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After Runway

Chapter Text


 

What if this storm ends
and leaves us nothing
except a memory
a distant echo

- Snow Patrol, "The Lightning Strike"


 

Prologue

 

There is an endless stream of calls, mostly made to Miranda's lawyers. Some are about the divorce, but most are about business; the terms of Miranda's contract, her shares in Elias-Clarke. The avenues of recourse she has available to her now that - now that - now that -

Andy's mind seems to stutter, unable to process the facts in evidence. Switches tasks of its own accord and begins changing their flights, getting them back to New York and the hell out of Paris first thing in the morning.

She dials and talks, dials and talks, dials and talks. But eventually there is no one left to call, and the remainder of the evening slows down and speeds up, becoming a blurred set of images. Snapshots of the world askew, things come undone. Later she’ll remember a soft pink Dior lipstick left uncapped on a marble sink. A single Prada heel lying beside Miranda's unmade bed. The dark red Marchesa dress Miranda had yet to wear, now slipped off its hanger and lying on the floor;  a crimson stain of fabric, garish and violent against the soft cream of the suite's plush carpet.

Miranda hides behind her sunglasses, barricades herself behind closed doors. Addresses Andy with as few words as possible. Allows her continued proximity, or maybe just ignores it. Wipes her makeup off, even the concealer, and then sits in front of a room service tray she doesn't eat.

"What can I do?" Andy pleads, when there is nothing left to be done.

"Flee," Miranda tells her and looks at her as if she's obtuse. As if Andy persists in being slow and useless; a continued to disappointment, no matter how far she's come. "Find someone else to serve."

It's the last thing Miranda says to her, ignoring Andy entirely after that. Punishes her loyalty with silence and then disappears into the privacy of her car outside of JFK. Leaves Andy standing there alone, watching her pull away. The silver Mercedes merging into a long line of similar cars; an unremarkable silhouette that recedes from Andy's view.

 

Chapter Text


 

Right round like a record, baby
Right, round, round, round

- Dead Or Alive, "You Spin Me Round"


 

 

“Damn it,” Andy yelps. Holds her now coffee-stained blouse away from her already burning skin. Whips around to glare at the guy who walked right into her and then kept going. “So important on your fucking phone!” she yells at his retreating back. “Douche.”

The nice thing about New York is that a person can lose her shit in the middle of the street and no one will bat an eye at it, let alone stare at her like she’s crazy. Of course, the only reason Andy is doing so in the first place is because people here don’t think to ever apologize when they literally collide with her in a crowded path they all have to share. But this last part she chooses not to dwell on given that the city is now her home.

“Whoa, what happened to you?” Keith asks when she gets into the bullpen.

“Stained and burned is the new fashion trend,” she snaps. Pats uselessly at her blouse with a wet paper towel. “What do you think happened?”

“Hey there,” Keith says. Holds his hands up in mock surrender.

“Sorry,” Andy offers. She closes her eyes and wishes she could start this day again. “Sorry… I shouldn’t have yelled. This has just been the worst morning and it’s barely eight o’clock.”

“I’m sorry,” Keith offers. He sounds so very kind that Andy feels even worse for snapping at him.

“I have an extra dress shirt you can use. I assume you can figure out how to make a men’s shirt look fashionable, knowing you.”

“Thank you,” Andy replies and sits down heavily behind her desk. “But I have an extra blouse on hand for just such occasions.”

Keith gives her another sympathetic look and Andy tells herself to get it together. Yes, people can be assholes. But she has a job she likes (well, mostly likes) in the field she wants to be in, and with co-workers who care about her. Life could be worse. In fact, it had definitely been worse only a year ago.

“Linda said to invite you for dinner this week,” Keith says now. “We both promise not to talk too much about potty training, though I personally make no promises about how many Miranda Priestly questions Linda asks.”

“I think prefer to talk about potty training,” Andy sighs. Opens the drawer where she has two spare blouses stashed. Wishes one of them went went better with her skirt.  “Besides, the newspapers are a better source for Priestly gossip than I am. I’ve told you both that before.”

“And not even I believe that lie,” Keith laughs.

“I’ve already worked here longer than at Runway,” Andy shrugs. Makes a big production of sounding disinterested in Miranda Priestly and everything associated with her. “I didn’t even make it seven months before Miranda was ousted.”

Keith gives a knowing look that Andy pointedly ignores, then goes to the bathroom to change.

The new blouse doesn’t clash, Andy decides in the mirror, it just doesn’t compliment the rest of what she’s wearing. The cut is all wrong and even then the white should be a true white, not an eggshell.

If would be easier if she didn’t know this, which is why Andy sometimes wishes she was still blissfully ignorant of fashion. There was less to pick herself apart about back then, in the days when she didn’t look at herself in a mirror and wonder if Miranda would frown at her choices. Cut Andy to the quick with a handful of softly spoken words.

Andy tears herself away from the mirror, goes back to work. Spends the entirety of the day fact-checking and generally being a gopher for other reporters at the Mirror. She gives herself twenty minutes for lunch, and even then just unwraps the sandwich she brought with her and eats it at her desk.

She goes home tired, but like most days feels wrung out rather than exhausted. She drags home to the new apartment she shares with two roommates. Cleans up the mess one of them left in the kitchen and then goes about making herself some dinner.

“Drinks?” Jen asks her. Comes out of her bedroom dressed up in a knock off Prada dress and some fuck-me boots. “I’m meeting up with Jesus and a couple guys at that new whiskey bar.”

“No thanks,” Andy shakes her head. Is already in her pajama pants and has no desire to change that, let alone commune with other humans in a noisy bar.

A few months ago Jen would have tried harder, spent a few minutes extolling the venue or the attractiveness of one of her new coworkers who just happens to be coming. But by now Jen only shrugs one shoulder and says, “kay.” Grabs her keys and heads right out the door.

It’s Friday night, which means Andy doesn’t have to be up early the next morning. So she watches an hour of various news shows, clicking back and forth. Reads a few chapters of the book her mom gave her last Christmas but that she never gets around to finishing.

It’s an easy life now. No five in the morning emergencies regarding overpriced scarves or lattes specified to precision. No more pretending that mocked up images of ten-thousand-dollar accessories are the stuff of life and death.

It’s a better life this way, Andy has decided. Washes her face with an expressionless woman looking back at her in the mirror.

 

. . .

 

“Word on the street is that Miranda Priestly is launching another magazine,” Doug tells Andy over brunch.

Andy skews her face and tries not to choke on her mimosa. It would be truly tragic if she passed out before she’d even gotten a bite of the heavenly looking omelette she just ordered.

“Word on what street, exactly?” Andy asks and sounds as dismissive as possible.

“Well,” Doug cocks his head. Licks the salt from his bloody mary. “Not so much the ‘street’ as my gym. Some finance guy in the locker room.”

“Oh, well there you have it,” Andy drawls. “Call the Times.”

“Don’t you care?” Doug asks. But then they both pause in holy silence as their meals arrive, smelling of heavenly pig fat and various cheeses. “Well,” Doug prods again, once they’ve both tucked in. “Aren’t you interested in the new affairs of La Priestly?”

As Doug clearly knows, Andy is very interested. But she doesn’t want to admit it to him. Or herself. And even if she did, she wouldn’t go trusting some locker room talk from Wall Street bros sweaty from their totally killer round of racquetball.

“I’m sure she has something going,” Andy allows. “She wouldn’t be who she is if she wasn’t driven even after a setback. Now will you hand me a bite of that sausage you’re hoarding?”

“That’s it?” Doug gapes. Keeps the sausage from her because apparently he’s forgotten how seriously Andy takes breakfast meats. “This from the woman who would stay up at night googling ‘Miranda Priestly’ when she lived on my couch?”

“Low blow,” Andy warns and yanks the side plate of sausage right out of Doug’s hands. Dumps the rest of it unceremoniously onto her plate. “Those were very dark weeks for me.”

“They were,” Doug placates. Probably just wants some of the sausage back, but too fucking bad because Andy is keeping it all now.

“I came back from Paris without a job,” Andy reminds him and stabs a link onto her fork. “ And without a relationship. And with a lease I had to pay to break because I couldn’t afford to keep my apartment alone. “

“It was bad,” Doug agrees. “I know, honey.”

“So  sure, it was easier to concentrate on what Miranda was doing rather than worrying about my own life,” Andy defends. Shovels another piece of sausage into her mouth. “Unhealthy, yeah. But I got past it.”

Got passed it by allowing herself only a once per week google search of Miranda, Andy means. And avoiding all discussions of Miranda or Runway no matter what now. That part really helps.

“You did,” Doug agrees. Sounds sincere enough that Andy relaxes. “May I have some of that sausage back now?”

“You may not,” Andy declines and narrows her eyes.

“Harsh but fair,” Doug sighs. “Anyway, I’m sure if you actually got curious you could just ask your friend Nigel.”

“Nigel?” Andy repeats with a full mouth.

“Wasn’t that the name of the guy you were friends with at Runway ?” Doug continues, despite his grossed out expression. “The one would pulled the whole Pygmalion routine with you?”

“Yeah, Nigel,” Andy says softly. Wipes her mouth.

“Well I assume you two are still chummy, given that he gave you that glowing recommendation for the Mirror .”

Andy gives her trademark embarrassed expression and Doug gapes, then looks at her with something akin to paternal judgment.

“You haven’t talked to him at all?” Doug demands.

“I sent him a very nice email,” Andy weakly defends. “Thanking him for… “

“The outlandishly kind recommendation, which got you your present job,” Doug reminds.

“Yeah,” Andy cringes.

“Andy,” Doug says sternly.

“I know,” Andy shakes her head. Feels truly awful because she loves Nigel. It’s just that he was a part of Runway , and that memory all seems so painful now.

“Do you?” Doug demands. Sounds truly disappointed.

“I’m an asshole,” Andy admits.

“Not overall,” Doug softens. “But in this specific area, yes. And give me some of that sausage back, you little ingrate.”

Andy watches as Doug loads his plate. She gives a sad little sigh that he friend haughtily ignores.

 

. . .

 

Andy calls Nigel’s office at James Holt the next day. She assumes she’ll have to leave a message with an assistant, maybe if she’s lucky get Nigel's personal voicemail. But instead she’s put right on through.

“Six?” Nigel says, and Andy is much relieved to be alone in her bedroom because she actually tears up at hearing that jaunty voice of his.

“That’s me,” she says and tries to sound chipper. “Though still a size four, if you must know.”

“It’s good to hear from you,” Nigel says. “So what’s shakin’? Need another reference?”

“What?” Andy trips over the word.

“I assume the Mirror might be having layoffs soon,” Nigel explains, sounding saddened. “So I assume you need another reference?”

It’s entirely possible that the Mirror might be having layoffs - no secret that the whole of print news continues to take a nosedive. Still, Andy hasn’t considered it more than academically. Even now that Andy is considering it for the first time, she only feels worried about Keith with his two kids.

“No reference,” Andy manages finally. “I just wanted to call.”

“Oh,” Nigel says before he pauses for a moment. “I’m sorry, Andy. I just assumed.”

Assumed that after months silence Andy was only calling now because she needed something from him. Nigel is kind enough not to spell it out but Andy still feels like total scum.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long,” Andy begins. “But I was hoping maybe I could take you to dinner as a very belated thank you. Do a little catching up.”

“I would love that,” Nigel replies. “But my schedule is kind of a nightmare these days.”

Andy assumes she’s getting a brush off, which she totally understands given how rude she’s been. But then she hears the clicking of a computer keyboard, Nigel’s muffled voice talking to someone else.

“Can you do this Friday or next Tuesday?” Nigel asks when he comes back on the line.

“Tuesday works for me,” she says. She’s free both evenings, but she doesn’t get paid until Monday and she knows she needs to take Nigel somewhere nice.

“Perfect. Send me a text in a few days and we’ll narrow down the time.”

“Okay,” Andy beams. “I can’t wait to see you, Nige.”

“Ditto, honey,” Nigel assures. Makes Andy feel right as rain.

 

. . .

 

The next morning Andy picks out her outfit with a newfound purpose. She isn’t seeing Nigel today but merely talking to him for a few minutes fills her with a kind of pep - a kind of zeal - that maybe she’s been missing.

She looks longingly at her Chanel boots, but alas they aren’t appropriate. Decides instead on a wrap-effect Prada dress that she got at a consignment store months ago, its flattering bodice and swishy skirt having been too beautiful to pass up. The pale pink is a little tricky for this late in summer, but she pairs it with a cream jacket that adds some structure to the softness. She tosses in a few delicate gold necklaces that just barely catch the eye.

It’s still early when she finishes her hair and makeup, but she decides to head on in anyway. Might as well use some of her new energy to tackle her workload.

It’s fun to see her sleek, straightened hair bouncing behind her in the windows. Nice to hear the solid click that only an expensive pair of heels can give. She ignores the cat calls and unsavory looks. Crosses block after block with a spring in her step.

It isn’t until she arrives at the Mirror that she questions whether she really wants to walk in this early, add another forty-five minutes to her trudge of a workday.

Maybe a Starbucks run, Andy debates. Keith is forever bringing her coffee back on days when she’s especially whiny, so she kind of owes him anyway. Two birds, one stone really.

She’s turned around, about to cross the street when a car very nearly runs her over.

“Hey,” she says and bangs her fist on the silver hood. So fucking typical that she’s having a good morning and still - still she almost get run down in the street.

“God, I’m sorry, Andy. Are you okay?” the driver asks.

“I’m fine, Roy,” Andy waves him off angrily. Then spins around. “Roy?”

She stands there for a few seconds, thinking she’s hallucinating. But then she hears the voice she’s been both been fixated on and trying to forget for the last nine months 

“At what point did you interpret my directions to wait for Andrea as incentive to maim her?” 

Andy can’t see her, Miranda is still in the car. But her voice carries remarkably clearly from the window she’s apparently rolled down on the side closest to Roy.

“We were waiting for you,” Roy supplies. “I’m sorry again. I honestly didn’t see you start to step out into the street.”

“Waiting for me,” Andy repeats. Because everything Roy says after this just doesn’t process. Miranda is actually here, in the car directly to Andy’s left, and apparently she’s has been waiting for her.

“It would be a lot easier if you just got in the car now,” Roy whispers, once Miranda has apparently rolled up her window again.

The man isn’t begging but he’s pretty close. Andy would feel sympathy if she could feel anything at all right now.

“Right,” Andy says, and gathers herself. “Okay.” At which point Roy walks around to the other side of the car and opens a door for Andy, and Andy slides right in like this isn’t all bat shit crazy.

“Miranda,” Andy greets once she’s settled in the car. Manages not to sound strangled or shrieky or - God help her - too eager.

“Are you unharmed?” Miranda asks. Sounds genuinely concerned, which is a trip for Andy in and of itself.

“Just a little test of the old reflexes,” Andy dismisses. “It was my fault anyway for crossing against the light.”  It wasn’t and she didn’t, but lord knows Roy needs all the help he can get right now.

“Mm,” Miranda says, and then settles into her characteristic silence. Which Andy has actually missed, come to think of it, and so takes the time to look at the bracelets stacked neatly on Miranda’s thin wrist, the burgundy polish on her neatly manicured nails. An onyx necklace sits just so on Miranda's collarbone, a second necklace disappearing beneath her white silk blouse.

“So,” Andy prompts. “You wanted to see me?”

But Miranda’s only answer is cold silence, the likes of which Andy no longer enjoys because it now feels like a punishment. And for what, exactly? She isn’t Miranda’s employee anymore. Miranda's opinion shouldn’t matter as much as it does to Andy, and even then Andy has already had her fill of being one of Miranda's disappointments. 

Miranda just stares at her. Perhaps looks at her the same way she did when they first met - a sad little person who’s presence Miranda merely found a curious anamoly. 

“Great talk, Miranda,” Andy rolls her eyes.Goes with her gut and does the foolish thing of getting out of the car before Miranda can say anything else. Opens the car door and then closes it with the same confidence. Goes into work because she’s now forgotten all about Starbucks and her coffee debt to Keith.

“You look really nice,” Keith smiles at her. “What’s up?”

“Just felt like making an effort,” Andy says. “But it’s been a really weird morning.”

“Like, pervert on the subway weird?”

“Weirder.”

“Ouch,” Keith says. “Well you just stay over there, lest your weird rub off on me.”

Andy takes the mature route. Sticks her tongue out at him.

 

. . .

 

Andy comes out of her office building to find Roy loitering on the sidewalk.

“This is beneath you,” Andy tells him and slips on her sunglasses. “And where’s the car?”

“Two blocks over,” Roy nods his head to the side. “She didn’t want to spook you this time.”

“Running me over and spooking me aren’t the same thing,” Andy huffs. “Tell her I’m too busy for whatever game of torture the ex-assistant she’s decided to play.”

“Andy, please. Just talk to her.”

“I tried. She did one of her classic Priestly power moves. So tell her it was nice to see her but no thanks.”

The funny thing is, it was more than nice to see Miranda. Actual descriptions could more accurately be found under the heading of ‘blinding relief’ or perhaps ‘thrilling’. But the things is, Andy now keenly remembers that last day in Paris. Remembers that painful, punishing silence. Andy’s personal reward for being the last man standing in the fallen Priestly kingdom.

Just thinking about it now makes Andy want to cry all over again, so no, she doesn’t want to get back in a car with a woman she once broke her back to please, only to be rewarded with more wordless judgement.

“Andy,” Roy tries again. Sounds terrified now.

“I’m sorry. I really am. Good luck with her though.”

Andy doesn’t feel like walking all the way to subway after that so she stops into a bar two blocks down. Orders a whiskey neat and calls her roommate.

“Yo,” Jen says. Sounds like she’s rummaging around in something. Probably her closet.

“You feel like going out tonight?” Andy asks. Slams half of her whiskey down as the bartender watches her with a wary look.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously.”

“There’s a new club opening,” Jen tells her. Sounds a little hesitant. “It’s probably going to be too loud and crowded for you though.”

“Perfect,” Andy says. Finishes her whiskey and then motions for another.

. . .

 

Andy decides she’s never drinking again after the second time she throws up. An episode not to be confused with her third round of barfing, which happens somewhere on 42nd Street (into a trash can), or else her fourth, which happens in the women’s room directly adjacent to her desk.

“Dude,” Keith says with disdain.

“I know,” Andy waves him off. “I’m too old to be this much of an idiot. Trust me, I know.”

“You look like shit,” Keith tells her.

“Thanks,” Andy scowls. Turns on her computer.

“I say it with love.”

It’s not like Andy can blame anyone but herself. She’s hungover, barely slept, and came in wearing pants purchased in the leisure section of not-a-store-she-admits-to-shopping-in.

“You should go home,” Keith says at lunchtime.

“I can’t,” Andy groans. “I’ve gotta finish the day at least.”

“Please don’t. I’ve had to smell your bourbon breath long enough.”

It’s not like she’s been super productive today anyway, right?

Andy gets all the way home, only to find Miranda’s silver Mercedes parked in front of her building.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Andy whines. Stomps straight over to the car because there’s no use avoiding it anymore.

“Bad night?” Roy asks her when he gets out of the car.

“Can it,” Andy barks. Opens the car door herself and slams it behind her.

“You look horrid,” Miranda pronounces. Doesn’t look up from whatever it is she’s reading in order to insult Andy.

“I feel as great too, so why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell me why you keep haunting me?”

“What happened between today and yesterday?” Miranda asks. Predictably ignores Andy’s question but at least slips her glasses off and gives Andy her direction attention. “You looked passably attractive yesterday and today you appear in public as though you have entirely lost the will to live.”

Because you happened, Andy wants to scream. But doesn’t. Knows not to give Miranda that much power.

“What is it you want?” Andy asks again. Sounds deflated now. Like one of those big parade balloons that someone’s downed, then stomped all the air out of.

“I’ve begun a new enterprise,” Miranda finally answers. Touches her glasses to her lips in that way that Andy has always found mesmerizing. “I’m here to offer you a position.”

“As what, your assistant?” If Miranda’s surprised with how disinterested Andy sounds, she doesn’t show it.

“Of sorts,” Miranda confirms. “But you’ll have more editorial duties than you did as my assistant at Runway .”  

“Send me an offer in writing,” Andy crosses her arms.

“The nature of this enterprise is still sensitive,” Miranda hedges, but Andy shakes her head to interrupt.

“Attach whatever legal rider you want to about the information contained in the offer. But I want an offer in writing, plus time to think it over.”

“I’ve already wasted enough time,” Miranda counters, clearly vexed now. “Chasing you all over this city.”

“You only chased me in the first place because you know my skills. And my dedication. Which is why you can afford to give me a few days.”

“Journalism has made you foolish and reckless,” Miranda accuses.

No, journalism has made her boring and maybe a little depressed, Andy realizes now. It’s hurt and anger that have made her reckless.

“You don’t have to give me an offer at all,” Andy points out. “You can go out and find someone else. Another smart, fat girl with better qualifications than I ever had.”

But not my loyalty, Andy thinks. Knows it’s the whole reason Miranda is sitting here, listening to Andy to talk to her like this.

“Three days,” Miranda allows. Practically hisses it. “Three days and then my offer evaporates.”

“Clock starts as soon as I get it in my hand,” Andy says. Salutes her, just to be a jerk.

Roy gets out of the car even though Andy is already out, having closed the door behind her.

“How did she even know I was leaving work early?”Andy asks him. Feels both curious and kind of disturbed.

“She tried to catch you this morning but we ran out of time because you were late. She caught sight of you going in and… well.”  Determined Andy had just crawled out of a bottle and probably wouldn’t be finishing her workday, Roy doesn’t say. Simply shifts uncomfortably on his feet.

“I made her angry,” Andy warns. “Again. So have fun.”

Roy gets back in the car with an expressionless face and Andy watches the car pull out. Tells herself that nothing is worth the stress and humiliation of working for Miranda again, no matter her interest in whatever it is the ex-editor is now getting off the ground.

“Still bad?” Jen asks, as she’s inexplicably home during the day most of the time. Sees Andy trudge in now only to deposit herself heavily on the couch.

“So bad,” Andy groans.

“Wants some eggs?”

The thought turns Andy’s stomach.

“Maybe just death,” Andy whimpers. Plants her forehead into the armrest.

. . .

 

 

Chapter Text

 


I must've lived a thousand times
But every day begins the same
'Cause there's a small town in my mind
How can I leave without
hurting everyone that made me?

- Regina Spektor, “Small Town Moon”


 

 

Andy wakes up at five in the morning because she went to bed at eight. Well, passed out on the couch for four hours and then went to bed, but she’s in no state to go splitting hairs.

She peels her cheek away from her pillow with a grimace, checks her clock and groans when she sees the time. Her first alarm won’t go off for another hour but it’s no use going back to sleep, she’ll only end up more miserable. It isn’t until she’s in the shower that yesterday’s events settle over her. She’s washing her hair, shampoo bubbles running down her legs and back, when her mind snaps to attention.

She has a job offer from Miranda, whom she thoroughly sassed yesterday while she was busy roaming around unshowered and wearing ten-dollar pants. She's lucky she isn’t dead. Miranda has surely killed people for less, and body disposal would have been a breeze since she was already in Miranda’s car.

She remembers her demands about getting something in writing. God, she must have still been drunk. She frantically srambles out of the shower now, a film of shampoo still clinging to the nape of her neck as she rummages for her laptop with wet fingers.

She opens both her private and work email accountants but there’s nothing out of the ordinary in either, just the usual work stuff in the latter and ads for eHarmony in the former. It’s been less than a day, Andy reminds herself. Ignores the voice inside her head tsking that Priestly time is exponentially faster than real time.

