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

Nate's Fault
By Mercury


~~~ Before ~~~

In the midst of answering phones, fetching searing hot Starbucks, and attending to all the myriad tasks that made up her workday at Runway, Andy had been internally cursing Nate.

Damn him to hell, she chanted. It's all his goddamn fault.

"Andrea," the soft voice wafted through the office doors, pierced straight through Andy's internal monologue and settled into the rising flush of her cheeks.

Andy took a deep breath. She ran her hand briefly through her hair to straighten any fly-away strands and brushed down the wrinkles in her skirt before squaring her shoulders and walking with a confident air (she hoped) into Miranda's office. As she passed Emily's desk, she received a pointed glare from the ever-neurotic assistant. From the corner of her eye, she could see Emily mouthing the words, "What is WRONG with you?" but Andy ignored her.

Andy entered the inner sanctum of Miranda's office and pasted on what she hoped was a calm yet cheerful smile.

"Yes, Miranda?" She prayed that her voice did not betray her nerves.

"Call James and confirm the run through for this afternoon. 3 pm sharp. And then tell Jean-Paul to redo the page on Hillary Clinton for the spring issue, it's all wrong. Then call Annie and ask her if she can manage to shoot Hillary in a more favourable light that won't show every single wrinkle and fat fold. Is it so hard to bring a little glamour and dignity to one of the most powerful women of our country? Am I asking too much? Also, make a reservation at that place that I like with the braised quail for seven o'clock tonight."

Finally, Miranda deigned to glance up and peered at Andy over her glasses. She gave her the usual once-over, and then murmured, "That's all."

Andy gulped and made her way back towards her desk. Halfway there, she was stopped by the soft drawl of her name. "Andrea." Taking a moment before she had to turn around, Andy shut her eyes and took a deep breath.

"The person whose calls you always take – that's the relationship you're in."

It was those simple words, uttered in a justified rage, that sent her world into a tailspin.

Nate had already been asleep by the time she made it back to the apartment that night after their fight. She'd considered sleeping on the couch, but quickly decided against it. She had an early morning and a long day ahead of her, and the last thing she needed was to spend all day with a cramp in her neck.

So she had undressed and slipped under the covers as quietly as possible, not to disturb him. There was a tense moment when Nate let out a huff in his sleep and turned over, and Andy held her breath hoping against hope that he wouldn't wake up. It was awkward enough without having to face him after what he'd said. They hadn't even had time to work out what would happen next in their relationship, if they even had one anymore. That discussion would have to wait. She settled under the covers and took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down enough to fall asleep. It took what felt like hours before sleep finally claimed her.

And that night, with Nate's innocent snores drifting from his warm presence beside her, Andy had the most erotic dream that she'd ever experienced.

She's sitting at her desk, the screensaver flickering from the monitor in front of her. She turns her head slowly, taking in the familiar surroundings. The office seems empty, but light streams in through the windows and glares off the white walls. It's still daytime. The distinct aroma of calla lilies and orchids pervades her senses and it occurs to her that they are everywhere; vases are perched with a graceful sense of entitlement on every surface. Her eyes fall to the arrangement of calla lilies on her desk. She is mesmerized by the swirl of the velvety petal, funnelling in to the finger-like spadix at its center.

"Andrea," the voice practically purrs the summons from the inner office, effectively penetrating through her rapt study of the florals. She rises from her chair as if in a daze and makes her way into the blindingly bright office. Miranda is sitting at her desk, looking exactly the same as always. Impeccable. She glances up from her work, over the rim of her glasses. Miranda's gaze sends shivers through Andy, all but undressing her with those piercing eyes that rake up and down her body.

Andy stands before her, barely breathing, awaiting a command. Miranda rises from her chair and glides around the desk, slowly. She manoeuvres to the front of the desk and leans back, resting lightly on the edge of the glass surface. Miranda turns away from her assistant momentarily and reaches back, and when she turns to face Andy once more she is holding a single stem of a calla lily. Andy's gaze is fixed to the white flower, noting the similarities to the one she beheld only a moment before.

Andy is so transfixed that she hardly notices that the flower is moving, until the petal brushes against the pale skin of Miranda's cheek. The sleek petal trails down across her face and strokes the corner of Miranda's lips. Andy watches in awe as the woman before her closes her eyes and sighs into the petal.

But the calla lily's journey is not complete. It travels down over the elegant curve of a neck, tracing lightly over the slight rise of a collarbone and across the creamy vastness of skin. The fluid spathe travels exultantly lower, and Andy's fingers twitch as she wishes she could reach out to feel whether the smooth expanse is as soft as she imagines.

"Andrea," she hears, watching as the chest before her rises and falls softly with the exhalation of her name. Her eyes peel upwards and are captured by the intense gaze of darkening blue orbs. "Watch me," the voice is unmistakably Miranda's, forceful yet seductive, but Andy notices with a distant awareness that her lips do not move. She gazes into Miranda's eyes, watching intently as Miranda's breathing seems to increase, her own pulse pounding in response.

Once assured of Andy's rapt attention, the crystal eyes close once more and Andy's breath catches as she watches Miranda throw her head back in pleasure. She has no idea where the calla lily has gone along its path down Miranda's body, but Andy is too enthralled by the expression of absolute passion sprawled across her face to look anywhere else. The rawness, the open vulnerability, is exquisite.

"See?" She hears. The voice is deep, unmistakably male, as it continues with a hint of remorse. "I could never give you that."

Her gaze is reluctantly pulled away from the openness of that beautiful face before her, drawn instead into the accusing eyes of her erstwhile lover.

"I'm not what you want. What you need." He shakes his head ruefully. To Andy, the motion seems to be filtered in time, moving as if through a thick fog. "Not anymore."

"Wha-? Nate, no!" But her voice comes out gargled and strange to her ears.

She is being pulled, sucked backwards, until Andy has the distinct impression that she is drowning. Her lungs feel a tight burn and she can't control the movement in her arms or legs; she screams into silence as she scrambles to disengage from the insistent tide that pulls her back, back and under.

Andy awoke, panting, with a throbbing wetness between her thighs. She rolled over and breathed deeply, her eyes wide, not knowing whether to hope for sleep or not.

