DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks go to my wonderful editors: ravenbull, seelyfey, and La law_nerd. Feedback and con crit welcome, and thanks in advance.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To needledinkrsa[at]gmail.com

The Entirely Beautiful
By needled_ink1975


Andy hates the crime beat. It doesn't matter that her byline is now the one people look for. It doesn't matter that her handling of her first ever crime beat story for the Mirror landed her this job with the Times. She hates the crime beat for what it has done and continues to do to her. She hates it more for the fact that she is not likely to step away from it any time soon she deems her work a responsibility.

Not quite two years ago, she would never have stood where she is tonight, with a soft rain dampening her hair and shoulders, while the cold flash of white, blue, and red lights of police and emergency vehicles make the blacktop gleam like a wet nightclub floor. Two firefighters are incredibly gentle with the remains of a small child; another two, those who had cut him from the wreckage of a totaled car, stand by wearing masks of disbelief: only moments ago the boy had still been alive.

Andy looks away as the body bag is zipped shut. She counts bullet holes in the side of an SUV, front to back. She knows already that there are no such holes on the other side of the vehicle.

"I've got twenty-six," Andy says to a crime scene tech.

"Same," he says.

"But who knows how many took out the windows?" Detective Xavier mutters; he's one of six Major Case detectives working the shooting. "I think there had to be three shooters, at least."

"Or more. Any idea what kind of weapons?" Andy asks.

"AK," the tech says, pointing out a shell casing.

"Kalashnikov?" Andy says, shocked. She looks up the street towards a barricade, and a crowd of onlookers. The street is Broadway, and they are standing in Columbus Circle.

"Probably the Chinese knock-off," Xavier says. "This was planned. Hey, Dover!"

"Yeah gimme a sec!"

Andy asks more questions, but sticks to her standard list of basics. She never asks police and crime scene investigators the kind of questions that she knows she won't get answers to. She's made a name for herself with the police, as a reporter who doesn't get in their way, who never sends her copy to her editor without first emailing it to the lead detective on whichever case. Simple courtesies and a firm grip on maintaining integrity have made her the NYPD's favorite newspaper girl in a relatively short stretch of time. Earlier, she had been alerted and offered access to the scene by Xavier himself.

Detective-Sergeant Fran Dover eventually arrives, peeling bloodied gloves from her hands. She drops them into a bio-hazard bucket nearby and looks at what Xavier, the tech, and Andy are studying: a patch of blood in an odd spot.

"I think that off-duty Transit cop hit one of the bastards," Xavier says.

"Good," Dover snarls. "Officer Ming is dead."

"Shit," Xavier mutters and rubs at the damp hair at his temple. "I'm leaving you lovely people. Gonna head over to the hospital. When'd the call come in about Ming?"

"About five minutes ago. I'll get some people over there with you. Great. GSR tests on everyone, even the people who really were just innocent bystanders."

Andy asks about a reason for the gunshot residue tests. She's told that if a bad guy did take lead from Officer Ming's Glock, he could easily be passing himself off as an innocent caught in the crossfire. Only, there was no crossfire. The SUV was the target, and that SUV and other vehicles were moving south, through the Circle. All vehicles that were hit by bullets took those hits on their left sides. Anyone hit by stray lead had been standing or walking on the Time Warner side of the Circle. Officer Ming had been the only person to return fire at the assailants who, according to eye-witnesses, had taken rifles from inside their coats. These assailants, as many as six, had been standing on the grassed terraces of the Circle itself.

"But Officer Ming might have hit some other innocent person visiting the monument," Andy pointed out.

"Nope. Ming had an unobstructed view, and he was known for hitting everything he aimed at. I wouldn't be too surprised if there's more than one bastard with a hole in his hide."

"Got more blood here," the tech calls. "Seems the rain is letting up."

"Rain. Hmph! This ain't rain," Dover chuckles. "It rains in Maine. Here it just piddles... But this asshole is bleeding like the rain in Maine. Jeez..."

"I'm calling in a dog," the tech says.

In just a few minutes an NYPD tracking dog is towing his handler through Central Park. Andy tags along with Dover and several officers. She's wearing body armor boldly emblazoned with 'PRESS' on the chest and back, but this isn't a war zone. If anyone shoots at these officers they won't be soldiers who are trained to pick their targets. For some reason Andy can't stop worrying about the dog, even though he's also wearing Kevlar. Like Andy, a lot of that dog is not wearing armor. She's seen the worst of the worst, but the idea of the dog getting hurt is enough to make her want to turn around and run away. She swallows hard and keeps up with the fast walk the dog has set towards the Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

"Dumb move," an officer huffs. "Fenced off. Guided tours by appointment."

"Who says the shooters are New York natives?"

"Makes it interesting if they aren't interesting for us."

"Not so interesting for—"

Three rapid, popping shots are heard. An officer goes down with an anguished groan, and everyone else hits the dirt. Andy is closest to the wounded officer and belly crawls closer still. In the low light provided by a nearby walkway lamp, blood is a dark ooze through clawing fingers. Andy is amazed by how little fear and how much anger is coursing through her. Dover's calling for backup while Andy uses her scarf as a tourniquet just below the officer's left knee. She winds it tight with the officer's night stick and forces him to lie flat as two more shots hit the dirt close by.

"I can see that sonuvabitch," Andy hisses to Dover, who crawls over. Andy jerks her head a little. "There. See him?"


Dover rests her forearm on the wounded officer's chest and Andy covers her ears. The shot is still loud, but the shooter's screams are louder.

"Kneecap," Dover says coldly. "Get him! We want him alive get him!"

The shooter is rushed by eighteen men and women. The tracking dog whines and barks and lunges against his harness, but is held back.

Andy stays put, gripping the wounded officer's hand tightly to the point of pain, in fact; it'll help him get his mind off the pain in his lower leg. Andy remembers that her dad did the same for her when she was little and broke her ankle, and they'd had to wait for the ambulance. The wait tonight isn't nearly as long. An EMT tells Andy that she ought to wash her hands. She looks down at them as if they belong to someone else. The blood on her skin and around her nails is mostly dry, caked, making her itch a little.

"You okay?" Dover asks.

"Yeah. Just gotta wash my hands."

"I'm going to the hospital. Ride along?"


A quiet day at most Manhattan hospitals had turned into madness when the shooters had opened fire, wounding bystanders and causing umpteen traffic accidents. In a restroom Andy washes her hands at a basin, and next to her is a woman with stitches in her scalp and forehead. A pair of crutches rests against the basin.

"You got hurt, too?" the woman asks.

"Someone else's blood," Andy says, shaking her head. "Looks like a nasty head wound."

"I've got a mild concussion. Amazing. I was in Iraq not three weeks ago, had been there for a year. I get home and take a bullet to my calf and smack my head open on the sidewalk. Crazy..."

The woman plunks out of the restroom with the aid of her crutches. Andy dries her hands and looks in the mirror. Her face is paler than usual, the smudges under her eyes seem darker for that. She blows up at her bangs and heads out to find Dover, and to get more copy. It's going to be a long night.

The coffee in the Major Case squad room is as awful as ever, but it's coffee and Andy gulps it hot, black, and bitter. She's sitting with her laptop at a spare desk, and she adds to her copy as she gets more details of this shooting incident. Eighteen dead, eleven critically wounded, more than thirty people hurt badly enough to keep them in hospital overnight, and over forty with minor injuries. Shooting incident? It's more than that, but no-one really has a word for it. Nothing this bad has happened in New York since Nine-Eleven.

