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Breaking All the Rules

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"Andrea." floated softly into the outer office and Andy couldn't help but smile at Miranda's use of her name. It was a sign of how much things had changed, that Andy had finally earned Miranda's respect. Well, maybe not respect but it's progress. She quickly grabbed a pad and pen and walked into the alleged dragon's den.

"After you deliver The Book, I need you to stay with the twins tonight at the townhouse. Cara has some ridiculous emergency and as you know, the fundraiser is tonight and I cannot miss it so you will stay until I return. Even though it's Friday, the girls will be in bed at their usual bedtime. I will not stay long so it should not be too late for you to do whatever it is you do on Friday night. Instead of going to their Father's, they requested you spend the evening with them. Do not disappoint them."

"Yes, Miranda." Andy replied automatically, surprised by the explanation and apparent concern for the imposition. Not enough concern to not impose - Andy thought wryly - but enough to acknowledge it. Weird. Progress?

-----

Andy entered the townhouse with her key and placed the book on its correct table and the dry cleaning in its correct closet. The initial lack of concision in Emily's instructions and resulting chaos would always bring a droll smirk to Andy's face since she came out on top of that particular disaster and the Harry Potter Incident, as she now fondly refers to it, had earned her favor with the two redheaded preteens that had invaded her heart and were currently catapulting themselves into her arms. "ANDY!" in surround sound and the hugs that nearly knocked her off her feet warmed Andy's heart. 

Wasting no time, they led her upstairs to their entertainment room as they gushed about the new ultra 4k documentary they had seen in school and how much more amazing it looked on their giant screen. They left no room for argument, much like their Mother, as they cued it up and a bowl of popcorn was shoved into Andy's hands before she was surrounded by a soft blanket and two "terrors" cuddling into each of her sides. Andy smiled to herself as Cassidy pressed play. Not the worst way to spend a Friday night.

----- 

Miranda entered the townhouse beyond ready for her day to be over. It had been a disaster, filled with unnecessary meetings and people wasting her time and her evening wasn't any better. The fundraiser was a wild success, naturally, but she hated the schmoozing and fake niceties that came with her position. It was draining and she wanted nothing more than to check in on her sleeping girls and go straight to bed. Alas, she still had to send Andrea home and knew the book was waiting for her with its hours of revisions and overwhelming evidence of the incompetence of her staff. She sighed heavily as she kicked off her 6" heels and started up the stairs.

"Andy! We're never going to finish this if we have to keep stopping it!" Caroline whined, making Miranda pause in her journey upstairs. They should have been in bed an hour ago. 

"You’re the one that forced me to watch these documentaries with you, so now you get to deal with my questions." Andy replied.

Miranda, who had managed to enter the room completely unnoticed by the three lumps spread haphazardly on the couch, took in the scene before her. For a fleeting moment Miranda couldn't help but think that Andrea looked like she belonged there, sandwiched comfortably between the two people most precious to her. Upon further study and thanks to the image of penguins in a vast white landscape on the screen illuminating the faces of the three girls, she discovered two matching faces of annoyance and one, slightly elevated and for some reason unknown to Miranda, showed evidence of fresh tear tracks.

"Questions, we can deal with but the tears? Really, Andy, don't you think you're too old to be crying like a baby?" Cassidy asked incredulously.

"What is the meaning of this?" Miranda asked. 

Andy started at the sudden intrusion and the low volume of it that meant Miranda was not pleased. She sat straight up as her eyes instantly darted to Miranda. Unfortunately, she lost her ability to reply or think or breathe, for that matter, upon seeing Miranda in her navy gown, looking flawless and ethereal as usual.

The twins rushed to Miranda and started trying to explain, talking over one another quickly in their attempt to avoid getting into trouble.

"Bedtime, Bobbseys." Miranda stated, holding up a hand to stop their chattering. Nobody was explaining why Andrea had been crying and that was unacceptable.

"But Mom! We still have 20 minutes left! It's not our fault we kept having to pause it!" Caroline started arguing.

"Yeah, Andy kept asking questions and cried about the penguins forever." Cassidy added before sighing dramatically.

"You can finish it tomorrow. Bedtime." Miranda repeated without looking at either of them, too focused on Andrea looking somewhat distraught, wide-eyed and trying to process something, paying no attention whatsoever to her surroundings. "I'll be up to tuck you in momentarily." She kissed each of them on the head before they stomped off to their bedrooms. She wanted to waste no more time in getting to the bottom of what had upset Andrea so deeply.

Miranda sat next to Andy, who had curled into the arm of the couch in the absence of the twins. Their recounting of the evening had distracted Andrea from her gaping and triggered her reaction to the plight of the penguins all over again. Miranda's movement pulled her companion from her internal spiral of sadness to look up with distress evident on her face. "The penguins! Some of them died on the way to get food for the babies. Does that mean the baby penguins don't get to eat? What if its other parent has already been killed? What happens to orphan baby penguins? Do other penguins know to adopt them? Are the babies just left there waiting for their parent to return? Those cliffs! They have to climb them every single day. They were so high and the waves - and the lizards! They were just born and had to run for their lives from the snakes. The snakes were everywhere - there were so many of them. The baby lizards didn't even have a chance!"

During her diatribe, her tears had begun anew and she was too caught up in the tragedy of it all to realize Miranda's arms had encircled her and she was gently being rocked, surrounded by warmth and comfort, soft words being spoken directly into her ear. The shock of just how warm and comfortable her formidable boss truly was startled her and caused her to sit straight up. Feeling the loss immediately, she locked confused eyes with Miranda, searching for some clue as to why Miranda had offered this incredible gesture of comfort to her, the assistant with a list of rules a mile long, one of which "you never touch Miranda". Is she going to fire me? I can't get fired if Miranda was the one who broke it, right? The cardinal rule was "you never ask Miranda anything" and Andy was struggling impossibly with it under these circumstances.

"Your empathy knows no bounds, does it?" Miranda inquired, her voice barely audible, as she reached up to brush away Andy's tears.

Several moments passed without either of them speaking, Andy used the time to compose herself as Miranda watched her silently, no longer holding her but sitting close enough that their legs were still touching. 

"Miranda, I'm so embar-" Andy started but was quickly cut off by a finger on her lips effectively shocking her back into silence.

"I'm going to go tuck the girls in and then you and I are going to talk." Miranda said before getting up, leaving no room for argument.

Andy sat, waiting for the inevitable lecture, or her death if the rumors were to be believed, or worse, she would be fired. She tried to finish composing herself while simultaneously trying to figure out why Miranda was being so kind and acting so differently than the icy office persona she was used to, almost like she cared. An astonished "No way." softly escaped her lips before she could edit herself. 

"...and please avoid showing Andrea any wildlife documentaries in the future. Good night, darling." she heard before Cassidy's bedroom door was gently closed.

"I apologize for my Bobbseys' choice of entertainment tonight, Andrea, though none of us could have predicted your strong reaction to it." Miranda teased gently. Andy was too stunned by the apology to reply so Miranda continued. "Apparently, you and I have much to discuss. Will you stay?"

"Miranda, I-"

"Please."

"Yes, Miranda."