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The Pearly Gates: A Modern Noir

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It was a life or death situation.  Any mistake would prove fatal.  Years of experience should have left me prepared, yet I felt helpless as I gawked at my fate barreling toward me.  I thought I had planned properly, thought I had taken advantage of every precious second, but the moment was upon me, and I had no answer.

Did I want chicken or steak in my burrito?

The gentleman inside the food truck was starting to give me the look , which any New Yorker knew translated loosely to ‘Hurry the fuck up.’

“Number Two, with steak, please.”

The ‘please’ was my personal ‘fuck you too.’

I walked the obligatory few steps away from the window to allow the next person to order while staying close to eventually collect my bounty.  Nothing like the thrill of having your name called when there was hot food involved.

The streets were busy.  Friday afternoons in the city meant the usual foot traffic, the suits leaving early for the weekend, and the club minions that were ready to bar hop all hours of the night leaking onto the scene.  I personally was looking forward to coasting through my last hours at the Mirror before heading home to bask in the glory of sweatpants and a Lord of the Rings rewatch.

I know.  Party animal.

Sure, everyone my age seemed to be getting married and having kids.  Joke was on them.  My burrito was as heavy as a newborn, much quieter, and way more delicious.  The foil was peeled away before I was even halfway back to the office, and I was in a meaty, cheesy heaven by the time I walked in the door.  The cubicles on the floor were buzzing and vibrating with energy, and I broke briefly from my food-induced trance; a big story just dropped.  The hunger of curiosity began to trump any others, and my meal was hurriedly placed on my desk before I ran to the nearest group of coworkers.

“Damn, the Times got to it before us.”

“They always do.”

I walked up to the group, nudging my nearest coworker, “Aw, come on, share with the rest of the class!  What’d I miss?”

“Miranda Priestly is in a coma.”

The news hit like a punch to the gut.  Ringing in the ears.  Weak knees. Breathless.

Miranda Priestly...what?

“Apparently, they found her passed out in her house.  OD’d on drugs.”

They gestured to a nearby computer, headline flashing across the screen.  Priestly’s Botched Suicide.

The vision came easily enough, as any headline like that would inspire with a decent enough imagination.  I remembered the pristinely clean townhouse, almost sterile, morgue-like...it was oddly fitting now.  She would be alone, always alone, staring down the Book, the representation of what had left her alone all these years, her single burden to carry, finally crushing her under the enormous weight of it all.  Finally choosing to make her exit with a bottle full of pills easily procured by a woman of her wealth. The money, the fame, and the loneliness would be her final companions as she collapsed on the floor.

The picture froze abruptly in my head.

No, that wasn’t right.  That wasn’t the Miranda I knew.

The flashbacks rewound, and moving images danced once more. The icy ferocity in her blue eyes only softened by a glance at the picture frame of her children.  The absolute and unwavering dedication to a living embodiment of art.  The pinnacle, the beacon, of what she loved, from which she would never be torn, at any cost.  At every cost.

The fire of life was unquestionable and burned in every one of my memories.

Suicide? No, not that wasn’t right at all.

That wasn’t the Miranda I knew and loved.

Loved. I felt sick to my stomach. That’s why I had left, after all.

“Hey, Andy, you OK?”

But a coma?  Locked away?  Gone?

“Oh, shit, that’s right.  She’s your old boss.”

‘Boss’ didn’t cover the harshness of my feelings I had felt then and still felt now.  The brutality of expectations, the conquering of boundaries, the cold sting of rejection.

But there she was, clearly in my mind, standing tall in her suits with a gaze to kill, smiling seductively in her gala gowns, quietly crying and vulnerable in her robe at the Paris hotel...all Miranda, all swirling together to form...what?

“Did you think she’d ever be the type to try something like this?”

Miranda frozen in place, a crystal statue, now unmoving.  Comatose.

I cleared my throat, trying to focus on the people in front of me.  “You mean kill herself? No. Never.  It’s a mistake.”

Another in the group scoffed, “Kinda hard to beat the truth that she had a bunch of meds she wasn’t prescribed in her system with an empty pill bottle and a healthy dose of liquor.”

“Hey, man, take it easy.”

“No, it’s alright,” I muttered, “I’d probably say the same thing if it was anyone else.”

They gave me a look of pity when I offered some lame, unrememberable excuse and retreated to my cubicle. Not my smoothest exit.

But Miranda Priestly in a coma from a botched suicide attempt was a little shocking. Supposed botched suicide attempt.  She would never leave the twins or Runway behind like that.

Would she?


“Two orders of Chicken Lo Mein.  Only one girl.”

“I like to have some lunch the next day.”

“You used to come here with a man.”

I sighed, “Mrs. Chang, that was over a year ago.”

She glared at me from her position behind the counter.  “Men don’t want girls that eat two orders of chicken.”

Brutal.

“Thank you, Mrs. Chang.  See you later.”

The little bell above the door signaled my retreat as I exited the restaurant. My ex-boss was in a coma, and a girl couldn’t even get some comfort takeout without hearing about another ex.

Sometimes I fondly wondered what Nate was up to in Boston.  He deserved to be happy...in Boston.  Let me tell you, your ex moving to a whole other state really helps with the healing process.

Time and space added clarity to the blurriest, most chaotic memories.  It was fine when he had to work late at the restaurant on my birthday.  It was not fine when a gala kept me late on his birthday.  After a few drinks with Lily (it took a lot of begging, but she eventually forgave me), even she started to see that maybe he hadn’t been the most supportive of what was honestly a huge career move. One sucky year, and we would’ve had it made.  One year with Miranda, and I could’ve gone anywhere in publishing, a crazy opportunity for a journalist.

Miranda.

Well, Nate had maybe been right about one thing.  The person whose calls you always take...that’s the relationship you’re in.  I always took her calls. And maybe that had meant something. Why else did it feel like the world, my world, was holding its breath after today’s news?  As much as I told myself I would never see her again, there was always the possibility.  Walking across the street, noticing a town car in passing...there was always the chance.

Not anymore.  The reality stung, but at least I had calmed somewhat since my minor panic attack in the office.

Maybe I would have a glass of wine or something.  In her honor.  

Whatever the real reason, the reality remained the same.  The Miranda in my mind was gone with little hope of returning.  As I climbed the stairs of my apartment building, more slowly and out of breath than I would’ve preferred, I focused on that fact.  The sooner I accepted it, the sooner I could move on from it.

After fumbling with my keys and struggling not to drop my Chinese food, I opened the door and stepped into the threshold of my dark, tiny apartment.  As I shut the barrier behind me, my heart leapt.

Something in my living room suddenly moved.

A figure turned in the streetlight pouring through the window.  My hand instinctively flung for the light switch.

Miranda Priestly stood before me.

Glowing white hair, steely blue eyes, crisp suit.  Her head held regally high, hands on her hips, poised to certainly issue some scathing remark.

She was very much alive, very beautiful, and incredibly terrifying.

“Holy shit,” escaped my lips before I could stop it.

A sole eyebrow twitched upward at my outburst. I swallowed.  It was definitely her, in the flesh.

But why?

“What are you doing in my apartment?  How did you get in here?” I asked, my voice still gravelly with shock.

Her voice was smooth as silk as she quipped, “My, aren’t we welcoming and hospitable.”

Oh, no.  That might’ve worked on the old Andy, but she was not going to show up and boss me around.

I sighed, dumping my bags on a side table by the door.  I looked more squarely at the woman before me and firmly stated, “You’re all over the news.”

“When am I not?” she replied airily.  As if this was all just a new game for us to play, like all the times before.

I snapped back, “You’re supposed to be in a coma, laying in the hospital.”

“Really, Andrea, do I look comatose to you?” Miranda calmly asked, gesturing down her form with her hand.  When her arm moved to place her hands on her hips, however, the elbow went directly through the wall to my kitchen.  She paused as she left it there, slowly moving her forearm into the same space, turning with ease as her entire limb simply phased into the plaster.

She muttered, almost amused, “Hm.  This is taking some adjusting.”

Oh. My. God.

A breathless wheeze escaped past my lips, “I’m going crazy.”

“I should say so. No respectable person wears leggings as pants beyond their front door.”

“You’re not real,” I almost shouted, firmly pointing at whatever cruel hallucination was before me, “You are laying in a hospital room, and I am obviously way too tired and freaked out about it.”

“Still running away from our problems, I see.”

“Ok, first of all, you’re not even here, so this isn’t happening,” I reasoned, starting to pace across my den, “Second of all, if you were somehow here, you’d be trying to kill me. And third of all, I did not run away. From Runway . Or you. Maybe I ran away from Runway . But that’s different than you,” I paused in my pacing to glance back at the not-Miranda, “God, I’m so tired.”

It merely shrugged, “Some would say Runway and I are one.”

“Right. Now my imagination is giving me riddles.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the smart girl?” the mirage questioned with a raised eyebrow.

My eyes narrowed. “Smart and fat, apparently.”

“I tell people what they need to hear, true or not.”

“You are telling no one anything because you are once again, not real,” I huffed, crossing my arms.

“And yet you speak.”

It had a point.  I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath.

“Miranda Priestly is in the hospital in a coma. Brain dead. From a suspected overdose. She is not in my apartment.”

I focused on the darkness of my eyelids, letting the words settle in the room.  I focused on the rise and fall of my own chest in a quiet apartment.

I opened my eyes.

The woman before me rolled her eyes before impatiently asking, “Are you quite done?”

I collapsed onto the couch before me.  Miranda Priestly was here.  How?

“You died. And now you’re haunting me,” I croaked.

“If I was dead, you would know. The celebration party would be hosted at Vogue , all of New York invited,” Miranda drawled, taking a step towards the couch, very much ignoring a small chair that stood in her way.  Her body moved through it like air, a commodity my lungs were very much lacking at the moment.

She paused, following my stare at her legs, before glaring at me and asserting, “Not dead.”

“Not alive either,” I muttered, glancing up to meet her gaze and finding myself out of excuses for how this couldn’t be real, “Holy shit.”

“You already said that.  I’d argue there’s nothing very holy about the situation.”

I stood up, hesitantly taking a step closer.

“Should I call the ghostbusters?” I deliriously questioned, reaching my hand out to touch Miranda’s arm, an act I never would’ve considered under normal circumstances.  It passed through uncontested, and a chill stung at my fingertips.

Freaky.

“If you do that again, I will find a way to haunt you once this is all resolved,” she barked, drawing her arm away from me as if I was the foreign entity in my apartment.

There was no doubt.  The way she talked, the way she walked, the way she threatened and insulted...it was all classic Miranda.

“If you have any idea what’s going on, now would be a great time,” I said, clearing my throat to hide the hitch in my voice, “They said it was an overdose.”

Questioning eyes peered at me from beneath heavy lashes as she muttered, “Do you believe that?”  But before I could even answer, she was already turning away to glance at the wall and saying, “I was at home after work.  That’s all I remember.”

“How did you get here?”

She pursed her lips and shot me a nasty look.

“Oh, come on.  I think the ‘don’t ask Miranda anything’ rule doesn’t apply right now.”

She sighed, bringing her finger to her temple.

“I woke up here.  A few minutes before you came in here.”

“Why here?”

“Do you think if I had a choice, I would have actually selected this ?” she gestured incredulously around my apartment.

I scoffed, crossing my arms, “Sorry we can’t all live on the upper East side.”

She huffed, returning to the scathing review of my wall. She closed her eyes, took a quick breath, and stood a little straighter, turning back to me.

“The sooner we resolve this, the sooner I can return to my body and continue on with my life.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Um, ‘we?’”

“I require assistance.  You were an assistant,” she explained as if it was obvious, vaguely waving towards me.

She really had the most unique way of pissing me off sometimes.

“Right.  Do you remember how that little arrangement went last time?  You seemed keen on reminding me a few minutes ago.”

She blinked before deadpanning, “Would you really deny the request of a woman lying in the hospital?”

I barked a laugh, dramatically leaning my ear towards her, “Were you requesting my help?  I seem to have missed the ‘please.’”

Miranda, for what it was worth, remained her coolly calm self.  She simply stared at me, and I remembered what it had once felt like to be under her gaze.  To be devoured and inspected and analyzed and terrified she could read every thought.  Always so intense, like it was a matter of life and death.

I guess this time it was.

She slowly, softly stated, “I will ask again.  Do you believe I attempted to take my own life?”

Miranda laughing at a gala, Miranda spitting scathing insults in the office, Miranda crying in her hotel room.  The visions all came again, all at once, like earlier that day.

I knew this woman.  Always the enigma, the mystery, and yet...

“No,” I answered resolutely, “You would never.”

“You are likely the only living individual to think so,” she declared, eyes still firmly locked on mine, defiance almost blinding like crackling lightning in her pupils. “I will not leave my children behind like this.”

Miranda, back again to challenge me to the impossible for her. Even worse was the pounding in my chest, the excitement, to be by her side again, to answer the call and serve faithfully.

“Please.”

Oh, damn her stupid, pretty, ghost-face.

I sighed, my arms dropping to my sides, defeated.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know what happened.  You didn’t cause this...so someone did,” I muttered.

Damn Miranda Priestly who could walk through walls and back into my life.  And damn my curiosity.

Miranda did a terrible job hiding her smirk from winning.  “Quite the investigative instinct, as expected of a journalist.”

I groaned, “I knew it was going to get me into trouble one of these days.”

There was no way I could eat after this. I scooped up my food and retreated to the kitchen, lingering in the act of throwing the cartons in the fridge. The cool air helped clear the mind.

Alright, game plan.  Solve the case of a possible attack against one Miranda Priestly while avoiding some less than platonic feelings involving the aforementioned party.  Again. Then life could go back to normal.

Easy, right?

I closed the fridge and poked my head out the woman side-eyeing my secondhand furniture.

“Well, since my takeout is now cold, and I’ve lost my appetite now that I’ve learned ghosts exist, I’m going to go to bed.  We’ll start in the morning,” I explained, gesturing vaguely around the living room while hesitantly before trying, “Make yourself at home?”

The specter glared.  Apparently spirits didn’t lounge?

I hastily retreated to my bedroom. My idiotic heart was fluttering…and I was pretty sure it wasn’t because Miranda could go through walls.

I hadn’t seen her in so long. And even for a dead woman, she looked as radiant as always.

It was pathetic, really. Here I was, once again answering the summons.  No matter how absurd, how outrageous, how impossible.

Solve a murder.  Help a ghost.  Don’t mention feelings.

Do the impossible for Miranda Priestly.

Holy shit.

Chapter Text

When I stepped out of my bedroom the next morning, I wondered for a brief moment if last night had been a twisted dream.  The sight of Miranda staring out the little window in my kitchen sobered me up from that train of thought pretty quickly.

