"There's...a tradition at Pearson Hardman – probably at a lot of big law firms – of a mentor 'gifting' their new junior partner with their most annoying or high-maintenance client. Normally, it's someone small potatoes – you're not going to hand a big account over to someone who was an associate five minutes ago. But there was a high-profile CEO that Jessica had been itching to get rid of ever since he was given to her by Daniel Hardman, and she knew I could handle it. It was a back-handed compliment and I was actually pretty excited because the guy was big money. Until I met him face-to-face and realized I sort of knew him."
When Harvey pauses a beat, Mike says, "I assume that this is relevant to me, somehow."
"Very relevant." Harvey's tone of voice makes his stomach dip nervously, but he motions for Harvey to go on. "I'm fairly certain Jessica didn't know that I knew him. It was just shitty luck. I had never known his full name, but I'd seen him around. At the club."
"Oh." Well. That's one reason to stop going. Mike can imagine how awkward that had to be, though not as uncomfortable as it being opposition or something.
"Yeah. It was no coincidence that I didn't know him better; I'd seen enough of his behavior to want nothing to do with him. He was...." Harvey pauses to gather his thoughts. "As far as I knew, he was always safe and consensual, and I'm pretty confident that was true – Louis may be...Louis, but even in the early days, he knew what went on in his club, and he had zero tolerance for abuse. And by then, he'd come close enough to a lawsuit that he had a system for people to report off-site infractions. Those could and would get you banned."
Harvey's self-justification is slightly worrying, considering Mike doesn't know what he's justifying yet. "Okay, I get it. He was on the up and up."
Harvey made a face. "I wouldn't say that. He skirted the right side of the line, but he was.... Look, he made Louis look like the paragon of trustworthiness. He had a thing for fresh meat. A lot of people do, but for him, it was. He liked humiliation, but he didn't want someone who wanted to be humiliated. By topping people who were young and new to the scene, he got what he wanted, with consent, because they didn't understand how they were going to end up feeling."
Mike shies away from remembering some of his first experiences working for Louis. "He was predatory."
"Yes. He was also a braggart, and I'm sure everyone he slept with knew just how stinking rich he was. He was covered well enough from legal action – though not entirely, because there are so many misconceptions about consent in BDSM – but certainly, he'd left himself wide open for blackmail and bad press."
All at once, it hits Mike exactly what Harvey's feeling guilty about. "You had him start using Louis' side business."
Harvey looks away. "Yes. It was a condition of keeping him on at the firm – if he didn't agree to use Louis' service exclusively, then I'd cut him loose. He was too big a liability." Harvey's eyes return to Mike's. "It wasn't just for the non-disclosures, Mike. I knew Louis would be able to keep him in tighter check, and that at least this way, his subs would be...better equipped. I was minimizing the damage he could do."
"I've subbed for him." Mike's already certain of where this is going, but the downward flick of Harvey's eyes confirms it.
"More than once."
Harvey's face tightens. "I don't know, but I think so."
Mike feels a little ill. "I don't...is he still a client? At Pearson Hardman, I mean. Have I worked on his account?"
"No. No. I wouldn't...he was gone by the time you started on. I referred him off to another firm."
Mike bores a hole between Harvey's eyes, since Harvey's gaze is down a little, to the right of actually meeting his. "How long before?"
"...Right before. I couldn't dump him before that. Jessica was pissed about his billables until I explained why I was letting him go."
Mike's mouth drops open. "You explained - "
"About him, Mike. Not you. I left you out of it. Once I explained the liability he presented and why I refused to deal with him anymore personally, she was a little more understanding about losing his money. I never told her – or anyone – about you. I wouldn't. And I didn't need to."
"Why didn't you ever tell me about this?"
Harvey's still not looking at him. "I didn't see the point in upsetting you."
Mike can't sit down anymore. He's too agitated to even pace – he starts to turn away, but he doesn't get very far. "Bullshit, you were protecting him."
"It wasn't about protecting him. I could have kept him on as a client. Mike, I could've introduced you to him, and you never would've known. It was about protecting you. I didn't want him anywhere near you."
Mike stares at him. "I wouldn't have recognized him."
