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TOKYO

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.

Uh oh.

"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."

"Thanks. Goodbye."

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.

"Y-yes?"

"Mom."

"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.

"Mom?"

"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.

"What?"

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."

Chapter Text

Nigel adjusted the lime wrap a little lower on Anastasia's hip and stepped back, pursing his lips thoughtfully. The model stared sightlessly past him, looking bored beyond belief. He couldn't blame her – it had been a long day, although at least they had finally nailed the essentials now.

He readjusted a bronze bangle on her wrist and cocked his head. He supposed it was acceptable, and the light of the sinking sun was certainly optimal right now but he couldn't put his finger on what would really make the scene pop.

If Miranda had been here, she'd take one look and know immediately. But Miranda wasn't here, having roused him at ridiculous-o'clock to inform him she was heading home to New York and hauling Six along with her.

Vera's people were not happy. But what could you do? La Priestly does what La Priestly does. Even they couldn't argue with that.

On the plus side, his illustrious leader had taken with her a case of the swimwear samples to give to his art department assistant. Emily could now finally stop fretting about how little time she'd have to organise this issue's accessories page in keeping with the main style spread. And if she could stop hyperventilating long enough to have it all completely sorted by his return at the end of the week, there might even be hope for Miranda's dedicated but highly-strung former assistant yet.

Like his boss, he lived on hope.

"There, try it like that – and this time tilt your neck a little to the left so we catch the neck piece glittering."

He stepped back and nodded to the photographer and then resumed his fold-up canvas seat.

His phone beeped as he heard the staccato flurry of camera clicks and glanced down to see his assistant's name.

Speak of the devil. He opened the message.

"WHERE *IS* SHE?! SHE MISSED JAPAN TO LA FLIGHT! I NEEDED THOSE SAMPLES **TODAY!** E"

Nigel stared at his phone's screen in complete confusion, his brain not quite processing what he was reading at first.

How could Miranda have missed her connecting flight?

He glanced at his watch and calculated how long Miranda had now been gone. She could have flown to Okinawa and back by now. His heart rate leaped.

This was not good, not good, not fucking good at all.

An icy chill shot through him and he forced himself to steady his breathing, telling himself it was far too early to jump to conclusions.

Jaw working, he slid his eyes back to Anastasia, now assuming a new pose and doing that floppy thing with her wrist she thought was far sexier than it was. Philippe was ecstatically clicking away as though nothing was wrong. As though the ground beneath Nigel's feet hadn't just fallen away.

The art director glanced back to his phone and, with less-than-steady fingers, texted back: "M def on flight to OKNWA. She txted me from Mnla airport untl she had 2 board. N. PS weather all clear."

Message sent he tried calling Miranda's number, which he knew was ridiculous because it was the first thing Emily would have tried. But still, he had to. It clicked immediately through to her answering service, which meant the phone was switched off or out of range. Or broken. He swallowed grimly.

Five minutes went by, then ten. He couldn't call Emily – the reception out here was shitty at best – although texts still got through, albeit after a slight lag. His fingers twitched and he began to drum them impatiently against his chair's wooden arm rest.

He knew better than to text Emily again demanding information but he sorely wanted to. If she had any news, he'd be the first to know. He tried not to let his anxiety leak but when Philippe turned to get his approval on a new pose, he waved his hand dismissively. "Fine," he muttered darkly.

As if an aloof 19-year-old sprawled on a rock in a lime tropicana wrap pouting like a trout mattered now. And for god's sake he did actually know she was really named Jenny. And that she was from Brooklyn.

'Anastasia' my ass.

His phone finally beeped. He read the newest text anxiously.

"Still making calls. Bess helping. E"

He sighed and could hear his heart thundering with adrenalin.

Bess was Miranda's second assistant since Andy's promotion. Well, she was the fourth second assistant since Andy's promotion, but she was lasting the longest to date. She was steady as a Clydesdale, not especially bright but determined and capable of achieving that most important task: center-of-the-sun-hot coffee-retrieval.

Nigel had been one of the few who'd predicted she'd last longer than a week.

The art director decided the combined doggedness of Emily and Bess meant KLM's officials would be coughing up an answer fairly soon - or else wishing to God they had.

He crossed his arms and then uncrossed them. Then went back to his impatient finger drumming, until Philippe shot him an annoyed look.

Twenty minutes later Nigel's phone lit up again. And then a second text landed almost immediately.

He scrabbled for his phone, almost dropping it in his haste. The words on the screen almost made his heart stop.

"PLANE DISAPPERD OFF RADAR! E"

"Chking othr airprts 4 any emgncy landings. Bess"

Nigel gaped, re-reading Emily's message over and over. His thoughts flew about wildly, careering like a mine cart. He lost track of time because, when he glanced up again, the half-lidded vacant-possession Anastasia had dramatically changed poses.

Nigel gave a tight sigh. The dim, multi-tasking part of his brain that still cared about fashion gave her a critical once over.

Jenny from Brooklyn clearly now thought she was Marilyn.

At least Marilyn had a personality. And breasts.

The plane could just be off course, the rest of his brain was screaming at him. Right?!

No use panicking until Bess finds that out. Then … if it's still missing … then

His phone beeped again. Twice.

This was it.

Shakily he activated the screen.

"No unexpctd 737-800s at other airprts. Lost plane story on all news now. None linking it to M but calling Leslie in PR in case. Bess."

"OMFG! SHES GONE! E."

Nigel gritted his teeth to try and prevent the horrified gasp he was dying to utter. Instead, a sort of strangled half-yelp, half-cry came out anyway which drew every eye to him. He climbed to his feet only to discover his legs were made of jelly.

He found himself, quite against his will, sinking to his knees.

"What's wrong?" Anastasia – Jenny, his brain corrected snidely – asked. The model's already preternaturally wide blue eyes somehow blew out even wider. Her usually bored tone actually sounded concerned. So he must look a sight.

He glanced around, unsure how to say it. Everyone was staring at him: the art director of Runway, on his knees, trembling like a sheet, clutching a phone in a white-knuckled grip to his chest.

"Miranda's plane," he gasped out. He stopped, blinking helplessly.

"Her plane…" he tried again. And swallowed the bile he felt rising. He locked eyes meaningfully with the photographer who was staring back at him in horror.

"Non," Philippe said faintly.

"She never made it to Japan. None of them did," Nigel continued. He looked at his watch again and glanced back up. "It's well over four hours overdue."

An awful, gaping silence fell among the group. Eyes shifted around.

"What type of plane was it?" an unfamiliar voice asked from the back.

Nigel peered at a young man anxiously swallowing. He was a holding the soft silver flash diffuser screen. The art director had spoken barely two words to him in the past year.

"737-800."

The man's eyes tilted up and to the right as he appeared to do a quick mental calculation.

"That's only got a 3000-mile range, assuming it flew with a full tank – which isn't always the case."

Nigel stared at him in astonishment.

"My dad's a pilot. You pick up things," the young man said with an embarrassed shrug. "Um, Mr Kipling, sorry to say, but one way or another, there's no way that 800 is still in the air."

Nigel couldn't hear the gasps around him, or see the shocked faces because the sound of blood rushing in his brain was overpowering. He shut his eyes.

La Priestly does not die in a plane crash, for God's sake. Miranda Priestly does not die - period. Wasn't that against the laws of nature or something?

Emily was right. Oh my fucking god indeed.

His eyes flashed open and he rose. "Everyone pack up," he said in a rasping voice that sounded far away to his own ears. "This shoot is OVER."

Everyone obeyed in complete silence. Hundreds of cases of photographic gear and lighting equipment were squared away and yet you could hear a pin drop. Nigel had never seen anything like it. But then there was no precedent for how to act when you hear Miranda Priestly has just …

He refused to finish that sentence. She was alive, damn it. She had to be.


DAY TWO

Nigel pensively stared at the black horizon. New York high-rise building lights blinked back at him, and his eyes drifted ever higher. He had been catching himself doing it for hours, unable to tear his eyes from the skies even though he knew the heavens certainly could not possibly hide Miranda's lost plane.

He had gotten next to no sleep since the frantic nation-hopping race back, and he was running on little more than coffee fumes and adrenalin to try to keep Runway from ripping apart at the seams.

Not many people knew that he and Miranda shared a belief that the magazine was like a living creature. It lived and breathed and thrived when given attention and love. Right now it was limping about and flailing is if trying to understand why it was wounded. Nigel could feel it through every floor, every department - a kind of creeping despair, as people held their breaths. Waiting.

Waiting.


DAY THREE

The media made it all the worse. Everywhere he turned, he saw her. Photos, news stories, stock footage from TV interviews. And Miranda Priestly wasn't just omnipresent in the US. Europe wrote prolifically these stately and austere forelock-tugging 'think-piece' farewells - respecting her genius, her talent, consulting designers who all, to a fawning man and woman, agreed she was one of the greats.

In Japan, which for many years had a peculiar adoring fetish for the larger-than-life Runway icon, every reporter seemed to be breathlessly recounting that she'd disappeared on the way to their shores. She was on every channel's news, every single night.

But it was the 100 point-size screaming headlines that got Nigel. Every single paper, every single day, no matter which street he walked up. Devil disappears! Runway icon's tragic last flight. Priestly perishes. Dragon's flames doused by watery grave.

In the US these stories were still pseudo obituaries, with just enough "assumed deads" and "apparentlys" to give them outs in case she turned up hale and hearty. But even so they did not really bury her yet. Quite the opposite. In fact, despite the pessimistic and lurid headlines, Nigel was surprised how few American newspapers actually had written her off.

It seemed to him that, underneath their love-hate relationship, even the media was in awe of the indomitable La Priestly and her well-founded reputation for always finishing on top. They actually seemed to be desperately hoping she'd bob up at some remote airport, not a hair out of place, demanding a Starbucks and a re-design of someone's entire autumn/winter fashion line, just to remind them of her utter invincibility.

And so everyone in New York and the fashion world waited with bated breath. To see. Because it was now apparent that it was just accepted that if anyone could defy the odds, it would be La Priestly.

Much later, when the real, full-length obituaries finally appeared, the tone was always the same – shock, laced liberally with incredulity and disappointment that she hadn't defied them one last time.

And that Nigel understood all too well.

But, back in those early days, when Nigel still sat in his office, staring at the heavens, there had been some hope.

Even so, the searchers had found not so much as a life buoy, battered suitcase or engine bolt. Nothing at all. And now the inky night had fallen in New York yet again and Nigel felt the worries that came with the dark churn anew, even as he tried to slow his fearful, caffeine-charged thumping heart.

He rose and went to the window of his art studio, one forearm and his head leaning against the bitingly cold glass, as he anxiously chewed the end of his tortoiseshell glasses.

A bad habit, he dimly reminded himself.

He kept chewing.

He considered the twins, their father, Greg, now apparently gallivanting around with some bombshell blonde party planner turned reality TV starlet, much to his daughters' chagrin.

Monica somebody? Who could keep track.

Greg had rung Emily, asking to know the latest news and then promising he had some help lined up for her - something about "fixing" the funeral arrangements. Emily had started laughing hysterically. She'd only spent every spare waking minute trying to organise everyone and everything to perfection for him. And Her.

Her mood swings were getting worse. From despairing to threatening to rip heads off anyone who prematurely referred to Miranda in the past tense. So far only Serena seemed to be able to stop Emily from fully melting down. He could see it in her eyes though – she was only a hair's breadth away from losing it.

He recognised the look in his own mirror every night.


DAY FOUR

Greg was now giving interviews. Nigel was horrified on behalf of Miranda. And it was getting worse as the blousy blonde Monica was starting to turn up in them. Talking about the fashion queen as though she knew her intimately. Explaining how upset Caroline and Cassidy were and how they'd kept them far from TV and newspapers since this "tragic ordeal" had begun.

Miranda would hate the whole charade with a passion.

As the days wore on, the Starbucks cups mounted on Nigel's desk and the sickness in the pit of his stomach grew. Somehow, though, he looked like he'd be getting out the next issue on time. But it was only by working impossible hours, barely leaving his desk, and constantly shaking his dazed staff back into action.

He had caught himself taking nostalgic mental ambles. He and Miranda had come up through the industry together. She had decided to take a chance on a green fashion-design student for the staff of a magazine she was working on overhauling. She liked his impeccable eye for color, she'd told him.

It had been a risk to abandon his own design ambitions, but there had been something so compelling and charismatic about the blue-eyed blonde sliding a contract across his desk.

"Come on, Nigel," she'd purred, "grow a pair. It's time to dream big. I will take you places, I promise you that."

So he'd done it. Thrown his lot in with the ambitious magazine editor on the rise and jumped into the abyss.

He would miss her. God how he would miss her. If she was really gone. It'd still been less than a week since the plane went missing. Anything could still happen.