There’s no reason for Miranda to be lurking around today, but Andy won’t take any (more) chances. Picks out a gray tailored suit combo, adding a lavender camisole and a funky geometric necklace after a bit of back and forth. It isn’t trendy. It’s kind of impossible to be trendy with Andy’s budget, at least now that she seems constitutionally allergic to knockoffs. But she does look polished. Classic even. Pins her hair back carefully and fixes her bangs so they swoop across her forehead.

Miranda’s car isn’t lingering outside of Andy’s apartment or else the Mirror  Of course it isn’t, Andy tells herself. Chides the part of her that feels let down by its absence.

Everyone comments on her appearance except Keith, who just watches her with a kind of curiosity she can’t pin down. She’s relieved he doesn’t strike up a conversation this morning because when she looks at him now she hears Nigel’s voice talking about layoffs, feels worry and a creeping unease that she tries bury under the day’s work.

She’s distracted all day, hopes she hasn’t any obvious mistakes because her head really isn’t in the game. When someone mentions Starbucks, she offers to go. Maybe rack up some office brownie points and get a little breather all in one.

It isn’t a challenge to carry six coffees and three pastries. Andy snickers to herself that a lot of her Runway skills have proven valuable in life, even if they can’t ever be put down on a CV.

“Double caramel frap,” Andy announces and foists the last beverage off on its recipient.

"Is that even coffee anymore?” Keith asks, when Amir from accounting is out earshot. Sounds more philosophical than judgmental.

“Thirteen-year-old me would have said yes,” Andy muses.

“Good burn,” Keith nods as he keeps on working.

Andy jumps when a courier shows up in the newsroom. But of course the woman heads in the direction of one of the features editors, which happens about ten times a day.

“Do you have a new fear of couriers?” Keith asks casually. “Or you should I assume you’re expecting something? That’s the fifth time a delivery’s made you jump.”

“Not expecting anything,” Andy lies. She hates that she can’t just tell the truth, but honestly what would she say?

“I’m happy you’re interviewing,” Keith tells her. Sounds soft and kind, and gosh now Andy feels even worse for the lie. “I don’t want you to be here when the axe finally falls.”

“Are you interviewing?” Andy asks. Doesn’t correct his assumption because, well, he’s closer to right than wrong.

“I should be,” Keith hedges, shakes his head. “It’s just depressing to think about.”

“I don’t want you to be here either when the axe falls,” Andy echoes back to him. Returns the slow, affectionate smile Keith gives her when he looks up from his computer.

Andy gets home later to find exactly zero deliveries waiting for her and no emails from Miranda in her inbox.

“Did I get any deliveries this afternoon?” Andy asks Farrah. Her roommate is busy running around their living room, fighting with a hoop earring as she throws things haphazardly into the small suitcase she has open on the couch.

“Haven’t seen anything,” Farrah says absently. Throws a few more things into her bag and then zips it up.

“I thought you just got back,” Andy frowns in confusion. Farrah travels a lot of work. So much that it mostly feels like Andy and Jen live alone, which was the selling point that made Andy consider two roommates to begin with.

“I did,” Farrah groans as she picks the suitcase up. “Busy, busy.”

“Did I get anything delivered today?” Andy asks Jen, who appears from her bedroom right after Farrah lumbers out with her suitcase dangling from one arm.

“Where is she going?” Jen asks instead. Totally ignores Andy, which makes Andy angrier than it should.

“Work thing,” Andy shrugs. “Did you hear me ask if I got mail?”

“Work,” Jen snorts. “Please. If by ‘work’ you mean that married guy in Syracuse she’s boffing, then yeah. Loads and loads of work.”

“Ew,” Andy cringes. She hopes Jen is wrong, but honestly that kind of makes sense. No one wears dresses that short to travel in, even if they are in sales.

“Mail call,” Jen shouts. Shuffles through a pile of envelopes on their counter and then plucks one out. Throws it at Andy, who rushes to catch it with greedy hands.

Whatever hope swells within her comes crashing down when she sees that it’s only a letter from her Nana.

“Shit,” Andy sighs. Feels a little guilty to consider Nana a disappointment, but she can’t help it. She really thought Miranda came through.

“What’s wrong?” Jen asks. Rips open a bag of chips and starts chomping away. “Expecting something else?”

“A work thing,” Andy replies. Decides it’s the only true thing she can say right now.

“A work thing,” Jen repeats and waggles her eyebrows. “Does he also live in Syracuse?”

“You’re ridiculous,” Andy shakes her head. Laughs even though she’s starting to feel really sad now.

Jen goes out, like always, and Andy’s left alone to think about all the things she said to Miranda yesterday. Miranda, who never waits for anyone and who hired Andy the first time when she had zero experience in fashion.

Okay, so Miranda can be kind of brutal. And maybe she didn’t appreciate anything Andy tried to do for her in Paris. But less than a week ago Andy gave Doug an earful about how rough that time period was, having lost Nate, her job, and most of her New York life in one gulp. And hadn’t the same thing happened to Miranda in Paris, only exponentially worse? Years and years of work taken away from her, right after Stephen said he was leaving? What kind of hypocrite is Andy anyway,  not understanding that Miranda had a right to be a little self-centered?

A little self-centered . She hears that phrase in her head and snorts into the pint of cherry Garcia she’s destroying. On Miranda’s best day she’s self-absorbed enough to forget that other people even exist. And on her worst day -

Andy tosses the empty pint into the trash can loud enough to make the metal rattle. Grabs a book off her shelf and limps into her bedroom. Sprawls across her rumpled bed.

She’s managed to get halfway engrossed in her reading when her phone buzzes beside her.

Still on for Tuesday? It takes Andy a minute to realize that it must be Nigel, texting from a number she doesn’t have saved.

Absolutely, Andy replies. Tries to summon some of the enthusiasm she felt a couple of days ago. Reminds herself that Nigel’s been great to her and it isn’t his fault that Andy’s had a screwed up week courtesy their old boss.

They decide on a time and a place, and Andy frets about her budget because the place Nigel wants to go sounds really pricey. Oh well, Andy decides. Not like she has to spend the money on clothes like she used to.

“Whatcha doing?” Doug asks when Andy calls him.

“Putzing,” Andy sighs. Brooding, she means. “What are you doing?”

“Watching House Hunters International,” Doug replies. Sounds like he’s munching on something.

“I thought we broke up with those shows. They always make the women look demanding and unrealistic.”

“You’re right,” Doug laments. “I know you’re right. But it’s high quality domestic porn and I can’t kick my addiction.”

“Downtown living versus outdoor space?” Andy guesses. These shows are so formulaic they shouldn’t work, but even Andy gets sucked in.

“House in Europe for a family of six with like no budget,” Doug laughs. Makes a game show buzzer sound. “Please show our lovely contestants what they’ve won. Oh look - it’s a one-way ticket back to Wisconsin.”

Andy dissolves into giggles because it’s really impossible to stay in a bad mood whenever she talks to Doug.

“Where are they, London?” Andy laughs.

“Uhhh,” Doug says and Andy waits on the other side of the line. “Paris.”

Of course. Andy flops back down, spread eagle with the phone still pressed to her ear.

“It’s a pretty city,” Andy sighs eventually. “Not that I got to see a lot of it.

“You okay?” Doug asks. Sounds like he’s probably debating whether he should come over with movies and more junk food.

“I’m having dinner with Nigel on Tuesday.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Andy agrees. “I missed him. Didn’t realize how much.”

“So why so blue, Andyroo?”

She doesn’t even know where to begin. Thinks about why, exactly, she went from being such a bitch to Miranda yesterday to feeling bereft today. Puzzles at why she felt so ready to leap at Miranda’s offer this morning when she practically threw it back at Miranda in her car.

“I think I need to make a change,” Andy decides. “I feel like my life has gotten kinda… flat.”

Doug makes a sad sound into the phone, and Andy stares up at the ceiling fan. Thinks about how everything at Runway was too fast, too hard, too much. Wonders if anything will ever feel just right.

“So tell me more about this Paris episode,” Andy yawns. “Do they hate all the bathrooms and complain about why they don’t have outlets in them?”

“Not quite,” Doug chuckles. “But the husband didn’t even come on the show. Just made his wife and daughter go through the ritual humiliation.”

“That’s awful,” Andy says. “Tell me everything.”

 

. . .

 

Andy gets through the rest of the week, no offer from Miranda ever appearing. Easy come, easy go, Andy tells herself. Makes herself work despite the sense of loss. Gets up on Saturday morning and goes for a run, then meets Keith and his wife for lunch in a park. Chases around their two grubby fingered kids as they both shriek with tiny laughter, their faces smeared with ice cream.

She cleans her apartment from top to bottom that night. Finds three different pairs of men’s underwear while she’s cleaning the living room (and marvels for a minute, because they’re all different styles and sizes). Tosses them on Jen’s bed with a smirky little post-it message. Sits down on the couch afterward, feeling like maybe everything’s going to be fine.

The next morning Andy goes to her favorite farmers’ market. Buys a massive container of blackberries she digs into on the way home.

“Andrea Sachs?” a guy asks outside her apartment. Surprises her so much that she almost maces him, her berry stained fingers clutching her neon pink self-defense spray as the courier shields his face with the brown envelope he’s holding. “Delivery!”

“Jesus, how did you even get buzzed up here?” Andy demands. “I almost maced you.”

“Delivery,” he says again, as if this explains everything. Thrusts the envelope at her and asks her to sign something.

“Have a good day, I guess,” Andy calls after him. Tears open the very official looking package.

It’s her job offer from Miranda. Which makes total sense because she felt like she was almost on an even keel today. Of course the universe had to step in and screw that up.

It’s a lengthy document, so Andy takes it to her bedroom. Locks the door behind her, feeling extra paranoid.

There’s a lot of legalese. Boring stuff about all the bad things that will fall down on Andy’s head if she decides to make photocopies of this and pass them out in Midtown. Or even just tell Doug, Andy realizes as she turns another page.

It still isn’t clear to Andy what the new company is, but apparently it’s called 'Charcoal'. She assumes it’s a new magazine given that her enumerated duties refer in passing publication deadlines, editorial content. Miranda had made a comment to that effect in the car, Andy remembers, and notes that her title would be ‘executive assistant’. No surprise there, obviously, but it drives home the fact she will once again be fetching things twenty-four seven. If she even takes the job, Andy reminds herself. Doesn’t want to let herself rush into a decision because Miranda knew to keep her waiting.

It’s funny, but the last thing Andy really pays attention to is the salary. Notes with interest now that it’s a significant bump from what she’s making at the Mirror . About what she would make if she managed to get promoted two times over, an improbability given the economy.

Granted, when Andy factors in the hours she’ll work, the money isn’t fantastic. Not so much a salary bump as hazard pay, really.

Her phone rings while she’s rereading everything. A familiar number with no name pops up on the screen and Andy worries that it’s Nigel again. Maybe she forgot to program his new work cell into her phone?

“Hello,” Andy answers. Highlights a certain section of her contract with an orange pen.

“Did you receive it?” Miranda asks her, and Andy actually drops her phone. It hits her knee and goes skidding across the floor, Andy swearing as she scampers after it. Hopes to God she didn’t accidentally disconnect the call.

“I got it,” Andy confirms. Tries to sound nonchalant after the long, eventful pause.

“There was a mix-up with your address. The personal assistant I’ve employed part-time is… relatively useless. She sent the relevant documents to your previous address and, in her monumental stupidity, failed to realize her error until today.”

Andy’s about to make a snarky remark but stops herself because Miranda is actually explaining something. More importantly, she’s telling Andy that the delay in moving things along wasn’t deliberate - wasn’t just another mindfuck.

“I have questions,” Andy tells her.

“Of course you do,” Miranda replies, sounding much put upon.

“Would you like to discuss them now, or would you prefer another time?”

“Now is acceptable. I loathe the idea of meeting you elsewhere only to have my vision accosted by another one of your bargain bin outfits.”

“You caught me on an off day,” Andy rolls her eyes.

“So I gathered. What are these questions you cited earlier?”

“What is Charcoal, exactly?” Andy asks, and hears Miranda huff. Apparently thinks the question is so stupid as not to merit an answer. “Is it an online magazine?” Andy presses. “A more traditional print one?”

“I fail to understand why such details matter to your decision,” Miranda dismisses. And Andy balks, because only this woman would imply a person doesn’t need to know this kind of thing before they take a job.

“Because,” Andy says instead, “the nature of the publication is very much at the heart of what I’ll be doing. The future I can help the company grow toward.” Because print is dying and an online presence is key, Andy mentally finishes. Doesn’t say it out loud because it feels like a slap in the face to everything Miranda built at Runway, no matter that she no longer helms it.

“Charcoal will be a fashion-centered magazine, with content covering politics, lifestyle, and current affairs. It will...” Miranda trails off and then clears her throat. “It will have a limited print presence with great emphasis online content.”

“Cool,” Andy says. Makes a note in the margin of her contract.

“Is there anything else?” Miranda demands. Sounds pretty peeved now, which makes what Andy’s about to say a little scarier to get out.

“I want a clothing allowance,” Andy says. Just gets it out there quickly, like ripping off a bandaid.

“A what?”

“It’s expensive to dress in a way that doesn’t embarrass you,” Andy defends. “And I’m not going to have access to an established company closet, with seasons of backlog to borrow from.”

The was tough to get out. The last thing Andy wants to do is remind Miranda that she’s starting over from scratch, but there’s no tiptoeing around this. It’s expensive to dress to Priestly standards and the bigger salary means nothing if Andy has to spend it all on clothing.

“Did you have a number in mind?” Miranda asks after a long silence, and Andy breathes a sigh of relief. She kind of expected Miranda to just hang up after that.

“Send me your best number,” Andy hedges, because she hadn’t actually thought that far. Only considered this logistical angle a few minutes ago, staring at her new salary. “But I want better medical benefits too.”

The ones at Runway were garbage - only useful in the event she got hit by bus. (Which, come to think of it, means they weren’t really garbage in Emily’s case. But still.)

“Are you quite through?” Miranda asks, in that lethal slither of a voice that Andy still has nightmares about.

“That covers it,” Andy manages, trying very hard not to squeak.

Miranda hangs up after that, which means Andy isn’t sure where things stand. Did she just accept?

She’s sure she’ll figure it out when Miranda shows up and starts telling her how useless she is. Decides, on that note, she needs a glass of wine.

 

. . .

 

The car will pick you up at seven am, Miranda texts Andy in the morning.

Andy’s just toweling off her hair when she gets the message. Decides it’s completely freaky to be getting direct communiques from La Priestly's number rather than instructions funneled through Emily or someone else. And didn’t Miranda say she has a personal assistant?

I have work, Andy texts back. Stops what she’s doing when the phone rings with a call from Miranda.

“Obviously,” Miranda sniffs. “Is there a reason you’re stating the obvious?”

“No,” Andy says and dances her way into a pair of panties, the towel and phone both in her other hand. “I mean I have work at the Mirror . I’m not leaving without notice.”

“You aren’t serious.”

“W-w,” Andy stutters. “Well, yes. I am. It’s the right thing.”

“They’ll replace you in five minutes.”

True but rude, Andy thinks. Muffles the phone as she brushes her teeth.

“It’s principle,” Andy says after she spits. Wonders how many times Miranda is going to let her push back on things like this before she just fires Andy before she’s even started this new job.

“If you insist on wasting your time at the dying publication,” Miranda begins (and Andy hangs in this moment, thinking maybe this is the end of line for this weird experiment),  “you may do so, but know that your work with me still begins today.”

What does that even mean ? Andy has exactly ten minutes to think about it, plus finish her hair and makeup.

It isn’t until she walks out and sees Roy waiting that Andy realizes this is happening. She’s really working for Miranda again. This is not going away.

“I need a new personal assistant,” Miranda says as soon as Andy’s ass has touched the car seat. “Still part-time but perhaps this time with a brain in her head.”

“Got it,” Andy says, but only after the short pause in which she processes that her job starts this second.

“We need reservations for Paris in October, but none of the hotels at which I've usually stayed. I’ve compiled bids from contractors on renovations to the office building, though apparently all of them assume I’ll change my mind about my distaste for exposed brick. Please find at least one capable of understanding the most basic of instructions.”

“Anything else?” Andy asks. Really wishes she’d bought a coffee with her as she types notes furiously into her phone.

“Get yourself a new phone. And fix your hair, it’s shapeless.”

The car stops in front of the Mirror and Andy’s relieved. She thought maybe Miranda was going to spirit her away to do her bidding, Andy’s wishes about a two-weeks notice be dammed.

She gets to work early again, a benefit of skipping the subway. Takes advantage of the time to get some notes together, look at the documents Miranda foisted on her as she got out of the car. Slips into a bathroom and backcombs her hair because, yeah, it looks a little lifeless.

She can do this, Andy tells herself in the elevator. She can do Miranda’s bidding and not blow off her work at the Mirror . She’ll just make calls on her lunch break, do stuff for Miranda in the lulls she used to pass surfing the internet.

Around eleven a courier arrives with a package from Andy. She tries to open it quietly, but Keith is looking over at her desk, watching Andy as she tries to act like nothing is going on and this delivery is, like, so not a big thing.

Inside the brown envelope is a smaller white one and inside that is a platinum Am Ex business card with Andy’s name on it. Thank God, Andy thinks, because this makes about a million things so much easier, and there was no way Andy was going to ask.

She calls contractors on her lunch break. She’s skimmed through the documents Miranda handed her, surprised to see the office building is in the Meatpacking district. A few of Andy’s favorite bars are in that area, along with an apartment building she once drooled over but couldn’t afford. It’s just weird for Miranda choose a place that’s long been considered trendy by the masses, let alone one that gets so much foot traffic from tourists spilling out of Chelsea Market and the High Line.

“I’m not speaking German,” Andy says to the fifth contractor. She gave up playing it sweet and nice after the third guy, who called her ‘hon’ and  asked if her boss was around. “Either listen to the words coming out of my mouth and revise what you’ve given us, or lose any hope in hell of landing this job.”

She still doesn’t like being mean to people. Andy thinks it’s the thing that will forever separate her from the Emily’s and Miranda’s of the world - the fact that she only falls back on being a bitch when her kindness will absolutely be used against her. So maybe she sometimes curses at people on the street, says insulting things to rude, misogynistic assholes. That doesn’t change who she is. A good girl from Ohio whose parents raised her to look people in the eye whenever she shakes their hand.

“Is there anyone there with a brain?” Andy sighs at someone else. “Maybe a colleague of yours who doesn’t drag his knuckles when he walks?”

She wraps up the last call, realizing she should probably get back to the bullpen. Looks at her watch and cringes when she realizes she’s been gone to lunch for more than two hours.

“Phoning it in now?” Keith teases, and Andy flushes with guilt. Realizes she hasn’t even told their boss she’s quitting yet.

“Really trying not to,” Andy says, desperate to tell some part of the truth. Feels like a bowling ball shoved into a Fendi clutch right now, she’s so stuffed with thoughts and worries.

And she’d rather go give her two weeks notice right now, but she can see from her desk that Bill is on the phone, gesticulating wildly like he’s mid-rant about something that’s going to take him a while to wrap up. So she sends an email instead, asking for ten minutes when he has it. Tells herself that Bill and the Mirror have earned the courtesy of an actual conversation and not some shitty email resignation.

“Buy you a beer after work?” Keith offers. “You kinda look like you need it.”

“I do and I wish I could,” Andy groans. “But I have so much stuff to do, it’s not even funny.”

“It’s not the Times, right?” Keith asks out of no where. “Because I’ve been supportive of your whole mysterious routine so far. But so help me, if it’s the Times I’m gonna scream out of envy. Maybe have a crisis and grow my hair back out.”

“I like your bald head,” Andy smiles, and Keith runs a hand comically over the shiny, brown skin in question. “And no, it’s not the Times .”

“Good,” Keith says. Mutters something that sounds like, “the last thing they need over there is more white kids anyway.”

The rest of Andy’s day is blur of trying to get work done. Miranda’s stuff has put her desperately behind, and every time she almost catches up a contractor or an employment agency calls and then Andy has to take the call outside. By the end of the day, she’s exhausted and has accomplished very little of what the Mirror is paying her to do.

Tomorrow will be better, she tells herself. Knocks off at her usual time because she still has hours of work to do for Miranda and would like to do it from the comfort of her apartment. Preferably with her bra off, maybe even without pants.

She’s utterly crestfallen when exits into the sticky July heat to find Miranda’s Mercedes double parked outside, Roy standing beside it, nervously checking his watch.

“Thank God,” he says. Is probably worried one of those cab drivers would shoot him if he stayed there any longer. “You ready to go?”

“I don’t suppose you’re here to drive me home?” Andy asks tiredly.

“Ha,” Roy says and opens the door for her. “You’re funny.”

Traffic is going to be absolutely awful, so Andy decides she’s going to take a nap while Roy fights his way to the Meatpacking district. If this is the only reprieve from Miranda she’s going to get this evening, she might as well make good use of it.

“Wake me up when get there?” she yawns.

“Sure thing.”

She doesn’t so much go to sleep as close her eyes and listen to the white noise of the engine, the chorus of blaring horns. The feel and smell of the car is familiar, oddly comforting in a way, so she just clears her mind. Lets her body go boneless while she attempts to think about absolutely nothing.

“Rise and shine,” Roy’s deep voice announces, and Andy sits up, blinks and blinks, then looks around.

“Are you sure I’m not supposed to go to the office?” Andy asks. She sits up with a start when she realizes they’re in front of Miranda’s townhouse.

“The whole thing is mid-demo,” Roys tells her. He seems surprised she didn’t know, but then again she kind of did. “Meet your temporary headquarters.”

“Fuck,” Andy says, and fixes her bangs. She was going to have to deal with Miranda one way or another, but at least in office she would know the rules of engagement. This is something entirely different.

“Good luck with her,” Roys smiles. Andy abruptly remembers those couple of days when she probably made Roy’s life hell, walking out on Miranda mid-conversation and then giving her a bunch more attitude when a goodly fraction of her body fluid came straight out of a bourbon bottle.

Fair’s fair, she supposes. Decides to meet her fate head on, walking up the townhouse stairs at a brisk clip.

“Hi, I’m Mackenzie,” the bubbly brunette who answers the door announces. “You’re Randy?

“Andy,” she corrects. Wipes her feet on the mat because she remembers that Miranda is very particular about her floors.

“Miranda’s on the phone upstairs,” Mackenzie tells her. “She said to tell you she’d be done in a few minutes.”

“Good,” Andy says. “Because I need to talk you.”

Andy doesn’t mean to sound stern or mean, but apparently fatigue has blunted her filter because Mackenzie looks terrified.

“I can’t get fired,” Mackenzie blurts. “The agency told me they wouldn’t send me out on any more jobs if Miranda complained.”

She looks like she’s about to burst into tears at any moment, so Andy takes sympathy on her. Tries to put aside the thought that she almost didn’t get Miranda’s job offer because Mackenzie screwed up her address.

“Look, you’re a temp, right?” Andy asks. Has Mackenzie sit down.

“Yeah,” she says as the first tears fall.

“Okay, so you’re not going to get fired. I’m just going to thank the agency for sending you out and tell them our needs have changed. Then I’m going to go through another agency to find someone new, but I’m not going to trash you to your boss, okay?”

“She’s just so awful,” Mackenzie sobs. Part of Andy gets it, obviously, but another part of her wants to tell Mackenzie that Miranda has high standards for a reason. It isn’t Miranda’s fault that Mackenzie’s employer sent her out on a job she was clearly ill equipped to perform.

