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Burning

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I've been burning. Yes, I've been burning
Such a burden, this flame on my chest.
No insurance to pay for the damage,
Yeah, I've been burning up since you left.

It'd been four months now, nineteen weeks to be exact, and Miranda could barely recognize herself anymore. When she looked in the mirror, it felt as though she was seeing herself through a stranger's eyes. Most days her features were harsh and strained - more so than usual anyways. And it was getting to the point where no brand of make up could cover up the dark circles under her eyes, no matter how ashamed she was at the fact that she was unable to sleep without her by her side.

People had begun to notice. She tried her best to keep up the Ice Queen persona, but some of her minions had already caught her staring off into space, and she was not oblivious to the whispers questioning her strange, out of character behaviour. Her children sometimes looked at her, worry clouding their expressions, and often they had asked if she was angry with them. If only they knew the only person she was angry at was herself.

Because it turns out that Miranda Priestly had made a huge mistake.

And now she suffered the consequences. She'd lost her appetite, her passion for her work, even her ability to give a real smile to her children. Many nights she found herself drinking away her agony, staying up until the early hours, unable to sleep, unable to keep her mind from thinking about how different everything would be had she not made her mistake. The more she thought about it, the more grief she felt pressing down on her chest, and she didn't know how much longer she'd be able to keep this up.

Sitting at her desk in her glass office, her supposed kingdom, she felt emptier than she had ever felt. She took a sip of her tepid coffee and couldn't even work up the energy to tear her second assistant apart. Throwing it in the bin, she released a deep sigh that seemed to carry her very soul out of her chest. Closing her eyes, she let her shoulders slump and pressed her palms against her temples, trying very hard to pull herself together. She felt ridiculous, pining over a girl half her age who Miranda herself had foolishly decided to toss aside because of "honour." Please, there was no such thing as honour when it came to a love like this. What had she been thinking? Foolish old woman.

That's how Nigel found her when he strode into her office, his steps coming to a sudden halt as he took in her posture. Miranda knew she should revert back to the Dragon Lady, but she was too tired, too weak to move. Heartbreak and sleep deprivation were not a good combination.

"Uh, Miranda?" Nigel's voice was steady, but Miranda could easily detect the trepidation in his voice.

Sighing, willing herself not to snap at him to leave, she mumbled, "What is it, Nigel?"

She heard quiet footsteps, and then, to her surprise, her door closing. She looked up and saw Nigel lock the door before approaching her with a sombre, determined look in his face. Walking around her desk until he was by her side, he leaned on the glass edge and crossed his arms, rubbing his bald head and taking a deep breath.

"What's been going on, Miranda?"

Masking her face with an aloof expression and a raised eyebrow, Miranda said, "Whatever are you talking about?"

"I mean this, Miranda," he gestured dramatically towards her, as if that explained everything. "The way you've been acting the past few months. Something's up, is it the girls?"

"The girls are fine," she said in what she hoped was a tone of finality, but he persisted.

"Then what is it? You've been walking around like a zombie. You don't even stand up to Irv anymore! Some days you're firing people for breathing too loudly, and the next you can't even focus on a run through. It's like you flip between rage and absence. And, I'm sorry, but I can see you haven't been sleeping well. So I'll ask again, because I'm your friend and I care about you, what's been going on, Miranda?"

The editor blinked up at Nigel, unsure of how to answer. He had never spoken to her so bluntly, never been so forward before. Perhaps, if she told him about what happened with Andrea, maybe she would feel better. Maybe he could help get her back, and Miranda could beg for forgiveness and -

But it was too late, wasn't it? She didn't stand a chance at gaining Andrea's forgiveness after how cruel Miranda had been. She shut her eyes tightly just at the memory of the terrible things she'd said to the young woman, as if all Andrea had been was some sort of sex toy for Miranda, as if what they'd had meant nothing.

