DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Iaido and Kendo are martial arts requiring expert instruction and guidance. Please don't Google videos and then play with a broomstick or—gods forbid!—that replica of Gabby's katana you have hanging on the wall. If your interest is sufficiently piqued, ask Google to find a good dojo in your area, and from that point on obey your sensei. The title is taken from a line in a song by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, "Mystery":- "The pirate gets the ship and the girl tonight..." This story would not carry the polish it now owns without, collectively, the Three Editors: La Beta ravenbull -who understands; "Second Chair" seelyfey -my fellow diet-wrecker; and to (La) law_nerd -Biscuit! My sincerest thanks to all three of you. Feedback and con crit welcome, and thanks in advance.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Ship and the Girl
By needled_ink1975


Part Two

This too-quiet Sunday morning Miranda is not in the mood to be alone; her girls are with their father. She invites Andy to the townhouse around eleven, and she promises that no, lunch will not be what models consider adequate. A look at what's available, as far as lunch ingredients go, sends Miranda upstairs to shower and dress. It's not often that she gets to do her own grocery shopping, and this morning she enjoys the experience. It is one of those sharply pretty winter mornings, where the bright sun contrasts distinctly with that vindictive cold common to January in New York. Just as Miranda rounds the corner with a paper bag in each arm, she sees Andy exit a cab. Miranda raises her chin in greeting, and her smile is small but real.

'If I was bad to the bone,' Andy calls as she walks toward Miranda. 'I'd use my cell to snap a picture and I'd send it to Page Six. Imagine the headline, "Fashion Queen Does Own Shopping- World Ends!"'

Miranda gives Andy a mock glare, and as they meet she hands off one of the bags. The cold has brought a rosy flush to Andy's cheeks, one that is not unbecoming, Miranda notices, and she thinks that this girl's looks will only improve with age.

'Pretty day, pretty girl,' Miranda says, while fishing her key out of a pocket.

'So I'm not the "smart fat girl" anymore?' Andy teases, as she often does.

'You wore lumpy sweaters and awfully cut skirts- they made you look fat. And honestly, if I had it all my way, every model would weigh an average of ten more pounds. The designers won't hear of it, and I call that laziness: it's easier to design clothes to fit and move with a model who's all up-and-down. It's not because thin looks good; it's because thin is easier to dress.'

'That's... It's despicable,' Andy mutters, and takes the other paper bag while Miranda removes and hangs her coat. They swap out and Andy hangs her coat, too. In the kitchen they tackle together the rather domestic chore of packing away the groceries. Andy notices that Miranda is wearing a little frown. 'What's up- work, or home?'

They have put in the time and effort, and this little area, that borders on a very-old-friends sort of comfort, is one they find themselves in more regularly these days. But sometimes landing here still causes the odd double-take, or mildly bemused response.

'Work,' Miranda mumbles. Then with more vigor: 'Irv. He never learns, and I've now had it with him. I've gone over his head for the first time in fourteen years, directly to Julius Clarke.'

'Jeez,' Andy says, her brows arched, her eyes wide. Since the two of them have begun socializing, she's learnt a lot more about how Miranda does business, and in general Miranda prefers to face off with Irv directly. 'What did he do to deserve that?'

'He wants to level my budget with those of the London, Paris, and Milan magazines.'

'What!' Andy squawks. 'You can't be serious. Runway New York provides more than half of the material used by all three of the satellite versions, and just about all of it for every September issue.'

'You needn't sing to the choir,' Miranda drawls. Then briskly again, and half through her teeth, she mutters, 'Julius is incensed, not to mention flabbergasted. At first he thought that I was joking. When he realized that I was serious... Well, the paint nearly peeled from several walls.'

'I can imagine,' Andy mutters. She can also imagine that the snowy-haired old gentleman might have apologized profusely after turning the air blue. She's only met him once, but she'd liked him at first sight. What most of the publishing world knows about Julius Clarke is this: he's utterly devoted to the company that his great-grandfather and that man's brother-in-law built from scratch. Leveling the budget of Runway New York with the budgets of the satellite versions is a move guaranteed to drop the standard of the magazine in the toilet, negatively affecting the company overall. 'Sounds to me like Irv has a real death-wish.'

'Frankly, I think he's gone off his head,' Miranda says, and now her teeth are properly gritted. She glares at a large onion before chopping it clean in half. She peels it quickly and neatly and begins to slice it. 'Anyone knows that what he has said will never be taken as a joke. He can't fob it off as such. If ever his ludicrous notion is leaked to the press, Elias-Clarke's stock prices will take a nose-dive; word alone that just the idea is being toyed with is enough to do considerable damage. A ten percent fall in stock prices is the equivalent of two-hundred-million dollars. And what about the jobs that will be lost as a result? We are in a recession, for Christ's sake. Insane!'

Chop! This time it's a tomato that gets it. Andy has never seen Miranda quite as angry as she is right now. She is careful but insistent as she firmly takes the large and very sharp chef's knife from Miranda's hand.

'I'll... Yeah. Just let me, okay? Sun's over the yard-arm: have a glass of wine.'

Miranda swears mildly in Italian, and pours from a bottle of cabernet sauvignon that hasn't yet breathed for quite as long as it should have; too bad. Well in-tune with herself, she recognizes this attitude as one which could lead to her polishing off that bottle all by herself. She pours a glass for Andy, too, and takes a seat on a high stool across the center island.

'I'm supposed to be making lunch for you.'

'Us,' Andy corrects and clinks her glass to Miranda's. 'When there's no more chopping to do, you can take over again.'

'You don't trust me,' Miranda grumbles sulkily.

'I don't trust you not to hurt yourself. You should never handle a blade when you're angry- never.'

'Yes, Mother.'

Andy giggles and continues to zip the knife through various ingredients. Lunch will be a lamb casserole, homey and warming; it'll be more so by being served over a bed of steamed brown rice. Eventually Miranda browns the cubed lamb and turns it into the company of vegetables, parboiled new potatoes, and fresh herbs. She adds a slightly thickened, rich red wine sauce, and it all goes into the oven. The rice is already steaming. Nothing to do now but sip at their wine and talk.

The subject veers back to Irv Ravitz.

'Guess he's really out, huh?'

'I can't see it any other way,' Miranda says and shrugs. 'I really don't know what possessed him.'

'You don't think he was trying just to rile you up?'

'If so it was a stupid way to do it. And yes, he's done so often, and perhaps this time he just got ahead of himself, but it's too much, too far,' Miranda says and shrugs slowly, in a very Continental way. 'I couldn't let it lie. So he's out. But it's not as if he'll suffer.'

'He's a multimillionaire, right?'

'My dear, Irv Ravitz is a billionaire.'

'Oh,' says Andy, and she tries to remember what a billion looks like on paper: a one and nine zeros. Andy snorts and sips at her wine. 'Can't imagine having all that money. What's the point?'

'I'm hardly poor, Andrea,' Miranda notes, but not at all defensively; she is merely discussing and explaining a fact. 'The point? Security, I suppose. I know that my children will lack for nothing. And there's enough in the bank to deal with most any calamity. However, I am well past the point where it gives me a thrill to get a raise. I'm paid what I'm worth, but I do what I love.'

'I know that. You didn't have to say as much, cos I was being very literal- why hang onto as much as a billion? No one person needs that much.'

'I agree,' Miranda chuckles. 'But I'm not Irv Ravitz.'

'True,' Andy concedes. Her expression becomes impish when she admits: 'I got a kick out of getting a raise, last week.'

'It's about time. Every time I see Robert Falls he sings your praises, and yet? About damn time,' Miranda insists. 'Tight-fisted, that one, and it doesn't serve him in the least, as the loss of Janey Caldwell proves. Is there a shuffling up the ladder, or is he hiring in a replacement?'

'Hire-in, but he's not offering enough to get a match for Janey.'

'I'll have a word with the silly boy,' Miranda mutters.

'Boy?' Andy laughs. 'He's only about ten years younger than you.'

'Yes, and twenty years ago he was twenty-two and I taught him everything he knows, while he got his master's degree through some correspondence college. Boy.'