Right?

There had been cases … somewhere. Like in bushland in the middle of Australia or Africa, where plane crash victims had survived that long - or longer - without food or water. Emily had begun sending him the links to stories like that, all fired off in the small hours on any night when the restless assistant couldn't get to sleep.

Which was now every night.

The searchers were still baffled to have come up completely empty. Nigel was now in discussions with Elias Clarke's chairman, Irv Ravitz, to organise their own paid search of highly trained experts, not whatever the nearest island's locals had been able to put together with limited funds.

The bastard had muttered something about seeing if he could find it in the budget. He hadn't gotten back to him since. Nigel ground his teeth and fired off yet another tersely worded email to Irv.

He had a sudden thought and phoned Emily, sick to his stomach he hadn't thought of it before. "You talked to her parents?"

"Miranda's parents are dead, Nigel," the redhead snapped. "Do you think I'm an idiot? Honestly."

"Not hers," he hissed. "Andy's."

There was swearing, colorful, very British, regretful, appalled swearing. "No. Oh bollocks, what's wrong with me. I'll uh… hell. I forgot. I'll … right now. Oh my God."

The phone went dead.

He hoped like hell Six, wherever she was, would forgive him this inexcusable oversight. Andy Sachs wasn't disposable, even if the whole world seemed to revolve around the missing fashion editor. He knew that she mattered, too. But, God, he'd had less than fifteen hours sleep in five days. He was clearly losing it. Seams unravelling, basic details overlooked.

Miranda wouldn't have forgotten Andy's parents, he told himself. Hell, Miranda wouldn't forget anything. Miranda would take all this in her stride and be fucking amazing. And probably look perfect while she was at it.

Nigel Kipling, all red-rimmed, baggy eyed and white prickling three-day growth creeping along on his jaw, had looked in the mirror lately. He knew he wasn't Miranda. He was a ridiculously poor substitute. An imposter.

He missed Miranda.

The next time his phone rang, Nigel found himself talking to an older woman on the brink of collapse.

"Just tell me about my daughter, Mr Kipling. The State Department was next to useless when they contacted me earlier. I've been so shocked. I-I really don't know what to think."

He tried to compose himself as he took Ellen Sachs through what he knew. Emily had already alerted him before the call that Andy's father had passed away in the previous year.

"She's so young," Ellen finally said raggedly, after she'd processed Nigel's words. "Just 25. What on earth was she doing on that little plane in the middle of nowhere anyway?"

Nigel bit back his first response - that he wished he knew. One of Miranda's whims obviously.

"A very vital work project," he lied softly. "A photo spread that was to have been the highlight of the magazine. We needed somewhere exotic and that's why…"

He faded out. He didn't know if he was particularly convincing and, after a moment, he realised he could hear soft crying on the end of the phone, a faint "thank you, please keep me updated", and the dial tone.

An hour later, Emily figured out exactly why Miranda and Andy had been there, when Stephen, mid-honeymoon after a secret wedding, had made contact, asking if it was true what the news reports were saying about his ex-wife.

After a SECRET wedding.

Dear God. That had to be such a stupid reason to die.

If she was dead, he reminded himself. If.

And worse, goddamn it, worse was Miranda had taken the wide-eyed optimistic assistant down with her.

Nigel had grown particularly fond of Andy, and he knew Emily also tolerated her well enough – the Brit's version of fondness, he presumed – and if anything was a waste it was dying at age 25 to satisfy the dented ego of your boss. A boss who hadn't even loved the bastard she was most likely hoping to embarrass at his wedding.

He exhaled sharply.

Well, not that Miranda had known what would happen when she'd booked their doomed flight. Nigel reached under his desk and pulled out his emergency bottle of scotch. Time to toast the dead.

Then he gave an incredulous snort. This was ridiculous, he told himself for the 100th time. Miranda Priestly doesn't just die.

Ten minutes later he was weeping helplessly, sloshing the amber fluid around in the glass, and slamming it down his throat. Rinse and repeat.

Well, shit, who knew? Apparently Miranda Priestly does die.

He forgot he was still supposed to be playing the 'if' game.


DAY SIX

The families of the victims had lost all hope. The search aircraft had found nothing. The news outlets had begun saying earnest things like "the grim search for bodies appears over as the sea has swallowed the flight and its secrets whole".

The first of 189 funerals had started. They went all week long, in all parts of the world. Families grieving. Eulogies spoken. News stories printed. One after the other after the other.

Amidst it all, Irv summoned Nigel and appointed him Miranda's replacement and then immediately explained he would do her job for half her pay and a third her budget. Nigel tendered his resignation immediately.

In a way he was relieved to feel so enraged. It gave him a target at last, instead of some nebulous nothingness.

Irv merely smiled like a cat that got the cream - as though he'd achieved a desired outcome.

Nigel had never felt so perfectly played in his life. Especially when whispers of Jacqueline Follet being brought in from French Runway reached his ears an hour later.

Just perfect.

Emily had been frothingly outraged and threatened to re-create the various techniques for dispatching and disposing of Irv's body that she'd picked up from her secret passion – watching TV crime dramas. Nigel had been surprisingly touched. And a little shocked at the extensiveness of her knowledge of human dismemberment.

After a sleepless night, where he was sure he'd ground his teeth to a nub, he decided to do what Miranda would do: He'd "grow a pair" and wipe the floor with the little toad.

The next day he told Irv he'd be having a cozy chat with the media on the way out the door about how much the chairman had undervalued his tragically departed Runway editor and his opportunistic use of her death. And how Irv had declined to fund their own search for their magazine editor.

Irv, a vicious scowl coating his puffer-fish face, capitulated instantly. A slightly reduced editor's wage remained on offer (Nigel could compromise and it was still a substantial pay bump), but the full Runway budget was restored.

Nigel was secretly half disappointed. It would have been so easy to walk away. The turmoil, the pain, was grinding. The faces on the staff, security, the clackers, everyone - there was like a grey fog and it subdued everything. The living creature that was Runway felt like a sleek, beautiful bunny in its death throes, its neck clamped and bloodied in a steel trap.

If he'd thought there might be dancing in the halls, as Miranda herself had often predicted, neither of them really understood her staff. They were loyal to a fault. He briefly amused himself with the thought perhaps it was some form of Stockholm Syndrome, but deep down he finally understood. They endured not because of her, but for her, because she was who she was: Someone remarkable. She was truly great.

And now she was ... gone. He was almost ready to admit that to himself.

Almost. He reached for his scotch.


DAY SEVEN

Emily had been melting down over organising Miranda's funeral. It had to be perfect, absolutely perfect she seemed to think, or she wasn't honouring the woman she'd idolised for years. He could see it in her eyes, though, she was coming apart in slow motion. And, once he'd moved into Miranda's chair, he also heard it in her voice as she resumed her old seat temporarily and berated the personal assistants of fashion divas and designers up and down the coast if they dared not attend.

As if they'd ever consider not attending.

He called in Serena that afternoon and urged her to take her friend out and relax her for a few hours. The redhead had come back four hours later, deadly. Emily never lost her laser-like focus after that. Nigel suspected she'd taken it as a personal affront that she'd been perceived to be failing in her final duties for Miranda.

He sighed. Trust Emily to see it like that.

And then Greg had surfaced suddenly at Runway and said he would be taking over the funeral preparations for Miranda, given their daughters lived with him now and were her next of kin. He said it dismissively - as though he hadn't been obviously relieved for days to let Emily burden herself with the exhaustive plans she'd hoped would reflect the glory of her late boss.

Instead it came out like an oddly rehearsed speech, eyes flitting all about the office except anywhere near Emily.

His gaudy, cleavage-enhanced girlfriend had no such reservations and eyeballed Emily challengingly.

Nigel flinched inwardly, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It did. Greg revealed he now had a "funeral planner" lined up. As if that was a thing.

Monica, it turned out, being a former party planner, had decided she was amply suited for the task and had smiled widely when Greg dropped this little bombshell.

It was the last straw for Emily who promptly shot to her feet, threw her contact books and funeral schedules on the table for Monica to appropriate, and stalked away muttering furiously.


Emily reappeared the next morning unwilling to discuss any part of Miranda's funeral or That Woman. Instead she slid a plane ticket across Nigel's desk and hissed at him: "Come on, if we leave now we can catch Andy's send-off in outer hicksville."

Nigel had peered at her slightly wild green eyes.

"Why?" he asked. "I mean I know I wanted to go, but you?"

She shook her head. "Don't ask me that. Just … come on." She stood and pulled at a wheeled compact case he hadn't noticed before. "Roy's waiting downstairs."

"I just have to tell Bess… oh, hell. Let's go. I'll text her from Ohio."


NIGHT EIGHT – OUTER HICKSVILLE

Nigel found out later why Emily had wanted to go. He was sitting at the bar of their Ohio hotel next to her, hours after the saddest funeral he'd ever attended, and was proceeding to get as drunk as humanly possible.

For once the redhead didn't make any snide remarks to him about the wholesome clan Andy had come from and all those sweet grandparents and cousins and aunties, some of whom had actually tried to hug and cling to her and sob about how adorable Andy had been. Emily didn't say anything much to him at all, not even after one of Andy's New York friends – Lilly something - made some snide remarks about Runway stealing her friend's soul.

No, Emily didn't say anything at all, beyond one thing. Even then it had been so low he had to strain to hear it.

"Miranda would have wanted to attend."

"What?"

"This funeral. If Andy had just up and carked it out of the blue, Miranda would have wanted to go." Emily's face was deadly serious, her eyes burning into him, willing him to understand.

Nigel had blearily peered at her. Both of her. He was closing in on seriously drunk.

"This from the woman who was always saying to Andy that she was nothing special? One assistant in a sea of them? A million girls could replace her in a minute?"

"No," Emily said with a bitter smile. "It pains me to say it, and of course I wouldn't if I wasn't nine sheets to the wind on this ridiculously potent Ohio swill, but the irritating, smart, fat girl WAS special to Miranda. She treated Andy differently."

She pouted and rattled her glass of ice and spirits, before draining it, slamming it onto the bar and snapping her fingers for the bar tender to refill it.

"How so?" Nigel asked. He had often wondered if he was seeing things on that score himself.

"Ever since Harry Potter. She looked at her like …"

"Like?"

"Well like she was waiting to see what Andy would surprise her with next. I think half the reason she set her impossible tasks was just to see if she could meet them. Fuck, I was so flaming jealous."

Nigel laughed sloppily at that, barely keeping his balance on the bar stool. "No kidding, sweetheart," he said and rolled his eyes. Then he wished he hadn't as the world briefly tilted.

"You don't think Miranda would have eventually grown sick of her or vice versa?" Nigel pondered aloud. "We both know how this goes: Miranda gets bored playing or the assistant burns out. One or the other. It's a killer being in the center of her white-hot focus 24/7."

Emily accepted another drink placed in front of her. "No," she shook her head vehemently. "No," she sighed and thumped the bar in front of her pointedly. "I was waiting, Nigel. Watching. The bloody creature had no chinks in her armor, there was nothing to burn out."

"Why are you here then?" Nigel probed again. "If you didn't even like her?"

"I never said I didn't like her," Emily said and gave a dismissive wave. "You know that. Hell even she knew that. I only said I was jealous of her. And even that I'll deny if you tell a bleeding sod tomorrow."

He raised an eyebrow expectantly. "OK…? So spell it out, real slow for me then - you're here because….?"

"For bloody Miranda Priestly," Emily admitted.

And then her eyes began to leak and his proud assistant crumpled before his eyes. Nigel thought it was the most depressing sight he'd ever seen. The formidable Emily Charlton never cried. Her face was welded on each morning, he was sure of it. Now, though, all evidence to the contrary greeted him as two watery streaks slid down her cheeks, and she brushed them angrily away. She looked impossibly young, like a broken child discovering there were no happy endings. Ever.

"I'm here for Her, because she can't be. Because I know my insanely impossible-to-understand boss would have definitely wanted to be," Emily said as her voice faltered. "I know it. I know it in my heart, as surely as I know my Gaultier from my Valentino."

Her watery eyes met his and he felt her aching sadness echo back in his own heart.

She suddenly glared at him. "Don't look at me like that. Save it for her little monster twins. Oh those girls. Her poor girls." She looked down and shook her head. Then she mumbled: "Save it for A-Andy."

Her tears began again, her fists now balled tightly in her eye sockets smearing mascara down her cheeks. More words tumbled out, in a rush, spilling across the space between them like some tortuously wrung-out confession.

"Sod it, since you're holding my feet to the fire, I did like Andy under that horribly cheery disposition and hideous perfection and stupid not-entirely-fat ass. Oh bollocks," she groaned, "I really need to get drunk tonight. And I'll thank you not to ever remind me of this conversation tomorrow."

