened it up, diving into the printer network. "What's the name of the file?"

"It's the Barton LLC financials," the man answered.

"Oh -- jeez, I'm sorry," Mike said, closing the laptop. "Those went to printer two, I assumed they were for me."

The man's craggy brows drew together. "Why?"

"Everything is, lately," Mike sighed.

A look of understanding crossed the man's worn face. "You must be Ross. I heard about Harvey and Louis's little bet."

Mike considered things for a moment; if this man knew who they were, well enough to call them by first name, he was probably a junior partner himself, at least. Maybe one of the senior partners -- Mike had seen some of them speaking to Harvey from time to time, and most of them were much older, about this guy's age.

"Yes, sir," he answered finally, which earned him a knowing grin. "I'm sorry, I grabbed them and started work. I can print you a duplicate, if you want..."

"No, let's see what our young associates get up to these days," the man replied, holding out his hand. Mike put the stack of paper into it. "I'm Jack, by the way."

"Mike," Mike said. "Uh, I noticed some of the numbers are funny."

"Funny, huh?" Jack raised an eyebrow, skimming the page. "Well, you do work fast, rumor wasn't wrong about that. You're not annotating at all, though?"

"I was putting it into a topsheet memo," Mike said.

"But for your own reference?"

Mike shrugged. "I don't really need to annotate. I keep it up here," he said, tapping the green highlighter against his temple. "Uh. Sir."

"Jack is fine," Jack said absently, still reading over the numbers. "You know, if Louis Litt were farming me out, I'd be back here twiddling my thumbs and doing as little work as possible, to make sure he didn't give me very much. Does he have one of those nannycams on you or something?"

"The work has to get done," Mike pointed out. "Doesn't matter who needs it. That'd be letting down the firm."

"But you're not crazy about Litt, are you?"

"Is anyone?"

"Well, he does rack up billables like he thinks he can stockpile them for nuclear winter," Jack sighed. "He's a hard worker, just..."

"Kind of a douche?" Mike suggested. Jack laughed.

"Yes, perhaps. One needn't respect him as a man, but one must respect his work ethic. Hm. And you belong to Harvey normally, don't you? What do you think of him?"

Mike knew his face probably reflected his complicated feelings about Harvey Specter. Jack shuffled the papers back into order and smiled.

"That's about what we all think," he said. He handed the stack back to Mike. "This is good work. Do you have time to finish it and the memo?"

Moby Dick chose that moment to start spewing out a new stack of paper.

"If I hurry," Mike said.

"I'd appreciate it. When you're done just put it in a folder and set it aside, I'll come back for it," Jack replied. "How much longer are you Louis's..." he picked up the top page and smiled, holding it up, "...bitch?"

"Three days after today," Mike said wearily.

"Interesting. Who are you working for now?"

"Hamilton for the rest of the day, Snyder tomorrow."

"I see. Well, good luck, young man."

"Thank you," Mike answered, bending back to his work as Jack left. Weird old guy.

He left the Barton LLC financials, along with a memo about the numbers and a note about contacting Pearson Hardman's internal forensic accountants, on top of his paperwork when he left for the day. He figured either Jack had forgotten to come get it, or he'd printed out a new copy and was just trying to make Mike feel better about doing work he wasn't strictly supposed to have done.

The next morning, when he walked into the printer room, Moby Dick was empty of new pages and Jack was sitting in his chair, reading the memo.

"This is the most uncomfortable chair I think I've ever encountered," Jack said, without looking up. "You should see a chiropractor."

"I figured that was part of my punishment," Mike admitted. "Your ass goes numb about an hour in, then it's fine."

"It is, truly, a hard old life," Jack said, closing the folder. "The good news is, you won't be here today. This is good work. I'll have you for the rest of your sentence -- I've spoken to Snyder about it."

"Not to Louis?" Mike asked warily.