Andy exhaled slowly and turned to face Miranda. All day she had been trying to spend as little time as possible in Miranda's office, because every second spent in her presence was torture. It was as though she had never realized before how seductively Miranda conducted herself. All the time. And now that it was suddenly within the realm of her consciousness, it seemed as though there was nothing that Andy could do to stop her own response -- the imperceptible rise in her pulse, the flush to her cheeks and the hard throbbing between her legs. And the entire day, she had been cursing Nate, blaming him for her raging hormones, because it was all his fault for putting the idea in her head in the first place.

Miranda had removed her glasses and was giving her a sidelong glance, her finger resting idly under her chin. "Do make sure you don't come down with that dreadful cold that Emily has been spreading all over the office with her snivelling."

Andy just stared at her wide-eyed.

Miranda sighed and elaborated. "You have been looking rather flushed of late," which made Andy blush even deeper as Miranda continued, "and it would be entirely inconvenient for you to be incapacitated in Paris, which, I don't have to remind you, is a mere four days away."

"Yes, of course," Andy stammered.

She shouldn't have been surprised. After all, she had spent the entire morning a quivering mess. Even Emily, who was always so flustered and hardly concerned for anyone's needs besides Miranda's, had noticed Andy's flushed state with a hint of concern. That didn't stop her from being completely mortified by Miranda's scrutiny.

Andy felt the heat of her gaze for a moment longer, before Miranda replaced her glasses on the graceful arch of her nose and her attention was drawn back to the mock-ups for the next issue. The soft shuffling of a page turning was the only sound in the office.

Thus dismissed, Andy turned back towards her own desk. Only four more days until Paris and then, undoubtedly, she would be far too busy to be preoccupied with this nonsense. She could only hope.

Damn him, she cursed as she plopped down into her swivel chair and grabbed the keyboard, this is all Nate's fault.

When Andy arrived home that night, she fiddled with her keys before entering the apartment. She wasn't sure if she'd be able to face Nate, especially after having spent the entire day lusting after the woman he so openly despised, and cursing him for it the entire time. She took a deep breath, inserted the key with relatively steady hands and turned the lock. The door opened into an uneasy stillness. She unbuttoned her coat and noticed that the scuffed pair of shoes that usually sat in a sea of her own designer footwear was nowhere to be seen. She opened the closet to grab a hanger and felt her heart clench. Dropping the coat in a heap by the still-open closet door, she walked slowly out into the living room and glanced around, her breath coming in quick, shallow inhalations.

Every trace of Nate was gone.

The next few days leading up to Paris passed in a blur. Andy was kept extremely busy and blessedly had barely any time to consider the changes in her personal life. She was even able to keep her wandering thoughts under control around Miranda, although every command from her, every task that Andy conducted at her behest, seemed to be charged with a pulsing electricity. If it left a warm buzz low in her stomach, she did her best not to notice.

She was working such long hours that when she did finally return home each night, she was actually relieved to have the place to herself. She tried not to think about that, either.

Entering her still-unbelievably vast hotel suite, Andy kicked off her Manolo Blahniks and set her keys on the side table by the door. Although she'd had a few stolen minutes to drink down a coffee here and there during the week, this felt like the first time she'd had a real moment to relax since they had arrived in Paris. Andy quickly stripped out of her Michael Kors dress, and put on a comfortable pair of pyjamas. She went into the adjoining bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. Feeling refreshed, she made her way back to the richly furnished bedroom and plopped down on the bed with a great sigh of relief. She took a moment to run her hands up and down the soft fabric at her sides, luxuriating in the softness of a-thousand-and-something thread-count sheets.

But even in this moment of peace, she couldn't stop her mind from wandering back over the hectic events of the past few days. Despite the fast pace and her need to always be one step ahead of the next potential catastrophe, Andy found that she was actually enjoying herself. And to her surprise, she found that she especially loved attending the fashion shows. Attempting to mingle at the after-parties and on the red carpet, she still occasionally felt out of place, but at the shows it was a completely different experience. It was during those moments, sitting in the dark at the sidelines of all the lights and glamour, that Andy felt the most free. For once, she didn't feel like she had to perform or live up to anyone's expectations, she could just sit back and take it all in.

But most of all, she found a secret pleasure in watching Miranda during these shows. Sitting one row in front of her, her white hair glowing like a beacon, Miranda always appeared to be the centre of it all. Sure, people were ostensibly there to see the models and the fashion they displayed. But really, everyone was watching Miranda, anxiously waiting for her reaction to each new piece. Miranda was exquisite, like a queen presiding over her court, and Andy was captivated.

And then there was that time just yesterday at the Valentino show, when Miranda had turned in her seat, catching a wide-eyed Andy with her intense stare.

"You would look stunning in that, Andrea," Miranda had said, referring to a slinky red number that practically oozed sex. Andy's eyes had widened further at the comment. Never before had she received such a direct compliment from Miranda. Thinking back to that moment, Andy smiled and nestled back further into her pillow.

She began lazily tracing patterns across her stomach. Yes, with that one line, that one tiny, insignificant compliment, Miranda had won her over yet again. Andy's light traces moved up her abdomen, leaving a feather-light tingling along the underside of one breast, and then trailed up further, idly tracing circles around a nipple which immediately stiffened under the tight cotton of her pyjama top. She sighed again, and with only a moment's thought, moved her other hand to slip under the waistband of her shorts. Why not? she thought. It had been a busy week; she deserved a little release, however fleeting. She closed her eyes and gave a soft moan. And thought of Miranda, sitting regally in the front row amidst designers and models and clothes and absolutely eclipsing them all in her glory.

Only to be startled by the insistent sound of her phone ringing. She froze, her hand still buried inside her pyjamas. From her position near the bedside table, she could just barely see the display. Miranda. She sighed again, this time in frustration, and had just enough presence of mind to appreciate the irony. Slipping her hand out and unceremoniously wiping the moisture on the sheets, she grabbed the phone and pressed the send button.

"Hello?" Andy answered huskily. She cleared her throat and tried to control her voice from sounding quite so wanton. "Miranda?"

"Andrea," Miranda's voice, intoning clearly through the phone line, was enough to send shivers through Andy's body. Against her will, a soft moan escaped Andy's parted lips.