It was the same suit as before, not a wrinkle in sight.  The black fabric and thin white pinstripes were classic, making her white hair shine in contrast from the morning light streaming from the glass.  Makeup was still flawless.  Hoop earrings, striking red belt, the Louboutin heels...not a thing was out of place.

A normal person would probably be wondering if this was what she was wearing when she almost died. If perhaps this was her residual self-image, the way she saw herself, now her permanent afterlife outfit. You know, important philosophical questions about paranormal manifestations. But all my stupid brain could manage was a memory.

Paris.

Miranda looking out a little window, just like this one, regal as ever in the back of the town car, her silhouette perfect and poised with the long nose, full lips, heavy eyelashes. Metaphorical blood on her hands from the murder of Nigel’s career, a hand extended to me in offering, almost as equals. Almost.

I had been terrified of how badly I wanted to accept that imaginary hand. But the truth remained. I had wanted it, wanted her. Wanted to be beside her as a partner, not an assistant.  And seeing her before me now, I knew I really had missed her.

She eventually sensed my presence and turned to face me.  I gulped, hoping my creepy observation hadn’t been too obvious.

“I see dead people,” I quickly joked, fully entering the kitchen and walking towards the coffee machine already smelling amazing.  Thank you, whoever invented preset brewing programs.

“Your dramatics could inspire Broadway actors.”

“Oh, good, she speaks.  You really are here.  Thank goodness I’m not dreaming,” I quipped back sarcastically.

“Perhaps a nightmare?”

When I looked up, she was pointedly glaring at my pajama bottoms.  Apparently fuzzy pants with cartoon kittens were ‘nightmarish’ to a fashion goddess.

I opened my cabinet in search of an additional mug before I paused with a sigh.

“I almost just offered you coffee,” I muttered, softly closing the little door, “This is weird, right?”

Miranda crossed her arms, glancing away at the window again.  “I’m unable to smell it. Nor am I thirsty or hungry.”

“Super weird.”

Blue eyes shot back to mine as she scoffed, “Do you have anything substantial to propose besides this profound commentary?”

I hummed as I poured the black liquid into my cup.  A sassy Priestly wasn’t exactly scary to me anymore.

As I secured milk from the fridge, I replied, “We should probably stop by the hospital.  And we need to get into your house,” I glanced up at her as I uncapped the dairy beverage, “Is there any way you can go there, float through the walls, and come back?”

Miranda immediately huffed, “No.”

“Why not?”

She proceeded to throw a scowl at my poor linoleum floor.  While she simmered, I tossed some milk in my coffee and returned it to the fridge.

“Well?”

“I attempted to leave last night,” she sighed before gesturing around the room, “I appear to be tethered.”

“To my apartment?” I asked, reaching for my drawer to snag a spoon.

Again, no response.  When I secured my piece of silverware and looked up, she was rather pointedly avoiding looking at me.

“To me!?”  I questioned, gesturing at myself with the utensil.

What bad karma had I put in the world for Miranda Priestly’s spirit to attach itself to me in death?  Besides the obvious part when I threw Elias Clarke property into a public fountain.

“Again with these dramatics.” Miranda commented sternly, finally returning her stinging gaze to me.

“Why didn’t you tell me that part?  Probably would have guilted me into helping you more quickly if I knew I basically didn’t have a choice,” I whined, shoulders slumped as I stirred my coffee in defeat.

A cool, smooth voice replied back, “We always have a choice, Andrea.”

Sure.  But why me?  I had missed her, yes, but…

I stopped the clinking metal of the spoon, withdrawing it from my mug and tossing it into the sink with a groan.  This changed nothing.  I had already made up my mind last night.  Miranda would just be in my home, space, and life permanently and constantly until I fixed the universe.

Fun.

I sighed, picking up my coffee and bringing it to my lips, “I guess I have nothing better to do with my day off.”


The coffee was chugged, a granola bar was inhaled, and I threw on some jeans and my messenger bag to finally get started on decoding the mystery that life (or maybe it was more death) had thrown in my face.  It was already a busy Saturday morning in the city when we entered the foot traffic on the street.

Miranda’s heels made no sound as she walked next to me, the lack of clacking on the sidewalk oddly disturbing.  I had never seen her outside in broad daylight without designer sunglasses. While I was squinting in the direct light peeking through between the tall buildings, she was unphased, blue eyes shimmering brilliantly.

Then there was the visual of Miranda sashaying down the street like it was a runway. Miranda, walking, on dirty city pavement ? Unheard of.  Crazier still, she did it without pursed lips or any other telltale signs of immense displease.

“Hey.  What if other people can see you too?”

Miranda turned to look at me as she stalked forward without hesitation.  When a pedestrian running in the opposite direction phased through her, she quipped, “Does that answer your question?”

“Sorry for not knowing how ghosts work,” I mumbled back, reaching down to unzip my bag.  Miranda frowned when I pulled out the wires of my earbuds.

“It is unwise to attempt to ignore me.”

“Wouldn’t dare. This is so people don’t think I’m insane talking to myself, just on the phone,” I explained as I slipped one headphone into my ear, wiggling the wire with the microphone on it.

“Insanity can be measured in other ways,” she retorted, making a face at a woman’s dress that shuffled by.

“You’re very prickly this morning, this is what happens when you can’t drink coffee,” I said in a singsong voice, grabbing my phone, “Let’s see, you’re staying at…”

I scrolled through the newsfeed covering Miranda’s ordeal.

Crap.

“That hospital is way too nice,” I muttered, biting my lip.

“I’m sure the invalids can excuse your poor wardrobe.”

I ignored the dragon’s bite and asked, “How am I supposed to get past the front desk?  You’re VIP, probably a short list of non-relatives who can see you.”

Miranda rolled her eyes before nodding her head to the phone still in my hand.

Then it clicked.

“Nope.”

“Andrea,” she hissed.

I sighed, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk.  Mumbled curses spilled out as people jerked to get around me.  Oops.  My counterpart barely blinked as they moved through her.

“I hate this,” I grumbled, moving to the side, looking back down at the phone, now navigating through my contacts.

Let’s see. Who would hate me less?

The little green phone icon was mocking me.  I pressed it with a huff and glared at Miranda, who had her hands triumphantly poised on her hips.  The air of confidence was suffocating.

After a few rings, a familiar voice greeted me through my earbud with, “I was wondering when you would call.”

“Hey, Nigel. How’re you holding up?”

“About as well as can be expected,” he sighed, sounding tired but genuine.

“I can’t imagine how scary and just weird this is.”

Plot twist. I didn’t need to imagine.

He offered a small, sad chuckle. “But can’t you? There aren’t many of us that actually know her.”

I winced as I looked across the street and partially lied, “I guess that’s why you’re the only person I could think to call.  That would understand.”

There was a slight pause before he said, “She seemed fine last we talked. Her usual self.  I keep wondering how I missed it.”

“Do you really think she did it?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe we didn’t really know her that well after all,” he speculated wistfully.

I glanced at Miranda hovering nearby. She was staring into a shop window near where we had stopped, seemingly contemplating the goods on display with a frown. I looked down through the glass.

It was a deli. She was literally watching some poor guy wolf down a bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel.

“I’d like to think deep, deep....deep down, we did know her,” I muttered into the mic, turning away from what felt like a zoo visit.

How was I going to mention the hospital?

Nigel cleared his throat, sounding more chipper when he asked, “Why don’t we catch up?  Holt is having a party next weekend, you can be my plus one?”

“Swanky.  Didn’t realize you still talked to him after you got, well, nixed in Paris.”

“Turns out Miranda was even smarter than we realized,” he replied, still upbeat and apparently eager to gossip, “His business venture led by Jacqueline tanked.  My promotion a few months later was much better. He still designs, so it’s good to keep connections up, all things considered.”

What?

I turned again, and Miranda looked up to meet my gaze. Her head tilted slightly, as if questioning why I was staring.

She hadn’t betrayed Nigel. She had saved him.

“Wow,” I replied, suddenly breathless.

“So say yes, we’ll catch up over drinks on his dime in that luxurious penthouse.”

What else could I say to that?  “Yes.”

“Great, I’ll call you next week. Oh, and Six, you’re already on the visitation list.”

Well, damn.  First a ghost, now a mind reader?  Did they have vampires at Runway too?

“How?”

Nigel’s light laughter came through the phone before he explained, “She never had the new assistants update it. Lawyer got you visitation rights eons ago.”

I glared at the woman in question as I asked, “Are you saying she put me on there as an emergency contact when I was her assistant?  Not her freaking husband?”

Miranda rolled her eyes, crossing her arms.

“I’m sure she expected that, even if she was in a full body cast, she would be conscious enough to still run a magazine from a hospital room,” he theorized, not hiding the mirth in his voice.

I breathed a laugh. He was right.

Gosh, I really missed him.

“You know, I could just be some piece of shit reporter trying to use my old connections,” I teased, too curious for my own good.

“Please.  You used to throw moral hissy fits over clogs, as hideous and undeserving as they were.”

“How did you know I’d want to see her then?”

The line was quiet for a moment. Miranda was inspecting me from her peripheral.

“Like I said, there aren’t many of us.  The inner circle,” he murmured.

He couldn’t see it, but I didn’t fight the smile I felt appear on my face.

“Thanks, Nigel.  I miss you.”

“We’ll chat again soon,” he assured me before we quickly said our goodbyes.

As soon as I hung up, I turned on Miranda.  “Seriously? You never updated your emergency contacts?”

She merely shrugged, “I suppose it slipped my mind.”

With a sigh, I turned around to start trudging my way back down the sidewalk.

“You’re lucky I’m not a psycho.”

She easily caught up with me and drawled, “The jury might still be out on that one.”

Chapter Text

Why did hospitals always smell funny?  And why was it always freezing cold?

At least the elevators were big.

I smoothed down the visitor sticker already curling at the edges from the fuzz on my hoodie. The lady at the front desk had done a pretty solid job masking her surprise that the chick in a Northwestern sweatshirt had actually been on the magic list for Miranda Priestly.

“So.  Top floor.  Do you think they have you in a secret celebrity medical penthouse?”

I glanced beside me. Miranda rolled her eyes.

“This is precisely why I do not share elevators.”

I shrugged, turning back to the array of lights and buttons before me.  “Just giving you motivation to work on the levitation and flying aspect of ghosthood.”

She sighed, “Why do you always insist on trying my patience?”

It lacked any sting or venom I would’ve expected in a previous lifetime.  The feigned annoyance and witty banter was quickly forming the basis of our new working relationship.

“Figured you could use a distraction with everything going on,” I admitted, trying too hard to sound nonchalant about it, looking down at my tennis shoes.

It was the truth. Well, mostly. The honest reality was all I had were jokes and deflections to stop myself from thinking about all of this too much and freaking out.  Miranda’s life was on the line. And the biggest truth of all was that, if she didn’t take her own life, someone tried to take it for her.

Murder. A very scary word. We had avoided saying it out loud.

“Indeed. You never fail to be distracting ,” she stated, overly sweet and syrupy. Her gala voice, to accentuate the sarcasm.

I smirked, still staring at the closed doors, my response immediate, “Wouldn’t want to disappoint.”

Disappointment. It had slipped out by accident. Another scary word for the both of us, for very different reasons.  But questioning her unique recommendation letter was a task for later, if even needed.  I doubt she noticed my flounder, especially if I was her greatest disappointment.

The elevator dinged as we reached what felt like the millionth floor. Miranda and I both stepped forward, and I shivered as our forms merged and overlapped, nearly tripping from the metal box into the hallway from the sudden freezing sensation.

Before I could chastise my new permanent attachment that maybe the solidly human individual should always go first, I noticed a nurse was shooting me a look over her station counter.

You’d think the hospital would be used to seeing lots of clumsy people, at least at the ER.

Flashing a goofy grin and awkwardly shuffling down the hall, I tried to follow the signs for the room number I had received in the lobby. 

“Graceful.”

I huffed back, “Hey, Beetlejuice, I need to go first or else people will wonder what I’m doing.”

“How will you stop them from questioning all your other absurd behaviors?” Miranda mused airily beside me.

“Such as?”

“You snore.”

My new roommate was feisty.

“Tons of people snore,” I whispered fiercely before shooting another passing nurse a polite smile.

“Not at that frequency.”

I snorted as I checked the passing room numbers, “I was stressed last night, guess who’s fault that was.”

Before she could deal out another retort, I spotted our target and paused before the closed door.  Suddenly, all the mirth felt sucked out of my lungs.

This was it.

Before I could be accused of moving too slow, I reached out for the door handle, looking hesitantly to Miranda.

She nodded, firm and short, once.

I pushed the portal open.

As far as rooms went, it was a pretty standard fair.  As much as I had teased on the way over about gold plated IV bags, it would seem the rich got the same set up as the rest of us. In the very least, maybe it had guaranteed she wouldn’t be sharing a room.

‘She’ being the body. It was so difficult to understand I was looking at Miranda lying in that bed, especially after looking at her face and talking to her all morning.

A mask connected to a tube concealed her face now, and the skin that was left uncovered was pale. No foundation, no eyeshadow. Her hair was flat, withered from neglect and lack of product against the sterile fabric of the hospital pillow.  Her frame looked frail in the gown draped over her before she disappeared behind still overly crisp bedsheets.

Whatever was lying here was more a stoic statue adorning a stone sarcophagus, lifeless artwork more than a person. This was the phantom devoid of life, the eerie shadow that did not properly align with the woman I knew.  This was the ghost.

The heavy silence was only broken by small beeps and the occasional sigh of the ventilator. Life support. 

The reality of what we were dealing with was now very apparent.

“I’ve never seen you so still,” I murmured, dumbfounded.

Miranda’s attention, however, was focused on the window across the room, at the vases of flowers and cards lining the ledge and the top of the AC unit.

Her voice was quiet when she commented, “The girls have been here.”

I swallowed, trying to refocus. We weren’t here for me to get all emotional.

After closing the door behind us, I looked down at the foot of the bed where every TV hospital drama told me a patient’s medical chart should be. It wasn’t there.  Bummer.

The computer screen was small and clearly connected to Miranda’s body. Just a monitor.

A folder sitting on the little tray by the bed caught my eye. Bingo. Time to be sneaky before a nurse showed up.

I opened the file and started attempting to translate the scrawled hieroglyphs on multiple charts and pages.  Seriously, it was almost 2008, they couldn’t put this stuff on a computer so I could actually read it?

“Your charts say everything seems fine.  At least from what I can piece together without a medical degree,” I mumbled out loud, flipping back to when she was first admitted, “I guess they’ve helped you detox whatever it is they think you OD’ed on.  They just can’t explain why you’re, well, not awake.”

