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How to Rule the World in Ninety Days or Less

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“Fuck!” Andy curses aloud as she chucks her vintage Dior clutch at the ridiculous bed in her suite. Never in her life would she understand the need for this kind of fluffy real estate. Just another in a long line of random thoughts that push her farther into confusion in regards to exactly what the hell she’s doing right now. 

 

Having been assistant to Miranda Priestly for the better part of a year, she knows her dramatic exit is actually probably not that surprising to most people. The fact that a good number of the people present wouldn’t fault Andy in any way, though, sends waves of nausea instead of relief rolling through her. She doesn’t know how long she’s been crying; somewhere along the winding path she had taken back to the hotel, she’d felt a tickle on her cheek and pulled her hand away, surprised to find it covered in tears. 

 

In the time it took Miranda to carefully lobby the word ‘freesias’ at her, Andy’d had the good sense to get very, very nervous. Something in Miranda’s gaze had been predatory in a way Andy hadn’t ever seen before, and it drew her in more intensely than she would likely ever admit. It almost hadn’t even come as a shock when the name Jaqueline Follett fell out of the Editor’s mouth instead of Nigel’s.

 

It had all happened so quickly, she couldn’t really believe that it was only this morning she’d awoken hungover and disoriented, forced to endure Christian Thompson’s tedious arrogance far earlier than she felt she personally deserved. Then a blur of unanswered phone calls and her flight through the historic district, all culminating in that breathless, smiling betrayal. In her mind, she analyses different snapshot moments from the day; the vicious smile curling Miranda’s lips when she greeted Irv, the light fading out of Nigel’s eyes as Jaqueline’s name was called, the horrible look on Christian’s face when he’d called her ‘baby’. Out of control, her thoughts quickly turn back to the previous evening. Her heart breaks when she recalls the catch in Miranda’s breath, the redness around her eyes, the anguish over her daughters’ safety. It had taken everything in Andy’s power not to wrap the grieving woman in a tight embrace and never let go. It hurt to think that the Miranda Priestly, the closest thing to a living deity, still had scumbags like Stephen whispering nasty little lies into her ear, trying to bring her down to their level. 

 

But then, the conversation in the car. Her blatant misunderstanding of Miranda’s words, taking any excuse to justify her fears and misgivings. She had been so unbearably naive to think that Nigel wouldn’t give just as good as he got. She’d been so wrapped up in the drama and lingering implosion of her personal life that she’d forgotten that sometimes it is, in fact, just business.For all her friends’ derision of the ‘new Andy’, she should have known better. She had considerable reference material to pull from her own life to understand that many of the choices we make don’t actually feel like choices. Looking back, it had been her greatest flaw throughout her tenure at Runway, the disbelief that anyone would dare judge her for the choices she didn’t understand she was making. 

 

Suddenly, it begins to sink in just how honest Miranda had been when she’d said that no one else could do her job. Sure, they could perform the tasks of an Editor-in-Chief, but they would never possess the unerring ability to wring the perfection from a loose group of artistic melodramatics with nothing more than a purse of the lips. She’s beginning to understand the sheer enormity of Miranda’s decisiveness, the strength to stand up as the cutting edge for an entire industry...

 

Andy finds herself faced with her own wide eyes as she sinks down onto the bed, not caring in the least about rumpling her gown. The mirror shows an unforgiving scene, between the mascara dripping down her cheeks and the luxury baggage under her eyes, no doubt just another perk of her night out with the weasel. Her thoughts drift back to the acerbic editor, an annoying little habit of hers that shows no sign of abating anytime soon. 

 

She’s starting to feel the gravity of her decisions settling onto her, and it’s uncomfortable enough that she can’t even hold her own gaze. She needs to accept it, this new Miranda-less world she finds herself in, but it feels so much like a further act of disloyalty that she can’t even bring herself to contemplate the idea properly. 

The truth of the matter is that Miranda had taken a chance on her, more than one. She had extended Andy so much grace over their brief partnership, now that she had the ability to look past all of her own bullshit and see things from a different perspective for once. She hadn’t deserved it, she realises with a shock. She hadn’t deserved it but Miranda had seen something that she appreciated enough to keep around. She can’t ignore the shame that curls in the pit of her stomach, flushes to the surface of her skin. Miranda had seen something in her, had gone so far as to tell her, in her own way, that she had what it takes. And in the face of all that subtle support, she had chosen to perform one final act of betrayal to cap off the entire tragedy. The last thing she would have as she crawled home in disgrace would be the flash of panic in Miranda’s eyes when she realised Andy wasn’t behind her. 

 

Groaning, she’s just managed to pull herself away from the offensively big bed with the intention of packing up the tornado of clothing strewn about the place when a rapid knock on the door snaps up her attention. Andy freezes, full lips parting slightly as she weighs the risks of opening the door over just pretending to be dead. 

 

“Six, it’s Nigel. We need to talk.” 

 

Her heart claws its way up into her throat, and she’s certain he could hear the strange croaking noise that just came out of her. What the hell can she even say to say to Nigel now? ‘Hey, sorry, I totally used your betrayal to justify the world’s most dramatic resignation, and honestly it never really had anything to do with you at all, but whoopsie, what’s done is done’? Still, she finds herself pulling the door open to find his palpable exhaustion and no small amount of frustration written all over his face. He surprises her with a hug, and she sniffs desperately to try to keep her tears at bay. 

 

“None of us knew where you were. We were terrified.” He gives her a tiny flash of a smile before a stern look crosses his face. “Now, you will tell me what the hell you think you’re doing, and you will tell me in detail.” 

 

He doesn’t even give her the courtesy of watching her gape like a fish, instead striding deftly past her and into the suite. She allows the door to swing shut slowly, trying to take a deep breath and remind herself why all this necessary. The crinkling and popping behind her alerts her to the fact the Nigel is currently looting her mini bar, not something she can really bother to care about right now, but it is interesting. 

 

“Andy, baby...” Nigel drawls as he all but collapses onto the small couch, somehow managing to successfully juggle two tumblers, a bottle of brandy, and apparently, several chocolate bars. He looks her up and down with a grin. “Have you lost your fucking mind?” This pulls a rough bark of laughter from her lungs, but it’s a joyless noise. 

 

“You know, Nigel, I’m really starting to think so.” A heavy sigh escapes her as she throws herself down beside him, not even bothering to look up when she takes her glass from his hand. “I just...she makes me so...” A rough hand slides up the sculpted curve of her brow, shoving her bangs out of the way carelessly, and she sits for a beat cradling her spinning head in her hand. The motion leaves her fringe sticking up at odd angles, but her figure looks so tortured that Nigel holds in his comment. “Insane! That’s just it: she drives me crazy, and it’s so hard not to just shake her until she explains herself for once... and at the same damn time I can tell when she’s smiling behind that mask she wears and...I swear I would do it for those moments alone, but with everything else...” She trails off, suddenly very aware of Nigels eyes searching her face, and she has to fight the urge to duck away. Eye contact, however, remains entirely out of the question. A long moment passes, during which Andy can feel the blush inching up her neck and into her cheeks, and she wants nothing more than to melt into the obscenely luscious upholstery. 

 

“You know that nobody at Runway is ever going to judge you for being who you are, right?” Andy finally manages to hold his gaze, but she can’t place the pointed look in his eye. She decides to move away from whatever is on the verge of being said, whatever he’s fishing for. 

 

“She said she sees- well, saw- a lot of herself in me.” Nigel looks disturbed. 

 

“Miranda Priestly gave you a compliment? And in response you abandoned her in front of a hundred flashing cameras?” She’s surprised by the edge to his words. She would’ve thought Miranda would be his least favourite person right now, but it’s sounding a lot like he’s upset with her on Miranda’s behalf.

 

“No! Well, yes, but...Ugh!” She can feel the panic rising, and needs to get a grip. She can do this. “I told her I couldn’t do what she did to you, and she informed me in no uncertain terms that I already had. To Emily. And th-the thing...” She pauses, a dark smirk twisting her lips as she turns to face him. “The thing is, Nigel, she was right. About that, about me. But I have lost everything that I thought made me Andy over the last year, and I wasn’t ready to hear the truth. To really see how the world works. And now that I have, I feel so ridiculously stupid to have thrown it all away. The job and the boss and the opportunity.” 

 

Nigel argues with himself for a good moment about whether or not he wants to point out what he’s now sure of, but thinks better of it. He deserves a little mindless entertainment. 

 

“And what, if I may ask, prompted this little period of introspection and self-awareness?” Not quite enough, but a start, he chuckles to himself. Andy is quiet for a long minute before she speaks, and when she starts he knows it will pay off to listen closely. 

“I broke up with Nate over the job, my longest friendship dissolved over a meaningless kiss on the cheek, and sometimes it takes me a second to recognise myself in the mirror, but I have to admit that I chose the path that led me here.” She turns to catch his gaze, all gooey and wide and proud. “I spent every day of the last eight months telling myself that I didn’t have a choice about working late, I wasn’t the person responsible for my schedule or my appearance, or even the changes I’ve gone through. I didn’t have a choice about missing Nate’s birthday, or coming to Paris or using someone to get ahead...except, I did. I just kept making the silent decision without any of the follow through, and expecting everyone to adjust.” Here she sees where Nigel’s mind is headed from a mile away, and she tries to explain. “It doesn’t make it okay, that my friends abandoned me as soon as I changed in a way that didn’t suit them, but I have to acknowledge the part I played as well.”

 

“Andy, darling, you know what you have to do, right?” Nigel’s tone is heavy, serious, but it’s hard to take it that way now that he’s lolling upside down on the sofa, lazily brandishing a Snickers. She refuses to meet his eyes. “You have to apologise. You have to make this right, or she’ll be unbearable and blame me for losing her favourite assistant, and I can’t have that kind of thing hanging over me.” 

 

“Nige, she would probably rather throw acid in my face than hear me out right now. It’s not worth causing any more damage.” She knows this, logically, but her racing pulse is screaming out with the need to find her, to fix everything, to...Oh. To do her job. She grimaces and lets her head fall into her hands. Of course. Everything with Miranda has to be a fucking riddle that she doesn’t understand until it’s too late. 

She’s contemplating all the places in Miranda’s suite one could theoretically hide a body, should Andy decide to grow a pair and do the right thing, when a specific phrase jolts her in an unexpected way. 

 

“Nige...” She gives him her sweetest, most innocent smile. “What do you mean ‘favourite assistant’?” For a moment, he looks truly torn, the picture of anguish, like a baroque painting playing out right in front of her. Then, he shrugs, decision seemingly made. She wonders how much he’s had to drink this evening.

 

“You know...she...likes you?” It’s clear that he’s uncomfortable talking about Miranda having positive feelings toward anyone, but he soldiers on. “She once told me that you would either be her biggest disappointment or her greatest success, but she wouldn’t know how to tell the difference. Whatever the hell that means. My point is that she doesn’t talk about assistants, she barely talks to assistants! But she talks about you, about your future.” 

 

“Nigel, how am I possibly supposed to believe that?” Andy doesn’t have time for this. All it has done is remind her that Miranda absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, find her before she leaves. 

 

“Andy, how can you not? I gather that you don’t have enough experience with La Grande Dame to understand what is decidedly out of character, but I do. Emily does. So even if you take her actions at face value, try to believe me.” Nigel decides he’s sobering up far too quickly for his own liking, and he figures he can attempt to kill two birds with one stone. Even if it backfires, he’ll be far enough away to safely enjoy the heat. 

 

“You can imagine that’s a deceptively tall order, Nige. Why are you even still doing her dirty work? She totally screwed you over. I can’t believe it, I really am over here chugging the kool-aid.”  She is finding herself truly frightened by the depth of her reactions, she can practically see the bridges collapsing all around her. The look in Nigel’s eye reinforces that she’s very close to wearing his designer patience thin, and she’s floundering under the weight of the day. 

 

“You really don’t get it, do you? Fine. Do you remember James’ showing last month?” Andy doesn’t know why this matters, but she wisely chooses not to bring that to Nigel’s attention. 

 

“Yes. Lips were pursed.” She remembers the tension in the room as everyone waited for the verdict, the look of defeat and pain in Holt’s expression when it was delivered. 

 

“You do remember!” Nigel coos with a proud smirk. “Okay, so tell me, my darling Six, can you honestly see Miranda Priestly handing her lifelong right hand man,” he does a goofy little wiggle as he says it, “over to a designer that disappointing this early in his career?”

 

Andy doesn’t say anything, the icy shock of this new perspective freezing her in place as a whole new level of understanding takes hold of her. How stupid can one person be? Nigel continues, fixing her with a wistful stare. 

 

“Did I want the job? Yes, of course, but when the offer comes at the price of a titan’s throne and my own professional security? No, thank you. Miranda saw it early, saw that the Holt line would be a flash in the pan, and she protected us both from the flames. That’s how she is; trust her to make the most heartfelt compliment look like the harshest criticism.” He pulls his handkerchief from the breast pocket of his vest to mop at his brow, a mannerism Andy has learned means that he’s debating himself on something. 

 

“I am such an idiot.” She barely hears the words as they rasp their way off of her tongue. She finds herself playing back moments from the last nine months, and realising just how ignorant she has been. Sure, she’d stepped up her game as some sort of challenge, only to find that she held a deep personal satisfaction in going above and beyond the call of duty. She’d fled at the first sign that she’d been caught out, that Miranda herself had been the one to see how much of herself she was putting into every simple act. She had, inevitably, drawn the wrong conclusion—that Andy was invested in the job— but the fact remained. Her cover was blown, and so she had run away like a belligerent middle-schooler. 

 

It was, however, somewhere in the high streets of Paris, after the fact, that she had experienced the stunning realisation that the job had meant so much more to her than she ever could have predicted. The job was her means with which to communicate to Miranda all the things she would never have the chance to say. The job had been a god damned gift, and she had denied it with every breath. 

 

Nigel’s gentle chuckle brings her back to herself. “Andy, I don’t know if anyone has ever told you, but you have a super power. When people talk to you, you really hear them.” He waves her off when she tries to cut in. “You don’t just hear what they’re saying, but what they mean as well. Then, somehow, you take the distance between the two and make it work in your favour. I’ve never met anyone else who could do that, not even Miranda.” 

 

I can see beyond what people want, and what they need, and I can choose for myself.” Miranda’s words float back to her on her own whisper, and she nearly laughs when the dots in her head finally connect. Miranda wasn’t offering to train her up in La Priestly’s image, wasn’t peering into her eyes looking for hints of the Dragon; she was acknowledging that Andy was in possession of traits that simply can’t be taught and offering the chance to learn all that she could. Miranda wanted Andy to succeed in the ways only someone with her unique skill set could. Miranda had seen her, down to her very essence, and Andy had imploded under the weight of that gaze. 

 

It’s too much. She has to fix this. 

 

Nigel barely has time to lift his head before she’s out the door, shoeless and still shivering from her extended jaunt through the city. 

 

* * *

 

It doesn’t strike her that her behaviour might be seen as highly suspect until it’s already too late. Andy bursts into Miranda’s suite without so much as a knock, having held onto the room key she’d been given for reasons she doesn’t really want to analyse yet. It hits her the second she registers those icy blue eyes, unguarded and wide with shock, that perhaps she should have run a comb through her hair, at the very least. She remembers the ragged waif who’d looked back at her through the mirror, and spares a second for the thought that maybe her general state of disarray will add a certain gravity to what she plans to say. 

 

Or it might, if she were capable of planning anything more detailed than a few choice words about her own incompetence. Any more time she might have devoted to working something out, right there in front of Miranda, is cut short by the brief, extremely uncomfortable clearing of a delicate throat. Andy snaps her gaze back to the cold fury emanating from those incandescent eyes. 

 

“Miranda...” It floats out on a shaky breath, in spite of the anvil currently sitting on Andy’s larynx. “I...hurt you.” And that’s just it, isn’t it? She can’t imagine a single reality where she would voluntarily hurt Miranda, even in the course of protecting herself. She knows for a fact that she’d happily step in front of a bus if it meant that Miranda would never look at her like this again, the way someone might regard a loaded gun. Like she is dangerous. Miranda opens her mouth, as if to refute Andy’s statement, but they both know it’s true. “No, not a question.” Andy feels the sad smile shift her features, and she knows that now is not the time to second guess herself. 

