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Losing Miranda

Chapter Text

Miranda wakes up slowly, grudgingly. A quick glance at the drapes which haven't been closed properly confirm that the sun is already high, meaning a good portion of the morning has already passed her by. It won't be the first time. Reaching blindly for the nightstand, her fingers brush the clammy surface of a drinking glass, then the small, plastic-coated pills next to it. Miranda grasps the pills, depositing them on her tongue before washing them down with lukewarm water. It's a long way from the sparkling San Pellegrino that she would insist on every morning, the bubbles still popping as she sat at her desk to begin the day.

 

That's the last thought she has before sleep reclaims her, pulling her into dark dreams she won't remember.

 

*

 

She next awakes when a small bundle of activity collides with her left side. Opening one eye, Miranda confirms that Cassidy is her visitor, the younger of the twins by seven minutes and by far the most expressive; something she must have inherited from her father.

 

"Mom?"

 

"Yes, Bobbsey?"

 

"Are you feeling better yet?'

 

Miranda falls back against the pillows with a sigh, acutely aware of her unstyled hair and pillow-creased skin. She isn't the paragon of glamor that she likes to present to the outside world, the one she'd prefer her daughters remember too.

 

"Almost. Why don't you go outside and play with your sister?"

 

"It's raining," Cassidy replies with a pout, because she hears the rejection that Miranda is trying so desperately to conceal. No mother wants to tell her child she doesn't have the energy to spend time with her, but Miranda is perilously close.

 

She's saved by a sudden stampede of footsteps in the hallway outside the bedroom-- Caroline in search of her sister. Caroline doesn't enter the room, she won't unless cajoled into it by Stephen. Mercifully, he doesn't appear to be around. Cassidy takes one last appraising look at her mother, before scurrying out to occupy herself with something more fun.

 

It's for the best, Miranda tells herself, but that doesn't make it sting any less.

 

*

 

Eventually, she drags herself out from under the comforter and into the bathroom. Her right leg protests at the unexpected weight on it after hours of rest, but eventually the joints begin cooperating again. Miranda relieves herself and brushes her teeth, but she can’t bear to look in the mirror. The scarring is minimal - she received care from the finest surgeons on the East Coast after all -but looking at it is a challenge for later in the day.

 

It takes an eternity to run a bath; years and tens of thousands of dollars of improvements to the property haven't completely overcome the ancient plumbing, and Miranda finds herself sitting listlessly on the edge of the tub, humming some tune she barely recognizes.

 

When the warm water is suitably deep Miranda strips her wrinkled nightgown from her clammy skin and sinks gratefully into the welcoming tub. For the first time in days, she can feel the mental fog lifting. Her skin reacts gleefully to the warmth and soothing bubbles (no oils, she can’t risk slipping), and when she steps out almost an hour later, Miranda feels much more like herself.

 

Standing in front of the oversized bathroom mirror, Miranda can finally bear to survey the damage. The dark circles under her eyes persist despite the hours upon hours of sleep that she's racked up since leaving Manhattan. Her hair is a disaster zone, curled and damp from the bath water, it sticks to her forehead and scalp, looking nothing like her signature bob. The towel knotted around her chest remains in place, but there's no denying the weight loss that shows in her cheeks and her arms. The scars that she’s been so carefully avoiding glow pinkly against her pale face, the lingering damage from shattered glass and tremendous impact.

 

Not good enough, Priestly.

 

Padding back into the bedroom that has become a sort of prison, Miranda reaches once more for the medication that waits on the nightstand. She doesn't question who comes in to set out the correct doses in between her extended naps, some member of staff or other no doubt. In fact, she's so used to having everything done for her that Miranda usually forgets to notice anything of the kind.

 

She wants to see her daughters, and so Miranda selects casual clothes from the drawers and closets that line her dressing room. Brushing her hair back, she opts for a blue headscarf to pull it back from her face and hide its lackluster condition. By the time her light sweater and linen pants are in place, the outfit looks quite passable. The thought of make-up is exhausting, but Miranda sweeps the basics into place with a practiced hand. Before she can think better of it, she turns the door handle and steps out into the deserted hallway, squeezing the thick pile of the carpet beneath her bare feet.

 

A cursory exploration reveals that the girls are in neither of their bedrooms nor the playroom. Already beginning to feel the pinch from activity that she's become unused to, Miranda continues downstairs and finds that the house is unoccupied. She shudders at the unexpected loneliness, feeling very much like the ghost at an abandoned feast. There are signs of life continuing without her everywhere she looks, from the abandoned glasses in the sink to the open magazine on the kitchen counter.

 

She notices the elegant cane, some highly polished wood, propped against the kitchen table. There are similar ones, not to mention crutches and the banished wheelchair, all over the house. It’s sheer defiance that makes her not reach for the assistance, leaning against the table instead while she considers her options.

 

Forcing herself to remain out in the world, Miranda grabs the copy of Vogue with a sneer and a glass bottle of mineral water from the fridge. Whether from some misguided sense of rebellion, or simply not caring, Miranda doesn't bother to collect a glass, sipping straight from the green glass bottle as she makes her way out to the porch.

 

Her sunglasses are where she left them a few days ago, on the cushion of the swing that affords her the best vantage point over the grounds. From here, she’s shielded by the slender white posts of the porch, but can see almost all the way down to the gate at the bottom of the long driveway.

 

There's a shooting pain as Miranda folds herself down into the gently rocking seat, and she stands straight again with a muttered curse. These damn injuries are so easy to forget when she takes the painkillers, it's only when she really wrenches something that the memory of how damaged she is comes flooding back. More carefully, she sits, and tries to lose herself in an internal critique of her rival publication.

 

Having mentally dismissed an insipid Armani spread, Miranda's focus is pulled from the pages by the distinctive sound of car wheels on the gravel road leading up to the house. She tries not too look overly eager for company, but she's been missing the girls terribly since they all left the city. Up here, there are a thousand activities to occupy them, and Miranda's waking hours have been greatly diminished. She pretends to study the page in front of her, but finds herself holding her breath until the first car door opens and then slams shut.

 

She's a little surprised, not to mention offended, that there are no running footsteps coming towards her. Looking up, Miranda sees some commotion at the back of the car, as Stephen retrieves bags from the trunk. It’s only when Miranda realizes that the girls aren’t in the car that she thinks to notice the newcomer stepping out of the passenger side.

Chapter Text

The tinny voice of the train's PA system crackles into life, and Andy stuffs her worn paperback copy of ‘To The Lighthouse' into her trusty backpack. Lifting her case from the luggage rack by the doors, she’s primed and ready when the train rolls to a stop at Mastic-Shirley, a single platform after a long stretch of not much but occasional houses dotted across the landscape.

 

Andy has spent most of her journey texting back and forth with Lily about her new job in the Hamptons. Lily, having been in New York for two years now while Andy tried to make a name for herself in Boston, had wasted no time in informing Andy that Mastic was not the Hamptons, no matter how many rich people had started squabbling over huge patches of land there. Andy had enjoyed the familiar teasing, leaning on Lily's expertise after crashing on her sofa for nearly a month. Even the thought of that lumpy monstrosity had Andy's lower back twitching angrily, and anything but sleeping on the floor at her new place will be a step up.

 

Still, fresh from a messy breakup with Nate, Andy had been grateful to escape Boston with all its collegial charm for the city she'd always dreamed of ending up in. She'd been sneakily sending her resume and applying for jobs for a few months, but had expected that not many companies would bite until she'd actually moved to New York. Trying to get a writing job that paid anything had turned out to be an uphill struggle, and in desperation (thanks to a dwindling bank balance) Andy had allowed herself to be talked into applying for a mother's help position outside of the city. The job did sound very easy, and was surprisingly well-paid for helping to run some rich woman's summer home.

 

Of course, Andy hadn't even applied for that job at first. She'd applied for an assistant's position with the publishing behemoth Elias-Clarke, only to discover that it had been filled five minutes before her interview. Taking pity on her, the woman in Human Resources had asked Andy to wait while she made a phone call. That call set in motion a series of events that started with a snippy English woman insulting Andy's appearance, followed by a rapid-fire set of instructions about this Miranda and her two children, after which a bitchy bald man had come in to laugh at Andy's mismatched pantsuit and grudgingly admit that her years of babysitting experience plus secretarial skills would actually give her as good a chance as anyone. There had been something in his tone that put Andy on edge, almost as if he expected that nobody would be right for the position. Well, she'd show him, and anyone else who cared to doubt her.

 

Andy has already conjured up a tentative fantasy of a gorgeous house with a frequently absent employer, two delightful twin girls who’ll look to her as a sort of mentor, and hours in the afternoon to write after dealing with the basic duties of 'helping'. How strenuous can it be, really?

 

So, two days later, Andy and almost all of her worldly possessions are on the Long Island Railroad on their way to what should be a very productive summer. As she steps from the train, Andy is surprised to note that she’s the only person alighting there, but on a weekday afternoon perhaps it isn't so unusual. Smoothing down her hair, Andy pulls her backpack over both shoulders and wheels her suitcase towards the quaint little ticket office with its cream walls and roof like a gingerbread house. She walks through it quickly, stepping out into the parking lot, wishing she had left her sunglasses somewhere nearer to hand.

 

There’s nobody waiting for her, just the gleaming rows of cars parked by commuters that morning. Checking the sheet of paper with neatly-typed instructions that she pulled out of her shorts' pocket, Andy confirms that she has in fact taken the correct train. Just as she’s rooting around for her phone, a sleek Jaguar comes screeching into the parking lot, shuddering to a stop in front of Andy like a Formula One car forced into a pit stop.

 

The passenger door opens with a jerk, nobody stepping out of the driver's side to greet her. Andy takes a cautious step forward, mentally calculating the chances of being abducted by a serial killer in a fancy car in broad daylight. She leans down a little to make eye contact with the man behind the wheel, but he’s looking in the opposite direction, drumming his fingers impatiently on the wheel.

 

"You must be Roy?" Andy asks, trying to keep the nervousness from her voice.

 

This is starting to feel like a really bad idea.

 

The man looks at her then, and there’s nothing pleasant in his expression as he peers over his sleek sunglasses. When Andy sees the ostentatious watch on his wrist and the casual but expensive looking clothes he’s wearing, she’s pretty sure this isn't some lowly staff driver.

 

"Roy, the lucky bastard, has been sent into the city to collect some dresses or whatever it is today. I get to abandon my call with investors in Chicago to come and collect you."

 

There isn't an ounce of friendliness in his tone, and Andy finds herself blushing at the thought of being such an inconvenience.

 

"So how about you get in before the day's completely wasted, huh?"

 

Scurrying, Andy throws her bags in the trunk. Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she eases herself into the passenger seat and hasn't even finished closing the door before the car is buzzing out of the car park with yet another squeal of tires. Nice ride, she’s forced to admit, though she’s too busy fumbling with her seatbelt to dwell on the thought.

 

Silence reigns in the car, no radio playing, but at least this guy is watching the road even as he ignores the speed limit.

 

"I'm uh, Andy. Andy Sachs," she ventures, hoping that conversation isn't the wrong way to go. For a moment it seems like he’s going to ignore her completely, but settles instead for a long, appraising glance that lingers way too long on Andy's partly bare legs and the neckline of her top for comfort. Only once he's looked his fill (thankfully the road is quiet enough for him to take his eyes off it), the gray-haired man treats Andy to a half-hearted smile.

 

"Stephen. The man of the house; or so they tell me. You know, a million girls would kill for the chance to work for my wife. What made you stand out from the crowd?"

 

Andy gulps at the statement about his wife. She's heard that same phrase about this job at least five times already, but she can't help wondering why a barely-qualified wannabe novelist is their first choice if the position was so sought after.

 

"Hopefully Emily could see that I'm a good fit for the job. I love being around kids, and getting out of the city in the summer is always great, you know?"

 

Wow, no points for scintillating conversation, Andy curses herself inwardly. Stephen doesn't seem to mind though, and hopefully it’s a sign of his mood improving that he flicks a switch and let some generic rock music begin to seep out into the car. It’s the kind of stuff Andy's dad listens to, and she finds herself humming along after just a few bars.

 

"Or maybe Emily hates you," Stephen replies after a minute or two, a smirk quite evident on his face as he says it. "Trust me, kid, you need to watch your back around Miranda. You seem nice, and I'm sorry to say that doesn't usually last long."

 

Before Andy can ask what the hell he means by that, the ringing of a phone interrupts them and Stephen begins yammering into a bluetooth headset. It’s a bunch of financial jargon Andy doesn't even attempt to understand. She can, however, understand the prickle of sweat that’s broken out along her hairline, and the rapid thumping of her heart in her chest.

 

Maybe this Stephen guy is just in a bad mood, or finds it amusing to scare new employees. The previous evening after packing, Andy flicked through the dossier that Emily had compiled and although there was incredible detail about which caterer or florist to call, or the appropriate summer activities for the girls (Caroline and Cassidy) there was no information about surviving some kind of psycho who hated 'nice' people.

 

After a bit of a drive, a quiet country road gives way to a long, sweeping driveway. Stephen kills the engine as they roll to a stop in front of a charming, really-freaking-big house. Expanses of white stone and dark wooden beams stretch out to form an impressive structure that reminds Andy of buildings she'd seen in London during her summer in Europe. Although the gardens around the property seem a little wild at first glance, Andy recognizes careful landscaping at work amongst the tall plants and expanses of grass.

 

Stephen jumps out of the car, talking in rapid-fire bursts as he drags her case out of the trunk. Andy attempts to help, but he simply waves her towards the huge wooden porch that forms the front entrance to the house.

 

Trying to remind herself that self-sufficiency is a virtue, and that New Yorkers can't be expected to understand basic Midwestern values like making polite conversation, Andy lugs her bags from the parked car over to the house. Bumping her suitcase carelessly up the stairs, she’s so focused on getting to the door that the quiet voice from her left causes her to jump with fright. Smooth, Andy, she mentally kicks herself. Real smooth.

 

The voice belongs to a silver-haired woman who’s tucked herself away in a corner of the rustic and sturdy-looking porch swing. She’s clearly expecting a response to whatever question Andy didn’t quite hear, but somehow hasn't managed to look up from the book in her lap.

 

"I'm sorry, what?" Andy blurts out.

 

"I said," the woman snaps, "don't damage the stairs. This building is over two hundred years old. It has survived storms, blizzards and no end of drunken guests, but your clumsiness may well be a match for it."

 

Andy finds herself straining to listen to the very detailed reprimand. Despite the loud rustling of the taller grass and the openness of the area, the woman barely raises her tone above a whisper.

 

"I'll be more careful, sorry. I'm Andy Sachs? Emily sent me? Are you uh, are you Miranda?"

 

The silver bob whips up suddenly enough to make Andy squeal, which she just about covers with a cough.

 

"You mean you don't know who I am?"

 

Having already embarrassed herself by confusing Stephen with the driver, Roy, Andy wants to err on the side of caution. She should have taken the hint and realized that this whole day was doomed to failure.

 

"I didn't want to presume--"

 

"Yes, God forbid anyone who works for me should use their brain. Why change the habit of a lifetime? I am, in fact, Miranda. I assume this means you don't read?"

 

Flustered by the accusation, Andy is halfway to pulling her battered Virginia Woolf from her purse when a delayed sense of decorum stops her.

 

"I uh, I read all the time, if I can. Always been that way, I go through books like wildfire."

 

"And magazines?"

 

Wanting to smack her head at her own denseness, Andy silently reminds herself that she’s talking to some senior person from a publishing company. Time to rattle off every heavyweight publication she can think of, and hope for some belated Brownie points.

 

"Well, my first love is the New Yorker, but of course I try to keep up with the Economist and TIME too. It's important to get news from more than one source, I always think."

 

"What about Runway, or Vogue?” Miranda asks, apparently bored even before the question has been answered.

 

Andy can't help the little laugh that escaped her lips, though it dies in her throat at Miranda's pointed glare.

 

"No, I don't really go in for the lighter reads. I've never really seen the point of fashion, you know? They're just clothes."

 

Thinking she's found common ground with a fellow intellectual, Andy draws encouragement from Miranda's sudden, radiant smile.

 

"Oh, I'm glad you said that. Finally, an explanation for that fiasco you're trying to pass off as an outfit."

 

Dumbfounded, Andy gives herself a quick once over. Anticipating the heat of a summer day, she's opted for khaki shorts and a comfortable black shirt that yes, has maybe been washed a few times too many, but that still looks smart enough. Setting off the ensemble are her favorite walking sandals, their leather straps broken in from miles of rambles in search of a quiet reading spot and frankly, dressing this way had never caused any complaints at Northwestern.

 

"You don't like my clothes? I think that’s a matter of--"

 

Still amused by Andy's attempt at bravado, Miranda closes her magazine with a quite final slap of the pages and looked Andy directly in the eye for the first time.

 

"Yes, people do think their opinion counts when it comes to clothes. It's just that if their ‘opinion’ happens to be right, they're wearing what I told them to. And if they're wrong, well... this sort of thing happens. Terrifying."

 

Andy draws herself up to her full height, intending to defend herself against such pointless criticism. She hadn't intended to rock the boat on her first day, but she'd rather be unemployed and confined to Lily's horror sofa than put up with this superficial bullshit. Isn’t this job about running errands and driving kids to their summer activities? Why the hell should it matter what Andy wears?

 

Self-preservation kicks in at the last possible moment, freezing the words on Andy's lips before she can get herself fired. Huffing out a little breath of frustration, she gathers up her belongings once more and points towards the door.

 

"Should I go in then?"

 

It’s hard to remove all the petulance from her voice, but feeling tired, frumpy and angry for caring in the first place, Andy just wants to find her room and get out of sight for a few minutes. That way she can regroup and get her game face on, be able to impress on the first day.

 

"Not dressed like that, you won't. Those shorts are unbearable."

 

Feeling her hackles rise again, Andy snaps a little in response.

 

"What do you suggest? That I change right here on the porch?"

 

Miranda nods, as if Andy has made the most sensible suggestion in the world.

 

“Whatever keeps those khaki eyesores from my house will be acceptable.”

 

It’s tempting to turn around and march back to the car, and demand that Stephen take her back to the train station, but Andy takes a very deep breath and counts silently to ten. She needs this job, especially if she wants to have time to write some freelance articles over the summer. Besides, if this Miranda woman thinks she can intimidate Andy with a few bitchy comments, well, Andy will show her.

 

Letting go of her case and backpack, Andy reaches for the thin belt that decorates, more than holds up, her shorts. Making quick work of the knot she tied earlier, Andy takes one more deep breath before unbuttoning and yanking down the baggy material until it falls around her ankles. Thank God she’s wearing plain black underwear today, and not something even more mortifying like faded Days of the Week panties. That doesn't bear thinking about.

 

Miranda actually smiles at Andy's wilful display, but before she can comment, Stephen comes jogging up the steps behind Andy. She blushes furiously as Stephen takes a long look at her legs, not daring to see the lecherous grin that she already knows will be plastered across his face; he looks even longer than he did in the car, and it’s beyond awkward. Instead Andy keeps her eyes trained on Miranda, whose amusement has given way to obvious irritation at Stephen's interruption.

 

"For God's sakes, Miranda! You're stripping them now? Do you want to get sued?" Stephen turns on his wife with barely contained fury, but Miranda doesn't shrink back from him as he yells at her--instead she affects a kind of bored expression.

 

"I'm sorry, Andy. You'll have to excuse my wife." Stephen makes the word sound like a prison sentence. "She hasn't been well, which is why we've been forced out of Manhattan in the first place."

 

Andy is about to thank Stephen when she catches the twinkle in Miranda's eye. It certainly doesn't look like any illness Andy had ever encountered, just wicked amusement. Though there’s something off about the way Miranda holds herself, about the way she isn’t quite turning her whole head towards Andy. But despite everything, Andy finds herself grinning, as though she'd been in on the joke.

 

"It's fine. If you could tell me where my room is?"

 

Genuinely worried that she’ll burst out laughing any moment, Andy reacts quickly to Stephen's instructions and takes off for the third floor, but not before theatrically swooping to collect her discarded shorts and parading into the house with bare legs, as cheekily as she knows how. By the time she reaches her new bedroom, Andy is practically weak with suppressed laughter.

 

Dumping her bags on the bed, Andy surveys what might be the nicest room she's ever stayed in. For a start, it’s bigger than Lily's entire apartment, and that isn't even counting the en suite bathroom she can see through the door in the corner of the room. A huge window lets natural light fill every inch of the space, the centerpiece of which is a huge bed that looks so comfortable Andy's body is already silently screaming to be thrown down on to it.

 

Resisting the urge to put her 'offensive' shorts back on, Andy retrieves a pair of jeans from her suitcase. Surely nobody can take issue with some well-loved Levis? The afternoon has gotten cooler already, and Andy suspects she'll be grateful of the extra warmth soon enough. She lays out clean clothes to change into after a shower, hoping she won’t be called into action straight away.

 

Opening the window a crack, Andy hears Stephen's voice carry on the breeze as he continues to argue with Miranda. Unsurprisingly, Miranda's whispery voice isn't loud enough for Andy to hear her side--but whatever she’s saying is clearly enough to anger her husband further. Great, Andy thinks, she's just booked herself into a summer of watching Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf played out in real time. No wonder they need someone to look after the kids.

 

Since she can still hear Stephen shouting through the open window, Andy figures she has time. After a few moments of marvelling at the ornate bathroom, she turns the waterfall shower on full blast.

 

This, she could get used to.

Chapter Text

The door doesn’t slam behind the girl, but Miranda shudders as though it did. A nasty headache is cresting somewhere behind her eyes, and she suspects she’ll be dipping into the painkillers again before long. She refuses to look at Stephen, knowing he’ll still be gazing after those young, bare legs. He’s so transparent it makes her sick.


“Where are my girls?”


The question is enough to get Stephen’s attention from that plain creature he’s decided to gawp over.


“They’re saying goodbye to Cara. Roy’s collecting them on his way back from the city.”


Forgetting this fact dredges up a familiar pang of guilt in Miranda’s chest—before she always had the excuse of a frantic workload, but even in her convalescence the details of her daughters’ lives are passing her by.


“I wanted to see them before they left,” she affects her usual indifferent tone, but the pang of missing them that undercuts it is very real.


“Well, they did try to wake you this morning.”


“Oh.” It’s all the concession that Miranda dares to make.


“Yeah, ‘oh’ is right. So don’t lecture me about you getting time with them.”


Stephen’s voice is already raised, but they’re interrupted by the sound of another car rolling across the gravel. As soon as it stops, Roy leaps out to open the doors for the girls. They come running towards the porch as he begins unloading boxes and bags from the trunk.


Miranda’s heart leaps at the sight of her girls, and she smiles instinctively. There’s a tightness in her face though, as the muscles make what has recently been an unfamiliar movement. That smile flickers for a second as Caroline storms past them both without a word, slamming the front door behind her. Luckily, Miranda recovers in time for Cassidy to come hurtling towards her with one of her readily-given hugs.


“Mommy,” Cassidy murmurs with her head buried against Miranda’s neck, and with that Miranda feels properly awake for the first time since opening her eyes an hour ago. Cassidy feels so warm and solid in her arms, that familiar childish scent of soap and sunblock and youth so welcome as it tickles Miranda’s nose. She ignores the ache from her still-tender ribs and squeezes her daughter a little more firmly, planting a relieved kiss on the crown of her wavy red hair.


All too soon, Cassidy retreats, enduring Stephen’s weak welcoming pat on the shoulder with a well-disguised grimace that only a mother can see through.


“Did you have a nice time with Cara?” Miranda asks, but she’s already wary of the answer. Sure enough, a rapid storm of anger rolls across Cassidy’s otherwise angelic features.


“No,” and Cassidy all but stamps her foot in petulant rage. “She’s still going to stupid Europe with her stupid boyfriend. Caroline said you’d buy her a car if she stayed with us, but Cara just laughed.”


Miranda’s eyebrows shoot up at the mention of Caroline’s outlandish offer, and there’s no small amount of pain at how desperate the girl is to be cared for by someone other than her own mother. Keeping a good nanny is one thing, but buying cars to satisfy the maternal void in Caroline’s life is quite another. Miranda meets Stephen’s eyes over Cassidy’s head and for a moment, as a smile tugs at the corners of his mouth, they’re allies once more.


The unspoken truce is fleeting though, and it shatters as soon as Stephen opens his mouth to speak. Miranda is momentarily distracted by Roy walking towards the poolhouse—her temporary office—balancing a precarious pile of designer goods in his arms. By the time she turns her attention back to the conversation, Stephen is talking to Cassidy in that smarmy way he thinks the girls like, as though they were still in diapers.


“So what I’m saying Cass (a nickname Cassidy loathes, Miranda notes with irritation) is that there’s a brand new Cara upstairs unpacking right now. Her name is Andy.”


Cassidy doesn’t look too impressed at the news, and Miranda rolls her eyes once more at the unappealing name.


“I’m going to go tell Caroline. It might cheer her up.”


With that, Cassidy takes off into the house and Miranda is left alone with her husband once more.


“I told you not to hire anyone else. I can look after the girls myself.”


Stephen snorts at the idea, making no attempt to hide his scorn.


“You’re only just walking again. Not to mention how many hours you lose to those pills. And I notice work is starting to show up here, so much for your sabbatical.”


“Honestly, Stephen—“


“Listen to me!” He’s shouting already, his temper always quick to flare. On another day, Miranda would be revelling in how easy it is to push his buttons, but today she’s too tired to care.


“Those girls need someone responsible around. I need to look at getting back to the office soon, so don’t try your usual tricks to get rid of her. Emily and Nigel vetted her, so you’ve got no excuse Miranda.”


Miranda inspects her nails, mind racing as ever, and wonders who she should have Emily send out to the house to do her manicure.


“Are you sure the babysitter is for the girls, Stephen?”


“Christ!” His shouting irks her, as well he knows. “Make up your mind, Miranda. One minute you’re all sulking and self-pity, now you think you’re in the running for Mom of the year! They’re not even my kids and I look after them better than you do.”


Although it hurts, that comment alone is enough to have Miranda on her feet. She points a barely shaking finger at Stephen, and he seems to realize he’s gone too far.


“Don’t you ever let the girls hear you talking that way. Nobody’s asking you to be their father; they have a father. But don’t you dare make them feel unwanted.”


Stephen sighs, accepting temporary defeat. He scrubs one big hand over his face, his thick platinum wedding band glinting in the afternoon sun like an accusation. He’s the put-upon, long-suffering other half to Miranda Priestly. Miranda’s heard the snippets of gossip about how hard his life must be, how much worse it’s been since Miranda retreated to her summer home to recover. What those sympathetic idiots don’t know is that the same man served her divorce papers three days before the accident that put her in this state; they don’t know the cruel words that fly between them in lieu of actual conversation.


“I have calls to make. I’ll see you at dinner.”


With that, Stephen slinks off into the house, no doubt he’ll soon behind the safety of his locked office door. It’s the one room in the house that Miranda hates, with its dull colors and uninspiring use of space. She steers clear, unless there’s a particularly nasty battle in progress between them.


She contemplates going back to bed, writing this day off as yet another loss, but the streak of determination that has pulled her through so many times before breathes new life into Miranda. With her energy slightly renewed, she sets off across the driveway towards the poolhouse. Perhaps a couple of hours immersed in all things Runway will make her feel more like herself. Providing, of course, that Jacqueline hasn’t completely ruined the whole magazine yet.

Chapter Text

Andy walks out of the bathroom to find two identical redheads standing just inside the doorway of her room. It’s actually kind of creepy that they've appeared without making any noise, but she thinks she's concealed the fright they gave her.


They’re dressed quite differently, thank God, because Andy is already cautious of not treating the two girls as one interchangeable person - twins have to hate that. One girl is wearing a cute summery dress, but it looks like something an adult would wear cut down to size. There are no bows or frills to mark it out as kids’ clothing. The other is dressed more casually, in spotless dungarees with a simple cotton t-shirt beneath it. Andy won’t check the labels, but she’s willing to bet these kids are wearing more than her entire wardrobe cost.


"Are you the nanny then?" The one on the right is the first to speak up, and although she speaks at a normal volume, there’s no mistaking exactly whose daughter she is. Even the way this kid—only nine years old according to Emily’s notes—is standing makes Andy think of Miranda, who in five minutes has made more of an impression that anyone has a right to.


"Sort of. I'll be helping your mom and dad out this summer, anyway."


That makes the one on the left screw up her face, the skin reddening with a sudden flush of anger. Andy looks for the telltale signs listed by Emily, and judging by the pierced ears and slightly blonder hair, this one is Caroline Priestly.


"Gross! Stephen isn't our dad. You're not working for him, anyway. You work for my mom; everyone does."


Feeling hopelessly out of her depth, Andy rubs the towel nervously over her still-damp hair. She’s dressed, at least, although the derisive look from assumed-Cassidy doesn’t bode well for Andy’s wardrobe choices. Fantastic.


“Right. Sorry, Emily did mention that. I guess I have a lot to learn about you two. Hopefully we’ll get to know each other pretty well this summer.”


Possibly-Caroline folds her arms across her chest, fixing Andy with an incredulous look.


“It’s your first day. What makes you think you’ll last the whole summer? My mom has to like you first.” They both nod, and it’s only eerie because they look identical. “We have to like you.”


Wiping her palms quickly on her Levis, Andy swallows her nervousness and tries another winning smile. The girls don’t seem impressed.


“I think we’ll be okay. Did you need me for anything? I just gotta dry my hair and I’m all yours.”


The girls fix her with another round of identical stares, and this time Andy thinks she sees a spark of interest in their eyes. It’s all too brief though, and they turn up their noses at her offer. Before Andy can suggest they get to know each other, Caroline and Cassidy have marched back out of her room.


She’s more than a little relieved to see them go; something she’ll have to get over pretty quickly if she’s going to succeed in this job.


As per the itinerary that Emily emailed her (Andy kind of loves that there’s wi-fi that her battered laptop can just about access) she heads downstairs at six in search of food. Her stomach grumbles happily in approval as the scent of something roasted guides her towards the kitchen.


The kitchen is huge, probably more suited to a hotel than a home. Inside, a short woman is bustling over the stove, singing to herself as she stirs at something in a large copper pot. Andy coughs quietly to announce her presence, and the woman turns around, obviously startled at the intrusion.


"Ah, you must be the new girl. You scared me, creeping around like that!"


Stern disapproval isn't really the reaction Andy wants, but this seems to be a day for crappy first impressions. Flashing the biggest smile she can muster, she decides she had to get any other staff onside quickly if she’s going to survive the summer.


"I'm so sorry. I'm Andy - is there anything I can do to help?"


That seems to thaw things out a little, Andy notes with some relief. The woman looks at least a little bit less suspicious than a moment ago.


"Millie. I'm the cook, as if you hadn't worked that out already. You'd best get into the dining room before you're missed. Miranda doesn't like lateness, but then Miranda doesn't like much of anything."


Well, at least Miranda’s a bitch to everyone, it seems. Andy knows she'll have to tear through that folder Emily provided after dinner, since skimming the basics has left her woefully unprepared.


"Thanks Millie. I uh, where's the dining room?"


"End of the hall, turn right just after the staircase."


Worried about showing up late, Andy jogs along the smoothly varnished floor of the hall, almost breaking her neck as she skids slightly on a rug by the foot of the stairs. Luckily, when she opens the heavy double doors that lead into the dining room, only the twins are seated at the table, playing a game that seems to involve throwing the flowers from the centerpiece at each other.


"Less of the flying flowers, please girls." Andy tries to sound strict, but the girls don't seem overly impressed. Only the sound of footsteps on the stairs brings their antics to a halt, since they obviously behave for their mother if no one else.


Sure enough, a moment later, Miranda comes sweeping into the room with Stephen hot on her heels. She's changed too, opting for a floaty summer dress that looks both stunning and expensive. The pale blue material only enhances the aura of frostiness that Andy has already encountered, but there’s no denying the woman looked good. There’s such confidence in her movement that Andy doesn’t even register the slender black cane that Miranda is barely leaning on.


Unsure of her place, Andy sits on the same side as the twins, ignoring their mischievous grins. Miranda freezes behind her own seat (at the head of the table, naturally) and gives Andy an excruciating once-over that seems to go on forever. Not wearing the offending shorts seems to placate Miranda for now, and Andy breathes a sigh of relief when there’s no catty remark about her new outfit. Not even Miranda can take issue with jeans and a plain white blouse, it seems.


Stephen mutters something to Miranda about a meeting in the city, but she rests her chin on one elegant hand and looks past him as though not a word has been spoken. He sighs in frustration, pouring himself a generous Scotch from the bar in the corner before sitting down. Andy finds herself wishing for a drink too, anything to ease the tension of the room. Then Miranda speaks, and Andy discovers that silence had actually been the better option.


"Since when do the help eat with us, Stephen?"


Andy kicks the leg of her chair in surprise, wondering if that will somehow activate a trapdoor that allows the ground to swallow her whole. She’s helpless to stop the flush of embarrassment that’s rising on her cheeks, and she realizes now how stupid it was to assume that she'd be treated as part of the family. What’s the point in being rich and privileged if you have to mix with the staff, right? Miranda seems like the worst kind of snob right off the bat, so why hadn’t Andy seen this little mortification coming?


“I can eat in the kitchen. I’m sorry to have assumed—“


“Are you capable of saying anything that isn’t an apology?” Miranda snaps, her pretense at patience clearly over.


“I’m—that is, I’ll go eat with Millie.”


Andy stands to leave, but Stephen motions for her to keep her seat. He gulps down the rest of his Scotch before turning on his wife.


“Andy eats with us. If you’re going to persist in behaving this way Miranda, I’ll be happy to call Dr. Rosen in again. Maybe he can give you something to help with your manners, too.”


Threatening Miranda doesn’t seem to have gone over well, if the way the woman bristles at Stephen’s words is any indication. Out of the corner of her eye, Andy catches the girls holding hands under the table, and her heart goes out to them instantly. How many arguments like this have they already sat through in their young lives?


“Fine. She’d better be housetrained,” Miranda finishs her words with a sneer, but thankfully at that moment Millie appears bearing plates of food. She winks at Andy, who can’t help wondering if Millie set her up. All Andy can think about now is getting through dinner and escaping to her room.


She barely tastes the food, though it’s obviously some kind of gourmet menu. Andy stares at her plate through the whole meal, not attempting conversation and feeling relieved that nobody draws her into one. The moment Stephen leaves for the phone meeting he was talking about, Andy takes her chance to make mumbled excuses and bolt for the stairs. Since her duties don’t officially start until the morning, she’s going to savor these last precious moments of freedom; she already has the feeling she’ll be pining for it again before very long.


What Andy had expected to be a few minutes of catching up on the rest of Emily's notes turns out to be an increasingly horrifying hour of unpleasant discoveries. To begin with there’s an organizational chart of contacts that looks like it belongs to the United Nations—half of the names Andy doesn't even want to attempt pronouncing.


Then there are the sanctioned activities and dietary requirements for Caroline and Cassidy - one refusea to sail, the other won't tolerate being in the same room as a piece of broccoli; whilst Caroline will happily live on peanut butter alone, Cassidy would rather die than see it anywhere near her sandwiches.


