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if inconvenient, come all the same

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twenty-two weeks

 

Lane wakes to the sensation of a woman slowly crawling on top of him and a low voice in his ear. “Want to go for a ride?”

Eyes fluttering open, he makes a noise in the back of his throat which is half-laugh, half-whine, mouth lifting into a small smile. He and Joan went home together Friday—his flat again—and much of the weekend has passed in a haze. Sex and sleep and talking and meals at all hours, when one or both of them were too starved to keep going. She's insatiable. It's amazing. He's bloody exhausted.

Joan nips at his earlobe, startling a shiver out of him despite everything.

“You'll be the death of me, woman,” he says with a groan, pretending to be cross as his hands move to rest against her waist.

“Just a little death,” she teases, kissing down his neck, then whispering a short string of French words he's too delirious to understand. By the playful sound of her voice, they're very naughty. He can feel her breasts and stomach brushing softly against him as she moves down his body, and it makes him shiver again.

“Ah.” He exhales a happy sigh as she settles on top of him. “Fantastic.”

**

If anyone were to suggest Joan might be exhibiting signs of hormonal stress due to her condition, she would likely flay them alive. Lane can only picture the tongue-lashing which would swiftly follow this accusation. Although, to be honest, he does not have to picture it, as in recent weeks he has seen Joan's temper change course as brutally as the tide.

This morning, she was making jokes over her scrambled eggs at breakfast. She can eat them again now; it's brilliant, apparently. Yet while he was on a call, sometime during lunch, he heard her shouting at Clara over several unnamed typos on the latest letter to Vick Chemical. Apparently, Miss Olson was the only person stout enough to intervene. She took Joan into the conference room under pretense of a private question, then gave her a cigarette and a packet of crisps, and promptly left her to her own devices.

When Joan relays this story to him several hours later, she makes it sound as if Peggy's concern was cloying and unnecessary, even if she did enjoy the food and savored her few minutes of uninterrupted silence, in the end. He nods and listens and suggests she let him fix her something to eat, and she agrees.

(She has got mood swings. Lane will never say it, but she does.)

One afternoon, Joan has a doctor's appointment just before close of business. Her feet have been hurting her something awful, and as a result, he's now involved in planning or preparing part of their meals, which usually amounts to making sandwiches or ordering takeaway, or something equally uncomplicated.

He decides to fry up some chipped beef and onions for a nice supper. Joan does not eat much red meat. And the book he's been reading says both child and mother could benefit from the protein. Unfortunately, when she arrives back from the doctor, she does not give this gesture the welcome reception he'd been expecting. She recoils from the aroma mere seconds after closing the door, dropping her coat onto the carpet while hissing, “Jesus, what is that?”

And proceeds to berate him for nearly ten minutes about his thoughtlessness and inconsideration. This from a woman whom he has witnessed gulping vinegar brine straight from a pickle jar as if it were nothing more than water. On multiple occasions.

In the end, he begins to snap back at her harsh words. She takes an apple from the wooden fruit bowl on the counter top and throws it at him, causing him to duck although it sails several feet above his head. “Shut up! I wouldn't even be like this if it weren't for you!”

“Oh, for god's sake!” He deflects a second apple with the nearby lid of a frying pan. Her missile ricochets across the kitchen in a pulpy mess. “If you bloody well recall, I was not the only person present for that particular event, nor was I the only one to enjoy it!”

At this, she promptly bursts into tears and storms down the hall toward their bedroom.

Minutes later, when he's knocked on the closed door for what seems like the thousandth time, quietly pleading with her to unlock it, she finally pulls it open. This done, she walks back inside in silence, sits down in a nearby armchair, and begins to weep again, although not as bitterly as before. If there is anything in the world he's powerless against, it is a crying Joan, one who looks at him with wet eyes and a trembling mouth and possesses none of her usual teasing spirits.

He huffs out a sigh, trying to dispel his frustration, and moves to put an arm around her. “I'm sorry to have made you cry.”

“I'm exhausted,” she whispers, with a shuddering gulp, “and nauseous, and sore, and I hate it.” She puts a hand to his elbow, not moving from his embrace. “I'm sorry I yelled at you.”

