Rating: NC-17/Mature at some point
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Romance, Fluff
Betas: My darlings Susi and Jiggles, and in later chapters the wonderful XVnot15.
Summary: What if Miranda hadn't known?
Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to "The Devil Wears Prada". I only want to play around with our two favourite ladies. I make absolutely zero profit of this.
A/N: Sort of a repost from ff.net, but as I've finally finished this story, I decided to also post it here. :)
The White Queen Falls
Miranda clutched at the high collar of her sweater, and the wool scratched over her pursed lips as she curled her fingers into the thick fabric. Her chest felt heavy as she drew shallow breaths from the moist, cold air, and her gaze was aimed at an undefined spot a few inches above the wet floor boards of the veranda. Her eyes, unwavering in their stare into nothingness, burned, but she could not cry.
Too many of her tears had already been spilled and she felt drained, raw and weak. Images of everything she had lost coursed through her mind, keeping her thoughts hostage within a dense fog of a constant, dull pain, and regardless of how much she wanted to try, she simply could not muster the strength to fight the numbness that engulfed her. She felt detached and lost.
She was almost grateful for the biting chill of the morning and how it managed to - at least momentarily - steer her senses away from the burning in her heart. Rain drummed relentlessly against the roof above her, each splattering drop joining its brothers and sisters in a steady chorus that had not eased all night.
The weather reflected her mental state perfectly. Grey, cold, and with a lingering wetness that seeped into her bones and sucked away her energy. In the distance a fog horn mocked her with its sorrowful moans at agonisingly long intervals, and despite the lack of wind, the ocean a few yards below was restless, roused by the heavy rain and forced by the tide. Waves, rising and falling slowly, pushed at a rusty buoy, eliciting the faint chiming of its bell as they rolled steadily into the secluded bay.
Miranda shivered, and she brought up her steaming mug of coffee, its heat seeping into her skin where she gripped it tightly with both hands. She brushed her mouth over the smooth porcelain, welcoming the sting of the hot cup against her lips and how it sent shudders down her spine and through her freezing limbs.
Water ran in continuous trickles down the busy rain pipes all around her, and the drips and dull splatters of heavy drops, cascading over the thick pine tree foliage surrounding the cabin, were almost deafening in the otherwise secluded silence. And yet, the padded, mossy forest ground soaked up the rain, muting its final decent to the earth, and bathing everything in surrealism.
The mist that sluggishly crawled in from the sea had Miranda wallow in her isolation, and she inhaled deeply, the scent of coffee, seaweed and damp wood rushing into her lungs, making her feel alive, even if it was almost unbearable.
She was pulled from her musings by the humming of an engine and tires grinding over the driveway behind the building. The vehicle stopped and the ignition was turned off, before the slam of the car door jolted Miranda out of her uncollected state. Rapid footsteps drew closer, hurrying over the gravel in an attempt to escape the rain, until a figure in a cerulean rain jacket, arms loaded with shopping bags, hopped up the steps to the veranda.
"Oh," Andrea said, stopping dead in her tracks when she spotted her. "Good morning, Miranda."
"Would you like some coffee?"
Andy looked up from her book and smiled at the flight attendant.
She accepted the steaming cup gratefully, cradling it between her palms as she inhaled the rich scent of real Italian espresso. Travelling first class certainly had its perks.
"And anything for you, Ma'am?"
Andy couldn't fight the cringe at the polite, but in this case unfortunate designation for the woman sitting in the seat beside her.
"Uhm, she'll have a skimmed milk latte with a double shot of espresso," Andy quickly instructed. "And could you please make sure there isn't any foam?"
She gave the blonde her most winning smile, only to realise that in business class asking for a special coffee order was considered normal. The flight attendant didn't even flinch and simply nodded.
"Of course. Anything else?"
Andy risked a sideways glance at her companion, but Miranda was unresponsive, still gazing out of the window at the clouds, as she had been doing since take-off.
"No, thank you. That'll be all."
The air hostess left and Andy relaxed back into her chair, exhaling slowly, and making as little noise as possible while she allowed her shoulders to loosen and her eyes to close. The coffee felt heavenly as it slipped past her lips and down her throat, and it suffused her with a warmth and momentary peace that helped ease away some of the accumulated tension in her body.
Paris felt a lot further away than just one week. The shattering events of the previous seven days were like a distant, violent storm through which Andy had navigated - only barely - by following her instincts and her hazy perception of what was right.
