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Pure Shores

Chapter Text

“Don’t you dare walk away from me,” a stern tone demanded as Andy leant down to grab her suitcase.

It was resting next to a side table in the foyer, the one adorned with a white Peace Lily, which was fitting given the current circumstances.

“We’re not talking about this anymore, I’ve made my decision,” Andy replied. She kept her back to Miranda as she flicked up the handle of her white Samsonite and wheeled it towards the front door.

The clip of heels followed her, before coming to a halt. “I swear, Andrea,” Miranda began, voice now closer as Andy paused and reached for the door, tugging it open. The frigid November weather entered the foyer, chilling her to the bone.

“Andrea! If you walk out that door then—“ Miranda began again.

Andy spun around to face her. “Then, what!?” she demanded, glaring at Miranda who was standing barely two feet away, arms crossed and grey eyes livid.

Miranda's eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to speak.

"Go on Miranda, just say it. I dare you,” Andy said, cutting her off before she could get a single word out. Andy had a fairly good idea where this argument was headed. It was a last ditch effort on Miranda's part. She was about to lay into her with the last of her reserves, the only way she knew how: viciously. Andy watched as Miranda bristled at the interruption, and then pulled herself up to her full height. She had to admit that Miranda had always held the ability to appear six feet tall when she needed to. Particularly when she was angry. The only difference was that these days her posturing did very little to scare Andy. Five years of living with, and battling with Miranda Priestly had left her pretty much immune to the intimidation tactics Miranda deployed as editor-in-chief of Runway.

She watched, unmoved, as Miranda took a deep breath. She was clearly attempting to reign in her temper. Miranda preferred to deliver her death blows in a cool, detached manner - a habit well known among all those who knew and worked for her. However, this time, she was failing exceptionally, Andy noted.

"Then," Miranda began, voice shaking with barely contained rage, "Don't bother coming back."

Andy clenched her jaw and stared at Miranda. What had begun as a mere two feet between them now felt like the fucking Grand Canyon.

An ultimatum.

It was the one thing in five years they had managed to avoid, surprisingly. However, Miranda wasn't finished just yet, Andy could feel it.

"If you're going to insist on putting the emotional wellbeing of the girls at risk, when they've barely started college," Miranda spat, "Not to mention your own life over some silly story, then I no longer want you in this house. You're selfish Andrea!"

Andy took an unconscious step back, gripping the handle of her Samsonite so firmly she felt like it was going to split beneath the pressure. Her mind shot to the girls. They had recently turned 19 and were more a part of her than she could have ever predicted five years ago when she and Miranda had stepped out into a mob of photographers in the Lower East Side and confirmed their relationship for the entire world at a time when said relationship was shaky, at best. That moment felt like decades ago, and as she stood before yet another door, preparing to walk out, she wondered whether this decision might be just as life-changing.

"That was a low blow, even for you," Andy replied quietly. "I have never questioned your commitment to the girls when it came to work. You spend almost half of the year overseas, and I've never thrown it back in your face. I always had your back, Miranda. Always."

“Fashion, Andrea!” Miranda snapped, “My work is fashion! Shows, meetings, working dinners, events, and all in civilized countries where the threat of getting blown to pieces isn’t part of the job description!” she roared, her caste iron control visibly slipping, “You’re talking about an active war zone!”

“No, I’m talking about my job. Which is important to me. As yours is to you. I have never questioned your commitment to Runway, nor would I. I thought we agreed that I would be awarded the same respect.”

“You’re not a war correspondent!”

“You knew this promotion would mean more time abroad, you promised me your full support!” Andy threw back.

“I thought that meant Brussels! Not bloody Baghdad!” Miranda yelled, a hint of the past slipping into her carefully trained accent. “Refugees in Turkey and Saudi are one thing Andrea, but this?”

“This is my career Miranda, you of all people should understand this.”

“No, this is your life and I won’t stand for it!”

“You won’t…” Andy trailed off, shaking her head before straightening her back and looking at Miranda. “I’m done arguing about this. Ship my things to the office, or my parents, wherever, I don’t care, I have a flight to catch,” she finished as she lifted her case over the threshold and carried it down the stairs.

She handed it off to the taxi driver and ignored the compulsion to turn around. Pulling the door open, she climbed into the cab, not once looking back.

Chapter Text

5 months earlier.

Miranda resisted the urge to groan as she climbed the stairs towards the study. Her trainer had been in a mood this afternoon and now her thighs were paying the price.

She stopped by Caroline's room to turn down her bed, assuming the adventurous 19-year-old would stumble in at some point over the course of the evening. She took a quick glance around and ignored the pang as she noted the still half-packed suitcase in the corner indicating that her daughter was here, but only temporarily.

Caroline was home for the summer, now a Freshman at UCLA. It was only a flying visit, her first since Christmas, and even then she was still out tonight with friends who had chosen to attend college closer to home at NYU, or Columbia.

Cassidy, on the other hand, had been in Cambridge since September and in spite of plenty of opportunities to come home for a short visit, had chosen to travel in Europe with her friends instead. She had even forgone Christmas last year, much to Miranda's dismay.

Overall, it had been an adjustment to say the least. Although having free reign of the house was lovely in the beginning - a fact both she and Andrea had taken full advantage of - they had both come to find the quiet a little disconcerting.

Miranda was postive Andrea had become more flat-footed since the twins had left, simply to compensate for the lack of noise around them.

Miranda shook off the momentary melancholy and turned away from Caroline's slightly bare room. She walked straight past Cassidy's, as she always did, and headed towards the door at the end of the hall.

Soft light trickled out, and she could hear furious typing on approach.

As she strolled into the study she found Andrea, as always, attacking her laptop as she lay back on the world’s most uncomfortable sofa, propped up by a variety of cushions which seemed to find their way there from all over the house.

Miranda rolled her eyes.

How anyone could manage to get any work done in that position she would never know. She had lost track of the number of times she had come home to find Andrea passed out in the exact position she occupied now, sound asleep with her fingers still positioned over the keys.

It had been a work habit that Miranda had tried to discourage from the beginning. When Andrea had begun spending more time at the townhouse, she had had Stephen's old room stripped back and converted into a second study, and even called in Brad Ford to design the space after Andrea had fallen in love with his designs in Nigel's new apartment.

It was a complete and utter waste of time and money. Andrea had thanked her profusely, used the space twice, and then decided she was much more comfortable in Miranda's study. The gorgeous mahogany desk Miranda had purchased devolved into little more than a dumping ground for research notes and it had been that way since Andrea finally gave up her apartment.

Miranda didn't mind, not really. They had spent almost a year working in close quarters at Runway, and it turned out the change in their circumstances did little to disrupt the harmony they had managed to strike up all those years ago.

“How many starving refugees have we saved today, darling?” Miranda asked, her tone lightly mocking as she leaned down to give the brunette a light kiss in greeting.

"Very funny," Andrea replied, as she titled her chin up to meet the kiss, eyes barely leaving the screen in front of her.

As Miranda pulled back she noticed a small fleck of grey on the top of Andrea's head. Time certainly had passed, and she was embarrassed to admit that she preferred Andrea older. Their age difference was something she had never truly put to bed. She would be 59 this year and dating a 31, going on 32-year-old sounded mildly less mid-life-crisis-esque than dating a woman in her twenties.

"I think I missed my calling," Miranda sighed in mock disappointment as she sat down at her desk and flipped open the Book, her eyes still on Andrea.

Andrea chuckled lightly, and threw a smirk her way before returning her focus to the article in front of her. "10:00pm deadline," she said by way of explanation.

Miranda hummed in understanding, watching the way Andrea's fingers flew across the keys for a beat before reaching over to pick up a red pen and a stack of post-its.

Their ability to work in companionable silence was something Miranda credited the ongoing strength of their relationship to, and it wasn't really an option. Her work schedule remained much as it always had, and as Andrea's career had progressed, her schedule had become increasingly less consistent.

Two years after they went public, it became obvious that Andrea's time at the New York Mirror was coming to an end. The publication was scaling back, like most print media. Budget cuts made the work harder than it needed to be, and the scope of it too small. There weren't going to be any promotions either. Andrea was penned in by tenured reporters, and unless someone dropped off from a heart attack or cirrhosis of the liver, she was going to be a senior political correspondent for the next decade. 

She would have moved on sooner if it hadn't been for their relationship. Miranda had watched on guiltily as Andrea struggled with her loyalty to the paper that had stood behind her, and the guilt of the advantage her celebrity provided.

It wasn't until the Spring of 2011 that she made a leap. The New York Tribune had a drastic change in leadership, and positions opened up as the new editor cleaned house. Andrea had taken a pay cut, and lost her seniority, but was at a larger publication with the opportunity to do much more.

Natural intelligence, strength and dedication saw her rise through the ranks quickly, jumping from local reporting to foreign affairs. The escalation of the Syrian Civil War saw her pulled over to Middle-Eastern coverage unexpectedly, and although she worked primarily from New York, she began spending more time out of the country than ever before. It was a natural progression, and one Miranda simply had to accept. Andrea was extremely dedicated to her work, something she could relate to, and so felt obligated to support.

Miranda glanced up to take in the woman who had become a central part of her life since strolling back into it with a thank you and a cup of coffee back in 2007. Things were never perfect, she could accept that. They were however, happy.

Andrea glanced up from her laptop and caught Miranda's eye.

"You okay, M?"

"Yes, of course," Miranda said, "Just thinking."

"Well stop it, I can feel your eyes burning into my skull and it's distracting."

"Shall I stop breathing all together?"

Andrea rolled her eyes, a small smile dancing about the edge of her lips.

Miranda chuckled lightly and settled her focus back on the Book.

"Actually, I'm about done," Andrea said, "And I need to talk to you about something."

“Hmm?” Miranda responded, as she slapped another post-it on a particularly hideous font choice with a sigh, not looking up.

“I’ve put my name forward to join the Baghdad Bureau for a stint,” Andrea began. “With ISIS in play, and the troops returning this month they’re looking to re-expand the team again. Not full time of course, no one has money for that any more, but maybe a couple of months here and there. You know, experienced reporters with knowledge of the region.”

When the word ‘Baghdad’ finally fired off synapses, Miranda’s head shot up to stare at Andrea, sprawled out across the sofa still, directly in front of her.

She took a deep breath and put her pen down gently.

“I’m sorry, for a moment I thought you said Baghdad,” Miranda drawled, a hint of warning in her tone.

Andrea flinched.

“The experience will be invaluable, and opportunities like this come around once in a lifetime. You know how competitive foreign correspondence is, and with my current work on the displacement of refugees in Syria, and those Arabic classes you got me for my 30th, the timing couldn’t be more perfect,” Andrea argued.

Miranda couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Once in a lifetime?” she said darkly, “It certainly will be if you volunteer to go traipsing through a war zone!” Miranda snapped, her tone rising. “Did you not think to consult me about this before you made a life changing decision that will affect this household!?”

“You know how things work Miranda,” Andrea sighed, closing her laptop and tossing it toward the end of the sofa before swinging her legs around to face Miranda fully. “The call came today, I jumped on it. I mean, I’ll be in the International Zone – you know, the Green Zone, and like I said, it should only be for a couple of months, tops”

“Oh, the Green Zone,” Miranda replied, “Oh, well in that case, sure, why not? I can’t see the harm in being stationed in an international hub, in the capital city of a volatile country, during a tumultuous period of political unrest, and within striking distance of that ridiculously ostentatious American Embassy which might as well have target painted on it. I’m certainly much more at ease now, thank you,” she finished snarkily, not bothering to hold back on the sarcasm, “I mean, I’m sure the penchant for kidnapping journalists has waned by now."

Andrea ran an agitated hand through her hair.

“Look, there’s no guarantee I’ll get it anyway. There are a couple of other names in the hat - male names."

Miranda met her eyes and held them for a few moments.

“But you want it,” she said matter-of-factly.

Andrea moved to respond, but Miranda held up a hand.

“No, no. That wasn’t a question,” she said coldly before closing the Book before her. "When?"

"It’s not confirmed. I’ll be required to go through another 'hostile environment' training course focused on the area if I get it. Although I can almost say for certain it will be before Christmas. ISIS is gaining support fast and their territorial control is expanding. Sooner rather than later I would imagine.”

Miranda took one last look at Andrea, before getting to her feet.

“I’m going to bed.”

Andrea stood as she picked the Book up off the desk before moving toward the door.

“Miranda, come on,” Andrea said, reaching out to grasp her wrist. “Can’t we talk about this?”

Miranda looked down at the hand encircling her arm before looking back up to glare at the woman before her.

“What’s left to talk about? You’ve already made your decision, have you not?”

“Yes, but I’d still like your support,” Andrea said quietly.

“I love you Andrea, and as a result, hell will freeze over before I support you willingly putting yourself in harm’s way,” Miranda finished, before extracting her arm and walking out.

“Mir—“ she heard a voice behind her begin, before cutting it off as she slammed the door.


 

The following morning, Miranda awoke feeling like she had gone head to head with a last minute print deadline.

She had barely slept.

Not only had her bed been noticeably cooler, she had also spent the night tossing and turning, plotting various ways of subverting Andrea’s latest idiotic course of action.

When her mind had finally strayed towards tossing the journalist down a flight of stairs and having her wheelchair bound for the next decade, Miranda knew it was time to get up and go to work. Even if it was only 4:00am.

As she stood in the shower she couldn’t stopping thinking about Baghdad. There wasn’t a week that went by without some damning report from that hellhole. Whether it was civilians caught in the crossfire, or aid personnel getting limbs blown off by roadside IEDs, the news only ever featured death and despair in the war torn area. Things had tapered off after the troop withdrawal in 2011, but recently the news was once again flooded with grizzly images as they prepared to send troops back to combat the growing ISIS threat.

There was only one thing Miranda knew for certain, and that was that she wasn’t letting Andrea stroll right in to the middle of the fray to become another statistic, barely acknowledged in the headlines and forgotten by an apathetic nation. Istanbul was one thing, but this little crusade of hers had finally gone too far.

She stepped out of the shower, quickly drying herself before making her way back into the bedroom.

The object of her thoughts was perched on the end of the bed, her eyebrow raised and all of her limbs unfortunately intact.

“Can we have a conversation now?” Andrea asked.

“I don’t know what there is to say, but go ahead,” Miranda replied brusquely, waving her hand as she walked straight into the closet to choose out an outfit.

“Miranda, nothing has happened yet. I’ve been out there, yes. However, so have plenty of others, and they might want to take on more experienced freelancers instead who have a better handle on the conflict side as opposed to impacts on the surrounding communities. I just wanted a shot, I thought you’d understand that.”

Miranda flicked a hanger particularly viciously, before shaking her head at her own petulance. Pulling out a fairly plain Marc Jacobs number, she returned to the room, laying it down gently on the bed before facing Andrea.

“A shot at The New Yorker, I understand. A shot at a book deal, I understand. A shot at a lucrative freelance career where you can write for any publication on whim? That I understand,” she said, before moving to sit next to the woman around whom her life had orbited for the past five years, “But this? This I will never understand,” she said fiercely.

Andrea reached across and placed a gentle hand on her thigh. Miranda was torn between throwing it off, and the urge to clasp it and never let it go.

“You know that passion you feel when you see a particularly beautiful design emerge from the darkness on the runway? When your whole body tingles with excitement that you can barely contain it?” Andrea asked.

Miranda didn’t reply.

“That’s the feeling I get now, writing about the world," Andrea continued. "There is so much to learn and so many strings and connections; it’s like one huge puzzle that I can never solve in my lifetime. But, now, I have the opportunity to see it. To really understand what I’m writing about every day. I don’t want to be stationed there, trust me on that, but I need to see it, I need to feel it up close. I need to be sitting in that seat in front of the runway, watching it unfold.”

Miranda gave into her compulsion and gripped Andrea's hand tightly, fear overwhelming her anger for a moment.

“It’s Iraq, Andrea,” she said quietly.

“I know,” came the response, just as quietly.

“In, and out. I promise.”


 

In, and out. I promise.

Andrea had thought those words would bring some form of comfort. For Miranda, it merely signalled that the girl was dead set on going and had already been planning out her stay in her head.

No, the words brought no comfort. What did was the fact that she felt it was highly unlikely the New York Tribune would send a young, inexperienced volunteer into a conflict. There had to be hundreds of reporters and freelancers who had been in Iraq before the media started scaling back their Bureaus.

In any other circumstances she would be throwing all of her support behind Andrea to chase after something she wanted. However, in this case, she was all but praying that everything worked against her to ensure she remained safely in New York behind a desk, where she belonged.

It had been barely 24 hours since the reporter had dropped her bomb, and since then, Miranda had been fighting an internal battle with herself. She had never liked leaving anything to chance, and Andrea had a knack of always getting the things she wanted.

No matter how hard Miranda tried, she couldn’t dispel the knowledge that with a single phone call she could prevent this from happening for certain.

She had been pacing her office this morning and had picked up the phone four times.

She sat and stared at the phone, before picking it up for a fifth time, and this time dialing Mary Olssen, the Tribune's editor-in-chief.

“Mary, this is Miranda Priestly, I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Just a meeting I can pick up later. How can I help?”

Miranda paused, the guilt clawing its way up from her stomach reminding her she was crossing a line.

“Miranda?” Mary said.

“It’s—“ Miranda hesitated, “It’s a personal matter, I—“

“Well, I hate to tell you Miranda but I’m married, and not nearly as attractive as the lovely Miss Sachs.”

“Andrea is the reason I’m calling.”

“Problem?”

“Baghdad.”

"Figured.”

“She’s 31-years-old, Mary. She has no place in a conflict zone,” Miranda said a tone that brokered no argument.

She heard the woman on the other end of the line shift and excuse whoever was in her office, before returning to the call.

“No one does, at any age,” Mary said, her tone equally as stern.

"I'm aware, however—"

“Miranda, with all due respect, I’m not in the habit of interfering in the personal lives of my employees, nor the decisions of my editors. If you have an issue with Andrea applying for a post with the Bureau then you’ll have to take it up with her. As far as I’m aware she is well liked here, and she does a damn good job. If she wants this, I can’t see any reason to take the opportunity away from her.”

Mary took a deep breath, before continuing, her tone softening.

“Look, I understand your concern, Miranda, but we've all been out in the trenches. True, the trenches for each generation differ, but Andy just wants her opportunity to do the best possible work in the field she's chosen."

"It's Iraq, Mary. Not some counter-culture protest at a University," Miranda snapped. 

"Four people died at Kent State, Miranda. If attacking my work makes you feel any better, then have at it. Actually, you know what? I'll do you one better. If you really want me to, I can pull Andy out of the running with a click of my fingers. I mean, never mind that if I block her editor, everyone is going to know exactly why, including Andrea."

Miranda sighed.

"Mary, I apologize."

"I know you do, and I'm sorry to have to tell you that given her passion, and the work shes been doing she's a strong contender. And I never interfere with my editors unless I absolutely have to. There's no reason for me to do that here. No matter what excuse I can muster, all roads will lead back to you if I do. She won’t thank you for it, Miranda."

Mary was right. Miranda knew it.

She had known it all along, but that didn't make it any better and it certainly didn't dispel the sickening dread that had implanted itself firmly in the pit of her stomach having confirmation that Andrea was indeed, a front-runner in this competition to what could be death, or worse.

Miranda clenched the receiver tightly as she fought the urge to scream down the line and order the Tribune editor-in-chief to do something.

“I understand Mary," she said tightly instead. "Thank you for your time. I would appreciate your discretion in this matter."

“Of course, Miranda. For what it’s worth, our Bureau Chief is good; been out there since 2010. Your partner will be in good hands if she happens to land it.”

“Thank you,” Miranda said as sincerely as possible before shakily replacing the receiver back in it's cradle, fighting tooth and nail against the compulsion to throw the phone across the room.

If she got the position, Andrea would be gone, and unless she could convince her otherwise, there was nothing left that she could do.

Chapter Text

Present.

Miranda stood, staring at the empty street in front of the townhouse before the wind chill forced her to move and close the door.

A part of her had been expecting Andrea to turn the cab around and come back; the rest was more realistic, knowing that once the woman had made her decision about something, she would stick to it come hell or high water. She possessed an infuriating level of stubbornness, and ever since she had gotten the idea in her silly little head back in June there had been nothing Miranda could do to change her mind.

She took a deep breath and moved away from the door, spinning on her heel and marching towards the kitchen.

She entered the room, morning light streaming though the windows as she moved swiftly towards a far end cupboard and began rummaging around, deep at the back.

She felt sick to her stomach as she searched, a healthy dose of fear and anger warring for supremacy inside.

When her fingers finally clutched the edges of an old, worn tin, she pulled back.

She couldn't believe it had come down to this.

She had tried.

After speaking with Mary, she had resolved to be as supportive as she possibly could, but June and July had been tense regardless. Andrea was aware she wasn't truly behind her decision, and it was the first time in their relationship that they were truly out of sync.

Meanwhile, reports from the region grew more grim. News of escalating violence in Iraq was smattered over every TV screen and publication. ISIS was impossible to ignore, and it began driving a wedge between the two of them.

August had been the last straw for Miranda. Clips of James Foley's beheading were more than enough for her to vocally withdraw her support from Andrea's bid for the Bureau and order her to stop pursuing the position.

Andrea had been unimpressed with her demands and the townhouse had quickly descended into a veritable battlefield of it's own. Andrea moved out of their bedroom, and their relationship had been left hanging by a thread.

Miranda responded by spending more time at the office.

Andrea did the same.

News of her selection passed by uneventfully. Everything that needed to be said already had been and Miranda refused to belabour the point any longer. By then they were lucky if they saw each other twice a week. Somehow they had both become so completely entrenched in the battle that neither one of them was willing to back down.

Andrea was simply gone; absent from the life they had built for close to five years. She spent three weeks absorbed in 'hostile environment training' before coming back, packing her suitcase, and announcing to Miranda that she would be leaving in two days.

This morning, Miranda had finally snapped. She had absolutely no interest in sitting back and watching that silly girl walk into a battlefield; and what did Andrea do?

She went anyway.

Miranda slammed the old tin down next to the kettle, flicking it on before moving to another cupboard. She pulled a teapot and matching cup down, wrinkling her nose as she spotted the slight sheen of dust.

Miranda ran the the rarely used pot under the tap, rinsing the dust away with her fingertips before moving to the cup.

"Shit," she cursed, as she dropped it into the sink. As she reached to pick it up again, she noticed her hands were shaking. She placed it back down in the bottom of the sink and gripped the edge of the bench tightly, as though holding on for dear life.

She was rattled.

The kettle began whistling.

Her Grandmother had always believed a cup of tea solved everything, and today Miranda lived on hope that it would ease the weight in her stomach and the fear in her heart as she picked up the kettle and poured the scalding water into the waiting teapot.

Miranda Priestly wasn't accustomed to being scared. Sure, being a mother brought with it a healthy level of terror, but this? This was something else.

Miranda reached over and pulled the cup out of the sink, and poured herself a cup of tea.

She shook it off.

A part of her had believed that Andrea truly wasn’t like her. A part of her thought that this morning, when push came to shove, Andrea would choose family over career, just as she had done all those years ago on the Place de la Concorde.

Never had she been more wrong.

When she took a sip of the waiting beverage, she thought of war.

The taste dragged her back to the day her mother called to tell her her father had died.

And when she realized the tea would solve nothing, she threw it against the wall.


 

“This is absolute insanity, Richard,” Elizabeth Sachs fumed as she dropped her phone on the table and began to pace around the kitchen.

Andy had called from a taxi, leaving a message to say she was on the way to the airport. She had called every week since she was given a position with the New York Tribune's Baghdad Bureau. That didn't mean Elizabeth had truly believed her daughter would actually go through with something so ridiculous.

"What on Earth is she thinking?"

Her husband stared back at her, his face drawn.

Richard Sachs never did have a lot to say in these situations. Whilst she tended to explode, he liked to sit quietly by and brood.

"It's Andy, Liz. I can't claim to ever know what that girl is doing from one minute to the next," Richard said.

“I thought she would manage to talk her out of this,” Elizabeth said, running a hand through her dark, shoulder length hair in agitation.

Richard hummed in agreement, spinning his glass of whiskey absently before looking back up at her.

"Have you spoken to her?" he asked.

"To who?" she snapped.

"To Miranda," he replied evenly.

Elizabeth growled in frustration.

"I tried calling earlier, to find out what the hell was going on after Andy's message last night, but surprise surprise, she wasn't available. You would think that woman would make herself available at a time like this," Elizabeth snapped.

"Liz," Richard said, his tone gentle with warning. "Things weren't well between the two of them before she left. I imagine this morning was difficult."

Elizabeth sighed, before taking a seat opposite him.

"Give me that," she said tiredly, waving her hand towards his scotch glass.

He slid it across the table.

"What about the girls? Have you spoken to either of them in the last couple of days?"

Elizabeth took a deep draw from the scotch before setting the glass back down, gently.

"I left a message with Cassidy last week, and she still hasn't gotten back to me. I spoke to Caroline yesterday - she's in the middle of mid-terms. She wanted to come home to see Andrea before she left, but she was under strict orders from the Queen to stay at school, apparently."

“Liz,” Richard growled in warning.

“Oh honestly Richard, it’s not as if she can hear me from here,” Elizabeth snapped.

“Regardless, I don’t think now is the time for you and Miranda to get into yet another one of those fantastic arguments you’re both so fond of. Not to mention I don't think either of them would want her home given the state of things since summer. It will only make her worry more, and detract from her school work."

“They’re not arguments, Richard. They’re discussions. But yes, I suppose you're right."

Heated discussions would be a better description,” Richard noted mildly, his lip quirking.

“Well if the woman wasn’t so impossible then we wouldn’t have to get into heated discussions,” Elizabeth snarked before picking up her phone. “Look, I’ll call her again this afternoon. Happy?”

“I’ll be happy to have a bit more information than ‘my flight got moved up, I’ll let you know when I land,’” Richard said, his expression dropping once more.

"Okay, fine. I'll call her now then; but don't blame me if she chews my head off."


 

Miranda stared at the tea dripping down the wall before looking down at her hands.

They were shaking, still.

She stood up abruptly and walked back through to the foyer, ignoring the still closed door and beginning her ascent up the stairs.

Andrea wasn’t coming back.

She had gone.

For work.

And as that was to be the theme for today, Miranda intended to follow suit.

She entered their bedroom and moved quickly to pick up her phone from the bedside table where she had left it the previous evening. The lingering smell of Andrea’s perfume and signs of this morning's last minute packing were everywhere. Although Andrea had moved into the guest room, the majority of her wardrobe still hung next to Miranda's in the walk-in and it had set the scene for the eruption of this morning's argument.

Miranda didn’t want to be anywhere near any of it. She put her phone to her ear and walked straight back out.

“Roy,” Miranda said down the phone as she walked down the stairs and into the den where she had left the Book last night, “I’m leaving for the office. Now,” she said as she ended the call. She grabbed the Book off one of the side tables and headed swiftly in the direction of the front door, grabbing her purse and not bothering to stop for a coat.

As the door slammed closed behind her, Miranda stopped and took a deep breath.

The air was chill.

She watched as the silver Mercedes pulled up in front of the house and Roy stepped out, looking at her with concern when she didn’t move.

She took another deep breath before walking down the stairs towards him.

“Miranda, where’s your coat?” Roy asked as he opened the door.

“Inside,” she said.

“It’s cold.”

“I’m aware of that,” she said as she entered the vehicle and pulled the door closed behind her before Roy even had a chance.

As Roy climbed into the front, he turned around and she held up a hand to halt whatever was about to come out of his mouth. “Don’t.”

“All right, but if you change your mind,” Roy said pointedly before turning around and pulling the car out into the street.

Since his heart attack five years ago, Roy had managed to stick to his healthy eating plan and had lost the spare tire which was so popular in his line of work. Miranda had made some adjustments to his health insurance to ensure a cardio-thoracic specialist and a gym membership were covered, and low and behold he actually attended with some regularity.

Miranda was aware the good behaviour was all born out of a sense of obligation, but she refused to feel guilty about having knowingly manipulated Roy’s good nature.

He may be five years older but he was healthier than he had ever been.

Miranda touched a hand to her face and brushed it across her forehead.

Roy’s not the only one who’s older, she thought as she leaned back into the leather seats.

She was 59-years-old, but today she felt at least a decade older than that. At this rate she was going to have fold and have the Botox she had thus far avoided. She knew there was no point in worrying herself into a frenzy, but her emotions were refusing to follow orders at this moment in time.

Andrea hadn’t even left American soil yet. God only knew the toll the next few weeks, or even months would take.

Miranda stared across at her phone, her hand twitching involuntarily.

She hasn’t left yet.

She clenched her fist against the urge to call. Nothing had changed, nor would it.

Miranda stared at the offending object, the screen coming to life and lighting up. She felt a flutter of hope as she reached for it, but morphed quickly into a scowl as she registered the caller.

“Elizabeth,” she said abruptly as she answered.

“Miranda,” the woman said, returning her tone with equal measure.

“What can I do for you?”

“We got a message from Andy saying her flight had changed. I’d like to know what’s going on.”

“Why don’t you ask your daughter?” Miranda snapped, the reply coming out much harsher than intended.

“You’re arguing?” Elizabeth replied knowingly, and Miranda could have sworn she heard a hint of amusement in the other woman’s voice.

Miranda clenched her teeth. “She’s gone traipsing off to Iraq Elizabeth, what did you expect me to be doing? Celebrating?”

“She who was so adamant the Tribune would be a good change,” Elizabeth said knowingly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Miranda snapped, and she heard Richard calling out in warning in the background.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth sighed down the line. “Richard and I are worried. We just want to know what’s going on.”

Miranda closed her eyes and willed herself to remain calm. She had let her temper get the better of her enough this morning. “The flight she was scheduled on for next week got pulled up a couple of days ago. As it’s a military flight she had to go. She left home no more than 45 minutes ago.”

“Fine. Now that I have you on the phone, what do you know about her situation? She’s been vague, at best.”

“She’s going to assist the Baghdad Bureau with coverage of the ISIS advance. The Bureau is stationed in the International Zone. There has been no confirmation on how long she’ll be out there, she’s been very vague with me also on that front. It was meant to be a month or two at most, but given the current situation, that may be subject to change I would imagine.”

Elizabeth was quiet down the line.

Miranda looked up and caught Roy’s eyes.

“How secure is their facility?” Elizabeth asked, the picture of practicality suddenly bleeding through and drowning out the concerned mother.

This was Elizabeth Sachs, Attorney at Law.

This woman, Miranda could deal with.

“Miranda, there doesn’t seem to be any information anywhere about the Bureau’s current state. Until late last year it was essentially a one man operation, maybe a few revolving freelancers,” Elizabeth continued, "The Times appear to have been in a similar situation."

“As far as I'm aware they're simply bringing in people as they need them. Staff reporters, freelancers, photographers and videographers. The cost of international correspondence, as you're likely aware, is high. They'll be doing what they can to stretch their personnel as far as they can.Tribune housing is in the International Zone, and it is quite secure, or so I’ve been told. There are limitations set on field work,” Miranda paused. “She’ll be fine, Elizabeth.”

“That might be more convincing if you believed it yourself, Miranda,” Elizabeth replied.

They both fell silent.

“Well, I have to get to the office," Elizabeth said quietly, breaking the silence.

“As do I.”

“All right. Well. Bye.”

“Bye,” Miranda said curtly, moving to end the call.

“Miranda, wait,” Elizabeth said suddenly.

“Yes?”

“Promise me, if any—“

“Of course,” Miranda said gently. “Can you—“

“Yes, we will.”

“Okay,” Miranda said, nodding her head.

“All right. Goodbye, Miranda.”

“Goodbye, Elizabeth,” Miranda said, this time hitting the button firmly and throwing the phone into her purse.

She had no intention of it ever coming to that.


 

“Yes, yes, I completely agree,” Miranda said as she moved into her office, Nigel hot on her heels.

“Okay, perfect,” Nigel began as he followed her through, sparing a quick glance for the second assistant, who looked frankly exhausted.

“I have a couple of places in mind for the shoot. I’ll send someone to get some advanced shots so you can take a look, we can make a decision next week,” Nigel finished, watching Miranda closely as she sat down at her desk, a little heavier than usual.

“Fine,” she said as she pulled some notes towards her regarding the joint shoot and had a quick flick through.

“Do you mind if I close the door?” Nigel asked.

Miranda simply waved her hand in what he assumed to be ‘go ahead’ gesture, so he pushed it closed before turning to face the snowy haired editor again.

Nigel approached the desk and eyed Miranda carefully. She looked drawn. The line around her eyes which were usually close to invisible were so defined it was a little shocking.

“Are you alright?” he asked as stood directly in front of the desk, watching as her hands paused on the notes before pushing them aside and looking up at him.

“Honestly?” she asked tiredly.

“Well, it’ll save time,” he replied matter-of-factly with a small shrug.

She paused, leaning back in her chair, pulling off her glasses and letting the La Priestly visage drop.

“No,” Miranda said, tossing her glasses on the desk.

Nigel pulled his own glasses off and plucked a handkerchief out of his pocket before proceeding.

“So,” he said as he began rubbing absently at one lens, “I take it that means the indomitable Miss Sachs is halfway to Baghdad?”

Miranda nodded.

“I had a feeling,” he continued, “I can’t remember the last time you were late to the office. Honestly, you should have seen them. They thought you’d died. Whatsherface was about to start calling around the hospitals,” Nigel snickered.

Miranda cast him a wry smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“When is she due to arrive?” he asked.

Miranda looked at her watch.

“Not for a few hours yet,” she said absently, as she reached up and rubbed at her temples. “The exact details of the flight got lost in this morning's…excitement."

Nigel raised his brow. “She didn’t call before she left?”

“No” Miranda said.

"What happened?"

“We had an argument."

"No offense, Miranda, but given the last couple of months that isn't exactly news."

"Perhaps. However, this time I may have said some things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have."

Nigel winced. Miranda could be cutting at the best of times, but cornered, and frightened for the safety of someone she loved? He could only imagine what Andy had faced this morning.

He put his glasses back on and leant over the desk, resisting the urge to reach out a comforting hand as Miranda sat forward in her seat once more, reaching for her glasses.

The glass may have allowed for the privacy of this conversation, but it didn’t lend itself to any physical displays of weakness from its occupants.

"Look, this is Andy Sachs we're talking about here," Nigel said gently, as Miranda replaced her glasses and looked up at him. "Give her a little time."

He watched as Miranda ran a hand through her hair, before drawing it down her neck and clutching lightly at her chest.

It was an uncharacteristic display of worry, something Nigel had never seen before. Not in the workplace, anyhow.

“I told her not to bother com—“

There was a light knock on the office door, interrupting the Runway editor.

Nigel swung around to the source of the interruption, as Jillian, Miranda's first assistant poked her head in.

"Miranda, I'm sorry, but Lagerfield is on the phone and he's due to board a flight. He won't be available for another 8 hours," Jillian said.

"It's fine, put him through," Miranda said, and Nigel watched as she straightened up and reached for the phone.

“Whatever was said, I doubt she’ll give up on you that easy,” Nigel said quietly, before turning and exiting the office.

Chapter Text

“Hi, you must be Andrea,” a short woman with shoulder length dirty blonde hair said as she held out her hand with a welcoming smile.

“Andy is fine, but yes, that’s me,” Andy replied as her eyes tracked back to the exit she had just walked out of and the retreating forms of her escorts.

“Not quite what you were expecting, huh?” the woman chuckled as she moved to grab the Samsonite from Andy's hand.

Andy’s head snapped back and she smiled. “No, I’ve seen worse airports back home if I’m honest,” she said as she relinquished her suit case.

She wasn’t lying. Aside from being eerily quiet outside of the U.S. Military instalment she flew into, Baghdad International was a surprisingly modern building.

The woman laughed. “Welcome to Iraq. Modern conveniences at your service, if you manage to keep your limbs long enough to enjoy them,” she said as she opened the rear passenger door on a nondescript SUV and waved Andy in.

Andy blanched a little at the joke before climbing into the vehicle. She took stock of the two broad, stony faced men in the front seat and assumed they were a security escort of some kind. A thump in the rear of the vehicle made her jump a little, before she realised it was just the sound of the trunk closing. The blonde woman pulled open the opposite door and threw a vest at Andy before climbing in next to her.

“Flak jacket,” she said by way of explanation.

Andy stared at her.

“Put it on. From now on you never leave the house without one, okay?”

Andy nodded as she manoeuvred herself into the vest, struggling to secure the straps.

“You ready?” the blonde asked.

Andy looked at the two men in the front seat again, and a feeling of anxiety began crawling its way up her chest. She could feel the blonde’s eyes on her as she took a deep breath. Her mind drifted back to New York just over 24 hours ago. She recalled the ire on Miranda’s face, the ultimatum, the parting shot about the twins and every other demand the older woman had made over the past few months. She let the anger crawl to the surface. It helped temper her nerves.

She turned to the blonde and nodded tightly.

“Alright then lads, lets be off then shall we?" the blonde said, with a grin. "She’s decided to not jump on the first flight back out, so that’s a pretty good start don’t you think?”

There were a couple of muted chuckles from the front as the SUV pulled out of the airport and onto a perfectly serviced road before the blonde started speaking again.

“We’re about ten miles outside of the International Zone, or Green Zone depending on when you got here and what lingo you prefer. Don’t let the title fool you, Green does not mean safe. In case you’re wondering, this road is secure, so risk is pretty low,” she rattled off quickly. “The Zone is divided into multiple areas. You need different passes for different areas, and they rotate them often. It’s frustrating, but you’ll get used to it. The Tribune base is within the Zone now, as you know. These two strapping gentlemen up front are from the firm that does private security for the Bureau. They, along with others like them, will be your shadows every time you leave home,” she paused, and Andy nodded for her to continue.

“Once we get in, we’ll head straight to the military press office and sort your paperwork and passes. The boys will take you through a security briefing and issue you your equipment. Then we'll head back and you can get yourself settled in, get some rest.”

“Equipment?” Andy asked then, her brain still processing the information of 24 hour security details.

“Oh you know, flak jacket that fits, medical kit, GPS unit, cell, and emergency rations in case you get caught out when the rebels decide to play mortar practice. The usual. Nothing fancy."

Andy could feel her eyes widening against her own volition.

"Just a precaution," the blonde said, catching the look. "We haven't lost anyone for quite a while. You're more likely to be kidnapped than blown to smithereens these days. The Islamic State love a good ransom demand, and with those legs..." she winked, faux salaciousness all over her face.

Andy couldn't help the chuckle that escaped in spite of herself.

"There we go," the blonde said, smiling. "Don't let it get on top of you. It's a bit intense at first, but some of us have been out here for years. It's just a matter of taking the right precautions and being smart enough to stay away from target zones."

Andy nodded, before tilting her head.

"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?"

“That’s okay, I didn’t give it,” she chuckled before holding out a hand, “Lucy.”

Andy clasped the proffered hand, taking a moment to study the other woman’s features. Her skin was tanned and a little weathered, evidence of a lot of time spent outdoors. The lines on her face were either an indicator of her age, or extreme stress. The best guess the brunette could make was that Lucy was in her late 30s, possibly early 40s.

“English?” she asked, picking up a couple of familiar intonations. She knew the UK was home to a number of accents, a number of which Miranda could mimic exceptionally well after too many glasses of wine.

“Scottish, but easy mistake for an American. I’m from Edinburgh originally. Yourself?”

“Cincinnati.”

“Sorry, my American geography isn’t that great. Ohio?”

“That’s the one.”

“Well, can’t say I’ve ever been. But New York is definitely one of my favourite cities in the world.”

“Usually I would agree with you, but things were a little tense before I left,” Andy blurted and felt herself blush slightly. God, she never discussed her relationship, particularly with strangers. “Sorry, I—“

“Don’t sweat it. Partner not too happy about you coming out here I take it?”

Andy raised an eyebrow. She highly doubted Lucy was unaware of who she was attached to. It followed her everywhere she went.

“So definitely not happy then?” Lucy said with a knowing smile.

“That about sums it up.”

“I read up on some of your work,” Lucy said, quickly changing the subject. “Good stuff, but you’ll definitely benefit from a bit of time on the front lines,” she finished matter-of-factly.

“I’m glad someone agrees with me,” Andy said.

“Don’t worry," Lucy said, knowingly. "There are plenty of pissed off spouses about. Poor Matthew's wife has been at him since he came out here a decade ago. You'll meet him later. But, anyway, these things have a habit of sorting themselves out."

“I don’t know who’s angrier at the moment,” Andy said honestly. It had been a long time since she had confided in someone who was an outsider.

"This place reminds us all what's truly important at the end of the day," Lucy said quietly, her eyes glazing slightly as they shifted to somewhere in the distance before snapping back to attention.

"Anyway," she shrugged.

Andy nodded, deciding a change in topic was in order. "So," she began, "What do you do?"

“I’m a freelancer for the Allied Foreign Press. Used to be a photographer, but APF needs you to be a bit more multi-skilled these days. Your Chief was a bit busy today, and I had some downtime so I offered to come serve as the welcome wagon,” Lucy winked.

“Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment.”

“Well, someone’s gotta help the new girl, eh?”

“Saviour complex?”

“Absolutely. What do you think I’m doing in the desert?” Lucy laughed, freely and readily.

Andy felt a bit of the weight lift off her chest as she joined in.

"Well, here we go Sachs," Lucy said then, and Andy's focus turned back to the windscreen.

A shadow passed over the car as a heavily fortified wall loomed ahead. It looked like something out of a WWII concentration camp, built to keep people in rather than out. She felt the tension re-enter her shoulders as they were stopped by heavily armed security. 

A hand touched her lightly on the knee and she looked over to find green eyes looking straight at her.

“You’ll get used to it,” Lucy said.

It sounded like something you’d say to someone going to prison, and wasn’t all that comforting. However, this had been her choice and there was no way in hell she was backing down now.

Andy nodded resolutely, and turned back to face her home for the foreseeable future.


 


“I wouldn’t say it’s the life of luxury,” Lucy said as she, and the two burly security guards stepped out of the SUV and onto the street, “But it’s hardly third world living,” Lucy explained as Andy followed her to the trunk to lift her suitcase out.

Both security guards were alert, as Andy and Lucy moved towards the entrance of compound.

“Okay, so there’s been a bit of a reshuffle recently,” the blonde began as they entered what looked to be an apartment complex. “The BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post and The New York Times all have self-contained complexes here within the Zone,” she explained as they climbed a flight of stairs, “New York Tribune used to be outside, but when you guys scaled back your Chief moved in here. For now you’re all sharing this complex with NHK and a few freelancers, plus the guy from the LA Times. Things could change, depends on what happens over the next few months.”

Andy nodded as she dropped her suitcase at the top of the stairs with a thud. It was heavy as hell.

“Right, you’re here,” Lucy said as they came to a halt. She turned the key that had been left in the door and pushed it open.

Andy craned her head to look over the blonde's shoulder and into the small, self-contained unit that would be her home for the better part of the next couple of months.

“Right, grand tour,” Lucy said as she moved inside, Andy following behind with her suitcase. “Sorry, the natural light isn’t all that flash on this side of the building,” she said as she fumbled for the light switch and flicked on the lights.

“Okay, so kitchenette is there,” Lucy started before moving in further, “Bathroom is on the right.”

Andy nodded.

“This is your living area,” she waved her hand. “Like I said, nothing fancy.”

There was a comfortable looking sofa, a TV and a coffee table.

“And finally, the bedroom,” Lucy said as she pushed open a door.

Andy wheeled her suitcase through to the bedroom and looked around.

“Bed looks comfortable enough, which is about all I need right now,” Andy smiled as she let go of her suitcase and pushed it up against a wall with her foot.

Lucy nodded, “I’ll make this quick. There’s no gas power so keep your showers short, if the electricity cuts out don’t panic, that’s normal. There’s a torch next to your bed, along with matches and candles in the top drawer next to the sink. We currently have WiFi but it’s often intermittent. If you have any issues, the LAN cable is in the living room, and there's SAT connections for when everything else is down,” she said as she moved out of the bedroom and Andy followed.

“Password is here for the WiFi,” she tapped a piece of paper on the fridge, before turning to face Andy.

“On that note,” she said, looking Andy directly in the eye as if searching for something, “I’ll give you a chance to get settled in and collect your thoughts.”

Andy nodded and Lucy looked satisfied by whatever she saw.

“Look, if you need anything, I’m just two doors down. Day or night.”

“Thanks Lucy,” Andy said sincerely, “For everything today.”

“Not a problem. Your Chief will be back later; out meeting with a couple of stringers I think. Do you want me to come and get you when the boss gets back?” she asked as she reached for the door handle and pushed open the door.

“Yeah, that’d be great.”

“Alright, well get some rest.”

“Will do.”

“Oh, and Andy?”

“Yeah?” the brunette said.

“Welcome to Baghdad.”


 


Andy stripped off her clothes and jumped in a quick shower. It had been a long day, and it was almost 5pm. As she stood under the stream she was surprised to find how calm she was feeling.

As she wrapped herself in a towel and moved towards the bedroom, she eyeballed the cell sitting on top of her bed. Baghdad was 8 hours ahead, which meant it was close to 9am back home. Miranda would definitely be at the office by now.

She picked up the phone and turned it over in her hands.

She considered sending a text, but she knew it was cowardly.

If she was honest, she wasn’t sure exactly how serious Miranda had been yesterday morning. However, regardless of the state of their relationship at this point in time, the fact that Miranda cared was not something that was ever really in doubt.

They may not have been speaking for the better part of four months, but that didn't mean she wanted Miranda to worry unnecessarily.

Andy picked up the phone and dialled the number she knew by heart.

It went straight to voicemail.

“Miranda, it’s me. I’m just calling to let you know I’m safe. You must be in a meeting,” Andy paused, not knowing what else to say. “Well, I’m fine,” she paused again. “And, I guess that’s all I called to say. Please let the girls know I’m okay. Tell Caroline no, I do not have to wear a burka, but they did issue me an ‘abaya.’ Tell her to look it up,” she paused again. “Well, that’s it I guess,” she said, “I’ll email you all my details in a few hours,” she finished before ending the call abruptly.

Andy tossed the phone aside and sighed, rubbing her hands over her face.

They had never been in a position like this before.

It was strange, but Andy couldn’t bring herself to apologize.

Miranda had all but ordered her to stay in New York. She had treated her like a naïve child, belittled her job, and questioned her commitment to their family, after everything they had been through.

No, there was no apology to make.

Andy pulled back the covers on the bed, dropped her towel and slipped under the covers. Maybe things would look a bit better in a few hours, she thought as she closed her eyes.


 

Andy woke up to a piercing feeling under her left ass cheek. She shot up and rolled over, disorientated.

It was pitch black, not to mention freezing.

She fumbled for a light, knocking the lamp next to her bed onto the floor with a crash.

“Fuck,” she swore, as she felt another piercing stab on her exposed neck.

She slapped at the area, before another one cropped up on her ankle.

“Goddammit!” she swore as she got to her feet, careful to avoid the carnage and ran her hand along the wall in search of a light switch.

There was a knock at the front door, and she heard it open.

“Andy, you okay?” a voice called.

“Yeah, I jus—fuck!” she swore again as she kicked her suitcase, before her hand landed on the light switch.

“Okay, hold up, I’ll come give you a hand,” Lucy called out.

“No do—“ she said, a second too late as Lucy strolled in, smirked and then turned her back as Andy’s hands dropped her to crotch in a vain attempt to save whatever dignity she had left.

A chuckle reached her ears.

“Lesson one, unless you want to get eaten alive, I’d recommended pajamas,” the Lucy snorted, before bursting into a full blown fit of the laughter, “Not to mention emergency situations,” she struggled out amidst chuckles.

Another piercing jab on her elbow caused Andy to swear again, “These things are vicious!”

Lucy swallowed her chuckles to the best of her ability.

“Put some clothes on, I’ll go get some repellent,” Lucy said as she laughed all the way to the front door.

“Great start,” Andy grumbled as she grab a pair of loose khaki’s and a long sleeve shirt from her suitcase, pulling them on and trying to ignore the call to itch that was coming from multiple places on her body. It was hardly her first adventure in the desert but she had allowed her personal life to distract her already.

She heard a knock.

“You decent?” Lucy called out.

“Yeah, come in,” she called back.

“Sorry, I should have given you a chance last time,” Lucy apologized with a smirk as she threw Andy an aerosol can.

“You know,” Andy replied as she sprayed down every piece of exposed skin, “That apology would have been a lot more effective if you weren’t still smirking.”

“Americans. So sensitive,” Lucy teased.

“Alas, it’s an affliction,” Andy shot back, gripping her chest dramatically.

“Don’t forget your ears,” Lucy noted, “Those bastards will bite anything.”

“Oh, I’m well aware,” she lamented as she rubbed some of the awful smelling solution around her ears. “This isn’t actually my first rodeo.”

“Go easy on yourself woman, it’s been a long day,” Lucy said, and Andy smiled. “Everyone’s back and dinner is on, you interested?”

Andy put the lid back on the aerosol and threw it back to the blonde, “Yeah. That sounds good.”

“Alright, come on, Tits,” she said as she strolled out ahead of Andy.

“Tits!?”

“You earned it, not my fault,” Lucy laughed again.

“Oh my God,” Andy groaned as she followed the blonde outside.

As they worked their way down the stairs, Andy could hear laughter and a mixture of languages assaulted her ears.

“Is that Japanese?” she asked Lucy quietly.

“Yeah, that’s the NHK lot. They're a team of 3. Good people. They’re pretty quiet, keep to themselves usually. Well, except for Maho-chan,” Lucy laughed. “You’ve also got a bunch of interpreters who will drift in and out. A few of them are locals, one of the guys is from Syria, another from Turkey and we have a guy from London as well - he's employed directly by you guys. The only freelancers right now are me and an Australian, but there’s a woman coming from New Zealand in the next couple of days apparently, and there are probably more on their way. The LA Times guy is usually running, so you won't see him often the poor bastard. Rest of the Gen Pop are yours,” she said as they walked into a large room at the base of the complex.

The smell of food assaulted Andy’s senses as she took in the scene around her. Scattered tables and couches made it look like a University dorm common room. There were about 15 people in various states of dress, some relaxing and others in the midst of work. A ping pong table was taking up central space and someone was cooking on a barbecue.

A couple of heads shot up, one being a particularly cocky face which broke into a broad grin at the sight of Andy.

“Woah, Luce,” he began, as he got to his feet, “You should have warned us, we would have rolled out the red carpet if we’d known you were bringing a celebrity,” he said before bowing. “It’s an honour, Mrs Priestly.”

Andy rolled her eyes.

“I’m sure she hasn’t heard that one before, Roberts,” Lucy said, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

He laughed, “You her mouth piece, Luce? Priestly hire you to watch out for her trophy wife?” he shot back in an Australian drawl.

The other freelancer it would seem.

Andy caught the sneer in his tone. It wasn’t the first time the issue of nepotism had been raised in her career over the past two years, and it wouldn’t be the last.

She grabbed Lucy before the blonde could tear him a new one, shaking her head in warning before facing down her new verbal sparring partner.

She eyed up the tall, dirty blonde. He was about 6 foot, and Andy felt herself draw from her time observing Miranda as she took a deep breath and straightened herself.

She turned to her left and dragged her eyes up and down Lucy, appraisingly.

“Hmm, she’s a bit small for a body guard,” Andy began, “Not quite up to Miranda’s standards,” she mused before turning back to the man before her.

Roberts was watching her closely, waiting to see what she would do. The sneer lingered. She knew what he expected. A princess, a tourist, someone they would have to cart around, causing them extra work.

He wasn’t the only one apparently. The room was silent. The air had a certain tension in it as they waited for her to finish. Like her next move would decide her fate.

She smirked at Roberts.

“My personal security detail will be arriving tomorrow, along with my chef, my butler, and my stylist of course,” she sassed, shrugging in faux nonchalance before taking a step forward and tapping her chin in thought.

“You want in, Roberts? You could do with a haircut,” she finished with a light, easy smirk.

There was a collective chuckle around the room.

She held out her hand in greeting, “Andrea Sachs, not Priestly, for future reference,” she said with a smile.

He was eyeing her, assessing every inch of her face before he laughed loudly and broadly, grabbing her hand and slapping her on the back with one of his meaty paws.

“Welcome to the sandpit Sachs,” he said, before turning to the rest of the room. “Sassy one, ain’t she?”

“You’re a dick, Roberts,” Lucy said as she reached up to smack him on the back of the head.

“That you are,” a strong voice said suddenly, “Not to mention, you can stop accosting my employees. Now, preferably.”

“Now, now Hels, don’t get your panties in a twist,” Roberts chuckled.

“Hilarious,” the new arrival deadpanned before turning to Andy.

“Andrea, right?” she said, holding out her hand in greeting.

Andy nodded, “That would be me,” she said, surprised to find herself eye-to-eye with the woman before her.

“Helena Holden,” the tall woman said in a clipped tone by way of introduction. She had shoulder length brown curls, an easy smile, but the air of someone who commanded authority. Andy had seen pictures of the infamous Bureau Chief, but they didn’t quite do her justice. Helena had eyes which belied sharp intelligence. It was something she recognized well.

The woman turned and began to move, and after working and living with La Priestly, Andy took that as her cue to follow.

“This is Matthew,” Helena began as she approached three people huddled at a table, pointing out one of the occupants, a man who looked up and waved lightly on approach. He had greying hair, and soft eyes with a gentleness Andy hadn’t been expecting. He smiled in her direction.

“You’ll be working closely together,” Helena said. “He’s had plenty of experience, so follow his lead, and if he tells you to do something, I would recommend doing it.”

“She’s overstating my importance,” Matthew said wryly.

Helena looked down at her watch.

"I need to check in with the New York office, but this is the team Sachs, so get to know them. You’re about to spend almost every waking minute with them,” Helena said before disappearing quickly.

Matthew shook his head before pushing a chair out with his feet, “Sit down Sachs, I’ll get you up to speed. Never mind Hurricane Helena, the woman never sits still.”

Andy nodded, and sat down, scratching absently at her left arm.

“Sand fleas are a bitch,” the woman to her left said, leaning in, “Jacqueline, but Jackie or Jacks is fine.”

“And, that,” Matthew interrupted, waving in the direction of an extremely serious looking, young Arabic man, “Is Wahid, he’s also a reporter and our primary interpreter.”