Lane holds her for another moment, hand stroking over the back of her neck, before she sighs and lifts her head from his side, indicating he can go if he likes. He tucks a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “Shall I draw you a bath? If you...don't want to eat?”

Joan wipes the last of the tears from her face, and nods once, very small.

When she's safely relaxing in the water with a glass of wine, he goes back into the sitting room and pours himself three fingers of gin. Taking this glass to the couch, he downs half of it in one gulp, leaning back into the cushions. She's making Rebecca's last few months with Nigel look saintly by comparison. And Becca was on bed rest, for god's sake.

**

Mid-week, he has to meet with Harry Crane about next year's media commitments. It goes about as well as could be expected, which is to say they end up clashing over Crane's inability to hold anyone to firm deadlines, as well as his horrific system of organization. In the end, Lane leaves the office much later than planned. He barges through his front door intending to toss aside his things, turn on the television, and pour himself a very large drink. Instead, he finds Joan in his kitchen in black maternity slacks and a roomy green jumper, standing over a skillet, with the tang of sizzling beef hanging in the air.

“I'm making steaks,” she says with a shrug, and gestures to the table, where a glass of whiskey is waiting for him. “If you're hungry.”

“Oh,” is all he can say, frustration and surprise tangling together in an awkward pause. Usually, Joan doesn't stay over in the middle of the week. They have dinner or spend a bit of time together, but then she goes back to her flat. She's got the spare key, though. He asked her to keep it. “Thank you.”

He changes out of his waistcoat and jacket and washes up for supper. When he finally emerges from the bedroom, and sits down in the kitchen, the first few sips of whiskey along with the quiet bustle of cooking make him feel less agitated. He and Joan place the table together in silence, but it's not until they're eating that Joan initiates conversation.

“You didn't kill him, did you?”

“Nearly,” Lane grumbles, pushing green beans into a small pile on his plate with his fork.

She just spears another piece of steak, making a pleased noise as she chews her bite, then swallows. “Too bad.”

**

Joan likes to play music on her transistor radio in the mornings, when she's applying her makeup. Lane doesn't mind this so much as he does the choice of stations—the one she picks is far too lively. It's mostly Motown mixed with awful teenaged pop, and there's one particular song that seems to play almost every morning. Same three words over and over. He has it in his head for hours, which drives him completely mad.

One morning, they get into a loud argument involving the dry cleaners, of all things. Place nearest his flat couldn't get a spot out of one of her dresses, which has infuriated her. She takes this out on him, and afterward, out of sheer spite, he switches the station on the dial while she's in the powder room brushing her teeth. When she returns, she can't find or remember the frequency—mild forgetfulness is a new symptom of her condition—and so cuts off the radio, putting on her face in terse silence.

She spends the morning noticeably snappish, and by lunchtime he feels like an absolute monster for depriving the mother of his child of such a small pleasure. The next day, while Joan's washing her face, he changes the radio dial without being asked and even turns up the volume. When the song comes on at quarter to seven, she beams and sighs, putting down her makeup brush, calling him over and taking his hand with a mischievous expression. “Dance with me.”

The sheer joy in her eyes as she sways around the bedroom in her headscarf, slip, and stockings, and the laughter in her voice as she teaches him the twist—praising his awful yet enthusiastic attempts—makes his heart stutter in his chest. He spends the next few hours humming the tune under his breath at inconvenient moments and finds that it's a bit catchy, in the end.

Although he could swear Mrs. Draper overheard it as he was buying a chocolate bar from the vending machine. There was a noise like a laugh as she walked past.

**

Sometime during the night, Lane jerks awake from a nightmare involving Nigel's birth; sweating a little as he tries to push the fear from his mind, heart pounding. Becca fainting in the middle of maternity, her face drained of all color—blood staining her Easter dress—

Been having it more and more often over the past couple of months. He's freezing, for some reason, and shifts on the mattress, turning onto his back and pulling the blankets higher around his chest. After another moment, he coughs. Several minutes pass. He tosses and turns under the blankets. He can't seem to get comfortable.

Joan's voice breaks the silence, low and calm. “You okay?” She's turned on her right side, facing away from him. “You were mumbling earlier.”

