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if inconvenient, come all the same

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“I'm sorry—I am not trying to start an argument. I am simply asking—”

“You are asking a question I already answered,” Joan counters, blowing out a deep breath. “Frankly, I don't enjoy having this conversation!”

They began this morning by working on the third quarter budget. It went smoothly enough until the moment they decided to take a break. At which point Lane decided it was a good time to bring up their personal finances. Again. He's obsessed with giving her money for the baby.

“Joan, I do not understand why you're so set against it!” Lane retorts, drawing himself up taller in his red wingback chair. “This is the done thing!”

They've been trying not to argue during the workday – in an attempt to deflect negative attention, if it exists – but it's only contributed to them having longer and quieterarguments in Lane's office. None of which have had helpful resolutions.

“I can't take your money,” Joan says again, with a sigh. She's lost count of the amount of times she's said this out loud in the past three weeks. “It wouldn't be fair!”

“Fair?” Lane echoes with a scoff, as if she's lost her mind.

“Yes,” Joan replies, as calmly as she can. “Fair. To you. Unless I'm just supposed to let you provide for a baby you won't be raising?”

He growls out a noise which means she's treading on dangerous ground, but sets his jaw, as if he's determined not to yell at her. “And I'm meant to pretend I have absolutely no responsibility to you, or to that child?”

“Well, how is your arrangement supposed to work? I can't deposit identical amounts of money into my joint checking account on a regular basis. Greg sees those statements.” She can't believe she has to remind Lane that she's still married. Her husband may not be at home now, but he'll be back at some point in time. She can't hide the bills from him forever.

“You could—take cash, if you wanted,” Lane says quickly, as if this idea ought to be obvious. “Set up a different account.”

She slants him a glare. “Where would I keep thousands of dollars in cash? The file cabinet in my office? I'm not Don, for god's sake.”

At Lane's lost expression, she sighs, and waves a dismissive hand. “He kept a stack of fresh shirts and five hundred dollars in a locked desk drawer. At the old place.”

Lane huffs out a surprised breath, like that's the stupidest idea he's ever heard. Joan shrugs in response—who knows why half of these men do the things that they do—but the air in the room feels a little lighter. The silence less oppressive.

“You could set up a separate account,” he says again, but more calmly this time.

Joan sighs again. “Hypothetically, that could be a working solution, but I'd still have to receive the statements here. Hide the checkbook—”

“Well, you could do that easily enough—”

She fixes him with an unhappy look that says don't interrupt. “Lane, it's not about the secrecy. It's about—” and here, she purses her lips, trying to come up with a turn of phrase that doesn't make her sound like a complete fool, “—the—gesture. The actual money.”

He's pinching the bridge of his nose, holding his glasses in his free hand. His voice is getting louder, more incredulous. “You keep saying that. I—don't—understand what it means.”

“Okay,” Joan says, with a shrug of her shoulders, searching for the best way to communicate her point, and deciding it's by using a slightly less fraught example, one that doesn't involve a child. “Do you remember my last day at Sterling Cooper?”

Lane snorts out something close to a laugh. She's about to lose her temper when he says, pulling a confused face and adopting an innocent tone, “I seem to recall something about...lawn equipment...?”

She rolls her eyes, failing to suppress the tiny upward quirk of her mouth. Fine. It was memorable for a lot of reasons. “You know that's not what I meant.”

He seems bemused by the joke, sitting forward in his chair with his hands resting on his knees, and so Joan continues speaking, her smile fading. “Triage aside, it felt like the worst day of my life.”

Lane clears his throat, frowning now, and after Joan glances at him, he seems to decide it's safe to interject. “...Did you...start crying? During the champagne toast?”

She nods her head yes, surprised that he remembers. Briefly pressing her lips together and exhaling another breath through her nose, she then says, very quietly, “Greg was going to become chief resident at St. Luke's. Before that happened, he—demanded that I quit my job. He didn't like the fact that I was working. So I did. I quit, just to keep the peace.”

Lane's staring at her in disbelief. As if the Joan who would leave a beloved job just to satisfy her husband's jealousy is a woman he doesn't know at all. Has she really changed that much in two years?

“The night before the party,” she continues slowly, looking down at the wedding band gleaming on her left hand, “he told me he'd been passed over for the position, because he assumed something that...turned out not to be true.” She's still too ashamed to say the words out loud. He's a terrible surgeon. They basically fired him. “And though we couldn't afford for me to be a housewife after that point, I was too proud to ask for my job back.”