The captured shooter spilled the beans before being taken into surgery. He and four others had been hired to kill Mike Eastman, a prominent businessman set to testify against a mob boss at a grand jury hearing. Same-old, same-old: shut Eastman up in the best way possible.

"I hope he feels like shit," Xavier snaps, after being told that Eastman is now awake after surgery. "That asshole refused to go into WITSEC. Eighteen people might still be—"

"Nineteen," another detective says as he sets down a phone. "That Time Warner marketing lady, Sarah Wilks. Flat-lined a couple minutes ago."

Andy mutters cusses under her breath and amends her copy accordingly.

An hour later she watches as four men are brought in, all looking a little worse for wear black eyes and bloody noses, and one has a badly split eyebrow. Andy hears that a tech crew is currently involved in a dive search for the rifles these men tossed in the East River. The SWAT team found the men unarmed. Andy has to wonder whether the four really did resist arrest. Officer Ming was Transit, but he was still a cop, making him a brother officer.

Not so very long ago, an all-too-idealistic Andy Sachs would have given the SWAT team an earful. She would have considered their actions an abuse of power at the very least. Idealism is a luxury she no longer owns. By now she knows that justice is not real. Justice as meted out by the legal system involves time in jail, where inmates rarely change their spots. Earlier five men tried to kill one man, and while they were at it they killed and wounded so many more. Even if they get life (and Andy is sure that they will), all that time in jail will not bring those dead people back.

In these early hours of a Wednesday morning she looks several members of the SWAT team in the eye and gives them each a small nod.

The photographer just happened to catch Andy Sachs in the frame. Miranda adjusts her glasses and more closely examines a picture on the front page of the Times, taken with the aid of a flash just before full-dark. She knows it's Andy, would know her at once, even if her face were averted. Miranda never forgets how anyone stands, relaxed that is everyone's signature pose. She has not once been able to match the same such pose to two separate people.

But Andy's face was not averted from the camera, not fully. Miranda frowns at the clear profile, noting that two years have left a distinct mark.

"Good morning, Miranda. Something wrong?"

"Five people shooting up Columbus Circle half the world is wrong," Miranda mutters.

Emily nods, then catches a glimpse of the picture.

"My former colleague is in that picture."

"Andrea. Yes, I noticed," Miranda says and sets aside the paper.

Emily gets briskly on with the business of a feature article written by someone who thinks that it's Emily's job to make said article printable. Two years on and Emily no longer cowers in La Priestly's presence, which is something Miranda much prefers. She would, however, prefer it even more if she could somehow magic Emily back to one of the desks outside her office.

"On your way out, send one of them in here."

"Either?" Emily says, her lips twitching.

"It makes no difference they are each as perennially incompetent as the other," Miranda says, refusing to look up from her laptop screen. On occasion, Miranda would also like very much to magic Emily to hell. "Remove yourself—and your smug little grin—from my office."

"You're never getting rid of me," Emily says cheerfully.

"I'm nine parts grateful, one part murderous."

"You say the nicest things."

"That," Miranda says, glaring over the tops of her glasses. "Is all."

"Until later," Emily tosses over her shoulder.

Miranda rolls her eyes and makes a mental note to fire the next person who finds their backbone and fights with her. 'That's all' no longer works on Emily, and neither does the glare. Just beyond the door, Emily uses her trademark snark as a goad to hurry one of the assistants into the office. Miranda really struggles, trying not to laugh, and that's another thing that ought to send the Brit to hell. Almost in revenge, Miranda takes completely guiltless pleasure in making her second assistant cringe, before sending the nearly brainless girl out to see Nigel about the samples Calvin Klein was meant to deliver yesterday.

Miranda ought to get on with composing this issue's editor's letter (always the last item added to the Book), but her eyes stray to the Times front page again. Rather fitting that Andy should appear in a picture attached to an article carrying her byline. Fitting, but also not. Miranda can't help feeling troubled by that worried-looking profile. In the picture Andy is standing next to a row of body bags, six of them, and a seventh is being zipped closed by someone with 'MEDICAL EXAMINER' printed on his jacket. Based on where Andy is standing, Miranda concludes that she could see the contents of that bag.

Standing relaxed. Calm, and perhaps that worried-looking expression is more one, simply, of concentration.

Miranda swallows, folds the paper, and sets it aside. She swivels her chair so that she can look out the window, but more importantly, so that no-one can see her expression. She shuts her eyes and remembers someone who was so very naïve, almost innocent not the person in that picture. The Andrea Sachs that Miranda once knew is probably irrevocably changed.

Saddened, Miranda swivels back to her desk. It takes effort to get on with that editor's letter.

"What the hell did that to him?"

"What's the press doing here?"

"Relax, rookie," Dover says and stops the new detective from shooing Andy out of the room. She tells Andy, "Chainsaw."

"You're shitting me. In an apartment building?"

"I could write a whole bunch of new lyrics to Porter's 'Anything Goes'," Dover mutters. "Guy owns a landscaping company, brought the chainsaw home to file the teeth sharper, cos he ran outa time on-the-job. Walks in, finds his wife in bed with that guy. She ran out naked, to a neighbor woman across the hall. By the time a couple uniforms got here... That. Guy gutted lover-boy with the chainsaw. Gave himself up, no fuss."

Andy shakes her head while writing notes. What remains of 'lover-boy' is an awful mess, but by now Andy is so desensitized to violence that she's more concerned about the bloodstains on an especially beautiful Oriental rug. She's aware that this is wrong. So is her shrink. The shrink knows that there is no going back, and so does Andy: once desensitized, always desensitized. The only thing that might change that is for Andy to one day walk into a crime scene and find that the victim is someone she knows. Andy used to pray quite regularly, about all kinds of things. These days she has just one prayer, repeated several times before she arrives at a scene: 'Please, please, please don't let this be someone I know.'

When she gets home that night she takes a shower and hurries into fresh clothes nothing too fancy: Calvin Klein jeans, a dark red silk shirt, and a fawn suede jacket that her parents gave her for Christmas.

Dinner out with other journalists is a rare event. She is often envied for her rapid rise up the ladder. The journos who invited her out tonight cover everything except the crime beat; these colleagues wouldn't report to a crime scene for any sum of money. They are an arts writer, a political commentator, two sports writers, and a court correspondent. The latter, Ginny West, is the one who invited Andy along tonight. They work closely sometimes, with Ginny taking over a story where Andy leaves it.

Before leaving her apartment, Andy takes a look around and shakes her head. Still not used to this new space, which is so much nicer than her previous apartment, the one she once shared with Nate. It was Nate who had said, jokingly, a few weeks ago, 'Don't you earn enough by now to get outa this dump?' Andy had not until then thought about moving.

Nate's working in New York again, and Andy's pretty sure that he'd like her to give their former relationship another try. Lily's sure of that, too. Andy frowns while locking her door Ms. Lily Tremaine who is never satisfied. Andy quit working at Runway, then started working even longer hours at the Mirror: Lily had things to say about that. Andy sees less of Lily these days, but when they do meet, Lily has a lot to say about Andy's job at the Times, too. Added to that, she has a lot to say about Andy being crazy not to give Nate another chance. Andy is done with Nate. When she sees him she deliberately keeps the discussion light. She's starting to do the same with Lily, and she is following Doug's example in this regard.

The only constant in this world is change, and Andy is changed and continues to change, while Nate and especially Lily seem determined to hang on to the Andy they knew some years ago. Doug is more realistic, and he, too, is changed. Andy no longer takes personal issues to Lily; she talks to Doug, and Doug tends also to confide in Andy.

