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It was one of those most unusual and delightful Friday nights. Work at Runway had gone easily today, the next issue put to bed ahead of schedule and no major disasters. Her daughters had been deposited in the towncar; weekending with their father. They had some special outing planned; something the girls had been looking forward to for weeks. It being an outing with her ex-husband, Miranda hadn't paid much attention to the details. There were no social engagements on her calender so, for a rare occasion, the night was hers.

 

She'd had her second assistant call home and given her cook the night off. She opened the door to the townhouse and stepped inside, reveling in the silence. She was alone in the house so she could indulge herself. Indulge in her guilty pleasure.

 

She does the most pedestrian thing imaginable. She orders a small pizza, onions and black olives, half fat cheese: of course, from a local pizzeria and has it delivered. She pours a glass of her favorite dry Riesling wine and prepares an ice bucket for the bottle. She pops a bowl of microwave popcorn. She takes her goodies to the girl's playroom. It had been meant to be a family room, but the truth of the matter is that Stephen had never really been interested in family. It is where the home theater had been installed because the girls used it far more than she ever would.

 

Once she has placed her buffet of food for the evening in the game room she goes to her bedroom and into her closet. There, from under a stack of rarely worn clothing, she took out her guilty pleasure. All six boxes. She had discovered the show quite by accident. Her daughters had it on the television one day when she happened into their playroom. They were paying no attention to it. It was just noise in the background to them but the main character caught her attention. Caught it? No. Drew it like a moth to a flame. She had gone out and purchased the series on DVD the very next day. Not her assistants, not a personal shopper, not even Roy, her driver, who she trusted to keep her secrets. She'd completed the menial task by her own hand. Then she'd brought them home and hidden them in her closet. It was silly really. She really never had time to sit down and watch the hours and hours of video she had purchased. Time to indulge herself was so limited, almost non-existent. She hadn't even managed to watch through the whole series yet even after having owned the many DVD's for more than two years.

 

But on these rare nights, when she was alone, when she could indulge herself, she revels in an episode or two. Losing herself in the character she so adores in secret. She opens the box to season four and looked at her post-it note inside confirming which episode had been the last she'd watched. Inserting the proper DVD into the player she sits back on the couch and lets the music of the pipes, the horns and finally the strings wash over her. For the next several hours she escapes into that fantastical world that is Xena, Warrior Princess.

 

While the episodes are interesting, and manage to amuse the Ice Queen, tonight they are somewhat disappointing for they lack Miranda's favorite character. When she's watched two episodes towards the end of the forth season she treats herself and re-watches one of her favorite episodes from the second season.

 

Watching the show has left Miranda excited and slightly aroused as it often does. She decides a hot bath is in order before catching up on some much needed sleep. Her master bath is a place of decadent luxury. Marble and mirrors and candles everywhere. The huge sunken jacuzzi tub fills quickly with hot water as Miranda undresses and adds her favorite bath salts and fragrant oils to the water. She then lights many of the candles, dimming the electric lights. “Heavenly” she breaths contentedly. She can imagine it as an ancient bath that Xena and Gabriel might have shared. She slides into the hot water and lays back enjoying the heat on her body. She closes her eyes and lets her mind drift. As she slips into a daydream of Xena, her hands, almost of their own volition, begin to stroke her breast and roll one of her nipples between her thumb and forefinger. She licks her lips and allows the fantasy to take her. Xena is the object of her fantasy, It's always this way after she watches episodes. But she can never see herself as Gabriel. In her mind Gabriel isn't strong enough to be her avatar. Or perhaps it's that Miranda isn't strong enough to be Gabriel. That she lacks the emotional range and the kind of quiet inner strength that makes Gabriel the enchanting character she is. The one worthy of standing at Xena's side. In her fantasies she is always the other woman. Xena's nemesis. Her hand stokes down her body, across her stomach and over her thighs. Her fingers find her center and she begins to tease herself. Her breath catches. Their love making in the fantasy is always rough, tempestuous, angry, as is their relationship in the series. Her mind is too complex, too detail oriented to allow a fantasy that could not have some anchor in the reality as presented in the show. Miranda throws her head back, her breathing becoming quicker, thankful that it is so easy to rationalize the nature of the connection between hate and love. A line so thin as to often be indistinguishable. The movements of her fingers become more frantic, more demanding. She is rising towards her crescendo as in her mind she and Xena fight the most intimate of battles. It is then, when the noise intrudes. Her concentration is ripped from the scene and she knows she won't get it back anytime soon. Her phone is ringing. Ringing at near midnight on a Friday evening. Ringing when she's so very close. She opens her eyes angrily as a rush of fear invades her, as it does during any late night call. It is either an emergency or life as they know it has just ended for whoever is on the other end of the line. Angrily she rises from the water and wraps herself in a towel. Stepping into the bedroom she snatches up the phone and glares at the display. Miranda immediately recognizes the number displayed on the caller ID. It is the land line of the girl's father's house. Her ex-husband is calling at close to Midnight when he has the girls. Fear completely replaces anger in a heartbeat. She opens the phone and waists no time with preliminaries. “Greg,” she states, “What's wrong?” She is surprised when it is not her ex-husband on the line but one of her daughters.

 

“Mummy,” Cassidy sniffles, “Daddy's not here....He's not coming home this weekend. He didn't get out of Berlin like he was supposed too.

