DISCLAIMER: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. References to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: There are large direct quotes from both Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil Wears Prada movies. Recipe: delete Stephen, phase out Nate, increase Nigel, cross over with a twist, and let set over night
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To punkee96[at]gmail.com
BETA: blackgrl71

A Different Time. A Different Princess.
By punky_96


Part 1

The princess lingered where she wasn't supposed to down by the river so she could watch the new arrivals. The variety of expressions and experiences they talked about intrigued her. In the Underground Realm there was only peace and she did not understand these various expressions of the newcomers. The princess liked the crunch of the leaves under her feet and the thrill in her skin of being where she was not allowed. She had grown up here in the twilight but she longed for the blue skies of the travelers. She wanted to feel the softness of the gentle breezes on her skin and smell the wonders of the land. The thought of the sun's caress on her early morning face made her close her eyes and smile in vivid imagination.

Usually one of the fauns fetched her back to the castle. This she always made a game of hide and seek on the way home living on the thrill of being caught until she had to return for the lecture of her father, the king. He was a gentle man who loved his only daughter with everything he had and more. Her mother, the moon, shared her beauty with the girl and he found he could refuse her very little. In later years the princess preferred to be caught by her betrothed, the Lover. Smooth skin, silver hair, a commanding voice and the princess would squeal her delight at being caught down by the river and run away. She fully expected the Lover to chase her, but only on rare occasion did she let herself be caught.

Sparrows used to follow the newcomers into the Underground Realm. They hopped about along the water's edge delighting the princess as they chirped and fluttered. She was especially tickled when they would bathe in the water slowly sliding in and about along the riverside. When they had gone too far and slipped they would pull back flapping their wings and shaking to dry themselves off once again. They would flutter away and away to the world of the sun where she dreamed of following them.

One day defying her father, the king, and the promise of her Lover, the princess followed the fluttering wings of the birds into the base of a labyrinth. In the center was a beam of light that the princess spun herself in circles in until she fell down drunk with the pleasure of it. When her breathing had returned she made her way up and up and up the stairs around and around the spiral of the labyrinth following the light and the birds. Wondrous smells floated on the breezes and she could feel the warmth of the sunshine as she reached the surface.

Once she was at the top the beauty before her blinded her. It was all too much to take in and she wept at the wonders filling her vision. Each step brought a new discovery of bug or bird. Her feet walked on soil and leaves as she soaked in the bounty of this new world. She turned once to find her way back only she did not remember what she was looking for. Instead she saw a field of flowers and a house beyond. Every step brought her closer while the house moved farther away. At last the princess fell asleep where she stood bathed in the protection of the moonlight but not knowing who she was.

Blue skies eventually turned stormy, soft breezes bore the power of the whip, and the sunshine scorched her skin and the earth. The princess wandered looking for a home and her body suffered cold, sickness and pain. After many journeys she died. Her soul tried many times to return in another body, in another place, at another time. Ages have passed and still the king waited for his daughter. The lover and the faun searched endlessly over and over for her. The right time, body, and place have not been found.

The wood floor of the apartment had a thin layer of dust. It had been vacant for a week and the paint was mostly dry. Footsteps in the hall made the door rattle in its jamb. "I know, I know. It's a long walk, but we were just lucky to find an apartment at all." The deadbolt turned and the key twisted the lock and the door swung open. The empty apartment greeted them with the silence of a small closed up space. Awkwardly they shifted their boxes and stumbled into the room. Setting the boxes she was carrying down against the far wall Andy took her first look around. She peeked into the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen and the living room. It felt small, but she trusted Nate. He had grown up visiting his grandfather here in New York and he knew more about the city than she did. Standing at the window Andy looked down on the roof of the next building. There were yellow outlines on the roof and she shuddered to think what they could be. Nate slipped his arms around her. "Here we are, baby. After all this time we're together in the City." Nate kissed her neck tickling Andy with his stubble of a beard.

She wiggled away from him and turned in his arms. "You have to shave that." It was a command, but it was delivered with a naughty little smirk that Nate couldn't refuse.

Pulling out of the kiss Nate held Andy's hand. "I know it's just boxes and a dumpy apartment, but this is what we've been dreaming of. We'll make it happen." Andy pulled him in for another kiss.

"Come on. Those dreams won't build themselves and we still need a bed to sleep on tonight." Nate chuckled low and with one more peck he stepped back toward the doorway. They had a lot of boxes and a lot of steps to take before the nighttime. He knew that Andy wanted a bed to sleep in but he was fairly certain that they were going to have to rough it at least for the first night. He hoped that he could distract her with a great dinner, wine, and his special charms.

The apartment wasn't much, but in precious few days they were able to turn it into their first home together in the city. Most of the boxes were unpacked into used or cheap furniture or stored out of sight for the time being. Andy loved bookcases and they each had enough boxes for a library so they were the décor for the time being. Nate's various cooking and food related books were in the cases nearest the kitchen, but the rest of their collections blended together spanning high school books, college texts, literature anthologies, and not to be missed novels. Lesser treasures found places to lurk and nick knacks slowly took up residence in nooks and crannies. Alarm clocks and lamps were propped on milk crates covered with tablecloths. Piglet, Andy's protector, since she was little was propped up on top of her alarm clock.

The townhouse was quiet by design. Assistants thought it was about their own personal terror as they timidly tip toed into the darkened foyer and opened one door and another until they eventually found where to put the book and the dry cleaning. They listened for any sounds of their tormentor by day, Miranda Priestly, but they only heard their own heartbeats and the clattering of their heels as they stumbled hurriedly for the door. Had you interviewed these witless assistants after their first time in the townhouse they would have told you that their darkest fear in that moment would have been that Miranda Priestly would appear before them on the staircase and the hounds of hell snarled behind them blocking the path to the door. They would have told you how their heart beat double time and their fears chased themselves back on the tails of the echo. They would not have told you about the joyful flowers throughout the house, or the calm colors and clean lines. They would have been so stuck in their own worthless worries that they would not have been able to pick up on the subtle smell of fresh cooked brownies lingering in the air or the angelic sound of two girls asking their mother for another story.

Those assistants, had they taken the time or had the courage, would have been able to see past the ice queen of work to see the home of a woman dedicated to her family and her existence. It was not all the hearts and flowers crap that is in a hallmark card, but the cleanliness and care with which every detail of the townhouse was woven together to create this living space. Had they heard the twins asking for a story in those sleepy tones from the front lines of the war on sleep, then they would have had to revise their description of the twin terrors into something more human, if not humane. Had they paused a moment to hear the soft steps cross the hall or if they had tilted their ear a little more to hear the intoxicating melody of the mother telling the story about the lost princess— Well, if they had done any of those things then they would have had to reconstruct their portrait of the Dragonlady.

No one wanted to do that though. La Priestly, the Dragonlady, was a legend and to survive the perils of working for her for one year brought one eternal glory, fame, and bragging rights. Not to mention the respectful fear of any boss you would have in the future. Surely to survive you would have had to become a little like the dragon yourself.

So no one wanted to listen or really look, because they preferred to see only the Dragonlady as they imagined her to be and nothing more.

They needed her to be evil incarnate to scare the children (new assistants) with at bedtime, and they all took a certain sadistic pleasure from putting themselves through the gauntlet everyday to show their unending dedication to fashion, Runway, and Miranda Priestly.

It did not matter. Miranda Priestly had waited for lifetimes and she likely had many more lifetimes to wait. The opinion of underlings, colleagues and the press in this life amused her and had its purposes so she let it be, fostered it even. Only Nigel knew, and he chose his battles against her capriciousness much more carefully than Don Quixote ever chose his windmills. Nigel knew the bedtime stories told in the townhouse—he was there when they had written many of them together in another life and time.

Not that anyone would have asked, but he would have been the first to tell you: Not all fairytales are for children, and not all lullabies inspire sweet dreams. He would have given you a smile then and looked at you with up turned eyes as he peered at you, judging behind his spectacles, but then again fairies are real, and even with the last grain of sand falling in the glass and the door shutting in front of you—there was still the possibility of… He would shrug at this point. Not a happy ending perhaps, but a satisfactory one all the same could be found despite the goose bumps caused to get to that end.

Sitting up in their beds and refusing to lie down and let sleep claim them, Caroline and Cassidy chorused a call to their mother that she could not refuse book or no book. If she was home then it was story time. They knew even though their mother would never say so that she loved story time as much as they did. Published stories were fine with them, or even simple stories made up by their mother about a bunny or bear. However their hearts settled and they lay down flat when their mother began to tell them about the lost princess, the faun, and the tragedy of the story of the labyrinth. Never had they read such stories, nor heard anyone else ever speak of such delicious detail and heartbreaking tragedy.

When they were young the story was simple and the labyrinth was a maze. As they got older and asked more questions the tapestry of the story was woven ever tighter and more complex. It never had a true end, for the twins always fell asleep before Miranda finished the tale so far. Of course that was no accident that they never got to hear the end, because as Miranda knew there was no end, only another new beginning.

With a sigh Miranda would trail off once she knew that their eyes were dancing in far away places tucked safe under their lids. She would bend slowly and kiss them one at a time going from bed to bed. Then she would stand at the door and watch them sleep wondering why she had begun to tell them that story in the first place. It was beautiful, but it always left her heart longing. She had not yet found the ending that she was looking for and as such she could not begin the story that she really wanted to live in. Instead she had created this life just as she had crafted others before it. Only this time felt more permanent and lasting. She had yet to live this long in a version of the story and it was weird to feel herself getting older. She had chosen to have the twins after much deliberation. For her to love them and care for them did not void her place as Lover, instead they were her companions while she waited seemingly forever. Of course Nigel had been through it all, but he found his satisfactions elsewhere under the moon and she did not question him on it.

"Mother, please tell us about the princess."

"Yes, please, do tell. She's our favorite."

Miranda would not always relent, sometimes her heart could not take the wear and tear, but every other month or so the children would remember the princess and Miranda would feel the story begin before she had even sat on the bedside and both would lose themselves in the story of another time and another princess.

"Very well, then. Lay down, Bobbsies." Once they were snug in the covers and not a second before Miranda would turn the light out and sit to the side of the bed and begin the tale. Her voice was rich with emotion. It wove a tapestry over the years so vibrant that the girls were immediately closer to sleep and completely enveloped in the mystery and darkness of the realm. Over the years the stories had become more intricate and giving the girls more details and leading them to ask more questions of their mother. She never told these stories from a book, but she had been telling them this way for so long that the twins never once asked about that. She had no need of a book having watched and repeated the tales over and over in her mind and now to her children. The events fresh in her mind even after so long seeped into each telling allowing the twins to go on the journeys with her.

A long time ago in the Underground Realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a princess who dreamt of the human world. She dreamt of blue skies, soft breeze and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the princess escaped. Once outside, the bright sun blinded her and erased her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness and pain. And eventually she died. However, her father, the king, always knew that the princess' soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning…

Returning to her cold and quiet room, Miranda slowly unbuttoned her blouse as she stepped close to her dresser. Looking at herself in the mirror and pushing the ever-present lock of hair away from her forehead. "So long." She whispered to herself in the mirror. Taking in a deep breath she reached a smooth hand to what would appear to be an artistically beaten up antique metal box. With a slight flick of her fingers she lifted the latch and the lid in one motion. Three small luminescent creatures flew on tender wings up and around Miranda's shoulders. Watching them in the mirror she gave them a sad smile. The pearly, almost white one, appeared in the mirror to be talking into Miranda's silver mane. She nodded and held her arm up with an extended finger for him to land on. "I know the princess has died many times since she left the Underground Realm." Miranda brought up her other hand and gently stroked the little fairy. He seemed to nuzzle up into her touch like a favored pet. "I will continue to live and wait for her." Miranda said softly before she lifted her hand up shooing the fairy off.

It buzzed away swirling around with its green and blue playmates. She gave them a stern look and they hovered. The exchange existed only as body language but the meanings were loud and clear. Miranda's look scolded the fairies while their sagging wings and lowered heads apologized. The white fairy turned away from her leading the others to the doorway.

In a voice layered with fatigue both timeless and emotional Miranda cautioned them, "Don't wake the girls."

A twitch of wings and the leader buzzed out.

The green one hesitated and then flew back to Miranda kissing her on the cheek. "Oh." She said, surprised at his gentle caring action. "Make sure he leaves Patricia alone." She called after her departing attendants.


Part 2

It was late and the apartment was stuffy. Nate came home late from his shift at the restaurant to find Andy sitting on the floor going through yet another box. He was struggling to become a chef, but he was putting in his time at the bottom like everyone else. Andy didn't have it easy either putting out application after application, but when they had moved in they had unpacked and for him that was that. Each day he came home tired to find Andy with a box going through their old things. It was not Nate's idea of a good time to come home after a long shift of potatoes to find his girlfriend obsessed with their old keepsakes and paperwork. He didn't mind if she felt the need to go through it all, but he minded when she would hold up items and ask for his opinion about keeping them or not. It was late, he was tired, and quite frankly that all could wait for another time—that was why it was in boxes in the first place.

"Do you think I should keep this?" Nate drank a glass of milk and stood in the doorway watching her.

It was an unidentifiable stuffed animal—so old that the color of the fur had faded and so loved that all identifying features had been worn off and the shape had been lost. Nate would have thrown it away before he could blink again, but he knew that wasn't the right answer. "I would leave it in the box for now and come to bed." He hoped this was the right answer.

Her eyes looked pleadingly at him and he knew that he had not angered her, but he didn't know what else to say. He turned into the kitchen uncertain and set his glass on the counter as he scratched his head. Coming back into the room he noted that Andy had simply let the stuffed animal fall into her lap as she pulled out some other forgotten treasure from the box. Standing behind her he squatted down half hugging her and kissing her hair. "I'm really tired and would love for you to come to bed with me. Please."

Andy inhaled the scent of her boyfriend and leaned slightly back against his weight for strength. "I don't think I can go to sleep yet."

Nate ran his hands soothingly up and down Andy' bare arms. He knew he could not change her mind when she was focused on something. "Nightmares again?" He asked as he stood and stepped towards the bedroom—closer to his goal and where he could see her eyes again.

"Yeah." She mumbled holding an item in the air in front of her before sending it to the left hand side of the box in front of her. Nate had no idea what her system was. Sometimes the left side went in the trash in the morning other times it was the right hand side. Almost always he found a new item or two on their shelves in the morning.

"Goodnight, then."

He only received a bland mumble and so the last three words died on his lips. He turned into the bedroom undressing as he crossed the room and slid under the covers. He did not turn on the light, nor did he bother to close the door. He simply lay on his back until he felt tired enough and then he turned on his side away from the door, away from Andy.

She had woken with a yawn and a big stretch. Her eyes had been tired, but she knew that she could not make it back to sleep. Coffee had become her elixir of life and she rose to go say her morning prayers at the altar of the electric kettle. Nate grumbled and pulled the pillow over his head. Andy didn't mind—he was always cheerful when he came into the kitchen ready for work to claim his coffee with a kiss. By the afternoon she was yawning like crazy and entertaining the idea of a nap. She always dismissed this in favor of being tired enough to get a good night's sleep. In the evening she was buoyed along by dinner and waiting for Nate's shift to end. She could go to sleep at a reasonable time, but she rationalized not wanting to go to sleep by saying that she wanted to wait for Nate to come home. By the time Nate had come home she had found a project that needed to be done.

It was the same every day. She longed for sleep all day long and yet when she should go to claim it—she was reluctant. It was the same every night. She fell asleep when her body begged her and her eyes felt as though they would melt out of her head. It was always the same, but the nightmares were not.

The little girl woke up in a far away room. The sound of shots outside frightened her more than the creaking noises of the house. She wished, not for the first time, that the Captain had not moved her down to this room. She worried about her mother, not only because of the pregnancy, but also because the Captain seemed to be crazy and the guerrillas were attacking more and more often.

Her bare feet touched the ground and she gasped at the cold shooting up her body. The thin nightgown protected her from nothing. In the dark she pulled a book from underneath her bed and crept to the patch of moonlight below the window. Sitting on the cold concrete she opened the book on her cross-legged lap. Analisa was written below some other names inside the front cover. She quickly ran her fingers over the list of names before flipping some of the pages. As she ran her fingers over the open book the color of the fairy wings lit up in the moonbeam. She smiled looking at her only friends in a hostile environment. The stories had been read so many times that she did not need to look at the words, but she took comfort in the pictures that accompanied them and resurrected their heroines in her mind.

The window above her rattled in its pane and she crouched close over the book protecting it.

When the fusillade of shots died out she closed the book and replaced it to its hiding place. She smoothed her nightgown down and slipped out the door of her room into the eerily silent hallway. Hearing a fluttering she pressed flat against the wall looking around with her dark eyes wide in the dimness. "You startled me." She said smiling at the pearlescent fairy off her shoulder. Looking around again she moved up the hallway and climbed the stairs to her mother's floor. On stealthy feet she made her way to her mother's room.

She ran her hand down the door until her fingers grasped the handle. She slipped into the room. On the bed her mother lay writhing in pain but still in sleep. A nightmare of her own perhaps or the sickness of the baby in her womb, the girl could not be sure. She wrung the washcloth out from the basin on the bedside table and wiped at her mother's brow. She whimpered and clutched her distended belly. The girl shifted down the bed and crawled up on it so that she could whisper to the baby inside causing her pain.

"Baby, brother, listen. I want to meet you, brother, but you have to give mama some peace." Her mother ran her hands over her belly as the girl continued to speak. "Many, many years ago, in a sad faraway land, there was an enormous mountain made of rough, black stone. At sunset, one top of that mountain, a magic rose blossomed every night that made whoever plucked it immortal. But no one dared go near it because its thorns were full of poison. Men talked amongst themselves about their fear of death, and pain, but never about the promise of eternal life. And every day, the rose wilted unable to bequeath its gift to anyone… forgotten and lost at the top of that cold, dark mountain, forever alone until the end of time."

Andy woke disturbed by this dream. She knew it so well and yet it was so foreign to anything that she knew. She could not shake the feeling that she was the little girl in the dream, or that her mother would die soon giving birth to that son in her womb. Andy wondered why she felt such a connection to the dream and why the guerillas waging war on her doorstep did not seem to bother her while the malicious captain and her mother's welfare haunted her. At the same time Andy took comfort that tonight in her dream she did not die, and her mysterious fairy seemed to be friendly instead of angry. While she was still bothered by it, this dream was not exactly a nightmare. It just made her mind swirl and swirl in confusing and dark ways that she did not like to think about in the middle of the night in a strange new city so far from what she once called home.

Slipping her feet over the edge onto the cold hard wood floor the similarity to the girl in the dream was not lost on Andy. She grabbed the sweatshirt from the chair by the bed and slipped it on over her barely there nightgown. On a reflex Andy looked around half expecting to see the pearlescent fairy at her shoulder. Equally disappointed and relieved Andy sighed when she did not see her dream companion. Without turning on the light Andy slipped the old fairy book from its place tucked on top of the other books in the shelf. It was not hidden, Andy reminded herself. The shelf was simply too full to keep the big book in the shelf normally.

The table was near the window and just enough streetlight leaked in from the city outside for her to read. Andy opened the book and ran her fingers over the names inside the front cover as she always did. Esmerelda, Moanna, Analisa, and many others—this time her breath caught as she noticed the name Analisa as if it had just been written there. She almost closed the book, but there was something that she wanted to see—a picture.

She flipped the pages backwards and forwards as she over shot the picture that she was looking for. Then she let the book fall completely open as she looked at the pearlescent fairy with tiny wings. The paint used for the drawing shone in the moonlight. Andy smiled as she looked at it and took some comfort from the familiarity of the drawing. She had been looking at this book—reading it and memorizing it for most of her life.

Outside a loud crack reverberated along the walls of the buildings and tires squealed. Andy shivered in her seat even though she had adjusted to the temperature of the room and the plastic of the seat was no longer chill beneath her. Nate grumbled in his sleep startling Andy. The book fell open to a story that Andy had only read a few times—one that she had always forgotten about until now.

The King of the Underground Realm waited for his daughter to return in another body, in another place, at another time. He could not leave his realm to go looking for her. So he waited and waited. The faun was sent to guide her home if he could find her. As time went on and the work of man closed the portals left open the princess' Lover grew impatient. Defying the word of the King the silver one slipped away to join the faun in his quest for the princess. The Lover did not care if she had become mortal or forgotten where she came from. The Lover would always want to go to her. Trapped in the world of the sun, the faun and the Lover were able to keep their memories because they had each other in every lifetime. Together they would watch and wait until the world stopped turning…

Andy closed the book a single tear sliding down her cheek for the separated lovers and the loss revealed in the story. She wondered what that kind of love felt like and marveled that the Lover would chose to leave home permanently to wait for her. Even if she had become mortal the Lover wanted to reunite with her before letting go. Putting the book back in its safe place Andy returned to bed. Cold again without the cover of the sweatshirt she snuggled up to Nate. In his sleep he wrapped an arm around her and made a happy grumbling sound. Andy wondered if they had the same kind of love that the princess had with her lover—one that bridged the gap between the worlds and across time… Nate held her tighter in his sleep and Andy relaxed as his breath blew steady and warm onto her neck. She is comforted, but somehow it was only enough to lull her to sleep, not keep the dreams away, or the doubts.


Part 3

"Where have you been?" Emily had tears in her eyes. Clarissa smirked as she hung the skirts up on the rack and peeked into Miranda's office. Their boss was turned facing the window talking quietly on the phone. Emily had been there a full year, longer in fact, but she still trembled around Miranda. Hell, Clarissa caused her to quiver in her manolos. Looking Emily over Clarissa supposed she must have been much the same way when Evelyn was around. That seemed like such a long time ago. Time with Miranda Priestly flew by—maybe that's why her assistants felt aged beyond their years when their time was done.

The phone rang and Clarissa turned and pointed at it. Emily huffed indignantly, but answered the phone. "Miranda Priestly's office."

Taking two matching little blue boxes out of the bag Clarissa sauntered into Miranda's office leaving Emily to sort out the phone call.

Turning back from the window Miranda dropped the receiver into its cradle on her desk. She looked up at the tall blonde approaching her. As the woman walked toward her she noted her confident walk, carefully chosen clothes, and the blue boxes in her hands. Miranda let a small smile play at the corners of her mouth. "The girls will love these." Clarissa held out the boxes as Miranda slipped her glasses on.

Waiting patiently as Miranda set one box on the desk and opened the other Clarissa let her hands clasp together in front of her body. "Excellent." Miranda said as she looked up at Clarissa. "Deliver the book tonight."

Miranda had schooled her features to neutral and Clarissa's confidence was suddenly shattered over the top of this glacial calm. Her features duly ruffled Clarissa fought back the urge to question Miranda and turned on her well-chosen heel. She had not delivered the book in about a year.

Checking her watch she faced Emily who looked up at her timidly. "Go home. I have the book tonight."

Emily's jaw dropped open and Clarissa found herself once again Miranda's pupil. She rolled her eyes at the red head and flopped down into her chair. Tapping away at the keyboard bringing up files just to do something she icily muttered just loud enough for Emily to hear. "Whatever I'm in for. You know you'll get worse."

Her jaw slamming shut Emily quickly swallowed and scooted to the closet for her things and a quick escape. Clarissa couldn't help hoping that the girl had finally swallowed her own tongue. That would be amusing. As the elevator door dinged she contemplated the quickness with which she was willing to foretell doom to Emily and what it meant for herself.

Nigel tilted his head as he caught a glimpse of what he thought was a flying Emily going past when it was Clarissa's usual time to leave. He shook his head wondering if his guess about the girl was right—she really was mad as a hatter. He lowered his eye to the images before him. He couldn't help but wonder if this shoot would satisfy Miranda. Sedona was a lovely place, but he wasn't certain at all that it was right for the shoot. He thought that maybe autumn jackets would be better suited to the rugged aesthetic of the town. Charcoal pencil in hand he made crop marks and selections only looking up at the clock again when he was done.

Well past closing but not before Miranda would leave he made his way up to the lair. A helpless Clarissa sat shackled to the desk ticking off the hours left of her fate. He smiled at her even as she held her posture and bit down on a treacherous lower lip that would betray her hidden fears.

Closing the door Nigel sucked at his teeth in a tut, tut motion that would have had any other employee rolled out of Runway on a gurney with their HR papers stuffed down their offending throat. "Miranda, that's just cruel."

Miranda looked up from the world domination game on her laptop and checked over his shoulder that he had closed the door. She let a sly smile creep across her face as she agreed. "I know." She hit click and Nigel could see the green advancing across the screen decimating the orange. Her eyes were shining with victory.

He waited. Had she been anyone else he would have expected her to get up and run a victory lap around the chairs in the office chanting, "I won. I won. I won."

Delicious as that thought was he knew it was Miranda he was watching and not her twin daughters. He wished they had never shown her this game. It seemed to bring out her more diabolical traits.

Slipping her glasses off and tucking them closed against her chin she looked up expectantly at Nigel. "I couldn't help myself." She shrugged as he laid the photos down on her desk.

"Hmmm. Do you think she's ready?"

Miranda scooted forward to look at the photos first without her glasses and then with them on. He always found that an odd trait of hers, but he supposed everyone had quirks. "Clarissa was born ready, but her reaction today shows that she has not grown complacent. She still has a healthy streak of fear and a desire to fight, which she will need in the future. If she had no fear today then I would worry about her, but she has passed the final test." Miranda shifted several of the photos around and picked up one laying it next to another as she talked. She dismissed the photo altogether then she lay it face down on the desk. Nigel cringed every time a photo went belly up on the glass.

"Not her. I meant the high strung red head that will be left to guard the ranch."

Miranda fought back an incredibly happy smile at his words. Her eyes flicked over the next photograph, just as her comment about Emily hit home. "She is rather like a hyper active chicken, isn't she?" Another photo went belly up and Nigel knew his thoughts on Sedona were dead on. "Beautiful coloring, easily excited, but we've got her by the leg so it's all a flap."

Nigel left the photos as nothing could save them now. He sat in the smooth leather chair opposite Miranda. His elbow rested on the arm of the chair and he let his head fall to the side against his palm. He looked at her as if she was an animal to study. He had certainly logged enough hours to write the treatise on Miranda in all of her forms over the lifetimes they had been together. Sighing he pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "Break her to make her?" He whispered.

"Hmmmm." Miranda nodded but then pursed her lips moving on from the conversation. Nigel looked up to see her gathering the photos in a pile. "You were right Sedona was wrong for it. Scrap this. Bring me something better in the morning." With a flick of her wrist she checked the time. "I've got to be going."

They both stood and Nigel took the photos from her hand. "Tell the twins goodnight for me." He said fondly.

Miranda crossed to her door and paused with her hand on the knob. "Not a word to Clarissa, Nigel. No pep talk or any of it. And you know that I'll know."

Nigel smiled and Miranda raised a knowing eyebrow at him.

The girls had wanted another story but tonight Miranda did not want to visit the land of long ago, instead she had told them about the magic rose. For many, many years it had been the source of sadness to the villagers. The thorns of poison were louder than the whisper of immortality from the bud itself. Many years the rose withered and died as men let their fears overcome them like monsters creeping out of closets. Finally a young maiden fearing for the life of her beloved raced up the mountain as fast as the sun set and breathlessly she took the rose in her delicate hands and pulled it free from it's fragile home between the rocks. As the poison ran through her veins the young woman raced down the mountain and across the fields until she was once again re-united with her lover. Passing the flower to her lover's trembling hand she kissed lips that were worthy of any price she had to pay. As her heart beat its last breath she ran her fingers through the brunette hair of her lover and whispered to her, "I will come again. Wait for me."

Miranda ran her fingers through her girls' hair as she said goodnight to them. She ignored their pleas of what would come until she was at the door.

"Of course, she came back again. It was another lifetime, in another body, but the same soul of her beloved." Smiling at them she closed the door quietly wishing them sweet dreams.

Checking the clock she knew she had much to do before the night was done, but the first stop needed to be her room. Releasing the fairies always made the sadness of saying goodnight to her girls more bearable. They were very nearly the only ones to ever reproach her or question her, but in these many long years they were also nearly the only ones she allowed to comfort her as well.

The green one fluttered up to her check brushing his wings against her skin. Miranda held up her finger for him to perch on. "Why did I tell that story?" Looking in the mirror Miranda ran her fingers through her hair as the fairy nodded at her. Sighing heavily Miranda let her eyes travel over the lines beginning to map her features and betray her time spent her waiting. "I wanted a happy ending tonight."

The green fairy zoomed away swirling around the pearlescent and blue ones. They wove together in an upward swirl as they danced a kind of fairy dance that Miranda occasionally wished she could learn. Then they turned and dived down near to her head before swooping around her and telling her their thoughts.

"Yes. There will be a happy ending again. I know." Miranda inclined her head in acknowledgement of their wisdom. She just didn't share their positive outlook about time. Too much of it had passed by her changing how she felt about 'the next time.' She was growing tired of waiting and it was beginning to show. "Don't let me keep you." She said, "I have business in the study. Clarissa is getting a promotion."

To this the fairies fluttered around and their happiness was palpable.

"I've let her quake in her heels all evening."

Their disapproval was intense and immediate.

"Oh, let me have my fun. She'll hardly remember an evening of worry after the sweet dreams she'll have with my news. It's not like I've caused her any permanent harm."

They paused and looked at each other in deep discussion. Miranda wondered how they had got on so well all these years. Not only the three of them, but with her as well. Of course they did fly off from time to time to stay at Nigel's but they always returned to her. She never was sure of why. Their devotion to the princess must have been the thread binding them to each other.