"He'd only fuss. Officially Snyder's still using you, but you'll be working with me. He owes me one, and it's best for all concerned," Jack said. "So, run along to our forensic accountants, leave these with them, and then come down to thirty-seven. I won't be hard to find, my door's always open. And my office chairs are much more comfortable."

Mike looked down at the folder. "Um. Thank you."

"It's my pleasure. I so rarely encounter associates anymore, and most of them are deathly boring. Remember, when you're done, thirty-seven," Jack said, and hoisted himself stiffly out of the chair. "I'll have something a little more interesting for you to work on than proofing briefs."

Pearson Hardman didn't own the entire building they were based out of, but over the years they'd snapped up empty floors, so that they now owned six through ten, forty through fifty, and, randomly, thirty-seven. Mike had never been down to the solitary floor, and when he arrived there after running the file to accounting he mentally downgraded Jack from Senior Partner to Junior Partner, or possibly even one of the few adjuncts who hung around, good enough to be graduated from Associate but not quite good enough to be put in as a Partner.

The hallways were dark, the fixtures more traditional-legal and less modern-art, and while Jack's office still had the floor-to-ceiling glass of all external offices, it was smaller and less elegant than Louis's or Harvey's, with solid internal walls instead of glass. His assistant, who made Norma look like a spring chicken, waved him past without a word and went back to work on what looked like a Pentium 486. Jack's name wasn't even on the (true to his statement, open) wooden door; just the initials J.H. in worn gold.

"There you are," Jack said, as Mike entered hesitantly. "Barton LLC all tucked up with our accountants?"

"Yes, sir."

"Jack is fine, I said," Jack replied. "We're a little less formal on the thirty-seventh. And you look like you have questions about that," he added, waving Mike into a leather chair in front of his desk. It was very comfortable. The room smelled faintly of cigar smoke.

"Well, I -- don't know what your rank is with Pearson Hardman," Mike said. Jack laughed.

"Of all the questions..." he murmured, then straightened. "At this point I'm a sort of attache, though that's not my official title. Jessica -- do you know Jessica?"

"Everyone knows Jessica," Mike said.

"Yes, I imagine so. She's a good lawyer -- clever, hard when she needs to be -- and that's to her credit. She's done things for this firm I never would have dreamed possible. But we have some...very old, very conservative clients, and they don't move with the times."

Mike frowned.

"They prefer to work with someone a little less..."

"Female?" Mike suggested.

"I was going to say ethnic, as one of my clients put it," Jack said, with an expressive roll of his eyes, "but female too, yes. They know me, and I look on it as dealing with them so that Jessica doesn't have to. I am, Michael, the last old boy of the old boys' network, at least here."

Mike raised an eyebrow. "The half dozen old white senior partners might disprove your theory."

"Just proving you've never truly encountered an old boy," Jack answered. "Believe me, next to the men I handle, those gentlemen are positively enlightened. But the politics of Pearson Hardman's governance can wait for some other time. The point is that I exist down here so that real, meaningful work can be done up there. I frankly don't have the energy to swim with young sharks like Harvey Specter anymore, but I have more patience than them, and someone has to deal with the unpleasant clients. Which reminds me, Mr. Barton of Barton LLC should be here..."

He tilted his head. There was a ding from the hallway as the elevator doors opened. Mike gave him an impressed look.

"Scoot, over there," Jack said, pointing to a chair by the window. "Don't speak unless I speak to you. We'll have some fun with this one."

Mike got his ass in the chair just in time to appear relaxed as Mr. Barton entered with a hearty "Jack!" and a handshake.

"Will, it's good to see you," Jack said. "How's your granddaughter?"

"Just had her cotillon," Will Barton answered. "She's a good girl. And Mary?"

"Oh, puttering along. She can't do the gardening as well as she'd like, but she seems to enjoy the young man we have in to do the weeding," Jack said, and both men laughed. "Will, by the way, this is my associate, Michael. Michael, Will Barton, of Barton LLC."

"Pleasure, sir," Mike said, half-rising to shake the man's hand.