 

Miranda bites down on her anger. This was not unusual for her ex-husband. He always thought nothing of ignoring his responsibilities to his daughters in favor of his business concerns. This was not the first time that he was supposed to have a weekend with them that he was out of the country. It wasn't, unfortunately, even the first time that the girls had gone to his home only to find that he wasn't present. She controls her anger so as not to take it out on her daughters who are obviously already upset. “I'm sorry Bobbsey.” she says softly, “Why didn't you call earlier?”

 

Cassidy continues to sniffle, “Rosa said he was supposed to come in this evening. He only just called her to say he's still in Germany. We wouldn't have called until the morning but Rosa can't stay tonight. Her son is getting married tomorrow.”

 

”It's alright Bobbsey,” Miranda answers gently. “Let me speak to Rosa for a moment would you please?”

 

A Spanish accented voice that Miranda doesn't recognize comes on the line. “Mrs. Priestly” the woman starts, with trepidation in her voice, “This is Rosa Vasquez, I'm your ex-husband's housekeeper. Mrs. Priestly, your ex-husband thought that he was going to return from his business trip in Berlin this afternoon. He promised me he'd be here because I can not stay this weekend, but now he says that he likely won't return before next Wednesday.” She pauses for a moment, evidently expecting the worst. “I'm sorry, ma'am but I can not stay and care for your children this weekend. I am scheduled to be at my son's wedding.

 

Miranda continues to seethe beneath the surface but she controls the face she shows to the world, it's not this woman's fault that her ex-husband is utterly thoughtless and completely self-centered, she reminds herself. “Ms. Vasquez,” she says, being as pleasant as she can manage. “I can be there to pick my girls up in about thirty minutes if that will suit you,” she says into the receiver. “It will take me that long to dress and to drive over there. Could you please have the girls ready to go by then?”

 

“Oh! Muchas gracias Mrs. Priestly! At any other time I would care for the girls. They are such good girls, but tomorrow I must be there for my son,” the housekeeper says, her tone relieved that Miranda doesn't seem angry with her.

 

“Of course you must. I could not imagine either of my girls getting married without me being present. I'll come fetch them and you can be where you need to be tomorrow,” Miranda offers. “Thirty minutes and I'll be there.”

 

“Muchas gracias Mrs. Priestly! Muchas gracias!” The woman says before hanging up.

 

*****

 

Miranda decides not to take the time involved in calling for Roy and waiting for him to pick her up. She instead takes the Porsche she rarely uses. The car is purring power under her hands. She doesn't drive it often but when she does she is supremely skilled and confident like with everything La Priestly does. She is there for the girls ten minutes earlier than she'd said she would be.

 

Her girls are quiet and withdrawn when she gets them and their overnight bags into the car. She watches them in the rear-view mirror as drive back to the townhouse waiting for them to say something.

 

Cassidy is the first to break the silence. “Well, at least Rosa will get to go to the wedding,” she offers softly. The tears she's not letting fall color her tone.

 

Miranda takes all of this in. Most people think her cold and unfeeling. The truth is somewhat more complex. She is a business woman that climbed to the highest pinnacle of the publishing industry more than two decades ago. It was then, and still is, in too many ways, a man's world. She has become what is necessary to maintain her position and her power. But in the personal realm she is a loving and concerned mother and she knows her daughters are upset at tonight's events. She is not as close to them as she'd like. She recognizes that her own ability to deal with emotions is somewhat limited. Her therapist has suggested that it has to do with the lack of any kind of emotional attachment from Miranda's own mother for Miranda. Her first thought is that her ex-husband must be punished for hurting her girls. She will have her assistant remind her to contact her lawyers on Monday morning and look into having the custody agreement altered. If he couldn't be bothered to be in the country when his daughters were due to visit then he didn't deserve to see them at all.

 

Then immediately turning her mind back to her girls she does the first thing she can think of that might cheer them up. “So you had plans this weekend? It would be a shame to ruin that. What was it?” she asks, her eyes glancing in the rear view mirror so she can see her children. “You seemed very excited about it.”

 

Caroline nods hesitantly, afraid that her mother would disapprove, or worse think it a stupid waist of time, “It's a sci-fi/fantasy convention. Some of the stars from the Harry Potter movies are going to be there and there'll be posters and stuff for sale,” she offers softly. Her tone sounding almost defeated.

 

Cassidy sighs quietly, it's evident to her mother that she's trying not to cry “Maybe he'll get to take us next year.” she says, her voice quavering.

 

Miranda nods to herself. “What if we went tomorrow?” she asks, and for a moment she fears the cold knife thrust of rejection.

 

Cassidy looks up, “You mean you'd get Cara or Roy to take us?” she says her voice still quivering. The girl was trying to control her emotions after a very upsetting evening coupled with the disappointment of missing a treat she was really looking forward too.

 

“No, Bobbsey, ” Miranda answers carefully. “I thought we might do it as a family. I'll take you. We can go spend the whole day if you like.”

 

Cassidy looks up, her eyes wide and surprised in the rear view mirror. “You'd take us?” she asks quietly.

 

Caroline starts to laugh.

 

“What's so funny?' Miranda demands, her voice becoming quiet and very precise.

 

Caroline tries to get a hold of herself knowing full well what her mother's tone means. She fails. “It's just I don't see you at a con, Mummy,” still giggling as she answers.

 

Miranda purses her lips. “Well you will tomorrow.” she answers.

