Characters/Pairing: Lane Pryce/Joan Harris, Rebecca Pryce, Don Draper, Roger Sterling
Word Count: 11,848
Disclaimer: I don't own Mad Men. Is anyone surprised?
Notes: Originally, I meant for this to be a series of ten drabbles, but ended up with this monster instead. Holy hell! Many thanks to padawansguide for the beta.
Lane doesn't recall the first time he met Joan Harris.
If they were properly introduced, which he doubts, it likely occurred while he was first getting settled in his new office. A moment to which he paid little mind.
What Lane does recall is walking the floor of Sterling Cooper in the earliest days, a pace behind Roger and St. John, and seeing her for the first time.
Red hair done up in the back (in a way he would later learn was typical), she wore a bright pink dress which particularly suited her shape. A gold pen dangled from a delicate chain around her neck. Her command over the stenography pool was remarkable. She was a queen bee amid a sea of drones.
“Magnificent,” St. John had said. His focus seemed somewhere other than the managerial.
Sterling, ever the American, had clapped St. John on the back like an old friend, with a wink and a smirk. “That's our Joanie,”
Joanie? Lane couldn't imagine her ever answering to a nickname like that.
2. a fete worthy of joan
Lane was slumped on the sofa in his office, staring at that damned cobra, when he heard commotion in the lobby. People shouting. Suddenly John rushed into the room, pale and panicked.
“There's been a – a terrible accident.” He looked positively ill. “Come quickly!”
The involvement of a riding lawnmower was a shock. Lois' culpability, less so.
Quite frankly, no one had surprised him more than Mrs. Harris. Lane supposed he'd never given her enough credit. She was a doctor's wife, and a capable manager. Surely she'd have taken first aid training. And she'd been first to jump into action. The men nearest the accident, save for Cosgrove, seemed shell-shocked. Most of the girls fled due to fear or illness. Perhaps both, in some cases; Lane had got a look at the wound before the emergency crew arrived. Gruesome business.
Given the circumstances, it was no wonder Mrs. Harris had been asked to travel to hospital with the lad. Lane had gone also, in an attempt at keeping useful. He'd left several messages for St. John at the hotel, but there'd been no reply yet. He'd likely need to intercept them at La Grenouille, though felt it prudent to wait before taking his leave. Till MacKendrick was out of surgery, at least.
Lane removed his glasses for a moment and rubbed his eyes, already exhausted. He turned towards Mrs. Harris – who appeared, without his glasses, as an unfocused green shape to his left.
“How long has it been since he went in?”
She had to clear her throat before speaking. “An hour.”
“Only one?” He put his glasses back on, to view the time for himself. Ten past five. “Feels like a lifetime.”
She smiled, red lips pursing in a bow of amusement as she turned her attention to the cardboard box containing her office things. Rummaging through it, she produced a pack of Pall Malls.
She proffered them in his direction. “Would you like one?”
“Oh,” He was caught off guard. “Are we allowed to smoke in here?”
Mrs. Harris laughed. “It's a waiting room, not intensive care.”
It occurred to him that he'd left his pipe at the office. He could certainly use a smoke.
“If you insist.”
“Of course. A lady always shares.” She placed a fag in his outstretched hand, put another in her mouth and pulled a gold lighter from her purse.
Lane leaned forward and produced a lighter of his own, an old gift from Rebecca. The engraving on the front – his initials, pale against the silver metal – had started to tarnish.
“Allow me.” He lit hers, then his, and slid the lighter back into his vest pocket.
They sat smoking in silence for a moment.
“Mrs. Harris,” Lane began, choosing his words with care. “You did very well today. Very well, indeed. I wanted to be sure to tell you before you – er – left.”
She took a long drag from her cigarette, exhaling in a jet of smoke. “Don't thank me.” She tapped out a bit of ash onto the tray. “I couldn't do much for him, considering.”
He made a noise of disagreement, nearly snorting smoke out his nose. She'd been holding MacKendrick's ruined foot together with a tourniquet and her bare hands, for god's sake! It was completely beyond the call of duty. Probably saved his life.
She sat up straight, suddenly, and indicated the doorway behind him, extinguishing her cigarette in the nearest ashtray. “Isn't that his doctor?”
So it was. The news was bleak. MacKendrick would lose the foot, poor chap. Might not walk for months. Amid rushing to intercept Powell and Ford, and discovering he'd be staying at Sterling Cooper indefinitely, it slipped Lane's mind to say a proper goodbye. To apologize for the events of the day, and to compliment her again on her quick thinking.