Miranda jumped when a gentle hand was placed on her shoulder, and she opened her eyes to see Nigel looking at her with a deep frown of concern. Sighing, she rubbed her temples, trying to ease the pressure she felt there. Might as well tell someone. Didn't people say it's good to talk about one's feelings?

"I've made a huge mistake, Nigel. I hurt someone who meant everything to me, and I've come to realise that running away was not the answer. But it's too late now, there's nothing I can do to make things right."

Nigel stared, jaw slack as he watched Miranda blink rapidly, as if she were trying to hold back tears, and he was even more shocked when she slumped sideways on her chair, leaning heavily on her desk, her posture defeated. He had never seen his friend like this. The hollowness in her eyes, the pain in her voice, it was all new to him, and he had no idea how to act.

"Miranda, maybe there's still a chance," he said, hopeful. But it was difficult to be helpful when he didn't know the full story, and he doubted Miranda would tell him. "Maybe you can still make things right - "

"No." Miranda's voice sounded like steel, harsh and final and broken. "I can't. That's that."

After several seconds of silence of Nigel not knowing what to say as he watched the older woman's gaze get lost in memories, Miranda murmured a weak, "Just leave it, Nigel."

Filled with even more concern for his old friend, Nigel left the office, feeling like he had just been punched in the stomach. Never in his 20 years of knowing Miranda Priestly would he have ever guessed that the woman could ever look so defeated.

Miranda watched him go, the pain in her chest getting heavier as it dawned on her how alone she truly was. She couldn't even confide her pain to her closest friend.

Loneliness had never hurt so deep.

 

Funny how time goes by.
Had respect for myself
That river ran dry.

 

Miranda was not the only one having trouble sleeping at night. Andy tossed and turned, trying her best to keep her mind quiet for just a few hours so she could get some numbing rest. Unfortunately, her mind was plagued by the woman who had ripped apart her heart, and even in sleep blue eyes and silver hair haunted her dreams. It actually shocked Andy that she was still able to cry, after all the tears she had already shed. And yet sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night, weeping from a dream she couldn't really remember. Sometimes she wished she could tear her heart out, that she could make the pain go away somehow.

She was leaving New York in three weeks. Her contract with The Mirror ended then, and she had already begun to pack her things so that her move back to Cincinnati would be quick and painless. Her parents had questioned her about her motives for moving back home, but she had given a vague answer and they let it go. She just needed some time back home. She didn't have many people in New York, and she was in desperate need of emotional support from her family. Her mother, of course, was ecstatic that she was moving back in with them, and despite Andy's best attempts at faking enthusiasm, she couldn't help but feel a deep grief settle in the pit of her stomach just thinking about leaving New York. Because leaving would mean that she had fully given up on Miranda.

And she had. Mostly.

It was clear that Miranda had no intention of getting back in touch with Andy. And besides, she wasn't sure she'd really be able to forgive Miranda for what she'd done. Miranda had inflicted so much pain on Andy, damaging and breaking her in a way nobody else had ever done before. And the worst part was that Andy still loved her. There was a small part of her that still believed Miranda would come back and ask forgiveness. Sometimes Andy thought she could hear a knocking at her door late at night, but it was just her mind playing tricks on her, taunting her with wishes of the impossible.

Perhaps this was the right thing for her. Maybe moving away from New York would help her heal. Maybe in a year's time, she'd begin to feel normal again.

Andy could do nothing else but live on hope.

 

Oh, if you ever called
I would run straight back,
Give you my forgiveness
And the shirt off my back

 

Miranda did not want to be here. She really, really did not want to be here. The last thing she needed after a sleepless night, a day full of disasters, and the ever-present heartache, was to attend this ridiculous gala. But of course Irv had basically blackmailed her, and Miranda's hands were tied. She'd been here for forty-five minutes now, and she could feel her facade cracking every time she had to plaster on a smile for someone who wanted her head on a silver platter. In these rare moments, she wished Emily was still her assistant. The brit had always made these things go smoothly, but the two assistants currently at Miranda's sides were more interested in gossiping quietly than in making themselves useful. The only reason Miranda did not fire them was because their gossiping was the only thing even mildly entertaining in this damn party, so she let it be, not really able to muster the energy to call them out on it anyways. She was about to ask for her car to be brought round so she could leave when she froze, her first assistant's words immediately catching her ear.

