Actions

Work Header

Sankofa

Work Text:

"Look, Andy. I'm just gonna say this: it's got to be you. We need an edge over all the other yuppy scum papers and mag-rags, and your Runway connections are going to be that edge. I know, and it's true, you're better than this, but I'll make it up to you with a huge bonus in your pocket if you snag anything good. It's just a month. One month. You can handle a bit of the shallow crowd – you've done it before."

"Roger, I—" Andy started, still wanting to protest, but he cut her off.

"—Don't. Look, I know you've been rising fast here, but I'm still the boss, and if I say you're going to go, you go, capisce?"

Andy bit back a groan and nodded. No matter how much she knew she was going to regret every minute of it, Roger was only doing his job, and it was true. Compared to the other writers in her sector, she was the only one with the slightest qualifications to cover New York's Next Top Model aside from Sarah at the fashion column, but Sarah had filed her two-weeks' notice and the newbie taking over just wasn't up to the competition around the annual fashion spaz-aganza. Andy didn't really have any problem with the fashion crowd. She still had a few minimal connections, and they obviously weren't all as shallow as they were often portrayed, but she was in the middle of an interesting article that the crime-beat was feeding over to her, and she didn't want to lose it.

"I'll do it, boss, but can I at least keep going with the Parksins' case?"

Roger grinned. "There's my girl. You go right ahead, as long as you really put your effort into this. I know it's supposed to be all hush-hush, but I heard there was some big shot in with the judges this year, so I really want you to nab this."

Andy rolled her eyes. "You just picked me because you knew I'd willingly double my workload rather than drop a good story, didn't you?" she teased.

Roger, the sandy-haired, middle-aged, ex-Canadian, recently-promoted editor of The Mirror, gave Andy a smirk. "You're getting to know me too well, Sachs. Soon enough, you'll be fighting me for an editor slot."

Andy couldn't decide if that was a hint, a promise, or a threat, so she let the comment drop. "Fine. New York's Next Top Model."

Roger raised an eyebrow. "And were you paying attention when I explained it?"

"Of course," Andy replied. She had been there long enough that she could afford to banter with her boss, as long as she got her work done.

"Run me through it then," he said. Andy gave him a surprised look. Apparently, he was more serious about this than she had thought.

"You know the basics. Modeling competition. Biggest one besides the whole, American version. You've got the scores of primping women, the four judges, the television, the paparazzi, of which I'll be part, the..."

Roger held up a hand. "I'm serious, Andy."

She sighed. "Fine. I go to the introduction with all the other reporters, talk to everyone important, get a few quotes in case that's all I get. I try and talk to the right people, make the right impressions, because one or two reporters get to interview the contestants and the judges, and no matter how very shallow it all is, people love to read sugar-coated bios of beautiful women and..." she ended that line of sarcasm when Roger glared at her. "And if I nab the spot, I hover around for a month and write articles in The Mirror's name while actually getting published online in cheap blogs when I could be writing about the double homicide and attempted suicide on 3rd and Main."

Andy grinned. She wasn't entirely serious about her view of the fluff writing, and Roger knew it. They had gotten to know each other well enough in the past two years that they had inside jokes, especially about all the less-than-serious things The Mirror was forced to publish, despite its comparatively high standards.

Roger returned her smile and sent her back out to her desk.


 

Monday morning found Andy shivering outside the entrance marked PRESSwishing she still had a winter coat that wasn't completely last-season. While her time at Runway had instilled in her a sense of respect for fashion and a willingness to keep herself well-dressed, she simply didn't have the pocket money to stay completely with the trends. Still, today she thought she had pulled it off; a simple, practical black dress that had a good designer cut and a style that could have belonged to any year, paired with some of the lacy, floral-patterned tights that had been coming back into style, which she hoped would come across as edgy rather than presumptuous. Simple grey swede boots and a matching green scarf and hat set were her concessions to the practicality of a New York winter, as well as a long, not-quite-meant-for-winter coat that her parents had sent from London. She had tried to give the outfit a professional opinion, and decided it would pass the Emily-test at an artsy but chic, and figured it was the best she could do at such short notice.

Flashing her Mirror pass, she was escorted into the staging area for the judging and filming, where she and a smattering of other reporters were given the usual rundown. Don't take any pictures we don't want people to see, don't write down anything that makes us look bad, try to make people like these bloody models, and whatever you do, do not pester the judges. Andy smiled to herself, noticing that her internal voice sounded suspiciously like a certain British assistant she hadn't seen in some time.

It was nothing new. By the end of the day, Andy had mingled and mingled, talking to hopeful models, bitchy models, up-and-coming designers, failing designers hoping for some quick boost of fame that this show could provide, and some very friendly tech-crew people that Andy knew she shouldn't have wasted her time talking to, but who were much more candid in their comments. Though she recognized a face or two from various Runway occasions, no one who she spoke to seemed to make the connection between the politely inquisitive journalist and the harried assistant she had once been. When the allotted time for the impromptu meet-and-greet was over, Andy had some usable quotes, some photos that she was sure someone could do something with – she didn't consider herself much of a photographer, but the Mirror budgeters were cheap bastards and only paid decent money if the reporters took their own shots, so she had taken a quick class over the summer – and was feeling more stressed than writing for the crime-beat had ever made her, because Andy was finding it hard to be surrounded by the fashion crowd without memories of a particular Editor-in-Chief popping up from where she had carefully buried them since Paris.

"Andy? Andy!"

Andy turned at the sound of her name, coming face-to-face with a very familiar figure. "Serena! Hi! What are you doing here?"

The Brazilian chuckled, pulling Andy into a quick hug. "I could ask you the same thing! You look great," she added, hands on Andy's shoulders, giving her outfit a quick once-over. "Haven't lost the Runway touch yet."

Andy smiled; Serena's good moods were always rather catching. "Thanks, that's good to hear. You look lovely as always. I'm here with work, of course."

Serena nodded. "Me as well. No rest for the weary, eh? I suppose I should let you get back to... work."

Andy shrugged. "Well if you could spare a quote about all of this," she waved a hand, "then I can chat for a bit longer and call it multitasking."

She laughed, but was cut off by a voice rising above the general murmur of the crowd. "Serena! What are you doing?"

A very familiar redhead appeared at Serena's elbow. Without even sparing a glance for Andy, Emily grabbed Serena by the arm and tried to steer her away. "She's looking for you!"

Andy was suddenly feeling a bit nauseous. It was one thing for Serena to be here; after all, she had been a model for five years before taking on a consulting job at Runway. But for both Serena and Emily to be here? Andy desperately hoped that didn't mean what she thought it did. However, it was hard to ignore the fact that there had only ever been one 'she' whom Emily spoke of in quite that tone of voice. But what on earth would she be doing here?

With only a mouthed, "Sorry" cast over Serena's shoulder, the two young women had disappeared, leaving a nerve-wracked Andy to her own devices.

She mingled until her nerves were completely shot, talking to the needed persona and gathering an appropriate amount of quotes, though, reading over the quotes later that night, she wouldn't remember the context of a single one, because her mind was firmly planted on another topic entirely. A topic which was currently entering the room from Andy's right, drawing all eyes like moths to a flame as she swept self-importantly into the room, pulling the very breath from the spectators' lungs and wrapping it around herself like a designer stole.

She looked absolutely stunning. Self-possessed, elegant, and practical—or what passed as practical for the queen of fashion—in a Donna Karan sheer blouse, black, hip-hugging pencil skirt, delicate filigree sweater, and nude, four-inch heels… One look brought every memory Andy had been suppressing since Paris to the forefront of her mind, chief among those being the memory of exactly how horribly beautiful Miranda Priestly could be.

For a moment, the room lay silent and poised, allowing her entrance exactly the respect it deserved, before the silence was shattered in a blinding flash of camera-lights as everyone who was anyone—and quite a few who weren't—tried to incorporate themselves within her sphere of influence.

Feeling blindsided and dazed, Andy turned to a fellow journalist she didn't know all that well, asking in a hushed tone, "What is she doing here?"

The young man needed no elaboration upon Andy's question, but he turned up his nose as he replied, "Well someone clearly didn't do their homework. She's the judge everyone's been talking about. Basically the big question we're all trying to get answered is who on earth talked her into it. Now if you'll excuse me, I actually plan to get some work done."

With that, the haughty-voiced man departed, beginning to work his way towards the new "center" of the room: Miranda's corner.

Andy, in the meantime, stayed as far away from there as humanly possible, engrossing herself in conversation with a professional model from Bolivia. The woman was courteous, her slightly hesitant English was charming, and she had quite the success story since her arrival in the states. However, she had once made a bad impression upon one Miranda Priestly, and so, like Andy, she was avoiding the area of the room containing the bulk of the Priestly melee. Though Andy tried to pay attention to the model, her mind continually drifted to another woman.

I've never seen her so willing to mingle with press. And isn't this whole scene just… beneath her? Andy watched her from the corner of her eye, noting the distinctly fake smiles, the barely tolerated air-kisses, the quick motion of her lips as she murmured some unseen command to Emily and the fair-haired second assistant who flanked her. Just that single step behind and to the left or right. My replacement, she thought, trying to quell the feelings of regret, even jealousy, which threatened to break into the conversation she was still attempting to have.

The model brought her back with a touch to her arm and a sympathetic smile. "You have known her too, no?"

Andy blinked stupidly. "What?"

"I can see the… how would you say… the hold? She has a hold on you."

Andy didn't even bother to deny that her attentions were wandering. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"

"—Please, I understand. She always has drawn the eye, no? And even when she has cast you aside, it's hard to forget her amparo… ah, her… favor."

Andy nodded slowly, recognizing a kindred spirit. "I… yes. It is. I'm sorry; I don't think I ever actually caught your name?"

"Theresa Montenegro. And you?"

Andy's eyes widened. She knew this name. This was a woman who had graced the cover of many of Runway's competition magazines, but who was very well known to be a non-person in Runway's halls. Her fall from favor must have been interesting indeed.

"Andy. Andy Sachs." She stuck out her hand, as though they were just being introduced, rather than having been speaking for the past fifteen minutes. "I'm sure you can tell why I'm here," she continued, hefting her camera with a shrug, "but I can't see you competing with amateurs, so what brings you to New York's Next Top Model?

Teresa smiled, "I'm to be a mentor, an instructor."

"That makes a whole lot more sense."

They talked for a while longer, and when Teresa's attention was drawn away by her manager, she scribbled her number on Andy's notepad with promises that they would get drinks sometime. Andy smiled to herself. Even if the evening was a complete waste for her job, at least she had made a new friend, a much needed one at that, seeing as Doug and Lily were barely talking to her since the breakup with Nate. As for Nate, he seemed perfectly willing to "talk," but Andy quickly learned that he was, in fact, not over her, not ready to be friends, and only wanted to find out how they could get back together. "Talk" was little more than poorly disguised innuendo for a physical relationship that held no draw for her any longer. While part of her almost wished she could just take up where they had left off, the greater part of her knew that would hardly be fair to either of them. She just… wasn't interested in that anymore. Of course, what she was interested in wasn't exactly a feasible alternative, or even something she let herself think about. Ah well. At least there aren't any distractions from my job…

Except there was most definitely a distraction. A distraction who managed to be just behind her when she finally decided to make an early escape, planning to grab some lunch before returning for the evening gala-cum-more-formal-press-conference.

"Andrea," that voice called. Though called was more than likely not the proper word for anything that issued from Miranda Priestly's mouth. She didn't call, no, that was far too crass. Her soft voice was one of beckoning, with delicately forceful undertones of summoning. If your name was spoken, you did not ignore her. You didn't freeze in place, suddenly spineless. You did not pretend you hadn't heard. Yet that is precisely what Andy did. She panicked, her breath caught, her step stuttered, and before she could make a conscious decision between fight and flight, she fled. Camera clutched to her chest like life preserver, boots scuffing across the floor just a touch too fast to be casual, but not blatantly so. In a moment, she was out the doors, out in the lobby, and in just a moment more she was back in the New York cold, diving into a convenient taxi and pulling far away from possibly her entire future.

Oh fuck! What did I just do? She knows I heard her. Of course she knows. Well I can kiss any chance at covering that story goodbye.

Now that she had a clearer head, Andy could only wish she had just wo-manned up and turned, greeted her old boss with a cheery, "Miranda, how good to see you!" More than likely, Miranda would have let her off the hook with little more than a few perfunctory words about her atrocious attire or some snide comment about her work.

Then again, more than likely, Andy would have managed something far more idiotic than merely fleeing. Something akin to sliding her hands around the editor's neck and silencing those demeaning, insulting, cruel lips with an entirely unwelcome kiss.

Dammit. Andrea thought. Still not over her.