'Okay-okay,' Andy giggles, really tickled. 'No more, cos I'll probably have a hard time keeping my face straight at work tomorrow. You're funny, you know that? Took me a while to realize that half of the stuff you say is hilarious. Thing is, it comes along with le glare and the oh-so-quiet tones. You're Miranda Fucking Priestly, so everyone's too scared to see the funny side.'

'Oftentimes it's fun to be Miranda Fucking Priestly,' Miranda says with a smirk.

'You're awful,' Andy chortles.

'You like me that way,' Miranda chuckles.

'I admit, yeah, but I prefer you this way,' Andy says with a smile.

Later, when Andy leaves, Miranda berates herself yet again: stop thinking about Paris! She might add a remonstrance to herself that she is weak, but instead, and for the first time, she faces a fact. Simply, she cares deeply for Andy. This fondness had its start while Andy worked at Runway, and she cried in Paris because Andy's leaving was akin to nothing less than a bereavement: few people even remotely understand Miranda Priestly.

Miranda still sees a lot of herself in Andy, but now she also sees how they are very different. The familiar provides a basis for a friendship that is developing and growing, and the unfamiliar provides the interest to keep working on the whole. There is real effort involved, too, because as it turns out there are fewer shared traits between them than Miranda had at first thought.

For one, and Miranda thinks about this rather wryly, Andy really couldn't give a damn about trends. She doesn't mind wearing what looks pretty on a hanger, and then looks better when she wears it, but beyond that, Andy is not in the least concerned with what's hot this season. She wears jeans and sweaters, and suits, and she mixes and matches well-cut skirts and blouses, but she has her own style and rarely does it match the latest trends featured in Runway. In fact, very often Andy Sachs deliberately dresses in a way that gives the finger to what both Runway and Miranda have to say about what's in this season.

Despite herself, Miranda smirks at this thought, because by proving that she doesn't care about trends and firmly sticking to her guns, Andy evidences a trait shared with Miranda: her way or the highway.

It's also like that in other ways. Often their dissimilarities tend to shine through in a manner that brings attention to their similarities. Sometimes they will look at each other, surprised by whatever is being discussed, or rather, the manner in which it's being discussed, and then they smile at that overlap of their commonalities.

And there is something about Andy that Miranda is drawn to, something that has no name, at least, it has no identity that Miranda can classify, but it also isn't something that she feels she needs to put a name to. What she knows is good: she likes having one Andy Sachs in her life. What she understands is also good: Andy likes having Miranda around. With those two points both clarified and classified, Miranda feels at ease. Whatever mystery is here can remain a mystery, or not. Miranda is content to walk this road with Andy to wherever it may take them.

She learned long ago that over-thinking anything often results in arriving at the wrong conclusion, which almost inevitably leads, as it once did with Andy, to disappointment.

By the time he comes in she is sipping, from a hand-blown glass, the remains of a whole bottle of wine.

He doesn't apologize for being late; he doesn't notice the perfectly decorated table, or the wide candles, dotted all around the room—blown out two hours ago; he doesn't ask about the meal she spent three hours preparing; he does not remember that it's her birthday.

'Again,' he says, his eyes glued to the empty wine bottle. 'I thought you said that you weren't going to turn into your parents.'

He's slurring his words. He's the one with the drinking problem, which is precisely why he criticizes anyone else who has more than two beers, takes their spirits neat, or polishes off a bottle of wine. He can drink an awful lot before he shows it, before he makes mistakes like the one he's just made now. He's drunk but his words hit home, and Miranda feels fury boil up inside her.

She isn't quite aware of her actions until after, when she's standing over him, watching dispassionately as a snake of blood trickles down his temple and onto his cheek. The bottle is still rolling across the floor.

'I could kill you,' she says, and it's the absolute truth. 'You fucking hypocrite- don't you dare bleed on my Persian rug. Get up and get out.'

'My things—'

'Tomorrow. Get out before I find a better weapon than that bottle. Move!'

He has sobered enough to realize that she means it, so he scrambles to the door and out.

She shoots the bolt loudly, hoping that he hears it, and she adds the chain for good measure. Two steps from the door, and she bends and snatches up the bottle; her lip curls at the blood and a few blond hairs attached to the thick bottom rim. She'd be worried about an assault charge, if he wasn't such a man's man: tell a police officer that a woman had injured and scared the hell out of him? Never. The bottle goes in the trash.

With his reference to her parents still ringing in her mind, she fills the lower half of a moka pot with water, adds a dark roast French-Kenyan grind to the little filter cup, screws on the top half of the pot, and she waits impatiently for her espresso to brew.

Like her parents? Miranda shuts her eyes and folds her arms, hugging herself. She loves this man; she adores him, and half of her is dying with the knowledge that it's over, a quarter rages still against his implication, and the final quarter is terrified that it's true.

In one way she is like her mother: the men she likes tend to end up liking their booze more than they like her. She has to fix this. She has to apply discipline and be very careful with the next one. And no more drinking alone.

The espresso hits hard and fast because she added sugar. She pours another cup and sips it, this time without sugar.

Yes, no more drinking alone. That seems best, or does it? There's no control, really, if something, anything is denied entirely, and the truth is that she has never once in her life been outright drunk. That proves something, doesn't it? She is twenty-six, she owns not one but two bachelor degrees—fine arts and journalism—and she is currently heading up the editorial department at Runway London. That level of success was not attained and is not maintained and improved upon by someone who has a drinking problem. But she is no fool, and she is ever aware that she could easily develop a problem, a habit.

The solution, then, is control rather than abstinence.

Miranda ponders this concept. Her lips purse and her eyes narrow slightly. It's a good rule in general, and she's good at taking control, in every way.

She is a Scorpio. She knows the heights and also the depths, in many ways, many areas. What she also knows is that smooth center plane, that plateau where she cruises, or so it seems: she readily manages to cause others to think that she cruises. She has ways of making people see what she needs or wants them to see.

Also she has her armor, and every day it becomes more resilient and it stretches to cover more and more of her several weak spots. Already, at just twenty-six, she is feared. Mostly because, come what may, no-one ever sees her ruffled.

There will be no repeat of tonight's events. Jeffrey was right in one way, booze hits her in the same way it did her father. There will be no repeat because she will not allow that to happen. If she is angry and also alone, no drinking at all. If she is angry while in company, she must, and will, restrict her alcohol intake.

Control becomes Miranda's best friend.

Miranda has no qualms about being seen by Elias-Clarke as a walking dollar sign. She set out to become exactly that. She has proven, on several occasions, to be worth a lot more to Elias-Clarke than certain people who think that they outrank her. Julius Clarke considers Miranda to be the company's single most valuable asset, and he's thought along those lines for at least the last fifteen years. He tells her that he's leaving the dissemination of this fact up to her.

'I am who and what I am, Julius, but I'm not about to tell your new CEO—'

'Tell? No, you show him,' Clarke grunts around the cheroot in his teeth. In this, he proves Andy wrong in one respect: he's a gentleman only when being a gentleman is appreciated. Miranda Priestly appreciates many things, like cheroots, so he holds a light for her; she also appreciates straight talk, so she gets that, too: 'I don't want any more bullshit. You walk onto that Executive Floor and you show him, Miranda. You make him piss his pants. I want him bitted, backed, and broke. I want him to know that if he screws with you, he is gone.'

'All right,' Miranda says lightly, as if agreeing to come to dinner.

He has known her for twenty-three years, and has seen her take a foundering magazine and turn it into his company's flagship in the space of eighteen months. He was also there when she proceeded to mount that ship with all the guns of a ship-o'-the-line, and she blew the competition out of the water.

He knows her, but in moments like this he knows only one thing: that he is very much relieved that she likes him.

When Miranda first meets Julius Clarke she is twenty-eight and he is thirty-seven. He grins and runs a hand through his dark hair that is boldly streaked with white, and she wryly hikes an eyebrow in acknowledgment- this much they have in common. When they talk they find more common ground. They are both from Massachusetts; both practically grew up on the backs of horses; both were born wealthy but like very much to really earn their own livings. And yes, Miranda will have one of those cheroots, thank you.

'You've said no twice to Mark's position.'

'It's not what I want,' Miranda says, referring to the post of Editor-in-Chief, Runway London. She's speaking to The Boss, but he has begun with her in a way that suggests that he likes straight talk as much as she does. 'I want Runway New York.'

