Andy was tired. Tired in that way where you wonder if you'll ever feel awake or alert again. Where your head and bones and even skin aches somewhere deep within. Like even your soul is exhausted and burrowed ten feet under.
As of this moment Andy was particularly tired of sitting in a US embassy office in Tokyo while some weary, middle-level official scribbled notes and monotonously asked variations on the same questions. It was as though he didn't entirely believe their stories, so he just kept poking and prodding away.
His suit and hands and jowl seemed tinged with green and Andy wondered if it was a side effect of the flickering faintly green fluorescent light overhead or whether he was one part alien. Her dazed mind gave both options serious consideration for a few minutes until she realised the absurdity of her rambling thoughts.
Yup, Andy Sachs was bone tired.
She was now starting to fantasize about how amazing the couch she'd passed in the outer office was. It'd be like five-star accommodation after however many days they'd spent lying in a sloshing pool of salty water on a hard metal plane wing, surrounded by sharks thudding against it for sport. And before that was the rocky campsite on the island. Not to be recommended either, unless masochism was your thing.
The couch was too narrow though, she realised suddenly, as if this was very important. As thin as Miranda was, all bony elbows and knees and hip joints now, held together by grim determination, thick bandages and little else, the older woman wouldn't be able to stretch out there with her in Andy's arms. So, no, she frowned in displeasure, it was an officially crappy couch, five stars and all.
Her eyes roamed, blinking away the tiredness, desperately trying to latch onto something to stay awake. They lazily flitted from the bland white clock on the even blander, white wall that seemed to tick at half-speed, to her almost empty milk container sitting on the desk in front of her. Number nine, her brain supplied helpfully as she stared at the nutrient-filled liquid's container.
If they made her drink even one more of those, she was sure she'd vomit protein milkshake all over that nice Japanese nurse's shoes.
Her eyes floated up.
Seriously, this guy was way too green. She squinted at him. Didn't he know that?
The only time this American official in his off-the-rack, nine-year-old brown suit had stopped his ferocious writing was when he'd asked how Miranda had come to have her shoulder and head in bandages. Was it from the plane crash, he'd asked flatly, eyeing her owlishly from behind thin-wired glasses. He said it as if enquiring as to which train she'd arrived on.
Andy wondered just how common it was for a pair of fashion magazine employees to wash up on the shores of Japan if so little actually fazed him. Either that or he truly was half asleep, and given the lateness of the hour she couldn't entirely blame him. She stared at the clock again. It still ticked impossibly slowly. Even so, it was now past 2am.
"Well?" he asked blandly as he scribbled away, not looking up. "Your injury?"
"Shark," Miranda replied drolly, giving the word bite. "Of the ocean-faring variety."
His dark brown eyes actually grew slightly wider and automatically dropped to inspect the padded and well-strapped bandages across her collar bone and shoulder hiding 47 stitches and a lot of bruising.
Andy smirked and reached for her milk drink, sucking loudly to disguise the half hysterical laugh she feared was coming. Even at 2am, post-shark attack, Miranda was not to be toyed with.
The possibly one-part alien man's eyes dropped instantly to his paperwork and he flipped through a few pages that were written in Japanese. He tapped a word. "Oh, I thought they'd misunderstood you when they wrote that," he muttered. "Because the story I heard was you two had been washed up on an island near where the plane went down."
"That was before the shark," Miranda intoned and examined him through slitted eyes. "Later, when the island washed away, we met all the lovely sharks."
He peered at her closely as if to assess whether she was being serious and adjusted his glasses. "Sharks? Plural? Island washed away? My, my."
Andy slurped her milk again, somewhat amused in spite of herself. "It's in the report," she suggested, speaking up the first time. "That nurse took down a bunch of notes."
He tilted his head. "So it is," he said in that annoyingly flat drawl of his. "I thought there may have been a translation issue, because this is the damndest thing I've read in all my years."
He stopped looking at his paperwork and shifted his eyes back to Miranda.
"So next question, would you care to tell me how a…" he flicked his eyes to his papers then glanced up, "editor in chief of a global fashion magazine and her assistant survived for 34 days without food or water and then apparently fought off a school of hungry sharks? Because, I have to say, ma'ams, that is quite a tale."
His lip curled briefly before it flattened back to neutral. Andy, honed in the art of reading micro-expressions thanks to working at Runway for two years, spotted it immediately. And if Miranda's minute finger twitch was anything to go by, so did her unimpressed boss.
Miranda slowly tightened her grip on the half-full milk container she had been cradling. Andy saw the degree of precision with which it was done, the gradually whitening knuckles, the pursing lips, and she immediately swallowed.
