|sam_storyteller (sam_storyteller) wrote,|
@ 2011-09-26 07:26 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||ao3, suits|
Rating: PG (Gen)
Summary: Harvey started out in the mail room, but Jessica's always been good at spotting potential.
Warnings: Implied child abuse.
Beta Credit: arsenicjade made it spiffy! And put up with my waffling about how to end it.
Notes: Title from the Staple Singers song If You're Ready. Also I'd like it noted for the record that the bit about the DA's office was written before 1.11 aired...
Now in Russian!
Also available at AO3.
It really wasn't any of Jessica's business, except that she made sure everything that happened at Hardman & Wyznecki was her business.
She'd been leaving late, and she'd gone down to the mail room to drop off some files to be couriered, when she heard the music; the passionate wail of Respect Yourself -- not Aretha either, but Mavis Staples.
She peered into the back room, where the music was almost overpowering. Most of the mail room and janitorial staff were dancing, not in any particularly organized fashion, but with plenty of energy. Jessica, feeling this was probably not something they were really supposed to be doing, stepped inside and crossed her arms.
Someone noticed, and then someone else; the music eventually died, and people began to stream out around her hurriedly, ducking blame. Jessica was a junior partner already, and everyone knew it. She could destroy anyone earning an hourly wage without breaking a sweat.
Eventually there was only one person left in the room, a young man in the mail room khaki-and-denim-shirt uniform with a leather jacket thrown over it. He was standing, feet planted wide, hands in his pockets, chin raised defiantly.
"Let me guess," she said. "This was your idea, and you'll take full responsibility."
"You're good at guessing," he replied.
"Yeah, you had that face," she told him, as he walked to the stereo system and popped a cassette tape out of an ancient deck. "This is the mail room, not a sock hop, Mr..."
He shot the edge of his jacket back far enough for her to see his nametag, without looking away from the deck.
"...Specter," she finished.
"A sock hop, that's cute," he replied, turning to her.
"Care to explain yourself?"
"Do you know, they did this study a few years ago, at a car manufacturing plant," he said. "There was this one guy who ran the forklifts, and sometimes he'd just...drop a car. No reason. Pretty spectacular sight, I guess."
"Are you trying to bore me out of firing you?"
"So they studied his stats versus the stats of other companies in the area, and they found that the guy who dropped the occasional car still had fewer safety errors on his record, and his coworkers had fewer errors on theirs, than any other plant." He gave her a shit-eating grin. "Catharsis, ma'am. Makes the world go round."
She raised an eyebrow. "Catharsis, huh?"
"It's a Greek term -- "
"I know what it is," she interrupted.
"I'd be willing to bet if you asked the other employees and your staff, you'd find since we started holding this sock hop our efficiency and the general mood of the graveyard shift have both gone up," he assured her cockily.
"And you did that."
"Well, it was my idea. My Stax collection. We only do one song at the start of shift, one at the end," he added, the first hint of desperation shining through. "I'm shift captain. If you fire anyone, it should be me."
"What's your first name, Mr. Specter?" she asked.
"Buy me dinner and you might find out," he replied. Jessica smiled.
"Why are you working in the mail room?"
"Mail room hired me," he answered with a shrug.
"You have a college degree?"
He laughed, a bitter little edge to it. "I'm seventeen, lady. I don't have a high school diploma."
She frowned at him. "How long have you been working here?"
"You know that's highly illegal, right?"
He got that defiant tilt to his chin again. Quite the tell. "I'm emancipated. I got a kid brother to look after."
"You got emancipated at fifteen?"
"Sixteen. Sued the state. So don't tell me what's illegal, Ms. Pearson."
"And you know what catharsis is," she murmured, mostly to herself.
"I like to read," he said, a sardonic edge to it.
"What is this, a job interview?"
"Yes," she said simply. He looked intrigued.
"Ninety words per minute. I took a class," he added, in the same flat, half-amused tone.
"You know how to file?"
"Is there a trick other than learning the ABCs?"
"Are you always this much of an ass?"
He grinned. "For the right price, I'll be the nicest boy you know."