“Alright,” Andy says while fishing tissues from her purse. “So for the remainder of the time you work for her, I’m going to help you. I’m going to tell you the things she doesn’t like and the things she absolutely hates, and if you have questions about an instruction she gives you, you’re not gonna ask her. You’re going to ask me and only me, okay?”

“You’re really nice,” Mackenzie exhales. Gives Andy a weak, faltering smile.

“Yeah,” Andy replies. Motions for Mackenzie to clean herself up when they hear Miranda’s heels clicking down the stairs.

“Oh. You’re still here,” Miranda says in Mackenzie’s direction. Gives the girl a passing, disdainful glance, the likes of which one usually affords to things on the street one wants to avoid stepping in.

“Did you need anything else from her this evening?" Andy asks. Makes herself sound bright and helpful, the way she used to at Runway. It’s startling how fast the muscle memory kicks in.

“No,” Miranda practically spits. Makes a vague shooing motion and then turns around, at which point Andy nods her head pointedly toward the door. Mackenzie gathers her things at light speed, refrains from saying goodnight because she’s probably already learned that lesson the hard way.

“Did you meet all two of her brain cells?” Miranda asks, once the door’s closed.

“I’ll have someone new in place within a week,” Andy promises.

“A week ,” Miranda repeats. “This isn’t rocket science. They needn’t be versed in quantum mechanics, simply have a variably functioning brain in their head.”

Sure, Andy thinks. A functioning brain - and a tolerance for abuse, ability to read minds, keen fashion sense, strong multi-tasking skills, teleportation capabilities not required but highly preferred.

“It will take a week to do my own background check,” Andy replies evenly. “Unless you would like me to take the agency’s word for it when it comes to vetting?”

Andy poses the question without obvious sarcasm, which is a minor miracle in itself. Miranda gives a pointed look but says nothing further. It's as much of a victory as Andy will ever get.

“So where do I start?” Andy asks, ignoring the first rule that Emily ever instilled in her. “Where is everyone else, upstairs?”

“Everyone?” Miranda repeats. “Caroline and Cassidy are upstairs, no doubt wasting their time with video games. If you wish to catch up with my domestic staff, I believe Alina is somewhere dusting or folding laundry.”

It takes a minute for Andy to process the implications of this, but then her mind spits back out the very obvious thesis that she is here to work alone with Miranda and she suddenly wishes she hadn’t wasted all of those tissues on Mackenzie.

“So just us,” Andy says and tries not wheeze. “Where do we start?”

She follows Miranda down the hall, into the study where Miranda told her she was bumping Emily to go to Paris. It’s both cozier and scarier than Andy remembers. Tries to summon some that courage she had last week and finds it impossible when she’s here, so squarely on Miranda’s turf.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t end up being all that different. Sure, it’s pretty weird for Miranda to be across from her, softly dictating orders, rather than handing them off to Emily or else giving them from within the glass palace of her erstwhile office. But everything else is the same. Andy makes the Paris reservations (which she forgot about earlier), thinking to book them under a fake name. She’ll give the hotel a head’s up later - allow them enough time to upgrade Miranda with all the things they’ll throw around for free in the vain hope of impressing her - but such a logistic can wait until further down the line.

“You aren’t so appalling nice anymore,” Miranda notes, after they’ve been working for three hours with zero extraneous conversation. Miranda’s lost the baby blue cashmere drape she had on earlier, which Andy kind of mourns now. That color has always done such fantastic things for Miranda's eyes.

“I didn’t think the person on the phone had an appreciation for manners,” Andy replies. Tries not to sound as defensive as she feels because, really, Andy is still nice . Most of the time. When the situation allows it.

“It’s difficult, isn’t it?” Miranda asks her. “Getting things done when others insist on being incompetent?”

That isn’t the way Andy sees the world. It isn’t . But yes, Andy has gained a greater appreciation of why people (especially women) feel like being too nice is a professional liability.

“I’ve never been a doormat,” Andy sighs, still reading a CV that looks halfway promising. “Although I guess these days I maybe take better care to communicate that to people in my dealings.”

Andy looks up a minute later to Miranda staring at her. She wears a contemplative expression the likes of which Andy can’t readily identify. It makes her stomach start to hurt.

. . .

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 Put an ocean and a river between everybody else
between everything, yourself and home

- The National, "England"


 

 

 

Andy gets into the Mercedes in the morning to find Miranda isn’t in the car this time, meaning that Andy gets to ride to the Mirror free of incessant demands. Which is why it’s peculiar that when Roy opens the door to reveal a backseat devoid of company, Andy feels something akin to disappointment.

But that can’t be right, because feeling anything other than over-the-flipping-moon in the face of a reprieve from Miranda’s frigid brand of one-sided conversation would make Andy certifiably insane. And Andy isn’t crazy, right?

She just wanted Miranda to see her hair and makeup while it’s fresh, Andy tells herself. Tries to fold that strange feeling neatly up and then cram it away, to the very back of her mind.

“I would have driven you last night,” Roy says, when they pull out into traffic.

“A cab was fine,” Andy yawns. Feels so tired she’s actually imagining the smell of coffee right now.  “No sense in both of us missing sleep.”

“Look down,” Roy tells her, at which point Andy notices the Starbucks cup nestled in the far right cupholder.

“You're a saint,” Andy tells him solemnly. Grabs the cup and greedily gulps at the latte, ignoring that it’s a bit too hot for her liking. She doesn’t so much mind the burn after a couple sips.

“How long are you pulling double duty?”

“My whole two weeks notice.”

Roy whistles long and low, and Andy quietly questions how on earth she’s going to get through nine more work days of this.

Not that last night was entirely awful or anything. Working with Miranda is routine for Andy, even though it’s been a while. She still enters this kind of mental slipstream, especially when things are hectic. Plus there was the surreal moment when Miranda announced that she needed to have dinner with the girls, and Andy assumed she would just be left alone to keep working (and clearly starve, because she hadn’t even eaten at lunch). But instead Miranda got up, pointedly waiting for Andy to follow.

“The girls have gotten big,” Andy says as much to herself as Roy. Cassidy and Caroline have shot up a couple of inches since she last saw them. 

They’d initially circled around her last night, Andy feeling like a rodent that'd accidentally tunneled its way right into a tiger enclosure. But then they chattered away about video games and television, and Andy had silently chided herself because they’re just kids. Kids who’ve obviously had a pretty rough year, given Stephen’s leaving and the ensuing media coverage.

“Miranda made sure I was paid for the months she was in Europe,” Roy says now, apropos of nothing. Traffic is a little better than usual and Andy’s noticed that Roy gets chatty whenever that happens. “I know what everyone says about her. The newspapers and gossip sites. But I wasn’t driving her anywhere for those six months, and she made sure I still got a paycheck.”

The coverage of Miranda was brutal last fall, between the stories about Stephen and the stuff leaking out about Runway . But then, right before Christmas, all the Miranda sightings stopped. She just dropped off the New York radar entirely, not that her absence put an end to stories being run about her.

Andy had already assumed she’d left the country long before Roy’s confirmation. Sometimes felt a deep, aching despair last winter, walking down icy streets and wondering if Miranda might have chosen to relocate permanently. Maybe London, since she had a flat there already.

“I worried she wouldn’t come back,” Andy admits. Doesn’t understand why the words feel so private, like she’s telling Roy an important secret.

“Nah,” Roy shakes his head. “She’s New York, through and through.”

“Thanks for the lift,” Andy says when the car pulls up to her office. She takes her empty Starbucks cup with her because she doesn’t like to leave trash in the car.

“See you at five-thirty.”

“I’ll be the super chipper one,” Andy drawls. Squares her shoulders against another long day and barrels into it head-on.

 

. . .

 

“I have those ten minutes if you still need them,” her boss tells her.

Joe’s standing by her desk, reading something in a manila folder, a few crumbs from his bagel still stuck in his beard.

“Okay,” Andy says. Realizes that, yeah, Joe never got around to her yesterday, so  she still hasn’t technically quit.

They go into Joe’s office, a small beige space that feels more like a cubicle with walls and a door.

“It will only take a couple minutes,” Andy promises. She doesn’t know whether to close the door or not, so just awkwardly stands in front of it.

“Shoot, kid. Whatever you need.”

“Well… I actually… Um, I’ve accepted a position outside of the Mirror and I’ll be resigning at the end of next week.”

“Oh,” Joe says. He doesn’t seem upset, maybe a little surprised is all. “Okay, well I’ll try to have someone lined up in a couple days. And I’ll need your letter of resignation.”

“Of course,” Andy nods.

“And good luck,” Joe adds. “In whatever it is that you’re doing…”

Andy sees the hanging sentence for the question it is, but she isn’t going to bite. She just smiles sweetly and thanks Joe for his time, gets out of his office before he can get up the interest to ask her anything directly.

“So I assume it’s official now,”  Keith says when she sits back down. “Or were just in there telling Joe how well that onion bagel goes with the red in his beard?”

“It’s official,” Andy confirms. Barely stifles her chortle.

“Are you going to tell me about the new job now?” Keith digs.

“Still have to cloak and dagger about it,” Andy laments. “But I promise to tell you everything the moment I can.”

“You better,” Keith points a finger at her. Smiles and adds, “‘Cause if you do, I’ll tell you all about my interview at the Times .”

“Seriously?” Andy practically shouts, and Keith immediately shushes her.

“Seriously,” he replies, and Andy gives him a long distance fist bump from behind her desk.

The day goes by in another blur, and Andy does way more of her Miranda work than real work. Which isn’t to say that her Miranda work isn’t real, because God knows she’s already earning her pay for that woman. Has lined up two interviews for the personal assistant position and gotten three new bids from contractors willing to listen to Miranda’s very precise vision for the Charcoal office space. Plus fielded calls from would-be contributors that Miranda is now apparently routing to Andy, even though Andy has no idea who the Charcoal editors are, or else what they and Miranda are presently looking for. (Not that it wasn’t kind of a kick to tell Christiane Amanpour’s rep that she’d have to contact her again later, after they’ve considered her client’s pitch. Because it totally was.)

She decides to knock off early. Feels sort of bad about it, but it’s only fifteen minutes before she normally she leaves anyway and she really needs another coffee before she clocks those hours with Miranda.

She hits up a coffee cart because it’s there and sometimes way better than Starbucks, but only ends up disappointed when her latte tastes kind of tepid. It’s hot enough outside today that it feels silly to raise a stink about a beverage not being warm enough. So she sips her lukewarm caffeine and waves at Roy, who apparently had to park on the other side of street.

“Sorry,” he says and opens the door.

“No worries,” she tells him. Tosses him the chocolate chip cookies she picked him up from that cart. He inhales one of them before he’s even seated behind the wheel.

It’s tempting to take a nap like she did yesterday, but Andy decides to plow through instead. Fields a few calls she couldn’t make earlier in the day. Sends a long email to Patrick that Miranda basically dictated to her by text message earlier. Something about a photo shoot in Maine next month and concerns about the probability of rain the week in question. A shoot for what, Andy doesn’t know, though she hopes at some point she’ll get filled in on the many details she needs to do her job.

It’s not as terrifying to go into the townhouse this time. Miranda is upstairs again on a phone call, and again Mackenzie is on the verge of tears because she’s made several blunders, most of which Miranda doesn’t know about and Andy can rather easily fix. Probably. She hopes.

She takes the initiative to dismiss Mackenzie for the day. Maybe Miranda will be annoyed with Andy’s presumption, but Andy guesses she’ll just be relieved to come back and find her gone.

“Tell Patrick I have no interest in an indoor setting for the photo shoot,” Miranda begins, the second she descends the stairs. Doesn’t say 'hello' to Andy or else acknowledge that Andy has arrived rather than appearing out of thin air, but hey, this is to be expected. “I fail to understand why he thinks I would suffer the expense of shooting on location if not to gain inspiring vistas. What does he suggest, a cottage theme?”

The derision with which that last phrase was spoken will be… difficult to capture in an email. Andy makes a note to call Patrick's people tonight, explain it in a medium that can’t easily be forwarded on to others.

“Is she gone?” Miranda asks suddenly, looking around.

“I sent Mackenzie home,” Andy replies. Crosses her fingers and hopes for the best.

“Good,” Miranda says and slips her glasses off. “The only task that creature does with any efficiency is render oxygen into carbon.”

Andy barely hides her snort, turning it into a cough that Miranda sees fit to ignore.

There’s a long list of things besides Patrick that Miranda wants Andy to attend to, and they settle in the den like the previous evening. Today Miranda’s wearing cream colored linen pants and a reddish colored cotton top (too muted to be called rust, Andy decides, and wishes she could name the exact hue). She looks far from slouchy, obviously, but it’s also an outfit Miranda would have never worn to the office.

‘Priestly casual’, Andy deems it and then wishes the chair she's chosen to perch in was a tad less comfy. She’s going on about three hours of sleep and it’s verboten to so much as yawn in front of present company..

“Regretting your decision to honor your commitments to your previous employment?” Miranda asks knowingly.

“Nope,” Andy lies. She can’t believe it’s only Tuesday and she has another -

Wait. It’s Tuesday .

“Shit shit shit,” Andy mutters and digs in her bag for a phone. “I can’t believe I forgot about him.”

“If you insist on making some pathetic, placating call to a boyfriend,” Miranda chides, looking supremely pissed. “Do so on your own time.”

“No boyfriend,” Andy whines. Suffers Miranda’s anger because it’s close to seven and God, she feels horrible about cancelling this late on Nigel. “I was supposed to have dinner with Nigel tonight and I forgot to cancel.”

“Nigel Kipling? Miranda asks. No longer sounds like she wants to strangle Andy with an Hermes scarf.

No, Nigel Barker , Andy almost sasses but stops herself right before the words fly off her tongue. No need to poke the dragon further, and besides she would totally have dinner with Nigel Barker. That dude is super hot.

“The one and only,” Andy says instead. Frantically scrolls through her contacts for Nigel’s new work cell. “We made plans more than a week ago and I just got so busy -”

“Hang up,” Miranda orders her, as the call begins to ring.

For first time Andy really regrets taking this job because it’s so like Miranda to not even let Andy cancel with a simple freaking phone call that would take five like seconds. But Andy does as she’s told. Hangs up, knowing that Nigel will end up waiting alone for her at that restaurant. She feels horrible and angry, and God she can’t even look at Miranda right now.

“Keep your engagement with Nigel,” Miranda says, and Andy takes a moment to process that because she’s sure she must have heard that wrong. “Have you told him of your new employment?”

“N- no. I haven’t talked to him in more than a week.”

“As I expected,” Miranda says. Narrows her eyes the way she does when she’s decided on something. Typically something that will make someone else fairly miserable. “It will be… helpful for Nigel to know of my little venture. So yes, by all means. Go to dinner with Nigel.”

“But the nondisclosure agreement... “ Andy puzzles.

“Is still in play, of course.”

“So what - what exactly am I supposed to tell him?”

“You’re a smart girl. I’m sure you’ll figure that out.”

She gives Andy a particularly mean smile, the likes of which Andy remembers from the morning of the Harry Potter goose chase. Andy’s done a decent job of blocking most of that day from her memory, but that smile - that punishing smile and those cruel eyes, Andy clearly remembers. Doesn’t know how she’s supposed to eat dinner now, because she feels the very real urge to vomit.

“Roy will take you,” Miranda instructs and waves her off with a small, dismissive gesture. “Do not linger any longer than necessary.”

Andy calls Roy, who was supposed to be off the hook for the rest of the evening.

“Sorry,” she tells him when he picks her up.

“It’s fine,” Roy says. Closes her door maybe a little harder than normal. “Any idea when you’re going to be done?”

“Oh, I can take a cab,” Andy says quickly. “No need to worry about that.”

She never takes cabs two days in a row. With her budget, she rarely takes cabs at all. But if she’s going to have two jobs temporarily, she figures she can afford some splurges for the sake of expedience. Maybe in this case for the sake of diplomacy.

“Have a nice meal,” Roy tells her, looking more like his usual affable self now.

“Thanks,” Andy smiles. Hurries into the restaurant because she’s two minutes from being late.

“Reservation for Kipling,” Andy says to a man who looks at her with polite ambivalence.

“You’re the first to arrive,” he tells her. “Henry will show you to your table.”

Andy picks up the menu for a moment, terrified to see some of the prices. She has an emergency credit card she can use if the bill is really painful, but she’d rather not. Two paychecks, she reminds herself and takes a steadying breath. Orders a whiskey neat because it’s probably cheaper than any glass of wine this place sells.

She’s halfway through with her drink and still no sign of Nigel, so she scrolls through her texts to make sure she didn’t miss a message from him. She didn’t, she confirms, and ends up doing work for Miranda because she doesn’t have anything else to keep her busy aside from worrying.

“Six!” Nigel greets her, and Andy almost jumps out of her chair because she was mid-email to Patrick’s assistant. “Look at you, in that fun little Dsquared dress. Lovely.”

Nigel hugs her, gives her a (real) kiss on the cheek. He coos a little bit more about how Andy looks, and between the compliments and her whiskey she feels warm, fuzzy, and happy.

“Your suit is stunning,” Andy says when she remembers her manners. The jacket is a standard notch lapel with a two-button front, but the gray fabric is positively sumptuous. Plus it looks like it was designed specifically for Nigel, which it probably was given that it’s James Holt. 

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” Nigel says when  they sit. “Meeting ran long and I couldn’t get out, but my, could I use some carbs now.”

“Me too,” Andy says. Wonders what the very cheapest appetizer is and whether she can beg off as full when it comes time to order entrees. 

Their server reappears as Nigel ponders the wine list.

“A bottle of this, please,” Nigel smiles. “And we’d like to start with some oysters. Do you like oysters?” he asks Andy, and Andy shrugs. She didn’t when she was younger but it’s been a long time since she’s tried them. “Six of the Plymouth then, and some of the lobster crostini as well.”

Andy tries not to cringe when she hears the word ‘lobster’. Shuts off the part of her mind that’s tabulating the bill as Nigel orders.

“It’s a sin to not drink wine when you come here,” Nigel tells her with a pointed look at Andy’s mostly empty highball.

“Always been a dilettante I guess,” Andy replies and smiles weakly. Watches Nigel watching her.

“You look happy,” Nigel tells her, saying it like he’s surprised. “I wasn’t sure what to expect upon seeing you tonight. I think I was worried ‘happy’ would not be what I found.”

“Why not?” Andy asks and feels a little offended, probably sounds it, too.

“Because you were so obviously crushed in Paris,” Nigel breezes. “Doting on Miranda when she was intent on punishing everyone around her for what happened. You seemed to take it personally that your queen had been dethroned.”

Your. The singular form of the possessive adjective isn’t lost on Andy.

“What happened was horrible,” Andy says, deciding on the words very carefully before she says them aloud. “I wanted to believe the world was still mostly about merit. And Miranda… However difficult Miranda is, she’s the best at what she does. So yes, I found what happened in Paris to be painful.”

“You threw your company phone in a fountain,” Nigel reminds her, and Andy grimaces because she didn’t think anyone knew about that. Such a stupid thing to do - all those contacts lost. She could really use some of them now.

“I had less experience then,” Andy says, and hopes it doesn’t sound too defensive. “I’d like to think I wouldn’t behave that way now.”

“You mean not so breathtakingly loyal to Miranda?” Nigel smiles, just as the server arrives with their bottle of wine. “It’s fine, thanks,” Nigel says and waves the lingering man away. Wine in nice restaurants still involves a series of rituals Andy doesn’t quite understand.

“You left, too,” Andy snipes back, once the server is out of earshot. Feels her cheeks getting hot, her hands fidgety. “It’s not like you stayed around to hold hands and gossip with Follet.”

“I already had another job offer,” Nigel shrugs. “Leaving cost me nothing. In fact, it probably spared me a great deal of pain and suffering, given the veritable shit show that’s evidently happened at Runway since. But I’m not up on all the details, except some of the numbers. For the rest you’d have to ask someone like Emily.”

“Why Emily?”

“She’s in the makeup department now. Jacqueline didn’t keep her as an assistant, naturally. Shuffled her over first thing, the day she started as Editor.”

“Emily stayed?” Andy exclaims, far too loudly for the relative quiet of the restaurant. A few people to turn look at her. One particularly well heeled woman pointedly glares, which makes Andy sink down in her chair.

“You’re really surprised?” Nigel asks as their appetizers come, and Andy decides just from looking at them that nope, she still doesn’t like oysters. But the crostini look pretty good, so she dives right in. Forgets to be elegant or dainty in her selections because she’s thoroughly pissed off now.

“Emily worshiped Miranda,” Andy says a few moments later, after she’s shoved one whole toast point in her mouth and managed to finally swallow. “I mean, Emily was the one who put the fear of God into me about not screwing up in my job and how important Miranda was - is .” 

“You mean she worshiped the position,” Nigel says, a little softer now. Gazes at Andy like she’s a child to whom he’s trying to explain something painful. Maybe to him she is.

Their server reappears, bringing about a pause in their conversation that Andy very much needs.

“I’ll have the scallops,” Nigel says, as Andy continues angrily stuffing toast points into her mouth.

“Another order of these,” she says as she jabs an index finger at the nearly empty plate.

“You should try some of their seafood,” Nigel nudges. “It’s what they’re known for.” Andy sticks with her pouty, defiant silence, and the server bears the long wait, appearing remarkably calm. “We’ll have the duck risotto too,” Nigel tells him and hands off both of their menus.

Andy finishes of the crostini, plus half a glass of wine before she decides that she needs to be an adult. She shouldn’t punish Nigel for telling her how the rest of the world apparently works.

“Maybe I’m always going to be naive,” Andy begins. Plays with the napkin in her lap and doesn’t meet Nigel’s eyes. “I just think loyalty should still matter for something.”

“It’s certainly something that Miranda was banking on,” Nigel tells her. Sounds contemplative now as he takes off his glasses and polishes them on the soft material of his tie. “She gave Irv a list of people - designers, photographers, stylists - who’d promised to work only with her. Irv called her bluff on it, though I don’t think Miranda thought it was a bluff at the time. Most of the names on that list still work with Runway now, and I don’t think that’s something Miranda ever saw coming.”

How awful, Andy thinks. Tries to imagine how alone Miranda must have felt when she realized the many talents she’d nurtured along were deserting her. 

“But enough about all of that,” Nigel says, even though it’s all Andy can think about now.

He starts talking about his new job, how well he works with James Holt. It’s stuff Andy theoretically wants to hear about but she still tunes out, thinking instead about that last day in Paris all over again. How bereft Miranda must have been. God, and then how Miranda must have felt whenever she picked up an issue of Runway and saw all the names of people who swore their loyalty only to turn their backs on her.

Andy wills herself not to tear up.

“So what about you,” Nigel redirects, and Andy barely catches the words. “You still dating that cook you were living with?””

“Nate, no,” Andy rolls her eyes. Remembers how awful it was when Nate and Lily expected her to be thrilled that Miranda had gotten the axe. Those were some really ugly fights. “No, he moved to Boston and we haven’t spoken since.”

“I’m sorry,” Nigel offers. “Anybody new on the horizon?”

“No,” Andy laughs. She hasn’t been on a date in months, and anyway dating seems like a foreign concept now. “No time, not that I even have the interest.”

“Newspaper keeping you that busy?”

It’s as wide an opening to come clean as Andy is going to get, but Andy doesn’t take it. She says vague, uninteresting things about the nature of her work at the Mirror and how she should probably move on soon professionally.

“If you feel really suicidal you could go work for Miranda again,” Nigel teases glibly. “Rumor has it she’s starting a new magazine.”