Miranda allowed herself to get lost in the pleasure of the moment when she heard the front door of the townhouse swing open. Imagining Clarissa's state of worry and confusion after such a streak of confidence the last several months really gave her a kick. She liked to be able to give or take away things as she pleased. The control over her environment was the only control she seemingly had in the universe. Her life was always spent in search of or with the princess and she would never be able to rest until they were reunited. She had no control over that destiny, but the strings of the world she currently waited in were definitely hers to wield. The girl's steps halted at the table and the book was placed. More steps and another door opening indicated the dry cleaning was hung. The next steps would carry Clarissa across the foyer once more and out the door to freedom. Miranda waited until she knew that Clarissa's foot was hanging just over the first step out of the foyer to call her back.

"Clarissa." She waited as the girl hesitated, then turned and walked slowly to the study. She only called once not wanting to give the girl any indication of what was to come. Just when the girl was about to reach the study she added, "The Book, Clarissa."


Then there were footsteps once more crossing the foyer, a pause, and the return of footfalls.

Looking up from her desk as the blonde entered the room, Miranda let her eyes wander in appreciation. Clarissa set the book on her desk and waited with her hands clasped before her once again. "Thank you." She said quietly and paused to let the words sink in.

The confidence fluttered a little like a candle flame trying to come back from a heavy blow. Miranda nodded in confirmation. That was all Clarissa needed. She stood straighter and looked more fully into Miranda's appraising eyes.

"You have been an exceptional assistant, Clarissa. You have learned to never take anything for granted, expect the unexpected, and achieve the impossible." Miranda's words were uttered in a slow, quiet voice, but this only magnified their meaning and impact.

Clarissa simply bowed her head knowing it was not the time to begin babbling as she used to do.

"Runway Italy has a new Junior Fashion Editor." Miranda slid her glasses off and set them down on top of the book. She stood and stepped around the desk until she was face to face with Clarissa. "I am very proud of you." She extended her hand as her former assistant's mouth began to soundlessly flutter open and shut.

"Oh, thank you!" Clarissa erupted in a small peal of ecstatic noise and wrapped her arms around Miranda. Not completely surprised Miranda simply bent her outstretched arm to pat her on the back. That kind of excitement and thanks should not be bridled up and limited, even if it was contrary to her Dragonlady façade.

Pulling back and suddenly embarrassed Clarissa started to apologize. Miranda held up a manicured finger to stop her. "You will simply love Italy. I'll see you at fashion week."

Miranda had to think of mismatched plaids and stripes to keep the smile from breaking completely across her face.

"W-w-when?" She stammered out.

Waving her hand dismissively, "Call Franchesca. Take a few days for yourself. Emily will bring your things Monday night."

Starting to back away before the goodness fluttered like a mirage and vanished, Clarissa muttered, "I'll call Emily."

This was also something that Miranda waited for. The second course of the meal, if you wished.

"Oh no." Clarissa stopped and looked up to Miranda once again. "Did Evelyn call you?" Miranda tilted her head in question as she let that same long delicate finger rest at the edge of her lips. "Hmm. I don't think she did. How amusing."

Clarissa nodded just a little at first and then with a goofy grin across her face she nodded more adamantly. No, Evelyn had not called her. She had come in on Monday morning to find herself alone with Miranda Priestly apparently on a warpath. It had been terrifying and exhilarating all at once to find herself THE FIRST ASSISTANT to Miranda Priestly. She would never forget that day as long as she lived, which she was sure now was exactly the way that Miranda had wanted it. Who was she to deny Emily the same pleasures that she herself had been able to enjoy? Clarissa stopped bobbing her head up and down and turned on her heel.

Outside in the fresh air she waited until she was at the end of the block and let out a war hoop that had not been seen since Evelyn's more than a year ago.

The door opening and closing was like music to Miranda's ears. Clarissa had been stewing in her confusion and slight fear all evening and Miranda couldn't wait to twist her just a little more before setting her free.


Fearing for her life the redhead approached the inner office at a stylish run. Clarissa had not called her and she had not shown up for work. Miranda was unpredictable, but that didn't mean her assistants were allowed to be. Emily hoped that she did not have to pay for Clarissa's sins. 'There had better be a subway crash somewhere.' Emily thought to herself. Letting a chill run through her, Emily admitted to herself, 'that wasn't very nice. She could have died or something.' Squaring her shoulders but not quite looking Miranda in the eye she said, "Yes. Miranda."

The heartbeats represented minutes shaved off Emily's life. Looking at the girl Miranda heard Nigel's words once again, 'Is she ready, Miranda?' They were never ready, and yet they always rose to the occasion in their own way. "Call HR…" Miranda said as she turned away to the window to watch Emily's reflection. "Have them send up a new girl…"

Emily's eyelids and mouth did not flutter in the same rhythm, but bless her that she did her very best not to ask Miranda the question that so desperately wanted to come out. The girl was learning after all, Miranda silently noted.

"A new second assistant." Miranda turned to face Emily then as she let out a gasp of surprise. "That's all."

Miranda settled into her desk and pushed the speed dial for Nigel. "Yes. Nigel, you can come out to play now. I think it's time to rattle Irv's cage a bit, don't you? Let's scrap Autumn Jackets. I didn't like the shoot anyway." Hanging up with a smile Miranda felt very satisfied with her productive start to this Monday morning. Leaning a little Miranda confirmed that Emily was working instead of passed out in an overjoyed heap on the floor.


Part 4

Andy jolted awake her body spasming as if her soul had just returned to its housing with a jolt. She tried to hold still as she processed what was real and what was the shadow of a dream. The apartment was dark and Nate's arm was around her. Andy held her hand over Nate's on her stomach trying to still the flutters there. His embrace consoled part of her while another part of her wanted to push his hand away so she could feel her palm on her skin in soothing circles. The arm she was laying on gripped the edge of the pillow as she squeezed her eyes shut tight and breathed in and out trying to calm herself. Nate rustled behind her his hand spreading against her and pulling her back against his warm body.

"Hmmmit'sokayAndy." He paused to breath in a sleep-laced breath. "Wasadream. Sleep."

Andy's foot had made it out from under the blanket as had her upper arm but Nate's sleepy command and the promise of body heat was difficult to break away from in the still dark apartment. With resignation, Andy huffed back against the body of her boyfriend both comforted and petulant.

She would not think of that dream. She refused to ponder the details of such a dark place that she wished had never poured forth from her mind. If she acknowledged it as a nightmare and nothing else, then surely her brain could leave it at that—a dark and twisted image her brain had combined with her worst fears and covered in the guise of her normal life that was anything but normal. Before she could stop herself she pondered how changing one detail of her life could so monumentally change everything in her life from start to finish and back again. It was like putting a boulder in a stream and watching as the water eddied behind it, then flowed in a new path around the sides or somewhere else completely. A new bend in the river was formed, or a dam with a lake, or perhaps even a completely different water flow. As water flooded some areas and was diverted to other's it changed everything. The nightmare felt like that to her. She couldn't bear the thought of what her life would be like—

Shuddering she pulled her cold foot back under the covers and slipped her arm back under as well. Nate moved his foot away and growled in his sleep as she put her cold foot on him and Andy stifled a giggle. Just like a little girl with slept in hair that wakes the house, Andy was delighted with her self-created mischief.

She sighed as the dream lingered at the corners of her mind keeping her from sleep even as she was pinned in the warm embrace of her lover. Andy let her hand slide up and down Nate's strong arm again. It had gone slack in his sleepy state and he no longer held her with a strong open palm against his body. Andy let her fingers play against his warm skin and the hair on his arms. Nate was her boyfriend, her lover, but she thought of that story again from the back of the book—was he the Lover like in the story, was she anything like the princess who forgot.

She couldn't get up and lose herself in the book. It wasn't very healthy she supposed to get up every night and read about fairies and lose herself in their various stories. She couldn't quite trace it back to anything in particular that had brought on this bout of insomnia and nightmares. She supposed it had everything to do with the major changes in her life moving to New York, moving in with Nate, moving away from the parents and their never empty cupboards or willingness to help with laundry… and not having a job or a class to devote herself to or at least a team to lose herself in endless practices. 'I have got to get a job and soon.' She told herself, but as much as Andy hoped that getting a job would help, she had a nagging feeling that these recent nightmares were about something else or meant something more to her. Despite the warmth of the bed, the comfort of Nate's routine breathing against her skin, and the familiarity of her things this feeling of something else, something about to change would not leave her.

Looking at the bedside table she bent her neck and held it uncomfortably long enough to see that Piglet was at his post and the time was only just reaching five in the morning. There was time to lose herself in a story and perhaps even some sleep before she began the cycle again of coffee and searching for what was next in her life.

Andy and Nate were in Ohio. There was an empty lot and the end of her parent's street. One summer the neighbor on the other side kept a bull there. It was dangerous and smelled bad, but the children returned day after day to watch it. They dared one another to fight the bull, but no one touched that fence let alone crossed into the bull's territory. The next summer it was a long forgotten memory and the neighbor's on that side had changed anyway. The weeds had grown high and trails formed where animals and children weaved in and out among them.

High school had ended but there was a prom king and queen air to the world. Nate made a crown for Andy out of the weeds he had weaved together and laughing she had placed it on his head instead. When he objected and said she was his queen, Andy laughed and ran.

Her shoes were old and worn but felt like a second skin to her. She could tell when the ground was softer under her feet by feel and when she had reached the gravel by the sound of it crunching under her toes. Nate searched and searched for her, but Andy always taunted him and eluded him. The chase was fun for her and they were never far apart. His shout of anger made her giggle but she was ready to be caught. She circled back to find him only a stick under her foot made her fall suddenly. It felt as though she would never stop and she heard Nate's voice sad now and echoing as if he was moving away. Andy landed, her breath knocked out of her looking up at the branches of the tree they had picnicked under earlier. She looked further around expecting Nate to come to her rescue. When he did not come she scrambled up onto her knees and then to her feet. She was dirty and growing upset with him for not coming to her when surely he had heard her scream.

On the tree before her she followed the trunk up and up covered in letters and names of love over many, many years. On a branch that had been cut away she saw a wreath of dried flowers and wild grasses that had been hung around the tree when the branch had been small. The cut of the wreath into the branch showed it was very old. Stepping to the side to look at this tree, for it was not the one she had been thinking of at all—nor was it like any tree she knew to be in the field. Andy gasped at the sight. Above the branch had been carved Andy + Nate.

Andy looked around suddenly unfamiliar with her surroundings and feeling the world spinning below her. She rushed along the path beaten through the weeds by the feet of animals and children.

Bursting from the edge of the path and onto the street Andy found herself on the street of her family although it had largely changed over what must have been decades much as the tree must have grown from when she knew it until this time and place she found herself in.

A house door opened and a curly brown haired boy came out running to the car that Andy did not recognize. Something about his eyes was familiar. "Junior." A familiar voice called out and the boy stopped at the end of the driveway not fifteen feet away from Andy. A bald man stepped out from the house and called again, "Junior come back here." Turning with his keys in his hand the man's eyes locked on Andy's.

Recognition slammed into Andy all at once and she held her fingers to her mouth, "Nate." It was the lowest of whispers, but he didn't need to hear it. The man dropped his keys and then shook his head as he bent to scoop them up. Deliberately not looking at the apparition again he strode forward taking his son's hand and saying firmly. "You are supposed to wait at the door, Junior." The two got in the car and slammed the doors shut.

Andy fled back into the weeds to the tree in search of answers.

"Coffee?" Andy woke to the gentle shake of Nate's hand on her shoulder. He stepped back as her eyes fluttered open and shut a few times before the smell of the coffee lured her into keeping them open one and for all. He smiled as she swung her legs off the bed and sat up. He handed her the cup. "I'm glad you got back to sleep." He was showered and dressed nicely today as if he had another interview already set up. She wondered how many interviews he would go on in his effort to reach the top. So far he had worked hard, and applied his charm and many doors were opening up to him. She was glad for his success, but at the same time wished that some would come her way.

Still groggy and naked Andy simply held the coffee cup and sipped.

Nate leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. "Let's go somewhere this weekend. The woods or a picnic or something."

Andy nodded.

"I've got to go." He turned and grabbed his keys and his wallet as he headed out the door.

Andy lay back and held the pillow over her body wanting the comfort of its weight in her arms. The pillow crushed against her and while it comforted her, like Nate's embrace is just wasn't enough. Andy held it tighter to her. "He gave up on me." The feel of that statement settled over her like the worry of her nightmare earlier when she woke in Nate's embrace still full of discord. Clarifying for herself she added thoughtfully, "In the dream Nate chased me and then gave up. I fell somewhere and he gave up on me. He didn't come for me or wait or anything." Andy turned her head looking at Nate's pillow smoothed down and his part of the bed with the blanket already back in place as if he had not been laying next to her. "I was coming back to him and then something happened and he was gone." Andy reached out letting her hand rub absently against the empty side of the bed. "That was his son and he was old."

A silent tear slid down Andy's cheek. She lay there in the blanket of sadness that fell over her.

After a while she slipped on the sweatshirt from the chair and a pair of boxers from her college days. They were loose and comfortable. She threw away Nate's cold coffee and drank water. Sitting at the table she found the book again and lost herself in another part of the princess' and the Lover's tale.

At the foot of the Immortal Mountain a village was steeped in superstition and fear. The princess had made her way here following the sun. She had no memory of the past or concept of the future. She told tales of a life that went on and on in many different ways and full of mysterious wonders. She had died before she said. The villagers let her live at the edge of the village for she did not bother them except to tell her stories. Her brunette hair and shining eyes kept them curious, but her words filled their hearts with fear. One day her silver lover came among the villagers with the faun. They looked like creatures no one of them had ever imagined before—royalty and wildness together. For a time they let them live in peace. It was a happy time with the princess reunited with her Lover and the Faun to watch over them. A terrible drought came upon them the next season and the heat became unbearable. The villagers blamed the princess. The child of the mayor died of sickness and they came for her with pitchforks. As she lay dying she heard the footsteps of her Lover. The magic rose was placed in her hands and a tear fell as she regained her strength and watched her Lover wither. "I will come again. Wait for me." She said and they were parted once again.

Andy closed the book and let her hands sit on top of it as she thought. "The Lover always came for her and would sacrifice anything." Andy cracked open the book again flipping through the stories remembering the titles and parts for the epic story. "In every lifetime, defying the words of the King, the Lover comes for her and waits for her, whatever is needed." Andy sighed. She still couldn't shake the feeling that in the dream Nate had left her and moved on with another.

Looking around through the windows Andy watched as the city faded into urban sprawl and then into countryside. The transformation was quicker than Andy thought which made her think about how perspective was affected when you were so deep into something. Inside the city Andy had almost begun to think that she had to go all the way back to Ohio to get out of it—as if the city existed in and of itself and to reach wilderness one had to make a journey. 'Maybe just a journey of the mind?' She wondered to herself. 'I wonder if I wrote all this down if I could make a go of it as a writer and not a journalist?' Sighing Andy stretched her feet out it had been a while since she had been in a car. When they moved they had left their cars in the family on the promise that if they needed one they could come back for it. In the city there was very little need for a car and the need was easily surpassed by the cost and hassle of parking it anywhere. If the city could have cars that folded up and fit in a laptop case or backpack then everyone would have one, but driving was a hassle as was storing the vehicle once you got anywhere. Nate had borrowed this beat up loaner from a friend of his at work.

Not for the first time Andy wondered about that. Nate had not been at his job for very long and yet it seemed he had made good connections. He always had a friend that was happy to help him with anything—even loaning them the car. She wondered what it was about this camaraderie among men. They seemed to be very close and willing to do things for each other, but when you talked to them about it the relationship seemed nothing more than an acquaintance. All he seemed to know about the guy that loaned him his car was that he worked the same shift as Nate, was named Derek and lived with his girlfriend in the suburbs.

The woods here were different than back home, not too different but enough to notice. Andy recognized oak trees dogwoods, different kinds of pines and some hickory, but she didn't see the broadleaves of the magnolia or the distinctive clusters of cream-flowers from the horse chestnut. "It's different here." She said in a wide-eyed kind of way. She wondered (if fairies were real) did they have unique kinds for each region like different flora and fauna for various parts of the world. The thought made her smile but she didn't say anything to Nate about the fairies. The only time she had ever brought up her fairies to him, he had said, 'I only ever cared about that stuff if I was able to fight the dragon. If not I'd tell those girls to leave me alone. I was all Tonka trucks and GI Joes.' So Andy was always sure to keep her playful fantasy world out of the way when she was around Nate. He wouldn't want to get lost in the intricacies of the King of the Underground Realm and the princess who forgot or her Lover and the Faun who served them.

Andy rolled down her window and let the fresh air wash over her. She let her hand slip out of the window like she was a child again and her fingertips flew up and down on the changing currents. Absently she began to hum a melody that seemed to come from a deep forgotten part of her brain.

After a while Nate pulled off the road and onto several smaller roads and into a dirt parking lot. "What were you humming?" He asked her as he grabbed his backpack off the back seat.

"Oh, just a song I heard somewhere. It's been in my head." Andy grabbed her backpack out of the back as well and slipped her sunglasses on.

Nate smiled at her as they met at the end of the car to go into the small visitor center. "It sounded like a lullaby but," he shrugged, "kind of haunting at the same time." Andy blushed and slipped her hand into his outstretched one.

"They certainly don't like hikers here." Andy said glumly as they stepped out of the visitor's center. "Maybe we should have gone somewhere else?" The staff barely wanted to give Nate a park map and they certainly didn't want to give him any information. They went over the rules with him in grim tones that hinted at Armageddon should they leave so much as a crumb from their granola bar behind. Andy understood that trash in the wilderness was a problem, but she didn't understand the fire and brimstone approach to forestry management that seemed to prevail inside the visitor center.

"Oh, they've always been like that here at Bear Mountain." He shrugged and slipped off his sandals as he sat down on the bench. Likewise Andy pulled her boots from their tied on perch and sat down to switch shoes as well. "My grandpa used to take my dad here. It was the only place he'd take my dad hiking. He liked the bridge: driving on it, walking across it, or looking at it from the hilltops more. My dad liked the forest: getting dirty, climbing the fire towers, and soaking up the views from the fire towers. It was a compromise, I guess."

Andy looked up at him. She had known that his dad was from New York, but she hadn't really thought about growing up here part time. She didn't really get to know Nate all that well until the end of high school. For all she knew he had spent his summers on Pluto. "Oh, you came to New York a lot then growing up?"

Nate laughed. "Not any more than my dad had to, but yeah, I got to come and spend time in the summer with my grandpa. Dad liked to take me here when he'd get frustrated with his dad again. I didn't know it then but he was always after him to move the family back here. He couldn't understand why anyone would want to move from New York to Ohio."

This made Andy think of her fairies again and her favorite love story of the princess who forgot. "He fell in love, surely your grandfather understood that?"

Sharing a smile Nate leaned in and kissed her. "I don't think grandfather knew about that kind of love." He said quietly before tying the top of his boots. "It's funny. I've always thought I was more like my dad than my grandpa, but I moved back to New York while my father left it behind. Ready?" Nate stood and tapped the toe of his boot behind him one foot at a time as he checked the fit of his footwear.

"Almost." Andy said as she kicked her heel against the floor and then tightened the top laces of her boots. She stood also checking the fit of her boots. "Okay. Now where are we going?"

Nate pointed on the map. "I thought we could go to Raccoon Brook today. Since they wouldn't give us the access information about Devil's Falls. There's a crossing that might be too deep this late in the season and I don't want to get all the way out there and have to turn back."

Adjusting the straps on her backpack Andy nodded. "Lead the way."

Nate stepped off the small porch of the visitor center and started walking toward the far side of the parking lot where there was a trailhead. "So anyway. We used to come here and they were always crabby. Eventually dad had his maps and knew where we were going so we wouldn't even talk to them except to sign in on the hiker's log. Most of the time there wasn't even a grumbled hello."

Stopping at the top of the ridge they breathed hard and looked around. Andy was amazed at the view and the variety of the trees and plants they had hiked past as they changed altitude. The top of the ridge afforded a nice view of where they had been. Below them was the Hudson River dark blue and beautifully calm as it followed the slow curve under the large suspension bridge. "So this is why you wanted to continue past the creek?" Andy smiled at Nate before taking a sip of her water.

"Yeah." It was clear from Nate's face that he was wistful. The tension with his dad still hadn't settled down with the move to New York. This was like a way of spending time with him even though he wasn't there. "Grandpa loved the bridge. He always told about how it the longest in the world at its construction and the first with a concrete deck. They only hiked here because he could see the bridge." Nate took a sip of his own water and looked at the view again for a moment. Andy waited silently taking a sip of her water too. "Dad loved the hiking the most. The waterfalls, the mud on your shoes, animal prints, the occasional raccoon or wild turkey."

The breeze picked up and Andy closed her eyes enjoying the cooling sensation as it blew against her sweaty clothes. She hummed in delight as the sun warmed her, the breeze cooled her, and she was just having a nice day with her boyfriend. Neither of them noticed a golden stick like insect as it peeked around from behind a tree and then flew closer to them. It crawled to and fro on various plants and trees as it flew closer and closer to them. It was as if it was watching them.

"They are both really beautiful." Andy said quietly when Nate lingered in his thoughtful mood.

He snapped out of his reverie and smiled at her. "I think it always hurt dad's feelings that I was fascinated by the bridge. But what little boy isn't fascinated by a large metal structure? Or any kid for that matter." Nate added the last as Andy gave him an eyebrow raise that said, 'I liked that stuff too, you know.' He stepped forward and kissed her on the lips. Pulling back he pointed to the bridge. "He always said I was like my grandfather then and I would insist that I liked the waterfalls and stuff too. Eventually he would relent and just say that I was a hybrid."

Had they not been kissing and kissing and kissing, they would have noticed that the golden insect had landed on the tree branch just above their heads. They were too distracted by the beautiful day and the promise of the kiss to notice anything else. They turned and headed back down the ridge towards Raccoon Creek and then the trail back to the parking lot. Once again caught up in the sparkle of the afternoon sunshine and the fading of a good day they didn't notice as the golden insect traversed the trail with them even to the point that it fluttered into the open hatchback as they changed out of their boots before driving home.


Part 5

The meeting was today at Donna Karen. Nigel knew that this was the next test for the red head. He wondered if Miranda was trying to break her to make her, or just smash the high-strung woman into pieces. It had been weeks with Emily on her own and usually Miranda relented and let the first assistant hire a new girl within days. She didn't always keep the new girl, but she at least gave them a respite and the thought that they were making progress as first assistant. This time Miranda was stringing her only assistant out. He knew that Miranda would hear none of it, but he wondered if it was time for her to do something else. She had lived enough lifetimes and done enough things that she easily got bored. Perhaps this was the case now and she needed to step away before she toyed with one of these girls until they snapped. He knew it would just be another lifetime together, but he'd prefer that Miranda didn't get murdered. That was always a bad way to end a life. It somehow made the next start that much harder or something.

Walking into the outer office area he just stood and pursed his lips as he watched Emily's inner core reach its melting point. The phone was ringing. Emily was on her cell. The racks were not where Miranda would want them. The coffee was on Emily's desk instead of Miranda's. The magazines were not fanned out in their usual presentation.

He knew that Miranda did not want him to help her, but he also knew that Miranda did not like it when Runway was not on the right foot on Monday morning. She believed that how you started the week was an indicator to how the week would play out. Thus a good start on Monday morning was more important to her than a good start on a Friday morning. He wondered if this had anything to do with the fact that disasters usually happening at the end of the week within Runway. His brain told him not to go there, but it did and he thought for a brief second if Miranda helped to make that happen.

Nigel picked up the phone. "Miranda Priestly's office." Another assistant already ramped up on caffeine, nightmares, and adrenalin began rattling off words that must have been in English but sounded like a cult chant on high speed. Nigel looked at the phone and frowned. He couldn't help that one. He guessed it was Donna's assistant. "The meeting is at 1:30 and she is always 15 minutes early." The chanting stopped and there was silence. He sometimes loved having a calm male voice in the sea of female tones. It set him apart and made the speaker listen even if they were in mid-panic. "Go now." He told the silence on the other end of the line. It went dead.

Emily flipped her cell phone shut and looked at the clock and then at Nigel. The panic and thankfulness clear on her face. He pointed to the coffee and Miranda's office as he pulled the rack to the side where it was supposed to have been left already. Emily's phone rang again and she squeaked. Nigel pulled the other rack out of the way and looked at her. The coffee was in place the magazines were fanned and the front area was clear.

The phone rang and he pointed. She raced for it and he sauntered back into the outer office to check the agenda clipboard posted by her desk. Miranda waltzed in throwing her coat and bag on Emily's desk.

Nigel waited for it—Miranda did not like to be interfered with when playing her games. From time to time Nigel had to step in, which isn't to say that he enjoyed it, or the fall out that it caused between them. He could withstand the storm he just preferred not to have to go through the heart of it if he didn't have to. The morning had flown by and Miranda had not looked at him sideways. The Donna Karen meeting went well and he thought that there would be enough for the feature they were planning. Emily stayed at the office so the note taking had fallen to Nigel himself, but he didn't mind. By now it was simply a matter of writing down the notes he already took in his head. He always had to pay total attention anyway so it was no skin off his back. "Ride with me." Miranda commanded him as she breezed out of the meeting. Nigel finished exchanging pleasantries with Donna and smirked as he caught an elevator down with two or three miscellaneous people.

Miranda waited in the car. Nigel nodded to Roy as he slipped past him and into the back seat.

The car slid forward and Miranda let her fingers drum against door handle. "You helped her." Miranda said at last as she let her fingers just rest against the door handle. The car slowed to a stop. Neither said a word as the light changed and the car slid forward again.

Nigel sighed and leaned more fully against the back of the chair. "When you have no assistant at all, I shall be forced to say I told you so. Although I did not tell you so, you should know better." He looked at her and she turned her face slightly away as if looking out the window. He sighed again and clasped his hands in his lap.

The car turned left and the right. Nigel chanced a look out the window. They were getting closer to the Elias-Clark building. The stand off would have to end soon. He knew that Miranda would not want to continue this conversation until later. She would say what she had to say and then dismiss it. He had already stated his case, more forcefully than he normally did, however he felt that Emily wouldn't last too much longer on her own. When she disappeared Miranda would really be unhappy having to train two new assistants at the same time.

Miranda narrowed her eyes and looked at her nails. She walked herself through her day and noticed where the missing assistant would leave a hole. The movie with the altered ending sped by on fast forward in her brain and she did not like that Nigel was right—he would be covering some of the slack, things would simply be missed, and she would be less able to run the magazine.

Instead of addressing Nigel and acknowledging her defeat she opened her phone, "Emily, reschedule Irv. Get the Sedona. Blouses from DK. Confirm with Christopher for the LA shoot. Patricia at 3. Starbucks." Miranda paused abruptly but did not hang up the phone. Nigel fought the urge to look at her not wanting to push his luck any further for the day. Emily looked at the phone to see if they were still connected. She did not dare to hang up and as the seconds dragged on she had to tamp down on her growing desire to ask Miranda if there was anything else. "Call HR." Miranda closed her phone ending the call.

Nigel heard her shift in her seat and he waited for the telltale sigh as the car slowed to a stop outside Elias-Clark. "Fine." She said when Nigel raised his eyes to hers.

Nigel nodded knowing that was as close to a surrender or apology as he was going to get.

"They've grown so much, Miranda." Nigel said quietly as he looked at the picture on Miranda's laptop. "I forget when the last time I saw them was."

Miranda clicked onto another photo. "I think it was a year ago."

Nigel spread the photos on her desk and lay his notes next to them. He knew this shoot would make her much happier than the last one. It pleased him when an idea came together. Runway also benefited when the ideas flowed and the execution was followed to the letter. He was pleased that another new new-girl had been hired but as much as it helped Emily to have another body there, he wasn't sure this one would last the week.

Without looking at him Miranda pulled out her glasses and turned to the photos. She lifted a few absently looking at them before she took Nigel's notes. He waited patiently knowing that there was more—indeed with Miranda there was always more. "She won't last a week."

Nigel closed his eyes and shook his head in amused wonder. "How's your project coming along?" He thought that Emily was coming along and that the various new new-girls sort of provided her a lifeline of lily pads from which to jump from one to the next for safety. He even thought he had seen her toy with one or two of the new girls when it was clear that she wouldn't last. Her progress seemed to be steadily improving depending on how far and how fast Miranda wanted her to go.

"She's earned her name, but we'll have to see if she can earn herself an assistant." Miranda held up a picture to him.

Wincing slightly Nigel tilted his head, "Hmm. I know but…" He picked up another picture and held it above the one in Miranda's hand. The pieces clicked for her as they had done for him.

"Okay. So I can see where you're going with that." She pointed to one of his notes on the page. "You're trying to do this in this piece as well?" Her voice was slow and held a note of playful inflection. She was teasing him.

He rustled through the other pictures until he found the three little solo shots of the models that he was looking for. "She's been toying with the ones she knows you're going to fire. Making them do some of her errands as well as yours."

Miranda looked at him and he smiled at her.

"She intercepts them before they get back to you of course, but I'm fairly certain the girls are too young to need the latest from La Perla." She raised her brow at him. "Too small for you, before you even give me the 'what if they are for me routine.' Those girls," he nodded his head at the twin smiling faces on the laptop screen, "don't need anything yet." Nigel let that sink in for a moment and then added his own entertaining comment, "Besides you wouldn't pay cash, nor would the girls."