Lane blinks. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”

She pats his leg in an absentminded way, with a noise that sounds like no. On instinct, he moves to close the space between them, pressing his body against hers and kissing the side of her neck. She sighs, shifting her position so he can slip an arm around her widening middle. His palm rests low on the swell of her stomach, where he can feel the baby kicking.

Joan groans, putting her hand over his. “Tell her to let me sleep.”

They've started to refer to the baby by gender in the past few weeks, although in truth they've no real idea what it is. Lane just started calling it him. Joan thought it would be funny to call it a girl in return, and that's what they've stuck to ever since.

“Well, turn over,” he jokes, trying to sound stern. “I'll speak to him about it.”

“If you can make her stop...” she grumbles, thumb swiping across the top of his hand briefly before she lifts his palm from her belly, indicating she's going to move. Oh. She actually wants him to—he scoots back and pulls the covers down so she's got room to change positions. Even turning over is an awkward process. Joan's got to move slowly, and lying on her back can be painful.

Finally, she's facing him, and puts her right hand to his arm. “Hi.”

“Hello,” he says, grinning despite himself. In the dark, and with his eyesight, he can hardly see her face. On an impulse, he pulls the pillow from behind his head and moves it in her direction. “Here. Put it between your legs.”

She snorts. “You'd like that.”

“I meant for your back.” He pretends to be offended. Joan just laughs, grabbing one end of the pillow and maneuvering it into place. Once she's settled, he moves down her body as if they're going to make love, but stops when he comes face to face with her round stomach, planting a quick kiss to the span of skin exposed by her rumpled pajama top.

“Now, don't do anything with your knees while I'm down here,” he mumbles, putting one hand on the side of her right hip with a sort of amused noise. She snorts, and swats at the top of his head, but after a moment her fingers begin moving gently through his hair.

For perhaps five or ten minutes, Lane attempts to relax them both, closing his eyes, placing his hands to Joan's stomach and stroking over the spot where the baby shifts and kicks most. He doesn't know why it feels so awkward speaking to it aloud. Joan caught him doing that just last week. She fell asleep on the sofa after supper, with her legs in his lap. And given the proximity, all Lane did was chat to the little one about the television program they were watching. Nothing important, really. But Joan woke up looking at him with the strangest, most intent expression, as if she wanted to commit every bit of the moment to memory.

“Erm,” he begins quietly, then sighs, trying to keep his voice from sounding so stiff. It's his son in there, for god's sake. “Hello, lad. I know you're happy, with mother keeping you warm. But you've got to let her sleep, hm? She's got to rest in order to take proper care of you.”

He pauses, tries to gauge Joan's reaction, but her hand has stilled in his hair. Well. He'll just keep going. Perhaps it's helping. “You've been a cheeky little bugger so far. Although your mother swears you're a girl.” Lane breathes out a noise like a laugh, then pushes up on his right elbow, glancing over at Joan to see if she's awake. Judging by her even, deep breaths, no, she isn't. Poor dear. She's exhausted, even if she'd never admit to it. He lowers his voice to a whisper, careful not to wake her. “Maybe you are. That—could be lovely. I've only had boys.”

There was another boy, two years before Nigel. Stillborn. Six months.

Lane can't talk about that, or decide what to say next, and so he goes back to stroking over a spot that he imagines is the baby's head, breathing in the lavender scent of Joan's favourite bath salts as he lies next to her. He's always thought of little girls as delicate, quiet things, but picturing any daughter of Joan's provides a different picture altogether. Lane sees an impish girl with ginger pigtails and beautiful blue eyes, dancing through their room in the mornings as they prepare for work. She'd be so bright: good with numbers and books. And she'd have Joan's incredible confidence. She wouldn't share his aversion to people, or his awkwardness; she'd be funny and charming. Perhaps with a temper.

“You know that I love you, my little one.” He swallows hard. Getting a bit choked up, to be honest. “Mum and I can't wait to see you. We'll bring you home, and have the nursery all set up—”

Joan twitches slightly in her sleep, making him stop talking to glance up at her again. When she lets out a small huffing snore, Lane feels it's safe to move. He sighs, and sits up in the darkness, moving carefully up toward the head of the bed, and curling in next to her.