 

“I think...” She begins again when it becomes clear that Miranda isn’t going to speak. “I think I understand now, what you were telling me, the why of it all...and I know you can’t afford to listen to the ramblings of stupid ex-assistants, but I’m choosing to live in the hope that you’ll hear me out.” Andy takes a deep, steadying breath before she continues. Her heart is doing an impressive impersonation of a kick drum, and there’s a strange tingle radiating from the spot on her shoulder, which Miranda seems intent on burning a hole through with the strength of her glare. Andy knows that she’s listening, though, from the way her hands gently knead the back of the chaise and her head tips just a few degrees to the side. Andy can’t ever remember feeling like she was in such command of someone’s attention before, and it gives her just that extra bit of confidence. 

 

“I’ve been so dedicated to the ideals I was raised with, so devoted to the idea of being a ‘good person’, that I never once looked hard enough to see how blurry the lines are, up close. I never managed to consider that sometimes a person can only choose the less damaging of two terrible options, until I met you. You threw the curtain back before I was ready to see what was behind it. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, the world doesn’t usually lead with kindness, and life is a full contact sport with very few hard and fast rules. Please forgive me the delay in absorbing the lesson. I’m honoured that you chose to give it to me.” It’s more than she’s ever said to Miranda at one time, but Andy thinks this may be one of those situations where her natural affinity for words might prove invaluable. 

 

Miranda has neglected to move, to react in any way to the depth of raw uncertainty Andy is showing, but she isn’t particularly surprised. It’s somewhere among the possibilities lingering in the ‘best case scenario’ portion of her mind. So she forges on. 

 

“You’ve given me a singularly most effective crash course in resilience and perspective, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful. It’s been the most exhilarating, difficult, amazing experience of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the newspapers in the world. Thank you.” She’s saying goodbye, she realises, only as she turns to leave, but the soft murmur stops her in her tracks. 

 

“Andréa, what do you want?” It’s not the question Andy had expected, and the thought that maybe Miranda expects her to ask for a favour on the way out crosses her mind. Rather than flooding her with indignant outrage, thought, it spreads a sharp sadness between her ribs to wrap around her heart. 

 

“You don’t know?” Andy surprises herself with the genuinely amused colour in her tone. Her only answer is the careful arching of one perfect brow. “I want you to teach me everything.” 

 

As she stumbles blindly back through the door, she realises that’s the closest she can conceivably get to speaking the whole truth.  

 

* * *

 

Miranda is still standing rigid, gripping the back of the chair with enough force to permanently crush the velvet when the door to her suite is flung unceremoniously open yet again, only to reveal Nigel, face flushed and eyes slightly glazed. He doesn’t even give her the courtesy of a simple greeting before he, too, starts in on her. 

 

“So, what did she have to say for herself?” He chuckles a little at the icy glare she shoots him, but doesn’t back down. “Now, Miranda, I think you owe me at least that much.” She lets out a sigh, one that feels as though it originates all the way down in her toes, and moves to collapse in the very seat she’s been trying to strangle for the last ten minutes. 

 

“She asked me to ‘teach her everything’, as though I’m supposed to know what that means. As though I can just forget that she abandoned me over some little professional qualms-“

 

“She abandoned you? Or the job?” It would take an act of genuine torture to get Nigel to admit how much pleasure he’s deriving from playing devil’s advocate. It’s basically his job title, anyway. Miranda makes a displeased noise deep in her throat and waves a hand to convey that she doesn’t exactly know. 

 

“Does it matter? Should I care? I mean, how can I trust that she won’t run away as soon as things get hard or complicated?” She’s not talking to him, so Nigel sees no reason to interrupt her with answers. “Yes, I will admit that she has made strides since she first began, but how am I supposed to take on such a pupil when gaining her fickle respect is tantamount to pulling teeth?” It strikes them both at the same moment that having Andréa’s respect is important to Miranda, and she can do nothing to hide the faint blush colouring her cheeks. 

 

“She respects you. More than you’ll ever know.” Nigel has had months to perfect his little fairy godmother routine, but he realises that he’s getting dangerously close to revealing things that aren’t his to expose. “I was sitting on her couch, I watched the light dawn in her eyes, and I know that whatever she said, it was the truth. So it’s up to you, the ball is in your court now.” He doesn’t expect the look of surprise, the tinge of betrayal and jealousy in her eyes. “You’re not the only one who confides in me, Miranda. If you doubt my loyalty even after all this, you may very well be a lost cause. I am simply trying to make sure everyone here realises the value of what they have.” 

 

“She thanked me.” It’s not the dangerous quiet of the Dragon Lady, it’s a whisper that slips out seemingly of its own accord, and once again Nigel is struck by the weight of the things he doesn’t know. Miranda’s eyes are downcast and she almost seems to shrink in on herself, making her look much, much smaller than he’s ever seen her. “She said she was honoured to have received the lessons she has learned and when I asked what it was that she wanted, she asked me to teach her. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” 

A helpless chuckle escapes on the tails of maybe the first time Miranda Priestly has ever admitted to not knowing what to do. Nigel wants to cackle, but keeps it reserved to a small grin. He meets those sapphire eyes again, and he knows what she’s going to do, even if she doesn’t. 

 

“Whatever you want, darling.” He places a comforting hand on her shoulder before leaving her to think about it. 

 

* * *

 

It’s early when Andy stirs, bleary eyes crusted together with residual tears and makeup. After the excitement of the previous day, she’d barely made it back to her room before crashing. She can’t even remember whether or not Nigel was still here when she returned. It comes back to her, in that moment; her little diatribe to Miranda’s greatness, the feeling of leaving it all out on the floor between them...well, maybe not all of it, but enough that her own words come back to shock her fully into wakefulness. Exhilarating. Difficult. Amazing. If she hadn’t been there, she would think one was describing Miranda herself. Oh shit... 

 

Something beeps next to her bed, and she realises that’s what must have pulled her from the silky grasp of sleep. Raising her throbbing head, she spots her phone on the bedside table, lit up with an incoming text message. It’s funny, but she’s pretty sure she threw it in a fountain yesterday... 

 

With a gasp, she nearly flings herself onto the floor as she reaches for the device, cradling it gently in her hands as though it were something precious. She has two unread messages, both from a number she can’t help but recognise, and it takes every ounce of bravery she has to open them. 

 

The first had come in at nearly four in the morning, though looking at the clock, Andy sees that was barely a half hour ago. 

 

Very well. 

 

Andy doesn’t even bother to try keeping the ridiculous grin off of her face. Her heart feels like it’s going to swell right out of her chest, and she once again declines to analyse the reaction. She feels like a kid on Christmas morning, and she’s not going to ruin it for herself. 

 

The second text had been the one to wake her, sent only minutes ago, and it’s with a shaking hand that she moves to open it. She can’t stop the fear that Miranda has changed her mind, that the joy she feels in this moment cannot possibly last. 

 

Breakfast is at 6. We have much to discuss.  

 

The same overwhelming feeling of euphoria nearly brings her to tears, until she realises that she only has an hour and a half to get ready for the day, and so far she has no idea what it will bring. 

 

One very hasty, very hot shower later, Andy emerges from the bathroom scrubbed raw and ready to take on the world. She pulls together an outfit that would have terrified her only days prior, and steps back to get one last glance at herself. 

 

The lacy black La Perla body suit displays her curves in an understated yet undeniably sensual way; the ultra-sheer, grey silk Saint Laurent blouse leaving nothing to the imagination; while a devilishly short pleated black skirt complete with hand-embroidered suspenders given to her by Lagerfeld himself finishes off the look, along with an embellished pair of Louis Vuitton ankle boots. 

 

It’s a far more daring ensemble than she ever would have imagined picking for herself, but she realises that daring is exactly the mood she hopes to bring to this new stage of her career and life. She needs Miranda to know that this time around, she’s playing for keeps. That this is no longer just a job she deigns to attend to, but an effort she is committed to putting the full weight of her will and intellect behind. 

 

* * *

 

“Please, Andréa, explain to me why I was visually assaulted last night, instead of sitting down to have a perfectly normal conversation?” Andy’s eyes flash wide as she nearly chokes on the bite of spinach and egg white omelette in her mouth, taken completely off guard by the question and somewhat relieved by the break in the tension. 

 

Breakfast had been served in Miranda’s suite, a quaking French bellboy arriving the customary fifteen minutes early, and so far not so much as a single word has been uttered between the two of them. It’s grating on Andy’s already raw nerves, and she knows that, given the time, her inner babble would have broken forth regardless. 

 

“You’re kidding me, right?” It pops out with absolutely no regard for Andy’s safety, a moment of true disbelief that demands to be recognised. She barely resists the urge to slap a hand over her mouth, though the desperate urge to melt into the floor is harder to dispel. Her goal to just keep her stupid mouth shut is bypassed, however, when a meticulous eyebrow inches skyward. A deprecating chuckle escapes Andy before she pushes her anxiety aside and decides to lay it all out. “Miranda, I haven’t had a single normal conversation with you since we met. You don’t have conversations, you give orders.” Sensing the imminent interruption, she hastens to add, “Which is all well and good when you’re the one making the final decisions but, unfortunately, I think this time we have to come to some kind of agreement.” 

 

“Oh, do we?” The tone is as icy as she’s ever heard it, but there’s a twinkle lurking behind those blue eyes that makes Andy think that maybe it’s time for her to stop being so afraid. After all, she’s got nothing to lose that she hasn’t already lost, and no matter how it may feel, that sharp tongue can’t actually flay her alive. She sits up straight, shoulders back, and dares to return the look. 

 

“Well, our other option is continued miscommunication, and I really don’t see that serving either of our purposes.” So there. If she’s going to test Andy, fine. If she’s going to try to scare her away before Andy makes that decision for herself, so be it. But she’s not going to do so without any resistance. Andy has her claws out now and she’s ready to dig in and hold tight. She hopes Miranda can read the steel in her posture and the iron in her gaze. 

 

“You presume to know what my purposes are?” This time Miranda does actually look slightly affronted, and Andy stifles a laugh. A quick knock signals the bell boy coming back in to clear the table, and Andy understands that this discussion is nowhere near finished, but is also not for the open ears of anyone else. So she waits, greedy eyes roaming the elegant figure as though she were an undiscovered, unseen Rodín. 

 

The editor’s silver forelock hangs artfully over one eye, while the white Dolce ruffle neck blouse holds a stark juxtaposition to the black Alexander McQueen bow-pleated trousers. It’s a rather sedate outfit for fashion week, but Andy’s pretty sure she’ll be the only one to see this particular ensemble, and for some reason that throws gasoline onto her spark of excitement. The idea that she could have more of Miranda than anyone else will get thrills her in an unforeseen and somewhat unsettling way. By the time she’s finished with her less than surreptitious perusal, the table is clear and the boy is gone; Miranda beckons her to the sitting area, where she takes a seat on the same abused chaise she’d identified with the night before. 

 

“I think your purposes are actually fairly straightforward.” She begins again, not waiting for Miranda to decide to move things along. She’s staring at a random spot on the wall, but all her other senses are trained exclusively on the other woman. “I think that Runway is a part of you, and in that sense you can only accept from others the perfection that you demand from yourself. It’s not just a job, it’s more than a pay check, more than a title. So yes, I presume.” Amber eyes finally rise to meet sapphire head on. She’s daring Miranda to say one word to the contrary because they both know it’s true, and if Miranda can’t be honest with her, then there’s really very little point to this meeting at all. 

 

“Ah.” Miranda lets out a soft noise of understanding, but doesn’t move to elaborate until Andy shoots her a pointed look. “I have a nasty little habit of underestimating you, Andréa. In this case, it seems you have been far more perceptive than I gave you credit for.” She says it as though she’s surprised by her own fallibility, and once again Andy feels slightly guilty for caring this much. “Alright, but I will still need to hear what exactly you feel you’ll get out of this…arrangement. After all, it’s not a journalistic endeavour.” Andy wants to rebuke the snide comment, but it occurs to her so, so belatedly that Miranda might actually be teasing her. The quirk of lips half a second later confirms her suspicions. 

 

“Miranda, if I knew what you could teach me, I wouldn’t be here absurdly early begging for the opportunity to learn. What I do know is that you do this job better than anyone else, in a way that nobody else could. I don’t hold myself under any illusions that I could carry any job off with the grace that you do, but I need to understand how you do it. The why of it is no longer significant.” 

 

It takes a moment, but Andy realises that the best defence she has against Miranda’s constant air of disinterest is total, unflinching honesty. She notes, sifting through memories of the last eight months, that, while Miranda does like to mess with her subordinates, it is her brutal honesty that elevates everyone around her. She never holds back for the sake of something so trivial and fleeting as feelings.

 

Alright, lesson number one: duly noted.  

 

Miranda, for her part, watches her with that curious expression she’s seen so rarely in her tenure as assistant. Andy thinks she might be impressed, though it’s easy to confuse that facial expression with the one she wears when personally affronted, so it’s not something she would bet on.  She decides to assume the former, and prays to a god she doesn’t believe in that her backbone will survive the morning. 

 

“I, um… gave this a lot of thought yesterday, and I have some conditions I’d like to discuss with you.” Preemptively wincing against what is sure to be a scathing retort, she drops her eyes to watch a bead of condensation streak down Miranda’s standard glass of Pellegrino. 

 

The only thing forthcoming, however, is a soft “Oh?” 

 

“I want a different title. I don’t care what it is, but Emily can keep First Assistant for as long as she wants.” Miranda’s face may as well be made of stone for all the reaction this provokes. “I want permission to implement measures regarding efficiency in office protocol, where possible, and…I need you to do that thing you hate, you know, where you actually explain your decisions. If this is going to work the way we need it to, we have to be a team. I can’t protect you otherwise.” 

 

“Oh, is that all?” Miranda’s tone makes it very clear that Andy is asking a lot from her. “I find it hard to believe that anyone under my employ wishes to protect me. And, what, may I ask, am I to get out of this little…arrangement?” Andy has to stifle a chuckle. She is finding this tête-à-tête surprisingly enjoyable. 

 

“Miranda, did you even read my resumé? I wasn’t accepted to Stanford Law School for my crushing good looks. I’m good at this job, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but so far I’ve been operating under the assumption that I’ll survive this year and move on. You have no idea how good I can be when I actually care.” She’s entering into dangerous territory here, if her words are construed as presumptuous as opposed to informative, as they’re meant. 

“Nigel helped me figure out that I didn’t have to understand something to see its value, something I really should have figured out on my own, but I couldn’t find a way to care if all I was is another face in an endless sea of disappointing assistants. So I’m not going to be. You told me to make a choice, well this is it.” She feels slightly out of breath, and slightly chagrined as she realises that sometimes her mouth really does get away from her, but it’s all true so she has no problem standing behind it. 

 

“Associate to the Editor.” Miranda says, looking at her again with that peculiar expression.

 

“What?”

 

“That is your new title, starting now. Emily will move on to the Art Department in two weeks, as scheduled. In the meantime, you will begin conducting interviews for an assistant.” Miranda regards her silently for another minute before a genuine smile cracks through the usual frosty exterior. Andy can’t help but think that she looks even more gorgeous than usual, her eyes, usually so cold, twinkling with mirth and what might possibly be affection. 

 

Wait, what?

 

“I’ve been waiting to see that girl again, the one who was so fearless in her interview. I’m glad to see she has made a reappearance. Welcome into your power, Andréa.” With that distinctly unusual moment of praise out of the way, Andy can literally see Miranda shift back into editor mode. “Now, what are we going to do about my double booking at 3? I can’t attend both the Versace and the YSL shows.” 

 

And just like that, everything goes right back to normal, with the exception that nothing is the same as it was. 

 

* * *

 

The flight home is almost as tiring as Fashion Week itself, with a thousand decisions to be made before they even touch back down at JFK. Miranda has somehow made sure the Elias-Clark jet is available for their return trip, though Irv is surprisingly absent. Andy doesn’t even have time to enjoy the unexpected luxury, though, because she’s connected to the onboard wifi and sending emails off by the hundreds from the moment they reach cruising altitude to the moment they begin their descent. 

 

Miranda is in fine form, holding court with Nigel and Jocelyn as ferociously as a General planning a major offensive. Andy manages all of five minutes to herself, between feverishly taking notes and the mass of correspondence, but she takes the time to contact Leslie, Miranda’s PR manager, as well as the twins. They’d asked for her email before the Runway team left, as a way to contact their mother in case of emergency, and she’d readily agreed. After the Harry Potter incident, the three of them had come to an agreement and she finds she rather enjoys talking with them. They’re smarter than she ever was at that age, and seem to have inherited their mother’s rapier wit. 