“Nice to meet you,” Andy said, holding out a hand.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Wahid responded in a perfected RP English accent. His lip quirked slightly at the surprise on her face, before he turned to Matthew.

“Things have been quiet, and we expect them to stay that way for the next couple of days. I spoke with Abubakhar and it’s likely we can head out tomorrow, and a few of the military boys are willing to speak about their concerns in relation to security with the advancement of the militants from Syria and Mosul.”

“Okay, good,” Matthew replied, before turning to Andy.

“Alright Sachs, lay of the land,” Matthew said, pulling a piece of paper towards him, “I don’t know what you know about how the Bureau works, but until Mosul fell in June the Tribune only had Helena out here. However, money is pouring back in now and I’ve been pulled back in along with these two. I left in 2011 after the troop withdrawal, and even then I was bouncing between here, Istanbul and Egypt.”

Andy nodded, indicating for him to continue.

“When I was here last, we had broad access to the country. However, now we’re limited to Baghdad, the south and the Kurdish region in the north. We have a couple of people up in Kurd territory right now. Since Foley, the New York office has clamped down on any rogue behaviour, but regardless we can still get a lot done in the areas available to us. We’re heading down south tomorrow, in fact. As this is your first time in a hot zone out, Helena has assigned you to me initially, although we generally work alone with an interpreter and an undercover security detail. Fewer people, less of a walking target.”

“I’m going out tomorrow?” Andy said, surprised.

“You got something better to do?”

Andy shook her head.

“You got given a flak jacket, so wear it. And get a bit of sun for that matter,” he said, eyeing her pale complexion with a slight frown.

“She’s going to love that,” Andy muttered.

Jacqueline chuckled knowingly under her breath beside her, and Matthew looked puzzled.

“Sun, skin care, ag—oh never mind,” Andy waved it off.

“I won’t,” Matthew said, a slight raise in his brow before continuing, “As I was saying, stay as inconspicuous as possible. You’ve spent enough time in the general area to know how women are expected to act. Head down, stay quiet, try not to draw attention to yourself."

Andy nodded.

“That’s about it. You’ll shadow me for the next couple of days, and then we take it as it comes, alright?”

“Alright,” Andy nodded.

“Good,” he said, before handing her a folder. “Everything we’ve been working on today is in there, get up to speed, and have a good meal. I’ve got to get a few things typed up for the online edition so if I don’t see you before you head back to bed, we’re out before the sun comes up. Get one of the girls to run you through the ‘abaya’ business, it’s an art form I’ve been told,” he smiled as Andy stood with him.

“Thanks Matthew,” she said, indicating to the folder.

“Don’t thank me yet,” he said, before grabbing his things and heading out.

Andy sat back down and flicked open the folder to a list of names of military personnel.

It was going to be a long night.

“Welcome to the team,” Jacks said with a smile, and Wahid simply nodded.

Lucy dropped into the recently vacated seat, plopping a plate of food in front of Andy.

“And so it begins, Tits.”


 

Miranda’s cell rang on her desk, startling her out of her thoughts.

“Andrea?” she said, after barely one ring.

It was quiet on the other end.

“Andr—“

“Hey, sorry, yeah, it’s me,” she replied. “I just, well, I didn’t think you’d pick up. I was expecting the machine again.”

“Don’t be stupid, of course I would pick up,” Miranda snapped.

It went silent again, and Miranda cursed her short temper. She took a deep breath.

“Andrea, I—”

“No, it’s fine. I just…” she began, “…well, I don’t…”

“You don’t what?” Miranda said tiredly.

“I don’t know. I just called to let you know I’m fine. To tell the girls I’m fine and that I’ll call them when I get a chance.”

“I will. Cassidy was asking after you earlier, she called from London.”

The line went silent again.

“I didn’t me—“ Miranda began.

“No, I know. Are you at home? What time is it there?” she asked.

Miranda glanced down at her watch, “Almost 8:00pm. Yes, I’m home. What are you doing up, it must be alm—”

“Almost four,” she supplied for her, “A.M that is. Couldn’t sleep. Jetlag I suppose, amongst other things.”

Miranda could hear the tiniest hint of accusation in her voice, and rubbed her face. This inability to hold a civil conversation had been going on for months. It was exhausting.

“I'm here now. Why is this still so difficult?" Andrea asked tiredly. "It's never been like this before. 5 years, Miranda. 5 years and now we can barely say two words to each other without it turning into an argument."

"So, I suppose that it's my fault?" Miranda snapped. "I'm not the one who decided to walk out and go to Baghdad!"

"God, you're absolutely impossible, you know that, right? I'm so angry at you, but I don't even know what to say. I don't even know where the hell to start anymore!"

“Then don’t,” Miranda said in warning as she got to her feet and moved towards the study door, passing a glance at the sofa as she passed, cushions still scattered every which way.

"So that's it?" Andrea said quietly.

"I guess so," Miranda said bluntly, glaring at the cushions; glaring at the disorder she still hadn't had the heart to reorganize.

The line was silent. They were getting nowhere.

"Andr—"

“Miranda, don’t,” Andrea suddenly pleaded down the line.

“Don’t what, Andrea?”

“Don’t—God—I don’t know! Don’t just pass this off without saying anything!”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Tell me you didn’t mean it,” Andrea said then.

“Of course I didn’t bloody mean it, you stupid girl!” Miranda snapped, falling back on her ire as emotions began threatening to break forth.

There was silence, and she heard a shaky breath down the line as she moved to sit on the sofa, among the ridiculous cushions and found herself enveloped with the smell of Andrea’s perfume.

“Of course I didn’t mean it,” Miranda said gently, as she leant forward and placed her head in her hand. “I was angry,” she said, “God, I’m still angry but that doesn’t me—I mean I should never have—God, I just want you to come home Andrea, and I’m sorry if that makes me selfish, and unsupportive, and all of the things we said we would never be when it came down to work.”

“I’m not coming home, Miranda,” Andrea said, quiet defiance still clear in her voice.

“I know.”

“I want to be able to talk to you about this,” she pleaded.

“Then talk,” Miranda said in resignation as she leaned back into the sofa and closed her eyes, her hand reaching to touch one of the stray cushions.

“I’m going out into the field in two hours,” she began, and Miranda felt her fist clench around the soft object as she felt her control over the future slip further away.

Chapter Text

“Have you seen those memes on the internet?” Roberts asked as he hit the ping pong ball her way.

“You might have to be a bit more specific,” Andy said as she sent it flying back.

“You know, the one with the six panels, ‘what my friends think I do’, ‘what my parents think I do...’” he said trailing off as he hit again, a bit more force this time.

“What I really do,” Andy said, “Yeah, I know the one.”

“We should make one fo—fuck!!”

“I do believe that’s match point,” Andy said, raising her hands in victory. “Suck it, Mikey,” she said, flipping him the bird.

“You cheat Sachs.”

“And you’re a sore loser,” she sassed back.

“Again?”

“Nah, I’m out. I’ve got news watch in twenty with Wahid.”

“See, case in point. What I really do? Sit in front of the TV all day,” Robert said, tossing the paddle down on the table tennis table and brushing his hair out of his eyes.

“Hey, hey, hey. Don’t forget typing on my computer,” Andy said, crossing her arms across her chest in faux-petulance.

“I wouldn’t dare Mrs. Priestly.”

“Wanker,” Andy sassed back.

“You’ve been spending way too much time with Luce, Sachs. Maybe it’s about time you brushed up on your antipodean slang instead, eh?” Roberts said, waggling his eyebrows.

“Are all Australian men this disgusting?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Andy rolled her eyes. “You heading out today?”

“Nah, it’s too hot right now, I like my limbs. I’m going to finish up a piece for the Sydney Herald. I’m in high demand now there’s talk of bringing Australian and New Zealand troops over in significant numbers and that Kiwi freelancer decided to go to Greece and cover the refugee crisis instead. Apparently war is the only time the Australian public gives a shit about what our numpty Prime Minister gets up to.”

“Numpty? Now who’s been spending too much time with Luce?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Liar,” Andy said with a smirk.

“Always room for one more Sachs,” Roberts said with a wink.

“And, I’m out!” Andy said, flicking her paddle onto the table and heading in the direction of her room.

“Hey, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, Tits!” Roberts called out after her.

Andy shook her head. His humour was juvenile and disgusting, but she had to admit that the laid-back Australian attitude made a welcome change from the realities of being here.

It had been over a month, and Roberts was right about the meme. Whilst her parents were envisioning her running around clad in Kevlar and a burqa, the reality was she spent more time in front of a TV with Wahid, providing rolling updates on the advance for the online edition. Things were becoming progressively more dangerous outside, and Helena wasn’t particularly inclined provide ISIS with any potential bartering currency.

Nevertheless, Andy still found herself enjoying being this close to the heart of it all. Although the initial adrenaline of the situation had worn off, there was no such thing as a slow news day, and Baghdad had its own kind of charm once you became accustomed to it. The people were unbelievably nice, something she had never expected as a white, foreign, American.

“Andrea, are you ready?” Wahid called out from below her as she made her way up the stairs.

“Yeah, just give me five, I need to grab some notes from my room from yesterday.”

“You know where I’ll be,” Wahid replied matter-of-factly before heading off.

Andy smirked to herself. Wahid had more of a stiff upper lip than half the Britons she had met in her life. Jacks had told her it had a lot to do with a need to be taken seriously after growing up in a Muslim household, in a predominantly Muslim quarter of London. Apparently the treatment of immigrants to the UK wasn’t something you would describe as friendly, and the treatment of their children, whether they be second or third generation wasn’t much better.

Andy could only imagine that it was perhaps similar to the situation back home, but even then, she was uncomfortably aware of the white privilege she had been riding for much of her life. She had worked hard, but every time she stepped out of the bubble that Miranda had created for their family, she couldn’t help but look back at it with guilt. Recently, that guilt had been growing exponentially.

She had spoken to Luce about it once, the Scot bluntly telling her: “It wouldn’t matter if you were $10 or $10 million dollars richer, you’d still feel the same. We all do. Call it a form of survivor’s guilt and let it go.”

But some things were easier said than done.

As she entered her unit she grabbed her laptop and spotted the notification on Skype from Miranda. She winced, pulling up the window and typing a quick apology before closing the lid.

Although Miranda had made some attempts to be supportive, and Andy had acknowledged that perhaps her decision hadn’t been entirely fair, things were still strained between the two of them. It had been five years, with more than its fair share of bumps along the way, but these last few months has been the first time Andy had felt real distance from the fashion maven, and she wasn’t referring to the obvious physical separation.

In the past when they had argued, there had always been some kind of significant resolution. However, this time neither of them could come to terms. It had forced a wedge between them and it had taken it's toll on their relationship. Neither of them were accustomed to biting their tongues, and with every cheap shot that was made the hole they were digging just seemed to be getting progressively deeper. In fact, Andy was beginning to wonder if there would be anything left to salvage.

She sighed and picked up the laptop, grabbing some notes off the table as she went.

She made a quick cursory scan of the room, her eyes settling on a picture of herself, Miranda and the girls. Sam, Miranda’s first husband had managed to snap it earlier in the day on the twins 16th birthday’s over family breakfast. Miranda had a fork halfway to her mouth, her face the picture of nonchalance as Caroline launched at her from the left side in pure excitement, and Cassidy sat on Miranda’s right, mid eye roll in a perfect impersonation of her mother. Andy herself was on her feet, a look of pure shock on her face as she held a cup of coffee aloft, attempting to save it from Caroline’s assault. She had been on her way back to her seat before the boisterous 16-year-old nearly plowed into her. All four of them looked ridiculous, but amongst all of the professional shots they had had taken over the years – even Annie’s – this photo was still one of Andy’s favourites.

Birthday mornings had always been Andy’s favourite. Caroline in particular would always let her excitement be known over gifts when she wasn’t under the scrutiny of her friends. The afternoons and the parties always ended up being more stress than they were worth in Andy’s opinion. The twins 16th in particular had been a ridiculously lavish affair, and Andy rolled her eyes remembering how Miranda had managed to drive two assistants to the brink of insanity with the planning. A demand that it was to not – under any circumstances – rain had been the last straw for Aaliyah, Miranda’s then-first-assistant, who had called Andy in tears the night before on the verge of being committed. The weather thankfully held out, Aaliyah kept her job, and was now climbing the ladder at Runway Japan. However, Andy still had nightmares about the month that led up to that particular bash.

This year, the twins birthday’s had passed by in a silent house, and Andy knew it had taken its toll on Miranda. Hell, it had taken its toll on her and she had only been partaking since 2010. She had dragged the older woman out for a rowdy, uncouth dinner and plenty of drinks to fill the silence and it had worked for the most part. Well, it had worked as much as it needed to.

Andy took one last look at the photo and turned her back.

She would call later.



“What are your family doing for Christmas this year?” Wahid asked from across the table they were using as a makeshift workspace.

Andy’s head shot up in surprise. Christmas wasn’t something they generally discussed in house. No one needed to be reminded of what they were missing out on back home. It was only three days away and Andy definitely preferred not to think about it.

“They’re having it at home this year,” Andy said. “In New York, I mean. My home. Our home.”

“That’s nice,” Wahid said.

“Does your family…” Andy said, trailing off.

“No.”

“Makes sense I guess.”

“Why?” Wahid asked, his brow raising in curiosity.

“Well, it is a Christian holiday after all.”

“Are you a Christian? Is Miranda?”

Andy’s hands paused on her keyboard and she leaned back. “No. Although I come from Christian heritage. My Grandfather was a minister. Miranda’s family is Jewish.”

“Christmas isn’t a Jewish holiday.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“So, if Miranda is Jewish, why does it make sense for her and her family to celebrate Christmas, yet it makes sense that mine does not?”

“Fair point, Wahid.”

“Of course it is. I only make fair points,” the tall Londoner said, a hint of a wry smile touching the edge of his lips.

“Bored?” Andy said, her brow raising.

“Of course not. Simply interested in the stereotypical views the rest of the world – even the educated – happen to have about Muslims.”

“Either that or your usual sparring partner has gone walkabout with Matthew to record that interview,” Andy said with a smirk.

Wahid shrugged. "Jacqueline does make an excellent debate partner, I must admit," he said with a slight blush.

Andy had been observing the two of them since she had arrived, and it was fairly obvious that Wahid had a bit of a thing for their tall, tanned, dark-haired videographer. Jacks was all muscle, she trained in the house gym everyday. You kind of needed it when you were lugging around camera equipment all day.

One thing Andy had noted about Jacks after their initial meeting was that she had a surprisingly soft voice, and quite the serious streak when the mood took her - however, it was offset by a wicked sense of humour which cropped up always when it was needed, and was accompanied with a small, soft, knowing grin.

Andy liked her a lot, but she could sympathize with Wahid. Jacks wasn't a woman you'd consider approaching lightly. The fact she stood nearly a foot over Wahid didn't help. However, Andy suspected that if he made a move, Jacks wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Her and Wahid had a certain kind of cool chemistry.

Andy grinned lightly at Wahid's comment before getting back to the topic at hand. “Now, do you celebrate Christmas, Wahid?”

“Well of course, an excuse to have people buy me expensive gifts? Why on Earth would I turn down such an opportunity?”

“You know you’re supposed to return the favour. Right?”

Wahid shrugged his shoulder, his face the picture of nonchalance and Andy laughed. There was something so very Miranda about his sense of humour and she felt her chest hitch slightly at the thought.

Wahid eyed her carefully before turning his attention back to the papers in front of him. “It’s just another day, Andrea,” he said evenly, not looking up.

Andy tilted her head back slightly and sniffed. “Yeap, just another day,” she said.

“Would you like another Arabic lesson?” he said then, still not looking up. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s latest speech has some particularly florid vocabulary you may enjoy.”

Andy wiped under her eye quickly, nodding. “Well, you know how much I love florid vocabulary,” she said.

If Wahid noticed the waver in her voice, he said nothing.


Miranda stormed into the office, her coat flying with more ferociousness than usual. She could have sworn she heard Maria - her second assistant - squeal as it landed on her desk.

“Jillian!” she barked. “Get Emily here. Now.”

“She’s already on her way Miranda,” Jillian replied smoothly from outside the office.

Miranda flicked open her laptop pulled up the New York Tribune, taking the time to glare at Andrea’s byline seeing as she couldn’t glare at the woman herself. The journalist had been churning out articles for the online edition daily. “We spend a lot of time scanning the local news,” she muttered under her breath, her tone dripping with sarcasm as she mimicked what Andrea had said the other night on the phone. Why on Earth you had to be in another country to do that Miranda had no idea.

Where she should be, was here. Dealing with—

“Yes I know I slipped over budget,” Emily started as she walked into her office. “But I’m hoping you’ll forgive me when you see the shots,” the redhead said as she approached Miranda’s desk with a pile of photos.

“I’ve seen them,” Miranda said, waving her off.

“Oh, well, then, wha—“

“I need you to take Elizabeth Sachs out this evening,” Miranda said. It was short and sharp and she watched as Emily’s brain attempted to catch up. Slowly. “I don’t care what you do. Throw her in the East River for all I care, but I need that woman out of my house.”

“Oh, Christmas,” Emily said.

“Yes Christmas, Emily. I know you’re not flying out until tomorrow evening, and no one has Christmas parties this late in December.”

Miranda watched as Emily’s eyebrow quirked slightly. She raised hers in response and glared as she spotted the tiniest hint of a smirk on the Brit’s face.

“Elizabeth Sachs? Andrea’s mother, Elizabeth Sachs?” Emily asked.

“Yes,” Miranda said through gritted teeth.

“And she’s staying at the townhouse?” Emily said, unable to mask the mirth in her voice. “With you?”

Miranda clenched her fists. “Did you get hit by another car recently?” Miranda said in warning. “Because brain damage would be the only explanation for the conversation we’re currently having. Pick her up at 5:30pm and I don’t expect to see her back until at least 11:00pm,” she snapped.

“Of course, Miranda. I’ll charge it to the company card, shall I?”

Miranda felt her nostrils flare as she exhaled. Her friendship with Andrea afforded Emily the permission to speak freely outside of the office - within it - however, was another matter altogether.

“I’ll speak to Jillian,” Emily said quickly, picking up Miranda's thoughts before racing from the room.

Miranda leant back in her chair, before her phone rang. She took a deep breath before answering it, calmly. “Hello Bobbsey.”

“Mom, Cass and I want to take Grams Sachs to the theatre tonight. Do you think Jillian can get us tickets last minute? She’s never seen Wicked and it’s the last night before it closes.”

Miranda resisted the urge to bang her head against her desk. She knew better than to fight a battle that was already lost.

“All right Caroline, I’ll speak to Jillian.”

“Mom, are you al—“

“I’m fine Bobbsey, it’s just been a long day. Jillian will call you about the tickets. I’ll see you all when you get home,” Miranda said.

“We’ll pick you up at six,” Caroline said pointedly, her voice indicating she knew exactly what Miranda was up to.

“This isn’t a Lindsay Lohan movie, Caroline. You can't force us to be friends by trapping us in the same room.”

“Mom, fucking gross! Have you even seen the Parent Trap!?” Caroline said.

“Language,” Miranda barked as the line went dead.


 

“Thank you for this evening,” Elizabeth said as she leant against the counter and sipped her wine. She had dressed down into a pair of fitted jeans and flannel shirt.

How very Ohio, Miranda thought. 

"I really enjoyed it. The practice doesn't exactly give me a lot of time to go to the theatre," Elizabeth said.

“It was the girls’ idea,” Miranda said, brushing off the comment.

“Yes, however, I’m aware that it happens to one of the most popular shows on Broadway and I highly doubt the tickets just appeared out of thin air on the last night before the production closed for Christmas,” Elizabeth said, raising her brow.

“Well then, best you thank my assistant,” Miranda said, eyeing the woman across from her closely. There was little doubt that the woman standing across from her was Andrea’s mother. Their height was a shared trait, and unlike Miranda, it appeared Elizabeth had her hair meticulously dyed back to its natural auburn on a regular basis. She had been blessed with a good complexion, and aside from looking like she spent a little too much time outside in the Ohio sun, the older woman fared pretty well for someone in her mid-sixties.

The fact that Miranda was only lagging half a decade behind was not lost on her, nor had it ever been lost on Elizabeth Sachs. In the five years she and Andrea had been together, she wasn’t entirely sure that she and Elizabeth had managed one completely cordial conversation, and she suspected tonight would be no exception. She continued to watch the other woman like a hawk, having absolutely no intention of being taken off guard by the quick witted attorney.

“When does Richard arrive?” Miranda asked.

“Assuming there are no delays, he should be in tomorrow evening around 8:00pm.”

“I’ll be working late tomorrow. I’ll have Roy pic—“

“He can get a cab, Miranda.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “Or, my driver could pick him up. It’s not charity Elizabeth.”

“Regardless, I think maybe it might be best if we moved to a hotel tomorrow evening,” Elizabeth said, her tone irritatingly knowing.

“Is there a problem with the guest room?” Miranda countered.

Elizabeth scoffed. “No Miranda, there isn’t a problem with the guest room. I simply thought it might be easier if we weren’t underfoot.”

“It’s a large house Elizabeth.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“Simply because Andrea isn’t here, doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. It’s as much her home as it is mine, and as such, that extends to you,” Miranda said.

“She won’t mind if we stay at a hotel, Miranda,” Elizabeth said with a sigh.

“Elizabeth, the last six weeks have been difficult, and I know the girls appreciate having you close by. You’re Andrea’s mother, and I won’t have you paying for accommodation when it’s completely unnecessary.”

“We are capable of covering a hotel room, Miranda,” Elizabeth said, twirling her wine glass in a manner that was reminiscent of Andrea. “Last time I checked, I had a successful legal practice.”

“Nevertheless, Christmas is a time for family,” Miranda finished in a tone that meant there was to be no further discussion on the matter.

“All right, all right,” Elizabeth said, holding her hands up in defeat before tilting her head and looking at Miranda with a wry smile. “Did you ever consider law instead of fashion, dear?”

“No, I much preferred Shakespeare,” Miranda deadpanned.

“Clever,” Elizabeth chuckled. “You’re quick, I’ll give you that. Now, do you have more of this?” she said, waving a now empty glass. “I don’t know how long I can manage to hold a conversation with you sober.”

“Charming. I see where Andrea gets it.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“As you should,” Miranda said as she plucked the cork out of the bottle and leaned over to fill Elizabeth’s glass before moving to sit at the table. The book lay off to the side, untouched. She had picked it up as they came into the foyer but she hadn’t had a chance to look at it yet.

Elizabeth followed and sat at the other end of the table, directly opposite her. “Am I keeping you from your work?”

Miranda waved her off, taking a sip from her glass. “It’s nothing that can’t wait another half an hour.”

Elizabeth simply nodded and settled back into her chair.

“It’s one of Andrea’s favourites,” Miranda said after a moments silence, eyeing her glass as she spoke.

“I didn’t pick my daughter for a wine connoisseur,” Elizabeth admitted, taking a sip.

Miranda snorted. “That she is not. However, Roy has taught her a thing or two over the years.”

“Your driver?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes, my driver. He’s been working for me since before the girls’ were born.”

“You’re close?” Elizabeth said, surprised.

“Yes, regardless of what they say about me, Elizabeth, I’m not a complete monster.”

“I really wish you would call me Liz, Miranda. I’m not the Queen of England.”

Miranda smirked. “Well that much is obvious,” she said, waving her hand.

Elizabeth glared across the table as Cassidy walked into the kitchen.

“Are you two fighting, again?” Cassidy said as she reached up and plucked a wine glass out of the cabinet.

“Of course not, Bobbsey. Just a little light conversation to pass the time.”

Miranda watched as the matriarch of the Sachs family eyed Cassidy’s approach to the kitchen counter and towards the bottle of Pinot Noir still resting there.

“European rules?” Elizabeth said, raising her brow.

“She’s studying at Cambridge,” Miranda said pointedly. “The legal age is eighteen in the UK.”

Cassidy paused, her hand inches from the bottle, her eyes darting between the two women at the table. Miranda waved her on, not taking her eyes off Elizabeth.

“We’re not in the UK,” Elizabeth said and Miranda could see the flicker of challenge in her eyes. The woman was playing Devil’s Advocate just for the sake of it. She couldn’t care less about adherence to American drinking laws.

Miranda smirked. “Yes, however, I prefer to teach the girls responsible drinking as opposed to the American culture of binge drinking yourself into a coma,” Miranda said.

“Ahh, you know what? I think I’m okay,” Cassidy interjected, putting the glass down next to the bottle. “I might get an early night.”

“No, no. Sit down,” Elizabeth said quickly. “Family time. Bring the bottle. I want to hear all about Cambridge and how the Brits never binge drink.”

“Your grandmother was only teasing,” Miranda said smugly.

“Mom,” Cassidy said in warning.

“Thank you Cass, I knew someone in this house had manners,” Elizabeth said, a shit-eating grin plastered all over her face.

“Are they fighting again?” Caroline said as she walked in and straight towards the fridge, pulling it open.

“No, they’re discussing,” Cassidy said. “You know, thinly veiled insults, and the ever present age jokes.”

Caroline laughed as she turned around, a beer in hand. “Thank god for Andy and good taste,” she said as she eyed the label before popping off the cap.

Miranda and Elizabeth met each others eyes across the table, and nothing more needed to be said.

Yes, it was family time, but one very important member of that family was missing.


 

“Your mother is here,” Miranda said.

Andy rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Jesus, have they called in the National Guard yet?”

“Very funny,” Miranda replied, her face disappearing from the screen as she apparently readjusted the position of the iPad.

Andy waited until she came back on screen. “I thought her and Dad weren’t flying in until later today - well, tomorrow your time?”

“Your father isn’t. However, your mother came a week early to spend time with the girls,” Miranda said.

“Where’s she staying?”

“Here.”

“What!?” Andy sitting up, her laptop jostling. “You, and my mother? Alone!? For a week!”

“Work and the girls have provided an effective enough buffer, I assure you.”

“It’s not Christmas Day yet. I’ll hold my bets until after the turkey,” Andy said, brushing aside the pang at the thought of her family spending Christmas without her.

Her whole family.

Andy took a deep breath before continuing. “How are the girls?”

“Good. It’s been nice having them home,” Miranda said, her tone gentler, no doubt in an attempt to soften the blow.

“Yeah, I bet,” Andy said, and this time the false cheer was impossible to hide.

The dead air that hung between them in that moment was something that had become all too frequent of late. The yelling had tapered off. Instead, they now simply tiptoed around, attempting not to make things any worse than they already were.

“Look, I have an early start this morning, so I better get moving,” Andy said. It was a lie, but she didn’t have the energy for this today. Speaking to Miranda seemed to throw everything off kilter.

“Andrea,” Miranda said.

“It’s okay M, my choice, remember?”

“That doesn’t mean I expect you to pretend you don’t miss home.”

Andy took a deep breath. “I didn’t think about Christmas before I came out here. I didn’t think about how hard it would be, being away. I know it doesn’t compare to what everyone out here is go—“

“It doesn’t matter what everyone else is going through, Andrea. You don’t measure your life against the suffering of others. You’re not required to feel guilt over your own happiness.”

“That may be,” Andy said. “However, it’s difficult to ignore.”

Miranda sighed. “I’m sure it is.”

Silence.

Again.

“Well, I should…” Andy said, trailing off.

“Of course. Will you be available Christmas morning your time? I’ll set up a family call.”

“Yeah, I’ll make time. Just let me know, okay?”

“Okay. I’ll speak to you later.”

“Okay, talk soon,” Andy said as ended the Skype call.

It wasn’t until half an hour later that she realized she hadn’t told Miranda that she loved her.


 

“Andy-chan, dai-jou-bu?”

Andy looked up to find from her laptop to find Maho-chan standing over her, waving another packet of weird Japanese snacks. She swore the woman was keeping a suitcase under her bed full of the stuff. How she managed to stay so skinny, Andy would never know. Maho was short, thin and had apparently chopped off her hair a week after she arrived because she got too hot wearing the abaya. It didn’t deter from the woman’s attractiveness however. Her fine features and dark eyes were exceptionally striking.

She loved Maho, but it was Christmas Eve, and she wasn't in the mood for games at that moment.

“Yeah, dai-jou-bu, Maho-chan,” Andy said, forcing the cheer into her voice.

“Your Japanese is very good!”

Andy rolled her eyes. “You say that to everyone.”

“Yes, then they tell me my English is good,” Maho said with a grin.

“I’ll tell you it’s good if you stop using me for a science experiment,” Andy said, eyeing the packet suspiciously.

“No, no, you’ll like it!” Maho said.

“You said that last time,” Andy said, raising her brow.

“That was before you gave the Runway, this time, you’ll like it.”

“Okay, okay,” Andy said, taking the package from Maho and opening it carefully, leaning forward to take a sniff. “It smells like the sea,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“Nori flavor!”

“Nori?”

“Sea plant. It’s delicious.”

“Sea weed, Maho. And they call it a weed for a reason.”

“Just try. You’ll like it. It’s delicious.”

Andy shrugged her shoulders, reaching in to get one of the weird shaped chips.

Maho watched her closely as she put the snack in her mouth and chewed.

“Mmmm, tasty,” Andy said with a barely concealed grimace. Everything Maho fed her seemed to taste like decade old fish.

“See? Delicious!” Maho said with a broad grin.

Andy put the chips to the side and closed her laptop. “Have you heard anything about what we’re doing tomorrow?”

“Barbecue. Lucy wants ku-ri-su-ma-su party.”

“Christmas,” Andy corrected.

“Mm,” Maho said, nodding as she brushed her short hair out of her eyes.

“No, I meant…oh never mind,” Andy said. “Do you celebrate Christmas in Japan?”

“If you have a boyfriend, then nice dinner and present. If you are single, a KFC bucket,” Maho laughed loudly.

Andy chuckled. That was the thing about Maho which set her apart from the rest of the NHK crew. She was loud, brash and unafraid to use every English speaker in the house for conversation practice. Luce had told her it was not common among Japanese women, not in public anyway. “Who’s cooking?” she asked.

“I am. You know Japanese barbecue very good.”

“Get in line shorty,” Roberts said as he walked past. “You lot ain’t got nothing on an Aussie barbie.”

“Japan does best barbecue,” Maho insisted again. “Every summer my family—“

“Every night in mine,” Roberts said, coming to a halt and standing over Maho.

“All right, all right you two,” Andy said getting to her feet. “Let’s save the pissing contest for later. What’s happening tonight?”

“A couple of the NHK lads and the Turkish boys sourced us some meat for today and tomorrow. We grabbed a few beers as well, not enough to lose your wits but maybe just take the edge off. We’ll keep them on ice until the big day, but I think tonight everyone’s going to take a load off. Luce is throwing together a few things.”

“Is Helena back yet?”

“Haven’t seen her. You got your Secret Santa ready for tomorrow?” Roberts asked.

Andy grinned. “Of course.”

“Maho?” Roberts said.

Maho looked at him like it was the stupidest question on the plant.

Roberts shrugged. “You NHK lot are always so fucking organized.”

Maho smirked. “The trains are never late in Japan. Do you wonder why not?” she said as she walked off.

“She’s crazy,” Roberts said.

“Crazy like a fox,” Andy said, grabbing the Nori snacks and passing them off to the tall, blonde Australian. He’d eat anything.

“You may be right,” Roberts said as he watched Maho walk off towards her superior and bow in apology. “Well, I gotta go call a few of the rellies before they head to bed for the night. Seven hours ahead back home. What’s New York right now?"

“Eight behind,” Andy said.

“See you at dinner?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Andy said, turning back to her laptop. She still had a story to submit before lunchtime New York time and it was now…5:30pm. “Fuck,” Andy swore.

“I sincerely hope that’s not the sound of a missed deadline Miss Sachs. I would hate to have to make you work Christmas,” Helena said pointedly on her way past.

Andy didn’t bother to respond.

In all honesty, perhaps working Christmas would keep her mind off the five people currently back home, likely starting preparations for Christmas Eve dinner at that very moment.


 

“We usually do one gift Christmas Eve,” Cassidy said as she flipped the pancakes in the pan.

Elizabeth sat at the counter, watching the youngest of the Priestly twins as she flawlessly navigated the kitchen.

“Andy always insists on making sure we light the fire,” the girl continued.

“Yes, well as she insists the same at home I’m not surprised. And I have been here for Christmas before, dear.”

“Oh right, it’s just last time we were with you and Gramps.”

“No, last time I do believe you were gallivanting around Cambridge with your friends. I must admit it’s nice to be able to spend Christmas with both you and Caroline this year.”

Elizabeth could practically see the wince on the girl’s face, even if she did have her back to her.

When Cassidy remained still and didn’t respond, Elizabeth rolled the comment over in her mind and chided herself.

“Oh Cassidy, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Cassidy turned around to face her, flicking off the gas as she went. “I should have been here though. Mom offered to pay for the flights. It wouldn’t have been that much of a hassle. Now it’s been two Christmas’s we’ve missed together.”

“Yes, well as much as I love my daughter, unfortunately missing this Christmas is all on her, not you.”

“They’re not speaking,” Cassidy said then, quietly.

“Who isn’t?”

“Mom and Andy.”

“Of course they are. I heard your mother on FaceTime last night,” Elizabeth said, her eyes glancing towards the doorway. As much as she loved to bait Miranda Priestly, the last thing she needed was to have the woman thinking she was meddling in her relationship with her daughter.

“Yeah, for like 5 minutes. They used to spend almost an hour on the phone when Andy was away on business, and that was only D.C.”

Elizabeth looked at the concern in Cassidy’s face. There was still a small part of her that wanted to see Andrea give up this relationship and find someone her own age. In the beginning she had been sure it would be nothing more than a short term affair; a mid-life crisis on Miranda’s part and idol worship on Andy’s. However they had now surpassed five years, and no matter which way she cut it, there was no denying that Caroline, Cassidy and Miranda were now family.

“Andy made a very big decision Cassidy, and I know it wasn’t one that your mother supported. I myself wasn’t pleased either. Just give them time, it’s a big adjustment. However, they love each other very much, and these things have a way of working themselves out in the end,” Elizabeth said as convincingly as she could. She had no idea what was happening between the two women. The last time she had spoken to her daughter she hadn’t mentioned a thing – not that that was in any way unusual, particularly when it came to the subject of Miranda Priestly.

There was noise on the stairs and Cassidy turned abruptly back to the stove, firing the element back up again and resuming cooking.

“I’m going into the office for a few hours,” Miranda said as she swooped into the kitchen, purse slung over her arm and the book clasped securely in her hands. She moved towards Cassidy and gave her a kiss on the cheek, “That smells good Bobbsey,” she said, “I see you haven’t lost your touch.”

“Do you want coffee before you go?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, I’ll pick some up on the way,” Miranda said as she turned to eye Elizabeth curiously.

Hmm, perhaps that was overdoing it.

“All right, well I’ll organize everything for this evening then.”

“I won’t be gone that long Elizabeth. However, if you can manage to follow directions I’m sure Cassidy will appreciate the assistance,” Miranda shot back, before turning towards the door as Richard entered. “Good morning, Richard.”

“Morning, Miranda,” he said, his voice still hoarse from sleep. “Is that coffee I smell?”

“Yes it is, and apparently your wife made plenty,” Miranda said in a parting shot as she swept out of the room, the sounds of heels fading as she made her way across the foyer.

“Has anyone ever told you that your mother resembles a hurricane?” Elizabeth said wryly.

“I think it’s been mentioned once or twice, on occasion,” Cassidy chuckled.


 

It was about 7:00pm on Christmas Day and the sun was long past set in Baghdad. They were all rugged up and sitting inside the common room. The temperature had dropped considerably since November, and although it wasn’t quite on par with New York winters, it was still a lot colder than Andy had ever envisioned the desert could be.

She turned her beer in her hand. She hadn’t had a drink since she had come out here. It was something they generally avoided. No one could predict when a call would come in, or when they’d need to be alert. Luce said Iraq was probably the best place to send a drunken journalist.

They had stuffed themselves at lunch, and now everyone was picking at the leftovers and nursing heavy stomachs, exhaustion beginning to creep in.

Andy cast a glance around the tired faces surrounding her. It was getting close to the time she needed to call home, and she was aware she was putting it off.

Luce caught her eye and made her way over. “Well, Maho and Mikey outdid themselves,” she said casually as she slumped down next to Andy.

“Well, you coordinated everything, I think the thanks should go to you. Even Helena looks like she’s ready to pass out.”

“Well, Matthew already beat her too it,” Luce said with a nod of her head, and Andy spotted the greying man dozing in his chair, his beer still resting precariously in his hand. “I hate this part,” Luce continued.

“What part?”

“Christmas evening. You know, all the excitement from December just kind of rushes out. Everyone always gets too excited or too sloshed on Christmas Eve, and then by the time everyone’s had lunch, then leftovers for dinner on the day, they’re all ready for bed by 9:00pm like residents in an aged-care facility.”

“Or in Matthew’s case, 7:00pm,” Andy chuckled.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Lucy laughed. “What about you Missy? Isn’t it about time to be calling the family back home? I know you put off speaking to them last night.”

“They’ll be eating now,” Andy shrugged, picking at the label on her bottle.

“Can’t avoid it forever, Sachs. It doesn’t make it any easier,” Lucy said knowingly.

Andy sighed.

“Go on,” Lucy said. “Better do it now before I start the festivities again. There’ll be no sleeping on my bloody watch,” she said, slapping Andy on the shoulder.

Andy tossed back the rest of her beer and got to her feet, heading in the direction of her room. She turned her iPhone over in her hand before opening FaceTime and dialing Miranda’s number.

It only rang a couple of times before her mother’s face popped into view.

“Well, it’s about time Andrea Elizabeth Sachs. I was beginning to think you’d gotten carried away over dinner,” her Mom smiled at her before Caroline’s face popped into view.

“Jeez Andy, where’s the party!? It’s a bit quiet!”

“Everyone’s downstairs, we just finished dinner and I think Lucy is about to start Christmas Karaoke,” she said with a wince.

“God, don’t sing Silent Night, will you?” Caroline said, bursting into laughter.

“One time, Caro! It was one time!”

“Yes, and our eardrums will never forget,” Miranda’s dulcet tones said from somewhere in the background.

Andy felt the tears welling up against her will, and she sniffed them back. “Merry Christmas guys,” she said.

“Caroline, let Andrea speak to her parents and you can speak with her after,” she heard Miranda order, and she watched as Caroline stepped back and her Dad stepped into the frame.

She spent the better part of an hour speaking to every member of the family except Miranda. When the older woman finally uplifted the iPad and her face came into the frame, Andy felt a lead weight in her chest.

It was the first Christmas they had spent apart in five years, and the distance that had grown between them since July suddenly seemed insurmountable.

“Merry Christmas, M,” Andy said quietly.

“Merry Christmas, Andrea,” Miranda replied gently, before turning back to the family. “I’ll be back shortly,” she told everyone brusquely as she left the room.

Andy remained silent as Miranda climbed the stairs. She recognized the décor of their bedroom as Miranda entered and closed the doors.

When she finally sat down tiredly on their bed and looked directly at her with those crystal clear blue eyes, Andy suddenly found she had a million things to say and absolutely no way to say them.

Instead she burst into tears.

“Don’t,” Miranda ordered.

“I’m sorry,” Andy said.

“No you’re not, so don’t pretend you are,” Miranda said sternly.

Andy sniffed, trying to pull herself under control and failing miserably. “What the hell am I doing here, M?”

“You’re doing your job,” Miranda said.

“You said it yourself, I’m not a war correspondent.”

“Well, your bylines of late would say otherwise. Although I would suggest you speak with Helena Holden and demand a substantial piece for publication at a later date, or after your return. I would hate to see all that hard work wasted writing bit pieces for the online edition,” Miranda all-but-ordered.

“I—“

“No Andrea, enough excuses. You’ve never backed down from a challenge before. I’m not about to see you throw your dreams away because you’re getting a little emotional over Christmas dinner. Your mother’s turkey was passable, at best.”

Andy choked out a laugh.

“Better,” Miranda said. “It’s Christmas, stop being so maudlin.”

“I want to be there,” Andy admitted.

“And we all want you here. However, tomorrow you will want to be back there. You’re not finished yet, Andrea. I suspect you won’t be happy until you are,” Miranda said matter-of-factly.

Andy nodded, albeit reluctantly.

“Now, I want this to stop,” she continued.

“I agree,” Andy said, knowing exactly what Miranda was referring to. “It’s bad enough being away, but this distance…”

“Will not go on any longer,” Miranda finished for her.

“M, I love you,” Andy said. “You know that right?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“Good. The other day…”

“Won’t happen again,” Miranda said bluntly.

“Agreed,” she said.

The both took a deep breath.

“Now, do I have permission to complain about your mother?” Miranda said, her lip twitching with a hint of a smirk.

“I have all night,” Andy grinned as she leant back into the sofa feeling much lighter than she had since the day she left the townhouse.

Chapter Text

Andy stared at the screen, her eyes welling with tears.

Maho got up abruptly, her chair hitting the floor with a clang as she walked out. The two remaining remembers of the NHK team got to their feet, bowed quickly in apology before following Maho out the door.

Nobody else moved.

Andy felt sick.

She wiped at her eyes quickly.

“Yet another publicity stunt,” Jacks said softly, a touch of anguish in her tone.

Wahid reached across and placed his hand on her arm.

“An effective one,” Lucy said quietly as they all stared at the TV as the video of Kenta Nakagawa’s beheading was screened once again.

Andy got to her feet, and turned, only to find herself face-to-face with Helena Holden.

Helena raised an eyebrow.

“I need a minute,” Andy said, sidestepping the Helena and walking briskly towards the door.

As Andy walked outside she kept walking until she felt like she was far enough away from the room to breathe. She leaned forward and braced her hands against her knees, taking a deep breath before straightening up and moving to brush a hand through her hair.

It was too close to home.

There was something about being in the midst of the action that made this action that much more visceral than Foley.

She was here.

This could happen to any one of them.

“Kenta made a mistake,” a voice said behind her suddenly.

Andy jumped slightly, before turning to face Helena and noting that the older woman was eyeing her closely.

“He never should have gone after Saito,” Helena continued, referring to the security contractor that Kenta Nakagawa had chased into Syria, leading to his own capture last year. They had been all but forgotten until Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister began his New Year tour through the Middle East, publicizing Japan’s pledge of over $200 million worth of aid. “Kenta was a good journalist, but he was reckless,” she said. “He should never have gone after him. Not a single journalist was stepping foot into Syria at that time, and for very good reason.”

Andy took a deep breath and tried to pull herself together.

Helena was watching her very closely, and she was beginning to squirm under the scrutiny. They reported on the atrocities that the human race committed against each other every single day, and yet there was something about the decapitation of this Japanese journalist which was throwing her off kilter.

“Sometimes a bleeding heart will cost you your life,” Helena finished, abruptly.

Andy felt herself stiffen.

Helena held up a hand. “That wasn’t an accusation Miss Sachs. You bring a lot of humanity to your stories, and there’s something very refreshing about that.”

“Thank you,” Andy said, “But why do I get the feeling there’s a ‘but’?”

“Observant,” Helena chuckled. “Not a ‘but’ so much as an admission. I was extremely hesitant when your editor suggested you for this position. There’s no doubt that you’re a good writer, but you’re 31-years-old and I perceived you to be…sheltered. My primary reason for accepting you in the end was that your status would draw some much needed attention back to the conflict – provide a name – and something relatable – to a conflict that the average American is generally apathetic towards.”

“And now?” Andy said, biting back the bitterness that was attempting to creep into her tone.

“You’re a hard worker, Andy. A team player; and you deserve to be rewarded as such. I want a more rounded piece on the implications of today’s events on Japan and their stance in the international community. As you know, Prime Minister Abe is pushing to change Article 9 of their post war Constitution, which would essentially strip the nation of its Pacifist Stance,” Helena said.

“Of course,” Andy said, straightening up and nodding.

“This piece doesn’t mean your responsibilities to the Online Edition are null and void. I want a report of today’s execution up ASAP, Wahid is already transcribing the translation now,” Helena said.

“Okay,” Andy nodded.

“Very well, I look forward to seeing what you’re capable of Andrea,” Helena said before turning on her heel.

“Helena,” Andy called out after her.

Helena turned back, eyebrow raised in question.

“Thank you,” Andy said.

Helena’s lip quirked slightly as she nodded before turning and slipping back inside.

Andy took a deep breath.

She glanced momentarily in the direction of her room, the urge to call home almost overwhelming before she turned back and went in search of Wahid.


 

It was a few hours later, after she had finished the outline of her piece, when she went in search of Maho-chan.

Maho’s room was on the other side of the complex from her and Lucy, and she found the Japanese journalist sitting out on the public walkway, her legs dangling in between the grated fencing while she smoked a cigarette and stared down at the central open area one floor down.

“You okay?” Andy asked as she sat down.

“I have no words for today,” Maho said.

“No one expects you to,” Andy said.

“Smoke?” Maho said, holding up a pack of Marlboro Gold’s and Andy snorted lightly and shook her head.

“What?” Maho said.

“Miranda smokes the same brand,” Andy said with a shrug.

“Miranda smokes? Her face is too young,” Maho said.

“Oh, not often. Only when something bad happens. She thinks I don’t know about it,” Andy said with a smirk. “I let her have her little secret.”

Maho took a drag from her cigarette and turned to face Andy.

“You love her very much,” she said.

“It’s…it’s been complicated lately, but yes, I do,” Andy said.

“”You should go home,” Maho said. “I have no husband, no children. Middle East? There will be no change in our lifetime.”

“You can’t think that, Maho-chan,” Andy said.

“Nothing but death in the desert,” Maho spat.

Andy reached out a hand and rested it lightly on Maho’s shoulder.

“Two children,” Maho said gently.

“I’m sorry?”

“Kenta. He had two children and wife. What do they do?”

Andy’s thoughts strayed to the girls and she was hit with an overwhelming sense of guilt. They were away at college, busy with their own lives. If she was honest, she hadn’t taken them into account when she made this decision. She had spoken to both of them, and although they were concerned they had been generally supportive. Anything else got drowned in the battle between her and Miranda. She hadn’t really stopped to think how it would affect them if something did happen to her.

She had known there would be some risk coming out here, given that ISIS had a particular penchant for kidnapping journalists. However, no one from the Tribune had been picked up in the history of the Bureau.

Incidents were generally isolated to local stringers feeding them information, or people like Kenta - freelancers who took unnecessary risks. The last major incident for a journalist on staff with a major American Publication had been Alissa Rubin from the Times who went down in helicopter crash on Mount Sinjar in August, a week or so before Foley was executed by ISIS. Rubin was injured, but she walked away from it.

“They knew who he was, what his job was. They knew there might come a time when he didn’t come home,” Andy said, a sudden urge to defend Kenta and his actions.

“Maybe. But why is Saito more important to Kenta? He should have stayed in Japan for his family,” Maho said as she stubbed her cigarette out on the ground. “Japan is safe,” she said, almost wistfully.

“Is anywhere really safe anymore?” Andy said.

They both looked down as Roberts and Lucy walked out of the common area, having a debate about something.

Andy shook off her thoughts.

“You coming to get something to eat?” she said to Maho as she stood up and held out her hand.

Maho nodded and took the proffered assistance, getting to her feet.

“I’m sorry, Maho,” Andy said gently.

Maho bowed her head slightly in recognition.

“Kenta was my good friend,” she said quietly. “Good, stupid friend.”

Andy walked forward and pulled the small women into a gentle hug. She felt Maho stiffen beneath her, before finally wrapping her arms around Andy and returning the gesture.

As they stood there in the cooling afternoon Baghdadi sun, the gravity of where she was, and what she had chosen to do began to settle heavier on her shoulders than it ever had before.

How much would a story ever be worth to her?

How much was she ready to put at risk?

How much had she risked already?

The elation she had felt this morning at being given real responsibility by Helena was beginning to slip away.

With every day that passed, and every new story, she was becoming more and more a part of this little community of outlaw journalists in the desert.

Every day she got a little deeper.

Andy wondered what it meant.

She wondered when the time would come to walk away from it all.

But more importantly, she wondered whether she could.

Andy gripped Maho a little tighter before letting the smaller woman go.

“Food?”

“Always,” Maho replied with a tearful smile, wiping at her eyes.


 

Andy walked into her room and dropped down on her sofa.

She looked up at the picture of her, Miranda and the girls and rubbed a tired hand across her face before reaching for her phone and calling Miranda.

“Andrea? Is everything all right?” Miranda said.

“Hey, everything’s fine. Sorry to disturb you at work. Today’s been…”

“I saw the news reports when I woke up. I would have called but I thought you’d be busy.”

“No, it’s fine. I have news too. Helena assigned me the Nakagawa story for the Sunday Edition – online and print,” Andy said.

“Andrea, that’s good ne—Jillian, get Accessories back in here! This is atrocious,” Miranda barked, suddenly distracted.

Andy could hear Miranda furiously flicking through some papers down the line and chuckled lightly.

“Well, I’m glad at least someone is amused,” Miranda growled.

“You know, it’s been two years Miranda, it might be time to accept that Kristen has, in fact, left,” Andy said.

“I’m going to choose to ignore that comment.”

“Of course you are,” Andy laughed. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have disturbed you at work. I just wanted to check in and let you know I’m fine, and that I got the piece and this could mean bigger stories from here on out.”

“No And—Tell them to wait right there, Jillian. They’ve wasted enough of my time today, I will now waste theirs,” Miranda said, switching conversations faster than Andy could follow.

She listened as the door to Miranda’s office closed in the background.

“Sorry, go ahead,” Miranda said.

“I was just saying, if this is well received, there could be more substantial pieces coming my way,” Andy said.

“It’s very good news, Andrea.”

“I thought so too.”

“Then why don’t you sound as ecstatic as you usually would?”

“People here…well…they know him. You know? It’s very close to home,” Andy said quietly. “He has a family…”

Miranda was silent for a moment, and Andy could practically hear her formulating a response. She didn’t have to wait long.

“I won’t lie to you and say I’m not concerned,” Miranda began. “However, it also appears that this journalist, whatever his intentions, went against all common sense and good advice and put himself in the line of fire. I hardly expect the same from you or your colleagues.”

“We’d have to get through Helena first, and she’s a bit fucking scary,” Andy said, trying to lighten the mood of the conversation, and by extension, her own thoughts.

“I always did respect her, even if I don’t like her,” Miranda said with a sniff.

“You didn’t tell me you had beef with my boss!” Andy said.

“Self-righteous, terrible sense in fashion. In fact, I think I remember a mini Helena Holden standing in my office a few years back with that same superior attitude,” Miranda said, a twinkle in her voice.

“Very funny, M.”

“It’s good have things in common with our idols,” Miranda continued, her voice lightly teasing.

“I thought you had work to do?”

“Oh I do, but watching the Accessories team sweat outside my office is entertaining. A little longer won’t hurt them.”

“Ouch, you’re vicious today Miranda Priestly.”

“It’s nothing they don’t deserve, I can assure you.”

“Whatever you say, M,” Andy chuckled. “I probably should get going though, I’ve got a big day coming up and I’m exhausted.”

“All right,” Miranda said. “Be careful, Andrea.”

“Of course,” Andy said, “love you.”

“I love you too,” Miranda replied.

“Talk soon?”

“Of course.”

“Go let them off the hook.”

“Never,” Miranda replied.

Andy chuckled.

“Good night Andrea, sleep well,” Miranda said before ending the call.

“Goodnight, M,” Andy said to her empty room before dropping her phone down next to the sofa and staring at the ceiling.

It was quiet tonight.

Too quiet.

She thought about Miranda back at Runway, currently tearing shreds of the Accessories team for their perceived incompetence.

She thought about her tonight, coming home to an empty townhouse, eating dinner, having a glass of wine and working in the study alone.

Maho’s words rolled around her head again.

Her thoughts turned to the article and she growled in frustration.

“Miranda’s a big girl,” Andy muttered, more to convince herself than anything as she swung her legs around and reached for her phone.

A good night sleep would sort it out.

Chapter Text

“Well, congratulations Mrs Priestly,” Roberts said as he strolled into the room. “Rumour has it your article yesterday was a resounding success.”

“Thanks,” Andy said as she sipped her coffee.

He pulled out a chair and straddled it, facing her.

“So whatcha gunna do?” he asked.

“About what, Michael?”

“Well, you were only out here on a short term contract, right? You extending?” Roberts asked, watching her closely.

“It hasn’t come up yet.”

“Oh, it will. How long did you sign on for?”

“It was a three month contract.”

“Trial period. I think you passed.”

“It’s supposed to expire in the second week of the February. Helena hasn’t mentioned anything.”

“Oh don’t worry, she will. Helena’s not going to let you go so easily. Why do you think she gave you that piece? She’s grooming you,” Robert said knowingly, as he reached for her coffee.

Lucy slapped him around the back of the head as she passed by.

“Get your own you lazy prick,” she said.

Andy snorted and picked up her mug, keeping it out of Roberts reach.

“Whipped,” she muttered under her breath before taking a sip.

“What is it with all these middle aged women grooming you, huh Sachs? You got a magical lesbian vagina or something?” Roberts said, ignoring her comment.

Andy choked on her coffee, putting it down before breaking into a coughing fit.

Roberts swiped her mug off the table with a grin and took a big swig.

“Too easy,” he said.

Lucy came up behind him and smacked him on the back of the head again, before putting a fresh cup of coffee in front of Andy.

“Breathe, girl,” Lucy said, coming up behind her and giving her a couple of light raps across the back.

Andy sucked in a couple of short sharp breaths.

“You asshole!” she croaked at Roberts.

Roberts roared with laughter, swinging back in his chair until it was balancing on two legs.

“What’s so funny?” a voice sounded from the common room entranceway.

Roberts dropped his chair back on all four legs abruptly.

“Nothing, Helena,” he said quickly.

Helena, fresh out of the shower, pulled her damp brunette curls back into a ponytail, eyeing him carefully as he did so.

“It certainly didn’t sound like nothing,” she said, her eyes narrowing.

“Roberts here was just commending Andy on her magical—“ Lucy began.

“Writing skills! Magical writing skills. My, what an article that was, eh? I thought you’d give it to Matthew for sure, but turns out Sachs here ain’t half bad is she, Hels? Pretty big story that one.”

“Nice save,” Lucy muttered her breath.

Helena rolled her eyes. “Andrea, can I speak to you for a moment?”