"I didn't know you were taking in strays again, Jack," Will said, settling back in his chair.

"He's temporary -- I'm taking him from one of the junior partners for a little training."

"Nothing like a strict hand, eh?"

"No, nothing like," Jack said, deadpan, but Mike thought he detected a hint of dry amusement. "So, Will, I've been looking over your quarterlies."

"Nothing amiss, I hope?"

"Well, I'm afraid so," Jack replied. "In fact, I looked over your quarterlies for the last fiscal year, and then back another year before that, and I have to say that I'm not certain everything's adding up."

Will was playing innocent pretty well, Mike thought.

"Now, Michael here's done all the real work, so I thought I'd let him run it past you just in case your accountants are trying to pull one on you," Jack continued. "Michael?"

Mike, put a little on the spot, stammered for a second before the smooth flow of memory hit him -- before the numbers began tumbling out, along with fragments of the memo indicating where things didn't quite fit. Talking it out, watching Will Barton's face drain of color, Mike began to realize what exactly he'd assembled: a history of mismatched numbers that were all leading to only one possibility.

"Embezzlement," Jack said, when Mike couldn't quite find the voice to tell this frightened-looking, angry-looking old man what he'd concluded.

"Now we're not saying it's you, Will," Jack said gently, and Will (thankfully) turned away from Mike. "We've known each other a long time, you and I, and I'd like to think before you stole from your company you'd come to me about any financial grief you were suffering. But I can't control what our forensic accountants come up with."

"You put your accountants on this?" Will asked.

"Yes. But we can go a couple of places from here. You can let them do their job, turn up the man responsible, and then see about firing him, possibly prosecuting. Or, if this is more...personal, I can call down to them right now," Jack indicated a phone on his desk, a big plastic number, almost an antique, "and tell them to stop, and we'll take a statement from you. A structured settlement back to the company and your resignation as CFO should satisfy, and this can all stay private. Even your wife doesn't have to know."

Jack's hand hovered over the clunky old phone. Will seemed frozen, but after a second, he nodded. Jack picked up the telephone.

"Janice, hi, it's Jack. My associate Michael dropped off a file with you this morning -- oh, good -- " he covered the receiver and said to Will, "they haven't started work on it yet. Yes, Janice," he said into the phone, "that was a mistake. Entirely my fault, Michael's not to blame. Can you have it sent up to thirty-seven? Thank you so much."

He hung up and looked at Will, but when he spoke, he said, "Michael, do you take shorthand?"

Mike blinked. "No, but -- "

"Ah yes, that beautiful mind. Can you memorize from speech?"

"Yes, Jack."

"Very well. Will and I are going to discuss his actions vis a vis the financial discrepancies at Barton LLC, as well as a plan for repayment. You're to listen carefully, and draw up a statement and contract when we're finished."

Mike did listen carefully, though he tried not to seem like he was during the brief times Will wept. Jack provided a handkerchief, had his admin fetch a glass of water, and eventually sent Will on his way with a pat on the shoulder and a reassuring smile.

"That was awesome," Mike said, when Jack came back from seeing Will to the elevators. "I mean, okay, tough on him, but awesome!"

"Michael, you're a smart young man, try to vary your adjectives," Jack said, but he smiled. "Poor Will. He'll get over it, and retirement will no doubt help him manage his money more efficiently. There are many things I suffer gladly, but I can't abide a thief. Now, do you have everything you need for the paperwork? Would you prefer to use my -- oh, I see you have one," he added, as Mike pulled his laptop out of his bag. "There's an empty office next door, if you like. When you're done, send it to my printer if you can figure out how, lord knows I can't seem to, and we'll go over it."

Mike spent the morning drafting a statement from Will Barton, a nondisclosure agreement (unasked-for, but they'd need it), and a contract for scheduled repayments of the money, in return for immunity from prosecution. It was still much more interesting than proofing. By the time he was finished, it was nearly noon.