Which is bad enough, because in her babysitting years Andy dealt with fussing parents and fussy kids every weekend. No, the truly daunting section of the folder (color-coded in red, naturally) is the list of instructions for 'assisting' Miranda. How to prepare drinks, from coffee to a glass of sparkling water, takes pages to elaborate on, and the 'DO NOT' list of commands stretches on long enough to resemble a decent-sized phone book. Half of the words don't make sense to Andy, who prides herself on an extensive vocabulary, but remains clueless about too many of the references that Emily has typed up in neat double spacing.


Grabbing her notebook, Andy sighs and starts over from the beginning. Having already surrendered to memorizing the whole thing, she thinks it might be wise to pick out which ones seem the most relevant. Emily has also added a Post-It about 'the other closet' where Andy can find suitable clothes. No doubt these are be some kind of domestic staff uniform, like the smart kitchen whites Millie was wearing. Andy supposes that will save her the trouble of deciding what to wear, or getting finger-paints and chocolate all over her own clothes.


When the words begin to blur on the page, Andy stands up to stretch and fetch a bottled water from the little chiller unit she'd found under the desk. Rich people amuse her: God forbid she should make the forty second walk to the kitchen for her own drink; or maybe this is their way of making sure she stays confined to her quarters. The rest of the floor seems empty, and on her way up Andy had seen plenty of rooms on the second floor to host bedrooms for the whole family with a few to spare. No doubt she'll be spending plenty of time in the girls' rooms before long.


Reaching for her cellphone, left charging as she worked, Andy dials Lily as she walks over to the one huge closet she hasn't explored yet. Her clothes are mostly in the drawers, with the much smaller closet near the window providing ample space for the few shirts and dresses she had unpacked earlier. Lily picks up just as Andy slides the bigger closet’s doors open, and is greeted with a loud 'Holy Shit!' for her trouble.


"Andy? What the hell, girl?"


"Hey Lil, I just found the clothes they expect me to wear for work."


Lily chuckles, well-used to Andy's flair for melodrama by now.


"Let me guess, they want you to wear a skirt? Wait, don't tell me... is it pink?"


Andy shakes her head, before remembering that Lily can't actually see her.


"Um no, not exactly. Although I think pink might be in this summer, because there are a few pink things in this freakin' giant pile of clothes."


Reaching for the nearest thing, a pair of slinky blue jeans, Andy gasps at the label. Versace? Seriously? Who knew they even made jeans?


"Lily," Andy whispers. "All these things are designer. I think this stuff cost more than my degree."


"Well, it's not like Northwestern is the most expensive school..." Lily is teasing as ever, her snobbery at having attended a big New York school while Andy stayed closer to home in Chicago has been an inside joke since they got their acceptance letters.


"I can't believe I'm expected to wear some of this stuff. There are dresses in here that I think people wear to the Oscars. What the hell?"


"Listen Andy, I have to go back into the gallery. But it doesn't really sound that bad from where I'm standing. Enjoy the perks! You'll need them when you're getting bitched at by spoilt kids all summer."


"Yeah," Andy agrees, but she’s still kind of in shock. "Get back to the big opening Lil, I'll call you tomorrow with an update."


Andy has just about calmed herself down when she hears the soft clearing of a throat behind her.

Chapter Text

Someone once told me that explaining is an admission of failure.
I'm sure you remember, I was on the phone with you, sweetheart.

Richard Siken – Little Beast

Miranda is already regretting the extra floor worth of stairs, and her knee is sending shoots of pain out in all directions. She leans against the bedroom wall, aiming for nonchalant and hoping the discomfort doesn’t show—years of practice and, yes, perhaps the occasional shot of Botox, should be enough to disguise any feelings.


The girl jumps about a foot in the air as Miranda softly clears her throat. It was really too easy to sneak up on her, and she’ll need her wits about her if she’s to be trusted with care of the twins. To her credit, she doesn’t hesitate before turning around to face Miranda, and that shows some kind of courage at least.


“You’ve found the clothes then? Nigel was troubled by finding so many items in a six. ”


There’s panic on the girl’s face, as she obviously works out that Miranda expected her to dress in some of these clothes for dinner. She’s smart, Miranda realizes, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Just a little of the tension in her back ebbs away.


“I did. I mean I have my own clothes, obviously. But if you’d rather--”


“I’d rather.” Miranda is firm to the point of abrupt. She has neither the time nor energy for someone who babbles. Having terrified the girl, (Andy was it? Hideous. And androgyny won’t be back in until Miranda says so) she’s already thinking of the painful walk back downstairs. Damn these architectural marvels built before elevators were a going concern.


As she turns to leave, the newly filled bookshelves catch her eye. Miranda can’t remember the last time she read anything for pleasure, other than the occasional pleasure of reading a chapter of Harry Potter to the girls—usually as recompense for another late night, another missed dinner or recital. It seems this girl might not have been lying about her love of reading after all.


“Virginia Woolf? Really, Emily?”


“It’s uh, Andy. Andrea, really; but everyone calls me Andy.”


Well at least there’s a proper name lurking in there somewhere, Miranda thinks with some relief. Though that horrible, flat way of pronouncing it simply has to go. The girl has an impressive smile, she notes. With some appropriate lip color she might even be quite striking.


“The girls have soccer tomorrow.” Andrea nods, with that sort of puppy-like enthusiasm that Miranda finds so easy to crush. “Caroline’s new boots will be at the store, but you’ll have to get the delivery of the new kits for the team sent straight to the fieldhouse. There’s a luncheon at one for the families and supporters, make sure there’s no excessive sugar in the food. On the way home, pick up the dinner order from Michel’s and ensure that my ex-husband will collect the girls no earlier than seven, no later than seven-fifteen.”


“Uh, s-sh-sure?” The words are stammering out even harder than before, and Miranda allows herself a little smirk of satisfaction. Despite everything, she hasn’t lost her ability to render an assistant all but speechless on their first day.


“Emily will be here in the afternoon.”


Andrea waits for expansion on that point, and her face falls when Miranda doesn’t provide any. It really is heartbreakingly easy, sometimes. Miranda knows that as soon as she leaves the girl will start worrying about what Emily’s presence means, and when she sleeps it will no doubt haunt her dreams, leaving her desperate to impress by the time morning rolls around. The last thing Miranda needs right now is anyone striving for less than perfect, and so a little tension to discourage mediocrity is the best start she can think of.


Having ruffled the requisite feathers, Miranda strolls out into the hall, a poor substitute for her usual intimidating stride. The stairs take an embarrassing length of time, and the frustration is burning at the base of her throat as she stumbles onto the second floor landing. There’s a faint sound of music coming from the direction of the girls’ rooms and so Miranda heads there first, eager for a little more time with them.


Cassidy comes running when Miranda pushes the door open, and it’s quite an impact as she slams straight into her mother in pursuit of a hug.


“Careful, Cassidy,” Miranda warns gently, and she regrets that it makes the girl withdraw almost instantly. Caroline remains resolutely on the armchair, seemingly intent on whatever is currently dancing across her laptop screen.


“What do you think of Andrea?”


Cassidy bites her lip, a sure sign that she’s worried about upsetting her mother, her sister or both. Miranda’s surprised when Caroline is the first to answer, without ever lifting her eyes from the screen in front of her.


“She’s fine.”


For once, the bond between the two girls has failed them, because Cassidy’s mouth falls open at Caroline’s lukewarm, but still unexpected blessing of the new arrangement. Miranda, who misses very little, even when all she wants is to slip back under her sheets with a fresh little handful of pills, is unable to suppress a smile at Cassidy’s reaction.


“I still miss Cara,” Cassidy qualifies, “but I think Andy is okay so far. I just—“


“Just what, Bobbsey?”


Miranda tries to ignore Caroline’s pointed little sigh at the nickname Miranda uses for them both. Cassidy looks to her sister for support, but plows on alone when none is forthcoming.


“I just thought that if Cara left, then maybe, well, maybe you’d be looking after us all the time.”


The disappointment on her daughter’s face clutches Miranda like an icy hand around her throat; another disappointment, another opportunity to make up ground lost in the pursuit of her career. How can she explain to a ten-year old the importance of regaining her status as Editor-in-Chief after this enforced sabbatical? What can children understand of the violent disgust that swirls in Miranda’s gut every time she thinks of Jacqueline Follet ensconsced in Miranda’s office, giving orders to Miranda’s staff that only serve to smear the once unimpeachable name of Runway?


No, Miranda knows all too well that neither daughter wants to hear that the blood, sweat and tears invested into the magazine makes it their de facto sibling, every bit as demanding on their mother’s time. She wishes, for a fleeting instant, that she could be more like these other mothers she hears so much about: the ones who invest every waking moment in the PTA, the fundraising and the after-school activities. They’ve never had to call crying children from the other end of the country to beg forgiveness because there are no flights to get them back in time for a recital. They’ve never had to conjure up another plausible excuse for a meeting that ran long or the vagaries of New York traffic.


The instant passes, and Miranda remembers that it couldn’t be any other way; and that no two children on this planet can be loved more than Caroline and Cassidy, even if Caroline doesn’t particularly want to acknowledge that since they left Manhattan.


“Mommy has to work, even though we’re here.”


“But Stephen said—“


Miranda cuts off Cassidy’s plea with a sad shake of her head.


“Stephen doesn’t know everything, darling. I need to be prepared. Once the doctor says I’m all better we can start thinking about going home.”


That produces a genuine smile from Cassidy, and no overt contempt from Caroline; really, that’s as much as Miranda can hope for right now. She feels the lure of a more comfortable surface tugging at her, somewhere that she won’t have to be so painfully vertical. With a gentle kiss to the top of Cassidy’s head (Caroline storms off into her adjoining bedroom before Miranda can consider it) Miranda is free to make her escape.


It shouldn’t feel like an escape, she thinks sadly, but as she walks along the hallway she’s doubly relieved to see that the door to Stephen’s study is firmly closed, and the guest room that’s now his bedroom has a reassuring light showing under the door.


The relief turns out to be short-lived, because when Miranda walks into her bedroom she discovers her husband sitting on her bed. His shirt is unbuttoned, exposing the crass gold chain he’s taken to wearing around his neck—Miranda’s too tired to fight him on disasters like that.


“I wondered where you’d limped off to,” he begins, with that smile that Miranda can’t quite believe she once found charming.


“I was with the girls. That much should be obvious.”


She motions for him to leave, a weariness to the gesture that she’s angered at betraying. Hasn’t he seen her weak enough already without adding more fuel to the fire?


“Well, now that you’re done I thought we might discuss the sleeping arrangements.”


Miranda raises an eyebrow in question, and in the hallways of Elias-Clarke that gesture alone would get her any answer she desired. Alas, its powers are limited on the second man she chose to marry.


“I’m still your husband, Mira. And a man has needs. The doctor said—“


“It’s none of your concern, what my doctor said. You seem to forget those divorce papers you sent me in Paris, Stephen. I can assure you that I have not.”


He hangs his head, and the slump of his shoulders is as familiar as the argument they’re having for about the twentieth time. Were the situation different, Miranda might even feel a pang of sympathy for him, but the one thing she doesn’t forgive is disloyalty.


“Come on, are we really talking about this again?” He scrubs his hands across his face, his wedding band a glinting accusation towards her. “I told you, I don’t want a divorce.”


Miranda snorts, unwilling and unable to hide her contempt.


“Only because you thought divorcing a wife lying in intensive care might be bad for business. Couldn’t be hitting Page Six while you were trying to complete a merger, could you?”


He stands, then, and the color in his cheeks suggest another screaming match is on the way. Before, Miranda would have pleaded in her most soothing tones for his forgiveness, making new promises that she already knew would have to be broken, but anything was worth keeping the peace. Tonight, all she cares about is being alone in this room, and hopefully oblivious to the world before long.


When Stephen raises a hand, Miranda flinches instinctively. Not that she’s ever allowed a man to hit her, but the reflex is there nonetheless. That stalls him, and he drops his arm back to his side, shaking his head at what they’ve descended into.


“I give up. I’ll be across the hall.”


He leaves without further incident, and Miranda sinks gratefully onto the bed. Kicking off her shoes, she reaches for the reassuring orange bottle on the nightstand. As the pills slip down her throat, she closes her eyes and waits.

Chapter Text

 Andy has just whacked the snooze button with a particularly vicious slap of her hand when she hears the creak of her door.  Oh, it’s quiet of course, because the house is spotlessly maintained, but for the past few hours Andy has noticed all the strange noises of a first night in her new temporary home. 

 

Tiny gold studs on her ears are the easiest sign for now, though Andy is a little worried about what will happen if Cassidy ever decides to copy her sister.

     

    “Hey Caroline,” Andy mutters.  She tries not to smirk at the flicker of shock on the girl’s face at being correctly identified.  “Am I late?  Do you need something?”

     

    Caroline scuffs her bare foot over the carpet, seemingly shy for the first time.  Andy sits up fully in bed, a little self-conscious about her faded Northwestern t-shirt, washed too many times with little holes near the collar and hem. 

     

    "It's Millie's day off.  And I couldn't sleep anymore. Will you get my breakfast?"

     

    Andy notes the lack of the word 'please', but supposes she shouldn't be asking for the moon on her first official day.  She unties her hair from the loose bun she left it in for sleep, and nods at Caroline in agreement.

     

    "Let me shower and get dressed.  Why don't you grab your sister and meet me down in the kitchen?"

     

    Something about the suggestion doesn't sit well with the young girl, and Andy can see her face screw up in frustration for an instant.  It soon smoothes out though, and she chews on her lip for a moment before responding.

     

    "Cassidy won't be up for aaaages. She hates mornings.  I'll see you downstairs."

     

    Andy is swinging her legs out from under the sheets, ready to stumble into the bathroom when Caroline calls out from the hall with her parting shot.

     

    "Don't take too long.  I'm hungry."

     

    Shaking her head, Andy wonders again what the hell she's letting herself in for.  The angry red numbers of her alarm clock confirm the ungodly hour of six-thirty and for all their sakes Andy hopes this kind of early rise isn't going to be a regular thing.

     

    The rushing around takes some of the agony out of choosing an outfit from the abundant selection on offer.  By the time Andy slinks into the kitchen, still a little afraid of making noise in the otherwise silent house, she's feeling kind of pretty in the simple blue dress that cinches her waist and flows comfortably around her knees.  Had she not been hurrying to keep Ms. Priestly Jr. fed and happy, she could happily have spent longer admiring herself in the long mirrors of her new bedroom.

     

    Caroline is watching the small television that Andy hadn't noticed the previous evening.  It's recessed next to the microwave, clearly meant for Millie to enjoy while she works.  Instead of the cartoons Andy would expect from any other kid, Caroline has the morning news on at a low volume, and actually seems to be paying attention.  The wannabe journalist in Andy recognizes a kindred soul in this mini-news junkie, and she's now determined to make Caroline a breakfast fit for a queen.

     

    "Hey Caro, your chef awaits instructions."

     

    With a baleful look, Caroline tears her eyes away from the small screen.  She looks tall, perched on a high stool as she must be, and Andy sees a maturity way beyond ten looking back at her.

     

    "Don't call me that.  I hate people shortening my name.  I'm not a baby."

     

    Andy mock-salutes, hoping to diffuse the bad start.  Caroline looks a little happier as Andy apologizes, and turns around fully as Andy begins exploring the giant fridge for breakfast options.

     

    "Let's see.  I can do pancakes, French toast, maybe some bacon and eggs?"

     

    When she pulls her head away from the huge silver doors, Andy is startled to see Caroline staring at her in utter shock. 

     

    "What did you just say?  Can you really make all those things?"

     

    Andy's fairly sure that this kid has been eating at fusion restaurants from about a hundred different cuisines since she moved to solid food, and some simple breakfast staples surprise her?  Something isn't right here.

     

    "I can make most things.  I lived with a chef for a while.  And uh, my mom taught me a lot."

     

    The details are clearly being squirreled away for future reference, because Caroline takes a moment to respond.

     

    "Millie only lets us have fruit, or cereal.  Sometimes eggs, if Mom's having some."

     

    Damn, Andy realizes too late, of course the kids of a fashionista are going to be on a permanent healthy-eating kick.  Which kinds of begs the question about why there's bacon in the fridge at all, but that's not Andy's problem right now.  Maybe she should just be glad that the kids eat food, that they're not on some supermodel diet of celery and air.

     

    "Oh, I figured you wanted me to cook.  'Cause you could help yourself to fruit or cereal, right?"

     

    Caroline's look suggests that 'helping yourself' is not a concept she knows anything about. 

     

    "So, eggs?"  Andy is desperate now, hoping Caroline won't get her in trouble on the first day for the sake of a few strips of bacon.  Even the way her own mouth was watering at the thought of syrupy pancakes just moments ago doesn't make the idea worth it.

     

    With a shrug, Caroline agrees and turns back to the television.  Andy presses her head against the cool surface of the door, finding a clear space amidst the countless drawings and other child mementos.  Some things, at least, are universal, and the fridge door gallery seems to be one of them.

     

    She whips breakfast up quickly, managing not to burn the toast, all the while listening for sounds of life elsewhere in the house; none are forthcoming.

     

    “So, soccer today, huh?” It’s the best opening gambit Andy can think of as they sit opposite each other at the breakfast bar. 

     

    Caroline’s eyes light up at the mention though, and it’s a relief to get something right.

     

    “Yeah, although Olivia is on my team this week and she sucks.  They won’t let Cassidy and I play on the same side anymore.”

     

    “She sucks, huh?”

     

    If Caroline is surprised by Andy’s frank question, she doesn’t show it.  She does, however launch into a long and detailed explanation of the ways in which Olivia does, in fact, suck.

     

    “Why doesn’t the coach make her a goalkeeper then?”  Andy asks when Caroline pauses for breath.  “That’s what we did with the duds in college.”

     

    “You play soccer?”  Caroline’s eyebrows shoot up so suddenly that Andy has a frightening moment of staring down a miniature Miranda.

     

    “Yeah I used to; I was a pretty decent midfielder.  I played in high school, and at Northwestern.”

     

    They don’t get to discuss sport any further as the thump of feet on the staircase signals Cassidy’s imminent arrival.

     

    “Ooh! Are we having eggs?  Can I have cheese in mine?”

     

    Andy offers her friendliest smile to the newly-arrived twin, and clears her own plate away.

     

    “Cheesy eggs, coming up!”

     

    It’s going to be a long day, Andy realizes. 

     

    *

     

    Once the breakfast plates are cleared away, Andy is ready to kiss Emily for her anal-retentive brilliance.  The bag that Emily left in the closet for Andy contains all the childcare essentials, and lots more besides.  Plus, Andy doesn’t know much about purses, but it looks really good with her summery dress and cute ballet pumps.  Whoever Marc Jacobs is, the guy makes a nice bag.  Maybe there’s something to this whole fashion thing after all, though she hates to admit it, even to herself.

     

    After a momentary confusion, with the girls chasing each other on the gravel driveway, Andy is relieved to see there’s really only one option as to which car she should take.  Stephen’s monster of a car is already gone from the parking garage, and the two-seater sports car obviously can’t take the two kids anywhere.

     

    It’s not exactly a hardship to ferry the girls around in what appears to be a brand new Prius, Andy concedes.  The keys were left in Emily’s bag of wonder and joy, along with a cellphone programmed with more names and numbers than Andy can begin to count. 

     

    Emily really does think of everything.

       

      It’s coming up on seven by the time Andy pulls into the driveway, and she’s relieved that the GPS has kept her on the right track all day.  The girls have lulled into a comfortable silence since the stop at the restaurant, and the glances of flickering eyelids that Andy sees in the rearview mirror suggest that a day of physical activity has tired them out.

       

      To her surprise, there’s a massive black stretch limo waiting outside the house, and there’s barely room for Andy to pull the Prius up to the garage.  The girls are instantly alert and bouncing in their seats as they wait for Andy to release the child-locked doors, and they take off like Olympic sprinters without so much as a ‘goodbye’ the moment Andy frees them.

       

      The rear door to the limo opens and Andy watches cautiously to be sure that this is someone she can hand the twins over to.  What she isn’t expecting is to see the face of a man who’s been on billboards all over New York, not to mention millions of CD cases, even back in Cincinnati.  It’s like MTV just came to life in front of her eyes, and Andy actually drops her car keys in shock.

       

      One thing that neither Emily’s notes nor the Priestlys have mentioned is that Miranda’s ex-husband is the lead singer of the first band Andy ever loved, whose records her dad played all the time when she was a kid.  Her first instinct is to call her dad and squeal that she’s standing mere feet away from Rod Clinton. 

       

      Rod, for his part, doesn’t even notice Andy because he’s so caught up in hugging the girls.  Andy has to wonder if they actually get how big a deal their daddy is, given that he hasn’t released an album since… well, since about a year after they were born.  It’s making Andy want ten minutes alone with her laptop so she can Google more about this fascinating family she’s found herself in the midst of. 

       

      Before Andy can do anything embarrassing like ask for an autograph, Emily comes barreling out of the front door with two pink suitcases in her hand.  The limo driver is waiting patiently to take them from her, but when she hands them off Emily continues straight across the gravel in spike heels towards Andy.  Seeing her for the first time since her interview, it occurs to Andy that she ought to feel nervous.

       

      Emily looks radically different to even a few days ago, her blazing red hair seems to be a subtly different shade, and it’s swept up in a variety of pins and sticks that make it look like some kind of hair Mecano.  Must be the latest up-do, Andy thinks, and she tries not to feel frumpy with her plain, straight hair, the only adornment on which is the pair of Gucci sunglasses she found in the drawer of her dressing table.

       

      With a wave and a brief hello to Rod, Emily is right on top of Andy all too soon, and Andy’s helpless to stop herself being dragged by the elbow towards the poolhouse.

       

      “Honestly, Andrea.  Why didn’t you have the girls’ cases packed and ready?  I don’t mind telling you I have enough to do for Miranda without being sent up to those caves of mess to retrieve everything they’ll need to take to their father’s.”

       

      Andy’s confused about the description of the girls’ bedrooms, since they look exactly like any other kid’s bedroom might – a few things out of place and scattered on the floor, but basically neat.  She’s fumbling in her purse for Emily’s typed instructions as they stumble through the doors to what must be Miranda’s office.

       

      “There was nothing written down about uh, packing—“  Andy’s interrupted before she can really start to plead her case.

       

      “Miranda told you herself that Rod was coming for the girls.  That means, you have to pack for them.  Really, it’s common sense.  Do you forget to brush your teeth if nobody leaves a Post-it by the sink?”

       

      It feels a lot like being reprimanded by the Queen, since Emily’s tone of annoyance makes her British accent even stronger.  Andy opts for smoothing things over, since she’s starting to like this job, even if she hasn’t worked out this entire secret set of demands that everyone expects her to just <i>know</i>.

       

      “Okay, well, I’ll remember for next time.  The girls are gone for the weekend, right?”

       

      Emily is scrolling through something on the screen of the laptop that’s been left on the end table.  For a moment, Andy thinks maybe she hasn’t heard, but with a muttered ‘great’, Emily turns away from the computer and fixes another glare on Andy.

       

      “That means you’ll be assisting Miranda until Monday, yes.  Can you please just listen to what she tells you and try not to screw everything up?”

       

      The lack of faith stings a little bit, but Andy’s used to rising to a challenge by now.  She’ll show Emily that she can be relied upon, even if it’s tempting to make her head explode by getting everything as wrong as possible. 

       

      “Assisting Miranda.  Got it.  Making coffee, answering the phone, right?”

       

      There’s absolutely no humor in the tinkling little laugh that Emily allows to escape.

       

      “Oh, absolutely.  It’s just that simple.  Now, most calls still come to the office, so I’ll email you with the messages Miranda will want to return.  Obviously, we still have to make sure that decisions appear to be going through Jacqueline—“

       

      “Jacqueline?”  Andy winces at her own mangled attempt at the French pronunciation.

       

      “So while she’s ruining everything in Manhattan, we’re helping Miranda run damage control through me and Nigel, okay?”

         

        Andy remembers the food that’s still waiting on the passenger seat of the Prius, as she hears the limo pulling out of the driveway.

         

        “Don’t worry, Em—“

         

        “Emily, if you don’t mind.”

         

        “Emily, right.  I’ll just do my best, and I’ll ask Miranda if there’s anything she wants me to do differently.”

         

        That makes Emily go completely rigid, her eyes wide as though Andy’s just insulted Princess Di or something.

         

        “You never,” she hisses, “ask Miranda anything.”

         

        Tired of the melodrama, Andy does her best to look like she’s taking Emily seriously.

         

        “Sure.  Well, I gotta go get dinner served up.  No rest for the wicked.”

         

        Emily’s phone rings at an ear-shattering volume, distracting her enough for Andy to make her escape.  Having retrieved the food, she darts in through the back door of the kitchen.

         

        She’s serving up some kind of fancy rice dish in the kitchen, trying to dismiss Emily’s panic from her mind.  After all, after dealing successfully with the twins all day, how hard can a day or two of playing secretary be?

        Chapter Text

        Miranda checks her phone with half-closed eyes, the glare of the morning sun unforgiving to the headache that’s plaguing her. There’s a new text message from Cassidy, a simple good morning with one of those smiley faces on the end that would be a hanging offense from anyone but her daughters.


        Her stomach rumbles in an insolent way, reminding her of the treachery of not going down to dinner last night. Miranda was distracted at the sight of the girls so happy to see Rod, so keen to dash off with him into the evening. She’d seen the new girl coming back with the bag of food and felt her appetite evaporate. Staying in her bedroom with her laptop meant avoiding another potential argument, not to mention the awkwardness radiating from Andrea whenever Miranda walked into the room. By the time Stephen had thought to come knocking on the bedroom door, Miranda was already half-asleep, and ignored him very easily.


        Morning is relentless though, and Miranda chides herself for not closing the curtains before drifting off. With the girls gone, she has the unenviable task of breaking in a new assistant. Although the workload is much reduced, Miranda is painfully aware of her own limitations as she prepares for a return to Runway. The slower pace of her holiday home is supposed to be calming, but Miranda finds herself missing the screech of traffic and bustle of bodies on every sidewalk. For too many years she’s been at the heart of it all, and it’s making this enforced sabbatical all the harder to bear.


        She feels queasy at the thought of Jacqueline, with her fake smile and penchant for back-stabbing, sitting behind Miranda’s desk each day. The thought of what redecoration might already have been done is too horrifying to contemplate, and Emily’s guarded silences on the topic only serve to confirm Miranda’s worst fears. Despite the glass doors and open arrangement, that room has been Miranda’s sanctuary. An interloper defiling it, at Irv’s grinning insistence, is maddening.


        So she takes an extra painkiller with her morning dose, pleased to feel the extra freedom in her leg by the time the shower is running. No sound of movement elsewhere in the house yet, although Millie’s tired little car is parked out back, Miranda notes. She wonders, as she lathers her hair with some organic miracle shampoo, whether the girl is smart enough to be punctual, whether she has it in her to anticipate Miranda’s needs. The signs are promising, a spark of intelligence evident in those big, brown eyes, and the girls were raving on the phone last night about how ‘Andy’ had gone to plead their case against some unfair coaching decision during their soccer match.


        As she readies herself for the day, Miranda replies to emails already flooded in from European contacts, alternating her phone with the makeup brushes until it almost feels like her old routine. Perhaps Jacqueline won’t have much longer to revel in Miranda’s misery after all.


        Millie, almost as old as the house itself and with cracked and reddened hands that make Miranda want to ply the woman with moisturizers, has breakfast whisked from the pan to the table in the time it takes Miranda to seat herself. Flicking through the Times, Miranda tries to hold back her appreciation for the perfectly prepared eggs. It won’t do to go soft and let the staff get complacent.


        With a nod to signify ‘adequate’, Miranda skims the business section while Millie unobtrusively clears away. Not that the television won’t snap into life the moment Miranda clears out of the kitchen, but a little indulgence won’t hurt.


        There’s no note from Stephen, though the open garage door suggests he’s long since gone. The idea of him rising before her would once have been ludicrous, but Miranda finds herself out cold until eight or nine most mornings and this has been no exception. No sign of the girl, and if she’s lounging around in bed on a work day, well, Miranda thinks she might just have it in her to provide one of her more memorable tongue-lashings.


        It’s with some reluctance that she leaves the charm of the kitchen, but Miranda makes her way across to the office, gripping her phone far more tightly than she does the slender black cane that she barely feels as though she needs today. She’s stunned to open the French windows and discover Andrea already seated behind the antique desk that Emily has been occupying of late.


        Seeing Miranda, the girl discreetly ends the call she’s on. Beaming one of those megawatt smiles at Miranda is obviously intended to be charming, and although it’s genuine enough to reach Andrea’s eyes, Miranda finds herself unmoved by the gesture. Honestly, do they really think that a bit of peppiness is enough to ingratiate themselves?


        Miranda is painfully aware that her work plate is not so full these days, but she still conjures up a list of tasks that wipe the smile from the girl’s face and send her scrabbling for some paper to write it all down. Miranda expects her to fail, of course, because they all do.


        Of course, it takes far too long to get Patrick on the phone, and the coffee isn’t warm enough, and the girl clearly doesn’t know her Vera Wang from her elbow. Each little sigh that Miranda allows to escape costs her very little, but sends the girl into a panicked sort of tailspin. It’s almost satisfying when she overhears the hushed, tearful call to Emily at eleven, and again at twelve when Miranda makes a reference to ‘the skirts’ that is painfully vague even by her own cruel standards.


        Still, this girl doesn’t hum under her breath, or ask twenty inane questions an hour, and that’s an improvement in Miranda’s book. God knows she’s seen her share of morons in the guise of assistants. Millie breezes in with lunch, and although Miranda complains that food is eaten in the kitchen or dining room in the civilized world, she’s quietly grateful at not having to limp across the gravel of the driveway, since her leg is acting up from a morning of stiff inactivity at her desk.


        The club sandwich is decent, though it isn’t a patch on the restaurants Miranda prefers to have at her disposal. As she composes yet another placating email to Donnatella, she thinks of her girls and wonders what adventurous, sugar-fuelled spending spree Rod will take them on this time. Calming them on their return will make her the villain of the piece again, not that it takes much with Caroline lately.


        There’s a suspicious silence from the assistant’s desk that Miranda picks up on after a while, and when she moves cautiously out into the space, the girl is too absorbed in some notebook to notice Miranda’s approach.


        “Working hard, I see?” Miranda asks, careful to lace her words with a quiet threat.


        The girl jumps about a foot in the air and actually squeaks in her shock at being caught.


        “Sorry! I didn’t see you…I was done with all my work and uh, was there something you needed?”


        It would be easy to come up with some impossible task as punishment, but Miranda is already tired from a day of wrangling secret control over her magazine. She gives her curiosity free rein instead.


        “What are you writing?”


        “N-nothing,” the girl stammers, which is obviously an unacceptable response. Miranda toys with the idea of simply taking the notebook from her, but it might be some tedious, angsty diary and who wants to be exposed to that?


        “You can tell me the truth, or you can be on the next train back to Manhattan.”


        There’s a defiant set to the girl’s shoulders (Andrea, why is so hard to remember names lately? Andrea.) and for a moment, Miranda thinks she is about to be denied an answer.


        “It’s a short story.”


        “You’re a writer?”


        “Trying to be. But not if there’s something I should be doing for you right now.”


        At a temporary loss, Miranda blurts out the first task she can think of.


        “The girls’ rooms need to be in a fit state for when they return.”


        There’s something like disappointment on Andrea’s face, and Miranda supposes that she isn’t expecting domestic tasks, not when there’s a housekeeper attending to most of those duties with Millie’s help. But Miranda wants to be alone, wants a moment to think without the intrusion of a stranger breathing nearby, and most importantly she’s been waiting long enough for her first drink of the day.


        With one last questioning look, Andrea gathers her few items and heads out to the main house. The silly girl hasn’t asked about diverting the phone, but with a heavy sigh Miranda concedes that her only calls will be from Emily anyway. As the footsteps on the gravel grow quieter, Miranda crosses the room to the half-empty crystal decanter and pours herself more than the standard two fingers of Scotch.


        And yes, Miranda knows very well about the do-not-mix-with-alcohol warnings printed on every label, but at worst it leaves her feeling a little dizzy. As she flips through yesterday’s messengered proofs of the Stella McCartney shoot, it’s just reflex to pour herself a generous refill.


        By the time her post-its have peppered the pages, she’s feeling unsteady, but she manages to drop the contact sheets unceremoniously on the assistant’s desk before starting her halting walk back to the main house.


        Stephen’s penile over-compensation is abandoned in front of the porch, clearly actually parking it in the garage is an effort too far. It raises a flicker of hope in Miranda’s chest that he might intend to go back out for the evening, though God knows he shouldn’t be driving if another boozy night at the country club is in his plans. He’s a provincial man at heart, content with those stiff leather chairs and fat cigars on a patio, bragging about some work deal or other. It’s hard to remember a time when she found that confidence intriguing, rather than just exhausting.


        Entering through the front door, Miranda is struck by the absence of noise without the girls. Usually her homes hum with their presence, as though she can hear their breathing from rooms or even floors away. It brings her comfort, and she’s sad to confess that she misses it even more keenly now as other obligations take them from her.


        In search of dinner, she makes her way through the sitting room, leaning heavily on the damn cane that she can’t do without as the afternoon has worn on. It’s a short-cut, of sorts, as opposed to the long hallway with its polished floor and treacherous rugs. It also allows her a vantage point into the kitchen without being seen herself, and depending on what mood she encounters, she may just have dinner sent upstairs.


        Andrea is putting things in the dishwasher, with Millie nowhere in sight. Checking the Cartier watch that hangs from her left wrist, Miranda notes that Millie’s hours of work are over for the day. With her foot actually halfway to making the next step forward, Miranda is frozen in place at the sound of Stephen’s voice. What the hell is he doing chattering with the help in the kitchen, anyway?


        And there’s a sudden sick realization in the pit of Miranda’s stomach, that by sulking and hiding last night she left these two alone. Sure, Andrea isn’t naturally stylish, and needs a thorough tutorial in the correct application of eye makeup, but 25 is 25 and that trumps a whole hell of a lot. Particularly with a husband that Miranda already knows to have strayed, and when she is the alternative in her broken, frosty imperfection. The images come to her unbidden, of Stephen’s sloppy kisses being foisted on Andrea’s always-smiling mouth, of his hairy hands creeping up those firm, young thighs: the dining room table the venue Miranda’s mind chooses to torture her with.


        It’s her own thoughts that cause her to remain in de facto hiding, rather than the conversation she can’t bring herself to listen to. Things sound friendly between the two, and that’s a bad sign. Eventually, Stephen slides into Miranda’s line of vision, his back turned to her so that she can see the needless crinkles of the workday in the designer shirts she picked out for him.


        Part of her is yearning to flee as she sees him take up position behind the bending Andrea, who is chattering away as she loads glasses and mugs into the wire racks, seemingly oblivious to Stephen’s intentions for the moment. As his hand reaches out to caress Andrea’s ass, Miranda knows she should interrupt or flee.


        The problem is, in some masochistic way, she just needs to see what happens next.

        Chapter Text

        Andy whips around at the feeling of an unfamiliar hand touching her ass. Stephen, heavy glass of Scotch in his other hand, is grinning at her like she should be in on this little private joke.


