Actions

Work Header

Happenstance

Chapter Text

There's something to be said for happenstances. Was it not Penelope Lively who once wrote, "We make choices but are constantly foiled by happenstance?" They're chance events, unplanned cirmustances, caused by decisions you make innocently, not knowing where they'll take you.

You make choices. You board an early flight in Paris. You walk into an office building late at night. You lend a helping hand to someone in need. The choices you make are your intentions, but it's happenstance that ultimately shapes your life.

Therefore, I, Andrea Sachs, Midwest native, former Runway employee and current newspaper reporter, hereby solemnly declare that I did not plan to stay that night in the Runway offices, that I did not mean to lie to my friends, and that I had no intention whatsoever of falling in love with Miranda Priestly.

~*~

The terminal at JFK Airport was packed with people that late afternoon: travelers saying their last goodbyes, family members waiting to be reunited with their loved ones, business people rushing to make their flight.

A little girl in a yellow dress with purple flowers stood at her mother's feet by the waiting line, holding a red balloon; a few feet from her stood a family of three, all wearing identical, white shirts, each printed with a different word that, combined together, compiled the sentence Welcome Home David. On a nearby metal chair sat a man in a black suit, calmly sipping from a Starbucks cup while reading from a newspaper draped over his crossed legs; in a book store behind him, a middle-aged, blonde woman was arguing with the cashier over the price of a map of Egypt. Among various chauffers in uniforms and hats, holding paper or plaque signs for the people arriving from baggage claim, stood a woman in her twenties and held a plain piece of paper on which she'd scribbled in a sharpie the name SACHS.

She watched intently as each person emerged onto the floor: a ragged woman pushing a loaded luggage cart and aiming a tired smile at someone in the crowd; a teenage girl in a beanie and what appeared to be pajamas; a little kid running excitedly into the arms of his waiting father and being swooped up in a hug while his mother lagged behind with the bags; and there in the distance, alternating between controlling two overpacked trolley suitcases and steadying a Birkin bag on her shoulder, barely supported by five-inch stiletto heels, the girl's friend came into view, her face breaking into a grin when their eyes found each other. Getting closer, she finally noticed the sign in her friend's hands and cracked up, coming to a stop before her, her laughter drowned out by the immense noise of people in the space around them.

"Sorry. Town car's in the shop," Lily sassed, lowering the paper.

"You're such a pain," Andy retorted even as she offered her friend a fond smile.

"And you'd be lost without me," joked Lily with her usual flair for melodrama.

"True," replied Andy, finally giving her friend a long overdue hug. It felt good to be reunited, to be forgiven.

As they started walking toward the exit doors, Lily's face got serious, almost trepidatious. She glanced sideways at Andy and asked, "Does this mean I have to give my purse back?" As Andy erupted in giggles again, she hugged her blue Marc Jacobs bag close.

*

Unlocking her apartment door, Andy swung it open, dragged her suitcases inside, and faltered in the doorway.

The place was unsurprisingly dark and empty, the windows shut against the cool weather outside, silence enveloping the apartment in its arms.

Nate was gone. He'd already left before she went to Paris, and in the time she was gone, he must have returned to collect his belongings because, as Andy turned on the light, she noted a few missing key pieces around the apartment.

"It's gonna be okay, Andy," Lily said sympathetically from behind her, reminding her to move further into the room so she could enter as well.

When the door closed behind her friend, she sighed and let her bag fall off her shoulder and onto the floor, careless of its value; she hadn't spent a dime on it, same as every other freebie she'd gotten at Runway. It now felt like bribery, slowly turning her into a person she hadn't wanted to become. What was it they said about frogs? If you threw one into scalding water, it'd jump right out, but if you put it in lukewarm water and gradually turned up the heat, it'd get used to the temperature.

Andy had gotten used to the temperature, all right. And enjoyed it, too; basked in it even. She'd learned to love the luxurious world of fancy clothes and glamorous jewelry, of makeup and hair products--things she'd deemed shallow and superficial in the past. She'd turned into the person she used to make fun of.

And the thing was she still was that person. The thing was she didn't view it as a bad thing anymore, not after witnessing everything that lay demurely under the surface, waiting to be discovered by her: the pure art that resided within fashion, the contribution of Runway to both the fashion and publishing industries; the impact the magazine had on people that dreamed to be better, greater, and how it gave them the certainty that they could.

Her job hadn't been all bad. Not until she'd witnessed the sides of it that weren't good: the conning and backstabbing and the desire to reach the top regardless of how many bodies one had to step on in Prada heels to get there.

That was the person, at the end of the day, she couldn't let herself become. Not the person who wore labels and styled her hair, but the one who disregarded every one of the ideals and morals bestowed upon her growing up and hurt anyone and everyone in order to get what she wanted. There had to be another way; there always was.

"I really messed things up, didn't I?" She looked to Lily in despair, desperate for a word of comfort or advice.

Lily offered neither. "Yeah," she said nonchalantly and shrugged. When Andy glared, she smiled. "But you'll make it better."

"How?" she huffed, looking around her apartment. "Nate left. I lost my job. I don't even know how I'm going to pay this month's rent."

"You're a smart girl, Andy." Lily placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed firmly. "You'll figure it out."

There was very little behind that statement and Andy rolled her eyes, but before she could rebuke her, Lily had already turned her enthusiastic attention to her bulging bags. "Now let's see what you brought from Paris, shall we?"

*

It took a few days of sulking and worrying and sulking some more at home before Andy decided to reclaim her life.

Nate had left. She had quit Runway. It was time to start over. But how to go about it?

Her still packed suitcases landed on her bed with a thud, one after the other, making the mattress jiggle and squeak for several moments. Unzipping and throwing each one open, she set to work, extracting every piece of free couture and carefully laying it on the bed, mindful of wrinkles and tears.

When all clothing garments were safely ensconced in respective garment bags from Runway's Closet, she put on a pair of sweatpants, a worn-out T-shirt, and her Northwestern hoodie and left her apartment for the newsstand outside her building, where she rubbed her hands together in the ever growing chill of the New York fall while the cashier counted her change.

Back inside her warm apartment, she pulled a kitchen chair back, opened her newly acquired newspaper on the table, and sat down to repractice the task of looking through "wanted" ads.

Two days later, she had an interview at The New York Mirror, a shabby, little paper without a very large circulation, but a start nonetheless. She considered herself incredibly lucky for landing a job that would aid her in her future pursuit of a journalistic career so soon after her unsuccessful tenure at Runway and thanks to and despite Miranda Priestly's strange letter of recommendation.

Stepping out of the building she would now visit almost daily, she felt better: about her choices, about her future. Things were looking up and perhaps now, despite all the unfortunate mishaps that had preceeded and led her to that moment, she could start over, be better. Lily might have been right after all.

*

And then that night, her confidence bagn to wane as she stood on the sidewalk, gazing up at the Elias-Clarke skyscraper, counting one, two, three, nineteen floors. She couldn't see anything from down here, obviously, the shiny windows betraying no light or people inside, but she knew that at 9 P.M. the Runway offices were still very much operating.

Miranda would no longer be there, though, and that was the most important thing because Andy couldn't imagine anything more terrifying than facing the imperious boss she'd abandoned so unceremoniously in the middle of the most important week of her professional year.

If she was lucky, Miranda already had a new second assistant trusted enough to deliver the Book, who wouldn't think twice about Andy coming to collect her belongings from her old desk. In the worst case scenario, Emily was still filling both first and second assistant positions and would likely shower her with a litany of British insults in order to relieve the frustration of being stuck in the office late at night. Beginning to make her way toward the building's revolving doors, Andy hoped the pile of Paris couture she'd sent over with Roy had pacified Emily.

She was relieved to find her security pass was still valid and, standing in an empty elevator and watching the overhead numbers go up, she bit her lip, wrung her hands, and prayed for a quick and unnoticed nip and dash.

When the elevator stilled and opened on the nineteenth floor, the smell of Runway immediately wafted into her nose. It was a curious thing: she'd never noticed that the office had a distinct smell when she spent nearly every day in it, but now after nearly two weeks away, she noted hints of perfume and clothing preservatives and something sweet she couldn't quite place. It was like walking into a person's home for the first time, noticing things the house's occupants weren't aware of, and Andy realized she was now suddenly a stranger in the building.

As she made her way through the mostly empty and dark corridors, her heels clacked loudly against the floor, echoing off the walls, making her feel self-conscious in the large space. Nip and dash, she reminded herself. Sneak into the office, deal with whichever assistant was present in the most polite way, get your things, and leave forever.

Except as she rounded the corner and neared the glass door of Miranda's outer office, she couldn't see any assistant inside--both desks were unoccupied, shrouded in darkness. But the place wasn't completely dark: a dim light was coming from the inner office, Miranda's, and before she could think better of it, Andy was already through the door, wide eyes staring at a white head bent over a glass desk.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

What to do? What to do? Miranda hadn't noticed her yet; she could try to make her escape if she was extra careful to be quiet. Yet she felt stuck to the floor, her legs paralyzed, her chest tight with dread. What to do? What to do?

She was going to face this like an adult, she decided. After all, that was her new pledge to herself: to start over, to be a better self. She wasn't going to be timid anymore; she had no reason to be afraid, not now that she was no longer under the threat of being fired. She squared her shoulders, stuck out her chin, and took a few further steps into the room.

At the sound of heels, Miranda's head lifted, and at the sight of Andy, there was just one unguarded moment of shock before she schooled her features into the usual, deadly gaze, removing her glasses and leaning back in her chair.

"I..." Andy began and cleared her throat. Her voice, with just that one syllable, rang through the deathly silence of the office and despite herself, her palms were getting clammy. "Sorry. I came to get my things from my desk. I'll, uh... I'll just get them and be out of your--"

"They're in a box," Miranda interrupted as she turned toward the desk in question, her voice soft but lethal. "In the corner."

Indeed, when Andy looked behind her, a simple cardboard box sat lamely on the floor, filled with her scarce belongings. Clearly, someone had already been tasked with erasing her memory from the office.

Nodding, she licked her suddenly dry lips and said, "Okay," before turning around and heading toward the box. It hardly weighed anything in her arms--just a small collection of items that, as far as she knew, might have been swept off the desk with the back of an arm--and she thought of how befitting the mental image felt: she'd had no impact, no long-lasting effect on Runway; it had operated before her and it would continue to do well in her absence, her term as a lowly assistant easily forgotten, like a grain of sand blown away in the desert.

With the last remnants of her time in the fashion headquarters in her hands, she turned to leave, but then stopped in her tracks, almost involuntarily, feeling Miranda's penetrating gaze burn a hole in her back.

New start, better self.

Turning around, she drew in a deep breath and said, "I'm sorry."

Miranda's response, or lack thereof, betrayed nothing, her thoughts and emotions expertly masked by a blank expression. Her head tilted ever so slightly to the side, bright eyes studying Andy intently, and even though she could feel her heart in her throat, beat accelerated with nervous energy, she pushed forward.

"I've had some time to think and I realize the way I left was unprofessional. I had my reasons and I do think it was time for me to go, but I should have at least given my two weeks. So... I'm sorry. And also thank you," she added as an afterthought and clarified, "for the recommendation. I got the job, by the way."

Her half-smile did nothing to change Miranda's reaction, or non-reaction, and she quickly wiped it off her face, conceding that hearing about her new job after she'd so carelessly quit her employ under Miranda would not be on the list of things that made her former boss happy. She wondered if anything did.

Miranda didn't dignify her apology with a response--predictable. She silently scrutinized Andy for several seconds more before returning her glasses to her face in a fluid motion and lowering her head back down to inspect what Andy could now see were sketches of clothing articles, presumably from Paris.

It felt ironically like her first day at Runway, during her job interview--a type of closure, she thought: her blabbering while Miranda ignored her. Only this time when she left, she wouldn't be called back.

It then occured to her, however, as she turned back toward the door, that it was past 9 at night. And Miranda was in the office. And both assistants were gone. And Miranda's husband had just asked for a divorce. And damn Andy's decision to be a better person--she felt compelled to ask, "Are you okay?"

Miranda looked up again, surprised again, and despite the daggers her eyes were shooting, Andy continued, "It's just... you're not normally in the office this late."

She thought she saw Miranda's eyes roll before they returned to the sketches. Cooly, she replied, "There's a lot more work to be done after Paris." Icily, she added, "As you would have found out if you'd stayed."

Yeah, okay, maybe Andy was still a little scared. Maybe it was the late hour and unusual emptiness of the halls that made the encounter eerie, but it suddenly felt very plausible that she might be murdered tonight.

Still, it was incredibly nice of Miranda, who explained nothing, to deign to give her an answer. And incredibly stupid of her to, in a moment of what she would later be able to classify only as pure, momentary insanity, put down her box and ask, "Can I help somehow?"

This time, when Miranda raised her head and yanked off her glasses, there was no attempt made at concealing the irritability in her countenance or her tone. "Excuse me?"

"I mean..." Andy fidgeted with her fingers and bravely took a few steps toward the office's entrance. "Technically, if I were to give a two weeks' notice, I'd still be your assistant. And there's no one else here. I thought you might need some help."

"Are you crazy?" Miranda asked bluntly, then dismissed the notion before Andy could reply that yes, she might be. "I thought you got a new, exciting job. At that... paper no one's heard of?"

Against her better judgement, Andy chuckled. Then shrugged. "I'm not working now."

In a weird combination of disdain and bafflement, Miranda's narrowed eyes perused her again, making her feel naked despite the Chanel dress she'd made sure to wear in the case someone did indeed spot her. She was so grateful now that she hadn't gone with a plain pair of jeans.

When Miranda went back to her work, which was no longer Andy's business, she got the message loud and clear and felt only slightly disappointed that she hadn't been able to redeem herself in her ex-boss' eyes. Lifting the box from the floor, she turned on her heel and headed toward the exit. Tomorrow would be her first day at her new job, and this time she intended to start the experience on the right foot. It would do her well to turn in early, get a good night's sleep.

"There are e-mails that need answering to," Miranda's voice followed her, halting her step. Looking back at her, mouth agape in surprise, she hadn't moved away from the pages before her, and if Andy hadn't heard her, she wouldn't have guessed she'd said anything at all. But she had, and Andy knew better than to make her repeat herself.

Grinning, she put the box aside and, in sure steps, approached her desk. It felt so familiar to sit in her chair, turn on the computer, arrange her station the way she was used to, just like reflexes, as if nothing had changed. Just another regular day at work.

She knew exactly how to access the e-mails and what words to use to address the recepients. Some of them she already knew in person, had developed a regular, virtual exchange with, and it felt completely natural to do her job that, for a while, she forgot that it wasn't her job anymore.

Miranda, for her part, remained silently secluded in her office, not inquiring about Andy's progress nor demanding anything further.

Shortly before 11 o'clock, when Andy had long finished responding to e-mails but was too anxious to speak to Miranda again or, alternatively, leave, and by which time Miranda had turned on her own laptop and was ticking away on the keyboard, the sound carrying through the hollow halls, Bryan from the art department showed up with the Book and did not try to hide his surprise at seeing Andy, who'd been absent for several nights following the crew's return from Paris.

