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an island in your arms

Chapter Text

 

January 1967

 

Friday afternoon, Joan's mother says she's going out to run an errand and disappears for the rest of the night. Joan doesn't discover that ten dollars is missing from her purse until she's standing in the bodega checkout early Saturday morning, a basket of produce in one arm and Kevin in the buggy.

Thank god she's known Castor for years. He lets her charge it to her account.

She balances her book as soon as she gets home. Rent and electric should have gone through yesterday, and if her next paycheck gets deposited by Thursday at noon, she'll have just enough money to get through the week. She'll pay water and gas after that.

Joan's always been careful about her budgeting, but the past few months have been very tight. The oven broke for good in October after months of small repairs, and the new model took Joan's savings along with it. Greg hasn't sent her a dime since she told him to leave, and Kevin's growing so fast she can barely keep him in clothes. Even the Army has stopped sending her money. Joan's yelled at plenty of bureaucrats and secretaries over long-distance, but resolving that problem is proving impossible. Would her benefits stop once he filed for divorce? She doesn't think so. In the meantime, it's cheaper for her mother to watch the baby than to hire a girl, even if the older woman drinks like a fish and doesn't pay rent.

Sunday afternoon, while Joan's giving Kevin a bath in the kitchen sink, the refrigerator sparks near the wall outlet, terrifying her into thinking it'll start a fire or shock them both to death in the process. She yanks the baby out of the water, soap still in his hair, and swaddles him in a towel, placing him in his crib and rushing back to the kitchen, ready to throw a pot of water over the flames.

There's no fire, just a lot of smoke, but Joan unplugs the machine just to be sure it's safe. Something inside it is making a grinding noise, and it begins to smell within ten minutes: a combination of turning food and burnt rubber.

She gets Kevin cleaned up and down for a nap, then spends ten minutes on the phone with the super, who promises to send Apollo. After an hour, Apollo finally arrives, glancing nervously around the apartment as Joan ushers him inside.

“Is it...only you and the baby, signora Joan?”

“My mother's out,” Joan says pointedly, and the young man seems to relax. She shows him into the kitchen, explaining the situation, and stands by the counter as he crouches down to inspect the outlet damage. He then fusses behind the refrigerator for a long time, swearing loudly in Greek and making frustrated noises every time he reaches into the box for another tool.

“Not good,” he says when he emerges, wiping black grease from his fingers with a faded blue rag. “For right now, it's gonna work a little. Icebox will run today, maybe through tomorrow. But the rest, the electric....”

He waves one hand toward the machine. Joan mutters a curse under her breath.

“I have some time tomorrow, in the day, to fix the rest. If you want, I, ah, wait to charge you,” he says quietly.

“That's not necessary, thank you,” Joan replies, keeping her voice even and her expression as neutral as possible. She's not a charity case. “Just write up a receipt.”

She's signing the check when the front door opens, and her mother bustles into the apartment with a raucous laugh, bidding someone in the hallway goodbye. Joan hears the door slam into the wall – probably denting the paneling – and the sudden noise wakes the baby, who begins to scream. Apollo pales visibly, gathering the check and his toolbox and attempting to slip out as quickly as possible. It still doesn't stop him from getting cornered in the hallway. 

Joan stays in her room, bouncing the baby on one hip in a futile attempt to get him calm. Doesn't help that she's so frustrated she feels like crying, too.

**

Monday morning, she's rooted to her desk chair, staring at Pete with unveiled contempt, speechless that he would have the utter gall to come into her office and proposition her in the name of saving this company. All because of his inability to close a deal.

“It seems to me that there could be something worth the sacrifice. We're talking about a night in your life. We've all had nights in our lives where we've made mistakes for free.”

Semantics. He can phrase it as delicately as he wants, but it boils down to the same idea:

“You're talking about prostitution!

Pete leans forward in his seat in what is probably meant to be an artless gesture, haughty expression never leaving his face as he says:

“I'm talking about business at a very high level. Do you consider Cleopatra a prostitute?”

Cleopatra opened her bed to the most powerful men in the world. No matter how powerful or handsome this Jaguar executive is – and if he's asking this, Joan's sure he's neither – a dealers' association executive is no Marc Antony.

