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all your cities i will burn

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Don and Megan’s offer of a ride dissipates somewhere under the cloud of smoke collecting in the ballroom’s upper atmosphere.

Abe runs off to Harlem with his bowtie trailing after him. The kitchen sends out the last tray of wilted canapes. Megan walks away with an award, and Peggy walks away with nothing.

“No one cares about awards tonight,” says Ted. He already told her that she wasn’t going to win, that her nomination alone is a shine on the agency, that next year it will be for the work she does for him, which will make it all the sweeter. Now he looks like he wants to hug her. His wife hovers behind him, and Peggy turns her head away, doesn’t let her eyes close too much as Ted wraps an arm around her shoulders and kisses her on the cheek.

No one does care about the awards, but Peggy hates to lose. Somehow these things add up instead of falling into perspective around each other: Martin Luther King, Jr., not winning, Abe running away, and Don and Megan disappearing back to their lives without saying goodnight.

She stands on the curb, caught between a pair of account executives and the essence of a half dozen gin and tonics put down by skilled drinkers. “Bound to happen, sooner or later,” one says, thumb working his lighter like he was flipping through the yellow pages.

The other man has his hat pressed to his chest and raises it to wave after a taxi now and then. Peggy’s purse is tight under her arm in the press of bodies. Six cabs pass with their lights off. She counts as many police cars with blaring sirens before she ducks back through the crowd in disgust.

The doors to the ballroom from the lobby are half open, careless. The chairs are already on the tables, turned upside down for the night while someone passes a vacuum cleaner underneath them. Peggy waits for the phone, but can’t think of a single person to call when she gets to the front of the line.

Sometimes she asks herself what Don Draper would do. Often the answer is murky. But with the receiver in her hand, staring at the graffiti carved into the wooden panel behind the phone, glossed over again by so many fingers, in this case it is very clear: Don Draper would find a place to sit and drink alone.

The bar is thick with smoke and men in shirtsleeves. Not quite shoulder to shoulder, clustered with women who don’t belong in advertising, they are men that Peggy could be trying to impress. The crowd of them is dense enough that she manages to get the bartender’s attention and a rum rocks before Stan catches her eye from the other side of the room.

A stupid smirk slides across his face when he sees her. He gets up, and her eyes follow his progress around the room, a glimpse here and there between hunched shoulders and bowed heads. “Wanna catch up?”

“Sure.”

Stan gestures to the bartender, points to Peggy’s glass and holds up three fingers, and then holds up his own glass, too.

“I knew you weren’t talking to me.” Peggy downs the last of her first drink.

“Who said I wasn’t talking to you?” There’s no open stool, so he finds a place to lean against the bar near her in his tuxedo and his beard. She is almost used to the beard. Not like the time she walked right past him on Fifth Avenue, and he put two fingers in his mouth to whistle her back around before she got swept up in the pedestrian tide. “What’s a little corporate espionage between friends.”

“You didn’t come over to say hello. You don’t call me anymore.”

“Maybe you should pick up the phone sometimes.” He exchanges his glass with the bartender, and Peggy accepts the first of her drinks. “What happened to David Halberstam?”

Peggy pauses. “Abe went uptown. He’s on assignment for the Times.” It took her a beat to realize who he meant, which may be why she adds the plug for Abe’s growing resume.

The corners of Stan’s eyes crinkle as he smiles, unaccountably amused, before his face sobers again. “Terrible night,” he says. “What are you still doing here?”

“Couldn’t get a cab. You?”

He brings his drink to his lips. “Waiting for Godot.”

Stan is a person around whom it is especially difficult to be alone, and that’s what is really so annoying. All she wants is to be by herself to drink herself to disinterest, the way she had planned. Peggy doesn’t know why, when he’s just sort of taking up space in the vicinity of her, the way so many people do. “Tough going about the laxative commercial,” he says, and she reminds him primly that it’s his account now. Then something about how sharp Nan Chaough looked from across the room if he squinted, and he finds a groove in a tangent about Peggy Olson, real estate magnate, before she interrupts him.

“I don’t think your date’s coming,” she says meanly.

“Sirens freak her out.” He gives a rattle of the ice cube in his empty glass in acknowledgement.

That makes her thinks about Abe again, and how selfish it was of him to run off. Maybe not selfish. Maybe narcissistic, to think that he’s necessary up there, that what’s going on uptown has anything to do with him. “I don’t know how I’m going to get home.”

Stan doesn’t offer any solutions, only a cigarette that she declines. He lights up from a matchbook lying on the bar. “It’s a pickle.” He waves the match back and forth between his fingertips until it goes out, strangled, and drops it in his glass. “This is one of those nights, people are going to ask, where were you? What were you doing when the music stopped? You don’t get to pick where you were, but afterwards, you get to choose. And she’ll have to remember how she missed out.”

He’s still talking about his wayward date. “I’m sure it’ll haunt her. Or maybe she’s already in the middle of some other story she’ll be telling.”

“She’s not that interesting,” Stan admits. “I asked her where she was when Kennedy was assassinated, and she couldn’t remember.”