'What you might want is to defect to Vogue,' Julius states. 'Damned if I know why, but Runway is—'

'Mismanaged,' Miranda interrupts calmly, and just as calmly she taps an ash. If she can't get what she wants from Julius Clarke, she will indeed go to Vogue. She'd rather not because Condé Naste is already huge and set to become bigger, and it's a company that is little more than a money-grubbing, money-grabbing bully. In fact, Elias-Clarke stands a chance of being the next concern aggressively engulfed by the publishing giant. 'Do you gamble, Julius?'

'Poker, yes. Why?'

'Go all-in on me. If it's as you say, that I might fare better with Vogue, then what you're really saying is that Runway New York and its satellite versions are failing anyway. If I fail to stop the ship from sinking, well, you've lost nothing, have you? And so the risk is really all mine: if I fail, my reputation goes down with the ship, not so?'

Julius shifts in his seat. He cannot look away from a pair of grey eyes that are steady and frighteningly confident. For the first time in his adult life he knows himself bettered. Mastered, tamed, and very nearly broken; he is no match for this woman.

He could react negatively; he has the power to fire her and ruin her already excellent reputation. He could do something stupid, like throw away a key to his company's future, all because of pride, but he smiles instead. It's better have a killer horse in the stable than no horse at all. After all, there's a war to be won.

'They'll make a try soon, to buy me out- Condé Naste or Time-Warner or McGraw-Hill.'

'Soon, as in..?'

'Next year, latest; October, I'd say,' Julius mutters.

'Then don't waste time now,' Miranda says flatly.

So he agrees, and before the month is out, Miranda's predecessor is very much out.

She presses into service two young men whom she pirates from other publications, Nigel Kipling and Robert Falls, respectively an art director and an exceptionally good editor. These two are fresh, untainted, manageable and therefore malleable. She needs very much to have only new blood in certain positions. Within her first six months in New York, she makes sure to weed out and replace any and every individual who doesn't demonstrate a love for their jobs.

Julius wants to complain because all that firing and hiring costs a lot, but every month the numbers back Miranda's moves- sales figures are increasing regularly for the first time in eleven years. After nine months, when Miranda demands a bigger budget, she gets it. By then the board of directors and the board of trustees have both ceased to mutter about Runway being a "money pit". For the first time in nearly six years the magazine is almost breaking even.

With her ship well-crewed, and that crew keeping the ship well-maintained, Miranda broadens her focus.

Runway is, at present, not one, but four individual magazines, and that is a problem. While she agrees that Runway London, Paris, and Milan need to maintain an individual feel, what those three versions also need is for each to be a part of the whole. Each version needs to say "I am Runway", but what each of them is saying at the moment is, "I am vaguely related to Runway- I share the same last name".

Right now Miranda holds the rank of captain. If she wants to command the fleet what she needs is a promotion to admiral.

'You want what? Come on, Miranda—!'

'Julius, hear me out,' Miranda says calmly.

So he listens to what might seem like an outrageous proposal to some, but the more he hears, the more he wants to hear. She has him convinced before she is halfway done, and by the time she's done, he sees the future: it's blindingly bright.

It all comes down to money- that's business. What Miranda proposes is to have Runway New York provide sixty percent or more of each satellite version's content. A basic mathematical sum shows that those three versions now need only forty percent, or less, of their current budgets. It's all as simple as pie, but then, so is business: lower the costs, increase the profits.

Julius promotes Miranda to fleet admiral at once.

Having all the bright, right ideas increases Miranda's value to Elias-Clarke, just as she'd hoped. She doesn't need the raise, but is pleased to get it. She works harder and earns the next raise and the one after that, but it really isn't about the figure on her paycheck. What she is doing amounts to nothing less than putting Elias-Clarke back on the map, but what she's really up to has all to do with making herself irreplaceable and, therefore, indispensable.

There is the usual, and Miranda stands still and acts bored for a few moments while the secretary, who came along with the new CEO, tells her that she doesn't have an appointment and therefore cannot see Mr. Keel. The secretary is of the professional variety and she's at least as old as Miranda, if not older.

'So what time tomorrow is good for you, because he will be free the whole day, honey.'

'Now is very good for me,' Miranda purrs. 'And if you ever call me "honey" again, your great-grandchildren will regret it. No-no. Don't bother getting up. John most certainly will not want you taking notes during this meeting.'

The secretary is still blinking and sputtering when the door to her boss's office is closed quite firmly.

The large corner office is still bedizened here and there with unpacked boxes. No move has been made at redecoration. John Keel looks as though he is sitting at Irv Ravitz's desk- sitting at Irv's desk in Irv's office. That's not at all good. He is a reasonably handsome man, one who tears his eyes away from his monitor, and his jet black eyebrows leap above oval silver-rimmed spectacles.

Miranda has gone the way of a power suit today, Armani, in dead black, and her charcoal blouse doesn't so much have a top button as it has a last button, which fastens low enough to reveal more black: La Perla, antique lace. Her cleavage says "Look here!", and then it taunts, "Now-you're-in-trouble!".

She watches with satisfaction as his throat works, and he drags his eyes up with effort, a lot of it.

'You had better inform your secretary that I never need an appointment, John.'

'Umm, but—'

'That was neither a question nor a suggestion,' Miranda says in her quietest, most dangerous register. From across the room she sees that he is straining to hear; this is the reason why she often speaks very quietly: so that people will pay attention. 'Three days ago I was given a list of three names, and yours was at the very bottom. The reason why you are sitting at that desk is because I moved your name to the top of that list. All I need do to remove your name from the list entirely, is snap my fingers. People far higher up the pecking order than am I have been fired for putting me in a bad mood, John. Give me polite cause to respect you, or you will find your tenure here short-lived. Are we on the same wavelength?'

He pauses, and his throat works again; the afternoon light through the west window shows off the sweat on his upper lip.

'Yes. All right,' he says and clears his throat.

Miranda guesses that his mouth is dry. The sweat reveals that he is, at least, very nervous; she doesn't think that he's afraid. That's what is required here, and she knows how to get it.

She stands completely still and she stares at him. It isn't a glare. She merely looks unblinkingly into his eyes, and she is as still and as calm and as cold as a statue. She is the very image of indifference. If he's a good boy, that's fine; if he's a bad boy, there are more where he came from; if he decides to tuck tail and run, there remain those other two names on the list. She knows that he's aware of this. She knows how it must make him feel: vapid and small and very replaceable. She also knows that he must have guessed by now that Irv Ravitz was one of those people who was fired for putting Miranda Priestly in a bad mood. She gathers together all of these impressions in the few seconds that it takes for John Keel to look away, and still she stares.

Bitted, backed, and broken, Julius Clarke had said. The moment she'd walked in, Keel had had the bit put in his mouth, and hadn't even known it; she's been riding him for several minutes now. He's not quite broken yet. Miranda doesn't believe in quashing spirit completely, not unless she has no further professional use for whomever.

'I chose you because I believe you can serve this fine company well,' she says softly. 'However, if you prove me wrong, John Michael Keel, I will reduce you to a mere reflection of yourself; just the tiniest, most pathetic sliver of who you are. Do not try me.'

And she turns on her heel and is gone in the softest rustle of cashmere and silk, with the quietest footfalls on thick wool carpeting, leaving behind the faintest hint of perfume. It lingers and haunts the man who sits at his predecessor's desk. He wipes at the sweat on his upper lip, his forehead, and at the nape of his neck. His hand trembles slightly.

John Michael Keel has a new definition of the word "power", and Miranda Victoria Priestly embodies it.

On the day that she finds out that she is carrying twins she is hit by the worst headache she has ever experienced. She supposes it's that type called a tension headache, because it started with a stiff neck. Not that she usually raises her voice, but speaking at even a regular volume is just too much. For three days the headache persists. When it finally relents, she modulates her tone to its normal sort of level. She is at home when she notices something strange: James says, "Sorry- what was that?", and while she was speaking, he'd carried on reading the newspaper.

It's Sunday and James goes off to play golf, and now it's Miranda's turn to mumble a vague reply when he says that he'll see her later. She is thinking about the past three days at work, and at home: speaking barely above a whisper had her underlings and colleagues, and even James paying her close attention. This is... Well, it's not a bad thing. Miranda decides to experiment.