 

She finally stumbles into her apartment at nearly 2 am, but as exhausted as she is, sleep feels impossible. She’s wired, from the time difference and her new prospects and a million other things, and almost cackles to find Nate- and a generous portion of their shared belongings- missing. That’s fine with her, they’d been over for a long time and she feels better with him gone. That surprises her initially, that she should be so relieved that her longest relationship to date is over, but when the word ‘finally’ escapes her unbidden, she simply sets about rearranging and making a list of the things she’ll need to replace. 

 

It’s nearing 3:30 when her phone rings, that shrill tone recognisable across continents. She answers on the second ring, smiling when her thoughts wander to Nate’s final remarks. 

 

“Lemme guess, you can’t sleep either?” She hopes Miranda can hear her smile over the phone. 

 

“Really, Andréa.” Miranda tuts. “Surely you know by now that sleep is for mere mortals.” 

 

“Oh-ho! We’ve got a comedian in our midst, ladies and gentlemen.” Her cheeks are starting to hurt from the wry grin she can’t seem to control, and for the first time in nine months, she can’t wait to go to work tomorrow. 

 

“I’ll be here all week.” Comes the deadpan response, and she snorts in a rather unladylike manner. 

 

“So,” Andy begins after a protracted pause, “did you call just to practice your material or is there something I can do for you?” She has a brief flashback to Emily frantically whispering ‘The Rules’ to her, and chuckles. She’s broken almost all of them by now and somehow lived to tell the tale, so it makes little sense to start following them now. 

 

“I-“ Miranda stalls, and Andy’s heart jumpstarts. She has never once heard Miranda stutter or cut herself off, and maybe she’s simply losing her mind, but this feels like a very special moment. “I find myself needing your advice. The girls have refused to speak to me since they found out about the divorce, and I… don’t know what to do about it. They’re so young, and they’ve had to deal with so much already because of…well, because of who I am. And of course, Stephen just had to blindside them with it while I was away, the coward.” 

 

So the girls are no longer off limits. Andy hasn’t even begun to finish sorting through her feelings about Miranda’s state that night, but it’s good to know that being entrusted with this information isn’t a one time thing. She’s again struck with the gravity of the changes resulting from that moment. 

 

“Miranda, I think they just need to be reminded that you love them unconditionally. Sometimes kids see a divorce as a statement on the retractable nature of love, but they don’t know enough to see the difference between a marriage and a parent-child relationship. Just, talk to them about it. They’ll see.” 

 

The phone is silent for so long she has to check that Miranda hasn’t hung up on her. The nervous part of her brain insists that she fill the gap, but she manages to shut that voice out. She’ll allow Miranda all the time she needs to process this. 

 

“What have you done with my bumbling assistant? Who is this wise woman I’m speaking with?” Andy feels the laughter bubbling up, and she’s too thrilled and tired to do anything but let it out. 

 

“On this subject, I have experience. Ask me about something else and I’m sure I can oblige.” 

 

“It’ll have to wait.” Andy hears a sort of strangled gasp and realises that Miranda has just emitted an earth shattering yawn. Her heart jumps again, and if she’s overwhelmed with tenderness at the humanity of that simple act, who’s to say? “I believe it is way past my bedtime.” 

 

Andy flops onto the couch, as the apartment is decidedly lacking a bed, and cradles the phone just slightly closer. 

 

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you have a weakness. Goodnight, Miranda.”

 

“Goodnight, Andréa. Sleep well.” 

 

It’s possibly the longest conversation they’ve had that didn’t begin with the words ‘get me’, and Andy can’t even pretend in her own mind that she isn’t over the moon, but it’s all catching up with her now and she drifts happily into dreams of warm blue eyes and tinkling laughter. 

 

 

* * *

 

The first day back at Runway is somewhat akin to soldiers returning from war only to find that their home has been ransacked while they were away. The clackers could give many a headless chicken a run for their money, and that anxiety seems to have filtered up the chain of command to the point that even Nigel is sporting a wild gleam in his eyes. 

 

Andy hasn’t had a chance to talk with him, or thank him, or do anything other than smile at him in passing, but that changes around 2 pm, when she desperately needs someone to cover for her absence for an hour or so. Emily is studiously not speaking to her, despite the piles of couture in her size that had been delivered to her apartment early this morning, but Andy has far more pressing matters on her mind than whether she’ll be able to get back on her good side. 

Her conversation with Miranda the previous night is weighing heavily on her mind, and she makes the decision to try to assist without alerting Miranda to her intentions. Easier said than done, but if anyone can help her, it’s her fashion fairy godmother. 

 

“Hey Nige!” She calls in a singsong, ducking into his office without knocking. “There’s my very favourite Art Director!” 

 

“What do you want now?” He looks as exhausted as she feels, and she really can’t blame him for being cranky. He probably got less sleep than she did last night. 

 

She sidles up conspiratorially and in a low whisper says, “I’m on a secret mission and I need your help. No one can ever know.” A long moment passes and she wonders if she’s reached her quota of help from Nigel for the year, but then he’s humming the theme from Mission Impossible and shooting her a wink. 

 

“What do you need? A diversion?” 

 

“I need a reason to be out of the office for the next hour or so. Think you can come up with something?” Andy knows that she’s asking quite a lot of him at a point when time is at a premium, but it’s important to her to do this job to the best of her ability, and sometimes that includes going behind Miranda’s back. She’s not proud of it, but this is the only way she can think of to solve this particular problem. Nigel gives her a hard look, but it softens when she returns with a pleading one. 

 

“Oh, I think I can figure something out.” 

 

“Okay, I need to be out of here by three, will that work? I suppose I can always tell Miranda that I’m sick or something, I just don’t want to miss out on too much, you know? There’s so much to do and this is really putting a wrench in the works, but you know I wouldn’t ask if wasn’t important…” She chews on her lip, reconsidering whether or not this really the right move, but Nigel stops her with a gentle pat on the cheek. 

 

“Seriously, child, I’ve got you covered. Stop stressing. I assume that you’ll let me in on the secret at some point?” She gives him a hesitant nod and he claps his hands together. “Alright, I’ll see you before three then, my dear, but in the meantime, some of us actually have work to do!” 

 

She heads back to her desk with a chuckle. She’s breaking her own set of rules by getting this personally involved, but she reminds herself of Miranda’s words, though challenging at the time. You can do anything, right?

 

True to his word, Nigel comes barrelling into the outer office at 2:45, practically wailing. Not even Emily moves to stop him from breaching the inner sanctum, and then he’s in Miranda’s office shouting about incompetence and missing thumb drives and before anyone can say anything, Miranda is calling for her. 

 

“Andréa, some fool seems to have misplaced the photos from the Valentino show. You’ll go get copies from Demarchelier’s studio. If we do not recover these photographs, I’m going to be very displeased.” 

 

“Right away, Miranda.” Andy manages to hide her smirk until she’s past the desks, but can’t quite keep it up when Emily shoots her a smug look.

 

“Ugh, what are you smiling about?” They seem to have transitioned into trading barbs, as opposed to the radio silence from this morning, though Andy doesn’t know which she prefers. 

 

“I love my job.” She says with a full grin, and the look of bewildered shock on Emily’s face almost makes it all worth it. 

 

Nigel catches up with her at the elevator and covertly slips her a nondescript thumb drive, and she has to stifle a laugh. He shoots her a wink, then struts off down the hall, no doubt to go work on the proofs from one of the other thousand shows they’d attended the previous week. Andy spends the elevator ride putting on her best game face, and she’s surprised when the clackers in the lobby part for her almost as quickly as they would for Miranda herself. Roy is waiting at the curb like she’d asked, and he quickly pulls out into traffic like the expert he is. 

 

“You sure you know what you’re doing, Andy?” Making eye contact in the rear view mirror, she’s a little shocked by the look of reproach on the normally jovial driver’s face. 

 

“Somebody’s gotta step in, Roy, or we’re all in for it. I’m just gonna talk to them.” 

 

“Alright.” The lilt to his words makes it clear he doesn’t believe her but also isn’t going to get involved.  

 

“Look, Roy, I think you and I might be the two people in this world who aren’t afraid of her. That means something to me, and I’m for damn sure going to use it to the collective advantage. This isn’t for my benefit, and you know that.” She’s honestly a little hurt by the reproach; she’d been figuring Roy would be totally on her side, but now it seems like maybe she misjudged him. 

 

“Andy, nobody here is accusing you of anything, I just…I know those kids, as well as anyone could in this position, and if you come blazing in making promises you can’t keep? They’ll never forget it.” The light dawns in her eyes and she scoffs.

 

“No, I’m not here to do anything other than explain, in the best way I can, what is happening. They deserve to understand and I think we both know Miranda has a long way to go in the explanation department. I can tell them my intentions, but I will never make a promise if I’m not 100% sure I can keep it. Jeez, what do you take me for, an amateur?” That gets her a good natured chuckle, and she hopes the two of them are okay. 

 

She likes Roy, he is by far the steadiest of Miranda’s employees, and he’s got a sense of humour that Andy can appreciate. It’s not until he lets her know they’re five minutes away from Dalton that she realises she should really be nervous, but isn’t.

 

* * * 

 

When Cassidy and Caroline tumble into the car, there’s a long moment of confused silence before they address Andy in such a similar way to their mother, it actually takes Andy’s breath away for a second. 

 

“What are you doing here?” They ask in perfect stereo, and she might be creeped out by the simultaneous head tilts, arching brows over cold blue eyes, but it’s so adorably familiar that she simply smiles and asks if they have a minute to talk with her. She’s not particularly surprised that she seems to have been labelled pariah by association. 

 

“Well, it’s not like we have a choice. This is basically an ambush.” Caroline, at least she’s reasonably certain it’s Caroline, sniffs and turns to watch Manhattan roll by. 

 

“Listen, we don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I can just sit here in silence if you like. But I thought you’d want to know that I’m going to be in charge of your mom’s schedule from now on, and I thought maybe we could discuss it. Maybe you have some suggestions?” She takes a moment to remind herself that she’s talking with two eleven year olds, no matter how smart or aware they might be. 

 

The one that’s probably Cassidy brightens up at the offer, but Caroline only narrows her cool gaze as though she’s trying to figure out Andy’s angle. She’s just about to brave calling Cassidy out by name when Caroline speaks again, surprising her with a tone so laced with venom it could actually kill. 

 

“Isn’t that your job? Why do you need our help? Does Mom even know you’re here?” Cassidy shoots her what might be an apologetic look, and nudges her sister. 

 

“Caro…” 

 

“No, it’s okay Cassidy. Those are valid questions. For your information, Caroline, I am perfectly capable of doing my job without you. I’m not asking for your help, I’m asking for your input. Those are two different things.” Caroline pauses for a moment, a little furrow between her brow, considering the wording of the statement. 

 

“Okay, what kind of input are you looking for?” Cassidy asks this time, ignoring the sharp glare from Caroline, and Andy has to stifle a laugh. These two are certainly something else. 

 

“Well, I know that your Mom works harder than anyone else on the planet, and she misses you guys a lot. I thought there might be some days you’d like to see her more, if I can schedule it. Maybe get her some extra time on weekdays that she can spend with you without having to work.” Andy once again notes the light that flares in Cassidy’s eyes, and doesn’t miss the look of shock that briefly crosses Caroline’s face. Predictably, though, her look hardens into a near perfect imitation of Miranda, and Andy mentally braces herself. 

 

“Okay, let’s cut to the chase. What do you actually want? Assistants aren’t even supposed to talk to us.” The dig is quite good, coming from an eleven year old, but Andy has faced a much sharper tongue every day for almost a year. 

 

“Alright, you want it up front?” Concurrent nods. “First, I’m not an assistant anymore, and second, an assistant’s job is to make your Mom’s life easier, right? Do all the stuff she doesn’t have time to do.”

 

“Right…” She can tell Cassidy is already on the same page, but Caroline is a tougher nut to crack. 

 

“But I think her other assistants never really thought about making her life better. I already know that I can get her coffee the right temperature, and I can answer phone calls in my sleep. Keeping things organised is, well…easy. But your Mom is an artist, a brilliant one, and artists need things in their life that fuel them, otherwise everything starts to lose colour, to blur together, and they get tired of it. The biggest inspiration your Mom has is you two, and the more time she gets to spend loving you, the less drained she gets by the stupid things people can’t do correctly. Do you understand?” She really hopes she’s making her point, but can’t be sure. It does help when Roy meets her eyes and gives her a wink. 

 

“We did an assignment last month on Ancient Greek culture, so we know all about Muses. Is that what you’re talking about?” Cassidy asks, oozing genuine curiosity. 

 

“Um, kind of. Except Muses are said to come and go, whereas you guys are always.”

 

“That’s what she said about Stephen. And now he’s gone too. So you can schedule her all day every day, for all I care.” That hard look is back in Caroline’s eyes, and Andy knows she’s got one chance to do this right, or she’ll just get the trademark Priestly persona, possibly forever. 

 

“Okay, Caroline, here’s the thing. Did you know that your Mom has to approve every single design, accessory, photograph, layout, budget, and article in Runway, every single month? She makes more decisions in a day than most people make in a year.” Sceptical blue eyes widen noticeably. 

“Runway is her passion, it’s part of what makes her who she is. It’s incredible, but most people never think of it like that. People like Stephen see her and think that she’s beautiful and powerful and they want to be around her, but once they find out how much work it takes to do what she does, they don’t think of anything but the fact that it takes her away from them. So they ask her to let go of it, they ask her to let go of a part of herself, which isn’t something she can do because it would change who she is. It’s selfish and wrong to ask that of somebody.” 

 

She sits back, resigned to the fact that Caroline will make her judgment and whatever it is probably won’t change. 

 

“So it’s a respect thing?” Andy nods, glad that she seems to at least be making a little headway. “They want the good parts of her without the parts they don’t like?” Andy smiles. 

 

“Exactly. Which is an awful way to treat someone, and I think your Mom deserves better than that. She deserves to spend all her free time with you guys and not worrying about the decisions other people are making about her passion. That’s what I want to give her, because I want to respect all the parts of her, not just the ones I like… Do you understand now?” 

 

Caroline gives her a hesitant nod, and she truly wonders if nobody has ever tried to explain this to them before. 

 

“So, if we wanted to have movie nights on Thursdays, you’d try to make that happen?” Cassidy asks tentatively, and Andy’s heart breaks just a little bit for the sweet vulnerable girls looking up at her with something like hope in their eyes. 

 

“Well, you’d have to talk to her about the movie part, but if you wanted her to be home by, say, 6 on Thursdays, I can certainly try to make that happen.” The simultaneous grins that break out warm her just enough that maybe she should question it, but she doesn’t have that kind of focus right now, so she pushes the thoughts away. 

 

“Really?” Caroline asks, a little breathlessly, and if there was a way, Andy would make sure Miranda never missed another minute with these little girls. 

 

“Really. But I need you to understand that I might not always be successful. I can’t promise that it’ll happen every week, but I’ll try my hardest. That much, I can promise.” 

 

“She doesn’t know you’re here, does she?” Once again Caroline pins her with an inscrutable look. 

 

“No, I faked an emergency so I could come talk to you.” Andy shoots them a wry grin before adopting a more serious look.  “She called me late last night and she sounded really sad because you didn’t want to talk to her. I know divorces are scary and it seems like everything is going to be different, but you have to understand it’s scary for her too.” 

 

“How do you know?” Cassidy asks, sounding like she really wants to know, as opposed to an attempt to discount Andy’s words. 

 

“Well, my parents got divorced when I was a little older than you, and it was scary. They yelled all the time, they said mean things to each other, and it never really felt very safe. And I started to act out, doing things like picking on other kids, or I dunno, luring unsuspecting assistants up the stairs just to make the fighting stop.” She fixes them with a knowing look, and they at least have the decency to look chagrined. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad. I understand why you did it. I am here to get some payback, though.” 

 

Caroline instantly looks outraged, while Cassidy looks concerned and a little upset. 

 

“What kind of payback?” 

 

“You have to come get ice cream with me and tell me about your day. I think it’s only right.” Mirrored yelps of delight bring on a blinding smile, and she thinks this might actually work. “Roy, take us to Sugar Hill, and step on it.” He grins at her in the rear view mirror and she knows she’s probably done something right. 

