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The Greatest Task

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For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

"Are you sure there isn't anyone you'd like me to call?" 

 

Dr Jessica Collins frowned at her newly acquired patient as the tall willowy woman shook her head decisively. The oncologist knows better than say that this is an unusual reaction to getting such a diagnosis. The truth is, there is no standard formula for receiving information on this scale. In all the years of her practice, people have done everything from a laugh to faint. 

 

"There is nobody." the words are clipped, and the accent becomes thicker with every word. 

 

"You shouldn't be alone right now" the words were clichéd, but Jessica had seen the consequences of isolation too often to stumble at the first hurdle or the stubborn set of model-worthy features. 

 

"At least let me call me call somebody from Cancer Support to sit with you for a while" the doctor bargained as she carefully complied a neat stack of information pamphlets and prescriptions. 

 

"My parents and brother are catching the first flight to America I won't be alone for long" Serena promised, taking the pile with trembling fingers and a wane smile. 

 

"They are coming from Brazil, yes?" Jessica knows this, but she wants to keep the woman talking. 

 

"Yes, my Mamãe hasn't slept ever since I told her my symptoms. Do you think mothers have a sixth sense for such things? She wants to simultaneously bring me home for 'real food' and utilise every American health care system feature." Serena is clenching her hands in painfully tight fits. 

 

"Even as a woman of science, I know never to doubt the powers of a parent's love. If they are coming straight from Saint Paulo, they will still be here for 11 hours or so; please let me call someone." Jessica asks a note of pleading in her voice again. 

 

"Call Emily for me, Emily Charlton." 

 

Serena knows that Emily will be angry, maybe even furious that she didn't confide her suspicious first. The September Issue will likely lose it's an all-consuming place in Emily's life. In a way, if Emily did that it would be the ultimate sign that this vague suspicion and fear is real. The moment her girlfriend knows and reacts accordingly, Serena can no longer pretend to be a care-free young woman on the career ladder. The transition between fashion industry workers to foreigners in the United States hospital system is a steep one. 

***

 

Emily Charlton is having something approaching a good day. 

 

The mechanisms of Runway after moving smoothly towards the September Issue and the staff is something close to competent. Somehow having a relationship has done the opposite of what she fears, instead of being less productive and ambitious, the creative director is getting more done. The office is a much more pleasant place now that isn't dedicating 23 hours a day to its success. 

 

Miranda took plenty of slack for 'reforming Runway culture', but the turnover rate is almost halved, and the topics of conversation at allot more interesting. It turns out that most of her colleagues of interesting lives outside Runway Serena was right about that too. They even have double dates with a few new hires from Runway Men

 

"Is this Emily Charlton speaking, my name is..."

 

"If you are ringing to complain about the final edits, yes I know the colour scheme is completely different, but that comes along with working for a creative genius. We will all be getting fat bonus checks at the end of this little nightmare." Emily is pacing while making vaguely commanding gestures to the people swarming around her. 

 

"Er, I have no idea what you are talking about? I am looking for Emily Charlton."

 

"Speaking, but this isn't a good time. If you want me to re-join yoga or spin class. I might hypothetically have space in the next decade or so." Emily offers sardonically. 

 

"Ah, Miss Charlton. My name is Sarah, and I am a receptionist at Mercy Hospital. Miss Serena Melo asked me to contact you after her appointment. We like to encourage our patients not to go home alone after the initial consultation, would it be possible for you to be here in the next 30 minutes?"

 

"She is just going for a regular check-up, to get a sense of her iron levels. Why does she next an escort?" Emily asks her voice, suddenly getting sharp. 

 

"It's the policy that we do not discuss medical information over the phone. I think Miss Melo would appreciate you getting here as soon as possible." Sarah's voice is neutral, but there is a trace of sympathy. 

 

"If you expect me to prefer a minor miracle with the traffic. I will be there as soon as I can. It may be different to get away from work but tell Serena I'm on my way." Emily instructs her voice, starting to shake. 

 

"Miranda, I need to go, its an emergency. The team has the drafting in hand. I'll make up the hours and be available tonight." Emily calls to her boss. 