On Monday she speaks at normal volume, about the same sort of volume employed by everyone else. Every time someone lapses in attention she makes careful note of it. By the end of the day, including James's stupendous score of nine in just the three waking hours they've spent together, the tally of attention lapses sits at nearly thirty.

On Tuesday she employs the very quiet modulation forced upon her by the headache last week, and again she counts up attention lapses. This time there are precisely two, and neither of them are scored by James.

That night, while stentorian snores issue from James's side of the bed, Miranda stares in blank disbelief at the wall. She is thirty-seven and in all those years she hasn't thought of this very simple method of grabbing someone's attention, and keeping it focused on what she is saying. Good grief! It's so very simple that it's also very nearly stupid, and Miranda feels quite dense for not working it out sooner. After all, she never raises her voice whenever she is truly angry, and whenever she is as angry as that, those getting the reprimand or lecture pay careful attention, because she speaks quite softly. No-one needs to know the reason for that. It was long ago, but house and estate staff used to overhear nearly every word of her parents' fights. Miranda still cringes at those memories.

The next morning she reveals her new discovery to Nigel, who has become quite a good friend.

'If it works, it works,' Nigel says. 'So keep doing it.'

'Yes,' Miranda agrees, then adds: 'And I'm pregnant.'

'Oh, that's lovely! Congratulations.'

'With twins.'

'Oh my God,' Nigel groans in sympathy.

'Yes,' Miranda agrees, very softly indeed.

Andy often wishes that she isn't nice. Actually, the correct term here is sap- she's a sap. Her boss Robert Falls was invited to this shindig. He's a bachelor, and bachelors who like being bachelors should avoid attending even housewarmings alone, for fear of being labeled eligible bachelors. This isn't a housewarming. It's the annual Publishers Ball. There are about a hundred photographers outside the venue, and Andy is the sap who'd agreed to come along. Great. Now she's going to have to go through the very old spiel of "No Mom, I am not dating him". At least the champagne is good, and for the most part the conversation has been quite engaging. As for what she's wearing—floor-length, low-cut, off-the-shoulder crimson Versace—she's glad that Nigel isn't a bit put out about the fact that this time Andy approached Miranda.

'I thought so,' Miranda says. 'That gown is perfect.'

Andy chooses not to turn around. A sip of champagne hides a small grin. She is standing next to a rather large piece of sculpture and that means that Miranda is quite possibly lurking behind it. If Andy turns she just knows that she'll laugh.

'Why are you hiding behind—'

'Shhh! Five moments peace,' Miranda hisses. 'I could kill Nigel for agreeing to partner Bridget Antonizzi. Jason Schmidt is insufferable- more interested in my cleavage than in my eyes.'

'Creep,' Andy mutters, her amusement very nearly swept away by an urge to go and give Schmidt a tight one upside the head. 'Why didn't you just come alone?'

'Because I have a boss- Julius owes me in the worst way and I will make him pay.'

'Yeah, wipe him out next time you guys play poker.'

'That's not nearly good enough. No... I've made him the guest speaker at Runway's new charity dinner.'

The balance shifts back from annoyance to amusement: Andy digs her nails into her palm and stares hard at another piece of sculpture across the room. Her valiant efforts are all for naught, however, because when Miranda eventually glides up beside her, Andy cannot suppress a laugh. It's a lovely laugh. People notice it and look their way. Miranda tilts her head a little and smiles fondly at Andy before walking away.

Of course, Miranda is the belle of the ball. She isn't wearing black tonight, but her velvet gown is a purple so deep that light must fall on it at just the right angle for one to see the true shade and not call it black. Andy is left alone near her piece of sculpture, and that's just fine, because she likes to play observer.

What she sees is evidence of Miranda's "meeting" with John Keel three months ago. The tall dark-haired man nervously introduces his wife to Miranda, and then it's rather painfully obvious that he makes sure to get away quickly. For the rest of the evening Andy takes mental notes: John Keel knows at all times precisely where Miranda is, and he endeavors to steer well clear of her.

Andy has no idea what really went on in that corner office. All Miranda said was that she'd put the man on notice, but a mild saying like that, Andy knows, is not at all accurate. Andy has a good imagination, and she also has eight months worth of evidence gathered while working at Runway: she knows La Priestly. She has known Miranda in a private sense for more than a year, but Andy never forgets La Priestly, nor does she ever dare think that Miranda should completely divest herself of her professional persona whilst in the Elias-Clarke building. Poor Mr. Keel, Andy thinks- tossed in at the deep end, where the biggest fish is always, always hungry. It's eat or be eaten. Andy might pity Keel, but she knows that it's best to leave him thinking that Miranda is just a big bully; explaining that the opposite is true is to let the enemy in by the postern gate.

Andy remembers Irv Ravitz and his coup attempt. She now knows that Miranda must have felt utterly betrayed by one Jacqueline Follet, who had once called Miranda her mentor. It takes no effort for Andy to recall umpteen overheard conversations, all along the lines of "I hate Miranda Priestly".

Andy knows that fear is Miranda's best weapon, and that it is necessary for Miranda to have everyone think that she can easily transmogrify into their very worst nightmare. The fact that Miranda can, and will, become that worst nightmare is not an upsetting thought to Andy Sachs. Not anymore. Simply put, Andy has grown up and she's dropped off the rose-tinted glasses. This world is not a nice place, and the publishing world in particular is one where professional dangers lurk around every corner. There is always someone aiming a knife at your back.

If Miranda ever asked Andy's advice, Andy would tell her to keep a whetstone handy, and to keep her own knife good and sharp.


'Andy, it's Cass. Mom's sick.'

'Sick? Miranda's never sick,' Andy says and gets to her feet. 'Where are you?'

'Home. She asked me to call you. Can you get Caro on your way here?'

Traffic is horrendous: so much so that Andy pays a cabbie while he's stuck in a jam, and jogs the few blocks to the Renfrews' brownstone. Caroline is already waiting, and she and Andy exchange hasty goodbyes with Katey Renfrew. Outside, Andy tells Caroline that, no, she doesn't know what's wrong, and they both jog the remaining six blocks to the townhouse.

When Cassidy tells her sister that Miranda has asked them to stay downstairs, Andy gets really worried. She takes the stairs two at a time to the second floor and long strides take her right to the end of the hall. The spacious master bedroom is dimly lit and Miranda is a tightly tucked ball in the center of the bed.

'Hey,' Andy says softly, getting on the bed. Miranda rolls over and it's clear she's been crying. Andy takes the crumpled sheet of paper offered to her and dims up a bedside lamp just enough to read by. 'Oh no...'

'I don't know how to tell them. First Patricia last month; now this,' Miranda says in a sob-roughened voice. 'He was such a good father. Such an excellent father...'

Andy wants to cry, because she liked James so much, but she bites back the tears and swallows the lump in her throat. Miranda wants her help—No. She needs it, and the best thing Andy can do now is to be a dry-eyed rock, albeit a very sympathetic one. She might hug Miranda now, but they've never hugged; it's not the way they are. Instead she finds Miranda's hand and squeezes it. She becomes even more determined not to cry when Miranda tightens her grip on her friend's hand and buries her face in the pillow to stifle her sobs.

Nearly a half-hour passes before they go down to the first floor, into the den, where Caroline immediately turns off the TV. Miranda goes to sit on the couch between her worried-looking daughters; Andy takes a seat on the coffee table in front of them.

'What's going on?' Cassidy almost whispers.

'Bad news, honey-girl,' Andy says gently. And she handles it. Somehow she manages to tell them that their father was killed three hours ago in a light aircraft accident in the Bitterroot Mountains. Somehow she doesn't crumble and cry when the girls break down, when Miranda starts crying again. What they need is someone who at least seems strong and capable, and Andy delivers. She delivers because no-one else will, and perhaps no-one else can.

