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Miriam took a deep breath and smoothed the pleats on her dress nervously. She knocked on the door to her father's office. Opening the door, she poked her red-head into the room. “Papa?”

The large man behind the desk smiled and boomed, “Honey!” He moved quickly to embrace her. “You look beautiful on the first day of Sixth grade.”

Miriam grinned, dimpling her cheeks. “Thank you, Papa.” She confessed, “I'm a little nervous.” She saw his expression and elaborated. “What if the new kids don't like me?”

“Meh.” He guided her to his chair and as he sat, pulled her onto his knee. “You must not worry about these things. Being liked is not so important as being respected.” He assured his young daughter, “When the little beasties get to know you they will surely both like and respect you.”

Miriam nodded. She hoped that this school would be different, at least for a while. Things always changed after people discovered that her father is a notorious crime boss. Teachers mostly treated her differently, the other children didn't seem to worry about it much. She knew that would change when they got older and became more aware of the world. She wasn't supposed to know about Papa, of course. Mama and Papa always try to keep the business separate from the family, but as she had gotten older Miriam had seen and overheard too many things NOT to know the truth, even before some cop's kid had blurted it out in front of everyone in the lunch room last year. It didn't matter, not really. The police couldn't touch her Papa, Papa had told her so. But still, after they found out who she was any sort of respect was out of fear instead of anything else. “Papa, will I have to change schools again?”

He shook his head and tapped the end of his daughter's rather long, but lovely, nose. “Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grade will be spent in this school, So no changing again until you go to high school.” He chuckled and gently pushed her off his lap. “Go on now... I'm sure Pavel has brought the car around and your Mama is waiting for you.”

Nodding, Miriam smiled. “Yes, Papa.” On impulse she wrapped her small arms around his barrel-like torso. She had heard many people describe him as a bear-like man, large, and dangerous, but to her he was a teddy bear, gentle and kind. She never felt safer than when he had his arms around her in a loving hug.

He only chuckled and returned the embrace before breaking it and lightly pushing her toward the door. “Go now.”

She walked out of his office quickly, no matter whose daughter she was she still had to be on time or, as her Papa always tried to be, fifteen minutes early.

###

Richard Sachs watched the long black car pull up in front of the school. He was fascinated by the huge, dangerous looking, man who exited the driver's door. He was big, but when Richard looked closely he could tell that the man was younger than his size made him seem. Richard thought the driver seemed like one of his friend's older brother, about ten years or so older than his own age. Still, the size made him intimidating but when the driver walked around to open the back door, Richard forgot about him and his focus centered on a little girl, with wavy red hair, stepping out of the limousine. The girl was followed by an elegant woman with pure white hair. The dress the girl was wearing made her look much more grown up than the rest of the girls here at school too. The woman with white hair hugged the little girl and kissed her cheek. Richard was too far away to hear, but the woman said something to which the little girl nodded then she turned around and walked into the school on her own.

He was ecstatic to discover that she was in his class, but it still took him all morning to work up the courage to say hello. He only managed it at lunch time. She was sitting at a table by herself, so he took a deep breath and walked right up to her. “Hello.” He smiled. “Can I sit with you?” He swallowed hard when the little girl looked at him. He hadn't been close enough before to see her eyes. They were a vivid blue, like the sky on a summer day. He'd never seen eyes like that before.

“Okay...” Miriam gestured, the way she had seen her Papa do, giving him permission to sit.

“Thanks.” Richard licked his lips and held out his hand. “My name is Richard Sachs.”

“Miriam.” She took his hand gingerly. “Miriam Princhek.”

“Nice to meet you, Miriam.” Richard smiled, then began to eat his food with gusto, happy that he had seemed to make a new, interesting, friend.

###

“So!”

Miriam jumped at her father's sudden outburst, then growled. “Papa, you scared me!”

He laughed. “Sorry.” He reached out and ruffled her unruly red hair, brushing the one lock of hair that always seemed to fall down across her eye away from her forehead. “How was your first day of school? Did the other little beasties all behave themselves?”

Miriam sighed. Her Papa had been calling children 'little beasties' for as long as she could remember. She never did ask why. “It was fine, Papa. I met a nice boy.”

Suddenly her father was no longer laughing and his smile had disappeared. He growled slightly and his voice rumbled. “A boy?”

“Of course 'a boy'.” Mira walked into the room, laughing. “Miriam is eleven, she will meet many boys and girls who will befriend her.” She winked at her daughter. “I think it will be a while before you need to use that tone with any of them, Androv.”

Miriam nodded. Richard was interesting, in a bug under a glass sort of way. The thought of dating him, or anyone, was just non-existent. Family and school, Miriam knew her priorities. The number one priority, for her, was to keep anyone from knowing who, what, her father was. His name could strike fear into even hardened criminal's hearts and even at this young age Miriam knew the key to keeping any social connections she had would be to keep the 'family business' a secret. Luckily the other children were mostly oblivious to the machinations of organized crime families.

Of course, time changes priorities, as well as everything else. As she grew older the need to keep her father's identity a secret lessened. His reputation as a business man and restaurateur had grown until his whispered dealings as a crime syndicate leader became more rumor than anything that anyone could prove, especially the police. As the years passed, Miriam and Richard grew closer, spending time in school together and outside of school within groups of friends, and when they got older they did actually begin to “date”. It seemed a bit silly not to, by Miriam's reckoning, since any boy she tried to date always seemed to fall short of the standards she had come to expect from Richard. By the time they were sixteen they were the most liked couple in school and that was also the year that Richard, formally, met Androv Princhek. Oh they had sort of met, at school functions and various things of that nature, but the formal introductions had never happened, until Richard was old enough to get a job within the business.

He had been terrified at the meeting, Miriam knew, but she was proud of how Richard didn't shake and his voice remained steady. She could tell that her Papa was impressed, so much so that after being a busboy at one of the restaurants for only six months Androv began to bring Richard into the operation. But, Miriam knew that her father planned bigger things for Richard. It was a bit disappointing, because by this time Miriam wanted to take over from her father herself, eventually. Androv had seemed amused when she had told him of her plans, but in the last few months he had seemed to reconsider and had taken her into his confidence, teaching her a few things about the business' that allowed her to live her pampered lifestyle. Not everything, certainly nothing that was illegal, but details of the management regarding their restaurants, night clubs, and the hotels were well within his comfort zone to share. He said this kind of information would help her when she went off to get her fancy college business education. They were also barely a challenge for her abilities to absorb. For the moment she was content to learn what she could from the man she loved and idolized beyond all others. The rest would come, she was sure of it. Her Papa would see that she was his logical heir to the throne, his only child. There was no other 'blood' family to speak of, no ambitious siblings on either her mother or father's side to worry about. If she didn't take over then it would have to be someone Androv trusted, and Miriam didn't believe there was anyone her father held in that level of confidence, not even Richard. When she returned from college he would see, but right now she was content to spend time with him. It was painfully obvious that they would miss each other terribly when she was away at school.

Despite Androv's best efforts, the true nature of the 'family business' was not lost on Miriam and she figured many things out on her own just from small comments that her father and Richard would say without thinking about, plus the few documents she saw in her father's office.

Richard seemed to waver from time to time, a little anxious about the slow pace of his ascension in the ranks, but still, Miriam was very fond of him and he truly seemed to care about her.

And time, again, worked its magical changes.

Just as Miriam had grown ambitious so had Richard, more obviously so. They had began to associate with others their age who were also primed to take over their family business'. Richard tended to schmooze a little more than Miriam was comfortable with and even at parties Miriam more often than not found herself alone when Richard had promised to spend time with her, despite his frequent proclamations of love for her.

One day, very close to her eighteenth birthday, when he had promised and failed to meet her at their favorite cafe, Miriam had enough. After waiting for over an hour she paid for the drink and appetizer she'd barely touched then quietly asked Pavel to drive her home. Saddened by Richard's lack of attentiveness, she changed her mind almost as soon as the car had pulled away from the curb. “Pavel? Can we drive around the park for a little while?”

“Sure.” He nodded and changed lanes to alter their destination, Central Park was many blocks away from their current location. It was also quite a distance from her house so it had always been a treat when she was younger and allowed to go. He had also driven Miriam and Richard here several times during their courtship, it seemed like they had 'their' place, a certain path for long walks and talks. Pavel hated to see Miriam so sad so he tried to stay as close as he could to her favorite places in the park. He had been driving her around nearly all her life and had grown fond of the girl. It wasn't a difficult stretch to think of her as his niece. He left her alone for a while before speaking, “Richard does good work for your father.”

“I know.” Miriam gazed out the tinted window. “I...” She narrowed her eyes and blinked. It was difficult to believe what she was seeing. Richard was in the park, obviously arguing with a very pretty woman. She normally wouldn't have a problem with that, except this particular pretty woman was known to her. This particular pretty woman was the daughter of a rival crime boss...er... business man, one of Androv Princhek's most hated enemies. Miriam watched as Richard said something and the woman countered his comment with her own along with some exaggerated arm gestures. The sag in Richard's shoulders indicated it was bad news. She watched as the two people continued their argument. “Pavel? Why would Richard be here, with Nicolette Maretti?”

The privacy screen was not raised so Miriam saw Pavel's knuckles go white. She very much got the impression that he wanted to stop the car and go pummel Richard. “I don't know.” He glanced over and confirmed the identity of both people for himself. “Perhaps we should ask your Papa?”

“Yes.” Miriam nodded. “Take me home.”

Home was not what Miriam expected. The large front door was wide open and there was debris all over the place. Every room seemed to have been trashed by someone who was looking, very intently, for a particular thing. Miriam knew what the object of that search, and more importantly she knew its location. It had been shown to her recently 'just in case' was what her Papa had said. She hadn't understood what he meant until now. She also didn't understand why her Papa had allowed this violation of their space. She stopped dead in her tracks when she entered her Papa's office. The safe on the wall was open, and empty but that wasn't what caused her legs to stop working. Tears sprang to her eyes when she saw him, sitting in his desk chair with several holes in his broad chest. Turning away from the sight only brought more heartache when she realized that her mother's body was laying on the couch, also full of holes. She may have screamed. She wasn't sure how long she had remained there, but the next thing she knew she was being lifted off the floor by Pavel's strong arms. That was wrong and she struggled to get free. She had things to do. He gently put her on her feet and stepped back, waiting. After what seemed like forever, she managed to speak, quietly.

“We have to go.”

Pavel watched as Miriam wiped her tears away and walked to the small cabinet where Androv always kept his liquor. It had obviously been searched, but what most people didn't realize was that Androv Princhek did not drink. Miriam pushed the cabinet aside and dropped to her knees, uncovering the safe that the cabinet protected. She pressed the combination code into the keypad and opened it only managing to take a deep breath when she found the contents intact. The books were there. Pavel knew that these were the records of all the transactions Androv negotiated, not just the legal ones. Grabbing those, Miriam also retrieved several file folders and, what looked like a sports duffel bag, the kind used to transport baseball bats and other long equipment. A quick unzip revealed, what to most people would seem to be, a great deal of cash money. There were also a few small drawstring bags, what they were filled with, Pavel did not know. He watched as she shoved everything into the duffel and hefted it to her shoulder. He was concerned at the expression now clouding Miriam's lovely face. He was even more concerned when she spoke. Her voice was hard, and decisive, and Pavel knew that Miriam had just assumed the mantel of the head of this organization when she gave her very first set of orders. Orders that her father himself had told her may one day be necessary. Orders they both had hoped she would never have to utter.

“Burn it. I was never here.”

Pavel watched as the new head of the Princhek family crime syndicate walked out of her father's office without pause and without looking back.

###

Miriam knew that Pavel had been shocked at her cool demeanor, but now was not the time to break down. She had to be strong for just a little while longer, then she could break down. When she was alone. When no one else would see. Right now she had to do what her Papa would have wanted her to do, to make him proud. The 'just in case' talk had made it very clear what she was to do, she had to go, to survive. This had obviously been the work of another crime family. She couldn't prove it but believed it was the Marettis. She had to make sure that she was safe from them, in case they wanted her dead too. In this day and age it was very difficult to disappear but not impossible. She would have to hide from most, while also remaining somewhat visible to a few people in order to maintain the business'. Tricky, but as challenging as it was it was still possible, especially thanks to her father's planning. Right now she had to get through this next hurdle and she looked across the table at the detectives. Her cool blue eyes never wavering.

“You understand that all of your family's assets will be frozen, pending an investigation into the fire?”

Miriam corrected the speaker quietly, “You mean all of my father's assets.” She nodded and verbalized her understanding. “Yes.”

“The fire destroyed your home.” The second detective was not entirely unfeeling, he was the older person in the pair and became labeled 'Good Cop' in Miriam's head, because his voice cracked as he spoke. “You parents...deaths, were obviously unplanned, so you will be placed with a foster family until you can...”

“No.” Miriam would not allow herself to be placed into the foster system.

Bad Cop, the younger of the duo and probably not even ten years older than Miriam herself, was not taking 'No' for an answer. “You're seventeen, with no means...”

“Sir.” Miriam leaned forward, her bright blue eyes flashed dangerously. “I will not be put into a system that is already overflowing with cases, only to be kicked out of it when I turn eighteen in three weeks. There is no need. I have a house, and despite what you believe, I have the means to support myself.” She already had a short list of lawyers and judges in mind who would help her in this matter.

“Your assets are...”

“...frozen, yes so you said, but you cannot freeze my assets, only my father's, and possibly my mother's if she had any to call her own. I'm assuming you're shutting down the business' for the duration of the investigation and that is fine with me as well. I will need time to look over the operations of each location to see what needs to be done for them to remain open, or sold.”

Good Cop still seemed to be reeling from her earlier statement. “You have the means to support yourself? You have a job?”

“No.” Miriam drew herself up to assume her haughtiest expression. “But, the trust fund that my grandfather left me in his will is separate from any ventures my father may have interest in. The trust fund is mine and mine alone as is the house I mentioned earlier, also left to me by my grandfather. I gained partial access to the trust fund on my seventeenth birthday and in three weeks, upon turning eighteen I will gain even more access to it for college expenses. I had not expected to move into my house until I turned eighteen, but it is basically ready now. You may speak to my lawyers regarding the trust fund records if you like.” She bored her gaze into him to impress upon him her next statement. “I have nothing to hide.”

“Really?” Bad Cop took a deep breath, “Well then, perhaps you'd like to tell me where you were when your parents were killed and your...parent's house was burned to the ground.”

Frowning at that, Miriam barely held her tears in check, something that didn't go unnoticed by either police officer in the room for different reasons. “My so-called boyfriend had just stood me up for the millionth time. I was upset and took a drive around the park. I ended up just getting a hotel room for the night. I didn't want to go home. That is where your people picked me up and delivered the news about the fire and my parents.”

“We will be questioning your boyfriend too.” Bad Cop nodded. “Why did you go to a hotel instead of the home you claim to have?”

“So that my so-called boyfriend couldn't find me, of course.” Miriam looked at him like an idiot. “If I wasn't at my parents house, my own house would be the next place he looked.”

Good Cop conceded, “We did have a bit of trouble finding you, to inform you.”

Bad cop questioned, “Do you always disappear like that?”

“Mmm..” Miriam sighed. “Only when I'm very upset. I tried to call my mother...from the hotel.” The tears were under control now, for the moment, but the word still caught in her throat. She just kept telling herself that she had to do this.

Even Bad Cop paused awkwardly at the mention of the call to Miriam's mother. “Phone records did show that...that's how we found you.” He shook his head. “Well, don't disappear on us anytime soon. We may have more questions for you later.”

“My lawyers will know how to contact me.” Miriam stood. “I will not be making any public appearances, however, I need to be alone, to grieve.”

They watched her go. Bad Cop shook his head. “Grieve? Are you kidding me? That gal is made of ice! How can anyone human go through what she's been through and not break down into tears?”

Good Cop said nothing because he didn't have any way to refute the statement or to answer the question. For some reason though, he didn't believe it was, totally, true.

Miriam Princhek was indeed very human.

###

Pavel watched Miriam pace the floor in his small living room. “What are you going to do?”

“I'm going to do what Papa wanted me to do.” Miriam took a deep breath to clear the catch in her throat at the thought of her Papa's smiling face. “I'm going to go to college. I'm going to learn everything I can.” She turned to face Pavel. “And then I'm going to return.” She put her hand on Pavel's arm. “You have always been Papa's most trusted friend. He would not have allowed you to be in charge of my safety for all these years if that were not true.” She nodded at his teary smile. “I need you to be my eyes and ears here, while I'm gone.”

“I will.” Pavel promised then asked, “Do I need to take care of Richard for you?”

“No.” Miriam ground her teeth together for a moment then licked her lips. Her father had been a ruthless businessman, but she believed that he had never resorted to the extreme of murder. Many times she had heard him utter the phrase 'he is dead to me', which just meant that the person in question was no longer even someone to be thought about. But that was not the case here, Richard was very much someone of concern to her, she just had no time to deal with him at the moment. “I need you to find him, watch him, but he is mine to deal with.”

Nodding, Pavel silently agreed. They both knew that Richard had something to do with the murders, it was possible he had orchestrated the whole thing, if not committed the crimes himself. It was Miriam's right to deal with the traitor however she saw fit. “I will do as you ask, Miriam.”

“No, no...” Pursing her lips, Miriam released a clearing breath and corrected the man. “I am no longer Miriam Princhek...”

“No?” Pavel understood that the girl needed to disappear. Assuming a new identity would be best, especially if their concerns were accurate and the Marettis were still after her, looking to finish what had been started with Androv and Mira's death. “Then who?”

“Just call me, Miranda.”

Pavel thought about that, a mixture of her mother's and father's names, then nodded and answered appropriately.

“Yes, Miranda.”

###

Miranda stepped through the gate at the airport and took a deep breath. She had only returned a few times during her school years, for business reasons, and only once after that when she had a week between her job as Art Director at British Runway and Editor-in-Chief at French Runway. Now she had been given the unenviable task of leading American Runway back to its former glory. The youngest Editor-in-Chief in American Runway history, she was going to have to work hard to prove that she deserved the honor. One year as Editor-in-Chief of French Runway wasn't enough for most naysayers to feel she was worthy. Miranda knew, she would prove them wrong. She also knew it was going to take a lot of hard work to do it.

As before, when she changed jobs, she had a week before she started her new position so she was looking forward to re-acclimating herself to New York and its various quirks. Looking around she saw a man in a driver's uniform holding a sign with her name on it. She was wary, she had never seen this man before. Even half a decade after the murder of her parents, Miranda was not over the paranoia that someone could possibly still be looking for her, or the information that she had taken from her father's office that night. At this point it was unlikely, for various reasons, but it still didn't hurt to be cautious.

Carefully approaching the man, Miranda identified herself. She relaxed slightly when he nodded and spoke.

“Hello. My name is Roy. Pavel sends his regrets. He told me to tell you that your townhouse is ready and,” he closed his eyes as if seeing the words he recited, “there are no signs that the little beasties were ever in the house.”

Miranda chuckled. “Thank you, Roy.” During her time away she had leased the townhouse to a family. When she found out how many children they had she had been shocked. Even with five bedrooms some of the children had needed to share rooms with each other. The thought of it made her shudder. When she was growing up, she'd had practically a whole wing of the house to herself. Even now, as an adult she couldn't stand the thought of someone else living in close proximity to her. Shaking those thoughts away, Miranda handed him her luggage tickets. “My checked bags should be on the carousel soon. It took long enough in customs that they should be there now.”

He took the tickets and gestured toward the baggage claim area. “Yes, Miranda. This way.”

Miranda found Roy to be quite efficient and decided that if Pavel couldn't be here himself, Roy was an acceptable substitute.

###

She had only stayed at the townhouse for a few months after her eighteenth birthday, so it surprised Miranda when she walked in and felt as though she was home, on this day of all days. Roy set her luggage down just inside the door. “Do you want these upstairs, Miranda?”

Nodding, she gestured up. “Yes, third floor, first door on the left.” She heard the sound of him bumping the luggage on the stairs as he carried out the task, but Miranda wasn't really paying attention to that. She was more amazed by the photo hanging on the wall of the hallway. She stood mesmerized, staring at it until Roy cleared his throat.

“Will there be anything else, Miranda?”

“No.” The rest of her things wouldn't be arriving until next week. Miranda never took her eyes off the picture of her parents. “That's all.”

Not even the sound of the door closing behind Roy broke her gaze. The quiet sound of another door opening registered on her senses, but then a waft of very familiar cologne told her all she needed to know about the new arrival. He spoke softly when he reached her side.

“You look more like her every day, especially since your hair is starting to turn white.” He smiled when she turned a questioning expression on him. “Your mother, had all the photos saved in an album. I took it, before the fire... started.” His kind eyes never wavered when Miranda's watery blue ones looked at him. “It is in your room, in the safe in your closet, along with some of her more sentimental jewelry.”

She wrapped her arms around his barrel-like torso and smiled as his large arms enveloped her. He was one of the few people in the world that she could interact with in this way. “Thank you, Pavel.” She sighed, luxuriating for a moment in the human contact. “For everything.”

He patted her back a little awkwardly. “You're welcome, Miranda.” He paused then added a soft.

“Happy Birthday.”

###

“Emily...”

Miranda only waited a moment before her First Assistant appeared. “Inform the art department that I need those layouts by two o'clock or they're all fired. Call Cheri in HR to warn her of the impending workload for her. Make sure the beauty department is ready for the photo shoot this evening and pull the run-through up to three, today. Send someone for fresh coffee and get Patrick on the phone.” Glancing up over the rims of her glasses, she blinked when the woman hadn't moved yet. “That's all.”