He'd been taught to be a gentleman. Best he could do was offer to pay for her ruined dress.
3. by this point it should be perfectly clear
Lane checked his watch. Eleven o'clock. On any normal Sunday he'd be at home, asleep. Tonight, he was rummaging through cabinets in billings, trying to find the last Clearasil documents so he could put them with the others for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
His name on an agency door. A full partnership. For the first time in months, he felt as if his work in New York had not been in vain.
Though, in all honesty, he was apprehensive. Barely enough money to finance day to day operations, and Roger wanted to bring in another person. After he'd specifically said no more conspirators! Course the man did whatever the bloody hell he wanted. I'll be discreet, indeed.
Lane had nothing against Mrs. Harris. She would be a solid addition to the new firm. But Roger's infatuation with her – and he had noticed something strange between them, he wasn't an idiot – could be dangerous. In a small company like SCDP, were something to go wrong between the two, it would affect everyone. Particularly if they were all operating out of a single room in the Pierre.
He didn't know how to voice his concerns to a man who barely tolerated him, let alone one who took these things rather personally. It was impossible. And, though Mrs. Harris would be more delicate about the matter, it would be terribly rude of him to ask such personal questions of her. As if they were friends, or confidants? No, it wouldn't be right.
Lane pushed shut a file drawer in frustration. He'd gone through six already and found nothing. These damn little details. He still needed to pack.
“Yes?” He turned to see Mrs. Harris standing in the doorway.
“The movers are here for the first load of boxes. Do you have anything for them to take?”
“No, not yet.” He paused. Perhaps she could help. “Would you tell me where these—” he passed her the scrap paper on which Campbell had scribbled “—blasted Vick Chemical files are supposed to be located? Can't find them anywhere.”
Her eyes lingered on the paper for a moment. “Fourth cabinet to your right, bottom drawer. Should be everything they've got on Clearasil, unless Mr. Campbell took more work home.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed, moving to the correct location and finding the folders just where she'd said. “Fantastic.”
He wanted to ask, was there a history with Sterling? It was easy enough to see why Roger would be infatuated. Lane had eyes, after all. He supposed Sterling was a handsome enough fellow, perhaps the flirtation was based on looks alone.
Was it more than flirtation, between them?
Frankly, the idea annoyed him. He'd never been one to mix business and romance, even before his marriage. Why couldn't others be so practical? Didn't they realize their livelihoods were more important than indulging in a ridiculous fantasy?
“Mr. Pryce?” She'd moved back towards the doorway. “Do you need anything else from me?”
“No.” He gestured stiffly with the files now gripped in his hand. “That'll be all.”
4. darling, i've been an ass
He sat in the red wingback chair for what felt like hours, smoking his pipe and turning the argument over and over in his mind, all work forgotten. God, the way she'd confronted him! I'm not your darling, and I don't want your kisses! I thought American men were bad enough, but none of them has ever so consistently made me feel like a helpless, stupid little girl!
Mrs. Harris' words had stung, and deeply. Had he really been so awful? Made her – of all people! – feel helpless and idiotic? Had he changed so much over the course of a year? Become a ruder person? An unlikeable one?
Rebecca might say yes. His father certainly would. But then, Rebecca had been angry with him for months, erupting at the slightest provocation. They were barely speaking, and when they did talk, conversation proved to be a minefield.
And his father...well. He'd never liked Lane much to start with.
He was suddenly seized by an impulse. It was still early, not even four o'clock. Perhaps Mrs. Harris would still be in her office. He retrieved his jacket from where he'd slung it across the sofa, and donned it. Best to make an apology sooner rather than later.
And he'd need to call Rebecca in London, immediately after. Flowers, indeed. A ghastly mess.
There was a certain perverse pleasure in passing Sandy's empty desk. Lane took the long way towards Mrs. Harris' office, circling past the conference room and the Draper, Sterling, and Campbell offices. He wanted to use the time to form an apology.
When he arrived at her door, it was closed. He didn't even knock, simply barged inside. One hesitation at the doorway and he'd never work up the courage.
She looked up, startled, at his sudden entrance.
“Mrs. Harris,” Lane moved to stand in front of her desk as he spoke. “I'd like to apologize. You must know I never meant to make you feel like you were anything less than capable.”