It's Andy who contacts first Leslie Sauls, then Nigel and Julius Clarke. Both Nigel and Julius arrive at the townhouse and both expect orders from Andy. They get them: Julius is told that he's to help Andy make sure that Miranda stays away from work for at least two weeks; Nigel is told simply to "run Runway, and don't screw up." Leslie arrives with James's lawyer, Frank, and Andy ends up wording a press release. She tells the lawyer to call her about the business of coroner's reports, transportation and delivery of James's body to a local funeral home, and funeral arrangements. Caroline and Cassidy are James's only living relatives, which means that his lawyer expects to discuss "business" with Miranda, but that's not happening on Andy's watch.

'But—' Frank begins.

'Listen, Frank,' Andy snaps. 'Don't. Okay? You talk to me about all that stuff. My dad's a lawyer and I know that none of what I've told you to discuss with me is confidential. Do not piss me off, not today. Got it?'

'All right,' Frank mumbles.

'Smart man, Frank,' Nigel drawls.

Some time later only Nigel is left with Andy in Miranda's kitchen. He helps her put together a meal of soup and toast but he leaves her to take it upstairs. Nigel departs on a mission to Andy's apartment, to pack a bag for her.

Andy doesn't expect them to eat much, but both mother and daughters end up scraping their soup bowls and only crumbs of buttered toast remain. Andy doesn't linger upstairs. She'll be their rock but what they need right now is to grieve without an audience. Andy is Miranda's very good friend, and the girls adore her, but that doesn't make her family. She's very accepting of that fact. She's surprised when one of the twins comes down to fetch her. Caroline gets a bear-hug from Nigel, who arrives back just as she is about to lead Andy away by the hand.

'I'm going to stay here tonight, too,' Nigel tells Caroline. 'Either Andy or myself will be awake, on shifts, all through the night. Right, Six?'

'Right. Nigel, I'm not up to talking to Robert Fall- give him a call, please?'

'On it,' he says, already hunting Andy's boss's number.

Upstairs Andy is dragged onto Miranda's vast bed, and now is not the time to ask questions, no matter how many are hopping around begging to be asked. Caroline clambers over her mother and over Cassidy, too, which effectively bundles her more sensitive twin into something of a sandwich. Andy has no idea what to do, but Miranda's back is to her and rubbing it gently seems like a reasonable plan. Miranda reaches back, catches her hand, and tugs.

'That I can do, too,' Andy says quietly. She spoons up behind Miranda and hugs her middle, and the hand gripping hers shifts; their fingers knit, and Miranda pulls the hug tighter. 'Yeah, I've got you.'

Miranda says nothing, and Andy isn't expecting any response; the girls are quiet, too. What Andy does expect happens quite soon: all three Priestlys drop off to sleep one-by-one, Miranda last. Andy tries to stay awake but even though it's only just past six p.m, the stress of the last nearly four hours catches up and she dozes off.

Nigel eventually comes to investigate. He clucks quietly while taking the folded blanket from the foot of the bed, and he spreads it over the knot of four passed-out females. He turns out the light on his way out, but the door was open and he leaves it open. In the kitchen he pours himself another cup of tea, and he refuses to allow his mind to go where it wants to go, because it's unseemly at a time like this: he is deeply sympathetic toward Miranda and his adoptive nieces, and very grateful that Andy is around to help them through the loss of James.

There are few straight men who treat Nigel like just another guy, and now there is one less. Nigel takes off his glasses and knuckles away a blur of tears, and he point blank refuses to shed any more. It's likely that he and Andy will take a gap to cry on each other's shoulders, but not now.

When Miranda wakes she stiffens at first, immediately aware of the warm body tucked at her back, and the lean arm around her waist. Then she remembers, all of it, and her heart aches again. At some point she had let go of Andy's hand but she finds it now, and finding it causes Andy to stir and hug and wake.

'Hey,' Andy whispers.

'Thank you,' Miranda says.

'Any time. Want some room?'

'No,' Miranda says quite firmly.

'Fine by me,' Andy mumbles, and promptly dozes off again.

That suits Miranda: she doesn't want to talk. Even though she knows that Andy will accept her silence, it's somehow seems better to Miranda that Andy is unaware of that silence.

Her mind is filled with memories of a man who was wise enough to say one day, after nearly eight years of marriage: "Miranda, if we don't split, we are really going to fight. We'll yell, and while yelling we will end up saying things that can't be taken back; things that might be overheard by our babies: we cannot do that to them".

They had quit their marriage for the sake of their children, but in the end, the divorce had also saved their friendship. If James hadn't suggested the divorce, Miranda might even now be putting up with his tarrying in other gardens. He'd learnt his lesson (first marriage, last marriage), while she had gone on two years later to marry Stephen Tomlinson, who hadn't enabled an amicable divorce.

James had been Miranda's backup right through that mess; he had allowed her to vent and cry and softly express many regrets, and never once had he said, "I told you so", even though he had told her so: such a fine man, and a courageous one to speak with the conviction of his heart, no matter the possible backlash from his ex wife. Such a fine man, such a wonderful father—gone.

He was always so gentle with her. He couldn't keep his dick in his pants, but that didn't really hurt. It was more annoying and disappointing than hurtful. James didn't pretend, and he was discreet; Miranda knew then as she knows now that it could have been more a case of lies, and lurid pictures in the tabloids. He was always gentle with her, and he really did love her, but monogamy and marriage just were not for James.

So they had talked quietly and earnestly, and before long it had become less about the two of them and more about their children. In the end they'd talked every night for nearly a month before seeing a lawyer, just one lawyer. It had made infinite sense to both James and Miranda to have just one person to help them find their way through the divorce and custody matters. One lawyer for two people who wanted only what was best for their children, and as that man had once said, when it had come to the custody agreement, he was acting more on behalf of the twins, than with regard to Miranda and James.

And their friendship had become stronger, more certain, as if the divorce had been more cement than an ungluing.

Miranda sighs deeply and heavily and at the bottom of the exhalation, her heart squeezes especially painfully. The pain sharpens and then radiates when she realizes that it must become a habit- referring to James in the past tense. She swallows a sob. Miranda makes up her mind now to crying only when alone. She needs to be strong for her girls, because that will allow them to grieve as they should: freely and without too much concern for how their mother is coping.


'Huh? S'it morning?' Andy grunts.

'No, my friend, but if I don't get up now, then I'll probably wake up at three or four a.m, and stay awake.'

'Ugh!' says Andy.

'Very,' Miranda agrees.

Andy grouchily rolls onto her back and sits up, Miranda follows. She doesn't object to being wrapped up in a hug: that ice has been broken, quite possibly for good.

'Are you nervous?' Miranda asks.

'A little, but the good kinda nervous,' Andy says, more eager than she is fearful of just getting out there.

Today she faces her godan, or fifth dan grading in Iaido. She's been called crazy to try for a double-discipline grading in one weekend, but yesterday she'd aced godan in Kendo, and now nearly everyone who is affiliated with this dojo is here today to see her perform a series of kata before a fifteen-member committee, two of whom are visitors here from Japan where grading standards are naturally very high. This morning the committee reviewed Andy's written exam, which she aced. While that in itself is a confidence booster, theory and application are worlds apart.

At present Miranda is with Andy in a deserted locker room, and her sensei is beyond the door, keeping everyone away. Andy breathes easily and calmly while a brush runs and runs through her hair. Soon, Miranda begins to braid it, starting tight into the nape of Andy's neck. She took over from Caroline and Cassidy yesterday morning, after they couldn't get the braid quite right, and this afternoon Miranda didn't wait to be asked to perform this small service. When Miranda has the braid tied off at the end, she folds it up so that it's doubled, and secures it with black rubber bands.

Andy gets up from the bench she's been straddling and Miranda helps her into her uwagi. Andy takes care of the inner ties on the thick black shirt, but she lets Miranda secure the outer ties. She steps into the split hakama skirt and tucks the uwagi into it. Andy lets Miranda wrap the attached waistband around her middle, crossing it inside the looped panel at Andy's back; Miranda handles the thick silk band with care, but she snugs it before tying the traditional knot over the hakama's front panel. Although thick, the weight of the silk band causes the free tails to hang vertically.

'Did I manage it all right?' Miranda asks softly.

'Mmm, thanks.'

