Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Trouble With Coffee (Part 2) DWP Slash Fic

If the "Two Demented Muses" ask me to remove this story, I will. But I've had half a dozen requests for it, so I decided to post it.

I did NOT write this story.

Trouble with Coffee 2 (See Part 1 for disclaimers/ownership)

Elise hurried up the quiet Manhattan street.  The early morning hour of 5:15 saw most of the city either just getting to bed or just getting up.  Even the passing cars were minimal, giving the city an overall deserted feel.  Heels clacking against concrete, bag clutched to her chest the put together woman looked unusually harried.  Her clothes were casual, hair brushed and put up but decidedly un-styled.  She wore not an ounce of makeup.  A dozen houses went by unnoticed.  A sigh of relief and dread turned into a visible puff of air when Miranda's townhome came into view.  The assistant hadn't been out of bed long and now it seemed as if the time she had been up had spent deciding how in the world to deliver news and not lose her head.

Inside Andy struggled to wake up.  Two hours sleep for multiple days in a row meant a mad dive into coffee.  She couldn't cook or make sandwiches but she had went to work for an hour at Starbucks just to learn how they made their coffee.  The routine of two months meant she had it down to a science that even exhaustion couldn't hinder.  A mug found its way into Miranda's hands.  For the life of her she couldn't figure out why in the hell they were up so early which she'd grumped to the editor about several times.  In the three months they'd been living together Elise had rarely called.  And never in the early hours insisting Miranda meet her at the door followed by hanging up.  Return calls had gone unanswered.  Whatever the woman wanted, Andy wasn't sure it would be important enough for her to keep her job.

Ignoring Miranda's increasingly irate calls was unlikely to be forgiven.  Andy could admit to herself she really didn't care at the moment.  Some horrible Runway catastrophe rated far behind sleep.  Their world had fallen into a smooth, routine pace where dating and getting to know each other had moved up the scale of priorities.  After three failed marriages the editor had made small sacrifices in time and events to give them time to have a relationship.  Not having to pay out of her nose in rent allowed Andy to do the same.  One or the other still missed the occasional dinner or worked late into the night but they'd found a way to make it work for them and the girls.

They'd survived a few disagreements over stupid little things.  Found time to date while keeping separate spaces in the same house, a possibility even Andy could admit wouldn't have happened had she kept her apartment.  Little things like travel and schedules that kept them apart for days now yielded to a cup of coffee in passing that made all the difference.  Two hours of free time meant a chance for dinner together instead of a sparse phone call when travel time meant two hours had been cut to one.  New, separate relationships had been carved out with the twins that no longer existed solely because of the journalist's relationship with their mother.  Out of the house dates had been managed in what had become an almost insular world where a few people knew and no longer batted an eye.

Those that suspected or thought they knew hadn't dared ask any questions.  Knowing didn't include Andy's parents or past friends though she had taken to mentioning Miranda when they called.  If they thought it odd they kept silent.  Andy inhaled several large swallows then dropped her head to Miranda's shoulder.  "If she doesn't show up in the next two minutes to tell us Runway just burnt to the ground can I fire her?"

"If it hasn't burnt to the ground or been taken hostage, absolutely - right after I do."  Two Thursdays a month they had taken the luxury of staying in bed later and not rushing into their respective offices. Miranda loathed anything that infringed on those mornings. It was fire worthy no matter how damn competent her assistant was.  "If you hear blood curdling screams ignore them. I'll be right back."  Each step towards the door set off a new tirade. When the knock came Miranda yanked open the door and glared, daring Elise to speak.

All the way over, the young woman had practiced what she was going to say.  Miranda being ready to spit nails was a given.  Yet the available avenues were all shit.  Not warning the editor she was coming, not delivering the news in person or answering her calls and refusing to talk all would have resulted in firing or death - something Miranda's face said was going to happen anyway.  Elise glanced around for Andy then decided maybe it was best she wasn't in the immediate vicinity.  The paper, open and folded to the dreaded page was held out.  "Page Six found out.  About you and Andy.  The article is harsh, gossipy and in the next two hours the entire country is going to know.  It's bad Miranda."

Miranda had known from the moment she'd decided to accept and return Andrea's advances that this day would come. It was as inevitable as Paris in the Spring.  But even she could be lulled into a false sense of security when things had progressed so well and quietly. Nigel had once hinted that she should consider a preemptive strike, but as the days had turned to a week and the weeks months without anyone hassling them it had seemed unnecessary. "Come in." She all but yanked Elise into the foyer and slammed the door closed while her death glare tried to work its magic on the printed page.  Nothing.  She relented and took the paper, holding it as though it were a viper ready to strike as she read.

After months of speculation and rumors about a new beau sources have finally come forward to reveal that fashion magnate Miranda Priestly's is indeed with someone.  A very young someone we've found out and it's not your typical boy toy.  To add fire to the scandalous affair the Post has learned that her lover is none other than her ex-assistant Andrea Sachs,  a journalist that works for the Mirror, seen below.  (Yes, she is a woman!) They've been spotted around town over the last couple of months, which is unusual enough for the Snow Queen, but none of us in our wildest dreams would have guessed they were together.  Confirmed sources tell us they're not just dating but living together in what can only be described as New York City's most unexpected and juiciest affair in years.

Colleagues of Ms. Priestly  expressed worry over her mental health in getting involved with a girl who is one of our own.  Speculation puts them together as far back as when Ms. Sachs was her assistant and our favorite ubiquitous fashion queen was quite married while Ms Sachs herself, was living with an up and coming chef on the Lower East Side.  Their involvement now sheds light on the curious letter of recommendation Mrs. Priestly gave her assistant upon being left at last year's fashion event of the year in Paris.  (Letter shown below)

The odd pieces now fit in an usual puzzle that has left us all worried for our beloved Dragon Lady as she's often called.  No matter what you call her, her influence over fashion is undeniable and now it appears that three failed marriages she couldn't control and loneliness have combined to make her ripe for the picking for this young upstart gold digger.  Inside sources at Runway have always questioned how Ms. Sachs managed to win her bosses favor.  The woman who has no friends was apparently blinded by Ms. Sachs manipulative ways which included ousting fellow assistant Emily St. John from her position as first assistant.  Reporters at the scene when Ms. Sachs up and left Mrs. Priestly unwittingly snapped photos that show our Maven’s shock, hurt and surprise over being left.  (Photo three)

But all has apparently been forgiven between them, leaving the rest us to worry whether or not she should have.  Ms. Priestly's third ex-husband has told our paper that he will be checking into whether or not he could gain custody of her twin girls, Caroline and Cassidy age 11, despite not being the girl's father, citing fatherly concern for children he grew to love as his own.  None of us can argue that Ms. Priestly does appear to have been influenced by our colleague... (Continues on page 7)

Miranda read it in its entirety three times before carefully folding it up and tucking it under her arm with thoughts of incinerating every copy in the city dancing delusionally through her mind. "Not terribly flattering," she muttered as her mind whirled to construct the list of instructions needed to minimize the fallout.

"No, it's not.  I've contacted..."

The sentence trailed off as Andy appeared looking grumpier than ever.  "Elise, I liked you but I hope she fired you.  What's up?"

Green eyes cut to Miranda, the assistant unwilling to be the one that broke the news twice.

"Page Six darling and we are their star attraction." There was no real way to prepare Andy for the viciousness of the attack or what was to come. It was going to be a long day, week and maybe even months. "Slow news day.  It's got a bite." She handed the paper over to her lover.

"What?" Uncomprehending, Andy took the paper while staring at her lover.  Press about them had always been this far off fantasy story that didn't really apply.  She had no experience seeing her name splashed across papers outside of a column anymore than it ever sunk in that they tended to write about Miranda.  The newspaper slowly drew her attention.  Vaguely aware they were both watching, she didn't make it past the first paragraph before her face began to contort in a myriad of emotion.  The article took up space on three different pages - a tactic her mind distantly supplied, to ensure some part of it would get readers reading.  A fast read through led to a slower, more thorough absorb until anger resided alongside shock.

What had been written about her took a temporary backseat to the nasty little thinly veiled comments about her lover.  Teeth grinding audibly she threw the paper at Elise as if it were her fault then spun around in order to begin stalking to foyer.  "How dare they?  That's not journalism it's a fucking gossip rag.  Utter shit.  Your mental health?  What is that?  All their insinuations, their 'seems and appears'.  Confirmed sources my ass.  Taking the girls?  That picture of you...  What the fuck is that Miranda?  Can they do that?  So called colleagues.  I'll kill 'em.  You can fire them right?  Make them report on snow in Siberia.  Let the fish be scandalous for them.  God dammit."

Oh dear god, Andrea really was just that naive. "It's par for the course.  They can do it.  They did do it. It's done and now the question is what do we do?" Miranda’s gaze cut to Elise knowing she'd at least have something in the works.

Elise pushed off her spot against the door where she'd been trying to blend in.  Concentrating on Miranda was a hell of a lot easier than watching Andy pacing like a caged animal a hairsbreadth away from snapping.  "I called Leslie on the way over.  She's going to try to minimize what she can.  You should expect a call within the hour.  We do have the option of a statement which might hold them at bay somewhat.  But given who you are she said this could get a lot uglier before it gets better.  As soon as I get to the office I'm going to pull old Runway numbers.  A little reminder to Irv that any publicity you get benefits the magazine, in black and white, should shut him down before he winds up.  You're going to have to choose how you want to handle today.

I'd prefer you to let me rearrange meetings so they're at the office.  Going out is just going to open you up to harassment.  The office...I think you're best course is to go with the status quo.  They fear you too much to say anything.  And when that gets on your nerves do what you do best.  As far as Andy goes."  Pausing, she pushed her hair back.  The best course of action wasn't likely to go over well.  "I'd strongly recommend she doesn't go in or out.  When and if she does anyway she's going to need a car.  I've already contacted the company.  An extra will be here in the next half hour.  That will minimize her access to them somewhat.

Leslie agreed.  We'll take a page from Andy's book and have coffee and the necessary items delivered.  Jace can bring over any research material she might need.  I have a call into Emily.  Tracking down who she talked to will be tough but we need to know.  Roy has been instructed to park in your garage to wait.  Going out on the street is unwise.  That's where I'm at so far."

"You've got to be kidding."  At a full boil, the journalist stopped stalking.  Elise wouldn't melt under her glare if she was moving around too much.  "I'm not going to hide out."

"It's the best course of action until things die down.  Andy...that is just the beginning.  And you're not exactly reacting well to it."  A small sigh fluttered the blond bangs before Elise sunk back against the door, gaze turning toward Miranda.  Maybe she'd have some luck making her understand the problem.

"I'll stay in the office.  Lease two new town cars and a driver. Inform the girl’s principle. Cancel their ballet lessons for today.  Go ahead and re-schedule their charter flight to Fort Worth. A few extra days at their grandparents ranch will be good for them.  When Marianne calls put her to voice mail.  Do not under any circumstances take her call and she will be wily.  Do not believe any messages about her impending death, a horrific accident requiring a blood donation, or needing the name of the funeral home where she is to be laid out.  The only negotiating I will do with her kidnappers is to pay them to keep her. If she does get through...hang up or tear the phone out of the wall but hurl yourself from the roof before you put her through to me.  Also put a shoot on sight notice at the front desk. I have a mug shot somewhere."

Elise cringed while scribbling down notes.  Avoiding Miranda's mother needed an act of pardo from God.  If she were being honest she'd almost rather go at the editor with stupid things when she was in a bear of a mood than deal with her mother.  Miranda at least had some lines.  She made you feel an inch high.  She did not however resort to turning maternal on you and laying on guilt that in no way should work.  Yet did.  "You gave her my cell phone number last time."  That seemed oh so important to point out.  It was a crime that the editor had damn near smiled about. Anything to avoid Marianne.  "I'll have some movies delivered for the girl's afternoon.  Cassidy will be fit to be tied from missing their lesson otherwise.  Pizza too.  That should make her happy.

I think we'd be best served by caller id.  I know you hate it but it would help avoid the crazy calls versus the ones you need to take.  You're both going to need new cell phones or new numbers at the very least.  I'm sorry Miranda, I know you hate that even more but it's for the best.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to change the number the one here too.  Look at it this way, that will keep Marianne at bay for at least a day.  I'll put one of the driver's on standby for the girls.  If today gets to be too much and their principle can't handle things they'll probably want to come home.  You're going to become the new art of the day at the office whenever they don't think you're looking."

Andy watched them like a they were in the middle of a tennis match.  Their reactions seemed out of proportion.  She even believed they were.  Yet Miranda had her expertise.  The journalist trusted her to know what she was doing right up to the point of her staying home.  That was just absurd. And in her mind, under the cover of silence, as her anger faded were all the slurs that had been hurled at her.  By the time page 8 rolled around gold digger suddenly sounded nice in comparison.  Andy couldn't have been more ill prepared.  "Not pizza.  Steak from Wollensky’s.  Eating what their mother does delights them."

"You're chattering." Miranda huffed at Elise. "I don't need explanations, just go and do. I'll be arriving at nine thirty. Have security in place. The cars outback in thirty minutes. That's all." Once Elise was gone and things were in motion she would talk to Andy.

The journalist had other ideas when assistant turned to go.  "Not quite all.  What do you think Elise?"

"About what?"  The blond woman carefully said, hand already on the door knob.

"This.  All of it."  Me.  Being gutted so thoroughly, suddenly meant other opinions meant a whole hell of a lot.

"I don't think it's any of my business."

That Elise wanted to bolt could be seen from outer space.  Andy couldn't bring herself to let her.  "That's not what I asked."

"Alright.  I think it's none of their business."  Elise opened the door a crack.  A hand on it stopped it's progress.


"Yes?"  A trap was being set.  She could feel it.  Larger than any Miranda ever laid out.

"What is your opinion?"  How much clearer could she be?  A distant voice recognized that the woman was an easy target.

The blond woman sighed and slowly turned on her heel.  An opinion on her and a gossip rag.  There wasn't a limit on how badly she wanted out of the townhouse.  "I think it's none of their damned business Andy.  But their business, yours, is to sell papers.  I know when you got together.  You know it.  Miranda knows.  The girls and Jace.  Your friends know.  I will do what I can to contain this.  That is my business.  It's not my place to offer condemnation anymore than it is approval.  What I will tell you is that you need to decide who's opinion matters to you and do it quickly.  Mine shouldn't.  Ever.  I'll keep you both posted."

The door opened and closed.  Andy's query escaped leaving her unable to do anything but lean against the door and feel the bitter cuts for both herself and Miranda.

Nervous energy burned through her but instead of flying off to put out fires Mirada walked over to Andy and pulled her close. "She was right.  The opinions of the faceless people we don't know about how we've chosen to share our lives shouldn't matter. Sounds nice. It's not their business but that is moot when it's plastered out there for all to read and they think it somehow gives them the right to pass judgment. It's not the faceless people Andrea but the ones you work with, buy coffee from, go to lunch with, who can do the damage.

Now they think they know you and what makes you tick. Now they believe they have the right to know more; that somehow you owe them something in order to assuage their curiosity.  It will get invasive and it most likely will get nastier. Elise is right, you should stay home.  You're not hiding, but this is day one and the frenzy to get to you will be formidable.  Your office has no way to shield you from the onslaught since some of it will be coming directly from your own colleagues."

"What do you think Mira?"  Andy turned around and clung to the editor.  She'd asked it of Elise and it mattered whether it should have or not.  But her lover's opinion was the one she most held dear.  The one that heaps of insecurities continued to reside in.  A missed dinner, that was nothing.  The editor's opinion - everything.

Miranda's arms snaked around the younger woman.  The trembling she encountered struck deep. "I think my mental health has never been better." There was a pause and the editor was thankful Andy wasn't looking directly at her because her face turned beet red while her voice sounded a bit strained. "I love you, Andrea, in case I haven't made that perfectly obvious.  The only truth about that spewage is that it's libelous, petty, and hurtful under the guise of news. And I'm sorry I did not protect you from this."

The weight of the article crashed down, helped along by exhaustion. Propelled forward at a high rate of speed by the quiet declaration of feeling.  Overwhelmed by it all, hot tears splashed against the skin of Miranda's neck.  "Not your fault I've not seen it coming.  I just...all this time nothing.  Lulling."

"It's been very idyllic since you moved here. It is easy to forget the rest of the world keeps gnashing it's teeth for the next sensational sound bite that will be forgotten in a week or a month after the damage has been inflicted."

"Is this going to mean trouble for you, Mira?  Irv won't use this as an opportunity to try something will he?"  Andy's hold tightened. This was quickly turning into one morning she'd rather turn back the clock on.

"With Irv I perfected the art of turning lemons to his favored hard lemonade quickly.  I'm a known commodity.  They'll give up on trying with me by mid next week.  I'll just give them the look." Her smile was a ghost only.

A gentle, tear salted kiss brushed like an artist's paint stroke over the editor's lips.  Andy felt adrift but better than she had before.  "I love you too.  I'm just a little lost. And I trust you.  Yet I can't stay home.  I've got three articles with deadlines and others looming."

"You should work from home for today. It's quiet and you'll get more done."

"You're going in."  One eyebrow lifted.   "Weren't you the one that sent me emails about having no courage?"

"Going in today is not courageous it's folly. I have people surrounding me to keep the flea infested , bottom feeding, vermin at bay.  Did you miss the part where I agreed to have all my appointments rearranged so they can be held in the office?  If you go in you will get nothing done. It will be a circus."

Andy shook her head.  It seemed like giving into them.  "If you go, I go.  If I were in their shoes...if this were a normal story, someone hiding or ducking would make me more persistent. Because then they have something to hide.  I do not."

"This isn't a normal story it is gossip. You're not listening. You will be hounded. You won’t be able to work on the stories because suddenly you've become the prime source and story all in one.  I'm not Nate, Andrea. People read this, it sells papers and ad space and now every other paper and news service will be playing catch up and hope to out scoop their competitors. You know these things, these are your people."

Knowing Miranda knew about these and understanding the scope were vastly different concepts.  Paparazzi followed other people. People that were news worthy.  Stars and big names.  Going out with the editor right now, being seen in public with her, that she could see drawing attention.  "It's not that I don't believe you, I just can't wrap my head around it.  I need to try sweetheart.  They are my people although I don't like them very much right now.  At the same time they're not my people.  I don't do gossip.  Not all of us do."

Youth could be maddening.  But she was a grown woman and the warning had been issued.  Any more and Miranda risked sounding like a nagging harpy.  "You will take the car I've arranged and your driver will be on standby all day. No, no do not give me that look. Nonnegotiable.  I can't stop you from diving into the pool of piranhas but I refuse to just leave you there completely unprotected."

"You're impossible.  Fine, I'll take the car.  It will make it easier to get your lunch anyway.  No, now you don't give me that look.  Surely I can still get you lunch, right?"  A car to drive her around while she chased down interviews.  How absurd.

It would be best for all concerned if she slipped the girl a sleeping pill, clearly she wasn't operating anywhere near full brainpower. "I suggest you stay as far away from Elias-Clarkee today as is possible.  Forget lunch, I am not hungry.  I need to go shower, get dressed, then go see the girls before their paper arrives.  You have the morning off go back to bed and get some sleep, you need it."

"No lunch."  Miranda might as well have said there was no Santa.  The journalist sighed and slowly released the embrace.  An ache welled from the loss and deeper remained the haunting words on page 6.  "I do not like this at all not that it matters.  Tell the girls I'm sorry."

"I will tell them no such thing.  You have nothing to apologize for. I should warn you. The girls don't take kindly to 'meanie-head' press as they put it. If you're not tired you could come with me and we could stop by their favorite waffle place and take them breakfast."

"I'd rather be with you than sleeping not that I could get much of it now.  It'll be okay.  It has to be."

"Right."  Miranda wondered to herself when that delightful naiveté would end up tarnished.  By her count Andrea wouldn't make it past one o'clock. Though she desperately hoped she was wrong.

Andy smiled a wan smile and slipped her arm around the editor's waist.  Not even she could say if she actually believed that it would be.  At this point it came down to hope and a lot of prayers.

Three hours later the journalist slipped through a throng of jostling, loud colleagues laying in wait outside the Mirror.  All the warnings in the world couldn't have prepared her.  Everyone wanted a piece, a quote, a photo.  Andy jogged past the guard in a daze, dimly registering his corralling of people.  The stares were obvious, whispers a mere notch below normal speaking voices as she stepped into her area.  Never had she been so glad to see her desk.  A few catcalling whistles went up by friends.  Smiles bloomed just behind gentle elbows of ribbing.  Those that had known teased.  Those that hadn't looked around, watching everything.  More than one dove for their desk and notepads jotting down god only knew what.

She sunk into the chair like it was her best friend in the world then sunk down into the seat.  This was the second sign that life was about to change dramatically.  The first had come not two hours earlier when getting the girl's waffles suddenly meant becoming a sideshow stage act.  The phone at her desk rang.  And rang, and rang.  Four times in a minute she answered it and promptly hung up.  Sticky notes filled an entire foot of her desk.  Requests for comments, interviews, photos and the occasional lewd comment filled the small papers.  Andy glared at them, stopped bothering to even look them over then balled the mass up and tossed them in the waste bin.  Befuddled eyes slid to Jace in hopes of understanding.  "This is insane."

Jace had run as much interference as possible but it proved as useful as an umbrella against a tsunami.  He just hoped their relationship was tight enough that it could withstand the scrutiny.  "You snagged the big one Ace. Now you get to see the dark side of our ilk.  Fucking morons. Ignore them.  Brittany will flash her hoochie on her way to rehab or daycare by Monday and they'll move on." Or at least for his friends sake he hoped so. But he doubted it.  Only the print hounds had been on her to date, the news cameras would follow to get their bite for six o'clock.  "I'm surprised you drug your sorry ass in for this today.  You should have taken a sick day."

"First Elise, then Miranda now you.  This is ridiculous.  I'm not going to tuck away in the house like I've done something wrong.  And my interview with the councilman got cancelled right before I walked in here.  What kind of shit is that?"  That she already felt like turning the air blue, before the clock ticked 10am was a bad sign.  Stares bore into her until she dropped her head into her hands.  Suddenly she couldn't help but to wonder if all the furious scribbling in the office was about her.  "Jace, they're not...?"

"Of course you didn't do anything wrong but when the UV is this high sun block is a good idea. The office has been flooded with calls. It's nose to the grind as usual here Andy we still have a paper to put out. A real paper not that gossip shit that is only good for the bottom of a bird cage.  You'll lose a few interviews but it'll settle down.  I'm kinda surprised she didn't convince you to stay home for the day." It bothered him, truth be told, that his friend was being served up on a platter when she had no idea. "Look I've got to go, double homicide early morning in the garment district. If it gets too noisy go home...if not I found a new cart you've got to try for lunch."

"No lunch today," she said morosely.  The vultures descending took second place behind the lunch interruption.  The incessant ringing of the phone finally rung one time to many.  After taking it off the hook she turned back to him.  Friends in the office weren't Jace.  Somehow she'd forgotten he'd be in and out of the office as usual.  "Get out of here.  As you said, this is just temporary, right? I'll steal your phone, get a little work done then go to my next interview, no harm, no foul.  I have a stupid car today.  Take it if you want."

"Good idea, use my desk. You've got Roy today?" He almost whined. He didn't mind hoofing it around town or even grabbing an occasional cab, but he had a weak spot for being chauffeured. Point back to the Dragon lady since she'd sent the car. "Nah can't, I've got a date with Simone tonight and don’t want my ass getting flabby. Next time though I'm all over it. Hang tight I'll be back in a couple. Do you want switch cells too?"

"Nah, some other guy that just hunkers down and drives.  I don't like him."  Not that she'd like anyone new that was assigned to drive her around at this point.  Even Roy would have come under fire.  Andy pulled out a new cell and waved it, displeasure marring her face.  "Miranda took mine.  One minute she asked to see it, the next she made it disappear and handed me this...thing that Elise had sent over.  I doesn't even have my programming!  Sure, she said that could be transferred over tonight but I liked my old phone."  The editor's name caused heads to pop up again.

Score two for the Dragon lady. "I have disguises in my top drawer if you need one." He grinned, punched her in the arm, grabbed his new Blackberry courtesy of Elise and took off.

Disguises, new phones, cars, hiding out, cancelled interviews, dogmatic reporters, gossip, whispers and most importantly; no lunch.  Andy cursed under her breathe, ignored the curious eyes and got exactly twenty-eight minutes of work done before the desk operator appeared before her desk in a snit.  Jolene, as it turned out didn't appreciate Andy's phone being off the hook anymore than she appreciated having to take dozens of messages when the voicemail box quickly filled.  A two minute scathing lecture was all it took for the journalist to grab her things and head for the door.

Precisely forty-two minutes after that she was tucked away in a restaurant bathroom hiding out and harried having learned one very important lesson:  Even if your interviewee didn't cancel or those you were chasing down for quotes would actually wait, they did not appreciate the host of other reporters hounding the one interviewing them, interrupting the interview and then asking what they were being asked about.  Close to developing claustrophobia, Andy tentatively dialed Miranda's number, hoping beyond hope she'd answer the phone sans a lecture.  Three of those about what a good journalist consisted of, in twenty minutes, were enough.

"Andrea?"  Miranda put the phone to her ear while gesturing at Elise to remove the clothing cart some idiot had parked in the middle of her front office. Irv was eight minutes out but beyond that her office was eerily quiet.  It was good to have the power to make people fear for their lives and she was using it to its full potential at the moment. Of course, giving three employees their pink slips in a matter of ten minutes had a way of spreading much more quickly than who she was sleeping with. "Where are you?"

While Andy was indulging in the simple calming effect of hearing her lover, Elise reluctantly rolled the cart out of the way all while tallying how long she'd have to wait before she could get away with rolling it back in place.  It blocked the sight of those peeking around the corner to glimpse Miranda which might not bother the editor but had gotten to her by the end of the first hour.

The journalist scrubbed her face and glanced around the small bathroom.  Mentioning her exact location was out of the question.  It would reveal too much.  "I'm on a small break from hunting down quotes.  How's it going?"

"Swimmingly. It seems I have become part of some exotic zoo exhibition and then there is the various clothing carts that keeping appearing to obstruct my view of the vultures. The coffee was lukewarm and Irv's on his way. But, I fired three people this morning so I count it as in the black. I talked to the school and all is as it should be there so it's just another day at the office.   You sound like you are calling from a box. Roy said you've got quiet an entourage. Do you want me to send over a bodyguard?"

Impossibly, whether right or wrong, Andy found herself laughing at the editor's exploits.  The girl's were okay which was most important.  After that, firing people sounded a lot better than picking them off with a rifle from the top of the Sears tower.  The arrival of Roy had helped bolster her reserves.  Replacing the creepy driver that had originally showed up had been the closest she'd come to calling uncle or in this case calling Elise and begging her to have him replaced.  "I ducked into a small room to have a few moments of peace."  Both eyes twitched at the lie of omission.  "He exaggerates.  They've been a pain least the girl's are okay.  A bodyguard would probably make it worse but thanks.  I guess I just needed to hear your voice."

"What small room does Vinnie's Deli have?" Miranda queried giving her time to answer before she sent Roy in after her.

"You've talked to Roy who's being a canary which constitutes cheating.  I'm in the bathroom."  A small, exhausted sigh accompanied the admission.  Outside, probably taking up half of the deli, were the press.  No longer her people.  That had ended when they'd followed her into the place still hurling scores of questions each a little worse than the last.  Page six was beginning to look almost kind.

Miranda checked her watch and then glanced down at the printout of her appointments for the day. A choice was a choice. "Are you free for lunch?"

"You said we couldn't."  The mere mention of it knocked Andy three steps down the ladder of the weary.  Jolene had called twice, each time a little more angry than the time before over the influx of calls she could do nothing about.

"I've changed my mind. I do believe that is my prerogative.  Select where you'd like to lunch and I'll meet you there in forty-five minutes."  Miranda was all but humming as she considered the course of action. "You were right."