"Thanks, I'll give it to her," she told him with a sweet smile, stepping around her desk with an outstretched arm.

All too eager to be rid of his last task and go home, he all but dumped the item in her hand before departing the office in quick strides. Andy, in turn, tentatively stepped into Miranda's inner sanctum and wordlessly set the Book on the desk, inches from where Miranda was working on her laptop, the white light glaring brightly on her face in the otherwise dark office.

After receiving no acknowledgement that Miranda had even noticed her, she turned and went back to her desk, sitting behind it and gripping the wooden edge until Miranda decided to address her again--until she herself could decide what to do next. Should she leave? Should she stay? Maybe she really was crazy.

Minutes later, Miranda's laptop was flipped shut, her desk lamp switched off, casting the room in darkness, and when she stalked out of the office with her head held high and the Book under her arm, she didn't spare a word or a glance at Andy. Moreover, Andy watched in astonishment as she collected her coat and purse on her own and pushed through the glass door, leaving her to gape behind.

She listened for the decreasing sound of heels, and when she heard the ding of the elevator in the distance, signaling Miranda's departure, she finally turned off her computer, returned the keyboard and mouse to their intended drawer, swivled in her chair, and sighed. Grabbing her box and bag, she made her way in the direction Miranda had just gone.

The day had started unusual; it ended completely surreal.

Chapter Text

When Andy woke up in an empty bed the next morning, she thought she must have dreamed the previous night's events. It wasn't until she was on the subway, heading to her new job on the exact same route she'd taken, up until recently, to her old one, that the full absurdity of her actions caught up with her.

What had she been thinking, striding into Runway after boarding a plane home in the middle of Paris Fashion Week and offering to help Miranda with work? Surrounded by half of New York in the subway car, her cheeks burned in mortification and she vowed to put the matter out of her mind.

Today was a new day--a good day. She had a new job, she was about to start doing what she loved, what she'd come to New York to do in the first place, and she felt unstoppable.

When she arrived at the New York Mirror offices, however, she felt lost. Phones were ringing off the hook, the incessant noise of typing and talking filled the bullpen, and among the mess and hustle and bustle around her, Andy felt like the new kid at school, waiting to be noticed and accepted.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Greg Hill, the paper's editor-in-chief who'd interviewed her the previous day. Wearing a striped shirt that was definitely way past last season and had a prominent coffee stain below the breast pocket, he was holding a pen and animatedly waving it in the air while deep in conversation with another man with curly hair and round glasses.

"Um, hi, Mr. Hill?" Andy tentatively interrupted, lightly touching his upper arm.

"Yes?" He immediately turned at the sound, though he didn't appear to recognize her. "Can I help you?"

"Uh, I'm Andy Sachs?" she reminded him with an awkward smile. "From the job interview yesterday. You hired--"

"Oh, yes, yes, Andy. How you doin'?" he said distractedly while waving someone over behind her back. "Leslie!"

"Well, I was wondering--"

"Yeah, it's great to have you here. Here, go with Leslie." He directed her toward an older woman who was approaching them with a gentle smile and a small stack of papers. "She'll take you to your desk and tell you everything you need to know."

"Oh. Ok--"

"Welcome aboard," he finished and promptly turned back to his conversation partner while Leslie stopped by her side, touching her shoulder to get her attention.

"How are you, dear?" she asked, not waiting for a response. "Don't worry, in a few days you'll get used to the fast pace."

"Oh," Andy chuckled breathlessly, "I have plenty of experience with fast pace."

Giving her an indulgent smile, Leslie turned and ordered, "Come with me now." And Andy, head already swimming with the chaos around her, had no choice but to follow as the woman led her to the back of the bullpen, where two desks were joined together, back to back. One was occupied by a blonde woman with narrow, rectangular glasses and a braid. She seemed to be in her thirties and was chewing on her lip in concentration as her fingers flew across the computer's keyboard at a supernatural speed. The adjoining desk, albeit covered in office supplies, papers, and old issues of The Mirror and other publications, seeming to be the office's junk pile, was unmanned and that was the one Leslie gestured at.

"This is your desk, honey. And here," she added, placing the pages she was holding on top of the full inbox. "Fill these HR forms and get them back to me today if you can."

"O-okay," Andy replied, trying to get over the overwhelming feeling washing over her, and sat down in a chair that had seen better days, letting her carryall bag drop to the floor. When she looked up, Leslie was already walking away. "Wait! What... what else am I supposed to do? I mean, work-wise?"

Turning around, Leslie gave her a blank look. "Someone will let you know when they need you." With that, she left, leaving a clueless Andy behind.

"Don't worry," she heard from other side of the desks and turned to see the blonde's eyes still glued to her computer screen, but a smirk playing on her thin lips. "It'll get less scary when you realize everybody here's an idiot."

"Oh," Andy breathed out, forcing a laugh. "Good to know, I guess."

"I'm Rebecca," she introduced herself to the screen.

"Andy." Andy smiled.

"Welcome to The Mirror, Andy," she said and bared her teeth in an unpleasant smile. "See how long you can last."

Andy's smile faltered.

*

Her first day at work ended up being less than exciting. Granted, she hadn't expected to write lengthy pieces about the plights of the working man or bring down the government right at the beginning, but she also hadn't expected to spend the majority of the day fidgeting in her seat, looking around helplessly, and hurrying back from her lunch break in case she was suddenly needed only to realize no one cared.

She was needed eventually, or perhaps taken pity on, or maybe just taken advantage of as the new girl to check the obituaries for spelling mistakes, which was obviously too degrading a task for even the junior editors of the paper.

All of this was most baffling to Andy since just the day before Greg had informed her that her writing was excellent and "just what we do here."

She couldn't help but remember her contrasting first day at Runway, where she hadn't even gotten to eat her lunch. That day had been gruelling, and humiliating, and most of the time "being needed" had just meant standing to the side and taking notes no one would look at later, but at least she'd kept busy, at least she hadn't spent the day sitting behind her desk and staring at a wall. Or at Emily.

Before she knew it, it was 9 P.M. and despite her vow to put it out of her mind, she found herself outside Elias-Clarke again.

What was she doing? she thought to herself as the elevator carried her through the floors. She really had to have lost her mind. Miranda might not even be there--most likely wasn't. She had kids to go home to after all, especially now when there wasn't another grown-up to watch them. Andy then wondered if Stephen had already left the townhouse--it seemed plausible, considering the time that had lapsed since Andy stumbled upon a tearful Miranda in her hotel suite--or if, perhaps, Miranda had convinced him to rethink the divorce, if only to spare her children the disappointment. Then she realized she was thinking about Miranda Priestly's personal life and immediately stopped thinking altogether.

And if Miranda was in her office, her brain persisted, then what? What did Andy even want? Why was she there? And would tonight be the night Miranda's resolve finally snapped and she'd throw her out?

All of her wondering and worrying and misgivings came to a head when she stepped through the glass door of the assistants' area and there was Miranda, sitting behind her desk, pen scribbling across a paper. Silence enveloped her, as though she was in a separate universe that Andy was about to enter, and as she licked the tip of her finger and flipped to the next page, Andy cleared her throat, then stood still, ramrod-straight like a soldier awaiting their command. Miranda looked up and this time she didn't seem surprised or confused. Had she expected Andy, known she'd come again before Andy herself did?

There were no words exchanged between them this time--Andy only offered a small smile and a half-nod--and then, as if nothing made more sense, she went to her desk, sat down, and turned the computer on. The e-mail inbox had enough messages to keep her busy for at least forty-five minutes, maybe more if she took her time about it, and now she understood what Miranda had meant about there being a lot more work following Paris: it seemed suddenly everybody had to reach her at all times, people and companies Andy had never even heard from before, and she was intrigued to see what the issue dedicated to Fashion Week would look like when all was said and done.

They worked in companionable silence--or, well, silence. If Andy hadn't known better, she would have thought she was there alone, and Miranda might have felt the same way because, just like the night before, she provided no acknowledgement to the fact that she was sharing the space with another person.

Like the night before, when the Book had arrived and she'd deemed her work complete for the night, she turned off the light in her office, fetched her belongings, and left without a word. And like the night before, Andy waited to hear the sound of the elevator taking her down to follow in her steps.

*

The next morning, Andy approached Greg's desk. (The New York Mirror could barely afford new computers, much less separate offices.) "Hey, Mr. Hill?"

"Andy," he greeted her pleasantly, waving her over to the chair she'd sat in during her interview, and thankfully, today he seemed to have an idea who she was. "Please, call me Greg. How are you doing so far?"

"Good. Great." A white lie had never hurt anybody. "Actually, I was wondering if there was anything specific you wanted me to do? Something to write?"

"Ah." He leaned back in thought, clicking a few times on his pen. Then he put it down, leaned forward, and rummaged through the immense stacks of paper on his desk, scratching his temple. "I already have everything covered at the moment, uh... Actually, you know what? Can you give me five-hundred words on the unemployment rate dropping to 4.4 percent?"

Well, that sounded incredibly boring, but, "Sure," Andy responded with a bright smile, glad to at least have something to do, and stood up. "Guess we have you to thank for that statistic." It also never hurt to suck up to the boss.

*

That night, walking through the Runway halls was like instinct, a habit, and perhaps some coping mechanism was preventing her from thinking too hard--or at all--about why she was there. There were a lot of coping mechanisms to switch on when it came to Runway.

Tonight, Miranda didn't even look up when Andy arrived, although it was very unlikely she didn't hear the rhythmic clicking of her Louboutins. She'd put a lot of effort into her attire, the shoes complemented by a fitted dress and a white coat whose various, silver buttons and buckles rattled with every move she made--a polar opposite of the jeans and sweater she'd worn throughout the day at work, almost like shapeshifting, switching to a different persona once she let herself within the Runway walls. And wasn't that what Runway was all about? Wasn't that why she was doing it?

Oh, she still liked fashion and pretty clothes, all right, and even to work she wore the occasional label and heels and spent an hour in the morning straightening or curling her hair. It was equally satisfying, however, to feel like herself in her clothes as it was to feel beautiful inside an institute that breathed style... even if at the moment, besides her and Miranda, Runway was practically devoid of human life.

She didn't clear her throat and she didn't smile or ask Miranda what she wanted--needed--her to do; by now it came as naturally as signing her name or burning the roof of her mouth on a slice of pizza and she promptly deposited her purse and coat in the closet and sat down to answer e-mails.

It was Friday night and Andy tried not to think, as she wrote back to Jay Maisel's assistant, about how Lily and Doug had wanted to celebrate her new employment with drinks and how she'd politely declined the offer, knowing it would clash with a night of doing her not-job while being entirely ignored by her former boss. She tried not to think about how that possibly made her a doormat, or a cleaning rag, and how she strangely didn't feel like one.

She felt that she was helping, even with the minor, seemingly insignificant task of replying to e-mails. She felt that she was doing something good, making up for her bad actions, and that even if Miranda wasn't saying anything, she would have long kicked her out if she'd wanted to.

That was it, she realized. Miranda didn't mind her being there. Miranda might even want her there, was grateful for the help. Perhaps she'd been forgiven.

"Get me coffee," she suddenly heard from the inner office in a voice that, despite its low quality, filled the silence with its rarity.

Before she could think about it, Andy was already out of her chair, a Pavlovian reaction she hadn't even realized she had. She chuckled to herself, shaking her head, and tried not to sound too cheery when she responded, "No problem."

But Miranda had talked to her, was finally asking for something she wanted, even if it had been uttered as the usual, entitled order, and that made her pretty happy. It was the little, simple things in life, she mused to herself. At least she now knew that her presence there was actually helpful, and that she was getting a little more variety than staring at a bright screen in the darkness.

Thankful that Starbucks was still open, she grabbed her belongings and went out into the cold night air, her cheeks immediately reddening and her breath leaving her lips in steamy puffs.

On her way through a route she already knew by heart, she repeatedly recited the familiar order in her head: No-foam, skimmed latte with an extra shot--searing hot. It wasn't until she was inside the heated café, standing behind a bunch of giggly high schoolers that couldn't make up their minds, that she realized she no longer had the company's credit card. She would have to pay for Miranda's coffee with her own money.

Knowing she would hand Miranda something that she'd bought and paid for, that wasn't one of the many cups she drank a day, simply sending a minion to do her bidding for her, but a... a present from Andy, gave Andy a weird sense of something she couldn't quite name... pride? Accomplishment? Personal fulfillment? In that spirit, once the teenage girls had finally decided on an order and cleared the way, she also paid for a biscotti.

"Here you go," she said with the ever helpful smile while depositing both items on Miranda's desk.

Miranda lifted her gaze from the glossies in front of her, cocked her head to the side, and pursed her lips. "I don't recall asking for anything other than a coffee," she intoned in a deadly voice that still gave Andy chills. She didn't recall her asking for anything, period.

"I know," she answered deceptively casually and provided no further explanation. There was hardly a need to and Miranda was smart enough to figure out something as simple as a gift on her own. Instead, she provided, "It's vanilla and almonds," and vanished back to her desk before Miranda could retort.

Not five minutes later, wonder of wonders, Andy heard the crinkling of a plastic wrapper from inside Miranda's office.

That wasn't her last surprise for the night, however. After Bryan had left the Book in her hands and she'd, in turn, placed it on Miranda's desk, she returned to her desk and switched the computer off, awaiting Miranda's wordless dismissal. Instead, she heard, "Get my things."

Scrambling to the closet, ignoring the initial shock, she was already waiting with Miranda's coat and purse in her hands when Miranda swept out of the office, the hem of her navy dress flowing around her knees. Andy tried not to stare at the beautiful sway of the fabric.

The last surprise was when, taking the items from her hands instead of snatching them like Andy was used to, she met Andy's eyes, gave a subtle nod, and softly said, "Goodnight."

By the time Andy's brain caught up with her, urging her to return the sentiment, Miranda was already gone.

*

"Boston?!" Andy asked in bewildered outrage. "Since when?"

"Since this morning," Lily answered smoothly and took a sip of her red wine. "He starts at the restaurant next week."

"And neither of you was going to tell me if I hadn't asked about him?" Andy inquired, trying not to feel too indignant. Mostly, she was upset with Nate for, after such a long past together and an open ending to their relationship, not even bothering to let her know he'd found a job in Boston and was moving there. She supposed it wasn't much of an open ending any longer. More than anything, she was upset with herself for screwing everything up so badly.

"Hey, I didn't know about it either." Doug raised his hands in self-defense, although he didn't look nearly as hurt as Andy.

Lily gave her a placating look. "Look, Andy, I didn't wanna tell you right when you got back from Paris. You already looked bummed enough. I would have told you yesterday," she continued, "if you hadn't stood us up."

"They working you hard already at work?" Doug smirked into his wine glass.

"Yeah," Andy murmured absentmindedly, thinking of hours of typing e-mails. Then she realized which work Doug was talking about, flushed, and blurted, "I mean, no. Yes, a little." She cringed.