Of course thunder had been rumbling way before the trip to France, but nothing could have prepared Andy for how drastically everything could change, not just for herself, but also for the woman sitting next to her, whom she had always believed to be untouchable.
She opened her eyes, and holding the coffee to her chest she chanced another look at Miranda. In a face usually so guarded and calculated in what it expressed, Andy had found utter defeat and so much sadness over the past few days. Not to mention the tears, carefully held at bay in another's presence, just far enough to keep them from falling from eyes much too red to hide the truth.
The Fall of The Queen.
That's what the papers had dubbed it. At least that had been one of the more sophisticated headlines, and Andy did not care to remember anything printed by the gossip rags. Needless to say, the press was having a field day with Miranda's misfortunes, basking in her misery as if she were the Antichrist. It had left Andy nauseated, especially since she had caught a first-hand glimpse of the effect all of this was having on Miranda.
The termination of an unsuccessful, second marriage wasn't that much of a disaster, and Andy knew that under normal circumstances Miranda would have shaken off the nasty public voices and would have moved on without a single tear. The fact that Stephen had asked for the divorce through an email, sent on one of the most important and busiest nights of Paris Fashion Week, had made the whole thing even more ridiculous to Andy. And Miranda herself had seemed more stricken by the effect the negative press could potentially have on her daughters, than by the loss of another husband.
Regardless, Andy had felt compassion for her boss, deciding to cancel her dinner date and instead take the evening to do some soul searching. Her relationship with Nate had stranded a few days before leaving for Paris, and Andy had not been able to argue certain similarities between her private life and Miranda's. Juggling career and family at the same time wasn't supposed to be easy, but at the very least one should hope for a little support. Partners who abandoned you because of missed birthday dinners or late crisis nights at the office maybe weren't "Ever After" material.
That night, Andy had realised a few things about what she wanted out of her life, and it had vastly helped her understanding of the editor-in-chief. Miranda would always move on without hesitation. No husband could ever hold her back or bring her down, as much as he might have wished to.
Despite the impending divorce and the worry about her girls, Miranda had appeared invincible to Andy. Unshakable in her position, pushing through personal setbacks and focusing on her work, her career, her passion.
The events of the following day, however, had completely shattered that perception.
Miranda had just finished her congratulatory speech to James Holt and Runway's own Nigel Kipling on their future business partnership, when Irv Ravitz had pulled her aside. With a self-gratifying smirk, Elias-Clarke's CEO had then informed Miranda of the board's vote to remove her as editor-in-chief from the company's flagship magazine, and Andy had stood close enough to hear every word.
The rumours had been there, of course, and it certainly had not been a secret that Irv Ravitz had been trying to replace Miranda for a while now, but the tactless delivery and the smug expression on Irv's face had ignited a burning feeling of injustice inside of Andy.
Granted, her time as Miranda's assistant had not exactly been all daisies and unicorns, but in her eight months at Runway she had transformed from a cynical fashion-hater, who had spent every night complaining to her boyfriend about her impossible boss, to someone who had not only begun to be great at her job, but had also started to truly appreciate fashion for the art form it was, with Miranda as its unwavering queen.
Although having been vaguely aware of its existence, the possibility that Miranda would one day have to step aside and let someone else take the helm of her empire had never registered, and standing by her boss' side and watch that incipient, little man so easily fire the goddess of fashion had shaken her belief system to its core.
Andy, seething with anger and barely able to control herself, had been somewhat mellowed by the calm and collected way Miranda had dismissed Irv with a softly uttered "You will regret this," and "My lawyers will contact you." However, on the way back to their hotel, Andy hadn't been able to ignore Miranda's heaving chest, those lips pressed together into the thinnest of lines and her shoulders so tense that muscles could have snapped at any point. It was a complete wonder that Miranda had even allowed Andy to be in the car with her, and the silence between them had been thick and uncomfortably pressing.
"Here you go." The flight attendant handed Andy Miranda's coffee. "Would you like anything else?"
"No, thank you." Andy smiled weakly.
Miranda had not given any indication that she had even wanted a coffee, but if there was one thing Andy could be sure of after everything that had happened, it would be that no matter how bad Miranda's mood was, a good cup of coffee would always work in Andy's advantage.
She held out the cup and after a few non-responsive seconds Miranda reached for it without looking, snatching the hot drink from Andy in one swift, practised motion, before cradling it in her lap, gaze still fastened on the clouds passing by below.