“She was a queen,” Pete presses, insistent. “What would it take to make you a queen?”

Men have tried, not that Pete knows that. They've whispered secrets against her skin in sinfully decadent hotel rooms, they've sent lavish tokens of their undying affection.

One thing she knows for certain:

“I don't think you could afford it.”

She has a baby who needs to be fed and clothed, a mother who drinks too much, and a husband who'd love to see her ruined. Whatever meager prize Pete Campbell is offering, he can keep.

“I hope I haven't insulted you,” he says archly as he stands. “That's all that matters to me.”

Of course. He's asking this because he's concerned about her well-being.

“I understand,” she retorts. Anger pulses through her chest, sickly and dark, and as he closes the door to her office she has to tell herself to breathe.

**

Joan takes a long lunch, though she doesn't eat a thing, just chain smokes in a diner for over an hour, nursing a cup of weak tea. When she returns, she picks up her messages from Bridget's desk, though the girl is nowhere to be found.

The real surprise comes when Joan pushes open the door to her office to find Lane sitting in one of the blue chairs. He turns to meet her eyes, one hand fidgeting noticeably on the armrests. 

She freezes in the doorway, eyes wide.

How long has he been in here?

“I thought you were ignoring me,” she says, closing the door quietly behind her and shrugging out of her camel coat, hanging it on the rack along with her purse.

He lets out a nervous breath, lifting one shoulder in a shrug.

“I don't mean to intrude, but it's...important.”

Dodging her observation. Joan raises an eyebrow. To an untrained eye, it might seem as if he's here to apologize, but if the words actually leave his lips she'll eat her pocketbook.

She sits down behind her desk, lighting another cigarette out of habit, and offering him the open pack as a kind of olive branch.

“Want one?”

He shakes his head no.

She takes a drag, exhaling smoke. There's a long silence, in which Joan puts her cigarette in the ashtray, Lane fiddles nervously with a thread on the cuff of his grey wool jacket, and finally blurts:

“You cannot trust Pete Campbell. No matter what he's...told you.”

Shock, dull and icy, washes over her. 

“What exactly did he say?” she snarls, jumping to her feet. “Did he tell all of you?”

If Roger Sterling was a willing part of this discussion, she's going to kill him.

Lane holds up two hands, speaking very quietly and very quickly:

“He said he'd spoken to the others. He came to my office alone.”

For a moment, his expression must be a mirror of her own. Anger's visible in the set of his jaw and the flash of his eyes behind his glasses, but he visibly pushes it aside, saying, with a terrible calm:

“We don't need Jaguar that badly.”

She wants to scream at Lane to get out, to shut up, that this is absolutely none of his business, but on a whim decides this would mean letting him off too easy. He wants to talk honestly about this solicitation? He damn well deserves to squirm.

She folds her arms across her chest.

“We'll be bankrupt in a year if nothing changes.”

It's an exaggeration, yes, but it's not out of the question considering how tenuous business has been in the past few months.

Lane seems to take offense to this, and replies tersely:

“Then how do you imagine a bankrupt company might procure a fifty thousand dollar surplus? You know the books, just as I do. Tell me, where in the budget might such a sum possibly exist?”

“Reductive logic isn't going to work on me, Lane,” she retorts, while trying to absorb the shock of what he's just said. Fifty thousand dollars? Is that what's on the table?

Noticing the tension in her face, Lane continues, quietly this time:

“Then hear me when I say that as things stand, we cannot procure that kind of money. Not all at once, and perhaps not even once we've landed the account.”

Joan unfolds her arms in a slow, purposeful movement, taking a seat and placing her hands in her lap.

“We've got good credit. The bank likes us.”

She's clenching her hands in fists to keep her temper under control, and refrains from stating the obvious: that it's not about where they currently stand, but where they end up once the deed is done. They'll have the money eventually.

Lane's eyes widen. One of his hands taps out a nervous rhythm on the fabric-covered arm of his chair before he jumps up, beginning to pace beside her desk.