Andy is "in the zone", as Miranda plainly sees. She watches the younger woman open a hardwood case and run her fingertips over the sheathed katana resting on blood-red silk. The lacquered saya, or scabbard is black but very faintly and delicately decorated with flying cranes in almost transparent grey paint under the clear lacquer. This is a new saya, a gift this past Christmas from Miranda and the twins. Andy lifts out the sword and gathers her obi at her left hip, sliding in the saya, with the slight curve down. It's a slow, smooth, concentrated action. Miranda doesn't have to ask: Andy is ready.

More than an hour later Miranda is as enthralled as everyone else present today. She has a "front row seat", cross-legged on the floor, flanked by her daughters. The large hall feels a lot smaller because the crowd is four rows deep from the walls, leaving only enough room for Andy and the row of tables where the committee sits.

There is so deep a hush that Andy's every footfall can be heard. Even her katana can be heard cutting through the air, as she moves through the steps of a kata meant to represent combat with five imaginary opponents. Miranda mentally calls it "ballet with a sword". Andy's face, which is a still and rather beautiful mask of concentration, is awash with sweat, and her bare forearms are shiny with it, too. But her grip on the tsuka, or handle is sure and strong, but flexible; her every step and movement is confident, practiced. Her cuts and thrusts are precise and unmistakeable, leaving the audience in no doubt that one of her imaginary opponents has just lost his head or has been run through. At last she arrives at the tenth and final kata. Her last stroke is a great angled cut, high right to low left, and to give it strength Andy moves with it, down onto her left knee. She holds the stance for a full five seconds before closing with the ritual of drawing the blade between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. Having wiped off the imaginary blood of her opponents, she moves her left hand to the mouth of the saya. Her left thumb is a guide to the mune, or back edge, and sheathing the blade is beautiful, smooth, and quick. She remains perfectly still for a moment, observing zanshin, a moment of physical and emotional stillness to be practiced after every kata. Then she rises nimbly to her feet and dips in a bow to the committee, who rise as one and bow to her.


'What?' Miranda has to yell to Andy's sensei. 'What does this mean?'

'No deliberation!' he yells, laughing. 'A perfect grading! I've never seen one before!'

A little distance away, Andy is beaming and happy. She nods acknowledgment to the cheers she's receiving, shaking hands with the American committee members and bowing respectfully to the Japanese members. She is still in the zone, and later she will probably say something like, "Oh my God. Did I really do that?", but for now the confidence that carried her into this hall is still with her in a damn-right-bet-your-ass way, because she worked incredibly hard to be here.

The twins are the first non committee members to come and congratulate her, and that sparks a flood: everyone wants to pump her hand and pat her back and just say "Well done!". Miranda hangs back, and when she does congratulate Andy, it's back in the locker room, and again they're alone.

'So proud of you, really,' Miranda says, smiling.

'Thanks,' Andy says and beams a grin. 'That one, from you- means a helluva lot.'

'But I hardly know anything about this art,' Miranda chuckles. 'I had to be told—'

'Hush,' Andy says quietly, and her smile softens. 'You know how I feel about it, and you know how hard I've worked for this. I gave you reason to expect a lot from me, and I didn't disappoint you.'

'No, not at all,' Miranda murmurs.

Andy nods and sits, and Miranda busies herself with removing rubber bands and loosing Andy's braid. The dark hair is darker still for being damp with sweat, and Miranda leans down, takes up a bottle of electrolyte replacement, and places it in Andy's hand. Andy takes the hint and downs half the bottle. Miranda's hands have come to rest on Andy's shoulders which are tight as boards.

'Shall I get Marie to come to my home later?' Miranda offers, referring to her personal masseuse. But she also remembers something and quickly adds: 'Unless a beer with your friends will do the trick.'

'I gotta go have that beer, but just one. You promised me dinner. I've never had a professional back rub before, so what's best- dinner first or after?'

'After,' Miranda says, and her thumbs are already working at a couple of knots. She smiles faintly when Andy drops her head and starts to relax. So she keeps going, working at tension through the heavy cotton of the uwagi. 'Come. I've started and might as well continue, and then you can get into a shower.'

Miranda gestures past Andy's left ear to the massage bench across the room, and Andy doesn't think twice because those tight shoulders are really making themselves felt now. Miranda goes to the door and asks Andy's sensei about some massage oil, and he goes across the hall into his office to fetch some. When Miranda comes back into the ladies locker room, she finds that Andy is already belly-down on the bench, stripped to the black cycle shorts she likes to wear under the hakama. Her back is a map of slightly softened definition. Miranda kindly warms the oil in the palm of her hand before beginning, but when she begins it is with a no-nonsense approach.

'Wow,' Andy chuckles and groans. 'I mean, owww...'

'I learned a long time ago that athletes' muscles pay no mind at all to gentleness,' Miranda says, while kneading at a knot between Andy's spine and shoulder blade. 'Not at first, anyway. I can still hear James saying, "Quit tickling and put some muscle into it", and only when I listened to that directive did I start to feel the difference: his muscles would give in and relax. You feel it?'

Andy grunts an affirmative answer. Painful at first, the kneading has become pleasant. More of the same, pain first and a soothing after. It's a cycle that she ceases to object to, and that's when Miranda's attentions begin to really bear fruit: Andy dozes off. Miranda smiles when she realizes but continues to work methodically. Her hands, wrists, and forearms will be sore tomorrow but she knows that she won't mind it. Years since she has done this, years since anyone has required the effort from her, and Miranda feels useful in a way that pleases her on a level that being useful to Elias-Clarke does not.

She is only Miranda here, and Andy is her very good friend; one whose right hand bears a punch-split scar over the knuckles, for Miranda Priestly. Miranda often finds herself looking at that jagged white mark; it had to have been painful, and the scar is cockled, not smooth: permanent. Thinking about the scar and how Andy got it, Miranda's hands become gentle, and she can't get back into the rhythm she set earlier. Time for the shower.



'Shower, and make it hot to start. I'll take the girls home and we'll see you later?'

'Yeah. Thanks,' Andy mumbles. She sits up and Miranda makes a hasty grab for her hair, keeping it away from the oil on her back. Andy mumbles her thanks again and just-just manages to cover a yawn. 'Really not in the mood for that beer now.'

'Just one, and say simply that you won't stay long,' Miranda says and approaches a basin. She works the hand soap up past her wrists, a habit. A glance in the mirror shows Andy still seated on the massage bench; their eyes meet via reflection. 'Is something wrong?'

'We're going to Flannery's, a family-oriented steakhouse. The girls could come along,' Andy says hesitantly. 'Would you—I mean, I'm just—'

'Is the steak any good at Flannery's?' Miranda asks, feeling an abrupt need to ease Andy's discomfort.

'Might be this city's best kept secret: really good steak,' Andy says, and she frowns as she feels her face and neck heat up. She's bare to the waist and suddenly feels shy about it, wishing that her hair covers both breasts instead of only one. She wants to fold her arms but instead she takes a tighter grip on the edge of the padded, towel-covered bench. 'But maybe I should just go have that beer, then come on over to your place.'

'Will you come over? Why do I get the feeling that if I don't keep an eye on you, I might get a call later announcing a change in plans?' Miranda says quietly. She takes up a small hand towel from a neat stack and she makes short work of drying her hands; the towel lands in a hamper and she steps over to the bench. Andy is looking at the floor, and there is a tightness around her eyes that Miranda finds worrying. 'What's the matter, Andrea?'

'Feel all awkward, suddenly. Dunno why,' Andy murmurs, and her grip on the bench tightens. It takes effort to look up, effort and a fair share of courage, but all she sees in Miranda's eyes is concern. That much is a distinct relief; Andy smiles bashfully. 'Just being silly, I guess. D'you really wanna go to Flannery's?'

'Honestly, no,' Miranda says, and she smiles at Andy's bark of laughter. 'But I'm going to Flannery's, with you.'

'How about I just take the girls along, for a soda, and we'll see you around six?'

'No, I've said so, and so I'll be along, too. Into that shower with you- move it.'


'It's what I do best,' Miranda drawls.

Her girls are more than pleased to be going along with "the gang" to Flannery's, which is owned by one of the dojo's longstanding members. It's not the sort of place Miranda would voluntarily frequent, but at least she's wearing jeans—albeit five-hundred-dollar jeans—and she doesn't stick out like the proverbial opposable digit, because everyone at the dojo has gotten used to having her around. She is much impressed when her dry gin martini turns out to be perfect. A little later she wonders if she can dump Smith and Wollensky as the provider of her lunch steaks, and get Todd Flannery to deliver to Elias-Clarke at 49th and 6th; her New York sirloin is superb. There is also the sinful addition of onion rings, and a small portion of grilled potato wedges seasoned with something magical, and Miranda finishes the lot.

