DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Coffee and Brownies
By kosmos8


After Andy Sachs turned her back on Miranda Priestly in Paris, effectively ending her job at Runway and her career in fashion, she did not expect to -- nor did she want to -- encounter Miranda ever again. There was that one time that she'd caught sight of Miranda in front of the Elias-Clarke Building, and she couldn't help herself from waving a nervous greeting from across the street, but Miranda had completely ignored her, so that couldn't really be deemed an encounter.

So it came as a faint shock to Andy when one morning, several months later, she found herself standing once again in Miranda Priestly's office, slack-jawed, gripping bags of scarves and handbags and samples and fabrics, trying to avoid Miranda's stare, and not entirely sure how she'd got there.

She had tried her best to put that world behind her, throwing herself into her new job at the New York Mirror, reveling in the sheer pleasure of writing and creating something meaningful to people outside of a privileged, self-indulgent cross-section of society. She was marching straight ahead upon her chosen dream career path, not looking back for a single moment. There had been times that she would find herself randomly browsing the fashion section of newspapers and news sites online, but it wasn't like she really cared or anything -- it was just that there was so much NEWS in the world that you could never really know too little about anything, and it was always best to keep herself informed.

She wasn't interested at all in the fact that Runway's sales spiked for several weeks after a rumour was leaked that Miranda Priestly had been, for a brief while, in danger being dethroned as the queen of her publication; it didn't matter that James Holt's new company's stock price had been steadily gaining value after its IPO. Furthermore, it was of completely no consequence to Andy that the editor-in-chief of Runway had been recently seen on the arms of several well-known men of varying ages and incomes. Perhaps, Andy had thought to herself, for the tiniest briefest moment, surely not so soon after the divorce, and what about her children? But only for a very very short moment, and if Andy had even thought it (and she was perfectly sure she never had) she would have forgotten the thought instantly. Besides, it had absolutely nothing to do with her.

It was just a coincidence that Andy got her daily coffee fix at the same Starbucks where she used to buy Miranda's coffee. She went there not out of some strange misguided desire to replicate a former work ritual to remind herself of some part of her former life, but because it was the most convenient location for her that she passed daily on her way to work, and because the baristas there had gotten to know her very well while she worked for Runway, and they knew just how she liked her coffee. That was all.

Vaguely, Andy thought to herself that if she'd known that going to this particular Starbucks would have resulted in her standing in Miranda Priestly's office, she would have forgone coffee for that day.

She had entered the Starbucks that morning just in time to see a tall, skinny well-dressed young lady trip noisily over a chair and tumble ungracefully to the ground. It wasn't really the girl's fault; ten or twelve shopping bags weighed down the girl's arms, and the 6-inch heels on her feet certainly hadn't helped.

"Take it easy," said Andy, helping the girl to a seat. It looked like the girl had twisted her ankle. She could barely stand, her face twisting in pain, and Andy could tell that the ankle would start to swell.

"I don't have the time to take it easy," cried the girl, near tears. "I was late ten minutes ago -- and I need to get these back right now, or I'm so going to be fired." She gestured to the small mountain of shopping bags scattered across the floor, brand names like Hermes, Chanel and Tiffany blazoned across them, while her face crumpled up in despair.

"Oh, they don't fire people over twisted ankles," Andy reassured, absently thinking of a certain someone who would very readily fire someone for much less than a twisted ankle.

"SHE would. I know she would," the girl sniffled. "My boss is a complete psycho bitch."

Andy clucked sympathetically, letting her attention drift towards the coffee counter, trying to decide what to order.

"And Emily WARNED me to come in earlier, so that I could get everything ready ahead of time, but I totally overslept and didn't even have time to do my makeup properly, and the run-through's in an hour, and I was supposed to get everything ready an hour and a half before that -- and since when do we have run-throughs so early anyway?"

She finally paused to take a breath.

Andy felt the beginnings of a fluttering nausea in her stomach -- the one she got whenever she thought of Miranda. The idea was absurd -- just because Andy used to get coffee for Miranda here didn't mean that every one of Miranda's assistants would do the same thing. Plus there were probably one thousand Emilys working in Manhattan, one hundred on this block alone.

Still, once the possibility had germinated in Andy's mind, she couldn't let it go.

"You don't work at Runway by any chance, do you?" she chuckled weakly. "For the editor-in-chief?"

The girl stared at Andy. "Yes, actually, I do. How did you know?"

"Just a lucky guess," Andy suppressed the urge to howl. "I -- I used to work there, and uh, knew an Emily."

"Right," said the girl doubtfully, looking over Andy's attire, which consisted of a simple pair of khaki slacks and a Gap black belted jacket from last season. Andy ignored the scrutiny.

Suddenly the girl lost interest in Andy's wardrobe, as if remembering her own predicament, and tried to stand up but failed.