“Told you,” Roberts muttered as Andy nodded towards Helena and got to her feet.

“Here?” she asked.

“No, let’s take this into my office away from our resident comedian shall we?”

Andy nodded and followed as Helena began walking away at a brisk pace.

Helena’s office was situated just off the common area, and doubled as the centre for all of their communications equipment. It was a small, dingy little room, and was simply a place for Helena to conduct any business she considered to be closed-door. Otherwise the Bureau Chief spent most of her time working out of the common area like the rest of them.

Helena picked up a stack of papers off a chair and then waved Andy into it.

“Sit down,” Helena said before dropping into the chair behind her desk.

Andy sat down and crossed her legs.

“Your article was extremely well received,” Helena said simply.

Andy felt a slight flush rise up her neck. Praise had always made her feel a little uncomfortable.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You managed to juggle rolling online updates in the lead up to the incident, and produce something of exceptional quality, Andrea. I don’t give praise lightly. I have spoken with Matthew, Wahid and Jacks also. Everyone is extremely happy to have you on board. You’re reliable, and a team player.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Andy said. “It’s a great team. I only work as hard as everyone else.”

“Indeed,” Helena said, before spinning in her chair and sifting through a pile of paper work. “As you’re aware,” she continued, “The cost of maintaining an international Bureau is astronomical. I’m spread thin, hence the reason you were brought here in the first place. There’s too much work and not enough resources to do it. There’s now talk of a big ISIS push into the countryside west of Sabha, in Libya. I have a considerable number of local contacts in Libya, and it’s likely I’ll head in once I have clearance from New York. Matthew will need to cover for me in my absence, which means I’m down a reporter here.”

Andy watched as Helena apparently found what she was looking for as she tugged out a small stack of papers and dropped them in front of Andy.

“U.S. Air Strikes are picking up. Things are heating up. The New York office has given me a little wriggle room in my budget,” Helena said, waving towards the papers.

Andy reached forward and picked them up.

“It’s a contract extension,” Helena said.

“For how long?”

“Indefinitely,” Helena said, “Or at least until things start to die down here. I can’t give you much of a time frame – ISIS have been more effective than we ever suspected. And Syria continues to spiral out of control. You may not be here in Baghdad all the time – the European Union is facing one of the biggest refugee crises since World War Two; they’re flooding out of Syria in droves. Things are about to get very interesting, and there’s only so long the boys at the top can ignore the crisis before it becomes front page news. But anyway, I’m not going for the hard sell. You know what’s happening in the region. Do you want to stay, or do you want to go home and back to the good life?”

“I—can I think about it?” Andy stuttered, staring at the papers in her hand.

“Sure, but don’t think for too long Andrea – a million journalists would kill for this job.”

Andy’s head shot up as she stared at Helena, a feeling of déjà vu washing over her.

Last time she took a job a million girls would kill for it ended next to a fountain in Paris.

Well…sort of.

Andy nodded. “Okay, can you give me 48 hours?”

Helena eyed her closely.

“All right,” she carefully. “But remember, not everyone understands why we choose to do the job that we do Andrea.”

Andy nodded, before getting to her feet.

“48 hours, I promise,” Andy reiterated.

“Okay,” Helena said. “Now, I need to call the New York office. Congratulations again, Andrea. It truly was a great piece of journalism.”

“Thank you, Helena,” Andy said, gripping the papers in her hand before leaving the office and closing the door behind her.

As she walked back out into the common area, Lucy and Roberts eyed her, and papers in her hand carefully.

“Told you so,” Roberts said around a mouthful of Vegemite on toast. “Good luck with the Mrs,” he chuckled.

“Oh would you shut up!” Lucy barked, smacking him around the head for the third time that morning.

He was going to end up losing brain cells at this rate, Andy thought as she shook her head.

“I’m just going to…” she said, waving in the direction of her room.

“Sure thing, Andy,” Lucy said, watching her closely. “Want me to walk you up? I need to take a shower anyway.”

Andy looked down at the papers, and then back at Lucy.

“Yeah, actually, Luce – that’d be good.”

“All right,” Lucy said, finishing her cup of tea.

The blonde turned to face Roberts before she left. “Don’t forget that Sydney Herald submission is in two hours. I’m not losing cash for my photos just because you haven’t done the write up.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Roberts said, his mouth full. “Go have your girls talk – I’ll get it done.”

Lucy rolled her eyes before joining Andy.

“Let’s go, babe,” she said, as they walked out into the morning sun and towards the stairs.

Andy could feel the weight of the papers in her hand, like they controlled her entire future.

Well, in a way, they did.

If she took this, it wouldn’t be a popular decision. It could very well end her relationship.

“Have you discussed the possibility with Miranda yet?” Lucy asked, not bothering to mince words.

“No, it hasn’t come up. The initial contract was for 2 months, and then that was extended before I left which was another argument. But this? This is whole other level.”

“She works in publishing, Andy. She had to have some idea that this would be on the cards. What did she think? You were coming out here to write one big story and then toddle back off home like a tourist? I mean, did you?”

“I—I don’t know. The opportunity came up and I just kind of leapt at it without thinking. I mean, you know how tough it is to get into foreign correspondence as a contracted journalist.”

“Impossible,” Lucy chuckled. “Trust me, I’ve tried. That piece of paper there,” she said, waving at the contract in Andy’s hand, “That, my friend, is a golden fucking ticket.”

“I never intended to be a Middle Eastern correspondent,” Andy admitted. “I started out wanting to write for Vanity Fair, or the New Yorker. Then at the Mirror I fell into politics almost by accident, and when I jumped ship to the Tribune they needed help with the coverage here after Syria escalated, and, well, here I am.”

“Hero complex, Andy. It can’t be helped,” Lucy chuckled, giving her a pat on the back. “The question is, do you want to spend your life as a hero, or do you want to go home and write for Vanity Fair?”

“It’s not just me I need to worry about,” Andy said.

Lucy shrugged. “Think about it this way – you do your hard yards here, and you can write for any publication you choose. You will be so well respected people will be begging you to write for them. A million people would kill for that contract right there.”

Andy chuckled in spite of herself. “This is starting to feel like the Twighlight Zone.”

Lucy looked at her in confusion.

Andy waved her off.

“Well, I’ve got 48 hours to decide.”

“Helena’s being generous – she must really want you,” Lucy smiled. “Can’t say I’m surprised though. You’re pretty damn good at what you do, Sachs.”

Lucy stopped as they reached Andy’s door. “Look, if you need someone to talk it out with, no judgment, let me know,” she said.

Andy nodded. “Thanks, Luce, I appreciate it.”

“All right, well, I’ll leave you to it. Although, I’d recommend calling Miranda ASAP. If she flips her shit now, she might calm down enough to have an actual conversation, within your 48 hour window,” Lucy chuckled.

“Good call,” Andy looked at her watch. “Its 12:00am there now, maybe I’ll be lucky and catch her before bed.”

“Lucky, or unlucky?” Lucy said, smirking.

“Hilarious.”

“Let me know how it goes?”

“Yeah I will,” Andy said as she pulled open her door and walked inside.

She made her way to the living room and pulled her phone out of her pocket.

She twirled it in her hands, pacing the room as she went, before sitting down on the sofa and staring at it.

Last time she had made this decision without Miranda. She simply jumped on the opportunity when it came up, and dealt with the consequences later.

It had been an absolute disaster for their relationship.

If they had any chance of getting through this properly then she needed to give Miranda the opportunity to be a part of the decision making process.

“Fuck it,” Andy said, hitting Miranda’s personal cell before she could have any second thoughts.

“You’re up early,” Miranda’s tired voice sounded down the line.

“Well, it’s just after 7:00am now. I thought I’d try to catch you before you went to bed.”

“You didn’t quite manage it,” Miranda admitted.

“Sorry, M. I know you must be tired,” Andy said.

“Something’s happened. What is it, Andrea?”

“Well, the article. It was pretty well received,” Andy said gently.

She listened closely as Miranda took a deep breath.

“How much are they offering?” Miranda said, bluntly.

“I haven’t looked that far into the contract yet,” Andy sighed.

“Have they given you a time limit, or do they want you in the desert playing ‘dodge the terrorist’ permanently?” Miranda snapped, losing her cool.

“M, I haven’t agreed to anything. Helena spoke to me barely 15 minutes ago. I haven’t looked at the paper work. I wanted to call you to discuss this first. I—no we need to make this a joint decision.”

“Oh, so this time my opinion matters, hmm?” Miranda said.

“Miranda, just stop. Please? I want us to be able to discuss this properly,” Andy said.

There was a momentary silence and then Miranda sighed.

“Fine,” Miranda said. “Tell me what you know so far.”

Andy recounted her conversation with Helena in full detail. Miranda listened patiently, but Andy could already feel the tension beginning to build down the line. They had barely gotten over an almost six month long fight; and now this was threatening to bring everything back to the surface.

“I appreciate you calling me, Andrea. However, I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Anything,” Andy said. “I want your opinion. This affects both of us. If I take this…I won’t be home much.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

“Miranda, tell me what you’re thinking. Please?”

“What I’m thinking is that I’m proud of you. I’m proud of the work that you’re doing, and the article you produced was exceptional,” Miranda paused to take a tired breath. “However, I didn’t sign up for this, Andrea. I didn’t sign up for someone who wouldn’t be here. I didn’t sign up to spend almost every second of every day terrified, to have a split second of panic every single time the phone rings wondering if it’s going to be someone calling to tell me you’ve been hurt, or worse,” she said.

“Miranda, I kn—“

“No, Andrea. No, I don’t think you do. This situation isn’t fair. You didn’t ask me. I had no choice in the matter. You decided to go, and then I was left behind to deal with the fallout of your decision. Your parents are worried, the girls are worried. You skipped off and left me holding the bag.”

Andy felt like someone had punched her in the gut. Miranda was right, she hadn’t consulted her on any of it. As soon as Miranda opposed her decision she drew a line in the sand and held her ground, out of pride and a little bit of spite.

“Miranda, I’m sorry.”

“Yes, I know you are. However, sorry doesn’t change the circumstances. I appreciate you calling to let me know. However, you can’t expect me to make this decision for you. You can’t ask me to. It’s your career, Andrea. I understand. More than anyone, I understand. Only you can decide what it’s worth to you,” Miranda said.

“What it's worth? M, what are you saying?”

“I—I don’t know,” Miranda said, her voice tighter than Andy had ever heard it.

“Miranda?” she said shakily.

“How long do you have?” Miranda asked.

“48 hours.”

“You’ll call me when you’ve made a decision?”

“Miranda, wait. What if I stay? What then? I need to know your stance on this.”

The silence was deafening.

“Honestly? I don’t think I can live like this, Andrea,” Miranda said, her voice as quiet as it had ever been. “I want a partner, not someone who warms my bed for a week or two every six months. That’s not the life I envisioned for us.”

“You want me to walk away? The opportunity of a lifetime, a position a million journalists would kill for?” Andy said, her anger rising. She had expected a battle. She had expected Miranda to be pissed, and then tell her claw her way to the top kicking and screaming. She had been out there for three months, she had proven it was relatively safe. This? No, this she hadn’t expected in a million years. Miranda Priestly, the Miranda Priestly, asking her to walk away from a career changing moment.

“You’ve done it once before,” Miranda said bluntly.

“It was a mistake,” Andy spat.

“I’m not fighting with you about this, Andrea. It’s your career. As I said, only you can make that choice. Whatever you decide, I will respect it. However, don’t expect me to wait around like some military wife while you’re off fighting the good fight,” Miranda snapped.

“This is pointless,” Andy said then.

“Yes, perhaps it is. Perhaps we’re simply moving in different directions. It's hardly a surprise.”

“So that’s it, is it? I sign the dotted line and we’re what? We’re done?”

“Christ, Andrea, I don’t know! It’s almost 1:00am, and you call and expect me to make a decision that is going to determine the rest of our lives? Because once you’re in, I can’t see you ever leaving. There will always be one more story. I'm having trouble seeing any positives to the this situation right now. You stay, I lose. You leave, you lose. You asked me for my position, and I apologize but I'm in absolutely no mood to sugarcoat it for you.”

Andy got to her feet and paced.

“You’re right,” she sighed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have dumped this all on you now. Look, I have 48 hours. I’m house bound for the next couple of days anyway – when you find a good time to talk…call me, day or night. I don’t want to rush into any decisions.”

“All right, Andrea.”

“Okay, then. Well, I’ll let you sleep, all right?” Andy said, biting back the tears that were suddenly threatening to come.

“Okay,” Miranda said, the exhaustion evident in her voice.

“I love you, you know that right?” Andy said tearfully. There was a dread sinking into her bones that told her world was about to change.

“Yes, and I you. Always. But, sometimes it’s simply not enough,” Miranda said.

Andy gasped lightly as a fresh wave of tears flooded forward.

“Goodnight, Andrea,” Miranda said softly before ending the call.

Andy pulled the phone away from her ear and placed it down on the table.

She walked into the kitchen, her vision blurred with tears.

She turned, and then walked back out into the living room, before she clutched a hand to her chest and sobbed.

This was different than all the other times they had fought.

Tonight was barely even a fight.

No, tonight was worse.

Tonight felt…final.

Chapter Text

Miranda went over the layout in front of her for a fifth time, before finally deciding it was a complete waste of time.

“Jillian,” she said.

“Yes, Miranda?” Jillian replied quickly.

“Call Emily and tell her to send someone to collect these layouts,” she ordered. “And I’ll need another coffee.”

“Of course, Miranda,” Jillian replied before disappearing.

It was almost 3:00pm, and Miranda resisted the urge to rub her face in exhaustion.

Andrea’s late night phone call 12 hours ago had ensured yet another sleepless night. She had lain in bed, staring at the ceiling for hours, tracing her eyes along the edgings, spotting minor imperfections as she turned the situation over and over in her mind.

It was a pointless exercise, and she was well aware of it.

The problem was simple: they were moving in different directions, and had been since Andrea began to set her sights on foreign correspondence. Although she had never come out and said it, Miranda could see her edging closer and closer towards that path, and she had chosen to ignore the possible consequences for as long as possible.

That was another reason why she hadn’t wanted her to go out there in the first place. Andrea was a bleeding heart. She had a savior complex the size of Canada and Miranda knew the second she stepped foot on that continent that nothing would be able to drag her away.

Miranda sighed and ran a hand through her hair, attempting to push back the forelock that had been falling into her eyes all afternoon.

There was a light knock on her door, and Emily walked in.

“What’s wrong?” Emily said immediately with a slight huff and Miranda straightened up in her chair.

“Excuse me?” Miranda said.

“With the layouts?” Emily said, waving at them. “You’re sending them back to me so I thought I’d come down and pick your brain.”

“Oh, they’re…fine,” Miranda said.

“”They’re…fine? So we can run with them?”

“I want you to make the final decision,” Miranda said. “I want you to decide if they’re fine. It’s about time you started taking a little more responsibility. You’ve had enough time in the position to start making executive decisions without requiring me to hold your hand every step of the way. You’re the Art Director. Act like one.”

Emily stared at her before taking a step back and pushing the door closed.

“What happened?” Emily asked then. “Is Andrea all right?”

“Andrea is fine, Emily,” Miranda snapped.

“Oh, okay,” Emily said. “Sorry, I just…”

“Don’t apologize,” Miranda said, waving her off. “I suppose there’s no harm in telling you what you’ll know soon enough – she’s been offered a permanent position in the Bureau.”

“You can’t be serious. She’s not bloody taking it is she!?” Emily demanded.

“She hasn’t said no,” Miranda said.

“You can’t let her!”

“And exactly what do you suggest I do, Emily?”

“I—I don’t know. Be…Miranda?”

“Yes, because Andrea takes so well to orders,” Miranda said with an eye roll.

“Christ, Miranda,” Emily said, gently. “I’m sorry.”

Miranda waved her off before reaching for the layouts and holding them out.

Emily scrambled forward and grabbed them. As she juggled them into one arm, she met Miranda’s eyes.

“Look, I know we’re not…close,” Emily said, in reference to their relationship. Although Emily had spent some time with Miranda and Andrea, it was Andrea that she was friends with. “But I’m bloody furious with that cow. If you need anything, even just to…well…talk, I—“

“Thank you, Emily,” Miranda said abruptly before the conversation could get any more awkward.

“Right, well, you know where to find me,” Emily said, flushing slightly before turning on her heel.

“Emily,” Miranda said, stopping her before she reached the door. “Thank you,” she said genuinely.

Emily nodded over her shoulder, before flinging open the door with a free hand and stalking off.

Miranda leant back in her chair, pulling off her glasses and tossing them on the desk in frustration. She hadn’t been lying to Emily; Andrea didn’t take well to orders, and took to ultimatums even less.

Last night may have been gentler than her usual approach but it had been an ultimatum nonetheless.

Miranda had come to accept that Andrea coming home wasn’t what she wanted either.  

If she asked, the resentment would eventually tear them apart.

They were at an impasse in their relationship and Miranda could see no way out of it.

She needed to call Andrea before she made a decision she would regret.

“Jillian,” she called again.

“Yes, Miranda?”

“Cancel my afternoon, and call Roy.”

“Yes, Miranda,” Jillian replied.

Miranda picked up her phone and messaged Andrea.

We need to talk. Call me in an hour.


 

Miranda was sitting on the edge of the bed in their bedroom.

She looked around and took in her surroundings.

Traces of Andrea were everywhere, photos of her and the girls, stray hair pins left next to the bed that Miranda hadn’t had the heart to move.

Her phone rang.

“Miranda?” a worried voice sounded tentatively down the line.

“Are you alone?” Miranda asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Miranda said, taking a deep breath and steeling herself. “I have a few things to say, and I just want you to listen, please.”

“All right,” Andrea said, a slight tremor in her voice.

“I was up all of last night thinking; in fact, I spent most of the day thinking; and I want you to tell Helena Holden, yes.”

She heard Andrea suck in a sharp breath.

“But, Miranda, you sa—“

“Just listen, please,” Miranda said quietly, “I need to finish.”

“Sorry, go ahead.”

“If you come home,” Miranda said gently, “you’re going to resent me for it. Maybe not at first, but as the months pass and you’re stuck behind a desk, relegated back to reporting second hand information, relying on others – you’re going to start thinking about the what ifs. I know you, Andrea. Possibly better than I’ve ever known any other single person in my life,” Miranda said.

There was no strength in her statements, simply tired resignation. She ignored the tears that began to well in her eyes as she pressed forward, knowing exactly what her next statement would mean for them.

“However, what I said before, it still stands, Andrea,” she began, her voice betraying her, a slight tremble evident which she couldn’t seem to clamp down. “We can’t continue to…we can’t remain together in this capacity if you’re not here. It will destroy us. We will start with good intentions, but eventually it will fall apart, and I would like us to be able to walk away from this without hating each other. I don’t ever want to hate you. What we’ve got—what we had, was important to me, and we need to think about the girls. I—“

“Please tell me you’re not saying what I think you’re saying,” Andrea begged down the line. “Not after everything we’ve been through. Miranda, please.”

“Andrea, I love you. As such, I wa—“

Miranda stopped, clasping a hand over her mouth to stifle a sudden sob.

She closed her eyes began breathing deeply through her nose.

“Miranda, please,” Andrea pleaded.

Miranda took a final deep breath before pulling her hand away.

“As I was saying,” she said weakly, before clearing her throat. “I want us to remain close,” she said. Friends didn’t feel right. There was too much water under the bridge for that. Her and Andrea had never, and would never be just friends.

“Close, but not together. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?” Andrea said, the devastation clear in her voice.

Miranda would be lying if she said that wasn’t cutting her to the core. She felt like someone was drilling a very large hole in her chest and it was becoming very difficult to breathe.

“I—“ Miranda began. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying,” she said clearly.

There was silence down the line.

Miranda couldn’t be sure how long it lasted. The weight of the conversation was weighing heavy across the distance between them. She wanted nothing more than to be able to see Andrea; to explain to her just how important she was, and that was exactly the reason they needed to do this or neither of them would stand a chance.

Her second husband had taken a job across country. It was to be a short term contract that extended indefinitely. They tried, but she was bound to Runway, to work. They had destroyed each other. To this day they could barely stand to be in the same room. Miranda had not seen him in over 6 years.

She didn’t want that for her and Andrea. As different as their relationship was to that of her and Michael, she knew she couldn’t stand to see Andrea once every six months. She would punish her for it, she knew she would. Not to mention Andrea’s career could take her in any direction now. She required the freedom to pursue that.

No, their time together was over.

“This is it, isn’t it?” Andrea replied hoarsely, breaking the silence.

“Yes, Andrea. I think so.”

“I wish I’d never come here,” Andrea whispered tearfully.

“No you don’t,” Miranda said gently. “It’s the culmination of everything you’ve ever worked towards. I have the greatest respect for what you’ve achieved in such a short time, Andrea. You have absolutely no idea how proud I am of you. However, it’s time for you to move forward, and I’m not going to be the thing that holds you back, and I don’t want to lose you from my life. It will be…better this way.”

Andrea drew a shaky breath. After a few beats she spoke.

“I can’t say this is how I envisioned us going down,” she said finally with a tear-filled chuckle.

“No, I suppose you were just waiting until you and the girls finally drove me to cardiac arrest.”

“I was hoping for something more dramatic. Perhaps a deranged assistant who you finally drove to the brink.”

Miranda chuckled, the lump in her throat still evident.

They fell into silence again.

“How…how do we do this?” Andrea asked after a moment.

“I…I’m going to need some space. Time. A no contact period. Obviously if anything urgent comes up I want you to call, but I think some emotional distance is important. I’m assuming you will get some kind of shore leave in the next few months, and at that point I think we should tell the girls together. It will…”

“Stop them from blaming one of us, I get it,” Andrea said.       

“Well, from blaming me,” Miranda said with a grimace.

“This isn’t your fault, Miranda,” Andrea sighed. “I did this.”

“Let’s not turn this into a blame game. This is expressly what I want to avoid. Your career is important – it’s important to me that you pursue it. Unfortunately our…circumstances, and priorities just don’t align right now. We’re in different places, Andrea. Perhaps we have been for some time, and we just chose to ignore it.”

Andrea took a deep breath down the line.

“Perhaps you’re right,” she said tiredly. “This is all very civilized,” she continued, changing tact. “When did we get so mature?”

“Who knows.”

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Andrea said. “None of this feels real, I—I don’t want this. Any of this. We were…”

The happy was left unsaid, but Miranda heard it regardless.

“Yes, I know. We were,” Miranda said quietly.

“I don’t know what else to say,” Andrea said, at a loss for words.

“Then say nothing. I think we’re in agreement about what needs to happen. Let me know when you’ve spoken to Helena Holden, and then we’ll take it from there.”

“The no contact period?”

“We’ll start after we’ve worked out the details. I would prefer to keep this out of the media for the time being. At least until we’ve told the girls.”

“No, I agree.”

“Okay then.”

“Okay.”

A sob sounded down the line, and Miranda clenched her fist around the handset in her hand.

The urge to take back everything she had just said was overwhelming.

“I should go,” Andrea said then, her broken voice utter agony for Miranda.

“As should I,” Miranda said.

“M, I…”

“I know, Andrea. I know,” Miranda said. “I’ll speak to you soon,” she said before abruptly ending the call, unable to take it any longer.

She dropped her phone on her bed before getting up, her hand clutched against her chest.

Her breaths became shorter and shorter as she began walking towards the en suite. She barely made it three steps before she had to reach out a hand and clutch the bed post tightly. She lowered herself onto the end of the bed, their bed just as a sob broke out from her chest.

She gripped the oak beneath her palm tightly, her free hand moving to press over her chest. She pressed so hard she had a fleeting thought that perhaps she could sink her palm in and rip her heart out of her chest, like that ridiculous ABC show the girls and Andrea were always begging her to watch with them.

Or had begged.

When they were all here.

Another strangled sob broke out, before Miranda simply let go and cried.

She cried in earnest.

Andrea had defined everything.

And Miranda wasn’t sure she knew how to breathe without her any more.


 

Andy sat staring at her now silent phone.

It felt like her whole body was vibrating.

She felt physically ill.

She couldn’t hear anything over the roar in her ears.

A splatter of something wet landed on her hand and she realized she was crying. She reached up and placed her hands on her cheeks. Wiping at the flood of dampness she found.

Eventually she just gave up.

There was a night knock on her door.

“Hey Sachs, you right babe?” Roberts called.

When she didn’t answer he took that as an invitation to gently open her door.

“Andy, are you okay?” he called again.

She didn’t bother looking up as she heard him approach.

“Oh, Jesus,” he said, before she found herself pulled into a rough hug.

She started to sob then, tucking her head into Roberts shoulder in an attempt stifle the sounds escaping her.

“Where is she? You want me fly back there and hunt her down?” he said, rubbing her back firmly. “I’ll have you know, I ain’t afraid of the old Dragon.”

Andy sobbed even harder.

“Fuck, I’m not any good at this Sachs. Luce sent me up to check because she’s tied up on that deadline, Jacks ain’t here, and tears make Wahid bloody uncomfortable. I figured you wouldn’t want Helena involved, and she never struck me as much of the mothering type anyway.”

“You’ll do,” Andy mumbled, shaking her head, before sniffing and pulling back. “But, Miranda didn’t do anything.”

“Well, she must have done something, Sachs. No offense, but you look like someone just shot your dog in front of you.”

Andy wiped at her eyes.

“I’m taking the position,” she said.

“Ah.”

“She told me to take it, but obviously I don’t know how long I’ll be here for, or when I’ll get to go home. We’ve decided to—“ Andy stopped suddenly, a hand flying her mouth as she choked back a fresh wave of tears.

Roberts sighed and slung an arm around her shoulder, before pulling them both back into Andy’s shitty little sofa.

Roberts rubbed her arm absently as she cried.

“It might be for the best,” he said quietly, after a few minutes. “Trust me when I say this job wasn’t made for relationships.”

“Why?” Andy said, desperate for any kind of distraction.

Roberts ran his free hand through his sandy blond hair and sighed.

“Did I ever tell you about my daughters?” he asked, quietly.

“No, you never told me you had kids,” Andy said, a hint of accusation in her voice. She had told Roberts plenty about Caroline and Cassidy.

“Yeah, two. Eldest is in her early teens now – hasn’t spoken to me for two years, and her sister followed suit. The job took its toll on my wife. The constant travel, the constant worry. Eventually it became too much and she asked for a divorce. Had the papers faxed to me in Syria back in 2011 just before the war broke out. She’d had enough,” Roberts said, taking a deep breath.

“Wasn’t her fault,” he continued. “All pretty understandable really. I got caught up with the job and forgot about my responsibilities back home. We don’t talk much these days. There were a lot of things said during the divorce; I should have left it alone, but I got desperate. Sometimes the harder you try to cling to something the worse you make it. By the time you think to cling to it, it’s too god damn late anyway,” Roberts said heavily.

“Anyway, the kids got older. They began to put the pieces together. Missy, my ex-wife, was a champ - never said a bad word about me in front of them – but kids aren’t stupid, especially girls. The calls became fewer and far between. Each phone call got angrier and angrier. Eventually they just…stopped.”

“Michael, I’m sorry,” Andy said, turning towards him.

“I’m not looking for sympathy, Sachs. All I’m saying is, maybe this is the smart move for you both. You want this job, I can tell. And there’s no doubt you’ve got the commitment and the passion for it. Miranda obviously understands that. I take it was her idea?”

Andy nodded solemnly.

“Then follow her advice, Andy. Let her move on. Unless you can tell me right now you could throw all of this away; that you could turn your back, walk away, and never look back. Could you do that for her?”

Andy paused and then shook her head. No matter what she did, no matter how important Miranda was to her, she knew she didn’t have it in her to walk away. Some things in this world were simply bigger than them. She couldn’t live with herself, back home in the town house with all lives luxuries at her fingertips. The thought of it made her feel dirty.

“Well then, you’ve both saved yourselves a helluva lot of hurt in the long run, trust me on that. At least this way you’ll have something salvageable when you head back, if not in the capacity you would like.”

Andy sniffed and nodded.

“It’s almost 12:00am, Andy. You might as well get some rest,” he said, giving her shoulder one last squeeze before standing up.

“Michael,” Andy said weakly.

“Yeah, Sachs?”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, Sachs. It’s a thankless life you’ve chosen – but some of us have gotta do it,” he said before he passed out of her room.


 

Andy stared in the mirror as she braided her hair and clipped back what was left of her bangs. They were no longer practical, and she had been attempting to grow them out since she arrived.

She took a deep breath and eyed herself in the mirror.

Her face was make-up free, and she noted the lines around her eyes had begun to deepen in the past year. One or two flecks of grey were beginning to become too noticeable amongst her brunette locks for her to ignore anymore.

Age and work were beginning to catch up with her. However, it was the life that she had chosen. This sense of purpose was something she had always craved. These were the stories that needed to be told.

She took a deep breath before turning and picking up the stack of papers Helena had given her yesterday morning.

It had been barely 24 hours since she had been handed an impossible choice, but given everything that had happened it felt like a hell of a lot longer.

She walked out into her living area, taking a moment to stare at her personal cell, still exactly where she had left it the night before.

Roberts was right, this was a pre-emptive decision that would be better for them all in the long run.

She gripped the contract tighter in her fist before walking outside.

It was bright, which felt strange. She almost thought it might have started raining.

She ignored the looks of concern as she passed through the common area, wind of her breakdown having obviously made its way to the breakfast table, and walked straight up to Helena who was sitting with a paper and a cup of coffee.

Helena looked up at her, a little surprised.

“Andrea?”

Andy placed the signed papers on the desk in front of her.

“I’m in,” she said simply.

“That was fast,” Helena said, unable to keep the surprise from her voice. “I thought you needed 48 hours?”

“I want to be here, and another 24 hours isn’t going to change that,” Andy said.

“Okay, I’ll file them with the New York office this afternoon,” she said as she stood up and held out her hand.

“Welcome to the Baghdad Bureau, Andrea.”

Chapter Text

6 months later.

Andy walked off the plane at JFK International and directly into the arms of her mother who was waiting.

“Hey, Mom,” Andy said, a little tearfully as she was pulled into a fierce hug.

It had been a long couple of days. She had taken a military flight to Turkey, before boarding a commercial flight in Istanbul.

As Andy stepped back from the hug she took a quick cursory glance around the airport.

It felt strange to be home. Everything was clean, and the people around her felt extremely over-dressed.

“Good lord, Andrea. Is that a tan?” Elizabeth asked and Andy laughed.

“Yeah, yeah it is,” Andy said as she glanced around her mother again.

“They’re at home with Miranda,” Elizabeth said knowingly, and Andy nodded even as she felt the bottom of her stomach drop out.

She didn’t have a right to feel disappointed, but she couldn’t help it. She had been hoping that the girls might have come along.

“Of course,” Andy said, shaking it off.

“Let’s get you to the car,” Elizabeth said, grabbing Andy’s suitcase and setting a brisk pace through the airport.

Andy shook her head and smiled; some things never changed. She could have sworn her legs only grew as long as they had in a desperate attempt to be able to keep up with her mother.

Even at sixty-five, Elizabeth Sachs still walked like she was on a mission.

As they reached the rental – a red Prius – Elizabeth put Andy’s suitcase in the back seat before jumping in the driver’s side.

Andy hopped in the passenger’s seat as her mother started the car.

Why are you driving in New York?” Andy said with a groan.

“Because we have valet parking at the hotel,” Elizabeth replied, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“You’re not staying with Miranda?” Andy asked tentatively.

“No, one Christmas was more than enough for your father and I,” Elizabeth replied. “The question is, are you?’ she finished bluntly.

“Of course,” Andy said quickly, her head whipping around. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You can drop the act now, Andrea. I’m not a complete idiot.”

Andy sighed. “How long have you known?”

“Oh, since about the time you took up that permanent contract and Miranda started being polite to me on the phone so I wouldn’t ask too many questions,” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes. “Miranda might play a good business game, but when it comes to the personal she’s about as subtle as a flying brick; and I can’t say you’re much better either, Andrea.”

“Does Dad know?”

“No, your father doesn’t know. I thought I’d wait to speak you in person so I could find out what on Earth is going on between you two.”

“Can’t this wait?”

“No, because I’m not navigating some theatre performance you two plan on putting on in front of the girls without being aware of the backstory – because as far as they’re aware, everything is just dandy aside from you traipsing around in a war zone. So start talking.”

“Fine,” Andy grumbled. “When I was offered the interim rolling contract with the Bureau…well…I didn’t turn it down, immediately.”

“God only knows why,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head.

“Do you want the story or not?” Andy snapped.

Elizabeth simply rolled her eyes.

“I spoke to Miranda, and she…she knew I wanted it. She told me to take it. However, she wasn’t willing to do long distance, especially with the possibility that I could be out there for a year, or…longer.”

“Well, if I’m being completely honest with you, Andrea – you hardly gave the woman much of a choice. When are you coming home, permanently I mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, there you go. What about the girls? Why aren’t they aware of all of this?”

“Miranda decided it would be better to speak to them about it, in person, together, so that they wouldn’t focus on blaming either of us.”

“Well, what about Miranda’s sixtieth? Are you still attending? Because even I have an invitation.”

“Yes. We’re keeping it quiet from the press. If I don’t attend, especially as I’m back in town, they’re going to start fishing. Right now neither of us has any intention of dating – when we do we’ll look at releasing the information to the media – but the girls are the first priority.”

“My, my, we have got this all planned out. When was the last time you spoke to each other?”

“Last week.”

“I meant on the phone, Andrea – not emailing about flight schedules and press releases.”

Andy fell silent.

“Oh I see,” Elizabeth said with a smirk.

“And what’s so funny, Mom?” Andy snapped.

“Oh nothing, just watching the two women who moved Heaven and Earth to be together simply avoid each other for six months and assume that everything will be fine when they decide to play house for two weeks.”

“You don’t even like Miranda,” Andy snapped. “I thought this would make you happy.”

“I never said I didn’t like her. She’s a good sparring partner,” Elizabeth shrugged. “Have you been seeing anyone else?”

“Wha—no!” Andy stammered, and cursed the blush that rose to her face.

Elizabeth turned and looked at her, surprised. “Well, I must say I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It was nothing,” Andy sighed. “One night. A mistake.”

“That’s becoming quite the habit, Andrea. May I advise dealing with your current relationships before you go jumping into bed with other people? Not to mention I would highly suggest keeping that one to yourself if you expect the next couple of weeks to go off without a hitch. And for Christ’s sake, work on your poker face.”

Andy rubbed her face. This conversation was spiralling completely out of control.

“Why does it even matter?” Andy sighed. “Why should she care? I left, I’m surprised she’s still speaking to me at all.”

“Why should she care? You know what…never mind, Andrea,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head.

Thank you.

Her mother turned to face her as they reached a red light, brow raised.

“You know what, if you want my opi—“

“I don’t,” Andy snapped.

“Well, you’re getting it. I think you’ve let this…lifestyle…go to your head.”

“Noted,” Andy said.

“Don’t take that tone with me, Andrea Elizabeth Sachs. You walked away and took that godforsaken job in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Miranda has been working her ass off to ensure the girls still want to be part of your life. All of our lives. I think you need an attitude readjustment.”

“God, don’t you think I know that!?” Andy yelled, losing her cool.

Her mother still possessed the ability to get under her skin and make her feel like she was 12-years-old again.

“Well, I’m beginning to wonder.”

Andy growled.

She was more than aware of her personal failings. God only knows she had been over and over how she had handled the situation with Miranda. The entire five months in the lead up to her leaving was a complete fucking shit-storm. They had been on a knife-edge, had barely managed to pull it back, and then she just had to go put her career first. Five years. Five extremely good years.

She loved her job, but she couldn’t deny that she had spent a significant amount of time second-guessing her decision. Miranda had thought she would be saving her from regret – and the worst part about it was she now realised that Miranda likely thought that she wasn’t enough. That Andy’s career meant more; and Andy had done that. She had created that situation. She had made Miranda think that.

She should have fought her – she should have done…something. Now it was too little, too fucking late.

“This was her idea!” Andy said. She knew it was pathetic but she hated letting her mother win.

“Well, I don’t think you left her much of a choice. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Miranda Priestly is beginning to look like an absolute saint.”

Andy wanted nothing more than to get out of the car.

“Can we not do this? I just got back, I’m exhausted, and I don’t want to spend the entire time arguing about my relationship with you. This is between me and Miranda. If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it,” Andy said tiredly.

“Fine, but this conversation isn’t over.”

“Like hell it isn’t” Andy snapped, turning to look out the window.

“Stop acting like a teenager,” Elizabeth said.

“Well, stop treating me like one,” Andy huffed.

Her mother chuckled, reaching over to muss her hair.

“Would you stop?” Andy grumbled.

“I’m sorry, but this haircut is going to take some getting used to,” Elizabeth said, referring to Andy’s pixie cut, changing the subject entirely. It was an art form they had developed over the years – moving from screaming to loving in under a minute. Her Dad had never been able to keep up.

“It’s practical – try having long hair under a niqab,” Andy said.

“I’d prefer you weren’t under a niqab at all,” Elizabeth said, her tone turning serious.

Andy turned to look at her mother, before reaching over and grabbing her hand.

“I’m sorry if this has been hard on you and Dad,” she said quietly.

“I know you feel you need to do this,” Elizabeth sighed. “I know you don’t think we understand, but we do.”

“Thank you,” Andy said quietly.

Her mother turned gripped her hand firmly for a moment, before returning it back to the gear stick.

“You’re driving a manual in the city?” Andy said.

“You can take the woman out of Ohio, but you can’t take the Ohio out of the woman,” Elizabeth chuckled. “Now, tell me about your job. You’ve been light on the details over the phone.”

“All right,” Andy said.

So, she spent the drive updating her mother on the details of her life. She told her about the people she worked with, and then the ones she had met. She told her about the stringers who risked their lives on a daily basis to feed them information while they remained in the relative safety of the compound. She told her about the kids left parentless, about the men and women struggling to survive with debilitating injuries, about the resilience of the Iraqi people and their unending kindness. She told her about the things that never made it to print, about the overwhelming desire for peace, about the beauty of Islam that the rest of the world never sees.

It felt like a surprisingly short drive before they pulled up in front of the townhouse and Andy stared up at the building and felt her heart begin to pound in her chest.

“Are you coming in?” Andy said weakly.

“No,” Elizabeth said knowingly. “I saw the girls this morning.”

“Okay,” Andy said.

“It will be fine,” Elizabeth said, reaching over and laying a comforting hand on her knee. “Do you want me to help you with your suitcase?”

Andy shook her head. “No, you’re right. I made my bed, and now I have to sleep in it.”

“Just remember what you and Miranda set out to achieve. You say you ended it on civil terms? Try to keep it that way.”

Andy nodded, before she opened the car door and stepped out.

She leant back down to look at her mother. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Your father gets in tonight and we’ll see you in the morning.”

Andy nodded briskly before closing the door.

She popped the trunk and pulled out her suitcase. As she was setting it down on the sidewalk, the town house door flew open and Caroline came barrelling down the stairs.

“Andy!” she cried, before flinging herself into her arms.

Andy caught her, and felt her heart leap up to her throat as she wrapped her arms tightly around the 20-year-old and held onto her for dear life.

The tears sprung to her eyes before she could get a handle on them, and she gripped Caroline even tighter before letting her go.

She glanced up to see Cassidy and Miranda, almost complete mirror images of each other, standing in the doorway, observing the scene from a distance.

Miranda’s expression was unreadable.

Andy met her eyes and they stared at each other across the distance.

“Is Grams Sachs not coming in?” Caroline asked, breaking the moment.

Andy glanced at the young woman next to her and shook her head as she turned and closed the trunk, giving it two slaps with her palm before her mother pulled away from the curb, tooting twice as she drove down the street.

Caroline grabbed her suitcase for her, and Andy followed, fighting against the feeling of trepidation as she approached the stairs.

She stopped at the bottom, and hedged a glance at Miranda before turning to Cassidy and smiling tentatively.

“Hey, Cass,” she said.

It had been almost two years since she had seen Cassidy, which – now that she thought about it –was unforgivable. They had spoken over FaceTime every week, but it was different seeing her in the flesh. She had grown, so much. Her face had matured, and she held herself with an assured confidence which hadn’t been there before she left for Cambridge.

“Hey,” Cassidy said, taking a tentative step down one step and away from her mother.

“Do I get a hug, or have you decided to disown me?”

“Disowned, definitely disowned,” Cassidy said seriously, before her lip twitched and she threw herself down the remaining stairs at Andy.

“I missed you beautiful girl,” Andy said as she held Cassidy’s head against her chest, and brushed a hand through her hair.

“I missed you too,” Cassidy mumbled, strengthening her grip around Andy.

Andy met Miranda’s eyes.

Thank you, she mouthed silently.

Miranda simply nodded, her expression still closed off to Andy.

“You should all come inside. Caroline, take Andrea’s suitcase upstairs,” she ordered before turning and disappearing through the door.

Cassidy peered up at her, puzzled, while Caroline lugged her suitcase up the stairs.

“It’s been a hard few months,” Andy said to Cassidy, brushing it off.

Cassidy eyed her carefully in a way that was pure Miranda before deciding not to pursue the issue any further.

“Now, tell me all about Cambridge,” Andy continued, pulling Cassidy into a side-armed hug before following Caroline and Miranda inside.


 

Andy stepped out of the shower and rubbed the towel quickly over her short hair before pulling on a loose pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt.

The girls had left the house half an hour ago to ‘get coffee with friends’. It had been about as subtle as a herd of elephants, but frankly Andy was glad for the reprieve.

It had been a struggle, the two of them attempting to navigate a conversation without tipping off the girls.

Andy was pretty sure they had failed anyway – Caro and Cass glancing at each other in concern when they thought she and Miranda weren’t paying attention.

Andy eyed herself in the mirror, ruffling her short hair before walking out of the en suite and into the guest bedroom.

It was there she found Miranda, sitting stoically at the edge of the bed.

“Hey,” she said quietly.

Miranda’s eyes dragged up and down her form. “You’ve lost weight,” she said bluntly.

Andy shrugged her shoulders. “It gets…busy sometimes.”

Miranda pursed her lips in mild disapproval. “We need to talk about the girls.”

Andy nodded, moving to her suitcase to flick it open in search of her toiletries. “What do you want to do?”

“I think we should speak to them over dinner this evening. We can’t keep up this charade much longer.”

Andy squirted some moisturizer into her palm as she stood upright and began massaging it into her face.

“I agree. We were doing a terrible job of it anyway – the girls aren’t stupid,” Andy said, rubbing the remaining moisturizer into her forearms before moving to sit next to Miranda on the bed.

Miranda glanced at her momentarily before getting to her feet. “No, they’re not,” she said before moving towards the door and putting significant distance between them. “Dinner will be at seven,” she finished abruptly before she was gone.

Andy got to her feet and followed after her.

“Miranda, wait,” she called as she caught her at the top of the stairs.

Miranda stilled before turning back to face her.

“Can we talk?” Andy said quietly. “I know this is hard—“

“That would be the understatement of the century, Andrea,” Miranda snapped, cutting her off.

“Yeah, it would be, but I’ve been standing around the house for 3 hours and we’ve barely said two words to each other that haven’t been filtered through the girls. If you want me to go to a hotel, I will. If you want to yell at me, I’ll take it – God only knows I deserve it.”

“It’s a little late for self-deprecation, don’t you think?” Miranda said.

Her voice was steady, but her eyes were betraying the anger she had kept so cleverly hidden since she had arrived back this afternoon. Andy could tell she was struggling to contain it.

“Just say something,” Andy ordered. “I know you’re angry, stop pretending that you aren’t. Yell at me, hit me, do something.”

“Oh, and what exactly would that achieve?” Miranda spat. “Are you coming home? No, I don’t think so. You’re just going to swan in here for two weeks, enjoy what you are no longer invested in, and then disappear back to that missile infested sandpit. What I say will have very little bearing on the future, so I no longer see the point in bothering.”

“You told me to take the job, Miranda,” Andy replied. “You told me that was the only way we could keep some semblance of a relationship.”

Miranda gripped the bannister so hard her knuckles turned white. “And since when have you ever listened to me!?” she yelled, her voice breaking.

Andy took a step back.

Silence descended between them as Miranda’s words were left to echo in the nether.

Andy glanced down at her bare feet before looking back up at Miranda. She was struggling to get a handle on her anger, that much was obvious.

“I don’t want to fight with you,” Andy said.

“That’s exactly what you want, Andrea. You want me to be angry with you so you can feel better about leaving.”

“No, I don’t want to fight with you because I miss you.”

Miranda visibly paled before her face flushed in anger again. “Don’t,” she said in warning. “You made your choice,” she finished bluntly before turning and descending the stairs.

“What choice!?” Andy demanded from the top of the stairs. “You didn’t give me one!”

It slipped out, and Andy wished she could take it back. This wasn’t what she was here for.

Miranda paused, turning back to face her. “This conversation is over, Andrea,” she said coolly before continuing down the staircase.

“Miranda, wait,” Andy said, following her down.

Miranda ignored her, heading in the direction of the kitchen.

Andy growled and followed after her. “M,” she said as she entered the space. “That wasn’t what I meant.”

“Oh?” Miranda said waspishly. “Then what exactly was it that you meant?” she said as she rounded the breakfast bar and headed towards the coffee machine which was sitting on the counter.

“I miss being able to talk you. An adjustment in our sleeping arrangements doesn’t change that. I value your opinion more than anyone else. We spent five years together. I know you have my best interests at heart – if you didn’t, we wouldn’t even be here right now. You’re important to me; you, the girls, everything…it’s important.”

Miranda braced her hands against the counter and took a deep breath, still not turning to face her.

“M, please,” Andy continued. “You ghosted me out, you wouldn’t take my calls. I know I don’t deserve it, but I don’t want it end this way.”

“It was painful, Andrea,” Miranda said quietly. “Speaking to you was painful. Did you think this was going to be easy for me?” she finished as she turned around, arms crossed across her chest like it would hold everything in.

Andy took a step forward.

“Of course I didn’t,” Andy whispered.

“You had work to distract you,” Miranda said. “I had an empty house.”

Andy felt that like a knife to the abdomen. There was no denying she had thought about Miranda, alone, on many occasions over the last few months.

“M,” Andy said as she walked forward to stand in front of Miranda. “I know it’s not enough, but, I’m sorry for doing this to us.”

“No, it’s not enough, Andrea,” Miranda said quietly. “But I appreciate the sentiment nonetheless.”

Andy reached across to place a hand on Miranda’s forearm, but Miranda took a step back, shaking her head imperceptibly.

“Would you like a coffee?” Miranda said, clearing her throat as she turned to the espresso machine on the counter.

Andy ignored the lump in her throat at the rejection before nodding.

Miranda turned to her, her brow raised in question.

“Yes. Please,” Andy said. “And then maybe we can sit and discuss what we’re going to say to the girls?” she said, steering the conversation back to where it had started.

Miranda nodded her head minutely, conceding for a moment.

“That seems as a good a place to start as any.”

Chapter Text

Cassidy got up from the table and walked out of the room.

Caroline stared at the both of them in disbelief. “You can’t be serious!” she said.

“Your Mom and I decided it was for the best,” Andrea said, and Miranda watched the anger claw its way through onto Caroline’s face.

“You did this,” Caroline spat, and for a moment Miranda thought it was aimed at her, as it had always been in the past. However, she followed Caroline’s line of sight until her eyes landed on Andrea, who had paled considerably.

“That’s enough, Caroline,” Miranda snapped, her head whipping around. “This was a mutual decision. Andrea has been given a once in a lifetime opportunity which will solidify her career – unfortunately the time frame around that is undecided and we thought it was better for our relationship if we separated.”

“You support this!?” Caroline demanded of her then.

Miranda clenched her fist in her lap and bit back the truth.

“Yes, I support Andrea’s career, as she has always supported mine,” Miranda said smoothly.

“I don’t understand this! Why can’t you just do long distance?” Caroline said.

“Caro, it’s not fair of me to ask your Mom to do that. I don’t know how long I’ll be in the Middle East. It could be a few months, it could be years. I can’t expect that of her.”

“I don’t know why you’re there at all!” Caroline said. “What about Mom?”

Andrea was silent.

The click of heels sounded as Cassidy reentered the room, arms crossed firmly across her chest, eyes glistening. “Why did you choose become a part of this family, if all you intended to do was walk away?” she said, her voice quiet but firm.

Andrea looked stricken. “I’m not walking away, you will always be my family,” she said fiercely, before turning to face Miranda. “All of you.”

“Doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing,” Caroline snapped tearfully, getting to her feet. “I can’t be here right now,” she said as she stormed from the room.

“Caro, wait,” Andrea cried, getting to her feet.

Miranda put a hand on her arm. “Let her go,” she said. The front door slammed shut moments later.

Miranda looked at Cassidy. “Come and sit down please. I know you’re upset, but we haven’t made this decision lightly, I assure you.”

“I think I should go check on Caroline,” Cassidy said quietly, looking between the two of them.

“Cass,” Andrea said weakly.

“I can’t talk to you right now, Andy,” Cassidy said. “Mom, we’ll be back later,” she said as she grabbed her purse off the bench and walked out.

Andrea sat there silently, staring at the door.

Miranda got to her feet and began collecting their plates and empty wine glasses from dinner.

“Well, that went well,” Andrea said.

“Indeed,” Miranda said with a slight eye roll as she walked into the kitchen and dropped everything off on the bench before picking up a bottle of red from the wine rack and two fresh glasses.

She walked back to the table and placed the glasses down before reaching for the cork screw.

“Wine?” Miranda asked.

“Please,” Andrea said as wiped at her eyes.

Miranda chose to ignore it. She popped the cork on the bottle and poured them each a glass, before she took up Caroline’s seat, sitting opposite Andrea.

Andrea reached for the glass, raising it slightly in toast towards Miranda before taking a deep sip.

Miranda watched her.

Sitting there, at a table they had shared an uncountable number of meals over; a place where there had been laughter and tears, good news and bad, Andrea looked uncomfortable. Like she couldn’t relax in the house she once called home.

Baghdad had taken the stillness out of her. She was tightly wound, ready to leap into action at a seconds’ notice.

The past eight months had changed Andrea.

It wasn’t just the hair, or the tan, or the freckles which dusted her nose that had never been there before.

It was the pride, the ambition, the sureness with which she stuck to her decision.

It may have been the same woman she had lived with for over five years, but to Miranda, in that moment, she looked and felt like a stranger.

The distance between them was undeniable.

When Andrea placed her wine glass down, she began spinning the stem between her index finger and her thumb.

The gesture was familiar, and Miranda took a small amount of comfort from that as she watched her.

“I want to say thank you,” Andrea said, glancing up to meet her eyes. “For supporting me with the girls. You didn’t have to do that. You could have handled this whole situation differently and I…I’m really glad you didn’t.”

Miranda simply nodded before taking a sip from the glass in front of her. “Just give them some time,” she said.

Andrea nodded, before running her hand through her pixie cut.

Miranda watched her hand slide through the short locks. She didn't hate it, but it was taking some time to get used to. “Why?” she said suddenly, waving her hand in Andrea’s direction.

Andrea’s eyes crinkled in confusion. “Why what?”

“The hair,” Miranda said.

Andrea barked out a laugh. “Do you have any idea how hot it gets under a niqab?”

“Apparently quite, given that even under a niqab you’ve still somehow managed to get a tan.”

Andrea smiled tentatively in her direction, and Miranda couldn’t help but recognize the young woman who had thrust a cup of coffee through her window, leapt uninvited into an elevator, hijacked her town car, and shared her bed, her study, her life, and her daughters for over half a decade.

“I’ve been waiting all day for you to say something, you know,” Andrea said.

“Oh trust me, if we didn’t have so many other things to preoccupy us today, that,” she said, waving her hand in the direction of Andrea’s hair, “would have been the first thing I mentioned.”

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad!”

Miranda raised her brow. “Who cut it? The local butcher?”

“Local English teacher,” Andrea corrected with a wince.

Miranda rolled her eyes. “I’ll book you an appointment with Mark this week.”

“Thank you, Miranda.”

“Oh trust me when I tell you I’m not doing this for your benefit,” Miranda replied.

“Nevertheless,” Andrea said with a shrug as she lifted her glass to her lips again.

Miranda hummed in agreement before shifting topics. “We need to discuss next week.”

“You invited my mother,” Andrea said blandly.

“It’s a family event,” Miranda said.

“She knows, by the way.”

“Of course she does. That woman never can quite manage to mind her own business.”

“I still can’t believe you had her here for Christmas,” Andrea snorted.

“I was feeling sentimental. Trust me when I say it won’t happen again.”

“No,” Andrea said then. “I don’t suppose it will.”

They both fell silent at that.

Andrea rubbed her hands over her face.

“You’ve had a long 24 hours, Andrea,” Miranda said. “Perhaps you should go to bed.”

“I need to wait for the girls to get home. I can’t leave it like this.”

“You have two weeks to work things out with them. Give them the evening to cool off. It'll be better in the morning. We've had months to process this, they've had 20 minutes.”

“You’re right,” Andrea sighed as she scrubbed her face tiredly. She drained her glass and got to her feet.

Miranda stood with her.

“Thanks for dinner,” Andrea said. “It was perfect, as always.”

Miranda simply nodded as Andrea excused herself and headed towards the door.

She paused with her hand on the frame, turning back.

“Goodnight, M.”

“Sleep well, Andrea.”


 

Miranda glanced up from the Book as a knock sounded at the study door.

“Come in,” she said as she placed the cap back on her pen and set it down.

The door opened, and Andrea was standing there sheepishly, a laptop under her arm.

“This is probably a bit presumptuous,” Andrea said, and Miranda simply rolled her eyes and waved at the sofa before her.

Over the last few days, she and Andrea had slowly navigated their way to a tentative peace.

They had managed the situation without being at each others throats, miraculously, which had seen the girls come round also.

Miranda wouldn’t go so far as to say she was happy with the situation, but it was the outcome she had planned for, so she was willing to live with it…in small doses.

“What are you working on?” Miranda asked, taking off her glasses and putting them down on the desk.

“It’s a side project,” Andrea said. “I’m looking into the impact of the war on the education system in Baghdad and surrounding areas. Long term effects on the youth population, that kind of thing. Did you know there are actually quite a few foreign nationals teaching English in Iraq and Afghanistan? Not to mention American troops are involved in assisting students, and it’s become something of a cultural exchange program for both countries.”