She held up a hand, palm out, to stop him. “Mr. Pryce—”
“No, don't.” He sat down in one of the chairs opposite her desk. “I, er, want to say this properly. You're one of the best people at this agency. The most efficient. Certainly the most helpful, at least, to me. In my own work. And I apologize for treating you so poorly these past few months. I—well,” he let out a sigh, searching for the right turn of phrase. “I suppose I haven't been myself. I'm terribly sorry to have taken it out on you. Mrs. Harris – Joan – please forgive me.”
Mrs. Harris bit her lip. The first sign of hesitation he'd ever noticed, in her. How strange.
“Peggy's behind you.” She gestured to the door nearest his office.
Lane turned, felt himself redden, though there'd been no impropriety. “Oh, bugger,”
“I'm so sorry,” Miss Olson said, backing away from the door frame. “I was just leaving and I heard...voices. Sorry.” Her heels clicked rapidly against the tile as she walked away, towards the lobby.
There was silence for a moment, and then:
“I don't think I've ever heard you curse before,” Mrs. Harris said, beginning to laugh.
He couldn't help but smile. “If an ad man curses in an empty office, does it make a sound?”
She laughed harder. He liked that.
Over the next few months, their names became synonymous, like a brand. Lane-and-Joan must sign off on this. If Lane-and-Joan approve, you're cleared. Oddly enough, Lane found he rather liked working in pairs. In the past, he'd clamored for the chance to work alone.
The two of them spent weeks poring over spreadsheets and paperwork in preparation for the partners' meeting on 3 January. After the flower incident, he'd asked for more extensive help with the books, and she'd consented in good faith. It turned out she had a knack for mathematics, like no woman he'd ever met. How had he missed that keenness, beneath all her pageantry?
She was funny, too. It was helpful to get along with one's coworkers, but it was quite another to enjoy their company. She'd even joke with him. Don was the only other person who'd joke with him.
“Can you imagine Roger putting together the budget!” She clasped a hand to her heart, throwing her head back as she laughed, loud and well. “We'd be pickled by lunch and poorer than church mice.”
“I attend the partners' meetings, you know. I am aware.”
“Lane,” her raised eyebrow was a paragraph of unspoken retorts. “We'd be lucky to still have pencils.”
They'd become friends, of a sort. Lane found that he enjoyed being able to talk about work matters with someone who intimately knew and understood them. Rebecca had never enjoyed the subject, though she put on a good show for company parties.
The only real problem was the way his work seemed to be overlooked. Many employees, senior partners included, continued to taunt him simply for doing his job. For attempting to check their ridiculous spending. Roger was the serial offender, though Don or Campbell would occasionally make a joke at his expense.
Much as he tried to ignore it, the issue had begun to gnaw at him.
One day, he'd had enough, and had brought it up to her as they were sorting through billings in his office. She'd listened to his complaints, absorbing everything, before replying.
“Listen to me.” Reaching across the desk, she grabbed Lane's hand, briefly. “You're important. You do something they can't. Don't forget that.” Just as quickly, she let go, pausing to pick up a receipt for a Sugarberry Hams commercial.
He liked the emphasis she put on you. Like he was useful. Like his work was an asset to the company, instead of a nuisance.
“Oh,” he demurred. “No. I'm just a numbers person, Mrs. Harris. You could always find a replacement for me, should it become necessary.”
Her eyes flicked back to his. The expression in them was clear and serious. “Replacing you would be impossible, Mr. Pryce.”
Impossible. He liked that enormously.
5. an unholy alliance
The subject was broached by Don Draper, of all people. They were drinking in his office, after hours, for what felt like the thousandth time that month.
“You know people assume you and Joan're sleeping together?”
Lane nearly dropped the bottle of Canadian Club he was holding.
“What?” Surely he was joking. “M–Mrs. Harris and I? In—involved?”
“Stop stammering,” Don said, giggling in the way he only did when he'd imbibed. “You sound like Porky Pig.”
“It's just – who on earth would — honestly!”
Don found the unspoken question in the outburst. “Joey, for one. Peggy fired him for that little cartoon of his. The rest of them, well. You know how this place loves a rumor.” He gave a shrug.
Lane looked up, puzzled. “Cartoon? What do you mean?”
“I mean a cartoon, Lane. Drawing.”
“What...” Lane hesitated, but decided to complete the question. “What did it, ah, depict?”
Don started laughing. “How did you not hear about this?”
“I don't gossip,” Lane said, feeling offended.
“Trust me. You don't want to know.”