Peggy almost hopes this woman will show up, so she can see what a work of art she must be. “Where were you?”

“BBDO.” He strings the letters out like beads and laughs. “BB, DO.”

He doesn’t ask, so Peggy doesn’t say, “Getting fucked in a hotel room on my lunch hour,” doesn’t have to sit with the knowledge right below the surface of her admission that it was a man she no longer respects, and that the slow avalanche of esteem began with a television cord pulled out of the wall. Instead she says, “There are these moments, you know, when everything is supposed to stop. You’re supposed to be together in them, inside of them. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or why, or whether you even knew each other before that day, but when something like this happens, everyone is supposed to be together having the same moment. It’s supposed to be bigger than us. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.” She lifts her head, a brave eye daring to look over at him. “It never seems to.”

He reaches over and pats her hand. “Let’s go get high.”

--

In the bar, Stan produces a key, which is more elaboration than has ever been involved with this before. Upstairs, his tuxedo jacket blocks the gap under the door. The room is small and old-fashioned, elegant in that way that hovers between charming and fossilized. Peggy takes off her hose not long after her first drag, wrestling the control top down beneath her skirt. “These things itch.”

He has the bed, sprawled diagonally across it on his back with his feet crossed at the ankles. “You’re such an exhibitionist.”

“Am not.” Modesty is more of a theoretical challenge than a real problem here. The stockings come off her feet with an awkward, acrobatic little hop across the carpet.

“Yes you are. Any excuse to drop your drawers in a hotel room.”

Peggy drops into the nearest chair, pretending not to understand, balling the nylons in her hand. “My skin gets sensitive.”

Stan chuckles, disbelieving. “You don’t have a sensitive bone in your body.” He stretches out his hand toward her with the joint extended anyway, and beckons her back. “Have some more. Then you won’t feel anything.”

--

“Me?” Peggy looks back and forth over each of her shoulders, wide-eyed, raising both hands to an incredulous press of fingertips against her chest. “I can’t believe it,” she fake-stammers. “I’d like to thank the Academy, and Heinz baked beans, the Hudson Bay Company, and my husband’s reputation in the ad business for this incredible statuette.”

“Don’t be a bitter bitch,” he cuts in, when Peggy starts to hum “O Canada.”

“I can’t help it.” She climbs back onto the bed, nudging him to make room for her to lean against the headboard. He shifts his weight with a grunt, wiggling his ass to get comfortable again, and she slides her bare legs across the fabric of the slippery bedspread to fill the space. “They were supposed to take me home.” He is baked, almost inert, but his eyes are sympathetic enough that she adds, “And that was our account.”

“The one that you and Chaough tried to pirate away from us on the high seas of Manhattan?” He reaches for the soap dish Peggy took from the bathroom counter and sets it on his chest, knocking the ghost-grey ash into it. “Don’t get sentimental on me, Peggy. I won’t know what to do with you. You wanna watch it?”

“Hmm?”

“The news.”

The television is staring at both of them with its big gray glass eye, like a cyclops. “Oh.” They probably should, but if Harlem is burning, if anything else has happened, she’s not sure she wants to find out like this. There’s nothing she can do about it, she can’t even leave. The high settles in like an atmospheric event, a change in the weather, not quite in her bones. “I’ll look at the papers in the morning.” She flexes her feet in front of her, one then the other, naked little toes somewhere in the vicinity of Stan’s knee.

--

Stan’s bow tie is loose around the collar of his shirt, and his fingers are wading through the pleats of his cummerbund. “Come on… you still owe me one.”

“I do not. There isn’t some fucking… ledger somewhere.”

“Yes there is, it’s all up here,” he taps his temple with two fingers, “and it says you owe me some kind of tidbit.”

“Geez. I don’t know.” She thinks about it for a minute. “Ted had us stop work on Alfa Romeo this past week. I don’t know what *that* means.”

“He had you on the car?”

He’s incredulous but not scornful, somehow. “Off it now, though. And you better not take it to Don tomorrow.”

“Today,” he points out. “Not my style. Besides, we still have Jaguar. Meow.”

“Mmph.” That was the end, really… not Don throwing money at her face, although she might not have called Freddy without that trigger. But dinner from the Palm rolling in behind the glass... “Those fucking lobsters.”

“Does Teddy Chaough shell out for lobster?”

“*I’m* supposed to motivate the troops. They still hate me,” she admits. She turns on her side, lazy fingers combing through her hair, and props her head on a bent elbow, thinking of meatball sandwiches, and maybe room service. Stan is substantial, almost like a mountain range next to her. “What would you do? Nevermind,” the giggle bubbles up out of her, “I know what you would do.”

He’s grinning at her, at her mouth as she puts the end of the joint from the soap dish between her lips. “Don’t fuck with a winning strategy.”