“Propaganda for the military, Andrea?” Miranda said with a smirk, leaning forward and bracing her elbows on her desk.

“Funny,” Andrea said as she dropped down onto the sofa and swung her legs up, before rolling to face Miranda, putting her laptop down on the ground and propping her head up on her hand.

“September issue?”

Miranda sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Yes. And why on the Earth the world insists I must celebrate turning sixty this month is beyond me. This little party is taking up more time than I can afford.”

Andrea snorted. “Little?”

“Don’t start. I’ve had enough sass from your mother.”

“She’s just pissed because you had a hand in choosing her dress, and she likes it.”

“She’s been very tight-lipped about that,” Miranda said with a knowing smile.

“Pride,” Andrea sighed. “It’s a family affliction.”

“So I’ve noticed,” Miranda said, rolling her eyes. “How was your day with the girls?”

“Better,” Andrea said. “They’re not happy with the situation, but…better.”

“I dare say they’re growing up,” Miranda said.

“Barely seven days to get out of the dog house. I must have set a new record,” Andrea said with a smile.

Miranda’s eyes flicked to the calendar and she took a deep breath. It had gone quickly. Her birthday party was in a week’s time, and the following day Andrea would be gone.

The longer Andrea was back, the less like a stranger she seemed. They had relaxed back into a familiar rhythm and it was comforting. Having a full house again was comforting too, and Miranda wasn’t ready to let it end just yet.

Perhaps it was because of this birthday, or perhaps she was simply getting soft, but Miranda was being indulgent, and it was dangerous. She knew it wasn’t safe to allow this to happen, but she couldn’t bring herself to enforce the distance between them she knew they sorely needed.

She tamped down on the warning signals in her mind and smiled teasingly at Andrea. “Are you sure they’re not plotting your demise? They’re letting you off awfully easy.”

“Oh God, don’t say that,” Andrea groaned, slumping back dramatically onto the sofa. “They're not the only ones. Oh, and thanks by the way,” she said.

Miranda raised her brow in question. “What for?”

“Not hiding all my cushions,” she said, sighing in contentment as she leaned back on one of said cushions and reached for her laptop.

“I should have burned them,” Miranda said, reaching for her pen. “They clash with the colour scheme.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Andrea said, turning her head and smiling softly.

“Yes, well, it’s not like you deserve it.”

“No, I don’t deserve any of this at all,” Andrea said, her brow crinkling and her face turning serious as she sat up and tossed her laptop aside. “Can we talk? I mean really talk, for a moment?”

“I suppose it’s inevitable,” Miranda sighed and closed the Book, pushing it to the side.

“I want to apologize,” Andrea began. “Really apologize. I know sorry doesn’t mean a lot in this situation, but the way I handled the application last June? It was unfair. I think you knew going out there wouldn’t be a one-time-only offer; I think you had known for a while. Rather than talk about it, I just barged ahead thoughtlessly, and refused to listen.”

Miranda didn’t disagree.

“My mother said I’ve let the lifestyle go to my head,” Andrea said as she ran a hand through her short hair. “I think she’s right. I got so focused on what I could achieve, that I forgot about what was important.”

“Yes, you did. You walked straight out of our life with absolutely no intention of returning,” Miranda said. “You’re not that naïve, Andrea. You knew the path your career was taking, and you had to have known what it would mean for us.”

“You’re right,” Andrea conceded.

“You were punishing me, Andrea. And I still have absolutely no idea why,” Miranda said as she stood up out of her chair and rounded the desk to lean against it.

“I don’t even know myself. I…resented you. You had everything, you had exactly the career you wanted, and I…I wanted something for myself. Something away from New York. Something that wasn’t inextricably tied to us.”

“You’re an extremely respected journalist, Andrea. That has nothing to do with our relationship.”

“Yeah, but it helped, Miranda. You can’t deny that,” Andrea said. “And then after the girls left? I lost my sense of purpose. I didn’t need to be at home any more. You didn’t need me to be at home. I didn’t want to be the stay at home wife while you were off in Europe twice a year for the shows, and travelling for usual work just as much.”

“So you decided to even the score? Is that it?”

“I don’t know,” Andrea said. “It’s not that simple. I wanted it too. I wanted that position. I earned it. In spite of everything, I still want it.”

“Regardless of the cost.”

“No,” Andrea said, getting to her feet and moving to stand in front of her. “No, the cost was too high,” she said gently.

Miranda drew a shaky breath. “We’re exactly where we were six months ago.”

“I know.”

Miranda leaned forward and rested her forehead against Andrea’s. “If I knew you were coming home…” she whispered.

“I know, but you don’t. I don’t. And, I’m sorry about the other day. When I told you that you didn’t give me a choice? I was wrong. I’m the one who left you without one,” Andrea said as she reached forward and slid her arms around Miranda’s waist and tentatively pulled her into an embrace.

Miranda allowed herself to fall into it. It was the closest they had been since she had arrived back, and if her heart didn’t feel like it was tearing in two, it might have brought her some comfort.

They stood there for a long time, cheek to cheek, like a dance long forgotten, and when Miranda finally pulled away, it felt like the music had stopped.

Everything had stopped.

“What do we do now?” Miranda asked.

“The only thing we can do. We move on, and move forward. I’ll pack up my things over the next few days and have them moved to a storage unit – give you your house back.”

Miranda nodded. “I’ll call Leslie tomorrow, and we can work on the press releases before you leave.”

“I don’t want to leave you having to pick up the pieces. Perhaps it would be better if we do it sooner?”

“No,” Miranda said, brushing her off. “I’ve managed through three divorces. This will be no different. I want our next few days together, as a family, to be enjoyable. The media circus can wait.”

Andrea released a shaky breath. “I’d like that, too.”

“So, we’re in agreement for once?”

Andrea chuckled. “It would appear so. Hell must have frozen over.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “You know, this is all very well and good for you. You’re not the one turning sixty on Monday.”

Andrea lifted her hand to touch her cheek. “You don’t look a day over forty, M, and you know it,” she said with a watery smile, before dropping her hand.

Miranda reached to grab it. “I need you to promise me you’ll take care of yourself. This isn’t a permission slip to take unnecessary risks.”

Andrea nodded. “I promise.”

Miranda looked down at their joint hands, before taking a deep breath and letting go.

Chapter Text

“Cass, it can’t possibly be taking that long to get your make-up done,” Caroline whined as she braced her hands on either side of the doorframe, glaring at her sister who was being tended to by a stylist.

“Caro, have you seen my heels?” Andy said as she ran up the steps towards her.

“Andrea, I sincerely hope you’re not running in that dress,” Miranda called out from her bedroom.

“Don’t say a word,” Andy said to Caroline as she slowed to a walk.

“Tell Cass to hurry up and I might let you off,” Caroline said.

Cass flipped them both off.

“Andy, I’m sorry, it won’t be long,” Annabelle said with a wince.

Andy waved her off. “Ignore her, Annabelle,” she said before turning to Caroline. “Cassidy doesn’t control the stylists.”

“Yeah, but she’s making life difficult. She’s pickier than Mom.”

“Don’t let your mother hear that. Go to the guest room - Mark is still set up. If you ask nicely Troy will do your make-up.”

Caroline eyed her face. “He did a good job. You look really good.”

“Thanks,” Andy winked. “Now, go. You know your mother hates being late,” she said as she walked towards the master bedroom.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Caroline said.

“Miranda?” Andy said, knocking on the door which was slightly ajar before entering. “I can’t find my—“

Andy stopped in her tracks.

“Can’t find your, what?” Miranda asked as she turned, securing her earring as her stylists packed up.

“Umm, my heels,” Andy said.

“Andrea,” Miranda said, voice low and the tiniest hint of a smile on her lips.

“Hmm?”

“You’re staring.”

“You look amazing,” Andy said.

And she did.

“Is that vintage?” Andy asked, tilting her head.

“Chanel, 1931,” Miranda said casually as she secured her other earring. “I wanted to ensure there would be something older than me in the room tonight; aside from your mother of course.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you managed to secure a museum piece. Gold is a great colour on you, though.”

“I know,” Miranda said.

“For a woman who has been complaining about this party since the moment I stepped back in the country, you seem to be enjoying this an awful lot.”

“I’m doing no such thing,” Miranda sniffed, as she walked to her vanity and reached for a bracelet.

Andy watched her as she slung it around her wrist and secured the clasp expertly. Her signature coif was perfectly in place, and she was polished from head to foot.

As Miranda took a deep breath and straightened, Andy couldn’t help but be in awe of her. Even after all of these years, Miranda in full La Priestly mode still tended to pull the rug out from under her feet.

Miranda looked down at Andy’s bare feet and shook her head lightly in mock exasperation.

“Your heels are in the walk-in, Andrea, as I told you yesterday if you might recall.”

“There was a lot of talk about shoes, dresses and stylist schedules yesterday, I lost track after the third glass of wine.”

“Of course you did. Go and put them on, the car will be here shortly.”

Andy nodded and ducked into the closet.

She slipped into the Gucci Lili Platform sandals and winced a little at the height. They had a 5.3” heel and it had been quite some time since she had needed to wear something that deadly.

As walked out, Miranda’s eyes traced her from head to foot.

“Turn,” Miranda ordered.

Andy did as she was told.

When she stopped, Miranda proceeded to walk around her before nodding in approval.

“Well, I must say Alessandro was correct when he said he had the gown for you.”

Alessandro Michele had taken over as Creative Director for Gucci last year, and Miranda had taken a shine to him immediately. The dress was a black halter with a completely open back. It had an armour of rhinestone across the chest and waist, and exuded power.

Andy had little doubt that the effect was exactly what Miranda had intended.

Andy brushed her hands down the front of the gown self-consciously under Miranda’s scrutiny.

“You know, it’s a little disconcerting that you can still manage this when you haven’t seen me for eight months,” Andy said.

“I have an extremely good memory, Andrea,” Miranda said.

Together they were going to be striking.

It was a swan song that Miranda intended New York to never forget.

“How far away are the girls?” Miranda asked as she excused her stylists.

“It could be a bit longer, Cassidy seems to have inherited your perfectionist streak but has failed to grasp the time management aspect yet.”

“Caroline?”

“In with Troy now, but you know he’s efficient. It shouldn’t be too long.”

“Mark has done an exceptional job on your hair,” Miranda said.

“Caroline said I no longer look like a butch lesbian, so I guess I’ll take that as a compliment?”

There was a knock at the door and Jillian poked her head around. “Sorry to interrupt Miranda, but the car has arrived.”

“Tell them it’ll be another 15 minutes,” Miranda said.

Jillian nodded before disappearing.

“Mom?” Cassidy called out from down the hall.

“Go,” Andy said, “I’ll get our things together.”

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Miranda said.

Andy took a moment to breathe and look around the room that had once been theirs. It looked different now. She had spent the week extricating the last of her things from the room. Half a bottle of her perfume that was still on the vanity; some of her products that still lay scattered around the en suite; pieces of jewelry, clothes, shoes, photographs, and the odd knick knack from her travels. Everything was packed away in boxes, now sitting in the den, ready to be relocated to storage.

It felt far too final.

Andy thought it was the right thing. They kept saying it was the right thing. However, it had all happened so fast she hadn’t had a second to process it.

Baghdad was supposed to be a job, one she would eventually come back from.

Except now that dingy unit back in the desert, and the group of misfits who came with it were now all that was left of her life.

Andy felt a sudden overwhelming sense of grief.

“You ready?” Cassidy said, as she walked into the room.

Andy took one last look around, before she turned to face Cassidy.

“Yeah, let’s go.”


 

“My, my, Six. You do clean up well,” Nigel said as he leaned in to kiss Andy’s cheek in welcome. “I didn’t think I’d get to see you this trip, after all of those newsy emails you’ve been sending,” he added sarcastically.

“Sorry I haven’t been in touch, Nigel,” Andy said.

“Well, who has time for the mere mortals of New York’s fashion industry when they’re out saving the world, hmm?”

“Yes, well I can’t be seen to be associating with such vapid individuals, I’d lose all of my credibility.”

“Ouch. What have they been feeding you out in the desert? It’s a shame you’re bedding the Queen, darling, or I might have been convinced.”

“Funny,” Andy said, smacking Nigel lightly with the back of her hand.

“You both look stunning,” Nigel said, glancing over his shoulder at Miranda who was engaged in conversation with the head of J.Crew, Jenna Lyons. “And I must say,” he said, turning back to her, “I love the hair. Although, I would have paid to have seen the look on Miranda’s face when she saw it for the first time.”

“She booked me an appointment with Mark as soon as I got back,” Andy laughed.

“I’m glad she thought to save us all from the hatchet job it likely was two weeks ago.”

“Hey!” Andy said, smacking him on the arm.

“It’s good to have you back, Six,” Nigel said.

“Thanks.”

“And she is glowing this evening – which is in no doubt thanks to you,” he said. “When are you coming home? Permanently, I mean?”

“I’m not,” Andy said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I fly back out tomorrow. I’m on a rolling permanent contract, Nigel. I thought you knew that?”

“Miranda has been light on the details in regards to your tenure. I’m struggling to believe she’s okay with this. I know you two cooled things off, but I thought after tonight…”

“No, Nigel.”

“But, why? Six, this is getting ridiculous,” Nigel said, exasperated. “I don’t understand you. Either of you.”

“You don’t have to,” Andy said. “Miranda and I have made our decision. It’s…better this way.”

Nigel’s eyebrow shot up at her hesitation. “You sure about that?”

Andy shot him a warning glare as saw Emily and Serena approach. “Let it go, Nigel.”

“Fine, but for the record? You’re an idiot; and if you get your head blown off I’m not coming to your funeral.”

“Noted,” Andy gritted out.

“What are you two divas arguing about?” Emily said as she approached.

“Wonder Woman here is going back to the desert tomorrow,” Nigel said, unapologetically. “Permanently.

Andy resisted the urge to kick him in the shins.

“Why am I not surprised?” Emily said. “Well, at least if you lose a leg you’ll be a few pounds lighter.”

“Emilía,” Serena scolded.

“What? If Andrea insists on putting herself in danger, then she’ll get no sympathy from me.”

“I’m standing right here, Emily,” Andy said.

“Oh, so you are. Shall I thank you for gracing us with your presence?” Emily sassed.

“Are you both planning on keeping this up for the entire night, or can we get a drink?” Andy said, looking pointedly at Emily and Nigel before turning to greet Serena properly. “Hi, Serena,” she said, embracing the taller woman.

“It’s good to see you Andrea,” Serena said with a smile. “The hair looks good.”

“Thanks,” Andy said with a smile, turning her back on Emily. “You look amazing as always.”

“Yes, yes, she woke up like that,” Emily said behind her. “What do you want?”

“Would a hug be asking too much?” Andy said, turning around.

“I meant to drink you daft cow,” Emily said.

“Champagne?”

“The bubbles go to your head. I’m not putting up with you giggling like an idiot for the entire evening.”

“Fine, white?” Andy said.

Fine, I’ll be back in a moment,” Emily said before stalking off.

Serena placed a comforting hand on her lower back, leaning in conspiratorially. “She was excited to see you, you know.”

Andy turned and smiled at Serena. “I know.”

“Although, I must say Andrea, you haven’t been a very good friend to her lately,” Serena chided. “She has no idea what’s going on.”

Andy felt her stomach drop in guilt. “I know, we’ve both been busy and things have been…complicated.”

“Just let her know you’re okay once in a while,” Serena said.

Andy nodded.

“Anyway,” Serena said, changing tact, “I can’t wait for the meet & greets to be over so we can start dancing,” Serena finished, popping her hip against Andy’s.

Andy groaned.

“That’s only because you can dance,” Nigel said to Serena. “Six here looks like Bambi stumbling around unless she has Miranda to lead.”

“Why can’t there just be drinking?” Andy said.

“Well this will start you off,” Emily said as she returned, thrusting a glass of white wine into Andy’s hand. “Cheers to you, hopefully keeping all your limbs for the foreseeable future, if Miranda doesn’t kill you first.”

“Cheers!” Nigel and Serena echoed.

“Thanks, Em,” Andy said contritely as she reached out to grasp the other woman’s arm, an apologetic look on her face.

Emily nodded in understanding.

“Speak of the Devil,” Nigel said as Miranda approached them.

“Happy Birthday, Miranda,” Serena said, turning to greet her.

“Thank you, Serena,” Miranda smiled, leaning in to kiss her lightly on each cheek. “I trust you’re all finished torturing Andrea?”

“Not even close, old friend,” Nigel said.

Miranda’s brow shot up at the old.

“Would you like a shovel, Nigel?” Andy snorted as she moved towards Miranda. “What’s up?”

“People are asking after you,” Miranda said.

“Sorry,” she said. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t you dare go disappearing without saying goodbye again,” Emily said pointedly. “I’m still positively vexed with you.”

“I won’t, I promise,” Andy said as she leaned in and hugged her lightly. “I missed you.”

“Oh get off me before you ruin my dress.”

Andy laughed as she pulled away and held out her arm to Miranda. “Shall we?”

Miranda nodded as she slid her arm through Andy’s and they walked away.

“I should have left you to the wolves,” Miranda said.

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Where are the girls? I’ve been caught up with Jenna for the better part of the last 30 minutes.”

“Last time I checked, Caroline was flirting up a storm with one of the models from the last Dior campaign, and Cassidy…” Andy said, scanning the room. “Is still talking to the Governor about last month’s nail salon legislation I do believe,” she finished, pointing her out.

“I don’t want her dating male models,” Miranda sighed.

“She’s 20,” Andy said. “It’ll pass.”

“Not soon enough,” Miranda said.

“You don’t have a drink. Why don’t you have a drink?” Andy said, steering them in the direction of the bar.

“Not all of us are alcoholic journalists, Andrea.”

“Yeah, yeah, but it’s your birthday,” she said as she waved the bartender over and ordered another white wine for Miranda.

“Birthday party,” Miranda corrected.

“Same difference,” Andy shrugged before handing Miranda the fresh glass.

“David Remnick is here with his wife,” Miranda said as she accepted the glass and took a small sip. “You may want to take this opportunity to pitch your little side project.”

“Not tonight,” Andy said.

Miranda raised her brow in question.

“Tonight is about family, Miranda. I don’t want to talk business.”

“How noble.”

“Don’t start,” Andy said, nudging Miranda lightly.

Miranda glanced up, “Well, you have your wish, Andrea,” she said before her eyes flew heavenward.

Andy turned and spotted her mother and father making their way over.

You invited her,” Andy reminded Miranda before smiling broadly at her mother.

“Hey, Ma,” Andy said.

“I thought we’d catch you both while you were otherwise unattended,” Elizabeth said. “Miranda, you look lovely. Happy Birthday.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth,” Miranda said genuinely.

“The party is a little stately, however. Why is no one dancing?”

Andy could see Miranda’s fingers tighten around her glass.

“Everyone’s just settling in, Ma. The idea is to get everyone drunk first so they stop worrying so much about what everyone else thinks,” Andy said.

Elizabeth chuckled. “Well, given the crowd I suppose that level of vanity isn’t surprising.”

“Mom,” Andy growled, even as she gripped Miranda’s arm in warning. She wasn’t in the mood to play referee between the two of them.

“How does it feel, Miranda?” Richard interjected quickly, and Andy could have kissed him.

“Much the same as it did on Monday,” Miranda said, turning towards him and dragging her glare off Elizabeth.

“It’s a little anti-climactic isn’t it?”

“It is indeed,” she said. “Thank you both for attending.”

“You’re family,” Richard said. “Regardless of the future.”

Andy had told her parents officially a couple of days ago. Her father was quick to notice her mother didn’t look at all surprised. He had simply sighed and complained about never being able to keep up.

“The girls would like to ensure that this doesn’t in any way affect your relationship,” Miranda said. “They’ve become rather attached and I appreciate them having the opportunity to have you both in their lives.”

“That will never change,” Elizabeth said fiercely.

“I appreciate it,” Miranda said to Elizabeth in reluctant acknowledgement of her role in the girls’ lives.

They heard a clink from the across the room and everyone glanced up to spot Nigel standing in front of the mic as the band wound down the music.

“I thought I said no speeches,” Miranda hissed.

“You honestly expected Nigel to listen?” Andy said.

Elizabeth chuckled with glee as a server arrived before them with glasses of freshly poured champagne.

“Good evening everyone,” Nigel said as the clapping and wolf-whistling died down. Apparently the alcohol had been flowing plenty free.

“We are gathered here this evening, to celebrate the birthday of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Miranda Priestly,” he began, gesturing in their direction, as applause broke out around the room.

“I met Miranda 32 years ago under circumstances which I’ve been told will go with me to the grave if I appreciate my reputation, job, and favourite body parts…all two of them,” he said, and the crowd burst into laughter.

Miranda’s lips pursed as the girls sidled up beside them.

Andy was struggling to hold back the laughter bubbling up in her chest.

“Let’s just say Miranda isn’t quite as well behaved as she would like the world to think,” Nigel added and Andy chuckled.

“Whoa boy, he’s a dead man,” Caroline said.

“That he is,” Miranda agreed.

“Miranda sent out a blanket memo to inform everyone that there were to be no lengthy speeches this evening, no spectacles, and absolutely no comedians under any circumstances,” Nigel said, eyes twinkling as he winked in their direction. “And I do believe I’ve strayed a little too close to that line already,” Nigel said with a grin.

“I do believe you’ve crossed it,” Miranda said clearly, and laughter broke out once more.

“Okay, okay. Before I lose my assets, I propose a toast,” he said, lifting his glass.

The room followed suit.

Andy took a moment to look around. Models, designers, photographers, artists, writers – creative individuals who Miranda had helped mold, shape and support over the last 40 years as she climbed her way to the top of the fashion industry. Many of the careers in this room wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for her. They looked at her now, with nothing but the utmost respect.

She was ruthless, but she did what she did for the betterment of an industry she truly believed in. Although Andy had never fully grasped the importance of the fashion industry, and likely never would, Miranda was a patron of the arts and still the most astounding individual she had ever met.

“To Miranda,” Nigel said. “Happy Birthday.”

“Happy Birthday!” everyone echoed, as the band began playing and the room began singing.

“Honestly,” Miranda said, shaking her head, but there was a small smile playing at the edge of her lips which indicated she was pleased nonetheless.

As the singing wound down, Miranda moved towards the stage and took the microphone to resounding applause.

“Thank you, everyone,” she said gently. “I am overwhelmed by your attendance this evening.”

Miranda scanned the room before her eyes settled on her, and the girls who were flanking her on either side.

“So much has changed since I began my career a number of years ago. When I was growing up, I was taught women were to be seen and not heard – that aspirations were to be limited to housewifery and motherhood if one expected to have an enjoyable life. New York was the land of opportunity for many women in those days, and fashion was an industry where femininity held great power. Great individuals such as Coco Chanel,” she paused to indicate to her dress, “Helped to carve out a separate sphere for us all, to give us room to grow beyond the station that had been laid down for us against our choice. I was a few months shy of 16 when she passed away, however her strength, ambition and determination in business can be counted among the number of influences which drove me to where I am today.”

Andy watched as Miranda caught her eyes.

“Being a successful woman in this world, at times, requires great sacrifice,” Miranda continued. “A burden I know only too well. However, I have been blessed with a beautiful family who join me here tonight to celebrate.”

All eyes turned to Andy and the girls.

“Family comes in many forms, and one form is no better than another. Those who know you at your best, and your worst, will always be your greatest supporters. Regardless of what may happen along the way, they will always be there for you if you let them.”

Andy felt the tears build in her eyes as she nodded in acknowledgement.

“Now, I do believe I said there were to be no lengthy speeches this evening,” Miranda said and laughter reverberated around the room, breaking the spell Miranda had cast over them all.

“Thank you all once again, and please enjoy the remainder of the evening,” she finished, as she stepped back from the microphone.

The room erupted into applause as Miranda made her way off the stage, pausing to embrace a guy with dreads as he moved to take her place on stage.

“You’re an idiot,” Nigel whispered into her ear.

Andy was beginning to realize he was very much right.

“Oh my God!” Caroline squealed, and as Andy turned she noticed even Cassidy looked excited.

“What?” she asked.

“Mom got The Weeknd!”

As the opening bars of ‘I Can’t Feel My Face When I’m With You’ burst out from the speakers, everyone began flocking towards the stage.

Andy watched as Miranda made her way back over, a smile playing across her lips as she took in Caroline’s excitement.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Caroline squealed, throwing herself at her mother.

“Abel is quite a talented young man, and very well spoken,” Miranda said feigning nonchalance at Caroline’s reaction.

“Come dance!” Caroline said as she grabbed Cassidy’s arm and then Miranda’s.

“We’ll be there in a moment, Bobbsey,” Miranda said, pushing the girls along, before moving to stand next to Andy, signaling a server for more wine.

They stood quietly next to each other.

“I meant what I said, Andrea. I will always be here if, and when, you need me,” Miranda said.

Andy simply reached out her hand and slipped it into Miranda’s.

“You’re not making tomorrow easy, you know. For either of us,” Andy said.

“When have I ever made anything easy, Andrea?” Miranda said as she linked their fingers together.

“Fair point,” Andy said, gripping Miranda’s hand.

“It’s our last evening together, and I intend enjoy it,” Miranda said.

“Do I have to?” Andy whined, looking at the dance floor.

“Yes, Andrea, you have to,” Miranda said, stepping forward and tugging on her hand.

“You’re punishing me.”

“Yes, I am.”


 

The night passed by in a blur of A-List musicians, dancing, and a lot of alcohol.

Watching her mother dance to Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ was enough to make Andy walk off in search of water.

“Oh no you don’t!” Emily said, circumventing her escape and dragging her back.

“My feet are killing me, Em.”

“Miranda is sixty for Christ’s sake and I can see her dancing with your father. You are not escaping that easily.”

“Can we at least get more alcohol?”

“Shots?”

“Why not,” Andy shrugged as they made their way to the bar.

They leaned against the dark wood bar as the bartender lined up four shot glasses and began pouring a healthy portion of tequila in each.

“I hate tequila,” Andy said.

“Tough. It’s your last night before you just piss off and leave us all, so you’ll drink what I bloody well give you,” Emily said as she grabbed two of the shots and slid them in front of Andy before grabbing the other two for herself.

Andy eyed the yellow liquid with distaste.

“Drink up, Sachs,” Emily said, raising her glass and waiting for Andy to join her.

They clinked the glasses before downing them in one.

Andy shuddered before slamming a piece of lime into her mouth and biting down quickly.

“Weak,” Emily said, before waving her hand at the next glass.

Andy groaned as she picked it up.

“That,” a voice said sternly, before the offending shot was plucked out of her hand, “Will be enough of that,” Miranda finished, before leaning past Andy and placing the shot glass down on the bar.

“Emily,” Miranda said, the dismissal clear in her tone.

“Going,” Emily replied. “But I don’t know why you’re being so bloody nice to her,” she snarked, slamming back her own tequila before grabbing Andy's and making her exit back in the direction of the dancefloor.

“You don’t like tequila,” Miranda said knowingly.

“No, I don’t,” Andy confirmed as she took in Miranda’s appearance. Her perfectly styled coif had managed to come loose, and her forelock had slipped down across her forehead.

Andy reached forward and tucked it behind her ear out of habit.

“I think it’s time to go home,” Miranda said.

“It’s only…” Andy moved to look at her watch and realized she wasn’t wearing one.

“It’s two-forty-five, Andrea.”

Andy looked around.

The dancefloor was still packed with people, but she could spot the faces she knew well enough.

Roy was leaning heavily against her father, whilst Ellie laughed and danced with a very attractive young model. Caroline was following suit, slow dancing with the unapproved Dior boy from earlier, and Cassidy was off at a table having a deep and meaningful conversation with someone Andy recognized from the political circuit, but whose name she couldn't recall. 

Emily danced alone with her eyes closed, a glass of wine swinging from her fingertips.

Everyone was absolutely hammered.

Now that she thought about it, so was she.

She turned back to Miranda and squinted.

“What about the girls?” Andy asked.

“They’re old enough to get a taxi home.”

"I'm drunk," Andy said.

"Yes you are."

“Are you drunk?”

“Quite.”

“You don’t get drunk.”

“Tonight I do. Come on,” Miranda ordered before leading them towards the rear exit.

Someone was waiting with their coats, and an attendant led them out of the venue to where a car was waiting.

As they slipped into the back, Andy immediately kicked off her heels and sighed in relief.

She heard the pop of a cork and turned to see Miranda pouring two glasses of champagne, before she dropped the bottle back in an ice bucket decidedly ungracefully.

“I thought we should celebrate,” Miranda said.

“I thought that’s what we’ve been doing all night,” Andy laughed.

Miranda ignored her and handed her a glass.

They clinked them together and Andy swiveled in her seat, pulling her legs up onto the seat and leaning back into the leather.

“Full circle,” Miranda said.

“Hmm?” Andy said.

“Never mind,” Miranda said quietly, turning to look out the window.

Andy stared at the back of her head for a moment, before reaching across for her hand. “Don’t go away just yet,” she begged gently.

Miranda laced their fingers together and continued to stare out the window.

“Just tonight,” she said, the warning clear.

“Just tonight,” Andy echoed.

Miranda finished her glass, turning to place it in the bucket before finally turning to look at Andy.

Andy finished her own before dropping it unceremoniously on the floor.

Miranda’s blue eyes were glassy, her skin lightly flushed from the alcohol. Her makeup had begun to fade, and the lines around her eyes were evident under the street lights as they wound their way through Manhattan.

She was as beautiful as she had ever been, and as Miranda tugged her forward there wasn’t a single thing she could do to stop herself tumbling head first back to where it had all began.

As they pulled up to the town house, Miranda stepped out of the car surprisingly gracefully and Andy followed. She opened the door and led her inside, before ascending the stairs silently.

When they reached the landing, Miranda walked into the master suite and left the door open.

The invitation was clear.

Andy stood at the top of the steps, a moment of indecision crossing her mind before she followed.

Miranda was standing in the centre of the room, attempting to unfasten her dress with one hand.

Andy moved towards her and clasped her wrist gently.

“That thing is almost a century old, M. Let me,” she said, as she released Miranda’s arm and moved behind her.

The back of the dress was secured with two small buttons at the base of the neck, and when Andy released them, she placed a gentle kiss at the top of Miranda’s spine.

When she felt Miranda lean back into the caress, she slid the gown from her shoulders before letting it pool on the floor.

“It was owned by Gloria Swanson,” Miranda said as she stepped out of the circle the dress had created. “Never say never,” she began, her voice taking on a musical quality as she unfastened her bracelet, her back still to Andy, “For, if you live long enough, chances are you will not be able to abide by its restrictions. Never is a long, undependable time, and life is too full of rich possibilities to have restrictions placed upon it,” she quoted as she dropped the bracelet on the floor.

“I haven’t seen you like this since we decided to drink that bottle of Yamazaki whiskey Anna Della Russo sent from Tokyo,” Andy said as she lifted the dress off the floor and grabbed the hanger off the back of the door, carefully securing the timeless fashion piece.

“Like what?” Miranda said, as she moved to stand behind Andy, deftly unfastening the single clip which held the halter dress at her neck.

“Poetic,” Andy said as she hung Miranda’s dress and turned, the front of her own dress dropping to her waist.

They were both bare from neck to hip.

Miranda reached out and traced her hand along Andy’s collarbone. “I promised myself, never again,” she whispered.

“Maybe we should stop,” Andy said, the skin beneath Miranda’s fingertips burning.

Miranda shook her head imperceptibly before taking a step forward. “Life is too full of rich possibilities,” she said, her breath ghosting across Andy’s lips before she closed the distance.

It was tentative as they picked up where they had left off in the town car.

A rediscovery.

Miranda tasted like the remnants of expensive wine and an awful lot like coming home.

Andy felt her knees hit the back of their bed as Miranda backed her into it before pushing her down. Hands tugged at the gown still hanging on her hips and pulled it clear before sliding a thigh between Andy’s and bearing down.

Andy moaned into the kiss as Miranda dragged her fingertips up along her calve, ghosting across her thigh before grabbing her ass and pulling her more firmly against her. Andy lifted her hips to meet her, arching her back, before pulling Miranda against her and flipping them, pinning Miranda beneath her.

She broke their kiss, breathing heavily.

“I missed you,” Andy said.

“Stop talking,” Miranda ordered as she leant up and recaptured Andy’s lips.


 

Andy stared out the window as the sun began filtering in.

Miranda’s chest rose and fell evenly beneath her.

The townhouse was silent.

She had heard the girls slip in some time around 5:00am, giggling as they stumbled their way up the stairs.

Her bags were packed, and a car was due to pick her up at 10:00am and take her to the airport.

Everything was so still.

Andy knew as soon as she moved, the bubble she had found herself in for the last two weeks would shatter, and she wasn’t ready quite yet.

Miranda stirred beneath her.

She coughed, rolling away from Andy in search of water.

When she failed to find any, she rolled back, wincing as she raised a hand to brace against her temple.

“The girls,” she said, her voice hoarse.

“I know,” Andy said as she took in Miranda’s disheveled appearance for a moment before pulling back the covers and stepping out of the bed. “Water?”

“Please,” Miranda said, rolling onto her back and throwing her hand over her eyes.

Andy found her underwear halfway across the room before moving to the drawer where she kept her gym clothes.

It was empty.

She grabbed Miranda’s robe from inside the walk-in and threw it on, before quietly opening the door and making her way back to the guest room. She quickly changed into a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt, before heading downstairs and turning on the coffee machine.

By the time she returned, Miranda was up and sliding the gold Chanel dress into a garment bag.

“Coffee’s on,” Andy said as she approached her with a glass of water and two ibuprofen.

“I’m going to shower. How long until your car arrives?” Miranda asked matter-of-factly.

“Not for three hours or so yet. You should go back to bed.”

Miranda shook her head. “Breakfast?”

Andy nodded. “I’ll go finish getting organized,” she said, ignoring the swirl of emotions running through her mind and the pit forming in her stomach as she left the room.


 

Cassidy was the first to surface, entering the kitchen with a look of mild panic on her face.

When Andy caught her eye, she relaxed.

“I thought maybe you’d left already,” Cassidy said.

Andy shook her head and smiled, holding out her arm.

Cassidy walked towards her and slid into the embrace as Andy used her fork to break off another piece of omelet.

Miranda was standing opposite her at the breakfast bar in a pair of casual slacks and a grey Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater which hung slightly off her left shoulder.

She was sipping tentatively at her coffee, the omelet in front of her still untouched.

Andy reached across and grabbed the plate, sliding it in front of Cassidy. “Your Mom has been staring at it for the last 15 minutes,” she said by way of explanation.

Cassidy looked at it in distaste.

Andy rolled her eyes.

“Where’s your sister?” Miranda asked.

“Still sleeping.”

“Would you mind waking her up?” Miranda said. “Tell her the car will be here shortly, if she wishes to say goodbye.”

Cassidy nodded before excusing herself upstairs.

“Mi—“

“Don’t,” Miranda said, shaking her head imperceptibly.

Heavy footsteps sounded down the stairs and Andy took one last look at Miranda, her hand gripped firmly around her coffee mug, before turning her attention to the girls entering the doorway.

“How’s the head?” Andy asked in forced cheer.

“Don’t ask,” Caroline groaned, lumbering forward to kiss her mother good morning before bee-lining it straight towards the coffee machine.

When she had a full mug grasped in her hand, Caroline moved towards Andy. “When are you leaving?”

“Soon,” Andy said.

“Okay,” Caroline said as she dumped her coffee mug on the breakfast bar before sweeping Andy up into her arms.

Andy wrapped her arms firmly around Caroline as they rocked back and forth.

“Are you sure you don’t want us to come to the airport?” Cassidy asked.

Andy shook her head, tears welling in her eyes.

The doorbell rang, and Andy pulled back, scrubbing at her eyes.

“Girls, can you help the driver with Andrea’s bags please?” Miranda said.

Caroline nodded and exited the room.

Cassidy grasped her in a quick hug before following her sister.

Andy picked up her plate and walked it to the sink, placing it down gently. She took a shaky breath before turning back to Miranda.

Miranda was standing there, her coffee mug still gripped in front of her like a shield.

“Are your parents meeting you at the airport?” Miranda asked.

Andy nodded.

“Good,” Miranda said as she looked down at her coffee mug before putting it to the side.

Andy stepped forward into her arms.

They said nothing as they embraced gently, before Andy pulled away and took a deep breath, straightening up.

Caroline entered the room. “Andy, sorry, but the car is waiting.”

Andy smiled tightly, before nodding and turning away.

She embraced each of the girls in turn before stepping out into the balmy August weather.

The driver opened the door as she approached, and she paused, her hand braced against the door as she turned back.

Miranda stood in the doorway, flanked by the girls.

It was an image she wouldn’t forget any time soon, and she knew that, but she forced herself to commit the details to memory nonetheless.

She slid into the car, and as the driver closed the door and they pulled away, she turned back and watched Miranda and the girls drift slowly out of sight.

Chapter Text

Andy pulled the veil from her face and pushed the black scarf covering her head off as soon as the door closed.

“Sorry I’m late,” Andy apologized, wiping the sweat from her brow as she inclined her head towards the woman sitting at the table.

The woman replied, at length, in Arabic but Andy only caught a few words.

“She said you shouldn’t be out walking the streets right now, it’s dangerous,” a young man said as he walked into the rooming, bringing with him a steaming hot casserole dish which he placed in the centre of the table.

“Khawlah, I’m being careful,” Andy replied to the woman, this time in Arabic.

Khawlah shook her head, and replied in English. “You still walk like a foreign woman, and you’re too tall.”

“You’re tall,” Andy protested.

“That’s not the point, I was born here.”

“So you’ve said before,” Andy replied before walking over and clasping her hands in greeting.

Khawlah smiled. “Sit. Eat. I got ingredients for Tepsi Baytinijan,” she said, waving at the casserole dish.

“You don’t have to feed me.”

“You look after my grandson, I look after you,” Khawlah said, and Andy knew it was pointless to argue with her. “Ammar, tea,” she ordered as Andy sat down.

Ammar disappeared out of the room again.

“This will need to be the last visit,” Khawlah said with regret in her eyes. “The Daesh and those videos…” she said, using the local name for ISIS.

“I know,” Andy said. “I saw them. I didn’t want to come today if I’m honest, but I was worried he might seek me out.”

“You’re a smart girl, Miss America,” Khawlah said.

Andy rolled her eyes at the nickname.

She had become acquainted with Khawlah and Ammar back in March, shortly after deciding to take Helena’s offer.

Ammar had become aware of who she was, or more importantly, who she was attached to.

He had sought her out, aggressively, until she had finally conceded to tell his story – and that of his boyfriend.

Late last year, shortly after Ammar’s 17th birthday, his boyfriend was beaten to death in front of him by three armed men, before he was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint, driven to a remote area of the city and raped by each of his attackers. They took turns, one holding him down, the other holding a gun to his head, and the third sexually assaulting him. When they finished, they beat him, forced glue and old rope up his anus, before finally dropping him naked and bleeding in front of his grandmother’s house as a clear warning to anyone else who chose to engage in homosexual conduct.

Khawlah had spoken about that evening with Andy only once, and never again.

Ammar had been lucky to be left alive.

To Khawlah, that alone was a blessing. She was an ex-English language teacher and her family had been decimated down to Ammar, her last surviving relative. She had lost two sons to the conflicts over the years, and her daughter-in-law, Ammar’s mother, to an IED attack in a market place in Baghdad.

It was a case of wrong place, wrong time for Ammar’s mother.

However, Andy knew that what they were doing now was actively putting Ammar at risk, and after what she had seen this morning she knew it was time to put a stop to their meetings.

Last night ISIS released a series of videos depicting members of the movement throwing men suspected of homosexual conduct from the rooftops of buildings.

Ammar was already known, and openly associating with the foreign press corp would only draw more attention.

They had been careful, but Andy had never been comfortable with putting his safety at risk from the very beginning. The only thing that had made her give ground in the end was Ammar agreeing to allow her to assist in getting him and Khawlah asylum status in America. Her research for the story provided a dual purpose.

Ammar re-entered the room and placed a cup of tea down in front of Andy and his Grandmother.

“Has there been any word from the Embassy yet?” Andy asked, turning to him.

“My application is still on hold,” Ammar said. “It’s being processed, they said.”

Andy growled.

“These things take time here,” Khawlah said.

“I know, but it’s frustrating. There is overwhelming evidence that Iraq is no longer safe for the two of you.”

Ammar and Kwahlah glanced at each other, a look passing between the two of them.

“What?” Andy said.

“My application has been rejected,” Khawlah said. “I’m not a protected class, and I’m not deemed to be at risk.”

“You’re his only living family!” Andy cried. “He’s a dependent!”

“He’s almost 18, Andrea.”

“Are you trying to tell me the American Embassy has his application on hold because he’s currently underage?”

“One less mouth to feed,” Khawlah said, spreading her hands and shrugging mildly, unsurprised by the situation as she reached over and began dishing them each out a bowl of the Iraqi stew.

“This can’t be legal,” Andy said, appalled.

“You’ve been here for almost a year, you know how this place – and your government –works,” Khawlah said.

“Maybe the article will help,” Ammar said, reaching out to grip her arm.

Andy could only hope so.

It had started out as something small, but Helena had guided to her towards looking at the bigger picture – to aim for maximum impact.

It now covered the persecution of multiple minority groups within Iraq, highlighting the continued failures of Western nations to protect and assist refugees and ‘at risk’ groups in the region. Jacks had been assisting her with video interviews, and they had so much material that Helena was discussing a short documentary for the website.

The final drafts were currently being edited, but Andy had a suspicion that Helena was taking her time, waiting for the refugee crisis in Europe to finally hit breaking point.

This was the kind of investigative journalism she had always dreamed of. It felt like she was finally beginning to reach the goals she had rejected Stanford Law to achieve.

However, that didn’t mean she was going to take any unnecessary risks.

“You need to stay at home,” Andy said, laying her hand over his and gripping tightly. “You just need stay safe. Please.”

Ammar smiled at her. “Of course,” he said.

“All right, enough talk. Eat,” Khawlah ordered, pushing a bowl towards each of them.

“Bismillah,” Andy and Ammar said in unison before picking up their spoons and beginning to eat.

“Bismillah,” Khawlah echoed.


 

“Hey,” Jacks said as Andy arrived back mid-afternoon, not looking up. She was sat on the ground, a blanket laid out and one of her multiple cameras in pieces.

“Sand?” Andy said as she pulled off her niquab and unclipped her flak jacket.

Jacks nodded, blowing on a piece of equipment before looking up. “How are they both?”

“Khawlah’s application got rejected, and Ammar’s is on hold. There’s nothing else I can do except harass the embassy. It’s not safe to keep seeing them,” Andy said.

“Khawlah’s been rejected outright?”

“Not a protected class.”

Jacks shook her head sadly. “Ammar?”

“Pending. Khawlah could piggy back on his case if he’s still a minor,” Andy said.

“Have you looked at applying elsewhere? Canada? Germany?”

“With Harper in power in Canada, and the influx in Europe right now? It wouldn’t be worth getting their hopes up.”

“Everything is worth a shot, Andy,” Jacks said gently. “Are you sure you’re all right? Defeated isn’t your usual style.”

Andy sighed and sat down on the step, pulling the flak jacket off and dumping it to the side, leaving her in a pair of tights and a wife beater.

“I’m just so frustrated. I’m supposed to be helping people, I’m supposed to helping them. Instead, I…”

“You’ve done everything within your power.”

“It’s not enough,” Andy said quietly.

“Sachs!” Matthew called out, interrupting them.

Andy shook off her melancholy and got to her feet.

There was still plenty of work to be done.

“Hey,” Jacks said. “Come find me later, it’s been almost a month since you got back and we still haven’t had that rematch.”

Andy groaned but nodded before heading towards her summons.


 

It was a few hours later that Jacks finally nudged her away from her laptop and took her in the direction of the gym.

Maho and one of the other NHK correspondents were strolling on the treadmill fairly casually when they walked in.

Maho threw her a quick wave before focusing her attention back on her iPad, which Andy knew would be streaming some Japanese cooking show.

Jacks threw her a pair of gloves, which she pulled on over her pre-taped hands.

Andy and Jacks sparred for the better part of 30 minutes before Jacks broke the silence.

“You’ve been quiet since you got back,” she said.

“You saw the stories,” Andy said, shrugging as she dodged an incoming left swing.

“Tabloid fodder, although I must admit, you both pulled quite the fast one on old Rupert Murdoch.”

Andy chuckled. “Miranda had a score to settle, I think she’s been waiting years to dig the knife in. The Post tore apart her three divorces, attempted to harass the girls, and then did their best to make life difficult for us.”

“I know, but sending a heads up press release on the night of a party you both attended, looking happy I might add, and conveniently omitting one of the biggest tabloid players in the business? That is next level.”

“No,” Andy said. “That, is Miranda Priestly.”

“It was quite genius. Although there will be a backlash I’m sure.”

“I have no doubt,” Andy said, shaking her head. “But once her mind is set on something, there’s little that will deter her.”

“How are you holding up?”

“Me? I’m fine.”

“You’ve been looking a bit lost since you came back, if you don’t mind me saying,” Jacks said as she threw up a kick which Andy blocked, barely.

Andy shrugged. “Adjustment period.”

Jacks raised her brow in question.

“It’s one thing to end things over the phone, and another thing all together to physically move things out of your house,” Andy said. “It was all a bit more real than I expected. I mean, my home is here now. That’s…strange. I guess I still had one foot in New York before.”

Jacks nodded in understanding, before stringing together a vicious combination which resulted in Andy being flat on her back.

Andy groaned as Jacks dropped down on to the mat next to her and pulled the Velcro strap open on one glove with her teeth before tugging them both off and tossing them aside.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” Jacks said as she stretched her toned, tanned legs out and flicked her dark braid over her shoulder as she leaned back on her elbows and looked at Andy seriously.

Andy slowly sat up and regained her bearings.

“Its fine,” she said, waving it off.

“How are things with you and Miranda?” Jacks asked.

Andy shrugged. “Fine, I guess. But, I…I feel off balance. Like something essential is missing,” Andy said, her voice cracking slightly before she could help it.

Andy glanced around, looking for an audience.

“It’s all right, they left a while back,” Jacks said, reaching a sympathetic hand out.

Andy nodded, before she simply burst into tears.

Jacks said nothing, reaching forward and pulling her into a hug.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying,” Andy said, pulling back and wiping at her face. “This was my choice.”

“Hey, that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be upset about it,” Jacks said softly, squeezing the arms that were still within her grasp.

“I tore everything apart,” Andy said. “Then I was back, and things were hard, and I hurt her. I hurt her so much coming here. I chose my job over her. Then suddenly there were boxes in the den, empty drawers in our room. I…I don’t think I ever thought about what I was doing when I came out here.”

“We never do,” Jacks sighed in understanding.

Andy sniffed and titled her head back. “God, I didn’t mean to dump this on you.”

“I’m not sure about you, but I consider us to be friends, Andrea,” Jacks said with a small smile.

Andy smiled a watery smile in her direction. “Thank you Jacqueline.”

“Call me that again and I will take that back.”

Andy laughed.

They sat in silence for a while, and Andy picked at the tape on her wrappings absently, lost in thought.

“Feel any better?” Jacks said, breaking her thoughts.

“I will,” Andy said. “Thank you.”

“No thanks needed.”

“No words of advice, no helpful suggestions?” Andy asked.

Jacks shook her head. “I’m sure you’ve had plenty of that over the last few months. You know yourself well enough Andy.”

Andy turned her head and stared at the far wall.

“That’s the problem,” Andy said. “I’m not sure that I do, not anymore.”


 

Andy lay in bed that night, the distant sounds of fighting in the West carrying towards the complex this evening.

ISIS was currently holed up in Ramadi, barely 70 miles away to the West.

Tomorrow would be a busy day, and the body count would be high for both sides.

Andy sighed.

Helena had taken the night shift, but she was beginning to think that perhaps she should have volunteered.

Everything was getting on top of her today, rolling around in her mind, making her frustrated and angry, and preventing her from getting the one thing she needed: sleep.

She rolled onto her side and stared at the picture she had moved to her night stand after she got back.

She was lucky to still have them in her life at all.

Luckier than the people out there who would be losing loved ones this evening.

Luckier than Khawlah who may still yet lose the thing that she loves the most.

Andy kicked off the covers and pulled some clothes on.

She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and walked downstairs towards the lights of the common room.

“I thought I told you to sleep,” Helena said mildly from a table that was generally respected as her second office.

She was working on something, and barely glanced up from her laptop.

There was something comforting about Helena’s work ethic; something that reminded Andy an awful lot of Miranda.

“Couldn’t,” Andy said, shrugging.

Helena kicked out a chair at her table without looking up.

Andy grabbed her laptop from where she had left it earlier and took the proffered seat.

As she opened her own laptop Helena glanced up and eyed her carefully. “It goes to print tomorrow,” she said simply.

Andy’s head shot up. “Really?”

Helena lip curved slightly in a smile. “Yes, really.”

“Why now?”

Helena’s face dropped as she reached for a folder next to her and passed it to Andy. “They came in this evening.”

As Andy opened it, she couldn’t stop the flood of tears that rushed to eyes. She flicked through photo after photo of a young boy, face down in the surf.

When she reached the photos of a pale Turkish medic cradling the boy to his chest, she had to look away.

“The global community’s ignorance in regards to the refugee crisis will end tomorrow,” Helena said, her voice hard. “That picture will be on the front page of every major publication in the world in the morning. Things are about to change.”

Andy could feel the shock give way to anger, and she looked up at Helena. “What needs to be done?”

“You can proof the accompanying article before I send it in,” Helena said, “I need to take a step back from it for a few minutes.”

Andy simply nodded and pulled the document up.

“It’s exceptional,” Helena added, and Andy looked back up at her in question. “The article, Andrea, is exceptional.”

Andy felt the colour rush to her cheeks. “Thank you, Helena,” she mumbled.

Helena smiled in response, before turning back to her work. “Don’t let it go to your head,” she added.

“I won’t,” Andy promised.

Silence descended, the quiet click of keys on their laptops the only thing puncturing the atmosphere.

As Andy scanned Helena’s words on the screen she felt a strange calm descend around her.

This was something she knew.

If there was one thing in this world she could do right, it was this.

And for now, it would have to be enough.

Chapter Text

“Next Friday. Pre-Christmas, Christmas Party,” Nigel said as he strolled into her office.

“It’s still October, Nigel,” Miranda said without looking up.

“Well, I didn’t think you’d be up for a Halloween party,” Nigel sassed.

Miranda rolled her eyes kept flicking through the paper in front of her. “Don’t you have a magazine to run?”

“Come on. Look, my friend is in from out of town and I think you’d really like her.”

“Oh, I would, would I?” Miranda said.

“For Christ’s sake, not like that,” Nigel groaned. “As if I would be that stupid.”

Miranda looked up and raised her brow.

“Okay, so maybe I would – but this is just a last minute dinner party. A handful of close friends, from outside of the industry. You need a break Miranda, you’ve been working too much. The staff are beginning to think you’re sleeping in the office.”

“I’ll check my schedule,” Miranda conceded, turning her attention back to the paper.

“That’s all I’m asking,” Nigel said.

“Good, now get out of my office.”

“I was just leaving,” Nigel said, a hint of victory in his voice as he departed.

She shook her head as she turned her attention back to the paper in her hand and reached for her first coffee of the morning.

As she turned to the World News section, ‘ISIS Heats Up Attack Against Baghdad’s West Gate’ screamed out at her from the central headline.

Miranda closed the paper forcefully and pushed it to the side.

She had spoken to Andrea last week when she heard rumours of the Pulitzer committee sniffing around for next year’s award in Investigative Reporting for her article about “Ahmed.”

Helena Holden’s editorial decision to hold its publication had done the piece a huge favour, and although she may not win, to be nominated was an exceptional achievement that Miranda couldn’t deny.

Andrea was moving forward with her life.

Miranda, unfortunately, couldn’t say the same.

She hated to admit it, but perhaps Nigel was right.


 

“So, how are classes?” Miranda asked, as she flipped through the Book absently.

“More challenging,” Cassidy said as she walked around her room getting ready to go out. “The work load has been getting progressively heavier since the start of semester, but I’m enjoying it. The papers are more interesting than first and second year.”

“Good,” Miranda said, watching her daughter over FaceTime. “The green,” she noted as Cassidy held up two tops.

“Thanks,” Cassidy said as she pulled it on over her head.

“Have you given any further thought to the Master’s program?” Miranda asked.

“Yeah, I’m still weighing up my options. Andy thinks a gap year might be a good idea, maybe take on an internship in my field to help get a feel for where I want to focus,” she said, turning her laptop slightly to face the mirror as she began to put on her makeup.

“Andrea does have a point. There’s no harm in taking a break – provided that you put it to good use,” Miranda added as she reached for her scotch.

“I know, I’m just worried that if I stop, I won’t be able to start again.”

“If I was speaking to Caroline then perhaps I would be more concerned,” Miranda said before taking a sip. “But, once your Bachelors is complete, it might be worth considering.”

Cassidy nodded. “So…how is everything?” she said, still facing the mirror.

“Everything is fine, darling. Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been in the office a lot lately, that’s all.”

“There were just a few things happening that needed to be dealt with,” Miranda said smoothly.

To her credit, Cassidy let the subject drop but Miranda could still see the look of concern on her face reflected back at her from the mirror.

“I’m going to a dinner party at Nigel’s on Friday evening,” Miranda added.

“Is it a work thing?” Cassidy said, turning around.

“No, no one from work,” Miranda said, “Well, except Nigel of course,” she added, and watched in satisfaction as the slight frown on her daughter’s face smoothed out into a smile.

Miranda heard a knock, followed by a door opening down the line. She glanced at her watched and realized they had been on the phone longer than they had intended.

“Mom, sorry. Hannah is here,” Cassidy said, before turning towards the door. “Come in!”

A short girl with a blonde pixie cut and one too many tattoos on display walked in, and leant down when she saw the laptop.

“Hi, Miranda,” Hannah said with a big grin.

“Hello, Hannah,” Miranda said. “If you intend to give my daughter Jägermeister this evening, I would appreciate it if my number was removed from her phone,” Miranda said.

"Mom!” Cassidy said.

“Sure thing, Ms. P,” Hannah said with a wink.

“Go and enjoy your evening,” Miranda said.