 

Seeing little point in further torment, Andy managed to think herself in circles until she was stressed to the point of feeling literally sick to her stomach. Sick enough to phone Roger's office number – knowing he wouldn't be in again till Tuesday morning, far too late to change anything – and explain that under no circumstances would she be attending the evening's social event. She stitched together her quotes and notes into something vaguely resembling an article and finished her research for the Parksins' case before flopping into bed and counting enough merrily prancing Prada heels – ahem, sheep, that is, merrily prancing sheep – to forcibly put herself to sleep.

Tomorrow was going to be a long day.


 

She was right. She was woken at some ungodly hour by the "important" phone buzzer: the only one set loud enough to make any difference when she was so deeply determined to be asleep.

Expecting to be scolded at the very least, fired at worst, his words were instead decidedly surprising, though still unwelcome.

"I don't know what you did today, Andy—"

"Boss, I—"

"—but whatever it was, keep doing it, cause you just nailed yourself the premier slot on the publicity team."

"—can explain… wait, what?"

"Congrats, my little fashionista, now go back to sleep. Your month of hell starts tomorrow."

Letting the phone drop on the bedside table with a thud of inevitability, Andy rolled over with a groan, tugging the pillow over the back of her head and spending a good moment kicking her feet up and down and cursing into her mattress.

If this was the universe's idea of a joke, it needed a better sense of humor.

Eventually, her thoughts turned towards the more practical questions. Lying on her back, staring up at the stucco ceiling and letting her subconscious make patterns out of the texture there, she allowed her mind to muse over a subject she had been so forcibly avoiding for the past two years.

Miranda Priestly.

There were so many roads down which thoughts of that damned woman could lead, some of which would lead to anger, some to sadness, some to wistfulness and, hell, she had to admit, a few to having a hand down her pants. She'd been each of those places more than once in the first few months after the sheer finality of her exit from Miranda's life with that last, embarrassingly childish wave goodbye. It had felt like every emotion that she had suppressed under the weight of all the menial tasks the editor had given her could suddenly surface and slap her in the face. And what a bitch-slap it had been.

The sadness and wistfulness had faded into the trials and tribulations of her new job, buried in the joy of writing once again. The anger had faded into the friendly calls from Nigel, chatting about his raise and hearing his unbending faith in Miranda's decisions. Yet the first time she had woken with the sheets twisted about her, damp with sweat, an insistent throbbing echoing untended between her thighs and Miranda's voice hanging in the air around her, well, that particular experience was much harder to forget.

She wasn't all that surprised that Miranda could turn her on. After all, she carried so many of the traditionally clichéd stigmas that made up the authority-figure wet-dream almost everyone would admit to having at least once or twice. No, that wasn't what shocked her. What shocked her had been the way the dream always started, with Miranda gracing her with one of those impossibly rare smiles and touching her in some casual way – a hand on her shoulder, once, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, another – and with no commands, no orders, no eyebrows arched in disdain. It was the warmth Andrea felt in some part of her entirely separate from her libido, the warmth that would flicker just behind her rib cage every time she guiltily read Miranda's Letter in the new issue she was still guiltily subscribed to, the warmth that told her that her feelings had never been and never would be as simple and ignorable as mere desire.

Yet, after those first few months, time and distance had allowed her to induratize herself to even those emotions she refused to put a name to, and she hadn't given Miranda more that the occasional addictive, reflexive thought in over a year.

Now, seeing her today… It all seemed so inescapable. She'd sworn she'd just been waiting for Nate to move on before she started dating again, or, on the off days, sworn she was just too focused on her job. But the truth was, no matter how many half-hearted passes she received at one bar or another after work, she hadn't felt her usual spark in a long time.

The phone was ringing again. Landline, this time; strange. Very few people had that number, and most of them had been friends of Nate. She fished around under her bed for a few panicky moments before snagging the harshly bleating square and jabbing connect without checking the ID.

"Andy Sachs."

"Meet me for lunch at the Japanese place on forty-fifth at one thirty."

"M-Miranda?" Andy managed to stutter out. Even with the phone pressed reassuringly against her ear, it felt as though her thoughts had conjured the woman's voice out of thin air.

"Don't be late, Andrea."

The phone dropped from Andy's trembling fingers. Luckily, Miranda had already hung up. Hearing that voice two times in as many days was wreaking havoc with Andrea's ability to think even without the cryptic demand for a meeting. God, she couldn't turn it down, could she? Of course, Miranda wouldn't even consider that Andy would say no. It didn't matter that she had walked away once, that she had moved on; to Miranda, no one was ever anything more than the lowest thing they had been in her eyes, meaning Andrea was nothing more than a second assistant, there to answer to her whim, regardless of the time of day, the day of the week, or the fact that she was no longer even her employee.

I really, really shouldn't go. She thought. But there's… just enough time to check her old info and see which Japanese restaurant Miranda ever deigned to dine in on forty-fifth.


 

She wasn't late. In fact, she was ten minutes early, knowing Miranda would be there five earlier than that and wanting the editor to be in charge of the delicate matter of seating. Sure enough, a waitress quickly escorted her to a table for two pressed into a corner between an alley-side window and an elegant bamboo-frame wall. She was greeted first by that iconic silver hair, lit up by a puddle of gentle sunlight spilling through the pane of glass, highlighting the bridge of that infamous nose, lending a flash of true color to the icy blue of her eyes as she turned, rising to greet her ex-assistant. Andy shivered.

"Andrea," she murmured cordially, shocking Andy to no end when she ignored the younger woman's outstretched hand and gently clasped her upper arm instead, leaning in for two quick air-kisses, as though greeting an old friend rather than the biggest disappointment of her career.

She sat without further discourse, leaving Andy scrambling to piece together any semblance of the way she had imagined this lunch would go.

"I was… disappointed when I didn't catch you yesterday," Miranda started as Andy sat across from her, sparing her a sharply inquisitive glance over the top of her menu. "You left in something of a hurry."

Andy's hands were trembling as she mirrored Miranda and opened the menu. She didn't meet the older woman's eyes, fearing the transparency she always seemed to have under Miranda's gaze. Despite the pointed words, Miranda's tone had been light, conversational. Andy followed her example. "I wasn't feeling well," she replied, offering no further explanation in the hopes that Miranda would hear the truth there and not ask anything further. After all, she could hardly reply I wasn't feeling well, because just the sight of you after all this time is making me feel sick. Scared sick, certainly, but heartsick as well.

Miranda hummed noncommittally, setting her menu down and taking a distracted sip from the glass of seltzer already perched before her.

A waiter appeared and, after a moment of internal debate over the pros and cons of ordering wine – pro: something to make this entire exchange just that much more bearable, con: drinking wine at one in the afternoon at a Japanese restaurant was hardly a sign of sound mental health – she went for water.

Knowing Miranda always paid for meals she initiated, Andrea decided if she were to endure this little piece of her personal hell, she needed as distracting a meal as possible, so she ordered something she had never tried, an exorbitantly priced sea urchin, and hoped neither the shellfish nor her dining companion would kill her while idly wondering which death she would prefer.

Handing over their menus, Miranda favored her with an amused smile. "Feeling adventurous, Andrea?"

Andy flushed under the intensity of Miranda's stare. It wasn't often that an assistant had Miranda's undivided attention for anything other than failing some important task or another, so it was hard not to expect some sort of perfectly-scripted tongue lashing.

"I am, actually," she finally replied.

The amusement in Miranda's smile faded into something almost… devious. "Excellent. Because I can assure you… this month is going to be a bit of an adventure for the both of us."

And just like that, the topic was business.

"Only in New York can one find producers with the sheer stupidity to try to pull together an entire season of a television show in a single month, so you and I will certainly have our work cut out for us."

Before Andy could so much as wrap her mind around the words, "you and I," Miranda had already moved on.

"Of course, I know what you need, and if you stay close, I can guarantee you'll get it," she added, giving her ex-assistant a look that dared her to argue. "I'll see to it that you have a chance to interview all the models, as well as everyone making this madness happen, but I expect you not to go drifting off. I'll need you to be… accessible at all times. Is your number the same?"

Andy was having a hard enough time keeping her mouth from hanging open. "I… What?"

No matter how many ways she had imagined crossing paths with the Dragon Lady again, this wasn't one of them. She had expected aloof distance at the very best, biting, icy scorn at the worst. Instead, she felt rather exactly like the stammering assistant she had been some two years prior, as though nothing had changed in the slightest, and it wasn't a feeling she appreciated.

"Please, Andrea, do keep up," Miranda replied with a sigh.

Yep. She'd definitely just been re-demoted to smart, fat, coffee-fetching girl. It seemed the only pieces missing had been the distaste and impatience, and now, even those had returned. Although, she reluctantly admitted to herself, there was a please in front of it at the very least.

Miranda wasn't finished. "If I have to cater to the whims of journalists as well as every director in this city with half an eye for fashion, I will have the best and I will have someone who understands what I do, how I work."

Andy froze, water halfway to her lips. Was that a compliment? Better yet, was that an explanation? Miranda hates explaining herself.

"And despite nearly ruining everything by being… sick… last evening, the best just so happens to be you."

Damn. Definitely a compliment. Now Andy was really lost.

"And, thanks to the rather extensive portfolio you now have sitting behind your name, well, I was even able to convince the rest of Relations to agree with me.

Andy felt a chill race up her spine. Though the editor would never be so crass as to state outright that she was the only reason Andy had been hired, even Miranda wasn't above dropping manipulative hints to let Andy know exactly who was responsible for her presence and to whose whim she would once again be catering if she wanted to keep this job.

Damn, she thought again. And that's why she's still boss.

The food had arrived, but Andy felt a sickness settling in the pit of her stomach that had nothing to do with the urchin and everything to do with the company. How could she have been so naive as to think that maybe, just maybe, Miranda could ask something of her without needing to tie up any loose ends into little puppet strings to dangle her by? It wasn't as though she planned to turn down the job, but she had planned to do it with as little involvement from Miranda as possible, and now, with a click of her perfectly manicured fingernails, Miranda could insist upon her obedience or take away the job.

The food brought with it a breath of silence, and Andy took it gratefully, needing a moment to pull herself together.

"Miranda," she finally started, summoning every ounce of backbone she could and borrowing a bit of spine from the barely-nibbled shellfish. "I think this was a mistake. Coming here, having lunch with you…"

"Nonsense—" Miranda started flippantly, but Andy cut her off.

"—I'm not sure what you were expecting when you brought me here, but I'm not your assistant anymore, and I can't be expected to follow you around everywhere just because you pulled some strings to get me this job."

Finally meeting the other woman's eyes, Andy's words stumbled over the look she found there. Miranda looked genuinely stunned, as though she couldn't possibly fathom the younger woman's reaction. Which was exactly what told Andy she was making the right decision.

"Really, Andrea, how often do I dine with one of my assistants?"

"Miranda, I can't—" She set her napkin back down on the tabletop and started to rise, but a slender wrist shot across the narrow space and claimed her own in a surprisingly firm grip.

"Don't be foolish, Andrea, sit down."

Even after two years, a direct command from Miranda triggered a sort of reflex Andy wished she could shake. She couldn't. She sat.

Miranda's grip loosened, but she left her hand in place, as though afraid the younger woman would bolt if given the chance. She sighed, and a measure of tension seemed to leak from her shoulders. "It was never my intention to… I… I was being honest when I said you were the best. Out of all the others who jump at the chance to interview these women, you're the only one I think I can trust not to, well, do the usual sort of idiotic things people with cameras and microphones and the freedom of the press are so prone to doing."

Andy wondered which things Miranda was talking about. Getting in the way of her shoots? Asking for audiences with people who clearly had nothing to say to some pesky reporter? Or something more personal? Taking pictures of her in her rare moments of weakness like so many of the paparazzi were prone to, just to earn a few extra bills off page six? Either way, Miranda wasn't finished.

"That was my only goal. I never meant to imply that my getting you this job would make you… indebted to me."

Andy almost snorted, but something in Miranda's eyes stopped her. For a moment, she saw a glimmer of hurt, and it made Andy begin to believe that, maybe, just maybe, she had overestimated Miranda's usually clinical ruthlessness.

She wasn't about to let her off the hook so easily, though. "What did you expect me to think? You need me to answer your calls and stick by you all month, you tell me you're the only reason I was even offered the job, and you're surprised that I call you out for playing your trademark card of friendly blackmail?"

Now, Miranda looked angry. "Too far, Andrea," she whispered, voice deadly soft, fingernails digging in reflexively to the skin of Andy's wrist, seemingly reminding the both of them how long those fingers had been resting there.

Miranda pulled back, and just like that, Andy felt the fight go out of her. "I know, I'm sorry. I – I'm still going to go now," she started, scooping up her purse from the arm of her chair and rising, "because I'm afraid anything else that could be said by either of us would be 'too far.'" She rummaged around in her purse for a moment before drawing out a few bills to leave for the tip and a pad of sticky-notes with a pen. "But I'll be seeing you tomorrow, and, since you asked earlier, my cell number isn't the same." Not since I threw the company phone in a fountain. She jotted down her new contact information on the lime-colored square and set it on the edge of the table. "You can reach me there."