"Have you written anything yet?" asked Lily.

"Just a little," she admitted, remembering the short article on unemployment rates that had taken her less than an hour to type, edit, and proofread before sending to her editor.

"And so the counting down begins till you start missing Miranda Priestly." Doug grinned playfully and Andy's head whipped so fast in his direction that her neck hurt.

"What?" she said, wide-eyed, wondering why she suddenly felt guilty when she had no reason to.

Oblivious to her reaction, Doug explained, as if he was a professor imparting an important piece of information known only to him, "Face it, Andy, Miranda is a magnet; it's impossible not to be pulled into her orbit. That's why she's already had two husbands," he added in mock-seriousness. "They can't help it."

"Why do you know so much about her?" Lily asked for what must have been the twentieth time since the introduction of Miranda Priestly into their lives and gave him a genuinely perturbed look.

Andy, in the meantime, sank back into her sticky chair, fiddling with her own glass and breathing a sigh of relief even though she had no idea what for. There was no reason for the three nights she'd spent back in her Runway office to be a secret, even if she herself still couldn't decipher why she'd done it and why she was intent to keep doing it. Her friends were just beginning to believe she was mentally sound again after a long period of Runway-induced insanity, and even if she wasn't quite on the same page as them regarding the matter, something told her that it wouldn't be support and understanding welcoming her if they learned of her recent adventure.

So she kept quiet, nursing her wine and listening to Doug explain the ins and outs of the fashion industry while Lily rolled her eyes, and thinking of the next time she'd spend a quiet night in Miranda's company.

*

On Monday morning, before getting ready for work or even brushing her teeth, Andy threw on a pair of sweatpants and her hoodie and ran to the newsstand outside her building. There in the street, with messy hair and shabby clothes, she excitedly flipped through the newest edition of The New York Mirror, looking for her name.

The light was beginning to subside from her eyes, though, with every page she turned, and by the time she reached the back page, her smile had turned into a frown.

"Hey, Mr. Hill? Sorry, Greg?" Andy said gently, stopping a short distance from her boss' desk.

"Yeah?" asked Greg distractedly, looking for something on his desk, his hands picking up various pieces of paper and putting them back down.

"Um, I just wanted to ask if you got my article?"

"Huh? What?" He rolled back his chair and opened a drawer.

"The piece about the unemployment rate dropping," Andy clarified. "I sent it to you on Friday. It's just that I didn't see it in the paper this morning."

"Oh, right." He sombered up and stopped his searching, looking up at her. "I'm sorry, Andy, stuff gets nixed around here all the time; there's just so much you can put in one paper."

"Oh. Right." Andy nodded, trying not to show, not to feel disappointment.

"Good writing, though," he remarked. "Good job."

As she went back to her desk, a sinking feeling of despair gripped her. Despite herself, she found herself comparing The Mirror to Runway again, remembering how helpful she'd felt several days before just bringing Miranda something she wanted and how in her new job, the one she was actually getting paid to do, it seemed she was a completely unnecessary addition to the system.

Today, it wasn't automatic instict that told her she would go back to Runway, and not even the obvious inevitability of the previous week. Today, she wanted to go to Runway, to be in a place where she felt, even in the slightest, rewarded.

She spent the majority of the day doing nothing, occasionally reading old issues of The Mirror or scribbling short ideas for herself to look busy, and took an extra long lunch break, knowing no one would miss her. By the time the end of her work day was approaching, she was practically squirming in her chair, counting down the minutes until she could go home and pick a nice outfit for the rest of her evening.

*

In a black, billowing tunic, silk stockings, and knee-high boots that made her four inches taller, she strode into Miranda's office in sure steps, bearing a steaming cup of no-foam, skimmed latte with an extra shot and a brownie.

No words or thanks exchanged, Miranda's fingers wrapped around the cup and brought it to her lips while her eyes remained fixated on the screen of her laptop. Nevertheless, as Andy went to the closet and hanged her coat, she smiled to herself, basking in the warm feeling that she'd done something nice.

"Go to Nigel's office and get me the proofs from the Valentino show," Miranda murmured from her office when Andy was barely done with three e-mails. She didn't need her to expand on that: she remembered the show in Paris very well, chiefly getting to meet the Valentino. She remembered Miranda's cool fingers closing around her arm to pull her into his line of sight, remembered her soft voice as she introduced her as "my new Emily," and she remembered how incredibly amazing she'd felt in that moment, before it all went to hell.

Glad to finally have more put on her shoulders, when just recently she would have prayed for less, she let go of the computer mouse and got up. On the way to the door at the other side of the office, she caught a peek inside Miranda's office. Sure enough, the brownie was gone.

An hour and a half later, Bryan arrived with the Book. This time, however, as he handed it to Andy, he came closer. Keeping his voice low, he asked, "So do you work here again? I thought they replaced you."

He looked genuinely confused and for once, Andy could emphathize. What was she doing there? she asked herself for the millionth time. Aware that they were right within Miranda's line of sight, and not having an answer to give him, she shrugged with a tight smile and took the Book.

It was with an odd feeling of chagrin that she put it on Miranda's desk, knowing that now the night would come to an end. Miranda, if she was lucky tonight, would verbally ask for her belongings and Andy would wait in the dark until she heard the elevator declare her departure.

Turning and heading toward the closet, she was halted by the soft voice behind the desk. "How is the new job going?"

Wide-eyed, sure she must have imagined, she turned back to where Miranda was carefully placing the Valentino pictures back in their folder. "Um," she stammered, mortified to find her voice slightly hoarse. "Okay. Fine, I mean."

"I haven't seen your name in The New York Mirror," Miranda commented, closing the folder, her voice as casual as if she hadn't just dropped the most mind-boggling bomb on Andy. Andy, who, up until very recently, had been tasked with spreading every single one of Miranda's subscriptions on her desk in perfect symmetry... none of which included The Mirror. Had Miranda started reading Andy's paper since she'd joined its staff? Was sifting through it, just as Andy had that morning, looking for her contributions?

Trying not to topple over, Andy approached the desk again, her smile uncertain and tremulous. "Yeah, well... I haven't really had a chance to write anything yet." Darting a quick glance up at her as she turned to her laptop, Miranda prompted her to continue. "I actually asked my editor for something to write," she continued, feeling as though she was defending herself, and maybe she was. "But, uh... it ended up not making the cut."

"Don't wait for permission to write," Miranda said abruptly and shut off her laptop with a final sounding snap. She turned to an open notebook beside it, adding something Andy felt too dizzy to read in a Montblanc pen. "Write something new every day and give it to him--not via e-mail; by hand--until he agrees to publish one of them. Show some initiative. I'd think I taught you that much, if nothing else," she added in a lower, deadly tone.

"Oh," was the only genius response Andy could think of, and later, when her brain was back in functioning order, she'd realize that Miranda's advice, on the other hand, was genius. "T-thank--"

Slapping the notebook closed, Miranda took off her glasses, grabbed the Book, and ordered, "Get my coat and bag." Andy was out of her office before she was even out of her chair.

But indeed, she ended up following Miranda's advice and for the next few days, she was no longer bored at work. Every day, a new article landed on Greg's desk, and every night, a new treat landed on Miranda's.

The unnecessary cruelty to homeless people in placing spikes in public places. Blueberry scone.

George Bush's unforgivable leadership and how history will judge him. Shortbread cookies.

Pay gap between men in positions of power and women who do twice their job and twice as well. Bourbon flavored caramels.

And on Friday, Andy's efforts finally came to fruition.

"Well, aren't you a busy bee?" a voice came from right next to her ear and she jumped, her fingers stumbling across her keyboard and sending a few random letters into her sentence. Rounding the desks, Rebecca came into view, settling herself in her chair with a satisfied smirk.

Chuckling, Andy pressed the backspace key. "Something like that."

"What are you working on?" Rebecca inquiered, clicking on her mouse. Her eyebrows knitted together. "I thought Greg wasn't giving you assignments yet?"

"Yeah, well--"

"Andy." Looking up in unison, they saw the man in question heading toward them, in his hand two pieces of printed paper. "Good job on this," he said, stopping by her desk and waving the papers for emphasis. "We're gonna print it in Monday's issue."

"Really?" Andy's eyes lit up.

"Really. Unless something comes up," he conceded, "and in this city, you never know." He shared an amused look with Rebecca, who was already typing her next column on, as she'd informed Andy, "the little bitches from Wall Street."

"E-mail this to Jack and he'll send it back with notes, alright?" he said, putting the pages on her desk.

"Of course." Andy beamed. "Of course, I'll get right on it."

Satisfied, he left toward his desk. Out of his earshot, Andy squeaked, spun in her chair, and shared a high-five with Rebecca.

*

"Have you had dinner yet?" Miranda asked when Andy wheeled in a clothing rack from the outer office.

Faltering, she stopped in the middle of the room, spinning toward Miranda, who was busy flipping through some pages on her desk. Before Andy could tell her, like an idiot, that of course she'd already eaten at home before showing up way past dinnertime, Miranda muttered absentmindedly, "Go to Benoit and get me what I like."

Numbly, out of habit, Andy hurried out of the office and toward the closet, but even as she went through the motions, panic gripped her--not because she didn't know what Miranda liked, that was easy enough, she used to get paid to remember that sort of thing. But did Miranda mean for her to get something for herself as well? She hadn't specifically told her to, but then why would she ask if Andy had eaten?

"Have them bill Runway."

She squeaked, quickly retreating through the door.

*

Even at 9:30 at night, Benoit was still crowded with people and, despite her fancy outfit, a distressed twenty-something-year-old rushing to the reception desk to place a take-away order was no one's top priority. Until she mentioned Miranda's name.

"She'll have the duck à l'orange with pomme purée."

"Anything else?" the hostess behind the computer asked with a pleasant smile, a 180 from the snobbish way she'd looked down her nose at Andy moments prior.

Andy looked down at the menu, her head swimming, and hesitated. If Miranda had indeed meant for her to get dinner for herself, she wouldn't appreciate Andy coming back empty-handed and Andy figured it wouldn't do well to get on her bad side now. Again. Besides, if she was wrong, she could easily stash the spare dish in the kitchen and dispose of it after Miranda had left--no harm, no foul.

Coming to a decision, she squinted at the entrée list. "Uh, and scallops à la provençale with haricots verts," she read, cringing at her painfully American accent. The irony--perhaps intentional--was not lost on her: the first meal Miranda had sent her to get--might want to share with her--since Paris was from a French restaurant. She wondered if Miranda had meant it as a jab at her, because the realization sure as hell brought a pang of guilt with it, or if it was a mere coincidence. The possibility that Miranda was ready--ever would be--to laugh about Andy's despicable actions and this was her attempt at humor was highly unlikely.

Still, Andy tried to think of the good things that had happened that day--her article getting accepted, Miranda communicating more, possibly buying her dinner, albeit with Runway's budget--instead of the bad things of the past as she returned to the office, a steaming paper bag in hand.

Miranda paid no mind to her as she rushed around the kitchen, fetching dishes and a bottle of S.Pellegrino and transferring the meat and sides as gracefully as she could onto their plate, but when she carried the food on a tray into the office, whereas it had been covered with papers and photos before, Miranda's desk was now cleared for the placement of her dinner.

As Andy turned to the cart at her side in order to grab a glass, her hand froze. "Where's your meal?"

"Oh." She whipped around, her eyes meeting Miranda's deceptively bored ones. It was the first time, she realized incredulously, that Miranda had actually looked her in the eye in over a week. "It's still in the kitchen."

"I am not in the habit, Andrea," Miranda drawled, picking up her knife and fork, and it was also the first time she'd said her name, "of waiting for my dinner companions."

Before she could stop it, Andy's jaw sagged and she stared at Miranda for a good few seconds before returning to Earth and all but running to arrange her food on its own tray. "Dinner companion?" Miranda wanted her to eat now? With her?

Dizzy and overwhelmed, she staggered back into the office, gripping the handles of her tray until they created respective dents in her palms and fingers.

"Water," Miranda instructed when she'd barely placed the tray opposite hers, gesturing with her chin toward the forgotten cart. Wordlessly, Andy picked up two glasses and filled both, then gingerly sat down in a visitor's chair, still wary of Miranda's judgemental glare and her claim that "the help" should eat as far away from her. It never came, and within minutes, they were both cutting into their food in silence that, for all intents and purposes, should have felt awkward, charged. It didn't. In fact, it was almost comfortable, if Andy let herself forget for a second that she was sitting across from her old boss.

"You were right, you know," she said when Miranda's plate was nearly cleared.

"I always am," replied Miranda nonchalantly while daintily slicing through one of two remaining pieces of duck.

Andy hid a smile, multiple examples of things Miranda--or rather her thoughts and opinions--was wrong about popping into her head, but knew better than to speak her mind if she wanted to live another day. And at this point, she did, if only to see what the next one would bring with Miranda.

"I did what you said," she clarified instead, beaming. "Gave my editor a new article every day. Today, he finally approved one I wrote about police bias and brutality. It's gonna be in Monday's issue."

"Well," Miranda said and picked up her glass. "Does that make you happy?"

What a strange question, Andy mused. She hadn't believed Miranda would jump for joy or tell her she was proud of her, but she definitely had not imagined her inquiring as to how her professional success affected her feelings.

"Yeah," she answered honestly. "It does."

A few minutes later, the Book arrived just as Miranda was gracefully biting onto her fork, officially emptying her plate, and Andy hurried to the doorway to take it from a wide-eyed Bryan. When she sat back down, keeping the item away from dirty plates, she felt bolstered enough, slightly less scared to say, "Can I ask you a question?"

It was a rule written in stone: you never asked Miranda anything. She'd learned it on her first day on the job and was confronted with regret every time she'd disobeyed it. And yet Miranda had bought her dinner, was taking interest in and advising her on her new job in spite of the fact that she'd quit her employ so unprofessionally. And maybe now, when they were no longer officially boss and employee, they could become a little... friendly. That would be... nice?

Miranda didn't provide a verbal response, but her eyebrow climbed up in challenging anticipation. Clasping her fingers hard in her lap, Andy asked, "Why are you here so late every night?"

"I work here," Miranda replied dismissively and took a sip of water. Andy thought she looked somewhat disappointed by the question, as if she'd expected a better one.

"I know that," she countered. "But you always leave much earlier, and Fashion Week was two weeks ago." Despite her words, Andy thought she knew what the real reason was: Miranda was going through a divorce, her second one. She was the queen of burying herself in her work, Andy had gleaned that much in her months at Runway. Her magazine was her life, and it sure helped to have something like that, that occupied your attention and thoughts and left very little room for anything else, when your personal life was falling apart. Still, there was one thing to consider that even Miranda wouldn't disregard.

"I mean, aren't the twins--"

"What about the twins?" Miranda's eyes snapped up to hers, fire dancing in them, her lips pursed more tightly than Andy had witnessed at the James Holt preview, and she immediately understood she'd made a miscalculation. A big one.