“Love you,” Cassidy said, blowing a kiss into the screen before ending the call.

“Love you too, Bobbsey,” Miranda echoed gently, before leaning back into the sofa with her drink.

She was sitting in the family room, the TV on mute in the background, with only the Book for company.

They had lost Patricia six months before the girls both left for college, and with her and Andrea’s work hours they had agreed it wouldn’t be fair to get another dog without Cara or the girls around.

The silence felt immediately pervasive without Cassidy’s voice echoing through the room.

Miranda toyed with the idea of calling Caroline before shaking it off. It was only mid-afternoon in LA.

As she took in the quiet, she reached for her phone and composed a message.

Fine, she typed. I will see you Friday.


 

“You look nice,” Roy said as he opened the town car door.

Miranda rolled her eyes before slipping into the backseat. “I always look nice,” she said as he pushed the door closed.

Roy sat down in the driver’s seat. “Where we going?” he asked.

“Nigel’s,” Miranda replied.

“That’s an awfully nice outfit for Nigel, if you don’t mind me saying,” Roy said.

“I do mind,” Miranda said.

Miranda had done a bit of digging on Nigel’s guest and had found out she was a prominent member of the tech industry and at least a decade younger than Miranda.

She also happened to be gay.

Miranda had been on the verge of cancelling, knowing exactly what Nigel was doing. However, a small part of her was feeling spiteful. She wanted to prove to Andrea that she could be happy without her, that she was still desirable.

So, yes, she had taken a little extra care tonight.

She had no genuine interest in this woman, but she wanted to prove to her herself that she could do this. That, despite her age, she was still capable.

It was childish, and a little petty.

She didn’t care.

“It’s a dinner party,” Miranda sighed.

“That sounds nice,” Roy said.

“One can only hope.”

“Well, it’s nice to see you out for something other than work,” Roy said. “I was considering buying you a dog last week.”

“I suppose I should be thankful you didn’t think to buy me a cat instead,” Miranda said wryly.

Roy chuckled. “Ellie still wants to have you around for dinner. I know you’ve been busy but she really is an excellent cook.”

“You may tell Ellie that I’ll have you both around for dinner when the girls are back, before Christmas.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Roy said.

“I’m aware; but I’m not interested in pity dinners, Roy. No matter how well intended.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Yes, I do believe you’ve mentioned that once or twice before.”

“Remind me to catch you at one of your weaker moments.”

“Hell will freeze over before you manage that I would imagine,” Miranda said.

Roy snorted. “Keep telling yourself that, Priestly.”

Miranda shook her head and gazed out the window as they pulled up to Nigel’s apartment building.

As the doorman approached she reached for her purse and two bottles of wine she had selected earlier.

“Don’t stray too far,” Miranda said pointedly.

“Okay, but try and enjoy yourself,” Roy said as the door opened and the doorman helped Miranda from the car.

It was a short walk from the car to the entrance of Nigel’s building, but Miranda pulled her coat a little tighter regardless. Although the days remained bright, the evenings were getting progressively cooler as they got closer to November.

The doorman walked her to the elevator, and she entered alone, enjoying the peace and quiet for a moment before approaching Nigel’s door and ringing the bell.

Nigel opened the door with a flourish and smiled broadly before leaning forward to kiss her on each cheek in greeting. “Let me take your coat,” he said.

Miranda handed him the wine. “One is for the table,” she said, before efficiently removing her oversized wool-cashmere Balmain.

Nigel placed the bag down on a side-table before taking it from her, hanging it quickly on the coat rack by the door.

Nigel’s apartment was a beautiful, open plan penthouse with stunning views of the city.

“You redecorated,” Miranda noted as they began moving out of the entranceway.

“Over six months ago,” Nigel said pointedly.

“Am I attending a lecture or a dinner party this evening?” Miranda asked, keeping her tone light and a smile on her face as they approached the other guests who were mingling.

All two of them.

An attractive man, tall and lean with broad shoulders and a kind smile turned to face them and approached Miranda, holding out his hand.

“Nick,” he said by way of introduction.

Miranda clasped the proffered hand which dwarfed her own. “Miranda,” she said in response.

“Nick is a documentary film maker,” Nigel said.

Miranda nodded before turning to the other guest.

“And this,” Nigel said, “Is Riya.”

“It’s a pleasure, Miranda,” Riya said, also holding out a hand. Her voice was low and melodious, and unmistakably British.

“The pleasure is mine,” Miranda replied out of habit as she took the other woman’s hand, assessing her quickly.

Riya stood at the same height as her. She was clad in a white, knee length cocktail dress, overlaid with black lace which set off her South Asian complexion perfectly.

She was significantly more attractive than her Wikipedia page photo had led Miranda to believe.

“All right, now that the introductions are over, who wants wine?” Nigel asked.

“Please,” Riya replied quickly.

Miranda’s eyebrow shot up.

“If you had had the day I had today, you’d understand,” Riya said.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Miranda replied as Nigel handed her a glass.

Riya watched her closely, and Miranda felt very much like she was being sized up by the woman.

She met her eyes in challenge. “Nigel tells me you work in the tech industry,” Miranda said as Nigel handed Riya her glass.

“I’m the Director of Engineering at Square Tech,” Riya said. “It’s a robotics company.”

“Very impressive,” Miranda said.

“And what about you, Miranda? What do you do?” Riya asked, and Miranda could tell from the look in her eye she knew exactly who Miranda was.

Miss Riya Reddy was attempting to establish an even playing field.

“A magazine editor,” Miranda said, without flinching. “Nothing quite as cerebral as making robots, I assure you.”

Riya laughed heartedly. “I feel like tonight is going to be quite interesting, Miranda Priestly.”

“Indeed,” Miranda said.

“All right, all right, let’s move away from the kitchen shall we. Dinner will be in about…”

“An hour,” the caterer in the kitchen replied, knife moving quickly on a chopping board.

“An hour,” Nigel echoed. “There are hors d’oeuvres waiting,” he said, waving them all into the living area and ordering them to take a seat.

Conversation passed quickly, both Riya and Nick proving to be excellent conversationalists.

Nick in particular had travelled extensively, and his documentaries covered a wide range of subjects which Miranda found intriguing.

Riya, on the other hand, was a bit of a closed book. She had offered up very little about herself that Miranda hadn’t found on the internet. So far the only thing new Miranda had gleaned was that she liked to drink, and that her personality was not necessarily what one might associate with a robotics specialist holding advanced degrees in science, mathematics and engineering.

As dinner was served, and another bottle of wine was opened, Miranda felt herself relax, regardless.

It was a pleasant change to dine with people from outside of the industry; the conversation, for once, not revolving around fashion or her charity work.

“Well, it’s interesting you ask that,” Riya said, as Miranda prodded her about the types of software her firm was involved in, “There’s current development on an AI program which can read and edit in the same way as a human mind – if we nail it, it might just put editors out of a job,” she sassed.

Miranda smirked. “They’ve been saying that since the 80s, and I have yet to see any software that can manage to the work of a human editor.”

Yet.”

“The written word is art, Miss Reddy, as is visual editing. Machines could never do what Nigel, I and countless others do.”

“Artificial intelligence is coming a long way Miranda. Imagine a single set of eyes ensuring complete accuracy, or AI programmed with algorithms which can predict exactly what would be the most visually pleasing to the target audience in minutes? You can’t argue with cost and productivity benefits.”

“How very unromantic,” Miranda said, taking another sip from her wine. “I will take great comfort in the knowledge that I will be dead and buried by the time such atrocities are allowed to take over the creative arts. What next? Robot painters?”

“It’s not outside the realm of possibility.”

“You’re talking about mimicking humanity. A machine is still a machine at the end of the day. You can’t mimic the depth of human emotion. No matter how hard you try, a machine will never be the next Mozart, the next Sebastian Bach, or even the next Adele. A machine does not, and will not have the individual experience to paint like Van Gogh or write like Shakespeare. A machine has no soul.”

“No human will ever experience what Van Gogh went through again, either. All experiences are different. Why should an intelligent machine’s experience be discounted?”

“I’m not saying it should be discounted, I’m simply pointing out that you cannot replace humanity, Riya.”

“It’s a bit like watching tennis, isn’t it?” Nick said with a chuckle, causing both women to pause.

“I must say, I’ve never seen Miranda get quite so impassioned talking about robots. Perhaps Riya can provide her a few for a spread in Runway?” Nigel laughed.

“I do believe that Riya and I are both out of wine,” Miranda said, waving a glass in Nigel’s direction. “You are the host, are you not?”

Nigel grumbled as he got to his feet.

“If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, you should come our lab,” Riya said, “I think I would quite enjoy watching you have to suspend your disbelief.”

“You misunderstand me. I don’t doubt your work, or the effectiveness of it. Yet, human demand still counts for something in this world. People trust what experts in the field tell them is best. When it comes to fashion, art, music and literature, a machine will be never be trusted with that duty. Unless, of course, they’re selling to other machines.”

“She might have you there, Riya,” Nigel said as he returned, “As much as I hate to tell her that she’s right.”

Riya chuckled and held her glass up for a refill. “You know, I think I’m going to quite enjoy telling my co-workers back home that I discussed the ethics and limits of artificial intelligence with Miranda Priestly.”

Miranda’s lip quirked in response as she held her glass up to Nigel.

“While you two are back in your respective corners, would anyone care for dessert?” Nigel asked.


 

It was later in the evening when things turned personal.

There were more empty bottles of wine than was strictly polite, and all four of them had convened back in the living room.

Nigel was talking in depth to Nick, and Riya turned to her, eyes slightly glazed.

“So, you’re a lesbian,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

Miranda bristled slightly. “No.”

“Bisexual, then.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Well you’re certainly not straight, Miranda Priestly. When was the last time you slept with a man?” Riya challenged.

“That is absolutely none of your business.”

“My God, you are uptight, aren’t you?” Riya said with a chuckle.

“And you’re impertinent,” Miranda responded.

“Guilty as charged,” Riya said with a shrug as she reached for more wine. “You know I’m gay don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Never go to a dinner party unprepared?”

“Never.”

Riya chucked. “Top up?”

Miranda looked at her watch. It was pushing one in the morning. “No, I really should be going,” she said.   

“Well, that’s one way to prove my point about that stick up your arse,” Riya said.

Miranda ignored the crudeness of the remark. “No, I simply raised teenagers. As such, I’m immune to being baited by them,” Miranda said with a smirk as she got to her feet.

“Ouch, they weren’t kidding about you were they?” Riya said, clutching her hand dramatically to her chest.

“No, they were not.”

“Are you leaving?” Nigel said with a pout.

“Yes, it’s getting late,” Miranda said.

Nigel glanced at the clock and decided against belaboring the point. “All right, I’ll walk you out.”

Riya held up a hand. “No, sit down, I’ll do it,” she said, getting to her feet.

“Oh, please, don’t strain yourself,” Miranda sassed.

“Oh trust me, I have a few years on you Priestly, it won’t be a strain,” Riya said with a grin.

“Age jokes? Oh how the mighty have fallen under the influence of too much wine,” Miranda said.

“Not my best work, I will admit,” Riya conceded before holding out an arm.

Against her better instincts, Miranda accepted the offer.

They were half way to the door before Nigel called them back. “Miranda, your phone,” he said, waving the offending object in the air, before looking at the screen. “Also Cassidy has called a few times.”

Miranda rolled her eyes.

“It’s Friday. She’s probably been drinking,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” Miranda said as she took the phone from Nigel, kissing him on the cheek in farewell.

“Thank you for coming,” Nigel said, as he hugged her lightly.

She reached up and returned it, kissing him once more on the other cheek before pushing him back in Nick’s direction.

He smiled at her. It was deep and genuine and Miranda nodded in acknowledgement.

He snorted in amusement before turning on his heels and heading back the way he came.

“Well, I suppose it's only 6:00am in Cambridge,” Riya chuckled, looking at her watch. "That's practically an early night for a University student."

Miranda paused. "No...she has meet this morning," Miranda said, her heart rate leaping.

She pressed the home button on her phone and looked at the screen.

There were 15 missed calls over the last half an hour.

Miranda quickly unlocked her phone.

“Can you excuse me for a moment?” she said, as she began calling Cassidy.

“Of course,” Riya said, taking a step back. Miranda couldn’t ignore the look of concern on the other woman’s face, mirroring the feeling that was now creeping its way into her chest.

“Cassidy?” Miranda said as the call connected.

“Where have you been!?” Cassidy demanded. “Has anyone called you? Have you talked to Andy?”

“Andrea? No, I haven’t. Can you slow down and tell me exactly what is going on, please?” Miranda said sternly.

“There was a bombing in Baghdad,” Cassidy said, and Miranda noticed the tremor in her voice now. “I woke up for training, and the BBC is reporting American journalists among the casualties.”

Miranda felt her blood run cold.

“Miranda?” Riya said, suddenly stepping forward. “Miranda, are you all right?”

Miranda held up a hand to prevent her from coming any closer.

“Cassidy,” Miranda said as she turned and walked back into the living area, clicking at Nigel and gesturing towards the TV. “Baghdad is a very large city, and there are many journalists working in the area. Did they say what agency they were with?” Miranda asked, more calmly than she felt as she mouthed ‘CNN’ at Nigel as he found the remote.

“No,” Cassidy said, “Mom, I’ve tried calling her, she’s not picking up. She would know we were worried, she would pick up, you know she would,” Cassidy said, a hint of hysteria in her voice.

As the images flashed up on the screen, all Miranda could see was ‘Morning of Terror: American Journalists Caught in Baghdad Deadly Blast.’

She felt hands guide her to a chair.

“She’s probably busy, or the network may be down,” Miranda said, sounding unconvincing even to herself.

Nigel had his phone in his hand and was dialing.

“Mom, what if…” Cassidy said tearfully.

She looked at Nigel, who shook his head as his call went unanswered.

Miranda heard the tone for another call on her phone and pulled it away to check.

Mary Olssen’s name flashed across the screen.

Nausea gripped her.

There were only a handful of reasons why the Editor-In-Chief of the New York Tribune would be calling her personally this late at night.

She stared at the incoming call for longer than intended, before putting the phone back to her ear.

“Cassidy, I have another call I need to take, I’m sure everything is fine. I’ll call you back in a moment,” Miranda said carefully before cutting Cassidy off, and picking up Mary’s call.

“Why do I get the feeling I don’t wish to speak to you,” Miranda said, her voice unusually high-pitched. She felt the fear clawing at her chest and it was making it difficult to breathe.

“Miranda,” Mary said, before pausing to take a breath. “Miranda, I’ve just spoken with Helena Holden,” she said quietly.

“Don’t you dare,” Miranda said, her voice trembling.

Mary took deep breath. “I’m sorry to inform you, but Andrea and two of her colleagues left the Bureau complex around 7:00am this morning. About an hour later, IEDs were detonated in one of the central market squares of Baghdad. As of now, 9:15am Baghdad time, Andrea and her two colleagues remain…unaccounted for.”

All Miranda could hear was the sound of her own breathing.

“Miranda, I’m sorry,” Mary continued, “We have reason to believe that they were in the area at the time.”

The line went silent, and it was a few moments before Miranda realized her phone had slipped out of her grasp.

Riya Reddy was crouched in front of her, instructing her to take deep breaths.

Nigel was somewhere in the background, talking on what she presumed was her phone.

“Well what information do you have!?” he yelled, presumably at Mary.

“Cassidy,” Miranda said to no one in particular. “I need to call Cassidy.”

“Miranda, just take a moment,” Riya said.

“No, I will not take a moment!” Miranda snapped and the room fell silent, aside from the drone of the TV in the background.

"Breaking news this hour," the newscaster said crisply. "An IED blast in Central Baghdad has left 7 confirmed dead and multiple causalities. No organization has stepped forward to take credit for the attack, which has allegedly claimed the life of one unidentified American journalist. We will have more details for you over the next hour." 

Riya glanced over at Nigel, and indicated towards Miranda's phone.

He hung up on Mary, and then passed the phone back to Miranda. She dialed Cassidy's number and pressed the phone to her ear.

Now all she had to do was remember how to breathe.

Chapter Text

2 hours earlier

“Andy! You coming?” Roberts yelled

“Yeah, gimme a sec!” Andy yelled back as she closed Lucy’s door and made her way down the stairs, tucking her hijab in place as she went.

She met Roberts at the bottom of the stairs. He was looking impatient.

“Sorry, I couldn’t find my niqab,” she said, waving her face veil at him, before bringing it up and starting to secure it.

“Mahmod gets funny if people are late, and if you want this video it’s going to have to be this morning before he rejoins the militia forces outside the city,” Roberts replied bluntly.

“Got it,” Andy said, looking at him closely. His face looked drawn. Something was going on, but it would have to wait. “Where’s Jacks?” he said.

“Here,” Jacks said as she approached, head to toe in black and camera in hand.

“All right, let’s move,” Roberts said.

“Separate vehicles?” Andy said.

“Yeah, and separate routes,” Robert’s said as he wrapped a bandana around his sandy blonde hair before pulling on a hat. “I’m taking the direct route through the Sunni block, and the boys are going to tour you around the more secure neighborhoods. His offices are on the Northern side of a marketplace in Shiite territory. Once we’re there we should have more freedom of movement.”

Andy nodded.

“Do you think he’ll give us anything on the Sunni disappearances?” Jacks asked as they approached the security detail awaiting them at the entrance to the compound.

“I thought you were focusing on their work outside of the city?” Roberts said, stopping and turning to face Andy, knowing she would be leading the interview.

“I am,” Andy said, “But you can’t deny that Sunni deaths and kidnappings have been on the rise since the militia started leading the defense. I can’t ignore it.”

Roberts rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, I get it, I do. But I work pure reporting, Andy: ballistics and statistics. It took me a long time to get this level of insight on the defense. I can’t afford to lose this contact for another one of your humanitarian editorial efforts. This is a favour. You can ask, but don’t press,” he warned.

Andy held up her hands in mock-surrender. “One question, that’s it. If he doesn’t want to answer, I’ll let it drop.”

Thank you,” Roberts said, before turning and starting off again.

Jacks glanced at her, a questioning look on her face.

Andy shrugged as they followed after him.

As they reached the entrance, their security detail split and shuffled them into separate vehicles. Andy took a deep breath as she got into the backseat with Jacks and the car pulled away from the compound.

Heading out into the city was still nerve-wracking. There was no such thing as a safe area in Baghdad any longer. There were too many groups, too many territorial disputes, and too many opportunistic would-be terrorists with an eye for foreign journalists.

Both her and Jacks sat in the backseat, their heads slightly lowered. It was their job to ensure they didn’t stand out as ‘soft targets’ in the city. Their destination was about 20 minutes across town, and they remained silent for the entire journey.

As they approached the market place Roberts had been referring too, the car pulled to a halt in front of a Spartan concrete building, two stories high.

Their security exited the car first, and Andy watched as they conducted a quick check before indicating it was safe to get out.

The market was bustling. It was around 7:30am, children were on their way to school, young families were milling about, picking up bits and pieces for the day. They moved around, unafraid, and it made Andy feel at ease.

It was a false sense of security, and she was aware of it. The Baghdadi people had become so accustomed to violence that very little disrupted their daily lives any longer. A tense atmosphere never lasted more than a few hours in the wake of an incident.

Two heavily armed Shiite militiamen stepped out of the building to meet them and escort them and their bodyguards inside. Andy turned away from the scene and focused on the task at hand.

As the door closed, she and Jacks both let their veils down from their faces and waited as instructed.

Jacks put her camera down, and turned to Andy.

“Congratulations, by the way,” she said. “I heard.”

Andy smiled broadly. Ammar had finally been granted asylum status in the States, and thanks to the outpouring of sympathy in response to her article back home, the Immigration department had been pressured into granting Khawlah the same.

It was a big win, even if it had still taken almost 8 weeks from the time the article was published until final approval. Sometimes Andy wondered if the government simply waited in the hopes that applicants would be killed in the interim. After what she had seen, it didn’t seem so particularly far-fetched anymore.

She had been on edge since the approval, worried that something might happen; worried that someone would link Ammar to the account she printed. She hadn’t allowed herself to celebrate until this morning, when she finally received word that they had landed safely.

“It’s been a good day,” Andy said.

"It just started," Jacks laughed. “Have you spoken to them?”

“No,” Andy said, shaking her head. “One of my immigration contacts sent word. Although Khawlah asked him to send along her thanks by way of many home cooked meals when I visit home,” Andy chuckled.

A door opened at the end of the room, disrupting their conversation. Roberts stepped through, his bandana still secured but hat in his hand. “He’s on a call, so it’s going to be another ten or so,” he said bluntly before moving to stand next to them and wait.

He was brooding, Andy could tell. She turned to face him.

“What’s going on, Michael?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Bullshit,” she said.

“Leave it, Sachs.”

“No, you’re pissing me off. Spill.”

“Fine,” he snapped. “Charlie called last night,” he said, referring to his daughter Charlotte. “Missy’s been in hospital for a week. No one bothered to let me know.”

“Who’s taking care of your girls?”

“Her sister,” he spat.

“Ah,” Andy said.

“She’s a right bitch,” Roberts said.

“I guessed as much.”

“Is Melissa all right?” Jacks interrupted.

“Yeah, she’s all good. Now,” Roberts said bitterly. “Pneumonia. Had the flu and never went to see a goddamn doctor, did she?” he continued. “What was she thinking?”

“That she’d bounce back I would imagine,” Jacks said calmly.

“What if something had happened?” he demanded.

“Well, it didn’t,” Jacks said. “How are Charlotte and Maisie?” she continued, diverting the conversation.

“They’re okay, although sick of their Aunt. At least that’s something we can all agree on,” Roberts said, a small smile creeping onto his face.

Andy and Jacks chuckled.

Roberts took a deep breath and let it out. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a dick.”

“I think you managed to get through an entire week of my moping before being an asshole about it, so I can give you one day of your dickish behaviour in return for being so thoughtful,” Andy said.

That finally elicited a laugh.

“You were pretty terrible, Sachs,” Roberts agreed.

“Oh was she ever,” Jacks agreed.

“Hey!” Andy said in protest, reaching out to smack Jacks lightly.

Making light of their home situations was the preferred coping method out here, and Andy had embraced it whole-heartedly in recent weeks.

The door Roberts had come through opened again, and a guard waved them in.

“Here we go,” Jacks said, picking up her camera bag and holding it securely against her chest so it wouldn’t get in the way.

As they made their way up to the second floor, Andy noted that there was as little adornment inside the building as there was outside.

The second floor was bustling with multiple conversations, and the guard led them to a door at the end of the hall, knocking once.

“Let them in,” a voice called out, and the guard opened the door and waved them in.

A short, lean man with a sharp face got to his feet came round the desk to greet them.

“I’m Abdul-Muhaimin Mahmod Hamoodi, but you can call me Mahmod,” he said, holding his hand out to shake theirs each in turn. “I can give you only 20 minutes, so we must start now.”

“I’m Andrea Sachs,” Andy said, as Jacks began quickly pulling out her camera, and Andy took the seat opposite Mahmod’s as he moved and sat back down.

Andy didn’t waste any time with small talk, and launched straight into the interview, firing questions at a rapid pace. When they reached the question about Sunni kidnappings and executions, Mahmod’s eyes flicked to Roberts before returning back to her.

“I have no comment on that issue,” Mahmod said, and his tone indicating she would do well not to continue with that line of questioning.

Andy bit back her frustration and continued the interview until their 20 minutes were up and her and Jacks were escorted back out of the room.

“I’ll see you back at base camp,” Roberts said, as Mahmod requested he stay behind for a moment and he disappeared back into the room, closing the door behind him.

“Well, that was productive,” Andy said, rolling her eyes as she and Jacks made their way back downstairs.

“It’s not all useless,” Jacks said.

“We got nothing.”

“Yeah, okay, we got nothing,” Jacks said.

“I thought Roberts would have had a bit more sway with him,” Andy said. “Or at least helped us get something other than blatant Shiite propaganda.”

Jacks shrugged. “As he said; ballistics and statistics. He’s not here to cause waves, just report facts.”

“Well we all know that’s shit. He’s working on something. He’s been building contacts with the militia for months.”

“Yeah, but in the meantime, he has to pay the bills somehow,” Jacks said. “You can’t blame him, it’s his livelihood.”

Andy sighed, reaching for her veil and securing it back across her mouth. “Yeah, I know,” she said as she grabbed the camera from Jacks’ hands so she could secure her own, indicating to security that they were ready to leave. “I just hate wasting a morning,” she said as their detail opened the door and stepped out first.

Jacks laughed as they stepped outside.

“You can’t win them all, Sa—“

“MUJRAM!” someone screamed.

Enemy, Andy thought dumbly.

It was the only warning before the flash in the centre of the marketplace.

She felt the thump of the concussive force before a body collided with hers and the air was suddenly absent from her lungs.

She was thrown back, slamming into something solid as the sound of the explosion reached her ears, accompanied by shattering glass raining down from above.

Things were blank and confused for a moment before, before she realized she was lying with her cheek pressed firmly into the gravel, and she was pinned underneath something heavy and warm.

There was a cacophony of screams, and a ringing in her ears, but she could still hear.

Not that close then, she thought absently, trying to pull her thoughts together.

Andy groaned as she tried to move, but the weight had her pinned.

She blinked a few times instead.

There was debris and broken glass scattered around her.

Broken pieces of wood that may have once been furniture, or a door; stray pieces of metal too, and dust, so much dust.

Something wet was dripping down her neck.

Standard penetrating wounds and blunt force trauma are the most common injuries seen among survivors within range for secondary blast injuries, she recalled from training.

A member of their security detail was lying a few feet away. His hand was clasped across his neck and he was struggling to draw breath.

Standard penetrating wound.

Andy was quite sure she had never seen that much blood in her life.

Andy whimpered and tried desperately to move. She managed to dislodge her upper body and slide out from beneath the dead weight compressing against her back, before slumping back against the gravel from the effort.

Her legs were still trapped.

She rolled her upper body to the side so she could see the offending object.

There was a body face down next to her, long dark Lara Croft braid visible where it had been dislodged from the hijab.

Jacks’ face was turned away.

“Jacks,” Andy rasped, finding her voice.

There was no response.

She tried to sit up, but that wasn’t happening, so she reached over.

There was a large piece of shrapnel protruding from Jacks’ side, just beneath her armpit.

The black robe she wore was saturated.

She wasn’t moving.

Andy ignored the roar in her head as she raised herself as far as she could and reached over, rolling Jacks gently onto her back and turning her head to face her.

She wasn’t conscious.

Andy couldn’t even be sure she was alive.

There were no burns, just blood. So much blood. It seemed to be all around them.

She slumped back, dizzy.

Blunt force trauma.

She closed her eyes.

Miranda is going to be so pissed.

Her mind drifted.

“Andy!” a voice demanded. “I need you to look at me.”

She opened her eyes.

“That’s it,” Roberts said above her, his face ashen. He was kneeling next to her, one hand on her shoulder, and the other one tucking something soft beneath her head.

She tried to sit up but he gripped her shoulder firmly and held her still. “Not a good idea, Sachs,” he said.

She slumped back.

“I think there might be an ‘I told you so’ coming my way,” Andy said shakily, her mind still filled with thoughts of an angry Miranda Priestly.

Pissed was going to be an understatement.

She barked out a hysterical laugh at the thought.

Roberts chuckled, but it was tight.

Andy moved her head slightly. She felt foggy, her thoughts jumbled.

“I’m fine,” Andy said then, turning her head and trying to see past him. “You need to help Jacks.”

“Jacks is alright, we need to worry about you right now, eh?” he said, moving to further obscure her view, as he pulled off his undershirt.

“I don’t think she’s breathing, Michael,” Andy said, remembering how still the other woman had been.

“She’s tough,” Roberts replied quickly. “How you feeling?”

“I…You’re bleeding,” she said, ignoring his question as she looked at his face, her vision blurring slightly. He was covered in cuts.

“Was standing a bit too close to that upstairs window,” he said with a wince. “But looks like I got off easy, huh?”

“I’m okay,” Andy said, trying to sit up again.

Roberts put gentle pressure on her shoulder and shook his head.

“Yes, you are,” he said. “But, I need you stay very still. Don’t move, I just need to secure your leg.”

“My leg?” Andy asked, looking down and realizing it wasn’t normal for a large piece of metal to be sticking out of her thigh like that, and that the ground around it was soaked in an unhealthy amount of blood.

She looked away as she felt the pain tear through her body and screamed as Roberts wrapped his shirt around it as best he could, pulling it tightly.

He grabbed her shoulders once more and held her still.

“Andy!” he yelled, as she thrashed in pain. “Andy, I know it hurts but you need to stay as still as you can until the medics get here.”

She sobbed, whines slipping out unbidden as she tried to still herself. “It hurts,” she said.

“I know it does,” Roberts said, looking her dead in the eye. “But you’re tough.”

Andy shook her head and she felt the pain soar through the back of her skull, causing her to cry out.

Roberts gripped her face in between his hands and held her still. “Just hold still, Andy,” he said, desperation in his voice as he looked around in search of someone.

Anyone, Andy thought.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” she choked out.

“Nah, not at all,” Roberts said. The lie was written all over his face, and she could feel the energy seeping out of her body.

“Don’t leave me,” she begged quietly.

He looked back at her fiercely. “I’m not going anywhere. Listen,” he ordered.

She breathed out and focused. She could hear the sounds of crackling fire, people wailing and crying. It smelt like smoke, and even a little like a barbecue.

There, she thought.

In the distance was the sound of sirens.

“They’re on their way,” Roberts said.

“Tell her I messed up,” Andy whispered.

She let her eyes drift closed.


 

“American?” the Doctor asked Roberts as she assessed Andy’s injuries.

Andy had passed out about 10 minutes ago, and he was at a loss as to what to do about it.

“No, Australian,” Roberts said.

“I meant her,” the Doctor said brusquely.

“Oh, God, yeah, she’s American. Ohio I think? But she lives in New York, sh—”

“Okay,” she said, cutting him off as she stood up.

“Wh-where are you going?” Roberts asked.

“Nowhere,” she said as she waved another medic over.

The guy came running over. He couldn’t have been older than 25.

“Yeah, Doc?”

“This one goes to the Military hospital; journalist – American citizen,” she said quickly. “Priority is that blunt force head trauma – she needs a CT on arrival.”

“The other one?”

“Long gone,” the Doctor said bluntly. “You got this?”

The medic nodded as Roberts turned toward Jacks and dropped down next to her.

“It’s going to be all right, Jacks. We’ll get you out of this hell hole, eh? Wahid is going to be so bloody riled at you. You know how much he hated you going out on assignment,” Roberts said wetly as he brushed the dust from her face.

Her cold, dead eyes stared back at him and he was quite sure it was an image that was going to add to the many others that haunted his dreams every night.

“You did good Lara Croft,” he whispered. “She’s going to be fine, I’m sure of it.”

The medical team swooped in and put Andy quickly on a gurney as the Doctor walked away towards the next patient.

“Hey!” Roberts yelled.

She turned back, and raised an eyebrow.

“I can’t leave them alone,” he said desperately.

“Go with American girl,” the Doctor said. “Whatever is left of your private security can watch the body of your friend.”

“Her name was Jacqueline,” Roberts said quietly as he stared down at the lifeless form below him as the Doctor disappeared towards the next patient.

“We’re leaving,” the medic said, jogging back towards him.

Roberts nodded, taking one last look at Jacks before turning his back.

As the medic truck drove towards the military check point, Roberts took in the scene before them.

The ground was black at the detonation site. The debris was a mixture of blood and bone, scattered body parts and their screaming owners, trapped next to the bodies of their dead relatives and friends.

People were bloodied and burned and crying for help.

Triage doctors were moving quickly through the victims, tagging them with markers as medics came behind and administered treatment or flagged them for emergency transport to the nearest ER.

Roberts turned back to Andy and applied pressure to her leg where directed, while the medic monitored her vitals with a grim look on his face.

They had been far enough away.

It would have taken only a minute.

Just one more minute inside the facility and both Andy and Jacks would have been fine.

Instead, he had sent them ahead, straight into the arms of that asshole who had loaded up his IED with enough shrapnel to injure anyone within a 100 metres of the blast.

As they pulled up to the hospital there was a team waiting and Andy was quickly unloaded and they raced her inside.

The medic held him back as she was taken away.

“They’re taking her for a head CT and then possibly straight to surgery,” the medic said.

“I can’t leave her alone,” Roberts said.

“She won’t be alone, I’ll let her team know you’re here and they’ll give you updates as soon as they have them,” the medic said, before darting off again.

Roberts looked around helplessly, at a loss as to what to do now.

He had no phone, his gear was still laying on the floor in Mahmod’s office.

He needed to get in touch with Helena.

“Hey,” he called out to a passing triage nurse. “Do you have a phone I can use?”

She ignored him as she ran out to meet more incoming patients.

Roberts watched in horror as a young boy was wheeled past, missing both legs below the knees.

It didn’t seem to matter how many years he had been in the region, or how many times he had witnessed the carnage that came from war – it never got any less horrifying.

He looked at his watch.

It was 8:33am.

They had left base camp not even two hours ago.

Two hours ago Jacks was a walking, talking, living, breathing, exceptional woman.

Now she was gone.

Roberts walked towards an open seat and sat down. He put his head in his hands, and tried desperately not to think of the cold, dead face that had stared back at him.

A doctor approached 20 minutes later and crouched down in front of him.

“Are you with the journalist?” he asked.

Roberts lifted his head. “Andy? Yeah, I am.”

“Ok, I’m just coming to inform you that we’ve taken her into surgery. CT confirmed a bleed, and we’re going to be working on that leg while we’re in there.”

“Okay, okay, so that’s good, right?”

“She sustained some significant blood loss in the field, we’re doing everything we can, and we’ll keep you updated,” the Doctor said as he got to his feet.

“Wait,” Roberts said, reached out to grab him. “Look, I need to use a phone. She has family, and our team has lost someone, I need to get in touch with them.”

“Okay, as soon as things calm down I’ll make sure someone gets you a phone, okay?”


 

“I don’t care if he is sleeping,” Miranda snapped down the phone. “If he wants my continued support for the upcoming election I suggest he gets on this phone right now before I ensure an abrupt end to his political career,” she finished, pinching the bridge of her nose as she paced back and forth in Nigel’s living room.

Nick was on the phone to Cassidy, meanwhile Caroline was already on her way to the airport even through Miranda had told her to stay put.

Everyone else was on the phone calling in contacts, attempting to gain any information at all.

Nigel was pacing, much like herself, his glasses pushed up on his head.

Riya was sitting in a chair with a pen and paper, her brow furrowed as she talked quietly down the line.

It had proven fruitless so far.

Just as Mary had told her, everything was in chaos, reports were unclear and the area of the explosion had been locked down by the local military.

It had been almost an hour, and the only thing Miranda knew for certain was that Andrea had been on assignment with a videographer from the Tribune and an Australian freelancer who was introducing them to a contact in the vicinity of the bombing.

That, and that the death toll had risen to over 30 and seemed to show no signs of stopping.

Her current call was yet another dead end and she fought the urge to scream in frustration.

She didn’t want to stop, however.

Stopping meant thinking, and considering possibilities she refused to entertain.

Nigel ended his call as she did and walked towards her.

“Current word from Helena Holden is that local stringers are still trying to gain access to the site,” he said. “The team are checking hospitals all over Baghdad, but because of the number of…well, they could be anywhere. It’s chaos.”

“We’re supposed to what? Just wait?” Miranda spat.

“Mary said they’re doing everything they can to get information on their whereabouts, and all media personnel on the ground are sharing information with the Tribune staff as it comes in.”

Riya got to her feet and ended her own call, which appeared to be a dead-end also.

“I apologize that I couldn’t be of any more help, Miranda,” she said.

“I appreciate your concern, but you should go home,” Miranda said.

Riya watched her carefully before nodding in agreement, clasping her hands in front of her, her phone dangling from her finger tips.

“If you need anything,” Riya began, “Anything at all, then please don’t hesitate to contact me, day or night.”

Miranda nodded tightly before Nigel escorted Riya to get her coat.

She moved over towards Nick. He handed her his phone as he got to his feet and she pressed it to her ear silently.

“I’m coming home,” Cassidy said.

“No, you’ll stay there. Caroline is on her way.”

Cassidy was silent for a long time.

“I’m coming home,” she repeated before ending the call abruptly.

Miranda sat down and she heard the door to Nigel’s apartment close, indicating Riya had left.

Nick moved towards Nigel, and Miranda watched as her older friend thanked him and then shuffled him in the same direction.

Sometimes she wondered if perhaps Nigel knew her better than she knew herself.

She walked after them, catching them at the door, and handing Nick his phone.

He reached forward to take it and gripped her forearm gently in comfort before lifting it from her hand. He kissed Nigel gently on the cheek and stepped out.

Miranda and Nigel stood silently in the foyer.

Her own phone started buzzing in her hand and she quickly answered when she saw who it was.

“Have you heard something?” Miranda demanded, as they both walked back out into the living room, the TV still flashing in the background with new video footage of the explosion.

It had been a suicide bomber.

A 17-year-old boy.

A child.

“No,” Elizabeth responded quietly. “I thought maybe you had.”

Miranda sighed and sat down, the energy rushing out of her.

She didn’t reply.

“Stanford,” Elizabeth said.

“I’m sorry?” Miranda said.

“She could have gone to Stanford, she could have been a lawyer and then she never would ha—“

“Stop it,” Miranda ordered, but it was weak.

Weaker than she could ever remember herself being.

Nigel arrived in front of her with a cup of coffee, and pressed it into her free hand.

“Where is my daughter, Miranda?” Elizabeth said tearfully.

They both remained silent on the line.

Miranda wished she knew.


 


Roberts paced back and forth, his agitation growing by the minute.

It had been over half an hour and there had been no news from the surgical team, no phone, no nothing.

He didn’t want to leave Andy alone. He couldn’t leave Andy alone, but he needed to get in contact with Helena and let her know what had happened to her team. If the families back home were in contact with anyone, it would be her.

Roberts had no doubt that the story was circulating; not to mention if anyone had caught wind of them being in the vicinity, it was probably international news by now.

As a medic ran past he grabbed him.

“Look, I know you’re busy, and I’m sorry, but my friend was killed and my other friend is on a surgical table right now and I need a goddamn phone!” Roberts all but yelled.

The medic looked at him, unfazed by the outburst. “Just take a breath, and I’ll get you a phone, okay?” he said calmly.

“I—okay,” Roberts said as he released the man.

The medic guided him towards an office and sat him down at someone’s desk.

“Dial 1 to get out,” the medic said. “Take all the time you need.”

“I’m sorry,” Roberts apologized. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” the young man said. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said as he walked out of the office and closed the door behind him.

Roberts picked up the phone and dialed Helena immediately.

“Helena, it’s me,” he said roughly when she answered. “We…we lost Jacks.”


 

Miranda sat silently in Nigel’s living room.

There was nothing else to be done.

She had turned off the TV, unable to bear watching the images any longer. Shaky video of a fireball in the middle of a crowded market; young children screaming for their dead mothers. Mothers screaming for their dead children.

How such inhumanity existed in this world, she didn’t know.

She knew it happened every day. She knew this was the first time she had really cared. She wondered if this was some form of punishment for her own apathy.

She gripped the phone in her lap, willing it to ring.

“The guest room is ready for you,” Nigel said as he walked back into the living room.

Miranda shook her head and got to her feet.

“No, I should go home.”

“Sit down,” Nigel ordered, his voice stern. “You’re staying here. I’ve already called Roy and told him to go home. I’ve also spoken to Caroline. She managed to get the last flight out, but she won’t be here until the morning. Jason Archer is aware of the situation, and Emily will be stepping in for you if the need arises.”

“When did I give you per—“

“Miranda, stop,” Nigel said as he sat next to her. “There is absolutely no way I’m leaving you alone tonight. It’s late, and you’re here, so deal with it.”

“And you honestly think I could sleep at a time like this!?” she demanded.

“Of course not, but my sofa isn’t the most comfortable, and if you want to lie down, the option is there.”

“Lie down? And then wh—“

Her phone started ringing.

Miranda looked at it, as it flashed with an unknown blocked number.

She glanced at Nigel, suddenly not ready for whatever might be on the end of that call.

“It could be Andy,” Nigel said.

She slid her finger across the lock screen and put the phone to her ear.

“Hello?” she said.

“Is this Miranda Priestly?” a voice sounded down the line. The connection was terrible, and Miranda felt her heart leap into her chest.

“Yes, this is she,” she replied.

“Ms. Priestly, this is Michael Roberts, I’m a freelance journalist. I work with Andy,” he said.

“I know who you are. Where is Andrea?” she said, the desperation clear.

“She’s in surgery right now, but…she’s alive.”

Miranda let out a sob she had been holding back, and pressed her hand over her mouth.

“I’m sorry I don’t have any more information for you right now,” he said. “They took her in about 45 minutes ago. I’m sorry I couldn’t call sooner. I know you must be worried.”

Miranda closed her eyes and took deep, shuddering breaths.

Alive.

“We’re at the American Military Hospital in Baghdad, she took a knock to the head and some shrapnel to the thigh, but she was talking when I found her,” Roberts said. “Look, I can’t stay on the line, but someone will call as soon as we get news. Can you contact her parents? She only had you listed as her emergency contact.”

“I can call them,” Miranda said hoarsely.

“Okay, good. She’s a fighter Miranda, she’ll be fine I’m sure of it,” Roberts said. “I’ll call again soon,” he said before ending the call.

Nigel stared at her, the question clear on his face.

“Alive," Miranda said as she dropped her phone and leaned back into the seat.

She looked towards the ceiling as the tears began leaking from her eyes.

Alive.

Chapter Text

There was a knock on the door and Nigel walked over to open it.

“She just fell asleep,” Nigel murmured quietly. “It’s been a long night,” he said in lieu of a greeting as he came face-to-face with a disheveled looking Caroline, standing in the hall with a UCLA branded duffel bag gripped in her hand.

Nigel waved her in, before closing the door gently behind them.

Caroline stood in the foyer, staring out at her mother before turning to face him. She looked more lost than he had ever seen her, and as he reached out to take her duffel, she walked forward and clung on to him for dear life.

“She’s going to be fine,” Nigel said gently as he dropped the bag to the floor and enveloped the girl – well, woman – in a hug.

Caroline didn’t reply.

“Cassidy called from the plane,” Nigel said, “She should be here early this afternoon.”

Caroline nodded, before pulling back and wiping her eyes. “Andy?”

“We’re not sure when yet. Any transfer needs to be signed off by her doctors in Baghdad first.”

“But Mom said that big Neurosurgeon from New York Presbyterian had taken her case!” Caroline said, her voice raising an octave.

Nigel’s eyes flickered towards Miranda. She was curled up on his sofa, her heels discarded, but otherwise still dressed as she had been when she arrived 12 hours earlier. She didn’t stir, not even at the sound of Caroline’s voice carrying through the apartment.

Nigel focused back on Caroline. “The guy from New York Presbyterian has agreed to take her case, but she can’t fly home until she’s stable enough. That’s up to the doctors in Bagdad to decide.”

And it wasn’t likely to happen for a few days yet.

Andy had arrived at the American Military Hospital with significant blood loss, her tibia fractured and her leg cut to pieces by shrapnel. There was talk of muscle and nerve damage, more surgeries, and weeks, if not months of rehab for that, and recovery from neurosurgery. Although the surgeon had notified them the bleed was small, and isolated from any areas he would consider dangerous to daily functioning, confirmation that the injury was “unlikely to result in any significant deficits” wouldn’t come until she actually woke up. They were monitoring her closely for swelling, and she was loaded up with drugs, so there was no telling when that might happen.

Nigel had struggled to get his head around it, and he knew that absolutely none of the news provided so far had put Miranda’s mind at ease. She had been on the phone non-stop from the time Michael Roberts called around 1:00am until she had finally succumbed to exhaustion less than 30 minutes ago.

Caroline took a deep breath and wiped under her eyes again. She looked as exhausted as Miranda had.

“Have you slept?” Nigel asked, reaching out to grip her chin and gently tilt her head up.

Caroline shook her head.

“Come on, I made a bed up in the guest room for your Mother, but she was too stubborn to use it,” Nigel said.

She chuckled wetly as he led her down the hall towards the guest suites. “There are towels in the en suite, and spare toiletries if you need them,” Nigel said as he opened a door. “Have a shower, rest, and I’ll let your Mom know you’re here when she wakes up, okay?”

Caroline walked in and dropped her bag on the floor before turning back. “Uncle Nigel?” she said, the term of endearment one he hadn’t heard in quite some time.

“Yeah, Caro?”

“Thanks for looking after her,” Caroline said, a mixture of emotions playing across her face, the predominant one being guilt as she glanced in the direction of the living room.

“I’m always going to be here for her when she needs it, okay?” Nigel said. “And you, for that matter,” he finished, reaching out grip her shoulder.

Caroline nodded, reaching up to touch his hand.

“Now, I’ll leave you to it,” he said, touching her face gently before stepping back. “If you need anything, just ask. If you can’t find me I’ll be in my study, which is just down the hall.”

“You’re working?” Caroline asked.

“Just a few things that need done by the end of the day,” Nigel shrugged. “Nothing strenuous.”

“Will you let me know if anyone calls, or anything…” Caroline said, trailing off, the unsaid happens heard regardless.

“She’s stable and in recovery,” Nigel reiterated what Miranda had already told Caroline over the phone, “But I’ll come wake you if anything changes.”

“Okay,” Caroline breathed, as she moved towards the bed.

“Sleep well,” Nigel said as he backed out of the room and closed the door gently.

He walked down to his office and sat heavily in his chair. It was just after eight a.m. but that didn’t stop him from reaching for a glass and pouring himself a larger-than-usual scotch even as he reached for his phone.

“Hey,” he said roughly down the line as Emily picked up.

“Any news?” Emily asked.

“Stable and in recovery is still the company line right now. They won’t know any more until she wakes up.”

“No news is good news, I suppose,” Emily said before they both fell silent.

Nigel took a sip of his scotch.

“How’s Miranda holding up?” Emily asked after a while.

“Sleeping, finally. Caroline just arrived back, and Cassidy is on her way.”

“Good,” Emily said. “Are you going into the office today?”

“No, I had my assistant cancel my meetings and I’ll do the rest from home. It’s a Saturday anyway. How’s your end looking?”

“Oh fine, a brunch and one meeting this afternoon. Miranda had allocated the rest to office time to go over the December spreads, so it’ll give me a chance to have another look and catch up on some of my own work.”

“Good,” Nigel said noncommittally.

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Emily said then.

“Hmm?”

“This doesn’t happen to us,” Emily said. “People we know don’t get bombed for Christ’s sake. I still can’t quite believe it’s happened.”

“She could have died,” Nigel said. “If Jaqueline Carrillo hadn’t thrown herself on top of Six at the last moment, we might have been attending a funeral. Apparently the majority of the shrapnel hit the woman’s flak jacket, but a stray piece clipped an artery under her arm and that did her in. I mean, what are the chances?”

“That poor woman,” Emily said. “She’s all over the news right now.”

“And Andy?”

“Of course. Leslie is already fielding calls requesting statements from Miranda.”

Nigel sighed and leant back, closing his eyes. The reality of it all a little too much in that moment.

“What time’s your brunch?” he asked.

“Not for a couple of hours, but I should get going. You’ll call me if anything changes?” Emily said.

“Of course. I’ll talk to you soon,” Nigel said as he ended the call and tossed his phone down on the desk. Yes, the reality was all a little too much right now, but Nigel knew this was only the beginning.

The sun was climbing its way up the sky slowly. Nigel sipped his scotch and watched the mid-morning light begin to trickle into his study and wondered if the world would ever look quite the same again.


 

Roberts stood outside the door and leant heavily against the wall. He could hear the muffled sound of prayers in Arabic filtering through the cracks as Wahid sat with Jacks in the morgue. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could spend in this goddamn hospital.

Lucy walked up, eyes red. “Smoke?” she said.

Roberts looked at her. “You quit,” he said.

“Not today,” she said and began walking towards a guard monitoring a rear exit to the hospital building.

Roberts pushed off the wall and followed her, the guard opening the door for them and letting them outside.

The sun was beginning to go down, and he was struggling to fathom that it was still the same day that he had woken up for 12 hours ago. He remembered the mild ribbing the two women had been giving him this morning, and he reached shakily for the cigarette Lucy held out in offering and lighted it quickly. He took a deep drag and watched as Lucy sparked up her own.

“She looks awful,” Lucy said. “I forgot how terrible people in the ICU look.”

“I know,” Roberts muttered.

“How are the family?” Lucy said, kicking at stone on the ground absently.

“As you’d expect,” he shrugged. “Miranda Priestly, though? That is a woman who is surprisingly more…together than I expected.”

“Really? She runs a fashion empire with an iron fist and you expected, what? A histrionic airhead?”

“No, of course not, but she works in fashion.”

“Don’t judge a magazine by its glossy-ass cover?”

Roberts chuckled, “I like her. She’s a bit sharp around the edges – I can see where the Dragon Lady persona came from – but there’s very little doubt she cares about Andy. A lot.”

“I can’t believe you’ve been holding court with Miranda Priestly all day,” Lucy said, shaking her head, he assumed, at the surreal quality of this entire day before they both slipped into silence again.

“Did Helena get in touch with Jacks’ family?” Roberts asked after a while.

“Yeah, she did. I don’t envy her this day. She has to spend tonight writing an obituary.”

“The news never sleeps,” Roberts said.

“No, it doesn’t,” Lucy said as she took another drag. “You planning on staying here overnight?”

Roberts shook his head. “Andy’s stable, so there’s not much else I can do now. It could be a day, or it could be longer before she wakes up. The doctors said it’s a case-by-case basis.”

“You’re going after Mahmod aren’t you?”

“That’s the plan,” Roberts said, taking another pull on his cigarette. “I need a statement.”

“You know where he is?”

“Not yet, but he won’t be far. Mahmod looks after his people – and they were his people getting blown to pieces today.”

“And ours,” Lucy said solemnly.

Roberts watched as sky began to turn a brilliant red, the sun disappearing along the horizon. “Thanks for the phone by the way,” he said, changing the subject.

“You owe me 20 quid,” Lucy said.

“You couldn’t have picked me up an iPhone?”

“The flip phone is a classic – be grateful.”

“One of the buttons sticks. Where did you buy it?”

“Off some kid on the side of a road. I think he overcharged me.”

“I think you might be right there, lass,” Roberts shot back in a terrible impersonation of a Scottish accent, before a body collided with his and held him tight.

“I’m glad you’re okay, you big idiot,” Lucy whispered wetly. “Don’t do that to me again.”

Roberts flicked his cigarette away and brushed his hand through blonde hair. “I’ll try,” he said.



Miranda opened her eyes slowly and blinked, rolling away from the sunlight that was shining onto her face. She groaned as her body protested the movement. Her bra dug uncomfortably under her arm, and the dress she was wearing was certainly not made for sleeping in.

“Hey,” Nigel said as he rounded the sofa.

Miranda sat up with a wince.

“Before you ask,” Nigel began, “Your phone is in the kitchen, charging. I’ve been carrying it around with me. Mike sent a message about half an hour ago – no change – and he managed to get a new phone and he said we can call him any time, but he’s going to leave the hospital soon so we should contact her surgeons directly for updates. I spoke to them as well, and they assured me they would call if there was any change at all. I’ve passed all this on to Elizabeth & Richard. Caroline arrived about eight, she was exhausted so I sent her to the guest room to get some sleep. Cassidy called to let me know they’re expected to land…” Nigel glanced at his watch, “About now, in fact, so she’ll be here around one, depending on traffic. Roy’s going to fetch her.”

“What time is it?” Miranda asked, her voice hoarse with sleep.

“Almost mid-day. Do you want some coffee?”

Miranda shook her head and got to her feet. She walked to the kitchen and plucked up her phone before heading in the direction of the guest rooms.

“Third door on the right,” Nigel called after her. “Emily messengered some things over for you, I left them hanging in the next room.”

Miranda opened the door gently. Caroline was indeed curled up asleep. Miranda resisted the urge to run to her daughter, slipping out of the room instead and heading to the main bathroom.

She turned on the shower before peeling the dress from her body. She didn’t dare look in the mirror for fear of what she would find. As she stepped under the spray she tried to let it wash away the last 12 hours, but there was little chance of any relief from the fear which had camped out in her mind and refused to leave.

When she was finished, she wrapped herself in a fresh robe before going in search of Emily’s selections.

There was a bag on the bed with toiletries and make-up, and the closet housed three different outfits, two of which Miranda would consider casual, and the third something she would wear to a board meeting. She reached instinctively for the dark Michael Kors suit, and bypassed the light Stella McCartney blouses in favour of a dark, Erdem silk blouse with prints in deep greens and blues. She blow-dried her hair and applied a light layer of makeup before stepping into her heels.

As she looked in the mirror, she saw Miranda Priestly staring back at her. A little drawn perhaps, the outfit a little darker than usual, but Miranda Priestly nonetheless. She couldn’t afford to be anyone else today.

Miranda picked up her phone and walked back to the living room as she dialed the number Andrea had given her for Helena Holden.

Nigel was making coffee in the kitchen when she entered, and he watched her carefully before nodding in acknowledgement. She returned the gesture just as Helena picked up.

“I’m assuming your name is somewhere in my pile of requests for a statement?” Miranda said down the phone.

“Miranda,” Helena said tiredly.

Miranda didn’t bother to respond.

“You can do this with Mary if you’d prefer, she can send me the transcript,” Helena said.

“No, I think I’d prefer to speak to the woman who put Andrea within 100 feet of a suicide bombing,” Miranda said coldly, her anger clawing its way to the surface.

Helena said nothing.

“Nothing to say?” Miranda demanded.

“What would you like to hear, Miranda?” Helena asked quietly. “The area was deemed secure, I cleared them to go. It was a decision with deadly consequences. I’m responsible for that. Do you think I’m sitting here, proud to have a dead woman on my hands and another in critical care?”

Miranda tried to cling to anger, a lifeline among the mess of emotions she was trying to get a handle on, but she deflated as she heard the strain in Helena’s voice.

She heard the other woman get to her feet, the background noise disappearing as a door closed on the other end of the line.

They both remained silent for a beat, before Helena spoke again. “For what it’s worth Miranda,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

“Apologies can’t bring back the dead,” Miranda said, her tone resigned, and absent of any accusation.