She sniffled helplessly and he wordlessly passed her a tissue. She spent a few minutes mopping herself up. She did it furiously, like she was angry at her weakness - or just angry in general.

One never really knew with Emily.

Nigel glanced down and peered at his drink, giving it an absent-minded swirl in his hand, watching the ice go around. "My lips are sealed. So change the topic?"

Silence fell for a few minutes. All they could hear was a battered jukebox on the other side of the room blaring out some bouncy uneven mess of country/folk music.

"How do you think they died?" Emily suddenly asked, sounding back to herself, even if she looked like she'd done ten rounds with a blind make-up artist. "I mean - instant or what? I can't stop thinking about it. I know it's macabre but I keep having nightmares all the bleeding time."

Nigel carefully placed his drink squarely back on its coaster. He looked at the mirror behind the bar and could see the tiredness etched on his face.

"I like to think she was napping and they went into the water and she never knew what hit her."

"Miranda doesn't nap," Emily scoffed. "I think she orders her eyeballs to stay alert at all times. Only mere mortals nap."

"I know. That's why I said I like to think that." He poked at the outside of his glass with his index finger, watching the condensation trails. "It's a real shame they never found the crash site. A lot of relatives need that for closure. You saw Ellen – she really wanted to bury her daughter today, respectfully, not some empty casket."

"A shark could have got them."

"Emily!"

"You've thought it. We all have."

"No shark would dare touch Miranda Priestly," Nigel retorted indignantly. "It's a professional courtesy. And, by extension, that means fins off her favorite assistant, too."

Emily gave a wan smile. "Funny. Oh hell, Nigel, I still can't believe it. It's so… wrong."

"That it is. Now drink up and I'll be a gentleman and escort your ass back to your room before you get swept away by the charms of one of these wholesome local lads – or ladies – looking for company."

"Oh please, as if," Emily sniffed in derision but Nigel was amused to note her eyes did a quick dart around the establishment to check out the quality of talent she'd just rejected. Satisfied there were none worthy of a second glance, she rose shakily to her feet. He threw some cash on the counter and then attempted to loop a supportive arm around her waist, but gave up when he missed twice. Instead they leaned against each other and zig-zagged unsteadily towards the exit.


DAY FIFTEEN

The funeral for fashion goddess Miranda Priestly was as grand as Andy Sachs's was simple. The Devil in Prada was the last person in the world from KLM Flight 2142 laid to rest.

In New York the Priestly farewell had become the social event of the decade, with live TV crosses, crowds lining the street, a 100-member gospel choir and the magnificent St Patrick's Cathedral pressed into service.

That the fashion icon had been raised Jewish apparently seemed to matter little. Her lifelong donations to the Cathedral's benevolent society for the ongoing upkeep of the building apparently crossed all denominations. Miranda always had been a fan of stylish New York architecture. And the cardinal had been a big fan of hers. And her purse. And the exceptional free global publicity.

If anyone had asked Caroline and Cassidy, the sight of seeing their mother's empty, flower-adorned coffin arriving on Madison Avenue by horse-drawn carriage to a crowd of stylish gawpers, frenemies and salivating media was repugnant in the extreme.

But no one had asked Caroline and Cassidy.

Nigel made sure he sat with them, and held their hands as often as he could throughout the event, reassuring them that the horrific public sideshow would be over soon.

Because that's what it was. It seemed Monica, in her haste to further her name as a party planner to the stars, forgot that funerals were about grief. Which was mystifying to Nigel given she was now largely living with Greg, and by extension, Miranda's bereaved twins.

The girls clung to Nigel throughout the service, their eyes red-rimmed, occasionally pointing out some new absurdity they were witnessing in devastated whispers. But when the coffin arrived inside, shiny and black just like Miranda's favorite Prada heels, they were inconsolable, burying their faces into each side of his jacket, their small shoulders going up and down in sobs.

Nigel met Greg's stricken green eyes over their heads. He seemed genuinely upset and more than a little appalled at the public pantomime around them. He gave a helpless, slightly dazed glance around the showy room, and then took Cassidy on his lap, enfolding her in a hug, burying his face into her hair, while Nigel mirrored the action with a tear-stained Caroline.

Nigel patted Miranda's oldest daughter (by three minutes) comfortingly on the back as she hiccuped helplessly into his charcoal Armani suit and decided to excuse Greg his dreadful taste in two-bit fame-whores. Just this once. Greg wouldn't be the first man in history to have made critical decisions using his lower brain. Even so, his heart seemed in the right place.

The fashion world had responded to this must-attend event of the decade in droves. A who's who of designers and models, magazine denizens and business leaders, politicians and socialites were all out in force, paying their respects. The mayor was there. So was the Secretary of State. Tissues dabbed at heavily mascara-ed eyes under wide-brimmed stylish hats which erupted into waterfalls of lace.

"Not a dry eye in the room," The New York Post had reported breathlessly, while also discreetly noting the labels various celebrities had been adorned in. The room had been awash with flowers, the story said, and the freesia centerpiece had looked "stunning".

Freesias. Nigel had slumped in dismay the moment he saw them and Emily had choked back a horrified cry when she clapped eyes on hundreds of Miranda Priestly's most loathed flower.

"I only told That Woman six times NO FREESIAS," Emily hissed to him. "SIX TIMES. She did this on purpose."

Nigel sighed. Of course Monica had. Because funerals should be about one-upping dead exes, apparently.

The Post's coverage had added that particularly moving had been the tribute by art director Nigel Kipling who "emotionally observed that it had taken the intervention of an entire plane going down to remove from this world the otherwise indestructible Miranda Priestly." Without this, he'd explained, he "would not be in the slightest bit shocked if she chose to live forever".

The newspaper's extensive photos - Pages 1, 3, 6-9, and 24-33, showed the funeral procession, well-dressed, powerful and beautiful creatures drifting around it, some angling themselves just so for the best photos. And in the middle of it all was the heartbreaking sight of two little redheaded girls, holding hands with each other in tight grips, tear-stained eyes looking resentfully at the paparazzi while their father ushered them hurriedly away, down the grand cathedral steps.

A busty blonde in candy-pink lipstick, almost-wearing a little black dress, was pictured trailing along after them. Her fishnet stockings may have been overkill but for once the media exercised some restraint in deciding that it was bad form to have the grieving ex's new girlfriend top the worst-dressed list at his first wife's funeral.

Apparently even they had some lines.

As an aside, the paper mentioned in a scandalized tone that onlookers were stunned after the service when Priestly's former first assistant, one Emily Charlton, was spotted hurling the freesia centerpiece to the cathedral floor, while she "cursed repeatedly and tearfully in expressive British idiom".

A small footnote to the story mentioned the funerals for other victims of the air disaster had already taken place, including one for a Miss Andrea Sachs, Priestly's first assistant. That private event had occurred in Ohio. Close family and friends attended along with several colleagues, including Kipling and Charlton.

Charlton was quoted by local media as she exited the funeral: "Andy left dreadfully big shoes to fill. Ugly shoes. But big. She will be sorely missed. Now bugger off and chase an ambulance or something."

The Sachs family declined to comment.

No picture of Andy Sachs was used with the story.


DAY 23

Three weeks after its disappearance, a sizeable part of the tail section of KLM Flight 2142 washed up on the shore of a small island near Japan. It was so far off course that the search and rescue team was blindsided and forced to completely rethink their original search grid.

As they homed in on the crash site, more wreckage was discovered. Luggage, clothing. A part of the fuselage. There was little doubt no one had survived. How could they? There wasn't even land anywhere near the point of impact that searchers had now extrapolated.

No life jackets or bodies were found, either. The sea had, indeed, swallowed 189 passengers and crew whole.

Nigel was ropeable. This was exactly why he'd wanted to bring in professional searchers – in case, as he'd feared, the locals were incompetent, under-resourced, myopic, or all three. He railed to Emily about the evil that was Irv Ravitz for a good half an hour until she poured him a scotch from his emergency bottle stashed under the desk.

He'd been a little startled she knew its hiding place. They drank in silence to remember Miranda and Six.

Then, after Emily left, he drank to forget them, too.


The days moved on and life along with it. There were pictures in the papers of the Priestly twins returning to school at Dalton. They looked shattered and angry. Nigel couldn't help but think how furious Miranda would be that their privacy had been so badly violated. She'd have made mincemeat out of the entire editorial staff of any paper that had dared to do this.

What the hell was Greg doing, Nigel and Emily had both wondered aloud.

A week later and the man in question seemed to crack under the media attention. Unlike his ever-present girlfriend, Greg had never been that much into the limelight. And Nigel now strongly suspected his earlier and often media appearances were at her urging. One day there was a scuffle with cameras. The next a punch was thrown. There was an assault charge. And, just like that, Greg was no longer a media darling.

At his court appearance, Monica suddenly decided she was too busy to attend. A few days later she was seen nuzzling an NBA star.

When asked, Greg told the world most grumpily that he had "no comment".

The media seemed surprised by this.

Nigel simply muttered: Finally.


DAY 34

It was just after 4am. The beeping of a text woke Nigel from a not-entirely-dreadful sleep. For once it was in his own bed, not the couch at work, or worse, pressed face-first into his drool-coated papers on his desk.

With a soft growl, he fumbled for the phone to read the message through slitted eyes: "Bloody hell! You're not going to believe this. Miranda's spotters now have her in Tokyo. Best one yet! Click the link."

Nigel glared at his cell phone, and by extension his assistant, for waking him up for no good reason. This had been an ongoing problem since Miranda's disappearance. The fashion legend's fans and crazies worldwide kept claiming sightings. Some were silly, some were crudely aimed to be funny, but all were just cruel hoaxes. He wondered what Emily was even doing up at this hour. He remembered she was still having trouble sleeping. But that didn't mean she should rob him of sleep.

He tossed the cell phone to the end of his bed, ignoring the link and rolled over to go back to sleep.

Ten minutes later the landline phone on his bedside table rang shrilly.

"Emily," he mumbled into it. "Go. Away. Some of us have plans to actually be awake and functioning at work tomorrow."

"Mr Kipling? Nigel?"

Nigel sat up instantly, recognising the voice and rubbed his eyes. The voice still haunted him, and had done since her teary eulogy at Six's funeral about how Andy was the kindest daughter a mother could have.

"Ellen?" he asked softly.

"Yes. I just had the most impossible call," she said, her voice wavering. "I-I the State Department says two women were found at sea near an island off Japan. They were clinging to plane wreckage. Nigel – they say it's Andy. My Andy! And Miranda Priestly. They say they're ... alive."

Nigel stared at the phone. Stared and stared at it. This could not be real.

"Nigel?"

"Ah … could you repeat that Ellen? I thought you said… Oh god. Please."

"Andy and Miranda are alive."

"..."

"Nigel?"

"I…. Oh. Oh. God."

And then he could only hear Ellen Sachs weeping with joy on the end of the phone.

Tears filled Nigel's eyes and spilled over. "Alive," he whispered at the impossible word and wiped the wetness away. Then he wondered why. Why would he hide evidence of the greatest event in his living memory? "Oh hell." He laughed. And then cried again. Then he seemed to do both all at once.

He tried to collect himself, all the while making redundant remarks to Andy's mother as she spoke about what she'd been told. "Just typical," he would say and then the tears would start again. "Of course."

When they finally had a conversation lull, he heard: "They were sent to the US embassy in Tokyo at six in the evening Japanese time. They have about five hours of medical checks and treatment and observation ahead – they're both badly malnourished the official told me – and then they have some sort of debriefing interview with an embassy person and then they get to come home."

Nigel blinked rapidly at the word 'Tokyo', remembering Emily's text, and wiggled towards the end of the bed, fishing for the errant phone.

"Do Miranda's girls know?" he asked as he patted around the blanket near his feet. "I hope they do. They miss her so much. They email me almost every day now, I think because I remind them of her. Because I worked so much with Miranda. Or something like that."

He wiped away some tears blurring his vision. It still broke his heart every time he saw a Priestly email in his inbox and he knew who it wouldn't be from. Her little girls had bonded with him at the funeral and now shared all their secrets. Of bad dreams. Hating Monica. How much they'd really liked Andy, because she'd spend so much time talking to them. And how they slept together now, clutching their mother's favorite night gown because it smelled like her.

He wiped his eyes and wished selfishly he could have been the one to tell them she was alive. They'd get big hugs when he saw them next. He smiled a watery smile into the darkness.

"I imagine so," Ellen was saying, "the official I talked to said he was contacting all the next of kin."

"Good, that's good," he said and suddenly laughed as he remembered the most amazing part. "God damn it, Miranda Priestly actually cheated death! She really is invincible."

"And my daughter did, too – don't forget that." Ellen said it indignantly, and Nigel felt suitably chastened. Not everything was about Miranda Priestly, despite how the media carried on. Andy was a legend now, too. She was tough as hell. No wonder the two women meshed so well.