"This looks good," Jack said, coming into the tiny office where Mike had set up, papers hot from the printer in his hand. "For a first effort, anyway. Come to lunch, I'll look them over and we'll discuss where you fell down a little. Don't look so depressed, Michael," he added, as Mike's face fell. "This is complicated. You can't always be perfect out of the gate. Don't tell the partners I said that, mind you; I know what sadists we all are to the associates. Leave your laptop, it's safe here."

Mike shouldered his bag and followed Jack into the hallway, down the dim corridor to the elevators.

"This is the first floor Pearson Hardman had in the building," Jack said conversationally, as they walked. "Back then -- this was before my time, even -- we shared it with the administrative offices of a kitchen appliance manufacturing company. I've often thought we should end the lease on this floor and relocate, but it's good to hold onto our roots. Some of them, anyway."

"Back then it was Hardman, Cole, and Sawyer, right?" Mike asked.

"You know your history. Hardman senior that was -- his son is the Hardman in the firm now. It was Sawyer's idea to hire only from Harvard, which at the time was a stroke of marketing genius, though I'm not sure why we still bother. Louis is of the opinion that it has a cachet, I know. What do you think?"

Mike hesitated.

"Oh, be honest, I see it so rarely in lawyers," Jack teased, as they stepped into an empty elevator.

"You know how Saturday Night Live came out of Second City Improv?" Mike asked.

"I'm fascinated by where this is going."

"So everyone who wants to be on Saturday Night Live goes to Second City," Mike said. "And they do exactly what they see people doing on Saturday Night Live, only some of them are just imitating, and none of them really have any original ideas of their own, because they're afraid if they do they'll miss their shot. Which kind of kills the originality of the...original," he finished lamely.

Jack was blinking at him.

"You're a roundabout one, aren't you?" he asked.

"I get flustered when people want my opinion," Mike admitted. "It doesn't happen a whole lot."

"We're not generally required to give our opinions, as lawyers," Jack agreed. "Or rather, we're required to give opinions which usually can't be our own."

"Do what's best for the client," Mike said.

"Whether or not the client believes it. I imagine Harvey's pounded that into your head," Jack said, as they walked out of the building. "So, lunch. Have you been to Chat? I hear it's very hip, but I've yet to try it. Firm's paying. Shall we? The walk's not far."

Chat, which Mike hadn't even heard of, turned out to be a gourmet sandwich place, crammed with rich hipsters and models. Jack looked out of place in his expensive, conservative suit, but Mike supposed he did too, even in his much, much less expensive one. Jack didn't seem to care.

They spent the first half of lunch going over Mike's work with a red pen, which would have been dispiriting if Jack wasn't so good at it. He had an encyclopedic grasp of legal terminology, and a talent for digging out vagueness and correcting it. Mike mostly listened and nodded.

"Now that's done," Jack said, setting the paperwork aside and taking a bite of some very fancy rendition of a turkey-and-swiss sub, "I believe it's time for the standard interrogation."

"Huh?" Mike asked, mouth half-full of the fromage de flambe, which he'd discovered was a dressed-up grilled cheese and tomato.

"Well, I know you're bright, not entirely without knowledge, and Harvey's rookie, but that's the extent of it. Native New Yorker?"

"Uh, yes," Mike answered, wiping his mouth.

"What do your parents do?"

Mike shook his head. "They died when I was a kid. My grandmother raised me."

"Ah, that explains the good manners hiding behind your tragic lack of adjectives. You live with her?"

"No -- she's in private care. I see her a few times a week," Mike said. "Less, now."

"Our hours run rather long, but I'm sure she appreciates the salary that pays for her care. It's good not to forget your duties," Jack advised. Mike nodded. "Do you like Pearson Hardman?"

"It's the chance of a lifetime," Mike said truthfully.

"Got your sights on Partner yet?" Jack asked, grinning.

"I'm...just trying to survive my rookie year," Mike replied. "I hadn't thought about it."