"Unsettling," she observed, but she let it go. "You know where my office is?"
"Be there tomorrow, eight am. Wear a suit. If you survive the formal interview, you're hired."
"As what?" he called after her, as she left.
"My assistant," she called back.
At the end of his first week as Jessica's assistant -- during which time he wore the same two suits on alternating days, reorganized her calendar system, and gave her the most interruption-free week of her life since becoming junior partner -- Jessica called Harvey into her office.
"Better than the mail room?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," he answered. There hadn't been a hint of the sulky boy she'd encountered in the mail room, at least not around her. She'd seen other people get the sharp side of his wit, but he'd been a lamb to Jessica.
"You want to stay on?"
Harvey shifted his weight from foot to foot, and gave her a guilty look that would become painfully familiar for the rest of his career.
"Spit it out, Harvey."
"I ditched classes all week," he said, and Jessica wanted to smack herself for not remembering -- of course he was a high school student. "This is a great job and all, but...I need to go back to the mail room. Unless you want to start working the graveyard shift."
Jessica sat back. "What's your GPA?"
"Three nine." At her raised eyebrow, he grinned. "I got a B in Econ. My court date was the same day as the midterm."
"For your emancipation hearing."
"Hard to get a parental excuse note when you're telling the judge about how you're better off on your own," Harvey said. "If you still need an assistant in two months, you could have one with an actual high school diploma."
"How old is your brother?" she asked.
"Fourteen," Harvey said, reaching into his pocket. He took out a battered nylon wallet and produced a photo: two boys, one on the cusp of gawky adolescence, the other visibly just the far side of it -- dark hair, dark eyes, Harvey's arm around his brother's shoulders. Neither of them were smiling.
"What's going to happen to him when you go to college next year?"
Harvey gave her a sharp laugh. "I'm not going to college. Not for a few years, anyway. I have to get Jerry through high school first. Then maybe we'll go together."
"You're a smart man, Harvey."
"Thanks, I know."
Jessica laughed. "Tell you what. Go back to the mail room. Try and find a few more suits. When you're done with school, come back here and we'll talk about your future."
"Why are you doing this?" he asked, his face more curious than anything else. "Aside from how awesome I am at this job."
"You're not that good."
"With all due respect, I'm even better."
Jessica gave him a level stare, but Harvey just waited, head slightly tilted.
"I hate to see potential go to waste," she said.
The boy seemed to accept that; he gave her a brisk nod and turned to go.
"Oh, and Harvey?" she said, when he was at the door. He stopped, but didn't turn around. "Try some Carla Thomas for your next sock hop."
She saw his shoulders straighten a little, and heard him hum Baby oh Baby, I love to call you baby...
Harvey was a hard worker, and once he was out of school he put in the hours; he left at five every day (part of the deal they struck, so that he could get home to make dinner with Jerry and make sure the kid did his homework) but he'd take work home if he had to, and he'd come in early if she needed him.
He wasn't really a joiner. He never got friendly with the other assistants and admins and paralegals. Instead he made contacts, flirted, blackmailed, dived into the politics of the office as if he'd been born for it. It kept her out of the nasty side of the firm, but she didn't take it as a personal compliment. If her star rose, his did, and Harvey had a vested interest in himself.
He didn't talk about his personal life, or ask her about hers. She didn't know what the deal with his parents was, though little things about Jerry slipped through here and there. Eventually Harvey could work later because Jerry had a job driving delivery for a Chinese food place. He had to go early on certain Fridays, though, to catch Jerry's football games.
Most importantly, Harvey soaked up knowledge like a sponge. She watched his suits get sharper, his taste improve, his jokes get more cutting. Once in a while she allowed him to come with her on business dinners, and he kept his mouth shut and did as he was told. But she saw him study the menus, study the clients.
Over drinks once, after the client had left, he told her about playing baseball in high school, doing his homework in the dugout or during quiet moments on the graveyard shift. He told her about blowing out his shoulder, senior year, and how that had killed his chances at a baseball scholarship, which would have set him and Jerry up for life, or at least for four years.
