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The Proposal

Chapter Text


“Hello?” Andy Sachs croaked into her phone, looking at the clock next to her bed. 5:38 am. 22 minutes before she was supposed to be up for the day. Ugh, this better be good.

“Andy? It’s Danielle,” her second assistant clarified needlessly.

“Yeah, got that,” Andy yawned, “What’s going on?”

“I’m sick-” as if to emphasize this point, Danielle started coughing, “-ugh, sorry. I’m not too sick to come in, but you remember how she got last time.”

“Only too vividly.”

Six months ago Danielle had a nasty, week long bout of the flu; and naturally Miranda wouldn’t touch anything that was, as she had so delicately put it, “infectious”. Of course this translated into Danielle manning the phones, looking on apologetically while Andy did everything from going on coffee runs, to picking up designers’ samples, to staying till well after 10:00 every night waiting for the Book. In other words, she was doing all the work that she was supposed to have left behind with her old position nearly three years ago. Which was apparently what she had to look forward to today as well. Fantastic.

Dragging herself out of bed, Andy said “Alright, I’m up. I’ll go get her coffee and see you in-“she was interrupted by yet another bout of coughing from her coworker, and felt a pang of sympathy.

“You sure you’re okay to come in, Dani? I can handle it today.” Andy almost certainly could not handle it today, but if her coworker really was sick, then she didn’t need to know that. Danielle had come through for Andy on more than one occasion, and Andy tried to return the favor whenever she could. Having a conscience sucked sometimes.

“Hush up, you know there’s no way I’m leaving you alone today of all days. I understand you’re the Dragon Tamer and all, but even you are no match for Miranda and the mood she’s bound to be in after the absolute disaster that was the Sitka shoot, Andy,” Danielle chuckled, “I’ll just pick up some cough syrup, I should be fine.”

Andy breathed a quiet sigh of relief, “Alright, if you say so. Thanks, Danielle.” Andy was so relieved that she didn’t even admonish Danielle for using her embarrassing office nickname like she normally would.

“Don’t mention it sugar. See you soon.”

Despite the fact that she had just cost Andy precious minutes of sleep, she felt a familiar surge of affection for Danielle. She had been Andy’s first (and only) hire following her own promotion to first assistant. Andy’s requirements had been simple: she needed someone who was smart enough to get the job done well, efficient enough to get it done quickly, and bearable enough to spend the requisite fifty-plus hours a week in their presence. Not to mention the ability to handle Miranda and her ever changing demands with grace. And, of course, Andy needed to be able to trust them not to throw her under the bus (or, um, taxi) like she had poor Emily.

Okay, on second thought, maybe her requirements weren’t so simple after all. Either way, Danielle got the job done. And she didn’t seem too interested in trying to take Andy’s place, either, so that was something. Because Andy would let nothing come between herself and Miranda. No, wait—my job. I’ll let nothing come between me and my job. Not Miranda. Right.

Andy shook her head. It was clearly time for coffee.

-----------------

Miranda Priestly had been looking forward to this day for quite some time. Contrary to popular belief, she didn’t generally get all that much of a thrill from firing incompetent employees. Just because one does something often and well doesn’t mean that one necessarily enjoys doing it. Much like some of the other essential duties of that came with her position, such as public speaking or dealing with the press, it was something that she had learned to excel at through sheer force of will.

Not this, though. No, Miranda was going to absolutely relish firing this particular underling. The editor-in-chief had known for months now of Irv’s latest little plan to oust her. This time he hoped to replace her with Henrik Billings, the magazine’s 27 year old head of social media. 27 years old. Really, of all of Irv’s harebrained schemes, this one was easily the biggest slap in the face. Was the man even trying anymore? What could have possibly possessed him to think that this veritable child, with five years of experience in a barely relevant field, could even dream of doing half of what Miranda does every day? It was insulting.

Stepping out of the elevator and walking into her outer office, Miranda was surprised to see the first assistant’s desk filled. Miranda had decided to come in a little earlier this morning to prepare for the day ahead, arriving at 7:15 instead of her usual 8:00. She had expected to see only Danielle for at least another fifteen minutes.

“Good morning Andréa,” Miranda said as she tossed her jacket and bag onto Danielle’s desk. She raised a questioning eyebrow.

A pair of warm brown eyes looked up at her in surprise, though whether at Miranda’s early arrival or her unexpected pleasantry she couldn’t be sure. Miranda held back a smirk. My, but she was in a good mood this morning.

Andréa cleared her throat, “Good morning, Miranda. Danielle has a cold, so we thought it would be best if I took care of your coffee today. She should be here soon.”

Miranda gave a curt nod of acknowledgement before starting immediately in on her orders: “Call Marc Jacobs about those stockings he sent the other day. Tell him that I specifically asked for champagne pink, not garish cotton candy pink.” She rolled her eyes and took a seat at her desk, unsurprised to see Andréa trailing behind her, notepad in hand.

“Call my ex-husband and tell him no, we most certainly cannot rearrange our Thanksgiving plans. Our agreement was very clear; I don’t see why he thinks that I’m going change our plans with only a week’s notice. I need Henrik in my office at 7:55, and tell makeup to be here and ready to present their new color scheme for the February issue by no later than 8:05, because what they showed me yesterday was clearly some sort of sad practical joke.”

Miranda looked up to see Andréa still scribbling away, and used the moment of relative calm to take in the other woman’s outfit for the first time. The brunette’s dress was the latest from Chanel’s fall collection. Between the way the deep forest green brought out the chestnut tone of her eyes, and the way the a-line cut showed off her figure, it was incredibly flattering. An impressive choice. A safe choice, surely, but impressive nonetheless.

While the girl may have appeared to be a lost cause upon their first meeting three and a half years ago, her time at Runway had clearly taught Andréa much. In many ways, surely—but at the moment, the first that came to mind was her ability to use her slowly growing sense of style combined with her natural beauty to make herself truly stunning.

Objectively, of course.

Miranda looked up to see a slightly discomfited looking Andréa, clearly waiting to be dismissed.

Miranda tore her eyes away, turning instead to her computer, “Also, be sure to let me know immediately when Oscar calls. That’s all.”

 ----------------- 

It was 8:02 am, and Andy was trying her damnedest to eavesdrop on the conversation happening behind Miranda’s currently closed office doors. Looking across at Danielle, it was clear that this was what she was doing as well. From the look on her face, it apparently wasn’t working out so well for her either.

Although the voices inside were quiet, both women had been working for Miranda long enough to know when someone was about to get fired. Hell, working for Miranda for two weeks was long enough to figure that one out. Of all the mysteries that came with working for Miranda Priestly, this certainly wasn’t one of them.

It was then that Andy heard an all too familiar clacking as Julie, the junior assistant makeup director, practically jogged into the outer office. Following closely behind was her team, each looking more frantic than the one before.

Wide eyed, Julie turned to Andy, “Are we late? Am I fired?”

Before Andy could even open her mouth to respond, the doors to Miranda’s office flew open, a red faced Henrik Billings storming out of them.

“You can’t do this,” he seethed, whipping around to stand before the doorway to Miranda’s office.

“I assure you Mr. Billings, I can,” Miranda’s voice sounded vaguely amused as she strode towards her doorway as well.

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyers,” the man’s voice began to rise, “You have no proof. You can’t prove anything. You have nothing.”

“Well, I hardly think that six screenshots from 4 different women qualifies as nothing. But best of luck to you with your father’s lawyer friends. Goodness knows his connections have gotten you this far.”

“I—you—that’s,” Henrik appeared to be doing his best impression of a fish. His mouth opened and closed, looking for a retort and clearly finding none. Andy almost pitied the poor man.

“I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with,” Miranda carried on as if she hadn’t been interrupted, “But I suppose that you would know better than anyone, wouldn’t you Mr. Billings? After all, this is your… area of expertise.” Miranda gave her most bone chilling smile, the one that always forcibly reminded Andy of a lion ready to pounce.

“You bitch,” Henrik had apparently had found his voice again, and it was quickly raising into a shout, “You miserable old cunt, you’re enjoying this aren’t you? You’re only firing me because you’re intimidated by me. You know the board wants someone younger—someone more relatable—and you’re getting rid of anyone who fits the bill. It’s almost like you think that clinging onto your power will somehow change the fact that you’re just a sad old woman who’s got nothing to look forward to but dying alone.”
He laughed mirthlessly, “You’re pathetic.”

There seemed to be a collective intake of breath as everyone in the room turned to look at Miranda. Andy scowled. Oh, hell no. Alright, any pity she had previously possessed for this man had officially just evaporated. Andy picked up the phone to call security. You don’t work for Miranda Priestly without learning a thing or two about handling pissed off ex-employees.

“That won’t be necessary, Andréa.”

Miranda, for her part, looked bored. Well, it’s not like she hasn’t dealt with this before, Andy thought before Miranda continued, “Mr. Billings was just leaving.” She didn’t take her eyes off the man in front of her.

Henrik scowled and opened his mouth to retort, but Miranda cut him off, “But Henrik, I’m confused. Because you see, I’m not firing you because I’m intimidated by you. While I’m sure there are many who would be intimidated by your little degree in… what was it? Multimedia communications?”

She raised a disdainful eyebrow, “Yes, while I’m sure there are many who would be intimidated by that, I’m afraid I am not one of them.”


Miranda’s eyes were like ice, “No, I’m afraid it’s much simpler than that. I’m firing you because you spend more time sending lewd photos of yourself to my employees than you do in your office. And that’s not even touching on the way you obviously seem to believe that your father and his famously deep pockets somehow exempt you from the ever-arduous task of actually doing your job.” She was all but sneering, and at this point any evidence of her former amusement had vanished.

Nobody dared move. All traces of Henrik’s former smugness had vanished alongside the color in his face.

“That’s all.” Miranda turned on her heel and headed back in the direction of her desk, not bothering to look back to see a considerably shaken looking Henrik slouch out of the room, eyes glued to the floor.

Julie turned her terror-filled eyes towards Andy again, clearly trying to figure out what the hell she was supposed to do now.

“Well?” Miranda’s voice rang out in the same dangerously low tone as before, “Do you expect me to wait all day?”

Julie squeaked, and with that she and her team were jogging towards the inner office once again.

-----------------

Miranda sighed, standing in the waiting area outside the office of Irv Ravitz. Danielle informed her not 10 minutes ago that Irv needed to see her about an urgent matter. Miranda rolled her eyes. Urgent. Of course. If it was really so urgent, she wouldn’t be standing here wasting what precious little time she had, would she? No, this was nothing more than some tired power play.

Miranda didn’t have time for her boss and his petty little games this morning. She was waiting for a call from Oscar De La Renta, and lest she want to wait until next week to hear from him, she needed to take it immediately. Not to mention the fact that the photos from what was supposed to be an elegant, wintry shoot in Sitka yesterday turned out looking like little more than amateur Yeti sightings. The photographers were complaining of a blizzard, as if a bit of snow was supposed to somehow explain to her their extraordinary incompetence.

Miranda watched the clock, her agitation growing by the minute. She didn’t particularly want to think about what was truly upsetting her. The very idea that she would let the words of some petulant ex-employee get under her skin was embarrassing. It wasn’t the more obvious of his insults that were getting to her—that she was nearly universally regarded as a bitch was hardly news.

No, she was far more perturbed by the latter half of his little tirade. “It’s almost like you think that clinging onto your power will somehow change the fact that you’re just a sad old woman who’s got nothing to look forward to but dying alone.” It was as if the boy had searched into the darkest, most unpleasant recesses of her mind and spat back out the first thing he found there. Christ, he even called her pathetic. Miranda Priestly had been called many things in her life, but pathetic was most certainly not one of them.

What made it rankle even more was that not only had there been an audience for his odious little rant, but that she had seen to it herself that they would be there. She’d wanted word of Henrik’s downfall to spread quickly, and the best way to do that was to ensure that Runway’s chattiest department was there to see it firsthand. She knew she had no one to blame but herself for the sickeningly familiar bubble of anxious shame caught in her chest, and it was infuriating. Having someone to blame at least gave her the satisfaction of eventual revenge.

“Miranda! Always good to see you,” Miranda turned to see Irv walking towards her, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

Miranda resisted the urge to narrow her eyes in suspicion, instead opting for the most intimidating smile she could muster, “Likewise. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Come in, come in,” Irv gestured to his office, “Best to discuss these things in private.”

Irv’s office was everything that Miranda’s was not. Where she preferred the simplicity of light tones and minimalistic décor for her workspace, Irv’s seemed determined to stuff his office full of as much bulky, dark furniture as he possibly could. It sucked all light right out of the place, and made it dreary at best (and claustrophobic at worst).

Looking over Irv’s shoulder towards his oversized desk, Miranda was surprised to see a man she did not know sitting in front of it. Moving to sit to the man’s left, she raised a questioning eyebrow to the CEO as he settled behind his desk.

“Miranda, this is Steve Thompson. Steve, Miranda.”

“Delighted, I’m sure,” Miranda nodded, feeling anything but. “Now, would either of you care to explain to me why I am here, instead of in my office preparing for the run-through due to begin in—” she glanced at the hideous old grandfather clock sitting adjacent to Irv’s desk—“twenty two minutes?”

“Well, Steve here had some very interesting news to share with me this morning. Apparently you’re in a bit of trouble with the Office of Immigration, Miranda,” Irv smirked, “Something about failing to fill out the proper paperwork for residency renewal, and leaving the country in October even after your official request to do so was denied. Twice.”

Miranda stared at him, incredulous, “What on Earth are you talking about? My visa is due to be renewed this year. I haven’t been informed of any issues with my paperwork.”

Steve cleared his throat next to her, “Actually, Ms. Priestly, that’s not true. We have evidence showing that you have been contacted no less than five times about the due date for your paperwork being moved up to September 12th, 2009.”

Miranda shook her head, “Nonsense. If that were the case, then my legal team would have been informed months ago. And I don’t see what any of this has to do with him,” she turned to glare at Irv, whose smirk only grew. “I should have been contacted directly. This is an incredible breach of privacy.”

“Your legal team was contacted, actually. You requested several years ago that your documents be sent directly to the office of Harrison and Gruman. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to meet with Mr. Ravitz, as you have responded to neither the Office of Immigration nor your legal team these last two months. He needed to be informed that your visa is being effectively revoked, and that continuing to employ you would constitute a federal offense.” Steve paused, clearly waiting for a response.

Miranda’s eyes widened, “…Revoked. My visa has been revoked?” She felt her heart begin to race, “What? What does this mean?”

The officer ran his hand through what was left of his hair, “Well, it means that your visa is no longer—”

“Yes, I know what it means,” Miranda hissed, “But what do you plan to do about this? This is obviously some sort of clerical error on your part. I can’t be held responsible for the many ineptitudes of the federal government.”

The man began to look downright frightened. Good. “Well ma’am, it means that you’ll need to reapply for a visa. In the meantime, you’ll be deported back to Canada until your application has been renewed. The whole process usually takes up to a year.”

Miranda felt the ground drop from beneath her feet.

“Deported? I’m being deported? For a year?” She couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t believe it. “I’m from Montreal for god’s sake, is that really necessary? I’ve lived in this country for more than thirty years! My entire life is here, my career, my family—”

Miranda’s heart went cold as she thought of the most important thing of all, “And what of my girls? They’re American citizens. Am I to just drop them with their father for the next year?” No. No no no.

Irv cut in, “Well, I won’t claim to know what’s to happen with your family, but I can help with any confusion you might have about your position here at Elias Clarke,” Miranda turned to stare at him.

“Unfortunately, if you’re being deported, you will no longer be able to work for Runway.” His greasy smile told Miranda just exactly how unfortunate he truly thought this was, “We’d be forced to replace you, and right now the most qualified candidate for the job is Mr. Henrik Billings.”

Red tinted the edges of Miranda’s vision. She closed her eyes and counted to five. “Henrik Billings. The boy I fired not two hours ago.”

“The very same,” came Irv’s smug voice.

She turned to look once again at the mousy little man sitting next to her, her mind searching frantically for some sort of loophole and coming up woefully short. “There has to be something that we can do about this.”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing to do, ma’am. You broke federal law last month when you left the country for France—”

“Of course I went to France you sad little man, do you have any idea who I am?” Miranda was quickly losing any and all sense of her usual decorum, and she could feel herself beginning to border on hysterical. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. “If you truly thought that the editor in chief of the most successful fashion magazine in the Western World was going to—” She was interrupted by a loud rapping at Irv’s office door.

“Miranda?” Came Andréa’s muffled voice through the thick mahogany, “Miranda, I’m really sorry to bother you like this, but De La Renta is on the line.”

Miranda’s heart clenched unexpectedly, thinking of yet another person she would have to leave behind because of this mess. This was something that not even Andréa could fix. It wasn’t as if she could—

—or could she? It was legal now, after all, and there were certainly worse fates than this. Yes, much worse fates than this. Miranda would know.

Her head whipped around to stare at the door, her mind racing. Andréa. Andréa was the loophole that Miranda was searching for. Andréa could save her.

Chapter Text

Andy knocked once again on Irv’s office door. She knew Miranda would be pissed that she was interrupting her meeting with the CEO, but she didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. Andy knew it was more than her job was worth to let Miranda miss this call, and she didn’t particularly relish the idea of spending the rest of her working life at TV Guide.

Just as Andy was beginning to consider letting herself in, the door opened. But where she expected to see a particularly irritated-looking editor-in-chief staring back at her, she instead saw something considerably more frightening: Miranda was smiling at her.

Miranda had dozens of facial expressions. Dozens of minutely different ways to silently pronounce her displeasure. To anyone who wasn’t paying attention, most of these expressions seemed very similar (if not identical). Andy, however, prided herself on being fluent in the language that was Miranda Priestly. A curl of the lip was something completely separate a sneer. The meaning of a raised eyebrow varied in millimeters. There were four different eye-rolls, each worlds apart in their meaning.

Miranda’s smiles were much fewer, however. Or… scratch that. Miranda had almost as many different smiles as she did sneers, and their meanings varied just as drastically. She just used them much less often.

Andy had been lucky enough to see some of Miranda’s real smiles a handful of times over the years. When she was truly smiling, Miranda was nothing short of radiant.

The smile currently being directed at Andy, however, was not.

“Andréa, darling, come in. You’re here right on time, as always. I was just telling them the news,” Miranda gave her a meaningful look. Whatever the hell that meaning was supposed to be, however, was completely lost on Andy. So much for her apparent fluency.

“Oh. Um. Right. The news,” Andy spluttered. What the hell was she talking about? What news? Did Andy forget something? And since when did Miranda call her darling?

“It’s all right dear, they already know about the engagement,” Miranda put her hand on the small of Andy’s back to lead her towards the desk at the center of the room, and her brain promptly broke.

“Right. The engagement,” Andy replied. Thoroughly distracted by the pleasant warmth now radiating from Miranda’s hand at the small of her back, she then proceeded to break one of the very first rules she learned at Runway: Never ask Miranda anything.

“Which engagement would that be, again?” Andy felt a firm pinch on her back and jumped, barely withholding a squeak.

Miranda gave one of her fake, airy little laughs, “Our engagement, Andréa. There’s no need to pretend any longer, darling. I’ve just finished telling Irv and Mr. Thompson here all about it.”

Andy finally turned to notice the other two people she had initially been too overwhelmed to notice: Irv, who was wearing a bland smile that did little to hide his obvious displeasure, and a mousy little man whose name she’d already forgotten, looking nothing short of petrified. Well, at least that was one normal thing about this interaction.

Andy’s brain snapped back to the conversation at hand. Our engagement? Andy thought.

The word “engagement” only brought one situation to mind, but Miranda couldn’t possibly mean—

“It looks like we’re going to be forced to move up the ceremony, unfortunately. I know how set you were on a spring wedding, but with a few adjustments I’m sure that an autumn wedding can be just as breathtaking,” Miranda continued.

Oh. Oh.

Okay, or maybe she could possibly mean—

“The—the wedding.” Stuttering, Andy could barely get the words out. “Y-you’re—you’re talking about our… wedding?” She coughed, having managed to choke on her own saliva. Eyes watering, she turned to see Miranda staring at her with wide eyes. Instead of the anger she expected to see there, irritation at Andy for not being able to read her mind at this of all times, she instead saw something that looked almost pleading.

Andy knew better than anyone else how incredibly difficult it was to tell an angry Miranda Priestly “no”. She had been forced to do it on more than one occasion, and though it became slightly less terrifying each time, she was still grateful to escape the situation with both her job and her life intact each time.

Now, faced with an apparently desperate Miranda Priestly, Andy knew that telling her “no” simply wasn’t an option. It was a look she had seen only once before, and Andy felt just as helpless now as she had on that day three years ago.

Andy stood next to the town car, watching Miranda weave her way upstairs through the flashing lights and shouting voices of the press with her usual grace. The older woman’s words still rang in her head. I see a great deal of myself in you. The words filled her with so many different feelings that she didn’t even know where to begin. But the one that scared her the most, the one that screeched her mind to a halt and made her want to flee, was the pride that swelled in her chest.

There was shame, of course. And fear. Not to mention outrage. But Andy knew she would be lying if she said she didn’t feel at least a little proud to be compared to Miranda Priestly by the woman herself, and this was the thought that made her entire body tense as if ready to bolt. After all, this was a person who had sacrificed absolutely everything, even and especially her own happiness, at the altar of her career. Sure, she was successful, but at what cost? Were those really Andy’s only two options? Personal misery or professional ruin?

It was at that moment that Miranda turned her head to the side, likely to give Andy another string of murmured orders, and stopped in her tracks. Turning around completely, Miranda’s eyes searched for Andy’s own in a way that, to any passerby, would seem as calm and collected as any of her other actions. But Andy could see the slight furrow of Miranda’s brow, the tight set of her lips. She could see the way that the other woman’s eyes darted frantically over her lowered sunglasses before landing finally upon Andy.  

Blue eyes met brown, and Andy felt frozen in place by the look she saw there. Miranda’s eyes were shining with emotion, her eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. Andy stared straight back, raising her own in return. She refused to back down, not now. Not today.

Miranda held her gaze, and Andy saw in them the same vulnerability that had been there the night before, when they spoke of her impending divorce. People say that eyes are the windows to the soul; that they will speak when our voices fail us. In that moment, Andy knew they were correct. Because with her eyes, Miranda was pleading Andy to stay in a way she knew that the other woman would never say with words. But for Andy, it was enough.

As she returned Miranda’s piercing gaze, she decided in that moment that she would stay. She would stay and show Miranda, herself, and everyone else that she could make something of herself without sacrificing her happiness. That she could work her way to the top without stepping on others along the way.

Nodding, she followed Miranda up the steps.

All of this took place within the span of a few heartbeats, of course. But for Andy (and for Miranda as well, she suspected), this moment changed everything.

Andy took a deep breath and cleared her throat. She had no idea what the hell was going on, but decided to trust Miranda enough to go along with it. For now, at least.

“Right. Sorry about that. What were you saying? About um… about our… wedding?”

The relief on Miranda’s face was palpable. She opened her mouth to respond, but before she could say anything, the man whose name Andy still couldn’t for the life of her remember spoke up.

“Well Ms. Priestly, before you and Ms…”

“Sachs,” Miranda and Andy chimed together.

“Right. Well, before you and Ms. Sachs start planning out the specifics, I would suggest first stopping by the immigration office. You’ll need to fill out the appropriate forms before you’re able to do much else.” He ran a hand through his hair, clearly about as comfortable with telling Miranda Priestly what to do as the average person would be with handling a tarantula.

“Yes, obviously.” Miranda narrowed her eyes at the officer, “I have done this before, as you are aware.”

God, I hope not, Andy mused bitterly, I’m pretty sure that springing this on one person is quite enough, thanks.

“Yes, yes, of course Ms. Priestly,” The man was tripping over his words, “My apologies Ms. Priestly. Best of luck to the both of you, and congratulations.” He nodded towards Andy.

Andy was spared the need to try and remember how to form words again when Irv spoke up for the first time since she entered the room. He wore the same bland smile as before, but his eyes were filled with fury.

“Yes, congratulations ladies. You know Miranda, years ago I had heard rumors around the water cooler of your preference for the gentler sex. I had written it off as office gossip at the time, but apparently there was some truth to those tales.” Andy stifled a gasp, and felt Miranda’s hand on her back tighten. She knew Irv and Miranda hated each other, but normally they at least attempted to appear civil.

Irv continued, turning his gaze to Andy, “I suppose this would also explain why you’ve lasted so long as her assistant, eh, Andy? Come March you’ll have been here twice as long as any of Miranda’s other assistants in the twenty some-odd years she’s been editor, did you know that? Four years,” He shook his head to himself, and Andy wanted to smack the smirk off his greasy little face. “Seems a bit less impressive when you think about it this way, though, doesn’t it? It’s a real shame, kid. A real shame. But I suppose it would explain a couple of things that’ve had people scratching their heads these last few years.”

Andy could practically feel the rage coming off Miranda in waves. The hand still lingering on the small of her back was trembling faintly.

“I wouldn’t throw threats around so idly, Irving. After all, I’m hardly the first person to fall for their assistant, am I?” Miranda raised her eyebrows, clearly waiting for an answer.

Irv didn’t say anything, but his silence said more than words ever could.

Another fake smile. “No, I didn’t think so. That could get quite embarrassing if people learned of Sheryl, couldn’t it?” She shook her head, “But we wouldn’t want that. Office adultery is a messy business, or so I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know.”

Silence filled the room.

The apparently Nameless Man cleared his throat. “Ah, well. I think that about covers it. Best of luck to you two ladies, and it was a pleasure meeting all three of you.” Without waiting for a response, he stood up, nodded to each of them in turn, and all but sprinted out the door. Andy had never envied anyone more.

The silence stretched on for so long that Andy was beginning to consider fleeing as well, before Miranda blessedly broke the silence.

“You have threatened the happiness of three of the most important people in my life today. My daughters, and my… my Andréa. It could hardly be said that I’m a forgiving person at the best of times. But this? Rest assured, Irv. This will not be forgiven.” Miranda’s voice was low, her stare cutting. “Nor forgotten.”

‘My Andréa’? Andy thought, stupefied, Since when am I Miranda’s anything at all? She clenched her hands, not appreciating the warm tingle that formed in her belly at the words.

Irv returned her glare balefully, but said nothing. He didn’t need to, really.

Miranda turned around and opened the door. “Come along, Andréa. It appears we have an appointment with the Office of Immigration.” She sighed, “My very favorite place.”

 ----------------- 

The ensuing car ride to the Immigration Offices was nothing short of the most uncomfortable thirty minutes of Miranda Priestly’s life. Considering the vast expanse of uncomfortable moments she had to choose from, this was certainly saying something.

Andréa was obviously stunned into silence. Miranda was as well, if she were being honest with herself. And it wasn’t as if she were exactly a natural conversationalist even on her best of days. Which this most certainly was not. In fact, this day was easily one of the worst of her life.

What in God’s name had she been thinking? She hadn’t been. That much, at least, was obvious. She was desperate, close to hysterical, and when she’d heard Andréa’s voice… it had simply been the first thing to come to mind.

Oh, dear. Miranda didn’t even want to think about what her therapist would have to say about that.

Her lawyer had certainly had enough to say about it on the phone earlier. She called Troy herself as soon as she left Irv’s office, and he had been even less helpful than usual. The man absolutely insisted that his office had received no word from Immigration, but Miranda doubted this was anything more than a lie to save himself from what was sure to be a costly lawsuit. That would have to be dealt with later, however. Miranda had more pressing matters to deal with at present.

Yes, much more pressing matters. Such as her current bafflement at how Andréa had gone along with her scheme so readily. I shouldn’t be surprised, she supposed. The girl did every other ridiculous thing Miranda asked of her without question, why should this be any different?

Because it is different, Miranda thought miserably. How could she honestly expect Andréa to go through with this? How could she possibly expect her very young, very straight, and not to mention very uninterested employee to marry her? She couldn’t.

No, she couldn’t do this. There had to be another way. Hadn’t there? Miranda thought back on her past dealings with Immigration over the decades and felt her stomach clench; she knew the answer immediately. This truly was her only option.

Is it really worth it? Came a thought unbidden, Is it worth trampling over yet another person that I care for? What had happened with Nigel was one thing—he was hurt, obviously, and their longtime friendship had suffered for it. For a time, at any rate. But not a year later she was able to make it up to him; ensuring his own well-deserved spot as editor of Runway London seemed to rectify things quickly enough.

This, though… there was no quick fix for this. She asked herself once more: Is it really worth it? Miranda may be the Dragon Lady, but lord, she had a conscience. She was only human, after all.

Hearing her phone beep, Miranda was pulled out of her reverie by a text from Caroline. Putting on her glasses, she unlocked her phone to see a photo of Caroline and Patricia (What was it her girls had called it? A ‘selfie’?) laying on the couch together in the den, both looking rather pathetic.

[10:27 AM] CPP: I read sumwhere that puppy cuddles r vital for boosting the immune system. xx

Miranda smiled despite herself. Caroline was home sick with a particularly nasty cold. Cara couldn’t get to the house until noon, so her daughter was under strict orders to send hourly photographic evidence of her wellbeing until the nanny arrived.

