Summary: Twenty things Harvey and Donna know about each other.
Author's Notes: 4,783 words. General series spoilers. I don't really know how I feel about this, so con-crit is both welcome and appreciated. All mistakes are mine. These characters, however, are not.
Tired of me spamming ya'll yet? Heh.
[ o n e ]
“I thought about leaving,” he tells her quietly. He adds needlessly for clarification, “After the vote.”
The night they put Hardman down for the second time, they linger long after the others leave. Harvey puts on his father’s records, and Donna stays seated in his chair, legs crossed at the ankles as they sit atop his desk. He’s near the window now, hand curled around a baseball as his fingers trace the stitching like Braille. Harvey loves the city most at night, likes to stand in this very same spot as the sun disappears into the horizon, watching as the streets below spark to life. It makes him feel so incredibly small and giant-like at the same time, like the word is both endless and insignificant. Harvey finds he likes the inconsistency.
“Travel?” she asks, joining him near the window. He makes an affirmative sound in the back of his throat, watches her face in the reflection of the glass as she takes in the city’s skyline. “Where would we go?”
“Europe, maybe. Italy? Paris?”
Donna’s smile curves around the rim of her glass. “I’ve always wanted to see Versailles.”
Turning to face her, Harvey holds her gaze as he murmurs, “I know.”
She is the first to look away, her sigh running through him. The bright lights of the city blink at both of them.
It’s the first time he has allowed himself to think about kissing her in years.
[ t w o ]
His brother calls the same time of every week. It’s always the office, never Harvey’s cell, because he likes to talk to Donna first, trusts her to tell him all the things Harvey won’t. The world could be ending and Harvey wouldn’t falter, would still grin and pick up the phone, and act as though everything is perfectly fine because he told her once, that is what good brothers are meant to do. There are confidences she will never break, things she knows she can never share with anyone, but when he asks is he doing okay? in that soft, gentle tone that reminds her so much of their father, her answer is always honest.
There was an agreement cultivated years before, when he was just a kid coming to visit his brother in the big city for a long weekend. They took him to a ballgame, to the best bars, and properly oriented him to the art of street-side cuisine. Donna was the one to take him to the train station the Monday he left because Harvey had trial, and his brother stuck his hand out, angled his jaw, tried so very hard to emulate everything his big brother was.
Take care of him, OK? he said, so serious it was almost laughable, and Donna smiled simply and shook his hand firmly as she mumbled, Yeah, Kid. I will.
This is the one thing everybody already knows, but is worth repeating: Donna doesn’t make promises unless she intends to keep them.
[ t h r e e ]
As a rule, they never talk about it, but he always remembers:
Donna tastes exactly like she talks – sharp, smooth, with a little bit of salt around the edges.
Harvey could always appreciate continuity.
[ f o u r ]
They don’t argue like normal people. Their relationship is one built upon a foundation of trust and loyalty, the depth of respect they harbor for each other preventing such a thing from occurring most days.
They don’t argue at all, really, except when they do.
And when they do, it is explosive because neither plays fair when it comes to the other.
“My job,” she yells once, sometime during those first years under Cameron. Donna is fruitlessly trying to warn Harvey against all the things he is blissfully ignorant to, the things she sees and he simply doesn’t want to. “Let me do my goddamn job.”
Harvey looks at her sharply. She has seen the anger before, knows how to recognize it in the turn of his mouth, the furrow of his eyebrows, in even his gentlest of cues. Donna knows how to combat it, how to work with it, not against it, helping him mold it into something bigger and better so it eventually propels him into action instead of destroying him altogether.
It’s harder now, with the sounds of their breathing echoing off the bare walls of his too-small office. It’s harder when it’s directed at her and her alone, a reminder of sorts that all things are so utterly fragile.
“Protecting me isn’t your job,” he says tiredly. He reaches up to rub at his eyes with the heels of his hands and something catches in her throat. She swallows it down.
The curl of her mouth is bitter and worn as she says, “Isn’t it? Is that not what you have expected from me everyday for the last two years?”
The silence snaps in her ears. She walks away and he lets her.