 

*****

 

Miranda is not ready for what she encounters at the convention. No amount of preparation could have made her so. She had been to grand balls, events, premiers, fashion shows. She has never been trapped among the great unwashed before. It is crowded and chaotic and there are weird and wonderful costumes as far as the eye can see, also a disturbing amount of exposed skin. Seeing so many Individuals with dangerously high body mass and a distinct lack of material to cover it causes Miranda to shudder. She endures because it is evident that her girls are having a good time. Their excitement is palpable. They go to the meet and greets for the television and film personalities. The long lines wear on Miranda's patience but even the VIP tickets she purchased for herself and her girls only grant them 'full' access and don't do anything about the crowds and long waits to get autographs from the stars the girls are so eager to see. Patience is not a virtue Miranda is blessed with and waiting among these crowds of loud and obnoxious peons wears on her.

 

They then visit the dealer's room. The girls are very excited as they move from table to table selecting all the things that they might want to add to their collections of memorabilia. As the girls are pursuing a table full of photographs Miranda's attention is caught by an item displayed in the next booth over. An odd sort of place selling swords and other ancient weapons. Her eyes are locked onto a particular plaque on the wall which contains crossed swords over a chakram. She approaches the young man running the booth. “That plaque,” she says, indicating what's caught her attention.”

 

The young man nods. “Xena's sword and chakram,” he says proudly, “Original props from the T.V. show. Both swords come with the original leather sheaths and belts as well.”

 

Miranda does not have eyes for Xena's weapons but the other one on the plaque. It was what had called her to this booth. “And the other sword?” she asks.

 

The young man smiles. “It's also an original prop from the series. I figured if I was going to sell a sword crossed with Xena's it should be one of her greatest enemy's weapon.”

 

Miranda nods. “Callisto's sword.” she says quietly.

 

“You've got a good eye. You must be a serious fan of the series,” the man chuckles.

 

Reaching into her purse and drawing her American Express card from her wallet Miranda offers it to the man. “You can keep them here until I have someone come and pick them up?” She asks.

 

The young man is jubilant “Lady, I've been dragging that plaque from show to show for the last two years. You tell me where you want them, I'll deliver them personally either tonight or after the show is over tomorrow. Now shall we haggle on the price?”

 

Miranda looks affronted. “I do not haggle,” she says coldly. “Besides, they are worth more to me than your asking price.”

 

The man smiles and glancing at Miranda's Amex card he says “Ms. Priestly, you're a pleasure to do business with.”

 

The transaction completed and delivery information exchanged Miranda is about to turn away when she decides to ask another question. Turning back she looks at the man. “Have you access to other props from the show? For sale I mean.”

 

The man nods. “I can get most anything that's left. I have a deal with the production company. Most of the money goes to charity.”

 

“Callisto's costume?” Miranda asks.

 

“There were like six of them. If somebody else hasn't already bought the last one I could get it for you,” he answers taping a sold sign on the sword plaque.

 

Miranda takes a business card from the booth table and slips it into her purse. “I may be in touch.”

 

It is when the girls decide they want to attend a panel discussion on their favorite T.V. show, Miranda decides it's time to fortify herself with a martini. She leaves them in the meeting room where the panel will entertain the audience's questions with the agreement that she will be back in an hour and a half when the discussion ends and they are not to leave the room until she returns. She makes her way across the sea of tables and the humanity that surrounds them that comprises the dealer's room on her way to the hotel bar in the lobby. Her eyes glide over the assembled masses and come to rest on the first interesting thing she's seen all day. Even though the young woman's back is to her, the costume is unmistakable. The leather bustier the leather strips making up the armored skirt. She has Miranda's attention and interest. The unfinished fantasy of last night flashes across her mind, its accompanying arousal and sexual frustration are suddenly her companions again. The girl is about the right size for the character she has chosen to portray, amazonian in her proportions. Her hair is rich and luxurious, the black raven's wing of Xena's but Miranda, being in the business she's been in for thirty years, knows it immediately for a temporary dye job. A stage dye that will wash out in a few shampooings. The boots on the girl's magnificent legs.......The boots are...The boots are Maison Martin Margiela cut out knee highs. Something that Miranda had nixed from the line with a simple purse of her lips at the preliminary showing a couple of years ago. They were supposed to go for fifteen-hundred dollars a pair and never saw release into the market. Her eyes immediately sweep back up to the bustier. On closer inspection it is evident that the metal armor on the piece have been cleverly overlaid but not attached. She visualizes the piece without them. Dolce & Gabbana, last year's line. Twenty-five hundred at retail. Also purged from the line by her disinterest when shown it at the preliminary showing. These items were prototypes. They didn't exist anymore except......except in Runway's closet. Miranda advances on the girl and snakes a hand out grabbing her upper arm and spinning her around. She suddenly finds herself looking into very familiar and surprised doe brown eyes. She is so shocked at this turn of events that for several heartbeats she is unable to speak.

 

“Miranda!” Andy squeaks. I'm dead, she thinks frantically, I'm so dead. Ohgodohgodohgod! I left my cell phone at home! I must have forgotten that I was supposed to be at work this morning and she's come to find me. There can't be any other reason Miranda Priestly would be in the middle of a sci-fi convention!