And then in early fall, two and a half years after he started working for her, he put his head in the door and said, "Can I bug out early today if I get the Bristol & Bristol proofing done?"
"And why would I let you do that?" she asked, without looking up.
"I want to take Jerry out for dinner," he said. "He just got into UCLA."
Jessica did look up then. "Early admission?"
"Full ride scholarship," and Harvey smiled proudly. "Football."
"Harvey, that's fantastic," she said sincerely. "Finish up B&B and you can go."
"Thanks," he said, and offered her the B&B file. She gave him a narrow look. "Hey, you taught me that."
"Regretting I did," she said, accepting it. "Oh, Harvey, actually, one more thing -- "
"Close it, kid," she said, digging in her desk for the folder she'd tucked away for just such an occasion. She found the shiny crimson folio and offered it to him. "Fill this out and file it."
Harvey, frowning, opened it.
"This is an application to Harvard Law," he said, looking up at her.
"Thank you for stating the obvious, Mr. Specter."
"Jessica, I can't get into Harvard Law. I don't have a degree."
"Fortunately, you have friend in high places," Jessica said. "Exceptional students can always find exceptions. Kill on the LSATs and you'll be fine."
"Shit, the LSATs," Harvey muttered. "Look, even if you somehow got me in, I can't afford it."
Jessica sat back. "Do you want to work for Hardman & Wyznecki, Harvey?"
"Of course -- "
"You want to work for us as a lawyer?"
Harvey was silent, but she could see in the way he held the folder tightly, knuckles white, what the answer was.
"Take the LSATs, fill out the application, and give it to me," she said gently. "Hardman & Wyznecki doesn't like to see potential wasted either. We'll pay your tuition if you want to attend."
"Thank you," he said. "Jessica -- "
"Just go fill out the form. And don't tell Jerry until tomorrow," she added, as he left. "Let him have his party tonight."
Jessica met Jerry for the first time when he showed up at Hardman & Wyznecki to pick Harvey up at the end of his last day. He was a burly kid, shorter than Harvey but with the same thousand-yard stare, the same mask of utter confidence that comes of children growing up too quickly.
"Come on, Harvey, daylight's burning," he said, standing at Harvey's desk, flipping a keyring around his finger. "If we wanna get to Harvard before midnight we gotta gooooo."
"Okay, okay," Harvey answered, looking more tolerant than Jessica had ever seen him. "I just have to -- "
"You must be Jerry," Jessica said, coming to the doorway of her office. Both men looked at her like deer caught in the headlights. "I'm Jessica Pearson."
"Ma'am," Jerry said respectfully, straightening from his slouch and tucking his keys into his pocket.
"Harvey, time to go," she said. "You packed?"
"Yeah," Harvey answered, locking his desk and setting the keys carefully on the keyboard of his darkened computer. "It's all in the car. Are you sure -- "
"Somehow I survived without you," she said. "I will again. Jerry, congratulations on UCLA. Leaving soon?"
"Out of Boston," Jerry replied shyly. "Soon as I make sure Harvey's settled in, I'm driving out to LA."
"Good. Harvey? Come here," she said, and Harvey got out of his chair and went to stand in front of her, looking unusually nervous. "I have two pieces of advice for you. First, do not take any of Blake's classes, ever. They're useless."
"Second, and this is important, do not be a jerkoff at Harvard."
Jerry, behind Harvey, stifled a laugh.
"I've heard it's relaxing, and burns calories," Harvey replied.
Jessica rolled her eyes. "Go. Email from Cambridge to let me know you got there. Jerry, nice meeting you."
"Harvey c'mon, c'moooon, road trip time," Jerry said, pulling him away.
"Bye, Jessica!" Harvey called, as both of them turned to run down the hallway of Hardman & Wyznecki like children.
Jessica sighed. Training up a new assistant was going to suck.
She got emails from Harvey, sporadically, over the next two years; sometimes a question about a class, sometimes just news of what he was up to. But she didn't see him again until she uncharacteristically came up to Harvard for an alumni event, and stayed over the following day to nurse a mild hangover and see if she could find her errant assistant.