It was nice to see that her assistant wasn't one of those horrible whiners. From day one the woman had simply done her job, even though Miranda was the younger of the two, Emily never once thought that she could do the job better than Miranda. No matter what Miranda had asked for in the last year, Emily had delivered. As Miranda's hard work had rejuvenated the magazine, she knew that without Emily's tireless and unwavering assistance that feat would not have been possible. It was a depressing thought, because she didn't want to lose such an amazing assistant, but Miranda knew that this woman's talents were wasted in this position. Her father had rarely kept good people in the same position for very long, a year or two at most. It didn't do to squander talent. Emily deserved a promotion for all the work she had done this past year. That did make her think of Pavel though, trustworthy and loyal Pavel had been basically doing the same thing he had always done, for many many years. Perhaps it was time for him too, to spread his wings. She would have to speak to him regarding his future, and speak to Emily regarding hers as well.

Her thoughts were ironically interrupted by both people in question when Emily's voice issued from the intercom speaker on her desk. “Mr. Pavel is here to see you, Miranda.”

That was interesting, Pavel rarely came by in person. Normally he would call her with anything that needed to be taken care of. She pushed the button to reply. “Send him in.”

The expression on his face did not bode well for the news he had to relay, so Miranda indulged herself in a quick hug before allowing him to sit in one of the plush chairs across from her desk. “What has you so troubled, my friend?”

The man had never looked this concerned. Not when he had told her about Richard's so-called scholarship to Stanford University's law program. The scholarship completely funded by the Maretti family. Nor had his expression been so solemn when he told her of Richard's nuptials to none other than Nicolette Maretti. When the Maretti family had been all but wiped out by yet another rival family the news had not been entirely unwelcome for Miranda. Friends of the Princhek family had sworn vengeance on her behalf but the fact that Richard and Nicolette had survived and moved to the Midwest was somewhat annoying. She wondered why they had been spared but then realized that Pavel had probably put out the word that Richard was hers to deal with. Why on Earth they had chosen Ohio to run to was beyond Miranda's comprehension. It did make surveillance a bit more difficult, however, not impossible. Biding her time also seemed to be nerve-wracking for Richard. The reports of his paranoia made her heart a little happy and prolonging that was fine with her. She should have been expecting it, but for some reason Pavel's next words shocked her speechless for a long moment.

“Nicolette has given birth, to a girl.”

Miranda's mind used the quiet moment to process the information, and slowly a smile formed on Miranda's face. Not a pleasant smile. “A baby...” she mused, “how, wonderful.” Her eyes glittered with anticipation. “Have the pilot ready the plane. Roy will take me to the airport in two hours.”

Pavel swallowed hard and nodded as he stood. “Yes, Miranda.” As he left the office he heard Miranda calling for her assistant.

“Emily.” Miranda barely waited for the woman to be within earshot. “Cancel everything this afternoon and tomorrow morning. Call Roy, he is to be waiting for me downstairs in fifteen minutes. That's all.” There was the expected jaw drop, the very near question as to why the sudden change, but then Emily simply nodded and went back to her desk to make the calls. Miranda sighed to herself, she was going to miss Emily a great deal.

###

Miranda stood looking through the large glass window. So many little beasties, squirming in their tiny clear bassinets, she wondered which one was the one she hated the most. She couldn't see the cards at the end of their little beds clearly enough to read them. From the corner of her eye she saw a man approach the window, he was older, but she would recognize him anywhere. Richard Sachs, the man who had broken her heart and taken her family from her. Over the years the dispassionate reports as to his whereabouts and activities had made her believe that she had gotten over a lot of her anger. She still always wanted to get him back, somehow, but the burning anger had seemed to be extinguished. Now she found that was not the case, and the mere act of setting eyes on Richard was enough to fan the flames even higher than they had been in the days following her parent's murder.

She watched, still unnoticed by him, as a nurse wheeled one of the bassinets closer to the window, for him to see. He smiled, made goofy faces and wiggled his fingers at the infant. Miranda narrowed her eyes and decided that was enough of him being happy. “Why is she wrapped in a blue blanket?”

Richard didn't pull his attention away from the baby. “They ran out of pink...” Then it dawned on him what had been asked, and the familiarity of the voice made him gasp. His eyes were wide when he turned to look at the woman standing next to him. Her red hair was faded to be nearly completely white now, but he obviously recognized her. His tone was panicked as he looked around frantically for, who knew what. “Miriam!”

“Mmm...” An eyebrow raised. “Nice to be remembered.” She turned to look at the squirming infant. “I must say, I was surprised that I didn't get invited to your wedding, or the baby shower.”

Past his panic, now Richard was becoming angry. “You weren't welcome.”

“Wha...” Placing her hand over her heart, like he had delivered a mortal wound with is words, Miranda's mock-surprise only lasted a moment, then she began to laugh. Not a nice laugh. “I heard about the Maretti's unfortunate circumstances.” The head of the Maretti family was not as careful with his books as her father had been. The police had found them and all the Maretti assets had been confiscated. The fortune that Richard believed he was marrying into had vanished in the blink of an eye, well.. the stroke of a bureaucrats pen anyway. “How is Nicolette managing?”

Richard unlocked his jaw long enough to growl, “Nikki is just fine.”

“Ah... Nikki.” Miranda suppressed a shudder, nicknames were never something she cared for. Oddly, she felt a certain kinship with her former rival. Both having been orphaned in a similar way. Nicolette had gotten the advantage of being an adult when it happened, however, not the same as when Miriam had still basically been a child. Miranda had gotten the advantage of not losing any of the assets her father had built. Since no one could prove anything about any illegal operations all the properties, restaurants, hotels and such had been transferred to her per her father's iron clad will. “Luckily,” Miranda's smooth voice chilled the air between them, “she has you.”

His hands clenched into fists at his sides. “What do you want, Miriam?”

“I merely wanted to see the little beastie.” Miranda grinned when Richard's nostril's flared.

“Her name is Andrea!”

That caught her breath in her throat, then she became as angry as he'd ever seen her. “How DARE you...”

“I loved Androv, too.” Richard's eyes teared up now. “He was like a father to me.”

“Like? LIKE?” Miranda was livid. “He WAS my father! And YOU killed him!”

Richard said something softly, so quiet that the blood pounding in Miranda's ears blocked it out. She had seen his lips move though and called him on it. “What?”

“I said...he wasn't supposed to be home.” Richard admitted. “No one was supposed to be there. They only wanted to get the books, I don't know why Androv and Mira returned so soon.” His eyes begged her to believe him. “I didn't want them to get hurt. The...the Maretti's just wanted the books. I didn't have anything to do with the fire either...”

“Papa would have paid for you to go to school.” Miranda sighed when she saw the truth in Richard's face. “But that wasn't the only reason, was it?” She tilted her head, watching him look everywhere but at her. “You... love, her...Nicolette.”

“Yes.”

“So the entire time you professed to love me, you actually had feelings for her.”

“It didn't start out that way.” Richard sighed. “It was his idea, you know? Androv, told me to get close to the Maretti family. To see what they were up to... but Nicolette was so...” He shook his head, unable to explain the complexity that resulted from Androv's request.

Miranda looked back on that time of her life and the pain his actions had caused her, then turned to look at the child again. “Papa had eighteen years with me, before you ripped us apart.”

“I...” His protest died on his lips when she glared at him.

Returning her gaze to the baby, Miranda continued to speak, as if she hadn't been interrupted, “Therefore I will return the courtesy.”

“What?” Now Richard's voice trembled.

“Enjoy the first eighteen years, Richard, because after that it will be my turn.” Miranda looked at the tiny squirming thing and plans began to form.

“You can't... please. Don't hurt her.”

Rolling her eyes, Miranda waved off his pathetic pleas. “Good God, Richard. I'm not going to kill you, or her.” She scoffed at his visible relief. “But I will control her. She will work for me. You know what that means.”

He did. Androv was the same way. All his employees were under his control, he held their futures in his hands and could make or break them as he saw fit. “Her life will be in your hands.”

“Indeed.” Miranda turned back to peer through the glass. Her eyes narrowed at the infant. “Indeed it will be.”

“Please, Miriam.” Richard took a step closer. “Don't do this.”

“Oh...” She spun her attention back to him. “I like you begging.” She licked her lips. “Do it again.”

“Miriam.” He now hugged his waist, as if to hold his pain inside. “Please, don't hurt her. You know as well as I do, that world, that life, it's no good.”

“It is just as good as any other Richard.” She wasn't even part of that world anymore and had toyed with the idea of being lenient but he had just insulted her entire childhood, and everything that her father, a man he had professed to love, stood for. “She will learn to adapt. Sink or swim, dog eat dog...” Again she turned to the child, speaking to it regardless of the fact that even if her voice were to pass through the glass, the infant wouldn't understand a word. “It's a big bad world out there, Little Beastie, you better be ready when I decide to show it to you.” She sneered when the child smiled as if she'd heard the words and found them to be amusing.

“Miriam...”

Stopping the conversation with a gesture, Miranda spoke two final words to Richard. “That's all.”

He was silent as he watched her walk away from the nursery window, her heels clicking on the hallway floor echoed ominously in his ears. For anyone else it was a woman walking down the hall, to Richard it was the tick tick tick sound of the clock already counting down to his daughter's doom.

Chapter Text

When Pavel relayed the news of Nicolette Maretti-Sachs untimely death a year later, Miranda was unmoved. The death of her former rival caused no feelings whatsoever within her. For some reason, however, she did feel a flash of sympathy for the child. The Little Beastie would barely have turned one year old and already what should have been a fairly stable support in her life had been taken. She gave the order for her spy network to watch the child closer and report each week, instead of monthly.

It was barely three weeks later when the report came in regarding a change in Andrea's welfare. Richard, obviously, had to work. Building and maintaining a law practice took a great deal of time, therefore the infant had been relegated to a day care facility.

Miranda cursed softly as she read the reviews of the so-called child care institution. It was appalling. She had no idea why Richard would even consider putting his child into a place with so many complaints and violations against it. The fact that no child had died there, yet, was not entirely comforting. It had taken a few calls and some quick real estate transactions, but within a week, that horrid place had been shut down and all the children enrolled at the sub-standard facility had been moved to a brand new location with competent care providers. Miranda was quite content with the next few weeks reports. Apparently all the little beasties were thriving in their new day care.

After several weeks, Miranda had the reports on her special Ohio project cut back to once a month, and then once per fiscal quarter. There was so much to do at Runway that it just wasn't feasible to split her attention so often. The reports were all basically the same anymore anyway. Andrea was a happy healthy little girl who got along well with others and excelled in her little day care group. A year later Pavel reported that Richard had remarried, an English teacher this time. Her name was Dorothy. Miranda assumed that Richard had chosen this one for her maternal skills, but because she worked during the day Andrea remained in day care.

One day, a few years after the day care had initially been launched, Miranda decided to go and see the little beast for herself. It had been so ugly and squirmy in the hospital, she wondered what it looked like now. Of course she could get pictures, and had, but photos never really showed the true person. If that were the case models would be vastly different than they were. Photos only showed the exterior, and only what the photographer wanted you to see. Poses and lighting changed things considerably, as well as the couture the people wore. No, Miranda decided, if she was going to get a feel for the child, she would need to see her in person. “Emily.” Her current first assistant scurried into the room.

“Yes, Miranda?”

“Clear my schedule next Monday and Tuesday.” Miranda looked up from the report she was reading at the woman. This was not the 'real' Emily. That one had moved on and was doing marvelous things in the editorial department at Marie Claire. This sorry excuse for an assistant had only just moved up from her second assistant status when Miranda had fired her predecessor two weeks ago. They were, however, all called Emily. The next words out of this Emily's mouth would determine if she would or would not be unemployed at the end of today.

“I...” Emily snapped her mouth shut and nodded. “Yes, Miranda.”

Miranda's eyebrow raised. Employed. She waved the woman away. “That's all.”

###

Miranda's progress up the walk was momentarily halted by the shrill screams of children playing. Her startled glance at Pavel caused him to chuckle.

“Children are often very passionate in their play.”

Widening her eyes slightly at what seemed to be a severe understatement, Miranda continued to walk to the door. They moved through a smaller room lined with cubby holes for the children's belongings, coats and such, into the large main room. There were colorful carpets on the floor denoting different areas for play and a corner obviously designed as a reading area, small couches and chairs were arranged close to a couple of small bookcases, filled with well read books. The yells were coming from outside. Instructing Pavel to wait for her, she continued to walk past a door that led to a small kitchen and out the door leading to the outside, fenced, play area. She stood just outside the door acclimating her eyes to the sunlight, and watching the little beasties run around like lunatics.

She felt a small tug on her hand and looked down. Dark brown eyes stared up at her and Miranda blinked. This was the child, Andrea. As she had suspected, the pictures that Pavel had shown her did not do the little imp justice. Her bowl cut brown hair was atrocious, but it was her eyes that held the attention of their target. Miranda blinked as the toddler raised her hands and demanded.

“Up... up.. up...”

Relenting, without even knowing why, Miranda leaned down and picked up the persistent girl. Holding her at somewhat arm's length. “Hello, Beastie.”

Andrea didn't say anything but seemed to find the one lock of Miranda's silver hair, the one that constantly fell across her forehead, fascinating. Touching it and letting it run through her little fingers, Andrea giggled. She also smiled when she reached out and grabbed Miranda's nose.

Pulling away from the personally invasive touch, Miranda put the little girl down and shooed her away. “Go on now. Go play.” It seemed as if the child was reluctant to go, but did finally wander away just as the adults present finished breaking up a small scuffle and could approach the visitor in their midst.

“May I help you?”

“Yes.” Miranda introduced herself. “I'm Miranda Priestly...”

The woman's eyes widened considerably. “Oh!” She smiled widely and reached out to shake Miranda's hand only a little thrown off when Miranda didn't take the offered hand. “I'm so glad to meet you. I'm sorry, I knew you were coming this morning but I lost track of time. We've heard so much about you, and how you started this place.”

“Yes.” Miranda looked around. “Is there an office we may use, Ms. Craig?”

“Oh, Amy. The kids all call me Miss Amy. Of course, you can use my office.” She gestured through the door behind them. “This way.” Amy called over her shoulder to the other woman watching the children. “I'll be right back, Maggie.”

Amy was walking through the kitchen area and talking at the same time. “Your assistant said you wanted to look over the books?”

“Correct.” Miranda settled into the large captain's chair behind the small desk in the small room. “This venture is radically different than any of my other investments. I wish to see a template of operational expenses before I decide to open any similar facilities.”

“That would be wonderful!” Amy clasped her hands together. “There is a severe lack of good daycare choices here, everywhere really.” She ventured a guess. “You don't have children, do you?”

“I do not.”

Amy nodded then seemed to understand that her comment had strayed into a personal area for Miranda and explained, “You didn't seem very comfortable with Andy earlier, so I guessed you didn't have any of your own.” Pulling up the accounting program on the computer, Amy took a step back. “She seemed quite taken with you though.”

“Andrea is very inquisitive...and persistent.” Miranda looked at the screen, familiarizing herself with the system until she realized that Amy had gone quite still. Glancing up at the frozen woman, Miranda's low voice rumbled, “Yes?”

“You know her name?”

Blinking, Miranda nodded and looked the woman directly in the eye. “Of course. I know all their names.” To prove it she began to list of the children's names “William, Douglas, Candace, Keesha, Devon, Lillian, Alexis... shall I continue?”

Amy shook her head, “No.. I'm sorry, I just... we have to be so careful, with security.”

“As it should be.” Miranda waved Amy away. “That's all.”

Glancing once at Pavel, who stood quietly next to the door, Amy backed out of the room, closing the door with a tiny click.

###

Richard Sachs kissed his daughter's forehead then watched as his only child, Andrea, walked into the large school all on her own. He was so proud of her, but the significance of this day was not lost on him. Andy had done great in her elementary school years, in no small part to the excellent day care she had attended and the facility upgrades that had seemed to almost magically happen for the elementary school she had attended during her first five years in the school system. The funding for various after school activities that continued to enrich Andy's formative years were also a godsend. Richard knew that his daughter was a very lucky little girl.

This day though, it seemed to him was as much a beginning as it was an ending. This was the day that it had all began, for him, for Andy. This was the day everything had been set in motion. Because this was the day, the first day of the sixth grade, when Richard had met the girl, who would turn into a woman, who changed his life, for better and worse. Miriam's personality would never allow her to forgive him for the betrayal of her family and he knew that her promise of vengeance against him, using Andy against him, was not an empty threat. He also knew that Miriam was a woman of her word, her sense of honor instilled in her by her father. She had given him eighteen years, and so eighteen years it would be. All he could do now was enjoy the rest of the time he had with Andy and raise her in a way that would hopefully benefit her after Miriam decided to act upon her promise of revenge. He sighed to himself, seven more years was all he could reasonably hope for, after that the ball would be back in Miriam's court.

###

Pavel surreptitiously watched Miranda in the rear view mirror as she scanned through the children entering the school. He was grateful that she had the luxury of her car with its tinted windows to separate her from the masses of not-so-little beasties. Miranda had never seemed comfortable around most children. He saw that, finally, her restless blue eyes found what they sought. Pavel watched Miranda as she observed Richard kiss Andrea's forehead and the girl walked into the school. It was a scene Pavel recalled vividly, with Miriam as the child and her mother as the proud parent. Miranda must have had the same thought because her eyes narrowed at the man, the man who had taken her mother away from her. It was a little terrifying, the anger that always simmered under her skin, but it was especially scary when it burned bright in instances such as this. It would not be long now, a few more years, and whatever plan her careful machinations had put into motion would come to fruition. Until then, Pavel knew, she would continue her life.

“Pavel.” Miranda looked at the man sitting in the driver's seat. “I believe it is time for my meeting.”

“Yes, Miranda.” The car had been running, to maintain Miranda's comfort, so Pavel merely checked the mirrors and pulled into the chaos that was traffic on the first day of school. They didn't have to go far to leave the congested area behind. Pavel followed the GPS directions to a warehouse loft that Miranda's latest designer used as a studio. This was the reason that Miranda had used in order for her to be in Ohio today. It was not the main reason. Pavel knew that the child, Andrea, had become somewhat of an obsession for Miranda. He was becoming fond of the girl himself and hoped that whatever Miranda had planned for her it wasn't as terrible as he knew Miranda could be.

Accompanying Miranda into the designer's studio, Pavel stood back, crossed his arms and waited for Miranda to pass judgment on the designs, making or breaking the man's dreams. Because that was what Miranda did best, she decided people's fate as if it was her right to do so. Many times, merely on a whim, he had seen Miranda devastate a person's dreams, and he had seen her make many designer's dreams into reality. So many people called her the Dragon Lady or The Devil in Heels, but Pavel couldn't find it in his heart to use either of those descriptors for Miranda. For him she was still the child he had watched grow up, no matter what she wanted him to call her out loud, in his heart, she would always be Miriam and she would always be a good person who tragically lost her family. He admitted, to himself, that he loved Miriam like his own daughter and always would. It made him a little sad to think that she was hurting herself so much, holding on to this hatred for Richard. He had hoped that the years would have eased the need for revenge. If anything her heart had not softened at all and the intervening years had instead only seemed to harden her resolve to carry out her plan, whatever that was.

###

Oddly enough, Pavel's thoughts on Miriam's heart seemed to have been misplaced, or at least premature. Because not too long after his musings Miriam met a man, purely by chance, at a fundraiser. That meeting turned into phone calls, coffee, lunches, dinners and weekends away together. Jeremy, as it turned out, had been the front man for a band that Miriam had enjoyed as a teen. That along with his natural charm made for what the papers deemed a whirlwind romance, ending with the couple being married, in a quick ceremony at the courthouse, barely a year after their initial meeting. It soon became clear why the marriage had been so rushed as Miranda began to exhibit the signs of pregnancy. Fashion designers from all over the world began to design maternity clothing and often looked ahead with couture for children.

Pavel watched as outwardly Miriam showed all the signs of a woman in love, but knew that the past years had taken their toll. As Jeremy became familiar, he also began to fade into the background. His career was no longer late nights at clubs, but now he was a very powerful and quite rich producer. His business often took him away from the city, Los Angeles saw him more and more often. It didn't seem to be a problem for Miriam, but when Jeremy was in town he expected her to drop everything to be with him. That was so very not how Miriam had ever personally operated and it was also not how the very public persona of Miranda behaved. Pavel knew that the romance had been over long before the tabloids reported it.

However, there was a good thing that came out of that relationship, two very good things actually. Pavel remembered seeing Miriam's face after she had given birth to the twins. It was then that he knew her heart was not totally lost. He saw the softness in her expression, in her eyes. Even a year later, he could see that love in Miriam's eyes when she looked at the girls, or spoke to them gently. It proved to him that she could still feel love and that, to Pavel, was worth the annoyance, Miriam's word, of divorcing Jeremy. The fact that the reports on Andrea Sach's progress through the Ohio educational system never truly stopped also proved that, capacity for love or not, revenge was still firmly entrenched in Miriam's mind.

###

“Emily.”

There was only a short wait before the current Emily was standing, breathless, in front of Miranda's desk. “Yes, Miranda?”

“Call my ex-husband and remind him that the girl's commencement ceremony from pre-K is tonight and they expect him to take them for the weekend. Then, arrange travel plans for a trip to Cincinnati this weekend. I want to be there tomorrow morning and back Sunday afternoon. Be sure to acquire adequate accommodations for Saturday night.”