[10:28 AM] MP: Best go find a puppy then, 7 years is certainly too old for that title. Glad to see you’re both resting, Bobbsey.

[10:28 AM] CPP: :P

Putting her phone away again, Miranda found herself wondering how much time she had left with her daughters. Her brief moment of respite quickly ended as she felt her heart fill with dread. She blinked back sudden tears. My babies.

Miranda had dedicated much of her time these last few years to knitting her little family back together. Her divorce from Stephen had been a particularly nasty one, and her marriage to him had been only slightly less so. The tension between them was palpable within months of saying “I do”, and her girls had suffered dearly for it. Three years of constant arguments, loaded silences, and slammed doors between the adults in their lives had done them no good.

And really, she only had herself to blame. She had married Stephen for the sole purpose of providing her daughters with a proper family, and instead she came close to losing the only family that truly mattered. The girls very nearly left to live with their father. The very thought of losing the two people she loved most in the world ripped Miranda apart from the inside out, and she knew that something must be done. Immediately.

It had taken the words of Cassidy, the more pensive of her children, to make Miranda finally understand.

“We don’t need another dad to make a family. We’re already a family. Plus we already have a dad, too, and he’s enough just the way he is. Just like you.” Cassidy looked at her seriously, “All we want is you, mom. Just you. Just the three of us, together.”

“Yeah,” Caroline added, “What she said. Just please don’t make us have another step dad. Okay?”

Miranda was open-mouthed with shock. “Okay.”

And that had settled it. Miranda not in the habit of denying her daughters of anything they asked for. If their mother was what they wanted, then their mother was what they would get.

And so it came to be that Miranda had spent these last three years devoting as much of her time as was physically possible, what with her already constantly full schedule, being as present with her children as she could be.

Doing things like taking extra care to be home by 7:30 for dinner each night, and scheduling around things like dance recitals and (god help her) soccer games. Proclaiming Sunday afternoons and evenings “Family Days”, and moving mountains to make sure that she was there upon their arrival home from their Father’s house each week.

Of course, this translated into many sleepless nights spent catching up on work missed, and being in the office every Saturday the girls were with their father to make up for precious hours lost. But Caroline and Cassidy were happier and more well adjusted than ever before, and that was all that mattered.

How could she possibly take that away from them now, when things were finally so good? How could she leave them with their father for a year while she wiled the months away in Canada, of all places? What kind of mother would that make her?

What am I going to do?

She closed her eyes, already knowing the answer and hating herself for it. Whatever I must.

And if what must be done to keep her daughters close was to force an innocent employee to marry her, then so be it.

Miranda took a steadying breath. She was nothing if not decisive. “Andréa, call Troy to set up an in person meeting first thing tomorrow morning. Tell him I expect a full explanation, and to be ready to pore over every single detail of the paperwork for our fiancée visa. Twice.”

When Andréa answered with nothing but silence, Miranda looked over at her. The younger woman was staring out the window, sitting perfectly still but for the strand of hair twirling around her fingers.

“Andréa.” Miranda’s voice was gentler this time, if only just. She was met only with more silence.

Just as she was struggling to think of something else to say, anything else, Andréa finally spoke.

“You don’t get to do that,” her voice was deadly quiet as she turned in her seat to face Miranda. “You don’t get to throw… throw a marriage on me, you don’t get to turn my entire world upside down, put my career on the line, and then pretend like nothing happened.”

Miranda opened her mouth to respond, but Andréa cut her off. “No, Miranda. I think you’ve gotten to do plenty of talking about this. All of the talking, actually. No, it’s my turn now.” Andréa’s stare was hard.

“Did you stop and think for even one second about how this would affect me? Did you consider the fact that you’re putting my entire career at risk? Everything I’ve worked so hard for these last few years?” She shook her head, “No, of course you didn’t. Because that would require thinking of somebody other than yourself for once.”

Andréa’s voice was beginning to rise, “I mean Jesus Miranda, what the hell kind of plan even is this? What are your kids gonna say?” Her eyes widened with a new thought, “God, you don’t even date women! How do you honestly expect people to believe that you just magically fell in love with your 28 year old female assistant?” There was a blush creeping up her neck.

Miranda scoffed, “I expect people to believe me because that’s what I will tell them to believe. Besides, it’s not as if you date women, Andréa.” What? Of all of the things she could have possibly said—that was hardly important now—

Andréa snorted. “You’re joking, right? You’ve got to be joking.”

“There’s nothing to joke about here, Andréa. Consider acting your age, young as it may be.” Miranda’s eyes narrowed. What on Earth was this girl talking about? She couldn’t possibly mean…?

Andréa was actually laughing now. She clutched at her sides, bent over and wheezing from the force of her peals. Miranda wondered at the likelihood that the other woman had finally gone hysterical from stress.

“Oh my god, you’re not joking. You’re actually serious.” She wiped tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes. “I don’t know why I’m even surprised. You really don’t pay attention to anybody but yourself, do you?”

Miranda sniffed, “Andréa, I’ve attempted to be patient with you considering the current situation, but I will not be mocked.”

Still smirking, Andréa rolled her eyes. “I’ve been out as bisexual for more than a decade. I’ve dated like… at least three different women since working for you. I mean Jesus, Miranda, Serena and I were together for almost six months last year! I know for a fact that you saw us kiss at least once.”

Miranda’s eyes widened. Well. Perhaps her gaydar wasn’t quite as functional as it once was.

At a loss for words, she responded dumbly, “…Brazilians are much more openly affectionate in their friendships than Americans. I’m not one to pry into the personal lives of my employees.”

“I’m pretty sure that even the best of friends don’t slip each other the tongue, Miranda,” She was shaking her head once more. Miranda blushed, and then scowled at herself for doing so.

“But that’s not the point,” Andréa continued, “The point is that this is the worst idea you’ve ever had, and that’s definitely saying something. There’s no way in hell you can really think this is gonna work. I mean,” She gestured between the two of them, “Who’s honestly gonna believe that we’re a couple?”

Miranda bristled, her temper flaring. Oh, that was how it was going to be, was it?

“Well. I’m sorry you seem to believe that you’re so incredibly out of my league,” She all but growled, “But regardless, I think you’ll find that I’m rather good at convincing people to see things my way. For example, right now.”

Andréa’s eyes went wide, realizing her mistake too late. “Miranda, that wasn’t what I—”

Miranda continued as if the other woman hadn’t spoken. “You seem to be laboring under the delusion that you have some sort of choice in this matter. Let’s put these idle fantasies to rest, shall we? If you want any hope—any hope at all—of having a future in writing, then you are going to do all that you can to fix this with me.”

Andréa just stared at her.

“To be clear: If I’m forced to step down as editor-in-chief, I can promise you that the first thing Irv is going to do is to fire both yourself and Danielle. You’ve both been too loyal to me these last few years, and he’ll therefore want nothing to do with you.”

 Miranda’s voice was like ice, “If you refuse to help me, I will personally see to it that you are shunned by every single major media source in North America, not to mention Europe, Australia, and most of Asia. You wont even be able to get a job at The Enquirer when I’m through with you.”

Miranda cocked her head, “On the other hand. Should you choose to help me, you will leave Runway with a glowing reference, guaranteeing you a spot at whichever publication you wish to grace with your presence. Why, I may even consider sending that manuscript you keep hidden in your desk to some of my many friends in publishing, if all goes well.” The other woman’s eyes widened.

She smiled. “Do we understand each other now, Andréa?”

Andréa was aghast, “…You’re seriously—you’re threatening me?”

“That’s the general idea, yes.”

Doe eyes stared back at her, and Miranda tried to ignore the churning of guilt in her stomach. She looked away, smoothing down the sleeves of her jacket.

“Jesus, Miranda, is that really necessary? Do you not know me well enough by now to realize that I would have—”

Miranda looked up, her gaze stony once more. “I believe it’s up to me to decide what is and is not necessary, Andréa. Not you.” She glanced out the window, avoiding Andréa’s eyes, “We’re nearly there. Do we have an understanding?”

Andréa stared at her, shaking her head slowly with what was likely disgust. Miranda tried not to care.

“Yes, Miranda.” She sighed.

 ----------------- 

The office that Andy and Miranda were ushered into was incredibly depressing. Andy was sure that her mood wasn’t helping things, but still. White paint was peeling off the walls, but everything else was blanketed in various shades of gray. Plus, the room was damn near microscopic. Miranda was all but sitting on her lap, their chairs were pushed so close together in the small space.

Andy was pissed. There was no other word for it. Having Miranda force her into a marriage was bad enough. But then she had to go and threaten her? And Dani, too, she seethed. What the hell has she ever done to deserve anything like that?

It was like this past year of growth never had even happened between them. As if Miranda was completely unaware that Andy had sold her soul to the Devil herself ages ago; that Andy would do any and everything in her power to make sure that the other woman was happy.

Ugh. She wasn’t sure which was more infuriating: The fact that she had the world’s biggest, not to mention most inconvenient crush on Miranda Priestly, or that Miranda was completely oblivious to this fact.

“Well, ladies,” Andy was pulled from her thoughts by the man moving to sit behind his desk, “My name is Eugene Yurman, and I’ve been assigned to investigate your case. I’m not the best with small talk, so let’s jump right on in, shall we?” He glanced down at one of the many papers littering his desk.

Eugene Yurman wore his dark hair slicked back. Between his hair, his enormous glasses, and the pocket protector Andy could see sticking out of his shirt, he looked like someone who was shoved into many a locker as a kid.

He returned his gaze to the women in front of him, “So. Are you both committing fraud to avoid Ms. Priestly’s deportation so she can keep her position as editor-in-chief at Runway?”

Well, shit.

While Andy did her best impression of a person who definitely wasn’t guilty of committing a federal crime for their ungrateful boss, Miranda spoke up.

“Gracious, where would you get an idea like that?” She chuckled, “Of course not.”

“We had a phone tip this morning. It was from a man named…” He glanced down at his paper once more.

“Is there any chance that it was a man named Henrik Billings?” Miranda asked.

Eugene adjusted the glasses on his nose, nodding. “Yes, that’s the one. We received a phone tip from one Mr. Henrik Billings earlier today.”

Miranda shook her head. “I apologize for wasting your time, Mr. Yurman. Henrik is a disgruntled ex-employee, nothing more. Now, if you would be so kind as to lead us to our next step in this process, we’ll leave you to your work.”

“Ms. Priestly, please,” He held up a hand. “Let me explain to you the process that's about to unfold. Step one will be a scheduled interview. I'll put you each in a room, and I'll ask you every little question that a real couple would know about each other.”

“Step two, I dig deeper. I look at your phone records, I talk to your neighbors, I interview your co-workers. If your answers don't match up at every point, Ms. Priestly, you will be deported indefinitely. And you, ma’am,” He looked pointedly at Andy, “You will have committed a felony punishable by a fine of $250,000 and a stay of five years in federal prison.” Andy felt her eyes widen. Shit, shit, shit.

“So, Ms… Sachs, was it?” He asked.

Andy nodded, swallowing hard.

“Ms. Sachs. Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” Andy could feel Miranda’s eyes boring into her skull from beside her.

She shook her head.

Eugene looked disappointed. “No?”

Andy paused, thinking hard. Closing her eyes, she nodded.

“Yes?” Came the voice in front of her.

She took a steadying breath. “Yeah. The truth is…” She placed a hand atop Miranda’s on her armrest, and felt as it stiffened immediately. “The truth is that Miranda and I are just two people who weren’t supposed to fall in love, but did.”

“We just… we thought it would be incredibly inappropriate for us to tell anyone, not until after I left Runway. I’m starting at The Times in three weeks, you see. So the plan was to begin telling people then.” She heard a sharp intake of breath come from the seat next to her and smirked. Feels great to be blindsided, huh, Miranda?

She patted the other woman’s hand. “We worried that if we came out about our relationship before then, the legitimacy of my position would be questioned. I’m sure you understand.” She smiled at the investigator.

He narrowed his eyes. “I see. So. Do either of your parents know about your secret love affair?”

“Well—” Andy started, but Miranda cut her off.

“You’ll find that I have been estranged from my family for quite some time now. Since before I entered the United States, in fact. So, no. They do not know.”

Andy raised her eyebrows. This was the first time she’d heard Miranda make any mention of her family. Andy knew she had to have one, obviously, but hearing the editor-in-chief actually admit to it felt bizarre.

“My daughters are my only family,” Miranda continued.

Andy tried to ignore how sad these words made her feel by reminding herself of how angry she still was with Miranda. It worked. Mostly.

“We were going to wait to tell them in our own time,” There was a note of irritation in her voice now, “But clearly we’re going to have to talk to them sooner than planned. We don’t want them learning of our relationship from tabloid rags, after all.”

Eugene nodded. “And you, Sachs? Are you estranged from your family as well?”

“Um—”Andy paused. She just had probably the best idea ever, and it was so perfect that it made her want to laugh out loud with satisfaction.

“Uh, nope. Actually, we were planning to tell them next week. We’re going down to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving, and staying the whole week.”

Miranda erupted into a fit of coughing next to her, and Andy had to bite her lip to keep the shit-eating grin off her face.

“A week? In Cincinnati?” She choked, “Are you—” Miranda took a deep breath to collect herself.

“Darling, are you quite sure? I seem to remember deciding to fly into Cincinnati just for the one night.” She turned to glare at Andy, who smiled innocently in return.

“No, sweetie. Don’t you remember? I haven’t been able to go home for Thanksgiving for three whole years, so when I told my parents we’d be coming, they absolutely insisted we stay the whole week. Otherwise we’d miss the annual Sachs Camping Trip!” Andy returned Miranda’s glare tenfold, her cheeks aching from the force of her smile.

Miranda’s eyes narrowed, clearly plotting how to best make Andy’s death look like an accident. “I see. Camping. Of course. How could I forget?”

Eugene sighed heavily. “Fine. I see how this is gonna go. I’ll see you both at 11:00 o’clock sharp, the Monday morning after your return. We’ll have your scheduled interview, and your answers had better match up on every account.”

“Yes. Well.” Miranda sniffed, “We look forward to it. I believe we can show ourselves out, thank you.”

They barely made it out the door before she felt Miranda yank on her arm, pulling her down the hallway with an unexpected strength.

Andy yelped in surprise, “What the hell?”

Miranda didn’t respond. Instead, she continued to drag Andy through the building like a ragdoll until she found a deserted corridor that was apparently to her liking. Stopping abruptly, she whirled around to face Andy.

“What,” she hissed, “the hell was that?” Her eyes, normally so icy when displeased, were on fire.

“What do you mean, Miranda?” Andy asked sweetly.

Don’t!—” Miranda shouted before stopping and covering her eyes with her hand. She took a deep breath before looking back at Andy. “Do not toy with me, Andréa. You’re quitting? Why? We had an agreement.” Her voice was low.

“Yeah, we had an agreement. We still do. But you made it pretty damn clear in that agreement that no matter what happens, my time as your assistant is over.” Miranda raised her eyebrows. Clearly, she hadn’t thought about it that way. Surprise, surprise.

Andy continued, listing her options off on her fingers as she went. “I refuse to marry you and you get deported? I’m fired. I refuse to marry you and you still somehow manage to get what you want, like you always do? I’m fired.” She was getting more annoyed with Miranda by the second. How could someone so smart be so incredibly stupid?

“And apparently, if all of this somehow magically works out, I get to move to the publication of my choice. Well, my choice is the New York Times.” She put her hand on her hip, “All I’m doing is speeding up the inevitable, here. Besides, it’s not like I haven’t earned my reference and then some. What’s the longest you’ve kept any of your other assistants? One year? Two?”

Apparently thinking it over, Miranda pursed her lips and sighed. “Fine.” Andy figured that was probably as close as she’d ever come to getting an apology.

After a beat of silence, Miranda shook her head, looking at Andy incredulously. “Camping?

“Yes. Camping.” Andy nodded, “It’s a family tradition, every year before Thanksgiving. A tradition I’ve now had to miss three years in a row, because someone would never let me take the time off.” She scowled.

“Yes, and for good reason,” Miranda sounded exasperated, “Thanksgiving always falls during printing week. Leaving during the busiest week out of our month is completely out of the question and you know it.” Andy did know it. Andy was also entirely too angry to give a shit.

“We’re not going. We’re not spending an entire god forsaken week in Cincinnati of all places, and we are certainly not camping.” Miranda shuddered at the word.

“Fine.” Andy said. “It was nice working with you. I quit.” She turned on her heel and started walking.

Miranda groaned, trailing behind her. “You can’t honestly be serious. This is where you draw the line? Camping? Years of impossible requests and midnight coffee runs, and what finally makes you snap is camping?

Andy rounded on her, “You really don’t get it, do you Miranda? Were you even listening back there? Let’s review. If this goes south, then I’m stuck with a $250,000 fine and five years in prison. Prison, Miranda. That goes way beyond any underhanded threats you’d like to make about blackballing me from the industry.” Miranda’s eyes went wide.

Andy pointed at her, voice rising, “I’m putting my ass on the line for you here. I’m risking everything for you, and you can’t do this one simple thing for me? You can’t give me just a little fucking leeway?” She was fuming.

For a moment Miranda just stared at her, an uncharacteristic look of slack jawed surprise on her face. Blinking, she cleared her throat.

“Alright,” She began slowly, “Fine. We will go to Cincinnati for the week. We will go camping. I’ll call Danielle and have her arrange for our flights—”

Andy cut her off. “No. No flights. We’re driving.”

Miranda sighed deeply. “And why, may I ask, are we driving?” She began to rub her temples, “When a drive is bound to take at least ten hours, and I am perfectly capable of purchasing our plane tickets myself?”

“Because road trips are fun.” Andy replied. And because you'll hate it, Andy thought.

Fun.”

“Yes. Fun.” She paused, thinking. “And because I need to bring my cat back with me.”

Miranda let out sudden a bark of laughter, and Andy nearly jumped in shock. “Of course you do. If we’re going to have all my other least favorite things lined up for next week, then why not throw in cats, too? Why don’t we call up my ex-husbands and see if they would like to come along as well?”

Andy rolled her eyes. “Are you gonna do it or not?”

“I don’t seem to have much of a choice, do I?” She quipped, “Will there be anything else, Andréa? Shall I knit a scarf for you? Paint the Sistine chapel, perhaps?”

Andy ignored the sarcasm. “Yeah, actually, there is something else. You’re gonna see to it that my manuscript gets published. Not just ‘consider sending it to your friends in publishing’.”

Andy crossed her arms, thinking again. “And I want a ring. A pretty one.”

If I’m gonna have a rich wife I may as well get some of the perks, she thought.

Miranda stared at her, aghast. “Oh, is that all?”

“Yeah,” Andy gave a little grin, “That’s all.”

Chapter Text

Miranda sat on her beach towel, a small smile playing on her lips. The afternoon sun shone down warmly, and she felt a slight breeze moving through her hair. The four of them had decided to use their last full day in Sicily to simply relax. Much like every other area of her life, Miranda usually preferred a bit more structure on her vacations. However, Andréa had managed to lure the girls into the idea with promises of sand castles and sea shell hunting.

Her book lay abandoned in the sand next to her as she watched Andréa and Caroline swim nearby. Or rather, as Caroline attempted to swim and Andréa waded nearby offering encouragement.

Miranda had hired countless swimming coaches over the years, had even attempted teaching her daughter herself, but there was nothing for it. Caroline was terrified of the water. She always had been. Until now, apparently. Miranda had no idea what the younger woman had told Caroline to talk her into finally giving it a go in the Mediterranean Sea, of all places, but she knew better than to question it.

She turned to her left to see her other daughter spread out on her own towel, engrossed in a book as usual. Apparently, Andréa had brought with her a few selections she thought the twins would particularly enjoy. Both of her children loved to read; however, Cassidy was undoubtedly the more bookish of the two. A quick glance told Miranda that today’s pick was Tuck Everlasting.

Miranda listened to the quiet sound of the waves lapping against the sand, and considered what a success the last few days had been. Inviting Andréa along had been a relatively last-minute decision, albeit one she had been considering for quite some time.

Miranda knew that she desperately needed to relax this week; a feat which was difficult for her even at the best of times. But she also knew that, with Andréa an ocean away, her mind would never be fully at ease. Ever since that fateful day in November—the day she tried so hard to forget—being separated from her assistant for more than a few days was nothing short of unbearable.

She had almost lost Andréa that day. And of all the many days that had passed since then, not a single one went by when Miranda did not think of her. Dream of her. Worry for her wellbeing. For her happiness, of all things. It was exceptionally irksome.

And so Miranda invited her along on the trip. She told herself it was only to ease her anxiety, and told everyone else that it was only business. Both of these were only half-truths, however. For the real truth was that somehow, without even trying, Andréa had managed to do what so many before her had failed to; she had wriggled her way into the depths of Miranda Priestly’s heart. She made herself at home in each crack, in every little crevice. Without even meaning to Andréa poured herself into Miranda’s very core, and made her feel whole in a way that she hadn’t in quite some time.

Miranda felt a hand brushing gently through her hair, and opened her eyes to see the woman in question kneeling next to her. Though Andréa had never once touched her this way before, Miranda didn’t stop to question it. It felt far too lovely for that. Much the same way, she didn’t question the way that Andréa quite literally glowed. The sky around them had darkened, and the other woman shone brighter than even the moon.

Andréa, turned silvery by the light of her own glow, held out her hand. Miranda grasped onto it immediately, and she was struck by how very warm it felt, how very right.

They were walking now, and Miranda realized that she was being led towards a sandcastle. It was several stories tall—Miranda had to crane her neck to see it properly. The castle, though made of sand, was the most magnificent Miranda had ever seen. Every inch, from the tallest tower to the smallest brick, contained intricate designs filled with swirls of color. Much like its maker, the castle shone against the darkness of the night.

Miranda paused as a thought occurred to her. “The girls,” She asked, “Where are they?”

Andréa smiled, quelling all fear as she led them through the portcullis. Apparently, the answer to her question lay within.

~

Miranda was jarred awake by the sound of her phone ringing. Like every day, her alarm this morning was set for 5:30 am. She never worried about putting her phone on silent because usually, others calling before she awakened wasn’t an issue.

Who in god’s name is calling me this early?

Her dreams quickly faded into nothing, and with them any sense of ease they brought. Not even bothering to open her eyes, she grasped blindly on her nightstand in search of the offending noise. Finally, she found it.

What?” She snapped.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Came Nigel’s voice over the line, “Aren’t we chipper this morning?”

“Nigel.” Miranda’s voice was gravelly with sleep as she spoke, “Make no mistake. Just because I no longer have the power to fire you does not mean that I can’t still make your life hell.”

“Ah, how I’ve missed our little chats.” The man sounded downright cheery, “I’d almost forgotten how sweet you can be before you’ve been caffeinated.”

“May I ask why you are calling me at—” She grudgingly opened one eye to peek at the clock and resisted the urge to groan. “—4:47 in the morning?”

“I’m not sure Miranda,” Nigel said lightly, “May I ask when you were planning to tell me that you’re marrying our dear Andy?”

“Ah.” Well, now she was certainly awake.

Miranda sat up, rubbing her eyes. She doubted that she’d managed even three hours of sleep the whole night, and she could feel the ache of exhaustion in her bones.

 “I’m a little surprised it took you so long to find out, honestly,” She admitted, stifling a yawn. “I told Irv nearly twenty-four hours ago. It seems you’ve lost your touch.”

She paused, tapping her lip in thought. “Who told you?”

“I’ll never tell,” He replied smoothly. “But I will tell you that both Danielle and Emily owe me a very handsome sum.”

“What are you talking about?” It’s entirely too early for this, she thought.

“We had a wager, you see. Emily was absolutely convinced that you and Six were merely fucking.” Miranda’s eyes widened, barely resisting the urge to gasp in shock. She wasn’t sure she would ever get used to how incredibly blunt her friend could be about these things when it suited him.

“Obviously, I knew better than that.” Nigel carried on casually, “Any idiot could see you’re head over heels for the girl. Well, not any idiot, apparently.”

Miranda was stunned into silence, but Nigel didn’t seem to notice.

“Dani, though. Smart girl, that one. She knew as well as I did that there was something between you two. She’s around the two of you too much not to, really,” He admitted.

“But she didn’t think you two would come clean about your relationship until at least the new year.” Nigel sounded entirely too pleased with himself, “She doesn’t know you like I do, though.”

“Nigel,” Miranda found her voice again, and worked to make it frosty as possible. Not too difficult a task, considering how resentful she was to being awake at this hour. “Am I to understand that you were taking bets on my love life? With my employees, of all people?”

“C’mon, Miranda,” Nigel’s good spirits were apparently not to be dampened this morning, “Live a little. You just earned me $200. What do you say I take you out for drinks to celebrate?”

“Yes, well, as lovely as that sounds,” Miranda quipped, “Unfortunately a flight to London and back simply won’t fit in my schedule today. Perhaps if you start swimming now, you can make it across the Atlantic in time for a late lunch.”

“Did no one tell you?” He asked, “We’ll be in town all next week. Kevin and I are popping by my family in Providence just long enough to say that we went, and we’ll be spending the rest of the week in Manhattan.”

Miranda didn’t even bother resisting a groan this time. “Of course. The first time you come home in nearly a year, and I’ll be in Cincinnati, of all places.” She all but spat the word.

“It would have been so nice to catch up with you.” She continued with sincerity, “And Kevin. God, I don’t think I’ve seen him since your wedding.”

“Miranda, I’m touched.” Nigel’s voice softened.

The two of them had been friends for nearly a quarter of a century at this point—he was one of the precious few people that Miranda genuinely enjoyed spending time with. Rarer still, Nigel was someone around whom Miranda was entirely comfortable. Or as comfortable as she ever was, anyhow.

He knew Miranda when she was still just Miranda, rather than Miranda Priestly: Ice Queen, Editor-In-Chief, and Dragon Lady Extraordinaire. He knew things about her that no one else did, and never once had he attempted to use that as leverage against her. In short, Nigel was her best friend.

“So Six roped you into meeting the family then, did she?” He asked.

“Yes. And we’re apparently going camping. Camping, Nigel.” Miranda’s voice came dangerously close to whining.

“Camping? As in, sleeping outside? In nature? Where dirt lives?” Nigel was clearly amused.

“Stop that.” She snapped.

He mock-gasped, “And spiders? I’ve heard that spiders live there, too, Miranda.”

She rolled her eyes. “Has anyone ever told you how unbearable you are?”

Nigel roared with laughter, and Miranda very seriously considered hanging up.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Nigel’s voice still shook with laughter, “She’s truly forcing you to go camping? Has she ever even met you?”

Miranda didn’t deign to respond, choosing instead to study the striped pattern of her azure and cream comforter.

“And what do the girls think about this development?” He asked more seriously.

She sighed. “I’ll let you know when I do.”

There was a hum of acknowledgement from the other line. “Good luck with that one. Do they suspect?”

“Of course not,” She snapped. “I do know how to be subtle, Nigel.”

Nigel laughed again. “Subtle? You’re joking, right?”

“I don’t see why I would joke about something like this.” She scoffed.

“Miranda, you light up like a Christmas tree every time the woman walks into a room.” He said seriously, “You let her ride in the elevator with you. The two of you can barely keep your eyes off each other—and let me tell you, it can get incredibly uncomfortable being a third wheel with you two. The tension there…”

He paused, “There’s nothing subtle about it, my friend. I’d been wondering for ages, but after that awful day last November, when Andy had to get her appendix removed? I knew. Absolutely no doubt about it, you were a goner.”

Miranda winced. She remembered that day well, though she tried not to. It had been one of the most terrifying of her life. Andréa’s appendix burst while she was sitting at her desk, and the stubborn girl waited so long to seek medical attention that she had very nearly died. Miranda had been an absolute mess.

“That was when I knew, as well.” She admitted.

Miranda had gone with Andréa to the hospital, stayed waiting for hours until her surgery was complete, until the doctors were absolutely certain that she would be alright. That she would live.

Miranda said quietly, “That day changed much.”

She remembered trying to distract herself by checking emails, or going through the virtual copy of the Book, but failing miserably. Instead, she spent her time pacing the dingy little waiting room and concentrating on breathing, trying desperately to think of nothing at all. Her mind just kept flashing back to the agonized look on Andréa’s face as they rushed to the emergency room in the back of the town car, and Miranda felt like her chest was caving in with the pain of it.

It was on that day that Miranda had learned for certain: She no longer had any interest in a world that did not have Andréa Sachs in it.

Miranda had no doubt she could survive without the girl—after all, she’d managed well enough for 48 years before meeting her. Even the darkest night seemed bright enough for one who had never seen the sun. But Miranda had seen dawn break in the brightness of Andréa’s smile, and knew that she would never again take comfort in the dark.

She shook her head, attempting to clear it of her overly sentimental thoughts. Coffee. I need coffee.

Nigel, apparently feeling sentimental himself, broke the silence. “We’ve done pretty well for ourselves, haven’t we, Miranda?” She could hear his smile even over the phone.