Miranda held up a shot that Nigel knew would be thrown away but he couldn't resist putting in so that Miranda could be at her most disdainful. He wondered if she ever caught on to the fact that he let things slip through for entertainment value. He couldn't imagine that she did, however Miranda was always one to surprise you. "Maybe she's ready after all." Her body language about the shot screamed everything and Nigel smiled. "Fine." Miranda said having swooped up the pictures and notes in one swipe. Nigel beamed at her as he took them back. "Don't say it." She said looking at him hard over her glasses.

Conversations finished, he shrugged in feigned innocence and turned to leave.

When he was almost at the door he heard her quiet voice. "Nigel." A glance at Miranda revealed that there was another, more personal subject to discuss. His steps brought him closer to her, but clarified nothing. "They love her." He tilted his head confused at first, until a fairy shaped light bulb flickered on in his brain.

"Ah." Miranda slipped her glasses off her face and closed the arms of them against her chin. She set them down and then she stretched her neck to one side and then the other. Nigel saw it again, they had been here too long, they were tired, and Miranda was tired. Nigel stepped even closer to her desk. "How could they not?" Nigel wondered when it would come to this. Everything about Miranda was about loving the princess and searching for her, how could the twins not also follow her in this? Trying to be delicate he asked, "What's the problem?"

Stilling herself Miranda looked at him with sad eyes. "They want to know what happened to her."

Nigel closed his eyes feeling the pain and sadness of their joint loss again. "I see." He said quietly.

"They want me to tell the story, but it hurts my heart." Once again Nigel had to let his mind run about in order to keep up with her. She meant that the fairies were pressuring her in addition to the twins. They were hard to ignore when they had made a decision, especially when it came to the princess.

"The loss is part of the story, you know that." Nigel said in such a quiet whisper that he wasn't sure if she heard him. He stepped forward again and cleared his throat. "The loss makes the story a journey of love and search and sweet reunion. It has always been so."

Miranda closed her eyes and nodded. She waited a moment for the wave of pain to wash away from her again. When she opened her eyes she found her companion's eyes filled with tears much like her own. She clicked a few things closed on her laptop and closed the lid. "That's all." She tossed out in as neutral a manner as she could. It would not do to lash out unnecessarily at Nigel. He had always been attentive and supportive through the years and the journeys.

"I'm home early, girls." Letting the door handle go she turned to test it as it clicked shut on its own. She always double-checked the lock when she came home and she trusted her assistants to do the same when they left. It wasn't so much for her safety. She had been through enough challenges in many lifetimes, so she did not worry for herself. She would come back again and again so she worried instead for her girls. She did not want them left alone to go back to their father, and she definitely did not want them to come to any harm.

Miranda hung up her coat in the closet and put her purse in the study before going to find her girls. They were watching Phineas and Ferb much to her chagrin. Patricia woofed once to announce her arrival but didn't bother to get up from her post at the girls feet. Instead she happily wagged her tail and looked at her mistress. "Mommy." The twins called out to her and scrambled off the couch to hug her waist and press themselves to her. It wasn't often that she was home early and they liked to soak her in. "Can we make lasagna?"

Miranda stepped back from her girls to look at their precious blue eyes and she nodded. They squealed and screamed as they ran off toward the kitchen. Patricia looked at Miranda. "Well aren't you going with them?" She asked with her hands on her hips and an eyebrow raise.

Patricia gave a woof and got up a little slower than she used to and followed the path of the twins.

The sound of cupboards and chatter followed Miranda up the stairs to her room. She wondered if a flak jacket would be appropriate apparel for cooking with pre-teens. They did a good job; they were just messy. Miranda opened the case on her dresser telling her companions simply. "Lasagna with the twins." She moved away from them as they stretched their wings and talked amongst themselves. Miranda slipped out of her nice Runway clothes and then reached for the bottom almost forgotten 'don't wear in public' drawer. She slipped on a pair of loose fitting yoga pants and a t-shirt that actually had a tiny little hole at the hem just to the side of her belly button. She wasn't sure what she snagged it on, but it always made her smile. It was like the ultimate un-Miranda detail of the un-Miranda outfit and therefore the unpredictable Priestly had decided to like it. She could see the picture in Page Six with a circle and a close up picture of the hole in the cotton. It amused her to think that the press really had nothing better to do sometimes.

The fairies followed Miranda down the stairs and into the hall. She stopped short of the kitchen though and gave them a look that said 'disappear' loud and clear. They buzzed each other and then they each nodded at her as they shrunk down even further in size so that they would not be noticed as they followed her into the room and then hovered above to watch the merriment.

"Off to bed girls." Miranda gathered up the last of the dishes from the coffee table in the living room. The girls had already taken their plates into the kitchen, but she could tell as the clock struck the hour that they were angling for another half hour or hour if they couldn't dare to wish for more. They whimpered in response. Miranda fixed them with a look that promised a story or other reward but only if they followed instructions now. They knew this look well. "I'll be up in a minute." She added with a warmth to her eyes that propelled them forward.

Miranda put the various dishes down and put the lid over the lasagna pan so that it could go in the fridge. Stepping out of the fridge doors she was greeted by three full-sized fairies ready to give her a piece of their mind. The shiny blue one flexed his wings and hovered forward toward Miranda. Letting go the fridge handles Miranda sighed as she listened. She grabbed the sponge from the sink and wiped down the counter as she nodded in agreement. When the metallic green one also hovered forward Miranda washed her hands and wiped them on the kitchen towel.

"Tonight." They buzzed around her and she fixed them with a cold stare. "What do you think this was about then?" She motioned around the kitchen. The fairies sunk back and looked around. They knew when Miranda found something difficult, whether it was personal or Runway, she always made sure to spend a special evening with the twins. They grounded her in what was important once more, and the time together made her feel like she could indeed do anything. Tonight she had needed that so she could tell her girls a little more about the princess. She didn't think she could tell it all in one night, but she knew she had to start somewhere. More nights like this one with her girls would be welcome indeed.

The King of the Underground Realm was distraught that his daughter had eluded her keepers. He opened portals around the world so that she could return. The faun, the Lover and others searched for her above the land until at last the Faun reported that she had almost returned to them at the last portal in Spain. Almost for she had been killed before she could prove herself. The King did not speak for many days. When he did, it was with great sorrow in his voice. "I do not know if she will return now and Man has closed all of the portals. You must come home now. The search is over. The princess may return in another body, in another place, at another time, but she will have to find her own way home." The People wept for the loss of their royal daughter. Only the Lover could move. The Lover defied the King's command to give up the search. Alone the Lover began again in the land of the sun. The Faun was sent to bring the Lover back or help forever. The King would hope until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning, but he would seek her no longer.


Part 6

Nate entered the kitchen to see his girlfriend huddled over her favorite book about fairies. He hated that book. It was something that she never shared with him, but obviously held very dear to her. He only knew what it was about because he asked once. She had been looking at it one evening and he was curious. She looked up and then closed the book saying absently, "Oh it's just a book from when I was kid. Fairies and all that stuff." She slipped it into its place on the bookshelf and then went into the kitchen without another word. Nate did not push further and let her go without any more questions. He wasn't sure why she reacted that way. As her nightmares increased he knew that she read that book more and so he associated it with the slow forming rift between them.

"Good morning." He said with a kiss on her cheek. She closed the book and stood slowly while he poured the coffee. "Couldn't sleep?"

Andy scratched her head and quietly said, "Another nightmare, you know." She shrugged and then grabbed the book and slipped back into the living room.

Nate grabbed a second cup and poured one for his girlfriend. "You're interviewing today?" He hoped that she would get this job so that her time would be filled. He hoped that having a routine again would help to drive away the nightmares. He felt lost as to how else to help her.

"Yeah. It sounds great. An entry level job at the Mirror newspaper."

Nate smiled at the hope in her voice. He missed that. "I'm sure it will be great for you." He pointed to the coffee but when she came to get it he intercepted her with a hug.

Andy let his strong arms encircle her and even drew her own arms around him clinging to what comfort he could provide. She knew it just wasn't enough somehow but he was so kind to her and she needed this today.

Wiping a tear away from her eyes Andy stepped out into the fresh air. Today she found no comfort in the sun shining down on her. Feeling lost Andy walked for a few blocks until she floated into a Starbucks. She ordered a hot coffee and dug in her pockets for the change that she needed. The girl smiled at her as she fished the last quarter out of her pocket to pay for the order. Andy looked away sheepishly. She hated relying on her parents for money and wanted a job so she could find some kind of routine.

"Three drip coffees with room for milk, searing hot, and I mean hot." A high-strung red head impatiently tapped her fancy high-heeled shoe on the tiles while she checked her watch. She paid quickly and stepped to the waiting side in a huff. Andy tried to smile at her but the harried woman got a phone call where to Andy's interest she did not talk at all. Her posture was even tenser and in a voice thick with irrational impatience she squawked, "She's waiting."

Andy wondered if the woman was talking about herself in third person, but decided that even New York wasn't that crazy. As the woman bolted from the building she took three coffees instead of one. Andy could only hope the coffees were for someone else and not just her many personas.

Watching her go Andy wondered if she wanted a job after all—if she had to run around like that. She thought that maybe it was better to stay at home and start writing fiction after all. "I might as well put those dreams to work if I can't find a job." With that she walked out of the Starbucks determined to write the next great American novel or go mad trying. She looked up at the building across the street from her and thought, "Well you can beat me up, but you can't beat me down. I will succeed with or without you." The large faceless high-rise did not respond but she walked a little taller and more determined.

"Nate?" She said into her phone. "I didn't get the job. They said I didn't have any experience. I don't know what they would call all that work I did for the Daily Northwestern. Whatever." He said some comforting things to her about it not being the right fit for her and that she would find her place soon enough. She nodded as he talked and then when he paused for breath she interjected, "I'm going to write a novel and turn those nightmares into my success."

Andy looked at the subway sign and started down the steps. "That's great. So you'll write and keep looking and see whichever turns out best?"

Knowing that both were a long shot she figured that she could do both. "Yep. Gotta go, babe." She said as she slipped into the subway train. She closed her phone and slipped it into her pocket while she reached for the straphanger.

Andy put some water on the stove for tea even though it was warm. She always had hot tea when she wrote and today she had come home inspired and ready to write. The laptop took the place of her fairy book on the table and she sat down ready to face her dream demons and turn them into fictional friends. The sun dipped low and then sank against the horizon but Andy took no notice. It was not until Nate came home late from his shift that she realized how much time had gone by. Suddenly she was hungry and sleepy. As she stood to greet him in the darkened apartment she also realized that her legs, back and neck were not accustomed to so much sitting at a desk typing.

Greeting him with a smile she let him turn the kiss into something more as his hands dipped under her shirt and slid against her skin. Enjoying her response and her good mood Nate walked them back through the living room and into the bedroom. When her legs hit the bed she smiled at him and pulled him on top of her on the mattress. "I've missed you." He said quietly as he kissed along her neck and made to unfasten her bra.

Enjoying his touch against her skin Andy simply arched her back up sighing, "Hmmmmmm."

For once Andy slept through the night in a black comforting blanket of nothingness. Her slumber was interrupted not by Nate's shower, but instead by the ringing of her telephone. She fumbled around not sure where she was for a moment and then panicked as she realized a phone call in the morning was most likely about a job. She fell out of the bed and then scrambled for the phone on her knees. Luckily she reached it in time and she slumped against the chair legs. "Hello. Hello?"

The voice on the phone was crisp and business-like. Andy felt good about sacrificing her knees in order to answer it. "My name is Jack Kemp. I'm with Elias-Clark's HR office. May I speak with Andrea Sachs please?"

Andy couldn't believe it and swallowed her breath of air in shock. "This is, um, but you can call me Andy."

The voice on the other end of the line did not spare this a passing thought as it barreled on. The voice after all had many more calls to make after this one and didn't care. "Ms. Sachs, can you come in tomorrow at 8 am?"

Still out of sorts that this would really be a possible job on the line Andy agreed through her confusion. "Er, yes. I mean, yes. Yes, I can be there." She finished firmly. The voice disconnected the call and Andy sat bewildered on the floor in front of the big chair, which was where Nate found her half clad with reddening bruised knees and a happy shocked look on her face.

'Well, this is different.' He mused uncertain of whether it was a good kind of different or just a different kind of weird behavior. He didn't see any signs of the fairy book and he knew that she had slept much better last night because she was completely out of it when he got up and hopped into the shower.

"That was Elias-Clark. I have a job interview tomorrow."

Worry was starting to creep up into her features as she rose from the ground. Nate wasn't sure how to proceed. "Well that's great, I mean, isn't it?"

Andy shrugged. "I don't know. I mean if they want to hire me it's fantastic, but…" Andy shrugged looking at him. "They own like ten magazines here in New York." Nate smiled at her but she shook her head. "I don't know."

Finally sensing what to do Nate stepped forward and wrapped her tightly in his arms. "I know it's stressful, but you want to be in publishing, right?" Andy nodded against his neck. "And you've got to catch a break some time, don't it?" Andy nodded again. He stepped back and looked into her deep brown eyes waiting until they looked steadily into his. "I know you've been worried, but I have a good feeling about this."

Andy bit her bottom lip trying to bite back her negativity. "The Mirror didn't want me, why would Elias-Clark?"

Nate gently pressed his palm to her cheek trying to communicate his positive energy. "You just never know what someone is thinking or why, but things turn out. My dad had to move to Ohio, but I needed to land here." Nate's watch beeped the hour and he kissed her on the lips. "I've got to go."

The City was a big place and even though Andy thought she could find her way around fairly easily she thought that she'd get out of the house by going to find out where Elias-Clark was. Andy stepped off the subway exit and looked around. It felt familiar but then she had been to so many places, or been lost so many places in the city that the feeling wasn't always helpful. Upon reaching fresh air again, she immediately realized it was where she ended up the day before. This large and imposing structure that she now realized was Elias-Clark was where she wandered to after she left the Mirror offices that afternoon. Andy nodded in acknowledgment of her opponent. Craving an iced tea Andy wandered down to the Starbucks on the opposite corner.

Recognizing the tottering red head in a hurry and seething attitude Andy stepped out of the way and held the door open. She didn't even get a thank you, but Andy figured with this girl she was just lucky that she didn't get run over. Shaking her head Andy stepped into the Starbucks pulling her change from her pocket before she approached the counter this time. She was glad that iced tea was cheaper than coffee.

The table in the corner was empty so Andy thought she'd sit for a while and see if the red head came back again. She wondered what kind of job she must have to be running like a maniac for coffee what seemed like every day and more than once a day. Yesterday Andy was there in the afternoon and today she was hours earlier in the morning and yet the red head was still on a mad dash for coffee. As far as Andy could tell she was being chased by the hounds of hell too because there was no good reason on Earth to wear those crazy high shoes, especially to RUN in them. A magazine sat on the table waiting for her so Andy turned it around so she could read it. She lazily thumbed through the fashion magazine thinking about when she used to get the back to school issue of Seventeen magazine and she would cut out things that she wanted for her mother for back to school shopping. It was the only amount of fashion craze that she ever participated in willingly despite her mother's efforts to interest her in local beauty pageants and other 'girly' things.

She closed the magazine. Runway the big letters spelled out for her on the cover above a tall thin blonde model that had on clothes that Andy figured she'd never be allowed to see let alone purchase or wear. Realizing dimly in her mind that Runway was a publication Andy flipped open the front cover looking for the business information about the magazine. "Oh my god." Andy said out loud to herself upon seeing that Elias-Clark published it. Realizing that she had spoken Andy looked up to see if anyone had noticed. Seeing no one looking at her in amusement, Andy flipped another page or two of the magazine until she was past the ads and on the Editor's letter. Silver hair, blue eyes, a beautiful face and the unshakable feeling that Andy knew this woman caused her to simply stare at the page.

"Excuse me?" Andy looked up shocked from her moment. A woman no older than herself in a fancy suit of some kind had her hand out to Andy. "I think that's my magazine."

Suddenly embarrassed Andy closed it and held it out to her. "Right. Oh. It was just here. Sorry."

The woman took it and Andy never even had a chance to look at the name on the page.

Her cup was empty, the magazine was gone, and so Andy decided it was time to leave. Her phone rang as she reached the corner of the street. "Hello?"

Without preamble her oldest friend and partner in crime, Lily, began gushing. "We have the best new artist on display. Come on over, Andy, and I'll show you. Then we can go to lunch, okay? Don't even say you want to stay at home."

Laughing at how effusive her friend was Andy corrected her, "I'm not at home, Lily. Sure I'd love to come over and see who, I mean the art that has you buzzing so hard." Andy laughed at the feigned shock of her friend and hung up the phone. She hopped onto the subway almost completely forgetting about the face in the magazine.

Waking early Andrea showered and put the coffee on. Nate greeted her with a smile and they lost themselves in kissing until his snooze alarm reminded them that time was going by. Andy pushed Nate away. "You can't make me late. This is my first real lead on a job." Nate smiled and pretended to do a sexy strip tease with his boxers and as he turned to enter the bathroom she stepped forward and smacked him on the ass.

He laughed and teased back. "You know you want me." The water turned on and Andy turned back to her wardrobe to figure out what she should wear. Looking at her clothes she suddenly realized that while she had some good-looking clothes, she didn't have any amazing looking clothes. Elias Clark was one of the biggest publication firms in New York and she had to make a good enough impression to get in. Slipping on her skirt and zipping it, she just hoped it would be good enough.

Andy got her guest pass and headed up to meet Jack Kemp on the third floor. He was a well-dressed man about five inches taller than her and probably a few years older too. He had an easy smile and Andy felt more at home in his sterile cubicle. He took her resume but didn't look at it and Andy wondered if this was going to be a real lead or a 'we'll call you' kind of thing. However he typed a few things onto his keypad as he talked to her about her experience and then he reached for the printer. "Your experience would put you at entry level for any of our publications." He slid the list onto the desk so that she could see it as well. There were two items on his list. "Only two of our New York Publications are hiring assistants at this time." Andy's smile fell because that didn't mean a lot of options and she suddenly felt the invisible competition nipping at her heels. In tough times people would kill for a job, any job.

"I know I don't have a lot of experience, but I have to start somewhere." Andy said, wanting to stand up for herself.

Jack smiled and nodded at her in a calming fashion. "Assistants get coffee, run errands, and basically do whatever their bosses tell them." Andy kind of grumbled at this and Jack repeated her words back to her. "You have to start somewhere, right?" Sitting back in the chair Andy nodded with as much enthusiasm as she could. "The editors at Auto Universe and Runway magazine are both hiring. I can call the appropriate receptionist for you and send you upstairs immediately."

The fashion magazine at the coffee shop flashed in her mind, as did the picture of the beautiful silver haired woman. Feeling a shudder go through her spine Andy knew that she wasn't exactly Runway material if that magazine cover was anything to go by. Then an image of her dad and uncles working on the cars on the weekends cursing and swearing with dirty greasy hands flashed through her mind. "Runway, please." Andy nodded her head as she convinced herself with the word.

Jack gave a half-smirk as he looked her over and he picked up the phone. "I'm sending Andrea Sachs up to meet Emily Charlton." He nodded and hung up the phone.

Taking a note from his desk he wrote the name down and handed it to Andy. "17th floor. Good luck." He said as she turned to go. "You're gonna need it." He said under his breath once she was gone.

The elevator ride up the additional 14 floors was nerve-wracking. Andy couldn't shake the feeling that she knew the silver haired woman that was in the magazine. She just hoped that the feeling she was having was a positive one instead of an unrecognized urge to run. Her nerves getting the best of her Andy stumbled out of the elevator and into the all white reception area of the Runway floor. She fished the piece of paper out of her pocket. Her throat dry she swallowed and then told the receptionist, "Hi, uh, I have an appointment with Emily Charlton."

The coffee shop red head came to a stop with a stamp of her heel on the hard floor looking at her. "Andrea Sachs?"

Trying to see herself through the red head's eyes, Andy nodded, "Yes."

In what Andy recognized was a supreme act of control and fierce display of sarcasm the red head said, "Great." She didn't even pretend to smile. Her blue eyes tried to set Andy on fire as she added, "Human Resources certainly has an odd sense of humour. Follow me."

Andy gave an inward scowl at this. She wanted a job, but she had seen this crazy woman twice already and the impression certainly wasn't a good one. The arctic summer greeting didn't help to inspire her either.

She walked. Andy followed.

"Ok. So I was Miranda's second assistant until her first assistant was recently promoted so now I'm the first." She kept talking as Andy tried to keep up but did not slow her pace to anything that would help with that.

Andy thought she was catching on to the woman's frazzled nature and knew she could help by taking the vacancy and therefore this woman wouldn't be so crazy. She tried to form an understanding bond with the woman. "Oh, so you're trying to replace yourself."

Taking a breath Emily tried to compose herself. "Well, I am trying. Miranda sacked the last two after only two weeks. We're trying to get someone who can survive here. Do you understand?"

Not really understanding but knowing it was crucial, Andy nodded her head in the affirmative anyway. "Yeah, sure." She figured she could try to understand the red head later. 'How hard could it be?' She wondered. "Who's Miranda?"

Andy thought that Emily just might trip since her rhythm was broken, but the high-strung woman carried on. "Oh my god. I will pretend that you did not just ask me that." Taking a fortifying breath Emily Charlton visibly shook herself into being okay again. Andy almost thought she heard her mutter, 'love job,' but she wasn't certain. "Miranda is the Editor in Chief of Runway. Not to mention the fact that if you can work a year for her you can get any job you want. A million girls would kill for this job."

Looking at Emily now and remembering her in the coffee shop Andy wasn't so sure that anyone would be killing for this job. In fact she knew that couldn't possibly be true. If Emily's own job was the only job available Andy knew that she wouldn't kill her for it. Trying to stay engaged in her quest to earn the job before she rejected it Andy tried valiantly. "It sounds like a great opportunity. I'd love the chance to be considered—"

Emily cut her off laughing behind her bit together lips. She stopped walking away from Andy now that they had reached the office and turned to laugh in her face. "Andrea, Runway is a fashion magazine," she looked the woman up and down, "so an interest in fashion is crucial."

Looking at Emily's outlandish eye shadow and shock me shock me outfit Andy thought that Emily should point the mirror at herself. It wasn't as if she could look like that and work just anywhere. "What makes you think I don't have an interest in fashion?" She had to defend herself even if she was out of her league. Emily was just too far on the other edge of knowing about fashion way off in the deep end and Andy was tiptoeing one step at a time in the shallow end of fashion. That didn't mean she didn't have any interest in fashion.

The trill of Emily's ring tone sounded out which sent the woman into a visible frenzy. Right before Andy's eyes her heart sank into her stomach, her eyes went as wide as her eye shadow, and she was off in a flurry of activity that Andy found it hard to keep up with. "Oh my god. No. No. No." Emily dove behind her desk hitting speed dial like her life depended on it although Andy thought, 'I don't see any dragons here.'

Curiosity had never directly hurt Andy and so she asked, "What's wrong?"

Ignoring her completely Emily spoke into the phone. "She's on her way. Tell everyone." Andy smiled at this dramatic order and wondered if this was what it was like everyday—a permanent fire drill and race for coffee. A shorter mostly bald man with circular glasses walked in to the assistants' desk area. Emily hung up the phone and began to examine her hair and make-up.

Also ignoring Andy, or perhaps not even really noticing that she was there he said to Emily, "She's not supposed to be here until nine." He looked on the desk for the item that he wanted.

Emily reminded Andy of Henny Penny running around saying, 'The sky is falling. The sky is falling.' Looking disgusted with the world Emily agreed with the nearly bald man, "Yes, well, I just got a text from her driver. Her facialist has ruptured a disc. God, these people."

Taking a red folder from the pile on her desk Nigel held it to cover his face as he walked past Andy. He whistled to Emily and gestured. His face was unimpressed as he asked just above a whisper, "Who's that?" Having no choice Andy just stood there wondering if this was what she went to college for after all.

Disgusted Emily put her hands up to dismiss the very topic of the brunette in the room, "That." Emily rolled her eyes. "I don't even want to talk about."

Andy looked up from trying to work out what the spot on her shirt was and looked from one to the other. He lowered the folder and turned to the glass doors to the other part of the office. "All right people. Gird your loins." Turning back to face Andy he sniffed the air of the assistants' desks. Making a sour frown he asked no one in particular, "Did someone eat an onion bagel?" Then he was gone. Andy stood watching the flurry of activity as the insulting man walked away.

Andy checked her breath as she watched Emily flutter about the executive office. She got a glass, next a Pellegrino, and then she adjusted the magazines on the desk. 'This is like something out of a movie.' Andy thought wildly. What was even more unbelievable than the franticness of the red headed Emily was that the others were all acting under the same impulses and heightened state of anxiety. They were all apparently preparing for the arrival of their mythical boss. 'I really should write fiction.' Andy tutted to herself as she watched them prepare for what must surely be battle.

The empty bottle was removed, the boxes hidden away, and a clothing rack was moved elsewhere. This was all done in the quickest of moments from the time Emily got the text message to the time that there was a floor wide holding of breath as the elevator dinged open and a silver haired fashionable woman poured out giving rapid fire directions to the over caffeinated Emily Charlton who was there to greet her just in time. Or Andy hoped. Emily had scooted off and she had heard the elevator door chime so she hoped that the woman was successful. If not Andy was afraid that they would have to hire a first assistant as well as a second one when the woman expired.

To Andy's brief relief the two came around the corner into the entryway and Andy's breath stopped. The silver haired woman was giving a litany to Emily that she was furiously taking notes about. It was intimidating to see the woman from the picture must have been Miranda Priestly the editor of Runway.

Even more arresting was the fact that Andy knew in the marrow of her bones that she knew this woman.

Andy was determined now, more than ever, to get this job regardless of how out of place she was.


Part 7

The list of commands grew and grew without pause even as the woman set her bag on Emily's notes. Andy sat spellbound as the woman's neck and upper shoulders were bared as she shimmied to get her coat off completely. Emily unable to take notes shifted the bag into one hand while she reached to take the coat. Stepping into the executive office she said, "I need to see everything that Nigel's pulled for Gwen's second cover try." Fighting the urge to sway back and forth in her chair as she watched the scene Andy was disappointed when Emily moved to block her view of Miranda—or perhaps Miranda's view of her. "I wonder if she's lost any of that weight yet?" Turning into her own office she added, "Who is that?"

Emily stepped further in front of Andy and blurted, "Nobody." Then she caught herself and tried to cover with, "Well," she stepped into the office, "human resources sent her up and I was just pre-interviewing her for you, but she's…" Emily was trying not to talk while she laughed. "She's hopeless and totally wrong for this—"

Miranda's off-hand voice cut Emily off, "Well, clearly I'm going to have to do that myself because the last two you sent me were completely inadequate so…" Andy watched as Emily's posture went rigid and then completely slack as her boss contradicted her. "Send her in." Miranda slipped into her chair and dismissed Emily. "That's all."

Without hesitation Emily gave up and walked out of the office. "Right." Reaching the desk that she had stashed Andy at she whispered, "She wants to see you." It took Andy a moment to look up and realize what she meant and in that amount of time Emily had already ratcheted up a notch again. "Move." She hissed as Andy hastily slipped from behind the desk with her briefcase. The woman yanked it out of her hand. "Don't let her see this." Andy started to protest. She rather liked having something in her hand when she was nervous, but the red head commanded her. "Go!"

Andy approached and waited as Miranda looked her up and down. She was beginning to think that the feelings she had were part of the fight or flight response. The back of her calf started to twitch with the impulse to run. Miranda grabbed her glasses. "Who are you?"

Ruffling her resume as she talked, "My name is Andy Sachs." Andy set the resume on the desk with as little tremor as possible. "I recently graduated from Northwestern University." She was about to continue when a low voice interrupted her.

"What are you doing here?"

She finished cleaning her glasses and slipped them on her head. Andy cleared her throat and fought the urge to roll her eyes at the dismissive way her potential boss was treating her. "I think I could do a good job as your assistant and, um. Yeah I came to New York to be a journalist and uh, sent letters out everywhere. Finally got a call from Elias-Clark and met with Jack up at Human Resources. Basically it was this or Auto Universe."

The silence quite nearly slapped her across the face. Andy felt the temperature in the room drop. "So you don't read Runway?" Miranda was immersed in her newspaper and didn't even look up. 'Who says you have to look at your target to hit the bull's eye?' Andy groaned in her head.

A reply formed in Andy's throat, "no."

Unfazed Miranda carried on, more interested in her newspaper. "And before today you've never heard of me?"

Before she could stop herself Andy winced. "No."

Those blue eyes scanned her again like a laser beam burning into her. "And you have no style or sense of fashion."

Andy protested. It was weak and she knew she didn't have a leg to stand on, but her instinct for self-preservation kicked in. "Well, I think that depends on what your idea of fashion…"

She was tutted and had a finger waved at her. "No, no. That wasn't a question."

Hit but refusing to stay down Andrea went back to her resume. "Um. I was editor of the Daily Northwestern. I also won a national competition for journalism for a series I did on the janitor's union."

Miranda had her hands up in a totally dismissive gesture pushing Andy out of her office. While Andy was still talking she said, "That's all." She hoped that the girl would leave.