"About what?  Lunch...I'm not sure where would be best."  Or safest.  Incredulous, Andy's head canted as she watched someone trying to pick the lock.  She turned and leaned against it.

Elise hung up the phone, glanced at Miranda then spared a moment to contemplate whether or not Kevlar could be fashionable.  Hastily scrawling out a note, she entered the office while staying well away from the windows.  Best not to tempt the editor to toss the messenger out of them.  Despite what Miranda might be saying to Andy, her mood was foul.  Irv's arrival wasn't likely to improve it and the note, not at all.  Carefully placing the paper in front of her she made a mad dashing walk out of the office.  The local television news stations had picked up the story.  Her mother had spotted the first teaser two minutes ago.  Similar ones were airing on the other three networks.  Uglier indeed.

"Fuck." The rarely uttered curse was more mouthed than spoken when Miranda read the note about the call from her mother. It wasn't long before the woman would wheedle her way into contact. "There is no best darling. Pick wherever you'd like to eat and that is where we will go." She was tempted to ask her lover a hundred things but decided against it.  She had been sure of Andrea's feelings before Page Six, she had no reason to doubt them now.  Miranda had faith in what they were building and so she refused to give into a moment of self doubt. "Look at it this way, we should have done it long ago. The word is out now so we have no excuse not to have lunch together now and then. Today seems like a good day to start."

"Some place quiet.  I'm having trouble thinking right now."  Miranda's confidence fed her own or at least validated her point all along.  Hiding was stupid and indicated they'd done something wrong.  The problem from her end was that refusing to hide out when you weren't giving the comments they wanted meant their questions were getting increasingly vicious.  The tactic had been perfected long before she'd been born.  Keep hammering away until your query snapped and spoke, for good and bad.

"Irv's on his way. Have Roy pick me up in forty minutes, we'll decide once you get here."  Irv was in the front office where he could cool his heels. "Andrea?"

"Sounds good.  I miss you Mira.  This really sucks."  She had the distinct feeling there would have been less press had she actually killed someone.

"Yes it does." She ended the call and looked in Irv's direction. The man look nearly jovial, lovely.

"Quite the little hornet's nest you've stirred up Miranda.  My phones been ringing off the hook.  Then there was that nasty little call from personnel citing a few firings without grounds."  The last charge would never stick under their at-will policy but getting the upper hand with her didn't happen all that often.

"Their jobs were redundant given they were underachieving.  I've saved you five hundred thousand in salaries, and almost another hundred thousand in benefits etcetera." Miranda picked up the bound book in her inbox.  It was Elise's handiwork, a detailed accounting in spreadsheets that charted how any press Miranda garnered positively affected Runway's sales. It also included the savings attributed to the mornings firings. It was a thing of beauty. A sheet of pink paper caught her eye on the last page of the book. She didn't flip to it immediately. "I hope you've called sales and advertising and told them to add a premium for the ads in the upcoming issue. You should easily be able to charge an extra 5% given that circulation will go at least twenty percent over the norm for the month."

"You'll spend that much in overages this month and more so.  What's really gained except a lot of hassle for us all?  Really Miranda, your assistant?  That alone could land us in enough legal trouble to cost the magazine millions.  What will our stockholders think?"  The memory of the list she’d revealed in Paris, of how she'd wielded it against him had not been forgotten.

Perfectly painted lips parted in a congenial smile that was as fake as Irv's hair. "The stockholder's will think what they always do when sales take an unexpected spike - that Runway is the cash cow of Elias-Clarke and they will try to tempt me with any number of offers to take the helm of some of the other titles. Which, as always, I will decline. "  Her thumb brushed against her bottom lip giving the illusion of bemusement. "Do we really want to start casting judgments on each other's choice of romantic partners Irv?"  Blue eyes honed to lasers as her head took an almost playful tilt. "I'm single." She smirked and let that thought hang between them.

Irv stiffened imperceptivity before his eyes narrowed.  Not even Miranda would dare.  "Unless they suddenly remember how much money they could be saving.  That's got me to thinking.  We should really try for low budget this month don't you think?  As a gesture of good faith before they do start questioning your health. And let's not forget, sudden rumor has it that you were not single when you became involved with her."

Miranda had started perusing the last page as he droned on. Her smile became genuine. A casual observer would be looking for the telltale feathers left behind when she gulped down the fat, little, unsuspecting canary. "Mmm, yes. It has been brought to my attention that thousands of dollars from a boutique called Miss Julia's have been charged to the props department.  I cannot recall any shoot for the past twelve months where we've used what could only be described as kink wear and yet the charges keep accumulating. I keep meaning to speak to Nigel about that but the larger details keep demanding my attention. You are right though, god only knows how many other such oversights are being charged to Runway. What exactly is a hogtie and cuff set? I'll call Elise in, she'll know."

Face turning several shades of red and orange that would have done a Crayola box proud, Irv gritted his teeth.  Insufferable bitch.  She might be good at her job and win, for now, but there would come a time when he'd take great pleasure in firing her.  "See that this month's reports are on my desk by the end of the day."  Pivoting on one foot, he stormed out of the office, lamenting not for the first time that Runway didn't have nice wooden doors to slam.

Miranda waved her fingers at Irv's disappearing figure then beckoned to Elise.

Elise who had been diligently working with her head down caught the movement in her peripheral vision.  The picture of youthful innocence, she got up and entered Miranda's office.  "Miranda?"

She tapped the book. "Very thorough." When Elise looked like she was about to speak Miranda continued. "No, no that is not your cue to chatter.  Pink paper? It gives me hives. As to the content it crosses every line. It is invasive veering towards criminal. I do not condone people in my employ breaching such lines. Discovery of the collection of such data would result in instant dismissal and at the very least a civil suit. Are we clear?"

"Crystal."  Face remaining placid, Elise took the miniature scolding in stride not one iota of regret appearing.  Fired on the spot?  She still wouldn't have felt regret. Scruples were for times when Miranda, and her by extension, weren't in the direct sight of several lines of fire.  "Should I cease my acquaintance with Lindsay, his assistant?"

"Only if you've suddenly become a simpleton." Miranda picked up her handbag, opened her wallet then withdrew one of her personal credit cards which she handed over to Elise.  "How much are you paid?"

"Thirty-one thousand a year."  Which was the main reason she continued to live with roommates.

"Call payroll and have them double it. If you last the year call them again and have them bump it to ninety-five thousand.  Your computer is property of Elias-Clarke." Her finger tapped on the pink sheet of paper. "It would behoove you to remove anything incriminating from that machine.  Go get two small computers. Yours, mine; use my card. Buy good locks for them.  If other pink sheets were to appear on each of the board of directors desks I think it would prove to be entertaining reading. That's all."

A wonderful raise and small computers with locks.  Macs with security.  Elise filed the to-do list away, turned to leave then stopped.  Life was in chaos, the office on gossiping eggshells.  Reporters lurked and behind them Irv and who knew what else.  She should take the raise and run.  Now was not the time to push for a change and yet she'd learned with Miranda to take whatever opportunity opened, when it opened.  An idea had churned for weeks, carefully reviewed and plotted.  There would always be fires to put out.  Ignoring the dismissal she softly cleared her throat and plowed ahead.

"Actually I have a proposal for you.  The new Emily is as trained as she's going to get.  I'd like to propose a trade.  Instead of giving me a raise allow me to hire another new Emily giving you two assistants.  I will train her of course.  For the same pay as I'm making now, so there will be no real loss of money, I'd like to create and move into the position of your personal assistant.  Probationary is more than acceptable.  If it doesn't work out you can fire me and still be left with two assistants."

"You are a simpleton." She gave Elise an indulgent eye roll. "Why do I need a personal assistant?"

Unbelievably, Elise smiled.  Cowering in fear was for others.  "Because a personal assistant would free up a lot of your time and save you the drudgery of having to deal with as many idiots.  I know what you like and don't like already.  For example:  If there was a shoot happening you weren't certain about, having me as your assistant would allow you to send me to the shoot and report any problems thus saving you time and possibly money which would keep him out of your hair.  You could never and would never trust an Emily to do that."

“You are very presumptuous. I've not yet decided if you are too stupid to know better or too arrogant to care." Miranda released an aggrieved sigh. "You try my patience. If a personal assistant would be so useful to me why am I only hearing about this now? "

It wouldn't do to laugh Elise reminded herself as she walked out of the office.  One of her beloved, nicely ordered printouts was in her hand when she returned.  Only Miranda would blame her for not mentioning it before.  She placed the bound sheets on the editor's desk.  "I apologize for the aggravation.  However, this is just an example of the ways a personal assistant could make your life easier.  And, to be presumptuous, I would imagine you've not heard of it before because most of the staff is too scared to speak up when you ask them a direct question much less to bring an idea to you when you've not."

"You'll deal with the new Emily's?" That alone had sold her on the notion. "What is your malfunction that you would forgo a raise to implement this scheme of yours?"

Elise faltered then spoke honestly.  "Because I can learn more working directly for you then moving around to all the other departments combined.  Long term, that will allow me to make more than a raise or two ever could."

"Less chatter, same raise. Do it." Miranda removed a scarf from her drawer and draped it around her neck as she checked the time.

"The car is waiting," she said needlessly while digging her nails into her palms.  Elise walked out to her desk and sat down.  The new Emily glanced up and was ignored.  Looking at anyone would mean she'd lose composure, squeal like a four year old girl and most certainly lose the position.

Miranda's mind was already elsewhere as she moved forward, slipped into her coat and stepped into the elevator.

All the tricks in the world didn't help.  Just before the doors slid shut on the editor, Elise released an ear splitting squeal to do any little girl at her birthday party proud.

Miranda’s wince turned into an amused smile.  The girl was human after all. She wasn't entirely sure if that was a good revelation. She hit the button and the doors reopened. "I heard that," was all she said before letting the doors close again.


Tucked away from the most remote corner from the Brasserie Les Halles door, Andy sat picking at the comfit of duck she normally would have gobbled down.  The lack of appetite was the one indication not all was as it seemed.  She was attentive, listening to the chatter around the restaurant as well as her lover.  Makeup had been perfectly applied to cover up a sallow tint to her skin.  For both their sake's she plowed ahead as if nothing was amiss.  Today the best part of the restaurant was that they were used to reporters and knew how to keep them out.  The journalist had yet to wrap her mind around how Miranda had walked through the throng, utterly composed and teasing of their followers.

A perfected act that was pitch perfect.  They had eaten it up from what Andy could see from her spot inside.  Jace's appearance, calm and protective, had moved her from the bathroom to here - through the backdoor.  How he'd accomplished that she hadn't cared enough to ask.  Simply being out of the insanity made the how negligible.  The man had stayed, eating with them, providing a enough of a buffer to allow her carefully applied mask to remain in place.  She was more rattled than she had any intention of Miranda knowing all while knowing the woman would know anyway.  Three months of living with someone on top of the months they'd seen each other before gave the editor the insight of a lover so long as she cared to look.

Andy blinked, realizing she'd missed what was said.  No amount of trying to replay the conversation helped.  Rather than receive a knowing look from the editor she attempted to change the subject.  "He received the oddest unintelligible squealing phone call on our way over.  Do I dare ask what you did?"

Miranda and Jace shared a look.  "I dressed Irv in an off the rack mauve tutu and then threw him out my office window," she supplied most conversationally doubting her lover actually heard a word.

Jace piped up. "Can I quote you on that?"

"Did he like it?"  The journalist answered automatically, grabbing at keywords to form the reply.

"No but I did." Miranda reached out and squeezed Andy's hand. "What is on your schedule for the afternoon?"

The touch brought Andy back into the present.  Nonplussed, she glanced around.  Public touching was new and although they weren't, she found herself staring at the other patrons, searching for someone that stared too long, hurried back to their conversation in whispers or nudged the person beside them.  The restaurant was packed to the gills yet Miranda's presence had stopped being anything note worthy by other customers two minutes after she arrived.  Flashes of a real smile curled the corners of her lips.  Insecurities drained away, uncertainty on its heels.  "Did you just say…"  No, she couldn't have mentioned Irv and tutus.  Nah.  "A couple of interviews then back to the shop to finish Unseen and the piece on daycare, if you can call it that, in Hell's Kitchen.  You?"

"Elise rescheduled most of my appointments to later in the week so I'll be spending my afternoon on in-house items. The mundane that needs being done. Have you checked with your interviews to make sure they are still on?"

The smile faded for a brief moment before reappearing, a little too happy and a lot too wide.  "One is as of an hour ago.  The other is a replacement interview for the original one I had scheduled.  I'd almost rather be at Runway right until I think everyone diving under their desks to hide."

"I do believe I'll do a companywide Q&A when I return." Blue eyes danced with demented glee but they didn't miss Andy's put on expression.  "Would you like to take a meeting with Leslie later? She'd very helpful and could give you pointers on how to deal with the upcoming barrage from your colleagues."

The suggestion earned Miranda a wink.  In one innocent sounding question, Andy knew her attempts were being seen right through.  But she wasn't yet ready to tackle having to meet with a PR person just to figure out how to handle the baying mob.  "Nah.  Besides, it looks like you worked your usual magic upon entering. What's going to be on this Q&A and can get a video tape of it?  Please?"

Miranda gave Jace a look that had him push back from the table as he glanced at his watch. "Ladies this was great. Miranda thanks for lunch, next time my treat.  Cart of your choice.  I've got a couple bodies on ice that need interviewing this afternoon.  Have fun."  He weaved through the restaurant and slipped out the service entry.

"There is no magic." Despite Miranda’s efforts there was an edge to her voice.  She could see the fall coming and hated the fact that she wasn't being allowed to at least cushion it to some degree. "You need to take a meeting with Leslie. You are out of your league Andrea.  Don't make this any more difficult for yourself that it is already going to be."

"It seems so silly Mira.  I should be able to be...fine with this.  I know what we're like when they smell a story yet this is about me, us.  And there is no damned story.  I know who you are and why they're so interested because of the who but it's absurd.  I didn't understand the obsession with who was sleeping with who and that's getting worse by the minute."   It was telling in the worst of ways that Andy said more once Jace left than she had even hinted at with him there.  He was completely trustworthy, helpful, kind and caring.  That was all fine and well until you began to feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

"There is always a story darling. Or more importantly a spin that sells.  And the most interesting stories gossip or not involve people.  Have your parents called yet?" She moved her chair closer to Andy's so they could speak more openly without fear of being overheard.

"You mean that in denial, the papers are making up stories call or the one that sounds like the world is hours from ending if I don't return home so we can talk, asap, messages Jolene took earlier?  Those she called me about.  Commentary on her feelings...don't mind me, I'm just being cynical."  And paranoid.  The end of the day couldn't come soon enough.

"I'll trade you if you like.  You can call Marianne and I'll speak with Mr. and Mrs. Sachs." In the parental front at least she could truly commiserate.  "Am I to take it you are planning to stick with no comment when asked?"

"I gave up on no comment two hours ago.  I'm in ignoring and glaring space now.  And Miranda?  I'd rework my schedule a hundred times over for five more minutes with you.  But I wouldn't touch a call with Marianne for anything short of a weeks vacation together, somewhere out of cell phone range."  Which pretty much ruled out 75% of the world or better these days.  A more than fair trade when it came to Miranda's mother who Andy had already had several nightmares about in spite of never having met the woman.  Overhearing a phone call or two had been more than enough.

"I could arrange that. Not a week but three or four days." It would take a bit of finagling but what was the point of being Miranda fucking Priestly if you couldn't use your heft to finagle at least five times a day before lunch?

Hope appeared, vibrant and relieving to see compared to the kicked puppy she tended to imitate when her mask slipped.  "You could?  Wait, you're not setting me up to go to Connecticut are you?  Am I bait for your mother?  Here you go Marianne, fresh blood, you know you want it.  Now I'll just go over here and you can leave me alone this time... No offense of course.  It's just that your mother kind of freaks me out.  She' offense again, but she's just mean.  I know she doesn't mean to be, okay mostly, but no one should be that on, that proper, that driven, that critical and well, know everything."

"Andrea! Of course she means to be a bitch.  She means it with every nasty little molecule in her pinched little size four body.  I'm crushed that you think I would give you up to her of all people as bait." Although now that the suggestion was out there it did have merit. "I would not send you off to Connecticut... not yet.  I was thinking somewhere warm, tropical and with impossibly high fences."

"That would be wonderful.  Even if it doesn't happen it's a pleasant enough idea to hang onto."  A small sigh got lost in the din.  In spite of it all some of the tension bled out of Andy's shoulders, the conversation felt almost normal.  "I forgot you don't twitch like most people at the thought of calling your mother a bitch.  She's part of the reason I avoid answering your phone at all costs.  What I don't understand is how she can be so on top of everything and still put in insane hours at the hospital.  Then again, maybe that explains you.  Absurd hours are coded in your DNA."

It would happen.  "When was the last time you took any vacation time?" she asked before returning to the topic of her mother. "Do not go to the apple and the tree analogy darling. Do not." The vibrating phone demanded her attention. When she flipped it open and read the text message Miranda was certain she swallowed her tongue. She gaped, poked a button and wondered why it was she'd brought the two little monsters home from the hospital.

When she watched the two minute video exchange between them her horror grew and yet, they were her girls and they were too funny for words not to mention their antics did endear. "Oh dear god. I should have warned their Principle to not let them near anything remotely electronic." She hit the speed dial to Elise. "CNN Showbiz, the girls sent a video thingy. Pull it." She ended the call doubtful that anything could be done because knowing her girls they would have held off notifying her until the damage was irreversible. "Never have twins."

"A video thingy to CNN?  Can you define that a bit more."  Knowing the twins and their mother's reaction she was almost scared to ask.

Miranda handed over her phone and hit play.

Over the din of the lunch rush, the journalist had to hold the phone close to both see and hear.  Two familiar faces appeared, the computer lab their backdrop.  Andy hit pause and glanced at her lover.  The twins, lovable though they were scared her at times. Namely, their antics did. Fearful, she closed both eyes then opened just one to watch.  Hiding from the screen was short lived, lasting exactly eighteen seconds.  The twins had not only read the article they'd decided to refute and comment on it.  "Oh shit."

Cassidy sat interviewing Caroline, both clearly trying to appear as grown up as possible in between grins and laughter.  They hit on the gold digger comment first, argued over its exact implied meaning, with the camera still rolling and then after they'd decided exactly how unflattering it was proceeded to tell the world it was decidedly untrue because she bought them all sorts of things.  Bribes, such as they were, were common between the journalist and the girls.  While they didn't come out and call what she bought them that, anyone who knew them even in passing knew exactly what they meant.

Blackmail was their forte.  Andy whimpered, unable to look up from the screen as they did the opposite of what she'd done.  They didn't hide at all in their little expose defense of various things that had been said in the article.  Even she felt bad for a moment for Stephen, Miranda's ex who they fired upon with both barrels.  "Oh my god."  They clearly still loved him but that didn't spare him their filleting little tongues.  In fact they sounded just like their mother while on that little diatribe.  Hearing them erased Andy's horror.  She grinned as she always did when amused at that apple and tree proof.  Her amusement lasted less than a second when they switched subjects.  Caroline boldly informed the world that Andy was way cuter than Brad Pitt.  Of course her mother had to like her.

Back to watching through one eye the journalist sunk into her chair when they let slip with the information of her poker night.  They didn't give all the juicy details but it was enough that Miranda now damn sure knew their little secret.  Andy couldn't say exactly how they'd stumbled upon the first game she'd held at her mini-apartment at Miranda's.  It had been her night to host it, a night that led to her becoming the permanent host every two weeks since she now had the bigger place.  The editor's idea of a getaway, and Stephen's office, was bigger than half of all the apartments in New York.  And somehow on that second gathering of friends the girl's had appeared.  A little pleading, cajoling, charm, and blackmail had got them in on the game.  A precedent had been set.  Since that night they'd been in on every game.  Miniature card sharks had been born.

They brought money to the table and pretended to close their ears when the conversations took decidedly adult turns.  On those rare occasions Andy thought to send them away they appealed to Jace and the other men, having won them over hook, line and sinker.  Especially Jace who they both had quite the crush on - green Keds and all.

Andy's brief distracted moment came to a screeching halt when she saw the twin terrors turn to the subject of their mother's mental health.  The camera forgotten, they turned to each other like this was an everyday conversation.

Cassidy: What's mental health exactly?
Caroline: They mean she's crazy.
Cassidy: Oh. Well she is sometimes.
Caroline: Only on Friday's and then there was that time Andy put that painting up.

Their banter continued in between giggles and wildly careening chatty tidbits as only kids can do.  Every other Friday crazy, when Miranda lost the girls for a weekend Andy idly noted.  The twins had no idea how crazy she got those first few hours after they left.  The girls continued on, debating the sanity of the man that had written the article and the various sources who told outrageous lies that the press then printed.  Flummoxed, mouth hanging open, Andy watched until they calmly turned back to the camera, smiled for the world and then ended the pseudo newscast with a perfectly imitated, twin "That's all."

Head spinning, Andy sunk down in her chair, crossed her arms over her chest, lifted one hand enough to bury her face in then set about the very serious task of turning invisible.

"The good news is they care about you a great deal. The bad news is they care about you a great deal and that was their version of showing everyone just how much."  Miranda beckoned to the waiter and did the unthinkable.  She ordered a drink, a double, at lunch. "Join me?" she asked Andy in a whisper.

"Whiskey, neat.  Doubled," the journalist muttered.  Thoughts beyond the girls just weren't possible.  On the one hand their defense made her feel inordinately better.  But then there was that little part that wanted to disappear into a hole in the ground.  God they were brats, lovable or not.  "There is no way in hell CNN is going to pull that is there?"

"They will already be running teasers. There may be a chance to get the entire thing pulled because they are minors. I should have sent them to boot camp."  Miranda swirled her martini once, plucked out the olive and drained it.

Andy rolled her eyes.  "As if.  I'm going to sit here, drink my drink and not mention DNA."  While she was talking Andy pulled out the new Blackberry and opened up the internet browser.  A truly terrible thought wormed its way into her bones.  The girls were above all things thorough.  Blackmail was pointless if you left someone an escape avenue.  The device clattered to the table a split second before her head thudded against it.  Having it pulled wasn't going to happen anytime soon.  "Youtube."

"There is no need to be insulting." The first martini had tasted divine, she was certain the next one would be even better. Besides the afternoon's activities would go much more swiftly with one more martini to boost it along.

"Youtube Miranda.  It's an video web site.  Where anyone can post just about anything short of hardcore porn.  Including the girls and their interview.  It already has 3057 hits."  Grudgingly lifting her head, Andy nudged the device over with one finger.  At this rate it would turn around and bite soon.  The same finger hit the scroll feature on the side.  Like all things technical, the editor learned exactly what she had to learn to make a device do what she wanted it to and nothing more.  Blackberry's had yet to make it into her 'to bother with' world.

"This is the part where I tell you to check your room for hidden cameras." Porn, her children would not be above releasing sex videos if they thought it could prove their point. "About the poker."

Reporters lying in wait outside were forgotten.  Looking simultaneously innocent, caught, embarrassed and jumpy, Andy opened and closed her mouth several times before deciding not to step blindly into that path.  "About the poker," she repeated, putting a twist on a tactic Miranda used.

"Corrupting them is bad form."

Corrupting them?  The woman forgot who the them were in this case.  "I have hardly corrupted them.  They show up every other Friday night at midnight, money in hand sporting poker visors, which they hide from you, on their heads.  They bribe someone into getting good scotch for the guys who wouldn't dream of kicking them out now.  I've tried.  Many times.  Between the pouty faces and their supporters I'm voted down before I'm halfway through protesting.  And!  Your devilish angels circumvent me when the girls join us too.  They just switch tactics.  Perks from Runway magically appear.  There is nothing harder to get around than a woman that's been won over by Gucci."

"Bribery, blackmail and gambling." This was not a new picture being painted for her. Her children were crafty and ingenious little opportunists. "Do they win?"

"Half the time which is a lot when you realize we play with six people, minimum.  Between the scotch and goodies no one seems to mind by the end of the night.  Given what the pot ends up being by the end of the night, when the drunken bets really up the ante, I'd guesstimate they've won somewhere in the ballpark of ten grand in the last few months."  Threats of their mother certainly didn't work to get them to go to bed because they owned the trump card of their mother.  That she'd let them stay up around drinking, gambling and all sorts of debauched behavior, as Caroline put it, would trump them being up in a heartbeat.

"They cheat, and clearly it is time I give you the heavy artillery when it comes to them. How are they blackmailing you?" For just a moment the reporters outside and CNN were all forgotten as they moved to dealing with very ordinary details of becoming partners when one partner had two demon spawn nearly teens.

"To quote them, letting us do these things trumps us doing them."  Clear adoration for her lover appeared.  After all the time they'd held Miranda's reaction over her head the real thing turned out to be almost pleasant.

Miranda smirked. "Everyone falls victim to that one darling.  You need to turn it around.  Let them play once every two months tops." The girls had been severely warned about encroaching on Andy's private time and Miranda was less than thrilled that they had disregarded that order.  "They will try to cross every line. They dare you to tell it in front of them just once.  One, I doubt they'll ever let it get that far and two if they do, well let's just say even Marianne has her purposes. They'll find a new and creative way to torture you, yes, but they won't pull the we'll tell Mom and you’re toast again."

The light smell of relief mixed in with the scent of steak.  Andy propped her elbows on to table and leaned forward.  "They did knock first but if I try to cut them off at this point they'll cause a mutiny.  Everyone loves them, even when they're being evil.  While the threat of Marianne is enough to make me shudder, I hate to do that to them.  It's easier to just threaten them with trotting them down to Runway while you're working.  They never believe I'll do it but neither are they quite bold enough to test me on it."

Ah, so the truth was Andrea quite enjoyed having the delinquents around, odd journalist. The martini's were working their magic and she was feeling both more mellow and acerbic than was her usual.  "The trick Andrea is to make them believe you will do it."

"Oh Mira.  We've stood outside Elias-Clark twice."  A devilish glint appeared.  Their general rule was what happened between them stayed between them so long as a line wasn't crossed.   The girls inched close a few times but had yet to cross it.  "I barter time in the apartment sometimes.  It's become a reward, kind of."

"You've got them well in hand then. Call next time you are outside with them." Her lips pursed and she looked decidedly like the evil stepmother. "It's time to go."

Andy would have laughed if not for the sudden train derailment back into reality.  The editor had to go.  Interviews awaited.  One glance outside at the vultures waiting and her smile, if you looked close, became forced.  Life, if you could call it that today, waited like a jackal.  "Round two.  Thanks for coming.  It helped, a lot."

"Call when you want to, no reason required. Okay?"  Miranda stood and led the way to the coat check staying close to Andy's side.

"Do me a favor and call the girls?  I have that monstrosity you call a car.  Might as well use it to pick them up."  She didn't pick them up often but doing so today set a definitive goal to strive toward:  Survive until three.

"You realize they have already started auctioning off your autographs. Next up will be your underwear. I'll call them."  A distinct shift occurred and with the donning of her scarf and glasses Miranda again looked every inch the Dragon lady. "Shall we?"

"They what?"  Taken aback, Andy forgot the waiting masses for the moment or that she'd intended to leave through the kitchen.

Miranda gave Andy the once over then straightened the collar on her coat. "My little angels have sold my autograph on eBay, various articles of clothing and when the story about the divorce from Stephen hit.... I believe they billed it as Mr. Priestly's boxers and gratuitous sock."

"Wha?"  The journalist stared and laughed, incredulous, body on automatic.  It knew how to stay in step with Miranda when she moved.  Beyond that the terrible duo and what they might do reigned supreme.

"Stephen prided himself on being able to handle them himself. " Very subtly Miranda's hand went to the small of Andrea's back as she guided her through the front door and down the steps to the sidewalk towards the waiting car.

The flashes set Andy's teeth to grinding so hard that she purposefully tried to put herself back into shock over the girls action.  "You've never give me any autographs to sell."