She felt a twinge of guilt for lying to her friend, but there was nothing for it. The man hadn’t given her a chance to confess even if she’d wanted to, and she wasn’t so sure that she did. “Yes, I suppose we have.”

“I remember years ago, after your ex left. What was her name? Karen? Kelly?”

Miranda pursed her lips. Things had not ended well with that particular ex (As if things ever ended well with any of them, she thought bitterly), and she preferred to avoid dwelling on it whenever possible.

“Kathleen,” She said tightly.

“Ah, yes. Kathy. How could I forget?” Nigel continued.

“I remember after Kathy left, when you decided to go back into the closet. You wilted that day. It was terrible to watch. I understand why you did it, don’t get me wrong. But still… terrible.” The man sounded downright wistful. “These last two years, though? You’ve been positively blooming, Miranda.”

Now it was apparently Miranda’s turn to feel touched. She felt her eyes prickle with tears at his words, and was grateful that this conversation was occurring over the phone. She wasn’t sure what was making her more emotional: That Nigel was right or that he was also so, so wrong.

Miranda was momentarily spared from the need to respond by the shrieking of the alarm next to her. Reaching to turn it off, she did her best to pull herself together.

“Thank you, Nigel. Really. I need to be going now, but how long will you be in the city next week? Perhaps we can see each other before you run away again.”

“We’ll arrive in New York on Wednesday morning, and have a flight back to London for late Sunday night. Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out,” He assured her. “A trip home wouldn’t be complete without getting to see you and the new Mrs. Priestly.”

She rolled her eyes yet again, feeling thoroughly unamused. “Goodbye, Nigel.” She really did hang up on him this time.

 ----------------- 

Andy stepped into the office Thursday morning to see the all too familiar sight of Serena and Emily chatting with Danielle. Upon spotting Andy, Emily hopped down from where she had been perched atop the second assistant’s desk to march over to her.

“Andy.” Her voice was full of false sweetness, “I got a very interesting call this morning from Nigel. He said he had news, and he was apparently so excited to share that he couldn’t wait to call until after 6:00 o’clock in the morning like a decent bloody human. Would you like to know what he told me?”

She was pretty sure she knew where this was going. Sitting at her desk, Andy just nodded. She’d learned through years of trial and error that it was usually best to just let Emily get it out of her system.

“He told me that you and Miranda are engaged. Engaged, Andy.” Emily was glaring at her accusingly.

“Of course, I thought to myself: ‘No, Emily, that can’t be true. Don’t be ridiculous. After all, Andy would have had the decency to at least mention it to one of us if she were shacking up with our sodding boss,’” She gesticulated wildly, “So imagine my surprise when I check the facts and, what do you know? Nigel was right.”

Emily crossed her arms, apparently waiting for a response.

“When were you going to tell us, Andy?” Came Danielle’s gentle southern lilt from where she still sat at her desk, “I mean, you have to have been together for at least a few months by now. I understand wanting to keep it quiet, but why not tell us? You know we’d never tell a soul.”

Andy looked at her face and was surprised by the hurt she saw there. Dani could generally be counted upon to be damn near unflappable.

Andy winced. “I’m really sorry, guys. I am. I just…” She thought quickly, “It wasn’t really my secret to tell, you know? Miranda wasn’t ready to come out of the closet yet. I wasn’t going to force her.”

As if anyone could force Miranda to do anything, Andy thought bitterly.

Serena, who until now had been listening silently, spoke up. “So… it wasn’t because you were worried about your job? You weren’t worried about us telling someone?” She gave Andy a searching look, concern written on her features.

Andy breathed a sigh of relief. “No. No, I wasn’t worried about that at all. I mean—obviously people finding out could’ve put my job in jeopardy— but I knew you guys wouldn’t do that to me.” She shook her head, “I just wanted to respect Miranda’s privacy, that’s all. I’ve been outed before, and it’s terrible. I’d never do that to someone.” Andy was impressed. Usually her lying skills were god awful at best.

Andy watched their faces as the other three women considered her words for a moment.

As usual, Emily was the first to speak up. “Well now I feel like a right bloody bitch. Thanks, Andy.”

The look of hurt on Danielle’s face had been replaced with one of contemplation. She scratched at her short brown afro as she spoke, “Well, I guess that if you’re going to keep something so important from us for so long… then that’s a pretty good reason.”

“It’s okay, guys. Really,” Andy reassured them. It did little to remove the unhappy looks from Emily and Danielle’s faces, though.

She honestly hadn’t even considered how her friends would feel about her supposedly hiding something so huge from them. Obviously Andy wasn’t glad to have hurt their feelings, but… regardless, she felt her heart warmed by their concern.

Serena chuckled, and they all turned to face her in surprise. “Don’t worry, Andy,” She said, still leaning against Danielle’s desk, “We’re all very happy for you. These two are just annoyed because they were stupid enough to make a bet with Nigel, and now they’re both broke.”

The dirty looks shot at Serena by the other two women only confirmed her statement.

Andy snorted ungracefully, “What?

“So tell us, Andy,” Danielle cut in quickly, “Which one of you proposed? You’ve got to tell us the story. And where’s your ring?”

Before Andy could call her friend out for her transparent attempt at a distraction, she saw Miranda walking through the doors. The other women saw this as well and quickly righted themselves: hopping off of desks, straightening their postures, patting down any flyaway hairs.

Hardly bothering to look up as she made her way across the office, Miranda tossed her things onto Danielle’s desk before turning to survey the room. She pursed her lips.

“Is there some sort of last minute meeting I wasn’t informed of, Danielle?” She asked in that quiet way of hers.

The second assistant cleared her throat. “No, Miranda.”

“Well.” Miranda cocked her head, “Then I fail to see why you’ve all flocked in here like a group of hens. Especially you, Emily,” She turned her icy gaze toward the redhead, “When your department has still failed to show me even one decent color palette for the January issue. I suppose you’ve become desperate enough to seek advice from my assistants, now?”

Emily turned bright red. “No, Miranda. Sorry, Miranda. I’ll go work on that right now.” She turned to flee, but Miranda held up a hand. She stopped in her tracks.

“I’m only going to say this once,” Miranda started. She looked at Danielle, Serena, and Emily in turn.

“I understand that the three of you are… close with Andréa.” She said, “And I know that Andréa and I are… well, that she’s my—” Miranda flapped a hand wordlessly, clearly unsure how to say what she was thinking.

“Fiancée?” Andy provided helpfully. She did her best not to smirk and how clearly uncomfortable this conversation was making the older woman.

“Yes. That.” Miranda huffed, “Just because Andréa is my fiancée does not mean that you should hope to receive any sort of special treatment. My expectations have not changed.”

It was getting harder not to smirk, because Andy was pretty sure that getting ‘special treatment’ from Miranda Priestly was the absolute last thing that any of her friends would ever have expected. The looks of shocked confusion on their faces confirmed this fact, and Andy had to bite her lip in her effort to keep a poker face.

“That’s all.” Miranda retreated into her office before any of them could think up a response, and closed the door behind her. It looked like it would be yet another day of Miranda awkwardly ignoring Andy’s existence. From the way she’d been behaving since their return to Runway yesterday afternoon, you would think it had been Andy who’d forced the engagement upon her.

Andy watched while Serena and Emily fled the premises, and looked over to see Dani working determinedly at one task or another. She paused to enjoy the fleeting moment of peace before sighing and returning to her work.

Chapter Text

Miranda and her two pre-teen daughters were sitting outside a quaint, mostly empty little ice cream shop just a few blocks from the townhouse. The Thursday afternoon was surprisingly beautiful for November, and she had slipped out of the office sooner than usual in order to spend it with her girls.

“So,” Caroline asked, “what’s the bad news?” She spooned a small mountain of strawberry ice cream into her mouth.

Miranda had spent the better part of last night lying awake, trying to figure out how to tell Caroline and Cassidy about the engagement. She spent hours debating with herself, deciding exactly how much to tell them—in fact, she’d even debated whether to tell them at all. By the time she came to a decision it was well past one in the morning.

Miranda raised her eyebrows in shock. “What on Earth makes you think I have bad news? I never said anything of the sort.” Does twin telepathy work on parents, too? Miranda wondered to herself.

“Mom. You’ve taken us out for ice cream like… five times. Tops.” Cassidy said from Miranda’s other side, “And every time, you’ve either told us that someone died, or that you were getting a divorce.” Her daughter shoveled in another bite of chocolate chunk ice cream.

“And you don’t have anyone to get divorced from, so… who died?” Caroline finished for her sister in the way that Miranda had always found slightly unnerving.

Miranda sat back in her chair, impressed. “Well. Apparently you’re more observant than I give you credit for, Bobbseys.”

“Duh,” said Caroline around a mouthful of ice cream. Miranda scowled.

“Sorry,” she muttered, not looking sorry in the least.

“Still,” Miranda said, “You’re only half right. The news isn’t necessarily bad. But I suppose I’ll let you decide.” Miranda paused, taking a bite of her own (extra small) pistachio ice cream.

Supposing it was best to rip the band aid off quickly, she took a deep breath. “Mommy is getting married. Soon.”

Miranda watched as her daughters glanced at one another quickly before proceeding to stare into their ice cream dishes as if, suddenly, they were the most interesting things they had ever beheld. Oh, dear.

She waited.

Finally, Cassidy spoke up. “How soon?” She asked her bowl.

“Well. We haven’t decided upon a date yet, but it will be before the year is out. Early to mid-December, I imagine.”

“So… who is he?” Cassidy began picking at her nail polish, studying the table intently.

Both girls were determinedly looking anywhere but at their mother, and Miranda’s heart absolutely ached with the pain she could see on their faces.

What kind of mother does this to her children? She asked herself for the thousandth time in the last 30 hours. Yet; what other choice do I have?  

She sighed, resisting the urge to wring her hands and failing.

“Well. As a matter of fact—”

Miranda was interrupted by Caroline, always the more hot-headed of her two.

“I thought you said it wasn’t bad news,” she growled quietly, finally looking up at her mother. “Why are you doing this, mom? Everything is finally so good. Why are you trying to mess it all up? Aren’t you happy?”

Miranda saw tears sparkling in the eyes so like her own, and felt it like a spike to her chest. She closed her eyes, attempting to steady herself.

“I am happy, darling.” She breathed, “So happy. These last few years with just us have been lovely. But—” She was cut off again.

“But what? But it’s not enough?” Caroline demanded, “You told us the only reason you married Stephen was to give us a father figure. To give us a ‘proper family’ or whatever. But we already told you that we don’t need that!”

Miranda was suddenly very grateful for the relative emptiness of the surrounding street, as well as the shop behind them.

“You were miserable when you were with Stephen. I remember. We both do,” her voice cracked, glancing quickly toward her sister for confirmation. “You never ever smiled, and you barely hugged us. We never even saw you then. Why would you want that again?” She covered her face with her hands, apparently overcome with emotion.

Miranda turned numbly towards her other daughter, who was still staring quietly at the table. Her ears were bright red, eyebrows furrowed tightly. Cassidy was much more reserved than her sister, but it was never difficult for Miranda to tell when she was upset.

“Well?” She asked quietly.

Cassidy sniffled. “Does it really matter what I say? We already told you that we don’t want another step dad. You already know, but I guess you don’t care.” Her lip quivered slightly.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. No one moved to touch their ice cream.

After a while of this, Caroline slowly uncovered her face, the rims of her eyes pink. “You still haven’t told us who he is,” She said flatly.

Miranda took a long pull from her coffee, seeking out any small comfort she could find.

“Ah—well. Yes. About that. I don’t really know how to say…” She paused, looking at both of her daughters in turn. Just breathe, she reminded herself.

“It isn’t a he, as a matter of fact. It’s—well. A woman.”

Miranda’s heart raced at her own words, and she felt ridiculous. She’d had no problem whatsoever proclaiming her supposed love for Andréa in Irv’s office yesterday morning. But now, telling her own children, she felt on the verge of a panic attack. Perhaps the extra caffeine had been a poor choice.

Her daughters looked at each other before turning towards their mother once more.

“Oh.” They said in unison.

Miranda smoothed down her blouse absentmindedly, waiting for a response of more substance.

“Well… who is she, then?” Cassidy finally asked.

Like a band aid, she reminded herself. “Andréa.”

“Oh.” They repeated.

Another pause.

“Andy?” Caroline asked, “The one who hung out with us in Sicily this summer?” As if there was some other Andy in their lives.

“She didn’t ‘hang out’ with us, darling,” Miranda corrected automatically, “Mommy had some business to attend to while we were there, so Andréa came along to help her.”

She had been repeating this explanation to anyone who asked for five months now, and at this point it was pure reflex. She always conveniently left out the fact that the “business” she referred to could just as easily have been handled by Miranda herself. Not to mention the fact that, of the seven days the four of them had spent there, Andréa had completed her task in less than one. If she were being honest, her daughter’s description of events was much more accurate than her own.

Miranda shook her head. “But that isn’t the point.” She raised an eyebrow in silent question.

“I like Andy,” Cassidy said quietly. “Sometimes she still lends me books she thinks I’ll like.”

“I like her, too.” Caroline piped in, offering no explanation. The mood had lightened considerably.

It was as if the events of last five minutes had never transpired. Miranda blinked. Her children certainly did know how to go from zero to one hundred and back again.

“Well, that’s lovely to hear,” She said cautiously before jerking her head towards the sidewalk. “Let’s head back for supper, shall we?”

They made it ten whole minutes into their walk before the questioning began.

“So, you’re a lesbian now?” Caroline asked bluntly.

Miranda choked on her coffee.

Coughing, she leaned against a nearby wall while attempting to catch her breath. “What?” She said hoarsely.

“Are you gay?” She clarified. Apparently, her daughter had inherited Miranda’s own aversion to mincing words.

“No, dummy, she’s bisexual,” Cassidy chimed in. “She’s been married twice. To men.”

“Yeah, and she’s been divorced twice. From men.” Caroline said defensively, “You’re the dummy.”

Miranda couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Girls. Could we not bicker about my sexual orientation in the middle of the street, please? For goodness sake.” She began walking once again, a daughter to each side.

“We wouldn’t have to bicker about it if you’d answer her question,” Cassidy pointed out slyly.

Miranda sighed. The topic of her sexuality was one she had avoided for years. Until recently, that is.

She had decided to return to the closet shortly after becoming Editor-In-Chief of Runway. Truth be told, she had never fully exited it to begin with. Her lovers had known, obviously. As well as a few choice friends. But a seed of shame, planted firmly within upon her upbringing, had stopped Miranda from ever truly accepting herself. From loving herself, or allowing others to do the same.

Over time that seed grew into forests of brambles and weeds, tangling her up in a garden of self-loathing. Choking her.

She told herself (and the few who dared ask) that she returned to the closet for her career. It was a believable enough excuse. After all, being a woman in the business world was difficult enough on its own; being a lesbian was nigh insufferable.

Anyone who really knew Miranda knew the truth, however. She cared little for the opinions of others. No, more than anything else, it had been that little seed of shame which ultimately sent her fleeing back towards the safety of hiding.

For a moment she considered lying to her children, but what was the point? After all, she was marrying a woman. The whole world would know soon enough. Or they’d be able to guess, anyhow.

Besides, Miranda was sick to death lying. She had been lying to everyone she knew for twenty years now. She’d been lying to herself until only a year ago.

There were several minutes of quiet strolling before Miranda finally spoke.

“To answer your question, Caroline. I… I suppose you could call me that, yes.” Another deep breath. In, out.

“Told you,” Caroline said smugly.

Cassidy craned her neck around Miranda to stick her tongue out at her sister. Miranda rolled her eyes.  Honestly, of all the things to argue about.

“But you were with boys, mom. I thought that when you liked boys and girls that meant you were bi?” Cassidy was pouting now.

“You’re right, darling.” Miranda squeezed her hand, “But unfortunately sometimes these things aren’t so simple.” Cassidy simply shrugged in response, clearly not yet ready to end her pout.

“Does that mean you didn’t like dad, then?” Caroline asked.

Why was I cursed with such intelligent offspring?

Blessedly, she was granted a few minutes to stall as they walked up the front steps to the townhouse. Miranda took her time putting away jackets and shoes before turning on the home security system. The aroma of the dinner left warm for them by Alma, the family’s chef, wafted in from the kitchen. She continued her leisurely pace as she plated their relatively simple meal of grilled chicken and asparagus, and watched with amusement as her daughters rushed to set the table.

As they sat around the kitchen table, Caroline had clearly grown tired of waiting.

“So? Did you?” She asked without preamble.

Miranda sighed. She had truly never expected to have this conversation with her children.

“Yes, Bobbsey. I liked your father. I loved him, even. He was one of Mommy’s very best friends.” That much was true. She and Davis had met through mutual friends at a charity event in 1995, and hit it off immediately.

They were friends for two whole years before Davis began to fall for Miranda, and before Miranda, who had recently begun to experience what some would call ‘baby fever’, decided to let him. They got along so swimmingly as friends; what difference did it make if Miranda wasn’t in love? After all, she told herself, she loved him dearly as a friend. That ought to be enough.

As it turned out, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough, for either of them.

At first their marriage had been perfectly fine. Not much had changed, really. They were both still devoted to their careers, still working the same long hours and late nights as before. They still joked and talked, still made time to see one another when they could. All things considered, Miranda mostly just felt like she was living with her best friend.

Things got even better when, just a few months into their marriage, Miranda became pregnant with the girls. Davis didn’t question Miranda when her attitude towards sex shifted immediately from “rarely ever willing” to “absolutely never willing”.  They were both over the moon in their excitement to be parents, and bonded over things like nursery decorations and parenting books. And, in the months after the girls were born, they were both so constantly busy and exhausted that they likely couldn’t have mustered up the energy for sex even if they’d wanted to.

On the surface, they made the perfect family. Both Davis and Miranda loved their daughters desperately, and were as active in their lives as two people with high powered careers could possibly be. When one looked deeper, however, the holes began to show.

Miranda stopped making any real attempt to spend quality time with Davis; any time not spent working was always spent with their children. Davis grew less and less understanding about his wife’s apparent ‘less is more’ attitude toward sex. As time wore on, it became increasingly obvious that neither of them were happy.

Miranda, having had the traditional family values of her parents drilled into her head since birth, was willing to push through it for the sake of being a family. Davis, however, was not. They were divorced before the girls even made it into preschool.

Miranda frowned, aware suddenly of her daughters’ eyes on her as she reminisced.

“I suppose I just didn’t love him as much as I should have,” she finally said. It felt strange, being so open with her children about something as personal as this. Normally she would never condone it, but she was currently at a loss for what else to do.

“So you mean you liked him as a friend, but you didn’t like-like him?” Cassidy cocked her head.

“That happened to me one time,” Caroline nodded seriously, “Michael Hogston asked to be my boyfriend last year, and I thought about telling him yes because he’s so funny and cool and we’re both Gryffindors. But then I told him no because I only liked him.” She shrugged lightly.

Miranda raised her eyebrows, surprised by how quickly her daughters understood. “…Yes, I suppose that’s one way you could put it. I didn’t… what was it?”

Like-like him.” They said in unison.

“Right,” Miranda nodded slowly, “I didn’t like-like him.”

“What about Stephen?” Caroline asked, “Did you like-like him? ‘Cause usually it didn’t even seem like you regularly liked him.”

“Ah—well,” Miranda’s head was beginning to pound from hearing the word ‘like’ so many times in one sitting, “I suppose I liked him for a short while, yes. But no, I never… like-liked him.” This conversation couldn’t end soon enough.

“So you didn’t like-like dad,” Cassidy continued, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, “And you definitely didn’t like-like Stephen. But you do like-like Andy?”

“I—well—” Miranda blushed profusely, once again feeling ridiculous. “Yes. Yes, I do.”

Both of her daughters nodded, small little smiles lighting up their faces. “Cool.”

----------------- 

Andy was pretending to watch some trashy reality television show when she heard the knock on her door. She all but ran to answer it, and sighed in relief at what she saw.

“God, thank you so much for coming over, Lily.” Andy squeezed her into a hug before grabbing her hand and leading her back to the little nest of blankets Andy had created for herself on her worn leather sofa. Andy collapsed back into the warmth, dragging Lily down with her before leaning her head on her best friend’s shoulder.

She was exhausted. Miranda’s apparent revenge for Andy’s surprise camping trip reveal had been forcing her to run around the city like a crazy person, buying every bit of designer camping gear that Miranda could possibly think up. (This was, apparently, quite a lot. The list she gave Andy that morning was five pages, front and back).

“It’s no problem, hon.” Lily gave her head a little pat, “But what the hell happened? You’re a mess.”

Andy groaned. “God, I know. Honestly, the whole thing’s so crazy that I don’t even know where to begin.”

Lily handed her a glass of red wine. “Here. This seems like a pretty good place to start.”

Andy took a generous swallow. “Alright, but, you have to promise not to say anything until I’m done. Deal?”

Lily rolled her eyes, “Deal.”

So Andy started at the beginning, and told her best friend everything that had happened the previous day. It took much longer than she expected, but it was just as cathartic as she’d hoped it would be.

Lily was quiet for a moment, a look of bewilderment on her face. “Shit.”

“Yeah,” Andy agreed, “Shit. And I haven’t even told you the worst part.”

“What? How the hell could it possibly get—” Her eyes narrowed suddenly. “No. Don’t tell me. You actually have feelings for her?”

Andy hid her face in her blanket.

“Damn. You’ve got it bad.” Lily sighed, “To be real, Andy. I’d be lying if I said I was completely surprised, but this isn’t exactly what I was expecting.”

“What, you weren’t anticipating a wedding announcement?” Andy said dryly as she moved to pour them both another glass of wine, “Why not?”

Lily ignored her attempt at humor, “Honestly? I mostly just expected you to tell me that you were sleeping together.”

What?” Andy’s eyes went wide with shock. “Why would you think that?”

“You’re joking, right? Andy, you may not have noticed, but you’re kind of obsessed with her. She’s all you’ve talked about for the last three years.” Seeing Andy’s look of outrage, she raised a hand, “I’m not judging, I’m just saying.”

“Fine.” Andy sighed, “But even if my feelings for her are embarrassingly obvious, it still doesn’t make sense to think we’re sleeping together. She’s straight, Lily. She said so herself. And it’s not like she’s ever shown any kind of interest in me, anyway.”

Lily snorted. “What the hell are you talking about, Andy? The woman took you with her to Sicily over the summer for Christ’s sake. With her kids! I don’t have to know Miranda Priestly personally to know that she doesn’t usually bring her employees along for family vacations.”

Andy opened her mouth to protest, but Lily cut her off. “And don’t even try spouting that B.S. about her needing you to make a deal with those Italian designers for her,” Lily admonished, “Because I happen to know for a fact that it took you less than a day, and that you spent the rest of the week lounging around on some beach in gorgeous designer swimwear. When you weren’t romping around the island with her and her daughters, that is.”

She raised an accusatory eyebrow. “I do know how to use Instagram, you know.”

“But she’s straight, Lily.” Andy knew she was whining now, but she was past the point of caring. She deserved to whine a little, dammit.

“Did she ever actually say that?” Lily asked.

Andy rolled her eyes, “Of course she—” Wait. Did she?

Andy thought back on their conversation and her jaw dropped.

“Shit.”

Lily just gave a smug little smirk.

“That still doesn’t mean anything, though!” Andy reasoned, “I mean, the woman expects me to read her mind about everything else. Why not this, too?”

“Okay, Andy. Sure.” Lily gave a resigned sigh, clearly not buying it. “Have you told anyone else about this yet?”

“Uh…”

“Like say, oh, I don’t know… the parents who you plan on forcing into hosting your new little family next week?” Lily looked at her pointedly.

“Yeah,” Andy began, “Well… um, about that. I was kind of hoping that I could…” She gave Lily her best puppy eyes.

The other woman just chuckled. “Alright, alright. But we’re gonna need more wine for this.” She left the couch and headed toward the kitchen.

Having been friends for nearly two decades at this point, Lily and Andy had developed little traditions over the years. One of these longstanding traditions consisted of one friend sitting quietly alongside the other, offering silent support while the other made a particularly difficult phone call. They had continued this tradition through twenty years of break ups, coming-outs, bad test results, and one particularly jarring pregnancy scare. Having her best friend by her side didn’t really make the news any easier to bear, but Andy desperately needed the comfort that having her nearby provided.

After Andy had returned from Paris three years ago to find Nate gone, she also quickly found that Lily no longer wanted anything to do with her. Losing her best friend hurt even more than losing her long-term boyfriend, and the months following their abrupt departure were some of the hardest of Andy’s life. The only friend who hadn’t abandoned her was Doug and, while she loved him dearly, he definitely wasn’t Lily.

It had taken eight months for them to finally get over themselves long enough to reunite. It was Lily’s birthday, and Andy took a chance by showing up at her apartment bearing gifts of red velvet cake and heartfelt apologies. It took many tears and more than a few glasses of wine, but they both eventually admitted to being very different people than the two best friends that moved to the Big Apple together two years ago, and agreed that growth was just another part of life. They promised to never let something so trivial come between them again.

Lily plopped down next to her, a fresh bottle of wine and a box of Oreos in hand. Andy smiled to herself, newly grateful for her friendship.

“Ready?” Lily said around a mouthful of cookies.

“Cute,” Andy snorted. “Nope! Let’s do this.” She dialed her parents’ home number before she could change her mind.

Her dad picked up after the second ring. “Hey sweetie. Is everything okay?”

Andy looked at the clock on the wall. It was nearly 11:00 pm. Whoops.

“Oh, I didn’t wake you up, did I?” Andy said hopefully, “Sorry, I can call back later if I need to.” She crossed her fingers as Lily elbowed her in the ribs.

“No, no. What’s up, honey?” His voice was full of concern.

“Oh, well, I called because I’ve got some good news,” Andy said as brightly as she could, “I get to come home for longer than expected this year! I’ll even be able to come on the camping trip.”

“Really? That’s great, Dandy!” She heard Lily chuckle quietly next to her at the use of Andy’s childhood nickname. “How’d you manage that?”

“Uh, I just got lucky, I guess?” Andy was a terrible liar. “And uh, I… I have some other news, too.”

“Hello?” Andy resisted the urge to groan as she heard her mother’s voice come through the phone. She had been desperately hoping to delegate the task of telling her about Miranda to her father.

“Oh, uh, hi Mom!” Andy tried not to sound too frantic.

“Pam, Andy just got done telling me that she gets to come home in time for the camping trip.” Her dad said excitedly, “Isn’t that great news?”

“Oh my god, really? That’s fantastic, baby!” Her mom exclaimed. “It’s been what, three years now?”

Andy laughed shakily, “Uh, yup, three whole years!”

“I’m surprised that woman let you get away,” Her mother continued, “But I suppose she has gone easier on you this last year, hasn’t she?”

Andy resisted the urge to laugh out loud at that. “Yeah—yup, she sure has.”

“Please kill me,” She mouthed to Lily, who’s only response was a smirk.

“Andy was about to tell me some other news right before you picked up,” Andy’s dad said. “What was it, sweetie?”

“Well, I was kind of wondering if it might be okay if I maybe… uh, brought someone with me?” She could barely get the words out.

“That would be wonderful,” Her mom’s voice was full of warmth, and Andy felt absurdly guilty for lying to her. “We haven’t gotten to meet any of your significant others since Nate, and that was ages ago. We’ll be happy to have them.”

“Great. That’s great. Thanks so much, guys. There is one more thing though,” Andy said breathlessly. “Uh. She has two kids. Would it be alright if they came along, too?”

There was a slight pause while her parents processed this information. Andy had never before dated anyone with children, after all.

“Wow,” Her dad replied, “Kids, huh? It must be serious, then.” He sounded pleased, “How long have you two been together?”

Shit. She turned wide-eyed toward Lily, who just shrugged while grabbing herself another handful of Oreos.

“Thanks a lot,” Andy mouthed, rolling her eyes. Lily popped a cookie in her mouth, apparently unbothered.

“Oh, just a few months,” That was a reasonable amount of time, right?

“Well, we’re excited to meet all three of them,” Her mom said. “How did you meet her?”

No use in lying more than she had to. “Work,” She said vaguely.

“Oh, is she a model then?” Her dad joked.

Andy forced a laugh. “Ha. Uh, no, not quite.”

“Well who is she, sweetie? What’s her name? I know it can’t be Serena. She didn’t have any kids.” He sounded so genuinely happy for her. Ugh. “Have you mentioned her before?”

“Uh. Yup, sure have! A few times, actually.” She laughed nervously. “She’s. Uh.” Fuck it. “She’s Miranda. Uh, Priestly.”

There was another pause, this one much more charged than the last. Andy took the opportunity to snatch some Oreos from the box that Lily was currently cradling against her chest.

She held her breath.

“Miranda Priestly? Your boss, Miranda Priestly?” There was a slight tremor to her mom’s voice.

Right, because there’s just so many other Miranda Priestly’s in my life, Andy mused.

“Yup. That’s the one.” She began twirling a strand of her hair.

The silence coming from the other line was deafening. Lily reached over and gave her hand a little squeeze.

“Uh. Hello?” Andy tried, “Are you guys still there?”