 

“Right away, boss.” 

 

* * * 

 

“Andy?” Cassidy had come out of her shell almost as soon at they arrived at the parlour, but she seems slightly shy again, so Andy tries to put her at ease while also wiping mint chocolate chip off her chin. 

 

“‘Sup kiddo?” 

 

“Do you really think Mom’s beautiful?” The question shocks her, and she swallows convulsively, inadvertently giving herself serious brain freeze. Her eyes bug out and she sticks her thumb against the roof of her mouth while the girls giggle at her antics. 

 

“Oof, brain freeze.” She laughs when the worst of it is over. “To answer your question, Cass, I think your Mom is a lot of things. Infuriating, brilliant, elegant, and yes, beautiful.” 

 

“Do you like her?” This question comes from Caroline, who’s been a bit more subdued since they arrived. 

 

“I don’t really know, Caro, I think so…but it’s hard to figure out how much is actually her and how much is the face she has to put on to be good at her job. From what I do know, I like Miranda the woman and I respect Miranda the Editor very much.” Caroline nods absently, mulling the answer over in her mind. 

 

“Can you really tell us apart?” Cassidy asks, and Andy giggles. 

 

“I’m not sure. Wanna test it out?” They’re wearing their school uniforms, so there isn’t really an obvious tell. “Why don’t you both go to the bathroom, and then one of you can come out and I’ll see if I can tell who it is. But wash your hands first.” They hop out of the booth, grumbling about not needing to be told to wash, and make their way to the ladies’ room. 

 

Not even two minutes later, Caroline comes back out, wearing Cassidy’s headband and backpack, and Andy laughs. 

 

“Care, did you really think the headband would do it?” The shocked look on the girl’s face makes Andy laugh even harder, and by the time Cassidy rejoins them, they’re both hopelessly lost in a fit of the giggles. 

 

“She got us, Cass.” Caroline gasps, and Cassidy looks up at Andy with wide eyes, impressed. 

 

“Stephen could never do that…even Dad sometimes gets us confused.”

 

“Are you kidding? You guys are, like, totally different!” Andy cries, and the warm look Caroline gives her might melt all the ice cream in the world. Checking her watch, she notes that she’s got to get the girls home to Cara and head back to the office ASAP, so she urges the girls to grab their things and they meet Roy at the curb with a small cup of chocolate gelato. Andy tries not to think of it as a bribe. 

“Andy, could we maybe…do this again sometime?” This question comes from Caroline, and Andy grins. She’d set out to help the girls understand Miranda a little better, but she’s not going to take the girls’ good graces for granted. 

 

“Sure thing, kiddo. Maybe if I get the book early sometime this week, we can meet up on the stairs and find some time to hang out.” Caroline looks overjoyed at the response, and Andy vows then and there to do everything in her power to make these girls happy. “Here’s my card, it has my phone number and email on it. Call or text me if you ever need anything, okay? I mean anything. Even if you just want me to get your Mom’s attention for you.” With a nod and a yelled thank you, the girls are flying out of the car and into the townhouse, and Andy takes a deep breath. 

 

That wasn’t so bad, but I think they’re gonna take some work. 

 

“Alright, back to work, Roy. And thank you.” 

 

“Anytime, Andy. Anytime.” 

Chapter Text

“I can’t imagine that any of you actually think this is an acceptable excuse for a layout?” Miranda floats in her usual disaffected tone, and Andy winces. She habitually invents new gods to thank for the fact that she doesn’t have Ted’s job. He’s not necessarily bad at it, per se, but his track record is abysmal when it comes to dealing with Miranda. He may just as well be a wet paper towel for all the fight he puts up on a regular basis. 

 

It’s about twelve minutes later when Ted moves to speak again, and Andy feels more like a hostage negotiator trying to read the tension in the room than she ever felt like an assistant. She feels her spine stiffen, her muscles clench in anticipation of the bloodshed undoubtedly about to occur. Sometimes she truly despises her own inflated sense of empathy, but regardless, she just can’t let it happen this time. Maybe it’s the effect of spending a good chunk of her afternoon talking with children, or maybe it’s an excuse to test the boundaries of her newfound power. Either way, she finds herself cutting the poor man off at the knees and demanding they take a recess. Suicidal, for sure, but it’s worth it, even for just the tiniest flare of relief in Miranda’s eyes. 

 

“Okay, everyone, we’re going to take 10 minutes and come back to it. If you are needed in the meantime, I’ll find you. There’s coffee in the conference room, I suggest we all take full advantage.” She finds it’s not so hard to steady her voice, to broker no argument, to lift her chin and meet Miranda’s startled gaze head on. 

 

The room empties more quickly than a bucket with no bottom, until it’s just the two of them, still locked on to each other and having what feels remarkably like a silent conversation. 

 

“This can’t go on…” Andy begins, hesitating at Miranda’s heavy sigh. All the fight seems to trickle right out of her body, and Andy sees for the first time how truly exhausted she is.

 

“I know.” It’s resigned, the bridge of an elegant nose pinched between perfectly manicured fingers. “If we can’t find inspiration in the September issue, I weep for what the rest of the year will bring.” Andy can’t quite manage to mask her huff of frustration. 

 

“Yeah, that is so not what I was talking about. I mean this process; the pitches that only ever seem half finished, the conflicting ideas on the same spreads…it takes an inordinate amount of time just to isolate the concepts they’re talking about, and we’re supposed to be building off of that?” She hadn’t realised just exactly how frustrated she is until it’s already out of her mouth and hanging in the air between them. To her complete surprise, Miranda only sends her a weary smirk. 

 

“Welcome, dear Andréa, to my world.” 

 

If Andy thinks about it for more than thirty seconds every now and then in passing, she and Miranda deal with incompetence and inconvenience in massively different ways. She finds herself trying to analyse patterns, streamline the system, provide solutions. Miranda, on the other hand, simply (and famously) elects to scare the idiocy right out of her employees. The branding works, no mistake about that, but Andy suddenly has an idea that just might be worth her new title. 

 

“Okay, I’m going to sort this out. Take ten minutes to decompress and, I dunno, throw something? Do what you gotta do, and then meet us in the conference room.” She grabs her laptop and stands.

 

“Andréa, you know it is not actually your job to fix their mess…” 

 

“Actually, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. It says explicitly in my new contract that I’m to put out any dumpster fires occurring in or near your office.” She’s feeling brave, having apparently gotten away with this little gambit, for now at least, so she throws Miranda a wink over her shoulder and stalks down the hall with every bit of borrowed gravitas she can muster. Miranda doesn’t come screaming out after her, so she revels in the massive outpouring of luck she’s experience today, and prepares to do battle. 

 

The conference room is electric with tension and barely concealed panic, and for one single millisecond, she has to fight the urge to laugh at them flapping around like chickens, sans crania. However, she’s here to do a job and she doesn’t care how painful it is, she is going to get results. 

 

“Jocelyn, Ted,” She snaps, getting everyone’s attention. “Show me the exact outfits you have in mind for the Dior shoot. Everyone else, I want a visual representation with a two to three sentence pitch for each of your spreads in my inbox in…” She checks her watch. They’ll need every second if this is going to work. “Six minutes. Got it?” The general subdued murmuring does not fill her with confidence. 

 

“Does everyone understand the assignment?” She pours every ounce of annoyance into her glare, and meets every eye, one by one. “Well?” She can hear Miranda’s voice slipping in around the edges of her own, and she thinks that should probably concern her, but all she feels is that strange warmth she’s been carrying in her chest all afternoon. 

 

It really is satisfying to watch them scatter.

 

In reality, it takes her close to thirty minutes to wrangle together a run through she’d consider even halfway decent, but she’s considering the extra time a gift from Miranda. She’s essentially created a catalogue, but it’s not the interactive feature that she’s most pleased with. Once she sat down and worked with a few people, she could see that the real problem was twenty different ideas all trying to contort into each other, whereas, when she asked them for something a little more specific, their true artistry had come out to play. She’d asked very pointed questions until they’d each settled on a solid, concise pitch. 

 

She finds herself learning incredible bits of history and lore from two of the least likely candidates in the office. Though, once you get them away from Miranda, Jocelyn and Ted are apparently brilliant. All in all, it’s a productive half-hour. 

 

By the time Miranda strides into the room, she looks far less likely to shower the team in pink slips, and Andy has created a system that will not only be far less taxing on their illustrious leader, but actually provide information they can use to build off of. The old system was great for pulling together cohesive spreads, but it was time consuming and Andy knows it grates on Miranda to have to mine through all the nonsense to get what she’s looking for. Now, she’ll be able to tear apart every idea the Art and Design teams send her and build them back up to her exact specifications without forcing everyone back to the drawing board. 

 

It takes them all of a minute to realise how much more seamless it is this way, how many fewer barbs they have to field from Miranda, and ultimately how much better it feels to stand before the Editor with a fully fleshed concept. Jocelyn smiles genuinely, for what might be the first time within Runway’s hallowed halls, and Ted almost becomes a whole new man, letting his ideas speak boldly for themselves. When they’ve finished for the day (almost an hour ahead of schedule, Andy happily notes to herself), she feels such a wave of satisfaction that it takes her aback. 

 

She sees dozens of moments play out behind her eyes, memories of Nate and Lily and Christian and countless others all diminishing the value of her work and casting judgement on her character because of the nature of it. She truly hadn’t seen at the time how much negative feedback she’d been getting on such a regular basis, and now as she gives in to the urge to celebrate her little victory, she can’t help but feel sorry for them. So caught up in the effort to be ‘authentic’ they can’t see how fake it is. Tossing her head a little at that, she realises that everyone has filed out save Miranda and herself, and she flinches involuntarily at the sudden intense look Miranda shoots her. 

 

“We… will talk about this later.” Miranda sighs softly, and if Andy had somehow missed the gentle tone, she certainly couldn’t have missed the fleeting look of pride on the Editor’s face as she sweeps out of the room. Even Emily’s repugnant glare can’t stop her from practically vibrating with giddiness. 

* * *

The rest of the day goes as smoothly as Andy could have hoped, and she’s mentally reviewing the contents of her refrigerator when the car slides smoothly to a stop in front of the townhouse. It’s still remarkably early, a possible byproduct of their abbreviated run through, so she sends Roy off with a wave and gets a wink in return. 

 

It’s not until the key is halfway in the lock that she remembers Miranda’s earlier statement, and she’s flooded with nervous energy. She’s almost certain she won’t be fired, but a dressing down after today would seriously dent her sense of worth, which is already sort of malformed as it is. 

 

Crossing the foyer as quickly and quietly as she can, cursing under her breath as she wrestles the dry cleaning into the closet, she completely misses the tell-tale sounds of someone descending the stairs. 

 

“Hi Andy!” 

 

As embarrassing as it is, she lets out a surprised yelp that leaves her ears ringing and her cheeks hot. 

 

“Sorry!” Cassidy calls down to her before taking the rest of the stairs two at a time. She’s a little breathless when she reaches Andy, who is acutely surprised by the massive hug she’s given. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” 

 

“‘S alright, Cass. My heart could use a little more exercise.” She smiles at the girl and receives a massive grin in return. “So, whatcha doin’ down here with us little people, huh?” 

 

“Oh, I forgot!” She slaps a hand to her head, and the image is so strange: this little kid making such an adult gesture, that Andy nearly looses it laughing. “Mom wants you to come up to her study.” 

 

“Uh-huh, and I suppose she sent you down to get me.” Andy says with more than a hint of skepticism. 

 

“Yep!” Cassidy beams.

 

“You know, you don’t exactly have the best track record with bringing me upstairs…” Andy fixes her with narrowed eyes, but Cassidy looks genuinely pleased in this moment. 

 

“Yeah, I know. But I wanted to say thanks. For this afternoon? Most grown ups get really mad when Caro gets like that, but you, like, told us what was going on. Nobody really does that. So thank you.” Andy’s heart might burst if this kid says one more sweet thing, so she tries to distract from the emotion she’s feeling.

 

“Hey, you know it’s the grown ups who are wrong to get mad, right? Caroline can be…intense, but you guys are so smart, and she’s really protective. She just needed to know that I wasn’t a threat. She’s kinda like your mom that way.” Cassidy just looks stunned. 

 

“You think Caro is like mom?” 

 

Crouching down until they’re face to face, Andy winks. 

 

“You both are. I see her in both of you, in different ways.” The shocked little gasp has her cracking a huge grin, as she grabs the Book off the table and offers Cassidy her hand. Andy has no clue where Miranda’s study might be, so she lets the girl lead her up the stairs, trying to keep up with the lightning fast questions. 

 

“Really? What parts do you see in me? I’m not that much like Caro or Mom, so I don’t get it. How come you’re still bringing the book if you’re not an assistant anymore?” 

 

“Whoa, dude, gimme a second!” Andy laughs. “When I look at you, I see your mom’s artistic spirit, her deep love of her medium, and the same little crinkle in your brow when you guys are concentrating. As for the book, it’s kind of a long answer.” She notices the disappointed look on her little guide’s face, so she makes a quick amendment. “Which I will be happy to give you after I see your mom, cool?” 

 

“Cool.” 

 

Andy can hear what sounds like excited babbling coming from the open doorway Cassidy seems to be leading her to, which is absolutely not in keeping with what she had envisioned. She lingers in the doorway for half a second, taking in the scene in front of her. Caroline is tucked into Miranda’s side on an overstuffed chair, an aggressively fluffy throw draped over the pair, and she’s giving an exciting blow by blow account of her P.E. class earlier that day. She doesn’t notice the newcomers right away, so Andy hears the end of the story for a second time. 

 

“…and that’s when Josh tried to slide tackle me, but he came in at totally the wrong angle, so he ended up just face planting and I had a clear shot. But then it bounced off the cross bar and hit him in the back of the head, right into the goal!” Andy can’t stop her chuckle at the image, freezing a little when two sets of inquisitive blue eyes zero in on her and Cassidy. 

 

“Andréa, so nice of you to finally join us.” Miranda’s voice is light and warm and just the slightest bit husky, and Andy’s knees nearly buckle on the spot. Only Cassidy’s little hand in hers prevents her from stumbling. 

 

“Well, my tour guide had a lot to say. Personally, I think she’d be better off in advertising.” Andy gives Cassidy awink and a nudge, but her head snaps up instantly when she hears a full throated laugh. Miranda’s head is thrown back, elongating that elegant ivory neck and the experience seems to be making Andy dizzy. 

 

“I shall take that into account.” She narrows her eyes at Andy playfully, and Andy thinks maybe now would be a good time to run away screaming, because she’s clearly stumbled into an alternate reality. “Now, I distinctly remember requesting to discuss the day’s events with you earlier, is now a good time?” 

 

Andy snorts violently, but follows up with a soft jab just for the fun of it. 

 

“If by ‘requesting’ you mean ‘making an ominous and slightly frightening statement before walking away’, then yes, I do remember the event in question. And now would be preferable, if only to put me out of my misery.” She hits Miranda with a sarcastically sweet smile, ecstatic to see it subtly returned. 

 

“You see?” Miranda turns to Caroline with an arched brow. “I told you, it’s gotten totally out of control. She’s not even one bit scared of me anymore.” 

 

There’s a rueful note in her voice, but Andy can see the smirk she’s suppressing, so she simply takes a seat on the sofa adjacent to them. She doesn’t quite manage to mask her surprise when Cassidy adopts much the same position with her as the one held by her sister and mom. She decides then and there that she’s just not going to question anything right now, and pulls the girl a little closer. 

 

“How am I supposed to be scared of you when I know deep down you’re all soft and gooey?” Cassidy laughs at her side, and Caroline breaks out a huge grin, but Andy’s only focus is the soft blush spreading across Miranda’s cheeks. 

 

“You take that back.” There’s little to no conviction in it, but Andy doesn’t push. 

 

“Eh, you’re right.” She grins at Cassidy. “No one would ever believe me anyway.” 

 

“Ridiculous. Before we talk about work, though, the girls have something they’d like to ask you.” Miranda wears a long-suffering look of resignation, and Andy can only guess as to what she’s about to be subjected to. 

 

“Will you come to our soccer game on Saturday?” Caroline asks, clearly unable to wait any longer for the adults to get around to the important things. 