Her legs were trembling, but she was proud to have pulled that off without either lashing out again or turning up her belly and begging Miranda's forgiveness.

Miranda slowly picked up the paper, giving it a long glance before turning her eyes back to the woman before her. "Very well. Thank you."

Before Andy could turn and go, she was halted by Miranda's gaze, slipping from her face and starting to trace down her body in a way she hadn't been exposed to since she had left her employ. Thank god for decent day-wear, she thought, trying to distract herself from the way that oh-so-Miranda once-over had always felt more like a physical caress than the judging stare it really was. Still, by the time the older woman's eyes returned to her face, Andy was sure she was blushing.

"Tomorrow, then," she murmured, and Andy felt a weight to those words that made them feel much more like a shiver-worthy promise than simply a statement.


 

Early the next morning and dressed a step-up from her usual office-professional, Andy arrived at the massive building that would function as the backdrop for all but the most exotic sets. A friendly, "Six!" greeted her just inside the door, and she found her arm promptly and affectionately stolen by a familiar face.

"Nigel! I didn't know if you'd be here."

Guiding her briskly down a long, over-lit hallway, he was quick to reply. "Where goes the master, so go the minions. I'm sure you'll be seeing quite enough of me to make up for the slow and painful death of our phone calls…"

Andy glared at the accusation in his voice, but he didn't see. "So sorry your oh-so-busy schedule never seems to be busy when mine is."

He chuckled. "Semantics. I hold you completely responsible."

"Speaking of who's responsible," Andy started, intending to bug Nigel about something that had been bothering her all morning, "why is she here, anyway?"

Nigel's step faltered. "Ah, bit of a long story, that," he hedged. "I could ask the same of you."

They had reached the end of the hall. Nigel pushed wide the double doors to reveal a swarm of people and mechanical equipment bustling around prepping the area for everything to start rolling. Before Nigel could disappear into the fray, Andy clasped his upper arm. "Seriously, Nigel. I know as well as you that this isn't Miranda's usual fare. What's up?"

Glancing around furtively, he let out a long-suffering sigh. "Not here."

He ushered her into a side room, clearly not in use for anything other than empty boxes and cobwebbed corners. "Look, Six, I know you mean well, but don't poke into it too much. Miranda's under a lot of pressure right now from—" he jerked his head towards the ceiling "—upstairs."

"God?" Andy asked blankly. At Nigel's rolled eyes and quick miming of a person shorter than himself, Andy blinked. "Irv? He's still around?"

Nigel winced. "Unfortunately, yes. The fiasco in Paris was only the start. It's become the most silent, violent corporate war I've seen since Miranda became the chief."

Andy felt her spine grow rigid with a jolt of instinctive protectiveness that startled her, especially considering how her prior attempt at protecting Miranda had gone.

"Since he knows he'll lose everything if he actively removes her, he's taken to trying to make it impossible for her to do her job."

Andy stiffened further.

"The budget cuts were already nearly crippling, but then he cut the assistants to half-salary which, of course, means they're only working half-time, and he's been pressuring Miranda to 'make herself more accessible to the public.' So here she is, just a month and a half away from the release of the winter issue, playing judge on a barely passable show that's going to eat up all of her time, and he shooed half her competent staff out the door with her."

"So there's no one left with any chance of putting out anything quality," Andy murmured after summing up Nigel's cheerless, resentful words in her mind. "That's barbaric," she added, voice flat.

Nigel shrugged. "What else is new?"

If Andy weren't so incensed, the level of her anger might have shocked her. After all, this wasn't really any of her business. "What's Miranda doing about it?"

"That's just it; nothing." Nigel nervously shifted his weight from foot to foot. "She's been working like a madwoman and pulling off more quarterly miracles than anyone has a right to, and everyone's shuffling around on their stilettoed tiptoes waiting for the inevitable moment when her luck runs out."

Andy's gaze was skeptical. "That doesn't sound like her, Nigel. I mean, the miracles, sure, but not fighting back? Could she have something up her sleeve you don't know about?"

Nigel winced, and Andy immediately felt bad. "Again, you mean?"

"Nigel, I didn't mean to—"

"—No, that's alright, it's true. I had no idea what she was going to do in Paris. But this is different. I'd kill you before admitting I said this, but I think she's tired. I think all the bad press from the last divorce is getting to her, and she's so determined to avoid the bad publicity she'd be sure to garner from any move against Irv that she's running herself ragged."

"He's abusing his power, Nigel. I'm the first to admit Miranda can be the queen of the manipulative bitches, but what he's doing is nothing but personal and childish. He's the one who should get the bad press from this."

Nigel shrugged off her words. "It's a man's world, honey. In the end, it's as simple as that."

Andy's last words froze at the tip of her tongue as the simple truth rang from Nigel's lips. He was right. There wasn't a newspaper or magazine out there that wouldn't kill for the chance to write about Miranda Priestly losing her edge. And there wasn't a reporter in the world that would choose to write about the pettiness of a barely-known CEO and his hand in her downfall over the far-more-spectacular end result.

Well, Andy mused, following Nigel from the room, I'm just going to have to do something about that.


 

Andy sat on her kitchen counter, eating a fudgsicle as though her life depended upon it. The first day of shooting had been insane for everyone. Andy had spent the entire morning sitting beside a cameraman whose breath smelled like cottage cheese while thirty-five women had cycled by before the lens. It was ridiculously time-consuming to interview all these women and utterly pointless, seeing as only thirteen of them would remain by tomorrow. She had a list in front of her provided by some harried techie which offered her the lovely variety of seven questions she could ask the girls. None of her words would be aired, instead, the highlights of the girls responses would be cobbled together into something vaguely intelligent and memorable.

It wasn't that there weren't bright, genuine, nice women here. In fact, Andy was impressed by the variety of looks, talents, and backgrounds she encountered. But there were only so many inspirational stories a girl could listen to before she was ready to go crazy. Some of the tales felt true, real, heartfelt, but just as many felt rehearsed, dredged up from some barely relevant bit of history just to win the audience's sympathy. Certainly, growing up on the streets and working your way through a college education was impressive, noteworthy, but there were only so many dead grandmas and great-aunts that could really hold meaning as the inspiration for pursuing a career in fashion. If your fashion-muse was eighty-five and happily frumpy, you start to wonder who talked you out of kitten t-shirts timelessly hideous sweaters.

It had only been one day of this and already Andy wasn't sure how many more times she could take writing down the phrases, "I'm fierce" and "I'm proud of who I am" and "It's not just that I'm gorgeous…" and "This is where I belong" before she was ready to set up a support group for women with cringe-worthy catch-phrases.

That was before lunch. Miranda had snagged her on her way to the buffet and she had soon found herself seated off behind a cardboard sponsor's ad to watch the personal interviews with the judges. The girls came in one by one and spouted, nearly verbatim, exactly what they had said to the camera only some quarter-hour before. Andy didn't have anything new to take notes on, so she found her attention drawn to the judges' panel. One judge in particular.

Andy didn't know what she'd been expecting, but Miranda impressed her. She gave as much attention to each of the girls as she did to the clothing at a run-through, but withheld her usual marks of criticism or approval, though it was clear from the panicked looks in many of the girls' eyes that they had been waiting for and expecting them. Knowing exactly how much Miranda probably didn't want to be here, her dedication to her professionalism was, well, remarkable.

Feeling the idea that had been brewing since her talk the first day with Nigel shooting off little fireworks in her brain, she flipped up her notepad and started in on Miranda.

She looked stunning; a regal presence among the starkly plebian backdrop of scuffling camerafolk and gaudy color. Under the designed-to-be-flattering lights, she appeared almost unreal; a goddess who denied to walk amongst mortals. But this wasn't the time to wax poetic. Instead, she jotted notes on the things she said, the things she did, the manner in which she treated the parade of women as well as her fellow judges.

Andy knew Miranda was the mean judge, the one whose criticism would make or break these girls. There were two men and another woman on the panel and, now that Andy had done her research, she knew each of them. Jasmine Hall was a young, African-American supermodel who had been on the panel for the past two years. There was a forty-something male named Scott Dresden who was a famous Italian photographer and passable designer, but one for whom Miranda had little respect. The final judge was the host and producer, Nicolas Hale, and had been since the show first aired four years ago. He was twenty-six, fit and tanned and tall; basically the epitome of male-model. Andy thought he had about as much appeal as a plastic Ken doll.

Still, the combination of male-hunk-in-charge and the usual vicarious thrill people always seemed to get from the lives of gorgeous reality-TV women had made the show enough of a success to keep the budget high enough to afford the fashions, and that was that.

When the girls left the room, the cameras would stop rolling for a moment, and the judges would give their honest opinion. Miranda was her usual caustic, unflinchingly critical self, but her opinions were, as always, professional and relevant, and it was clear the other judges were reluctant to voice an opinion too drastically different from hers. They feared her influence at the center of a world where they existed only in the most distant corners.

By the end of the session, Andy was beginning to predict Miranda's response to the girls. Though she continued to withhold the telltale signals everyone expected from her – the nods, the pursed lips, the impossible smile – there was a degree of approval in the various dismissive waves she used to send them on their way. One hand was usually good, a distracted wave that seemed to say, You've done what you came for, now you can leave. Two hands in silence was passable, hinting of I don't want to hear anything more from you, but you were bland enough that I'll forget you before you leave the room and won't have anything too horrid to say to the panel. Two hands accompanied by any sort of remark was bad, the murmurs of, "You're finished," "I've heard enough," or "You can go," meant exactly what she said, only she wasn't talking about just the interview. The two times she cut an interview short with a curt, "That's all," were clearly those to whom, if she weren't on camera, she would be saying I never want to see your face in my presence again.

All in all, it was fairly amusing, though Andy realized by the end she had more than double the notes and thoughts about Miranda than all the other judges combined.

Andy was the lone reporter on set for this bit, which rather surprised her. Sure, she was in charge of interviews and had more access than most, but she hadn't been expecting the level of exclusivity she had been given.

Sitting back in her apartment that night, she wasn't sure she wanted it.

Tossing the now sufficiently chewed-up popsicle stick in the trash, she flopped into bed with her laptop, groaning when she realized she would have to turn her interview notes into something story-worthy before she could get anything done on the Parksins' case.

The last part of the day had been the initial cut, reducing thirty women to the thirteen competitors, and people wanted to know what they had to look forward to. This was one of the few articles she needed to get written before filming was finished, because nothing much else could be released until after individual episodes had been aired.

Glaring at the blinking cursor, she decided she could check her email first. A message from Nate asking for dinner didn't improve her mood, nor did her boss's far-too-cheerful missive reminding her of exactly what she had signed up for. Returning to her document, she managed a few words before freezing, staring intently at her notes. Giving in, she reopened her email and started a reply to Roger.

Got through all the interviews and should have something for you by tomorrow, but I was hoping you'd give me the go-ahead on another little project. Nothing fancy, and I don't want to say too much in case nothing comes of it, but I think there's a real story hiding in this whole production.

Biting her lip, she hesitated over the send button. Returning to the keys, she quickly added,

It's about Miranda Priestly.

She managed to squeeze all of her notes into the format required for the online bios that would accompany each model on The Mirror's Culture Blog before calling it a night, falling asleep with the laptop still open beside her.


 

Andy woke with a jerk, slapping frantically at her ear, a half-formed notion of a wasp or bee floating around her sleep-muddled mind. The second buzz registered as her phone, settled innocently on her pillow. Groaning as she felt the distinctly square imprint on her cheek, Andy answered in a daze. "'Ello?"

"Andrea? Is that you?"

Instantly awake, Andy felt all sorts of other groans forming in her throat at being woken by Miranda Priestly, some of them pleasant, some of them less so. "Miranda? What time is it?" It was definitely still dark outside.

"What does that matter?" Though her voice had been oddly tentative in the first words, perhaps wondering if Andy had fed her a bad number, she had already picked up her usual steam. "We need to – ah, that is, I'd like for us to go over the schedule for this week. Starbucks in half an hour?"

Though voiced as a question, it wasn't. Finally managing to turn her clock's display towards her, Andy caught sight of the painfully red glow of four-thirty AM. "Miranda," she started, voice regretfully close to whining, "It's not even five."

Andy could almost feel Miranda's impatience searing her through the speaker. "And?" Andy had nearly forgotten how much she hated questions or disagreements.

Too damn bad.

"We don't need to be on set till nine. I'd love to grab coffee," she hastened to finish, "but can it wait until at least, oh, half past six?"