Lane frowned. He wasn't a child to be shielded. “Tell me, please. As a favor.”
“Fine,” Don said, with a casual air. “Joan was blowing you under the desk in your office.”
“Good lord!” Lane felt his soul practically leave his body.
“You were shouting 'tally ho!'” Don said, giggling again.
Lane's mouth dropped open. “What?!”
Don laughed even harder. “You're turning purple.”
“Well, I should say so!” Lane retorted, pulling out his handkerchief. The back of his neck felt like it was aflame. Good lord, had he broken a sweat? He dabbed at his forehead in an attempt to gather his wits. “Honestly!”
“Oh, come on,” Don waved away all protests. “Don't tell me you've never thought about her.”
“I—I certainly have not!” Lane stuffed his handkerchief into a trouser pocket, avoiding Don's eyes.
Don snorted. A little liquor sloshed out of the glass he was holding. “Methinks the gentleman...”
“No, Don,” Lane held up a hand, palm out. “Honestly.”
“Are you serious?” Don shook his head, bemused. “What's wrong with you?”
“I am married, thank you very much,” Lane said with a huff.
“So's she. And your wife's in London. Her husband's at Fort Dick. Who cares?”
“I care!” Lane retorted, with more venom than he meant to. “And I'll thank you not to bring it up again,”
Don held up both hands in an 'I surrender' motion. “All right. Sorry.”
Lane turned back to his drink, frowning. Just because he enjoyed Mrs. Harris' company didn't mean romance was afoot. Yes, he and Rebecca were separated. And yes, he'd had dalliances. Now, he had Toni, whom he loved very much. He didn't need to have a liaison with a coworker, thank you, Don. With Mrs. Harris, of all people!
“Mrs. Harris and I are colleagues and nothing more!” he insisted.
“Lane, I said I was sorry! Come on.”
Their subsequent viewing of Monsters-a-go-go was subdued, to say the least.
God, he despised Donald Draper. Lane never should've asked about that damned cartoon. It consumed him. Every time he passed Joan in the hallway, indecent images fluttered into his head, leaving him a stuttering wreck. Each time they spoke, he found himself wondering if she'd heard these same rumors. If he could ever be more than a numbers person in her eyes.
All because of a damned drawing. And he'd never even seen the blasted thing.
As a result, he couldn't keep his hands off Toni for weeks.
“Baby, I'm gonna starve if you keep this up!” They were lying in his bed on a Saturday morning. She swatted him away playfully, with practiced ease, and pulled a bit of the coverlet over herself. “We haven't even had breakfast. Let's take a rest.”
“Bunny,” he rolled onto his left side to look at her, properly. Or as properly as he could without his spectacles. “Have you ever, ah, fancied someone from work? Like a colleague?” Surely that was all this business was. A passing fancy.
“Mr. Pryce,” she said, using her stern work voice to tease him, “My colleagues are all ladies. Remember?”
He blushed to the roots of his hair. “Yes, I know that. I- I just meant, generally. Have you?”
Toni thought for a moment. “Well, before the club, I worked at a diner on the East Side. A little place doing burgers and sandwiches for the locals. There was a...gentleman there who was kind of sweet on me. He did work on the jukebox. Used to buy me a pop on busy days.”
“Ah,” Lane said, trying to imagine it. Toni with a muscled, blue-collared admirer. “Did you like him, then? Did anything ever come of it?”
She shook her head, smiling. “Didn't pay him much attention, really. And he never made a real pass. But I thought about him sometimes, on the days he wasn't there. It was nice having somebody to talk to, you know?”
Lane supposed he did know. It was only curiosity. Human, nature, really.
“Can't help wondering about those things, hm?”
Toni moved closer to him, her smile turning positively wicked. “Don't get lost on me, White Chocolate.” She kissed him, briefly. “I thought you said you were hungry.”
“Oh, I am,” he said, pulling her close with a sudden fierceness. He silenced her startled giggle with another kiss.
His life wasn't perfect, but Lane was happy, by and large. Of course his father had needed to come and ruin it all. Didn't bring Rebecca, or Nigel, or keep any of the promises he'd made. Get your family in order, indeed. A sodding nightmare.
The partners took the news of his impending absence well, as he'd thought. Considering all the accounts were in good standing, he had no qualms in leaving them to the care of Mrs. Harris while he was away. At least someone he trusted would be keeping an eye out.