The other end of the line went silent. Andy was too far gone to be mortified. That would surely come later.

"Andrea," the silky voice repeated after a moment, "where are you?"

"On my bed," Andy replied, too late realizing that was probably more specific than was altogether necessary.

"Ah," Miranda murmured, "and what, pray tell, are you up to?"

The tone was almost too casual, and for the first time Andy returned to her senses enough to realize that caution was almost certainly called for in situations like this. She tried to blink through the haze to a more coherent state.

"Um, was there something that I could do for you, Miranda?" When she didn't get an immediate response, she asked, "Anything?"

It was difficult to tell, but Andy thought she heard a breath hitch on the other side of the line.

"I suppose that depends," Miranda began slowly, "on what you're wearing."

It was her tone, silken and deep and with a hint of seduction, that sent a jolt of heat to pool directly between Andy's legs. Even as her eyes widened in shock at her own behaviour, she slipped her hand back under her panties. Her breathing accelerated imperceptibly.

Was this really happening?

This time Andy thought the sound was unmistakable as she heard Miranda hum with pleasure. As if catching herself, Miranda seemed to cover her slip by continuing, "…to the luncheon for James on Saturday." To Andy it seemed like a flimsy cover at best, an attempt to sustain the pretense of a business call. She smiled as she listened to Miranda's justification. "As you know, it is crucial that the Runway team has a presence that is both professional and elegant, on the cutting edge of fashion without seeming desperately haute couture. I need to ensure you won't embarrass me."

Andy rolled her eyes at that final statement, but also thought it might be a reactionary impulse that indicated that Miranda was in fact nervous.

Andy was beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that Miranda had been perfectly aware of the effect that she had over her assistant, and that Miranda had known exactly what the flushed cheeks had meant that day in her office when she'd warned her against an impending cold. Andy had no way of knowing for sure, though. For all she knew, she was imagining things in her less-than-clear state of mind, and projecting a response from Miranda that she desired. She could very well be risking her job and entire career if she misread this one phone call.

But right now, with her hand doing all kinds of wonderful things between her thighs and the idea, however unsubstantiated, that Miranda may in fact be encouraging her, all combined into one resolution: Right now, she just didn't care. And if she was already playing with fire, she figured she might as well turn up the heat.

"Well, I was planning on wearing that red Valentino dress that you liked yesterday," Andy baited, practicing her most demure tone of voice. "Would that be… acceptable?"

Andy remembered the look on Miranda's face at that show, the way she'd practically devoured the dress with her eyes. She had an inkling that Miranda would more than approve of her choice.

"Mmm," Miranda hummed in agreement. Her voice sounded shaky as she continued, "that would be just fine."

There was a moment of silence as Andy fought to control her breathing, waiting to see if there was anything else Miranda wanted, or if she would simply be dismissed. Not disappointing, Miranda seemed inclined to talk.

"That model couldn't even do that dress justice," she spoke in a low voice, the tone causing Andy to shiver. "Did you notice how it hung on her emaciated frame? Appalling. No," Miranda purred, "on you, it will look much better."

Andy held her breath as Miranda continued. "The cut is meant for more curves. It will flow magnificently down over your hips. Which, as you know, that woman didn't even possess." It was the way she said it, with an admonishing tone directed at the stick-thin models that she was surrounded by everyday. By all accounts, that statement should not have been a turn-on. But Andy had never thought she'd see the day when Miranda was actually appreciating her form, however indirectly. So for no good reason, that admission alone was enough to cause a warmth to flood low in her belly.

She was so caught up in trying to analyze her own reaction that Andy almost missed what came next as Miranda continued in a low murmur. "…and the way it's been cut on the bias will cause it to spill beautifully across your thighs."

Andy gasped. Miranda was talking about her thighs! Andy found that she couldn't conceal her heavier breathing now, even if she'd wanted to.

"And of course there's the neckline," Miranda continued. "On that model, the dress hung limply over her perky little breasts." It came out snidely, and Andy closed her eyes. "But on you, Andrea," and her voice was barely more than a low rasp, "on you I can imagine the material will dip down just enough to be tantalizing, and then swell radiantly over your cleavage."

If Andy had been stunned by Miranda's compliment at the Valentino show, she was completely blown away and more than a little aroused by this detailed description of her... assets.

"Yes," Miranda hummed, "it will look divine. Don't you agree, Andrea?"

And there it was again, the way that she said her name, rolling off her tongue like honey and something sharper and richer, a double-malt scotch. And going straight to her head in much the same way. It was intoxicating.

Andy felt a shiver run through her body. She leaned back and tucked the phone into the crook of her shoulder, freeing up her right hand which she slipped under her shirt to brush over her breast, which Miranda had just so eloquently praised. Her left hand was still buried quite contently in the slick folds between her thighs. Andy had never been this wet before. Not with Nate, and never by herself. But she wasn't alone this time. Not really, anyway, although the flimsy guise of a business call would suggest otherwise. She moaned again and began moving her hands faster, her breath accelerating in time with her new rhythm.

Based on the noises that Andy no longer had any hope of concealing, Miranda must be aware of what was going on at the other end of the phone line. And she hadn't fired her yet. Which caused a scandalous thought to flit through Andy's mind.

Was Miranda touching herself as well?

That thought, accompanied by an image of Miranda spread wide on her own bed just down the hall, her head thrown back in pleasure, caused another gasp to escape from Andy's lips.

Suddenly, all pretense was dropped when Miranda uttered the following words with husky intensity:

"Andrea, I want you to come for me."

The request was nearly enough to push her over the edge.

And if she melted at the way Miranda said her name, she had no idea the effect that the next words could have.

"Oh, God. Miranda." The name came out as a moan, deep and raspy and full of desperation. It was pure sex. And hearing it ripped from herself was enough to cause lights to flash behind her eyes as she experienced one of the most powerful orgasms of her life.

There was silence on the line as Andy struggled to regain her breath and salvage what was left of any sense of control. The reality of what had just happened began to settle around her and uncertainty flared in her breast like cold steel.

Finally, she heard the impenetrable voice slice through the phone line, "That's all."

She was left, panting and sweaty and utterly confused, with nothing more than a dial tone.


