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When Kyle got in at a quarter till seven, Tricia and Gregory were already there, turned towards Louis's office like sunflowers toward the sun. Kyle swung his briefcase into his cube and went over to see what was going on. There was no real sense trying to talk to Gregory, who was mush-mouthed in the mornings, so he asked Tricia what the hell they were staring at. She brushed her hair back from her shoulders and favored him with a sort of sweetly condescending look, like he was someone's two-year-old with spaghetti sauce and chocolate milk smeared all over his face.
"Harvey's in with Louis," she said. "Apparently Ross is still in the hospital, and someone's going to have to pinch hit for him with Harvey. We think he's asking Louis for a recommendation."
Louis would recommend Kyle. Louis might have been a little bit of a troll—God knew Kyle could understand why Harvey wasn't too friendly with him—but he had an instinct for quality, and he knew what Kyle was worth. There was no way Harvey was going to walk out of Louis's office with anyone's name but his. "Cool," he said. "Good luck."
"Don't need it," Trish said confidently.
Gregory mumbled something inaudible.
Kyle invited Tricia into an eye-roll with him over that and said, "Donuts in the break room?"
"Haven't looked." She wasn't even willing to look away from Louis's door. It was almost sweet, he thought, how intensely she wanted it, when he knew there was no way she was going to get it. It made him want to do her a favor. She was good competition, a good game-player—not a screw-up like Mike or a wash-out like Gregory—and Kyle wasn't opposed to having someone around who could keep him on his toes. He'd be nice to her when he was Harvey's associate: he'd throw her a bone every now and then, put in a good word for her with the partners so that one of them would pick her up eventually.
So he was a good guy, and offered to bring her back something, since he had no trouble walking away from that door—it wasn't nerve-wracking to wait for inevitable good news. He brought her back a cruller and a cream-filled—how many donuts did women eat? He wasn't sure—and a couple jellies for himself. Nothing for Gregory, because, well, fuck Gregory. If he couldn't string three words together, say hi, Kyle wasn't bringing him back shit.
They ate their donuts, drank their coffee, and watched the door. "We should have popcorn," Gregory said, in his first coherent sentence of the day, which was significant enough for Kyle to tear one of the jelly donuts in two and give him half. There was no reason not to be a gracious winner.
"Nope," Trish said, "I'm converted to the donuts now. The next time I go to a movie—well, the next time I have time to go to a movie, which is probably never—I'm going to order a dozen donuts."
Louis's door opened. "Everybody look cool," said Gregory, who'd probably never looked cool in his life.
Kyle and Tricia looked cool.
Harvey breezed out. He gave them a brief, searching glance, and Kyle thought that it was probably stupid of him to have been sitting with Trish and Gregory, because Harvey might not want to cull him out of a crowd. He'd make himself available later.
Louis, luckily, didn't have any problem messing with the ponies just because they were massed in a herd. He came out shortly behind Harvey and glowered at them. "Do you three not have work to do? If you want to get credit for coming in early, you understand that you actually do have to do something, right, not just eat donuts and gossip?"
"We wanted to know what's going on with Harvey," Gregory said, which was exactly what no one should ever say to Louis, ever. Louis had the low self-esteem of people who knew that they were only just second-best. Mike probably had the same aversion to someone bringing up Kyle. "Is he looking for a replacement associate for Mike?"
"Yeah, Mike's not dead, Gregory," Louis said. "So any replacement would be temporary, and even if Harvey only needed someone to cover for Mike for an hour, he would not be picking you, because in the two years that you've been working here, you haven't done anything worth attracting the attention of anyone in this building who doesn't have the unfortunate task of managing you. Tricia or Kyle might have a better chance of someone pointing down from heaven and calling them up in the white light of Harvey Specter's regard, except neither of you are the person he wants, either."
"What?" Kyle said.
Louis looked at him. Kyle tried to think of anything but Mike Ross.
"Harvey wants Harold," Louis said.
"That's a bad idea, an associate and a partner with the same first syllable of their names," Tricia said, pretty matter-of-factly for someone coming out with something like that. "Someone calls for one of them, it could get confusing."
"Yeah, Tricia," Louis said, "I'll be sure to pass along that sage advice."
"You recommended Harold?" Kyle said. He felt like this was a puzzle where the pieces just weren't snapping together the way they were supposed to. He had planned everything so carefully. It wasn't fair for things to not work out. "Harold got lost going to the mailroom. He adopted a half-blind labradoodle. It has hip dysplasia. He has no business being a lawyer."