"It's complicated, very political," Jack agreed. "There's a fine line to walk. Louis simply bulldozed ahead -- he couldn't possibly not be promoted, with his billables -- but your Harvey has been a little more delicate about things. Snyder too, he's made to be a politician. Hamilton, now, I think Hamilton must know where a body is buried. She's like Louis, all billables and no charm. She learns faster than he does, though; that one might make senior partner. She'd be the first woman since Jessica." He smiled nostalgically. "I scouted Jessica myself, when she was a young JD fresh from Harvard."

"That must have been an experience," Mike said, going for tactful. He supposed it couldn't be easy to see someone you recruited rise above you in the firm.

"For both of us," Jack said. "It's good Jessica manages the firm. She's suited to it."

Talk drifted into firm politics, which Jack seemed to have the inside track on. By the time they'd finished lunch, Mike knew things about most of the partners he didn't think even their own mothers would know.

"Finish the corrections on those documents and have copies couriered to Barton. Then I think for form's sake you'd better put in an appearance in the copy room; I'll have Snyder send you a few minor issues to tidy up. Make sure Louis sees you leaving from there. Tomorrow, report to me first thing. It's nice having someone to knock around the office with," Jack said, as they returned to Pearson Hardman. "Gets some fresh air in. Off you go."

Mike wondered, as he made his way up to the copy room later in the afternoon, if he should ask Donna about Jack. Given how well Jack knew the firm, Donna almost certainly knew him. On the other hand, he wasn't sure how Harvey would react to him hanging around Donna's desk, and he knew exactly how Louis would react, so he put the thought out of his mind, did his two hours on Snyder's work, and left. He made it through traffic fast enough to weasel a second dinner out of the care home nurses for himself, and had dinner and parcheesi night with his grandmother.

The next day with Jack wasn't quite as dramatic, but it still beat proofing in the copy room by a mile. A steady stream of clients seemed to wander in and out of Jack's office, sometimes on business, sometimes just to chat, all of them on first-name basis. Mike was shown more photos of grandchildren than he knew what to do with. It was...pleasant. Unchallenging, but interesting all the same, to watch how Jack handled his clients.

On his final day of servitude, Jack was standing outside his office when Mike arrived.

"Court date!" he sang out. "Come along, young apprentice."

"We're going to court?" Mike asked, following behind him. "Did I miss a prep session?"

"I prepped last night. When you get to be my age, you stop worrying until the night before," Jack said.

"That seems a little unfair to the client."

"With all of my expertise and my many years of experience at their disposal? They should consider themselves lucky I prep at all," Jack said with a grin. "You, Michael, will need to prep for many more years. One of the joys of my position is that I no longer have to."

"So what's the case?" Mike asked, and Jack handed him a folder.

"Pro bono publico," Jack said. "Do you know, most young people I've spoken to over the years think Pro Bono means 'for free'? Even some lawyers."

"Well, it's not a literal translation, but..."

"What is a literal translation, Michael?"

"For the good of the public," Mike said. "A more meaningful translation would be for the general good."

"Pro bono cases aren't merely taken because someone can't afford us and the firm wants good PR. We in the legal profession use them to balance the scales away from those who have the money and power to hire us, by allowing those without the means to pay us to gain access to our abilities. It's not an act of generosity or even one of pity; it's meant to correct inequity in the law. It's also a pain in the ass, but most things worth doing are, sooner or later."

"This looks like a hard case to win," Mike said, studying the folder. "Have you offered a settlement?"

"We're not in the wrong." Jack shot him a smile. "Can I take it that Cameron Dennis's legacy lives on in you?"

Mike stared at him.

"Cameron and I have gone a few rounds, over the years. Never go to court unless you can win, wasn't that his motto? And Jessica put Harvey under him for a good two years, and now you serve under Harvey...well, as rules go it's not a bad one. But sometimes you have to go to court to prove you can win when not everything's on your side."

"Did you ever win against Cameron?" Mike asked.