"Oh my God," she said, when she did find him. "You preppy little asshole."
Harvey, who did look every inch the modern Harvard man, jerked his head up from where he'd been bending over a young woman, flirting shamelessly. His eyes widened. "Jessica!"
The other woman was forgotten; Harvey turned away from her, something like a casual dismissal, and bounded up the steps to where Jessica stood, arms crossed.
"And why aren't you in the library?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm just that good," he told her smugly.
"Mmhm. I saw your last transcript," she told him. "What did I say about jerking off?"
"I don't remember," he answered, shoving his hands in his pockets, smile still firmly in place. "Come on, Jessica, I'm fifth in my year."
"You could be first," she said, but her heart wasn't in scolding; Harvey had put on enough weight to make him look less like a starving cat, and his clothing wasn't thrift-store special anymore.
"There's more to being a lawyer than grades, boss, you taught me that," he told her. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I can't come check up on you?"
"Well, you can, but I'm not that interesting. Yet," he added, and winked at her. "Let me buy you lunch."
"Technically, given the scholarship, I'm buying me lunch," she reminded him.
"Think of the prestige you'll be bestowing on me," he cajoled, and saw her relent.
"So how's Jerry?" she asked, as they walked down the grass-lined path towards the dining commons.
"Thriving. He's got scouts looking at him for after he graduates."
"Must be hard, being three thousand miles apart."
Harvey shrugged. "He drives out for Christmas, we see each other in the summer sometimes. And when he's out here for a game we try to meet up."
"And you're doing well. Liking Harvard?"
"No troubles fitting in?" she asked. He gave her a glance.
"No more than you did, I guess," he said. "You know me, I'm out for number one. Some people...they don't like that."
"And yet you passed Ethics with flying colors."
"Well, I'm out for me, but I like not being in prison. Don't worry," he added, seriously. "I'll make you proud, Jessica."
"You better," she said. "I have a lot riding on you, Harvey. Which reminds me, we need to talk a little about what happens once you graduate, once you pass the Bar."
He frowned. "Hardman & Wyznecki, right? You pay for Harvard, I sell you my soul? I thought that was the deal."
"It can be, but I want to suggest something a little different," she said. "Look, in a few years I'm going to make senior partner. When that time comes, I'll need an associate. In the meantime, I want to try putting you somewhere different."
"For a start, it'll build connections you're going to need. When you come into the firm, it'll mean you don't have to start at the bottom. For once," she added, and he smiled.
"So what are you thinking?"
"DA's office, New York."
"Civil servant? Really?"
"These people, Harvey, become judges," she said. "They become powerful prosecutors and if they're your friends, you're in a strong position to fight for your clients. You can learn a lot there. You need trial experience, anyway."
"So..." Harvey looked thoughtful. "Harvard, Bar, DA's office, and then -- sophomore associate, under a Senior Partner."
"Eventually, you'll be up for Junior Partner. Track to Senior Partner. You remember how you used to work so hard to make me look good, because when I did well, you did well?" she asked.
"When you come back to Hardman & Wyznecki, it'll be the other way around. You'll be a reflection of me. When you do well, I'll do well."
He nodded, acknowledging it. "Why'd you really do this, Jessica? And don't give me that crap about potential. Potential got me a job as your secretary. All this..." he gestured, encompassing Harvard, his life there, "this is something else. Why?"
Jessica stopped, turning to face him. Harvey, the defiant kid in the leather jacket -- now this smooth young man in tweed and a waistcoat, with a shark's smile.
"Because I know how hard it is to claw your way up from the bottom," she said. "And I figured if anyone deserved the leg up I could offer, it was the smartass who beat the state when he was sixteen."
She started walking again, leaving him behind, stunned; he ran to catch up, and they went on in silence.
It was a couple of months after Harvey made Senior Partner -- a few years after Hardman & Wyznecki became Pearson Hardman -- that he put his head in her office and announced, "Jerry just signed with the Saints. Drinks are on me."