"Because he adopted a rescue dog?" Gregory said, giving him a what-the-fuck look.
"No, I get that," Tricia said.
"Harvard has gone dramatically downhill in recent years," Louis said. "You three. Do something with your time besides stare at my door and overanalyze Harvey's decisions. Harold's working with Harvey, you three are working with no one—deal with it and bring in business on your own. You don't need a partner's attention to get your job done."
No, Kyle thought, just to move up the ranks. Just to attract attention.
Attention that Mike Ross and now Harold were going to get ahead of him.
He didn't understand. He just didn't get it.
What the hell was Harvey thinking?
Maybe he had to consider the possibility that he didn't really understand Harvey at all. He would have to reevaluate his plans.
And his loyalty.
"You're working with Harold?" Mike shifted the phone under his chin the better to make incredulous gestures with his hands. So what if Harvey couldn't see him? He liked to think that Harvey could sense it. "You know he has a rescue labradoodle with a broken jaw or something, right? He's like a human Care Bear. He makes me look vicious. You're going to eat him alive."
"He was the one Louis said was least likely to have tried to kill you. I get him, and Louis gets to observe everyone's reactions and report back."
"Yeah, and I'm flattered that you don't want to work with someone who wants me dead, but Harold?"
"You just want me to say that I miss you," Harvey said. "That I can't work with anyone else."
"You can't work with anyone else," Mike said. "And you do miss me."
"Can we focus on the issue at hand, and not your crippling need to have me validate your sense of self-worth? Benjamin forwarded that video to your computer?"
"Yeah, and it's really boring. I never realized how boring work was until I had to sit here and watch someone not do it all day. And no one's brought the pencil back. This can't be what you want me to do for the rest of the week."
"The main thing I want you to do this week is stay alive," Harvey said.
"That's heartwarming. I'm going to come in tomorrow."
"No, you're not. You're going to stay home and relearn how to breathe without coughing every twenty minutes, and you're going to stay out of range for whoever's gunning for you, or I will have your girlfriend tie you to the bedposts."
"Okay, well, the joke's on you, because I don't have bedposts." He stared for another minute at the pixilated image of his office on the screen of his computer and watched another hazy figure pass by in the middle-ground. He thought it might have been Kyle—head down like a charging bull, nostrils slightly flared, hands clenched into fists—probably Kyle. "This is boring, I'm not even kidding, Harvey. I can't do it. It's like being back in kindergarten watching Baby Einstein videos and learning about shapes, that's the level of intellectual stimulation going on here."
"My heart bleeds for you." But Harvey sighed, too—he was weakening, Mike thought complacently. "Fine, we'll find something more interesting for you to do—something that doesn't involve you coming back here until things are sorted out. For now, watch your pencil, which sure as hell fascinated you before, and enjoy the fact that you're still breathing."
"You know, if you're going to be like this, I hope I die and you get stuck with Harold as an associate forever." He paused. "You don't like him better than me, do you?"
"He showed me pictures of his dog on his phone. In of them, the dog was wearing a Santa hat and a collar with red and green bells on it."
"That must have been horrible for you, having to pretend to care about someone else's life like that."
"See, maybe I do miss you," Harvey said. "Because you get me."
Mike was smiling when he hung up the phone. Then he groaned, rubbed his eyes, leaned back, and readied himself for another few long hours watching nothing happen in front of his desk.
When something finally did happen, around three o'clock, when his eyes were full of sand and he'd had about a dozen cups of coffee—always rinsing the mug out first, his hands shaking just a little as they slipped around the wet ceramic, but determined to get through it, because he couldn't be a lawyer and be afraid of drinking a cup of coffee, he'd be dead of exhaustion inside of a week—he at first thought he'd imagined it. When he played it back, he almost fell out of his chair.
Louis came to see him after lunch, which was, honestly, much more than Harvey had ever expected from him: he didn't realize until he saw Louis standing in his doorway that he had thought for sure that if Louis had something, he would just call up, and imperiously order Harvey down to see him. And Harvey would have come, too, since it was about Mike—and surely Louis knew that, which meant that he was making a gesture. Harvey was prepared to meet him in the middle, then, to build a little subsection of their relationship where they didn't spend all their time dicking each other around.
"Someone's talking out of turn?"
"Everyone's talking," Louis said. "But there are one or two people who are paying a little more attention than everyone else. Enough to make you nervous, anyway."
Harvey reached for a notepad. "Who do we need to be worried about?"