Jack gave him a thoughtful look. "Once. Early on, when we were both much younger. man would have won, the way he stacked the cards. Be careful, Michael, of a lawyer who appoints himself a judge without a gavel. He is rarely as objective as he claims."

"No lie," Mike murmured.

He wasn't allowed in the actual courtroom when they got there, which was irritating; he'd have liked to have seen Jack in action, but a bailiff murmured something in Jack's ear, and Jack waved Mike onto a bench in the hallway.

"Sorry, kid. I'd bring you in, but I do want to win, and this is going to get heavy," he said. "Grab a coffee, do some texting or whatever it is people do on fancy cellphones. Make friends; you never know when you'll need a friend in the courthouse. I'll find you when we're done."

Mike did have texts to answer. Most of the paralegals and associates knew it was his last day, and most of them might be assholes but they were, after all, in this together. General consensus in the bullpen was that betting him had been in poor taste to begin with. Howard had invited him out for drinks to celebrate, Seth and Greg had said they were in for drinks if Mike got Howard to pay for them, and even Kyle's taunting had a distinct ring of sympathy to it. There was one from Donna, too, commanding him to be in Harvey's office at eight-thirty tomorrow, and requesting that he bring her a muffin as long as he was coming to Harvey's office anyway. Mike sent her a smiley face back.

He took Jack's advice, too, wandering around the building and talking to people. The security guards were remarkably friendly, once it was clear he didn't really want anything from them. The court reporters, huddled smoking around a sad ashtray at one of the back entrances, one-upped each other in his presence for who had seen the worst trials, and one or two sent their regards via him to Harvey Specter. Stenographers and administrators hustled past quickly, but most of them smiled back if he smiled at them.

Jack, proving he had a better grasp of technology than he was letting on, texted him around noon: Win. Graciously allowing client to take me for lunch. Feed yourself and report in by 1:30.

Mike, feeling very virtuous, got a hot dog from the cart outside their building and spent an hour doing proofs for Snyder, making sure Louis saw him at least once, before leaving for Jack's office. Louis stopped him on the way out.

"Last day," he said, and Mike prepared himself for more of Louis's ridiculousness. "I trust you're learned your lesson about playing with the big dogs?"

"I wasn't exactly given a choice," Mike replied.

"Then maybe you've learned a lesson about Harvey playing with the big dogs," Louis said smugly.

"Uh-huh. Can I go? These aren't going to file themselves," he said, holding up what were, in actuality, someone's blog printouts of spoilers for a television show. Mike had happened to see them and scooped them off the printer to protect whoever sent them there by mistake (he suspected Howard).

"Day's not over yet!" Louis called after him. Mike made sure he was out of sight before he rolled his eyes.

That afternoon was genuinely fun. Jack, expansive after a court win (recounted in detail for Mike's pleasure) and a good meal, settled back in his chair and said, "So, Michael. I'm at liberty for the afternoon, and you are to leave me tomorrow. Make use of my experience while you have it. No question too dumb, though I reserve the right to provide dumb answers."

Mike spent the remaining hours of his ten-day term simply...talking. About the law, mostly, about things he didn't dare ask Harvey for fear he'd just be told to figure it out, about things he knew he really should pretend to know from Harvard. Jack didn't seem to care what he did or didn't know, just answered his questions or posed questions of his own to trip Mike over into figuring it out. He knew it couldn't possibly be that easy when he went back to real work, when he went back to Harvey, and he understood that. Pearson Hardman had all but forgotten the thirty-seventh floor. Upstairs the pressure to perform was greater, the need to think on his feet more urgent, but the reward was greater, too.

"Remember," Jack said, as he shook Mike's hand at the end of the day, "Harvey's a good role model, but he's still young -- I know, I know, you're younger -- and he takes himself utterly seriously. Listen to him, but think for yourself. Don't let him pull any bullshit on you. Good working with you, Mike."

