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an island in your arms

Chapter Text


For the rest of the day, Joan's hands shake when she thinks about the argument. She keeps them busy or folded in her lap so other people don't notice, but that night, her mother makes a jab at her about butterfingers when she drops the can of formula twice on her way to the stove.

Joan casts a pointed glance at the drink in the other woman's hand – her third.

“You should talk.”

Even though the baby goes down by eight, and her mother stumbles to bed not long after, Joan doesn't want to sleep. She wraps a floral-patterned robe around her dark leggings and thin sweater, cuts off the television, and sits in the living room with her cigarettes, hoping the nicotine will calm her down.

It doesn't. Just dulls the anger.

Foreplay. He's disgusting. A gentleman wouldn't speak to her that way.

Furthermore, she doesn't need the office to satisfy those needs. Ever. But she could count on one hand the number of times she's heard Lane mention his wife outside the context of some petty disagreement. He's the one who's obviously frustrated.

She's not going to apologize for taking care of a personal distraction and a company issue. It was the right thing to do. But she can't stop picturing Lane's stunned expression, the moment she called him coward. The way his cheeks flushed red, like an embarrassed child, or how his blue eyes widened in shock behind his glasses. He'd flinched so hard at the word it was as if she'd physically struck him.

When the cigarettes don't soothe her, Joan gives up and goes to bed, but she lies awake for another hour before she's even tired, listening to the baby's soft, even breaths and staring at the odd patterns of light playing on the ceiling. She keeps turning the situation over and over in her mind.

Lane has a family, for god's sake. No matter how much that check hurt his pride, or how angry it made him, he should want to make sure they're provided for. Simple as that.

She closes her eyes, and tries to relax.


Over the next week, papers begin appearing on Joan's desk at odd hours. When she arrives for the day, or when she returns from lunch, her inbox spills over with invoices, reimbursement forms, expense reports and other papers that would normally be sorted out with Lane's help, or at least in his company. He's doing his best to avoid her without compromising their work or involving anyone else in their argument, which she's probably supposed to appreciate.

It annoys her, instead. Joan makes a point of delivering each item back in person, as if everything is normal. She raps out a sharp, two-tap knock on his door, folder already in hand, so she doesn't have to waste more time than necessary fumbling with papers. It takes five steps to walk inside until she's standing in front of his desk.

Lane pretends not to notice her entrance, focusing intently on the paper in front of him. He writes something in the margin, then flips to the next page, studying it with supreme, silent fascination.

It's a travel invoice for Sugarberry, for god's sake. There's nothing fascinating about it.

On a wicked impulse, Joan decides to place the folder straight onto his desk, directly on top of the paper which seems to be so captivating. Her file knocks the invoice from his hands, hitting the surface with a small thump, and there's a pause as Lane stares down at the bundle, clearly debating whether to acknowledge her interruption or keep up the pretense.

He sets his jaw. A little huff of annoyance escapes his lips.

This shouldn't make Joan want to smirk, but one corner of her mouth turns up, pleased. He thinks he can play this game with her, like they're children? No. She will not be ignored.

When he finally reacts – pushing the folder aside with one hand, only to resume his studious air, Joan turns to go. That's more like it.


Once the novelty of the silent treatment wears off, Lane transitions from flat-out ignoring her to speaking in curt, clipped sentences and pretending to be very busy whenever she walks into his office. Twice, between the time it takes for Joan to knock on his door and enter the room, she hears the telephone receiver being yanked from its cradle.

Lane holds the phone to one ear, expression intent as he writes something down on a notepad. His eyes flick toward Joan as she crosses the room, but he shakes his head at her, covering the mouthpiece with his writing hand:

“Can't talk – very important call.”

He uncovers the mouthpiece, speaking a little louder.

“Yes, I am still here. We'll have to go over the paperwork. Mmm. I'll need your, ah, signature by Thursday at the latest.”

Stopping in front of his desk, Joan crosses her arms across her chest, silently calling his bluff. None of the line extensions are lit, and she raises her eyebrows, indicating this oversight to him with a wordless glance. Lane notices her looking, and his eyes widen with slight panic, but he soldiers on as if determined to sell his performance.

“Yes, well...I'm quite busy, so it's absolutely imperative—”

The buzzer on his intercom sounds. Lane actually startles at the sudden noise, almost dropping the receiver, and Joan has to press her lips together to keep a straight face.

