14.

"You hired Peter Florrick's wife? As a junior associate?"

Somehow Kalinda is standing right there when the elevator doors open. Technically they haven't announced the new hires to the general staff yet, but so many people were involved in the process that he doesn't bother asking her how she knows.

"Yup. And some kid right out of Harvard."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" she asks

Will walks purposefully through the bullpen. "Well, I know Harvard grads can sometimes be tools, Kalinda, but you should really give the guy a chance."

Kalinda does her little pause thing that functions as an eyeroll. "So did she get the job because she's Peter Florrick's wife, or because you went to law school with her?"

Will stops and faces her. He knows he doesn't have to answer to Kalinda but he's defended this decision so many times over the past week that he's almost on autopilot. "We hired Alicia because she's smart, qualified, and will be an asset to the firm."

"Aha."

Apparently he's supposed to ask 'What do you mean, aha?', so he doesn't and instead starts walking again.

She trails after him. "I'm just saying, that's what people are going to think."

"So let them. People can think what they want. People thought all sorts of things when I made partner. Said them, too."

Kalinda's default tone is skeptical, so for this, she ratchets it up a notch. "Did they? That you were too white, too male, too well-educated, too...?"

"Too young, too inexperienced, too lacking in knowledge of the 'right people,'" Will finishes, rounding the corner into a meeting room. The meeting room, where his early meeting started five minutes ago.

It's empty.

"What the hell?"

"Your meeting got moved upstairs to the conference room," Kalinda says helpfully.

"What is that, like the third time this week?" Will grumbles. Leaning against the doorframe, he lifts his eyes to meet Kalinda's. "Okay, what is it?"

"What do you mean?"

"You followed me here, armed with full knowledge that I was headed to a meeting in an empty room. What is it?"

"I don't question your prerogative to go to whatever room you-"

"K."

She looks at him, bites her lip, and he can tell she's on the point of saying something when one of the assistants appears. "I'm sorry, Mr. Gardner, I was just informed your meeting will be up in conference room B."

"Yes, thank you, I'll be right there," Will says, and waves her away, but Kalinda's expression has closed off again and he knows it's too late for whatever it was.


A couple days later, Kalinda's in his office, talking about something else entirely, when suddenly he asks, "Could you do me a favor?"

She flips open a pad and starts to click her pen, but Will shakes his head.

"What is it?"

Will grabs his baseball, starts shifting it from one hand to the other. "The junior associates start next week."

"Do you want me to haze them?"

Will smiles. "I'm not sure I want to know what exactly a Kalinda Sharma hazing entails."

"Just tequila." A beat. "Or your baseball bat." Another beat. "Maybe both." She shrugs.

"My first year in college I had to iron the seniors' boxers for a month," Will recalls. "Briefs, too." He shudders.

Kalinda's look is blank, and he briefly reflects, as one does occasionally, that it's possible she comes from a different planet.

"For baseball," he clarifies, holding up the ball. "It was pretty lame. But I am seriously amazing at ironing now, though."

"I don't iron," Kalinda says, glancing down at her leather skirt, "so if that's the favor..."

"When I was a captain," Will continues, ignoring this, "we made the freshmen do monologues from Bull Durham on command. On the team bus, at parties, when they were on the phone with their girlfriends. Sometimes we'd walk by their lecture halls and stand outside the door and they'd have to stand up and do it in the middle of class. It was great."

"Who's Bill Durham?" she asks. Will's relatively sure she knows most of this stuff and just defaults to the mode of pissing people off so she doesn't have to care.

"So, the junior associates," Will begins again.

"You know, I think Cary actually started yesterday," Kalinda interjects. Their eyes lock. They both know he's not talking about Cary.

So he gives up on the generalities (why he ever bothers with them anyway, with Kalinda, he's not really sure - habit, probably) and gets to the point.