~~~ After ~~~

Awareness danced on the edge of her consciousness, as if toying with the idea of waking up. Her first sensation was of the silken feel against her cheek and the rather sharp brightness that prodded at her eyelids. She blinked, only to shut her eyes again immediately. A ray of light had made its way through a gap in the heavy curtains, and shone in a taunting sort of way directly into her bleary eyes. She rolled onto her back and ran a hand over her face, her lips smacking in protest at the dry, cottony texture that had invaded her mouth.

When she was feeling marginally more up to the task, she opened her eyes slowly and glanced at the bedside clock. 5:45am. She groaned at the injustice of morning.

Why was the sun even up at this hour? She cursed the over-eager pre-dawn light that, on closer inspection, was not all that bright after all, but more of a fledgling glimmer, a mere impression of daylight as night toiled towards dawn.

As her brain struggled to catch up to the rest of her body in its awakened state, a memory flitted across her mind as if through a half-dream. Soft sheets. A phone call. Something about a red dress. Her eyes snapped open. Miranda.

Holy shit, oh holy fucking shit. If she'd been in any state of mind suitable for self-analysis, she might have been amused at her body's ability to go from half-asleep to adrenaline-infused, heart-pounding alertness in less than a second. The effect was better than the most heavily-caffeinated Starbucks. She sat up in a wild panic and looked around blindly, as if trying to find something, anything, to focus on. Her eyes landed on the phone on the bedside table. She groaned and flopped back into her pillow, which she then grabbed and placed over her face as she stifled a scream. When she could barely breathe any longer, she removed the pillow and stared up at the ceiling.

As she stared blankly at the elaborate ceiling rosette, her eyes wandered across a small crack that travelled through the moulding. She found it vaguely noteworthy that even expensive décor such as this had flaws. With such innocuous musings, her heart began its slow descent to a reasonable, non-life-threatening pace.

She ran a hand over her face again and rubbed her eyes as she tried to make sense of the jumbled emotions that ran rampant through her mind.

How on earth was she going to face Miranda today? This was not just some measly, life-altering erotic dream. This time, there had been audience participation. It was one thing to place Miranda on a dais as some sort of statue of seduction, an icon of her sexual fantasies. But that was the thing about icons – they were, by definition, untouchable, nothing more than false representations of the real. Although her interaction with Miranda had been admittedly intangible last night, the point was that she had still interacted with the fantasy. That phone call had been like breaking the fourth wall, so to speak, and it left her with a jarring sense of dissonance.

As fascinating as this introspective interlude was, Andy was still left with one crucial, unanswered question: How in holy hell was she supposed to face Miranda?

As if sensing that thought, her phone rang. The familiar ringtone made her stomach flop. She glanced at the clock. The display read 6:04. Andy blinked. She knew Miranda didn't have any appointments until 8am. She hadn't been planning on waking up, let alone needing to be at Miranda's beck and call, for at least another forty-five minutes.

With some trepidation, she pressed the call answer button.

"Hello?" her voice croaked out, to her horror.

"Andrea," came Miranda's cool and efficient voice, "I expect you to be at my suite with coffee in fifteen minutes." Click.

Andy looked at the phone, incredulous. The brisk tone had been so familiar it had almost made her forget the events of last night.


She paced just outside the door to Miranda's hotel suite, the Starbucks scalding her hand through the java sleeve. Would she be able to face her, after last night? At just the thought, Andy found herself practically hyperventilating. Okay, first rule – don't think about last night. Andy nodded with resolution, trying to control the pounding of her heart.

But what if Miranda wanted to talk about it? Even thinking it, she could have laughed. She could just picture Miranda broaching the subject, sitting down and having a heart to heart. Yeah right, and then they'd braid each other's hair. She snorted, remembering Nigel's gentle teasing. Okay, she told herself: Second rule – don't mention last night, in any shape or form.

She took a deep breath, counted to five, and then knocked. She couldn't put it off all day. Besides, her hand was starting to burn.