Miranda turned towards one particularly loud voice without slowing.  "Lunch was lovely you really should try the comfit of duck today.  It's perfection."  Roy had the door open.  The editor pulled up and directed Andy to get in first. "My mental health has never been better. I'd like to say I'm touched by your concern." She flashed a smile so wide it should have blinded the people within twenty feet. At one particularly lewd question the crowd seem to silence. Miranda's head turned slowly, her eyes coming to rest on the cocky reporter brash enough to toss the question out. She beckoned for him to step forward. As he moved in he made to repeat the question, Miranda tapped her lips. "No, no I heard it clearly the first time. I don't believe I know you."

"Michael T..."

Miranda chuckled. "You're name is irrelevant which means you work for the Inquisitor."  There was a self satisfied moment as the young man stopped short just as she commenced with her dissecting stare which she extended an extra thirty seconds simply because she could. "I don't know you ergo I would never invite you into the privacy of my bedroom. You understand. And Michael." She lowered her voice so he was forced to lean towards her to hear along with all the other press.  "Underwear is not a fashion accessory it is a necessity, and yes, you may quote me. That's all." With that she slipped into the car, leaving the crowd of press to stare down the man who stood watching purple faced.


The phone dropped into its cradle and immediately started to ring again.  Elise let the new Emily pick it up as she stared at the device.  A hesitant glance toward Miranda and she called Roy to give him warning before walking across the plush carpeting into Miranda's office.  Uncomprehending expression fixed to her face, she did the unthinkable and braced on Miranda's desk then leaned in to be heard.  "Miranda.  Cassidy just called.  Everyone is fine but it appears that, as she delicately put it, Andy's gone Britney and is going to try to burn the house down."

"What does that mean? Again in English." Miranda checked the clock on the wall.  It confirmed it was only a few minutes after three. "Do we need to call the fire people?"

Britney, twin speak.  What would it mean?  Oh, right.  "I believe they mean she's gone crazy.  She was talking very fast and said something about Andy's decided to cook dinner.  Followed by I should tell you so you could come home, quick, before they're potato chips."  Why that was so bad Miranda would hopefully know because she didn't have a clue.

"Tell Jacques our meeting is moved up.  I'll stop by his place on the way home. I should be there in ten minutes. The piece on mini-skirts needs to be re-written, Patricia writes more coherently than that. Have St. Laurent send over something to replace those hideous wraps and give Viviane my regrets but suggest that Isabelle would be a more appropriate choice for spearheading her event. Call Caroline and let her know I am on my way."

"I'll give Viviane a few numbers.  That should make her happy.  Roy is waiting."  Elise exited the office, no clearer understanding of why the girl's were hysterical than when she'd walked in.

But little did the confused assistant know that over an hour and a half later when Miranda did walk in the door the normally pristine house would be in chaos.  The kitchen fiasco had inexplicably exploded beyond the kitchen into sitting room.  Little flecks of unidentifiable black dots splattered along the wall.  A mix of flour and sugar, marred by small footprints left a powdery trail.  Curiosity, shock and or fear might have led Miranda to enter the room while still dressed in pristine work clothes.  But it was definitely shock that glued her in place.

To the left of the door standing back from the counter were the twins.  Bedecked in their rain slickers, rain hats and galoshes almost every inch of skin was protected.  Both wore their swimming goggles.  Used to be was the most appropriate phrase for the color of their coats.  Once yellow and green coats were now polka dotted in white foam and larger black, unidentifiable pieces.  Yellows, green, red and orange bits of what might have once been vegetables haphazardly scattered over the foam like demented sprinkles gone awry on a factory line.  Another trail led from them to the counter to the other side of the room where Cara, the housekeeper and former nanny stood holding at least one of the causes for whatever catastrophe had befallen the home:  a well used fire extinguisher, the nozzle still dripping white.

Never one to care excessively about what she was wearing, Cara looked particularly a mess.  Strands of hair had escaped her ponytail to stand every which way.  Shirt half tucked in, with the same strange bits covering her, crazed, pleading eyes turned to her employer.  She'd been with Miranda since the twins were born yet had never managed to look quite so out of sorts even during their toddler years.  And then what had first blended into the once white walls turned out to be a moving body that resumed its furious muttering as it scraped at god only knew what in some poor, innocent and quite ruined pan.

Utterly unrecognizable to the point of being inhuman, dark hair had turned gray.  What had once been flour and sugar had turned into a soggy, muddy mess attached to the body when Cara had had no choice but to turn the fire extinguisher on whether Andy would move back or not.  She'd missed most of the direct foam but enough had splattered to create an unholy mess.  Not a stitch of actual material was visible, all covered in whatever had exploded.  And exploded it had.  Multicolored confetti food covered the surfaces of the room, the walls, the ceiling and the light fixtures.  Remnants of smoke wisped from the oven that chirped an irate little message:  two fast beeps and one slow.  The stovetop itself was identifiable only by where the pans sat hissing out a whining little chorus of doom.

A teakettle blared incessantly.  Every available pan appeared to have been called into action.  They lined the countertops, piled precariously in the sink two feet high and littered the floor sporadically.  The twins wide eyes watched her every move, mouths altering between hanging open and hysterical giggles.  They had warned of the impending doom after all.  The refrigerator door stood open, half its contents spilled out onto the floor, the other by all appearances having been sacrificed.

What looked to be a very dead and wilted leek stuck out from the collar of Andy's shirt.  Upon closer inspection half a grocery store appeared to be on both Andy and the twins and still the journalist cooked on until a pan flew over her shoulder when she tried to shake or perhaps flip whatever charred pieces had the misfortune to be in the now black pan.

"Hon-ey, I'm home." It sounded foreign on her lips and yet looking around she had entered a foreign land because the bombed out dumpster getting goo on her heels in no way resembled her home.  There should be police tape cordoning off the space. "Andrea?" She winced when her toes squished in something as she attempted moving across the room. "Girls?"

"Mom!  We warned you!"  That seemed the most important thing to get out.  Passing off blame was critical.  Caroline poked Cassidy, a silent message passing between them before she flew over to Miranda, skidding to a halt just before the woman ended up toppled over.  "Isn't it great?  I mean bad.  But Mom lookatit!"

Andy, kettle screaming in her ear, didn't hear a thing.

Cassidy stomped through the kitchen delighted when the foam and bits flew beneath her feet. Striking one her mother's poses even though she was looking upwards at her mother she gave the illusion of looking down her nose. "An-drea-a is fixing dinner. I hope you are hungry."

"There is a lot of food."  Caroline agreed then slid back over to her spot.  Her biggest worry had become how to convince their mother to keep this new arrangement.  Remembering their plan, she slid back over, a delighted laugh escaping when she fell down and flour, sugar, foam and food went flying.  "Can we get rid of Rosy?  We like Andy's cooking better."

Miranda gave up even considering waking through the sludge and left then returned a couple of minutes later still wearing her Armani pinstriped suit but now wearing slick and shiny black rubber boots that went to her knees. She still cringed with each step and reminded herself this was not her house. She touched Andrea on the shoulder then duck in case another pan went flying. "Darling, what the hell is going on?"

A pan did fly, nearly beaning the editor upside the head when Andy spun around in surprise.  They'd developed a pattern in the kitchen, one in which the twins came close only after they'd announced themselves.  The blue eyes pierced her consciousness, the near hysteria in Miranda's voice at her mad attempt at cooking plowed through the fog.  The journalist blinked twice.  Her face contorted.  In a heartbeat two years had been erased and she was suddenly standing before her boss that fateful night when she'd climbed the stairs.  Busted.  Unable to think or move, she stared, helplessly caught between two moments in time.

"Shit." Miranda squealed from the pan whizzing by her head. Her hand snapped back off Andy's shoulder.  She shuddered to think what was making her fingers stick together. "Bad afternoon darling?"

Darling.  They were involved.  Working for Miranda ended long ago.  She'd lived with her for months.  Dated the woman even longer.  The timeline of events began to order in her mind.  Andy glanced around the room then did it again, really seeing the area for the first time through food encrusted eyelashes.  Flour masked her deep hue of embarrassment.  Every single eye in the room bored into her skull.  "Yeah.  When did you get here?"

"Just now. If you have no objections I think we'll order in."  Her stomach twisted in a knot. Andy's eyes told the tale or at least part of it.

"I was...  Okay."  Trying to cook didn't matter much when you'd destroyed a kitchen.  The journalist noted Miranda's boots, the girl's attire and Cara's tangible panic.  She offered a sincere apology, found the broom and started on a corner of the room away from everyone first.

"Cara do you have more gloves?" A entire body suit would be preferable but what the hell, everything would get sent out for dry cleaning anyway. With that Miranda turned on the giggling girls. "You two are already outfitted that means you get to start over there. If you do a good job I won’t send you to live at Grandmother's house until you are twenty-one."

Cara scurried off and came back with mops, pails and gloves. She fitted Miranda with gloves as though the woman were going off to perform surgery. Picking up a pail, a mop and sponge the editor set off across the room to join Andy.  "Dinner looked complicated.  What were you making?"

Unexpected help nearly caused her to cry.  The day and now this mess.  Would it ever end?   "Take your pick.  Multiple attempts at different things.  A soufflé.  It blew up.  My mother never said they could do that."

Caroline and Cassidy scampered off, reappearing a couple minutes later when their music was blaring into the room. Before Miranda could nix it they got straight to work. "We need the tunes Mom." They saluted and got busy with their brooms and mops.

Little brats, she smiled and was quite pleased with them as she watched them actually clean under Cara's direction. Cassidy ran her fingers through what looked like cheese sauce on the table. "Hey Andy that was tasty shit."

Miranda's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "Cassidy Alexandria Priestly! That sort of language is intolerable."

Cassidy batted her lashes and dipped her finger into the mess again. "You said it. We all heard you, Mom."

"We did."  Caroline chimed in with.  Defense of each other was a staple.  Oh so innocent eyes betrayed nothing, certainly not that they'd been dying to use certain words for the longest time.  "And Andy says it.  The drivers.  I don't think it sounds as good as the one you said the other night.  Fuck.  It sounds so..."

Loud giggles completed the sentence but the journalist could only groan and thump her head against the broom handle while praying Cassidy didn't take it a step further as they often did.

"Sounds so what my darling little girl?" Miranda's hair felt like it was standing straight out but she didn't dare reach up and touch it because she was wearing gloves that were now gunked.

"Weird," Caroline said, changing her original answer.  Their mother had that tone.  It was not to be messed with.  She glanced at her sister then gave her mother her most charming smile and switched to the English version of mother - a situational use.  "Don't you think Mum?"

God they were too clever for their own good by times. She was tempted to leave them to clean up the entire mess with Cara overseeing but then she looked around and the true absurdity that they were standing in her kitchen ankle deep in goo really struck her. And she laughed then scooped up two handfuls of stuff and flung it at her gapping children. "Clean wicked Cinderella children, clean," she cackled imitating the wicked stepmother.

Andy's head turned slowly, mouth half hanging open.  The mess had affected Miranda's mind.  Caroline was quickest to recover.  The journalist just had time to see her scoop something up, hand part to Cassidy and then the handful flew- it’s aim, Miranda's pinstripe suit.  Armani pinstripe suit.  As Cara had before, Andy stood rooted to her spot, unable to do more than stare.

Miranda ducked but their aim was good and the goop hit its target. Her wince was mostly unseen but they'd hit the point of no return so Miranda picked up her bucket and started flinging stuff at them helter skelter giving them little opportunity to toss stuff back at her. "Run wicked children run because when I catch you, it's the dungeon."

Although they considered themselves old and refined, the twins could not resist her in this mood and so if only for a few minutes their childish natures won out over the teenagers in waiting and they squealed and tried to keep the table between them as she stalked them around the room.

The worst of Andy's upset found itself on hold as she moved over beside Cara.  The sides had changed.  Where before she'd been the zoo animal, now she stared like mother and children were.  Aliens had replaced her lover.  Good ones, sort of, but aliens.  By the time they'd wound down the poor housekeeper would have paid them to get the hell out of the kitchen.  Anything to stop making a bigger mess.  Yet they both laughed when three people became a heap after their game turned to a sliding mess of tackle.  The kitchen demon had overtaken them.  A new, desperate expression exuded from Cara when she glanced at Andy who nodded and apologized again.  She felt horrible about the mess but just this once she would gladly hand the cleaning of it over.  "Alright guys, I think it's shower time before Cara quits."

Caroline, in the midst of laughter turned and speared the journalist with an exact replica of her mother's go hang yourself to spare me the trouble glare.  "I'm a girl Andy."

"Horrid little beasts the pair of you." Miranda grinned and squeezed them both close, sorry the moment had ended. "Cara won't quit.  The girls will clean it up, won’t you girls?"

Cassidy poked her mother in the side and brushed several locks of filthy silver hair back away from her face. "Mummy you really are quite crazy aren't you?"

Miranda's cell phone appeared and before either girl could run she snapped several pictures. "I wonder how many hits these would get on..." what had Andrea called it. "Youtwo."

 They looked at her aghast then giggled. "It's youtube Mom and you don’t even know how."

"Correct." She hit speed dial and only had to wait two rings before Elise answered. "I am sending over pictures put them on"

"MOM!" They both screamed in unison, certain their lives were careening towards irrevocable humiliation. "Cleaning now, see us clean." They scrambled and set to work.

"Forget youtube. Send a cleaning crew immediately.  The girls science experiment got out of hand in the kitchen. Thank you. That's all."

"Thanks Mom.  Bye."  Caroline grabbed her sister's hand and dragged her as fast as possible out of the kitchen before Miranda could change her mind.

Miranda's idea passed to the journalist who discretely snapped a couple of pictures of her own.  The editor covered in goop sitting on the floor alone?  That would earn a prized place in her office here at home.  Once the phone was tucked safely away, she apologized to Cara once again then walked over and offered a hand to her lover.  "You're a sight."

"You owe me a shower." Miranda proceeded to strip off the offending clothes where she stood, refusing to enter her inner sanctum spreading the vile remnants of the aborted dinner.

"Done for the day?"  Undisguised hope dripped from the question.

"I am. I finished up my last meeting of the day on the way home. You?"

"Done."  Unequivocally done for the night.  Articles and deadlines could wait.  Andy started the way to Miranda's room, afraid to even glance at herself after seeing Miranda.

"No, no darling. Those things you are wearing are not crossing into there. That is the upside.  I have you to myself for a few unexpected hours."

"I'm not that bad."  Then again.  The journalist shuddered and stripped down in the hallway since it had already been subjected to the cooking nightmare. "Maybe a little."

"Bath or shower?"

As if there were really a question.  "Shower.  I'm not sitting in that water as this washes off.  You're early."

"I would have hosed you down before allowing you in the bath." Miranda's tone was light, helped by the antics with her girls. "The meeting finished up earlier than I expected."

"I'm...glad."  And she was.  So much so that the playfulness of the kitchen drained away.  None of the day could be shared until the bedroom closed.  "They want an exclusive.  The Mirror."

The door to the bedroom was closed, followed by the door to the en suite. Miranda turned on the water in the shower.  A dozen shower heads sprang to life spraying water at a precisely controlled temperature. "Your side of the story?"

"My side.  Yours.  All the in between.  Being scooped by Page Six didn't go over well.  All the reporters outside, the same.  And the best part, the best part, was when the local award winning, respectable journalists began calling.  Blondie from channel 4 showed up."  Beaten, bruised and feeling burned by those she respected, Andy leaned against the wall, in between heads and stared at the ceiling.

Miranda stepped in and pulled Andy in behind her. The intense spray quickly made the kitchen incident only a memory.  "You came home early I take it?  How did you handle it with your people?"

"I believe I said forget it.  Was told it wasn't negotiable but they'd give me time to come around.  I walked out right after that."  Andy leaned back, desperate to erase the memory of the day.  Instead red flames shot up her neck.  "I um, left at 2.  And uh, forged your signature on a note then picked the girls up early."

Miranda stilled, water beaded on her face betrayed nothing of what she was thinking.  "Is this what you want Andrea? Us?  The girls, being here, part and parcel of all of it. Marianne included. Not to mention the notoriety, the whispers, the grainy unflattering photographs, and the stream of invasive people questioning your motives and my mental health.  I am quite aware that the imagined does not really prepare you for the reality."

"The notoriety, press, photographs, never.  I don't think it's something I'm built for.  Not at this level meaning where they're dogging everything and turning the world ugly.  But you, the girls, absolutely."  Andy turned, eyes shimmering as white water dripped from her shoulders.  Her stare was intense letting no misunderstanding pass. "I won't ever like the press part.  I didn't fall for them.  But I'll deal for you or try to, however badly I manage it.  This degree of scrutiny is shit."

Fingers linked and hooked behind Andrea's neck. "Why did you pick the girls up early?"

Why?  Good question whose answer hadn't been considered.  "I'd said I'd pick them up.  They give me that 'it's okay' understanding look that makes me twitch and feel horrible.  And I just...wanted to see them.  They're terrible and impossibly endearing."

"I'll speak to the school so that there will be no need for you to forge my signature when you want to pick them up." Miranda herself was feeling particularly endeared at the moment; what kind of person survived the day her lover was having and picked the twins up to make herself feel better?  "I question your mental health." Her very private smile and a soft kiss belied misinterpreting her words.  "I quite love you the way you are. Yes, your youth and naiveté can be maddening by times, but they are also very much part of the whole that I love.  I'm concerned about you and the fallout.

You are just starting your career and the impact of your decisions can be very far reaching, for you.  Walking away bought you time for today... tomorrow will come though. If you dodge this demand, what happens next time when you are the one being sent to invade someone's privacy? Are you cut out for that?" Because the truth of the matter was from where Miranda was sitting, where they sent Andy had little choice of going.

"This feels different Mira not just because it's me but because it's not about a greater piece.  I'm not running for office nor are you.  I've chased down people before but there always is a line.  This feels tabloid.  It's not delving into the life of a mom who's doing her best to raise her kids.  Sorting through her background for the story, the one key piece that will get people.  This is...reality television.  I hate it.  I can't why I can't do what I love and still have principles.  If not over what I write or about who or the topic then what?  Why don't I just go down to street corner and sell myself and my soul.

I get that life means doing things you don't like.  Stepping on people at times.  I've resigned myself to that but is there no line?  None at all?  Will you put the girl's on display in Runway because the designer calls for it or it will sell more magazines?"  Andy exuded hurt as her fingers ran up and down her lover's neck.  Accepting some elements of life didn't mean she'd ever be able to choke down the idea of whatever it takes.

"It is tabloid Andrea. It's also a hook, one your readers along with many others will be happy to chomp down. It's different and yet the one commonality the bottom line is, it sells papers. And ultimately that is the business you are in.  As you pointed out, sadly, even the legitimate reporters sink to the lowest common denominator on occasion, by choice or by directive.  Can you have your lines? Absolutely. Do you get to keep all your lines and still achieve what you desire?  Can you have it all? No. Does that mean you shouldn't try? No.  If you reach the pinnacle and despise yourself was it worth it?  As to my lines. Yes I have them. Over my life some have been erased, some redrawn and others remain absolute. I find myself in a position now though that few dare even approach those lines.  But even now there are still a few who are able."

Exhaling, Andy shut her eyes.  They wanted their story. Who could tell what Miranda's opinion on the matter was exactly.  It didn't matter regardless.  She wouldn't touch that exclusive, hers, if it meant the difference between success and moving back in with her parents.  "I won't do it.  Nor will I do it to someone else.  I learned a few things in that interview with Dan.  You and they can say all you want about it's the job, etcetera etcetera.  That's true to a degree.  This road will surely be harder if I don't do it.

But if I ever want to really write the good stuff, the crap will come back to haunt me.  Not a little bit or a whisper of.  It could ruin me if I ever reach that big point.  One article, one poorly researched subject and you're done.  I decided that night with him, when listening, what kind of stories I would do.  Even now there are some that I don't like.  But there is a line, clear as day in my mind.  And I'll be damned if they or you or anyone else will strip that from me in ten years, my name and integrity, because I did a few crap stories that then skew every other piece I ever do in my career.  All because it's easy and in sensationally in demand."

"Good. Now that that is settled." Miranda relaxed, her lover hid the forged steel well but it was there. "Use it. If you have to shame them for even suggesting something so far beneath them, do. You are good at handling people Andrea, play to that strength. Whatever happens... this, us, you part of our life is what I want. Today was just a very irritating noise that will fade one way or another."

Forged steel or not, under the spray of hot water, Andy sought out a closer embrace that seeped into her muscles and soothed all that was battered.  Cheek resting on Miranda's shoulder she murmured soft agreement.  "I'm going to choose to believe that wasn't a weird test because I love you."

"There was no test.  But on occasion I might be a talking head for the devil. How we go forward is easier when you know what you want and are sure about your lines." Her hand slipped under Andy's chin and tilted her face upward. "Your determination is very sexy Andrea."

"Tomorrow is Friday," the journalist reminded, her touch turning deeper, fingers digging into Miranda's back.  Out of necessity they'd learned to put lust on hold until the weekends.  Quickies grew old fast and anything more meant something had to give the next day.  A soft kiss lingered on the editor's jaw.  "One more day.  Until then you promised me dinner.  I'd offer to cook but..."

"Right."  Miranda lathered up her hair and rinsed. "The girls are leaving a day early for their grandparents. I thought we'd order pizza and watch one of their movies."

Stepping back, Andy added a double dose of shampoo to her own hair, mind spinning like a cog.  "Sounds good.  We could break the rules just once after they go to bed.  I'll even rewrite that one article for you if that will free up some of the book work."  Half teasing and very much wanting to feel the editor, one eyebrow lifted suggestively.

Miranda removed one of the shower hoses and rinsed the bubbles hanging on the ends of Andy's hair. "Break the rules or not, tonight darling you are not getting out of my sight.  Although after what happened in the kitchen earlier," the deep chuckle carried to crystal blue eyes. "I seem to be on a roll." One hand slid down the curve of Andy's spine pulling her into a complete body hug. "There will come a time when this will rate nothing more than a footnote, until then ... I could pull out the boxing gloves and knock a few heads."

Rich, whole laughter run in Miranda's ear.  Another day and time in a vulnerable moment she remembered saying something very similar.  The protective streak did not go unnoticed.  Neither did she mind it.  "That would be worth the price of admission.  Thank you.  You're incredibly endearing and sweet.  I can't even think of a more romantic dinner than pizza."

"You remain an odd little journalist." One she loved more deeply today than she had the day before. The water was shut off and she wrapped her lover in a towel.  Her kiss was emotion filled but brief. "I say we have three minutes before the blond hair monsters jimmy the lock. I still can't believe you picked them up early."

"I'm going to take that as a compliment.  Why is that so unbelievable?  The reason I don't pick them up when I have a few hours in the afternoon is mainly because of their activities.  That and they have shown up at the Mirror a time or two if I was late but you do not know that."  Andy tipped her forward and initiated another kiss feeling better for the moment, waiting vultures be damned.


Tuesday morning saw Andy sitting in her home office, alone.  Since the original article the press had amped up, not down.  She'd cursed them, cried over them and allowed herself more than one fit of anger.  Work had become impossible.  Every source had dried up and eventually the articles she could take had too.  Miranda had been proven right.  She'd put off what to do about the paper's demand for an exclusive until there were no other options available.  Put up or get out.  Then she'd become really moody until she came to peace with her decision.  The article materialized on her computer, line by line until she didn't remember writing it.  What she did remember was deliberately staying up the night before, sitting at her desk, pretending to still be working on it.

She'd waited until the last possible second to turn it in.  Staff had been minimal and most of all the copy editor was desperate to get the paper to bed.  Both his eyes had bugged out but she'd stayed within the minimal guideline she'd been given:  an carte-blanche exclusive in her voice.  She'd seen it go off to the printers feeling relieved and anxious.  Miranda, for once, hadn't laid eyes on it or even known she had done it.  Playing the busy journalist in her office this morning had helped Andy avoid most questions.  There were just two remaining:  whether or not she was currently employed and whether or not she still had a lover.

Elise, who was reading the Mirror at her desk, three papers ahead of Miranda wondered the same damn thing.  She'd read every word, unable to breathe and then she neared hyperventilating.  The phone was eerily silent.   Hoping the editor would hurry up so she wouldn't have to be the one to tell her she read it again, little squeaks escaping.

Dragon Slayed, Melting Snow, Fashion Disaster, these are a few of the headlines splashed across New York's newspapers.   Local television hasn't been any better as everyone who hasn't been living under a rock will know.  It has been after all, impossible to miss.  I should know because I have been trying to miss it all more than anyone else.  My life has been splashed across headlines, dissected and decimated by the purveyors of the news and more than a few tabloids.  To be honest this entire debacle feels like a tabloid gone out of control.  That's my opinion and one I've been asked for repeatedly.  For those of you wondering no, you cannot reach me by phone or at least not easily.  I've changed both my numbers like I changed my address months ago.

Yes, please, quote me on that.  That is after all why I'm writing this article.  A cave to pressure.  The incessant hounding drives me crazy.  Ironic or poetic justice I'm sure some of you will say.  True, all true.  I can't deny it.  Neither will I ever understand why I, some faceless journalist, have become the news of the day.  All because of whom I go to bed with.   My humble employers disagreed, asking for an exclusive that I have until now denied them.  The more I've denied the more dogmatic the following.  And in the back of my mind has been something Miranda said to me the other day.  To borrow from and paraphrase her:  do this your way, whatever you choose to do.  Your way.

I've chewed on that in between camera flashes and pointed questions designed to get a rise out of me.  I don't begrudge anyone their job.  That’s all their doing is their jobs.  I do hold a grudge for the way it's been done but that is not what everyone wants to know.  Don't ever be fooled when someone asks you for an exclusive.  They mean an exposé.  What I've been unable to decide is what exactly I'm exposing, myself or Miranda Priestly?

While I decide that I will clear up a few points.  For the record, yes, I am in love with her and I did meet Miranda at Runway.  Anyone who ever knew me during the time of my employment at Elias-Clark knows I did consider throwing her off the Brooklyn Bridge on more than one occasion.  I knew nothing about fashion when I went to work for the magazine.  What I know now I have her to thank for.  Yet I did leave her in Paris without warning or notice.  Fashion for all its ability to mesmerize, simply put, was not where I saw myself spending my life and that is all anyone needs to know.

Months later I saw her in passing.  I pursued, she demurred, ignored and filleted me once or twice.  Over a year later, here we are and I have to tell you dear readers as tantalizing as this seems to be to everyone it would have been a lot more interesting back a year ago when I'd melt under the weight of icy stares to give her a cup of coffee.  I'm a slow, pitiful, pursuer or so I've been told.

But then, when it would have been interesting no one seemed to pay attention which is perhaps why all the sudden attention annoys me.  Friends and colleagues are now children at an amusement park, hastily gobbling down every sugar delight they can get their hands on whether it's any good or not, playing catch up.

Until a few months ago we dated sporadically.  You'd stop reading if I described in detail how slow and how sporadic it was due to work and scheduling conflicts.  I can already hear the she's lying comments as I write this.  I'd simply remind all of you to remember that first job or two, especially if directly out of college, where the last thing you had time for was dating.

In print, we, really are that boring.  But Miranda Priestly, that is who you all care about.  Who, what, why, when, where.  I've been asked more questions about her than I can remember.  Try as I might I can't quite figure out why everyone is so interested.  Yes, I will admit, I find her fascinating but no one seems to want to know about that.  Those questions are a mere disguise for more about her.  So I've asked myself what is it that everyone wants to know that I'm willing to tell.

Is she really as demanding as you've read?  Hell yes.  The worst, most delicious piece of gossip you've ever read probably doesn't come close.

A bitch?  No more so than any powerful person.

As in the know?  A micromanager?  Anal Retentive?  Cold, blistering, unyielding?  Absolutely.