Scarlett's voice fills the room:

“Mr. Pryce, there's a call for you on line one.”

Lane hits the button with a flat-palmed hand. “Yes, all right, Scarlett!” he retorts loudly, unable to suppress his frustration. He shoots an abashed glance in Joan's general direction as if to say fine, you've caught me.

“What's that?” he mumbles, holding out a hand for the folder Joan's carrying.

“Creative,” she replies coolly, dropping it onto his desk and pushing it towards him. A few loose papers are buried underneath its path, Joan can hear them rustling as they crinkle with the movement. “From last month.”

Lane purses his lips, annoyed either with the mess or her blatant refusal to let him be. He retracts his free hand and reaches for the telephone base, fingers hovering over the blinking extension.

If you'll excuse me,” he says, arch, and she rolls her eyes, exiting the room and pulling the door closed with a little more force than necessary.


The next day, Joan attempts to duck inside Lane's office around ten o'clock, and almost crashes into the frame when the knob won't budge.

She turns to Scarlett, stunned and annoyed.

“Is he at home?”

Scarlett shakes her head, slanting a nervous glance toward the door. “No, he's here.”

“I need to speak with him,” Joan says, curt.

“He doesn't want to be disturbed,” Scarlett mumbles.

Is Lane really so childish that he'd lock his door to keep avoiding her?

“This is an office!” she snaps, practically shouting the remark at the closed door to make sure he hears it. What kind of petty, immature coward does this?

Scarlett's head bobs up and down in a nod. Even worse, she's smiling nervously, grasping at basic politeness like an idiot because she clearly has nothing important to add.

“I'm really sorry,” she mumbles.

Joan has to walk away to stop herself from doing something truly rash.


It's almost two, and his door is still locked. She's forced herself to concentrate and accomplish as much work as she can, though anger constricts in her chest every time she glances across the hall and sees his nameplate gleaming back at her.

Lane can't stay in there forever. He'll have to eat eventually. He'll have to go home. It occurs to Joan that he even knows she has a master key. What the hell does he want? Why is he doing this?

She waits until the girls are on a break. Scarlett and Clara always go together. And Bridget has begun to take twenty extra minutes to join them in a couple of cigarettes. Yes, Joan's noticed, and she's already warned the girl once. It'll start coming out of her paycheck if it keeps up.

Joan opens her bottom desk drawer, shunting aside the box of petty cash for her small brass key ring. She can feel the thin wooden fob buried under a mass of handwritten receipts, and she pulls at it gently until the entire ring emerges from the drawer.

Lane's can't just lock himself in his office like a surly teenager and expect everyone to leave him alone. And she can't put everyone else's schedules on hold out of consideration for his hurt feelings. This is a business, not a high school club.

Keys clenched in her hand, Joan closes the drawer and stands, smoothing out a wrinkle in her purple dress and picking up several folders from her outbox to deliver to Lane. Since she's going.

She moves quickly toward his office. The bundle in her hands is unsteady, so she places the files on the corner of Scarlett's desk for a moment, to make sure they don't topple. After taking another moment to find the correct key, she walks a few steps forward and inserts it into the lock.

Bad  idea,” Stan Rizzo drawls as he walks toward the creative lounge, eyes narrowing as his gaze travels from her outstretched arm to the brass ring in her hand.

“I didn't ask for your opinion,” Joan retorts, to which he holds up his notepad in surrender, ambling past her and beginning to whistle loudly. She doesn't recognize the tune.

Joan turns the key, hears the bolt click open in response. She feels a rush of satisfaction when the knob turns in her hand and she's able to push open Lane's door in one quick motion, the other keys jingling like a small wind chime as the door swings forward.

Lane's on the phone, gripping the receiver in one hand and the base in the other, pacing behind his desk. His black suit jacket is unbuttoned, and the side panels flap behind him slightly when he turns. Mid-stride, he spots her in the open doorway, and flushes red with anger.

“For god's sake!” he shouts, shoving the telephone base back onto the desk. Judging by the thunderous look on his face, Joan assumes he's just going to scream at her. But he turns toward the window a little, lowering his voice and continuing to speak into the receiver.

“No, I'm sorry, it wasn't – I didn't mean you, sir. I understand that it is difficult. I'm simply asking if there is a way to delay next year's deposit without—”

There's a pause, and Lane makes a frustrated sound.