 

“It’s in the afternoon, so you won’t have to wake up early, and then afterward maybe we could get ice cream again like we did today-“ Cassidy cuts herself off after seeing Andy’s head shake and wide eyes, but it’s already too late. “Whoops.” She looks genuinely distraught for a second, so Andy gives her shoulder a squeeze to let her know it’s okay. She doesn’t want to say anything in front of Miranda right now, given the glare she’s currently receiving, but she makes a note to talk to her before she leaves. 

 

“Kid, we gotta work on your delivery.” 

 

“What ice cream today are we talking about, exactly?” Miranda’s hackles are clearly raised, and Andy feels that little spike of fear working its way into her chest for the first time in far longer than she would have expected. She can’t say she’s missed it though.

 

“Miranda-“ She starts, only to be cut off by the twins talking in turn.

 

“It was so cool, Mom, Andy came to get us when school was out-“ Caroline begins. 

 

“And she told us how you make so many decisions all the time and people have to respect  you the way you are without trying to change you-“ Andy tries very hard not to cringe at Cassidy’s version, but isn’t entirely successful.

 

“And I was kinda mad at first, because, like, I was confused about a lot of things, but she didn’t get mad, even when I was rude-“ 

 

“And then she said she wanted payback for us tricking her up the stairs, and I got scared but then she said we had to go get ice cream with her and tell her about our day, so we did, and she could tell us apart like right away, which is so cool!”

 

Miranda is looking at her with a glint of something she cannot for the life of her place, and she wonders if she just fell asleep in the car on the way and this is some horrible dream. 

 

“What? Girls, you know I can’t keep up when you do that. Andréa, explain.” Andy looks to Cassidy, who just smiles and nods encouragingly. 

 

“Yeah, Ahn-dray-ah, explain it like you did to us.” At any other time, she’d be thrilled by Caroline’s teasing, but right now her stomach is in her throat and she thinks she might spontaneously combust. 

 

“Okay, um…you know the missing photos I had to go get? Yeah, not missing.” Miranda looks scandalised and Andy has to take a deep breath. “I asked Nigel to find something fake for me to do for an hour so I could, um, talk to the girls about some ideas I had, and talk to them about our conversation last night. I just thought maybe it could help to have another perspective explained to them. I know it helped me.” She finishes quietly, staring at a spot on the rug. 

 

“I should have known. Nigel always overacts. So, what new perspective did you give my children?” 

 

“Uh…mine.” Andy can see that isn’t going to be enough, but she can’t bring herself to say the words. “Girls, help me out here.” The twins both open their mouths to speak so she jumps in for Miranda’s sake. “One at a time.” It’s Caroline who fields the request, much to Andy’s relief. She loves Cassidy, but Caroline is more like her mother and Andy needs every advantage she can get right now. 

 

“Andy was in the car when we got there, and she asked us some questions about scheduling, but I was mad so I said ‘why do you need us to do your job’ and she explained the difference between needing someone’s help and requesting their input. Then she explained why it was wrong for us to be mad at you about Stephen.” She pauses, but starts up again when she sees her mother’s questioning look.

“Basically she told us that when people look at you they see someone beautiful and powerful and they want to be around you, but they don’t understand how much work it takes. Then they only notice that work is taking you away from them, so they ask you to let go of it, but you can’t. It’s your passion. If you let go of it, you wouldn’t be the same person, you wouldn’t be whole. Because you’re an artist and Runway is a part of you. It’s a respect thing, and we get it now.” 

 

Andy is pretty sure the complete volume of blood in her body is now residing solely in her cheeks, but she raises her head to catch Miranda’s gaze, burning brightly with some unidentifiable emotion. It’s a shock to realise that her guard has been lowered again, sometime during Andy’s prolonged study of the carpet. 

 

“I see.” Is all she says. The room takes on a very tense sort of silence, and Andy can literally feel the twins having a conversation. Finally, Miranda huffs and speaks again. “The game is at 2 p.m. on Saturday if you would like to join us. I…apologise for the inquisition. I was taken by surprise. Now, girls please remind me, what was that about tricking Andréa?” 

 

This time Cassidy answers, having been the one to spill the beans on both counts. 

 

“Um, remember when she came up the stairs and you made her get us Harry Potter?” It amazes Andy that inside such a boisterous kid is this tremulous, mousy little thing, and she makes another mental note to talk to her about it. 

 

“Andréa, is this true?” Miranda glares at her, and she smiles ruefully. 

 

“Oh yeah. It was a fun night, you little monsters.” She pokes Cassidy in the side and the girls giggle. 

 

“And you said nothing?” Miranda doesn’t seem angry, but confused. It’s almost exactly the same look that Caroline had given her earlier, and she wants to laugh but doesn’t. 

 

“I knew why they did it, and before you ask, that’s something they’re going to have to tell you.” She shares a meaningful look with both girls before deciding that her heart has indeed had enough exercise for one evening, and moves the topic along. “I won’t apologise for what I said to the girls, but I am sorry that I went about it the way I did. I just…didn’t want to stress you out any more than you already are. As for the game, girls, I’d love to come, as long as you really want me there.” 

 

Miranda rolls her eyes at that, but affectionately ruffles Caroline’s hair when she nearly shouts that Andy just has to come. The next half an hour is spent being regaled with tales of past soccer-related triumphs, often coming in the form of that dizzying twin-speak. Andy finds after a bit that she doesn’t actually have that hard a time following along, and she even enjoys the way the girls tend to focus on differing aspects of the story, giving the audience a wider perspective. It would serve them well in the long run if they could find a way to harness the skill and apply it elsewhere. 

 

Eventually, the twins start to flag, unable to fight off their exhaustion any longer and Miranda has to oversee the bedtime operations. Andy is left to her own devices in the study, taking it all in with wide eyes, feeling very much like someone stuck clandestinely behind the curtain. She’s totally lost in thought, gazing at the various photos on the walls, running her fingers over the worn spines of the books on the shelves, when a gentle clicking and snuffling noise heralds the arrival of the fourth Priestly. Patricia has come a long way with Andy since that first fateful meeting, and Andy is genuinely stoked to see her, especially at a time when she’s not directly responsible for the St. Bernard’s well-being. Now, as she settles back onto the sofa, she can simply enjoy the feeling of the silky fur slipping through her fingers, the warm weight against her leg helping to ground her somewhat. 

 

Miranda invited me here. She knowingly left me alone. I am allowed to be here.

That said, though, she still doesn’t really know how her boss is going to react to her little intervention with the twins once they’re not here to run interference. She resolves to simply be honest: she isn’t sorry for the things she said to the girls, but she can freely admit that her methods were a little…problematic. Still, she can’t help the slow trickle of frozen anxiety slipping down her spine. 

 

* * * 

 

And that’s how Miranda finds her, sunk deep into the cushions with Patricia basically draped over her knees, the both of them sharing some kind of moment of quiet Nirvana. She has a sudden urge to just walk away, to leave them to their obvious peace a little longer, but she shakes it off. It’s all well and good for Miranda Priestly to know that Miranda Priestly has a soft side, but it won’t do for her to start showing her cards. She gets the distinct feeling that she should add a soft ‘yet’ to the end of that statement, as if it’s only a matter of time before Andréa starts to see more than she’s supposed to. Miranda does not dwell on this thought. 

 

“You know, I wouldn’t have pegged you for someone who lurks in doorways.” She glances in her assistant’s direction to find warm brown eyes pinning her in place. She shrugs, a gesture not entirely familiar to her. 

 

“I didn’t want to interrupt whatever strange meditation you two are clearly doing over there.” She suppresses the smirk working its way over her lips in a way that she knows is still clearly visible to someone who has gotten so good at reading her. 

 

“Pats and I can’t help it if we enjoy each other’s company, can we Patty?” Miranda rolls her eyes, both at the ridiculous nickname and the teasing tone, but allows a small smile to slip onto her face anyway. She seems to be having this issue with increasing frequency as of late, the inability to feign indifference where Andréa is concerned. 

 

“Well, if you’re finished ingratiating yourself for this evening, may we attend to the topic at hand?” As soon as the words have fallen from her lips she cringes. Making Andréa feel as though she’s breaking some code of conduct by allowing the Priestly clan to suck her in is the last thing she wants to do. 

 

“Miranda, I-“

 

“I am sorry, Andréa, that sounded very different from the way I meant it.” She pauses, making the decision to sit next to the pair on the sofa, before sighing. Andréa’s wide, glistening eyes prompt her to continue. “If I’m completely honest, I find your attention to my girls quite…touching. Not many of my friends or acquaintances ever pay them much attention, and certainly never my employees. They seem to have garnered themselves quite the reputation.” 

 

“Oh, who could they have possibly learned that from?” Andréa teased, face smoothing out into a look of perfect confusion. 

 

“Here I am, apologising to an assistant for possibly the first time in my life, and she mocks me in front of my own dog. What is the world coming to?” Andréa’s sparkling laughter takes her by surprise in that moment, and she can’t help but tilt her head and take it all in. Her dog, usually standoffish and a little distrustful, all but boneless in her assistant’s lap, the cozy aura of comfort and peace washing over them, seeming to slow time until Miranda is certain she could live in this moment forever and be perfectly content. 

 

“Hey, I’m not an assistant anymore, remember? I’m an associate.” The smug grin Andréa throws her direction puts many of her vague and possibly unprofessional concerns about where they stand with one another at ease, and she can physically feel herself relaxing into the moment.  

 

“And that is what I had wanted to discuss with you this evening.” Miranda registers the sudden tension in the air, the way the corners of Andréa’s mouth seem to pull inward, the startled widening of amber eyes. “Relax, my god. I’m not going to fire you. Or demote you. I simply wanted to see if you had made any progress finding an assistant, and if you’re up for it, discuss some particular office protocols that I think could use a fresh pair of eyes.” All the air seemed to leave Andréa in a single whoosh, and as much self-control as Miranda has cultivated over a lifetime, something about this picture tickles her to the point of laughter. It’s not especially delicate, not that fake breathy titter she uses at events and the like; it’s a loud snort followed by a full-bodied chuckle that has Andréa looking at her as though she’s grown a second head. 

 

“You’re laughing at me.” It’s a statement, but the tone is one of such disbelief that it provokes Miranda’s chuckle into a full blown cackle. 

 

“I’m- I’m sorry, you just…” She tries between bubbling convulsions. “You looked like I approached you wearing a hockey mask and wielding a machete.” 

 

“Oh my god, and now you’re making pop culture references. I’m sorry, did we fall into an alternate dimension at some point this afternoon?” She looks genuinely stunned, and Miranda wouldn’t mind if Andréa continued to look at her like this, like she’s some fantastic puzzle to solve. 

 

“Contrary to popular belief, Andréa, I am capable of laughter, and I happen to be a fan of the horror genre.” Andréa looks at in disbelief, seemingly trying to reconcile these new tidbits of information with the person she regularly watches make grown men cry. 

 

“What?” 

 

“Let me try to phrase this in a way that will make sense to you: horror movies, especially the older ones, offer up so many opportunities to laugh at the hubris of man. I really find them quite funny.” She shrugs again, and thinks that maybe taking her own reputation into account when discussing the hidden parts of herself with others might be a good habit to get into. 

 

“Ohhh…yeah, okay. That tracks.” Andréa chirps, cheeky grin telling Miranda just how easily that fits into her mental picture. “Of course you would find horror movies funny.”

 

“Well, it’s not my fault they always seem to make the worst possible decisions. Anyway, we’re getting off topic. Have you found any qualified candidates for the assistant position?” 

 

“Oh, yes. I have the resumés here somewhere.” She rifles through her Coach bag before emerging moments later with a sheaf of papers. “I assumed you would look through them and make the final decision about who to call in for interviews.” She hands the pile to Miranda, whose next words stop her up short. 

 

“I will certainly look through them with you, but why would I make the final decision? It’s your assistant.” 

 

“Wait, what?” Andy nearly shouts the word at Miranda, who is looking a little too pleased with the situation if she asks herself. 

 

“Andréa, we’ve discussed this. Once Emily moves to the Art Department, you will be doing the work of two assistants in addition to the new responsibilities you essentially demanded from me. You are going to need an assistant to do all the things you no longer have time for, running errands, getting coffee, et cetera. As much faith as I have in your abilities, I doubt it’s physically possible for you to do it all.” Miranda might actually be getting the hang of this whole ‘explaining things’ thing. However, there is one thing that Andy’s mind latches onto above all else. 

 

“You have faith in my abilities?” She can’t stop the way her heart beats just a little harder when those deep blue eyes swing to meet hers, something like begrudging affection shining through. 

 

“Would we be here if I didn’t? Would I have taken you back after you abandoned your post, or after you stormed into my suite uninvited? There is someone in there, Andréa, who seems to match my own need for progress…who can keep up, for lack of a better description. Do you know how rare that is? So, yes, you went to Paris, and you’ll get the new job title and an assistant, and whatever else I can possibly give you because the magazine will be better off for it. I will be better off for it.” Miranda is looking at her like she might just need her, and this is not how she expected this evening to go. Sitting on the couch with a dog between them having a real conversation involving something close to feelings. 

 

“Alright.” She’s not going to argue, not now that she feels like they’re finally making progress. “Then these are my top two picks.” She pulls two packets from the pile and hands them over. 

 

They spend an hour discussing the candidates before settling on two, one of Andy’s original favourites and one of Miranda’s choosing. Incidentally, the ones Andy had originally chosen would fit right in at Runway, but Miranda’s choice had only been discounted originally because there was nothing within the resumé to indicate suitability at a fashion magazine. When Andy had thrown her a questioning look, her only answer had been that it worked out well the first time. 

 

That task having been done, Miranda hesitantly brings up the events of that afternoon, something Andy had been hoping they wouldn’t have to discuss after all. She felt, looking back, that she may have taken one too many liberties in a single workday, but she also didn’t want to have to apologise for fixing something that wasn’t working. 

 

“I wanted to thank you. I know that you are worried I’m angry or annoyed at the idea someone else taking charge of the situation, but if I’m being honest, I rather wish it would happen more often. I am not a logistically minded person, yet I have had to become one due to the nature of the job.” Miranda looks away, eyes roaming the familiar walls yet not really seeming to focus on anything. She’s running her fingers over Patricia’s fur so gently Andy wonders if the dog can even feel it. It’s not a word she would have ever used to describe Miranda before Paris, but it’s so evident now that it’s impossible to ignore. She is gentle and warm and Andy realises with a start that the Dragon Lady didn’t just come out of nowhere. There is a reason, or a number of them, that she has had to hide herself away behind the sharp tongue and the cold glare, and Andy feels her heart aching with the weight of it. 

 

“Miranda, I was just doing my job…” She falters, wants to say something meaningful but doesn’t know how to do it without scaring her away. “Okay, look, I’m not the fashionista here. You are… the artist and the visionary. But logistics? That’s my shit, pardon the language, and I’m here to do the job the best it’s ever been done and learn how to do it even better along the way. I am here for the long haul, and as long as you keep me in the loop, I can make those kinds of issues somebody else’s problem. So let me do that, please?” 

 

Miranda only stares blankly at her, and Andy freezes, instantly worried that she’s gone too far, shown too much of her hand. The moment stretches on and on, and Andy starts to feel a little dizzy, as though all the oxygen has been sucked from the room. The only thing she can think is how clear and blue Miranda’s eyes are, how soft and warm she looks here, out of her armour and off the battlefield. 

 

Patricia, however, isn’t so thrilled with the sudden quiet stillness, it seems. The St. Bernard lets out a giant snort and wriggles head first off the sofa, no doubt headed off in search of more scratches somewhere with less tension in the atmosphere. Raising her gaze from where it had dropped when their bubble had popped, Andy notices the barest hint of a flush creeping along Miranda’s pale throat, while that usual piercing glare is nowhere to be seen. 

 

“Careful, Andréa. Somebody might think you actually care about all this…stuff.”

 

Chapter Text

Andy spends much of the next morning in a state of panic as everyone in her immediate vicinity seems to suddenly lose the ability to do their jobs. Miranda isn’t due in to the office until after 11, but at this rate nobody will have anything to show when she finally does arrive. Andy had received the order to hold down the fort while Miranda made a quick visit to put the fear of God into a designer who seemed not to mind missing a deadline or two. As much as Andy would have loved to see the look on his arrogant face, she knows this is a big step forward for her, and she’ll be damned if the numbskulls from legal are going to ruin it for her. 