"Oh I won't forget, Ellen, they're both as determined as each other. They have surprisingly a lot in common."

"So it would seem. Look, dear, I have to go," she said. "I have a lot of family to let know the news but I know how close you were to them both, so I thought you deserved to know next."

"Thanks, I appreciate it," he said, greatly touched. The phone clicked in his ear.

He laughed again. Goddamn if you can't kill the devil in Prada. Or Six for that matter.

He finally found his cell and, with shaky fingers, clicked on Emily's link. Someone had uploaded to YouTube footage of a pair of skeletally thin women, wrapped in medical blankets being carefully led into a non-descript building by Japanese officials, backlit by the late afternoon sun. One woman had a sweep of familiar white hair and the other long brown hair.

Their faces were gaunt, badly sunburnt, but their posture … Oh wow. Nigel stared, stunned. You can't fake the way someone moves, or turns, or smiles. He'd recognise Andy's blinding, beautiful smile anywhere. And the way she had glanced up at her companion … His breath caught. He watched as Miranda – because, no matter what Emily assumed, it had to be her – put a protective, scarily thin arm around Andy's back as they went inside the building.

He couldn't read Japanese but based on all the exclamation marks and mentions of "Miranda Priestly" in comments about the clip, he was not alone in thinking he'd just witnessed his world-famous boss and her assistant resurrected from the dead.

With sweaty hands, he dialled Emily. Or tried to. He was shaking so hard he had to try tapping her number twice.

"Well?" Emily demanded immediately, picking up on the first ring. "That was definitely the best one yet, wasn't it?"

"Emi…"

"Nice attention to detail, too, finding women who actually looked thin enough to have not eaten for a month. I think our hoaxers are getting cleverer…"

"Emily," he tried again.

"Although as if Miranda would ever let her hair frizz up like that at the front – I think she'd be flopping over in her watery grave right about now if this one goes viral like that silly cartoon one from Taiwan. Although part of me loved her punching animated sharks with her Prada heel. But this one is way, way up there – and putting them in the blankets with a medical insignia on them? Really a nice touch."

"Emily!" he virtually shouted in exasperation.

"What?!"

"It is them."

"What? Don't be daft. They're dead! We were at their funerals for God's sake."

"Emily, I just spoke to Andy's mom. The State Department called her to inform her they were found clinging to plane wreckage off Japan earlier today. They are in Tokyo as we speak."

The gasp was almost comical. By the time Emily finished shrieking for a solid minute, Nigel was sure he had a permanent loss of hearing in one ear. It was worth every decibel.

There were a lot of "bloody hells" and "bollocks" and "typical that the fat girl would be buoyant", immediately followed by "Oh hell I didn't mean that. Forget I said that!"

He lay back and just listened to the delight for a while, savouring it like a wine, barely speaking. God it felt good. So good.

"This is the dream," he finally said. "For us at least. Pity the other 187 passengers and crew aren't getting phone calls like this one."

Emily fell silent. "No."

There was a long pause. And Nigel felt like he'd just kicked someone's kitten.

"Sorry," he finally spoke. "That killed the mood."

"Don't be ridiculous," Emily huffed after a moment, and he could hear the grin in her tone "Nothing can kill how I feel right now."

"Which is?" he asked playfully.

"Relief, you bloody troll. Elation. You might be a less demonic boss by far, Nigel Kipling, but she is The Legend. And Andy … is … well … tolerable and she makes Miranda happy, so of course I'm glad."

"Happy?" Nigel sat up, and it was as though some missing puzzle piece long eluding him had not only fallen into place but smacked him in the face on the way past. "Andy makes Miranda happy?"

His mind flew back to the protective arm. Miranda willingly touching her assistant, but even more than that, shielding her from unknown harm. It had been more than just the bond of two people long-used to each other's presence. It spoke of ownership and caring. Two things Miranda never freely gave. Except to her daughters.

And, now, Andy it seemed.

Andy. Yes, there had also been that blinding smile. The young woman had shot Miranda such a brilliant, unguarded, adoring smile that, even as clearly malnourished as she was, she suddenly seemed bursting with life.

There was a silence as he digested what all this meant. Then he realised Emily hadn't answered the question. Maybe she was digesting it, too.

"Well I suppose, yes, she does make her happy," Emily finally replied, slowly. "You know, I didn't even realise I thought that until I said it. She just … I don't know … smiles more since Andy."

Nigel ran his fingers across his bald pate. He wasn't ready for the rest of this conversation. Not with Emily. Not at this ungodly time of day and not after hearing this miraculous news.

He gave a long sigh, as he thought about the past hour.

"Nigel," Emily whispered hesitantly after a beat. Her voice sounded so small. "Is this really real? Can we unbury them now?"

"Yes. As my last order of business as official Runway editor, I say: 'With pleasure'."

They both chuckled and thoughts drifted for a few moments.

There was a low groan from the redhead.

"Oh God, she's going to hate Monica's 'funeral to the stars' when she hears about it," Emily suddenly said.

"And all those newspaper articles on the death of a dragon," Nigel agreed and rolled his eyes. "They got a bit carried away, laying on all the metaphors so thick that I think they forgot she was still just a woman underneath that ridiculous persona. And a mother."

"The twins," Emily wailed, "Oh hell, the twins have been all over the news. Greg's going to cop it in the neck for that. And good thing, too. Fancy giving his trashy, opportunistic, taste-deprived girlfriend free reign to further her career by party-planning Miranda's funeral."

"I don't think Greg ever envisioned it turning into the free-for-all fashionista circus it was. Did you actually see Naomi on the steps outside? Hand on hip like it was a Paris Fashion Week shoot, waiting for the paps to get her best angles?"

"She wasn't the only one," Emily muttered. "They were all at it. It was so tacky I wanted smack their smug horrible faces."

"What about the 100-member gospel choir?" Nigel suddenly remembered. "What was that about? Miranda hates gospel music. Well that and everything religious. Something about her ultra-orthodox Jewish father - I never did get to the bottom of it. Oh lord, wait till she finds out about the full-on cathedral service and the hymns. You can't make this stuff up," Nigel added, his mood sinking.

Suddenly Emily hissed in fear. "Oh bleeding hell, Nigel, I just had the worst thought."

His heart clenched. "What?!"

"Oh no, no, no. Miranda will blame me, too. I know she will. Sod it, I should have killed that vindictive little trollop of Greg's when I had the chance. And you know I know how. Say what you will about CSI and SVU, but it is factually accurate, educational viewing."

"Emily, you're rambling. For God's sake, breathe, and then spit it out."

"Nigel," Emily finally ground out, almost hyperventilating now, "Miranda's funeral was filled with freesias."

Chapter Text

SIX MONTHS LATER

Andy wasn't sure what woke her. She lay on the luxurious king-sized bed for a moment, listening for the sound of Miranda's relaxed, deep breathing. She heard nothing but the slight snuffling of their latest addition to the family: Mansfield Frederick Priestly, a jet-black cat with piercing green eyes and little white socks on two of its paws - a feature Cassidy and Caroline both loved.

The beautiful animal had all the indifferent attitude of Miranda, along with her sleek, panther-like grace - entering rooms with its tail high and haughty, so Andy, of course, adored him at first sight.

So did Miranda, although she liked to pretend otherwise. She didn't fool Andy for a minute, and more than once she'd spied the fashion maven cuddling the cat in her lap, softly stroking his ears absently while she read a book.

Right now Mansfield had taken Miranda's place in the bed, drawn to her vacated warm spot no doubt. Andy peered at the cat.

"You aren't supposed to be on the bed,'' she told him seriously. "It's a house rule, as you well know. And where is your other mommy anyway? The usual place, I suppose?"

The cat closed his eyes in complete indifference and buried his small nose into a black tail curled around his body, settling down to go back to sleep.

"Yeah, that's what I figured," Andy said and glanced at the bedside clock. Just after six. It was still mostly dark out but the first fingers of dawn had just begun creeping in between the thick bedroom curtains.

She yawned and debated whether to join Mansfield in a rather satisfying sleep-in or find her lover. She looked at the bed longingly but instead flung back the covers and rose. She tossed on a robe and shuffled sleepily over to the windows where she drew open the curtains.

The sight before her never ceased to take her breath away.

She and Miranda had fallen in love with the house the moment they'd looked out the bedroom window and saw the rich blues of the ocean in front and far below.

Andy smiled as she stared at the glorious sight. The fiery early rays of dawn were making a glistening red path across the sea, and she could make out faint white chops on the top of the distant swells, whipped up by the wind.

The same peacefulness returned that she'd felt the first time she'd stood here gazing out, Miranda's arm curled around the small of her back.

They'd heard the real estate agent enter behind them, some blonde, overly hair-sprayed creature picking her way about on outlandishly high platform shoes, chirping on about features like a heated swimming pool, tennis court, wine cellar and stunning manicured gardens.

But all Andy took in was the heady scent of the woman beside her, from that expensive skin cream she loved, the warmth of her body heat, the thudding of her own heart and, most significantly, the way the fashion icon's arm did not shift an inch when the other woman had entered the room. In fact it had tightened possessively around her waist.

Miranda moved even closer and leaned into her ear, her ice cool gaze fixed on the grand estate below. "So, does this count as 'somewhere progressive'?" she husked in that low voice that never ceased to make Andy's guts clench. She dropped a tiny kiss on the shell of her ear.

For a moment Andy didn't know whether she meant the house or the fact Miranda had probably just outed them both to the startled realtor with the most unexpected PDA. A realtor who suddenly seemed fascinated by the ceiling cornices on the far side of the room. Which, while intricate, were not that spectacular.

Andy grinned and nodded mutely. The place had everything they'd dreamed of – right down to the friendly neighbourhood, adorable shops (many with little rainbow flag stickers in their windows), and a to-die-for weekend organic market that did those weird green shakes Miranda favored.

And just like that, the stunning beach estate far from the madding crowd - complete with perfect orange sunrises - became theirs.

Andy stepped back from her bedroom window, shaking herself out of her daydream. She resumed her quest to track down her lover of six months although, as she'd already explained to Mansfield, she had a pretty good idea of where to find her.

Had it really only been six months? Andy shook her head in amazement as she padded out the bedroom and down the stairs. Life had been such a whirlwind from the first moment they'd landed on American soil. She'd unbuckled her seatbelt and turned slowly, looking Miranda dead in the eye and said solemnly: "I quit."

Miranda's lips had twitched once and she closed her eyes, leaning back against her seat.

"I know."


MONTH ONE

They'd climbed off Donatella's jet to see Emily and Nigel watching them with wide, expectant eyes.

The art director rushed forward in his absurd eggplant-coloured suit, with a bold yellow tie, giving both women engulfing, albeit careful, hugs. He suddenly began to ramble in a shaky voice that he'd been remiss to have not told them both how much they'd mattered to him before it was too late.

"That was my mistake," he said, choking up. "Especially you," he said, eyeing his unreadable boss through moist eyes. "You ... you ... are my dearest friend."

The snowy-haired editor had merely lifted an eyebrow at him when he finally let go of her.

No one ever touched Miranda Priestly. Emily was watching the scene with saucer-wide eyes.

"Why Nigel," Miranda purred, her eyes half lidded, "I never realised you were so sentimental."

Andy laughed and hugged Nigel again warmly. As she did so, she caught Miranda discreetly wiping moisture from her eye, and grinned at her. Her lover narrowed her ice-blue eyes in warning.

Oh Please. Hard-ass Miranda was such a fraud at times.

A blur of legs and excited squeals caught everyone's attention and Miranda then spent the next twenty minutes wrapped in twin hugs and delighted chatter. Andy stepped back to give the reunited family its space. She saw Greg hanging back in the shadows, relief etched on his face, along with a hint of guilt. Andy cocked her head curiously, wondering what on earth he had to feel guilty about. Because he was barely even in Miranda's life, right?

Emily had also assumed a low profile off to one side, where she simply stared at Miranda and Andy, tears streaking silently down her pale cheeks while stoically pretending she wasn't crying, flicking the wet trails away with the frequency of windshield wipers.

Andy regarded her affectionately. Nigel had already regaled her, between gasps of laughter, with a hilarious (and much-quoted, apparently) comment that his frosty assistant had provided to Andy's hometown newspaper after Andy's funeral.

She ambled over and nudged the pursed-lipped redhead with her elbow: "I hear you think I wear ugly shoes," she grinned.

Emily blinked at her uncertainly. "I beg your pardon?!"

"But they're big shoes to fill," Andy continued, teasing. "Why, Em, I never knew you cared."

"Honestly,'' Emily sniffed and glowered at Andy, folding her arms, but denying nothing. She paused and lowered her voice. "Just don't let it go to your head."