[ f i v e ]
Donna almost leaves him that day. She does leave him that day. Heads home early, cooks herself dinner, opens a bottle of merlot and lets the red stain her teeth as she crawls onto her couch and turns the volume up high enough on the TV to calm the chaos inside her head.
“I shouldn’t have let you walk away,” he says, his sigh heavy over the line when he calls her later in the night. Letterman is telling awful jokes to her from the TV and she feels Harvey’s exhaustion in her bones, and wonders, not for the first time, what it would be like not to have to carry it with her everyday. She thinks, also not for the first time, that maybe she should quit. Maybe she should make a play at moving on and forward, away from the constant give and take between the two of them because once upon a time her mother warned her about the fallacy of paving roads with good intentions. “I should have gone after you.”
Sighing, she rubs her eyes, smudging the mascara near the corners. She wonders where his exhaustion ends and hers begins and tries to remember if they were ever any good at drawing lines and respecting them after.
“Funny,” she deadpans, desperately grasping for common ground. “None of those words even remotely sounded like I’m sorry.”
He almost laughs and it’s comfortable, easy again. She breathes a silent sigh of relief as he replies, “Don’t push it.”
(The only time she ever comes close to tasted the regret of staying is over a decade later, as she stands by the elevator with the summation of her entire career shoved into a cardboard box and all he can do, all he can say is nothing as he pushes the goddamn button for her.)
[ s i x ]
It starts with his mother, her palm smooth and loving against his cheek, and Harvey, still blissfully unaware of the truth, leaning into her touch, finding comfort in the warmth.
“You’ll understand one day, baby,” she says. Her smile is tight, brittle. “You just have to do what is best for you. You have to take care of you. If you start thinking about everybody else’s wants or needs it’s just going to mess you up.”
Years later, he sometimes thinks it was the nicest thing she ever did for him.
[ s e v e n ]
He kisses her first, in the tiny entryway of her apartment, shoes squeaking against the hardwood from the rain coming down outside as he moves against her, mouth sliding hers open wider against his and tasting the little bit of whiskey there. Harvey kisses her first, but he will always maintain that she starts it. She starts it in the bar with her hand against his arm, and later in the car as she sits too close, so close he could smell the shampoo in her hair, the faint smell of pencils and perfume on her neck. She solidifies it after, when she allows his fingers to fold and shape against the delicate bones of her knee.
Donna’s hands are everywhere at once – his neck, his hair, grasping at his shirt, pulling it out of the waistband just so her fingers can slide against the skin underneath. Harvey feels something akin to a whimper build and burn at the back of his throat, can’t quite remember the last time he wanted for something this badly, and presses himself against her, swallows the moans she offers him greedily.
Harvey’s mind is already moving ten steps ahead – her bed, with her spread out beneath him as he presses between her thighs. She’ll be tight, he thinks, and warm, and he’ll nearly come at that alone, at how ready she is for him, at how much she wants this too. And tomorrow morning he’ll wake her before work with his mouth between her legs, and –
When she pulls away all he can do is stare, breath coming in short, quiet pants, as he appreciates the beautiful lines of her mouth, the flush of her cheeks, the way her lips part softly around the syllables of his name. She breathes and sighs at once, eyes closed as she rests the back of her head against the door, and he knows this is going nowhere fast, already spiraling out of his control, because he can’t think, can’t focus on anything besides the sight of her, and the sheer need humming in his veins.
“I think I could love you,” Donna murmurs, eyes sliding open to flick towards his. The turn of her mouth is both wistful and sad. In this moment, Harvey can decide which he hates more.
His fingers tighten near her hip, wrinkling the fabric beneath them as his throat goes dry. He presses his eyes closed, imagines his life five, ten, fifteen years from now and the only constant he sees as the images flicker before him is her. He doesn’t know what it means, isn’t ready to know what it means. The only thing he does know is he isn’t ready to risk it, and judging by the way she stopped, the way she looks at him now as if she’s gauging his reaction and devising exit strategies, neither is she.
So he shoves the want and need coiling inside him deep down, meant to be buried and forgotten, and leans to press his lips to her forehead softly while he still has a right.
“This is a mistake,” he says.
“Yeah,” she breathes. The nod of her head is sharp. “I think it is.”
