I've gotten just enough of this written in advance that I think I can safely promise a chapter a week—I hope you enjoy!
Kyle went to Phillips Exeter, where he was pretty sure guys like Mike Ross worked in the kitchen. Then he went to Harvard, where Mike had been such a non-entity that no one even remembered him, and for all his isn't-it-impressive photographic memory, he didn't even make the top ten of his class. Kyle had been number two in a year where the number one had been some shut-in who practically never went anywhere but the library and her apartment; Kyle didn't need to work that hard. Everything had always fallen into his lap. Even the position at Pearson Hardman—one interview with Louis, and there it was: the gold medal at the end of the finish line. He'd put in his time, make partner, make senior partner, and know that it was exactly what the universe had always had planned for him. He was number one. He was it.
Until Mike Ross came along.
Kyle just didn't get it. Mike was a mess. He wore off-the-rack suits that looked like they'd been slept in, he blanked on basic one-L procedures, he got too involved with his clients, he blew the mock trial, and he lost in fucking housing court. He should have been off in some hick town chasing ambulances. Kyle didn't give a damn what kind of memory he had—he didn't belong at Pearson Hardman and he definitely, definitely did not deserve to be Harvey Specter's associate.
Kyle was in his second year as an associate and he'd been happy working in the general pool only because all the senior partners already had their pet associates picked out and he was sure that he'd get his chance sooner or later. Then he heard that Harvey was moving up. Harvey was a legend. Harvey was a god. Kyle wanted to work for him, and Kyle got what he wanted, so he wasn't even surprised to hear the rumor mill grinding away on the info that Harvey was completely uninterested in his scheduled interviews, because it was obviously only fair, only right, in the established patterns of the universe, for Harvey to just choose him. Why hire some wet-behind-the-years rookie when Kyle had established chops?
Kyle knew Harvey because he knew that Harvey was just like him.
Then Harvey came back with Mike Ross, who was so far outside the scope of Kyle's universe that Kyle didn't even know what to do with him.
But he'd obviously have to do something. Kyle was supposed to be Harvey Specter's associate—he just had to correct the little mistake of Mike Ross first.
"No one in their right mind," Mike said, "would ever want to work for you." He tried again with no real amount of success to rub the sleep out of his eyes. If he pressed any harder, he'd go blind. "If you're going to get me up at four in the morning, the least you could do is have us meet someplace that serves pancakes."
"Pancakes aren't dignified," Harvey said. "You can't eat pancakes in this suit." He looked Mike over. "Yours would be fine."
"You make up these rules that don't even make sense. People eat pancakes in suits all the time."
"How they got into the suits, I'll never know," Harvey said.
Ordinarily Harvey doing Groucho Marx, complete with waggling eyebrows, would have been an entirely adequate substitute for pancakes, and Mike would have cheerfully tried to get him into a Duck Soup-quoting marathon, but this morning he was determined not to be amused. Harvey was trying to bribe him with charm. Mike couldn't pour syrup on charm. He wanted pancakes, and the fact that Harvey hadn't outright rejected the possibility told Mike that there was hope.
Still, he had to proceed carefully. What they were working on was, after all, actually important; Harvey hadn't woken him up for no reason. If they didn't find a loophole in the contract their client had signed way too quickly and thoughtlessly, they would have to face the unpleasant possibility of telling her this afternoon that there was no way to save her business from her ex-partner's attempt to sink it beneath her feet out of nothing more than spite. Mike cared about their client, Rosalie Caprey, a woman who wanted nothing more than to get out of this situation with her life intact; Harvey, as always, cared about winning, and maybe a little bit about being able to torpedo any legal agreement he hadn't personally written himself. It was a project worth working on, so Mike kept his head down and his mouth shut for the next hour, his pen flickering over the pages so quickly that the image in his head of the contract always included a long thin line down the center of each sheet of paper. He would get something. He had to. They had to.
And then they would get pancakes. A happy ending all around.