 

Miranda's eyes roam up and down her fangirl obsession projected in the living flesh of her second assistant. A second assistant that she has only recently admitted to herself that she has quite a bit more than a professional interest in. The rush of arousal and frustration at seeing her secret guilty pleasure made flesh, the sudden release of anger at realizing that the costume has been assembled from the closet and then being faced with the object of a forbidden desire in the form of the girl made for a heady brew. Miranda purses her lips, her emotions racing, an unusual state of affairs for her for she is usually completely in control. When she speaks again it is in that terribly precise, carefully enunciated and horribly quite tone that makes Runway employees quake in their fashionable shoes. “Come with me.” she demands.

 

A few minutes later Andy sits across from Miranda in a booth in the back of the hotel bar. At any other time they would attract attention, the elegant dragon lady and the warrior princess, but with so many costumed people in the bar, in different states of intoxication, they draw no interest. At this moment Andy feels like anything but the brave and able Xena. She feels like a mouse watching a beautiful peregrine falcon circling, preparing for the kill. Since speaking to her on the dealer's floor Miranda has said nothing other than ordering a drink when a waiter came to the booth and asked what they'd have. Andy's heart is hammering in her chest. Miranda has been having the strongest effect on her lately. She is coming more and more to the realization that it has nothing to do with Miranda the icon and everything to do with Miranda the woman. It is an odd transition for Andy, who has never been attracted to another woman before, but in moments when she's honest with herself she knows her feelings for the desire they are. Now Miranda sits across from Andy looking at her with something other than the usual disdain in her eyes.

 

Miranda silently waits for her drink to arrive buying time to compose herself and decide what to do next. Seeing the image of her fangirl crush and finding that image to be the woman she desires in her work-a-day life has thrown her for a loop. Where she should be castigating the girl for making a costume from items from the closet she finds her mind running scenarios, playing fantasies. She raises her head looking across at very frightened doe brown eyes. “You are wearing several thousand dollars of Runway property, Andrea,” she states softly.

 

Andy bites her lower lip. It is one of the sexiest things Miranda has ever seen. “Yes Miranda,” she answers softly, knowing that to dissemble would be foolish. She suspects that she's in serious trouble. While employees are allowed to wear items from the closet, the rules are that clothes to be worn are meant to be things from the lines that went into production as a way of advertising both the clothes and the magazine. Nervous, she blurts, “Miranda, what are you doing here?”

 

The drinks arrive and Miranda takes a long sip from hers. Then again looking across the table she does something not even she is expecting. She says “you are a very becoming representation of the warrior princess.”

 

Andy's eyes widen with surprise as she looks up, “You know Xena?”

 

Miranda smiles, her eyes professionally accessing the girl before her. “Yes, I do. Your costume is good, but not completely accurate. You also lack the chakram and the sword. Without the weapons you are not quite the character you are portraying. And I don't think I like you in black hair.”

 

Andy laughs and calming a bit, picks up her own drink. “Well you know how it is, If I didn't do the black hair I wouldn't stand a chance at the costume contest later today. As for the weapons,” she shrugs, “I had a plastic sword I got from a costume place and I made a cardboard chakram but they looked awful next to the costume. I decided that I'd try to get by without them because they hurt more than helped.”

 

Miranda sips her drink, her thoughts a-tumble. She notes her heart rate is up and her breathing is faster than normal. She feels flushed. I'm reacting like a schoolgirl to my assistant's presence, she thinks on one level and on another she thinks, quit lying to yourself you foolish old woman. You've been reacting to her this way for sometime. You just manage to hide it better at work. “I think,” she smiles wickedly, “I might be able to help you out with that little problem...”

 

*****

 

It is early evening and her daughters are overjoyed. They've spent the entire day together with their mother at a sci-fi/fantasy convention. Their mother relaxed after picking them up from the panel discussion and in another trip into the dealer's room she is generous in the extreme buying them anything their heart's desire. Caroline and Cassidy find it odd that their mother searches out one particular booth and speaks to the man there for several minutes. With loads of booty in their bags they have just enjoyed a nice family meal in the hotel restaurant, their mother even treating herself to a desert and actually eating it. They are both surprised that their mother does not seem at all anxious to leave. “Mummy,” Cassidy asks softly, “Are you having a good time?”

 

Miranda smiles across the table at her daughter. “Yes Bobbsey. I am.” she offers, sipping at her after dinner coffee. “If it's alright with the two of you I thought we'd stay through the costume show that starts at seven. Mummy is curious to see the results.”

 

Costume show?” Caroline asks.

 

Miranda nods. “Yes,...Mummy has....” She pauses, momentarily uncomfortable, unsure of what precisely to say. “Mummy has a..... a friend that's in the costume contest. I want to... I want to go and cheer her on.”

 

Caroline and Cassidy exchange surprised glances. “You have a friend here at the show?” Caroline asks incredulously.

 

Miranda nods. “I didn't know that this person would be here until I ran into her on the dealers floor while you were in the panel discussion.”

 

The twins both watch their mother curiously. They were unaware she had any friends other than Mr. Nigel. With dinner over they follow her to the auditorium where the costume parade and judging will take place. They are experts at reading their mother. And here they see something that they've rarely seen before. Their mother anxious and excited as she finds them seats near the stage.

 

The M.C. begins announcing the costumed characters as they cross the stage. Miranda, now feeling more relaxed and in a better humor than she can't remember when, is somewhat more forgiving of the costumes than she was earlier and even points out and comments on the effort that certain individuals put into their attempts to be their fantasy characters. She and her daughters laugh, cheer and generally have a good time.