"Oh, no, I didn't mean--"

"You think I'm neglecting my kids, Andrea?" Miranda asked with so much venom Andy thought it might seep into her bones and kill her on the spot.

Her eyeballs nearly popped out of their sockets, her heart beating at a thousands miles per second. How had such a peaceful and serene moment turned into this in such a short span of time? Stumbling over her words, she was quick to try and remedy what she'd ruined, "No! No, no, that's not what I meant at all--"

"I didn't realize you had the credentials to critique my parenting skills."

Feeling as though her chest was about to burst, Andy urgently said, "Miranda, I wasn't--"

"The twins are at their father's until work calms down." In a deadly voice that was just an octave above a whisper, Miranda added, "As well as things with my husband, as you should know."

Andy was instantly transported to a hotel suite in Paris, in the middle of Fashion Week. Miranda on a sofa in an unfashioable robe. Hair undone. Face free of makeup. Wet, red-rimmed eyes. Pouring her heart out and looking almost as if she didn't mean to. Andy's heart clenched, remembering the helpless feeling that had consumed her as she sat across from this broken, vulnerable woman, unable to provide any word of comfort or advice. That new side Miranda had accidentally revealed to her, the human one that made Andy, for the first time, feel for her, had caught her off guard. The balance between an obedient assistant and a listening ear had been a hard one to find back then; now, with a new, completely unclear title, it was next to impossible.

Slumping back in her chair, cheeks red with shame, she muttered the only thing she could think of: "I'm sorr--"

"Get my coat and bag," Miranda interrupted brusquely, pushing away from the desk, and whatever walls and guards she had begun to lower earlier were now back with a vengeance. As Andy shakily got up, she felt her closed-off gaze regard her coldly.

As soon as Andy had handed her her things, she was gone in a flash, blowing past her like a wind, and Andy indeed felt whiplash from the last few minutes.

To her horror, as she cleared the dishes off Miranda's desk, she felt her eyes begin to sting and rapidly blinked them. She didn't know what the hell was wrong with her, wasn't entirely sure what had just occured, but this much she knew: she'd definitely screwed up.

Chapter Text

Andy was in a foul mood all throughout Saturday, and by dinnertime, when Lily and Doug were due to arrive with pizza and beer, she wanted to cancel.

She was finally dissuaded from doing so by telling herself that now she no longer worked for Miranda, she couldn't let her ex-boss' moods and whims dictate her personal life anymore. She was taking time out of her day, out of the free hours--which wouldn't stay free for long--after work to show up to a job she'd quit and, out of compassion and the kindness of her heart, assist Miranda, and if Miranda chose to reward her with glares and bites, then that was her own damn problem. Andy was done being a victim of her lashing out.

But no matter how hard she tried to convince herself of that, the pevious night refused to leave her mind for the entirety of dinner, and while Lily and Doug stuffed pizza slices into their mouths and joked about things Andy was too far away to comprehend, she kept replaying in her head those last minutes where everything had gone terribly awry, trying to figure out what she could have done differently to prevent it.

"Andy," Lily called impatiently, snapping her out of her haze.

"What?" she asked, refocusing her eyes on her friend from where they'd previously stared at some spot on a kitchen cabinet she now couldn't find.

"I asked if you wanted to come help me prepare next week," Lily repeated herself, eyeing Andy suspiciously. She, too, was making progress in her career, and after her recent photgraphic show, a gallery's curator had approached her for a second one. "We can meet after you're done working. Go to that Thai place on 78 East 1st Street, then head over to my studio."

"Ooh, Thai," Doug interjected. "Can I come?"

"Of course, sweetheart," Lily cooed and jokingly rubbed tomato sauce from the side of his mouth with her thumb.

Andy, in the meantime, went back into her head, her gaze unfocusing again. Next week. After work. That would be when she'd be going to Runway, spending several hours at her former workplace, doing nothing of real importance besides sharing the space with Miranda.

Miranda, who probably wouldn't want to see her again. In fact, if she tried to enter the building on Monday night, she might discover that her security pass had been revoked and, frankly, Andy couldn't entirely blame Miranda: she'd crossed a line she had no right to cross. Miranda's personal life was just that--personal--and who was Andy to imply that Miranda wasn't paying enough attention to her daughters?

When she really thought about it, she wasn't sure she even wanted to go back to Runway on Monday and confront the consequences of her careless words. She should never have gone there in the first place--not for her belongings and certainly not the following night. Miranda had evidently already let the matter of her leaving go by scoring her a new job; why couldn't Andy have left it at that? Why did she always feel the need to test Miranda's boundaries? What was it about Miranda that made her do those things, and for that matter, what was it about Andy herself?

"Andy?"

"What?" she snapped back into reality, finding two sets of eyes on her.

Lily looked expectant, "Well? Are we on?"

"Sorry," she found herself saying before her brain had fully started back up. "I'd love to, Lils, but I actually have so much work to do." What was she doing? "Maybe some other time?" Well, that settled it, then.

"Really?" Lily frowned. "I haven't seen anything you've written in the paper yet." She didn't look upset, or like she wasn't buying her story, for that matter, but her confusion unsettled Andy, made her feel like she was doing something wrong. And she was: she'd never lied to her friends, hardly ever lied to anybody. Eight nights back in Miranda's company, and the influence she had run through continents to escape was catching up with her, infecting her. What was it that Doug had said the previous week? It was impossible not to be pulled into Miranda's orbit. Andy was getting pulled, all right, without even noticing--pulled and lost and she didn't know how to get out. Or if she even really wanted to.

"Well, wait, they're gonna publish an article I wrote on Monday." That was true, at least.

"What?" came the simultaneous reaction from her dinner companions, both leaning over the table to start interrogating.

"Way to bury the lede, Andy," Doug admonished with a proud smile.

Lily excitedly asked, "Have you told your parents?"

"Not yet," she admitted bashfully. "I actually didn't wanna say anything until it was out, in case it ended up not being published." Greg's words returned to her: "Stuff gets nixed around here all the time."

She then thought of her priorities: how she'd told Miranda the first chance she'd gotten, how she'd had no problem waiting to tell her friends, how she hadn't even thought of informing her parents.

"It will," Doug assured her in the kind of certainty that made him seem as if he was running The Mirror out of his own pocket. "I bet it's genius."

She flashed him a grateful smile as Lily marveled, "Look at you making it in the big, scary world."

"She doesn't even need Nate anymore," Doug added in the heat of the moment and promptly snapped his mouth shut, his words registering with him, while Lily sent him a scolding glare. But it was true, Andy realized. She hadn't even thought of him, not since finding out he'd moved to Boston. In fact, for the past week and a half, the thing that occupied her thoughts most of the time, even more than her brand new dream job, was Runway.

No, not Runway. It wasn't Runway that had put her in a sour mood and she didn't care one way or the other what happened in the magazine, not now that she was no longer getting paid to care. It wasn't Runway that was occupying her thoughts.

"So what's the article about?" Lily snapped her out of her musings.

*

Andy's glumness persisted throughout Sunday as well, but on Monday morning, she opened The New York Mirror and there it was, on the back page: her name. Black letters against white, a whole square dedicated to her words, to her thoughts and opinions. It was real.

And it was official: Andrea Sachs from Cincinnati, Ohio was a published journalist.

"You'll see, soon Greg's gonna start giving you assignments now that he sees you can write," Rebecca promised as they left a food truck near Central Park, each holding onto a hot dog as they made their way back toward the Mirror building.

"I should think that's why he hired me in the first place, isn't it?" Andy replied before tilting her head and taking a large bite. Using her napkin to wipe mustard off her upper lip, she added, "And actually, he already has."

"Oh, yeah?" Rebecca bit into her own hot dog and, with a mouthful, inquired, "What'd you get?"

"The pothole on 12th Street that no one will fix."

"Oof."

"What?"

"No, nothing, nothing," Rebecca responded in a high-pitched tone that told her otherwise. "It's good. It's a start."

Okay, so Andy had gotten a pretty crappy story to cover, but, "Yeah," she agreed, "I think so, too."

"We should go out for drinks, then, to celebrate," Rebecca suggested. "Introduce you to a few people from work. It's about time you started making friends."

That sounded fantastic--she hated being the new girl who sat in the back of the bullpen and didn't have anyone to talk to--and yet she heard herself saying, "Oh, sounds great, but I'm kinda swamped at the moment..."

"With what?" asked Rebecca, who, unlike Lily and Doug, knew exactly what her workload looked like. "You got another job?"

She almost said "yes" before she thought better of it. "Just some personal stuff." That was true enough and, besides, Rebecca was nice and welcoming, but she didn't know her well enough yet to discuss something she wouldn't even divulge to her closest friends. Or herself.

For the hundredth time, she wondered why she was keeping her nightly escapades a secret. What she was doing might be crazy and stupid, but there was nothing actually wrong with it, no reason to hide it. Was there?

*

After a long debate with herself on the pros and cons, she did end up going back to Runway that night, almost against her will, like an invisible force pulling her in. Doug's words once again echoed in her head: "Pulled into Miranda's orbit."

Her security pass had not been revoked and no guard stood on watch, ready to prevent her from entering the building. And yet, as she rode the elevator to the nineteenth floor, bearing the usual latte and treat, she bit her lip and fidgeted, and couldn't help wondering what would await her upstairs.

Was Miranda still angry? Had she ruined everything with a bad choice of words? Was there anything to ruin?

As it turned out, Miranda was standing behind her desk when she walked through the glass door, flipping through a large folder of sketches. She supplied no acknowledgement that she'd heard or seen Andy, even when she stopped right before her desk and gently set her offerings on the surface. Despaired, Andy silently headed to the closet and hanged her coat. This was going to be a long night.

Lacking the enthusiasm she'd developed in recent days for the simple task of sitting at her old desk and answering boring e-mails, she slumped into the chair and promptly froze.

Right there in the middle of her desk, where she was sure to notice it, sat a Starbucks packet of chocolate-dipped almonds.

With bright, wonderous eyes, she glanced up at the wall of Miranda's office, behind which its occupant was hidden, and felt a huge, goofy smile break onto her face.

*

Staring at her bedroom ceiling later that night, thoughts plagued her mind, preventing her from sleeping.

Miranda truly was a remarkable woman. Andy hadn't lied to Christian when she spent the majority of their date in Paris defending her behavior. Of course she didn't agree with some of it, and of course many of her actions were preposterous, but at the end of the day, Miranda was a person she'd grown to respect and even admire: she'd built herself and worked exceedingly hard to get to where she was today, and every day Andy witnessed the dedication, the passion with which she approached her job.

Miranda hadn't come to be the most powerful figure in the fashion industry by being complacent. Andy didn't know very many people who would go the extra mile, who would stay at work long past office hours to assure the public got the best of the best, the cream of the crop. If nothing else, she aspired to take that work ethic with her to her new job.

And yet... then there were the other things, the things that Andy couldn't ignore: the conning and the backstabbing and everything she had fled all the way back to New York only to come running back to. What did it say about her, that pull toward what Christian had titled "the dark side?"

She wasn't coming back to Runway; she had a new job and--officially--the second assistant position had already been filled. She knew now that it wasn't Runway she kept showing up for every night, but Miranda herself. It was a woman stripped of makeup and fight in a grey robe in a Parisian hotel suite, a woman who'd let her see her vulnerable side and needed her help and Andy was doing what she could to take the small toll of work off the shoulders weighed down by real life. She was doing it as much for her own self-redemption and peace of mind as for Miranda's convenience.

But Miranda and the dark side were one and the same. Miranda had made the choice to crush Nigel's dreams and Miranda had been the one to screw Jacqueline Follet out of a promotion in the guise of a good deed, and Miranda was overall mean to anybody who encountered her.

Oh, she wasn't inherently a bad person, Andy knew that much. Everything was not black or white and Miranda did what she deemed necessary to survive in this competitive business. But Andy still didn't think her means were kosher, didn't want to be a part of that world, and despite the guilt, she didn't regret walking away. She'd made the right choice before it was too late: turned away from that world, from the person she'd almost become, the person Miranda had insinuated she'd become. She didn't want to be Miranda.

Well, then why did she keep coming back?

When her mind finally tired, allowing her to roll over and close her eyes, she fell asleep wondering if Miranda liked Starbucks's coffee cake or if it was time to retire that establishment and move on to better quality desserts.

*

The following night, Andy was already adding finishing touches to her article. She'd spent the day conversing with various, relevant authorities, interviewing a handful of people, and of course, visiting the infamous pothole site, and soon her 1,500 words would be ready to be sent.

It was hardly the most interesting piece she'd ever written--despite her harsh criticism toward the people in charge who seemed to have fallen asleep on the job and the blind eye turned to the plights of New Yorkers below 14th Street--but it indeed was a start and a more stimulating way to spend an hour at her Runway desk after responding to the decreasing amount of e-mails.

It felt ironic: she'd quit Runway to embark on her dream career only to find herself doing her new job back in her old workplace. With Miranda not fifty feet away.

She'd been less demanding tonight than Andy'd gotten used to in recent days, she noted as she hit the backspace key across a whole, unnecessary sentence. Quiet and reserved like during those first, tense days. With a tight chest, Andy wondered if she'd inadvertently done anything wrong, something to upset her, though she couldn't come up with anything she'd done differently than other nights: she'd shown up with the regular coffee and snack and promptly relocated to her desk, where she'd been sitting quietly ever since, awaiting further instructions that never came.

It wasn't until the Book arrived a few minutes into her nervous overthinking that Miranda finally spoke in a typically unpreditable Miranda fashion.

Taking the proferred item from Bryan's hands, she trotted into the inner office and carefully set it on the edge of the desk, all the while studying Miranda's features. She wasn't looking at her, as per usual, her eyes staring unblinkingly at the laptop screen that shone blue and white on her face, and with a heavy heart, Andy turned around, ready to call it a night--an unsuccessful one at that.

She was heading toward the closet to fetch Miranda's bag and coat when the soft voice behind her stopped her. "Did you finish your article?"

Surprised, she slowly turned to find Miranda's attention still focused solely on the happenings on the screen. She looked as nonchalant as ever, but Andy hadn't imagined her question. "How-- how did you know?"

Without missing a beat, Miranda answered, "You mumble to yourself when you write." Her tone was sheer irritability, as if Andy should have known better than to make herself noticeable while in her company--and in all fairness, Andy hadn't even been aware of the accusation levied at her--but when she snapped her laptop shut, pulled off her glasses, and fixed her gaze on Andy instead, there was no mistaking the amusement in her eyes, however subtle.

"Oh," was all Andy could think to say, but her face had already broken out in a grin that was hard to suppress. Miranda hadn't been ignoring her and she hadn't done anything to upset her; Miranda had figured out she was working and, instead of making gratuitous demands, given her the space and quiet she needed to get her article out. Much like the previous night, Miranda had done something nice for her.

"So," Miranda said and skewered her with a sharp look that reminded Andy just how much she liked repeating herself, "did you finish it?"

"I did, yeah. Thanks for asking," she replied sincerely, walking further into the room. "It's about that pothole downtown--you probably haven't heard about it."