 

“Listen, Francesca, I totally understand that you’ve got a policy on booking changes, but if we work together I’m pretty sure we can make this advantageous for the both of us.” She’s been stuck on the line with the assistant manager from Brights Studio for the better part of half an hour, trying to bring up their booking dates by three days, and so far she’s completely hit a dead end. Which would be aggravating in and of itself, but Andy herself had suggested they go with a smaller, lesser known venue for this particular shoot and she’s really starting to regret the choice. It doesn’t help that Emily has been overtly listening in since she arrived. 

 

“Okay, here’s the deal. Either we can figure out a way to make the schedule work, or Runway will have to find another venue entirely. And I’m sure you know that Miranda herself is spearheading this shoot and has already given the go-ahead. Yeah, I know, but she really doesn’t love it when people aren’t willing to work with her…uh-huh. Yeah, you get it. No, I totally understand, it’s just a shame. This sort of thing is really what makes or breaks a successful studio. Oh, really? That’s amazing Francesca, I knew I could count on you…Okay, take care. Buh-bye.” Whether or not she slams the phone back into its cradle with a little more force than necessary, it’s really impossible to say. However, the biggest hitch in the schedule for the October issue has been dealt with, and for the first time that morning, she takes a deep breath and tries to relax. 

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” Emily’s narrowed eyes seem to track her every move, and she really doesn’t have time to deal with this today. 

 

“What do you think, Em? I’m doing my freaking job, and it’s a good thing, too, because I seem to be the only one.” She allows the acid in her gut to colour her words, biting them out more harshly than intended. If that’s what it takes to get Emily off her back, though, she won’t regret it. 

 

“The schedule is overseen by the First Assistant, and as far as I can tell, that’s still me. So why don’t you go back to running errands and getting coffee.” She spits with a bitchy little head shake, and Andy realises that it’s time to put a stop to this. If she doesn’t, there’s just going to be pushback every time she does what she needs to to make sure things run smoothly for Miranda. 

 

“Okay, Em? I get it. You’re jealous or pissed or whatever, and I totally see where you’re coming from, but I literally don’t have time to explain myself every time I do the job I was hired to do.” Emily opens her mouth, no doubt to levy some snarky retort, but Andy simply continues on. “Let me tell you what is going to happen here, okay? In a week and a half, your tenure as assistant will be up and Miranda will promote you to the art department where you’ll be working under Nigel. I, on the other hand, will continue on in the role assigned to me as Associate to the Editor, where I will continue to oversee the schedule and the budget and the run-throughs and anything else Miranda decides I’m capable of handling. And I’ll give you a hint: there isn’t much I can’t handle.” She pauses for half a second, taking in Emily’s wide eyes and pale face, before going in for the kill. “So you can either get with the program and realise that it’s not about you, or I will steamroll you so fast you won’t know what happened, ‘kay?” 

 

She gives Emily a hard look to emphasise her point, but the redhead seems to be focused on something behind her. Turning her head to see what could possibly have captured her attention at a time like this, she finds herself staring directly into the eyes of an impassive Miranda, who looks for all the world as though she is ready to commence a full day of head rolling. After a tense few seconds, Andy sees the ice clear a little from Miranda’s gaze, and she has to resist the urge to grin. 

 

“Yes, Emily, do get with the program.” She deadpans in her quietest, most deadly voice. Emily blanches even further, except for the two bright spots of embarrassed blush riding high on her cheeks. “Andréa, my office. And don’t forget, you’ve got that girl to interview at 11:30.” Without another word, she stalks into her office leaving a secretly thrilled Andy and a dumbstruck Emily in her wake. 

 

“I…don’t understand?” Emily says, barely above a whisper, and Andy knows it’s best at this point to just have mercy on her. 

 

“Listen, you guys,” Andy sweeps her arm to include both Emily and the general direction of Miranda’s office, “are artists. You’re creatives. I happen to be a logistics person. I’m doing what I’m good at so that you can do what you’re good at. Make sense now?” She covertly checks her watch, figuring that she’s got time for a ten minute check-in with Miranda before she has to go find the girl she’s meant to interview. After a long minute, Emily nods, sitting back in her chair and picking up the phone. 

 

“Alright, Andrea, better you than me, I guess. Go do whatever it is you’re supposed to do and I’ll make sure Patrick is waiting as soon as you’re done.” She gives Andy what might be the first genuine smile in the entire time they’ve know each other, and Andy feels as though a ten tonne weight has been lifted from her shoulders. 

 

“Thanks, Em. You’re the best!” Sweeping the pile of folders from her desk into her arms, she turns on her heel and waltzes into Miranda’s office. 

 

“So, you managed not to burn the place down while I was gone.” Miranda says in that blatantly disinterested tone so commonplace in this office, and yet somehow it sounds…false. Hollow. As though she has to put effort into keeping the warmth out of her voice. That thought causes a heavy blooming heat to open up in Andy’s stomach, that Miranda might have to fight to keep up the façade now that Andy has finally brought both feet in through the figurative door. Of course, it’s a futile endeavour, Miranda needn’t pretend with her, but it strikes Andy that the editor might not actually know that. 

 

“She says like she didn’t just skip half a day of work to amuse herself terrorising poor Anton.” It’s out before Andy can properly evaluate the possible repercussions of her words, but when Miranda’s signature lip purse slowly transforms into a small smirk, she lets herself heave a sigh of relief. 

 

“Anton is an arrogant wind bag with less talent than nerve, and you know it.” Andy doesn’t even try to keep the crooked grin off her face. 

 

“It went that well, huh?” It doesn’t escape her that Miranda rubs the bridge of her nose with elegant fingers, and she makes a mental note to grab her a painkiller before she has to meet up with the prospective new girl. 

 

“He had the audacity to suggest that I adjust my expectations and methods to more comfortably suit his. On a completely unrelated note, we’ll have to find someone to fill the spreads on pages 30-34.” Andy does actually let out a strangled snort at this, and for half a second Miranda spears her with an unreadable look. 

 

“Idiot.” She scoffs, uncrossing her legs to stand, checking her watch again. She’s late but she can always have security send the girl up instead of taking it upon herself to meet her downstairs. In fact, it’s probably the right move, sends the right message. This job will require more than an ounce of self-sufficiency. “I’ll have security send the new girl up for her interview, and then we’ve got the preview at 2:15, and drinks with Vivienne at 3…” She pauses, subconsciously scrunching her nose at that. Who schedules drinks for 3 pm on a Thursday? 

“…followed by your meeting with the beauty department at 4:30. After that, I’ve held the evening open, and we can pick right back up in the morning. Sound good?” 

 

“I suppose, though I will have questions later. In the meantime, go, interview that girl you insisted on wasting time on, and we will reconvene for the preview. That’s all.” Andy can’t help but chuckle at the familiar dismissal, especially when Miranda appears to catch herself after the fact. She opens her mouth, no doubt to do something as strange as apologise, but Andy cuts her off before she can. 

“Aye aye, Captain.” She gives a goofy salute before heading to the outer office to await her potential charge, but not before she hears the amused scoff from behind her. Emily looks up as she passes and, noting the wild grin on Andy’s face, rolls her eyes and grimaces. 

 

“You literally disgust me.” 

 

“Aw, love you too, Em!” 

 

* * * 

 

Andy is waiting in the small conference room off the main hallway, busying herself with the schedule for next week to distract from her nerves, when the girl is shown in by one of the many members of security. Her only experience in a hiring position had been as the EIC of the paper at Northwestern, and the position she needs to fill here requires a completely different skill set than the one she’d been looking for then. It sets her on edge, but she’s learned enough of herself in the last year that she knows she can step out of herself and put that crackling nervous energy to use. 

 

“Hi, I’m Andy, thanks for coming in on such short notice.” 

 

“Melinda Vancourt.” Andy puts a hand forward to shake, but the girl gives her such a disdainful look that she thinks twice. Melinda is in her early twenties, blonde and stick thin. In other words, the perfect Runway candidate. Dressed head to toe in Prada, she looks around hungrily and Andy’s stomach starts to sink. 

 

“Well, please have a seat and we’ll get started.” She leads the way over to a small seating area under the large windows, and pulls out the girl’s resumé along with the list of questions she’d prepared. Considering her own interview by fire, she’s mildly worried about going too easy on her. “So, I understand you have a degree from BYU in fashion merchandising? What brings you to Runway?” Melinda seems to be waiting for something, and blinks a second at the question. 

 

“Oh, we’re starting? I’m sorry, when will Miranda be joining us?” It’s at that moment Andy realises what a shit show this is going to be. 

 

“Miranda won’t be joining us, but if we could get back to the question, why Runway?” It takes an ungodly amount of self-control not to tear the resumé in her hands into a thousand pieces when Melinda fixes her with a noxious little smirk. 

 

“I’m sorry, I just feel like it would be better if I interviewed with the person I’ll be directly answering to, so if you could get Miranda, I would really appreciate it.” Forget the resumé, now Andy wants to toss this petulant child right out the fucking window. The audacity is frankly appalling, and though she had definitely come in with a chip on her shoulder, Andy knows she never would have behaved in such a way even at the height of her incompetence. She makes a split second decision and hopes it won’t bite her on the ass. 

 

“You know what, I happen to know that she’s got a few minutes before her next appointment, why don’t I see if I can get her?” She shoots off a quick text, and has to force the wicked smirk back off her face at the reply. 

 

The sycophant is demanding ‘The Miranda Priestly’, can we oblige? -A

 

Certainly. -MP

 

Thirty seconds later, the door swings open and Miranda sweeps in, every bit the Snow Queen the tabloids present, and even Andy feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand up at the severity of her presence. Melinda, though, clearly can’t read a room, because she breaks out a slimy smile and crams her foot into her mouth, not that she realises. 

 

“Miranda, finally. As I was telling Amy here, I prefer to interview with the person I’ll be working with.” Andy covers up a snort with a cough, though Miranda shoots her a look that says she heard it anyway. 

 

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Her voice has taken on it’s most deadly tone, and the set of her shoulders is so powerful and imperious that Andy would readily believe she was a marble goddess rather than flesh and blood. 

 

“Oh, Melinda Vancourt, I’m here to interview for your assistant position.” Melinda visibly shrinks at the tone and Andy has never so gleefully basked in one of Miranda’s infamous takedowns. 

 

“No, no. You’re here to interview for the position of Andréa’s assistant.” She looks over at Andy, horrified, who can’t help but return the look with a pleased smile and a little wave. “Granted, you’re no longer doing that. It would do you well to remember that if you want to get a foot in the door, it’s best not to piss off the gatekeeper. I assume you can find your way out? Andréa, since this has been an abysmal waste of time, shall we break for lunch before the preview?” Andy gathers her things before following Miranda toward the door, heading out to drop the file on her desk. She turns back, only to see Miranda toss the final blow over her shoulder. 

 

“What are you still doing here? Go!” 

 

“Are we doing Le Bernardín or Smith and Wollensky?” Andy asks, presenting Miranda with her coat and bag. 

 

“I think something different today. Find somewhere suitable and call Roy.” 

 

“Yes, Miranda.” Andy supplies with a satisfied smirk, and it doesn’t escape her that, for appearances sake or not, this is the first time in relevant history that Miranda has deigned to lunch with a subordinate. A pitiful stomping is the only indication of Melinda’s retreat, and Andy thinks she might be so angry it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. 

 

Roy, ever expedient, is waiting for them when they emerge from Elias Clarke, and Andy wonders if letting her choose the restaurant is another one of Miranda’s tests. Still, she’s not about to admit to uncertainty when Miranda is beside her, growing softer and sweeter with every passing block. It’s not the first time Andy has noticed this particular phenomenon, but it never ceases to set her insides aquiver. It’s as though the further they get from Runway, the less her work persona overshadows the woman underneath. 

 

The ride is silent, comfortable, and offers a nice reprieve from the late summer humidity weighing New York down. It’s such a different experience from any other she’s had in the last year that she lets out a giggle without even knowing it. Miranda doesn’t reprimand her for being foolish, doesn’t cut her down for presuming she’s allowed to make something so offensive as noise in her presence. She simply arches a brow and tilts her head to the side in consideration, studying Andy in a way that causes sparks to settle along her skin and warmth to bloom in her chest. 

 

“What are you laughing at, silly girl?” There is an unmistakeable note of fondness in her silky voice, and Andy wonders if this time she has fallen down and smacked her head. She doesn’t exactly know how to answer that, until she remembers Emily’s oft muttered mantra. She lets a cheeky grin stretch her cheeks and a subtle wink flutter her lashes. 

 

“I love my job.” The car slows to a gentle stop before Miranda has a chance to respond, and in a flash Roy is opening the door to usher them out onto the bustling sidewalk. Miranda ignores the obvious stares and double takes as she allows Andy to lead her into the Langham Hotel and up to the second floor. Walking through the entrance to Ai Fiori, Andy is quick to clarify that they won’t actually be dining there. “I’ve booked us on the Sky Terrace. They don’t usually do lunch, but were ever so happy to accommodate La Priestly.” 

 

Miranda snorts. “As they should be.” Andy sees that unusual quirk at the corner of her mouth, the lightness in her gaze, and is struck with the realisation that she had teased Miranda, and the editor had teased back. Emily would shit her Gucci pants. 

 

They follow the host out to the table she’d instructed they set up for the occasion —she’s under no illusion that Miranda would ever accept the informal couch seating— and when Miranda looks around in quietly stunned wonder, Andy wants to shout in triumph. She allows a seat to be pulled out for her, and then the young man retreats back into the air conditioned dining room at pace. Andy sinks into the gentle silence for awhile, gazing out at the skyline, glittering and warm in the midday sun. 

 

“That girl was horrid, but I can’t say I’m not pleased with how that worked out after all.” Miranda muses, pulling Andy out of her drifting thoughts. Andy grimaces. 

 

“God, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that clueless.” 

 

“You know, if you weren’t such a damn good assistant, I would fire you for parading me around like that.” Miranda’s forelock is fluttering with the soft breeze and her eyes are sparkling so brightly, and Andy knows that she might live to a hundred but she will never forget the way she feels right now, brimming with contented happiness and overflowing with hope for the future. 

 

“Oh please, you loved it.” Andy chuckles lightly and Miranda only hums in response. A server appears out of nowhere to hand them menus and enquire about a drink order. 

 

“We’ll each have a glass of the Blanc de Blancs, I’ll have the Bistecca di Lombatello, rare, and Andréa will have the Trofie Nero. And a watermelon salad to share. That’s all.” Miranda orders smoothly and waves the server away absently, not even looking at the menu. He looks questioningly at Andy for a second, and she just shrugs and gives him a halfhearted smile. It’s only after he scurries away that she rounds on her boss. 

 

“Miranda, that champagne is like two hundred dollars a bottle!” She’s more shocked than upset, but the small smile Miranda sends her way completely dissolves her uneasiness. 

 

“Well, we’re celebrating. Am I correct in assuming you have not been able to share the news of your promotion with anyone of import yet?” Andy nods hesitantly. “Well, then live a little. It’s not every day I choose to dine with an associate.” 

 

“Fine, but how did you know what I was going to order?” This question pulls a delighted little laugh out of Miranda and Andy thinks she might faint with the sudden rise in blood pressure. 

 

“I didn’t.” She levels an inscrutable look at Andy, who can do nothing but erupt in a singularly unattractive cackle. It’s so loud and sudden that a pronounced look of shock lands fully on Miranda’s face before it flutters off again. 

 

“You know, I don’t know when I’m going to stop being surprised by you.” Andy shakes her head and drops to hide behind her bangs. She doesn’t know when it became bearable to admit any kind of weakness in front of Miranda, much less directly to her face, but it confuses and scares her a little. It only takes her traitorous mind half a second to supply a wealth of panic inducing snapshots from the last year to subconsciously raise up her guard. 

 

“I could say the same of you, Andréa, as I’m sure you well know.” Miranda has the good sense not to let herself drown in those honeyed depths, knowing that after an admission like that Andréa would be searching for something to make sense of, and Miranda can’t let that happen. Not now. Not when things are only just returning to a state of calm—as much as one could get in their positions, anyway—and with Runway to think of, Miranda knows that they have bigger problems than whether or not her associate can see the fondness and desire in her eyes. 

 

“Yeah,” she says with a dark, bitter snort that takes Miranda by surprise. “Maybe someday it’ll be in a good way.” 