Andy chokes on her wine, coughing and sputtering just as their food arrives. Nigel is so completely taken with his plate that he barely seems to notice.

“This smells good,” Andy says over her risotto. She isn’t really hungry anymore because she’s more sad than angry now; doesn’t so much want to put food on her feelings as maybe sit in a quiet room for a week, not talk to a single human being.

“I reserve the right to steal a bite,” Nigel tells her. Generously shares scallop with her, which Andy pretends to be enthused about.

Everything is good. Delicious even, despite that Andy is in no mood to enjoy any of it now.

“More?” Nigel holds up the wine bottle, and Andy covers her glass to ward him off. She’s had a glass already, plus her cocktail, and she’s still expected back at the townhouse after this.

“Early morning,” she says by way of explanation. Not exactly a lie.

“I make my own hours now,” Nigel says and smiles smugly. Pops up a piece of prosciutto into his mouth for punctuation.

“So you go in at what, seven?” Andy guesses, because Nigel isn’t fooling her for an instant.

“Sometimes seven-thirty," Nigel mutters and averts his eyes. Steals a bite of Andy’s risotto.

Conversation shifts to safer topics, like fashion trends and Nigel’s hunt for a brownstone. The check eventually comes and Andy promptly reaches for it, deciding it’s just one more painful thing about this evening.

“Don’t even think about it,” Nigel says and snatches it right out of her hand. “Especially since you barely drank the wine.”

“I told you I was taking you out,” Andy reminds him. “This was supposed to be on me.”

“And you’re a sweet thing for sticking to that after I picked this place, but no way are you paying for this. Maybe next time.”

Andy feels guilty and relieved in different measure. Then Nigel goes to sign the slip, Andy getting a glimpse of the total, and hey, that guilt pretty much evaporates. But it’s pretty cool to know that Nigel tips like a Rockefeller. She shouldn’t have expected anything less.

“I really do love this dress on you,” Nigel says when they stand, and Andy perks up at that. It’s a funky samurai print that felt too risky for her when she first bought it. She decided to pair it with a chunky belt and a killer pair of pumps, hoping confidence would carry it.

“Trying not to play it safe,” Andy smiles. Hugs Nigel like she means it because it’s been good to see him, even if dinner wasn’t exactly lighthearted.

“Call me for lunch,” Nigel tells her. “Don’t disappear on me again.”

“I won’t,” Andy says. Hopes she can keep the promise.

She lets him have the first cab, a move that proves fortuitous because as soon as he’s gone, Roy pulls out from the spot he’s been parked in.

“Boss’s order,” Roy shrugs in response to Andy’s confusion.

“I’m so sorry,” Andy tells him. “I really planned to take a cab.”

The drive is pretty quiet after that, so Andy keeps on thinking about all the things Nigel told her. Emily. Miranda’s list. How many people basically walked out Miranda, in a very short span of time.

She reenters the townhouse with soft steps and a heavy heart. Returns to the study to find Miranda seated and working, giving every appearance that she’s been in the same spot since Andy left. Probably not the case though, as Miranda likely paused for dinner with the twins.

“Contact the printer in the morning,” Miranda says, about ten seconds after Andy enters the room. “Send them these.”

It’s the first of a long series of tasks, like always, but in place of cheery replies, Andy merely nods. Dives back into the work and tries not to stare at the woman across from her. No way she could keep the sympathy off her face if she did.

“What did you say to Nigel?” Miranda asks, breaking the silence that’s reigned for the last hour.

“He’s already heard that you’re starting a new magazine,” Andy tells her. Feels remarkably free of guilt, tattling on Nigel like this. “I didn’t see an advantage in telling him anything else.”

Miranda considers her here, staring at her in the exactly the way she did yesterday evening. Only it doesn’t scare Andy this time. Not when she's so mentally tired - feels stretched out and wrong now, like cheap fabric that’s been washed too many times.

“Where was your dinner?” Miranda asks, and Andy freezes in place. Fails to find any interpretation of this other than an attempt to make polite conversation, which is entirely too weird for Andy to even wrap her head around.

“Marea,” Andy replies, before the silence can stretch and Miranda inevitably gets pissed off at Andy’s inability to answer a simple question.

“Their wine list is acceptable,” Miranda notes, and goes back to whatever she’s working on.

“I liked my risotto,” Andy says. “And the lobster crostini we began with.”

Miranda doesn’t say anything else, so Andy promptly shuts up. Hopes she didn’t say too much or too little, but then Miranda’s not sniping or pursing her lips. So that’s a good sign.

“You never considered staying, did you?” Miranda asks sometime later, and Andy looks up from what she’s doing, not following the line of thought. Staying longer at dinner despite that Miranda told her not to linger? “At Runway, ” Miranda supplies. Makes the name sound violent and ugly.

It’s one of the many times that Andy thinks Miranda can read minds, as this whole time Andy’s been sitting here, thinking about just that. Granted, she didn’t even realize staying at Runway was a possibility, having assumed she was collateral damage when her boss was shown the exit. It’s weird to think the Elias-Clarke records likely show Andy as having walked out on her job rather than being terminated.

Still, she tries to picture Irv Ravitz himself asking her to stay on. All she sees is herself shoving that old Nokia Sidekick right up his ass.

“No,” Andy answers easily. “I never considered staying.”

“Such loyalty,” Miranda tsks. Sounds like a pricklier, colder version of the speech Nigel gave her at dinner. “And from someone who only deigned to work for me in the first place.”

“I think we can both agree I’ve grown beyond that shortsighted young woman,” Andy sighs. Knew better than to expect some kind of bonding moment with Miranda, but had hoped to not be kicked in the shin for her trouble. At least Nigel beat Miranda to this particularly punch, so Andy doesn’t feel as hurt as she otherwise would.

“You have,” Miranda concedes. “But not so far as to realize loyalty is a liability.”

“Only time will tell,” Andy says. Punctuates the reply with a cold smile, the likes of which makes Miranda’s eyes crinkle.

On another person, Miranda's expression might even pass for bemused.

. . .

 

Chapter Text

 


Oh, gimme that fire
Oh, gimme that fire
Burn, burn, burn

- Barns Courtney, "Fire"


 

 

Andy pulls double duty all week and then spends thirteen hours at the townhouse on Saturday, vetting the new personal assistant and making calls about the temporary office space Charcoal is apparently moving into while the permanent one’s renovated.

It’s been weird enough to be one on one with Miranda in the evenings, but Saturday is an even stranger mix of work and Miranda’s private life. The whole day is punctuated by Caroline and Cassidy running up and down the stairs, Miranda tsking about homework and foul language and then a neon Chanel crossbody purse that’s been left on the floor for the dog to chew. 

“Owning that item is a privilege,” Miranda says to Caroline, and something about her tone makes Andy remember that cruel ‘hire the smart, fat girl’ speech Miranda gave her. Which is totally unfair and even bizarre , as Miranda’s words to her daughter here are entirely without spite or malice, her sentiment perfectly justified. Maybe feeling a perennial disappointment to Miranda has caused Andy some kind of real mental damage that she should hash out with a therapist?

Well, too bad if so, because Andy really doesn’t have time for all those appointments now that she’s back working with Miranda again.

Andy’s  left alone in the house for two hours that afternoon while all three Priestly’s head to the girls’ swim practice. It’s tempting to poke around in places once everyone’s gone, maybe find out if Miranda is a full fledged human being with an actual junk drawer in her kitchen. But god knows Miranda’s exactly the kind of person to have nanny cams in her house, and besides that there’s the not-so-quiet voice inside Andy’s head that says abusing Miranda’s privacy here, of all places, would be the worst kind of violation.

She allows herself only a good glance over of the rooms on the way to the kitchen when she gets up to grab her umpteenth cup of coffee. There’s a heavy vase that she never noticed before and she stares at it now, coffee in hand, reflecting on the crystal’s exact shade of purple. Lilac isn’t a color Miranda ever wears, but here it is, adorning the hallway of her home, so maybe she just refrains from wearing it because she thinks it’s a shade that looks bad on her? Surely not though , because that would be a ridiculous thing for Miranda to believe. The woman looks good in every other shade of purple Andy’s seen her wear; no way she wouldn’t killer in a lilac blouse.

The thought weirds Andy out for some reason, a sharp discomfort blooming beneath her breastbone, so she scoots right on down the hallway like it’s the vase’s fault she now feels weirdly anxious. Too much coffee, she tells herself, and gulps a few more sips down anyway.

It’s just outside the room she notices the painting of a woman - a portrait she’s almost positive didn’t used to be there because she has a pretty clear memory of something with ships or a harbor being in this spot before. At the very least, she doesn’t remember this depiction of a young-ish woman, her naked back exposed to the viewer as she she sits with her head down, chest pressed against a kitchen table. She thinks it's a kitchen table anyway, given the empty plate sitting to the woman's left. Andy studies it, wishing she remembered more of the art history she’d taken in college because she's never sure what terms to use when it comes to contemporary art. She thinks it’s an example of surrealism, but then she imagines using that word to talk about this painting and Miranda snearing in her face because she’s so off base, and yeah, Andy will never ever make the mistake of opening her mouth about art in front of anyone who counts.

Andy slips back into her pile of work, minutes piling up until Caroline and Cassidy returning to the house with their hair still dark, smelling of chlorine. They demolish an entire plate of fruit and carrots in minutes, Andy expecting a rebuke from their mother that never actually comes.

“They’re blissfully quiet when fatigued,” Miranda says to Andy, in a companionable tone she’s used a few times now and that’s really starting to freak Andy out. As nice as it is to feel like Miranda’s dropping her shields even just a tiny bit,  Andy can’t help but think Miranda is going to catch herself a second later, crushing Andy under her well shod foot if only to make a point.

The general level of noise in the house thereafter declines in apparent confirmation of Miranda’s statement, and Andy settles deeper into her own work. Patricia comes over to sniff them both sometime later and Miranda pats the massive animal’s head absentmindedly, though it’s Andy who earns the dubious honor of Patricia settling (heavily) on her feet.

“Careful she doesn’t drool on your shoes,” Miranda warns her, and Andy worries here because dog drool is one thing but Patricia’s drool is kind of… epic in volume. Nothing much to be done now that Patricia is fast asleep beneath her, and anyway Andy’s sure Patricia’s comfort ranks above her own in Miranda’s list of priorities. She lets the dog be, hoping for the best.

“Go to Calvin Klein on Monday and pick up those samples,” Miranda orders, when Andy’s about to leave for the night. She doesn’t say which samples, but Andy writes down summaries of every phone call she hears Miranda make to a designer for exactly this reason. She’ll be able to puzzle it out whenever she looks over her notes. “I don’t care how forward thinking Italo’s choice of materials is,” Miranda continues, which makes Andy freeze where she’s standing, “if he doesn’t give that collection a stern edit it’s going to end up looking like some Parsons term project.”

It’s the kind of commentary  Andy used to hear Miranda direct to Nigel, but Nigel isn’t here now. Nope, no one here besides little old Andy, and since the woman next to her doesn’t gives one fig about Andy’s opinions on anything related to fashion, she must be merely thinking out loud. Too bad Andy’s safest rejoinder, a silent nod, feels borderline rude in this setting, especially when Miranda looks right at her now, almost like she’s actually expecting Andy to give a real reply.

“His use of zippers is interesting,” Andy chokes out, trying to sound normal and conversational and not, you know, petrified. “I’d like to see more pieces like the suits with the shimmering nylon mesh in them.”

“They left a pleasing effect on the eye,” Miranda concurs, and Andy almost sways with relief. “Let us hope he makes choices that highlight those achievements.”

Miranda doesn’t say goodnight or walk her out because Andy isn’t a guest. Obviously. But Cassidy gives her a small, not entirely apathetic wave from the stairs as Andy opens the door to leave, and something about the sum of the day’s events make Andy’s trip home a happy one, even if she is as tired as she ever remembers being at Runway .

 

. . .

 

Sunday (glorious, merciful Sunday) Andy is off, having been given a day’s reprieve from Miranda’s bidding until Monday morning. She wakes up after a delicious eight hours of sleep, stretching out from where she’s been curled up on her side. She basks for a few sleepy minutes in the feeling of not having to hop out of bed and rush around, panicked about calls, or schedules, or eyeliner.

It’s tempting to just stay in bed for hours and hours, but sleeping all day is one of those things that’s always been better in theory than practice for Andy, and anyway there are still things she needs to get done around the apartment. So she gets up, reveling in her present ability to walk around for a couple hours in her pajamas and no bra. She meanders into the kitchen and brews herself some of the expensive coffee she keeps in cupboard, reserved for special occasions and the guests she never has over. 

She thinks about making herself a giant stack of pancakes too, but Sunday she usually has brunch with Doug. The entire week was unending marathon of the Mirror and then Miranda work, so she’s way behind on responding to messages, Doug’s texts included.

Brunch?

Her phone begins to ring less than a minute after she sends Doug the text.

“It lives!” Doug exclaims, in a campy, dramatic voice that makes Andy roll her eyes.

“It does,” Andy says, “and it needs to eat. You up for clogging our arteries with bacon today?”

“Absolutely,” Doug replies. “But can we go somewhere that has pancakes?”

“This is why we’re friends,” Andy sighs, already dreamily thinking about melted butter and warm, sticky syrup pooling on a plate.

Doug wants to go in an hour, which means an end to Andy’s braless frolicking sooner than she hoped. Still, it feels absolutely delicious to take a long shower, and she lets her lavender conditioner soak into her hair for a few minutes, stretching out her back, arms above her head, as the smell and humidity fill up the bathroom.  She tries not to stare at the thin film of ick on the shower liner, another task to add to all the cleaning she needs to get done today. Then again, she’s been meaning to replace the whole curtain since she moved in, so maybe she’ll do that today instead, save herself some labor since neither of her roommates remotely care about shower liners or the maintenance thereof.

She lets her hair air dry today because it probably needs a break from all the styling. She racked up a fair amount of damage to it when she worked at Runway and she’s just gotten her length back to where it was before she had to cut the dead ends off. She’ll have to be more mindful of it this time. She puts some product in it, taming the waves to something she hopes looks beachy or beachy-adjacent. The weather has been miserably hot and sticky all week, Andy having spent the long days in thick fabrics and too many layers, so she picks out a sundress now. It’s bright and floral and laughably inexpensive, but she likes it and it’s comfortable. She mentally throws a ‘so there’ at Miranda, who will not see her today and would never stop to think about what Andy’s wearing on her off time anyway.

Doug beats her to the restaurant, already has their names on the list when Andy strolls up to him on the sidewalk.

“You look like summer personified,” he says, and Andy laughs. “No really. If someone were casting an ad for something to do with summer break, you’d be in it. I love it.”

“Thanks,” Andy beams and kisses him on the cheek. She feels grateful for Doug’s easy friendship and this day of holy rest as she looks through the windows of the restaurant and sees plates of perfect looking pancakes arriving to faceless, happy people. She doesn’t care one iota that she’s probably grinning like a crazy person.

“I have some news,” Andy says when the considerable crowd on the street diminishes. Doug says there’s only two names before them now, but the foyer of the restaurant is so crowded they’ve foregone the air conditioning for breathing room and people not constantly jostling into them.

“You’re buying brunch?” Doug teases, and Andy sticks her tongue out. She waits until the guy milling next to them on his cell phone takes a few more steps away before says anything else.

“First of all,” Andy says and tries not to fidget, “you’re going to have questions I can’t answer right now, and I know that’s going to kill you, but you’re the only one I’m telling this to, okay?”

“Are you Batman?” Doug squints. “Are you about to tell me you’re Batman?”

Doug.

“I mean, I’ll support you as Batman.  But only if you make me your Alfred, because Alfred is clearly the most important-”

“Doug!”

“Okay, okay,” Doug holds up his hands, laughing. “What is it?”

“I got a new job,” Andy breathes out. Feels a little more anxious now, saying it out loud. “I’m quitting the Mirror.

“That’s awesome!” Doug says and motions to high-five her, but Andy shakes her head.

“You don’t even know what it is yet!”

“You wouldn’t quit your job if it wasn’t something better for you, and besides you look pretty freaking happy today. So yeah, I can already say that’s awesome.”

Andy can end the discussion on the high note. She can tell Doug no more right now, delaying the inevitable for a few weeks, maybe a couple months. She can keep this perfect day intact at the expense of being honest with a friend who’s always gone to bat for her. But she won’t, because omissions like this only do more damage, only bite people in the ass and cause more hurt feelings. Her ease today will cost her moody, pained looks down the line, when Doug learns the truth and forgives her (because he’s wonderful) but still questions why she didn’t tell him in the first place.

“I’m working for Miranda Priestly again,” Andy says. Tries not flinch, even though she’s definitely bracing for impact.

“Already?” Doug ask, in a strangely undisturbed tone. “Wow, I didn’t think you’d even have time to get your cover letter together yet.”

“Huh?”

“Well I knew you’d apply to work with her again,” Doug says. “ I just didn’t think they’d be hiring yet, given that whatever she’s doing is still at the gossip on the street stage.”

“I didn’t apply for anything,” Andy says, “and what do you mean you knew I’d want to work with her again?”

“Andy,” Doug stares at her. “You have a pretty acute case of hero worship going on.”

Hero worship, Andy scoffs. Does Doug remember those first few months at Runway? Or Harry Potter? Or God, what Miranda did to Emily and via Andy no less?

“It’s okay to like someone,” Doug soothes, obviously sensing Andy’s reaction. “Even someone who’s … kind of flawed. But you do clearly like her and look up to her. I mean, those nasty fights with Lily were more about Miranda than Nate, weren’t they?”

Yeah. They were. Andy even called Lily a bitch for celebrating Miranda being fired from Runway. Not, like, out loud or anything, but in her head, repeatedly.

“I guess,” Andy reluctantly allows. “But I really didn’t apply for anything. She asked me to work for her again. Offered me the job personally.”

“La Priestly pursued you?” Doug asks with a scandalized expression, and something about that phrase makes Andy pretty uncomfortable. But what can she say to correct him? Miranda literally waited for her in front of her place of work and then her apartment. Haunting. Yeah, that’s the word Andy used when she talked to Miranda that second time in her car.

“Kind of,” Andy fidgets. “I had to sign a pretty thick NDA about it all, but I made some of own terms known, so.”

“Look at you, you badass,” Doug smiles and holds up his hand for a high-five again.

“I really thought this conversation was going to go a different way,” Andy chuckles as she meets it.

“How so?” Doug shakes his head. “My best friend was just headhunted by one of the most influential people on the planet. And because she already knows you’re good. How could I not be proud of you?”

“Thank you,” Andy says, and hugs him on the spot. “I… thank you for always being a better friend than I deserve.”

“Nah,” Doug slaps her back with the kind of brotherly affection she should have expected in the first place. “But no disappearing off the face of the earth this time. I expect you to at least text me from within the confines of your work dungeon.”

“Agreed,” Andy says as their name is finally called. “Besides, it would be take one serious professional emergency to keep me from Sunday brunch.”

Doug fist pumps her before they’re led inside to their cramped table for two.

“What should we order?” Doug wonders, openly staring at the plates being served around them rather than his menu.

“Everything,” Andy says and makes a mental vow of marriage to the Tiramisu pancakes staring up at her from the table to their left.  

 

. . .

 

“Go to the new office building,” Miranda orders, the second Andy answers her phone.

It’s early in the evening and Andy’s doing laundry in the basement of her building. She’s still stuffed from brunch hours earlier, has been made sleepy by the warm, dry air down here. The sleepiness changes to panic as soon Miranda’s name appears on the screen of her phone.

Andy’s heart drops, though she really should have expected this. Why on earth did she think Miranda was going to give her a full day off when she’s already sharing Andy, however temporarily, with another job?

“Go first thing in the morning,” Miranda clarifies, as if by miracle, and begins spouting instructions about furniture and IT.  “And check your personal email,” Miranda concludes right before she hangs up.

Miranda’s instructions were oddly specific. Which is helpful, obviously, but it’s so unlike Miranda that Andy worries there’s something she must have missed.

She was going to sit down here and read, but now she wants to go upstairs and get things going for the morning. Maybe she she can just bring her laptop down here and work while her clothes are on? She never leaves her laundry alone anymore, has learned that lesson the hard way in the past. But it only takes a few minutes to go up and grab her laptop, then come back and set up shop while her first load dries and her second load washes.

She clicks open her email to find that Miranda has sent her a staff list (finally), including the name of the IT head she’ll presumably be working with tomorrow. It’s tempting to google the names of all the editors. A few she knows by sight, is intrigued that Miranda’s poached someone from Elle as well as The Atlantic, but the new art director, Paloma Hernandez, is a giant question mark that Andy’s already itching to investigate.

Maybe this is why Miranda waited forever to give Andy a staff list? It’s only natural that Andy would be curious, do a little digging, and Miranda hates to part with sensitive information if she doesn’t have to. Hell, she hates to part with most information, even if it’s just because she can’t bothered to make explanations.

It’s all possible Miranda still doesn’t trust her on a more profound level, Andy thinks as she sits next to the ancient washing machine that marks its imbalance with the occasional, jarring thud. Maybe despite the NDA and all that Andy has to lose, Miranda thinks it possible that Andy would take Miranda’s new masthead and run to someone (Irv and Elias-Clarke?) with it. Or else accidentally leave it on a subway for anyone to find.

The possibility that Miranda still sees her that way makes Andy’s eyes well up for a minute. It doesn’t matter that Miranda doesn’t trust Andy because Miranda doesn’t entirely trust anyone who isn’t named Miranda Priestly. It still hurts her feelings. And it also makes Andy's job even harder, she thinks as she closes her laptop with an angry thud, because she’s been making dozens of calls while flying blind.

Well, Andy thinks thunderously, and throws some wet clothes into a dusty drier with a little more force than needed. If Miranda’s going to cut Andy out of the information she needs to her job, then Miranda can just go take a flying leap if she gets upset about mistakes that shake out of that ignorance.

Andy’s not going to lose any sleep about it. Nope. No siree.

She finishes her laundry and trudges back up the six flights of stairs. One of these days she’s going to live in a building with an elevator, but that day is not today. She puts up all her clothes and gets her outfit ready for the morning. Hangs up the new shower curtain and liner she bought thought this afternoon, laughing a little when Jen gives the gray floral pattern two thumbs up.

“I like that you’re a nester,” Jen says. “It’s cute.”

“You mean you like that I clean up the place that you also live in,” Andy replies.

“I prefer to think that I’m simply more detached from the physical trappings of mortal existence,” Jen deadpans and Andy can’t help but guffaw.

“Night,” Andy bids.

Andy’s pajamas are a thin cotton, the kind that only get softer as the material wares away. She rubs her fingers absently across the hem of her shirt as she lies in bed, thinking about that painting from Miranda’s hallway. She decides that so many things about it are odd, like the viewpoint (looking down on the woman and table from up above) and the content (the weirdness of a sleeping woman, let alone a naked one, next to an empty food plate), but how something about the woman’s relaxed back, the angle of her body, also strikes Andy as calming. The painting, she decides, feels intimate and serene.

She finds a teeny tiny hole in the hem she’s been tracing, worrying it with her finger, even though that’s exactly the kind of action that’s going to make it bigger, make it worse. She wonders why she wasn’t born as someone who could leave such things alone. Why she can’t be the kind of woman so at ease with the world that she can sleep anywhere. Perhaps even fall asleep seated at a dining table, having just finished a light lunch in her kitchen in some indeterminate part of Europe, the afternoon light reflecting softly on her dirty plate just so.


. . .