Instead of a snarky response--the woman who wore $800 shoes that she didn't even have to pay for would hardly care about the woes of those who didn't make that kind of money in a month--what she got was, "I'm sure I will when your article gets published," as Miranda turned off her desk lamp and gracefully rose from her chair, picking up the Book.

"Yeah." Andy smiled, and then smiled wider, thinking of Miranda Priestly, Editor-in-Chief of the top fashion magazine in the world, flipping through a copy of what she'd called "that paper no one's heard of" in search of Andy's little article, which would undoubtedly be skipped by the majority of the newspaper's readers.

She snapped into action when Miranda started in the direction of the door, hurrying to the closet. "It's actually a pretty important issue--at least I think so. In my opinion, it goes beyond just a pothole, and I hope I can bring attention to the disgraceful treatment of poor people--or, well, in this case areas--in this country," she continued while carefully removing a mink coat from a hanger. A nagging part in her head reminded her that she firmly opposed the use of fur for clothes and accessories, but even as she was trying to get her point across about the economic inequality in America, she couldn't help subtly caressing the decadent fabric between her fingers.

"Just the hero America was waiting for, I'm sure," Miranda quipped in a drawl, taking the coat from Andy's hand, her handbag following. Her fingers brushed Andy's during the exchange and, looking up, Andy noted the way her eyes shone with mirth at her own statement.

It was only after she'd breezed by her and the sound of her heels on the floor was subsiding that Andy realized Miranda had made a joke. And that her fingers were still tingling.

*

Andy's article was published on Wednesday morning; by noon, she had received all the congratulatory phone calls and text messages from friends and family alike, but the only opinion she hadn't heard yet--the only one she was really curious about--had yet to come and would only be determined later that night, and until then, she sat on pins and needles, pleading with the hours to pass faster.

"You're officially a reporter now," Rebecca said from behind her computer screen. "How does it feel?" "Does that make you happy?" Miranda's voice said in her head.

"Feels great." She grinned without a second thought.

                                       *

"Well," Miranda muttered when she placed a coffee cup and a packet of three madeleines on her desk before even taking off her coat. Meeting Andy's eyes, she softly said, "Good job."

And something inside Andy's chest shone bright and warm, her whole face glowing with the pleasure of a simple compliment. Miranda approved of her work, and that... that meant everything.

"What's next?" Miranda inquired, picking up her scalding coffee cup and sipping daintily.

"Well, actually," Andy began, "my boss wants me to write a piece on the exploitation of lower class workers. Kinda like the series I did back at Northwestern on the janitor's union--"

"Stop standing there like a soldier. I'm not going to bite you," Miranda interrupted with just the right combination of bitterness and mockery to make Andy feel like a complete idiot for standing before her and rambling like in her job interview--even telling her again about the impressive work she'd done at her college newspaper, which Miranda hadn't given two shits about several months before. Unlike her job interview, now Miranda was inviting her to sit with her, almost like... like an equal, Andy realized in astonishment.

"It, uh..." she stammered, scrambling to seat herself in one of the chairs while Miranda drank her coffee, calm as ever. "Well, I won a national competition for college journalists with that series. And, ironically, I think it's sort of what landed me this job at The Mirror. Well, that and your letter of recommendation, of course."

All Miranda offered in response was, "Be original in your writing. Nobody likes recycled articles."

"O-of course," Andy said, nonplussed. Did Miranda think she would just hand in an old article and call it a day?

"How many words did they ask you for?"

"A thousand."

"Write two-thousand," Miranda instructed immediately, as though she was the one requiring the article. "These things are cut shorter all the time; it'll give your editor more to work with and show them you took an interest in the topic."

"Oh." Andy hadn't thought of it, but of course Miranda would be the one to come up with a brilliant idea. She was a goddess in the publishing industry, and a piece of advice from her was one to behold and obey--a golden opportunity. "Thank you."

"Initiative, Andrea," Miranda murmured and sent her a pointed look, a throwback to their first conversation after Andy had come back. "No one will take you seriously if you only do the bare minimum." Turning to her laptop, she started typing. "Maybe one of these days you'll start listening to me."

"Right," Andy said, grinning, and lowered her head so Miranda wouldn't see her grinning.

Eyes running across the screen, Miranda haughtily said, "Those e-mails will not answer themselves," and Andy had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling until she was safely at her desk.

*

And then on Thursday night, something shifted.

It started with Miranda calling from inside her office, "Get me the new Ferragamo belts from the Closet, please. They should be right at the entrance." It ended with one of the most mortifying, extraordinary moments of Andy's life.

It wasn't until she was halfway through her route to the Closet, on instinct, that it registered with her that not only had Miranda specified what she wanted instead of giving a vague demand for belts, she'd also said "please."

Miranda never said "please," didn't even have that word in her vocabulary; she threw orders around and expected to be catered to and get what she wanted on demand. But now she'd said "please." What did it mean? Andy's head was spinning too much to work it out.

Miranda had been right: the belts in question hung on a clothing rack to her left when she entered the enormous Closet, obviously new arrivals that none of the busy Closet employees had had a chance to put away. She grabbed one end of the rack, surprised at how light it was with only belts on board, and started wheeling it out of the room and through the dark corridors.

It was when she finally arrived back at Miranda's office without incident that an incident occured. Miranda was standing between two other racks, both filled with clothes, and as Andy approached, she saw the city lights shine brightly through the windows, casting their glow on Miranda's pale skin, her white hair reflecting shades of red, blue, and yellow, and she had her chin in her hand, index finger rubbing against her lips in concentration as she examined a brown, patterned dress.

She looked like a painting, standing in the middle of the large space, regal in her stance and impeccable outfit, endless colors dancing on and around her. And Andy, who was busy staring, nearly had a heart attack when her five-inch heel shod foot lost its balance and twisted, sending her flying forward, the carpeted floor fast approaching.

It took her several moments of bracing for her nose to be broken to realize that she was not, in fact, lying flat on her face. It was several more moments before she registered that there was a couple of steady arms wrapped around her middle, that her own hand was grasping hard onto a shoulder while her chest was pressed to another.

Against the furious thumping of her heart, she felt almost equal beating from the other chest, and when she finally looked up in bewildered shock, there was one second of alarm on Miranda's face before she masked it with the usual blank gaze and promptly let go of Andy.

Andy felt the loss of her embrace keenly, feeling bereft even as she righted herself, cautiously removed her hand from Miranda's shoulder, and blushed crimson. "S-sorry," she mumbled in a daze. Miranda's touch had been warm and, albeit solid, tender. She'd smelled good, like exotic flowers and something luxurious and expensive Andy had never smelled before, and she'd never been so close, so real and palpable. She was, in fact, just like a unique painting one was only allowed to watch from afar but never touch. She took a step back, maintaining a safe distance while she tried to control her breathing, Miranda's intoxicating scent still fresh and sharp in her nose.

The next time she looked at Miranda, there was a smirk playing on her lips, a twinkle in her eye. "You'd think you'd know how to walk in them by now," she said, her tone as amused as Andy had ever heard it, and briefly glanced down at Andy's bejeweled Manolo Blahniks.

Before Andy could defend herself--she had gotten better--or apologize--what for?--Miranda went on, "Is that what you wear to your shabby rag? No wonder you can't make any friends there."

Alright, okay. Those shoes were definitely too fancy for every-day use if you didn't work at Runway, and Miranda didn't know that she'd, in fact, worn flats throughout the day and only glammed up after leaving The Mirror, but had Miranda really just called her a snob?

Only after a few seconds of indignant musings did the rest of Miranda's sentence catch up with her, and then she became even more indignant. "Hey, who says I don't have friends?"

Miranda's face betrayed nothing, but her voice carried something beyond the amusement and regular nonchalance that Andy couldn't quite place when she replied, "You keep coming here every night."

She blushed even harder at the words and lowered her gaze to the floor. "Yeah, well..." She racked her brain for something to add: an explanation, a justification, maybe even a witty comeback, but came up empty.

Miranda, for her part, didn't wait for a response. She came closer, Andy got another whiff of he perfume, got dizzy, and thought she saw the subtlest smile directed at her--a secretive exchange even though they were the only two people in the room--as Miranda picked a gold studded, white belt with a golden buckle.

"Right," Andy murmured coyly, returning the smile, feeling suddenly shy and equally elated for a reason she couldn't figure out. "Okay." Almost stumbling again, she turned and left the room.

*

"How's the new article on the suffering of the less fortunate coming along?" Miranda asked the next night, sarcasm rolling off her tongue along with endearing mischief, and popped a small piece of poached halibut into her mouth.

"Ha, ha," Andy felt brave enough to say. "It's going well, thank you. I interviewed a few people today, got some really interesting insights." Then, in a moment of inspiration and utter chutzpah, she cheekily added, "Maybe I should write about my own experience."

"Careful," Miranda warned in a quiet murmur, but there was no mistaking the way she was pinching her lips to keep from smiling. Andy didn't try to hide anything and gave a hearty chuckle as she cut into her salmon, which really was quite exquisit. Some time in the last year, with all due respect to Nate's frying skills, she'd begun to really enjoy fancy dining. Especially when she didn't have to pay for it.

Tonight, it was Le Bernardin Miranda had sent her to, and tonight Andy hadn't thought twice about setting two trays on her desk and sitting down in the visitor's chair. She'd learned her lesson from the last time Miranda had so graciously allowed her to dine with her, though, and wasn't going to make any mistakes tonight. This was a special opportunity granted to very few people--if any--with a salary below six figures and Andy was going to cherish it.

Still, she felt compelled--obligated, really--to offer Miranda the apology she deserved. "I'm sorry," she said, "about last week. I was out of line and I shouldn't have--"

She was cut off by an exasperated sigh from the other side of the desk, followed by an eye roll. "Are we still on it?" Miranda complained. "Can't you just let it go?"

"Oh, I can," Andy said quickly, feeling as though she was teetering on the verge of pissing Miranda off already. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to-- I just wanted to say that I'm... I'm sorry."

"Good." Miranda gave a final nod. "Then the matter is settled."

"Thanks." Andy smiled, then remembered Miranda's peace offering and smiled wider. "And thanks for the chocolate almonds. I guess I never thanked you for that either."

"It seemed only fair I wasn't the only one here consuming sugars and carbs," Miranda replied snootily, picking up her water glass. It was the first time she'd acknowledged Andy's little gifts, let alone admitted to eating them. With the glass halfway to her lips, she paused, running her eyes slowly up and down Andy's upper body. "Although you should, perhaps, watch it."

Her jaw falling open, Andy stared at her in disbelief. She picked and discarded a thousand retorts in her head before snapping her mouth shut and putting down her fork. "For your information, I'm still a size 4."

"Really?" Miranda drawled, taking a small sip of water. "And you managed to fit into that?" She sent a pointed look toward the figure-hugging dress Andy had picked that night.

The sheer audacity. Andy didn't dignify her words with a comeback. Instead, she cut an extra large piece of her fish and put an emphasis on her chewing.

"Oh, don't look so butthurt," Miranda cooed patronizilingly, an infuriating smirk etched into her features.

"Okay, Miranda," Andy challenged, "what's your size then?"

The smirk vanished at once and the outrage that took its place was almost comical. Andy was sure she'd never seen Miranda's eyes widen so much, and now she was the one to flash her a shit-eating grin.

"That is none of your business," Miranda said, almost growled, her voice venomous and her eyes burning. It was ironic, considering the fact that she made most everyone in her vicinity's weight her business.

But Andy knew when to stop, where the line lay between playful teasing and getting blackballed from the entire publishing industry--and worse, Miranda's life--and decided to change the subject. "So I noticed you got a new Emily. Or is it Andy?" It was weird to think that Miranda now possibly called someone else by her name--well, Ahn-DRAY-a. Nobody pronounced her name the way Miranda did and it made her feel special.

"How would you know?"

"She responds to e-mails during the day," Andy answered simply. Her name, according to said e-mails, was actually Vanessa, but she highly doubted Miranda had started referring to her that way. "Is she good?"

"If you're asking if she talks back and shows up in places she has no business being in," Miranda said cooly, "then the answer is no."

Despite herself, Andy felt her cheeks warming up. "I was a hopeless case, wasn't I?" Miranda didn't even deign to give an answer--it was obvious. "But I got better by the end."

In lieu of a response, Miranda's eyebrow rose pointedly. The end. That was a topic they hadn't discussed and not one Andy was anxious to visit. Yes, she had gotten better--so much, in fact, that Miranda had picked her, trusted her enough to accompany her in Paris. In the end, though, she'd screwed up, erasing all of her successes and accomplishments. There was no doubt about that, and she already regretted bringing it up.

She changed the subject again, trying to lighten up the mood, while Miranda took a graceful bite of a pickled beet. "So anything interesting happened around here since I've been gone?"

"A stapler disappeared from my desk. It was a titillating mystery," Miranda replied sarcastically, rolling her eyes. Andy couldn't help but smile; she was hilarious when she wasn't frightening.

"Is your life that boring that this is what you care about?" The smile faded. You could always count on Miranda to ruin a good moment with the hardest jab. Then again, she and Miranda had never had a good moment to ruin until now.

She wanted to feel indignant again, wanted to argue, but found herself admitting instead, "I don't have a lot going on at the moment." She focused on moving a leaf around in the sauce on her plate to avoid looking at Miranda.

There was a momentary pause before Miranda replied dismissively, "You just got a new job."

"Sure, and it's great," she said, "or will be once I prove myself there, but when I'm not there and I'm not here... I mean, don't get me wrong, I do lik-- I don't mind coming here, but it sure beats being home alone." She finished by stabbing the soggy leaf with her fork and taking a resentful bite. At least Miranda and her had that in common: she wasn't stupid--or suicidal--enough to bring up the matter of Miranda's late nights away from home again, but she knew that on top of everything else, with Stephen gone, it must not be a thrill to go back, at the end of the day, to an empty house, even for someone like Miranda.

When she lifted her head, steely eyes were regarding her silently. Had they always been so bright? With a hint of green inside the blue. And curious--Miranda was waiting for her to go on. "My boyfriend and I split up," she explained somberly. Miranda's expression morphed into understanding and she picked up her fork again, but did not take her gaze off of Andy.

"He said I'd changed too much." Andy shrugged. "Turns out he was right."

"How so?" Miranda asked neutrally.

"I became a hypocrite," she answered plainly. "I used to make fun of all the Runway girls and their worship of fashion. Then I became one of them. I turned my back on my boyfriend, my friends, my-- my own ideals--"

"Are you saying you've stopped taking Runway seriously?" asked Miranda, her tone testy and so freezing cold it brought the room's temperature down in an instant.

"No!" Andy rushed to protest. "That's not what I--"

"People change, Andrea," Miranda continued as if she hadn't heard her and cut into her fish, "especially at your age. If your boyfriend can't take it, he's not worth it."

"That's not fair." Andy frowned, putting down her own fork. She reminded herself that not everything was black or white. "You don't know what our relationship was like."