 

Andy cringes internally as soon as she says it, decently sure that if she were to look up, she’d see no small amount of distain in Miranda’s clear blue eyes. However, when she does dare to look, there’s no sign of contempt but instead a single distinct note of concern. 

 

“Sorry, that was…” She takes a deep breath, smoothing her bangs back into place and flipping her long locks over her shoulder. “How do you explain that you can’t go backward in life? How do I make the people in my life understand that I can’t just…go back to who I used to be?” And that’s just it, isn’t it. Andy can’t fathom letting herself fall back into conceit and entitlement, to let go of the person she feels just out of her reach. She knows that she’d been foolish, trying to keep that person away from the rest of her life, but still, the people who claimed to love her might’ve looked further than skin deep before making their decision about the ‘new Andy’.

 

“Andréa, I hate to have to say this, but if you’re looking for advice on personal relationships, you’re asking the wrong gal.” Miranda allows her voice to take on a distinctly self-deprecating note, a rarity from her, but Andy doesn’t let her get away with it even this once. 

 

“Oh, please. You are incredible and your kids love you…it’s not your fault Stephen’s a dickwad. His insecurities come from his own asininity. He didn’t deserve a single moment of your time.” Andy finds that as soon as she opens her mouth, the words come pouring out, regardless of how much she might want to stop the flood. “You gave him as much as you could and he made sure everyone knew how insufficient he found it. That’s on him. His own expectations kept him unhappy.” Finally, finally she remembers how to work the hinge of her jaw, snapping it shut before any other little tidbits of wisdom can find their way to her lips. 

 

“Dick…wad? Asininity? My, tell me how you really feel.” Miranda raises an eyebrow, but keeps the amusement clear in her gaze. Her reply is interrupted by the arrival of their drinks and food. A gentle glare spurs the wait staff to a near trot as they exit the terrace, leaving them alone again. Andy lets out a low groan at the sight of her seafood and Miranda cracks a wry smile, trying to control her sudden breathlessness. They spend a few minutes in silence, tasting their food slowly and occasionally squabbling over the watermelon salad. Miranda’s steak is a rare, unqualified success, and Andy might be willing to marry the chef. They are very much content to enjoy the simple pleasure of sharing food with a friend. Not that either would be willing to admit that even under pain of perjury. Suddenly, Miranda seems to straighten up, casting her glacé off to the side and looking very much like someone trying to act casual. 

 

“Andréa, if they cannot respect the person you are fighting so hard to grow into, why do they deserve your time now? Why are you worrying about their expectations? These are all things you have just said to me, yes? Listen to your own advice. I have found that the people who deserve you are the ones who remain regardless of place, station, or growth. It’s not easy to examine one’s own life the way we do others’, as you’ve just demonstrated, but it is necessary.” Liquid blue eyes meet warm amber, and Miranda reminds herself that it’s not her place to try to direct Andréa personally, despite how much she might wish it was. “And for what it is or isn’t worth, I appreciate your words. So many people simply wait for me to speak and agree, it’s not often that I am on the receiving end of an honest opinion.” 

 

The smile she receives is nearly blinding. “Well, since I’m not afraid of you and I’m chalk full of opinions, maybe we could do this again sometime? Have a lunch where we can just be?” Andy has to physically restrain herself from clapping a hand over her mouth. Here she is, demanding more from Miranda only minutes after disparaging someone else for doing the same, someone who had a sort of right to. When Miranda doesn’t immediately react, she tries to backtrack. “Of course, with our schedule and everything, it probably wouldn’t work anyway, so let’s just forget I asked…”

 

“Put it on the schedule. Wednesdays, I think.” Miranda drawls, face impassive, but those mischievous, twinkling eyes tell Andy that she’s been caught with her eager feelings out. 

 

“Y-yeah. Yes, Miranda.” 

 

“Oh, pish. Finish your champagne. We have a run-through to suffer.” There’s that quirk again, and Andy finally realises what it means. Miranda is amused at herself,at Andy’s reaction, at the way the world reacts to the Priestly performance, and it gives her such a sharp, piercing insight in that second that she can almost feel the world tilting. Just like with every other coded mannerism she’s learned, this brings up that sparkling, joyful feeling of understanding, the one she finds herself chasing. She’s gotten the feeling before, sure, but never from another person. A well-written exposé, a particularly intriguing class, even the odd novel…but never a person. 

 

And just like that, their lunch is over, and the work begins once again. 

 

* * *

 

The run-through rushes by in a flash of pursed lips, hand-wringing, and gaudy lace. No one manages to do anything right, not even Andy, and by the time Miranda is swirling out of the office for her 3:00 meeting, there’s enough tension in the air to choke on. Emily’s got this whole glassy eyed thing going on, and Andy wonders absently if she should finally take the initiative and find her co-worker a good therapist. Of course, all thoughts of anonymous do-gooding are flung out of her mind when Miranda glares at her from the elevators and gives her that little ‘with me’ head jerk. 

 

They’ve spoken all of twelve words to each other since returning from their impromptu lunch, and Andy is starting to feel all those dark uncertainties sneak in through the newly formed cracks in her confidence. The elevator ride, too, is silent, but Andy knows quite well enough by now that if Miranda wanted to be talking, she would. So instead she embraces the suffering and decides to capitalise on all the hard work done before Paris. Unbeknownst to Miranda, or anyone else for that matter, Andy had had the foresight—if she can get away with calling it that—to compile a sort of dossier on anyone and everyone Miranda could possibly come into contact with in the service of Runway. Scanning her Westwood file, she picks out two or three tidbits to file away in case of necessity. In the aftermath of the events of the Benefit, she had recognised that, aside from the actual duties of her employment, one of the best ways she can help Miranda is by protecting La Priestly’s public image. The fashion world knows that things flow perfectly for Miranda because they wouldn’t dare not to, and Andy is more than happy to play her part in maintaining that view. 

 

So she does her homework, memorises names and titles and hobbies, and she makes sure that she is close by in case any of her services are necessary. Now, with her new title and semi-undefined role, she knows her duty is to build even stronger relationships with the members of the horde. To take up in all the places Miranda is stretched too thin. 

 

Andy barely notices the stride through the lobby, barely acknowledges Roy as he dashes to open Miranda’s door, mentally tunes out all the clamouring stimulus of traffic in New York. It’s not until she feels the prolonged gaze land heavily on her own features that she voluntarily lowers the iron walls of her focus. She’s finished reviewing her files on Westwood and her brand, and has moved along the list of anyone who might be mentioned or any fashion related topic that may come up during the course of the meeting. She’s always been good at strategising, and people are never as unpredictable as they think they are, so it isn’t hard for her to compile a tidy list. 

 

Except, Miranda is staring as though she could look right through her if she only tried hard enough. It’s not a look Andy finds herself on the other end of very often anymore, so she’s either done something very right, or more likely, very wrong. 

 

“You’re not…moonlighting on me, are you Andréa?” It’s soft, delicate, and positively icy. 

 

“What? No.” Andy snaps before she can think better of it, but after the roller coaster of a day she’s had, it’s nearly impossible not to. “As if I’d have the time to do another job on top of this one.” She can hear herself say it, but that doesn’t quiet the voice in her head yelling at her to shut up before she does irreparable damage to the one relationship in her life that isn’t falling to pieces. 

 

“Well, if your job is taking away from your reading time, please be sure to tell me.” It’s mid afternoon in September, and yet Andy feels a chill steal over her at the words. It makes her mad, irrationally, that even her unseen efforts manage to bring the focus of Miranda’s ire toward her. Furious, actually. 

 

She grits her teeth and allows her lips to curl back into a tight smirk. “How about we try this again? ‘What are you so focused on over there, Andréa’?” She puts extra emphasis on Miranda’s particular pronunciation of her name. She holds up a finger to shush the editor, a fatal move if she ever saw one, and continues on. “Thank you for asking, Miranda, I’m actually just reviewing my files on our current dealings with the Westwood brand and making a note of what is likely to come up during the meeting you insisted I attend. Is there anything you need to discus with me?” Miranda, for the second time since they’ve known each other, seems totally speechless. Like she’s trying and failing to decide on which part of Andy’s statement she’s going to pounce first. When it does come, it’s actually a little underwhelming. 

 

“Your files? Explain.” Andy doesn’t want to explain. She doesn’t want to have to admit to Miranda that all her extra time is spent reviewing and updating a damn stalkers manifesto. She doesn’t want anyone to see how completely this job, this position, has taken over her life. But she has to, if the steely glint in Miranda’s eye is anything to go off of; if she doesn’t do so now, it’ll only postpone the inevitable and perhaps it’ll keep Miranda occupied enough to forget about being shushed. 

 

“Well…” She has to clear her throat and stare pointedly out the window in order to force the words out. “I keep a file for everyone I meet on the job, designers and financiers and representatives. If they keep staff long enough to talk to more than once, I start keeping track of them as well. That way, I can remember everyone’s preferences and the relationships within the industry.” Andy hopes that’ll be enough to satisfy the distinct hunger she saw in Miranda’s eyes. She knows their illustrious leader cannot abide not knowing everything, one of the main reasons her assistants’ desks are so close to her own. 

 

“Useful…” Miranda drawls, not bothering to look away from the back of Roy’s head. Andy wonders for a second if he can feel it. A subtle hunching of the shoulders tells her he can. “But I think, not the whole story.” She finally skewers Andy with that look again, and if she didn’t know any better, she’d think Miranda was enjoying this. “No other assistant—former or otherwise—has ever felt the need to go to such…lengths.” She says it as though tasting something unexpected, but not unpleasant. “So, now my question is: why?” 

 

Why? 

 

The question slides under Andy’s skin like an electrical shock to her system, starting little fires anywhere it sparks too long. Her whole body feels alight, heightened awareness trickling all the way to her finger tips; her entire being on high alert. And for the first time in almost a week, she deeply regrets the choice to storm back into Miranda’s Parisian suite, because she’s sure now that there is no escaping this. Afternoon gridlock means they could be sitting here for up to an hour, and Andy isn’t entirely sure what Miranda is capable of, should she try to deflect. Doesn’t mean she has to make it easy. 

 

“At first, I didn’t know the designers or brands, so it was a way to keep track of what was what. It just…grew from there.” She knows this won’t be enough to sate Miranda, however, she thinks maybe it’s time for her boss to jump through a few hoops of her own. 

 

“That isn’t what I asked, Andréa.” 

 

“I know, but you never qualify your statements unless you want something in particular, and I’m telling you right now, Miranda, it’s not gonna happen. This time you won’t get what you want.” Andy can’t look at her, not without giving in, without offering up a chunk of her soul in supplication to the goddess. 

 

“And what is it that I want?” Miranda sounds strange as she asks this question, and Andy would give a whole lot to turn and see what expression goes along with that strangled sound, but self-preservation prevents it. Turning her mind back to the question at hand, she can’t help the dark huff of laughter that escapes her. 

 

“Regarding this? An answer that will make sense. And probably Starbucks, but that’s more of a constant baseline.” Her words are hard, sharp, but only because she can see how any answer she gives in regards to her assemblage of the dossier system will only invite further questioning, and her battered little heart simply isn’t ready. That’s the long and short of it. 

 

“I suppose you’re right. But Andréa? Don’t expect mercy next time. Eventually you will tell me.” Miranda sounds confident, her spine is straight and strong, as though she gains power from having the last word. Andy won’t give her the pleasure this time, though. 

 

“Oh, I know I will. But when I do, it’ll be my decision.” Andy mentally shouts hallelujah when the traffic clears and the Mercedes picks up momentum once again. This meeting could be the most boring possible vacuum of her time and she wouldn’t mind, as long as it gets that inquisitive gaze away from her for a while. 

 

The only problem is that she has no idea how she’ll hold up against the full force of La Priestly a second time. The alternative is to lay everything out on the line, which is currently the more unthinkable option. All Andy knows is that when the balance between the two shifts, it’ll be the end of the life to which she has become so accustomed. Life with Miranda in it.

Chapter Text

If Andy had to guess, she’d say she spent a grand total of 90 minutes staring at herself in the mirror on Saturday morning, outfit after outfit failing to meet some invisible standard. What does one wear to an afternoon of soccer with the Priestlys? The event in and of itself sticks in Andy’s mind as a sort of oxymoron, a statistical improbability that mocks her with its sudden importance in her life. 

 

Eventually, she has to force herself out of the apartment in Lululemon track pants and windbreaker, hoping against all hope she won’t be left alone with Miranda for any extended length of time. 

 

Things have been off between them since that fateful car ride on Thursday afternoon; a thick, cloying tension had filled the office on Friday, sending Emily off into paroxysms and Nigel into an ever deepening scowl. In all truth, Andy would have begged off entirely if her conscience hadn’t bombarded her with images of the twins’ hopeful faces. They’ve played second fiddle enough already in their short lives, and she won’t allow herself to become yet another adult who can’t be trusted to follow through for them. 

 

She spends much of the subway ride to the townhouse oscillating wildly between terrified excitement and all consuming anxiety, finally landing on a stomach-churning combination of the two. By the time she climbs the front steps, she has forced herself to admit that this reaction to the idea of seeing Miranda doing something so casual as attending her children’s extracurriculars cannot possibly be healthy. 

 

Granted, she knows that much by now. She knows that exactly zero part of her involvement wherever Miranda is concerned comes from a place of professional interest. And, oh boy, is there interest. Overwhelming, all consuming interest in a thousand little things that she has absolutely no business caring about. 

 

It doesn’t surprise her, of course. Miranda has always been ever so slightly larger than life, and who can blame Andy for wanting to search out all those little hollow places between the image and the reality? 

 

She’s so lost in her thoughts as she lingers on the top step, she doesn’t notice the door opening or the small face poking through asking her if she’s coming in. It isn’t until Cassidy grabs her hand to tug her into the entryway that she realises she isn’t alone. 

 

“You okay, Andy?” The girl seems to understand the nervous energy crackling through the assistant, but any reply Andy might have given is lost under the bellow that rings out through the house. 

 

“Moooom! Where did you put my gear?!” 

 

Then, from somewhere else Miranda’s voice rings out, louder than Andy has ever heard it. 

 

“Caroline, what have I told you about shouting! Your gear is by the door, where you should be if you don’t wish to be left behind!” Andy can’t help the wide grin that splits her face, the sheer normality of the scene dispelling the majority of her worries. 

 

“You ready to play?” She asks, turning to face Cassidy. The girl gives her a wide smile, and Andy can feel herself returning it. 

 

“Oh yeah. We’re playing Bridgeford again. Last time they won, but this time we’re gonna kick their butts!” Andy had forgotten how wonderful that childlike enthusiasm is, and now she feels a strong urge to join in. 

 

“Heck yeah you are! Gimme five.” Cassidy gives her the requested five, and also the down low, but Andy likes her too much for the too slow. “So, you never told me, what position do you play?” 

 

“Caro plays attacker, I play center mid. I like seeing the field open up and figuring out how to get past their defense. Coach told me that Caro gets to score the goals, but I get to make the decisions. Did you ever play?” Once again, Andy is struck by how scary smart these kids are. Their positioning very much reflects their temperaments, and Andy thinks their coach probably knows exactly what they’re doing. 

 

“Are you kidding? I only played sweeper for fifteen years. My team won state all four years in high school.” Andy nudges her with a huge grin. 

 

“Really? Awesome! Thank god someone coming to our games actually knows what’s going on. Mom has a terrible habit of accidentally cheering for the other team.” It takes everything Andy’s got not to let out the massive cackle building up in her chest. Cassidy gives her a look that says she knows exactly how difficult a task that is. 

 

“Oh, there you are, Andréa.” Her heart stutters and skips a beat at hearing those words yet again, albeit under extremely different circumstances. Miranda glides down the last few stairs with Caroline trailing just behind her, and Andy feels a little like she’s been punched in the chest. Miranda is wearing artfully torn black Rag & Bone high-waisted skinny jeans, an ivory Donna Karan drop shoulder cropped blouse, and Castañer ankle tie wedge espadrilles in black suede. 

 

Andy is pretty sure she’s going to hyperventilate. 

 

It’s not that it’s the most exquisite outfit she’s ever seen from the editor, she’s just never seen Miranda look so casual , and she’s pretty sure she’s never going to recover. Her heart seems to be under the impression that she’s just run a marathon, and she wouldn’t even be surprised if she were to find out she’s drooling. 