While she waits for the elevator, Andy finds herself thinking that she shouldn't feel bad about not missing Lily and Nate. They haven't given her cause, in quite some time, to miss them. Doug, on the other hand, is someone Andy calls at least once a day. A pity that he has other plans tonight he likes her 'newspaper gang', as he calls them.

The upper Manhattan restaurant is quite new and is starting to become popular. Andy has dined here several times but this is the first time she is stopped and asked about a reservation. She gives Ginny's name and is directed to a table where the two sports writers are waiting. Ginny and the political commentator arrive shortly after Andy sits down, and the arts writer arrives a little later. She's just come from a gallery opening, and her digital camera is passed around the pictures are a talking point, a great way to get the evening started. As is usual at these gatherings (three so far), Andy is not asked about the story she's currently working on. It's understood that dinners out like this one are Andy's get-away-from-it-all time, and Andy is very much aware that telling everybody about the damage that a chainsaw can inflict on the human body is an appetite suppressant of note.

Miranda is quite pleased that she decided to come here for dinner, despite Nigel not being able to join her. The wild duck a l'orange with grilled vegetables was superb, so much so that she will definitely have it again. Still, she's sure that eating it in company would have made it better. She doesn't feel like having a cognac alone at this table. Having it alone at the bar seems marginally better. She tells her waitress her intentions, and in good European fashion the young woman leads the way. She tells the bartender to add Ms. Priestly's bar check to Ms. Priestly's meal check, then gives Miranda a nod, a smile, and disappears. Miranda orders her cognac and more firmly decides to patronize this place again.

No wonder this restaurant has become so popular everything's so impressive: the food, the service, and the decor. Miranda likes the minimalist touches, minimalist but not cold. The furnishings are not all hard edges and angles, glass and chromed metal, a look Miranda considers overused. Here there is shiny metal, but it's brass, which is warm and warmer still for being matched with dark wood. Like this bar counter red jarrah. She smooths her hand over the highly polished surface, admiring the grain.

Andy blinks. How strange to recognize a hand. She can't think why her eyes have drifted to the bar, and now it doesn't matter. She frowns slightly at that hand, follows the wrist, the forearm, up to the shoulder—she closes her eyes briefly before turning her attention to her empty coffee cup. She hopes that no-one else will look that way, but it's a feeble hope. Everyone will look that way, eventually.

Miranda picks up her cognac snifter, and turns her swivel seat a little to rest her forearm and elbow on the bar counter. She's about to take a sip, but lowers the glass from her lips. The light is less harsh here than the camera flash two weeks ago, and tonight there's cause to smile slightly. That smile seemingly chases away two years, almost completely.

Miranda dwells a moment on Andy's profile, and she hopes that Andy will look her way.

"Andy, look who's at the bar. Didn't you used to work for her?" Ginny asks.

"You serious?" mumbles one of the sports writers. He's new at the Times, new to New York. "Did you write for Runway?"

"No, I was one of Miranda's assistants," Andy says. She glances to her right again. It should have been a glance. It would have been a glance if Miranda hadn't been looking at her. Their eyes meet and Andy can't but smile. That smile broadens when Miranda nods and ever so slightly raises her cognac snifter to her former assistant. Andy makes a snap decision. "Guys, please excuse me. Sorry to be rude. I can't say if I'll be back."

"Yo, what part of 'casual dinner' don't you understand?"

"Very casual," Ginny agrees. "And I'm heading out, too."

Andy hands Ginny her Diner's Club card, to pay for her share of the bill, and Ginny promises to get it back to her on Monday.

Andy makes her way over to the bar. She has never seen it packed, and tonight is no exception. There's a spare stool next to Miranda, and a boot on the brass foot-rail helps Andy up into the high seat. A bartender appears quickly.

"What I'm having," Miranda says before Andy can speak.

"Thanks. What are you having?" Andy says, amused.

"Hennessy Paradis."

"Wow," Andy mumbles, thinking about the price tag eight-hundred dollars a bottle.

"Worth every penny," Miranda says softly, easily reading Andy's mind. She dryly adds: "Just as you were worth every headache."

"Oh, well thanks," Andy says, truly amused. She tries the cognac, a tiny sip, and decides that she might save up for a bottle of the stuff. She's never tasted anything as smooth. "That's... It's gorgeous."

"A good word," Miranda says, a smile lurking but not quite appearing. She turns to face Andy, the stool's swivel seat making that easy. "You're doing very well. I follow your byline. I might enjoy that activity more if the stories you chase were less depressing."

"I know," Andy mutters, turning as well, careful to keep her knees from bumping Miranda's. The easiest way is for Andy to take a foot off the rest on her stool and raise it again so that her knees are one on either side of Miranda's. She's done this countless times at other bars, with other people, but tonight it's different, because Miranda Priestly is not 'other people'. Andy blushes when Miranda looks down at the arrangement her legs crossed elegantly at the knee, Andy's denim-clad knees bracketing. "Umm, maybe we should get a table?"

"Squeaking doesn't become you," Miranda says, the smile ceasing to lurk, coming fully into evidence. "I haven't sat at a bar in years."

"Why're you sitting at this one?" Andy asks before thinking twice.

"Nigel had to cancel. What he thought was a cold is more like the flu."

"Right. I remember you don't like 'incubi of viral plague'," Andy says wryly. "How is Nigel, other than sick?"

"Doing very well for himself at the company that provided you with those jeans. But Nigel at Calvin Klein is not you, and your job. Are you happy with the crime beat?"

"No, but I handle it," Andy says. "Call me foolish, but I look at other reporters who want in on the crime beat and think, He'll crack, or, She'll never last. I'm used to what I see, and I focus on the details of what happened, the whole story and not just the gory end result."

"You feel it's a responsibility."

"Yes. I make sure that the cops are happy with my copy. At first my editor hated that, but then he started to notice that the cops trust me, and that gets me in at a level few other reporters ever experience. So, there's a detective looking at my copy. It's no issue at all if he says, 'Take this out and please don't mention it to anyone else'. I do as I'm told and in return I'm trusted. That's why my byline appears on stories about sensitive cases. It's why I'm called to crime scenes usually declared off limits to the press. It's why I get the stories other reporters don't. It's all about that willingness to let the cops say, 'No, you can't print this detail'."

"But aren't you concerned that the police might forbid you to make public details that ought to be made public?" Miranda asks.

"No. If ever a detective says, 'Don't print this', he or she is just hoping to withhold details that might aid them in apprehending a criminal. They know damn well that if they screw up I am gonna write about it. Fair's fair. I might get grumbled at by whichever cops for that, but they still call me to a scene because they know that they'll get to see my copy before my editor does."

"So you're good at your job, but would prefer... what?" Miranda asks.

"Dunno, and that's the problem," Andy says and laughs without humor. "I really can't see myself reporting on gallery openings and, umm, fashion shows. Investigative reporting... Maybe. My editor Archie Van Meer tried to get off the crime beat eighteen times in his reporting career always ended up back at crime scenes, in morgues, in court, and now he's the crime beat editor."

"I remember Archie's writing. He never was an Andrea Sachs."

Andy blushes at the statement, which is nothing short of high praise. Van Meer has a Pulitzer to his credit, as well as a wall full of other journalism awards. She looks up and finds Miranda studying her. In the past this would have made Andy distinctly uncomfortable, but tonight she leans a little against padded leather at her back, relaxed. She is no longer that wide-eyed almost-farm girl, that idealistic young woman Miranda first met nearly three years ago. And Miranda is changed, too. Rather, perhaps she isn't changed but is only responding suitably to the person Andy has become.