        “What the hell?”


        Stephen drains his glass, affecting a cocky smile that he obviously thinks makes him a hit with the ladies. It only makes Andy confused about whether to slap him or throw up first.


        “Come on Andy, call it one of the perks of the job.”


        “Your wife—“


        “My wife doesn’t understand me.”


        Andy can’t help but laugh in his face at that. He has the presence of mind to look a bit offended.


        “Okay, even if I were interested, which I am not, do you know how lame that sounds? This is my job, and I’m entitled to work without harassment. How about you go somewhere else and we pretend this never happened?”


        Stephen still thinks he has a chance, a glint in his eye like he thinks Andy is simply playing hard to get. The likelihood of him getting slapped is increasing by the second.


        “I mean it, Mr. Tomlinson. If you don’t leave me alone, the only way you’ll lose your pants around me is when I sue them off you.”


        She says it with a big smile, as if to indicate that there are no hard feelings on her part, although that isn’t entirely true. If it weren’t for the fact that she knows Stephen is due to go to London for the best part of a month, Andy might not be so forgiving, but already she feels an attachment to this place and these girls. She can stand up for herself without having to leave, and this creep is not going to ruin her summer, or stop her replenishing her pathetically empty bank account.


        “You’re missing out, you know.”


        “That’s a risk I’m willing to take. Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do.”


        He leaves, thank God, but not without a lingering look at Andy that makes her skin crawl. The sooner that jerk gets on a plane, the better. She starts the now-loaded dishwasher, and leans against the spotless counter for a moment to calm down properly. Just when Andy thinks she’s got a grip, Miranda steps out of the shadowy room across the hall from where Andy stands. It takes a split-second to work out that she could have seen and heard everything, and the tight half-smile on Miranda’s lips is a pretty good confirmation.


        “Miranda, I’m so sorry.”


        Stroking her neck lightly, Miranda looks thoughtful more than angry. She also looks softer, more relaxed under the warm kitchen lights, but Andy is already aware that appearances here are often deceptive.


        “Do you know why I didn’t fire you when you arrived?” Miranda began. Andy’s stomach did a weird somersault of dread. “I always hire the same girl, at least, when I get to choose them. Young, fit, stylish. But this time I said to myself: take a chance. Let the book-reading, fat girl with no sense of style stay. I had hope; my God, I live on it.”


        Andy opens her mouth to defend herself, but doesn’t quite know which insult to go after first. That gives Miranda the opportunity to continue.


        “But it turns out that my husband is not so discriminating. Apparently a pulse and ample cleavage is all it takes to pique his interest. It’s sad, really. And very disappointing.”


        “Miranda, I would never… I told him that I wasn’t interested. At all. Ever. I wouldn’t do that. I’m here for the girls.”


        Whether Miranda accepts Andy’s explanation or not, she suddenly changes tack.


        “Massimo will be calling at ten, be in the office to take it. Tell him that regardless of his location, I expect to be called at a civilized hour. That’s all.”


        Although her slight limp is more obvious than it was in the morning, Miranda still cuts an imposing figure as she sweeps off down the hallway. Andy checks her watch with a sigh, wishing that the girls were here, because even hyperactive and emotional twins are easier to handle than their mother. Deciding distance from Stephen might be the most attractive way to spend the evening, Andy grabs her bag and heads over to the poolhouse-cum-office.


        It takes a while to relax, because Andy can’t help thinking her dismissal will happen at any minute. Part of her is tempted to pour a drink from the crystal decanters in Miranda’s office, but if she is going to survive the night, it isn’t worth the risk. It’s only eight she realizes with a glance at her watch, and for a moment she considers marching back to the main house and forcing Miranda to listen to a proper explanation. Seeing sense, she pulls out a novel stashed in her desk drawer earlier and settles in to wait for the expected call.


        The ringing of the phone eventually drags her from the pages of Alice Hoffman, but Andy clears her head in time to relay the fact that Ms. Priestly, sorry, Miranda is not available to take the man’s call. He doesn’t sound happy about this at all, but Andy already knows enough to know that he’ll be kissing Miranda’s ass just fine next time he does get to speak to her.


        Finally free of work for the evening, Andy only wants to grab a snack and retreat to the privacy of her room, the door to which she will damn well be locking tonight. It’s only when she’s about to open the door into the grounds that she hears some kind of commotion coming out of the house. Frozen for a moment, Andy stands in darkness, having just turned off all the lights. It allows her a clear view across to the porch of the house, where the front door now lies wide open.


        The shouts die down as Stephen emerges, carrying more than one overnight bag plus a bundle of shirts and suits. Andy is grateful that she took her time in clearing up, or else she would have run straight into him. There’s no sign of Miranda, so as soon as his car engine has revved loudly and the taillights are blinking out of sight, Andy makes her way back to the house.


        Since the front door has remained open, Andy isn’t expecting to find Miranda just inside it, sitting on the bottom stairs of the huge staircase, head in her hands. If the situation in the kitchen was awkward, this is mortifying. Andy doesn’t expect to survive seeing a moment of weakness from this obviously proud woman, but she can’t really run off now. Besides, the girls will be back tomorrow.


        Not daring to risk words, which seem to get her in way too much trouble, Andy sets quietly to work. Closing the front door gently, she straightens out the rug and picks up the fallen vase, which miraculously hasn’t broken. Marching back towards the kitchen, she pours a glass of sparkling water and brings it back to Miranda without a word. To Andy’s shock, she receives a weak smile and muttered ‘thank you’ when Miranda lifts her head.


        Miranda drains the glass in hearty sips, and Andy stands aside awkwardly. The temptation to offer some words of comfort, or to say anything to break the silence is incredibly strong, but somehow Andy resists. She focuses instead on Miranda, sneaking a look while Miranda is intent on staring anywhere but in the direction of her employee. Looking every bit as put together as she did arriving in the office that morning, Miranda makes it look perfectly natural to be camped out on a staircase. No doubt her magazine is filled with glamorous photoshoots of overpaid but starving models draped over settings just like this.


        Although Miranda’s cheeks are flushed a delicate shade of pink, there’s no other sign that her husband has just stormed out after yet another screaming match. Andy has witnessed three in as many days, so living with it constantly sounds like hell.


        Before long, Miranda places the glass down and takes a shuddering breath before turning her gaze on Andy. Her lips purse, apparently as she decides on something, and Andy can feel her leg muscles tense in anticipation, ready to spring into action. She can’t understand why she’s so determined to impress this woman, to rise above the assumptions, not to mention the actions of Miranda’s jackass of a husband.


        “The stairs—“ Miranda begins, and Andy understands in an instant.


        “Maybe I could walk up with you? Just in case you wanted an arm to lean on?”


        Miranda nods after an agonizing moment, and Andy is relieved to have gotten something right. She goes to clear away the drinking glass, but Miranda shakes her head and starts making the effort to stand. It seems she wants to go upstairs now, and Andy really doesn’t think delaying is a good idea.


        Stepping in, Andy extends her hand to Miranda, who takes it without looking. There’s a momentary battle with gravity, but Andy is stronger than she looks, and Miranda stops fighting the assistance pretty quickly.


        They make their way up, step by careful step, and Andy doesn’t have a chance to notice that Miranda isn’t speaking to her. She’s suddenly overwhelmed by the nearness of the other woman, of the strong grip she has on Andy’s forearm. Then there’s the subtle scent of perfume and something uniquely Miranda that Andy can’t identify. This deluge of details that she hasn’t had an opportunity to notice yet leave Andy feeling almost dizzy, so she’s glad when they reach the safety of the second floor landing.


        When Andy risks a sideways glance, she’s struck by the determined set of Miranda’s jaw, her mouth a thin line of stubbornness. Andy isn’t sure which door to head towards, but isn’t entirely surprised to discover that it’s the one furthest from the others, by the big bay windows at the end of the hall. Andy is the one to reach for the door handle, an old-fashioned and silent display of good manners, but she’s already wondering why Miranda hasn’t banished her back to her own room now that they’re walking on level ground.


        She can’t help the gasp on seeing Miranda’s bedroom for the first time. It’s like a really fancy hotel suite, with a sitting area in front of an unlit traditional fireplace, with the bedroom and outline of a four-poster bed beyond. The muted colors and warm lighting make Andy want to curl up somewhere with a book, since this space is practically inviting her to. Not the palace she’d expected for the Snow Queen.


        Of course, Miranda spoils the moment with her impeccable timing, rattling off a list of commands for the twins’ return, although Andy has already been able to compile their schedule from Emily’s notes and her own research.


        “Sure thing,” Andy replies. She can sense the dismissal but risks one question. “I meant to ask: do you want me to find a physiotherapist who’ll make house calls? It might help, with your recovery and all.”


        Andy isn’t expecting the sudden transformation in Miranda. Where tiredness and a kind of blankness have resided for the past few minutes, now there’s an obvious if quiet flash of rage.


        “Did I ask you to interfere? Have I hired you to be a nurse without realizing?”


        “Uh, no—“ Andy began, but Miranda gave her no chance to explain.


        “I suggest you stick to what you’re good at. Providing, of course, we ever discover what that might be.”


        Deflated, Andy mumbles a ‘goodnight’ and almost runs out of the room. She’s surprised, and a little disgusted, to feel tears prickling in her eyes. Returning to her room, she vents in a bitchy email to Lily, before collapsing onto the bed.


        Sleep is a long time in coming, because Andy’s brain won’t give her a break. She knows that the morning brings the return of Cassidy and Caroline, who’ll require her to be on her game, regardless of the good start she seems to have made with them. Eventually sleep comes, but it’s hardly any time at all until the alarm blares.


        With a sigh, Andy heads for the shower, and begins another day of what’s looking like the longest damn summer of her life.

        Chapter Text

        Miranda is awake and alert when Rod’s car comes rattling into the driveway. She isn’t dressed, but contemplates going downstairs in pajamas in a robe to greet Caroline and Cassidy. She crosses to the window to wave first (and yes, to check that he has no bimbos in tow, because nothing will spoil an invitation to breakfast quicker) and sees Andrea hugging each girl while the driver unloads bags from the trunk. Another shopping spree it seems, though Miranda hardly holds the moral high ground when it comes to spoiling the girls.


        Opting to hold back since she isn’t expected, Miranda watches the twins clamber all over their father in the process of saying goodbye. Andrea is talking to him, her body language even more awkward than Miranda has seen it until now, and she supposes it’s that damn rockstar thing to blame again. If only these babbling girls had seen Rod back when he had been playing hotel bars for tips and drinking himself senseless most nights. They only see his post-Miranda persona, the one that struts through stadia all over the world, and been in more magazines than even Elias-Clarke publish.


        She misses him, after a fashion; well, she misses the good times at least. She doesn’t miss the strange lingerie found in their penthouse when she came home exhausted from a sixteen-hour day, or the screaming matches that would wake sleeping babies without fail. She certainly doesn’t miss the lurid gossip pieces that accompany his every move; or the groupies desperate to sell stories of escapades, real and invented, that had eventually become too public for Miranda to ignore.


        As a father though, she has every faith in him. All the loyalty and attention he failed to provide in their ten-year relationship, Rod has lavished on their daughters. Despite the awkward questions a few years ago, both Caroline and Cassidy accept their family situation without too many tears or tantrums. Rod cancels or rearranges everything to work around times with the girls, and maybe it’s the security of his status, but he puts Miranda to shame at times.


        By the time she decides to invite him in after all, whether for old times’ sake or because she doesn’t feel embarrassed about her injuries around him (he’d been there in the hospital on the day she came round, writing obscene lyrics on her cast with a stolen Sharpie), Miranda sees him climbing back into the ostentatious limo. Perhaps in their next phone conversation she’ll gently nudge him towards some of those robust SUVs. The power of her suggestion still holds a lot of sway with one man, at least.


        The stampede greets her on the stairs, and Miranda doesn’t chastise Cassidy this time, accepting the full impact of a running hug without complaint. Her first dose of the day is working nicely, and Miranda barely feels the extra impact.


        Even Caroline seems happier, though she lurks further down the stairs, close to Andrea. They’re both content to rattle off overlapping stories of their time with Rod, finishing each other’s sentences then veering off into two different stories once more. It’s dizzying to listen to, but it lifts Miranda’s spirits like nothing else she can think of. As they troop en masse to the kitchen, Miranda feels grateful for not bringing the cane, meaning she can lead Cassidy by the hand. It’s a rare treat these days; they’re getting too old to want to hold hands, and so this indulgence is one Miranda seizes on gratefully.


        Millie is already chopping fruit and the strong scent of coffee fills the air. Caroline is showing some new bracelet to Andrea as they sit, and though the impulse is strong, Miranda doesn’t ask to see it too. Caroline can’t be pushed or cajoled, her stubbornness clearly a gift from the maternal side. Miranda fears that she’ll say the wrong thing anyway, since Caroline especially doesn’t care about fashion or any of the many trinkets Miranda brings home from every showing or Fashion Week.


        Keeping her voice light, Miranda looks with some desperation at the coffeemaker. Usually Millie would have poured a mug by now, but she’s still doing something with bowls. Andrea must see the glance, because she leaps out of her chair and scurries across to fix two mugs. Miranda doesn’t thank her, pretending to be absorbed by the story Cassidy is telling about how her ‘dad bedroom’ is now painted red, because she’s too big now for pink and princesses, but Andrea doesn’t seem to mind as she sips cautiously at her own mug. Miranda smirks when Andrea winces at the temperature, as though she’s scoring some tiny victory.


        Not that it’s Andrea’s fault she keeps discovering Miranda in moments of vulnerability. Still, there’s a reputation to be maintained, and the last thing she needs is to have the staff getting overly familiar. Millie serves up breakfast, which Miranda picks at while the girls eat eagerly. Caroline is talking quietly, unusual in itself, to Andrea about something Miranda doesn’t begin to understand. After a minute or two, she surmises it must be about some book or other, but Cassidy begins singing some terrible pop song with her mouth still full of papaya and the peace is shattered again.


        After a brief lecture on the appropriate time to invoke Miley Cyrus (which Miranda considers to be never, but she shows some leniency) Andrea is free to arrange morning activities. There are sailing lessons in the afternoon, but until then it seems they’ll be occupied with some art time in the playroom. For a moment, it looks as though Andrea will invite Miranda to join them, but the shrill ring of Miranda’s cell phone avoids any such situation. She’s distracted by Emily’s chattering, and all too soon she finds herself alone at the table while Millie clears the plates.


        Emily’s call is just more bad news. Jacqueline is trying to make her mark on Runway still, no matter how many polite nudges are given to remind her that it’s a secondment, not a promotion. By the time Emily has listed the editorial and artistic changes, Miranda feels a little sick and halfway compelled to call for her car and head straight back to Manhattan. A twinge from her hip suggests that it’s no time to be hot-headed, and instead Miranda grabs paper and a pen to work out a counter-attack that might be launched in her absence. If a city bus plowing into her car can’t take her down, she’s damned if some French bitch with a skunk-inspired hairstyle is going to manage it.


        Pepé LePew had better watch her back.


        Feeling inspired, if still a little sore, Miranda makes her way across to her temporary office. She exchanges emails with her few trusted lieutenants, keeping Emily on a knife-edge all morning as they exchange calls at regular intervals. After a few hours that seem to fly by, Miranda is satisfied to have stemmed the tide of Jacqueline’s destruction. Let Irv think he’s winning by having her there, it’s still Miranda’s magazine.


        And to her surprise, this becomes something of a routine. Andrea seems quietly capable, whether juggling the girls’ social activities or dashing off replies to emails that Miranda deems beneath her personal attention. Stephen’s absence is barely felt, though some evenings Miranda finds herself almost missing the calls that his business trips have always been punctuated with. She eats alone in the kitchen on the nights when sleepovers or time with the father takes Caroline and Cassidy away from her. Andrea will sometimes join her when the plates are ready to be cleared, providing a report on her daily work before sitting to her own meal.


        Miranda finds herself willing to linger until it becomes obvious that she needs the company, someone to talk to between visits from her doctor and the first two physiotherapists that Andrea foists on her. (They’re completely unsuitable of course – the first is as timid as a mouse, as likely to force Miranda to exercise as a stick of celery. The second seems to think himself a minor celebrity, and doesn’t even get the chance to unroll his gaudy mats.)


        One evening, with the girls tucked in bed, Miranda finds herself compelled to invite Andrea to share a nightcap with her in the downstairs study. It’s a room Miranda feels comfortable in, despite its masculine décor. Stephen thought it might be suitable for his office, but was soon disabused of the idea. The girl, despite her increasing confidence, looks as though she’s been called before the firing squad but Miranda carries on regardless.


        “Scotch?” She questions, though she doubts Andrea is expecting a choice. The wince of disgust is fleeting, but Miranda catches it.


        “In that case, you can help yourself,” Miranda sighs, collapsing slowly into the waiting leather armchair with her own drink.


        Andrea does so with minimal fuss, pouring herself vodka rocks, which is more daring than Miranda would have given her credit for. Perhaps it’s misreading the girl to assume she’d take refuge in fruit and sugar and weak measures of alcohol.


        They sip their respective drinks in silence, the late evening breeze whipping loudly through the trees that frame the study window. Andrea’s eyes are roving over the thick volumes that line the walls, clearly drawn to the books whose ancient papery scents mingle with the leather and highly polished wood to give the space the air of a small library.


        “You can take a closer look, if you must,” Miranda offers, and Andrea is already in motion when Miranda’s left hand waves vaguely towards the books. She runs a cautious hand over the leather-bound spines, occasionally pulling one book or another to better take in its details.


        The girl loses herself in the pages for a few minutes, before remembering herself and scurrying back to sit opposite Miranda in an armchair of her own. Unlike Miranda, Andrea doesn’t relax into it. She’s hunched forward, terrible for her posture of course, and nervously swirling the drink in her hand which makes the slowly melting ice cubes rattle.


        “You’re doing… well, with the girls,” Miranda can’t quite believe she’s saying the words, but there’s no doubt that they’re true.


        “Oh, I hope so. I really like them,” Andrea responds, her face lighting up at the mention of Caroline and Cassidy. “They’re not exactly angels, but they’re so smart. They’re keeping me on my toes.”


        Miranda can’t help but smile in return. Her girls provoke a fierce pride in her, and it’s rejuvenated lately as Caroline has warmed up to her mother again. She’ll probably never be as quick to smile (or cry) as Cassidy, but the anger that’s been radiating towards Miranda since they left Manhattan has definitely lessened.


        “As for your other duties--Emily won’t be able to continue with her weekly visits. Jacqueline is making more demands on her time. This is unfortunate, but you will have to pick up the slack.”


        “No problem, Miranda. I mean, whatever you need.” Andrea looks more confident now, on firmer ground with the conversation.


        “Don’t disappoint me, Andrea.” Miranda makes the warning painfully clear.


        When Andrea stands, Miranda assumes she’s scared the girl off, but in fact Andrea is simply refilling both of their glasses. It’s a nice touch, the presumption, and not for the first time Miranda recognizes that flare of something in Andrea that suggests a kindred spirit.


        “Your new physio comes tomorrow,” Andrea ventures after handing Miranda her glass.


        Miranda rolls her eyes in response.


        “I mean, I pushed her to come soon, because your recovery is really important. I tore my ACL in college, and I heard so many horror stories about people who didn’t work at their physical therapy, you know?” Andrea stutters to a halt, realizing she’s slipped into the realm of lecturing. “I mean, uh, of course you know.”


        “Are you comparing some drunken injury picked up at a sorority party—“


        “Actually,” Andrea interjects, “it was a soccer match.”


        “Regardless, you can’t seriously presume to know what you’re talking about here. Or did I somehow miss the medical qualifications on your resume?” Miranda is irritated now, her peaceful mood evaporating by the second. To be questioned by this slip of a girl, this employee, is more than she wishes to tolerate.


        “Woah, I was just sharing my experience. Forget I said anything. I read about your car crash, you know. I’m not ignorant.”


        There’s a flush to Andrea’s cheeks now, though whether from the vodka or indignation Miranda can’t say.


        “Oh, you read about it? Well, those five minutes on Google must have covered everything you need to know.”


        Irritation is giving way to anger, and Miranda can feel the adrenalin coursing in her veins like a forgotten rush. It isn’t like this when she fights with Stephen—that’s just venom and arguments learned by rote—this is fresh, new, almost intoxicating. That this twenty-something nanny should sit as a guest in Miranda’s private study and presume to know her life? It’s practically blood sport for Miranda to engage with her.


        There’s no trace of nervousness in Andrea’s expression now. Though her wide eyes betray her youth and naïveté, there’s not a scrap of fear in them.


        “Hey, I cared enough to research it. It seemed more polite than grilling you about it.”


        Drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair, Miranda plumps for shock value. It’s usually once of the most reliable weapons in her arsenal.


        “What would you have grilled me about? About how it feels when steel crushes your femur? Or perhaps the taste of blood, and how it mingles with the smell of spilling gasoline? Do you want to know if I screamed, Andrea? When I thought I was dying; in a car I traveled in every day for almost a year?”


        It’s too far, and Miranda knows that even as she hears her voice rising in volume. There’s no stopping the torrent of words though, and she watches each one turn Andrea even paler, her mouth falling open in shock.


        “I didn’t mean to pry, Miranda. I’m so sorry. You must have been terrified,” Andrea whispers, unable to see that silence would be her best defense. “I didn’t mean to make you relive—“


        “You didn’t make me do any such thing. Now, you said this morning that you need next weekend off?”


        The about-turn stuns Andrea further, but as she fumbles for words, Miranda feels her heart rate beginning to calm once more. She’s sure that her face has remained unreadable throughout, but she’ll fire this girl before she’ll let her see anything else approaching weakness. Bad enough that Miranda’s mobility has caused her to ask for help (and in that moment she resolves to ace her physiotherapy, the better to be fully independent once more) but she’ll be damned if she seems any more pathetic.


        “Yeah, I mentioned it to Emily before she hired me. I have this really important—“


        “Spare me the details of your humdrum social life. Stephen will be back for a few days by then, so you’re free to go. Make sure you’re back on time to pick up your duties on the Monday morning. And keep your cellphone on at all times.”


        “Miranda, thank you.”


        “And it doesn’t mean that you can take it easy this week. That’s all,” Miranda replies, ending the night and the conversation in one fell swoop. The girl has learned that much at least, placing her glass down and taking her leave.


        It’s not until she hears Andrea’s heavy footfalls on the stairs that Miranda allows the first tear to fall.

        Chapter Text

        Andy soon discovers that her conversational misstep with Miranda is not the end of her bad luck; on the contrary, it’s just the beginning. Gone is the peaceful and cooperative Priestly holiday home, where girls were keen to attend all their social activities and office work consisted of nothing more than a few phone messages and emails.


        Miranda, predictably, is the worst. She finds fault with everything Andy wears, says or does. By Thursday morning, when Miranda throws a pack of make-up removing wipes across the office at her--the not-so-subtle message painfully clear--Andy is close to quitting. After having to change five times each morning to be prepared for the whims of children and their mother alike, this attack on a bit of tinted moisturizer and eyeliner seems like the final straw.


        There’s a constant pile of work on Andy’s desk, too. Miranda has an archive of back issues on the shelves, and every few minutes she’s calling for some specific issue to show that ‘enamel has been done”, or that she wants “every time biker chic has been used to show leather jackets”. The more that Miranda does, the more calls that come in, and the emails are almost impossible to keep up with. Even during her time with the twins, Andy is constantly checking her Blackberry and firing off quick responses to people she’s come to know without ever meeting. They all want something now, or better, yesterday, and they don’t care how rude they have to be to get it. It wouldn’t be quite so annoying if these same editors and photographers and assistants didn’t turn around and start kissing Miranda’s ass with their next words.


        But that’s surprisingly bearable compared to Caroline in a full-blown tantrum. Soccer has been demoted from her favorite pastime to some kind of torture that she cannot, and will not endure. By Thursday morning, as Cassidy mutters in the corner of the playroom, Caroline screams, cries and wraps herself around furniture in order not to be dragged to practice.


        Andy is on the verge of wishing for a tranquilizer gun when Miranda finally appears to take care of her daughter, her glare at Andy’s failure almost as bad as Caroline’s blind rage. With relief, Andy takes off with Cassidy in tow, desperate to be free of the house and grounds for a couple of hours. In her fear and frustration, she finds herself driving angry, and has to pull over for five minutes on a quiet road while Cassidy watches her sob.


        Coming at the end of a week where Andy has found some of her favorite books floating in the swimming pool, been subject to cruel remarks from Miranda that obviously filter down to her demon offspring, and every meal becoming a battle of wills that invokes fake allergies and sudden loathing for old favorites, it’s really a wonder that Andy hasn’t gone stark, staring mad.


        The lifebelt that she’s clinging to is her weekend off. With no small amount of dread, she’s expecting Stephen’s plans to change, or Miranda to come up with some other impossible task that will require two extra days’ work, but when Friday night rolls around, Andy breathes a sigh of relief.


        It’s a wonder that Lily still wants to see her, given that Andy has spent every night ranting down the phone, not to mention the daily barrage of irate text messages. Still, it’s Lily’s birthday, and they’ve celebrated every single one together since they met in grade school. Andy’s just relieved to have made it to the weekend with her job and sanity intact.


        Her streak of bad luck officially ends on Saturday morning. She’s waiting for Stephen to come downstairs, preferring to ask him if she can leave the Prius at the station while off-duty, but Miranda is the first to appear. Out of habit, Andy fixes her boss a scalding hot coffee, and Miranda makes eye contact for the first time in days as she sips it.


        “You’re going into the city?”


        “Yes.”


        If Andy’s learned one life-saving tip this week, it’s keeping her answers short and sweet.


        “Here,” Miranda says without explanation, throwing a new set of car keys at her. Andy thanks God for good reflexes, because she manages to catch them without making an idiot of herself.


        “Your new trainer was a good choice,” Miranda says, her voice as soft as ever. Andy can only assume she means physiotherapist. “This has been a difficult week.”


        “There’s something, with the trains. Take my car; we’ll need yours to take the girls out.”


        Andy could kick herself, in the chaos of the week she hasn’t even thought to check the LIRR schedules. That Miranda should know anything about it seems sort of touching in a way, but Andy hasn’t forgotten the bitch of hell who’s been riding her all week about everything from nail polish to the correct color of Post-Its.


        “Thanks. I should go.”


        Miranda nods, immediately lost in the newspaper in front of her. Andy had been planning to buy her own copy at the station, but now she’ll be driving the whole way. It’s only when she gets to the garage that realization dawns: Miranda has given her the keys to the sweet little Porsche, and a convertible at that.


        With a happy squeal, Andy throws herself into the driver’s seat. She was tempted to jump over the door instead of opening it, since the top is down, but experience has taught her that it would have ended in a tangle of very sore limbs and bruised pride. Futzing with the radio, she discovers the iPod connector and gleefully hooks hers up. Thank God she learned to drive stick on her grandparents’ farm a few years ago, and there’s almost no rustiness in her technique as she throws the car into reverse and hurtles down the drive with PJ Harvey blaring.


        It’s a straightforward drive until she hits the Queens Midtown Expressway, where the traffic slows to a steady city snarl and she’s way more reliant on the navigation system. Still, with good music and people-watching from behind the safety of her designer sunglasses, Andy doesn’t feel the time pass. Before long, she’s pulling up at Lily’s apartment block and fending off Lily’s squeals as she gets directions to the nearest parking garage, at the end of the street.


        In the best mood she’s been in for weeks, Andy is ready to be the life and soul of the party. Catching up over lunch and a couple of beers, she feels her muscles unknotting at each laugh Lily draws from her. Only when Lily asks for the full story about babysitting the demonspawn does Andy’s mood drop briefly.


        “These people, Lily. It’s like they don’t know the price of anything. It’s all ‘I want it now’ or ‘this one isn’t fancy enough’ and it drives me crazy. Not to mention that you’re expected to dress for breakfast like you’re going to freaking Cannes or something.”


        “Poor little rich girls,” Lily fake-sympathized. “Don’t you know how hard it is to find good help these days? You’re just lucky they’re so patient!”


        “Don’t make me hit my best friend on her birthday,” Andy warned, waving the server over to order another drink. “Anyway, enough of the damn Priestlys. Today, tonight and tomorrow – we party!”


        Lily offers her own beer bottle in a toast, and with the clink of cold glass amidst the bustle of a busy restaurant, the weekend officially begins.


        After that, Andy barely has a chance to catch her breath. They walk back to Lily’s studio apartment, where Andy changes into a little red dress that she found in her new closet, and there’s really no work situation she can think of where it would have been appropriate.


        It certainly works in the bars and clubs that night though, and Andy doesn’t have to pay for a single drink. She dances with Lily every now and then to escape too many flirtatious guys, because despite the dry spell in her love life since Nate, she doesn’t find any of them particularly attractive.


        Later, when Lily is making out with some guy with blue streaks in his hair (so pretty much her type, then) Andy seeks refuge in a quieter corner with some art school friends of Lily’s that she sort-of knows. The music is quieter now, the hour getting late and the mood mellow. Knowing she’s pretty buzzed, Andy leans back against the leather seat in her booth, letting the steady drum beats of the music course through her. Her previously immaculate hair is now shaken loose from dancing and throwing her head back in laughter, but her last trip to the bathroom confirms she still looks pretty good, her make-up a little faded but still in place.


        When she opens her eyes, there’s a guy staring at her with a lazy grin on his face. With his blond curls and chiseled face, he’s not bad to look at, Andy muses. The other friends in her booth have drifted back to the dancefloor, and Andy smiles at the thought of dissecting the various hookups and breakups that will have occurred by the time she sits down to lunch with Lily in the morning.


        “Hey there,” the stranger begins, and Andy’s glad that he hasn’t tried some line on her.


        “Hey yourself,” she answers.


        “You know Lily?”


        Andy nods slowly, the tequila shooters making their presence known with every movement now.


        “She’s my best friend.”


        “She’s a nice girl. I wrote a piece on her gallery.”


        It’s still too loud for proper conversation, but Andy tries her best to hang in there.


        “You’re a writer?”


        “Is that an accusation?” He counters, but there’s a smile on his face.


        “No, I mean, I want to be a writer some day.”


        The guy takes a long sip from the glass in his hand – Scotch, or bourbon maybe – and scoots along the curved bench to get closer to Andy. She doesn’t mind, it makes conversation easier.


        “Why aren’t you a writer today?”


        “I’m trying. Right now I’m an assistant. Oh, and a nanny.”


        “I see,” he replies, turning what is actually a pretty charming smile on her. “I’m Christian, by the way. Christian Thompson.”


        That name is obviously supposed to mean something, Andy can tell, because he sort of preens a little when he says it. She’s halfway to rolling her eyes when it hits her like a sledgehammer.


        The Christian Thompson?”


        He nods, with mock humility.


        “Oh. My. God. You write for every magazine I’ve ever wanted to see my name in some day. I reviewed your book for my college newspaper.”


        “A good review, I hope? Filled with reference to my charm and good looks?”


        Andy can’t really remember much of what she wrote, if she’s honest, but she nods and smiles anyway. Let this famous writer think she praised him for all of Northwestern University to see—she probably did.


        “You want to dance?” He asks, but there’s really nothing Andy wants to do less. The four-inch Manolo Blahnik heels that sent Lily into a squealing fit earlier in the evening are murdering Andy’s feet, and even through her alcohol haze she can feel the burning and nipping that will linger all of Sunday too, when she’s stuffed her feet back into a trusty pair of Birkenstocks.


        “I’m kind of happy just sitting here,” she confesses.


        “Thank God. I’m a terrible dancer,” Christian replies, and Andy finds herself laughing at his deadpan honesty.


        Just then, Lily comes strolling over with their coats and purses in her hands. Sure enough, at that moment the music fades out and the lights come up just a little. Time to get out, and hopefully Lily will want to grab a cab rather than find another club. Four a.m. is pretty late for Andy these days, and although she’s impressed by her new acquaintance, she’s really closer to passing out that charming him for another few hours.


        “You coming home with me, Andy? Or do you have a better offer?” Lily is full of mischief as she asks the question, not bothering to disguise her blatant checking out of Christian.


        “Lily!” Andy yelps. “All my stuff is at your apartment. And uh, we just met. This is Christian--”


        Christian takes the hint, without any noticeable dent to his confidence. Fishing in his pockets, he pulls out an embossed business card.


        “Okay, Andy, I know my cue when I hear it. Why don’t you send me some of your writing some time? Then we can have lunch to talk about it, maybe?”


        “Well, I don’t live in the city right now,” Andy begins to explain as she takes the card. “But you know, I get days off sometimes so yeah, I would really like that.” She reads the card quickly and adds, “I’ll email you. So you have my address. And uh, number, if you want.”


        Christian takes his leave, with a cheeky little wave and a big smile. Unsurprisingly, there’s a gaggle of people waiting for him, including impossibly glamorous girls who shoot daggers at Andy.


        Lily is itching to go home apparently, and before long Andy is bundling herself into the back seat of a cab. She hopes she’ll remember all this in the morning.


        *


        By the time Andy leaves Brooklyn on Sunday evening, the sun is close to setting and her blood alcohol levels are back down to something safe. The weekend passed in a blur of friends old and new, ridiculous cocktails and a hundred compliments on her new look. If she were a shallow person, Andy might even be offended that they’d seen so much improvement – had she really been so badly dressed before?


        The nighttime roads were a lot clearer, but an accident on the Long Island Expressway put a crimp in her easy road back. Her cellphone died some time this morning, and without a charger she’d had to live with it. Besides, nobody is expecting her until the morning, and she has a key to the kitchen door to come and go.


        It’s officially late by the time she pulls into the driveway, dimming the lights as much as she can. With the top up to shield from a summer storm, and bored of pretty much everything on her iPod, Andy is feeling pretty weary by the time she hops out to open the garage door. There’s probably some automatic thing for it, but no one has bothered to tell her. The security light flares into life when she steps close enough, but that’s not what makes her gasp.


        No, in the teeming rain sits Miranda, wrapped in soaked clothes as she perches on the porch steps. Seeing Andy move towards her seems to jolt her to life.


        “Where the hell have you been?” Miranda hisses, barely audible over the storm.


        Andy’s too startled to reply at first, her lips parting with a willingness to answer, but there’s something wild in Miranda’s eyes. It’s then that she truly feels Miranda’s grip on her upper arms, almost hard enough to pinch.


        “I’m not on duty until the morning, right?”


        Miranda shakes her, actually shakes her like some oversized ragdoll, and that’s enough to make Andy wrench out of her grip.


        “That’s not the point. You said you’d be back Sunday evening. Evening.”


        “So it’s Sunday night. Does it matter?” Andy is getting soaked through, and is in no mood to put up with another round of Miranda Priestly mind games.


        “On the radio. They said, they said that the Expressway…” Miranda tails off, her panic clearly giving way to embarrassment.


        And then Andy gets it.


        A car crash: with Andy driving Miranda’s car. Being hours later than expected, with no working cellphone.


        Oh, shit.


        “I didn’t mean to worry you!” This time Andy is the one to reach for Miranda’s arm, it’s an automatic gesture of comfort, and she’s as surprised to make it as she is to see that Miranda doesn’t shrug it off.