Joan glances at him to gauge his reaction to this pronouncement. Do you get it? Do you finally understand?  “I'm not turning my nose up at your offer because it's useless. But—outside helpisn't easy for me to accept. Even given the circumstances.”

Money always comes with strings. Even if it's well meant at first. Joan does not mention that she's been putting small amounts of money aside into a separate savings account of her own, each month, just in case Greg doesn't come back. Or, in case he comes back with – as her mother so snidely put it the last time they spoke on the phone – yellow fever and two tickets to Reno.

The buzzer on Lane's intercom sounds, once, and suddenly Clara's voice fills the room. “Mr. Pryce, I've got John Proctor from Chemical Bank on line two.”

Joan shoots him a pointed look at the words. That call had better be about the business accounts. He holds up his hands in surrender as he walks over to the intercom, hits the button, and tells Clara to put the call through. It could be an apology. I'm sorry I called them. It could be a gesture of ignorance. Maybe it's about their credit line, which Lane's been trying to extend.

Right now, she's too tired of the constant argument to care. “I'll be back later,” she says, curt, as the phone rings once. She quickly steps out before Lane can reply.

**

Forty minutes later, when she knocks on the door and closes it behind her, Lane's off the phone, sitting quietly behind his desk, facing the window. He swivels in his chair to see who it is, and waves a hand to the chair opposite him as tacit permission to stay. As Joan slides into her seat, he clears his throat, folding his hands on top of the mahogany.

“I'm not—” he begins, then falters. “I—can accept that you don't want me to be personally involved with...this child—”

“Lane—” she begins, putting a hand to her aching temple, but he interrupts her protest.

“—you told me you don't want anything, and I—can honor that—although I hope you'll honor a request of mine, as well.”

She lets out a breath, waves one hand in a circular motion. Fine. Go on.

He slides a piece of paper in her direction, gesturing to the scribbled notes in pencil which cover almost every inch of it. “I'd like to set up a joint checking account, with the two of us as co-signators.”

“You've lost your mind,” Joan blurts first, torn between a dull anger and hysterical laughter as she looks over his notes. God, after all their fighting, and he still—

“—No, Joan, I have a responsibility. And I intend to set aside money for any child of mine, no matter—”

“For god's sake, I won't stop you from doing that on your own; I just don't want to take it! We can't be over-involved!”

“You think I don't know that?” Lane retorts quietly, his voice so even it's like brittle glass. His complete calm makes Joan bite the inside of her cheek in an attempt to stop herself from screaming at him again. He obviously heard her earlier objections. Maybe harshness is uncalled for.

“Sorry,” she mumbles, not trusting herself to say anything else.

“If you don't want it,” he continues gruffly, as if her outburst didn't happen, “don't make withdrawals. Just—let it be...available to you as a precautionary measure. If anything were to happen to me—or to you—I would...prefer that the...child's share be distributed accordingly.”

“Jesus. What would happen?” Joan asks with a sigh, fixing him with an exasperated look.

“Tragic—lawnmower accident?” Lane stammers first, smiling a little at his own terrible joke, then turning serious when he sees she isn't laughing. “I don't know. Sorry. Just—will you please consider this? It would give me more...peace of mind. To fulfill one obligation.”

She sighs again, focusing her gaze on the surface of his desk for several moments, then meets his eyes. He's not going to get any less anxious because you're too proud to accept his help. Saying yes is a stupid idea. It will complicate things between them even further, even if she doesn't take a cent.

“All you'd need is my signature? On the initial paperwork?”

“Mm,” Lane says quickly. “I'll—collect the statements—give you the account and routing numbers, let you know where the cheques...will be kept. But—you're—free to act as you see fit.”

He inclines his head toward her in confirmation of her earlier reticence, his expression now a question. Well, what do you think?

“It's not the worst idea I've ever heard,” Joan finally murmurs, after almost a full minute of silence. At her words, Lane raises his eyebrows, eyes wide behind his glasses and his mouth slightly open. He looks like he's about to get up from his desk and run a victory lap around the building.

“Don't get excited,” she says, leveling him with a glare and a derisive snort before he can move. “I still think this is strange. I'm not taking any money. And I might yell at you again before today is over.”

The corners of Lane's mouth are starting to twitch up. He closes his mouth, and quickly raises his hands in pretend surrender. “Well, then I—solemnly defer to your judgment.”