The silence on the other line was deafening. As the courage leant by her sleep-muddled state was rapidly fading under the reality of her situation, Andy nervously picked at the battery cover on the back of the phone, waiting to be burnt to a crisp.

Instead, an audibly strained, "Fine," hissed through the line, followed by the click of disconnect.

Andy sat in the dark for a good ten minutes, tapping miscellaneous keys on her phone whenever the dull glow of the screen started to blink out; thinking.

However, no matter how many ways she mused over the various things she had to think about in regards to Miranda, little made sense. Not Miranda's actions, not her words, not Nigel's words about her. Then again, when had anything about Miranda actually made sense? No, that wasn't strictly true. At least as an assistant, she learned to tell what Miranda wanted, needed, would ask for next, wouldn't ask for at all but desired all the same. Now, Andy felt like she had lost her edge. She didn't know what Miranda wanted with her, not really.

But she wanted desperately to find out.

Because one or two things hadn't changed at all.

Miranda Priestly was still exquisitely beautiful, frighteningly attractive to the younger woman, and it felt a bit like a carrot being dangled in front of her nose, taunting her to reach out and bite it, grab hold, only to have nothing left with which to grasp onto the self-identity she'd fought to create these last two years. It terrified her how easy it would be to lose herself to that woman again, how temptingly masochistic it all was.

More than anything, she wanted not to be the only one who had changed.


 

Too emotionally tired to fall back asleep, Andy got to Starbucks nearly an hour early, only faintly amused at finding Miranda had beat her all the same. The wry-yet-warm smile on the editor's lips as she caught her eye from across the room had Andy's disloyal heart fluttering.

"And here I though anything before six was too early?" was her greeting.

Surprised at the lack of annoyance in Miranda's words, Andy found herself relaxing, leaning against the back of the chair across from the other woman. "So did I, but here I am. Can we not make a habit of it?" she dared to ask, hoping to curb the early-morning wakeup calls.

Miranda seemed in astonishingly good spirits. "I don't see why not. There are worse ways to start a day."

If it were anyone besides Miranda, Andy would have called the tone and words, well, flirtatious. She felt a flush creep up her cheeks and glanced over to the counter to hide it. "Have you already had your coffee?"

Quirking an eyebrow, she shook her head.

Andy didn't even consider her options. The line was nonexistent, she wanted something hot and caffeinated and more caffeinated and knew that Miranda would want the same. There was no reason not to get it for her. None at all. Definitely not. Nothing along the lines of recurring roles, falling back into old habits… Nope. Just being friendly.

Returning to the table afforded her the side-view her initial entrance had kept hidden, leaving Andy to swallow thickly when she noted the red heels artfully feminizing the rather masculine cut of Miranda's slacks and matching jacket. It was an outfit designed to be powerful and attention-holding, daring anyone in her presence to look back, drink in the way this woman could carry herself to rival any other who's only call to fame was in the male-ness he seemed to think earned him some inherent respect. It was a tactic she often used when going head to head with Irv and his man-heavy board meetings. It was fucking sexy.

Realizing Miranda had caught her staring had the blush she had just fought down returning to her skin, creeping up the sides of her neck to burst into guilty blooms over her cheekbones. "Here," she murmured, sliding over the first of the brutally hot coffees, trying to keep her gaze neutrally pleasant rather than intently creepy as she watched Miranda take her first sip.

Someone needed to do an entire photo-shoot of Miranda drinking coffee. Or a calendar. Just for Andy. That would be nice.

It was one of the things Andy had truly missed from her Runway days, the one time Miranda could never disguise that something had been done to her satisfaction. The way her eyes fluttered closed, that little hum as she swallowed the first sip, the way she clasped the cup so carefully, one thumb sliding up and down against the heat-sleeve in a subconscious caress, as though thanking the coffee for making her life just that one-cup better.

Practically unable to tear her eyes away from the editor's lips, Andy resisted the urge to do a face-table. I'm too tired for this.

"Thank you," Miranda finally said, setting the cup down. "Now, we have a few options for today…"

Tugging out a small calendar from her purse, Andy was mildly shocked at both the thanks, and the fact that Miranda was, in some small way, keeping track of her own schedule. Remembering Nigel's words about the new delegation of the assistants, Andy figured she had no other choice.

Miranda let Andy look over the shooting timetable as she drank her coffee. It was a lot of the same… alternating days of off-site modeling shoots and before-the-camera days: interviews, judging, and elimination shots.

"I suppose you'll want to visit the house at least once as well," Miranda added when Andy handed back the calendar. At Andy's blank look, she elaborated. "The girls stay together for the entirety of the filming, no outside contact. If you want any less-scripted time with them, that's when you're going to have to get it. Otherwise…" she continued tentatively, as though afraid her words would trigger some unfavorable response from Andy, "…it really will be best if you keep close. I'll be at each elimination as a judge, at each shoot as the fashion consultant, and at a few special events that I can give you access to."

Sipping her coffee, only now at a drinkable level of heat, she reluctantly nodded, sensing an element of honest intent she hadn't felt when confronted over their shared lunch. Besides… "keeping close" couldn't really mean all the time, right? 


 

Wrong.

By the end of the first week, Andy was left wondering if it wouldn't save the both of them a lot of trouble if Miranda just pulled out the superglue and attached them at the elbow. If she was out of sight for longer than it took Miranda to say, "That's all," some lackey would hunt her down to tell her she was being looked for. The first time it happened, she rushed back to ask why Miranda wanted her, only to be met with a cold, blank stare and a muttered, "Don't be ridiculous, Andrea, I didn't want you." She was quickly trained to just casually reappear on set, as Miranda's eyes would lock onto her immediately, occasionally with a brief, distracted smile. If she ignored her summons and didn't return right away, she would get a taste of Miranda's cold shoulder, something she was quickly coming to regard as one of the most effective punishments she'd ever been exposed to.

Because the rest of the time, Miranda was anything but cold.

At every shoot, the editor insisted a chair be provided for the young journalist just beside hers. As costume changes and camera-angle catastrophes went on around them, Andrea felt gifted beyond belief to be part of the little peaceful bubble around Miranda, removed from the chaos just by sitting beside her. Of course, there were other benefits to sitting beside Miranda; watching her be brilliant, tearing down mediocre fashion consultants with one arched eyebrow and a scathing remark; watching her be beautiful, eyes glimmering when someone finally settled on something she could work with, wrapping herself up in some dangerously thick fur to slip out into the cold and call the twins, only to return to Andy's side in a marginally better mood. The better her mood, the more she treated Andy to a side of Miranda that was quickly becoming her favorite part of these long, tedious days.

Between show-related dialogue and pointed looks, Miranda spent her time making pithy, darkly humorous comments just to Andy, often spoken so softly that her lips would linger by the younger woman's ear to be heard. The first time she'd been privy to a comment such as, "I'm afraid that man is going to burn a hole in my couture using that much light," she hadn't been sure if it had even happened. When the comments continued, however, she couldn't help but be amused. Miranda's wit was a lovely thing to hear when not on the receiving end of it. Soon, she was comfortable enough to give let her internal laughter show in her smile, sometimes even in her lightly shaking shoulders, because she realized what Miranda was doing.

Miranda couldn't afford to injure her coworkers' egos beyond repair, as this was not her show in the way the entirety of Runway was, so she was using all her considerable restraint to keep her most damaging criticisms from ending up on the air. Instead, she let them slip out in a whispered exchange with Andy.

The longer a shoot progressed, the more liberal she was with her biting humor, often leaning across the small space between their seats, a hand on the younger woman's shoulder or thigh, practically narrating their surroundings only a breath from Andy's skin.

All she could do was try to enjoy the closeness without doing anything regrettable. Turning her head to meet those cruel, brilliant lips with her own would definitely fall into the 'regrettable' category. So would squirming whenever those fingers landed on her thigh, siding down just far enough that they would lie somewhere much, much less innocent. If Miranda was in too good of a mood, Andy would be too riled up from all those impossibly electric touches by the end of a day to even cross her legs, afraid of the sounds that might find their way out of her mouth if she put any pressure there at all.

Often, at home, at night, Andy got angry at herself for how easily Miranda was manipulating her. It was something she never seemed to notice while it was happening; too wrapped up in clinging desperately to the tentative connection being reestablished between them to notice how skillfully Miranda was using her.

The first time Andy fetched Miranda's coffee, she didn't even realize what she was doing. Miranda looked exhausted, rubbing at the back of her neck and even going so far as to stab herself in the cheek with the edge of her reading glasses on one particularly agitated pass, trying to look through a digitized copy of the Book while nibbling halfheartedly at something from the buffet. Not even looking up from the images, she had murmured, "Doesn't anyone in this hole know where Starbucks is?"

Without even thinking twice, Andy had been off, crossing the street and ordering up a hot one.

The second time, there was a purpose behind her words, though not a directed one. "God, someone, coffee."

Not addressed to her, but an order all the same, and as she was the only one not currently trying to bury all of Miranda's lovely skin under piles of entirely excessive camera-friendly cosmetics, well, she had gone. It was halfway back that she froze, feet glued to the middle of the crosswalk, realizing she was fetching coffee when she should be trying to catch candid moments as the women ate lunch, should be hunched over a laptop in a corner clacking out some damn writing.

A man crashed into her from behind, stammering a quick apology when the two coffees spilled all over her shoes and the sidewalk before thrusting a wad of one-dollar bills at her and rushing off in as much as a hurry as he'd been in when he ran her over. With a sigh of resignation, Andy took the bills and bought another coffee, center-of-the-sun-hot, just this once more, just for Miranda.

By the middle of the week she was stopping at the Starbucks at any feasible opportunity and quite a few time besides, using the trips as a way to escape any annoyance Miranda might have at her unavoidable disappearances whenever she needed to get some writing done somewhere a bit more private or, well, a bit less Miranda-full.

She justified it as nice, as not-too-out-of-her-way, as the least she could do for the harried, overworked woman.

She wasn't fooling herself. She was letting Miranda walk all over her, and damn if she wasn't enjoying every minute of it.

It didn't end there, however. After a few days, everyone involved in the process had fallen into the roles they would occupy, and Miranda was clearly queen bee. Unfortunately, Andy's impossible proximity to her led her to take on most of the offhand demands Miranda made. If Miranda needed a phone number, Andy's SIM card had been – unfortunately – salvageable from the fountain, so she had the Runway contacts. If Miranda needed to be on set and didn't have time to find somewhere for her coat and purse, well, Andy was there, and unlike Miranda, didn't need to get into makeup because, after all, she wasn't the one in front of the camera all day, so she would reluctantly accept the armful of fabric and scurry over to the nearest closet.

It was too reflexive, too instinctive, to help Miranda any way she could, to assist her, to fall back on the only role she had ever known. She kicked herself for it every night when she got home, but the minute she was back on set and Miranda was giving her one of those smiles she'd never seen her give anyone else, murmuring a quiet thanks that had never been there before, whispering with knee-weakening, heart-stuttering intensity in her ear, ignoring the fifty-odd others sharing their space, making her feel like she alone mattered… she couldn't help herself.

Being re-sculpted into a personal assistant again aside, Andy was gaining a lot of respect for models in a way Runway's ten, fifteen minute snapshots had never shown her. These women went through a lot, being woken up early to dash all around the city, rushed from one site to another, changing as many as a hundred times a day, being prodded at with makeup and poked into clothing and practically dragged by the roots of their hair out before cameras to plaster on the most intense looks and poses they could summon up as men and women called orders from all sides.

The tension in their shared house was so wire-tight it could probably conduct electricity.

She only visited once… but that was more than enough. She didn't know if she could continue writing objectively about any of these women after witnessing the sheer cruelty they expressed towards one another behind their backs, many willing to jab knives between any vertebrae they could find as long as it was only to the camera, not to the others' faces. The worst part was, most of them didn't even see it as cruel anymore, so numbed to their own situation that any small action by the others seemed like a personal affront. She was one of the camera-people herself often enough to know she could never deal with having them parading through her home at all hours of night and day. She never went back.

Then, there was the intriguing element that developed when Miranda worked with the other women more personally. Watching Miranda create living artwork out of stunning women was surprisingly sexy. When Andy realized it for the first time, she was surprised that she didn't feel a pang of jealousy, any possessive drive. Then, she realized that their interactions were sexy, yes, but not sexual. It was a lesser degree of that spider-silk line that divided art and porn. The sensuality that developed whenever she saw Miranda's hands creating beauty was a side-effect of her own desire for the older woman and the instinctive, effortless passion in everything Miranda did; it was the side effect, not the purpose, and that made all the difference.


 

Things got very, very interesting in the midst of the second week. With an even eight girls remaining, everyone had been waiting with baited breath for the traditional not-quite-but-mostly-nude shoot, though no one had expected they would be working in pairs, rather than with a male model or solo.