He was reading so quickly that he was three pages ahead of himself before his brain skidded to a halt and practically smacked him upside the head with an epiphany. The pen fell out of his hand.
"Got it," he said. He grinned at Harvey. The reason it was okay, sometimes, to come in at four in the morning even with absolutely no pancakes on offer was that there were moments like this, when it seemed like the entire world had just clicked together like a puzzle he'd solved. And he got to impress Harvey. It wasn't a bad deal, all things considered. He found the page he was looking for and slid it to Harvey's side of the table. "They both agreed that any company-wide endeavor relating to expansion had to be approved by all relevant stockholders, regardless of current employment. Of course, her partner doesn't want to expand, he wants to shut it down, so he thinks he's safe—but what's closing them down but negative expansion? The end of the possibility of expansion."
"It's nitpicking," Harvey said, a smile spreading irresistibly across his face, "which, in contract law, is another word for winning."
Mike held out his fist. Harvey, amused, bumped it lightly. He didn't even look to see if there were anyone around to see it—though since it was still only five forty-five in the morning, that probably didn't mean as much as Mike would have wanted to think.
"Look at that," he said, not even pretending to check his watch. "It's almost like we still have the perfect amount of time to go get pancakes."
"Do you not keep food in your apartment? Why have you never eaten?"
"I have this boss who's kind of a dick," Mike said. "He keeps making me come into work at these really weird hours and then stay forever, so I never have time to go shopping or cook anything."
"Like you can cook."
"For your information, I make absolutely delicious Easy Mac. –It's like macaroni that you make in the microwave with this nuclear orange cheese powder."
"I think if you'd listen to yourself," Harvey said, "you'd hear that you just described this thing that you're eating as 'like' macaroni as opposed to being 'actually' macaroni, and you'll know that that's sufficient reason for me to be wonder how you're even still alive."
Mike decided not to mention the Ramen, Hot Pockets, and Go-Gurt that had composed the entirety of his shopping list during the year he and Trevor had tried living together. It even made him shudder sometimes. With a single-minded focus that he was going to call admirable rather than obsessive, he said, "That's why you have to take responsibility every now and then and feed me. And take me for walks." If the puppy thing couldn't do him some good from time to time, there was no point to it.
"Okay," Harvey said, "but only because you just based your argument on your complete inability to take care of yourself, and that amuses me."
"Whatever works," Mike said happily. "Let me just go lock this in my desk."
He usually didn't bother—however willing the other associates were to fuck him over, they wouldn't dare mess with anything that was technically Harvey's—but not having the originals of the contract in perfect condition had serious potential to hurt their deal, especially if they were already dealing with a situation laden with malice and a refusal to cut anyone even a little bit of slack. The contract itself called for the ultimate and inviolate presence of the original document, and they couldn't exactly make their case on one loophole while dangling their feet down in another. He couldn't afford to take any chances. So, before he could give Harvey time to change his mind, he dashed off down the hall, file folder in hand, dropped it in the lower drawer of his desk, snapped the lock to, and bounded back.
Harvey stood in the hall, arms crossed, watching him. "You move with all the coordination of a drunken giraffe. This is why you being on a bike is a bad idea."
"I'm good on my bike," he said, a little curtly for someone getting free pancakes, because this was an argument they'd danced around having a thousand times before, and he was getting sick of it. "Come on. Pancakes. Syrup."
"I bet sugar made you unbearable as a kid," Harvey said.
"I was adorable."
"See, but I can't take your word for that, because you think you're adorable now."
"I must be adorable, you're taking me out for pancakes."
Harvey shook his head, smiling. Mike, fueled by victory and the imminent possibility of stacked hotcake goodness, could have kept this up the entire morning, but he dropped the back-and-forth a little when they passed Kyle coming in. They were by him in a second, but there was no picking up where he had left off—Harvey never missed anything. In some other universe, he was probably a private detective in a trenchcoat instead of a suit, and still incredibly sarcastic to his clients. Personalities would have to remain consistent across multiple dimensions—
"You should try to get along with the other associates," Harvey said.