"Good morning," Miranda murmured as she opened the door for Andy and then proceeded back into the suite. Andy stood at the door in shock. When had Miranda ever said anything as pleasant as 'Good morning' to her? Aside from last night, of course. Although she wasn't sure whether that qualified as 'pleasant' so much as –

Miranda turned around and gave her an impatient look that said, 'Well? Are you coming in?' and Andy was shaken out of her internal monologue. She hustled in and pasted on one of her cheerful smiles.

"Good morning, Miranda," she said, handing over the Starbucks. "Did you sleep well?" Andy could have kicked herself. Two minutes in and she had already broken both rules. She turned bright red and willed the floor to swallow her whole.

Miranda took a moment to regard Andy through narrowed eyes as she took a sip of her coffee. She surprised Andy when she simply said, "Not particularly well, no."

Andy gave what she hoped was a sympathetic smile, but she found her own pulse accelerating. To cover her reaction, she began fumbling in her bag, searching for her notepad.

"So, ah, was there something that you wanted me to do for you this morning?" she asked absentmindedly, finally finding the notepad and pulling it out. She clicked her pen open and glanced up at Miranda, whose eyes averted as soon as their gaze made contact.

Was… was Miranda Priestly blushing?

Andy thought back to what she'd just said, and felt a flush rise in her own cheeks.

Miranda cleared her throat and began giving her notes for the day. But the instructions were given haltingly, as if she were making them up as she went along, and Andy noted with a pang in her gut that Miranda was still avoiding her gaze. In fact, partway through her orders Miranda had turned fully around and was looking out at the brightening day through the large windows, completely ignoring Andy's presence but for the tirade of commands that had gained in momentum, streaming from her as if on autopilot.

It suddenly occurred to Andy that this was a defence mechanism. Miranda was obviously just as nervous about the unexpected events of last night as Andy was. The realization gave Andy a boost of confidence. To hell with her rules. She stepped towards her boss and willed her to turn around as she said, "Miranda."

The intensity with which she uttered that one word evoked a memory of the night before, when she'd cried out those same syllables as she climaxed. She could tell that similar thoughts were passing through Miranda's mind by the way her head snapped around to look directly into Andy's face.

Andy's breath caught at the look she received from Miranda. Her eyes were cutting and clear as ice, but that couldn't be right, Andy thought. No ice could ever radiate such heat. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. The world seemed to narrow in for Andy, until there was nothing left but those scorching eyes and the sound of rushing blood pounding in her ears.

As if against her will, she took a step forward. The motion seemed to snap Miranda out of her trance-like state. She blinked and took a step backwards, colliding with the edge of a side-table and causing a lamp to teeter precariously. It was the first non-elegant move Andy had ever seen her make.

Miranda straightened and absentmindedly adjusted the belt at her waist. Her face morphed back into its cold and closed state, just this side of pursed lips. She waved her hand vaguely in the direction of her notepad and said, "Well? Those tasks aren't going to complete themselves." Her voice had taken on the signature timbre that simultaneously expressed utter boredom and cool distain at the world's incompetence. The transformation was complete.

Okay, Andy thought, Miranda wanted to act as though nothing had happened. That was, after all, what she had expected. That was what the rules were for, remember?

She blinked back a pooling wetness in her eyes, determined not to let this bother her. Most importantly, she was determined not to let Miranda see that it totally didn't bother her. Because it didn't.

She nodded, not trusting her voice, and backed out of the room, ready as always to do Miranda's bidding.

That night, Andy struggled with some boxes as she entered Miranda's suite. She set the key card on the side-table and moved through the foyer to set down her armload.

She knew Miranda was at a dinner, so any hesitations that she normally would have had at entering Miranda's space were non-existent. She was free of the tension that she had held coiled all day long in Miranda's presence, for fear of letting slip some innuendo or vague reference to the night before. Where her gaze had freely soaked in the magnificent presence of the Editor-in-Chief throughout fashion week, now she trained her eyes just above her shoulder or, whenever possible, anywhere where Miranda was not. She had even managed to keep her thoughts from their unruly ways. Whenever she would notice her mind wandering towards the treacherous terrain of the night before, and what it all meant, she would force herself to recite as many famous first lines of novels as she could remember: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself" or "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new" or "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." And so on.

But now, with Miranda off at her dinner, Andy could finally relax.

Which is why her walls were down and she was utterly unprepared for the sight of Miranda, sitting on a loveseat in a grey bathrobe.

"Oh!" Andy faltered in her step. It took everything in her not to sneak away backwards and leave Miranda to her private moment.

But she was also drawn to the scene before her. Never before had she seen Miranda so raw, without any makeup or fancy clothing to mask the woman underneath. Andy also marvelled at just how small she looked, sitting there in her bare feet. On her mildest of days, Miranda Priestly was a force of nature to behold – she could overpower an entire banquet hall merely with her presence. But tonight, she was stripped of that aura that made her seem so formidable. She was just purely… human.

And then she spoke, fiddling with her glasses and stumbling over what she was saying. So un-Miranda-like.

Andy blinked, realizing she had been staring. Right. The seating chart. She took a moment to search through her bag. It was telling that Andy was actually relieved by Miranda's impatience as she held out her hand, waiting, spewing something about moving at a glacial pace. If she could be huffy about that, it was probably a good sign.

And then came three words that at first held less meaning to Andy than they should have: "Stephen isn't coming."

She was so daft as to make some vapid comment about fetching him from the airport. Andy reeled when the words finally struck home. They were getting a divorce.

She felt an odd sense of ambivalence at the revelation. She wanted to be concerned for Miranda – she was certainly saddened by the pain pouring from her in waves – but at the same time she felt as though her chest might burst as it flared with hope.

"You're fetching," Miranda intoned softly. Andy felt her heart clench at the words "Go fetch."