 

Whatever Miranda Presley sees in her face prevents any questing or sarcastic comments about lunch dates. All Emily can think of is how many late-night conversations Serena is having with her parents, how the tone sounds serious and nothing like the usually joyous lilt. Serena has been open and honest about not feeling well, but Emily put it down to the September Issue chaos. Even under Miranda's benevolent new reign, they have both been working insane hours doing little beyond sharing a bed. There was no question going to the appointment together, now Emily regrets not insisting. 

 

***

 

"What the hell is going on?" 

 

Ever since she fell over rather humiliatingly at the fashion show, Emily grows to hate everything about hospitals. There is something distinctive about the smell, look and feel of the place. The instructions that the faceless doctor and receptionist gave were relatively easy to follow, but her heart still thuds in panic. Seeing Serena in the waiting room is a relief only for a minute. Her girlfriend is hunching over, and her shoulders are shaking with obvious tears. 

 

"Oh Em, I am so glad you are here." Serena looks up; carefully makeup looks like an absolute mess. 

 

For once, Emily regrets her sky-high heels as she sinks to the chair beside Serena and pulls her into a fierce hug. If Andy Bloody Saches proves anything, it’s that comfort means something. Words and explanations can wait. Serena starts to cry, burying her head further into Emily's shoulder. Neither of them speaks for a long moment. 

 

"I am sick, Em. It wasn't good news from Dr Collins." Serena pauses looking like she is struggling to find the right phrase in English. 

 

"What's going on? Tell me, Dearest?" Emily sounds like her mother, but she doesn't care. 

 

Serena starts to speak a few moments, but in the end, she simply cries again shaking her head. Emily wishes they made a home where she could tuck Serena into the bed. Her girlfriend loathes being anything but perfectly put together in public, not that such a feat is challenging for somewhat with her natural beauty. No matter the context, it still catches Emily by surprise that this beautiful woman chose her when there were actual ranks of models to choose from if that was her desire. 

 

Serena is somehow making the bland beige walls and furniture look impressive. However, such scriptures are one of the few things she has internalised from the time at Runway Headquarters. Of course, living in their particular part of New York brings all that into exceptional focus anyway. Public breakdowns are for other people, not the publishers of one of the world's leading magazines. Emily knows her mind is wandering in the absence of information. 

 

"We are going to have to delay the trip to England and meeting your family. It'll be a pain to get the refunds but maybe..." Serena begins hesitantly 

 

"Sod it. Mum is familiar with my once in a decade visiting cycle. Whatever tourist traps you are dying to see will still be there next year. We'll see the lambs and daffodils some overtime, now tell me what's wrong?" Emily feels herself start to ramble. 

 

"I didn't want to interrupt the preparations for the big issues, that's why I told you this was a regular check-up for my tiredness."

 

"Tell me what you would have said if we both weren't clogs in the never-ending fashion calendar and seasons? You are sitting in a beige wonderland for a reason." Emily prompts keeping her voice barely above a whisper. 

 

***

 

Serena confesses the whole truth slowly and haltingly. The tall woman speaks English fluently, but she still reaches for her native language in times of stress. 

 

"I have been feeling sick for a while but sometimes that happens, almost every season. Especially when we are busy at work or travelling allot. There was no reason to think that this was anything special, until I couldn't stop bruising and could barely stay awake." Serena turns her arm over to show the deep purple. 

 

"I know, I'm the one who resets your alarm. We talked about taking time off and going on holiday with Julia and Fernando." Emily feels herself nodding mechanically. 

 

"What I didn't tell you is my family has a history of a particular type of cancer, and it can manifest symptoms at a young age." Serena confesses with fresh tears, gather in her eyes. 

 

The rest of the conversation almost goes over Emily's head; she has no background or training in the medical field. Serena is familiar with telling this story to novices because she explains the facts slowly and with patients. Emily can almost see her desperate to slip back into Portuguese. She resolves to work harder to learn the language beyond standard greetings and nicknames. 

 

"I don't understand...are you saying...that you have cancer?" Emily forces the words out around a suddenly impossibly tight throat. 