"So, Alicia starts next week," he says, alternating grips on the baseball - fastball, curveball, slider, change-up...fastball, curveball, slider, change-up - "and I was wondering is if you'd help her a bit, with getting acclimated and everything. When you're working on the first case, I think it'll be the pro bono, if you could just-"

"No."

"The Harvard kid will be fine, there are plenty of other first-years the same age and they'll all bond, just like every year. But it's not like she's 25 anymore and-"

"How old do you imagine I am, exactly?" Kalinda interrupts.

He supposes he's always thought of her as relatively ageless, or rather as a force somewhat beyond the mundanity of time, but he's not in the mood to ponder such profundities, so he continues, "I'm guessing she'll feel out of place and not really used to the pace of it and it'd be nice if someone-"

"No."

"-sort of showed her the lay of the land."

"No."

"Of course I can't really...you know, because I'm..." he trails off, the baseball freezing awkwardly between his third and fourth fingers.

Because I'm going to be her boss, he realizes, and it hits him, then. It hits him that he's going to be giving Alicia, who let him argue the best parts of their moot court exercise, a ton of shitty cases; it hits him that he's going to be taking Alicia, who caught him up on like four Torts lectures when he had to go home for his grandfather's funeral, away from her family at all hours; it hits him that after six months he's maybe going to have to tell Alicia, who he kissed at a bar after their Criminal Procedure final and who he then went home and broke up with Helena for, that she's fired.

"No."

Kalinda snaps back into focus.

"What?"

"I can't, Will," she says, and if he were more observant he'd notice it's almost as though her armor has a chink in it. "I am the last person you want for this."

"Why's that?"

She stares at him. Her expression is even more guarded than usual, like she thinks she's said too much. This time he does notice.

"Why the last person?" he asks again, this time more curious.

When Kalinda speaks next it's with that fake cheerful tone she uses sometimes, typically when she's manipulating information from someone. "Have you met me?" she asks. "I'm not the girl the teacher asks to show the new kid around school."

Will lets himself be deflected. "Oh, but I bet you know all the places on the playground to smoke pot," he returns.

Her lips curl up at this. "I can't." There's finality in it.

"Okay, no big deal," Will says, and he starts rotating the baseball again. Fastball, curveball, slider, change-up. Fastball, curveball, slider, change-up...

He grabs a file from his desk and switches gears. "Has Julius caught you up to speed on that assault case? By the barber shop? The SA's office is trying to push it through and that makes me think there's got to be some security cam footage that we're missing."

Kalinda doesn't respond - she's staring at the baseball. Fastball, curveball, slider, change-up...

"Kalinda?"

"Did you hire her because she's Peter Florrick's wife, or because you went to law school with her?" she asks suddenly. Asks again suddenly.

Will sets the baseball carefully down on his desk. They both watch it roll slowly before coming to rest against a paperweight. He wonders if she knows what she's asking.

"Because she went to law school with me," he responds at last.

"Okay," she says.

Silence.

"So did he show you the pictures of the alley?" Will asks, returning to the case. "With the way it's configured-"

"No, I mean, okay, I'll do it."

Will blinks. "Be the girl who shows the new kid around school?"

"The one who shows her where to smoke pot." She smiles at him, and he's pretty sure there are a ton of levels at which they don't, and can't, understand each other but there's at least one at which they do, and he tries to find the words to thank her but she's flipping her pad and clicking her pen again and he's picking up the baseball again (fastball, curveball, slider...) and they're discussing the barber shop assault like it's the only thing they've been talking about.

"One more thing," he says suddenly, later, when Kalinda gets up to leave, and she pauses in the doorway.

"What's that?"

"She likes tequila."

Kalinda's eyes level with his. "Is that right?"

"Doesn't everyone?" Will shrugs. Fastball, curveball, slider, change-up. Fastball, curveball, slider, change-up.

She lingers a moment longer in the doorway. "Peter Florrick doesn't."

Knuckleball.


A/N: I'm still putting the finishing touches on the final chapter, so it may be a few days extra. Thank you for continuing to follow this story.