Miranda went back to her reading and the girl made a disgruntled sound but turned on her heel. Inwardly Miranda counted it a victory, until the girl turned back around, "Yeah. You know. You're right. I don't fit in here. I am not skinny or glamorous. I don't know that much about fashion, but I'm smart, I learn fast, and I will work very hard—"

Nigel walked past her as he entered the office already talking about the Gwen cover shots. He was totally immersed in his own environment and didn't notice that the sad little person Emily had brought in was still there. They were already looking at Gwen's new cover shots when he heard an unfamiliar voice.

"Thank you… for… your… time." The girl was turning away and even slapped her hand against her leg in frustration. Nigel could see that the sad little person was more slumped than when he had first seen it.

Alone again with Miranda, he asked, "Who is that sad little person?" Andy heard it like a smack to the back of her head. Nigel turned to look at Miranda, "Are we doing a before and after piece I don't know about?"

Andy had thought she was pretty miserable leaving the Mirror two days before without a job, but at least there they hadn't critiqued her sense of style or comprehension of fashion. The elevator ride back down to the ground floor was easily the longest she had ever been on in her life.

The security desk was just beyond the turnstile. Andy summoned up a small smile. She handed her visitor's pass into the guards and turned to cross the lobby. The whole experience was surreal and Andy couldn't quite decide if she was relieved or disappointed. Fresh air was just beginning to mingle with the heated air of the lobby when she heard her name. "Andrea."

She turned confused, "Hummphf?"

The frustrated red head had been sent down to retrieve her for god knew what reason. Certainly the red head didn't know, if her rolled eyes and fed up hand gestures said anything. Andy certainly didn't think that Miranda had been impressed and that little troll of a man hadn't helped her any. Yet she was called back.

This time the elevator ride was way too short.

Nate was getting off shift after the dinner service so they all decided to meet at the restaurant. He could score them some entrees and they could spend their money on the alcohol. Lily was buzzing to Doug about the new exhibition that she was putting together. For the first time she was designing the layout of the show and she was equally nervous and excited. If she had a tail then it would have been set on permanent wag. Doug was just glad that the week was over. He liked that his job was dependable and all that, but it was dreadfully boring. He was the youngest in his firm by five years and being the boy-wonder got old quickly. He wondered why anyone would want to be Doogie Houser after all. He liked to get ahead and be the smartest in the room, but people talking like he wasn't there because he wouldn't understand 'real' problems bothered him. Andy walked in with a smile on her face that they hadn't seen in weeks and they shared a knowing look.

"Hey, girl?" Andy and Doug hugged.

"You look happy?" Lily greeted her friend who two days ago had seemed quite frazzled after her Mirror let down.

Stepping back from them both she smiled and slipped her bag off her shoulder to rest it at her feet. As she motioned to the waitress she sat on the stool. "We shall see." She said non-committal. It wasn't far from the truth, Andy really didn't know what to expect. At this point she was happy to have a job.

Nate came up behind her kissing her neck. "How's my girl?" She leaned back into his embrace and grumbled her hello. "Hey guys. Can I get you anything?" Nate offered before he made his last trip to the kitchen. They all greeted each other and Andy ordered some dinner. Lily regaled them with her various adventures in the gallery. Doug told them about how he killed time during conference calls by checking for childhood toys on E-Bay.

Eventually they returned to Andy. They had given her time to catch up on the eating and the drinking that they had started without her. "So what's the news then?"

Andy smiled a red wine smile and flipped her hair back off her shoulder. "I got a job."

Nate poured more wine into all of their glasses smiling as he did so. "Elias-Clark came through?" He questioned.

Going for the fake it till you make it option Andy decided not to let them see her fears, "Runway." She said with over done smugness.

Doug gasped and Lily looked at him unsure of what that reaction could mean. Nate was shocked and amused to tell the truth. He didn't hide his amusement well unfortunately. "You got a job at a fashion magazine?" He thought back to the morning and her clothes. He couldn't resist teasing his girlfriend now that she seemed to be out of her funk with the job news. "What?" He asked her. "Was it a phone interview?"

Playing along Andy chastised him and ripped a piece off her bread. "Ouch. Don't be mean!" She threw her piece of bread at him. They all laughed together as Nate poured more wine for them.

Doug's interest was piqued and his eyes flashed. He sat forward on his stool taking his glass into his hand. "Miranda Priestly is famous for being unpredictable."

Miranda knew that she could no longer tell only parts of the story to her girls. They had grown up with partial images of the princess and other stories, but it had come time to connect the dots and let the girls know how close the princess had come to returning home. They loved the princess but still believed that it was all the magic of fairy tales. The lover had remained a mysterious figure to them, but that would have to change in the coming years. The dots would have to be connected and the whole story would eventually unfold for them. The fairies had been urging her to tell the little redheads more and more, but she was reluctant to show them the darkness that came with the light. Someday they would have to know of her place in the story and Nigel's too, but Miranda just wasn't sure she was ready for that day to come.

"Better they know now as a story, so the reality when it comes is not so far fetched. The shock will be greater the longer you wait to tell them." Nigel's words echoed in her mind as she approached the girls' door that night.

Her desire to tell them had been growing over the recent months and she wasn't sure why. Meeting that new girl had thrown the door in her mind open. Somehow she had sensed the girl's coming in her life and had wanted to prepare. If this girl whose smile flashed so much like Analisa's was who she suspected she was, then the truth would have to come out sooner than later for her girls. She wondered what Nigel saw in the girl—he had asked if they were doing a before and after piece when he saw her in the office. Miranda smiled. Sometimes he really did not see the world for what it was. This time she would be there through the challenges so that there would be no doubt in her mind that she had done everything she could for the princess. Her absence in Spain still weighed heavily on her heart even after a century.

Opening the door to her girls' room Miranda told herself it was time in any case. The story needed telling even if this girl was not the one she was looking for. "Hello girls." Miranda sat on one of the beds and waited for them to greet her with sleepy welcomes. In these moments she wished for their innocence to remain as long as she could protect them and mourned their growing up. "As you know fairy tales do not always have happy endings. Or not endings that we always expect." The girls murmured their understanding. "You have long asked me about why the princess has been unable to return to her home despite the fact that the faun and the lover have found her more than once." She paused not wanting to tell the tale that she had chosen for the night.

"The princess will return home one day, momma." Cassidy said.

Caroline turned on her side in the bed. "We just want to know why she hasn't been successful yet."

Kicking her sock covered foot out from under the blanket Cassidy agreed. "You don't have to leave parts out for us anymore. We know that bad things happen to good people, they make the story interesting and continue it on and on. So you can't leave out the bad parts anymore."

Crossing her leg over the other and clasping her hands in her lap Miranda sighed. "All right then girls. I shall tell you about the last portal and the failure of the faun…"

The princess in every life dreamed of blue skies, soft breezes and sunshine. With no memory of her home the princess lived in each life with the same love of the human world. Her father, the king, always waited and watched for her—knowing that the princess would come back. The lover, the silver one, always searched for her—knowing that only when the princess was found could they all rest. The king left portals open that were slowly closed one by one as man spread across the land conquering the soil. When she was found the princess had to prove herself with three tasks before she could once again enter the Underground Realm. If her essence were intact, she would be able to complete the tasks. If not she would suffer cold, sickness and pain before she eventually died. The cycle would begin again.

At the last open portal in Spain a little girl named Moanna bore the mark of the moon. The faun gave her the task of finding the key from the tree toad. She was able to outsmart the toad and retrieve the key. The faun and the fairies were beyond pleased with her success. At last they thought they would be rewarded for diligence in their mission. The lover had not returned from a search, but could join them in the Underground Realm if the girl managed the remaining tests. The princess faced the pale man in his lair to search out the dagger. However she had failed to follow the rules of the task and the faun lost faith in her. He left without giving her the final task. The princess was in horrible danger in that life and while the faun was away circumstances changed. The faun returned on the night that the rebels of the hills attacked her house. Her stepfather was the captain who wanted to vanquish them. The faun returned to the princess when the hour was darkest and events were already set in motion that no one could counteract. The final task for the princess was to save her baby brother from the captain and meet the faun in the labyrinth. They would open the portal and be gone from this world before the captain could pass on his cruelty to his son. Before Moanna was able to complete the third task and open the last portal—the captain murdered her.

The King was inconsolable. For many days he did not speak while his people mourned their loss once again. The lover returned from the journey only to find the princess dead and the faun gone. The lover retuned to the Underground Realm just as the King made his proclamation. He called back all the searchers and left all the portals closed. He still held hope that one day she would return in another body, in another place, at another time, but he said that only she could find her way home. His sadness deepened when the lover defied his wishes returning once again to the land of the sun. He did not want to lose another of his kingdom to the sun. The lover refused to abandon the search even when the king sent orders. Hoping until his last breath might have been enough for the king, but the lover could not simply wait and live on hope.

The final failure of the faun haunted him and so he too defied the king to make it right. Like the lover he believed that the princess would return, and he felt it was his responsibility to help guide her home. He would stay by the lover's side through lifetimes if necessary until they could return her to the bosom of her home.


Part 8

The lights were low, the room was warm, and she felt fuzzy around the edges. Looking down at her hands she saw a large glass of rosy pink liquid. Her lipstick ringed the edge of the glass. Licking her lips she felt her tongue thick in her mouth and wondered if she had been at the dentist before coming to the party. It seemed like a bad plan even in her confused mind. It seemed like a party but she didn't feel happy or seem to have any idea whose party it would have been. Looking around, figures across the room seemed to be dancing. Fingers on her arm drew her attention down. She followed the fingers up the arm until she was looking into sparkling blue eyes that made her want to dive into them. Laugh lines crinkled at the sides of a toothy smile. A curly mane of blond locks bounced a little as he laughed with her, although she wasn't sure what they were laughing about. The fingers resting on her arm began to slide gently against her skin luring her in.

"Come with me." The words tickled against her ear and she felt herself bubbling up with anticipation. His cheek brushed against hers as he pulled back from her. The smell was intoxicating. Although she was sure that wasn't thing only thing in the room sending her mind for a loop. They looked into each other's eyes and she could feel herself leaning into him.

"…your pledge…" She didn't catch what he said exactly but she thought she heard him say pledge. A voice from the back of her mind began to shout and she pulled away from him again. As she looked him over she saw a glint of metal dangling from a thin chain around his neck almost hidden by the slightly unbuttoned shirt he was wearing.

She was torn between wanting to grab that key and running away.

He looked into her eyes again and she felt herself weakening. The blue was just so deep that she couldn't resist the pull. The hand tightened around her arm and she could feel the warmth of his skin on hers. She looked around the room again suddenly realizing that she was alone with this man along the bar while the others were dancing and not paying any attention. "What are you doing here?"

She spun horrified at the voice she had only heard once before. Come face to face with the powerful blue eyes of her new silver haired boss, Andy sat up straight in her bed gasping for air. Her hands clutched to her chest, Andy struggled to focus her eyes in the darkness of the room. Nate grumbled next to her and for once that brought a small measure of comfort. His grumbling meant that she was most definitely back in reality in her house and 'safe' in her bed. The dream party and alluring man seemed at first to be positive and exciting, but something caught her attention in what she didn't hear him say clearly. Andy didn't know what to make of that. She slipped her feet out of the blankets and let them press flat against the cold floor. The contrast was refreshing as Andy continued to root herself in reality and try to sort out what was the dream. Miranda's voice had been as clear as it was in her interview, but she knew that she had never been so close to the mesmerizing woman.

Her breath finally coming in a more normal rhythm Andy leaned her back against the counter as she sipped a long drink from her glass of water. She still felt the allure of that man and her own desire to follow him. It was coupled with the certainty that she should resist. Andy shook her head wondering how her silver haired boss fit into the dream. 'How can I be dreaming of her already?' She wondered to herself as she cradled the glass against her chest. Andy knew that she had chosen Runway because she had seen the silver haired picture of the editor and had a vague thought of the Lover from her fairy stories, but this was too much for her. Now the woman was coming into her dreams before she had even started her first day of work.

Andy groaned and then put the glass in the dishwasher. She had the distinct feeling that her life was moving her in a direction for reasons that were unclear to her. Without a doubt Miranda mesmerized her but just as with the dream key she wasn't sure if she wanted to follow her anywhere or run for all she was able to. Andy closed her eyes and pressed the heel of her hand against her brow sliding it across her eyebrow over and over again.

Sighing in defeat Andy snuggled under the blankets again seeking out the comfort of Nate's familiarity. She was afraid to go to sleep as she didn't want to have another dream, but she found herself equally afraid to face the woman with the mesmerizing blue eyes and mysterious pull on her life.

Nigel pinched the brow of his nose as he shook his head. What on earth that sad little person was still doing here he had no idea. Emily had already called him in frustration because the coffee order was late. He was sure that Emily had not hired her out of desperation, however he was reluctant to accept the truth that Miranda had to have hired her. Curiosity and a small measure of sadism lured him out of his office. Dangling the sling back pumps from his fingertips he looked her up and down. 'Disaster.' He thought as he heard her ask how to spell Gabbana on the phone. Holding out the carrots of fashion he tried to mellow his tone. "I guessed an eight and a half."

Brown eyes looked up at him and a sigh escaped her frustrated form. It was a little early to be struggling this hard. He wondered if she would even last the week. She shook her head slightly and reluctantly took the shoes. "Um, wow, that's very nice of you, but, um, I don't think I need these. Miranda hired me. She knows what I look like."

Following the lumpy form, bad posture, and untamed hair of this girl he tried once again to stay at least neutral in his tone if not friendly even. Even so he knew he sounded smug as he asked, "Do you?" He let the words hang there waiting for her to respond or puzzle out the truth of the fashion-dominated world she now was in. She tried to hold the shoes up for him to take back but he just stared at her. She sighed and set them on the desktop before she turned back to her computer monitor. Nigel stepped to the day's agenda on the clipboard and looked down his nose as he noticed changes to his day and mentally filed them away.

Miranda's voice calling, "Emily," and when ignored, "Emily," again forced him to clue the girl in.

"She means you." He said disdainfully. He didn't look up from the second page of the agenda, but he could feel her eyes on him. Another few seconds and she was on her feet making her way into the office. Nigel shook his head and wondered if he could get away with walking in with her to watch the spectacle like it was a gladiator fight. Resigned to the fact that that probably would be over the top he simply continued to study the agenda and listen from a distance.

Miranda was bored with the run-through. It was all so lackluster. She shook her head and walked around the racks looking at each article of clothing again trying to see it with different eyes. She pretended to pick something out for the princess. A top caught her eye, but it was missing a skirt, a deep green skirt with white detail that she thought Calvin Klein had in his showroom. At the end of the rack Miranda looked out to the outer office. Her pulse thrummed overtime in her veins as she saw the princess' smile on the girl at the desk. Miranda shook her head, 'This cannot be.' She looked again at the top and clearly saw the outfit in her head that she wanted for the princess. Deciding that her mind was playing tricks on her again Miranda simply called out to her. "Emily." Miranda paused letting her fingers run up and down the fabric in front of her. "Emily." Her impatience bristled and she felt justified in her decision to not use the girl's given name.

There was some slight commotion in the outer office. Miranda glanced up as the new girl trotted into the office note pad at the ready. The shine in her brown eyes searching for answers to the world around her reminded Miranda so completely of the long search for the lost princess. She was always looking at the world around her trying to understand it and absorb all of the color and beauty she could from it. Sighing Miranda expelled that thought forcefully with her words. "There you are, Emily. How many times do I have to scream your name?"

Miranda was not expecting an answer. "A-A-A-Actually it's Andy." Nor should there have been any answer from an assistant. The only ones that dared to challenge her were the princess and the faun. Looking back at the princess in her office Miranda was shocked to find her new assistant Andy/Andrea instead.

Miranda's head cocked back on her neck like a king cobra preparing to strike.

Like a mouse unaware of the looming danger the mousy brunette continued on. "My name is…" Miranda's vision went superfine and she could see every detail in her mind incredibly clearly. The top she had been looking at was on the princess facing her with the green skirt to match. It must have been the first time that they were meeting because she was introducing herself. "Analisa." Miranda stood rooted to the spot transfixed by the smooth waves of her brunette hair, the softness of her make-up and the beautiful features of her lover's face.

Something moved in the background and Miranda was snapped back into her office in NYC in the present time. Her new assistant was babbling on. Miranda's brain screamed at her, 'she's telling you her name.' Silencing that thought on both levels Miranda simply stared at the girl willing her to stop.

"…but everyone calls me Andy." She chanced a weak smile hoping that she had not just dug the deep grave she felt certain was going to consume her as she stood face to face looking into Miranda's glassy eyes and her red poison lips ready to strike her down.

Miranda's smile and off-handed single chuckle sent an Ohio blizzard sized chill down Andy's spine. "I need 10 or 15 skirts from Calvin Klein." Miranda paused selecting what task to follow this up with.

Unable to control her mouth Andy tried to clarify. "What kinds of skirts do you—"

After such a haunting vision Miranda really did not want to be face to face with this woman any longer. "Please bore someone else with your questions." Miranda looked away and then turned back again. "And make sure we have Pier 59 at 8am for tomorrow. Remind Jocelyn that I need to see a few of those satchels that Mark is doing in the pony. And then tell Simone I'll take Jackie if Maggie isn't available." She paused for the briefest of seconds going through the checklist in her mind. "Did Demarchelier confirm?"

Andy looked at her certain that she had switched into Japanese or something because she had certainly not understood a fair amount of what had just been said. "D-D-D. Marshall?"

Shifting her mind to this girl's weakness and Runway business Miranda was able to distract herself. "Demarchelier?" Miranda's voice swung low and almost gentle as she prompted the girl. "Get him on the phone." Nigel cringed in the outer office. He had had enough of the carnage and he took his leave.

Uncertain, her tongue lolling about in her mouth, and fighting the urge to run Andy stuttered out her reply. "Uh. Uh. Okay." It was mechanical, but the fact that her body could produce any words at that point was miraculous. She turned to go and figure out what she had just agreed to do when she heard those low tones again.

Just as in the dream Andy was drawn to the voice behind her as she turned around once more. "And, Emily?"

Weakly Andy answered before she could even turn around, "Yes." The question was like a barbed hook in her cheek. Andy spun to face her even as Miranda stalked two steps closer to her.

The look down that Miranda gave her this time felt like fire spreading across her body. Her eyes traveled down her form even as Andy watched and then when her eyes landed on Andy's shoes her head turned down to look at them even more. Involuntarily Andy's eyes followed hers and she looked down at her own shoes as well.

Looking back up Andy was pinned by Miranda's blue, blue eyes. With one blink she said, "That's all." Dismissing her verbally and with her body language as she turned to face the room. Andy cringed and made her way out to the desk area clutching onto the shoes like they were the Holy Grail or perhaps a protective magic talisman of some kind. Running around her desk Andy slipped out of her shoes, slid the others on and reached for the phone. She hoped against hope that she could remember everything that Miranda had said, and even more importantly, perhaps, that she could decipher it. Before she could even begin to create a plan of attack she heard Miranda again. "Do you have Demarchelier?"

Looking frantically at her computer Andy panicked until Emily pushed her out of the way saying, "I have Miranda Priestly calling." Then louder she said, "I have Patrick."

Meanwhile Andy was trying to go through a mental checklist of what Miranda had said. As soon as the call was transferred she reached for Emily, "Uh, no, no. She called me in there and then asked me something about Pier 59, and uh, there was something about, uh, Simone, Frankie and someone else, and um, she needs… skirts from… Calvin Klein." She looked rather pleased with herself for remembering that much but the red head looked like her head was rapidly filling with steam and would launch off the top of her neck at any moment. Andy continued valiantly on. "And, uh, there was something about a pony."

Looking towards the office to be sure that Miranda was not paying them any attention Emily attempted to clarify. "Did she say which skirts?"

Andy grimaced because she knew the answer wasn't helpful. "No."

Emily tried again thinking that a different question would have a more helpful answer. "Did she say what kind?"

Feeling the need to defend herself as Emily became increasingly upset Andy said. "No, I tried to ask her—"

Emily interrupted her forcefully because it was for the girl's own good. "You never ever ask Miranda anything." She paused trying to figure out how best to do damage control, as she looked the hopeless brunette over. "Right. I will deal with all of this and you will go to Calvin Klein."

It took a second to digest what she said but then Andy asked, "Eh, me?"

Wishing for the girl to be gone already Emily huffed at her. "Oh, I'm sorry do you have some prior commitment?" Emily eased herself into her chair. "Some hideous skirt convention, you have to go to?" Emily meant to be stern but she cracked herself up so she could only hope that it had been mean enough.

The new assistant did a double take at her even as she moved to leave for Calvin Klein or perhaps jump off of a cliff. Emily was sure she didn't care which. She smirked a little as she thought she saw the girl's hand come up and wipe a tear away from her face as she turned to go. Emily thought of Clarissa's initiation tactics against herself and thought, 'You haven't seen anything yet, new girl.'

"Did Clinton Kelly call again?" Nigel asked Miranda. He wished that he could just say what was on his mind but somehow he knew that the direct route would not get him to the information he wanted, not this time anyway. Miranda turned from her computer and fixed him with a frosty glare. He smiled at the corners of his mouth but nothing more. "Well," he shrugged, "obviously we're doing a before and after piece on the girl."

Blue eyes narrowed on him and Nigel suddenly felt as if his shoe had without a doubt tripped a landmine.

He pursed his lips as he laid the new cover shots on her desk. "No, then." He stated as a way of trying to pave over the giant chasm of awkwardness that he had managed to create. "I just thought that if it was a before and after piece that I could help." He paused knowing that Miranda would have to supply some information now awkward or not.

"She said her name was Analisa." Miranda shook her head as he cocked an eyebrow at her. "No, I mean she told me her name and I had a vision, Nigel, a vision of Analisa." Miranda looked away from him lost in her own thoughts as he looked down on her trying to understand.

There was commotion in the outer office and Emily was scolding the girl for taking so long at Calvin Klein. She came barreling into the office with the coffees despite the thick silence in the room. Nigel looked up at Emily thoughtfully. 'Surely she could feel the tension in here.' Sometimes he wondered about her. She had survived Miranda Priestley's rule for quite some time, seemed to worship Miranda, and yet sometimes was totally oblivious about when to barge in and when not to. She left as quickly as she came and began berating the new girl once more.

Nigel saw that Miranda was looking out the window still and he chanced a few steps so that he could spy on the assistants. At first all he saw was the sad little person he had met the day before. She was frumpy, lacked confidence, and seemed truly bewildered by everything around her. Emily's rant was waning—he could hear it in the cadence of her voice. He checked his watch. 'Oh, it's time for Serena to come up for lunch.'

He turned his attention once more to the new girl.

Then he saw it. There was a familiar glint in her brown eyes. The sweetness of her smile on the phone could only have been the same as one other though she had taken many forms over the years—Moanna and Analisa in most recent memory. Remembering her so long ago in the Underground Realm at the side of her mother and father, the King and Queen, Nigel closed his eyes seeing her in a beautiful cream gown, a small crown befitting her status as princess, and full of confidence and love. Looking around in his mind Nigel could see the Lover at her side, younger than now, silver hair, calm and ready for adventure.

Nigel stepped away from his spy vantage point and looked at Miranda again. How they all had changed. Miranda was no longer calm and ready for adventure. She had been too long in this form to be fresh and at the ready. He thought again of the girl he had dismissed so easily in the morning with a pair of shoes. Truly lost and just starting to make her way blindly in the world, the girl had many tasks to complete to be worthy of passing back through to the Underground Realm.

Nigel smoothed his hands along the expensive fabric of his jacket. He closed his eyes thankful for the changes he had been through as his form changed in each life to fit the world they were entering into. He might have been a faun, but passing as a human in modern-day New York he no longer smelled of earth and blended into the landscape of rocks, trees and underbrush.

"She said her name was Analisa?" He finally drew Miranda's attention back.

At first she was silent and he feared that she would make this more difficult than it needed to be. Her voice was quiet when she started speaking, no doubt, to make sure the girl just outside the office wouldn't hear. "No. I called her Emily." Nigel nodded. He had been eavesdropping at the time. "She corrected me." Nigel looked surprised. He didn't think mouse-girl had it in her at this point to stand up to Miranda. 'Looks could be deceiving,' he hoped he was right. "She said that her name was Andy." Miranda shuddered at the thought. "Andrea she said but they call her Andy."

Nigel understood now. "You heard and saw her say Analisa." It was a statement instead of a question. Miranda's nod confirmed it. "I see." The implications hung in the air between them. Miranda hired the sad little person because she saw the princess in her. Either this was the beginning of another proof cycle or perhaps the lead up to a monumental let down. It might perhaps be both as it was in the embodiment of Moanna in Spain. Nigel looked out the window with Miranda. They were two tired travelers looking out on the horizon before them wondering what lay ahead of them and which direction to go in.

"Miranda." Nigel felt and heard Miranda's startled gasp of air and internally flinched. He knew that Emily would not burst in unless it was a tragedy and in that case there was trouble ahead. "Demarchelier is in the hospital." Nigel turned to see the ghastly white form of Emily-in-meltdown and the equally fearsome Miranda-as-dragonlady. The roll of orders began as schedules were reached for, phones dialed, alternatives, budgets, and consequences were all considered and discarded on the fly. Nigel was sucked into the vortex of choosing plan B while the new girl was kept on the edges calling Patrick's assistant for updated news and sending flowers. She was not currently useful even if Nigel and Miranda both knew she was to become central to their lives in the future. She was kept busy and sent away.

Anything outside the current catastrophe would be dealt with later.


Part 9

What a day, what a week—Andy wondered if this was what Alice felt like after she had trailed along behind the red queen moving squares and not understanding. Normally sharp and intelligent—the fast paced, specific fashion vocabulary, and intricacies of fashion culture had reduced her to a mindless nodding steno-pad on newly acquired heels. She had yet to graduate to the really big heels but she weighed job safety against caving to the eye glare pressures of the clackers and found that it was in her own best interest to not take off the heel training wheels just yet. She may not wobble at two-inches, but she was not fluid enough in her environment to risk four inches just yet. Besides all the pressure had really engaged her rather lazy rebellious streak and she just plain didn't want to dress like a clacker. At this point she stood out from the crowd and she rather liked that feeling of individuality and daring—even if it meant that she was considered the ugly duckling on the Runway floor.

Should she dress better, 'of course!' thought Andy. 'Do I own better?' She followed up her inner flow of discourse. 'Why no, I don't own better—YET.' Andy would nod to herself in the mirror before leaving. She knew this was a job that was beneath her, but she was going to get there one day. She was finally feeling more and more certain of it with each passing day as she survived Runway. Andy decided that running the gauntlet was character building. She found that she just wasn't ready to acquiesce to the Runway model just yet, even though she knew that she needed to continue to grow up, dress professionally, and carry herself in a more refined way. She just didn't want to do it today.

The lunchroom was always busy but no one ever really seemed to be eating. It was difficult for Andy to be in such a large room and end up eating alone. At Northwestern she was always surrounded by a group of friends or the Daily staff. It was odd to be the ugly duckling although it did allow for a nice break from Emily and Miranda, and some of the best people watching that Andy could remember in her life. Wondering what she would see today Andy poured soup into a bowl. She was lost in her musings as Nigel strode up to the counter opposite her. He gave her a look and then went about assembling his own lunch. He didn't look at her but began to talk. "Corn chowder. That's an interesting choice."

Looking up to find Nigel there, Andy just smiled at him like 'whatever, dude' and finished getting her soup.

He looked at her then and continued. "You do know that cellulite is one of the main ingredients in corn chowder?" It wasn't really a question, but most things at Runway weren't really questions anyway. Andy fought the frown that wanted to take over her face.

He looked pointedly at her and then turned up the counter to the next selection. Andy closed the lid of the soup pot and tried to keep the scaffolding up on her fake smile. Moving up the counter Andy stopped at the breadbox as she put a roll on her tray. "None of the girls here eat anything?"

He pretended to think about this. "Not since two became the new four and zero became the new two." He took his nearly empty tray and moved toward the register.

Andy fell into line behind him with her tray of soup and bread. "Well, I'm a six." She said hopefully.

Disdainfully he looked at her. "Which is the new fourteen." He was being mean but his playful look somehow got under her skin. He had a wicked little smile as he turned to move forward in line. Andy found herself warming up to him and wondered if this was what Stockholm Syndrome was all about. She had only been on the job for a few days but she couldn't miss the glaring pressures on everyone around them. Still, he was the only one to show even the barest spark of humor, which meant humanity was in there somewhere. She also remembered him warning everyone from the doorway barely a week earlier with the shout of, 'gird your loins.' Taken by itself that was endearing. She supposed he was as nice as anyone could expect within the atmosphere of Runway. He had brought her shoes after all. His friendliness with Miranda still terrified Andy, so she remained wary.

Andy spilled a spoonful of her soup all the way down the front of her sweater. "Shoot."

Nigel turned to face her but he did not have any sympathy for the wretched outfit she had on. "Oh, never mind. I'm sure you have plenty more poly-blend where that came from."

Andy took the hit like an extra hard bounce against her chest from a dodge ball. The line moved forward and they both followed it. Andy wasn't going to just let him hit her and hit her and hit her. "Okay. You think my clothes are hideous. I get it. But, you know, I'm not going to be in fashion forever. So I don't really see the point of changing everything about myself just because I have this job."

Rolling his eyes to the ceiling Nigel agreed with her. "Yes. It's true. That's really what this multi-billion dollar industry is about anyway, isn't it? Inner beauty." Pleased with himself, he stepped forward in line. However his face dropped as he answered his cell phone. "Hello?" He looked grim. "Right." He closed the cell phone and grabbed the soup bowl from Andy's tray. "Come on. Miranda's pushed the run through up a half an hour." Andy whimpered as her lunch was thrown in the trash. "And she's always fifteen minutes early."