"They're mostly assholes."
"True, but you're not exactly a fluffy bunny rabbit yourself, if we look over your history and narrowly avoided criminal record."
"Being a criminal didn't mean I was an asshole," Mike said, stung. "It meant I was a criminal. It's a whole different thing, and you know it. Those guys, all they care about is—"
He stopped hard, almost biting down on his tongue, because he was about to say something that he didn't really want to say. Not now, anyway, when it was sunny and they were on their way to get pancakes. He didn't want to point out that sometimes the only difference between Harvey and Mike's fellow associates was that Harvey could back up his arrogance and sugar-coat it, if he had to. In the end, after the mock trial that was still stuck in his head like some obelisk casting everything half into shadow, Harvey had, after all, told him that he'd screwed up by being nice, because it was a lawyer's job to cut to the bone. When he and Harvey tangled, it was always and stupidly over this—what kind of person he was going to be, at the end of the day, and whether it was too late for Harvey to be anyone but Harvey, polished and successful and intermittently not really very nice.
It wasn't a conversation he'd ever liked having and it wasn't one he wanted to have now.
"All they care about is hooking a senior partner," he finished weakly. "Or making partner. Or sleeping with my girlfriend. It's this whole competitive thing."
"The law is competition."
"Aristotle said the law was reason free from passion."
"Aristotle never practiced in New York."
"I'm just saying that it's a little hard to build a friendship when you're worried the other person's going to shove a knife in your back."
"I never told you to braid their hair," Harvey said. "I said you should get along better—as in, not be so preoccupied giving them death glares that you stop talking."
"Do you get along with other lawyers?" He was getting a little desperate for a change of topic. Come hell or high water or Harvey's best advice, he would not be making friends with Kyle. He still remembered how Kyle's hand had kept creeping up the curve of Rachel's hip when they had all gone out to dinner and how Kyle had smirked at him throughout, as if it were some weird show he was putting on all for Mike. "I mean, there's your incredible rapport with Louis."
"This isn't about me," Harvey said. "You're deflecting."
Mike raised his eyebrows. "You're deflecting."
"I get along with Jessica."
"You work for Jessica, and you're keeping a massive secret from her, and you blackmailed her to keep your promotion."
"You blackmailed me to keep your job," Harvey said. "And you work for me. Do we get along?"
"Okay, so it doesn't count," Mike said. "But name one other lawyer besides Jessica and besides me that you actually like spending time with, and I'll take one of the associates out for drinks on Friday." If he lost, he would make do with Harold, who was too sheepishly inoffensive to ever last at Pearson Hardman, however much he dogged Louis's heels, and Mike would listen to him talk about training homing pigeons for an hour and half. At least there'd be beer.
"Scotty," Harvey said.
"You're sleeping with Scotty."
Something went over Harvey's face too quickly for Mike to even really see what it was, but it left him feeling a little emptied out, like he'd missed something he should have paid more attention to, but the chance for it wouldn't come again. "Not at the moment."
"Whatever," he said lightly, "it still counts her out. It's like with me and Jessica—exceptions."
"If you're good at it," Harvey said, "you can build a whole life on exceptions."
Occasionally Harvey would do that—drop whatever ball they were tossing back and forth and give him, instead, some strangely beautiful but deeply inscrutable piece of advice that sounded more like a Zen koan and didn't belong at all next to his usual tips, which were mostly just "don't go to court" and "please don't stand next to me when you're wearing that." It had happened often enough by now that Mike should have been used to it, but it still threw him each and every time. Right then it shut him up and distracted him to the point that he barely noticed when Harvey swung off into an alley and pressed his hand flat against some dark wooden door that looked like as scratched and gouged as if everyone in Manhattan had taken their keys to it. He stumbled up a second later than Harvey held the door and only just missed catching it with his face.