        “My phone battery died. I would have called, but I didn’t think—“


        Miranda interrupts her with a sneeze. In that moment, it’s too easy to see how truly miserable she is, and Andy finds herself overlooking the snide comments and the endless days because it actually hurts her to see Miranda looking like that. Andy’s mom always says that she takes things too personally, gets attached too quickly, but Miranda isn’t a stray cat and this strange sympathy for her is stronger than anything Andy is used to.


        “Let’s get you inside. You really don’t need pneumonia on top of everything else.”


        “I’m not a child,” Miranda protests, but offers no resistance when Andy takes her arm. She does, however, steer them away from the main house and over to the office instead. Andy is tired, and still a little hungover, but she feels she owes the indulgence. Somewhere in the past few weeks, she realizes, she’s begun to care about this job and these people. Miranda might be rude, and impossible, and the girls aren’t much easier, but Andy didn’t feel any dread on the drive back.


        Thankfully, the poolhouse part of the building is well-stocked with towels, so Andy grabs a few and offers some to Miranda. They sit on elaborate couches—decorated in Chinese silk—that Andy doesn’t feel any guilt for getting rain all over. She just wants to get dry.


        She’s toweling her hair when she looks back over at Miranda, who’s frozen in though, towels draped uselessly over her lap. Tired and impatient, Andy decides that she doesn’t care about boundaries in that moment. Relocating to the other sofa, she carefully takes a dry towel and smoothes it gently over Miranda’s soaking hair. When there’s no resistance, Andy feels bolder, and drapes another towel over Miranda’s shoulders.


        “You should get out of these wet clothes,” Andy whispers, afraid to speak any louder in the otherwise silent room. She doesn’t feel any more comfortable for having worked in this space almost every day.


        “There are… robes,” Miranda offers, and Andy takes the hint. For whatever reason, Miranda doesn’t want to go back into the house yet. She dutifully goes to fetch one for Miranda, lingering in the changing space only to strip off her own clothes and pull a fluffy white bathrobe on over her underwear. Andy feels better in an instant, the dampness and shivering dealt with.


        When she offers a robe to Miranda, Andy is expecting Miranda to follow her own example and seek some privacy to change. Miranda stands, stiffly, but Andy’s stunned when she begins to undo the buttons of her blouse right there.


        The obvious next step is to leave the room again, or at least turn her back, but Andy finds her feet stuck firmly to the floor. She feels warm all of a sudden, as Miranda’s dark blouse slips gradually from her shoulders and down her now bare arms. Common sense, and hell, plain old survival instinct tells her to look away. But Miranda isn’t complaining, and oh God that is a really nice bra, and wow, Miranda has really nice breasts—


        There’s a peal of thunder overhead, suggesting the storm is right on top of them. Andy can’t help but take it personally, as she stands there caught in a dramatic realization of her own.

        Chapter Text

        Miranda isn’t really thinking as she begins to peel off her wet clothes. Well, she’s thinking about how her skin is so cold and clammy that every contact stings, and that she feels chilled right down to the bone. She knows these East Coast summer storms well enough to know better, but as in too many ways lately, she’s not quite on her game.


        She doesn’t want to think about the ways in which she has overreacted, some of which might be put down to the fresh set of divorce papers Stephen dumped in her lap before leaving for the city; or perhaps the screaming tantrums of the girls that lasted for over an hour, right through the small local news item about a five-car pile-up on the Expressway. Only then, with the sickening jolt of unwanted adrenalin, did Miranda snap a little.


        Raising her voice to the girls had terrified them, and for that she’s truly sorry. She’s slipping her sodden pants down her bare legs as she worries about whether they’ll forgive her, reaching gratefully for the dry robe to put on.


        It’s at that point that Andrea clears her throat, and Miranda realizes the show she must be putting on, quite unintentionally. She’s so used to years of fittings, of selecting her favorites from designers’ collections with Nigel’s second opinion, often changing in dressing rooms full of strangers to make her next appointment or dinner date on time. A life lived at her pace hasn’t left much time for modesty, but as she ties the belt of the robe, Miranda feels her eyes drawn to the scars on her stomach, on her thigh. They’re not the angry red of a few weeks ago, but still pink and unfaded against her white skin.


        Self-conscious and weary, Miranda takes her seat on the couch once more. She’s been planning to redecorate this space for two summers now, but spending a few days here and there never lent itself to making the plans. Now, resentful of the place, she feels even less inclined, but she might have the girl call her interior designer anyway.


        Andrea looks quite comfortable in her robe, kicking off her ugly sandals to fold her legs beneath her. Her mascara has run slightly from the rain (and really what idiot doesn’t wear waterproof?) but with her hair slicked back from her face, the girl looks younger than ever. Is it any wonder Stephen would be attracted to her? Objectively, Miranda can see the appeal. Andrea is certainly not of the Runway type, and it seems Stephen would reject everything about Miranda’s world and not just his wife.


        “I really am sorry,” Andrea mutters, her voice as quiet as Miranda has trained her own to be. There’s a pink flush across her cheeks that wasn’t in evidence before they changed. Miranda supposes she’s embarrassed at watching an old, damaged woman change in front of her. Well, Miranda doesn’t much care about how comfortable her actions make anyone.


        “I didn’t ask you for an apology,” Miranda replies.


        “My mother always used to say that apologies and compliments are better if they’re given without being asked for.”


        “I suppose she had a point. Is she—“


        “Dead?” Andrea finishes, a trace of hardness in her eyes for the first time that Miranda’s seen. “Yes.”


        And in a manner that reflects her own, Miranda can see that the topic is off-limits. Her crueller instincts suggest prodding at this obvious sore point, but something tells her that Andrea will not tolerate it. She’s not some snivelling lackey at Runway, and after so many years of having her ass kissed, Miranda’s surprised to find that she enjoys the challenge. Power gets very dull when any ridiculous demand is met, and while Andrea has been nothing short of obedient, there’s a steeliness beneath that Bambiesque exterior that dissuades Miranda’s usual tactics.


        Can this nanny really have gotten under her skin in such a short time? By doing nothing more than caring for Miranda’s children and fielding phone calls, has Andrea actually earned some respect? It seems to have happened almost without Miranda noticing. But happen it has, because what other reason would Miranda have for handing over the keys to her beloved Porsche? As one of the few material possessions she genuinely enjoyed, she refused to let even Stephen drive it, not even in the halcyon days when they were first married.


        Even thinking about her husband in fonder times is enough to uncoil the spirals of rage that had grown dormant inside Miranda. She has read countless times that rage is supposed to feel hot, hot enough to burn, but she feels it like an icicle through her chest. That she has to bare her private life before Andrea again is mortifying, but it means a change to the arrangements and so she must be told. If only Emily could escape Jacqueline’s clutches more often, conversations like this might be delegated to her.


        “Stephen left again tonight,” Miranda begins.


        “Work?” Andrea already suspects the truth.


        “For good--if the divorce papers are any indication. I’m surprised he bothered to have a fresh set printed.”


        “This isn’t the first time he…” Andrea trails off, clearly unsure how freely she can speak here.


        “…tried to divorce me? Oh, no. In Paris, before the accident. He was supposed to join me for the gala to close out Fashion Week, and FedExed his wish to be done with me instead. Charming, don’t you think?”


        Miranda is itching for a drink, she realizes. Standing up and pouring one is another matter entirely, such is her exhaustion. She should go to bed, she should check in on the girls and apologize. No doubt they’ll still be awake, puzzled and hurt by her earlier outburst. Perhaps she shields them from too much, because each glimpse of the ugliness of life seems to bruise them so easily. That she should be the one to inflict the hurt is unforgivable, Miranda knows, even if it’s only with her words.


        Still, she feels calmer sitting here with Andrea. It won’t do to question why, because that’s far more than she wants to analyze. Just a little longer, until she gets her strength back, she tells herself.


        “But then he stayed?”


        “Apparently so. I was unconscious in hospital while he came to that decision. I think he feared the bad press.”


        That makes Andrea wince, as if she’s unwilling to accept such cynicism could actually be real.


        “Didn’t you talk, though? Maybe he realized, thinking that he would lose you…” Andrea ventures, not convincing even herself.


        “Well, he’s lost me now. Can we please discuss something other than my marriage? I only mention it because it will mean the girls and I being a little more reliant on you doing your best. I don’t want to find myself…disappointed.”


        That’s enough to make Andrea squirm in her seat, and Miranda smirks a little at having chosen the right spot to aim for. It’s one of her less-noticed skills, how quickly she can read someone’s insecurities. People seem to assume that hers is a blanket cruelty, rooted in jibes about appearance, but that doesn’t generally have the desired effect unless on very shallow people like Emily.


        No, the overachieving Ms. Sachs--who had become editor of the Daily Northwestern while still a sophomore--had a painfully apparent fear of disappointment. The methodical way in which she went about every task might not always be quick enough for Miranda’s liking, but it suggested an unwillingness to miss even the smallest detail. It wouldn’t take much pressing to work out the source of Andrea’s anxiety, although Miranda is now betting on her apparently deceased mother.


        “I won’t disappoint you,” Andrea replies, and there’s a firmness in the set of her shoulders as she says it.


        “Yes. That’s what they all say, at first.”


        “Well I made it back in one piece tonight despite that huge accident. That shows promise, right?”


        Miranda opens her mouth to deliver some sarcastic response, but the breath to form words doesn’t come. The room is unbearably bright, and her chest feels tighter than any corset has ever achieved. There’s a roaring in her ears, like waves are crashing down directly over her head.


        Oh no.


        Oh not this.


        Not now.


        Her pills are in her bedroom. Miranda knows she should have taken something before sitting out on the porch to wait, but God, why wasn’t she thinking? Some Valium, or maybe the Percocet. Just one of those little pills would have been enough.


        She’s been trying to fight off this feeling for hours. It’s not the first time since the accident. She knows the signs by now, should have gone to bed alone instead of lingering with Andrea.


        As she gasps, straining to breathe, Miranda closes her eyes. Perhaps the girl will be embarrassed again, will run away instead of blushing and averting her eyes. All Miranda can see beneath her eyelids is the dirty gray of tarmac, and the broken glass sparkling on top of it. Her mouth tastes like metal, and the pain in her hip is suddenly sharp once more.


        Just when it’s becoming too much to handle, when the blackness threatens to overwhelm her, Miranda is aware of a hand on her shoulder. It’s enough, it’s something to focus on, and she is able to get a foothold in calming herself. Reluctantly, she opens her eyes to discover Andrea sitting beside her, eyes full of concern as her hand rubs gentle circles on Miranda’s back.


        And honestly, it’s more than she can bear. This crack in her mask is threatening to become a chasm and this damn girl must be doing something to provoke it. Miranda has been suppressing her feelings for as long as she’s had them, and why one little accident or one new employee should threaten that is just mystifying to her.


        Considering her limited options, and the unbridled sympathy that’s just radiating from Andrea (Miranda can’t bear to look for too long, for fear she might be sick) there’s really only one option remaining—to run.


        So Miranda runs—as well as she can, anyway. With no cane and the cold soaked into her bones she makes a decent break for it, scurrying over the uneven gravel to the relative flatness of the gardens. Out here Millie tends to mysterious rows of tomato plants and God knows what else, but in the lashing wind and rain they’re just more trip hazards.


        Running past the front door was just instinct, because once inside the staircase confines her. Andrea can’t know the house that well yet, and Miranda hopes that by slipping in through the kitchen she’ll have enough of a head start to avoid the girl until morning.


        She can see the painted white wood of the kitchen door when a hand clamps down on her elbow, and the threat to her momentum is enough to make Miranda fall. It’s more of a surrender, which disgusts her, because she simply doesn’t have the strength to resist Andrea and her goddamned help any longer.


        “Miranda!” the girl exclaims, as she wraps strong arms under Miranda’s shoulders and pulls her back to standing. Mud now spatters them both, making their robes and bare feet even more ridiculous in the storm.


        “Why can’t you just leave me be?” Miranda struggles to keep her voice as quiet as usual, but it only makes Andrea lean in closer to hear her over the rain.


        “It’s my job,” Andrea shouts, rain running down her face in streams. “To help you.”


        Miranda flicks the wet hair falling in her face away from her eye, and considers her next move.


        “There’s no point,” she shouts, “in trying to become irreplaceable. Nobody is.”


        She could fire her now. Let her call a taxi and take her precious books and peppy attitude back to New York, or whichever cornfield in the Midwest she crawled out of. The words are on the tip of her tongue, but Miranda can’t seem to make them fall.


        “You need me,” Andrea counters, and there’s nothing girlish about her as she stands her ground, blinking away the heavy raindrops. “You need someone, so it may as well be me. I’m already here.”


        “I don’t need anyone,” Miranda snorts.


        “The girls do. And you do need someone, whether you admit it or not. Stephen’s gone, Emily’s trapped under Jacqueline Follet’s heel and I haven’t seen anyone else rushing to your side in all the time I’ve been here.”


        “How dare you?” Miranda can’t believe what she’s hearing. Nobody has spoken to her this plainly since Nigel, back in the early days of their friendship; or maybe Rod, when trying to rein in her temper during their better times.


        “I choose to be alone. Do you think I want people to see me like this?”


        Andrea shakes her head, kicking the ground in apparent frustration.


        “Why are you so embarrassed by something that isn’t your fault? Are you really so goddamned shallow that you don’t want—what?—paparazzi shots of you walking with a cane? You’re so scared of people feeling sorry for you that you’d pull some Garbo retreat to the Hamptons for months on end?”


        “You don’t know the first thing about me. Or what I’ve gone through,” Miranda volleys back, but she’s shivering at the thought of how close to the truth Andrea seems to get without even trying.


        “I know you’re messed up enough to lose your mind over me driving your car and getting back late.”


        No, no, no. Miranda knows where this conversation is going, she can already feel the burning need to expel the words. She will not be forced into saying aloud the one thing she’s been able to keep to herself in this very public mess. And yet…


        “I can assure you that my concern was not personal.”


        Andrea winces at little at that, and for the first time the ghost of her previous uncertainty flits across her face.


        “Then why were you sitting out in a storm, half out of your damn mind?”


        “Because I will not have another one on my conscience. I--”


        She actually clamps a hand down over her mouth, but it’s too late. Miranda curses, looks towards the door again, but Andrea is between her and any viable means of escape.


        “What does that mean?” Andrea asks, but it’s clear from her suspicious expression that she’s putting the pieces together.


        “You read the reports.” Miranda spits, because if she can retain one last piece of control, she will not be the one to blurt this out.


        “Yes. You were so badly injured that they didn’t know—“


        Miranda’s glare is enough to stop Andrea mid-sentence.


        “But what does that have to…oh. The girl, who died? I assumed she was on the bus.”


        With a sad shake of her head, Miranda feels her last remaining secret about that day slipping away from her.


        “The papers got it wrong. Nobody at Runway dared to correct them.”


        “She was your assistant?”


        Miranda can’t say it. Andrea doesn’t need her to.


        “She wasn’t—“ Miranda tries, but her voice is trembling. Summoning up her last reserves of strength, aware of how ridiculous she must look in a rain-soaked robe in the middle of the night in her garden, she plows on.


        “She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. I wanted her notes from the James Holt viewing we’d just been to. She bent over, looking in her purse for the notes. If she hadn’t—“


        “You can’t know what else could have happened, Miranda.”


        Andrea is closer than ever now, a consoling hand placed uninvited on Miranda’s upper arm.


        “She died. There, in the wreck, sitting next to me. She just… died.”


        “Miranda, I’m so sorry.”


        “Don’t you dare pity me.” The fresh surge of anger takes even Miranda by surprise. “If you knew the first thing about me, the things I’ve done… I couldn’t even remember her name. She was scared, and crying out, and I couldn’t say anything to help her.”


        All Andrea does in response is shake her head, and perhaps her grip on Miranda’s arm is just a fraction tighter.


        “Are you blaming yourself? Have you even told this to anyone else?”


        When Miranda refuses to answer, Andrea isn’t deterred. Instead she does the last thing Miranda would expect, and pulls Miranda flush against her own body. It’s ridiculous, in this teeming rain, to be manhandled by this relative stranger, but somehow Miranda can’t find it in herself to resist. Instead, she feels tension beginning to ebb from the knotted muscles of her back and the tripwires that seem to be pulled taut across her shoulders.


        It’s a hug. A simple, goddamned hug and yet it feels like the aftermath of a full day spa treatment. Oh, there have been plenty from Cassidy, and one or two grudging ones from Caroline. But aside from Stephen’s latest hamfisted attempts at seduction (not that he was ever terribly suave in that department) this is the first strong, adult contact Miranda has had in a long time. She doesn’t need it, she doesn’t sit around craving it and wanting it in her life, but when actually faced with it, she’s greedy enough to want to drown.


        “Inside,” she mutters against Andrea’s collarbone. The girl is taller, more sturdy, and while Miranda might be tempted to call her fat as an easy jibe, the sheer solidity of Andrea right now is the only thing tethering her to anything approaching calm.


        Andrea nods, her chin brushing the top of Miranda’s head, and she leads them towards the house with one arm still protectively around Miranda’s shoulders.


        Once they’re inside, standing on the cool tile of the kitchen floor, Miranda knows how easy it should be to break free and seek out the privacy of her bedroom, or anywhere else in the house with a door and a comfortable place to rest her aching body. That greed rears its head again though, and when Andrea pulls Miranda back into a fierce embrace, tight enough to squeeze the breath from Miranda a little, she can’t think of anywhere else she wants to be.


        “I don’t pity you, Miranda.”


        That’s how Andrea chooses to break the silence after countless quiet minutes with only their breathing and the gentle dripping of their limited clothing as a soundtrack.


        “I think you’re brave, and maybe a little crazy, to deal with all this yourself. I just want you to know that…I’m here. If you need to talk.”


        Miranda pulls away from Andrea’s arms, quietly angry at her own reluctance to do so. She will not suddenly transform into some weeping, clinging excuse for a human being. She will not. Stress is a word made up by advertisers to sell bath products, not something that affects Miranda Priestly.


        “You’re a therapist now?” Miranda asks, and she’s thrilled to hear that her voice is as cool as ever. Years of practice and self-control won’t fail her because of a few moments of weakness.


        “No. But I understand guilt. And grief.” Andrea crosses her arms over her chest, defensive once more. It’s oddly imposing, considering how bedraggled she looks from the storm.


        “What does that mean?”


        “I’m not going to tell you right now. This isn’t the time or the place.”


        Miranda snorts, completely unaccustomed to being refused. How long will it take to bend Andrea to her will? Which threats will turn this bravado and resolve into nothing?


        “But I will tell you, if you want me to. If you stop fighting me, and start treating me like someone you can rely on. I’ve passed all your little tests so far, Miranda. Maybe it’s time you give me some credit.”


        Little tests? Initiation to Miranda’s working environment has sent Ivy Leaguers and seasoned professionals of every stripe running for the exits. And here’s Andrea, dismissing her trial by fire as ‘little tests’. Miranda can’t help the surge of affection for the girl. She’s certainly something new.


        “You want us to be friends, Andrea? Braid each other’s hair and tell secrets by the campfire?”


        It’s Andrea’s turn to snort.


        “Miranda, I don’t think you’d recognize a friend if she walked up and bit you on the ass. I’m saying we can help each other out. You treat me fairly, and I’ll be here for whatever you need. Now, you can sleep on the decision, because I am freezing and I want to go to bed.”


        Just like that, Andrea is walking away. Dismissing Miranda, in her own house, and telling her when and how to make decisions. It would be delightful in its sheer cheek, if not for the frustration it provokes in Miranda.


        Andrea doesn’t make it three steps before Miranda pounces, pulling her back for a moment.


        “Why are you doing this?” If there’s an angle, if this is going to be some kind of blackmail or worse, Miranda will sniff it out.


        “Because, idiot that I am, I actually care. You’re in seventeen different kinds of pain right now, and maybe I can help with some of them.”


        “How altruistic,” Miranda sneers, unimpressed.


        “And I’m doing it for those girls. They need their mom back; the one they recognize.” Andrea pauses, her eyes dancing with something Miranda can’t identify. “I don’t want to walk past Caroline’s room every night and hear her crying. I don’t want to stand by and watch Cassidy’s optimism get worn down until it’s gone. And you don’t want that either.”


        Miranda should slap her for daring to speak those words. She should pick up the nearest phone and have Emily come to drag the jumped-up little bitch out by her hair. But she can’t and she won’t, because in some sad, unfathomable way, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to Miranda in a hell of a long time.


        And God help her, she doesn’t know what makes her react the way she does, but in a split-second it’s too late to question it. With the same hand that’s clamped onto Andrea’s elbow, she pulls the girl closer. It’s strength Miranda had forgotten she possessed.


        She kisses her. It’s an awkward, stupid move, but Miranda kisses the girl square on the mouth, hoping that somehow it will express what she can’t find the words for. How much she’s wanted to, all night and possibly before, is not something Miranda cares to think about. Not when Andrea’s hands are stroking Miranda’s face as she kisses her right back.

        Chapter Text

        When the alarm goes off, it’s possible that Andy hits snooze just a little too hard. Possible in the sense that the shiny chrome alarm clock (so retro, so in this season) goes flying across the bedroom that has become Andy’s home and sanctuary in the past few weeks.


        Discovering the trick to locking the door with two extra twists of the doorknob has protected her possessions from marauding twins, and prevented any more Paul Auster novels from taking an unsanctioned swim. Andy doesn’t know what she’ll do if the twins ever work out how to unlock the door, but she suspects her days are already numbered. Perhaps there’ll be time to go to a hardware store and buy some kind of lock and fit it herself.


        Of course, Andy is only obsessing over potentially broken alarm clocks and cat burglar children because she is very, very determined not to think about that thing that she is not thinking about. She doesn’t even need to use the relevant nouns to describe it, because only someone thinking about it would do such a silly thing. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, and besides, Andy is a really strong swimmer.


        By sheer force of will, she makes it into the shower and halfway through rinsing her first lather of shampoo when reality comes hurtling back towards her. It’s the sneeze that does it, the harbinger of an imminent summer cold. A cold caught while chasing a traumatized woman through the lashing rain of a fierce storm, no less.


        Andy leans against the wet tiles of the shower and bangs her head softly a few times for good measure. Perhaps that way she can undo the unseen brain damage that guided her actions last night. Bad enough that she engaged in a screaming (well, screaming versus whispering) match with her employer, but offering herself up as some kind of confidant had been a decidedly risky move. Andy isn’t sure she even wants to know half of the things that Miranda had told her, not least because it appears that Miranda doesn’t tell anyone much of anything.


        Then, soaked to the bone and right in the firing line for Miranda’s wrath, Andy had found herself on the receiving end of a passionate, almost desperate kiss. From Miranda, who looks awkward receiving affection from her own children, and who seems to glide through life in an icy protective bubble of her own creation. And what had Andy Sachs, resident genius and all-round possessor of good ideas done in response to this new and utterly weird development?


        Kissed her back.


        Andy finds her thoughts drifting to the Darwin Awards, the subject of many an email forward from well-meaning relatives and college friends who still think the internet was for chain letters and pictures of cats. Those awards were ‘given’ for acts of life-altering (or often life-ending) stupidity. Andy doesn’t really want to think about how many ways she might now qualify.


        It really isn’t a good idea to dwell on the fact that kissing Miranda had been pretty damn nice. Oh, there had been that awkward thing about a first kiss, with noses clashing just slightly and an accidental hint of teeth at one point, but it had taken no time at all to find some kind of mutually acceptable way to kiss. Which is really, really not the point, Andy scolds herself as she reaches for the conditioner. Not the point at all.


        Determined to look great for the summary execution that will no doubt await her downstairs, Andy takes her time over getting dressed. With the wealth of her work closet at her disposal, Andy opts instead for the best she can cobble together from her own clothes. No telling how quickly Miranda will kick her out, and so before drying her hair, Andy quickly shoves her belongings into the case and backpack she’d brought with her. Not the neatest job, but she needs to be able to grab and go if things get too mortifying.


        Figuring she looks presentable in her capri pants and white shirt, Andy pulls her hair into neat braid and puts on a basic mask of make-up. She just has to hope she won’t cry and get mascara all down her face, since she has no time to invest in a long overdue tube of waterproof.


        When she can stall no longer, Andy listens carefully at her door before opening it. Creeping out and down the stairs, she can hear the distant chatter of the twins, still in one of their bedrooms. Both doors are ajar, but Andy opts for the relative safety of a direct run down to the first floor. Her sandals are mercifully quiet as she makes her way cautiously towards the kitchen.


        Finding only Millie there makes Andy almost keel over from sheer relief. Though the respite is no doubt temporary, the prospect of facing Miranda after coffee and some kind of food takes some of the sting out. Maybe in the next few minutes Andy can even conjure up a decent excuse for running off like a startled deer the second the kiss had ended. Maybe she’ll also grow wings and be able to fly home to Cincinnati when she gets her ass handed to her; the likelihood is about the same.


        The croissants Millie sets out are so mind-blowing in their flaky, buttery goodness that Andy can almost forget her fear for a few minutes. The coffee isn’t quite as scalding as Miranda will take it yet, and it’s worth indulging in a splash of cream and some sugar—even the condemned get a decent final meal. It’s only when Andy is returning her plate for cleaning that she hears the telltale thump of Miranda’s cane on the stairs. Of course, her footsteps are too delicate to be heard all the way in the kitchen.


        Millie doesn’t flinch, simply reaching over to turn up the temperature on the coffee maker by that vital few degrees. Andy finds her knees beginning to tremble, and the sweat on her palms is cold from fear. Unsure of herself, Andy forces herself back into her seat at the table, reaching for the Sports section of the paper and letting the words about the Yankees and the Mets blur into a kind of print soup in front of her eyes.


        Time slows down as Miranda approaches, and by the time she appears in the kitchen doorway, Andy is ready to scream from the tension. She wants to look up, but fear keeps her eyes locked on the words she’s too frightened to actually read. Andy sucks in a deep breath as she waits for Miranda to dismiss her, wondering just how cruel the woman will be. She’s stunned when no words come, and Miranda sits down opposite Andy at the kitchen table as though it were any other morning.


        Which is when Andy sees the invisible lifeline she’s being offered. A way to stay safe in her denial, where Miranda’s lips are incredibly soft but nobody ever mentions it. Summoning up every last grain of courage (and Andy is really, really running low this morning) she forces herself to speak and test the theory. Better to know now that be lulled into a false sense of security.


        “I’ll be taking the girls into town after their piano lesson. If you want to make a list I’ll be happy to pick up anything you need.”


        Miranda’s eyes flick away from the Business section for a moment, but Andy sees it. There’s a tiny nod, almost imperceptible, but it seems to mean that Andy’s approach has been the right one.


        “I’ll email the list to you,” Miranda replies, apparently absorbed by the fluctuations of yesterday’s stock market.


        “Great. I’ll uh, go call Caroline and Cassidy down for breakfast.”


        Andy almost knocks over her glass of juice when she stands, but she manages to avert any citrus-based disaster. As she walks towards the door, she’s sure she can feel Miranda’s eyes on her. Risking a glance back as she enters the hall, Andy catches the appraising expression on Miranda’s face. It seems that, for once, Andy has surprised her in the good way.


        The girls come thundering down the stairs, and Andy breathes normally for the first time since waking. Losing herself in the chatter, she barely has cause to look at Miranda again. It’s all going to be fine.


        *


        And fine just about covers it, for the next few weeks. Andy doesn’t know whether to credit Stephen’s absence, or the fact that she sees less of Miranda, but the girls are back to behaving and she’s feeling capable once more.


        Honey, the physiotherapist who’s been working with Miranda is a pleasant addition on the days that she’s around, and she seems to deflect all of Miranda’s worst moods effortlessly. Andy notices that Miranda’s cane is rarely in her hand now, and the heels on her shoes have crept up by an inch or two. In fact, there’s a lot less convalescence about the editor now, and more the sharp and fashionable all-business aura that she’s feared for.


        Which, she tells herself, Andy does not find brain-meltingly hot at all. Nope, not even a little bit.


        (She’s a pretty terrible liar.)


        Before long, the girls are scheduled for their two weeks’ vacation with their father. Rod appears to be keeping the destination a secret, at least from the girls, because Andy can’t imagine Miranda letting him take them anywhere without having all the details first. They’re swimming in the pool on the last afternoon before Rod and his limo arrive to pick them up, and as she swims lengths and ducks the inflatables being thrown at her, Andy takes time to speculate with Caroline.


        Gone is the sulky and reticent girl that Andy met at the beginning of the summer, replaced with a content, if quiet, girl who lets her enthusiasm and intelligence show. Cassidy doesn’t seem interested in guessing, but she splashes around to stay part of the conversation, but none of her usual nervousness about an argument breaking out is evident.


        “Disneyworld?” Andy throws out as she adjusts the straps of her black swimming costume, which is a little looser on her than she remembers. Her new closet, which she feels comfortable raiding again, only has bikinis that she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to wear, at least not around the twins.


        “Bo-ring,” Cassidy sing-songs. “We’ve been there twice already, and we’re too old for that now.”


        Andy doesn’t think that she’s too old for it, at almost twenty-five, but she keeps her mouth shut.


        “I bet we’re going to Bermuda. Dad’s friends with Michael and Catherine, you know? He’s always saying we should go hang out some time.”


        The casual name-dropping distracts Andy for a second, and so she doesn’t see the inflatable dolphin that Cassidy has just lobbed at her head. The ensuing splash war is probably why she doesn’t hear the slapping of footsteps along the tiled border of the pool, but when a shadow falls over her the sight is enough to take her breath away.


        “Girls,” Miranda says, and she’s talking as casually as someone who doesn’t look like a million dollars. Whether it’s the loosely-knotted sarong that hints at slender legs beneath, or the red halter-neck swimsuit that Andy’s fingers clench at the sight of, suddenly obsessed with untying that one simple knot.


        The frantic splashing of Caroline and Cassidy as they exit the pool is a welcome distraction though, and Andy follows suit with no small amount of self-consciousness. Miranda bends to hug each girl in turn, before allowing her eyes to rake over Andy from head to toe.


        “Your father will be here soon. Please go and dress, and let Andrea have a break. Your bags are already on the porch.”


        Cassidy takes off at a run, but Caroline hesitates, matching her mother’s steady gaze with a mirrored one of her own.


        “We should still come say goodbye though, right?”


        “Of course Bobbsey,” Miranda replies, but she looks momentarily hurt by the suggestion that she’d send them off so uncaringly. It’s enough for Caroline though, and she runs off after her sister and into the house.


        Which leaves Miranda, Andy, and a seriously awkward silence. Struck by how ridiculous she must look, Andy takes the few steps towards the lounger that holds her towel. She’s about to wrap it round her for some attempt at modesty when Miranda clears her throat.


        “Honey,” Miranda says, the disdain for the name dripping from each syllable. “Has suggested that swimming will do wonders for my…regime. I was hoping not to be alone in the pool. Muscle cramps—“


        “Oh sure,” Andy interrupts, both relieved and disappointed that Miranda only wants her around for practical reasons. A return to the cool water will also be helpful for the blush that seems to be painting her cheeks every time she lets her eyes linger on Miranda’s exposed shoulders (or anywhere else for that matter).


        Not that Miranda appears in any particular hurry to get in the pool. She sits on the lounger next to Andy’s, but her expression is inscrutable behind sunglasses that Andy can now recognize as Tom Ford. She slips on her own Chanel pair, as protection from the sun and from potential appraisal by Miranda.


        Before the quiet can get too uncomfortable, both girls are hurtling back across the garden, dressed in shorts and t-shirts that look deceptively plain. The pastel colors are lovely on them though, and Andy finds herself wondering if Miranda picks out each item in their closets as she does with her own.


        Both Caroline and Cassidy still have wet hair, of course, and although there’s the telltale crunch of tires on gravel just audible, she motions for them to sit on the lounger in front of her. Cassidy drops down eagerly, but Caroline hovers between Andy’s and Miranda’s loungers, apparently undecided. When Miranda leans forward and begins deftly braiding Cassidy’s hair, Caroline opts to sit in front of Andy. It’s obvious from the glare over her shoulder that she expects the same hairdressing service, and so Andy complies with slightly trembling fingers.


        All too soon, the girls are ready to go. Hair ties have been pulled from Andy’s omnipresent ‘Mary Poppins’ bag, though the state of the lining suggests that Marc Jacobs didn’t intend such heavy use for such an elegant purse. Both girls accept kisses on the cheek and brief hugs from their mother, and Andy is both touched and terrified when they seek the same from her. Affection is fine, of course, but she hasn’t really received it in front of Miranda before.


        Then the girls are racing off to greet their dad, and Andy can see from Miranda’s rigid posture that she has no intention of following. Only when the engine revs and the gravel crunches once more does Miranda stand. There’s hardly any stiffness in the movement, which Andy thinks might be Honey’s greatest achievement so far.


        Following Miranda’s example, Andy strides around to the side and lowers herself into the pool. She shouldn’t be surprised when Miranda continues on towards the deep end, carelessly dropping her sarong before striding confidently onto the diving board. There’s a moment’s hesitation, which Andy can only assume is rooted in pain from Miranda’s leg, before a graceful dive that barely makes a splash.


        Andy sinks below the cool blue water, and as she turns a lazy somersault, she opens her eyes to see the dart of red flash past her. Miranda clearly isn’t slowed down in the water by her injuries as she has been on dry land, and it makes Andy feel oddly light to witness it.


        She breaks for air, before pulling herself in strong strokes towards the deep end and back. When she and Miranda meet in the same direction, the concept of a race is unspoken, but pulling harder with her arms, Andy just pips her to victory at the shallow end. She’s a little out of breath from the extra exertion, and there’s probably no danger of being scouted by the US Olympic team any time soon, but she can’t help a smug little grin at beating Miranda.


        Who, incidentally, should not look quite so goddamn good with her now wet hair slicked back like that. It’s clear now that she isn’t wearing much makeup, and when Andy dares to look closely, she can see the silvery remnants of healing scars. No doubt the stitching was done by some top plastic surgeon, because they’re barely noticeable. Miranda, pouting over her minor defeat, seems to be on edge immediately when she catches Andy staring.


        “Sorry,” Andy blurts out, suddenly aware of her bad manners.


        Miranda rolls her eyes and then kicks off elegantly for a few more lengths. Andy takes off in pursuit, but keeps her own pace this time. They overlap frequently enough, and there’s something kind of exciting about being allowed to be in this setting with Miranda, even if Andy’s stupid damn brain is more distracted by how good Miranda will look when she gets out of the pool.


        Andy is the first to surrender, clambering up the stone steps of the pool’s ladder and collapsing gratefully on her lounger. There’s a pile of towels already, thankfully, so Andy doesn’t have to go scurrying over to the poolhouse like some willing servant. She slips her sunglasses back on, and yes, all the better to watch Miranda’s exit from the pool.


        It’s harmless, Andy tells herself -- just a little visual distraction to get her through the long summer. It’s not like Miranda would ever be interested in her, random frantic kiss or not. So she pretends to flick through the pages of a novel while Miranda finishes her exercise, and tries not to hold her breath when she sees Miranda swim towards the ladder.