But Andy is not unaware of the hell that has been Miranda's life for nearly two years. Her ex-husband gained custody of the twins when divorce proceedings with Stephen began. Since the public mess that was the divorce, Miranda has been trying to get her daughters back. That is a less public affair.

"If I'm butting in where I don't belong, say so how's the custody suit coming along?" Andy asks quietly, her tone gentle.

"It's... complicated," Miranda mutters and looks at her watch. "I feel like walking. Will you join me?"


While they walk the six blocks to Miranda's home, Andy is told that the complication involves Caroline and Cassidy, and their decision to live with their father. They're fourteen now and old enough to have a say. While Miranda is hurt by their decision, she understands. She knows that her girls are lashing out at her for making their lives difficult once again. Living with their father is not a solution. Jonathan is a man even busier than is Miranda. When he is at home he's tired, and when Jonathan is tired he's bad-tempered. Miranda knows this, and for that reason she is keeping the suit in court. The girls need time to realize that they've made a bad choice. Telling them about it won't work. Letting them experience evidence of their bad choice is the best way forward.

Andy can't imagine being in Miranda's place. She can't imagine how it must hurt her to know that the best thing for her children is to allow them to get hurt. Worse, in the end, the twins will probably lay the blame for all their hurts at Miranda's feet. If ever Andy had had a tiny wish to become a mother herself, that tiny wish would have found itself sorely challenged by Miranda's current circumstances.

Andy is also aware that she's swimming in very strange waters. She would never have expected Miranda to be talking to her of matters personal, and this is all very personal. She wonders if Miranda has talked to anyone else about this, and Andy can't but think that she hasn't. The lawyers know the facts, but Andy doubts that Miranda tells her lawyers how she feels.

At the townhouse Miranda takes it for granted that Andy will come in, and Andy doesn't argue. She hands over her coat and scarf, which go into the closet. Miranda doesn't pause, leading Andy into the kitchen, and through it into a small, intimate parlor. She usually sits here alone, especially on Sunday mornings, either with the paper or a book. It's one of the smallest rooms in this house, which Miranda would like to sell but won't until the custody suit is concluded. When it is, she will ask her girls what they would like, and if they wish to keep this house as their home, she won't sell it, even though it's far too big.

"Another Paradis?" she offers Andy.

"If I said no, I'd be nuts," Andy chuckles.

"Will you turn on the gas-log? The switch is there."

Miranda points it out, and Andy nudges the large switch with the toe of an oxblood Doc Marten. She jokes wryly about wearing Docs in Miranda's company. Miranda smirks and eyes the footwear in question.

"They look comfortable. Speaking of which..."

Miranda steps out of Manolo pumps which are anything but comfortable, especially after a six-block walk. She nudges them out of the way and carries two cognac snifters over to the only two chairs in the room. Andy sits in one of the armchairs set before the hearth. Between the two chairs is a small table. Miranda pauses at her chair, then sets her snifter on the table before fetching the bottle of cognac, which she swaps for the snifter.

"Getting up and down is silly," Miranda says, sitting. She smirks at Andy's snort of laughter and, leaning her left forearm on her chair's armrest, she leans over and clinks her glass to Andy's. "To you."

"Back atcha," Andy says, smiling. "Fancy this Emily would be scandalized."

"You know, I don't think that she would," Miranda says, and decides that she'll resist the temptation of telling Andy about various wishes regarding Emily and a trip to hell. "I made her angry about something, and she lost her temper. This was about three months after you left. She tore a strip off of me, and at the end she said, very quietly, 'I'm not Andy, Miranda. I wish to God she hadn't left because I don't know how to do this, but she does'. And she walked out, took two days off. Since then... Well, I'm glad to have her in Editorial, and I'll make sure to match and better the salary attached to any external job offer to come her way. So fancy that she had a fight with me and grew up. And she wouldn't bat an eyelid over you wearing Doc Martens and drinking cognac in my private parlor."

"Huh..." Andy mumbles, clearly surprised. "Sometimes I miss her. Like when my PA screws up on something basic, and I don't know how to do snark the way Emily does. I'm still too nice sometimes."

"Good," Miranda says softly, looking into the gas flames dancing around the ceramic logs. It's back again, that sense of relief she felt when she saw, earlier, that in some ways Andy is still Andy. "Kindness is a good thing, Andrea."

"Missed that the way you say my name," Andy says, and looks a little confused. She laughs, eventually, and says, "Y'know, I don't get you, and me, and why I've always liked you."

"Always?" Miranda says, amused.

"Yeah, even when I should've hated you," Andy says, shaking her head. "Weird."

"Well, I liked you even when you wore awful shoes," Miranda states the absolute truth.

"Why don't I believe that?" Andy says, her tone playful.

"Just because I detested your shoes, it doesn't mean that I detested you," Miranda chuckles. She's enjoying this bit of banter.

"That makes sense, I guess. If I apply that reasoning... Just because I hated your bitchiness, it doesn't mean I hated you."

"The penny drops," Miranda says, nodding. She lowers her eyes and adds, "It's not all a front. To be truly bitchy, one must own at least a sliver of a bitchy personality, and I daresay I own more than a sliver."

"Always honest..." Andy muses. "I noticed that pretty early on. You just... say it like it is. A case of 'If the truth hurts, do something about it'?"

Miranda nods slowly, and then clarifies.

Andy listens carefully to an example from Miranda's work week, and she realizes that she's been here before, many times. Miranda often explained this and that to her. Andy knows that this is rare, and she knew it when she worked at Runway, but in those days she was nothing short of a brat with entitlement issues, and she had taken those many explanations for granted. Andy would like to ask a reason for all those explanations, and this one, but instead she cleverly guides Miranda into talking about work and other things that bother her.

If Miranda is aware of being handled, she doesn't let on. She talks, and Andy listens, wondering if Miranda has a shrink, and if that psychologist ever hears what Andy is hearing tonight. She doubts it because, despite doctor/patient privilege, Miranda probably wouldn't trust that shrink. Trust yes, this a demonstration of Miranda's trust in Andy, who is humbled to realize as much. But then she remembers Paris: the grey bathrobe, no makeup, eyes red-rimmed and brimming with tears; the note of heartbreak in Miranda's voice; and strength—good God, what strength to set aside that pain and, basically, get on with the job at hand.

Memories inspire in Andy what she felt that afternoon in Paris. Not pity, no; compassion. Kindness, as Miranda said earlier, is a good thing, and it's very likely that she meant that it's Andy's kindness that she responds to. That makes a lot of sense to Andy. After all, she responds without thinking to those who seem genuinely kind. Miranda is not one of those people... or is she? Is it fair to label Miranda unkind simply because Andy has never seen her demonstrate kindness? And what of honesty—Andy's run of thought stops cold.

If a designer is wasting their time, they can rely on Miranda Priestly to tell them so immediately. If someone is doing their job the wrong way (and could easily be doing it the right way), they can rely on Miranda to say as much. In that sense, honesty, no matter how harshly expressed, can often be regarded as the epitome of kindness. Cruel to be kind? Andy's never cared for the saying, but she has understood its meaning from a young age. Tonight she gains a better understanding, one that holds that kindness is less hearts-and-flowers and more say-it-like-it-is. The latter is most certainly preferable to the former, because it produces results.

Miranda is all about results, and in order to get those results she is honest, nigh to a fault. Andy keeps a wry smile from her face with effort. It isn't at all weird to like Miranda, not when she hopes to one day be half the woman sitting next to her. Even half is a lot to hope for, because Andy knows herself, and being too nice is a fault she will probably have to live with until she turns up her toes. At least it's not a terribly bad fault; annoying, sometimes, but not terribly bad.