"Oh my God." Mike falls back a step; he knows who Harvey's talking about. He'd rarely known any of his clients' real names, but there was only one he'd never even seen. Mike had always been blindfolded. He had always come away from those sessions feeling like utter shit, knowing that had been exactly what the guy was getting off on. He had subbed for this guy multiple times; he hated every minute, but the money was too good to turn down when things got bad. "Harvey, this guy...this is the guy that fucked with my head, ok? Just about anything I have a hangup with.... Jesus. Jesus, the cock cages, did you know? Did you know that was him?"
The amount of shock and horror on Harvey's face as he gets to his feet is immediately satisfying. "No. I had no idea. I never would have – no wonder you hate them. We'll take them out of the contract, okay? Assuming you're going to sign at all, which. I honestly don't expect you to."
Mike is still trying to get his breath. He feels almost sick with relief that he's able to believe him. Harvey's telling the truth – he didn't know about the connection.
But his last statement, once it sinks in, is a whole new punch to the gut. "Oh my fucking God, are you trying to get rid of me again? Are you kidding me right now?"
A note of disbelief enters Harvey's face. "Mike.... Am I trying to...? No, I am not trying to get rid of you. I want you to stay, but most people would be more likely to get a restraining order."
"You're so full of shit. If this isn't your last-ditch effort at pushing me away, why the hell would you tell me now?"
Harvey is looking at him like he's crazy. "How could I not tell you now?"
"But you weren't planning to tell me before this, ever. Right?"
Harvey visibly retreats into himself, and the reasonable look on his stupid face just agitates Mike further. "It was...there was no point. You were never going to see him again."
"No, but I was going to see you. By the time you started steering me towards law school, you knew that much, right? You knew I wasn't going anywhere. So what gave you the right to withhold that?"
"There was no point in hurting you that way," Harvey says again.
Mike is in love with an emotionally retarded jackass. The frustrated fondness that comes with that thought knocks the anger out from under him, and he drops into his chair.
"And what if I had found out? What if...I don't even know, Harvey, what if Louis told me? What if I ran into our mutual client on the street? What if.... You were just going to leave me to get blindsided?"
"You wouldn't have found out."
The stupid part is, Mike thinks he really believes that. Incredible. Mike rubs at his forehead. "So, you didn't tell me before this because it would hurt me to know, and I wouldn't have found out anyway. Genius. So again. Why are you telling me this now?"
Harvey's the picture of frustration. "Because you deserve to know, if we're going to do this."
"I didn't deserve to know before," Mike notes calmly.
"Not at all what I said. You just.... I didn't want you to hate me."
"So...this was an attempt to push me away."
Harvey looks a little crazed. "How the hell is it possible that you're fixated on this and not what I'm actually telling you?"
That's...a really good question, actually. Because it's easier? Because this, at least, is an aspect of Harvey's fuckitude he can deal with? Because the other thing's too upsetting? Because he's so gone for Harvey that the possibility of him leaving again feels far worse than anything else? The possibilities actually get less flattering from there, so Mike doesn't dwell on them.
He's not entirely sure what he'd be mad at Harvey for anyway. Objectively, he understands Harvey's reasoning over sending his client to Louis. And it's not like Harvey requested him specifically; even if he had, Mike could have said no. He sure as hell could have said no to a repeat with that asshole. He just hadn't.
"How long ago was this? That you sent him to Louis?"
"Five...." Harvey settles tentatively on the edge of the couch. "Six years ago."
Harvey couldn't have requested him specifically, because he wasn't working there yet. "You never answered your own question. On why you hired me." Mike narrows his eyes as Harvey gets a little shifty again. "What does your client have to do with you hiring me? Actually, how did you even find out about me? The contracts cover my confidentiality too. And that loser sure as hell never knew my name."
Harvey looks him in the eye. "He was videotaping you, Mike."
"He was.... He can't! That goes against – he was prohibited from doing that!"
"I know. That's standard to all Louis' contracts, to cover everybody. But he was. You were blindfolded. He apparently broke that clause with everyone in Louis' employ. He knew there was no way you could know."