She makes Martha Stewart look like a kitten and believe me, I have the inside sources to know.  At work, she's all that and more.  She demands perfection and commitment.  She is unyielding in her views and god help you if you don't know why those two pairs of shoes made by different designers while looking exactly the same are in fact not remotely similar.  She scares her staff and half the designers in the world half to death whether they want to admit it or not.  People do duck into their offices when it's announced she's arriving - yes, her arrival is announced for the sake of the staff not because she demands it.

Her scarves better be delivered on time before she needs them.  Everything must be arranged to exacting standards and don't think for a minute she's not aware of what's going on around her.  Be it idle gossip or internal coups, the woman knows.  Bet on it.  She may not ever speak a single thank you but neither will she ever yell, raise her voice or god forbid curse at someone.

She's also the last one that will go to bed at Runway.  Not a night passes where she's not up late, after the children have gone to bed, working on it from home.  Dedication is a horrible understatement of a word when describing her and what she is and has sacrificed.  She'll stand for hours on end reviewing slides of shoots or changing accessories on a run through.  Every single word on every page will be read a hundred times over before it ever makes it to print, by her.  Changed, altered and adjusted in that unending search for perfection.  If she expects perfection of everyone else, what she expects of herself can never be achieved and yet it is month after month.  And the world at large covets those pages she puts out.  With good reason.

That is Miranda Priestly at Runway.

If she were a man would anyone care how she ran her world?  Hell no.  As a man she'd be respected for what she's done unequivocally.  How she got it done would be irrelevant.

The one I see in private is mine alone.  For that exposé you'll have to look elsewhere.  I will say that yes I still see all those sides.  I also see more.  It's up to each individual person that works with her to decide if they ever care to see anything else or not.  Truth be told she could care less most of the time.  The exception being when her children are written about.  After the last few days I have a much better understanding of that.  As I write this I do not know if I'll have a job tomorrow or not.  This is surely not the exclusive my bosses wanted but it is all anyone is ever going to get.  I went into this business wanting to do the stories that touched people.

Articles that made you think and question the world around you.  Sometimes I get to do that, sometimes I don't.  I try to remember that others of my profession may not have any more choice than I have.  I can remember, in moments.  But I have to question, and have, this business I'm in that gives more weight to who Miranda is sleeping with than what is going on in their local environments and the world at large.  I am disillusioned in the same way many of you are probably wondering why is this girl getting so much press.  Believe me I've asked that same question.  (continued on page 3)

Good intentions aside she couldn't bring herself to turn to page three again no matter how directed at Andy's colleagues and the business it was.  The article under other circumstances would be quite good.  Any circumstances that didn't involve her being the one to show Miranda.  Elise leaned up and peeked in the office.  She'd not gotten to it yet. Damn.  Her fingers twitched on the page while she seriously considered folding it up into a paper plane and sending it flying in.  A man being led to the gallows, she slowly got to her feet and closed the distance.  The paper was a leper which she held between two fingers and set down in front of Miranda then got the hell out of dodge.

"Eleeeese." Miranda didn't glance down at the paper. "Why are you dropping a piece of newsprint on my desk? What's next a parakeet?"

If only.  Elise peeked up from the computer she’d dove behind then glanced out in the corridor.  All the extra gawking this morning made perfect sense now.  The article was no doubt being passed around like candy.  Shit.  Maybe Miranda had seen it?  No, she always read the Mirror here.  Inch by inch, the assistant pushed her feet back toward the dreaded office.  "It's the Mirror.  New article.  Andy's."

"Is that all? Why are you standing there like death is imminent then?"

Because it fucking was.  "It's...a break from form.  Personal. Exclusive she called it."

"Read it." Miranda removed her glasses and hands gestured Elise to get to it.

"What?  I've read it, twice."  And she really, really, really didn't want to read it again.

"This is not the morning to play the slow girl on the short bus.  Read it to me."  Why she chose this option, she couldn't say except that Andrea had not given her a heads up, no warning, nothing. That felt wrong. Off. "Never mind," she checked her watch folded the paper she'd been reading and rose from her desk. "Summarize."

Summarize.  Sure, no problem.  Elise's fingers trembled once then steadied.  "She said she'd been forced to give the paper an exclusive or lose her job.  She chose to do it in a very unusual way.  I don't think they got what they wanted.  She sniped at the paper a little, the industry a ton and everyone hounding you both.  Tabloid became a dirty word I wouldn't say in front of my mother.  To clear the air she gave a...brief, odd account of how you two came to be.  Told the world she loved you.  Then seemed to say fine, you want an expose on Miranda here you go.  She quoted some of the questions she'd been asked and answered them.  Said a fair amount about um, Runway.  Nothing you've not heard before but very honest.  Then seemed to flip it.  It's hard to explain. She flat refused to tell about you personally then went on a full scale, nice and self-depreciating diatribe on the industry and standards at large."

"Thank you. Before you scurry out of here like your Choos are on fire why do you suppose Andrea kept this to herself?" The question was asked without expression, a clue as to how much she actually trusted her assistant.

"Hmm."  Elise's head tilted.  This conversation felt easy in comparison.  Before the editor could say anything else she had her book in hand, rapidly flipping to her 'Andy' section. Now where was it?  "Ahha.  Early pages, I should have known."  The book flipped shut.  "She has done this once before when she was particularly worried about your reaction.  The same with Unseen.  Given those precedents I'd say it's a safe bet she's worried you're going to send her packing.  I had the same concern."

"Why? From what she wrote you are of the opinion that I should send her packing?"

Danger, danger flashed like beacons.  Lips pursing, Elise weighed the pros and cons.  They were not exactly friends although she did like Miranda well enough.  These were not the normal questions the editor asked.  A moment of thought came up with one absolute.  Treading carefully was imperative.  Say too much and she crossed a line.  Too little and Miranda would be jerked back to their positions then terrorize the office all day long.  Ultimately Andy seemed to make Miranda happy which then made little differences at work, the nooses loosening.  Them being together then seemed to be in everyone's best interest.  "I don't believe it's that bad but it is shocking.  People whisper and follow your every move.

But no one has ever had the moxy to write it all up and put it in the paper for the rest of the world to see.  I cannot imagine that doing such a thing is easy.  Nor can I imagine her not being concerned over your reaction.  Personally, later when I'm not having to play messenger, I'll rather like what she said.  Forget rumor, innuendo and he said, she said sources.  She simply said it.  In the middle of doing so it was also quite clear she was in love with you.  Why don't I just read it to you?"

Miranda took a sip of her Starbucks. "I believe I've already asked you to do so. Time is ticking by."

Of course she had.  Elise bit back a smile feeling far less uneasy than she had when she walked in.  That is, until, she picked up the paper to read.  She cleared her throat, exhaled very slowly then set began reading Andy's article.  Every ounce of her energy was put into keeping her voice even, and most of all, not looking up to gauge Miranda's reaction.

The editor sat, ramrod straight, eyes not blinking as she endured the reading.  "Elise, do I scare you?"

"No, not exactly.  Most of the time."  True, every word but everyone else...

"Good. That's all." She swiveled her chair around and looked out her window at Manhattan as her mind churned through the article.

"She defended you,"  Elise whispered just loud enough to be heard then darted out of the room.  No use tempting fate when she'd already gone so far over the line recently.

Miranda read the article once in the elevator and three more times en route to the Mirror.  She entered the building like she did Elias-Clarke as though she was the sole proprietor.  If lips were flapping about her entrance she couldn't be bothered to give any sort of notice.  She put her business card on the circulation counter. "It is imperative I speak with Andrea Sachs."

"Ohmigod.  Ms. Priestly.  We just love you around here."  The woman oozed enthusiasm as she bolted from her chair.  The Miranda Priestly.  Here.  Probably here to kill Andy but who cared, she was here.  One minute became two of fruitless searching.  "She took the day off but I'll be happy to help you."

"How do you propose to do that, help me?"

"Oh whatever you need Ms. Priestly."  Red locks tumbled forward, bobbing from its owners gushing.  The girls around the office wouldn't believe it.  Best of all, none of the nastiness Andy had mentioned was evident in the woman before her.  A little snobbish perhaps but that was the New York status quo.

Miranda had swiveled around and was about to exit when she changed her mind.  "Given that Ms. Sachs in unavailable I'd like to speak with Timothy Moore."

"Right this way."  No call was necessary considering the who.  Near glowing, Jolene, who had given Andy hell for a week led the way through desk after desk of computers and journalist.  The attention over her guest caused her chin to lift a little higher until after several turns the din of noise drained away.  "Through the door, to your right.  You'll see him."

Miranda looked around the buzzing offices, her lips pursed when she stepped through the door then took care to close it behind her to at least give them the illusion of privacy.


The office was exactly as remembered in layout.  The furniture had changed in color and style, Andy idly noted while pacing around the sitting area.  She was little more than a bundle of raw nerves who bounced between regretting coming to Miranda's office and wishing the woman had been in.  Elise had cleared her to come up and had even let her wait with a sympathetic smile.  Sympathy that ended when it came to Miranda who the assistant had promptly called once Andy had been situated in the woman's office.  The journalist might have helped her get the job but there was no mistaking where Elise's loyalties lie.  With and to Miranda.  The hushed phone call informing the editor of Andy's arrival followed by the question of whether or not she should get rid of her spoke volumes.

Andy was glad to hear it on the one hand.  The other would have loved to have an ally amongst all the gasps, the barely concealed conversations, the looks of approval over the article the stares of disdain from the same people.  Walking down the hallway to the editor's suite caused the volume in all the offices to raise two decibels.  A deaf person couldn't have missed the hissed comments.  People that ran at the sight of Miranda suddenly despised her for not doing the same.  How dare she, the incompetent fashion challenged assistant that had walked away, now walk back in after having apparently won the editor over - in private of all things.   Collective, open hostility bled from the walls.  She'd been judged and found lacking before and now, the pencil thin model like employees seemed unable to find the words to describe how unworthy she was in their eyes.

Glass doors offered no protection from their scathing comments.  Andy suspected that they raised their voices just to make certain she could hear.  The noise scraped on her nerves until they bled.  She chewed furiously on her thumb nail and tried to remain in the sitting area, away from their stares.  Normal attempts to stay out of Miranda's sphere had been put on hold as everyone suddenly seemed to have a need to enter.  She heard those conversations too.  Elise wasn't an ally but she did do her best to keep them out.  What she could not do was keep them from peering around the office doors trying to get a glimpse of her, a specimen to be studied.  The new Emily's whose names she didn't know because Miranda had yet to see fit to call them by anything but Emily didn't bother disguising their scrutiny.

Two smaller desks had been impossibly fitted where her one, old desk had sat, giving them the perfect angle to peer Miranda’s office in between Elise biting their heads off for doing so.  Twice she heard the assistant threaten to fire them herself.  A third and fourth threat went out to people Andy couldn't see from her spot.  The journalist was convinced that the woman would do it which brought an inexplicable ball of happiness that she felt guilty over.

Good feelings were short lived the second Andy remembered, again, where she was.  It had taken two energy drinks along with her coffee to get the energy and courage together to seek Miranda out against what had been paralyzing fear.  Her cell phone remained off.   Whether she had a job or not she'd find out later, after she found out whether she still had a lover.  A face all but smashed against the glass prompting her to move to the back corner of the room.  There was nothing to do but wait, worry and question her own sanity.

Miranda breezed into the building as if nothing were remotely amiss in her world. She handled three calls on the way to her office. Halfway down the hall to her office she stopped and noted the congregated bodies. Her chin jutted out just a little extra as she softened her step and was in the midst of them before they realized.

"I do not understand why there are clackers and slackers impeding the entry to my office. Has it been declared a national holiday for underachievers? Denise what were you thinking?  Those shoes with that outfit and those hose. An abomination. A turtle in leopard skin, it's a disturbing image, go away and rethink that. You," blue eyes stared with disdain at one of Runway's top in house models who was chewing gum, "watching a cow chewing cud would be more appealing, why are you in my space?" As the woman opened her mouth Miranda cut her off. "Don't speak and do not ever presume to stand idly around chawing in the vicinity of my office again, pretty faces are not hard to come by.

I don't understand why even a measure of intelligence is always in such short supply." When she blinked the editor found herself alone. Several more strides took her into her office where coat, scarf and bag were dropped on the Emily's desks and her icy gaze fell to Elise. "I refuse to walk through that..." she waved her hands animatedly towards the hallway. "If you need to use tear gas, do. But that, unacceptable."

The Emily's, for all her training wilted.  Elise openly rolled her eyes at them then stood to take care of the problem herself.  As a rule you didn't speak to Miranda unless spoken to but if the assistant adhered to that she'd never get a damned thing done.  "What fun.  I love my job."  A wolfish grin appeared, indicating just how true the comment.  Elise glared at the Emily's to return to updating the bulletin.

Miranda's eyes flared, because she knew the girl did just that, love the job and she excelled as no others had in the position because she dared and seemed adept at skirting the fine line between being aggressive and obnoxious. In the past several months they'd developed their own odd rapport that accounted for Miranda's reply that was absent the scalding tone any others would have received. "Love it more. Get it done. Call Tommy and have outfits for the girls delivered to their grandparents and fit Jillian Cors in for a three o'clock."

Green eyes narrowed in thought, Miranda's schedule spinning behind Elise's pupils.  Anytime the woman's schedule had to be altered meant a serious upheaval and a dozen calls.  It was for that reason that she always, always, always left an hour’s worth of empty 15 minute slots spaced every three hours.  It made shifting things somewhat easier.  Sarah, the first assistant and not-so-new Emily received an imperceptible nod to start making the appropriate calls.

"I've already taken care of the Tommy delivery.  It should be there by morning.  I'll handle your meet with makeup and give you an update later."  The rest she’d make sure was rearranged after taking care of the horde.  The editor never cared how you gave her time or the ways you shifted the schedule so long as it all got done.  Yes, that would work.  Elise nodded more to herself than her boss, grinned, then went to crack a few heads.  Some days Miranda gave the best assignments.

She'd been aware the entire time of Andy's presence in the office and finally she spared her a look before motioning towards her inner office. She then leaned forward and put a hand on each of the Emily's desks. "I am not to be interrupted under any circumstance. None. No calls, nothing." Message delivered, she entered her space and waited.

Fully aware of the moment Miranda had gotten into the office, Andy had been remained in her corner like a skittish colt.  The true arrival made her twitch visibly.  Abused thumb lowering from her mouth, she stared.  All the planning in the world didn't impart the perfect words or what to say to her lover.  "Hi."

"Andrea." The tone belied the mixed emotions she was feeling, confusion chief amongst them.

"I'm really not sure what to say."  Help, a starting place, even the ice that Miranda kept up while working would be considered gifts at current.

"I went to see you at the Mirror."  Her dissecting gaze revealed that Andrea looked scared, that surprised her. "You weren't available so I took the opportunity to have a little chat with Timothy Moore."

"You did did?"  Aware of sounding inarticulate, the journalist couldn't have corrected herself if she tried.  Miranda didn't even know where the Mirror was as far as Andy knew.  And hell, she herself hadn't spoken to Moore or done more than glimpse him until yesterday.  "Angry with me?"

"I am. Quite angry that you didn't tell me.  That I had to find out from Elise while I was having breakfast. Just like everyone else. That hurt."  Her glasses came off and were folded then set aside. "That was quite a thing you did. The article was startling. I threatened Timothy with a libel suit.  It was uniquely you, Andrea. Heavy handed, a bit more preachy than you usually write, but it was well deserved. It won't win the Pulitzer but by my count it was an important first step.  I believe I owe you an apology."

Miranda owed her one?  What on earth for?  Hearing her lover talk had Andy convinced the apology owing was the other way around.  "I'm not sure for what but I doubt it.  I'm sorry I didn't tell you.  I couldn't figure out how.  And I was scared.  Of what you'd say, of you telling me I shouldn't do it or publish it and of your reaction."  Tommy.  Dear god that couldn't have gone over well.  Fired for sure.  "It was preachy.  I knew it...but you said my way.  I needed to unload for good and bad I guess."

"I once called you a coward for your professional choice. You're not. I am proud that you elected to be true to yourself and handled it your way. We will never agree about everything and we may disagree vehemently about important things. Expect it.  That is just part of a healthy relationship, not that I have experience in that but it sounds right." Miranda leaned back and perched on the corner of her desk. "Which do you think is worse Andrea, having the opportunity to discuss for good and bad and then knowing full well you were going to go ahead and publish. Or being absolutely blindsided?  My colleagues, my assistant,  the Emily's received insight into what you were thinking and feeling before me. I found that quite humiliating."

A fair, valid point. Andy couldn't have felt like a more horrible person.  Anytime Miranda just put her feelings out there like that the effect was guaranteed.  Especially when she tended to be very even keel when it came to herself.  She'd verbally share some in private but to that degree, rarely.  The journalist nodded slowly and crossed her arms over her chest protectively.  The editor being proud wouldn't have much resonance until much later.  "It wasn't my intent to humiliate you. Ever.  I'm sorry."

"You have the day off, can I assume that means you have time for a coffee?" Dwelling on the hurtful and distasteful parts of her personal life was just not something she planned on starting to indulge in.

"I do," Andy said, a sliver of hope appearing in the otherwise very flat eyes.  Fear continued to lurk underneath the surface, less to do with her job than her lover.  "I'm sorry I hurt you."

"I know. I'm sorry you didn't feel comfortable enough with us to come to me with this.  I was bringing you a coffee, to work. It's cold now. If you'd rather I can send one of the Emily's out to fetch. Or we could go and take a short walk...Walter isn't due to arrive for another twenty-five minutes."

The journalist flinched.  This was why she often avoided disputes with Miranda at all costs.  They simply were not freaking worth it.  Because even when the editor was trying to be nice, conciliatory and understanding, she had a way of phrasing things that made you feel like the biggest asshole in the world.  She didn't mean to, Andy understood that but she excelled at it nevertheless.  "Sorry," she said again barely able to look up.  Yet she wanted out of the office where she felt distinctly out of place which meant forcing her chin up.  "A walk if that's okay."

"I would like that." Miranda cleared her throat. "I got a call from Martha Stewart an hour ago." A very private grin surfaced. "She took offense to being called a kitten."

"And I thought she'd be..."

Elise burst through the doors then closed and leaned back against them.  Her face was white, eyes rolling like a horse’s in the middle of a lightning storm. She knew damn well Miranda's orders and yet.  "Miranda..."

Incensed at the private moment being intruded upon after her explicit instructions Miranda threatened a meltdown. "I..."

"Marianne," she hissed, all too aware that she was going to be fired in the next hour one way or another.  Either the interruption would do her in or the 'breach'.  "She's..."

"Right behind you silly child.  Now move from the door this instant."  An older, slimmer and no less well dressed version of Miranda pressed her face near the glass and tugged on the handle.

The near fearless assistant whimpered when her arm was almost yanked off and moved away.  No, no, she wouldn't be fired.  She'd be killed and hid in the part of the closet that housed the clothes too hideous for anyone to ever think of taking.  "I'm..."

"Sorry, yes, yes, we all know.  You're sorry you couldn't let me in and now I'm sure you'll be sorry to her that you did.  Go back to doing whatever it is you do.  Miranda I don't see why you insist on making me come into the city to talk to you."  Piercing, intelligent blue eyes speared her daughter as Marianne pulled on each finger until the soft, lambskin gloves fell away.  "Can I not get a proper greeting?"

"Hello mother."  There was an near sob in the voice. God hated her today. "I appreciate your coming all the way in but you should have called ahead.  I am in the middle of a meeting and I have an incredibly busy afternoon. You understand.  By all means though go back to the townhouse and make yourself comfortable, I'll be home no later than six-thirty."

"Why do you insist on lying to your mother?  I just don't understand it.  Not once in the last twenty years have you ever shown up if I dared leave.  I came all this way to talk to you and that's exactly what we're going to do.  And you," the older woman said, turning her eyes toward Andy.  The look started at the casual shoes she was wearing and slowly, torturously worked their way up before they swiveled to Miranda and did the same thing.  Dissecting every inch, it was a wonder the editor had skin left when older blue eyes locked on her own.

Andy, already feeling quite bloody shrunk back.  As it turned out there was something worse than Miranda's filleting a cockroach stare - Her mother's.

Having swallowed something most foul, Marianne's lips pinched. The distance between mother and daughter evaporated.  Elise's loyalty apparently ended with Marianne and she escaped the office as quickly as possible.  "Again with the ly-ing Miranda.  Do you think I've gotten so senile that I don't recognize the girl's picture?  You've gone positively native child.  It's unseemly.  Your poor father is at home trying to recover from an impending heart attack."

"Daddy is having heart problems?" A second of panic hit the editor even though she knew all too well if her father were in any sort of medical crisis her mother would not be here standing in front of her, being her evil self. Her arms went around the shoulders of the slightly smaller woman in the requisite hug.

"He wasn't until this little fiasco hit every newsstand in the country.  Honestly, child could you not have found someone respectable to be with in public and had your little dalliance on the side?  Am I asking too much?  I don't think so.  My patients have begun giving me sympathetic looks Miranda.  Lying there on their beds, they give me sympathetic looks.  Your father is not faring any better.  Did you even think of us?"  Eyes boring into her child, Marianne accessed everything from weight to how many hours of sleep her daughter had gotten the night before.  Andy, she could barely stand to think about, not that the journalist minded beyond wincing for Miranda.

"Of course you are asking too much. You always ask too much, mother." Her voice wasn't quite as brave or as steely as her words but Miranda was simply thankful they popped out in the order they were supposed to. "You stopped by to speak to me about Andrea?" Good that ment a long excruciating lecture and then the woman would be gone again. It was only a matter of surviving the skinning and follow up acid bath. "I'm surprised you found the time to get away on such short notice given your patient load. As you can see I'm fine. Your concern is touching but if Daddy is ill he needs you."

The blue eyes turned arctic.  Andy found herself caught between wanting to hide and glancing down at her fingers to see if they were frostbitten.  She was still caught between doing the two when Marianne sliced the air into different pieces.  "I made the time to come.  What I'm trying to ascertain is whether or not I should write you a prescription to help you deal with what is obviously a mid-life crisis.  Most people buy a car, have an affair, get a new wardrobe, dye their hair.  Since you've already done all of the above in one way or another I suppose it's only fitting that you decided to go for every other cliché in the book."

"Perfect mother. Fix me with a bottle of pills." Miranda's put together look seemed to be crumbling from the inside out. It was one thing preparing to fend off the woman when you had notice, without ample prep time though the spider cracks popped up everywhere.  The editor looked exhausted.  "I've had three Mr. Respectables mother, it's not all it's made out to be. But since you are genuinely concerned let me put your mind to rest.  Aside from the intrusive press our relationship is progressing nicely. I'm happy. I thought I would give it a few more months though before inviting you and Daddy in for a formal meet and greet." Months, years, decades, who was counting?

"You're always happy until the newness wears off.  As you point out it's happened three times before.  But at least then you didn't decide to go to the jungle to find someone new."

Andy couldn't for the life of her figure out if she was more horrified for Miranda or horrified at the woman she'd been hoping to never meet in person.  Marianne made her skin crawl then compounded with the absolute crap days over the last week.  In general she avoided the older woman at all costs.  Vicarious audio run-ins were quite enough thanks.  But after watching their lives being torn apart for a days and now watching Miranda's unflappable bearing beginning to crumble she reached the edge of a cliff. "Excuse me."

Since Marianne's appearance her daughter had all but forgotten Andrea was in the room. She wished her lover had decided to play statue instead of speaking, that was the downside to being in love with someone who had their own mind. Her smile matched one of Cassidy's just before she spouted off with the unthinkable. "Daddy fared well enough in the jungle." She took several steps back and turned towards Andy. "This is mother."

Andy stared at her lover like she was insane.  Introductions so weren't necessary.  Out of the corner of her eye she could see Miranda's vicious streak rear its head in the older woman.

"He did indeed.  A fact you would like the world to forget would you not child?  More so than I given your carefully created image.  You allow this press, cultivate a lover who writes such trash for the entire world to see.  Well I simply cannot imagine why you would then mind when people are reminded you were conceived in the backseat of a car or that pork and beans used to be one of your favorite meals."

As always when it came to playing dirty Marianne won hands down, no contest. Twin streaks of red struck Miranda’s otherwise porcelain colored cheeks.

An observer listening closely could have heard Andy's temper snap. Marianne turned into nothing more than an intrusive journalist.  Compared to her mother, Miranda was Gandhi.  The journalist stepped forward and took Marianne's hand, the epitome of cool.  "A pleasure to meet you Marianne.  I'm sure I'll be charmed later but my native fangs are coming out and I would appreciate if you'd get the hell out of her office.  We were in the middle of a discussion."

Marianne dropped the hand as if it was contaminated.  "Go back to cowering in your corner, girl.  This is not your concern."

"Oh but it is."  Placing herself squarely in front of Miranda, Andy crossed her arms over her chest.  "She is my concern and I've got to tell you, I think you're a world class bitch.  You think I'm out of the jungle so let me confirm that I am and act like it.  All those little things called manners my mother surely forgot to teach me in my wild youth simply don't apply.  So let me put this bluntly and dear god no, don't speak again.  We're leaving.  You won't be leaving with us.  You will not go to the townhouse because you can bet I'll bar every door and window.  You're her mother, whatever that means.  Who cares.  Where I'm from people wouldn't dare speak to another like that.  Maybe your highbrow, backseat diving ways give you a different set of rules.

That's fine for your house.  Here, in hers, and at home, forget it.  I swear to god, if you ever speak to her like that again I'll have the phone company block all of your numbers and I'll keep them blocked until you accept the new rules.  And.  The day the girl's come home spewing anything that remotely sounds like you I'll let slip in some quaint little global paper how your high and mighty ways end the moment you see a nice old Buick that trips your trigger.  We'll see how your patients look at you then.  Frankly I could give a shit.  I don't care who whispers about you.  Poor you.  It's not your life.  She's not a goddamned kicking post.  And she, nor I, have to explain anything to you.  So lady, the moral of the story is this:  Go fuck yourself."

Anger pouring off her, Andy stepped back, dropped her hand to Miranda's lower back and left her no choice but to walk forward, out of the office while her mother was still standing there with her hand over her mouth in shock.  Elise, somehow knew to fly down the hall to summon the elevator.  The journalist could have cared less beyond the two times she paused to bark at one of Miranda's employee's to "put your eyes back in your fucking head and work".

Coat and bag in hand but still too stunned to put the coat on Miranda whispered to Elise. "Cancel the rest of today. Mental health day. You included. Have the Emily's arrange, rearrange, whatever it is you do."  Once the elevator doors closed, she stared at Andy like never before. "You just told my mother to f-off."

"Bitch is too good a word for her," Andy replied in her way of agreeing.  Arms again crossed over her chest, she glared at the steel confines, too pissed off to think. How dare that woman.  Face a tight mask, she turned toward Miranda and spat, "Who does she think she is?  No really.  Calling the rest of the world a jungle.  Has she looked in the damn mirror lately?  I don't care if she is your mother, I'll have some cop friends toss her in jail and keep her there on some trumped up charge.  No one in the world wouldn't believe she didn't eat babies."

Miranda pressed Andy back into the corner and kissed her as if the world would end before they hit the ground level. When she broke it she stepped back and leaned into the wall for support, a broad smile on her face. "No one has ever told Marianne that before. I think that is the nicest thing anyone has ever given me. Thank you, Andrea." She would call Elise as they were leaving the building and have the tape pulled for that elevator.

The passionate contrast to rolling anger left Andy stunned.  She stared while rubbing her lips.  The editor had the strangest look on her face.  Thank you.  Very weird considering she was trying to hang onto anger so she didn't have to think about what she'd done.  "You're welcome I guess.  I know you've said she can be nice enough unless she's angry but she had no right to talk to you like that Mira.  None.  God that pisses me off."

"I noticed. I have to say I enjoyed that display on my behalf. You know, we could stop by production on our way out."

"Why's that?"  Andy managed to spit out right as the doors opened, face engulfed in red heat.  Embarrassment had struck, hard.