"Have you heard a word I've said?" Miranda drawls.

"Every word," Andy chuckles. "I can think and listen at the same time, y'know."

"And you were thinking..?"

"That being too nice is sometimes very annoying," Andy says.

"I noticed," Miranda says dryly. "But I doubt you're as annoying as you used to be. After all, I've managed the last nearly two hours very easily, and not once have I thought that it's getting late."

"It is, but tomorrow's Sunday."

"No crimes are committed on Sundays?"

"Someone else will report on them. My time off is rare enough that others see it as more sacrosanct than I do. But if I do get a call, it'll be really bad."

"Knowing that can't be pleasant."

"It's shitty, quite frankly," Andy mutters. "My shrink is really good."

"Mine, as of this evening, seems to be less-than-good," Miranda says quietly. "She ought to hear what I've told you, but she doesn't... reach me."

"I haven't done much reaching," Andy says. "Maybe it's a personality thing, and yours clashes with the shrink's?"

"Who don't I clash with? You and I have clashed and, should we continue to meet, we'll clash again," Miranda says with calm certainty.

"So we'll clash, and move on," Andy says.

"Usually it's a case of clash and move away."

"We'll see," Andy says, aware that making promises in new territory is unwise, and she's equally aware that 'clash and move away' has happened already: "Paris. I was, to beg and borrow from Yeats, 'young and foolish', and ended 'full of tears'."

"You regretted your exit in Paris?" Miranda asks, interested.

"Only every day, until I had less time to think about it. Having less time didn't lessen missing you."

"There have been assistants far, far better than Andrea Sachs," Miranda says so softly that it's almost a whisper. The spark was there earlier, in the restaurant; it was there, as well, while Andy worked at Runway. Now that spark is back, and why not kindle a flame? Miranda can't think of any reason not to, so she lowers her voice further, and whispers: "But I'm damned if I can remember their names."

Andy nibbles the inside of her cheek while looking down at what amounts to less than a sip of cognac in her snifter. It'll be warm now, at body-heat, which, she has found, tends to improve the flavor. She hears Miranda move and doesn't look up, and isn't surprised when the elegant hand she recognized earlier tonight comes into view. The snifter is gently taken from her hands and set aside.

Andy looks up then, and sees in Miranda's eyes what was there earlier. She'd been amused by her knees being bracketed by Andy's, and more amused by Andy's squeaky suggestion that they move to a table. But earlier, the look in Miranda's eyes had been only a vague hint. Now it's clear, and nothing short of suggestive.

How did they get here? How do two people ever get here? Andy's never known another woman, physically; she has rarely been curious about that, and even when curiosity has bid her think about it, she has been easily distracted. Right now the only distraction is Miranda herself. Curiosity peaks and Andy's breath hitches when Miranda smiles and cocks her head a little. She knows that she can say no, and she's almost certain that if she does decline, that will be all right. But Andy cannot think of any reason to say no.

And Miranda sees it, knows it. Her smile softens and she chuckles. The chair is roomy enough to accommodate her knees as she straddles Andy's thighs. Her thick winter skirt is full enough, but she isn't at all shy to hitch it, making it easier to sit this way. Andy can hardly breathe; she clears her throat and tears her eyes up from exposed Cervin hosiery.

"Never done this before."

"No? That's... interesting," Miranda says. She chuckles when Andy's eyes widen. "Tell me?"

"Trying to remember how many times I've heard you use that tone."

"Oh, that," Miranda purrs. "Listen, and if I like something, you'll know. But that's not quite the same as this, hmm?"

Andy shakes her head slowly. No, this tone is richer, deeper. This tone says not only that she likes Andy; it says that she wants Andy. But there's no hurry. Andy senses a patience that, before tonight, she would never have attributed to Miranda. That patience is, however, belied by the rapid flicker of the pulse in her neck. Andy smiles a faint, wondering smile, and she reaches up, touching the pulse point. She watches, fascinated, as Miranda's eyes close and color rises in her throat and cheeks.

"I did that..." Andy thinks aloud.

"You are doing, present tense," Miranda says huskily and opens her eyes. She wants to laugh quite hard at Andy's instant gulp and rapidly crimsoning features. Instead she softens her response to a smile. Miranda's hands are resting on her upper thighs. She will not touch until asked to.

This is going to be one of those magical nights. She hasn't known many, perhaps three others, and all with women. There is no magic with men. Miranda is firmly convinced of this, because she's known quite a few: the Eighties were a blur of parties and men. Freedom? Highly overrated. Life is far simpler when one doesn't wake up next to someone whose name one cannot remember. And there have been more than just three women eight, to be precise. She remembers each of their names, can remember what they were wearing, and she has near perfect recall of what their bodies looked like when they were wearing nothing but Miranda Priestly. Tomorrow is Sunday. She has never had the luxury of all night and the next day with a woman, and Miranda wants to own that luxury with Andy. However:

"You can say no."

"Don't want to," Andy murmurs.

"Curious?" Miranda says, teasing gently.

"Past that," Andy says and clears her throat. "Can I ask—"

"Yes. Whatever is on your mind."

"Did you ever think about this while I worked at Runway?"

"Yes," Miranda says, very comfortable with the fact. "But only once, and not for very long. Discipline. When one is surrounded by beautiful women, one either learns to control one's thoughts, or one is soon in trouble. I learned from the mistakes of others, mostly men."

"Someone at the Tribune got caught fucking her male PA in her office," Andy says, brows arched. "Both their careers, gone."

"Yes, and for what?" Miranda snorts and gestures impatiently. "Without discipline we are no better than cave people. Strange, how when it comes to sex, evolution seems to have stalled sometime before the last Ice Age."

"But here you are on my lap," Andy teases.

"After biding my time," Miranda drawls. "Also, without ever hoping to be here... Not daring to hope."

"You told me once that you live on hope."

"Not all kinds." Miranda is enjoying this more and more. Andy is whip-smart a fine mind to go with a lovely face and an equally lovely body. It's magic already. She smiles into Andy's eyes, and waits. Soon. She reads women as easily as she reads books (in several languages). She knows that Andy is aroused to the point where nervousness is being eclipsed by want. Andy is old enough to know her body, to know what it wants, and she will come and get it, soon enough. Miranda knows the value of patience in this area: it emboldens her partner.

When Andy does shift away from the chair's backrest, her eyes are locked to Miranda's mouth, telegraphing her intentions. Their lips meet and Miranda smiles against Andy's mouth, finds her hands, laces their fingers together: only kisses, for now. And the kiss is good. Miranda last kissed a woman five years ago, and she has missed this softness, this willingness towards being gentle and slow, no matter how deep. When the kiss is broken, Miranda draws Andy's hands behind her, to the small of her back, and holds them there, while she feather-kisses her way to Andy's throat. It is offered freely, and Miranda doesn't hesitate she marks a pulse point with a sharp little nip, earning a hiss and a chuckle from Andy.

"Biter?" Andy asks playfully. "I'd never have guessed."

"Cheeky," Miranda whispers, but she isn't unamused. Andy will learn that Miranda isn't a biter at all, but she always marks her lovers, just once. She wants more from Andy's hands now than only their heat and returned grip, so she releases them and slides her own over the sleeves of the suede jacket. "Can we take this off?"