"Which means?" Andy asked dumbly as she watched him turn back.

"You're already late." He said as he walked past her and pointed. He kept walking and Andy scrambled to follow him.

"Shoot." Andy rushed out of the line.

Andy sat upright, suddenly conscious but not sure whether she was suddenly in a dream or in reality. The line had been blurring between the two for her for the last couple of weeks. She looked at the clock and blinked hard. She could have sworn up next to Piglet was one of the tiny fairies from her book—luminescent silver with wings. When she opened her eyes again it was gone. Andy shivered and then felt her nightshirt. It was damp. Sighing Andy stood and stripped out of it and put on the sweatshirt that was always on the chair. Then she slipped on a pair of long pajama pants. Andy once again consulted her book wondering for the first time if the book fueled the nightmares or whether she just was consulting it afterward because it was familiar. Sitting at the wobbly table Andy was thankful for the craptastic apartment surrounding her. Nate's breathing, the stale air of the room, and the roughness of the sheets meant that she wasn't in the dream anymore. She may not be in the best place, but she if it meant that she wasn't in that long hallway being chased by that magnificent pale woman who wanted to rip her heart out.

She had walked down a long hallway and into a banquet hall with a table set for a celebration. There was a locked cabinet with various treasures lit up on its shelves. Fancy porcelain dolls, plates with scenery painted on them, and other figurines crowded into the shelves. At the table the pale woman sat in a gown that was barely there. She had on a necklace that had a small cage on it where a pendant would go. Andy thought it was like those pearl necklaces that people get with a loose pearl inside a little cage on their neck. The woman did not move. It was as if she was paralyzed. The fairies from her book fluttered around and over toward a locked chest of drawers and she followed them. A key was heavy in her pocket and she was uncertain about where it would go until she really looked at the locks and let the fairies help her to decide. Inside was a small slightly glowing stone, which Andy delicately reached in and took with trembling fingertips. She slipped the stone into her left pocket, the key into her right pocket and then turned to face the room once more.

The dangerous woman had not moved as far as she could tell. Andy had stepped closer to the table and even dared to run her fingers along the edge of the white linen tablecloth. The fairies had buzzed around her head like gnats and she had swatted them away. A glint of light against a shiny golden coin caught Andy's eye and she turned to look back at the strangely stationary woman. The room was quiet except for the fairies that were urging her away. Andy let her fingers wrap around the coin and then pulled it up to look at it in her hand. Lost in her thoughts of gold Andy did not notice the fairies' increased urgency about getting away from the room. The woman had stood and took three steps closer to Andy before she realized her mistake. "Plebium." The woman said as she reached toward Andy while her other hand held the cage of the necklace around her throat. "Plebium." Spooked Andy ran away as the woman swatted at the fairies caused them to shriek and flutter away.

Andy had woken but the word stuck in her mind and it took her touching the bed, the walls, the clothes, and drinking the water in the kitchen to firmly root her once again in her New York apartment. Andy set aside the fairy book she had taken with her to the table. She began to scour the shelves for one of Nate's old high school books. The altar boy gone wrong had once taken Latin while he was at St. Francis'. Andy knew his Latin-English dictionary was still on one of these shelves because she had put it there to tease him, and he had been continually trying to hide it from her. Sitting down on the floor in front of the far shelf Andy looked up the word from her dream: plebium.

Plebium in modern English: pledge.

Andy sat thinking of her other dream earlier in the week. The strange man had wanted her pledge Andy thought. His words were unclear in the noise of the dream but that was what lingered with her. He had wanted her to go with him and she could swear that he had used the word pledge. Suddenly clear in her mind Andy saw the necklace of the blue-eyed man, which had the same linking as the woman's necklace in this dream. On his necklace was a key that Andy supposed was the same key she had in this dream. Leaning back to let her head bang against the bookshelf Andy wondered why these dreams were connected together and what they were supposed to mean. She wasn't sure if she was relieved or disappointed that this dream wasn't connected to either her dream world of fairies, or her strange fascinating boss who appeared at the end of the last dream.

The shelf made a dense thud each time she let her head fall back against it. The contents of the shelf rattled above her head. Andy looked around the room. She could have sworn she saw a luminous flutter in the corner of her eye. Shuddering she hoped that they didn't have one of those huge moths in the apartment again. They were creepy enough fluttering around when you could see them, but bumping into one in the dark did not rank high on her to do list. Running her fingers over her eyes Andy breathed out. 'What did the dreams have to do with each other?'

The crazy fairy world of the princess and the lover suited the messed up timing, location, and fuzzy reality of these two latest dreams. The party where she was offered drinks and beguiled by the blond man seemed of the fairy world, but her boss at the end ripped that reality right into the world of Runway. Frustrated Andy crossed her legs and rested her elbows on the floor letting her head drop onto her palms. 'What do they have to do with each other then?'

Fairies, the Underground Realm, a princess, going on adventures, getting lost, always being found by a faun or the Lover with silver hair. Sitting upright again Andy slowly slapped her forehead hard enough to echo in the room. "The faun always helps." Andy whispered as she thought of the dangling shoes on her first day at the hands of Nigel. Her breath exhaling but not returning as the next light bulb went on she mouthed desperately, "Silver hair."

The small rabbit inside her heart controlling the blood flow and the bellows of her lungs was thumping its hind foot in both fight and flight. A shiver rolled through Andy's body. A rapid fire collage began in her mind of the early dreams of the princess and the fairy world. Glimpses of the silver haired figure flashed in her mind until she arrived at the moment in the Elias Clark office where she chose Runway over Auto Universe because of the magazine picture of the editor with the silver hair. Swallowing hard, Andy felt her body edging closer and closer to full panic. Thinking of those moments in rapid fire seemed to speed up and then fall into the rhythm of her heart.

"Is Miranda…"

Nate grumbled in the other room and shifted in the bed. Her thoughts racing but unintelligible, Andy wondered if there would be any room for her on the bed once he had spread his arms and legs out. Realizing she didn't want to get back into bed she sighed and rose from her spot on the ground. It felt good to stretch her muscles once more. It also felt good to be in control of something. She put the Latin Dictionary back and then retrieved the Fairy book from the table. Once it was back where it belonged she looked in on Nate. Just as she thought he would be, Nate had spread out on the bed leaving her no where to even crawl into the bed. Andy grabbed her pillow and headed out to the couch. She had to get up early and needed to get as much sleep as she could. Her head sank into the pillow and with the power of sheer exhaustion she was soon able to drift off into a thankfully blank sleep.

The silver luminescent insect with long fairy wings from their Bear Mountain hike fluttered its wings and landed on the back of the couch where it could watch over Andy.

Andy smiled as she walked into the gallery. White walls, low lighting, instrumental music, spotlights on each piece and people dressed in their best talking about the arts or pretending to—she wasn't sure what exactly Lily was so drawn to about it all, but she got that there was something that she was just missing. It made Lily happy so she went to these openings even if she felt a little out of place for not loving it as much as Lily did. When Lily spotted them she disengaged from her co-host to greet them with a beatific smile that was so happy that Andy had to return it in kind. In that moment Andy didn't care if she didn't like all the art business as long as it made Lily this happy. Tonight Lily had designed the show and she positively buzzed with the energy of it. "I'm so glad you could make it." She effused giving Andy air kisses and then Nate a one-armed hug.

Andy looked around once again. "This is like your senior art show, but so much better."

Giddy Lily grabbed Andy's hand and pulled her close to her side as she began to show her around. "It is!" She agreed. "You okay, Nate?"

He grumbled something about cheese and crackers and they completely forgot him as they perused the art. "I designed it so that there's a progression on the theme." Lily began to explain. "This show is a partnership with the local art school. They've been studying mythologies all over the world—"

Andy cut her off as they moved away from the Greek style pieces with Persephone, Orpheus, and Eurydice to lesser-known themes from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Japan. "About death, life, and re-birth." Andy couldn't help herself from saying something. She always liked to show Lily when she had a clue about what she was so passionate about.

"Yes." Lily enthused. "They have really taken in all of the versions—a bland place where all were welcome, a place of punishment or reward." They walked past a portrait where a faun and three fairies like the ones in her book were helping guide Orpheus out of the Underground Realm.

"It's wonderful Lily. I'm so glad that this gallery is letting you show off what you can do." Andy hugged her friend again. Looking over Lily's shoulder she was surprised to find a portrait of a young maiden in a green and white dress climbing the stairs up and up. The light filtered down in the painting as if it was the only light in the space. Two birds flittered at the top of it basking in the sunbeam. Andy gasped as she looked in the lower corner where a silver haired figure was looking up the steps to find the maiden.

Lily pulled back to see what had caught her friend's eye. "Oh. That's my favorite." Lily said reverentially.

"Look who I found outside lurking about!" Nate's voice was loud in the quiet of the moment and Andy fought the urge to roll her eyes. He didn't know they were having a special time. It wasn't his fault.

"Doug!" Both of the girls said as they rushed forward and overwhelmed him with a double hug.

Nate laughed and took another drink from his plastic cup.

"I have someone you need to meet." Lily said as she scooped up Doug and pulled him toward the far side of the room. "It was good to see you guys." She said over her shoulder to Andy and Nate. Doug half turned and shrugged. Andy laughed and Nate grabbed her for a rough kiss.

"Ready to go?" He said kissing her again.

Andy nodded dumbly. She knew there was no point staying if Nate was restless. Evenings when Andy had insisted on staying out when Nate was done had always ended in disaster. "Go get my purse. I'll meet you out front." With one more kiss that Andy let fall on her cheek he left.

Alone Andy looked at the painting. The scene was like something she had read in her fairy book but she wasn't sure which tale it was in. The silver forelock of the figure at the bottom intrigued her, as did the wrapped nature of the person's costume. Anything specific was covered by the loose costume of the figure. All that Andy could really recognize were the blue eyes watching the woman ascend the stairs and the silver lock of hair. She couldn't shake the feeling that the painting was out of her life in some way. Once again she thought of Miranda's silver hair and that of the lover from the stories. The blue eyes of the figure served to deepen the connection in Andy's mind to the lover. The painting made her feel an ache that wasn't pain or sadness, but longing—for what she couldn't say, but the painting felt familiar and right somehow, just as being in Miranda's presence felt right, terrifying, but right all the same.

"Hey. You said you'd meet me at the door." Nate said as he stood next to her holding her hand. He kissed her cheek and then turned to whisper in her ear. "I want to get you home." Andy almost flinched from the brashness of his words. She was in a completely different headspace than he was and she wondered how often they ever were really in the same place. Things seemed like they were so easy between them before they came to New York. Andy wasn't sure what to make of that thought anymore than she was sure what to make of the painting. She really wished Nate and Doug hadn't shown up when they did. Lily might know the painter and be able to help explain where the piece had come from.

Dinner was the usual fare, kid friendly, which was a nice change from all the black tie dress to impress and serve food to mystify. The girls hit Nigel like a hurricane and he understood why Miranda found so much peace in the quiet control of Runway. The townhouse was a unique balance between Miranda's timeless style and the twins evolving interests that spilled out of their rooms and onto the various shelves, and other flat surfaces of the townhouse. Nigel laughed as he looked over the girl's art pieces thinking back over the years as their artistic skills took awhile to find themselves. The art department would all fall out of their chairs if they knew that Miranda's most prized art pieces included crayon scribbles with Caroline and Cassidy's names spelled with increasing accuracy.

Smiling a wicked smile Nigel asked them, "So what's for dessert ladies?"

Caroline's eyes sparkled with amusement but her face kept its secret. She knew what he was up to. "Oh we didn't make any." She said with her mother's dramatic flare. "We only get dessert on special occasions, Nigel."

Cassidy nearly blew it but then she pretended that Patricia had licked her knee. "Patricia!" She said outraged. The dog under the table stood and came out to be petted. She always helped the twins when they needed her.

Looking at Miranda and then the girls a sigh escaped his lips. "Well." The dramatic pause made Miranda's eyes roll, but she knew it was better if the girls felt like they had conspired with Nigel to get something special. "I suppose it's a good thing that I came to dinner then."

The girls looked with Nigel at Miranda who arched an eyebrow, "Oh really?" She asked gamely.

"Yes." Nigel stood and walked to the foyer again. "That means it's a special occasion." He disappeared and the girls followed him with eager eyes. Miranda hid her smile as she sipped her wine. Patricia went to the edge of the dining room but did not leave her girls. Nigel returned momentarily with a white box and a blue bow. The girls squealed with delight. "Special occasions mean dessert, don't they?" He asked the girls who had sat up on their knees on the chairs.

"Mom?" They chorused but didn't take their eyes off Nigel's fingers as he untied the bow to reveal four vanilla cupcakes deliciously covered in blue sugar crystals.

"Pfft." Miranda tutted but her girls were lost to the allure of cream cheese frosting. She didn't stand a chance even if she had wanted to. "I suppose." She said with mock reluctance.

Nigel knew his selection had been well received by the happy sounds of chewing and joy around him at the table. Miranda had even joined them tonight, although she cut her cupcake in quarters and was much more dainty about its consumption. The girls had dived in with reckless abandon and had the frosting scars to show for it. He was glad it would be bedtime soon and the girls would have to wash their faces.

Perhaps he had planned his escape too soon? The girls were eyeing him and doing their twin-speak thing. The girls had never talked to anyone but their mother about the princess, but she had always told them that Nigel knew the stories as well as she. They nodded at each other and then Caroline asked him quietly, "Why did the faun fail?"

Cassidy nodded seriously as she set her cupcake wrapper down. "The princess has been lost for so long. How could he fail her?"

Unprepared Nigel misjudged his bite of cupcake and smudged some frosting on his nose. Using the moment to wipe his face with a napkin and collect his thoughts he looked up at Miranda. She seemed to be amused at his discomfort. She shrugged as his eyes widened as if to say, 'I had to tell the whole story, you said.'

Calm regained, Nigel swallowed and began to explain. "For the princess to return home, she must prove that her essence is still intact. When she was unable to follow the rules it became doubtful that the girl was the princess."

Caroline and Cassidy looked at him with wide eyes. Their mother had always said Nigel knew the stories, but hearing him discuss the facts so confidently still took them by surprise.

"The faun," Nigel continued as he chewed and swallowed his final bite of cupcake, "had to consult what he knew of the Underground Realm and the conditions under which the princess would be allowed to prove herself worthy of return. He came back to give her another chance on the night of the full moon, girls. However events in that life made it an impossible one. The princess had no choice when she was murdered before she could complete the third task." Nigel paused wondering how Miranda had told the story so that he did not give away too much or say too little. They would not have asked him if they had not been upset by the princess' setback. "The faun and the silver one wait for her return searching each life." A subtle shake of the head from Miranda and Nigel knew to leave the silver one out of it for the time being. "All is not lost, girls." He looked at them seriously until they each gulped. "The princess has died many times only to come back again. The Faun and the silver one wait for her under the power of the sun while her father, the king, waits for her below in the Underground Realm. She will come again."

The girls sighed, sad but content. He smiled at them. They were amazing. He could see so much of Miranda in them and they grew and changed so much every time he saw them. "Well, girls. Nigel and I have some work to do with the Book and it's bed time for you."

They groaned but then went and hugged their mother. Looking at each other they silently decided to hug Nigel as well. He was pleasantly surprised and chortled. "Well girls. It was lovely to see you. Good night."

"Goodnight, Nigel. Goodnight, Mom." They each said one after the other before disappearing under Patricia's watchful guardianship.

"We didn't get to finish talking earlier." Nigel started tentatively. He wasn't sure that Miranda would want to talk about the new girl or what she thought she saw earlier. Although he knew it must be done. They had to know one way or the other. If she was the princess it would be better for her to prove herself sooner than later, and if not then it would be good to know so that they could find the real princess. It was so difficult to know which leads to follow and which ones to let go. The failure in Spain had come about from a combination of uncertainty and events in that era. The lover had gone looking to check out another lead when Moanna failed to follow the directions, but in that amount of time circumstances had changed and a bullet took Moanna from them.

Miranda stacked up their dessert plates and napkins and turned to take them into the kitchen. Nigel followed her as he grabbed the glasses and Miranda's coffee cup. He could see the struggle in the set of her shoulders. The possibility of the princess, while exhilarating, held the very real danger of waiting lifetimes only to have the princess stolen again by mortal death. Turning Miranda looked Nigel in the eyes and waited a full breath. Her words barely scraped at the level of heartache deep in her blue eyes. "I don't know what to think, Nigel."

They passed several minutes in silence as Miranda rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Nigel knew to just let Miranda process. It had been a long day and it would have been disturbing to think that she had seen the princess in a vision in the middle of Runway. Nigel had not had that experience and yet he knew that if he had that it would have thrown him off his game. Demarchelier having the nerve to end up in the hospital on the eve of the shoot at Pier 59 was just the thing to cause a major upheaval at Runway.

"In my mind I saw her clearly as the princess and she was telling me her name. But the next instant I knew it was that silly girl. I sent her out with a list and called her Emily to prove a point. What a way to start if it is her, Nigel!" Miranda turned and leaned her back against the countertop. She shook her head and crossed her arms over her abdomen.

"It's never easy, is it?" Nigel was thinking of Moanna, the Immortal Mountain with Nicolette, and then Analisa who had crossed the river with the birds to climb the stairs to the sun. In his mind it was always a challenge. A timeless challenge that was so sweet and wonderful when achieved, but still a difficulty each time in its own way. The princess, ignorant of the past and her truth, always wandered in the land of the sun. She did not know why but like a migrating bird acting on instinct she seemed to always gravitate towards the Lover.

Miranda rubbed her fingers across her brow pushing at the lock of silver hair that constantly rebelled from the rest. "No. It's never easy." Miranda sighed trying to let go of the lifetimes that had been virtually wasted. The princess always bore toward them in a blind bumble bee kind of way, while she and Nigel searched with eyes wide open, and yet so many lifetimes they still missed the chance of each other because they didn't recognize the signs or passed like ships in the night.

Shrugging and then touching his toe forward against hers he encouraged. "You know she's drawn to you one way or another." He looked up and their eyes held each other. "It is not surprising that she would come here for a job. How else was she going to enter your world?"

Miranda held her jaw tight not wanting this revelation to be illuminated. What she had been searching for was finally in her purview and it didn't look like she had imagined. "I'm so much older than she is. How could our lives have gotten so out of balance? How can she be the one? Did she live and die another time without us ever finding her? We stayed in this life while she went on and came back?"

Nigel shook his head. "They die so suddenly and so easily." He stood next to her along the counter so that their shoulders touched. "She could have lived a short life that passed us by. We look all the time and everywhere we can, but you know that we cannot be everywhere at once." Nigel paused uncertain of whether his words were comforting or not. "With the portals closed we have even less ability to watch for her or get help from the Realm."

Almost ready to accept the reality of their situation Miranda asked him, "What do we do now?"

Sucking in a breath Nigel told her what they both already knew. "Give her impossible tasks, Miranda. You know that is the only way to know."


Part 10

Nate's body was hot against hers as their tongues tangled with each other. He moaned into the kiss and his body moved into hers. Andy held his arms as her body responded. Shirts were untucked and pulled up, buttons undone, and zippers pulled down until they were able to touch each other. Fingers pinched and rolled as they lost themselves in the moment and each other. It had been days since they had been home at the same time as each other and awake enough to enjoy it. Not a lot had been said but the open want in each other's eyes allowed them to reach past that fact and simply fulfill a basic human need. They had been together long enough that it was enough to get them through to better times.

Andy had just shimmied enough to remove her jeans and was about to lower herself over Nate when the phone on the bedside table began to vibrate and rattle. "Oh fuck!" Andy said as she slumped to the side for her phone.

Gritting his teeth and hitting his head back against the pillow Nate growled, "Jesus, Andy. It's her, isn't it?"

The moment along with his girlfriend was gone. Shirt open, breasts half hanging out of her bra, naked from the waist down Andy was busy reaching for her notepad as she threw herself fully into work. She didn't talk much and Nate was glad he didn't have to hear his girlfriend grovel.

Returning to the bedroom Andy set her phone down on the bedside table. She slipped off her shirt throwing it on the laundry pile and then unclasped her bra. Nate shook off his frustration as he watched the swell of her breasts swing free. Andy crawled into bed and his hands were on her immediately. He rolled over her and kissed her. She kissed him without much enthusiasm and when he tried to deepen the kiss she pulled away pushing on his shoulders.

He fell to her side, half draped on her and propped on an elbow to look at her. "What is it?" He asked impatiently. If she didn't have to leave for work, just take notes for the next day, then he didn't see why they shouldn't enjoy their night as they had been.

"I have to go in extra early tomorrow and on the way I have to—"

Andy didn't finish because Nate turned away in a huff tugging off his pants and shirt so that he lay in his boxers with his back to her. "Never mind. I'm sorry I asked."

Frustrated Andy kicked her leg out from under the blanket to cool off. She contemplated letting it get ice cold and then putting it on him like she used to do, but she didn't feel like playing with him just now. "I can't help that I'm worried about things and that ruined the mood."

Nate half turned his head to her so that his comment was clearly heard. "Don't worry about it. I'm not in the mood anymore either."

Feeling that they were approaching a large crevasse that they weren't tied together properly for, Andy tried to appeal to him once again. "Our relationship isn't just about sex, you know."

Laying on his back and scratching his head in frustration he agreed. "No, Andy, it's not sex all the time, but it shouldn't be that job, that woman, all the time either. You're just not home as much and when you are you're tired or stressed. I miss you." He said in a small whisper.

Andy had the distinct feeling that Nate knew they were on the edge of something dark and dangerous too.

On the one hand she felt better that Nate just missed her and wanted more of her. It meant that he wasn't going anywhere in the relationship and she could continue to not worry about it. If she had been able to recognize it then she would have realized that on the one hand she was relieved but the rest of her body was more interested in her job, in that woman, the one with the silver hair. She loved the challenge of her job even if during the day she was beyond frustrated and broken. When she was away from it for the weekend she found herself thinking about it and about Miranda. She caught herself actually looking forward to going back again for a new week. She pondered how twisted that was, but then she thought about how far she had come even if she was still failing. Growth was still growth even if she had gone from a 14% grade to a 58% grade. She knew she was that close to being successful. Every week brought her closer to that edge of achievement. Only every Monday she got hit by something and felt the pain again. She was sorry Nate couldn't understand, but this was part of her life now. It wasn't like she was going to sit at home forever making herself crazy like she had over the summer.

Missing the twins' recital was perfect. Playing the role of the impossible boss Miranda had been able to insist that the hurricane was merely drizzle. Drawing on the girl's work ethic Miranda as able to lay a thick layer of guilt by telling her assistant to 'do her job' and get her home. Secretly Miranda was pleased to have the opportunity to begin her own personal testing of the new girl. Only the challenges from the Book of Crossroads would be able to prove whether she was the princess or not, but there was no doubt that if the girl couldn't accomplish Miranda's tasks, then the point would be moot. The challenges from the Book of Crossroads made her challenges pale in comparison. She wasn't sure where to begin but some emotional testing to see what the girl was made of would be a place to start. It would seem that missing the twins' recital was a worthy cause. Miranda tried to focus on her disappointment in her assistant instead of the warmth of the princess' beautiful eyes.

Laying in wait like a tiger, Miranda stood at her desk. Her fingers played at her necklace much like the twitch of the tiger's tail. When Andy walked in Miranda set the trap. "The girls' recital was absolutely wonderful. They played Rachmaninoff. Everyone loved it. Everyone," She had been letting her necklace slip through her fingers but now she paused. "Except me because sadly I was not there." Andy felt the words hitting her like so many smacks to her pretty little forehead.

"Miranda, I am so sorry." Andy would have given anything to be able to battle a hurricane single handedly.

"Do you know why I hired you?" Miranda shook her head and then adjusted her belt. She turned away from Andy to stand by the window. "I always hire the same girl—stylish, slender, of course," she nodded to herself and half turned to face Andy with a dismissive hand gesture. Seeing the princess' eyes once again Miranda's heart skipped a beat so she continued on her path to the window. Miranda turned her back on Andy, her body language clear, but she continued talking so that Andy felt the need to stay, "worships the magazine." Facing her desk she shrugged as if searching for the words she had already carefully chosen for speeches just like this one over the years, "But so often they turn out to be," another shrug for emphasis and Andy's heart skipped a beat. "Disappointing." She turned her head away shaking it in dismay and then looked back at Andy, right into her eyes. "And stupid." She added nodding her head out toward the outer entry of the office.

Miranda didn't want to look at the brunette and lose the pace of her speech. "So you? With that impressive resume," Miranda turned and took up a post half facing the room and half facing Andy. She had discovered years ago that it was a versatile position and often made others uncomfortable, "and that wonderful speech about your so called work ethic." Feigning hurt or playing it up Miranda looked out the window and let her hand settle on her hip. "I, um," she faltered her words as if she had rehearsed them. "I thought you would be different." Swallowing Miranda looked away, it wouldn't do to lose focus now. She had a point to make. "I said to myself, 'go ahead take a chance and hire the smart, fat girl.'" Miranda covered her lips as she turned, aggrieved, away from Andy again. She cleared her throat as tears welled up in Andy's eyes. Giving that small cough again, Miranda confided in a lower voice, "I had hope. My god, I live on it. Anyway, you ended up disappointing me more than, um, more than any of the other silly girls." Letting the tears well up in her own eyes Miranda turned and walked back to her desk only looking at Andy with the briefest of glances to see if she had hit her mark. Andy pulled her head back trying to keep the tears at bay. Miranda sat in her chair while Andy began to flutter out a reply.

"Um, I really did everything I could think of, uh." The tears were thick in Andy's voice and she wished like anything that she had been able to get Miranda to the recital.

Waving her hands away from her face Miranda cut her off. "That's all."

Both waited in the pregnant pause fighting the emotions that the conflict had brought—even though each had not come to the playing field with the same goal in mind. In tears Andy walked away. No matter the goal she felt defeated. Miranda watched her go, measuring her steps and wondering if she was the princess or a knock off. As much as she had hope and lived on it, she didn't want to put too much stock in this one. 'Break her to make her.' She sighed thinking of what Nigel would say about this latest plan.

Nigel sighed as he looked quickly through the thumbnails. He knew that they were not going to be up to standard. Either there was a re-shoot for the cover or they would be moving something else forward to take its place. Good was not great and Runway was in the details. Some found out quicker than others but once they did they began to revel in them. He wondered a moment about the various projects that they had in the fire. Then his mind turned to the possibility of the new girl as the princess. It was bad timing, but anything outside of Runway was bad timing so he sighed and resumed his review of the shots. He looked up just before he bent over the thumbnails and saw the brunette. He continued on with his work waiting to see what she would do. Nigel knew his role was to help Andy but their interactions had not reached that place yet. She was still finding her sea legs at Runway. He wasn't sure how to maintain the hard edge that Miranda would surely start with and to befriend the girl at the same time.

Andy had walked out of Miranda's office, past Emily's concerns, and almost right down the hall to the elevator. She was nearly past Nigel's door when she turned, realized who was inside, and stopped herself. Pausing a moment and wishing to take back time she wiped her hands over her face. Trying in vain to rub her frustration and sadness away she took another breath. With a step back and a step forward she had pulled the door open and let herself in. Oblivious to her presence Nigel continued peering through the magnifier looking at the thumbnails for the cover shoot. Betty from features left his office ignoring Andy completely. Andy pressed both of her hands on the light desk and in a most pitiful voice said, "She hates me, Nigel."

Nigel swallowed, 'oh, here we go. The games have begun.' He wasn't sure how Miranda had gone about it or what step of her process she was on, but he was certain that she had gone the 'break 'em down' way that she tended to. Ruler to the back of the hand and all that sort of rubbish was Miranda's style. He always wondered why she didn't go in for a dominatrix or at least a nun in one of these lifetimes. Perhaps Principal Priestly with her paddle would have been too tempting for her to over do it. Keeping in character Nigel put those flashes of thought on hold until he could talk to Miranda. He wasn't sure what his role was to be in this version of events so he went with indifference, he could always warm up to the girl later. "And that's my problem because?" He drew the word out making it a snide question then went for the kill by answering himself. "Oh, wait, no, it's not my problem."

Desperation kicked shyness' ass and she practically begged him to understand. "I don't, I don't know what else I can do." He went back to looking at the proofs. "Because if I do something right, it's unacknowledged, she doesn't even say thank you, but if I do something wrong? She—" Andy struggled for the right words to say knowing that Nigel was relatively chummy with Miranda, but refusing to back away from how Miranda had treated her. Her hands went up and flexed in the air as she decided on the right word, "—is vicious." Staring ahead of her angry and defeated Andy let her hands settle down on the light table again.

A light bulb went off in Nigel's head. Miranda's first task for the girl had been to see if she could run her off. If she could run her off then this was a non-starter. He quickly answered her in this vein. "So quit."

He continued looking down through the magnifier making marks from time to time with the grease pencil noting which shots worked better than the others so they could print the best ones. He heard her and felt her reaction. "What?"

He barely even glanced up at her. "Quit." He repeated.

She sputtered and floundered and then, "Wht." She squeaked out with no vowels.

"I can get another girl to take your place in five minutes." He looked down at the proofs again and shifted the page. Then he looked right at her challenging her, "One who really wants it." He made clear to her.