Miranda stood close to Andy and caught her hand. She had the urge to and at this point she could not think of reason not to go with that urge. "I could have them produce a slinky loin cloth and a few vines, Jungle Jane." Her eyes danced with absolute glee. Not one of her ex's had ever said one word in her defense to Marianne, this day was one for celebration.

People might have been and were staring.  Andy made no note of them.  The roots of her hair stood out, stark white against the dark wisps.  Her face glowed like a fluorescent red Christmas bulb.  "Um.  Yes.  Well.  Uh.  Okay.  But not Elise.  Call her and...I'll hurt you."

"I have to." She quickly hit speed dial. "Before you go. Pull the tape for elevator 3. That's all." Miranda squeezed her hand and looked supremely pleased with herself. "Andrea," her lips purposely caressed each syllable making the utterance a crime. "Production is this way." She tugged the hand she held and veered off down the hall.

"'Kay," Andy squeaked, just happy to be drug away from the lobby and prying eyes.  A loin cloth.  Dear god.  Yet Miranda was in a good mood and maybe, just maybe...  "Um, a brief trip by the house.  We could be at your place in the Hamptons by the afternoon."

Miranda paused mid-stride and changed their direction while dialing production and putting in the order along with delivery instructions. "That sounds great to me. You are free to go with me?"

"I will be.  Either I have no job or I'll call in. Though um, the liable thing.  Because of what I wrote?"

"Absolutely. I almost felt bad for Timothy until I recalled the pressure they had exerted on you. He nearly wet himself with relief when he realized it was my idea of a joke. I was in a mood. Your bosses and colleagues will not be hounding you for exposes or quotes about our relationship again. It was an almost amiable ten minutes." Roy was waiting at the curb when they hit the sidewalk. The press were waiting.  Miranda gave them her signature look and hurried Andrea without further comment to the car.

Confused, Andy slid in beside her.  Chewing and mulling over it every which way didn't clear up the issue.  "Mira, I mean because of what I said.  About you.  Liable against the paper and me for it?"

"I made the threat Andrea to evoke a reaction but more importantly to make a point to him. I just took a different approach than you did." Miranda let her head fall back into the plush supple leather. "I'm not angry about what the article said, Andrea.  You told your truth and my reputation remains the same. I have no issue with that. Although one part did surprise me."

Hand sliding over to cover Miranda's, the journalist began to relax.  The job meant less than her lover did.  "Which part?"

"Your rather un-retractable declaration. It's there now in black and white darling."

"True. Believe it or not that part worried me the least.  It was mine, true, and that was that."  Except perhaps where the parents were concerned and she fully intended to keep them on ignore for the next few days.  Andy moved closer.

"Did you force a new wrinkle by fretting over the extolling of all my virtues?" Miranda tugged on her arm and pulled the younger woman into her lap.

Andy went willingly, arms automatically linking around her lovers neck.  Where they were was forgotten, the position a favorite.  "A minimum of four.  I thought about just putting the good stuff but it didn't have the same impact."

"It had oomph to it. You called Martha Stewart a kitten, have I mentioned how that is my favorite part, after the declaration that is." Her hands skimmed down Andy's sides to rest comfortably on her hips.

"You're demented but did she really call you?"  The question came out as a whisper.  Who knew when a berserking Martha would show up?

"Yes! She wants to do lunch next week to no doubt give advice on keeping your nearest and dearest mute."

A match made in hell.  Andy shuddered at the thought.  Two people that never needed to do lunch were Miranda and Martha, no matter how much she loved Miranda.  "Eh. I think she has the mute part down pat.  She's managed to keep herself and her baby dyke daughter in the closet."

"It's a roomy, well organized closet." Miranda lobbed back. "Does that mean you'd like to join us? Lunch is next Thursday at one-forty."

"Absolutely not.  That woman scares me.  She's too repressed.  And that plastered on smile.  Freaky.  One day she's going to implode over napkin creases.  Mark my words.  Boom.  Spontaneous combustion."   She'd need to call Elise later to have her reschedule that frightening lunch, indefinitely.

"You called her a kitten. Kittens are hardly scary."

Andy grinned then decided it was best not to tell her lover that she was imagining her as a kitten.  "I said she was a kitten compared to you.  What will I have to bribe you with so you drive with the top up just this once?"

"You are quite accomplished at bribery. I'm sure you'll strike on something worthy. How are you doing. Really?"  Her fingers raked through the ends of Andy's loose strands of hair.

"Better than earlier.  I'm not sure I care if they fire me.  Please don't give me that look.  At this point I've decided I don't care all that much.  I'll find work somewhere.  You not being ready to chunk me out of the car makes the rest seem irrelevant."  The journalist pressed closer, leaning into Miranda's hand.

"I doubt they will fire you unless you do something utterly incompetent and that's not likely. The question is, do you want to keep working for them?" As they approached the townhouse, Miranda raised the level of her voice enough to be heard by Roy. "After you drop us off, take this one into be detailed."

He mumbled his assent and pulled off into her back alley driveway.

"Before this, my answer would have been absolutely.  I'm not sure.  But as long as I still have a job I'll work there until my two years are up.  A mutual user’s relationship I guess.  The condition being that they don't want another story about us.  In that case I'll be done.  The upside is I get to imagine the editors reading it this morning.  That amuses me, a tiny bit."  A lot if they were taking score.  Beggars couldn't be choosers.  They'd gotten what they wanted whether they liked how or what they got or not.  Andy brushed the editor's hair back.  "I love that piece.  This one.  It's the only one that dares to fall out of place sometimes.  Sexy."

"Best not to tell Marianne that she might yank it out." Miranda's lids lowered, the odd compliment bringing to the surface a slight blush. "Speaking of. We should pack quickly because once she's had a bourbon she'll be en route here to continue that discussion."

To hell she would.  Her own parents were on the avoid list. Miranda's mother, again, forget it.  "I can do that.  You'll need one of your work power outfits."

Miranda opened the door and disengaged herself from Andy just enough to exit the car. "Why is that?” she asked perplexed, certain this was a rare weekend where there were no extraneous work related meetings.

The journalist slid out behind her, neck flushing a light pink.  She shut the door then brushed her lips over Miranda's before walking backwards toward the house.  "If I'm playing Jane then I think you should play the big, bad, editor."

One eyebrow arched as Miranda gave her head a curt shake. "There is something very wrong with you." Her strides turned to deliberately stalking steps. "Versace or Armani?"

"Surprise me.  I figure it's a deficiency from working for you.  I never got to really notice or enjoy it when you were being wicked then."  Eyes drooping, Andy crooked a finger then glanced behind her.  There were advantages to working for Miranda.  It just took a couple of years before they revealed themselves.


Two years later

Andy prowled around Miranda's office, as angry with herself as she was at the world at large.  The office held aspects of the area that she'd once worked in.  Details that extended to general structure only.   The colors, decor and arrangement had changed completely except for the location of Miranda's desk which currently sat empty.  The journalist was convinced it was empty to avoid her.  There hadn't been a meeting on her books last night or when the journalist finally drug home to their townhouse.  A sudden day of them aroused suspicions upon guilty riddled suspicions.  There was a fight brewing.  The same one they'd had several times over the last few months.

Each confrontation seemed to get a little harsher and after each one she'd promised herself that she'd start watching her hours more closely.  That had lasted but so long, until the next big story for the New York Times came up.  Clawing her way back up the ladder at a new paper was a given.  Miranda knew and understood that to a point or rather she had understood one job.  The second and now the growing third simultaneous job had pushed even the workaholic Runway editor over the edge.  Andy's career as a journalist hadn't been the only thing to grow.  Unseen Eyes had turned into a tri-weekly syndicated column that was no longer contained to one small column.  On Friday's she'd been given the nod to run a full one page spread.

The journalist ran it under her pseudonym which Miranda's threat of liable had helped Andy secure.  The few people that knew were bound by nondisclosure agreements.  Runway, and Miranda, continued to be the Gods of the fashion world that saw Andy carving out more of a niche for herself with every passing day.  From behind her mask of anonymity and a network that began to show signs of one day being staggering, rumors buzzed about more global coverage for Unseen.  Talks be damned, Andy ignored them, not once bringing them up with Miranda or anyone else as she turned her eye toward a website for Unseen.

Miranda had been totally supportive of it all separately, dolling out only the occasional warnings about burning out or extending too far.  When putting the whole together however, the picture began to change.  Each project began demanding more time to the point that journalist visibly struggled to juggle it all.  The balls that got dropped became personal.  Dinners, lunches and late nights that turned into all nighters at one office or another.  To Andy's utmost frustration, her lover's tolerance levels lessened with each passing day.

She'd often wondered what had changed.  The editor worked less hours, made a point to coordinate their schedules, that Andy knew.  Knowing had yet to diminish the fervor she was increasingly falling under when new stories came in.  Pieces that captured her attention and defined, after four years of hard work why it was she'd wanted to get into the business in the first place.  After writing all the little nothing pieces she didn't ultimately give a damn about, finally getting to pick from the better stories was like dangling a present before a kid at Christmas.  Unseen then became birthdays and the arrival of an old, much loved friend.  Yet she had no real understanding of how it had grown as much as it had.  Simple commentaries, views and alerts on coming trends and current fashions shouldn't have done as well as it did.

Neither should it have grown into a more than self sustaining website in two months.  It shouldn't have required the need to take on help beyond those that already searched out quotes and interviews for her.   That it had left Andy spinning, struggling to keep on top of it all, so much so that she found a way out of discussing what it would lead to with Miranda, whenever possible.  The editor pushed her to choose and for reasons she couldn't explain Andy had dug her heels in, refusing to make those choices.  Sage advice being ignored then increased Miranda's irritation until they were turning in circles.  Juggling the personal and professional meant her personal life was suffering. Andy hated herself for it, made promises in her own mind that it wouldn't happen again.  It did.

And this time would be the worst of all.  She didn't even want to imagine the look on her lover's face this time after the first missed weekend since they'd been together.  Weekends were theirs, period, end of story.  Until this weekend when she'd given it up for the article that at the time had seemed like it could be a career maker.  It might yet, they'd see in the coming days.  Miranda's disappearance said she wasn't likely to feel it was enough or at least enough after the increased hours of late.

The journalist paced around the corners, mind picking apart the little details of what had happened since their last fight.  She'd learned it was a prudent tactic.  Miranda might not remember names but the woman damn sure remembered when she missed three dinners in a row or worse, ended up missing one of their girl's events.  Lukewarm coffee hit her tongue before she flipped off the outer office and more importantly Elise.  Inexplicably the woman remained with Miranda.  'The Emily's' had changed, gone on to other jobs but Elise remained to the point Miranda had changed the damn layout of the outer space to give Elise a small semi-private office space without bunching the other assistants up.  If Elise saw the finger she didn't look up so Andy flipped her off again, mood deteriorating further.  The woman was covering, covering for Miranda.

Two more turns around the room and guilt shifted to anger at the assistant.  She waited until the woman looked up then tipped her head back in an angry invitation.  Andy gathered a head full of steam and resumed her pacing.

Elise sighed inaudibly then directed Hayden to call the art department.  Being late for that meeting appeared to be a foregone conclusion.  Her fingers typed out a quick text message to Miranda before she stood.  The editor needed to remain out of the office a while longer.  Elise had no problems covering for her.  Under the work persona Miranda was upset, a detail that affected the entire office. But Andy had apparently not gotten the memo that she hated to be drug into their disagreements which thankfully didn't happen often.  Another, longer sigh echoed as she stood and entered Miranda's office, ultra aware of the journalist's brewing anger.  She was merely a convenient target.  "What can I do for you Andy?"

"I'd very much like it if you could explain why Miranda isn't answering her phone."  Accusation hung heavy in the statement.

"She's in an important meeting with Valentino."  Elise explained for the third time in thirty minutes.

"That's never stopped her from answering before."

Because Andy didn't normally call her, except for emergencies, during such meetings.  "They're going over the spring line."

"Don't use that tone with me."  The journalist drug a hand through her messy hair.

"Is there anything else Ms. Sachs?"

What she'd said struck her.  New guilt grew and swirled with already raging anger.  She would not apologize to a woman so....loyal to Miranda.  "As a matter of fact there is.  I'd like to know why you're still here."

One fine blond eyebrow lifted in surprise.  Andy didn't mean in immediate.  Truth be told, she'd rather deal with the editor than her partner some days.  The journalist was trickier.  Elise was very aware of the lines between them effectively tying her hands.  "I'm afraid I don't understand the question."

"Bullshit.  You understood it just fine.  Why are you still here?  Multiple assistants have come and gone.  Three have been promoted.  Of all people you should have been.  So why exactly haven't you?"

Peachy.  First Miranda was worked up and now Andy appeared intent on picking a fight.  Tone professional, she said, "I like my job."

"Yeah because it's a great job."  Distantly, the journalist heard herself and winced.  Not liking the sound of herself didn't stop her from adding in a mocking voice, "A million girls would kill for it."

Elise stared in silence.  Relaying this conversation later would be fun – or not.

"Are you going to answer the question?"  She would or...something.

"I did."

Growling, Andy swallowed the rest of her coffee and tossed the cup in the trash.  How she despised that tone.  Perfection, perfunctory, to the point and worse, detached.  "Forget the damned rules and answer it.  Why are you here instead of taking another, better job?"

"Because I like my job, Andy."

"You mean you like Miranda."  And on another day Andy liked Elise, most of the time.

The undercurrent caused Elise's lips to purse.  That was a line Miranda wouldn't necessarily expect her to remain perfectly professional over.  "I like her as a boss, yes."

"Please.  I don't talk to my boss about my personal life."  Ha.  Let's see the damned haughty woman explain that.

How far did the journalist's no rules thing extend?  Time to find out.  "I don't care for what you're implying but if you wish to discuss it you'll need to clarify the terms.  Otherwise, I'll listen to what you have to say and go back to work as I would with any other employer's partner."

"Speak freely if that's what it takes for you to carry on a simple conversation.  You're friends with her."  Later, Andy would be horrified at the way she was lashing out and picking a fight with an innocent bystander.  But that was then and in the now she couldn't seem to stop herself.

That was about enough of that Elise decided.  "Yes, I am.  Just friends.  I'm getting married in six months but that's neither here nor there.  What you're implying is insulting, not just to me but to her and even you.  Every time you two fight you start looking at me as if I'm the cause.  I'm not.  And while this job might not have been for you, I enjoy it."

"Why?"  Being fully aware that there was nothing going on between them didn't enter into space of her anger.  "You have a degree and could be doing a lot more, for a lot better pay by now."

The assistant rubbed her temple.  Andy must be really pissed at herself to go this far.  Good, she should be.  "Perhaps.  But I enjoy what I do.  Few can say that.  So why would I want to move on?  I know it frustrates others.  I'm not them."

"How is that exactly?  I know you have your book but really."  Miranda hadn't stopped being Miranda, making it a near thankless job.

"Because I don't look around and see problems to drown in.  This is like a gigantic puzzle that requires full use of my mind, skills and ability to learn.  Few people can say that after two years they still learn something at their job every day.  Nor can they say it doesn't get boring.  It doesn't for me.  Every day is new.  It's a constant balancing act where I have to shift and try to work in a hundred things, and two hundred for her."

Why wouldn't the woman respond in anger like a normal person?  She wanted to fight by god, no matter how harpy-ish she sounded.  "I know, you're the perfect assistant.  Then again, maybe that's why you impossibly managed to become a friend."

"That's too far Andy.  You're the one that reassured her she wasn't making a mistake by allowing me in a little.  Don't act like she's impossible to be friends with when you yourself fell in love with her and before you go there, I'm not you.  I'm quite happy with William and I don't swing that way if I wasn't."

There.  At least the woman who was learning Miranda's infuriating coolness gave off some emotion.  That she could work with.  Andy shrugged one shoulder.  "You're not me."

"Exactly.  I make well over six figures a year.  But don't get it into your head that I'm perfect.  Frankly, I think it drives you nuts that I'm better at my job than you were.  You were one of her better assistants but you make a better lover, I suspect, than you do an assistant.  This job isn't and never was for you.  Me, I love it.  I've also been outright fired seven times.  Four by the other Emily's.  Three directly.  And another three by one of her get it done or don't show up clauses.

When I screw up it isn't by letting someone else see the book. No, when I screw up its huge."  Elise vowed to herself then and there that she would forbid William from ever entering the Runway offices.  "And every time after, I've found a way to correct my mistake on my own time, with my own money and efforts.  I'm just smart enough to make sure that when it comes down to that, I fix my mistake in grand fashion."

Which caused Miranda to hire her back every time.  Andy had known about one of the firings.  The rest were new.  And what the hell?  How much did Miranda pay the woman exactly?  That was need to know information she needed to find out asap.  "I trained you."  A deep, internal wince caused her muscles to twitch.  Okay that sounded petulant.

"Years ago, you did.  But you had nothing to do with whether or not I was able to do, much less keep the job."  Had she, Elise suspected her loyalties still would have fallen on the editor's side, both as an employee and friend.  "Is there anything else?"
Her fury caused the question to be taken as a dismissal.  "Yeah, why did you have them start taking my dry cleaning.  Why does the housekeeper suddenly make sure my printer is full of ink and paper.  Why are you having all my little household things done. They're none of your concern."

"It saves time and needed to be taken care of."  More importantly, Miranda had asked that she make a list and put the Emily's on scheduling them to be done.

"Well not my things.  Stop doing it."  While she did sound childish, it was a point Andy had been meaning to bring up for awhile.  What had started as a little thing had grown to more and more until one day recently she'd looked around and realized it was all being taken care of for her.  She felt a little dirty as a result.

Elise stared while considering the demand.  Saying yes would mean having the editor on her ass.  "Is there a problem with the way something is being done?"

"The problem is that it's being done at all.  There is no reason I can't do them myself."

"You say that as if having them done makes you a horrible person."

"Because it does," Andy admitted.  "I'm not Miranda.  I don't have infinite amounts of money or any reason why I can't take care of washing my own clothes or running them to the dry cleaners."

Holy hell.  The assistant pressed a finger to her temple.  For such a smart woman Andy remained clueless in some areas.  "It's not about money Andy."

The journalist growled at the gentle tone.  Whoever taught Elise how to fight sucked at it.  "Of course it's about money."

"No, it's not.  Miranda doesn't have those things done because she can afford to.  She has them done because she can't afford not to.  All those 'little things' you're protesting about take time.  Anywhere from an hour to twelve a week, depending and that's not including the things the housekeeper or cook do.  Miranda has them done so she can make it to the twins play.  Or go to dinner with you after already having gone to two functions earlier in the evening.  A trip to the dry cleaners takes a minimum of fifteen minutes.  That may not seem like a lot to you right now but if you add it up with a hundred and one other fifteen minutes trips it quickly adds up.

So I could cancel all the things that are done for you, which I won't, but the price will mean you have a lot less time.  Time you can ill afford to lose to be perfectly honest.  It's a tradeoff, Andy.  No one can have it all unless there are concessions made somewhere and even then it's impossible.  But having others help doesn't hurt anyone."

Andy opened her mouth to speak then snapped it shut.  You just couldn't fight with the woman.  She had an answer for everything and then in moments she sounded an awful lot like Miranda.  She'd won one argument with the editor in two years.  Beyond all reason Miranda tended to end up being right.  Now she was losing to her assistant to when the woman refused to fight properly.  Anger shifted back to guilt.  On top of it all she owed Elise an apology she couldn't bring herself to give yet.  Losing didn't bode well for later.  Suddenly she wasn't quite as gung ho to see Miranda.

The journalist picked up her purse and resigned herself to deal with the day as it came.  Unfortunately, that meant talking to Miranda on her time, an occurrence that hadn't ever happened like this before.  They'd fought on occasion but Miranda ducking her?  Never.  Andy stared, gave a tiny nod then turned to leave.  Elise watched her go, unable to feel sorry for the woman, then called Miranda to tell her it was safe to return.  The editor had been out of the office on chance just as she'd chosen to remain out of it when her assistant told her of Andy's arrival.


The late spring drizzle dripped off the emerald green Armani umbrella as Miranda briskly covered the three blocks from the girl's father's penthouse to her townhouse. It was nearly nine pm and the streets were only dotted with people, most choosing not to be out in the inclement weather. Miranda's steps slowed as she approached the house. The dull dread that had been there for days, weeks even, unfurled to produce hard knots of tension.

That her lover, partner now, had deemed to stop by her office and harass her assistant had been the proverbial straw and Miranda was quite livid. Given a choice at the moment she would have elected to sit down and review the book with Marianne as opposed to converse with Andy, but it seemed they still shared the same house so the impending discussion was inevitable.  Events, recent ones, dictated that it would not proceed as their others had on this particular topic.

A pass code was tapped into her key chain and the front door unlocked. The wet umbrella was left to drip dry on the mat. Her cream colored Chanel trench coat was hung in the front closet. She found herself almost hopeful that Andy was still at work then chided herself since that was part of the issue to begin with.  It was as simple as it was complicated. She missed Andrea and she was increasingly disappointed about the direction their relationship was headed.

She glared at the limp strands of hair that stuck to the bridge of her nose refusing to fall back into place. The book had been delivered early. Even after all these years her enthusiasm for it had not waned.  It remained steadfast. She collected the book and headed straight to her office.

Andy glanced up at the sound of footfalls then checked the time.  Shit.  She'd meant to work for a couple of hours then meet Miranda with the car.  At least she'd remembered to call the girls.  It wasn't much consolation.  Fingers tapping against the wrist rests on her laptop she considered the best course of action then decided to leave her lover alone for a bit.  No truce had been called.  One wasn't likely to be if an interruption came while Miranda was working.  Best to let her simmer down a bit since she was clearly still angry.  The journalist nodded to herself, wholly convinced waiting was for Miranda's own good and had nothing to do with her own desire to avoid a row.

A hastily decided upon plan for fifteen minutes turned into thirty before she realized the time again.  Cursing, she saved her work, flipped the lid shut and headed to the editor's office.   Thirty minutes was riskier than fifteen.  The tide could shift.  Miranda had a tendency to move from not wanting to be disturbed to acting as if thirty minutes indicated a flippant lack of real concern.  Andy skid to a stop in the doorway, leaned against the frame then softly rapped her knuckles against it.  One brief glance was all it took to know - Miranda was still steaming.  Wonderful.  The day just got better and better.

Miranda finished the notation she was in the midst of before closing the book, removing her glasses and looking in Andy's direction.  Blue eyes looked wistfully icy. "Do we have an appointment?"

Yikes.  Andy bit back a less than kind retort.  Anger levels were checked on the remote chance they could avoid a fight.  To a degree, things had been easier or at least calmer when she'd been hesitant to fight with the editor.  That time was a distant memory.  "That's a little unfair.  Pencil me in?"  She tried, desperately, to inject a lighter tone even while knowing her lover wouldn't be swayed by it.

Fair?  Did the woman dare just utter the word fair? For a professional building her career on words that had been a poor choice. Miranda seethed. "Why so you can cancel? Not show up. Or, deign to grace me with your presence without actually being there. I simply don't understand Andrea how you can continue this week after week, month after month with so little regard for the girls and myself."

"I..."  The younger woman caught herself.  Saying she'd gotten caught up, as usual, would go over like a lead balloon.  Andy pushed off the door frame and walked a foot into the room.  Upon closer inspection, Miranda's blue eyes held that flatter, stormy gleam.  Battle stations, her mind idly called out.  "I'm here now."

"Are you?"

"Completely. Things got out of hand this weekend.  I'm sorry for that."  Explaining that the story was 'the one' wouldn't help at this point as evidenced by Miranda not yet bothering to read it.

"Come in. It's time we talked about what's going on." She pushed her chair back from the behemoth desk and changed her mind. "Not here."

"Where?"  Remaining calm and conciliatory for as long possible became the plan of the hour.

"The sitting room." She rose from her chair and switched off the desk lamp. The sitting room was one of her favorites in the house, it was an intimate room, personal and to Miranda's mind the perfect setting given that the issue was not a professional one.  It was simply being used as a cover.

Andy nodded and stepped back out of the room.  Try as she might she couldn't see anything new they could possibly say but it would be best to let Miranda say it.  "You ignored my calls."

Once in her favorite room Miranda took a seat in a wing chair facing the gas fireplace she'd turned on.  It did nothing to alleviate the chill in the air. "I'm surprised you noticed. I was in a meeting."

"Of course I noticed.  Your meeting lasted all day?"  Temper, temper, the journalist cautioned.

Miranda shrugged. "Elise neglected to charge the phone when I returned to the office. I'll speak to her."

"Have we fallen into lies between us now Mira?  That's new."  Andy's right eye twitched.  A sign of her own rising anger.  The phone being off, ignored and dismissed made her nearly as angry as the editor was.  It was a first between them that she didn't care for in the least.

"I don't appreciate your tone Andrea. If you insist on questioning my integrity go to my office, you'll find it there, plugged in." Miranda's chin tilted slightly upwards as her lips drew towards a purse.  "Elise, my assistant is not there for you to harass when you are in an ill temper.  If you have an issue to address with me, do it at home, do not take it to Runway."

Knowing Miranda was right on one level had little effect on Andy's own anger.  She was tired of always being the one in the wrong, feeling guilty and getting those damned looks.  "Doing that requires you acknowledging me.  I might be wrong Miranda but don't expect me to swallow the Priestly professional crap.  If our positions had been reversed you would have said far worse.  I don't like what I said to her but neither do I like having anyone stand there and hedge to my face be it her or you.  And you my darling can like my tone or not but this goes beyond your cell phone into the fact that you simply didn't return my calls.  Not even to say we'll talk later and then to hang up.  I realize I have less ground to be pissed on some level but I am.  Quid pro quo."

"You are wrong Andrea. And when you walk into my office and proceed like a petulant teenager you will indeed get Miranda Priestly the professional. It was insulting, demeaning and beneath both of us. It would never occur to me darling to do far worse at your office. But perhaps that is the glaring difference, I respect what you do even if I'm questioning how you do it." Miranda's hands splayed on the arms of the chair, clenching as she sat straighter and leaned forward before continuing.
"A phone call unreturned to you is now equivalent to dozens of missed dinners, five cancelled family outings, three missed concerts, four rain checks on the theatre, eight Thursday mornings that you missed without mention, the weekend that you just blew me off for vague reasons at best, all in the last four or five months. How silly of me, you are absolutely entitled to your quid pro quo for having to endure a few hours without me returning your call. The girls hardly see you. Why do we never have coffee any more Andrea?"

Andy simultaneously flinched and snorted.  The editor never failed to keep track.  The list of events missed grew despite all the best intentions in the world.  But returning the favor and listing those things Miranda had had no choice but to miss over the years tended to have the same effect as throwing gasoline on a fire.  The journalist had yet to figure out exactly why that was.  "Equals, no.  That doesn't however mean I don't have a right to be peeved about it just as you would be.  We often don't have it because I'm sleeping or am running late getting home.  But never?  We still have it sometimes.

Petulant thing.  True or not, I despise being called that, especially from someone rolling in the teenage gutter with me or did you think not returning several phone calls was the height of adulthood?  Having said that, it wouldn't just occur to you to do far worse at my office, you've done it.  Or do you think the time you walked into the Mirror after having read my article didn't fall on the side of a little more personal than it was professional?  That was purely personal no matter the more professional, and that's being nice, way you chose to handle it.  I picked a fight with someone clearly covering for you.  You threatened libel when you were pissed on my behalf.  There is no high ground on this score Miranda…"

Miranda waved a hand in the air as she interrupted to articulate thoughts that were boiling. "That incident occurred more than two years ago. I had a purpose at the Mirror that day that did not include being a brat because my lover wouldn't return a call. You need to stop now. This is not about a me not returning your call." She stopped and cocked her head just a little. "Or is it? It's easier when I'm the one in the wrong."

"Oh I'll stop.  I'll be at the office if you need me."  Andy turned and exited the room.  Brat rung in her head, spurring on already raging anger.  The editor would have gotten less of a bad reaction had she said fuck off.