'Good, huh?' Andy chuckles.

'Very,' Miranda purrs. 'Terribly good, and worse for the fact that I have no room at all for anything resembling a salad, but those hot chocolate brownies in the menu...'

'Wow,' Cassidy mumbles.

'Mom, don't make it snow in August,' Caroline drawls.

'I just might,' Miranda says, amused.

But she doesn't, and instead steals only a small mouthful of Andy's hot chocolate brownie. The tidbit makes Miranda wishful of a full portion, but discipline prevails. As it is, she'll have to spend some extra time on her treadmill this week, and she is already steeling herself against the temptation of making Flannery's a regular habit, as in weekly. She likes the atmosphere: music in the background, and laughter and conversation and everyone in a good mood. No-one is here just because this is the-place-to-be, and none of those places-to-be is really a good place to take one's children. Miranda decides that from now on this will be the place to bring her daughters, given that they are so relaxed and at-ease, as opposed to the stiff-backed, ultra well-behaved attitudes they wear at more fashionable restaurants. She needn't ask if they'd like to come here again, and decides instead to surprise them later in the month.

Even though it's after nine, Andy goes back to the townhouse with Miranda and the twins, who go obediently up to bed. When she returns from tucking her girls in, Miranda finds Andy in the downstairs study. She's helped herself to a scotch and has poured one for Miranda, too. Miranda touches her heavy tumbler to Andy's and takes a small respectful sip. She knows by taste alone that Andy chose the Glenlivet 18 tonight; Miranda taught Andy everything she now knows about scotch whisky.

'I think that when I see the pictures I took today, I'll get an urge to draw,' Miranda says quietly.

'Draw me?' Andy says, quite surprised.

'It wouldn't be the first time,' Miranda admits. 'I drew you from memory, once, without even knowing what I was doing. There you were on the page... In Paris, after you left.'

'Not the most mature thing I've ever done.' Andy's cheeks are abruptly pink. It's not that she's ever thought that they wouldn't talk about this, and it's not that she's hoped that they wouldn't talk about it. She is willing, but she's unsure of how to proceed, and clearly Miranda would like her to talk about her side of it all. So she asks, 'Where d'you want me to start?'

'I always like to know how people come to whichever decision,' Miranda says, and her tone is relaxed and not at all accusatory.

'It wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing,' Andy admits. 'Back then ours was a professional association—No, wait. Let's say it was ninety percent professional and ten percent personal. I don't think that anyone can be one of your assistants and have a purely professional relationship with you—'

'True. At the end of the day, where my assistants are concerned, my personal opinion is what lands in a letter of recommendation.'

'Exactly,' Andy says and she taps her chest. 'And then there's me, myself, and I. I'm loyal, and I have to care about people. I was born like that and can't help it. So it wasn't easy to walk away. Rather, it wasn't easy to make the decision to walk away. Once I'd made the decision? Easy as pie. Getting there amounted to remembering what I really wanted from life, and when you not-so-vaguely hinted that I could be your protégé, that was... Well, it was scary. I'd always wanted to be a journalist, but what I really, really wanted to eventually be, was an editor, and I mean, like, from the age of twelve or thirteen. Then there I am in Paris, and I'm not writing about Fashion Week, I don't care about what's being written by others about Fashion Week, I'm being seduced by Fashion Week. You were right. The scariest part was that you were right: I could sit at your desk one day—'

'No-no. Not "one day". Tomorrow,' Miranda says quietly, certain. Her eyes are solidly on Andy's and she sees them become round with disbelief. Miranda nods slowly. 'Oh yes. Working for me for those eight months enabled you to know exactly who the best people are when it comes to advice and guidance, and I top that list. You'd never have trouble saying "Miranda, what would you do, who would you choose, where would you place this?". You would have been smart enough to keep me at arm's reach. The right person for the job is always the one who employs the correct resources to get it done properly. Now, if Jacqueline Follet was anything like you, I might have considered stepping down.'

'Umm... Wow,' Andy says, because she can't think of anything else to say.

'Give it a day or two, and you'll say "I suppose so" instead of "Wow".' Miranda chuckles, and she is certain of what she says now: 'Like me, you don't shy from simple truths about yourself... I've never apologized for forgetting your dreams.'

'You forgot my dreams in the hope that I'd further a few of yours. You're human- amazing!' Andy teases.

'Cheeky,' Miranda chuckles.

'I've earned the right.'

'Indeed,' Miranda agrees.

The movie ended quite some time ago, and the girls took themselves off to bed, without disturbing Andy, who is still asleep, her head resting on a cushion over Miranda's lap. Before going to bed, Caroline had brought the novel from beside Miranda's bed, and she is content to sit and read—the book and her left hand resting comfortably against Andy's shoulder. There were less than forty pages left to read, however, and eventually the book is set aside.



'Will you stay, or should I call you a cab?'

'No cab,' Andy grumbles, sits up, and flops against the back of the couch.

Andy isn't awake, not really, and she becomes a whole lot less awake in a very short space of time. Miranda smirks. She's been here twice before and it's just as amusing as the first two occasions, but she is tired. She feels even more weary when she remembers that neither of the two guestrooms are prepared.

'Come on, you. I'm too tired to make a bed- we'll share.'

'Fine,' Andy mumbles.

In the master bath Andy sleepily brushes her teeth, then stumbles into the bedroom. She sheds jeans and socks, T-shirt and bra, and hauls the T-shirt back on again. When her head hits the pillows seconds later, she is gone. Miranda shakes her head while buttoning up her pajama shirt, and she takes the time to collect Andy's clothes and lay them on a chair.

Miranda has just settled after turning out the light when there's movement behind her. An arm comes around her middle, and tightens, and Miranda wriggles backwards so that they meet in the middle. She surmises that Andy is fast asleep and probably unaware of spooning up.

'Hey,' Andy mumbles, proving the supposition wrong. 'Is this okay for you?'

'Perfect,' Miranda states.

Andy hugs her tighter and Miranda smiles, aware of breathing that slows and deepens: out like a light again.

Tired as she is, Miranda is yet content to lie awake. Perhaps it has to do with liking this comfort with Andy. She feels safe, and that isn't something she can own very often. In business, she is constantly on the defensive, and those who feel the need to defend always act from a place of insecurity. Safety is relative, and Miranda is too smart to call herself safe in a professional sense. Here at home, often at night, while not exactly feeling fearful, she rarely feels completely secure. Then again, that's loneliness talking.

Her thumb brushes over the cockled scar across Andy's knuckles, and she concedes that this scar pretty much sums up why she feels safe tonight: that feeling has more to do with who Andy is than with her company. There's a strength to this young woman that Miranda answers to, but it's not easily classified.

It's not the same as it was with any of the men in her life, not even James. Their strength was almost bossy, testosterone-driven: I am a man, lean on me. Miranda had never leaned, feeling the need to hang on to a sizable amount of independence, and she had employed a good deal of control, among other measures, to keep those men in their place- even James.

But she leans on Andy, and feels safe doing so, safer still when Andy reveals her protective streak.

On the flipside, the leaning really goes both ways. Miranda has seen Andy through several major arguments with her parents, the worst coming after Andy foolishly told them about the headhunt offer from a Cincinnati-based publishing house that is doing very well for itself. What followed was a lot of pressure from her parents to take that job. Hurtful words had ended up being swapped, and Miranda had been right there for Andy until—and beyond—such time as the repair work had been effected.

Miranda recognizes that there's much to be said for accepting that shoulder to lean on, and that counts for them both. With that point settled, she realizes that what she's mulling over, sleepily, is balance, and it's quite possible that Andy is sleeping so soundly tonight because she feels safe with and because of Miranda.

Miranda Priestly is the last person Emily Charleton expects to see on her birthday, her thirtieth- at last. When she gave up worrying about her weight, her worries about getting older went up in a puff of smoke, too. Thirty is a very nice number, especially in business. One hits thirty and those older than forty rather much cease to think of one as "the kid." These days Emily is making the right sort of waves in the design department at Calvin Klein, and being thirty adds just that bit of an extra edge to her cred.