"Is that Andy? Andy Sachs? What the hell does she think she's doing here? I thought she walked out on Runway in the middle of Paris Fashion week!" The first assistant, Jennifer, said, completely oblivious to the way Miranda immediately tensed at her words.

"She did! Who does she think she is, coming here after what she pulled? My god, she really is fat." The second assistant, Georgia, snarled. "Honestly, look at her! She's as big as a cow! I pity the poor bastard who has to put up with that big ass - "

In less than a second, Miranda whirled around and pushed Georgia up against a nearby column, shoving her face close to the wide-eyed assistant's. Miranda was seething, seeing nothing but red, oblivious to the people around them.

"Don't. You. Ever." She snarled, a vein jumping in her throat in her all-consuming rage. "Say another word against Andrea Sachs. Or I will make it my personal mission to make you regret the day you were born."

The small, terrified young woman nodded her head furiously, tears filling her eyes and her face paling at the terrifying expression on the editor's face.

"You're fired." Miranda said, trying her best to pull herself back together, and stepped away from the trembling woman. "If you want to have a future career I suggest you never cross my path again." Turning to her first assistant, ignoring her wide-eyed, shocked expression, Miranda barked. "Jennifer, call for my car this instant. And on Monday you will call HR first thing to find a suitable candidate for the second assistant position. And if you want to keep your job, do not choose another pathetic excuse for a human being this time. That's all."

With that, she swept away, ignoring the aghast, stunned faces of the other guests as she strode across the room towards the main door. Apparently her little display had gained more attention than she'd realised, but she was past the point of caring.

She felt guilty enough about hurting Andrea. There was no way in hell she'd stand by while someone said such atrocious things about her Andrea.

 

I've been burning. Yes, I've been burning.
Such a burden, this flame on my chest.

 

Miranda's plans for the rest of the night were to drown her sorrows in a bottle of expensive scotch. She changed into her grey robe, took all her damn make up off, and sat in the cosiest couch in the den.

No matter how hard she tried, she could not get Andrea off her mind. The fact that she had been at the gala, so close, made Miranda feel like her heart was being split into tiny little pieces. She hadn't even gotten a glimpse of her. Oh, how she would have loved to see her. To lay her eyes upon her beautiful face, and look into the brown eyes that Miranda had fallen so deeply in love with. She wanted to talk to her, to see how she was, to tell her that Miranda had subscribed to the Mirror, and that she read all her work. She wished she could tell Andrea how proud she was, how happy she was to see how far the young reporter had come. She wanted to know if she had found someone already, if she was happy, if she was being loved the way she deserved to be. Miranda couldn't suppress a pang of jealousy, and her eyes watered just at the thought of Andrea in the arms of someone else.

Losing her battle against her emotions, Miranda could not stop the tears from coming. God, how she missed her Andrea. She missed the young woman's easy smile and compassionate eyes, her sweet laughter and her brilliant mind. She missed the way Andrea used to hold her even in her sleep, and how she used to kiss Miranda as if she was the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world. She wished she could go back in time, erase her heartless words, take the young woman into her arms and never let go.

With tears running down her cheeks, Miranda downed her glass of scotch. Thank God the girls were with their father, because Miranda was planning on drink herself into oblivion.

She had barely finished her second glass when the doorbell rang, and she growled in frustration. She was not up to dealing with anyone. And, by God, if it was Irv to give her shit about her actions at the benefit, Miranda would not hesitate to strangle the little man with her own bare hands.

Swinging the door open, she took a breath to demand the intruder leave, but froze when she laid eyes upon the face she had missed so much.