Miranda followed her out. "It would be best if you didn't leave."

"Why's that Mira?  Hmm?"  Andy stopped but didn't turn around, face gone fuchsia.  "I fucked up, yeah.  But I'm over having my crimes listed like a rap sheet over and over again while I better not dare return the favor.  I'm sick of being the one who is forever in the wrong.  Once, in over three years, I've been allowed to be right about anything. Once.  I screw up. No denying that.  Why don't you make me up a list of the rules in this relationship.  That would be a big help.  What's the expiration date on a similar incident?  At what point in time does a similar event by you, first, invalidate?

Why is it okay for you to ignore me all day when I did call to apologize but the one time I didn't return your phone call you barely spoke to me for a day.  Sure, it's a little thing in comparison to yours.  I have no doubt that's the score today.  It meant a hell of a lot to me though so if you could write down when that too is appropriate to discuss I'd appreciate it.  After all, petulant children need guidelines."

Miranda walked up behind Andy and slipped her arms around her waist.  Anger got you but so far and it was so easy to follow its tail and spiral until everything disappeared.  She'd taken that journey before to bitter consequences. "I should have returned your call.  I apologize for not doing so.  They aren't crimes Andrea, they are choices.  Choices that scare me."

Andy stood rigid in the embrace.  The conversation had slid into the area of her biggest concern.  Equality; not being seen a child.  "They're one in the same between us Miranda.  I'm not sure when they became crimes but they have.  I know they scare you.  I keep attempting to find that perfect balance where it will all fall into place. There must be one. It eludes me."  The issue of the phone call, apology or not, continued to dog her mind despite her attempt to leave it alone.

Miranda made no attempt to turn Andy but neither did she release her hold. "I made changes when we decided to make this a relationship. I wanted you and it then.  I still do, more than before.  We've both missed, changed and cancelled plans.  It used to be the exception not the rule.  Now though it seems with you it is the rule more often than not. Old news, we've had this conversation too many times in the past six months. If you insist on shutting me out and doing everything your way, you are your own woman, that is your choice.

But ultimately if things keep going as they have been the cost will be us.  I understand your need to succeed.  What  I don't understand is your insistence on trying to do it on three fronts. You are stressed, tired, overworked and I find it hard to fathom that your work isn't suffering as well. If not yet, it will until you choose more decisively where to put your time, energy and passion."

"How do you I choose?"  The journalist slowly leaned back. An inaudible, weary sigh fluttered her hair.  More than anything else their arguments were a direct result of the differences in age and experience.  Andy found herself constantly scrambling, desperately trying not to be treated like a child while making decisions for herself and ultimately failing because of it.  Their levels of experience and wisdom in life were not equal.  They never would be.  That she'd come to accept even as she struggled to try her best to bridge the gap.  Five years would make a difference or so everyone said.  Thirty had become an age not to be feared but wished for.  But wishing didn't mean she could comprehend why she'd see things so differently at thirty than she had at twenty-five.

For a moment Miranda was quiet as she rested her cheek against Andy's hair.  The scent of which was subtly different; she'd changed shampoos. "You could do the usual, make the lists, pros and cons. Then burn them. This is your life and there is no forecasting where your life will go whatever you choose. Your instincts sweetheart have served you well. Go with what your gut and your heart tell you.  It comes down to, what one can’t you live without. You should be proud of what you've accomplished.  You've achieved very impressive success with Unseen Eye, that column is quintessentially you and the success for that is yours.

The Times respect your work and have certainly rewarded you with much more intriguing and wider sweeping articles, and I know I've been seeing your freelance articles showcasing in increasingly prominent publications. You are a journalist Andrea.  Stand back, review the facts.  Choices don't have to be a life sentence, but don't be less than you can be by spreading your talent in too many directions."

Andy absorbed it all.  Anger drained away to leave a stark exhaustion behind that hadn't been visible in their previous fights.  The battles had taken their toll.  Head tilting back, she rested it on the editor's shoulder and stared at the ceiling.  "It could well be.  Have you not told me in the past that writers like fashion trends are often forgotten the moment the spotlight fades?  Making a choice could be very permanent.  I've made twenty-seven pro/con lists Mira.  They come out the same every time.  I've done two years at the Times.  If I get the website going, my agent says the London Times are interested in picking up the column.  The week’s worth.  But no pressure.

The article I just did?  My editor called this afternoon muttering about me possibly getting my wish but as the Brit's say, it's early days yet.  Do I give that up while perhaps attaining it?  Do I just freelance?  Give up Unseen?  The website?  And what of you darling?  Unseen is awfully damned close to your world. No it is in your world but I've tried to be very careful not to step over the line.  If I get more involved with it, it's just a matter of time before we clash over something.  Will you still want me doing it then?

Professionally, I've come to have two loves in my life.  They're wonderful and they suck for being wonderful.  Not a day passes though that I don't worry that someone is going to spill the beans.  NDA's are good but are they enough?  Neither of us can afford for it to be known that I do Unseen.  The impact would be huge and negative.  That too has made it on the list for months.  Yet the mystique is part of the reason it has such a buzz.  I'd be a fool to believe otherwise.  Mystique then makes it a story to be got.  It's circular."

"Is the website a new development?" She only ever heard it in passing as an undeveloped idea.

"Sort of.  It's been going on a trial basis for a couple of months.  I've held off telling you because I wasn't sure it would even take off. They've been running it for me, code wise, so far. But.  Now I have to decide whether or not I'm going to continue it under my own power.  I'll have to quit the Times.  Period, end of story.  I know nothing about programming and they want me to move from tri-weekly updates, to daily, minimum.  It's all so complicated."

"It can be a profitable venture according to my broker, Irv, and a dozen other people who are in my ear on the topic.  I don't know how to print paper but Runway still ends up on the newsstands every month. If you want to do it you don't let the little details bog you down. You create the big picture then hire competent people to make it happen." Miranda paused, her breathing suspending for nearly two minutes. "I'm leaving Runway."

"Wh-a-t?"  Voice lifting two octaves to elongate the word, Andy spun around.  Impossible.  The ears were clogged.  Time to make a doctor's appointment.

"The details, you decide what you want and then you hire the right people to make it happen. The cogs while you provide the articles."

"Mira." Andy growled, exasperated.  The editor could multitask better than anyone until she decided not to.  "Back to the Runway leaving thing."

Speaking it out loud made it real. But it hadn't been as jolting as she expected. "My contract is up for renegotiation's in August. It's really just paper work as I have a guarantee for at least six more years, in an ironclad agreement with Irv. Once I get back from Paris and the spring collection issue is set, I will tender my resignation and then take my accumulated months of vacation. It's something I have considered for some time. Leave Runway before it leaves me, if you will."

Although stunned to her core, Andy threw her hands up then mussed the editor's hair for the sole reason that doing so could drive Miranda crazy at times.  Good.  She didn't have to be alone on the batshit train.  "Three.  Years.  Miranda.  Your lips purse when I shut you out but you still keep the big decisions in your head until you make them.  That darling, is going to cost you a get out of jail free card this time.  Are you sure?  That's...going to rock the empire so to speak."

Miranda grimaced and tried to right her hair.  "It's my empire to rock." Blue eyes sparked with signature arrogance. "I started numbering the days in Milan. Now the number is no longer infinite.  What is this 'get out of jail free' card?"

"What are you going to do?  The fashion house?"  They'd discussed it once before.  Miranda had seemed to respond in the way of a distant interest turned dream for the next life.

"Your suggestion was a viable one. And, it excites me. I have collected an impressive harem of young up and coming designers.  I have checked anonymously on properties and now that you know I would like you to visit each with me. I haven't signed the dotted line yet." It kept getting put off, a dozen times as she second guessed herself, but in the end, she wanted it, all. The power, influence and the money while she ruled the fashion industry at her whim not Elias-Clarke's. "Obviously aside from the ground work I cannot make any real move until my ties with Elias-Clarke are severed."

"Well," Andy drew out the word, mind racing.  Arm slipping around the editor's waist, she forced the woman to walk with her back to her own recently vacated office.  There was no denying the pride she felt whenever Miranda's interest was sparked by someone she had sent her way.  Silence lingered until she'd decided what she would and would not be comfortable with.  "The one thing you'd lose over time by leaving Runway is the industry wide power.  That my darling you're a wee bit addicted to.  You won't be able to get that from your own fashion house.  Unseen, though...  If you worked with me, note I did not say I'd work for you, then you'd maintain that sector."

"Yes, I've considered that, the loss of influence. I've yet to work that part out but... Wait.  You are suggesting rivaling Unseen with Runway?" Miranda bit her lip.  She would not laugh at her lover's obvious good intentions though she dearly wanted to check the woman's blood alcohol level.  "Work with you? My head is spinning." Literally, what else did one say to such a suggestion. Love went but so far.

The journalist's chin lifted arrogantly yet no offense was taken.  Miranda, in her own way, left her to Unseen without meddling. It was her way of not stepping on toes.  Andy had wondered, more than once, if Miranda would have bothered to read Unseen for another few years yet if not for her.  She doubted it.  The fast expanding column would be considered an upstart to the editor.  Then there was the element that Andy had suspected for years.  Miranda, for all the praise she gave her in private, continued to see Unseen as an endearing extension of her lover rather than the influential piece it had become.

"Yes."  Andy quickly plowed forward lest Miranda begin outright laughing.  "Truthfully, with the validity you could lend it, it would top Runway within two years.  Max.  That's what I've been doing today, going over the numbers.  I know it's impossible for you to believe Mira, but yes, it could beat the magazine in the amount of people reading it because it has a few things Runway can't ever compete with.  The website would be free.  Currently, even non paper buying readers can read it online at the paper.  And they do.  The magazine comes out once a month.

Unseen will go to multiple updates per day if I'm willing.  That will allow for a greater influence over the fashion world and general public than Runway could ever compete with.  Haven't you noticed that in the last six months, the trends I write about, the mockups discussed, the newer designers given a nod to have become instant hits that you then later feature in the magazine?  I can show you the numbers if you're interested."  If the woman didn't instantly lop her head off first for daring to suggest her little column could compete with the powerhouse that was Miranda’s baby.

"Will it also be able to close down Wal-Mart?" She shot off in disbelief. But to avoid being labeled unfair she added. "Summarize the numbers, please."

"Not today."  A small grin appeared.  Confidence in herself and what she was doing had evened out after being around Miranda for years.  "Elias-Clarke internally reports that Runway, Style and W combined get an estimated 1.8 million visitors at their sites last month.  ComScore and Nielsen ratings, who both rate externally, say there were approximately 420,000 and 500,000 hits per month.  There is a discrepancy in reporting that they've yet to find a remedy for.  Think of it as circulation.  Unseen hit 350,000 on Nielsen last month after just four months.  Internal reports have it as 1.1 million."

"You've done some leg work on this." Miranda's neck seemed to stretch and she leaned back while peering knowingly at Andy.  "This does not sound like a casual proposal."

Casual no but neither had she given it thought for months like her lover would have.  "I've not, unfortunately.  I got the numbers on Friday and just now had time to look.  Before you say it, yes I know, keeping abreast is part of doing anything."  There just hadn't been time.  "Estimates say online advertising will top 20 billion dollars this year.  By not doing photo shoots and using unknown but talented photographers, requesting the designers send me their own photos, and the like...  Unseen is...making money already. More than I...  I can afford, at the moment, to hire a few people to work on the coding end then a fair number of people for writing, running down information, etcetera.  It's a little overwhelming and before you say it, again, yes I should have known all this before."

"Andrea, as interesting as this all sounds it's all moot until you come to some sort of decision for yourself. I truly have no desire to influence that. Unless it means that I will actually get to see you on occasion and then I'll be tempted to wield whatever influence I might hold without apology. Although your enthusiasm for the expansion of Unseen seems barely containable."

Good intentions fell away leaving Andy with no choice but to turn around and get control of laughter that threatened to burst out.  Miranda was so often hysterical without meaning to be.  A facet the woman seemed oblivious to right until you dared laugh at her.  The journalist cleared her throat then turned back around.  "Mira, I love you dearly but you are you.  You are never going to be in a position where you don't have influence either as my lover or as Miranda Priestly.  You've tried for three years but even in your silence you have influence.  Whether or not you agreed to work with me has a large impact on my decision, like it or not.  It can't not have because it dramatically alters the road Unseen will take.

You are an instant undeniable boost that speeds up any time tables I've come up with.  You bring an instant credibility. And darling, I am enthusiastic about it and always have been.  Journalism is my first love.  Fashion and Unseen have become just as passionate a love.  That's my problem.  I'm scared Miranda.  In your world, you've always known exactly what you wanted to do.  The fashion house, win, lose or draw won't hurt you.  I don't have that luxury.  A bad decision here is not something I turn back from.  I might not even be able to recover from it."

"When I was in my late twenties I wasn't in command of a crystal ball sweetheart. Yes, I had my ultimate goal but there were many paths that could have been taken to get there.  There are no redos. But you survived leaving Runway just fine and despite my predictions, one cold day in Paris over a double scotch, you've established a name for yourself.  I think you are wrong about my decision. Of course, it could hurt me. Ruling fashion from my lofty pinnacle means I have a very long way to fall. But I won’t fall. That would be unacceptable. I acknowledge risk and then I do whatever it takes to twist it to my advantage."  One hand tangled in the ends of Andy's hair which she acknowledged was not the most professional of moves given the tone of their conversation, but time with her love had been sparse at best of late. "Have you gone mad?"

"Huh?  Why would you think that?"  One hand dropped automatically to rest on Miranda's hip.

One blue eye closed while the other peered without blinking. "You are suggesting we work together." She cleared her throat and decided there was no sugar coating the absurd. "You don't like me at work."

"That's what would make it work.  I love the work side of you despite not always liking it.  But when you get out of hand, I would be in a position to keep the kettle from boiling over."  Andy nodded as she heard herself, quite pleased with that turn of phrase.  It certainly sounded better than saying when you get your bitch on.

"I cannot bend you over the desk at work darling, it would definitely send the wrong message to those other people." She smirked in deference to a favored game between them. "I do not understand why you think that demanding someone's best needs to be handled. There will be no boiling kettles, I ban tea."

No, Miranda never quite understood that. Andy's hand trailed up the editor's side.  "For the record, you haven't worried about messages when we've been in your office at Runway late at night.  No boiling kettles is fine but they get to eat at their desks.  Wanting someone's best isn't so bad.  The way you demand it can have the reverse effect though.  Or certain decisions you'd make.  That's where I come in handy.  Going back to what you said before, I have to tell you darling, you falling is almost laughable.  People question you on occasion but most are too terrified to dare.  Giacome's line that you hailed last month is a prime example.  The entire line is garish yet not one person had the balls to point it out or risk your wrath.  Even I let it go without comment when I shouldn't have."

Miranda froze, her eyes popped out so that only the finest ring of blue outlined her pupils. Her finger tapped her lips in absolute disbelief. "His line was inspired, An-drea-aa. You obviously have eye strain from all that newsprint."

"I'm sorry but no Mira, I'm afraid not.  The girls could have drawn up a better line.  They have.  What you were probably drawn to were the hints of Alexander McQueen under all the god awful.  I've stared and stared at the designs.  What I can't quite figure is if he swiped some of those designs straight from McQueen then turned them into...those abominations.  I had an article written about it then went with Shantal's piece instead."  Although Andy didn't back down she did close her eyes part of the way.  This was another first in their relationship.  If she could have taken it back she would have.

An aggrieved sigh vibrated off the editor's pursed lips. "That's your opinion and it's skewed for reasons unknown to me. I feel sad for you that you were unable to look at his line without bias and see the vibrancy.  His bold use of color would come off as garish if he didn't have the balance. His collection is thought provoking. Why must you bait me?"

"I'm not trying to bait you."  Good lord.  Criticism and Miranda did not go together at all.  Yet if she backed down the editor would later hold it against her.  "Don't lose your head here but I have seen those colors, that vibrancy before.  The drag queens prostituting themselves on Queens Plaza could give him a run for his money except they usually have style.  You've taught me well darling, so well that I'll go on record and say when you see his designs on paper his will be one book you don't wear a single item from."

Miranda's back arched and she seemed to gain an extra two inches in height. "Someone has to dress the Queens darling." Although, that might explain Nigel's absolute affinity for the collection.

"I agree one hundred percent.  But my personal and professional opinion, which admittedly is vastly lower than yours, is that the line is raffish."  Pointing out the Miranda had often spent an inordinate amount of time looking over her articles and highlighting aspects she might have missed would have been overdone no matter how true.

"Is there a reason you are choosing now to highlight this? Are there not enough contentious issues between us at the moment?" Miranda's voice grew softer and softer.

"I was trying to illustrate that no matter how far you might fall you are still Miranda Priestly.  You can say something.  No one else may agree but then they'll go look at their own tastes, never daring to question what or why.  Alive or dead you've made your mark and you will always be a Goddess in fashion.  I'm not at that point.  You might have farther to fall but you have a resume of impeccable decisions that will catch you each and every time."  As non confrontational as possible, Andy tried to explain the differences in their positions and the weight of those on decisions.

"Let's hope that what you are suggesting proves out.  I’ve had failures Andrea, huge ones.  When my personal life was in shambles it was easy to pour more energy into the area where my success was undeniable.  That was folly, as I repeated the same mistake with the same consequence twice more."

Just when the conversation seemed safe Miranda struck low and hard.  "I screw up Mira but I'm not going anywhere.  Neither are you in fashion.  Your taste is impeccable.  You will demand nothing less than perfection of those you hire for your house."

"My point was Andrea, you don't have the market cornered on missteps or 'screw ups'. I have accumulated my fair share." Miranda edged Andy closer to her. "You don't have decide today, or even tomorrow.  I just won't continue on the way things are. I been down that road and I'm not going there again. Not by my choice."

However well intended the editor was, Andy still unconsciously lifted her hand to her cheek as if she'd been slapped.  Voice raspy, she attempted clarification in the midst of clutching panic.  "What are you saying?"

"I love you.  I know what my priorities are and I will do what I can to try and keep them in balanced. But like in the beginning Andrea, when you were doing all the pursuing, the relationship would not have survived unless I committed to it as well. I miss you. I need an end point. Whether it be three months, six months, a year, two, just tell me how much time you need before you stop stretching yourself impossibly thin in so many directions that all lead away from us. "

"Are you giving me an ultimatum?  An either or?  Because it sounds a lot like it." No it was one.  The one minor difference was that it had a time line on it.

Miranda ran her fingers through her dry but limp hair; how she wished to just go slide beneath the bubbles of an excruciatingly hot bath.  "I don't understand how you can't see it. Is it an ultimatum...if that's how you want to take it then yes.  Would you like me to give you the rundown of how it goes if something doesn't change?  It quickly becomes easier to work more just to avoid this conversation... and then who wants to do dinners because they become awkward, those long accusing looks and unbearable silences that are only broken by the stilted small talk.

It spirals until you are certain you are a stranger, or an unwanted guest in your own home.  There is nothing to talk about and it's just better for everyone if you stay away. And then one day, you tell yourself it's out of the blue, someone finally decides it's time to call it and again you end up on Page Six, but worse than that you come home to half empty closets, still photographs, a house that is once again too big and you ask yourself how did that happen?  I'm not willing to let us die quite like that without trying to thwart it." God, she berated herself for harping on about it.

Moments filtered in.  Nate, Paris, working at Runway, the conversation in the car in Paris, the hotel room.  They marched like soldiers in her memory.  Andy turned away and walked across the room, enabling her tears to remain unseen.  She didn't want to walk that road, had promised herself she wouldn't, not again.  But she was tired of feeling so utterly beaten by Miranda and her experiences when problems arose.  "It's cold in the shadows of ghosts Mira.  I'm not saying you're not right.  Or that your experiences aren't valid.  They have merit.  I'm aware of when I'm screwing up whether I can find the nice tweaks to fix it or not.  I'm just as aware of how every time I fail I'm compared to their failures and the failures of the past.  So I trudge on to the point that sometimes I feel like fucking up just so you can go ahead and say I told you so or give me that look.

My inexperience drives you crazy as often as it endears you.  I then try a little harder.  I work a little more under the constant erroneous thought that if I just am out there then I can find that balance at home between the inexperience of youth and the experience of life.  And the more you've pushed the more it makes me dig my heels in.  Because there must be a way to make it all fit.  I can't. I'm aware of that despite what you may think.  Then we fight.  Bam, two steps back, try again.  There must be a way.  Bratty, petulant, childish.  I don't even care what you call it.  Stubborn though, oh yes.  I'll quit the Times.  If that's not enough then I don't know what else to do."  But Miranda would.  She always did.

"Andrea, what do you want? If you could have it all, what would that be for you?" The words were spoken without her usual ease, each yanked out against their will.  The best laid plans often had a way of tilting the world in a way you didn't expect. Andrea's wakeup call was ending up being her own.

"You.  The girls.  Beyond that I don't know.  I feel off kilter.  Where is the line between encouraging me to go after it all and knowing when it's too much?  How do you know that line?”  Experience.  Period.  And they were right back to point one.

Andy looked exhausted; Miranda reached out and took one of her hands and pulled her to a nearby sofa where they took a seat. Miranda was happy to have something solid under her because Andy's reply had been completely unexpected. "Me and the girls? That's what you want?" Damn that stutter was inconvenient.

"I miss dinners and plays Mira but why do you think it is that I'll also stay up for 36 hours straight.  Why do you think I choose not to go to bed and instead spend time with you or them."  Drawing her knees up, Andy wrapped her arms around them then rested her cheek on top.  Staring at the wall opposite her lover was a the best cover for tears that she could manage.

The tears did not fall unnoticed and Miranda felt like an ogre even as spikes of anger hit her over Andy's revelation of thirty six hour stints without sleep. "'ve neglected to mention the staying up for thirty six hours straight. No wonder you seem run ragged, you are.  Are you doing it because you love it? Or are you trying to prove something, to yourself, to me, to everyone?"  Miranda leaned forward so her head was close to Andy's.  "I forget sometimes, your age. I know you probably don't believe that, but it's true. Sweetheart, your 'fuck ups' really...I may have the tendency to blow the odd one out of proportion in the heat of the moment... you screw up far less than anyone who came before."

"Proving something.  Not failing again by quitting when it gets tough. Like I did with you."  The photos that had been posted of Miranda once they were outted to the press remained forefront in the memory.  A repeat elsewhere felt like an atrocity just as her age did.  The editor rarely seemed to forget.  "The need for sleep is why I've been missing more of our coffee time.  A trade off that let me see you all the night before.  Lately, it doesn't feel like I screw up less or that you ever forget my age.  Thing is, you're not blowing up out of proportion. I know that.  Hard not to when the twins begin double and triple checking whether or not I'm really going to be around for a dinner or movie."

Miranda tucked her legs under her and draped an arm over the back of the sofa. "My opinion is you are being too hard on yourself and setting impossible expectations. That's not a screw up, it just happens to people like us." One hand reached down and unfurled one of the journalist's. Had she unwittingly set Andrea up for failure? A small smile appeared. "You didn't quit with me when it got tough.  Quitting a job is not failure.

Professionally you did not let me down, you rose to the challenge even though it was outside your forte and comfort zone.  You followed your gut and it got where you are today and unless something has changed you love what you much in fact that you've created several opportunities that are now making it very difficult for you to decide which turn to take next. I'm very proud of you.  But I want more for you... You could do with a little basking in your accomplishments. I'm glad you quit. It was the right thing to do."

There were certain things Miranda Priestly did not excel at aside from employee relations and remembering where it was that did her dry cleaning.  She also tended to overlook all the subtle signs from her lover; many had been missed.  Alleviating insecurity 101, she'd received an obnoxiously big red capital F. "You are right.  The past few months I've been much more critical and demanding.  If it seems I've been more preoccupied with your age, I have been just…" She waved a hand in the air before rubbing the spot between her eyes. "with age and time passing in general. I've been reevaluating."

"Future note.  Reevaluating used in the context of conversations like this one, scare me.  It brings to mind 'we have to talk'."  While maintaining the hold on her legs, Andy leaned into her lover.  Inexplicable solitude fluttered like a holey blanket around her shoulders.  They had stopped talking about certain things in no small part because they became topics to be avoided at all costs.  Doing well at work fell into the to be avoided category because it inevitably led to the areas that were falling behind.  "You're appalled that I lost my cool with Elise.  I am too.  However...she's managed to become a friend.  She's protective of you as friends are.  That's good, honestly.  But not so good always when you're me.  I knew damn well you were angry over the weekend.  Meeting or no you usually answer your cell.

When you didn't I then went to the office and you might not be able to understand this but when you're already vividly aware of how you've failed, again.  When you're aware of the impending fight...  She's very professional.  Yet underneath the veneer is another judgment.  Human.  Understandable when I'm calm.  I'd expect nothing less.  In the moment the story is different.  She was a convenient outlet.  More than that I simply wasn't in the mood to see another person give me that damned look, however hidden.  Especially not when I knew, unequivocally, that your continued absence was purposeful and that she would cover it until the earth ran out of oxygen.  Ugly, oh yes but I dare most people to try and rise above it.  Good luck."

"Oh, I see." And she was starting to understand the ripple effect and how it had unfolded. "It was not my intention to scare you. My presentation skills could use a little refining.  I've been doing what I meant to suggest you do.  I didn't just wake up this morning and decide to leave Runway. But when you suggested nearly a year ago the fashion house I've mulled it over daily since. And by extension I stepped back and took stock to formulate a new plan for my life. Figure out what is important, what can be sacrificed, what can't be. I think of it as a how do I want my life to look next year, and the year after and the year after that.  Runway isn't the only thing I obsess over darling." Outwardly the hand that circled Andy's stomach seemed to do so casually, loosely. Inside, Miranda wondered if before the night was over they'd have to visit the ER to have it surgically removed.

The journalist leaned in a little more, skin icy.  Miranda's quirk of keeping everything in her head until it was time to move had been accepted as much as anyone ever could.  "I have done that more than it appears on the surface.  I do love what I do, the Times included.  One of the many reasons I've stayed is because I've been hedging my bets on the fear that while I'd sold a freelance piece or two in the beginning that didn't mean I would continue to do so.  I can't put Unseen on my resume as it stands right now.  Take that out and what is there is remarkably short.  The Times has been a safety net."

"It's crucial that you love what you do. That is why you will succeed beyond expectations that you will set for yourself because that kind of love, passion doesn't just go away. If you are not ready to leave the safety of the Times yet, I understand. Do not quit in haste to appease me. Please."  The splayed hand pressed into Andy's abdomen pulling her in tighter. "While you take whatever time you need, will you at least let me do for you what you did for me?"

"What's that?  I think I'm as ready as I ever will be.  The article I turned in today may not win the award but it should cement what I've done up until now.  I could have sold it elsewhere for a lot more according to Clive not that it really matters.  Being a kept woman erases the need to worry over what's in my bank account."  Andy melted against the editor.  Ragged nerves began to smooth out despite the lingering fear that they were going to begin fighting again.

"Find a way to make things easier. Free up your time so you can at least reasonably choose if you'd like to spend it sleeping, having coffee or destroying the kitchen." Miranda tweaked her side with the last comment. "If you are ready, then do it. If you need my help it's yours.  If you don't want it...I'll give it anyway just more quietly."

The editor was such a weird person at times.  "You banned me from the kitchen long ago, remember?  Except for your occasional lapses which I've yet to figure out.  Help - seriously consider Unseen but not as my lover.  I'll give you the books, records, and other information you need.  You might be surprised.  If you're not interested that's fine.  If you are then I was quite serious.  I honestly believe I could offer you that piece that the fashion house won't."

"All right." Miranda nodded her assent. She would look it all over and give it a serious evaluation. "I've decided I would like to take cooking lessons and have another child. How do you feel about that?"