The words sounded as though they were meant to sting, but Andy knew Miranda well enough to know that her abrasiveness was her last layer of armour. If anything, Andy was all the more enchanted as she sat and listened to Miranda worry about her children, her voice catching as she held in a sob. Andy's heart almost melted at just how human she was in that moment.

As Miranda wound down, Andy took her chance: "Is there anything else I can do?" Her voice was yearning, hoping against hope that Miranda would let her do something, anything, to ease the pain. That she would finally let her in, after a day of strained emotions and closed walls.

But the words she wanted to hear, desperately needed to hear from Miranda never came. Instead, she got the standard-issue response, cold and presumptive.

"Your job."

She felt her world sinking. Because Andy realized she wanted more from her, wanted to be more for her, than some full-time lackey, part-time sexual fantasy. Miranda was so much more than the sexualized icon that she had built up in her mind. Andy felt a pang deep in her gut as she looked at her, really looked, at the face without makeup, at the woman stripped bare and at her most vulnerable.

In that instant, Andy felt a shattering within herself as if a glass wall exploded apart and rained down in tiny, jagged pieces.

She was in love.

And she couldn't do anything about it.

Her heart rate quickened and she felt the ground giving out under her. She heard Miranda's dismissal as if through a fog, and her only thought was that she needed to escape.

That night she practically threw herself at Christian. He was charming and articulate and comfortingly normal in his slightly sleazy, womanizing manner. And most importantly, he was absolutely not her boss. She didn't answer to his every beck and call.

Screw Nate and his high and mighty attitude, thinking he knew anything at all about Andy. She was going to prove that she could very well have a relationship with someone whose calls she did not take.

And it would be so easy. With Christian, she didn't get flustered, tripping over herself with her raging hormones. She was in complete control of her emotions. She was the one who dictated when and how her body would react, and how far she would take it.

It was almost refreshing the way Christian was so upfront about what he wanted from her. Tonight, after a day full of veiled words and suppressed emotions, direct and inviting was exactly what she needed.

And she needed that release, to be able to lose herself, to relinquish any thoughts and doubts that cluttered her mind. She needed to give in to the sense of touch, that wordless communication of the skin that could set her free.

But he was hard and stubbly and angular, bulging muscle and fake smiles, and it was all wrong.

The next day Andy didn't wear the red Valentino dress, but some safe black thing that she threw on at the last minute. She still felt dirty after last night, even after having showered and changed in time for the luncheon.

Miranda looked her up and down, but said nothing. No sneer of disapproval, no indication of disappointment, as though she'd had absolutely no expectations whatsoever. Instead, she made some mundane threat about the freesias.

Andy was even more confused than she had been the night before. She had a moment of panic where she thought Miranda could smell Christian on her, but no that was absurd. She couldn't have any way of knowing. Andy gulped.

Upon waking up this morning, feeling sticky and hung over and utterly disgusted with herself, Andy knew that she could never make it work with Christian. No matter how much she wanted to prove to Nate that he was wrong.

She still had no idea what she was going to do with her feelings for Miranda, but the first step had been to close all possible avenues with Christian. She did that by breaking his trust as she tried to warn Miranda about the plot to oust her from Runway. That had to count for something, didn't it?

So why was Miranda avoiding her gaze?

It took only two words, four insignificant syllables, for Andy to understand. Jacqueline Follet. She felt a deep sinking of her heart and a tightening of her throat as the realization of who Miranda was, what she was actually capable of, took hold.

The audience clapped at the unveiling, their dainty, gloved hands evoking a dampened, polite brush of fabric rather than rapturous applause. Andy glanced around the room, her gaze falling on Nigel.

With some consideration, she admitted to herself that she shouldn't be surprised. After all, Miranda's fierceness was one of the things she loved most about her. It wouldn't have made sense for her to simply roll over and expose her throat to Irv Ravitz, no matter that she had to squash Nigel's dreams in the process. But, as Nigel said, she would pay him back, somehow, at some point. Wouldn't she? …She had to.

As the applause died down and the speeches continued, Andy suddenly had the vague sense that the room had gone deathly silent. She could see Miranda at the podium, her lips moving as she no doubt praised James for his revolutionary line of fashion. But Andy didn't hear a sound. Instead, she was fighting a silent battle within herself.

Her confusion over her feelings for Miranda had been bubbling under the surface, but Andy had pushed them back and tried to ignore them, thinking she had no control over her body's reactions. Blaming Nate.

But as Miranda stood at the front of the room, having taken a hold of her own fate and steered it the way it needed to go, Andy realized that she could do the same.

It came as a revelation, but it occurred to her that she'd already made up her mind. She'd chosen Miranda over Christian, just like she'd chosen her over Nate. And she knew, she knew, that she would continue to choose her, time and again. Because she was drawn to her, in a way she had never been before. By anyone. She was drawn to her strength, her resolve, her unerring devotion to the magazine and her children, to those that mattered most to her. She was drawn to her vulnerability, that elusive creature so rarely brought to light, but of which Andy was all too aware.

The sound in the room came flooding back and Andy was surprised to note that Miranda was already halfway back to her table, the audience clapping wildly. She looked around at the faces in the crowd, the fashion elite who gazed adoringly at the only woman in the room who mattered.

That was when Andy realized she had to leave.

After the luncheon, after… everything, Andy stood by the fountain, tears streaming down her face. Her phone was ringing. She didn't have to look at the display to know it was Miranda. She was reminded of that night on the phone, was it just two days ago? She considered tossing the phone into the fountain, to drown her despair along with the short circuiting electronics. Why not? She shrugged, and with a great heave, tossed it into the air. She watched it arc up and across, and then plummet down with a wimpy splash as the water enveloped it. With a sigh, she realized it didn't make her feel any better.

