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The Greatest Task

Chapter Text

 

"How happy is the little stone

That rambles in the road alone,

And doesn't care about careers,

And exigencies never fears;

Whose coat of elemental brown

A passing universe put on;

And independent as the sun,

Associates or glows alone,

Fulfilling absolute decree

In casual simplicity." 

― Emily Dickinson

 

Serena Melo is frustratingly good at most things she tries. 

 

Emily Charlton survives years as Miranda Priestly #1 Assistant by knowing the competition well. Before they accidentally become friends, she knew all about the woman from Brizel with the looks but zero desire to grace any covers. Emily knew that her friend now lover could play instruments and speak languages with equal ease. Her career in the design department is as certain as anything can be in this economy. Her most enviable skill is being able to tap-dance through all the intrigue and backstabbing amongst their colleagues. Serena is thankfully more ruthless than Andy Bloody Sachs, but she doesn't feel the need to destroy people for the sake of it. 

 

Serena is also heartbreakingly good and navigating the world of cancer and health disasters. Emily feels like she is mainly trailing along in the other woman's wake, which isn't an unfamiliar feeling after years at Runaway. Still, Emily doesn't want to be a spectator in this new part of Serena's life; her lover wants to feel useful and build a schedule or supply list. The skills that she relies on to get through life are not providing an effective backdrop. 

 

"It's going to be more waiting and worrying than intense action, Emily. You can't burn yourself out like a Hummingbird looking for nectar. Nothing will happen any faster. Sit by me for a while?" Serena invites patting the chair invitingly. 

 

"Is that other one of your cutesy Brazilian sayings, that seem to flood out now that your family is here? Emily asks sourly while trying not to wince at the cheap hospital upholstery. 

 

"No Darling, but it is the animal I couldn't help seeing when we first met, all that blue or green eyeshadow together with impossible speed." Serena offers an affectionate smile before resting her head on Emily's shoulder. 

 

"Well, my plumage isn't so bright now that you have taken over doing my makeup and cling to understatement like it is a second religion or something. You'll have to come up with another metaphor for me now that we living under these awful fluorescent lights." Emily snips with a theatrical shudder. 

 

"Endearments for you aren't in short supply, now stay with me for me awhile." Serena instructs affectionately. 

 

Emily does her best to control the nervous tension that is humming through her body. If either of them were back at work, there would be a place for all this unspent energy to go, interns to get cross with, models to redress or designs to argue over. In this room, the power lies elsewhere, and the long wait for instructions seems to stretch out painfully. For the first time in ten years, Emily starts to pick away at the expensive nail polish on her left hand. The destruction in miniature feels oddly satisfying at the moment. The polish shavings end up in a little pile on her shirt, which is oddly hypnotic. 

 

"Serena, sorry to keep you waiting, Dr Collins and her nurse will see you know." the receptionist calls out from her desk, the definition of professional concern. 

 

"Remember love; this is only the first round of results and a discussion of treatment options. Please, don't Google madly when we get home, it won't do your busy mind any good." Serena pleads as they get up. 

***

 

Emily doesn't have many people to confide in about her pain. 

 

Her family is all back in London and other parts of England, this isn't the kind of news to share over the phone. Her friends are all in the fashion world and neck-deep in preparing the September Issue or other magazine equivalents. Besides this situation feels too private to have in the gossip mills. Life at Runway hasn't changed so much that she has much of a social life outside the occasional double date with Serena's friends from the design department. Emily feels the loneliness acutely, especially because Serena wants to tell the Runway team on her terms. 

 

Emily isn't entirely sure why she ends up on the steps of Miranda Priestley's townhouse. There is no way that her former boss would be a logical choice for emotional comfort, nor does she want to beg for time off or change in the schedule. Somehow getting the perspective of Andy Saches seemed like a logical idea. Maybe the sleep deprivation and long stays in the hospitals affect her brain since she can no longer blame crash diets. 

 

"Hey Em, what are you doing here? Did we have a lunch date? that got lost in the haze of my deadline hell?" Andy asks her voice light and happy. 

 

Emily has a perfect response and explanation, ready to go, complete with an offer of strong coffee. Somehow seeing the other woman makes the words dissolve and Emily cannot stop the mortifying flood of tears, that leave unattractive makeup streaks. Trying to speak is fruitless, and Emily lets herself sob. Naturally, her one-time nemesis is born for situations like this; she sweeps Emily into her arms and starts whispering comfortingly. 

 

"Serena is sick, possibly seriously and I don't know how to help." Emily whispers between sniffles. 

 

"Come along Emily, very few experiences improve while standing on the doorstep facing dehydration and public hysterics. It took me weeks to convince Andrea to wear the laboriously ethically sourced, Burberry Jacket. Let's not cover it in tears." Miranda calls imperiously from the grand doorway. 

 

"Yes Miranda." Emily finds strange comfort in following the direct orders again. 