"What?" She was so angry that she was shaking. "I don't wanna quit. That's not fair." She pointed at herself indignantly. "But, I, you know," she looked around and flailed her hands about, "I'm just saying that I…" She trailed off lost. "I would just like a little credit for the fact that I am killing myself trying."

Groaning Nigel let his pencil drop to the desk, "Oh, Andy, please. Be serious." Nigel lifted up his hands and then let them settle down on the desk again to emphasize his point. "You are not trying." He looked down at the sheet and decided it was done. "You are whining." She stared at him and he picked up the contact sheet letting it fly through the air as he turned to the back counter placing it next to the others. "What is it you want me to say to you, huh? Do you want me to say, 'poor you, Miranda's picking on you, poor you, poor Andy' Hmmm?" He stepped forward slightly pointing his grease pencil at her and letting his tone drop into a deep warning. "Wake up, Six! Miranda's just doing her job. Don't you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century: Holstein, Lagerfeld, De La Renta. What they did, what they," he let the word form on his tongue, "created." He nodded to himself and flapped his hands out for emphasis. "Was greater than art, because you live your life in it." He turned and pointed the pencil at her again as he grabbed up a sketchpad to work with. "Well, not you." He waved the pencil and shook his head at her 'sense' of fashion. "Obviously." Specifying he added, "Some people." Thinking to himself he added, 'the ones with two working eyes.'

Facing her opposite the counter he put down the pencil and notepad. He picked up a mock-up and rifled through the pages as he watched her reactions. "You think this is just a magazine?" He finished flipping through it and held it in both of his hands as he reached a crescendo. "This isn't just a magazine. It's a beacon of hope, for, oh I don't know… Let's say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls and what's worse is you don't care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know," he picked up that grease pencil again as he leaned on an elbow facing her. "Why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your work at the end of the day." He reached up placing the red point of the grease pencil into the middle of her forehead and watching as she reflexively closed her eyes. "Wake up, sweetheart." His eyes shifted away from her and then he looked down as he slipped back onto his stool at the desk.

Andy let out a big sigh as she processed in the silent moment. She came to terms with the ugly truth that she wasn't fully grasping the opportunity before her, even though her pride wanted to protest. Nigel simply looked at his sketchpad making notes. "Ok. So I'm screwing it up." She leaned toward him hoping to catch his attention. He murmured in agreement from his position nearly kissing the desk. He looked up at her as he marked another picture. "I don't want to. I just wish that I knew what I could do…" Her words trailed off as she lost herself in a thought. Then the light bulb clicked on and she turned to him. "Nigel, Nigel, Nigel."

He looked up at her, "Oh, no, no, no, no." One last pencil point, but he was done giving her a hard time, she had proven that she might hit bottom, but that she had the desire to come back up fighting—even if that meant giving herself over to his direction. He took it as a sign that he could begin the process of moving the girl forward. Who knew what or how much lay ahead of her?

Nigel walked into Miranda's office pleased with himself. He had the file that answered the cover shoot question. When he thumbed through the file at the bottom of his pile he couldn't believe his luck. He also couldn't believe that this shoot had been over looked and left to gather dust on his desk. Emily was on the phone and the other desk was empty. Nigel let his shoes make a little noise on the carpet so that he didn't surprise Miranda. She didn't take very kindly to being caught off guard. She looked up pinning him with her blue eyes. Inwardly he smiled, because he knew that Miranda had been surprised to say the least with Andy's fashion transformation and persistence.

"You helped her." She said quietly.

Nigel looked her up and down assessing her mood. "I am the helper." He agreed. Then stepping forward he set the file on Miranda's desk and flipped it open. "Cover?" He said forcing her to look down.

Miranda slipped her glasses on and looked down at the photos. She held out her hand and Nigel placed the magnifier in it. She looked and looked moving from image to image in an almost mechanical fashion. Her movements were crisp, regular, and he knew she was memorizing each detail and combining photos into layouts in her head. Sitting up again she held her finger on one of the thumbnails. "This one."

Nigel stepped around the desk and murmured his agreement. "I thought so, but this one was a close second, I think." He pointed to another photo and as she considered it he pulled his pen out of his pocket. Miranda tapped her original choice and he marked it with an X. "What's next for her?" He liked to circle back to conversations so that they didn't seem so tense.

Miranda sighed. "A challenge and then we'll give her the book to see what it says."

Nigel pointed to a photo and Miranda pointed to a different one. He marked a number 1 underneath it. "You just wanted to see if she'd quit?"

Sighing Miranda took her glasses off and re-crossed her legs. "I thought it was for the best. If she's not the princess then there's no need to put her through this."

Nigel looked at her and then quietly said, "You love her already."

Pursing her lips Miranda held her silence. She knew that there was nothing to say or that her body language had already spoken for her. He was right in any case even if she did not wish to acknowledge that fact. Turning halfway away from him she let out a sigh. "It's…" She shook her head. Nigel could have sworn he heard her say 'fucking.' "Destiny." She said again loud enough for him to hear for certain. "Every lifetime." She said more certainly.

Knowing it was dangerous to ask too many questions Nigel treaded cautiously. "What's next then?"

Waving him off tiredly she said, "One thing at a time." Turning back to the file on her desk she ended that conversation and brought back the other. "I had forgotten these." She said and slipped her glasses back on. Nigel fell back into work mode wondering how much time they had before things really got going.

The house was too quiet and Miranda wondered what her little darlings were up to. She had to stay to go over the changes in the issue after Nigel had saved the cover. The problem being that a new cover required shifting almost everything else in the issue around. She could not leave until they had blocked out the majority of their plan. Leaving it for the next day would have hung on her like nothing else. This way she was late, but she could still have a small amount of peaceful time with her daughters. She made her way up the stairs to the first floor, and then the second. She stepped quietly down the hall toward the girls' rooms and their playroom. She hoped they were asleep because this level of quiet when they were awake usually spelled trouble. "Girls?" She called for them quietly as she pushed open the door of their playroom. "Girls." She said again coming to an abrupt halt at the sight before her.

Caroline had the silver figure of a fairy in her right hand. Cassidy held the green one frozen in mid-flight as her eyes shifted up to look at their mother. The blue figure of a fairy was propped on a mysterious cardboard shoebox that Miranda wondered the origin of. The girls gasped. Miranda held her hand over her chest. Patricia woofed at her.

"What are you doing girls?" Miranda asked softly as she stepped forward and kneeled with them. She picked up the blue fairy looking at it in amazement. Seeing the metal tin the fairies usually stayed in off to the side of the shoebox she silently reached for it.

"Playing fairies." Caroline told her mom. They made eye contact and she half pouted before setting the silver one in her mother's outstretched hand.

Cassidy held the green one in both of her hands and close to her chest as she examined her mother. She was always quiet using that ice-cold whisper to scare employees and their dad, but this was the kind of quiet that cops used in movies to talk the deranged person off the ledge. "They're the princess' fairies, aren't they?" Cassidy asked. In the heavy silence after her question she made sure not to squeeze the little figurine too tightly in her hands.

Miranda was not going to have this conversation now. She reached out her hand and leveled her gaze on her daughter. She was glad that they were still not immune to her when Cassidy let the figurine drop into her hand. Taking the three figures in her hands Miranda looked them over and then shut them in the metal tin.

Caroline moved closer to her on the carpet. "Did they get turned into stone?" She asked in awe.

Miranda looked from one twin to the other. Rising she said, "Later girls. It's time for bed." She held out her hand to help Caroline up and then she turned and helped her sister up.

"You can tell us, you know." Cassidy said as she turned to go through the door. "We know you don't read those stories from a book."

Caroline trailed her hand down her mom's arm until she could give her hand a squeeze. "It's okay, mom." She followed her sister out of the playroom and into their rooms. Knowing they would go ahead and get ready Miranda made her way up to the third floor and her bedroom. The fairies were not going to be happy about this.

"She'll have the punch." James left her at the bar while he went to go get the designs for Miranda. She thought his perception of her was funny because it was so spot on—working for Miranda would drive a person to drink. She looked around the place taking in the low lights and the warmth. People were dancing on the other side of the room. Andy felt woozy as a wave of déjà vu washed over her. She had been here before, but couldn't imagine how that was possible. She turned back to the bar where she was greeted by a large glass of rosy pink liquid.

"You're the new Miranda-girl?" A friendly voice called to her from out of sight.

Andy turned at the sound of the familiar voice jumping in surprise when she recognized the blond man from her first Runway dream. "Uh," she hesitated, "Andy." She held out her hand and met his sparkling blue eyes. She wasn't sure she wanted to be talking to him at all, but his mane of curls bounced as he laughed and she felt at ease with him. She wasn't sure what he was laughing about but she found herself joining him.

"Christian." His hand wrapped around hers and she felt a pull towards him. Her eyes dropped to his hand touching hers and she felt warmer from the attention.

They were laughing again and that was when Andy saw a glimmer of light reflected off metal on the chain around his neck. Instinct kicking in then Andy shared another laugh with him as she leaned in toward him. Keeping her eyes on his, she smiled and let him believe he had lured her in. The chain had been hidden well, which was no wonder in this tight society, however Andy eager to notice similarities to her dreams. Just the glimmer of the same chain from the dream to the man was enough to cement the connection between them in her mind. He wrapped his hand around her forearm and began to slide it softly against her skin. Her heart accelerated as he pressed forward in his maneuvering and her fingers deftly accomplished her goal. Feeling the weight of the key in her palm Andy was relieved when a voice behind surprised them. They stepped apart and Andy turned to greet James once again.

"Here you are. I see you've met Christian." James handed Andy the designs and she stepped away from Christian putting James between them. "He doesn't mix well with the punch."

Andy shrugged, the picture of innocence, "I can't drink anyway." She tapped the design envelope. "Short leash." She said taking another step toward the door.

Christian's blue eyes were surrounded by laugh lines. "You can't leave now, Miranda-girl."

The cell phone tone signaling Miranda Priestly stood in for the dream Miranda at the end of her dream. Shrugging and pointing to the phone before she answered it she mouthed, "I have to go." Turning from the boys she answered her phone as she walked quickly out the door. "Yes?" Unlike her dream Andy was glad to hear Miranda's voice although she really wasn't sure why she had just stolen the key around Christian's neck. It wasn't like she knew what it went to. Andy could barely remember the last time she had stolen something. It must have been when she was a teenager and doing it for kicks with Lily and Doug.

Nigel hated waiting for the elevator like a common clacker. However he hated walking up the stairs more. It was a choice between two evils and he really hated having to make the choice on a daily basis. The elevator opened and out spilled an Andy on fire to someone on the phone. Shaking his head at the sad little person who had changed so much he stepped in. Normally she wasn't that on fire. It had been a little while since Miranda had really sent her off the deep end so he thought that his first stop would be Miranda's office.

"What's on for today?" Miranda was gathering her folders and preparing to leave. Nigel needed to know what kind of support or interference he would need to do while she was gone.

"She has to find a way to get the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript by 3pm or not come back at all."

Nigel slumped down into one of the chairs opposite her desk. "Oh. Miranda." He sighed. She stopped what she was doing to give him her signature flesh-melting glare. She did not have time for this. "Last night she stole the key from Christian at James Holt's party. It has already begun." He implored her to understand that—whatever they were or were not prepared for—the challenges had started.

"What do you mean?"

Nigel fixed his own glare up at her. "I mean that I hope you don't have to fire her, because she's going to need our help. Last night at James' I heard Christian telling someone on the phone that the key of pledges was stolen. Not five minutes before that he had been trying to chat up Andy at the bar. I don't know what provoked her to do it, but she stole it from right around his neck."

Miranda sucked in a lungful of air as she closed her eyes. She sincerely hoped that Andy would come back successful with the manuscript because she had other things to worry about now. "You'll leave her the book." Silently Nigel nodded at her. Stepping around the desk she added, "I'll be out until three. After she's returned," Miranda wavered, "one way or another." She growled, "she'll have to get started."

Nigel agreed and stood to follow her out the door. "I don't know who he was talking to Miranda. It was a cell phone."

"Coat, bag." She told Emily as they carried forward toward the elevators. Nigel kept walking with her knowing that once Emily trailed away she would respond. "Then we'll have to watch everyone." Nigel nodded and Miranda stepped into the elevator donning her large white-framed sunglasses more for effect than UV protection.

The world on its side, she struggled to take in a breath. It burned as she sucked it into her lungs. Widening her eyes to take in as much of the scene as possible she saw the retreating steps of a military form. He was a familiar evil to her in this landscape. She saw her life, now death, clearly as she realized she was lying on the ground bleeding out from a bullet in her chest. The gravel rocks pressed her skin leaving red dents. If she were able to rise they would stick to her skin, but she knew with a wave of coldness over her body that she would not rise again.

A whimper faintly escaped her lips as she let the fight fall out of her. Her eyelids fluttered and then shut just as she heard new steps approaching. Her dry tongue wiped across her lower lip finding no moisture, giving no comfort. Two mighty arms pressed beneath her and she felt her body rising. Unsteady on her feet she clung to the arms around her and opened her eyes. The searching eyes of Nigel peered at her through the guise of the faun. Weak, confused, and overwhelmed she closed her eyes breathing in hard to feel the pain and root herself in it. The agony welled up connecting her to the mouth of the labyrinth and the tragedy of her final failure and death at the hands of a mad man. Then a wave of light warmed her inside out banishing the pain. Her breath came in an easy pull and she opened her eyes. Gone was the coldness of the stone labyrinth entrance and the grip of death on her heart. Her wide eyes took in her reflection in a mirror covered in an ivory dress instead of blood. Unconsciously her hand went to her throat to touch the pearls resting there. She looked around the great room but found herself alone in front of a great door that swung open.

A step through the door and she was in the Underground Realm's great hall. The people were in the stands around them. Ahead of her four thrones beckoned to her from high above the faun's head. "Welcome, welcome, princess." The faun drew her focus to him and she once again saw Nigel's supportive eyes. She was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and enormity around her. "Don't be frightened. You've been here before." She tilted her head up to see the king on his throne and the queen looking fondly down at her.

"You are a child of the moon, my love." The words of her adoptive mother, Janet Sachs, echoed in her mind as she shyly smiled at the queen, the mother of her heart.

Stepping wholly into the space she felt her heart expanding in her chest as her lover stepped from the shadows below the thrones and blue eyes met lustrous brown.

"Ow!" Nate said suddenly sitting to clutch his leg. He stretched his leg out only to bend it quickly against his chest as he rocked and muttered next to Andy on the bed.

The dream shattered and fell around her while her consciousness found reality. Instead of comforting him she feigned sleep and gripped her pillow tighter in her hands. The Sachs were the only family she knew outside of an old picture of her birth parents, but the feeling in the dream of being reunited with them was lovely and she didn't want to lose it yet. She wanted to scream that the helpful face of Nigel in the Faun could not help her fight off wakefulness this one time. She wanted to completely see her Lover and confirm that Miranda was the silver-haired figure haunting her. The homecoming made her death at the beginning of the dream not matter. She wanted to explore the Underground Realm now more than anything else.

Nate stopped rocking and hobbled into the kitchen. Grumbling in her feigned sleep, Andy stretched and rolled away from him. She heard the water in the sink and pills in the bottle. Remembering the dark lullaby from her earlier dreams of the Underground Realm she tried to float back to the great hall. There were parents to reunite with, a friend to greet and a lover to reclaim but Andy found it difficult to pull the veil of sleep over her once more. She had fought sleep and avoided her dreams far too long for her body to simply bow down once again to the dark fathoms of sleep.

"She's letting me deliver the Book. I must have done something right. I mean, at least I'm not a freak." Andy was so tired of being on this treadmill of constantly proving herself. When Miranda told her to deliver the Book she thought that she had finally been accepted into the tribe. Then as Emily lectured her on what to do she felt like she had only been given entry into the room, but that she still had to win over the red headed floor boss. Despite her concerns Emily wasn't going to stay an extra minute to watch over her though, so Andy found herself with hours to kill alone at her desk.

Andy passed Nigel as he was leaving his office. "Good night, Six." He said in what Andy heard as a regal greeting. Her mind flashed with an image of the faun with the swirls on his white forehead, horns curving on either side of his head and that timeless feeling of the earth. She smiled at him feeling that there was more connection between them now than Runway.

"Night, Nigel." She said with a small bow of her head that made him pause and look her over once more. She had no way of knowing that his vision of her as the princess was rooted in fact instead of the mists of the dream world.

Returning full of a sense of wonder and hope from seeing Nigel, she sat at her desk staring into space. Then as if a light came on somewhere Andy realized that her desk had changed while she was out returning those items to the accessories department. Head tilting in puzzlement Andy looked down at her desk where she found an old book. It was not the Book that she was waiting for but her breath caught as she ran her fingers over the 'A' embossed there. Andy looked around as if the empty office could answer the myriad of questions in her brain about where it came from, how it got there, and just how close was the line between dream and reality. No answers were written on the walls and so Andy opened the book with trembling fingers.

At the sound of the elevator she slammed the book shut and placed her arms over the top of it. Realizing she could not hide it, she slipped it off the desk and into her Balenciaga bag. Pulling her hairbrush out as she sat up Andy began to absently brush her hair. David from print came up and placed the Book on her desk. With a curt smile he said, "Here ya go."

He turned and headed back for the elevator. Andy snatched up her bag and the Book and made sure to slow herself down enough that she didn't run over or over take him on the way down the hall. She couldn't wait to leave Runway, but tonight it had nothing to do with escaping the demands of her editor.

Hearing the door open, twin blue eyes sparkled full of mischief. On their feet in seconds they were out the door and hatching a plan in half spoken sentences and silent twin-speak. To strangers they looked the innocent white night gowned ten year olds that they might have been in another life, but to those who knew them there would be concern about that delighted spark in their eyes. Steps stuttered in the foyer below them and they reached the balcony railing in time to watch the hapless assistant choose between multiple doors and tables with flowers. Setting the Book on the wrong table caused the girls to giggle. Nearly dropping the dry-cleaning the unaware assistant looked around on the ground floor to find the cause of the noise or the source of the feeling that she was being watched. She didn't dare to look up and the twins pinched each other's hands to stay quiet. The assistant re-gripped the dry-cleaning and smoothed her clothes. As she turned in a slow circle she began to hum a kind of lullaby. The twins turned to each other eyes wide with wonder.

The assistant opened the correct door and hung the dry cleaning. She reached up to adjust her hair being pulled at the edge of her jacket and bag strap. The twins saw the mark on the skin below her neck and covered their mouths. The assistant looked around again but saw no one. She picked up the Book, looked at the other table and then with a sigh she just set it down again on the wrong table. With one more look into the house the brunette turned to leave. Sitting back on their heels high above the empty foyer the twins whispered until they heard the door click shut. A silver blur circled their heads but they were so into their revelations that they didn't notice it or even care that they forgot to pull the prank they had planned.

"Girls. Back to bed." This pulled them out of their bubble of twin-speak and with a squeak they rushed toward the voice of their mother.

Telling her girls to go back to bed she fully expected to hear a disgruntled murmur and the slow steps of her children returning to their beds. They didn't have to be happy about it, but that was the situation of being ten. Instead she heard the double time trampling of her offspring as they bounded down the hall and into her room.

"It was her. It was her." Caroline nearly shouted. "The princess." She elaborated as her mother's eyebrow rose.

Cassidy nodded, "It had to be her."

A flash of silver followed them through her door and hovered behind them. Miranda let her gaze take in their breathlessness, lack of malice in their eyes, and the presence of the silver fairy. She did not want to jump to any conclusion, nor rush to tell her children more than they had figured out for themselves. She was at a loss until they began again and gave her direction.

"She was singing the lullaby."

"She has the mark of the moon on her neck."

Miranda's jaw dropped as her twins delivered the one-two punch. Wanting to be certain Miranda did not dismiss them, but instead drew them closer to her, "Whom did you see, bobbsies?"


Part 11

At least late night traffic in New York wasn't as bad as rush hour traffic. However time still ticked on without regard to Andy's wish to be home. Her job was ignorant, perhaps willfully ignorant, of her personal life. The foyer and stairs up to the apartment were silent and empty. Andy slipped off her shoes before entering the dark space she shared with Nate. She wasn't sure what the reaction would be to her latest absence. Even in stocking feet the wooden floor revealed her presence. Light flooded the room and she knew that her homecoming would not go unnoticed.

Nate looked at her from his spot next to the floor lamp. Andy tried to think of what she could say. She tried to remember when they first got together and every minute of every day was about loving each other. She couldn't grasp what it felt like. She couldn't see any way across the divide that seemed to separate them now.

"If you're not even going to try to show up then just say so." Nate was angry, but it was subdued, almost bored.

Her attention returned to Nate, she looked down at the ground. Her silence was damning. She simply didn't have an answer. She loved Nate. She did love him, but as the tears filled her eyes she had to face the realization that she didn't love him enough, or not in the way that she needed to, or that maybe she loved something else. She swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked back the tears. She wasn't ready to say she didn't love him.

Nor was she ready to say that she loved…

"Are you even here now?" He waved his hand in front of her eyes. Andy felt him advancing on her and she looked up horrified that her mind had wandered.

Wiping at her face she looked at him. "No, no, I'm here. I'm sorry." Nate opened his mouth to speak. Andy noticed that he didn't seem upset beyond being frustrated. She had tears in her eyes and felt the pain of potential loss, but he seemed to have shut that down and was just frustrated to be having this conversation with her.

Nate tilted his head to the side examining her. Andy tried to think of something to say, something that she could grab a hold of, something that would keep the ship afloat another day. He straightened his posture in her silence and then stepped forward again. Andy stepped back from the poison of Nate's smile. His hand reached out and he grabbed his keys off the nearest shelf. His other hand reflexively went to his back pocket and he nodded slightly to himself. Stepping away from Andy and toward the door he looked her in the eye. He waited and Andy wanted to smack him because it seemed almost choreographed. She could see him practically counting to ten as his anger washed away and he was left standing in front of her maliciously happy. "Well then. That's all there is to say, I guess." He opened the door. "Aren't you tired of this, Andy?"

The door clicked shut and Andy closed her eyes. The world was so out of control already. This was the last thing that she needed even if the writing was on the wall. Her dreams, nightmares, Runway, and the nexus between them really left her on uncertain ground and Nate's disappearance and their recent fighting was another sinkhole in the already unstable landscape of her life.

She breathed in the air from above and reveled in the strange voices of the new arrivals. As the boats came and went she listened to the water slosh against its banks. Her heart was filled with a longing for the future and for something beyond her present existence. She was transfixed with what was beyond the river, the place the arrivals were from, and the birds that played in the stream of light at the bottom of the spiraling stairs. She pressed her face against the wood of her fencepost hiding place. She smiled at the thought of the dirt smear that would be on her face when she returned. It always thrilled her to break the mold, to return a little dirty to her pristine home.

"Analisa." A devilish smile played on her lips and her fingers held the wood tighter. Her lover was close to finding her, but she wasn't ready for the game to be over yet. She looked down at herself. She was many years taller than when the lover called her Moanna. "Analisa." This time the word was almost a whisper at her back and she took off running along the riverside. "Come back." Her lover called as the chase began.

Her lover's voice sent chills down her spine but she laughed and ran on. Her breath heaved in her chest and a fire burned her throat. She longed for a drink of water and a rest. The footsteps of her lover sounded steady and sure behind her. Risking a look back, her concentration was thrown the moment she saw the flushed face of a young Miranda running after her with short barely silver hair. Her toe hit a root and she stumbled for many steps before falling to the ground. Miranda was unable to slow her pace in time and she nearly flew over the princess. No contact was made but they lay breathless side by side on the grassy path.

"Analisa. Analisa, are you all right?" She propped herself up on an elbow and looked searchingly over her beloved until their eyes locked on each other.

The princess did not feel any pain as soon as she saw her lover's eyes washing over her body. The immediate connection to each other was electric. "Yes. I'm all right." She said and then leaned forward to press her lips against her lover's. The initial reaction was tense but then lips yielded to lips, tongues licked tongues, and the kiss deepened. Pressing forward the princess rolled against her lover until she was on top of her kissing and touching her beautiful silver hair and smooth cheek.

Awakened with a gasp, Andy took a moment to realize where she was and what was going on. Confused Andy picked up her cell phone frowning at its silence. She shook her head trying to escape the noise. The bed was empty. The building fire alarm was going off like Armageddon had begun. Legs not ready for her wobbled as she instinctively, almost unconsciously, rose out of bed. Reluctantly shaking off the bliss of her dream Andy threw on clothes, grabbed her bag and cell phone and locked the apartment. The stairs were filling with small children, worried parents, and older people that had to hang onto the railing tightly. On the street it was chaos. No one knew what was going on or even if there was a real problem or not.

Sirens wailed into the night and Andy wondered what she would do if there really was a fire. She had no idea if Nate would answer his phone and she found that she didn't want to call him if she didn't have to. She wondered if she needed a place to stay who she could call. Lily and Doug were in town, but Nate might already be with them, which would be six shades of awkward.

Smoke had begun to rise from the eastern side of the building on the sixth/top floor. News was spreading around that Mrs. Demilo had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette. No one knew for sure if she was okay or not, but the word was that the fire would be out soon and they would probably be able to return to their homes. The building would have to be checked, but that wouldn't take too long.

Andy crossed the street to be away from the noise of the crowd. Then she found her feet propelling her down the block toward the coffee shop. Caffeine was probably not what her body needed but the distraction was for her mind. The dream was once again central to her thoughts. There was no one else for her but the lover and it was quite clear that her mind had decided on Miranda. The beautiful woman already took up her daytime hours so it made sense that she dominated her elusive and dark dream world as well. The connection between them was undeniable and Andy had to admit that she felt a certain longing for the Editor in Chief even during the gauntlet that was her day at Runway. She laughed into the melting foam of her latte, "Well, Richard never did like Nate anyway." Then taking a sip she realized that her adoptive father sure wasn't going to like Miranda, even if she was from another world and they were destined to be together. She groaned and leaned back in the booth of the coffee shop. Her eyes closed as she contemplated the pros and cons of sleeping right there in the booth.

Exhausted Andy returned to her block pleasantly surprised to find everything had been put back to rights. 'Well, perhaps not everything.' She added wryly to herself. 'Mrs. Demilo is probably at the hospital.' The steps seemed longer and longer as she made her way up. In her state of fatigue she imagined that they were the spiral steps leading her up to the land of the sun from the labyrinth.

Seeing the strange book, Andy picked it up and flopped on the bed. She was glad the building had not burned down because she would have lost this strange treasure. Too tired to look at it she fell asleep with her arm across it. The silver fairy that followed her home from the mountain fluttered its wings and landed on the bedside table next to Andy's little Piglet figurine. One of the only possessions that she truly cared about, it sat on the bedside to watch over her. The fairy inspected its watch companion. Moving its leg into a cross, the fairy settled next to it also with a crossed leg. Andy drifted deeper and deeper into her dream world as the fairy whispered into the ear of Piglet.

Andy knew her eyes hurt before she even opened them: lack of sleep, stress, and probably a small amount of smoke from the fire made for a painful mixture behind the supposed safety of her eyelids. She was glad that she had not cried for very long after Nate's departure. She supposed that reaction was for the best since their relationship seemed to be slipping away into nothingness anyway. The radio was talking instead of playing music so she reached a hand up and tapped it into silence. Rolling onto her back she let her feet stretch to the end of the mattress as her hands pulled at the top of it under her pillow. Sighing Andy sat up and opened her eyes to greet the day. She looked around the room. It didn't seem different. Nate was still gone and Andy knew that change was on its way. She looked at the bed. The strange blank book made an unusual bedfellow. Andy turned and sat cross-legged on the bed to read. Her hands lifted the cover and flipped through a few empty pages. Then as she watched the pages filled with beautiful writing and intricate drawings.

It seemed so long ago that Andy had accepted her strange dreams and their intersections with reality. Her mind had bent and her understanding of the everyday had enlarged to the point that the Underground had become real bringing with it the fairies she loved, the lover she longed for and the faun that she hoped would always help her. She didn't know whether Miranda was connected to the lover simply because she was attracted to her, or whether she was attracted to her because she was the lover and it was always going to be so. She wondered from time to time if she was losing her mind, but some part of her knew these unexplainable things had a simple explanation—they were true. Watching the blank pages fill before her eyes was without a doubt magical. It was no trick, but proof that there was something beyond everyday reality. It shook her and yet it grounded her. It was disturbing at the same time as it was comforting to know that all of these things existed and the proof was in her hands.

Letting her fingertips ghost over the fresh ink that she knew would not smear Andy felt as if she had awakened from a dream. The dream had been vivid, full of life and color, but as she sat there she could not remember more than flashes. Only enough details to know that there was more to remember, but not anything she could cling to for details or understanding. She had a feeling of timelessness as she sat in the empty apartment.

"Once upon a time, when the people helped each other, the world was filled with accomplishment and happiness." In Andy's mind she saw Nigel and Miranda in their dream forms surrounded by people in the great hall. Miranda still had an aloof air about her but she seemed warmer, as if there was less pressure on her. Nigel seemed to be teasing and having crafty conversation with his companions. Many people in the group darted about. "The people protected one another, and slept in the safety of the houses they created together." The disappointment that clouded Miranda's face the day after the missed recital replaced the other images. Andy had not been able to get Miranda home in time and the house was not peaceful anymore. Andy's heart welled up. She wanted Miranda to be able to rely on her. She wanted to protect the woman that haunted her. "But now there is no safety. Separation and divided loyalties have created a plague of danger that has settled into the people's bones. You must retrieve the key from the false one and put the darkness in its place." Suddenly recent events made sense and Andy found her fingers clasping the key hidden at the end of a long chain around her neck. She thought of the James Holt party and the alluring eyes of the blonde man. She knew without a doubt that he was the false one. "Only then will you be able to unlock the pledges."