 

"I have the early signs and levels that the clinic starts to worry about, yes. Dr Collins wants to do a full range of tests tomorrow, and into next week, then we will know for sure. My family is flying in to support me and probably yell the doctors. Sadly, the Melto family tree has plenty of information to share with them. Maybe I will be published in scientific journals as well as Runway. Wouldn't that be something?" Serena is bordering on rambling now. 

 

"When do your parents get here? Do they have a place to stay? I'm sure Nigel will let them use his apartment while on his trip to Venice and beyond. " Emily immediately switches to organising mode. 

 

"I haven't found the nerve to tell Julianna yet, but she and Fernando have a guest room and sofa bed. They will be more comfortable there with familiar food and language." Serena explains with a self-conscious shrug. 

 

***

 

"Right, there will be no more sneaking to appointments. I will be coming to every single one. Miranda's concessions to HR and the tender mercies of her new lover should count for something."

 

Emily Charlton spent her life trying to get away from small-town England, putting on a posh accent. However, at her heart, she is her mother's daughter and her accent slips in the same way as Serena sounds like she is back in South America. It makes Emily smile through the pain that they are both reverting to them the rhythm of childhood and the early years. 

 

 That's one of the things she loves about their relationship; they are both transplants from elsewhere in this mythical place called New York. Their first dates were full of stories from home and how they came to be under the great Miranda Priestley's stewardship. The information that a friend learns is different from that of an intimate partner. Emily likes learning about the real Serena and not a person with supermodel looks who refuses to model. 

 

"My parents have been dreading this call for years, Em. Don't rearrange your entire schedule yet, part of the reason I didn't tell you is that I didn't want you giving everything up. For most of the time, I will be sitting around and waiting. Not even you could handle the out of date editions of competitors in the waiting room." Serena tries to lighten the mood with a weak joke. 

 

"I know you don't believe me, but I am not the workaholic who exists on cheese and scraps of praise from Miranda. The team receives an extremely competitive salary from making the magazine happen if I want to take off time to support my girlfriend than I bloody well will. Your parents can smile indulgently at my useless attempts to speak your language." Emily does her best to sound brave and stoic but most likely fails miserably. 

 

"It may not need to be an either-or situation. The only saving grace about having a family history is I knew when to reach out for help. The treatment will be hard, but Jessica is optimistic about my chances." Serena does a better job of plastering a fake smile. 

 

If there is one thing, Emily Charlton hates it's the feeling of being out of her depth. One of the reasons Andy Bloody Saches was such a challenge is that she did not operate with acceptable parameters. Serena is talking about terms, technology and notions that are making Emily's head spin. She is itching to start putting some of her well-regarded research skills towards the problem. She needs to language this new language that is entering their lives. 

 

***

 

Emily has never been more glad to see her one-time rival. 

 

Juliana and Fernando are now both working in the local area. Serena's best friend disobeys several traffic laws and possibly physics to get her so fast. Emily isn't specific in her text, mainly because she doesn't know how to put such things into words. However, the fact that Emily is texting her at all in the middle of the day is reason enough. Julia is in scrubs and hospital shoes. She doesn't look remotely out of place in this area, unlike the two people from a fashion magazine. 

 

"Rini come here." Julia looks like the rest of them and has been crying too. 

 

Emily feels a stab of jealousy as they slip back to speaking their first language. Julianna is calm and keeps her body language relaxed as she listens to what sounds like rapid-fire questions. Surprisingly she turns and gives Emily a quick hug as well. Serena needs the opportunity to talk to somebody who can understand her on that deep, intuitive level of decades of friendship. 

 

"Fernando will go and pick up Paulo and your parents. Emily and I will take you home now and we will work out a plan." Julianna switches to English for her benefit. 

 

"I need to go and clean up; there is no way I am going out in public looking like this, my eyeliner was better when I was 13." Serena forces a note of finality in her voice. 

 

"That's the last thing she needs to worry about now. Not everything revolves that magazine of yours. There are other priorities right now? Rini could walk through a hurricane and still be the most beautiful person in the room." Julianna says with a frustrated sigh as they wait. 

 

"The first two points are debatable but not the last. Let Serena regain a sense of control; makeup is another language to her." Emily advises with a tight smile. 

