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Nice Girls Don't

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They are not cheating.

Andy tells herself so, often. She wonders if Miranda does the same. Because they're not cheating. Andy has a live-in boyfriend. Miranda's married. They're both straight. And 'cheating' implies a relationship. Or at least some kind of intent. Or, even failing that, some kind of…well, something more than what they're doing. They're not having sex. They're not touching. They're not even kissing, not really. Well, Andy's kissing, but Miranda never kisses back, so it doesn't count. After all, 'takes two to tango,' Lily always says--but Lily wouldn't understand this. Wouldn't condone this. Even though it's not cheating.

It had started off innocently, two days after the museum benefit. Miranda'd had a meeting, and Andy had gone with her as her second assistant while Emily held the fort back at Runway. And that meeting had marked the first time Andy had ever, ever heard anyone be rude to Miranda Priestly. Not just rude. Really rude. Like, above and beyond the call of duty rude.

It had been some executive snot, younger than Miranda, whose father was a bigshot--a real bigshot--and a great friend of Irv's, so even Miranda couldn't afford to antagonize him. And his son had gloried in his power to condescend to and belittle the famously haughty editrix in front of her assistant. He hadn't insulted her, not outright, he'd said nothing that anybody could object to on the surface; but everything he said, every smarmy, smug remark out of his mouth, every dismissive little gesture, told them both just what he thought of fashion in general, and Runway in particular, and Miranda in very particular.

Andy had often fantasized about somebody taking Miranda down a peg or two. Everybody did. She was surprised by how not-fun it was to witness. How embarrassed she felt for Miranda, how indignant on her behalf, how she longed to put that asshole in his place and tell him he could only be rude to Miranda when he'd earned the right, instead of doing it from atop a pile of daddy's money.

Anyway, Miranda had gritted her teeth, stabbed the man with her eyes, and been excruciatingly polite until the meeting was over and he'd ever so graciously agreed to give her what she wanted. Andy can't even remember what that was, now. It isn't important anymore. What is important is what happened during the car ride back to the office.

The first few minutes had passed in icy silence. Andy kept her eyes focused forward, staring fixedly at the dark privacy glass that separated them from Roy in the front seat. Miranda'd had it put in a couple of weeks ago when she was in one of her moods, and Andy missed being able to stare at the back of Roy's head as a way to focus and calm herself. As it was, her whole body was locked in pre-cringe position. She could practically feel the rage emanating from Miranda's whole body, and cursed that corporate douchebag all over again, because who was Miranda going to take her anger out on? If Andy was lucky, Miranda would spread her mood evenly all over the office, but more likely than not, she and Emily would have to bear the brunt of it.

She dared to glance over at Miranda. Miranda was staring out the window, her cheeks flushed, her lips held in a firm, hard line. Her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap, as if to keep them from shaking. Andy had never seen her so angry, not even when she'd caught her arguing with Stephen. Miranda would have her revenge on the guy sooner or later, Andy knew, but that wasn't helping right now.

As for Andy, to her surprise, she wasn't just feeling fear, or even righteous indignation on Miranda's behalf. She was feeling concern. And sympathy. And--this was going to be her downfall, one of these days, she just knew it--the urge to help, to do something to make it better. Not that she could. The most she could do for Miranda was make sure that her Starbucks was painfully hot and that her Perrier was sufficiently bubbly. Which of course Andy would do, especially today, but she wished she could do something else. Something more. Something like--

"What?" Miranda snapped, rounding on her, her eyes flashing. If Andy hadn't been wearing her seatbelt, her head would have smashed the ceiling when she jumped. Oh shit, what had she done? Had she been speaking out loud or something?

Apparently not, though, because Miranda kept talking. "You've been sitting there staring at me like an idiot. Do you have some sort of problem, Andrea? You obviously have something to say."

Oh shit, oh fuck. This was the part where Andy should say, 'Sorry.' Or, 'No, I don't have anything to say.' Or throw herself out of the moving vehicle.

But she heard her own voice say, instead, "That guy was an asshole."

Miranda's head jerked back, and behind her enormous sunglasses, her eyebrows shot up. Andy felt her own face grow hot. Oh shit, again. She had just overstepped. Had she ever overstepped. Miranda might not like the guy, but he was a bigwig--why else would he be allowed to talk to her that way? What right did Andy have to--

She couldn't shut up. "Sorry," she said. "He was just...really rude. I don't think he had to be that rude. And I saw that it upset you and I just wanted to um."

Miranda removed her sunglasses, looking at Andy as if Andy was about to be committed to the bughouse. "You just wanted to what?" she asked, her voice low and dangerous.

"Say something nice to you," Andy whispered.

Whatever Miranda had expected, it evidently hadn't been that. She blinked, opened her mouth, closed it, and then just looked at Andy blankly.

"It's just, I don't know," Andy said helplessly, "he said all these jerky things, so I wanted to say something nice. That was it. Sorry."

Stupid. She was so stupid. Say something nice? What, was she a kindergarten teacher now? Miranda was going to mock her into orbit. Oh, and then fire her.

"Like what?" Miranda asked.

Andy's turn to blink. "Um?" she said.

Miranda looked--wow. She looked...amused. Which meant that maybe Andy wasn't about to die. "Do go on, Andrea. What 'nice' things would you say to me?" Or maybe death was still an option. There was something positively vicious in Miranda's smile, or--no. Not vicious, not exactly.

Something that was prepared to be disappointed. Miranda was always prepared to be disappointed, and reality rarely failed to live down to her expectations.

Andy, figuring she was doomed from the start, gave up and just mumbled, "You, um, you look really pretty today."

Miranda's jaw dropped, just a little--and then she actually laughed. It wasn't a nice laugh, though, and she followed it with an epic roll of her eyes as she turned to look back out the window.

Conscious of her failure, Andy still felt compelled to say, "Well, no, what I mean is--"

"That's all." Miranda raised one hand without even looking back at her.

That--what--no.

"No, that's not all," Andy blurted, sitting up straight and wondering if she'd been a kamikaze pilot in a former life. Miranda turned to look at her then, frowning thunderously.

"I mean," Andy continued, her heart starting to race even faster, "you've got people saying that every day, okay, and you always look nice, I mean, you know, like, stylish. Of course you do." She gave a horrible little nervous laugh, and Miranda looked at her like she had the plague. "But today you look--you know--" She gestured helplessly at Miranda's delicate lavender blouse and pale green skirt. "Pretty. Like spring. I've thought so all day. And I'm shutting up now."

With that, she mashed her lips shut and turned to stare blindly out her own window, clasping her hands tightly in her lap.

Miranda said nothing, and the ride back to Runway was totally silent. But she spent the rest of the day in a far less evil temper than Andy had expected, and as she went home to Nate that night, Andy reveled in the giddy feeling that she'd dodged the biggest bullet of her life.

Only the next day, Miranda fired another round.

Andy had been assuming that her idiocy of the day before had been forgotten, or at least shoved into the back of Miranda's mind as something unimportant and irrelevant enough to ignore. Then, just before lunch, as she'd finished writing down another never-ending list of instructions, Andy looked up from her seat to see Miranda looking at her from across her desk with a level, considering stare.

"Um," Andy said feebly, looking down at her notes, "was there something else?"

Miranda's lips quirked. "You don't have anything 'nice' to say to me today, Andrea?"

Andy felt her face turn beet red. She'd never been so embarrassed. At least Miranda didn't seem angry, and it could have been a lot worse, but it still wasn't right for Miranda to make fun of her. She'd only been trying to help. "I'm," she said, her voice too soft for her own liking, "I'm sorry if I...I mean, I'm sorry about..."

Miranda sat back in her seat, drumming her fingers against her desk. The look on her face had gone cool and distant again. "That's all," she said.

Oh...? Oh. Shit.

"Okay," Andy said, fumbling with her pad-and-pencil as she stood up. "Right." Before she turned to go, she thought fast, swallowed hard, looked Miranda right in the eye, and whispered, "Your eyes look really blue today."

Miranda blinked. Andy couldn't tell if it was deliberate or not.

"I think it's your blouse," she continued, feeling as stupid as, well, feeling really stupid. "It brings out the color. Um. I'll go call Patrick."

Anyway, that's how it started. Simple. Completely innocent.

Because after that, Andy started telling Miranda one nice thing per day, out of anyone's hearing. Which meant that from the moment Miranda walked through the door, Andy was scrambling to think of something. It was tough, on the days when Miranda was being really horrible. However, no matter how much of a brat she was, Miranda always looked good, and that was enough to start with.

So Andy started off with surface compliments. Stuff Miranda probably heard all the time, but never seemed to mind hearing again, no matter how totally inane it was--and sometimes it really was. Like, "You have nice hands."

But Miranda hadn't even made fun of that. And soon Andy had to expand her repertoire, because she knew Miranda would be less than flattered if Andy had to start repeating herself. One day, she took one look at Miranda in a drop-dead gorgeous pinstripe suit--and then, the first chance she got, she blurted, "That suit makes your figure look amazing, I mean, more amazing than usual." The minute the words left her mouth, she realized she really meant it; her compliments were always sincere (Miranda did have blue eyes and lovely hands), but today she was really rocking that suit, and Andy couldn't take her eyes off her.

Miranda raised her eyebrows and looked at Andy over the rims of her glasses. Andy felt her face go hot as she realized what she'd done. She hadn't come right out and said, "Nice ass, Miranda," but that's what she'd meant, and Miranda knew it, and she knew Andy knew that she knew it.

Then, just for a second, Andy saw Miranda's lips twitch. Less than a second, even, but it was there. Then Miranda said, "That's all," and turned back to her newspaper.

So, paradigm shift. After that, Andy let her imagination go--not wild, exactly, but it got more…free. "You've got a great walk." "Your hair looks fantastic. No, I mean, all the time." And: "I like it when you laugh like you mean it." Andy was still surprised she hadn't been fired for that one, but she rather thought it had actually pleased Miranda. (Not enough to make her laugh, of course, but you took what you could get.)

Innocent. Totally. Weird, yes, but innocent, totally.

Only, after Andy started playing this strange little game with Miranda, she and Nate stopped having sex as often. There were many reasons, of course: they both worked late hours and came home exhausted; Nate didn't like Andy's job, didn't like the way she was changing. Still, they were young, and things didn't grind completely to a halt, especially not after Andy asked Nate, one night, if he'd mind shaving right before making love, so that his cheeks would be soft and smooth.

The day after that, Andy told Miranda that she had beautiful skin. As in, flawless. She'd been saving that one up for a while, and today just seemed to be the day for it.

"We're going to Donna Karan in thirty minutes," Miranda said, without even looking up at her. "Call my car, and be ready."

Andy drooped. Miranda never said anything about her compliments, but usually she at least looked at Andy. Maybe she hadn't been paying attention and hadn't even heard. And this had been a good one, too. Who wouldn't like being told that they had perfect skin?

Well, if Miranda wanted to waste her one nice thing today, that was her business. Andy tried not to sulk as she settled down next to Miranda in the Mercedes exactly thirty minutes later.

Miranda took off her sunglasses and turned to look at Andy. "Flawless?" she asked bluntly.

Andy's mouth sagged open, and then she snapped it shut again. This was the first time Miranda had commented on the compliments since the beginning. "Well…yeah," she said. "I mean, from what I can see. Like…like at the benefit, when you wore that black dress."

"You were looking?"

"It was hard to miss," Andy said weakly. What the hell did Miranda expect, wearing a dress like that, one that had exposed what seemed like oceans of creamy skin: the rise and slope of her shoulders, her throat, her breast? Not even a necklace to break the flow or distract the eye. Wasn't the point for people to look? "I mean…the color really set you off well, too," she added quickly, hoping that might make it sound a little less like Andy had been ogling Miranda for prurient, rather than aesthetic reasons. Because she hadn't been. In fact, she hadn't even been ogling Miranda at all, no sir. That was Emily's department. And Emily was already starting to get plenty mad about the way Miranda was being nicer to Andy than to her, these days, so no more encroaching on Emily's territory.

"You're staring at my chest," Miranda said dryly.

Andy snapped back into reality and realized, with horror, that she was, in fact, staring at Miranda's chest. She hadn't even been aware of it. It was just that Miranda's blouse really was stunning today, low-cut and clinging softly to her in a perfect fit, making hints and promises with no intent to deliver. Andy could see the line of her throat, crossed over by the delicate collarbone, and then down to the faint rise of her cleavage, oh Christ, she squeezed her eyes shut. "Sorry," she whispered. "I couldn't help it." What?! "I mean, I didn't mean to!"

"'Couldn't help it,'" Miranda mused, sounding one step away from laughing like she meant it. "The cry of adolescent boys everywhere."

Andy opened her eyes, deciding she'd meet her fate like a grown woman, even though she was so embarrassed she thought she just might burst into tears. "I'm sor," she repeated, and then stopped at the look on Miranda's face: contemplative. And perhaps a little challenging, too.

Challenging Andy. Miranda liked doing that. But what was the challenge this time?

Andy cleared her throat. "I didn't mean to embarrass you," she tried.

Miranda's lip curled in contempt. "You didn't."

Oh. Right. Yeah, a lowly assistant would have a hard time embarrassing Miranda. Andy tried not to droop again. "Well…good," she mumbled. "Anyway, it's true."

"Which part? Perfect skin, or you couldn't help yourself?"

"All of it!" Andy said, her voice rising nearly to a wail, her composure disintegrating at last. What was she supposed to say? She could only stand so much of this, could only be pushed so far, no matter how superhuman Miranda wanted her to be. "I mean, you don't think I'm making all this up, do you? Like, look--" She reached out and took hold of Miranda's hand, holding it up between them. "Seriously, look at this. This, this is a nice hand! Even when you don't wear any rings. And--"

She stopped, suddenly aware that she just had grabbed a part of Miranda Priestly's body. More, that she had done it without permission. More, that she was still holding it. And finally, that Miranda hadn't jerked away or berated her or done anything but sit there with a slightly stunned expression on her face.

They both stared at Miranda's hand like they'd never seen it before. It was surprisingly warm in Andy's grip. As soft and smooth as she'd wanted Nate's skin to be, when they made love. Andy's stomach swooped and dived to somewhere around her knees. She let go of Miranda's hand, which hovered in the air, abandoned, for another moment before Miranda pulled it back into her own lap.

"Sorry," Andy husked. Miranda said nothing in reply, and then, mercifully, the car stopped.

Andy went home that night and fucked Nate almost through the mattress. She did not ask him to shave.

Then things took a radical turn into the Twilight Zone. Because that one incident should have been enough to weird them both out so much that the whole compliments game stopped entirely. But the next morning, in the office, when Andy brought Miranda her Starbucks, Miranda gave her the look that said, 'Well, what will it be today?'

For the first time, Andy couldn't think of anything to say. She was spoiled for choice. Because, when she walked into the office with the coffee and saw her for the first time that day, Andy realized that Miranda Priestly was the most beautiful woman in the world and always had been and Andy was only now understanding that and she didn't even know where to begin with telling Miranda so, today.

She regarded Miranda with dumb helplessness as she gave her the Starbucks. Gave her. She didn't just put it on her desk, like usual: she reached out with the latte, and Miranda reached out too. Their fingers brushed, and Andy felt her skin get warm all over.

"Your skin's soft," she whispered, so quietly that it was a wonder Miranda could hear her even at this distance. But Miranda did, because something flickered behind her eyes.

"Be ready to go at noon," she said. She didn't say where. Andy gulped, nodded, and fled back to her desk. Emily gave her a malicious little smirk as she sat down, no doubt attributing Andy's fluster to a scolding. Andy didn't care because she had a much bigger problem: noon was still three and a half hours away.

But eventually, after hours and days and ages, it rolled around, and Andy and Miranda rolled away in the Mercedes. Andy's palms were damp with nerves, and she tried to rub them unobtrusively on her skirt.

Miranda, without putting on her seatbelt, turned in the seat to regard Andy attentively. God. Andy hadn't been hallucinating that morning, nor had her subconscious exaggerated. Miranda looked incredible. Andy just sat there for a moment, looking her fill. Now that she'd accepted that Miranda was gorgeous enough to melt her into a puddle just by existing, Andy figured she might as well just give into it and appreciate her every chance she got. It was an…aesthetic thing. Like looking at the Mona Lisa or something.

Miranda extended her hand.

Andy's breath caught. Then she gulped, reached out, and took Miranda's hand in her own for the second time in two days, and tried not to think about how surreal it was to be sitting in the backseat of a car holding hands with Miranda Priestly. Because it wasn't like that. She was just….

Andy stopped thinking, and decided to do what she wanted to do and not worry about why she wanted to do it. Because that was what Runway was about, that was what the magazine sold: the idea of wanting something, and of maybe someday even getting it, and never feeling guilty about what you wanted because that just wasn't fun.

Andy wasn't sure this was fun, either--the way her heart was pounding and the way her blood was buzzing in her ears until she felt dizzy. But without even really thinking about it, she was stroking her fingers over the back of Miranda's hand, the knuckles, the manicured fingernails, turning the hand over to trace the lifeline on the palm.

She touched the inside of the surprisingly delicate wrist, and dared to look up at Miranda's face. Miranda's cheeks were a little pink, but her face was calm and her breath was even. She lifted her eyebrows. Andy swallowed, nodded, and took a chance, stroking up the inside of Miranda's arm until she reached her elbows, where Miranda's sleeves began. Miranda's arm twitched when Andy touched the sleeve, and Andy pulled her hand away in understanding.

(Because that is one of the rules. Andy never touches Miranda on any part of her body that is covered by clothes, and she never moves any of Miranda's clothing out of place. It is, in fact, the rule, and one of the reasons they are not really cheating.)

The next day, they didn't go anywhere together, although Andy did get sent out to pick up some shoes from Philip Lim. When she got back, she brought, as per Miranda's orders, the shoes directly to Miranda's office instead of to the Closet. Emily ran to the bathroom as soon as Andy came through the door, which meant, as Miranda sorted through the array of wedges and platforms and stilettos, that Andy was free to look at Miranda to her heart's content without being afraid that anybody would catch her at it. Not that it would arouse particular suspicion if they did; they'd just assume she'd caught a bad case of Miranda-worship, like Emily. They'd never suspect Miranda allowed--

Miranda did allow. She picked up a shoebox, jerked her head at Andy to collect the rest, and Andy followed her to the table in the corner of her office, out of view of the reception area. They set the boxes on the table, and then Miranda turned to face Andy, placing her body between Andy and anybody who might dare to come in. She tilted her head to the side. The sun caught the cut topaz stones in her necklace.

Andy didn't ask, didn't say anything. Neither did Miranda. Andy just reached out with one hand and stroked her fingers gently over Miranda's throat, sort of shocked at how warm it was. So, Miranda didn't actually have cold reptile blood. Miranda's eyes fluttered, but did not close. They stood there together, for a few moments, as if the rest of the day (and the world) had been suspended for a little while so that Andy could touch her boss for no real reason and to no real purpose except that it made Miranda's pulse go faster at the base of her neck.

Andy dragged her fingertips over that pulse, and then curved her palm around the side of Miranda's neck, thinking against her will of all the Runway employees who would love to get their hands on Miranda Priestly's throat. Her fingers were tingling, and she knew they smelled like Miranda's perfume now. She reached up and barely, just barely touched Miranda's silver hair, careful not to disturb a single strand, mostly hoping for just a hint of the texture and softness.

Miranda inhaled slowly, but deeply. Andy lowered her hand.

"That's all," Miranda said, her voice a little raspy. Andy left.

The next day they were in the car again, and Miranda let Andy kiss her hand, instead of just touch it. Andy was fairly sure that shouldn't seem like such an honor (although Miranda might well fancy herself a queen or empress), but the fact was, as good as Miranda's skin had felt beneath Andy's fingers, it felt even better against her lips.

So that's how it started. And this is where they are today:

In the car, again. It's not that they aren't inventive, it's just that the car, with its tinted windows and divider, really is the most convenient place, because people can't stare at them and completely misinterpret their motives.