“If only they could.”

Miranda thought about the tall, bronzed Amazon she had seen on the TV. Jacqueline Carrillo had kind eyes, a wry smile and had thrown herself on a co-worker without a second thought for her own safety. It said a lot about the woman in question. “Are you all right?” Miranda asked.

Miranda heard the other woman take a deep breath. “Not particularly, no. Jacqueline and I have worked together for almost a decade in this region. The news today was something I still can’t fathom if I’m being honest with you.”

“I know it doesn’t mean much under these circumstances, however, I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Helena said, pausing for a moment before she began speaking again. “It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, hasn't it.”

“It has,” Miranda said cautiously. “Thirty years?”

“About that, yes,” Helena said, before pausing. “Andrea is an exceptional woman. I’m glad you finally found what you were looking for.”

Miranda paused and gave Nigel a look that suggested it would be advisable if he made himself scarce. She waited until he disappeared down the hall before she resumed speaking.

“And you?” Miranda asked.

“I’m right where I was always meant to be, even if today I wish I could be anywhere else,” Helena said. “You never said anything to her, did you?”

“She’s aware that we’re not on the best of terms. What else was there to tell her?” Miranda replied.

“Not much when you really think about. Things seem a lot more dramatic in your twenties.”

“I didn’t handle it well,” Miranda admitted.

“You weren’t particularly gentle, no.”

“I didn’t think we’d ever cross paths again after that night. I lost track of you when you moved to the BBC. I had no idea you were in the Middle East until I saw a picture a few years back.”

“I married.”

“Didn’t we all?” Miranda said.

“I stopped after one,” Helena said.

“If yet another closet pun so much as crosses your mind, I’ll refuse to speak to you for another three decades or so.”

“It was a good one if I recall.”

“Not as good as you remember, I’m sure,” Miranda said. “Why did you hire her? You must have known about our relationship. I had a passing thought that it was perhaps to spite me, but that was never your style.”

“And you would be right," Helena said, pausing before she continued. "Andrea has a gift Miranda, a true talent, real passion. That's why I hired her."

"I knew once you had her there in Baghdad you wouldn’t want to let her go."

"Trust me when I say it wasn't personal. In the grand scheme of things, things between us were all but forgotten until Andrea’s name passed across my desk.”

“You’re a better person than I am.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I already know that Miranda Priestly.”

Miranda paused for moment, and blamed her emotional state for the next words that slipped from her mouth. “She reminded me of you.”

“Who?” Helena asked.

“Andrea,” Miranda said. “The first time she walked into my office there was something about her that was every bit this fiery investigative journalist I once knew. It forced my hand. Against my better judgment, I hired her.”

"Andrea Sachs isn’t me, Miranda.”

“No, she’s not. I discovered that within a month of hiring her. She became something else altogether – and I wasn’t any more prepared for her than I was prepared for you 30-plus years ago.”

Helena paused before continuing. “You were right, you know,” she began. “It would have destroyed you, and probably me too. It wasn’t the time,” Helena said. “I think I knew that – it was just easier to pin the blame on you.”  

“I suppose we should have had this conversation in our 40s,” Miranda said.

“Probably, but I doubt you’re any less stubborn than you used to be.”

“Not particularly, no.”

They fell into a silence.

“I should get your statement, Miranda,” Helena said after a time.

“Of course.”



Miranda stood and sipped her coffee, staring at her phone.

She had provided Helena with a statement, and they had ended the call with a vague agreement to meet the next time they happened to find themselves in the same city.

Miranda knew it was unlikely to happen, and she found herself experiencing a sense of loss at that thought. She and Helena had been extremely close friends until the emotional lines began blurring in their relationship too much to be ignored any longer. She had panicked, and had taken…steps. Steps which looking back, she regretted.

Despite their past, her trust in Helena as an individual hadn’t waned. Knowing she was there, in the same city as Andrea, put her more at ease in this otherwise horrific situation.

Nigel walked back into the living area.

He said nothing as he walked over and poured himself another coffee, before asking her if she wanted another.

She nodded, at a loss as to what else to do now. She couldn’t keep harassing the hospital. The amount of times she called wasn’t going to have any impact on Andrea. She was stuck, unable to do anything.

Helpless, she thought angrily. She had sworn she would never be helpless. All the power and prestige she had worked for and she had still been left unable to do a single thing of use in the last 12 hours. She couldn’t go to Baghdad – she couldn’t get Andrea out of Baghdad. She had ended up exactly where she never wanted to be – the useless army wife, stuck at home, worrying, with no idea of whether Andrea was coming home the same person she left as.

She thought about her birthday. She thought about the last time they were together. It had been on the tip of her tongue. She had seen the indecision in Andrea’s eyes during the party. If she had asked her to stay that day, used the situation, and the girls presence to her advantage, then maybe she would have. Maybe she wouldn’t have gone back. Perhaps they would be at home right now, a little damaged perhaps, but not like this.

Nigel placed a fresh coffee down next to her, squeezing her hand gently before removing her old cup.

She glanced up at him, his shoulders slumped, five o’clock shadow visible and dressed in the same shirt he had been wearing last evening, although the top two buttons were undone, his tie was missing and the sleeves were rolled up carelessly.

He looked exhausted, but she knew she would be wasting her breath ordering him to sleep.

“I’m going to wake Caroline,” Miranda said, getting to her feet.

Nigel looked at her, puzzled.

“When Roy arrives with Cassidy, we’re all going back to the town house,” Miranda said. “You need to sleep, and I need to be…home.”

“Of course,” Nigel said, giving a stiff nod. His exhaustion was letting his emotions play all over his face, and she could see the rejection clear as day.

Miranda didn't react as she turned and walked away. She paused before disappearing down the hall. “I expect to see you for dinner this evening,” she said curtly, without turning back. “After you’ve slept.”

Nigel said nothing, the door bell chiming throughout the apartment instead.

Miranda continued to the guest room and opened the door, where she found Caroline pulling on her socks.

“Is that Cass?” Caroline asked, sleep still lacing her voice.

“I think so.”

Caroline looked at Miranda closely before she got to her feet pulled her into a hug.

Miranda clung to her daughter and held on tight.

“It’s going to be okay, Mom,” Caroline said.

Miranda simply nodded, no longer trusting herself to speak.

They stood there for a few moments until a second pair of arms wrapped around her from behind.

Miranda reached back and touched Cassidy’s head gently. “I thought I told you to stay in Cambridge,” she said wetly, turning to face her youngest.

Cassidy reached for her, and pulled her back into her arms. “And since when do I listen to you?” she said, a small sob escaping her lips.

Miranda rubbed her hand up and down Cassidy's back before reaching to pull Caroline towards her also.

She gripped the girls tightly.

“Let’s go home.

Chapter Text

There were voices. They were far away, muffled, confused. Andy tried to focus; tried to distinguish the familiar from unfamiliar, but things were off. It was like she knew what she wanted to do, but her body refused to follow orders.

God, it hurts, she thought. It felt like someone was jumping on her skull at regular intervals; a consistent throbbing that seemed to permeate through her whole body. She had never felt anything like it.

She tried to swallow, and that’s when her mind caught up to the fact that something wasn’t right.

Her eyes snapped open.

She couldn’t breathe.

Andy ignored the lights which were making her head scream in protest, focusing instead on the foreign body that was lodged down her throat. Her hands scrambled clumsily to her face and hit plastic. She grabbed the tube hanging from her mouth and started pulling it.

She could hear beeping, and moaned in pain as she tried to move her legs and sit up.

Air rushed across her body as curtains flew open on either side, followed by sets of hands pressing her down and restraining her.

“Someone page Dr. Bijarani,” a woman’s voice ordered sharply, as she clamped a hand over her arm and held it down on the mattress.

“Hey!” a male voice cried, clearly trying to get someone’s attention over the ruckus. “Hey, hey, hey,” he said, gentler this time as his hands gripped Andy’s face firmly and forced her to focus all of her attention on him. “That’s it, Andy. Just try and relax. My name is Andrew, I’m a nurse at the American Military Hospital in Baghdad, and that just so happens to be where you are right now,” he said quickly, but clearly.

Andrew had soft brown eyes, and a kind smile, and Andy found herself latching onto his gaze.

“Alright, that’s better,” he said as the beeping in the room slowed.

“Andy, I know you’re a little scared right now, and things might be a little unclear, but I’m going to tell you what’s happening and all you need to do is listen, and know that you’re safe, okay?”

Andy nodded quickly.

“Okay, good,” he said, flicking his gaze up to his colleague and nodding before turning his attention back to her. “Andy, I’m not sure if you remember, but you were caught in a suicide bombing in the inner city. You took a knock to the head, and you’re leg was injured by shrapnel from the blast. You’ve been through a couple of surgeries, and that’s why there’s a tube stuffed down your throat. I know it’s uncomfortable, but what I need you to do for me is just relax, stop fighting it, and let it do its job for now. Can you do that?”

Andy felt the tears streaming down her face, but nodded.

“Good,” Andrew said.

She let her body relax back into the bed and concentrated on the feeling of oxygen being pumped into her lungs. Against all natural instinct, she stopped fighting the process.

“You’re a quick study,” Andrew said, finally releasing her face from his grip and stepping back.

“Andrea?” the woman on the other side of the bed said. “My name is Melanie and I’m the charge nurse this evening,” she said, speaking directly to her as she checked her IV lines. “I know things probably seem a little overwhelming right now, so we’re just going to start with a few things to help you get orientated until one of your surgeons arrives to explain your procedures more thoroughly. Do you understand?”

Andy nodded.

“Good. First thing, are you in any pain?”

Andy nodded again.

“On a scale of one to ten, ten being severe, can you let me know what level your pain is at?”

Andy held up five fingers on her right, but struggled with her left.

The monitor started beeping as her heart rate shot up in alarm.

“Andrea, there’s absolutely no need to panic, this is consistent with your injury – you have movement, your fine motor movements are just a little sluggish, which is normal. We’ve had you on some pretty heavy duty drugs. Take a deep breath and try again.”

Andy relaxed and managed to clumsily hold up two fingers on her left.

“So, a seven?”

Andy nodded.

“Okay. Dr. B wants to do an assessment before I give you any more pain meds, do you think you’ll manage for another ten minutes or so?”

Andy knew she had little choice in the matter, so simply conceded with a final exhausted nod.

“Good. I’m going to go hurry him along so we can make you comfortable as soon as possible, but I’m going to leave Andrew here to keep you company,” Melanie said, gripping her arm gently before excusing herself from the room.

Andy watched the doors swing closed, before taking in the rest of the room. There were curtains on either side of her, indicating that she wasn’t alone. The only sound permeating from her roommates, however, was the swish and click of ventilation machines and the steady beep of their heart monitors.

ICU, she thought. I’m in the ICU.

She could see out into the hall, and watched hospital personnel and soldiers in uniform walk past the glass that separated her and her roommates from the outside world. She didn’t know any of them. Not a single face was familiar in the sea of blue scrubs and khaki uniforms.

Andy focused once more at the doors Melanie had exited through.

She watched them and waited.

She knew it was silly, but if anyone could move mountains, and military clearance, it would be Miranda.

The doors opened as a doctor walked in, chart in hand, and veered in the direction of another patient.

Andy closed her eyes and the tears came, warm and wet as they slid down her face.

Andrew moved and positioned himself within her line of sight. The expression on his face was all too knowing as he placed a hand on her wrist. “It’s going to be all right, Andy,” he said. “I know it probably doesn’t seem like it right now, but you got lucky.”

Lucky, Andy thought as her mind pushed back, back to a man with a hand across his neck, blood pouring out as he struggled for breath; back to a friend and colleague laying still beside her; back to the pieces of flesh and bone littering the ground, to the screams echoing through the marketplace, to piece of metal sticking out of her leg, to Roberts’ pale face above her.

It was all one singular, horrific nightmare which she was never going to be able to wake up from.

The throbbing in her leg seemed to worsen the longer she was awake, and she winced, which in turn made her head ache more. Her whimpers came out strangled as they struggled to bypass her intubation tube.

“It won’t be long,” Andrew said, rubbing her arm. “Just a few more minutes Andy, and we’ll be able to give you something for the pain.”

The physical, perhaps, but Andy knew there would be nothing they could do for the rest.


 

“She’s asleep right now, Helena. The extubation was a rough one. Apparently Miranda Priestly has strong armed the consultants into signing off on an immediate transfer now that she’s stable. She could be out of here as soon as tomorrow mor—fuck—Andy?” Roberts said in surprise.

“Miranda?” Andy said, her throat hoarse from the extubation Dr. Bijarani had performed earlier in the day.

“She’s awake again, I’ll call you later,” Roberts said as he snapped his phone shut and approached the bed. “Hey,” Roberts said, cautiously. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

Andy blinked a few times and tried to get her bearings. There was pain in her head – the equivalent of a decent migraine – and a dull throbbing circulating throughout her leg but she ignored it. Another round of drugs and she’s be incapable of keeping her eyes open. She needed answers.

“You’ve spoken to Miranda?” Andy repeated, this time managing the full question.

Roberts nodded. “Yeah, we’ve been in touch over the past three days while you’ve been out. She’s okay, so don’t worry.”

“The girls?”

“Also fine – they’re home with Miranda. I spoke to your Mum and Dad too – they all know you’re awake, and in pretty good shape considering the circumstances.”

“Okay,” Andy said, a momentary sense of relief passing through her.

“I think you should be worrying a little less about everyone else and a little more about yourself, Sachs.”

“I’m fine,” she said, waving him off groggily.

“Do you want me to call them?” Roberts asked as he flipped open his phone.

“No,” Andy said, “Not yet.”

Roberts looked at her and closed his phone slowly.

They watched each other for a beat, before Roberts reached for the chair behind him and sat down.

“I need to know,” Andy said.

“I know you do,” Roberts said as he sat back in his chair, the exhaustion suddenly apparent in his face. “She’s on her way home,” Roberts said with an air of finality that left no room for question.

Andy felt her chest tighten.

“Shrapnel clipped a major artery,” he continued. “She’d bled out before I even had time to get down the stairs.”

They would be tied together now, the two of them. Even though there was nothing he could have done, Roberts would add this to his list of sins and carry it around with him as much as she would.

“She pushed me down,” Andy said.

“Possibly,” Roberts said, shaking his head. “We can’t be sure of that.”

“I woke up with her on top of me,” Andy said wetly. “She saved my life.”

Roberts didn’t say anything else.

Andy took a breath. “Wahid?”

“Not good.”

Andy wanted nothing more than to curl in on herself.

“It’s not your fault,” Roberts said, as he reached over and gripped her clenched fist. “It’s not. We were in the wrong place at the wrong fucking time and Jacks got unlucky. It’s as simple as that.”

She didn’t answer as her heart pounded and the pain roared in her head. She clenched her jaw, fighting desperately to keep it at bay. To keep everything at bay. She felt so helpless.

Roberts reached across and hit her call button.

“What are you doing?” Andy demanded.

“Getting you a nurse,” Roberts said bluntly.

“I don’t need a nurse.”

“Yeah, and I don’t need a couple of decades worth of therapy, but I’ll probably get it anyway,” Roberts said.

The door opened cutting off any further argument, and a nurse who was neither Andrew nor Melanie approached the bed.

“She’s in pain,” Roberts said immediately.

“Supply issue,” the nurse said, shaking her head as she fiddled with Andy’s IV and pulled a syringe out of her pocket. “Usually we’d have her on a pump,” she said as she pulled the cap off and injected clear liquid into the IV line. “She was up next on my rounds but I got held up a couple of doors down. Sorry about the wait Miss Sachs – should have topped you up thirty minutes ago.”

“I’m fine,” Andy said through gritted teeth.

“They said you were a tough one,” the nurse chuckled as she pulled the syringe and dropped it back in her pocket, before reaching down to check her catheter. “You’ll probably be switching over to oral meds and fluids tomorrow if your throat can handle it after the intubation,” she said, dropping the catheter with a satisfied look. “You’re still sounding a bit rough though, so we’ll wait and see,” she said, as she pulled back the blankets and checked the dressings on Andy’s legs.

Andy glanced at it before looking away and back at Roberts. “You can go,” she said. “I’m fine.”

Clearly,” he said, the sarcasm clear as he looked her up and down. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll stick around for a bit, unless I’m in the way?” he said, directing the last part to the nurse.

“No, not at all,” the nurse said with an amused smile as she replaced the sheet over Andy’s leg. “We’ll do a dressing change tomorrow,” she said, “For now, everything looks good. Do you have any questions?”

Andy had more than a few, but she could feel a heaviness entering her limbs already and shook her head carefully.

“Okay, well if you need anything, just hit the buzzer. Otherwise I’ll see you on my next round,” the nurse said as she excused herself.

Roberts stayed put, dropping back into the chair beside her bed.

“What is it about your accent that seems to make everyone so agreeable?” Andy said.

“Australian charm,” Roberts said with a wink. “We’re an irresistible bunch.”

Andy rolled her eyes at him before turning her attention towards the ceiling, tracing the lines with her eyes and blinking against the exhaustion that was threatening to overtake her once more.

“How is she, really?” Andy asked after a while, not taking her eyes off the ceiling.

“I think it’s safe to say she’s worried,” Roberts said.

Andy turned her head to look at him, the movement making her feel a little woozy.

“Other than that?” he continued, “I couldn’t really say. She’s a bit of a closed book.”

Andy nodded as her eyes drifted closed.

“Word on the street is she’s organized a transfer for you as soon as possible though,” Roberts said.

Andy made a noise to encourage him to keep talking as she finally succumbed to sleep.


 

The next time she awoke, it was to find Helena Holden sitting in a chair, typing on her laptop.

Andy watched her silently. Her curly brown hair was pulled back from her face and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days.

Helena eventually caught her observing, but said nothing as she closed the lid on her computer, and placed it on the floor. She reached for a glass of water on a nearby table before placing the straw in Andy’s mouth and finally speaking. “Small sips only.”

Andy took a tiny sip of the cool water and resisted the urge to guzzle the glass as it slid down her parched throat. She drank slowly, ignoring the pain when she swallowed. When the glass was gone, she released the straw and gave Helena an appreciative glance.

Helena set the glass back down on the table before turning back to her.

“I called ahead,” Helena said, by way of explanation, “The staff said you’d hopefully be awake around now and I wanted to speak to you before you left.”

“Every time they come in here they seem to give me something that knocks me out, so I guess they would know,” Andy said, “What time is it?”

“About six a.m.”

“They have some strange ideas about visiting hours around here.”

Helena smiled, her lined face a portrait of relief.

“I’m okay,” Andy said. “I have the attention span of a goldfish and can barely keep my eyes open for more than 30 minutes at a time, but I’m okay Helena. I can still string a sentence together.”

“I had to see it for myself. Head injuries are…tricky.”

Andy hummed in assent, as her mind caught up to something Helena said earlier. “Wait, what were you saying before? You said, before I left.”

“You’re scheduled to be transferred to New York Presbyterian this afternoon.”

Andy thought back to last night. “Michael did mention something,” she said, trying to shake off the permanent fog that had camped out in her brain. “Sorry, I’m having a bit of trouble keeping everything in order. Apparently it’s a combination of the drugs and the surgery and is ‘nothing to worry about’ and will ‘pass with time,’” she said. “I’m assuming this was Miranda?”

“Yes, Miranda. I think if she could have been here with her own personal team of surgeons, she would have. There’s a rumor that she approached Hillary in regards to clearance, although I’m not sure how much stock to put in that one.”

“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” Andy said, grimacing, and well aware of Miranda’s sizeable donation to the Secretary of State’s campaign for 2017.

Helena chuckled, but it was a hollow sound, one reaching deep for a little lightheartedness in light of recent events.

Andy watched her for a moment before she spoke again. “It’s over, isn’t it?” she said. It wasn’t really a question.

Helena leaned back in her seat. “Right now you’re on a leave of absence. That’s all you need to be concerned about. The Tribune will take care of you, so don’t worry about work.”

“I wish work was all I had to worry about,” Andy said, her voice dropping tiredly. “I know you worked together for a long time,” she said. “Helena, I’m so sorry.”

“Never apologize for things that are beyond your control, Andrea. Neither the event nor the consequences are any fault whatsoever of yours,” Helena said.

“It was a dead end,” Andy admitted. “I knew it was a possibility, but I decided to go anyway. We shouldn’t have been there. I wish I’d never asked you,” she said, the anguish bursting from her throat without permission.

“Yes, and I’ll wish every day that I had said ‘no’ to your request,” Helena said. “But at the end of it all, you were both just doing your job. Jacks had been out here for more than ten years, and she’d seen her fair share of close calls – she knew the risks. Don’t carry her around as a burden, Andy. She wouldn’t want you to. You need to make peace with this.”

“I don’t know how,” Andy admitted quietly.

Helena watched her carefully, as if considering her next words. “Speaking as someone who has lost before, the only thing I can tell you for certain is that the world just keeps moving,” she said. “You simply have to make the decision to stay in it, and the rest will follow in its own time.”

The two of them sat quietly in the room for a while, the steady beat of the monitors for company.

Andy glanced at Helena’s untouched laptop before she spoke. “You don’t have to be here,” she said. “You must be busy.”

“I’m always busy,” Helena said, before changing tack, “How’s your family?”

Andy didn’t answer.

“You haven’t spoken to them,” Helena said. It wasn’t a question.

“No,” she said. “The doctors have, but I…”

“Haven’t asked?” Helena said, picking up the trail. “Look, if you want some advice from me, don’t push your family away,” Helena said. “You’ve suffered enough. Let them take care of you. Right now it’s all they want.”

“How am I supposed to ask them to take this on?” Andy said, waving at her head and her leg, “After what I’ve put them through? She asked me not to come, but I did it anyway. Somehow I ended up right where she said I would. The girls spent hours thinking I was dead. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Maybe not, but it was always a possibility.” Helena said, “Look, if you push them away now, you’ll only hurt them more, and it won’t change what happened here on Friday morning. Nothing you do can ever change that. Let them do what they want, watch them worry about you endlessly, fuss over your every move and take that as your punishment if it will make you feel better.”

Andy looked at Helena. She looked at her drawn face, the lines, deepened by a lack of sleep and the stress of the last 72 hours. She was right. On an intellectual level, Andy knew she was right. However, the guilt that had seeped into every piece of flesh remaining was not going to be so easily subdued. But, as she looked into Helena’s eyes she knew she wasn’t alone. As masters of the written word, they were both aware of its limitations at a time like this. So Andy simply nodded, and promised Helena that she would try.

Chapter Text

Miranda paced backwards and forwards in the neurology ward waiting area, her impatience growing.

“Miranda, sit down,” Elizabeth said.

“They’re late,” Miranda said, ignoring the request.

“The visibility isn’t great today, the pilot will be taking extra precautions. She’ll be here in no time,” Richard said calmly and Miranda slowed her walk, eventually coming to a halt and standing, arms crossed instead.

“The girls will be back soon,” Elizabeth said pointedly, eyeing her posture.

Miranda took a breath and made a conscious attempt to relax. Elizabeth was right, the tension in her body was palpable.

“Sit down,” Elizabeth said again, “You’re making me nervous, and this situation has already shaved a considerable number of years off my life – and probably yours too.”

Miranda was about to argue when the girls came back around the corner bearing a tray full of takeaway coffee. She moved and sat down on a free sofa as Cassidy handed her cup.

“It’s a real coffee,” Cassidy said as she sat down beside her heavily. “I managed to get your usual.”

“Thank you,” Miranda said, clasping her hands around her cup.

“Sorry it took so long,” Caroline said as she passed two more coffees off to Richard and Elizabeth before taking up the space on Miranda’s other side. “We decided to take a walk.”

“Don’t be silly,” Elizabeth said as she pulled the lid off her cup blew gently. “Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you girls,” Richard said as he swirled his cup in his hand and looked off into the distance. He had been quiet and stoic throughout most of the ordeal, but the strain was showing clearly on his face. She had overheard Elizabeth trying to get him to open up, without much luck.

Miranda sympathized. She had tried to imagine either of the girls in this situation, and couldn’t comprehend how they had both managed to keep it all together.

“Will she be awake?” Caroline asked, breaking the quiet spell they had all fallen under.

“She said the medication causes her to tire easily, so I don’t know Caroline,” Miranda said. Her conversation with Andrea yesterday had been brief, and filled with apologies and assurances, behind which Miranda could hear the strain of the Friday’s events. In all honesty, she had no idea what they would be facing today when she arrived.

Caroline nodded. “I hope she’s awake,” she said, more to herself than anyone else.

Miranda reached over and squeezed her knee in comfort.

She let her eyes wander over the photograph secured on the wall opposite her. She didn’t know the photographer, and nothing about the piece brought her any sense of comfort. It captured the city’s skyline before September 11, 2001 – a time when people she knew and cared about didn’t get bombed, and the threat of terrorism wasn’t something that was always a dull murmur in the back of everyone’s mind.

The sound of doors flying open behind them drew her attention away, and a team of medical staff entered and passed through the waiting area, pushing through the next set of doors.

Miranda got to her feet, the others following her lead as a single consultant stopped to address them. “They’re bringing her down now, we’ll have to assess her first and then you can see her,” he said with a quick nod before heading in the direction of his colleagues.

Miranda ignored the instruction and followed, catching the door before it closed and stepping into a fluorescently lit, white washed corridor. It was a stark contrast to the warm colours of the waiting room she noted, as Elizabeth caught the door behind her and followed her in.

They stood there watching as a gurney was wheeled down the corridor towards them.

“Andy!” Elizabeth cried as she bolted towards the patient in question.

Miranda watched as Elizabeth reached the gurney, the staff coming to a halt as Elizabeth reached out to touch Andrea’s face gently, as though to assure herself that she was, in fact, real.

“I’m okay, Mom,” she heard Andrea say as she reached up to grab her mother’s arm in reassurance.

Miranda watched the exchange, her eyes traveling over Andrea. She looked pale, and drawn. Her head was partially shaved, but she was a breathing, speaking, living person.

Andrea apologized again and again to her mother.

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Elizabeth said, her bob covering her face as she leant down to place a kiss on Andrea’s forehead.

When Elizabeth straightened up, Andrea saw her, and even ten feet away Miranda could see the tears in her eyes. Whether they were borne of relief or something else, she had no idea.

“Miranda?” Andrea said.

Miranda felt herself take a step back. She looked Andrea over more time and assured herself that was okay, and then turned on her heel and walked back out the way she came.

“Mom?” Cassidy said as soon as she passed through the door. Richard and Caroline were on either side of her, waiting expectantly.

“She’s awake,” Miranda said to them all as she walked over to the waiting area and picked up her bag before turning her attention back to her daughters and Richard. “Call the car service when you need picked up, they’re on call all day.”

“Mom,” Caroline said in protest, “Mom, where are you going?”

“Home,” Miranda said, before turning and walking away.

“Mom!” Cassidy shouted behind her.

She heard Richard tell her daughters to give her some space as she passed out of the waiting room and headed towards the stairs.

She managed two flights before she stopped, her hand gripping the handrail fiercely. She breathed deeply against the nausea, the guilt, the anger, and the relief that were all warring for control.

Andrea was alive, she was safe.

A door a few floors down opened and voices spilled into the stairwell.

“Any word on how she is?” a woman asked. “I always liked her.”

“Nah, everything’s on lock down, she just landed, VIP, blah blah. Word is that her CT’s were clear and she should have been transferred directly to Ortho, with Neuro consulting for follow-up post-surgical checks only. The department heads were bitching about it this morning.”

“When is Ortho not bitching?”

The women both laughed as they opened another door. It closed quickly after them with crash, jolting Miranda back to reality.

She opened her purse and reached for her phone, dialing her car service.

“New York Presbyterian, now.”


 

Andy drifted off and woke again three hours later to find Caroline and Cassidy tucked up on either side of her. It was something they hadn’t done in years, and she allowed herself to enjoy the moment in spite of the guilt that came with the knowledge of why they had felt compelled to do so.

She glanced up and spotted her father watching her closely from an armchair next to her bed.

“I’m okay,” Andy said quietly, not wanting to wake the girls.

“Those are not exactly the words I would use right now,” he said. His voice was tired, and he looked older than she had ever seen him. She had put her family through hell. There was no escaping that fact.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Andy said.

He waved her off.

Andy glanced around the room. “Where’s Mom?”

“She went to stretch her legs and grab something to eat – we haven’t had anything since lunch.”

“And Miranda?” Andy asked.

He shook his head.

Andy nodded in understanding, but she couldn’t quite tamp down the hurt she felt at Miranda’s absence.

“Just give her some time,” her dad said.

Andy readjusted herself in the bed slightly. “Maybe you should take them home,” she said, nodding towards the girls and changing the subject away from Miranda. “They must be exhausted, and sleeping here isn’t going to do them any good.”

“We’re fine,” Caroline mumbled against her chest. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“It’s a private ward,” Cassidy said in her ear, her voice rough with sleep. “They have beds for family you know.”

“We just prefer yours,” Caroline said as she sat up and rubbed her eyes, “Although you’re seriously in need of a bath,” she said before glancing towards her Grandfather. “What time is it?”

“It’s almost seven,” her dad said as he looked at his watch. “Your Grams should be back with dinner soon.”

“Sweet, I’m starved,” Caroline said as she slid off the bed and raised her arms above her head, stretching.

“Can you eat yet?” Cassidy asked her, not moving from her side.

Andy shook her head. “It was…” she glanced at her dad before turning back to Cassidy, “They had to perform an emergency intubation, and they had a bit of trouble. So, soft food only for another couple of days.”

Cassidy blanched a little, but didn’t move away. “Does it still hurt?”

“Only a little, Cass. I’m all right,” Andy said, forcing a smile to reassure her.

Cassidy didn’t look wholly convinced, but she was saved from having to defend herself by the doors swinging open and her mother walking in, laden down with bags.

“Turkish,” her mom said by way of explanation as she dumped the bags on a table and then pulled off her coat.

“That’s a fancy way of saying kebabs,” Caroline sassed.

“Don’t be smart, Caroline,” her mom said, before looking towards her. “The nurses figured you were awake given the noise. They’re going to bring something for you too so we can eat together.”

“Yeah, baby food,” Caroline laughed.

“Funny,” Andy said, but she couldn’t help the smile that slipped on to her face. After she got over the initial shock of seeing her in a hospital bed, Caroline had spent her time distracting her endlessly and keeping her thoughts away from dark places. It was a welcome reprieve.

Cassidy on the other hand had been quiet, and had stayed close. Andy knew she had questions, likely many, and the time was going to come when she was going to have to have a long conversation with her. However, it was going to have to wait until she had the time to process, and the stamina to order her thoughts and actually hold the conversation without falling asleep.

She pushed herself a little and gave Cassidy a side-armed hug despite the discomfort. “You should eat,” Andy ordered gently.

Cassidy looked her dead in the eye before wrapping her arms around her in a hug.

They stayed like that for a moment, before Cassidy wordlessly pulled back and slid off the edge of the bed.

Her mom handed out packages of what were clearly doner kebabs and Andy groaned.

Caroline started laughing. “Oh my God, it’s Andy's favourite,” she said. “And Mom never lets her eat them.”

“Your mother is too picky,” her mom said. “What’s wrong with Turkish?”

“Mystery meat,” Caroline and Cassidy said in unison.

“Oh, honestly,” her mom said, rolling her eyes as the door opened and a nurse walked in, wheeling a tray.

The girls cleared away from the bedside, making some room as the nurse moved to fix Andy’s position. He adjusted the head of the bed, and Andy bit back a cry as her hip shifted and put pressure on her femur.

"One to ten?" the nurse asked.

"I'm fine, it was just the move," Andy said.

“Do you need some more painkillers?”

Andy gritted her teeth and shook her head.

“The consultants lowered your dosage because you said you were getting too sleepy, but we have clearance for top ups if you need them.”

“No, I’m fine.”

Okayyy,” he said, not sounding convinced. He grabbed the table and placed it in front of her, before setting down her dinner tray. “How’s your position?”

She lifted her hand and reached for a spoon. “Perfect, thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. There’s a lemon and honey drink there to help your throat, sweet potato mash made with real butter, some tofu, and chocolate ice cream for dessert. If you need anything, just ring, okay?”

Andy nodded and moved to lift the lid off the hot section of her tray, not wanting to see the concerned looks she knew would be all over everyone’s faces.

The nurse walked out, and as the door closed behind him, Andy consciously ignored the silence that had descended.

Her mom cleared her throat. “Okay, girls, dinner?”

“Yeah,” Caroline said, her tone more sober than it had been earlier.

Her dad moved over to her bed. “Are you sure you’re all right?” he said quietly.

“I’m fine,” she said, biting back her anger and embarrassment.

“Okay,” he said as he moved away and grabbed a kebab from Elizabeth.

Andy focused back on her tray and scooped up some mash. Her hand eye coordination was still off, and as she pulled the full spoon back it clunked against the table and dropped into her lap.

She felt her frustration threatening to boil over.

“I got it,” Cassidy said gently as she moved Andy’s table back a scratch and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Cass,” Andy protested.

“Just let me,” Cassidy said as she grabbed a wet tissue from beside the bed, quickly cleaned up the mash, wiped down the spoon and then scooped up some more mash.

“You shouldn’t have to do this,” Andy said, feeling completely helpless.

“It’s what family does,” Cassidy said with a shrug as she put the spoon to Andy’s mouth expectantly.

It was pointless to argue with her. She knew she could spend the next hour trying to eat, and exhausting herself in the process, or she could let Cassidy help her.

Andy thought about the advice Helena had given her before she left.

She closed her eyes, and then opened her mouth to accept the proffered spoonful.

“Grams, what’s happening with that case you were working on?” Caroline said, providing a perfect segue.

“My partner is pulling together a few more families to strengthen the class action, but we’re in good stead right now. Also, your mother mentioned you were thinking about post graduate law?”

“As you can imagine, she’s real happy about it,” Caroline chuckled, and her mom laughed. “What did she say again, Cass?”

I think one lawyer in the family is enough Caroline, don’t you?” Cassidy said in a perfect impersonation of Miranda as she reached for her kebab with her freehand, and wielded both the wrap and Andy’s spoon with barely a second glance.

The Sachs’ and Priestly’s were families full of proud women, and Andy couldn’t have been more thankful for it right then as they swiftly moved their attention away from her, and the fact she barely handle a spoon.

When they all finished dinner, her mom whipped around and cleared everything up before turning to the girls. “It might be a good idea to let Andrea get some rest, don’t you think?”

Caroline and Cassidy looked at each other, the reluctance clear on their faces.

“I’m going to stay over tonight,” her dad said, “But it might be better if you girls head home to your mother. You can come back in the morning.”

“They’re going to bring my evening medication soon, and after that I’ll be out again. I’d rather not have you all watching me sleep,” Andy added. In all honesty she would be lucky to stay awake until they got out the door.

“Only if you’re sure,” Caroline said, moving towards the bed.

Andy smiled at her in reassurance, “I’m sure, Caro. I’m fine, I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

“Okay,” Caroline said as she approached the bed and gave her a kiss before moving off to grab her things.

Cassidy came up next and bid her farewell, before her mom came over and looked at her closely. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come back?” she asked, reaching out to place her hand gently on Andy’s cheek.

Andy shook her head. “Dad’s here, I’ll be okay. I want…I…can you just make sure she’s all right?”

“Of course I can. Don’t worry about her, the last few days have just been a bit rough. She took the first calls from your editors and handled absolutely everything from then on out. I don’t think I’ve seen the woman sleep since we got to New York. She’s just in shock.”

Andy nodded.

“You need to rest, you look exhausted,” her mom said.

“Four people speaking at once is a lot, it’s hard,” Andy said, her voice choking a little.

“Time, Andrea. That’s all it will take until you’re back to yourself, so don’t worry about it and just rest,” her mom said as she reached down and kissed her on the forehead. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“Night, Mom,” Andy said.

Her mom pulled away and walked towards her dad. “You’ll call me if anything happens. I mean anything.

“Of course, Liz,” her dad said tiredly as he kissed her goodbye and she led the twins towards the door.

“See you in the morning,” Cassidy said.

“You will,” Andy said before pausing. “Cass, Caro?”

“Yeah?” Caroline said.

“I love you,” Andy said.

“Love you too, Andy,” Caroline said with a smile.

“Yeah, I love you too, Andy,” Cassidy followed up, before waving and disappearing out the door.


 

“Did you make any adjustments on page 74?” Miranda asked as she looked at the layout closely, and feeling like something wasn’t quite right.

“It’s the background,” Emily said down the line, “I had them change it this evening. If you take a look at the digital copy it’s been updated there – but I’ll get a hard copy over to you.”

“No, don’t bother. I’ll be in tomorrow morning,” Miranda said.

“But I thought—“

“You thought what, Emily?”

“Andrea just got back Miranda, shouldn’t you be with h—your family?”

“The girls are there, as are her mother and father. Andrea has more than enough people to fuss over her, I can assure you.”

Miranda.”

“Page 92,” Miranda said, cutting off any further discussion about Andrea. She heard Emily sigh down the line but ignored her.

By the time they had been over everything it was almost seven p.m. She closed the book and pushed it to the side of her desk, her frustration mounting. She wanted a distraction, any distraction to keep her mind away from the hospital and away from the image of Andrea on a gurney. However, Emily had been so efficient that there wasn’t any work left to drown in – even the budget forecasts had been looked over and signed off.

Miranda got to her feet and walked out of the study. She thought about Patricia, and could almost feel the old brute trailing behind her. Patricia had always known when she needed company, and Miranda wondered for a moment if she had made a mistake when she and Andrea had decided not to get another dog.

No, she thought, because wasn’t supposed to need a dog. She was supposed to have Andrea to keep her company. However, she had decided to go swanning off to the Middle East, and then go chasing a story in god knows where and nearly get herself blown to pieces.

Miranda paused in the hall and turned to stare at a vase full of Red Asiatic Lilies sitting there, unassumingly. They had always been Andrea’s favourite, and when she left, Miranda never had the heart to tell the florist to stop bringing them, despite the sometimes painful reminder when she walked to the study in the evenings, alone.

She walked up to the table and shoved the vase forcefully off the edge.

It crashed a few feet away, the lilies scattering across the floor.

Miranda stood there, unmoving, and watched as the water began seeping slowly into the rug.

She stood there until the door downstairs opened and she heard Elizabeth’s voice carrying up the stairs as she told the girls to hang up their coats properly.

“Mom?” Caroline called out. “You home?”

Miranda walked down the stairs towards the three women, hanging their coats dutifully in the hall closet.

She pulled her phone out and dialed the car service. “Turn around,” she barked before ending the call abruptly.

“Mom?” Cassidy said. “Where are you going?”

Elizabeth caught her eye, a look of understanding crossing her face. “Miranda, she’s exhausted. You won’t get much fight out of her,” she said in warning.

Miranda ignored her and reached into the closet for her coat.

“Mom!” Caroline said.

“Stay out of it, Caroline,” Miranda said as she pulled her coat on and walked to the door.

“Mom, I know you’re angry,” Cassidy said, “But it wasn’t her fault.”

“She shouldn’t have been there in the first place!” Miranda snapped, swinging around.

“Miranda,” Elizabeth said gently, approaching her. “This may not be the best way to handle this.”

“Oh, and what is it that you suggest Elizabeth? That I hold a celebration because she managed to survive a bomb in a warzone she decided to enter of her own volition?” Miranda demanded.

“No, I just don’t think going in there guns blazing and emotional is going to do anything to help the situation. You’re angry with her. Hell, I’m angry with her – but this isn’t going to achieve anything. I think she’s been punished enough.”

Miranda stared between Elizabeth and her pale looking daughters before she deflated.

“Girls, why don’t you go and suss out some desert and let me talk to your mother for a bit?” Elizabeth said.

The girls nodded and headed towards the kitchen.

“I have absolutely no intention of discussing this with you,” Miranda said.

“Stop being childish,” Elizabeth said as she walked towards the stairs. “I assume you still keep scotch in the den?”


 

Her dad was snoring softly in an armchair next to her bed.

Andy tried readjusting her position again, but every time she moved, her leg protested, and no matter where she settled she simply couldn’t get comfortable.

She had managed two, maybe three hours of sleep after her mom and the girls had left, but had woken up again, which had become a fairly consistent occurrence.

She was exhausted, but sleep simply refused to come the way she was used to. She wished there was tangible reason for it, like nightmares about what had happened. However, her sleeps were dreamless and the doctors threw around phrases like “sleep disturbances are to be expected,” and “give it time.”

There was no fix for a head injury, no pill she could take. She had always taken her health, and her mind for granted, but now a single conversation left her exhausted, and her body wouldn’t let her rest long enough to recoup. Instead she was left lying awake and alone, thinking about a pool of blood, a Lara Croft ponytail and a warm body resting lifelessly across her back.

When that became too much, she began to wonder how long the constant fatigue would last. She wondered if she would ever be the same again. She wondered selfishly about whether she would ever be able to stay awake long enough to write an article, or pull an all-nighter, or simply get through a single movie. She wondered if she would ever run through Central Park again, or put on a pair of shorts without thinking about that horrible day. She wondered what might have been if she had simply turned around that day in the foyer – if she had let go of the handle of her suitcase and simply walked back upstairs and taken Miranda with her.

Then she would realize her self-absorbed thoughts and think of a family torn apart in New Mexico. About the how the world had lost one truly exceptional individual, and how she was the one who put her there, in that moment, to get slaughtered by a 17-year-old boy. A child.

Then she would realize that she had no control.

For her entire life, Andy had always thought she was in control. That she had choices.

She had chosen to pursue a career in journalism, to take a job as an assistant at Runway, and to walk away ten months later.

She had chosen to leave the Mirror, to pursue foreign correspondence, and to go to Baghdad.

She had always chosen.

But choice was nothing more than an illusion. In an instant, someone else had chosen for her, and now she had no control.

Her thoughts spiraled, digging deeper and deeper until the door to her room opened and she looked up to find Miranda standing in the doorway, pale and drawn but very much real, and very much in control of everything.

Andy took her in: immaculate suit, perfectly pressed Burberry trench, disciplined expression.

Miranda was a vision of containment and control, and as she took a step towards the bed, Andy took a deep breath.

She approached without hesitation.

She said nothing.

And as her arms reached around, in comfort, in familiarity, Andy felt everything inside break apart. 

Chapter Text

“So, we’re looking at three to four weeks until we can conceivably start rehab on your leg.”

“What about a wheelchair?” Andy asked.

“Ideally we want the leg stabilized and to minimize movement as much as possible.”

“In bed? You want me to spend the next month in bed!?

“I know it’s not ideal but you need to give it time to heal,” said Dr. Marcus Freidman, the consulting orthopedic surgeon on her case. “Aside from the obvious fractures to your femur, you sustained extensive nerve and tissue damage. If you want to regain the maximum amount of function in your leg then you’ll need to be patient.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do in bed for four weeks!?”

“Focus on regaining your cognitive function. Read short articles, try and watch a movie from start to finish, and work with the team on your hand-eye coordination. You have plenty to focus on for the next four weeks Andy.”

Andy could feel her frustration mounting. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could spend in this bed, trapped between whitewashed walls, the smell of hospital-grade disinfectant permeating the air. She clenched her fists, although her left hand was still too sluggish to manage the movement at full strength.

Dr. Freidman eyed her closely before reaching into his pocket and producing a stress ball. He walked around to her left side and placed the ball in her hand. “Like I said, you have plenty to focus on.”

“I want to go home,” she said tiredly.

“I know Andy, everyone does. You just need to take it one day at a time and before you know it, it’ll be done and then you can scream and cry in rehab instead.”

“Sounds like fun.”

Dr. Freidman chuckled. “Look, you’re in a good place considering what happened. The surgeons in Baghdad did an exceptionally good job.”

“That’s what everyone keeps saying,” she said. “Like this is some kind of blessing.”

“Well, given the circumstances, isn’t it?” Dr. Freidman asked carefully.

“I—never mind,” Andy said, biting her tongue. When she looked at Dr. Freidman she realized she’d said too much. He was watching her, clinically assessing her, and she knew what was coming next.

“Have you spoken to Patricia today, Andy?”

Andy sighed. “No Marcus, I have not spoken to Patricia today.”

He nodded in that absent minded way physicians did when patients confirmed their suspicions. She gripped the stress ball in her left hand tighter.

“Well, perhaps it would be a good idea to have a chat about the next four weeks,” he said, his tone light and non-threatening. “You’re not the type to be cooped up, I can tell. Pat is very good, and she probably has a little advice about strategies for coping when you start to feel antsy.”

Take a deep breath and count to ten seems to be about all she has to offer, so I’ll pass thanks,” Andy said.

“Suit yourself,” Marcus said with a shrug. It was a vain attempt at nonchalance as Andy saw straight through it. “Do you have any more questions?”

“No Dr. Freidman, I think that will be all for today.”

“I’ll be sure to note that your sarcasm is still intact,” he said before turning and walking out.

As the door swung shut behind him, the silence invaded once more and Andy turned to stare at the sliver of sunlight that shone on the wall. The days were starting to get shorter. It was the middle of October and all Andy wanted was to be outside in the crisp autumn air. She wanted to stand in the wind and feel it cut through her chest. She wanted to feel something other than the stifling air of her private recovery room.

It had been two weeks since she was transferred back to New York, and the world kept on moving, much as Helena said it would. Her dad had been called back to Cincinnati on business the week before, and the twins had both flown out a couple of days ago to return to college. Her mom was beginning to reach the end of the time she could be away from the practice, and with Andy being otherwise okay, she was running out of excuses to stay in New York. Emily, Serena and Nigel made an effort to swing by whenever they had the time, and Miranda was “busy” which left her visits short and absent any real conversation.

This all meant that she spent most of her day alone, and although she hated to admit it, sleep had become her solace. As the minutes and hours ticked by, Andy found herself resisting the pull of sleep less and less. Sleep meant she didn’t have to think, didn’t have to remember, and didn’t have to face the reality of life after 23 October, 2015.

She watched the sunlight on the wall flicker as a tree moved in the wind outside before letting her eyes drift closed again.

The door to her room opened only a few minutes later, but she kept her eyes shut. She recognized the gait clearly from her childhood and just listened as her mom moved into the room, putting down her handbag and laptop before approaching the bed and adjusting the blankets with a sigh.

Her mom stood there, unmoving for a while, watching, before she leant down and placed a kiss on her forehead and moved to sit down.

Andy knew it was childish, but she didn’t want to have another conversation. She didn’t want to talk about it, about any of it. She didn’t want anyone to ask her how she was feeling, and she didn’t want to lie again – to say she was fine when she knew she wasn’t. She knew she was on dangerous ground – the sleeping, the lack of sociability, but looking back on that day wasn’t something she was ready to do yet and until she was, she couldn’t see any way out of her current state.

The dull sound of a phone vibrating cut through the silence of the room, and her mom cursed as she got up out of her chair and started rifling around in her bag.

“Elizabeth Sachs,” her mom said as she answered, moving further away from the bed to take the call. “Oh, hey,” she said tiredly, her voice losing its professional edge immediately. “I don’t know yet, she’s asleep again.”

Andy tried to keep her breathing even.

“Yes Richard, I know she’s been sleeping a lot, but she insists that everything is fine,” her mom said as she walked the length of the room. “And no, I haven’t spoken to her about it yet – I also don’t know how happy Miranda will be about us trying to have her transferred home.”

Her mom moved towards the door and pushed it open. “I’m going to try and track down Marcus Freidman now,” she said as she walked out, the door swinging closed behind her.

Andy listened to the sound of fading footsteps until silence reigned once more.


 

“I mean, it’s clear that Lucca is just a Kalinda substitute,” Emily ranted as she waved at the TV in anger, the wine glass in her hand swinging precariously.

Emily and Serena had declared Sunday night The Good Wife night and had made Andy’s recovery room the new location for their weekly viewing party. They had the armchairs pulled up on either side of her bed and nursed a glass of wine each, whilst Andy cradled a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

She stared at the TV, not really following much. Lucca and Alicia were partners now, but other than that, everything moved at such a pace that after fifteen or twenty minutes she started to lose concentration and the threads of the story along with it.

She felt a hand squeeze her thigh and she turned towards Serena who was looking at her with concern. “Are you okay?” she mouthed, and Andy forced a smile and nodded. She didn’t want either of them to leave because all they talked about was work. Their work. They gossiped about models, designers and photographers – most of whom Andy had met, and all of whom had diva streaks the size of Canada.

They didn’t ask how she was feeling, and didn’t ask how her recovery was coming along. They didn’t talk about foreign policy, war, the Middle-east, the Syrian refugee crisis, or an unstable region on the verge of collapsing back into the dark ages. They didn’t talk about IEDs or suicide bombings. They didn’t ask about Baghdad. They simply walked in, made themselves at home, turned on the TV and talked about work as though it was 2006 and Andy still worked there. Or early last year and Andy was still Miranda’s partner and would have been attending the party they were at last week.

It was a couple of hours’ reprieve, and one she wasn’t sure she could live without. It was a time she could drown in the comings and goings of Runway and the fashion world and pretend that nothing existed outside of that bubble; that the weight with which Emily and Serena spoke of their business was relevant to the world outside this hospital the way Andy now saw it.

“Definitely a Kalinda substitute,” Andy said, and ignored the way Serena glanced at Emily in concern.

“I met her once, at a party,” Serena said.

“Who?” Emily asked.

“Juliana,” Serena said.

“That woman has one too many Golden Globes stuck up her ass,” Emily said.

“Emily!” Serena said.

Andy chuckled lightly, and Emily nudged her from the side, eyes focused back on the TV.

“You only like her because she’s hot Serena. You do realize she’s an absolute cougar? You’re probably too old for her now,” Emily continued, a vicious grin on her face.

“You’re going to pay for that, Emilia,” Serena growled.

“I prefer Archie myself,” Andy said, piping into the conversation.

“See! This is why we’re friends! Loyalty to the British,” Emily said, smacking her on the arm before holding her wine glass up to Andy’s face. “Have a sip, no one will know.”

Andy leaned forward and took a small sip from the glass as she looked at Emily. “Thanks Em.”

Emily waved her off, winking at Serena before turning back to the TV.

 


 

Miranda was pouring over an editorial when a light knock on her study door disturbed her. She glanced up as Elizabeth opened the door and entered. Her face said that she had something to say, and Miranda doubted she would have to wait long to hear it.

“I need to talk to you, do you have a minute?” Elizabeth said.

Miranda nodded as the matriarch of the Sachs family walked in and pulled a chair up in front of her desk.

“It’s about Andrea,” Elizabeth said.

“Clearly,” Miranda said as she put down her pen and pulled off her glasses.

“When was the last time you spoke to her?”

“I went to see her yesterday afternoon, she said she was tired so I didn’t stay long.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Over the past week she’s been sleeping more than she’s been awake.”

Miranda pushed her glasses absently with her fingertips. “The consultants said she would be more tired than usual. This is an expected part of her recovery, I don’t think you should worry unnecessarily.”

“I think it’s more than that. The girls gave her something to be awake for, but since they’ve left she’s become even more withdrawn,” Elizabeth said, resting her elbow on the arm of her chair and crossing her legs.

“I’m assuming you raised your concerns with her specialists?”

“Marcus Freidman said PTSD is all but a given in her circumstances, but it’s a rough science predicting when and where it will make itself known. This may be the early signs of depression, or it could simply be the physical response to her neurosurgery. There’s no sure way to tell, but she is refusing to see the therapist.”

Miranda sighed. “She’s been deemed competent enough to make her own decisions. No one can force her to see a psychiatrist, she needs to make that decision on her own.”

Miranda.

Miranda eyed her carefully. “Don’t Miranda me, Liz. You clearly came here to say something, so I suggest you say it.”

“Fine. I’ve given you sufficient space on this, but I think it’s time you made yourself a little less busy and went to see her.”

Excuse me?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“This isn’t a court of law. Say what you mean or get out,” Miranda said sharply, her patience wearing thin.

“She spends half her day staring at the wall, and the other half of it asleep Miranda! This isn’t normal! She lost a colleague, she went through something so traumatic I can’t even begin to imagine, and she needs you.”

“She has the best team of specialists in the country, she will be fine,” Miranda said.

“How long was your last visit?” Elizabeth pressed. “Ten minutes? Twenty? You took this on, Miranda. You did. Richard and I could have handled this, but you took it upon yourself and then you walked away.”

Miranda got to her feet. Her hands were shaking in anger as she pressed her palms into the polished wooden surface of her desk and leaned forward. “Don’t talk to me about walking away!” she snapped.

“Oh, so that’s what this is all about?” Elizabeth said, also getting to her feet and meeting her eye to eye. “Getting even? An eye-for-an-eye? A game of one-ups-man with the woman who broke your heart?”

Miranda flinched at the accusation but refused to back down. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, but I think I do,” Elizabeth said, straightening up and brushing at invisible lint on the sleeve of her plain blue button down before looking back at her. “Fine, if you want an out, I’m giving you one.”

“I’m sorry?” Miranda said, taken off guard by the sudden change of tact.

“Richard has spoken to the administration at Bethesda North in Montgomery and their orthopedics team are happy to take her on for the final stage of her recovery and of course rehab. We’ve spoken to the Tribune, and her health insurance will cover the costs of her care. Richard and I will simply need to cover the transfer from here.”

Miranda stared at the woman before her in disbelief. “You want to take her back to Ohio?”

“Yes Miranda, Ohio.

“She has the best care possible right where she is!”

“The girls are gone, Richard is home, and I have a practice to run. She needs family, Miranda. She needs support, not a pissed off ex with a few minutes to spare every other day. I know you’re angry, and you need time, but right now I need to do what’s in the best interests of my daughter and New York is not it,” Elizabeth said as she took a step back and began walking towards the door.

“Her whole life is here,” Miranda said.

Elizabeth paused and turned back to face her. “Her whole life was here.”

 


 

“The decision is yours, obviously, but your father and I would like to have you closer to home – at least for your recovery,” her mom said as she sat in the armchair next to her bed, a pile of case notes in her lap.

“My medical insurance won’t cover the cost of an air ambulance to get me there,” Andy said.

“You father and I will cover the cost.”

Mom,” Andy said.

“This is what should have happened in the first place, but we didn’t know what we were dealing with. Miranda had the top neurology team in the country on standby and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“I’ll be weight-bearing in a month. I can fly commercial then if I need to come home,” Andy said.