The Emily scribbled down every word and nodded. “Yes, Miranda. Right away.”

Turning to look out her large windows, Miranda contemplated the upcoming events. She smiled at the thought of her girls, her own little red headed beasties, preparing to enter the next phase of their journey through the education system. The other ceremony, the one on Saturday night was for another beastie entirely. Andrea Sachs was graduating high school and a great deal of careful planning was about to come to fruition. It would still be several months before the young woman turned eighteen, several months before the time limit she had granted Richard would be reached. A small smile formed on Miranda's lips. But it was not because the culmination of her revenge was about to be reached, it was because she was thinking of her own children, her babies. The memory of them, so small, snuggling against her as newborns, waving their tiny fists in the air, their first teeth, taking their first steps, it was all so brief. Stretching her memory back she recalled the first time she had seen Andrea Sachs in her little bassinet squirming and horrid.

But Andrea wasn't horrid, Miranda knew, Andrea had been a beautiful baby. Not as beautiful as her own children, obviously, but still the recollection of the infant and then the memory of Andrea as a child brought a small curve to the edge of her lips. The request to be held was undeniable, the child's large dark eyes were somehow impossible to resist and the memory caused odd tugs at her heart. She had not interacted with Andrea since that day. She had seen a few pictures but her surveillance reports had decreased during the last several years, the last one was a bare bones report of Andrea's progress in school, a copy of her grades and the date for the graduation ceremony.

With a deep breath Miranda almost felt sorry that the time had come. Everyone expected Andrea to go to law school, especially Richard. Everyone expected her to follow in her father's footsteps, especially Richard. Miranda, however, had other plans and she didn't care what anyone else thought, especially Richard.

She had meant exactly what she said to Richard all those years ago. She intended for Andrea to work for her, she would control the girl's life. Although he didn't know it at the time, Richard had signed the soul of his daughter over to her the moment he had betrayed her father, the moment his actions caused her parent's death. Still, late at night or at times of contemplation like this, Miranda wondered at the fairness of it all. The child had done nothing but the anger still burned in Miranda's heart and she had decided, long ago, that Andrea would pay for the sins of her father. Her decisions were always final.

###

“Emily.”

Miranda looked up, over the top of her glasses when the girl, her newest second assistant, arrived at her desk. “Do I actually need to tell you or can you look at my desk and deduce what is missing?”

The Emily scanned the desk, her eyes widening when she realized the lack. “Coffee, straight away!”

“Mmmm...” Miranda watched the red-head rush away and hoped that this one would be ready. The current first assistant had been sub par lately and Miranda had the feeling that that particular Emily would not last much longer. This one would need to step up. Miranda knew the learning curve for the job was steep, but this one at least had a bit of style to draw from. True it was slanted more toward the Vivian Westwood type of clothing but this Emily wore it well enough. Shaking off that line of thinking, Miranda returned to her work, publications didn't just magically come together. She smirked and thought to herself, as Andrea is discovering.

Her research on the girl had discovered Andrea's acceptance into Stanford's Law program. That simply wouldn't do. Miranda already had a spectacular team of lawyers. Also it would make Andrea far too independent. In Richard's zeal to make the most of his time with Andrea he had put a lot of emphasis on family gatherings. Since what little was left of his own family was here in New York, distant cousin or some such thing, the bulk of the time was spent with his second wife Dorothy and her family. Having had the woman in her life from the time she was young, Andrea had only known Dorothy as her mother. When Miranda had gotten the report about Stanford, she had also received information regarding another school Andrea had applied to attend. Northwestern was an odd choice and Miranda quickly discovered Andrea's love of writing. Journalism was a far cry from her father's chosen profession, but Miranda thought it suited the girl and what better way to exact revenge on a person than giving them their fondest wish, and then taking it away.

Therefore, for a brief shining moment Richard was supremely happy to think his daughter would be following in his footsteps only to be crestfallen to learn that she would be attending Northwestern instead, and taking a decided turn away from the path Richard had assumed she would walk. A moment Miranda was rather disappointed in not being able to witness, but still the knowing it had occurred was quite satisfying.

A scholarship to Northwestern had been a simple matter of a few phone calls and a letter sent from her legal team to Andrea detailing the near free ride she would get for the journalism program. Andrea jumped at the chance and had flourished in this new environment as easily as she had throughout all her years in the school system. Her class performance was exemplary, and her extra work on the school newspaper was rather extraordinary as well. It seemed as if she had even made a new friend. According to the latest report, Andrea was now involved with a wanna-be chef. He was most certainly a passing fancy, but Miranda knew that with him in the picture it would be much easier to maneuver Andrea into the place she wanted. Here. Pavel already had his orders, as soon as Andrea graduated from Northwestern, her unworthy boyfriend Nathan would be offered a job in a not too popular, but successful New York restaurant. One that Miranda happened to own, even though that was not common knowledge. The chef and perceived owner, Jean Louis was always looking for a decent saucier. The offer would not be out of the ordinary as Jean Louis changed his line crew nearly as often as Miranda changed her assistants and frequently sought out new graduates for the lower positions in his kitchens. The other two 'best' friends would also receive employment opportunities. The artist was in for a shock. Chicago's artistic community was good, but not, in Miranda's opinion, on the scale that Lillian would find the New York art society to be. Still the entry level jobs would be too much for them to refuse and Andrea would certainly follow them. Then, Miranda smiled, she would have the girl on her own turf. It would be easy to manipulate the situation any way she wanted with Andrea no matter where the Beastie ended up in the publishing industry. It would be much more convenient to have her here in the city.

###

Pavel stood at the side of the room, watching as Miriam, yet again, walked down the aisle. The Lighthouse at Chelsea Pier was decorated beautifully and of course Miranda was beautiful, framed by the floor to ceiling view of the Hudson river at dusk. All that aside though, Pavel could only watch what he knew was another mistake. This man, Stephen, was not nearly man enough for Miriam, just as Jeremy had not been. His jaw tightened when Stephen winked at the twins, sitting very primly and somberly in their little dresses in the front row. It was all for show. Miriam, Pavel paused his thought to correct the name in his mind, Miranda needed the press to see her in a stable relationship. The pressures at Elias-Clark were enormous and the CEO Irv Ravitz was pushing very hard to get rid of Miranda. Pavel also knew that Miriam worried about the girls having a decent father-figure. Her father had played such a huge role in her young life that Miriam, Miranda, often worried that her girls didn't have the same sort of influence in their lives. Pavel was sad to see Miranda settling for this man instead of waiting to meet the correct person for the job.

He watched Miranda say the words. He watched her smile for the cameras, a smile that never reached her eyes. Dancing, merriment and after the children had been sent off to home, drinking and more forced merriment. He watched it all and it was heartbreaking. He drove the not-so-happy couple to the hotel where they would be spending the weekend. It was Miranda's concession to a honeymoon. Stephen agreed because he was also a very busy person. This is how Pavel knew Stephen was not the right person for Miranda. The right person would want to spend every moment with Miranda, not just a weekend and go back to work. The man didn't even care about moving in to the townhouse. Stephen was keeping his apartment. That didn't sit well with Pavel either, however, Miranda didn't seem to mind the lack of co-habitation at all so Pavel just kept his mouth shut.

###

Miranda looked on as the photo shoot finally began to come together. She did not have to check the time to know that her dinner reservation had been missed and wondered, briefly, how long Stephen had waited for her, if he had waited at all. She supposed she would hear about it when she got back to the townhouse. He would always be there, drinking her good scotch, waiting to tell her what a horrible wife she was, before storming out to stay at his apartment, presumably alone but Miranda knew better. She sighed, perhaps she should try to make some accommodations for him from time to time, but he had known who she was when he married her. It was unfathomable to her why he would have thought anything would change from their courtship simply because they had obtained legal papers saying that they were a couple. She had her work, as he had his. There had certainly been enough times that he had left her standing to realize that effort from both parties was needed for schedules to align.

Shrugging off thoughts of her personal life, Miranda gestured for the photographer to join her. This had been a fiasco, but the man was an artist and she could not fault the final product. With instructions for him to continue as he saw fit, Miranda turned the whole thing over to Nigel and left. She was not looking forward to going home, the girls were staying with their father this weekend which was one reason she and Stephen had made plans, but she no longer had a reason to remain at the site.

“Roy.” Miranda leaned back against the soft leather and closed her eyes. “The park,” she exhaled softly and gentled her tone, “for a little while, please.”

“Yes, Miranda.”

She missed Pavel, he still drove her around from time to time, but over the years she had been slowly shifting his duties until he basically ran her entire organization now, everything other than Runway. He was the only one she trusted to do that, the only one she knew would continue to treat her as the absolute leader of the 'business' without becoming greedy for the slight increase in power cutting her out of the operations would give him. She just didn't have time to oversee every facet of her empire and deal with Runway too. Of course, Runway was the part she was most interested in so that she kept for herself. She knew, in her heart, that no one could manage the magazine like she could. If anyone else tried, the magazine would suffer and that was unacceptable.

Looking out the tinted windows, Miranda watched the lights give way to trees. She knew that before long the leaves would turn and fall. The time just seemed to fly past so quickly, weeks into months into years. One minute she was holding her babies in her arms and the next they were poised young women. It seemed only yesterday she was putting her first issue of Runway to bed instead of the three hundredth one that they had just finished. But Miranda now turned her thoughts, as they often went of their own volition, toward Andrea Sachs. The New York skyline loomed and Miranda knew that somewhere, out there, Andrea was living her life. Oh, Miranda had the address of the apartment that Andrea now shared with her boyfriend, a turn of events that was unsettling to her for some undefined reason, and she still got reports regarding Andrea's activities, but as of yet the young woman had not found gainful employment. Perhaps it was time to correct that particular issue. Miranda would deal with that tomorrow. Tonight she needed to cope with Stephen and his insecurities.

“Roy.” Miranda inhaled deeply then slowly exhaled. “Take me home.”

Nodding, Roy turned the car in the proper direction. “Yes, Miranda.”

###

Unfortunately, one crisis after another prevented Miranda from taking any action regarding Andrea Sachs and her employment status for quite some time. Oddly enough it turned out any action on her part became unnecessary.

After her facialist injured herself, Miranda found herself coming in to the office earlier than scheduled. She was in a foul mood as she had been looking forward to the relaxation a facial treatment normally afforded her. She rattled off an excess of instructions for Emily to contend with and, when she saw the young woman seated at the second assistant's desk was only barely able to keep her tone in it's normal acerbic register. “Who is that?”

“Oh.” Emily made a dismissive gesture toward the new arrival.

Miranda didn't hear most of Emily's comment but the end of it caught her attention. So Emily believes that Andrea is totally wrong for the assistant position eh? To this day, Miranda couldn't tell you what she said to Emily regarding her incompetence, but she knew that she'd told her current assistant to send this applicant into her office for an interview. And now Miranda had no idea how to act, interact, with Andrea. She also had no idea whether she actually wanted Andrea to work in this office or not. Indirectly guiding Andrea's life had become a sort of addiction, to have direct control could become intoxicating. To cover her odd hesitance in speaking to Andrea, Miranda took off her glasses and cleaned them. That calmed her enough to ask the first, logical, question. “Who are you?”

Glancing at the paper Andrea laid in front of her, as she introduced herself and listed some of her qualifications, Miranda continued cleaning her glasses. “And what are you doing here?” It was actually a question for her not-present minions. She should have been warned of Andrea's arrival here this morning.

Opting for the disinterested approach, Miranda opened one of the papers on her desk as Andrea began to babble about wanting to become a journalist. Continuing to look over the newspaper in front of her, Miranda calmly, verbally, flayed Andrea's fashion sense. It was Andrea's reaction to those remarks that caught Miranda's attention. Nigel's abrupt appearance interrupted Andrea's response, but it seemed as though the rant was over anyway. Andrea said a polite thank you, to a person she most likely didn't even believe was listening and left the office. Miranda glanced at the photos Nigel had brought to her then called for Emily. She looked up when Emily appeared in front of her desk. “Hire her.”

Emily opened her mouth to protest, then closed it just as quickly and raced off. Miranda knew that it might take a while to catch Andrea, depending on how fast an escape she would want to make. For half a second Miranda wondered if she was doing the right thing. Having Andrea so close after all these years of distant surveillance would be an adjustment, but then again this could be an even better situation than she had hoped for. Having Andrea here would definitely make Richard squirm, especially when he found out “Miranda's” true identity. As far as she knew Richard only knew her as Miriam. Dismissing that line of thought, Miranda turned back to Nigel and the photos. There was work to be done, always.

###

Miranda conceded to herself that she had possibly made an error in judgment hiring Andrea. She didn't want to admit to making a mistake though, so she decided that Andrea should quit on her own. To that end Miranda spent an inordinate amount of time berating the persistent beastie. It was frustrating because no matter how many times she verbally flayed Andrea, she only seemed to dig in more. Her demands seemed to only bring out the best in Andrea, even after the Miami debacle, and now, after what could only be deemed a miraculous makeover, in true good assistant fashion Andrea was anticipating Miranda's needs. Having already taken care of getting her outfit delivered to the shoot was the final straw. Despite her better instincts, Miranda used Andrea's name to her face, for the first time, and transferred the duty of bringing the Book to the townhouse, to her.

Unfortunately having the clothing she was going to wear to meet her husband did nothing to actually cause the event to occur. There were problems with the shoot and unlike most places, the cell phone signal was non-existent so she couldn't call to let him know she was going to be late, or more accurately couldn't call one of her assistants to tell her to call the man and let him know she would be late. As expected he was at the townhouse, waiting for her, and a huge argument ensued.

His complaints were always the same. I waited for hours. They were all looking at me. The waiter called me Mr. Priestly. It was becoming tedious, but after the day Miranda had just finished, she was in no mood for his whining. In a move that was completely out of character for her, Miranda began to placate the man. Letting a bit of apology that she didn't feel slip into her tone she bowed to him slightly and thought she was about to end this particular argument when suddenly his focus shifted. She followed his gaze to see a wide-eyed Andrea standing a few steps down from the landing, clutching the Book tightly to her chest. It was unfathomable to Miranda how, or why, the beastie had mustered the gall to climb the stairs and her expression must have conveyed that quite nicely when Andrea began to back away. Remembering the Book, Andrea turned, laid it on the landing at Miranda's feet, then rushed off. Miranda watched her go, wondering if this had been the event that would break Andrea. She supposed tomorrow would be soon enough to find out. She heard Stephen fumbling around in the bathroom and knew that he would be leaving soon to go back to his own apartment. She supposed a divorce was on the horizon, but was too busy to think about it just at the moment. Miranda had far more important things on her mind than Stephen.

###

The next morning Miranda arrived early to the office. She was only there a few moments before Emily arrived. It was almost comical when Emily realized that she was not alone in the office. The perverse urge to prolong Emily's discomfort was short lived and Miranda merely asked to see Andrea when she arrived while making it very clear that Emily should make that happen, soon.

She knew, of course, when Andrea arrived. Emily forced her into the kitchen and berated her quite soundly. Miranda smiled to herself when the panicked 'fire me?' reached her ears. Yes, Andrea, yes indeed that could be an outcome to your blatant invasion of privacy. However, along with the distressed option of firing, Miranda had heard the reason Andrea had decided to walk up the stairs. The twins and their pranks were never-ending. It was not fair for Andrea to be fired outright for failing to spot a trick from Miranda's daughters. It had most likely been Caroline's plan that Cassidy went along with. Miranda feared that her brilliant daughters' love of Harry Potter had less to do with the main characters and more to do with the prankster twin redheads in the story. Speaking of which, Miranda decided that an impossible task would be the best course of punishment in this instance.

When Andrea arrived in front of her desk, nearly trembling in fear, Miranda requested the next book in the Harry Potter series. Andrea's reaction when she realized that Miranda was not speaking about the published novels, but did indeed require the unpublished manuscript for the 'next' book was quite comical. The beastie had been working for her for several months now and should know how to use the network connections she had made. If that were not the case, then it was better for Andrea to leave now. Having her around all the time was a distraction anyway. Miranda had found her thoughts drifting to Andrea far more during the time she had been employed here than anytime during her formative years. The beautiful young woman with the dark expressive eyes was a distraction that Miranda didn't need. Better to get rid of her now. That was the deal, get the manuscript for her girls before they boarded the train to their grandmother's house, or don't bother coming back. Seemingly as an afterthought, Miranda also requested a steak for her early lunch, in fifteen minutes.

When Miranda walked back into her office, fifteen minutes later, and found Andrea standing next to her desk with a perfectly prepared steak waiting for her consumption, Miranda was a bit impressed. Andrea would have had to do some fast talking to get Smith and Wollensky to open early. However, still being in the mood to twist the knife somewhat, Miranda merely looked at the offering. “What's that? I don't want that. I'm having lunch with Irv. I'll be back at three. I'd like my Starbucks waiting.” She turned around and headed back out the door, Emily standing ready with her coat and purse. Miranda looked at her watch and reminded Andrea to have the manuscript for her girls or not to bother returning to the office.

###

Miranda sat with her back to her door and absently looked through the Book. She was aware of the time and knew that her daughters were now safely aboard the train, with their nanny, heading toward their grandmother's home. She also knew that Andrea was not in the office. She hated it, hated having to make Andrea fail, but lately she had been far too distracted by the young woman's presence. Now the irritating Beastie was invading her dreams. Just last night, in fact, Miranda's sleeping mind had given her some very vivid images of what she wished had happened after Stephen stormed off. The image of Andrea walking back up the stairs, taking her hand and leading her to the bedroom was still fresh in her mind. The phantom sensation of Andrea's hands on her, laying her back on the bed still made her heart race. It was impossible. Madness. There was no way she was attracted to the daughter of Richard Sachs. There was no way she, Miranda Priestly, would ever bring on the press firestorm a lesbian affair with a woman half her age would obviously spark. No.

The sound of a book landing on her desk caused Miranda to turn around. She saw Andrea, standing smugly in front of her desk. A glance at the coffee and thick manuscript laying there caused Miranda's heart to skip. She'd done it! Andrea had actually managed to get a copy of the impossible-to-get manuscript. It took a deep breath to settle Miranda's astonishment. “One copy... what are my twins gonna do with that? Share?”

Andrea casually corrected the error. “No no... I made two copies and had them covered, reset and bound so that they wouldn't look like manuscripts. This is an extra copy to have in the file, you know.. just in case.”

Miranda took her glasses off to scan the contents of her desk a bit closer. “Well where are these fabulous copies? I don't see them anywhere.”

“They're with the twins, on the train, on the way to grandmas.”

Miranda pushed the ear of her glasses down, with her chin as Andrea continued speaking.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Miranda shook her head and gave her standard “That's all” dismissal before turning back to face the window. Andrea left the office then Miranda turned back around to get the coffee from her desk although she kept her eyes on Andrea's retreating form as she picked up the drink. Andrea was not going to be fired, not now. Miranda needed assistants who could manage impossible feats. She told herself that was the reason. Andrea's competence was the reason, nothing else. A flash of Andrea's smile crossed Miranda's mind. Nothing else at all.

Miranda just kept telling herself that. Telling herself it was only because Emily had some version of the plague that she required Andrea to be at the gala with her. Of course, it had paid off in the best way when Andrea remembered the people Emily's brain couldn't recall through the infected haze it was in. And, Miranda exhaled softly, when Andrea distracted Irv from Stephen's drunken appearance. It was only natural to mouth the words 'thank you' to the Beastie. Only natural that the soft smile Andrea had given her in return had haunted her dreams. So much so that Miranda knew she needed Andrea with her in Paris.

Andrea's reaction to being told that she was going to Paris instead of Emily was surprising. Did she really believe that Miranda would have been mistaken as to who she wanted comprising her entourage? Emily was no longer acceptable, she was far too tightly strung. Miranda needed Andrea's calming effect, Andrea's classic beauty and solid presence in Paris would go a long way to keep Miranda balanced during the chaos that the various shows and parties would wreak on her nerves.

###

Paris was a maelstrom of organized chaos and Miranda was correct in her assessment, obviously, having Andrea there soothed her like no other thing ever had. Knowing that during the shows she could turn slightly to her right and see Andrea there just behind her kept Miranda balanced, until Stephen blindsided her with divorce papers.

It wasn't as if she hadn't seen it coming. She had, months ago in fact, but there was just no time for this now. Stephen's cowardice in serving the papers now, in the middle of the most important fashion week of the year was not simply annoying, it was infuriating. She sighed, sometimes she wished she was able to call upon the favors her father often had at his disposal. She chose not to believe anyone was actually killed at her father's order, she never had any proof of that particular activity. She knew, however, that there were broken bones and beatings dealt out. Ruthless, but necessary in the type of dealings Androv had participated in. Dealing with Stephen like that would have been so much simpler and quite satisfying, but she had worked hard to distance herself from that part of the ''family business”, so much so that it had not taken long for all of the illegal portions of her life to fall away, gifted to people in other similar positions to her fathers. That distribution had the advantage of garnering 'favors' from those individuals and left Pavel with only the legitimate business' to manage. She thought briefly about the gentle giant of a man and knew that even now, if Miranda wanted him to, he would 'take care of Stephen'. And there was always the option of reconnecting with the darker side of her past. That world was changing but there were many people who still owed her father, and by default her, a good number of favors in addition to the ones who owed her for expanding their business with her gifts. But no, that would lead to nothing but massive legal entanglements of a criminal nature and personal danger. She was finally out of that and over the paranoia living in that world created. The best part of those 'deals' was her disassociation with that world. She didn't intend on ever creating a situation where her own little beasties were in danger. Now there would be lawyers, and court appearances, and all manner of inconvenience, but it would all be above board.