"Tricia and Kyle," Louis said. "Maybe Gregory, but I wouldn't put my money on him. He wasn't happy that you went with Harold, but he actually likes Harold, and whoever's trying to kill Mike wouldn't."
"And Tricia and Kyle don't?" They were two of the associates Mike had mentioned, too, and Harvey was vaguely familiar with both of them: Kyle as the one who had walked away with the mock trial and then tried to snatch Mike's spot in Harvey's meeting right out from under him, and Tricia as the one who had gotten some favorable chatter from Jessica for bringing in a few reasonably good clients on her own her first year. They were both partnership candidates and people to keep an eye on, professionally—he didn't like to think that either of them, underhanded though obviously could be and ambitious as Tricia obviously was, would have anything to do with this. He shook his head—he couldn't afford to get sentimental over every associate who came through the door. He had his own to worry about. "Mike says Kyle doesn't have anything to gain from coming after him. Does Tricia?"
"Kyle and Tricia want the same thing everyone down there wants," Louis said, and despite the ostensible goodwill of the room, his face changed as though he'd tasted something sour. "The same reason we worked that little show with Harold. They want you. You know it takes associates longer to make partner without someone guiding them through the ranks."
"I made partner without it," Harvey said. "And so did you."
"You had Jessica's interest in you, and everyone knew it. Just because you didn't work directly for her doesn't mean her paying your way through Harvard went under anyone's radar, and it took me two years longer than you to make partner without anyone playing sponsor. And don't you dare say that I didn't deserve it when you did."
He wouldn't, actually, have said that: Louis may have been Louis, but as Jessica had said when he'd finally come to her attention, only a fool would ignore that kind of work ethic.
"Okay," Harvey said slowly, "so having sponsorship is important to them. There are plenty of people to kill besides Mike."
"One," Louis said, obnoxiously holding up his finger to count off his points, like Harvey wouldn't have known what he was talking about otherwise, "they don't like Mike, so as far as they're concerned, he's a good target, because they have no loyalty to him. Two, they want you, specifically, because they're shallow little bastards who think that you're actually going to swoop in at some point and save them from having to do their own damn work. They think you have charisma. And three, who gives a damn what their motivation is?"
"I don't like not knowing things."
"Well, that shocks me," Louis said dryly. "So, do you actually have a strategy to deal with this situation, or do I have to keep coming up with all the answers for it?"
"You're part of my strategy, Louis. That means that all the work that you do benefits me, and is the result of thinking that I've already done." He couldn't resist screwing with Louis's head just a little. "And yeah, I have a strategy. Tomorrow, you're going to give me Kyle, and we'll see whether or not Tricia goes nuclear. Nothing happens, we switch them again, and I take Tricia."
"Sophisticated in the extreme."
"However simple, never discount a strategy that rests on envy and spite," Harvey said. "Not in a law firm, anyway. But you're right, if they had any sense, they'd see straight through it—but if they had any sense, they wouldn't be trying to murder Mike, and we wouldn't be onto them in the first place."
"Or they would have done a better job of killing him," Louis said. "With no trace of suspicion."
"Right. Standards for deviousness in Harvard grads have really fallen down over the years—you and I would never have been this sloppy when we were associates."
Louis looked at him with an expression that Harvey would have sworn in open court was a bizarre mixture of agreement, world-weariness, and gratitude: by far the strangest facial configuration Harvey had ever seen in his entire life. "Right? I know. They're pathetic. Did Harold show you those pictures of his dog?"
"Which we would have never done to a senior partner," Harvey said. "Even if we'd gone around adopting shelter dogs in the first place."
"People really were sharper back in our day," Louis said. His voice was rising with what was actually excitement. And no opera tickets in sight, either. "We could have carried all this off without a hitch, Harvey!"
Harvey looked at him, eyebrows raised. "You do realize that you're talking about ki—"
Louis scrambled frantically for some semblance of a higher moral ground. "–Not that we would have, or anything. Because… murder's wrong." He snuck a surreptitious peek out into the hall at Donna, whose mouth was rigidly compressed to hide a stopped-up laugh. "And I for one would never—"
"Don't sell yourself short, Louis," he said. "It's in my will that if I die under suspicious circumstances, they have to look at you first. Take it as a compliment."
"Oh, I do," Louis said, very sincerely, and Harvey thought, Shit, when did I start to like you? Not that he was going to admit to it, but Mike had been a bad influence on him. By the time all this wrapped up, the only person in the firm he wasn't going to be braiding friendship bracelets for was, well, Tricia or Kyle. Somehow there was nothing he could do to make how he felt about that friendly. Or funny.