"Hi, Miranda," Andrea spoke in a small, shy voice, and Miranda had to tighten her grip on the door just to keep upright.

Swallowing hard, Miranda opened her mouth, searching for something to say - anything - but she was speechless. Andrea. My Andrea is here.

"Um," Andrea shifted her weight, her eyes darting around nervously and biting her lip in that way of hers that made the Ice Queen's heart melt. "Can I come in?"

Blinking rapidly, Miranda finally pulled herself together, opening the door wider to let the young woman step through. Once she was in the entrance, Andrea shed her coat and hung it in the closet, as she had always done when she'd come to Miranda's house. Miranda tried her hardest not to weep at the familiar action, and almost lost her composure completely when she saw the burgundy gown that the young woman wore. It was a high neck, silky gown that flowed all the way down to the floor in such a simple yet beautiful design that Miranda had to bite her lip not to declare her undying love for the woman before her right there and then.

When Andrea finally turned to her, Miranda realised that they were just standing in the foyer, so once again pulling herself together she led the way up the stairs to the den where she had been in the process of drinking herself into a coma. She sat down in her previous place and watched as Andrea lowered herself on the other side of the couch. When the younger woman spotted the liquor, she looked at Miranda with raised eyebrows, surprised to see Miranda drinking, as she hadn't often partaken in the past.

"It's a bad habit I've recently fallen into," Miranda said in explanation, lowering her eyes in shame. It was a miracle she hadn't become a raging alcoholic by this point.

Andy nodded as if she understood, and a long silence stretched between the two, neither really knowing what to say. For all the things Miranda had been wishing earlier, all she could do now was simply gaze at the beautiful creature in front of her, unable to believe she was truly here.

"I saw you at the gala," Andy suddenly spoke, and Miranda closed her eyes, hoping that Andrea hadn't seen her little display of rage against her assistant. "I saw what happened."

Sighing, Miranda pursed her lips, feeling humiliated that she'd had so little control over her emotions. She, who always ruled with an iron fist, who never let her guard down, who never followed her heart over her head.

"How much did you see, exactly?" Miranda asked, looking up into unreadable brown eyes.

"Everything. I heard what you said, too. Although I gotta admit, I have no idea what your assistant said for you to react that way, but that doesn't matter to me. What matters is that, if you reacted so strongly, then you must care about me, even a little bit." It was phrased as a statement, but Andy voiced it as a question, and the insecurity that shone from her eyes made Miranda's heart melt.

Miranda knew she couldn't lie to Andrea. Not again.

"That would be correct." Miranda said in a small, quiet voice.

Andy swallowed hard and took a deep breath, giving herself a few seconds to process Miranda's words.

"Okay," she began, as if trying to order her thoughts. "So, why did you push me away? You said terrible things, Miranda. Terrible, hurtful things. Why did you do it?"

Miranda closed her eyes, trying to settle her emotions enough to have this conversation without inadvertently making things worse. Making more damage when trying to fix things was one of her specialties, after all.

"I didn't think I had another choice. I was terrified for us both. I was convinced that a relationship with you would only end in heartbreak and misery. I didn't think we had a chance at true happiness. So many obstacles were in our way. I didn't think I was good enough for you to risk your happiness over me. I always hurt people, Andrea. No matter what I do, I always drive people away. I didn't think I had enough strength to survive if you ever realised that you deserved better and left me."

There. Miranda had poured her heart out, and there was no going back. She gazed down at her hands in her lap, holding her breath while she waited for the younger woman to react. Several moments passed in silence, the only sounds in the room were the faint passing of cars in the street bellow and the quiet clock hanging on the far wall ticking away the silent seconds. Miranda tried hard not to say anything else, to shake Andrea in order to get a reaction, to throw herself on her knees and beg forgiveness.