"Fuck." Mike feels frozen, locked up. "Fuck, does Louis know? Does he still have all those recordings? They need to be destroyed, Harvey, I have a life now – "
He's not cognizant of Harvey getting up until his hands are on Mike, kneeling in front of him and cupping his face to direct his attention. "It's done. They're wiped. Louis scrubbed every copy."
"I'm sure. We went over everything together. And it won't happen again. Louis is keeping him on but doubling his rate, because his sessions now have to be supervised." Harvey looks disgusted. "He liked that."
Jesus, Mike had no clue. He never would have known. He almost wishes he still didn't. Which brings him back around to Harvey's justifications and Mike suddenly can't stand to be touched. He pulls away and Harvey drops his hands onto the arm rests, and then retreats further, sitting back on his heels, hands in his lap.
He looks resigned, like he expected the reaction and knows it's his own fault. He expects Mike to leave, now, and maybe Mike should, but he doesn't want to. It isn't even worth considering, and it's frustrating that Harvey still thinks it's inevitable.
And Mike is, once again, letting himself get sidetracked by things that are easier to swallow.
Harvey's last statement catches up to him, finally.
"So he just...there aren't even consequences." It's not remotely surprising; money covers all sin, it's a concept he's already well-versed in. That doesn't make this less upsetting, in a numb way. Numb is good, quite frankly.
Harvey shakes his head. He moves as if he's about to reach out and touch Mike but changes his mind. "I'm sorry. There was no way to stop him from picking up naive kids if Louis let him go." He's quiet; Mike doesn't think he's ever heard Harvey sound this way before. There's no hint of humor or bragging when he adds, "I did manage to make his face less pretty for a while."
"You hit him?" As far as Mike knows, Harvey's never hit anyone outside of a ring.
A hint of a smile dawns on Harvey's face. "I broke his nose."
He looks like a naughty boy who can't quite hide his delight even though he's still in trouble. It's infectious, and Mike finds himself grinning reluctantly.
"Harvey. He could've charged you with assault!"
The smile falls away slowly. "No, he couldn't have, Mike. I would've gone public with everything. I would've ruined him. I almost did anyway."
Which was sweet, in a Harvey way, but not practical. They're talking about something related to a fundamentally illegal business. "C'mon, you couldn't - "
"I could. None of the subs ever had sexual contact with him. Everything was technically legal except for his breach of contract. Nobody would've cared about that, but they would've crucified him for everything else. I wanted to do it. But it would've put Louis in a tight spot, put his business under scrutiny. If he hadn't been so pissed off, I would've happily screwed him too, but he was."
Mike studies him. Harvey's obviously still pissed off at himself over having to back down; he's barely contained, like a horse at the gate. Mike warms. "You need to stop with the evidence that Louis is a decent human being."
Harvey relaxes a little, recognizing Mike's intention. "I know, it gives me indigestion to think about."
He shifts his weight with a grimace, and it draws Mike's attention to the fact that he's been kneeling all this time. "Your knees must be killing you; you didn't even use the pillow." He reaches out and tugs at Harvey's elbow.
"I'm fine," he grumbles, but his joints pop with a painful sound as he leverages himself off the floor. He starts to go back to the sofa, but Mike pulls him towards the chair, sliding down onto the floor. His anger has faded and now he just feels...sick, trying not to remember what all those scenes had felt like. He wants to be at Harvey's feet – needs the immediate comfort of his hand.
He can tell that Harvey needs it, too. Mike turns his face into Harvey's leg and lets the ruff of his fingers push everything else away.
He's half-dazed when something occurs to him and he realizes he still doesn't have the whole story. He looks up, careful not to pull away or discourage Harvey from touching him. "He showed you one of mine. That's how you found out about the videos. And about me."
Harvey's hand stills, and starts to retract, but Mike won't let it. "Yes." Mike doesn't prompt him for more information; he finds it distantly amusing that Harvey's tactic can be used against him. Eventually he continues, "I think he was dying to show someone, and I already knew his habits, so I won that lottery." He sounds bitter.
Mike's quiet for a moment, but he knows Harvey won't say any more than that unless he has to. And Mike needs to know this part. "What was he doing to me? In the tape you saw."
Harvey's expression is tight. "Mike. I didn't...see much. Once I realized what I was seeing, I - "
"I want to know."