“Now,” he said, standing behind his desk as he dictated the last few instructions to Joan. It was so warm in the office he'd taken off his jacket, draping it over the back of his chair in an attempt to cool off.
“Ponds doesn't film until the fourteenth, and so we likely won't be paid till the end of the month there. Samsonite says they're clear on all work until the fall campaign–” he turned towards Mrs. Harris to ask a question about the new approach, but trailed off when he saw her expression.
She was staring at him intently. He felt a bit like a museum sculpture.
“What on earth's the matter?”
“Turn your head to the left,” she requested, quietly.
He frowned. “What?”
“Towards the window. ”
Lane felt a bit lost, and confusion must have showed in his face.
“You have a bruise on your face,” she replied, and he understood.
“Oh, yes. That. I, ah, had a bit of a fall over the weekend. Down some stairs, I'm afraid. Nothing serious.” From her expression, Lane couldn't tell if she believed him. He hoped so.
“Don't move,” she said, and she was standing, opening the door. “I'm getting something from my office. I'll be right back.”
It took her less than a minute to return, with something small grasped in the palm of her hand: a compact, if he was seeing correctly.
She shut the door behind her. “Sit on the desk. This will only take a minute.”
He made a halfhearted attempt to protest as she rounded the desk. “No, you really needn't. It'll go away on its own, you know, in a few days.”
“Lane. I can't let you walk around here looking bruised,” she said, her tone brooking no arguments. “Not the day before you leave.”
“All right!” He tried not to sound put out. “Quickly, then.”
She smiled. “Take off your glasses. Tilt your head to the left.”
He did, but not before glimpsing the contents of her compact. “Oh, you'll not put bright green on my face, will you?”
“Relax,” she said, opening the window blinds. “I'm a professional.”
Lane was nervous, suddenly. They spent so much time together, he and Joan, but allowing her to help him, to be vulnerable this way, was a very different matter. He put his frames to one side of the desk and tried to comply. Relaxation seemed impossible. He was perched on the edge of a table, for god's sake, only half-seated. One foot was still on the floor, next to his rolling chair.
“Okay,” Joan said, swirling the pad of her index finger into the makeup and stepping closer to him. He could feel the heat radiating from her body.
“Close your eyes. It'll be easier.”
He doubted that.
Suddenly, amid the darkness, he felt the cool whisper of her fingers brushing his temple. Her breath tickled his cheek each time she exhaled, and the combined sensations were almost overpowering. He felt butterflies in his stomach, a tingle across his entire body. Blood pounded in his ears, so loudly he was sure she could hear it, too. The back of his neck burned hot. He hoped he wasn't blushing. Was he breathing strangely? Oh, good lord.
She was humming quietly as she worked, a nameless tune.
“You've got quite a knot, here, you know.”
“What?” Lane had nearly forgotten why this was happening. “Oh, er, it isn't so bad. Nearly gone, now.”
“You go to the hospital?”
“No.” The back of her hand brushed against his jaw, briefly. He had to stifle a sharp breath. “I-I felt fine at the time. Just put a bit of ice on it.” Not true. He'd been dizzy for an hour. Had to lie still on the carpet, just to keep from being sick.
Joan's fingers moved up towards the crown of his head, massaging outward in a wonderfully pleasant motion. “Well, take care of yourself while you're gone.” Her fingers receded, and she pressed a palm against his forehead, as if he were a small boy. “You feel a little feverish.”
Feverish? Lane was surprised he hadn't burst into flames. His palms were sweating, and he tightened his grip on the lip of the table. Keep control.
“Don't worry,” he mumbled, stammering a bit and praying it escaped her notice. “I'm quite all right.”
He heard the snap of something plastic, and suddenly, she stepped away.
“There. All done.”
“Oh,” Lane opened his eyes, trying not to sound disappointed. “Are you sure?”
She laughed, placing her compact back on the desk and returning to her chair. “Yes. Your torture is finished.”
No, it was nowhere near finished. He turned to his right, donning his glasses, taking up his clipboard, and trying to face her without changing position. He'd need the time to recover. “Now. What was I saying?”
“Samsonite,” she prompted, taking up her notepad and pen.
“Ah.” He couldn't recall a thing. His mind was so empty it had practically sprouted cobwebs.
“The fall campaign? I was going to ask if you'd followed up with Peggy on the television rework. She says they should be ready to present new material next week...”
Recalling the ghost of her touch on his skin, Lane decided he was in trouble. A bit of personal leave might do him well.
part 2 is here.