It was announced that one episode was going to be airing in the middle of New York's LGBT Pride Week, and the sponsors and producers felt they ought to contribute something to it. The "challenge" for the day – an activity separate from the photo-shoot but included in the judging later on – was a miniature drag race; walking a runway as Kings to be judged by some of New York's most well-known faces of the drag scene. It was lots of fun for everyone involved and generally good for getting everyone comfortable for the atmosphere of the shoot that afternoon.

Arriving on set, the girls had paired off without too much drama, though there was clearly a level of discomfort when they were told what this was all about.

Still, they all played along gamely, posed tastefully on a set based on the concept of an industrial picnic; a large rainbow-pastel, pride-flag-like blanket splashed onto the floor of a half-built office complex. It was striking, strange, and very edgy. As was tradition, nothing private would ever be shown in any of the shots or on film, but working out stances with two sets of body parts to conceal seemed to pose a unique challenge to the photographer. It was a long shoot.

All but one of the pairs seemed content to giggle through it, joking with each other to push past any awkwardness and produce what Andy thought were some of the best pictures she'd seen so far. Knowing they were doing this for gay pride, they were willing to interact enough for the judges to see a level of the usual icy-hot passion that a professional model was supposed to portray in a purposefully sensual nude session, even if they often had to draw back after just a few flashes to regroup and compose themselves while they were working.

That being said, the fourth pair had difficulties, and it showed in the final product. They had taken the longest to get what the photographer called a "passable" shot because one young woman – Bethany Franks – was constantly drawing back and putting distance between herself and her partner, Chris.

Andy knew Bethany was one of Miranda's favorites, and the distracted frown that creased the skin between the editor's eyebrows as she watched the painfully awkward interaction showed her confusion, but she didn't make so much as one snide comment to Andy.

Back before the judging panel, the girls stood in their two rows to have their photos rated, each wearing a different solid-color dress to create the rainbow of the original eight-tone pride flag. The judges' comments were generally positive, especially in regards to the application of the scenario, showing their "acting" with their eyes and expressions while "modeling" with their bodies.

Finally, Bethany and her partner stepped forward, all eyes on the screen where their best photo would be displayed. Andy winced when she saw it. It seemed… empty. The poses were there, both girls were still fabulous models, but something was missing…

Miranda put voice to it before anyone else. "Well, this is disappointing."

Bethany was looking away from everyone, unable to meet anyone's eyes.

"Where is the connection? Where is the passion? I know what you're capable of, I know you're a model," Miranda said, leaning forward, trying to meet Bethany's wandering gaze. "But I don't see desire there at all. You might as well be looking at the wall as you are now, not another human being."

That got her attention, an embarrassed flush peeking out from beneath her makeup as her head spun back to center. "I – I didn't want to – I'm not – I don't like—"

"No, no. I didn't ask if you like her. It doesn't matter if you like Chris or not. We asked to see an emotional connection out there and you've given us all the emotional depth of a pretty, plastic Barbie doll."

Andy shared a wince with Bethany. Sure, she was a bit of clichéd beauty – all blonde, all slender, all American – but one of the greatest fears she'd expressed in her interviews was about how the industry would never take her seriously as anything other than a commercial model.

"I know you're better than that," Miranda continued, "and if we're going to put you through this week, I need to know you can show me emotion, even if it is with another woman."

Murmurs of agreement issued from the mouths of the other judges.

"Look at your partner in that shot. You left her hanging, looking at you like she's searching for a connection you've refused to make." Reluctantly, Bethany looked at her image, cheeks flushed in some form of embarrassment or shame. "I want you to look at Chris now – wait, no. I don't want to see any more of what I saw in that office building today. Andrea!"

Andy jumped, blinking blankly at Miranda from her off-screen corner without comprehension.

"Yes, Miranda?"

"Come here."

Andy started to ask, "What?" but cut herself short. The look in Miranda's eyes and the command in her voice brooked no argument. Fingers trembling, she set down her notepad, tucking her pen behind her ear and stepping reluctantly before the cameras, smoothing down her skirt as she went.

"Up there," Miranda commanded, flicking her wrists towards the slightly elevated platform currently occupied by Bethany and Chris.

"You've met Andrea, but you don't know her. She's a lovely woman, but one for whom, I presume, you hold no animosity, nor any particular attachment. Now, I want you to look her in the eyes, yes, now give me something, give me a pose, and show me passion. Show me desire."

Miranda's eyes seemed to sear across Andy's skin, and hearing the words "passion" and "desire" from those lips while standing under the full force of that intent gaze had Andy's blood warring over where to put the heat the editor's voice was creating; to flush her cheeks with embarrassment or to flush her center with want. Andy was uncomfortable being up there, wondering what sort of game Miranda was playing at now, but she went along with it, not wanting to hurt Bethany's chances.

Bethany met her eyes with all the desire of a scared puppy. This close, Andy could see her trembling. "It's alright," Andy whispered, trying not to be picked up by the mics. "I won't bite." She smiled encouragingly.

"No, I think we've wasted our time here," Miranda's voice drifted dismissively across the room.

It was as though Miranda's words had flipped a switch. Bethany's spine straightened in determination before sliding sinuously into a strong pose, one foot striding forward to land between Andy's legs. She reached out with the hand opposite the judges and rested two fingers on the pen sticking out from Andy's hair, letting her thumb come to rest on her cheekbone. Finally, she met Andy's eyes, and Andy gasped aloud at the fire she saw there. Her lips were lightly parted, nostrils flared in a shuddering breath, eyes brimming with a sort of liquid desire not usually let out into public company. Andy wasn't attracted to this woman, but damn if that look – coupled with the feeling of Miranda's eyes on them – didn't make her feel like the sexiest thing on two legs.

The slow, deliberate sound of a single person applauding ended the moment, returning the blush to Bethany's cheeks as they both turned to face the judges once more. It was Miranda, lips curling into a smile that seemed to say, "Told you so."

"Now that is what I was looking for. Thank you Andrea."

Andy took that as her dismissal, briskly returning to her seat on trembling legs, but not before catching something in Miranda's eyes that made her worried for Bethany all over again.

Nicolas, the lead judge and male model, tried to start his turn at commenting, but Miranda wasn't finished.

"I must say," she cut him off; "All this makes me wonder what could possibly have happened on site today? Why couldn't you give me that when it really mattered? I thought it might have been some latent homophobia – something I had high hopes the fashion industry had long since moved past – but what I saw just now wasn't out of any fear of seeming gay—"

"—It was, though," Bethany suddenly interjected, meeting Miranda's gaze head-on for the first time all day. "Because… I am."

The silence was thick enough that it would have stopped a pin from dropping entirely.

Even Miranda looked stunned.

Bethany wasn't finished. She turned to face the other girls, eyes wide, desperate, addressing them as much as the judges. "I didn't want it to be part of this. I didn't want to be known for my sexuality the way some girls on here are known for their race or their background or their weight or their athleticism. I didn't want preferential treatment, or discrimination, and I don't want that now." She faced the judges again. "I don't want you to judge my picture differently because I'm gay." She was crying now, but her voice was strong. There were lots of tears shed on that platform, some nearly every week, over the sorrow of going home, the relief of pushing through one more week, but this was different. "If this is the end of the line, fine, but I'm not going to stand here and let the people watching this in the middle of their Pride think a girl got kicked out this week because she was too homophobic to take a nude picture with another woman."

For a moment, the only sound was Bethany trying to sniff back her tears. Then, to the continued shock of the entire room, Miranda got up from her seat, set down the ever-present coffee, and crossed the room, striding up onto the platform to give the girl a hug. A hug. From Miranda Priestly.

Bethany's face was smiling tremulously as she half sobbed, half laughed out, "Guess I'm not in the closet anymore."

Andy saw something splash down onto her paper and realized she was crying, too. The raw emotion on that woman's face was going to be hard to forget, and the sight of Miranda accepting her tears against her shoulder would be harder still. Andy knew Miranda had a heart. She had seen in with the twins, and, in more limited ways, with some of her favored employees. But seeing her here, knowing this was probably going to be aired on semi-national television but still willing to give comfort to someone who had just done probably the hardest thing of her life, Andy wanted to hug them both.

She resisted the urge, however, and order was quickly restored, Bethany returning to her place among the other women and accepting a firm hug from Chris, leaning against her friend for support as the judges gave their final comments.

In the end, the call was close. Miranda gave her the harshest score of the four, and while Bethany's photo got the lowest ratings all around, she had won the drag challenge the previous morning, her slicked-back hair and tuxedo vest earning her praise as a "Sexy, androgynous Calvin Klein model." It was enough to put her second-to-last and through for one more week.

Andy tried to find her afterwards as she talked to the other seven women, conducting her usual post-elimination interview, but she didn't run into her until later, when she wandered into the dressing room to grab her coat.

Bethany was alone, staring into one of the light-ringed mirrors as though in a daze.

"Hey," Andy said softly. "You alright?"

Bethany jumped, turning on the swivel-stool and giving her a shaky smile when she saw who it was. "Actually, yeah, I really am. I – I needed to do that. Maybe I could have tried my family before, you know, the whole country, but hey, go big or go home, right?" She gave a strained laugh, but her eyes were brighter than they had been all day.

Andy hated herself for doing it, but she needed to do her job. "Can I quote you on that?"

Bethany nodded. "Sorry, I know you usually talk to us, but—"

Andy waved off her apology. "I understand. Really."

"Anything else you wanted to ask?"

Andy hesitated, knowing her next question was more for herself than for Bethany, but she needed to know. "Miranda was pretty harsh out there. How do you feel about it?"

Bethany hesitated, gathering up her purse as she gathered her words. "Believe it or not… she gave me everything I needed. Her first comments were no more than I deserved after yesterday, and that god-awful score made me feel like I actually earned my way through this cut. If she had given me a nice score after what I said, it would have felt like, well, like charity. That was real. And while lots of the others think her comments are always so… personal, degrading… I think that hug was to tell me it wasn't meant like that, you know?"

Andy smiled. "Yeah, I think I do. Thank you."

Andy gathered her stuff and started to go, but Bethany called her back. "Andy?"

"Hmm?"

"Thanks for modeling with me up there. I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable or…"

"No! No, really, it was fine. If I looked like an awkward turtle… that was about being in front of all the cameras, not about you."

Bethany looked relieved. "Okay, great, thanks."

Andy smiled and left.


 

Things moved very quickly on the downhill side of the month. Andy's favorite challenge involved creating a TV commercial for duct tape. The costumes were hilarious and fabulous at the same time and, by befriending one of the spokespeople, Andy got to go home with an oversized purse made entirely out of silver, black, and turquoise tape. It would never match a single thing she owned, but she loved it all the same.

Bethany made it into the top five before leaving in a tough elimination, having completely failed a challenge shoot involving trapeze work. It was fair, it was sad, but Bethany seemed okay, quoting for Andy and the camera, "I'll be honest, I'm tired. This was fun, I think I made enough of a name for myself to be taken seriously if I decide this is the life I want, but I think I need some time to figure out, well, me first."

On the Miranda side, things were tense. Since Miranda had been spending as many of the morning hours as she could at Elias-Clarke, Andy hadn't been wakened by any more early morning booty-ca—er, that is, coffee-calls, meeting the editor instead at wherever the filming day was going to start. Monday of the third week, however, she once again found herself summoned to Starbucks at an ungodly hour, exposing her sleep-muddled self to all of Miranda's considerable charm, a herculean task even by midmorning.

The meeting was triggered by a request she had made the previous day to Nicolas. Andy wanted to take a day away from the filming and hop cabs around the city to visit with some of the earlier eliminees and see how they were doing. Guiltily, she had made the request when Miranda wasn't around, rationalizing it to herself as having nothing to do with Miranda and everything to do with the producer of the show, but knowing she was just afraid Miranda wouldn't want her to go and Andy wouldn't be able to disappoint her.

Of course, Miranda found out anyway.

"Why have I just been informed that you won't be here tomorrow?" was the cold greeting she received.

Andy sat with a sigh. "Because I have articles to write, Miranda. That's why I'm here."

Miranda's face was impossibly, chillingly closed. "Send someone else. We have a shoot tomorrow and—"

"—and someone else is perfectly capable of covering it." Andy was doing her best not to get angry. "Look, I've been to more than a dozen shoots already. I have more notes on the process and the models than I'd be able to use if this show aired with one episode every decade! I've got to get something different."

Expecting a fight, the emotions that suddenly darted across Miranda's face felt more like a punch to the gut than any verbal spurs she'd used before. Miranda's icy mask had faded away, and she looked lost. She looked dejected. "I want you here, though," she whispered, clearly trying for forceful and only succeeding in sounding sad.

"Miranda, I…" she didn't know what to say. She wanted to reach across the table and take Miranda's hands and tell her that having Miranda want her here was all she wanted in the world, and if Miranda only asked, she'd never go anywhere else. But she knew that Miranda's wanting and her own wanting were two different things. Miranda wanted her de facto assistant. Andy wanted Miranda to want her. "…I have to go."