Her mother gave a deep sigh. “I thought we raised you better than this, Andrea.” She spoke in that tight, angry tone that never failed to make Andy feel eight years old again whenever she heard it.

“Andy, your boss?” The disappointment in her father’s voice was palpable.

“I know what it looks like.” Andy said, “But you said yourself, mom: things have been different this past year. She’s been different.” It was true. Compared to previous years, Miranda had been downright pleasant towards Andy lately. Pleasant for Miranda, anyway.

She heard a click.

“Hello? Mom? Dad?” Did they really just hang up on her?

“I think she’s just going to need some time, honey.” She heard her dad say.

Well, at least one of them doesn’t hate me, she thought. She could usually count on her dad to be the reasonable one.

“I guess,” She sighed. “So… should we even bother coming?”

“Of course, Andy. I’ll talk to her.” He paused. “So, things between you and Miranda… they’re really serious, then?”

“Yes. They really are. She’s… she’s wonderful, Dad.” Andy was surprised to feel her throat tighten at the words. “She makes me so, so happy.”

She saw Lily raise her eyebrows next to her, a concerned look on her face.

“Well then that’s all that matters, isn’t it?” He said softly. “Like I said, your mother just needs some time. To process, you know?”

Andy sniffled. “I know. Thanks, Dad. I’ll call you later to work out the specifics, okay?”

“Okay, sweetie. I’ll talk to you later. I love you.”

“I love you too, dad. Night.” She hung up, and felt Lily scoot closer to her on the couch.

“You okay?” She asked.

Andy felt tears leaking from the corners her eyes and shook her head. “No.”

Lily pulled her into a hug, and they sat like that for a while. Eventually Andy was able to get it together, and she pulled away.

“Thanks, Lils.” She wiped her nose. “I really didn’t expect to get this emotional.”

Lily just nodded, understanding. “Any time.”

They sat quietly for a few more minutes, and Andy started to feel sleepy. She looked at the clock. It was almost midnight, now.

“Do you wanna just sleep here tonight?” She asked.

“God, I thought you’d never ask,” Lily yawned hugely. “There’s no way in hell I’m staying awake long enough to take the subway home.”

Andy smiled. “I can’t remember the last time we had a sleepover.”

“Yeah,” Lily retorted, “That would be because you talk just as much when you’re asleep as you do when you’re awake. It’s creepy as hell.”

“Feel free to sleep on the couch, then.” Andy joked as she got up to head towards her bedroom.

“Not on your life,” Lily said, following her. “I’d rather deal with your sleep talking than the back ache I know I’m gonna get if I stay on that awful couch of yours any longer than I have to.”

Andy just laughed. “My couch is perfectly comfy, thank you. You and I both know the only reason you don’t like it is because I got it from Emily.” Lily had never been quiet about her intense dislike for the British woman.

She claimed it was just because Emily’s high-strung personality grated against her own, considerably more laid-back one. That was probably true, but Andy knew that there was more than a little jealousy there, too. After all, it had been during the months that Lily was absent from her life that Andy and Emily had grown close.

Emily received her well-deserved promotion to Assistant Makeup Director just two months after Paris Fashion Week, leaving Andy as first assistant after less than a year’s worth of experience. Following their respective promotions, the two had slowly but surely gone from grudging coworkers to good friends.

It turned out that Emily was a lot more bearable outside the office. Her dramatics were actually pretty damn hilarious when they didn’t result in Andy constantly feeling like her job was on the line. (Serena forcing them to hang out hadn’t hurt things, either).

Lily hated being called out on her jealous tendencies. So naturally, Andy teased her about it whenever she got the chance.

“Oh shut up, Dandy,” Lily was apparently too tired to even bother denying it like she normally would. “Please tell me you have an extra toothbrush?”

Andy snorted. “Of course. C’mon, lush.”

Later, when they’d finally laid down and turned out the lights, Andy smiled to herself. She thought of how grateful she was for every single one of her friends, even the ones she didn’t get to spend as much time with nowadays. Most of all though, she was thankful to still have Lily. She had no idea what she would do without her, especially on days like today.

It was then that Andy’s brain drifted towards Miranda. She wondered who the Editor-In-Chief had to lean on, if anyone. Who did Miranda call when her world was crashing down around her? Andy wracked her brain, but the only person who came to mind was Nigel. One friend was better than none, Andy supposed, but not much.

She didn’t even have a family to talk to about it—Miranda had said herself that her only family was her girls, and it wasn’t like she was going to ask two eleven year olds for advice on her love life. Sure, she didn’t have the added stress of explaining her new, much younger fiancée to her parents, but… did that really make up for being alone in the world?

Andy shook her head. This was so not her problem. What did she care if Miranda had no one to cry to about the stress of coming out to her children? The woman had brought this on herself, hadn’t she?

Andy heard the sound of her best friend’s even breathing next to her and was reminded of the late hour. She grabbed a pillow and held it tight, willing sleep to come. She squeezed her eyes shut, and tried to think of anything but Miranda Priestly.

Chapter Text

Miranda sat at her kitchen table, cradling a cup of coffee while gazing at the sunrise out her window. Watching deep blacks and purples fade slowly into the pale blues and pinks of day, she pondered the week to come.

She had been up for hours. Since the beginning of her supposed engagement to Andréa four days ago she had hardly slept, and the exhaustion was beginning to take its toll. Miranda was certainly no stranger to bouts of insomnia, but until recently she’d managed to break free from its clutches for quite some time. Nearly two years, in fact.

Last night, at least, her restlessness had served a purpose. She wiled away the hours by packing and repacking their various suitcases, preparing herself for the oncoming week in any little way that she could. Not that there was any way to truly be prepared for spending a week with her in-laws to be. She had burned through three sets now, if she included Kathleen’s parents in the count. None of them had particularly liked her, and she would be lying if she said that the feeling wasn’t mutual.

She doubted that this experience would prove to be much different. Even at the best of times Miranda knew that she wasn’t exactly likeable—and being forced to spend an entire week out of her element while surrounded by strangers most certainly was not Miranda Priestly at her best.

In fact, she had a sinking feeling that this particular meeting would manage be even worse than those with in-laws’ past. It didn’t take a mathematician to notice Miranda was closer in age to Andréa’s parents than she was to Andréa herself. Twenty-three years was no small difference.

Not to mention that they would be in the woods for two days. Miranda still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that tomorrow she would apparently be camping. Try as she might, she couldn’t think of any way to get out of the experience without also losing her engagement to Andréa in the deal.

Instead, she had settled for sending the girl galivanting around Manhattan the last few days, in search of things like three-bedroom tents, portable coffeemakers, and solar-powered charging stations. If she couldn’t get out, she figured, then she might as well get even.

The girls were ecstatic about the whole thing, of course. The two of them had been trying for years to get Miranda to join them on their annual camping trips with their father, to no avail. How she had apparently managed to give birth to two outdoor enthusiasts was beyond her.

Miranda had lived in cities her entire life. Over the course of the last 51 years her interactions with nature had been minimal, and she had hoped to keep it that way. Between her allergies, aversion to dirt, and general fear of all things that crawl, Miranda would much rather keep her feet planted firmly on the concrete.

She heard footsteps and looked up to see Cassidy, fully dressed, trotting into the kitchen.

“When is Andy getting here?” She asked without preamble.

Miranda raised her eyebrows. “Well good morning to you too, dear,” she admonished lightly before glancing at her watch. It was barely 6:00 am. “I’d say we have at least another hour yet. Is Caroline awake?”

“Yup! I woke her up a little while ago. She’s repacking her travel-bag for the car. She changed her mind about a couple of the books she wanted to bring, I think.” Cassidy opened the fridge and grabbed herself a yogurt before moving to sit next to her mother at the kitchen table.

“And what about you?” Miranda asked, “Are you ready?”

“Oh, yeah,” her daughter nodded. Ever the morning person, she continued at top speed, “I’ve been ready for ages. Hey, did you know that Andy has a little niece and nephew? She told us on the phone yesterday. She says that they’re both really cute.” She ate a spoonful of yogurt before continuing. 

“I’ve always wanted cousins. And she said that she has a surprise for us before we get to Ohio. What do you think it is? Did she tell you?” Cassidy looked at her with wide eyes.

Before Miranda could respond, however, a still pajama-clad Caroline padded into the kitchen. “Maybe it’ll be a dog,” her other daughter mused, her voice still groggy with sleep. “She said it’s something that all three of us will really like, and we all really like dogs.” She grabbed a bowl from a nearby cabinet before searching for her cereal.

Cassidy shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense. If we were gonna take a dog with us to Cincinnati, then why not just take Patricia? Besides, she said we’re bringing her cat Marshmallow home with us.” She paused for a moment, scooting over as Caroline sat down next to her, bowl of cereal in hand. “Maybe she’ll take us to the Lady Gaga concert that’s in Pittsburg tonight. We have to drive through Pennsylvania to get to Ohio anyway. Plus, we all love her.”

“I beg to differ,” Miranda said weakly. The girls had quickly developed an obsession with the artist upon the release of her new album earlier that year, and insisted upon listening to her music at every available opportunity. Miranda tolerated it for their sake, but to say that she enjoyed it would be a gross exaggeration.

“Whatever, mom. I totally heard you singing along to Bad Romance last week,” Caroline joked, pointing a spoon at her mother in accusation.

“You heard no such thing,” Miranda responded dismissively, standing up. “Now hurry up and eat, girls. I need your help getting the luggage into the trunk before Andréa gets here.”

   ----------------- 

It was a bright and beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was shining, the cars were honking, and Andy was so, so late.

Of course I am, she thought grumpily as she all but leapt down the stairs of her building, lugging her suitcase along behind her.

Every time Andy went on a trip, she made herself the same promise: that this time, things would be different. This time she would pack early. This time she would go to sleep at a reasonable hour the night before, and this time she would wake up early the next day.

And every time, Andy knew damn well that she was lying to herself.

She had the best intentions. She truly did. She knew she’d be busy all week, so she decided to do the bulk of her packing on Saturday night.

And her plan would have gone off without a hitch, too, but there was one little problem: Dani was in desperate need of her help. Due to the holiday, Runway would only be open on Monday and Tuesday next week. But that didn’t change the fact that, not only would the soon-to-be first assistant be alone to man the phones for those two days, but that she would also be busy interviewing candidates for her own replacement. And because Miranda had been sending them both on crazy errands all week long, she hadn’t had any time to prepare.

So, the two of them stayed at the office late into the night, sorting through hundreds of resumes and organizing a list of potential interviewees for Dani to call the following day. Feeling guilty for knowing she was the cause of all her friend’s additional stress, Andy did everything she could to make sure that Dani’s week without her would run as smoothly as possible. By the time she finally got home it was nearly 10:00 pm, and she hadn’t so much as cracked open a suitcase.

She was cutting it close on time, but Andy was an old pro at speed-packing by now. She knew that she could be ready to go within the hour. Then she’d be free to return to the bed she’d been fantasizing about for hours, and would be out like a light before the clock struck twelve. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but Andy could do it.

Naturally, this had been precisely the moment when her mom had decided to call.

Powerwalking down her street toward the nearest subway station, Andy sighed deeply as she recalled the conversation. The mere memory of it brought back that same sick feeling in her stomach, and she knew she wouldn’t feel any better until she talked it out. Pulling out her phone, she knew just who to call.

Her older sister, Rachel, picked up after only two rings. “I was wondering when you were going to call,” she said by way of greeting.

“Hey Rach,” Andy said apologetically, “Sorry. Things have been kind of insane for me these last few days.”

“No shit. Should I start referring to you as ‘Mrs. Priestly’ now?” her sister joked.

“I’d prefer ‘Priestly-Sachs’, actually,” she said, only half kidding. “I’m gonna go ahead and assume that Mom and Dad told you everything?”

“You would assume correctly. I’d like to hear your take on the events, though. Dad was reasonable enough, but you know how Mom is.”

“Oh my god, do I.” Andy groaned, “That’s the whole reason I’m calling. She called me last night while I was packing.” She adjusted her backpack on her shoulders as she walked.

“Okay. For now I’m going to choose not to comment on your time management skills and move directly to the topic of your Mom management skills.” Rachel snarked, “What’d she say?”

“Basically? Exactly what I expected her to. She did halfway apologize for ‘the way her reaction may have made me feel’, though, so that’s something I guess.”

“Damn, she actually said she was sorry? I think the last time I heard her apologize to anyone was that time she accidentally ran over Ben’s foot with the minivan. Wow. Dad must’ve really guilted her, huh?”

Andy laughed, “Yeah, I guess so. He probably remembers how long it took for me to come back home after Mom’s freak-out my senior year, and wanted to avoid a repeat.”

The final year of high school is a time of change for most teenagers, and Andy’s had been no exception. It had been during this time that she had decided to break up with her long-time girlfriend, Marcie. This alone might have been bad enough—her parents had both really liked Marcie, and were more than a little concerned when Andy ended their relationship seemingly out of the blue.

It wasn’t long after that Andy also decided to attend Northwestern University for journalism. This posed a serious issue as well, because the expectation of her parents—both lawyers themselves—had always been that she would attend Stanford Law. Neither of Andy’s older siblings had opted to become lawyers, so the assumption had always been that Andy would. After all, someone needed to carry on the legacy of the Sachs’ family firm.

Neither of Andy’s parents had been particularly thrilled with her decision-making at the time, but her mother had taken it the hardest. Andy could remember the arguments clear as day. Her mom insisting that she was ‘throwing away her potential’ for some ‘stupid daydream,’ listing off for her daughter all the reasons why she was apparently making the ‘worst mistake of her life.

Her mother spent weeks belittling her youngest child and her ambitions, seeming to believe that making Andy feel like shit would somehow magically change her mind. All she managed to do, however, was chase Andy away. She didn’t come home even one time during her entire first semester of college.

“Yeah, true. I almost forgot about that,” Rachel responded quietly, pulling Andy back to the present with her words. “Was that all she said?”

“Pretty much.” Andy rolled her eyes, “All that was worth mentioning, anyway. It was just a bunch of really uncomfortable small talk after that. I know that wasn’t the end of it, though. She was only worried that we wouldn’t come if she didn’t say something. I bet she wouldn’t even have called if Dad hadn’t told her to.”

“Nope, probably not,” came her sister’s blunt response. “Thank god for Dad I guess, right? I’m sure that the promise of built-in grandkids didn’t hurt your chances, either. Did she say anything about that?”

“Not much, actually. The most she really did was ask how old the girls are, and what gifts I thought she should get them come Christmastime. I told her to just let Grandma Clara knit them some scarves,” she snorted. “Miranda oughta love that.”

Rachel laughed, “Sounds like—” she was interrupted by a loud crashing noise. “—shit. Madison Grace, what are you doing up there?” Andy heard the unmistakable peal of her niece’s laughter and couldn’t help but smile.

“Gotta go, Andy. Talk to you later.” Her sister said quickly before shouting again, “Get back here, Maddie. That is not funny—” The line went dead.

Still smiling, Andy shook her head as she descended the stairs into the subway. There was so much about this week that could (and likely would) go wrong, but Andy couldn’t help but look forward to it regardless. Getting to introduce her family to the woman she loved and her family was a shit show waiting to happen, and yet still Andy found that she couldn’t wait for it to begin.

Realizing what she’d just thought, Andy froze. No, she reprimanded herself silently. No, you don’t love her. You have a crush, sure, but who doesn’t? That’s totally different.

Andy couldn’t love Miranda Priestly. She wouldn’t. Because falling for her boss was a disaster waiting to happen—one that Andy wasn’t sure that her heart could ever recover from.

  -----------------  

Miranda sighed, looking at her watch for what was likely the twentieth time in the last ten minutes as she paced the expanse of her foyer. Andréa had said she would be to the townhouse at 7:15, so naturally, Miranda assumed she would arrive by at least 7:00. It was now 7:12, and she was beginning to grow restless.

Against her will, Miranda’s mind conjured up endless potential reasons for the younger woman’s absence. Was there some sort of delay with the subways? Was there a crash, perhaps? Or maybe a freak accident? She felt the beginnings of anxiety bubbling up in her stomach. After all, if anyone were going to be caught in some awful, one-in-a million scenario, it would almost certainly be Andréa.

She rolled her eyes at herself, all too aware of how ridiculous she was being. Likely the girl had simply overslept. Despite what she would have Miranda believe she knew that Andréa was not, in fact, invincible.

Forcing herself to stop her pacing, Miranda decided that she needed a distraction. She headed toward the basement, where lay the entrance to the garage. As she approached, she could hear the unmistakable sounds of her daughters’ laughter.

Leaning against the doorway, she called out to Caroline and Cassidy, “You are aware that we’re going to be spending the entire day in the car, aren’t you? There’s no reason to subject yourselves to the backseat any more than necessary.” In their excitement to get going, the two had opted to wait in the Mercedes.

“We wanna be ready when Andy gets here!” Cassidy giggled. “Where is she? We’ve been waiting for hours.”

“It isn’t Andréa’s fault that you woke up at four in the morning,” Miranda pointed out. “Don’t be dramatic, darling.”

“It is too her fault! She should know that I can never rest when there’s a mystery to be solved,” there was a flash of red hair as she popped her head out the window, “And a surprise is one of the best mysteries ever. So, it’s totally her fault.”

“You’re such a nerd,” Caroline laughed, throwing one of the many pillows amassed in the backseat at her sister’s head.

Before Cassidy could retaliate in kind, there came a voice over Miranda’s shoulder.

“Talking about me, I see.” Miranda turned around to see a very flushed looking Andréa, cheeks rosy and eyes glowing.  She nearly had to bite her lip to keep herself from grinning at the sight.

“For the record: totally not my fault.” Andréa continued cheerily, heading towards the already open trunk.

“You’re late.” Caroline complained, climbing out of the car to assist the brunette and grabbing her backpack for her. “You were supposed to be here twenty minutes ago.”

“Wow, has anyone ever told you that you sound exactly like your mom when you’re pointing out the failures of others? It’s uncanny,” Andréa joked. “But by the rest of the world’s standards, I’m only five minutes late.”

Miranda scoffed at the slight, but was interrupted before she could respond.

“Oh my god, how much stuff did you shove in here?” Andréa exclaimed upon peering into the trunk and seeing it already packed full.

Miranda narrowed her eyes at the other woman’s choice of words. “As much as we needed,” she answered elusively. “There’s plenty of room for your things,” she waved vaguely toward the tiny spot at the far corner of the trunk that was still vacant.

Andréa rolled her eyes. “Gee, thanks. I’m glad I decided only to bring my backpack and suitcase. I’d considered bringing a purse or something, but that obviously would’ve been pushing it. Maybe I’ll be able to squeeze my stuff in between one of the hammocks and the… is that a table?”

“Perhaps if you had shown up on time, you could have arranged the luggage to your liking,” Miranda bristled. She was not in the mood to be mocked, no matter how funny Andréa seemed to think she was being.

“Alright, point taken,” Andréa raised her hands as if in surrender. “It’s too early to argue. Sorry, Tetris-Mistress.” With that, she began maneuvering her own suitcase into the trunk. Miranda returned into the house to ensure that everything was in order before locking the doors and turning on the home security system.

Upon her return the garage was open, and three sets of eyes were watching her from inside of the now waiting car.

Settling into the passenger seat and noticing that Andréa had finally removed her coat, Miranda inspected her outfit. A ratty grey Northwestern hoodie, blue jeans, and a pair of those horrible Tom shoes. She narrowed her eyes.

“Give me a break,” Andréa said defensively, apparently noticing her look. “I’m about to spend the better part of the next twelve hours driving. Not all of us want to be uncomfortable for the entire car ride,” She eyed Miranda’s own plum wrap dress and heels with suspicion.

“My outfit is perfectly functional, thank you. Julepér is known for his casualwear.”

“Can’t you two bicker and drive?” Came Cassidy’s voice from the backseat.

Miranda opened her mouth to chastise her daughter’s whining, but Andréa merely hummed in assent as she put the car into reverse and backed into the quiet street.

Watching her home disappear in the distance, Miranda closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had no idea what to expect from this week, but she couldn’t help but suspect that nothing would ever be the same again.

  ----------------- 

Andy sat behind the wheel of Miranda’s silver Mercedes as she gave a small, contented sigh. They’d been driving for over an hour now, and so far, so good. The four of them were listening to one of several playlists that she had procured for the trip (this one was created specifically with the twins in mind, with mostly pop music and a healthy dose of Gaga), while Caroline and Cassidy chattered quietly in the backseat. Andy had introduced them to The Alphabet Game only a few minutes into their drive, and the two of them had been at it ever since.

They were driving past one of many cornfields when Andy heard Caroline gasp from the backseat. “You didn’t tell us you brought snacks!”

“Ooh, lemme see,” came Cassidy’s voice. Suspicious crinkling sounds filled the air.

“You’re right, I didn’t.” Andy looked at Caroline in the rearview mirror, “So the only way you would know that is if you were snooping.” She narrowed her eyes.

The twins continued rummaging through her backpack, not an ounce of remorse on their faces.

“Can I have some Cheetos?” Cassidy pleaded, holding up a bag for Andy to see. “Please? They’re my favorite.”

Caroline continued digging through the bag, a look of concentration on her face. “Ah-ha!” She exclaimed, “Cool Ranch Doritos! Lemme have some. Pretty please? With sugar on top?”

Andy rolled her eyes. “You’re laying it on a little thick, there.”

“Girls, you already ate. There’s no need to eat that rubbish,” Miranda admonished, “Leave Andréa’s things alone.”

“Hey! It’s not all rubbish. There’s apples and stuff in there, too,” she said. “…Somewhere. But no road trip is complete without junk food.”

“All the more reason to have flown, then.”

“She packed your favorite too, mom.” Cassidy said excitedly, “Sea salt and vinegar! You did this on purpose, didn’t you, Andy? How did you know?”

Andy’s standard response to such questions, ‘It’s my job,’ was on the tip of her tongue. Before she could get the words out, however, she was interrupted by Caroline, talking around a large mouthful of Doritos.

“Duh. She’s our new step mom. She loooves us,” her arms waved around dramatically, apparently for emphasis. “Right, Andy?”

A blush creeped up her neck as Andy felt herself being pierced by Miranda’s icy blue stare at her daughter’s words. The question had been meant as a rhetorical one, but Andy decided that it needed answering, regardless.

She cleared her throat before rasping quietly, “Well… yeah. Of course I love you guys, Caroline.” Isn’t it obvious? “What’s not to love?”

Chancing a glance at Miranda, Andy found the other woman watching her intently, studying her face as if seeing it for the very first time. Their gazes caught, and Andy didn’t bother trying to hide the way that she felt.

The girls, both hyper with the excitement for the day to come, didn’t seem to have heard her reply as they began another cutthroat round of The Alphabet Game. Andy didn’t mind, though, because the person that the words had truly been meant for had heard them just fine.

 -----------------  

Miranda stared out her window, watching as fields full of grazing cattle sped by. Flat plains were slowly giving way to rolling hills, the trees atop them bursting with the yellows and oranges of autumn. The sun still shone brightly overhead, becoming dappled by the beginnings of gray clouds decorating the skies. She watched all this, but she saw nothing. Her mind was still preoccupied with the conversation between Andréa and her daughters from nearly two hours ago.

Of course I love you guys, Caroline,’ Andréa had all but whispered next to her, ‘What’s not to love?’

Miranda had looked for a hint of trickery, listened intently for any note of falsehood. As she searched the other woman’s face, however, she found naught but sincerity. Miranda gazed into entrancing brown eyes and expected to find there only guilt, the sort that came from giving a kind lie to an unknowing child.

She had expected this, and therefore was astonished to find only sincerity. Andréa’s eyes glowed with affection, and the sight had filled Miranda with warmth to see it—starting somewhere deep in her belly, and spreading slowly, until she felt its pleasant tingle in even the tips of her toes. Her heart clenched at the mere memory, though whether from pain or from pleasure she still wasn’t quite sure.

She’s simply fond of them, Miranda reasoned. They did spend an entire week together this summer, after all. And as Andréa said, what’s not to love?

Yes, that was all it was. What Miranda had seen in the younger woman’s eyes was simple affection for Caroline and Cassidy. Nothing more, nothing less. Not some deep seeded desire to truly be a part of their little family, and certainly not any sort of feelings for Miranda herself.

She shook her head at herself for so much as entertaining the thought. She reminded herself that this was, first and foremost, a business deal. One which would keep Miranda right where she belonged: by her daughters’ sides, while continuing to be the most successful Editor in Chief in Runway’s history.

And hadn’t Andréa made it clear that the reward she expected was to be rid of Runway, and therefore rid of the editor herself, entirely?  Feelings had nothing to do with their little arrangement, and she would do well to remember that. 

Still gazing out her window, Miranda was distracted from her reflections as Andréa put on her turn signal, inexplicably heading towards an exit sign that read Hershey, PA.

Turning to look at the younger woman in confusion, she was about to comment on this change of events when she heard Caroline’s voice from the backseat, “Hershey. I keep seeing that name on the signs. Is that like the chocolate?”

“Sure is,” came Andréa’s response, and Miranda could hear the smile in her voice.

As the girls quietly digested this information, they passed yet another sign, this one larger and filled with colorful photos of an assortment of candy. “Hershey World, Only 10 Miles Away!” it read.

As Andréa turned onto the exit, Cassidy whooped loudly, “Ah-ha! That’s our surprise, isn’t it? I’ve always wanted to go to Hershey World!”

“Is that really what it is, Andy?” Caroline asked excitedly, “Please tell me that’s what it is.”

“I have no idea what you guys are talking about,” Andréa replied playfully, and the faux innocence in her tone told them all that they needed to know.

“That’s totally it,” Caroline gushed. “Yes! Five-pound chocolate bars, here I come.”

At that, Miranda turned to look at both of her daughters, her tone serious. “There will be none of that. I want the two of you to enjoy yourselves, but I won’t have you giving yourselves type two diabetes in a fit of chocolate-hazed madness.”

Caroline’s face fell. “You’re not gonna let us have any chocolate? At Hershey World?” She looked positively distraught, as did her sister beside her.

Miranda shook her head. “I didn’t say that, Bobbsey. Don’t be silly. I’m simply saying that we’ll need to practice moderation.”

At that, the grins returned to her daughters’ faces in full force. Miranda couldn’t help but smile, herself. Chocolate was a favorite of all three of the Priestly women. Andréa had certainly chosen her surprise well.

The woman in question shrugged beside her. “I’ve always really wanted to go, and I figured that you guys would probably appreciate it, too. I’ve seen your mom sneak many a chocolate at Runway.”

Miranda’s eyes widened slightly before she could school her expression. She very rarely indulged, and always took the utmost care to ensure that no one was around to see her do so. “I very much doubt that,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” Andréa smirked, “Then how would I know that Mounds is your favorite candy? And that, occasionally, you like to eat two of the little ‘fun-sized’ ones after a particularly stressful day?”

Miranda raised a disdainful eyebrow, but chose not to comment. “And how are we to fit this little excursion into our schedule?” she asked, shamelessly changing the subject. “We still have at least seven hours of driving ahead of us, Andréa.”

Andréa looked at the girls in the rearview mirror. “Cassidy, could you give your mom my backpack?”

Obediently, Cassidy handed it over.

Turning to glance at Miranda, who now held the garish orange bag in her lap, Andréa pointed at the pocket in the very front. “Look in there.”

Inside, Miranda found four tickets, each with the words “Adventure Fast Track Pass” scrolled across the top in bold print.

“With those bad boys, we’ll get sent straight to the front of the line for any five rides we choose,” Andréa proclaimed proudly. “So, we really shouldn’t be there for more than an hour or two. Tops.”

Miranda listened with half an ear as the girls began to chatter excitedly with Andréa about which rides they planned to choose, and wondered to herself if perhaps this trip wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

 -----------------  

The air whooshed past Andy’s face as she felt the rollercoaster slow to a stop. Her stomach bubbled with fresh waves of nausea, and she freed the hand that Caroline had been squeezing tightly in order to better cover her mouth.

“Are you okay, Andy?” came Cassidy’s voice. She and Miranda had been sitting in the cart right behind Caroline and herself, but she sounded much farther away than that.

Andy turned around in her seat to look at her, but stopped suddenly when it set the world spinning around her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she held her head in her hands. Nope, definitely not okay.

That had been what Andy meant to say, but all that came out was a slightly slurred “Nuh—no…”

Unbuckling her seatbelt, Andy stumbled out of her seat and onto the platform of the Wildcat, the huge wooden coaster that had been the twins’ pick for first ride of the day. She squinted her eyes, opening them just enough to see the people around her as she weaved through the crowd.

Finally, Andy found what she was looking for: a bench. She slumped down on the seat, putting her head between her knees. Is this what getting old feels like? she wondered miserably. Riding rollercoasters used to be fun, however the way she felt now was anything but. She stayed in this position until she heard Miranda’s voice heading towards her.

“Andréa?” there was an unmistakable note of concern in the other woman’s tone. Had Andy felt less dreadful, she might have been touched.

“M’okay,” she mumbled, head still between her knees.