 

They are even more surprised when their usually reserved mother stands suddenly, vigorously cheering and applauding as a vaguely familiar looking young woman, dressed as Xena of all things, makes her way across the stage. The girl's costume is pretty good and cheers erupt as it is announced by the M.C. that sword she has in one hand and the chakram in the other are the original props from the T.V. show. The twins are sharp children and have learned to read people pretty well. They can see in every line of the body language of the faux warrior princess that this announcement is as much a surprise to her as it is to the audience. It is Cassidy that happens to be watching her mother during the announcement. The girl notes that she is the one individual in the room that does not seem to be surprised.

 

The faux Xena places second in the contest behind an attractive woman dressed in scandalously little. The winning costume consists of wisps of diaphanous white cloth and a unicorn horn. Miranda feels cheated, suspecting that, while the costume was clever in a surrealist sort of way, the all male panel of judges chose the winner based on sex appeal, rather than on the merits of the costume.

 

Andy, however, seems both excited and overjoyed with the small statuette she received as a prize.

 

Miranda has one more surprise for her daughters and Andy both when after the announcement of the winners she leaves her seat and meets Andy at the foot of the stage pulling her into a congratulatory hug. Andrea is so surprised that she can't think straight. Miranda's warm breath is on her ear as the woman she fantasizes about whispers “Congratulations. You should keep the costume, Andrea. You've earned it...And it suits you.”

 

*****

 

Things are different at Runway on Monday. Andy can't quite quantify how they have changed, but she is aware that something is not as it was in the dynamic between Miranda and herself. Miranda's tongue is still as sharp. Her demands still border on the impossible. But as the week progresses the second assistant becomes aware that what Miranda rides her about are things that matter, not the trivialities that many of the diatribes of the weeks and months before focused on. She watches and listens to Miranda interact with other people. It seems to her that Miranda's dynamics with other people haven't changed one iota. People still pay heavy prices for small mistakes. The depth of the change of what goes on between the two of them is clearly illustrated when Andy delivers a cup of Starbucks to Miranda while the woman is in a meeting with Emily. Miranda takes a sip and lifts the coffee towards Andy. “This isn't hot enough Andrea,” Miranda says in an even voice. “Be a dear and pop it in the microwave would you please?” Miranda is quite amused watching Emily try to get her jaw off the floor as Andy, shocked, hurries from the room to do the Ice Queen's bidding.

 

After Emily is dismissed Miranda sits at her desk musing on the change in her perceptions of her brunette assistant. The Sci-fi convention was a turning point. Andrea has become something different in Miranda's mind. No longer just a desirable body. God knows she's surrounded by those each and every day. No. Miranda has begun to see Andrea on a completely different level. And with that change have come the plans that Miranda has for the girl's future.

 

Andy is even more shocked over the course of the next month as Miranda starts talking to her. Taking the time to explain the why of the way things are done. She suddenly finds herself attached to Miranda at the hip. In editorial meetings, at layout meetings, on the site of photo shoots and working directly with the guest writers, artists and designers for the magazine. She is no longer the one dispatched on trivial errands. No more running around the city for this or that. Her level of responsibility rises drastically as Miranda starts asking her opinion and actually discussing things when they disagree. Miranda even allows her opinion to be swayed on certain matters.

 

*****

 

It is the middle of Thursday evening. Andy is with her friends Lily and Doug at their favorite bar making an evening out of what started as having an after work drink. She has more time to spend with them as Miranda has taken on a third assistant to handle the duties she used to handle. Friendships have been renewed and laughter is plentiful. The three of them are well passed buzzed and on their way to being drunk. Her cell phone rings and she glances at the caller ID display. She is surprised when it is Miranda's name displayed. She immediately snaps open the phone and answers the call. “Yes Miranda?” She asks. Lily giggles in the background and Doug shushes her.

 

“Andrea...” Miranda hesitates several beats, for once unsure of what to say: This isn't her. She is Miranda Priestly. She is the definition of decisiveness. But in this moment she is fearful. Afraid of the step she is about to take. Even more afraid of not taking the chance. Fearful that the girl might reject her and afraid that she might say yes. “Andrea,” she starts again, “Would you care to come by the townhouse tomorrow evening? The girls will be at a friends and I thought...” Again she hesitates several beats. “I have the Xena series on DVD. I...I watch them when I have a night to myself. I would......I would like to have the company of someone that might enjoy them as much as I do.”

 

Andrea is silent for a long moment, surprised not only at the invitation but at it's source. “Yes, Miranda.” she says into receiver of her phone.

 

“I don't think you understand, Andrea,” Miranda offers. “I'm not ordering you. This has nothing to do with your job or your responsibility to Runway or to me. This is strictly a social invitation. You must feel free to refuse me if you are the least uncomfortable with the idea.”

 

Andrea slips off her bar stool and walks away from her noisy friends to gain some modicum of privacy. “I understand, Miranda,” she says very quietly into the phone. You're inviting me to you home on a Friday night.” She giggles softly, the alcohol in her blood making her bold. “It almost sounds like a date.”

 

“Yes.” Miranda answers. “Yes it does.”

 

“Till Friday evening then, Miranda,” Andy says, her voice both playful and promising. She then does something she's never considered doing before. She breaks the connection before Miranda does.

 

Miranda stands there with the receiver to her ear for a long moment. Her heart is beating rapidly and her mouth is dry. Andrea said yes. She has a date with Andrea tomorrow evening.

 

Andy returns to the bar and sits down with her friends.

 

Lily hands Andy her drink and then picking up her own, she laughingly leans in close to Andy's ear. “So what did the Dragon Lady want this time? You to change the weather so she can fly somewhere?”