"Now you will listen, Mr Percy…" It was her softest, most deadly voice, the voice that made grown men piddle their pants, then flee if they knew what was good for them.
"Percival," he corrected, and gave her a defiant chin tilt.
Mr Percival clearly did not know what was good for him.
Andy licked her lips anxiously. Miranda's eyes glinted and she then managed to lower her voice even more.
"Since I will never be meeting you again if you are very fortunate, your name is irrelevant," she said, and offered her iciest, tightest of scowls. "Now, we have been patient enough. We are American citizens who wish to return home to our families. At once. You have a thorough report already taken from the fishermen who found us and the Japanese medical personnel which, for some reason, you choose not to believe. That, of course, is your perogative if you wish to embrace ignorance…"
"Now, Miss Priestly, just wait one minute…"
"But you should bore someone else with your inane questions now, because I have two daughters I wish to see again as soon as possible. Two beautiful girls who, I should point out, have been told their mother was dead!"
She suddenly slammed the milk bottle against his table hard, and the sound reverberated around the room.
In a deathly quiet voice she continued, "And Andrea has a mother who will have been beside herself with the news her only daughter died a month ago. Now don't you think it's time you started earning your doubtlessly pitiful pay scale instead of wasting our time with your groundless insinuations and tedious incompetence?"
One perfect eyebrow arched and her tone turned into whispered menace. She glared at him as though he was inferior to the mouldy scrapings on the bottom of a boot.
Andy mentally cheered and discretely squeezed Miranda's thigh with her hand. She saw the other woman's lips twitch in acknowledgement but her boss kept her laser-like focus on the bureaucrat.
He sighed tiredly and pinched his nose. But then his shoulders slumped.
"I can see you have been through an ordeal," he said in a condescending tone that set Andy's teeth on edge. "But rest assured your next-of-kin have been notified of your survival. You may call them shortly. We have to wait for an available commercial flight willing to take you given your medical condition and a nurse who can …"
Miranda interrupted curtly. "I have several associates with corporate jets who can make these arrangements and we can find our own medical staff. Is that the only issue holding us here?"
"Well there's the matter of the plane crash. KLM executives should be here within a day or two to discuss the… ah… situation. It seems they use a small local affiliate service for the run between Manila and Okinawa as they don't fly that route themselves. And the affiliate service's safety record with 737-800s is, most regrettably, not what it should be. In fact Kevo Senang Airways has been grounded three times in the past 18 months for safety issues."
Kevo Senang Airways? Andy's brain stalled. Trust them to almost get killed by something that sounded like a freaking fruit cocktail.
"We are NOT waiting a day or two," Miranda hissed. "And if those airline idiots wish to be sued twice for the pain and suffering they've put us through – not to mention killing around 200 people, they will not dream of delaying us further. They can talk to my lawyers. Now do you have any actual valid issues that could delay our immediate return?"
Mr Percival appeared even greener as he stared at her, mouth opening and shutting.
No one spoke for a few beats.
"We are free to go then." It was not a question. After all, Miranda generally took silences as complete agreement with her position.
Mr Percival shifted his eyes to hers in annoyance but finally reluctantly nodded.
"Temporary passports," he muttered, opening a folder and sliding two booklets across the desk along with stamped documents. "And the paperwork required to re-enter the United States. When you have flight information about your associate's corporate jet and the medical personnel in attendance let me know so I can process my forms and waivers."
He looked up and exhaled heavily. "You're free to make your arrangements now. You may use the phone in the outer office," he pointed in the general direction of the room with the couch Andy had been coveting earlier. And then, as if reading out a shopping list he knew by heart, he added: "The United States is pleased to welcome back two of its citizens and trusts that you get home safely. Have a good day."
Miranda was up out of her chair like a shot, not even bothering with a derisive snort for the world's stupidest send-off speech.
Andy rose slightly slower and watched as the woman she loved headed for the phone to call her girls. She couldn't blame her. As tired, cold and achy as she felt, she was dying for a connection with home right now. But she could wait. Miranda had been dreaming of this moment for weeks - craving it like oxygen.
Mr Percival watched the fashion maven go with a look on his face Andy had seen many times since coming to work for Miranda. Like an anvil had landed on something fleshy and tender.
She placed her now empty milk container back on the desk beside Miranda's and gave him a small smile.
"Now do you see why the sharks never stood a chance?" she asked with an impish grin, then scooped up their paperwork, following Miranda out.
"Darlings, yes, it IS me," Miranda was saying as Andy closed the door behind her and entered the outer room. She made a move to leave to give her some privacy but the older woman shook her head and pointed to the low visitor's couch along the wall.
Andy's eyes lit up as she eased herself onto the soft cushions.
Bliss. No rocks, no water, no lumps, just bliss. God yes.