“Yes, you’re quite the picture of good health.” Miranda said tightly.

Slowly, Andy lifted her head up. Swallowing the bile that rose in her throat at the movement, she tried again. “Really. I’m fine. I just…” she held back a gag, “Apparently can’t ride rollercoasters like I used to. No big deal.”

Miranda hummed quietly. “No big deal. Considering those are the exact words you used as your appendix burst at your desk, forgive me if I no longer trust your judgment on such things.”

“Are you gonna puke?” Caroline asked, eyes wide. “You’re totally gonna puke. Thanks for not doing it on me, I guess. Gross.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Please don’t use the ‘p’ word.” Andy could feel herself blanch, and there was no holding back her gag this time. “You three go on and enjoy the rides. I’ll be fine right here, don’t you worry.”

Miranda checked her watch, ignoring Andy’s statement entirely. “Girls,” she said, looking up at Caroline and Cassidy. “Mommy is going to stay here with Andréa. You have…” she glanced back down at her watch once more, “Seventy minutes to ride as many rides as you like, but I expect to meet you back here at one o’clock. Not a moment later.”

Both twins looked as stunned as Andy felt. Notoriously overprotective Miranda, letting her darling daughters out of her sight for over an hour? And at an amusement park, of all places?

Seeing their astonishment, Miranda continued, “Are you not the same two children who, only a week ago, complained of a lack of independence?” she studied each of their faces in turn, finger tapping gently at her lip.

“If the idea makes you uncomfortable, Bobbseys, then of course I’ll go with you. I simply thought that you might enjoy a bit of freedom,” she said gently, before waving a hand in Andy’s direction. “And of course I don’t want to leave our Andréa alone in this state.”

There it was again. Our Andréa. She felt some color return to her cheeks at the words, and the same warmth bubbled up inside as she had felt earlier that week in Irv’s office, when Miranda had so decisively called Andy hers. Had it really only been four days since this all began?

Apparently coming to their senses, both girls shook their heads.

“No, we’re not uncomfortable,” Cassidy amended quickly, “Just surprised.”

“Yeah,” Caroline added, “I remember when you yelled at us at Disneyland Paris because you thought you lost us. That was scary.” Her eyes went wide at the memory.

Andy very seriously doubted that Miranda had truly yelled at anyone, let alone her children. The experience must have left quite the impression, though, for the girls to still remember it. The Priestleys hadn’t vacationed in Paris since before Andy had been at Runway.

“Yes, well.” Miranda sniffed, “That was nearly five years ago. You’re much older now. Not to mention, this park is a fraction of the size of Disney.” She paused for a moment, expression thoughtful. “I expect a text from one of you every fifteen minutes until we meet again, letting me know where you are. Understood?”

Both girls nodded, faces clearly torn between excitement and nervousness.

Miranda gave her daughters a small smile. “Excellent. We’ll see you here at 12:30, then. Call one of us if you need anything at all. We won’t be far.”

What does she have up her sleeve? she wondered as Miranda turned her smile towards Andy, and Cassidy and Caroline wandered away. She offered Andy a hand.

“Shall we?”

Andy studied her hand for a moment before accepting the help up. “I guess so,” she said warily, “Thanks.”

Miranda didn’t immediately let go of her hand. Andy could feel the other woman studying her under Chanel sunglasses, and she looked away awkwardly, not sure what to do with the twins no longer there as a buffer. She grasped at her stomach with her free hand, her body protesting to its new, upright position.

She felt a sense of loss as Miranda finally released her hand. The other woman jerked her head toward a food stand nearby. “I think I have just the thing for that.” She turned on her heel and headed toward the stand in question, and Andy silently followed.

 

 

Chapter Text

Miranda and Andréa sat at a little table in the sunlight, sharing a soft pretzel and quietly watching the passerby. Generally, sitting in silence with others filled Miranda with unease. It was part of the reason she preferred to ride in elevators alone. She hated silence, mostly because she hated the meaningless chatter that others insisted upon filling it with.

But at some point in their working relationship, Miranda had become quite comfortable sharing silence with Andréa. There was no awkwardness, no anxiety over whether to expect forced conversation. The two of them were able to sit quietly together and just… be. This was something that Miranda rarely experienced with anyone, and therefore something about her relationship with Andréa which she had come to truly cherish.

Initially, Andréa had been apprehensive to eating anything at all. She failed to understand how food could possibly relieve her nausea, and feared it would only make matters worse. But eventually, upon Miranda’s insistence, (and after bullying Miranda into eating some as well), she agreed. She began slowly, barely picking off anything at all. Now, though, the pretzel was all but gone, with Miranda having had little of it herself.

Andréa took a final swig of her ginger ale, a small smile on her face. “I’m feeling better now. Thanks, Miranda.” She gave Miranda a questioning look, “How did you know that would help?”

“My pregnancy with the girls was rather hard on me,” she admitted with a small shrug. “When you spend the better part of eight months feeling ill, you learn a few tricks.” She waved a hand at the food in front of them.

Andréa nodded. There were a few more minutes of quiet people-watching before either of them spoke again.

“So. How do you feel about carnival-style games?” Andréa asked.

“I can’t say I’ve given them enough thought to have any feelings on them, truthfully.”

“Well how do you feel about trying some out, then?” Excitement lit up Andréa’s face, and Miranda felt there was very little she wouldn’t do to ensure that the look stayed there.

She wondered vaguely if she was going to regret it as she answered almost immediately, “I don’t see why not.”

But then Andréa smiled hugely, and Miranda forgot about her other concerns for a moment.

“Awesome,” she said, hopping up. “Let’s try it out, then.”

As it turned out, neither of them were exceptionally good at any of the games they attempted. And they tried several— including ring toss (a complete failure for them both), balloon darts (yet another failure), and the strength tester (which, to the astonishment of both of them, Andréa had come quite close to winning).

It wasn’t until they decided to give plate breaking a go that they experienced any measure of success. Miranda lobbed the last of her balls, breaking yet another plate with the motion. Miranda couldn’t help but grin as Andréa cheered loudly beside her.

“What prize can I get ya?” asked the man behind the counter.

Not having bothered looking at the prizes before, Miranda glanced over her options. Before her was a wide array of cheaply made stuffed animals: a few fuzzy pink monkeys, an assortment of differently colored teddy bears, some of those abominable Minion characters, and… Miranda nearly laughed out loud. It was just too perfect.

She nodded toward her choice, and the man handed her the last of the small stuffed dragons on display. With scales bright green and wings blue and shiny, it was one of the tackiest things Miranda had ever laid eyes upon. No sooner had the man put it in her hands, Miranda held it out toward Andréa, eyes sparkling with amusement.

Andréa raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Oh. It’s for me? Are you sure? One of the girls might like it.”

Miranda gave her a flabbergasted look. “Caroline and Cassidy have plenty of toys, Andréa. Don’t be ridiculous.” She placed it in Andréa’s waiting hands and looked her over before smirking. “How appropriate.”

Andréa, now clutching her gift, cocked her head. “Appropriate? How’s that?”

“They call you the Dragon Tamer, do they not?”

“I—they—” Andréa’s eyes went wide with shock as she stuttered, and Miranda’s smirk grew all the wider. “I didn’t realize you knew about that,” Andréa said finally, face on fire.

“You’ll find that very little occurs in the halls of Runway which I’m unaware of. As you’re so fond of saying, ‘it’s my job’.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Andréa's voice was growing frantic, “I’ve been telling them to stop calling me that for ages. It’s embarrassing, and so inappropriate—”

“I found it rather amusing, actually,” Miranda interrupted, fighting the urge to chuckle at Andréa’s apparent horror.

“Amusing.” Andréa stared at her in disbelief, mouth agape. “You’re not angry?”

“Tell me, do I often fail to make my displeasure known?” she gave her a pointed look.

Andréa shook her head slowly, shock still written plainly on her features. She cleared her throat, checking her phone for the time before looking back at Miranda.

“Well… we’ve got a little time before we need to meet the girls,” she was now looking anywhere but at Miranda, cheeks still pink with embarrassment. “Is there anything you want to do while we’re still here? Any rides you’d like to try out, maybe?”

Miranda surveyed their surroundings. “Roller coasters are obviously out of the question,” she nodded toward her choice, “But what of ferris wheels?”

Andréa moved her hand to her stomach, looking thoughtful. “Ferris wheels are doable, I think.”

And doable it was. The two sat across from one another, enjoying the view as their cart climbed slowly higher. The ride wasn’t especially tall—but then again, the park wasn’t especially large. As they neared the top, Miranda could see much of the park below.

Miranda tried unsuccessfully to distract herself with the sights. The cart was much smaller than she anticipated, causing her to be so close to Andréa that their legs nearly touched. Hyperaware of her every movement, Miranda avoided the all-too-familiar warmth she felt every time their skin so much as brushed.

Perhaps this wasn’t the best idea, she thought anxiously.

“Look, the girls!” Andréa exclaimed, pointing down animatedly. Miranda followed Andréa’s gaze and found that she was right—there they were, side by side, walking out of Lightning Racer, the coaster next door.

“Here, hold this for me.” Quickly, Andréa placed the dragon into Miranda’s lap. In a blur of motion she pulled out her phone and leaned her torso out of the cart, snapping several photos in rapid succession.

While Miranda was busy being astonished at her for risking life and limb for a simple photo, Andréa turned and snapped a picture of Miranda as well. The flurry of movement paused as Andréa inspected her handiwork—a silly, crooked little grin plastered on her face.

Miranda held out her hand. “Let me see.”

“Nope.” Andréa didn’t look up from her screen.

Miranda huffed impatiently, plucking the phone from Andréa’s hands. Ignoring her protestations, she gave a cursory glance at the snapshots of Caroline and Cassidy before inspecting the photo of herself.

It wasn’t half bad. The sun shone on Miranda’s hair, giving her a sort of glow that contrasted with the silliness of the toy dragon she held in her lap. Satisfied, she handed the phone back to Andréa.

“What on Earth are you doing with them?” Miranda asked.

“I’m sending them to the girls,” she answered, “Maybe they can guess where we are.”

Miranda couldn’t help but smile at that. She had given Andréa’s number to Cassidy and Caroline ages ago. It was for emergencies—her assistants were often better about answering their phones than Miranda herself. (That she hadn’t done this with any previous assistant was not relevant in the slightest).

It was obvious the twins had begun to use Andréa’s number for more than just emergencies, however. Miranda couldn’t say that she minded—and it didn’t seem that Andréa did, either.

The irony of her situation did not escape Miranda. Attempting to forge a bond between her daughters and Stephen—whom she had married for the express purpose of providing a normal family, a father figure they saw more than twice a week—had been a monumental failure.

And yet they had no problem whatsoever when it came to bonding with Andréa.

Andréa, with whom Miranda’s relationship had never been anything even approaching normal. Andréa, who was supposed to be the exact opposite of what their little family needed. Andréa, whose presence was, Miranda reminded herself, painfully temporary.

“Is something wrong?”

Pulled out of her reverie, Miranda realized too late that she had been staring at Andréa while lost in thought. Unsure of what to say, she instead answered with another question.  “Why did you do this?”

“Do what?” Where before there was concern, Andréa’s voice was now tinged with defensiveness.

“This.” Miranda gestured vaguely around them. “All of this. Bringing us to a place you knew we would all enjoy. Putting so much effort into planning a surprise for us—for the girls.”

Andréa furrowed her brow. “I’m confused. Are you… are you seriously angry at me for doing something thoughtful?”

“I’m not angry,” Miranda rolled her eyes. “I’m perplexed. By all accounts you should be doing your best to make this trip as miserable as possible.” It’s what I would have done.

The cart swayed gently in the breeze. Miranda could hear the sounds of the park as they drifted up from below: the mechanical clicks and rattles of surrounding attractions, children laughing, the chorus of high-pitched screams from the coaster next door.

“Even if I wanted to make you miserable…” Andréa said finally, “There’s no reason to punish Cassidy and Caroline.” She ran a hand through her windblown hair as she stared at the park below. “But I don’t want you to be miserable, Miranda. That’s the last thing I want.”

Miranda tilted her head as she studied her. “And what do you want, Andréa?”

Slowly, she turned her gaze to meet Miranda’s once more. Rosy lips parted to respond, “I—”

Miranda’s bag began to chirp, and for one mad second she considered it tossing onto the ground below for daring to interrupt. Gritting her teeth, she dug out her phone from where it lay hidden at the bottom of her purse. A glance at the screen told her that it was Caroline calling.

“Hello, Bobbsey.” Miranda tried to sound as cheery as possible as she answered.

“Where are you?” Caroline demanded, voice hard in a way that it only became when she was pretending not to be upset. “We were supposed to meet five minutes ago.”

Next, she heard Cassidy, not bothering to hide her panic, “Did something happen? Is Andy still sick?”

Disbelieving, Miranda checked her watch only to see that her daughters were correct: it was now 12:36.

“One question at a time, darlings,” she reassured them, “Everything is fine—Andréa feels much better now.”

“Where are you?” Caroline repeated, “We got the weirdo pictures Andy sent us. Are you on the ferris wheel or something?”

“Yes. We are…” Miranda looked around for confirmation, “Approximately three-fourths of the way around, now.”

“Oh… okay,” Caroline’s voice was apprehensive, “So nothing’s wrong?”

“No, nothing is wrong. I must have just lost track of the time.”

“…right.” Cassidy sounded just as skeptical as her sister.

Miranda couldn’t blame them. She was surprised, herself. In recent years she had become rather good at keeping her word to her children. Even before, however—when she was scarce present at all—Miranda was never late to see them because she had ‘lost track of time’. It simply wasn’t something that she did.

Exiting the ferris wheel a few minutes later, Cassidy and Caroline met them at the exit, giggling quietly while hunched over a scrap of paper.

“What’s so funny?” Miranda asked, eyeing them with a smile. Cassidy handed her the paper in question, and Miranda’s eyes widened. “Oh, no,” she said seriously. “That won’t do at all.”

It was a photo snapped of the four of them while on Skyrush—the very first coaster they rode together that morning. It was horrid. In the forefront was Andréa, face green and squished tight as Caroline squeezed her hand next to her, mouth open mid-scream.

Worse, though, was what lay behind them. Cassidy looked fine—the only one who managed to spot the camera, she wore a smug grin. No wonder she decided to buy it, Miranda thought. No, the true disaster was sitting next to her.

Hair awhirl about her head, Miranda wore a grimace. The picture was less flattering than even the worst of Page Six. She heard Andréa cackle behind her as she finally caught sight of it. Miranda handed the photo back to Cassidy begrudgingly, wishing instead to throw it away.

Eyes roving the park around her, Miranda found an employee. Glaring impatiently until he took notice, eventually he came their way.  “How can I—” the boy started brightly, but Miranda cut him off.

“Where are those people? The ones who harassed us as soon as we stepped foot in this place?” she asked.

His eyes widened in alarm, “Harassed? Who hara—”

She rolled her eyes, “With the cameras.” She would not deign to call them photographers.

“Oh, you mean the Ginger Snappers?” he said brightly, “They’re at the main entrance. The quickest way would be through the Pioneer Frontier and just past the…” seeing the look on Miranda’s face, he faltered. “Or… I could go get one for you?”

Miranda gave a single nod, and with that, the boy ran off. Andréa raised her eyebrows. “Really, Miranda?”

“Really,” she said seriously.

Caroline and Cassidy only sighed in resignation, quite used to this sort of thing by now.

Not five minutes later the boy returned, winded, with two rather irritated-looking ‘Ginger Snappers’ in tow. They tried many different poses, Miranda checking every photo until at last she found one that was acceptable.

Ticket in hand, Miranda led them toward the nearest gift shop. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Andréa slipping the employees a tip before following behind.

Miranda entered the little shop intending to buy only her photo. Her children had other plans, however. When they left—quite some time later—each of them had a trinket of some kind.

For Caroline, a necklace with a small silver Kiss attached. Cassidy picked out a phone charm with a Tootsie Roll dangling from its chain and, after much pouting and convincing on her part, a miniature frame to display the awful Skyrush photo that had started this mess in the first place.

Even Andréa picked something out, buying herself the most hideous sweatshirt that Miranda had ever laid eyes upon. Bright cerulean, with various anthropomorphic candies surrounding the Hershey World logo, Andréa laughed at Miranda’s sneer upon seeing it.

For herself, Miranda bought only the photo. The family photo, she caught herself thinking more than once. She kept it wrapped safely in its packaging, tucked away in her bag.

By now Miranda was more than ready to leave the park, and could see from Andréa’s sluggish movements that she was, as well. The girls clearly weren’t, however—so she indulged them by agreeing to one more ride before getting back on the road.

After much deliberation, they were able to agree upon the merry-go-round. The girls argued that the ride was for babies, but acquiesced after seeing how green every other suggestion made Andréa.

Perched upon a camel, Miranda watched in amusement as Cassidy attempted unsuccessfully to capture a selfie with Caroline on the zebra beside her. She felt a pleasant sort of drowsiness pull at her eyelids as she watched the world spin slowly around her, allowed them to close for a moment as she listened to the ride music as it mingled with her daughter’s chattering.

Miranda’s eyes opened to see Andréa was watching her from the horse on her left. Brown eyes were flecked with gold in the sunlight, and for a moment Miranda was mesmerized. “You never told me what it is that you want,” she said, not looking away for an instant.

“What I…?” Andréa’s head tilted to the side as she remembered back to their conversation on the ferris wheel. “Oh,” she said, eyes never leaving hers. “I just want you to be happy, Miranda. That’s all.”

Miranda closed her eyes once more, and felt as her face stretched into a grin. Happy.

Chapter Text

The afternoon sun shone dimly into the Mercedes as a misting of rain pattered against the windows. Andy heard Caroline and Cassidy breathing deeply from the backseat, having finally given in to their exhaustion from the day.

In the passenger seat, Miranda had been silent for so long Andy assumed that she, too, had fallen asleep. When she spoke again, Andy jumped in surprise.

“I’ll take my turn after our next rest stop,” came Miranda’s soft voice.

Andy raised her eyebrows, confused. “Your turn?” she asked, “Your turn for what?”

Is Miranda scheduling her next nap or something? she thought to herself, What the hell is she talking about?

“My turn to drive. You’ve driven for nearly five hours today, Andréa. I assumed you would appreciate a break.”

Oh.

“Um. Okay. Sure. Next rest stop. Thanks.” Andy could feel Miranda’s eyes on her now, but it was more than her life was worth to admit that—

“You truly didn’t think I knew how to drive?” Miranda asked, her voice sounding full of something suspiciously close to amusement.

“I mean… it’s not like I’ve ever seen you do it. Or heard you talk about it,” Or considered the idea for even half a second, Andy quipped internally. “Can you really blame me?”

“Yes. Yes, I can. I’m 51 years old, Andréa. Honestly, what do you think I did before hiring a driver? Walk?” The words were accusatory, but her tone was light. Playful, even.  

Andy blinked. Was Miranda teasing her? Had she somehow driven them into an alternate dimension? Sure, Miranda was more relaxed around her than ever these days… but this was different, somehow.

Flirtatious, she thought before she could stop herself.

“Well… yeah. Or take the subway. You know, like the rest of New York,” Imagining La Priestly on public transit was almost enough to make Andy laugh. “But on second thought, I’m not sure why I thought you would do anything like the rest of the world does. That would be too easy, and therefore very un-Miranda-like.”

Miranda laughed—a real, genuine laugh, not the fake one she used for business luncheons or dinner parties— and for a moment Andy thought that it might just be the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard.

Knowing better than to let herself go down that rabbit hole, Andy attempted to distract herself. “What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Oh,” Andy could hear the smile in her voice, “That sounded very much like something that my sister might have said, once.” Seeming to realize that she had just revealed something personal, Miranda stiffened in the seat next to her.

Andy considered briefly whether she should use Miranda’s admission as an opening for the conversation that she had been both eagerly awaiting and dreading. She knew that if they wanted even a prayer of passing whatever test their immigration officer, Eugene Yurman, had in store for them, she was eventually going to have to do the unthinkable: she was going to have to get Miranda to talk about her past.

It’s now or never, she thought, steeling herself.

“I didn’t know that you have a sister, Miranda,” Andy began carefully. Though she knew she was only doing what was necessary, asking Miranda questions about her life before Runway seemed about as good of an idea as cuddling a saber-toothed tiger.

Miranda sniffed, and all of her former playfulness went up in smoke. “Yes. Well. I’m sure there are a great many things you don’t know. I see no reason to make a fuss over this topic in particular.”

Ignoring the jibe, Andy tried a different tactic. “You realize we’ll have to discuss these things eventually, right?”

“We most certainly will not.”

“Yeah, actually, we will.” Andy asserted, “These are exactly the kinds of questions that the investigators are going to be asking. I found a list online. Several lists, actually.”

“Besides,” She continued, “It’s not like you’ll be the only one opening up. I know just about everything there is to know about you.” Feeling like she’d somehow admitted too much, Andy felt a blush creep up her neck. “You, on the other hand, know next to nothing about me.”

“Nonsense. I know that you’re from Ohio, and that you apparently enjoy breathing down my neck with inappropriate inquiries into my personal life,” Miranda bristled. “And you do not know everything there is to know about me, Andréa Sachs. Don’t flatter yourself.”

Andy snorted. “You’re kidding, right? You really think I’ve spent the last three and a half years working for you without picking up on a few things? Try me.”

Not giving Miranda a chance to respond, Andy started in. “Your favorite color is blue. Not just any old blue, though. Azure. And you hate just about every shade of orange there is.” She was on a roll, now. “Your birthday is September 27, 1958. Your favorite food other than steak is spaghetti and meatballs, but you pretend that it’s beef bourguignon because it sounds fancier and has fewer carbs.”

Years of seemingly useless information spilled forth of their own accord, and she scarcely stopped for breath as she continued: “Your middle name is Rose, but your Wikipedia page says that your name was Miriam Ethel Princhek until you were twenty. You’re allergic to cats, and you’re a dog person even though you tell people that you only bought Patricia for the girls.”

Andy paused for a moment, thoughtful. “I’m also pretty sure that you have a tattoo.”

The silence coming from the passenger seat was deafening. Miranda was apparently at a loss for words. Well, there’s a first for everything, Andy supposed.

Her voice gentled. “See? I don’t need much. I know most of what I need to. All I’m asking for is some basic family history, here. I don’t need an autobiography or anything.”

When Andy was greeted with still more silence, she began to wonder if perhaps she’d said too much. After all, Miranda had told her exactly none of this information— all her knowledge came from a healthy mix of late-night internet searches, paying close attention, and caring entirely too much for her own damn good.

Just as she was beginning to consider apologizing for overstepping, however, Miranda spoke.

“Her name was Margaret.” Her voice was so quiet that it was almost a whisper, and Andy resisted the urge to lean closer to hear more clearly.

Miranda paused for a few moments, staring at her hands in her lap as she continued. “She was three years older than me, and we were always quite close. Much closer than I ever was to our younger brother, Jeremiah.”

She stopped, and Andy waited, not wanting to interrupt. But when more information didn’t seem to be forthcoming, she risked asking another question.

“…What about your parents?”

Andy glanced over to see the other woman smoothing down invisible wrinkles in her dress, a distant look upon her face. There was another long pause before she answered the question.

“My father, Jeremiah Sr, was a rabbi.” She sighed deeply.

“My mother’s name was Ethel. She was a stay at home parent.” Miranda turned to look out the window as she continued to speak softly, “She ran a small business from home, doing alterations and repairs for other neighborhood families.”

Miranda hesitated, and Andy stayed quiet, barely daring breathe. Maybe, just maybe, if Miranda could forget that Andy was there, then she would keep talking.

Finally, Miranda continued. “That was how I learned to sew,” she said. “She taught Maggie, so that she could help with business. And when I was young…” Miranda quieted for a moment, tapping her lip in thought, “…perhaps 10, my sister taught me so that I could help, as well.”

Andy couldn’t believe her luck. Miranda Priestly was sitting next to her, telling Andy about her childhood. About her history. How many people could say they’d experienced the same?

Miranda didn’t seem to have anything else to say, but Andy was bursting with questions now. She knew that she should just be grateful for what she was given, but she was filled with a sense of greed for knowledge of the woman sitting next to her. Now that she’d had a taste, she only wanted more.

Andy decided to push her bit of good fortune and ask the question that had been burning in her mind for days now.

“You mentioned, at the Office of Immigration… about your family. You said that you were…” Andy wasn’t sure how to put it.

“Estranged?” the edge returned to her voice.

“Um. Yeah. I mean—yes.” Andy stumbled over her words. Shit, she thought, maybe the saber-toothed tiger would’ve been the better choice, after all.

“I left home at sixteen,” came Miranda’s response. The words came out slowly, as if she measured the weight of each syllable before it passed her lips. “I haven’t spoken to my parents since that day, nor my brother.”

Andy waited for a mention of her sister, but none came.

Is she really gonna make me ask? Andy thought, frustrated. Judging by the silence filling the vehicle, the answer would be yes.

Of course. Leave it to Miranda to make this process as difficult as physically possible.

“And your—what about Maggie? Your sister, I mean. Do you still talk to her?”

“Margaret died when I was fifteen.”

Andy’s eyes widened with shock. “Oh, I’m so—”

“That’s all I wish to say about it,” Miranda said, and there was no arguing with the finality of her tone.

Andy could’ve smacked herself. Of course Miranda didn’t want to hear how sorry Andy was about her dead sister. What good did saying sorry ever do for anyone, in situations like these?

She glanced quickly at Miranda, only to see that she now sat as far away from Andy as was physically possible without jumping out the window. She stared out at the surrounding hills, shoulders stiff.

Well, I guess story time is over, Andy thought, resigned.

Andy clenched the steering wheel tightly, devoting more concentration than was probably necessary on the road ahead in her attempt to avoid looking at the other woman anymore. She didn’t want Miranda to look at her face and see the pity that was surely written there. She knew it would not be welcome.

Andy had been dying to know more about Miranda for ages. Now that she knew, though, she was torn between wanting to know everything, and wishing she knew nothing at all.

She felt that same clench of sympathy in her chest as she had earlier that week, when Miranda let slip to Yurman that the two little girls currently dozing in the backseat made up her entire family. They were some of the very same feelings that ran through Andy so long ago, on that fateful night in Paris. The night she found Miranda crying on a couch in her hotel room, and for the first time was able to see a glimpse of the woman beneath the glamorous, steely mask.

Maybe that’s part of the problem, Andy thought.

More than once, now, Miranda had been forced to let down her carefully cultivated guard around Andy. Maybe, if Andy offered up a bit of herself in return, Miranda would feel less exposed?

Feeling the tension rolling off the woman next to her in waves, Andy figured it was worth a shot. What have I got to lose? she thought, Besides everything, that is.

She cleared her throat, trying to ignore the nervousness bubbling in her belly. “Green,” she said. “My favorite color is green. Like sunlight shining through the leaves on a bright morning. I don’t know the official name for it. I’m sure you would, though.”

As she had expected, she received no response. She carried on, “My birthday is March 2, 1981, and my full name is Andrea Elizabeth Sachs. Veggie pizza is my favorite food. Deep dish used to be my go-to, but I’ve been converted since moving to New York.”

Another quick glance to her right told her that Miranda was still facing away from her, but she at least looked less like she was contemplating ducking and rolling out the door.

“I’m the youngest of three. My brother Ben—the oldest—he’s a middle school teacher. He’s always been a massive goofball, so it’s fitting. I think the girls are gonna get along with him really well.

“Rachel’s in the middle. She can be pretty no-nonsense, but Ben and I have a knack for bringing out her fun side. She and Cameron have two kids: Madison and Jacob. They’re four and one, and the sweetest things ever. You’ll see, though,” she assured Miranda. “No one’s immune to Maddie’s charms.”

She wasn’t sure what else to say. Before she could overthink it, she was relieved to hear Miranda finally speak up next to her.

“And your parents?” she asked, “What of them?” She was looking at Andy intently, now.

Andy shifted in her seat uncomfortably.

“Oh. Right. Well, my dad is Mark. He’s easy-going most of the time. He seems to get along with everyone he meets.” She furrowed her brow, not particularly wanting to talk about her mom.

I’m sure Miranda didn’t want to talk about her mom, either, Andy reasoned. It’s only fair. Besides, it was probably better to prepare her faux-fiancée for the worst.

“My mom is Pam. Pamela, really, but everyone calls her Pam. She’s, uh…” still sore about their conversation from the night before, Andy searched for a way to describe her mother that wasn’t insulting. Overbearing? Controlling? Difficult?

“…not quite so easy-going,” she finished lamely.

“I see,” Miranda said, still watching Andy with rapt attention. Andy squirmed slightly under her gaze. “And what do they have to say about our situation?”

“Our situation?”

“Our engagement, Andréa.” Miranda said impatiently, “What did they say when you told them?”

Andy froze. She had been putting off having that particular conversation with her parents, seeing as merely mentioning that she and Miranda were ‘together’ had gone so poorly. It didn’t occur to her that Miranda would expect them to already know that they were apparently engaged, as well.

“Yeah… about that—” Andy started.