"Perish the thought," Andy grinned, noting the warmth leaking traitorously out of Emily's eyes.

She smirked. Emily was another fraud. Runway was clearly drowning in them.


Miranda announced Andy was coming home with her to recover somewhere they both would have access 24/7 "to the finest medical staff money can buy''.

Nigel and Emily had nodded blandly at the pronouncement. A little too blandly, Andy thought suspiciously. Almost as if they'd expected it.

The twins looked impassively from Miranda to Andy and back again. Only Greg seemed outwardly confused.

"You want your assistant to live in your home?" he'd blurted before he thought better of it. His face faintly reddened as all eyes swung to him.

"Yes, Gregory," Miranda said, turning slowly to stare at him, hard. "Not that it's any of your business."

He lifted his hands in surrender. "Sorry," he muttered, "It's not, I mean … it's just I know how much you like your privacy. I was… I'm surprised." He mumbled and tried to hold her challenging glare. He gave up and glanced down at his feet.

The twins fixed their mother with an even longer stare that said, quite plainly, they agreed with their father. It was odd.

"I, uh, don't have to stay with … um, at your house," Andy said awkwardly. "It's a very generous offer but I can stay … um… with..." She waved her hand about and realised she had no clue how to finish that sentence.

Where would she stay? She really did need ongoing medical attention. The nurse fussing over her on the plane home had tsked often enough at her readings that Andy couldn't fail to get the hint.

Nate had left her over a year ago. Doug, maybe, but he worked long hours… Not Lilly, that's for sure.

Miranda tilted her head and looked at her with the "Are you a complete fool?" expression Andy had become very used to seeing over the past two years as her assistant.

"Where?" Miranda asked silkily. "Back to Ohio? With your mother? Or with the friends you don't see anymore?"

Ouch. Nigel and Emily suddenly looked ridiculously uncomfortable and Andy shifted anxiously from foot to foot, flushing hotly. "I.. um… I just don't want to impose."

"Bobbsies," Miranda said instantly, looking at her daughters, her tone all business. "Would you find it an imposition if Andrea stayed in one of our guest bedrooms as she recovers? I expect that she is properly house trained. For the most part." Her eyes sparkled with amusement and Andy shot her a faux outraged glare. She could tell Miranda was a hair's breadth away from laughing outright.

Where the hell had Miranda's sense of humor come from? She tried to think back to any other time when Miranda had ever teased anyone like this and came up a blank. Nigel and Emily both appeared equally startled.

Caroline and Cassidy exchanged glances – some unspoken twin-conversation taking place – and then nodded in unison. "We don't care," Caroline said. At least Andy was fairly sure it was her, although both girls seemed to have grown a bit in the past month. But no, the extra freckles on the bridge of her nose were a clear giveaway.

"We like Andy," Cassidy added. "She can help us with our homework."

At Andy's askance expression, Caroline interjected hastily, "Only when you're better, of course."

"Well then," Miranda smirked as though that settled it. She looked at Andy, her eyebrows raised questioningly, daring her to object.

Andy just rolled her eyes at this fait accompli. As if she could deny a Priestly female anything - let alone three of them looking at her so expectantly. And, frankly, she could think of nothing better than being in Miranda's home, close to her – it's just they hadn't exactly discussed their plans beforehand. Most of the flight from Tokyo had been spent sleeping and trying to get – and keep - more liquid nourishment down, in between the nurse poking and prodding her.

Easier said than done.

"Fine," Andy said with a grin and her heart did a happy flip at how pleased the fashion editor seemed at her decision.

They gazed at each other for a moment before Emily cleared her throat. Andy distantly absorbed something vague about arrangements being made, the townhouse set up for medical care. Nurses on standby. Or some such thing. Her mind was elsewhere.

Miranda had edged closer to her, her fingers brushing against Andy's and her eyes locked with hers.

Her heart fluttered. God. That stare.

Before she knew it, she found herself in a car heading for Miranda's townhouse, Greg following them in his car with the twins, to give them space "to stretch out" as he'd put it, given they were still healing.

Andy's head had fallen onto the white-haired editor's shoulder. She knew Roy in the driver's seat had glanced back more than once, and she tried to care. Tried to make it not quite so obvious. But her heart wasn't in it. Especially the way Miranda's hand occasionally drifted up to pet her hair.

She never wanted to move again.

Roy's eyes met hers briefly in the rear-vision mirror. He'd already told them both how pleased he was they were alive. But now she saw a knowingness there as he took in Andy's position, virtually clinging to her boss. Ex-boss? Andy had resigned – she supposed she was technically now serving out her two weeks' notice.

He gave them a small, understanding grin and his eyes returned to the road. Andy let out a breath she didn't know she was holding and closed her eyes.

She had been so tired lately. So weary that all the sleep on the flight from Tokyo still hadn't seemed to touch the sides. But given she was such a physical wreck she shouldn't be too shocked.

She had glanced into the full-length mirror in the bathroom on Donatella's jet and recoiled with a grimace. Scrawny wasn't even the start of it. She was emaciated. Dark shadows ringed her eyes, her cheeks were sunken, her collar bones and hips jutted out, arms and legs were spindly. Her face bright red from sunburn. Lips badly chapped.

While Miranda was equally sunburnt and thin, for some reason she carried the effects of their ordeal better, a fact Andy was profoundly glad about. Her daughters had been through enough trauma lately without freaking out from the sight of their mother looking like a crispy ghost.


The early days passed largely in a blur, with a lot of sleeping and healing, and being woken for meals and medication by a tag team of two nurses, both efficient and discreet. Once a week a trainer came in to help them with basic exercises to get their muscles working again, a regime Andy found utterly exhausting. It quickly became apparent she was by far the weaker of the pair, which did not seem fair at all to the 25-year-old given their age gap.

Trust Miranda to be as good at healing as she was everything else.

The hospital in Japan had done a thorough job of cleaning out and properly attending to Andy's stomach wound. It was knitting slowly, turning into a slightly jagged, very faint, long scar above her belly button.

Miranda's head injury had proved to be only a mild concussion, although the pronounced jagged teeth marks across her collar bone and shoulder remained. Her stitches had already come out.

She'd been offered a surgery to help hide the scarring by a top plastic surgeon. Miranda had declined immediately. She seemed almost proud that she had visible proof to show the world that even sharks could not defeat the indomitable Miranda Priestly.

Andy was in two minds about this. She didn't like the reminder of how close she'd come to losing the woman she loved. She still shuddered at the memory of the black, cold eyes of the hungry predator as it scraped its razor-sharp teeth across Miranda's flesh. She would never, ever forget that. To this day she often saw its eyes in the most mundane things: A smooth black pebble. A polished set of heels. The hood of a shiny limousine.

But she understood what a badge of honor Miranda saw it as. The fashion icon would stand taller as she stared at the multiple parallel lines of scars in the mirror, a tiny grim smile twitching at the corner of her lips. Proud she had won in the end, and fuck everything else, no doubt.

Andy got that. She did. Not that they'd discussed it. They hadn't had a huge amount of time alone yet, what with being stuck in their respective beds, recuperating with the excitable twin tornadoes whirling in and out chattering up a storm, or nurses checking on their medication and feeding them, while shooing out the girls.

As the weeks drew on, there still wasn't much of Andy. Unlike Miranda, who seemed to bounce back to her old weight relatively quickly, for whatever reason Andy's body was being stubborn. It didn't help she'd found it very hard to keep any solid food down.

Her dreams of steak and tacos and pizza and chicken nuggets had all died when her stomach refused them all. Or sometimes her lack of appetite did the job when her stomach was settled.

Miranda watched her with a closed look as Andy emerged from the bathroom bearing a stricken expression, wiping her mouth, time and again after a meal.

"I-I it's just not staying down yet," she'd tell her in embarrassment. But the older woman would merely nod as if to say, "I know you're trying your best".

Often little treats that she used to love would appear by Andy's bed. One night it might be a Hershey's Kiss. Or a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Once, even a cheese cube appeared - a joke at Emily's expense. Andy had laughed heartily at that.

She knew Miranda was trying to subtly renew her interest in food. It was so thoughtful, Andy was incredibly touched. How Miranda knew what she loved to eat most was a mystery, though. But then so much about Miranda was.

Because that was the other thing they hadn't discussed in so many words - them. Together. The dream - to move somewhere progressive and live openly as a couple, with just the twins and Patricia and a cat called Mansfield, and not be afraid anymore. To just be themselves.

Andy wished she could spend a week, a day, or even an hour discussing their plans but their life had become insane the moment the media had learned that the impossible had occurred.

After all it's not every day a dead icon gets resurrected.

Andy grinned. Well, as if anything so mundane as death could keep Miranda Priestly down.

The Japanese media had gotten wind of it first. The YouTube clip which no one could quite dismiss as a hoax had been followed up by a reported sighting by a security guard at an electronics shop across from the US embassy in Tokyo.

Mr Akio Tanaka swore black and blue that the famous dead American fashion diva who had been on all the news channels had come to his store in the early hours one morning and traded the promise of Prada accessories and a Runway subscription for his wife for a new state-of-the-art cell phone. Yes, he'd said fervently to all who asked, Miranda Priestly had been very much alive.

Store security footage subsequently confirmed his incredible story. Grainy black and white video of a bandaged, terrifyingly thin white-haired woman – uncannily looking like the ice queen – leaving the store clutching a phone were beamed around Japanese news feeds, before being picked up internationally.

Some 24 hours later, Runway issued a statement confirming their leader was indeed alive.

And then the world's media went into thermonuclear meltdown.


Everyone wanted a piece of them. Everywhere they turned, when they went to the hospital or to see specialists, there were now flashbulbs and a flurry of questions.

After weeks of this Andy had had enough and agreed to write their story for Time to take the heat off. She agonised over what to include for days before finally deciding there was no point in pretending she hadn't fought off a shark and eaten raw fish and been moments from death more than once. So she'd put it all out there. Miranda saving her life. Miranda operating on her with a jagged chunk of plane. Them eating leaves. Praying for rain. Watching the island wash away beneath their feet. Virtually every last horrifying detail.

With her heart in her mouth, Andy gave a print-out to Miranda to read before she submitted it to Time's features editor.

The fashion editor had merely corrected her spelling and handed it back with a tight grimace.

Andy swallowed anxiously and began second-guessing herself. Should she just spike it now? Was it that bad? Miranda seemed to read her mind and said: "It's beautifully written, but it brings back certain memories. But you should publish it. Let them know your story."

If Andy found it odd Miranda had referred to it as her story, not their story, she didn't say anything. Later she considered how little she really knew about Miranda's time spent on the island while Andy was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Miranda, typically, said nothing at all on the topic. Not. One. Word. She would only murmur grimly whenever Andy pushed her: "It's better that you don't share my nightmares."

Because, yeah, Miranda had had a lot of those. She would often wake, trembling and terrified, in a sweat, and cry out. Andy, in the guest room right across from hers, would wake instantly and race into her room, usually shooing away the night nurse she intercepted on a similar mission. She would then climb into bed with her and wrap her arms around her. Miranda would cling wordlessly to Andy for a few minutes before fully waking and pulling away abruptly, burying her face back into her pillow, as if ashamed of her lapse into weakness.

She would give Andy her "that's all" dismissive wave, and wait until Andy left the bed. She never wanted Andy to stay afterwards. It hurt a little but the brunette thought she understood. It was as if it was too much for Miranda having a witness when putting herself back together after falling completely apart. She felt too vulnerable.

Miranda never wanted to discuss it in the morning and her only contribution to the topic had ever been a dark frown. Fortunately the nightmares were lessening in frequency as the days wore on.

Once Andy's (almost) tell-all feature article had hit the news stands, against her predictions the frenzy was stoked anew. There was no escaping the global celebrity status both women had now achieved.

Experts were on news shows enthusiastically discussing shark stalking behavioral traits. Talkshow hosts made jokes about the ocean predators "spitting the devil in Prada back". Droning talking heads went on and on about how exceptionally brave (read: stupid) Andy had been to use herself as bait in an ocean full of frenzied feeding sharks.

Everyone had an opinion. Everywhere they turned, Andy and Miranda the tastiest garnish the media had fed on for years.

Back at the townhouse, it was all Andy could do after braving the photo-snapping hordes and gawkers not to crawl back into bed, draw the covers over her head and try to sleep for a month.

Being a world-famous "shark hero" was totally overrated.

Once, though, when she was feeling exceptionally wrung out, she'd felt the bed dip as familiar arms closed around her and pulled her into a comforting hug.

Her eyes flickered open and she'd found Miranda's intense blue gaze regarding her warmly. "How's our shark hero doing?" she asked with a smirk.

"Not a hero," Andy had grumbled and nestle closer. "Just a very tired, annoyingly weak stick insect."

