Andy clutched the railing in the elevator as vertigo unexpectedly slammed into her. The world tilted on its axis and she couldn't tell which way was up. She felt herself falling, or rising, she was unsure. A cold sweat broke out all over her body. Nausea turned her stomach and weakness gripped her muscles.
The dizziness passed and Andy was able to steady herself enough to seem somewhat composed. Stumbling out of the blessedly empty elevator, she made her way to her desk on shaky legs. Flopping heavily into her chair, she laid her head back and closed her eyes.
An incessant weakness pulled at every cell in her body. Her head was in a constant state of pain. Her stomach was sensitive to almost all food. Andy had dropped weight without meaning to, and she rarely slept because of constant headaches. Andy knew her work was suffering. She was not physically quick enough anymore. She could no longer think fast enough. Andy could still anticipate Miranda’s needs. But, she knew, without doubt, that her efficiency was suffering.
It worried her.
And, it worried her doctor enough to suggest a specialist.
“Andy,” Emily’s shrill voice, emphasized by a poke to her shoulder, startled her. Opening bleary eyes, Andy registered grave worry etched across the redhead’s features. “Are you alright?” Andy didn't even realize her nose was bleeding until Emily pressed a soft tissue under it.
Head tipped back, Emily pressed more tissues to Andy’s hands and brought them up to staunch the flow of blood. Tears filled Andy’s eyes. She looked up into Emily’s concerned eyes. “I don’t know, Em,” she admitted quietly, miserably.
Brown eyes slid to the tray holding Miranda’s coffee at the edge of her desk. It had been a shock to Andy when she faltered and Emily had stepped in to help her (of all things). The compassion Emily guarded so fiercely was showered upon the second assistant without question or expectancy. Emily picked up Miranda’s coffee when it was evident Andy could not promptly deliver as before. She made excuses for the brunette’s lengthy errand runs. She covered for her when nausea overtook her. She filled the gaps in silences when Miranda asked her questions she could not think through logically anymore. She even kept a supply of painkillers for Andy’s headaches.
In short, Emily picked up the slack where Andy dropped it.
It was endearing and compassionate. And, Andy appreciated it more than she would ever be able to express to her. But, it was also greatly humbling. She was a burden.
“I’m seeing a specialist today,” she said slowly, her eyes closed. “But, either way, I think I need to move on from Runway. Look for something a little less stressful.”
Before Emily could comment, Andy stood and walked to the bathroom where she could clean herself up.
Miranda’s keen eyes missed little of what happened around her. The editor knew the dynamic between her first and second assistant had changed. Emily had taken a very protective attitude toward Andrea and was covering for her whenever and however possible. For that, Miranda was inordinately grateful; because it permitted her to excuse Andrea’s lapses with impunity.
Miranda suspected Emily knew she was making allowances for Andrea that she would've never suffered from anyone else, but in this they were a united front: for Andrea's sake, they both made allowances. Miranda was the epitome of patience where it concerned the brunette; even going as far as allowing mistakes without repercussion. Time became a relative term that bent to Andrea’s capacity to be punctual with it. Efficiency was now defined by the brunette’s ability to perform on any given day. Nothing was absolute.
The first moment Andrea had gone blank in the middle of a conversation, Miranda felt an immediate and intense moment of dread. She knew something was wrong. It was disconcerting to see the young woman’s intelligent brown eyes glaze over in incomprehension.
It was more discomfiting to witness the physical weakness accosting the vibrant brunette. So, as was her custom, Miranda pretended to ignore the problem as she manipulated and coerced her way to what she wanted. In an unusual display of subtlety, Miranda had pushed Andrea to get a physical examination without alerting the young woman to the fact that she actually greatly cared about the results.
Rereading the words in front of her, the editor considered her endeavor perhaps a little too successful. “Andrea,” she called out softly in her usual inflection but with an obvious edge of dipleasure.
Miranda winced and averted her eyes, her ire immediately dissipating, at the stumbling steps Andrea took into her office. She heard the young woman lean heavily on one of the chairs in front of her desk, breathing heavily, before unceremoniously (and without permission) slumping into the seat.
“Yes, Miranda,” Andrea expelled on a tired sigh.
Blue eyes raked critically over the seated figure. The dress Andrea wore was beautiful but it hung off her gaunt frame all wrong. The makeup she wore could not hide her pallor or the dark circles under her eyes. And, the brown eyes looked so lost and haunted as they stared unseeingly at the space between her feet. The whole image of the woman seated in front of her made Miranda ache.
Andrea looked fragile; so unlike her normal self.
“What is the meaning of this?” Some of her ire returned as she picked up Andrea’s letter of resignation. Effective immediately.
“Seriously,” Andrea’s voice went high at the end making the word a question.
An arched brow and a pointed look from icy eyes caused Andrea to release a long sigh. She shifted in the chair.