“Andréa.” Miranda cut her off, soft voice suddenly aghast, “I’m sure you are not about to tell me that we are currently barreling towards the home of two people who have no idea that myself or my children are coming. I’m sure you’re not going to say this, because that would be absolutely the most reckless, idiotic thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve never taken you for an id—”

“No, no, I didn’t say that!” Andy said quickly. She could feel her voice getting shrill with nerves, and took a steadying breath before continuing.

“They know that you’re coming. They even know that we’re… together.” God, I have to figure out how to stop blushing every time I say that, she thought, embarrassed. “They just don’t know that we’re engaged.”

Miranda, seeming somewhat pacified by the knowledge that she was not about the be the worst Thanksgiving surprise in Sachs family history, pinched the bridge of her nose.

“And when were you planning to tell them, Andréa? At the wedding?”

“I haven’t really decided yet,” she said honestly. “They weren’t exactly thrilled when I told them we were together, and I just sort of chickened out after that.”

Both women froze as they heard movement from the backseat. Having been previously distracted by their discussion, Andy suddenly realized that she hadn’t heard the deep, even breathing of sleep for quite some time. Staring back at her when she checked the rearview mirror were two identical pairs of small, piercing blue eyes.

Miranda turned in her seat to face her now wide-awake children. “I would scold you for eavesdropping, but I suppose we didn’t give you much of a choice.” She grimaced slightly. “I’m sorry we woke you.”

She received no response, both girls staring at her with looks of concern upon their faces.

“Well?” she raised her eyebrows, “You must have questions. Out with them, Bobbseys.”

The twins looked at each other before turning their gazes back toward the front.

“Why aren’t your parents happy, Andy?” Cassidy’s voice sounded considerably smaller than usual. “Do they not like us?”

Andy felt her heart clench in her chest. She hadn’t even considered how her words would sound to eleven-year-old ears.

“Of course they like you, sweetie. They just…” Andy was at a loss for words. They just what? she thought desperately, They’re just convinced that your mom is a bitch, and that I’ve suddenly taken up gold digging as a hobby?

“Are they homophobic?” Caroline asked.

“I—what?

Miranda turned to look at Andy before giving a delicate shrug. “It’s a fair question.”

She sighed. “No, they aren’t homophobic.” That would be too simple, she thought bitterly. “It’s just…” she struggled to find the right words.

“They aren’t especially fond of me,” Miranda said what Andy couldn’t bring herself to. “You know I have a talent for rubbing others the wrong way.” She smiled at her daughters wryly.

“It’s not just that, though.” Andy insisted. She saw no reason to deny the truth, but she was feeling very suddenly defensive of Miranda. “It’s that, for another week, your mom’s still technically my boss. And that she has a lot more money than I do—”

“That’s stupid,” interrupted Caroline. “Lots of people have more money than you do. Are you only supposed to date poor people?”

“Enough,” Miranda warned.

“I’m just saying,” she whined. “That’s a stupid reason not to like us. We can’t help how much money we have.”

Andy tried not to laugh as Miranda held her face in her hands, shoulders slumped. “We are getting off topic,” she said miserably, voice muffled.

“So, they think you’re marrying mom because she’s rich?” Cassidy asked.

“Well, they don’t know I’m marrying her yet.” Andy reminded her, “But… yeah. They might think it’s because of money.” 

“That’s not it, though, right?” her voice was tight with anxiety. “You’re not marrying mom because of her money?”

“No,” Andy said firmly. “I’m marrying your mom because…” she bit her lip, not sure how to put it.

“…I’m marrying her because I care about her,” Andy said carefully. “And because I care about you two. Money has nothing to do with it.”

There, she thought. That’s true without being humiliating.

Both twins nodded, seemingly satisfied with her response as they began digging out various forms of technology from their respective travel bags.

She glanced at Miranda and found she was studying her. “That could’ve gone worse,” Andy murmured.

“Worse than hearing you explain to my children that your parents think me some sort of—of…” she struggled to find the right word.

“Sugar mama?” Andy offered, biting back a grin.

Miranda groaned, “Never say those words to me again,” and there was no holding back Andy’s cackle this time.

Apparently following her daughters’ lead, Miranda pulled out her MacBook and portable hotspot, probably to catch up on the small mountain of work that she would be missing in the days to come. Printing was in three days and, as always, staff was scrambling to get every minute detail perfect by the deadline. Andy knew she should probably feel guilty for pulling Miranda away during what was always the busiest week of the month… but she couldn’t quite bring herself to.

Andy smiled as she glanced at the little dragon that she had placed on the dashboard in front of her. It was a small, cheap little thing—probably not even worth the five dollars that Miranda spent on it. That didn’t matter, though. Because that little bundle of sequins and polyester was now one of Andy’s most prized possessions, worthless or not.

She had initially been mortified that Miranda had somehow caught wind of Andy’s embarrassing office nickname. (She still wanted to kill Dani for making it up). But once she realized that, not only did Miranda not mind, but that she liked it? It took all Andy had not to swoon on the spot.

All this time, Andy had been trying desperately not to get her hopes up. After all, this was Miranda-fucking-Priestley, here. Queen of fashion, empress of publishing, goddess extraordinaire. Andy knew she was hardly the first assistant to have a crush on her, and almost certainly not the last.

Miranda doesn’t fall for her twenty-eight-year-old assistants, she continuously reminded herself, Questionable sexuality or no. It had gotten especially difficult this last week, with the blossoming of their fake relationship, but still she kept on.

Now, though… she could feel the beginnings of hope taking root in her chest, blossoming and filling her every crevice with its blooms. Maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t alone in her feelings. Maybe the two of them could make something work. Maybe there was at least a chance.

The hope was a tiny sliver, but for now, it was enough.

Andy glanced over to see Miranda holding her glasses in hand as she stared at the screen, tapping one of its legs against her lower lip. Her eyes were glazed over—and if Andy didn’t know any better, she would think that perhaps Miranda was just as distracted as she was herself.

Andy grinned, turning her eyes back to the road ahead. No, she definitely didn’t feel guilty.

-----------------

It didn’t take long for Miranda to regret her earlier offer to drive.

The light sprinkling from earlier had quickly turned into great thick sheets of rain smacking against the windshield, making it even harder to see than it would have been already on such a black evening. To make matters worse, they had managed to get caught in standstill traffic near some insignificant town outside of Columbus. Miranda had sat clutching the wheel, shoulders remaining un-hunched only through sheer force of will.

Despite how she made it sound to Andréa, the assumption that Miranda couldn’t drive was a perfectly sound one. She hadn’t even attempted since before the girls were born, and while she hadn’t forgotten how… the knowledge wasn’t exactly fresh.

But she wanted to allow Andréa a chance to rest, and Miranda would be damned if she admitted to the uneasiness she felt behind the wheel. Andréa had seen her vulnerable enough already on this little drive without Miranda waxing poetic about her ineptitudes.

She was still slightly stunned at the direction their earlier conversation had taken, and Miranda did not stun easily. She hadn’t meant to make mention of her sister—she hadn’t spoken of her family to anyone since moving to the United States, save a therapist or two.

Oh, she had given her daughters’ the basics, of course. Their curiosity had always been insatiable, and she generally managed to sate them with as few details as possible. They hardly knew any more than Andréa now did. For that was a part of her life that she preferred to keep very firmly in the past, a part she guarded fiercely, and yet with Andréa… the words fell out almost as if by accident.

While Cassidy had been content to sit and read quietly during the final hours of their drive, Caroline had quickly begun to grow restless. After her fourth time of asking, with increasing whininess, “How far away are we now?” Andréa had opted to switch seats with Cassidy, pulling out a pack of Uno cards that she had apparently been hiding for just a moment such as this. A hush fell over the vehicle as the two played determinedly against one another, only to be broken by the occasional groan of defeat (and subsequent triumphant laughter). 

One by one, her fellow passengers gave in to the drowsiness of the day as they slowly escaped the traffic and Miranda drove on through the night.

And so, upon entering the Sachs’ neighborhood at nearly 11:00 pm, Miranda was the only wakeful party. Cassidy was curled up around her book, head laid down on the armrest between them as she snored softly. Miranda ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair as she looked into the rearview mirror to see Caroline sleeping upon the shoulder of Andréa, who rested with her head pressed up against the window.

Miranda did her best to take a mental snapshot of the scene before her. At that moment, everything felt so peaceful and so right. She had a feeling that she would need to hold on to this memory in the madness of the days to come.

Finally, the GPS chirped in confirmation of their arrival. Catching her first glimpse of the home she’d be trapped in for the latter part of the next week, Miranda was surprised at what she saw. While she hadn’t expected Andréa’s family to be poor, exactly… she certainly hadn’t been expecting this.

At three stories tall, the house wasn’t quite as large as her own. However, it was easily the biggest in the neighborhood—which was certainly saying something, in their case. With lights strewn up all around, the Sachs’ home glowed warmly, lighting the way as Miranda pulled into the drive.

Peering once again in the rearview she saw Andréa had been jostled awake by the bumping of their entrance. Sleep-heavy eyes twinkled in the light as her face broke into a grin upon the sight of her childhood home. Charmed by the sight, Miranda returned the smile automatically, hoping that it didn’t resemble a grimace. While their arrival no doubt filled Andréa with nostalgia, it filled Miranda with only apprehensiveness.

There’s no going back now, she thought. As if there ever was in the first place.

She listened as Andréa attempted to gently wake Caroline, and took up the considerably simpler task of rousing her other daughter in the meantime.

“Wake up, darling.” She rubbed gentle circles on Cassidy’s back, “We’ve finally arrived.”

Blonde eyelashes fluttered, and Cassidy eyed her blearily. “Oh. You’re sure?”

Miranda nodded. “Quite.”

“C’mon, Caroline,” came Andréa’s voice, sharper than before. “You know I’m not strong enough to carry you.”

“I’ve got it,” Cassidy sighed, turning around and stretching towards her sister before shoving her shoulder roughly. “Get up,” she shouted, “We’re here.”

“Huh?” came Caroline’s sleepy response.

In lieu of a reply, Cassidy continued to shake Caroline until finally she raised her head from Andréa’s shoulder.

“Ugh, stop it,” she groaned. “Okay, I’m up. Jesus.”

“Language,” Miranda scolded her, but there was little force behind it. She was rather tired, herself.

Collecting their few belongings—for the majority of their luggage would stay in the car for camping the following day—the four of them trudged toward the front door with Andréa leading the way. Before Miranda even had time to contemplate whether it was appropriate to knock, the door swung open to reveal a man with short gray hair, glasses, and a smile that Miranda recognized immediately from a certain leggy brunette.

“Dandy!” he exclaimed before wrapping Andréa in his embrace. Andréa rested her head on her father’s chest, eyes closed as he squeezed her tight. “We’ve missed you so much.”

“We have,” came a woman’s voice from behind him, “It’s been too long.”

The speaker stepped into the light of the porch, and Miranda was able to see the person whom she had been looking forward to meeting least. Long brown hair framed a face that was handsome, if plain. Shawled in a hideous flannel robe, she stood tall with arms crossed, a tight smile upon her face as she watched the scene before her unfold.

Andréa extricated herself from her father’s arms to view the speaker, her usually radiant smile having dimmed considerably.

“Hey, mom.” Her voice could barely be heard above the wind blowing around them.

Andréa took a tentative step toward her mother, who quickly closed the space between them as she pulled her daughter into a hug. Shoulders stiff, Andréa gave her mother a small squeeze.

“Why don’t we talk more inside?” said Andréa’s father after the two of them pulled apart. “Come in, come in. It’s too cold to stand outside.” He rubbed his arms for effect.

Miranda chose not to comment on the fact that it would be just as cold tomorrow, when they would be spending two entire days in the elements. Instead she simply pursed her lips and followed him in.

Quiet bustling ensued as they entered the foyer, where jackets were hung, and shoes removed before the inevitable introductions began.

“Well I’m Mark, and this right here is Pam.” He put a hand on his wife’s shoulder before nodding in Miranda’s direction. “And you must be Miranda. We’re so happy to finally meet you.”

I very seriously doubt that, she mused.

There was a beat of discomfort as Mark obviously debated whether to hug her, going so far as to open his arms before Miranda took charge of the situation. Putting on her most convincing smile, she stepped forward to give him an air kiss to each cheek. “Delighted, I’m sure.”

She did the same to Pamela before turning towards the girls, indicating to each in turn. “These are my daughters, Caroline and Cassidy.”

Wide-eyed, Mark and Pamela smiled when two very sleepy ‘Nice to meet you’s were directed their way. Cassidy yawned hugely.

“I’d ask about the drive, but Andy told us about the traffic up north. Bad luck,” he tutted before yawning, himself. “We can give you the grand tour in the morning, but for now why don’t we worry about showing you where you’ll be sleeping while you’re here?”

Walking past a formal dining room and up the staircase, they were led to what could only be the family room. Filled with overstuffed furniture that went out of date more than a decade ago, a coffee table that had seen better days, and a big screen television massive enough to be somewhat overwhelming, it was apparent that the space had been designed with comfort in mind rather than style.

“Over this way will be your room,” Pamela said as she led them through the space and to the right. The door creaked open quietly, and she turned on the light to reveal a master bedroom whose décor choices were somehow even more offensive than the room they just exited.

Miranda wrinkled her nose. The theme of this room could only be grapes, with every available surface coated in various shades of deep purple. Photos of vineyards were strung up along the walls, each one tackier than the last.

“The girls will be two doors down, in Andy’s old room. We figured you two wouldn’t mind sharing with Maddie?” she looked at Caroline and Cassidy in question. The two nodded, eyes alight with excitement despite their drowsiness.

Arms crossed, Miranda rolled her tongue over her teeth, still appraising the new space. “Very well. And where will Andréa’s room be?”

“Oh, we’re not under any illusions that you two don’t sleep in the same bed back in New York.” Mark gave an awkward little laugh, hands shoved in his pockets as he bounced on the balls of his feet. “She’ll stay in here with you.”

Miranda felt her eyebrows raise before she could school her expression. This was most definitely not what she had planned for. She looked over to see Andréa suddenly fascinated by the plum patterns of the area rug beneath their feet, chewing on a thumbnail as color rose up her neck. At least Miranda wasn’t the only one caught off guard, then.

Realizing that a response was expected, finally she choked out a reply. “…ah. Yes. Of course.”

Pamela studied the two of them, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Any comments on their strange behavior were interrupted by Mark, however. “What do you say we go see your room now, girls?” he asked brightly, apparently either oblivious to the tension or choosing to ignore it entirely.

Miranda moved to follow them but was stopped short when Cassidy grabbed Andréa’s hand. “Andy can show us her old room. Right Andy?”

Andréa nodded quickly. “Yeah, I’d love to.”

“Very well. Good night, Bobbseys.” She gave each of her daughters a quick kiss to the forehead before watching them go.

And just like that, Miranda was alone for the first time since the early morning. With a bed that she was expected to share. With Andréa. She felt a pleasant warmth pool in her belly at the very idea.

Closing her eyes, Miranda shook her head at herself for so much as entertaining the thought.

Oh no, she thought darkly. This won’t do. Not at all.

Miranda refused to give in to flights of fancy, no matter how tempting. This was a business deal—nothing more. There was no reason to make their situation more complicated than it already was by adding fantasies into the mix.

…more than there already were, anyway.  

Immediately she went into action. She took the multitude of pillows off the mattress and arranged them neatly on the floor at the foot of the bed. Once the little nest was cushioned and adequately Andréa-sized, Miranda tossed the comforter on top before stepping back to examine her work. Good enough.

By the time she heard Andréa return, Miranda had already begun unpacking some essentials from her suitcase. At first Andréa said nothing, and Miranda thought that perhaps they would be able to avoid the uncomfortable conversation entirely.

“What’s this?” Andréa asked, voice playful. “Don’t tell me: you brought your Sferra pillows?”

No such luck, she thought.

Miranda didn’t look up as she answered flatly, “I assumed that you’d appreciate some sort of barrier between yourself and the floor.”

There was a beat of silence as her words sunk in. “Excuse me?”

Miranda rolled her eyes, turning to meet the other woman’s gaze. “You didn’t honestly think we were going to sleep together? I’m only willing to go so far for this little charade, Andréa.”

Andréa raised her eyebrows, and Miranda cursed her fair complexion as she felt herself begin to blush at her own apparent Freudian slip.

Your little charade, you mean,” Andréa shot back. “In case you’ve forgotten, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you and your pretty little threats.”

“Is that so?” Miranda said, voice syrupy sweet, “I don’t seem to recall demanding we spend an entire week romping around the hellscape that is the Midwest, dear.”

Face screwed up in anger, Andréa stomped across the room and began digging through her own bag, throwing clothes on the floor in her haste to reach whatever it was she was seeking.

“No one’s forcing you to be here, Miranda,” she spat over her shoulder as she searched. “No one’s making you marry me. The only person who doesn’t have a choice here is me.” Finding what she was looking for, she took it in hand as she stormed to the ensuite.

“If you hate it so much here, then leave. But I’ll tell you one thing, sweetheart,” Andréa sneered at the term of endearment as she stood in the doorway, “I am not sleeping on the floor in my own damn house.” The bathroom door slammed shut with such force that one of the gaudier picture frames, filled with photos of decoratively arranged wine bottles, fell to the floor and shattered.

Miranda dropped down onto the bed, resisting the urge to groan in her frustration. What the hell was that? she thought miserably.

Hearing the shower turn on, Miranda decided it was safe to change clothes. Folding her dress before sliding into silk pajamas, Miranda couldn’t stop her mind from racing.

Perhaps she had overreacted. It would hardly be the first time, especially where Andréa was concerned. Something about the girl tended to cause Miranda to loosen her grip on her usually ironclad control.

Miranda carefully picked up the mess of broken glass off the floor before remaking the bed, being sure to turn down the comforter on Andréa’s side before sitting on the far edge of the mattress. She pulled out her laptop, hoping to begin wading through the mess that had become her email before bed.

The icon that read ‘Inbox (127)’ glared at her in silent judgment, and Miranda glared right back. It was a look so cutting that it might have sent even the bravest human adversary sprinting in fear—it had no such effect on her computer, however.

Miranda sighed as she put on her glasses. Sitting with legs criss-crossed in front of her, she rested her face in the palm of her hand and began scrolling. She had checked her email all of one time the entire day. If this was the result of less than twenty-four hours of negligence… she shuddered to imagine what would come of the next week.

She tapped her lip absentmindedly while skimming through the emails that seemed most pertinent. Before long, though, her mind began to wander. She could scarce finish a paragraph without thinking of her spat with Andréa, without replaying every word that was said. She sighed, pushing the laptop away in her frustration.

This was exactly the kind of distraction that she couldn’t afford—the kind of distraction she had been so scrupulously avoiding for some twenty years now. Something had to be done. She had let down entirely too many of her defenses. Brick by brick, Andréa slowly tore down Miranda’s walls without even realizing it. And Miranda let her.

The solution to her problem was simple. She’d done it dozens of times by now. She would keep her distance from Andréa. Reconstruct the wall between them, bigger and stronger than before. Only then would she be able to focus on the things that truly mattered: her girls and Runway.

Only then would she be safe.

For now, she took care of the most pressing problem first. Prioritizing was what she did best, after all. Pulling out her phone, she dialed her second assistant.

Danielle answered after only one ring. “Good evening, Miranda.”

“You’re to keep up with my email this week in my absence,” she said without preamble. “I expect updates on anything important.”

“Of course, Miranda. Is there anything else I can—”

Miranda ended the call, ready to pack her MacBook away when the bathroom door opened. Shrouded by steam, Andréa poked her head out the door. Wet hair hung loose about her shoulders, beads of water dripping down the creamy length of her neck.

“Um… hey.” Shoulders hunched, she looked almost painfully uncomfortable.

“Hello,” Miranda licked her lips. “Is something wrong?”

“No, it’s just…” her eyes searched the room, “I kind of forgot to grab a towel.”

“You forgot to…?” Miranda blinked as Andréa’s words set in. “Oh.” Without her permission, Miranda’s eyes traveled further down, only to see that everything below Andréa’s shoulders remained hidden behind the door. She ignored an unwelcome pang of disappointment.

“Could you—I mean—would you mind grabbing me one?” she nodded toward a wardrobe across the room. “They should be in the top drawer.”

Not trusting herself to speak, Miranda nodded jerkily before beginning her search. As quickly as she could, Miranda picked a towel out of what ended up being the very bottom drawer. She averted her eyes as she handed it to Andréa, who hastily snatched it from her hands before closing the door.

Miranda was halfway back to the bed when she heard creak of the bathroom door opening once more. She turned to see that Andréa had poked her head out. Miranda raised an eyebrow in question.

“…thanks,” she said, before shutting the door again.

Sitting on the bed, Miranda returned to her computer for no reason other than the appearance of busy-ness. There she sat, blind to the screen in front of her—instead, she mulled over what to say once Andréa returned.

Her efforts were wasted, however. For as soon as the other woman left the restroom—wet hair pulled back in a plait, wearing only a navy-blue camisole and men’s boxer shorts, Miranda’s mind went blank.

Andréa flopped onto the bed with a great heaving sigh. “I can’t keep doing this, Miranda.”

Miranda tore her eyes away, focusing instead on the horrific polyester blend of the comforter beneath them. “Can’t keep doing what, exactly?” she tried to make her tone sound lighter than she felt.

“This...” Andréa gestured between them. “…whatever this is. I can’t keep doing this hot and cold, Miranda. One minute we’re getting along—hell, you’re even sweet to me. And then the next… it’s like you make up for it by being as cruel as possible.”

Andréa paused, voice thick. “Hate me or don’t, but I can’t keep going back and forth this way. It’s giving me whiplash.”

Miranda opened her mouth, only to close it again. Her mind, so recently rendered blank, now flooded with thoughts. Overwhelmed, she said the one thing that seemed most important.

“I don’t hate you,” she breathed.

“Gee, thanks. I’ll be sure to put that on my resume. ‘Andy Sachs: A first assistant that Miranda Priestly didn’t hate’.” Her voice cracked, and Miranda turned to see her eyes sparkling with unshed tears.

Miranda’s felt her heart clench painfully. “Is that truly what you think? That you’re just another assistant?”

Andréa shrugged, refusing to meet her eyes.

“I care for you a great deal, Andréa.” So much for keeping a distance.

Andréa’s head turned slowly to face Miranda, blinking in surprise. She pawed at her eyes, wiping away the tears before they could fall. “You… care for me.” She nodded to herself, digesting the words.

“I apologize for not making it more apparent.”

“Wow. You care for me and you apologize. Okay.” Eyes still wet, the tears that Andréa hadn’t quite managed to remove still clung to her lashes. Miranda clasped her hands in her lap, the urge to wipe them away herself near overwhelming.

“Is it really so surprising?” she asked.

“Which part?” Andréa said with a forced lightness, “I guess it’s not a huge surprise that you care about me. But when’s the last time anyone could honestly say they’d gotten an apology from Miranda Priestly?” she gave a small, somewhat wobbly grin.

It seems I do a great many surprising things when I’m around you, Miranda thought.

“Don’t get used to it,” she retorted instead.

Andréa snorted, propping herself up on an elbow. Looking beyond Miranda, she winced at what she saw. Following her gaze, Miranda spotted the small trashcan now filled with the broken remnants of the shattered picture frame.

“Sorry about that,” she said, picking at the comforter. “You didn’t have to pick up after my temper tantrum.”

Miranda waved the apology away. It was quiet, then—and for the first time she could remember, the silence between them was awkward, made dense with words unsaid.

“I will attempt to be more… consistent,” Miranda said finally.

Andréa nodded seriously. “Thank you.”

Later, settling in as close to the edge of the queen-sized mattress as possible, Miranda marveled at how little remorse she felt for breaking a personal vow in such record-breaking time.

Still ruminating on their conversation—and also very aware of Andréa resting barely an arm’s length away—it took what felt like ages for Miranda to fall asleep. Once she did, though, she didn’t awaken even once until morning’s first light.

Chapter Text

Andy sat at her desk, firing off emails as Emily ran in.

“Oh, my god. What are you doing?”

Andy looked up, confused. “Um—”

"Never mind that now,” Emily flapped her hands, “Miranda wants the photos in ten minutes.” Meaning Andy should have had them on her desk five minutes ago.

“What?” she jumped up, blush spilling everywhere. “What photos?”

Emily rolled her eyes. “The photos. The bloody photos, Andy. From the last shoot. God, do I have to tell you everything?”

“I don’t—”

“Just go!” Emily’s eyes were wild, now.

Leaping over her desk, Andy ran out the door. She sprinted through every hall on their floor, scavenged through each room—but nothing. Even worse, there was no one there to help her. Desperate, she tried calling Dani and even Nigel to see if they could help her somehow, but no one would pick up.

She was all alone.

Spotting a grand spiral staircase that she hadn’t noticed before, Andy took off up the steps. She took them two at a time in her haste, but there were so many. Hundreds. Every time she thought she was nearly there, more stairs appeared. Andy was on all fours by the time she reached the top.

It was worth it, though. Because there, right in front of her, was the tiny, gleaming wooden box that held the photos. Too exhausted to walk, too dizzy to even see straight, Andy crawled toward it.

This couldn’t be right, though.

For inside the box were not pictures from any Runway shoot. In fact, they weren’t from any photoshoot at all. She knew this for a fact, because staring back at her from every photo was her own face.   

She rifled through the photographs, growing more frantic by the second. Andy. They were all of Andy. Andy in middle school, all awkward limbs and acne. Andy as a baby. Andy with her parents, with Ben and Rachel, with Lily. Andy in Paris. Andy at all different stages of her life, both good and bad, ugly and beautiful.

There she sat, digging through the box—when had it gotten so big? She was nearly falling in, now—pulling pictures out at random and inspecting them briefly before throwing them aside. Countless photos, and not one of them were the ones that Miranda had asked for. Not one of them were what she needed.

The piles of discarded photos around her grew. Eventually Andy stopped her hopeless search, only to realize that the piles which—only a moment ago, surely— were barely hills, had grown into great, looming mountains.

Andy felt her chest begin to constrict. She was surrounded. Trapped.

Even if she somehow managed to find the elusive photos that Miranda asked for, she’d have no way to give them to her. She groaned in defeat, falling onto her back.

“Andréa?”

Andy turned to see Miranda walking toward her, regal as ever. Andy covered her face with both hands, as if that would somehow hide her from view. It didn’t matter, anyway. If Miranda wanted to see Andy, all she had to do was take a look around them. Her face was staring at them from every direction, now.

Miranda’s voice was filled with a warmth Andy seldom heard from her. “Darling, what’s wrong?” She felt Miranda sit down next to her. She felt Miranda’s hand, slow and steady, rubbing circles on Andy’s stomach.

“I can’t do it. I can’t find them.” Voice shaking, Andy couldn’t bring herself to look at her. “I’m sorry.”

“What are you talking about?” Miranda asked, “Yes, you have. You’ve found everything I asked for.” The hand on Andy’s belly moved now to her hair, combing through it softly as she felt Miranda kiss her temple. “Everything I need,” she whispered.

Gasping, Andy finally looked up at Miranda, who lay next to her, watching her. Andy cupped her cheek, and Miranda leaned into the touch, closing her eyes. Without stopping to think, Andy pulled her down for a kiss.

All the air left her lungs as warmth settled in her chest, spreading its tendrils throughout her body. Tucked behind her ribcage, swimming through her veins, hiding between her hips, ringing in her ears. She felt all of this and nothing at all—her mind was rendered blank.

Miranda lay her head on Andy’s chest as they both caught their breath. Her hair smelled like gardenias. Andy had always loved Miranda’s hair. She ran a hand through it, and Miranda hummed in pleasure. Andy’s hand traveled down onto Miranda’s back, and the humming sounded almost purr-like, now. She smiled.

~

Slowly Andy’s eyes opened, and she was no longer surrounded by mountains of photographs. Looking down, however, she was surprised to find that there was still a mass of short white hair resting upon her chest. She gave a sleepy grin as she ran her hands through it, receiving yet another purr in return.

“Good morning sweetie,” she murmured, “Did you miss me, too?”

Marshmallow meowed as he nuzzled her hand. Stark white except for the patch of brown on his tummy, the name had seemed obvious to Andy at fifteen, when she adopted him as only a small kitten.

Sunlight shone onto the bed, covering everything in sunrise’s faint, golden glow. Careful not to disturb Marshmallow, Andy turned her head to the right and saw that Miranda was still peacefully dozing. Laying on her stomach, arms wrapped around her pillow as she snored softly, Miranda looked more vulnerable than she ever did while awake. For just a few moments, Andy couldn’t help but stare. Even in sleep—cheek squished against the pillow, mouth parted slightly—Miranda still took her breath away.

Immediately her mind flashed back to her dream— to kissing Miranda. Andy brushed her fingers against her lips, and she could feel the ghost of Miranda’s lips against hers. It had felt so real .

It wasn’t like she’d never dreamed of Miranda before—she’d dreamed of much more than just kissing, that was for sure. But having the occasional—or, okay, maybe not so occasional—sex dream about your boss is one thing. Dreaming about her and then waking up next to her? An entirely different story.