"I need to deliver this stuff, like, right now, or I'm so going to lose my job. And after I worked so hard for it too!" she wailed, tears threatening alarmingly to ruin her mascara. "I beat out so many girls for this job, I can't afford to lose it now! This job just means so much to me! This job..."

This job that a million girls would die for.

Andy suddenly felt very much in a hurry. She had to get to work, and she hadn't even ordered her coffee yet. She did not want to start her morning being reminded of Runway, or the people who worked at Runway, or anything to do with Runway at all.

The girl's ankle was bloating nastily, and makeup was running down her cheeks. She was quite a miserable sight.

Damn it all, thought Andy. Damn the girl for falling down right in front of her. Damn herself for coming to this bloody Starbucks.

Andy battled with her conscience for a moment, and finally bent down over the pile of shopping bags, piling them over her arms one by one. Shoving one of the smaller packages into her handbag -- honestly, how could one person be expected to have enough arms to carry all of these alone -- she told the girl to get herself to the ER and get the ankle checked out.

The girl sniffed. "But -- but what about all this --"

"I'll take the stuff up to Runway for you, and explain that you got into an accident." This would be her good deed for the month. For the year. For the decade. "Hopefully they won't mind too much as long as it gets delivered to them."

The girl's expression morphed from one of abject despair to a hopeful elation. "Really? Are you sure? Because it would be SUCH a huge help --"

Andy wasn't sure at all, but she couldn't say no now -- the girl was positively radiating gratitude as if she'd been given a second lease on life. She limped out of the store, thanking Andy profusely the whole time.

Andy went up to the counter and ordered a double latte for herself, and two scalding hot venti-sized coffees just the way Miranda liked it. If she was going to do this, she might as well do it properly.

On the way to Runway, Andy began to regret agreeing to this. She hadn't exactly left her old company under pleasant circumstances, nor had she kept in touch with anyone. Her arms were beginning to ache -- those bags were damn heavy. The flutter that had started in her stomach earlier blossomed into a full-blown squall as she made her way to Elias-Clarke Publications.

She entered the building and encountered no resistance; the security desk must have thought she still worked there. Saddled with shopping bags and a tray of Starbucks, she fit right in. Andy could have been a terrorist smuggling in dangerous materials and liquids and no one would have known. For a wild moment she hoped that someone would suspect her and kick her out of the building, and was slightly disappointed when no one did. Before she knew it, the elevator had arrived at Runway's floor, and she tried to halt her aimless train of thought.

Taking a deep breath, Andy pushed in through the glass doors. The receptionist was occupied on the phone and did not appear to notice her. Around her, people were hurrying every which way possible, doing a million things at once. Without anyone giving her a second glance, she made her way through the corridors of Runway, which hadn't changed much since her time there.

" ... don't know, she said she was on her way back ages ago!" Andy heard a female voice get louder and more agitated as she drew closer. She turned the corner and stopped, greeted by the sight of Emily sitting at her desk, frantically punching numbers into a phone. A silver-haired woman, dressed in an elegant white blouse and black knee-length skirt, loomed over her.

"The continued reminders of your incompetence are enough to fill a book. Many books." That weary, disdainful, yet terrifying tone of voice sent familiar ripples of disquiet to Andy's knees. "Is it so hard for anyone around here to understand simple instructions? Why is nothing ready?"

Then Miranda turned and met Andy's eyes, and Andy's mind went completely blank.

Andy was vaguely reminded of the time that she had unwillingly walked in on a heated conversation between Miranda and her then-husband; the look on Miranda's face of muted disbelief, that Andy had the gall to be there, had been burned into her memory. For a fleeting instant, Andy thought she saw the same look on Miranda's face, but it was so quickly replaced with a detached glare that Andy supposed she had been mistaken.

Miranda, in the present, was calmly raking her eyes over Andy's body and clothing. Andy withered under the gaze, slightly bothered that after all this time Miranda still thought it necessary to judge her wardrobe and give her a mental dressing-down.

"I see you have put on some weight," Miranda said finally.

"Good to see you too, Miranda."

"What on EARTH are you doing here?" Emily interjected, looking like she was about to have an epileptic fit.

"Just to drop these off," Andy said quickly. "This girl -- she said she worked for you -- she fell down right in front of me at Starbucks, and the poor thing twisted her ankle, and it looked so painful, she could barely stand, let alone walk, so I told her to take a cab to the hospital, so she's okay, but she had all this stuff for the run-through--"

"Emily, call her -- make sure she's alive, and tell her she no longer works for me," Miranda said icily.

Andy swore under her breath, feeling very sorry for herself. She had gotten herself into this predicament -- with the sole objective of saving that girl's job -- all for nothing.

Miranda took one coffee from the tray in Andy's hand and sipped, grimacing. "Quite undrinkable. And these," she gestured to the bags in Andy's aching arms, "were supposed to be in my office half an hour ago."

Emily jumped up to take the shopping bags from an exhausted Andy, who was sure her arms were going to drop off any minute.