She nodded to herself, yes, sometimes the old ways did seem to have their uses. Sadly, they were also illegal, and often immoral. It had been a hard lesson to learn because Miranda loved her father to this day. But she knew there were often times that he wasn't exactly a good person, to other people. She was determined to remember the good she knew her father had had in him, and leave the rest.

She didn't know how long she had sat there, on the couch, in her luxury suite in Paris. Her eyes were red, not from crying, but from holding back the tears that Stephen surely did not deserve. Just before the sound of the door opening barely registered on her senses, her thoughts had turned to her children for a moment right before Andrea appeared.

“Oh.”

Taking a deep breath, Miranda pushed her personal feelings and troubles aside and looked at Andrea. “Oh, there you are.” She cleared her throat, gathering her very scattered wits for a moment. “We need to go... over the... seating... chart...for the luncheon.” She held out her hand for the document, waiting for far longer than she intended. “By all means, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.” She just lowered her hand when Andrea offered her the portfolio. Glaring at the woman for a moment she took the requested information. “Okay... so.. First of all we need to move Snoop Dog to my table.”

Not looking up when Andrea stopped taking notes to gently comment “But your table's full”, Miranda reluctantly passed along an important piece of information. “Stephen isn't coming.”

That seemed to change Andrea's mood, the girl seemed downright giddy that she wasn't going to have to 'fetch', her word, the man from the airport in the morning. If Miranda was honest she too was feeling a bit relieved at that prospect, but was unsure exactly where that particular relief was stemming from. “Well if you speak to him,” Miranda removed her glasses, “and he decides to rethink the divorce, then fetch away.” She replaced the seating chart into its folder and continued speaking. “You're very fetching.” Widening her eyes slightly at that little Freudian slip, Miranda turned it into her trademark snide comment. “So...go fetch.”

Now the awkward silence became oppressive, the issue of Stephen needed to be addressed. “And then when we get back to New York we need to contact, um... Leslie. See what she can do to minimize the press.. on all this.” Miranda found it odd to see how concerned Andrea seemed to be. “Another divorce. Splashed across Page Six. I can just imagine what they're going to write about me. The Dragon Lady, career obsessed. The Snow Queen drives away another Mr. Priestly. Rupert Murdock should cut me a check for all the papers I sell for him. I don't really care what they say about me.” She looked into the dark eyes she'd grown used to in the past several months, years. “But my girls... I just... It's just so unfair to the girls... just um, another disappointment, another let down, another father...figure,” she only just kept herself from laughing hysterically, “gone.” She got herself under control. “Anyway, point is... the point is... the point is we really need to figure out where to place Donatella because she's barely speaking to anyone.”

Silence again, until the Beastie decided to break it. “I'm so sorry, Miranda.” The quiet voice floated on a wave of genuine concern. “If you want me to cancel your evening, I can.”

It was an offer. A promise. It was Andrea saying that she could, and would, do whatever it took to make Miranda's life a tiny bit easier to bear. It was much appreciated and totally unnecessary. “Don't be ridiculous, why would we do that?” There was no way Miranda wanted to sit around this hotel room and stew about Stephen and his cowardice or how it was going to affect her children.

“Is there anything else I can do?” Andrea's warm tone again conveyed her genuine concern.

“Your job.” Miranda saw a fleeting shift in Andrea's face. It looked like hurt, but only for a moment. Miranda's “That's all.” dismissal was not as sharp as normal. Then all the documents and notes had been gathered and Andrea had left.

###

Miranda looked in the mirror. She appraised the image looking back at her critically. No one would notice the slight signs of her sleepless night. She would never admit it, but it was not only Stephen's cowardly divorce request that kept her up far after her dinner last night. Her thoughts had consistently returned to Andrea's whereabouts. The knowledge that Andrea was somewhere in the city with Christian Thompson was extremely distracting. She refused to admit the reason why that particular thought haunted her. Refused to acknowledge the near rage it caused, knowing Christian Thompson had been granted the honor of spending time with Andrea. Refused to acknowledge the jealousy, only knowing that Christian Thompson was an arrogant ass who was not worthy of Andrea's time any more than the wannabe cook. There was one simple thought that had begun to consistently plague Miranda and here, alone with only her reflection to hear, she voiced it. “Andrea is mine.”

Straightening her shoulders, Miranda took a deep breath and set her resolve. Despite all the issues in her personal life, she had to pull this off or her professional life would be even worse. Her stomach turned a bit as she undid an additional button on her shirt. It wasn't much and Irving did not like her, but he was a man and men responded to such things as an additional button being left open. She was putting on her earrings when the phone rang. She considered letting it ring, but then decided it could possibly be Irv changing the time of their meeting, so she answered.

“Allo?”

“Oh, Miranda, you're there...Thank God!”

“Excuse me?” Obviously Andrea was distraught, but a quick glance at her watch reminded her that if she was going to meet Irving for breakfast she had to leave now. Miranda quickly decided that Andrea could wait and hung up the phone.

###

The breakfast with Irving had actually been going quite well when there was a pounding at the hotel suite's door. Miranda couldn't quite believe her ears when she recognized the voice speaking to Irv and crossed to the door quickly, pushing Andrea back slightly. She kept her tones quiet, as always, but emphasized her words. “Have you completely lost your mind?!” A quick glance at Andrea, with a slight pause to regard the cleavage showing, and the lingering scent of men's cologne, made it painfully obvious that she had come directly from Christian Thompson's bed. Anger flashed through her, but her voice only reflected mild disdain. “Do not disturb me again!” She closed the door decisively, in Andrea's face.

That...Beastie! Miranda tried to keep her focus. This was important, Miranda seethed to herself, this was her job, her life, she could not allow distractions now. Pushing the thought of Christian and Andrea together out of her mind, Miranda took the conversation back on track, Miranda passed Irving a list, a partial list, of the people who would leave the magazine if she, Miranda, were to leave the post of editor-in-chief. It was comprised of several people she had nurtured throughout their career and had promised to remain faithful to her, not the magazine. There were more, but the names she gave him were the ones even he would recognize and know that Runway would suffer greatly if this mass exodus were to occur. The inability for Runway to utilize the best photographers and designers would be disastrous for the magazine, possibly catastrophic enough that there would be no recovery. Irv had no choice but to reluctantly agree. They summoned Jacqueline and explained the situation to her. Miranda was not immune to the woman's quandary but Jacqueline took it well. The position in James Holt's organization paid far more than that of editor-in-chief. Jacqueline's eye seemed to sparkle at the thought of making more than Miranda. Of course, Miranda didn't care about that, money was nothing to her, it never had been. She had had more money on her sixteenth birthday than Jacqueline would make in her lifetime. No, money was nothing to Miranda, her only concern was the magazine. Besides her children, Runway... fashion, was always the most important thing, wasn't it?

There were things to do, to prepare. Luckily, per her instructions, there were no more distractions. Miranda was not surprised, however, when Andrea rushed to meet her prior to the luncheon. She was able to follow the young woman's babbling but of course already knew the news Andrea was relaying. She distracted her sincere, but worried, assistant with some comment about Freesias and brushed past Andrea to survey the room. People began arriving soon after and hostess duties prevented any more conversation with Andrea. Miranda was quite impressed with the event, Andrea had done an admirable job organizing everything to her specifications. She made a mental note to congratulate the Beastie for the job well done, but first she had to settle this nonsense with Irv and Jacqueline, once and for all.

The luncheon seemed to go well and Miranda was able to bide her time, avoiding both Andrea and the issue, until Nigel began his speech. His lovely introduction sent a slight twinge of regret to her heart, at what she was about to do to him, but it had to be done. Covering that bit of humanity with a lame attempt at speaking French, which she was much better at than she let on, Miranda commenced with the announcement. She only glanced at Andrea after Jacqueline's name had been spoken, after the applause was over and as she was continuing with her speech. The look Beastie gave her was hard, full of disgust, probably because her friend, Nigel, had seemed to be hurt by the action. Miranda knew that was far from the truth, but also knew that now was not the time to go into it, especially with a judgmental assistant. There would be time, later, to explain everything to the insolent child. Miranda smiled and accepted the crowd's applause as she stepped down from the stage and took her seat. She only glanced once, again, at Andrea as she passed the table secure in the knowledge that there would be time, later.

Directly after the luncheon there was a runway show that Miranda needed to attend. She found herself in the car with Andrea and took the opportunity to thank her, as much as was possible for Miranda. She explained how she had known about Irv and Jacqueline's plot to take her out of the editor-in-chief position. She complimented Andrea's loyalty. “I was very very impressed by how intently you tried to warn me.” Miranda had never thought she would hear herself say it, but she did indeed vocalize her feelings. “I see a great deal of myself in you.” The girl's ability to choose for herself was admirable in Miranda's eyes.

Andrea's protests, saying that she didn't feel she could do 'something like that' to a friend amused Miranda. Amused her because as she pointed out to Andrea, the girl already had done 'something like that'. “To Emily.”

Again came the protests, the halting denial of this lifestyle. It was, of course, a lie and she spoke the truth for Andrea to hear. “Everybody wants to be us.”

The press crowded around and only the presence of the large security men kept the hoard at bay. As she was escorted up the steps, Miranda turned to speak to Andrea only to find that she was nowhere to be seen. The press must have been too much for her. Odd how alone she felt at that moment, but Miranda managed to continue into the venue. Once clear of the doors and the press she speed dialed Andrea's number. Voice mail? She barely paid attention to the fashions parading in front of her, completely distracted by Andrea's absence. By the time the show was over it was apparent that Andrea was not going to return. Suddenly the concept of free choice was not so desirable to Miranda.

Chapter Text

After Paris, Miranda found a letter of resignation waiting for her in her inbox. It was the standard wording and told her nothing about the actual reason Andrea had chosen to walk away. A few days later she heard Emily being extra snippy to someone on the phone.

“I don't care if you are the editor-in-chief of The Mirror, Miranda is far too busy to bother with Andrea bloody Sachs.”

The Mirror. Miranda nodded to herself. So Andrea is still determined to pursue her journalism career. Good. Miranda quickly pulled up her rarely used fax program and typed a quick but devastating recommendation. Nothing fluffy otherwise Greg would not believe it was actually from her, but direct enough to ensure that Andrea secured the position. Miranda knew that without a new job quickly Andrea would be heading back to Ohio and for reasons unknown, at least unacknowledged, Miranda did not want Andrea to leave the city.

###

Miranda was perusing the Book as the clock ticked closer to nine pm. The house was quiet, the girls were at their father's house this weekend. It was just as well, because she needed to speak to Pavel and didn't want any chance that the girls would overhear. The kitchen door opened and closed, followed by Pavel's distinctive, now slower, footsteps. Miranda closed the Book as Pavel entered the small sitting area, just off the kitchen.

“You wanted to see me, Mir...anda?”

“Yes, Pavel.” She gestured to the chair next to her. “I wanted to discuss my, special project.”

“Oh?”

“She acquired a position at The Mirror.” Miranda took a deep breath when Pavel nodded affirmative to that statement. “I want the surveillance discontinued.”

“Oh?” Pavel was surprised. “You're releasing her? Are you sure?”

Miranda paused, chewing over the thought slowly before answering. “Yes.”

Pavel smiled. “Good.”

Despite the sick feeling in her stomach Miranda pushed it aside and got on with the business at hand. “You have any problems I should know about?”

Shaking his head, Pavel shrugged. “No. Everything is running smoothly.”

“No entanglements I should know about?” Miranda didn't think Pavel was lying outright, but the man had a history of trying to protect her from certain aspects of her previous life.

“There are many of your father's old associates who still owe you favors, you know some of his allies swore revenge for his death, but that number is reduced every year. Theirs is a dangerous line of work. They will not approach you, you would have to call in the favors if you wanted them. The leadership landscape is shifting rapidly, soon there will be no one left to remember the old families and the debts they owe, unless someone reminds them. Very few will repay what they have, or believe is, forgotten. Even vengeance is often forgotten over time.” Pavel patted Miranda's hand lightly. “There will be no more entanglements of that nature for you, correct?”

Laying her free hand over Pavel's, Miranda assured the man, “No. That life is long past.”

“So... Stephen...”

“Will be handled through the court system.” Miranda sighed. “The attorneys may as well earn the money I pay them.”

He switched back to the previous topic. “You are sure the beastie will fly on her own?”

“Fly or falter, whichever she does, it will be done without me looking on, or guiding her in any way.” Miranda's eyes glazed for a moment, “She has her life to live and I have mine.” A small grin stretched her lips and Miranda let an amused sound escape her throat. At Pavel's questioning look Miranda admitted, “It is odd. She has been such a constant in my life, for so long... not having to think about her makes me feel a little, lost.” Shaking off that thought, Miranda moved on to the main reason for calling this meeting. “You have also been a constant in my life, for far longer than Andrea. I believe it is time for you to fly as well.”

“What?”

“You have gone as far as you can in my organization. You are the CEO of my companies and have done a fine job running them smoothly for quite a number of years.”

“Thank you, Miranda.”

“You have spent your entire life taking care of me, my safety. Whatever I needed done, you were there.”

“Of course...” Pavel's response was halted by Miranda's upheld hand.

“It is my turn now.” She smiled and patted the man's hand. “You should enjoy the remainder of your life. Find a successor, there are several to choose from already. Many of the holdings have general managers who are qualified, at least on paper. Choose him, or her, and use the next few months to show them how we do things in all our companies. I will expect to be introduced before you step down.” Leaning back into her chair, Miranda took a sip of her tea. “Choose your successor, then go, enjoy your life.”

“And what about your life, Miranda?” Pavel spoke gently, “Do you not also deserve to enjoy life?”

Miranda was surprised at the question, but didn't show it, nor did she answer it. She merely picked up the Book and began to work. This was her life. Just this. Pavel left without another word.

###

“Miranda...” Emily apologetically handed over an embossed letter, “this just arrived for you.”

Accepting the envelope, Miranda dismissed the young woman. Her heart fluttered slightly when she recognized the handwriting. Andrea. Even the name in her head sounded breathless. Opening the message, Miranda's lips formed a smile as she read the carefully written words.

Please accept my apologies for my incredibly unprofessional departure in Paris.
Also, please accept my eternal gratitude for the recommendation. I won't disappoint you.

Andy

Miranda tapped her lips as she contemplated the note. It did not actually require a response. Did it?

###

Andrea Sachs slowed her steps as she approached her desk. It looked normal, with the exception of an envelope that seemed to be made out of artisan, hand-made, paper. The handwriting on the outside was distinctive and immediately recognizable to her. Miranda. She could barely hold the envelope to open it and the paper was shaking in her hands so much it was difficult to read. Her knees gave out and she sat, hard, into her chair as the words finally registered.

When you make a decision do not apologize for it.

Gratitude is not necessary, I know you will not disappoint me.

Miranda

“She isn't angry.” Andy murmured to herself as she scanned the note, again. The flowing script, written by Miranda herself, the flourish on the signature, meant that Miranda had done this, not an Emily... Miranda herself had taken the time. Glancing around the empty office, Andy brought the paper to her face and inhaled deeply. Her eyes closed, it hurt to know that this was probably the last time she would ever have the luxury of Miranda's signature perfume invading her senses. She didn't want to think too hard about why that hurt.

Pushing aside the feeling that a chapter in her life was ending, Andy carefully tucked the note back into its envelope and exchanged it for the laptop in her bag. As she booted up her computer, Andy decided that a chapter ending wasn't terrible because when one ended, another began. With a smile on her face, she nodded to her co-workers, who were just arriving, and began working at a job she had always wanted.

###

Roy held the door to the town car open as Miranda walked down the sidewalk from her door. He smoothly handed her the folded paper he'd collected from the newsstand this morning. He made sure she was totally inside before closing the door and moving to take his place behind the wheel. This was the routine now, although he didn't know why he had been charged with acquiring a daily copy of The Mirror. In the first week, Roy had figured out that Miranda only looked for one thing in the pages. If she found it, she read the article, and carefully tore the words away, storing them in her purse and leaving the rest for him to dispose of. If she did not find what she was looking for the entire copy was left for him. After two weeks he had handed her a small pair of scissors along with the folded paper. He figured by now there was a fat folder with all the articles written by one Andrea Sachs in it, or a large scrapbook.

A glance in the mirror showed Miranda with a furrowed brow. “Miranda? Something wrong?”

“This article Andrea has written, is from the crime desk.” It was most disconcerting that Andrea's journalistic endeavors had turned away from the generally light, fluffy pieces she had come to enjoy. Crime was not something Miranda wanted Andrea digging very deeply into.

“I suppose most reporters want to break a big crime story... corruption in City Hall and all that...” Roy tried to keep his voice casual as he navigated the streets of New York. He was all too aware of Miranda's history with crime, Pavel had made sure to fully inform Roy of all possible dangers to the woman he ferried around the city. Not that Miranda was part of that world anymore, just that it existed in her past and sometimes the past had a way of catching up with you.

“I suppose.” Miranda didn't say anything else after that, and neither did Roy. It wasn't unusual to travel the entire distance to work in silence. In fact, Miranda preferred it.

###

Andy glared at her phone, that she had just tossed into a chair across the room, and wanted to scream, loud enough for her father to hear her through the disconnected call. She loved him but he was extremely infuriating at times, like now. His closer-to-demand-than-suggestion that she move back “home” to Ohio crossed the border of parenting into the realm of insulting. So what if she and Nate had broken up? She had a great job that she loved and had moved into a fantastic new place. That had been a stroke of luck that she had hopped on immediately.

When the kindly older gentleman had come into the office he had stopped her on her way in and quietly asked her how to put an advertisement in the paper, she was a bit startled. It was not her area, sales and writers rarely mixed, but she did her best to help him. He explained that he had a two-story house that was now far too large for him, due to his advancing age, and would like to rent the upper floor. When Andy heard the price he was asking she thought it must be falling apart around him, but had requested that he show it to her. The lease on the apartment she'd been living in, with Nate, was nearly up and renewing it would jump the price considerably. Also, quite frankly, she was ready for a change. The man had agreed and didn't even bother putting the ad in the paper. He said he would wait until Andy decided if she wanted it or not.

Oh, did she want it. Far from the dilapidated hole she had expected, the home in question was small compared to other townhouses but well-maintained and located in an extremely affluent neighborhood. In fact, Miranda's own townhouse was a mere block and a half away. That was the only point that caused Andy any sort of hesitation, living that close would be a great deal like torture.

In the end, financial responsibilities came into play. For the same as what she was paying now, Andy got a place that was twice as large, in a better part of town, and close to the park. Miranda or not, that just made sense to her and Andy couldn't pass up the opportunity. It was a great deal. Plus, Andy reasoned with their schedules as they were she and Miranda could probably both actually live in the same house and never see each other. The thought of living with Miranda had caused her to shiver pleasantly but of course, that would never happen.

Now her father wanted her to give up her job and her new place, that she'd already been in for a few months, to go back to Ohio? No. No way. He had even gone so far as to say that he hadn't seen the new place or met the landlord, like she couldn't use her own judgment for where she wanted to live. She knew she was going to stomp all the way to work and be in a terrible mood all day now. Talking to her mother would help, Andy was sure that her mom had nothing to do with her father's demands, but it was too late in the morning for that comfort. Her mom would be at school and Andy would never call her mother at work unless it was an absolute emergency. The need to hear her mother's soothing voice was not an emergency of that magnitude. She would have to wait for that until lunchtime.

The fleeting thought of another soothing voice stopped Andy cold, but in a way she understood the compulsion. Miranda's voice had always calmed her, even when the words were harsh, the tones delivering them were a sort of balm against them. As much as living with Miranda wasn't going to happen, even a phone call with the woman was out of the question too. Miranda was out of her life. Walking out of the fashion diva's life was her own doing, her choice. It had been the best, and worst, decision she had ever made and Andy knew it.

###

Miranda watched as the lights of the city passed outside the town car's window. It had been an especially trying day with one disaster after another. The girls were spending the weekend with their grandmother so the townhouse was empty. “Roy, take me through the park.”

“Yes, Miranda.” Roy nodded and headed the car toward Miranda's favorite destination. “Should I park?”

Taking a deep breath, Miranda considered that and nodded. “Yes. I think a short walk would be beneficial.”

Roy pulled the car into the small parking area nearest to Miranda's favorite walking path. He managed to get to the back door in time to hold it for Miranda's exit, then he could only watch as Miranda walked down the well lit path.

Miranda chuckled as she walked. No matter how bad a day she'd had, Roy's quandary amused her. He knew that she wanted to be alone, but he also knew that part of his job was keeping her safe. Therefore she decided to keep to the path that was visible from the parking area. A glance back at the car showed Roy leaning against the trunk, watching her. He was a good man, Pavel had chosen well for his replacements, both Roy and the woman he'd trained to take over the business affairs. Miranda was pleased at the way her non-Runway interests were being handled. Runway on the other hand had begun to fall apart around her. It wasn't new though, she could pinpoint the exact moment the deterioration had started. Paris. When Andrea had walked away.

Unbidden, Andrea's smiling face flashed through her mind and suddenly her mood lightened. Slowing her steps, Miranda sat on a convenient bench. She fought the thought for a moment then, in her solitude, here in the cool night, she admitted to herself, “I miss her.”