And she did. She stood up, ignoring the fact she'd only been there five minutes, ignoring the look on Miranda's face, and not seeing the hand that stretched out silently behind her as she walked away.


 

After her road trip, Miranda seemed determined to pretend nothing had happened, but her unmanageable clinginess only worsened. There was no other word for it. Miranda was keeping Andy glued to her side like a toddler unable to part with her favorite stuffed animal. It was getting to the point that it was impossible for Andy to do her job. When she went to talk to the girls after an elimination, Miranda would appear by her shoulder, dropping an elegant hand on her wrist or slipping her palm onto the small of the younger woman's back, making her stutter over her questions and forget to write anything down.

Back at the photo-shoots, she took to sitting less and less, pacing about between her seat and Andy's instead, resting both hands on Andy's immediately tense shoulders to lean down and make her usual comments. Once, Andy made the mistake of wearing an off-the-shoulder top, and the feeling of those impossibly smooth palms against her bare skin had gooseflesh rippling down her arms and her traitorous nipples standing at full attention beneath her suddenly too-thin shirt.

She kept her jacket on after that.

On the night before the last elimination heading up the finale, Miranda invited Andy to a judge's dinner at a fancy Italian bistro on the south side. Though she had been around Nicolas, Scott, and Jasmine almost constantly for weeks, she hadn't had much time for any real one-on-one, or, eh, one-on-four time. Though the invitation surprised her, she gladly accepted, hoping to get a chance to gather something together about these men and women that was more personal, more about the types of people they were when not behind the panel.

Miranda insisted on picking her up at her apartment, and it was a whole new sense of déjà vu to slip into the back of the car wearing the only dress she had saved from Paris: Chanel; a sleeveless, black number with a shimmering, silvery stripe across the top, accompanied by the thigh-high boots she'd never had the heart to return to the closet. She clutched her pea coat over her arm as she slid inside, the spark in Miranda's eyes as she ran them along each part of her that lowered itself into the seat beside the older woman making it worth the chill of the dash from house to car.

Miranda was breathtaking. A black skirt hugged her hips like a possessive lover, silver embroidery tracing a whimsical pattern about the waistband. Black stockings painted a flawless path down to silver-white heels, shimmering in the dim interior light. A flash of lace revealed the stockings to be thigh-high, sending all sorts of images flashing through Andy's mind. A sweater-like top peeked out amid a nest of black fur, a coat that just begged to be touched, petted, rolled about on top of absolutely naked and…

Andy was practically drooling.

Not to mention, they couldn't have dressed more like some sort of ultimate femme power-couple if they'd tried.

The ride passed in companionable, if charged, silence, just as it so often had on any New York afternoon two years before. Staring out the window at the lights that made her home the city that never sleeps, Andy felt so nostalgic she could almost cry. She came to the city to escape so many things, so many of those insidious little pressures back home determined to shape her into someone she didn't want to be, only to find herself turning into someone she hadn't even imagined. As many times as she'd told herself that working at The Mirror was her ticket back to the self she'd always wanted to be, sitting here now, she couldn't deny how much Miranda had changed her.

Miranda had given her the sort of ambition needed to survive in the world of the bigs. She'd given her the drive to prove something to the editor she'd never felt the need to prove to herself. That was why these past few weeks had hurt so damn much. Some part of her, regardless of how well she'd been able to mentally suppress it, had been pulling herself up the ladder in the hopes that she could someday stand before Miranda and be seen as an equal. Yet all she'd proven was how easy it was to flatten herself out once more into a perfect two dimensional carpet to cushion the fall of those deadly, heart-stabbing heels. It hurt all the more for how impossible it was to stop enjoying it, taking every tossed coat and morning phone call and coffee run and feeling like a few smiles and private comments were equal payment.

Miranda looked askance at her when Andy sniffed loudly, but she just shook her head. She felt so on edge, so close to breaking down. If she hadn't had it two weeks earlier, she'd have blamed PMS. It wasn't right for Miranda to be able to take her on this rollercoaster of emotions without so much as batting an eye.

The other three judges were already in attendance when Miranda and Andrea arrived. Seated beside each other at the circular table, they had left the two closest seats for the other women. Andy blinked. She hadn't realized this would be just, well, the five of them. She'd been expecting a few camera-folk at the very least, if not a few other reporters. She had also been expecting to be drifting around the space like the journalist she was, but Miranda had claimed her placement with a hand at the small of her back guiding her down into the chair beside her.

Brief and inherently unnecessary introductions were made, and Andy settled in for a long evening of studiously ignoring both the company and the bread basket.

Nicolas was on her right, acting exactly the way he did every other time Andy had seen him. He was one of those men who was quite aware of the fact that he was attractive and under the impression that everyone else should find him equally so. As the other three dissolved into a conversation of similar dynamic to their stage personas – Jasmine easily conversing on Miranda's level about fashion while deferring to her opinion on most matters while Scott repeatedly shoved his foot in his mouth as he tried to sound knowledgeable about the realm in which he worked while only coming across as ignorant of anyone besides himself and his barely sufferable clothing line – Nicolas turned on the charm.

Andy had indulged his flirtations nature on more than one occasion when she needed to get something done and no one else was cooperating, but she had no reason to do so tonight, and her lack of response seemed to confuse him beyond reason. She answered his questions about her college days and her work in what she considered a polite, pleasant manner, but tried hard not to get annoyed when he decided the bottle of wine he had ordered needed to be poured into her glass as well. Andy didn't drink when she was working, and, regardless of being seated among them like an equal, Andy still considered this work.

She tried to wave off the drink, resting her fingers on the rim of her glass as he went to pour, but he laughed and took it as an invitation to pick up her hand and say, "Loosen up, sweetheart, it's your evening off!" She managed to reclaim her fingers, but not before a healthy serving of Pinot Grigio swirled its way into the bottom of her glass. If he'd bothered to ask, she would have told him she preferred red.

By the time the appetizer arrived, Miranda had devolved into terse, one word answers, Nicolas had polished off two full glasses, and Andy was left trying to shrug off the hand which repeatedly found its way to the back of her chair, the back of her neck, even brushing over her hair, without making a scene.

Perhaps three years ago, his attentions would have flattered her. Now, it just made her uncomfortable.

The main course arrived with Nicolas's third glass and a look in Miranda's eyes that had Andy trembling where she sat. As everyone took their first bites, Miranda leaned ever-so-slightly into the table to peer across Andy and over to the man beside her.

Her tone was impossibly smooth, a dangerous purr that would warn anyone who wasn't partially inebriated of the great predator lucking in the trees just above, preparing to pounce.

"Oh Nicolas," she started.

The fool, he gave her a wide smile, as though they were the best of chums. "Miranda?" he asked cheerily, hand once again finding purchase on Andy's shoulder.

She shrugged her shoulders back which had the unfortunate effect of allowing him a pretense under which to drop his hand onto her thigh. Andy winced.

Miranda hadn't missed the motion. "Do you always feel the need to shamelessly manhandle every woman who has the misfortune of being seated beside you?"

Andy's eyes just about bugged out of her head while, across the table, Scott's water dribbled out of his mouth in shock.

Nicolas appeared equally stunned for a moment, but his masculine pride and four glasses of wine made him numb to the dangers of going head-to-head with Miranda Priestly. Giving her thigh an uncomfortably possessive squeeze, he laughed raucously. "Just because it's been twenty years since someone flirted with you doesn't mean you should ruin the evening for anyone else, Miranda."

Andy had had enough. Reaching down, she yanked his hand from her thigh. "That's enough," she spat, glaring up at him. "I'd hoped I'd made my disinterest clear already, but if you need it spelled out, this—" she lightly slapped the offending hand where it hovered, confused, in the air between them, "—isn't flirting."

He still had that stupid grin on his face, the one he usually used to charm the pants off of any women he met, most likely accompanied by a line like, "I'm a male model." Or something equally intelligent.

"Andy," he started, "you don't have to put on an act just 'cause you're at dinner with the Ice Queen. I know you can turn on the charm when you want to," he finished suggestively.

Andy's words dried up in her throat. It was true, she'd used his ego to drag out rights to an exclusive interview with one of their most famous photographers, had joked her way out of being late one morning with a bit of a flirtatious twist. She wasn't sure how to tell him to back off in a way that would convince him it wasn't just an act because Miranda was beside her.

Miranda, however, wasn't finished with him. "I do believe that, traditionally, no means no. Unless my hearing has gone along with my ability to recognize flirting, as you so kindly insinuated, what I just heard was a 'no.'"

As Jasmine and Scott watched nervously, Nicolas determinedly returned his arm to its space on the back of Andy's chair. "Not what I heard," he said cockily. "I heard someone too scared of her big-bad-wolf of an ex-boss to loosen up for an evening. I'm just doing her a favor."

Miranda's usually cold eyes were spitting fire. The two of them had been butting heads all throughout the month, and apparently Andy was just the unfortunate catalyst for some seriously personal tension. "Andrea does not need any favors from the likes of you," she hissed.

Finally, the venom in her words made an impression, his arm slipping slowly off the chair to settle reflexively across the family jewels, as though realizing he'd pushed Miranda to the point where being de-manned was a real danger.

Having been rather entranced by Miranda's protective display, Andy finally found her voice. "She's right – I don't. Nicolas, even if I had any interest in you at all, this kind of display wouldn't exactly put you in my good graces."

Miranda gave a tight little smile. "She's being too kind. You're a pig, Nicolas, and you should be glad I'm telling you now, rather than waking up one morning with it tattooed across your chest when one of your pretty little conquests has more of a brain than you realized."

Andy couldn't keep the smile off her lips at the look of genuine dread in his eyes.

Jasmine's phone rang and shattered the tension between them, allowing everyone to withdraw back into his or her personal space and start to appreciate their meals as she stepped away to answer it.

When Nicolas appeared sufficiently engaged in a bit of ego-boosting with Scott, Andy slid her chair closer to Miranda's, saying softly, "Thank you for that."

Though Miranda didn't look up at her, she saw a smile flit over her lips in profile. A moment later, a reply drifted across the space between them. "Always glad to put a crass pretty-boy in his place. Not that you needed any help."

Andy chuckled, reaching out and resting her fingertips on the back of Miranda's hand. The editor froze. "Really, thank you."It means a lot for you stand up for me, she thought.

Miranda's hand turned beneath hers, lacing their fingers together and giving a brief squeeze to acknowledge her thanks, then pulling away. Nicolas didn't bother her again all night.


 

Back in her apartment, for the first time since she had sent the email to her boss, Andy opened the side-project article she had started some three weeks before. It had never been far from the back of her mind, and she had been jotting things as they happened and digging around a few places she probably didn't belong around Elias-Clarke. The only thing missing had been the inspiration to write which, for her, usually took the form of a sarcastic, cynical title that often didn't make it into the papers but, when it did, had gotten her a bit of a name in the world of journalistic satire.

Tonight, she had found that inspiration.

Chivalry Isn't Dead

But it Doesn't Belong to the Patriarchy

She wrote until four in the morning before, exhausted, sending it off to Roger with the accompanying message:

Didn't think I'd go this whole time without turning out something you're gonna have to publish through clenched teeth, didja?

xx,

Andy


 

Nigel was the first to find her the following morning, which was a surprise in and of itself, as he'd been too busy bustling off between fashion-here and fashion-there to spare more than a cursory head nod and a friendly, "Six," in passing all month.

He greeted her by slapping down the paper over her laptop, startling her into nearly dropping everything she'd crammed into her arms in the corner of the room which she'd claimed as a private space to work before her majesty arrived.

"Andy Sachs. What have you done."

Andy gulped. Full name was bad news. Looking up, she gave Nigel her best, innocent-as-a-doe-eyes and fluttered her lashes. It worked better on straight men. "Hmmm?"

"This," he jabbed an emphatic finger onto the cover of The Mirror, stabbing out a string of the letter 'b' on the keyboard beneath, "has to be the gutsiest thing I've seen you pull out of your Midwestern ass, and Miranda …" He took a deep breath, making Andy curl in on herself in expectation of whatever hideous remark Miranda must have made. "…couldn't stop smiling this morning."

Andy blinked up at him, sure she must have heard wrong.

"That's right, Six, she's running late because she listening in on the board giving Irv a royal chewing out for making them look like the pratbastards they are, not because she's planning your demise." He shook his head. "I haven't the slightest idea how you keep doing it. Anyone else would have their butt in the gutter for writing a piece that turns the dragon lady into some sort of knight in shining armor, but something about you just makes her melt."

"She's not mad?" Andy whispered anxiously. "I'm not dead?"