Her mom picked up her case notes and put them aside. “Can you tell me, honestly, that you’re going to get through the next month without any support? Because from where I’m sitting, you’re not as “fine” as you keep saying you are, and it’s about time you stopped pretending and let us help you.”

Andy had no response.

“As I’ve said, the decision is yours. I’ll be leaving in a couple of days, but I don’t expect you to make a decision before then. If, at any stage, you feel like this is something you want to do, then you just need to call.”

Andy thought about silent days, filled only by medical staff and intermittent visits by colleagues and friends. She thought about Miranda, who didn’t need nor deserve this emotional or financial burden. Miranda who wasn’t here.

“Okay,” Andy said. “I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all that I’m asking,” her mom said.

“I just,” Andy said, “I need to talk to Miranda first.”

“Of course,” her mom nodded, “Do you know when she’s coming for her next visit?”

Andy sighed and shook her head.

“Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Just about every possible fashion disaster – real or imagined – seems to have befallen Runway in the past fortnight.”

Mom.”

“What? I’m not saying anything. She’s just been very busy.”

“Stay out of it,” Andy warned.

“I won’t get involved,” her mom said with a barely contained eye roll.

“Do you know when you’re heading back?” Andy asked, moving the conversation away from less volatile topics.

“Probably Thursday morning at this stage, Martin and I need to prep for trial and there’s only so much I can do via conference.”

“I’m sorry about all of this,” Andy said.

“There’s no need to apol—“ her mom stopped and glanced towards the door. “Well, it looks like you won’t have to wait long for that visit after all,” she said, getting to her feet.

Andy heard the telltale clip of heels on the linoleum before Miranda even reach the door. The pace was determined, and her mom’s quick move to exit the room told her everything she needed to know.

“I thought I told you stay out of it!” Andy hissed at her retreating form just as the door swung open and Miranda appeared in the doorway, her face unreadable.

“You two need to talk,” her mom said before turning back towards the door. “Miranda,” she nodded as she moved to leave.

“Elizabeth,” Miranda said in acknowledgement before stepping to the side and allowing her mom to pass before she stepped in the room, the door closing behind her. “Ohio?” she said in lieu of a greeting as she removed her scarf and placed her bag on a chair near the door.

Andy sighed. “She spoke to you already.”

“Of course she did,” Miranda said evenly as she approached.

Andy waved towards the now vacant chair at her bedside, but Miranda opted to stand at the end of her bed instead, arms folded across her chest.

“The question is,” Miranda said, “When were you planning on doing so?”

Her face was closed off, and she was as impenetrable as she had been since that first night in the hospital when she had told her everything was going to be okay. But it wasn’t okay. Miranda wasn’t here, and Andy couldn’t expect her to be. She lost that privilege a long time ago.

“I’m going back to Ohio,” Andy said, cutting straight to point.

Miranda didn’t respond.

“I’ll speak to administration in the morning, have my parents relisted as my next-of-kin, and finish my recovery in Cincinnati.”

“I see,” Miranda said, and Andy recognized the tone as one that signaled she was treading into dangerous waters.

“I can’t expect Mom and Dad to keep flying back and forth.”

“Don’t use your parents as an excuse,” Miranda said. “You’re better than that.”

“Fine,” Andy said. “I need to get out of here. Out of this room, and away from this silence. I need time. We need time. I’m not okay, M – and you? You can’t even look at me. I’m right here and you can’t even look at me. You shouldn’t have to do this out of some sense of obligation. I don’t want you to. It’s not fair to you.”

“It’s not fair to me?” Miranda said. “Well, how thoughtful of you to suddenly consider my feelings in all of this, hmm? Not eighteen months ago when you decided to get on a military transport to Baghdad? Not two and half months ago when you walked back in, took everything that was left and then walked straight back out again? Oh, but now. Now you’re worried about my feelings.”

“Miranda, that’s no—“

“You have the best team, the best surgeons, the best care, the best everything – and you want to throw it all away to go back to Ohio!?”

“Miranda, I’m sorry.”

“No,” Miranda said as she approached the bed until her knees were pressed against the end and Andy could see the tremble in her hands. “You don’t get to apologize. If this hadn’t happened, you would still be there. You’re not sorry.

“I’m sorry for what I put you through; what I put the girls, and my parents through. You were right. It was a selfish decision. I never thought it would come to this, I never even consi—“

“Three hours!” Miranda roared suddenly, her palms slamming onto the end of the bed, the metal frame clanging as it connected with the rings adorning her hands.

Andy was stunned into silence.

“Three hours I spent wondering whether one of those dismembered limbs, or burnt corpses on TV belonged to you!” Miranda said. “Three hours I spent wondering if you were lying in a ditch somewhere, bleeding to death in that godforsaken desert or if you were already gone,” Miranda said, her voice breaking. “I thought you were dead, Andrea! Do you have any idea what that’s like? Any idea at all!?”

Andy watched as the tears flooded Miranda’s eyes, and felt her own do the same. She looked on in horror at the anguish tearing Miranda apart.

“So, no. You don’t get to walk away from me again. Not after this,” Miranda said, her voice shaking. “You chased me, Andrea. Do you remember? You chose me. You chose to make yourself a member of this family; to insinuate yourself into my life, and into the lives of my daughters. You will stay here and you will face what you’ve done to the family you chose. You don’t get to walk away from that Andrea, not anymore,” she finished, breathing heavily.

“M,” Andy said weakly.

Don’t,” Miranda said as she straightened up and turned her back on Andy, moving towards the door and picking up her scarf.

“Miranda!” Andy cried.

“You’re not going to Ohio,” Miranda snapped as she picked up her bag and walked out the door.

Chapter Text

“You should have heard her caterwauling about it at the PTA meeting. The woman is an absolute menace!” Cynthia said as she wrangled the baby in her arms and groaned. “Honestly, this kid has more energy than the last two combined.”

Andy smiled over at her cousin. Cynthia was three years older than her and married to a local politician. Her life revolved around PTA meetings, photo-ops and changing diapers – and she unapologetically admitted that she hated it. Cynthia’s mother, however, was ecstatic.

Aunt Judy was, and always had been, a family woman, and that was half the reason her and her sister – the Elizabeth Sachs, as she was known out here – didn’t get along all that well.

Her Mom’s opinion about housewifery as a profession remained much as it always had over the years, and had ensured that as much as they loved each other, the Louis sisters never would quite see eye-to-eye.

“Let me hold him,” Andy said and Cynthia sighed, bringing the wriggling boy over to Andy and placing him gently in her arms. Andy cooed at baby Lucas and rocked him until he settled down.

Cynthia rolled her eyes. “See,” she said, “It should be you with this tribe, not me.”

Andy chuckled at her cousin. “I already had mine.”

“And then sent them off to college soon after,” Cynthia said. “Honestly, I wish I’d done it your way.”

“Teenagers, Cynthia. Teen-agers.”

“Yeah, well I’m going to get three of them, so I still win,” Cynthia said. “How is Miranda by the way?”

Andy stilled for a moment. “I don’t really know,” she said, as Lucas started to grizzle.

“You haven’t spoken to her?”

“She spends more time talking to my mother than she does to me,” Andy said as she repositioned the baby.

“I thought they hated each other? God knows Aunty Liz had plenty to say when it hit the papers. It might just be the first thing her and Mom have agreed on in the last decade,” Cynthia said with a wry smirk.

“Apparently all they needed was a near death experience. My near death experience.”

Cynthia chuckled as she took a seat next to the bed. “You know, all those years ago I honestly couldn’t believe that you of all people was dating Miranda Priestly. I swore black and blue it was bullshit.”

“Well, to be fair, I’m not sure that I really believed it either.”

“I mean Christ, Andy, do you remember when the boys made that joke about needing a stepladder to date you and you spent the entire afternoon crying?” Cynthia continued.

“I was fifteen!”

“Yeah, but you were always a bit soft. Miranda on the other hand…”

“Oh trust me,” Andy cut in, “She’s not as tough as she looks.”

“Yeah, and I guess you’re not as soft as you look either,” Cynthia said, her eyes drawing to Andy’s leg and the vicious scars currently on display.

Andy said nothing as she patted Lucas gently on the back and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. There was something about having him around that made the world seem a little less dark, a little more hopeful.

Cynthia looked at her in understanding until the door opened and a six year-old girl with blonde hair, held back by a perfectly crafted braid walked in, dragging a nurse behind her. “Mom, can we get a dog?” she asked before the door even had a chance to close.

Cynthia rolled her eyes. “I do believe I’ve answered this question a hundred times Mia.”

“But Mo-om,” Mia moaned.

“Thank Mitchell for showing you the dog,” Cynthia said, ignoring the protest.

“Thank you Mitchell,” Mia said, swinging around to face the young nurse with a smile that could slay an army.

Andy watched on with a smirk.

“Don’t say a word,” Cynthia said, catching her look, “She has enough power as it is.”

“Anytime Mia,” Mitchell said, with a smile before turning his attention to Andy, “Lena said to let you know she’s on her way.”

Andy groaned.

“And that’s our cue,” Cynthia said, getting to her feet and reaching over to take Lucas from Andy.

Andy gave the baby one last kiss before handing him off.

“She’ll be here shortly,” Mitchell said to Andy as he moved to excuse himself.

“Thanks Mitchell,” Cynthia said.

“Anytime Mrs. Willis,” he called back before closing the door.

“Aunty Andy, can you come to the movies with us?” Mia said as she walked towards the bed, big blues eyes begging for attention.

“Not today sweetie,” Cynthia cut in. “Aunty Andy has to do her exercises.”

“Sorry Mia,” Andy said. “Do I at least get a kiss goodbye?”

The six year old ran the rest of the way and launched herself up onto the bed, wrapped her arms around Andy’s neck.

“Mia!” Cynthia yelled. “Be careful!”

“She’s fine,” Andy said as she wrapped Mia in her arms and gave her a kiss on her cheek.

“Come on Mia, let’s let Aunty Andy get some rest,” Cynthia ordered.

“Fine,” Mia grumbled as she wriggled out of Andy’s arms.

“You going to be okay?” Cynthia asked Andy as she positioned Lucas on her other shoulder.

Andy waved her off. “Yeah, I’m fine. I have my tormentor to keep me company,” she said.

“What’s a tormentor?” Mia asked as she slid off the bed.

“You, when you ask too many questions,” Cynthia replied, nudging Mia with her hip. “Now put on your coat.”

Andy watched as Cynthia walked away from the bed, secured Lucas in a baby sling, and quickly repacked the 3-wheeled-stroller housing her two-year-old Isabella who was fast asleep after wearing herself out ‘tearing the house apart’ as Cynthia had so delicately put it.

When Mia finished buttoning her coat, she turned back to Andy. “See you tomorrow?”

Andy smiled. “Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow sweet pea.”

Cynthia pushed the stroller towards the door as Mia opened it. She paused and turned back towards Andy. “Mom said she’d stop by tomorrow. I’m sorry I couldn’t get by earlier today.”

“Please stop, Cynth,” Andy said. “Dragging three kids down here every day just to keep me company is going above and beyond your duties as my cousin.”

Cynthia shrugged. “I’m no Mother Theresa. Do you have any idea how nice it is to have an adult to talk to? Trust me Andy, you’re doing me a big favor.”

“Who’s Mother Theresa?” Mia asked, swinging the door back and forth.

“Oh my God, we’re leaving,” Cynthia said. “You, out!” she said to Mia as she nudged her on the bottom with her foot before turning back to Andy, “See you tomorrow!”

“See you tomorrow,” Andy called out as the door closed behind them before slumping back into her bed, exhausted.

She loved having company, but the constant stream of visitors her mother had managed to drum up meant she had little time to rest, and between rehab sessions, she needed it.

The neurology consultant said it was good for her to be engaged for longer periods of time, particularly as she was pushing for a discharge early next week, and the orthopedics specialist had railroaded her straight into mobilization as soon as she deemed it safe for her to start weight-bearing.

The specialists in the Cincinnati’s VA Hospital seemed to approach her recovery from more of a “tough love” perspective than the team in New York. It gave her very little time to dwell – making her so exhausted that she was beginning to sleep for longer stretches than before and on a more normal cycle. She still couldn’t manage to watch a movie from beginning to end, but people were less tiring than they had been, and the weakness in her left side was almost all but gone.

Andy had a short reprieve after Cynthia’s visit before the door opened again, and a tall, broad-shouldered blonde walked in with a wheelchair, parking it ten feet away from the bed and looking at Andy expectantly.

“I don’t have all day, Sachs,” Lena said bluntly as she grabbed a pair of crutches and placed them next to the bed.

Andy groaned as she forced herself to sit up.

“Legs over the edge,” Lena said.

“I have done this before,” Andy snapped.

“Yes, but not particularly well,” Lena said, unmoved by her temper.

Lena always managed to get her in a mood. The rehabilitation therapist had absolutely no bedside manner, and no respect for privacy. She simply walked in, barked orders, and expected everyone to jump.

Andy hated it.

Andy used the bar attached to the side of the bed to pull herself around, slowly wriggling her ass to the edge of the bed until she could place her feet on the ground.

Lena grabbed the crutches and passed them to Andy, taking a step back and waiting for her to get herself up and off the bed.

Andy slid off the bed and onto her feet. She hissed in pain as her right leg took weight, and threw everything onto her left to compensate. It hurt like fuck. She had been out of a cast for a two days and thrown straight into rehab. Apparently the sooner she started mobilizing the better – but it didn’t make the process any easier.

“We’re not here to hop, Sachs. If you want out of here in time for Christmas next week then you need to start proving to me you’re capable of at least getting yourself to the bathroom,” Lena said, “So foot down,” she said, nudging Andy’s right leg which was barely touching the floor.

Andy lowered her right foot to the ground and pushed through the pain.

Lena took a step backwards towards the wheelchair and Andy followed.

“Did you see the news?” Lena asked, her tone detached.

“No,” Andy replied, gritting her teeth.

“Hollande ordered more airstrikes.”

“Hollande is an idiot.”

Lena took another step. “That remote is gathering dust,” she said.

Andy gripped the crutches tightly, the sweat pouring off her head as she moved to take another step. She ignored the comment. She knew Lena was referring to the TV remote.

“You are planning on returning to your day job, are you not?” Lena continued.

“Of course I am,” Andy said as she stepped in front of Lena who took another step back.

“I thought journalists were required to be up to date with current events?”

“I have an iPad.”

“When was the last time you opened a news site?”

Andy didn’t answer.

“I checked your chart this morning. Five weeks you’ve been here, Sachs.”

“And?” Andy said as she took another step, faster this time.

“Five weeks, and every week Doc Garcia has noted your consistent avoidance of material that may trigger an attack.”

Andy ignored the comment, her eyes stinging as the sweat dripped down off her forehead, her arms beginning to shake from the exertion.

“You know why they assigned me to you, don’t you?” Lena said.

Andy’s eyes glanced towards the prosthetic leg she knew was beneath Lena’s track pants. An ex-Corporal, Lena had lost her leg, and three friends, thanks to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

“Good,” Lena said, catching her glance, “So you know I have some experience in what you’re going through.”

Andy nodded.

Lena took another step back backwards and in the direction of the wheelchair. “Do you want your life back?”

“Of course I do,” Andy said.

“Well, stop avoiding your triggers and start learning how to manage them,” Lena said matter-of-factly.

Triggers. Andy hated the word. Her life had started to revolve around them after news coverage of the Paris attacks had set off an anxiety attack which had left her shaken to the core. She had zero control over it, and it was terrifying.

The team in New York began waving around anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, and Andy spent a week clashing with their staff psychiatrist before it became apparent to everyone, including Miranda, that New York Presbyterian simply wasn’t the right fit for her.

Miranda wanted to bring in an alternative therapist. Then she wanted Andy transferred to another private facility, but Andy had simply had enough. She didn’t want Miranda’s doctors, she didn’t want Miranda in charge in charge of this. She hated the idea that she was some kind of invalid, an emotional and financial burden which had somehow become Miranda’s responsibility.

Their relationship had always been one of support, but this didn’t feel like support.

Andy felt trapped.

So she left.

She contacted the Veteran’s Association, found a centre in Cincinnati which specialized in military rehabilitation, and then had herself transferred at her own expense.

Everyone had been furious. Miranda, her parents, Emily, Nigel and Serena.

Miranda had told her she was running away, but to Andy it felt like she had finally regained control over something.

They were one step away from the wheelchair that would mean a reprieve, so she ignored Lena’s comment and pushed forward.

Lena said nothing as she helped her sit down.

Andy took deep breaths and moved to wipe the sweat off her neck.

That’s the one thing they never tell you about being bed ridden. It isn’t simply the injury that will hold you back, it’s the muscle depletion all over, the constant periods of little or no activity that make it even harder to simply get back up.

“Better,” Lena said.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, Sachs. You’re the one who needs to do the work. And we are far from finished,” Lena said as she wheeled her out of the room.


 

“Look, I really think you should consider it,” Elizabeth said as she flicked through a deposition transcript on her desk.

“I don’t think so, Elizabeth,” Miranda replied.

“It’s Christmas Miranda.”

“Yes, but we’re not in a Disney movie. This isn’t a situation that can be solved by singing carols around a fireplace,” Miranda said.

“I’m not asking for a fairytale, Miranda. I simply want my family together at Christmas, and unfortunately that just so happens to include you.”

“Charming.”

“I’ve had enough of this,” Elizabeth sighed, throwing down her pen, “Between Andrea vying for martyr of the year, and you being a stubborn mule, I honestly don’t know what to do with the two of you anymore.”

“We’re not children, Elizabeth.”

“Says the woman who calls me three times a week as opposed to the subject of said conversations.”

“Andrea made it perfectly clear that she didn’t want, or need my help. This, like everything else lately, is something she wants to do alone. It’s no longer my place to interfere. I simply want to be sure of her well-being for the sake of the girls.”

Elizabeth scoffed. “Honestly Miranda. You are aware I wasn’t born yesterday?”

“What is it you would like me to say, Elizabeth?”

“That you’ll bring my grandbabies here for Christmas. It’s been a long time since you’ve all been up here, and the family would like to see you.”

“Elizabeth,” Miranda sighed.

“It’s one day Miranda. Surely the two of you can manage that without the world coming to an end.”

“That’s not the issue.”

“I’ll be sure to keep my sister on a leash if that’s what concerns you.”

“Oh, she’s still alive? How unfortunate,” Miranda said dryly.

Elizabeth chuckled. “She’ll be delighted to see you.”

“I can’t say the feeling is mutual.”

“I don’t know why I allow you to be so horrible to my poor sister.”

“Because, when it comes to Judy, I do believe that is the only thing we agree on.”

Elizabeth took a breath and closed the deposition in front of her. “Miranda, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to say, for quite some time.”

Miranda didn’t reply, so she surged ahead.

“I know Richard and I weren’t the most…supportive…when the story broke about you and Andrea. Your track record wasn’t ideal, and I thought you would bore of her fairly easily given the age difference. And my daughter was, as I perceived it, prone to bouts of silliness at that time.”

Elizabeth looked across to a picture of Andy and the girls on her desk, noting her conscious effort to exclude Miranda over the years. “However, I must admit that recent events have cast a glaring light on my…obtuseness. Your concern for the wellbeing of my daughter, especially over the last couple of months…”

“This isn’t necessary, Liz,” Miranda interjected.

“Oh, but it is,” Elizabeth said. “I apologize. I was wrong. And I want to thank you for bringing my daughter home. I know she hasn’t been the most grateful recipient, and I want to believe that it’s a momentary lapse in judgment on her behalf, but regardless of where things go from here, I want you to know that you will always be welcome in our home.”

“You’re getting soft,” Miranda said, her voice expressing enough telltale signs of emotion to let Elizabeth know her words had reached their target.

“Yes, it must be age,” Elizabeth said, waving her off. “That doesn’t change fact, however,” she reaffirmed.

“Thank you,” Miranda said, before clearing her throat. “Your support has been noticed, and appreciated of late.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Elizabeth said, before they both fell silent.

Elizabeth reached for her deposition once more. “Well, that was sufficiently awkward,” she said.

“Yes,” Miranda said, “I do hope you keep these sudden outbursts of emotion to once a year at most.”

Elizabeth laughed, “Trust me when I say it’s as painful for me as it is for you.”

“I’m glad we agree,” Miranda said.

Elizabeth looked at the clock and eyed the deposition in front of her. “Well, as much as I love our little chats Miranda, I should probably get back to it.”

She listened as Miranda clicked something on her computer, likely her schedule. “As should I. I have some advertisers arriving in ten minutes.”

“Okay, well, I’ll speak to you soon,” Elizabeth said. “Don’t work yourself into the ground.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Oh, and Miranda?”

“Yes?”

“The offer still stands, if you change your mind.”

“I won’t, but thank you,” Miranda said. “When she’s ready, she knows where I live.”


 

Andy lay back in bed, her iPad propped up in her lap.

“Studying for finals has been a nightmare,” Caroline said.

“How are they going so far?” Andy asked.

“I think I've done okay, and I have special consideration in place if I need to use it - although I doubt I'll fail anything.”

Andy knew why Caroline was struggling, she had missed a significant portion of the quarter. Cassidy had been saved the trouble as Cambridge was on a semester system. “Caro,” Andy began, apology clear in her tone.

“Don’t Andy. Honestly, school is always busy, and I'm on top of it,” Caroline said.

“Okay, okay,” Andy said. “Anyway, you've got this, I know you'll get the grades you need, and if not, I'm happy to come down there and explain the situation in person.”

Caroline rolled her eyes over FaceTime. “I think Mom would prefer it if you didn't, and I was forced to go into the Arts.”

Andy laughed. “Your mother only wants you to be happy, she's just pissed you're taking after your Grams.”

Caroline grinned. “Grams thinks I’ve got chops to get into Stanford if work hard the next two years.”

"And she'll finally have the daughter she always wanted," Andy said dramatically, hand clutched to her chest in faux devastation.

Caroline laughed. “Oh, hey, she said you might be out soon,” she said, changing topics. “Is it true?”

“I’m taking up a bed. Once I’m mobilized, I’m out, which could be any day now.”

“That’s awesome, Andy,” Caroline beamed.

“I can’t tell you how happy I’ll be to be out of this place.”

“I bet,” Caroline said, before Andy noted her fidgeting.

“What’s up Caro?” Andy asked carefully.

“I was just wondering, are you going back to work?”

“Not right now, no,” Andy said honestly.

“Okay,” Caroline said with an obvious sigh of relief. “Good.”

Andy knew what Caroline was thinking. She felt the guilt claw its way inside, and her hands began to clam up at the thought of work and the destruction it had reaped on her life, and the lives of everyone in it.

“Andy?” Caroline said, “Are you okay?”

She felt her heart rate skyrocket, and a dull roar began to form in her ears as she felt the room get smaller and the air thinner. “Yeah, Caro, I’m okay,” she said tightly, glancing up towards the door as she reached for her call bell. “But I think the nurses are about to come in for their round so I should probably go,” she said as she pressed the bell firmly, twice.

“You don’t look fine. What’s going on?” Caroline demanded in a tone that Miranda would be proud of.

Andy closed her eyes and tried to draw deep breaths, but try as she might she wasn’t having much success.

“Andy?” Caroline said, her voice high in fear.

The doors flew open.

“Sachs?” Lena said, as she quickly approached.

One week.

It had been one whole week since she had had an attack. One week of peace. One week of sanity.

“All right, Sachs. Take a deep breath,” Lena said as she placed a hand in the small of Andy’s back and leaned her forward.

“What the hell is happening!?” Andy heard Caroline yell, and Lena jumped slightly next to her.

“You know the drill,” Lena said, ignoring Caroline. “In for ten, out for ten,” she said as she reached for the iPad and picked it up. “Family?”

“Her daughter,” Caroline all but spat.

“Andrea is fine. What she’s experiencing is an anxiety attack but it will pass, I can assure you. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll be sure to have her call you back,” Lena said bluntly before ending the call with a quick tap of her finger and putting the iPad aside.

“Three…two…one…and in for ten,” Lena began counting, and Andy followed the sound of her voice as she took deep breaths. “Focus on your breathing, and let everything else slip away.”

Andy did as she was instructed, and soon Lena was leaning her back against the pillows and wiping the sweat from her brow.

“Why are you here?” Andy asked shakily.

“You rang, did you not?”

“You’re not a nurse.”

“I was with Oliver and his wife,” Lena said as she moved to grab a glass of water and held it out for Andy.

“I didn’t give you permission to do that,” Andy said, tears in her eyes as she reached for the glass.

“I was next door, Sachs,” Lena said.

“Not that!” Andy said. “Caroline!”

“Would have preferred false platitudes? Would you have preferred that I, perhaps, simply ended the call without explanation and let your daughter sit at home and worry about you until you decided it might be a good time to let her in on the secret that you are not, in fact, coping?”

“That’s not your decision to make!”

“Perhaps not,” Lena shrugged, unfazed by the outburst.

“Who do you think you are!?” Andy demanded. “Haven’t they been through enough!? What else do I need to give them to worry about!?” she cried as the glass flew from her hand and shattered across the floor.

Footsteps sounded outside and a door opened. “Lena, is everyth—“

“We’re fine here,” Lena said firmly to the ward nurse in the door.

The woman eyed the glass dubiously before stepping back out.

“They will worry about you,” Lena began, “Whether you give them permission to or not. Whether you tell them what is happening or not. Whether you allow them to be here or not.”

“I don’t want them to,” Andy said.

“Well you don’t have much of a choice, Andrea,” Lena said. “Your mother and father, Cynthia and Mia, Judy, your daughter on the phone – you’re doing them a disservice by lying to them. You’re hurting them. You’re hurting the only people in this world who care about what you’re going through; because out there?” she said, waving towards the door, “Out there, no one cares what happened to you. No cares what you’ve been through. No one cares what you’ve seen, or what you’ve done, or what you’ve lost. No one is going to fix you, Andrea. The only person who can fix you is you. What happened here, today, is manageable. You know that, you’re not stupid. But you need to stop hiding. Stop hiding from your family and stop hiding from yourself. This is a part of you now. The sooner you take ownership of that, the better, because trust me when I say you will never be the same again.”

“I don’t want to be this person,” Andy said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s not a good enough answer, Sachs.”

“I should be dead,” Andy said bluntly.

“And what brings you to that conclusion?”

“She threw herself on top of me. She took a piece of shrapnel intended for me.”

“And if she hadn’t, you’d be dead?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t know that. You might have survived. People get hit by shrapnel every day, some live and some die.”

“That’s not the point! She’s dead because she tried to help me!”

“And her independent decision to help you is your fault?”

“I—no, but I put her there.”

“I’m sorry?” Lena asked, puzzled.

“It was my story, my lead.”

“It was her job,” Lena said matter-of-factly.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter. You need to stop taking responsibility for your friend. The only person responsible for her death is the one that pulled the trigger. It’s not her fault or your fault for being there.”

“I can’t do this!” Andy cried, tears coming to her eyes. “I thought I could, but I can’t.”

“Oh but you can. And you will. If I have to drag you through this kicking and screaming myself, then I will.”

“Why?” Andy demanded, as she stared at Lena.

Lena looked back at her.

“Because you have seen the world for what it truly is, Andrea. And there are so very few of us left standing here who have.”

Chapter Text

Miranda pulled the black 2015 Mercedes M-Class SUV up to the curb outside of a standard split level home in the suburbs of Cincinnati.

It was a home built for a middle class family in the 1950s, and Elizabeth and Richard had done little to the property to change its image, aside from the fairy lights and wreath hanging on the door to signify Christmas.

When Miranda had arrived at this house six years ago for their first extended family Christmas in Ohio, she had been expecting a house garishly decorated for the season, and had found herself on the back foot immediately, questioning all of her preconceived notions about Mid-Western family Christmases.

Well, until she stepped foot inside, at least.

As she turned off the ignition, Caroline leapt from the vehicle and began running towards the door. Miranda watched on as Elizabeth stepped out onto the porch to greet Caroline, before looking up and catching her eye.

Cassidy squeezed her shoulder gently, and Miranda turned to face her.

“You ready?” Cassidy asked.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Miranda said, holding back a weary sigh. “Go and join your sister,” she began, “And remind her that although I hired an SUV to accommodate her luggage, I am not a porter.”

Cassidy laughed as she pushed open the door. “You know she’ll have Gramps Sachs out here in a flash.”

Miranda rolled her eyes as Cassidy slid out and shut the door behind her.

She watched Cassidy walk briskly, but with more restraint that Caroline, up the path towards Elizabeth before she opened the driver’s door and stepped out herself.

The cold air hit her immediately, and she pulled her coat across her chest. There was no snow in sight, but it was certainly cold enough to warrant it.

“Get inside, it’s barely forty out here!” Elizabeth called out to her, as Richard appeared at the door and began pulling on a pair of boots.

Miranda ignored her and walked around to the trunk, popping it open and began lifting the bags out of the back and down onto the path as Richard made his way over to her. She turned and greeted him with a nod before she found herself pulled into a quick hug.

“Glad you’re here,” Richard said quickly before letting her go and reaching around to pick up two suitcases without comment.

Miranda stood there, momentarily stunned as Richard walked away, making his way back to the front door. The Sachs’ had always been free with their affection, but never with her. She threw off her momentary discomfort and looked towards the house. The front door was wide open, but Caroline and Cassidy were nowhere in sight.

Miranda sighed irritably as she reached for Cassidy’s luggage and her own.

“I’ll get that one,” Elizabeth called out as she stepped outside.

“No, it’s all right,” Miranda said as she lifted the suitcases with a small grunt.

Elizabeth said nothing on approach, promptly taking one of the bags from Miranda and leading the way without comment.

They hadn’t spoken since Miranda had called two days ago to notify her they were coming after all. Elizabeth, thankfully, hadn’t pressed for an explanation.

As they approached the house, Miranda felt her defenses rise into place. She had little doubt that Andrea would be waiting inside to greet them. She had been discharged over a week ago, and called out of the blue one evening to apologize to her for shutting her out. She had sounded different, more in control. “Taking therapy more seriously” had been the explanation.

When Elizabeth reached the entranceway she turned back, giving her a scrutinizing look. “You all right?”

Miranda schooled her face and nodded, but Elizabeth looked unconvinced as she lugged Cassidy’s blue Samsonite up the two stairs leading to the door and inside the house.

Miranda took a quick breath and followed.

Richard met her as she stepped inside. “I’ll take this up to the guest room.”

“Where are the girls sleeping?” Miranda asked warily, not putting it past Elizabeth to stir things up with the sleeping arrangements.

Richard reached out and squeezed her arm in assurance, “The girls are on airbeds in the study, and Andy is downstairs in your usual room on account of the stairs.”

“I can take that up,” Miranda said.

“I don’t think so,” Richard said. “Everyone's in the living room, but you’re welcome to head through to the kitchen. I just put on a pot of coffee.”

Richard had always been extremely perceptive. Miranda supposed it was on account of sharing a house with two women for most of his life – not that a female majority household had seemed to help any of her ex-husbands in that department.

“Thank you, Richard,” Miranda said simply.

“Anytime,” he replied with a smile, before he made his way upstairs.

Miranda stood in the hall, the sound of a familiar voice trickling out from the living room, accompanied by the animated voices of her daughters who were clearly excited to see their…Andy.

“Do you want anything to drink, girls?” Elizabeth asked, her voice moving closer towards the door.

“Is beer off the table?” Caroline asked.

“No, I suppose not,” Elizabeth said. “Wine, Cassidy? I’m sure your mother will want one after driving from the airport at this time of year.”

“How perceptive,” Miranda said as she stepped into the room, her eyes landing immediately on Andrea who looked equal parts terrified and relieved.

“Yes, a wine would be nice,” Cassidy said, getting to her feet and moving towards Elizabeth.

“Perhaps I should check out Gramps’ beer selection,” Caroline said, mirroring her sister movements.  

Miranda rolled her eyes as the three of them vacated the room like it was on fire, and left her and Andrea alone.

“Subtle,” Andrea said, shaking her head.

“Quite,” Miranda said, letting her eyes track over Andrea and feeling undeniable relief. There was no off-white hospital gown offsetting a pallid complexion. There were no tubes or wires, and no machines beeping in the background. Andrea was thin, but there was colour in her cheeks and a light in her eyes that had been absent during the handful of times Miranda had visited the hospital before she had upped and left.

“It finally grew back,” Andrea said with a half-smile, rubbing the back of her head where a significant portion of her hair had been shaved off.

It had all grown back to the length it had been on the night of her sixtieth birthday party, Miranda noted, although there was more grey evident than there had been before. “So I see.”

“Thank you for coming, and bringing the girls,” Andrea said. “I know I asked you to, but after everything, you didn’t have to.”

“It’s time we spoke,” Miranda said. “But I ask that we leave it until the three musketeers are not hovering with glasses pressed against the wall. There are things I need to say, and I would prefer that the girls were not privy to them.”

Andrea swallowed, her face paling slightly.

Miranda knew her tone was firm, but she was in no mood to have her trip down here misconstrued as some grand romantic gesture of reconciliation. Her days spent on her knees before the throne, or the deathbed of Andrea Sachs were well and truly over.

She watched Andrea straighten in the face of the challenge. “Of course, Miranda,” she said, in a direct throwback to the past. “I can’t move too far right now, but I’m sure we can find a quiet space, and moment, later this evening.”

Miranda wasn’t about to be baited. “Oh, the tribe isn’t coming then?” she said, raising her brow in question as she referred to Andrea’s extended family, whom, last time she was here for Christmas, spent the entire holiday period camped out at the house.

Andrea laughed knowingly. “No, they’ll be over for Christmas dinner tomorrow,” she explained, “We thought we’d have a quiet Christmas Eve together tonight. Just the six of us. Although fair warning, Aunt Judy is not happy that Mom usurped her year to host, so I’d prepare yourself for tomorrow.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Miranda said, turning her attention away from Andrea and taking in the room. It was tastefully decorated, if a little heavy in Christmas cheer.

“Wine, Miranda?” Elizabeth said as she entered the room with two glasses poured with what Miranda assumed was the sole purpose of getting them both drunk.

“Yes, but preferably a glass, not a bottle,” Miranda said in exasperation as she eyed the overfilled glasses in Elizabeth’s hands.

“It’s Christmas,” Elizabeth said, pressing one on her before sitting down on the sofa, the girls and Richard pouring into the room behind her.

The twins quickly took up residence near Andrea, providing her with an adequate out from any more small talk. Miranda moved to the opposite end of the room, seating herself in an armchair near Richard.  

“How was the traffic?” Richard asked.

Miranda was never a fan of small talk, but given the various other loaded conversations which were waiting to take place in this room, she acquiesced. “About as you would imagine.”

“Flight?”

“Good, but security since Paris seems to have doubled.”

“Hmm,” Richard nodded in assent before rolling turning his beer bottle in his hand. “I can’t quite get a handle on the world these days,” he said.

Miranda glanced over at Andrea, being regaled with a story by Caroline who was swinging her arms wildly.

Andrea looked up and caught her eye. She smiled gently, in a way that was so familiar, and yet so foreign in how long it had been since she had seen it.

It was filled with warmth, and Miranda forced herself to turn away.


 

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay to get ready by yourself?” Elizabeth asked Andrea, pausing in her ascent up the stairs to bed.

“How many glasses of wine have you had?” Andrea said. “And now take a moment to compare that to how many I’ve had.”

“Suit yourself,” Elizabeth said, “Just don’t expect me to come downstairs if Miranda lets you fall on your ass.”

“Goodnight Mom,” Andrea said with an eye-roll as she made her way towards the downstairs bedroom, one they had shared a handful of times in the past.

Miranda paused at the base of the stairs. “Goodnight Elizabeth.”

“Night Miranda,” Elizabeth said with an encouraging look before making her way upstairs to bed.

Miranda waited until she heard the Master bedroom door close before following Andrea down the hall. She watched as she nudged the door open with her foot, and maneuvered her way inside.

When she reached the double bed, she sat down and put her crutches aside.

Miranda found it difficult to ignore the tiredness in her face and her posture as she walked into the room and closed the door.

Andrea must have caught something in her expression. “It’s the head injury,” she said.

“Ah,” Miranda said.

“It makes me tired, more so than usual,” Andrea offered. “I—“

“There’s no need to explain,” Miranda interjected.

Andrea smiled a little, “No, I suppose not – my mother has been keeping you well informed from what I can tell.”

“You were aware?” Miranda said, wincing internally at having been caught out.

“I do live in this house you know,” Andrea said, openly smirking now.

“Yes—well—“

“Anything you want to know, you can ask me. I want you to,” Andrea said, her smirk gone and replaced with a face that was imploring Miranda to take her up on the offer.

Miranda felt her irritation rise at this sudden and recent development that began with a phone call last week. “Well that’s quite the change of heart,” she said bitterly as she crossed her hands across her chest.

Andrea looked slightly shocked at her tone before her eyes hardened in response. “You didn’t seem to want to know before, you did everything to avoid the hospital when I was there.”

“You wouldn’t speak to me,” Miranda said.  

“What are you talking about!?”

“I’m fine doesn’t quite cut it in this situation,” Miranda said, waving her hand in the direction of Andrea’s injuries.

“You weren’t around long enough for much else! I needed you there!” Andrea cried.

“Yes, and I needed you at home, for the entirety of this past year, but that didn’t seem to matter when you were off gallivanting around the Middle-East.”

Gallivanting?” Andrea said incredulously.

Miranda took a breath. “I apologize, that was a poor choice of words.”

“You’re damn right it was,” Andrea said. “I want to tell you everything, to make you understand, but I need you to take me seriously, what I do seriously and I need you take what happened seriously.”

Miranda felt her anger boil up at that insinuation. “You may wish to reconsider your own poor choice of words.”

Andrea touched the back of her head lightly. She didn’t respond, but her brows were knitted together in either pain or frustration. Miranda resisted the urge to growl in frustration before pulling her anger back into check. This wasn’t what she came here for. She made her way over to the bed and sat down instead. “I didn’t come here to argue,” she said after a moment.   

“No?” Andrea said tiredly.

“No,” Miranda said.

“Good,” Andrea said, “Because I asked you here so I could apologize. I wasn’t coping with the situation, and I didn’t know how to ask for help after everything I put you through.”

“I wish you had asked,” Miranda said quietly.

“So do I,” Andrea admitted.

Miranda sat there and absorbed the momentary calm in the storm before she reached up and unbuttoned the third button on her blouse. The heating in the room was set far too high, and allowing her temper to run away with her had a tendency of making her overheat.

“So…” Andrea said, attempting to restart the conversation.

“Tell me about rehab,” Miranda said, acquiescing, “My spy has been banned from your sessions.”

Andrea chuckled lightly, “That she has,” she said before reaching down to touch her leg. It was covered in a loose pair of track pants, the damage well hidden from any prying eyes. “Rehab is going well. My trainer is an absolute demon, but she…understands, I guess. I’m not back on my feet yet, but hopefully I’ll be off the crutches in a few weeks.”

“And your—“ Miranda paused, not really wanting to know.

“My head injury?” Andrea said, turning to look at her in question.

Miranda nodded tightly.

“My concentration still isn’t what it is,” Andrea said, her tone detached and clinical, “and I feel more tired than I should.

Miranda looked at her and then glanced at the closed door, taking a moment to think before directing her gaze at Andrea and asking her next question. “Writing?” she asked carefully.

Andrea’s face dropped just enough for Miranda to know Elizabeth hadn’t filled her in on everything – or that Andrea had been keeping some things well hidden from her mother. She said nothing for a moment, and Miranda simply waited.

“I’ve tried once or twice,” Andrea said quietly, “but it’s sporadic. My old process doesn’t work right now. I’m working with the therapist to find ways around that, but, it’s not easy to try and relearn how to do something that has come naturally to you for your entire life.”

The admission made Miranda feel sick to her stomach. She couldn’t imagine losing something so vital to her very being. Writing was everything to Andrea, she couldn’t picture her without it. “You’ll find a way,” she said firmly.

Andrea nodded. “I have to.”

Miranda moved reflexively to grip Andrea’s thigh in comfort, but she stopped herself at the last possible moment.

Andrea looked at her, but said nothing as she held her eyes.

Miranda could see so many things in that gaze, and it was more loaded than she was prepared to deal with. She looked away and began rolling the sleeves of her blouse down. They had migrated up her arms earlier in the evening, and were now making her feel exposed.

She got to her feet, and buttoned her cuffs. “You should get some rest,” she said, her back to Andrea.

“Yeah, I suppose I should,” Andrea said quietly.

Miranda turned around to face her. “Do you need any hel—“

“When I went back in August, after your birthday? It didn’t feel right,” Andrea blurted, the words tumbling out of her mouth even as Miranda took a step back at the declaration. As her mind caught up, her face hardened. 

“I—God, I know it’s not enough, but I need you to know that,” Andrea said, a hint of desperation in her tone.

“Is this what you dragged me here for?” Miranda demanded, clenching her fists.

“No, of course n—“

“Be under no illusions, Andrea,” Miranda said bluntly, cutting off whatever excuses were about to come tumbling out of her mouth, “I did not come here for reconciliation.”

Andrea shook her head. “I—that’s not what I’m trying to—I wouldn’t dare ask for it,” she said. “I just need you to know that you were right.”

“About what? The list of decisions you’ve made in the past 18 months that I would classify as stupid is a mile long, so you’ll need to be more specific,” Miranda snapped.

Andrea winced. “That was fair.”

“Not fair, Andrea. Fact.”

“I’ll concede that, for now. I can’t apologize for everything, Miranda. There are decisions I made that I would make again in a heartbeat. But, you were right, at the hospital, when you said I chased you. That I chose you and the girls. And you were right when you said that I walked away,” Andrea said, wincing as she moved to get to her feet.

Miranda hated the reminder that the woman she was battling was so damaged. It made her feel like a monster. “Sit down,” she ordered, her tone less vicious.

Andrea dropped back down onto the bed heavily.

Miranda unclenched her fists and resisted the urge run a frustrated had through her hair. “We went over this when you were home,” Miranda said tightly. “There is no reason to go over old ground again. I’m tired of this conversation. I never should have brought it up that evening.”

“You had every right to.”

“No, actually,” Miranda said, “I didn’t. We had resolved the issue of you taking the job, I had no right to use it, especially given the circumstances.”

“You were angry,” Andrea said in understanding.

“Of course I was angry,” Miranda said evenly, “I told you my blessing – albeit reluctant – wasn’t a permission slip to take unnecessary risks. You promised me.” 

Andrea looked down, and Miranda felt like she had hit the nail on the head of something, but which head of which nail she wasn’t certain. “Andrea?”

“I was chasing a lead I knew was a long shot,” Andrea said quietly, still not looking up. She began wringing her hands in a way Miranda had never seen. “It was a contact, one of Michael Roberts’. I wanted information on sectarian executions within the city, and I knew he wouldn’t give me anything, but I wanted to try.”

Miranda was stunned into silence at the admission.

“We walked downstairs after the interview,” Andrea continued, her hands trembling. “I was complaining about what we got. It was just Jacks and I. We stepped outside and then—”

“Stop,” Miranda said, finding her voice. She didn’t want to hear this. That much she knew.

“It was like getting hit by a truck,” Andrea said quietly. “When I finally got my bearings I was pinned beneath her. I threw her off me,” she said, the tremble in her hands now reflected in her voice. “I threw her off, and she wasn’t moving. Christ, there was so much blood, and I think I knew but I didn’t want to believe it.” The words tumbled out of Andrea’s mouth and didn’t show signs of stopping. She was shaking visibly and Miranda’s feet moved of their own accord.

Andrea looked up as she approached. “It was my fault Miranda,” she said as Miranda paused in front of her. “A woman is dead because of the circumstances I placed her in. How could I accept help from you after that? From anyone? I need you to understand why I couldn’t—”

“This was not your fault, Andrea,” Miranda said quietly but firmly as she crossed her arms.  

Andrea shook her head. “How am I supposed to make myself believe that?”

“With time,” Miranda said matter-of-factly. “No one is expecting you to get over this right now. No one expecting you to be the woman who left here in August. The brave face act was completely unnecessary – but above all else, it was hurtful.”

“Mir—“

“We have never been anything other than completely honest with each other,” Miranda said, cutting off Andrea’s protest. “I thought after we—after the night of the party that we would be able to, at the very least, continue to be honest with one another.”

“I’m sorry,” Andrea said.

“I know you are,” Miranda sighed, “As am I,” she said as she moved to sit down, “I didn’t react well to the situation. You put me through one of the most terrifying ordeals of my life, and you know how much I despise being afraid.”

Andrea simply nodded. “There isn’t anything I can say to make this okay, is there?”

“You almost died,” Miranda said bluntly.

“I know,” Andrea said, leaning forward suddenly and placing her head in her hands, “Fuck, I know,” she whispered, her voice trembling.

Miranda watched her for a moment before placing her arm around Andrea’s shoulders.

Andrea leaned looked up from her hands. She searched her face, perhaps for permission before she leaned into the touch and allowed her head to rest against Miranda’s side.  

Miranda tightened her grip. “Don’t do it again,” she ordered under her breath, her voice coming out hoarser than she expected. “I mean it.”

Andrea grabbed her free hand and held on tight.


 

Miranda awoke and found herself momentarily disorientated.

The steady breathing against her neck was a sharp reminder of exactly where she was, and she cursed herself for falling asleep.

She carefully extracted herself from beneath Andrea and made her way quietly out of the room.

“My, my,” a voice said behind her as she closed the door quietly behind her, causing her to jump.

She swung around with a glare to see Elizabeth standing, cup of coffee in hand, and with a wicked grin on her face. “That did go well.”

“Honestly,” Miranda growled, “Did you camp out here all night?”

“It’s six,” Elizabeth said, “This is my usual time. The door to your room was open upstairs and you were conspicuously absent. I thought you were already up,” she said, smile growing, “But it would appear that you never went to sleep.”

“You’ve got an extremely active imagination,” Miranda snapped, waspish pre-coffee.

“Oh lighten up, I was joking,” Elizabeth said. “Coffee?”

“Not if it comes with a side of Spanish Inquisition,” Miranda said, buttoning her blouse and wincing at the crinkled silk.

“Miranda?”

Miranda glanced up from her assessment, and raised a brow in question.

Elizabeth smiled. “Merry Christmas.”


 

“My mother is driving me insane,” Andrea’s cousin Cynthia said as she stormed into the kitchen, with her baby under her arms.

Miranda had no doubt that Andrea’s Aunt Judith could drive even the most patient person to the brink of insanity, but she had no interest in getting involved in family drama today.

Cynthia eyed her a little warily, before she continued speaking. “Taking a breather?”

Andrea’s extended family had never been completely comfortable around her, and she did everything in her power to ensure it stayed that way. One meddling member of the Sachs clan was more than enough to try her patience.

“Yes,” Miranda said bluntly.

“Don’t blame ya,” Cynthia said as she dropped into a chair, apparently planning to make herself at home.

Miranda bit back the urge to sigh in frustration. She hadn’t had a single moment to herself.

“Cynthi—oh there you are,” Judith said as she swooped into the kitchen. When she caught sight of Miranda her eyes narrowed in an expression just short of outright hatred, and Miranda bit back her urge to smirk. Judith wholeheartedly disapproved of her relationship with Andrea on all manner of religious and moral grounds.

Even at her height of disapproval herself, Miranda was quite sure that Elizabeth invited her and the girls out to Christmas purely to torture her sister. The two may have shared a resemblance once, but decades worth of pearl clutching had ensured that Elizabeth had aged the better of the two. Judith’s face resembled that of a shrew.

“Judith,” Miranda said with an acknowledging nod.

“Miranda,” she replied tightly before turning back to Cynthia. “Give me the baby, Isabella needs to take a nap,” she said as she moved to take baby Lucas from Cynthia.

“It’s Christmas, Ma,” Cynthia said with an eye roll. “She’s fine,” she said, but passed over the baby and got to her feet nonetheless.

Miranda turned to look out of the window, not interested in getting pulled into a family squabble.

Cynthia left the room, but Judith’s presence was still keenly felt, and Miranda sorely wanted to throttle the woman before she could say her piece.

“I don’t know why you’re back here,” Judith said scathingly as she held the baby, perhaps as a shield. “She’s doing just fine without you.”

Miranda turned around, her faced schooled into practiced nonchalance. “Judith, I have no intention of discussing my private affairs with you.”

“Miran—,” Elizabeth began as she stormed into the kitchen, no doubt tipped off by Cynthia. She turned immediately to her sister with a glare. “Out,” she said.

“Excuse me!?” Judith demanded.

“My kitchen,” Elizabeth said bluntly. “I warned you to keep your opinions to yourself. Out.”

Judith threw one last look of disgust Miranda’s way before she stormed out with Lucas.

“What did she say?” Elizabeth said, moving to grab another two bottles of wine.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle, I can assure you,” Miranda said.

“The girls are entertaining Isabella and Mia,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “She’s taken a shine to them.”

Well, that explained the dire need for a nap, Miranda thought.

Elizabeth looked at her as she brandished a wine bottle in each hand. “You coming?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Miranda said as she took a breath and followed Elizabeth back out into the fray.

As the entered the dining room the noise was immeasurable.

Andrea’s uncle was barking loudly about the next state election, and Cynthia’s husband, a local politician whose name she could never remember, looked like he wanted to sink through the floor along with Richard who looked bored to death.

Judith was fussing around the table with the baby resting on her hip, meanwhile Isabella and Mia were squealing with delight as Caroline and Cassidy performed a fairly admirable impersonation of the sisters from Frozen in the adjoined living room they had been seated in last night.

The twins looked happy. They enjoyed the ruckus of a large family Christmas, something they had never had growing up. Miranda on the other hand longed for their usual quiet Christmas with the girls…and Andrea.

She glanced around until her eyes found their target. Andrea was sitting in the large armchair which had been unofficially delegated hers, with Cynthia perched on the arm of the chair, complaining about something in hushed tones – likely her mother.

Andrea looked up and caught her eye, tilting her head in a questioning gesture.

Miranda indicated to her that she was fine, but Andrea reached for her crutches as Cynthia helped her to her feet.

“Whoa! Where are you going? We’re just getting to the best part!” Caroline said with a faux-pout, and Cassidy slapped her shoulder, before indicating over at Miranda.

“Aunty Miranda?” Mia said, toddling over.

“Yes, Mia?” Miranda replied, as though speaking to an adult, something she had always done with the girls and something the six-year-old seemed to appreciate.

“Can Caroline and Cassidy come to my birthday party?”

“Do you require entertainers?” Miranda asked seriously.

The girl giggled before launching herself at Miranda’s legs and hugging them.

Miranda patted her gently, as Andrea moved up beside her and whispered “You’re such a big softie,” in her ear.

“Mia,” Cynthia called, and Miranda indicated her head in the direction of her mother, a direction Mia followed without question.

“Need some air?” Andrea said.

Miranda nodded, and allowed Andrea to lead the way, pulling their coats from the closet before they stepped outside into the chill afternoon air.

“Well, the twins are a hit,” Andrea said as passed one crutch to Miranda and maneuvered herself into her coat.

“Indeed,” Miranda said as she waited for Andrea to finish before pulling on her own. “Caroline always did enjoy the performing arts.”

“Well, the court room is a bit like the theatre isn’t it?” Andrea grinned.

“Oh, don’t start,” Miranda said, “Your mother is far too smug about it already.”

Andrea chuckled. “Shit, it’s cold out here,” she said, leaning forward on her crutches and rubbing her hands together.

“Do you want to—“ Miranda began.

“No,” Andrea said, “No, it’s nice and quiet. I just need a minute.”

Miranda nodded in understanding before they slipped into a momentary silence.

“Did Aunt Judy say something to you?” Andrea asked.

“She didn’t have the chance. Your mother makes quite the Doberman.”

“Did you just call my—you know what, never mind.”

Miranda allowed a small smile to grace her lips at the exasperation in Andrea’s voice, ever present when it came to discussing her relationship with Elizabeth.

“You’re a demon,” Andrea said, clearly catching her expression.

“So I’ve been told.”

Andrea laughed again, and Miranda turned to fully take her in. She looked happy, and Miranda had to admit it was a welcome expression.

Andrea caught her eye and tilted her head quizzically. “What?”

“You look better,” Miranda said matter-of-factly. “Much better.”

“Last night, it helped. A lot,” Andrea admitted. “So thank you, for listening, and for coming all the way up here.”

Miranda simply nodded and turned back to look out over the suburban street. Everything was quiet. Peaceful.

“Merry Christmas, M,” Andrea said gently.

“Merry Christmas, Andrea.”

Chapter Text

Andy sat in the nondescript café, and waited patiently for Helena to arrive. She tugged absently at a thread on the cuff of her leather jacket.

It was mid-April and the weather had finally dragged itself out of the throws of winter.

She heard the jingle of the bell above the door and watched as Helena Holden looked around, spotted her, and then moved brusquely over to her. “Andrea,” she said warmly, holding out her hands in greeting as Andy got stiffly to her feet and embraced her. “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too,” Andy said, before they broke apart and sat down. “Coffee?”

“Please,” Helena said with a desperation that every journalist shared. Andy signaled the waitress who came over and promptly took their orders before leaving them be.

“You look good,” Helena said as her eyes raked over Andy.

“The wonders of makeup,” Andy said with a chuckle. “But I’m much better than I was last year.”

“I heard you went home,” Helena said, “I was a little surprised to be honest.”

“I needed to get out of New York for a while, the VA Hospital in Cincinnati was a much better fit for me,” Andy said with a shrug. “Plus, it was easier on Mom and Dad.”

“I can only imagine,” Helena said with a look of understanding, before changing topics, “So, have you prepared a speech?”

Andy shook her head.

Helena was doing her best not to look sympathetic, but she was doing a terrible job. “How is everyone?” Andy asked instead.

“Getting there,” Helena said. “It took its toll. You and…Jacks were the heart and soul of that team. You’re both sorely missed.”

Andy felt the lump in her throat but bit it back. “Roberts said Wahid went to the BBC.”

“Lost the stomach for the work,” Helena said, “went home to be with his family.”

Andy nodded in understanding. “He’s the one person I haven’t been able to…”

“You don’t need to explain anything to me, Andrea. You’ve been through a horrific ordeal. Seeing you standing here, as you are, is a blessing to me, and everyone will be happy to hear that you’re okay,” Helena said, reaching out to give her hand a squeeze.