He lets her go.
[ e i g h t ]
Despite what everyone likes to believe, she never wanted to be a lawyer, thank you, and she is quite happy with where she is in her life.
The rumors were hard to miss in the beginning, the looks and whispers too. In those early years, right after she fumbled her way through college, she took the job at the DA’s office because her bills wouldn’t pay themselves, and she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with her life. Her parents wanted her to be something noble, like a doctor or a nurse, and Donna entertained their whims for a while, but not for long. Her mother used to call her on Sundays after her parents returned home from church, and some days Donna would pick up and other times she wouldn’t because no matter what the topic at hand, every call ended the same – with her mother’s voice tired and sad, her sigh wistful as she murmured I just want more for you over the connection.
The disappointment used to cut deeper than Donna would have liked, or even allowed if it were anyone else, so she does try law school for a while, but no matter how much of an effort she makes, it just doesn’t fit.
Donna can never quite decide whether she chose the law or the law chose her, but eventually everyone who counted realized the truth: she is the best goddamn legal secretary in the state of New York and she is exactly where she wants to be.
[ n i n e ]
The thing is, during their time apart, Harvey knew Donna was okay. He knew she was angry and bitter and so very disappointed in him, but she was slowly getting over it, doing her best to move on. Harvey isn’t an idiot, he knows how valuable she is, how intelligent she is. He knows all about the offers she routinely receives, all the men and women alike who press cards into her hand and murmur something like just in case and how she never considered it, not once, but how they are always there, a viable option for her.
And he’s glad for it, he tells himself, because if they would ever decide to part ways again on their own terms, he knows she would be okay then too. Knows Donna would get another job and maybe find a good guy, someone who wouldn’t have to offer ultimatums because Harvey would no longer be there fucking it up for her without even really trying.
Here is the one thing he knows that Donna probably doesn’t: he will never allow it to get to that point, not again. Not after the last time, not after she walked out his life and he was all too willing to let her, and things started spiraling out of his control at every turn afterwards. He meant it when he said he needed her, meant it even more when he told her I can’t be me without you because Harvey knows now the chaos and sheer uncertainty of a life without her by his side, and he won’t go back – at least not without a fight this time.
It makes him an asshole probably, trying to keep her close whilst constantly holding her back, but Harvey is always at his most selfish when she is involved.
(Besides, he constantly rationalizes, Donna doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to do, so his part in it is pretty much negated anyway.)
[ t e n ]
Donna is almost engaged once.
Not to a stockbroker or a lawyer like the rumors suggest, but to a teacher from the West Side that taught tenth grade history and coached baseball in the spring. They date for two blissfully happy years and he is the nicest, most respectable man she’s ever known. He has an excellent mouth and hands, and grudgingly reads Shakespeare with her in the Park on Sunday afternoons, crappy British accent and all. When she takes him home to meet her parents for Christmas, he shakes her father’s hand proudly like a man, brings his mother some sort of plant because he thinks it is the polite thing to do. Her sister pulls Donna to the side while doing dishes, giggling from too much wine as she says, I think he’s the one like she knows something Donna doesn’t.
And he loves her, he does. He never wastes an opportunity to tell her, is always the first to grab her hand while walking for coffee in the morning, and he never shies away from attention in public. He is honest and thoughtful and is always the one to say I’m sorry when they fight, even when it is Donna pushing too hard or too far, the words usually murmured against the skin of her throat as they fall asleep because he doesn’t like to go to bed angry.
Most importantly, he never gives her the ultimatum, never asks her to choose between him and her career. Not once. Not when she cancels dinner at the last minute because of an eleventh hour appeal. Not when Harvey calls in the middle of the night, or on her days off, or during that one weekend Harvey swore he wouldn’t when they headed to Nantucket for her birthday. He understands that her career is important to her, that it is a part of her, and respects it the best he can – even when it frustrates him beyond reason. And when he kneels before her one morning while she’s brushing her teeth and still in sweatpants, spinning promises of forever and ever she knows he means it. She does, because she knows him, knows he doesn’t waste energy on words he doesn’t believe in, knows he would never lie to her if he could help it.