        Remembering to breathe is a smart move, it turns out, because Andy is not in any way disappointed by the sight before her. Miranda isn’t especially tall, out of her scary spiked heels anyway, but her legs have the firm definition of a dancer’s. The fading scars on her right leg do nothing to mar the sight, and before long Andy lets her Chanel-shielded glance drift a little higher.


        It’s not like she hasn’t had a girl crush before, and Andy accepts that a little bisexuality is really very common, but at the sight of Miranda’s breasts in a wet swimsuit, she’s beginning to think that this might be more of a lifestyle change than she had anticipated.


        Andy’s jaw actually feels a little slack at the sight, as Miranda stretches a little and strolls back to her own lounger. There’s almost no stiffness in her walk now, but that probably doesn’t explain the throbbing between Andy’s thighs. Not to mention her now-hard nipples, and there’s not exactly a cool breeze for Andy to blame those on. Damn summer. Damn Miranda and her annoyingly hot body. Damn it all to hell, and then some, Andy thinks in her frustration.


        Just as she convinces herself that she’s just another piece of furniture to Miranda, albeit one that sometimes talks, Andy is subjected to a full-body raking of Miranda’s unshielded eyes. It’s hard not to blush in the face of attention like that, because Miranda has a look that makes her feel like the only person on the planet, even if the comments to follow aren’t always complimentary.


        “Didn’t you find the swimwear Nigel picked out?” Miranda asks, and it sounds somehow like a very loaded question.


        Andy looks at her perfectly serviceable black swimsuit in disbelief and wonders what in the hell is wrong with it. It’s a lot more appropriate for swimming with kids than some of the ‘just a few strings’ collection resting in one of her dresser drawers.


        “I figured this would do fine.”


        Miranda tilts her head, that silent question of have you learned nothing? and Andy feels like the stupid new girl all over again.


        “I plan on swimming daily from now on, while I can. Since you’ll be joining me, please defer to Nigel’s selection from now on. I don’t enjoy frumpy, and I won’t have it spoiling my swim.”


        “Fine,” Andy answers, just about keeping the pout from her face. But her mind is racing at Miranda’s calm instructions, can anyone be so obsessed with fashion that they care about which piece of fabric someone swims in? Or, and Andy barely dares to hope, does it mean that Miranda wants to see her in less?


        “We’ll be going into the city on Friday,” Miranda adds as she runs a towel over her arms. “Get Roy. Emily will email you.”


        Of course, Miranda doesn’t say what they’ll be doing in Manhattan, but Andy will have to hope Emily knows. Roy is the driver who ferries Miranda around on her increasingly frequent trips out, so at least that isn’t too much of a mystery.


        “Sure thing,” Andy nods, every bit the capable assistant even as she smells like chlorine and wears a frumpy swimsuit. Miranda tucks a fresh towel around her waist, and without another word stalks off towards the house.


        Oh well, Andy thinks to herself -- another heart-warming exchange for her memories. Though really, compared to her first days in the job, it’s pretty damn pleasant. As she gathers her things and the wet towels, it occurs to her that it might be an opportunity to discuss the writing she sent to Christian Thompson. He’s already emailed and called to suggest as much for her next trip to the city.


        And he’s not exactly hard on the eyes, after all. This could be just the distraction she needs.

        Chapter Text

        Miranda lays out the three potential outfits and surveys them with her practiced eye. The flare of the Bill Blass pants will make her legs look more substantial, perhaps dissuading thoughts of the injuries wreaked on her right one. But something about them smacks of cowardice, of covering up, and that’s the last message she needs to send -- even in a meeting with Irv who doesn’t pick up on anything less subtle than a sledgehammer.


        She turns away from that simple but striking ensemble and turns her attention to the Stella McCartney dress. Though Miranda has nurtured the woman’s career and has great personal affection for Stella’s father, something about it just screams ‘too young’ and that’s really very disconcerting to Miranda. She prides herself on dressing age-appropriate but with a splash of daring that most women never possess, and if they ever did it seems to be abandoned somewhere around forty.


        The third serious option is a little something sent over from Oscar just last week. The champagne-hued skirt skims perfectly over Miranda’s knees, and avoids the restrictions of a pencil or A-line fit by having that hint of floating around the hem. Coupled with the matching, fitted jacket that creates a divine symmetry to the look, Miranda knows it will look good on her. The gold threading in the design offsets her hair perfectly, and she has her suspicions that the very inclusion of this ensemble on the runway a few long weeks ago was a gift directly to her.


        Decision made at last, she pulls the tailored pieces on to join her black silk camisole, and surveys the finished look in the mirror. Her heels are Prada, the sole deceptively thick and providing some much-needed stability to the perilous height. Miranda surveys herself from four angles at once, checking that her concealer and foundation are doing their job with the scarring on her cheek, and in a moment of weakness she considers calling Andrea in for a second opinion.


        Since that wouldn’t be far off consulting a deaf person on her singing voice, Miranda resists the impulse. She pushes her signature hoop earrings into place, and applies a final sweep of lipstick to complete it. Carrying her purse and bracelet in her right hand, she leaves her dressing area with one last glance towards her forgotten cane propped against the doorframe. She’s scarcely needed it since the new physio regime began, but there’s a flutter of panic at the thought of being caught without it today.


        No, Miranda resolves, she’ll crawl on broken glass before she’ll let Irv see her struggle. Whatever happens, she will walk proudly in and out of the meeting with him: an artificially intimate business lunch at some leather-bedecked men’s club with overcooked steak, no doubt.


        She checks her for her phone, cosmetic essentials and the folded piece of paper that should restore some balance to her employment position. Satisfied that everything is ready, she makes her way slowly downstairs to find Andrea waiting for her.


        The Cavalli dress she’s wearing is a vibrant green that brings out everything appealing in Andrea’s coloring, and Miranda finds herself nodding in approval without thinking about it. The accessories aren’t particularly eye-catching, but they’re well-matched and Miranda wonders for a moment just how much time and stress this ensemble took to conjure. She’s kind enough not to ask.


        Andrea has her hand on the doorknob, ready to lead Miranda outside to where Roy and the Mercedes are no doubt waiting. Raising her hand to halt their progress, Miranda jerks the bracelet slightly in Andrea’s direction.


        She’s anticipating the suggestion already, reaching for the fine strand of gold and diamonds that Miranda needs fastened around her wrist. It’s strange that Andrea who seemed so awkward and gauche should have become one of the most effective assistants to date. That she takes suggestion and instruction well is a godsend, though Miranda knows by now when not to push. She has succeeded in getting Andrea to swim in suits and bikinis far more aesthetically pleasing than the fading black thing from Adidas though, and Miranda counts that amongst her best victories so far.


        Which is not to suggest that, like her erstwhile husband, she has any inclinations towards the help. It’s not so much to ask that those around her dress in a way that doesn’t offend Miranda’s eyes, is it? And if Andrea should look even more attractive dressed in two slivers of material that cover almost nothing, well, Miranda’s just reflecting the beachwear trends that Roberto and Oscar and Miucca have set for the season. That’s surely the primary role of the arbiter of fashion, as so many unimaginative articles refer to Miranda?


        Her mental wanderings are interrupted by the gentle slide of cool metal over the inside of her wrist. It’s one of her more sensitive spots, she remembers too late, as a surge of nervous energy greets Andrea’s inadvertent touch.


        Closing the simple clasp seems to take an eternity, and if Miranda isn’t mistaken, Andrea is lingering over this excuse to have contact with her. That damn kiss, despite the calm dismissal and glossing over, hangs in the air between them still – like the Ghost of Terrible Mistakes Past. What Miranda was thinking that rainy night in her kitchen she might never know, but she’s sure one of the overpaid shrinks she’s visited over the years would have a mortifying theory or two.


        Andrea breaks contact all too soon, and Miranda finds herself mourning it. Clearly-- she chides herself-- she’s feeling a little affection-starved with the girls away, and it will be another long week before they’re back at her side.


        She stifles a sigh as Andrea leads the way out into the bright summer sunshine, both women sliding dark glasses into place as they walk. Roy is slow off the mark, because before he can get out to open Miranda’s door for her, Andrea has done the honors. Although she’s healing much better, Miranda still reaches for Andrea as a steadying presence without realizing, but it’s a momentary grasp of Andrea’s hip through her dress and neither woman comments on it.


        They travel in companionable silence, other than when one phone or the other interrupts. Somewhere along the way, Miranda realizes they’re sitting far closer than she normally allows. Only the girls invade her personal space this way, but Andrea seems to be doing it without realizing. This magnetic shift between them unsettles Miranda, for fear she’ll end up looking foolish, if nothing else. She won’t be just another aging executive chasing twenty-somethings in a doomed bid to recapture lost youth.


        It’s hardly ground-breaking to find a woman attractive, Miranda knows. That it should be this particular woman, with her horrible khaki pants and hell, even Birkenstocks, is definitely more confusing. Miranda can write off the constant glances she allows herself at her assistant as mere interest, as fascination with something quite different to the usual vapid clotheshorses who work for her.


        But these deflections and excuses don’t seem to stand up to the curve of Andrea’s shoulder, or the way her lightly toned biceps flex as she holds the phone to her ear or searches in her bag for something. The excuses can’t explain away the hitch in Miranda’s breathing when Andrea happens to turn that damn smile on her for no apparent reason.


        Regardless, Miranda forces herself to ignore these fluttering feelings, because there are far more important things to focus on today. Although entertaining the notion of a mutual attraction is good for her confidence, Miranda directs her thoughts to reviewing strategy: which details she can drop at the perfect moment in conversation, or which name she will conveniently forget to fluster or embarrass. It’s all leading towards the lunch showdown with Irv, and Miranda finds her teeth gritting at the thought.


        Once the skyscrapers of Manhattan loom closer, Miranda begins issuing rapid-fire commands have Andrea scrambling for her notepad. Truth be told, she doesn’t have that much to do at Runway today, but with Jacqueline away supervising a shoot, Miranda is going to seize the opportunity to regain some of her kingdom.


        While Miranda takes meetings with her loathsome boss and various local designers who could be rustled up by Emily at short notice, Andrea will be free to roam the city for a while. Miranda hasn’t asked what she intends to do with the time, but has made it quite clear that she doesn’t want Andrea within the walls of Elias-Clarke today. Still, New York is a young woman’s city, and there’s no end of diverting ways to pass an hour or three.


        When the car rolls to a stop outside the Elias-Clarke building that’s every bit a home to Miranda as her townhouse is, she can feel the last few months slipping from her shoulders. A weight she hasn’t been aware of lifts as she prepares to make her grand return, even if only a fleeting one. For a brief, insane moment she feels like clutching Andrea’s hand. This excitement bubbling in her chest is a lot like the day she first saw ‘Editor-in-Chief’ beneath her name on freshly printed business cards, and no gnawing anxiety can take that from her.


        This time Roy is the one to open her door, his scrubbed red face almost a sight for sore eyes as he carefully avoids eye contact with Miranda. He’d been on vacation during the accident, his replacement barely adequate at best. In Miranda’s few sojourns recently they haven’t talked much, but then they rarely did beyond discussing traffic conditions or the quickest route when Miranda seemed particularly impatient.


        She does feel a certain fondness for the man, perhaps just from sheer familiarity. Though his suits and shirts are always spotless, he has that hangdog expression of so many men of his generation—sad eyes lost in the expanse of a weather-beaten face. His drivers’ cap never sits quite straight on top of his salt and pepper curls, and it’s the sight of this more than anything else that allays the last of Miranda’s nerves. She’ll be steel and ice once more, a queen planning her own coronation as their returning savior.


        It would seem that Emily’s early-warning system remains as efficient as ever, because by the time Miranda exits onto the 17th floor, there’s not one scurrying clacker to be seen in the hallways. Every employee that Miranda runs her eyes over seems to be staring a little unconvincingly at a computer screen, or standing around with piles of paper, trying to fake creativity and busywork.


        As a silent thank you to Emily, Miranda is sure to place her bag on the second assistant’s desk for storing, despite never having laid eyes on the girl before. Her bold hairstyle and slight French accent give the girl away as a Jacqueline protégé, and Miranda can’t help but feel sympathy for her, at least for a fleeting second or two.


        Miranda has to brace herself for the return to her lair, the de facto Throne Room of all things Runway. To her dismay, Jacqueline hasn’t even the decency to make sweeping changes for her (short) tenure, opting instead to insinuate tacky little trinkets in amongst Miranda’s decorations and signature style. There’s a fleeting moment of blood-curdling rage when Miranda considers cleansing the once sacrosanct space with the nearest available flame-thrower, but by gritting her teeth and flexing her fingers, she can be calm once more.


        Taking her familiar seat behind the now-messy glass desk (Jacqueline really is a terrible slob in most aspects of her life, Miranda remembers now) she calls Emily in. Keeping her voice as quiet as possible while still making sound, Miranda is quietly pleased by her first assistant’s Pavlovian reaction to the slightest whisper.


        “I’ll see Nigel now, before my first meeting.”


        There’s a fleeting panic in Emily’s eyes, no doubt she’s wondering if Miranda was expecting Nigel to be there waiting, but Miranda doesn’t torture her by implying that was the case. She shakes off the unfamiliar feeling of leniency, promising herself inwardly that it will be the last time today.


        Seemingly moments later, when Miranda is leaning back in her now adjusted office chair, Nigel appears looking vaguely flustered. And that, she thinks, is exactly how she likes it.


        *


        Almost two hours, three pathetic exhibitions of crying, one firing and five short meetings later, Miranda is ready for her meeting with Irv. A return to the arena has been like a shot in the arm for her, far more invigorating than any pill or exercise conjured up by that torturer named after a breakfast preserve. The adrenalin is coursing quietly in her veins, and she’s feeling more powerful than she has in a long time. It’s perhaps for the best that Jacqueline is out of state, since Miranda feels almost giddy enough to do something ridiculous like challenge her to a fight in the midst of the production room floor.


        Oh, of course she wouldn’t actually go that far. Despite the exaggerated fables of her cruelty, they never extend to physical violence. If only these gossips had known the Miranda of eighteen, with a different name and voice, and the scrappy instincts to match. She supposes that now she can pay someone to do these things for her, should the need ever arise.


        Irv keeps her waiting, in one of the dustiest power plays from his last-century book. Poor Mr. Ravitz, who can’t understand a business world where women are anything more than objects for him to harass. No doubt Jacqueline has been grinning her way through countless advances, if not more; it was how she’d always chosen to get ahead in the past.


        Over time Irv’s fear of Miranda and his inability to intimidate her has crystallized into pure loathing. That’s just as easy for Miranda to handle, but she’s been aware of the whispers in her absence. The moves to oust her have been afoot since the day she signed her first executive contract, and though she’s more accustomed to thwarting rivals or ambitious subordinates, Miranda’s defenses have never been lowered around the chairman who wants her ability and star quality, but not to reward her for it. God knows Miranda can sympathize with using the brilliance of others to advance her own career, but she’s smart enough to return the favor eventually. Most of the people who hate her breathing guts are also in her debt in some way, and that’s the greatest security of all.


        Just as she’s considering walking away from the reception area outside Irv’s office suite, the man finally emerges from behind the heavy mahogany doors. Even in a building of glass and steel he’s somehow managed to revert his domain to another century, and Miranda shudders every time she’s exposed to the ugliness of it.


        “Miranda!” He has the gall to greet her with cheerfulness, as though he’s missed her presence for so much as a second. Still, at least his assistant sent a nice bouquet while Miranda lay in hospital. He isn’t completely ignoring the social niceties.


        “Irv,” Miranda greets him with her customary indifferent air kisses, ignoring his proffered handshake. His little trick has always been to desexualize her, and though Miranda might accept the courtesy of being treated like a man in some circles, she won’t accept this slap in the face that he intends.


        “The day got away from me a little. Trimming budgets, you know how it is.”


        No doubt Runway will have been top of his list when wielding the axe. To his eternal dismay, most of his sweeping cuts require board approval, and the directors of Elias-Clarke don’t share his animosity for their flagship publication.


        “I think I remember. Lots of spreadsheets, terribly dull—am I close?”


        Let him talk to her like an invalid who no longer knows the ways of the world. It will make crushing him all the more pleasant. Miranda can taste that faintly metallic tang of excitement in her mouth—she likes to imagine this is how a lion might feel before bringing down its prey.


        “You look well,” he concedes, and Miranda knows for a fact that it’s true. “I hope you don’t mind, but I ordered in. Time is just too tight today for a long lunch, as much as I’d like one.”


        That’s brazen, even for Irv. To suggest that Miranda isn’t important enough to take out for a full business lunch, that he’s merely squeezing her in between more important things is confirmation of everything she suspected when this meeting was arranged.


        Well, for now she can play along. She bares her teeth in one of her fakest smiles and nods as though it’s the most flattering idea she’s ever heard.


        A cart is soon wheeled in by one of the building’s catering staff; it’s full silver service at least. Miranda endures the small talk about Auto Universe and the problems Irv’s been having with his jet in the past month while the young man sets out their lunch. For her part she brags a little about the twins and their school progress from the year just finished. She mentions little about her own recovery, other than how well its going—better, in fact, than any of her doctors predicted.


        “Which brings us,” Irv has barely finished chewing when he blurts this out, and Miranda’s repulsion hits an entirely new level. She can’t help hoping he chokes on his mouthful of overcooked steak. “To Runway, and your role there.”


        “It was my understanding,” Miranda replies, “that my role there is secure until such a time as I decide to return. My attorneys certainly interpret my contract that way.”


        “Yes, yes,” Irv mutters, clearly irked. “The company will always make reasonable accommodations for health issues. That’s why we provide that stellar health care that’s been looking after you so well.”


        His leer is enough to make Miranda want to write a check on the spot, refunding every red cent of her medical bills so that Elias-Clarke has no involvement. It’s a spiteful impulse, but she suspects it won’t be the worst one before this conversation is over.


        “And as I’ve just said, my recovery has gone even better than hoped.”


        “I’m pleased for you,” he retorts, with a tone that implies he’s anything but. “But the fact remains that Runway needs a full-time captain at the helm. And I can’t say that I haven’t been considering a change for a while. Aren’t you always telling me how fashion is about dramatic changes and taking risks?”


        There’s a strong temptation to hit him over the head with the carafe that sits between them on the table, but Miranda restrains herself just in time.


        “That’s true, in a way. However, the true lover of fashion appreciates consistency. The most coveted items aren’t the new season debuts, Irv. No, on the contrary, it’s the classics. People pay $4000 for a brand new evening gown. But they’ll pay $100,000 for Dior from the fifties.”


        He shifts a little in his seat, fixing his tie in a way that might seem like nerves to the casual observer, but Miranda’s seen it before. The little bastard is excited at the prospect of getting rid of her. And fuck, it had better not be giving the lecherous bastard an erection, because some thoughts are just completely beyond the pale.


        “Be that as it may Miranda, I feel your time at the helm is coming to an end. Hey, look on it as early retirement. You might actually get to see your kids this way—by the time my Paul graduated I barely recognized him.”


        Carefully, Miranda places her silverware back on the table. As calmly as possible she removes her napkin from her lap, and goes through the motions of a person finished with an average meal. Only then, with Irv watching her every move suspiciously, does she reach for her purse.


        With forced theatricality, she retrieves the neatly folded sheet of paper and slides it across the table towards her boss. Miranda is the picture of composure, she knows, as he reads the apparently random string of names.


        “What’s this—your Christmas card list?” He’s sneering, though there’s a note of doubt in his voice, Miranda notes with relish.


        “This is what I refer to as ‘the List’. It may not be obvious to someone like yourself, but this is a list of photographers, models and designers.”


        “Like I said,” Irv sneers once more, “are you sending them cards?”


        “No. However, should there come a day when I leave Runway, whether to start or rescue the countless publications I’ve been offered before now, these people will not work for the magazine ever again.”


        Irv doesn’t look quite so smug now, not if the thin line of sweat beneath his hairplugs is any indication. Miranda’s stomach does a happy somersault at the impending victory. He’s still staring at the List incredulously, and Miranda knows losing even a handful of those names would wreck any credibility that Runway has as a leader in the fashion industry. And though it makes her sick to think of wrecking her own decades of hard work in that way, Miranda has no doubt in her own resolve to do it without ever looking back.


        She’s about to hammer her point home when the sound of a commotion reaches them from just outside the heavy outer door. Miranda’s about to make a sarcastic comment about assistants gone wild when the door bursts open. She’s beyond shocked to see her own employee is the one to invade, Irv’s buxom assistant trying and failing to hold Andrea back.


        “Miranda!” Andrea is red in the face, her hair disheveled and her dress slightly askew. Miranda, for her part, is both mortified and intrigued.


        “Andrea, you have five seconds to get out of this room,” Miranda hisses, letting her irritation win out over anything else.


        “Miranda, I need to talk to you. Right. Now.”


        “Walk out right now, or you’re fired.”


        Andrea actually wails in frustration, and for a fleeting moment Miranda worries that there’s bad news about the girls. Reassuring herself, she checks her phone to discover nothing but missed calls from the girl currently making a spectacle of herself. Regardless of Andrea’s supposed emergency, Miranda knows she has to finalize this conversation with Irv before he has a chance to circle the wagons against her newest attack.


        “But Miranda—“


        “Wait outside. Now.”


        Miranda’s tone is pure steel, and something in her face seems to convince Andrea at last. Turning back to face Irv, she forces one more fake smile from her reserves.


        “Now, where were we? Oh yes, you were about to beg me to stay on at Runway…”


        Irv glares at her over his now empty plate, and Miranda swallows her strange confusion over Andrea’s action. That little fiasco can wait; right now, she has a future to secure.

        Chapter Text

        Andy can’t deny the little thrill she feels, stepping out of the Mercedes. There’s a doorman in full uniform, right down to the white gloves, and she’s dressed in what feels like a million dollars worth of fabulous. There’s a definite spring in her step as she’s ushered in through the hotel’s front door, and it’s all the more noticeable because she can finally walk in these killer heels.

        She’s directed straight to the King Cole bar, with more of those professional smiles. It’s not hard to spot Christian, since he’s sitting at the bar and caught up in some kind of animated conversation with the bartender. He looks relaxed, in his light summer suit and open-necked shirt. For a moment, Andy entertains the fantasy of taking someone like this home to Ohio to meet her father. It could only end better than the few meetings he’d had with Nate.

        Still, she chides herself, this is a business meeting. Depending how well she conducts herself, this could lead to knowing all the right people to actually get her work published. Andy isn’t naïve enough to believe that sheer talent is enough in an oversaturated media market like New York – she’s going to need a foot in the door.

        And maybe it’s the knock-on effect of things being calm working for Miranda, but Andy thinks she might be writing some of her best pieces yet. She’s already sketched out a longer piece on the privileges of private education, and ideas about gender and power seem to pop into her mind whenever she’s around Miranda for any length of time. There might even be a novel to be mined from the world that this summer has introduced her to, if she’s careful.

        Christian smiles when he catches her eye, and Andy’s just a little flattered that the sight of her stops him in mid-sentence. She has the impression that it’s not that easy to make this guy stop talking, for any reason, but she kind of likes that about him. He stands to greet her, like any good gentleman, but when he presses a kiss to her cheek Andy finds herself thinking for a moment about Miranda and how soft her face is. Shaking it off, she follows Christian to a table where they can talk a little more privately.

        “I can’t believe this is your first time in the city since we met,” he begins. “Or have you been playing hard to get?”

        “Trust me, I got here as soon as I could. Miranda has kept me really busy,” Andy explains, though she can hear the lie in the words even as she says them. Sure, Miranda has been requesting her presence a lot more often, but the workload hasn’t increased significantly. Andy’s been telling herself that Miranda is lonely without the twins around, but there’s a nagging suspicion that it’s something more.

        “Miranda? Is that your boss?”

        “Yeah,” Andy confirms with some reluctance. “I work for Miranda Priestly.”

        Christian whistles through his teeth at that, his face falling in what looks like some kind of dismay.

        “Wow, that’s a tough break. I had such high hopes for you, too. But nobody ever survives her and remains this nice, Miranda-girl.”

        “You know her?” Andy sputters a little, indignant at the slurs against both Miranda and herself.

        “I know of her, shall we say? Our paths cross from time to time. And everybody knows about the girls who work for her—they either break in a week, or turn out to be bitchy Miranda-clones. It’s kind of her thing.”

        Andy wants to protest, wants to tell Christian how wrong he is, and that there’s a woman behind this hyped-up public persona. She thinks of the times she’s seen Miranda with a tear in her eye, or the way she laughs at the twins’ chatter. To do that would feel like betraying a trust, somehow, and so she chooses to defend her own honor instead.

        “Well, I’m going to be the exception. I’ve been working for her at least a couple of months, and you tell me—do I seem like a stone cold bitch to you?”

        That draws another dazzling smile from Christian, and she can see that he’s used to charming the ladies, that’s for damn sure. Andy almost feels the tug to fall for it herself, but she’s momentarily distracted by how many teeth he seems to have when he grins like that. It’s like sitting opposite the Cheshire Cat, and Andy doesn’t find him anywhere near as cute as she did in that nightclub.

        “You don’t seem very cold at all, Andy Sachs. Maybe I’m wrong? So, let’s talk about this writing of yours.”

        *

        Two hours later and Andy’s head is spinning a little. She hasn’t drunk alcohol during the day since college, and although the champagne cocktails are terribly civilized and classy, they also keep appearing at a relentless rate. It’s safe to say she has a little bit of a buzz on.

        Add to that the fact that Christian thinks and talks every bit as well as he writes, and Andy is halfway out of her mind. He seems to have pulled out everything she thought she had hidden in her writing, and a lot more besides that even she wasn’t aware of. Not that it’s all glowing, of course. She has a lot to learn, and Christian seems to believe in harsh but constructive criticism. Since he’s pretty much living her dream career right now, Andy clings desperately to every word and hopes she’s filing away every valuable piece of knowledge that he’s imparting.

        “Thank you,” she says, when he finishes his thoughts about her short stories. “I mean it, Christian. I thought you would skim these and see if I could use punctuation. I never dreamed that you’d take so much time over it.”

        He shrugs in that easy way that he has, and despite his caterpillar eyebrows, Andy confirms that he’s definitely crossed back over into the realms of cute. Eyebrows can always be plucked, after all.

        “I was going to have my editor’s assistant look at it, but I happened to pick up the first article and I was hooked from there. You’re going to be a phenomenal writer some day, Andy. You just have to focus on it and not let being an assistant take over your life.”

        She smiles at the warning, because she isn’t like these other girls who get seduced by a pretty dress or fancy shoes that cost about a month’s rent.

        “I should have been writing down everything you said,” Andy realizes too late. “I think I got it all, but it was so helpful.”

        Christian is unruffled by her sudden panic.

        “I have my own notes, upstairs. I have a suite here when I’m in town. Maybe we could go fetch them?”

        It’s not exactly the smoothest, and Andy knows a line when she hears one. Perhaps this kind of payoff is exactly what Christian had in mind when he offered to do her a favor.

        And somehow, despite the burgeoning sense of outrage, of not wanting to be that kind of girl, Andy finds herself nodding at the proposition. Christian stands in one fluid movement, as though he hasn’t drunk so much as a drop of champagne and offers his hand to lead the way. Andy thinks one or two of the other patrons are watching as they leave, horrified for a brief second that they might mistake her for some kind of call girl.

        She gets over any such embarrassment by the time they reach the elevators though, because the first thing Christian does when the doors close is draw her into a searing kiss (they’ve been holding hands the whole way, it suddenly occurs to her). Although she’s still a little conflicted over whether she really likes him or not, Andy can’t deny her body’s reaction. It’s been a long time since Nate, and that relationship fizzled out with a distinct lack of affection and contact. In fact, the only person Andy’s even kissed in almost a year is Miranda, which is just ridiculous really.

        They stumble the short distance to his suite, and Andy has a brief second or two to notice that it looks exactly as rich and stuffy as the hotel seems to demand. She’s distracted by Christian’s wandering hands in an instant though, and he only pauses to shrug out of his artfully-mismatched designer blazer. Andy’s quite sure she isn’t the fashion devotee in the room, regardless of who her employer might be.

        And damn, that’s the second time in as many minutes that Miranda has popped into her head. It’s one thing to be a bit flushed at the sight of a revealing swimsuit, or flustered by an accidental brushing of fingers over a sheet of paper or coffee cup, but when a hot and famous writer is seducing her, Andy is pretty sure she shouldn’t be thinking about the woman who has given her one of the most challenging summers of her life.

        She’s focusing, for God’s sake, because Christian is kissing her neck in a quite pleasant way. Andy thinks she could definitely get into this when she bumps into the edge of the suite’s large bed. It’s only when she tilts backwards that Christian stops what he’s doing, apparently to clear some papers and prints from the top of the freshly-made bed. She’s smiling at him as he does, until she sees what looks like an issue of Runway in his hand, and really that’s just too good an opportunity to pass up.

        “Now who’s a mindless Priestly drone?” She’s teasing as she grabs for it, and the surprise is enough to make Christian let go without a fight. He doesn’t look embarrassed, or even defiant though. In fact, he looks sort of… scared?

        It’s only after a long few seconds of staring at the front cover that Andy gets it. She’s spent long weeks fetching back issues from Miranda’s collection, twice or three times a day. Between that and general office duties, she figures she’s seen almost all of the iconic covers by now. This one? This one she does not recognize at all.

        Which isn’t such a shock, really, because she notices then that the date on the front page is for three months in the future. A quick flick through the magazine confirms that most of the pages are still blank or clearly just mock-ups. This looks a lot like The Book that Miranda sometimes mentions in her conversations about the office. Apparently it’s kind of a big deal, and it used to be hand-delivered to Miranda at her home every single evening.

        “What the hell is this?” Andy asks, although she thinks she might already know.

        “It’s uh,” Christian falters for the first time all day. “It’s the mock-up for Jacqueline Follet’s first official issue in charge of Runway.”

        Andy shakes her head, because she does not want to be hearing this.

        “You’re kidding, right? Miranda is still the editor. Taking her magazine away from her… she’d be devastated.”

        Christian laughs at that, some of his earlier cockiness returning.

        “Miranda’s a big girl, Andy. I doubt it’ll take her more than a couple of drinks and a long shower to get over it. You have to know that the big guns at Elias-Clarke want her out. Jacqueline’s a lot younger than Miranda—“

        “So why do you have this in your hotel room?” Andy shoots back, not wanting to hear anything else about why Miranda should be replaced.

        “Jacqueline has offered me control of all the editorial content. I’ll be hiring writers, commissioning features. Preferably young, up and coming writers looking to make a name for themselves.”

        He waggles those damn eyebrows at her, and Andy feels sick to her stomach. To think that she’d betray someone she works for, someone she’s grown to care for, just for a quick leg up in the publishing industry? It’s repulsive to even think of. Not that she’s naïve, she knows how many people would bite Christian’s hand off at the mention of this implied offer, but Andy promised herself back in college that she’d rather go without work than get ahead in ways like this.

        “So you’re helping her scheme the magazine away from Miranda? While she’s still recovering? Nice, Christian. Real nice.”

        “Publishing waits for no man; or woman, no matter how scary she is. Times change, especially in fashion. In fact, I think Irv Ravitz is giving Miranda her severance package over lunch today. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall…”

        In that moment, with his face lit up with a twisted sort of glee, Andy can’t see a single thing about Christian that’s attractive. That she let this guy kiss her and paw at her is going to take a while to get over, because she’s two minutes from throwing up right on his designer loafers.

        “She doesn’t know? He’s just going to spring this on her?”

        Andy thinks back over the past few weeks, of Miranda’s considerable improvement and the return of her more businesslike appearance. The girls have been bolstered by a return to the familiar, and Andy has found herself appreciating a full-strength Miranda even more too. To think of all that possibly being attacked over lunch, to think what a blow this might be to Miranda, is enough to send Andy into a tailspin of sudden panic.

        Christian looks like he’s about to explain some more, or maybe patronize her about the real world, but Andy doesn’t give him the chance.

        “I have to go. Now. Thanks for the writing advice.”

        “Andy, come on—“

        But that’s the last she hears as the door to his suite slams behind her. She panics for a moment, standing in the hallway with no idea of what to actually do with this new information. Thankfully, instinct takes over and she breaks into a run back towards the elevator bank. She has to get to Miranda and warn her; it’s exactly as simple as that.

        Since Roy is no doubt waiting for Miranda back at the office already, Andy hails a cab and is pleased to see one screech to a halt before she even has to break stride. Seconds later she’s bundling herself on to the cracked leather seats and spitting out the office address of Elias-Clarke. The cab driver gives her a funny look in the rearview mirror, and from what little she can see of herself, Andy can see why.

        Her previously smooth hair is a tousled mess, and judging by the smearing of her lipstick, it isn’t easy to tell exactly what she’s been up to in that hotel. She attempts a repair job with the limited supplies in her purse, but even the legendary Midtown traffic doesn’t hold them up for long. In fact, Andy realizes that they’ve probably only gone about ten blocks or so, but she has no internalized map of the city yet, having only spent a few weeks here at a time. Even then, it was mostly downtown with Lily’s art scene buddies, or lately in Brooklyn.

        Throwing a few bills at the driver, she steps out onto the vast concrete concourse that seems only slightly less intimidating than on the day of her initial interview. Andy takes strides in her perilous Prada heels, and the effect is a lot more confident that she feels. Her first stop at the security desk goes smoothly enough, since Emily had anticipated Andy showing up for some kind of work purpose, a pass is still waiting. She loops the lanyard around her wrist like a new, cheap bracelet and goes to call an elevator.

        All too soon, she’s walking out onto the 17th floor. The receptionist screws up her face in appraisal, but apparently Andy’s green dress is fashionable enough to allow her to pass. She’s just about to ask where Miranda’s office is when Emily comes sweeping out of one of the corridors that converge on the lobby area.

        “Why are you here?” She’s asking even as she leads Andy by the elbow down another of the well-lit white corridors. “Miranda didn’t say anything about you working here when she got here.”

        “Ow!” Andy protests as Emily’s grip gets a little too close to pinching. They walk into another reception area and from the first glance Andy can tell that they’re outside Miranda’s office. The room practically vibrates with her presence, even though the glass beyond the open glass doors is empty. A bored-looking girl in a shockingly pink dress sits at one of the two desks that Andy is standing between, filing her nails with frightening precision. Andy’s seen surgery performed with less attention to detail.

        “You absolutely shouldn’t be here unless Miranda told you to be. I left the pass just in case,” Emily is explaining more for her own benefit than Andy’s. Over the past couple of months Andy has learned first-hand that Emily does her thinking out loud, even more the telephone. That thinking is usually punctuated by nasty little insults and hisses of displeasure, both of which seem to be lurking in Andy’s immediate future. She decides to get while the getting is good, and wrenches her arm free of Emily’s surprisingly strong grip.

        “Where is Miranda? I need to see her right now.”

        Andy tries to keep her voice steady, but she can hear the desperation for herself. Emily just laughs, that fake tinkling little laugh that drives Andy halfway insane on a good day. Today is definitely not a good day.

        “She’s having lunch with Mr. Ravitz.” Emily is back at her computer, flicking through some kind of list on the screen. “She won’t be back for at least thirty minutes. Maybe you could take the time to straighten yourself up?”