“I told you I've already spoken with him. And with all due respect, even as recently as last year, the former headmaster and I were able to—yes, I'm aware you cannot afford to indulge  the majority of parents in this manner, but I am not asking for an indulgence...”

He exhales, letting the sentence trail off into nothing, and grinds the heel of one hand into his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut as if his head aches.

Joan's become so used to him faking important phone calls it didn't dawn on her that he might actually be in the middle of a serious discussion. Her stomach churns, and embarrassment prickles hot at the back of her neck, but she tries to ignore this, to focus on anything other than his fraught expression. She thought he was stonewalling. That's why she came in.

“No, of course,” Lane says finally, clipping his words so forcefully it's a wonder he can grit them out. “We'll speak tomorrow. Good day.”

He slams the receiver down. After a moment, he straightens up, and meets Joan's eyes, leveling her with an amount of silent contempt usually reserved for office troublemakers and difficult clients.

“I realize you enjoy involving yourself in other people's private miseries, but this is a new low, even by your standards.”

Joan keeps her voice sharp.

“Your door was locked.”

He levels her with a glare and a snide:

“You can't bear to admit when you've done something wrong, can you?”

Joan glares right back, folding her arms across her chest.

“Your personal problems are starting to affect our work.”

If he had just been honest about this situation from the very beginning, she wouldn't have gotten so worked up. Instead, he let her think he was avoiding her. For hours. What the hell was she supposed to do?

Lane clenches his jaw, turning his face away from her.

“Leave me alone,” he growls.

Her mouth drops open slightly, but when she doesn't move, he raises his voice. It's not a shout, but it's forceful enough:

“I said go.”

She does, closing the door hard as she leaves, and yanking her keys from the lock so quickly the ring nearly sails out of her hand and into Bridget's head. Stan and Ginsberg look up from their work with bug eyes and slack mouths as she crosses into her office and shuts the door behind her, zeroing in on the bar to the right of her desk and throwing the keys somewhere onto the floor, near the file cabinets. They land on the tile with a loud metallic thump.

She concentrates on keeping her hands steady as she pours two fingers of gin into a rocks glass. You can't bear to be wrong?  What the hell does he know?


Monday morning, when Scarlett appears at Joan's door with several folders' worth of financial papers in her arms and a nervous, deer-in-headlights expression, Joan resigns herself to continued awkwardness. She tries to ignore the voice in the back of her head that says it's your own fault.  It was...foolish to unlock Lane's office door. She let herself get angry, and she made an impulsive decision, but it does not need to become an issue. She'd apologize if she thought Lane might accept it, but an apology won't do any good when they're not even on speaking terms.

There's a traffic meeting scheduled for one o'clock. So, at twelve fifty-eight, when Scarlett slides into the conference room with her steno pad, mumbling something about Mr. Pryce and urgent business, Joan jots down several swear words in shorthand onto the margins of her notes – a trick she'd used years ago to control her temper – and decides it's for the best.

It's very easy to avoid seeing Lane, as he mostly keeps to his office during the workday. It's made even easier now that people are restless for the upcoming holiday. Creative has started to spend much more time in the common spaces.

The one step Joan refuses to take is to change her routine. If she and Lane encounter each other in the main hallway, early in the morning, or the kitchenette, or – once – in the elevator, it's easy to let her eyes slide silently over his tense expression, then redirect her gaze.

He always looks down, as if he's embarrassed.


A delivery comes for her by courier the day before the office Christmas party.

When Joan walks out to reception, she's ready to scold the messenger for a mix-up. Nothing's supposed to be delivered today except dry goods and the extra tables, and neither are due until this afternoon. So, when the young man places a manila envelope in her hands and says you've been served, his words ring in Joan's ears for a full minute before she's able to react. She stands in the middle of reception, stunned into silence, catching a glimpse of Meredith's dopey expression and feeling hatred surge through her body until her hands start to shake. What the hell is wrong with that girl?

The next couple of minutes are a blur, but Joan does remember screaming surprise and throwing the Mohawk model onto the girl's desk before she's suddenly pulled sideways by the upper arm, away from Meredith and toward the glass doors.

“Let go of me,” she growls, struggling to break free, but Ken Cosgrove's grip on her elbow remains steady. His other hand comes around to rest on her upper back as they move into the hallway, shepherding her toward the closest elevator.

“We're taking a walk.”