The waitress arrived with their coffees, giving Andy a welcome reprieve from discussing a part of her life which now seemed like a lifetime ago, but was lurking constantly in the shadows.

Helena reached for her cup and sighed in relief.

“Jet lag?” Andy asked as she reached for her own.

“Yes,” Helena admitted as she took a sip, “You would think after all these years the travel would get easier, but it still feels like a kick to the head on occasion.”

Andy smiled as she cradled her cup in her hands, and watched Helena closely. She knew this wasn’t purely a social call, or Helena would just have called. “Should we stop beating around the bush?” Andy said mildly.

“That obvious?” Helena said.

“That obvious,” Andy confirmed.

Helena sighed and put down her cup. “Okay, I’ll cut to it then,” she said, pushing her cup away so she could cross her arms and lean forward on the table. “The article was good, but I want you back.”

Andy sat back, floored. “You can’t be serious.”

“Shit,” Helena swore uncharacteristically, “I didn’t mean—I meant at the office here,” she explained quickly. “We won’t block your freelance work, but the Tribune wants you back.”

“Mary sent you,” Andy said. It wasn’t a question.

“Caught,” Helena said, holding up her hands in surrender.

Andy let out a breath, before she looked Helena dead in the eye and gave her a definitive, “No.”

Helena sighed and sat back. “Miranda.”

Andy thought about denying it, but decided against it. “Partly, yes. The rest, is me. I’m not ready Helena. I’m slower than I was. The pace will be too much, and I know it. You need someone better.”

Helena looked at her, a hint of devastation in her expression, the look of someone who realized what that meant, and what the injury must be costing her, “That bad?”

“It could be worse,” Andy shrugged, “And it is getting better, but it’s going to take time. Neurosurgery is a bitch.”

“I knew it was asking a lot,” she admitted. “I told Mary as much, but she was determined.”

“Tell her thank you for thinking of me, I do appreciate it,” Andy said.

“I’ll pass it along,” Helena said, before she winced slightly at an apparent passing thought. “Did you tell Miranda you were meeting me?”

“Yes,” Andy said with a smile. “And you’re lucky she’s not here.”

“Oh trust me, I know,” Helena said.

“She never did tell me how you two know each other,” Andy said, leaning forward.

“It’s long story, with a not so happy ending,” Helena said honestly with a shrug. “Although we spoke after the accident,” she said, her face turning pensive. “She cares a lot for you Andrea, more than she ever did for me.”

Andy wasn’t surprised. She had had her suspicions for some time. Miranda had a tendency to get evasive whenever her former editor was mentioned.

Helena shook herself out of her reverie. “Anyway, it was a very long time ago,” she said with a smile. “How are things? Rumours are abound, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

Page Six had been reporting on her return to New York since she arrived earlier in the week. They had taken to framing her as some sort of damaged war hero, a title she neither wanted nor deserved. There was also intense speculation surrounding the status of her and Miranda’s relationship which, at present, remained a bit of an unknown.

“Things are…different,” Andy said, for want of a better explanation, and was saved from having to explain further as Helena’s phone rang.

She whipped it out of her pocket and looked at Andy apologetically, “I’m sorry, I have to take this,” she said as she turned in her seat and put the phone up to her ear. “Holden,” she said.

Andy leaned back in her seat and sipped her coffee, which was already halfway to cold.

She hadn’t lied to Helena, things were different. Her whole life was different, and she had only recently come to accept that that didn’t mean the end of her career, or her life. She was just…different.

Helena turned back to face her. “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to cut this short,” she said, getting to her feet and reaching into her pocket for some change.

“I’ve got this,” Andy said, waving her off. “Least I could do for making you come all the way down here.”

“I owe you a drink,” Helena said as she lifted her bag.

“I’ll take you up on that,” Andy said with a smile. “Will you be there?” she asked, suddenly feeling a little embarrassed.

“Come hell or high water,” Helena said. “As you know, both are possible, but I’ll do my best.”


 

Andy walked stiffly up the steps of the townhouse and let herself in.

As the door closed, Miranda walked out of the kitchen, and was wiping her hands on a towel.

“Are you cooking?” Andy said as she took of her jacket and moved to hang it in the closet.

“I had some time,” Miranda said, folding the towel in her hands before looking at Andy expectantly. “And?”

Andy walked towards her, and watched Miranda’s gaze flick to her leg quickly before fixing itself back on her face. “The Tribune wants me back,” Andy said, and Miranda stiffened immediately, her fists clenching around the towel in her hands. “And I said no,” Andy finished, watching Miranda visibly relax.

“Helena Holden can be very persuasive when she wants to be,” Miranda said bluntly.

“She can, but it was still, and will remain, a no,” Andy said, matching her tone as she looked her dead in the eye.

“Good,” Miranda said, before turning back and walking towards the kitchen.

Andy watched the way Miranda moved with her usual grace, and felt a pang of envy. It was shallow, but she was unhappy with the limp she was still saddled with, even though Lena had assured her that it would reduce as long as she kept up with the regime she had structured for her before she had left Cincinnati.

She walked in and joined Miranda, “Smells good,” she said as Miranda plated up simple salmon fillets with sautéed spinach.

“Of course it does,” Miranda said as she placed the pans in the sink before handing Andy a plate, “Any press?”

“The usual,” Andy shrugged as she sat down.

“I told you to call Roy,” Miranda said as she sat down opposite her in her usual chair. It would all feel strangely normal, if the situation was anything but right now.  

“It’s Saturday,” Andy said. “He needs a day off, and I don’t need a chaperone.”

“That’s arguable,” Miranda said with a snort as she picked up her fork and began eating.

“Not funny,” Andy said, wincing as she remembered her decidedly ungraceful stumble on the stairs yesterday. It wouldn’t have been so mortifying if she hadn’t convinced Miranda she was perfectly capable of carrying a pile of folded laundry upstairs, and then ended up flat on her ass surrounded by underwear on the landing.

“I do wish I had brought my phone with me when I heard the thump,” Miranda continued lightly, a wicked grin on her face. She had come out pale faced at the time, thinking the worst, and Andy thought that perhaps the underwear had been her saving grace. Well that, and her historic clumsiness.

“Miranda,” Andy growled, as Miranda laughed lightly. She stabbed at her salmon petulantly, and began eating; but there was little denying the warmth in chest at the sound originating from across the table.

They ate their lunch in relative peace, and when she had finished, Andy leaned back and sighed contently.

“I’m going into the office this afternoon,” Miranda said as she placed her cutlery neatly in the centre of her plate.

“What time will you be home?” Andy asked, “I’ll organize dinner.”

“No, you won’t,” Miranda said, and Andy looked at her in question. “We’re going to Nigel’s this evening.”

“Nigel’s?” Andy said.

“Is that not what I just said?”

“Of course, I’m just surprised,” Andy said, sitting up in her seat, “The last time you went to Nigel’s it was his house warming, and that was…two years ago.”

“That’s not entirely true, and even if it was,” Miranda sniffed, “There are people who wish to see you.”

“A party?” Andy said weakly.

“A dinner party,” Miranda said, “A small one. We can leave at any time.”

Andy looked at Miranda, and waited.

“Nigel, Emily, and Serena,” Miranda said, “And Nigel’s new partner Nick.”

“Nick and Nigel,” Andy said dumbly.

“Yes, he’s a very intelligent and gifted documentary film-maker,” Miranda said. “And Nigel is dying for you to meet him. I’m surprised he hasn’t mentioned him to you.”

“A party,” Andy said again, and Miranda rolled her eyes.

“Can I attribute this to the head injury, or is this simply you being…well…you?” Miranda said.

Andy pulled herself together enough to look affronted.

“Better,” Miranda said, as she stood and picked up her plate and moved to collect Andy’s.

“You cooked,” Andy said, getting to her feet.

“Yes, and you’re tired,” Miranda said. “Are you going to insist on having this argument every time I do something to help you, or simply on days ending in ‘y’?”

Andy relinquished her plate, feeling mildly ashamed. “I don’t like feeling like an invalid,” she said honestly.

“Yes, and I don’t like being made to feel overbearing, but we all have our crosses to bear,” Miranda said as she swooped into the kitchen. 

“Okay, okay,” Andy conceded. “Noted.”

“Good,” Miranda said, as she dropped the plates into the sink, before glancing at her watch. “I have to go, but I’ll be back at seven to pick you up. Call if—“

“—I need anything,” Andy finished. “I know, and thank you.”

Miranda nodded and moved towards the door, and Andy stood to follow her. “Did you call the driver?” Andy asked out of habit.

“Yes, he should already be here,” Miranda said, pausing and turning. She glanced at Andy, at the dining table, and then back at Andy. “We need to have a discussion about this,” she said suddenly.

Andy looked back at the table and then at Miranda. “You’re right,” Andy said, knowing immediately what she was getting at. “It’s been a little too easy to slip back into old habits. I know this seemed like a good idea over the phone, but perhaps I should move to a hotel tomorrow and start looking for a place as soon as possible.”

“I wasn’t flinging the door open with the hope you’d run straight out of it,” Miranda said in irritation, “I just want to make sure we’re both on the same page.”

“On the same—oh, okay, well sure. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay,” Miranda, as her phone rang. “I have to go,” she said as she looked at the device and scowled.

“See you at seven,” Andy said, as Miranda walked away.

Miranda was right, of course. After Christmas, they had begun talking again, and regularly. Miranda had been out of the country for most of January for the Haute Couture shows, and then again at the end of February for Fashion Week, however, she called almost every night for updates about rehab, and therapy, whilst regaling Andy with the usual war stories from Europe.

It was a practice in communication for them both – something they had always been adept in, but had somehow failed exceptionally at since Andy had chased the Baghdad position. Her own insecurities about her abilities, her career, and Miranda’s hand in it all had guided her into taking a pigheaded position which had destroyed their relationship.

However, she had learned that lesson the hard way. Now, it felt a lot like rebuilding bridges, but the one thing they hadn’t discussed was the fact they were clearly growing closer again, and ultimately what that would mean.

Miranda wasn’t well known for her second chances, and Andy was aware that she had used up hers, ten-fold.

It was a strange feeling to come back and live through the damage you wrought, as opposed to just walking away. It had given her clarity; and it made her want to fight, if Miranda would let her.

She allowed a little hope in at the thought, but tempered her expectations accordingly. Miranda had been quite clear at Christmas that she wasn’t seeking reconciliation – and if that was truly what she wished, then Andy would settle for whatever she was allowed to have.

She hadn’t told Miranda that she had been the first person she thought about when she was lying in the dirt, thinking it was the end for her. It hadn’t seemed right to use it. But perhaps it was time to lay everything on the table and hope for the best. Life was, after all, so very very short.


 

Andy walked out onto the porch at seven, feeling refreshed from the nap she took in the afternoon, but also nervous. She hadn’t seen Nigel, nor Emily and Serena in person since last year. Back then, she had been a mess, a shadow of her former self, and at her very weakest. Now she was stronger – perhaps not whole – but certainly something…else.

She made her way to the waiting car, and the driver held the door open for her. She nodded her thanks before slipping into the backseat next to a waiting Miranda.

Miranda gave her a quick once over and nodded in approval. “I see you didn’t take issue with the additions I made to your wardrobe.”

“Nope, no complaints,” Andy said as she brushed her hand down the black tights she was wearing and fiddled with the buckle on the side of her Ferragamo boots.

“They’re not too heavy?” Miranda asked, indicating towards the boots. “I spoke to Massimiliano when I was in Florence and told him I needed them as light as possible.”

“Miranda,” Andy said as she looked up from the buckle and smiled, “They’re perfect.”

“I would expect nothing less,” she said, although the hint of pink in her cheeks was telling. Andy decided it was better not to mention it. “I see you took to the McQueen,” Miranda said, waving at the embroidered black leather jacket Andy had been wearing earlier, and hadn’t been able to part with since.

Now it was Andy’s turn to blush.

Miranda smiled in response, clearly pleased. 

They rode the rest of the way in silence. Andy was beginning to feel fidgety, and wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep up with the quick fire conversation Nigel and Emily, and even Miranda were accustomed to. Or worse, she wondered if they would all tip toe around her like she was made of glass. She felt like a coltish teenager, and had to admit that this process was a bit like reentering the world. Up until a few days ago she had been cloaked by her family, and then it had only been Miranda…well…and Helena today, but Helena occupied a realm where what happened to Andy, happened to someone every day. She took a deep breath.

“We can leave any time you want,” Miranda reiterated, as she looked out the window. “Or we can turn around right now. It’s up to you.”

“I—“ Andy began. “Let’s do this. I can’t keep hiding.”

Miranda turned back to Andy and gave her a look that plainly asked her if she was sure.

“I’m sure,” Andy said, trying to sound reassuring through her nerve.

Miranda raised her brow but said nothing. “If you’re sure,” she said, as they pulled up to the front entrance of Nigel’s building and the driver hopped out to open the door on Andy’s side first. She stepped out into the cool spring air and fastened her jacket around the middle. It looked good, but it wasn’t that warm.

Miranda came and stood next to her. “Ready?”

Andy held out her arm in response, and Miranda rolled her eyes before sliding her arm through and allowing Andy to escort her inside.

The rode up the elevator in silence, and when Nigel opened the door in greeting he pulled her into a fierce hug, “Well it’s about damn time Six! I swear the Post knew you were in town before we did,” he said, letting her go and standing back to look at her before pulling her back into a warm embrace.

Miranda invariably stepped around them and headed inside, and Andy could hear Emily, Serena and a male voice she didn’t recognize greeting her warmly.

“Come on,” Nigel said, “I want to hear all about Ohio and what the hell you’ve been doing to keep busy, you know, aside from the article and the awards on Monday,” he said as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and led her into the fray.

The night took off into a whirlwind, and Andy found herself embracing the normality of it all. It was a credit to her friends that they didn’t bat an eye when she talked about Ohio and rehab, treating rehab as some sort of aside which was completely separate from the initial incident. Avoiding mention of the accident itself may not have been necessarily healthy, and she was sure her therapist would disapprove, but it worked for them. They had all spent time working in Miranda’s employ, and had developed the art of pretending nothing was wrong to the point they could manage it even if standing in the middle of a burning building. The only one who showed signs of slipping was Nick, who glanced at Miranda once or twice in concern – but Andy couldn’t work out why. As far as she was aware they weren’t close – not yet, anyway.

“I can’t believe that’s where the McQueen went,” Emily growled later. “You swiped that right out from under my nose,” she said accusingly towards Andy.

 “You have more than enough leather, Emily,” Miranda said, looking a little tense, though Andy was sure it wasn’t on account of the jacket.

“Of course, your highness. My sincerest apologies,” Emily said sarcastically, her tongue loosening on account of her third glass of wine. Andy was still on her first, weary of her tolerance, but she barked out a laugh at that.

Finally,” Emily said. “I thought maybe you’d left your sense of humour back in Baghdad.”

Everyone froze at the comment, but Emily was looking her dead in the eye as she took a shotgun to the elephant in the room.

“Nope, just the required sacrificial pound of flesh and a few brain cells,” Andy said, not missing a beat. She had spent enough time as a patient at the VA hospital to be more than used to this kind of humour.

“And she’s back, ladies and gentlemen,” Emily said as she got to her feet. “More wine anyone?”

“I think you’ve had enough,” Miranda said, her voice sharper than Andy expected.

Andy turned to face her, and give her a questioning look, but Miranda brushed her off. The tenseness was back in her posture and Andy knew for sure something was up when she spotted the looks on both Nigel and Nick’s faces.

Emily looked ready to respond with something Andy knew wouldn’t help the situation, so she stepped in. “I’ll help the wine,” she said, getting to her feet and moving towards Emily, tugging Nigel to his feet as she passed. “I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea where you keep it,” she said cheerily by way of explanation.

“The ‘foggiest’ idea?” Nigel said, “Good god you’ve been in Ohio too long,” he said, but escorted her and Emily through to the kitchen and over to his impressive wine rack.

Andy turned to Emily, “You,” she said sternly, “Stop baiting her please, this has been hard enough,” and then she turned to Nigel. “Can you to please tell me what is going on with Miranda, and why Nick keeps looking at her like she’s a bomb that’s about to explode?”

Nigel winced. “Can we reduce the number bomb analogies to say…zero?”

“Fine,” Andy said, “Just tell me what’s going on.”

Nigel handed Emily a bottle of white and a bottle of red and sent her back to the group before he took off his glasses and pulled a handkerchief from his top pocket. “We were here when she got the call.”

“I’m sorry?” Andy said.

“I was having a small dinner party, just Nick, myself, Miranda and…a friend from San Francisco,” he said. There was something in his face about that last part but Andy didn’t have time to dissect it right now. “We had had a lot to drink, and as she was leaving, Miranda got the call from Cassidy that there had been a bombing in Baghdad and an American journalist had been caught in the crossfire. It was a harrowing few hours after that,” Nigel said as he rubbed the lenses of his glasses. 

“Three,” Andy said weakly.

It was Nigel’s turn to look puzzled, as he put his glasses back on.

“Three hours,” Andy explained. “She told me when I was in the hospital, that she had spent three hours thinking…”

“Yes, well, the news wasn’t good, and your editors weren’t any less worried than we were.”

Andy tried not to slump as the guilt weighed down on her.

“But you’re fine,” Nigel said, grabbing her shoulders and peering into her face. “You’re both here, and you’re both fine.”

Andy managed a small smile and a nod, but more for his benefit than her own.

“Come on, let’s get back before she realizes,” Nigel said.

Andy looked over and saw Miranda watching them intently, and knew there was little chance of that happening, but she followed Nigel nonetheless.

“…And Japan is an absolute nightmare to navigate,” Serena was saying as they rejoined the conversation, and Andy moved to be near Miranda. “I mean Tokyo is fine, it’s well signed, but Kyoto? No way, it was such a nightmare. For such a technologically advanced country you would think they could learn something about sign placement.”

“Speaking of tech, I heard the robotics in Japan are amazing,” Nick said. “Riya was talking about how good the agreement they had signed with that company from Osaka was going to be for their R&D division, once they can get over the language barrier issue,” he said, before Nigel gave him a look that told him he had said the wrong thing.

Andy went over all the information before she asked her question. “Who’s Riya?”

Nick’s eyes flitted to Miranda, and Andy was beginning to put the pieces together.

“Riya Reddy,” Nigel said, reluctantly. “She works in robotics and is—“

“From San Francisco?” Andy supplied helpfully.

“Yes,” Nigel said. “I see you didn’t lose that many brain cells,” he muttered in follow up.

“She sounds very…successful,” Andy said, and noted Miranda had yet to join the conversation.

“She is,” Nick almost squeaked as he realized what he had done.

Andy didn’t need to look back at Miranda to know the expression on her face, as Nick certainly hadn’t been looking at her when he spoke.

“Oh, wasn’t she on this year’s most influential LGB—ow! Emily!” Serena said with a glare as Emily stomped on her foot.

“Sorry, slipped,” Emily said before picking up a bottle of wine from the table and refilling her glass, and Serena’s. “Now Nigel, I forgot to ask, did you see the new Philip Lim collection?” Emily segued, and everyone silently agreed that any further discussion about Riya Reddy was off the table.

“We can discuss this later,” Miranda said under her breath after a moment as Andy turned towards her with an eyebrow raised in question.

“I’m sure we can,” Andy said, and it came out snippier that she had intended. She reigned it in and gave Miranda an apologetic look. She wasn’t sure why she was surprised by any of this. Miranda was intelligent, successful, and not to mention beautiful. She carried her sixty years with a grace that was attractive to everyone that laid eyes on her, and Andy had tossed that away.

After Miranda’s party, they had put a fairly definitive end to things, even if Andy hadn’t felt like that was the case. Not to mention they had been separated for months, it only followed logic that Miranda would start dating again. So, why hadn’t she seen it coming?

The evening continued with a lot of laughter, and plenty more wine, but Andy was preoccupied with what she had learned, and wondered if the talk she and Miranda were due to have wasn’t necessarily going to go the way she had hoped.

When they went to leave, Nigel handed her her jacket. “I told you you’re idiot,” he said as she took the coat and pulled it on.

Andy didn’t disagree with him as she hugged him in farewell.

Emily and Serena were next. “Don’t be a stranger,” Emily said as she pulled her into a hug.

Andy allowed herself to relax into it. “I won’t,” she promised.

“Are you ready?” Miranda said to her as she waited patiently by the door.

Andy nodded and moved towards the door.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening, Nigel,” Miranda said, kissing him lightly on each cheek, before turning to Nick. “It was lovely to see you again.”

“Likewise,” Nick said with an apologetic smile.

“Well, we should go, the car is waiting,” Miranda said, “Emily, I’ll see you on Monday.”

“I’ll be in early, so if you want to bump that meeting up just have your assistant call my assistant.”

Miranda nodded before turning to leave, placing her hand gently on Andy’s lower back and guiding her out before they could get caught up in any more farewells. The timely exit had always been Miranda’s forte, not her own.

As they got back into the town car, Andy sighed contently and leaned back into the leather seats.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” Miranda asked.

“A lot,” Andy said. “I’m a little tired, but it was good,” she said.

Miranda said nodded to herself before turning to look out the window.

Andy didn’t press. She was happy simply enjoying this momentary sense of normalcy. It didn’t come along often. Tonight was a luxury. It had been an evening where she could strip off the mantles imposed on her by the public, her editors, and everyone else and simply be Andy Sachs.

As they pulled up to townhouse, Andy thanked the driver and got out, stopping to wait on the sidewalk for Miranda. As they made their way inside, Andy headed towards the staircase to go up to bed, but Miranda had other plans. “Andrea?”

Andy paused at the base of the stairs and turned back towards her. “Yeah?”

“About Riya Re—“ Miranda began.

“No, don’t,” Andy said quickly. “It’s none of my business.”

“No, it’s not,” Miranda confirmed, “However, I said we needed to have a discussion so I would prefer that we had everything out on the table now. Riya is a friend of Nigel’s and he thought we may have had some things in common, and we did. However, due to the circumstances, I haven’t seen her since,” she said in an emotionless tone.

Andy wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Any romantic entanglements I need to be aware of?” Miranda said. “Michael Roberts seemed very fond of you over the phone.”

Andy shook her head. “Roberts!? God no,” she said, screwing up her nose.

“So nothing?”

Andy took a breath. “No entanglements, but there was one night a few months back, a freelan—“

“It’s not relevant,” Miranda said quickly. “We were separated. I don’t need the details.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite,” Miranda said tightly.

Andy let out the breath she had been holding.

“Don’t mistake my lack of interest in your tawdry one night stand as a blessing,” Miranda said sharply.

“I don’t,” Andy said.

Miranda turned away from her, and took her time removing her coat and hanging it in the closet.

Andy waited at the base of the stairs for her to finish. “Is there anything else you want to talk about?”

Miranda shook her head infinitesimally. “No, I think that’s enough for this evening.”

Andy knew better than to push, especially given how drained Miranda looked in that moment. “Okay,” she conceded.  

“Goodnight,” Miranda said, her tone final.

“Goodnight, M,” Andy said as she turned and began climbing the stairs, wondering whether this conversation was going to clear a way forward or simply send them straight back to where they were.


 

Andy didn’t have to wait long to find out. When she awoke, it was still dark outside, but the figure perched on the end of the bed looked decidedly Miranda-shaped and she responded in kind. “Miranda,” she said, sleep still lacing her voice.

“Did it mean anything?” Miranda said, cutting straight to the point.

“What?” Andy asked as she rubbed her eyes and moved to sit up.

“Your little…fling,” Miranda said.

Andy waited until she was resting her back against the head of the bed before she answered. “It wasn’t a fling,” she said carefully, “It wasn’t anything. It was one night, a product of too much adrenaline and, on my part, loneliness. She was an in and out freelancer. I haven't seen or spoken to her since.”

“Fine,” Miranda said, getting to her feet and moving towards the door.

“Miranda, wait,” Andy said, “Please.”

“It’s late, Andrea,” Miranda sighed.

“I know, but we’re awake now. Just talk to me, for a little while,” Andy softly pleaded.

Miranda paused at the door for a moment before she resumed her position at the end of the bed.

When Miranda wasn’t forth coming with anything, Andy decided to dive right in. “What are we doing?”

“I don’t know,” Miranda admitted.

“That makes two of us,” Andy said into the darkness. “But, I think we need to talk about this before I overstep.”

“Go on,” Miranda said.

Andy was too tired to be careful, so she decided to throw caution into the wind. “I fucked up, M. I broke everything between us, and now I’m going to selfishly ask you to consider taking me back, in whatever capacity you’ll allow,” she said, and was met with stony silence.

Andy let the declaration sink into the room, and wondered whether she had just made a huge mistake pushing Miranda so soon.

“What if there had been no accident? Where would you be right now?” Miranda demanded after a while.

“I can’t answer that,” Andy admitted. “There was an accident, I can’t change that. I also can’t deny that it changed me.”

“You’re saying that it took a bomb to send you back to my door, Andrea,” Miranda said bluntly. “How do you expect me to respond to that?”

“I don’t know,” Andy said, leaning her head back against the head board and closing her eyes. “But I need you to understand that I had to try.”

“I understand the compulsion,” Miranda said. “A near death experience can bring a certain amount of clarity I’m sure – but whether that’s permanent or not is another thing all together.”

“I’ll wait as long as you need to be sure,” Andy said.

“It could be a decade,” Miranda said, sarcasm lacing her tone.

“So be it,” Andy replied with conviction. Her response was met with a momentary silence before Miranda responded.

“Turn on the light,” she demanded, and Andy leaned over to flick on the bedside lamp.

Miranda was looking straight at her. “I swear to God if you walk away from me again—“

“I won’t,” Andy said.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Andrea. It’s all well and good to turn down Helena’s offer now – but what about the future? I can assure you that I won’t be as gracious and understanding a second time round.”

“I don’t expect you to be. Why you were in the first place is still a mystery to me.”

“Are you honestly that blind!?” Miranda demanded in frustration.

“I—“ Andy began.

“Why would I let you go?” Miranda began, “Why would I welcome you back? Why would I fly you out of Baghdad? Why would I let you back into this house, and why on Earth would I lie to my daughters and tell them that all of this has been some kind of mutual decision?” Miranda demanded, suddenly getting to her feet.  “Some days I honestly wonder if you’ve taken complete leave of your senses! The sheer number of chances I have given you beggars belief!” she continued before rounding back on Andy and storming forward. “When have you known me to be a forgiving person, Andrea? When!? Give me one single example of when I’ve allowed someone to traipse in and out of my life the way you have recently. Wake up!” she finished, breathing heavily.

“You still…” Andy said, trailing off, her eyes wide. Miranda was standing there in all her terrifying glory and she was floored.  

Miranda said nothing, her face shutting down as she took a step back.

“No,” Andy said quickly, “Don’t do that,” she pleaded as threw back the covers and swung her legs around stiffly, getting to her feet. “I thought I’d thrown away my last chance in August. I didn’t think that you would still…”

“Yes, well you were wrong,” Miranda said, “Again,” she added.  

“I don’t deserve this,” Andy said honestly, lowering her eyes in shame. Having her transgressions laid out before her made her feel like a complete idiot. How on Earth she could have missed this she wasn’t sure. She who knew Miranda in all of her fury, her pettiness, her ambitiousness, but above all else, her love. How had she ever doubted this woman she knew so goddamn well?

“No,” Miranda agreed, “You don’t.”

They both stood there in silence.

“Now what?” Andy said after a time.

“Honestly? I have no idea. I’ve never been in this position before. If you had been any of my ex-husbands I would have divorced you and taken you for absolutely everything you were worth for even considering doing what you have done.”

Andy winced at that thought. “Why didn’t you? All feelings aside, I hurt you Miranda.”

“More than you will ever know,” Miranda said harshly, “However, I once told you that I see a great deal of myself in you. I never meant to imply this, but I can’t deny that I have left three husbands in the wake of my career. How can I blame you for simply doing the same? How am I supposed to punish you for becoming like me?”

“This wasn’t Karma, or Kismet,” Andy said, taking another step towards Miranda.

“I should be proud,” Miranda said bitterly.

“I don’t want you to be,” Andy said. “It wasn’t worth it,” she said fiercely.

Miranda looked up and regarded her closely for a moment before stepping into her space. “This isn’t going to be easy,” she said seriously. “We can’t simply walk all of this back and pick up at a time before you tossed Baghdad into a conversation in the study.”

“I didn’t expect to,” Andy said.

“My trust in you isn’t the same as it once was,” Miranda continued.

“I understand that,” Andy replied.  

“You hurt me, and you need to know that I have an overwhelming urge to return the favour,” Miranda said.

“I know,” Andy said, “I’m not asking for a miracle, I’m not even asking for forgiveness, I’m just asking for a chance to try. To build on the past couple of months, to show you how much I—”

Miranda held up a hand to stop her, before taking a slow, even breath in and then out. “Okay,” she said after a moment.

“Okay?” Andy asked, incredulously.

“Okay,” Miranda repeated, and Andy burst into what she thought must have been the first real smile of the past six months. “There’s no need to look so happy about it,” Miranda said.

“No, of course not,” Andy said, biting her smile back to a dopey grin.

“You’re mother and I are now…friends,” Miranda added.

“Oh, I’m aware,” Andy said, “And it’s terrifying.”

“Then stop grinning like an imbecile,” Miranda said with a huff.

“I can’t help it,” Andy said.

“You look like the village idiot.”

“I don’t care,” Andy said, “I’m happy.”

“We’ll see how long that lasts,” Miranda said softly, but without malice as she reached up placed her hand gently on her cheek. “I can’t make any promises, Andrea.”

Andy reached up and rested her hand over Miranda’s. “I don’t want any, let’s just—take this one day at a time.”

Miranda nodded, stepping forward to place a tentative kiss on her cheek before dropping her hand and moving back. “We should get some sleep,” she said, glancing towards the clock. It was after three in the morning. “You need to rest, and we can talk about the details in the morning.”

Andy moved back towards the bed as Miranda opened the door. “M,” she called out.

“Hmm?”

“I love you, I hope you know that.”

Miranda paused with her hand on the door, before she pushed it closed, turned around and made her way swiftly across the room.

Before Andy had a chance to react, lips were pressed against hers and she was reaching up with both hands to grasp at the base of Miranda’s neck and pull her closer. It was fierce and passionate, and over far too soon.

When Miranda stepped back she looked her dead in the eye. “Don’t ever make me question it again,” she said seriously, before opening the door once more and abruptly walking out.

Andy stood there, stunned, as she touched her fingertips to her lips.

Perhaps it was going to be a long road, but she knew she could never take it with anyone else.

Chapter Text

As I lay there in the dirt, I will admit that I didn’t think about everyone else. I didn’t think about the countless dead littering the marketplace a mere two hundred feet away. I didn’t think about the hundreds of others screaming out in pain, and I certainly didn’t think about the seventeen-year-old boy who walked in that morning with the intent to kill and maim as many as he could.

No, what I thought about in that moment was the dear friend who lay dead less than a foot away from me. I thought about the parents who raised me, the woman who had once loved me, and the two beautiful girls who never seemed to stop growing and surprising me. I thought about how lucky I had been to have them in my life, no matter how angry they may have been with me for the choices I had made, choices which had invariably led me to that very moment.

Did I think about anything else? At one moment I remember my colleague Michael Roberts drawing my attention to the very large piece of shrapnel embedded in my thigh, so I certainly spent some time thinking about that – but aside from that? No.

At the end of the day, it is the human condition to put ourselves first, our families and friends second, and the rest of humanity last. We all know this to be true, but we often forget how much this simple classification of what is important to us shapes the world in which we live.

An excerpt from ‘Under the Morning Sun’ by Andrea Sachs, The New York Tribune, March 6, 2016


Andy stood at the podium, her hands clasped on either edge as she looked out at the crowd. Every table at the luncheon was full, and there were a lot of tables, which wasn’t helping matters. She had chosen writing as a profession for a reason, and was now being reminded why.

“To be honest,” Andy began shakily, glancing down at blue Pulitzer folder resting before her and the pieces of paper which held her speech, “When the President of Columbia University called me a couple of months ago to ask that I give a speech today, I was inclined to say no,” she said, picking up her speech and then folding it in half. “And at nine o’clock this morning when I was still scribbling down talking points, I was sincerely wishing I had,” she said wryly as laughter rang out at the tables. It was slightly subdued however, and Andy knew that was on account of her. Everyone knew what she had been through, and they were all waiting for the moment when her speech inevitably addressed Baghdad and the bombing.

She turned the speech in her hand over before dropping it unceremoniously on the podium and looking out at the crowd.  “I was asked to give a speech today about the ‘price of journalism’ and I have spent the better part of the last few weeks avoiding the actual writing of it. When I finally finished it this morning, I thought I had something that would make people happy, that the Pulitzer Board would like, and something that did justice to my late colleague and dear friend Jaqueline Carrillo,” she said, pausing for a moment. “But,” she began again, “Now that I think about it, nothing I say today could adequately explain the price of journalism, or the price of no journalism. I will, however, try,” Andy said, taking a deep breath.

“I don’t think anyone here is in doubt as to why I was approached to give this speech in particular. When it comes to paying the price for a story, I would consider myself to be well-informed as to what that price might turn out to be. For anyone here who needs a refresher – myself and two colleagues were caught in a suicide bombing one sunny morning last October, in Baghdad. Michael Roberts, a freelance journalist from Sydney, Australia escaped with minimal injuries and remains in Baghdad. I sustained penetrative wounds to my right thigh and blunt force head trauma, both of which required emergency surgery. It’s hard to describe what it’s like being within the vicinity of a bomb going off. To give you an idea, the shrapnel which sliced its way through my leg impaled itself with such force that it fractured my femur. I’m not going to lie. It’s a terrifying, horrible ordeal, however, my experience, and the price that I paid, paled in comparison to that of the 132 individuals, predominantly women and children, who were killed. And from that number, today, I’m going to selfishly single out one: a very dear friend who I never had the chance to say goodbye to,” Andy said, her voice beginning to tremble.

She looked out at the crowd, and saw a room filled with journalists. Writers and editors, photographers and videographers. Sitting alongside them were their close friends and family members. It was a room with a sense of kinship, and Andy forced herself to take a breath and continue speaking, even if it was about something she still hadn’t come to terms with, and likely never would.

“I walked out of Baghdad to stand here before you all today,” she began, “But my colleague Jaqueline Carrillo, more fondly known as ‘Jacks’, did not. I imagine that you all saw the headlines that day, and in the weeks that followed it. Some of you may have even read my account in the Tribune last month. However, what only a handful of people in this room are aware of is that Jacks was in that marketplace that day at my behest. I had personally requested her assistance on a story, and being the person that she is, she didn’t hesitate to help,” Andy said. She straightened her spine and cleared her throat. “So, as you can imagine, the price of journalism, in this instance, for me, was very high.”

The room was silent as Andy took a breath. “Too high,” she said quietly, shaking her head before continuing. “Jacks would likely disagree with me on that point, and I know many of you may find that statement a little macabre – had she known she was going to die that day, would she still have gone? No, probably not. However, much like every time we walk out of our front doors, we don’t know what is going to happen. In the Middle-East, however, the risk is much greater and this is something I don’t think I truly understood until October 23, 2015. As many of you well know, the golden age of respect for the press is long over. Members of the media are now viewed as commodities in war zones – playthings to be used to incite horror, or leverage ransom. It is now, more than ever, that we all begin to question what our jobs and our careers are worth to us. In the case of foreign correspondence, is leaving your family behind worth it? In the case you’re entering a conflict zone, local or international, are you prepared to put yourself in the line of fire? How do we measure the worth of journalism in the 21st century, particularly when reporting on conflict? What cost is too high? When do we say, enough is enough?” Andy asked the room before continuing.

“Personally, I don’t think I can answer that as clearly as I once could. When I was 16-years-old and working for my High School newspaper, I dreamed of one day standing at the front of this room. I would have run into a burning building and sworn it was worth every scar. Yet, now that I’m here, I find myself asking more questions: How much is too much to sacrifice for a twenty-four hour news cycle where stories are forgotten in an instant? For a population who, even amidst this great technological age and with an almost unlimited access to information, remains largely apathetic to the plights of others out there and at home?”

“These are not new feelings. I would imagine they sound familiar to many of you here today. I know that I discuss these things with my coworkers often, and I remember discussing them with Jacks. On one specific occasion I asked her why we wasted our time. It had been a long day which had yielded few results, and I wondered if it was worth putting the lives of local stringers on the line for so little. All she said in response to my frustration was that ‘it’s our job,’” Andy said. “And for Jacks, the work was everything.”

“I think this is the part where I’m supposed to say that Jacqueline Carrillo died in Baghdad, doing what she loved, but the truth is, Jaqueline Carrillo died in Baghdad doing something necessary. That’s how she viewed journalism, as a necessity. She constantly reminded me of the importance of our job, even when, at times, it seemed futile. She truly believed that there was no price too high to pay for reporting the news. If it reached just one person out there, she had done her job. She was someone who understood the risks, and the price she might have to pay one day. She looked down the barrel of a gun, on multiple occasions, and made the choice to stand her ground, leading to a long and illustrious career in conflict reporting for multiple news agencies. The prize I have sitting here in front of me, presented to the Tribune’s Baghdad Bureau earlier, would not have been possible without Jaqueline Carrillo,” Andy said, looking towards Helena, “And her work will be forever remembered by those she has helped, by those to whom she gave a voice when all else seemed hopeless, and by all who knew and loved her.”

Andy paused, and brushed a still trembling hand along the front of her dress, a tell Miranda would likely reprimand her for later.

“However, today, you will have to forgive me, for all the platitudes in the world will not bring back an amazing woman. Even a Pulitzer, no matter how coveted by us all, is an empty replacement for a much beloved friend. The price of journalism, for Jacks, was her life – and she, along with many others, are happy to pay it. As you leave here today, all I ask is that you take a moment to think about the countless individuals who don’t have a voice in this world, and the selfless individuals who put their lives on the line to ensure that they are heard. Sometimes the price of journalism is high, but, unlike those trapped in situations they cannot control, it is our choice whether or not to pay it.”

Andy stopped and looked out over the crowd, her heart still thumping with adrenaline.

“Thank you,” she finished before stepping back from the microphone.

The room was silent until someone began clapping, and soon the effect rippled throughout the room before a number of people began getting to their feet.

The presenter moved his way back to the podium and Andy stepped aside. She didn’t hear what he was saying as she made her way back to her seat, pausing to shake hands with one or two people as she passed.

When she reached her table, Miranda was standing, along with the girls, and her Mom and Dad. Helena and Mary were seated at the next table, and Mary moved to congratulate and thank her as Andy passed the Bureau’s Pulitzer over to Helena who received it with a muted nod.

The award was an empty victory, and one that neither of them wanted.

She turned back to face her family, and her Mom pulled her into an embrace. “Good work,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.”

“We both are,” her Dad said as he moved to place a kiss on the top of her head.

Miranda was standing a short distance away, and she simply nodded at Andy in acknowledgement. There was no smile on her face, for only Miranda knew what today had cost her.

As the applause died down, Andy pulled away from her Mom and Dad and resumed her seat at the table between Miranda and Cassidy.

As everyone was seated, Caroline leaned around her mother and gave her a big grin and a thumbs up, while Cassidy bumped shoulders with her to show her support.

Miranda sat shrouded in her public persona, but her hand reached beneath the table to clasp Andy’s thigh discreetly. “Are you all right?” she said under her breath as she reached for her wine glass and took a sip, her expression airing none of her concern.

The room was quiet once more and presenter was moving to close the ceremony. Andy just nodded and reached for the hand on her thigh, holding it tight. She could feel the adrenaline ebbing away, leaving behind a strangely hollow feeling.

Miranda put down her glass and turned to look at her carefully, eyes gently assessing all that she could see. “We can leave as soon as it’s over.”

Andy shook her head. “I’ll be okay,” she said quietly.

Miranda watched her for a moment longer before nodding in consensus.

Andy moved to draw her hand away, aware that they were in a room full of journalists, but Miranda caught it, linking their fingers together and giving her hand a comforting squeeze. She released a shaky breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, and the room came back into focus.

As the President of Columbia University thanked everyone, there was the requisite applause before the room broke into murmurs of conversation.

It was over.

People were getting to their feet, and began to move around. Many moved towards Helena and Mary, congratulating them on guiding the team through such a trying time, and just as many steered clear of Andy as she stood with her arm around Cassidy, chatting quietly with Caroline.

As Caroline moved to ask her Grandmother a question, Andy moved to stand closer to Miranda.

“You’d think I had the plague,” she muttered under her breath as she looked at the wide berth their entire table was being given.

“Either that or they’re sufficiently terrified of me,” Miranda said airily as looked around the room.

“I thought the girls might make us more approachable,” Andy said.

“No, pariahs for life it would seem,” Miranda said, her face neutral but the humour in her tone clear.

“Well, better together than apart I suppose,” Andy said.

Miranda glanced at her briefly, the edge of her lip quirking in what might be mistaken for a smile. “Indeed.”

“Are we going home soon?” Caroline said as she walked over. “The food was terrible, and I’m starving, plus these heels are killing me.”

Andy rolled her eyes. The girls may have been turning twenty-one later this week, but sometimes they were still the same eleven-year-old brats who tricked her into walking up a forbidden staircase many moons ago. She chuckled as she took in the glare Caroline directed towards Miranda, no doubt over the shoes she had been forced into this morning upon pain of death.

“Yes, well if you refrained from walking like a line-backer every time you put on a pair of heels, Caroline, then perhaps they wouldn’t destroy your feet,” Miranda said.

Cassidy snorted.

“Oh shut up, Miss Perfect,” Caroline said.

“What birthday are we celebrating this year?” Andy said as she turned towards Miranda, “Their fifth? Or was it sixth?”

“Okay, okay,” Caroline said, holding up her hands in surrender.

Andy laughed, and her Mom moved up behind Caroline and clapped her hands on her shoulders.

“We could take these two home if you would like?” Mom said. “I know you both probably have networking to do, and we wouldn’t want to get under your feet.”

“That would be a first,” Miranda said. The sarcasm was impossible to miss, but it lacked the bite Andy knew would have been present a couple of years ago.

“Well, we could just take Cassidy and leave you here with Caroline,” her Mom said.

“Hey!” Caroline protested, as Miranda simply rolled her eyes in her Mom’s direction.

“Do they ever stop?” Andy sighed as she turned to her Dad.

“Never,” he chuckled.

“Well, regardless,” Andy said, reaching towards her chair for her bag, “We’re all leaving together, and now preferably,” she finished as she grabbed her phone and sent a message to Roy.

“You always were my favourite,” Caroline said with a grin, as Andy shook her head in faux exasperation before giving her a playful push in the direction of the exit.

As her parents and the twins began collecting their things and moving to leave, she looked around and spotted Columbia’s President. She quickly gave him her thanks, before giving a few people a wave and moving back towards Miranda who was waiting for her.

“Ready?” Miranda asked.

Andy took one last look around the room and caught Helena’s eye. She gave her an apologetic look for abandoning her, but Helena just shook her head and mouthed ‘go home’ across the room, before her eyes landed somewhere to her left.

Andy felt Miranda still next to her for a moment and she turned to see her nod her head in acknowledgement, eyes on Helena. The exchange was brief, and what it was about, Andy realized she didn’t really want to know, but as they moved to leave Andy felt the familiar warmth of Miranda’s hand in the small of her back, guiding her forward.

It was the first time she had placed a hand on her in public since their separation, and as they walked out of the room they were met with a row of familiar faces, watching them closely.

Cassidy was staring at her mother’s arm until she moved her gaze to Andy and raised her brow in question.

Andy simply nodded in response.

She watched as a smile broke out on Cassidy’s face, which spread quickly to Caroline’s before both girls walked forward and flanked them on either side.

Andy felt herself breathe easier, and as she pulled Cassidy into her side her looked up to see her Mom and Dad watching them all with a satisfied smile.

Nothing was said as they exited the venue and made their way towards the stretch parked outside, but as Miranda and Caroline followed her parents into the car, Cassidy held Andy back for a moment. The grip was firm on her arm as Cassidy looked her straight in the eye, her heels putting the two of them on the same level.

Her face was the picture of a challenge, and Andy held her gaze before she spoke. “I’m sorry, Cass,” she said.

Cassidy continued to watch her, a gaze so familiar in its intensity that it could have been a twenty-year-old Miranda standing before her. Thankfully it appeared all of the Priestly women were prepared to forgive her to some degree, and Cassidy stepped forward and pulled her into a tight hug.

“Welcome home.”


 

“Are you ready?” Miranda asked as they stood outside an apartment building in downtown Chicago.

“As ready as I’ll ever be for the verbal berating I’m about to get,” Andy said with a self-deprecating smile as she reached for and rang the bell for a third floor apartment.

“Yes?” a voice asked bluntly through the intercom.

“It’s me,” Andy said, “And Miranda’s with me.”

The door to their left buzzed, and Andy pushed it open and they both walked in. They climbed the stairs and tracked down 304 before knocking on the door.

It swung open immediately and Andy stood face-to-face with Khawlah, wearing a face like thunder. “What on Earth were you both thinking!?” she demanded, not even pausing to introduce herself to Miranda as she pulled Andy inside.

“Look, it’s nothing, the Bureau team agreed it was a good place for the prize money, and Miranda just…made up the rest,” Andy said weakly, defending herself.

“It’s $80,000 Andrea!”

“He’ll need books, and assistance with acco—“

“He can get a job!”

“Yes, after college,” Miranda said mildly, completed unfazed by the furious Iraqi having a fit in the middle of the small, but cozy Chicago apartment.

That caused Khawlah to stop and take a breath as she turned to face Miranda. She eyed her up and down, and then glanced between the two of them before apparently coming to a decision. “It’s nice to meet you, Miranda,” she said, her tone much more controlled than it had been when she was speaking to Andy.  “My apologies.”

“No, don’t apologize. Andrea seems to bring out the temper in the best of us,” Miranda said with a smile, not bothering with her usual air kisses and instead holding out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Miranda said as Khawlah reached out to take the proffered hand and give it a firm handshake before Miranda continued. “I heard that you looked out for Andrea and were responsible for keeping her safe. I owe you my thanks.”

Khawlah’s eyes narrowed and she looked at Andy. “Yes, and I’m gone for barely a month and somehow she ends up in a hospital with a piece of metal sticking out of her leg,” she said, shaking her head before turning her glare on Andy, “I thought I told you to be more careful.”

Andy felt the shame crawl into her bones, but she was prepared for it. After what Khawlah had been through, what she had lost, she hadn’t expected her to mince words. Khawlah had always thought Michael’s contacts in the militia weren’t worth the risk – that they were too selective with their information. She didn’t support the militia being given the level of control they had, knowing they would turn around and use it in a bid for control later. ‘A necessary evil, no more,’ she had explained to Andy.

As Khalwah dropped Miranda’s hand, she moved and drew Andy into a hug. “I’m sorry about Jaqueline,” she said softly as she rocked her back and forth a little before releasing her and standing back. “How have you been?”

“I’m fine,” Andy said, “Well, I’m good…better,” she amended as she glanced at Miranda.

Khawlah looked between the two of them and smiled before turning and heading in the direction of the kitchen. “Andrea,” she called back, “Set the table.”

Miranda looked at her aghast. “We had lunch,” she said quietly in protest.

“Find room,” Andy muttered as she moved towards the table and began clearing things off as Khawlah walked out to put down some bowls and spoons, followed by a huge pot of shorba which smelled amazing.

Andy groaned. “God I missed your cooking,” she said as she took a seat, Miranda following suit.

Khawlah began speaking even as she wielded a huge spoon and began dishing up, the time for pleasantries apparently over. “I still want to speak to you both about the money,” she said as she dished them both up a huge portion.

“If it makes you feel any better, it’s a charitable trust,” Miranda said, her eyes on the soup being poured into her bowl. “I get tax breaks, and it won’t just benefit Ammar,” she said as Khawlah slid her bowl across the table and Miranda eyed it warily.

“Ammar is just the first recipient of the ‘Jaqueline Carrillo Education Fund for Young Refugees,’” Andy assured Khawlah as she received her own bowl and immediately dug in. “This is an opportunity for him to get a good education at a time when you’re both still getting on your feet—“ she paused, turning to Miranda, “It’s vegetarian.”

“I can see that,” Miranda said, dipping her spoon in and lifting a small mouthful to her lips as she sent a scowl Andy's way.

“You’re a vegetarian, Miranda?” Khalwah said, surprised.

Andy winced.

“No,” Miranda said, throwing another glare in Andy’s direction, “My Doctor wasn’t happy with my blood pressure this year, so she’s restricted my red meat intake.”

Khawlah looked at Andy, the accusation in her face clear. When she had suddenly decided to take Miranda’s side in everything, Andy wasn’t sure.

The turn of the key in the door was enough to save her from that conversation getting any further, and Ammar stumbled inside, slightly breathless. “I’m sorry I’m late,” he said rapidly, looking directly at Miranda in immediate awe.

He looked taller than the last time Andy had seen him, and more relaxed, even in light of the current situation. He looked happy and healthy and Andy felt a weight lift off her chest at the reassurance it provided her.

“Wash up first and then you can eat,” Khawlah said, and Ammar bolted for the bathroom, glancing once more over his shoulder at Miranda as if to assure himself that she was really there.

“Perhaps you should have left her at home,” Khalwah said to Andy, waving a spoon in Miranda's direction. “We won’t get a straight word out of him now.”

“Nonsense,” Miranda said as she lifted up another spoonful, practically preening at the hero worship.

“You’re impossible,” Andy said with an eye-roll before turning her attention to Khawlah. “How has he been getting along?” Andy asked.

“Well, it’s not easy. He has an accent, it’s hard for him to hide where he is from. But the school is very progressive. He’s gone from worrying about his sexual orientation to worrying about his race and religion,” Khalwah sighed. “But minus the threats, and the fear? It’s much better. He'll weather the storm.”

Andy and Miranda nodded in sync as Ammar tumbled back into the room and approached the table carefully.

Miranda pushed the chair to her left out with her foot, never raising her eyes from her bowl.

As Ammar tentatively took a seat, he kept his eyes on his lap, a slight blush crawling up his face.

“You should come around more often Miranda,” Khawlah said with a chuckle, “I think this is the quietest he’s been since he was born!”

Sitto,” Ammar whined.

Miranda laughed, and Andy shot a sympathetic look Ammar’s way. “You might as well speak to her,” Andy said, inclining her head in Miranda’s direction. “She won’t leave until you do.”

Ammar fumbled around looking for the words, as Miranda put down her spoon and turned to face him, raising her brow expectantly.

“I—ah—thank you?” Ammar said, he cheeks grower pinker by the second.

“The pleasure was all mine,” Miranda said. “Now, tell me your impression of the American school system,” she continued, and with that lifeline Ammar was off, chattering away as always.

Andy watched on as Ammar became more animated, turning in his chair to face Miranda directly. She glanced over to catch Khawlah’s eye.

The older woman leaned over, and spoke to her quietly. “What you’ve done for this family,” she said, “Can never be repaid Andrea.”

Andy shook her head. “I’m just glad you’re both okay.”

“We are,” Khawlah said seriously. “Thanks to you,” she paused, “And Jacqueline.”

Andy nodded, her eyes welling at the sentiment as she nodded before turning back to her lunch.

When they wound up their meal, and the table was cleared, Andy looked to Khawlah apologetically. “I’m sorry it’s such a short visit.”

Khawlah shook her head. “You’re both busy women, and I have students coming over this evening, regardless. I don’t need them all falling over at the sight of Miranda in my kitchen.”

Miranda and Ammar were standing off to the side, speaking about something, and Miranda was nodding her head at a sketch book in the teenager’s hand. Andy watched them as Khawlah came and stood next to her. “You look happy,” she said.

“We’re trying,” Andy replied, “And it’s good. It’s different, but…it’s good. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Khawlah hummed in acknowledgment as she looked at her watch, turning to Andy, a look of slight regret in her eyes. “Traffic is terrible late afternoon, if you want to catch your flight back then you might want to get moving.”

Andy turned to the older woman, taking her in before she pulled her into a rough embrace. Khawlah had been a necessary lifeline during the brief time she had known her, and she knew the woman would be a part of life for many years to come. They were tied together by a young man, and the death of a great woman. Being here made her feel closer to Jacks, and made the cost of that day, the cost of all it, seem more worth paying. “I’ll see you soon, okay?” she said coarsely.

“Of course,” Khawlah said, patting her on the back before pulling back and glancing over at Miranda. “Be good to her,” she said, “She may play a good game, but that is a woman who cares very deeply about everything and everyone she loves. You are very lucky Miss America.”

Andy took a deep breath and nodded. “I know. I don't think I truly did, but now...”

“Good,” Khawlah said, before giving her a shove towards the door, and Miranda. “Now get out of my house before I decide I’m furious with you again,” she said, before looking at straight at Miranda, “You too, Fashion Queen.”

Miranda chuckled at the moniker, and gave Ammar a pat on the shoulder, before turning her full attention to Khawlah. She took a step forward. “Andrea’s description did not do you justice, Khawlah," she said sincerely, "It has been a pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere Miranda Priestly," Khawlah replied. "You’re welcome back any time,” she said.

“I’ll be taking you up on that,” Miranda said with a nod before picking up her coat and her bag. “Are you ready?” she said, looking at Andy.

Andy nodded as she grabbed her things before turning to give Khawlah and Ammar one last embrace. “I’ll see you soon,” she said to Ammar.

“Can’t wait,” he said, as she pulled back and saw his eyes flicker towards Miranda.

“Traitor,” Andy said with a laugh, before they turned and walked out of the door.

“Stay safe!” Khawlah called after them as they walked down the hall and began the descent down the steps.

As they pushed their way out into the sunshine, Andy paused to take a deep breath.

Miranda was two steps ahead of her. The sunlight glistened off her snow white hair as she paused and reached into her bag, unaware Andy had stopped. Andy took a moment to fully appreciate woman who had been there for her every step of the way, when she had asked for it, and even when she had not. Khawlah was right, Miranda cared deeply for those she loved, and Andy was fortunate to still be counted among them.

Miranda pulled her sunglasses from their case. As she pushed them on to her face, she turned to look at Andy expectantly.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked bluntly, her tone as impatient as it had always been since the day she met her.

Andy glanced back up at the building. For the first time in a long time, everything felt like it was in place.

She turned back to Miranda with a smile. “Nothing,” she said, “Let’s go home.”