 

“I’m sorry, but we really do have to get going if we’re to be on time. Girls, to the car.” Andy blinks in surprise, looking up to find Miranda turning on her heel and marching out the door, the twins following in step behind her like ducklings. She snorts at the thought, then hurries to catch up. 

 

* * *

 

Walking through the crowd of Dalton parents feels like running some sort of highbrow gauntlet, where the smiles are sharp and the greetings meant to establish dominance. Andy instantly feels miles out of place, but the protection afforded by her position at Miranda’s side doesn’t go unnoticed. She wonders if this weird combative energy is present at all schools or just the elite ones, though she guesses she never would have noticed as a kid because she was always on the field. 

 

“Andréa, I am glad you decided to come. It gets somewhat…isolating.” Miranda surprises her by murmuring in her ear as they find seats in the stands. It takes her a second to get over the pounding in her chest to actually comprehend what Miranda is saying. She gets lonely here? At her questioning glance, Miranda continues. “I have no interest in engaging in the little politics the other parents here seem to enjoy, and as you know, I am not worried about winning any popularity contests. However, I worry that my reticence to get involved with such things affects the girls, and they have to deal with so much as it is.” 

 

“Well, I for one,” Andy begins with a shy smile. “Am here to watch two amazing kids kick butt, and I really couldn’t care less about the rest. But if you need, I will absolutely throw down.” The blush she feels creeping over her cheeks causes her to duck her head, but Miranda’s light laugh prompts her to look up again. 

 

“Really, you would ‘throw down’ for me?” Twinkling blue eyes draw her in, fill her up, and she can do nothing to prevent the mega-watt grin that emerges.

 

“Miranda, I’m fairly sure that is the sum total of my job description. But even if it weren’t, yes. I would ruin a few manicures and tear out a few hair extensions if anyone decided to try to mess with you or the girls.” 

 

“Well, I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” The tone is indifferent, but Andy is almost certain she can spot a little smirk. She’s just about to reply when the starting whistle blows. 

 

Ten minutes into the game, Andy realises she should have warned Miranda about her tendency to cheer at a somewhat…excessive level. After the third startle beside her, she decides it’s necessary to take a different approach. 

 

“Sorry, I never…well, I’ve always been like this. My mom too. Doesn’t matter what sport or whether we really care about the teams, as soon as we decide who we’re rooting for, we’re all in.” Miranda gives her a strange look, as though she’s never seen her before, then turns back to watch the match. 

 

“I overheard you speaking with Cassidy earlier, you played as well?” At Andy’s slight nod she continues. “I was wondering if maybe you wouldn’t mind explaining to me the rules of this ridiculous game? I’ve never really had the head for team sports.” An immaculate eyebrow raises at Andy’s rather indelicate snort. 

 

“Miranda, I think you would be incredible at team sports. Provided, of course, that you were the captain.” 

 

“Yes, well.” She seems pleased by this, so Andy starts her explanation. 

 

“There are eleven positions on each side, and they are sort of grouped by their purpose. Caro is playing striker, one of the main offensive positions, and Cass is center mid-fielder, kind of like the strategist of the team.” As the game continues, she explains each of the various positions and their main purpose. Then she moves on to the rules, surprised to find that even after an almost ten year gap, she hasn’t forgotten a single one. 

 

As the half-time whistle is called, Andy’s phone beeps with a message and she grins to herself. She makes a quick excuse about going to stretch her legs, and heads out to the parking lot to find a jolly Roy leaning against the car with a tray full of hot Starbucks. 

 

“Andy, you know she’s never going to let you leave after this, right?” He knows the drill with the assistants, but it’s clear that this is about far more than the job for her. 

 

“That’s the point, Roy boy.” She shoots him a wink and gives him a warm smile. “Thanks for doing this, I owe you one.” 

 

“You owe me more than one, young lady. Just be glad I’m too much of a gentleman to ever collect.” He chuckles at her feigned look of hurt. 

 

“Rude. Now get outta here before she catches you and puts you to work.” She sticks her tongue out, and it hits her that maybe she was wrong all those months ago. Maybe she does fit in here. 

 

“Aye aye, cap’n.” He tips his hat and she gives him a shove before jogging back to the stands. 

 

To her dismay, as she approaches their spot, she finds a pinch-faced blonde woman sitting in her seat and a bristling Miranda where she had left a relatively calm one. 

 

“Excuse me, sorry, I need to grab my seat back before the game starts.” She interjects none too apologetically as she hands the editor her searing hot latte. The blonde looks up at her with a thinly veiled expression of annoyance, and Andy almost laughs. Lady, I don’t care, you’re not going to ruin this

 

“Of course. Ms. Priestly, I’ll get out of your hair, but please do consider it. We’d love to have you on board.” With that, the woman stands and stalks away, but not before shooting Andy another acidic look. 

 

“I leave you alone for two minutes!” She teases gently, pleased to see the wrinkle in Miranda’s brow smooth out slightly. “Seriously, though, I’m pretty sure I could take her. I can see the headlines now: Priestly Assistant Brawls in the Bandstands…Soccer Smackdown at Priestly’s Dalton Day Out…” Andy lets a wide grin slip onto her lips as she evaluates Miranda’s look of bemusement. “Oh, I know, Dalton Disaster: Assistant Spits Fire on Behalf of the Dragon Lady .” 

 

“Oh, please Andréa. Be serious.” She can tell, though, that Miranda is about to say something shocking. She always gets this little quirk at the corner of her mouth, an extra twinkle in her eye. “It would be more like, Runway Gone Rogue: Priestly’s Assistant Pulls No Punches .” 

 

Andy can’t keep the genuine happiness out of her voice when she hisses, “ Excellent .” She casts a gaze out over the field to see that both teams are retaking their positions, and pauses to take a sip of her now bearably hot coffee. It’s only her months of training her senses on Miranda that allow her to catch the soft whisper. 

 

“Thank you, Andréa.” She’s tempted to simply leave it there, but she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has without pushing the envelope once or twice. 

 

“Whatever for?” Andy flutters her lashes and adopts her most innocent tone. It’s entirely worth it to see the way Miranda has to stick her tongue in her cheek to prevent a smile breaking through. 

 

“You didn’t have to get me coffee. Or get rid of that…blood sucker. Your company has been…enjoyable.” Miranda nudges her playfully and she thinks she might fall over from delighted shock. “Don’t think I missed your texting Roy.”  

 

“I don’t think you miss anything, ever.” It’s not flattery, not false posturing. Andy is pretty sure that if the clues are there, Miranda could solve any problem. She lets her eyes settle on the flush of cold cheeks, slightly brighter than they were a moment ago, and sighs. Maybe this is getting untenable, maybe she’s playing with fire, but she doesn’t care. If it keeps Miranda safe and warm, she will happily burn. 

 

* * *

 

“You guys did amazing!” Andy finds herself nearly knocked off balance by a twin tornado, but she certainly doesn’t mind. 

 

“Girls!” 

 

“They’re alright, Miranda. They just won the game, like I knew they would! They can knock me around all they want.” Andy’s hand is grasped tightly by a flushed Cassidy, while Caroline moves to shrug under one of Miranda’s arms. 

 

“Did you see, Andy?? Caro was wide open and she had that amazing shot!” Cassidy seems to be almost overflowing with energy, and Andy wonders if she was ever this pumped coming off the pitch. 

 

“Of course I saw! That assist was great, li’l playmaker!” She gives Cassidy a wink before catching Caroline’s eyes. “You too, Lead Foot.” The girls dissolve into giggles at the ridiculous nicknames, while Miranda heaves a long suffering sigh. “So, what are we doing to celebrate?” 

 

This sparks a minor squabble between the girls, though it never progresses to the point of adult intervention, and Miranda shoots Andy the most incredible look of helpless exasperation. Never before has the feeling of being included been so sweetly intoxicating, and it’s all she can do not to swoon right then and there. It doesn’t help that Miranda holds her gaze, such a soft look spreading across normally stern features, and Andy loses herself in it for a long moment. 

 

Of course, her attention crashes back down to earth when the twins make it clear they’ve come to a decision, but she can’t find it in herself to mind all that much. 

 

“We wanna go back to that place Andy took us.” Andy’s a little charmed by the choice, but judging from the wince on Cassidy’s face and the raised eyebrow on Miranda’s, Caroline’s phrasing has steered them into dangerous territory. She decides to jump in before there’s a clashing of the two stronger personalities. 

 

“Kiddo, I’d be more than happy to get us all there, but don’t you think you ought to ask your mom first?” She tries to convey her meaning more through facial expression and tone than direct wording, especially since she’s not sure how pleased Miranda will be with her reprimanding one of the girls. 

 

To her surprise, Caroline capitulates immediately and Miranda sends her a grateful look. 

 

“You’re right, Andy. Sorry, Mom. Would it be okay if we went to the place Andy took us for our celebration?” 

 

“I think that’s an excellent idea, girls. I’d like to see what kind of place Andréa has you all gallivanting off to.” Twin cheers draw a wry grin from the editor’s lips, and Andy can’t resist mouthing, “ Gallivanting ?” with a smirk. When Miranda gives her a little shove, she’s certain it’s not an accident. 

 

* * * 

 

Hours later, Andy finds herself at the bottom of a pile of slumbering Priestlys on the floor of the girls’ media room. The twins had put up a good fight, but sleep had taken them sometime during the second half of The Philosopher’s Stone, whereas Patricia had never entertained the idea of doing anything other than claiming whatever part of a human she could find and sleeping on it. 

 

So it came to pass that Andy ended up under all three sleeping ladies, fielding amused glances from Miranda over on the sofa. Andy shoots her a silent helpless plea once circulation becomes a serious concern, and Miranda decides to have mercy on her hapless assistant. 

 

Corralling the girls into pyjamas and then bed is a relatively painless process, though there’s a slightly awkward half-second when Cassidy requests Andy help tuck her in. Caroline is already dead to the world. Looking to Miranda for confirmation, she’s caught by the unexpectedly tender look on her boss’ face. Miranda seems to recover quickly, though, and the next five minutes are spent reassuring Cassidy that she will see Andy again soon. 

 

Afterward, Andy prepares herself to head out, not wanting to overstay her welcome. This day has truly been a gift, from witnessing La Priestly with triple fudge ice cream on her nose snorting silently at something Caroline said, to spending time discussing the Harry Potter films versus the books with a surprisingly passionate Cassidy, and she doesn’t want to give herself a chance to ruin a perfect memory. 

 

“Would you care for a glass of wine? It’s still early yet…” Miranda asks, looking almost…shy? This breaks Andy out of her headspace, and she gives Miranda her brightest smile. Who is she kidding, she’ll take whatever she can get, consequences be damned. 

 

“Yes, please.” Andy follows Miranda to a room she hasn’t seen before; thinks she’d be hard pressed not to describe it as a drawing room. 

 

There’s a vintage style dry bar in the left hand corner behind the door, and it seems that Miranda has given up on the idea of wine because she tiptoes over and lifts a bottle of McCallan in silent question. Andy nods, and knows this drink probably exceeds her weekly food budget, so she vows to savour it. Still, she can’t resist teasing Miranda about it a little. 

 

Accepting the tumbler, she sinks into a sinfully soft couch and takes a small sip, letting the scotch linger over her tongue, basking in the smoky burn as it slides down her throat. 

 

“Thanks, this wine is excellent.” She hides a foolish grin behind her glass, seriously gratified when Miranda collapses next to her with an undignified snort. 

 

“Would you believe that the wine is downstairs and I simply do not have it in me to make that trip twice?” Miranda fixes her with a coy smirk and Andy nearly chokes on eighteen year old, silky smooth scotch. 

 

“Hey, it’s your prerogative, lady.” She says, hands raised in surrender. “I’m not complaining.” The only acknowledgement is a low hum. 

 

Gentle silence fills the room, each woman lost in her own thoughts, the warm, low lighting lulling them into a state of pronounced comfort. Andy can’t get the image of Miranda, usually larger than life, looking so small and powerless when faced with the thinly veiled harassment at the game earlier out of her head. 

 

She’s just about to turn and ask what the pinched woman wanted when Miranda breaks the silence first. 

 

“I think…” Here she seems to pause and consider. “I think I owe you an apology.” You could knock Andy over with a feather. It’s the last thing she would’ve expected her boss to open with. 

 

“Pardon?” It’s out before she has a chance to snap her jaw shut. To her surprise, Miranda doesn’t skewer her with one of her Medusa glares, instead she turns to regard Andy contemplatively, running a fingertip over her lip in that maddening way. Only, without the couture and made-up mask, the mannerism takes on an entirely different feel. 

 

“I forget, so often, that there are lines. You know how it is at the office: I get almost everything my way. But that’s how it has to be, for the sake of the magazine.” Miranda falls silent, but Andy knows by now not to fill the resulting vacuum, letting her take her time to find the words. Andy doesn’t exactly know what she’s talking about, anyway, so it’s in her best interest to sit, deathly quiet, and hope she gets answers. 

 

“So often you go above and beyond, I find myself wanting to adjust to it, to bask in your excellence…granted, in the beginning I couldn’t stand it. However, I forget that your methods and reasons are your own, that I am not…entitled.” There’s a horrible hollowness in her voice, as though the words echo around a cavern built of Miranda’s perceived inadequacies before finally spilling out from unwilling lips. 

 

“Miranda-“ 

 

“I am sorry, Andréa. for demanding what was not mine to want. I am rather disappointed in myself, if I’m honest. I used to be a decent-“ The way Miranda cuts herself off provokes an intense aching need in Andy to know what comes next. 

 

“A decent what, Miranda?” Her voice is so cautious, so tremulous that she’s certain the simple sound of it will send the editor hurtling back into herself, just like that unspoken evening in Paris. 

 

“Friend. I used to be a decent friend.” She says it like she’s trying to convince herself more than anything.

 

“Are we friends?” Andy sounds about as gobsmacked as she feels. 

 

“You’re my assistant.” 

 

“Associate.” Andy wonders if Miranda cares about the difference. “We could be friends, you know. I don’t think it would change much.” Miranda scoffs, but this is instantly very important to Andy, something she feels is as necessary to her life as oxygen or sustenance. 

 

“You don’t want to be my friend, Andréa. As you saw for Nigel, it rarely ends well for the other party.” Miranda lets out a forlorn sigh, as if she’s already resigned herself to the shallow attentions of people who only ever take from her. 

 

“Please.” She scoffs right back. “It’s easy.” When Miranda, predictably, raised her shocked gaze to Andy’s, she continues, “You apologised, which was lovely but ultimately unnecessary, so in return I’ll tell you why it happened in the first place. That’s what friendship is, give and take in good faith.” At Miranda’s raised brow, she takes a deep breath and sets about doing her part to really level. 

 

“My ex-boyfriend, my friends…they hated how much time I devoted to my job. They had the same attitude I did when I started, only, when mine began to evolve…theirs didn’t. When I realised I could sort of anticipate your needs, when I felt like I was actually making a difference by showing up, it became…important to me. In a building full of rusty hinges, it’s an incredibly heady feeling to be the one holding the oil.” She lets out a dark little chuckle. “You make it so clear, Miranda, when someone has your approval, even if it’s only to that person. Being good at the job is only part of it. Feeling like it was you and me against the incompetence of the world, that’s what makes me want to do the impossible.” 

 

Andy takes a massive final gulp of her drink before plunking it down onto the coffee table and turning to face an unreadable Miranda. She attempts a half-hearted smile. 

 

“The idea of trying to explain that to you was…terrifying. It felt like I was offering up all my softest parts, just asking to be hurt. It made me vulnerable and I didn’t react well. As you know.” 

 

Miranda’s question catches her off guard, but she’s learned by now never to expect a certain reaction where the subject is in any way out of the norm. 

 

“I make you feel vulnerable?” 

 

Andy smirks humourlessly. 

 

“You do know who you are, right?” 

 

“Nevermind that. Vulnerability suggests a certain level of investment. It wouldn’t have the ability to hurt if you didn’t care.” It’s a statement, but there’s a million questions in her eyes. Andy almost wants to laugh. 

 

“Miranda, I think we’ve established that I care.” 

 

“Not about Runway?”

 

“Ah…no?” 

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah.” 

 

And that’s that. Andy finally gets around to asking about the woman at the game and they discuss the twins’ performance, and eventually the time comes for Andy to head back to her empty apartment. Apart from an interesting moment at the door, it’s the first time in recent history that Andy feels absolutely sure of where they stand.