Andy concedes it would be easy to do. She must look kind of strange, leaning over Miranda as she gently kisses her exposed throat, expressing her aesthetic appreciation with her lips and her breath, brushing the fall of her hair against Miranda's skin. Nate would never get it, for sure. He doesn't really get Andy's increased appetite, either, because ever since she started touching Miranda, she's been coming home ready for a fuck that he is usually happy to provide. They don't talk about her job anymore. Or his, come to that. They used to talk about everything, but now Andy comes home, they have sex, and then Nate sleeps while Andy lies awake and thinks about Runway and what she hopes Miranda will wear tomorrow.

But Nate's not in this car, thank God, and Andy sighs her gratitude against Miranda's pulse. Miranda shivers. She's been doing that more. When they started this, the touching and the kissing, Miranda was good about keeping her cool, about letting Andy touch her; but soon enough after, she was relaxing into Andy's touch and Andy's mouth like she enjoyed it, and now, the moment they're alone and it's time, Andy can practically see Miranda holding her breath in anticipation.

But they're disciplined. They only do this once a day, for a few minutes a day. It's not like Andy's all over Miranda every chance they get. Because, hello, not cheating. When Andy kisses Miranda now, she keeps her hands off her and only touches her with her mouth; and she never, ever kisses Miranda's lips. She came close, once, without meaning to. She'd been trailing her lips up Miranda's jaw, feathering little kisses as she went, and her lips had just barely grazed the corner of that proud, hurtful mouth. Miranda went rigid, her breath caught, and Andy quickly pulled away, buckling herself back into her seat.

It hasn't happened since. They are very good.

Andy wonders, sometimes, if Miranda would like to kiss her back. She'd never ask, of course. And Miranda has never offered.

Today, as the car begins to slow down, Andy places a final, crowning kiss at the base of Miranda's throat before pulling away and patting down her hair. She's reapplying her lip gloss--which she always wipes off before going anywhere with Miranda now--when Miranda turns to her and says, firmly, "You're coming to Paris with me."

Andy blinks. "Um, but Emily--"

"Is not." And that's that. No arguing will help. Andy knows it's the final nail in the coffin of any friendship she might have been hoping for with Emily. They'd been getting kind of close to one, on the night of the benefit, but ever since then--after Andy came to the rescue, doing what Emily couldn't--everything has been going downhill really fast.

And though Andy feels sorry for Emily, she can't blame Miranda. Andy is better at her job than Emily is, even though she's been around for less time and didn't grow up worshipping Runway and the ground Miranda Priestly walks in her Jimmy Choos. She's learned just as quickly as she promised she would, and now, especially now, nobody is better at anticipating Miranda's moods and whims than Andy is. Including Miranda.

And besides, from the frantic preparations going on all over the office, Andy knows that Paris is a very important week for Miranda. Very stressful, too. Why should she go with Emily, who won't kiss her and tell her how beautiful she is? Miranda's going to need that.

Miranda's husband is also coming to Paris, midway through the week. Andy knows, because she booked his first-class ticket. This is not, she tells herself, a problem in the least. It doesn't have anything to do with…anything.

When they get back to the office, Miranda makes Andy tell Emily about Paris. She listens in from her desk, of course. Andy wonders what her expression is when Emily rushes to the bathroom in tears. She hopes Miranda isn't smiling, but is afraid to look.

Emily calls in sick the next day, which means that Andy is stuck by the phone, covering for her. Miranda is not pleased by this, not at all. Andy hopes and prays that Emily can get it together and get over it before she's actually fired instead of just demoted. She's already decided she'll get as many clothes and shoes for Emily in Paris as she can get her hands on. It's the least, no, the only thing she can do.

In the meantime, she does her usual thing: her best. By now she's made friends at every Starbucks within a three-block radius of Elias-Clarke (and there are a lot of them), and the chief manager at the one across the street is kind of sweet on her, so it's actually not hard to arrange delivery to the building. The coffee arrives a little less hot than Miranda likes, but the sight of a Starbucks employee doing a personal delivery appears to placate her enough to make up for it. The employee, a perky girl Andy recognizes, gives Andy a cheery grin on the way out, which Andy is happy to return. She hopes Miranda notices. It's probably too late to hope that Miranda will figure out that being nice to people can get you what you want, but then again, Miranda seems to enjoy surprising Andy.

She shocks the daylights out of her, for example, about two hours later. Andy is writhing at the desk, legs crossed tightly because she's about to explode from having to pee and there is nobody else to cover the phones. She's never forgotten about the girl who sliced her hand with the letter opener. That's not going to be her. She's not going to fail over something as trivial as bladder control.

Then Miranda, breezing in from lunch, tosses Andy her coat and bag and gives her an impatient once-over. Andy smiles and tries desperately not to look like someone who's about to wet herself. Miranda rolls her eyes, jerks her head towards the hallway, and says, "Make it quick."

Jocelyn, awaiting Miranda in her office, overhears, and gives Andy a look of wonderment. Andy would love to return it, but Miranda is watching, so instead she hurries off to the bathroom, where she proceeds to give many heartfelt prayers of thanks upon finding an empty stall.

When Andy returns, Jocelyn intercepts her before she can get to her desk. "Well," she says, looking impressed. "You're the new 'it' girl around here, aren't you?"

Andy blushes, and for some reason catches herself thinking, But I've never kissed her on the mouth. "I don't really know," she says.

Jocelyn rolls her eyes. "She takes you everywhere. You're going to Paris with us. For God's sake, she just answered her own phone." She gives Andy a long, considering look that isn't anything like Miranda's, but still manages to be unsettling. "I know you did a great thing with that Harry Potter book and all, but be careful. You're not perfect, and you're going to slip up. Make sure the fall isn't too hard."

Then Jocelyn smiles, like she's just been passing on friendly advice, and walks away. Andy stares after her, until Miranda calls, impatiently, "Andrea," and Andy jumps to answer her.

That night she and Nate do not have sex. She tells him she is not in the mood. She is not at all grumpy that she did not get to nuzzle Miranda today. That has nothing to do with it. No, she is still brooding over Jocelyn's words: Slipping. Falling.

Andy has the feeling, deep-seated and scary, that she has already done both, and it's too late to stop now. But doesn't think too much about that, because she knows, some part of her mind knows what she'll find if she tries hard enough. There are some things she doesn't want to know or understand about herself. By contrast, she wants to know and understand everything about Miranda. This is scary too, and Andy doesn't want to think about it either. She stares up at the ceiling and tries to count sheep. She fails.

Luckily, Emily's back the next day. Less luckily, she refuses to speak directly to Andy all day which, given their jobs, is awkward indeed. And least luckily of all, Miranda is out of the office for the entire day. Andy doesn't get so much as a glimpse of her. Also, it's Friday. So that's the weekend.

Which means that by the time Monday rolls around, it's been four whole days since Andy's had Miranda Priestly's perfect skin against her mouth, and she suspects she's going into withdrawal. Like a caffeine addict who's gone too long without coffee, she's jumpy and irritable, and even feels a headache coming on. Nate, she knows, was glad to see the back of her this morning, especially after another sexless few days.

Miranda looks up as Andy trots in. Something that looks like starvation flashes in her eyes. Andy decides instantly that today she will kiss Miranda's forehead, soothe away those irritated, stressed-out lines that had the gall to appear over the weekend. She'll start with the forehead, then move down to the temple, and trail her way over Miranda's cheek, jaw, and throat until Miranda is sighing and tilting her head to give Andy more access and not worrying about anything else.

"Car," Miranda says. It comes out like a croak, and she clears her throat. "In fifteen minutes. And get the proofs from Nigel."

Fifteen minutes seems to take fifteen years, but Andy supposes that Miranda just might need the time to decide where they are actually going to go. Not that she has to explain herself to anyone at the office, but she'll need something to tell Roy. As it happens, she decides on the far side of Chelsea, which is a twenty-minute drive. Andy would wish for more--their best so far has been a forty-five minute jaunt to Yorkville in heavy traffic--but Miranda's got a busy day ahead and can ill afford to take more time. Neither can Andy, who's ass-deep in preparations for Paris. She had no idea there would be so much to do. Miranda's put a lot on her shoulders, very quickly.

Still, Andy takes what she can get, and the moment the car pulls away from the building, she unbuckles her seat belt, slides across the back seat, and--careful to touch Miranda as little as possible--straddles Miranda so that she can get at her forehead. At the first touch of Andy's lips to her brow, Miranda gives a shuddering sigh that flutters hot and damp against Andy's throat. Something tense and wound-up goes out of Miranda then, and out of Andy too, and all Andy feels in that moment is supreme relief. It's working. They're okay now. She kisses Miranda's forehead and temples with a tenderness that feels like it will break her apart inside.

Andy braces herself by pressing her palms against the back of the seat, to either side of Miranda's shoulders. She puts all her weight on her own knees. Her head is bumping the ceiling, but except for her mouth, and the occasional accidental movement, she is not touching Miranda. That wouldn't be right. Thank God the back seat is so spacious. Mercedes makes a nice luxury sedan. Otherwise Andy and Miranda might really be in trouble, through no fault of their own.

Miranda is relaxing, going limp against the seat. Her breath sounds unnaturally loud and harsh in the confined space of the car, but she isn't panting. Not yet. Sometimes she does, and when she does, Andy feels like she's going to faint. She trails light, barely-there kisses down the side of Miranda's face, grazing just the edge of her cheek and nosing her way beneath Miranda's ear, cautiously navigating around the large hoop earring. She wishes, not for the first time, that Miranda's signature style got a little bit less in the way.

Miranda trembles a little. She's sensitive here, just beneath her ear, Andy's learned. She wonders what Miranda would do if Andy stopped kissing and dared to lick. Not much. Just a little. She seriously considers finding out, and then she sees it.

A bruise. A small, mouth-shaped bruise right beneath Miranda's ear, right where she was about to kiss. Andy knows she didn't leave it. She never, ever leaves marks, and besides, the bruise is fresh. Like Miranda just got it last night. It's discreetly placed--if Andy hadn't been nosing around herself, she never would have seen it. But she was, and she has. And now, for no good reason at all, she feels sick.

Miranda shifts restlessly, inquisitively, as if wondering why Andy has gone so still. Then she actually makes a bereft, "Uhn?" noise as Andy quickly pulls away, sits back down in her own seat, and fastens her seatbelt with shaking, icy hands.

Andy doesn't know what to say, or do, or how to explain. She knows, she knows she has no right to be upset. She's sure that Stephen left that bruise, because he's Miranda's husband and Miranda doesn't cheat on him. And so what, so what, why shouldn't Miranda go home and have sex with her husband? That's what he's for, isn't it? And doesn't Andy do the very same thing with Nate? That's not what this is about. Not at all.

Andy needs to get over this, fast. As in, right now. As in, five seconds ago. And she can't.

Looking completely bewildered, and not a little annoyed, Miranda reaches up to touch her neck where Andy had been kissing her. She brushes her fingers over the bruised spot, winces a little--it must still be tender--and blinks. She goes pale, then red. Roy puts on the brakes, and Andy realizes they've arrived at wherever it is Miranda wanted to go.

Miranda gets out of the car without a word. She does not tell Andy to follow her. Andy waits, silently, in the back seat, trying to calm her hammering heart, trying to dispel the hard, miserable lump in her throat.

No right. She has absolutely no right. She has no right to care that somebody else apparently knows about that spot that makes Miranda pant and shiver. Hell, Stephen probably knows about all the spots that make Miranda do that, much better than Andy does or ever will. And that's okay. That's his fucking job, to make Miranda happy like that, just like it's Andy's job to make her happy in the office. That's it. Andy accepts that. She does.

Miranda gets back in the car about fifteen minutes later, holding a manila folder full of something that Andy doesn't care about, although she does wonder why she wasn't sent in to fetch it herself. Miranda gives Andy a quick look, and Andy manages to give her brightest smile in return. She tries to look chipper and helpful and competent, like the good assistant she's worked so hard to become. Miranda's own expression is completely inscrutable.

They say absolutely nothing on the ride back to Runway. For the rest of the day, any orders Miranda has for Andy go through Emily, who can scarcely contain her glee at this obvious evidence of a falling-out. Andy spends the day being so perfect it makes her teeth hurt, doing everything Miranda-through-Emily tells her to do, to the letter. This, this is her job, and she has to do it well because it's a gateway to another job, one that's about what she really wants to do with her life, and she can't forget that. She's let herself forget that. Bad idea.

Slipping. Falling.

She slips and falls that night, in fact, when she gets home and finally lets go of all her fury and frustration. She and Nate have a screaming fight, the kind they've never had before, which ends with him storming out of the apartment and spending the night somewhere else while Andy drinks three glasses of wine on an empty stomach, and wakes up with a vicious headache and in an even more vicious mood.

The headache, and the mood, might explain why Andy--who has been so good until now--does something truly terrible.

Miranda takes her morning Starbucks and, without looking at Andy, says, "We're all going to Calvin Klein at two. Remind everyone."

Oh hell, Andy'd forgotten about that. Today's a preview day. There's nothing she needs to do but tag along, and everybody else is already completely ready, she's sure, but it means once again sitting in a car with Miranda--while half the office is on their tail, no less. Nobody can see through the Mercedes' windows, of course, but the very idea still makes Andy feel self-conscious. Not that she should.

"And go get my steak at noon," Miranda adds, as Andy heads out of the room.

Only Miranda's steak isn't ready at noon. The chef apologizes profusely and says it'll only be twenty minutes. Andy leaves the bad news with Emily and then has to decide how to kill twenty minutes because, no matter how mad Miranda gets, Andy still can't make a grill any hotter or make a steak cook any faster.

Which is when she does the terrible thing.

Nate's restaurant is just down the street.

His eyes go flat and hard when he sees her coming in, but he still follows her outside, to the back of the restaurant. And he still listens as she says, falteringly, "I'm so sorry about last night. I was way, way out of line. It was totally my fault. I don't have any excuses." His eyes soften when she touches his chest. His mouth opens when she kisses him.

And his back hits the wall while she rises and falls on him, squeezing around him, her skirt rucked up around her waist and his pants down around his ankles. They can't take long, anybody could see, they could be arrested and that's the end of both their careers. Andy remembers the way Miranda sighs, and comes with a cry that she muffles in Nate's neck.

They part with a kiss. Andy feels filthy, in more ways than one. And, even worse, sated. She needed that. When she returns to the restaurant, Miranda's steak is just coming off the grill. It smells fantastic, but Andy still feels nauseated.

At two o'clock, Miranda's car pulls away from Elias-Clarke. Miranda's blouse is alluringly draped so that her shoulders are nearly completely exposed, but not much else. The cut flatters her. Andy's chest aches as she looks her fill. She knows what will happen next.

It happens. Miranda gives her an imperious look, the kind that says, 'Do you expect anything to have changed? Now come here.' She thinks she's going to brazen her way through this. Andy scoots in a little closer. Just close enough so that Miranda can smell her.

And then Miranda does. She smells the remains of a back alley, of sweat, of the come that dried on the inside of Andy's thighs and that she hasn't bothered to wash off. Her whole body goes completely, entirely still, in a way that Andy has never seen before. Her nostrils twitch, her lips pinch like she just sucked on a lemon, and she turns away to stare out the window. Andy wonders what she sees, as she buckles her own seatbelt.

Miranda hardly says anything during the whole preview. She gives terse nods, but at least she doesn't purse her lips. Poor Calvin doesn't seem to know what to make of it all. Andy doesn't care. It's all she can do to act casual, to pretend like she's paying attention, when she knows that Jocelyn, sitting next to her, can smell the exact same thing Miranda smelled in the car. She hadn't thought about that. Jocelyn's good-natured nudge and wicked smile, when they all file out of the door, is enough to make Andy want to throw up.

She's never used Nate before. She doesn't think she's ever used anyone before--not like that, certainly. Nate didn't deserve that. Miranda didn't deserve that. Andy's never felt so guilty about anything in her life.

Miranda's daughters have a recital that afternoon, so she's out of the office for the rest of the day. "For this relief, much thanks," Nigel quips, and everybody gets on with their jobs with a laugh. Except for Emily, who gets on with a scowl, and Andy, who gets on in a daze.

She is very, very nice to Nate that night. By the time they go to sleep (without having had sex), Andy has almost convinced herself that it wasn't an act, that she really does care enough about Nate to consider his feelings, instead of just being motivated by guilt. He's a great guy. A wonderful boyfriend. Everybody knows it, everybody tells her so. She's very lucky.

The next day is warm and sunny. That does not stop Miranda from showing up at the office covered from neck to knee. She's wearing a silk scarf at her throat, above a blouse with a high collar and long sleeves. The message is loud and clear: if an opportunity arises today, Andy still won't have any way to take advantage of it, because today Miranda does not want to be touched, or kissed, or complimented. She might not ever want that again. Andy refuses to cry, because she's not a big baby or anything, and she's the one who got herself into this, after all, by not being able to accept gracefully what she was given. By being greedy.

Miranda makes up for the respite everyone enjoyed yesterday. Nobody can do anything right, not even Nigel. Emily's face is perpetually red and on the verge of tears just from when Miranda looks at her. By lunchtime, everybody's walking around rubber-kneed and one person has resigned. Andy tries to keep her head down and her chin up, getting Miranda's coffee hot enough to burn a hole through her tongue, and arranging the magazines on her desk at precise half-inch intervals. She's the only person Miranda leaves alone. In fact, Miranda doesn't even look at her, or acknowledge her existence in any way.

It's only four days until they leave for Paris. Andy wonders if Miranda will actually change her mind and decide she wants Emily to go instead. But the day goes by, and Miranda doesn't say anything of the kind. Andy realizes, then, that she won't. For whatever reason, Miranda won't tell her to stay behind. There is something she still wants from Andy. There is so much Andy still wants from her.

Late that afternoon, Andy takes her courage in both hands, makes a quick run to Starbucks, and brings back a latte for Miranda that she paid for with her own money. Miranda looks up from her desk with a frown as Andy offers it to her. "I didn't ask for that," she snaps.

"I know," Andy says softly. Miranda looks at her, then, not the coffee, and her eyes narrow into deadly slits. "I'm sorry," Andy says, and clears her throat. Miranda just keeps looking, eyes still slitted. Andy sets the coffee down on the desk with a shaking hand and says, "I'm, I'll just, bye." She knows that Miranda watches her leave. She doesn't know what the hell she'd been trying to accomplish with that, beyond a simple, pathetic apology (when Nate deserves one far more, really), but she doesn't think it worked.

That night, after work and before the book arrives, Andy and Nigel nip out to a bar. Andy's surprised, and a little wary, that Nigel's sought her company, but he doesn't seem to have any particular agenda as they sit there and sip: a beer for her, vodka on the rocks for him.

"Hell of a day," he says.

"Yeah, I guess," Andy replies. "Aren't they all, though?"

"Some of them. So, you all prepped for Paris?"

"Is anybody?" Andy asks, trying for a smile. "Yeah, I think so. I've been talking to the hotel nonstop, trying to set things up. It's gotten to where I can practically hear the concierge roll his eyes when I try to say something in French."

"She's given you a lot of the luncheon planning as well, hasn't she?"

Andy shudders. "Yes." She hadn't expected that, when the job devolved on her. She wonders if telling Emily about the sheer amount of work Miranda's dumped on her would help mend things between them, and thinks better of it instantly. Nigel gives her a long, silent look, until Andy sighs and says, "What?"

"You're making it, you know," Nigel says quietly. "You've surprised me, I'll admit it. But she's never been so taken with an assistant before."

Andy feels herself blushing and thinks that Nigel doesn't know the half of it. Unless Miranda really has been canoodling with assistants in cars and darkened corners for years, which Andy doubts, given how they started. "Are you gonna give me a warning now?" she asks, trying to laugh. "Jocelyn did. She said I had a long way to fall."

Nigel rolls his eyes. "Jocelyn. God. You want to talk about a no-brainer…still, she has a point." He sips his vodka. "You'll want to watch yourself. But I really just wanted to say you've been doing well. You might have noticed she likes keeping you close," he adds dryly.