**

“Not yet,” Joan wheedles, pressing the yellow telephone receiver between her right ear and her shoulder. It's nighttime. Warm for September. She had to open the kitchen window to get a small breeze going in the stuffy apartment, though the clock beside the china cabinet only says 9:10.

Barely even twenty minutes of conversation, and this is the first time they've spoken over the phone in a month. “Greg, I want to talk to you.”

She has to tell him about the baby. Counting back from his last leave, she's supposed to be at least fifteen weeks along. Not nine. How the hell is she going to present this to him? First-time nerves? Ignorance? Superstition?

“Joanie, I'm really busy today. We're doing a lot of” —a burst of static— “oh, come on, Mencken, cut that out, I'm on the phone, for chrissakes!”

People are giggling in the background, a group of men. Probably roughhousing. Or making fun of her. She pushes down the anger that threatens to lodge in her throat, wraps the telephone cord around her index finger in an attempt to diffuse her tension.

“I need to talk to you,” she says instead. She hates begging for his attention, as if she's some girl he's just met. She's his wife, for god's sake! “It's important.”

“Aw. Look, honey,” he says, with a frustrated noise, “If it's work again, you can always get another—oh, Jesus, Mencken, what did I just say?” A long laugh. Muffled conversation with the men in the background. More laughing. It sounds like Greg's covering the mouthpiece.

Still holding the phone to her ear, listening to him joke with his Army buddies, Joan feels small and stupid, blinking quickly to keep herself composed. Deep breath. She is not going to cry. Not over this. It's one phone call.

(It's always one phone call. He never wants to talk to her. He barely even writes. She can count on two hands the number of letters he's sent her in the past year, and he only answers then because he's gotten two or three messages from her in return.)

“Listen, let me call you back in a couple days. Nine o'clock, your time. Thursday. All right?”

She presses her lips into a thin line, mentally reminding herself not to argue. If she upsets him, he might stop calling her out of spite. Which happened once before, when he was just out of basic training. His CO had to order Greg to call her, because it had been three months without a word.

Joan isn't stupid enough to let that happen again. Not if she wants to stay married.

“Okay,” she murmurs, glancing down at the linoleum, and swallowing before she can manage to speak again. “I love you.”

“You, too,” Greg replies absently. The line clicks off. Silence hangs over the connection until it's interrupted by the low tone of a busy signal.

Joan gets up from her perch on her white bar stool, plucks the end of the cord from the telephone base, and throws the receiver into the wall below the open window, walking quickly into her bedroom and slamming the door behind her.

**

“Joan, can I talk to you?”

Megan Calvet peeks around Joan's doorway with a nervous expression. Joan nods, motions for her to close the door. “Of course.”

The girl tucks a stray piece of dark hair behind her ear as she sits down, smoothing the skirt of her navy dress. All the young secretaries are wearing this style these days: tank bodice, straight cut skirt, legs bare to mid-thigh. With that up-swept hair, it's very French continental.

“I'm going to California with Mr. Draper,” the girl blurts first, then covers her mouth. Looks down at the ground, with a nervous laugh. “Sorry. That came out wrong.”

Joan narrows her eyes, completely baffled. “What?”

“Well,” Megan says, wrinkling her nose as if she's not sure where to begin, “you know he's taking his children with him on vacation, but the problem is Mrs. Francis just fired their nanny. With no warning. And—there's a service at the hotel, but the girls who can watch Sally and Bobby won't watch the baby. And vice-versa. He—thought it would be easier if I went with them, instead. As their nanny. He even offered to pay me double. Give me some nights off. It's really considerate.”

Joan lights a cigarette, watching Megan carefully as the girl talks, while stifling the impulse to burst out laughing.

“I know it's a lot to ask,” Megan says next, briefly reaching over the mail tray as if she's going to press her hand over Joan's on the desk, as if they're friends, “but I already said that I would do it. I'm—I really hope that you can spare me. He won't be in the office. And I was thinking Caroline could cover my phone. If it's an issue, I can finish as much paperwork as possible before we leave.”

She gives a shake of her head, smile widening, as if Joan obviously has to understand, and it's silly to have to explain so much to another woman. “I just—really want to help.” With a huff of laughter. “I mean, can you imagine him in California, alone? Full suit, hat, and briefcase, pushing a baby carriage?

Jesus, Joan thinks, exhaling smoke and watching a pink flush brighten Megan's high cheekbones, you've already slept together.