And she does think yes. She closes her eyes and pictures her future spread before her – the white picket fence, the two kids, the dog – and thinks it could be him there, by her side, steady and certain through it all. But when she opens her mouth, the word dries in her throat.
They look on his face says maybe he knew it all along.
[ e l e v e n ]
Harvey likes her the most when he gets her to laugh. To really laugh when it is just the two of them, her mouth curving with amusement, the column of her throat exposed as she tilts her head back and sound spills between them before settling onto his shoulders, pressing into skin and muscle, a reminder he can carry with him.
[ t w e l v e ]
Leaving Pearson Hardman is both the hardest and easiest thing she’s ever done.
It’s easy because she stands by what she did. She stands by protecting Harvey because she will never not protect him. There will never be a time when she won’t be driven in some way to protect him. It is something that has been ingrained into the very core of her, something that is instinctual, innate. She will never apologize for it because it’s who she is now, who she has been for years, and he of all people should know that.
After all this time, he should know her.
But it is also the hardest thing she’s ever had to do because she never thought there would be a time when he wouldn’t be willing to do the same for her. She never thought that when forced to choose, forced to fight, he wouldn’t choose to fight for her.
The reality still tastes bitter in the back of her throat every time she thinks about it.
[ t h i r t e e n ]
Boxing is a thing that started after he threw his shoulder out, something the physical therapist suggested as a way to channel his anger and recondition the body that failed him.
He alternates his off days with running, a habit he started in high school when his coach told him he needed to be faster, lighter on his feet. Some habits are harder to break than others, and decades later he still finds himself waking before the sun, pushing himself harder and faster as his feet pound the solid concrete beneath his sneakers.
Harvey likes to feel as though he’s going somewhere, needs to be in perpetual motion, and has grown accustomed to the way chaos edges into calm the faster his legs carry him.
[ f o u r t e e n ]
His brother will know before he does, brings it up the way his father used to – casual, in passing almost. It was easier to deny years before, to deflect. His father was always joking when he asked, when are you going to come to your senses, son? but Harvey thinks there was always a bit of truth to it too. His father is, after all, the one that taught him the art of reading between the lines.
“You should tell her,” his brother insists. They’re at a bar, peanut shells crunching under their feet. The Yankees are making a play for the series and Donna is at the bar ordering more beer; Harvey can make out the red of her hair, the blue of her Jersey from across the way, through the sea of bodies separating them.
The paper tears beneath his fingers as he picks at the peeling label of his beer. His defenses kick into overdrive, the lies already spinning and falling out of his mouth. He is an excellent liar, but his brother shakes his head, sees right through it all. They are too alike in this regard.
“Just tell her,” he presses, tone near exasperation.
Looking up, Harvey catches sight of Donna rounding the corner. She smiles at him, mouth curving gently, and all he can think is it’s not that simple.
[ f i f t e e n ]
Donna doesn’t need Harvey in her life. Not in the ways he needs her.
There is a life she leads completely separate from him. One with friends and family and routines that are independent of all things Harvey Specter. Donna has friends that know nothing of the law, men who give instead of taking, who never fail to offer grand declarations and gestures just to let her know they care. She has Sunday morning routines and Friday night rituals and people who call just to ask how are you? and expect nothing at all in return.
During her time away from the firm, her life did not disrupt into sheer chaos. She moved, and kept moving, adjusting and breathing in the change and working with it until she controlled it, until she was able to bend it, working it to her advantage. She endured. She survived. And she did it without him and would continue to do so for days and months and years after because Donna doesn’t equate self worth with a man or a title or a job and she certainly doesn’t depend on a man like Harvey – or any other man for that matter – for stability, for structure.
She used to think that one distinct difference between them meant something. Now she’s not so sure.
Yes, she endured without him, without his presence and the familiarity of their worn routines, but she missed him every single day, the longing for their friendship and his presence intermingling with the anger and cutting deeper than she wished were possible.
She simply isn’t ready, isn’t willing to wrap her head around what exactly that may imply quite yet.