“I may be a little slower on the uptake than usual, but I have noticed some things,” steady brown eyes held blue, “Your allowances, your leniency, and your patience. Emily couldn’t possibly cover all the moments I’ve fallen short in the last few weeks.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Miranda cut Andrea off; fear at her motivations forcing her to obfuscate.
A genial smile spread full lips making the editor halt her tirade. “Miranda,” the young woman shifted forward in her chair, “I don’t know why you’ve kept from firing me.” The honest wonder in her voice caused an involuntary squeeze of Miranda’s heart. “I appreciate it, whatever your reasons,” Andrea continued, eyes steadfastly holding Miranda’s, “And, trust me when I say if I could have handed in a two weeks notice instead I would have.” Andrea sighed heavily again and averted her gaze. “But, I am not well. And, I can’t continue to be a hindrance. You run a multimillion dollar magazine; you need an assistant that can at least get you coffee in a decent amount of time without spilling it all before she can get it to you.”
Miranda stared at Andrea without speaking. Her gaze softening the longer she stared at her. The silence stretched between them.
“I’ll clean out my desk and go,” Andrea broke their standoff, rising from her chair.
“Andrea,” the name fell like a plea from Miranda’s lips.
Not turning, but pausing, the young woman lifted her eyes to the ceiling shaking her head sadly, “You don’t need me.”
Andy watched the rivulets of water racing down her window gaining speed as the thunderstorm increased in ferocity. Not thinking of anything, she felt comfortably numb at the moment.
She didn't think about leaving the only thing that had kept her going since the god-awful week of testing had proved fruitless. She didn't think of the ice-blue eyes, the snow-white hair, and the finely-lined skin of the most imposing, powerful person she had ever met. She didn't think. At all.
Until, she spied the very woman she was most definitely not thinking about walking through the downpour. Shaking herself, she blinked several times and looked again. Miranda was most definitely walking toward her building. Brow furrowed in confusion, Andy stood staring at the scene below her.
An incessant buzzing broke through the fog of her mind. Turning, she went to the speaker that allowed her to buzz visitors up.
"Andrea," the impatient bark made the Andy's heart rate spike.
"Miranda?" she squeaked, unable to fully believe the woman was at her doorstep.
"Are you going to let me in?" The usual command in the soft voice spurred Andy to action.
Buzzing the editor in, Andy proceeded to pace back and forth in a sudden burst of energy. Waiting for the knock at her door felt like an eternity. But once the inevitable knock came, she froze. At a second, louder knock, Andy promptly walked to the door and pulled it open.
Both figures stared at one another a moment, sizing each other up. Her manners finally reasserting themselves, Andy moved aside and opened the door wider, "Please come in."
Walking through the threshold, Miranda slipped her coat off allowing the young woman's assistance.
Andy walked around the editor, "Can I get you anything to drink?"
She abruptly stopped at the feel of a hand wrapped around her wrist. She swallowed nervously; Miranda's fingers seemed to imprint themselves on her bare skin. Turning, Andy saw what she assumed had always been present in Miranda's eyes but she was too blind to see with all the trappings of a youthfully ignorant mind.
Blue eyes were awash with deep empathy and, impossibly, love. Andy couldn't be sure; it might've just been her head playing tricks on her.
"Don't fall in love with me, Miranda," she warned, her voice too raw to be a joke. Miranda's eyes widened in shock at the directness. "It will be a short lived affair." A small, bitter laugh escaped Andy's chest leaving sobering reality in its wake. "I'm dying."
"We're all dying, Andrea. That is hardly news." Miranda's voice trembled, but she refused to be so easily dismissed. "What did your doctors say? What did your tests reveal?"
"How did you…" Andy closed her mouth and rolled her eyes. She shouldn't be surprised. Miranda always had a way of finding out whatever she wanted. She pulled the editor the few steps to the couch and commanded, "Sit." Miranda complied. Sitting quietly as Andy rummaged through the kitchen.
She returned with a bottle of wine and two oversized wine glasses. Plopping down directly next the editor, Andy enjoyed the feel of Miranda's body heat seeping into her skin. Her mind stayed focused on the feel of Miranda's thigh pressed against her own as she opened the wine and filled each glass.
"Chateau Margaux 1995," Miranda noted, slightly impressed to find such a vintage in the young woman's home.
Andy shrugged, taking an appreciative drink from her glass. "Nate gave it to me for my birthday," she hummed approvingly at the explosion of taste on her tongue, "I'm glad he decided to leave it when he high tailed it out of here. I was saving it for a special occasion; but I'm quickly learning there's no time like the present."
Miranda did not comment. She knew her former assistant would answer her questions when she was ready. And, since the editor was the one imposing, she would defer her usual impatience. She simply enjoyed the wine allowing the silence to stretch.
Setting her wine down and shifting to face Miranda, Andy sighed. "Brain tumor," she stated factually, without inflection, "pressed up against the autonomic regulating centers of my brain. Also affecting, but to a lesser degree, the aural and visual portions of my brain. Inoperable."
Miranda's hands trembled as she set her wine on the coffee table. She could not speak for several moments. Andy watched her; she had never seen Miranda so pale, or speechless.