Andy is really, really glad the light in the bar is so low, because now her blush is practically a medical condition. "Um…well, I'm glad to be useful…" she says faintly. "I, I feel kind of bad for Emily, though. I never meant to--"

Nigel gestures impatiently. "Stop that. Forget about Emily. You can't afford to care about Emily." He gets a very serious look on his face. "You can't afford to care about Miranda, either."

Andy almost chokes on her beer. "What?"

If Nigel is surprised by her reaction, he makes no sign. "Look, it's easy to do. I should know. She's been grinding me beneath her heel for almost twenty years and I keep coming back for more, because," he grimaces, "I know she needs me, even if she doesn't. She uses people up, Andy. Don't let her use you. Don't become too indispensable. You want to make it out of here eventually, don't you?"

Andy gulps, and remembers what Miranda's skin tastes like. Of course she wants to make it out, of course she wants her own life. "You talk like Runway's some kind of cage," she hears herself say.

"The most stylish cage in the world, darling," Nigel replies lightly, and buys Andy another beer. By the time she gets home that night, Nate is fast asleep, and she's grateful.

She lies awake thinking about Nigel's words. She wonders what he'd say if he knew it's already too late. She cares about Miranda Priestly, and she's closed and locked the cage door behind herself. And she's all alone in there.

Or so she thinks until tomorrow, when Miranda summons her to accompany her to Anne Klein. It's a legitimate errand, this time--it's been on Miranda's calendar for weeks. So Miranda's not making up excuses to take the car, and it probably doesn't mean anything that today Miranda is wearing a rather low-cut blouse. Besides, she's got a blazer on over it, and she doesn't even seem to notice Andy as they get in the car. Andy tries, for the millionth time, to tell herself that it is a relief, a good thing, that their little game is over. It could never have led to anything but trouble in the end.

So it's a complete mystery to Andy why, as soon as the car doors shut and Roy pulls away from the curb, why she leans forward without so much as a look of permission from Miranda, and closes her eyes, and presses her lips to Miranda's pulse, inhaling deeply the remembered scent of Miranda's perfume. It's even more of a mystery why Miranda arches into her touch with a soft, but unmistakable "Oh!" and then, for the first time, touches Andy, sliding her hands up and down Andy's back. And Andy will never, for the life of her, figure out the electric joy that jolts through her as she presses Miranda back against the seat and is not pushed away.

Now she does what she wanted to do, before. She kisses and nuzzles behind Miranda's ear, in the spot that always makes Miranda shiver, and this time she doesn't look for any hickeys because she doesn't care, she doesn't want to know. She licks. Delicately, gently. Miranda gasps. Andy has to move her mouth, then, because if she lingers she'll make a mark of her own and she can't do that. She kisses at the juncture between Miranda's throat and shoulder, at the gap between her necklace and her blazer. Miranda's already shaking like a leaf.

Andy opens her mouth, bares her teeth, and scrapes them gently against Miranda's skin. Miranda goes stiff, but when she realizes Andy isn't actually going to bite down, she makes a little sound that is very like a moan. Andy drags her teeth against the side of Miranda's neck, pausing for tiny little licks here and there, hot darts of her tongue. Miranda's been holding on to her with both hands, but now she moves a hand between them. Andy pauses, afraid Miranda's going to shove her away, but then she goes hot all over as she realizes that Miranda is unbuttoning her blazer. Another first. It falls open, revealing the low-cut blouse, revealing more skin for Andy.

Andy wants to moan too, but she can't find the breath to do so. She keeps her eyes open as she kisses her way down, feeling Miranda panting beneath her, and watching Miranda's skin blush and grow goosebumps in the wake of her mouth. The soft rise of Miranda's breast is exquisite beneath her lips. Andy hates Stephen. She'd hate anyone who had the opportunity to see and taste and touch all of Miranda, and spent large portions of the day not actually doing it.

She kisses along the very edge of the blouse, as close as she dares to moving the cloth aside. She can't do that, though, not even now. Those are the rules. Even if Andy doesn't want to keep them for her own sake anymore, she has to, for Miranda's. Whom she cares about. Too much.

The blouse really is low-cut. Andy can tell where Miranda's nipple is, can feel it brushing against her cheek and chin, pebbling against the material and the thin lacy bra Andy can see underneath. No wonder she has a blazer on. Miranda's breath catches and shatters, her nails digging into Andy's shoulders as Andy lingers. Andy glances up. Miranda's eyes are closed, her head is thrown back against the seat, her pulse is pounding visibly at her throat while she writhes under Andy's mouth. She is magnificent, perfect. Andy groans--Miranda shudders at the sound of it--and then Andy moves, lightning-fast, to Miranda's other breast, prepared to lavish the same treatment on it, just to be fair.

But as soon as she opens her mouth, bestows the first lick, something happens. Miranda goes rigid. Her back arches into Andy, away from the seat, and her breath escapes her in a shocked-sounding, desperate little whimper that ends in "Ah, ah, ah!" Then she slumps back against the seat, panting and wide-eyed.

Andy realizes that she has just made Miranda come. The knowledge is enough to--she doesn't come herself, not exactly, but she feels a hard, pleasurable throb between her legs, and has to close her eyes briefly just to hold on to some last degree of control. Jesus Christ.

Before she can do something really stupid, she slides back into her own seat, pulling away from Miranda, who's covered her eyes with one shaking hand while she breathes deeply and tries to pull herself together. Her blazer's hanging open and her blouse has slipped off one of her shoulders, revealing a bra strap. Her throat is red. Her hair is mussed from the way she tossed her head against the seat when she climaxed.

The car begins to slow down.

Andy gasps, knowing they must look a sight. Miranda certainly does. Anybody who sees them now will know what they've been doing. She quickly does the usual hair-pat, while Miranda sits up, still trembling, and buttons her blazer with clumsy fingers. She smoothes her own hair back, adjusts the blazer again. Then her hand darts out to the nearby box of Kleenex, and she grabs a tissue, mopping her chest with it as if seeking to erase all traces of Andy's mouth. She's not meeting Andy's eyes.

Andy's stomach goes cold. But then the car stops, and Miranda opens the door without waiting for Roy. She practically flees inside the building, leaving Andy to catch up. Andy, aware of Roy's curious eyes following her, hurries after Miranda, only to see a glimpse of her silver hair as an elevator door closes on her.

It seems to take forever before Andy hears the 'ding' of the next available elevator. And when she gets off on the fifteenth floor and heads in to the Anne Klein offices, the receptionist stops her. "Excuse me," she says with a polite smile, "are you Miranda Priestly's assistant?"

"Yes," Andy says, clutching her notepad close to her chest.

"She said for me to tell you to go back to Runway and then send the car back here for her."

"I--" Andy didn't really just hear that. "What?"

The receptionist shrugs. "That's all she told me. But the meeting's over in an hour, so…"

So Andy better hurry back if she wants Roy to be able to return for Miranda in time. Only it doesn't feel like she's hurrying, because her legs seem to be made of lead, along with the rest of her. Especially her heart. However bad she felt after using Nate, it's nothing compared to how bad she feels now, and this time she doesn't even know how she's screwed up, just that she has. Worse than before.

She's probably going to get fired. Maybe that's for the best. She's not sure she'll ever be able to look Miranda in the eye again.

Still, there's no sense in leaving a mess behind her. She'd at least like Miranda to remember her as being halfway-competent at her job. So when Andy gets back, she puts her game face on so well that not even Emily can see she's upset, and spends the rest of the afternoon on the phone with snooty French caterers. This is one case where being nice has gotten her absolutely nowhere, and she's given up on it. No, Madame Priestly does not want crepes. She wants baba au rhum. Is that really so hard to understand? Parlez-vous anglais?

An hour later, Emily gets a call. Andy's fingers pause in their typing as she hears Emily say, "Hello, Miranda?" Then Emily blinks. "Oh. All right, then. I'll just adjust--hello?" She blinks again and sets the receiver back in its cradle before darting a glance at Andy. "She's not coming back to the office this afternoon."

"Oh," Andy says, before she realizes she ought to smile, and does. "So…vacation time, right?"

"Why did she send you back?" Emily asks bluntly.

"I have no idea. She's in a weird mood." At least that's completely honest.

"She's been in one," Emily mutters. "My God, it's like walking on eggshells. Well, more than usual." In spite of everything else, something in Andy perks up and revives at this faint sign of camaraderie from Emily. It doesn't last, though, and Emily turns back to her computer without another word.

It figures that the book doesn't arrive at Andy's desk until late that night. Even later than usual, that is--almost eleven. Still, she doesn't mind as much as she should. Nobody else is in the office, and if she went home, she'd have to face Nate. It's kind of nice to sit here with nothing to do but hang out and try really hard not to think. It's almost a disappointment, in fact, when the book arrives.

Andy mounts the steps to Miranda's townhouse with a heavy heart. This is one place where they've never done it, never tried to snatch a moment alone. It's not Runway. It's the home Miranda shares with her husband. Andy has no place here, except between the front door and the hallway table. She hangs the dry-cleaning in the closet, places the book on the table exactly between two potted orchids (she thinks, as a result of this job, she might be developing OCD), and turns to leave when she hears Miranda's voice calling, "Andrea!"

Andy jumps. Oh shit. Is Miranda going to fire her here and now? Well, that might be okay. In fact, it's very considerate of Miranda not to make her come into the office tomorrow, only to be dismissed in front of everyone. Praying she won't cry, she picks the book up again and heads down the hallway, where Miranda suddenly appears out of nowhere, heading towards her.

She isn't alone. Stephen is following her, looking angry. "We weren't finished--" he says, and stops talking when he sees Andy, who's frozen to the spot.

"Oh yes we are," Miranda says, her voice cold and flat as she takes the book from Andy's hands. "Andrea, come with me. We need to discuss Paris."

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Stephen says. Andy doesn't know where to look. Not at either of them, that's for sure. "Isn't this what I was just talking about?"

"I. Said. Later," Miranda growls, and then Andy feels Miranda's hand on her elbow, tugging her down the hallway. She avoids looking at Stephen as she follows Miranda through the kitchen, down another hallway, and towards what appears to be a study. There's a wall of nothing but bookshelves, and a computer, dark and silent, sits in one corner.

Stephen follows them. Andy really wants to be out of here. She doesn't like knowing that Stephen exists, much less that he exists like…this. And Miranda's still got her by the arm. Andy feels like her elbow is burning from the touch.

"Miranda--" Stephen begins.

Miranda pretty much tosses Andy into the study ahead of her, and gives Stephen a glare that could melt lead before shutting the study door in his face. And locking it.

"God damn it," Stephen yells, but after a moment, they hear his footsteps stomping back down the hall. Andy, who's stumbled away from the door, realizes she is trembling.

Miranda looks at her for a moment. There is something in her eyes that looks like it's eating her alive. For all that she's the one who dragged Andy in here, she looks like a cornered animal. They're standing too close together.

"So," Andy says faintly, wishing she still had the book just so she could hold tight onto something, "Paris?"

Miranda blinks and shakes her head, like she's coming out of a reverie. She sets the book down on a settee. "Did you get in touch with the patisserie?" she asks, her voice hoarse.

Andy nods. "I had to yell at a couple of people, but I think they got the message." She tries a smile. "I'm definitely not popular over there right now."

Miranda doesn't look like she's heard a thing. "And the, the invitations?"

Andy's worried now. The invitations for the luncheon were issued weeks ago. By Emily, in fact. "They're fine," she says carefully. "I mean, they're all done." Something else worries her too: the realization that, more than anything, she wants to kiss that look of confusion off Miranda's face.

It must show in her eyes. Miranda tilts her head back and takes a deep breath.

"Are you going to fire me?" Andy blurts.

"No," Miranda snaps, and then looks surprised, like she'd actually meant to say yes. Maybe she had.

"Oh," Andy says, when Miranda doesn't volunteer anything else. "Okay." She gulps, and adds softly, "I messed up, didn't I? I'm sorry." Miranda stares blankly at her. Andy keeps talking, even though she has no idea what is going to come out of her mouth next. "I'll, um, I mean…I didn't mean to--"

Without warning, Miranda snaps into motion. She reaches out, grabs Andy's shoulders, hauls her forward, and kisses her, savagely, wrapping her arms tightly around Andy's waist like she's afraid Andy will wriggle free and run for the door.

Andy doesn't. How could she? Miranda's lips are even warmer and softer than the rest of her skin, even if, right now, they press punishingly against Andy's own mouth. She needs this, she must need this.

Like always, Andy gives Miranda what she needs. She cups Miranda's face in her hands, moving her own lips gently, forcing Miranda to slow down. She reaches out with her tongue, stroking into Miranda's mouth so delicately, as delicately as she'd licked her shoulder…had it really only been this morning? And it's perfect. It's the best kiss she's ever had. Miranda moans softly, and Andy starts praying that her knees will keep holding her up.

Once Miranda seems satisfied that Andy is cooperating, and isn't going to run away or cry for help like a damsel in distress, she pulls away, panting for air. She presses her forehead to Andy's for a moment, and then bends and kisses Andy's throat, just as Andy's been kissing her for weeks. Andy tilts her head to the side and sighs, rubbing her nose into Miranda's hair, which smells very nice indeed. She can't think beyond the way Miranda's body is pressed so tight and warm against her own. There are no words for how good it feels. She wants this more than she's wanted anything in her life, more than she's ever wanted to be a star editor or Nate's girlfriend or the perfect assistant or anything else she's ever wanted, ever.

She wants Miranda. And they are so cheating.

Then Miranda speaks, muttering against Andy's throat, her breath warm and damp. "I couldn't concentrate. At Anne Klein. Or Calvin Klein or…" She kisses Andy again, and moans. "I can always concentrate. This, this isn't good." Andy can't speak. She slides her hands up and down Miranda's back, not sure if she's trying to excite, or soothe, or both.

Miranda shivers, and then pulls back, letting go of Andy and stepping away. Andy feels abandoned, bereft, even though Miranda's standing right in front of her.

"I'm married," Miranda breathes, her voice hardly audible. She's looking at Andy, but doesn't seem to see her. "I have two children."

Andy feels it like a blow to the solar plexus. She tries not to double over, because that would just be ridiculous. "I have a boyfriend," she hears herself saying stupidly, like she hasn't already done her best to rub Miranda's face in it.

Miranda twitches at the words. "I'd…heard that." She draws a hand through her hair, dragging it back into shape. "So."

"Right," Andy says, past the lump in her throat. They look at each other. Miranda's eyes are full of misery and longing. It's horrible to see. Andy can only imagine what her own face looks like.

"I'll stay for Paris," she says, her heart breaking a little more with every word. Now is a fine fucking time to figure out that she is heart-stoppingly in love with Miranda Priestly, and, for the icing on the cake, that Miranda Priestly is in love with her too. "I mean, I've made all the arrangements." Miranda has a dawning look of horror on her face, as if she's figured out where this is going. "But um, after that, I'll quit."

"You can't quit!" Miranda snaps, looking as if she is not prepared to be reasonable about this at all. "You--I was going to make you first assistant."

Andy might be touched, except Miranda's obviously made that up on the spot. Plus--does she think it will work? Andy gestures wildly between their bodies. "I can't stay," she says.

"Don't be absurd," Miranda hisses. "We…we're not animals, for God's sake. We can control ourselves--"

"Oh, yeah," Andy says, before she can stop herself. Miranda straightens up, her eyebrows rising in outrage, like she has a right. "Sorry," Andy mumbles, although she's only spoken the truth. "I'll stay for Paris," she repeats. "I'll take care of everything."

"Everything," Miranda says, shoulders slumping in something that looks much too much like defeat for Andy's liking. "Yes. You are very good at taking care of everything." She closes her eyes.

"Are you going to stop me?" Andy whispers, because she needs to know. She needs to know if Miranda will try to torpedo her chances at finding other gainful employment.

"No," Miranda says without opening her eyes. "Now please leave."

Andy leaves, hoping like hell that she won't run into Stephen on the way out of the house. Thankfully, she doesn't. She gets into the waiting car--Roy has been very kind about sticking around to drive her home, he likes her, because she's nice--and lowers her head into her hands and cries her eyes out. She can't help it. She feels totally ridiculous, like she's in a bad movie, but she realizes now that those bad movies are real in a way she's never understood before. Heartbreak feels like this. And she needs to cry. She suspects it won't be the last time.

Then, when she's all cried out for the moment, she digs around in her bag for the Klorane eye-pads, and wipes her eyes and cheeks, watching the mascara and eyeshadow coming off in long streaks. She's heard the girls at Runway refer to applying their makeup as 'putting their faces on.' So she supposes she's taking hers off. She almost wishes she could: wipe off her face, start all over again as somebody else. Somebody who's never even heard of fashion magazines, much less worked at one.

Nate's still awake when she drags herself through the door, to her surprised dismay. She'd hoped for the chance to have a glass of wine in the dark, and then to slip quietly into bed while he slept peacefully on. But he's sitting up in bed, reading a book--probably Voltaire, he's into Voltaire right now--and waiting for her. He grins when she closes the door behind her. "Hey. Look what the cat dragged in."

"Hi," Andy says, trying to smile, glad she got rid of her eye makeup. Hopefully she got it all, so that Nate won't see any evidence of her tears. She'd forgotten to put a mirror in her bag, and she doesn't want to deal with any awkward questions.

"Glad you're back," Nate says. "I was about to go to sleep. But I thought you'd be interested in this." He holds up the book. It's not Voltaire; it's Kant. "Remember Zuckert's class, junior year? When you and I couldn't stop talking about this thing? I was re-reading it, and it just came to me--" He stops, and his eyes go wide as he looks at Andy, hovering in the doorway.

"What?" Andy asks. "What came to you?"

Nate's eyes just keep going wider. A line appears between his eyebrows, and his lips curl back in something that looks like disbelief, or disgust.

"What?" Andy demands, feeling her spine go stiff with fear.

"Did you know," Nate says, his voice faint, "that you've got lipstick on your neck?"

Andy gasps, and reaches up to touch her throat before she can stop herself. Fuck. Oh holy fuck.

Her reaction tells Nate all he needs to know. "Oh my God," he says. "Oh my God." He scrambles out of the bed.

Andy takes an involuntary step back as he heads for her, but he stops without touching her. "I don't believe this," he says. Then he barks out a laugh, and it sounds terrible. "No. You know what? I do believe it. Oh my God," he repeats.

"Nate," Andy begins, swallowing hard. "No, it's…it's not…"

"Not what it looks like? Not somebody else's lipstick? You somehow wound up making out with your own throat?"

"Nate--"

"How long has this been happening?" he yells. "All those late nights--"

"No!"

"Telling me you were waiting for that fucking book, or having a drink with that Nigel guy, or whatever, and you were--"

"No!" Andy screams, not caring that she's probably just woken the neighbors. "Nate, it's not like that!"

"Then tell me what it was like!" Nate's getting even louder than she is. "Was it good, huh?" His voice is going raw with pain. "You telling me you like women, now? When'd you figure that out?"

Andy grabs her own head, clutching at her temples. This night cannot get worse. If a nuclear bomb hit New York right now, the night still couldn't get any worse. "I don't like women. It's…it was a mistake. It only happened once, and nothing really happened, it was just a kiss--" Lots of kisses. Every chance they got. She knows that now. "I'm sorry," she says, knowing she's not apologizing for the kiss or the lipstick, but for the betrayal she's been committing for so long without admitting it to herself. "I'm so sorry, Nate."

"I am too," he says. "You know what? I bet if I thought real hard about it, I could guess whose lipstick that is." Andy freezes. "Yeah," Nate says, seeing this. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I guess you really will do anything she says."

"No," Andy says.

"Did she make you?"

"I'm quitting my job," Andy says desperately. "I told her so tonight. I'm staying for Paris and then--"

"What? I'm sorry, did you just tell me you're going to Paris with her? After you come home with her lipstick all over you--that's supposed to make me feel better?" Nate storms back to the dresser and flings open a drawer. "I am getting out of here. I mean, I shouldn't be. You cheated, you should be the one who has to sleep on somebody's couch, but I gotta get out."

"Nate," Andy whimpers, feeling like she's about to fly apart into a million pieces.