 

“Nope.” Andy answers, smiling into her friends eyes and taking a savage pleasure in what she suspects is about to happen. “She just wanted to ask me out on a date.”

 

Doug finds a great deal of humor in watching Lily turning all sorts of colors after she inhales a mouthful of her drink.

Andy, looking as innocent as she can manage, helpfully pats her on the back.

 

*****

 

Friday morning finds Miranda at her desk. She is discontent. There are a hundred things before her that need doing and her mind is a million miles from where it should be. She can't think about anything but tonight.

 

Tonight she'll have her fangirl fix and she'll have the company of Andrea to share it with. It is all she can do not to call the girl into her office. The sense of anticipation, the almost need for the girl's company in a setting that is not work, prays upon her mind. She can never remember feeling this way before and it scares her some. But she also knows that she wouldn't trade this feeling for seeing both Irv and Jacqueline humiliated in some particularly juicy scandal on tomorrows Page Six, as amusing as that would be. She decides to do something proactive. They will need something to eat this evening. Something appropriate. She allows her mind to drift and she wonders what Xena and Gabriel would have eaten at a feast. She amuses herself for a few moments by going on-line and looking into what might be served in a feast in ancient Greece. Her mind, as always, is racing. Thoughts moving at breakneck speed, her amazingly adept and organized brain striving to consider all the angles of any given situation. It is who she is and what made her the icon those others admire as La Priestly. And as usual ugly doubt creeps into what was, for a moment, happiness. She closes her eyes and considers unpleasant thoughts. Andrea was at a bar last evening when they'd spoken. Miranda could hear the music and the din of multiple conversations when they were on the telephone. Her speech was the careful enunciation of one who'd had a few drinks. Miranda knows she is an intimidating and demanding presence. She relies on that part of her persona to maintain both her power and position. She bites her lip. She want to be fair to the girl. Wants to be sure that she is not some foolish old woman suddenly bent on a course that is only going to end up embarrassing them both. Gods, she thinks, If it were a man my age chasing someone Andrea's age I'd think him in a midlife crisis and have nothing but contempt for him. She nods to herself and continues the line of thought. I have to give her another chance to back out. I certainly don't want to be guilty of sexually harassing her. As much as I want this, it means nothing unless she wants it too. She opens her eyes and raises her head. “Andrea.” she calls out in her soft voice.

 

Andy is in the doorway within seconds of the summons. She smiles her beautiful smile. “Yes, Miranda?” She asks, curiosity on her face.

 

Step in and close the door,” Miranda says in her cold businesslike way.

 

Andy does as asked and with some trepidation steps up before Miranda's desk. She waits silently, her mind running back over her recent work performance

wondering if she's done something worthy of chastisement. She watches the white haired icon, looking for the tells she's gotten so good at reading. Those little hints to Miranda's moods and needs. Today Miranda seems fascinated by the top of her desk. Andy finds that a bit unusual because for once the space is clear of both paperwork and photographs. The second assistant can't imagine what could be so fascinating either on or below the glass surface. Although thinking about it, the skirt Miranda had worn this morning was to die for. Andy quickly catches herself. It didn't do to think of how good a particular article of clothing looked on Miranda. That only lead to thinking about what might be beneath said article. Which in turn lead to fantasies that one should keep away from the workplace if they wanted to get anything at all accomplished.

 

Miranda does not look up as she speaks. “Andrea,...” she says and then hesitates several beats as if either uncertain of what to say or choosing her words carefully. “I just wanted to be clear about this evening. My invitation to you is purely a social one. It will not effect your employment in any way. You must feel free to choose not to come if you are made at all uncomfortable by my invitation.”

 

Andy nods and smiles her wonderful smile. “I understand that Miranda'” she answers. “And I understand that with you as my employer and me as your employee, you have to be concerned about the possibility of a sexual harassment lawsuit.” She chuckles softly. “If you like, I'd be happy to write an email to you that says that I am coming of my own free will and agree that no legal action will be forthcoming in regard to anything that might happen tonight.”

 

Miranda's eyes come up to look at the girl across her desk. “You'd do that?” Miranda asks with something akin to wonder in her tone.

 

Andy shrugs and blushes. Her voice is very soft when she next speaks. “Miranda, If I'm being completely honest, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be tonight. I was thrilled when you asked me.” She looks at the woman. “I know it wasn't an easy thing for you to do.”

 

Miranda is surprised at Andrea's acute perception of the difficulty she had raising the courage necessary to ask the girl, not only on a date, but to share something very private to her. Something that she has hidden even from her children. Usually the one so in control, so commanding. In this situation she is completely adrift. Her dating and her marriages in the past have been carefully considered business transactions, weighed and balanced, benefit and loss. They have also been disasters. She long ago came to the conclusion that true romance would play no part in her life. That she has no talent for it. She has, for some time, thought herself unable to be in love as so many talk and write about the experience. She dares to look up at the girl and in a moment of epiphany she realizes it for the lie it is. She's just been waiting all this time for the right one to come along. And she has. Miranda is caught speechless as a wave of emotion follows her moment of crystalline clarity. She marshals herself and nods. She swallows once, just to steal seconds, to try and form a prayer that her voice will sound normal when she speaks. “The e-mail will not be necessary, Andrea. I will expect you at seven. Don't bother with dinner, I'll arrange something.” She looks up at the girl. “That's all.”