Taking any of Miranda's behaviour personally was something that Andy had stopped doing a long time ago. Contrary to popular belief, Miranda did not have a personal agenda in the way she treated her employees. Andy had figured out early on that when dealing with emotions, such as disappointment, irritation or impatience, Miranda could only communicate with the world around her in a way that came with cleverly crafted insults and annoyed facial expressions.
And it wasn't as if she could blame Miranda. Dealing with a divorce and at the same time facing the loss of a job that had been her life for the past two decades, was a powerful combination. Andy didn't doubt that anyone else would have had a mental breakdown.
Miranda, however, had been so strong; determined to sit out her final two weeks while her lawyers were building a strong case against Irv and the board of directors. Back in New York Andy had worked long hours, supporting Miranda as best as she could, her tasks more centred around the older woman's fierce legal team than anything to do with Runway. She hadn't minded, though, welcoming the distraction from the reality of her own obliterated social life.
Nate had kicked her out of the apartment by her return from France, their mutual friends had ignored her calls, and when Andy had let it slip in a conversation with her parents that instead of actively searching for a new job she was still by Miranda's side, her dad had decided to pull his financial support, practically blackmailing her into leaving her boss. A boss she had once loathed, but had lately come to respect, and to a large degree, understand.
Six days after Paris Andy had found herself lying on Nigel's living room couch, attempting very hard to sleep instead of thinking about her future, when the ringing phone had pulled her from her anxiety-attack. Having looked at the caller I.D. she had been confused by the initial silence; pen and paper already poised to collect a new set of orders. The shaky sigh on the other end of the line had startled her, and the whispered words, so raw and desperate, had threatened to break her heart.
"Andrea..." Miranda had almost sobbed, making Andy shiver. "I need to get away... from all of this."
Catching herself quickly, she had offered to get Miranda's Hamptons house ready by morning.
"No! Not there. Get me away... out of the country. Somewhere without press, without lawyers... without people."
Then she had hung up, but not before releasing another uncharacteristic, shaky sigh that had caused the fine hairs on the back of Andy's neck to rise in alarm.
And so with the help of Nigel, who had promised to take care of things at the office, Andy had spent the remainder of the night booking flights, making a rental car reservation, and packing.
It hadn't been until early this very morning, when she had stood before Miranda's front door, a shiny silver town car waiting by the curb, that Andy had started to panic and second-guess her actions. When she had laid eyes on Miranda, though, big sunglasses not able to hide the older woman's puffy eyes, lips thin and looking utterly defeated, Andy had quickly gathered herself and slipped back into perfect assistant mode.
During the drive to the airport she'd had a hard time keeping her gaze away, concern constantly forcing her eyes back to the broken woman who was usually so poised and assertive, ready to take on the entire world.
"The girls," Miranda had whispered, her voice raw and cracking with barely hidden emotions, "have decided... to live with their father."
That one sentence had immediately convinced Andy that she was doing the right thing. Right then she had pushed away all nagging thoughts about her parents, about her career, about Nate and the friends who had abandoned her, and she had known that the last thing she would do as Miranda's assistant would be personal, and it would be meaningful.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the captain speaking."
Andy absently listened as their descent was announced, and she leaned back in her seat to study the woman beside her.
Miranda looked so small.
The queen who had successfully ruled her empire of fashion for more than twenty years with confidence, high intellect and an icy persona that had brought forth great efficiency in her employees, now appeared hollow and almost lifeless.
Whereas a coward husband and a conspiring chairman could at the most cause her a temporary stumble, her two little girls had completely broken Miranda. Andy remembered how concerned the older woman had been in Paris about the effect of her divorce on the girls, and she wondered whether Miranda had somehow sensed the possibility of her daughters leaving her. Andy was aware of the shared custody agreement that allowed the twins a final say in where they would live, but as Miranda's assistant, who had accomplished more than just one impossible feat for the little redheads, she knew how much Miranda adored and spoiled her daughters.
It was puzzling that the girls would decide to leave all that behind for a father who barely made time to see them. Unless, of course, the news of their mother's divorce and the loss of their stepfather had driven them to seek out the only other stability they knew.
As the plane dipped through the clouds Andy watched the white peaks of a familiar mountain range come into view. The sight seemed to even rouse Miranda, who had yet to ask where precisely they were going.
"Welcome to Canada," Andy said quietly, and although she wasn't entirely convinced that her mind wasn't playing tricks on her, she could have sworn there was a twitch at the corner of Miranda's lips.