Andy nodded amicably.  Cooking lessons were alright although she couldn't see Miranda cooking.  A meal would take her days to prepare.  Thirty minutes for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich hadn't changed.  Add actual cooking in and...  "You what?  Another child?"  The rest finally penetrated, whipping the journalist's head around.

Miranda could not judge if Andrea's reaction was more parts stunned or horror. "I know the girls can be intolerable by times but overall with them I have no regrets. And I realized I cannot put off doing it again indefinitely. It was always my plan to have more children it just never quite seemed the right time."

"Children.  More. With me?"  The girls weren't bad at all nor was the idea per se.  The out of left field thing, however, left her scrambling to catch up. This was one of those times she could half kill Miranda for keeping ideas in her head until she was ready to move forward.

For just a split second Miranda had the good grace to look halfway sheepish. "Mmm. With you."

"Me. Right."  Of course.  That made perfect sense.  Stunned to the point her brain slipped into the off position, Andy's head cocked.  "Mira, you do realize I have neither a cock nor sperm right?  I can't just go bam, have a baby honey.  No problem.  We'll try tonight."

The editor's eyes popped out as uncontrollable laughter bent her in two. "Really? You can't do the deed? How disappointing."

How...rude.  Andy scowled and rubbed her hand over her face.  Okay that hadn't been the most intelligent thing to say.  "Miranda Priestly we have got to work on you keeping everything in your head.  I won't be responsible for my actions one day if we don't."

That was not likely to ever change. She never presented ideas that were not carefully formulated.  "You've not yet mentioned whether or not you'd be amendable to the idea."

"I...I haven't seriously thought about it.  When I was younger I always assumed there would be kids.  How or when though, eh?  I miss enough to piss you off as it is.  Add a baby to the mix and you'll be permanently angry with me.  Hell I'm not even sure I'd be a good parent."  The twins had become easy but she wasn't sure if that was because she did anything right rather than them easing up.

Miranda let her neck relax and roll back into the cushion. "You are good with the girls and if and when you decide you want to be a parent you'll find your way. I'm still finding mine. I do believe I should be awarded points for not keeping everything tucked away in my head, it's not as if I'm pregnant and announcing it."

"That's only because you've not found the perfect candidate to do the deed. Had you, yes, you would be."  The journalist blinked then backed herself up.  She couldn’t particularly see Miranda pregnant though she had been.  But that was then.  Now it would be extremely dangerous for her to carry.  Did she know that?  Andy didn't want to have to be the one to tell her.  Reminding the editor of her age rarely went over well.  Best to test the waters and then think about whether or not she was actually thinking about having more children.  "I can't quite imagine you carrying again."

Two perfectly shaped brows popped up towards Miranda's hairline. "I'm in perfect health and there are many women who don't even start having children until they are my age."

Oh crap.  No.  Absolutely not.  She'd willingly adopt a dozen first and quit every job to take care of them. The journalist tried to steer away from age factors by being honest.  "There are but I can't do that with you.  I'm not saying I can't, won't, have children with you.  What I am saying is I'd spend every minute of the pregnancy worried about you and them.  I can't lose you."

"What? Why would you lose me? Women in their forties have children every day."

"They do."  Early, early forties if they were smart and even then they were stupid.  But Miranda was no longer in her early forties. "I know the risks darling.  They would be much higher to you and a baby.  If complications arose I could lose you.  Caroline and Cassidy would never forgive me."

"Calm down sweetheart. What if in a few weeks or months you go with me to my doctor. She assures me while the risk would be higher than it was with the twins, it is unlikely I'd have any issue with a single birth."  Okay so they'd had that conversation 4 years ago give or take but nothing had really changed.

Miranda had lost her mind.  Off the deep end and around the bin.  "I'd remind you that you had the twins naturally.  No fertility drugs.  Read:  you have the twin gene.  Could you conceive of choosing between two?  Terminating one to preserve your health and the baby's?"

"I could indeed. But that for now is just one possibility and I'm not going to spend my time fretting over something that might not even happen." Besides, she'd delivered two perfectly healthy twins before.

"I could carry or we could hire a surrogate."  Anything but Miranda carrying.  The mere idea caused gruesome possibilities to take on a life of their own.

Miranda smiled. "You are making it sound like a done deal. I don't want a surrogate. You could have our child,  it's not something we have to decide to today, but it's not a decision I'd want you to make based on your fear that something might happen to me."  A chaste, soft kiss was pressed to Andy's lips. "I told you about my desire to have another child, because you needed to know and so you'd have a better idea of what I meant when I spoke of reevaluating."

Smile a little too wobbly to be normal, Andy leaned back into the couch and pressed her eyes shut.  Relief tasted like a sweet treat.  Had she not wanted children she still would have agreed to have one just to prevent Miranda from getting pregnant on her own.  The journalist turned and lay back, settling against her lover's chest.  Saying it wasn't something that had to be decided today was all well and good but Miranda hadn't changed her spots either.  Their lives felt chaotic to Andy.  Yet tomorrow or the day after the editor would ask if she was ready.  Extended time wasn't in Miranda's vocabulary once her mind set to anything.  As far as Andy could tell that meant she had a very brief time to get her act together with the job situation or one day she'd glance up and find she'd missed the opportunity to straighten it all out of her own accord.

"You're sweet but you also exaggerate my darling.  Now that you've told me I have two months, tops, before you give me that 'well?' look.  I'll need at least a month and a half.  Two week’s notice at the Times and then I'll have to turn my attention to getting Unseen set."

"I'm sweet? Since when?" Two months was fine though she'd be seeing her doctor within three days in case Andy decided having their child was not for her. "You can take longer than that. It's a monumental decision.  You'll need at least three or four months."

Mmmhmm.  She might need that long but leaving it that long was another story.  In three months Miranda would have already talked to Cara about being a fulltime nanny again.  "Sweet since every other week after you've had a massage.  Just give me a couple of weeks to get my head around it.  I'm not against it and I did want children one day I just didn't see the day coming"

"What do you need from me? To make this, us work? That is what I want."

"Two weeks free of thinking about putting me in the bad partner timeout would help a lot.  I'll give my notice tomorrow but the next two weeks are going to be absolute hell.  I have to decide for certain about Unseen by oh I don't know, tomorrow?  Don't give me that look.  I had to put off looking everything over because there hasn't been time.  Then things should settle but I'll be honest, getting everything going at first will be tough.  It's a big change to go from three times a week to daily.  I wouldn't mind your input there either, regardless of what you decide.  I have request upon request in that book I showed you to make the site more expansive.  Great on paper.  Figuring out the actual areas is a lot harder.  However, I can do a fair amount of it from home.

At some point I'm going to have to decide if I want to suck it up and get office space to make it easier to keep up with everyone.  Last but not least I'm afraid I'm going to do the unthinkable and rape a few offices to get the people I need.  Girl scout promise that I won't touch Runway.  After that I'll do the articles I want.  If you know a good agent that would help.  I don't want to continue using the same one for that, that I use for Unseen.  Since the Times takes up the bulk of my time, no pun intended, that will open my schedule up again so I'm not missing as much or anything except in emergencies.  You, the girls, are my priority Miranda however badly I have shown it lately."

"Next January pillage Runway all you like." Perfectly painted lips curved in a way that made Miranda look like some of her employees were right - the Devil in Pradas.

Oh boy.  She knew that gleam.  Irv had pushed her too far once too often.  "I'll keep that in mind.  I think, after you leave, it would be a good idea if we revealed my identity.  Beat people to the punch so to speak but that is more your area of expertise than mine."

"I agree about the unveiling." Despite her plans and their future the idea of leaving Runway, the embodiment of Miranda Priestly for two decades woke her at nights and would for years to come. "Hungry?"

"Are we okay?"  The answer was far more important than food.

"I feel like we are. How do you feel?"

"Better as long as we're okay.  Fighting with you is more exhausting than working all the time."  Andy tilted her head against her lover's cheek.  Breathing felt easier.

The dark cutting fear that sometimes reared its head had crawled back into its lair decorated with memories of past failures. "Only because you are good at it. You need to eat and sleep. We can talk more about everything when you are not on the verge of exhaustive collapse."

"Oh really?  Then why do I always lose?"  After a long, tight hug, Andy reluctantly extracted herself then held her hand out.  Who could sleep when baby bombs were dropping?


Eighteen months later

"Just do it.  I don't care what she says,"  Andy bit out then slammed the phone down.  Regret immediately flashed across her face as she glanced at the three month old baby in Jace's arms.  A tiny arm waved in displeasure.  Sighing, the journalist ran her hand through her own hair.  Dark blond hair fell to her shoulders in a purposefully messy line alongside the natural deep brown shades.  Tiny worry lines appeared around her eyes and mouth.  Concealer covered the dark circles under Andy's eyes.  One hand squeezed Jace's shoulder then traced the baby's cheek.

Outside the glass doors the office was alive with activity.  The constant buzz was a source of displeasure rather than happiness.  All eyes were on her door. Breathless anticipation seemed the rule of the day.  Andy despised them all for it, her avid hate of being watched had grown.  "Now I remember why I've been working in the middle of the night instead of the day.  Sorry, they had a bad night.  Katherine refused to sleep and Miranda couldn't sleep.  How's Raegan?  She's not threatening to divorce you because of me is she?  Tell her I promise to make it up to her as soon as I can."

"Rae's very understanding. Especially when I keep leaving her gifts." Jace's easy grin appeared despite the tension. His finger twirled in the long tufts of baby hair covering the top of Katherine's round little head. "The Grand Lady has started calling my cell." It was hard for him not to take the calls from Miranda, he liked her but he liked wearing his handsome head on his shoulders more.

A deep frown added to the pinched worry lines.  "I know.  She doesn't want to come back to work yet but seems to think that when she feels like it she should be able to do things at home despite all doctors orders.  Between you and me I'm not sure what to do with her.  I can't even kill her yet, not unless...until she's 100% again."  Andy pinched the bridge of her nose.  There was no unless.  Miranda would recover.  Period. She had to.

Dark eyes drifted to the baby already well loved and causing more guilt than she would ever know.  In the quiet moments, the ones between the good and the bad, hate had crept in.  It had been an endless cycle where she hated the child then hated herself for feeling anything less than motherly love.  She'd yet to find a place where slack entered into the equation.  "I'm not sure I'd do it again Jace," she muttered then dropped her head into her hands and exhaled. Self loathing roared to life again.  The quiet statement remained true.  Two years ago when Miranda had first told her she wanted another child fear after fear had crept up.  The editor did an admirable job of trying to soothe them.

Miranda had tried to ease her fears when they'd found out Andy couldn't carry a child to term then did everything in her power to assure her all would be well when she, at almost fifty years of age, did.  They'd argued to the point of nearly fracturing their relationship.  The editor, over time, had won the argument against both Andy and her doctor's concerns.  She'd even managed to carry Katherine to term despite her age and being on bed rest the last two months.  Andy's fears had remained and amplified when gestational diabetes had appeared.  Valid fears that came to life in a horrific crashing of nightmare events that brought Katherine screaming into the world seconds before her mother had been rushed to ICU the simultaneous victim of almost bleeding to death and a stroke.

Jace gave the little doll in his arms a kiss on her chubby little cheek. "I get it Ace. No way in hell I'd let Rae take that chance twice. How's her latest therapist hanging in?"  The physical therapist hired to help Miranda regain full usage of her right leg had not fared well.  At least three had received generous severance packages after less than a week on the job.

"I give her another five days because I doubled her salary this morning.  Another is already lined up just in case she doesn’t make it that long.  Her right arm continues to bother her and she won't admit it which is a problem.  I talked to the doctor about it this morning.  The idiot said they couldn't help her with it until she was ready to deal.  And I swear to you Jace, if I'd agree to get up and sneak her in here at 4am so no one would see her walking she would do it.  She practically demanded it the other day.  I understand she's restless but that's just too damned bad."  An ache to hold Katherine thrummed to life only to be set aside.

Mounds of paperwork needed to be gone through.  The decision over the Priestly line had to be made once and for all.  Cara had picked a hell of a time to need to day off not that the journalist could blame her for it.  Between the harried physical therapists, Miranda's increasing demands and the baby, the nanny who had been through the twins terrible twos was ready to pull her hair out.  Andy glanced at the clock and scrawled a quick reminder note to pick up Caroline and Cassidy from school.  They were taking things as well as could be expected but any deviation in their routine made them as justifiably hard to live with as their mother.  As Andy had predicted, they blamed her for Miranda's condition.  "How are you, really?  I can't thank you enough for working on Unseen during the day.  I know everyone has been giving you a hard time."

"They just get offended by the Keds, I don't take it personal." When Katherine peeped out a little cry he held her closer and bounced her a bit. "Besides, this is nothing compared to what you are dealing with. You know I adore your other half, but holy hell she is the poster child for impossible patient. She will be okay though, she simply won't allow anything but a complete recovery."

A tight lipped smile appeared as Andy reached over and ran a soothing hand over the baby's back.  Nearly losing Miranda, watching her flat line, staying by her bed for two days while a coma claimed her, the twins panic and Katherine's needs had brought an instant change to her priorities.  Work on Unseen was to be done in the middle of the night alone leaving the days for Miranda and the girls.  Daytime appearances had been sporadic and carefully constructed from her outfit to the time she arrived.  Andy, although exhausted, wouldn't have been able to stop if God decreed it.  "You could fess up to who it is that dresses you, green Keds and all.  If you and Raegan have time this week, you should stop by.  She'll either be delighted at the normalcy or grumpy from the reminder of limitations."

"Are you kidding? We'd love to see her.  This picking my own outfit thing is for the serfs. Is there anything more I can do to help? I could just keep the Pumpkin." Jace was half serious, he was completely entranced with Andy's daughter.

Andy grinned for the first time all morning and looked up from the forms she was going through.  Everything that needed an executive signature, for both businesses, Unseen and the Priestly line had found its way to her desk.  If Miranda had been there to be a check to her balance, she would have given it all over to Elise or Sarah to sign.  "That would be a no.  I may have been a crap mother at times but having her around keeps me from thinking too much.  You could however tell me what to do.  Priestly has gone unattended for almost four months.  Miranda left a lot of instructions and I've no doubt Elise has been carrying them out not to mention she knows what she's doing.  But this is the make or break season for the line.  One wrong piece and the house will be dubbed a flash in the pan."

"You mean they haven't at least videotaped it for her?" Oops, that might have been the wrong thing to say. "If I were you I'd be checking up on Elise.  If you don't... you need to Ace."

"No. Mira's asked, believe me but you know her.  I give her a video tape and tomorrow I'll have to drug her to keep her home."  Jace was backing her decision to check on Elise.  Damn.  Reassurance and wary concern making in one.  "Do you know something I don't Jace?  Your tone worries me."

Jace shrugged. "If I had concerns or if I'd heard something I would have come to you. I've been hearing some really great buzz... but this is Miranda's baby."  He looked apologetically at Katherine. "No offense Pumpkin.  You have to live with her.  You might be able to settle her down, reassure her even if you take a hard look at it all. Elise is working like a dog too, but, she's not Miranda and that's whose reputation is on the line."

The crushing weight of extreme pressure landed on narrow shoulders.  Andy signed a dozen more documents before she glanced up again.  "That's what concerns me.  I know I can do it but knowing and doing are two different things.  It is Miranda's baby.  She's driven me half crazy over the line since its inception.  That's what freaks me out a little.  When she agreed to partner me with Unseen she brought undeniable experience to the table but don't you dare ever tell her I told you that.  Unseen is topping either of our wildest dreams in how far it's come.

That it's beat Runway still blows my mind.  But you know how we fight over it.  Since it became big time I've always had her.  The battles have always been for the benefit of the site and column.  Ying, yang.  And between you and me, I'm scared shitless of doing it without her - just this aspect.  Taking over her world, however temporarily makes me need a drink.  I've been up all night thinking about it.  I'd rather walk into Chanel and tell them what to do."

"It was a brilliant concept Ace. Yours. And you and Miranda have turned it into reality. You know her. Good and bad. You know what weaknesses to look for. It's like breathing for you. You've earned this and further more she's your partner so you own it.  You know I love Elise, but you bring out the best in the Dragon Lady." He grinned. "She had the layout set. They are now down to the final presentation, just strut in there and do what you would do if it were just the two of you. And then, change what needs changing without apology. She would and she'd expect you to." He made a face at Katherine. "I've got a good bottle of scotch in my desk when you're done."

"I'd give you a raise if I didn't already pay you more than I pay myself."   The critical folder was set aside, finished.  Three more lay waiting.  Andy ignored them, spun the mouse trackball and gave Unseen a quick once over.  New lines appeared in her forehead.  The infinite patience she normally tried to show had worn thin.  "Do me a favor later.  Find David and tell him if he doesn't change the To Watch layout by the time I get in tomorrow morning he needn't bother showing up.  I told him two weeks ago."

Jace saluted and refrained from mentioning the fact that she was channeling the Dragon Lady. That was good, she'd need it. "Consider it done. Now go slay the dragons." He grinned and held Katherine's hand up to make it wave. "Bye bye Mommy.  See ya later."

"Thanks Jace.  You've definitely earned your best friend stripes these last few months."  Andy exhaled slowly then stood and straightened her suit.  A soft, lingering kiss fell on Katherine's cheek.  "If she starts to get cranky and I'm not back yet, put a scarf on and let it dangle over her hand.  Don't you dare say it."

Saying it would be redundant. He kept waiting for the day when Katherine would turn in her Prada baby carrier and fix him with a look while sporting a silver bob haircut. But he wouldn't utter a word, he just went to Andy's desk in search of the scarf.

"I love you," Andy whispered to the baby before exiting her office.  She'd hardly been out a foot before people began diving into their own offices.  By the time she'd made it halfway around the U shaped layout the sound had changed.  A hushed buzz followed in her wake.  The designs would be waiting in Miranda's office as if she still came in every day.  Elise was too attentive to details to change that habit. Both assistants looked up followed by Elise when she walked by without a word and entered the room.  The sound of the offices dimmed when the door shut.  Andy stood in place, breathless with all four walls closing in.  The subtle scent of Miranda's perfume suddenly seemed overpowering.

The office represented everything that was the fashion mogul, light, modern, sleek lines contrasted the warm wood tones of Andy's office.  The room screamed Miranda.  Andy had avoided it for two months.  Unsteady legs pressed forward.  The remembered beeps of the machines around Miranda's bed sounded in her ears. The sound of the heart monitor flat lining came buzzed next, as horrible in memory as they had been in reality.  The journalist did the unthinkable and sat heavily in Miranda's chair.  Soft leather surrounded and tried to offer its own comfort.  The faint scent of Miranda's shampoo filled her nostrils.

Drowning came to mind.  This was one of their unspoken lines where they never seriously sat in each other's chairs.  The staff for Unseen were tucked away on Andy's side and one other floor.  The Priestly house occupied the other half, nearest Miranda's office and seven additional floors.  They were partners in every way to a point.  The younger woman would have preferred to keep it that way.  The shadow of Miranda was everywhere.  Being her lover did not grant a free pass to avoid it.  Andy exhaled slowly and reached for the first oversized folder.  There would be resistance.  She accepted that and opened the folder anyway.  Decisions that had been put on hold would no longer wait.  Changes that needed to be made had to be made regardless of the editor’s status.

Through the closed door she heard the din rise again as her eyes fell to the first design.  Their employees didn't fear her in the same way they did Miranda but neither did they take her lightly.  Entering her lover's office would cause phones to ring on all floors.  Had Miranda been there they would have dove for cover and stayed there.  Their fights had become legendary and whoever lost then became someone to be avoided for the rest of the day lest the fight spill over onto bystanders.  Miranda's forte was visual to Andy's written word but neither had a problem disagreeing with a decision the other made.  Finger tracing her lips, Andy stared intently, taking in every line and accent until she got lost in the job she'd just taken over.

Outside, Elise fielded panicked phone calls from all over their offices.  A call to Sarah, Andy's assistant, revealed nothing.  She had no more idea what the woman was up to than Elise did.  Placing a call to Miranda was considered and tossed out as quickly.  Elise wouldn't risk her friends health further for anything short of a critical emergency.  Had she, she would have been fired on the spot just as Andy had fired two others that dared go against her orders to consult Miranda.  An hour later and no closer to alternatives than she had been, she stood and entered Miranda's office to find Any engrossed in the designs, pen scribbling furiously on a pad.  "Can I get you something?"

"Hmm?"  The pen didn't stop for five minutes when the intrusion finally registered.  "Oh.  Yes.  I want every designer in the conference room in thirty minutes.  Every piece, finished and unfinished needs to be there with them.  Anyone out of the building needs to get back."

Two fine blond eyebrows ascended to Elise's hairline.  Dread settled in her stomach before she went to place the call.  Some protocols were absolute no matter what was going on.  "Should I locate a camera."

Camera.  What?  Andy glanced up and blinked slowly, brain struggling to switch tracks.  Ah, a camera for Miranda.  "No need."

"What should I plan for then?"  The brusque tone in Andy's voice didn't go unnoticed but unlike Miranda, her partner tended to answer questions.

A bottle of water was retrieved from the small kitchen to the left and uncapped.  Words, explanations and even the stray apology flittered in and out of the journalist's head.  This would be the first battle.  She couldn't determine if it would be the biggest.  "I'll need you to take notes of the changes that need to be made."

Elise went still.  Explicit instructions had been left and carried out to the letter.  Miranda's instructions.  "We're two months away from Paris.  I hate to ask but is Miranda sure she wants to make changes now?"

"That's why we're going to make changes.  I should have done it a month ago.  Tell everyone their bonuses will be raised as a result of the extra hours they're going to have to put in.  Make certain to also note that the increase is for this quarter only."  A hundred people throwing a fit next quarter would cause a mass of firings.  Andy picked up one of the designs, a dress that had potential but was missing something, and walked over to the window.  The woman was gawking.  She could feel it without looking.

Elise was superb at her job.  No one came close to her organizational skills.  She'd developed the uncanny knack of knowing exactly what Miranda would want but that didn't extend to doing much more than following her bosses orders where the clothes were concerned.  Being able to say what Miranda would like didn't carry over into making successful changes on her own.  But like any top tier employee Andy was certain the woman wouldn't see it that way.  Seconds later confirmation came.

"May I speak freely?"

No you may not, danced on her tongue.  Andy tamped it down.  More would be achieved by letting the woman have her say now.  "You won't change my mind."

"And Miranda's?  I've respected and agreed with your decision not to include her in the running of either office.  But this is the Priestly house, not Unseen.  I've done..."

"I know you've done everything exactly as she told you.  You've done it well and I appreciate it.  So will she.  That does not mean changes don't need to be made.  Ideas can start wonderfully and flop in implementation.  I see that you've been tweaking some but you've kept in line with what she requested.  That too I appreciate. You've done all you can, I know that.  But there is more to be done."

"This isn't your field of expertise Andy.  One wrong change and the entire line is diminished."  Like and respect for one another went but so far.  A line that ended long before it came down to unilaterally changing designs Miranda had approved.

An idiot knew that at this point.  The journalist's jaw clenched, the pressures at home and work eating exhausting her own exhaustion.  "I'm aware.  This sketch.  Make a color copy of it and send it to Valentino immediately.  He's staying at the Waldorf.  Room 1003.  The moment it’s in his hands let me know."

"You want me to send an unseen design to the competition?"  Horrified, Elise stepped back from the sheet being handed to her.  Partner or not, Andy was going too far.

"You can do it or I'll have Sarah handle it.  Your choice."  The choice made however, would not be forgotten.  Ever.

The assistant read the unyielding gaze.  A blind dog would have recognized the undercurrent.  So be it.  "You'll have to get Sarah to do it.  I'm sorry but I can't."

Andy's nostrils flared once, the lone sign of her rising temper.  Neither woman broke eye contact as she reached over to Miranda's phone and relayed her instructions to her own assistant.  Sarah came and went, all but running from the room and the unblinking stares.  Valentino was competition to a point. He was also a dear friend whose opinion she trusted.  Other than going to Miranda he was the only person she trusted to validate her opinion.  An agreement on the sketch in question would tell her all she needed to know about direction.  It could be the prized piece of the Priestly collection - after a few major changes.  But first there was Elise.  "Miranda trusts you."

"She does."

"Don't mistake trust for the right to push me.  Because at the end of the day, in this office, I am her business partner. I don't owe you or anyone else an explanation.  What you think is right ranks below what I tell you.  Never, for an instant, think otherwise.  You come in every day, work your ass off and get a paycheck.  Yet nothing of yours is tied up in it.  Everything I have is.  Unseen's profits back Priestly not that it's any of your business.  My point is my entire life is here.  If I tell you to send a sketch over I suggest that you do it because if you think I'd do anything to jeopardize her dream and mine then you're a fool.  Now."  Andy straightened then returned to Miranda's desk and the sketches covering every surface.

The assistant had unwittingly bolstered her confidence in the midst of bringing on sweeping, controlled anger.  "I'm going to finish making notes.  By my watch everyone has fifteen minutes.  Anyone that's not there by anything other than an act of God is fired, effectively immediately. And Elise?  That includes you.  I expect your full support in that meeting so find a cigarette, a drink or your drug of choice.  Whatever it takes to get you through.  Silently.  Dismissed."

Andy watched her blink in shock, her own face impassive until the door closed behind her.  Home sounded like the best place in the world as opposed to facing the jackals. She might have originally sent many of them Miranda's way but the journalist harbored no illusions.  They'd fight.  Worse than Elise had. Designers, creative types as Jace dubbed them, always did.  Ten minutes later the phone rang.  The conversation went better than she could have hoped for leaving Andy sagging in her chair.  The design wasn't by Evan, their head designer.  It wasn't the one Miranda had dubbed the pinnacle of the collection.  But she would.  With several changes that Valentino agreed with, it would be the piece.

And it would be spectacular.  A weary smile curled the edges of her lips.  Had there been a choice Andy wouldn't have been in the office at all.  Losing Miranda was still so close that she awoke every night with the taste of it on her tongue.  The twins were snappish, sending baleful glares half the time.  At every turn there were cliffs, awaiting her fall.  Rising, she walked out of sight of the doors and leaned her head against the wall of glass.  Three months after Katherine's birth and she'd yet to shed a tear.  There wasn't time in spite of the well of them she kept bottled away.  Breath fogging the glass she pushed off of it and straightened her hair.  That time wasn't now.  The meeting waited.  Worst case scenario: she bombed Miranda's baby all to hell and took both businesses down in one fell swoop.

No pressure.

Miranda's voice echoed in her head:  Never let them see anything but confidence.

Andy nodded to herself and checked her appearance in the small, private bathroom.  No, there was no pressure. If she failed Miranda could just consider them even after having almost died - a fact the journalist had yet to forgive.  She grinned at her appearance and after a moment it appeared real.  Better.  With a private nod to herself, she turned, gathered the sketches, exited the office and headed to the conference room.  It was standing room only by the time she entered.  That wouldn't do. Too many were taller.  A quick word and people scrambled out to bring in chairs.  The racks caught her attention.  Curious, wary and hostile looks were ignored.

"Is there something in particular you're looking for?"

Back to them, Andy let her eyes narrow.  Evan.  He had undeniable genius that could be hard to contend with though Miranda had no problems.  She adored what he could do with the right guidance.  Andy wasn't quite as enamored.  Remembering him eating gummy bears and ramen noodles in a dirty studio apartment washed away the arrogant image of him at the table.  But not even she could have guessed him to have as much arrogance as he showed when she turned around and found him sitting at the head of the table.  She nearly fired him on the spot.  "Your much heralded genius.  I must say, I'm finding very little of it in any of the pieces you've submitted.  Now unless you've managed a coup I'm unaware of, get out of Miranda's chair."

Evan's eyes rounded then flickered around the room.  He didn't work with Andy often but she didn't speak like...her lover.  "Are you giving a report to Miranda?  I could explain what you're seeing if you'd like. She'll understand it."

"Really?  I look forward to your explanation then.  Later.  At the moment I'm too busy trying to comprehend why you're still in that chair."  Distantly, she recognized that something about this room or job had caused traces of Miranda to slip into her voice.  Creepy.