"I said to call my good-for-nothing assistant -- the other one -- and fire her," snapped Miranda. "You clearly can't be counted on to do more than that. Then call everyone and tell them to get everything here in five minutes. "

"Five minutes?" Emily exclaimed. "But the run-through's not for another --" Emily shrunk under Miranda's glare. "Five minutes. I got it."

Andy's shoulders groaned. "Um... what about --" She indicated the shopping bags in her arms.

Miranda looked at her as if she had sprouted two heads. "What part of 'supposed to be in my office half an hour ago' do you not understand? Are you waiting for a gilded invitation?"

Andy shot a glance at Emily, who shrugged, and whipped her head back to Miranda. "Wait -- you want me to bring this into your office? But shouldn't Emily -- I mean, I don't even --"

"The cleaning lady can bring it in for all I care. Make sure it happens some time before next Tuesday, hmm?"

With that, Miranda turned on her heel and strode to her desk, obviously expecting Andy to follow.

"... work here anymore," Andy finished under her breath. "I see she's as pleasant as ever."

Emily rolled her eyes in response and picked up the phone.

There was a time that Andy would have responded nervously and hastily to each of Miranda's summons; back then, Andy's self-confidence had grown to the point that she could anticipate precisely what Miranda wanted. But now, Andy was just self-righteously annoyed. Miranda expected everyone and anyone, including even disgruntled and possibly murderous ex-employees, to bend over backwards for her. Where did that sense of self-entitlement even come from? Andy marveled.

She staggered, off-balance, to Miranda's section of the office. Miranda had sat down behind her desk, and was flipping idly through a magazine. Andy considered launching the remaining coffee over Miranda's perfectly coiffed hair and throwing the shopping bags out the window, but she decided that wouldn't go over too well.

"Leave the coffee here, and put the bags down over there." Miranda distractedly waved her hand limply in the direction of a couch in the far corner of her office. She didn't look up from her magazine as Andy carefully lowered her body to place the tray of coffee on the desk without spilling it, before moving across the room to drop the bags one at a time on the couch.

Andy winced at relief as the load disappeared. Flexing her arms and gathering her handbag to her body, she glanced at her former employer, who was still engrossed in her magazine. Approaching Miranda's desk, Andy reached slowly for her latte nestled among Miranda's coffees. "This one's mine, so I'll just grab it real quick," she said hastily, "won't be in your way."

Miranda flipped a page and kept reading.

It was just like her to unceremoniously demand something of Andy and then completely ignore her existence.

"It was good to see you again, I guess. I had better get going." Andy was aware that talking to someone who clearly had no interest in responding made her sound like an idiot, but she never was good at awkward silences. "Actually, since I'm here, I might as well see if I can catch Nigel -- it would be nice to see him again --"

"Nigel no longer works here," said Miranda, her eyes darting over Andy before returning to her magazine.

That stopped Andy in her tracks. Nigel had loved Runway, and Miranda, and stayed loyal to her when he had perfect justification not to. Had he left Miranda too, disillusioned just like Andy had been?

"What happened?" She hoped she sounded neutral.

"Oh, for heaven's sake. He's still gainfully employed, so you can stop looking at me like that."

Andy let out a breath she'd been holding. She wasn't sure why Miranda was volunteering this information, but as long as she was, she might as well make the most of it.

"So where is he now?"

"I am not a walking Rolodex of all my ex-employees and I do not carry one. How would I know where he is right now?"

Andy rolled her eyes. "What I meant was ... who is he working for these days?"

"A young man named Miyamoto Kazu. I'm sure even you've heard of him."

"That's -- that's amazing!" Andy said in surprise. She recalled a recent article she'd read on the guy -- he was some up-and-coming fashion designer from Japan who was looking to break into the international market. Word had it he was trying to attract foreign, Western-born creative types into his company because he wanted a more global perspective.

"Oh, yes, of course," sniffed Miranda, flipping another page of her magazine. "Nigel is very talented, and his skills are highly in demand. Unlike some people around here." She raised her voice slightly, and Andy thought she heard Emily sputter outside.

If he was so wonderful, why hadn't Miranda tried to keep him? Andy wondered to herself.

"I thought Nigel would stay at Runway forever," she commented.

"It was not an easy decision to let him go, and he will be sorely missed." Miranda agreed, "but it was the right time for him to move on. And I would be the last person to stand in the way of a person's career aspirations."

Yeah, right, thought Andy. If Miranda felt inclined to she would crush a person without blinking, or guarantee that they never work again for the remainder of their lifespan , and their career aspirations didn't factor into it at all. Good for Nigel -- he deserved after Miranda had essentially sold him out to save her own skin.

"So you didn't try to stop him from leaving?"

"Why would I stop him? I recommended him for the position."

Andy's eyes widened. "What?"

"You know that I'm well acquainted with everyone in these circles," said Miranda, misunderstanding Andy's incredulity, "and Kazu asked me one day who I thought would be the most qualified person in North America for his company. So I told him."