"Mmm," Miranda murmured. "Stick Insect Hero doesn't have quite the same ring." And she'd kissed her temple and held her until she drifted off to sleep.

It was Andy's absolute favorite memory of that hazy first month.


MONTH TWO

The media had finally cottoned on to Andy's living arrangements. If it had been interested in them when they were merely shark-duelling death buddies, now they were in a frothing lather of barely veiled innuendos, as they outdid each other speculating just how close the "world's most fashionable castaways" had become.

If only they knew.

Andy kept waiting for Miranda to blow a gasket. To threaten her usual volley of lawsuits on the intemperate press. To call in Leslie and issue a string of PR instructions. To deny it. To deny them.

But nothing happened.

Although, truthfully, there wasn't much to deny right at that moment. Yes, they were sharing a home. But Andy and Miranda hadn't been intimate since they'd been plucked from the sea. Except for the occasional hugs or kisses to her temple or cheek or forehead – which, to be fair, she also shared with her two girls. So, Andy wondered, often at night in the dark, alone, what it all meant.

Which made it all the more awkward when her mother rung and asked about the headlines point blank.

Andy had sucked in a breath. "It's true," she whispered, "Miranda and I … we're involved."

The silence was long and Andy bit her lip. Then her mother said something that profoundly shocked her.

"But she never said. In her call. Although I should have realised, all things considered."

Andy had blinked rapidly. "Your …. what? What call?"

A beat passed.

"Well she rung me a little while back saying it was of vital importance to know what chocolate and treats you liked. I thought it was odd, but she said you'd lost your appetite and she hoped that tempting you with your old favorites might help bring it back."

"She… she…"

"Yes," Ellen confirmed. "She did. We thought it best I not tell you because we didn't want you to feel any pressure about your eating."

"I.. oh."

"She was so worried about you. I could hear it, in her voice, she got a little emotional..."

"Emotional..." Andy repeated numbly, feeling like she'd entered the Twilight Zone. Miranda Priestly emotional?

"And she did call me herself – not just get one of her little assistants to. I suppose I should have guessed then. Besides, what boss takes their assistant home with them? Well of course she loves you."

Her mother made it sound so matter of fact.

"I… ah…" Andy's brain short circuited. Love? How did they get to that? Even Miranda had never said that to her.

And then she remembered who she was talking to and her brain did a second little flail. "How do you feel about this? Her and me? I mean she's … older and ... a mother," Andy began and then bit her lip anxiously. "And, um, well obviously, a woman."

"Yes dear," her mother said, amused, "I do have eyes."

"And? So…?"

"Andrea Elizabeth Sachs. Do you really have to ask?"

"I… Y-yes?"

Her mother sighed. "Whatever I thought of her before, Miranda calling me for advice and saving your life repeatedly tells me everything I need to know about the woman."

"But…"

"Everything. I wouldn't have you today if it wasn't for her. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some reservations but these are nothing compared with how I felt when I almost lost you. When I thought you were gone."

"Oh… Mom, I'm so sorry." Andy still felt guilty for the trauma her mother had been through. She rubbed her eyes. She wondered if the guilt would ever go away. Even on their brief visit together, when her mother had flown to New York, she could see the lines and grey hair she'd added to her mother's features.

"So the only question is – does she make you happy?" Ellen asked.

"Oh God yes," Andy exhaled, not even thinking. "Yes. So much."

"Well then," Ellen smiled, and there was a faint admonishing tone, "Why do you care what I or anybody thinks then?"

"Mom, come on, you and I both know it's not that simple. I wish it was."

There was a pause and then, "It is."

In the weighted silence that followed, Andy wondered if her mother had just imparted the secret to the universe.

Really, Andy wondered, was it just that simple?


At about the six-week mark, the specialists felt Andy and Miranda should start doing considerably more exercise, especially outdoors in the sunlight, because too much time spent in bed was not only risking atrophying their muscles but depriving the women of vital vitamin D.

And so Miranda, Patricia, Andy and the girls made a trek to Central Park together. Andy was wobblier on her legs than she would have liked and was pleased that Miranda had slowed her formidable fast clip to keep her company as the girls skipped on ahead.

She still felt self conscious about how she looked. She was now out of the 'death camp survivor' looking category and into 'too-skinny shock-horror catwalk model' territory. She also hated how slowly she was progressing. Miranda on the other hand...

Andy found herself yet again admiring the soft curves of the other woman, in tailored navy blue pants and a silk white blouse. Miranda's chin tilted slightly up as she soaked up the the fresh air and sunlight, her stride unhurried and graceful.

Andy didn't think Miranda had noticed her perusal but then she felt soft, long fingers close around hers and take her hand. She'd heard near her ear, "Come along, Andrea," delivered far too seductively to be in any way condescending.

Andy gulped, eyes darting about for some skulking photographers to leap out of the bushes and catch them in the scandalous act of hand-holding in public. She did however 'come along'. Miranda gave a low, throaty snicker at Andy's sudden spring in her step.

They arrived all too soon at the park and, with reluctance, Andy let go of Miranda's hand and found the nearest park bench to rest weakly on. She watched fondly as Caroline and Miranda became distracted by Patricia racing off after someone's errant Frisbee.

She noticed Cassidy eyeing her thoughtfully. The little girl then plopped herself beside Andy on the park bench and stared at her closely.

"You want to ask me something?" she asked the ten-year-old, fixing her gaze on small, intelligent eyes.

"You and mom?" Cassidy ventured, tilting her head in the way her mother would. It was eerie.

Andy considered that. She squinted at Miranda and Caroline patting Patricia and trying to wrest a stranger's orange Frisbee from her teeth.

Andy could deny it, so easily. Because, really, they had done absolutely nothing sexual since they'd been back. So, really, not a lie to deny everything. Or she could ask what Cassidy meant by that. Or, or ... a bunch of other things. But for some reason she thought Cassidy would see right through her. And, really, Andy wasn't ashamed. So….

"Would it bother you?" Andy answered casually.

"Maybe before," Cassidy said with typical blunt honesty. "We hate the press being mean to Mom. And you being with her would only make it way worse. But now..." she shrugged. "We're just so glad she's alive, we don't care what she does."

"Oh," Andy muttered. "So you're saying I'm just one step up from you two having no mom? Not exactly the best endorsement I've ever heard." She grinned to take out the sting. But it kinda hurt.

Cassidy's face colored. "Well I didn't mean it like THAT. We do like you," she said, offering her best "duh" face. "We already said so. And you make Mom laugh. She teases with us more now, and she never really used to. And you did save her from a shark. Which makes you, like, I guess, automatically cool. Right? We just didn't know Mom was gay. Or whatever she is - we haven't asked her yet. But we have eyes. Caroline noticed it first - she says Mom looks at you like a really juicy steak."

Andy laughed at that. "No higher praise than that, I guess," she smirked.

Cassidy rolled her eyes. "Anyway, we think you're better than Stephen. And you're way better than icky Monica. Who wears fishnet stockings to a funeral?! And all the freesias? That was mean. Did you know Emily thinks she did it on purpose? So does Mom. Just - gag. Hey is it true Mom got Monica a new job?"

Andy blinked trying to follow the conversation shift. "Uh, yep, sort of. She found out about all the, um, extra touches Monica did at her funeral and decided to reward her accordingly."

Cassidy shot her a disbelieving glare and Andy snickered.

Miranda had been livid at the attendant horrors of the tacky celebrity-centric funeral, which some of the media had taken to calling "The casting call for America's Next Top Model", given how many starlets and aspiring models had used the cathedral steps to pause dramatically and strike photogenic poses as they exited the service.

Miranda had seen to it that Greg's opportunistic ex-girlfriend had returned to the reality TV world from whence she'd first been spat out. But not just returned. Oh heavens no. Sunk might be a better word.

"I believe she knew some people who knew some people who got Monica immediately cast on Celebrity Temptation Island," Andy said, her lips twitching as she held back a smile.

Cassidy screwed up her face. "My friend Bethany says Celebrity Temptation Island is where all the Z-list skanks and hoes go to commit career suicide."

"Language, Cass," Andy immediately said, trying very hard not to laugh.

Miranda had said something very similar to her, between muttering about freesias and gospel choirs and how Greg's "fame-hungry piece of fluff on the make" would never work in this town again. Monica's party planner days were over the moment Miranda put the word out about how displeased she'd been about her funeral and that "only the tasteless" would ever consider planning any event with That Woman.

And by the time the trashy TV show Monica was filming actually went to air, she'd have drunk at a chalice so befouled with poison no one would want to touch her ever again. Her stocks were now utterly worthless, even if she was too dim to realise it yet. Andy thought it was an apt ending for someone who'd used the death of a mother and the grieving of two miserable little girls to get ahead.

"Anyway," Cassidy shrugged. "Like I say - you're better than any of the other losers. And who cares what Mom does now as long as she's alive, right?"

"Right," Andy nodded with a grin. "But for what it's worth, I do like you two. So maybe as we get to know each other we can improve a whole bunch on me just being better than having no mom?"

Cassidy tilted her head amenably as though she hadn't thought that far ahead and gave a shrug. Then suddenly she jumped up to play with her sister. She glanced back and gave Andy an apologetic wave, then ran off. Andy grinned broadly at her and waved back before she realised Miranda was watching her, hands on hips, an affectionate smile dancing around her lips.

Miranda turned to pick up, between disdainful, pincer-like fingers, the Frisbee that Patricia had finally relinquished. She bent over, her firm ass giving Andy a lovely view. Andy sucked in an impressed breath and shut her eyes.

Mercy.


MONTH THREE

Andy Sachs was dying of celibacy. She was sure this was an actual thing. They had waited long enough, she wailed silently at the uncaring universe.

The media had backed off weeks ago - thanks to a family-values politician caught with a cheap hooker and a pair of pink fluffy handcuffs - and no actual new evidence coming to light about the two castaways being lovers.

Oh how Andy wished all the media's salacious conjecture actually had a foundation of truth, because she was starting to climb the walls of the town house.

Yes, she knew they needed to heal first. Well she had to heal; Miranda had been given a clean bill of health a fortnight ago and was already getting ready to go back to work.

But Andy, under doctor's orders to "rest, relax and do nothing strenuous", was craving Miranda's touch like air and starting to wonder if she'd imagined all those soft, passionate kisses and that achingly talented tongue when they were lost at sea.

Well, one thing she knew was she wasn't imagining the sexual tension between them. It was almost palpable. Their eyes would often lock, in the hallway, in passing, in the kitchen, then they'd brush past entirely too close to be socially polite, and Miranda would give her a small secret smile reserved only for her, that promised much more. A smile that said soon.

But "soon" never seemed to come and Andy was going thoroughly crazy. Her strength had returned now, as had her appetite. She'd been ploughing merrily through steaks and tacos and chicken nuggets for days now - as her hips and thighs and breasts could attest. And she'd hoped Miranda would see that, and realise she was ready to be ravished.

Oh so so ready.

She'd been dropping enough hints, too embarrassed at her neediness to just come right out and say it. Not to mention she was running out of buttons to unbutton for added cleavage when leaning provocatively across the table at lunch time. Miranda would merely glance at her, vastly amused, and return to her newspaper. Sometimes with a snicker. Or a knowing gleam. Always though, with that same look in her eye: Soon.

Soon?!

Soon she'd be an old, dry dessicated corpse if Miranda kept this up. She wondered if her doctor would consider the act of pinning a fashion editor against her bedroom wall and fucking her gorgeous brains out for a few days as "strenuous behavior"?

She sulked.

Probably.

Even if it wasn't strenuous, she pictured Miranda picking up The Book casually while Andy was fumbling about with her panties, and glancing down at her, saying, "Not now, Andrea. Soon."

Andy was getting very used to taking cold showers.

Fortunately "soon" arrived one night, exactly three months after their return. Miranda simply turned up in her room and invited her into her bed. Well, without actually saying it of course. Miranda still was a woman of few words.

Some things never changed.

The white-haired woman had leaned against the door frame of the guest room and eyed Andy. Miranda's ice blue eyes had lingered on Andy's short silk shorts and long legs before sliding casually up to examine her tight white tank top.

"I have dismissed the medical staff," she whispered in a low voice that sounded like pure sex.

"Oh, right, good," Andy said, and swallowed under the scrutiny. "It's getting late and it's not like I need anyone around the clock to check on me at night anymore, right?"

"I meant, Andrea, that I have dismissed them permanently now we no longer need them. The doctor told me you had to heal and be observed by a nurse for three months. It has now been exactly three months."

She licked her lips and Andy suddenly saw exactly what Caroline meant about Miranda looking at her like a tasty steak. A flush dusted Miranda's cheeks. She continued.

"The good doctor also said that I wasn't allowed to lay one finger on you for three months. I've been very patient haven't I? Especially in light of your ... numerous provocations."