If she has to fire yet another one of Don's secretaries, she's going to give that moron a piece of her mind. Although, at the rate he's going, they'll probably stop in Reno on the way home. Megan's young, striking, and eager to please. Very much his type.

“Well,” Joan says with an arch look, putting her cigarette in the ashtray, “it seems as if you two have thought of everything.”

**

The second Megan leaves for lunch with Clara and Scarlett, Joan stubs out her latest cigarette, rises from her seat, and crosses the hallway to knock on Lane's door.

“You're not going to believe this,” she says as her only preamble, closing the door and taking her usual seat on the sofa. Lane's staring at her as if she's about to sprout horns. She looks back at him for several moments, taking a deep breath before starting her story. “Megan is going on vacation with Don and his children.

The deep frown of confusion that forms on his face makes Joan starts to laugh. She puts a hand to her mouth, briefly, to muffle the sound. “She just—walked into my office and announced it. Like it was nothing. She's going to be his nanny.

“I thought—he was going on personal business,” Lane says, flipping his glasses down onto the bridge of his nose from their original perch on top of his head, in an attempt to see her more clearly.

Joan shakes her head no, and bites her lip in an attempt to compose herself. “They've got it all planned. She was practically twitching with excitement.”

He snorts out an amused noise, a small smile creeping to his face. “How very scandalous.”

She laughs again, fixing him with an amused glance. “You should have heard the way she talked.”Pitching her voice a little higher, assuming a wide-eyed look, and putting two hands to her heart, as if she's some kind of lovesick teenager. “Oh, Joan, I really hope that you can spare me. Can you imagine Don in California all alone?”

“She did not say that to you,” Lane says in a mild voice, though his widening grin says he finds her playacting funny. Joan drops the feigned mannerisms with a roll of her eyes.

“They've obviously slept together. I'm going to have to pull resumes again. We'll have to get him a new secretary.”

He raises his eyebrows at this, leveling her with a sterner, more disappointed look. Don't be a gossip. “Have you ever heard the expression don't count your chickens?”

“At this point, Don has gone out with half the henhouse,” Joan reminds him, arch. “One of those chicks is bound to hatch an egg.”

Lane scoffs at her little joke, as if it's in poor taste. “Oh. I wouldn't start that rumor.”

“I'm not,” Joan counters in innocence, not even bothering to suppress her smile. “You should have seen Megan talking about him. There were actual stars in her eyes. She looked like she was fifteen years old, and in the throes of puppy love.”

At the last two words, Lane snorts out a laugh, getting up from his desk, stretching a little, and crossing the room to sit in his armchair before meeting her amused expression. “Dare I dispute your feminine intuition?”

“You can try,” she says slyly, giving him a sidelong look. “I know what I saw. They'll be married in six months.”

They share a smile, and there's a short silence before Lane clears his throat, and speaks again, carefully this time. “I wonder if you'd...care to...have a little wager. On that particular outcome?”

Joan's eyebrows raise so high they're in danger of disappearing into her hair. “You want to start a betting pool?” Making a little tsking noise, and shaking her head slightly, as if the suggestion is beyond inappropriate. The grin on her face gives her away. She didn't think he would be this game. Maybe he's just glad to be in on the joke, for once.

“By all means, Mr. Pryce. Name your terms.”

He purses his mouth for several moments, brow knitted, obviously thinking hard, before an idea lights up his face with undisguised glee, and he turns to her with a mischievous grin.

“Crane's expense reports.”

Even before they were friends, marking these was always a point of contention. Harry's handwriting is illegible, he fudges about three-fourths of his expenses, and trying to prove a point to him about anything is like trying to argue with a spoiled toddler. Joan's honestly not sure which one of them hates him more. Lane thinks he's annoying, lewd and unprofessional, while she thinks he's stupid, charmless, and egotistical. As of right now, they trade off the hated duty every month.

Oh, he is going to hate dealing with those all alone. She'll be a gracious winner, of course.

“For how long?” she asks, sitting up straight in her seat, as if they're two heads of state involved in a series of complex negotiations, and not a pair of people making a friendly bet.

“Three months,” Lane says, writing down the terms on a small scrap of paper he pulls from his wallet. “From the moment their...supposed...intentions are confirmed.” Holding up an index finger as if to warn her against foul play. “Not to be determined by rumors, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Joan echoes, slanting him a smile as he replaces this paper in his wallet. When he doesn't say anything for at least ten seconds, she decides to fill the silence with another joke.