"Shut up," Nate says, grabbing clothes and stuffing them into a duffel, apparently at random. "Just shut the hell up, okay, Andy? Oh, I'm sorry. Ahndraya. Isn't that what she calls you?"

Andy can't speak. And what feels like five seconds later, the door's slammed shut behind her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. So very ex. That was the end, right there.

She flops back down on the bed, into the spot Nate left warm behind him. "Oh God," she breathes, staring up at the ceiling. The sensation of flying apart, of hysteria, has already passed. Now she feels numb. So much has happened in the last hour that she can't even begin to process it. Only--and she's sure this can't be right--she sort of feels relief, too.

That was the end, right there. And maybe it should have ended long ago. Maybe it's for the best.

Nobody's going to take her side. Nate's going to have everyone in his camp, especially if he tells their friends that Andy cheated on him with Miranda, of all people. Andy supposes she can always deny it, of course, but they'll know the truth. It'll be in her eyes. She's a godawful liar.

Then again, Nate has his pride. He might not say anything. Or if he does, he'll say Andy cheated and leave it at that. It'll be hard for him to stomach that Andy betrayed him with her crazy (and female) boss, much less admit it to other people.

She hopes.

It occurs to her, then, to wonder if Miranda fixed her own makeup. If she realized that her lipstick would be smeared. If Stephen saw, and understood what it meant. If Miranda's going through a similar scene right now, with her children listening, wide-eyed, on the stairs. For a second, Andy has the half-mad idea to call her, to warn her, but it's too late. It's been almost an hour since she left. If anything's happened…well, it's happened. Andy won't know until tomorrow, if then.

She leaves for work early the next morning, after another sleepless night. Like Nate, she feels cooped up inside their apartment, and she needs to leave, to move, even if the only place to go is Runway.

She grabs a coffee, not from Starbucks, but from some family-owned place on a corner. It's good. Better than Starbucks, in fact, and a lot cheaper. Nobody at the magazine would be caught dead drinking it. She ignores the jostling she gets on the subway, and focuses on reading the advertisements on the walls of the car.

The office is quiet when she arrives. Even Emily's not there yet. But everybody in France is awake by now, so Andy gets started with making phonecalls. Emily arrives about fifteen minutes later, looking surprised to see Andy already present.

"So," she says snidely, "already being an eager little gopher?"

Oh, no. Andy is not in the mood to put up with Emily's shit today. "Well, the day after tomorrow is the big day," she says pointedly, and that shuts Emily up. She wonders what Emily would say if Andy relayed last night's conversation about Miranda wanting to make Andy first assistant. Would she say anything at all, or just jump out of the nearest window? Andy's neither cruel nor stupid enough to find out. Emily can count her blessings on that score.

Miranda has a pedicure this morning, so she doesn't arrive until nine-thirty. When she shows up, Andy can tell instantly that she's too calm to have been discovered by Stephen with messy makeup, and something inside her goes weak with both relief and disappointment.

When Miranda comes through the door (as always, making no eye contact), Andy slides into the routine she's perfected with Miranda's unwitting cooperation. She shifts her weight onto her feet the moment the door opens, she's standing upright by the time Miranda finishes unbuttoning her coat, and her arms are already outstretched and waiting by the time the coat and bag come flying towards her desk. She catches them both before they ever touch down, turns on her heel, and neatly puts them away.

Emily looks impressed against her will. Well, in its own small way, it is impressive, isn't it? Andy's hands linger just a little too long on Miranda's coat as she hangs it up.

Nigel's right. She's good at this job. And if she leaves it, she'll most likely never see Miranda again. That would be the whole point of leaving, after all. Then who's going to catch the coat, who's going to get Starbucks delivered, make sure Miranda's breakfast is waiting when she comes in, coordinate meetings and manicures and everything else? She knows that assistants at Runway are less than a dime a dozen, and that when Miranda snaps her fingers at the next new girl, the next new girl will jump to obey. But she'll do it because she's afraid, or because she wants to get ahead. Not because she wants to make Miranda happy, or because she loves her. And because of that, she won't be as good. Might it be worth it, after all, to stay? For Andy to take what she can get, and give what she can in return?

Then Andy turns around to return to her desk, and sees Miranda watching her from inside her office. Andy gets that punched-in-the-gut feeling again, and quickly looks away. She remembers what it felt like to kiss Miranda. She also remembers, 'I'm married. I have two children.' And that, that's why she has to leave, before it's too late. The only saving grace of Paris is that they'll both be too busy to have a moment alone together. Hopefully. Andy wishes she could honestly hope for that, anyway.

As for the one real danger zone, she makes very sure to specify that the cars they take in Paris should not have dividers between the back and front seats, or even tinted windows. That should take care of it.

She should probably be more upset about Nate than she is about this. Part of her still loves him. It's hard not to. He's a lovable guy, and he's never been anything but good to her. Miranda's not even likeable, and she treats everyone, not just Andy, like shit. Maybe that's it--maybe Andy's a masochist, and is only just figuring this out. All the more reason to leave.

Andy spends all day zipping around town (by herself), running errands and making calls, text-messaging and calling in favors. Miranda calls her once--a terse order to stop by Nine West and pick up some handbags. Andy welcomes the frantic pace, for once. She doesn't even have time to think until she goes home to find that, sometime during the day, Nate has stopped by and removed more of his clothes and almost all of his things from the bathroom. He's left a note taped to the mirror: Staying w/ Lily.

Lily. Great. Why couldn't it have been easy-going, never-get-in-the-way Doug? She calls him. She has to. It's just what you're supposed to do, isn't it?

It doesn't go well, of course. He doesn't want to talk to her; he only tells her that she can keep the apartment, and he'll move the rest of his things out while she's in Paris. Then, before Andy can protest, Lily gets on the phone.

"Andy, what did you do to this boy?" she demands. "What is going on with the two of you, why is his skinny butt taking up my couch?"

"He didn't say?"

"No. He's brooding. Tall, dark, and brooding, that's your man."

"Nate's good at brooding," Andy acknowledges, swallowing against the lump in her throat. "But he's not my man anymore. Just trust me on this one, Lily. No," she adds loudly, overriding Lily's protests, "I can't talk about it now. Thanks for putting him up. I have to go." She hangs up. She'd love to turn off the phone entirely, but hasn't dared to since she started working at Runway. Lily calls back, twice, but Andy doesn't pick up. She wonders how long it'll be before Lily gets the truth out of Nate by hook or crook. Part of the truth, at least.

She doesn't care as much as she thinks she ought to. She's not really doing anything the way she thinks she ought to. It's oddly liberating.

Then, two days later, she is suddenly boarding a flight to Paris. She's not sure how it happened so quickly; it feels like she blinked, and forty-eight hours were gone. It might have something to do with the fact that she came home both nights so tired that she hardly even noticed Nate's absence. Now here she is, ogling the enormous leather seats in first class.

She's barely exchanged twenty words with Miranda in all that time. It was quite a feat, but they managed it.

Miranda's clearly willing to carry on the tradition. "Andrea, sit with Nigel," she says as the flight attendant stores her carry-on. "Jocelyn and I need to discuss the Alexander McQueen show. Lucia, you sit behind us in case I need you, too."

Jocelyn gives Andy a look of supreme suffering, and in spite of herself, Andy grins. She turns away to hide it before Miranda sees, and meets Nigel's own mischievous smile. "Hey there, flight buddy," she says.

"Rule one: I don't play travel games," he replies immediately. "No 'I Spy,' no 'Guess the Animal.' Rule two: I get the aisle seat. I hate the window. It makes me claustrophobic."

What the hell kinds of experiences has Nigel had on planes, where 'no travel games' is the first rule? Andy doesn't ask. Instead she graciously slides into the window seat (which she prefers, anyway) and closes her eyes for some well-deserved rest. Unlike everyone else, there's nothing for her to do during the flight itself: she can't make calls or run errands. She's never thought that spending seven hours in an airplane could be relaxing, but right now every minute feels like a gift from God.

Of course, the moment they hit the ground, she's off and running again. There are three Mercedes sedans lined up to take their contingent to the hotel, and Andy is thankful they all seem to meet her specifications. The drivers stand waiting. Nigel gives Andy an impressed look. Miranda doesn't look at Andy at all.

Andy's never been to Paris before. She's dazzled by it, by the lights and color and spectacle. She's seen the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees so many times in pictures and on postcards that she can hardly believe they actually exist in 3-D, but there they are, right before her eyes. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that she'd really rather be making out with the woman seated next to her than looking at the scenery.

Miranda appears to be thinking along the same lines. After they've ridden for a few minutes in silence, she says, "Well. Clear windows, I see."

Andy takes a deep breath, then sighs and says, "Yep." She folds her hands in her lap and looks at them.

"So afraid for your virtue?" Miranda's tone is light, and a little scornful, but Andy can detect something darker underneath.

She raises her head to look at Miranda, who's watching her intently. The city lights outside the windows fall on Miranda in stripes and patterns as they drive down the avenues. She's wearing the kind of top that would have allowed Andy blissful access just a few days ago, when they'd both still been fooling themselves. Just a few days ago, Andy would have had her mouth on Miranda the minute the car door had closed behind them, and Miranda would have shivered and sighed and tried not to act like Andy was driving her crazy. And together, they would have pretended that there was nothing at all wrong, or even odd, about what they were doing.

Andy suddenly realizes she is staring, and that her thoughts are obviously written on her face, because Miranda's clenched her hands tightly together in her own lap. Her cheeks are red and her eyes are bright. Andy realizes that they're about two seconds away from jumping each other, driver or no, clear windows or no.

"Maybe I'm protecting yours," she whispers. It's true. After all, she's not the one with the significant other now. She's not the one trying to hold a family together. She's the one with nothing left to lose.

Miranda's breath hitches. Andy quickly looks out the window.

Neither of them speaks again until they pull up to the hotel.

Fashion week, Andy discovers over the next few days, really is pretty fantastic. She always thought, if she came to Paris, she'd see all the usual tourist sites. She's surprised to find that it's just as much fun to watch willowy models stride the catwalks in clothes that no person in her right mind would ever consider wearing on the street. The models themselves are blank templates, nobodies; the clothes are the real stars, with personalities all their own. And they are, by turns, stunning, comical, overwhelming, and--in the case of the Valentino show--breathtakingly lovely.

It's almost a relief to see the Valentino girls in the gauzy, filmy fabrics that drift around them like breezes of silk. The audience gives a sigh of appreciation. This isn't spectacle: it's beauty, pure and simple, of the kind that Andy'd worried was out of fashion. Andy doesn't care that she could never fit into those dresses in a million years, not even now that she's a size four. It's enough to look at them as they parade up and down. Nigel was right: this is art.

Afterwards, behind the white drapery and surrounded by the blinding camera flashes, Miranda proves that she was similarly affected. Valentino himself welcomes her with open arms and a kiss on the cheek, asking her if she liked the collection. Miranda murmurs, "Absolutely," with such soft sincerity that Andy feels a little twinge in her heart. And then she turns to Andy with a smile and says, "This is my Andrea," and Andy's heart stops altogether. She knows that Miranda probably meant to say either, "This is Andrea," or "This is my assistant," and somehow mixed them up, but the Freudian slip is true and Andy knows it.

Valentino doesn't appear to have noticed. "Hello," he says with a charming smile. "Do you love the show?" And then Andy realizes that she's talking to Valentino, recovers her brain, and manages to stammer out her appreciation for the beauty of the clothes. She's convinced she sounds like an idiot, but both Valentino and Miranda look pleased, so she must be doing something right.

As Miranda and Nigel proceed down the receiving line of photographers and flashing bulbs, stopping to give an interview, Andy feels a tap on her arm. She turns around and there, to her shock, is Christian Thompson of all people, giving her a warm smile. "Bonjour, mam'selle," he says.

"Christian!" Andy says. "You--I didn't know--"

"I'm here," he says, still smiling. "As you can see. And you still owe me for Harry Potter."

"Oh, do I?" Andy asks, knowing that yes, she does, actually.

"Of course you do," he says agreeably, and places a hand on her waist, guiding her out of the way. "You working tonight?"

"Actually, Miranda has a dinner," Andy hears herself saying before she can shut up. Oh God, she really is the worst liar in the world--it didn't even occur to her to make something up. And now--

"Good, so you're free. Of course, there is still the problem of le boyfriend."

Any little glow Andy still had from Miranda's smile, and talking to Valentino, vanishes in an acid rush of shame. She looks away quickly. Miranda and Nigel are still chatting with a reporter. Christian, misunderstanding her reaction, murmurs, "Wait, don't tell me, le boyfriend is no more? Je suis trés, trés désolé."

"Uh--"

"So, what time should I pick you up?" He smiles in a way that, in spite of everything, charms her. There is something seductive about such effortless confidence. And he's not off-limits, not at all. For just a second, Andy allows herself to wish--

Andy looks at Miranda, and sees Miranda looking back, watching the two of them. And then, oh God, Miranda brushes past Nigel and walks towards them. Andy's heart stops and then starts again, double-time. Christian gives Miranda a surprised look.

Miranda draws up to them, a small, dangerous smile on her face. "Well," she says. "Christian Thompson, isn't it?"

Christian gives Miranda a very surprised look, and then a pleased smile. "Yes." He extends his hand, which she ignores, before dropping it again. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last. I'm a big fan of Runway."

"So am I," Miranda says. "I see you've met my assistant."

"Yes, several times, actually," Christian says, looking over at Andy with a smile, while Andy hopes that her oh-my-God thoughts don't appear on her face. "Not that I want to sing my own praises, but I was instrumental in one of her errands for you."

Miranda looks at Andy with raised eyebrows. "It's true," Andy admits, smiling brightly, deciding she might as well beat Christian to the punch. "He helped me get my hands on Harry Potter. He, um, knows people."

"And she owes me," Christian says. He slides an arm around Andy's shoulders. "I'm stealing her for dinner. Hope you don't mind, I hear you won't need her tonight."

Andy's not used to hearing people talk to Miranda like that: not rudely, not at all, but totally without fear, addressing her as an equal. He really is confident. Not perceptive, though, because otherwise he'd be able to see that, behind her smile, Miranda wants to claw out his eyes.

"Uh, do you need me?" she asks Miranda desperately. "For anything? I mean, to do anything?"

Miranda gives her a long look. "No," she says. "Now come along." With that, she turns and heads back towards Nigel, without another word.

"I'll call you!" Christian calls after Andy as she hurries to follow.

And he does, though thankfully not when Miranda is within hearing distance. He wants to take her to some falafel place that he says is amazing. Not knowing what else to do, at loose ends, and remembering that Miranda said no, she doesn't need Andy, Andy says yes. It'll be better than moping around the hotel all night, anyway. Nothing has to happen between them. Nothing at all.

There's still a lot to be done, though, and before she knows it, six o'clock rolls around. That means it's time to drop off the scarves and shoes Miranda requested, along with a revised guest list for tomorrow. Andy dreads coming face-to-face with her. Maybe they can just keep ignoring everything completely. That's been working fine so far.

Andy lets herself into Miranda's suite with some trepidation, carefully balancing bags and boxes. She hears the hiss of water in the bathroom, and realizes Miranda is in the shower, preparing for dinner at eight. Thank God--no awkward encounter. Concentrating very hard on not thinking about Miranda in the shower, Andy almost misses the note on the table by the door. She looks at it after she's set everything down. It reads:

A-

Leave the seating chart here. I want to make changes.

-MP

Andy shrugs and does as she's told, fishing the seating chart out of her bag and placing it carefully on top of the first shoebox, where Miranda can't miss it.

She hears the water cut off, and quickly tiptoes back out the door, glad that her heels don't make any noise on the carpet.

Back in her own suite, she dons new clothing: something more conservative, with a higher neckline. No fancy makeup or jewelry, no carefully-styled hair. She looks good, but she doesn't want Christian getting any ideas. As attractive as he is, as lonely as she is, she's made enough mistakes in the past couple of weeks. She'd like to avoid screwing up her life any further. Dinner with a friend, or at least a friendly person: that's all she wants. It's kind of sad that it seems to be asking so much out of life.

Then somebody knocks on her door. It's Nigel, and she smiles, glad to see somebody who will definitely not want to have sex with her. He needs a copy of Miranda's itinerary, but besides that, she can tell that he's positively bubbling with some inner joy. Huh. Maybe he's the one who's really getting laid tonight. They call it Gay Paree, after all.

"Well?" she asks him with a grin, and rolls her eyes when he gives her a look of innocence. "Something's up. I can tell."

"Did I see a bottle of champagne?" he asks. "Let me get it. We're going to celebrate."

"Celebrate what?"

Then, popping the cork, he tells her. Not sex or love: it's even better. A new job. He's going to partner James Holt when his company goes global. He's leaving Runway. With Miranda's blessing, he hastens to add.

Andy smiles, happy for him, but uneasy for a reason she could never say out loud. She toys with the idea of telling him that she's quitting, too, after they get back from Paris. But she couldn't tell him why, so what would be the point of even bringing it up? It's probably better to go home and just disappear. That way Miranda can tell everybody she fired her.

The two people most devoted to Miranda are leaving her behind. How did that happen, Andy wonders.

They clink their glasses together. Andy says all the right things, and Nigel laughs.

"Hear you've got a hot date," he says, on the way out the door. "Good for you."

"It's not a date," Andy says quickly. Nigel rolls his eyes. "No, really, it's…"

"Whatever floats your boat," Nigel says, with a wave of his hand. Then he winks. "But don't do anything I wouldn't do."

An hour later, sitting across a table from Christian, in a candlelit restaurant, Andy has to keep reminding herself that she told Nigel the truth. It's not a date. It's just that Christian makes her feel good about herself--not with outrageous compliments (well, not just with those), but by chatting with her about things he knows will interest her. Treating her, like he did Miranda, as an equal. He doesn't spend the whole time talking about himself. He teaches her a few naughty French phrases that, after two glasses of wine, make her giggle. She stops drinking, then.

After dinner and dessert, he leads her outside the restaurant and looks down into her eyes. The expression on his face is both serious and sweet.

Do you need me? Andy hears herself asking Miranda.

No, Miranda replies.

He kisses her. His mouth is gentle and warm and not particularly demanding: nothing like the kiss Miranda gave her. It does absolutely nothing for her. She knows, then, that she will not sleep with him, and feels ashamed that she hadn't truly decided that until this moment.

Miranda might not want to need her, but Andy definitely doesn't need him. Or want him, for that matter.

He sees this in her eyes when he pulls away. His smile turns resigned. "Hmm," is all he says.

"I'm sorry," Andy murmurs. "I…I just broke up with Nate a couple of days ago. I guess maybe I just need time…"

Wrong thing to say. She should have told him she's not interested, and left it at that. As it is, he raises his eyebrows hopefully. "Well, I will consider giving you time," he says, rubbing his chin and pretending to give it some thought. "I don't seem to have much choice."

"I'm sorry," Andy says again.

"Don't apologize. Only nice girls apologize, and I don't like you as much when you're nice." He flags down a taxi. "Allow me. I'd walk you back, but it's a long way and frankly, my feet hurt like hell."

"Your feet?" Andy snorts disbelievingly, and lifts one of her own feet, shod in four-inch heels, for comparison.

He laughs, and kisses her cheek as she gets in the cab. "Don't be une inconnue, okay?" He leans down to peer in through the window. "And for the record--if you keep working at Runway you'll be seeing a lot more of me. You can count on that."

What is that supposed to mean? But then the cab pulls away from the curb, and Andy leans back in the seat with a sigh of relief, deciding not to worry about it. She made it through the evening. And, she thinks with a nearly-hysterical giggle, she hadn't done anything Nigel wouldn't do. Or even a few things he probably would, come to that.

It's almost midnight now. She's had a long, strange day, and all things considered, she should be more than ready to flop into bed and not stir until early the next morning. When she gets back to the hotel, she changes into her pajamas and flops, right on schedule, but sleep remains elusive.

She closes her eyes in determination, but it's no good. She can't stop thinking about everything. No big surprise, really, but she is surprised her life has become such a drama-fest, so quickly. She's never liked drama. Then again, Miranda Priestly is at the center of all this, so drama was pretty much inevitable from the start.