 

Andy’s downstairs in the morning before Roy even pulls up. It’s barely six am and she’s bought herself a latte as a way to the forestall the bad mood that’s threatening at the periphery of her thoughts. She nods to the car and pulls open the door herself because she hates making Roy get out for her, even if he thinks he should.

She almost lets out a little shriek when she opens the door to find Miranda sitting there, on the side closest to the street, but she manages to turn it into a high-pitched, “morning!” a second before she actually screams directly into Miranda’s face. Though, really, the woman should expect such reactions to her by now.

It’s awkward to close the door and go around to the other side, but it’s not as if Miranda is going to scoot over for Andy. In fact, the very motion of scooting is such an inelegant one that Andy can’t imagine Miranda physically doing it. But that’s just a weird line of thought anyway, and Andy tries very hard to dismiss it as she climbs into the car and braces herself for a hard start to the day.

“The IT team should make the art department it’s priority after my office,” Miranda begins immediately, and Andy writes it into the notebook she already has open. “There’s no reason they shouldn’t have everything up and running today, but I’m already expecting  a litany of excuses as to why they can’t complete the most basic functions of their job. Do whatever you have to do. Scare them - if that’s something of which you’re even capable.” Here Miranda does the unthinkable - grabbing the coffee Andy has set done in the cup holder and drinking from the lid Andy had her own lips against just two minutes earlier, on the street. “All we’re doing is bleeding time with this construction and delay. I have no interest in losing more of it to complaints about that network failures. And this isn’t my coffee order.”

“No, uh, it’s mine,” Andy says, and manages not to wince. She avoids eye contact all together since she’s not suicidal, but she’s pretty sure she sees something like discomfort pass across Miranda’s face.

“Oh,” Miranda says, and puts the coffee down in the cupholder farthest away from her. “Stop at Starbucks,” she directs Roy, while Andy looks longingly at her sad, discarded latte. It’d be too creepy to drink it in front of Miranda now, though Andy doesn’t really mind the whole drinking after her thing. Maybe Miranda won’t mind if Andy gets something for herself when she goes into to grab Miranda’s coffee.

“Coordinate with Paloma,” Miranda continues, though Andy has no idea what exactly she’s supposed to coordinate with the new art director because it could be anything. Guess she’ll have to figure that one out. “And go to Calvin Klein before you leave to do whatever it is you do at that tedious publication.”

“Got it,” Andy says in her cheery assistant voice. Wonders if it’d be too dramatic to throw herself from the moving car as Roy weaves it through traffic.

“There are a great many moving parts in play right now," Miranda says to Andy here, sounding almost strained. “Do not disappoint me.”

It’s easy to to interpret statement as do not disappoint me ever, given the source. But there’s a tiny tick in Miranda’s cheek that Andy’s only seen once before, and yeah, the woman is literally starting her professional life over while bringing Andy along for the ride, so. It would be really bad for Andy to fuck anything up this week.

“I won’t,” Andy promises, and really means it. Hurls herself out of the car the second Roy stops it outside of a Midtown Starbucks.

"Better," Miranda says after she's taken the first sip of the scalding latte Andy's pressed into her hand. It's barely even a compliment, but Andy still feels her bad mood evaporate. Smiles her best cheerful-but-not-a-grinning-idiot smile as Miranda continues down her long list of notes.



. . .

 

Chapter Text

 


 

What you think of me is hard to tell
double talkin' words that I can't spell

- The Go-Go's, "I'm the Only One"


 

The temporary Charcoal office is pretty ugly.

Well, maybe not ugly, Andy revises, but it certainly doesn't look like anything associated with Miranda. It's the kind of generic office space that could be anything really, which she guesses is the point of this property's whole business model.

Still, it's uncomfortable to think that the person who had Miranda's office before this could have been an accountant. Or someone who sold insurance. A weird thing for Andy to take exception to now, given that her mom sold insurance for most of Andy's life.

Temporary, she reminds herself and goes about chatting with the woman from IT who's already proving a godsend. It's after seven now and Andy has about an hour to get stuff done here before she hauls herself over to the Mirror. She really hopes Roy will be back by then because she's banking on that time saving ride, Roy having disappeared with Miranda after they basically dumped Andy off and left her here to fend for herself.

"Update me every hour," Miranda ordered as Andy got out of the car, which was when Andy realized that Miranda and her magical Priestly power of putting the fear of God into everyone wouldn't be aiding and abetting her this morning.

So Andy had waited for the elevator all by herself, remembering her first weeks at Runway and how everyone had looked completely through her. Hopefully her new coworkers would be different this time, especially as no one here will be any newer than anyone else. Plus Andy's more confidant now, she reminds herself sternly. She's not some kid fresh from college who'll just let people kick her around.

She pumped herself up with enough preemption indignation that it's disorienting to stomp off the elevator only to find a small group of huddled people all looking vaguely nervous.

"Andrea?" a woman about her age steps forward and asks, a polite smile bracketing the question.

"That's me," Andy says and skitters to a stop.

"Pleasure to meet you. I'm Hasnaa. I'll be helping you with your IT needs today."

"Then you are going to be my new favorite person, Hasnaa. And please call me Andy. I only have an hour here this morning, so I'd like to dive right in."

"Of course," Hasnaa says, and the little crowd that's a few feet from them remains, though they now look torn as to whether they should introduce themselves or else scatter like animals.

"But I'd love to finish the introductions first," Andy hastens to add. Tries to appear friendly while not smiling too wide because this is the first day at a job and not a freshman mixer.

"I'm Ken Tuttle, assistant to Paloma Hernandez."

"Marcie Huang, assistant visuals director."

There are four more people and four more titles, but most of them don't stick with Andy because she's too preoccupied by the fact that these people still look vaguely scared. Most of them are older than Andy but all of them are assistants of various sorts, so maybe they're just terrified that Miranda is going to show up any minute and they'll be in the direct line of fire.

"So nice to meet all of you," Andy says, even though she's absolutely going to have to look up most of their names again so she doesn't embarrass herself in the coming weeks. "We're prioritizing getting the art department up and running, so I'm happy to have so many of you here already."

Hasnaa gives her a little tour of the space, such as it is, starting with Miranda's suite of offices.

"Were they expecting Miranda this morning?" Andy asks Hasnaa, after they've worked together for a bit and Andy has deemed her good people.

"Will she not be here today?" Hasnaa asks with a furrowed brow, but really Andy has no idea. Andy has a working schedule for her now but today Miranda has left her mostly in the dark.

"I meant because they all seemed so nervous," Andy revises her previous question. "I assume they were expecting Miranda to glide off the elevator rather than me."

"Oh, no," Hasnaa smiles enigmatically. "We knew it was her assistant who'd be turning up first thing. Most people also know you worked for her before, at Runway."

"So you expected me to a terror," Andy guesses. Feels surprised but also the teeniest bit pleased.

"I wouldn't say terror," Hasnaa hedges. "But there might have been some preconceived ideas about personality, yes."

"I share Miranda's ideas about efficiency and timeliness," Andy decides to say, and is amazed how clear and strong her voice sounds here. She doesn't elaborate that she has to share them, no matter how occasionally insane, because otherwise Miranda will fire her. "So I'm afraid people who diverge from Miranda's opinions in that area will also have great difficulty with me."

Hasnaa only nods here, a sign of appreciation or perhaps respect, but either way the moment passes and Andy works like a crazy person until the moment she has to leave for the Mirror.

"Andy, one more question," someone from the art department says when they cross her in the hallway. But by one question he really means twenty, and before she knows it Roy is calling her because she's thirty minutes past when she needed to leave.

"Are you still able to drop me off?" Andy asks him, feeling panicked now, because it's entirely possible Roy needs to get back to wherever Miranda is.

"She'll be with her lawyer another hour," Roy replies by way of confirmation. Pulls away from the curb the second the car door closes, because he's more than used to making up time for people who chronically double book themselves.

Andy doesn't know if Miranda's seeing her business lawyer or her divorce lawyer, and Roy wouldn't tell her if she asked. She's pretty sure everything with Stephen is settled now and Miranda just has to wait the requisite year before everything is finalized by the state of New York, but the mere thought of that asshole makes Andy's face grow hot with anger, her empty stomach heaving with disapproval.

"I'll drop you in front of that coffee cart," Roy says helpfully. "So you can grab a muffin or something on your way up."

Andy thanks him, though she definitely isn't hungry now. Not when she's picturing Stephen's smarmy face and thinking about how Miranda once willingly shared a home, shared a bed with that booze soaked asshole.

"Careful there, killer," Roy admonishes her when she snaps the pencil she's holding. "No use letting her get to you already when you still have so much of the day ahead of you."

"Yeah," Andy manages tiredly. Looks down at her innocent pencil, its life cut short prematurely.

"Miranda said something about you and Calvin Klein at lunchtime," Roy says right before they pull up to Andy's work. "Do you have any idea about that?"

 "I have to ferry to some samples to her," Andy remembers. She doubts she would have forgotten entirely but she's still glad Roy brought it up. "If you can't take me, don't worry about it. I can always grab a cab."

"I'll send you a text when I know her schedule for the day," Roy replies and opens his door. "Maybe I'll have a window."

Roy opens her door for her even though Andy always tries to wave him off from this.

"Thanks, Roy," Andy says, and really means it. "You're the best."

She makes herself stop at the coffee cart because this morning is only going to get worse if she doesn't set herself up with some food. She can always eat it later in the morning if she doesn't want it now, and anyway she highly doubts she'll get to eat a lunch.

She buys herself one overpriced vanilla yogurt because she's an adult now and she needs to take care of herself. She also buys a double chocolate muffin because taking care of herself is going to mean eating her feelings at some point later.

Miranda, who didn't answer a single one of Andy's texts earlier, chooses to call Andy when she's barely been at the Mirror half an hour.

She's just started a conversation with Keith, who looks so pleased this morning that she can only assume his second interview with the Times went well, when her phone rings with the tone she's assigned to Miranda alone.

"Damnit," Andy groans as Keith smirks and smirks.

"Give my best to France," Keith teases as the French national anthem plays out. Andy tries not to reflect on what dark, twisted masochism led to her picking that particular melody.

"Hello," Andy says, getting as far away from the bullpen as she can without looking like she's leaving for lunch when she's barely started working.

"Fire the contractor," Miranda says immediately.

Oh boy, Andy thinks. But instead she asks, "what happened?"

"Exposed brick," Miranda grits out, and Andy curses her life, curses the contractor, curses the fact that no one has the sense to simply do what they've been told to do.

"Will you give me time to fix it before you fire them?" Andy asks. Before she simply would have rolled along with Miranda's crazy, but doing so now will cost them valuable time, will mean a longer stay in that temporary office space that Miranda undoubtedly already hates.

"One hour," Miranda snaps. Then, uncharacteristically, elaborates on her point. "I mean it, Andrea. One hour and one hour only. After that, they're fired."

"Got it," Andy says. Hangs up at the same moment Miranda does because they have a weird sort of rhythm. 

"You know," Keith says, when Andy comes back. "I can't even be angry that you came in late today and are probably going to leave me for some extended lunch break to do whatever it is you disappear to do these days. Because you look like death on a cracker."

"Thanks," Andy grimaces. "That's a real nice thing for you to say, pal."

"You need sleep," Keith tells her.

"I need more coffee," Andy rejoins. "And I need to eat my chocolate muffin. And then, yes, I am going to disappear to make some calls and do some... things, but after that I will take over whatever shitfest fact-finding you have on your desk from the kind folks in the business section."

"You realize that you really don't have to finish out the week," Keith says to her, and sounds more concerned for her than judgy. "They'll survive and undoubtedly still give you a reference if you need one later."

"I know," Andy takes a deep breath, "I know. But they still haven't brought the person in for me to train and I don't want to just ... leave. That's not the way I want to be remembered here."

"Andy," Keith says, and sounds very serious now. "There is no new person. They're not going to replace you. And when I leave - and thank God I get to say when now - they're not going to replace me either."

"The department's already understaffed," Andy balks. "We have been since I started."

"Since before I started," Keith adds.

"That's really bad," Andy chew her lip. "Isn't that really bad?"

"Yeah," Keith sighs. "Especially since our paltry salaries don't exactly cost them a lot."

"Wow," Andy murmurs. Thinks about how many people are employed here and what Nigel said a couple weeks ago when she called him. How he assumed she needed a reference given the state of the Mirror.

"I'll cover you while you make your calls," Keith interrupts her thoughts, and Andy jumps from her seat now because, shit, she's down to forty-eight minutes.

It doesn't take long to strangle the contractor into submission. It seems whoever had gotten on the phone with Miranda the last time was just speaking extemporaneously, had no clue who they were talking or why giving off the cuff advice was more likely to get them killed than thanked. 

"No more talk of brick," Andrea reassures Miranda when she calls her back. She's pretty sure the person who talked to Miranda previously will now have a neurotic aversion to the very word.

"I want the person I talked to fired," Miranda predictably demands, and Andrea inwardly sighs. Hero worship, Doug had said about her loyalty to Miranda. Yeah. Sure.

"They won't so much as be in the same room as the designs for the office," Andrea assures her instead. "You have my word."

"Fine," Miranda says, miraculously, and hangs up. But then she begins texting Andy another list of things she needs done.

"If you want me to cover you for lunch, you should go now," Andy says to Keith later. "I have errands that aren't going to be quick."

"I'm grabbing a sandwich from that place down the street," Keith says, out of his chair in a flash. "You want something?"

"Maybe a bag of chips," Andy says, distractedly. She's texting back and forth with Hasnaa, plus two people from the art department. Apparently Andy missed the senior staff rolling in by a matter of minutes earlier, and now everyone's there, having snit fits about furniture and office placements. Lovely.

Roy texts Andy to say he has fifty minutes to take her to Calvin Klein, and as if by magic, Keith comes back five minutes early.

"I've gotta go somewhere," Andy tells him. "I'll try to keep it under an hour."

Keith gives her a knowing look that Andy pointedly ignores. She grabs her gifted bag of chips and shoves it in her pocket.

"The new personal assistant took Patricia to the wrong groomer," Miranda informs her when Andy slides into the Mercedes. Because of course Andy couldn't get a quiet, air conditioned car ride and a chance to inhale her chips. No, that would be too much to ask of the universe.

"I'll take care of it," Andy says, and can already guess what Anna must have done. Patricia has one groomer for summertime and another for winter because Miranda is very particularly about her Saint Bernard's proneness to dry skin (and the fact that Andy remembers this makes her a little sad because that piece of knowledge has probably been retained in her brain at the expense of something like the name of a river or the title of a Yeats poem).

Andy shoots the back of Roy's head a long, daggered glare. Really? He couldn't warn her she was in for this? Maybe just a text, something short and pithy like 'there be dragons'?

They pull up to Calvin Klein and Miranda, naturally, remains in the car. Even though her coming all the way here with Andy means that, were Miranda an entirely different person, she could have acquired the samples all by herself, without Andy physically leaving the job that still expects her to do work for them.

Andy expects to emerge from the studio laden down with zippered bags, much like she did every week at Runway. But this time two young men, probably interns, schlep them all the way down for her, Roy helping them secure everything in the trunk.

It's only when she gets back in the car that she sees her back of chips laying on the floor of the car, several inches from Miranda's feet. They must have fallen out of her pocket whenever she got out of the car a few minutes ago. Well, maybe if Andy ignores them the entire car ride Miranda will think they're Roy's rather than hers.

"That meeting was an utter waste of time," Miranda begins, apropos of nothing, as Andy tries to stare at anything but the bag of fat laden carbohydrates shimmying closer to Miranda's Prada pumps. "Why my lawyer keeps dragging me into his office to explain his incompetence at resolving what is really a very simple dissolution of marriage-", and here Andy's brain hiccups because yeah, that meeting was about Stephen and hey, how funny that Miranda considers a divorce involving so much money, ego, and power 'simple'.

"I'm sorry," Andy says, when Miranda finishes her rant.

"I beg your pardon?" Miranda stares at her. She sounds offended that Andy dared to speak here, but Andy guesses she's just surprised. Surprise and offense tend to read the same way in Miranda speak.

"I'm sorry you still have to go through this," Andy says and meets Miranda's gaze. "I'm sorry you can't have him out of your life already."

"Soon enough," Miranda says after a long pause. Turns her head away from Andy and stares out the window as if New York traffic is the most fascinating thing in the world.

Whelp, so much for that. But what did Andy really expect here, girl talk? She chides herself for the stupidity, then starts to answer all the texts that have steadily been pouring in from people at work. Her new work, she means, but then wonders why she even bothers with the mental correction. She's present at the Mirror in body only these days, and sometimes not even that.

"Hire an administrative assistant," Miranda says when Roy's just gotten them out of some really ugly traffic. "Have someone in place before the end of the month."

Well, that answers the question of whether Andy will have second assistant to her first. Though honestly, she'd already decided she'd prefer to be doing it all herself. Having someone competent is a godsend but having someone even slightly unreliable is worse than being alone. Plus Miranda is oh-so-good at encouraging camaraderie over jealousy. She looks out her own window and rolls her eyes at the thought.

"I'm not interested in anyone who's looking to put in a year so they can receive a reference," Miranda tells her. Sounds as if maybe she's making this decision right here, right now. "I want someone you think will commit for the duration." 

"Someone who will stay," Andy summarizes. Which no doubt annoys Miranda to no end, but hey, she's really caught Andy off guard with this because Miranda is a woman who thrives on change.

"Yes," Miranda sniffs, instead of taking Andy's head off. "Someone more like yourself."

Roy pulls up to the Mirror at exactly that moment, Andy rooted to the spot she's sitting in because her brain has just exploded.

"Andy," Roy coughs discretely, and Andy looks up.

"Oh," Andy says in a blissful daze. "Guess this is me."

"Andrea," Miranda stops her, after Andy has lumbered out of the car and now stands on the sidewalk feeling very pleasantly lightheaded. "Don't forget your midday dose of cellulite." 

Scorn doesn't properly describe the level of disgust coloring Miranda's face as she holds the bag of chips up by her thumb and index finger, but it's the closest word that springs to Andy's mind.

"Oh," Andy says, and takes the bag of chips back, because what else is she supposed to do? "Thanks," she mumbles. Hopes the sidewalk will swallow her up before she walks back into the building, chip bag in hand, but no such luck today.

"Back in fifty minutes," Keith looks at his watch. "I'm impressed."

"Yeah," Andy says as she slumps down in her chair. Throws her chips into the garbage when Keith's not looking.

 

. . .

 

Andy's whole evening is spent working on Miranda's schedule for the next few weeks, carefully inputting the events and commitments Miranda's personal assistant has dutifully sent along to Andy.

"Caroline and Cassidy have a recital that evening," Miranda informs her regarding a Friday that Andy has just finished strangling into submission. Andy bites back the angry retort that forms on her tongue, deletes everything she's spent the last thirty minutes doing. "I failed to inform Anna of it," Miranda says, which is not an apology but still more than Andy can remember receiving before.

"I'll work it out," Andy acknowledges. Watches Miranda out of the corner of her eye as the woman surveys Andy's space.

"You're much too exposed here," Miranda says, more to herself than Andy, and Andy silently agrees with Miranda's assessment. Andy's working space is wide open to a busy hallway; she's going to be subject to all kinds of noise, not to mention that visitors are going to mistake her for a receptionist. But there isn't any option that Andy can see, given that she needs to be in immediate proximity to Miranda's office.

"It's only temporary," Andy says, when the silence stretches out too long. She used to be better at suffering through these pauses before, given that her fear of Miranda far outweighed the sense of awkwardness she felt at not responding. But now, apparently, that balance is shifting.

Miranda looks at her - examines her in that way that feels like she's scanning her from head to toe. Looking for what, Andy doesn't know, but she refuses to fidget even a finger.

 

. . .

 

Andy drags herself back and forth, back and forth the next few days. By Wednesday she wakes up with a tickle in her throat she's absolutely going to ignore, feels chilled in a way that even the hottest coffee can't fix.

"Go home," Miranda orders later that night, when Andy's on the phone with someone from Anna Sui. Andy's coughed twice now, trying to hide the sound with her arm, but her gravelly voice has probably given her away.

"I can work from home," Andy rushes to say. "I can finish everything even if I'm not here."

"You're of no use to me sick," Miranda replies crossly. "Go home. Rest. Do not return until you are unlikely to infect myself and others."

The way Miranda pronounces the word 'infect' makes Andy think of that time Emily got sick, Miranda so disgusted and unsympathetic even while Emily continued to work her size zero ass off. It had worked out to Andy's benefit of course, even if she didn't think so at the time.

She feels a new stab of guilt at how pushed aside Emily must have felt that week. It's followed by a flash of panic at the idea that Miranda is dismissing her so readily now.

"Don't make me repeat myself," Miranda says softly from within her office, and Andy starts gathering up her things. Nothing good will come from asking to stay, and she'd really hate to get Miranda sick.

"Andy!" Olivia greets her at the elevator, and Andy manages a weak smile. Olivia is the features editor for news and politics. She used to work for The Atlantic and Andy is a pretty big fan of her writing. Olivia also happens to be one of the few people here who greets Andy with a genuine smile whenever they cross paths. "Early night tonight?"

It's past nine already but Andy and Miranda have stayed until after midnight the last two nights, so by comparison she's getting off easy.

"I'm feeling a little under the weather," Andy admits. "Miranda sent me on my way."

"How characteristically kind of her," Olivia says with a wry smile, and Andy tries not to chuckle.

"You go ahead," Andy motions to the elevator that's opened in front of them. "No need for you to share a confined space with me and my contagion."

"Oh, I think we'll be fine," Olivia says and straightens the tweed jacket Andy's been admiring. Chanel from two years ago, Andy's mentally catalogued.

"I love your jacket," Andy admits when they step on. "That collection is near and dear to my heart."

"Thanks," Olivia replies. Raises one elegantly sculpted eyebrow as she continues, "I know it's the wrong season for it, but this building is so cold."

"It is," Andy agrees. She tries not to lean against the wall of the elevator even though she feels dead on her feet. Miranda was right to send her home; no way she would have made it another three hours.

"Let me grab you a cab," Olivia says, and when Andy opens her eyes (when did she even close them?), Olivia is looking at her with obvious concern.

"Oh, I'll be fine," Andy dismisses. "I'll just go home and sleep the sleep of the dead."

"Are you quite sure?" Olivia asks her in the lobby, and Andy is torn between feeling embarrassed and grateful. No one at Runway ever fussed over her when she felt out of sorts, not even Nigel.

"Positive," Andy smiles. "Thanks though."

Andy watches Olivia hail a cab with an efficient motion, the likes of which Andy couldn't reproduce if she tried. After that she means to walk all the way to the subway but manages only four blocks when she breaks down and hails a cab.

She breaks out in a coughing fit halfway to her apartment, the cabby looking at her with obvious disdain as Andy tries to glare back at him. Turns out, it's really hard to cough and glare at the same time.

"I was starting to worry," Jen says, the moment Andy drags in. "I checked your bed at two am last night. If you hadn't been in it, I would have called the cops."

"New job started already," Andy croaks. Busies herself with making some tea. "And now I'm sick."

"Obviously," Jen says. "Although I'd hoped you were finally dating someone. Getting laid at the very least."

"Still celibate," Andy sighs. "Too tired to even think about sex."

"God, what a life," Jen tsk, then puts her mercifully cool hand against Andy's forehead. "Alright, too bed with you. I'll bring your tea in when it's done."

Andy means to say that Jen's fussing isn't necessary, but all that comes out is a pathetic little, “okay".

"Drink," Jen says when she brings Andy's tea into her bedroom. "Good, now take these, too."