When there was no response, I looked up to find Miranda still staring intently at the windowsill, now standing beside it.  She was trying to pick up a card, but her fingers passed helplessly through it. I heard her huff in frustration, but she showed no signs of stopping.

The folder was dropped back on the table. I gently stepped beside her and shot her a small smile as I gingerly picked up the card.  I made sure to keep my arms low as I opened it so she could see the contents.

I read aloud, “‘Dear Momsie, please get better soon.  Love, Your Bobbsies.  P.S. Patricia says hi,’” I turned the paper to show her the sea of doodles as I surmised, “They must have taken the dog to their dad’s.”

Miranda smiled.

It was tiny. If you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t have noticed, especially if you only saw the fake socialite smile she flashed at parties. This was subtle, genuine, and a little sad.  A rarity as brilliant as the woman’s face it graced.

I was sure she could probably hear my heart fumble and skip a beat. 

She blinked away watery eyes, craning her head, and finally turning away from the card.

“Well?”

“The good news is you’re not dying,” I sighed, nodding towards the folder, “The bad news is there’s not much that explains what happened beyond what’s in the papers.”

She barely breathed a hum in recognition of my words. Two silent steps forward brought her to the foot of her bed. Her eyes scanned the empty husk before her.

I had seen her analyze outfits, inspect models, review photographs, and all but devour the Book. Again, it was in the details. The tiniest wrinkle in the corner of her eyes, the slightest pause of breath. She loved it, and performing her life’s work softened the rough edges others couldn’t see past.

There was none of that here. Nothing. Bitter and empty nothingness as she stared at her still, hollow body.

“Is it odd being here?” I asked softly as I set the card back on the windowsill.

Her chin lifted slightly, and her eyes remained pointed downwards at the bed.  The inhale was slow.

Then she turned to me and sternly stated, “It’s unnecessary, if there’s nothing else here.  What’s our next course of action?”

I recognized the tone.

Is there anything else I can do?

Your job.

I adjusted the strap of my messenger bag as I returned to business.

“If you left me on your visitation list, I’m assuming you didn’t change the locks to the townhouse?” I questioned, digging out my ring of keys with a jingle.

Anyone else would’ve bought the poker face she held firmly in place.

“Perhaps,” she stated evenly, crossing her arms.

Unbelievable.

I shook my head. “You’re shockingly trusting of an employee that quit.”

Her eyes narrowed as she countered, “If you quit, why hold on to the key?”

Touché. I’d never admit I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

Instead I muttered as I started to walk to the door, “To assist the devil through the afterlife, apparently.”

Chapter Text

“That was unpleasant.”

“It’s just the subway.”

“I did not miss my time away from that Petri dish,” Miranda scoffed as we retreated from the stairwell that plunged back down to the depths of New York.

I snorted, “You can’t even touch anything right now, you’ll live.”

There was a pause. When I glanced over, she was shooting me an incredulous look, complete with a raised brow.

Oh, right.

“Bad word choice, sorry.”

Rather than sulk and grimace, she actually tossed her head back thoughtfully as we walked forward, forelock brushed to the side.

“I suppose I did claim I would only use public transit over my dead body,” she reasoned aloud, a hint of a devious smirk lining her lips.

I smiled back. The mood had certainly improved once we left that dreary hospital.

When we arrived at the townhouse, I tried not to make a fuss as I climbed the familiar steps. If paparazzi or nosy neighbors lurked, I had to own the part of a nobody employee that had every right to be there. Calm. Totally normal. Breaking into Priestly’s house.

It wasn’t really illegal if I had the key…and the owner was technically with me.  Right?

This time around, Miranda made a show of waiting for me to go first before following me through the entryway. I looked around as I shut the door behind us, noting some ruffled carpet and a discarded bag or two in the foyer. I guess the last of the lab technicians had forgotten to take out the trash.  Nothing seemed terribly out of place, but Miranda’s clean minimalist concept immediately highlighted that quite a few people, likely busy cops and EMTs, had passed through here recently.

“Atrocious,” Miranda hissed.

“It was briefly a crime scene,” I reminded her, stepping over some crumbled plastic and starting to navigate the bottom floor.

“Then the housekeeper should have tended to this aftermath.”

“She was probably scarred for life when she found you unconscious,” I muttered, poking around the sitting room.

There wasn’t much. After a few rooms looking untouched, I found myself standing in an extremely clean kitchen.

I looked back at my shadow. “Do you remember what room you were in?”

She shook her head but added, “I am not typically downstairs if the girls are not with me.”

“Good point, their dad had them. I was hoping we’d see something the police missed, but there’s not much.”

I trudged back to the foyer, Miranda silently following, pausing at the first step to the second floor.  I sighed deeply as I looked up the grand stairwell and multiple levels.  The house seemed a lot bigger when one was hunting for clues that might not exist. How did Scooby and the gang do it?

“This place always gave me the creeps,” I grumbled as I started the ascension.

“That’s odd, considering how warm and inviting I am as a person,” Miranda deadpanned behind me.

Ha. Ha.

“I almost lost my job the last time I went up these stairs.”

The response was a hum, “Fortune favors the brave, Andrea.”

I almost tripped on the next step. My name sounded good from her mouth when it wasn’t coated in a tone of total annoyance.

Once I reached the landing, the first room to the immediate right was a large sitting area with cozy seating and a huge TV, more of a proper family den than the little formal number downstairs. A quick glance told me it was mainly untouched; whatever went down had not been in here. I tried not to linger too long on the family photos and personal touches around the room. Trust me, I wanted to. Badly. But Miranda had probably swallowed an insane amount of pride letting me this far, and I wanted to honor that.

This was about doing my job and saving a life.

As we backtracked to the hallway, I started to review the case out loud to try and isolate what we were looking for.

“The Times said the police found an empty pill bottle.”

Miranda scoffed, “Well, Sherlock, I suspect that was planted somewhere as it certainly wasn’t mine.”

I opened the next door. Pink. One of the girl’s rooms.

I closed the door with a frown and mused, “They were smart.  It’s not really a stretch for most rich, famous people like you to be taking non-prescription drugs for fun.  Whether the bottle looked like yours or not won’t matter.”

“I’m starting to suspect it was you.”  She sounded almost impressed. Almost.

I chuckled, checking another room, “I come across a lot of crazy shit at the Mirror .” 

Another young tween room by the looks of the band posters.

At this rate, I was really starting to hope we didn’t end up staring at each other in her bedroom. Ghosts and suicide aside, I would officially freak out.

The next door was already open, and as soon as I rounded the corner, I was fairly certain we had found our goal.

Miranda’s office. Of course. I should’ve known to check here first knowing the workaholic.

It was pretty simple and modern, matching the rest of the house and even her set up at Runway . Glass desk, fancy computer. There was a small bar set up with some bottles when we first walked in. I smirked at the dark wood of the bookshelves that lined one wall, brimming full with books. While I expected the Chanel biography, I was pleasantly surprised by the titles on the spines hinting at classical art history and even some curveballs like Russian literature.

The artwork was more expressive too. Dark line work and bold modern reds on canvas. One appeared to be the vague outline of a naked woman with splashed ink.  Something about it seemed less performative and expected, more genuine.

Despite the expensive furniture and décor, the general layout of the objects atop the desk and side table was normal and cluttered, like your average home office for us mortals. Here?  Chaos.  Items had been picked up, turned over, and incorrectly returned by someone clearly not Miranda. 

“Cops tore up this room. This must’ve been where you were,” I asserted, removing my messenger bag and hanging it on the door handle.

I knew if there was anything important, it was probably sitting in a police station in an evidence locker somewhere. But if I could find something that didn’t belong or something obviously in use that night, maybe we could jog Miranda’s foggy memory. Even better, if this looked like a suicide, maybe, just maybe, something from an unknown villain was left behind.

When I started perusing the top of her desk, I heard Miranda ask, “What precisely are you looking for?”

I looked up, moving to the bookshelf as I spoke, “Assuming a pill bottle was planted, someone wanted to frame this as a suicide,” I turned and crossed my arms in thought as I continued, “So the real question is, how did they actually try to kill you? It would’ve needed to chemically match whatever was supposed to be in the pills, which according to the Times , was some kind of pain killer.”

Miranda offered a nod, so she was at least following my theory.  She too seemed to be glancing around the room.

I stepped towards her and stated gently, “I need you to take me through what you remember from that entire night.”

“As I said before, it’s...limited,” she strained with a wince. Or perhaps it was a glare at a footprint on the carpet.

“I know it’s hard,” I said sympathetically, moving into her field of vision so I could look her in the eye, “But your memory is all we got.  My contacts with the cops aren’t exactly good enough to know the latest on Miranda Priestly’s suspected suicide.  Even then, they got it wrong.  You’re the only one that really knows what happened that night.”

I wanted to help. I just needed a hint.

Miranda stared back at me in silence. I could see the blue of her irises clearly flicker in movement as her gaze searched mine. I didn’t realize how close I had stepped to her.  I held my breath. She didn’t turn away, didn’t step back, didn’t look infuriated, and I was stupidly waiting to be of service, to be needed.

She tilted her head, still looking at me, murmuring as if in a daze, “It was late.”

That was a start.

Her face finally turned, looking at the desk as she added, “I’m unsure of the time.”

She took a step forward, forehead wrinkling in clear frustration. As she stood in the center of the room, she soundlessly tapped her foot, the signature red bottom catching my attention as it had that morning.

“Is that what you were wearing?” I asked eagerly, “When it happened?”

She glanced over her shoulder at me. “Why?”

I offered a grin and shrug. “You think in clothes.  Focus on that.”

Her eyes shifted to the bookshelves nearby.  The room was quiet as she grew still.

“Irving had an abysmal tie on in our meeting that day,” she drawled before slowly turning back to me, raised eyebrows hinting at surprise, “I stayed late to review our budget for the third time.  To pacify him and smooth some damage from stepping on his toes in Paris.”

“Did the second assistant stay late with you?”

“No.  I sent her home.  The pattern on her scarf made my eyes hurt,” she explained, closing her eyes and rubbing her temple.

I frowned in thought, picturing my life back at the office, remembering Miranda’s usual schedule. “So no one would’ve brought you food, you’d be hungry.”

“I am capable of providing for myself,” she scoffed.

I stared back at her, crossing my arms to match her posture.

“Right. Sure.”

She pursed her lips.  After a beat, she took great care to inspect the wall behind me.

“Emily procured dinner and had it delivered to the office.”

I rolled my eyes, but continued with focusing on our main concern.

“I don’t think she’d try to poison you.”

Miranda shook her head as she added, “She was not physically present, I had dismissed her for the evening as well.  I called her. It was delivered. Security brought it up.”

“So the food is probably not how we ended up on CSI: Couture ,” I sighed before moving on to the next possibility, “Blood work said you had alcohol.”

She had a bar setup at work. It was possible. I had never seen it used, but, hey, what did I know?

“Not there,” Miranda confirmed, closing her eyes again.

The wrinkling of her forehead strained as she screwed her eyes shut even tighter.

“Open your eyes. Look at the room. Try to remember,” I instructed gently. We were so close.

Blue flashed and again inspected the walls, the furniture.

“Yes. Home. It was here,” she whispered, gaze finally settling on the bar, “Long day. A new bottle.”

“What’d you have?”

She breathed the answer, “Bourbon.”

I turned to the small collection of bottles, decanters, and glasses, looking for the dark liquid and reading the labels. My expertise did not extend beyond the bottom shelf at the liquor store, so the brands made little difference to me, but the alcohol in question was easy enough to find. The bottle actually had intricate eagle wings on the stopper. It looked expensive.

And apparently deadly.

I gulped as I stepped towards the shelf.

“So cops assume you work late, eat dinner at the office. You’re tired and maybe wallowing in your suicidal misery when you get home,” I said as I slid my hand deeper into the long sleeve of my hoodie, “Have a drink. Maybe too much. Take too many pills, either on accident or purpose. But if the pills never existed, then this,” I plucked up the bottle by the neck, using the fabric of my sweater to avoid leaving fingerprints, “is our attempted murder weapon.”

Miranda glared at the brown that sloshed in the glass. Rather than purse her lips or continue to show what I assumed was displeasure, she offered a nod. My hypothesis was supported.

I gingerly cradled the bottle in my arm and asked, “Did you buy this, or was it a gift?”

“Gift.”

“From who?”

Her eyes suddenly started scanning the wall again.

“You are useless without an assistant, do you know that?” I stated flatly.

She scoffed, throwing her hands into the air. “I receive countless gifts.”

I shook my head as I turned to safely deposit the fragile container in my bag.

“Pretty sure this one wasn’t from an adoring fan.”

Chapter Text

“It’s the hottest new date rape drug on the market.”

I tapped the screen on my phone, Johnny’s thick Brooklyn accent filling my den as it switched to speaker. I deposited the device on a throw pillow as I reached for the notepad and pencil on my coffee table.

He continued, “They call it Pearl.  It looks like a little ball, you drop it in, it disintegrates. Works kinda like a hard core muscle relaxer.  But you had enough in your bourbon to kill someone.  Super lethal in high doses like that.”

“Did you find any prints?”

“Only one set.  None that matched the system.”

Probably Miranda’s.

“Is it expensive?” I asked as I jotted down some notes, “What type of clientele are we looking at?”

He barked a laugh. “Not as expensive as the actual drink.”

Good point. I had googled the brand. Over $10,000 for the bottle. Must’ve been to die for.

“Look, like I said, it’s very hot right now. It’s newer, so we’re still learning how to trace it. Looks a lot like some other pain killers on the tox screens.  But lots of Jane Does been popping up with this in their system. So it’s your typical sleezeball on the street, no special demographic,” he ranted on before his voice grew softer, “You gotta be real careful at the bars.”

I chucked back politely, “Don’t worry, no drinks with strangers, and I always carry my mace with me.”

“Still, if you need someone to come with you or go out sometime, you got my number.”

Look, Johnny had been a huge help, once for an article on recreational use of rat poison (don’t ask) and now on Miranda’s case.  He never asked questions, even when I had clearly lied that a bottle full of apparently super illegal drugs had just been mysteriously and anonymously delivered to the Mirror as some type of story lead.  But alas, the crime lab technician had not stolen my heart.

I glanced at Miranda sitting next to me on my couch. Based on the look on her face, she did not seem overly impressed with his wooing tactics either.

“Thanks. I appreciate your help. Gotta run, hope you have a good night,” I awkwardly called out before stabbing the ‘end call’ button.

I stared down at my notes.  Pearl.  A drug with enough punch to kill.

“If you won’t say it, I will,” Miranda drawled next to me.

I looked up at the woman who had crossed her arms and legs, the sharp stare and polished suit an odd contrast against my lumpy sofa. The diva was insufferable now that she had successfully managed to sit on my furniture after two days of practice rather than simply moving through it. Walls and objects were still another story.