A light breeze made Miranda shiver and brought her out of her maudlin thoughts. Deciding that the short walk had done her as much good as it was going to for tonight, Miranda rose from the bench and made her way back to the car. Perhaps tomorrow a walk in the sunshine would help even more.

###

Andy barely paid attention to the path under her feet, concentrating instead on her breathing. Since moving into her new place she had started running again. She'd been sticking to night-time runs due to her schedule, night-time or early morning was best for her right now. Night runs had the bonus of allowing her to hide a bit, because she was so rusty at running. The first week had been brutal, but things had gotten easier as the routine became habit and now Andy felt that she was back into good enough form that early morning runs, when other more serious runners usually occupied the paths, wouldn't embarrass her too much.

Turning down a well lit path, Andy ran past an unoccupied bench. A sudden shiver ran down her spine and a faint familiar scent lingered on the breeze. Slowing, Andy looked around but saw nothing unusual. The taillights of a vehicle leaving the parking area gave no clue as to who was leaving, but somehow Andy just, knew. Miranda had been here. The sense of loss at having missed a chance to see Miranda was overwhelmed by the terror of the prospect. Not because she was scared of Miranda, but because she was at a total loss as to what she would say to the woman. Andy knew that if she were to come face to face with Miranda again she would most likely draw a blank and stammer like an idiot. She had the feeling that being unable to string more than two coherent words together would greatly disappoint Miranda and that was the very last thing Andy ever wanted to do, again.

Suddenly the memory of her first meeting with Miranda replayed itself in her head and Andy smiled. No matter how scary Miranda had seemed at the time, it was a good memory. She chuckled as she continued her run because she doubted Miranda felt the same about the incident, if she remembered it at all.

###

As it turned out, Miranda's walk in the early morning sunshine did actually make her feel better. The Saturday morning stroll with no one, even Roy, present to hinder her thought process was extremely beneficial in restoring a bit of balance to her decidedly off balance week. Yet another dream visit from Andrea had left her fervently wishing she could go back to sleep and continue to be with the younger woman. Instead, Miranda had risen at the rather early hour thinking she could go over the Book, again, but then had decided to take the walk she'd promised herself the night before. The sunrise had put her into a better mood than she should have been, for a sleepless night at the end of a long week, Miranda altered her path from home, to the home of her old friend. Perhaps, she thought, he would be interested in having breakfast with her. She reasoned that he would at least have some decent coffee prepared by this hour. Pavel's greeting was not what she expected.

“I can explain.”

Miranda's coolest mask immediately fell into place as she brushed past the man to enter his home. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she soon would. Understanding that this was something that he thought she would be angry about, she chose a corresponding response, “Bring me some coffee then explain, quickly.”

She accepted the coffee he had immediately poured and took a sip while she waited for him to begin. It didn't take long for the entire story to spill out and she had no idea what to do with the information. Andrea was here, literally living here in this house, with Pavel. Well, in the apartment upstairs. It had been several months since she had seen the man in his home, their meetings usually consisted of lunches, dinners or drinks that did not occur here. He had mentioned some time ago, in passing, that he was considering taking a tenant. She had assumed it was meant as a warning, to let her know that there would be a virtual stranger on the premises when she visited. Now she wondered if she should even be at his home at all, with Andrea just upstairs. Oh God, the ache in her heart at that thought, to climb those steps and see that smile once again, left her breathless.

Standing abruptly, Miranda gathered her things, coat and purse, and headed toward the door. She could not stay here. She knew if she stayed any longer she would not be able to resist the temptation of seeing Andrea again. Her only choice was to leave, now. She didn't say another word to Pavel as she exited but she made the mistake of looking back and was relieved to see she had made a clean escape. It was short lived when her forward motion was suddenly halted.

“Whoa!”

Miranda's blue gaze swung around to see Andrea's smiling face. “oh.” Still off balance Miranda began to fall only to find Andrea's surprisingly strong arms surrounding her.

“Whoops... easy there...”

It was too much to resist. The sensation was so much like the dream that had woken her, Miranda found her arms sliding around Andrea's waist. It was so natural, so right, Miranda's head fit perfectly on Andrea's shoulder.

The sensation only lasted a moment, only until Andrea pulled back. The arms around her loosened and Miranda found herself looking into the dark eyes that haunted her dreams. She could only stare and try to remember to breathe as recognition flared in those depths.

“Miranda?” Andy pulled back a bit more. “Miranda, what are you doing here?”

“I...” Miranda never took her eyes off of Andrea. “I was just...”

“Visiting.” Pavel supplied, from the doorway. “Miranda and I are old friends.”

Having gathered her wits, Miranda now chuckled at the expression on Andrea's face. Even as an assistant Andrea had been extremely sensitive regarding comments about age. “That was not a comment on my age. I have known Pavel since I was a child.”

“Oh.”

There was a tone in Andrea's voice that caused Miranda to tilt her head. It wouldn't cause her to hear it any better because that one, near exhalation, was the only thing Andrea said but Miranda often tilted her head to review things in her mind. That one short word had a tone that could very well be described as, disappointment. Is Andrea actually upset that I am not here to see her?

It was Pavel who took the initiative and addressed both women. “Andy, I see your morning run was a success. Come in, I will make you some breakfast.” He grinned at Miranda. “You too, come back inside, finish your coffee at least.”

“Oh, I'm not suitable for company...” Andy took another step away from Miranda and gestured to herself. “I'm all sweaty from my run.”

“Meh.” Pavel dismissed the protest. “You have a little time while I'm cooking. Go, get cleaned up then come back down and share the meal with us.”

Miranda didn't smile, but her expression did soften. “Do as he says, Andrea.” She looked at the stunned young woman and nodded. “We have things to discuss.”

She could see that Andrea was shaking, but Miranda knew that the intensive months that the girl had spent as her assistant would take over. She watched as the young woman rushed into the house and up the stairs to comply. Now it was her turn to tremble. Pavel's guiding hand ushered her back into his apartment. Miranda found herself again sitting on his couch with a cup of coffee in her hand. She did not know how long they had sat in silence before Pavel spoke softly.

“You must calm down, Mir..anda.”

“I'm not sure that is possible.” Miranda set her coffee down on the table next to her and tried to take deep, regular, breaths. “You do know I will never forgive you for this, don't you?”

“You will.” Pavel assured her. “One day you will thank me.” He chuckled at the dark look Miranda gave him. “Trust me.”

“Pavel, you are one of the few people in this world that I do trust.” Miranda concentrated on her breathing. “You will be waiting quite some time for any sort of gratitude for this particular escapade.”

Chuckling at both statement and tone, Pavel patted Miranda's knee gently. “I would imagine so, but it will come.” He tilted his head, listening. “She's on her way down.” He rose from his seat. “It won't take long for breakfast to be ready.” Calling over his shoulder as he walked to the kitchen, Pavel urged Miranda to do what she needed to do. “Talk to her.”

###

When Andrea appeared in the doorway, Miranda looked at her for a long moment. The young woman's hesitation was understandable, but rather annoying. It was Pavel's living room, but Miranda always commanded any room she occupied. With a gesture, Miranda huffed, “Sit down, Andrea.”

Andy sat but continued to wring her hands nervously. Miranda also remained silent, despite Pavel's 'talk to her' directive. When the man announced that breakfast was ready it was a huge relief. They ate in silence and then to Miranda's surprise, Andrea spoke softly.

“Thank you for breakfast, Pavel. It was delicious.” She patted her flat stomach. She smiled at her landlord then turned to the unexpected guest. “Miranda... would you.. um... like to walk with me?” Her smile faltered slightly. “Um... in the park...”

Despite just finishing a walk, earlier, Miranda considered the offer. The park was quite appropriate for the discussion they needed to have, the park had been a large part of every major turning event in her life. “After this meal, I believe a walk would be beneficial.”

A glance at Pavel was enough to know that the man approved. He nodded and waved them toward the door. “I'll just tidy up the kitchen.”

His hasty exit didn't leave time for either woman to say more. Miranda had, however, seen his parting wink at her. She dismissed the man's confidence with a huff and gestured toward the door. “Shall we?”

They walked in silence for quite some time even after reaching the park. Miranda was just about to break her mental 'let Andrea speak first' resolution when Andrea did, in fact, speak first.

“Thank you for walking with me today.” Andy glanced at her unlikely companion and continued. “I wanted to apologize for the way I left in Paris... and to thank you for the recommen...”

“I believe we have already covered this topic.” Miranda did not want to think about the time when Andrea had left her. It caused an unpleasant ache in her chest.

“Yes, but when I saw you, I realized I needed to say it. In person.” Andy sighed and crossed her fingers that Miranda wouldn't kill her. “I know it sounds odd, but I've missed you.”

Miranda knew there must have been a flash of an incredulous expression on her face, before she was able to school her features into her normal impassive mask. She wasn't quite able to keep the amusement out of her words, “Glutton for punishment are you?”

Andrea's self-depreciating chuckle pulled at the corners of Miranda's lips. “Not many people willingly remain in my presence, Andrea.”

“They would, if they knew you.”

“And you.. know me?” Miranda's tone clearly conveyed her disbelief at that idea.

There was a moment of hesitation before Andrea responded. “I would like to.”

Miranda felt herself drowning in Andrea's dark eyes and admitted, “I had grown accustomed to your smile.” She was rewarded for that truth with the very thing she spoke of when Andrea smiled widely.

“You missed me too?”

Miranda smirked at the wording and the disbelief in Andrea's voice, but acknowledged the translation. “I did.”

Pressing her lips together for a moment, Andy obviously debated something quickly in her mind and then gave herself a small nod before speaking, “I run here in the park six days a week, but on Sunday mornings I only walk.” She wrung her hands together and pressed on, “Would you like to meet me...on Sundays... to walk with me?”

Miranda considered the offer. Once a week, that would work. She thought it would relieve the burden on her mind regarding Andrea. Not knowing where the girl, young woman, was or what she was doing lately had done odd things to Miranda's concentration. Yes, once a week, to see Andrea's smile would be acceptable. “Yes.” The immediate smile her response pulled from Andrea made Miranda question her conclusion. Will once a week really be enough?

They resumed their walk and as they meandered through the park paths they spoke to each other, random thoughts that often made them laugh. Miranda enjoyed herself immensely and was surprised when she found herself at the bottom of the steps leading to her home. She spoke quietly as she moved up toward her door, “Thank you, Andrea, for a lovely morning.”

“It was great.” Andy smiled and raised her eyebrows. “So, I'll come by tomorrow around eight am?”

Mirroring Andrea's infectious smile as much as was possible for her, Miranda nodded. “Perfect.”

She watched Andrea walking down the street with an uneasy feeling of de ja vu. But this was not Paris, and Andrea would be back in the morning. That thought brought another smile to Miranda's face and she leaned against the inside of her door. Tomorrow.

###

That first Sunday walk was spectacular, Miranda and Andrea spent hours wandering through the park, chatting, so long in fact that they even had lunch together that day and when it was over they made the promise to meet again the next Sunday early so that they could walk and watch the sunrise before they each went their separate ways for breakfast.

Miranda met Andrea in the park for the next three Sundays. They walked and chatted amicably about various aspects of her work and Andrea's, however, she always rushed home before much time had passed. On the second Sunday the sun had fully risen before she bid Andrea farewell, but each week after that Miranda found herself spending less and less time on their outing. Last Sunday she had left abruptly but, as always, with the promise to meet again the next weekend.

It was because of that promise Miranda was ready and walking toward the door when her doorbell rang. She was confused, as she opened the door. “Andrea?” Her head tilted slightly. “Did I misunderstand our meeting time?” The sky had only barely started to turn pink.

“No.” Andy licked her lips and sighed. “But if the trend continued this week, I figured I only had about five minutes to see you. So I wanted to make the most of it.”

“What?” Miranda stepped on outside the door and pulled it shut. “Andrea, what are you talking about?”

“I get the feeling you are regretting our weekly meeting.” Andy shrugged and fell into step beside Miranda as they headed in the direction of the park. “You spend less and less time with me...I thought perhaps you didn't want to continue our walks after all.”

“Oh.” Miranda swallowed hard at the thought of not seeing Andrea any more. She was also acutely aware that Andrea had yet to smile today. “That was not my intention,” she assured the younger woman, “far from it.”

“So you aren't going to run off in five minutes?”

The insecurity in Andrea's voice made Miranda's heart thump, almost painfully. “No.” It was Miranda who initiated a smile as she tried to catch Andrea's downward gaze. “We can have breakfast together this morning. In fact, we could spend the entire day together, if you wish.” Her heart fluttered when hopeful brown eyes looked up to meet hers and the brilliant smile she knew was just for her flashed across Andrea's face. Holding the gaze for a few seconds longer than she probably should have, Miranda nodded. “Shall we walk?”

She smiled softly at Andrea's nod and felt the sense of peace that always accompanied being in Andrea's presence envelope her. They walked in silence to the park and for some time along one of 'their' paths. She knew Andrea was thinking about her actions during their previous meetings and Miranda was content not to disclose too much, yet. As the pavement they were following curved around to pass a playground area Miranda could practically see the light bulb over Andrea's head flicker on.

“The girls!” Andy smacked her palm against her forehead. “You needed to be home for the girls!”

Miranda found her motion halted as Andrea stepped over in front of her. Those large sad eyes were nearly the end of her, but the words were worse.

“I understand if you don't want to meet with me anymore.”

“No...” Miranda's immediate response made them both blink. Releasing the sudden tension in her shoulders, Miranda shook her head and started again, this time moving slightly closer, close enough to reach up and brush the backs of her fingers against Andrea's cheek. “I very much want our walks to continue.” A jolt like electricity shot through her when Andrea moved into her touch.

“Me too.”

Lowering her hand, Miranda exhaled softly. “Most assistants want to get as far away from me as possible, once they leave my employ.”

“I'm not most assistants, Miranda.” Andy's dark eyes lowered then darted off to the right.

Miranda grinned in response to Andrea's smile appearing and the comment the girl made.

“I'm not an assistant any more, but I can still get your coffee.” She stepped around Miranda, brushing their shoulders lightly as she passed. “Be right back.”

Miranda watched Andrea approach the coffee vendor and waited while the young woman placed the order. It was amazing to think that Andrea actually wanted to bring her coffee. A wry grin crossed Miranda's lips as she made plans to get coffee for Andrea next week, and there would be a next week. Miranda was determined to keep her meetings with Andrea, even if it did mean missing a bit of time with the girls.

Accepting the coffee from Andrea, Miranda followed the young woman's lead and they sat on a nearby bench. They had only taken a few sips in companionable silence when Andrea spoke.

“I want to talk to you about something, but not here.”

Miranda's heart sped up at the sad tone in Andrea's voice coupled with a slight glint of terror in her ex-assistant's eyes.

“Will you come back to my place, so we can speak in private?”

Trying to calm her racing heart, Miranda merely nodded. She tried not to shake too badly as they walked toward Andrea's home. The young woman had already tried to back out of their meetings, even though Miranda said she wanted them to continue, would Andrea again try to call a halt to their weekly walks? No, Miranda thought, that would be unacceptable. I will not allow it.

She had worked herself up into quite a mental frenzy by the time they reached Andrea's door. So much so that she barely noticed walking up the staircase and entering Andrea's rooms. Only when Andrea asked if Miranda wanted her coffee warmed up did Miranda realize where she was sitting. In Andrea's living room. It was too late for her distracted mind to pull herself together and Miranda's response was more Dragon Lady than usual. “No, my coffee is fine. What is it you wanted to discuss?”

Andy took a seat on the couch next to Miranda. She gently took the coffee cup from the older woman's hand and set it on the small table in front of them. “I wondered if you might want to postpone our meeting next Sunday...”

“No!” Miranda was standing now, pacing. “Absolutely not.. we will meet...”

Andrea's body blocked her path and Miranda slammed into her, finding herself in Andrea's arms just as she had those weeks ago at Pavel's front door. This time, however, the intervening meetings had given her a semblance of familiarity, enough that she melted into the embrace with a sigh. When Andrea tried to pull away, Miranda held on tightly, her voice deep with emotion. “I do not want to end our meetings.”

Allowing herself to be guided back to the couch, Miranda loosened her hold, unable to maintain the embrace as they sat. “Andrea, I will not give up...”

“Shhh...” Andy spoke calmly, “You need to let me finish. Can you do that?”

She was not prepared to hear what Andrea had to say but remained silent anyway. Her reward was a gentle smile, the kind that made the air filling her lungs seem a bit sweeter. Tilting her head, she focused on the words Andrea was uttering and tried not to notice the young woman's hands holding hers.

“My proposal is to postpone our meeting next week until later in the morning.” Andy spoke quickly, “We normally meet before breakfast, and often watch the sunrise.” With a slight squeeze of the hands in hers, Andy continued, “Maybe next week, we can meet later? Around eleven...we can meet for brunch and then walk in the park.”

Miranda watched as Andrea seemed to gather her courage and then found herself looking into, drowning in, dark eyes. The emotions she could see there were mixed, but the main discernible one was uncertainty, and second seemed to be fear. Those were also apparent in her voice when she continued speaking.

“Do you think the girls would like that?”

Miranda found her voice, quiet as it was. “You want to spend time with the girls? Why?”

“They are important to you.” Andy's eyes held Miranda's gaze. “That means they are important to me.”

Miranda found herself being drawn closer, the space between them warmed with their combined heat.

“And if they are with us, I have the benefit of spending more time with you as well.”

Miranda was about to respond to that when Andrea's phone rang. Miranda tried not to eavesdrop, but she was very interested in the caller when Andrea's smile disappeared upon answering. As the conversation continued it became clear who Andrea was speaking with and that she was not happy with his demands. Miranda's lips twitched when the call was disconnected and the phone was thrown across the room. It landed squarely in a soft chair, so Miranda had the idea that toss had been practiced many times.

“Sorry.” Andrea stood and began pacing. “I probably should have just ignored that call.” She reached up to run her fingers through her hair and tug it slightly.

“I would not expect you to ignore a call from your father, Andrea.” Standing, Miranda intercepted the last leg of Andrea's pace and led her back to the couch.

The sound Andy made dripped annoyance. “He just drives me completely insane.” Her voice took on a mimicking tone. “You should come home, Princess.” “You know Princess, we have newspapers here too” She leaned back and pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “Ugh.” Her sigh released the last of her frustration. “I suppose parents are like that, eh? They protect you for so long when you're a baby that they never realize you are all grown up.”

“I wouldn't know.” Miranda was not able to keep the sadness out of her voice, but lightened her tone somewhat with a half smile. “Princess?”

“Oh... yeah.” Andy snorted. “He's always said I was a Disney Princess and that an evil witch had put a curse on me. It was something he would tell me to try to control me. My own personal boogeyman.” Calmer now, Andy grinned at her companion. “Your parents never annoyed you?” Andy chuckled at a memory from Runway. “Maybe the rumors are true and you simply sprung from the ground fully grown?”

Miranda had heard the clackers gossiping and chuckled a little at its ridiculousness. She patted Andy's knee and sighed, amused at the rumor but also annoyed at Richard for using her to terrorize his own child. The topic was also enough to allow the current of sadness in her to rise to the surface. “I had parents once. My father was a bear of a man with a big booming laugh. I never felt as safe and protected as when I was wrapped in his arms. My mother was a kind and gentle woman, beautiful and loving. I loved them with all my heart and then one day they were taken from me, murdered...”

“Oh!” Andy looked stricken. “Miranda, I had no idea! I'm so sorry...”

“Shhh...” With another pat to Andy's knee, Miranda shook her head. “It was a long time ago and that is all I wish to say about it.”

“Of course...” Andy hung her head. “I'm...”

“Enough.” Miranda smiled softly when Andy's head snapped up and their eyes met. “Let us get back to our previous topic.” She provided the prompt for Andy's obvious lapse in memory. “Meeting the girls.”

“We don't have to... I mean, it was just a thought.”

“It was a good thought.” She hesitated, then voiced her concern. “My only worry would be your intentions for our future.”

“My....intentions?”

“At this point we are well on our way to being friends...”

“I agree, Miranda.” Andy nodded and added, “I want to be closer to you.”

“I also want our friendship to continue, but should you become entangled with someone, romantically, we would see less and less of you.” Miranda's voice now broke slightly. “I... my girls, would be devastated if that were to happen.” She shook her head, to rid herself of that bleak future. “I cannot allow them to be hurt in that fashion, not again.” She thought she heard Andrea mumble the word friendship before the young woman spoke clearly.

“Miranda...” Now Andy pulled back, drawing her hands into her own lap, to wring them nervously. “What if...” She studied her own hands, intently. “What if my feelings for you are romantic?”

“Are they?” Miranda was careful now, careful not to give away too much of her own elation at the words. Careful not to let her soaring heart leap from her chest at Andrea's response.

“Yes.”

“In that case I would be even more worried about the future and the girls hearts,” she watched Andy's shoulders sag and reached out, two fingers under Andy's chin gently guiding the young woman's face up so that their eyes could meet, “at the same time I would count myself extremely lucky to have you in my life.”

“Y...you would?”

“I most definitely would.” With a soft smile, Miranda moved her fingertips to caress Andrea's cheek. “You are quite a distraction for me, taking my mind from Runway is not an easy feat. None of my husbands were ever able to manage it. But you,” Miranda sighed. “You often invade my thoughts no matter where I am at the moment, home, work... sleep.”

“You dream about me?” Andy's eyes, that had closed to enjoy Miranda's gentle touch, flew open. She admitted, “I dream about you too.”