Somebody knocks at the door--not loudly, but insistently. Andy blinks and squints at the bedside clock. One in the morning. She's been lying awake for an hour. Who the hell would come looking for her now?

She knows the answer before she even gets to the door. Sure enough, Miranda's standing on the other side of it, still all dolled up from her fancy dinner.

She brushes past Andy without waiting to be invited in. Andy, too confused to say anything, turns on the lights for her. Miranda turns around and snaps them off again, so that the room is lit only by the streetlamps shining dimly through Andy's curtains.

Andy shuts the door, and they stand there, staring at each other. "Is something wrong?" she whispers.

Miranda nods, wordlessly. Her throat works. Then she says, her voice low and shaking, "Did you go out with that man?"

"Yeah," Andy says. Miranda stiffens. "But just for dinner. It was nice. But I didn't, I didn't do anything else with him, I didn't want to. Oh God, I don't know why I just told you that, but I didn't."

Miranda takes a deep breath, and then exhales it. And just like she realized she wouldn't sleep with Christian, Andy realizes now that she will sleep with Miranda tonight. It is going to happen.

Miranda tilts her head to the side, almost as if she is preparing to angle in for a kiss. Andy holds her breath, waiting, half-dying. And then Miranda says: "Do you know why I wanted to change the seating chart?"

Andy deflates. She gets Miranda probably better than anybody else, and she's still clueless more than half the time. "Uh, no," she says.

"Because my table now has a free seat. Stephen isn't coming."

Andy waits for more, suddenly feeling like the ground is teetering under her feet. "Oh," she says. "Why no--"

"He is not coming because he is leaving me. Divorcing me." Andy's mouth snaps shut. Miranda's eyes are bright and hard. "It appears, you see, that there is another woman in the picture."

Oh, shit. Andy gasps, "Was it the lipstick?"

"The--what?" Miranda stares at her. "What are you talking about?"

Andy stares right back. "Wait. What are you talking about?"

"His other woman, not mine," Miranda snaps, and then gives a mirthless laugh. "My God, though, you're right. I hadn't even been thinking about it like that." Then she frowns. "Lipstick?"

"I'll tell you later," Andy mumbles, already hoping that Miranda will forget to ask.

"Please do," Miranda says. She finally moves away from Andy, walking into the darkened suite, looking around at the neat stacks of notebooks and calendars and shoeboxes and suitcases and bags and everything else. Ordered chaos. Miranda likes that sort of thing. She removes the mink wrap from her shoulders and tosses it onto the sofa.

"Apparently, she's 'nurturing,'" Miranda continues. "Frankly, I am not sure why a grown man of fifty-five needs nurturing, but I suppose that was part of the problem. You see," her voice nearly turns to acid with spite, "he loves her, and it was only fair to let me know, since he simply can't pretend any longer."

"Oh my God," Andy says, following her into the sitting room. "I'm sorry." She is. She's baffled, too. How could Stephen be such an idiot? How could he prefer any other woman to Miranda? Is he nuts?

And then she thinks of something else. Miranda is losing everyone, she's hemorrhaging people left and right: Andy, Nigel, and now Stephen. She's all alone. And she knows it. "I'm so sorry," she whispers again. "How…did he say how long it's been going--"

Miranda turns to face her, and heat sweeps up and down Andy's body. Oh God. Miranda can burn her, turn her to ash and embers, with just a look. "I don't know, and I don't want to know," Miranda says, and then adds, "So you didn't sleep with him?"

Andy draws her shoulders up, telling herself that Miranda is obviously very upset and so can be forgiven for asking. "No," she says. "No, I didn't."

Miranda draws closer to her, keeping her eyes steadily fixed on Andy's. "I take it he is not the boyfriend in question."

"That one's gone, too," Andy says with a rueful smile. "So there is no more 'question.'"

Miranda reaches out and touches Andy's cheek. Andy stops breathing, for a second. Miranda's fingers drop down and stroke over her collarbone, making her tremble. Andy wills herself not to rush things, to savor every second of every contact, because she needs this. She's been dying for this. Miranda has too. She's breathing faster, and her eyes are half-closed.

No. There is no more question at all.

It's still a bad idea, for any number of reasons. Too many reasons to think about right now. Right now, neither of them cares. Andy reaches out, takes Miranda by the waist, pulls her in closer. Miranda comes readily, bending to kiss Andy's cheek, as if she, too, wants to take things slowly. The press of their bodies together makes Andy groan, and she turns to nuzzle at Miranda's ear. Miranda is, thankfully, wearing stud earrings tonight. "I haven't touched you," Andy breathes, "in days."

"Really? I hadn't noticed," Miranda replies, dragging her teeth over Andy's own earlobe. Andy reaches up, and tests a theory she's had for a long time by stroking her fingertips over the nape of Miranda's neck.

Miranda gasps, and a shudder runs up and down her spine. "Ah!" Even better than behind the ear, then. Then she angles her head, nudges Andy's chin, and forget about slow, they're kissing, and Andy is melting from the inside out. Miranda's hands slide up and down the slippery silk of her pajamas and then, without hesitation or fumbling, cup her ass.

If Andy had time to think, she'd worry that this would be a huge disappointment; she'd worry that nothing could live up to the enormous build of tension and expectation and besides, she doesn't know anything about having sex with another woman. This will be, she would worry, the shattering of a particularly cherished illusion.

They don't even make it to the bed.

Instead, Andy finds herself naked and atop Miranda on the sofa, Miranda reclining on her mink wrap with one leg hooked over the sofa's back so they have room to maneuver. It's not the most comfortable position in the world, but Andy wouldn't move for anything, not when she's got the freedom to take Miranda's clothes off and kiss as much of her as she wants, not when she can take Miranda's nipple between her teeth over and over again, pausing occasionally to soothe it with her tongue. Like before, Miranda digs her nails into Andy's back, only now she needs one hand to cover her mouth. The room is very nice, but the walls aren't completely soundproof, and apparently Andy is inspiring her to be noisy.

It hadn't taken Andy long to shuck her pajamas and underwear, but Miranda's clothes are more of a long-term project, littering the floor around the sofa. She's bare from the waist up, and has lost both her shoes and one of her thigh-highs, but her skirt is rucked up around her waist and her panties are still in the way. Andy hadn't been able to keep away from Miranda's shoulders and breasts for another second, and they'd gotten distracted. Lying here, between her legs, Andy can feel the moisture already soaking through the lace. The silk of the other thigh-high rubs against Andy's side as Miranda moves her leg restlessly, arching her back yet again into Andy's mouth with a moan.

Andy pulls away from her breast, looking down with satisfaction: it's reddened and damp from her mouth, the nipple tiny and hard. Miranda gasps when she stops, and then, when Andy switches to the other breast, cries out and forgets to muffle it.

"You like it," Andy whispers against her, her warm breath making Miranda tremble, "when I use my teeth."

"Yes," Miranda whispers back, and trembles even harder as Andy begins to lick and bite her way back up her chest--and to slide one hand up Miranda's silk-stockinged thigh. "O-oh--"

"You liked it," Andy continues, feeling drunk, feeling like she can say anything she wants to say, "when I did this," she pauses for a kiss on Miranda's shoulder, "in the car…or your office…or anywhere."

"Yes…"

Andy strokes her fingertips against the hot hollow where Miranda's thigh meets her hip, just centimeters away from the dampened lace. Miranda nearly hyperventilates, especially when Andy starts nibbling at the sensitive spot beneath her ear. "I made you come, that last time," Andy breathes, "didn't I?"

"Y-yes--" Miranda's confession is a desperate sob. Her eyes are squeezed shut, and her muscles are coiled with tension, as if she is fighting something with all her strength.

Andy is slick as a river between her own legs. "I remember," she says, her own voice almost a whimper, "I think about it, all the time, even when I try not to. I remember what you sounded like, I remember--"

"Oh, God, oh--"

Andy kisses her until Miranda can't breathe without moaning. Her underwear is a thong, a bare whisper of lace. It is the work of a moment for Andy to nudge it aside with her knuckles, before she loses her courage, and to stroke her fingers against the flesh beneath. Miranda is hot as a furnace there, and Andy wonders for a second if that's normal before, almost by accident, she slips a finger inside. Miranda's so wet it hardly took any pressure at all, and in fact it's a miracle she can even tell the finger's there, but she can, because she cries out into Andy's mouth and drags her nails down Andy's back. Andy knows there will be marks tomorrow morning and they will sting in the shower.

Trying not to fumble, still kissing her, Andy slides another finger in, and whispers, "I want you to do it again. Do it again."

For once in her life, Miranda obeys somebody else. She clamps around Andy's fingers like a vise, and Andy feels the tremble inside her, the quiver in her thighs; Andy sees the way her head tosses back; Andy hears the noise she makes, a breathless, nearly silent wail.

This time, her recovery isn't quite so dramatic as it was in the car. Nor is it as brief. Instead, she relaxes by degrees, slowly loosening her grip on Andy's back and Andy's fingers, gasping for air. Andy gives her a moment to calm down before she kisses her forehead--and then, playfully, her nose. (She likes Miranda's nose. She never got around to telling her, though.) Miranda makes a faint noise of surprise, but does not object.

"Wow," Andy breathes, carefully sliding her fingers out. "Better now?"

"Uh…huh," Miranda pants. It's the first time Andy's ever heard Miranda say 'uh huh.' It's also the first time she's seen Miranda's breasts, though, and she knows which one she'll remember in the morning. Miranda kisses her cheek, then the side of her mouth, and makes a pitiful little noise when Andy doesn't return the kiss. Then she just stares, dumbfounded, as Andy sits back and experimentally licks her fingers.

"Hmm," Andy says, like she's at a wine tasting or something. "Not bad. Better than guy stuff," she adds. Miranda's mouth opens, but nothing comes out. "I could get used to it."

Miranda immediately moves her leg from the top of the couch, sits up, and takes her kiss, cupping Andy's face in her hands and licking her way inside, as if wanting to sneak the taste right out of Andy's mouth. Andy is happy to share, and she winds her arms around Miranda's neck, tilting her head to the side to make it a proper, long kiss, the kind they haven't taken the time for yet.

By the time it's over, she's the one panting and whimpering. At this point they're practically falling off the couch, anyway, so Miranda tugs her down to the floor. Then she yanks the mink wrap down too, so that it can cushion Andy's wounded back from the carpet. It's not quite the same as making love on a bear-skin rug in front of a fire, Andy supposes, but it's the closest she's ever come to it. The fur feels incredibly decadent against her bare skin as Miranda nuzzles her throat.

Then, Miranda--who has never been patient--strokes her fingertips over Andy's hip and then down between her thighs. "Tell me," she says, "tell me what to do. What you like."

"Oh--um--" How weird is it, that Miranda's the one who asked instead of charging right in? Andy sees the fire in her eyes, both a glow of satisfaction and a flame of triumph, and she knows that Miranda will do anything Andy wants her to. Anything. God. Andy closes her eyes, swallows, and whispers, "I, I don't know. Just…touch me, and…"

Miranda kisses her, purrs, and does. Her fingers are tormentingly light and, when she finally slips one inside, Andy knows just how long they really are. This is also when Andy realizes Miranda is not wearing her wedding ring. She's not kissing Andy now, but has propped herself up on one elbow and is watching Andy intently while she fingers her. Andy turns her reddening face aside with a gasp. "Don't look at me," she mumbles with an embarrassed laugh.

"Why not?" Miranda asks, her tone politely inquisitive, as if she's asking after Andy's health. Andy flings an arm over her face, but Miranda lifts it back out of the way. "Why not?" Miranda repeats, almost conversationally now. "I've been wanting to see this for some time." She slides the pad of her thumb over Andy's twitching clit, and Andy arches into it with a little whining noise. Miranda makes a satisfied 'mmm' sound.

"Y-you have?" Andy pants.

Miranda curls her finger and watches Andy's reaction carefully; when Andy moans and nods, she slips a second finger in and does it again. "Most certainly," she breathes, and Andy has to close her eyes again.

She spreads her legs even wider, not caring that this makes her look like a total slut, because now Miranda can turn her fingers and rub the heel of her palm against Andy's clit. Her hand's already slippery. "Yeah?" Andy manages. "For how long?" Miranda's hand stills momentarily, and Andy opens her eyes. Miranda looks almost uncomfortable. "Miranda?" Andy asks, feeling a grin spreading across her face.

"I'm not sure," Miranda says, and then adds ruefully, "but longer than I would care to admit."

"It was the compliments, wasn't it?" Andy asks, feeling almost jubilant with love.

"Be quiet," Miranda orders, and kisses her to shut her up. Then she begins rubbing her palm firmly against Andy, moving it in little circles, and Andy can't shut up. She's not vocal during sex--not as vocal as Miranda, anyway--but she gasps and whimpers, trying hard not to be inhibited about it, since Miranda wants to watch her.

"Is this--" Miranda's voice comes out raspy, and she has to clear her throat. "Is this what you want?" She turns her hand again, flicks her thumb, slides her fingers in and out.

Oh God, she's so close, she wishes she could hold out just a few moments longer, make this last just a little longer..."Try," Andy pants, "try…another finger…I want to feel--"

Miranda hisses; she draws her fingers out, and then slides three back in, all at once. She's careful, but there is still a stretching, a faint burn that does nothing to take the edge off. Andy moans. "Oh," Miranda whispers, and flicks her thumb.

"Miranda," Andy whimpers, and comes, writhing her hips to feel Miranda's fingers as much as possible, chasing every second of it. Miranda's thumb pauses, and Andy wails, "Don't stop," so Miranda starts again while Andy mutters, through clenched teeth, "Fuck fuck fuck," and it's so good, it's exactly what she needs, she can't believe how much she's needed this. Every muscle in her body locks up in pleasure that is almost like agony and then, all at once, everything releases, everything melts, everything spreads through her with warmth and tenderness.

When she opens her eyes, Miranda has stopped propping herself up, and has lain down beside her, giving her this look: like Andy is somebody astonishing and special and good. Andy's never seen that look on Miranda's face before, or anybody else's. It lights Miranda up from the inside, it makes her so beautiful that Andy can't breathe.

Miranda licks her own wet fingers, and her smile turns wicked. She reaches out and traces Andy's lips. Andy licks back and tastes herself.

"Tell me something nice, Andrea," Miranda says softly.

"I love you," Andy says, before she can think better of it. Miranda's eyes widen.

Whoops. Andy should probably freak the hell out that she said it, just like that, but right now she can't. "Sorry," she says blithely, and shrugs. "Can't help it. I hope that's okay." She gives Miranda what she knows is a totally goofy-looking smile. She hopes Miranda believes her.

Miranda scoots in closer, touches Andy's face, and kisses the smile. "That's okay," she says between kisses, and Andy lies there and lets herself be kissed and enjoys the feel of mink.

Their mouths part, and Miranda says briskly, "I want to do that again."

Oh, well, then. "Once more, with feeling," Andy agrees. Or more than once. The first time had been amazing, shattering, but she definitely wants, needs more. What had Mae West said, once? 'Too much of a good thing is wonderful.' Andy and Miranda have been working hard at foreplay for weeks now, and it's about time they got an adequate payoff.

Over the next few hours, they are remarkably successful at debauching themselves all over the suite, making it from the floor in front of the couch to Andy's bed, inch by inch. By the end of the night, they both have rugburn and Andy is cherishing particularly fond memories of the doorway between the two rooms. It's also, she's discovered, difficult to be shy in bed with Miranda. Miranda's confidence puts Christian's to shame. Andy would call it arrogance, but it's not--at least, not this time. It just never seems to occur to Miranda that she will be anything less than successful at whatever she wants to do. And since she wants to do Andy, it is only logical that she will explore her relentlessly and have precious little patience with hesitation or timidity.

Not that Andy hesitates. In fact, she flatters herself that she gives as good as she gets. When they finally make it to the bed, and Andy takes the time to give cunnilingus a whirl, Miranda has to bite a pillow to keep herself quiet. Her flesh is red, swollen, and tender now, which means Andy has to be really gentle and delicate, using just the very tip of her tongue to stroke and lick. Slowly. Miranda moans something into the pillow that sounds very much like oh Jesus--apparently, like Andy, she gets religion in bed--and slides her damp, trembling fingers through Andy's hair. Andy thinks she makes her come, but it's hard to tell, by this point. Her only clue is that Miranda lets go of the pillow, whimpers, "Oh no, stop," and tugs at Andy's hair. "No…no more…"

Andy obeys, but not before biting and sucking at the inside of Miranda's left thigh. They have both given in to their baser impulses and left marks on each other tonight. They're nowhere visible, they're nothing that can't be covered by clothes, but Andy takes a childish delight in them all the same. That shower is really going to hurt. She's looking forward to it.

Especially now, because she feels pretty disgusting. She's covered in sweat and saliva and come. Miranda's even worse: her makeup is but a faint memory, except for the smudges of mascara and eyeliner that have left her with raccoon eyes. Her hair's a mess. Andy is quite proud of herself.

Andy crawls up the bed to collapse next to Miranda, who touches her hip inquisitively. "I think I'm done now," Andy pants, and Miranda looks grateful as she closes her eyes. "You want a glass of water?"

"Please," Miranda says, her voice croaky. Then she opens her smudgy eyes and squints at the clock on the other side of the bed. "Time is it?"

"Four-thirty," Andy says in disbelief as she rises from the bed. She can't decide if she's thinking that it's been three and a half whole hours since Miranda arrived, or if it's only been three and a half hours since Miranda arrived.

"What?" Miranda doesn't sound like she believes it either. When Andy comes back out of the bathroom with two water glasses, she's sitting propped up against the headboard and is just setting the clock back on the nightstand. Checking to make sure Andy'd had it right. Andy sighs, and smiles. "Here," she says, offering a glass, and Miranda sips her water with surprising delicacy for someone who, well, just did all the things she's done tonight. She even holds up her pinky finger.

Then she leans her head back with a little sigh. "I should write her a thank-you note."

"Who?"

"Stephen's other woman."

Andy laughs, and says, "You can add that your other woman says 'thank you,' too."

Miranda's lips curl in a nasty little smile. "Oh, that would take the wind right out of his sails. I think I'd have to say that in person, just so I could see his face." She sips the last of her water, sets the glass aside, and rubs her hands over her eyes. When she pulls them away, they, too, have mascara smudges on them, which Miranda regards with dismay. Andy snickers. "Something funny?" Miranda asks archly, just like she did on Andy's first day of work.

Except it doesn't have the same effect when they're both naked and have just screwed each other's brains out. Andy puts her own glass down, and lies down beside Miranda so she can slide an arm across her lap. "Yes. You look awful," she says happily.

"Well, thank you very much."

"That's your compliment for the day." Incredibly, this makes Miranda laugh. Like she means it.

They lie in companionable silence for another few moments, until something occurs to Andy. "I'm glad you came by," she says softly. "But why'd your dinner run so late? Did something happen?"

"Mm? Oh. Not really." Miranda shifts until she's more comfortable. "I met afterwards with James and Jacqueline."

Andy blinks. "Jacqueline Follet? But I thought--" She's not dumb enough to say, You hated her. Not even now. "--um, I didn't know you had a meeting with her."

"It was unofficial," Miranda says. "We were discussing James's company going global."

"Oh!" Andy says, smiling. "Nigel told me all about that this eve--uh, last night."

Miranda looks down at her, frowning. "He did?"

"Yeah. His new job, right? He's really excited. I mean, I can't imagine him not being at the magazine, but I'm really happy for…" Andy trails off, noticing that Miranda has gone still. "Um," she says hesitantly, "was he not supposed to tell me?"

Miranda leans her head back again, closing her eyes with a sigh. "Nigel," she says, "is not getting the James Holt job."

Andy frowns, sure that she heard wrong. "What?"

"Jacqueline is getting the James Holt job."

"What?" Andy rolls onto her stomach and props herself up on her elbows. "But, but Nigel said--"

Miranda sighs again. "It's a regrettable circumstance. Suffice to say, some people are not as clever as they think they are, and I have had to do some maneuvering. But now my position is secure."