"And I have no interest in knowing," Miranda replied, her voice conveying her boredom with the subject. "I do know what you were like, though, when you started here."

"And what's that?" Andy questioned challengingly, but with a hint of trepidation.

"Insolent," Miranda supplied casually and took a bite while Andy's eyes grew in size. "Self-entitled." She rolled her own eyes dramatically. "So incredibly idealistic."

"And what's wrong with that?" Andy asked. Sure, she'd learned from her mistakes, grown to appreciate and respect the work Miranda and the magazine did, but she hadn't lost her ideals and wasn't planning to any time soon. They, at the end of the day, were what had led her to leave.

"I'm saying you've grown up," Miranda said, her voice as soft as Andy had ever heard it. Almost gentle. It made her gulp. "Your boyfriend, however," she went on, raising her glass to her lips, and bit out, "seems to have not."

While she drank, Andy pondered her words, staring at her forgotten salmon. It was probably cold by now. She thought of Nate and how they'd once shared the ideals Miranda had just mocked. She thought of the rift created between them once Andy had started liking her job and the eggshells they had started walking on around each other, careful not to say the wrong thing and stir the pot. She thought of late nights sacrified in favor of her career and tardiness to nights out with their friends and missed dates, and she thought of Nate's silent treatments and Miranda's husband giving up on her.

"So you're saying I shouldn't feel guilty," she concluded uncertainly.

"I wouldn't presume. I'm sure there's a lot of things you can feel guilty about." Miranda, then, looked her straight in the eye, completely solemn. "Not about changing."

"Doesn't that kind of take me back to where I started, then?" Andy asked, hearing how weak and helpless her voice sounded and hating it. "Not acknowledging my own errors?"

"There is a difference between acknowledging your errors and recognizing your accomplishments."

"Does that mean you don't feel guilty about what happened with Stephen?" she heard herself say and immediately regretted her words when Miranda's eyes grew colder, harder.

"Stephen," Miranda said icily, her voice a near hiss, "is a different story."

"But didn't he also leave because he felt like he was coming second to your job?" Andy pressed despite her better judgement and overall will to live and despite the tiny voice inside her head that commanded her to shut up, shut up, shut up. She recalled Miranda slumped defeatedly on that hotel sofa, the skin beneath her eyes streaked with tears, her faraway voice lamenting the crumbling of her second marriage, and she loathed herself for digging into that wound and yet couldn't stop herself from pushing on, "Don't you wish you'd done some things differently or--"

"Stop," Miranda ordered quietly, her flint-like expression threatening to slice Andy into pieces. She remembered, then, walking away not just on a job but on Miranda, too, the very next day after she'd bared her heart and feelings to her. She had no right to pry and her cheeks burned with shame, but she wasn't brave enough to apologize.

"Stephen knew who he was marrying," Miranda said after a pregnant silence, giving Andy just enough courage to look at her again. She wasn't looking back, of course; her face was stone-still and her lips pursed, but in her tone Andy could detect a hint of resentment. "He knew who I was when we agreed to get married and he knew my job would always come before our relationship," she continued, then, unpredictably, released a bitter chuckle. "I suppose theory and reality are two completely different things."

"I'm sorry," Andy whispered, and she really was. She'd hated seeing Miranda so sad and broken in that hotel suite and she hated seeing her like this now. Miranda, at her core, was a good person. And yes, she was tough and demanding and downright rude and she did a lot of things Andy did not agree with, but she also had a lot of qualities Andy looked up to and she would be, in fact, a hypocrite to disregard them. Miranda was not a two-dimensional person like Nate and Lily and the rest of the world thought and she did deserve happiness. Andy wished she could tell her that, and wished she wasn't such a coward, even now.

"Don't ever put up with someone who can't support you, in good or bad," Miranda said out of nowhere, snapping her back to the present. Something in her face had shifted while Andy was deep in thought: her eyes weren't so hard and distant anymore, and they were looking right at her again, intense and somber. She gulped again.

"It's important to be able to criticize and take criticism," Miranda continued. "But if criticism is all your relationship becomes, then it's not a relationship you want to stay in."

Able to do nothing but nod in understanding, Andy felt as if she had accidentally projected herself into a parallel universe, one where Miranda was imparting relationship advice to her. It felt incredibly ironic, too, considering she was currently in the process of divorcing her second husband. Then again, who better than her to learn from about what not to do?

"Now," Miranda said lightly and pushed her tray away, clasping her fingers on the desk. Her gaze became much more intent. "May I ask a question?"

Andy almost gave a disbelieving laugh before she caught herself. Miranda never asked permission to ask questions. Miranda very rarely asked questions to begin with. When she'd regained enough of her composure, she noted that perhaps she should be scared, and even as she nodded her approval, her heart started beating faster. "S-sure."

There was a pause. Miranda's eyes ran across her face, seemingly searching for something, and yet her features relaxed ever so slightly, as if in acceptance, as if she already had the answer to her unasked question. When the question finally came, Andy's whole body tensed. "Why did you walk away in Paris?"

Ah. The million dollar question. She might have known it would come up eventually, should have guessed Miranda hadn't forgotten and hadn't forgiven because she forgot and forgave very little. She forced her body to relax, muscle by muscle, and braced herself all the same for the conversation. She was, after all, the one who had gotten away with the despicable, the inexcusable, and lived to tell the story. It was only fair that she acknowledged it, explained her side--Miranda deserved that much. And just this time, she didn't think she would be met by Miranda's aloof, uninterested reactions. This time Miranda seemed intent on listening.

Only now, when she needed them the most, she was unable to find the right words. Miranda deserved an honest answer, and yet she couldn't tell her that eventually her bad qualities had won over the good ones and that Andy hadn't wanted to participate in all the evil that swam in her pool. "Runway, this world..." she began hesitantly. "It's not what I expected."

Miranda seemed to understand what she was talking about regardless. "You think your newspaper is any different?" she challenged, and if Andy looked closely, she thought she looked a little disappointed with the answer.

She was right. She remembered Rebecca telling her on her first day, "See how long you can last," and knew that in this industry, in any career path she chose, one always had to play a little dirty every once in a while in order to survive, but-- "I think I have more integrity than that."

Miranda dismissed her at once, "You're young and inexperienced. You don't know anything yet."

At her words, Andy's shoulders drew up, her back stiffening. She furrowed her brow. "I don't think my age makes my ideals any less legitimate."

"Of course you don't," Miranda sneered.

"I hated what I did to Emily," she argued, firmer in her reaction, "and I think it did make me a hypocrite and I didn't want to do it anymore. But what you did to Nigel? He's your friend, Miranda, and you didn't even think twice about screwing him over to get what you wanted."

She didn't know where the courage to speak up, stand up to Miranda had come from, and she had very little doubt that later or very soon she would deeply regret her words, but right now, for the first time, she was staring Miranda down, meeting her surprised gaze with her own unyielding one.

"What I wanted?" Miranda hissed, and even though Andy was now busy not being scared, no, not at all--even so, it sent a slight shiver down her spine. "This was my career at stake, everything I built from scratch. What would you suggest I'd done instead? Sacrified myself to get Nigel a promotion?"

"You could have found another way--"

"There is no other way," Miranda interrupted bluntly, overriding her. She sounded absolutely resolute, almost passionate, a polar opposite of the casual, belittling way she'd explained her actions in Paris. "In this business, in order to stay on top, you have to make choices, you have to make sacrifices. There is no such thing as 'friends' when you're me."

"But Nigel," Andy argued feebly, shrinking just a little and hating the fact that she was now lacking counterpoints. "He's always been so loyal to you and... couldn't you have at least warned him? He was so excited about the James Holt job and he had to find out like that, with everyone..." She straightened back up. "I'm sorry, Miranda, but I can't agree with this. Maybe that makes me naïve or just stupid, I don't care, but I think you can be successful and a good person."

"I'm not a good person?" Miranda asked, her voice incredibly low, her expression testy. She sounded one second away from mocking Andy, but beyond the barrier in her eyes, Andy thought she saw hurt and realized her grave mistake.

"I didn't say that," she said evenly and then made her best attempt at a glare. "But you're not exactly nice."

Miranda chuckled again and it was definitely mocking. "I don't do nice."

"Yeah, I noticed," Andy quipped. She really must be stupid, she thought, but then something glinted in Miranda's eye and the side of her lip lifted ever so slightly. Maybe it was just a twitch, but it almost looked like she was impressed.

"Are you going to make it up to him?" she asked after a brief silence.

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it does."

To her dismay, instead of responding, Miranda's attention was caught by somethimg behind Andy's back and when she tilted her head, Andy turned around to find a gaping Bryan standing just outside the office with the Book. Quickly, she got up and approached him, and then waited at the entrance until his retreating form was out of her sight. Upon returning to Miranda's desk, she wordlessly placed the Book next to their dinner trays and waited. To her bigger disappointment, Miranda snatched the Book into her hands, said, "I'm not known for my giving nature," and got up with a smile.

Andy stayed frozen to the spot, the sound of fast-clacking heels echoing behind her while she tried to decipher Miranda's non-answer. She finally snapped out of it, startled, when behind her Miranda's voice asked, "Are you coming?"

She spun to find her by the outer office's door, purse in hand and cashmere coat flung over her shoulder, that mysterious smile still present on her now expectant face.

All but shutting her mind off completely, Andy sprung into action, turning off the desk lamp and hurrying back and forth between the office and the kitchen, merely dumping the trays on the counter in her haste to follow Miranda, whose steps were already growing farther away. By the time she'd retrieved her own coat and bag and caught up with her, Miranda was standing between the two elevators, impatiently tapping her foot on the marble floor. When one arrived and she entered, Andy took a respectful step back, giving her the space she so craved.

"Are you waiting for a written invitation?" Miranda snarked.

Andy stared. Miranda stared right back. Andy stared some more and finally decided that she really must be stuck in the Twilight Zone. But she walked into the elevator nonetheless, settling a safe distance from Miranda's side, and fixed her eyes on the changing LED numbers overhead.

The floors slowly passed: number eighteen, and seventeen after it, and then sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, and thirteen, and by the time they reached the twelfth floor, Andy had made up her mind and turned to Miranda. "Is it my turn now to ask a question?"

"If you must," Miranda muttered, eyes never leaving the steel doors.

Andy inhaled, exhaled. "Did you really mean it," she asked, "when you said I was your biggest disappointment?"

She stared imploringly at Miranda's still face, waiting. Above them, the numbers kept changing. Seven, six, five, four.

"You were... not what I expected," Miranda finally answered, echoing Andy's earlier statement, and the elevator doors opened, the dark, empty lobby greeting them. Miranda stepped out first, swiftly making her way through the large space. In there, with the high ceiling and no people around, the sound of her heels was a lot louder.

Andy, for her part, remained in the elevator a few seconds more, gathering her thoughts. When the doors began to close, she pushed past them, quickly following in the path Miranda had taken and exiting into the cold night outside. The chill in her bones reminded her that her coat was still draped over her arm, and while she slid both arms into the sleeves, she saw Miranda, already wrapped in her coat, approach the car door that her driver was holding open.

Andy made it to the car just in time, but wasn't stupid enough to enter. An elevator ride with Miranda was one thing; she wasn't so delusional as to think she was about to be driven home. Even so, tonight it felt incredibly important to say goodbye.

When Miranda turned, making to slide into the back seat, she came face to face with Andy once more and gave her an expectant look. Andy, in turn, smiled warmly. "Goodnight, Miranda."

Studying her face for what felt like an interminably long time, Miranda finally nodded. Then she seemed to think about it for a second and softly added, "Goodnight," before promptly lowering herself into the car. The door slammed shut behind her and moments later the engine revved up and the car was gliding down the road, leaving Andy to stare after it until it was completely gone.

*

"And he really liked the series I did in the slums," Lily recounted from Andy's kitchen, half speaking to herself and half to Andy in the bathroom. She opened a cupboard and found only canned beans and tomato paste. "He said, and I quote, 'The emotion bursts out of the photos.' He's definitely including that in the show, and don't you dare leave five minutes in this time!"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Andy called, wrapping her wet hair in a towel.

"Jeez, Andy, don't you have anything to eat in this kitchen?"

"Sorry," she yelled to the closed door. "Haven't really had time for shopping."

"Hmm." Lily scrunched up her nose and kept looking. In the fridge door, she found a carton of milk way past its prime. "Anyway, we don't have a date yet, but I think it's going to be some time in December."

"Just let me know."

"Sure will." She rummaged through boxes and jars on the counter. Since Nate had left, it turned out, things had definitely taken a turn for the worse. But, oh! "Jackpot!" she exclaimed upon opening a yellow and silver tin box.

"I'm so excited for you," said Andy, stepping out into the bedroom. The air in the rest of the apartment was cooler than in the steamy bathroom, raising goosebumps on her still damp skin. Removing the towel from her head and drying the last droplets from the tips of her hair, she slid into her Northwestern hoodie and glanced into the kitchen... where Lily was eating chocolate almonds. Miranda's present. "What are you doing?"

"Mmm." Lily pointed to the box. "These are really good."

In an instant, Andy saw red. She all but ran into the kitchen, snatching the box from Lily's hand, only feeling slightly ridiculous in a distant part of her mind. Okay, so she'd been touched by Miranda's gesture and hadn't wanted to waste it, wanted to savor it. So she'd transferred the chocolates into a box and been limiting herself to one a day so they wouldn't run out. Now the box had a decidedly smaller amount than that morning. "How many did you eat?" she asked, eyes wide in outrage.

"A few, why?" Lily shrugged and turned back to the fridge.

"A few?" She was about to start shaking.

With a bottle of beer in hand, Lily let the fridge door slam shut and turned around, reaching for a bottle opener on the counter. "Yeah, what's the big deal?"

"Why did you touch them without asking?!"

With the clink of metal against glass and the release of gas, Lily levelly said, "Chill, Andy, it's just chocolate."

"No, it's not, it's a present from Miranda!" Andy blurted and promptly froze. Her brain screeched to a halt on the words, eyes growing wider as she watched Lily's reaction.

With the bottle halfway to her lips, Lily paused. "Miranda who?"

"...I didn't say Miranda," Andy quickly said.

"Yeah, you did," Lily drawled, setting the beer on the counter, forehead crinkled in thought. She squinted while Andy's chest heaved and sank in dread and finally muttered, "Miranda Priestly?" Andy's breathing stopped. Finally, she sighed and closed the box, her heart heavy at all the chocolates lost. "What do you have with Miranda Priestly?"

"Nothing," she murmured, depositing the box on the counter, but she knew there was no way out of this. She had always had a big mouth and it almost always got her in trouble.

With an even deeper frown, Lily asked, "Are you still in touch with her?"

"Just leave it, Lily," she said, passing by her on her way to the living room with very little hope that Lily would, in fact, leave it.

"Why are you still in touch with her?" Lily followed her, sounding genuinely confused but persistent. "You quit your job. You don't work for her anymore."

"I know that." Andy shrugged half-heartedly.