“I was right,” she crooned, “I did not attempt to take my own life.”

“I never doubted that part,” I replied, twisting the pencil in my hand, “But I can’t believe someone seriously tried to murder you.”

“You speculated, surely.”

“Having it confirmed is like something else completely,” I sighed as I leaned back into the couch, “I don’t know if the cops will reopen your case. They could just reason you used this drug instead to kill yourself. I can’t say a ghost told me it was from an outside gift.”

I tossed the notepad and pencil back to the table, not budging from my reclined position. I had an answer but no real proof. 

“Now what do we do?” I asked helplessly, staring at the yellowish white void of my old ceiling.

“We, indeed,” was the surprisingly gentle answer murmured beside me, “I suppose it’s up to you.”

I groaned, “I hate that I need to know. That’s what always gets me in trouble.”

“Well, you can do anything.”

I flopped my head over to inspect Miranda from the corner of my eye while I still lazily sprawled back on our shared couch.

Last time she had told me that, it had been sarcastically uttered in a proclamation of a duel, an episode I had titled ‘The Manuscript’ in my memory. A battle I had valiantly won, thank you very much.

She seemed completely genuine now, nothing on her face suggested malice or even teasing. The posture had relaxed, the arms no longer crossed, one hand cradling her head as it sat on the armrest. Locks of hair fell across her eyes. We were close enough on my small sofa, the stupid thought crossed my mind of how easily it would be to brush them off her face. 

I instinctually sat up, almost about to reach forward before I stopped myself.

No. Even if she wasn’t ethereal, I couldn’t. It was way beyond an impossibility of physics.  She wasn’t here for me to dig up my deeply buried feelings. She just needed me to do my job.

I instantly diverted into making a show of stretching, tilting my head and rolling my shoulders before hunching down and looking at my notes.

“Ok, let’s think. Who could it be? Husband number one?”

“It’s been years, we get along fine for the girls’ sakes.”

“Husband number two?”

“Divorce finalized. My death no longer brings him a large inheritance nor am I blocking any rendezvous with his mistress. Typically one murders their wife while they’re still married and cannot get rid of them,” she declared haughtily.

Stephen, what an asshole.  But she had a point, he lacked motive.

“I guess that just leaves the rest of the fashion world,” I muttered, tilting my head at the notebook,  “They did make you choke on a pearl, in a way. Death by fashion.”

“Save the dramatics for that little paper you write for,” Miranda huffed with a wave, still lounging in the corner of the couch.

I shook my head and explained, “If no one has a clear motive, then it was for revenge, and that means there’s gonna be dramatics. Meaning. Symbolism. This person did it for their own catharsis.  There was no guarantee when you’d drink the stuff, so it wasn’t on a timeline, just a really messed up desire. There’s gotta be a subtle note we’re missing,” I frowned before shooting her a look, “Who even knows you like whiskey? I’m the Miranda expert, and I didn’t know.” 

I was met with a very histrionic sigh.

“Firstly, it was bourbon, which is entirely different when prepared properly. Secondly, perhaps you’re not the expert you assumed.”

I narrowed my eyes. “You never drank anything that wasn’t clear in front of me. I loaded you up on gin and tonics like water for a fucking camel at all those functions.”

She sat up and straightened her back, looking down at her fingernails.

“If you must know, it is a special indulgence I take in the seclusion of my study after a trying day.”

“And who would know that?” I countered.

There was no answer.  We both knew she had no idea.

I glared at the TV in front of me; I had muted the volume when I saw Johnny was calling. Flashes of images from a trashy reality show on MTV flickered by. People laughing, tossing back drinks, dancing at some dark and blurry club.

The bourbon bothered me. Not because of the obvious, you know, attempted murder. But because it was an intimate secret of Miranda’s I had never known. Which was just silly, honestly. There was bound to be stuff I didn’t know, and yet…

I was a little jealous. Of a killer. Because they had known.

“What else do I not know about you?” I asked aloud before I could stop myself.

She eyed me carefully before chiding, “I am not that predictable.”

“Oh yeah?  Ask me something you think is a super secret about you.”

“When’s my birthday?”

Miranda Priestly, ladies and gentlemen.

I scoffed playfully, “Don’t insult me.  Who do you think set your doctor’s appointments and picked up your prescriptions?  You’re a celebrity, ask me something not on Wikipedia, please.”

She rolled her eyes and looked away at the wall.

“This is childish.”

“Then admit I’m right,” I practically sang, crossing my arms and leaning back into the couch.

Her head whipped back immediately.

“My favorite tea?”

“You hate tea, you just drink in front of certain foreign clients you need to impress.  You will tolerate a very mild black tea.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Favorite film?”

My Fair Lady .”

Her eyes widened ever so slightly.

For the record, I was extremely proud of that one. I overheard Miranda humming in the office late one night when she must’ve thought I had walked away. It took seeing an Audrey Hempburn inspired photoshoot weeks later for me to connect the dots. 

“Harry Potter house?”

I smirked. “Your Hogwarts house is Slytherin.  You don’t know what that means, but the girls told you about it, and you know how much they love the books, so you go along with it.”

Her shoulders deflated almost imperceptibly. She glanced away with a hollow laugh.

“Caroline said they’re the evil ones.”

“They’re...often evil.  But mostly just ambitious,” I replied with a small, reassuring smile.  She must miss the twins.

Her eyes moved back to meet mine, a slight wrinkle forming at the corners. Not wincing, not glaring, simply observing and contemplating. It felt oddly intimate being this close and having her inspect me, as she once did, always looking down at my body and assessing my wardrobe. I swallowed. 

Her chest rose as she inhaled, as if she were about to speak, but no words came. Instead, the corners of her lips turned upwards into a bewitching smile.

I immediately recognized it.

Everyone wants to be us.

She really was haunting me.

She didn’t eat. She didn’t sleep. Her steps made no noise, and I could never smell perfume or sense any body heat. But her presence the past two days was starting to consume me again nonetheless.  She was constant, in my home, by my side.  A team. Partners.

Us.

No.

Even in a world where ghosts were real, it was impossible. She just wanted an assistant to match her ambition. My love held no place then, and it didn’t now.

I shot her a quick grin before turning back to the TV, desperate for any distraction.  I simmered in my awkwardness in silence as voiceless mouths moved on the screen.

After a moment, she snarkily asked, “Do you actually enjoy this drivel?”

I shrugged, thankful for the subject change. “Sometimes it’s nice to know no matter how bad my life might be going, at least it isn’t that bad.  Like look at that botched fake spray tan?  My pale ass doesn’t seem so tragic.”

When I glanced over, I expected a frown or judging, raised eyebrow. Instead, she nodded once, refocusing on the TV.

Interesting.

I picked up the remote and unmuted the sound.  We watched for another hour or two before we went to bed. 

Miranda Priestly actually snorted in laughter. Twice.

Chapter Text

Ice Queen Freezes Fans

Solid metaphor usage.

Fashion Dragon’s Five Hottest Outfits

Fire symbolism, cool, got it.

Devil in Dolce Dishes All

Nice alliteration, I guess.

To be fair, I didn’t exactly have a Pulitzer Prize or anything in my back pocket, but at least I was a better writer than some of this garbage.  I was about three months deep into past gossip columns from various magazines and newspapers, scouring the internet for any mention of Miranda Priestly and possible leads on who may want to do the editor harm.  Not so shockingly, people were either obsessed with her or commenting how they’d love to kill her.

As I skimmed another article, Miranda bent over behind me, inspecting the screen over my shoulder.

Paladin of Prada . How reverent,” she practically purred in my ear.

I smirked as I clicked back to an open document to take some notes. No sassy comebacks allowed while I was at work. I’d bit my tongue more than once already lest everyone in the office question my sanity any more than they had last week.

Speaking of which, my coworkers were awfully quiet.

I stood up from my desk chair to stretch, glancing over the cubicle walls. The steady buzz of working bees still permeated the floor, but the screaming of deadlines and demanding draft copies was oddly absent the past few minutes.  A group was huddled in the corner, hunched over someone’s computer. 

And Miranda accused me of being dramatic.

“I can hear you guys whispering,” I called over with a smirk, “You might as well tell me before I see it on the news.”

No rumor could surprise me at this point considering my spectral accomplice.

One of my coworkers offered a sheepish smile before glancing back at the others. I could see the collective sigh, and the smile was gone when he turned back towards me and licked his lips.

“Apparently Priestly told her lawyer years ago to pull the plug if she was ever in a coma for more than two weeks.”

My heart plummeted.

“Oh.”

That was a surprise.

He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. “We’re sorry, Andy, that’s why we didn’t say anything.”

The pitying looks from last week were back in full force.

“It’s fine. You’re fine!” I awkwardly forced back with a sharp laugh before I plopped down into my seat, face concealed by the cubicle once more.

I was not fine.

My fingers grappled for the computer mouse, immediately refreshing the search results on the name I had already been using to comb the archives.

New articles now populated.

Priestly Lawyer: Pull the Plug

“Andrea.”  Miranda’s voice couldn’t pull me away from the sea of words starting to drown me on the screen.

Editor’s New Deadline

“Andy.”

I felt like I was going to throw up.

A hand touched my shoulder.

I whipped my head around to see my boss frowning down at me with concern.  An automatic apology clumsily toppled from my lips as his hand fell away.

He leaned on my desk and muttered in a soft, dad-like tone, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”

I shook my head, embarrassment starting to heat my face. “I don’t want to leave you short staffed.”

How could I explain she was so much more than a former employer? 

His kind eyes looked directly at me as he hunched forward and stated quietly, “Look, I know she called you a ‘disappointment,’ but it seems like you two were close.  I mean, you were devastated the day we all found out.”

My eyes fell to the floor. I couldn’t look at him, and I certainly couldn’t look at Miranda.

He gently commanded, “Go home, get some rest.  Try to get your mind off of it.  Being here will just give you live updates every five minutes.”

I looked up and managed to give him a nod. 

“Thanks, boss.”

He offered a smile and made his exit.  Then I quickly shoved my belongings into my messenger bag so I could do the same.  I could see Miranda in the corner of my eye following me as I trudged down the hallway and into the stairwell.

Pure panic pumped through me. Numbers and dates dizzily spun around my mind, and the math made me stagger on the steps and grip the handrail.

A week. Miranda had maybe a week.

I didn’t have any jokes left. My lungs felt empty, like a punch to the stomach. We were already on borrowed time.  I continued to only stare down as I descended, afraid to look at her, afraid of the tears I felt stinging, afraid all my feelings would claw their way out.

Get your shit together, Sachs.

By the time I made it to the ground floor and flung the door open, I had shoved the urge to cry very, very far down. Blue sky reminded me to breathe.  The weather was cool, and my vision was no longer spinning as roughly as it had been.

I couldn’t waste precious time.

I inhaled deeply before sighing loudly, “Let me guess.  You forgot.”

Miranda silently stepped next to me, staring at the people walking by on the sidewalk.

“It was a long time ago.  I certainly did not predict this being a reality,” she stated calmly, tilting her head thoughtfully.

I gulped down more air.

“Do you think...this whole specter thing ends if they…”

“There was no instruction manual,” she countered nonchalantly before she turned to me and asked, “Were you truly devastated?”

I shrugged dismissively, as if my boss hadn’t just unknowingly told my ex-boss I had some rather, uh, potent feelings towards her.

“I was a tiny bit upset.  That’s not the important thing we just learned, Miranda,” I said as I turned to face her, the worry leaking into my voice, “I can’t stop them from carrying out your legal wishes.”

Her expression didn’t change, and she merely turned back to the busy street, as if contemplating a landscape painting.

“This changes nothing. We simply need to act more quickly.”

I shook my head, my hands clenching the strap of my bag. “We don’t have a lot to go on.”

“You can do anything,” she said quietly.

“Stop saying that,” I whispered back fiercely, the dread building in my chest once more, “This is…you could…”

You could die, Miranda.

The specter slid her hands into her pants pockets, her head still lifted high, peering down at the world passing by. I watched her as she silently and unflinchingly watched New York bustle around us.

“While I have a strong preference for being alive,” she began slowly, “if my life is forfeit, so be it. Even if I cease to exist, my reputation must be cleared, for the sake of my girls.”

She finally turned to face me fully.

“There are few people…” she trailed off before starting again, “There is no one else I can physically ask. However, current limitations aside, there is no one else I would trust with something as important as my life, or perhaps more precisely, my life’s meaning.”

I felt my lips part, the breath stuck in my throat. She looked at me with no fear, no desperation. Cool but determined, the blue fire of her eyes offered me complete and utter trust.  Her dedication to a life of art, a mother’s love for her children, I was to protect these precious parts of her even if she passed.

No. Her resolution gave me strength. I would fight for Miranda’s life. She would live.

A week.

I swallowed.

“I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

Mmm, salty goodness, come to Momma.

B3.

Shit.

I watched helplessly as the bag of chips refused to fall and be claimed.

I had told the nurses I was a close family friend. In my defense, that lie was spontaneous and not my most intelligent. However, they seemed to accept I would be hanging around, maybe talking to myself in Miranda’s room, maybe lurking around the floor, totally not on a stakeout.

I totally was on a stakeout.

We were sorely out of clues, and after the big news from yesterday, I had gotten desperate. Someone was bound to show up in connection to Miranda.  Unfortunately, so far the most exciting thing after three hours was the snack machine just ate my dollar.

As I grumbled a few choice curses under my breath to fish out some more change from my bag, Miranda quipped, “Your diet is fascinating.”

“Beats hospital food,” I grunted back.

“A substantial breakfast would reduce the need to snack on empty carbohydrates.”

She was judging my morning Poptart now.

“I was running late, and I had to at least show my face at the office this morning before I could lie about leaving to chase down a story,” I sighed, retrieving my wallet once more, “I already know I’m fat by fashion industry standards, so no need to comment.”

When there was no sarcastic rebuff, I looked up to find Miranda standing in the hallway, arms crossed, still inspecting me.  I was tucked into the tiny break room on Miranda’s floor that housed the vending machines and a coffee maker near the small lounge for visitors.

After a moment, she advised, “Nutrition is important, a busy individual like yourself could hurt themselves.”

I blinked. She actually sounded concerned.

“I’ll be fine,” I muttered with an assuring grin before focusing on digging out the change from my wallet.

Something bright caught my attention against the sterile white of the hospital walls. Mustard yellow?

My eyes sought the color and located its owner, a woman in a very tight dress sitting in the lounge, long legs crossed, a magazine plopped on her lap.  Her make up highlighted full lips, and the neckline provided a very generous view.

“Why are you staring at that woman?” Miranda’s voice interrupted my observation.