 

Emily wants to pick up the pieces of her dignity, but her legs suddenly feel weak. Andrea doesn't say a word as she takes more of Emily's weight and guides them into the epic foyer. Thankfully the demon twins are touring college with their father. Emily hears through lunchroom chatter that the girls are bearable now, almost civil to the assistants. Still, it wouldn't be enjoyable to test the truth of the matter when Emily is feeling so vulnerable and on each. A trait that she and Serena share is a desire to make a good impression. 

***

 

"Well, this is an ideal time to test those 'Employee Benefits' that Human Resources were so adamant about putting into place."

 

"Do you have categories things in such ways, Darling?" Andrea asks with a wince. 

 

Emily watches the domestic interplay with vague amusement. Andrea Saches knew precisely who she was getting into a relationship with, news like this isn't going to change her former's bosses approach to employee relations radically. Besides Emily deeply appreciates *not* seeing an overtly softer side one of the titans of fashion. Such an event would be too creepy and not at all helpful in the current circumstances. Miranda is the type of person you come to for a sense of control and action. 

 

"I don't want any special treatment, Miranda. We will get the September designs to print on schedule. Today is simply a momentary weakness; things will be better in the morning." Emily does her best to straighten her posture impressively. 

 

"Don't be insulting Emily; I am working to preserve one of my best employees and working relationships. Minor adjustments now better than major issues closer to the deadlines. These situations are precisely what contingency planning is for, now drink your coffee and let me think." Miranda dismisses with a wave of her hand. 

 

Emily lets out a shaky breath, still remembering the numerous firings she witnessed over the years. Miranda is still under the influence of her younger lover, but it doesn't mean that she is meek and gentle in most things. The publishing industry was always a brutal game, but the decline in revenue, online competition and tightening budgets are an ever-present threat. Miranda guards her territory fiercely and thus does value the people in her higher ranks. 

 

"That's Miranda speak for she likes you and values your tireless dedication to the publishing empire that you both worship. It's best to go along with what she wants." Andrea translates and advises with a cheerful glance between the two. 

 

"That's quite enough, Andrea. Let's hear your list of recommendations for the best support services and private clinics. You and Juliana must be enjoying the reunion of my 'altruistic former assistants' club." Miranda raises a perfectly done eyebrow. 

 

Emily feels a sense of pride that she is amongst that group now, but it is no longer the centre of her universe anymore, Miranda seems to respect this sense of independence far more. Perhaps that was the key to Miranda's love story, that Andrea refuses to bow down. Emily doesn't want to contemplate the intricacies of that particular relationship. At the moment, she is happy to be sharing the pressing weight of responsibility. 

***

 

Emily is the centre of a hive of activity she doesn't have control over. 

 

Miranda Priestly earns much of her Dragon Lady reputation, and there are limits to how 'soft' this relationship makes her. However, above all, she is efficient and gets things done, no matter what the odds. That includes reworking the deadlines of the most important Runway issue so that Emily can have time off. Andy Bloody Saches in the corner, possibly getting high off the chance to be selfless and compassionate. 

 

"Right, Julianna and I are working on compiling a list of the South American fusion places that deliver, as well as support groups in different languages. None of this may be relevant now, but it’s worth having things in the background. Serena is right about this being a long and slow process." Andy looks up from her computer, giving Emily an engaging smile. 

 

"I have authorised extended sick leave for Serena on reduced wages and flexitime, she can start working from home, when that becomes a viable option. Serena is efficient by nature and may want the option for distraction" Miranda sounds satisfied when re-enters the room. 

 

"Or she could need a brutal treatment cause that saps her of all energy and focus. The blogs on Google are pretty explicit on that fact, especially if there is a family history of unusual presentations. That's half the problem, not knowing." Emily shrugs stiffly and angry. 

 

"Em, as a fellow insomniac, please ring me at whatever the hour. There are few places lonelier than the dark corridors of the internet. Serena is in the hands of the experts who have decades of experience between them." Andy squeezes her shoulders comfortingly.  

 

"On the proviso, you don't start talking about truth, justice and the American foreign policy in either Sudan or something. There is only so much idealism I can take before several cups of strong, fair-trade coffee." Emily turns to the other woman and mock glares. 

 

"I solemnly promise that we will only compare notes on the latest fashion memes or your favourite column in the New York Times. You have deep feelings about the state of transatlantic trade, yes?" Andrea asks, trying to distract deliberately. 

 

Emily nods agreeably and offering a quick genuine smile. Serena isn't the first to point out that she has a sincere friend in her former rival. Andrea *Bloody* Saches is somebody who will go to extreme and sentimental length to help and support somebody she cares for, even if Emily wasn't also appreciative of the connection. Miranda hasn't entirely succeeded in hardening the edges of her journalist lover. Sometimes Andy is still vulnerable to the ruthless ambition of New York and her chosen industry. Miranda isn't trying that hard; they compliment each other quite well. 

***

 

"It's time to exit your state of British stoicism and denial, Emily. Put Serena on all your official employee paperwork, then I can action things acorrdingly."