“Even if the bank could be convinced to extend a further line on our behalf, first: such an agreement predicates we must win the account to keep this company on even ground. It does not take into account the principal sum owed or the interest that type of loan would incur, or how a debt of that magnitude might be paid at a later time.”

For all his logic, he's deliberately skirting the point of this arrangement, Joan thinks, and for a strange, surreal moment she feels hysterical, almost like laughing. They'll win. 

Otherwise, what would be the point?

She sets her shoulders.

“And second?”

Lane seems taken aback, and sputters out:

“Are you so convinced Campbell will honor any arrangement you make? For god's sake, Joan, you understand exactly the type of man he is!”

Joan arches an eyebrow, taking another drag of her cigarette. She's not under any illusions.

“He's a snake, but he's loyal to this company.”

“But not to those who work here,” Lane counters, with just a touch of bitterness in his voice. “And certainly not to you, not on any level that matters. Even if the man could spearhead such an offer successfully, there is no guarantee he'll deliver on promises made along the way. He does not keep his word. He looks out for no one save himself. How on earth can you—”

She interrupts his tirade with a derisive noise of disagreement.

“Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money!”

Don't sit there and act like you wouldn't even consider it.

“And when, precisely, shall you receive it?” he snaps back, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck as he paces. “Next week? Next year? Has he given a definitive answer as to how such a payoff might occur?”

Joan doesn't respond, feeling embarrassment prickle hot in her cheeks. They haven't discussed the nuts and bolts of this proposition, because she hasn't technically given Pete a response to his proposal. She feels stupid for not insisting on concrete terms to begin with.

With her silence, Lane must realize his argument is gaining traction, because he stops pacing, as if he's too stunned to believe his luck, and turns to face her, voice low and intent:

“If we continue to be mired in such strict financial situations, you can't imagine Campbell might prioritize any amount you're owed over the sums required for continued operation of this company, or for salaries, or god forbid, pensions. And even if your...gamble succeeds,” he stammers over the last two words, “you must understand it may never reap the promised reward.”

All points that Joan did consider, but not in the kind of focused, minute detail Lane's describing. She doesn't want to admit she was distracted by her own personal frustrations, by the sheer fact that she was asked.

“It's a car,” she says after a moment, her words clipped. “I imagine Pete will honor any  arrangement he can make to get it.”

An unspoken question twists around her statement: will you? At the end of the day, Pete can broker this deal, but he won't be the one to deliver on the terms, to sign that check.

“Don't ask it of me, Joan,” Lane says in a rush, just as she's about to speak. He looks very pale and very pained. “Please. I – I can't. I don't – want to.”

As if asking for his straightforward opinion somehow makes this any worse. The die is cast; she's already been asked. 

Least she has an answer now, between Lane's last outburst and this entire conversation.

Joan stares at him, openly, as if he's some kind of exhibit in a museum. His ramrod-straight posture. The strict, taut line of a muscle twitching in his clenched jaw, and a ruddy flush creeping up from under his collar. It's amazing he's managed to say anything persuasive at all, considering the way they've been tiptoeing around each other for weeks.

“Thing no one ever tells you about money is that it dries up,” he whispers as he meets her eyes, shame and fear tangling together in his fraught expression. “It always dries up.”

It's not just about the money. It's all of it. The refrigerator. The baby. Roger. Pete. Her mother's stern glance as she curled Joan's hair in the mornings, before school. So what if they look at you? They're men, Joanie. They're always going to look that way at a beautiful girl.

She'd tilt Joan's face toward the window to inspect her hair and makeup in the light. You're lucky, you know. You could have been ugly.

“You think I'm getting a raw deal,” Joan says flatly, and after a moment of horrified silence, Lane rubs a hand over his eyes, making a frustrated noise.

“Yes, that's precisely what I'm thinking,” he retorts sharply, sarcasm infused in every word. “The unfairness of the current arrangement, rather than the fact that such an arrangement exists. But if you're seriously considering terms, why settle for for fifty thousand? Hang the lot and buy a partnership stake: start with five percent, push the rest of us out by Easter.”

Full partner, Joan thinks dully. There'd be more security in a stake than in money.