But Miranda has arrived at her birthday party, and Emily abruptly feels a few years younger and, not to mention, rather annoyed with Nigel.

'Me? Not me. Six got her to tag along with us,' Nigel chuckles. 'I'd just love to know how she talked her into it.

'Do not go there,' Emily states flatly, and her dark blue eyes flash in a way that says she means it. 'Those stupid bloody rumors only need a spark to flare up again. People here have ears.'

'And eyes,' Nigel says, unperturbed.

Emily looks around and finds his statement to be true: the forty-some guests are all looking Miranda and Andy's way. At least, they keep glancing that way when their little knots of conversation allow. A couple of years at Runway taught Emily how to read a crowd when Miranda's in the room. What she's seeing now is no different to the usual La Priestly Effect: they're looking at Miranda, not at Miranda-and-Andy.

'Hmph! Still my bestest boss,' Emily says smugly.

'They—' Nigel gestures broadly at the crowd. '—have all decided that the rumors can't be true. That's all you're seeing. And they are choosing to see what they believe to be true. But look, Em; really look.'

Emily might tell Nigel to lay off again, but instead she takes the time to do more than just see. The two women are talking with Patrick Demarchelier and James Holt, and as Emily looks on, it's clear that Andy's opinion has been sought on something or other. While Andy speaks and gestures with the hand not holding a champagne flute, she has Miranda's complete attention. Emily has only seen that level of attention given by Miranda to models on catwalks, and garments at showings and run-throughs.

'They don't realize,' Nigel whispers in Emily's ear. 'They are perfect for each other and they don't know. Do you have any idea of the kind of torture I have endured for almost four years? It's excruciatingly obvious. The twins think so, too, but like me they keep their mouths shut, because as the situation stands, it's good for both those women. If they don't stumble into it on their own, it will be a helluva shock to hear it even from Caro and Cass. Fucking it up isn't our place, no matter how much we love them.'

This is as much a warning for Emily as it is an explanation. She nods just once, and she changes the subject.

Then, just a week later, the portion of Nigel's words that amounted to a warning proves itself useful. Emily is having dinner with Nigel, and Miranda, Andy, and the twins. The girls brought the subject of boys to the table. Caroline and Cassidy are sixteen and finding out quite rapidly that the boys they know could use a few lessons in good manners from their Uncle Nigel.

'Yeah, right,' Andy says. 'Good luck. You two had better accept that most straight guys are cavemen.'

'True!' Emily agrees. Lunch with Miranda during the week assured her that Miranda will never expect her to scribble out endless lists and fetch boiling-hot Starbucks ever again. 'Toilet seat up. Socks lying next to the laundry hamper, not in it. Shaving stubble in the basin. Wet towels on the floor. I'll leave it there, but your mum, Andy, and I, could tell you other things, to which you will both reply "Eww, gross!" Not so, ladies?'

'Before they say anything, I'll just say it's true,' Nigel chuckles, fanning theatrically at his red face. 'To save myself further blushes.'

'Why are you blushing? You're not anything like the cavemen I've had the displeasure of knowing,' Miranda says wryly. 'You and I shared an apartment for two years, and never a complaint against you from me... There's something to that. James and I were the very best of friends, but even he must be lumped in with this statement: I have no luck at all with straight men.'

'Me neither,' Andy grumbles. 'I tossed the last one out after only two months. So that leaves gay men, but we don't make 'em happy in the right way.'

'Ah, well,' Miranda says with a shrug. 'Marriage is overrated anyway.'

'If Daddy was still here, he'd agree,' Caroline says jokingly, and only her sister is sure of the almost desperate note to her voice, but Nigel and Emily are aware, so they help change the subject.

Later that night, Cassidy creeps into her sister's room and makes sure to close the door. She tells Caroline that it was a good save, earlier.

'Oh my God, but they are so blind...' Caroline groans quietly.

'Yeah- dense. It woulda been a mess, if they bumped into the truth tonight,' Cassidy says. 'Maybe not with just Uncle Nigel there, but Emily—'

'No, even with Nigel,' Caroline states. 'Anyone can rag on 'em afterwards, but they gotta wake up to it on their own, and preferably alone.'

'So what do we do? Cassidy asks.

'Whenever we can manage it, we give them room,' Caroline decides.

'Mom's drawing.'

'Mom's drawing you,' Cassidy clarifies. 'There's drawings of you all over the studio.'

'O...kay,' Andy says and laughs bashfully as she hands a paper bag to Caroline. 'So is lunch off?'

'Uh-uh. What's in here?'

'Things for a salad, and I found some halibut steaks which looked way better than my original chicken idea.'

'Do you fix halibut the same way you fix tuna?' Caroline asks.

'Yeah, or you can grill it with that basting sauce I taught you to make, for sole.'

'Okay. We got it. Right, Cass?'

'Yeah. You go see Mom in mad artist mode,' Cassidy giggles.

'Will she want me up there?' Andy asks hesitantly.

Caroline looks at Andy in a manner which leaves her in no doubt that Caroline Lorraine does not answer stupid questions. Cassidy backs that up by rolling her eyes and jerking a thumb at the stairs, her only comment, before she heads into the kitchen with her sister.

Still, Andy doesn't bound up the stairs. She has a lot of stairs to climb, and she has only once before ascended all the way to the attic- Miranda's studio. The door there is standing ajar, and beyond it, Miranda is humming along softly to one of Vivaldi's lute concerti. Andy pokes her head in around the door, and she smiles at the sight of Miranda dressed in pajamas, hair a bit tousled, glasses on nose. She is seated before a draftsman's angled desk and a very large photo print of Andy in uwagi and hakama, katana in hand, is on an easel to Miranda's left.

Sketches do indeed litter the floor, and more sit on another desk. On another easel is a charcoal study of Andy, the sword held almost as a baseball player would hold his bat at the ready. But a baseball player wouldn't stand quite like that, wouldn't drop his chin to rest on his left shoulder, eyes downcast: this is a stance taken briefly after an iaidoka has "slain" an imaginary opponent and is preparing to take on another. Andy might have held that stance for all of two seconds, perhaps less, before proceeding into another phase of the kata.

She's standing in front of the easel now, without really being aware of having walked into the room.

'Something about your face there, your expression,' Miranda says softly, at Andy's right shoulder. 'That's the first piece I did, early- couldn't sleep.'

Andy looks around at the number of sketches and studies and decides not to ask how early.

'So good at this,' Andy almost whispers. 'That's... It's really, really me. I've seen the portraits you've done of the girls, but... But you love them so much, so it kinda makes sense that... Oh.'

Andy decides that she's said quite enough, and she's thinking of another Sunday, several months ago, when she practically asked Miranda out on a date. She's thinking of barely remembered and very pleasant dreams. She's also pretty sure that those dreams are a bare echo of reality, and she's sure that this particular reality is bound to exceed the knowledge she gained one wild night in college. Andy bites her lip and waits.

Miranda sighs and nods, and hopes. She didn't know, but now she is rather certain, and this might be a bit easier to manage if it hadn't crept up on her, but such is life. It's not-at-all a bad idea, because Andy and her girls adore each other. And Andy makes her laugh. And Andy likes to speak her mind and likes to hear Miranda speak her own opinions. Andy also just happens to be not-at-all bad to look at, too. It might be as simple as all of that. Ordinarily she would hold back just enough to get a firm grip on the reins, give herself just enough room to gain control of the situation, but for once she is prepared to let go. She feels quite firmly that this is the only course to follow. Miranda has hope, and it's time to live on a little of it now.

Her eyes lift from her hands, which are still a little charcoal-grubby, and she finds Andy's eyes, eyes that are smiling—No. Andy's eyes are twinkling with mischief.

'Oh really? What's the joke?' Miranda drawls.

'You always did look good in charcoal,' Andy chuckles, and she wipes a dark grey smudge from Miranda's cheek.

Hope is a simple creature with a one-track mind and tunnel-vision, and at the end of the tunnel, there glows a light.

The End

Return to The Devil Wears Prada Fiction

Return to Main Page