The jacket lands rather respectfully on the chair Miranda vacated earlier. Another kiss is joined, and it's better than the last for the closer contact afforded sans jacket, but Miranda is amused to find Andy's hands still, almost placid on her back. Her own have tangled in Andy's hair, which smells like citrus. It's time to quit this chair, Miranda decides. Andy is a little tense and that might have to do with feeling trapped.

"I'm going upstairs," she whispers against Andy's mouth. "Join me?"


There it is. Miranda's lips quirk but she holds back a smile at evidence of her guess being correct. She comes up onto her knees, slowly, keeping eye-contact with Andy, smiling down at her when those placid hands become abruptly active, smoothing over her sides and hips, her ass and the backs of her thighs.

"I think you like it slow," Miranda says softly. "But I doubt you've had it as slow as I can provide."

Andy swallows hard and Miranda smiles rather smugly. This is definitely going to be one of those magical nights.

It's a long climb to the master bedroom, with pauses on the way for kisses and body-length embraces where legs entangle and walls feel good. Andy's hands are becoming bolder by the moment, and Miranda couldn't be more pleased. Men try to top her but they never win because she won't let them. She's a tigress with women, too, but she also brings out the tigress in her lovers. Andy's new to this, but Miranda knows that if she can inspire confidence she will in turn inspire fire, thus inspiring in Miranda a need to know her lover as an equal.

They are almost at the bedroom when Andy catches Miranda from behind, nibbles and suckles at her nape, and her hands move separately, confidently, to a breast and her groin. Miranda's smile is triumphant. She leans back, pressing that hand into her heat, and she reaches, drawing Andy's head over her shoulder. The kiss is no less satisfying for being somewhat awkward. Miranda allows herself to be turned, and one arm around Andy's waist is enough to help guide them both into the bedroom. Miranda is aware enough to be careful while walking backwards. Her free hand is expertly engaged in unbuttoning Andy's shirt. Suggestion enough for Andy Miranda's blouse is tugged from the waistband of her skirt. The buttons are small, though.

"Peel it off," Miranda mutters, raising her arms, and the few seconds it takes to be rid of her blouse are like eons. When it's free of her head, she gasps at the fire in Andy's eyes, the lips slightly parted, her audible breathing. "Hello, my beauty."

"Me? Can I have your body when I grow up?" Andy mumbles, eyes roving.

"You're quite, quite grown up, and I'd rather you keep your own. Boots off."

Miranda can't help but laugh at the several choice words Andy directs at two sets of laces. She pushes Andy from a bent-over crouch, backwards, onto the bed. Miranda hauls off boots and socks while Andy sits grinning, amused. She nudges Andy's knees apart with one of her own, steps between, and she is most pleased by Andy's move to get rid of her skirt, without instruction, suggestion, or invitation, and best of all, without permission. The answer to everything, anything, by now, is only yes.

She closes her eyes when Andy mouths at the skin of her upper belly, her ribcage, lower tongues her navel, and teases huskily regarding the stud there. It is gently twiddled by Andy's tongue, forcing a growl from Miranda. Magic? All the way, with someone young and inexperienced but very, very eager. Miranda could easily turn the dial up a notch or two, which would result in full nudity and sweat in only minutes but not yet. And even though it's all going Miranda's way, she feels strongly that this is Andy's night, and more so than her own.

Behind and beyond the heat there is a reverence, which Miranda attributes to her idea of a magical night, and also to the knowledge that the night will become all of tomorrow as well. She is aware, however, that she's never been here before. When she has moments—very brief—to think clearly, 'Five years is a desert' is what arrives in her mind: going too long without a woman is not a good thing.

Andy's taking her time with Miranda's second thigh-high. The first one was rolled off relatively quickly, but now Miranda's hands are clawing at the sheets while Andy rolls silk, and kisses, and kisses, and rolls a little more, revealing a little more, pleasantly torturing, just a little more. Andy locates for Miranda a previously undiscovered erogenous zone the rise of the inside of her left calf.

"Of all places..." Miranda hisses. Her eyes snap open at an impish giggle, and she looks up to find Andy grinning at her. "Having fun, are you?"

"More than that," Andy admits. She deals more briefly with the stocking and flicks it over her shoulder. "Never felt this way."

"Tell me," Miranda entreats, tugging on Andy's hand, drawing her up the bed. She takes Andy's weight for a while, but then rolls them both over. Andy's bra clasps in front perfect. "May I?"

"Of course. Should I be asking permission, too?"

"Don't you dare," Miranda murmurs, electing not to touch. Why touch when looking, and only that, is pure pleasure? "Lovely... Weren't you going to tell me something?"

"I've only ever been with men, so that might be why this feels so different."

"Clarify," Miranda says, while helping Andy to wriggle free of the bra.

"For one, I'm really confident," Andy says, and she certainly sounds confident. More evidence: she reaches behind Miranda and frees her bra clasp, kisses her while removing her bra altogether, breaks the kiss to watch her hand make its first skin-to-skin acquaintance with Miranda's breast. "Feel like I'm discovering me more than you..."

"In a way, you are," Miranda says quietly. "I felt that way, when first I bedded a woman."

"When was that?"

"I was sixteen. One of my friends had gotten pregnant, and my overly-logical brain informed me instanter that girls were a safer option than boys. The boy I'd been seeing wasn't really interested in me, unless I was naked. Very different, with another woman."

"Yeah." Andy dips her head and places a soft kiss to the top of a breast. "And you're right I like it slow."

Miranda purrs, combing Andy's hair away from her face. Their eyes meet and smiles are shared, hearts race suddenly. Miranda nods slightly (sometimes, even in this mood, giving permission is as erotic an experience as not having to).

When they kiss now it is immediately deep, as hands roam where they will, and somehow panties are removed. A small pause Miranda remembers to remove a dress ring, her watch, and Andy's. Another small pause she gains eye-contact with Andy again and holds it, waiting. Their next kiss is initiated by Andy; it's broken by Miranda in order to whisper in Andy's ear. Coaching Andy seems to be somehow precious to Miranda; she knows she will remember these moments with clarity, especially the look of wonder in Andy's eyes as her fingers are guided inside, and Miranda holds her hand in place.

"So hot..."

Miranda smiles and whispers that she's close, but isn't willing yet to orgasm. Andy nods and rests their foreheads together.

"Tell me your thoughts?"

"I kinda know why some men are so obsessed with women."

"Welcome to the club," Miranda chuckles.

Andy smirks and kisses the tip of her nose. Her free arm is wrapped around Miranda's neck, and her fingertips are playing idly with an earlobe. Despite wanting to slow it down a little, Miranda feels her body responding only to Andy's nearness, the thigh she has pressed against their hands between her legs, the soft tickle of her breath.

"We can just lie here and I'll come," Miranda whispers.

"Yeah? I'm okay with that. I mean, we've got all night, right?"

"And tomorrow, if you'll stay. I'd like that."

"I'll stay."

It is that, the knowledge now certain, that they have more than only a few hours: Miranda's back arches slowly, and Andy instinctively presses in deeper. Their eyes are locked, neither would be able to look away even if she tried, and Miranda is whispering Andy's name between gasps while she shudders uncontrollably. And it lasts. Andy smiles at the umpteenth grip at her fingers.

"Wow. Guess I did something right."

"Everything," Miranda pants. She laughs feebly at another little aftershock, but her mood is rapidly moving towards an urgency that has all to do with generosity. She wants nothing more than to take Andy to the place she has visited—is yet visiting. "I'm thinking of so, so many ways to thank you."

"Umm, many?" Andy says squeakily, and gulps.

"So many," Miranda chuckles. "What good fortune, to have this night and tomorrow, too."

"You're making me think that slow is overrated."