Andy swallows the medicine Jen gives her, then tucks the blankets all the way up to her chin.

"You A-types really crash hard, don't you?" 

The question carries more concern than taunt, so Andy closes her eyes. Gives Jen a shrug that requires far too much physical effort.

"Sleep now."

"You're very bossy."

"That's why you like me," Jen reminds her. Flips off Andy's light on her way out.

. . .

 

"I really am sick," Andy says to Keith. She feels even worse this morning, so she's had to call out from the Mirror. She calls Keith the second she hangs up with her immediate supervisor. "But I'm sorry to leave you all alone today."

"That's okay," Keith says kindly. Doesn't say what Andy knows to be true, which is that she hasn't been much help to him even when she's there. "Just try to get some rest."

"Mm kay," Andy says sleepily and then hangs up.

She's already sent a text to Miranda letting her know that she's very much in the midst of being infectious. She'd gotten back the short reply of, "fine." Which had only made her feel worse.

She lets herself sleep until after nine, but after that her body won't sleep anymore, no matter how much she tries. There are things she can do for Miranda, calls she can make from home, so she does that. Tries to hide her raspy voice behind a false tone of confidence.

Drinks tonight? Nigel texts her right before noon, and for reasons she doesn't want to analyze, the thought of meeting up with Nigel again gives her an anxious knot in her stomach.

Down with the flu, she responds fifteen minutes later. She hopes that will give her a week-long respite from anymore invitations, Nigel having about as much time as Miranda to waste on illness.

Yikes. Will try again when you're not harboring the plague, Nigel tells her an hour later, when Andy is heating up some canned soup in the kitchen.

Even the chicken noodle soup tastes off - tastes tinny and weird thanks to her altered taste buds, but she makes herself get the whole bowl down anyway. Eating feels like an exhausting effort, so when she's done she crawls back into bed. She's about ready to fall asleep when her phone lights up with the name of Miranda's personal assistant.

"Hello, Anna," Andy sighs. Tries not to sound as sick and tired as she feels because so far Anna only calls her when she's really desperate.

"I need help," Anna blurts, and Andy suspects she's about to start crying given how high-pitched her voice sounds. "I know that she's p-particular. But I can't do anything right today. I mean, I'm doing everything the way she normally wants it and following your instructions, but she called me an id-idiot when I picked up the d-d-dry cleaning and then when I asked if there's anything I can do with you out for the day, she- she-"

"It's okay," Andy soothes, when Anna breaks down into watery sobs. Gives the other woman a few moments to calm herself down, because man has Andy been there.

"God I'm s-sorry," Anna cries. "I mean, you're sick and here I am calling."

"It's okay," Andy says again. "Really."

"She was just in such a bad mood this morning b-before I even got there. She was on the phone with someone talking about how much she doesn't like her office and then- then you sent her that text telling her you'd be out. And God, Andy. She was just so mean."

"She's a very strong personality," Andy sympathizes. But then she hears that absurdly diplomatic description come out of her own mouth, wonders if this is a mark of Stockholm Syndrome. "When she's in a mood like this," Andy barrels on, pausing briefly to cough, "you absolutely need to keep your head down. Do what you're told but don't ask her questions. Don't offer to do anything, and keep all answers as short as you possibly can."

"O-okay," Anna hiccups.

"It isn't personal," Andy sighs. "I know it feels really personal. But isn't it. You're just... in the line of fire."

"Sorry to call," Anna says again, "I should let you get back to resting."

"I should, yeah," Andy agrees. Feels ungodly tired now. "But feel free to text me today. Honestly. I don't mind."

"Thanks," Anna says. Sounds a fair bit calmer when she hangs up the call.

Andy passes out for two hours after that, and when she wakes up she feels a little bit better. Not normal, not great, but good enough to take a hot shower and make herself some tea.

She stands in her kitchen with bare feet and wet hair. Watches the kettle heat up and thinks about what Anna said on the phone about Miranda hating her office.

It isn't a surprise, as Andy knew she would. And on one hand it's the kind of temporary growing pain that a mature adult should really be able power through, but on the other, Miranda's entire life is about art. The idea of working in a place she finds drab must bother her to her very core.

Well, Andy decides as she watches her tea begin to steep, surely there must be things that can ameliorate this situation even if it can't quite be fixed.

She spends the rest of the afternoon on the phone with high end furniture stores and art galleries. She hasn't spoken to Lily in months, but thank God she's met enough of Lily's art friends at parties to know a few names. Then all she has to do is drop the magical words 'Miranda Priestly' and people are offering her all kinds of things on loan.

It takes her five hours of dutifully editing images, heming and hawing over what is and isn't Miranda's taste, but she puts together a little digital catalogue that's pretty spiffy if Andy does say so herself. She debates about whether to present it to Miranda tomorrow or else send it tonight. Usually it's better to present things to Miranda after one has laid some careful framework, but she decides that sparing Anna another morning from hell is worth the risk. She types out a short, very carefully worded email to Miranda, then sends her digital catalogue on its way.

She feels better in the morning. Not, like, fantastic, but good enough to go to work. She's in the middle of blowing her hair out when she gets a text from Roy that says Miranda doesn't want her at Charcoal this morning.

Miranda is most likely trying to limit her exposure to Andy's germs, but the message, especially delivered second-hand, makes her feel sick all over again. She sits down on her bed, half of her hair dry and straight and the other half already beginning to kink up. Well. At least she has time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast now.

She takes the subway to the Mirror for the first time in two weeks. Ignores the smattering of empty seats in favor of standing because she's wearing a black Chanel suit today. It's the kind of fashion choice Nigel would bemoan as boring, but Andy loves this suit, loves that it fits her perfectly and will remain flattering for years to come.

"Feeling better?" Keith asks her when she presents him with the coffee she bought him.

"Much," Andy says and sips her tea. Her throat feels a bit too tender to risk coffee yet.

"Hmm, you sound like you're channeling Kathleen Turner," Keith decides.

"I wish," Andy sighs. Sits down and tries to tackle her work here like it still really matters to her.

Miranda wants to know when your lunch break is, Roy texts her at eleven. And Andy's sorely tempted not to respond to the message at all, because this is the last day here and she's really trying to be present for it - trying to be the person her parents raised her to be. And besides that, didn't Miranda say just a few hours ago that Andy wasn't needed anyway?

Her petulant refusal only lasts ten minutes. Not answering will only make things harder on Roy, which is something Andy isn't selfish enough to do again.

She writes back that she can go anytime but that she absolutely has to be back in under an hour. She feels some guilt that Roy will have to deliver such a reply himself, but she knows better than to text Miranda directly if she's in this kind of mood.

She says to be ready at noon, Roy informs her. Though ready for what Roy doesn't say and in all likelihood doesn't even know.

"Buy the departing coworker lunch?" Keith offers, and Andy is sad to have to turn him down.

"I can't," Andy apologizes. "But I absolutely want a rain check."

Andy's downstairs at a quarter to noon, because some things are deeply ingrained in her by now. The Mercedes pulls in front of her two minutes after she steps onto the sidewalk, Andy taking a deep breath before she slides into the car.

"Are you well?" Miranda asks immediately, and the relative softness of her tone takes Andy off guard.

"Yes," Andy chokes out eventually. "Sleep and fluids helped."

"Not entirely," Miranda tsks, watching her over her glasses. "Unless you've done something else to lower your voice half an octave?"

Andy shakes her head slightly, a blush warming her face. It's always uncomfortable to be the object of Miranda's stare, but something about Miranda's expression here throws Andy for a loop. The closest thing she can compare it to is when Caroline slipped on a stair in the townhouse, Miranda's head shooting up to make sure the girl hadn't lost her balance entirely. But even that look of concern doesn't quite match up with this.

Andy's heart starts to race. She tries to wipe her palms discretely on her skirt as she turns her face away, watches the traffic with feigned interest the way Miranda so often does.

"I didn't have anything on your schedule for this hour," Andy says a few minutes later. It isn't a question, but it does leave the obvious question to dangle in the air.

"No," Miranda affirms, and falls completely silent after that.

The car slows, coming to stop in front of Le Bernardin, and Andy grows annoyed here because Miranda's lunch meetings tend to drag on forever. If Miranda picked her up just to make her take notes through a lunch with Patrick, or Diane, or whomever, there's no way Andy will be back at the Mirror in an hour. She balls her fists. Wishes she'd chosen to follow the professional lead of someone who maybe considered the needs of others every once in a while.

They're greeted immediately, of course, and the maître d' doesn't bother asking a name. He merely smiles and shows them to a table by a window yet out of the way. Andy's too busy thinking about Nate here (feeling nostalgic and sad but also decidedly angry) to notice at first that the table's only set for two. 

"You dated a chef, didn't you?" Miranda asks her, once Andy's finally clued into the table setting, is drowning in her own panic.

"Yes," Andy says. Manages not to squeak when she gets the word out. "I lost, uh, many an hour to Nate's analysis of Eric Ripert's food... He was, um, a big fan."

"Was?" Miranda queries, and Andy regrets the word choice.

"I'm sure he still is," Andy barrels onward, "I'm just no longer subject to his culinary pontificating."

"Mmm," Miranda says and busies herself with the menu.

Andy spends the ensuing silence debating what to order (some things are really hard to eat daintily, and she doubts Miranda will find it charming if she has a Pretty Woman moment) and then freaking out over why she and Miranda are the only ones at this lunch.

Right when Andy's about to spiral into a full blown panic attack, their waiter appears and Miranda orders for both of them, to Andy's relief. She probably could have muddled through, but the bisque Miranda ordered for her doesn't appear on the lunch menu at all and is probably the best thing for Andy’s throat. In this rare instance, Andy's happy to profit from Miranda's well developed sense of entitlement.

"My first year as editor, I practically lived on soup," Miranda says to Andy now. "My stomach existed in a perennial state of knots."

The admission takes Andy by surprise. Her mouth flies open before she remembers herself, closing it with an almost audible snap.

"How old were you?" Andy asks. There are a lot of facts about Miranda that Andy can rattle off by heart, but this isn't one of them.

"Thirty-five," Miranda says and punctuates the words with the smallest of sighs.

"I wish I could have met you then," Andy says, because apparently seeing this less guarded version of Miranda has disconnected her mouth from her brain.

"You would not have liked me much," Miranda replies with a brittle chuckle. "This much I can assure, Andrea."

"I don't know about that," Andy says, doubling down on her own idiocy. "I mean, I like you now."

Andy decides to chug her water here, if only to avoid the way Miranda's staring at her. There's probably skepticism, or maybe amusement at Andy's expense, but whatever it is, Andy doesn't want to see it.

"In a related matter," Miranda says, which makes Andy choke on her water. Because really, nothing good can from such a segue. "I'd like to discuss the choices you compiled for me."

With that, Miranda reaches into her black crocodile Berkin, producing something similar in dimension to the mock-ups of Runway that Andy once ferried to Miranda's house with all the fervor of a nun heading to mass. But here Miranda spreads open the book in question across the stark white of the tablecloth, and Andy sees that it's actually the digital catalogue that she pieced together from fifty different showrooms and galleries, apparently printed out here on high-quality glossy paper and bound with the same careful precision as that of the Book.

"Some of your choices surprised me," Miranda continues and slips her glasses on. "Would you care to tell me what your thinking was when you included this piece here?"

Andy's vision blurs for a moment, as these are the kind of words that bode certain pain and death when spoken by Miranda Priestly. But then Andy takes a few more breathes and she thinks about Miranda's tone of voice. Not at all deadly, like during that cerulean lecture that still echoes in Andy's head during her more unpleasant dreams.

No, actually, Miranda's tone sounds inquisitive, almost. And when Andy dares to meet Miranda's eyes, she finds no promise of mortal danger there.

"This piece," Andy says, and looks down at the painting Miranda's index finger indicates. "Oh, that's easy. The dog in the far corner, by the shoreline."

"Yes?"

"She looks like Patricia."

She holds Miranda's gaze after that. Waits the impossibly long three seconds, until Miranda's face breaks open into genuine laughter.

 

. . .

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 Muscle to muscle and toe to toe
The fear has gripped me but here I go

 

- Alt-J, "Breezeblocks"


 

 

Andy floats through the rest of her last day at the Mirror. Keith probably notices her dopey smile and glazed over expression but doesn't say anything, good man that he is.

"Are we going to become those friends who just send annoying holiday emails?" he asks her at the end of the day.

"No!" Andy yells, then lowers her voice when people stare at her. "No. I swear. As soon as I have five minutes to myself again, we're going to have dinner or drinks or something."

"I'm going to miss you," Keith says when she hugs him.

"Ditto," Andy sighs.

A few people wave to Andy from a distance as she leaves for the day (leaves forever, she thinks), but other than that no one notices. She was a short-timer here, someone low on the food chain who came in silence and is leaving the same way. She thought she'd feel more than this when the time came, but it really doesn't feel like a big deal. She's mostly relieved to not be stretched so thin anymore. 

"So how was lunch?" Roy asks when Andy gets into the Mercedes. He gives her a knowing look that he must use on his kids, because it makes Andy immediately want to spill her guts.

"Weird," she says. "Really weird." Then she thinks about it and scrunches her face up, because that sounded mean, like she hated it. "Good though," she adds. "Weird-good."

"She likes you," Roy says with the kind of confidence he reserves for rare occasions. "I can tell by the way she says your name when she's talking to other people."

"Really?" she blurts, and then tries to sound less panicked. "I mean, I've worked hard for her. I'm glad she appreciates it even if she's still... mercurial."

Roy snorts out his amusement, then slinks down in his seat a bit when traffic turns out to be far worse than usual.

"You're going to be ten minutes later than she was expecting," he warns Andy. "You might want to text her."

With that Andy's good mood evaporates, as nothing brings the worst out in Miranda like people running late.

Andy sends the text because not texting is worse. She only gets back silence, which could mean that Miranda is too busy to read her texts (very possible) or else is idly debating the manner in which to crush Andy's spirit (equally possible).

She gets out of the car in a hurry, but no amount of sprinting through the lobby will save her now. All she can do is damage control.

"God, please hurry," she begs of the elevator in the lobby. It takes forever for one to reach the ground floor, but mercifully no one else gets on when the elevator sign changes to up.

"I was unaware the Mirror relocated their offices to Beijing," Miranda says acidly, the moment Andy fast-walks into her view.

Andy almost starts to explain about the traffic, then remembers herself. No amount of working lunches will change the fact Miranda abhors excuses. Especially ones about incompetence and tardiness.

"Call Patrick," Miranda begins immediately. "Maine is entirely impossible now, so he should start scouting locations in Monterrey. Something more interesting than just a beach, obviously. Though clearly I must state the obvious here, given how his people bungled our options in Maine. Inform Marchesa that a meeting on Tuesday will no longer be possible and tell them we'll reschedule as soon as possible, but do not reschedule them anytime before Thursday. Make a lunch reservation for Monday at that Italian place Carolina had her birthday party at two years ago, then forward the reservation information to Paloma's assistant. And sometime tonight you need to speak to my personal assistant about the places she's taking Patricia on walks. The poor creature has been itching for the last two days. It's very distressing to-"

"Has Patricia gone back on her allergy shots?" Andy interrupts. She has no idea why she would do such a suicidal thing except maybe lingering sickness and fatigue. But once the question's out of her mouth she's committed, so she barrels forward before Miranda can reach down her throat and pull out her vocal chords. "The steroid shots made Patricia gain weight last year, so her vet said she could be on them only a few months out of the year. She should have gone back on them two months ago, so if not I'll send send Anna a detailed note about that."

Miranda's eyes grow large, her eerie silence scaring Andy more than actual words could.

"If that's okay," Andy finishes lamely, unsure what else to say now.

"Yes," Miranda says, appearing to regain her momentum. "Do that. Now, about those atrocious Calvin Klein samples."

Andy spends the next twenty minutes getting work heaped on her and taking notes until her wrist hurts. It's nine o'clock when Andy finishes making calls, and even then it's only because people have left their respective offices and she's forced to switch to emails.

"I see your resurrection has occurred," Olivia says when she stops by Andy's desk. Andy's in the middle of editing a delicate message to Donatella's assistant, so it takes her a moment to zone back into the real world and acknowledge the editor's presence.

"Oh, yes," Andy blinks. Then adds stupidly, "hi."

"Glad you're feeling better," Olivia says and adjusts her glasses.

Olivia has a wide streak of gray in her hair and favors a retro style, so she usually reminds Andy of Anne Bancroft. Today she has on tortoise shell glasses and a pearl necklace, looks more like she should be in front of a large lecture hall, talking about Joan Didion essays. Which Andy decides is still pretty cool. 

"I am," Andy replies. "Though I hated being sidelined for a day."

"I'm sure," Olivia says and throws a pointed, meaningful look in the direction of Miranda's office. "Well, have a good weekend. And if you have time, read Ezra Klein's recent blog post about the Obama campaign's Iraq policy. There's a pithy line or two in there that I found enviable."

"Noted," Andy nods. Gives Olivia a little wave as the woman glides away.

"Did Olivia need something?" Miranda asks much later, when they're finally wrapping up for the day and Andy is this close to going home to her bed.

It takes Andy a moment to realize what Miranda means - surely she heard Olivia's voice earlier, though she must not have heard the words. Which is better, probably, because Miranda really doesn't like it when her employees are chatty.

"No," Andy says, hopefully not too quickly. Hopes Miranda will let the the subject drop since they're now approaching the elevators, Andy splitting off to take the stairs like usual.

"Don't be ridiculous," Miranda says, when Andy doesn't follow her into the elevator car. The idea that Andy is now elevator-worthy would be more flattering if the tone of Miranda's words didn't carry so much venom.

That's cool. It's only twelve stories. Andy can totally hold her breath that long, right?

"I find it hard to believe," Miranda continues, her tone soft and thoughtful in a way that actually means Andy's truly fucked now, "that my politics editor came all the way down to my office if she didn't require anything at all."

"She just, um, asked if I was feeling better," Andy says. Tries not to stare too hard at the floors crawling by with painful slowness. "She saw me the other day. When, uh, I wasn't feeling well."

"Hm," Miranda says and then falls silent. Angry and cold and silent, and dear God, why can't Andy just have one day that's good all the way to the end?

They get outside of the building and Andy isn't sure if she's supposed to follow Miranda to the car here. She has every other night that they've worked late, but it's earlier tonight (well, an hour earlier anyway) and Miranda is... Well, Miranda is being very Miranda right now.

"Did you wish to sleep in the lobby?" Miranda asks when Andy dawdles, which of course answers Andy's question but only at the expense of annoying Miranda more. So that's great.

"Drop Andrea off first," Miranda orders, as soon the car begins moving. Which is a first. And Andy could waste time analyzing that move, but instead she decides to feel grateful that she now lives in a much nicer neighborhood than she used to, back when she was still with Nate.

The car ride is an entirely silent one after that, which is something that hasn't happened since Miranda popped back up Andy's life. Hasn't happened since before Andy asked Nigel to help her overhaul her look, her mind helpfully supplies. So instead of enjoying the quiet for the reprieve it is, Andy alternates between worrying and sulking.

"Good night," Andy says, when they're outside of her building. It feels too rude to just get out and shut the door, even if that's probably the wiser course of action here.

"We start early tomorrow morning," Miranda says by way of reply. Doesn't meet Andy's eyes when she says it.

Andy closes the car door a little harder than she meant to - feels bad afterward that if anyone's going to be punished for that, it's going to be Roy. She'll have to bring him a really nice donut or something tomorrow, she decides as she washes off the last of her makeup.

Jen's still out and about, doing God knows what,  and Farrah's out of town again. Andy crawls into bed in her quiet apartment. Dreams of Paris and people talking to her in a language she doesn't understand.

 

. . .

 

Roy texts her in the morning to say she's on her own getting to the townhouse because he's picking up the twins from the train station.

"He must mean on my own getting to the office," Andy says out loud as she texts him back. But right when Andy's about to walk out the door she gets an emphatic message from Roy.

No, she absolutely meant the townhouse.

That's... odd. Working on Saturdays is a given, obviously, but Miranda rarely works from home on them. It was one thing when the office wasn't up and running yet and-

"Hey!" Andy shouts suddenly, then slams her hand on the hood of the taxi that very nearly ran her over. The guy gives her the finger and Andy doubles down with her own obscene gesture. She's learned some really filthy ones in the last year - the kind of things that could get you killed in Sicily if you did it to the wrong person.

The rest of the journey to the townhouse is relatively uneventful, no creeps on the subway even.

"Hi, Andy," Anna opens the door to the house. Gives a quick look of warning to let her know that trouble's brewing and then says, "bye, I'm off to run errands."

"Or you could stay," Andy whispers with a pleading smile and Anna shakes her head, gives her a look that says 'good luck, sister'.

"Oh, it's you," Miranda says, when she descends the stairs a moment later. Andy takes a deep breath, because apparently this morning is going to be a continuation of last night. "I thought it was the girls coming in," she finishes dismissively.

It's odd for the girls to be coming back from anywhere on a Saturday morning. Typically if they go somewhere, like their grandmother's or their father's, they leave Friday afternoon and return home sometime on Sunday.

"Their father was kind enough to decide last minute that he really can't keep the girls this weekend because he needs to go to Los Angeles," Miranda says, reading through her private mail and clearly building up steam for a real snit. "They only arrived at his house last night. Went to bed late, no doubt. And what? He just decides at the spur of the moment to wake them up and put them back on a train?"

Miranda isn't really talking to Andy at all. Which is good, because Andy's long been of the opinion that Miranda chose to reproduce with someone who is a completely worthless father. Gregory is forever changing plans with the girls, cancelling weekends with them last minute and no-showing to school events. The man is a self-absorbed, skirt chasing piece of shit, and Andy likes him about as much as likes Stephen.

People can say whatever they want about Miranda (and God knows that a lot of the bad stuff is true), but she damn well puts her kids first. She goes to every parent-teacher conference and every play, and Andy painfully suffered when she couldn't get Miranda back in time for that one recital because there was a freaking hurricane. Why on earth someone like Miranda chose that man to be father of her children, Andy will never know.

"He always disappoints them," Miranda says now. Sounds saddened here, like her anger is deflating into something that makes Andy even more uncomfortable. "I try my best to pick up the pieces, but there's only so much I can do."

"I know," Andy says. She doesn't mean to say it loud, but there the words go, floating out of her mouth.

Miranda stares at her hard.

"They're going to be very ill tempered today," she says, as if she's warning Andy. "It's going to be difficult to get work done."

Andy's struggling to figure out what to say here when both girls burst through the door.

"I'm hungry," Cassidy says immediately. "Can we have crepes?"

"No, eggs," Caroline shouts over her, both of them arguing and shedding bags with every step they take.

"Hi," Andy greets, when Caroline plows into the living room but stops short at seeing her.

"Mom hasn't fired you yet?" Caroline asks, and Andy hears Miranda gasp.

"Caroline," Miranda warns and behind her Cassidy shrugs her shoulders.

"You fire, like, everyone," Cassidy casually observes. "She didn't mean it personally."

The look on Miranda's face says that this is about to get worse, so Andy decides to head it off at the pass.

"If I'm fired I can't make you crepes," Andy tells Cassidy. "And I make really good crepes."

"What about omelettes?" Caroline sizes her up.

"The best," Andy nods solemnly.

"I have domestic staff for a reason," Miranda tells her now. "You don't need to engage with their food demands, Andrea."

"I'm afraid this a point of honor now," Andy says. She's shooting from the hip here, hoping that Miranda isn't going to fly off the handle for Andy mixing herself up with her kids like this. But her role is different now and Andy's finally realizing it. It's like Andy's in it with Miranda from now on rather than just some non-entity who's supposed to float around the house without being seen or heard.