She almost pouted and Andy's eyes fell out of her head.

"Y-you told Dr Michaela? About us?"

Miranda pursed her lips. "Well yes. I needed to know," she said with faint indignation. "This was important information to have. Don't you agree?"

"I… uh…"

"Well don't sprain your brain," Miranda purred and waved a hand dismissively. "And in case it escaped your notice, the girls are with their father for the weekend. We are finally alone."

Miranda's eyes burned.

"A-alone?" Andy repeated in confusion for a moment, processing everything.

It'd been a very long time since she'd found herself alone. And judging by the hungry look on Miranda's face at that moment, Andy realised the fashion boss had been as tightly wound as she'd been. Miranda was just much better at hiding it. Now, though, she was hiding nothing at all. The fire in her eyes said it all.

Andy's heart seized in excitement and began thumping furiously. She blushed hard and noted Miranda's satisfied gleam of approval.

"Well," the fashion maven said with amusement, a finger toying with the tie on her grey dressing gown. "I take it you approve? Of our being alone."

Andy nodded hard and swallowed and climbed shakily from the bed to her feet. "I definitely do."

She leaned in close to Miranda, taking in her scent - that expensive skin cream she'd come to associate with the imposing woman. It was damned alluring. She let her nose drift just under her ear and placed a soft kiss as she whispered: "I've missed you. Us."

She heard Miranda's breath hitch. Her mouth worked, but she didn't speak as Andy trailed kisses along her jaw. Her skin was so soft. "I was starting to worry you'd changed your mind," Andy continued, sneaking a kiss on her chin.

She lifted her hands to Miranda's hair and let her fingers sink into the white strands that haunted her thoughts and dreams. It was silky, no product in it tonight, and Andy reveled in the sensation of playing with the iconic 'do. She felt Miranda's hands come to rest on her waist.

Andy sighed happily and heard Miranda murmur: "I meant every word I said about us when we... back then. Every word," she added fiercely and then tilted her head, capturing Andy's lips in a powerful kiss.

Andy groaned into her mouth, her fingers still trailing through her hair, as she felt a hand behind her neck and one snaking through her hair. She felt Miranda's full breasts and belly pressing into hers. A blast of arousal shot through her and her knees wobbled.

"My room, now," Miranda hissed and suddenly there was air between them.

Andy blinked and stared after the retreating form. Hot damn.

"Well?" came a voice from down the hallway. "You know how I love to be kept waiting." There was enough amusement in the haughty tone to make Andy shake her head, helpless with laughter as she padded after her.

She found a robe in a puddle on the floor and Miranda splayed out on the bed wearing only a stunning Marjolaine pale blue and silver chemise, eyes heated. Candles around the room were burning, casting a beautiful warm glow around the room.

"Finally," Miranda drawled to Andy. "I was beginning to think you'd gone on some ridiculous round trip by way of the kitchen or something."

"Was that a fat joke?" Andy asked with a mock pout. "Because we both know I need more flab not less."

A sadness flashed across Miranda's face and she looked at Andy intensely. "It was certainly not a fat joke," she said quietly. "Come here."

Andy allowed herself to be enfolded in the older woman's arms. While she had accidentally achieved what Emily would doubtlessly call the "perfect" size 2, Andy knew she was still too lean to be healthy. Or attractive, for that matter. At least to her own pitiless eyes.

It was the last point that made her self-conscious. She didn't look at Miranda but felt her stroking her ribcage.

"I thought you were beautiful before," Miranda said quietly as if reading her mind. "And I think you are beautiful now. Your attractiveness to me is far more than just skin deep. And I always thought you understood this?" Her tone was faintly censorious.

Only Miranda could turn a compliment into a vague insult about her intelligence. Andy's lips curled up in amusement.

"Ah but you used to think I was fat. You called me the smart fat girl," she challenged, eyes dancing.

Miranda snorted. "I'd rather hoped you'd forgotten that. Finding people's weak spots happens to be one of the skills I'm best at - and also least proud of," she admitted quietly.

It was probably the closest thing to an apology she'd ever get from her, Andy mused. "So," she said, tracing a finger down Miranda's arm. "You meant 'every word'. About us."

She felt the chuckle deep in the fashion editor's chest. Miranda didn't deign to respond to something so obvious.

"Because," Andy whispered, "That's quite a coincidence. See - I also want the dream. Our amazing new life, somewhere progressive. The cat called Mansfield ..."

"Or Frederick ..." Miranda inserted."Frederick is better."

"Only if you want all the cat bullies to beat him up," Andy retorted. "But the best part of the dream is I get to be with you."

She saw the fierceness return to Miranda's eyes. Her agreement came in the form of a kiss, hard and possessive, and so powerfully erotic Andy felt her body stir instantly. Moisture was already gathering between her legs.

She felt long soft fingers dust along her ribs and then slip underneath her tank top, rubbing against her pebbling nipple.

She groaned. Before she knew it her tank-top was off and Miranda's dangerous, dancing tongue was licking her breasts, her teeth chewing on her nipples and causing her to make noises she didn't know she was capable of.

Her shorts had somehow disappeared off her legs.

How did that even happen, she wondered briefly as she felt a hand teasing along her thighs. It didn't immediately seek out her center, and instead she felt fingers dusting up and down until she was being slowly driven mad, silently begging Miranda to stop torturing her.

This playing with her was the big surprise for Andy. She'd secretly expected Miranda to be a goal-oriented lover, homing in on her core with a singular focus. Instead she was a most attentive, artful meanderer, who loved nothing more than spending long moments with her fingers and tongue showing Andy just how much she enjoyed every single part of her.

For the next hour all she knew was Miranda's lips and tongue and fingers exploring every crevice, eliciting from her guttural groans she had never uttered before. By the time she witnessed the sight of a snowy-haired head bobbing up and down between her legs, hands pushing her thighs further and further apart, she thought she'd pass out from the incredible sight.

At the first touch of a tongue slicing up and down her slit, pausing to dip inside, then lifting to her clit, Andy keened in delight. Miranda buried herself in the task, rubbing her nose against Andy's clit, her lips devouring the flesh beneath and murmuring a delighted hmmm, as she went. Fingers entered her and twisted, and she cried out. Andy thought she had to be in heaven.

But heaven came later. When she was thrusting three fingers inside Miranda and suckling and lapping at her erect pearl, watching her face fluttering with incredulity and delight, her full bare breasts swaying rhythmically, before her neck snapped back and she growled out a low, deep, primal moan.

It was the hottest thing Andy had ever seen. She made it her mission to make Miranda repeat those intoxicating noises. She nibbled and bit her, mouthing her breasts, her thighs, her stomach, her back, her buttocks and that glorious sweet spot along her neck until Miranda was offering gasping little moans and undignified squeaks that Andy thought were too arousing for words.

At one point Andy urged Miranda to sit on her face, and she began sliding her tongue inside her, her fingers expertly flicking her clit, until the gasping woman above, thighs quaking as she began to come yet again, stared down at her in astonishment.

"Andreaaaa," she cried out as she gave in with a low growl, tweaking her own nipples. The sight of Miranda touching herself as she came undone hit Andy straight between her legs.

When she peaked this time, Miranda hid nothing.

Nothing.

Andy watched in wonder as she saw all her love, her pain, her fears and her joy written across her face.

She loves me.

Andy stared at her, swallowing the unexpected swell of love she felt in return, her heart thudding.

The body beneath hers slowly came to rest. Still their eyes locked as Miranda looked down at her, into her, eyes blazing.

She loves me.

Andy smiled, a blinding smile, half against those still-twitching thighs. Miranda shifted back a bit and gazed affectionately down at her.

"I do, too," Andy told her earnestly, willing her to see the truth of the heartfelt declaration, still stroking her thighs with her fingers, unaware she was answering a statement her lover hadn't even uttered.

"Yes," Miranda said softly, and her eyes fluttered closed in relief. "Yes. Good. Me too, of course."

Of course.

Andy grinned happily.


MONTH FIVE

The opportunity to indulge herself in making love to Miranda had become more common.

The fashion boss might have gone back to work but her hours were far shorter for reasons she had not shared. And she was up to something. When wasn't she? But Andy knew a big scheme was being cooked when she smelt it.

All her pleas for Miranda to spill, even when she was busily kissing and licking her way down the fashion queen's squirming spine, were met with a low chuckle and a promise "It'll be better if it's a surprise. Please, darling, let me surprise you."

As if Andy could ever say no to a huskily whispered "please". Or "darling".

That didn't mean Andy wasn't averse to her own investigations. To that end, she and an equally curious Nigel had headed out for a night on the town, ostensibly to compare intel.

"She's training me," he admitted to her, after slamming down his second scotch with a satisfied grimace. "Properly this time. For her job. She says I've earned it. But I can't imagine her retiring. It's just so crazy. Runway without Miranda Priestly? Please, if that was true we'd have seen Irv doing handsprings down the hallway."

Andy shuddered at the visual image. "I don't think she's leaving. She loves fashion too much." She downed her cocktail – all pink and sugary and sweetly burning and god knows what else but oh how she'd missed her sugar trips - and tilted her empty glass towards the bar tender, silently requesting another.

Nigel eyed her curiously. "I've noticed since she's been back, her indulgent streak is wider."

"Huh?" Andy asked. "What do you mean?"

"Well, when she wants to spend time with the girls now, she just does it. You must have noticed her underfoot a lot more."

Andy frowned. Well that explained it. Miranda was often turning up randomly at home these days.

"That's not a bad thing – she should spend more time with the girls," Andy said a little defensively. "The hours she used to work were ridiculous."

"I know, I know," Nigel said and glanced around the bar, as if checking there were no eavesdroppers. "And she's taken to sending the rest of us home at a decent hour. I don't know what epiphanies she had while out there dodging sharks with you but my old friend is now a new woman. Less La Priestly, more ... La Human."

At Andy's intrigued look, Nigel expanded. "She doesn't even sack an assistant a month anymore. The other day Bess spilled coffee on her desk, it ran all over the photo shoot proofs I'd just put down. And she just stared at it, then at Bess, and said 'Well, I assume you're going to clean that up sometime before I retire?' And then she told me flatly to get her new copies of the prints."

Andy's eyes widened. "No shit."

"Yes shit," Nigel said placidly. "Does that sound like the La Priestly we all know and fear? But interesting choice of words, don't you think? 'Before I retire'?"

"Could be just a saying," Andy said dismissively. "Who knows the mysterious mind of Miranda?" She gave him a grin.

"Well I should think if anyone does, Six, it'd be you." He looked at her pointedly.

"Come on Nigel," Andy began, helplessly. "Not again."

"No, kiddo, you come on. I've been to your funeral so I earn the right as one of your nearest and dearest to say this: Everyone knows about you two. Everyone. Emily and I knew before anyone else, before you were a salacious headline."

"I don't…" Andy blushed. "We... Nigel, please…"

"I'm just saying, Six, I'm happy for you both. And if I didn't know you I'd say good luck ever being allowed to even peek out of her tiny little closet. But I do know you. And I know her. I see how much she's changed. And based on all this, I think it won't be long now before she cracks."

"Cracks?" Andy asked in alarm.

"Nothing so dramatic as you're imagining. Miranda is an impatient woman and while she has more time for human errors these days – like Bess's butter fingers – she has less time for the human race's stupidity and ignorance. Things like hiding who she is. She will not tolerate it much longer. She will out herself within the month, I think. Maybe less."

"Nigel you're mad. And you don't know anything."

"Am I? Please. If you two could only see how you look at each other. Always brushing fingers, leaning into each other's spaces, whispering little private jokes into each other's ears. If I didn't love you both so much it'd make me sick with jealousy. I have the love life of a garden gnome these days. Poor uptight Emily has to keep a supply of paper bags to hyperventilate into each time she sees you both get all intense."

"I… had no idea…"

"Well," Nigel shrugged, "people in love never do. So is it true you're both house hunting? Somewhere off the beaten track? And you've put an offer in? Ooh, did you try the East Hamptons? It has a verrry 'friendly' beach there, if you know what I mean?" His eyebrows did a waggle and Andy giggled.

"Nigel, honestly."

"Well if you won't talk real estate, tell me what you're doing these days to amuse yourself? I know you can afford to be a lady of leisure now."

Andy's face dropped. Yeah. The payout.

KLM's affiliate Kevo Senang Airways had settled with her and Miranda in a pair of multi-million-dollar payouts, with smaller settlements for the families of the victims. Miranda's lawyers had been utterly ruthless in tearing them apart and it had bankrupted the small airline. This gave Andy a certain grim satisfaction, given, due to its appalling safety record, no one else would ever have to go through what the passengers on Flight 2142 had.

Nigel was right. Andy was a very rich woman indeed now. But she'd have handed it all back in an instant if it would bring back 187 other passengers and crew.