"Everyone wants to be us."

Not true, Andy thought. I can do better. She looked up at the fountain, watched the droplets cascading down over the statue even as her own tears dried on her cheeks. We both can.

She turned around and leaned back against the edge of the fountain, feeling the spray begin to soak the back of her dress. She didn't care. It was almost refreshing, cleansing in a way that her tears hadn't been. She sniffed and ran a gloved hand across her runny nose as she looked out at the bustling street.

She watched a business man, holding his briefcase with determined purpose as his polished shoes shuffled across the cobbled walkway. Another man walked hand in hand with a young girl, pointing and laughing at the pigeons. The cars swerved past, smaller than their American cousins, but just as aggressive, with honking horns and frustrated drivers.

She looked up at the sky and took a deep breath. Her nose had stopped running. She could smell exhaust mingled with a hint of chlorine in the air.

This was for the best, Andy told herself. Although she felt as though her heart was ripping from her chest, she knew it would be okay. Miranda would understand. Eventually.

She took in a shaky breath, and then exhaled with a strengthened resolve. She could do this. She took a step away from the fountain, turned and smiled up into the spray of water. With a little laugh, she shook her head and headed back towards the hotel to pack her things. She walked with a lighter heart, because she knew that the next time she encountered Miranda, well… that part wouldn't be Nate's fault at all.


~~~ Now ~~~

Miranda scowls at the bloody steak on the plate in front of her. She'll have to talk to Jane, or Janet or whatever her name is, about this. Medium rare, is that such a hard concept? The past two lunches have arrived practically raw. Her bitter smile twists into a sneer. They probably imagine she prefers it bloodier, that she'd tear her teeth into the live flesh if it wouldn't mean she'd get blood all over her designer top. She pokes at the steak again, and admits that it's not as undercooked as she will have Janice (is that her name?) believe. She pushes the plate away and heaves a great sigh. The truth is, she hasn't been eating much lately. Not since –

"Emily," she forces herself away from her thoughts and turns instead to the comforting task of berating an employee. Jane/Janet/Janice practically trips over herself as she runs into Miranda's office, trying to hide a look of panic.

Miranda looks at her newest assistant, teetering on her four-inch stilettos, and realizes that she's lost her appetite even for this. She sighs and motions to the plate. "Get rid of this."

Her assistant gapes at her, then grabs the plate and seems to hesitate. She begins in a sickeningly timid tone, "W-was it not cooked to your liking? Should I get you something else?"

Miranda just glares at her and watches with mild satisfaction as the creature's eyes bulge and she backs out of the office hastily.

Miranda shakes her head and tries to focus on the mock-ups. It's been six months since… she still can't vocalize it, even in her mind… and her work has been suffering. She just hasn't had the same drive that used to pulse through her veins. Now it was like drawing blood from a stone to get anything done.

Her cell phone rings, and she looks in confusion at the caller ID. She doesn't recognize the number. Who on earth would have the audacity to call her on her personal line? She flips open the phone, mildly curious despite herself.

"Yes?" she barks.

There is a moment of suspended silence before a familiar voice filters through the phone line. "Hello, Miranda."

After all this time, Miranda is startled that the voice can have this effect on her. Her heart is already beating faster, and she has to clear her throat to get rid of the lump that seems to have put up residence there.

"Andrea," she schools her voice into its usual cool timbre. "I take it your new job is treating you well?" It is a relatively innocuous question, but she has managed to infuse a hint of distain nevertheless.

"Yes," Andrea seems to have become nervous. "I, uh, wanted to thank you, actually. For your recommendation… Um."

Miranda rolls her eyes. "After six months," she sneers. "How kind of you. And timely."

"Damn it, Miranda!" Andrea's outburst seems to shock them both into silence. In a calmer tone, Andrea continues. "Please let's have a civilized conversation, without you biting my head off."

After a moment, in uncharacteristic compliance Miranda says, "Alright." With a wry grin, she adds, "And here I always thought we were able to communicate better on the phone." She wonders whether Andrea will catch the allusion to… that night.

"Yes, well," Andrea stammers. She seems to fidget on the other side of the line but doesn't say anything else.

"So what did you want to discuss?" Miranda asks with some impatience.

"I'm not going to apologize for leaving Runway," Andrea blurts. Before Miranda can formulate a response, she continues, "But I will apologize for leaving you."

Miranda's breath catches in her throat. "Well I suppose we're even, then," her voice gains more strength, "because I won't apologize for what I did to keep Runway."

"I don't expect you to."

Miranda nods, vaguely aware that Andrea can't see her. Now it's Miranda's turn to fidget. She picks up a pen, pops on and off the cap a few times, before bringing it to paper and doodling… she drops the pen as soon as she realizes what she's doing.

"So," Andrea's voice turns playful, "what are you wearing?"

Miranda rolls her eyes and breathes out in exasperation, "Oh, for goodness…" but there is a smile threatening her lips. "Goodbye, Andrea," she says forcefully, before she betrays herself.

She can practically hear the pout on the other end, but the silence is quickly followed by a laugh. "See you soon, Miranda," Andrea's voice holds a hint of promise.

"I hope so," to her horror, Miranda's voice is breathier than she'd intended.

"I know so," Andrea says cryptically, and then hangs up.

Miranda stares at her phone. Now what on earth could she have meant by that, she wonders.

Andy tugs on the hem of her dress. She's no longer accustomed to wearing such high-class attire, but tonight has to be perfect. She walks up the stairs, careful not to trip and ignoring the photographers on either side of the red-carpet. She enters the hall and gasps. Apparently she's no longer accustomed to this kind of opulence, either. The hall is lit with large chandeliers and candles that line the walls and trail up the centre staircase. The iridescence shines from practically every surface, sparkling off the high windows and glinting from jewels that adorn ears and throats. The colors are mesmerizing.