Ken doesn't look angry, but it's clear from his tone this suggestion isn't optional. Joan grits her teeth and takes a deep breath through her nose, forcing herself to relax. Once she stops resisting, he drops her arm with a mumbled sorry, giving her an awkward pat on the back before pulling his other hand away.

Inside the elevator, she folds her arms across her chest, leaning back against the paneling and staring fixedly at the wall of numbered buttons in front of her. Ken adjusts his tan overcoat, obviously waiting for her to hit one of them, but when she doesn't, he pushes the button for the top floor: the restaurant.

“My purse—” Joan begins, but Ken holds up a hand, cutting her off.

“It's on me.”

She closes her eyes and presses the fingertips of one hand to the bridge of her nose, failing to stop the headache that's building in her sinuses.


In the kitchen, Scarlett takes a deep, calming breath as Meredith hiccups out another sob and rips the kleenex she's holding into two large pieces.

“It's not my fault!”

“I'm sure Joan's sorry she lost her temper,” Scarlett says in a soothing voice, attempting to be sisterly although she's sure Joan must have a very good reason for flying off the handle.

“She threw an airplane at me,” Meredith wails.

“Model airplane,” Scarlett corrects quietly. “And you're not hurt.”

A clinking noise to their left makes Scarlett look up. Dawn's picking out a freshly-washed mug from the dish rack. They exchange a brief glance. One corner of Dawn's mouth quirks up in a curious hello as she looks at them. Scarlett refrains from rolling her eyes as she gestures to the blonde. Meredith's crying. It's just another Thursday.

“I don't even know what was in that stupid letter,” Meredith says with a sniff, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her gauzy yellow blouse. “She didn't have to call me an idiot!”

“What happened?” Dawn asks, pouring herself some coffee.

Scarlett fills in the details as quickly as possible, but mid-story, a new thought occurs to her, and she turns to Meredith.

“You could have just signed for the delivery, taken it to her privately.”

“The man wouldn't let me,” Meredith retorts, as if this should be obvious. “He kept saying he  had to do it.”

Scarlett frowns. She didn't mention that earlier.

“Could have been army business,” Dawn says quietly.

“I don't know what it was! When Joan came out, he just gave her the envelope and told her she was served. What does that even mean?”

Scarlett and Dawn exchange a brief, surprised look. Scarlett doesn't know why Joan would be receiving legal papers, but she has one small suspicion. Dawn seems to have come to a similar conclusion, but unfortunately, it doesn't go unnoticed. Meredith stares back and forth between the two of them, letting out a whiny:


Scarlett looks to Dawn, who purses her lips and shakes her head, clearly unwilling to voice the theory herself. After a moment, the brunette sighs.

“It might have been papers for...divorce.”

Lowering her voice on the last word.

“If Dr. Harris was the one to—file, then they have to serve the other know, formally. It would explain why she got so upset.”

Dawn shifts uncomfortably on her feet, eyes darting toward the doorway.

“We don't know if that's the truth. It could be anything.”

“What could be worse than a divorce?” Meredith yelps.

There's a sudden noise outside, and both women shush Meredith. Ginsberg's speaking to someone in the hallway, and his voice is loud, like he's directly on the other side of the wall:

“If you're looking for Scarlett, I think she's in here.”

He pops his head into the kitchen doorway, lifting his chin to Scarlett in a brief acknowledgment.

“Lane wants you.”

Scarlett winces, muttering a quiet:

“Thanks,” before bustling out into the hall.

Mr. Pryce stands awkwardly near the far wall of the creative lounge, a clipboard in hand. His eyes are fixed on a framed painting, though when Scarlett speaks, he glances over at her.

“I'm so sorry. I was helping Meredith.”

He mumbles a reply she doesn't quite catch. She hates when he does that, then she has to spend the next five minutes playing guessing games. Speak up!

“I said I'd like to review traffic figures,” he says, more loudly this time, with obvious impatience in his voice. “You took down notes.”

Scarlett blinks.

“Oh – of course. I'll just...go get them.”

It occurs to her, as she's pulling open her middle drawer, that he should have seen the minutes by now. She left a report of the meeting on his desk two days ago. How did he miss that?


Joan stabs out her cigarette. It's practically burned down to the filter.

He's divorcing me.