        Knowing she looks a little like what the cat dragged in, Andy can’t exactly fault Emily for that observation, but there just isn’t time.

        “Emily. If you want to keep your job you will tell me exactly where she is. This is urgent.”

        It looks like Emily is going to keep stonewalling, but at the last moment she relents. Making the concession seems to physically pain her, but there’s a flicker of panic that let’s Andy know she’s won.

        “35th floor. They’re having lunch in his office. Not that you’ll get in there, but you can wait outside I suppose.”

        That’s all Andy needs to hear and she takes off down the corridor as fast as her stupid shoes will let her. Her toes are pinched to the point of bleeding by now, but she powers through that and the sharp ache in her arches. If it gets too bad she’ll pull the damn things off and run barefoot.

        She’s still trying Miranda on her cellphone, racking up what has to be the thirteenth or fourteenth attempt. Miranda is going to think the world has ended when she finally checks the number of missed calls on her display.

        Emily wasn’t kidding about the resistance, Andy discovers with no small amount of dismay. It’s a struggle to even get past the security desk on the 35th floor, and Irv Ravitz’s secretary has a pretty intimidating air for someone whose main job is supposed to be typing and answering phones. Sucking in a deep breath, Andy takes her chance when the beep of incoming mail distracts the other woman, and she makes it all the way to the heavy doors before she’s caught.

        She can let herself be pulled back now, Andy knows, or she can make one final attempt at warning Miranda. It’s nothing short of a miracle when she wriggles free and shoves at the door. She’s momentarily struck dumb at the sight of Miranda having a seemingly amicable lunch with a perfectly ordinary looking man. Over the past hour or so, Andy’s built him up to be the devil incarnate in her mind.

        Miranda, as ever, fails to follow the mental script that Andy has written. Every plea falls on deaf ears until Miranda is actually threatening to fire Andy if she doesn’t leave the room. It’s a particularly harsh defeat, but Andy concedes eventually and tries not to cry as she slinks out in shame. Miranda looked so angry, and after their growing closeness of late, Andy finds that part the hardest to take.

        She’s put out of her misery fifteen minutes later, when Miranda sweeps out of the office like someone who never so much as stubbed a toe, never mind shattered a femur. With an almost imperceptible nod, Miranda indicates that Andy should follow, and it takes a few awkward seconds for Andy to catch up and adapt to Miranda’s fast pace.

        Only once they’re safely in the elevator does Miranda deign to speak. Andy feels frumpy next to her, because she knows her fixed makeup still isn’t quite right, and she’s pulled her hair back into a ponytail, but Miranda still looks exactly the way she did coming downstairs at the house hours ago. It just isn’t exactly fair, Andy muses as she watches their distorted reflections in the dull brass of the elevator doors.

        “What were you thinking?” Miranda’s words are barely above a murmur, but Andy’s attuned and running on adrenalin so she doesn’t miss even a syllable.

        Relieved to have a chance to speak at last, Andy lets it all flood out. From her arrival to St. Regis to barreling into Irv’s office she doesn’t miss anything out. Well, she maybe glosses over the making out that led her to Christian’s hotel room, but it’s clear from Miranda’s suddenly pursed lips that the implication hasn’t been lost on her.

        “That’s what you chose to do with hours of leisure in Manhattan? Not for you the endless culture and countless unique experiences of the city. Oh no, Andrea. You choose to spend hours talking about your pipe dream of being a writer and letting that would-be Lothario bed you.”

        “I didn’t sleep with him!” Andy knows she’s protesting a little too desperately (but she didn’t and it doesn’t matter why she cares that Miranda is absolutely clear on this point). “We uh, it was nothing really. It didn’t get very far. I rushed over here to warn you!”

        The elevator makes a bored sort of ‘ping’ noise before the doors silently slide open. Andy steps back to let the waiting throng of people get on, but nobody does. They’re all muttering amongst themselves and avoiding eye contact with Miranda, while one or two shoot suspicious glances at Andy, as though she isn’t supposed to be there at all.

        “Warn me about what?” Miranda snaps, and her voice is almost loud in the contained space.

        “Irv wants to fire you and make Jacqueline permanent. She’s already lining up staff to hire!”

        Of all the reactions Andy expected to her news (including, she’s ashamed to admit, a fantasy of Miranda grabbing her for a very grateful kiss) a snort of quickly suppressed laughter did not feature on the list at all.

        “Miranda! I’m serious. Wasn’t that what Irv did over lunch?”

        Composing herself with some difficulty, Miranda responds even though the doors have opened again and they’re striding out into the lobby.

        “That might be what he attempted. He soon changed his mind when I presented him with the list.”

        “The list of what?” Andy is struggling to keep up with Miranda both mentally and physically, the best exhibit yet of how far the editor’s recovery has advanced.

        “The list of photographers, designers, artists and models who were found or nurtured by me,” Miranda explains. “All of whom have promised to follow me if, or when, I decide to leave Runway. When he saw those names, Irv knew he couldn’t afford to let me go.”

        They’re walking across the concourse now, where Roy is waiting outside the car.

        “What about Jacqueline?”

        “I found an…opportunity for her. She’s not at the photoshoot in Miami; she has a meeting about a more lucrative role.”

        The conversation is interrupted for a moment while they move to their respective sides of the car. Andy is in no mood to be patient, so she flips off the cars who hoot their horns about her opening the door while traffic is still streaming past.

        “You got her a better job?” Andy asks, and there isn’t a drama school in the world that could teach her a way to keep the obvious incredulity out of her voice.

        “Perhaps. She certainly seems to think so, from the way she snatched at the offer. Not that the job will last the year, but let her think she’s won for now,” Miranda chuckles as she finishes, and Andy can tell there’s a sparkle in her eyes behind those signature dark glasses.

        She feels sick.

        Having coming running to Miranda’s rescue, Andy is left to discover that Miranda is every bit as bad as the people scheming against her. And it’s stupid, really, for Andy to let her personal impressions count for more than well-established rumors about Miranda’s ruthlessness, but part of her just can’t believe anyone would enjoy screwing over a competitor quite so much. It’s hardly Jacqueline’s fault that she was tapped to cover for Miranda. Does she really deserve ruin for daring to covet the job on a more permanent basis?

        The car is crawling through traffic as Andy plays with her seatbelt, not daring to look at Miranda and her satisfied smirk. Eventually the silence grows awkward, so Andrea forces herself to continue the conversation.

        “Does this mean you’re going back to work full-time?” Her voice is a monotone around the words.

        “Not just yet. If the doctors clear me I’ll be back just after Jacqueline leaves, but if there’s any overlap Nigel will step in.”

        Andy thinks about Nigel, who has a friendly but bitchy phone manner. He might have mocked her during her interview, but has been a godsend ever since. She jokes that he’s her online best friend, since most of their contact is restricted to texts and emails. Nigel, who picked out this phenomenal summer wardrobe that Andy’s been working her way through, who just last week was raving about his new job…

        “Miranda? Nigel said he’d talked to you about his new job—at James Holt? How can he do that and cover for you?”

        That question gets a real reaction from Miranda, in that she removes her sunglasses at least. Her eyes are screwed up just a little in contemplation as she looks at her assistant, and Andy wonders how the hell she messed up this time. Was Nigel not supposed to tell her? How was that Andy’s fault?

        “There has been a change of plan. The job I’ve found for Jacqueline is the one Nigel was going to take. I needed her to have it more, for obvious reasons.”

        “But Nigel—“

        “Will be staying at Runway.”

        Andy knows better than to expect any further explanation or apology. It’s a miracle she got this much out of Miranda in the first place, but it’s clear that the other woman wants to brag about her latest victory, regardless of the human consequences. Closing her eyes for just a moment, visions of Nigel’s frantic but happy emails float through Andy’s mind – the abundance of exclamation marks, Nigel’s joyous words about freedom and escape and fresh starts. All gone--because Miranda needed something more.

        Maybe it’s just how fashion (or publishing, or business) works, but it doesn’t make Andy like it any more. Just as she was repulsed by Christian’s smugness, she now feels uneasy around Miranda’s almost-indecent glow of success. There’s something powerfully attractive about it, but Andy refuses to let herself be drawn to it. She isn’t going to become like these people, not for the price of a challenging summer and a few pretty dresses. She’ll go back to school and get her law degree, hell, she’ll work in McDonald’s for minimum wage before she’ll let herself turn into this.

        She thinks about the long drive back to the Hamptons, about the prospect of another quiet evening in Miranda’s company. Perhaps tonight it’ll be champagne instead of Scotch and Ketel One. Maybe after a few drinks, this simmering feeling in Andy’s stomach will have gone away, and she can go back to working hard and seeing out the summer.

        “I was impressed,” Miranda continues after a moment. “With how intently you tried to warn me. You thought I didn’t know? I’ve known what was happening since the anesthesia wore off, Andrea. I just needed time to make my own plans.”

        “And those plans included screwing over Nigel?” The words are out before Andy can stop them.

        Miranda at least has the decency to purse her lips, forming an expression that might be mistaken for shame.

        “That is unfortunate. But I always reward loyalty. Eventually.”

        There’s a dangerous gleam in Miranda’s eyes as she says that, reminding Andy how close she came to betrayal this afternoon. Reckless now, Andy carries on.

        “He said it was his dream job—a reward for all he’s put up with for the last twenty years. You’re just taking that away from him? I thought he was your friend.”

        Not that Miranda really seems to have friends, Andy knows, but Nigel is definitely the closest. His calls are never ignored, and his opinion is always the first one sought. He’s visited a few times, often with Emily, but Miranda has never seemed irritated by his presence. Most importantly, he’s been the one advising Andy all these weeks in how best to survive Miranda, the little quirks and traits that she can use to her advantage.

        “I had to secure my position. I’ll be back where I belong very soon. And you, Andrea, can be there by my side. A year as my assistant and you can have your pick of jobs in publishing; Emily must have mentioned that a few dozen times by now. I’ll let you write, if that’s what you really want.”

        “You’ll… let me?” Andy can’t quite believe what she’s hearing. Miranda’s only response is to flick a switch on the door that causes a privacy screen to slide soundlessly down from the roof. Andy feels nervous, like she’s the idiot in a horror movie who went upstairs to investigate strange noises.

        “I’ve been very pleased with your progress,” Miranda answers, staring out of the window with a thoroughly disinterested expression. “I thought you were entirely wrong for any kind of job with me. But you tried so hard with my girls…”

        “You know I care about them,” Andy admits, scared of where the conversation is going.

        “Of course, I’ll have to wait until they want to let you go before I take you to the office with me. Caroline is only just recovering from the loss of Cara, after all.”

        And that’s when the last fragile strand of Andy’s patience snaps.

        “Stop saying that.”

        Miranda snaps her gaze back to Andy, stunned at the harsh tone.

        “Stop what, exactly?” There’s no mistaking the challenge in her voice. Nobody tells Miranda Priestly what to do, not even the billionaire head of the company who employs her. Certainly not the nanny.

        “Stop saying you’ll let me. Don’t I have a choice in this? Does it even matter to you that I might have plans or, yes, dreams of my own? Not everyone wants to live this life, you know.”

        “Don’t be ridiculous, Andrea. Everybody wants this; everybody wants to be us.”

        The car rolls to a perfectly smooth stop at yet another set of traffic lights, and before she can think about it for even a second, Andy is snatching at her discarded purse and reaching for the door handle.

        “What do you think you’re doing?” Miranda asks, and she sits forward in a panic, the seatbelt crushing the delicate silk of her camisole.

        “I’m letting myself leave. I’m not your property, Miranda.”

        And in one fluid motion, Andy is stepping out of the car. More car horns honk as she skips through two lanes of stalled traffic to reach the curb, and she doesn’t date look round in case Miranda is coming after her. The shrill ring of her cellphone heralds Andy’s successful arrival on the sidewalk, but she ignores it despite the almost Pavlovian-strength response to pick up.

        Let Miranda play her real-life chess games and control everyone around her, but Andy is counting herself out. She’s not sure why it should dismay her so much, or why she has this nagging suspicion that she should somehow be more to Miranda, be exempt from these machinations. Shaking her head as the phone begins to ring again, Andy pulls it roughly from her bag and yanks the battery compartment open. As a quick and violent way of switching off, it’s quite satisfying.

        Striding off into the Manhattan afternoon, Andy doesn’t care if she has no idea where she’s going. At least it’s her choice to make.

        Chapter Text

        Well.


        That, Miranda was not expecting. She blinks a few times, as though this will somehow force reality back to conforming to her script. In the flush of victory, it seems impossible that anyone would be less than jubilant on her behalf. Perhaps she’s a little too used to sycophants telling her that her every move is sheer brilliance, Miranda muses. Although since most people are struck dumb around her, that doesn’t seem to explain it entirely.


        But Andrea, who has seen far more than anyone else of what this journey cost—for her to walk away feels like something akin to treason. More so even than her daughters—still too young to fully understand—she expected patient and loyal Andrea, with her laughably big heart and endless capacity for encouragement, to be caught up in Miranda’s own tidal wave of a good mood.


        Instead, Miranda is sitting alone in the backseat of her town car and wondering what in the hell just happened. She’s liked Andrea’s independent spirit since that first day, when other girls would have been reduced to blubbering wrecks by barbed remarks, Andrea had simply pulled off her offensive shorts and carried on with a smile. It’s been refreshing, honestly, to see this development in Andrea over the past couple of months. With Miranda still not quite at her fighting best, they might almost be equals.


        She’s glad she thought to put the privacy screen down, at least, because she’s in no mood for Roy’s questioning glances in the rear-view mirror. He must have noticed the car is one passenger lighter, what with Andrea striding off thought the traffic like a crazy person, but Miranda does not explain herself and really, why start now?


        Since she gives no new instructions, Roy drives on as soon as the lights change. Miranda settles back in her seat, checking one more time that her seatbelt is securely fastened, and begins to leaf through the pile of papers retrieved from her office. There’s a lot to be done, after all, and she can’t really afford to waste any more time.


        Five hours later, as the sun is threatening to set over the rolling landscape of Long Island, and Miranda finds herself pacing the floor of her private study. It will be days until the girls return, though the series of hyperactive text messages from Cassidy is doing a lot to ease the pain of missing them. Caroline even deigns to join in on the nightly telephone calls now, but those ten minutes just aren’t enough. Oh, Miranda could insist on longer, but she doesn’t dare interfere with the non-stop party of time with their father, for fear she become the bad cop all over again.


        What really has Miranda in motion though, is the continuing absence of Andrea. Even if the girl went for a walk in her ridiculous tantrum, she should surely have seen sense and caught the train by now? Honestly, Miranda’s been waiting for at least two hours for the grovelling phone call begging for a car to be sent to collect her. It’s getting late, and there’s a nagging thought at the back of Miranda’s mind that Andrea might have betrayed her somehow. She might be back at Christian Thompson’s hotel now (and really, the St. Regis? Four full seasons have passed since the last time anyone would be caught dead staying there) hatching a plan to save Jacqueline’s thwarted coup.


        Paranoia isn’t a trait that Miranda relishes, but she’s always had enough to know when the knives behind her back were sharpening. She hasn’t suspected the girl once since she arrived, but isn’t it possible she could be a plant from Jacqueline or Irv? Some kind of spy to derail Miranda’s glorious return? Try as she might, and angry though she might be, Miranda can’t bring herself to believe it.


        Which leaves other, equally unpalatable alternatives. Something could have happened to Andrea, because Rudy isn’t mayor anymore and crime has never really gone away. Is she lying in a midtown alleyway somewhere, battered and bruised for the price of a Kate Spade purse and a few trinkets? Miranda feels ill even contemplating it, but these wide-eyed Midwesterners never believe the depravity of the big city until they encounter it first-hand. If she still believed in God, Miranda might just pray that Andrea keep her small-town naïveté for an indefinite period of time.


        And, of course, there’s the possibility that headstrong and independent Andrea has chosen not to return. It’s mystifying that anything Miranda said should cause such an extreme reaction—hadn’t she offered Andrea a plum career, including the less-than-original dream of being a writer? She isn’t bad, Miranda knows. On sleepless nights she’s snooped a little in Andrea’s desk drawers and office computer, finding absorbing fragments of half-baked articles and even a short story or two. Raw talent can be cultivated of course, but Miranda always finds words secondary to the visual. She prefers her return of a thousand words expressed in one picture, and let the wordy prose keep others occupied.


        Regardless of the reason, Miranda is less than happy about Andrea not being present. Millie served up a perfectly serviceable steak dinner, but eating alone has never interested Miranda. Picking at some grapes now, she realizes how hungry she is, but still Miranda continues to pace. It’s comforting to be able to, at least, since her leg barely gives her a twinge at the moment. Mornings bring their own degree of stiffness, and there are times after sessions with Honey that Miranda thinks amputation might just be more humane, but for the most part she’s as mobile as ever she was.


        The heels are kicked off the minute she gets home now, though, because even Miranda isn’t vain enough to completely overdo it. Here, in the privacy of her home-that-isn’t-home, she can feel free to roam the polished wood floors in bare feet. She stills for a moment at the sound of a door opening, and it takes her a moment to identify the gentle creak of the kitchen door a few rooms down. By the time she makes it there, the door is closed again, but the sight of Andrea’s keys on the counter is enough to make Miranda’s heart skip gladly. The sulk is apparently over, or at least diminishing.


        Thirty minutes later and Andrea still hasn’t appeared, from what Miranda assumed might be a quick shower and change. She’s just about to head up the back stairs to investigate when she hears a thump and muted curse from the main staircase instead. All of Miranda’s newfound optimism evaporates as she saunters along the hallway to confront her erstwhile employee; the sight of Andrea laden down with a suitcase and backpack, bumping her way down the main stairs is not even close to what Miranda was hoping for. Andrea’s expression is baleful when she looks up to see Miranda waiting at the foot of the stairs.


        “If I wanted to watch amateur dramatics, Andrea, I hear there’s another American Idol contestant washing up off-Broadway. Spare me the production, please.”


        Andrea’s head snaps up at Miranda’s dry remark, and for a moment the fury in her eyes is enough to make Miranda take a reflexive step back. She catches herself though, because Miranda Priestly does not shrink back from a fight. Let Andrea have her righteous indignation and a rant about how business would be nicer if we all just got along; Miranda can stomach it. She realizes--to her silent dismay--that she can’t think of much she wouldn’t tolerate to stop Andrea from walking out that door.


        “Get out of my way,” Andrea says in a dull voice, sounding like she does before her first cup of coffee in the morning. When, exactly, did Miranda start noticing these things about her employees? Well, she doesn’t usually live with them for a start. And when she does, it’s usually to compensate for her being extra-busy at work. So knowing the different tones of Andrea’s voice doesn’t mean anything, other than discovering that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.


        “Where are you going to go, at this time of night?”


        “It’s not even nine, Miranda,” Andrea explains as she rolls her suitcase all the way to the bottom. For a moment, they’re scarcely a foot apart, but Andrea keeps going until her hand is on the handle of the front door. “I’m a big girl, I’ll find my way home.”


        “This is ridiculous!” Miranda explodes at last, and she’s disgusted to note that she loses control of her carefully quiet voice. It’s been the work of decades to work on never raising it, after realizing how much easier it is to strike fear into someone straining to hear her.


        “Goodbye, Miranda. You have a week to find someone before the girls come back. I’m sure Emily will find you a nice Swedish au pair who speaks eight languages. Good luck with your, you know, empire and all.”


        Without giving Miranda a chance to respond, Andrea has opened the door and is walking away across the porch. With a reflex Miranda wasn’t sure she still possessed, she takes off in pursuit. Maybe Andrea isn’t expecting to be followed, because she’s only a few strides across the gravel drive when Miranda catches up to her. It’s blind instinct that causes Miranda to reach out, to take Andrea by the arm with gentleness that surprises even her.


        “Please,” is all Miranda can conjure up.


        But the look on Andrea’s face upon hearing it suggests that she knows exactly what kind of gesture that is. Miranda does not ask. She certainly does not ask nicely. On any given day she can rattle of a list of incredibly detailed demands, but in the face of something she truly wants, she is at a loss for words. Except this one, so rarely used that it feels almost dusty as it falls from her lips. She’s going to beg, if she has to. Miranda hasn’t done that since she went into early labor with the twins in distress.


        “Why do you care if I stay?” Andrea asks, clearly exasperated. “I’m just another ‘Miranda girl’, and if I don’t let myself get dragged into your world I’ll just be another disappointment. It seems smarter if we cut our losses now.”

        “Would it be so terrible,” Miranda asks, “to let me help you? You were willing to accept Christian Thompson’s help with your career.”


        “And you’re what? Jealous?” Andrea is unflinching as she levels the accusation. Miranda bites her bottom lip at the sight; it’s quite magnificent.


        “Can you blame me?”


        Miranda drops her head in embarrassment at having uttered the thought aloud. Was it really just a few hours ago that she resolved not to let this distracting thing with the girl interfere with her plans? Really, the middle-aged cliché is just mortifying, and Miranda was so sure she wouldn’t succumb.


        It’s enough to cause Andrea to drop her bags, at least. She tilts her head for a moment as she regards Miranda, a gesture of analysis that Miranda knows only too well. She’s not, however, comfortable with being the object of such scrutiny and so she continues to avoid meeting Andrea’s eyes.


        “What is this, Miranda?” Andrea’s voice is warmer now, at least. There’s genuine curiosity at work. “Am I just an asset you don’t want to lose?”


        Miranda shakes her head in reluctant denial.


        “Or is it something more? Is this about that kiss—sorry, those kisses—that we’ve never discussed?”


        She should never have come out here, Miranda knows. Chasing after a girl in her twenties is something best left to her husbands. And yet…


        Somehow she still isn’t moving, when it would be easier and a lot less mortifying to return to the safety of an empty house. God know there’s paperwork, not to mention emails and calls to fill her time. Something in Miranda is choosing to stand in this particular firing line, and despite the battles fought and won in recent months, she has no real intention of resisting it.


        “I assumed you wouldn’t want to talk about it; that you would be embarrassed by the foolish actions of an old woman. Any intentions I had for your future career were based on respect, Andrea. You’ve earned that much. Forget anything else.”


        Andrea narrows her eyes as she considers Miranda’s explanation. She might be naïve in many ways, but the girl takes almost nothing at face value. But wonder of wonders, Miranda’s words seem to pass whatever test Andrea set them, because the girl (woman, really) takes a step towards Miranda. It reduces the distance between them to mere inches; almost nothing really. Andrea stares down at her feet for a moment before her own words come tumbling out.


        “What if I don’t want to forget?” Those words alone are enough to make Miranda’s breath catch in her throat.


        “What if I’ve been trying every single day to forget, only to fail every time? What if I want there to be more kissing?”


        “You don’t have to humor me,” Miranda whispers, her breath gently ruffling Andrea’s hair.


        “I wouldn’t dare,” Andrea assures her, and Miranda sees the first hint of the smile she’s apparently been missing all day. “So, what do you say. Will you let me kiss you?”


        This isn’t how Miranda intended to stop Andrea from leaving, and yet the tremor that passes through her body at Andrea’s suggestion is unmistakeable.


        Want.


        So damn powerful, and something Miranda’s usually adept at resisting. She’s not so sure she can now, not with Andrea so dangerously close and looking at her this way.


        “I thought you disliked me making decisions for you?” Miranda can’t resist being a little arch, seeking solace in her natural haughtiness. Andrea sighs at the—what? Predictability?—and places one very deliberate hand on Miranda’s shoulder.


        “I should have known you wouldn’t make this easy,” Andrea retorts, but before Miranda can prolong the argument or say anything else that might spoil the moment entirely, Andrea has captured her lips with a perfectly chaste kiss. It’s no more than a fleeting few seconds of contact, but it detonates something in Miranda that she’s feared confronting for some time.


        So really, she has no choice but to kiss Andrea again; it’s not exactly her fault that there’s nothing chaste about it. No, just the feel of Andrea’s full, soft lips—free of any gloss or lipstick—is enough to spur on Miranda’s already excited state. The kisses deepen without hesitation or invitation, and Miranda feels her knees weaken as Andrea’s tongue caresses her own. They finally part for air, but not before Miranda captures Andrea’s luscious bottom lip and sucks hard. The resulting moan from the back of Andrea’s throat is more of a turn-on than Miranda thinks she can handle.


        “Fuck,” Andrea mutters, and Miranda really couldn’t agree more. She tugs Andrea’s sleeve in the direction of the house and its open door, but their progress is slowed considerably as they kiss again, and again. Miranda’s vaguely aware of her camisole being pulled free of her skirt, and very much aware when Andrea’s cool, trembling hand touches the bare skin of her abdomen. Miranda’s unconscious response is to let her right hand cup Andrea’s breast through the thin fabric of her dress, and somehow they make it to the porch.


        “You don’t have to,” Miranda gasps as Andrea’s kisses travel down from her earlobe to the base of her throat. Miranda’s so glad she took off her jewelry hours ago, allowing Andrea all the access she wants. The trail of warm, wet kisses (and little licks, and oh God just the hint of teeth) leaves Miranda’s skin tingling in its wake, and she honestly isn’t sure she’ll survive this onslaught on sensation. She’s drunk on it, not on the one glass of Scotch she couldn’t finish.


        “I want to,” Andrea confesses against Miranda’s collarbone. “You have to know how much I want to. When I was with Christian—“ Miranda stiffens at his name, but the touch of Andrea’s exploring hands under Miranda’s top make her melt again. “He was so into me, but all I could think about was you. I wanted you to be all over me like that.”


        It’s the call to arms that Miranda didn’t know she was waiting for. Some of the lustful haze lifts, just enough to allow her notorious ability to focus to take over again. Though she feels like she’s on fire with every touch, Miranda also knows she can steer this encounter now, that she has the opportunity to show Andrea exactly why she’s been right to secretly (or perhaps not so secretly, if Miranda’s honest) want this.


        With strength that owes a lot to Honey’s thrice-weekly torture sessions, Miranda guides Andrea towards the nearest wall and pins her there while taking her fill of long, bruising kisses. It’s Miranda’s turn to explore, tugging aside the straps of Andrea’s dress and the black bra beneath it to expose more of that intoxicating pale skin, lightly dusted with freckles from all the time spent outdoors. It’s been a dangerous game, nudging Andrea towards the more revealing items in her closet, but Miranda is so very glad that she insisted. She might even have made a move sooner, if she’d known that Andrea sounded this good with those breathy little moans of excitement.


        They only serve to spur Miranda on, and so she lets her mouth dip lower, until she’s skimming the lightest little kisses over the swell of Andrea’s ample breasts. Miranda’s hands are restless, stroking Andrea’s bare arms (she’s shown no signs of wanting to flee, content to be pinned between Miranda and the wooden panels of the porch wall. They’re feet away from the open front door and really, Miranda should have more decorum than this, but waiting has never been her strong suit.) Somewhere, as her kisses become more deliberate and she finds herself sucking on exposed skin just hard enough to mark, Miranda’s hands encounter Andrea’s hipbones. From there it’s just natural that she should gently slide the olive-green silk up, up and gradually, maddeningly, up until it’s resting around Andrea’s waist.


        Something in the gesture obviously inspires Andrea, because with her arms free once more she reaches around Miranda to deftly unbutton her skirt at the waist. It’s the work of a second for her to pull the tightly woven gold material until it’s pooling at Miranda’s ankles, and if it weren’t for the fact that her thigh slips automatically between Andrea’s thighs where Jesus Christ she’s already soaked through her silk panties, Miranda might feel a little exposed. But what the hell is the point in property off the beaten track and behind security gates, if you can’t occasionally fuck a beautiful woman right next to your front door?


        This is no time for finesse, she concedes. Yanking at the neckline of Andrea’s dress, Miranda isn’t even slightly sorry to hear the fabric rip. All she cares about is that she now has access to the black lace and the breasts beneath it, something her mouth seizes upon greedily. Andrea’s skin is deliciously warm despite the coolness of the evening breeze, and Miranda lets her tongue wander, scraping over the lace until that too is pulled down. If Andrea has any complaint about this treatment of her clothing, it’s lost in the harshness of her breathing. By the time Miranda relents and lets her tongue wander to one very erect nipple, Andrea has begun a low, incoherent sort of chant, the basis of which seems to be that Miranda should really, really not stop for any reason.


        Miranda’s happy to comply as Andrea responds to her every caress. The casual contact against Miranda’s thigh can now only be described as grinding, and she’s happy to meet Andrea thrust for thrust. It’s not enough though, and so Miranda trails one finger along the waistband of Andrea’s probably-ruined underwear and delights in the hiss of anticipation that it draws from Andrea’s lips. Though she’s conscious of the syncopated rhythm, Miranda wastes no time in sliding her hand under the dark silk, her questing fingers out of sync with the ministration of her tongue. Andrea does not appear to be protesting.


        She is, however, still alert enough to return the gesture. Though her hands fumble a little, she reciprocates the gesture of slipping her right hand into Miranda’s panties. Miranda actually blushes a little as she realizes just how much wetness Andrea’s fingers are encountering, but she soon overcomes her self-consciousness as a heavy touch strokes right across her clit.


        No, this isn’t going to last long, not this first time. With some reluctance, Miranda tears herself away from Andrea’s almost addictive breasts and resumes a searing kiss that’s returned enthusiastically. Their hands fall into step with one another, a frantic note to the rhythm that has Miranda trembling as she tries to keep pace.


        “So close,” Andrea whispers against her mouth, and Miranda’s glad because she can’t hold out much longer. Her determination to bring Andrea to orgasm first is wavering in the face of Andrea’s relentless, stroking pressure and the overwhelming need to fall into the bliss that awaits her. Miranda is finding it hard to concentrate on anything at all when she feels Andrea go tense against her, before the tell-tale jolt of her hips and shuddering cry confirms it. Relieved, ecstatic and so fucking close, Miranda closes her eyes and surrenders.


        It absolutely does not disappoint.


        Moments later, Miranda shakes her head and allows reality to intrude. Their hands haven’t moved, and in fact Andrea is still caressing gently, her touch almost feather-light. Miranda is suddenly struck by the absurdity of the scene, since her gift has always been to picture what she can’t quite see, but despite that she’s still turned on at the thought of what they’ve just done.


        Unwilling though she is, Miranda removes her hand. Andrea follows her lead, at least, but proceeds to render Miranda weak at the knees all over again by slowly and methodically licking each of her own fingers clean. It’s a sight that Miranda knows she won’t soon forget, and she can’t think of any response better than kissing Andrea again. It’s a sweeter kiss this time, much less urgent, but Miranda is strangely intoxicated at the faint taste of herself now on Andrea’s mouth. Her mind wanders to other ways in which that might occur and she’s lost all over again.


        “That’s one way to make me stay. At least, for tonight.” Andrea’s grin is nothing short of smug, because the effect she’s had on Miranda is too obvious to hide. Miranda refuses to rise to the bait, because she’s happy for the first time in too long, and keen to prolong it.


        “I’m not in the habit of committing public indecency crimes on my front porch, Andrea.”


        “Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” Andrea’s eyes are sparkling again, their earlier dullness seemingly banished. She can’t seem to stop herself from stealing another kiss.


        “I have a perfectly serviceable bed upstairs,” Miranda teases.


        “Don’t look at me; I’m not the one who couldn’t make it all the way indoors. You ripped my dress!”


        It seems Andrea is only just noticing the crimes against this season’s must-have dress. Miranda still can’t motivate herself to care. She’d tear everything in Andrea’s closet if given the opportunity all over again; Miranda supposes that should be quite shocking, all things considered.


        “It was worth it,” Miranda states simply, before smoothing down her tousled hair. She feels hot and a little sticky and definitely very, very satisfied. And she definitely wants more, something else that might well be unprecedented.


        “So, upstairs? Sure you can walk?”


        There’s concern in Andrea’s face, and no doubt she’s worrying about Miranda’s recovery now that the endorphin rush is calming a little. Miranda dismisses the concerns with a snort, before scooping up her discarded skirt and striding inside the door as though she did this sort of thing every day.


        “Well?” She tosses back over her shoulder, not quite daring to look back as she heads towards the stairs. She’s more grateful than she can say to hear the scramble of footsteps and a hastily closed door behind her. Andrea catches up to her by the top of the staircase, and slaps Miranda cheekily on the ass when she does.


        “So, Miranda—your place or mine?”


        As if that’s really a question, Miranda thinks as she rolls her eyes. Any fool can see that her bedroom is closer.

        Chapter Text

        Andy isn’t surprised to wake up alone. Miranda’s bed might be the most ridiculously comfortable place that Andrea has ever encountered, but when they finally succumbed to sleep some time after four, Miranda had promptly retreated to her own side and effectively passed out. No snuggling or sleepy embraces, and Andy’s surprisingly okay with that; she likes her own space when she sleeps.


        With a yawn, Andy stretches lazily, enjoying the slight burn from well-exercised muscles as she rolls onto her back. She listens quietly for a moment before the faint sounds of a shower running confirm her suspicions. Seeing an opportunity to make the morning after almost as good as the night before, she slips out from under the soft sheets and grabs Miranda’s robe from the bottom of the bed. Andy’s halfway to the kitchen when she remembers that her belongings were abandoned on the gravel driveway last night.


        She lugs them inside, opting to leave them in the hall while continuing her original plan. There’s no telling how long she has until Miranda is done with her shower, but Andy can rustle up breakfast in bed pretty fast if she has to.


        Unfortunately for her grand plan, Andy has barely managed to start cutting up the strawberries when she hears the quiet ‘ahem’ from the kitchen doorway. While Andy is sure she looks a mess, with mussed hair and remnants of yesterday’s make-up, Miranda is a freshly scrubbed vision wrapped in a fluffy white towel. It’s an oddly sexy look.


        “So this is where my stolen robe ended up,” Miranda says with the slightest hint of a pout. A stray drip of water falls from her slicked-back hair to her collarbone, and Andy struggles to suppress the urge to walk over there and lick it. She supposes she can, now, unless this is going to be the shortest ill-advised fling in history.


        “You’d rather I walked around the house naked?” Andy asks, returning to the business of preparing fresh fruit with decidedly shakier hands.


        Miranda tilts her head to the side, the same way as she might to contemplate a page layout or the latest offering from Zac Posen.


        “Yes,” she answers, without a hint of embarrassment. In fact, that gleam in her eyes is downright predatory, and Andy prides herself on knowing that look very well after last night.


        A little flustered, Andy uses the beeping of the coffeemaker as a welcome distraction. It sidetracks Miranda, too, as she comes closer in search of her first fix of the day. Their fingers brush for a second when Andy hands over the mug, and it’s like an electrical current passing between them. For a split second, Andy thinks Miranda might put the mug down and jump her right there, since the thought is practically spelled out in Miranda’s expression, but the lust for caffeine is one Andy knows she can never compete with.


        “I was going to suggest breakfast in bed…” Andy trails off, hopefully.


        “Honestly, Andrea. There’s a perfectly good table right here, and we’re both downstairs already.”


        Andy might feel a little deflated at the dismissal of her plans, if not for the apparently unfading thrill at the way Miranda says her name. It seems to come out just a little breathier than her other words, and maybe nobody would notice without playing very close attention, but Andy can’t stop noticing now. Besides, anyone can rustle up breakfast, but she’s willing to bet not just anyone can make Miranda come until she loses the ability to walk and apparently, to speak English. The memory makes Andy break out into a pretty big smile, and Miranda narrows her eyes in mock suspicion.