"Wow. That's ..." Andy searched for the right word. Incredible? Generous? Unexpected? Mind-boggling? Completely unlike you? "... nice of you."

Miranda peered at Andy above her glasses. "You're more talkative than I remember you to be. Don't you have some job to do? Some politician to harass? Some injustice to unmask?"

Was Miranda making fun of her?

"You're quite the intrepid little journalist these days, aren't you? That piece last month, on the American fashion industry's contribution to water pollution in Western China -- quite educational. Old news, but it had been a while and I needed a reminder. Looks like you're settling into your newfound niche quite well."

Andy pressed her lips together. Miranda seemed to have read her article for the sole purpose of using it to mock her. And who was being talkative now?

"I suppose I have you to thank for that."

"And why do you say that?"

"If not for you -- if not for your recommendation to the New York Mirror, I probably wouldn't have gotten the job." Well, that wasn't entirely true, but the recommendation had helped smooth the interviewer's doubts as to why Andy hadn't even lasted a year at Runway.

"If I recall correctly, I believe I referred to you as by far my biggest disappointment."

"You also told my interviewer that if he didn't hire me, he would be an idiot," Andy shot back.

"I believe I did."

"Did you really mean that?" Andy demanded.

"That you were a disappointment?"

"I already know that very clearly." Andy was stinging from the repeated reminders. "You know what I meant. The other part."

Miranda paused. "Does it matter?" she said in a low voice.

"Yes -- no -- I don't know," Andy said, exasperated. "It's just that, when I heard that you'd said that about me, part of me felt -- I don't know --"

Surprised. Happy. Grateful. Gratified. Relieved.

Andy clamped her hands over her churning stomach, not sure where those thoughts had come from.

"Miranda, everyone's here for the run-through," said Emily, poking her head in. Behind her trailed a handful of well-dressed lackeys armed with racks of shoes and clothes. Andy vaguely wondered if she'd been listening to their conversation outside.

"You know, forget I said anything." Andy turned to leave. All of a sudden, she really wanted to get out of there. "Anything you need to say to me before I go? Your last chance to tell me how fat I am, or how lame my writing is --"

Miranda stood up abruptly. "Emily, wait outside."

Emily stared. "But everyone's here and --"

"Tell them to wait," Miranda snapped. "Now get out and close the door behind you."

Emily opened her mouth to protest, took one look at Miranda's face and thought better of it. She hastily ushered everyone out of the office and down the hallway until they disappeared from sight, leaving a stunned Andy alone with Miranda.

"Now that I think about it, I do have something to say to you." Miranda's tone sliced through the silence like a knife.

Lord, she was going to throw Andy out of her office. Through the window. After she ripped Andy's head off.

"That didn't come out right," Andy tried lamely. "I didn't actually mean --"

"You are a smug, irresponsible, disloyal little brat," said Miranda.

That had been completely uncalled for. Andy's jaw dropped open, speechless.

"To tell you the truth, I expected never to see you again... but after all this time you're not even the slightest bit apologetic for anything you've done --"

"What have I done to be sorry for?" Andy protested.

"Where to begin? You left your job, Paris, Runway, me -- sneaking away and destroying company property -- that was not even your cel phone, by the way --"

It was like a floodgate somewhere in Miranda had been forced open.

"You abandoned your responsibilities, without a single word of warning, without a shred of consideration for the people counting on you, not bothering to arrange for someone to manage your duties in your place, not caring how it would have looked for Runway if something had gone wrong as a result of your negligence --"

"You could have handled things perfectly well on your own," Andy bristled, "You can fix anything, at any cost --"

"-- immature, unprofessional, leaving out of some silly notion of loyalty and justice --"

"I didn't leave just because of what you did to Nigel!"

"-- and as a final insult, you had the nerve to send in some copy-and-pasted rubbish from some random online sample letter as your official notice --"

"Well, I didn't really expect you to read it --"

Andy trailed off, dumbfounded, as Miranda reached into her desk and yanked out a familiar, crumpled, creased page, patched clumsily together with tape.

"That's my resignation letter," mumbled Andy, her chest thumping painfully. "Why do you have it?"

She had hastily cobbled it together in five minutes before sending it off to HR. It had consisted of three sentences: 'Please accept this as formal notification that I am resigning from my position at Runway effective immediately,' 'I appreciate the opportunities that have been provided me during this past year,' and 'You can reach me at the above address if you need any further information.' It was not one of the finer moments of her writing career.

"I keep it as a reminder of the poorest hiring decision I have made in a long time," said Miranda, her eyes smoldering like burning coals, "so that I do not make the same mistake again."

"I didn't realize I'd left such an impression on you." Andy had been trying to sound nonchalant, but she couldn't control the tremble in her voice. The back of her eyeballs were growing warm. The sight of her letter in Miranda's hands -- the thought of Miranda tearing her letter to shreds, gathering up the pieces and taping it back together, keeping it in the top drawer of her desk for the past few months -- emotions were welling up inside Andy's stomach that she didn't want to understand --

"You really are my biggest disappointment."