Kneading on Andy’s stomach and meowing loudly, Marshmallow demanded her attention. Welcoming the distraction, she scritched in his favorite place behind his ears—grateful that, this time, they wouldn’t have to say goodbye when she returned to New York. Andy hated having to leave him, she really did.

She wasn’t lying when she told Miranda that the reason she wanted to drive rather than fly was because of her cat. Because of a chronic inner ear problem, it was impossible to take Marshmallow on an airplane without making him miserable.

She’d tried so many times to drive him home with her. But—without fail—something managed to go horribly wrong every time. Pneumonia, flat tires, appendicitis—there was even that time she and her parents both managed to get in a car crash in the same day, states away.

Between their ridiculously bad luck and more rational things—like the exorbitant pet fees in every apartment Andy’s ever lived in—the timing never worked out. Not now, though. There was absolutely no reason to leave Marshmallow behind this time, she’d made sure of it.

“Are you excited to go home?” Andy asked him quietly. She bit her lip. ‘Home’ was going to be somewhere very different, soon. The plan was to be settled into the Priestley household before the year was up.

Marshmallow meowed.

She gave his nose a little kiss. “Yeah. I’m nervous, too.”

Quiet as she could, Andy snuck into the bathroom to ready herself for the day. Pulling on one of her cuter designer sweaters and her favorite pair of Levis before throwing her hair in a ponytail, it didn’t take long. Peeking out of the en suite, she saw that Miranda had moved—no longer on her stomach, she was on her side, facing away from her.

Andy padded back into the bedroom, mattress shifting as she sat back down, and Marshmallow pounced right back into her lap. The silence was broken by what sounded like quiet sniffling. Confused, Andy turned to look at Miranda when she heard the noise again, louder this time—definitely a sniffle.

Oh, god. Was she crying?  Worried, now, Andy cleared her throat before asking, “Miranda, are you alright?”

She heard a sigh as Miranda sat up, turning around to face her. “I’ve been better.”

And, well… she wasn’t wrong.

Andy had been looking forward to seeing a freshly awakened Miranda. Even when they had vacationed together in Sicily, she always managed to look perfectly put together before leaving her room—hair coiffed, makeup applied, outfit pristine. There was only so much you could hide when you shared a bed with someone, though. Andy eagerly awaited the mussed hair and sleep-heavy eyes that accompanied early mornings.

Her waiting definitely hadn’t been in vain. White hair lay at odd angles along the left side of Miranda’s head—the same side where little indents from the pillow still lined her cheek. These things were appropriately adorable, and Andy had been expecting them. What she had not expected, however, were the swollen, red-rimmed eyes staring back at her.

Andy gasped. “Oh no, what’s wrong?” She put her hand on Miranda’s shoulder and squeezed gently, “Did you have a nightmare or something?”

Miranda’s eyebrows furrowed, face confused. “What?” Her voice, still low and gravelly with sleep, sounded more nasally than normal. “No.”

“But…” Andy gestured to her eyes.

Comprehension dawned as Miranda’s hands went immediately to her face. “Ugh—so I look as bad as I feel, then. My allergies are being especially awful this morning. This usually only happens when—” she stopped, narrowed eyes staring at Andy’s lap, where Marshmallow still sat.

Suddenly very aware that she was still clutching Miranda’s shoulder, Andy let go-- putting a protective hand on Marshmallow’s back.

“Well. That explains that, then.” Miranda promptly got out of bed, heading straight toward the bathroom and shutting the door behind her.

Oh . Maybe Miranda’s cat allergy was more severe than Andy thought. She listened as the shower came to life. Feeling guilty, Andy went to find the allergy medicine that she’d packed just in case. Before she could do much more than find her bag, though, there came a staccato of knocks at the bedroom door.

Without waiting for a welcome, the door swung open to reveal a fully dressed Cassidy. “ There you are,” she said.

“Where else would I be?” Andy asked, digging out a bottle of antihistamines and setting them on Miranda’s bedside table. “This is our room.”

Cassidy shrugged, plopping herself down on the bed. “Mom’s usually up for hours by now.”

Bending over her backpack once more, Andy heard the sound of footsteps running toward her. Before she could turn to investigate, however, she was nearly knocked over by someone colliding into her legs. A very tiny someone.

“Annie!” came a little voice, muffled by the denim of Andy’s jeans as they were squeezed tightly. Andy beamed. There was only one person in the world who called her that name. Without missing a beat, she bent down and scooped up her niece before peppering her face in kisses.

“Maddie! Oh, my goodness, when did you get so big?” She truly had. While Andy’s sister insisted that Maddie was small for her age, the girl must have grown six inches since the last time Andy had seen her.

In other ways, though, Maddie hadn’t changed one bit. Tight, dark brown curls were still braided in the pigtails that were the four-year old’s signature hairstyle. She was still decked out in pink from head to toe, and still had glitter scattered at random all about her light brown skin. Most importantly, though, little lips still curved into that same, mischievous smile.

“Today,” Maddie answered frankly. Of course . Maddie had an answer for everything. “I miss you!”

Andy squeezed her in another hug. “I miss you too, doodlebug. But guess what?”

“You’re moving here forever?”

“Uh, no, not quite.” Andy winced, “But I am staying until Saturday.”

Brown eyes widened. “What about Caro and Cassie? Do they get to stay, too? They said they’re my cousins, now.” She leaned in close to whisper loudly in Andy’s ear, “Did you know they’re twins?”

Caro and Cassie. Well, that was certainly different. Andy looked at Cassidy with raised eyebrows, but Cassidy only shrugged in resignation. Figures. Maddie had a thing for giving people nicknames, and telling her ‘no’ wasn’t easy. She had to wonder what Miranda would think, though. It probably wasn’t by accident that Andy had never heard anyone shorten the girls’ names. Miranda didn’t really do nicknames.

She didn’t have long to think on it, though. Maddie wriggled out of her arms before grabbing Andy’s hand and leading her toward the stairs, Cassidy not far behind.

“Wait!” came a voice from behind them. Caroline rushed out of Andy’s old bedroom, in the middle of pulling a sweater over her head as she followed them. “Don’t make me go down alone, geeze.”

“What about mom?” asked Cassidy.

“You can wait for her if you want,” offered Caroline with a shrug. “But I smell bacon, and I plan to eat as much of it as possible before she gets downstairs.”

Andy pretended not to hear that, mouth watering as they made their way downstairs to the breakfast table.

“We found Annie!” Maddie announced triumphantly as she took a seat between her parents. To her left sat Andy’s brother-in-law Cameron, his black, shoulder-length dreads tied loosely behind his head. A businessman, it was almost strange to see him donning flannel and jeans rather than his usual suit and tie. Currently attempting to feed a very drowsy baby Jacob, he offered Andy a distracted smile.

Rachel sat to her right. Blonde hair braided similarly to her daughter’s, she, too, was rocking the flannel look. In the middle of biting into a pancake, she only nodded before standing to give Andy a hug. Pulling her close so that only she could hear, her older sister whispered, “Everything okay?”

Andy nodded. “So far, so good.” Rachel pulled back, hands still on Andy’s shoulders, and studied her face for a moment before nodding apprehensively. Andy just smiled.

Turning to greet Cameron and Jacob, she felt two arms wrap around her middle from behind. Before she had time to do anything but yelp loudly, she felt herself being hoisted into the air and squeezed tight.

“Damnit, Ben!” Andy shouted, doing her best not to laugh as she elbowed him. “We’ve been through this. Put me down.”

Andy felt her brother’s chest shake with laughter before he returned her to the ground. Immediately she turned around and gave him a shove. More than half a foot taller than Andy, she only reached his shoulder. Her shove didn’t do much.

“Hey, jerk,” she smiled. “It’s been awhile.”

“Yup,” he said, grinning hugely. “I almost missed you.” He nodded toward the twins, both sitting at the table, watching silently. “When are you gonna introduce us to your friends?”

“Actually,” Rachel said as Andy sat across the table between Caroline and Cassidy. “Maddie already introduced us.” Andy listened to their banter with half an ear as she piled her plate high with food. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage links, pancakes… she had almost forgotten how much she missed her parent’s cooking.

Ben sat at the end of the table, making conversation with the twins about the many wonders of middle school. It wasn’t long before Maddie was chiming in around mouthfuls of eggs, and Andy had to stifle her own laughter at Rachel’s outrage over her daughter’s table manners.

Eventually her parents joined the table as well, and finally the group felt nearly complete.

-----------------

Miranda’s first morning in Cincinnati was not going well. After a hot shower (and liberal amounts of the best makeup that money can buy), her eyes were nearly back to normal. That did very little to stop the itchiness, though—and absolutely nothing for the sneezing. Hopefully the medicine that Andréa left out would start helping soon.

Fastening the straps of her Armani ankle boots, she was finally almost ready. She inspected herself in the mirror. Today’s outfit consisted of a pair of trousers in charcoal grey, and an off-white blouse sitting beneath a forest green shawl, accented by slim, unobtrusive golden bangles.

Feeling sufficiently outdoors-y, she moved to leave the bedroom but was stopped short. For sitting in the doorway—and blocking the only exit—was a cat. The very same cat she had seen sitting in Andréa’s lap not too long ago. Hackles raised and ears back, he hissed menacingly.

Miranda rolled her eyes. “I’m not exactly fond of you, either.” Stepping over him, she tried not to wince as she felt him take a swipe at her leg.

Just as she got to the bottom of the stairs, her phone began to ring.

“Hello?”

“Morning, Miranda,” came Danielle’s voice. “Do you have a minute? You told me to call you about anything important.”

Miranda sighed, stomach growling at the scents wafting from the kitchen. “Go on.” She headed toward the empty living room, listening without comment as her second assistant filled her in on the minutiae of the last twenty-four hours.    

Finally, Danielle paused. Just as Miranda was ready to hang up, however, she spoke again, “There’s one more thing.” Her voice was much quieter, now.

Miranda waited, raising a disdainful eyebrow before remembering that there was no one there to see it.

“I called Harrison and Gruman,” Danielle said, her southern accent becoming more pronounced, as it often did when she was nervous. “I couldn’t get ahold of Troy personally, but I talked to his receptionist, and she says…” she cleared her throat. “She says that they contacted us about the paperwork in question. Several times. That they have the records to prove it.”

Miranda steeled herself against the sinking feeling in her stomach. “Does she, now?” Her voice was syrupy sweet, “Well, good for Troy. It must be nice, having employees that do their jobs. I wouldn’t know much about that, unfortunately.”

“I’ll—I’ll look through our emails from the last few months,” Danielle stumbled, “I’ll see if I can find anything.”

“See that you do.” She hung up.

Miranda paused in her pacing, tapping her phone against her palm as she thought. None of it made sense. Despite how she made it seem, Miranda had the utmost confidence in her current assistants. Neither of them would have let something as important as this go unnoticed. But what other explanation could there possibly be? It wasn’t as if they could have—

“So, you’re the legendary Miranda,” came a voice over her shoulder, interrupting her thoughts. Miranda started, dropping her phone in surprise and barely withholding a squeak. “Or do you prefer Dragon Lady?” She whipped around, only to be confronted by the sight of a small, elderly woman.

Her head of short, curly white hair was cocked to the side, mouth curved into a wide smile that was in stark contrast with the words still flowing from it. “We’ve heard it both ways. We’ve heard it lots of ways, actually.”

Miranda drew herself up to her full height. An unnecessary action, as the old woman barely reached her shoulder blades. “I’m sure. And you are?”

“Clara. You’ve probably heard of me as ‘Gammy’, though. That’s what the kids call me.”

I haven’t heard of you at all , Miranda wanted to say. “Charmed,” she said instead, feeling anything but. She stooped to pick up her phone before turning on her heel, heading toward the kitchen once more.

“I’ll meet you there!” Clara called out from behind her.

At that Miranda sped up her pace, but was stopped short when she heard voices drifting in from the kitchen ahead. Just out of view, she stayed outside the doorway, listening silently.

“—all I’m saying,” came Pamela’s voice, “is that it seems suspicious. The woman gives you hell for two years, makes your life miserable—”

“Stop exaggerating, Mom—” Andréa interrupted, but Pamela carried on.

“—and out of nowhere, she starts being nice to you? Taking you on vacation? And now, as soon as you become a couple, you’re going to be working at one of the most well-known papers in the country?”

“What are you saying?” Andréa’s voice was hard, “Go ahead. Say what you really mean.”

“Pam,” Mark tried, “Do you really think now is the—”

“Aren’t you worried about what people will think? That they’ll question your credibility, when you’re sleeping with your only reference?” Several people gasped at that, so loudly that Pamela’s final statement was barely audible over the din, “And could you really blame them?”

Unable to take any more, Miranda stepped into view. Scathing remarks already on her tongue, she parted her lips to retort, but was stopped short when someone else did it for her.

“You don’t know anything ,” Caroline spat. Miranda watched in astonishment as her daughter stood, face red and eyes watering, pointing at Pamela where she sat across the room. “Andy is marrying mom because she loves us, not because of some stupid job. And you’re stupid if that’s what you really think.”

Miranda clapped a hand over her mouth, and the room went silent. Realizing what she just said, Caroline’s eyes widened as she looked toward her mother in horror. Miranda only shook her head. She would have to deal with that later.

“…Marrying?” said a person Miranda didn’t know, a blonde sitting across from Andréa and the girls. She sounded almost as dumbfounded as Miranda felt.

“Andy, sweetie, is that true?” asked Mark. All eyes turned to Andréa, Miranda’s included.

“I…” she ran a shaky hand through her hair. “I was going to tell you. Soon. I just—I knew that you would react… well, pretty much exactly like this.” Finally, her eyes caught Miranda’s. The room followed her gaze, and—suddenly— Miranda was the center of attention.

She didn’t care, though. Her eyes stayed fixed on Andréa, squished into her seat at the too-small breakfast table, a twin to each side. Caroline still stood next to her, fists clenched and eyes flinty. Cassidy sat close, clutching Andréa’s hand as if worried she’d be snatched away in an instant. Miranda’s heart felt full to bursting at the sight.

“Are you happy?” came another voice Miranda didn’t know. Sitting at the far end of the table, she saw a man that— brow wrinkled in thought, brown eyes filled with warmth in an expression near identical to one she knew so well—could only be Andréa’s brother.

Andréa blinked, tearing her eyes away from Miranda. “Huh?”                                  

“I asked if you’re happy,” he repeated, nodding toward the twins where they still huddled protectively around her, and then Miranda. “With your new little family. Do they make you happy?”

“I—” Andréa faltered, “of course they do, Ben.”

“Then that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”

There was a screech of chair against tile as Pamela left the kitchen in a huff, and Miranda decided that she liked Andréa’s brother very much.

“Don’t worry about her, Andy,” came Clara’s voice from behind her suddenly— Miranda only just managed not to jump this time. “She’s been that way since she was a baby. Stubborn as hell, that one—but smart. She’ll figure it out eventually.” Clara made her way over to where Andréa sat, giving her shoulder a squeeze as she kissed the top of her head.

“Now, I’ve been led to believe that I get two brand new great-grandbabies out of this deal.” She turned to Caroline and Cassidy, who watched her apprehensively. “But I don’t see any babies, here. You two are taller than I am, aren’t you?” the girls returned her smile with two slightly wobbly ones of their own.  

“It’s not like it’s that hard to do,” quipped Benjamin, smirking.

“Nobody asked you, Goliath,” shot Clara over her shoulder. Laughter broke out at that, and suddenly the mood was considerably lighter. Grabbing a bowlful of fruit for herself—she didn’t trust the Sachs’ eggs to be filled with anything but butter and grease—Miranda took a seat next to Caroline, who cast her a furtive glance.

Miranda gave her a quick kiss to the temple, squeezing her hand reassuringly. “We’ll discuss this later,” she murmured. Caroline only grimaced.

Later, after hasty introductions were made and breakfast consumed, they returned to the car once more. The first few minutes passed in relative silence, both girls sitting in the back and gazing out the window as the radio played quietly. Both had earbuds in, Caroline with her shoulders shrugged up around her ears, doing her best to disappear into the leather seat below her.

“I’m sorry you had to hear all that,” Andréa glanced at Miranda nervously. “If it makes you feel any better, this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Mom's always been like that-- tough love and blunt honesty all the way.”

Miranda turned to look at Andréa where she sat behind the wheel, dumbfounded. “Why on earth would that make me feel better?” she asked, “If anything, that makes it worse. Your mother always speaks that way to you?”

“No—I mean—yeah, sometimes. That’s just kind of the way she is,” Andréa shrugged dismissively, “I meant the way she talked about you. I saw your face. You looked ready to murder her.”

Well, that’s one thing you’re right about , Miranda thought. “I don’t give a damn what your mother thinks of me, Andréa,” she said seriously, “What bothered me was the way she spoke to you. For god’s sake, the woman made it sound like you slept your way into your position.”

There was a beat of silence. “…oh. Right,” Andréa breathed.

“You’ve worked hard to be where you are. And even if you hadn’t…” Miranda’s voice trailed off as flashes of her own childhood came to mind unbidden— being cut to the quick without a single touch, learning how to destroy with words, all from the one supposed to teach her how to heal— “…a mother should never speak that way to her children.” Andréa only nodded, color rising on her cheeks as she bit her lip.

Miranda’s eyes were pulled away when she saw Caroline in the rearview, nodding in agreement—earbuds still in, pretending to listen to music as she stared out the window determinedly.

Miranda turned in her seat, looking at her pointedly. Caroline, for her part, was doing at excellent job at pretending not to notice. Miranda reached forward, plucking out an earbud. “None of this makes your little outburst any less unacceptable.”

Caroline scowled. “But you just said so yourself! Andy’s mom should never talk to her like that. And she said awful stuff about you, too!”

“She didn’t say anything that thousands of others aren’t going to say the moment our relationship reaches the presses,” Miranda said, voice decidedly calm. “Which will happen any day now, mind you. Are you going to scream at all of them, as well? Are you going to call up every gossip rag in the Western world and call them ‘stupid’?” she raised her eyebrows, awaiting an answer.

Caroline’s voice had shrank to little more than a mumble as she looked away. “No.”

“No,” Miranda cocked her head. “And why is that?”

Lip jutted out in defiance, Caroline stared at her lap, refusing to respond. Next to her, Cassidy sat stiffly-- still staring out the window, but undoubtedly taking in every word.

“Because losing your temper does nothing,” Miranda answered herself. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Andréa furrowing her brow, a puzzled look upon her face. With a twinge of guilt, Miranda knew that they were thinking the same thing: hypocrite.

Before Caroline interrupted her, Miranda had been only seconds away from telling Pamela exactly what she thought of her and her so called 'tough love’-- and it would've been a great deal more cutting than what Caroline had dished out.

“As I have told you time and again,” Miranda continued. “But this time you’ve done much more than wound the object of your fury. You’ve hurt Andréa.”

Tears welled in Caroline’s eyes at that, and Miranda did her best to ignore the aching in her chest that always came with seeing her children in pain—even when they were the cause of it. “It was an accident,” she sniffled. “I’d never have… I didn’t mean to.”

Miranda took Caroline’s hand and held it in both of her own. “Of course not, Bobbsey.”

Caroline brushed away her tears before they could fall, still refusing to meet Miranda's eyes, but holding fast to her hands nonetheless. “I'm really sorry, Andy.” Andréa watched her from the rearview, eyes full of concern. “I messed it all up. I'm sorry.” Her voice cracked.

In lieu of a response, Andréa put on the turn signal, pulling over to the side of the road. Cassidy looked up, giving up all pretense of not listening as she watched Andréa turn to look at her sister. “Hey. Look at me.” She put a hand beneath Caroline's chin, tilting her head up. “You didn't mess up anything that can't be fixed, okay?”

“You aren't mad?” she asked.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn't a little annoyed,” Andréa admitted with a grimace. “But I'm not mad.”

Caroline looked into her lap once more, eyes glittering with still more tears. “You don't wanna leave?” Miranda felt the words like a punch to the gut.

Andréa looked almost as heartbroken as Miranda felt. “No.” She stretched awkwardly, attempting to embrace Caroline in the too-small space. She settled instead for cupping her cheek, wiping away a tear with her thumb. “No, no, no. Never.”

Caroline gave a small nod, and Miranda faced forward once more. Her guilt-- once a small twinge-- now threatened to engulf her  Never, she thought ruefully. What happened to no longer making promises that I can't keep?

Chapter Text

After yesterday’s day-long trek, this drive seemed to take hardly any time at all. The moment they pulled into the campsite, wheels crunching against the makeshift gravel drive, Andréa and the girls bolted out of the car in search of a restroom. Miranda stayed put, deciding instead to unpack. Eager to get the worst over with-- and seeking a distraction from her still whirling thoughts-- she rounded the car and opened the trunk.

Three times bigger than anything else they had brought, the box holding the tent wasn’t too difficult to find amongst the others. Lugging the monstrosity out, Miranda was able to carry it for approximately three feet before it dropped unceremoniously to the ground with a thud. She opted to push it instead.

Stopping at the end of their little gravel drive—arms folded and eyes narrowed—she surveyed their campsite. It consisted of an unremarkable little plot of dirt, surrounded by trees on three sides. A pole sticking from the ground with an outlet attached to the end provided their only source of electricity, neighbored by a picnic table and some sort of primitive looking grill.

She sighed. So, this was where she would be stranded for the next two and a half days.

She opened the box, and sitting just inside was an instruction manual that was nearly two inches thick. She flipped through the first few pages, giving them only a cursory glance before deciding it would be best to just begin.

Pulling out an assortment of poles, strings, zippers, and more nylon than she ever cared to see again, she laid the pieces out neatly on the rickety picnic table before her. Deciding to start with the main entrance first, she began to follow the steps as closely as she could—really, it wasn’t too difficult. It was mostly just a matter of putting the right parts in the right places. Andréa’s father had insisted that they wait for his help, but Miranda couldn’t see why. She was perfectly capable.

It had been only a few minutes of fitting various pieces of the tent together, and already it was beginning to vaguely resemble the picture on the box.  She gave a triumphant little smirk, bending one of the ornerier poles into place. Her plan had been only to get a head start, but if she kept going at this rate, perhaps she could finish before Andréa and the girls—

Thwap!

Miranda’s thoughts screeched to a halt as she felt a stinging pain on her neck. Cursing, she dropped what she was working on and rubbed the side of her neck where she had been assaulted. The pole she had been attempting to bend had rebounded and smacked her.

“You alright?” Andréa called, returning decidedly alone.

“Fantastic,” she grunted. “Where are the girls?”

“Dad distracted them with snacks. It’s his really transparent way of trying to suck up after how Mom acted at breakfast,” she shrugged, eyeing Miranda suspiciously.

“Well. Best to luck of him, then,” Miranda said, reluctantly releasing her neck as she returned to the task at hand.

Andréa’s eyes went wide. “Shit, what did you do ?” she reached forward and brushed her fingers gently across Miranda’s throat before resting them there, eyeing the injury. Miranda shivered as she felt goosebumps erupt beneath Andréa’s fingertips.

“One of the poles slipped.” she glowered, feeling herself blush. “It’s nothing. Now, will you help me?”

“That’s a whole lot of ‘nothing’, Miranda,” retorted Andréa, either oblivious to Miranda’s reaction or polite enough to ignore it. “I’m getting you some ice.” With that she turned and walked toward the cooler, and Miranda had no choice but to roll her eyes and wait.

Returning with a frozen water bottle wrapped in a wash cloth, Andréa insisted that Miranda sit at the picnic table and ice her injury while she herself continued setting up.

“So, you’ve never put together a tent before?” Andréa gave her a quizzical look as she began hammering stakes into the ground. Apparently, this was a step Miranda had missed. It was for the best, however—there was no way she would have subjected her Julepér trousers to kneeling in the dirt.

“Of course not. I’ve lived in cities all my life. And while Berkeley had a wide range of course offerings in the seventies, I can assure you that tent-making was not one of them.” Miranda cringed internally at her own words. Andréa wasn’t even alive yet.

“We’re just putting it together, not making it,” Andréa corrected her. “And it doesn’t matter whether you were in a city, what about when you went—” her eyes widened with understanding, “…oh. This is your first time camping?”

“I’m not sure why you’re surprised.”

Andréa shrugged. “I just assumed that it was something everyone had done at least once.”

“Well, now I have.” Miranda gave a little shrug of her own, gesturing to the forest around them. “And what a joy it is.”

“You’re welcome,” she said jovially. “You’ve really never been invited on a camping trip before?”

“I distinctly remember being asked by more than one of my exes.” Miranda shifted, leaning back as gracefully as was possible while still holding a water bottle against her neck. “I think they believed it would be some sort of grand, romantic gesture—getting me to find myself in the woods, or something,” she scoffed.

A sly grin played on Andréa’s lips. “So, no one was able to talk you into going until me?”

“Oh, yes. You’re quite the smooth talker,” Miranda said, “None of the others thought threaten my visa, I’ll give you that.”

Andréa chuckled, unbothered. “You did a pretty good job, you know.” She gestured toward the tent as she hammered in the final stake, “Especially for someone who’s never tried it before.”

Miranda sat and observed for only a few minutes before she was up again, adjusting her shawl to better hide her apparently garish injury. The tent had been specially ordered from France and, predictably, its instruction manual was written only in French. Andréa barely spoke enough French to make her way around during Paris Fashion Week, and was quickly forced to hand the task of reading off to Miranda.

Fluent in both English and French, this shouldn’t have been a problem for her. However, the manual was littered with technical jargon that left Miranda as confused as someone who had never spoken a word of French in their life.

Eventually, Andréa’s brother and father made their way over to help. Or… try to, anyway. They had made some progress, but not much. After watching Benjamin and Mark’s fourth failed attempt at attaching one of the two adjoining bedrooms to the main section of the tent, Miranda called over Cassidy and Caroline.

She thrust the instruction manual into their hands. “See if you can make any sense out of this.” Neither of her daughters were fluent quite as she was, but they knew enough. More than Andréa, anyway.

Between the Priestly’s knowledge of French and the Sachs’ knowledge of the foreign language that was camping, eventually their tent was complete. It took nearly two hours, but it was complete.

With a makeshift front porch, two bedrooms, and a common area between them, the tent barely fit into the space allotted for it. Foliage brushed up against every side, and its roof collided with the branches above… yet, somehow, they had managed to make it work.

Miranda contemplated where to hang her hammock as she made her way toward the car, where Andréa was supposed to be collecting the last few items to be hauled into the tent. Instead, however, she stood perfectly still, chewing on a fingernail as she gazed into the trunk.

“Is something wrong?”

At Miranda’s words she turned, eyebrows furrowed. “Were you specific when you told Dani what kind of beds to buy?”

“Yes,” said Miranda, puzzled. “I told her to buy air mattresses.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Andréa sighed, rubbing her forehead. “I meant what size , Miranda. You know. Twin, queen, full… did you happen to mention a size to her?”

Miranda’s eyes widened with sudden understanding. “…oh.” She peeked over Andréa’s shoulder to see three packages of air mattresses sitting in the otherwise empty trunk: two twins, and one full.

She felt Andréa’s eyes studying her-- waiting for a reaction. Seeing if this news would prompt another argument.

Truth be told, though, Miranda had no idea how to feel. On the one hand, last night was the best sleep she had gotten in years-- allergies or no. On the other, however… sharing a bed certainly made keeping her distance more difficult, both literally and metaphorically.

But Andréa didn’t need to know any of that. “I imagine your family would have become suspicious if we slept in separate beds, anyway,” she said carefully.

Shoulders relaxed as Andréa nodded.

Considering how long it took to make the tent, filling it seemed to take no time at all. That was fine by Miranda, who was fantasizing about her hammock once more.

Eventually she settled upon a spot between two oaks, nestled out of sight in the shade. Blanket draped over her legs to stave off the chill, she had just managed to get comfortable when Cassidy waltzed over, expectant smile on her face. “C’mon, mom! Andy’s taking us fishing.”

The idea of abandoning her cocoon of comfort to go play with fish was so ridiculous that she let out a little snort of amusement. “I don’t think so, Bobbsey.”

“Please?”

Miranda shook her head. If she was going to be forced to take this little vacation, then she was going to enjoy at least a moment of it. Leaning back, she opened her book to where she had stopped nearly three months ago. “You  three enjoy yourselves. Don’t go near the water.”

Cassidy pouted. “But this will be your first time fishing.”

“I’ve had plenty of ‘firsts’ this morning, thank you.” Miranda barely glanced up from her novel.

“This will be fun, though,” she insisted, “Andy’s family will be there to help, and—”

“How about this,” Miranda interrupted, hearing the growing desperation in her daughter’s voice. Laying her book face down upon her lap, she took one of Cassidy’s hands and held it in both of her own. “The next time you go, I promise to come.”

Cassidy studied her carefully before nodding. At least that's one promise I can keep. She gave her hand a squeeze before picking back up her book.

“I was serious about the water,” she called as Cassidy ran to catch up with her sister, “You’ll catch the plague.”