“Perhaps one day, we will no longer have to dream.” Miranda let her hand fall away from Andrea's face, landing back in her own lap. “I believe we should take things fairly slowly, however. There are many things we should know about each other before any more....romantic feelings are explored.”

“Yeah...” Andy exhaled slowly. “slow. So, no kissing...yet?”

Miranda chuckled, because that was exactly what she wanted to do at the moment. She wanted to kiss Andrea senseless. “Perhaps not, yet. But when we greet each other, and say farewell, a kiss on the cheek would not be unwelcome.”

Andy understood. “We need to get to know each other, a little better, first.” She paused. “But it will happen...”

“Yes.”

Andy's exhale carried a soft 'Wow' with it. Miranda grinned as another sound reached her ears. “Your stomach does not seem to care for our conversation. Perhaps we should venture forth to find sustenance?”

Covering her stomach with her hand, Andy rolled her eyes. “We can go out if you want, but honestly, I would rather stay here. May I interest you in some breakfast, Miranda? I am actually a decent cook.”

“That sounds lovely. Thank you, Andrea.” Miranda stood when Andy did. “I think I need to freshen up a bit...”

“Oh, sure.” Andy pointed to the hallway. “Restroom is the first door, on the right.” She gestured with her thumb over her shoulder. “I'll just be in the kitchen.”

###

Miranda leaned against the sink as she stared at herself in the mirror. She tried to imagine what sort of madness had overtaken her. Why on Earth had she confessed her feelings for Andrea, to Andrea? Madness. That was the only answer. Sheer, utter, madness.

She knew that she could not hide in the restroom for the remainder of the day, nor could she face Andrea at the moment. Instead of making her way to the kitchen, as Andrea had indicated, Miranda slowly examined the photos and artwork she had passed in the hallway then found herself quite enamored with the view out of the living room window. She stood at the desk and realized that this would be a lovely workplace, being able to glance out at the garden below from time to time would provide a nice break from the tedium of paperwork. As she recalled the variety of colors that would grace the garden in full bloom, Miranda also imagined that even in this pre-bloom state the view might prove distracting for someone if they were not well disciplined in work habits. The quality of Andrea's work had not suffered since her move. In fact, the depth of her articles had increased somewhat as of late, even if they were still disturbingly focused on aspects of crime in the city. This gave Miranda a small sense of pride. She of course had nothing to do with Andrea's work ethic, but still knowing that bit of Andrea's character was similar to her own caused Miranda's lips to twitch at the corners. Not quite a smile, but close.

Her reverie was broken by long, surprisingly strong, arms wrapping around her waist from behind. Andrea's breath warmed her ear.

“Like the view?”

“Indeed.” Miranda turned in Andrea's loose embrace and nodded as she looked into the younger woman's dark eyes. “It's quite lovely.”

“I can't wait until Spring.” Andy smiled. “The flowers should be amazing then.”

“They are.” Chuckling at that, Miranda nodded again. “I have been here before. As he explained earlier, Pavel and I have been friends for many years. He has lived here for a number of them.” Her lips twitched at the slight disappointment on Andrea's face. Lifting her hand, Miranda caressed Andrea's cheek. “But I have never seen it from this perspective.”

Her heart lurched as Andrea moved into her touch. One arm remained around her as Andrea moved her other hand up to mirror the gesture. The trembling fingers tracing down her neck caused Miranda's stomach to flutter pleasantly. Andrea's low voice rumbled between them.

“I want to kiss you, Miranda. Here.”

Miranda felt the fingertips indicate a spot just below her pulse point. Without even thinking about it, she tilted her head to allow easier access, silently acquiescing to the request. Her breath escaped in a soft sigh as Andrea's lips gently brushed against her skin. Fire raced from the point of contact down her spine and collected just below her belly. She leaned into the kiss, wanting more even knowing that it was too soon. Andrea hummed, increasing the heat flowing through Miranda's veins. It was too much to bear. Turning her head a bit more, Miranda's own lips pressed into the soft skin where Andrea's neck met her shoulder. The arms around her tightened and both women spent another few seconds enjoying the contact before pulling away.

Andy rested her forehead against Miranda's. “We probably shouldn't have done that.”

“Probably not.” Miranda sighed. “But it was quite enjoyable.”

Andy tipped her head back and laughed. “Yeah, it was.”

Miranda knew it was far too soon for this type of physical contact. On the other hand, Miranda's eyes raked over Andrea's long neck, she wanted more. She was sure the conflict showed on her face. It would be so easy and Miranda knew that if Andrea wished it, the physical aspect of their relationship would happen, now. She was, however, fearful that moving too quickly would ruin any possibility of a long term relationship and that was what she wanted, long term. Andrea's smile settled Miranda's nerves as did her everything-is-fine tone.

“Breakfast? It's ready.”

Forcing herself to loosen their embrace, Miranda nodded. “Yes, I believe that is an excellent idea.” She missed the warmth of Andrea's arms immediately, but suppressed her need for the contact by hooking their elbows together as they walked to the kitchen. The pleasant scent of eggs and coffee comforted her and the memory of Andrea's lips moving against her made Miranda smile. This was going to be a great day. She made note of the date, in her head, for future reference.

Chapter Text

“Mooommmm, aren't you ready yet?” Cassidy peeked through her mother's bedroom door. “What is taking so long? We're hungry.”

“Yeah, Mom... c'mon.” Caroline joined her sister in the doorway. She looked across the room at the open closet door. Movement inside made her blink. “Aren't you dressed yet?”

“Yes...” Miranda exited the closet, fully clothed. “Of course I am...” She smoothed down the front of her white blouse. It was tucked neatly into her creased black slacks. She picked up the jacket draped over the back of the chair at her dresser and put it on as she approached her children. “...let's go.”

She was not exactly ready. For reasons she didn't really want to acknowledge, Miranda was quite nervous about the girls meeting Andrea. She had actually changed clothes three times. Indecision was not something she was familiar with, but this meeting, this day, needed to go well. As they walked down the stairs, Miranda thought back to the previous Sunday.

It had been a glorious day. After that first encounter with Andrea kissing her neck, they had enjoyed breakfast and a long walk in the park. Lunch had been taken at a lovely little cafe and the afternoon spent talking about various things, just light topics but interesting, engaging, and Miranda had not wanted the day to end. But it had ended with a gentle goodbye kiss on the cheek, as they had agreed. That kiss had sustained her throughout the week, plus a few emails and a text or two to confirm the time and place for their brunch meeting today.

The girls said they were hungry, but Miranda's stomach was churning for a different reason. She could not remember being this nervous about a meeting, not even when she introduced Stephen to the girls and explained to them how he would be their step-father. That whole situation had been such a mistake, but she had needed the illusion of stability, at least for a while. Now true stability was within her grasp. She knew, in her heart, that Andrea was uniquely suited to be with her, no matter the age difference. The question now was not if she needed to confess her past and her monitoring of Andrea's childhood, but when. How long should she wait, how long was too long? How soon was too soon? And the most terrifying question of all. How would Andrea react to the revelation?

Calming herself, Miranda made sure the girls were buckled in and pulled out into traffic. She didn't drive often, but she was not opposed to it. In fact, she enjoyed it most of the time. Now that feeling was tempered by anxiety for the upcoming meeting. It helped though, because concentrating on the road took a bit of her mind away from the fear. If this meeting didn't go well. If the girls didn't get along with Andrea. If they didn't approve of their friendship, relationship, Miranda didn't know what she would do. All she did know was that she would not, could not, give Andrea up. Not for anyone.

###

Miranda picked at the food on her plate and surreptitiously watched the others at the table do the same. Andrea was quiet, and the girls were quieter than usual. She could tell that the girls were not happy with Andrea's presence. The welcome kiss on her cheek had not gone over well with them, nor had the reciprocating kiss been appreciated by the twins. She realized that they never saw her actually kiss people, air kisses were all anyone ever got, especially in public. If Miranda thought about it, the only ones that got actual lip to cheek kisses were them, and occasionally their father or Stephen, before the divorce. “I thought we could all take a walk in the park, after we eat.”

“A walk?”

The girl's suspicious tone and Andrea's widening eyes did nothing to deter Miranda. “Yes, Caroline, a walk.” She smiled at Andrea. “I have been walking on a weekly basis with Andrea and she has voiced her concern that our time together is taking away from my time with you and your sister.” Dabbing the corners of her mouth with her napkin, Miranda carefully folded the cloth and laid it next to her plate. “Therefore, Andrea suggested that we meet today and perhaps we could all walk together.” Now she studiously avoided looking at Andrea, alternating her focus between the girls. “Is that acceptable?”

“So that's where you've been going on Sundays?” Cassidy glanced at Andrea. “To be with her?”

Miranda also glanced at Andrea. “Yes.” She spoke seriously to her daughter. “I did not realize you had noticed my absence.” She sighed. “I had tried to return before you woke.”

Now Caroline turned on her sister. “You knew?! Why didn't you tell me!”

“I knew she was going out, but not where.” Cassidy shrugged. “I've always gotten up earlier than you.”

Caroline sat back in her chair, pouting. Miranda cleared her throat. “The point is, I do not wish to neglect my time with you, but I also, very much, want to continue spending time with Andrea.”

“Why?” Caroline glared at Andrea. “What's so special about her?”

“Caroline!” Miranda was furious, more than she had ever been toward her eldest-by-minutes daughter. The venom in the child's voice had been enough to cause Andrea's head to lower and her eyes to close. Miranda saw the slight shaking of Andrea's shoulders and knew from her own struggles that a war against tears was being waged. Only Miranda saw Andrea's lips move and although the angle was wrong Andrea's soft exhale just reached her ear, forming a word that most certainly did not apply to Andrea.

“Nothing.”

Lowering her voice, to nearly a whisper, Miranda casually placed her hand over Andrea's and spoke as much to Andrea as she did to the children. “I cannot begin to tell you how special she is to me, or why.” Her tone, though quiet, was decisive. “I will continue spending time with Andrea, the only question is, will you be with us or not.”

Cassidy smiled. “I'm in.” She glared at her sister and rubbed her upper arm where the other girl had punched her. “Hey! I like Andy. She's nice.”

“Caroline!” Miranda's eyes were extremely wide. “Do not strike your sister!” Her glare turned on Andrea when the brunette chuckled. “You find physical violence amusing?”

“They remind me of me and my sister.” Andy's dark eyes held a glint of mischief. “I think we had constant bruises from each other when we were younger.”

Both girls immediately became slightly more receptive. “You have a sister?” “Are you a twin?”

Miranda's nostrils flared. “You do not have a sister.”

Now the twins looks were suspicious and guarded, Andy took in Miranda's certainty on the subject and mirrored the girl's suspicious glance before she shrugged. “Not a real one. But my friend and I were so close we were like sisters.”

“Mmm...”

“But you didn't live with her.” Cassidy continued to rub her arm. “Lucky.”

Andy grinned at the girl. “Not when we were your age, but we went all through school together and we were roommates in college.”

“Did you have a roommate in college, Mom?”

“No.” Miranda pushed her plate away from her, done with her meal and wished she was done with this conversation. “I did not want any company at that time. I was completely focused on my studies.” Now she directed a pointed look at the girls. “And you know why.”

“Oh.” Caroline paled slightly. “That's when grandma and grandpa were...”

Cassidy finished the thought in a whisper, “killed.”

Miranda ground her teeth together but managed to say the correct word anyway, “murdered.” She could not look at Andrea, knowing the role Richard played in that event. The young woman's voice, however, drifted across the distance between them, and Andrea's hand found hers in a gentle caress.

“I'm truly sorry, Miranda.”

Glancing at Andrea, Miranda looked into the young woman's compassionate dark eyes and realized something sort of horrible. Andrea had Maretti eyes. Not her mother's not really, but she had Nicoli Maretti; her grandfather's eyes. How could she possibly look into those eyes with any sort of feeling other than contempt? How was it possible to not feel the hatred she had harbored for the Maretti family for the horror they had put her through? But even now, as Miranda thought of that time, that event, Andrea's soft hand on hers and the sympathy in her expression allowed Miranda to look past the similarity. These were Nicoli's eyes but not, not hard and dangerous, not plotting against her family. These were Andrea's eyes, warm and loving, conveying only comfort and sympathy for reliving a memory she knew was difficult to think about. In that moment, Miranda wanted to kiss Andrea full on the lips in front of everyone. Knowing how her children would feel about that, Miranda instead turned her hand and laced her fingers with Andrea's. “Thank you.” Exhaling softly, letting a lot of the tension out with her breath, Miranda raised her eyebrows. “Shall we take that walk now?”

###

Andrea glanced at the door that the girls had just exited through and sighed. “This may have been a mistake...”

Miranda shook her head and guided Andrea to the sofa. Brunch could have gone smoother, that was true. The walk afterward was awkward, but civil. Now, back at the Priestly townhouse, the girls had escaped upstairs. Miranda had no illusions that they were playing music or video games, oh no, not her girls. They were most definitely discussing the day and coming up with some scheme to test Andrea's feelings on the situation, or, God help her, they would test her own feelings on the matter. Miranda knew herself and knew she could not escape her children's inquisitions on any subject. She hoped they were ready for the truths they would find. She hoped Andrea's feelings matched her own. The thought that Andrea wasn't as serious about this relationship and its continuation as she was terrified her. Was that what Andrea meant? Was she talking about the relationship in general instead of this day in particular? That thought was more than terrifying and gripped Miranda's heart, making it difficult to breathe. She couldn't even speak, but the look in her eyes must have conveyed her thoughts. When Andrea's arms wrapped around her, Miranda felt dizzy relief. She breathed easier and melted into the embrace, reassuring Andrea in words just how Andrea's arms had done for her in action. “It will be fine.”

###

The situation was, as Miranda said, fine. The next two Sundays went relatively smoothly. Their meals were polite and their walks, although Andy and Miranda had some fantastic conversations, were mostly chat-free between the adults and children. Much of the days together consisted of spending time at Miranda's townhouse and, to Andy's delight, there had even been a few stolen moments of sweet not-quite-on-the-lips kisses with Miranda.

Andy felt comfortable at the townhouse, but they had maintained polite courtesy while the children were present. Andy was extremely anxious this week because the girls would not be there as a buffer. She hoped that she could control herself around Miranda. A shiver of anticipation ran through her and she wondered if she actually wanted to control herself. A warmth in her belly made her wonder if Miranda actually wanted her to control herself. Another shiver racing down her spine made Andy smile. The fact that Miranda wanted her to come to the townhouse on Saturday caused even more flutters in Andy's stomach. She wasn't sure what Miranda had in mind for the extra time they would spend together, but she could hope.

Until then Andy busied herself with the current story she was working on plus a side project of her own. It wasn't an actual assignment, but her curiosity had taken over. Miranda's sadness regarding the loss of her parents made Andy reluctant to ask Miranda about it, so she did what she was trained to do, research.

###

Time, as it does, continued on until Saturday finally arrived. Andy found herself standing nervously in front of Miranda's door. The doorbell's echo had barely faded when the door was opened. She was amazed to be standing outside one moment and suddenly be inside pressed against the closed door. Obviously, Miranda's plans meshed with her own completely. She began to return the kisses Miranda had started and her hands roamed the curves she very much wanted to explore in greater detail.

“Andrea...”

“Shhh...” Andy continued her gentle exploration of Miranda's neck and shoulders.

Andy placed a last kiss on Miranda's neck, then locked eyes with her for a long moment before taking Miranda by the hand and leading her silently up the stairs to the bedroom.

Andy trembled as they stood next to Miranda's bed. Perhaps this was too soon, perhaps Miranda was correct and they should stop now, before they went too far. “Miranda...” Her next words were stopped by Miranda's finger's on her mouth.

“Your turn to stop talking.”

Only the realization that Miranda too was trembling kept Andy from verbalizing her thoughts. She could see in Miranda's eyes that the older woman had dismissed the idea of foregoing this experience. Andy kissed the fingers pressed against her lips and slid her hands around Miranda's shoulders to pull the woman closer. Miranda's hand dropped away only to be replaced with her lips.

Fumbling fingers worked frantically to remove the clothing separating them. Neither knew who had removed what from whom, but in a short time they were both exploring large expanses of skin. Andy urged Miranda backward onto the bed and sighed as she pressed the length of her body against Miranda's, barely feeling the mattress below them.

“I knew you would feel this way...” Andy murmured, her lips grazing Miranda's neck. “So soft, so hot.”

Her hand found the curves at Miranda's waist and shifted to the slight, barely noticeable, not-quite-flat stomach. Miranda squirmed uncomfortably and spoke with a self-deprecating tone.

“High fashion hides many flaws.”

Andy shook her head. “Not a flaw.” She shifted to kiss the area in question. “Just beautiful, you.” Her fingertips moved slightly lower, feeling the textured skin there. Again, Miranda spoke quietly.

“Even the best creams can't combat stretch marks from twins.”

Andy said nothing, but traced each mark with her fingertips. After she learned each one, Andy kissed the textured flesh then looked up the length of Miranda's body. Her eyes met Miranda's. She was torn between moving up to kiss the lips now pressed together in doubt and shifting lower. Her eyes still locked with Miranda's, Andy moved up, pressing her lips to Miranda's. Her fingertips brushed the small expanse of fabric at the apex of Miranda's legs. At Miranda's gasp, Andy grinned as she caressed Miranda's thigh. The expression was lost on Miranda, however, because her blue eyes had closed. Turning her head slightly, Andy kissed the side of Miranda's neck and smiled against the softness as the soft skin under her fingertips moved away, giving her much better access to exactly where she wanted to be.

###

While enjoying the sensations Andrea was evoking in her body, Miranda's mind was caught in a loop of condemnation. The phrases 'This is wrong' and 'You shouldn't allow this' repeated in her head. Even as she reacted to Andrea's touches and voiced her insecurities her body and mind fought each other, one almost automatically giving in to the situation and the other rebelling against it with every thought.

Miranda felt the young woman's hot breath against her ear and although her leg moved, her brain won the war. “Stop... Andrea.” She reached down, gently guiding Andrea's hand up to lay across her stomach. “I'm sorry, but I cannot allow this to continue without speaking with you first.” Andrea's sigh was slightly frustrated, but understanding. Roaming hands made Miranda instantly regret the interruption in their activities, that regret doubled when Andrea's warm lips brushed her ear and the soft whisper sent a shiver down Miranda's spine.

“You started it.”

“I know.” As much as she abhorred the idea of being so needy, Miranda clung to Andrea as if the younger woman was going to bolt from the bed at any moment. “I'm sorry.”

“Shhh...” Andy smiled and kissed the shoulder under her cheek. “It's okay.” With a final teasing caress of Miranda's curvaceous hip, Andy graced her would be lover with a quirky grin. “Got anything around here for breakfast?”

Laughing at that, and feeling slightly ridiculous in her underwear on her bed, Miranda gave her younger partner a grateful squeeze and nodded. “Yes, I believe we just might be able to scratch up something.”

###

What they managed to 'scratch up' as Miranda had put it was a particularly amazing amount of items that became what Miranda referred to as a 'proper English breakfast'. There wasn't any way of describing Andy's surprise when Miranda began to eat the huge meal. No one would believe her if she told them that Miranda ate carbs, or the greasy, fat laden sausages. Of course they wouldn't believe that Miranda would cook her own food or do so wearing pajamas either. It wasn't her normal breakfast, that was for sure. Beans and toast for breakfast, well technically it was brunch now, would take some getting used to, but Andy had eaten enough breakfasts and brunches with the woman to know this was a special event. It also didn't take a genius to figure out why Miranda had all these items in the kitchen.

“This was supposed to be for.. um, after. Right?” Andy grinned at the blush rising to Miranda's cheeks. “It's okay.” She took another bite and grinned as she chewed. “It's great.”

“You are amazing.” Miranda took a breath. She knew it was time. Time to tell Andrea, everything. She had actually opened her mouth to speak when Andrea's phone rang.

“Ugh!” Andy made a face at the phone. “I should let this go to voice-mail, but it's my Dad.”

Saved by the bell. Miranda gestured for the phone to be answered. She wasn't adverse to giving herself a bit more time, if not to think of what to say, but to keep Andrea in her life a few moments longer.

“Hello, Dad.” Andy closed her eyes as she listened to her father immediately start trying to convince her to move back to Cincinnati. “Dad! No! I have a life here. I have a job I love, a great place to live and..” She looked at Miranda. “... I've met someone I care about a great deal. So no, I'm not coming back to Ohio.” Andy listened for a few moments longer and shook her head. “No, you haven't met them.”

Oh, Miranda knew that comment was about her, and yes she had most certainly met Andrea's father. Even though, Andrea nor her father knew it. This was getting more complicated by the second. There were only a few more words exchanged before the call was discontinued and Andrea's phone went flying across the room. It wasn't the usual chair, but Andrea's aim was true and Miranda knew that particular chair would be designated as Andrea's Phone Chair for as long as the young woman wanted to use it as such.

“Ugh!” Andy ran her fingers though her hair. “He drives me so nuts!”

Chuckling at that, Miranda led Andrea to the couch in the main living room and pulled the young woman down to sit next to her. “Why do you think you're father is so adamant about you moving back to Ohio?”

“It's the whole cursed thing he's always going on about.” Andy sighed. “Remember I told you about how he always called me Princess and said an evil witch had cursed me when I was a baby?” She snuggled against Miranda's side. “He's hoping that fear will bring me home. I think he's told me that story so often he's started believing it himself. He's actually becoming very paranoid about it.” She sighed. “He doesn't understand that I'm all grown up and not afraid of his fairy story anymore.”