Miranda was shaking her head and wiping her eyes as she leaned heavily on her elbows against what had to be a secretary's desk, the old-style white phone, complete with curly cable, glued to her ear.
"Well yes of course they'd think that as they didn't find anyone else or the plane. But we're very much alive. And I've missed you Bobbsies, so much. Hmm? Oh - Andrea, my assistant. Yes. Well no she'll … yes. Well yes."
There was a long silence and, even while vaguing out on the sofa on the other side of the room, Andy could hear excited young female screams and bursts of conversation through the staticy phone. She smiled faintly and closed her eyes. More bliss. Her body almost hugged her from the inside.
She heard Miranda giving a sanitised version about walking off the plane, as if it had crashed and then neatly parked itself for them; staying on the island for a while and then picking up a raft to Japan as though it was a regular service she'd cleverly thought to book in advance.
Andy snickered and knew without opening her eyes that Miranda had shot her a look.
There was another silence and then an indignant, most unMiranda-like squeak.
"I assure you my assistant did NOT do all the work," she suddenly humphed in protest. Andy's eyes flew open and she caught the outrage and hint of amusement in icy blue eyes. "No, Mommy has mad survival skills, sweetheart."
Andy chuckled at that. No argument there. She fluttered her eyes closed again and vowed at some point to sit down Miranda's daughters and explain just how heroic their mother actually was.
"Well soon," she was now saying. "First we have to organise a jet and a nurse, but I'll give all the details to your father."
More excited talking followed and suddenly the room was breached with a sharp sob.
Andy's eyes shot open and, to her alarm, Miranda was now almost bent double, tears streaming down her face. Andy quickly raced to the desk and put a hand on Miranda's lower back, soothing her and reached for the phone now held limply in her hand.
"Hey, this is Andy here, who am I speaking to?"
"It's Caroline. Cassidy's listening in. What happened to Mom? Is she all right? We just told her we went to her funeral and it was sad and Uncle Nigel gave a big speech and sobbed the whole way through it. And we cried too and Daddy told us she was in heaven telling the angels how to look prettier…"
Tears now pricked Andrea's eyes. It slammed home. Oh God. Caroline and Cassidy had buried their mother.
She tried to clear her throat. "I think it was hard for her to hear that, girls," she said unwillingly visualising two traumatised redheads holding hands tightly at their mother's funeral. "But she's perfectly fine, I promise. It's just been a very hard month. She has missed you two so, so much. OK?"
She heard twin "Okays" that sounded considerably reassured and smiled. "Say, can you do me a favour and put your father on?"
There was a muffled sound and then a masculine voice. "Miranda?"
"No it's Andy, her assistant. We've spoken on the phone a few times."
"Oh, right. Yeah, Greg, I'm Greg. But you know that already. God. Hell this is so unbelievable. I had to tell them she'd died and now tell them she didn't really. God."
"I know," Andy murmured. "And we were the ones who almost died," she added wryly. "So, no picnic here, either."
"Oh hell, sorry, yes, of course. Look is she OK?"
Andy glanced at Miranda who was attempting to pull herself together and was helping herself to a box of tissues on the secretary's desk. "She will be. We'll contact you again when we have flight details."
"Oh, yes, of course. Look just tell her that I … I, um, I'm glad she's alive. And not just for the girls but, you know. I'm glad."
"I know," Andy said. "I'll tell her. And we'll get back to you later."
The phone went dead and Andy eased it back into the cradle. She wrapped her arms around Miranda from behind, and cocooned her where she sat.
"I'm so sorry," Andy whispered, leaning her head against her uninjured shoulder. "But they'll be fine. We all will be."
Miranda lifted her hands to cover Andy's which were folded across her lover's stomach.
"Yes," Miranda said firmly, trying to hide a sniffle. "Of course we will."
After a few moments the older woman straightened.
"I apologise, Andrea. You should be calling your mother. Go on. Call her now and I'll go and see if I can find the facilities. Six bottles of that foul milk concoction – there had to be some consequences." Her lips twisted into an unimpressed frown.
Andy grinned at that and untangled herself from Miranda's hold, straightening. "OK. But be careful. I'd rather not lose you now because you've fainted down some darkened stairs."
Miranda gave her a haughty smirk. "Honestly, Andrea, if the shark couldn't get me…"
Andy laughed aloud at that and couldn't resist watching her leave just for the sheer aesthetics. There might be less of the fashion queen to look at, a lot less if she was honest, but she still had her jaunty sway.
Andy felt her heart rate rise as she remembered what she had to do now. Her mother would have been to a funeral as well.
The phone only rang once before Ellen Sachs' trembling voice answered.