“I’m not staring,” I muttered dismissively out of the instinctual, bisexual panic at being caught, quickly looking back down at my hand full of coins to continue counting.

But something was just off . I glanced back up. Stylish heels. Slick hairstyle. Numerous accessories. Recent manicure. The dress…

“You are staring.  Most intently,” Miranda stepped closer, now inspecting the woman as well.

“I was looking at her outfit.”

She quickly analyzed, “Hm.  Dior.  Last season.”

“Right. Who wears that to a hospital?” I whispered, stepping back further into the hidden alcove of the breakroom, “Do you recognize her?”

When Miranda pursed her lips, I groaned, throwing the money back in my bag, “I forgot, you’re the woman that needs assistants to stand behind you and feed you names on a daily basis.”

She raised an eyebrow and coyly replied, “Others should strive to be more noteworthy and worthy of remembrance.”

I slowly inched forward once more, peeking out the entryway at the small sitting area.

“She’s not turning the pages.”

Elle hardly requires more than a fourth grade reading level, it shouldn’t take that long to peruse.”

“That’s because she’s not reading,” I breathed out quietly, “She’s watching your room.”

I watched as our suspect’s eyes darted from Miranda’s room to a nurse walking by, back down to her magazine.  A beat passed, she inspected the corridor and the room once more. Suddenly, she was on her feet, magazine discarded on the chair, and heels clicking as she made her way to where Miranda’s body rested.

Miranda jerked her head towards the room.  “A little urgency to ensure she’s not pulling my plug shouldn’t be so difficult, yes?”

I flinched, about to move at the instruction, but remained rooted.  We had to play this very carefully.

“There’s cameras all over the place, she’d be an idiot to try anything,” I hissed, unmoving from my hiding spot, “If you’re that worried, glide on over and peek through the wall, Casper.”

Miranda narrowed her eyes with a frown, probably still not used to being told no, even from yours truly.  When I still didn’t budge, she huffed, rolled her eyes, and made her way across the hall, phasing through the wall and disappearing from sight.

I fought a smile. Even I had to admit ghost powers were pretty cool.

I waited. And waited. My heart pounded loudly in my ears.

When our mystery stranger appeared at the door, I turned back innocently to the vending machine, mimicking an indecisive patron, concealing my face.  As she retreated down the hall, Miranda emerged from the wall with a slight shake of her head.

As I took a few careful steps into the hallway, she silently approached me and said, “She simply stared.”

Interesting.

“So much for feeling special my name was on the list,” I pouted, my eyes not leaving the yellow dress, “Apparently security lets anyone just waltz in.”

Miranda hummed, “Special, is that really the word you’d use?”

“Careful, you’ll hurt my feelings,” I quipped back just as our new friend turned a corner, and I immediately started booking it behind her.

Miranda quickly caught up beside me.

“Where are you going?”

“Um, tailing her? This is our only lead.”

She was headed to the elevators. I rushed to the stairwell and bolted down the multiple flights of steps.  I was maybe more than a little breathless by the time I reached the bottom.

Thankfully, the color was easy enough to spot, and I picked up the trail in the lobby. When she made her exit, I hustled to the door, whipping my head around at the already crowded afternoon streets.

There! I started trailing her, remaining a few yards away, head down and powering forward seemingly like every other New Yorker.

The game was afoot.

Did it feel a little creepy stalking a woman across the city?  Sure.  Was it the weirdest thing I had done for Miranda? Probably not.

One thing was clear, this chick was a professional Clacker. I would know, I was one. No one else could fly across the city in heels at that velocity while dodging foot traffic. The endurance alone was impressive.

After a few blocks and a direction change towards Times Square, I looked up at the upcoming skyline. My mental map was working overtime.

“Condé Nast,” I thought aloud before it hit me, “ Vogue .”  

I turned to Miranda as I continued forward and asked, “Do you think Anna Wintour ordered a hit on you?”

Miranda snorted back, “Do you think if she did, she would send a mediocre employee to just check-in?”

I looked forward at our yellow target.  “How do you know she’s mediocre?”

“As I said, the Dior was noticeably last season, in a very obnoxious color,” she sighed before continuing, “Anna could afford people that specialize in that type of thing and wouldn’t botch it the first time.”

“And how do you know that?”

She smirked almost imperceptibly.  “I can afford the same thing.”

“Oh gee, mafia assassin connections.  I wonder why someone tried to murder you,” I exclaimed sarcastically, earning a side eye from a fellow pedestrian.  I’d forgotten my deceptive headphones in our rush.

“I’m surprised as well,” Miranda drawled, “One could assume that would intimidate most would-be assailants.”

I stifled a laugh. Before I could reply, my internal alarm bells sounded as the woman in the yellow dress dipped into the building I had suspected was our destination. I immediately bolted towards the doors, ignoring the flyer posted on the glass, and ripping them open to charge inside.

The foyer was grand and clean granite like Elias-Clarke. A security desk further in awaited guests seeking visitor's badges. Without thought, I pushed forward, speed walking towards my target, who was fishing an ID from her purse to swipe past the turnstiles leading to the elevators and offices beyond.

I had to get her before she made it past security.  I pulled out my phone.

“What on earth are you doing?” Miranda’s voice called behind me.

I flashed a quick smirk and muttered, “Being the press has its perks.”

Here goes nothing.

I plowed into our new friend.

She yelped as I gasped, both of us somehow managing not to fall over. Her ID badge fell to the floor, and I made a show of my cell falling from my hand in the tussle (praise be to sturdy phone cases) and clattering against the floor.

“Oh, shit, I am so sorry!” I exclaimed, immediately kneeling down to secure my phone and her lanyard.

Once the surprise waned, she produced a polite smile and replied. “It’s fine, really.”

As I stood up and offered her the badge back, I lied with a dramatic shake of the head, “I was so busy trying to figure out where the heck I was going, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Are you lost?”

Score.

“I’m a reporter, for the Mirror . Was hoping to find the Vogue office and see if anyone was willing to interview about Miranda Priestly,” I explained with a shrug, adjusting my messenger bag on my shoulder.

The woman wrinkled her brow.  “You know she worked for a different magazine, right?”

“Yeah, it’s more a piece on her presence in the overall industry. Even competitors,” I said sheepishly as I gestured vaguely at the building before leaning in surreptitiously, “You know, I keep getting people saying how sad it is, but then you hear all these rumors.”

I watched from the corner of my eye, seemingly uncaring, as the wheels started turning. I really, really needed this to work.

Take the bait, Yellow.

After a moment, she hesitantly asked, “Is it anonymous?”

Hook, line, and sinker.

“It can be,” I countered with a knowing smirk, nodding to a quieter corner of the lobby.

As we started to walk over, bumping elbows, she quietly admitted, “I was actually her assistant.  Just over two years ago.  Took months of therapy.”

“Wow,” I uttered breathlessly in my fake surprise, “I heard she was pretty tough to work for.”

“You have no idea,” she sighed as we stopped near a bench and potted plants, crossing her arms, “It’s hard here too, but I was able to get into a department I loved.”

“Have you seen her since then?” I asked casually, trying not to act desperate to solve a murder. 

I watched as fingers nervously fidgeted where they rested on her arm. “You’re sure it’s anonymous?”

I gave her the nicest smile I could and gently observed, “I haven’t asked your name.”

She nodded, tucking a stray lock of hair that escaped a clean bun behind her ear. I saw the slow intake of breath.

“I snuck into the hospital to see her,” she whispered, eyeing me warily. I was sure to widen my eyes to the appropriate shock level.

“Can I ask why?”

She winced as she answered, “I just wanted to see her vulnerable. So that maybe I could finally forgive her, you know?”

She looked at me now, eyes searching mine for what I guessed was validation. That, if I had been in her place, I would understand. That I was sympathetic to her plight.

Little did she know, her and I were not so different. I saw the hurt in her eyes, and I recognized it. This woman was telling the truth. She had simply gone looking for closure for her empty sadness, not some dark malice.

“Did you forgive her?” I asked before I even realized it.

She blinked, seemingly surprised by my question. Her gaze narrowed on the floor beneath us, body still rigid and arms still crossed.

“No,” she muttered darkly, “the bitch can rot.”

I could’ve simply nodded or prodded her along in support. The empathy was certainly there. I had been her.  An excuse could’ve easily freed me from this dead end and I could’ve walked away.

Instead, I stood straighter.

“You know, I actually got to meet her,” I began, looking around the foyer, “And I’m not saying she’s the nicest person ever, but…she didn’t really get to be a normal person.  She had to be who she was to do her job. You don’t get to be amazing and normal.  And that’s all she really wanted from anyone else. She holds up people like you or me to the same standards as herself.  Problem is, she’s just not normal.  She’s, well, Miranda Priestly,” I assessed with a small chuckle.

I met the woman’s eyes. She wasn’t smiling back.

“It doesn’t make it right,” I continued firmly, “But maybe you can still think about forgiving her after seeing her vulnerable.  Because it all still cost her something.  Everything, it turns out.”

Miranda’s life meant something. Couldn’t she see that?

She stared at me quietly for a moment.

“What did you say your name was?”

Crap.

“An-Amy,” I stammered, “Amy Snacks.”

“Miss…Snacks,” she repeated slowly, narrowing her eyes.

Abort mission.

“Thank you so much for your comments, Anonymous,” I immediately crooned before turning and calling over my shoulder, “Have a good day, best of luck with your career!”

I then very maturely hauled ass across the lobby.

“Snacks,” Miranda deadpanned as she suddenly appeared next to me.

“Look, I realized once I started talking that using my real name wasn’t a good idea, and I panicked,” I whispered to my invisible companion as I pushed against the door to make my exit.

As soon as I stepped outside, it hit me that I had no next destination. I collapsed pathetically against the side of the building, pressing my back to the wall.  I needed a breather after that stressful undercover ordeal. A man nursing a cigarette while on a call nearby barely glanced over before turning away to continue his conversation.

I stared at some tourists across the street bickering over a map of the city, fanny packs and all. It was hard not to relate to feeling lost right now.  This paranormal detective shit was hard.

“Did you forgive me?” Miranda’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

I turned to face her. “What do you mean?”

“Your speech,” she clarified gently, inspecting me carefully, “Seeing me vulnerable, recommending she forgive me. Did you?”

I answered immediately, “Yes.”

The neutral mask of her face twitched; I had surprised her. A horn honked in the distance as my chest kept hammering through the adrenaline of our chase and into the anxiety of whatever judgement she was passing.

She looked away and muttered pensively, “I suppose that dreary hospital lighting did some good.”

“It wasn’t at the hospital,” I mumbled, shoving my hands in my jean pockets, “It was in your hotel room.  In Paris.”

She had been human. Real. After all she had sacrificed for the sake of honorable things like art and literature, she deserved to be cherished and loved for her genuine self, not the hollow persona she had become to attain greatness. I saw it. I thought she saw that I knew and understood. 

Her voice sounded far away when she commented, “So it was pity.”

I thought she saw me before she shoved me away.

I shook my head. “Never.  I just finally understood you.  Or at least I thought I did.”

Her eyes found mine again. My chest hurt.

“I thought you did too.” She almost sounded sad. Almost.

I shook my head, sighing, “It’s not that.”

I looked over her shoulder, searching for the right words. Instead, I spotted the flyer taped to the glass door behind her.

Wait…

“Is Elias-Clarke in on a publisher benefit tonight?” I asked eagerly, stepping towards her and nodding to the poster.

She turned around, inspecting the advertisement.

“Yes.  This is a yearly function typically on my rotation,” she explained confidently with a nod, “A few of our publications have representatives attend, mine included.”

We were back in business!

“Huh.  Well, luckily, I know someone that owes me a favor,” I declared triumphantly, fishing out my phone from my back pocket to score an invite.

“Another cop that wishes to personally investigate your bedroom?” Miranda drawled as I typed a text.

“Ew, no.  One of the assistants at Auto Universe . I fostered some kittens for him.”

“An inspection under the hood then?”

I looked up from the screen and glared at her.  “Miranda Priestly’s ghost is haunting me with dirty jokes, unbelievable.”

She rolled her eyes commenting, “I was merely under the impression you were with someone during your tenure as my assistant.  There appears to be no non-spectral occupants in your apartment besides yourself.”

I felt my face flush. First Paris, now this? Seriously?

“I was with someone, but that ended even before my ‘tenure’ did,” I muttered before pausing and asking, “How did you know about Nate?”

“You spoke of him,” she stated simply.

“To Emily.”

“In the office.”

“You were listening? To us mortals?” I countered back jokingly, starting to inch my way back to the sidewalk to begin the journey home.

She snorted, following me, showing no reaction to the pedestrians that passed through her in their commute. I managed to type out a text as I weaved through people and bodies. The benefit brought hope, and with it my mind started forming a game plan. I pocketed my cell and walked determinedly onwards, a new bounce in my step.

After a block, however, I could still feel her staring at me.

Ugh, fine.

I spoke up, still facing forward, “Nate hated my job. My life sort of revolved around you.  Didn’t leave room for much else.”

There was just a contemplative hum beside me as we continued, and I hoped I sated her curiosity enough for that sensitive topic to drop.

Instead, from my peripheral, her beautiful face still looked at me and asked, “And now?”

And now, I’m still crazy about you is what I was not going to say.

“And now...you’re still here. Clearly still can’t live without me, and I really mean live ,” I jeered with an added melodramatic sigh, once again hiding behind a joke.

Time refocus on our real problems, not my love life.

“Our best bet is to get to that gala, listen for rumors, and see if surrounding you with members of the fashion world sparks any memories that’ll help us.”

I looked over to see if she liked the plan.  Miranda smoothed back her hair despite not having a single white lock out place. Spirits didn’t get frizzy, apparently.

“Do you believe that will work?” she asked airily.

That was a loaded question. I hoped it worked.

Hope, my God, I live on it.

Maybe she was hoping it would too.

I shrugged. “I thought about sneaking into your office, but this will have a lot of key players from the whole industry,” I reasoned before snidely adding, “Plus, at this point, it’s either that or call the Ghost Busters.”

Miranda rolled her eyes and turned her head away from me, but not before I saw her smirk.

Chapter Text

“Patrick?”

“In France. Also too well paid.”

I bit my lip, looking down at my laptop perched on my lap and running through my list of suspects.

“Irv?”

Miranda lightly shook her head. “Murder is excessive. For him, everything is strictly business.”

“Nice Godfather reference. I’m still listing him as a maybe,” I replied chipperly, highlighting the name with a click.

Miranda continued to pace around the hospital room. After the security breach, we both agreed this was the best spot to both monitor and brainstorm. While she had mastered my couch with much practice, she still phased through the furniture here, so sitting wasn’t an option. I had curled up on the chair by the window and recommended running through some names in an attempt to distract us both from her frail form lying nearby and tune out the beeping life support.