Mike thought it had been a pretty nice day. He ducked Howard, dodged Louis, and went home that evening feeling as if he should send Jack a thank-you note for rescuing him, even if only for a little while.

The next morning, all hell broke loose in the most aweso -- the most excellent way Mike could have imagined.

It started with Louis and Harvey fighting in Harvey's office, which was always fun. From what Mike could tell, between Harvey's body language and Donna's face as she listened, Harvey's stance was that Mike belonged to him and he needed him back for -- Mike squinted, trying to read lips -- court prep. Louis's attitude indicated strongly that Mike was still an associate under his jurisdiction, and hadn't finished some work for Snyder yet. Mike wasn't sure, but he thought a few "your mama" lines might have been involved on both sides.

"Okay, wait for it, wait for it," Donna said, holding up a hand. "And...go in now!"

Mike, not one to disobey Donna, pushed the door open and knocked on it gently.

"Am I interrupting something?" he asked.

"Mike," Harvey said, and Mike could tell he was masking relief with imperious swagger. "Good. Come in, you're late."

"Well, I didn't want to interrupt my dads having a fight," Mike said.

"Deposition transcripts," Harvey continued, tossing him a flash drive and dropping into his desk chair. "I need you to dissect some statements."

"Excuse me?" Louis actually snatched the flash drive out of the air as Mike came forward to catch it. Mike and Harvey both stared at him. "You're not done with Snyder's proofs yet. What were you doing yesterday, jerking off into the toner cartridge?"

"Highly mature, Louis," Harvey snarled. "His ten days are done."

"Not until he finishes work assigned to him yesterday," Louis said.

"Are you seriously stealing case evidence from me right now?" Harvey asked, leaning back.

"Stealing would imply I'm not going to give it back. When he's done with the proofs, he'll get it," Louis insisted.

"He's my associate, Louis."

"What exactly are you going to do if I don't give him back, run to Jessica?" Louis asked.

"Uh, guys," Mike ventured.

"Shut up, Mike," they said in unison. Harvey looked disgusted; Louis looked annoyed.

"Gentlemen," said a voice behind Mike.

Louis and Harvey's reactions were really funny, in retrospect, though at the time mostly confusing. Louis straightened and tucked the hand holding the flash drive behind his back. Harvey shot out of his chair to his feet like a demented military cadet.

Mike felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder, and looked to the side to see Jack joining him in the office.

"Mr. Hardman," Louis said. "Good to see -- "

"Be quiet, Louis," Jack said. Mike felt the tension in the room rise a notch just before he registered what Louis had said. He was opening his mouth to say something, probably something stupid, when Harvey spoke.

"Mike, this is John Hardman, one of our Managing Partners," he said, slowly circling his desk. There was a deference in his voice that Mike had only heard when Harvey was speaking to Jessica -- and not always then. "Mr. Hardman, my associate -- "

"Yes, we've met," Jack said, giving Mike's shoulder a little squeeze. "Michael's been working for me, in fact, for the past three days."

Louis looked outraged. "Mr. Hardman, I assigned him to -- "

"Snyder, I'm aware," Jack -- John Hardman -- interrupted. Mike wondered if Jack was intentionally keeping either of them from completing a sentence. "I spoke with Snyder, who agreed to loan Michael to me for the duration of this little bet you won, Louis. I never asked, by the way," he said, turning to Mike. "What did Louis put up against you?"

"Nothing," Mike said, at the same time Harvey said, "Nixon in China tickets."

"I wasn't aware you enjoyed the opera, Harvey," Jack said. Harvey got that caught stealin' candy look on his face which Mike cherished and rarely got to see. "Well, no matter. It looks like I showed up in time to mediate this little dispute. Louis," he said, and held out his hand, crooking his fingers. Louis stared at it, then hurried to put the flash drive in his palm. "Thank you. By the way, don't ever call an associate your bitch again. That kind of thing opens us to all kinds of sexual harassment charges, and frankly it's crass. Harvey," he added, because Harvey was badly hiding a smug grin, "don't bet your associate's time away. Particularly not this one's."