But he clearly meant to mock her. It wasn't a serious suggestion.

Panic is evident on Lane's face, and he's moving closer to her chair, one hand curling around the lip of her desk as he speaks with an obvious urgency. She's not really hearing the words.

“—got to provide for your son, but you mustn't—”

Is she supposed to be disgusted by the idea?

Money comes with conditions. And she wouldn't get it right away. But even with as little as a five percent share, she might just emerge holding the strings.

Could she give up one night for that?

Joan blinks, returns to herself, and finally looks at Lane, meeting his terrified stare, but she can't divine the message underneath the fear.

Well, he's the one who suggested raising the stakes.

“Five percent,” she says, willing her voice not to shake. It doesn't.

Lane curses, and his expression slams closed, but he closes his mouth before he can say anything else, turning toward the door with a defeated, palpable unhappiness.

He pauses just before the doorway, his hand poised over the knob. “I never—”

“Stop apologizing,” Joan interrupts, voice sharp. Sorry is probably the next word out of his mouth, and more apologies won't change the situation. She's so goddamn tired of talking.

“Right,” Lane says in a monotone, exhaling a puff of air that borders on a humorless laugh. “Not enough, is it?”

He pulls the door open, walks out. It closes behind him with a quiet click.

**

An hour later, Joan's sitting at her desk, smoking her way through the rest of her Pall Malls when Peggy sweeps into the office without even a knock, slamming the door behind her.

What,” Joan snaps at the other woman, less a question than a pointed comment. Today, of all the days in this office, she just wants to be left alone. She told Bridget to hold her calls.

Peggy slants her a furious look in response, plunking down in one of the chairs with a huff and letting her gaze drift to the pack of cigarettes in Joan's hand.

Joan slides it across the desk without a word. If she can sit here and shut up, Peggy can stay. If not, they're going to have a problem.

She notices absently that Peggy's plaid yellow skirt is wrinkling at the waist. Probably due to the way she's slumped. And her once-crisp white shirt has a tiny spot of food near the collar. She should go home and change, or people won't take her seriously.

Peggy flicks the lighter closed and tosses it back onto Joan's desk with a clattering sound, taking a long drag of her cigarette and exhaling smoke in a hiss.

“They're all assholes,” she says loudly.

Everyone knows that, Joan wants to say, but doesn't have the energy to comment, and just raises her eyebrows in response to the other woman's outburst.

Peggy takes the silence as tacit permission to speak.

“I'm juggling the entire company, and all they're doing is writing tags for that stupid car.”

After another moment:

“They're not even good.”

As if this only adds insult to injury. Like Peggy doesn't care how badly she's treated as long as the work shines. She's so young. Joan doesn't know whether to be glad for her or to pity her.

She takes another drag of her cigarette, and concentrates on keeping quiet. If she gets worked up, she won't be able to stop herself from yelling.

Peggy seems taken aback by the silence, shooting Joan a look that's half offense and half concern, but continues to speak, like if she says another sentence, or lands on some precise combination of words, it'll magically provoke a reaction.

“Do you know how many phone calls I've gotten from Chevalier in the last two days? They're jittery. They want to rework the entire campaign.”

Joan breathes in and out. This conversation is going in circles.

Peggy's staring at her with a nervous air, now – apprehensive, like she's finally realized something's wrong. She leans forward in her chair, searching Joan's moody expression.

“I thought...maybe you'd...have some suggestions, but I can—”

“I don't,” Joan says dully.

Peggy looks as startled as if she's been slapped. Joan lets her eyes slide over the other woman's gobsmacked expression and repeats, with pointed emphasis:

“I don't know.”

That's the truth, and it's as much as she can muster without losing her temper completely.

Peggy's mouth drops open slightly, as if to speak, but no words slip out. Like she's dumbstruck, like it's so unbelievable. For god's sake, Joan wants to say. I'm not an oracle. I'm not your mother.

“Believe it or not,” her voice is loud and razor-sharp, “I don't have the answers to all of your problems. If something's wrong, stop complaining to me and just fix it.

Joan refrains from saying Don and the others probably won't notice anything that doesn't come out of their own heads. In the end, they don't care about anyone but themselves.