“Jacqueline?”

Another shake of the head. “Also in France. She’s been in Europe almost the whole year.”

“She doesn’t seem smart enough to plan an international killing anyway,” I muttered, digitally crossing out the French editor’s name.

Miranda glanced over as she silently passed by, almost purring, “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

I smiled back before turning to the computer screen once more, typing a few notes, searching for another name to offer her.

“You can likely remove Christian Thompson,” her voice nonchalantly called to me.

Fuck, shit, damnit.  She couldn’t know about that, could she?

My eyes darted over my laptop screen to look at her.

“Yeah?”

She nodded, still stepping slowly around the room.

“After his brief partnership with Jacqueline, Mr. Thompson has been spending a great deal of time on the West Coast, so you can likely remove him from any lists,” she explained smoothly, glancing out the window. 

“I wasn’t really worried about him trying to hurt you,” I replied carefully.

The pacing paused. Her eyes were now on me.

“You two were close,” she stated evenly.

Aaaaaand there it was.

“Probably more briefly than him and Jacqueline,” I mumbled as I closed my laptop.

Miranda was subtle to most.  But I could tell there was more here, and now was as good a time as any to find out what. Maybe if I knew her angle, I could figure out how to best avoid the whole ‘Miranda, I love you’ disaster.

I shuffled in my seat, crossing my legs, leaving the device on my lap. She didn’t look away.

Summoning as casual a tone as possible, I looked up and said, “You’ve been awfully interested in my dating life.”

Her poker face held true, and the turn back towards the window was painfully slow, dare I say glacial. Always thoughtful, always reserved, always calm.

“There is much you know about me,” she murmured softly.

I guess even Miranda Priestly got a little curious. But she would never admit it.

“So you want to even the playing field? You could just ask me,” I offered gently with a grin.

She looked back over to me.

“You don’t seem to regret his absence.”

“That’s not really a question, but I’ll play,” I chuckled before leaning back in my chair and recalling, “He was a really messy mistake and rebound.  He pretended to like my work when Nate just outwardly hated what I was doing for my career.  So, I let him get me drunk and take me to his hotel room. That’s how I found out about the whole plot to take you down,” I summarized with a wince, fingers tracing the logo on my laptop.

Rebound. I didn’t need to admit it was because I was more upset leaving Miranda’s room in Paris than I was breaking up with my boyfriend of three years.

Miranda nodded once, placing her hands on her hips as she turned back to the window.

“Hm. I suppose blacklisting him merited some justice then.”

“What?” I choked back.

“He allied with the enemy. He subsequently found limited employment opportunities here,” she explained, eyes sparkling in the light from the window.

My lips twitched to fight a smile. “You didn’t.”

Miranda’s head turned to look down where I sat. 

“A more gallant suitor would not have needed to intoxicate and heavily persuade you,” she declared sternly, “Just as a more worthy paramour would support your career.”

She hadn’t done it for me...but it almost felt like she did.

My lips curled upwards fully now.

“Might make Christian a suspect if you messed with his job,” I chided lightly.

She sighed, “He is living quite lucratively writing in Hollywood circles. I wish my revenge was more deserving of murder.”

I laughed before shaking my head, looking down at the tile on the floor. “Christian went to California, Nate went to Boston, maybe I’m the problem.”

Miranda looked pointedly around the room as if in deep thought. “He was a chef, yes? I have connections to the culinary scene there I could use.”

“You can spare him,” I snorted, “If Nate’s biggest crime wasn’t standing around for my big break, I can’t blame him, he’d still be waiting.”

Her eyes settled on me, a smirk teasing the corners of her lips. “Nonsense. That article on the rat poison was rather clever.”

My fingers fiddling with the edge of my laptop froze.

“You read the Mirror ?” 

Sapphire did not waver above me, still twinkling in the afternoon sunlight, staring at me.  The heart monitor near us beeped.

“Occasionally.”

Was it suddenly really hot in here? Just me?

I snatched the laptop and hopped up from my seat, shuffling to the corner with my bag. Head low, face concealed, running away from her eyes and my feelings. Very smooth, I know.

“We should probably head back home so I can get ready,” I suggested innocently, slipping the machine into the pouch.

As I turned back, Miranda glanced at the clock on the wall and raised an eyebrow. “The gala isn’t for another four hours.”

I barked a laugh as I slipped my bag over my shoulder. “Not all of us are always red carpet ready. It’s gonna take a while.”

After all, we had to dig up another ghost.

We needed Andrea.

Chapter Text

The sweetness of my cocktail spilled across my tongue as my eyes swept across the large museum foyer brimming with guests.  Publishers and their representatives, donors with heavy pockets, and anyone else inclined to the limelight of the public stage all milled about, and I among them.  There was something rather seductive about it, even I found myself once again dazzled by the flashing lights and pretty outfits. But the importance of my mission kept me grounded, reminding me exactly why Andy would always remain in control even while Andrea played.

Now, dear reader, you might be wondering how I could go from Andy to Andrea back to Andy and suddenly one dress and pair of heels later, Andrea was once again on the scene, walking through the Met’s doors like she hadn’t taken a sketchy taxi instead of a town car to get there.

You’re in luck.  Here are the tips I learned in my time at fashion heaven before my inevitable fall from grace:

Nigel’s advice was to always make sure the ladies were facing forward. For clarity’s sake, he was referring to the bosom.  Apparently, crooked boobs ruined the artistic quality of a gown, even for a gay man.

Emily’s general mantra was to always apply more mascara than you think you need and walk like you’re pissed off.

I even have subtle tips from the matriarch herself, Miranda Priestly, who never once nodded at anything olive. Not moss, not emerald, not pear. Olive. Take your puke green elsewhere.

As for me? Well, the Sach’s Runway signature, direct from me to you, is simple enough.

Fake it ‘till you make it.

I easily slipped past throngs of people, or rather, Andrea slinked by with her coy smile and head held high.  After securing my drink, I was completing a lap around the grand room, inspecting faces, eavesdropping on conversations, isolating possible targets or leads.

“It’s chilly,” a voice whined behind me.

I looked over my shoulder to see Miranda’s form crossing through multiple bodies with each step on the crowded floor to follow me. She was shaking her head at the woman that had just complained of the cold to her partner. Miranda looked at me and rolled her eyes.

With a smirk, I turned forward once more and tried to find a more open section for my ghost counterpart.  After a few steps towards the outer ring of the dance floor, I paused to seemingly sip at my drink, allowing Miranda a moment of respite without spooking unknowing guests.

Unfortunately, that’s when I spotted a particular redhead.

“Shit, Emily is here,” I muttered into my glass so only Miranda would hear, “Why would she come if she doesn’t need to help you remember everyone’s name?”

Her white head bobbed towards my beverage. “I suspect the free libations might have something to do with it.”

Emily’s hands were heavily animated, face expressive, evidently in heated conversation. I shook my head as a young man beside her rolled his eyes, inciting her excitement further.

“Probably guarding your legacy knowing her,” I sighed, turning to glance at the sitting area of barstools and cocktail tables, “My plan to perch at the bar in plain sight all evening isn’t going to work with her around.”

If she spotted me, my cover would be blown for sure.

“You could peruse the artwork,” Miranda reasoned, looking towards the nearby hallway lined with frames.

It would limit how many people Miranda could see, but it was better than nothing. Maybe Emily would leave with a little time. I started to casually stroll towards the adjoining wing nearby.

“You mean actually look at the paintings at an art gallery? Crazy,” I teased under my breath.

“I miss having the time to do so at functions such as this one.”

I snorted. “Kinda hard when you barely spend fifteen minutes at the function to begin with.”

We dipped into the entryway and found the room mostly empty, the loud noise of the foyer lessening with each step. One or two people had also taken time to themselves to enjoy what the museum had to offer. A man and woman were flirting shamelessly by the looks of things behind a potted plant in the corner.

Miranda continued, “I rather loathe the social aspect of this industry.”

“I thought that was part of the appeal,” I murmured softly, moving to observe a large painting before me. The gesture was mainly to keep my back to any other guests.

Miranda stepped beside me, also inspecting the art.  “For some.  I prefer using fashion as my voice.”  

I raised my drink to my lips and smirked over the edge of the glass. “The power to choose what people wear from a room full of stuff ?”

Blue flashed away from the wall to me. Apparently my little jab from the past had hit the mark, but I had expected a roll of the eyes, a dramatic wave, a chiding comeback, something from our usual dance. Instead, she looked back at me with something I didn’t recognize. Not anger. But it was just as sharp.

I turned to move and look at the next painting, casting a quick search about the room for any new faces, but I still felt her eyes on me. She quietly appeared once again on my left, close enough that the air cooled between us. My strapless dress left my arms exposed to the unique sensation.

“While you have been removed from this world for a brief period of time, you’ve returned with ease,” her voice calmly assessed.

I kept my eyes glued to the dark background of the portrait in front of me.

“Hardly.”

“You handled the entry and mingling to get to this point gracefully.”

“It was the disguise,” I replied dismissively, moving on to the next piece, “Even I couldn’t resist keeping one or two things from the Closet and your pile of rejected freebie presents after Emily called dibs.”

This time, as Miranda followed, she stepped to the side of the artwork, facing me. The editorial gaze was sliding down my body. I forced my breathing to remain steady.

“You kept the classic pieces that will age well.  A formal black dress highlighting the right features can be timeless,” she assessed, finally resting her eyes on my face as she spoke.

Andrea basked under the inspection. I tried to shove her back down.

“Are you admitting I actually have a fashion sense?” I bantered back.

“Perhaps,” Miranda mused, beginning to step around me, “I could alternatively be complimenting whomever taught you.”

“Oh? Nigel?”

I heard a scoff behind me. She had clearly meant herself.

Reappearing on my other side, she commented authoritatively, “In any case, it takes more than the selection of the right dress to make it look acceptable.”

I raised an eyebrow, assuming the teasing retribution was coming. “Oh really? What else does it take?”

There was no scathing comeback. Instead, she tilted her head thoughtfully, halo of white hair almost looking angelic against the black of the baroque painting behind her. She licked her lips.

“The right figure,” she stated simply.

My mouth went dry. It had to be a joke. The alternative was too warm a compliment for her. I was getting too warm.

“Not sure how a ‘fat’ girl like me has the right figure,” I jested, beginning to move on to the next painting.

Miranda, however, stepped into my path. I instinctually stopped. The chill now crept up my chest and collar bones, a stark contrast to the heat simmering just beneath the surface.

“Still harping on that?” she questioned gently, almost a whisper, “You always had precisely the right figure.”

You are very fetching.

My lips parted, but nothing came out. Words and air were stuck.

Those damn eyes were inspecting me again, and I watched helplessly as they flickered back and forth, fearing their judgement. Suddenly, they twitched and transfixed at something over my shoulder, and Miranda frowned.

“Rembrandt.”

Huh? The Danish dude?

“What?” I rasped.

Her eyes narrowed. “The painting.”

“What about it?” I asked, carefully turning so as not to draw attention to myself.

“The woman next to it.”

Despite my lack of any art history training, the person in question was easy enough to spot in the mostly empty room. A deep red dress, very blonde, very pretty. This new stranger seemed more interested in her phone and sipping on her drink than the art.

“Who is she?” I whispered, turning oh so casually back to our painting.

There was no answer.

“Miranda.”

She winced slightly as she continued to stare over my shoulder. Her fingers brushed against her temple. “She seems familiar.”

Miranda was not in the habit of apologizing (she’d probably combust), but I noticed the sad disappointment of her tone.

I gave a single, slight nod. This had been the plan. It had to mean something.

Well, cheers.

With a turn, I raised my drink to my lips, my other arm hanging lazily by my side with my clutch dangling from a loop around my wrist. Gliding past the art with a bored expression, heels clicking like a calm, steady heartbeat, I inched closer until the huge canvas before me was adjacent to hers.

I made a show of looking up and gasping lightly. The woman’s attention separated from her phone, and she looked up at me.

I leaned forward and announced sweetly, “I just have to tell you, I love your dress.”

Shock switched to a smirk. “Thanks. Valentino.”

“It’s fake,” Miranda intoned darkly behind me. Forget murder, to her, this was clearly the bigger crime.

“Are you with one of the businesses here?” I asked, taking a step closer, faking another sip of my beverage.

She shook her head as she placed a hand on her hip. “I used to work for Runway , but I’m here now on a friend’s invite.  The publishing world is smaller than it looks.”

Girl, trust me, you wouldn’t believe how small.

“I’m so jealous, my job here at the museum only gets exciting when we host events like this,” I gushed, gesturing down to her outfit, “I bet you got all sorts of cool dresses when you worked there.”

With a shrug, she glanced back down at her phone and drawled, “It had its perks, but working for that bitch Priestly was hardly worth it.”

My eyes went wide before I could stop them. Fuck.

“You worked with Miranda?” I gasped to match my genuine surprise, “The Miranda?”

“One of her assistants,” she confirmed as she looked up from her cell.

I heard Miranda inhale quickly behind me. I guess that cleared the confusion.

“So what’s the deal? She as mean as they say?” I prodded her, eyebrows still quizzically raised as I took another fake sip.

Who didn’t love to gossip? 

The woman scoffed, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “Worse. She would throw her coat and shit on my desk everyday. Constant coffee runs, last minute demands for meals she wouldn’t even touch. Pain in the ass.”

Nothing out of the ordinary there.

“That’s crazy, I probably would’ve just quit,” I commented, shaking my head.

Oh wait, I did quit.  Funny, right?

“Ugh, she fired me before I could, but I was on my way out anyway. My boyfriend knows a modeling agent,” the woman smiled primly as she spoke before her phone lit up, “Aaand that would be him. Gotta run. Nice meeting you.”

“Same.” I offered a small wave and watched her walk away.

She hadn’t said anything too different than our friend at Vogue . But Yellow had been sad. Not a killer, probably.  As for our new acquaintance, Red, the anger was on a different level, though not unexpected. If I was a drunk stranger in the women’s bathroom at a bar, I would’ve loved the sassy energy, but now?

Something was off.  Call it the hunch of a scrappy journalist. What else was I going to do all night?

Once she turned the corner back into the foyer, I began to follow her.

“She worked for you and you didn’t remember? How many assistants have you gone through after me?” I muttered to the specter I assumed was following me.

“I have more important concerns on a daily basis,” Miranda retorted neutrally, voice close behind.

“Just admit you missed me,” I sang teasingly over my shoulder before I emerged back into the noise and the crowds.

I followed the red dress heading for the exit, trying to form a plan as I narrowly avoided colliding with other guests in my pursuit. It would be much harder to follow at night without the general cover of busy streets. Would I have to ask a taxi driver to follow another car, like in the movies? This was going to be next level. Possibly dangerous.