Frowning Andy looked the page over reading it again and again. 'What kind of book is blank and then fills with mystery ink?' Absently Andy ran her fingers over the drawings around the edges of the pages. It made sense that the book was telling her Christian was not to be trusted and that she had to steal the key from him. Beyond that she couldn't quite put together what she was supposed to do with the key or what it unlocked. Andy sighed and closed the book, 'How am I to put darkness in its place when I am afraid of my own nightmares?'

Looking at the clock Andy jumped out of bed rushing to get ready. At the last second she ran back in and tucked the book into her bag. She didn't need to leave it out for Nate to read. He hated her fairy book and the last thing he would want to see in their bed would be another mysterious book similar to it. With a sad smile Andy realized that Lover or Editor or both, Miranda would not like to be kept waiting. She just wondered what she would make of her assistant stealing from a well-known writer at a designer's party. She knew it wasn't a winning endorsement of her character.

A shark cruising the coral reef, Miranda made the trip down to Nigel's office a few times a year. He sucked in a breath of air when he looked up and saw her through the glass. He figured it was probably his last calm breath for a few months so he savored it. The door shut quietly behind Miranda and inwardly Nigel braced himself.

Before he could ask what the honor or trouble was Miranda cut him off. "The twins said they saw the princess last night."

Nigel's eyebrows rose in question, "Do tell."

Miranda stepped further into his office and leaned forward against the desk much like Andy had not that long ago when she begged him for help. "Apparently she was delivering the book in my home last night." Sighing Miranda picked up a pencil from the desktop and flipped it back and forth between her fingers. "She nearly dropped the dry cleaning, put the book on the wrong table, sang the lullaby I sing to them, and when she adjusted her hair and clothes before leaving they saw her moon mark."

The silence was thick between them. Each of them was thinking of a million possibilities as they looked at each other. "This is unusual." He finally said at length. Miranda was bristling with frustration. "Usually we know what the hell is going on. This time is completely backwards."

Miranda set the pencil down and crossed to the back wall. She picked up the magnifier and set it down. She let her hand trail along the issues on the countertop as she paced along his back wall. "Why didn't we know anything?"

Nigel pursed his lips. Difficult to understand was an understatement and he didn't have any more information than Miranda did. He knew that she wouldn't accept that as any kind of excuse either. "Maybe we should ask what we do know?"

Giving him the devil's glare Miranda waited.

"All the tell-tale markers are present." Her eyes remained on him needing there to be more than fancy ideas from her girls. He continued in a deliberate fashion. "She stole the key from Mr. Thompson. He was talking to someone on his cell phone." Miranda nodded that much was definite information leading them somewhere. "The next task has to be approaching." He wrung his hands together before continuing. "She has the Book of Crossroads. All we can do is be there for her."

A frustrated growl came from Miranda startling Nigel. "How can I do that? I'm the dragonlady?" Miranda paced the room like a tiger with its claws out ready for a fight.

'Dragonlady indeed,' he thought as he watched her hoping that smoke would not start to come from her nostrils.

Stopping mid-stride Miranda straightened up to her full height, turned to face him with the quiet grace of a big cat, and leveled piercing blue eyes at him. Men made of pretty tough stuff would have wilted under her gaze. Nigel saw it for what it was—the dragonlady showing her most ferocious features to prove a point. It was rather like a peacock spreading its tail feathers. Fighting to not roll his eyes Nigel waited for the words that would accompany such posturing. "What am I supposed to do, Nigel?" She asked looking down her nose at him and elongating the word do in a quite menacing fashion.

Sighing only as much as he thought he could without being noticed, Nigel reminded her, "I said we can be there for her." He pointed toward himself and Miranda then he bowed to her slightly and in his most humble voice he offered, "As ever I am at your service."

Crossing back to his desk Miranda took up residence on one of his stools so that they could put their heads together. Miranda picked up a pen and began drawing small pictures from various times in their lives. Voices low and heads together they would have made the rumor mill of the clackers snap into overdrive had any of them passed by.

Wondering what kind of sick sense of humor the universe had, Andy headed down to see Nigel in the Closet. Emily had dismissed her and she had almost escaped early. Lily had been less than understanding but Andy was thankful that she didn't have time to launch into a full tirade. Andy didn't need to listen to Lily tell her what a horrible person she was becoming, or how she was messing up with Nate, or that she didn't know her anymore. Lily cut herself off and Andy thanked the universe for small mercies. The dress that Nigel was holding up nearly distracted her from her troubles. She didn't even mind his snide comment about needing Crisco and fishing line to get her into it. The glamour and flashes of the paparazzi cameras also went a long way towards helping Andy forget about her troubles. It really was exciting to be a part of all of this, even if she was trailing along behind Miranda like a lap dog. Mostly Andy looked around with wide eyes while Emily prompted Miranda with the names of guests as she worked the room.

The crowd ebbed and flowed. As it parted Andy saw the familiar face of Irv Ravitz with a beautiful woman on his arm. Her mind flashed like a poorly edited movie and once again she saw the woman from her dream. Andy gasped as the pair stepped forward. The chill down her back was undeniable as the dream woman and Irv's companion focused in her mind as one in the same. Catching Emily's attention Andy alerted her to the woman's presence. "Emily, come here. Isn't that Jacqueline Follet from French Runway?"

Following her gaze Emily leaned her head closer to Andy's to confide. "Oh, my God. Miranda hates her. She was supposed to arrive after Miranda left."

Andy's surprise was evident as she spluttered, "I didn't… Oh…"

Smug Emily confirmed that this was bad. "Yeah."

Unable to escape they watched as Irv greeted Miranda. They looked on mildly horrified as she took in the guest at his side. A cloud of smarm encircling him, Irv greeted Miranda with a knowing gleam in his eye. "Miranda, fabulous event as always."

Ever the smooth as ice queen Miranda greeted them. "You brought Jacqueline."

Knowing the tensions between them Jacqueline attempted a joke. "Surprise."

Going along for the sake of public peace Miranda concurred with her. "Quelle surprise." They exchanged empty air kisses ratcheting up the tension between them. Irv watched them amused at his game. They continued to exchange pleasantries while Andy fidgeted. As they took their leave Miranda caught Irv and asked him about her note. He shrugged her off saying that business could wait. As sudden as the storm came it also passed leaving them sheltered in its wake.

Emily sniffled. The crowd shifted again to reveal a tall, distinguished gentleman who smiled and headed in their direction. Miranda turned her head discreetly asking for information as he approached but Emily stumbled, her brain unable to find the name quickly enough.

"Oh, um… Oh, my god. I just can't remember what his name is. I just saw his name this morning on the list. It's… Oh, I know this. It's something to do with… Wait, he was… he was part of the… Oh, God, I know this. Um…"

Andy stepped forward. "It's Ambassador Franklin, and that's the woman that he left his wife for, Rebecca." The conversation was short as all of them were. Once the initial greetings were through Miranda settled into a conversation with Nigel. Emily took a trip to the loo and then picked up a drink in the bar on her way back. She began chatting up one of the girls from features. When Andy asked about going to the toilet herself, Emily just rolled her eyes and waved her away. Feeling her freedom Andy wandered off to eavesdrop and enjoy all the finery around her.

Andy must have taken a wrong turn upon coming out the bathroom because as she looked around her nothing was familiar. In fact Andy couldn't shake the feeling that she was no longer even in the same building. Turning back to the door she had come out of Andy stepped into a banquet hall. The celebration table was set and the shelves along the walls were crowded with fancy porcelain dolls, artistic plates, and other figurines. A very pale Jacqueline Follet straight from her dream instead of French Runway sat at the head of the table. She was clad in a gown that was barely there. Her necklace with the empty charm chamber gleamed against her bare skin. Andy felt her heart beating like it was ready to explode as she watched the motionless woman at the head of the table. Fairies from her book swirled around her proving that the line between fact and fiction had shifted without anyone noticing except for her. The fairies swirled around her head and then began to fly back and forth between her and a locked chest of drawers diagonally behind the imposing figure of a paralyzed Jacqueline Follet. The key was sweaty in her hand and she wondered how it had gotten there. Andy moved to follow the fairies but was suspicious of Jacqueline sitting at the table. Looking back over and over again Andy followed the guide of the fairies to select which drawer went with the key in her hand. Opening it Andy removed a small slightly glowing stone. Looking down at her gown and around the room she realized that there was nowhere except her dress to hide her treasures.

Turning to face the room, Andy shivered as her dream flashed across her mind. Looking at the table she fought the urge to touch the various alluring objects that she saw there. Instead of following the dream she fought against the impulse to touch anything. She approached Jacqueline to examine her necklace and immobile state. Lost in her fascination Andy stepped closer to the table. Fearing failure the fairies swirled around her head snapping her back into the moment. Scared Andy jumped and lost her balance. In the process of steadying herself her hand moved several gold coins on the table. Knowing the consequences of touching anything on the table Andy looked at Jacqueline. She had already stood and was making her way towards her. Andy backed away and as Jacqueline reached her arms out to Andy she heard her say, "Plebium." Her dream world had once again crashed into whatever reality she was in. Fleeing the room Andy hoped that the fairies were following behind her. She clutched the breast of her dress hoping to hold in the key and the mysterious glowing stone.

She could hear the fairies shrieking as she ran out of the banquet hall and down the long, long hallway. Screeching to a halt at the door on the far end Andy looked back once more. The fairies were flying to her with Jacqueline close behind them. Hoping for the best Andy yanked open the door and flung herself through it, hoping that the fairies would make it out with her. Slamming the door shut as the last fairy zipped through, Andy enjoyed a deep breath before spinning into action again. One all too brief moment was not enough as a frazzled Andy looked at the door handle that was beginning to turn. The dead bolt above it caught her eye and Andy twisted it tight just as the doorknob began to turn. There was no time to rest so Andy whirled forward once more. A thick curtain was across her path and Andy had no way of knowing what was on the other side, but the incessant pounding on the door behind her spurred her on. Andy pulled the curtain to the side and slipped out. Thrust once more into the bright lights and great hall of the benefit she blinked several times to adjust to her new reality.

Walking forward while trying to surreptitiously examine herself Andy's hands felt along her dress and up to her hair. Relief flooded her system as she felt the key and stone safe in her bust, however feeling her hair out of place Andy clouded over. She was in a formal setting and must look like she had just run a marathon with sweating skin, a red face, and disheveled hair. She didn't want to even imagine Miranda's reaction to her ragamuffin appearance.

"Where have you been?" Emily's hair must have been on fire because the heat coming off of her in waves hit Andy with a vengeance.

Andy looked at her aghast and tried for a feeble smile. She figured playing stupid was a better option than anything else given the situation. Emily's eyes narrowed on her and the tirade began to fuel itself. Andy took a deep breath and braced for impact. "Miranda noticed you were gone. I was sent to find you ages ago!"

The fairies circled her once more and Emily's eyes went wide again. Andy had hoped that she was back in a 'normal' reality, but the presence of the fairies didn't seem to indicate peace and tranquility. Nigel swooped in as if he had been waiting in the wings. The fairies circled him and then dove right inside his jacket to hide in the pockets. "There you are. I have got to talk to you." He smiled at Emily as he took Andy by the elbow. Over his shoulder he added, "Let Miranda know that you've found her."

It shouldn't have been so loud but Emily's, 'pffttht' echoed in Andy's ears.

A bar in the back of the room that Andy didn't even know existed sheltered them from the crowd. Cosmopolitans appeared on the bar as Andy sat on a stool. Nigel fussed over her hair a bit and then joined her. They sipped their drinks in silence. "What's going on?"

Andy drank another sip of her third cosmo and shook her head. "You wouldn't believe me."

Looking at her he raised his brows. "You didn't kill any fairies this time, Six." He took a smug sip of his drink. "That's something."

Andy pulled the key and the stone from the top of her dress much to Nigel's surprise. To his further astonishment Andy had completed the second task right under their noses and still neither he nor Miranda knew what was afoot. Lowering his eye as if he was examining Runway photos he looked first at the key and then the stone. Filled with a sudden burst of pride Nigel looked up and smiled at Andy. Not only had she proven herself worthy as an assistant, but she was well on the way to successfully proving that she was the princess they had been waiting lifetimes for. Once a sad little person, Nigel now saw a champion poised on the edge of success. Andy chose to remain silent for fear of bursting the bubble of her confidence. She feared that if she spoke it might cause Nigel to look at her as if she had gone insane.

Slowly Nigel clasped the key in her hand and slipped it into his pocket, where Andy thought she had seen the fairies dive in. She tilted her head to the side about to ask him about the fairies, when he touched the mysterious stone in her palm. Andy looked down and lifted her hand for him to take it. When he didn't take it she frowned.

"What did they say to you?" He looked quietly into her eyes.

Mystified by his question Andy thought about the key and the stone. Then she realized that he wanted to know what they had asked her for and it clicked. "Oh, um. They said something about my pledge, or something." Andy took another sip of her cosmo. "But it was in Latin or something. I had to look it up."

Looking down at the stone in her palm Nigel instructed her to, "Guard that with your life. It needs to go back to the right person."

Frustrated that she finally had someone to talk to about all this stuff, but still wasn't really getting any answers Andy demanded, "What is it, Nigel? What is going on?"

"They have stolen someone's pledge and you'll have to return it to where it belongs. You're being tested."

Rolling her eyes in a way that would make Emily proud. "Well, that's obvious." Somehow her life had become one giant final exam and Andy wasn't even sure what was on the other side of the test. Between Runway, the crazy dream world, and her whole life changing Andy wasn't sure it was even a race she wanted to win. Her life had been so much easier when she was playing LaCrosse and Editor of the Daily Northwestern.

"Christian had the key." Nigel mused. He was frustrated too, usually he and Miranda were aware of the testing process as it went on so that they could provide whatever help they could. "Who had the stone?"

Letting out a frustrated breath Andy felt better. Another cosmo was keeping her peaceful and she didn't bother to think about Miranda, Emily or the benefit that had seemingly disappeared completely around them. "Jacqueline Follet." Coughing and choking Nigel set his glass down and stood. Andy joined him resting her hand on his back. "Keep coughing. It's okay."

When he had settled down, he nodded and took Andy's hand in his own. "The reason Miranda and I have been unaware of what is going on with you must be because we are involved somehow in the plans and trials." He took his seat once more at the bar. "Coffee please." He motioned to the bartender for the both of them.

"Involved?" Andy's frustration was returning in force.

Pointing a finger at her he pursed his lips indicating that now was not the time for a tantrum. "This is all different." He looked her over again. "You're different." He shook his head trying to get the ideas and memories to line up and give him something helpful. "In the past the challenges have been to prove that you are worthy of return." Andy looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Yes, in the past. You've been stumbling around in the land of the sun for many lifetimes, Six."

Groaning Andy slumped on the bar.

"We've been at this so long and we must have missed a life with you because our ages are all off cycle and the challenges have been altered. I think that someone is trying to make sure that you are permanently unsuccessful." He nodded at the bartender and poured milk into his coffee. The small spoon looked foreign in his hand but the coffee turned the perfect color. "How Miranda and I are involved, I'm not sure. It would explain why we have no information to help you."

Looking down at her measly peace offering she admitted it was a sad cupcake. Well the cupcake itself wasn't sad, but it was a pretty sorry make-up present. Andy let herself into the apartment trying not to remember Nate's sad eyes on other occasions when he refused to fight with her, but was obviously upset. Usually he just told her she was pretty and went to bed. After the other night's confrontation she wasn't so sure how he'd react to her missing his birthday.

The apartment was dark and the rug under her feet did not cushion her footsteps in its absence. Andy turned on a light to find that it was gone as were most of Nate's belongings and some of the furniture. Reaching the kitchen Andy found a plain white piece of paper with a short note in his sloppy handwriting. Letting her heels drop from her hand she moved to the bedroom and flung herself on the mattress. She didn't have to worry about his reaction anymore because he wouldn't be there to react.

Stunned in general Andy let sleep overtake her.

Too many days in a row Miranda had stayed late at work or had gone out for a Runway function, the twins had enough and cornered her at breakfast. They knew she had been avoiding them ever since they had seen 'the princess' delivering the book and the dry cleaning. Letting them have the too sugary cinnamon toast crunch cereal that they loved let her postpone through breakfast, but they would not let up until she promised to be home regardless of any natural disaster or terrorist attack. Miranda's jaw almost dropped when they stooped to such theatrics, as if she would use a bomb scare to stay at work late, but she had to admit that it made their point incredibly clear. Miranda's heels clacked in the foyer to her home five minutes before dinnertime and she settled her things in the office, changed her clothes, and avoided a quiz session from the fairies upstairs.

A nice dinner prepared by Luisa with the girls' help was truly marvelous after a week of Runway events and delivered dinners. Miranda relaxed with her glass of wine as the twins showed her various art pieces, a spelling test for Cassidy, and a math test for Caroline. The warmth of her home settled around her letting her feel a peace that she had been missing ever since the challenges had begun again.

They did not ask for a bedtime story when the time came which surprised Miranda until they began asking her questions instead. "How come you don't talk to her?" They asked not long before it was time for the book to be delivered.

"I don't know what you are talking about." Miranda tried to be gentle, but she wanted to put the twins off if she could.

"We know it's complicated and all of that, but we know those aren't just stories that you tell us." Caroline gave her mom the family look down of blue eyes and steely patience. Miranda shook her head thinking of the future. They would be quite the force of nature as they became young women and who knows what would happen if their interests lined up enough that they made a joint venture in the business world.

"Stories all start from a place of truth." Miranda tried to keep on the vague side of things. "It is what makes them believable." It reminded her of Nigel when he was trying to be careful with his words so she tried to imagine how he would talk to the girls. Thinking of their conversation after the benefit she remembered that he still always got his point across when he was crafting how to tell the story.

Sighing and readjusting her pillow Cassidy tried for the 'what we know' route. "Ok. We've figured out that the princess left the Underground Realm, where you are also from. When she left home she got lost and couldn't come back because she doesn't remember."

Caroline sat forward as well and picked up the story when her sister paused for breath. "So when she dies her soul comes back here to Earth but eventually she is supposed to be able to go back to the Underground Realm."

There was a pause as Miranda looked from one girl to the other. She realized that there was not going to be anymore postponing or story telling. She still found herself at a loss for words because she didn't want to tell them more than she had to. It was frustrating because she could see the gleam in Nigel's eye if he had been there to witness her discomfort.

Setting her hand on her mom's thigh Cassidy moved on again. "We think that she has to prove who she is before she can go home. So far she hasn't been able to so she's stuck. The king left ways to get home open for a while but they have all been closed over time."

Caroline blurted out, "Nigel is the faun, isn't he?"

Miranda and Cassidy turned to look at her and Cassidy smiled.

Cassidy continued, "There's a lover and a faun that help the princess. They're the only ones from the Underground Realm that are still looking for her. Nigel is the faun, we think, and you are the lover."

Miranda looked long into Cassidy's eyes finding a young woman where there had been a child. She might still be Miranda's baby, but she was fast becoming a woman in her own right. Miranda smoothed a curl of hair out of her face and let her hand linger on the crown of her daughter's head. Then she turned on the bed and looked at Caroline. The study from daughter to mother was just as intense as the one from mother to child. "Yes, those are all true things, my darlings."

The room was filled with a nighttime silence. This time it was edged with even more uncertainty and wonder. Downstairs the door opened and footsteps echoed in the dark of the entryway. Though none of them could hear it they knew that the light was turned on. A stressed assistant, the princess, moved to place the book, balance and then hang the dry cleaning and then leave as quickly and quietly as she came. The house rattled so slightly that only the residents noticed it.

"Why don't you talk to her, mom?" Cassidy's voice was gentle and her hand was warm as it encircled her mother's.

Miranda stiffened and took a deep breath. Without thinking she clasped Cassidy's hand back. "Every time is different." It was different Miranda realized. Everything about this time was different. She wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing. The presence of the twins in the story worried her because she did not want them to be hurt. "I am her employer and it is likely that she does not know her story at this point."

Caroline shifted in her bed with a grunt as she yanked the comforter out from under her. "Things are happening though, aren't they?"

Sighing real frustration Miranda agreed, "Yes, things are happening. The problem is that it is all different this time."

Caroline and Cassidy looked at each other and nodded. They looked at each other having a mysterious conversation in twin speak that Miranda could not eavesdrop on. She watched them curiously as they communicated in a flurry of subtle motions. For a moment she thought of Runway and her assistants. Perhaps the next set of assistants should be twins. They could work together in a way that would be so much more efficient and effortless. Thinking of Emily bossing Andy around made her cringe. She smiled again as she looked at her daughters. "Okay darlings. Let me into the conversation, or say goodnight." Her voice was proud and loving without a trace of frustration.

The twins squeaked and then Cassidy pulled open the drawer of her bedside table. "We want you to give this to her."

Caroline moved over to sit next to Miranda on Cassidy's bed. "Yeah, we think it's important."

Pulling Miranda's hand to hers Cassidy let a small ball of metal drop into her open palm. When Cassidy's hand was out of the way Miranda shifted the mass under the light so that she could see what it was. She swallowed hard as she recognized the twins' bracelets put together to form one bracelet that had been cleaned up. It shone in the light and she could make out the charms that dangled from every third link. Each tiny figurine represented something from the Underground Realm: the king and queen, the princess, the lover, the faun, the birds near the river, the boats that crossed the river, and the sun. The princess has been wearing her bracelet when she had run away and lost herself in the land of the sun. It was with great misery that Nigel had found the bracelet and returned it to Miranda during their search. While it was a clue that the princess was in the land of the sun, it was also a dead end to finding her. The broken link connecting the two halves seemed to show that something bad had happened to the princess. The king had wept when they showed it to him, but he had let Miranda keep it. After all it had been a gift from her to the princess.

"We always thought that they should go together but it wasn't until about a month ago that we figured out that it was from your life with the princess."

The broken halves had been kept life in and life out as she and Nigel had come and gone from the banks of the Underground Realm and the River of Life and Death. Miranda had tied each half with a simple ribbon to make a bracelet for each of her girls when they were little.

Hugging Caroline tightly to her she thanked them. "You're wonderful, bobbsey. Thank you." She kissed the top of her head and then released her. "Get into bed." Turning to Cassidy she smiled and let her daughter's outstretched arms wrap around her. "Thanks, Angel." Pulling away she placed a quick kiss on her daughter's cheek. Standing she watched as the girls settled back into their covers for a moment. Turning out the light she whispered, "Good night, girls." They wished her a goodnight as well. Holding the bracelet tightly in her hands she made her way to her bedroom suddenly tired. The Book would have to wait until the morning.

Entering the town house had been scary for the first dozen times, however now it was just a routine part of her day that Andy almost looked forward to. It was the closest that she got to Miranda the woman and she devoured every little detail of the home when she was there. The Book was now always placed on the correct table. A quiet word from Miranda, translated into a high-strung threat/lecture from Emily, but the Book was now always where it belonged. The dry cleaning once was an awkward balancing act that was always on the edge of disaster, but Andy had learned not only how to walk in her four-inch Jimmy Choos, but to also use her body for the leverage she needed to balance the Book with the cleaning. With her comfort had come speed and Andy having accomplished her tasks looked around once more preparing to head out.

"Andrea." Called back by the voice that haunted her dreams, and dominated her days she turned back to the study where Miranda had called to her. She was sitting and when their eyes met Andy felt a spark. The dream of them kissing had long stayed with her causing Andy all kinds of delight and confusion. "Do you have the book?"

Startled by the business reality, in contrast to her thoughts of kissing, Andy stammered, "Oh, uh…"

Extending the book out to Miranda she then stepped back and waited for instructions. "Mmm." Miranda took the book. "Paris is the most important week of my entire year. I need the best possible team with me. That no longer includes Emily." Sticking to business was Miranda's plan. After her talk with the twins, she knew that she needed to move to make the relationship more personal. As the lover and as Miranda she had a soft spot for the girl, but as the Editor in Chief she had no room for personal contact with her second assistant. She hoped that Andy would simply jump at the opportunity so that she wouldn't have to explain too much.

Looking at Andy as she processed the information Miranda knew that she would have to be much more explicit. "Wait. You want me to…" The light bulb went on over Andy's head and a wave of righteous indignation followed it. Miranda sighed as she looked at the girl. She admired her genuine sense of concern for Emily, but that was not the most important issue at the moment. "No, Miranda." Andy breathed out. "Emily would die. Her whole life is about Paris. She hasn't eaten in weeks. L-I can't… do that…" Andy paused hoping that she didn't have to trample Emily's hopes. "Miranda, I can't."

Fixing her with a glare Miranda motioned to the seat next to her. "Emily…" She started and then stopped. They didn't have time to worry about unnecessary details. "I have a plan for her." Miranda stated flatly. Looking into Andy's earnest brown eyes she tried for a smile, but they both knew it was forced. "She has always wanted Hollywood and she will get it. Please don't worry about her while Christian and Jacqueline are plotting against you. I need you in Paris not Emily. You have to be close." Andy nodded dumbly as she processed the information. Nigel must have talked to her although Andy wasn't sure why he would do that, unless… Andy's mouth dropped open as another light bulb sparked on in her head. "Yes." Miranda said in a way that answered every question that Andy hadn't even asked and settled her mind. Miranda reached out and clasped Andy's hand gently at first and then more firmly when Andy didn't pull away. Andy looked down at the warm skin pressed against hers. It was like a dream. Quietly Miranda asked her, "Do you dream of a place under ground?"

Andy looked up into Miranda's questioning blue eyes. The searching look of love and concern took her breath away. "Yes." She said as her eyes searched Miranda's seeing her both as she was now and in the dream. She longed for the familiarity of her dream and it wasn't until their tongues were gently touching between the press of their warm lips that she realized she had leaned forward.

After a couple of gentle kisses they pulled away looking at each other. Andy leaned in wanting another kiss but Miranda smiled and shook her head. Caressing Andy's hand in hers she assured her, "We have time." Reaching to the shelf behind her Miranda pulled out a small charm bracelet. "The twins want you to have this." She gently clasped the bracelet around Andy's wrist and touched two of the charms with her fingertip before she looked up again into Andy's confusion. "It seems that they have been spying on you when you deliver the book." She offered as an explanation. "You'll come to Paris." Miranda asserted once more as she reached for the Book on the couch arm.

Knowing she was dismissed but wanting to prove this was real in at least one sense of the word, Andy stood and then bent to kiss Miranda on the lips. A familiar hand from her dream curled into her hair and pressed against her ear as the kiss deepened for a moment. Then as quickly as it had begun Miranda pulled away. Andy turned and made her way out the door. Her fingertips were firmly fixed on her own lips and her mind on the memory of the kisses all the way home.


Part 12

The cell phone rang and rang again. "Don't pick up. Don't pick up." Andy muttered. The day hadn't even really started yet and she was hoping Emily was in a dead zone. It wasn't a good way to start the morning. Having to tell Emily about Paris didn't make it any better. Andy's heart rate ratcheted up as Emily kept babbling about Hermes scarves for Miranda. Hearing the crash and subsequent craziness of the scene shocked Andy at first. Waiting in confusion Andy wondered what in the world was going on. At length a good samaritan picked up the phone and explained the situation to her. It wasn't until she was en route to the hospital that she realized with more than a little relief that she could play off Paris as an unfortunate side effect of being run over by a taxi. Luckily enough Andy was still out of sorts about it all so that she appeared adequately sympathetic and apologetic to Emily.

Rudely dismissed, Andy made her way home. Paris was looming even closer now that Andy had to suddenly prepare her own things to go instead of just supporting the preparations for the team. Miranda's kiss, the dreams, work, and the strange mixture of them into 'challenges' as Nigel called them were all swirling in her mind. She wanted to consult the book, look up the fairy stories, and try to figure out if there was any way to make sense of her dream world crashing into reality and the wonderful press of Miranda's lips against her own. The workday passed by in a blur of errands and phone calls until Andy was spit out of the subway near her apartment on tired feet. She threw a bunch of clothes into the laundry downstairs thankful that her building did not have a curfew on the laundry room.

Her writing notebook was pulled out once again, only to serve as a list maker for her trip.

"Morning, Nigel." Andy tried to be her most cheerful despite all of the stressors pushing forward. She made sure to pick up his favorite Caramel Macchiato.

He frowned when he saw the drink, but she knew he would enjoy every sip. "Six." He said as he turned to place a file on the smaller stack on his desk.

Andy sipped her own drink letting the warmth fill her. "The book says that Darkness will take advantage of divided loyalties to create a plague of danger."

Nigel stopped what he was doing and looked up at her with unblinking eyes. "Darkness?" He said in a low thoughtful voice. He tapped the grease pencil against his lips. Andy slid a picture on Nigel's desk around so she could look at it. She wondered what criticisms would assault it as it worked its way through the innards of Runway.

When he said nothing further Andy added quietly, "The book said Darkness would take the important one."

Setting the pencil down suddenly, but not quite throwing it, Nigel exclaimed. "This is maddening. We don't know a thing about what is going on." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a dull colored stone similar to the one that Andy had stolen from the Jacqueline Follet creature in the banquet hall. It didn't have that same magical luster that the stone Andy kept with her now. "It seems they are after pledges. You must not give your pledge, Andy. Do you understand?" Nigel curled his fingers around the stone hiding it from view as he looked hard at Andy.