Miranda was granted eighty-four minutes. Eighty-four glorious minutes of peace, before she heard the sound of a zipper from across the way—which she studiously ignored. But the zipper was quickly followed by a loud, inconsolable wailing—which was considerably more difficult to tune out. She glanced up to see Rachel bouncing Jacob in her arms as he cried, attempting unsuccessfully to soothe him.

Determined to relax, Miranda attempted to return her focus to her novel. This was the first time she’d read a book that wasn’t The Book in months, and she had barely managed to make it through three chapters-- which was unacceptable.

But the infant’s cries only grew louder, and before long Miranda shut her book with a huff of frustration. Perhaps if she found some headphones, or hid inside the tent… No. No amount of flimsy nylon was going to drown out the screeches now echoing around the campsite. As with most of her problems, Miranda’s only solution was to face it head on.

Taking a calming breath, Miranda plastered on her best I-don’t-want-to-kill-you smile before jaunting across the road toward Andréa’s sister and nephew.

Rachel gave her an apologetic look as she approached. “I’m sorry. He’s sleepy and bored, but refusing to sleep.” She sighed, “He gets this way once in awhile.”

Miranda shook her head. “Don’t be. Is there anything I can do?”

“No, not really. I mean...” Rachel paused, looking Miranda over with uncertainty. “...well, there is one thing. I'm sure you wouldn't want to, though. Really, it's fine--”

“Don't be ridiculous, I'll do anything to help,” Miranda smiled stiffly. As long as it means peace and quiet , she thought.

“Walks usually put him out pretty quickly.” She glanced toward the tent, “Maddie’s still napping, though, and I can't leave her. Would you mind…?”

“Of course not.”

“Oh, thank you so much. It shouldn't take too long, really--”

After a quick trip back across the road to grab her novel and a chair, Miranda was settled in once more.

Not thirty minutes later, though, the Reed’s tent began rustling with quiet movement. Miranda was content to ignore the noise—perhaps the child would fall back asleep? —but resigned herself to her fate when she began to hear small, distressed cries. The tent flap jerked sporadically as little hands tried to unzip it with little success, the cries growing louder with every failed attempt.

Miranda was already begrudgingly on her feet when she heard the first squeaky cry of “Help!”

“It’s alright,” Miranda replied, kneeling now before the tent’s entrance. “I’ll get you out. You have to stop tugging if you want me to unzip it.”

Madison gasped. “Who’re you?”

“I’m Miranda,” she said gently. “Will you let me open the flap?”

“Nuh-uh,” she said, small voice suddenly firm. “I don’t know no one named Miranda.”

“You do,” Miranda reminded her. “Don’t you remember this morning? We met before leaving the house. I’m André—er, I’m Andy’s… Miranda.”

There was a pause as Madison digested this information. “You’re Cassie and Caro’s mommy?”

Cassie and Caro—? Miranda shook her head. “I—yes. I’m Cassidy and Caroline’s mother. Are you going to let me help you, now?”

“Where’s my mommy? And Jakey?”

“Your mother took Jacob on a walk to help him sleep. She asked me to stay here with you.”

“Why?”

Miranda sighed quietly. She had almost forgotten how long-winded conversations with a preschooler could be. “Because she didn’t want you to wake up alone, I imagine. A good thing, too— otherwise you’d be stuck in this tent.” She paused as an idea occurred to her. “Of course… you’re still stuck. Until you let go of the zipper. Do you prefer being inside the tent? Perhaps I should go.”

At that, Madison quickly released her hold. With a great zip , Miranda opened the flap to the see the child staring up at her—clad in a blindingly pink top, with leggings to match. “Wanna color?”

Miranda raised her eyebrows. She most certainly did not want to color. “Wouldn’t you rather I take you to your father?” Cameron had gone with the rest of the family to-- well, now that she thought about it, she had no idea where they went.

Madison shook her head. “I don’t like fish. Will you color with me?” Her eyes lit up with sudden excitement. “I have a new Tiana book!” She ran back into the tent.

“Ah—well—" For all the countless times a day she said it at Runway , Miranda had never been much good at saying ‘no’ to children.

And so Miranda found herself seated at a nearby picnic table, coloring pictures of a frog princess while Madison sat in front of her, eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she worked to stay in the lines. Searching for a lighter shade of green amongst the box of crayons laying between them, Miranda was just beginning to think that perhaps her afternoon could still be halfway relaxing when Madison piped up, “Are you my auntie now?”

Miranda froze. Before she could muster up a response, however, the child continued, “Cassie and Caro said that they’re my cousins, but they didn't say what you are.” Propping herself up on her elbows, now, Madison leaned closer across the table. “My other cousin’s mommies are my aunties,” she reasoned.

Miranda tilted her head, at a loss for how to respond. “Do you want me to be your aunt?” she asked cautiously. Truthfully, she hadn't given the matter any thought. Madison squinted as she looked Miranda over, and Miranda found herself in the rather peculiar position of hoping for the acceptance of a four-year-old.

Finally, she nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Well that settles it, then.” Miranda shrugged, “I’m your aunt.” It occurred to Miranda that she had never been anyone’s aunt before, and she felt the corners of her lips twitching in spite of herself.

Madison’s face broke out into a toothy grin as she stood atop her bench, giving a little squeal of delight as she leaped off and rounded the table toward Miranda.

She yanked at her sleeve. “C’mon, Auntie Mira. Let’s go to the park.” Miranda felt her eyes widen, her stomach clenching unpleasantly in surprise at being addressed as Mira -- her childhood nickname-- for the first time in more than thirty years. Not even the precious few people she still spoke to from her past life called her Mira. It was a name dubbed her by Margaret, and therefore too painful to hear after her death.

Madison frowned, “You don’t wanna go?”

But none of that had anything to do with the child before her. Miranda stood up. “Of course I do,” she said warmly. Grin returning to her face, Madison grabbed her hand and took the lead.

As it turned out, the nearest playground was on the way to the lake where the rest of Andréa’s family had ran off to go fishing. Miranda learned this when, some time later, Andréa returned with the girls-- Rachel pushing along a sleeping Jacob behind them.

Andréa watched as Miranda continued pushing Madison on the swing set, a look on her face that Miranda had never seen before as their eyes met.

Madison chose that moment to leap from the swing-- tumbling onto her bottom before brushing herself off and running toward Andréa. “Annie!” She trilled, shoving her hand into her pocket and pulling out some folded bits of paper. “Look what Auntie Mira and I made you.”

Following not far behind, Miranda felt her face heat up with embarrassment. If she had known Madison was going to give it to Andréa, Miranda wouldn't have chosen to color the page with “True Love’s Kiss” scrolled across the top in garish flowing script, depicting the princess wedding her prince. In fact, she wouldn't have chosen anything at all.

Andréa only smiled, thanking Madison before turning to Miranda. “I didn't know you were an artist.” Expecting to be teased, Miranda was surprised when Andréa’s voice was instead full of wonder.

Thrown off, Miranda only shrugged. “I would hope that the editor-in-chief of Runway had a working knowledge of color coordination.” Madison had returned to her mother's side, and they began to stroll toward the campsite once more.

Andréa shook her head. “No, I meant this.” She held up the sketch that Miranda had been working on while coloring with Madison. Hewn in sloppy brown crayon upon the back of her picture was an idea that had come to Miranda while shading in the cartoonish wedding dress.

“Is that--” Andréa hesitated, “Is that me?”

“...I didn't realize that Madison had pocketed them,” Miranda replied evasively. “They're just scribbles.”

Andréa ran a reverent finger over the image. “I’ve never seen scribbles look like that.”

Miranda had, in fact, drawn a sketch of Andréa. There was little use in denying it. She had been inspired to design for the first time in nearly twenty years by the thought of the younger woman's wedding dress, and-- refusing to let the idea to go to waste-- Miranda had quickly jotted it down. Always very secretive with her work, she had meant to bring it with her.

The thrilled look upon Andréa’s face as she studied the drawing made it difficult to mind, however. “Is it…?” her voice trailed off, finally looking up from the paper to meet Miranda's eyes.

“Just an idea,” Miranda assured her. The gown was very different from what Miranda usually preferred--  a modified mermaid cut, with a Queen Anne bodice, it was certainly a different combination… but one that she knew would suit Andréa well. If she liked it, that is. “What you wear is up to you, of course. Well--” She remembered suddenly who she was speaking to, “Within reason,” she amended.

“I wasn't even--” Andréa looked over her shoulder, ensuring the girls weren’t within earshot. “I wasn't even sure if you wanted an official ceremony, to be honest,” she said quietly.

Miranda smirked. “You obviously don't know me as well as you thought you did, then. I never do anything halfway.”

Andréa grinned hugely, bumping shoulders with her lightly. “You keep on surprising me.”

Miranda felt herself smile as they continued walking. "So I do."

------

“Hey Andy,” came Danielle’s voice over the line, “Are you busy?”

Andy, standing in the tent’s front porch, looked over her shoulder to see Miranda ushering the twins in the direction of the bathrooms, massive tote-bag full of toiletries in hand. “Nope,” she said genially, “You picked a perfect time to call, actually."

“Good, because we have a problem.” Dani wasn’t one to mince words—probably one of the reasons she’d lasted so long under Miranda.

Not wanting to be overheard, Andy stepped into the tent, zipping up the flap behind her. “Because we don’t have enough already.” She sat down at the table in the middle of the common area, resting her head in one hand.

“You’ve got no idea.” Dani sounded exhausted. “I’ve been reading through our emails ever since what Sheryl told me yesterday, and I can’t find anything. I don’t—”

“Wait—what are you talking about? And who the hell is Sheryl?”

“What do you mean what am I talking about? I told Miranda this morning—about Harrison and Gruman.”

“That’s Miranda, not me. You know better than that.” Normally, the two of them had a system-- which mostly consisted of never assuming that Miranda had kept anyone else up-to-date. “What happened?”

“Oh. I just figured, since you were… you know…” Dani’s gave an awkward little cough. “Whatever. I didn’t tell her all of it, anyway.”

“Well you haven’t told me any of it,” Andy said impatiently, “so spill.”

“Okay. I’ve been trying to get ahold of Troy since Wednesday-- I’m telling you, Andy—between emails and voicemails, I’ve left this man at least a hundred messages,” said Dani, “But he never got back to me. Not even once. So, this morning I talked Emily into watching the desk for a few hours and went to see the slippery bastard for myself. I waited outside his office for an hour and a half before they opened.”

Andy nodded. “And what did he say?”

“Nothing. He didn’t say anything. That’s what’s so infuriating. Days of waiting—right in the middle of the crisis of the century—and I had to talk to his secretary ,” Dani fumed. “What the hell is Miranda paying him for, if he’s just gonna fall off the face of the Earth as soon as she needs him? I mean—”

“—I agree Dani, I do.” Andy cut her off, running a nervous hand through her hair. “But what did the receptionist say?”

“If you’d stop interrupting me then maybe I could tell you,” Dani said tightly.

“Right,” she sighed. “Sorry.”

“Sheryl told me that Troy wouldn’t be able to see me—that he was booked full all day. But she was kind enough to let me know that their office had tried to contact us about Miranda’s missing paperwork dozens of times over the last three months.”

“Bullshit,” Andy spat. “There’s no way we’d have missed that.”

“That’s exactly what I said,” Dani said, “But then she showed me the proof. They had everything, Andy. Screenshots, phone records… lord, they even had returned mail. Postmarked and everything.”

Andy was speechless. How could they have fucked up this monumentally without even realizing it?

“And so I’ve spent the last four hours sorting through all of our physical mail-- after spending twice as long combing through our emails,” Dani continued, “ Twice . All of them, from the last year and a half. There’s nothing, Andy.”

“...so, what do we do?” she asked finally.

“I don't know if there's anything else we can do,” Dani replied. “That's why I'm calling you.”

“I'm not sure what you expect me to do from Ohio, Dani.”

“Aren't your parents some big shot lawyers?” she asked hopefully, “Maybe you could ask for their advice, since Troy’s obviously up to no good.”

“No!” Andy snapped immediately. That was the absolute last thing they needed right now. “I mean-- no. They're, uh… bogged down with their own casework already. They don't need the extra stress,” she said lamely. “Especially around the holidays.”

“...Right.” Dani sounded skeptical. “Just… talk to Miranda, okay? Figure something out, because there's not much more I can do.”

“Okay,” Andy sighed. “Thanks, Dani. Get some sleep.” Dani snorted at the very idea before hanging up.

Pocketing her phone, Andy wasn't sure what to do with herself. Not in the mood to sit and stew on her many thoughts, she walked in the direction of her brother’s campsite, just next door.

She arrived to see Ben and Rachel sitting in front of the fire, immersed in their conversation. Content to sit and listen, Andy sat on a log across from them and opened a bottle of beer when Ben turned to her.

“Andy, how's the castle so far?” he joked. “Has it kept Her Highness sufficiently comfortable?”

“Be nice,” Andy snorted, tossing a bottle cap at his head. It whizzed limply through the air, barely managing to brush his kneecaps before falling sadly to the dirt. “This is her first time camping.” She thought for a moment, taking a swig of her drink before adding, “Actually... I think it's her first time in any sort of natural setting. Unless you count Central Park.”

“Awe, really? That's so sweet,” Rachel lit up with excitement. “Even Jake’s been camping before. Why didn't you tell us? There's so many things to show her. I bet Dad--”

“--aaaand this is why no one tells you anything,” Ben interjected. “You're gonna embarrass the poor woman. When did you become such a mom?”

Andy cackled loudly, which earned her a scowl from Rachel. “Well excuse me for trying to make your fiancé's first camping trip worthwhile.”

“Just please don't make it obvious that I told you when you do… whatever it is you're gonna do,” Andy said, only slightly exasperated. She knew her sister would give Miranda an embarrassingly Midwestern welcome no matter what she said. “She’ll kill me.”

“I make no promises,” Rachel grinned.  Andy just groaned.

Slowly but surely, the rest of the family gravitated toward the fire as the evening went on. The kids had finally gone to sleep, and the adults sat around the fire—roasting the occasional marshmallow, but mostly just drinking their various alcoholic beverages.

“You know, you haven’t told us your story yet,” Gammy said. She gave Andy’s shoulder a little poke from where she sat, in a rickety folding chair to Andy’s left.

Andy shifted uncomfortably on the log she shared with Miranda. “Uh. My story?”

“How you two got engaged!” Dad explained, a little too boisterously. “How a person proposes says a lot about them, you know.” He winked.

Mom nodded next to him. “It’s true. Who proposed to who?” Shit . Andy hadn’t even considered an engagement story.

“I did,” she blurted, only to hear Miranda saying the exact same thing next to her. Double shit . They turned to each other, wide-eyed. Miranda quirked an eyebrow, and Andy gave a tiny nod. Considering she’d just downed Miranda’s beer—after having two of her own—it was probably better if she didn’t do the talking.

Miranda didn’t miss a beat, giving a fake little laugh—the pleasant, tinkling kind she was always using at parties. “It’s actually quite funny—I’m surprised that Andréa hasn’t mentioned it yet. Well. I’m sure you know that this isn’t my first engagement.” She looked around the fire at her now rapt audience, eyes daring them to voice their judgment. “Nor my second.”

“But I wanted this time to be different—it is different, after all.” Her smile was radiant—if Andy didn’t know better, she would think it was real—as she slid closer to Andy. Where before there had been a healthy few inches separating them, now Andy could feel Miranda’s thigh pressed against her own.

As if that wasn’t distracting enough, she felt her head begin to spin as Miranda wrapped her arm around Andy’s waist, hand coming to rest somewhere just above her hip. “This time, I wanted it to be my decision.” Andy closed her eyes, trying to steady her breath and failing. “I knew exactly how I was going to propose, and when—Andréa obviously had other plans, however.”

“Of course, she did,” Rachel laughed loudly. How many beers had she had now? Obviously having the same thought, Cameron carefully pried the bottle from her hands.

“More than once, I had to head off Andréa’s attempts at proposing,” Miranda continued. “While sweet, they were a bit—ah— overdone. So, I played dumb. I pretended not to notice the ring sitting at the bottom of my champagne glass, or—I don’t know—sat on the rose petals spelling ‘Marry Me’,” She gave a small shrug, “You get the idea.”

“Hey,” Andy interrupted, feeling vaguely offended despite her haze of pleasure. “I’m a great proposer. You’re just… persnickety.”

Miranda only smirked. “You see? She has no idea.” Everyone laughed at that, and Andy gave a halfhearted scowl. “Anyway—the plans were made. Ideally, I wanted to wait until the day we met… but March was entirely too far away. Andréa was getting impatient and, frankly, so was I. Instead, I was going to wait instead until the day I finally realized that I was in love. But—”

“When was that?” Ben interjected.

Miranda paused, lips pursed. Andy felt suddenly chilled as Miranda removed her arm from Andy’s waist. For a moment, Andy wondered if she was going to ignore the interruption entirely. Miranda cleared her throat. “November seventh. Of last year.”

November seventh? Andy thought, Where the hell did she come up with—

“Last November.” Mom said, head tilted in thought, “Isn’t that when Andy had her appendix removed?”

Oh. Right . How could Andy have forgotten the time she almost died?

Mom nodded. “I almost forgot that you were the one who told us. I was so worried, I didn’t stop to think—you stayed with her that whole time, didn’t you? The doctors mentioned something like that, after. A woman who refused to leave until Andy was stable.”

What? Andy furrowed her brow, looking at Miranda in confusion. “You stayed?” Miranda didn’t look at her. She had removed one of her bracelets, fiddling with it absentmindedly as she stared into the fire. “Why don’t I remember any of this?”

“I expect because you were unconscious,” Miranda murmured. “I stayed until you woke up. There was still quite a bit of anesthesia in your system—I would be surprised if you remembered anything at all.”

Apparently abandoning her tale, Miranda sat quietly. No one dared object. For a few moments the only sounds were the crackling of the fire, combined with the quiet sounds of nature around them.

Andy cleared her throat awkwardly, feeling the need to break the silence. “Anyway-- uh--” she stumbled, pulling everyone from their thoughts. “I was worried that she wanted to leave me. Since she ignored all of my proposals, you know. Even though they were perfectly good proposals.” Ben snorted at that, and she shot him a dirty look.

“So I confronted her one day, after work. We were in the kitchen cooking dinner, and I asked her if she still loved me, and she said ‘Of course I love you, Ahn-drey-ah, don’t be ridiculous’ ,” Andy tried not to panic as she felt herself beginning to ramble. “And I said ‘Well then why are you acting like this?’, and then she said--”

“And then I said that maybe if she had more patience, she could have had the perfect proposal,” Miranda interruppted. “Instead, I proposed to her during an argument, standing in the middle of the kitchen on a Tuesday.”

“Weren’t you kneeling?” Andy asked innocently, trying not to laugh. “I could’ve sworn you were kneeling.”

Miranda’s only answer was to roll her eyes, shaking her head.

“So… where’s the ring?” asked Rachel suddenly, “Or-- rings?”

Uh oh. Yet another detail that Andy had completely forgotten about. “I—um—”

“I’ve been holding onto them,” Miranda interjected, unzipping her coat and reaching into her breast pocket before pulling out a little box—saving the day once again. She opened it, and Andy’s jaw dropped.

One of Andy’s final conditions had been a pretty ring. With everything else going on, it had completely slipped Andy’s mind—but Miranda had obviously taken this demand to heart. Inside the box were two rings that, while different, were obviously made to be a pair. Both white gold, one of the rings was a band inlaid with small diamonds in a row across its face.

The other had a large, oval cut diamond in the center, encircled by smaller diamonds that were twin to the ones in its mate. It was this second ring that Miranda removed, setting the box in Andy’s right hand before gently taking her left. Andy could hear her heart pounding in her ears as Miranda slid the ring into place.

Miranda smiled, rubbing her thumb gently over Andy’s knuckles before giving a small squeeze and letting go. “Lovely,” she murmured, “Perfectly lovely.” Reaching now for the box, Miranda plucked out her ring to put it on, as well.

But Andy swatted her hand away before she could, grabbing the ring for herself. “Let me,” she said, pulling Miranda’s hand toward her lap. Despite the chill in the air, it was warm.

Carefully, so carefully, Andy slid the ring onto her third finger. The way the firelight now twinkled off its jewels was almost as beautiful as the way it was twinkling in Miranda’s eyes as she watched. Andy was entranced. Not stopping to think, she pulled Miranda’s hand close, brushing her lips against it softly.

There was a sharp intake of breath, but Miranda didn’t pull away. Andy looked up, searching her face for any sign of discomfort and finding none.

“Aw, just look at them,” cooed Gammy, “Look how in love they are. Kiss the bride, Andy!”

Oops. She’d completely forgotten about their little audience. “Um—”

“Mother. Leave them alone,” Mom said tightly, “There’s no reason make them uncomfortable.” That’s rich coming from you , Andy thought bitterly—but felt a rush of affection toward her mom, regardless.

“Go on, Dandy! Kiss her!” Rachel hollered, elbowing Ben next to her as she took a healthy gulp of the beer that she had snatched back from Cameron. He gave Andy an apologetic look.

“Yeah! Why not?” Ben laughed, apparently deciding to play along in her torture, “Kiss her! It’ll be like practice for the big day.”

“Do it!” Rachel cackled evilly. Andy scowled. It was like being ten years old again, but infinitely worse.

She was approximately three seconds away from telling them both to go to hell when she heard Miranda sigh next to her. “Oh, for god’s sake,” she muttered, scooting impossibly closer. Andy was rendered mute as she felt her hair being brushed softly behind her ear—and when she felt the warm pressure of Miranda’s lips against her cheek, she wondered if she’d ever be able to speak again.

Cheek burning where it had been kissed, Andy turned to look at Miranda. But she moved much too quickly—and suddenly, they were nose-to-nose. Andy barely suppressed a gasp—she wasn’t sure they had never been this close before.

From this angle, she could see clearly the grey that ran along the edges of blue irises, fencing the color in. She could see each eyelash and laugh line, could count every freckle if she desired—but instead her eyes travelled still further down, distracted as she watched Miranda’s tongue dart out to wet her lips.

Andy bit her lip at the sight, eyes travelling back up to meet Miranda’s—but they were closed, now. There was no mistaking her uneven breathing—even if Andy couldn’t see her chest’s rapid movement, she could feel each little puff of air as it escaped Miranda’s lips.

It would be so easy— Andy’s mind raced with disjointed thoughts as she leaned still closer, Terrible idea— What if she— Maybe I could—

—oh.

Miranda closed the distance between them, brushing her lips against Andy’s gently. The world around them disappeared as Andy felt the warm pressure of Miranda’s mouth against her own, somehow even softer and more inviting than she had imagined.

She felt Miranda inhale sharply as Andy replied with a kiss of her own—firmer this time, but only just. She lingered longer than Miranda had, feeling her hands drift up to cradle Miranda’s face between them. Her lips tasted like peppermint and something else, something very distinctly Miranda . Wanting a better taste, Andy swiped her tongue over Miranda’s bottom lip, her touch feather light.

Miranda shivered at the contact, and suddenly, all coherent thought was lost for Andy as her brain began chanting more, more, more —but then she felt Miranda’s hands resting atop her own, felt her pulling gently away. Andy resisted the urge to whine in frustration.

Her eyes fluttered open to the sight of Miranda staring back at her, cheeks flushed and eyes shining, her face saying the same thing that Andy was thinking—

“Wow,” Andy breathed.

“Oh, I’m so happy for you two!” Gammy exclaimed, voice suddenly much closer than before. Miranda’s eyes widened in horror as they were both yanked against Gammy’s chest in a teary embrace. “So, so happy!”

Miranda wriggled out of her arms as fast as she could. “Yes, we’re all very happy,” she said shakily, running a hand through her now very ruffled hair. “I think it’s well past time for bed, don’t you?” she looked at Andy desperately. Andy nodded in agreement, pretty sure that she would agree to just about anything Miranda said at the moment.

The journey back to the tent was quiet, both too embarrassed to say much of anything. Walking through the common area and entering the room to its right, Andy was surprised to feel how incredibly chilly it still was. “I could have sworn I left the heater on,” she said, hugging herself tightly.

Miranda knelt before the large, boxy space heater, pushing several buttons at random before giving up with a huff of irritation. “You did,” she said, turning toward her once more. “It’s broken.” She scooped up a pair of pajamas and a little hygiene bag, heading back to the room’s entrance.

“I’m going to check on the girls,” she said, zipping up the door behind her. “I’ll change while I’m there—I suggest you do the same.”

Quick as Andy could, she hopped into her warmest flannel pajamas. She rushed through a very addended version of her nightly routine—washing her face turned into scrubbing it with a makeup removal wipe, brushing her teeth turned into swishing a bit of mouthwash and hoping that Miranda didn’t come close enough to smell her awful morning breath come tomorrow.

She gave the heater another check, only to see that Miranda was right—it was dead. Andy rolled her eyes. Having been the one to pick them up, she knew that Miranda spent at least $200 each on these things. So much for getting what you pay for . This had been one luxury that Andy wouldn’t have minded in the least.

As she crawled into her sleeping bag, snuggling up beneath the blankets overtop of it, Miranda returned. “Well, the girls’ heater is working just fine.” Climbing into her sleeping bag, she rolled to face Andy. She gave a small smile, propping her head up on one hand. “It’s downright toasty in their room. I almost didn’t come back for you.”

“It’s good that you did,” Andy said seriously, “We’re gonna need all of the extra body heat we can get without it.” She eyed Miranda’s silk pajamas suspiciously, “Especially you. You know fabrics better than anybody, Miranda. There’s no way you thought those would actually keep you warm.”

“I had assumed I wouldn’t need to worry about it,” Miranda shrugged before narrowing her eyes, watching as Andy unzipped her own sleeping bag. “What are you doing?”

“I told you,” she explained, avoiding her gaze, “We need the shared body heat. The best way to do that is to combine our sleeping bags.” Oh god , Andy groaned internally. I sound like a cheesy opening for a porno .

Miranda stared at her incredulously, making no move to unzip her own bag.

“Look, I’m not thrilled about it either.” Andy could feel the color rising in her cheeks, and wondered if maybe death by hypothermia wouldn’t be so bad after all. “But it’s supposed to get below freezing tonight. This isn’t my first time camping in cold weather. If we don’t do this, we’re both gonna be miserable.”

Miranda rolled her eyes, turning to face the other way. “I’ll take my chances,” she said. There was a click as she turned off the solar powered lantern, and the tent was blanketed in darkness.

One hour passed, and then two—but sleep refused to come. Even covered in flannel, lying beneath two blankets and inside her body heat-capturing sleeping bag, Andy was still chilly. Used to cold-weather camping, though, that wasn’t what kept her awake. No, what was keeping Andy awake was Miranda.

They lay in opposite directions, both teetering near the edge to give one another as much room as possible on the air mattress. But even their best efforts didn’t change the bed’s size—there couldn’t have been more than a foot between them. They were close enough that, every time Andy finally felt herself reaching the fuzzy edges of consciousness, she was awoken by Miranda shivering beside her.

One hour turned to two and finally she heard an exasperated sigh. “ Fine ,” Miranda said, defeated.

And so their sleeping bags were hastily zipped together. Once again, they gave one another as much space as possible—which was now barely a few inches. Inevitably, one of Miranda’s hands brushed against Andy’s shoulder.

“Jesus Christ—” she swore, flinching away reflexively, “—your hands are freezing .”

“You don’t say,” Miranda deadpanned, rubbing them together for warmth.

Hesitantly, Andy held her hands out in offering. Miranda eyed them skeptically in the near-complete darkness, but only for a moment. Her need for warmth overpowering any sense of pride, she extended her hands as well.

Andy enveloped them with her own, rubbing heat into them bit by bit. After only a few minutes of this, Miranda’s stiff form began to relax. She sighed contentedly, and Andy tried not to think about how incredibly close they were, or how soft Miranda’s hands felt in her own.

They lay this way for a long time, one moment blending with the next in their haze of sleepy warmth. Aware that Miranda’s hands were now a perfectly reasonable temperature, Andy didn’t want to let go. Searching with her fingertips, she found the engagement ring she had placed there only a few hours before.

“They’re beautiful,” Andy murmured, stroking now at the narrow ridges that held the jewels in place.

“I’m glad you like it,” Miranda’s voice was low, “I knew the oval cut would compliment you nicely.” Her thumb ran absentmindedly across Andy’s fingers as she continued. “And I’ve only ever seen you wear silver. I like gold, though. I hoped you wouldn’t mind the—” she took back one of her hands to cover a yawn “—I hoped you wouldn’t mind the compromise.”

Andy was grateful for the darkness that hid the surprise surely written on her face. She had assumed that Dani had been the one to pick out their rings, just like everything else for this trip. Never would she have guessed that Miranda had chosen them herself. Maybe I should have, though, she thought, remembering the gorgeous wedding gown that Miranda had “scribbled” earlier that day.

Andy felt her chest fill with warmth at the memory, and found she was at a loss for words.

There was no need to respond, though. Next to her, Miranda’s breathing was even and slow. Andy smiled, wrapping her hands around Miranda’s own once more as she finally succumbed to sleep.