 

"The first thing you need to know that cancer is a complicated word. People hear it and automatically think of different scenarios that are often the worst of what they see on TV. The truth is we don't know the full picture for Serena yet. There is an excellent team here, and Jess Collins is one of the best in the field."

 

"How is this happening? She is barely in her 30s and is the healthiest person I know, never taking her freakish Hummingbird metabolism for granted. Back home, the NHS is always banging on about risk factors and prevention. Surely, that has to count for something?" Emily asks, sounding both pitiful and vulnerable. 

 

"You don't want me to go into a long explanation now; there are resources for partners and loved ones. The simplest concept is that cancer takes many forms; Rini's experience is not within the public information and handouts." Julianna says her arms are waving around in frustration at the limitations of the English language. 

 

"Well you better prepare to be my 24/7 personal Google, Saint Julianna, I will have many questions." Emily warns as she spots Serena leaving the bathroom. 

 

"I wish you wouldn't call me that, it's far from true and not at all flattering in your odd combination of English accents. I'm here to answer whatever questions you have." Julianna says reassuringly 

 

"Than you can find a way to deal with my repressed British way of showing affection and esteem." Emily quips back before rising to meet Serena. 

 

 

***

 

"We have only been dating officially for a little over six weeks, depending on when you mark such things." Serena whispers into the darkness of the room. 

 

"What has that got to do with anything, Sweetheart?" Emily focuses on brushing out the long strands of blond hair. 

 

"We have the September Issue coming up. Miranda is giving you more reasonability with the team every day; you are living your professional dream. The last thing I wanted to do Em is turn us into that tragic cancer film with Richard Gere." there is a layer of think emotion in the voice. 

 

Emily shifts and rearranges their limbs so that Serena is resting more securely against her. The differences in their heights make the moment almost comical but somehow, the moment is still comforting. It took Emily several weeks to adjust to the idea of having casual clothing. During that day neither of them protests getting into bed in shirts that are two sizes too big. Serena is holding up surprisingly well, but Emily doesn't trust the mask to hold up forever. Now is the first time that is talking about things directly. 

 

"Do you not recall that I spent the last year heartsick over the notion of your hypothetical love affair with a paediatric nurse? Do you honestly think I'm going to leave you alone to face this situation alone?" Emily says before kissing a tearful check. 

 

"It's not going to be pretty, Em. There is no shame in it, but you are somebody who loves order, routine and excellent presentation. This illness isn't going to be any of those things. My treatment is messy, painful and chaotic. It's going to be a rough few months, even in this best of circumstances." Serena says her voice grave and rough. 

 

"I think our position at Runway, especially the old incarnation of the magazine, gives you a disappointing but not surprising perspective on my emotional development. I'll throw all my love of teal and perfection stationary into work. My dormant working-class roots need to be good for something, right. I can clean, monitor and wait for the best of them. Blame it on the Andy Bloody Sachs Authenticity Effect, okay." Emily tries to joke while keeping her stiff resolve.

 

"When are you going to admit you genuinely like Andy? and the changes her influence brought to Runway  Paris was years ago, and Miranda is borderline bearable now if there are no freesias around." Serena repeats the start of a familiar debate. 

 

"Saches and I have an understanding of sorts, now that she is responsible for soothing the worst of Miranda's ego injuries and insults. Don't let the doe eyed expression fool you. Andy can give snark and take. Nigel considers her his best student, minus the love of carbs and social justice." 

 

"Thanks for being here, Em. There is no one I would rather have at my side when the news comes in, whatever the eventual result. I promise no more secrets." Serena says earnestly, moving to catch the other woman's eye. 

 

"We need to work on your circle of acquaintances in New York, obviously." Emily says, waving a hand dismissively. 

 

"Along with that, we are working on those self-esteem jabs that you claim are humour. I mean exactly what I say about wanting you at my side, flaws, working-class roots and all." Serena insists with a note of protectiveness in her voice. 

 

"I'm here for as long as you want me. I'll even figure out a way to design a halfway decent looking hospital room if it comes to that. You might be on your own with the slippers and gowns though." Emily leans down and gives her a long searching kiss. 

 

 

 

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.