She walks further into the hall, trying her best not to gape. She silently berates herself for feeling so overcome. Has she forgotten everything from her time working with Miranda? She grabs a flute of champagne from a passing server and tries to look like she belongs.

She hasn't meant for it to take six months. But it has taken her this long to build up a reputation. She knew she couldn't face Miranda before she was established as a journalist, before she was someone with means, however meagre, someone to be respected. Because otherwise the temptation to fall back into the pattern of subservience, being nothing more than a puppet, would have been too strong. As much as she hates to admit it, there were weeks, especially near the beginning, when she had considered going back to Runway, begging Miranda for her job back. She missed her that much. No, she knew she had to take her time, be patient.

Plus it took her this long to convince her boss to get her an invitation to one of these galas.

She smiles at a young couple who are gazing at her appreciatively. She makes her way through the crowd, mingling occasionally with people she vaguely remembers from her days at Runway.

At one point she sees a flash of silver and her heart flutters. The crowd parts and she gets her first view of the stunning Miranda Priestly, gloriously in her element amid this luxury. Andy smiles secretly to herself. It's too soon for her to approach her, but just knowing that she's in the same room sends a warmth to spread throughout her body. She turns away and finds a familiar face – Mark, was that his name? – and approaches him to say hello.

Eventually, Miranda sees her from across the room. Andy smiles, tilts her glass in a salute, but makes no move to join her. Instead she turns and engages an older man in conversation. He laughs amiably with her, charmed. She glances back and sees that Miranda has been distracted by a group of up-and-coming designers. It's hard to tell from this distance, but her face looks flushed.

It takes everything Andy has to withstand the urge to go talk to Miranda. But she waits, enjoying the low buzz that grows with anticipation. She drifts about the room, chatting occasionally, sipping her champagne and observing the general air of festivity. She watches as Miranda is flocked by adulators, those that wish to make an impression on the great Miranda Priestly. Andy smiles inwardly. She can tell that Miranda is distracted by the way she smiles and nods and glances over their shoulders any chance she can get. Those that seek her attention are oblivious to the fact that her interest is captured by one woman tonight. If her face looks slightly flushed, it must be due to the warm glow of the candles, or perhaps from the expensive champagne, they tell themselves.

When Andy finally does approach her, Miranda is still surrounded by a group of people. They're forced to speak in clipped, civil tones as they make pleasantries, inquire about each other's work, chat amiably with the other guests, who are intrigued to discover that Andy was one of Miranda's assistants (some say the former assistant, the one who got away – but that can't be true, look how friendly they are with one another…).

After a respectable but hardly noteworthy amount of time, Andy smiles and excuses herself, only to begin again the torturous task of mingling and watching from afar. She drains her champagne and grabs another. She realizes that she's beginning to feel it going to her head. She'll be more careful with this one, vowing to nurse it for the rest of the evening.

After her third tour around the hall, and an indefinite amount of insufferable small talk, she glances once again in Miranda's direction. They share a moment as their eyes lock from across the room. Andy decides that it's time. She motions with her head, indicating for Miranda to follow her. She walks towards the coatroom and finds a little alcove that is secluded from the rest of the party. She turns around and Miranda is there, finally, in her presence. But Andy is surprised to see that Miranda is fuming.

"Goddamn you," the voice is a low snarl.

"Ex- excuse me?" Andy is startled. She glances around, her doe-eyes wide. Miranda grabs her chin and forces her to meet her gaze. She steps into her personal space.

"Do you have any idea how wet I am because of you?" Miranda growls as if it were the most heinous grievance imaginable.

Oh, Andy thinks, her heartbeat quickening.

"What do you think you were doing, teasing me like that?" She pushes Andy up against the wall, her face inches away. Their breath mingles as they both begin to pant at the proximity. "And wearing this," Miranda runs her hands down the length of Andy's slinky red dress. It's the Valentino, from Paris.

Andy smiles. There is a feral glint in her eye.

"Now you know," she says, her voice deep with desire. "You know what you put me through, at Runway." She reaches her hands around Miranda's back, trails them lower and cups her ass, pulling her closer. They both gasp as the length of their bodies collides. "There were whole days – days! – when I was a quivering mess because of you. Did you know that?"

Miranda whimpers. Andy is astonished at the power she seems to have over her at this moment. She decides to put them both out of their misery and crushes their lips together in a passionate kiss.

She's amazed at how good it feels, to finally be touching Miranda. To be kissing her. It's as if she's gone her whole life in a drought, parched for the taste of this miraculous woman and only now is her thirst quenched. She's drunk with it.

Their teeth scrape in their eagerness to devour each other, and somehow Andy feels an elbow jab into her ribcage. It's awkward and she breaks away to gasp in pain. Miranda takes the opportunity to latch onto her neck, sucking at her tender pulse, and Andy forgives her instantly. She moans as a thigh is insinuated between her own, pushing upwards.

She grapples for Miranda's shoulders and pushes away slightly. They're both panting heavily. Miranda lifts her head to meet her gaze, and Andy loses herself for a moment in those crystal eyes, dark with desire but clouding with doubt. There is a question on Miranda's lips.

Andy leans in and captures those soft lips, slowing it down, moving more tenderly than before. Trying to erase all doubt.

She knows they won't necessarily have a happy ending. With Miranda, that sort of thing can never be sure. She nibbles on her soon-to-be lover's lip and grins. But this is a good start.

And the best part of it all is that this time around, Andy has no one to blame but herself.

The End

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