 

Emily curses her alabaster skin when she feels the familiar stirrings of a blush. It would be better if Serena weren't so passionate about the minimalist makeup, the tone leaves nothing to the imagination. It's true; she needs to acknowledge her new relationship with her best friend in a formal way. It makes both working together and going through stressful events much easier. 

 

Still, Emily does not have a good track record with relationships. The idea of losing her best friend if this new arrangement goes wrong. Emily avoids thinking about such things too deeply until now. The landmark moment was going home and introducing Serena to her parents properly and getting cheerful integration. Now that moment is off the table; it will have to be this impersonal touch. 

 

"What do I need to do? And I can sign any paperwork on Monday; there is no need for you to undertake such a mundane task. Conducting a cancer-fighting war council in your living room on the weekend is more than enough. HR adores Serena because she is punctual wife everything and bring them snacks." Emily still can't quite believe she is talking so casually to this woman. 

 

"Nevertheless, I am not so high in rarefied air or airs that I cannot do basic administrative tasks; I prefer to utilise different means. The new documents will be there for you to sign first thing Monday. Once again, this situation could be useful in reaffirming Runways commitment to diversity and inclusion." Miranda says imperiously before walking to her laptop. 

 

"Miranda, you are not using my friends as test subjects for your relationship with the new board and the European offshoots, Miranda." Andy interjects her voice ominously low and steely. 

 

"Of course not, Andrea, don't be so mundane. Such a benefit will occur naturally. There is no need to trouble your sense of ethics." Miranda agrees absently reaching over to pat her shoulder. 

 

Emily blinks in frank surprise. So many people underestimate the dynamic between Miranda Priestley and Andy Saches. They assume that it represents the typic middle-age crisis, the older executive doting on the much younger companion. A scene that plays out in the halls of power every day. Few see the passion and respect that the reporter wields and that this relationship represents more equality than all of Miranda's marriages put together. Emily can see that Andy is going to stick to this particular point steadfastly. 

 

"I'll talk to Serena about when she wants to tell everyone at Runway. Her team will be the first in line. Nigel will be on top of making the best kale smoothies and appropriate headscarves. She doesn't want to make a big deal out of being so young and having cancer or be the tragic model type. She wants to control the narrative." Emily dutifully reports everything. 

 

"Then control the narrative she shall, a paragraph in the next staff newsletter is hers if she wants it. Equally, we will reinforce confidentiality. in everyone's contracts. Nobody will dare breath a word beyond the office." Miranda insists with absolute authority. 

 

 

***

"I want you to promise me something?" 

 

Emily Charlton is barely awake, but she hears Serena's request in the darkness of her bedroom. It's been a long and emotionally draining day, but there is no way she will ignore such a request. Serena is so stoic and largely silent about the impact all these tests and appointments have on her emotionally and psychological health. All the books in the world cannot prepare you for the frontline reality. 

 

"If you start talking about last requests or anything like that, I will hide all the Brazil snacks that your brother brought over, borderline illegally." Emily threatens half-seriously 

 

"You wouldn't dare, besides I have more than one supply line. I'm serious, English. We aren't in a hallmark movie; there is no reason for a tear-jerking soundtrack yet, even if you would look lovely in the lead role." Serena muses before kissing Emily's forehead. 

 

"What do you want then? If I can't get it, I'm sure my mother will figure out a way to fly it here, by courier pigeon if necessary. Her maternal instincts are all aflutter again, even though her youngest child is 33." Emily jokes snuggling closer. 

 

"Your mother is wonderful. I think our parents will get along well." Serena smiles at the memory of the first meetings. 

 

Serena insists that Emily inform her family about what's going on, despite her girlfriend's natural stoicism and need for privacy. Emily tells her Mum reluctantly, but surprisingly the late-night chats do have a calming influence. Despite her name change and the glamour of New York, Emily comes from practical working-class stock. Oddly, the news is something that brings mother and daughter back together after intermittent chats.

 

"How my body reacts to the treatment is hit and miss, we can't know yet. I may gain or lose weight drastically; my hair may fall out or not. The numbers will determine the strength of the treatment or side efforts. Our family has both mild and severe responses." Serena waves her hand as if finding the right words in English. 

 

"What do you need, Dearest?" Emily as gently trying to ease the conversation. 

 

"Whatever happens, will you help me look halfway decent? I don't want to be the post child for fashion industry tragic moments or inspire a stupid hashtag..I just.." Serena trails of shrugging helplessly 

 

"Righto, I'll start looking for custom gowns and slippers. tomorrow morning. Andy insists on doing journalism level research" Emily resolves before pulling Serena closer into a firm hug. 

 

Serena mummers sleepily in agreement as she nuzzles impossibly closer. Emily resists the instinctive urge to freeze, even after all these months. Her girlfriend comes from a tactile family and culture. Her easy physical affection with Emily is an extension of such beginnings. Emily has been in the grind of New York for so long; she is still adjusting to the idea of hugs and snuggles in bed. Her roots did not encourage such casual displays, but that doesn't make things unpleasant, only different. These moments make her happy, no Paris, Miranda’s approval or the latest expert diet. Serena is her safe place.