She'd been following Jerry's career with less interest than Harvey's, but every once in a while she'd check up and see how the kid was doing. She still thought of him as the awkward thirteen-year-old from Harvey's photograph, or the shy, stocky boy who drove Harvey to Cambridge before taking off for LA. She never quite reconciled that boy with the thick-necked, square-jawed NFL pro in the press conferences.
She hadn't even seen much of Harvey lately; he had his hands full with his new caseload and the little stray he'd picked up, who she knew full well hadn't gone to Harvard but for some reason had wrapped Harvey around his little finger. She couldn't deny Ross did good work, and some covert checking proved he actually had passed the Bar, so she figured when it did come to out-and-out fraud accusations the fight would at least be fun.
"How's mini-me doing?" she asked, as they settled into the comfortable leather booth, drinks within easy reach. Harvey lifted a little finger to his lips, briefly, and grinned.
"He's a handful. I told you I didn't want an associate," he reminded her.
"And I told you it wasn't your decision," she replied. "I think he's good for you."
"I thought you didn't like him."
"I don't like some of his habits or his attitudes, but I imagine we can beat those out of him. I've just never seen you go to bat for anyone but yourself before."
"I went to bat for you all the time!"
"Yeah, back when you were a secretary."
"Executive assistant," he corrected.
"Kid got under your skin."
"Don't tell me you weren't a little impressed by his mock trial."
"I don't know if impressed is the word I'd use," she said. "There you go though, going to bat again."
Harvey looked annoyed, sipping his drink before replying. "You remember that time you told me you knew what it was like to claw your way up from the bottom?"
"So does he. It's a leg up, Jessica, that's all."
"Mmhm." She smiled. "I think it's good, Harvey. Maybe not always wise, but..."
"But?" he prompted.
"You don't bond well," she said, and Harvey sat back, frustrated tolerance in every inch of his posture. "I mean it. You network, you form alliances, you don't bond. I'm not talking about your pathological paternal thing with Jerry, or the fact that you owe me now and forever. I'm just talking about...people. Ross softens your edges a little."
"You don't think that's exactly what I don't want?"
"Different edges, Harvey," she said gently. Harvey looked down at his drink. "I know you want to be the rich lawyer living life in the clouds, but it's nice to have friends, too."
"He's my underling. My minion. Not my friend."
"You keep telling yourself that," she said, and changed the subject before he could reply. "So tell me about Jerry. What filthy millions is he making in the new deal, and how much of it are we making as his representation?"
Jerry came up to New York a few months later, in the off-season, to see Harvey for his birthday. He invited Jessica to come out with them too, sneaking into her office like the shy teenager he'd been and not the upper-echelon client he was. He dragged Ross along mainly because he happened to encounter him in the hallway outside Harvey's office and Harvey's little pet had been gratifyingly awestruck that he was that Jerry Specter.
"You're on my fantasy football team!" Ross had said, and Harvey and Jessica had exchanged a look.
"I get that a lot," Jerry had replied, not unkindly, and then looked up at his brother. "Hey, Harvey, does this belong to you?"
"Regrettably," Harvey answered.
"Cool. We're going for drinks, you want to come?" he asked Ross, who did, at least, look questioningly at Harvey before replying.
Even if he ignored Harvey's little headshake before answering "Yes! Awesome!"
When they were settled in a booth, the pair of brothers across from her and Ross sent for rounds like the underling he was, she studied them. They smiled, joked with each other, talked easily with her -- much changed from Harvey's old photograph of two solemn children with dark eyes, isolated in the world.
"This man," Jerry said, thumping Harvey on the chest as he leaned forward. "This man made me, you know? Put a roof over our heads, packed me lunches, worked his ass off. I mean, you know, right?" he said to her, as Ross came back with drinks. "You were there."
"There for what?" Ross asked. Harvey looked...constipated.
"Jessica," Jerry tipped his glass at her. "She gave Harvey his first legit job. After the mail room, which was kinda shady."
"Mail room?" Ross asked gleefully.
"This is old history -- " Harvey began.