"Oh my God. It's true. They told me but it was so … I mean, I wanted to believe..."
There was happy sobbing and excited talking in the background. She was fairly sure she recognised the voice of her brother, aunt and uncle and a pair of cousins.
"Mom?" she called out over the din. "Mom!"
"Oh sorry honey, it's just so wonderful. When are you flying out? I won't relax until you're back on American soil."
"Very soon. Miranda's going to get us a corporate jet and we'll…"
"Miranda!" her mother hissed sharply.
"Andy, I know you admire her but a part of me thinks 'Why on earth has she put my baby on a plane in the middle of nowhere?' It's so irresponsible. It's been very hard not to think this is all her fault…"
"Mom," Andy interjected. "Miranda did NOT make the turbine blow up and fall off the plane. And I would be dead if it wasn't for her. She saved my life multiple times. She was incredible."
A silence fell and for a moment all Andy could hear was the shocked, shuddering breathing of her mother.
"Oh, well, I… Really? Miranda?" Her mother actually sounded stymied for once and Andy grinned at that. "I'm so glad to hear your voice again," she told her. "I thought about you so many times."
"Oh Andy," her mother husked. Then the sobs began anew.
"Hey, Mom, please don't cry. It's OK now. I'm fine. Tell my little brother I'll have a pretty impressive scar on my stomach from landing on a sharp rock so he can stop boasting about all his motorbike war wounds now."
Her mother sobbed even harder.
"And if you talk to them, tell Lilly and Doug we'll get together soon…"
"They're here," Ellen sniffed. "They came for the funeral and decided to stay a little longer. I think they just wanted to feel nearer to you by being around our family."
"Oh," Andy said quietly, feeling guilty she'd let those two friendships drift a bit since breaking up with Nate well over a year before. Especially Lilly who'd taken the cook's side. But Doug, sweet Doug, had always been good for a laugh and a drinks night, whenever she wasn't too exhausted.
"I'll catch up with them soon when they come back to New York."
"Y-you're going to stay there? After all this? You won't come home and be with your family?"
She heard the click of the door and realised Miranda was back.
She inhaled and was at a loss as to what to say. Somehow, "I have a new family now" was probably not quite the right option.
"My home is in New York now," she finally said, biting back more tears when she realised just how true it was, and why. "But I'll visit soon. Now I have to go. We have to sort out our flight home. But I'll keep you in the loop every step of the way."
"OK, dear, yes please. I'm sorry about what I said about that wom... Miranda. I-I well, I had no idea she would do that for you. We have a lot to talk about. I love you. You know that, right? I never told you that enough. You made me so proud."
"T-thanks, Mom. Love you too," Andy said. "Give my love to Petey and everyone else."
She put the phone back into its cradle and felt emotions rocketing around her body.
She met ice blue eyes watching her closely. "It's hard," Miranda murmured.
It was the most redundant thing Miranda Priestly had ever said, but Andy appreciated she'd made the effort anyway.
Andy nodded and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She noticed a small shiny box clutched firmly in Miranda's hands.
"Miranda? Do I want to know how you managed to snag a …" she peered closer … "shit … top-of-the-range Samsung Galaxy at this hour with no cash or credit?"
Miranda gave a proud smirk. "You're not the only one who can do anything. Although let's just say the wife of a certain star-struck security guard at the Samsung outlet over the road will be having a very Prada Christmas this year. And getting a free subscription to Runway Japan for life."
Andy laughed. "Of course," she rolled her eyes. "You are the world-famous Miranda Priestly after all. How could I forget?"
"Heaven only knows," Miranda sniffed theatrically and plonked the cell phone box on the desk in front of Andy. "I refuse to be out of direct contact with my babies for even one moment longer. So if you could make yourself useful and get this thing ready while I order up our jet?"
Andrea grinned, amused at how politely she'd asked. By Miranda's standards, at least. She opened the box, immediately searching for the cell's battery and SIM card.
She bit her lip as she expertly inserted each into the device and snapped on the backing. Suddenly she felt herself being watched. She glanced up to find Miranda frozen, eyeing her with the softest expression.
Miranda just shook her head and kept watching. As if memorising every part of her.
"I am real you know," Andy guessed. "This is real."
"Yes," Miranda said quietly and her fingers fluttered up to Andy's chest as if checking her heart was beating. "Yes."
Andy let herself be pulled into those earnest soft blue eyes for a moment before she murmured: "I believe one of us was getting us a jet? Because if you keep looking at me like that I'll never want to go home."
Miranda smiled faintly but did not look away. Did not move an inch.
"We made it," she finally whispered then leaned forward and kissed Andy fiercely. Miranda pulled back and gave an incredulous laugh. "We're actually alive."