"Secure?" Andy shakes her head, wishing for her nice afterglow to come back. "Position?"

Miranda turns to her with a smile of satisfaction that has nothing to do with sex. "They were going to take Runway from me," she says softly. "They thought they could replace me with Jacqueline as editor-in-chief, and that I wouldn't know until it was too late."

The words send a chill down Andy's spine. Replace Miranda? Take Runway from her? "Who?" she gasps, trying to imagine who would have such audacity.

"Irv, of course," Miranda says.

"Irv?!" Andy can't believe it. "But…isn't he your friend?"

Miranda laughs, and this time she doesn't sound like she means it at all. Andy hangs her head. "Anyway," Miranda continues, not even deigning to answer Andy's question, "I had to find a suitable alternative for Jacqueline. She was all too pleased to accept the Holt position. And James, well, James had very little choice." She stretches out in the bed and gives a little hum. "I'm telling Irv at breakfast. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it."

"But…what did Nigel say?" Andy asks, thinking unhappily of the way his face had shone when he'd told her.

"Nigel?"

"Well, yeah," Andy says. "When you told him--" The truth dawns on her. "You haven't told him."

Miranda shrugs, as if this is a matter of little consequence. "As I said, this was all decided quite late last night." She darts a glance at Andy. "I came here immediately afterward."

"I…" Andy feels both flattered and awful. Poor Nigel, asleep in his room, and he has no idea… "But, but you will tell him…right? I mean," she adds hastily, "if he knew about all this, I'm sure he'd understand." She's trying to convince herself more than Miranda, she knows.

"He has little choice, either," Miranda says, and Andy gets another chill down her spine. Then she gives Andy a look that is almost indulgent. "But yes. I will tell him."

"Okay," Andy whispers. She's glad she won't be there for that conversation. She doesn't want to see Nigel's excitement collapse into disappointment. She has the feeling he's used to disappointment. But surely Miranda will find something else for him, soon. She'll make it up to him, won't she?

Miranda strokes Andy's bare shoulder gently. "Don't worry about it, Andrea," she says. "Everything will come out right. I've made sure of that." She kisses Andy's forehead. "That's what I do."

And you wonder why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Nigel's voice. Andy smiles in spite of herself. She's more than earned her gold star tonight. And if Miranda says everything's under control, well, it is.

Miranda and Nigel go way back. Miranda will know how to handle him. Andy will do best to stay out of it. It's not her business, really. Everything will come out right. She puts her arm back around Miranda. Miranda kisses her forehead again. Andy sighs happily.

At some point--Andy's not sure how or when it happens--they go to sleep, only to be awakened by a shrill bleeping. Andy jerks awake with a gasp, and next to her, Miranda gives an almighty twitch. It's the phone. Andy's first panicked thought is that someone's noticed Miranda's gone missing and is trying to find her, but then she remembers it's just her wake-up call. Her heart's still hammering, though. It's not a pleasant way to start the day.

"Wake-up call, wake-up call," she mutters to Miranda, crawling over her to pick up the receiver so she can confirm it.

Miranda flops back down on the pillows with an annoyed huff. "What time?"

"Six."

"Ugh." Miranda sits up slowly, almost painfully. The bruises Andy left on her torso are developing nicely. "I have to go. They'll all be up soon. And I have breakfast with Irv at eight-thirty." She starts looking around the room, and sighs. "Help me find my clothes."

This takes a few minutes, since they're scattered all over the suite. Their progression to the bed last night was not exactly from Points A to B to C. One of Miranda's thigh-highs remains elusive, and Miranda finally gives up as she slides her feet into her shoes and throws the mink around her shoulders. "What are you wearing to the luncheon?" she asks.

"Oh, um," Andy says, not wanting to say that she hasn't decided yet, since Miranda probably plans her own ensembles a week in advance.

Miranda adjusts her collar. "What about that navy sheath from Galliano?"

"Uh…I think that one would look better on Emily," Andy says.

Miranda looks at her like she's crazy. "Emily is not here," she says carefully, as if speaking to an idiot.

"I know," Andy admits. "I'm going to give her the clothes and shoes. That's why she was so upset about not coming, you know."

Miranda looks pissed, but is clearly not in the mood to argue about it. Not right now. "Well, pick something decent, at any rate."

"Decent?" Andy asks innocently, and Miranda appears to realize that Andy is still stark naked. Her cheeks go a little pink. Andy steps in closer, until her breasts brush Miranda's, and slides her hands up to Miranda's shoulders. "You mean something that won't distract you?"

"I refuse," Miranda says, "to be distracted today." The way her hands slide down over Andy's back and ass suggests otherwise, though. They kiss. "And…I'm leaving now…" Another kiss.

It's almost six-twenty. Miranda really does have to leave. Andy pulls away with a sigh of regret, and Miranda reaches for the door handle. Andy quickly stops her, cracks the door open, and sticks her own head through so she can peer up and down the hallway. The last thing they need right now is for Miranda to get caught taking the Walk of Shame. "All clear," she whispers, snatches another kiss, and then pauses. Now is not the best time to bring this up, but: "Um…we are going to do this again, right?"

Miranda hooks an arm around her waist and kisses her fiercely, for her answer. Andy feels weak with relief. To have this only for one night would have been unbearable. She needs more, much more. She doesn't know what it means, she doesn't know where it will lead, and she doesn't much care. Not yet, not now.

The hallway's still empty. Miranda slips out.

Andy quietly shuts the door behind her, and thinks about a shower, instead of about how empty the room feels now.

She really feels the lack of sleep over the next few hours. There are a million details to keep on top of. But Andy's done a good job of lining everything up, and she's relieved to see that it all seems to be coming together. The banquet room for the luncheon looks great: not a flower or folded napkin out of place. The food's ready to go. She clasps her hands together and feels a warm surge of pride. She's done her part. She's done her job. Miranda will be pleased.

People start drifting in about ten minutes before lunch is due to start. Jacqueline Follet is one of the first to come in, accompanied by, to Andy's shock, Christian. He gives her a wave and a sly smile as they take their seats, and mouths the word, 'Later.' Andy nods in complete bewilderment.

Miranda is at another table with Irv and some other luminaries. Irv, Andy is viciously pleased to see, does not look very happy. Miranda looks smug. Breakfast must have gone well, then. Not that Andy had expected otherwise.

In the meantime, though, there's a little fallout to deal with. Andy's sure Nigel could use a pat on the arm right now, and she's glad she's sitting next to him. They can bitch under their breaths about the ridiculous outfit Naomi Campbell's wearing.

Andy lowers herself into her seat after giving one last look around the room to make sure everything is in place. It's up to the chefs and waiters now. She sees Miranda giving her a faint, approving nod, and her heart swells before she turns to Nigel. "Hey, there," she says.

He turns to her with a big smile. "Hello, yourself. How was your not-really-a-date?"

Andy blinks. "It was fine," she says, and adds quickly, "nothing happened, though." Well, not with Christian, anyway. She wonders, again, what Nigel would say if he knew the truth.

"You disappoint me," Nigel sighs, and winks.

"You…seem cheerful," Andy says carefully.

Nigel shrugs. "Why shouldn't I be?" he asks.

"Well, I mean," Andy says, frowning, "I just…"

Then the penny drops. Nigel doesn't know. Miranda hasn't told him. She said she would, and she hasn't. The room suddenly feels cold, and Andy feels sick. She feels even worse when she sees Nigel giving James Holt an excited little wave, which James returns with a faint, unhappy-looking smile. Nigel doesn't appear to notice this.

Hoping desperately that she's wrong, Andy says, "Um, Nigel, did you talk to Miranda today?"

Nigel shakes his head. "Haven't seen her until now," he says blithely. "I know she was having breakfast with Irv. I was hoping to run my introduction by her before I gave it, but it's so revoltingly nice I can't imagine she'd object." He rolls his eyes, but he's still smiling.

Nice. Nigel is going to tell Miranda something nice. In that moment, Andy doesn't dare turn around and look at Miranda, or James, or, hell, Jacqueline Follet, or anybody else who should have told Nigel the truth like he deserves.

What the hell is Andy supposed to do? Tell him now? What good would that be? It's too late to make any difference, and the most it would do is rattle him before he gives his speech. She can tell him after the luncheon, since it looks like nobody else is going to bother--maybe in the hotel bar or somewhere. Liquor would help.

Nigel turns and gives Miranda a happy, grateful smile. Miranda smiles back, just as if nothing is wrong at all. Andy stares at Miranda as if the force of her gaze could burn a hole through her head, but Miranda turns away and begins to speak to the man on her right. Jesus Christ…that's Snoop Dogg. Miranda moved him to her table? In spite of everything, Andy boggles for a moment at the thought of what Miranda and Snoop Dogg could possibly have to talk about.

Then Nigel stands up, to a scattering of polite applause, and Andy's stomach twists. She has the crazy idea to grab his elbow, whisper the truth in his ear, but it's too late, and he's heading for the podium.

She watches helplessly as Nigel straightens his shoulders and addresses the crowd with dignity, and maybe a touch of nerves. "For seventy-two years," he begins, "Runway has been more than a magazine. It has been a beacon of elegance and grace. Miranda Priestly is the finest possible guardian of that beacon."

Andy's ears sort of shut down, then. She can't bear it. She watches Nigel without really seeing him. The words roll in and out of her head, and all around her, as Nigel talks all about how Miranda sets standards across the globe, and is fantastic and wonderful and just so super and… "Ladies and gentlemen," he concludes with real affection, "I give you Miranda Priestly."

Andy catches herself thinking, You can have her. Everybody applauds, and quite a few people even stand up, as Miranda rises gracefully from her chair and proceeds to the front of the room. She doesn't give Andy a glance as she passes by. Nigel kisses her on both of her cheeks on the way back to his seat.

"Thank you, my dear friend," Miranda murmurs into the microphone, and any regret Andy might have hoped to detect on her face…isn't there. "Bonjour," she says with a little laugh. "Thank you very much for coming today to help celebrate our dear friend, James Holt." More applause. "But before I talk first about James, and his many accomplishments, I would like first to share some news with you. As many of you know, Masimo Cortiglione has agreed to finance the expansion of the James Holt label…"

No. She wouldn't. She wouldn't.

Not in front of everyone. She wouldn't hurt Nigel like this in front of everyone, would she? Because--because for him to get the news like--

"…and so it should come as no surprise that when the time came for James to choose the new president of James Holt International, he chose from within the Runway family…"

Maybe Andy's wrong. Maybe Miranda's found some other way of getting rid of Jacqueline and keeping Runway. Maybe Nigel's going to get the job after all--

"…my friend and long-time esteemed colleague…Jacqueline Follet."

Andy closes her eyes. Next to her, Nigel goes very still. Andy doesn't want to be here. She wants to get up and leave, right now. But she can't. When she opens her eyes again, Jacqueline is standing up and taking a demure little bow. Miranda is smiling and applauding. She looks beautiful.

Andy reaches one shaking hand out to touch Nigel's elbow. He waves her off, apparently needing a moment to compose himself, before he too begins to applaud. "You knew," he says softly, beneath the noise.

"I thought you did," Andy whispered. "I thought…I'm so sorry, Nigel."

Nigel swallows hard, and turns to look back up at Miranda, who is preparing to launch into her speech. "When the time is right," he murmurs to Andy, "she'll pay me back."

Andy wants to believe that. Isn't that what she'd thought herself, just a few hours ago, lying in bed next to the woman who's just broken her word to Andy and stabbed Nigel in the back? Miranda, who had kissed her forehead?

And you wonder why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day.

Andy suddenly remembers what Nigel said right after that.

Wake up, sweetheart.

She picks at her food and doesn't taste a morsel, but somehow she manages to participate in table conversation throughout the luncheon. Whenever Nigel seems to flag, she jumps in with something. Nobody else seems to notice--not that they'd care if a lowly assistant was acting weird, anyway. By the end of the meal, she's exhausted.

Miranda, of course, is one of the first to leave, which means that Andy has to get going too. She dreads the ride to the Cathy Pill show, which starts in an hour. What in the world can she say to Miranda? Should she say anything at all?

She gives Nigel's elbow a quick squeeze as she gathers her purse and cellphone. "See you there," she whispers.

He gives her a tight little smile. "I think I'll sit this one out, actually. Give her my regrets."

Andy blinks, and then gulps. "I…okay. I'll see you tonight."

Yes. She'll say something. She has to. Who else will?

On the way out, she catches a glimpse of Christian nursing his glass of wine, and looking strangely pale. He doesn't look up to meet her eyes as she hurries past. But there's no time to wonder about that, not now.

She slides into the car next to Miranda, who is wearing an exquisite dress with a neckline that exposes the lovely skin of her throat, her chest, and some of her shoulders. It's black, like her benefit gown: the one Andy had told Miranda looked so good on her, what feels like ages ago. Like that night, Miranda is not wearing a necklace. Andy suddenly realizes that Miranda remembered her comments about that gown--oh God, it was the first time Andy had ever touched her--and has chosen to wear this dress on purpose.

The car pulls away from the curb. Out of the corner of her eye, Andy sees Miranda turning her head towards her. She decides to meet her fate like a woman, and looks right back.

Miranda is positively glowing. Her lips are curved in a pleased little smile, while her eyes shine in vindictive triumph. "Now," she says, "I think that went off well, don't you?"

Andy gapes. "I, um--"

"You did a good job planning everything. I was pleased by the menu, although I felt that the almond tortes could have been better." Miranda tilts her head to the side. "Not your fault, I suppose."

"No," Andy agrees faintly. "But…"

Miranda settles back comfortably against the seat, wrapping her silver fur stole around her. Andy wonders, miserably, if it is as soft as the mink. She smiles at Andy again. "I told you it would all come out right," she says. "And it did."

"For you, maybe," Andy blurts. Miranda blinks, then frowns. Figuring she might as well go on, full steam ahead, Andy says, "Nigel didn't know. He…he didn't--"

"Oh, that." Miranda sighs, shuts her eyes briefly, and gives a little wave of her gloved hand. "I simply didn't have time to speak to him this morning. I was with Irv, and he was at the Ute Ploier show."

"But, but if I'd known," Andy stammers, "I--I would have told him myself."

Miranda raises an eyebrow at her, starting to look irritated. This isn't good. "Why would you have done that? You've got nothing to do with any of that business."

"He's my friend," Andy says. Miranda almost rolls her eyes, but thankfully seems to restrain herself at the last second. "Miranda," Andy says pleadingly, knowing that she's stepping way out of line here, even after last night, "he got the news in front of everyone. He--he was so hurt." Andy swallows. "Why did you have to make that announcement? I mean, couldn't you have waited until after…" She trails off, looking at Miranda, silently begging Miranda to make her understand, to say something that will explain all this.

Miranda inhales deeply, and to Andy's surprise, gives another pleased, cat-stole-the-cream-and-the-canary smile. "Oh, that wasn't at all about Nigel," she says. "I did that for a very specific reason, Andrea. Certain people had to be put on notice." Her eyes narrow and gleam. "Your friend Christian Thompson, for example."

Andy stares at her. When Miranda doesn't elaborate, she says, "Christian? What does he have to do with this?"

Miranda tilts her head to the side. There is something in her eyes that Andy doesn't like at all. "You mean he didn't tell you over dinner?" she asks.

"Tell me what?"

"Why, that he was working with Jacqueline Follet, of course," Miranda says innocently. "When she ousted me, he was going to be brought in to do the editorial content on the magazine." Her tone is mild; the look in her eyes is anything but, as she pins Andy with her gaze.

Andy stares at her some more. Her mouth opens and closes, opens again, and then snaps shut. "You thought," she says faintly, disbelievingly, "you thought I knew…?"

Miranda shrugs and glances out the window at the passing scenery. "I wasn't sure."

Andy feels bile in her throat. "How…y-you think I would have known about something like that, and not told you? Even, even after--" She can't finish. She can't believe Miranda would think she was capable of such treachery. How is that even possible, after everything that's happened? Doesn't she know Andy would do, has done, anything for her?

Then Andy remembers asking Miranda why Irv would betray her, since he's her friend. And Miranda's scornful laugh in reply, as if she hadn't even needed to give the question a moment's consideration. When it comes right down to the line, to zero hour, Miranda trusts no one. Not even Andy. That thought makes Andy feel sicker than anything else that's happened today.

"As I said, I wasn't sure," Miranda says, like that's not the most offensive thing that's ever come out of her mouth. She actually smiles. "You should have seen his face."

"Oh my God, Miranda," Andy says.

Miranda stops smiling, and a dangerous little line appears between her eyebrows. "You appear remarkably concerned for Mr. Thompson," she says.

"What? No!" Andy glares at her. "I'm concerned that--" She stops, remembering the way Miranda had clearly wanted to gut Christian at the Valentino show for the way he was acting around Andy. "Wait. Was that why you did it? Made the announcement?" She swallows. "Because of Christian and--?"

"Well, there were other people involved," Miranda says, and then allows, "but I don't want to lie and say that it was not an immensely satisfying moment."

There is not one jot, one iota of regret or remorse on her face. There is only victory, vindication, and perhaps a little confusion. She seems to be wondering why Andy isn't as gleeful as she is. "Andrea," she says, "Nigel will get over it. Since the slight was not actually to you, may I recommend you do the same?"

It's a fairly reasonable thing to say, actually. Miranda hasn't done anything to Andy. Except she didn't do something she told Andy she would, something she knew was important to Andy, no matter how silly it seemed to her. Oh, and she's just more or less said that she doesn't trust Andy as far as she can throw her. Or fuck her.

Andy wonders, for the millionth time, why not Nate, why not Christian, why Miranda, why does this woman have to be the person who turns Andy's life upside down? Why couldn't it have been somebody…nice, like Andy is?

"Anyway," Miranda says absently, opening up a leather folder and scrutinizing the notes Andy's left for her inside, "tonight, before dinner, I want you to transcribe your chickenscratch and email it to Emily. Honestly, Andrea, it wouldn't kill you to write legibly." She flips a page. "Then, when we get back home, I'll need you to compile them. I keep notebooks of every fashion week I've ever attended. I'm going to need all of this."

"When we what?" Andy asks.

"I said," Miranda says impatiently, "when we get back I'll need you to--"

"There is no 'getting back,'" Andy says, straining for composure. "I'm only staying for Paris."

Miranda blinks and looks up from the notes. Then she says, "What?"

"I told you," Andy says. "Before we left. I was only staying to take care of Paris, and then I'm quitting. Remember?"

Miranda stares at her, her brow wrinkled, as if Andy's just sprouted a second head. "But," she says, and shakes her head. "No. That was before. Now Stephen's…"

"You think that was the only problem?" Andy asks in disbelief. Miranda is positively unreal sometimes. "I work for you. We can't--"

Color is mounting in Miranda's face. "Of course we can," she says. "Why on earth not? What are you talking about? Don't be ridiculous, Andrea--"

"Don't be what?" Andy runs a hand through her own hair, not caring if she's just mussed it. What the hell? Does Miranda really think Andy is going to stick around, fuck the boss and then run to get her coffee, hoping nobody else in the office will notice? She's just said it herself. Things are different now. Andy can't go back to denial, to the way things were before; she can't be with Miranda, she can't love Miranda, and live like that. That's not who she is.

She has to get out of the cage. She's got to find the key.

Miranda slams the notebook shut. "Andrea," she says, clearly trying to keep her temper in check, "if this is about Nigel--"

"It isn't," Andy says, and realizes it's true. She's a little ashamed to realize that she's forgotten all about Nigel in the past couple of minutes. "It's not about Nigel."

She stares Miranda down, willing Miranda to see her sincerity, her resolve. Miranda's had plenty of time to become acquainted with both of those over the last several months.

Apparently Miranda sees it. Her jaw tenses. Andy steels herself for the icy rage, the contempt, or even the utter dismissal of her concerns.

She does not steel herself for the fear.

It flashes across Miranda's face for the barest, most fleeting of seconds, but it's there: pure panic. Andy blinks in astonishment. "Miranda," she says.

The car stops. They've arrived. Photographers are already rushing towards the vehicle; two big, beefy bodyguards are holding them off. One of them opens the door. Miranda appears to be frozen in place.