"Miranda, I --"

"That's all."

Losing interest in the conversation all of a sudden, Miranda dropped the letter and sat down, fixing her attention on some document on her desk.

Andy tried to work her mouth, but nothing came to mind. She couldn't let Miranda get away with saying all those things, because she wasn't the same naive second assistant to the editor-in-chief of Runway anymore, and should no longer have to deal with Miranda's verbal abuse, or give a damn about what Miranda thought of her.

But, for some insane reason, she did care what Miranda thought of her, and she didn't want things to end like this between them.

"Miranda, please --"

"You need to leave."

Andy faltered. If she tried to keep speaking, she was going to start crying, and damned if she was going to let Miranda see that.

Miranda didn't look up as Andy turned and left without another word.

When Andy got to her office, she headed straight for her desk and threw herself into her work instantly. After several hours passed, she was feeling much better, and by the end of the long day she had all but forgotten the events of the morning. She had felt especially motivated for some reason, finishing up all her assignments ahead of schedule and taking on a few extra ones lying around that no one had claimed. Her copy-editor had seemed a little nonplussed at Andy's sudden prolificness, but Andy was too feverishly writing to even notice, not even stopping for lunch. By the time Andy finished, it was well past eight o'clock and practically everyone had left for the day.

Preparing to leave, she dug into her handbag for her wallet and came across a small blue shopping bag with the words "TIFFANY & CO." printed neatly across the front.

"What in the --" Andy frowned, puzzled. There were two small blue boxes sitting in white tissue paper inside the bag, with a receipt. She opened one box to reveal an elegant platinum bracelet with several diamond-studded stars attached. The other contained an identical one. A quick glance at the receipt caused Andy to nearly drop everything and gag.

It finally dawned on Andy exactly who this belonged to and how it had ended up in her handbag. It had to have been in the Starbucks that morning, but she had absolutely no memory of it actually happening. Thanks to her carelessness in keeping track of what she'd been carrying, she now had two diamond bracelets in her possession with a combined worth of more than ten thousand dollars that didn't belong to her.

What made it all worse was the fact that Andy wasn't in any way prepared to meet their rightful owner again any time soon.

Andy swore aloud, twice, to make herself feel better.

Okay, it wasn't such a big deal, thought Andy. She would simply return the bracelets to Miranda first thing the next morning, stopping by before work, perhaps just leaving them at the receptionist's so she wouldn't even have to go by Miranda's office. Right now, she would go home, grab some dinner, watch some TV, and have a good night's rest.

Of course she wasn't nervous about the prospect of walking around Manhattan at night with ten thousand dollars worth of jewelry on her shoulder. And there was no way she'd be losing sleep that night, tossing and turning in bed, dreading the prospect of possibly seeing Miranda again the next day.

Oh, who was she kidding - she would go crazy if she had to wait through the night. She would just have to return the bracelets now. She punched in the number to Miranda's office, hoping that one of her assistants would pick up, but after the fourth ring she realized that Emily had probably already left for the day to take the Book to Miranda's house. And there was no way Miranda herself would still be in the office this late.

Andy decided that she had to be going nuts already, because she could think of no solution other than to go directly to Miranda's house with the bracelets right this moment and be done with the whole ordeal before the night ended. She knew Miranda's address, having gone there countless times to deliver the Book herself. It was out of the way, but if she hurried maybe she could catch Emily at the door, and have Emily take the bracelets in for her. Carefully checking the contents of the Tiffany bag one last time -- it would be impossible for her to be responsible for any losses -- she shoved it into her handbag and headed for the subway.

It was past nine when Andy emerged from the subway station closest to Miranda's house. It was a few blocks' walk, and Andy was wondering if she had forgotten the way when she suddenly stumbled across Miranda's front door. The lights shone through the door, and Andy could hear voices trickling faintly from the house. She loitered at the foot of the steps for a few minutes, hoping she didn't look too suspicious. When it became evident that Emily was not going to arrive any time soon, or had already come and gone, Andy sighed in resignation. Having already come this far, she might as well just get it over with.

Climbing the front steps, she rang the door bell and waited apprehensively. For a moment Andy thought wildly that maybe she could just leave the shopping bag at the front door and run away before anyone noticed her, but what if someone happened to pass by and see the unsupervised Tiffany bag and conclude, correctly, that something of immense value was inside? What if they snagged it after Andy had run away but before someone managed to come to the door? But the patter of running feet grew louder, and the door opened a crack while Andy was immersed in her thoughts. Two identical-looking girls, who Andy remembered as Miranda's twin daughters, stood at the entrance staring at her.

"I know you," said Caroline, opening the door a little wider. At least, Andy thought it was Caroline. "You haven't come by in a while."