 

Twenty minutes later Miranda is on the phone with one of the finest Greek restaurants in the city. The owner is overjoyed when he finally comes to believe that it is indeed the Miranda Priestly on the phone. Soon she is discussing what she wants with the head chef. “Yes Oineus,” she says. “A feast for two, but I need it to be all finger foods. Something I can set out and that we can nibble on all evening. And I need it by six-thirty tonight.”

 

The Chef almost falls over himself. “I will create you a masterpiece Ms. Priestly! A feast fit for the Gods of Olympus!”

 

Miranda smiles to herself, such are the benefits of the long years she has labored to create the icon she has become. “Please, Oineus,” she says softly into the receiver, “it's Miranda, I'm Miranda to all of my friends...”

 

Late afternoon finally arrives. Miranda is surprised at how arduous her day has been. She's not been able to focus on work, her eyes wandering to the time every quarter of an hour and each time she swears to herself that an hour has passed between glances at the clock. When her eyes are not looking for the clock they are looking for the form of her second assistant moving around the outer office. She resists the urge to call the girl in to give her meaningless things to do just to see and speak with her. At precisely five she steps from her office and addresses her assistants. “Don't bother with the book tonight. I shan't have a chance to look at it before tomorrow evening. I'll be coming in to do some work tomorrow so just tell printing to secure it in this office when they're done with it tonight. Once that is accomplished both of you may start your weekend. That's all.” She glances to Emily who nods her understanding and then to Andrea who smiles at her. “Coat, bag.” she says. Andrea jumps up and moving to the closet, quickly sets Miranda's coat onto the woman's shoulders. It is nothing noticeable save to Miranda and Andrea but the white haired woman is aware that Andrea's hand brushes hers for a heartbeat longer than necessary as Andrea places Miranda's handbag into her hand. It is a touch that is warm with promise and Miranda feels a knot grow in her chest. She has such hopes for this evening and as she knows all too well that hope is a dangerous emotion when in regard to her personal life. Her track record in romantic entanglements is dismal and she hasn't had a relationship with another woman in many, many years. That earlier relationship was the deepest friendship Miranda had ever experienced and it was flirting with something so much more before it crashed and burned on the rocks of mutual ambition. She and her beloved rival have ended up the bitterest of enemies over the intervening decades. She has not considered another woman in a romantic capacity since she and Jacqueline had contended for a top editorial spot at

and she had come away the victor.

 

Negative thoughts continue to plague her as she rides the elevator to the lobby and walks to the waiting town car. Andrea is not her equal in the professional world. Worse she is her subordinate. To engage in a romantic liaison with a underling is tantamount to professional suicide. Her track record should tell her that the relationship will fail. That Andrea will become an enemy and Miranda will likely end up defending herself from a multi-million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit. Add to that, that the focus of her attraction is roughly half her age and the whole thing has disaster written all over it. The very idea that young and beautiful Andrea could somehow feel for a foolish old woman like her was simply absurd.

 

It is in the silence of the back of the town car that Miranda admits to herself that it doesn't matter what the outcome might be. What dangers might lie ahead. What eventual price she might have to pay. She wants this. Wants this night with Andrea. Wants it to be the beginning of something more between them. In a rare moment of complete emotional honesty with herself she admits that she is already in love with the girl. That she has been so for some time. By the time she arrives at the townhouse she is once again the formidable Miranda Priestly, clear of mind and focused on what she wants. Now the only way is forward. The only goal is to win her Andrea.

 

Miranda spends some time preparing the playroom. She moves pillows and candles from all over the house. Choosing colorful textiles from the linen closet she drapes them curtain like around the room . Stepping back she smiles and admires her handiwork. With a creative eye and a little imagination the once children's playroom now has become something reminiscent of an ancient bazaar. At six-thirty the doorbell rings downstairs. She answers the summons and admits the caterers from the Greek restaurant. The chef himself has come to oversee the catering crew and personally guarantee Ms. Priestly's satisfaction with the masterpiece he has created. With the colorful dishes the caterers place in the playroom and the enticing smells emanating from them the illusion of it being from another time and place is complete.



At precisely seven o'clock the doorbell rings again and Miranda's heart begins to race. She take several deep breaths and tries to calm herself. All her doubts again flash though her mind, but then her resolve of earlier reasserts itself. Andrea is worth the risk. Worth any risk. She moves quickly down the stairs and to the front door. Straightening her clothing and running a hand through her hair she opens the door to the smiling face of Andrea. Miranda's eyes appreciatively run up and down the form before her.

 

Andrea is dressed casually, but with evident thought to how she looks. The statement is fashionable in the extreme and on the cutting edge of risk. Something consciously designed to get Miranda to sit up and take notice. Andrea has spent most of the day considering what was available in the closet and had even gone so far as to solicit both Nigel's and Emily's advice telling them that she had a 'hot' date.

 

Miranda sighs softly and feels all the tension and doubt flow out of her like water running out of a broken pitcher. Andrea has begun to have this effect on her. When the girl is in her presence Miranda feels as if she's allowed to be someone other than the icon. That she's allowed to just be the woman Miranda. She smiles at the girl before her. Truly smiles and the beauty of it steals Andy's breath. “Welcome Andrea,” Miranda says. “Please, do come in.”

 

Miranda leads the way upstairs to what Andrea knows from earlier work related visits, is the children's playroom only to find it transformed. She takes in the wonderful smells of food and the ancient bazaar feel of the room. She is impressed with the amount of creative effort that went into the gesture.