But I had to try. For Miranda.

Out the doors and down the stone steps we went. The suspect was already on the sidewalk, turning to strut God knows where.

“Andrea.”

I froze. That wasn’t Miranda’s voice.

I whipped around as Emily stalked down the steps. This was so not the time.

I looked over my shoulder back to the street, but the blonde in the red dress was gone.

“Was it you?” the Brit barked at me.

I faced Emily once more. “What?”

She took one threatening step closer in a ludicrously tall heel, heavy make up underlining the scathing ferocity she was directing my way. 

“Did you try to kill her?” Each word was spat like a stabbing blow.

What the fuck?

“Are you insane? Of course not,” I countered, glaring back.

She immediately asked, “Then why have you been snooping around her hospital room?”

“How did you know that?”

“Answer the bloody question,” she hissed.

“I didn’t do it. But I want to find out who did,” I answered firmly and honestly.

She scoffed, voice raising, practically shouting at me, “Right. Must need a breaking story for your pathetic little paper, that’s why you’re here tonight.”

I grunted back, “Screw the paper.  This is personal.”

Her responding laughter was mockingly loud.

“Oh, please, you sound like such a tit, you honestly think you can just come prancing back-”

“She is haunting me!” I screamed, cutting off whatever stupid insult she had ready.

She blinked at me, eyes wide, her building rampage now snuffed out.  Even I was surprised by my outburst.

I took a deep breath.

“I offered my apology in the form of clothes and you took it.  I know you and I are fine.  So you’re here because of some loyalty to her, right?” I questioned as calmly as possible, gesturing back to her.

She nodded slowly.

“Me too,” I admitted, my voice cracking before I could control it, “I still see her face everyday.  I can’t rest until I know what happened.  You and I both know she would never try to take her own life like that. Not with the kids.  Not with Runway .”

I roughly swallowed, blinking away the small tears that had sprung from seemingly nowhere.

It was as much of the truth as I could spare, and carrying the burden of that truth was beginning to really tire me out. If anyone could maybe come close to understanding, it was Emily.

Her body went limp, all her anger clearly spent.

“You’d think even after all she did to us, we’d hate her,” she mumbled quietly, offering me a melancholy grin.

I rubbed my face with my hand. I was suddenly exhausted, my adrenaline for the night extinguished.

“She just did her job,” I sighed, “And wanted us to do the same. Our jobs.”

“That’s why you left.  I hadn’t been sure.”

My hand fell from my face. Emily inspected me curiously.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re disappointed it was just a job,” she assessed, rubbing her chin, “Bit ironic when you think about how you started, innit?”

I frowned in confusion. “You’re here too trying to defend her honor, or whatever this was.”

“Ah yes, but you see, Andrea, I love fashion and art,” she practically swooned, hand now covering her heart, “That was the love that fueled my dedication and loyalty to a master of fashion and art worthy of my respect. The same love that kept me going when it was simply dreadful.”

She paused to cross her arms and continue looking down at me.

“I thought the Jimmy Choos had seduced you when I was in the hospital, but I’d wager,” she leaned towards me and whispered surreptitiously, “something else seduced you.”

She was so wrong and so right at the same time.  But my ethereal companion was lurking behind me, listening, so I had to be careful.

I stood up straighter and kept my tone even as I asked, “Are you implying Miranda and I slept together?”

“Did you?” she fired back.

“First you think I tried to murder her, now you think we slept together? Didn’t happen,” I groaned, letting my annoyance soak into my voice.

She was being ridiculous.

Her smirk was devious. “But you wanted it to.”

She was absolutely right.

I closed my eyes, exhaling deeply.

“You know what, Emily, as enlightening as this conversation has been, I shockingly haven’t been getting much sleep running around the city trying to solve a murder, so, I’m gonna head home,” I bit back sarcastically, turning to finish my descent down the steps.

I was wishing I had pounded back more of that vodka cranberry inside.

Emily’s voice called out to me again, “Andrea.”

I stopped with a huff and turned to glare over my shoulder. Hadn’t she harassed me enough for one night?

The look she gave me was one of empathy. Emptied of her fighting spirit, a sad smile was left.

“When you solve it, drinks on me.  Alright?” she offered gently with a nod.

I grinned back. “Deal.”

With another nod, she turned and retreated back to the museum, and I continued to the sidewalk.  I looked hopelessly across the street in either direction.

“She’s gone,” I sighed in defeat.

Miranda stepped into my line of sight, and thoughtfully advised, “None of the assistants since you were allowed to deliver the Book.  She did not bring that poison to my home.”

“I’m not sure if whoever did this to you ever entered the townhouse,” I reasoned before grumpily adding, “Next time someone blocks me when trying to pursue a suspect, you still watch the suspect to at least see which way they go.”

She merely shrugged. “I was interested in what Emily had to say.  Her loyalty is surprising.”

I shook my head and laughed, beginning the slow stroll to the subway station. “Please.  The woman took a taxi to the face for you. She is the most devout worshipper at the Temple of Priestly.”

Miranda inspected me from the corner of her eye as she walked beside me.

“What does that make you?”

I shot her a look.

“Do temples have janitors?”

Chapter Text

I hammered the final nail into my wall and stepped back to observe my handiwork.

Flyers, newspaper clippings, cut-up sections of a city map, photos, and various online articles I had printed and collected completely covered one wall of my living room.  Thumbtacks and nails had been pounded into the drywall. Marker and highlighter had dyed and connected various points and notes across multiple sheets of paper.  

Every fact, every tidbit, every theory I had on Miranda Priestly’s suicide/murder had been vomited into the physical world before me.

“I think I finally passed whatever line was left between sanity and insanity,” I mumbled, dropping the hammer on the couch.

“Visualization is key,” Miranda steadily added as she stood by and observed my chaotic journey map.

I gave her the side eye. “You’d be teasing me if this wasn’t all to help you.”

“Possibly,” she hummed, crossing her arms as she continued scanning the sea of numbers, letters, and pictures. 

I frowned, staring at the void.  It was…a lot. Seeing it made me feel heavy.

This was it. It had to work. We only had a few days left.  I had to push behind my doubt.

“I used to handle your business and social calendar, I’m sure we can make sense of this mess,” I tried optimistically, shoving my fear down and taking a step closer to the wall. Closer to Miranda.

Bourbon. Pearl. Paris? No. Maybe. But how?

Revenge. Yellow.  Red.

A red dress. The girl from the gala had something vaguely similar, but not quite the same. Red. I could see the vague silhouette on a faceless model in my memory. But from when? And why?

Red…

“Emily uses a different color-coding system.”

I blinked away my train of thought as Miranda’s voice broke through.

When I turned, she saw my confusion and clarified, “For the calendar.”

I knew Miranda didn’t exactly explain herself, and I was a pro at adapting to her encrypted codes, but even I was completely lost with where this could be headed.

“Yeah?”

A pale hand slowly reached out to the wall. Miranda’s fingers met no resistance as they disappeared through a highlighted timeline I had written. They have a half-hearted wiggle, easily moving amongst the wall and paper.

“She doesn’t comprehend why it frustrates me,” Miranda stated quietly, watching her digits glide through the solid surface, “I shouldn’t have to explain that non-urgent items should be a cool-colored pallet rather than warm. That color matters. That it speaks to me, even if it’s so small and insignificant. You simply knew.”

When she pulled her arm back and looked at me, I realized just how close we really were, almost shoulder to shoulder from our inspection of the mess of media.  It had only been a few days, but having her by my side now felt familiar. When I awoke each day, she was waiting for me in my living room.  She followed me everywhere, I alone heard what she had to say, and we fought together to solve this crisis now personified in the madness before us.

And yet, the way she was looking at me, it all felt new and strange and terrifying all over again.

“You were right, at the benefit,” she said airily, almost in disbelief, “I did miss you.”

It was cruel, really. How long had I hoped to hear her say that?  But all she had missed was Andrea, the assistant that was good at her job. This was her teasing me.

“Because of a calendar?”

My joke fell flat in the silence of my apartment. She turned back to the wall, staring hard, no retort forthcoming.

Oh. She was serious.

“I missed you too,” I admitted before I could bite my tongue.

Her features instantly softened.  This close, watching her profile, I could see the full lashes of one eye lower as she peered down her long nose. Lips delicately parted.

“Thank you,” she whispered, “for all of this.”

She didn’t look at me as she said it. Instead, her hand reached out to touch mine.

I sharply inhaled, shuddering as the cold ice slid through my knuckles. And yet, despite my initial shiver, I did not pull away. What chilled me more deeply to the bone was the warm affection of her act.

She really still believed I could save her.

How could she thank me? How could she even unknowingly flatter my stupid little heart when she was going to die, and I had managed to do nothing to stop it?

She just needed one fucking thing from me, and I couldn’t even do it.  I couldn’t keep blindly hoping anymore.

Why?  Why did it have to be me that somehow determined if Miranda lived or died?

My apartment was spinning. I pulled away.

“Don’t,” I gasped, “I don’t deserve it.”

I’m not super proud of what came next.

I sat on my floor and started crying.  Resistance was bested by stubborn tears that pushed through, and I sniffled pathetically, rubbing them away like a child.

Miranda kneeled down, probably not requiring supernatural powers to perfectly balance in her tall heels.  Hot shame tore through me as she rested her elbows on her knees and patiently waited, only encouraging more of the incriminating salty water to drip down my face.

My breaths were shaky as I tried to calm down.

“Why me? Why this?”

I knew I sounded downright pitiful.

She seemed to consider my rhetorical question thoughtfully as she adjusted one of her bracelets on her wrist. Multiple metal bangles clearly clashed against each other, but there was no noise.

“To ask ‘why,’ is to assume there’s a logical explanation.  Do you think any of this has a factual basis?” she asked plainly, focusing her attention back to me.

How was she so fucking calm right now? It was my fault now, I was killing her.

“Fine then,” I huffed, trying not to enter a full meltdown, “Not science, not reason. What magic or superpower or force of will attached you to me?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “In life or pseudo-death?”

I took a deep breath and sighed, closing my eyes. One last snotty sniff. One last brush of my sweater’s sleeve across my eyes.

Inhale. Exhale. I opened my eyes.

Miranda still waited, no trace of annoyance on her face.

“You think it was fate?” I mumbled, “Even when you weren’t lying on a hospital bed?”

Her eyes didn’t leave mine as she seemingly contemplated her answer.  Her chest rose and her mouth opened, but then she looked to the floor.

She stood and offered me her hand, only to then hesitantly drop it with a sigh.  Instead, the ghost pointedly gestured to the couch.

I guess having me semi-weeping on the floor wasn’t very dignifying for anyone in the room.

Once I scooped myself up and retreated to the sofa, she crossed her arms and lightly cleared her throat.

“For once in my life, I cannot perfectly perceive my future. It’s always been crystal clear to me. I envisioned it, and I achieved it. Even when it didn’t go as planned,” she declared firmly, turning to glance at a newspaper headlining her suicide, “I am now stuck in a limbo I do not understand nor know how to fix. I may never hold my children again. I am reminded each day in this walking nightmare that the empire I built was on top of numerous sacrifices. That I may have inspired murderous intent in someone.”

Her voice wavered, and she stopped.  I watched helplessly as she winced, glaring at the wall.

“Is this punishment?” she murmured, “Or my soul clinging to a regret, unfinished business, binding me to what little of life I have left? I simply don’t know.”

Miranda now looked at me with glassy eyes, a subtle pink of threatening tears making the icy blue of her irises all the more electric.

“All I know is I am somehow tethered to the one person that has probably…” her soft, shuddering voice trailed off before she continued, “Well. To the person that was my greatest disappointment.”

The smile that followed was so small, so sad.  My shaky breathing that was slowly stabilizing grew hazardous again.

She shrugged half-heartedly, raising her fingers to delicately wipe under one eye.

“So, fate indeed.  Why me?  Why you?  There’s much I could be punished for.  Perhaps you are being punished for leaving,” she suggested with a hollow laugh.

I sat on the edge of the seat cushion, hands balled into fists, trying to hold myself together.  The last time I had seen her cry, she had cast me out.

My voice was still raspy from my own crying when I said, “I told you. I didn’t leave you. I left Runway .”

Her brow wrinkled as she continued to inspect me, analyzing my words.  No anger, no sarcasm, not like that first night she appeared in my apartment.  Just a sad, empty confusion.  Then, she shook her head slowly. 

“And as I said before, I am Runway . As it is me.”

Miranda, you were so much more than that.

“Not all of you. Not the parts you let me see. And that’s why I had to leave,” I admitted as I was once again biting back tears, “I opened up Pandora’s box. In learning the truth, in knowing what was there, I couldn’t go back to a time when I didn’t know.”

“When you saw what I did to Nigel,” she added quietly, looking away.

“When I saw you cry,” I practically sobbed from the couch, “I knew you would repay Nigel. But when would you repay yourself? Maybe you needed someone who could do that for you. Be there for you. But then the lid to the box was closed again. And I couldn’t go back.”

Her eyes grew wide as they honed in on my face and my words. For once, the surprise was readily apparent on her face. I had shattered her mask, and the silence that followed was as sharp and cutting as broken glass.

Her response was barely audible, a fragile whisper that made my heart scream.

“Was what Emily said true?”

I had said too much.  I was emotional and weak. She was panicked and disgusted. 

I hurriedly wiped my hands across my cheeks.

“That I sold my soul to the devil for a pair of Jimmy Choos?” I jested weakly, trying to force out a laugh.

I was all but begging her to roll her eyes, sigh, tease me, and move on.

Instead she took a step forward, towards me, halting as her knee bled into the coffee table.

Her voice was quiet. “Andrea.”

Fate had forced us together again, but not for this. I couldn’t say it.

I took a deep, steadying breath.

“You’re Miranda Priestly.  I’m fully aware you don’t need anyone,” I sighed, offering a shrug and sheepish grin, as if it wasn’t a big deal.

As if I didn’t love her.

Downcast eyes fell to the floor.

“People like me cannot often afford to need or want someone,” she murmured slowly, “I once told you people like us see beyond such things and choose our life’s direction. But whether or not I could admit it in a past life, I must admit now…”

She paused. I waited seconds or years, it was hard to tell.

Her gaze returned to mine as she said, “I need you by my side now.”

She just needed someone to keep her alive, and she was stuck with me.

“I already am. In a way, I always have been,” I muttered, looking down at my lap.

I could at least swallow my bitterness and continue to push on as her assistant.  Wasn’t that why I had run away the first time? Why I was running away now? So I could do the one thing I was always meant to do for her…

My job.

I looked back up and added as calmly as possible, “I’m going to help you solve this and then you can go be Miranda Priestly independent superstar again.”