There are a few unhappy beats before Harvey actually answers. "He was grinding your face into the tile with his shoe, and insulting you."
Mike's heart jerks, but he needs it all. "Was I crying yet?"
"You were blindfolded."
"Was I crying?"
Mike studies Harvey's face. "I was sobbing?"
"Yes, Mike." Harvey looks like he'd rather talk about anything else. But Mike needs this.
"Did you watch anything else before you and Louis scrubbed the files?"
Harvey's eyes flick away and back. "A few seconds of each. Just to be sure we had the right files."
"So you saw him with others."
Mike's heart is pounding. "Why me and not them?"
Harvey tips his head in an irritated plea that Mike not push the issue. But he started this.
Why did Harvey choose Mike?
"Is it because I was crying?"
It's hard to parse Harvey's facial expression but there's something false when he firmly says, "No."
Mike sits up, determined. "Why me, then? You saw me like that, then told Louis you wanted to hire me?"
"C'mon, Harvey - "
"I wasn't going to hire you. And because Louis already knew that, he wouldn't tell me anything about you."
"But you asked him to."
"Look, what that guy did was psychological abuse, and he did it to all of you, but everyone else.... It was clear from what we saw that you took it the worst. He was breaking you, which is what I tried to prevent in the first place by sending him to Louis. Louis was supposed to - "
"Louis told me that client was bad for me. But he wasn't going to keep me from taking his appointments if I wanted them."
Harvey studies him, inscrutable. "Why did you?"
"Because the money was good. I only did it when I had to, but he paid extra for me. He liked how I reacted." Harvey looks pissed. And he's not pissed at Mike. This is all for the client, and something about that doesn't sit right with him. The whole thing had been fucked, true, but Mike wasn't helpless, and he needs them to get this straight. He had a choice, and he made it. He doesn't want to be seen as a victim, least of all by Harvey. "Look, you know I was fine, right? I mean, it wasn't ideal, but I didn't...it's not like he traumatized me. He was just an asshole, worse than all the other assholes, but I did choose to be there."
If anything, that only seems to anger Harvey more. "Knowing you the way I do now, do you honestly expect me to believe he wasn't breaking your heart every time you went to see him?"
That knocks the breath out of Mike for a minute. Those words. Because God, that's exactly how it was. And Mike had felt so very stupid at the time, for feeling desperately...broken over some douchebag's kinks. He'd been angry at himself that he couldn't just brush it off. So sure he should be laughing all the way to the bank.
He gets it now, after Harvey. After Matt, after Tessa. He gets why it tore him up. It's done, though. He doesn't want to think on it more than he has to.
He wants to be happy now. And he wants Harvey off of this subject.
"Technically, I never saw him," Mike jokes. He knows it's weak.
"Mike - "
"Did you just feel that sorry for me?" Harvey looks thrown, but at least Mike derailed him. And they still haven't gotten to how and why, exactly, Harvey hired him. "You said you hadn't planned to hire me, so. What changed your mind?"
"Because you pitied me." That's an idea that sticks in his craw, but doesn't quite fit. He needs Harvey to tell him it's not true.
"You interested me." Mike raises his eyebrows and waits. "I wanted to top you. That hadn't happened to me in a long time."
"I think I'm missing something. Knowing you as I do, you expect me to believe that you saw me getting ground down and humiliated, and thought, yeah, that guy. That's the one that I want." He makes the leap, based on the abashed tinge Harvey's face takes on. "It wasn't just that. Louis wouldn't tell you anything about me, so you, what? Had me investigated?"
Harvey looks away, this guilty-rueful-amused expression coming over his face that makes Mike laugh out loud.
"Oh my god, I knew Vanessa looked familiar. I just couldn't quite place her; she must blend in pretty well."
"She's the best," Harvey says. Mike's really warming to this topic: it's better than the old one, and Harvey looks terribly embarrassed by it. It's reassuring; Mike still needs to know why he was hired, but right now it's difficult to imagine he'll dislike what he finds.
"This is interesting, Harvey, this white knight complex you've been hiding."
Harvey gives him a look. "I don't have a white knight complex."