"Well, we can always revisit slow."

"Oh God," says Andy.

'Revisiting slow' is making Andy weep. By now they're weary, almost sleepy. The sun hasn't risen yet, but they have been totally involved in and with each other for the last five hours. Some of that involvement has included breaks, with conversation, and all those words are something like this, now.

She is being pleasured in ways she hadn't imagined possible. This has nothing to do with the acts themselves and has all to do with Miranda's very intimate knowledge of the female body. Specifically, after several hours with Andy, Miranda has acquired an intimate and very thorough knowledge of Andy's body, and she is masterfully putting said knowledge to use. Slowly.

Andy has learned tonight that an arousal ought to be regarded as an experience, and not a demand for an orgasm. She has also learned that an orgasm is as far from the end of the overall experience as is the North from the South Pole. Miranda has this knack of providing dessert in the middle of the meal, and serving it all over again some time later, but that happened earlier, when everything was less-than-slow. Right now all Andy is aware of is varying degrees of pleasure, and none of them begin to approach that point where she needs to come.

She isn't passive in this particular adventure, far from it. Her hands and mouth are just as busy as Miranda's, but like Miranda she makes sure to keep every caress light, very gentle. They haven't kissed in a long while, and they are avoiding eye-contact, because both increase intensity, which would hurry things along. And there is no need to increase the level of intensity Andy's tears are proof of that.

Miranda will shift, or in some other way suggest a change of activity quite soon, Andy knows, but she doesn't want to stop this gentle lapping and nuzzling at Miranda's sex. Miranda's fingers are in her hair, massaging her scalp, and her hips are rocking in a rhythm that makes Andy proud, for some silly little reason.

"Andrea?" Miranda purrs.

"Mmm?" Andy hums, her lips pressed in an enveloping kiss to Miranda's clit which, naturally, appreciates the attention.

"God..." Miranda gasps. "Come here, to me."

One last kiss and Andy crawls up the bed, easing her weight onto Miranda's body. She smiles against Miranda's shoulder when she rolls them both over. Andy parts her legs, wraps them around Miranda's hips. Strangely, they haven't been here yet. Miranda shifts slightly, settles their hips together, and Andy's eyes go wide: she has never guessed that direct contact is possible, let alone that it could feel so good. She is robbed of breath, of thought, of speech, and more so when Miranda makes eye-contact, and smiles.

"I saved this up," Miranda murmurs.

"Oh... Umm, wow," Andy mumbles.

Miranda chuckles, taking her weight on one elbow to free a hand. She traces Andy's eyebrow with a fingertip, but what Andy is most aware of is their hearts which are beating in counterpoint, and then, for a few beats, in unison.

"Feel that?" Andy whispers.

Miranda nods, her smile softening. She seems to Andy as if she's about to cry, and Andy is half-wishful, half-fearful that she will indeed cry. She smooths her hands over Miranda's back, hugs her, and raises her head. They kiss, and a fear, which is for now nameless, begins to grow in Andy. She doesn't want to feel this way, is confused and abruptly anxious. She rolls her hips, and Miranda answers in kind.

It's still slow, but now it's more than pleasure. The fear builds and Andy fights to concentrate only on the friction. She wins, but winning just one battle is rarely enough to win a war.

They climax almost together, and Miranda breaks the kiss, arching into Andy, who is staring at the ceiling, eyes wide and fearful. The fear has a name, and that name wants to be spoken. She won't. She shuts her eyes and grips Miranda in a hug that is fierce and possessive, but it's a lie. What Andy wants is to get out of this bed, to run away. Nearly every instinct is begging her to do it.

And Miranda is quiet, and still, but her body isn't relaxed. By now Andy knows by touch alone how Miranda is feeling. There is tension in the body she's holding and cushioning and cradling.

They don't move for what seems to Andy to be an eternity, and the longer they lie here, the more the tension builds in them both.

And Miranda is desperate for anything to chase this knowledge of an awful mistake. She should draw away, but instead she mouths and nibbles at Andy's neck, and she begins to rock her hips again.

Andy wants to say no, wants to ask Miranda to stop, but she doesn't. It's better this way.

She looks so impossibly young, Miranda thinks. She cannot sleep, but Andy is snoring softly. Miranda stops herself from thinking that it's endearing. She can't afford to think such things.

She hates her aching heart, loathes the urge to weep; she calls herself a fool, again and again. What was she thinking, bedding this girl of whom she has been fond almost from the moment they met. Fool a damned fool: damned, indeed. And she's damned Andy as well.

Miranda is as aware of Andy's feelings as she is of her own, and how not? Her face is like an open book, one which Miranda has always easily read. She's damned them both, with this thing they cannot have.

Miranda eases out of bed. She takes a shower and afterwards goes up to the fourth floor to use a hairdryer in a bathroom out of Andy's hearing. Somehow, waking her lover now seems to Miranda to be a worse sin even than the one they've ended up committing.

Love is good, except when it will cause grief. In that bathroom upstairs, Miranda breaks down. She rests her back against a wall and slides down to the cold tiled floor, where she hugs her knees and sobs.

There is no choice to be made, none at all. Her children have been through and are going through enough. Short of buying an island in the middle of the Pacific, there is no way to engage in a relationship with Andrea Sachs without the press attention rivaling that accorded to someone newly elected president. Miranda cannot and will not subject her children to that again.

Late morning. Andy wakes alone. It takes a few moments for her mind to alert her to a certain heart-breaking discovery. She groans and rolls over, pulling the pillow with her, burying her head under it.

"That won't help."

Andy feels Miranda's weight come onto the bed. She doesn't move, but she starts to cry, and she isn't soothed by Miranda's hand rubbing her back through the sheet. There's a tug at her shoulder, eventually, and she goes with it, sitting up and throwing her arms around Miranda. Andy knows it can't be, won't be, but she clings nevertheless, and she sobs. Her mind is a blank. Her heart seems to be trying to kill her never before has it ached to the point of agony.

"It's my fault," Miranda says at length, hands rubbing Andy's back. "I should have thought about—"

"No. No, don't," Andy manages to say. "I mean, us? Like something in a fantasy movie."


"Don't," Andy says again and sniffs. Miranda plucks tissues from the box by the bed and Andy makes quick use of them. She tips Miranda's chin up and looks a while into her eyes, before saying, "So you liked me, and I liked you, but neither of us could have guessed that this would happen. Don't we have enough hurt to deal with? Don't add guilt to it."

She tugs Miranda back into a tight hug, because that will keep her from seeing Miranda cry. Andy rocks her while her heart breaks—while their hearts break. It's not one-and-one anymore, it's two; it is them, and—worse—theirs. Love is like a knife that switches back and forth between them, sharing the pain.

The worst of it all, for Andy, is her clear and complete acceptance of the fact that she doesn't care about Miranda's children. She is thinking only of Miranda, who loves those twin girls enough to pass up another love. When Andy had first given that fear a name, some hours ago, her first thought was that she would not cause Miranda any pain by further complicating her relationship with the twins.

It's all about Miranda, for Andy. She'd like to throw caution to the winds, but she can't. Bad enough that she's fallen so fast and so hard that love is almost a physical kind of pain. She cannot and will not do what she wants most, which is to talk Miranda into a relationship. Her conscience simply won't allow it: Miranda deserves better than selfishness from Andy.

Andy feels guilt begin to gnaw for a reason other than that wish to have this love they've rashly fallen into. She knows that if there was a choice, and if a relationship with Miranda were possible without causing the twins' lives to be turned upside down again, Andy would choose to walk away. She has never wanted children and will not involve herself with a parent, unless that person's children are grown.