"Who is it, girls?" Their mother drifted into view, dressed in a creamy, loose-fitting silk bathrobe, barefoot, free of makeup and more relaxed than Andy had ever seen.

Seeing Andy, Miranda's gaze cooled considerably. "We weren't expecting anyone at this hour."

Andy fumbled for the shopping bag with the bracelets, trying not to meet Miranda's eyes. "Earlier -- I forgot something -- for you -- I just wanted to bring it by as soon as possible--"

One corner of the blue shopping bag peeked out of Andy's handbag, and Miranda noticed.

"Stop, stop," said Miranda, motioning for Andy to close her handbag, who complied, uncertain what was wanted of her. The twins watched Andy in fascination as she squirmed in discomfort waiting for Miranda to decide what to do.

After mulling it over for a few moments, Miranda pushed the door open all the way and gestured for Andy to come inside. "I'll take it in my study."

Andy hesitated. This was not going how she had planned. "Well, I don't want to intrude. It's getting late and --"

"I said I'll TAKE it in my STUDY." Miranda motioned impatiently with her head, tossing quick glances at the twins.

"Oh. OH." So Miranda didn't want them to see. Why, Andy couldn't imagine. But at that moment, Andy would have sooner jumped in front of a passing car than enter Miranda's house.

A sweet, chocolate aroma drifted through the door from the house, and right on cue Andy's traitorous stomach growled. The twins giggled as Andy flushed.

"Are you hungry?" said the one that might have been called Cassidy.

"Haven't eaten much all day," admitted Andy, realizing that the only sustenance she'd had since morning had been a double latte.

"Our mother's been helping us make brownies. Do you want one?" said Cassidy.

Brownies? The thought of Miranda baking was so ludicrous that Andy had to force herself to smother a grin in spite of herself.

Cassidy tugged on her mother's bathrobe. "Can she try one?"

Miranda's face tightened. "Now, now... we don't even know if they taste any good."

"That's why she should be the first one to try it," whispered Caroline.

"I'm sure they'll be fine," said the other twin firmly. The girl clearly had put significant effort into making them and wanted to share the results of her labour.

Andy could see that Miranda's motherly pride was winning out. "Won't you come in for a brownie?" she said to Andy. "The girls insist."

Andy looked into the twins' hopeful faces, and she made herself remember all the pain and trouble they had put her through, all the times she'd been forced to do their homework, the time she'd had to search through half of Manhattan to get them a copy of the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript.

"Fine," bit out Andy. "I'd like a brownie."

The twins stepped aside for Andy to enter, and she did so without much pleasure. The place was exactly as she remembered it -- the confusing combination of doors and closets on the left, the staircase winding upwards to the right. The kitchen was straight ahead down the hall.

"Another fifteen minutes till they're done!" the twins shouted excitedly as they ran for the kitchen. Great, at least that much before Andy could actually leave.

Miranda led Andy up the stairs to the study. Andy recalled the one and only time she had come up here before, and cringed slightly at the memory. She hoped Miranda wasn't thinking of the same thing. Reaching the top, she followed Miranda into one of the rooms, and Miranda shut the door behind her.

Andy retrieved the slightly crumpled Tiffany package from her handbag, watching as Miranda silently pulled out a bottle of red wine from a closet and poured it into two glasses.

What was the woman thinking? She was acting as if this morning had never happened. And she was behaving way too civilly. It was freaking Andy out.

Miranda gestured for Andy to take a glass of wine as Andy handed her the shopping bag.

"After you went to the effort of bringing this back to me, it's the least I can do," said Miranda, peering into the bag to confirm its contents.

Andy couldn't tell if Miranda was being sarcastic or not. Either way, she wasn't going to pass up good wine.

"So why the secrecy?" she asked, taking a gulp.

"Oh... I just wanted to keep it a surprise. It's a gift for the girls -- a little something to celebrate ... getting through the year. You know. Managing to cope ... with -- everything."

There was a distant look in Miranda's eyes; Andy realized with some sympathy that Miranda must have been referring to her recent divorce from her second husband, and the subsequent media mud-slinging surrounding it. She remembered that Miranda had been concerned with how the girls would deal with the situation, but she wasn't sure if a five-thousand dollar bracelet was an adequate or suitable consolation for this sort of thing. She would never understand rich people.

"That's what this whole ... baking thing is for." Miranda made some vague hand motions in the air and wrinkled her nose, as if the idea of her baking was preposterous even to her. "We've never done anything like this. The twins' counselor suggested it. The importance of working together as a family -- bonding time and all that."

A mental image Miranda struggling to break eggs in the same bowl made Andy want to smirk.

Miranda straightened, shaking herself out of her thoughts. "Well, for what it's worth, thank you. I thought for sure that it had been stolen."

"What?" Andy grew defensive. "Everything's still in there, isn't it?"

"I was referring to my ex-second-assistant as the possible crook, not you."

"Oh." Andy took another mouthful of wine. "It was an accident that I even took it with me."

"I'm sure it was," said Miranda.