"You're not dead. Inhale, exhale, and go fetch me some coffee because I had to read it first and prepare to run in here and clean up your size-six body after Miranda finished chopping it into itty bitty pieces." He shook his head as she stood. "One day, I'm telling you, your luck is going to run out."

"That's what everyone said about her, remember Nigel?" she said, unable to wipe the grin from her face.

"Well you don't have any worshipful intrepid journalists to save your ass when it does!" he yelled after her retreating form.

Practically skipping across the room, Andy called over her shoulder, "I have a knight in shining armor, remember?"


 

Walking to Starbucks seemed like a good opportunity to let go of the tension she'd been sleeping on all night, so Andy decided to give in to Nigel's request and pick up something for herself and Miranda as well. The line was long, so she flipped through the copy of The Mirror Nigel had dropped on her. She hadn't even checked her mail to see Roger's reply, so seeing her byline in the contents box this soon was a bit of a shocker. Sure enough, a cue to find the article on page three, and he'd even kept the title.

A picture she'd taken at one of the outdoor shoots graced the space between her name and her words, catching Miranda in profile, chin resting in her hand, an expression of intent, hawk-like focus highlighting the arch of her eyebrow, the set of her lips. It was quite the contrast to the usual editorial glamour-shots or their counterpart, the cruel candids determined to catch her in a moment of panic, a moment of private turmoil. For once, Miranda looked professional.

Andy had put quite a bit of time into the article. She'd snuck away to talk to Emily, Serena, and various other aids and clackers scurrying back and forth between Elias-Clarke and the NYNTM sets, as well as taking a few road trips to talk to human resources, a few of Miranda's coworkers, and even some of Irv's dreaded committee chairs. She'd been a bit sneaky, she was willing to admit it, but there were things to be said, and she'd been determined to say them.

She hadn't cited anyone besides Miranda and Irv by name, as they were the topic, not the people she was quoting.

In the end, she managed to pull together a piece less about Miranda and Irv and more about the state of women's rights in regards to a brutal pop culture determined only to seek out any weakness and exploit any mistake made by women in positions of power, but willing to ignore their male counterparts and their outright abuse of presumed supremacy. She talked about Miranda's complicated history with the press, repeatedly addressed by monikers designed to portray her as nothing more than a socially inept, power-hungry bitch, uncaring of her past and the amazing career she had carried out, ignoring the love she had for her children in favor of talking only about the damaging divorces she had put them through.

She talked about the double standard applied to the divorces, of the way the public sphere attacked her, holding her entirely responsible for any failings in her relationships.

She talked about the rabid determination to turn an icon who had been an inspiration to millions of people in the fashion industry into nothing more than an angry, career-obsessed woman who couldn't be bothered to 'make it work' in her personal life.

She talked about Irv. She talked about the battles Miranda waged on the daily to keep a fair budget for the most profitable magazine in his company. She talked about the calm, collected way she dealt with his personal attacks. She wrote about how he had finally learned how to manipulate her, threatening further press exposure to make it nearly impossible for her to function, to do her job with anything short of a weekly miracle. Her writing practically screamed at the other press, warned them to watch how quickly they were becoming a punitive pawn in the schemes of small men with big egos and no respect for a woman who spoke her mind.

Then, she talked about New York's Next Top Model, the pressure that had driven Miranda to take on the judging position and the stunning display of pure professionalism she had shown in her every action on the set. How, despite needing to be elsewhere, needing to pull together her magazine on a starkly depleted budget, Miranda gave her all to this show, giving a new caliber of judge to a broadcast that had long been seen as nothing more than a cheap, localized knockoff.

Finally, she talked about Miranda as a woman so strong, she felt no need to defend herself against petty, cruel attacks thrown at her by Irv Ravitz and a hyperdriven paparazzi, yet would turn her icy anger on anyone who posed a threat to the happiness of her children, on a hurricane or an ex-husband or a mob of reporters determined to ask them about her divorce, on anyone who couldn't conduct themselves in a way that befitted their position, whether that was an antagonistic bully of a CEO, or a man in a restaurant who wouldn't keep his hands off an uninterested, unwilling woman.

She ended by calling Miranda the new face of a silent chivalry that had long been collapsing under the double standard of the men who had once claimed sole ownership of gallant gestures.

When she'd sent it in, she wasn't even sure what category of story it would fall under, but, for once, she knew it was damn good. It wasn't exactly the usual fare for a Monday paper, and it wasn't exactly her usual, clinically unbiased approach to journalism, but it was a truth she felt someone needed to talk about, and even if Miranda had decided to sue her over it, it was something she would always be glad to have done.

Knowing Miranda wasn't going to kill her just made it feel that much better.

Andy met Miranda at the door, silently handing over the coffee she'd gotten and trying to keep her hands from trembling. She started to turn away, but when Miranda didn't follow, she stopped, looking up into her eyes. Miranda seemed to have her under intense scrutiny, searching her face for something, something Andy desperately hoped she found. Finally, the older woman gave a brisk, businesslike nod and proceeded to reach out for the handle of the door, pulling it wide and waving Andy through before her.

After that, it was business as usual. The final photo-shoots had to be taken, the clothing for the finale had to be sorted out, and everything was a chaotic crunch, the final push, the finish line in sight, and everyone so utterly done with the whole process that the exhaustion could be felt dripping down the walls like an insidious, will-sapping slime.


 

Andy stayed by Miranda's side through the final fashion show for the three top contenders, pressed hip-to-hip amid the hundred-some spectators watching the models' triumph. Miranda had wrapped herself in a weighty silence since the day Andy had published her article, and despite Nigel's constant reassurances, it had her on edge. Close proximity, especially skin-on-skin, had moved into the realm of hazardous to her health. She feared that if Miranda's fingers grazed her thigh one more time, she would discover that it was, in fact, possible to have a heart attack from unrequited sexual tension.

The first private words the editor shared with her were whispered into her ear at the end of the show. "Adrianna is going to win."

It made a shiver run up Andy's spine, the delicious sensation that she had just been let in on a little secret, a precious spoiler which Miranda's confidence turned into a fact.


 

The weekend break before filming the final elimination was basically hell for Andy. Saturday morning dawned to the sudden realization that Monday would come and go and Miranda would be gone again, as though none of this dreamlike month had happened at all, with no resolution, no words exchanged between them that meant anything. The closest she'd come to telling Miranda what she meant to her had been that article, and reading the entertaining array of responses that arrived via email was the only thing that kept her sane through Sunday. Roger's response was her favorite, though, a nasty little paragraph of anti-feminist sarcasm ending in,

In the end, Sachs. If anyone could make me fall in love with Miranda Priestly, it would be you.

Monday dawned to a depressingly cliché city snow, slushy enough that the grime stuck before even an illusion of cleanliness could blanket New York. Arriving on set clutching a thermos of soup and wrapped in a puffy, off-the-rack jacket wasn't Andy's finest moment, but she was cold, she was sad, and it wasn't like they could fire her on the last day.

It was gloriously warm inside, so Andy was able to unwrap herself into a blazer, blouse, and slacks. Andy couldn't imagine how Miranda had decided on a skirt, but she looked so beautiful Andy wanted to take a hundred pictures and cry. She couldn't believe it was ending.

Apparently, Miranda wasn't having the same thoughts, as she spent the entire morning scolding everyone around her, especially Andy. Andy went to get her coffee only to be mocked for not returning soon enough. She was reprimanded for "hiding" too far in the corner as they set up the judge's table and glared at for going to the bathroom. Finally, Andy had had enough, grabbing her camera and heading back into the dressing room to take some pictures and get away from that woman for long enough to put her head on straight.

The room was empty, the models having their faces put on in their last time at the house to dodge the worst of snow showers. Only a few moments had passed in blissful silence before the door slammed open, clicking shut behind Miranda as she stormed into the room, pulling the latch across the top, sealing them in.

They locked eyes in silence, both clearly angry.

"What on earth are you doing in here? I need you on set, now."

Andy shook her head. "No, you don't. Nothing's happening for fifteen minutes and even then, it doesn't have anything to do with—"

"—Whatever power trip you think you're pulling by leaving me alone out there, it ends now," Miranda interrupted, voice a dangerously soft snarl. She crossed to the far wall, one of the three entirely plastered with light-bulb ringed mirrors, meeting Andy's gaze in the reflection. "You're coming back with me. That's all."

Andy hopped down from the counter on which she sat, glaring back.

"I'm not your assistant anymore, Miranda."

Miranda flinched.

"I made it clear that I wouldn't fetch you coffee at all hours of the night and come at your every beck and call. That hasn't changed. This isn't some game anymore; you can play with your employees all you want, but this is the real world, you and I are adults, and I have a job to do."

Gathering up her camera, she turned towards the door, wondering if she could be out of it before Miranda found the words to fire her.

She wasn't fast enough.

"You don't get to walk away from me." Andy halted mid-step. It was that tone that no one could refuse, the one that sent icy fingers racing down spines and left grown men trembling in their designer loafers. Only, this time, it was Miranda's voice that held that slight tremor. "Who do you think you are that you can turn your back on me again?"

Andy knew she could take the next five steps, go through that door, and walk herself firmly once more out of Miranda's life. She could pull another Paris. It wouldn't even be the same. Miranda wasn't her boss, wasn't dependent on her to save her ass every time she saw a face she was too self-centered to keep track of for herself. If she ever owed her something for running away, her story had more than paid that debt. Whatever game Miranda was playing with her, with having her here, Andy could quit, could knock over her own king. She could leave.

But listening to that tremble in Miranda's voice brought back too many memories. Triggered the image of that night, when she'd found the implacable editor, eyes rimmed red from crying, tucked back reflexively into the corner of that hotel couch, wearing the closest Andy was sure she ever came to comfort clothing, that loose, silken grey robe… Miranda had been vulnerable, and Miranda was vulnerable now. Andy wouldn't, no, couldn't be the one to wound her.

Slowly, she turned, facing their disjointed reflections once more.

"Who am I? You know who I am, Miranda, remember? You swore you knew exactly who I was. You said—"

"—I know what I said, Andrea," she snapped. Andy recoiled as though slapped. "No, wait, please." Her voice softened, entreating, turning back into the room. "You're nothing like me," she finally whispered, voice cracking. "You're nothing like me and if there's anything I should apologize for, it's for trying to tell you that was something you should want. That being me is a good thing."

"Miranda, I—"

"—No, please, I'm not talking from any… misguided self-loathing. The mistake I made was trying to change you." She stepped closer, drawing herself into the younger woman's air. "You… you never needed that. You're a smart, brilliant,beautiful woman, and this whole month has been nothing but my own foolish, desperate attempt at pulling you back into my life."

Andy was frozen, trembling, and Miranda was stepping closer still, hands clasping her shoulders, one drifting up to tremble against the pulse beating along the side of her throat.

"I'm sure I've ruined everything," Miranda continued, but there was no bitterness in her voice. "I so often do." No, no bitterness, just a peculiar softness, a bright, desperate vulnerability clear in her eyes. "But if I'm going to ruin it, I'll do it with all the flair I can."

The hand on Andy's neck slipped further back, tangling into the dark hair and drawing her forward to waiting lips.

Andy gasped into the kiss, eyes fluttering closed before flying open as Miranda pulled back, a choked sound catching in the older woman's throat, almost a sob. "Y-you should go," she gasped out, eyes darting, looking everywhere except at Andy. "I want you to go."

For a heartbeat, two, Andy was frozen, the heat from Miranda's kiss warring with the deadly, frightened cold in her words. Miranda was starting to draw back, starting to pull away, but Andy reached out, grasping her arm more forcefully than she had intended and bringing her close again. "No you don't," she whispered. "That kiss wasn't goodbye."

"Andrea, I can't… I shouldn't have—"

Andy pressed a finger against Miranda's soft, warm lips, mirroring the "shhh," she let slip between her own. She allowed her hand to slide sideways, running the backs of her fingertips across the slope of a cheekbone before taking Miranda's face between both her palms and leaning in, slowly, giving her a chance to pull back.

She didn't.

Though Andy could feel Miranda's rigid posture, her lips melted into the kiss, allowing Andy to lay claim to her mouth, opening to her, her lips and tongue as welcoming as her words had been dismissive. All Andy felt was heat, swirling between them and awakening every feeling she had been suppressing for so long. When she finally pulled back, Miranda's eyes were wild, and the small noise of protest that sounded from somewhere in the back of her throat had Andy instantly ready, wanting, wet.

She leaned in again, but Miranda flinched back, glancing down. Andy let out a shuddering breath, gently stroking her cheek. "Why do you look so scared?" she murmured, searching Miranda's downcast eyes, stunned that after all of this, it would be Miranda who turned shy.

"I… I'm not used to feeling this way," she replied, a tremor in her voice. "I don't even know what I'm doing."

"Neither do I," Andy said softly. "Except that I'm kissing you. And that's enough."