**

Despite the professional tumult this year has brought for the agency—the shocking loss of Lucky Strike in February, followed by gaining American Cancer Society in April, and all that amid accounts' panic to sign any size business they could find from spring till now—Lane thinks it's been another magnificent year. He's biased, of course. But the mood of his coworkers is palpable at the annual Christmas party. It's a modest affair. Employees and a few spouses. There is no lavish hot buffet. There are no holiday bonuses, nor a drastic uptick in the company's financial security, but there is an acceptable margin of losses and gains, all things considered. And no Lee bloody Garner to impress. The mood seems to hover around a type of manic relief. We've all got through another year.

Lane's lost count of the amount of punch he's had so far—and has also forgotten precisely what it was spiked with—but he's had enough to feel a pleasant buzzing sensation in his head, and to start scanning for Joan among the crowd, from his place in the open doorway of his office. He spies her talking gaily with Don and Roger and their wives next to the red lounge sofa, and allows himself, for a moment, to watch their conversation for a distance. Joan's burgundy dress, with its low neck and half sleeves, compliments her figure so well. She looks so beautiful and radiant that it makes him a bit weak in the knees.

“Hey, Lane,” someone says, and Lane turns to see Ken Cosgrove approaching him, with a pixie-haired young woman on his arm. “Did you meet Cynthia earlier? My wife?”

“Oh. No, I don't believe so. Hello.”

The blonde girl laughs as she shakes his hand. “I was telling Kenny this is so much more relaxed than last year. He said you were the party planner.”

Lane can't help laughing. “No, I—deferred to Mrs. Harris' expertise in that particular area.”

Although he'd quietly supplemented the catering allotment with money from his own pocket for a small treat. Joan had craved something sweet as they set the hors d'oeurves menu for the party—she mentioned some kind of cheesecake petit fours from a patisserie around the corner, which fell just over budget when added to the expenses of other vendors. Lane thought it only practical she should get her wish, particularly in her condition. It's Christmas.

He realises Mrs. Cosgrove has asked a question which he's neglected to answer, and snaps back to attention. “Sorry?”

Before she can even repeat it, Harry Crane hurries up to their group, snatching Ken's arm with a raucous laugh. “We're pranking Stan. Get over here. You're helping.”

“Yikes,” Ken manages to sputter, before he's dragged away laughing toward reception by the shoulder of his jacket.

“Childish,” Lane huffs, put out by Crane's interruption, and Cynthia giggles, rolling her eyes, and moving to stand with her back to Campbell's doorway. “I'm sure Trude'll love hearing about that.” At his puzzled look. “She's at home with Tammy.”

“Well. I suppose she must be—very pleased, then,” Lane says, eyes finding Joan in the crowd again before he can stop himself. She's laughing with Caroline now, along with a smartly-dressed balding man he doesn't know. Caroline's husband, perhaps? Would it be silly to go over and be introduced? Joan looks so beautiful when she laughs. Her entire face lights up. He can't look away.

“Do you want to go talk to them?”

Lane blinks, turning back to his partner in conversation. “Sorry?”

The young woman grins at him, as if his rudeness is funny rather than terribly offensive. “You keep looking over there.”

“Oh,” Lane stammers, embarrassed to have been caught staring. He takes another gulp of punch before sputtering out the rest of his sentence. “No, sorry. I only thought—my—friend was trying to get my attention.”

“Let me guess,” the young woman says, following his gaze. “Ms. Burgundy?”

“Harris,” he corrects absently.

Joan puts a hand on Caroline's arm as she listens to the secretary's words, mouth widening in a smile. They're talking about the little one. Lane can tell. But Joan catches him looking this time, glancing over briefly and raising an eyebrow at him in that sly way he loves, and may have even once deemed sexy. In a very heated moment.

There is a loud yell from the hallway by reception, followed by a roar of laughter, and the sound of someone swearing. Mrs. Cosgrove laughs, and says something else he doesn't hear. Lane looks over to see her gesturing toward the lounge with a grin. “Go talk to her. I'm going to see the pranksmen.”

“Oh. Erm—all right,” Lane says, a little confused, but pleasantly surprised to be released from making small talk. His hands are tingling now, and he's got that pleasant swooping feeling in his chest as he walks toward Joan and the others. What a lovely party.