"So I'm fourteen, right?" Jerry said, oblivious to Harvey's glare, "Harvey's seventeen, and we're barely making it, like, living on ramen and hot dogs. Jessica Pearson swoops in from hell knows where and suddenly we got health benefits, Harvey's making good money, no more graveyard shift, no more cuppa soup for dinner. I thought we had it made the first time he brought home a steak," he added, beaming adoringly at his brother.
Harvey was watching Ross, whose expression was difficult to decipher.
"What, you think I was born in a three-piece suit?" he asked, a little more nastily than the look required.
Jerry laughed. "Born in a three piece suit. That's rich. Hey, what do you suppose our net worth is now, collectively?"
"I'd have to check with my accountant," Harvey answered.
"Doesn't matter, anyway," Jerry said. "What matters is I owe Harvey everything. And you," he added, "owe everything to that woman there."
"I wouldn't say everything," Harvey replied.
"Oh?" Jessica asked delicately.
"Don't dig yourself any deeper," Jerry advised.
"I'm fascinated," Ross said gleefully. "So Ms. Pearson plucked you from obscurity, Harvey? Put your life on track?"
"Drink your terrible beer and keep quiet," Harvey ordered.
"When I met Harvey," Jessica said, because tormenting Harvey was fun, "he was a little stray in a leather jacket who somehow managed to get himself appointed captain of the mail room graveyard shift."
"Are we really doing this?" Harvey asked.
"And I hired him to be my secretary -- "
Mike choked on his beer.
" -- and eventually it was decided Pearson Hardman was willing to invest the money to send him to Harvard." Jessica spread one hand elegantly. "Once Jerry was ready to leave the nest, of course."
Jerry grinned, bumping Harvey's shoulder with his own. The look Harvey turned on his brother was one she'd never seen him use on anyone else, even her: fond tolerance, genuine affection, the sort of look that said Jerry was the one person who could do no wrong in Harvey's eyes.
"That's a very nice story," Mike said, giving Harvey a solemn look.
"It is a nice story," Jerry countered, before Harvey could retort. "So don't give him any lip, kid."
"I wouldn't," Mike said, and then, "I won't."
"Well, all right then," Jerry answered, settling back. "Now go get another round."
Mike laughed, but he got up and headed for the bar.
When they left -- Mike and Harvey going on ahead, Mike waving wildly for a cab -- Jerry hung back and caught her hands in his, thick fingers twined around her palms.
"We never forget we owe you," he said, his face open and honest. Like Harvey's would have been, maybe, in a different kind of life. "Don't ever think we do, Ms. Pearson. Jessica."
"Harvey earned what he got," she answered. "So did you."
"Maybe, but you gave us the means to earn it. I want you to know I'm paying that forward, every chance I get. So's he, he just..."
Jessica glanced at Harvey, who was watching them, though he probably couldn't see more than shadows between the streetlights.
"Harvey's very different from you," she said.
"Yeah, no kidding. He had it a lot harder than me, always. But he looks like he's working at it." Jerry let go of her hands, shoving his own into his pockets. "He doing okay? I mean, he looks like he is, but he wouldn't tell me if he wasn't."
"Harvey's fine, Jerry."
"Good. So hey, you coming down for a game sometime or what?" Jerry asked, as they moved forward again. "Get you some prime seats."
"Maybe," she laughed, wondering what had happened to Mike's quest for a cab -- he and Harvey were standing close, talking, and she caught a fragment of it as they approached.
" -- wouldn't use this against you, I swear."
"Why not? I would."
"Because you did the same for me," Mike said, and Jessica saw in the flash of a car headlight the earnest look on his face.
"Harvey!" Jerry said. "Where's the cab, man?"
"Puppy's fetching it," Harvey said, with a significant look at Mike, who went back to trying to flag one down. When a cab finally stopped, Jerry opened the door and Harvey tipped his head at Jessica.
"Ladies first," he said. "Mike, grab us a second one."
She caught Mike's momentary look of sardonic frustration as she climbed into the cab. Once inside, Harvey leaned in the window.
"See you tomorrow?" he asked.
"Wear a suit," she said, and Harvey cracked up laughing, thumping the hood of the cab. Jessica leaned back, gave her address, and let the satisfaction of a job well done fill her.