        Balancing the two fruit plates, complete with little bowls of yogurt and honey, Andy makes her way towards the table. She’s pulling out her chair to sit when Miranda’s hand on her arm calls a halt to proceedings.


        “What do you think you’re doing?”


        Miranda’s face is a mask once more, and Andy panics as confusion overwhelms her. She can’t help thinking of that first evening, of Miranda’s jibe about eating with the help. Has turning herself into a married woman’s mistress cost Andy her place at the table?


        “I was sitting down to have breakfast,” Andy says carefully, in the same tone of voice that she might use to calm a crazy guy with a loaded gun; FBI negotiators have nothing on her when it comes to Miranda.


        “Didn’t you hear what I said before?” Miranda’s voice is dangerously low, the words almost a purr.


        “There’s a—“ Miranda punctuates her word by pulling gently on Andy’s arm and pressing a kiss to the inside of her wrist.


        “Perfectly—“ And just like that, Miranda’s hand has slid under the open neck of the robe.


        “Good—“ Miranda nudges Andrea closer to the table, until her ass is pressing against the very edge.


        “Table.” It takes a deft flick of Miranda’s fingers for Andy’s robe to fall open, and with a swift tug the soft cotton is pooling around her ankles. When she’s standing there naked, Miranda pats the clear surface of the kitchen table and the penny finally drops. With a smirk, Andy leverages herself onto the table, hissing just a little at the coldness of the surface against her bare ass.


        She’s flattered by how easily her body captivates Miranda. Andy doesn’t get long to revel in her smugness though, because Miranda’s soon pushing her backwards, chasing Andy’s body relentlessly with her mouth.


        “I made breakfast,” Andy says, because it’s true and her brain isn’t really working right now.


        Miranda leans back with a sigh, the warm breath tickling Andy’s breasts as she does. It has to be dangerous to get this turned on, this quickly, Andy thinks as she squirms a little.


        “So you did,” Miranda acknowledges, grabbing one of the plates as she crawls onto the table between Andy’s already spread legs. Andy has got to send Honey a thank you note for Miranda’s amazing flexibility.


        Instead of Miranda’s mouth, Andy finds a freshly chopped strawberry brushing over her lips, just enough to leave a trace of the juice for her to lick eagerly. The reaction seems to please Miranda, who smiles despite the look of intense concentration on her face. She feeds the strawberry to Andy on a second sweep, though Andy is hungry for something quite different by now.


        Miranda, whose name might well appear next to ‘impatience’ in the dictionary, is suddenly a model of restraint. She draws teasing lines over Andy’s body with various pieces of fruit, giving Andy a whole new appreciation for the texture of mango and the tart taste of blueberries (even better for being on Miranda’s lips, it turns out). She’s lying on the table, halfway out of her mind when Miranda finally shows some mercy and lets her tongue start retracing the slick lines she’s drawn on bare flesh, and all the way out of her mind by the time Miranda’s mouth finds its way between Andy’s thighs.


        A little later, Andy slides off the table and into the relative safety of a chair. She’s rewarded by having Miranda in her lap moments later, and they trade lazy kisses as they come down from their respective highs.


        “I’ve never liked this house,” Miranda blurts out, surprising even herself it seems. “It was an investment. But now? Now I’m going to fuck you in every room.”


        Andy makes a noise somewhere between a groan and a squeak.


        “I think I could grow to like it then.”


        “I think I could, too,” Andy replies, before shutting Miranda up with yet another kiss. This she could get used to.


        *


        Andy’s almost disappointed to be left alone in the shower, but the ache between her legs is definitely more physical than sexual now, and so perhaps a little rest isn’t such a bad idea. It’s maybe not a bad idea to be back in her own room anyway, since she should probably start thinking about this whole situation instead of just giving into this apparently constant desire to jump Miranda.


        It’s not like this is going to be anything less than complicated—there are the girls to consider, for a start. Are they too young to pick up on a change in the atmosphere? And will Miranda resort to her usual distant employer routine to throw them off?


        Rinsing the shampoo from her hair, Andy concedes that there’s probably going to be some weirdness there too. The next time Miranda gives some snotty-sounding order, how exactly it Andy supposed to ignore the images of a naked and pleading Miranda that seem to be permanently playing in her head? Yeah, she thinks as she applies a generous amount of conditioner—these were all good points to consider before banging her boss up against a wall. (And on the bed. And on the floor. And the bed again.)


        Miranda apparently has her own solutions in mind, because Andy checks her phone once she’s out of the shower to find a message from her boss.


        Working in the office. Take the afternoon. See you at dinner.


        Well, there’s not much romance to it, but Andy knows an opportunity when she sees one. Throwing on a pair of capri pants and a pretty pink blouse, it doesn’t take long for Andy to round up everything else she needs: a well-worn copy of Rebecca, a bottle of sunscreen and a big floppy hat. A bookbag might not be an accessory featured in Runway anytime soon, but Andy opts for it anyway, adding a couple of water bottles and some granola bars to round out her provisions.


        If Miranda can go into hiding, well, so can she.


        At the furthest edge of Miranda’s property, there’s a darling little pond that Andy fell in love with at first sight. The overhanging trees make an inviting little fortress, and she’s happily tucked under one of them with her book open almost right away. As she falls into the familiar world of Mrs. Danvers and the unnamed narrator, Andy stretches her suddenly heavy limbs. Maybe a nap wouldn’t be the worst idea; she didn’t get much sleep last night.


        *


        The last time anyone shook Andy awake was her sister, about twelve years ago at Christmas. Joanie hadn’t wanted to wait for her teenage sister to surface, and so Andy had been rudely awakened. Now, when she opens her eyes with a jolt, she’s left wondering why it’s still kind of dark even though she can feel the sun on her.


        Oh, right. Fell asleep with her shades on.


        It isn’t Joanie doing the shaking though, it’s a flushed and decidedly terrified-looking Miranda. Andy shouts at her until she stops, though it takes a long moment for her words to register with the panicked woman.


        “What the hell?” Andy asks, not yelling now.


        “Do you always—“ Miranda starts to reply, but chokes on a strangled sort of sob.


        “Always what? Nap in the afternoon?”


        Miranda glares at the inane suggestion.


        “Do you always sleep like you’ve been thrown from the top of a building? You looked like a crime scene photo, for Christ’s sake!”


        Embarrassed, Andy fumbles for words.


        “Um, well, I was just really relaxed, you know?”


        With her breathing returned to normal, Miranda doesn’t look quite so scary. Andy squirms a little and sits up properly, hesitating for a second before taking one of Miranda’s hands between both of her own.


        “I didn’t mean to scare you; you know that, don’t you?”


        Miranda nods, although it’s far from certain that she’s actually convinced. She relaxes more, at least, sitting on the ground beside Andy without ever letting go of her hands.


        “I couldn’t find you, and so I thought… and then to see you like that.” Miranda’s shaking her head as though that will physically erase the memory, and Andy doesn’t point out that the human brain is not an Etch-a-Sketch. Instead, she strokes Miranda’s hand gently, because Andy knows the more upsetting memory that haunts Miranda has nothing to do with her.


        “How did you know I was here?”


        Miranda is looking out over the picturesque pond as though seeing it for the first time. Is it possible she hasn’t explored her own property?


        “Once I saw your things were still in the house, I knew you were in the grounds somewhere. I just tried to think like a bookworm, and found myself here.”


        With a nod towards the discarded DuMaurier, Miranda leans in a little closer to Andy, looking much happier than she did a few minutes ago.


        “Besides, it’s almost dinner time.”


        The way Miranda licks her lips, just the quickest dart of her tongue, is positively salacious. Warm and well-rested, Andy feels a brand new surge of both energy and arousal. With one confident move, she captures Miranda’s expectant mouth. Although it lacks the urgency of last night, the more tentative kiss is every bit as thrilling. Andy can’t help but sigh in disappointment when Miranda pulls away.


        “Are you gay?” Miranda asks, as blunt as the smooth rocks that surround the pond.


        “Apparently, I’m gay enough,” Andy snarks back, not particularly in the mood for philosophical discussion.


        “Be serious,” Miranda warns, her legendary impatience already showing.


        “I am. What about you—are you suddenly gay? Have you always been? Were you in the closet all this time?” Miranda starts to answer, but Andy’s on a roll. “Because you know, that would be ironic – telling everyone what to put in their closets while hiding in your own!”


        With a little difficulty, Miranda is on her feet. Her face is red now, and Andy realizes too late that the other woman does not appreciate being mocked.


        “Miranda—wait!”


        Andy scrambles to stand, gathering her book and bag and taking off in pursuit of Miranda. That the woman can walk so fast is a great sign, but it’s making Andy hot and sweaty and not in the good way. She catches up to her by one of the barns that dot the landscape, no doubt converted into something more architecturally interesting—Andy’s heard mention of a guest house and a gym—though she’s never been invited to explore the other buildings, and usually hasn’t had the time.


        “Hey, I was making a joke,” she explains when Miranda finally stops stalking through the grass.


        “It wasn’t funny,” Miranda hisses, millimeters away from a full-on pout.


        “Okay,” Andy is placating now, stroking Miranda’s bare arms as she steps closer, pleased not to be rebuffed. “I won’t try to be funny anymore.”


        “Well, you’re not much good at it anyway,” Miranda replies in a sniffy tone.


        It takes almost superhuman strength, but Andy resists the temptation to roll her eyes—she has designs on getting laid again sometime soon.


        “Did you want to talk? About gayness and…stuff?”


        Miranda sees no need to restrain herself, treating Andy to an almost violent eyeroll of her own.


        “How eloquent. That English degree from Northwestern was worth every penny, I can tell.”


        “Let’s go back to the house?” Andy suggests, since the sun has disappeared behind a cloud, leaving a chill in the air that they’re not dressed for.


        Thankfully, Miranda nods in agreement, pausing for Andy to take her arm before they begin the trek back towards the main buildings. This really is a nice piece of land, Andy has to admit—she only hopes to get plenty of time to enjoy it, even when the twins are back. More outdoor activities might tire them out sooner, at least.


        She’s trying not to get carried away, but the end of summer is already nearing and there’s no guarantee Miranda will need her beyond that. Not that Andy is sure staying employed is such a good idea to begin with, but she did make a commitment to both Miranda and her children. Andy isn’t really naïve enough to expect that Miranda, with her money and status and power (and husband, at least for now) would seriously entertain the idea of a relationship.

        The only problem is that, whatever Andy gets from Miranda between now and the end of this affair, it can’t possibly be enough.

        Chapter Text

        This absolutely has to stop.


        For a start, Miranda does not share her bed. She's happy to share her wealth, her access to wonderful clothes, and anything that she can apply her considerable skills to, but her bed is her own. Both husbands accepted her desire to sleep alone, not terribly bothered if she remained once they'd gotten what they wanted. It's selling Rod short, she knows, and he even tried to blame her absence in bed overnight for his many, many dalliances. How Miranda could be blamed for that while he bedded groupies on four continents remains beyond her comprehension.


        So, of the many rules by which she lives her life, that is one of the absolutes: Miranda sleeps alone. Even the girls rarely come to her in the night with their bad dreams, seeking each other's comfort or sometimes the nanny's. She can't be angry about that, given how many evenings Miranda has crawled home well after midnight for a snatched few hours of rest before gliding out to do it all over again.


        If all of this is true, and Miranda knows that it is, because she was there for God's sake, then just why oh why is Andrea Sachs sleeping peacefully beside her at two in the morning?


        They're thoroughly debauched a number of rooms and surfaces these past three days - that stuck-up prude from Architectural Digest would have a coronary if she'd seen what Miranda had just done to the antiques and original features the inane woman had practically wept over. The thought gives Miranda one of her wicked little thrills; after all this time it's still delicious to shock someone, even in the abstract.


        Andrea, whose face will wrinkle if she continues to wrestle innocent bedlinen that way, has proven quite the revelation. They somehow still haven't discussed important matters of sexuality, of expectation, of discretion and yet Miranda feels none of her usual panic. In the pale moonlight spilling in through half-closed drapes, she considers her own naked form, casually wrapped in the same sheets that cover Andrea. Not bad for fifty-one, she admits silently, and in this light her once angry scars are no more than ghosts, no more than whispers across her skin. She looks good in the moonlight, Miranda surmises (and vows to have Emily arrange a similarly cool lighting arrangement for the next Ball. Knowing Emily, the girl will probably try to requisition the actual moon).


        But if Miranda is impressed by her own body (just a little softer here and there, nothing a bit of yoga and the next miracle oil won't fix) it's nothing compared to the awe she feels looking at Andrea. Is it possible that in her years of near-skeletal models, Miranda has lost her appreciation for the classical female form? Well, in recent weeks her fondness has come roaring back, to the point of obsession, she worries.


        Shorn of self-consciousness, imbued with that accidental cockiness of youth, Andrea is a delight to love. And oh--Miranda did not mean to think love. She will certainly never say the word love, so why think it? Love is something invented to sell to women, and as a master manipulator of that very art, Miranda should know. She's not merely an aesthete, but a businesswoman first and foremost. She will absolutely not consider the idiocy of falling in love with an employee; in fact, she may not even be capable of it.


        Which is another reason, really, why this has to stop.


        There’s no denying the intoxication of it though. Despite finding a new favorite way to drink champagne (in carefully poured rivulets, lapped from Andrea’s breasts) Miranda is conscious that she’s scarcely touched either painkillers or alcohol since this began. She’s been so thoroughly exhausted each night by Andrea’s attentions that there’s no need for a couple of Valium to aid sleep, either. It’s a remarkable transformation, all told.


        Tonight (this morning) Miranda feels like herself. Still flushed from her victory over Irv--although she knows it’s just a matter of time until his next clumsy attempt--and snatching a few hours of sleep at the end of exciting and physically draining days, it feels almost as though the traumatic events after Spring Fashion Week might have happened to someone else.


        There are moments, though, of what Miranda considers weakness. Seeing Andrea’s limp body splayed out by the pond had caused an embarrassing panic. Nightmares of losing the girls plague Miranda when she isn’t too tired to dream, and every so often she finds her concentration wandering when she stares at a prospective layout or a sheet of proofs. In those moments of frustration, she banishes Andrea from her side—blaming the allure of those long, bare legs or dangerously addictive lips for Miranda’s lapses. Each and every time she regrets it, and the urge to have Andrea return grows painful within moments.


        Perhaps other people would accept this as change, as an unavoidable after-effect of the accident; Miranda intends to do no such thing.


        For her part, Andrea remains a delight to have around. Miranda is formulating a plan for when the girls return, possibly involving a reallocation of bedrooms, but has yet to stumble on a solution that makes the shift anything less than screamingly obvious. It’s going to be a challenge to keep her hands to herself, too. Propriety has never been a problem for Miranda, save for those early months and years with Rod, caught up in the flurry of first love and a shared lust for danger. Stephen tends towards groping when drunk, but she learned to duck his advances at home as easily as she did at formal events, with the fool often too wasted to notice he’d been thwarted. Miranda supposes she should have pitied the cocktail waitresses or escorts who’d step in later on those nights to take her place; she can’t quite summon the remorse.


        She feels young again.


        Not twenty, as those mid-life crisis idiots would explain it. Miranda shudders at the thought—she would never want to experience her early twenties again. No, she feels as though ten or perhaps fifteen years has been wiped from her personal clock—harnessing the power and confidence of her thirties with a renewed sexual appetite that Andrea seems to enjoy provoking. The girl really is insatiable, and there’s an irreverence now to how she treats Miranda, a respectful but playful mockery that’s been missing from Miranda’s life for too long.


        Yes, this wide-eyed writer who hadn’t heard of Miranda Priestly--the icon, the cautionary tale, the myth and legend--has been the best thing to happen to Miranda in a very long time. Miranda can’t imagine it works the same way in reverse, although there’s no doubting the evidence of arousal she always finds between Andrea’s thighs, or the way that Miranda catches the girl looking at her in unguarded moments.


        If someone were stupid enough to get carried away, they might see even more than lust in those looks. Miranda understands lust, has been on the receiving end for so long that it usually bores her. After all, it’s normally lust for her power or wealth, with her body very much an afterthought. Andrea has this way of looking at her like…well, like she might desire Miranda the same way even if she were nobody at all. It’s intensely personal, intimate even, and it scares Miranda more than she can possibly say.


        Andrea stirs then, rolling on to her back with a sleepy half-smile. The sight alone distracts Miranda from her introspective train of thought, and she holds her breath to see if the movement is a sign of Andrea waking. There’s already a low hum running through her body at the prospect of more, of Andrea sleepily caressing her with those unfailingly gentle hands. Miranda stays silent, rewarded at last when Andrea’s eyes flutter open.


        “Hey,” she whispers, voice still thick with slumber.


        “Hey,” Miranda responds, trying to keep the note of desperation from her words.


        Andrea reaches for the glass of water by the bed (Miranda’s, and it would bother her greatly if anyone else tried that) and Miranda lies there on her side, watching the arch and movement of Andrea’s throat as she swallows, dying just a little as Andrea licks her lips before returning the glass.


        She’s definitely awake now, Miranda notes. Those dark eyes sweep over Miranda hungrily in the pale moonlight, and there’s no stopping the smile that crosses her face in response. Oh, this is what she wants, no matter how bad an idea it might be. Still, Miranda has a long history of taking apparently ludicrous ideas and turning them to her advantage, so for one more time at least, she’ll allow herself to indulge.


        There’s nothing gentle in the way Andrea kisses her, and it’s overwhelming right from the start. They don’t linger, since neither has been near a toothbrush for a few hours, but the insistent pressure of lips and tongue and that always-exciting flash of teeth has Miranda on edge almost right away. She’s clamoring to touch more of Andrea as they kiss, pulling her naked body against Miranda’s own as they writhe together in the sheets, skin so warm despite the cool air in the room.


        Perhaps it’s the lateness of the hour, but Miranda finds herself letting Andrea take the lead. Miranda arches into the eager mouth that captures each nipple in turn, reveling in the firm strokes of Andrea’s tongue and becoming breathless with each nip of her teeth. It’s going to be rougher tonight, it seems, and Miranda will examine each mark with happiness in the morning.


        When Andrea sits back, Miranda groans at the loss. She lets herself be pulled up, seeking out the base of Andrea’s throat with encouraging kisses when she’s near enough, quietly begging for more and more and more.


        “Get on your knees,” Andrea commands, her voice light but level. For a moment Miranda’s brain doesn’t quite process the shift, because this will be a whole new level of control to surrender. She likes to watch Andrea as they fuck, likes to see those eyes slip closed as orgasm approaches. It’s been some kind of unspoken arrangement so far that the only time Miranda isn’t facing Andrea is when her face is buried between the younger woman’s thighs.


        But for once, Miranda does exactly as she’s told.


        She has to—there’s no ignoring the throbbing in her clit at Andrea’s order—and the possibility of an even bolder lover excites her more than she thought possible. Being deliberately obtuse, Miranda draws herself up to kneel as though in church, facing Andrea.


        Andrea responds by taking Miranda’s chin between her finger and thumb, pinching just a little in warning.


        “You know fine well what I mean, Miranda. Get on your hands and knees. Face away from me.”


        Miranda takes her time about it, trying to ignore the fact that she’s already so wet that there’s moisture running down her inner thighs. She’s blushing furiously by the time she bends over in front of Andrea, glad that the younger woman can’t see her face.


        “I’ve been so gentle with you, Miranda. You like it when I’m gentle, don’t you?”


        Miranda murmurs non-committally, too intent on what Andrea might say next.


        “But I don’t think that’s all you like, is it?”


        Any reply Miranda might make, sarcastic or otherwise, dies in her throat as she feels the first crack of Andrea’s palm against her ass.


        “If this is too much, just tell me,” Andrea whispers. “We can stop any time you like.”


        And in that moment, Miranda realizes, she trusts Andrea completely. Just as importantly, she’s also incredibly turned on by the stinging pain that’s subsiding to a low buzz already. She needs more, now, and the ache inside her just confirms it.


        “Don’t stop,” Miranda pleads, and is rewarded with a fresh smack on the other cheek.


        “You want it rough?” Andrea confirms. “You want me to fuck you hard, maybe talk dirty to you while I do? Does that get you wet, Miranda?”


        The need to reply is overtaken by Andrea running one finger along the length of Miranda’s very, very wet pussy. Miranda hisses at the contact, pushing back to encourage more, but Andrea has withdrawn already. Miranda looks back over her shoulder to see Andrea suck that glistening finger into her mouth. She moans at the sight.


        Andrea uses her free hand to deliver another smack. Miranda is surprised at the excited noise that falls from her lips. She’s in danger of losing control altogether.


        “Nuh uh, Miranda. You don’t look unless I tell you to look.”


        Miranda dutifully turns her head around, rewarded moments later by Andrea leaning over her. Andrea runs her nails lightly down Miranda’s back, following the action with some firm, open-mouthed kisses that seem to find every sensitive inch on Miranda’s shoulder blades, the dip at the base of her spine and the curve of her shoulders. Andrea’s pace is already relentless as she follows up with another raking of her nails, more pressure this time, and it sets off silent fireworks in Miranda’s nerve-endings.


        She has to not want this so much, but there’s not a damn thing she can do to help it. Andrea won’t hurt her, Miranda knows. Not anymore than Miranda wants her to, not beyond what turns them both on. Miranda just isn’t sure she can let go this easily, until she feels Andrea pull back and then return with a determined swipe of her tongue through the copious wetness Miranda is producing.


        Somewhere in that moment, Miranda begins to lose her mind.


        By the time Andrea makes her come (hard, twice in quick succession), the younger woman has four fingers thrusting hard and fast into Miranda while her thumb rubs haphazardly over Miranda’s clit. The second orgasm leaves Miranda’s throat raw from her cries, and they collapse together when trembling arms and legs can no longer support them.


        Andrea soothes Miranda’s incoherent panting by stroking her with fingers that are still damp and sticky with sex, wriggling around until they face each other and Andrea can calm Miranda with a kiss.


        “Oh God,” Miranda sobs. “Oh God”.


        Her ass must be bright red from the spanking Andrea administered, and the pleasant but painful burn under the skin feels exquisite as the cotton sheets rub gently against it. If it’s possible to drown in endorphins, Miranda is quite happy to go under. She feels boneless and utterly content, something that’s eluded her for a long time.


        As they kiss, Miranda lets her hands wander. She’s shocked by the flood she finds between Andrea’s thighs, and the younger woman looks both sheepish and proud for a moment.


        “I got myself off, while I was um, doing you.”


        Which, Miranda concedes, is pretty damn hot. Even so, she begins kissing a trail across Andrea’s abdomen, letting her mouth journey to follow her fingers. One orgasm is not enough reward for what Andrea has just done to her, and Miranda always rewards excellence.


        Andrea mutters something about not being sure, about not knowing if she can come again so soon, but she spreads her legs as though on command. Wrapping her forearms firmly around Andrea’s thighs, Miranda indulges herself in what is fast becoming a new favorite hobby.


        Being as gentle as Andrea was rough, Miranda is slow and deliberate in her touch. She kisses all over and around Andrea’s pussy, feeling the twitch of muscles that say her body is definitely ready for more. Miranda keeps the touch of her tongue light and teasing, drawing invisible patterns over the very sensitive skin and delighting in the breathy moans it draws from Andrea.


        Stiffening her tongue, Miranda thrusts carefully inside, using every motion that she already knows drives Andrea wild. This time is no exception, and before long Andrea is babbling under her breath, a sure sign that her climax can’t be far away. Miranda relents then, and turns her focus to Andrea’s clit. The taste and smell and sight of Andrea is completely intoxicating to Miranda, and she feels pretty close to high as she strokes the very tip of her tongue over the hardened bud.


        When Andrea comes, it’s with a shriek. Miranda doesn’t stop quite there, continuing her soft caresses until Andrea finally whispers ‘enough, oh Jesus, enough’. Miranda smirks so hard that she’s quite sure Andrea can feel it, even if she can’t see it.


        Miranda’s feeling a little stiff, but she makes a slow return to something like a sleeping position, smiling when Andrea draws her into an embrace. The earlier sleepiness has returned, and in that respect it really isn’t that different from sleeping with men. Andrea looks one blink away from dreamland when she mutters something Miranda doesn’t catch.


        “What?” Miranda asks, tiredness tugging at her own eyelids.


        “Nothing,” Andrea replies. “I just…you know? That was amazing. I love—“


        Miranda freezes.


        No.


        No.


        No.


        Andrea must sense the tension, as her sleepy eyes snap open.


        “—this. I was going to say, ‘I love this’.”


        Miranda finds she can’t reply. Words will absolutely not do her bidding, although she can see the opportunity to smooth things over and stop everything being ruined in this moment.


        “Miranda? Don’t get weird on me, Miranda, please.”


        But the panic in Andrea’s face suggests that her sentence was, in fact, going to end in a different word. Miranda can’t allow that, she absolutely can’t. While she can control her own emotions, and rein in anything inappropriate, she will not stand by and watch some twenty-five year old mistake really good sex for love. She can’t be held responsible for that, and what’s more, she won’t.


        “I think you should go back to your room,” Miranda manages, eventually.


        “Are you kidding me?” Andrea is alert again now, sitting up in her panic and possible anger. Miranda has always been an expert in making people very angry, very quickly.


        Miranda says nothing, not willing to be drawn into any other discussion that can take the same calamitous turn. Instead, she rolls onto her other side, facing away from Andrea as the final word on the subject. She hears Andrea’s frustrated sigh, the quiet parting of her lips as another argument begins and dies before words emerge, and eventually the shuffling of sheets being pulled back. The mattress moves slightly as Andrea departs, but otherwise Miranda is undisturbed.


        Perhaps it would have been kinder to warn Andrea of what too many other people have discovered to their cost: loving Miranda Priestly is an incredibly bad idea. She can only hope that this serves as a lesson instead.

        Chapter Text

        Andy's kind of surprised at how angry she isn't. A few weeks, or even a few days ago and that kind of treatment would have sent her into a ranting tailspin with lengthy journal entries that exercised some of her less ladylike vocabulary.


        Now though, she's learning what to expect--and when it comes to Miranda Priestly it means expecting the unexpected. Other people might have been flattered or moved by an accidental non-declaration of love, but Miranda has to go the other way. Andy knows how irresponsible it is to discuss feelings now, hell, she barely knows what she is feeling beyond an almost unbearable level of want.


        So she isn't going to take it personally, even if she does flop onto her mattress a little more violently than she intended. And punching her pillow a few times is just a question of comfort. Let Miranda freak out and freeze her out; Andy can wait.


        Because she's focusing on something Miranda seems to have forgotten: this is worth waiting for.


        *


        The Big Chill lasts all of one day. The two women go about their business in awkward silence, Andy accepting a bunch of nonsense errands as an excuse to get out in the car, and gratefully seizes the valuable time to prepare for the twins' return in a couple of days. Andy is friendly, calm and professional, giving Miranda no cause to complain. Miranda, for her part, seems to be waiting for some unknown cue--it's kind of weird to see her looking even a little uncertain.


        So when the shopping is done and the packages are collected and delivered, Andy walks right back into the poolhouse office. It's late for lunch, but she hasn't eaten yet, and so she's brought provisions from the kitchen. Miranda gives the yogurt pot and fresh fruit a baleful glance, but otherwise says nothing.


        They don't socialize that evening, with Andy taking a much-needed opportunity to catch up on some writing. She answers emails with a cheer that she doesn't entirely feel, then types up some disorganized notes she's been compiling about the reality of summer in the Hamptons for those who are working it, carefully excised of even the vaguest reference to her own employment. By the time she hears Miranda making her way upstairs, Andy is settling into her own bed with a new paperback she picked up in town earlier. Yes, she holds her breath for a moment to see if Miranda will travel up the extra floor, and tells herself she isn't disappointed when it doesn't happen.


        There are still three weeks of summer left, and almost anything can happen.


        *


        Miranda snaps, as much as she ever can, around eleven the next morning. She's rooting around on the overloaded shelves in the back office, presumably trying to avoid asking Andy for help. Andy is sipping at a freshly-made latte when she hears the crash and series of thumps, and almost scalds herself in her haste to get back there.


        The sight that greets her is of an exasperated Miranda sitting on the plush green carpet, covered in the contents of previously very organized folders. Andy puts aside thoughts of inappropriate contact and really everything other than checking Miranda is okay. Miranda, grudgingly, allows it until she deems Andy's checks to be 'fussing' and hauls herself back to standing.


        She just doesn't seem to realize that it's Andy's outstretched hand that she's using for leverage. Nor does Miranda remember to let go of said hand once she's upright again, and somewhere in the midst of mess and a bit of bruised pride, they find themselves kissing like time hasn't elapsed at all. Andy would protest, maybe, if she weren't intent on kissing Miranda so thoroughly that the crazy woman never wants to stop again. Judging by how breathless they are when they next part, Andy's already well on her way.


        With no standing on ceremony, they fuck there against Miranda's probably-priceless antique desk, hands dealing quickly with the temporary obstacles of skirts and lingerie. Andy's weak in the knees, not to mention pretty dizzy, as she comes down from a pretty powerful orgasm, and Miranda doesn't seem to be any better off. But even though the tension has left the room, and even though Andy feels happy again, she makes a deliberate point of saying nothing at all. It's the first time they've had sex in silence, and Andy's pleased to know that it doesn't affect the quality.


        "Well," is all Miranda can come up with, as they sheepishly reach for the box of tissues on her desk at the same time. Andy grins, and the smile comes all the way from her toes, she means it so much. Miranda simply shakes her head, in a vain attempt to hide a smile of her own.


        Andy sees her opportunity then, and she strides out of the room and back to the house. She doesn’t decide on her final destination until she’s halfway up the main stairs, and her heart is hammering so loudly that she can’t hear if there are footsteps behind her. Veering off to the left, she marches towards Miranda’s bedroom and throws herself, wrinkled couture and all, down on the freshly made bed. She can’t bear to look back towards the door, and so she stares up at the ceiling while holding her breath. Andy manages a whole minute, then almost two, and her lungs are beginning to burn when she hears the gentle noise of the bedroom door opening.


        “I don’t know why we’re doing this,” Miranda murmurs against Andy’s ear, before nipping purposefully at her earlobe.


        “Does it matter?” Andy gasps, her words vibrating in her throat as Miranda’s mouth begins to venture lower, and lower.


        Miranda looks up at her then, with her hands bunched in the silk of Andy’s shirt, and it’s a lot like seeing each other for the first time.


        “I suppose not.”


        With that, Miranda seems to be satisfied enough to continue. And this time, they’re anything but silent.

        *


        Hunger draws them from the bedroom at last, though Miranda is the one to set off for the kitchen, promising to return with provisions. Andy looks out towards the setting sun, and supposes Millie will be gone for the day. Andy can’t help wondering if Miranda can even cook, but she supposes they can survive on fruit and other snacks if need be.


        Andy takes the chance to retrieve her laptop and fire off a few necessary emails; she doesn’t imagine that Miranda will be truly forgiving if duties are neglected for an afternoon spent in bed. She’s back amidst the messy sheets, replying to Emily’s snotty instructions about a luncheon when Miranda finally returns.


        The sight of Miranda, trying to balance a hugely oversized serving tray, is one of the most adorable things Andy’s ever seen. It’s laden down with plates, and among them Andy sees chocolate cake, a pile of strawberries and a pretty fancy bottle of red wine. Miranda makes her way cautiously to the bed, her face a frown of concentration as one stray lock of silvery hair falls into her eyes. She looks tired, in the very good way, and Andy feels a little proud for being at least part of the cause.


        Miranda looks approvingly at the laptop in front of Andy’s crossed legs, and Andy knows she’s scored some points there. She types a few more unnecessary words, squinting a little at the blue glare of the screen, enjoying Miranda’s little huff of impatience as she places the tray on top of the sheets in a pointed fashion. Apparently she likes the idea of Andy working more than the reality of it.


        “This is dinner?” Andy asks, as she closes the laptop with some finality and slides it onto the bedside table.


        Miranda rolls her eyes, motioning for Andy to scoot a little, and sits down next to her tray of offerings. Andy reaches for one of the generous slices of chocolate cake—with enough frosting to put her in some kind of diabetic coma—and takes an enthusiastic bite. Not to be outdone, Miranda runs her right index finger through the frosting of another slice and proceeds to lick it slowly and deliberately with a look of pure mischief on her face.


        “Oh,” Andy groans. “You really don’t play fair.”


        Miranda feigns innocence for a moment, and it’s not very convincing.


        “That affects you?” She sucks on her fingertip once more, toying with Andy.


        “You know it does,” Andy shoots back. “But I’m right here in your bed. You can suck on anything you want without the little floor show.”


        “Good to know,” Miranda says drily, taking a generous mouthful of the wine.


        “So, we should probably talk?” Andy can’t help her voice rising, making a question out of what should have been a statement.


        “If we must,” Miranda concedes.


        “The twins are back tomorrow afternoon. What does that mean for our, uh, new hobby?”


        Miranda’s eyebrows fly upwards at the use of the word ‘hobby’, but she bites back whichever insult has been selected from her mental arsenal.


        “I would prefer that the girls know nothing. Caroline is especially sensitive right now.” Miranda pauses, considering her next words. “Given the choice between this and the happiness of my girls…”


        “It wouldn’t even be a choice,” Andy finishes. “I know that, Miranda. But I think they like me, at least.”


        “The summer is almost over,” Miranda whispers, picking at the food on her plate.


        “But it’s not over yet,” Andy urges, grasping for Miranda’s hand even as she says it. “Let’s not fast-forward to the end, okay?”


        Miranda thinks for a moment, and then nods in agreement.

        *


        The persistent tapping on her shoulder irritates Andy, who is in the middle of a very pleasant dream about penguins and getting an award for something. She’s about to be very annoyed with Miranda when Andy opens one eye and discovers that Miranda is still fast asleep next to her, both hands pushed under the pillow to support it.


        Which means someone else is touching Andy’s naked back, and that is pretty fucking weird.


        She turns carefully, bringing the sheet with her to cover any remaining modesty, and squints in the dull morning light. To her horror, Andy’s synapses start firing just soon enough to identify Caroline Priestly standing next to the bed.


        Shit” she hisses, too shocked to moderate her language.


        “This isn’t what it—“ Andy begins, but she’s cut off by Miranda stirring next to her.


        “Darling?” Miranda murmurs sleepily, and wasn’t that a great moment to bust out a term of endearment for the first time, Andy wails inwardly.


        “Caroline,” is all Andy can say, but it has the desired effect of waking Miranda up properly. Maternal instinct would be quite a sight to see if Andy weren’t completely traumatized right now.


        “Bobbsey,” Miranda says gently, her facial muscles trying to twitch themselves into some kind of mask that suggests nothing unusual is happening at all.


        “Are you two fucking?” Caroline asks, and it sounds horrific coming from her eleven-year old mouth. It’s enough to provoke a gasp from her sister, too, who has just arrived at the bedroom door.


        “Mommy?” Cassidy asks, her eyes wide in confusion. “Andy?”


        “Caroline, watch your language. Good morning, Cassidy. You’re both back early.”