[ s i x t e e n ]
His father was a good man, an honest man most days, and he tried so very hard to instill within Harvey a general faith in humanity. It never fully took, and therefore Harvey absolutely meant it when he told both Jessica and the firm caring only makes you weak. It’s a fundamental principle of his, the foundation upon which he builds the lies to set him apart from all the people in his life – even the ones who matter, even the ones he knows would never use emotion as warfare.
Harvey doesn’t do sentimental or sweet nothings. He definitely doesn’t do grand gestures or declarations unless they are meant to distract and disarm so he can achieve whatever goal he is currently working towards. He is careful and methodic in almost every aspect of his life; his father instilled this specific skill within him by leading as an example of what not to do and he is thankful for it most days, he really is.
Still, there is a picture, worn and fading with a slight tear in the left upper corner that sits out of place and on display in his home office. It’s high school, first ball game of the season, with his parents proud and tall on either side of him, and his brother’s awkward, gangly frame hugging Harvey tightly around his middle. Harvey’s smile is wide, full of teeth. They’re happy in that photo, a family.
Some days it serves as an affirmation, a reminder that things were good once and they might be again.
Most days, though, it only serves as further proof that everything deserves a closer look because nothing is as it appears to be on the surface.
[ s e v e n t e e n ]
Donna knows everything which by extension means she knows people. She has long since made an art out of filing away mannerisms and cues, the slight twists of mouths and inflection of words just so it can all be used as a weapon against an opponent at a future date. She knows when to push and pull, when to walk away, and, most importantly, when to offer her trust, her loyalty. It is how she knows that underneath the smugness and bravado, all Harvey really wants is to be able to see the good in people – which is why he still picks up when his mother calls, why he still sends her money when she asks, and why, most importantly, he didn’t see Cameron coming from a mile away.
Which is okay, she knows, because this is why he has her.
When they leave the DA’s office behind for Pearson Hardman, Donna doesn’t think twice about taking the evidence against Cameron with her. She has always been very good at devising exit strategies, at remaining at least three steps ahead of her opponent at all times and for years the envelope sits sealed and untouched, buried under socks and t-shirts in her top drawer, always just within reach. Donna knew, even then, that one day all the lies would catch up with Cameron, and when they did, his initial gut-reaction would be to pin it on the one that got away.
She does it to protect herself just as much as she does it to protect Harvey. Even then, even in the very beginning, Donna was able to recognize the blurring of the line where Harvey ended and she began, that they no longer existed as two separate entities.
Donna has always been the more selfish of the two. She’s just much better at hiding it.
[ e i g h t e e n ]
Inevitably, she scares the hell out of him. The depth to which she knows him, knows all of him, and the way he depends on that knowledge constantly threatens to unhinge him at every end.
[ n i n e t e e n ]
She is not in love with him.
(She is an excellent liar, though.)
[ t w e n t y ]
“This place was a mess without you,” he tells her sometime in the aftermath of her return, and he surprises them both by reaching for her, fingers gentle as they press against her wrist, thumb tracing the space where the bones collide.
Harvey is excellent with words, can spin and mold them together until they create the perfect lie, until the sheer uttering of them can bend somebody completely to his will – but not with her. Never with her. With Donna it always the truth, always honesty even if it is buried between the lines, and she knows this, which is why her back stiffens just slightly, her eyes flicking towards his with a question they have been actively trying to avoid for years before she shuts it down, face a mask of neutrality.
There was a time, he remembers, when these sorts of moments where familiar, almost commonplace – innocent brushes of fingers, his hand on the small of her back, the smile the moments would illicit from her filled with a possibility he didn’t quite understand then. But then things shifted, changed, and it was easier to keep their distance, easier to maintain impartiality when there was one single part of their lives the other hadn’t touched.
Now, his fingers tighten around her wrist, his eyes keeping hers, and Harvey uses these types of moments sparsely and as a weapon, as a way to drive his point home when words fail him, when he needs her to understand but he is at a loss as to how.
“Of course it was,” she says with a characteristic roll of her eyes, not missing a beat. It’s familiar, this banter, and she’s already launching into how it took her three whole days to redo their filing system, but her mouth is twisting softly as the words fill the distance between them and Harvey knows she is acutely aware that what he really means is I was a mess without you.
His eyes linger on the sight of his fingers against her skin before he lets her go.
(It starts here.)