"I hadn't planned on losing, sir," Harvey said, smugness wiped from his face.

"And why did you? Lose, that is."

Harvey and Louis exchanged a look that clearly said they might hate each other but weren't about to get into it with a Managing Partner in the room. Mike was beginning to enjoy himself.

"I suppose it's irrelevant. Don't do it again -- bet Michael, or lose," Jack continued. "Gentlemen, what we've got here is a failure to communicate."

Mike caught Harvey's eye, and they exchanged a moment of Cool Hand Luke? incredulity.

"It seems to me Mike has a few options, so let me clarify those for you, as you are nominally under my charge and therefore deserve the benefit of my wisdom," Jack said. "Now, I understand it might not be the most pleasant assignment, Mike, but I can order Louis to supervise you personally, and there are things you can learn from him, important skills I can guarantee you will need, plus he's unlikely to bet you off. Or I can order Louis to leave you alone and let you get on in peace with Harvey, who has equally important if vastly different skills to teach you. You might, of course, continue to be the servant of two masters, which is not an easy position but at times can both stroke the ego and stimulate the mind."

Harvey opened his mouth to speak, but Jack held up a hand, the flash drive still tucked under his fingers.

"Or," he said, and winked at Mike out of view of either man, "you can ditch these bickering children and come work for me."

The silence in the room was deafening.

"I've enjoyed your company, you're reasonably competent, and there's prestige in being the personal associate to a Managing Partner," Jack said. "I think you've found the work a little less tiresome, yes?"

Mike thought about it. The last three days had been a lot more relaxing. But he also thought about what Jack had said to him, that first day of work.

I exist down here so that real, meaningful work can be done up there. I frankly don't have the energy to swim with young sharks like Harvey Specter anymore...

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Mr. Hardman," Mike said. Louis's jaw dropped. Harvey stared, too shocked to be pleased. Jack looked approving.

"Very well," he said, and dropped the flash drive into Mike's breast pocket. "Wise choice," he said in Mike's ear, patting his shoulder as he turned to go. "Louis, get the hell out of Harvey's office and stop pestering his associate. Make one of the fifty-odd others finish the Snyder proofs. Harvey, stop being such a mouthy know-it-all and try actually teaching the kid something," he called, already leaving. Donna was openly staring at all of them through the glass wall.

"I'm just..." Louis made a complicated hand gesture and all but ran out. Harvey sat back against his desk, crossing his arms. After a moment, he broke down laughing, shaking his head.

"I don't know how you do it," he said. "How'd you dig up Jack Hardman? He never leaves the thirty-seventh floor. He's been in that same office since he was a junior partner."

"I think he's had the same phone since then, too," Mike said, taking the flash drive out of his pocket. "When do you want the prep finished?"

"Oh, take your time, you're under Hardman's wing now," Harvey said, still laughing. "Jesus, Mike, that was glorious."

"I really liked the part where he called you a mouthy know-it-all," Donna said, leaning in the doorway.

"Did you even know who you were working for?" Harvey asked, spreading his hands.

"He just said to call him Jack," Mike said faintly, and Harvey started laughing all over again.

"That made my week," Harvey said, straightening and wiping the corner of an eye with his thumb. "Seeing Hardman in action is like witnessing an eclipse. Awe-inspiring and very rare. You're going to tell me everything -- after you finish that prep, which I want by noon."

Mike saluted with the hand holding the flash drive, darted around Donna, and made for the bullpen. There was an odd sense of homecoming, given he hadn't even left Pearson Hardman (had barely left the copy room until Jack showed up). It felt...comfortable, being back at his cube, working on Harvey's files.

When Kyle began ragging on him about being a free man again, Mike considered casually mentioning he hadn't had too hard a time working for Mr. Hardman, but decided against it. No need to flaunt how aweso -- how incredibly talented and cool he was. Clearly it was self-evident.