"Fine," Miranda agrees, and Andy silently hopes they'll let her eat too because all she's had this morning is coffee.

"What are you going to put in them?" Cassidy demands, when Andy's stirring the crepe batter.

"Nutella, if you have it," Andy answers. "And whatever fresh fruit you have lurking around."

"Nutella is super fattening," Caroline informs Andy, sounding prim and judgy. And boy, does Andy want to give her a lecture about health and body image here.

"I know," Andy smiles instead. "That's why it tastes so good."

It's a little challenging to make crepes and omelettes at the same time, especially as it's been a while since she made either.

"What does your mom like in her omelette?" Andy asks Caroline, the girl hovering inches to the left of the pan.

"Veggies. Some cheese, but only a little! Like, a tiny tiny bit."

"Here," Andy says, and guides Caroline in front of the pan with her hand to her back. "You do it for her. That way it's perfect."

Watching Caroline measure out some ungodly expensive cheese with complete seriousness is like watching a tiny, less scary version of Miranda.

"Don't smile at me like that," Caroline huffs defensively, and wipes her hands on a towel.

"Sorry," Andy sighs and tries to smooth out her expression. "You just... looked a lot like your mom for a minute there."

"She's really good at everything," Caroline whispers, like it's a secret. Like Andy doesn't already know.

"Yeah," Andy agrees. "It's pretty awesome."

"Is this too much Nutella?" Cassidy asks, a few feet away.

"Good Heaven," Miranda says in response, and Andy didn't even know she came back in. She'd ducked out a few minutes earlier on a phone call with the girls' father.

"Maybe a bit too much," Andy allows because the kid's put an entire cup on one crepe alone. "But that's easily fixed."

"There's fresh coffee," Miranda's house keeper announces later, when she's put to order what Andy and the girls have thrown into chaos.

"I'm sorry," Andy mouths to her, but Alina seems more amused than anything.

"Dad let us have coffee this morning," Caroline pipes up.

"Only a little," Cassidy hastens to add. "In our hot chocolate."

"Did he now," Miranda says sweetly, even though she's clearly plotting the man's murder.

Breakfast is over, so Andy follows Miranda into the library to work, Miranda telling the girls that they need some peace and quiet.

"Are we going to swim practice later?" Cassidy interrupts them, not ten minutes later.

"Only if you feel up to it," Miranda answers. "Now shut that door, please."

"My stomach hurts," Caroline complains an hour later.

"Well, the two of you had a year’s worth of sugar on your crepes," Miranda sighs, then takes her glasses off. "Come here, Bobbsey."

Watching Miranda feel her daughter's forehead for the fever she clearly doesn't have gives Andy a weird ache in her stomach. She puts it down to homesickness because it probably made her think of her mom, though Ohio seems far from her mind now.

"You don't feel warm," Miranda tells her. "Perhaps you'll feel better if you lie down, hm?"

"Mm kay," Caroline rubs her eyes, looking very much like she needs a nap.

Unlike the study they usually work in, the library has a long sofa in it. Andy is perched on the very edge of it, Miranda in a chair to her right, and Caroline climbs on right next to Andy, lays out in the space not taken up by Andy or her notes.

"We need to finalize the travel arrangements for Paris soon," Miranda says, after Caroline's fallen asleep. "Forward me Paloma's flight information when you have it."

"Were we-uh," Andy says, because she seems to be missing something. A kind of big something. "Are we not all flying together?"

"You and I are taking the jet," Miranda says, as if this is obvious. Doesn't explain whose jet it is that they're even taking, possibly because she hasn't decided which 'friend' she'll allow to do her the favor. Which will be a fun riddle for Andy to solve later, when she can send stealth emails to the assistants of the all the people they know with jets.

Andy wishes that were shorter list. Mentally sighs and runs her fingers through Caroline's hair.

"Coffee," Miranda says absently, and watches the slow movement of Andy's hand. "He gave them coffee."

"I'll remind you to thank him later," Andy says. Watches Caroline's freckled face twitch with sleep.

 

. . .

 

Miranda and Cassidy go to swim practice, but Caroline asks to stay behind.

"Are you still feeling ill?" Miranda asks, sounding fretful.  Caroline only nods her head, which has somehow ended up in Andy's lap.

"Yeah," Caroline says. Uses that kind of pathetic whimper that Andy's sister used to favor when she was trying to worm her way of school. "Can't I just stay here with Andy?"

"Of course," Miranda says and behind her, Cassidy huffs.

"Well I don't wanna go alone," Cassidy whines.

"You like swim practice," Miranda reminds her. Sounds exasperated but also a little bit pleading. "And besides, you feel perfectly well."

"Faker," Cassidy hisses in Caroline's direction, and Miranda tuts and tsks.

Andy, meanwhile, keeps her eyes on her phone and the imaginary email she's sending because she is so not getting in the middle of a sister squabble, let alone a Priestly one.

"Andrea has important work to do," Miranda warns Caroline. "So if you require something, please ask Alina. Alright?"

Caroline doesn't reply and with that Miranda gives Andy a 'good luck' look rather than a 'don't fuck up' look. Which is pretty funny, given everyone else gives Andy that look about Miranda.

"Can we watch a movie?" Caroline asks her, not five minutes after the other two have left.

"I have to work," Andy reminds her. "But you're welcome to go watch one."

"Movies aren't fun alone," Caroline sulks.

"Sure they are. If you like them enough."

Caroline doesn't seem to like that reply, but she apparently decides that staying here with Andy and being bored is better than her other options.

"I'm not going to rat on you if stop working for a little while," Caroline tries again. "I promise."

"I believe you," Andy lies. "But I honestly need to get this stuff done. Otherwise I'll be making things harder for your mom."

Andy goes back to sending emails after that, but she can see Caroline's face looking up at her. The scrutiny makes Andy uncomfortable but she refuses to show it. Just keeps plugging along, occasionally petting Caroline's hair because apparently the kid likes that a lot.

"I don't think our dad cares at all whether he makes things harder on Mom," Caroline says eventually. It's very tempting to just stay silent and keep on working, but Andy can't bring herself to do it. Can’t choose to ignore someone so young and painfully fragile.

"What makes you say that?" Andy asks. Lets out a deep sigh as she puts her phone down, gives Caroline her undivided attention.

"He's always changing things," Caroline shrugs. "Like how we were supposed to be with him when Mom goes to Paris in a couple months. But Dad said last night that that won't work 'cause he needs to go to Singapore that whole month."

"Did he tell your mom yet?" Andy asks. Feels her stomach drop through the floor.

"Dunno," Caroline says. "I mean, you can tell her I guess."

"Umm," Andy winces, trying to think on her feet. "I think that's the kind of thing she should hear from him. Or maybe from one of you guys?"

"I guess," Caroline shrugs again. Seems bored but also angry now. Angry and hurt, because her father is such a colossal jackass that-

"Let's go watch a movie," Andy says suddenly, and Caroline's face lights up in surprise.

"Really?"

"Well, you can watch one and I'll sit with you," Andy modifies. "But I really do have to finish what I'm working on."

Apparently Caroline firmly believes that no movie can be watched without popcorn and snacks, or else without making a nest of a million blankets and pillows.

"I thought your stomach hurt," Andy says innocently, and Caroline just bats her eyelashes at her.

Andy manages to continue working, despite that Caroline insists on having her hair petted and interrupts Andy every ten minutes to highlight the best parts of the WALL-E.

"This is so sad," Caroline laments. "I don't know how you can ignore how sad this is."

"I thought this movie was still in theaters," Andy says distractedly.

"It is," Caroline shrugs. Clearly doesn’t think this is out of the ordinary.

Andy doesn't hear Miranda calling her name until the woman's standing in the doorway of the play room, hands on her hips.

"We're watching WALL-E," Caroline tells her, before Andy can open her mouth. Which is good. Because Andy is panicked enough right now that she might not have been able to produce words. "Well, I'm watching it anyway," and Caroline pauses here to direct an accusing glare at Andy. "Poor Wall-E is so lonely and you're ignoring the whole story so you can send emails!"

Maybe Caroline doesn't mean to help her out or maybe the kid is a brilliant strategist, but either way Miranda's obvious exasperation smooths out into something less dangerous.

"I did warn you that Andrea was here to work," she tells Caroline, and Caroline rolls her eyes to high heaven as Cassidy comes darting in, hair still wet from swimming.

"Oh, start the movie over," Cassidy orders. "From the beginning."

"No way!" Caroline shouts, and Andy takes this is as her cue to slither out of Caroline's clutches.

"Cassidy's here to watch with you now, so I'm going to go back downstairs with your mom," Andy tells her.

"Fine," Caroline pouts. Gives her a face that is clearly meant to con her into feeling horrible, so Andy kisses her forehead and pets her hair on the way out.

"No fighting," Miranda tells the girls as she and Andy leave.

Andy's made it down two flights of stairs before she realizes that Miranda is trailing behind her, staring very thoughtfully at the back of Andy's head.

"I called Philip Lim," Andy begins unsteadily, and Miranda abruptly snaps out of whatever trance she's been in.

"So you didn't completely forget what I'm paying you to do," Miranda replies. Breezes past Andy, whose face is now slackened with hurt, and into the study.

 

. . .

 

Sunday brings brunch with Doug, along with Andy’s usual errands and cleaning.

Andy scrubs the oven she never uses - scours it with a vengeance while she thinks about Miranda's acid comment the day before and how infuriating that woman is.

Miranda decides to leave her with one of her kids, like Andy is some sort of babysitter, and then what? She gets angry when Andy doesn't just ignore the poor kid for two hours?

Ridiculous, Andy fumes. Erases every sign of baked lasagna from the bottom of her oven, burnt bit by burnt bit.

She'll just have to a keep a more professional distance, Andy decides hours later, when she's folding laundry and still seething. It's not like Andy ever hung out with Miranda's kids when she worked at Runway, right? No lunches for two at fancy restaurants either. So she'll just go back to how she acted around Miranda a year ago. Back when all of this was professional but in no way personal, Andy never hanging around Miranda's house on the weekends.

Professional, Andy reminds herself that night when she's brushing her teeth before bed. She spits, hits the bathroom light harder than necessary on her way out.

 

. . .

 

Andy's on the subway, halfway to work, when she gets Roy's message about being at her apartment in five minutes.

She'd honestly assumed that Roy ferrying her to and fro would end when her time at the Mirror ended, car service being a luxury Miranda presumably only extended  to her out of the necessity to make up time in the day.

Already on the subway, Andy tells him, and doesn't miss the comfort of the Mercedes even a little this morning. Feels perfectly content to be among the faceless, jostling crowd rather than in Miranda's company.

It's a few more stops before Andy has cell phone reception again, at which point her phone buzzes with a frantic message from Roy that Andy doesn't even finish reading.

"She's already here?" someone frantically whispers when they see Andy walking down the hall. 

"No, but three minute warning," she calls to them in reply. Sees one person pale with relief and another ten go running down the hall.

"Paloma needs to change her lunch reservation with Miranda," Ken says, skittering to stop just in front of Andy's desk.

"Why?" Andy demands. Goes about arranging things as Miranda likes them on her desk and then sets down the hotter-than-the-devil's-ass latte she picked up on the way into work.

"She's deathly allergic to shellfish and half the menu is-" 

"Shellfish," Andy finishes for him, and Paloma’s assistant squirms in front of her. Though as far as reasons go, fear of anaphylactic shock is pretty good one for changing restaurants.

"I'll handle it," Andy tells him. Then adds, "tell everyone who has any kind of allergy to email me about it today so I can make a list. It's much easier to make changes to restaurants before Miranda has her mind set on something."

"Right," Ken gulps, and then scampers away from Miranda's office as fast he can.

Andy's conducting interviews this week for the position she mentally refers to as second assistant (the official title is something else), so she checks her own calendar to make sure she doesn't have any conflicts. Miranda has a meeting with Zac Posen today, and Andy will be in trouble if that goes over. But Posen’s not a designer Miranda's ever seemed keen to clock a lot of time with before, so Andy thinks she's in the clear.

"Was there a half-price bagel sale somewhere this morning?" Miranda asks as she strides in. Torpedoes her purse at Andy like she used to, before. "Something that apparently required you to take public transportation when my driver was already en route to pick you up, needlessly ensnaring us in traffic and costing me precious time?"

Andy was prepared for this, as she was the bag toss. She catches it with ease and puts it up. Allows several moments to pass in silence, because Miranda never wants a reply such questions anyway. These rants are a one-way street.

"Marchesa confirmed for Friday," Andy begins, when the appropriate amount of time has elapsed. "Georgina is flying in from London that morning but knows to be ready for you at eleven forty-five. Patrick is sending Monterrey options this afternoon and will be available by phone until he boards his flight at seven. I informed Calvin Klein you were cancelling your meeting with them next week, but so far their only reply is terrified silence. You have a meeting with the advertising department in," Andy pauses to check her watch," thirty-three minutes and your lunch with Paloma is at twelve thirty, though the restaurant will have to be changed given her severe allergy to shellfish."

"Isn't that a little dramatic?" Miranda sneers about Paloma, and Andy meets her gaze, waiting her out until she relents. "Fine. Cancel and make a reservation at that Moroccan place my daughters like so much."

"Of course, Miranda," Andy says. Adopts the helpful assistant voice she used to speak in all the time, but that apparently bothers Miranda now, judging by the look on her face.

"And my coffee is cold," Miranda informs her. "Get me a new one. Hot this time, if it's still in the realm of your capability."

There is no way that coffee is cold. No. Fucking. Way. But Andy smiles politely anyway, turns on her heel to head out for a new one.

"Cancel my meeting with Testino this afternoon," Miranda tells her later, when she's collecting her purse from Andy and on her way out to lunch. "We'll be stopping by James Holt's studio instead."

Oh shit, Andy thinks. Nigel. She hasn't told me about any of this yet.

Miranda must know exactly what she's thinking about because she gives Andy a malicious little smile as she slides her sunglasses on. Says, "I'm sure Nigel Kipling will be so very happy to see you, Andrea."

Andy just glares at the back of her head. Resists the urge to throw something at that perfectly sculpted hair.

"I have a problem," someone from the art department (Tom? Todd?) says to Andy while Miranda is out to lunch.

"If it doesn't involve someone dying or losing files," Andy glares, “you better be able to solve it yourself."

"About that," he says, fidgeting with his tie.

Andy puts her head down on her desk, because it is first full day in residence at this job and already someone in the art department has apparently lost files.

"This can never happen again," Andy says to someone else in the art department. She doesn't say 'or else you're fired' because she doesn't think she has that authority, and anyway they're all lucky Miranda was at lunch for this little crisis because otherwise multiple people would have been fired.

Drinks sometime soon? Nigel texts her right before Miranda walks back in. Assuming you're not still carrying the plague.

It's not a great opening, but when Miranda's ensconced behind her desk Andy sends back, Yes! I have big news that I can't wait to share!

Maybe it won't do much to blunt the surprise when she waltzes into Nigel's office behind Miranda later. But at least this way she can claim that she wanted to tell him but hadn't had the chance yet. 

She ignores Nigel's catty response of, how big is he?  Goes about putting back together whatever Miranda rips asunder until the point that Miranda leaves again to go to the Posen preview.

"I'll want a coffee when I get back," Miranda tells her. "See if you can manage a hot one this time, will you?"

Andy nods her head and swallows her anger. Swallows it so hard she thinks she might choke.

Miranda's been gone about five minutes when her first interviewee shows up for the second assistant position. Aisha is Andy's first choice by far, has worked for Vera Wang's office for several years and seems reluctant to leave it. Still, Andy thinks she'll consider it given dutifully awestruck she remembers Aisha being whenever it came to Miranda and Runway.

It goes smoothly. Aisha give answers that impress Andy, and Andy tries her best not to tip her hand too soon. Plus there's still the hurdle of Miranda's approval to worry about, something that theoretically shouldn't be a problem given she delegated this task to Andy. But that decision was one week and a whole personality ago.

"Thank you for coming in," Andy shakes Aisha's hand.

"It was a pleasure," Aisha responds. Seems to honestly mean it, which is a rare thing in this business.

Andy has enough time to get Miranda's coffee with about thirty seconds to spare. She hands it to Miranda, along with her messages from her divorce lawyer (yikes) plus the twins' father (double yikes). She expects Miranda's mood to be even more impossible after this, but instead she grows silent. Doesn't call for Andy a single time until it's time to leave for James Holt.

"Not even you can be this much of an idiot," Miranda sighs, when Andy hesitates outside of the elevator again. And Andy could take a lot of things - she has taken a lot of things - but this, apparently, is too much.

"I can't read your mind," Andy snaps, once the doors slide closed in front of them. "I don't ever assume I can join you in something like an elevator because you value your privacy." Miranda's head snaps to the side, her eyes likely boring into Andy's skull, but Andy can't see them behind her enormous sunglasses. "And I try to respect that. Because you have so precious little of it.”

She didn't really mean to say that last part - didn't mean to sound like she cares. But there it is, and Miranda can mock her for it or do whatever the hell she wants with it now.

"I know," Miranda says instead. Lets out a small sigh. "And I'm not without appreciation for that, Andrea."

Andy wants to stay mad because Miranda has still been horrible and punitive all day. But it's really hard to stay angry when Miranda speaks to her so softly, says her name like it's something to pronounce carefully and clearly.

 “Caroline’s stomach is still bothering her,” Miranda says when they’re in the car. "She had to miss school today."

“That’s too bad,” Andy says. Thinks Caroline’s a big ol' faker.

”She seems rather fond of you,” Miranda says after a long pause.

Andy stares straight ahead. Tries not to look at the knowing smile Roy gives her in the rear view mirror. 

 

 . . .

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 And it's my whole heart
while tried and tested, it's mine
and it's my whole heart
burned but not buried this time 

- Florence + the Machine, "Which Witch"


 

 

 

Andy doesn't begin to truly panic about Nigel until she and Miranda are in the elevator up to James Holt's new studio.

She wonders for one crazed moment if she can hide behind Miranda the whole time; act like those pregnant sitcom actresses who hide their changing bodies behind prop after prop. Sadly, Miranda's bag today is a clutch rather than a tote, and anyway Andy decides she can't think skinny enough thoughts to squeeze her entire body behind even a Berkin.

"Stop fidgeting," Miranda orders, after Andy has begun shifting from foot to foot.

"Sorry," Andy stiffens. Tries to tell herself that she and Nigel are friends, so surely he'll be happy for her. Happy, maybe minus that whole kind-of-lying-to-him two weeks ago thing.

"Miranda," Nigel greets with a smile as James stands behind him, looking queasy.

"Nigel, dear," Miranda says as they exchange obnoxious air kisses. "Lovely to see you. And I'm sure you remember Andrea."

So much for hiding. Andy holds in her sigh, trying her best to mirror Miranda's casualness.

Watching Nigel swallow his surprise proves a master class in the art of bluffing. His only tell is a one-second pause in which he stares at Andy, his expression completely unreadable. But then his face opens up in what looks like a genuine smile, his hand reaching out for Andy's.

"An unexpected bonus," Nigel says and kisses the hand he’s holding. Actually presses his lips to her skin, which Andy decides to take as a good sign.

"Miranda," James dutifully greets now. "An honor as always."

Thus begins the ritual ass kissing, which Andy has seen more than enough of to safely tune out here. She steps back to read her email, scan her phone for any important text messages.

"Drinks tonight," Nigel murmurs, while James and Miranda are occupied. "You're buying."

Fair. That's fair.

"I'll text you," Andy mouths. Nigel gives her a look that says 'you better' but winks at her before he turns away.

The showing is... not awful. There's no pursing of the lips, so it ends on a better note than the last James Holt preview Andy sat in on. That being said, Miranda only nods her head at two pieces, the rest garnering no reaction whatsoever.

James looks a little flattened, though not nearly as panicked as after the bow dress fiasco. And Nigel isn't smiling but he doesn't look somber either; the man really does have an amazing poker face.

The fanfare on the way out is a little more sedate than that of their arrival. Andy hauls herself back into the Mercedes, hoping the lackluster showing they just sat through won't worsen Miranda's mood.

It’s cloudy today. Sticky and humid like it has been for the last couple weeks. Andy watches as they pass throng after throng of tired, sweaty tourists. People making their way home with groceries, red-faced children toddling here and there beside them.

"He served the creative vision of one of the most influential publications in the world," Miranda says out of the blue, when they're almost back to the office. 

Miranda gives a long pause and Andy's whole body tenses up because she recognizes the thick, poisonous silence now filling the car. Became well acquainted with it in Paris, after everything fell apart.

"All that power. All that ability to shape the direction of our industry. And Nigel threw it away. Left it for what?" Miranda shakes her head, eyes still glued to her own window as she continues softly, "to run behind a thoroughly mediocre designer, cleaning up his mistakes."

Miranda's tone is more thoughtful than poisonous, which makes it all that much worse. Because it would be one thing if she was saying this in a moment of anger or a transient bad mood, but this is something else. This is Nigel's mentor looking at his choices and deciding she respects him less than she did before.

This is Miranda being disappointed in someone.

"I hope the money is worth it," Miranda sighs, still not looking at Andy, and Andy blinks away the tears burning her eyes.

She feels awful for Nigel. And what's worse, she's now imagining Miranda one day looking at her the way she evidently sees Nigel. Thinks about it until her throat closes up with panic, her body going cold. It's the most terrifying thing she can imagine and it's not even happening to her. She's just being weird and narcissistic, and anyway Miranda doesn't see her that way because she trusts her. Miranda trusts her and maybe even likes her, Andy reminds herself. Lets go of one shaky breath after another, until they're pulling up to the office and Andy's breathing has mostly returned to normal.

"Have you found someone acceptable for the administrative assistant position?" Miranda asks as they walk back to Miranda's office. Stride past terrified employee after terrified employee, at least two of them looking at Andy with some species of awe, probably because Miranda is speaking to her rather than at her.

"I've only conducted one of the interviews," Andy answers. "The one today is my first choice so far, but I'll have to see how the other two go."

"For whom does she work now?" Miranda asks and Andy cringes. Had really hoped to dodge this particular question until Aisha was already hired.

"Vera Wang," Andy says as she carefully takes Miranda's bag and puts it back up.

"Vera Wang," Miranda repeats, drawing out each syllable. And Andy takes a calming breath, reminding herself of all the things she practiced for this exact argument.

"Miranda, I know that-"

"Perhaps your time at that horrid little newspaper has emptied that head of yours of every memory that's useful to me," Miranda sneers. "But if you retained such a memory, you would recall the great expense I occurred last August because of the incompetence of Vera Wang's staff."

"I do recall," Andy chimes in, trying to sound calm and confident. "But I also know that the person I interviewed today fired the person who was actually responsible for that problem. Plus she  found the garments missing in transit and put a new system in place to make sure that such a thing never happens again."

"Am I supposed to be impressed that she did her job?" Miranda asks haughtily, and sits behind her desk. There's a piping hot latte waiting on it, which Miranda is going to silently puzzle over because Andy's been glued to her side for the last hour and a half.

"Of course not," Andy smiles. Watches Miranda eyes her latte with veiled confusion. "But it’s you who've always impressed upon me that the competent suffer most for the failures of the incompetent."

"Oh, so you do listen?" Miranda says and sips her coffee. But there's no real anger in the question and Andy tries to hold back her smile of triumph.

"Well," Miranda says. Slips her glasses on and opens a folder from the pile on her desk. "I said it was your decision and it is. Make it carefully, as I'll expect no less from you if you hire someone whose mistakes you must constantly fix."