Judging by Ken's open mouth and wide eyes, he's thrown for a loop. Joan goes to take another sip of her brandy alexander, but finds that the glass is empty, so she swirls ice around the bottom, watching the pieces dilute the leftover cream. He'd ordered for them both, otherwise she would have gotten gin.

Joan stares down at her left arm, resting on the surface of the polished wood bar, and remembers Greg's hand wrapped around her wrist on the morning she'd kicked him out, his fingers digging into her skin so hard they'd left bruises. You're not a good man. You never were.

“Shit,” Ken finally says, after a long silence. “Joan, I'm sorry.”

Joan lifts one shoulder in a shrug.

“Don't apologize.”

He winces, embarrassed, but after a moment, raises his glass as if for a toast.

“Okay. Well, you've got your family, and plenty of friends. What do you need him for?”

Joan manages a laugh, and clinks her empty glass to his, but underneath the humor is an undercurrent she doesn't like to acknowledge. She'd be lying if she said she hasn't been lonely, though she would never admit this aloud. Not to Ken Cosgrove, anyway.

In the back of her mind, a tiny voice whispers: Lane would understand. She thinks about their argument, about how badly she's behaved, and surprises herself when she comes up melancholy instead of angry. It's probably the brandy.

After another moment, Joan realizes she's tracing the lip of her glass with one fingertip, and stills her restless hand. She's too unsettled. Clearing her throat, she turns back to Ken.

“Gin fizz this time.”

He signals the bartender.


Just before the Christmas party begins, Lane speaks to the group about the company's financial state – intending, Joan believes, to praise everyone's patience with the lack of Christmas bonuses and continuing budget restrictions. Unfortunately, he's not able to capture his audience, and while Joan gives his (rambling, overly formal) words her full attention, appreciating the fact that he is trying, some people have less control over themselves. Lane's barely gotten the last word out of his mouth – to a few confused whispers and weak applause – when Harry Crane loudly calls:

“Don! Speech!”

until it becomes a chant, picked up by the boys in creative. Joan suspects they've all been drinking already, which accounts for some of the rudeness, but she still levels Harry with her nastiest glare. He has no excuse.

Of course Don's speech is a home run. They whistle and cheer and hand out drinks once he's finished. Even Joan has to admit his ad-libbed pitch is impressive. It's short, to the point, and extremely motivating. The world will know we've arrived.

She means to speak to Lane before the party starts in earnest. But he's pulled aside by Cooper for a question about corporate tax codes, and Joan's given a cup of champagne by Caroline, who immediately turns her ear with the best Roger story she's heard in months. Apparently, he bought an easel this week. He had an experience that told him he should try painting.

By the time she realizes Lane's missing from the crowd, it's been an hour, and the party's started to become a little lively. He's not in the main hallway, and she has to pick through most of creative's personnel to get to his office door. Stan's sitting on Bridget's desk, in the middle of a story:

“--so I tell her that if she wants, I'll be glad to bag up her broccoli—”

which earns him several jeers and a couple of empty plastic cups tossed at his head, which he bats away with a laugh.

“Jesus. Tell me she didn't fall for it,” Ginsberg says with a groan.

Joan knocks on Lane's door. No answer.

After a moment, she decides to try the handle. It's unlocked, and she peeks around the frame with judicious caution, expecting to see him inside, drinking whiskey or listening to the radio or something. But his hat and coat aren't on the rack, and his briefcase is gone, too.

She shuts the door quickly, and turns back to the creatives, who are giggling like idiots.

“So we're picking up all this shit from the sidewalk – I mean, this bag has split everywhere – and she finds the package from the pharmacy. I think: fuck, she's gonna see that I bought—”

Joan clears her throat, looking at all of them and snapping out a sharp:

“Did Lane go home?”

They stare at her, still snickering but having the grace to look embarrassed about it. Peggy's the only one able to get herself under control.

“I don't know. We haven't seen him.”

“How helpful,” Joan retorts, and walks off without another word. Behind her, she can hear Stan's raucous laughter get louder, as he picks up the lost thread of his story.

She takes a small cup of champagne into the now-empty conference room, and nurses it for a minute. Lane must have felt embarrassed after his speech went over so badly, or was uncomfortable being near her, given the circumstances, but it's Christmas, for god's sake. It's a party.

For a moment, Joan considers putting a brief note on his desk, or writing some kind of card, but quickly dismisses the idea as puerile, and decides instead to put the ongoing fight out of her mind.