"You need a second opinion," Miranda's voice was nearly inaudible. She couldn't bear to consider the only possibility the young woman was presenting.
"I've had several, Miranda," Andy sighed, "They've all said the same thing. A surgery will destroy the tissue surrounding the tumor, which, if successful, will leave me a vegetable at best. And the chance of success is too much of a long shot to even consider risking such an extreme procedure."
"Other alternatives?" Blue eyes fiercely bore into brown.
Andy shook her head.
"I would need a miracle."
The editor reached for the brunette's hand and clutched it tightly. Blue eyes burned with tears.
"I'm scared." Andy laughed nervously, fear gnawing at her insides. She felt the hand in hers tighten. "Terrified really."
"I'll be with you." Miranda ran with the idea once it was out of her mouth. "It might not make it any less terrifying, but you won't be alone."
The words floored Andy. Her heart suddenly felt too big for her rib cage; it's frantic beat loud in her ears. "I couldn't ask that of you," Andy's said softly, beyond touched at even the suggestion. But she would not impose, she could not impose on Miranda's life.
"Silly girl," Miranda whispered tenderly, "I do one good deed a year."
"How very generous of you," Andy smiled despite the situation. A little teasing could go a long way. This she could do. This was always effortless.
"This year, I'm going to do you," Miranda lightened her tone, allowing the teasing to somewhat diffuse the inescapable tension.
"A little forward," Andy smirked, the spark reaching her eyes for the first time in weeks, "But, I'm not opposed."
Leaning over, Miranda captured full lips in a heart wrenching kiss. Slipping her hands to cup Andy's face, she deepened the kiss. Desperation and heartbreak fueling her, Miranda clutched the young woman fiercely; not feeling the tears rolling down her cheeks.
Coming up for breath, Andy slipped her fingers through white hair. "I was kidding, Miranda," she said gently but with no real desire to stop.
"I'm not," Miranda's voice broke over the two small words. "There's no time to waste." She pulled the young woman into her lap. Anguish breaking her voice, she whispered in despair you're dying before recapturing Andy's mouth.
Miranda woke with alarm: something was wrong. She didn't hear little feet moving beyond her bedroom door, so it wasn't her girls. Her relief was short lived as her ears registered the short, shallow breathing of the woman in her arms.
Scrambling to turn the light on, panic gripped her. In the soft light of the bedside lamp Miranda could see the dimming in the luminous brown eyes. Andrea was leaving her. “Don’t,” her voice broke as she squeezed the young woman to her, “leave me.” Her chest constricted painfully and her heart lodged itself in her throat. Andrea couldn't die in her arms.
Andrea smiled tiredly but with all the radiance of her warmth. “I’ll always be near.” She pressed a chaste kiss to Miranda’s lips.
“I can’t…live…without you,” Miranda admitted brokenly, hot tears streaming down her face. She wasn't given over to hyperbole in her personal life but at that moment, with the brunette’s life slipping through her fingers, she felt her world ending. The whole of it was screeching to an abrupt halt that threatened to destroy her.
“Live,” Andrea’s breath hitched and caught in her throat. She was having trouble drawing a full breath. The tumor was now fully pressing against the parts of her brain that controlled her breathing and heart beat. The young woman was dying. “Live for your girls.”
Miranda nodded absently wanting to please Andrea, even if it was a lie. She couldn't see beyond this moment. Her life was ending along with Andrea's. She pressed soft kisses on every part of the brunette’s face she could reach.
Weak hands lifted to Miranda’s face and cradled it gently, “You have made life worth living. I love you so much.” Andrea kissed Miranda then, with all the strength she had left. She kissed her with all the love her heart could not contain. She kissed her with the all the certainty of knowing that they would never share another moment; with all the passion born of desperation.
Breathing harsher now, Andrea released Miranda’s lips. The editor buried her head in the young woman’s chest, ear pressed tightly to her sternum, listening to the slowing heartbeat. Tears she could not control streamed down Miranda’s cheeks as the words I love you spilled from her mouth like a prayer.
Andrea breathed deeply once.
Miranda’s world narrowed. Each sluggish heartbeat she heard spread numbing grief through her.
Andrea clutched Miranda tightly to her lanky frame. She breathed deeply one final time.
Miranda felt no more movement from Andrea. Her ear pressed against the young woman’s chest, Miranda heard the heart she loved stop.
Andrea’s body went slack.
Miranda’s heart shattered.
Tenderly holding Andrea’s body, she rocked them as her tears soaked the young woman’s unfashionable, gaudy, and completely lovable Northwestern t-shirt.
There were things to attend to. Andrea had planned for this; she insisted they not leave things undone in preparation for the inevitable. There were numbers to call and people that would come collect the body and...and...and...
But, there was only this for Miranda at that moment. Her heart, her soul had left and there was nothing that she could do except mourn. So, Miranda quietly poured out her grief as Andrea’s soul finally slipped the surly bonds of Earth.