This time, Miranda didn't pull away, and oh, it was more than enough. Excruciatingly gentle at the start, taunting of passion to be brought into play. Playing her teeth along Miranda's bottom lip, Andy found it. The rigid set of the older woman's body suddenly changed, charged, focused in on Andy with electric precision. Her fingers tangled in Andy's hair, her breath shuddered out between her teeth and into the younger woman's mouth, a quick burst of motion had Andy with her ass planted against the counter, some bit of make-up clattering off the edge and cracking against the floor in an unseen burst of powder.

Andy lost Miranda's mouth in her haste to taste her skin, any skin, planting kisses from the corner of shuddering lips to the end of her chin and further, nipping at a straining tendon on her way.

"We can't do this now," Miranda gasped out as Andy's tongue traced a collarbone.

"You. Kissed. Me," Andy hissed out between kisses. Her lips couldn't find enough of Miranda's skin. She couldn't stop. She couldn't.

"I-I have to be on set. I have to—mmph!"

Andy drew herself up and silenced her with another kiss, and oh, how wonderfully effective it was. She used the distraction to unbutton Miranda's blouse with jerky, uncoordinated motions. Reaching the last, she drew back, out of breath, resting her forehead against Miranda's shoulder and her palms on the bare skin of the editor's stomach. "Miranda," she hissed, lips vibrating against her chest.

Miranda's hands had drifted down along her spine, clutching desperately at the fabric of Andy's jacket.

Drawing upright, Andy quickly reversed their positions, pinning Miranda in the joint between two countertops and using her grip to shrug out of the blazer. She could feel her nipples straining against the two sparse layers of fabric between them and the dressing room air, as unashamedly desperate for Miranda's touch as her fingers and lips were for Miranda's skin. Her fingers, those she could indulge. Drinking in the sight of all that pristine skin, broken only by the slash of blue silk cupping Miranda's breasts, Andy slid her palms up along her sides, tracing them reverently up to her shoulders and down again, bringing the bra straps with them.

Miranda's breathing was ragged, her eyes wide. She met Andy's gaze with a heady mix of desire, awe, and a touch of fear. Though her hands had been used to brace herself against the counter, she managed to rebalance herself enough to slip them beneath the younger woman's undershirt, sliding up along her chest and half succeeding in getting rid of the cloth. Andy finished the motion in a hasty shrug of her shoulders, unwilling to be separated from the woman before her at any cost. There wasn't a coherent thought in her mind; hadn't been, not since that first breathtaking brush of lips. All that was left was desire, a throbbing need she could feel pressing insistently against the suddenly too-tight confines of her underwear. She hadn't known it was possible to want this much, to be this ready from no more than a few desperate touches and the electric press of lips.

As Miranda's fingers fumbled determinedly at the front-closure of Andy's bra, the younger woman wasted no time tugging down hers instead, leaving it against her stomach, baring Miranda's breasts to the air. Small, perfectly pink nipples strained at the space between them, drawing first Andy's gaze, then her fingertips, magnetically charged to attract the brush of her thumb, the trace of the back of a nail around a flushed areola. Miranda gave up her own endeavor as a whimper slipped between her lips, her hands raising to tangle once more in that long, brunette mane, tugging her head down to a nipple too hard to allow her any embarrassment at her own desire.

"God, Andrea," she gasped, voice dropping into that heated octave only discovered in the midst of passion.

I don't have any idea what I'm doing, Andy thought, part of her mind running in circles, the other part consumed by the feeling of pebbled flesh sliding across her tongue. Miranda's skin tasted sweet and clear and impossibly real, a distant dream given beautiful form. She felt that little bud grow astonishingly harder under her lips, an exhilarating response that told her just how much power she had in that moment. Switching sides, she grew bolder, and a gentle tug of teeth prompted a sharp gasp and a tightening of the hands in her hair.

Replacing her lips with her palms, she gently cupped Miranda's breasts as she let her lips wander upwards again, protecting her damp, swollen nipples from the open air. Finally, Miranda rid her of her own bra, and it was her turn to arch back, shuddering as those fingers she had watched through so many mundane tasks turned their attention on her. Each touch seemed hotwired to her clit, so hard, so ready. She didn't know if she could even get Miranda fully undressed before she would explode.

In a tangle of limbs, they were up on the counter, Miranda's skirt shoved down to her knees, Andy's unzipped slacks clinging precariously to her hips as she hovered above the older woman. The rings of cosmetic lights and the mirrored walls set splashes of light and shadows dancing across the two women and their infinite reflections.

"What are we doing," Andy gasped against Miranda's lips.

"I don't care," Miranda groaned, raking her nails down her ex-assistant's spine and digging into the flesh of her ass, pulling her down, grinding Andy's still trapped center against her thigh.

The sound that ripped from her throat was inhuman, a desire so poignant it was a physical pain. Oh, such a delicious pain.

Andy had no idea she had this in her, this passion so sharp it had her pushing away Miranda's questing hands and holding them captive by her sides as she kissed, licked, and nipped her way across that gently sloping stomach, pushing open trembling thighs and just staring, wanting something she never knew she could.

Spreading apart the swollen, ready folds revealed Miranda as hard, straining, desperately red. With something akin to wonder, Andy stroked along the delicate tracery of veins pulsing with hot, heavy blood and up along the excruciatingly sensitive underside of her clit.

"Stop, oh, god, you're going to make me come – too fast…" Miranda's words were garbled, nothing like her usual biting precision. "I can't – ah – last…"

Andy couldn't take it. She shoved one hand down her own pants as she trapped Miranda's clitoris between two fingers, dragging down the stem in long, slow strokes, keeping just enough pressure to trap her orgasm inside, not allowing her to come no matter how ready she was. Miranda whimpered with each pull, murmuring nonsensical demands for less, more, now, please now. But Andy wouldn't be rushed. She didn't know if she would ever have this chance again and, goddammit, she would make sure when Miranda came, she wouldn't be able to forget it.

When her own touches had her too on edge to focus, she gave up on her fingers and lowered her mouth to finally taste the other woman, humming at the surprisingly pleasant taste, a perfect reflection of the heady scent that had been filling the room. She licked once through the folds, gathering Miranda's desire along her tongue before dragging it slowly, oh-so-slowly across her painfully needy clit.

Miranda drew in a choking, straining breath, jerking up on her elbows to watch as Andy swirled the tip of her tongue around her, sucking once, twice, then slipping two fingers inside.

She was beautiful when she came, Andy thought, barely coherent in her own mind as she felt smooth, slick walls clenching about her fingers and watching sex-darkened blue eyes fail in their fight to stay open, seeing those soft, thin lips parted in some silent sign of supreme satisfaction, broken by the jerky gasps of air that mirrored the clenching muscles in her stomach. A woman's orgasm, Andy realized, was something like art, something so unique, and oh, so precious for being shared.

Then again, she often had odd, cosmically philosophical thoughts before she came. And she was definitely going to come. Pressing down on her own fingers, grinding on Miranda's thigh below, she whimpered out, "Oh, god, Miranda…"

Fingers only mildly shaky from her orgasm, Miranda's hand sought out the wrist that had disappeared into Andy's pants and pulled it free, ignoring the younger woman's protesting groan. She was so close, so impossibly close; she knew if she just pushed down once more, she could explode.

"You don't get to have it that easy," Miranda murmured, her voice like a rasping caress directly to Andy's clit. "Not after what you just did to me."

"Miranda, I can't – I have to—"

Miranda sat up, pushing Andy backwards as she did. Her hair was a shimmering cloud of disarrayed silver, a splash of blue eye shadow cut a jagged line across her cheek from some container that must have ended up open beneath them rather than on the floor, and her bra still clung determinedly just beneath her breasts. In that moment, she was the most beautiful thing Andy had ever seen.

The editor's fingers jerked Andy's pants the rest of the way off her hips, bringing her panties with them, baring a thin line of curls to the dressing room lights and a shocking amount of wetness to the air. Andy groaned as a determined finger ran through that wetness, collecting her essence and raising it up to waiting lips. Miranda's hum was nearly the end of her, and if she had had the slightest pressure on her center, the kiss that followed would have had her coming undone. She could taste herself on the older woman's lips, Miranda's presence turning it into a drink headier than the finest honeysuckle wine.

She could feel herself twitching between her legs, straining for anything to cure the sharpest need she had ever felt. "Please," she gasped into the end of the kiss. "M-Miranda, I need—"

"Hush," Miranda replied, letting her lips feather across a cheekbone to whisper against Andy's ear, nipping her earlobe on her way to the pulse point at her neck.

While Andy's fragmented attention was warring between ever-present need and the entirely new desire Miranda managed to create with each passing moment, fingers unerringly sought out her clit, pressing the length of her up and down along the unforgiving bone beneath her flesh in a maddeningly intense sensation, setting her pulsing in time to the rhythmic suction of lips at the juncture of her neck. When Miranda bit down, Andy felt herself spiraling down through herself and pouring out from her clit, unwinding into Miranda's capable hands. She might have screamed, she might have begged, she might have cried, but when it ended, warm, soft, secure arms held them pressed together, returning Andy to her senses in the most delightful way possible.

"Did we just…?" the younger woman managed, finally regaining just enough breath for speech.

"Mmmm," Miranda hummed in reply, running a careful finger over a spot on her neck which, Andy realized, was pulsing, bruise-like, to the beat of her heart. "I suppose this wasn't the worst place to make love," she continued, seemingly non sequitur.

"Huh?" was Andy's ever-so-intelligent response.

"You, darling, are going to need some concealer, which is, thankfully, in abundant supply."

Eyes widening, Andy pulled back just enough to see her flushed, sweat-shined form in the mirror. Aside from distinctly sex-swollen lips and just-fucked hair, a patch of red skin with a few questionable indents which may well have been teeth-marks was rapidly darkening against the skin of her neck.

"Oh," she murmured, wondering how on earth Miranda was managing anything near intelligent sentences. All she could think about was how soon the editor could take another orgasm. "Did you just call me darling?

Miranda nuzzled against the skin of her neck. "Would it be a problem if I did?"

Dumbly, Andy shook her head. She slumped onto her back with a groan, wondering how she could already be ready again, just from looking at Miranda sitting there; unashamedly naked, basking in the heat shimmering off the rows of lights like some proud, cold-blooded dragon, perched triumphant over her defeated, satisfied prey.

Then again, she thought, I had my predatory moments, too.

A smile crept across her lips as her more logical mind finally caught up to the fact that she had just, as Miranda put it, made love to the woman who had been the star of her dreams for two whole years. Miranda's eyes softened, her lips mirroring Andy's own for a moment before stretching slightly wider, reaching behind her to finally unclasp that damned bra. The heat in her gaze had Andy squirming, thoughts of the TV-show waiting to be filmed outside the door the furthest thing from her mind.

Sadly, they were not the only two on the planet, and a hesitant knock echoed on the dressing room door. Andy shot upright, coming to attention in a frantic scan about the room for her shirt. Miranda halted her panic by pressing her hand against the skin between her collarbones. "Door's locked," she whispered, almost too low to catch.

"Miranda?"

Andy nearly growled. It was Emily. Leaning close to Miranda's ear, she copied the barely feathered whisper. "Maybe if we're really, really quiet, she'll go away."

Unfortunately, Miranda chuckled, and it unbalanced them, toppling to pair back onto the counter, Andy sprawled quite comfortably along the other woman's spine. The clattering of yet another few cases of hundred-dollar cosmetics, however, rather defeated the point of the whispers as they clacked to the floor.

"Miranda! Is everything alright?" Emily's voice was shrill.

With a theatrical sigh, Miranda called out, "Emily, push the announcement back by another hour."

"But – Miranda, I – "

"No, no, I will not be subject to the whim of one more pesky underdirector this morning. On second thought… make that two hours. And fetch me Clarice. That's all."

"Clarice?" Andy murmured against the soft spot at the base of Miranda's spine. She didn't recognize that name from amid the files in her brain still stuffed with Runway contact information and Miranda's many people-related whims. "Should I know who that is, or, better yet, should I be worried?"

Miranda chuckled. "You shouldn't. I've never met anyone named 'Clarice' worth mentioning, but it should be entertaining to see who Emily scrounges up, and it will keep her occupied for, oh, the next two hours or so…"

Andy was sure her expression was beyond comical, but she finally sat back and doubled over with laughter. "Oh, god, Miranda, you are evil."

Miranda turned, tugging Andy down beside her and nosing into the crick in her neck. "Mmm," she hummed noncommittally. "But you love me for it."

Andy could have challenged that, could have quipped something along the lines of "You mean I love you in spite of it," but, truth was, Andy loved everything about Miranda in that minute far too much to protest.

"Yes, yes I do."

~finis


 

In case anyone wasn't aware and was wondering, Sankofa is an Akan word that means, "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today." (x)