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Under Her Skin

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Andy cried out as she woke, her body covered in sweat as the pain of a new tattoo formed under her skin. Most, she knew, stopped getting them as frequently when they found their soulmate. She'd read enough to know that it was posited that a person's fated partner made them so happy that they no longer wanted for things and her own experience had seemed to mirror that. Andy had thought Nate was her true love. Once she'd hit puberty and she'd got her first tattoo, they seemed to just keep coming. Once she met Nate, though, they had stopped for months and months. She'd found her soulmate and they were going to live happily ever after.

Now, though...

Now, she wasn't too sure. There was no doubt that she loved Nate. She did. They'd had a whirlwind romance, as kindred spirits that wanted to take on the world together. They spent hours and hours making plans for the future and as soon as Andy had finished her degree in journalism they had packed up and moved to New York. It had been difficult, at times, but it was what they had always wanted. What they'd dreamed about. So much so, that the New York skyline had appeared on Andy's thigh, wrapped around it in silhouette. It had surprised her when it came in, she'd not had one appear for so long but it was one of her favourites now. And so, taking it as a sign, they'd packed up and moved.

Once they'd found a place to live, Nate had quickly found a job as a line cook at a local restaurant, his sights set on a Head Chef position in a restaurant Andy couldn't remember the name of. Andy though? She had struggled. 

She applied for job after job, using her college experience and her scholarships like a shield. Day after day, she was dismissed from editor's offices until she finally couldn't take it any longer. She took a day off just to mope. She fell asleep around two and woke up in agony at around four with a new piece of ink. An old-fashioned pen, writing an old-fashioned newspaper column. She didn't need to think about what it meant. She was desperate to be a journalist, she'd wanted to be one for the majority of her life. It didn't take her long to figure out that achieving her dream wasn't going to be as easy as she'd first thought and with their meagre savings dwindling, Andy Sachs settled. 

She took an assistant's job at Runway magazine.

That was when her problems really started. Nate was busy, working nights and mornings and barely even coming home to sleep. He seemed to have found his niche. It was easy for him and because it was easy, he turned disdainful of her new job.

Initially, Andy had shared that attitude. The clackers and the airheads and the perpetuating unrealistic body images were bad enough, then Miranda had dressed her down so spectacularly that she nearly walked away. Nigel, Miranda's Art Director, had clued her in to the real world, though, and she'd spent the following two days sulking. On the third day, however, Andy realised what she needed to do. If she wanted to succeed in the industry, she'd need two things: a way in, and a teacher. Nigel had offered his help a second time - and Andréa Sachs took her full form.

She could not deny that the new clothing, the new hair, the make-up had made her feel like a princess and that night when Nate had been snoring loudly by her ear, her ankle had burned with a pretty little outline of a princess in a tower. She had looked at it for barely a minute as she put the last of her ointment on it, to soothe the burn. She hadn't wanted to give in to this life, but it seemed, at least for now, she was destined to do so.

It had been a turning point in her life, but perhaps not in Nate's. She remembered her grandmother saying something about tattoos coming at major points in a person's life and figured the princess ink was just that; a major turning point that would signify her rise to journalism. She tried not to think of the symbolism of Rapunzel locked in her tower.

It was not long after, that she and Nate had started fighting properly. He had a long laundry list of issues. He thought she put too much of herself into Runway. That she was unhappy with their life together, that her tattoos proved it. 

She asked him when he'd become her keeper, explaining that the new tattoo he'd noticed on her ankle had come in weeks ago and that if he had a problem with it, perhaps he should have been paying better attention to her. It went on and on, spilling over days sometimes. He was gone more than he was home and they fought and argued their way through the times they were home together. Despite all this, as their lives together seemed to be getting further and further apart, her professional life only seemed to improve.

But then, she'd misstepped again, just as she'd been getting into the rhythm of things. She'd been allowed to take The Book to Miranda's Townhouse in the evenings and accidentally walked in on a fight between Miranda and her husband after some machinations from Miranda's twin children. 

She knew she had made a terrible mistake and had placed the book down carefully where she was and left at a run. She waited for the hammer to toll all night, brushing off Nate's grumblings when he came home late and complained about her still being up. 

The irony was not lost on her.

No phone call had come, though, and the following morning, she'd been punished with an impossible task that required her to call on a new friend she'd met connected to publishing. Christian Thompson was a lothario and she knew what he would want as payment in advance, but she agreed anyway, knowing it was that or her job. Despite her initial reservations about the job, she certainly didn't want to lose it now. 

And so she'd presented the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript to those two little girls before they'd boarded the train and she'd dropped a third copy on Miranda's desk with a smug look and sashayed away. It had begun a begrudging relationship of respect. Miranda slowly relied on her more and more and Andy slowly realised that the best use of her time was pre-empting Miranda's every move. 

And so she did. And it worked. And she and Miranda grew closer.

As she paid more attention, she started to notice Miranda. Her sense of humour, her attention to detail. The way she seemed to enjoy terrorising certain employees. The subtle smirks she hid behind the occasional pursed lips. It was a given that Andy noticed just how beautiful Miranda Priestly was, but beyond the powerhouse and the facade she wore, Andy started noticing the woman as well. She noticed the small frown that appeared at about 6 pm when she got hungry and wanted to go home and couldn't. And the gleam in her eye when she saw a piece of fabric, or a piece of fashion, or a pair of earrings that she liked. Andy noticed the way that Miranda looked pained when her children called her and frustrated when her husband called and quite beyond anything, Andy felt like they had a begrudgingly respectful friendship developing.