        Miranda sounds perfectly calm, Andy marvels. She might just as easily be conducting this conversation, fully clothed, over the breakfast table.


        “Well, are you?” Caroline asks, undeterred in a way that can only be genetic.


        “We can talk about this over breakfast, Bobbsies. Right now, Mommy needs to get ready. Go wash up for breakfast, please.”


        Caroline doesn’t seem to want to do anything of the sort, but Cassidy the eternal peacemaker takes her sister by the arm and leads her out into the silence of the hall. Andy collapses back against the pillows, her eyes slipping closed in mortification. She cannot, will not, look at Miranda right now.


        She doesn’t need to open her eyes to feel the drop in temperature, that’s for damn sure. Miranda isn’t making the slightest noise, but Andy knows that to touch her right now would be like touching a glacier.


        So she waits. It’s cowardly, but she waits. If Miranda is going to bring this crashing down on Andy’s head, Andy isn’t going to do anything to speed that up. She can’t stop replaying the disgusted expressions on the twins’ faces, those identical faces amplifying the embarrassment exponentially. And had Caroline really said ‘fucking’? What the hell business did an eleven-year old have even knowing that word, let alone using it in that context?


        “Get out,” Miranda says eventually, and it’s as casual as though she’s telling Andy to email Donnatella or fetch another coffee.


        “Miranda—“ Andy begins, but Miranda gathers a sheet around her and gets out of bed, ending any hope of conversation with her sudden fit of modesty. She storms into the bathroom, leaving Andy naked and not a little heartbroken on the bed. Knowing it won’t do to start ignoring orders now, Andy reaches for her clothes and pulls them on for the short trip upstairs.


        She’s relieved to encounter neither of the twins on the landing or stairs, and when she finally reaches her own bathroom she puts the shower on at a temperature just short of scalding. It makes it easier to cry, somehow. And cry she does, like a fool who tried to pretend she couldn’t see the premature ending a mile away. Anything else she might talk Miranda round, but the disapproval of her girls is just insurmountable.


        And honestly? Andy doesn’t want to go down to breakfast. If she’s going to be fired on top of everything else, Miranda can damn well come and find her. Dressing in her own, painfully unfashionable clothes, Andy doesn’t bother to dry or style her hair, opting instead for a messy ponytail. There’s no need for makeup either, since she’ll only cry mascara tracks into her foundation, and sure enough just the thought sets Andy off again.


        She doesn’t remember feeling this way about breaking up with Nate; that had been more of a relief in the end. Other minor heartbreaks had been treated quickly with ice cream or tequila (both, when she’d been cheated on in her last few months of her sophomore year) but Andy has only ever cried this hard once before. Losing Miranda shouldn’t feel like grieving, but apparently her head and heart disagree on that point.


        It takes an hour—spent staring out of the window at threatening rain clouds—before Miranda appears. She’s dressed in what Andy imagines might be some kind of battle gear for her – sharp lines and angular hems that suggest any idiot who gets near enough will be dashed to pieces.


        “We are waiting to start breakfast,” Miranda says, her laser-glare fixed on the side of Andy’s head, since Andy can’t bear to turn and fully face her.


        “I don’t think the girls want me to eat breakfast with them. And you clearly don’t want me anywhere near you, so why ask?”


        Miranda clears her throat, the first sign of nerves Andy has seen from her in weeks.


        “I think, if we were to go down together and explain—“


        “Lie, you mean?” Andy is in no mood to be manipulated. If this is the end, she wants it quick and honest.


        “I thought we could say you were sick. If we’re convincing enough… and you certainly don’t look great right now.”


        Trust Miranda to get an insult in while asking for a favor, Andy thinks. Her heart leaps a little at the prospect of being able to be with Miranda again, providing their misdirection works on the girls.


        “We were naked, Miranda. Caroline is too smart to be talked out of this, and I don’t think even Cassidy’s best diplomacy skills will change anything. We are busted, and those two aren’t going to let us off the hook because of a lousy fib.”


        “You know them so well,” Miranda says, sadly.


        “I care about them,” Andy shrugs. “I care that Caroline has nightmares about vampires, and that Cassidy hates peach—the color and the fruit. I care about you, too. Not that it’s going to make any difference.”


        “No, I don’t suppose it will.” Miranda straightens as she says it, and Andy imagines this is how Miranda conducts herself in the halls of Elias-Clarke; Miranda really is healed—back to being the stuff of legend.


        “I’ll pay you for the rest of the summer, of course. Roy will take you to the station when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be today,” Miranda adds the last few words as an afterthought, some muscle memory of good manners seeming to force it out of her.


        “You can shove your money. I don’t want it.”


        Andy’s truly, properly angry now. Miranda, who can’t seem to help it, is back to treating her like just another commodity. Andy is a problem who needs to be bought off, removed from the landscape like some unsightly lawn ornament that Miranda no longer wants.


        “I’ll be gone in an hour. And I’ll call a cab.”


        “There’s no need—“ Miranda starts to reply, but Andy won’t allow it. Miranda’s already had her chance.


        “There’s every need, Miranda. I leave on my own terms.”


        “I can give you a reference?” Miranda seems to be floundering a little, fishing for some kind of gesture to deflect Andy’s anger. For someone who’s frequently angered and frustrated by the world around it, Miranda certainly seems uncomfortable being the target of someone else’s ire.


        “Thanks. That makes everything all better.” If sarcasm were liquid, Andy’s words would just have drowned in it. Miranda frowns as one of her own preferred tactics is aimed at her.


        “I’ll leave you to pack,” Miranda says, although for a moment she seems conflicted, as though she’s about to cross the expanse of floor between them and grab Andy by the arms. To kiss her or shake her, Andy can’t be sure, but there’s no mistaking the conflict playing out in Miranda’s face.


        Whatever she’s wrestling with, Miranda gets a grip quickly enough. With one final look at Andy, she turns on her heel and walks out.


        “I would have fought for you!” Andy yells at her retreating back, but Miranda doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t like raised voices, or embarrassing displays, but Andy just can’t help it.


        She manages to grab the bedpost in time to stop herself from falling when her knees give out. With shaking hands she reaches for a discarded t-shirt in order to pack it. Somewhere in the simple move she lets the tears overwhelm her, turning the t-shirt into an improvised Kleenex.


        She should have known better, she chastises herself. She should have seen this coming, and prepared. She should definitely, absolutely not fallen in love with Miranda Priestly.


        Unfortunately for Andy, it’s way too late for that advice.

        Chapter Text

        Miranda is back on the second floor before her control finally slips, just for a split-second. With a fist she doesn’t remember making, she flails out in the direction of the nearest wall, the silky finish of the wallpaper lost in the painful crunch of fingers against a solid surface.


        And God, the pain is good.


        For a minute she’s back in the first days of her recovery, when her days consisted simply of pain or sleep. Hell in one sense, but damned if it doesn’t narrow the world down to one or two salient details. And if she’s thinking oh fuck, that hurts about her hand, then Miranda isn’t thinking about anything else that might be hurting in this moment.


        There’s a crash from downstairs that draws her back, though, a reminder that the twins and their judgment await. She’s already haunted by the confusion on their faces earlier, by the echoing horror of Caroline using a word like that in the proper context. Miranda’s no idiot, she knows that their teenage years are lurking just a summer or two in the future, but it’s jarring to be confronted with evidence of her daughters growing up like that.


        Flexing her fingers (nothing broken, though they’ll bruise for sure) Miranda sighs before forcing her feet to descend the rest of the stairs. She’s dressed for a board meeting instead of a family breakfast, but the scent of confrontation is thick in the air. For a fleeting moment she wishes that Andrea were by her side, her presence has become a comfort as well as a thrill. It’s been the temporary crutch of Andrea’s calm that has allowed Miranda to retain her equilibrium, not that she’d ever confess as much. She’s better now, even in the face of a mortifying moment, because Andrea has been part of her life.


        So why has she left Andrea upstairs crying into her luggage? Well, collateral damage is always to be expected; even wide-eyed idealists like Andrea must be able to assess the evidence and conclude the folly of getting involved with Miranda Priestly. Hasn’t Miranda made it clear? No confessions of love allowed, even in those passionate moments that neither of them seem able to control. No planning for a future that can’t happen. It’s just common sense.


        At Runway they rave about art and expression, but Miranda’s the leader of them all because she knows the value of pragmatism. How many cringe-inducing trends has she ushered into the annals of fashion history simply because she knew they would sell? How many colors has she pronounced ‘in’ in order to shift a mediocre showing from her protégés? People call her the ultimate aesthete, not appreciating the business decisions that underlie it. Of course, there’s that rare moment when what she loves coincides with what she can sell, and those are always the seasons that stand out: from a breathtaking catwalk show to selling out in boutiques on three continents. Those years give rise to ‘classics’ that are never purged from wardrobes in a spring clean; dresses or blouses that appear year after year with some new accessory breathing new life into them. It’s a rare piece that can survive that way, and Miranda knows better than to expect it in her personal life.


        Except for the girls, of course.


        Caroline and Cassidy cost her three permanent inches on her waistline, a scar in her bikini line and the ability to sleep through the night, and yet there’s not a thing on earth she’d trade them for. They’re the perfect example of beauty meeting an often difficult reality, and despite mornings like this Miranda knows she’s found a reservoir of love inside her that can’t ever run out. Even when her temper flares, or she counts the cost of canceling a work commitment just to attend one of their plays and recitals, she finds herself content in the knowledge that making the twins happy will always constitute a personal victory.


        She can’t tell, of course, that she considered the possibility of introducing Andrea as some kind of partner. Providing, of course, that the novelty of slightly-forbidden sex didn’t wear off after a few weeks (it would have, Miranda tells herself, not remotely convinced). Vague notions of a family without Stephen, with the calming presence of Andrea in their midst—loved and loving in return—a force for good that Miranda so often has difficulty identifying. The very idea is so tempting that Miranda feels a physical ache for it, but it can’t happen against the girls’ wishes.


        The reaction was plain though, and Miranda will forswear any amount of personal pleasure to never provoke that horror on Caroline’s face again. Andrea, patient and offering to fight, can’t compete with this absolute obligation. Being late because of a dinner is one thing; choosing sex and fun over her children’s happiness is not an option. It’s all the more heartbreaking that Andrea understands it so perfectly, that she should be so concerned for the girls too.


        By now Miranda is at the kitchen door, still lost in her thoughts as she watches the girls squabble over their breakfast cereal. Millie has retreated to the garden—Miranda can see her wandering in the neat rows of god-knows-what that the woman grows—while breakfast and a steaming mug of coffee wait on the table. Nervous in a way she hasn’t felt for years, Miranda eases her way into her seat, careful to greet the girls with steady eye contact and a warm smile. This doesn’t have to be entirely bad, after all they can talk about most things. Miranda won’t be like her own mother—emotionally distant and unable to discuss anything even close to human relationships—leaving the girls to find out about love and sex from contraband library books. It’s important that this event be normalized (with an emphasis on it never happening again) and Miranda will endure even the most awkward question with a composure she usually reserves for her bi-monthly budget inquisitions from Irv.


        “Is there anything we need to talk about, babies?”


        “We’re not babies, Mom,” Caroline snaps around a mouthful of toast.


        “No, your language earlier certainly suggests as much,” Miranda shoots back, because she can’t entirely suppress her natural instincts, even for her beloved daughters.


        “It’s fine, Mom,” says Cassidy, whose future surely lies at the United Nations. If it weren’t so damn dangerous, Miranda might consider shipping her daughter off to sort out the Middle East with her patient smiles and unwavering calm. “If Andy’s your girlfriend, I don’t mind.”


        Miranda opens her mouth to correct the assumption, but Caroline cuts her off, mercifully free of cereal this time.


        “I’m not fine with it. She’s ours. You ruin everything; you make everyone angry, or sad, and then they leave. I don’t want her anymore, if she’s just another stupid Stephen.”


        It’s like a punch in the gut, but Miranda powers through it with a distinctly watery smile.


        “Sometimes grown-ups make mistakes, Caroline. Of course, I didn’t want to take Andrea away from you. But nannies never stay long: look at Cara, and Sophie before her.”


        “You made them miserable,” Caroline accuses. “You make everyone miserable.”


        “That’s not fair, Caroline,” Miranda protests, but the noise from the stairs distracts them all. It’s Caroline who reacts first, dropping her spoon hard enough to splash milk everywhere as she bolts for the hallway. Cassidy, with a little more care, is hot on her heels.


        With a heavy heart, Miranda follows. Her heels sound outrageously loud on the wooden floor, and she stares at her feet as she walks, not looking up until the last possible moment (and immediately wishing she hadn’t).


        Because in front of her is a desperately upset Andrea, laden down by suitcase and backpack, her face a reddened and blotchy testament to the tears that have fallen. Cassidy has grabbed Andrea around the waist, and her crying enough to shatter the remaining fragments of Miranda’s heart. Caroline stands by the foot of the stairs, watching with a grim satisfaction; this is her revenge for all the other people who left—now she gets to drive Andrea out.


        “I love you guys, okay?” Andrea is saying as she strokes Cassidy’s hair with her one free hand. “I just have to go right now. You’ll be back at school soon, and you’ll forget all about me.”


        “I won’t forget you!” Cassidy shouts, and Andrea looks as stunned by the outburst as Miranda feels. “Mom, stop her!”


        And in that moment Miranda remembers Caroline promising cars and other bribes to keep the previous nannies, remembers Cassidy’s silent tears as Sophie packed up and went back to grad school, and the weekly tantrums when Rod left after his one day of custody. Miranda’s been disappointing Caroline and Cassidy their whole lives, just by picking people who have to leave them, over and over again. She’s failing, hard, and has no idea how to arrest the decline.


        “Andrea,” she says, and her voice sounds rusty as though it’s never been used before.


        “Don’t,” Andrea fires back, and they’re talking over the girls’ heads, almost as though they’re alone again. “You made it clear before. I’m going, and I’m going now.”


        With that, Andrea disentangles herself from Cassidy’s bear hug, and gives Caroline an awkward little wave; Caroline doesn’t react, while Cassidy sinks to her knees in the middle of the hall, her tears coming in choking little sobs now.


        It takes mere seconds for the door to open and shut, allowing Miranda just a glance of the waiting taxi, and with that Andrea is gone.


        “Let’s finish our breakfast,” she orders, though her heart isn’t in it. Her heart is somewhere on the other side of that door, Miranda knows, and it’s hurting enough to make her feel like screaming.


        “You can shove your stupid breakfast,” Cassidy growls from where she’s still slumped on the hardwood floor. It’s enough to shock both Miranda and Caroline into stopping dead in their tracks.


        “Why did you just let her leave?” she continues, glaring at Miranda in a way that’s usually reserved for Caroline’s face. For the first time in years, Miranda feels the confusion of others—seeing both girls in one face.


        “Darling, it was time for her to go. We’ll get you a lovely new nanny, you can choose this time.”


        Cassidy is tugging at the hem of her t-shirt in frustration, stretching the material out of shape in a way that Miranda would normally chastise her for. Caroline, by contrast is the picture of calm, and the smile on her face is one Miranda knows all too well.


        “Come on, Cass. She’s just some stupid bimbo working for mom; we won’t miss her,” Caroline mutters, and it’s a half-hearted attempt at comfort.


        She isn’t expecting Miranda to turn on her, though.


        “Don’t you dare speak about Andrea that way. Don’t you dare.”


        Miranda will feel guilty about the frightened surprise on Caroline’s face later, but for now she has to stamp out this brattish behavior once and for all. She will not raise monsters who dismiss people like Andrea as unimportant.


        “But Mom—“


        “No buts. I care about her—“ Miranda’s voice breaks on the admission, and Caroline’s eyes widen. “I care about her very much. And I gave her up to make you happy.” Cassidy stops sniveling to listen, while Caroline continues to stare at Miranda as though she’s speaking a foreign language. “Even if I didn’t care about her, she is still a very special person, and she deserves your respect.”


        “You care about her?” Cassidy asks, dusting off her pants and standing up once more. She looks determined, suddenly, and Miranda has the good sense to feel uneasy. “Do you love her?”


        “It doesn’t matter,” Caroline snaps. “She’s gone, and I’m glad she’s gone.”


        Cassidy looks as though she’s about to tell her sister to shut up, but she thinks better of it. Before Miranda can breathe a sigh of relief at not refereeing another argument, Cassidy takes the few steps required to be in a position to yank hard on her sister’s ponytail. Caroline’s yell is both loud and predictable.


        “I love you, sis, but you’re the one making everyone miserable. Don’t you want Mom to be happy? Or do you want to spend the next seven years sharing a dinner table with another Stephen?”


        “Let. Go.” Caroline is red in the face as she struggles not to respond.


        “Only if you promise to stop whining about everything.” Cassidy is resolute, and although Miranda abhors violence, she allows the hair-pulling to continue a little longer; the girls have always resolved things in their own way.


        “I had stuff to whine about!” Caroline exclaims, still defiant.


        “Like what? That Mom was hurt? You acted like she did it on purpose.”


        Caroline shoots a guilty look at Miranda, and in that moment she looks even younger. How scared was she as Miranda lay unconscious, or on all those days that passed in a haze of Percocet? Cassidy doesn’t let them dwell on it though.


        “And Cara hated us. No wonder she went to Europe with her boyfriend, after all the tricks we played on her. You have to stop being such a pain in the ass—sorry Mom—and maybe things will be better. Really better.”


        With that, Caroline stops struggling and Cassidy lets go of her hair. She doesn’t step back, though, ready to pounce again if need be. Miranda thinks maybe it’s time to scale back on Cassidy’s time watching the Discovery Channel.


        Seeing her chance, Miranda walks over to embrace both girls. She drops to her knees, grateful that they’re still small enough to require that. One day soon they’ll be leaning over her, she can tell, since they seem to be inheriting Rod’s lanky frame already.


        “Let’s not fight anymore, okay?” She’s pleading a little, but the girls nod against either side of her neck.


        “What about Andy?” Caroline is the one to ask, her voice muffled against the collar of Miranda’s jacket.


        “We have to get her back!” Cassidy pulls away in excitement, her love of adventure written plainly across her face. Miranda smiles sadly at the thought of the Disney-sanctioned ending that she won’t be able to provide.


        “Girls, listen—“


        But Caroline runs towards the end table, snatching the car keys that lie there.


        “If we go now, maybe we can catch her. Andy is always fifteen minutes early, so she’s probably waiting around at the train station like a total dork.”


        Miranda has a litany of excuses at the ready, but instead she finds herself reaching for the keys that Caroline is offering.


        “Are you sure?” She asks them both, scarcely able to believe the evolution of the past ten minutes.


        “Yes!” They chorus, before grabbing her sleeves and practically dragging her towards the front door.


        “Come on, Mom. We promise not to get grossed out if you kiss her.”


        Miranda rolls her eyes at the terrors she’s produced. But there’s a surge of adrenalin coursing through her veins, and with her daughters’ sudden blessing, she can’t think of anything she’d rather be doing than chasing down a second chance. She slips into the driver’s seat, wincing just a little at the redness of her knuckles when she grips the wheel.


        As the girls buckle up in the narrow backseat of the Porsche, Miranda glances nervously at the empty passenger seat beside her. Is she going to be able to convince Andrea to fill it?


        Well, she thinks to herself as she puts the car in first gear and revs the engine, there’s really only one way to find out.

        Chapter Text

        The cab driver is polite enough not to ask, and apart from a few concerned looks in his rearview mirror, Andy is left alone. She’s clutching her phone in her hand, willing it to ring. It’s still early, but usually at least Emily or Nigel has called or sent a text about the next imminent crisis by now. The phone stays silent, mocking her with its undisturbed screen.


        There’s a little traffic, with commuters making the same trip to the station as Andy. It won’t be long until she’s back in New York, knocking on Lily’s door and begging for a reunion with her lumpy couch. What comes after that, Andy has no idea because her thought processes all seem to fizzle out in the image of Miranda walking away.


        Unthinkingly, she smooths out her shirt where Cassidy’s hug has crumpled it, and Andy frowns at the fading dampness left by the girl’s tears.


        What a total fucking mess.


        And really, what was Andy expecting? For Miranda to say ‘no’ to her kids for what would have to be the first time in their entire lives? A woman who thinks nothing of hauling half of Manhattan out to the Hamptons just to entertain her children isn’t going to think twice about jettisoning her latest fling in the face of their disapproval.


        The thought of how she’s been discarded sets Andy off again, and when the tears subside a little the driver throws a small pack of Kleenex into the backseat for her.


        “Boy trouble?” He asks, breaking the uncomfortable silence.


        Andy blows her nose, loudly.


        “Not exactly,” she half-answers. Hell, maybe she’s dodging a bullet—Andy can’t imagine a coming out conversation with her dad, or anyone else for that matter. Her Google searches have confirmed that an awful lot of people take an interest in Miranda’s lovelife, to boot, and Andy isn’t sure she’d ever be ready to handle that.


        Her phone chirps into life, drawing Andy out of her misery for a moment. Her heart sinks again when it isn’t Miranda’s number appearing on the tiny screen.


        “Andy Sachs,” she answers, not even attempting to put a cheery inflection on it.


        “Woah, who died?”


        Great. Christian.


        “This isn’t a good time,” Andy says, understating it by about a mile.


        “Trust me, you’ll be glad I called,” Christian smarms down the phone at her, and Andy’s reminded of his cool, wet kisses. shakes it off with a shudder.


        “Why’s that?”


        “I am brilliant. No, really. Monuments should be erected in my honor.”


        Hmm, Andy thinks. It would seem that Miranda’s derailing of the Runway coup hasn’t dented Christian’s ego any.


        “What great things have you achieved?” Andy figures she may as well play along. “And before breakfast, no less?”


        “Well, it’s not six impossible things, but it is pretty good. I’ve been writing a series for The Atlantic.”


        “So I read,” Andy sighs, not really in the mood for ego-stroking.


        “And my editor happened to mention that they’re about to advertise for a new junior staffer. I saved him the time and expense.”


        “What?” Andy isn’t really paying attention, because in idly stroking her neck she’s found a tiny, tender mark left by Miranda’s mouth. It’s enough to have tears threatening again.


        “I recommended you. And I showed him the writing you sent me. Peter’s going to call about an interview this week, but trust me, it’s a formality.”


        “Wait, what?” Andy has snapped out of her sad little reverie now.


        “I mean, come on, you weren’t going to stay a Miranda-girl forever. Let me know when you’re coming into the city. We’ll have a drink and you can thank me properly.” There’s a muffled noise as Christian covers the mouthpiece. “Gotta go, my date’s getting out of the shower.”


        Andy hangs up in stunned silence. Did that really just happen? Way to soften the blow of a broken heart, she thinks. It won’t erase anything, of course, but it’s a hell of a moment for an amazing job to fall into her lap. Is that some kind of record short time for being unemployed? Providing, of course, that this ‘interview’ is the formality Christian suggested.


        If Andy was a little off-balance before, she’s positively dizzy now. The driver gives her a smile as they take the turning for the station parking lot.


        “Some good news, huh? It’ll be nice to see a smile back on that pretty face,” he says, and it’s not actually as creepy as it might be. Andy offers a weak smile in response, although what she really feels like doing is banging her head off the window until she passes out.


        She checks the meter and hands over enough bills to include a decent tip, and before she knows what’s happening Andy is standing on the tarmac with her belongings, ready to escape Miranda once and for all.


        The station is far more crowded than on the other occasions she’s used it – men and women are spread out along the platform in summery business wear – linen suits and tailored dresses the order of the day. Only the briefcases and laptop bags spoil the scene, reminding them all of the drudgery that lies ahead.


        Not in any rush to begin her journey, Andy walks to the end of the platform; let the commuters fight over who gets on at the front. Using her sturdy suitcase as an improvised seat, she sits down and pulls a novel from her backpack. Not that she remembers what she’s actually reading, or has any capacity to read words and retain information at the moment, but the gesture is sort of calming. Instead of diving into the adventures of another frustrated Victorian spinster, Andy lets her mind run the reel of the last few hours in all their excruciating glory.


        She’d been so happy falling asleep last night, with the taste of chocolate on her tongue and Miranda’s naked body pressed against her back. How can something so recent feel like a million years ago? Instead, all Andy can feel is the sickness in the pit of her stomach on discovering Caroline in the bedroom. The kid might as well have walked in with a big sign saying ‘The End’.


        Andy is pretty mad at herself too, for being a big enough idiot to hold out hope that Miranda would value her in some way. It isn’t like she expects to come before Miranda’s own flesh and blood, but it would have been nice for Miranda to seem like she’d actually struggled with the decision, or felt even the first pang of remorse.


        Andy’s halfway to getting a serious grump on when she hears the commotion behind her. Without warning, two running Priestlys descend on her at once, chattering at approximately a hundred miles an hour. Stunned, Andy accepts their hugs and when they finally release her she stands up.


        That’s when she sees Miranda, holding back as ever. She’s leaning against the pillar that holds up the station’s little roof, looking thoroughly bored by her surroundings as usual. The distinctive silver bob and oversized sunglasses have caught the attention of a few people on the platform, but Miranda ignores the inquisitive stares and craning necks, looking for all the world as though only the four of them occupy this space. Andy can’t see her eyes clearly through Tom Ford’s tinted brown glass, but she can feel the gaze raking across her from head to toe nonetheless.


        Andy should stand up and tell her to go to hell. Andy should sit back down and pretend that there’s no one there at all. Andy should do a lot of things, but not listening to ‘should’ has resulted in everything amazing about this summer. She pats the twins on their respective heads and gathers her courage. It takes four steps to be in front of Miranda, but each one feels like jumping the Grand Canyon. Andy makes it, and she won’t be surprised if she’s sweating from a combination of the effort and fear.


        “I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” she begins, which might be a fresh contender for understatement of the year.


        “The girls felt very strongly that I should be.”


        That response puts Andy on guard: is Miranda really only here to reinstate her as a nanny? Will she even ask, or just expect Andy to fall into line at the first click of her fingers? Because if that’s the case, she has another thing coming.


        “So you being here has nothing to do with you?” Andy asks, determined that she won’t make this easy for Miranda. It doesn’t matter what Andy feels for her, because Andy still has what’s left of her pride.


        Miranda sighs, clearly exasperated. One day they’ll perfect mind-reading technology and Miranda can stop talking to underlings once and for all. Probably won’t stop rolling her eyes when everyone still gets it wrong, though.


        “It occurs to be that letting you go might have been… hasty.”


        And there it is again. Andy’s been playing ball so far, keeping her voice low and doing nothing to draw any further attention to them, but that is so far beyond the last straw that Andy can’t even think of a metaphor to describe it. She steps into Miranda’s personal space, using jabs from her index finger to punctuate every word.


        “You are not letting me do anything. I don’t need your permission to walk out on you and your spoiled kids.”


        Miranda stares down at Andy’s hand, seemingly unable to believe that she’s been touched without permission, even if it’s just some light poking of her collarbone.


        “My girls are not spoiled,” Miranda shoots back, her mouth forming that tight little line that spells trouble for anyone in a ten-mile radius. “They are compensated for the difficulties that my career and choices have caused them. I didn’t come here for parenting advice.”


        The last words are almost lost in a sneer, and Andy can imagine the accompanying insults that Miranda has bitten back for now. Even when she’s being defensive and spiteful and not at all the kind of person Andy wants to be, why the hell does Andy find her so damn attractive? She doesn’t know whether to slap Miranda or kiss her, and there’s no way of knowing which one Miranda would prefer, either.


        “What did you come here for then? And I don’t want to hear about the girls. Why are you here? Have you even been on a train in the past twenty years?”


        Miranda drops her head for a moment, and on anyone else it might look like a gesture of defeat. Two seconds later, her head is up again, and she’s looking around them in that haughty way of hers. It’s only then that Andy detects the hint of panic in Miranda’s face: the way she glares at staring bystanders until they look away, and the worried glance towards her daughters who are both trying to sit on Andy’s case while pushing each other off at the same time. This is so far out of Miranda Priestly’s comfort zone that it doesn’t even have a zip code.


        And yet here she is, not-quite arguing with Andy again.


        Andy is about to ask another question when Miranda comes to a decision and leans in towards Andy, causing a deadly cocktail of delicate perfume and head-spinning lust. They might be kissing, if only one of them would cross that last tiny bit of space between their mouths. Andy’s thinking about it pretty hard when Miranda speaks again, even quieter than her usual.


        “I came here for you.”


        “I’m not a package; you can’t just pick me up.”


        It seems the wiseass replies are just going to keep coming, whether Andy means them to or not. Miranda cocks one eyebrow in disagreement—she seems to think that she can, in fact, pick Andy up if she wants to.


        “I don’t want you to go,” Miranda confesses, and Andy thinks it might have been easier to get her to admit to first-degree murder. Doesn’t matter though, because she said it, and that’s enough to blow the rest of Andy’s mind.


        “But the girls,” Andy reminds her, not daring to look around at the noise they’re causing behind her.


        “They saw the light, over breakfast. We have their blessing.”


        Oh.


        Andy shakes her head a little, as though that will somehow make Miranda’s words make sense. All that drama and the girls got over it in the space of about ten minutes? That’s… yeah, actually that’s probably pretty standard for the Priestly household, at least in Andy’s limited experience.


        God knows Andy should still have a list of objections—not least the way she’s been treated this morning, or the fact that she and Miranda still haven’t managed one adult conversation about what the hell is going on between them. And yet, Andy’s finding it hard to care. Almost as hard as she’s finding it to suppress the face-aching grin that’s currently tugging at the corners of her mouth.


        “So if I kissed you right now, they wouldn’t freak out?”


        Miranda flinches for just a moment, and Andy reminds herself that they’re in a public place, where she has absolutely no business kissing a married mother-of-two. She’s pleasantly surprised when Miranda answers the question with a kiss of her own.


        It’s quick, urgent even, and not a little desperate, but the brief meeting of their lips is enough to set off fireworks behind Andy’s eyes.


        Andy doesn’t look around to see if anyone has noticed, although there’s no ignoring the hushed giggling of the twins behind her. Allowing herself a second to stroke Miranda’s cheek, and nod in silent acceptance, Andy then turns to address the tiny terrors behind her.


        “Hey guys,” she says breezily, and it’s a relief to see smiles on their faces. They’re dressed almost identically, something Andy’s never seen them do before. Maybe because they’re still in clothes they wore at their dad’s place. But for Caroline’s hair being pulled up in a ponytail, it would be a lot harder to tell them apart.


        “Listen, I can’t be your nanny anymore.” As Andy expected, their faces fall. Caroline looks positively mutinous, and so Andy hurries on with the next part. “But we can still hang out. A lot, I hope. I’m going to be seeing your Mom—“ Andy looks over her shoulder for confirmation, and sees Miranda nod.


        “And although I think your Mom is pretty great, we’ll still do stuff just the three of us, if you want.”


        Miranda steps forward then, placing a possessive hand on Andy’s shoulder.


        “Or all four of us,” she warns.


        “But Andy,” Cassidy pipes up, “won’t you be poor if you don’t work for Mom anymore?”


        Clearly, Cassidy has no idea what Miranda actually pays her staff. But Andy has to concede that the question has merit.


        “I have an interview for a new job. Fingers crossed I’ll be working somewhere else very soon.”


        “Working for another family?” Caroline accuses, her arms crossed over her chest just like the first time Andy met her. Andy’s seeing a future of arguing in court for this one.


        “No. Working as a writer,” Andy replies. With a nod to Miranda’s inquisitorial look, she hastily adds, “I’ll tell you all about it later.”


        “Good,” Miranda says firmly. “Now, can we get out of this godforsaken station?”


        Andy takes a deep breath and turns to face Miranda once more. There’s a crackling from the tracks that signal an oncoming train.


        “Um, no. Well, I can’t.”


        “What?” All three Priestly women say, in perfect unison.


        “Well, I’m going to crash with my friend. I have to set up this interview, and then look for a place of my own in Manhattan. There’s a whole new life to get set up,” Andy explains, talking primarily to Miranda. The silver front of the train appears in the distance, and Andy knows she has to get on it, no matter how much she doesn’t want to right now.


        “You’ll be coming back to the city soon, right?” Andy knows that Emily has already put the plans in motion, at Miranda’s request.


        “Yes,” Miranda confirms, though she still looks a little shocked. “Not for at least a week—“


        “Well, I’m going to be really busy for at least a week, so that works out great. Call me when you come back and we can meet up.”


        Andy doesn’t want to be this level-headed adult about this, but her train is pulling into the platform and if she doesn’t stand up to Miranda now, it’s possible she never will.


        “But—“ Miranda protests, as the train comes roaring in.


        “Trust me,” Andy pleads. “It’s only a week or so. Then we can start over on a more equal footing, and that has to be good, right?”


        She honestly doesn’t know what she’ll do if Miranda pitches a fit about this. Holding her breath and crossing her fingers, Andy watches as Miranda purses her lips and stares at Andy in silent contemplation.


        “Fine,” she concedes, just as the train comes to a complete stop.


        Andy reaches for her bags, ready to jump on through the now open door. Knowing time is short, she presses a quick kiss to the cheeks of each twin, before swooping in for one last taste of Miranda’s delicious lips.


        “This is a good idea, Miranda,” Andy half-yells as she pulls her bags onto the train. Somewhere, a bell rings and she knows that they’re about to close the doors and move. She considers one last time if this is what she really wants, but without the bruises of being left by Miranda, Andy knows she’s whole enough to pursue this chance. She has to, if she’s ever going to get anywhere with the career she wants.


        Doors slam left, right and center, leaving Andy with no choice but to close her own. She presses her forehead against the glass of its small window, never taking her eyes off Miranda, even as the train begins to move.


        Somewhere, in the moment before the train picks up speed, Miranda shakes her head and breaks out into a luminous smile that stops Andy’s breath in her throat. Miranda raises her arm in an elegant wave that would put the Queen of England to shame, and the girls join her more enthusiastically—flailing their arms around like hyperactive chimps. Andy waves her fingers in response, but all too quickly she’s whisked out of view.


        Dumping her things in the luggage rack, Andy pushes her way into the carriage and grabs one of the few empty seats. This time when she picks up her book the words begin to dance for a far happier reason. Giving up on reading, she slumps back in her chair and closes her eyes. The smile is unstoppable, and Andy knows she probably looks a little crazy, but damned if she can help it.


        The train is hurtling along now, back towards Penn Station and the future Andy came to New York to find. That she’s leaving behind (temporarily) the most fascinating person she’s ever met, not to mention two bright and generally adorable girls, is more than Andy could ever have hoped for.


        She’s lucky, she supposes, and no amount of staring is going to take that from her. Clutching her cellphone to her chest, Andy feels like she might finally be waking up. The beep of a message can’t do anything to her mood, and so she checks it right away.


        One week. Not a second longer.


        Andy would know that snotty tone even without the number programmed into her contacts, and she realizes with a giggle that she finds it completely endearing. Which probably removes any lingering doubts about exactly how in love with Miranda she is, and if the answer is ‘totally’ then Andy’s feeling pretty good about that. She makes a note of the time, pulling out her day-planner and flipping the pages forward by exactly one week.


        There, she scribbles 9.18am into the margin and then writes in big, bold letters: Miranda.


        And that, Andy thinks, is the best plan she’s ever had.

         

         

         

        FIN