Yeah, like Andy didn't already know that.

"Of course," Andy says instead.

"Get me Testino.”

It's six o'clock when the movers come with Miranda's new office furniture. Miranda gives Andy detailed instructions, then takes her leave to meet with Paloma in Paloma's office because if there's anything Miranda abhors, it's standing amid chaos. Which is fine with Andy, as the only worse than Andy having to supervise this process is Miranda supervising Andy as she supervises.

"I thought you guys were only here for another month," someone from maintenance complains when they come to haul the old desk to storage.

"We are," Andy grits her teeth.

"Whatever office she has after this is probably gonna be bigger," the second man says. "Knowing that woman, she'll want all new furniture again. So why'd she even bother?"

It will be and yes, Miranda will. But that is beside the point, and Andy gives both men her meanest smile.

"If this is too challenging a task for you," she drawls. Doesn't have to finish the threat before the men hop to work.

The new furniture is sleek and modern, the art less abstract than Andy thought Miranda would pick. She grabs the sprays of flowers she's tucked away in the employee kitchen. Fills Miranda's new vases with the usual bunches of white, then takes a risk and fills exactly one vase with a small arrangement of pale pink Dahlias.

"How's it - oh my," Olivia says when she walks in, Andy presently adjusting a painting's position by half a centimeter. 

"I need a level," Andy huffs.

"I think it's pretty straight," Olivia says.

"Pretty straight is not Miranda straight," Andy frets. Scratches her head. "I guess I could call maintenance. But I just had to be a royal bitch to them, so they might not even answer."

"You're Miranda's henchman," Olivia says over her glasses. "They'll answer."

"Hey," Andy pouts. She would glare but she's still fussing with the same stupid painting. She really doesn't think it's straight. Or maybe it is?

"This place looks wonderful," Olivia tells her. "God, no wonder she's an icon. She's completely transformed this place."

"Yeah?" Andy asks. Feels hopeful and happy, so pleased that this is something that might make Miranda's days better.

"Absolutely," Olivia nods. "Now I'll scamper off before you get in trouble for chatting, but I wanted to let you know that the Vanity Fair is looking for pieces on women's relationship with technology."

"Huh," Andy frowns at another painting. That one looks kind of crooked too. Are any of them even straight? "I mean, thank you. I appreciate the thought."

"I wouldn't have pegged Miranda as someone who favors pink," Olivia says now, and Andy follows her line of sight to the arrangement of flowers on the windowsill.

"Normally she prefers all white," Andy admits. "I'm taking a chance with those."

"With pink Dahlias," Olivia repeats, as if this is supposed to mean something to Andy.

"Do you think they're bad?" Andy worries. She's not really much of a flower person. Or at least, she's just enough of a flower person to think they're all pretty by definition.

"I think they're lovely," Olivia amends, looking very hard at Andy. "And quite appropriate."

Olivia disappears and Andy frets and fusses over the rest of Miranda's office. But then the phone rings and Andy gets lost in taking messages from people whom Miranda will never in a million years call back.

"Oh, good," Miranda says, when she breezes back in. Stands in the center of her office and scans everything in a slow, circular motion. "Good," she says again, and Andy refrains from clapping in excitement.

Miranda goes to work on some ad numbers someone's sent to Andy, and Andy takes the opportunity to send a quick text to Nigel.

Still on for drinks but going to be working a bit longer. 

She debates about adding an emoticon after the last sentence, then sends it the way it is. Hazards a glance at Miranda's expression to make sure all is well in there. No frowns or squinting, so that's good. In fact, Miranda's glasses are sliding down her nose and she hasn't righted them yet. Which means that she’s probably reading something really good - something fascinating.

I'm working too, Nigel responds. Even those of us who don't slave away for the dragon have deadlines.

The tone of that text could be fun and sassy, or it could be queeny and spiteful. Andy can't tell without context, but either way she doesn't like Nigel calling Miranda that name. Which is kind of unfair, come to think of it, because Nigel's always done that and it definitely used to make Andy laugh.

"What happened?" Miranda demands, suddenly standing in front of her.

"What?" Andy jumps, closing her phone immediately.

"Your face," Miranda tells her. "It was making the expression it always makes when someone else's incompetence is about to impact my day."

"N-no, nothing so significant," Andy says. Shakes her head decisively here for effective.

Miranda stares at her, obviously disbelieving, and Andy makes a snap decision.

"Maintenance in this building has proven inefficient," she says. It's not a lie, not exactly. The response is misleading but the content of the statement is at least true.

"As I suspected it would be," Miranda grimaces. Then looks at Andy with something softer than frustration. "At least the state of things here is only temporary, as you yourself have mentioned."

Maybe Andy has actually fallen and smacked her head on the pavement, but it sounds a lot like Miranda is trying to reassure her. The idea of it must spook Miranda too, because a second later Miranda's face hardens, looking annoyed.

"Be ready to leave in thirty minutes," Miranda snaps.

When they're officially on the way out, Andy goes about turning out lights and arranging things in the office one last time. Miranda stands behind her, in the doorway, and when Andy turns around Miranda’s staring at the pink flowers on the windowsill. She stares at them hard, like it's the first time she's seeing them. But surely this isn't the case, because she gave the room an approving once over when she first arrived and she absolutely would have noticed them in the two hours since.

Miranda keeps staring, and Andy wonders if she's even looking at the flowers at all. Maybe she's just remembering something or thinking about her week?

"Ready," Andy says awkwardly, when Miranda finally snaps out of it. She closes Miranda's door behind them and then trails Miranda all the way to the elevator.

"I'll pass on a ride tonight," Andy tells her when they hit the lobby. Miranda gives her a look that could melt metal and Andy swallows hard, remembering the drama surrounding her taking the subway this morning. "I'm meeting a friend," she babbles. "No need for Roy to go through the trouble."

Miranda gives her a disconcerted look but then nods. Marches out into the lobby where everyone, even in this temporary building, knows to scatter in her wake. Andy watches her go, hoping tomorrow is less eventful.

She walks to the subway with the memory of how Miranda had pronounced 'good' wrapped away in her chest. Tucks it away like a present she isn't yet ready to open.

 

. . .

 

Andy meets Nigel at a pretentious martini bar on the Upper East side. He's already seated at the bar when Andy gets there, so she heads right for him. Feels guilty and nervous all over again.

"I'm sorry," she blurts before Nigel can even says hello. "I should have told you before."

"What?' Nigel manages, as Andy hugs him without warning. "Well. Hey. That's... quite alright."

"I had no idea we were coming by today," Andy promises.

"Oh, yes," Nigel looks at her sharply over his glasses, "that little visit was a surprise to us as well."

"Shit," Andy says. Hopes that explains why James' presentation was a little lackluster.

"Besides, I should have known you were on her payroll again by the way you practically spit out your entire glass of wine whenever I mentioned Miranda's new venture."

"Oh, that," Andy cringes. She'd really thought Nigel hadn't noticed her near spit at their dinner two weeks ago.

"It's business," Nigel shrugs. "I'm sure she had you sign a mile-long NDA."

"Yep," Andy confirms and gulps at the old fashioned Nigel was kind enough to have waiting for her.

"Another one of these," Nigel says to the bartender as he points to Andy's drink.

"Uh uh," Andy says, when she comes up for air. "It's a school night. I've gotta stop at one."

"Two," Nigel pouts. "For the man who handed you your first Chanel."

"Two," Andy concedes with sigh. Tells herself she really has to nurse the second one. "So catch me up. How's everything?"

"Frantic, with the run up to Paris."

"Hard to believe it's two months away," Andy says.

"Seven weeks," Nigel corrects, but then gives her an evil little smile. "But I shouldn't complain since you have it way worse than I do."

"Oh, it's fine," Andy waves him off.

"Said no one ever who worked for Miranda Priestly," Nigel laughs. "Including me."

"The hours are long, but the hours are always long," Andy admits. "And most of my energy is spent getting things up and running rather than on Paris." Not to mention worrying about things like Miranda's office being right. And watching with movies with Caroline, she thinks with wry amusement.

"Paloma was an interesting choice," Nigel says now and taps his fingers on the bar like he's playing an invisible piano. "Not a social butterfly, that one. But she has a good eye."

Andy wouldn't know, as Paloma has spoken exactly five words to her, and those were, 'what time is Miranda free?'

"Well, I'll still be interested to see how it plays out," Nigel tilts his head. Plucks the last olive out of his martini and pops it into his mouth.

"How goes the house shopping?" Andy asks before the next pause becomes awkward, and Nigel dives into a twenty-minute rant about real estate.

"We better wrap this up," Nigel says, looking at his watch. "One of us is old and needs his beauty sleep."

Andy laughs, taking her card back from the bartender and then trying to do the tip math in her head. Apparently those two drinks hit her pretty hard.

"Say, did Miranda say anything to you afterward?" Nigel asks her idly. "About the preview, I mean."

Andy's trying to find a diplomatic way of saying Miranda wasn't impressed, but then she catches Nigel's expression - serious and analytical, and completely at odds with the casual manner he just affected.

"Nope," Andy lies. "But I mean, it's not like Miranda's going to go around explaining her opinions to me of all people, right?"

"Yeah," Nigel smiles. Smooths over his look of disappointment.

Andy's phone buzzes as they're saying their goodbyes and, strangely, Andy actually hopes it's Miranda. She pulls her phone from her pocket once she’s outside on the sidewalk. Sees that it's a text from a number she doesn't know.

Monday is taco night, it informs her.

She's debating whether to say 'wrong number' or else just ignore it when the second text buzzes through.

I know you and mom always work late but maybe you can come for tacos next time?

Of course, Andy sighs. Because one Priestly texting her at all hours of the day isn't enough. Kind of funny that Miranda's daughter text in full sentences though.

It's actually very sweet, Andy decides on the way home. Doesn't mind getting texts from the girls, provided that they're as polite as this.

You should probably run that by your mother, Andy responds. Takes a minute to debate the wording of it because she doesn't want to hurt the girl's feelings. Adds quickly, I'm sure she'd like to spend time with you alone.

Caroline already asked her, says the next message. And the fact that it's evidently Cassidy texting her surprising Andy as much as anything Miranda's ever done.

I'll talk to your mom about it tomorrow, Andy decides to say. Doesn't know if she should flat out agree without speaking to Miranda first. God, what if Cassidy’s lying and Miranda doesn't even know about it? That conversation will be... rather painful.

If you say so, Cassidy sends back. Which sounds far more characteristic.

Andy has trouble sleeping that night, a fact she finds frustrating because she normally sleeps like a baby after a couple drinks. She stares at her ceiling and thinks about Miranda's new furniture and the proper grammar of Cassidy's text messages. Tries to remember as much detail she can about that portrait in Miranda's study and before she knows it, she's asleep.

 

. . .

 

Andy isn't sure if her work at Charcoal is actually easier than it was when it was at Runway, or if she's simply gotten better at dealing with the stress.

Sure, her mornings admittedly start even earlier, Andy needing to be Miranda-ready as soon as she steps out of her building and into the Mercedes. But sometimes, like today, Miranda murmurs 'good morning' and Andy gets a five-minute reprieve while Miranda finishes reading something or other on her phone. Most others, Miranda's list of orders (and often complaints) starts as soon as Andy's car door clicks closed.

"You have Georgina rescheduled today at two," Andy says and narrowly avoids adding the word 'again' to that sentence. Miranda has kept the woman waiting for almost two weeks now, having told Andy to cancel their meeting three different times. Which means something's going on, though Andy has yet to figure out what. Highly doubts anyone over at Marchesa has either.

"What else?" Miranda prompts, scowling over her glasses at the long line of traffic the car is presently stuck in. Andy sends a quick text to seven different people, telling them the run-through is going to be at least fifteen minutes later than originally planned. Prays to God that they make good use of the extra time.

"You have lunch with Patrick at noon and the meeting with Chanel at one. Olivia will be in this afternoon to discuss our coverage of the election, but the time will have to depend on your conference calls with with Valentino and Cartier. You'll leave early today to go to Dalton's open house at six, and at eight Roy will pick you up for the New Yorkers for Children Gala. Which reminds me," Andy pauses, sipping her own coffee, "we cancelled your second fitting at Dior last week, so we'll have to squeeze that in sometime today. Any preference?" Andy asks, phone at the ready, and Miranda gives her a sideways glance.

"Not immediately after lunch," Miranda replies. And as this might be the most mortal statement Miranda has ever deigned to make to Andy,  Andy is very careful not to react.

"Of course," Andy says. Keeps going down her long list of notes about appointments and messages.

The day stays on track, with the grand exception of the run-through, to which, apparently, no one from Accessories thought to bring any of their brain cells.

"I'm not one to repeat myself," Miranda says to the interim head of the department, his erstwhile supervisor having been fired by Miranda last week. (And, yeah, that was a very long, painful day.) But then someone else pipes up about boots with architectural accents and Miranda gives the woman, Carol, an approving nod. An achievement that Andy suspects Carol will find far less thrilling later, when she realizes she's talked herself right into being the new Accessories head.

It's still a logistical challenge, being  the only assistant until Aisha starts on Monday. There are calls that presently go to voicemail and things Andy has to delegate that she would much prefer to keep in her own control. She's had to task five different people with latte fetching alone, and even then she doesn't trust three of them to bring back one that’s properly hot.

But everything gets done, somehow, and most of it is up to Andy's standards. So in the fleeting moments she has to take stock of everything, she decides to consider the last week and a half a win.

"I hope you picked out something suitable for the gala this evening," Miranda remarks to Andy idly, at precisely five nineteen. Miranda's meeting with Politics is wrapping up, Olivia slipping folders back into her quilted Chanel tote and making notes into her phone. "I seem to recall you making agitated noises about the lengths one must go to, if only to avoid publicly embarrassing me."

Andy freezes in her seat, phone and notepad clutched in her hand. Feels overcome with the most nauseating case of déjà vu she's ever in her life experienced.

"You're going with her to the gala?" Olivia asks ten minutes later, when Miranda's taken her leave, is on her merry way to the twins' open house.

"Apparently," Andy squeaks. Feel paralyzed with panic because they have no real Closet to speak of yet, and no Nigel really.

Although maybe Andy could call the actual Nigel? But then she thinks about her last conversation with him at the bar and how he tried to dig for information. The idea of asking him for any sort of favor just seems like... not a great idea.

"Do you even have a dress?" Olivia asks her. Sounds amused by it all, which means that she clearly doesn't realize how serious this is. That this is a matter of Andy possibly getting fired.

"Maybe?" Andy says, because she has a bunch of stuff from Paris that she's never had the chance to wear. "But I got all of it last October, so it isn't the right season."

"There must at least be one all-purpose black dress among them," Olivia points out. And she's probably right, but that still leaves Andy with less than two hours to find said dress, steam it, pick out (more likely, buy) accessories, and then still get her hair and makeup done. "Oh, for heaven's sake, please breathe," Olivia tells her. Pulls out her phone as Andy begins to panic herself into jagged little pieces.

"What am I going to do?" Andy moans into her hands. And Olivia sighs, looking much put upon, before she starts tapping away at her phone.

"As I'm sure you've heard from others, my ex writes for Vogue," Olivia announces. And yeah, Andy's heard this piece of gossip a while back. Not, like, from anyone directly since no one here actually tells her any gossip except Olivia herself. But indirectly; from other people talking amongst themselves where Andy could overhear it.

"You cannot possibly ask someone from Vogue to help me," Andy warns, and here Olivia gives her a glare that is... almost Miranda level frosty.

"Andrea, please be assured that I would not call in a favor from that woman if my life depended on it," Olivia says, without a drop of humor. "That said, I still retain the affection of many of her friends."

Thirty minutes later, three different people unfurl boxes of makeup and jewelry in Andy's apartment while two others tear through Andy's stack of Paris boxes.

"What do you even do for Miranda at at an event like this?" Olivia asks, standing outside of Andy's bathroom as a guy in a yellow muscle tee blows out Andy's hair.

"Mostly be her bouncer," Andy says over the whine of the dryer. "Keep people out of her face who haven't earned the privilege. Politely edge others out when they inevitably overstay their welcome."

That's just a preliminary guess though, because the real answer is that Andy has no idea. She at least had names and faces to memorize for the museum benefit last year, even if that was supposed to be Emily's job. Not mention that the museum benefit was an official Runway event, where as this is just a bunch of rich people eating dinner and pretending to care about the state of the New York foster system.

"Oh, what about this one?" a guy with pink hair asks as he holds up a black Chanel dress, and everyone says, "too boring" at the same time that Andy says, "perfect.”

"You're going to be standing beside Miranda Priestly," Olivia reminds her. Motions for the guys in Andy's closet to keep looking.

"I like Chanel," Andy pouts. "And you're the one who mentioned something classic."

"That's before I realized how many options you had on hand," Olivia replies, checking her watch. "Had I known Miranda's assistants get this much haute-couture, I might have applied for the job myself."

"This one?" pink haired guy asks again, holding up a red Valentino now, and someone else in the room shouts, "oh! Gimme, gimme!"

"Isn't that a little much?" Andy worries, because that dress is very... red.

"Well if you don't wear it, you're giving it to me," Olivia tells her. Runs her hand admiringly across the twist in the bodice. "And didn't I hear Miranda directly challenge you to step up to the fashion plate, so to speak?"

Andy agrees to the Valentino, whatever her misgivings. She's running out of time and one thing Miranda definitely won't approve of is Andy showing up to this event naked.

"Do you remember how the model had her hair styled?" a woman with gauged ears asks Andy.

"Um, down, I think," Andy says, trying to remember that show. It was one of the first they saw in Paris last year, so Andy took copious notes of it.  "Yeah. Down and a little wavy."

"So we have to do something different," the same woman announces and Olivia nods in agreement. "Hm, you have great bangs so maybe we'll pin part of your hair up. But definitely only part of it."

"Don't give her prom hair," a man teases somewhere behind Olivia, and the woman still holding Andy's hair casually gives whoever it was a middle finger with her free hand.

"I'm going to leave you now," Olivia announces a few minutes later. "But you owe me."

"I do," Andy admits. Can't move her head to nod or look at Olivia because two people are presently fussing with her eye makeup.

"I like Burgundy," Olivia tells her. "The real stuff, not that swill from Oregon."

"Noted," Andy sighs. Doesn't have the mental capacity to ponder Olivia's two-hundred dollar 'thank you' present when she's still so scared about tonight.

"Try to have fun," Olivia calls as she saunters out. "It's a party after all."

Right, Andy thinks as her lip stain goes on. A party Miranda could easily turn into Andy's funeral.

 

. . .

 

Roy picks Andy up about thirty seconds after Andy slides her feet into her borrowed Prada heels.

"She's running late," Roy tells her, after she gingerly gets into the empty car. "Dinner with the girls ran a little long."

Miranda never eats at these things, and Andy wishes she'd had the foresight to put something in her empty stomach before she left her apartment. Not that she'd still be able to squeeze into this dress if she'd eaten dinner, she thinks balefully. Tries to sit up straight rather than slouch.

Roy pulls up the townhouse and they sit there for a few minutes, no sign of Miranda at all.

"Should you send her a text again?" Andy asks him, and the twin reflections of Roy's bushy eyebrows rise in the mirror.

"You go ahead," he says to her, and Andy stares back at him in silent challenge.

"Fine," Andy relents eventually and gets out of the car. Climbs the stairs to the townhouse slowly, because God help her if she falls before Miranda's even seen her.

"Oh, it's you," Caroline says, in what must be a universal Priestly greeting. She tugs Andy by the hand through the foyer and the formal living room, then down the hallway that leads to the kitchen.

"But that's not fair," Andy hears Cassidy argue. Sounds like the girl's crying, judging by the wobble in her voice.

"We'll discuss this later," Miranda says firmly, right before Andy rounds the corner.

"Hi," Andy greets, not looking directly at Miranda. Because the last time she walked into an argument like this, she ended up wishing herself very much dead. Thinks here that it would be awfully nice if the universe would end its tour down bad memory lane now.

"Hi," Cassidy says in a thready voice. Her cheeks are red and her eyes are watery, but she's looking at Andy now. So maybe that's a good sign.

"Sorry I had to miss taco night this week," Andy says suddenly, desperate as she is to fill the silence. She couldn't work up the nerve to talk to Miranda about it this past week, worried that maybe it was another one of the girls' pranks. "Maybe this next Monday though?"

"Sure," Cassidy shrugs. Sounds pretty ambivalent, but not ambivalent enough to ignore Andy like she did three weeks ago. "May I go to my room now?" Cassidy asks her mother, and Miranda nods. Watches the girl walk out of the room and then climb the back stairs.

"I like your dress," Caroline tells Andy now. "Your hair makes you look like someone out of an old movie."

"That's what I was going for," Andy smiles at her. "After all, I have to stand next to your mom and not look like a disaster by comparison. It’s a tough job for anybody."

"You've always managed well enough," Miranda says here, and Andy slowly shifts her gaze from Caroline's freckled face to Miranda's porcelain one.

She's of course changed her makeup since Andy saw her at work, her eye makeup darker and her pale pink lipstick now replaced by a red one. But Miranda's red matte color has a purple undertone that Andy's own red lip stain lacks, and now Andy remains standing in the same spot, staring at Miranda and thinking inexplicably of pomegranates. Remembers collecting them from her great grandmother's yard when she was little- how she had to be so careful, because the juice always stained straight right through everything it touched.

"We're leaving now," Miranda says to Caroline. "I'll be home late, so I'll see you in the morning."

Andy follows Miranda out of the house and then into car, the first five minutes of the car ride proving entirely silent.

"The girls have had too much change in their lives recently," Miranda says, and doesn't feign looking out the window this time. She stares Andy dead in the eye, her expression open and decidedly pained as she shifts a little in her seat. "I'm doing everything I can to give them... more consistency. Which is a challenge, as you've witnessed, because of how their father behaves."

"I understand," Andy says slowly. And honestly does, even if she has no idea why Miranda is sharing something so personal with her.

"You aren't their nanny," Miranda says here. Looks down at the dark silk of her Dior gown and plucks off a piece of lint that must be too small for Andy to see. "I don't - Andrea, there's no part of your job that requires you to pass time with them. But I do expect," Miranda pauses, skewering Andrea with blue eyes here, "that whatever commitments you choose to make to them are ones that are kept. Without exception."

"I understand," Andy replies, when she's cleared the sudden dryness from her throat.

"Do you?" Miranda presses.

"I assure you," Andy says and tries not to smile, "the girls will have to beat me back with a stick if they want keep me away from taco night."

 Miranda snorts here, the tension dissolving as quickly as it formed, and Andy sits back a little further in her seat.

The gala immidiately proves smaller than the veritable circus that is Runway's museum benefit, only a dozen or so photographers outside the 42nd Street venue. Miranda gets out of the car first, Andy deliberately hanging back. Stands and watches as Miranda works the carpet, the bright lights revealing that the silk of Miranda's dress isn't actually black but a deep, dark gray.

"Charcoal," Andy whispers to herself with a smile. Keeps watching as Miranda poses for some photographers but ignores others.

 "There you are," Miranda says, after she's made her way through the small press gauntlet and Andy's caught back up with her. Not like anybody wanted to take a picture of Andy, so she only would been in the way. "Alright."

Something about this has already vaguely felt like Miranda's bracing herself for battle, so when Miranda squares her shoulders slightly, Andy's stomach takes this as its cue to start churning.

"Alright," Andy echoes, when Miranda's about to make her grand entrance into the venue.

Miranda glides in and Andy follows in her wake, as if pulled by an invisible string.

. . .