"I'd be a rotten stepmother anyway," Andy says, deciding to own the truth.

"I know," Miranda whispers. "I know, and don't you feel guilty about that... God, what a mess..."

"Talk about 'star-crossed'," Andy agrees, fighting an urge to cry again. Time to make things easier for them both. "Can I use your shower?"

"Of course."

Miranda doesn't look, doesn't watch Andy walk naked into the bathroom, but it's a mistake to look at the bed and its rumpled linens, the duvet hanging half-off. She shuts her eyes and draws a deep breath mistake! The room is redolent of sex, which became love.

Miranda claps a hand to her mouth to silence a wracking sob. She forces herself not to cry, and she works quickly to strip the bed. She takes great care with fresh linens, and the end result is a perfectly made bed. She deposits the used linens in a laundry hamper downstairs, and she makes up her mind to wait down here. This is difficult. Andy is taking her time in the shower, evidenced by the distant gurgle of water in a drainpipe somewhere. Last night Miranda had imagined sharing that shower with Andy. She shuts her eyes, but opens them again rapidly, because the mental image is more vivid in the dark privacy behind her lids.

Coffee. Miranda prepares her Keurig machine and sets it to brew a potful. Breakfast. To hell with rabbit food. Miranda makes a call to a nearby grocery store yes, they can deliver (of course they will, considering who's asking them to). By the time Andy comes into the kitchen, Miranda is scrambling whole eggs, and the bacon is nearly ready.

"Could you see to the toast?"


Andy would have preferred a more direct exit from this house. Her stomach growls and convinces her, beyond the good manners that insist she shouldn't refuse breakfast, to stay. When the toast pops she places each slice on a separate plate.

"Butter," Miranda says.

"Huh," Andy snorts and follows Miranda's wave to the fridge. Bad enough for butter, whole eggs, and bacon yes, it is. Andy scrapes from the pat and spreads, and she doesn't scrimp. Miranda has the eggs ready. "Stick mine straight on the toast, thanks."

"Where else would they go?" Miranda mutters.

"Without yolks, directly on the plate, if I remember correctly."

"Not today..."

"No, guess not," Andy says quietly.

They're standing in the foyer, have been for long moments, saying nothing. Miranda's heart betrays her and squeezes hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. No use hiding them from Andy, but she raises her chin, presses her lips into a thin line. They stare at each other, and eventually tears well in Andy's eyes, too. One slips free, and Miranda lifts a hand, cups her cheek, and wipes the tear with her thumb. It's easy to slip her hand to Andy's neck, to draw her close. They hug each other tightly, hearts hammering between them.

"I might always love you," Miranda whispers. "It might, after all, be quite perfect we won't ever give each other cause to kill off this love."

"Were you born knowing just what to say?" Andy sniffles.

"No, darling. Just speaking my mind," Miranda says, smiling despite an urge to scream and bang her head against a wall anything to chase the knife in her chest. "Say you'll be my one perfect thing?"

"I will," Andy says solemnly.

Miranda draws back her head and locks eyes with this woman she might just always love. She stares into Andy's eyes until they are less bright, until they are both blinking away the tears, and breathing more evenly. Miranda nods, and smiles.



"I hear you're more hateful at work than ever," Nigel says.

Miranda glares at him over the top of her menu, then closes it and removes her glasses. She addresses their waiter in perfect but perfunctory French. Nigel, to be contraire, orders in English, and he's friendly and polite. This isn't to make up for Miranda's brusqueness. He's making a point: he isn't going to let this go. He's the one getting what-the-hell-is-going-on phone calls from Emily—Emily! Nearly-panicked screeching from She Who Is No Longer Afraid of La Priestly? That cannot be good.

"You know that I will ask, and ask... and ask-and-ask, until you tell me."

"Not here," Miranda growls.

"All right. We'll leave directly after we've eaten. Liqueurs at my place?"

"Several, preferably."

"Oh," Nigel says, blinking, quite stunned. He has never heard Miranda even vaguely allude to getting drunk. "That bad? Irv again?"

"How I wish..." Miranda says with a quiet and utterly humorless laugh.

Nigel has never hugged Miranda before either, but he does, much later, just before they leave his apartment together. He rides the elevator with her and walks her out to a waiting car.

"Thank you," Miranda says quietly, her gloved hand resting on the top of the car door.

"I mean it any time," Nigel says. "Go and get some sleep."

"I think I might sleep through tonight, actually."

Nigel offers nothing in return to that. He bends and nods at Miranda once she's in the car, then closes the door for her, and watches the car down the street.

When he's alone in the dark, warm in his bed, he thinks of the tears that spilled silently down Miranda's cheeks. He's never seen her cry before, even though there have been times in the last eighteen years when he's known that she has been terribly hurt.

This is worse than all those occasions combined. Miranda is in a dark place beyond hurt; she's gone beyond that border and is very probably inconsolable. Anything less? She would not have cried on Nigel's couch tonight.

Miranda might sleep through this night, but Nigel does not.

Shitty day. Andy trudges to her tiny office at the back of a newsroom; her PA hastily slams a phone back onto its base set. Probably talking to her boyfriend again, Andy thinks.

"Any messages, Janelle?"

"Detective-Sergeant Dover says she's dropping by later. That guy O'Halloran called again, about the Stein murder. He said to tell you that he's not giving up."

"Poor bastard," Andy mutters and slumps into her chair. Great, just what she needs to think about a man who refuses to believe that DNA doesn't lie. The badly decomposed body of his girlfriend was found two months ago. If not for the bullet hole in her skull, the medical examiner's findings on cause of death might very well have been inconclusive. The woman's murderer is still at large, and the police have no idea how to find him or her. Ms. Stein had been a quiet-living, shy woman, with no enemies. The sad truth is that she was probably in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and had seen something she shouldn't have. That bullet had more than likely been fired just to shut her up. Andy asks Janelle, "Anything else?"

"Umm... yeah! Someone dropped this off for you."

Andy reaches for an envelope that is blank, not even marked with a return address.

"Who delivered it?"

"He was nice. Pretty much bald, really well-dressed—"

"Glasses?" Andy asks, sitting up straight.

"Yes. Round tortoiseshell glasses."

"Get out the Merrick file. If I'm not back by the time Fran Dover gets here, give her the file and tell her to call me."

"Okay," Janelle says, blinking.

Andy grabs her coat and slings it on as she heads for an elevator. She doesn't dare to open the envelope until she enters the stairwell on the top floor. It's snowing out, and no-one else is likely to access these stairs, which lead to the roof. By the time she reaches a landing, the envelope is open. Andy hesitates, taking a seat on a step. The concrete is cold, and so is the stairwell. Her breath puffs visibly, and her hands are feeling the chill.

She draws a single, folded sheet of note paper from the envelope. She's expecting to see Miranda's handwriting, but instead she finds Nigel's:


She talks to me. I hope that you have someone to talk to.

Andy resists an urge to shred the piece of paper, and she swallows a sob. Two months. For two months her heart has ached, and ached. It will not heal, will not be forced to forget. Forget Miranda? Impossible.

Andy returns the note to the envelope, and pockets it. From another pocket she takes her phone and her hands are shaking now, mostly with cold, but also for the fact that she is living the toughest assignment in the world. She is Miranda Priestly's one perfect thing. She might fall madly in love with someone else tomorrow, but a small, sacred part of her will always belong to Miranda.

Andy looks at the phone, eventually, and holds down a speed dial.

"Hello, Doug?"

The End

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