"I had no idea what it was, and even if I did, I wouldn't take something like that on purpose."

"Of course you wouldn't."

"I'm not a thief!" Andy said hotly.

"I didn't say you were one."

"I honestly didn't know there was ten thousand dollars worth of jewelry in there."

"I get it, Andrea."

There was a pause as Miranda slowly savored her wine and Andy glowered. Miranda still said her name in that odd way, as if she were speaking French or something, stressing the second syllable instead of the first. Some part of her fuzzily noted that it was the first time Miranda had spoken her name all day.

Andy knew she was being unnaturally emotional. It could have been because she was drinking wine on an empty stomach. Or maybe it was because Andy had been on edge all day, working herself to exhaustion so that she wouldn't have to hear Miranda's voice constantly reverberating in her head. Maybe it was the dismal thought that fate had it in for her -- despite her best efforts to cast this woman out of her life, she'd come across her twice in one day.

Or maybe it was the sight of Miranda clad in a mere bathrobe sipping from a wineglass in the privacy of her own home, so exposed -- so incongruent with her image as impenetrable editor-in-chief of Runway -- whatever it was, something that had been building up inside Andy all day finally burst.

"You don't think I'm trustworthy," Andy blurted. "Like, I have no integrity, or anything."

Miranda raised an eyebrow. "When did I say anything of the sort?"

"Earlier! Today! In your office! And just now, when you insinuated that I would have taken something that didn't belong to me!"

"I assure you, that was not my intention." Miranda's eyes glittered dangerously. "And there is no need to speak so loudly."

"Well, I darn well have to, or how else would you be able to hear me? You never stop to listen to anyone else, or care about what they want to say --"

"Is there a point you are trying to make, or do you just feel like yelling?"

"You were right!" Andy, realizing she was shouting, lowered her voice. "I mean -- you were right -- about me. Leaving irresponsibly, and not following up, and not showing the proper respect to the job, and ..." She looked at Miranda almost pleadingly. "I mean -- it's fine for you to think what you want of me. You have every right. But you can't just say all those things -- accuse me of all that -- and not let me respond."

"I do not think it is necessary to repeat what happened this morning," Miranda said wearily.

"I'm not going to fly off the handle this time," Andy promised. "I'm not going to argue. I just want to explain."

Miranda glanced at a wall clock, then back at Andy, her face betraying no emotion.

"Fine then. We still have some time. Explain away."

Andy realized she must have wanted to be there with her daughters when the brownies were ready. How could this woman be so generous to her daughters and so tough on everyone else? She took a deep breath.

"I want to apologize. I'm sorry. For writing a crappy resignation letter. For just walking out on you in Paris. For not being accountable. But you have to understand, I had to leave. I mean -- firstly -- you're a real bitch to work for, you know that?"

Miranda nearly choked on her wine.

"You never have anything good to say about anyone, you treat your employees like crap, you expect the impossible and get mad when people don't deliver -- your standards are so high, it's like we're being set up to fail. And what's more, you're really, really MEAN."

There was a strangled sound coming from Miranda. It took Andy a moment to realize that she was laughing.

"I don't see what's so funny," Andy said.

Miranda made a visible effort to calm herself. "You're saying all these things to my face," she said slowly, "and what's funny is, I'm actually letting you." All traces of laughter were gone from her face. "Tell me why you left."

Andy drained the rest of her wine and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Miranda took the glass from her wordlessly.

"I couldn't stay. I couldn't continue working with you. It was partly because of -- what happened with Nigel, but it wasn't all because of that. It was more than that. I was afraid -- afraid that --"

"Afraid you were becoming me?" said Miranda quietly.

"No -- yes -- I mean, that's partly true -- but that's not why I left. That wasn't what I was most afraid of."

Andy couldn't meet Miranda's eyes anymore.

"I was afraid that one day -- you'd do to me what you did to Nigel -- that you'd betray my trust like you did his."

She was scared of what she was going to say next. Once she said it, she wouldn't be able to pretend it wasn't true anymore.

"It wasn't just the idea of being betrayed. I mean, anyone could have done it to me, and I probably would have gotten over it eventually. But the thought of being betrayed by YOU -- I just couldn't imagine it --"

She pressed the palms of her hands into her eyes.

"I had to leave before I became so worthless to you that whatever happened to me wouldn't matter to you at all. Before the day came that you thought so little of me that I would be completely expendable -- I couldn't bear the thought of not being important to you --"

It was getting hard to speak.

"You're the worst thing that's ever happened to me, Miranda Priestly," she whispered. "You drive me insane. You're mean, spiteful and controlling, and I can't get you out of my head, no matter how hard I try, and when I'm in the same room as you, I can hardly breathe --"

Andy stopped and glared at Miranda defiantly, daring her to say something, anything, so that Andy wouldn't have to carry on so humiliatingly.