 

Miranda gestures to the couch and then, much to Andy's amusement, awkwardly takes a seat at the far end. Andy can't help but think how charming it is to see the Miranda Priestly acting like an awkward teenager the first time they find themselves alone with a desired companion. Andy surprises herself when she realizes in this moment, face to face with Miranda, in the first minutes of a first date scenario, that she's not nervous. She was nervous while dressing and applying her makeup. She was a mess while on the subway ride to the townhouse, but now a warm calm has settled over her. Here, in the presence of the woman who rattles her on a daily basis at work, she looks for the tells she's gotten so good at reading. It is almost as if she can read Miranda's mind. Andy purposefully sits down directly beside Miranda and not at the other end of the couch. “So Miranda,” she asks lightly, “Do you have any particular episode that's your favorite?”

 

I find that I am a fan of Callisto,” Miranda says nervously looking down and busying herself with one of the DVD cases.

 

Andrea smiles and reaching across the short distance separating them, stills Miranda's hands with gentle pressure. She is amazed at how warm and soft Miranda's elegant long fingered hands are under hers. She notes Miranda stiffening at the touch and she uses her unique ability to 'read' the woman before her. She intuits, without doubt, the conflict inside Miranda. The desire, the fear, the need. She moves one hand to raise Miranda's chin while keeping the other firmly on Miranda's hands. She makes Miranda meet her smiling eyes. “Shhhhhhhhhhh, Miranda” she hushes softly, her own voice vibrating with emotion. “Don't be afraid. We both want this.” And with that, before the first DVD is ever placed in the DVD player, Andy leans across the intervening space and brushes soft lips across those of the woman she loves.

 

Miranda is completely surprised by both words and gesture, By its gentleness and depth of emotion. She is moved by the lack of artifice in Andrea and the genuineness of the act. She pulls back far enough to look into her Andrea's eyes, “Oh yes,” she whispers. “Yes, we do both want this.” She again leans forward and again their lips brush in a awkward and beautiful short kiss.

 

With a hand still on Miranda's hands Andrea sits back. “Let's watch some episodes with Callisto,” she says softly.

 

Miranda, trying to control both her breathing and her excitement at the turn of events tonight has provided nods mutely and busies herself finding the episode containing Callisto's first appearance.

 

The evening progresses smoothly. Laughter, good food, wine and mutual enjoyment of a shared interest all combine to make Miranda realize that she's having more fun than she can't remember when. Andrea sits close enough that Miranda can feel the warmth coming off the girl. Their two short awkward kisses are the extent of their physical contact on this particular night, but Miranda has high hopes for the future. A future with Andrea as a significant figure in her private life.

 

*****

 

Ten months later Andrea stands in the living room of the best suite the Radisson Valley Forge Pennsylvania Convention Center has to offer. She smiles to herself and thinks back over the whirlwind the last year has been. Paris, Nate leaving, discovering that Miranda harbored the same feelings for her that she has for Miranda, leaving Runway for a career in Journalism, but not leaving Miranda. For the umpteenth time she smooths the fine leather of the tall boots of her new Xena costume. This one is accurate in every detail. Miranda had see to that. She sighs again an looks towards the bathroom. “Miranda,” she calls out exasperated, “ no one here is going to recognize you. No one is looking for Miranda Priestly at a Sci/Fi Con in suburban Philadelphia.”

 

I have every reason to be concerned Andrea,” comes the disembodied voice from beyond the closed door. “If I should be recognized.....”

 

Andrea notes that Miranda is using her 'snippy' voice and realizes that her lover is scared. It had taken more than a month of work to convince Miranda to make this trip. To spend a weekend actively pursuing their fangirl secret. Andy wasn't going to allow it to all slip away now just because Miranda had gotten cold feet and was afraid to be seen. Not when she knew what a good time they could have at this convention. She decides desperate measures are called for to get Miranda to do as she wishes. “Miranda,” she says in a low seductive register, 'remember the night you told me about your Xena fantasy?”

 

That's not fair Andrea,” comes Miranda's plaintive reply from beyond the door. “We'd had quite a few drinks that night and you were...encouraging me.”

 

Andy laughs and licks her lips. “I don't recall any complaints at the time. I remember telling you that as long as you kept telling me your fantasy I'd keep doing what I was doing.”

 

A nasal harrumph come through door and the knob turns, Miranda steps out and Andy breath is taken away. Gone is the white haired icon in her place stands the lean muscular blond killing machine know as Callisto. “My God, Miranda, you're perfect.....” Andy gasps.

 

Miranda's hands go self-consciously to her bare midriff above the leather skirt of the armor she wears. “I was out of my mind with alcohol and pleasure that night and you were taking advantage of me,” she whines softly, then glancing in the full length mirrored wall of the bathroom she thoughtfully pulls her lower lip between her teeth. “I do seem to do some small justice to the character.....” she almost whispers.

 

Andy wraps her arms around her lover from behind and whispers into her ear, “And what do you think happens later tonight, hummmmm?” She teases. “After the costume parade......After we've crossed swords on stage in front of all those comic book geeks?” she giggles and gently bites Miranda's earlobe. “We come back here.......” she whispers.

 

As Callisto and Xena.....” Miranda replies, her eyes going wide and her breath catching.

 

Andy smiles wickedly at her lover in the mirror. “Yep,” she says. “Some fantasies do come true.”

 

fini.