--

Stan enumerates a parade of things that cross his mind when he smokes. The curves of things -- apples, television screens, Ginsberg’s curls, the incomplete pass across the icy field in Green Bay that doomed the Cowboys last New Year’s. The view he imagines looking up from the swamp in Vietnam, boots in the muck, mosquitoes making a meal out of you, but the sky and the jungle broken up overhead like stained glass. Whether Harry and Scarlett are sleeping together, and where. The boxy skyline from his view at the office window. The next dozen revisions he’s anticipating for Samsonite, line changes here and there like a flipbook until the suitcase grows wings and flies out of the frame. Peggy’s face when she comes. The ceiling tiles of his bedroom.

“You’ve never seen my face.”

“I used to see your your face every day.” She shoves at his shoulder, and he laughs, giving way a little and shifting back.

“You think you could make me?”

His eyes flick up, over the big green bow under her breasts, up to her cheeks. “Sure.”

The casualness of is what sets off the crazy flash of lust inside her, almost more like a power trip than any desire she’s known. “How?”

“You want a bedtime story?”

She shakes her head, “No,” takes the joint from him and stubs it out between them. “Use your hands.”

“You’re full of shit,” he says, but he rolls to his side, testing the waters with a hand on her knee. His hands are warm against her bare leg. They don’t grab, and the surprise of his gentleness steals her breath. Thirty seconds ago this was just an idea, and now it’s real.

His eyes lock on hers, and mellow as he is, there is still a challenge in it as he draws his thumb up against her, through her panties. Easy. “You’re so wet, Peggy,” he says in awe. “I can tell how wet you are.”

“Shut up.” She shifts over him, against him, to have more leverage.

He cups her more fully as she sinks down on her haunches, and grunts as his fingers begin to manipulate her through the cotton. “I don’t think you want me to shut up. I think you want me to keep talking.”

“Do not.”

“Sure you do. You don’t know what to do with a quiet room any more than I do.” His other hand comes up to cup her ass.

“I don’t mind-- quiet--” Peggy’s eyes roll shut -- shit, he hadn’t even taken off her panties and she isn’t sure he’ll get around to it. But she doesn’t care, as she begins to circle her hips with more intention. Except-- “Oh, there. Oh, I want, I want--”

“What?”

She shifts her thighs apart and tugs her underwear down them, enjoying the odd constriction as she straddled his belly. “Do I have to spell it out?” With one hand she hitches up the skirt of her dress -- he’s a visual person, he likes to see things.

“No ma’am,” he says, and slides one, two thick fingers inside her, right up in her slick cunt like they belong there, burrowing home. “Is that good?”

“Shut up,” she demands again. He laughs this time and complies, beginning to work his hand against her as she shifts her hips, riding the sensations. If it wasn’t for the pot, she might have more Thoughts about how they arrived here, but all she can do is feel it and make it happen.

His eyes drift from where he’s penetrating her, full and heavy, back up to her flushed face. He adds a thumb against her clit, watching intently as he works the pad against her hard nub. It’s smooth and somehow raw and sharp all together, and she grimaces as she grinds into it. “Easy, baby,” he says, almost concerned, but the rhythm is too good and she doesn’t last long, coming in a hard shock of pleasure against his hand that rocks through her whole body, through the tips of her fingers and toes, taking her apart.

She groans as she starts to come down from everything, combing a hand through her mussed hair. A loud bang sounds from the street, and they both start. Peggy steadies herself with a palm on his chest, attention drawn toward the fire escape, and he presses his hand over hers. A car horn sounds, some muffled shouts. They wait through frozen seconds for something that warrants more concern, but there is nothing.

The crinkled skirt of her dress settles back over her thighs as she sits back. “What about you?” She reaches for his zipper; he’s half-hard at least, but he stops her.

“Nah, I got what I wanted.” He’s so damn amused, like always.

“That can’t be true,” she says, but he pushes her hand away and adjusts himself and his cummerbund. She rolls to her side and off him, tugging her underwear somewhere near the vicinity of her hips, unsure of what she wants now.

Last time, Duck didn’t tell her. But she knew what was going on this time, and she chose another story she can’t tell. Abe, she thinks, her head clearing some. She’s not mad at him anymore, risking his life uptown for the story... She scrubs the back of her hand against her forehead. “We’re terrible people.”

She’s still foggy enough, she could have been talking to herself, but she’s not alone. “No, we’re not.” His eyes are watching her lips, and his voice is up in that funny higher register he has sometimes. She catches a glimpse of the clock over his shoulder. A quarter to three, and whatever her intentions might have been, she’s not leaving this bed until she gets a few hours of sleep.

He nudges her knee with his. “We’re just people.”

She nods, and tucks the pillow under her head, comforting her mind with all of the things she’ll have to do in the morning… put herself together and go downstairs, catch a cab back to her apartment, make excuses to Abe if he’s back. Find the papers she brought home before the evening and put them in order, call Ginny for an update about the sale, take a shower and hop the subway back to Madison Avenue, if it’s still running by then. Hope for inspiration to strike on the work, somewhere, a phrase or an image she can take for herself the way Don does, a little seed he’ll pluck, and claim whatever grows from it as his own.

That’s all she wants.

She starts to drift off, and she knows she should say goodnight to someone who has been so hospitable. “See you at work,” is what comes out, and she can't figure out what's so wrong with it before she falls asleep.