Exasperated Andy quietly answered him, "No, Nigel. I don't understand. I don't understand any of this."

Lifting a leg so that he could settle on a stool he began to explain, "Everyone has a pledge. If the pledge is taken or given then the person that has it can control the other one. If that happens to you then all of this wandering through lifetimes will have been for nothing."

Forlorn Andy slipped onto one of the waiting stools and continued to stare at him.

Scrubbing his free hand over his face he told her, "Take this." He reached out his fist and waited until Andy had reached out to drop the stone into her palm. It felt heavier than the other stone that she had hidden in her cleavage. Before Andy could pull away to put this new stone in her pocket Nigel gently touched the bracelet on her wrist. Seeing the look of recognition in his eyes Andy blushed. "Miranda said you were coming to Paris." He smirked and gave her a knowing nod of dismissal.

Andy not wanting to explain to him about her conversation with Miranda stood ready to leave. Reflexively her hand curled around the stone in her hand and she remembered she didn't know what it was. "Nigel?" She said bringing his attention up once again from the photos on his desk. "What is this?"

Pointing his finger in the air in a gesture that clearly indicated 'right, I forgot too,' he explained. "Abiurare." The foreign word rolled off his tongue and Andy tilted her head in question. "We know this involves a pledge or plevium, but nothing else. Abiurare, or abjure, is the strongest we have against that. Not knowing how else to help you this was all I could find. If you are cornered for your pledge, try to give this false one instead to repel the Darkness."

Andy's eyes went wide and she gulped her understanding. "Thanks." She said trying for truly thankful even though she was more and more bamboozled by every event large and small that had been happening lately. He watched her leave and then reached for the luke-warm macchiato. The whipped cream had melted into the drink making it even sweeter and he licked his lips enjoying the relative privacy of his office. It was only then that he realized she had left her coffee on his desk. Throwing it in the trash he tried to focus once more on his Runway tasks instead of worrying about the uncertain future for all of them that lay in the third challenge.

Miranda and Nigel moved forward taking the paparazzi with them. Andy broke away from her conversation with Christian to keep up. Miranda turned to speak with Snoop Dogg as the cameras flashed around them. Feeling triumphant that she had Christian eating out of her hand and ready to call her later that night Andy stood a little to the side to stay out of the pictures. She gasped when Nigel's hand gripped her arm and he hissed in her ear, "What was that?"

Moving her arm out of his grasp Andy turned on him ready to shout. Only the flashing of the cameras reminded her of where they were and how important it would be to not make a scene. She glared at him and rubbed her arm. "He's the only link I have to what's going on." Seeing Nigel's disapproving look she quickly added, "I have to do something Nigel. I can't stumble into a long banquet hall with a killer Jacqueline again. I need clues."

Somewhat appeased Nigel took a step back so that they were standing at a polite distance in case anyone noticed them in the crowd. The presence of Snoop and his Dogg Pound made it unlikely, but you just never knew when a stray camera might be turned on you.

"He's so cheesy and he didn't even realize I stole the key from him." At Nigel's look she added, "Not right away anyway."

Nigel couldn't fully trap the laugh that bubbled up from his chest so he gave an embarrassing snort covered by a cough. Andy rested her hand on his back and smiled. "His lines are so awful."

"Tell me about it." They talked pleasantly for several minutes about the meagerness of his one-liners until Miranda moved forward and they both moved to keep up with her. The runway of press and mingling was over and it was time to enter the event proper. People stood straighter, an assistant took off running back stage, and the crowd parted as Miranda, Nigel, and Andy made their way to their designated seats up front. Dreams and nightmares would have to wait for Andy, but they were just beginning for the designers and models of this show.

Stress was easily replacing everyone else as her new best friend, but Andy couldn't help it. There was a sense of purpose and destiny in the madness of the events she found herself in. Only it didn't feel insane when experiencing the strange confrontations, talking to Nigel or kissing Miranda. It was real and mad in the same way that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland were. However Andy had given up pinching herself long before Nate moved out. She just hoped that she didn't wake up in a hospital bed in Ohio never having come to New York at all and having to go back home to her adoptive mother's cat, Dinah. Meeting Christian for dinner and drinks might not be the best plan, but she figured that by choosing to interact with him, nothing else would surprise her. Besides she wanted to get him talking and see what he would reveal to her. She figured if she kept her wits about her that she could out maneuver him. She had done it before.

Following Miranda's example of always being fifteen minutes early, Andy noted where the exits were and how often the wait staff made the rounds in the room. Her smile was easy and almost heartfelt when she greeted him at the door. Christian had enough of a name that his table was ready right away which Andy was thankful for. Making small talk with him was delightfully easy since he was a professional socializer with readymade conversation starters and knowledge about Andy's work conditions. That was something that her friends had lacked despite their own experiences in NYC. They had no concept of fashion or Miranda or what the complexities were that created Runway on a monthly basis. Andy was able to keep up with Christian's anti-Miranda track, but she steered clear of outright agreeing with him.

"Okay, I just wanna say that yes, there are things Miranda does that I don't agree with, but…" Andy could see the question and surprise in his eyes and it made her smile.

Full of doubt and concern Christian interrupted her, "Come on. You hate her. Just admit it to me."

He said it with a smile so Andy disagreed with one. "No." It was easy enough to do since she found herself more on the love end of the spectrum than the hate end, but he didn't have to know that.

"She's a… She's a notorious sadist… and not… not in a good way." Still keeping his smile Christian tried to get her to agree with him.

"Okay, she's tough, but if Miranda were a man…" Andy wasn't sure about agreeing that Miranda was a sadist, but she figured that a good part of what Miranda did was designed to make people suffer so she figured it wasn't too far from the truth even if the only difference was the degree to which it was practiced. On the other hand keeping this conversation going was essential so she flipped the situation around thinking of male bosses she had heard about from her parents and their friends or seen on television shows. "No one would notice anything about her, except how great she is at her job."

Disbelief colored Christian's cheeks and he chuckled good-naturedly. "I'm sorry. I can't…" He must have been thinking of when he first met Andy at the James Holt Party when she was still the new Miranda-girl that was too nice to survive. "I can't believe this." He sat forward over his wine and looked into her eyes. "You're defending her?"

Andy nodded. "Yeah."

Christian tried to bring up her innocent side then. "The wide-eyed girl peddling her earnest newspaper stories?" When Andy only looked coy and took a sip of her wine his face changed into one of admiration. Then the flirting resumed as he said, "You, my friend, are crossing over to the dark side."

Thinking of Emily saying that she had sold her soul the day she 'put on that first pair of Jimmy Choos,' Andy found it hard not to laugh in Christian's face. However she had learned that to play any of the games that she found herself in—you had to act the part so now she was flirting back and feigning indignation. "I resent that."

As predicted Christian's reply kept it going, "You shouldn't. It's sexy."

Blushing Andy looked into her glass of wine and took another sip. "Sexy?" She asked him.

The waiter brought the bill and he slipped some bills into his hand without looking at it. Nodding at Christian the man disappeared. Andy pretended not to notice the version of the 'good old boys club' that was going on in that moment. His tragic attempts to impress her were falling very short and it was becoming increasingly hard to continue the charade. She was beginning to think that he didn't have any information, but she didn't have any other leads to follow. She could hardly show up at Jacqueline Follet's residence. It didn't help that Andy was a little afraid of her after that encounter. In any case she was probably at the same dinner as Miranda. That thought almost pulled Andy right out of the moment with fear, but she had to trust that they were out in the open and that Miranda and Nigel could take care of themselves.

Christian's hand on her back startled her. She looked up at him standing next to her chair ready to lead her out. She smiled at him to cover her daydreaming and stood. Outside she knew he was going to invite her to his hotel so she cut him off. "I would love to sit out at a café and watch the world go by." She said with an inviting smile. He seemed slightly disappointed at the suggestion, but rallied that she wanted to do this with him. "It's my first time in Paris." She added with a hint of that 'fresh from the farm' innocence that by turns was off putting and insanely attractive depending on the situation. "It seems like the chairs are set up to watch the streets."

He extended his arm to her and they set off on a refreshing walk along the Seine. Notre Dame in the background gave her a point of direction, but she knew that should anything happen there would be no sanctuary there for her. Christian turned away from the Seine and they followed smaller winding streets that dated from medieval times. From the Rue du Haut Pave to the Rue des Grands Degres, and the Rue de le Bucherie Andy walked with Christian flirting and talking about Paris. Andy hoped that she would get to visit Paris without the weight of mystical events that were presently surrounding her. She longed for a visit walking through these streets with Miranda's hand in hers rather than the poisonous smarm of Christian and his heavy lines. The small place didn't have a name on the overhang but it had a few bistro tables out front that were mostly deserted.

Drinks appeared quickly and they whiled away the hours with small talk. The courtyard grew deserted without them noticing. Eventually the doors were shut and locked, but they still sat at their table with the last of their wine. Eventually Andy asked him how he knew about this place he simply said, "I know this city like the back of my hand." Andy gave him a look that demanded more information so he continued. "It's my favorite place in the whole world." Andy nodded at him accepting that he wasn't going to tell her how he had found this spot. Then he added one of his special lines just for her. "You know, Gertrude Stein once said… 'America is my country, and Paris is my hometown.'"

Andy laughed at that, but didn't say anything. 'What was there to say really?' She thought.

Slightly defensive Christian said, "It's true."

Incredulous Andy called him on his bullshit. "What do you do? Do you just write stuff like that down… and then file it away to use on us girls?

Brimming with delight he positively glowed in the semi-dark of their quiet little corner of the world. "I'm Christian Thompson. That's my way."

Andy almost groaned but agreed with him as she played along. "That's your way. Right."

Explaining himself a little bit Christian added. "I work freelance. I have a lot of free time on my hands."

The chair creaked as Andy leaned back more fully in the chair. She could still picture the view along the river in her mind—the Seine, the boats, Notre Dame, and the people walking around in the warm night air. "You know, I never understood… why everyone was so crazy about Paris… but… it is so beautiful." Andy giggled, but as Christian leaned over to kiss her she pushed him away. "Mm. L-I can't. I'm sorry. I can't." Pretending to need a moment Andy added, "Ooh. I've had too much wine. And my hearing… vision… judgment's impaired." Christian leaned in to try for another kiss because Andy was acting like she was just shy and might come around. "No, I barely know you. I'm in a strange city." Andy continued to resist the nearness of Christian. When he moved in to claim her lips again she abruptly stood up knocking the chair back as she did so. The clatter of his bag falling behind them caught her attention. Suddenly keen Andy bent down to pick up the contents that had spilled out on the ground. She hoped to find some answers after all the hours she had spent with him. She picked up the glossy 8x10 Runway cover and turned on him. "Uh, what the hell is this?"

Stuffing several items into his bag Christian glanced at what she had in her hand. "What does it look like? It's a mock-up."

Anger beginning to break through to the surface she snapped, "Yeah. Of?"

Taking the mock-up from Andy, he turned it as if to display it to her. Calming he answered her, "Of what American Runway will look like when Jacqueline Follet is the new editor in chief."

Shock collided with anger in Andy's head and she asked him in despair, "Wh… They're replacing Miranda?"

Nodding Christian slipped the mock up into his bag. He stood and slung it on his shoulder moving toward Andy. "Yeah. And she's bringing me in to run all the editorial content." He looked Andy up and down. "You're really surprised? Jacqueline's a lot younger than Miranda. She has a fresher take on things. Not to mention American Runway's one of the most expensive books in the business. Jacqueline does the same thing for a lot less money. And Irv… Irv's a businessman, you know."

It suddenly clicked. Nigel had indicated that Christian and Jacqueline were working with someone else. The strange blank book had said that darkness would take the important one. Runway reality and the dream world challenges had merged once again. Andy knew that she had to get to Miranda because the third person in the team against them was none other than Irv Ravitz. "Shi… I have to go." Andy turned to run up the small street toward the Seine.

Protesting Christian called out to her, "Andy." Receiving no response as she turned away from him he tried again. "Andy, it's done." Before she could get clear of the courtyard he added, "Baby, it's done."

The only acknowledgement he was going to get was a rejection. Andy half turned and said over her shoulder, "I'm not your baby." Crossing the street she continued on fueled by racing thoughts and adrenaline instead of sleep. She realized that it was already the beginning of the new day as she navigated by the Seine to get back to the hotel. She had no idea that she had been out with Christian that long. It had proved worth it in the end, but she knew she would regret her lack of sleep later.

Running across town she remembered her phone and dialed the hotel. The front desk connected her to Miranda's room and she was relieved to hear her voice. "Allo."

Out of breath from running and lack of sleep Andy fumbled her way into the explanation. "Oh! Oh! Thank God you're there."

Miranda breathed out onto the line and in a voice Andy couldn't read she said, "Excuse me?"

Andy barreled on. It was too important to worry about bothering her. "I need to talk to you right away. It's about Jacqueline Follet." There was a sound in the background and the line went dead.

Fearing the worst Andy continued her path toward the hotel Miranda was staying at. "Shit! Oh, shit! Shit, shit, shit!"

In the elevator she weighed the pros and cons of stopping off on her floor to change clothes for the day's events. She didn't know what Irv, Jacqueline, and Christian had planned except for taking over Runway, so she didn't know what timeframe she was working under. The decision was made when the group of Italians in the elevator stopped at the same floor as her and took their sweet time getting in and out of the elevator as they tried to remember what floor they were on. Andy darted out into the hallway to get away from them and decided to change her clothes before seeking out Miranda.

A solo elevator ride up the remaining floors and Andy was banging impatiently on Miranda's door. Given her earlier impatience and sudden hang up Andy didn't dare use the room key that she had been given. The swiftness with which the door was opened surprised Andy. She had half expected Miranda to be gone already or ignore the door. Miranda's abrupt greeting was not a surprise. "Yes."

Hesitation could save her or kill her, but Andy had no indication of wrong doing yet so she went with polite in an effort to get to Miranda trouble free. "Mr. Ravitz, I'm so sorry to bother you. I was wondering…"

Miranda appeared behind Irv in the doorway her eyes questioning Andy. "I need to talk to you." Andy pleaded.

Irv Ravitz stepped back letting Andy into the room with a lizard like smile on his face. Miranda's already fair skin paled as he closed the door behind them. Andy reached for her hand and Miranda held it back tightly.

"You've come here to offer yourself in her stead?" He taunted her. "I knew that if I took the lover, that I would get the princess."

Andy looked at Miranda who stood tense near the window. She was as far from Irv as she could get but it was clearly not far enough. "When her pledge was stolen right from under those fools' noses I thought it was all over." Irv said happily pouring champagne that was already open on the table. "It wasn't until I had met you that I realized it was different for you every time we went through this cycle." He set the bottle down and motioned Andy over. "You would fall in love as you always do. You would come to save her no matter what advantage you may have had."

Irv approached Miranda and guided her back to the table they had been sitting at. She moved so that he could not touch her. Looking for any hints Andy searched Miranda's face, but all she found was worry. She tried to assure Miranda with a gentle look, but she was worried too.

"What's this?" Andy picked up a list written in Miranda's handwriting from the table.

"Why did you come bursting in here?" Irv regarded her curiously. "You were with Christian last night weren't you?" Miranda's face hardened and she leaned away from Andy slightly.

Meeting his lecherous eyes Andy nodded, "Yes, Christian Thompson is full of useful information, Mr. Ravitz."

Letting his finger trail around the rim of the bottle neck Irv looked down at the paper on the table. "Irv, please. Andy, after all you're in this up to your neck too." He looked at Miranda glowing in his apparent victory. "That is a list of all the designers, photographers, models, and such that have given their pledge to Miranda for Runway."

Andy picked up the list and pretended to look it over. "They won't save her though, will they?"

Snickering Irv sat down across from Andy, "No. Their pledges won't save her."

Andy leaned forward challenging Irv. "Mine will though?" She said as more of a statement than a question. She needed confirmation from him as her plan began to form in her head.

"Oh, yes." He said quite pleased as he leaned back in his chair. "Your pledge can save her."

Miranda's hand reached out on Andy's thigh squeezing it hard in a clear warning. Andy pulled the dull stone from the bosom of her dress as her other hand dropped to cover Miranda's. "Then you shall have it and I shall have her." Andy said as she dropped the abiurare into the glass of champagne nearest to Irv. "Shall we toast then?"

Irv took the glass up and looked into it. He licked his lips at the promise of victory. Miranda moved to pull her hand away from Andy's, but moving quickly Andy stopped her by switching her hand so that their fingers were entwined.

"Yes." He said and looked at Miranda until her free hand grasped the champagne flute in front of her.

Andy stood and pulled Miranda up with her. Raising her glass Andy said cheerfully, "To your greatness."

They all drank a sip. Miranda set her glass down after just a tiny sip while Andy held onto her glass waiting as Irv continued to drink until he got to the bottom of the glass. Miranda's fingers gripped Andy like a vice but she did not turn to look at her lover. What happened when Irv took what he thought was her pledge was of tantamount importance for their safety. He began to cough and sputter as his airway constricted around the abiurare. Eyes full of fear he looked at Andy as he slumped back into the seat clutching his throat.

Andy turned to Miranda letting her hand go so that she could wipe the tears streaking down both sides of her lover's face. "Let's go." She whispered before stealing the briefest of kisses and pulling her out the door into their freedom together.

'Watching Irv disintegrate would have been incredibly gratifying.' Miranda mused thinking of how his arrogance had in fact done him in when all was said and done. She thought of all the battles that she had with him over budgets and administrative decisions. It would have been so wonderful to have witnessed him disintegrate into a pile of over done pomposity. The board would have really thought that she was a witch had they seen that. Fingers entwining with hers and a warm body next to hers in the leather seats brought her back to more important things. Miranda looked down at the hand wrapped around hers. The shine of the bracelet on Andrea's wrist connected them across lifetimes. Catching the red of a charm that was not on the bracelet when she gave it to the princess, Miranda turned the bracelet. The twins had repaired the bracelet—cleaning it, having it connected back into one bracelet and adding three charms of their own in between the originals.

Finally catching her own breath Andrea looked at Miranda and followed her eyes down to the bracelet. "What is it Miranda?"

Toying with the pendant of the red shoes, and then a small diamond, Miranda smiled as she touched the third new charm of twin red headed girls. "The girls added to it. To represent this world." Andrea followed Miranda's finger seeing the shoes of Runway, the sparkle and power of the diamond, and then the twin girls.

"It's complete now?" Andrea said as she looked into Miranda's blue eyes. They shared a moment full of love as they just looked and looked into each other's eyes basking in the moment and the emotions they felt. It was overwhelming. More than once they opened and closed their mouths, leaned toward each other and reached a hand up without touching.

It was not until Andrea's hand gently rested against Miranda's neck that they were able to lean forward claiming each other in a passionate kiss.

The trace of Miranda's teeth against her bottom lip sent Andrea's heart into over drive. She could not get close enough to the woman that she could now admit she had always loved, in fact had loved in lives gone past. Kissing Miranda's top lip and pulling away to look into blue eyes Andy struggled for words.

"Is…" Andrea started searching Miranda's eyes, "Is it over?" Smiling at her Miranda simply let her fingertips trace her cheek. Pulling away suddenly Andrea bubbled over with words, "Christian told me… the book… Nigel…"

At first confused Miranda realizes that Andrea is worried about the smaller concerns of everyday life. The plot against her at Runway had sprung once again to the forefront of her lover's mind. "Runway." Miranda nodded and readjusted Andrea's hand in her own. "That has been dealt with."

Fumbling in the bust of her dress Andrea eventually pulled her hand free of Miranda's. After some awkward shimmying she pulled out the glowing stone.

Miranda pulled her in for a smoldering kiss as she reached for Andrea's hand once again holding the stone there between their palms. Letting just enough space come between them to talk Miranda breathlessly congratulated her. "You have proven yourself, Annalisa. Do you know this? Do you know your name? Your story?" Miranda reached down and pulled a long transparent necklace from her cleavage. Dangling at the end of it was an elegant cage, much like the one that killer-Jacqueline had worn. Quickly Miranda placed the stone in the cage where it began to glow and bright red-orange.

"Annalisa." The brunette repeated her voice dripping with awe. "I like that. Say it again."

Humoring her beloved Miranda stroked her cheek and repeated the name once more. "Annalisa."

"Can I be both?"

"Oh yes. Andrea Annalisa. Annalisa Andrea. It can be my private name for you, if you wish."

Andrea looked again at the stone in the cage. It had resumed its baseline level of glow. "What is that?" She asked in wonder. Miranda smiled and tucked it back into the front of her dress.

"A pledge glows when it is returned home." At Andrea's confused look she added, "I thought Nigel told you about pledges." Her eye roll made Andrea smile and she hoped that Nigel was not in trouble.

"We didn't have time for long drawn out explanations. He said I shouldn't give my pledge under any circumstances. But he didn't tell me that I was walking around with yours!"

Miranda was silent but then she acquiesced, "Well, he was right about not giving your pledge."

Trying not to be frustrated Andrea muttered. "Not that I know how to even do that."

Fighting a laugh Miranda pulled Andrea in for another kiss. United and able to enjoy a lifetime together instead of wishing and searching, or slipping and mourning, Miranda poured all of her lifetimes of love into the kiss. She wanted Andrea to know the larger problems in the world had been solved because the cycle was complete. The cycle was complete with challenges, but Irv's disruption of the cycle had also made it possible for the princess to retain her knowledge. By changing the challenges he had changed everything. Responding readily to the kiss Andrea's fingers brushed into her hair massaging her scalp and her neck. Miranda could feel her letting the frustrations go and losing herself into the profoundness of the moment.

Holding each other in this way they were startled when the car stopped and rolled backwards bringing them back into reality. Getting out and avoiding the press they walked side by side into the brunch. The gravel crunched under their stilettos as they crossed the threshold of the giant outdoor tent. The press could not follow them beyond that point and so Andrea leaned closer to Miranda, "What happens now? Do we go back?"

Sighing Miranda tilted her head down and watched the ground as they walked. "No, we don't go back. The portals are closed." Taking Andrea's hand gently in her own she added quietly, "When you died in Spain we feared that it was over and your soul was eternally lost to us. I vowed to wait on this side even though it angered your father."

Coming to a stop their hands separated and both felt the loss of touch. Andrea whimpered, "There's no going…" She trailed off lost in what her thoughts meant. "Back?" She questioned. How could she go back to somewhere she had never been before? She wasn't sure why or how she could feel such an acute loss when she had never been there, or met the supposed family that she had there. Andrea thought of the dreams that had always felt so real and she felt robbed that she would not be going there.

Stepping back to Andrea and looking her in the eyes, Miranda assured her in a gentle voice, "We live this life together and then we return home, princess."


"Yes, love. Together."



What is there to say, my love

You lead on

And I will follow

The last leaves had fallen, but the temperature had not dipped below 70 degrees. The season stretched on, enjoying the last rays of warm sunshine on its back before curling up by the fireside for the cold duration of the winter. At the hospital a smooth hand slipped into the warmth of an older one. Hearts were filled to overflowing and goodbyes were said with shining eyes. Smiles promised the story did not end here. Until now the tales had been much the same every time they cycled around. However this time a homecoming came at the end of the journey, which meant the changes were in the air all around them. It would be a new chapter in an old tale.

The ceremony was simple on a clear day before the first frost. Dew still clung to the bent blades of grass.

Many came to pay their respects but two lingered longer than the others.

"Are you okay, mom?" Cassidy asked as she rubbed her swollen abdomen. Her doting husband stood at a polite distance holding her purse.

A steely nod and the wave of a hand was her answer. With a look at Andy she leaned in and kissed her mother's cheek before taking her leave.

Twenty feet away Caroline set her white gloves amongst the flowers and watched until they were lowered into the ground. Wiping a tear from her eyes she turned and hugged Andy and her mother. Wordlessly she slipped away to her waiting vehicle. They would not see her for a fortnight.

On the balcony that night they were quiet as they looked over their part of the city. Andy may not have remembered them but the stories of their lives before stretched out behind them. She could feel the change in the air. The end of the Indian summer would bring with it a fierce winter with howling squalls and the heartbreak of change.

Their lovemaking that night was slow and deliberate, taking stock of life's treasures and claiming each other under the heavy blanket of the night. For them goodbye would be only temporary but the idea hung on them making every absence of an hour stretch like a day on their hearts.

The first frost, a killer frost, separated them and bound the little family tight together. A newborn's cries warmed their hearts even as the temperatures dropped outside.

The first blanket of snow hushed the land, laying down a veil of forgetfulness. Sheltering the newborn, the twins wept their triple loss taking comfort in the words of the princess to her lover.


A long time ago I lived in an Underground Realm that I do not remember. In dreams I would catch glimpses of this place and a girl who was protected by her beautiful lover. I do not know how long my soul wandered in and out of worlds, memories gone, but I knew I was home when I found you. Searching high and low over and over you recreated yourself through the ages tirelessly looking for me. The life here with you now has been golden and in these our golden years we have not felt cold, sickness, or pain. You, my Lover, have always guided me and like Sirius, the northern star, I shall follow where you lead. I only ask this, that you wait for me.


Over the years the upstairs bedroom had heard many tales. The fairies would gather in the darkened corners on occasion to give a listen. The small light shining up through its shade cast a magical glow around the room. The truth of magic hung heavy in the air even though the times and storytellers had changed. Now another young girl with flowing curls of tawny hair listened to a red headed storyteller about days long ago and people from two worlds. Except for her eyes, she was the spitting image of a princess she had never met, but had heard tales of. The storyteller knew the tales by heart and telling them kept the characters in them alive in her mind even if they could not be in this place any longer.

A long time ago in the Underground Realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a princess who dreamt of the human world. She dreamt of blue skies, soft breezes and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the princess escaped. Once outside, the bright sun blinded her and erased her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness and pain. And eventually she died. However, her father, the king, always knew that the princess' soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning…

Clearly fighting sleep the little girl frowned as her aunt finished the story. "Not that one!" She said impatiently glaring her blue eyes at the storyteller.

Feigning ignorance Aunt Caroline stroked the brunette hair of the child and smiled into her firm glacial glare. "Not that one?" She teased as she fought a smile from breaking across her face. "You said to tell you about the princess and I did."

Eyes fluttering shut and then rebelliously pried open again to fix on her aunt, the little girl put up a fight the likes of either of her grandmothers. Caroline felt a wave of mixed emotions as she spent bedtime with her stubborn charge. So many nights she and her sister had demanded more of the same stories from their mother and later her lover Andy. They were bedtimes filled with mystery, wonder, and love. They had lived a good life together, but she still missed them. This young one was as fiery as she and her mother even though she had brunette hair like Andy from Cassidy's husband. They all had the same intoxicating blue eyes though. Caroline almost hoped that the girl was still awake enough to demand another story. It made missing them a little easier.

"The happy one where they go home." She muttered as if she could read her aunt's mind.

For many years the people had mourned with their King. The great hall while filled always lacked an important presence. The faun returned home at long last and after a rest he made his place to stay in the kingdom. There were whispers, but no one dared to ask the questions. They feared that it would only lead to more heartache if their fears were confirmed. Sometime later the Lover stepped into the great hall. A murmur over took the room and the King sat up straighter in his throne. Between lives the faun had always visited in order to get news and rest for a brief moment. The Lover had never once set foot back in the great hall after the King's decree to stop looking for the princess. Everyone feared the day that they would once again face off, although some suspected that neither would have the energy left to fight after so much time had passed. The shining look of triumph in her blue eyes could not be mistaken as she approached the throne and bowed low toward the king. The faun who had been out for several days opened the large doors of the great hall letting in some of the cool air from outside. He too approached with a look of triumph and bowed low to the king. Then as if appearing from a long forgotten dream the princess entered the doorway and approached the thrones. She smiled and paused to wave at the people in the crowds assuring their eyes that she was real. When she was between the Lover and the Faun she stopped her approach. A low curtsey from the Princess had the King was out of his throne and down to them in a flash. As they embraced the crowd cheered and the great hall shook. Stepping back the Princess wrapped her arm around her Lover and they all turned to face the crowd as the couple they were destined to be. Once again the Realm was gold and glow and splendor.

Tucking the blanket more firmly up around the girl's shoulder Caroline leaned over and kissed her cheek. From the foggy depths of sleep she pleaded, "But, but…" Her little arm reached out from under the covers and rested on Caroline's thigh demanding more even as she relaxed into the hold of sleep. Caroline smiled at her niece's sheer determination. Gently she bent the little arm so that it rested on the child's stomach. With a fingertip she touched the charms on the bracelet and smiled.

"That's all for tonight, Analisa." Caroline said as she stepped away. "I love you." She added from the doorway as she flipped the light out. The girl murmured but rolled over fully into sleep despite her intent to protest. A silver fairy buzzed around her head and Caroline smiled at him. "Okay, but don't get caught." She said as he flew past her and into the darkened room. She shook her head and went down to see if she could spook Cassidy's assistant delivering the Book to her in the study. A memory of the first time they had seen Andy delivering the book filled her with a certain joy that always lingered with her. She wasn't sure if she'd ever tell that story to Analisa, but it was a nice one to be a small part of.

The bedside table clock changed the hour in red LED lights as the silver fairy settled down next to his longtime companion: Piglet. He whispered something to the non-responsive overly loved piglet shaped bit of fluff and then looked it over. Fluttering its wings in disgust the fairy lifted off the clock radio and moved to cross Piglet's leg. Then it settled down again next to its ever-watchful companion.

The End

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