"Madame Priestly?" one of the bodyguards inquires, his voice loud over the shouts of the photographers. Andy unbuckles quickly and emerges from the car, holding the leather notebook Miranda has let fall onto the seat. By the time she walks around the car, Miranda has emerged and is proceeding quickly up the steps, the bodyguards clearing a path for her. She's still pressed on all sides. Andy rushes after her.

The bodyguards aren't quite enough, and Andy sees one hand reaching out to touch Miranda, to take her arm and detain her for a question or a photo or something. Without thinking, she barrels forward and shoves the hand away, putting her own hand on Miranda's back, placing her body between Miranda and the paparazzi. "Get back," she snaps at them all, figuring that even if it's undiplomatic, it's still better than "fuck off." She shields Miranda all the way to the door, taking the bumps and the jostles and the muttered insults in French that she's glad she can't understand.

When they're almost there, a reporter elbows Andy. She thinks it's accidental, but it pushes her away from Miranda. As soon as Andy disappears from her side, Miranda stops and whirls around. Then she reaches out, grabs hold of Andy's hand, and hauls her the last few steps through the door. She is still too pale. Her grip on Andy's hand is almost bonecrushing.

"Aggressive bunch," Andy says lamely as they make it into a hallway that is crowded with dignitaries, movie stars, wannabe movie stars, models, and everybody else. Miranda does not let go of her hand. Andy doesn't know what to make of that, except to hope that nobody notices. She doesn't want to know what Miranda will think--or do--if Andy tries to pull her own hand free.

They've paused by the door. Somebody is going to take note of them soon. "Uh, um," Andy says, "I think the showroom is over there." She dares to give Miranda's hand a reassuring squeeze, hoping that will convince her to let go.

"You can't," Miranda says. "You can't."

Oh shit. Is Miranda going to have a nervous breakdown or something? She can't have it here. "Do, uh," Andy says, trying to stay calm, "do you nee--want to go back to the hotel?"

Then she looks up and sees--of all people--Nigel, heading right for them. He doesn't look mad, or like he's about to cause a scene; he's wearing his usual bland smile. He glances down and sees Miranda holding Andy's hand. His eyebrows shoot up to where his hairline would be if he had one.

"Hi, Nigel," Andy says loudly as he approaches, and this appears to jerk Miranda out of her trance. She lets go of Andy, and Andy flexes her fingers, hoping to get some feeling back.

Miranda tilts her head back, says, "Let's go," and leads the way to the showroom without a word of greeting to Nigel or another look at Andy.

They follow her. "I thought you weren't coming," Andy mutters under her breath.

"This is still my job," he says, sounding resigned. "I might as well do it. What the hell did I just see back there?"

"I don't know," Andy says honestly, and in a burst of inspiration, adds, "maybe she feels bad about what she did."

Nigel's snort tells her what he thinks of that idea. It's pretty ridiculous, Andy has to admit. Then he gives her a sidelong look. "How did you know that I wasn't getting the job?"

Andy realizes that she shouldn't have known that. "Oh, you know," she hedges. "I hear things. We hear things. Assistants, I mean. We, um, pick things up."

"But you didn't know yesterday, when I spoke to you."

Andy is relieved that Nigel, at least, does not think her capable of such perfidy. "No, I didn't. Oh, look! Here we are."

Jocelyn and Lucia are waiting for them, bookending two empty chairs reserved for Miranda and Nigel right next to the catwalk. Miranda draws up and says, sharply, "Jocelyn, give Andrea your seat, and sit behind me."

Andy decides not to be surprised by anything else today, because she just can't take it anymore. Jocelyn, however, looks surprised, and then scared, like she's done something wrong and can't figure out what it is. Miranda sits down without further comment. Andy gives Jocelyn a helpless, don't-ask-me shrug.

"Well," Jocelyn mumbles in resignation, "I guess it balances out the plane."

So Andy winds up sitting next to Miranda for the whole show. She forces herself to focus, to take frantic notes, because for once it looks like Miranda isn't concentrating.

"I can always concentrate. This isn't good."

Is Andy actually bad for Miranda? Are they bad for each other? As Andy quickly sketches out the details of a particularly appealing printed sundress, she finds herself wondering if they are headed for, or if they're already in the middle of, the biggest clusterfuck ever. She understands that she's hurt Miranda. She just can't see why it's all her fault, or even how to fix it. She didn't tell Miranda that she wants to break off their--their affair, or whatever, just that she doesn't want to work at Runway anymore. Maybe she needs to make that clearer. Maybe that will make it okay. It's only reasonable, right?

Because she doesn't want to be bad for Miranda. She wants to be something good in her life, she loves her and she wants her love to help Miranda, not hurt her. She couldn't stand for it to be any other way.

For the rest of the afternoon, during the show, behind the scenes of the show, Miranda does not let Andy out of her sight. It's as if she's afraid Andy is going to run for the door, catch the first flight out of Paris, and never look back. She's pulled herself together by the time she needs to talk to other important people, but Andy can tell she's rattled. So can Nigel, and they keep exchanging worried glances. Jocelyn and Lucia, at least, seem blissfully ignorant, and nobody else has a clue.

When it's finally time to return to the hotel, Miranda tells Nigel, "Ride with us," and so he gets in the front seat of the Mercedes while Andy and Miranda sit in the back, dead silent and not looking at each other. Andy wishes she could think of something to do so she could at least look busy. She also wishes Nigel wasn't here. She just wants to talk to Miranda, tell her what's on her mind, and maybe find out what the hell it is that has Miranda so freaked out of all proportion.

When they arrive at the hotel, Miranda says, "Nigel, come with me," and leaves without looking at Andy. Andy grits her teeth and heads off to take care of the next thing on her schedule. Transcribing her chickenscratch.

Somebody knocks on her door about an hour later, and Andy sets aside her laptop, both hoping and dreading that it's Miranda. But it's Nigel, and he looks unusually grave as she lets him in.

She sits on her sofa, trying not to remember what she and Miranda did on it less than twenty-four hours ago. He takes a seat opposite her.

"She apologized to me," he says without preamble.

"Oh," Andy says. "Well…good. She should."

"She never apologizes for anything." He tilts his head to the side. "Surely you have noticed this."

"I guess," Andy admits. "But, I mean, I haven't been around that long."

"No, you haven't," Nigel says. "And yet, you appear to have made an indelible impression."

Andy frowns and tries not to tense up. "What do you mean?"

"When she finished apologizing to me, she said," Nigel lifts his nose into the air and does a credible impression of Miranda's haughty tones, "'You might go and speak to Andrea. She's up in arms on your behalf and has some ridiculous notion about quitting, which would be very inconvenient.'"

Andy sets her jaw. So that's why Miranda chose to do the decent thing. She hadn't been listening, then. Either that, or she hadn't wanted to understand. Andy's not quitting because of Nigel. But she can't tell him that. What is she supposed to say now?

"She doesn't want you to go," Nigel says. "Why do you suppose that is?"

"You said yourself I'm a good assistant," Andy says. It's worth a shot.

"Not that good," Nigel says bluntly.

Andy sighs. "I don't know," she lies. "She's under a lot of stress." Well, that part's true enough. "I guess she told you about Irv and Jacqueline and all that stuff." Nigel nods. Andy takes a deep breath. "Did she tell you her husband's leaving her?"

Nigel sits up very straight in his chair. "No," he says. "No, she didn't."

Hoping desperately that she's not betraying Miranda, that this is in a good cause, Andy says, "Well, he is. She told me last night. I think she's just," Andy waves her hand ineffectually, "really upset." Understatement of the century, judging by today.

Nigel keeps looking at her, and after a moment, his gaze changes from contemplative to something that looks almost sad. "I told you not to become indispensable," he mumurs.

"I'm not," Andy says, trying to sound firm and resolved. "I'm leav--quitting. It's not just because of you, it's--a lot of things."

"She needs you," Nigel says.

Andy shuts her eyes. She wants to say, She has me, but she can't. "I can't help that," she says instead.

"She'll take steps," Nigel says, a warning in his voice. "She doesn't let go easily, if she doesn't want to. She can make you regret this."

Andy stiffens. "I…I don't think she'll do that," she says. Because there has to be a limit, doesn't there? Even for Miranda?

"Enjoy that thought," Nigel says. "She wants to see you when we're done talking."

Andy bows her head. She's not up to this, and she has no choice. "Okay."

"So think really hard," Nigel says, "and go give her your answer."

Andy moistens her lips. "Okay."

"Right," Nigel says, reaching down to the floor beside his chair. When he pulls his arm up, he is holding Miranda's other thigh-high stocking.

"You should give her back her underwear, too," he says, dropping it into Andy's lap. He heads for the door and says over his shoulder, "It's funny when you piece something together that's been bothering you for a while."

By the time Andy can force herself to move, the door has shut behind him.

She's trembling all the way to Miranda's suite. She's halfway there when she realizes she did, in fact, forget the stocking. But she doesn't turn back for it, because if she does, she just might lock herself back in her room and never come out. Besides, she'd look ridiculous walking down the hallway with one stocking in her hand.

How angry is Nigel, exactly? Does he want revenge for what Miranda did to him? He can get it now. He has no proof, nothing like that, but he's so close to Miranda that people wouldn't doubt his word. And even if they did, just the whispers, just the allegation itself…

No. Even as the thought crosses her mind, Andy dismisses it. Nigel is loyal. He's probably the most loyal person she's ever met. To a fault, you might say. No, she can't blame her current case of nerves on Nigel.

She fits her key into Miranda's door, which shuts with a firm, all-too-final-sounding thud behind her. "Um. Hello?" she says, venturing timidly into the suite.

Miranda, still in her black dress, is looking out of her window onto the avenue below. She says nothing.

"I spoke to Nigel," Andy says, clasping her hands to keep from fidgeting. "He said you wanted to see me."

"Yes," Miranda says, and pivots slowly on her heel to regard Andy. At some point in the last hour, she's brought herself back under her usual supreme control. Her eyes are--not cold, exactly, not hard--not even angry. They are…dark. And the rest of her face is so still that her eyes appear to be the only living part of her. She's never looked so terrifying.

"I'm not sure you've thought this all the way through, Andrea," she says.

Andy realizes that Nigel was right. This will not be easy or pleasant. Miranda will not let her go without a fight.

Andy takes a deep breath. She can't afford to be afraid, no matter how scary Miranda is, or is trying to be. "Miranda," she says, "I don't know what you think, but I'm not leaving you. I'm leaving Runway. It's not the same thing. That is--it doesn't have to be, if you don't want it to."

She tries to smile. It sounds completely reasonable to her, but Miranda's expression does not change. She moves away from the window, gliding slowly towards Andy like a snake. Which is fitting, because Andy feels every bit as paralyzed as a mouse before her gaze.

"Do you know what I can do for you?" Miranda asks.

Andy stares at her. She isn't sure she understands the question. "S-sorry?" she stammers.

Miranda's face is moving out of the frozen mask; her lips are curling into a small smile. "You want to be a writer," she says. "A journalist. I've always known that."

Andy suddenly knows where this is going, and she doesn't like it at all. She draws her shoulders up as straight as she can. "Miranda," she begins.

Miranda holds up a hand. "One year as my assistant will open doors for anyone, Andrea. That's something you know. Now imagine--"

"Miranda--"

"Imagine the doors I can open for you, on top of those. Personally."

"I…I don't…"

Miranda tilts her head to the side, the awful little smile never leaving her face, the darkness never leaving her eyes. Andy knows, now, that there is something terrible stirring inside Miranda, and she doesn't know how to calm it, or even how to get out of the way before it blows up in her face. She can't do what Miranda wants. She can't just…give in.

"I'll be happy to do that for you, Andrea," Miranda says. "More than happy. You realize that, I hope."

Andy swallows hard. "I appreciate that," she manages. "But that--it isn't necessary. I mean, that's not what…"

"On the other hand," Miranda says.

Andy freezes.

"On the other hand," Miranda repeats, "those who don't last out their tenure at Runway often don't go on to be very successful."

"Are you--" Andy can't believe this is really happening. "Are you threatening me?"

Miranda ignores her and keeps talking. "There is no need for you to leave your job," she says. "Once you really think about it, I'm sure you'll agree. You're very good at what you do, Andrea."

"I can't," Andy says, shaking with fury. She tries to tell herself that Miranda is just upset, that she's operating out of a place of fear or anger or whatever, but it doesn't help. It doesn't make it right. "Miranda, I--don't you get it? I can't sleep with you and work at Runway!"

"Why not?" Miranda asks. Andy gapes. "We work well together. You are first assistant, effective immediately. And any other perks you want."

"I--perks? Are you serious?"

"Very serious," Miranda says quietly, and in spite of herself, something in Andy quails. "Andrea, this is a very--satisfactory arrangement. And given that any…public…relationship would be impossible until the divorce is over…"

"Jesus Christ," Andy says.

"Given that," Miranda continues, gritting her teeth and letting her control slip for just a moment, "nobody has to know. Nobody will know. If that's what concerns you--talk of favoritism, or something." She gestures impatiently.

Andy throws caution to the wind. Time for desperate measures. "Nigel knows," she says.

Miranda jerks her head back, her eyes going very wide.

"When he came to talk to me," Andy says, "he found the stocking you lost. It was on the floor by the chair. He knew it was yours." She takes a deep breath. "There was no other possible reason for it to be there. I didn't say anything, but--he knows, Miranda."

"He can't prove anything," Miranda snaps.

"Not now," Andy says, hoping that some kind of logic will finally penetrate Miranda's skull. "But, but if I stayed--something's bound to happen--"

"So…" Miranda tilts her head to the side. "If Nigel were not a problem…?"

Andy gasps. "Oh my God," she says. "No. You wouldn't." Miranda says nothing. "You couldn't. You can't." But the evidence certainly says otherwise. Not that Andy will let it happen. No matter what Miranda says, she's not staying. But the fact that Miranda would even let the idea cross her mind at all--that's what's so scary.

"If I could, and if I do," Miranda says, "will you stay?"

Unbelievably, part of Andy--a really sick, disgraceful part--is flattered. Touched, even, that Miranda is so desperate to keep her around. But she's mostly horrified, because it's true, she is bad for Miranda. She must be. She can't be good for her, because if she was, Miranda wouldn't be saying all these awful things.

Slipping. Falling. But which one of them is falling? Which one is dragging the other down with her?

"No," she says. "Miranda, no."

Miranda's eyes get even darker.

"I don't see why we can't be together anyway," Andy says pleadingly. "If that's what you want. We can work something out, can't we? I--you're upset. You're not being reasonable." Play for time. "Maybe we should talk about this tomorrow. Don't you have a dinner in twenty--"

"No, no," Miranda says. "We're talking about it now."

"Um--"

"So," Miranda says, starting to breathe a little faster. "You don't want what I can give. Do you want what I can withhold?"

"Miranda," Andy says at once, "Miranda, stop. Don't go there."

"It would be dishonest of me not to," Miranda says. Her eyes are slightly wild now. "You're a big fan of honesty, aren't you, Andrea? Full disclosure? Then you should know I can slow you down on whatever path you wish to follow. More than that. I can stop you."

"Miranda," Andy says, "you've got to stop. You don't mean this. You are going to regret this--"

"I'm not the only one, I think," Miranda says.

Andy feels herself heading towards something full tilt, and she doesn't know what it is, she only knows she doesn't want to get there. The only problem is, she doesn't know how to stop, either.

They can't do this. Their whole relationship, all along, has been about staying within the lines, not crossing the boundaries, even if those boundaries were…strange. Unspecified. But this, this is a major, obvious boundary, a great big honking red line, and Miranda's crossed it. She'd better cross back over, before it's too late.

"You're trying to make me stay with you?" Andy says. "You'd really like that? You'd like me to be here because I have to be, not because I want to be?"

Miranda flinches, but recovers and says, "You do want to be with me, Andrea. You've said so yourself. Were you lying?"

"Of course not! But--"

"Well, then. I'm not sure why you don't seem to understand the situation--heaven knows I'm doing my best to explain."

"No," Andy says. "I don't understand." And this is when she gets to where she was going.

She sees the unreasoning resolve in Miranda's eyes, and knows that she has to be the one to rein this in. Enough, already. Enough. She feels something crystallizing in her at last, going very hard and cold. Something that cannot be stopped.

Something that is not, and has never been, and never will be, nice.

"But neither do you, Miranda," she says. Her own voice sounds like it belongs to somebody else. "Is that the best you've got?"

Miranda, who has begun to speak again, shuts her mouth and stares at her blankly.

"That's it? Seriously?" Andy asks, stepping forward, squaring her shoulders. She feels energy rushing through her. "You think that's going to be enough? You think you can slow me down? You think you can stop me?"

"You should know what I can do by now, Andrea," Miranda says softly.

It doesn't faze Andy. It doesn't even show up on her radar. "Did you know I got into Stanford Law School?" she asks.

"I--" Miranda frowns. "No, but what does that have to do wi--"

"And Columbia. And Duke. And Northwestern, for my safety choice."

Andy can tell Miranda does not like this turn of conversation, because she doesn't know what it means. "Congratulations," Miranda snaps. "But what--"

Andy is the one moving, now. She is the one prowling forward, her eyes narrowing, honing in on Miranda. "They'd still love to have me," she says. "I could go any time. News flash. Do you think this is my only option in life? Do you think you are my only option? Like I have to lick your shoes to get anywhere I want to go?"

Miranda blinks, and then curls her lip. "Nice bluff, Andrea--but you don't want to be a lawyer. You want--"

"Don't tell me what I want," Andy says. "You don't know. You don't have a clue. You've proven that." Miranda's eyes flash with real rage. Andy meets it without fear. She lifts her chin.

Because she knows, now. She loves Miranda. She loves Miranda like crazy. And this is how she can be good for her. This is what she has to do.

She has to be stronger than Miranda. And, right now, she is. She is untouchable. She is unbeatable. She can step on Miranda Priestly and not even feel the crunch beneath her shoe. Now that's love.

"You know what else, Miranda?" she asks quietly. "Even if that wasn't true. Even if you knew every important person at every law school in the country and could keep me out of there, too. Even if you could fuck my life up in every single way, you know what?" She narrows her eyes. Miranda has gone very still again.

"I would rather," Andy says, her voice very low, "go back to Ohio, and live with my parents, and spend the rest of my life writing up wedding announcements and covering county fairs than be forced to stay here with you." One last gasp of generosity compels her to add, "Or anyone."

Miranda goes white. She appears to be incapable of speech.

"So you decide," Andy says. "You make your decision. I've made mine." She reaches out to touch Miranda's face. Miranda's muscles are clenched as hard as stone, but she doesn't move away. She doesn't look as if she can move at all.

"You just think about what I can do for you," Andy whispers, moving her hand to touch Miranda's collarbone. "How about that?" She drops her hand and looks up and down Miranda's body, clad in the black dress. Then she gives a sad little laugh. "You look really pretty today," she says. "I love you."

Miranda says nothing. Maybe there's nothing more to say. Andy turns and leaves her suite. When the door closes behind her, she stops and leans back against it, because her knees suddenly lose all their strength.

A door opens down the hallway. Nigel's room. He sticks his head out, and then begins walking towards her.

Andy holds up a hand and hurries towards him. "Don't even try it," she says, keeping her voice low in case Miranda can hear this far. "Keep out of her way."

"What did you do?" Nigel asks flatly. "What did she say?"

"Tell you what," Andy says, reaches into the pocket on her dress, and fishes out a few euros. She gives them to Nigel. "Later, when she's feeling more reasonable, you go out and buy her a copy of 'Ruby Tuesday.' Tell her to play it on repeat until she gets a clue."

"Andy," Nigel says, looking shocked.

"Sorry," Andy says, brushing past him and heading towards her own room, wondering if she's about to laugh, or cry, or what. "I guess I just got tired of being nice."

She shuts the door to her room behind her and stands there, at a loss. Then she realizes there's a reason why her knees are weak: she slept all of one hour last night, barely ate anything at lunch, spent all day in a state of high tension, and frankly it's a miracle she's still standing at all. She briefly considers calling room service and ordering something disgustingly high in carbs and fat, and possibly sugar as well, before deciding that she'd probably pass out face-down into it halfway through.