"And, uhm - " Andy took a deep, steadying breath. Miranda's words had been like a blow to her gut, but in a good way, sort of. She could feel some of her pain evaporating. She cares. "Do you - do you still feel that way? Do you still think that we could never be happy together?" Miranda looked up into earnest almond eyes looking at her with both hope and fear. "Because, I don't know about you, Miranda, but those six months we spent together was the happiest I've ever been. And being without you has been the most painful thing I have ever experienced."

Miranda inhaled sharply at the words, unable to wrap her mind around them. What if there was a chance after all? It was clear that being apart had been complete and utter misery for them both. What if the right thing was to be together? What if all the reasons why they shouldn't be together weren't valid reasons at all? What if they could get past all those obstacles, together?

"Oh." Miranda said, her mind reeling so much she could barely string words together. "I - I don't... Andrea..." Miranda watched as Andrea's eyes immediately lost their hopeful glow, and instead they filled with hurt. Unable to stand seeing the sorrowful look on Andrea's face, Miranda moved closer, placing a hand over a soft cheek. Trying to convey through her eyes all the love and tenderness she felt for this woman, Miranda said, "I love you."

Before Andrea could respond, Miranda leaned forward and captured full lips into the softest of kisses. Miranda felt like weeping at the contact, and she felt her eyes sting when she felt Andrea return the gentle caress. Oh, God, she had missed this. She had missed this so much. How could she have ever thought she would be able to live without this? Without Andrea?

The young woman let out a strangled sob, and Miranda began to kiss away the tears running down smooth cheeks, murmuring words of love and devotion, begging forgiveness, confessing how keeping Andrea away had been the hardest thing she'd ever had to do.

Almost as one, they stood and made their way up to Miranda's bedroom, barely able to keep from kissing and caressing and holding each other. They undressed gently, slowly, and oh so delicately they lay on the bed together, kissing everywhere, learning each other again, caressing soft skin with such tenderness and making love with such delicate passion that Miranda felt like a piece of her had finally fallen into place. After moving against each other for long moments, finger exploring and lips roaming, Miranda could not hold back any longer and gazed into Andrea's eyes as she reached her climax, whispering Andrea's name like a mantra, and Andy soon followed with a strangled wail.

They lay together, wrapped in each other's arms, running fingers through silky tendrils of hair, caressing fingertips over soft skin, looking into each others' eyes and sharing whisper-like kisses. Miranda could not believe her luck. She never thought she'd ever have Andrea like this again. She never thought her actions could ever be forgiven. But Andrea had a caring, warm heart, and Miranda fell even more in love with her for giving them a second chance.

"I was planning on leaving New York next week."

Miranda froze, and a cold sense of loss and dread settled on her chest so harshly she could barely draw breath. Andrea saw her reaction, and immediately took Miranda's lips in a soothing kiss.

"Hey, no. No. I'm not going anywhere. Not anymore," She said softly, comfortingly.

Miranda couldn't hold back a sob, the sudden wave of relief she felt making it difficult to keep control over her emotions. But when she felt the younger woman's arms tighten around her and soft lips kissing her tears away while they murmured words of love and devotion, Miranda gave herself to the tide of emotions, releasing all the pain, the grief, the anger she'd felt every single day for the past several months. She cried for the hope, the happiness, the love she felt now instead. She cried because she knew that, no matter what happened, everything would be all right as long as Andrea was with her.

When she had finally shed all her tears, Miranda looked into the adoring brown eyes that gazed down at her. Cupping a soft cheek, Miranda whispered softly, "I love you, Andrea. Stay with me. Please, stay with me."

Andrea beamed, making Miranda's heart soar at finally seeing the smile she had missed so desperately. Brown eyes twinkling with joy, Andrea murmured, "I love you, too."

As their lips touched once more for another deep, loving kiss, Miranda sent a silent grateful prayer to whatever deity had given her a second chance with this beautiful, breath-taking, magnificent woman. Rolling on top of Andrea, Miranda knew that, from now on, there was nothing in the world that would keep her away from the love of her life.