As it was, Miranda had signed her own payout immediately over to the family of the dead air steward, Derrick, who'd died on the beach beside her on that first day. She had, as was her habit, said absolutely nothing about her reasons to Andy. Nothing about the time together on the beach at all.

Of course. Miranda, true to her word, still insisted on shielding Andy from her nightmares. Andy wondered if one day she could ever get her to open up about it.

Probably not.

Having lots of zeroes in her bank account did not change Andy's outlook on life. She still worked hard - just now as a freelancer, throwing herself into whatever feature article moved her. Initially she was getting published by magazines who wanted her for the name recognition value. "The shark hero" writing for them.

As time went on, and the quality of her writing shone, she began to get work for serious titles, in spite of who she was, not because of it. Miranda had told her she could not be prouder, which warmed Andy from the tips of her toes.

But, as Nigel pointed out so bluntly, she didn't actually have to work again if she didn't want to.

The main advantage of her wealth as she saw it was that she and Miranda could jointly put an offer in on the beach estate they'd looked at on the weekend. And the thought of having financial equality with her lover cheered Andy immensely.

She eyed Nigel as she sipped her fruity drink, her nose bumping into the ludicrous umbrella, and realised she hadn't answered him. "Still freelancing," she said as she put her glass down. "I'm thinking my next piece might be an exposé on the shocking treatment of assistants in the fashion magazine world. What do you think? Does it have legs?"

"Oh ha ha," Nigel snorted, "I'm just picturing Miranda's face when that one lands in Time or Vanity Fair. I think you'd be sleeping on the couch for a month." He snuck a knowing look at her.

"Nice try, Nigel," Andy retorted. Her sleeping arrangements had never been confirmed, however close to the mark Nigel usually hit on fishing expeditions during their nights out.

She sighed inwardly. It seemed ridiculous not being open to one of their dearest friends, especially when he pretty much knew everything anyway. But until Miranda finished whatever Machiavellian scheme she was cooking up at Runway, Andy guessed it was best to neither confirm nor deny anything. And, to his credit, Nigel seemed to understand and didn't mind. The unspoken agreement they had was she'd be upfront with him as soon as Miranda's deal went down.

She glanced at her watch. "Nige, I have to go. But if it helps with all your theories, Miranda told me tomorrow is D-Day. There'll be a press conference, the whole bit. So, I guess we'll both know what's happening then."

His face lit up with delight as he stood to give her a goodbye air kiss on each cheek. "OK, Six. I'll have you on speed dial if it's particularly salacious. And by the way, can I say you're looking especially well these days? The extra weight agrees with you."

"Don't let Emily hear you say that," Andy laughed. "She'd call you a traitor."

"Mmph," Nigel waved his hand. "You do actually carry off a size four beautifully. A few months back, though, you were looking too …"

"Shark foddery?" Andy offered with a grin.

"That too," Nigel said regretfully. "Look I'm just glad you bounced back. You had Miranda very worried there for a bit. Me too."

"But not Emily?" Andy teased.

"Please, she was green with envy. I'm half convinced she's this close to flinging herself out to sea on a raft for a month. The ultimate can't-fail diet."

Andy burst out laughing. "God, that woman, she needs more cheese in her life."

She gave Nigel a quick friendly hug and a wave and left.


The live televised press conference was a full-house in one of Runway's largest meeting rooms. Andy had decided to watch it with Doug who had been hankering to catch up more often since she'd returned to New York (and from the dead). They were at the bar around the corner from his work - he was on his lunch break - and they were glued to the wall TV.

Ordinarily Miranda Priestly making an announcement would be newsworthy anyway. But the fact the former castaway, back from the dead, was making her first press conference since being lost at sea, well, the media pack was almost panting with excitement.

"She looks so gorgeous in that Donna Karan," Doug sighed wistfully. "Don't you think?"

"Mmm mm," Andy concurred. "Blue in that shade always suited her. Matches her eyes."

He shot her a knowing look – a mirror of the one Nigel gave her yesterday, and she smirked at him. "Oh come on, I'm just saying. Look at her!"

He didn't disagree. They went back to watching as Miranda swept into the room, made her introductions, straightened her back, looked down the camera barrel and announced she was stepping down as Editor in Chief of Runway to spend more time with her family.

Her life priorities had shifted, she explained, and life was too short to waste.

Andy and Doug gasped in unison.

"Did you…" Doug began.

"I had no idea," Andy whispered. "I always thought they'd have to take her out still clinging to her desk."

And then came the next bombshell.

"Which is why," Miranda continued after the babble of the shocked and excited media in front of her died down, "I have agreed to take the position of CEO of Elias-Clarke and Chairman of the Board, taking over from Irv Ravitz, effective immediately. The enormously talented Nigel Kipling will be my replacement as Runway's new editor."

The gasps were almost comical.

"What happened to Irv!" came the first shout from a man in an ill-fitting suit and a five o'clock shadow.

"Mr Ravitz has decided to retire. If you check your inboxes the media e-release should be landing promptly."

"Holy…" Andy began.

"Shit," Doug concluded.

"She's boss of them all now," Andy said. "I see what she meant by the surprise would be worth it."

"You really didn't know? Even though you and she are…" He faded out. "Never mind. I don't wanna intrude Andy. But for what it's worth I think you're a great couple."

Before Andy could reply, another reporter was on his feet, asking a question with a smug expression. "Is it true Irv Ravitz wanted you gone when he found out you were screwing your assistant, Andy Sachs, who you are scandalously living with, I might add, so you took him down first? This was a pre-emptive strike?"

"Oh hell," Andy muttered.

"Oh fuck," Doug agreed. "He's about two seconds away from losing his balls."

Andy felt her heart leap into her throat.

Miranda's face had changed from placid to thunderous. She turned to stare at the journalist and gave him a glare that promised he and all his spawn would die a thousand painful deaths.

"That is not true," she said with a brittle, chipped tone. "And that was two questions. To answer your first, it's no secret Mr Ravitz and I have had our professional disagreements but I wish him and his wife Laura well personally in their new life together in retirement."

Her voice dropped to a lower chill.

"Your second question is about my, to quote, 'scandalously living with my assistant'. That is also not accurate."

Andy swallowed, her eyes wide. Doug peered at the screen in confusion. "She's going to deny it? But everyone knows! There's photos of you guys leaving the house together and stuff."

Andy stared at the screen. "Wait," she whispered. "There's always more."

"…I might be living with Andrea but there is no scandal involved. There is nothing shameful about living with the beautiful person I intend to spend the rest of my life with. The only scandal is that you and your colleagues seem to think there is one. That you want to make this into something shameful and tawdry. Don't be so ridiculous and crass. Get your puny, filthy minds out of the gutter.

"None of you know what we went through. I am not about to tell you – something you should thank me profoundly for because the nightmares would chill you to the bone. But I was changed. It made me reassess what truly matters and …" she glared at the man, "who and what does not. I do not have to explain myself to anyone but those I love. The only shame and scandal in this room comes from anyone who would debase themselves by asking such a disgraceful question. The shame is yours. Not mine. That's all."

She stalked off the stage, head held high, a deathly silence in her wake. The looks on the faces of the reporters made Andy's jaw drop. They all stared at the floor like guilty, whipped puppies. Miranda Priestly had actually somehow shamed a room full of journalists.

Andy and Doug locked eyes in amazement.

"Look at them," he whispered. "And that douchebag who asked the question is actually flushing. And getting dirty looks from the rest!"

"Serves him right."

Andy's cell phone leapt into life as texts and calls slammed it across the bar.

"Hell Andy," Doug whispered, still staring at the TV. "You are one lucky woman," he grinned, turning and beaming at her. "Did you see her face? Like she'd cut them all to the quick if they dared slur her woman. Who, and I quote, she wants to 'spend the rest of her life with'."

"Holy shit," Andy repeated slowly. "She did say that. To the whole world! Oh my God."

She glanced at her phone, her eyes widening. Twelve messages and counting – including her mother and Nigel.

"I guess Nigel was right," she said softly. "She was pretty sick of hiding."

Doug grinned at her. "Really happy for you, sweetie."

Andy grinned stupidly back at him. "Wow. Just wow."


MONTH SIX

Andy reached the ground floor in her ongoing search for Miranda, although she had a pretty good idea where to find her. Where once she might have looked for her in her home office, crouched over The Book, those days were long past. Ever since Miranda got her new job there had been a lot more time to take it easy. And pre-dawn or late-evening Book perusals were a thing of the past.

Andy had not been filled in entirely on the minutiae that had taken place to unseat Irv but she knew why it happened.

Miranda had been furious when Nigel told her one night over dinner that it had been within the man's means to launch a professional air search for them but he had chosen not to "for budgetary reasons".

Miranda had growled, through gritted teeth, that she would never EVER forgive the man for almost making her twins motherless, and for almost robbing Andy of her life.

Less than a fortnight later, Miranda Priestly had eased herself into the man's executive leather seat with a satisfied sigh and decreed it had all worked out the way it was meant to be.

Nigel had well and truly earned Miranda's old job, she said. Emily now had Nigel's art director job, and to Andy's considerable surprise, had taken to it like a fish to water. Apparently the only thing that had ever truly held her back was a paralyzing fear of disappointing the superiors she worshipped. Now that she was her own department boss, she was thriving.

Meanwhile, Miranda reigned supreme above them all. If she missed the cut and thrust of the day-to-day Runway operations she gave no sign of it, seemingly content to spend more time at home, with her girls, or sleeping in with Andy and staring out at their magnificent ocean view. She particularly loved taking walks on the beach with her family.

Some days Andy couldn't believe she lived where she did. It was a $20 million estate, for god's sake. Her mother's face had mirrored her own feelings when she'd finally ventured up for her first visit.

The day she'd shown her mother around her new home, Ellen had clutched her arm tightly, eyes wide at the heated swimming pool, tennis court, six bedrooms and stunning views and mumbled "Good lord'' over and over.

Yeah, Andy sure knew that feeling.

But when the tour had eventually wound past Andy's and Miranda's (clearly shared) bedroom, photos of the pair of them adorning the wall, her mother's eyes grew speculative and then something else flickered in their brown depths.

Her mother patted her hand. "I'm glad you decided to follow your heart, dear, and if it's with Miranda, so be it. I'm at peace with that now. Life's too short to do any less. And I do quite like my two new grandchildren."

Andy grinned at her occasionally conservative mother and shook her head. The world never ceased to amaze her.

Sometime later, much later, Miranda had revealed that during her visit, Ellen had cornered Runway's imposing new CEO somewhere between the swimming pool and tennis court. She'd taken Miranda's hands in hers and, eyes brimming with tears, had thanked her over and over for saving her daughter's life. There had been actual cheek cupping, sobbing, an entire meltdown, much to Miranda's acute discomfort and dismay.

Andy still smirked at the thought of Miranda caught in her effusive mother's avalanche of gratitude.

Well, she deserved it. She was a hero after all. A small fact she'd gone to great pains to point out to Miranda's daughters who oohed and ahhed with wide eyes every time Andy mentioned it.

Miranda would always merely roll her eyes and suggest her "easily impressed girls" do "something productive with their time instead of indulging in tall tales". Which made Andy beam with delight, because Miranda had referred to all three of them as 'her girls'.

The fondness she felt when she thought about how great life was burned in her chest every day.


Andy found Miranda exactly where she expected to. In the front room, stretched out on the couch, curtains pulled wide open to take in the glorious panorama that was a sunrise in this impressive house. The front room, with its glass triple french doors, caught all the light and would fill up brightly each morning.

Andy leaned against the door of the lounge and watched Miranda curled up on the couch watching the dawn light filling the room with color. Miranda did so love her colors.

"I know you're there," Miranda said softly. "Come join me?"

Andy smiled. She crawled onto the couch and let herself be wrapped into the older woman's arms.

"It's going to be a beautiful one today," Miranda whispered. "Rustic pinks I suspect. Yesterday's was more burnt ochre."

"Mmm," Andy murmured against the silk pajama top and buried her head there. "Sounds great."

She felt the low chuckle reverberate through Miranda's chest. "You're not even looking at nature's beauty."

Andy lifted her head slightly off her lover's chest and peered at the firm swells beneath her nose. "I beg to differ."

She felt a warm hand stroke her hair. "Ah, my mistake."

Andy grinned and dropped her head back against the pale skin in the vee of the silk. She felt her eyes droop.

"You're missing it," Miranda said, still softly petting her hair.

"On the contrary," Andy mumbled. "I'm making the most of absolutely everything that truly matters." Her grip tightened around Miranda and she nuzzled her chest.

She felt the tender kiss against her temple which dusted down to her lips. She smiled happily as sleep overtook her.

God it was good to be alive.

THE END