For a moment, she didn’t move, and I wondered if she hadn’t heard me somehow.  Then, all she offered in response was a nod.  She smoothed back her hair and adjusted her blazer as she stepped back to face the wall.

The moment passed.  The mask was restored. The message was clear.

That’s all.

I really just wanted to go to my room and cry more.

“I have to meet Nigel tomorrow night at Holt’s,” I explained as I stood from the couch, “so it’s gonna be a long day.  I better get to bed.”

Starting my retreat, I called over my shoulder, “Night.”

I did what I did best.

“Goodnight, Andrea.”

I ran away.


The next morning, when I woke up, Miranda was gone.

Chapter Text

“Hey.”

There was no response.

“You scared me,” I continued, tugging at a string on my hoodie, “I thought I lost you.”

The respirator clicked and hissed nearby.  I shuffled restlessly in my little chair.

“You really shouldn’t just disappear like that. Though I guess now we’re even for what happened in France.”

I finally looked at her.  Miranda. Or at least, what was left, lying in the hospital bed. Too still. Too colorless compared to the vivacious spirit that had been by my side only just yesterday.

Tears were stinging. I blinked them away.

“You better still be in there or I’m going to kill you,” I chastised aloud to the empty room before muttering, “Bad joke? Too soon? Not sure when I can’t see you rolling your eyes at me.”

The silence was getting to me.

I hesitantly leaned forward and gently rested my elbows on the bed.  The tube leading to her mask and the line to the IV bag embedded in her arm made her look all the more fragile.

“I’m afraid this means we’re running out of time,” I murmured softly, “I’m out of ideas, Miranda. I know you said clearing your name for the girls is what matters, but what about you? That’s not fair, no matter what everyone else in this stupid city thinks. You don’t deserve this.”

I swallowed and screwed my eyes closed.

“Even I don’t deserve this. I left so I wouldn’t get my heart broken, but here we are.”

The monitor beeped occasionally in the quiet that followed. Miranda’s heartbeat.

My eyes slowly slid open. The permanent stillness remained. I had never known an empty room to be so crushingly heavy.

“What am I going to do?” I whispered.

I stared hopelessly at my ex-boss. The ghost that haunted me. The witty woman that had become my friend.  The devil that had stolen my heart.

Most of Miranda’s face was covered by the respirator. I watched the unmoving eyelids. Her hair was even more flat and disheveled than a few days ago.

I stood up from the chair and reached out with one hand. My fingers gently brushed back the loose strands of hair, smoothing them until her white locks were at least swept back and neat.

There. That was more befitting of a fashion queen.

Still standing, I looked down to where I had leaned on the bed with my other hand.  My fingers almost touched her hand laying on the covers.

“Maybe I should bail on my plans with Nigel tonight,” I thought aloud.

I spread my thumb out. It touched the tip of her finger.

Miranda’s heartbeat still beeped along. Slow, but steady.

She was still alive.

I had to keep going.

I chuckled lightly, looking back up at her face.

“I know, I know, I can’t keep quitting and running away from my problems,” I muttered, “I’m only going for research. Maybe something will jog my memory, something I’ve missed.”

My thumb gently moved over her knuckle once.

“Hold on for me a little longer.”

This time, when I left her, it didn’t feel like running away.

Chapter Text

“You seem down.”

I lowered my glass mid-sip and glanced at Nigel, who was leaning beside me on the grand piano in Holt’s fancy new penthouse. It was a pretty well-attended party, so we had taken to using the instrument as a private table.  With coasters. We weren’t monsters.

“Just tired,” I lied, resting my elbow on the glossy black surface, “Been pulling some all-nighters to get an article done.

Murder.  Miranda.  I was trying so hard not to dwell on it. I needed to be Happy Andy, reunited with Nigel.

He smirked and swirled his beverage. “Any juicy hot gossip?”

I shrugged. “Not that kind of paper.”

“Right.  Too high-brow.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Tom Ford,” I scoffed playfully, looking down at his suit.

Nigel dramatically pressed a hand over his heart and crooned, “Six, be still my heart, did you just accurately guess a designer?”

I smirked, raising my glass once more. “I know things.”

He continued to nurse his drink, and I glanced around the apartment for the millionth time, trying to spot any newcomers.  I was on a mission, as impossible as it was at this point.  Music lightly played from some outrageously expensive speaker system, and the air buzzed with multiple conversations.  The dim, romantic lighting at night and a room full of strangers just made me feel more lost.  

Blonde hair flashed as it was tossed over a shoulder. I honed in on the movement in the corner of the apartment.

The woman from the gala. Red.

Tonight the dress was more simple and muted, navy blue, a little cocktail dress.  She was giggling at something someone was saying.

Coincidence? Or villainess?

As she had said, it’s a small world. Her boyfriend had a connection with models, right? Maybe he knew Holt.

Maybe. I didn’t like it. Or was I paranoid?

I still knew nothing. It really was hopeless, wasn’t it?

“So.”

I blinked and turned to Nigel. “So?”

He inspected me over his glasses before he asked quietly, “Did you go to see the matriarch herself?”

Well, shit.

I looked down at the remaining liquid in my cup, inhaling slowly. Maybe it would be good to open up to him…

“I did.  A few times,” I admitted, looking back at him.

He offered a small, knowing smile. “Was it weird?”

“Totally.  At least at first,” I replied before shaking my head, “I know it sounds crazy, but she’s still in there, Nigel. I just know it.”

“I believe you.  Just makes it more tragic,” he sighed, rubbing a hand over his bald head, “I’ve been moping around for days.”

“Me too,” I murmured.

The image of Miranda in the hospital bed crept forward. No, not right now.  I slammed back the rest of my drink, shoving the memory away.  I embraced the warmth from the alcohol as it washed over me.

With an empty laugh, I bumped Nigel’s shoulder and questioned, “What did you call us before? The Inner circle?”

“That’s us. You, me, Emily,” he mumbled with a chuckle, taking another swig.

“Saw her the other day. She yelled at me.”

“Surprising.” He didn’t sound surprised.

“She accused me of sleeping with Miranda,” I pouted.

It’s official, I was buzzed.

“Did you?” he slurred with a raised eyebrow.

I groaned, “Not you too.”

“There was lots of…” his explanation trailed off, and he glared across the room. He pointed two fingers to his winced eyes and then pointed them away.

“Staring?”

“What’s the lewd term? Eye fucking?”

I snorted, “You’re drunk.”

“You’re not wrong,” he practically sang, tilting his glass back to finish the contents.

The smile stayed on my lips. Maybe, for just an hour or two, I could pretend everything was fine, that I was enjoying catching up with an old friend.

Before I could ask Nigel for an update on his dating life, two hands balancing three glasses of brown liquid appeared between us.

“Hello, hello. Look at these empty drinks, my timing is excellent,” Holt declared happily, setting down his collection and passing out drinks to the two of us, “For you, and for you.”

He then gathered his own, raising it with a smile. “What shall we toast to?”

I tilted my head at Nigel. He grew very somber, raising his new drink with great purpose as he declared, “To Miranda!”

Holt and I shared a smile and mimicked, “To Miranda.”

The crystal clanked.  We drank.  Heavy and smoky.  Probably a whiskey.

Nigel swayed slightly, face flushed, and muttered, “God save the Queen.”

Holt laughed, patting him on the back. “Is there anything else you guys need? I wouldn’t want to be slacking as a host.”

I politely shook my head, and Nigel squeezed his arm as he replied for both of us, “We’re good, James, thanks.”

“Excellent. Enjoy the drinks, get refills, stay as long as you want,” Holt assured both of us with a nod before making his exit.

I drank deeply of the golden brown, trying to ignore the strong stinging. This was definitely my last for tonight. One last drink before turning home to my empty apartment and that damn taunting wall of stupid clues…

Nigel took another gulp and immediately coughed.

“That bad, huh?” I snickered.

“Quite strong,” he rasped, clearing his throat, “Fitting though for a toast to our matron.”

I paused from taking another sip and frowned.  “How so?”

He laughed almost sadly, shaking his head, “Girl could swim in bourbon like she was a fish.”  

My eyes went wide.  He knew.

Did he…?

No, he couldn’t have done it. A killer wouldn’t just admit it.

But he knew.

When he saw my face, he wrinkled his brow and asked, “What?”

I quickly looked around us to make sure no one was listening before I muttered, “Not a lot of people know that.”

“I mean, I know it’s Miranda, but it’s not like it requires government clearance to handle, right?” he shrugged, bringing the glass to his lips once more.

I too took another sip, hoping to calm my now growing nerves.

“Did she ever drink it in front of you or anybody else?”

He squinted contemplatively, twirling the liquor in his cup, likely too drunk to find my question odd.

“I remember one time when we first started working with James on his new label.  Before the Paris drama.  There was a lot of money to be made on that deal, so Miranda brought out the good whiskey for a toast.”

He touched my forearm, leaning in theatrically as he continued, “I almost dropped the glass when I realized how much the bottle cost.  Shocked she even let me have some.”

I froze.

Oh, no.

My eyes darted across the room. Holt was talking to the woman from the gala. His hand brushed her lower back.

Suddenly, clear as day, I remembered. Almost a year ago, in an apartment not too unlike this one, Holt standing beside a model in a red dress. Miranda’s lips pursed in displeasure.

Red.

Paris.

Fuck.

My stomach lurched. I didn’t feel good.

“Bathroom,” I blurted to Nigel, abandoning my glass on the piano and walking away.

The room moved with me as if I was just tipsy. But each step told me something more than fear or liquor was crawling through my system now.

I needed to run away.

No.  Not anymore.

The world was growing blurry somewhere between an alcoholic buzz and a sleepy dream.

I fumbled through my purse. Wallet. No. Keys. Shit. Candy wrapper. Phone. Yes. And then…Where was...

Moving away from people towards the quiet, I swayed down the hall like a stumbling drunk.  My legs weren’t fully understanding what I needed them to do.  Even my arm felt funny.  I shoved one hand in the pocket of my leather jacket, the other desperately gripping the nearest door handle.

I pushed it open.  A bedroom. I shuffled inside and closed the door behind me.

My muscles felt too relaxed compared to the adrenaline charging through my whole body. The other hand too went into my jacket pocket to avoid dangling helplessly at my side.

Stay awake, Sachs.

The door opened. A newcomer entered, casually holding a drink in one hand, closing the portal behind them with the other.

James Holt locked the door.

“Enjoying your drink?”

I winced at the floor, trying to keep my vision clear.

Miranda.

I was done running away.

“You could say I feel extravagant, like I’m decked out in pearls,” I spat back, turning to face him.

I hoped for surprise or concern. I still desperately hoped I was mistaken.

Instead, Holt smiled, flashing his perfectly straight, white teeth. One hand casually slid into the pocket of his slacks, and his posture relaxed.

“You’ll feel that way for maybe five more minutes before you pass out.  Can’t have you meddling anymore before the good lawyer pulls the plug at the hospital,” he outlined cheerfully before taking a sip of his drink.

I narrowed my eyes, trying to stay calm, trying to stand as upright as I could.

“You knew about the bourbon, knew she’d keep it if it was sent to her. She gets so many freebies, even if it had your name, she wouldn’t remember,” I reasoned before muttering, “Though I doubt you were dumb enough to do that.”

He shrugged. “It was expensive, but looks like she took the bait easily enough.”

I continued, “Planting the pill bottle wasn’t that hard if you could just get to the purse. And every second assistant has the pleasure of her purse hitting their desk everyday.  You just had to convince the girl.  Or maybe you were in it together from the start; the job was certainly posted often enough after I left.”

He chuckled, beginning to slowly pace around the outer rim of the room. “So you met my little blonde bombshell?  She thinks it’s love.  I think I’ll dump her after Priestly’s dead and she helps me dispose of you.”

Holt stayed close to the walls, but prey could tell when it was being circled and hunted. My body was growing so heavy…

Miranda.

We needed more time.

I needed to stay awake. I leaned on the edge of the bed, hands still in my pockets; focusing on standing was proving too hard.

“You know, out of all the people I thought it could have been, I didn’t think it would be you. I mean, it’s not her fault your designs kinda sucked,” I finished with a laugh.

He stopped.  The smile fell.  Mine grew.

“Excuse me?”

I snorted. “Come on. Your concept was ‘East Meets West?’ Sounds like cultural appropriation at its finest. The red dress you made for Miranda with the massive bow spilling out of her abdomen just looked like a really messed up Alien movie.”

“No, she ruined my career when she put that French neanderthal in charge of my line.  She knew it would destroy me,” he snapped back, spit flying from his mouth.

“You ruined yourself. You were a one-hit wonder, and your work went all downhill.  Blaming Miranda for doing her job won’t change that.”

“She tossed aside my career and left my life in shambles,” he hissed, ”The money dried up after the branding deal collapsed.”

“Probably shouldn’t have bought this second penthouse.  Must be expensive still lying to all those people outside.  Afraid no one would stick around if they really knew who and what you were?” I asked sarcastically, watching the glass in his hand shake.

Holt inhaled deeply before brushing a hand through his hair.  He turned and set the drink on a nearby dresser.

“If she died, if she was out of my way, not only would I have my revenge, which would be more than enough, but I could easily get back in the game.  Nigel would replace her.  And he has a guilty conscience that’s way too exploitable for his own good,” he replied sternly with a cold calm, “That stubborn bitch just couldn’t die.  I put enough Pearl in that bottle to kill a horse.”

His eyes narrowed on me.

I swayed.  My body was fading.

“I didn’t account for that nasty woman actually having anyone loyal enough.  The police were easy enough to fool; everyone had a motive to kill Miranda Priestly, there were too many leads. And it was so easy to rule as a suicide,” Holt muttered before taking a step towards me, “Oh well, you’re a loose end I can tie off easily enough once my little party is over.”

I squinted against my blurry vision.

“There’s one thing you forgot,” I choked out.

He paused, half-heartedly raising a questioning eyebrow.

“I’m the Miranda-girl, asshole.”

Mustering the last of my strength, my hand flung forward from my jacket pocket brandishing the mace taken from my purse.  The second the misty beam of pepper spray made contact with his eyes, Holt screamed and crumpled to the floor, hands clawing at his face.

I fell to my knees. It was done.  Energy drained, I could feel the seconds I had left.

Banging sounded at the door amidst Holt’s cries.  I crawled with my arms, my legs dangling uselessly behind me.

When I managed to turn the lock, I collapsed onto my back as the door was flung open.

Nigel appeared, looking around wildly and exclaiming. “What the hell?”

“Nigel,” I murmured, grabbing at his pants leg.  He immediately knelt down beside me.

Holt still screeched behind us. 

I barely managed to squeak, “Holt bad. Call police.”

And then I promptly passed out.