"I didn't realize I'd left such an impression on you," said Miranda finally. There was a look of wonder and tenderness in Miranda's eyes Andy had never seen before. It didn't make any sense. Had Andy caused that? The thought made her feel weak.

Then suddenly Miranda was right in front of her -- how had she crossed over to Andy's side of the room so quickly? -- and Miranda's arms were around her, unbelievably, firm and commanding, crushing Andy's body against her own. Andy stiffened before yielding into the embrace, wrapping her arms around Miranda's waist and burying her face into Miranda's hair, inhaling the scent of her shampoo.

She noticed that she stood a little taller than Miranda, and that Miranda had really nice skin, and that Miranda was surprisingly softer and curvier than she looked. She could feel Miranda's hands on her back and her neck, Miranda's face pressing into her cheek, Miranda's breath on her jawbone. She felt like she'd come home.

"Andrea," she felt Miranda murmur against her skin.

Andy kissed Miranda, hard on the mouth, in response. Miranda kissed back fervently, a small sound escaping her throat. Andy parted her lips, catching Miranda's lower lip between her own and biting down lightly.

Miranda pulled back, panting.

"What -- what's wrong?" said Andy hesitantly. Had she done something she shouldn't have?

"Brownies," Miranda gasped. "I think the brownies are done."

Andy didn't particularly feel like food at that moment, so she kissed Miranda again, who didn't seem to mind, judging by the way she opened her mouth and allowed Andy's tongue to slide in. She moved her hands higher up Miranda's back, feeling her tense through the bathrobe, and the realization that Miranda was wearing nothing else made her shudder.

A knock came at the door. "Are you in there?" chorused the twins.

Andy groaned. Miranda was resting her forehead against Andy's face, her breathing heavy in Andy's ears. It suddenly occurred that she had just been kissing her former boss, whom she had walked out on, a woman old enough to be her mother, and her two daughters were just outside the room.

"We'll be right out, girls," Miranda called. She took a step back, relaxing her grasp on Andy's shoulders and gazing at Andy intently. Lord, the woman was beautiful. Andy hoped her skin was as good when she hit fifty.

"I didn't exactly plan on this," Miranda admitted.

Neither had Andy. "Are you sorry?" She still couldn't quite believe this was actually happening.

Miranda brushed her lips against Andy's temple in response, and Andy's skin tingled at the touch. Definitely not a dream.

They went outside and followed the girls down into the kitchen, where Miranda gamely donned a pair of baking gloves and pulled the tray of brownies from the oven, and cut them into equal slices. Andy tried the first piece and declared it to be very good. That gave courage to the twins to each try a piece themselves. Their eyes nearly fell out of their heads as they watched Andy wolf down another piece and then another.

"Come on, have another one," she urged the girls, who looked from Andy's encouraging expression to their mother's disapproving one.

Miranda eyed Andy's waistline warily. "Are you sure you want to eat all that?"

Andy rolled her eyes. Feeling daring, she held her half-eaten brownie up to Miranda's mouth. "You finish my piece then."

Miranda looked appalled at the suggestion.

"Try some -- you'll like it," coaxed Andy, grinning.

Miranda's eyes narrowed. Just as Andy began to think it was too soon to be teasing her like that, Miranda leaned forward and took a bite, looking into Andy's eyes the entire time. When she brushed her lips against Andy's fingers, Andy nearly dropped the remainder of the brownie in shock.

"You just ate her germs," said Caroline.

"That's fine, I'll live." Miranda licked a smudge of chocolate from the corner of her mouth.

Andy shivered. She suddenly found the presence of the twins very intrusive.

Before long, Miranda sent them upstairs to bed, leaving Miranda and Andy alone in the kitchen.

"So," Andy said.

"You should probably get going. It's getting late."

"Ah, right." Andy hoped the disappointment didn't show in her voice. What had she been expecting, anyway? The woman's kids were upstairs. She still wasn't sure what this was, if this was anything at all. Until earlier this evening, Andy had never wanted to see Miranda again; she finally admitted to herself now that she had been lying to herself all along, that she'd been running out of fear for her own feelings for the other woman.

Still, what were Miranda's own feelings towards her? Just because she'd kept Andy's letter in her desk for months wasn't indicative of anything other than a pretty suspicious long-term obsession with a delinquent ex-employee. But she'd touched Andy first, and had let Andy kiss her, and had kissed Andy back. Plus, she had eaten Andy's germs, Andy thought, rather pleased with herself.

She looked up; she had followed Miranda to the front door. As she put her hand on the door handle, Miranda grabbed her elbow and turned her around.

"About tonight ..." Miranda looked like she was struggling for words. "I think I've been waiting for this for a long time ... now that it's happened, I need some time to think. I want to figure out how to do this properly. But not right now, because I can't think straight."

Andy felt so happy she could burst. "We'll talk about it. Later."

For now, she leaned forward and kissed Miranda, tasting the chocolate on her lips, in her mouth, content in the knowledge that Miranda was tasting the same thing.

The End

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