"Ow," he said, to make a point about holding doors for people longer than seven milliseconds. Not that Harvey noticed. "What is this place?"
"Best pancakes in the city," said the man who two hours ago had been claiming with all evident serious that pancakes were childish things that couldn't be eaten in his current wardrobe, yet for some reason knew a pancake house within walking distance of his office. "Did you think I was taking you to IHOP?"
"Hey, I like IHOP," Mike protested. "They have those chocolate pancakes with the chocolate chips where they do the smiley face in whipped cream." He had the sneaking suspicion that Harvey knew that those were only on the kid's menu but delighted in setting up a situation where Harvey couldn't mock him for that without revealing a working knowledge of a pancake franchise with perpetually sticky tabletops. "How did you find this place? It's sort of—difficultly located."
"Cameron," Harvey said shortly. "District attorneys get superstitious. He had this theory that if you skipped breakfast the morning of a trial, you'd always lose, so he would drag us here if we were going to court. They cooked the pancakes, he cooked the cases, and at least this place is still standing."
"Okay," Mike said. "I'm going to not talk."
"Normally a goal I'd encourage," Harvey said, smiling at least a little, "but not necessary. It was a long time ago."
He tried to imagine Harvey young, relatively innocent, his hair a little less shellacked into place; Harvey forking pancakes into his mouth before going off to fight evil. Maybe he'd been different then. Maybe Cameron Dennis broke him.
"Well, now we come here for pancakes," Mike said. If he could cheer Harvey up while simultaneously wrangling a new tradition that meant he'd be eating free pancakes for a few years to come, he would totally take it. He elbowed Harvey to a nearby table. "No menus."
"You order pancakes. Don't add anything that's going to stain your teeth. You need a menu for that?"
"I like menus."
"You like memorizing menus."
When a server finally appeared, they both ordered short stacks and coffee, and Mike asked for powdered sugar just to irritate Harvey. "It doesn't stain."
"No, it's just annoying. You get it on your suit, it'll never brush off, and it makes you look like you've been snorting cocaine in the bathroom every twenty minutes."
He hadn't thought about that. "I just—won't get it on my suit, then," he said, and tried to radiate serene confidence. He was pretty sure that Harvey would have eaten a mountain of powdered sugar without ending up with so much of a grain of it on his lapels. "Anyway, maybe nobody's mind will go there. Not everyone's as pessimistic as you."
"True," Harvey said. "Then you'll just like you've escaped from serving funnel cakes at a carnival."
Mike felt his face sink as the pancakes arrived, dusted about three inches high with powdered sugar. The instant he touched his fork to it, it poofed out and scattered everywhere. Harvey, mildly starting on his own peril-free stack of pancakes, said, "You look like a snow princess."
Mike blinked. Powdered sugar fell out of his eyelashes.
"When we get back," he said hopefully, "can I borrow your extra suit?"
Kyle didn't know how Harvey put up with it. Even though Mike had shut up pretty quickly once he'd seen Kyle coming, it wasn't like their little victory conversation had been hard to overhear—and it was all ridiculous self-aggrandizing bullshit about how cute Mike was. Who the hell talked like that? Who cared? And he couldn't even tell that Harvey was just humoring him, for whatever reason—pretending to be entertained by that crap. Obviously Harvey was banking on Mike's freakish memory to make up for any deficiencies and that was why he tolerated everything else.
That was fine. Harvey had missed most of the mock trial, he just didn't understand how good Kyle was at his job. Kyle could kick Mike's ass in the courtroom any day of the week—what he needed now was an opportunity to prove it.
He knelt down beside Mike's desk. There was no one else in the office, not at this hour. That was another reason why he was perfect for Harvey—he came in early without someone having to drag him out of bed.
The bottom drawer was locked. That was good—it meant that he was right, that Mike had stashed his papers there before heading out with Harvey. Locked was good.
He could deal with that just fine.