"Then why are you still in touch with her?" she repeated and Andy spun in her direction.

"I just am, okay?" she snapped frustratedly. At Lily's wide-eyed reaction, she deflated a little. "Look, it's nothing, okay? I..." she began but wavered. How could she explain it to Lily? She still couldn't logically explain it to herself, not entirely. But she thought of the previous night with Miranda and their conversation and Miranda's little smile that made her a hundred times more beautiful and she decided that truth was the best policy. "I've been going back there every night. Since I started at The Mirror."

"Back where?" Lily frowned, but understanding was beginning to dawn gravely on her features.

"Runway."

"Run--" Her eyes widened again.

"I went there at first only to collect my stuff, but she-- Miranda was there and I felt bad and some things happened in Paris that I... I wanted to help. I needed to help." When she finished, Lily was looking at her like she'd sprouted horns. Grimacing, she said, "Lily..."

"Is that what you've been doing this past couple of weeks?" Lily questioned. "When you kept blowing me and Doug off because you were busy with work, you were actually going there?" she spat the last word out as if Runway was the most heinous, most corrupt place on Earth. She sure hadn't seemed to think so when Andy bestowed upon her a designer bag.

"I wasn't blowing you off," she said weakly even though yes, she absolutely had.

"Is she forcing you to do this?" Lily asked in suspicion.

Andy boggled. "What?"

"Because she can't do that, Andy. You're not her assistant anymore and she can't do anything to you."

"She's not forcing me to do anything," she shot, incredulous. "I choose to be there."

"Why?"

"Because--"

"Because what?"

"Because! Because she needs my help and... and it's nice, and we talk and we have dinner together and we're finally talking, like really talking, almost like friends. We talked about my leaving in Paris and I think she understands. I think that's why she wrote me that recommendation letter, you know? Because-- Lily?" When she'd halted her rambling, Lily's face was contorted into a combination of shock, judgement, and something inscrutable that might actually have been disgust.

"Oh, my god," she muttered on a breath.

"Lily--"

"You're in love with her."

She might not have meant it seriously, Andy might have been able to brush it off and call her crazy, but she froze instead, and that one moment of bemused, panicked hesitation was all that was needed for her to get her answer. For Andy to get her answer, too.

Oh, holy...

No. No, that wasn't... Lily didn't... Miranda and her...

Oh, but there was that smile, and her eyes were so bright and blue. And she'd sat on that sofa in Paris and cried in front of Andy and Andy's heart had squeezed painfully in her chest and she wanted to help Miranda, that was why she'd been coming to Runway every night for two weeks-- no, not to Runway, to Miranda. To help Miranda. To be there for Miranda. To be with Miranda. She'd been dressing up and Miranda smelled so good and she'd bought her chocolate almonds that she couldn't bear to part with and she wanted Miranda to be happy and all those things combined accumulated into something that was very much like...

"I'm outta here," Lily spat in disdain, heading toward the door.

Andy snapped out of her momentary stupor just in time to leap after her. "Lily, wait. Wait! Can't we talk about it?" she pleaded desperately.

Lily spun so fast Andy herself almost got whiplash. "Was this going on while you were still with Nate?" she accused.

And Andy, who'd just had the biggest, most disturbingly shocking, most impossible bomb dropped in her lap, could not form a single coherent thought. "What?"

"Is that why he left?"

"What?"

"Answer me!"

"No!" she shouted. "Nothing was going on-- nothing is going on! Lily, you have to believe me, nothing is going on."

Lily sneered, an unpleasant chuckle leaving her lips. "Believe you."

"Yes... what..."

"What about Hot Fashion Guy? You've done it before."

"That's not fair." Andy pointed a finger at her. "I slept with Christian after Nate broke up with me. I would have never--" she stopped herself when Lily's eyes had widened so much she feared they'd detach from her face. And then it hit her: she'd never told Lily about her night with Christian. She had been so relieved, upon returning from Paris, to be embraced and welcomed again that she hadn't wanted to make any more mistakes, had decided to leave the past in the past.

New start, better Andy. What a load of bullshit.

"Lily..." she tried feebly.

"You slept with him." It was a statement, not a question. Now Lily's face was definitely showing disgust as she turned back toward the door. "Wow."

"What, so because Nate left me, I'm not allowed to be with anyone anymore? I should be celibate now?" Andy called, her face growing hot.

Lily turned to face her again, not even trying to mask her severe disapproval. "You know what, Andy? You really have changed. You're not the Andy I know."

Miranda's words from the night before returned to her. "Yes, I've changed, and it's not a bad thing. It's not something I should be ashamed of."

Lily shook her head and shrugged her shoulder and despite herself, andy felt a sting in her eyes, a tightness in her throat. "I don't know you anymore."

"Oh, y-you don't know me?"

"No, I don't. My friend Andy doesn't act like this."

"Like what?"

"Sneaking behind everyone's back. Lying. Cheating--"

"I didn't--"

"--falling for her sadistic boss that has done nothing but made her life a living hell. Since when are you even gay? I bet she was the one to put those thoughts into your head--"

"What do you want me to do?" Andy yelled, her voice coming out hoarse with emotion, her vision getting blurry. "Do you want me to explain to you my thought process? I can't."

Lily shook her head again, looking her up and down in utter contempt. "I don't want anything from you anymore." With that, she spun on her heel and left the apartment, slamming the door behind her.

In a split moment of pure madness, Andy opened the door and shouted after her, "Yeah, well, maybe you changed, too! My friend Lily accepted and supported me no matter what!" She made sure to slam the door harder before her back hit it and she erupted in sobs.

*

She spent the rest of the weekend replaying the fight in her mind. She'd said what she'd said in the heat of the moment, but it was true nonetheless: Lily hadn't been supportive or accepting for a long time. For a friendship that had lasted as long as it had and survived the curse of puberty and teenage angst and the distance of college, it was pretty one-sided when it came to Andy's decisions. Lily had been all too happy to accept the free perks of Andy's job, but hadn't shied away from passing judgement on said job when it no longer suited her needs. And now, when Andy needed her most, needed someone to organize the thoughts and feelings in her head...

Miranda's voice rang in her ears: "Don't ever put up with someone who can't support you, in good or bad." Someone like Miranda, she thought incredulously.

It was absurd. It was insane. It made so much sense. Andy had been watching it happen for weeks, unable to make sense of what was right under her nose.

No, longer than that. Months. Before she'd quit and before Paris. It had been gradually building up, so slowly that she hadn't noticed, but she noticed now. She thought of Miranda in her grey robe and swollen, red eyes, and she wanted to reach out and hug and touch and console. Miranda's scent and Miranda's touch on her fingers. Shared dinners and shared elevator. Late nights in companionable silence. Miranda's arms around her waist, holding her up, keeping her from falling. She was falling, all right, through a pitless hole, like Alice in Wonderland--down the rabbit hole. Her whole life was spinning out of control and she had no idea how to stop it, how to swim up to the surface.

She wasn't even gay, that much Lily had been right about. She was able to find women aesthetically pleasing, attractive even--god, after her time at Runway, how could she not appreciate the female form?--but she had never desired another woman in her life.

She desired Miranda like crazy. She could admit that now, could let that part inside herself, which had been lying dormant for weeks, months, break free. A brief touch and the whiff of a smell weren't enough; she wanted more, so much more, and the sudden desire--no, not just desire, but yearning, longing, craving--that flooded her was almost too much, almost crippling. And devastatingly heartbreaking.

Because Miranda hated her. Well, okay, maybe not hated, not anymore, but it was more than safe to assume she didn't share her newfound feelings. Andy had left her, abandoned her, not only in the middle of the most important week of her year, but during a personal crisis as well, when Miranda was the one who needed someone to hold her up, and she was the only one--what had Miranda called her?--insolent enough to speak to her the way she had, to challenge and test and criticize. And she was a nobody while Miranda was a goddess in designer clothes. She ruled a multi-billion dollar industry without raising her voice, and what did Andy do? Wrote articles about potholes. Miranda Priestly would never spit in sorry, little Andy Sachs's direction.

Which was just as well that come Monday her unofficial two weeks would be completed. She could leave Runway for good, this time with a clean conscience, and never look back. She'd ignore the fact that she never had returned to redeem herself but had for Miranda, had gotten sucked into her orbit and refused to resist. She'd forget Miranda's smell and Miranda's smile and the color of her eyes and the feel of her fingers. She'd focus on her real job, on building her career and being the person she should have been all along: a carefree 23-year-old with no dramas, no bad decisions, only concerns about making the rent. She'd let Miranda go.

Groaning loudly, she buried her head under her pillow and forcefully squeezed her eyes shut. She wished she'd never returned to Runway in the first place.

*

Andy had not expected to be able to focus on work the next day, but it didn't make it any less frustrating. This was yet another reason she should just forget about Miranda, wipe her out of her life: this was a new job, one that could take her much farther if she dealt her cards right; she was supposed to prove herself, convince her boss that he could trust her with stories of real importance and gravitas. Staring at a blank Word document for thirty minutes straight was not the way to do it.

She was, therefore, equal parts relieved and anxious to return home hours later, and after trying to empty her mind in a long, scalding shower, she found herself in front of her closet, biting her lip. The question of what to wear had never been so difficult. Runway had taught her that clothing was one's means of expressing themselves, but she had no idea what the hell she wanted to say.

She'd been disheartened, upon waking up to a new week, to discover that her feelings were not a matter of temporary insanity and had not vanished over night, and a part of her was glad that after today she would never have to see Miranda again--that part wanted to nip it in the bud. Another, bigger part made her reach for the one dress she'd kept from Paris. It was hardly Emily's style (the fact that it wasn't Vivienne Westwood already made the elimination process a lot faster) and Andy had marveled at its simple but sophisticated beauty during the Valentino show, the one where Miranda had grabbed her arm and introduced her as her "new Emily." Miranda, who'd uncharacteristically been absolutely enchanted by the show, would surely appreciate her selection.

Indeed, when she strutted into the office, bearing Miranda's usual coffee and treat (for her last day, she'd gone all out and purchased a chocolate croissant, insisting the barista warm it up; now it was still hot in its paper bag), Miranda absently glanced up from her desk and, for the first time since their aqcuaintance, did a double take. It might have been because Andy was wearing a $3,000 evening dress on a regular Monday, although it showed enough leg to justify an every day or impress-your-crush use and Andy had made sure to complete the look with her highest pair of stilettos to accentuate her calves. The dress did not call for stockings and the sides of her waist were bare under her coat where the white top met the black skirt, but the chill in her bones was worth it just to see Miranda's gaping look.

She remembered Miranda's frequent perusals of her outfits during her employ, the way her eyes would run up and down the length of her body and sometimes linger on a particular part, and felt a shiver course through her spine that had nothing to do with the cold. For the first time in her life, she wondered what it would be like to have sex with a woman--more precisely, what it would be like to have sex with Miranda.

Sex with men had always been enjoyable and satisfactory--Andy had no complaints in that department. But where men had coarse body hair and facial stubble, Miranda's skin looked smooth and delicate. Men had a broader build and Miranda's body was slender and inviting, the swell of her breasts emphasized by the snug dress she was wearing. Andy imagined running her fingers through her hair, wondering if it was as soft as it looked, and nearly dropped the coffee cup when she came to a stop before Miranda's desk. And tonight, instead of placing it on the desk along with the croissant, she held it out for Miranda... whose fingers brushed hers at the exchange and the answering clench in Andy's abdomen was almost painful.

She thought that if she tried to say something now, it would come out as a squeak, and besides, what could she possibly say? So she hurried off to the closet instead, where she hanged her coat, and then plopped down in her chair, helpless.

She must have answered about ten e-mails absentmindedly before her mind caught up with her, prompting her to go back and check each one to make sure she hadn't made any mistakes. But it was impossible to concentrate on anything following her mind-blowing, life-altering revelation.

She remembered what Lily had said about Nate, and then recalled Nate's parting shot the last time she'd seen him: "The person whose calls you always take, that's the relationship you're in. I hope you two are very happy together." How ironic; if only he could see her now.

Or had Nate seen back then something she couldn't? she thought in astonishment. She wanted to laugh hysterically, and would have if Miranda hadn't been in such close proximity. She'd gotten a whole damn makeover for the sole purpose of impressing Miranda, gone as far as going down a size. Her own boyfriend had hated it, but Andy hadn't cared; she'd basked in Miranda's wordless approval. Glowed, really.

What would Nate say if he knew he'd been right? Did it even matter? Did any of it matter? Because, as far as fantasies went, this was a very nice one, but it was no more than that. There was no relationship of any shape or form between Andy and Miranda; up until lately, she would have classified them as boss and assistant, but now she couldn't even say that, and she wouldn't go as far as to call them friends. Now, more than ever, it seemed completely implausible.

But when it came to a romantic relationship... did Andy even want that? When she really, truly thought about it, did she actually want to be Miranda's... girlfriend? Lover? Significant other? It only took a mere glance at the disaster that was her latest marriage, and at the one before that, to know that that was just a powder keg waiting to explode, not to mention Miranda was currently in the process of a divorce apparently so ugly that she'd had to ship her kids off to their father to spare them the misery.

And even if that weren't an issue, what would a relationship with Miranda look like? Well, for starters, secrecy, of course, because it wouldn't do to expose to the public what Page Six would surely classify as Miranda's mid-life crisis with a much younger, female ex-assistant, and even in theory Andy dreaded the close scrutinity of the press and the rest of the gossip-following section of society while she and Miranda tried to figure out a relationship.

It wouldn't benefit her own career either, definitely not when she was just beginning to find her footing in this ever competitive business. No one would take a novice journalist conducting an affair with her old (and older) boss seriously. They would say she was sleeping her way to the top and those who wouldn't mock might try to test her willingness, and how could Andy convince anyone otherwise? How could she convince the world that, out of everyone, she wanted to be with someone monikered The Devil and Snow Queen purely out of love?

And then there'd be the opinions of the people closest to her to consider: her parents' shocked, disapproving dismay after all the horror stories they'd heard about Andy's tenure under the mighty tyrant; Lily's judgement and resentment if she ever even deigned to speak to Andy again to convey those emotions; Doug, perhaps, would be the only one impressed enough with her seizing the world's biggest fashion maven in her net, but he would also think that Andy had undoubtedly lost her mind, and maybe she had.

She'd have to be mad to want to put up with missed dinners and snooty kids and Miranda's cold, mean, indecipherable demeanor. Two husbands had already fled those very things and here was Andy, thinking, contemplating jumping headfirst into the trap. Would she end up just like them? Would she end up crushing Miranda like they had, for another assistant to walk in on her crying in a robe? No, that sounded awful. Absolutely awful.

Oh, but then... then there were the other things: mornings spent in bed together, reading the paper in companionable silence at the kitchen table; Miranda's touch on her skin, whenever and however she wanted, and Andy returning the favor; whispered endearments in each other's ears and private jokes that made only them laugh; showing up to ritzy events as Miranda's plus-one, standing beside her instead of whispering names from behind, being showed off to the cameras and all the who's who of Miranda's social circle and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. Oh, that was the part of the fantasy that was hard to let go of. A life shared with Miranda Priestly, Miranda's world revolving around Andy--it really was a beautiful fantasy. But it was merely a fantasy.