“Mmmm...” Miranda wanted to tell Andrea that it was true, but held her tongue for the moment. The young woman was too upset from speaking with her father and Miranda certainly didn't want to add to that, especially when her confession would probably drive Andrea away. Later, Miranda vowed to herself, I will tell her later, after she's calmed down. She did touch on the subject, however, and asked, “Were you, afraid?”

“When I was a child, sure.” Andy sniffled slightly. “I mean what girl wouldn't be scared if her own father told her she was cursed like a princess in a fairy tale?” She shrugged and shifted position, so her arm was on the back of the couch and a slight distance between them allowed her to look at Miranda as they spoke. “But I grew up and found out fairy tales aren't real.”

“Mmm...” Miranda murmured. “Some have a kernel of truth to them.” She smiled at her companion and nodded. “I'm glad you aren't afraid anymore.”

“Besides.” Andy grinned. “Why should I be afraid with you here to protect me?”

A wave of guilt washed through Miranda but she pushed that aside and nodded, “Indeed. I will certainly protect you.” Pulling Andrea close she assured the young woman, “You have nothing to fear from me.”

###

It had been a busy few weeks and Andy had found very little time for her side project. She had been extremely focused on her work and then had suddenly found herself at loose ends. Her research had, up to this point yielded nothing and then, suddenly with one small newspaper article, she had an important bit of information. Now she knew where, and more importantly who, to start asking questions.

Pavel shifted the bag of groceries in his arm as he closed the front door. One step into the foyer toward the door to his apartment was all he managed before stopping dead at the sight in front of him. “Andy?” She looked up from where she sat on the staircase and he saw deep sadness in her eyes. “What's wrong?”

She picked up a previously unnoticed file folder next to her and opened it. Holding it out for him to see she asked quietly, “Is this you?”

Peering at the paper, an obvious photocopy of an old newspaper article with several names highlighted, his being one of them. Pavel pressed his lips together then with a deep breath, nodded. “Yes.”

“So, this entire time you've known who I am, who my father is.” She shook her head. “You came to the paper on purpose. You rented to me on purpose.”

Pavel nodded, they hadn't been questions but he answered anyway. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“That is a very long story.” He indicated the groceries in his hand. “Let me put these away and make you some tea.” He moved toward his door. “We need to talk.”

Without a word, Andy picked up her research and followed him. She didn't speak, but her thoughts were going round in circles. For some reason Andy had this horrible feeling that, this was either going to be enlightening, or it was going to confuse her even more. The information she'd found didn't make very much sense to her at this point since it contradicted nearly everything she thought she knew about her father. Then Pavel began to speak.

“The first job I ever had was when I was sixteen and began working for Androv Princhek....”

Andy blinked and listened as Pavel moved around the kitchen, putting groceries away and preparing coffee for them. The coffee, much like her heart, had grown colder with every word he spoke.

###

Miranda was surprised to see a lone figure sitting on the step in front of her front door. “Andrea?” Her heart sank when Andrea's liquid dark eyes locked with hers. “Andrea, what's wrong?”

Standing up, Andy held Miranda's gaze. The waver in her voice couldn't be helped. “It was you.” Andy didn't bother to wipe the tear tracking down her cheek. “You're the one who cursed me.”

Miranda took a deep breath and even though her heart was pounding in her ears, she nodded. “Yes.”

Andrea seemed to wilt a bit at the response. Miranda was rooted to the spot, unsure what to say, unsure what to do, she just stood there and watched as Andrea walked away. Again. When Andrea had gone Miranda picked up the folder that had been left on the step. She glanced through the papers as she continued inside. Of course. The research was clear, concise and, Miranda raised her eyebrows, nearly complete. She expected nothing less from Andrea.

###

Hours later Miranda sat in her study, a half filled glass of very old, very expensive alcohol near her hand, untouched. The file Andrea had left was directly in front of her open to a very disturbing section of research. The part that had been left incomplete. Her eyes traced the words over and over, hoping beyond hope that Andrea had let this particular aspect of Miranda's past go, but somehow she knew that the journalist streak Andrea possessed wouldn't allow that. There was a short list of names here, ones that were in the same line of work as her father had been. Ones that were friendly with the Princhek's, who had gained by the gifting of parts of the operations after her father was gone. There were also the names of the people who had deep connections to her father and had sworn to her that the perpetrators of the murder would be dealt with. All the names on the list were now gone, victims of the violence their lifestyle created. However, there was a name that didn't appear on the list. A family that she knew was still quite active in the world she used to live in. Again she hoped that Andrea would stop that line of research. The family in question would not be happy about a reporter snooping into their business.

The quiet of the house was oppressive and just as she didn't think she could take the silence anymore a loud pounding echoed through the house. Leaving her desk, she moved to the front door quickly. Opening the door, she blinked at the person standing there. Immaculately dressed in a tailored suit holding out a note with a gloved hand. Taking the folded piece of paper, Miranda's normally porcelain skin shaded lighter.

“I have a gift for you. It is time to repay old debts.”

She crumpled the paper in her hand and tossed it in the small trashcan next to the door. She picked up her purse from the table near the hall closet and nodded to the messenger. “Let's go.”

He tipped his hat and walked down the steps to open the door of the waiting car for her.

Miranda never even hesitated to get into the car. It had been many years, but she recognized the writing and felt that she 'knew' what had happened. She had to go with the driver to make sure, but if she was correct there was no time to waste, not if she was going to get there in time. She hoped the 'gift' she was about to receive was still alive. Hope. She clenched her fists tightly, hope was the only thing keeping her sane right now.

She wasn't surprised when the car stopped in front of a small oriental restaurant. She quickly sent a text before exiting the car. Nodding to the driver as he held the car door for her, she barely slowed down when the door to the establishment was opened for her and never missed a step as another person guided her into the back. It had been a long time, but this was not unknown to her. She nodded to the young-ish man waiting for her and nodded, slightly bowing, to the older man seated behind him. Miranda studiously avoided looking at the figure tied to the chair a short distance away. That person was slumped forward, only the ropes around their shoulders kept them from falling forward out of the chair, the long dark hair obscured their face. However, the figure was perfectly recognizable to her. Andrea. Her hands were tied behind her back and her feet were tied to the legs of the chair as well.

Miranda addressed the men and tried to keep her voice casual. “It has been a long time.” From the corner of her eye she saw Andrea's shoulders stiffen, recognizing her voice. Miranda prayed that Andrea would remain silent for now. This was a very delicate situation. Miranda knew she had to be very careful. Any perceived slight at this juncture would be deadly, not only for Andrea.

The old, seated man agreed. “It has been a long time. You have been out of this world for many years. However, the Mijong family is transitioning. I am stepping down and my son will soon be in charge of the operations.” He glanced at the younger man with a glimmer of pride. “It is time to clear up old debts so that he may begin his time with a clean slate.” He gestured to Andrea. “Therefore, we have a present for you.”

Nodding at that, Miranda walked over to Andrea and reached down to lift her chin up, clearing the hair from her face with gravity alone. Now she saw the tape over Andrea's lovely mouth. Anger glimmered in both of their eyes, Miranda knew her own fury was for the past that had brought them to this moment. She hoped that Andrea's anger wasn't directed at her, but wasn't stupid and was sure that at least part of it was focused directly at her.

“She's lovely.” Miranda's lips twitched as the hardness in Andrea's eyes softened slightly. She turned toward the men. “But what am I supposed to do with her?”

The old man chuckled. “Her fate is yours to decide. She is a Maretti.”

“Mmm... yes.” Miranda looked back down at Andrea's upturned face. She traced the seated woman's forehead and cheekbones. “She has Nicoli's eyes.”

The old man nodded. “I did notice that.” He leaned forward. “The last Maretti has been delivered to the last Princhek. The vengeance we swore to you is now complete. Our debt is paid.”

Turning to the men, Miranda bowed. Just as in legitimate business there were forms to be adhered to in the underground world. She spoke clearly and formally. “All debts between the Princhek family and the Mijong family are now cleared.” She turned to the younger man. “I hope you are successful in all your future ventures.” She reached down and untied Andrea's feet and freed her from the ropes binding her to the chair. “I'll just take my prize and go.”

The younger man spoke quietly, his helpful tone causing Andrea to freeze. “If you wish to kill her here, we would be happy to dispose of the body for you.”

Keeping one hand on Andrea's elbow, Miranda raised her other hand and shook one finger side to side. “No, no... if I did that, then our slate would no longer be clean.” She smiled at the young man and the older man began to chuckle. “It was a good try though.” She looked at the older man. “You chose well.”

“Your father would have had a worthy successor as well. Had such unfortunate events not occurred.”

A tiny bit of pink colored Miranda's cheeks. “Thank you.” She inhaled deeply, through her nose, and spoke with quiet firmness to the younger man. “The Mijong are honorable, vengeance has been satisfied. What I do with her now is for me alone. Spread the word.”

The young man smiled and nodded as if he knew a secret. “All will know that the Mijong keep their word.”

“Come along.” Miranda tugged on Andrea's arm slightly. “Time to leave.”

The younger man spoke. “Our driver will...”

Miranda interrupted but smiled, “No, no. I'm sure my driver is waiting by now.”

Chuckling at that, the older man nodded. “Of course, plus I need our driver to take me to the airport.” His smile widened at Miranda's questioning expression. “I'm going to Disney World!”

Shifting her hold on Andrea, Miranda wrapped her arm around the younger woman's waist and nodded to the ex-head of the Mijong family. “Tell Maleficent I said hello.”

The sound of the old man's laughter only stopped when they were back on the street and the door to establishment closed behind them. To Miranda's relief Pavel was there and together they bundled Andy into the car where Miranda went about the business of untying her hands while Pavel got them moving back toward the townhouse. When it came to the tape over her mouth Miranda hesitated. “This is going to hurt.”

With the fury of someone who had just been kidnapped, Andy reached up and ripped the tape off of her mouth in one pull. Miranda could see the younger woman's jaws lock against the cry she wanted to make at the sting it caused. Finding a bottle of water and a washrag Miranda doused the rag with the water and handed it to Andy. “Here, it's cold. It will help.”

Andy took it without a word and pressed it to her face. She couldn't help closing her eyes when the cool water almost immediately took the stinging sensation away. This whole incident had shaken her. She hadn't even really been doing anything clandestine, just going to a seldom used branch of the library for a bit of research on the older crime organizations, to fill in some of the gaps that still remained in her previous inquiries. Just a bit more research to close the gaps in her file. One minute she was in the library and the next she was waking up tied to that damn chair, with the stupid tape on her mouth, and there was Miranda talking and joking with her captors.

Miranda reached out taking Andrea's hand in hers. “Andrea, I...” words failed her when the hand was pulled away from her grasp.

“Don't.” Looking out the window, Andrea swallowed hard and shook her head. “Just don't.” She remained quiet for the entire ride back to her place and didn't look at Miranda before bolting from the car and up the stairs.

Miranda followed slowly and felt her heart clench when she found Andrea's door locked. She knocked lightly. “Andrea?” When the muffled response came, her heart broke all that much more.

“Go away.”

“Andrea...” Miranda pressed her hand against the door, willing it to open. It was almost magical when she heard the lock click and the door did open. But Andrea didn't let her inside.

“Miranda...” Dark eyes held in the tears threatening to fall, but only just. “I need time. Please. Just go. I'll call you.”

“I am here for you Andrea.” Miranda promised. “Whenever you're ready to talk. I'll be here.”

Andy nodded, then without saying another word closed the door.

###

Pavel wiped his hand down his face as he opened the door to the persistent pounding. “What?!” He blinked as he realized that Miranda was standing on his doorstep. “Miriam?” He sighed, it was far too late, early, for this confrontation. “Miranda...” Before he could get another word out, the woman brushed passed him.

“Where is she?”

“Miranda.” He tried to stop her from going up the stairs. “I don't believe she is here.” The expression on Miranda's face prompted him to continue. “I don't think she's been here since we returned from the Mijong incident.”

“That was nearly three days ago! Where did she go?” Miranda berated herself. She had thought she was being supportive, letting Andrea have the time she requested. Now she wished she had tried harder to stay in touch. She was intelligent enough to know that Andrea would not have remained in town and slumped slightly as she realized where the troubled girl would have gone. She wasn't sure though, and forgot her friendship with Pavel for a moment. “Track her!”

It was as close to an order as he'd heard from her in several years. His eyes widened at the tone then softened when Miranda spoke again.

“My apologies.” She huffed and wrung her hands together. “I am simply worried about her.” Her voice gentled, “Track her, please. I know you can.”

Truth be told, Andrea's abrupt departure had caused some concern for Pavel as well, but she was an adult and entitled to manage her own life. After all that was the point of Miriam releasing her from her 'curse'. He nodded and motioned Miranda to follow him into his rooms through the sitting area into his less used office. He quickly opened his laptop computer and pulled up a program he hadn't used since before Andy had moved into his house and only once then.

Miranda waited an interminably long amount of time while Pavel clicked button after button. Just when she didn't think she could stand it anymore, the clicking stopped. “Well?”

“Credit cards say she rented a car.” He shrugged and indicated the screen. “There was a ping on her cell earlier today, near Cincinnati.”

“Home to Daddy.” Miranda sighed then shook her head. “Go pack a bag. I'll call the pilot and have him get the plane ready to go.”

“What?” Pavel was shocked. Miranda was never impulsive.

“We must go get her.” Miranda wasn't sure what Pavel was so confused about. “She belongs here, with us...” She had the grace to blush slightly as she admitted, “with me.”

Pavel said nothing, but hid his smirk as he went to get his overnight bag and Miranda made her call.

###

Dorothy dropped the small plant into the hole she'd just dug and gently filled the excess space with dirt. She jumped when a voice spoke quietly behind her.

“Hiya, Mom.”

“Andy!” Brushing the dirt from her hands, Dorothy stood to hug her daughter. “You didn't tell me you were coming...” Her forehead wrinkled, her daughter felt very frail. “What's wrong?”

“Oh, Mom.” Andy felt her Mom's hold tighten slightly and her voice broke on her next word. “Everything.”

Dorothy pulled away and began to guide Andy into the house. “C'mon. I'll make you some tea and you can tell me all about it.”

 

###

Richard walked down the darkened hallway into the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway, surprised to see that the kitchen was already occupied. He sat down in the chair across the table from his visitor.

“I thought you would still be asleep, Princess. Your Mom said you had rough drive in.” Richard yawned. It was early, the sky was only just beginning to lighten. Last night had been a surprise. When he got home and was informed that his daughter was asleep in her old room he'd had a lot of questions, most of which went unanswered by his uncooperative wife. The brief conversation they'd had ended with Dorothy basically saying that Andy was exhausted and that she would talk to him in the morning. He guessed that this was morning. “She said you had something to talk to me about?”

“Yeah.”

Richard waited. When Andy remained quiet, he prompted her gently. “Princess?”

It took another few minutes for Andy to gather her thoughts, then she spoke quietly. “Do you know why my schools got so many upgrades?”

Richard's forehead wrinkled. “Um...”

“New Daycare, all kinds of upgrades to my elementary school, funding for after school programs in middle and High schools... scholarship to college...” Andy sighed. “It was Miranda.”

The wrinkles didn't go away. “Miranda?”

Nodding, Andy looked him in the eye. “You know her as, Miriam.”

She saw the blood draining from his face and was glad he was sitting down. His whisper barely carried across the table. “Miriam.”

“She's been watching me, all my life.” Andy corrected herself, “Looking out for me.” During her research she had been amazed to see all the things that had seemingly magically happened throughout her school career. Pavel had confirmed that each and every one of them were thanks to Miranda.

Now anger was taking over the shock of hearing Miriam's name and Richard's face was going from white to red. “Controlling you!”

“I suppose.” Andy agreed. “But for my best interest.”

“Your best interest?!” Richard slammed his hands on the table and stood to lean toward Andy. “She CONTROLLED you!”

“What's going on down here?” Dorothy walked into the kitchen and glared at Richard until he sat back down. She bustled around the space performing her normal morning routine that included turning on the coffee maker, then she turned back to her family. “Now, is someone going to explain what the yelling is about?” It was interesting that both people answered at the same time, but differently.

“Miranda” “Miriam”

“Ah.” Dorothy nodded. She had heard the story from Andy last night. It was an odd feeling knowing that someone had been watching Andy the whole time she was growing up. But there wasn't really any interference in the child's life, in fact, whenever things had been manipulated they were always to benefit Andy; sometimes in ways that they probably didn't even know yet. Also, given Richard's background it didn't seem like such a bad idea for someone to be watching out for Andy. “Who wants breakfast? Pancakes?”

“Breakfast?!” Richard was incredulous. “Have you lost your mind? Did you hear what Andy said?”

Dorothy shrugged. “I heard. But I don't know what yelling about what's already happened is going to accomplish.” She took a skillet down from the hook it was hanging from and placed it on the stove. “I do know that it's time for breakfast and this is not something that should be dealt with on an empty stomach.”

Andy sighed. “Thanks, Mom.”

Dorothy winked, glad that her daughter seemed more like herself this morning and returned the younger woman's grin. “One pancake breakfast, coming up.” She noticed Andy's grin falter slightly, but continued her meal preparation, laying out bacon on a baking sheet, while her husband and daughter continued their discussion. They only go so far as Richard repeating, “Now what do you want to talk about?”, before there was a knock at the door. With a soft curse, Richard pushed away from the table and answered the door. Savagely pulling the door open he growled, “What!?”

The man standing there laughed, “Good morning to you too, Dick.”

Wiping his hand over his face, Richard shook his head. “Now's not a good time, Mike.”

“Oh.” He sniffed the air and peeked around Richard's shoulder. “Dottie's making pancakes... seems like a good time to me.” He stepped inside and nodded to Andy sitting at the table. “Hello.”

“Hello.” Andy crossed her arms over her chest. She was wearing the T-shirt and sweatpants that she'd slept in last night, but no bra and she felt very vulnerable under this stranger's focused gaze. She still smiled politely. “Nice to meet you.” She stood and backed toward the door to the main part of the house. “Just gonna go get ready for the day.” Nodding to her Mom, Andy made it out of the room and up the stairs before she got any more embarrassed. When she got to her room she shook off the creepy feeling “Mike” gave her and began to change into her favorite running outfit. Taking her daily run was a good excuse to get out of the house while 'Mike' was here, the dude just gave out bad vibes. Plus, it would be nice to see the park she used to play in as a child.

Chapter Text

Miranda sat on the park bench and watched the sunrise. It was odd. She had watched the solar display several times with Andrea, but now sitting here alone she actually paid attention to the changing colors instead of being distracted by her companion's reaction. It was nice. She supposed she would need to seek out Andrea soon though. Pavel had found Richard's address so when she gained the courage she would make her way there, it wasn't far. Right now though she was just trying to figure out what on Earth she was going to say to Andrea.

Early morning birds were beginning to chirp, and joggers were starting to pass the bench she had found. The footfalls approaching and passing was soothing and Miranda closed her eyes to fully enjoy the sound. It was so different than the sounds of the city. After a group of runners had passed by, Miranda heard a solitary runner's footsteps approaching. She waited for them to pass, except they didn't. The footsteps slowed and the bench bounced slightly as the person also sat. Familiar perfume told Miranda who her visitor was a split second before they spoke.

“Come here often?”

Opening her eyes, Miranda drank in the sight of Andrea and all her perspiring glory. “So, you're speaking to me now?”

“Yeah.” Andy leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and examine the ground between her feet. “Well... I guess since you came all this way, you probably have something to say.” She looked over at Miranda. “And I would like to hear it.”

Miranda nodded. “I missed you.”

Andy also nodded. “And?”

“You have every right to be angry with me.”

Continuing her nod, Andy prompted, “And?”

“I should have told you about all this a long time ago and prepared you for the possibilities. I meant to.”

Andy smiled. “And?”

Miranda glared at her bench mate, frustrated that all Andrea would do is sit there smiling and saying “and”. She sat there, glaring until Andy raised an eyebrow in question then Miranda relented.

“And.. I'm sorry.”

“There now...” Andy slid closer, putting her arm around Miranda's shoulder. “Was that so difficult?”

Miranda sighed, “It nearly killed me.”

“Apologizing?” Andy squeezed slightly and kissed Miranda's temple. “C'mon...”

“No... that... that was earned. What I did was unforgivable. What...nearly happened to you, is unforgivable.” Miranda explained. “I thought that being without you, watching you walk away, that was the worst thing I have ever endured and I didn't wish to ever experience it again. The second time was even more difficult. I won't survive the next time. But seeing you tied, in such danger...knowing it was because of me, that was...” Miranda shook her head. “If anything had happened to you it would have killed me as surely as putting a gun to my head.”

“Miranda. It wasn't because of you.” Andy pulled away slightly to look into Miranda's turbulent blue eyes. “And there won't be a next time. You made sure I'm safe, you told them to leave me alone, and I won't leave you again.”

Shifting away, Miranda shook her head. “I don't deserve that.” She stood, taking a step toward the paved path only to have her way blocked by Andrea.

“Maybe not.” Andy smiled and slid her arms around Miranda's waist. “But I do.” She leaned forward to kiss Miranda's lips lightly. “Because being without you was terrible and I don't believe I can do that again either.”

“But...” Miranda shook her head. “How can you just...forgive.”

