Biggest problem writing Mad Men fic: trying to go back and watch episodes to get backstory, and then ending up spending an hour watching episodes for fun. As always, I disclaim everything and own nothing.
He likes introductions. He likes sitting across from a man in a conference room, or a woman in the mezzanine of a hotel, and sifting through the waft of cologne and perfume and false pretensions until he finds the blind spot, because the blind spot is what lets you know what people want to see. He likes constructing stories, or really identities, because when it gets down to it people don't want you to tell them what their product will do or what you'll do to them – they want to know what their product is, who they are, and they want someone who understands the difference between a mirror and a tinted window.
He likes his office, and he likes the idea that others change themselves to appease him, even if he can see through it all. He likes Madison Avenue and expensive gin; he likes Windsor knots and the aftertaste of cigarettes. He likes the way these things add up into something more, whether genuine or facsimile; he likes that he has made Don Draper through simple synthesis.
He doesn't remember if he likes men like Don Draper, but he has a feeling that he at least respects them. He has feelings now, but they're somehow fainter: he doesn't remember whether he likes chocolate milk, or men with real laughs, or wearing expensive suits when he's just meeting with old friends. He remembers – he thinks – how he liked Betty's smile, and how he sat in his bathroom and cried after his daughter was born, and he remembers how he used to like the idea of faith.
There were moments back in Pennsylvania when he'd sit on the steps of Mac's porch and watch the coal trucks amble by. He would watch them knowing that they were headed for areas of the world he'd never known, that somehow the world expanded beyond what he had seen or ever would see. There's a freedom in knowing how vast the gulf around you is, a sense of possibility, a chance to marvel at the limitless opportunities afforded to those with a bus ticket and a refusal to admit defeat.
Now moments come when the same vastness feels not like an opportunity but an absence, a reminder of all the things he can't control, those things upon which he can't force his will. As a kid he never thought of dying. Now he thinks of it every morning, and every time he says goodbye to his children. He looks at Sally and Bobby and Eugene and pities them, because they don't know how they're going to die. At the same time he envies their lack of awareness. There are few certainties in this world, but he knows that his final moment will come in a sudden blaze, if booze doesn't get him first. Everyone around him worries about the apocalypse, wonders if nuclear war will happen, but he doesn't, because he knows it will. Man now has the capability to ensure his own destruction. There's a difference between capability and action, but he knows better than anyone how rare it is to deny yourself so constantly the chance to utilize the extent of your faculties, and he knows this well enough to know that his world will end in a flash, and that there's nothing to do until then but to make sure that he's as high atop the ladder as he can be when it ends.
There's a word for a sickness like this, but he's not sure which one it is.
He stubs the end of his cigarette into the ashtray until it's out. The ashtray is crystal. Megan's insurance agent cousin gave it to them as a wedding present. He and Megan had sex on this desk last Thursday. She'd come in to ask him a question about a proof, and he had taken her in her red dress and laid her down on the desk and sucked at her neck. The lamps had fallen off the left side of the desk. He took her then, and when her legs were wrapped around him she had kissed him and asked him, What do you want? He had splayed his fingers against the red fabric covering her breast and pushed into her. She said something, then stopped, her front teeth tugging at her lip.
Then she had smiled, smirked, and asked, in an accent much like her mother's –
Who do you want me to be?
Today is a Monday. Yesterday he had spent most of the day moving large cardboard boxes up into their new apartment. Bobby and Sally had been over. Bobby had wanted to help. He had emptied out a few small boxes and given to them to Bobby to carry around. Megan had unpacked with Sally. Megan had chatted, wide-eyed and pleasantly earnest. Sally hadn't said much.
He stands and goes to his window, and sees the city filtered through it. Manhattan is washed by the cold light of an unusually brisk April morning. His jacket is hanging on the hook on the wall next to him, and he wants to take it off and wrap it around him, but he doesn't. His throat feels tight and hollow. In each skyscraper he imagines another man standing, as he is, in a pressed white dress shirt, with a red tie knotted too tight, hands in pants pockets. These men have desks similar to his, with important work untouched, and a glass of Korbel, half-sipped, atop them.
He pictures the skyscrapers crumbling around him. He can see these other men, faces the same as him, falling through the Manhattan morning. It is as easy to send them tumbling as it is to create them. His tie feels less tight. The thought gives him peace.
His phone rings. He looks out on Madison Avenue for a moment more, then turns and picks it up. His secretary tells him that it's some executive he's never heard of, calling from a company that he has. He tells her to put him through.
His fingers trace the edge of the desk. Megan's left leg had rested here; Anna had once owned a desk like this. The memories are blurring, becoming one, making sense – and then they aren't. He is standing in his office again, and his head feels light.
There is a crackling as the lines switch, and he hears the sound of someone breathing on the other end, waiting for him to say something.
He likes this desk. He likes this office, and he likes synthesis. The person is still waiting for him on the other end, waiting for their blind spots to be probed and tested.
He likes introductions.
"Hello," Dick says. He is hearing his own voice as if he is separate from himself. "This is Don Draper."