Andy heads for the bathroom and wipes off her face. Then she strips out of her clothes, tossing the green-and-black dress over a chair, and collapses down on the bed in her underwear. She feels as if she could sleep straight on till morning. Maybe she can. And why shouldn't she? Miranda has another dinner tonight that Andy won't be attending. It's likely to run late, and Andy's willing to bet Miranda won't be knocking on her door afterward, this time. As for her other tasks, like finishing her transcription, Andy finds that she can't give a flying fuck.

She crawls under the sheets and is out like a light.

Her dreams are unhappy and uneasy, full of Miranda and Nigel and Nate and, for some reason, a thunderstorm. She wakes up once in the middle of the night to the sound of real thunder, and the ping of rain against her windowpanes. Growing up in Ohio, she's developed a healthy respect for thunderstorms, and the tornadoes that sometimes come with them. She reminds herself that tornadoes are very unlikely in Paris, and then her exhaustion drags her back down.

When she wakes up next, it's two in the morning, and the thunder and rain have stopped. Her stomach is what wakes her. She's starving. Does room service even deliver at this time of night?

She peeks out through her curtains and sees an all-night café across the street. It's almost empty, but she sees one or two people moving around inside. She throws on her dress again, not bothering with her hair or makeup, and a slightly more comfortable pair of shoes that don't go with the outfit, and heads out of the hotel. The wet asphalt shines in the light of the streetlamps. Andy avoids the puddles and drains.

There's not much on offer at two in the morning. She doesn't want wine, and coffee will just make sure she can't go back to sleep. So she coughs up the extra euros for a glass of mineral water, plus a ham croissant, which she devours without caring how she looks, or about the curious glances she's getting from the lone barkeep and the two other patrons.

In thickly accented English, the bartender asks her, "Love trouble?"

She's not going to be that much of a cliché."Non," she lies, and he leaves her alone after that.

When she's done eating, she feels better, and kind of sleepy again. It's two-thirty; she didn't linger over her food. She can still get a good three and a half hours of sleep, and she wants them all.

She lets herself into her darkened suite, kicks off her shoes, and nearly screams when she sees Miranda sitting on the sofa, regarding her silently.

Fortunately, instead of screaming, Andy just stares at her with her mouth hanging open.

"I called you," Miranda says. "You didn't answer your phone. And I knocked, and…"

"I went across the street," Andy says blankly. "To the café. I was hungry. Um…how did you get in here?"

"The hotel clerk gave me a key," Miranda says.

"At two-thirty in the morning?"

"I've had it," Miranda says, and adds, "lest you think you are a special case, I have one for Nigel's room, too."

"O…okay," Andy says, looking at her more closely now that she's had a second to get over the shock.

Miranda is no longer wearing her elegant black dress. Instead, she's sitting on Andy's sofa in a plain grey bathrobe, her feet bare, her face wiped clean of all makeup. (Face off, Andy thinks.) She notices Andy looking her up and down, and shifts uncomfortably on the couch. "I couldn't sleep," she says.

So, of course, she'd felt perfectly free to disturb Andy, too. Letting herself into Andy's room, no less. Typical. That's not what they need to be talking about, though, so Andy just sits down in what she now thinks of as Nigel's chair. "Are you okay?" she asks.

Miranda gives her a withering glare. In spite of herself, and what happened earlier, Andy shrinks from it. "I'm here at two-thirty in the morning," she says. "What do you think?"

"Oh," Andy says, "well," and then can't think of anything else.

Miranda drums her fingers against the arm of the sofa, before saying, quietly, "What…what are your plans?" She clears her throat. "What will you do when you return to New York?"

Andy hasn't thought that far ahead. "I don't know," she says, and adds a little sharply, "that kind of depends on you." Miranda gives her a quick look. "Are you going to do any of that stuff you said? Try to…stop me?"

Miranda doesn't say 'no' right away, which sends a chill down Andy's spine. Instead, she says slowly, "I don't want you to go."

"I noticed that," Andy says carefully, keeping her voice hushed, as if a quiet room can somehow prevent a catastrophe. "But…why does that mean I have to stay at Runway? I really don't get why you seem to think we can't be together any other way. We…we can be discreet, right? If it's the publicity you're worried about. And the divorce. And all that. Um."

Miranda isn't even looking at her as she says, "I've grown…used to having you around."

How romantic. Trying to lighten the mood, Andy says, "Well, you'd get sick of me if I was around that much."

Miranda looks at her then. "No," she says thoughtfully. "No, I don't think I would."

Andy gulps, telling herself that that wasn't meant to be a come-on, and that it shouldn't make her feel mushy, because now isn't the time for that. Instead, for a moment, she allows herself to consider things from Miranda's perspective.

Would it really be so bad to keep working at Runway and hide her relationship with the boss? Miranda already favors her pretty obviously; maybe nobody else would even notice the difference. They hid the kissing-and-touching thing, after all. And it's true, nobody can anticipate Miranda's moods and needs like Andy can. They do work well together. And it happens, it does happen, you hear about it all the time, romance in the workplace. What's the big deal? If it'd keep Miranda happy, why is Andy resisting so hard?

Because Miranda's life is already Runway. She controls every single thing about Runway. Every little detail. And if Andy is a part of Runway, Miranda will control her too. Just like she always has. And that, Andy finally understands, is what Miranda wants: not just to love her, not just to have her 'around,' but to keep her. To own her. To have someone who can't leave.

No. You don't get those guarantees. Andy's younger than Miranda, much younger, and she still understands that.

"What's your second choice?" she asks.

Miranda closes her eyes and presses her lips together.

It must be the lack of sleep that prompts Andy to stand up, and move to sit next to Miranda on the couch. She remembers pinning Miranda down on it. Miranda must remember too, because her breath catches.

"I can't be bad for you," Andy says, trying to explain what's been driving her all along. She reaches out and cups Miranda's throat, just like she did that day in her office, among a dozen shoeboxes. She strokes with her thumb. Miranda shivers. "I want to be something good for you. Somebody who's good for you, I mean."

Miranda laughs softly, harshly. "That is not under your control, Andrea. And it's a little late for that."

Andy's hand pauses. "What do you mean?"

Miranda looks into her eyes. Her gaze holds Andy still. "Do you remember," she says, "when you found the mark on my neck? I assume that's why you stopped. In the car."

"Yes," Andy says, not wanting to remember how that felt.

"The night before--I tried to save my marriage. I want you to know that I did try. I wasn't the one who gave up. I…obviously it wasn't enough, and I think he knew, I think he could tell." Miranda moistens her lips. Then she gives another, even more bitter laugh. "Of course, he was the one who was already cheating."

"I don't understand," Andy says carefully. "You, um…when you two…"

Miranda does not look like she wants to keep talking about this, but she does, although haltingly. "I don't think my mind was on it," she says.

"Were you thinking about me?" Andy asks softly, although she knows the answer. Miranda says nothing--maybe she can't bear to admit it, even now--so Andy scoots in closer to her on the couch. "I did the same thing," she confesses. "With Nate." Only she hadn't been trying to save their relationship, or fix any of their problems. She'd been out for revenge, pure and simple.

"I see," Miranda says, and raises her chin. "It was not my finest hour." She winces. "Half-hour. Nor was earlier this evening. So, to reply to you, Andrea: no. No, you are not 'good' for me."

Andy holds her breath.

"I don't care," Miranda says.

She reaches out and takes Andy's hand. Then she tugs. Andy lets herself be pulled forward until she's practically in Miranda's lap. Her heart starts pounding. Miranda is warm, and the fabric of her robe is soft and supple.

They kiss. Andy's not sure who initiates it. She's only sure of the slow, aching wash of heat inside her.

When they part, apropos of nothing, Andy breathes, "I told myself, you know, what we were doing--in the car, and everywhere--that it was an aesthetic thing. You know. Not, like, sex."

Miranda looks up at her as she cups Andy's breast through the fabric of her dress. "I didn't," she says.

Then they're going at it again, without having resolved anything, without having come to any sort of conclusion. Miranda pulls up Andy's skirt, and Andy pulls open Miranda's robe, and their hands are everywhere. But hands finally aren't enough, and when she's opened Miranda's robe all the way, and eased Miranda's silk nightgown off her shoulder, exposing one of her breasts, Andy drops to her knees before Miranda on the sofa. She leans forward and takes the perfect, rosy nipple in her mouth, sucking strongly in the way she now knows drives Miranda wild. Miranda melts, dissolves, beneath her touch, holding Andy's head against her, bending over and muttering nonsensical things into Andy's hair, kissing Andy's temples.

"Oh," she suddenly gasps, "stop, stop, I'll--" Andy doesn't stop. Instead she leans forward, pressing Miranda against the back of the couch, and strokes her other breast. "--oh, I'll, oh--" Andy plucks at Miranda's nipple, twists it through the thin silk, and Miranda comes. Andy savors the little noises she makes, the way her body locks into place, almost as if Miranda is suffering through it, trying desperately to hold on to herself.

When it's over, Miranda slides back against the couch. Andy follows her, kisses her lips. She isn't slipping or falling anymore. She's done that. Now she feels as if she's hit the water below, and is drowning far from shore. The rapture of the deep. Miranda moans softly into her mouth, and Andy gently combs her fingers through her hair.

"I love you," Miranda pants.

The words are lightning and thunder in Andy's brain. Tornadoes. Miranda's eyes are closed, as if she's trying to pretend she's somewhere else, but she isn't, she's here, with Andy. And…will that be enough? Twenty-four hours ago, Andy would have said yes, without hesitation and with stars in her eyes. She's not sure now.

Miranda's words still light her up like a Christmas tree, though, and she kisses Miranda again, with a full and grateful heart. She tries not to think about how Miranda doesn't actually trust her, because the two things, love and trust, are tied together in her mind and she doesn't want to consider how the lack of one can easily destroy the other.

"I love you, too. You want to go to bed?" she asks against Miranda's lips. She's tired, after all, and there's only so much she can take in one evening. Surely they can deal with the rest of it in the--

"I want to know," Miranda replies, covering herself again with her nightgown, "what you are going to do."

Or maybe they can't. Andy cuts to the chase. "Take you to bed," she says, "get up in the morning, do my job, and keep doing my job until we go home, and then quit, and find somewhere else to work, like I said. What are you going to do?"

Because that's the real thing, the million-dollar question. What does love mean to Miranda Priestly? And how far does it go?

"I don't know," Miranda says. She sits up and, to Andy's dismay, pushes her away. "I wish you'd never come to Runway." She straightens her robe. "I wish my idiot facialist hadn't ruptured that disc, and Emily had interviewed you instead and sent you away. I wish…"

Andy's Christmas-tree glow is gone, just like that. She feels like she's been slapped. "Well, I'm leaving," she says, "so maybe you'll forget."

"I doubt it," Miranda says, and then closes her eyes. She looks as exhausted as Andy feels. "You mentioned bed."

Andy's jaw drops. "You want to go to bed? With me? Now?"

"No, Andrea. I want to go to the moon with you tomorrow. For God's sake." Miranda stands up and stalks towards the bedroom without an invitation.

Wondering if maybe she's dreaming, or sleepwalking, or something, Andy follows her. She watches as Miranda tosses her robe aside and crawls into Andy's bed in her nightgown. It's a pretty nightgown. For the second time that night, Andy takes off her dress and gets in bed in her underwear. They regard each other silently. Andy feels the most absurd impulse to burst out laughing.

"This is really messed up," she says.

Miranda looks at her. "We can try it," she says.

"What? Try what?"

"Try it. This," Miranda gestures at them on the bed, "after you--leave. Quit. Since you are determined not to listen to reason."

Andy's head and heart go light at the same time. Thank God: sanity at last. It's a start. Which is the best she can hope for, really.

"Would you really go back to Ohio?" Miranda asks, skepticism coloring her voice, as if she is not entirely convinced that Ohio exists, much less that Andy would ever go there.

Andy shrugs. "Let's not find out," she suggests.

"Let's not," Miranda agrees, and slides an arm around Andy's shoulders. Andy scoots in, hardly daring to breathe, and kisses her bare shoulder.

She hopes this will work.

 

SIX MONTHS LATER

Nigel sips his drink, an unlikely thing called an "avocadotini" that sounds perfectly awful. It's very fashionable right now, though. Andy has a beer.

"So, how is she?" Andy asks cautiously.

This is the first time she's met with Nigel since Paris. Since she quit and left it all behind. She knows Nigel still blames her for it, but she's glad he's finished with giving her the cold shoulder. Over the last year, she really grew to like hanging out with him, and she suspects he enjoyed her company more than he was willing to admit.

"She's…herself," Nigel says, and now he's avoiding Andy's eyes. They've managed to get through drinks without mentioning Miranda (a minor miracle), but Andy needs to ask. She needs to know. "Perhaps a little worse than usual, though it's hard to tell sometimes." He gives Andy a Look. "She's calling her new second assistant 'Emily.'"

"Of course she is," Andy says with a little smile.

"I'll be blunt," Nigel says, like he's ever anything else. He drums his fingers against the table. "You hurt her. I think you hurt her a great deal."

Andy gulps, and looks down at the table. "I didn't want to," she says. "I tried not to. She was…difficult." She tries to laugh. "Big surprise, right?"

"Are you aware," Nigel says, "that we are forbidden to speak your name in the office?"

Andy's jaw drops. "You're what?"

"Not officially--but it's understood. What happened with you two?" Nigel asks.

Andy's not at liberty to say that. Not even now. Not directly, anyway. "I think we, um, sort of went a little crazy for a while," she says. "Let's leave it at that."

"You had great timing," Nigel says sourly. "Stephen's running all over town with that Beauregard woman. Do you have any idea how humiliating that is for her?"

"What do you want me to do?" Andy asks, trying to keep a lid on her temper. This is sort of Nigel's business, maybe, but only insofar as Miranda is always his business. Andy would love to talk to somebody about what happened, honestly, but she doesn't have the right. She'll keep Miranda's secrets. She can do that much, at least. "I can't go back and change things, or do it over again. Look, is she, you know, okay?"

Nigel sighs, and pushes his chair away from the table. "Yes. She is, as you put it, 'okay.' She doesn't know how to be anything else."

"I know," Andy says softly, but she thinks unwillingly of that night in Paris when they'd squared off against each other, and everything that had happened afterwards, and how obvious it had been that Miranda was anything but okay. A little crazy, indeed. And Andy had been no different.

"I should go," she says.

"Let me pick up the tab," Nigel says, with surprising generosity. "You cub reporters don't make too much, do you?"

"It pays the rent," Andy says defensively, and adds, "but not much else."

"No new roommates on the horizon?" Nigel asks delicately.

"I'm kind of enjoying living alone right now," Andy replies in kind. Nigel nods, looking a little glum. Maybe it's kind of depressing to realize that not working at Runway anymore is, in fact, no guarantee of actually having a life outside of work.

After leaving the bistro, Andy heads down the street, and stops to pick up some food. She's not really hungry, but she has to eat. Nate managed to drum that much into her, anyway. She hasn't heard from him in a while. She doesn't want to. Lily's started speaking to her again, though, so that's something. It's good to have friends again.

The bag is heavy, and it is with relief that she mounts the steps and turns the key. It's been a long day, and she's tired and kind of lonely. She shuts the door behind her and carries the bag into the kitchen, where she dumps it on the table.

"Please tell me you didn't just break the eggs," Miranda says.

Andy blinks, winces, and checks the bag. "No. The clerk put them on top."

"Thank goodness somebody was thinking straight. Put them in the fridge."

Andy rolls her eyes, but does as she's told. After all these months, Miranda's fridge is still a revelation. It's stainless steel, spotless, and seems to be half the size of Andy's apartment. And surprisingly empty. Well, not surprisingly--Miranda dines out a lot--but why have a fridge like this if you're not going to use it?

They're not dining out tonight. Instead, Miranda is standing in front of a hissing stir-fry pan with a look of intense concentration on her face. She doesn't like cooking, but once she'd found out that Andy used to date a chef, she'd suddenly discovered an interest in it. It's kind of sweet, Andy supposes, but when she's alone she still laughs her head off.

When she's done putting away the groceries, Andy saunters forward, and slides her arms around Miranda from behind. She feels less lonely now. And less tired. She kisses the back of Miranda's neck, and smiles when Miranda shivers and almost drops the spatula.

Miranda carefully turns down the heat and steps away from the stove. Andy does not let go, and Miranda gives up and leans back into her. Andy kisses her again, at the curve of her throat.

"Nigel says you're 'okay,'" she says.

"Of course I am," Miranda says.

"Then what's all this about nobody being allowed to say my name at the office?"

Miranda sounds genuinely puzzled when she says, "What?"

"Nigel said that it was 'understood' that nobody's allowed to talk about me."

Miranda sighs. Andy can't see her face, but she knows Miranda's rolling her eyes. "If they applied one-tenth of that imagination to doing something useful--" Andy laughs. "Don't get me started. My God, your replacement is an idiot."

"What did he do today?"

"Let Michael Kors go to voicemail." Andy winces again. "Is it so hard to pick up a phone? Do I really ask too much?"

"No, no," Andy says, and noses around until she finds the birthmark she really likes. She licks it. "I still can't believe you call him 'Emily,' though."

Miranda shrugs, though it might just be because she wants Andy to lick her again. Andy obliges. "There are worse fates."

"I guess. Nigel's worried about you."

"Nigel likes to worry about me. It gives him a hobby."

"It's everybody's hobby," Andy says. "In case you didn't realize." Of course, most people who worry about Miranda only worry about what she'll do to them if she gets upset enough.

"They can form a club and publish a newsletter for all I care," Miranda says. She is starting to sound peevish. Andy slides her hands upward and cups Miranda's breasts, kissing her throat again. Miranda arches into her hands, and Andy considers the merits of seating her on the counter and fingerbanging her into a gibbering heap.

"You want to have sex in the kitchen?" she asks innocently.

"I want," Miranda says, "to finish making dinner, and then eat it. I'm starving."

Andy knows, with just a little persistence, she can get Miranda on the counter. Or on the kitchen table with her knees over Andy's shoulders while Andy tonguefucks her until she screams. Or any number of other locations and/or positions. But the food would burn or go cold, depending on what they remembered to do with the stove, and either way Miranda would be impossible to deal with afterwards.

Andy sighs. Later, maybe. "What are we having?"

"Vegetable stir-fry. What does it look like?"

Hunger makes Miranda cranky. Crankier. Andy lets go of her, with one last, fond kiss to the back of her neck. She grins at the gasp Miranda can't quite stifle. "I'll pour the wine. What are the eggs for?"

"Breakfast."

Andy digs in with the corkscrew. "What time do the twins get back tomorrow?"

"The train arrives at noon, so they'll be here by one." Miranda doesn't look up as she pushes the vegetables around in the pan.

So Andy'll be out of here by eleven-thirty, just in case. Oh well, it's been a nice few days, anyway. And the twins go off on little jaunts with various friends and relatives often enough that it'll happen again before too long.

It is a good life, a happy one. So far. And if Andy sometimes catches that look of fear on Miranda's face--if she herself sometimes lies awake at night next to Miranda, wondering if this can last--well, she tries not to dwell on it. They live day by day. How can they do otherwise?

She glances over at Miranda. "Hey. I heard something at the paper today. About Bradley Huntingdon." Miranda says nothing, but she raises her eyebrows. "You know, that guy we had the meeting with, after the benefit. The jerk."

"I'm sure I don't recall."

"Apparently he got demoted. And transferred to Kentucky." Andy fills two glasses with Chenin blanc.

"My goodness, really? Well, c'est la vie."

Andy beams at her. If you're going to be Miranda Priestly's lover, it helps to have a healthy appreciation for schadenfreude.

Miranda looks at Andy then. Her lips are twitching. She is one second away from laughing like she means it, and then she does.

Andy laughs with the woman she loves. "You know," she says, "those pants make your ass look great."

"Yes," Miranda says, still chuckling. "I know."

Fin.