“Research.” Andy smiled softly and began to lead Miranda down the walkway, just like they were on a stroll back home in Central Park. “Remember? I did the research. I also had the entire drive here to think about it. I know the who, what, where, when, why.. I know you never really interfered with my life in a bad way and most importantly, I know that you released me.” Pavel had made that very clear to her when they were talking. “I just wish that the Mijong family had understood that too.”

“That would have been nice.” But the last 'w' caught Miranda's attention. “Why?” Miranda scoffed but relaxed as their walk continued. “Because I'm a vindictive bitch?”

“You're not...”

“Don't fool yourself, Andrea. I most certainly am.” Miranda sighed at the thought, the injustice she had perpetrated on the child who had turned into this wonderful woman.

“You're not.” Andy insisted. “If you were, you wouldn't have done all the things you did for me.” She grinned. “You were less like the wicked witch and more like a fairy godmother.”

Miranda's eyes widened considerably even though her voice lowered. “What?”

“Fairy Godmother.” Andy repeated as she mimed twirling a magic wand around. “You know, bippity boppity boo.”

“Pfft..” Miranda scoffed, “I'll bippity boppity you, if you ever say that again.”

Andy's eyes clearly reflected her mischievous streak, “Promise?”

Miranda rolled her eyes but looked suspiciously like she was suppressing a smile as they continued walking. The boundaries of the park gave way to residential streets and then Andrea pulled them to a halt.

“Would you like to come in for breakfast?” Andy bit her lip, waiting for Miranda's response.

Looking up at the perfectly normal house, Miranda suddenly felt cold dread running down her spine. “With your parents?”

“They do live here.”

Considering that, Miranda nodded. “It has been quite some time since I've seen Richard.” The corners of her mouth twitched at the thought of his reaction to her in his own home. “And I've never met your mother, Dorothy. So I suppose breakfast would be acceptable.”

“Great!” Andy guided Miranda up the stairs and around the large porch to the kitchen side door. “Mom's making pancakes.”

“Oh carbs, yay.”

The deadpanned response earned a side-eye from Andy, but she opened the door and walked inside, dragging Miranda with her into the kitchen.

###

Whatever conversation had been going on before their entrance stopped. Dorothy stopped her cooking and looked at her daughter's arm wrapped around the older woman's waist. Richard and Mike both stopped short when they seemed to both recognize Miranda at the same time.

“You.” “You!”

Miranda tilted her head slightly while addressing each of them. “Richard.” Her gaze shifted to the other man. “Detective.”

Andy was shocked. “You know him?!” She glanced up at the ceiling. “Why am I surprised?”

“He was one of the detectives assigned to my parent's murder case.” Miranda watched the man's reactions. He was, in fact, the one she had dubbed 'bad cop' in her head. “Matt or Mark...or...”

“Mike.” He looked disgusted at the other names. “I'm retired. I am a private investigator now.”

“Mmmm...” Miranda sounded bored of the whole conversation. “Of course you are.” She allowed Andrea to guide her to the table and took the seat her companion held out for her. “And what, may I ask, are you doing here?”

“Oh.” Mike gestured toward Richard and smiled. “Dick and I are old friends. And you?” He glanced at Andy and his smile turned lecherous. “As if I didn't know.”

“Being observant is a wonderful trait for a private detective to have.” Miranda tilted her head but didn't actually answer the question.

“Yeah.” He slouched back into his chair and continued to watch her closely. “It is.”

“Not quite as necessary when you have someone giving you the information you need.” Miranda's expression and tone conveyed her severe disdain for the man.

“What?” Mike was no longer relaxed. He glanced at Richard who was also now wary of Miranda's words. They were both in shock when Miranda continued.

“I'm speaking of Richard being your informant.” Miranda's forehead actually wrinkled. “Of course, Nicoli would have loved that arrangement. I'm sure that's the only reason he allowed it.” She smirked when Richard intently studied his shoes and Mike became outraged.

“Allowed it?!”

Miranda was ruthless. “Of course. He, and by he I mean Nicoli, used the police to do his dirty work. Richard fed you the information they wanted you to have, the police shut down his rivals and Nicoli's territory grew... brilliant. I'm sure it didn't hurt your reputation on the force did it, Detective.” She shrugged. “You were about to be set for life weren't you Richard? Nicolette would have inherited quite a sum, and you, Richard, would have taken the reigns of the Maretti organization in one hand, while holding a brand new Law Degree in the other. I imagine you had aspirations for the District Attorney position. That would make running your own illegal organization quite a bit easier, I would think. Unfortunately your little plan turned sour when the Maretti's books were confiscated.” She smiled, not a nice smile even though her eyes crinkled slightly at the corners. “Now... I wonder... who could have tipped the police off to that little bit of information...”

Mike began laughing. He pushed away from the table and stood, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. “Lady, you are a piece of work.” He waved off Richard's outrage and walked to the door. “I'll let you deal with this. Catch you later, Dick.” Then he was out the door.

“You were the anonymous source?” Richard was astonished that Miriam had anything to do with that incident. “Did you call for the hit on the family too?”

Miranda was acutely aware of Andrea's hand withdrawing from her own, but she scoffed at the idea. “I was no such thing, and of course I didn't 'call for the hit'.” Her cool blue eyes locked with Richard's gaze and she admitted. “I was the anonymous caller's source, but I had nothing to do with the hit. I would have rather they went to prison.” She shook her head. “I suspect a rival didn't want anyone talking about the connections they had with the family.”

Richard accepted that response at face value. It was the most plausible scenario and he didn't doubt the woman's assertion that she would have rather seen the Maretti family in jail. When Dorothy told him to sit down because breakfast was nearly ready he did so, not commenting when Andy rose at the same time. He said nothing to Miranda as they both watched Dorothy and Andy prepare plates of food. Richard nodded once in thanks as his plate was placed in front of him and tried not to notice as Andy provided the same food delivery service for Miranda.

Miranda murmured a thank you to Andrea as her food was delivered. She waited a momentarily for Dorothy and Andrea to retrieve their own plates and settle into their places. After her first bite, she politely acknowledged Dorothy's efforts. “Delicious.”

“Thank you.” Dorothy took a bite of her own and enjoyed a few moments of silence as they all indulged in the home cooked breakfast. She scooped some eggs onto a last bit of biscuit and chewed it slowly, swallowing before speaking. “Andy was quite upset when she arrived.” Looking at Miranda, Dorothy tilted her head slightly. “I'm not exactly happy about that.”

“Mom.” Andy pushed her nearly empty plate away. “It's okay. I did a lot of thinking on the trip here. And,” she glanced at Miranda, “we worked it out.”

“Mmm...” Dorothy nodded. “So I see.” She looked Miranda directly in the eye. “But I wouldn't want it to happen again.”

Miranda held the gaze but licked her lips before responding. “No. Neither would I.”

Dorothy gave Miranda a curt nod and helped herself to another biscuit. As far as she was concerned, the matter was settled.

Richard was incredulous as he watched his wife calmly spooning some gravy onto her biscuit. “Seriously? That's it? That's all you have to say?”

“It's all she needed to say.” Miranda again met the woman's gaze and nodded once. “We understand each other.”

“Great.” Richard stabbed a bite of sausage. “At least one of us understands something then.”

Miranda finished eating and pushed the nearly empty plate slightly away. “There is something that I don't understand... about that night?” She knew he was fully aware of what night she was referring to. She didn't want to relive it, but at least one thing had always puzzled her. When Richard reluctantly nodded, Miranda asked, “Why did you choose that night?”

His stomach turned and he too pushed his plate away, although his was still half full. “Three days before that night Androv had taken me into his office, poured me a drink and then he showed me where he kept the books.” Richard sighed. “On 'that' day he told me that he was taking Mira out for a romantic dinner. I knew when and where their reservations were, so I knew they wouldn't be home... at least, I thought they wouldn't be.” He shook his head sadly. “I don't know why they were home and I don't know why the books weren't in the wall safe where they were supposed to be.”

Miranda went very still. Andy noticed and swallowed hard when she watched as Miranda seemed to force herself to breathe. “Miranda?” She barely heard Miranda's quiet words.

“It was a test.”

“What?” Richard again didn't understand. “A test?”

Miranda blinked the tear out of her eye. “He didn't trust you. He thought you'd come for the books yourself.”

“How do you...”

Now Miranda's voice was firm, not loud but solid. “He never kept the books in the wall safe. He said that was the first place anyone would look.” She shook her head. “If you saw them there, if he told you he kept them there, it was a test, to see if you would go for them.”

“But...”

“He had lost trust in you. He wouldn't have tested you otherwise.” Miranda shook her head and a sort of ironic sound of dismay came from the back of her throat. “It was just a test, but you didn't take it. You sent someone else.”

All three woman at the table saw the genuine pain on his face when the realization hit him. “He was going to confront me.” He swallowed hard and they all knew he was fighting not to be sick. “I told the Maretti's where... I killed him...” He swallowed hard, correcting himself to include Miriam's mother. “Them.” He became angry though, “But the books weren't ever found and I didn't have anything to do with the fire! They swore they didn't find the books or set a fire!”

Andy was frozen at the table, watching the exchange between her father and the woman she loved, but a single tear sliding down Miranda's cheek spurred her into motion. She cupped Miranda's cheek with her hand and wiped the tear away with her thumb. “You okay?”

Miranda reached up to hold the hand on her cheek and smiled softly as she nodded. “I will be.”

“The books were never found.” Richard sighed and looked at Miranda. “I'm glad.” He shook his head. “Androv worked so hard to build his empire. I'm glad it was able to be passed down to you.”

“The books were found.” Miranda forced her voice to be calm. Much like she had on that day in the interrogation room with the investigators. “I took them. I knew where they were. Papa showed me where he really kept them.”

“You?” Now Richard was even more confused than ever. “When? There wasn't time...”

“After...” Miranda concentrated on breathing. “I saw you in the park, arguing with Nicolette. I went home to speak to father about it and found them... dead.”

“Miranda...” Andy shifted closer, wishing she could offer more support than the seats allowed.

“I'm fine, Darling.” But Miranda leaned slightly closer to the younger woman anyway. Any further confession was stalled when the door burst open and Mike returned, bellowing.

“I KNEW IT!” He stalked to the table. “I KNEW you were a liar!”

Richard instinctively stood to block Mike's path, more to protect Andy than Miranda. “Stop it!” Then what Mike had said dawned on him. “What the hell?” He shoved Mike back toward the door. “You were listening?” He shook his head and thought back. “Damn, how long have you had this house bugged?” He grabbed the front of Mike's shirt and shook him. “How long!”

“I put the mic under the table before I left, earlier.”

“Bullshit!” Richard shook him again. “You knew Dot was making pancakes, but she was only cooking bacon when you got here earlier. You heard her say it before you came in.” He shook Mike again. “How long!”

Mike still didn't say anything but glanced at Miranda. Another rough shake from Richard loosened Mike's tongue. “Last time I was here. Few weeks ago.”

“Why?” Richard stepped back but was ready to intervene again if Mike went nuts again.

“Little Andy here started researching the case.” He shrugged. “I thought if she found anything she would tell you.”

“Well I didn't find anything.” Andy shook her head. “You already know that the Maretti's were the culprits.”

“But nothing I could prove! Not when all the Maretti family was gone too!” Mike pulled his hair. “It's maddening.”

Miranda agreed, “There is nothing anyone can prove.” She did try to ease the man's anxiety somewhat. “I believe the perpetrators of that crime also passed away quite some time ago.” Miranda recalled reading that particular article in the paper along with Pavel's report on the situation. “Victims of organized crime violence if I'm not mistaken.”

“Really?” Mike blinked. “That's all?”

Nodding, Miranda assured him. “That's all.”

Andy blinked at the familiar dismissal. “We should be going soon.” She stood when Miranda nodded and stood.

“Yes.” Miranda turned to Dorothy. “Thank you for breakfast.”

Dorothy nodded and watched as Andy dragged Miranda up to her childhood bedroom. It was too much to think that Andy would stay once Miranda had arrived. The story Andy had told her included some of the soul searching her daughter had done on the trip here. Andy had come to terms with Miranda's past just as Dorothy herself had come to terms with Richard's past. That had been a shocking revelation when Richard had told her about his early years, and Andy's biological ties to the organized crime family. But Dorothy believed that every person had a person that was the 'One' for them, and Dorothy knew that Miranda was Andy's 'One'. So even as horrible as her past was, and even with the brush Andy had with the underworld Miranda had once been involved in, Andy would go with Miranda back to New York. Andy had forgiven Miranda, just as she herself had forgiven Richard for his past and married him. Dorothy began to clear the dishes from the table and barely paid attention when Richard threw Mike out of the house then climbed under the table to remove a small microphone. She knew searching the house for more would keep him occupied for the next few days.

###

Miranda looked around the small room with no small amount of interest. “This is where you grew up?”

“Yep.” Andy continued shoving a few things into her backpack. “This is it.” She stopped packing for a second and looked around then shrugged. “It looked larger when I was a child.”

“I can almost imagine it.” Miranda murmured as she continued to examine the room, running her fingertips along the spines of books lined up on a shelf, making a note of the titles. “You seem to have been quite the precocious child.”

Andy laughed softly. “I was, but those are only from a few years ago.” She grinned at Miranda's shock. “I didn't live here during college, but I did come home to visit.” Tossing her stuffed pack on the bed, Andy joined Miranda in front of the bookcase. “I promise I wasn't reading Dune as a toddler...” she grinned. “All my baby books have long since been donated.” When Miranda didn't respond, Andy gently pressed her palm against Miranda's cheek forcing their eyes to meet. “You okay?” She smiled softly when some shallow lines appeared between Miranda's eyes. “That was an intense scene downstairs, with a lot of memories being stirred up.”

Reaching up to hold the hand now caressing her neck, Miranda assured the younger woman. “Events from before you were born.” A sort of sadness passed behind Miranda's eyes. “I will be fine.”

“Miranda.” Andy shifted closer and meant to say more, but instead pressed her lips against Miranda's.

Forgetting for a moment that she was standing in the home of a man who had filled her heart with hate for many years, Miranda let herself bask in the moment for longer than she should have, losing herself in the warmth of Andrea's kiss, before pulling away. “Darling, we cannot do this here.”

“Mmm...” Andy pressed her forehead against Miranda's. “Yeah, I know.”

Tracing Andrea's cheek and jawline with the backs of her fingers, Miranda chuckled. “I have a perfectly good hotel room, a short drive from here.”

Andy perked up. “Yeah?”

Miranda simply smiled. “Shall we go?”

Andy shouldered her backpack and linked arms with Miranda. “Definitely.”

It did not surprise her that Pavel was waiting outside her parent's house with the car engine running.

###

As it turned out Miranda's idea of a 'perfectly good' hotel room was vastly different than Andy's. The 'room' was a suite as lavish as any luxury apartment in New York. The hotel itself had seemed rather ordinary, but once inside the rooms it was anything but ordinary. There was a bedroom, a bathroom, a sitting area and a full kitchen with all the amenities. Andy's idea of a 'perfectly good' hotel room consisted of a bedroom and separate bathroom, especially 'perfect' if Miranda was in that bed with her. As she looked around the 'perfectly good' room, Andy laughed and asked. “Are you planning on moving to Cincinnati?”

Miranda shrugged. “I wasn't sure how long you would want to remain here, so I...”

“So you just made yourself as comfortable as possible to what? Wait for me to figure things out?”

Miranda studied Andrea's curious expression and nodded as she answered the question. “Yes.”

“But...” Andy was amazed. “What about the girls? What about Runway?”

“The girls are with their father for the time being.” Miranda inclined her head in a sort of nod. “Thank you for asking.” She dismissed the next issue with a wave of her hand. “Runway will be fine with Nigel and the rest of my staff dealing with things until I return. They can always call me if necessary, but I made it quite clear that what they deem necessary and what I believe is necessary may not be the same thing.”

“Mmm...” Andy moved closer, wrapping her arms around Miranda's waist. “They're never gonna call then.”

Miranda agreed, “Not if they know what's good for them.” She slid her fingers into Andrea's hair and guided the younger woman's lips to hers. “Now we just have to keep your phone from ringing.”

“Done.” Andy focused on the lips coming nearer to hers. “I turned my phone off as we left the house.”

Miranda barely heard anything past 'done' and murmured “Good” as she brought their lips together.

###

There were still a great many misgivings that Miranda had to deal with. All of which dissipated the second Andrea's hands began roaming the curves under her shirt. Nothing mattered at the moment except the sensations Andrea was evoking in her. Nothing. She began explorations of her own and their mutual moans only spurred each other to find more. Miranda lifted Andrea's shirt up and over her head, pausing for a second to admire the sight.

“Miranda?”

There was uncertainty in Andrea's tone and that Miranda couldn't allow. Without a word, she took Andrea's hand and led her to the bed. Pressing the younger woman back onto the bed, Miranda resumed her exploration of Andrea's body, this time adding her lips to the effort, mumbling against the trembling flesh, “You're exquisite.” It didn't take long for the tension to evaporate and Andrea also discovered new places on Miranda's body to caress.

It was a glorious night that neither of them wanted to end. Eventually they fell asleep in each others arms and the dawning of a new day found them exactly the same way. Andy shifted and inhaled deeply, content to stay in Miranda's arms for as long as Miranda would allow it. She looked up, slightly, to see Miranda's clear blue eyes studying her. Andy smiled. “I love waking up like this.”

“Mmm..” Miranda tightened her hold momentarily. “It is preferable to anything else I can think of.”

“I love you, Miranda.” Andy pressed her lips together for a second then smiled. “Just thought you should know.”

“Andrea.” Miranda took a deep breath. She didn't really need it, but it gave her half a second more to think about her response. She could, of course, deny the proclamation. With a smile of her own crossing her face, Miranda reciprocated. “I love you, too.” She chuckled at herself. “I have for a long time.”

Andy also chuckled softly. “Not as long as I've loved you.” She grinned and shifted up to kiss Miranda's neck. “I even remember the very first words I ever spoke to you.”

Miranda tilted her head to allow more access to her neck and murmured. “Introducing yourself at your interview...”

“Oh.. no.” Sliding down a bit, Andy put her head lower on Miranda's body, near her hip then looked up the length of her lover's torso and spoke in a child-like voice. “Up, up, up.”

Miranda was shocked. “You cannot remember that!”

Andy moved back up, kissing expanses of skin along the way before she gently traced Miranda's face, giggling a bit as she let the lock of hair that always found it's way to the middle of Miranda's forehead fall through her fingers before gently grabbing her nose. Unlike last time, Miranda didn't pull away. The touch only lasted a moment. “I remember it, but it's sort of like a dream.”

“I cared for you, when you were a child.” Miranda admitted. “When I heard of Nicolette's untimely death, I felt very sorry for you. Because you were just a child and you needed your mother. When I lost my parents I was nearly eighteen.” She turned to lay on her side and face the younger woman. “It wasn't until after you began working for me that my feelings became deeper.”

Andy nodded knowingly. “The Chanel boots.”

Miranda's eyebrow twitched. “They didn't hurt.”

Laughing at that Andy shook her head. “I would think not.”

They settled into a comfortable position, with Andy on her back and Miranda on her side with her arm across Andy's stomach and her head resting on Andy's shoulder. Andy had one arm around Miranda's back and the other just below Miranda's arm across her stomach. They were quiet for a time before Miranda spoke.

“Are we going home today?”

“I actually have two more days off. Can we go back tomorrow?” Andy lightly increased the pressure of her embrace for a second. “It's kinda nice here right now.”

“Of course.” Miranda kissed the shoulder under her ear then settled back into place. “Whatever you want, Princess.”

“This is like a Fairy Tale ending isn't it?” Andy sighed. “My very own Happily Ever After, except this isn't the end, I hope.”

“How will your Father feel about that?” Miranda had a good idea that Richard would be fervently against the concept.

“He will come around, or he won't.” Andy almost shrugged. “It's my life. Mom will be happy for me.” She brought up her concern. “What about the girls?”

“They like you and will come to love you as much as you love your own Mom.” Miranda smiled.

“Good.” Andy took a moment to kiss Miranda, savoring the softness of her lips. “Because I want my happy ever after.”

“I do too.” Miranda nodded. “I will do everything in my power to make sure you get whatever you want for as long as I live.”

“That's a lot of power...” Andy chuckled. “You're the Queen of Fashion.”

“And you are a Princess...” Miranda laughed a genuine laugh. “I suppose it is a twisted sort of fairy tale after all.”

“Yes!” Andy sighed in contentment. “And we both get a Happily Ever After.”

Miranda also spoke with a contented tone. “At last.”

###

Epilogue:

Miranda knocked lightly on the door to Pavel's home. When he opened the door he was confused. “Miranda? Did Andy leave something in the apartment when she moved?”

“No...she is busily arranging things in her office at the townhouse.” Miranda walked inside when Pavel shifted aside. “I wanted to speak to you for a moment. In private.”

“Of course.” He followed her into the sitting room. “Is this about my replacement?”

“No, no.” Miranda waved off that suggestion. “She's doing a marvelous job.” Sitting and waiting for Pavel to sit across from her, Miranda studied him for a moment and then rolled her eyes and spoke.

“Thank you.” The corner of her mouth twitched when a brilliant smile appeared on Pavel's face.

“Ahhh... I knew it would come. I told you bringing her here was a good thing.” He laughed and smacked his hands on his knees. His eyes twinkled as he regarded the woman that was now less his duty to protect and more a friend to care for. “You are welcome, Miranda.”

Miranda huffed, but nodded at his joviality and smiled.

 

End.