“Well, aren't we going to shake on it?” she asks slyly, extending her right arm in his direction with all the haughtiness of a royal dignitary: palm facing down, wrist and fingers relaxed.

Lane laughs, and nods his head yes. After a slight hesitation, he gets up, walks to her side, and takes her loosely curled fingers in his hand. He holds this pose for a few seconds, schooling his features into the most serious expression he can muster. Which isn't working very well. A smile keeps playing around the corners of his mouth.

She returns the smile, inclines her head in kind, then withdraws her hand from his grasp.

**

“Come on, honey. Do we really have to talk about serious stuff? I don't have a lot of time.”

“Greg, what do you want me to say? You called me.”

Joan listened to him rattle on about Army life for fifteen straight minutes. He described the pranks the officers have been pulling on each other, and the punishments they've been inflicting on younger cadets, updated her on the perils of not changing your socks, the constant heat, and – offhand – said that he missed her.

Which only came up because he apparently had a dream about her last night and was tortured to wake up alone. She's sure. He didn't even let her talk about the office, dismissing it as boring, and only laughed at one of her stories, when Joan told him about Megan going on vacation with Don. Hell, she's probably dynamite in bed. That was his first response. Like he's Casanova's gift to women. You'd think a doctor would have a better grasp of anatomy.

“Hey, listen, you want to hear a joke one of the fellows taught me?”

Even now, she can hear a group of the fellows cutting up in the background. Jesus. How long is the line for the phone? Every time there's the smallest pause in conversation – which is often, practically every minute – Joan feels the admission hovering on the tip of her tongue. I have something to tell you. I have good news. I went to Dr. Emerson recently...

And every time she starts to say it, there's a sudden noise or a purposeful interruption on the other end, and Greg turns his attention to another friend, leaving her to swallow the words.

Jesus. When did she become such a coward?

He won't be home on leave until after the baby's born. She has to give him an explanation, keep him in the loop, or else he'll come up with ideas of his own. Just tell him, for god's sake. He might even be excited. He's been begging her for a son for years.

“Joanie. You hear what I said?”

“Yes,” she says immediately, switching the phone to her other ear. “Of course.” Taking a deep breath. “You know, I was trying to find the right time to say this—”

“Shit,” Greg interrupts, talking over her. Some kind of siren is going off in the background, warbling long and high-pitched. She doesn't even have time to ask what it means—an emergency, or incoming patients—before he continues, “Listen, I gotta run. I'll call you, okay?”

And he slams the phone down before she can say another word, leaving her to gape at the extension in stunned disbelief. Jesus. He didn't even wait five seconds to say goodbye. Who does that?

**

“Who the hell is Miss Calvet?” Roger asks Don, clearly lost.

“Megan,” Joan supplies, rolling her eyes at his confusion. As if this announcement is a surprise. Looking over her shoulder toward Don's closed door, she can see Pete, frozen in place beside the doorway, awkward smile pasted on as he tries to process the news. Out of all the men, Lane recovers first, stepping forward to shake Don's hand, and then it's handshakes and air kisses with the bride and congratulations all around.

Megan and Don can't keep their hands off each other. They look as giddy and affectionate as smitten co-eds. It's hilarious, really. And at one point during the hubbub, Lane ends up standing next to Joan. His left elbow pokes her in the ribs gently but purposefully, sometime during Megan's halting explanation of upcoming wedding plans—which is to say, they have no plans—and she glances over to see Lane smirking in her direction. Joan can practically hear him teasing her. Well done.

Later in the day, when they're gathering in the conference room for a traffic meeting, Harry Crane drops a bundle of loose papers onto the table and pushes them in Lane's direction.

“Here. I didn't staple this, sorry.”

Lane blinks at the mess. “These...are your expenses?”

“Finished them this morning,” Harry says, as if his last-ditch effort is something to be proud of. He searches through his folio and produces two or three crumpled receipts, which he tosses haphazardly toward the pile. “You know, I actually saw Ed Ames in Pasadena.”

“Did you actually talk to him?” Joan counters, suppressing an eyeroll. Harry pretends not to hear her question, feeling around in his jacket pockets for what – Joan's guessing – are more stray receipts.

Lane looks slowly from the growing mess of papers on the table and back to Joan with feigned panic in his eyes, giving her the tiniest shake of his head, as if to say god help me. She can't help but smirk in return, mouthing two words back at him in reply: have fun.