"Get me some water," Miranda's voice floated from the interior office, soft and smooth and beautiful, and Andy's fingers skittered involuntarily across the keyboard as her resolve melted away.

Jumping up, she rushed to the kitchen and fetched a bottle from the fridge, then hurried to Miranda's office, taking a glass and a coaster from the cart, setting them on the desk, and pouring the water. The croissant, she noted happily, was gone.

But she didn't leave right away, because Miranda grabbed the glass and tilted her head back, and her throat worked as she drank and her eyes closed and even in the darkness broken only by the dim light of the desk lamp, her skin looked pristine and fair, like that of a porcelain doll. It glowed enticingly and Andy longed to touch it, just reach out and stroke the elongated neck or the bare part of a shoulder, her fingers burning with this shocking, sudden need that had never presented itself before, not this bluntly.

"What?" Miranda snapped, visibly irritated. Andy supposed she wasn't used to being watched performaning mundane, human tasks such as drinking water.

"Nothing," she said with a start and instantly turned, all but running out of the room, the tips of her fingers still tingling.

Miranda didn't speak to her for the rest of the night, which was most disappointing. Andy obviously hadn't thought their last day together would be commemorated with balloons and a goodbye cake, but it would have been nice to seal her tenure at Runway, with Miranda with perhaps another shared meal and a conversation that ran late into the night. Just like on Friday--that had been a good night.

But there was no meal and there were no goodbyes and just after 10:30 Bryan walked through the door on the other end of the room, Book in hand. He'd long stopped looking surprised at Andy's presence in the office post her departure, simply accepting the fact that for some reason she was there, and Andy almost--almost--wanted to see his reaction the next night, when Miranda would, once again, spend her evening alone like she'd done before the fateful night Andy showed up.

Then she forgot all about Bryan and turned her attention to Miranda, her heart clenching. Miranda would be all alone once Andy was gone. She wouldn't make Vanessa stay because she hadn't before, perhaps wanting to be alone in the first place. But she hadn't seemed to mind the last couple of weeks with Andy; in fact, she'd embraced them: including Andy, asking for help, buying her dinner, eating all the "sugars and carbs" Andy picked for her. Would she miss Andy? Andy yearned to know the answer and dreaded it all the same.

Her steps toward Miranda's desk were slow, almost involuntarily so, stalling the inevitable. Once the Book was on her desk, Miranda would wrap up her business and ask for--okay, demand--her coat and bag. If Andy was lucky, she'd be allowed to spend one more minute with her in the elevator, but chances were Miranda would stride out of the office without a glance in her direction and Andy would stay with a large emptiness inside, the feeling of something incomplete.

Which, she told herself for the thousandth time, was fine. Because she wasn't supposed to want more. Because she was batshit for feeling things for Miranda she shouldn't feel in the first place. Because Miranda would never see her as anything more than the assistant who'd walked out on her, her biggest disappointment, the person she hadn't expected Andy to be.

But she lay the Book on the desk with uncertainty nevertheless, consciously refraining from biting her lip as she awaited Miranda's next move. Perhaps, as a surprising gesture such as the ones Miranda had been perfecting over the last two weeks, she would offer a parting word, would at least acknowledge the fact that they were saying goodbye.

She didn't. She, in fact, didn't stop writing in her notebook long enough to notice the Book, even when Andy cleared her throat. Finally, Andy took it upon herself to do what Miranda obviously didn't care enough to do.

"I guess this is goodbye, then," she said with a smile that was only a little wobbly. Miranda finally looked up with a frown. "It's been..." What? Nice? Weird? Insane? "Maybe I'll see you around." God, she hoped not. And prayed like hell that she would.

The silence that ensued was more than unnerving, especially as Miranda appeared to grow more perplexed by the second. "What are you talking about?" she demanded at last.

Andy tried very hard to keep the smile on her face. "My two weeks are up," she clarified. "Today was officially my last day as your assistant."

"What two weeks?" Miranda inquired, the lines in her forehead deepening.

"My..." Andy stammered and swallowed. "My two weeks' notice, remember? I promised to come here to carry out my term. Well,"--she shrugged--"I have." Now that she'd said it out loud, it sounded pretty dumb. After all, Miranda had hired a new assistant upon returning from Paris, days before Andy came to collect her belongings. She wondered if already then, on that first night, she'd been looking for reasons to be close to Miranda and conceded that she'd have a lot of self-reflection to do in her impending free nights. For starters, exactly when had she gone from hating Miranda's guts to subconsciously wanting nothing more than to make her happy? She suspected with a sinking feeling that Nate was still in the picture when the shift had occured, and hated that Lily might not have been speaking completely out of turn.

When Miranda didn't show any signs of satisfaction or comprehension, she began to feel nonplussed, her fidgeting hands betraying her uncertainty. Had she missed something, made a misjudgement? "You're leaving?" Miranda asked. Oh, no. Huge misjudgement.

"I..." Andy's mouth opened and closed in search for words. Finally, she settled on a squeaky "Yes?" Miranda's question had come out harsh, almost accusatory, but something in her tone made Andy's stomach flip inexplicably. Despite the cold glare she was now receiving, she thought Miranda might have sounded... apprehensive? Almost like she didn't want Andy to go. Did she? Had Miranda gotten so used to her presence that she wanted to keep her as her unofficial, unpaid, midnight assistant? And if she asked, or ordered, was Andy strong enough to refuse?

Miranda didn't ask or order anything. She slowly closed her notebook and lowered her glasses onto the desk, and where her glare had been cold just seconds prior, her voice was positively freezing when she muttered, "I see."

Andy's hands started to tremble. "I-- I'm sorry." Her eyes shifted restlessly, watching Miranda organize her desk, fighting not to cry at the sudden change in the atmosphere and trying to make sense of it. This was not how she'd wanted the last time she saw Miranda to go. She would take Miranda's usual apathy, just not this, not the horrible, unshakable feeling that she'd done something wrong and didn't know how to fix it. "Do you want me to stay?" she asked.

"No, no," Miranda answered lightly as she rose from her chair, but there was no doubt that there was nothing light about her mood. It was greatly evidenced in her next words, uttered in a voice so low and seething that Andy almost did cry. "It's what you do best, isn't it?"

"What--" Andy began, her voice croaky, and gulped down the lump in her throat with great difficulty. How had they gotten here so quickly, again? Andy being careless with her words without noticing, ruining whatever peaceful level she'd reached with Miranda. It was even more painful now, when she wanted so badly to be accepted by Miranda. "What is?"

"Leaving," Miranda intoned, throwing her a baleful glare. She made no move to cross her desk, which was just as well because Andy didn't think she could get her legs to move if she tried. She felt frozen, cold and motionless, even as she was forcing her body not to quiver.

Miranda did hate her, perhaps more than she'd estimated before, more than she had during Andy's first months on the job, when she'd been ugly and frumpy and useless. Andy had exceeded her expectations, made her warm up to her, and then made the reprehensible, unforgivable mistake of leaving, walking away, abandoning Miranda to fend for herself when she needed her most. And if she'd ever thought Miranda could overlook something like that, if a letter of recommendation and gourmet dinners and a heart-to-heart had given her the illusion that she'd gotten her redemption... well. The look in Miranda's eyes now told her that she'd been fooling herself all along.

"I'm so sorry, Miranda," she whispered, the tears burning in her throat. "I never did give you a full apology and I--"

"I don't need your apology," Miranda growled.

Andy opened her mouth, realized she didn't know what to say, and closed it, taking a shuddering breath through her nostrils. Helplessly, she admitted, "I don't know what you want me to say."

"Nothing," Miranda spat viciously, took hold of the Book, and rounded her desk, blowing past Andy on her way out of the office. In her wake, that tantalizing scent lingered, making Andy's knees weak.

"What--" Andy spun in her direction. She felt wetness well up in her eyes, but refused to let it out, unwilling to make an even bigger fool of herself. Miranda was opening the closet door when she blurted in a desperate attempt to make her stay, "I didn't even think you cared about my being here."

In a moment she could only classify as miraculous, Miranda's hand dropped from her coat hanger. Her glare, however, was even deadlier than before. "What?"

"You never said anything and I..." Powerless to do anything but take a few steps out of Miranda's office, she inhaled deeply and said, "I know what I did was wrong. I shouldn't have left the way I did and I... I came back here, wanting to help you, wanting to make you see that I was sorry." Wanting to make you love me back, she didn't say, but it was now painfully clear to her that that was what it had been about all along. Against all odds, she loved Miranda, and she wished Miranda loved her back. Nothing else seemed to matter: not her new job, not her friends, not Nate, and not even her ideals--only this. She gulped again. "I don't know how, but somehow I managed to screw it up all over again."

There was an incredibly, uncomfortably long silence following her pathetic, little speech. It might have been hours, she wasn't sure and was afraid to look anywhere but at Miranda, who stared at her as if she were an alien with three eyes and an antenna coming out of the top of her head. It gave Andy a chance to calm down, though, as much as she could. She took several deep breaths, managed to keep the tears at bay, and thought about everything that had happened in the last couple of weeks--no, in the last eight months--and everything she could have done differently to avoid what was happening now.

"What are you, an idiot?" Miranda's voice sliced through the silence and oh, forget about calming down. The tears returned to her eyes with a vengeance, her breath shuddered and hitched in her throat. She could handle Miranda's cutting, degrading insults as well as the next Runway employee on a normal day, but now she thought it might just be the last straw before a long overdue breakdown.

Miranda, however, went on, "Do you think I needed your help? How incompetent do you think I am that you assume I couldn't survive here without you answering e-mails?"

Andy's first instinct was to be offended, but when Miranda's words registered with her--or rather didn't--her forehead crinkled in confusion. "I don't understand."

Miranda's resulting sigh and eye roll were so exasperated that she thought she might just turn around and leave without another word. But Miranda, instead, barked, "Do you think I actually enjoy staying at work every night?"

"You said," Andy mumbled, growing more disoriented by the second, "you said there was a lot more work after Paris--"

"Not for three whole weeks," Miranda exclaimed as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and Andy was infuriatingly dense for not knowing it.

"Then-- why--" Andy shook her head, trying to clear it, to figure out what was happening because it was clear she was missing a very big part of the conversation. If Miranda didn't actually have enough work to justify staying late at the office, and she was obviously upset about Andy claiming not to show up anymore, then the only possible reason she'd been spending the last couple of weeks with her must have been--

"I really have no idea what's going on here," she breathed out, her head spinning so much she thought she might lose her balance.

"You really don't?" Miranda asked dubiously.

"I--"

She sighed again, sounding impatient and pissed off. She somehow made it sound accusatory, as if she was pointing out another one of Andy's flaws, when she finally said, "I've never been very good at this."

"At what?" Andy asked numbly, but the next thing she knew, Miranda was coming closer, crossing the empty space between them with large steps and so much fire in her eyes that if Andy had any semblence of coherence left, she'd worry for her safety.

She didn't need to worry.

When their lips met, it was awkward and messy like any first kiss: their noses bumped and their teeth clashed and Miranda didn't seem to quite know what to do with her tongue, but her hands were on either side of Andy's waist, right where the material of the dress brilliantly split to expose the skin, and the cool touch of her fingers caused every inch of Andy's body to come alive and erupt in goosebumps and sent pleasant, little shivers up and down her spine. If she'd had any doubts before, she was certain now: she was head-over-heels in love with Miranda Priestly.

Miranda's mouth, in contrast with her hands, was warm, and where the initial impact of her lips had been almost bruising, they were now moving slowly--tentatively, even--caressing Andy's own lips while her tongue explored inside her mouth. Too overwhelmed to kiss back, Andy could do nothing but gasp, her knees trembling. She was pretty sure now would be really bad timing to fall, but before she could get back a fraction of her frazzled mind and embrace Miranda back for balance, Miranda nibbled on her lower lip one last time and pulled back.

Her lips and the skin all around them were smeared with what was left of her pink lipstick as well as contributions from Andy's own lips, her eyes were hooded, and her hands were still placed firmly on Andy's sides, as if prepared to stop her from fleeing, and her gaze said as much, but a glare was already making its way onto her features, betraying an uncertainty Andy had never seen there before. And everything fell into place.

And, really, there was only one thing that Andy could do.

"Thank god," she breathed, wrapping her arms around Miranda's shoulders and claiming her lips once more. Miranda kissed back so hungrily that Andy could feel it in her toes, raising one hand from Andy's waist to tangle in her hair, grab the back of her head and pull her closer so she wouldn't pull away, and as they pressed together, hearts hammering against each other, she poured into the kiss everything she hadn't been able to say in words: that she did love Andy back, that she'd been forgiven all along. And this kiss, this one was much better.

~*~

On second thought, I think Penelope Lively had no idea what she was talking about. I don't profess to speak for the rest of the world, of course, but as for me, happenstance was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time; the choices I made, those were the ones that ultimately led me to where I am. I won't claim to have made all the right choices, but at the end of the day, I don't regret a single one. How could I?

"I won't claim to have made all the right choices, but at the end of the day, I don't regret a single one."

"Jeez, you scared me," Andy exhaled, pressing a hand to her chest, where she could feel her accelerated heartbeat.

"What is this?" Miranda inquired over her shoulder, leaning in to get a better look.

"Nothing," she quickly said, making to shut her laptop.

"Ah-ah-ah," Miranda argued, lifting the lid. A smirk was slowly spreading across her face. "Is this about me?"

"No," Andy answered instantly. "A little," she conceded. "I barely mentioned you."

Miranda gave her an arched look, clearly not buying her words for a second. "This better not appear in that rag you call a newspaper."

Spinning in her seat, Andy shot her an outraged glare even as her lips broke into a grin. "The Daily News is not a rag," she laughed. Miranda merely made a playful "hmm" sound for acknowledgement. "And don't worry, I'm not publishing this. Just reminiscing," she admitted coyly.

"You're too sentimental," Miranda concluded. Andy rolled her eyes.

"I thought you were working on the Book."

"I'm done. I wanted to see what you were writing."

"How'd you know I was writing?"

"You mumble to yourself," Miranda replied dryly, as if it actually bothered her. "Are you coming to bed?"

"Yeah, I'm just gonna wrap this up," Andy said, already posing her fingers on the keyboard.

Moments later, she felt a warm breath blowing against her ear. "If you come to bed now, I'll make it worth your while." And despite the passage of time, Miranda's seductions still worked on her, sending a pleasurable throb between her legs. The next time she spoke, Miranda had already moved away, adding in the cool voice reserved for work and incompetent employees, "This offer will not stay valid for long."

Shaking herself out of her reverie, Andy chuckled. "Be right there."

She scrolled back up the screen, re-reading her last paragraph. From the stairs down the hall, she heard Miranda order over her shoulder, "Come to bed."

Yes, she typed. I've long learned to live life without regret.

 

The end.