That friendship grew to include Miranda deciding to take Andy to Paris, over Emily - something that had gutted Andy as soon as the words had left Miranda's mouth. She wanted to go, she knew that she'd have to be an idiot to not want to go to Paris, but this was Emily's dream. The thing that had made all the hard times worth it for Emily. 

The issue had been taken out of her hands after an unfortunate incident with a cab, but Andy carried the weight of it with her, even while she worked tirelessly to try and get everything ready. Life travelled at a break-necked pace until it just burst, two days before they were scheduled to fly out. Nate left her, telling her she was an idiot for caring so much about Runway and the magazine. Telling her she was putting too much of herself into a job that didn't care one bit about her. 

She knew differently though. Miranda needed her, more so now than ever. And so she held her head high and refused to meet his demands. She countered with the offer of a sous chef position in Boston that she'd found on his computer. He hadn't denied it. Instead, he'd gaped at her and screeched about how she'd been snooping in his life. They'd walked away from each other and perhaps in a show of just how far they'd fallen, she didn't even ask him where he was going. She went home, surprised to find his stuff already gone and sunk into bed, alone. Instead of feeling lonely, Andy - for the first time in a long time - relaxed in her own home, despite the turmoil of their lives swirling around her.

The first tattoo she'd had since she started at Runway had appeared the next morning. A small bird leaving a cage. She laughed as she saw it and nodded to herself. Paris could not come soon enough.

It was time for this bird to spread her wings.

-0-

As it happened, Paris hadn't quite gone according to plan either. She'd managed well enough the first few days and then she'd stumbled into, once again, shark-infested waters. Miranda Priestly's marriage was over and though she knew Miranda wouldn't miss her husband, she wept for the pain that Miranda felt for her girls and the loss of yet another father figure. Andy didn't think Stephen was particularly good at being a father figure but she hurt for her boss and their tentative friendship that seemed to shatter under the weight of it all. 

That very human show of emotions did something inside Andy's chest. She wanted to wrap Miranda up in her arms and show her that she wasn't alone but as she'd offered an olive branch to her enigmatic boss, she'd been rebuked. Harshly. 

And then things only got worse. 

Instead of consoling her boss, Andy went to dinner with Christian Thompson, and despite her not really being interested, she let him have the payment for his help as well. He'd remarked on her tattoos but strangely didn't seem to have any on his own body. A blessing, he'd said, though Andy wasn't sure she agreed.

What was a person without hopes and dreams? 

The morning came and as he'd showered, Andy discovered the mock-up of a new Runway Magazine run by Jacqueline Follet and not Miranda Priestly. 

She'd seen red. She'd screamed and railed and left at a run all the way back to the Hotel where she knew Miranda was, in the hope she could warn her before the Luncheon where it would be announced. The following two hours had passed her by without resolution. Miranda had dismissed her without listening and they'd attended show after show, the tension building as she'd rubbed elbows with the shining glitterati of fashion. When she'd finally found her seat, Andy bit her nails to the quick as Miranda announced that Jacqueline and not Nigel would be taking a job at James Holt. Nigel's heart was broken and so was her's. How could Miranda have done that to her friend, to their friend?

She listened quietly as Miranda explained her movements and showed Andy all of her cards. She listened as Miranda itemised her decisions and looked, fully looked, across at her from the other seat in the car.

"What if I don't want this," Andy whispered as Miranda explained how alike they were. "What if I don't want to be like this?"

"Don't be silly, Andréa," Miranda mused. "Everybody wants to be us."

All of the moments, all of the quiet thoughts that Andy had had and ignored. All of the fleeting whispers that her brain had supplied and that Andy had ignored. All the looks Nigel had given her and that Andy had ignored. 

All of those things had brought her to this moment.

This moment she was in, right now.

She could have followed Miranda into the show. She should have followed her. Instead, she'd exited the car and saw the fountain. She hadn't meant to, but she'd walked over there and watched the water absently while her brain whirled. Her phone rang and without thinking about it, she dropped it in the water and stood at the edge of that Fontaine de la Concorde and watched as her phone fell to the bottom. It was almost mesmerising as it sank with Miranda's name blinking on the screen. It flashed twice as it came to rest, then went black. At that precise moment, a deeper pain than she'd ever felt before gripped her whole arm and most of her shoulder.

She'd never had a tattoo come through during the day and never somewhere where anyone else could see it. 

Panicking at the thought of this new tattoo being on show to everyone around her, she fled. Running back to the Hotel Athene, at a pace even she didn't believe herself capable of in high heels, she managed to make it there without being run over or collapsing. As soon as she was in her room, she hit the button for the TV for some background noise to drown out the cries she knew she couldn't help but utter as her skin tore apart. She couldn't look at it. She didn't have the strength after such a trying week. Instead, she managed to pull most of her clothing off, slam the water on in the shower and sit under it hoping that the cold would at least help the interminable burning. Eventually, she started crying as it continued to almost writhe under her skin. Utterly exhausted and out of energy to spare, she curled up in a ball under the water and fell unconscious.

-0-

She woke up, shivering from the cold water and the pain from her wrist to her spine. It burned like she'd plunged those parts of herself in acid. On very shaky legs Andy managed to make her way out of the shower. The pain was making her eyesight blur but she managed to find a robe. She cried as she pulled it on but eventually, she made it over to the bed where she pulled a pillow onto the floor and curled around it, wishing only for the end of the pain.