Peggy gapes at her for what feels like a long time but must only be a few seconds. The cigarette is still burning between her two fingers, forgotten, ash dropping onto her skirt in a little clump. It'll leave a mark. Her pale eyes sweep over Joan's face, her clothes, her desk, as if they're trying to memorize every detail of the room and of this conversation. With anyone else, Joan might find this level of scrutiny odd, but this is Peggy. She's always been different, and Joan's too preoccupied to let this sudden strangeness disturb her, so she just lets it become par for the course.

The younger woman closes her mouth abruptly, and gets to her feet with her cigarette still in hand, walking quickly toward the hallway and not even bothering to close the door behind her on the way out.

Joan takes the silence and the open door as an excuse to stub out her own cigarette. She doesn't want to smoke right now. In fact, she needs to speak to someone.

**

Seeing the shock bloom across Pete's face as she tells him I want to be a partner. Not silent. It isn't satisfying, per se, but a feeling close to conviction surges through Joan's veins with the declaration. It's worth something to see him so surprised and disaffected, so easily stripped of his schoolboy pretensions. Clearly, he underestimated her.

Yes, she thinks, watching him scramble to deliver on her terms, there is power in this.

After the ink is dry on her contract, after she's face to face with Herb Rennet — or, to be more exact, when he says let me see 'em in a gravelly voice, and she turns her back to him like she's some green girl with a handsy, impatient beau—

—and the gut emotion of what this evening will require threatens to overwhelm her—

Joan concentrates on that earlier thought, that hazy ghost memory of conviction. She's doing this for her family. It's only one night.

Her hands still tremble as she pushes her dress down her shoulders.

**

Pete bursts into her office through the back door. Joan abruptly drops the file she's holding, and swivels in her chair to look at him.

“We got the call,” he says in a rush. “Come on.”

Not bothering to mask his excitement. He's like a child on Christmas morning. Joan takes in his thrilled expression and gets up from her chair in one fluid motion, smoothing the skirt of her aqua dress and indicating that she'll follow him.

Pete demurs, holding out one hand in a beckoning motion.

“After you. I insist.”

She's surprised at the warmth in his voice. It sounds, strangely enough, like pride.

Joan walks quickly down the hall, heels clicking against the tile as she moves, and slips into Roger's office with all the breezy confidence she can muster. The others are already assembled: Roger leaning against his desk, phone in one hand, Cooper on the sofa, Lane by the drink cart, and Don, just to the right of the open doorway.

As she files in, Don shoots her a furtive look that's part surprise, part shame, and she stares back at him, unyielding, until he averts his eyes. She's just saved this company from another year of Sisyphean hell. It made her a partner. Joan refuses to let the rest of them make her feel small. They're not choirboys. What the hell can they say about it?

Suddenly, Roger's hugging Don, and Pete's grin lights up his entire face, and Joan lets her gaze drift to Lane, who's staring at her as if they haven't seen each other in years. As if studying her face will give him a clue as to how he should react to this news.

She's crossing the room with open arms before she can second-guess the impulse, drawing Lane into a brief hug. The only thought that comes to mind is that he's taller than she remembers. She barely has to stoop to put her arms around his shoulders.

His hands press into her shoulders for a brief second, and as she pulls away, she tries to meet his eyes with a small, if tremulous, smile. As he draws back, it's clear he's embarrassed by the scrutiny - he can barely look at her - but his lips turn up slightly in an awkward attempt at reciprocation.

The expression on his face as she puts careful distance between them still gives her pause. Was it forgiveness, when he'd hugged her? Was it an apology?

In the moment, Joan can't put a finger on why not knowing bothers her so much, and later, she doesn't even have time to try. Champagne's already flowing in the conference room, and she flits from person to person with a full cup in her hand, forcing herself to pay attention to what her coworkers are saying. Mostly just glad for the barrage of distractions.

Out of the corner of her eye, Joan notices a purple-clad figure slipping quietly into reception, carrying her thermos under one arm and her portfolio under the other, and has to suppress an eyeroll. Peggy should at least have stayed for a drink. Nobody likes a sore loser.