"Really? What do you call stalking a hooker because you're worried about him? Though you're right, maybe I'm whitewashing your intentions. Because put like that, you sound pretty creepy."
There's a ghost of a smile around Harvey's mouth. "I didn't stalk you. Technically, I paid someone to stalk you."
"You're right, that's so much better. So. At what point did it go from 'make sure this kid won't slit his wrists' guilt to 'I should get him naked and do filthy things to him'?"
Harvey looks torn between amusement and exasperation, and suddenly Mike is too far away. He crawls into Harvey's lap, and lets himself be settled there, Harvey's hands on his hips.
"It wasn't creepy," Harvey says suddenly, like he needs to dispel some idea Mike's got in his head. Mike laughs.
"It's plenty creepy, let's not kid ourselves. You still haven't said why you hired me though. Once you saw that I was fine, you should've been done, right?" At this point, Mike's shamelessly digging for the admission he knows is lurking. It's so hilariously absurd. Mike needs to hear it.
"You weren't fine," Harvey says, because of course that's what he's focused on.
"Okay, I was a mess. But I wasn't a danger to myself or others, and I was just some guy that you didn't even know. So...?"
Harvey slides his thumb over Mike's chin. "I knew that we'd fit."
"And how could you know that?" Mike can barely contain his own amusement, but he tries his best to – love is a place where Harvey's touchy, and he apparently has delusions that he'd acted reasonably at the time. "You hadn't followed me yourself, right?"
"No." Mike does laugh now, because Harvey says it like that would've been beyond the pale.
"Okay, so you had the original footage, which you saw...parts of once?" Harvey nods, and Mike goes on before he provides further detail because Mike doesn't want to think about that too hard. "And you probably had a few photos Vanessa took, and. What else? She would've gotten you my parents' accident, and Grammy, that I was a college dropout. How long I'd been working for Louis. Some job history, which I imagine you only skimmed long enough to judge me. What, in all that, made you sure we'd be compatible?"
Harvey looks maddeningly sure of himself, like he can't consider that he was wrong. "I read people for a living, Mike. And I'm good at it."
Mike knows that it's love because Harvey's bullshit is so endearing. "Yeah. It was professional judgment that had you hiring a hooker and offering to let him move in the first time that you met him. Are you kidding me? Just admit that you're a hopeless romantic."
Harvey's fond look is mixed liberally with irritation. "I'm not."
"You're right, it really goes beyond that. This actually creeps into 'love at first sight' territory. Emphasis on 'creeps.'"
The utter horror on Harvey's face is even better than Mike hoped for. "You are completely delusional."
Mike laughs. "Takes one to know one."
Harvey's face contorts hilariously, and for a second, he looks poised to argue. Mike can spot the exact instant Harvey chooses to ignore Mike's accusation.
"So you're staying."
It puts a lump in Mike's throat to hear the cautious happiness – to know that Harvey's letting him hear it. "I think you're kind of stuck with me."
It's true. Mike can't imagine walking out right now; that very well might make him crazy. However they ended up here, they're lucky. Mike is lucky that something about him woke up this part of Harvey. Even if the circumstances had been.... Ghoulish.
He understands Harvey's motivations well enough to be sure that once he drags all the details out of him, they'll add up to something...well. Entirely dysfunctional.
Harvey resists letting him go a little when Mike tries to pop to his feet, but then he does. Mike's only going as far as the sofa to retrieve the contract and the pen that have been sitting out since Friday. He returns to Harvey's lap and tilts his head as Harvey kisses his ear and his throat, and Mike lays the paper on the armrest so he can jot down his signature and get on to more interesting things.
Then suddenly Harvey's mouth is gone. "Woah woah woah – that pen is going to go straight through the paper and gouge the leather, go sign it at the table."
Mike turns and stares at him. "Are you serious right now?"
Harvey looks equally aghast. "Yes. It's Italian."
Mike considers his options for a hard writing surface, and props the contract on Harvey's forehead.
"You're not as cute as you think you are," Harvey says. He's glaring up at Mike from under the paper margin and Mike is pretty sure that as soon as the pen is capped, he's gonna get it.
Possibly for the next three years straight. He's looking forward to it. So he signs on the line.