Several whispers went around when Evan made a point of slowly rising and moving.

The journalist stared blandly then returned to perusing the racks.  Evan wouldn't have dared had Miranda been there.  In a pure power play she'd seen her lover pull off a thousand times she let them sit and stew in silence.  Fifteen minutes passed before she pulled out four articles and turned around.  "Paris is in two months.  Miranda will be there for that."  She hoped. "But the collection is far from ready.  These pieces, for instance, belong in the garbage and that is where they're going."

She had to pause as chatter broke out.  Hushed disapproval backed the clear, vocal protest by three different team members, Evan included.  "You're mad."

"Those are perfect."

"No one is doing anything else like them."

Elise's face was perfectly composed, revealing nothing.  Not exactly support but it could be worse by Andy's calculation.  "That's right, they're not.  And do you know why?  Because these border on grunge.  I know what she asked for and someone's idea of genius has mixed with her idea.  The problem is ladies and gentlemen we're not in the nineties anymore.   What you don't know is that when we were and this was the style, Miranda so hated it that she called every major designer in the field, personally, and told them if they didn't come up with something new, non-grunge, for the next spring show they would not be in Runway again until their designs changed.  She despises the look and I do too.  These are far too close to it to be shown."

Eyes flickering around the room she waited for protests.  Curiosity had turned to wary hostility across the board.  They'd get nothing done like this.  "Before we go further you might as well make your protests but before you do, let me make myself clear.  Until Miranda's return I'm taking over Priestly.  You'll answer to me.  You will be available to me whenever I need you and when I tell you something isn't going, please save your arguments.  I don't want to hear them."

"You can't be serious Andy.  You're fabulous at Unseen but you've never put anything together.  Now you want to do the entire line?  No offense but you're not Miranda."

Viviane, Evan's second who the journalist liked a damn sight better than she did him, interjected.  That she had beat him to the punch was unexpected.  "Believe me, I'm aware of that which is why I need everyone's help. To a point.  I will have final say and to be frank you all have done well so far but there is not one piece worth writing about as they stand.  This is my business to.  Just because I'm not on this side every day does not mean I don't know fashion because I do."

"Look, we're not saying you don't but Miranda was quite clear on what she wanted.  All of our personal reputations are on the line."  Evan's head of messy black hair shook with disapproval.  "We've had one show.  This could ruin the Priestly line."

"You're good. With time you could be great.  But I promise your reputation being harmed won't come close to what it will do to mine.  You've gotten buzz words and chatter thanks to Miranda and myself.  You have potential Evan but I have a name to be destroyed.  Mine and hers.  And I have to tell you, yours means a hell of a lot less to me than either of ours."

"So what, we're just supposed to accept whatever you say just because of who you happen to be with?"

"Evan,"  Elise warned.

"Forget it Elise.  This is absurd and you know it.  Unseen isn't even that good.  That dress doesn't look remotely like grunge and we all know it."

Dark eyes glittered as Andy weighed her options.  There was one way to gain instant control of the group that she could see.  Explaining to Miranda later however, that could get dicey.  "If no one has any further objections I'd like to get back to work."

"Are you kidding?"  Aghast, Evan prodded Viviane.

Caught between impending change and friendship with the tempestuous designer, Viviane glanced between them.  A powder keg on one side, a very sharp sword on the other.  She should have called in sick for the day.  "Andy we're concerned, that's all.  None of us can deny that you know her best but we've all heard your fights.  They're legend in and out of the building.  You don't always see eye to eye on Unseen.  Are you sure you will when everything is riding on your choices?"

"Yes though I may fudge a piece or two just to fight with her so long as it means she's back."  Strained chuckles went around the room, relieving some of the tension.  "Hilaire, this is yours is it not?"

The young redhead blinked in surprise then nodded.

Andy's smile was tighter than she intended it to be.  The dress in question, she held up and fingered.  "I want to go over several changes with you.  The shoulders need to be lifted.  The waistline needs to be tightened and dropped by an inch and a half.  Alter the hem to be longer in the back by two inches.  Discretely tack the bust line so it lifts and accentuates without the need for a bra.  Loosen it here, and here." The journalist paused, watching the glances that went around the room as the young designer struggled to get the orders written down.  Voice dropping to a purr, Andy prepared herself for the backlash and said, "This people is the piece.  All else will compliment and be altered to fit it and make an entire, cohesive show."

The uproar was instant. Evan's face turned purple.  Hilaire was not the lead designer.  "No fucking way.  I'll quit first."

Well, that had been about what she'd expected.  "Don't bother.  You're fired.  Elise please escort him out.  Nothing, not even a pack of gum goes with him.  Send one of the boys over to his apartment to collect anything belonging to Priestly.  I want every thread, every scrap of paper and every design he's doodled.  As per all your contracts, it belongs to us."

"You have no authority to fire me just because of who you're fucking."

The tide turned against him instantly.  Elise grabbed his arm only to be waved off by Andy.  Slowly, deliberately, she set the dress back on the rack then turned to him.  "And you wouldn't dare if she were here. None of you would.  What you will do, from this moment on is your jobs.  Except for you Evan.  Unfortunately for you I don't care who you are or what potential you have.  I made you.  All but four of you found your way to Miranda through me.  If not for me, you'd still be sitting on your dirty couch making things out of other people's garbage which I assure you you'll be doing again in a month.  You see Evan, I'm normally a very reasonable person but I've had a really bad couple of months.  See Miranda for reasonable.  As far as I'm concerned you're persona non grata.

And make no mistake, no, I'm not her.  She's nicer.  Me, before this day is out, I'll have called every major and minor player in the industry.  You won't be able to get a job dyeing material.  One more thing.  Before you think of suing, just remember, I own your ass.  You signed an iron clad non-disclosure agreement and nothing, nothing you learned or saw here can be taken elsewhere for ten years.  Break it, speak her name or allude to her in an uncomplimentary way ever again and I'll sue you for everything down to your nasty underwear.  Elise, get him the hell out of my building."

All too happy to comply, Elise prodded the stunned man out of the office.  Evan she was thrilled about ousting after that but behind it was absolute misery.  Never had she regretted not being able to see Miranda's face more than she did right now.  Unbeknownst to Andy, she'd left her cell phone on and in the room where Miranda had mysteriously been connected through some mystery phone.  She hadn't connected her not because she didn't trust Andy but because she suspected things were going to go badly.  Now, if Miranda could just keep her mouth shut the journalist wouldn't kill her for breaking the no contacting Miranda rule.

Two hours later, Andy slumped back into Miranda's chair, Katherine on her shoulder.  The baby brought peace after the chaos.  Evan's ejection, unsurprisingly, had made everyone else as quiet as children in church.  They wouldn't stay that way but with luck they'd remain scared shitless.  That left the one little detail of telling Miranda before she returned to work.  Then again, she'd earned the right to take a sick day that day.


Two weeks later Andy sat at her desk making notes with one hand, Katherine tucked in the crook of her arm and gurgling in the other.  Taking over Priestly had set off a chain reaction of changes that swept over the entire office.  A dozen new employees had been hired for Unseen - a change Miranda had cajoled her to make since before her absence.  Three new designers were in standby mode for Priestly.  Although she'd thoroughly taken over and had to she could not bring herself to pull the trigger on Miranda's designers.  The older woman would have to do that herself.  But Andy had filled other positions within the design house, breaking up jobs that had been done by one person into jobs for two.  Whatever gave her added free time during and at the end of the day had been done.

She'd even been tempted to allow people to eat at their desks so they could have more time but eventually gave up the idea of changing the carried over Runway decree.  Miranda was impossible to work with when there were people eating.  Those that worked for Unseen had a little more leeway than the Priestly house, occasionally filching a snack that the journalist turned a blind eye to.  Full meals, as tempting as the idea was, she'd left as a no-no.  The same could not be said for her office or Miranda's.  It had taken exactly four days of constantly walking through the U that led to Miranda's office before she'd had enough.  The eyes boring into her back, the barely hushed gasping whispers that reached her ears and the dives for phones to alert others she was incoming wore out the tolerance that had sustained for almost two years.

Now their offices were connected through a nursery she'd had quickly built for Katherine.  Miranda would either throw a fit over having the wall she chose to put pictures on altered or she'd get distracted by being able to see Katherine through the sliding doors whose windows could be darkened or see-through at her whim.  A similar door had been placed on Andy's side, allowing her to move to Miranda's office without sending the office into a tizzy.  Her assistants sat where her old office had been turning the entire floor into a square rather than a U shape.  Andy was happiest about that change.  Remote control blinds had been added to the window that overlooked the rest of the floor.  Several hours had been spent rearranging her desk so she could look out if she chose without their employees being able to see her.  She was tired of being the lab rat under a microscope.

On the end closest to the outer offices, behind Katherine's nursery were heavy doors, accessible by either Miranda's office or hers.  Both housed heavy duty dead bolts and security panels that guarded an almost empty closet.  Three designs occupied it, more would later, her attempt to turn worry over their designs being stolen into a manageable possibility.  It was a regular occurrence in the industry, especially this close to Paris.  The collection might tank but it wouldn't be because they'd arrived without a full collection if she could help it.  Jace's office, had been made completely private, a result of her finally giving into the need for help on Unseen by someone she trusted implicitly.  The changes were wide sweeping and all of them unbeknownst to Miranda who she still had strict no contact rules on.

But she missed her.  Every day in the office made her keenly aware of her lover and partner's absence.  Katherine helped ease the ache a little.  Her happy if sometimes demanding personality had become a balm.  Cara was a nanny without a full time charge.  Having the baby around when she had meetings had proved interesting but she'd decided that even after Miranda returned, Katherine would remain with them most of the time.  She just hadn't gotten around to mentioning that to her lover yet either.  There would be time later.  Miranda's limp remained, grounding her to the house by her own will in addition to Andy's.  The nightmares continued.  Haunting series’ of beeps then still silence that made the two hours of sleep she managed to get every night, choppy.

Andy stopped writing and cooed to the baby then talked to her for a couple of minutes.  8:45.  The office had filled and she'd finally managed to catch up on everything for Priestly.  Not a bad morning so far.  As she did every morning, she kissed the baby, told her she loved her then said a small prayer of thanks that the stroke hadn't done more damage.  A limp was nothing in comparison to what it could have robbed Miranda of.  Half of her cup of coffee disappeared before she resettled Katherine and began typing out her latest piece for Unseen with one hand.

Roy held the door to the town car. Four inch Jimmy Choos had been sacrificed for a meager two inch heel. Two weeks previous, unknown to Andy, Miranda had succumbed to an idea by her therapist, a cane. It fit comfortably in her hand.  The hook was sterling silver designed by Tiffany's and sported an intricately engraved dragon.  The shaft was snow white ivory. It helped, a lot.  The extra support made the heels possible. Excruciating exercise had returned her arm to a hundred percent finally, the rest they said just needed time. She was tired of waiting.

Looking every inch the iconic, fashion maven Miranda appeared to sweep out of the car and waltz into the building.  The click of the cane was in sync with her steps, adding to her aristocratic air. The phone, a new one was in her ear as she spewed short stinted directives to Elise. "I expect a coffee on my desk. I'll be there in three minutes." Her wicked little grin twisted as she heard the audible gasp from her assistant. It was always best to keep people on their toes. "That's all."  Her not yet on the market Nokia was closed and tucked into her charcoal Gucci bag. Elise had kept her abreast of the structural changes in the office and so without missing a step she weaved through the executive suites and straight to her office.

Once her coat was discarded on one of the Elise's desks she stopped midstride, pivoted and tapped the end of her walking stick on the girl's desk. "What scent is that? Eau du skunk? You reek. Have you no sense of smell whatsoever? Or are you simply trying to asphyxiate me with that stench? Go home and hose yourself off and the next time you decide to offend my sensibilities in this manner write yourself a pink slip." A blue glacial glare looked at Elise accusingly.  Her right hand had obviously gotten lax in her absence, how disappointing. She waved her left hand through the air.  “Have this room fumigated. Is my breakfast waiting?"

"Ten minutes," Elise said unapologetically, a smile of delight planted on her face.  She glanced at Jordanna, the remaining Elise, who went running off for the appropriate magazines.   The assistant gave her boss a visible once over and nodded at the addition of the cane.  Her friend looked good, better than she had a month ago, the last time she'd been allowed to visit.  They'd dissolved into work talk when she was there, prompting her banning.  "You look fabulous."  Elise on the other hand looked ready to break out into a dance over Miranda's arrival.  Not only was she alive, well and doing a lot better, she was in the office.  Andy could no longer terrorize her.  Happy day.  The normal professionalism slipped when she added, "It's good to see you."

"I understand now. It's a plot to kill me. First attempt asphyxiation, next starvation. What is so challenging about having a little plate of eggs, sausage and bacon, hot, waiting on my desk when I arrive?" She glared at the remaining assistant as though questioning the being who had erred in allowing her existence to being with. "Why are you sitting there? Are you obtuse? I'm hungry now." Her cane thudded hard against the girls desk twice, startling her already frazzled nerves.  She flew out of the office to find eggs and escape the silver haired being who wasn't just the evil but surely the anti-christ too.

Elise was thrilled the other woman had gone, saving her from painful decisions.  Her poor employer.  She had no idea yet all the changes that had been made.  Gathering two new binders, she stood and grabbed two others.  Instead of placing them in Miranda's arms, she entered her office and set them on her desk then returned to speak to her privately, in a low voice.  "We're under orders about your food.  You're supposed to be having oatmeal and yogurt.  She's impossible Miranda.  The innocent, nice bit is an act.  You'll recognize the two usual books. The other two...those are notes about Priestly and changes she's made in it and Unseen during the last two weeks."

"Clearly I did not hear you correctly. I do not eat mush. Ever."

"According to her and your mother you do.  She had Marianne stop by to educate me Miranda.  I'm still having nightmares."  An exaggeration it was not.  Elise didn't know exactly what Andy had done to her boss's mother over the years but the women had become friends.  That should have been her first clue to make up an excuse to be out of the office.  Marianne had been there, setting up the best possible care for her child over the last few months.  She seemed to have mellowed when talking to Andy.  But the moment she'd turned around for a 'consultation' the fangs had come out.

"I expect my steak to be delivered at twelve sharp. Extra sour cream and none of that vile yogurt shit." Months of trying to circumvent the food Nazis at home had nearly done her in, at work, was not happening.  "In my absence Andrea had to take on a lot of extra responsibility, I'm back and things will return to normal. I cannot fathom what you have managed to fill two binders within two weeks." Truth was she was afraid to find out.

"Work orders, line changes, clothing alterations, material changes, office changes, building changes, protocol changes, resumes for you to look over and personel changes to start with.  I should warn you your office has been changed along with the rest.  I'll have your steak delivered but would you mind if I took lunch out of the building today?"  Hearing Miranda say shit threw Elise for a loop that she recovered from only because knowing Andy terrorized Miranda too made her feel better.  If she could escape the journalist's wrath during lunch she might just survive another day.

That was a lot of changes, Andrea was clearly under far too much pressure.  She'd come back just in time. "How many years have you worked for me, Elise? Don't answer that.  In all those years you never ducked out on me, what has Andrea done to you?"

"Let me put it this way.  The last time I openly went against orders, a week ago, I spent the next twenty-four straight hours over at Clarice's studio dying and re-dying material.  Personally. Under Clarice's supervision."  Elise turned her palms over, the ridges of which still sported remnants of the rainbow.

"I see. Put the binders in on my desk and then take the rest of the day off.”
"Half a day," Elise countered with, not wanting to miss Miranda's entire first day back for anything in the world.  She was to glad to see her.  A new bounce was in her step when she returned to her desk and began placing the appropriate phone calls.  The queen had returned.

A smile half lit her face as she walked in to her office; her eyes closed while she breathed deeply. It was good to be back. Changes could be dealt with when she was here not from her prison bed. Out of the corner of her eye something moved.  She looked up an realized she was missing a wall. Where there had been a wall there was now floor to ceiling glass, on the other side of which was a crib.  Cooing could be heard.  A minute later Miranda had absconded with her daughter who was happily hoisted in her left arm playing with her favorite scarf.

Upon returning to her desk she talked to her child until one of the assistant's returned with her food. She didn't even comment about someone changing the china when it was delivered to her desk. That detail could pass, for now there was real food and she set about devouring it as she continued her conversation with Katherine.

Once her breakfast was dispensed with she called Elise. "Notify everyone that I want a run through within the hour. Call Jorge, I want photos."

"The run through is already taken care of except for the designs she has locked away.  Andy's meeting just let out."  Wonder of wonders, she didn't seem to know her partner was in the building yet.  A small miracle considering the way the phones had gone into meltdown upon Miranda's arrival.

"What do you mean taken care of?"

"Scheduled," Elise corrected with a smile. "I let them know to get ready the moment you sat down at your desk."

"Who is gone besides Evan?"

"Sebastian, Torrey, and Carr from the design team."  Andy had apprised her of several she had lined up to meet with Miranda upon her return but that didn't diminish the shock at the way the journalist had rolled through the place, whether she was justified or not.

Miranda twitched just a little. Evan had deserved the dismissal, Carr though was one of her favorites. "Cause?"

"Insubordination, theft and refusal to make the changes she wanted, respectively."

Miranda nodded as Katherine giggled and reached up to squeeze her mother's pursed lips. "Did he refuse in his usual manner?"

"If only.  I don't think she would have minded that as much.  He refused, she countered, he refused again, she got forceful and then he made the mistake of telling her that you would find it perfect as was.  The story is she fired him with her next breath."

From the open sliding glass door, Andy stood rooted in place.  She'd gone to check on Katherine.  Surprise at finding her missing turned to breathless shock at the familiar sight of silver hair.  Miranda had returned weeks before she was supposed to.  In a distant place she knew she should be angry.  The sight of her, in her chair and holding their daughter had the opposite effect.  For the first time in months, the constriction in the journalist's chest eased.  She felt like she'd been playing dress up for weeks and if she were really honest, Miranda's willingness to remain at home had worried her.  It was so unlike her.  Mother and child were alive, already back at work and most of all, there.  Andy's mind captured the image, storing it away to fight the night terrors.   In a world of beautiful people, the sight of Miranda and Katherine were to her Michelangelo’s David.

Arms crossing over her chest, she listened to the conversation and more importantly the cadence of Miranda's voice.  Normal.  Free from pain or signs of the stroke.  Andy leaned against the door then softly cleared her throat, face and smile exuding happiness.  "If you weren't the most beautiful sight I've seen all week I'd be offended that the first thing you do upon returning is play catch up with Elise."

Katherine and Miranda turned towards the beloved voice simultaneously and Elise was just forgotten. "I thought it best that I played catch up so that I didn't bore you with a hundred questions." Blue eyes sparked with their new impatience for life and their contentment for the one she found herself in.

Andy didn't care who was watching as she closed the distance between them.  Mindful of their daughter, she enveloped Miranda in the fiercest hug she'd dared in over six months.  The fissures that had been building in the calm wall that propped her up, rattled.  Later, she'd find a private place to hole up in and cry.  Familiar scents became instant favorites.  The smell of shampoo, the subtle scent of hair product, the teasing wafts of lightly applied perfume and the soft smell of Katherine.  "Please, I beg of you, bore me."

"I can ask a lot of questions in an hour." She murmured as her free arm wrapped around Andy, thankful for the strength of the embrace that for once didn't hold on as if she were blown glass ready to shatter. "Your office or hers?" Miranda indicated towards their daughter who's lids were dropping as she drifted off.

"Mine if you want to put her down.  It's more current than what's in here."  The journalist slowly let go but not before brushing her lips over Miranda's, unprofessional or not.  Another wisped over Katherine's head.  "Since you're here, answering your incessant questions is the least I can do."

"I can see into your office from mine," she said conversationally as they moved into the nursery where she eased the sleeping baby into her crib. "I like that and this room is very nice."

"I was hoping you wouldn't mind.  Keeping her bassinette in my office became interruptive to her when she was trying to sleep.  I called your architect friend and this is what he came up with.  The best part is that either of us can see her or each other without people in our offices being able to do the same."  The moment Miranda's arms were free, Andy's slipped around her waist.  The addition of the cane was noted with approval.  The shoes she chose to ignore for now.  "I grew tired of being viewed as a specimen when running between our offices."

When Miranda let her head rest on Andy's shoulder it wasn't out of weakness, it was out of happiness to being looked at as something besides the pathetic creature trying to recuperate. "Elise has two binders on the changes around here in the past two weeks. I'm not certain she won't break into some wretched song and dance display before the day is out. Do you have time to catch me up on everything you had to do?"

Of course she did.  Andy tamped down on resentment toward Elise, hit the button to close the blinds then turned to hug Miranda again.  A real, full on body hug where every point that could be touching was.  "I'll catch you up on everything you want to know and a bunch you don't."  The journalist knew then that whenever Miranda left, be it retirement, boredom or worse, she would leave too.  The business, not even Unseen was the same without her.  "To tell you the truth, I feel like I've been playing in my mother's makeup."

"You scared Elise, I'm impressed," she deadpanned while returning the hug like her life depended on it. "I feel like a person again.  Whatever you did, you did. We'll agree, we'll disagree. I cannot express how good it is to be back to all of this," she cleared her throat as deep blue eyes misted. "and you. Most importantly, you."

"That works both ways Mira.  I don't care if you disagree with me.  I'm too happy to see you to care.  Yeah I'll fillet Marianne later for letting you escape but that's for fun.  Just don't tell her I told you so."  Marianne had been her rock during the worst of it but she was a slippery eel.  Give her too much rope and she'd take over.

Looking every inch a petulant determined child, Miranda popped off with. "I'm having steak for lunch and I'm never eating that disgusting glop again. That's all."

Andy's rich laughter burst out then was quickly contained because of Katherine.  "There is a lot to catch you up on but why don't we take Katherine and have a working lunch outside the office.  S&W opens at noon."

"Potatoes with butter and sour cream?" She chided herself, that was supposed to be a statement of irrefutable fact not framed like a question.

"The works.  Dessert too if you want."  At home they'd maintained doctor's orders but Andy more than anyone else was aware of how her lover's clothes hung off her.  Miranda would be lucky if she didn't start feeding her like a pig being led for slaughter - anything to rid the editor of the sickly reminders.  "Seriously Mira, anything you want and as much of it.  You're too thin.  As for Elise, she's been a skittish colt since the day I took over Priestly.  It's her own fault not that she realizes it.  But I've neither forgotten nor forgiven the stare down we had that followed her outright refusal to follow my order to send Hilaire's design to Valentino."

Her attention was immediately drawn from the distinct possibility of two steaks for lunch and back to all things Priestly. "Did his input help you?"

"In confirming what I was seeing, yes.  I knew if I sent it to you, you would be here before I could call for your opinion.  His is almost as good.  It's...stunning Miranda.  Innovative, daring, bold and nothing short of brilliant in my opinion."  Although there remained the possibility Miranda would despise it.  "Come on, you might as well see what choice of mine threw your house into chaos.  You have a similar entrance on your side.  I'll give you the combination for the security pad.  Karl had four designs stolen last week.  It made me paranoid enough to wonder why it was we left finished pieces out to be taken.  Hence this new closet."

"While you are still on the high of my triumphant return, would you please give consideration to letting me hire Carr back. He is temperamental I realize, but... I will miss him. Remember, I have fired Elise at least six times."

"It's your house darling so if you want him be my guest but please, for me, try to work on his ability to see the larger picture.  His design was good.  The problem is it was hampered by his inability to see that it didn't fit with the rest of the collection.  That's why I'd asked him to make some changes that would have improved not only the piece but the entire line."  At least she hadn't said she was bringing Evan back. Then again she hadn't said anything, she'd asked.  Huh.  Curious.  Remarkable, and something to be seriously considered later.

Andy slid a key into the lock then entered a code into the keypad.  The nerves she should have been feeling remained inexplicably absent as she opened the door and flipped the light on.  Hilaire's dress hung from a center hook on the door to Miranda's side.  The color was her choice as were half the alterations while the design was pure Hilaire.  Few pieces could carry off the color she'd chosen.  Hand dyed red, close to Alizarin yet distinct and nearly impossible to replicate - one of the major objections Miranda might have about it. "You're the third person to see the finished product."

The visual impact was enough to make her exhale sharply. With Evan gone Miranda had decided ownership or not his designs would be nixed. "Let's get it on a model. It's stunning on a hanger. The color is exceptional."

"I considered greens, blues and black for awhile but can handle the red better than any piece I've seen outside of ball gown.  Another trauma for Elise," Andy called over her shoulder while ordering one of the models from downstairs to come up.  If she'd been pleased before, Miranda's reaction so far had her punch drunk.  It had been almost the same one she'd had from the sketches which turned out not to come close to the real thing.  "I restructured the spring line so it's the centerpiece.  I don't know what she was smoking when she came up with the idea but I suggest you buy her a permanent supply - or at least that's my opinion."

"Shhh." It would be too easy to buy into Andy's enthusiasm, her own was spiking but she wouldn't give it reign until she saw how it translated once it was adorning a body.

"The original sketches.  I'll be with Katherine."  Hand brushing Miranda's back, Andy passed off the designs then schooled herself to walk away and watch from afar.  The habit of liking silence when she viewed anything was one acquired from her lover.  If it was good Miranda would find her soon and if not she could survive that too. The journalist hovered just inside the door to the nursery, one eye on the baby and one on her lover just in case she wasn't as well as she seemed.  She'd become an expert in hovering.  Sometime between hovering and the model entering she picked up a stack of papers that needed work.  The distraction they provided didn't hurt either.

Miranda issued several commands to the model and if her assistants ever felt dissected they'd never watched her visually pull apart an outfit thread by thread, seam by seam. The model's muscles were starting to kink before Miranda shooed her off with threats to her life if anything happened to the dress while she changed. She spent several minutes looking at the before and after sketches, scribbling notes.  Next she placed several calls then went hunting for her partner. When they made eye contact, she nodded twice and then smiled broadly. A few minor changes and the dress was indeed the right choice for the focal point of their showing. She had to lean extra heavily on her cane from the fact that she was all but vibrating. "Why that color? Where did that come from?"

The nods followed by the smile erased any doubts that might have lingered.  Andy put her paperwork aside then stepped out of Katherine's room and slid the door shut.  Her dark eyes gleamed.  Yet beyond being happy over the dress she really couldn't have cared less if Miranda hated it or the line did bomb.  That realization had struck when she'd seen Miranda in her chair.  Tonight she'd go home to her lover and the girls, all three of them, alive and well.  A dress?  Trivial.  Andy hugged her again just because she'd missed doing so.  After, she ushered Miranda to the couch she'd had placed in the corner.

"Good question.  Nothing else...popped.  She redid it in half a dozen colors but they were flat.  That's when it hit me that Clarice is a genius at coloring.  We have to name the color by the way.  The differences are too distinct to call it Alizarin red.  And my darling, we have five perfect bolts of fabric tucked away."

Miranda sank into the plush seat and glanced around.  The office had a private intimacy she could get accustomed to. "You took a huge risk.  I'm incredibly proud of you, not just for this but you stepped up and have gone beyond the call of duty and put yourself completely on the line. Accuse me of being sappy but I can't help but love you just a little more for daring."

"Thank you.  I think I like you sappy."  The praise settled on Andy's face, erasing the tight tension lines.  Taking a seat beside Miranda, she pulled her leg into her lap and began a massage she was now an expert at.  "You have you to build back up Mira.  Now you can see why I sent the sketch to him though.  I needed to hear that I wasn't crazy before risking us to this degree.  If I ever have another one of those moments you'd better be here, or else."

"You sent it Andrea, because you are you. It was a very smart decision. This..." She waved her hand around the room expansively before expelling a little sigh of appreciation as Andy's ministrations relaxed the tightening muscle in her limp leg. "I've been thinking, I've had too much time to do that in the past months.  I'd like you to consider accepting the position of vice president of Priestly.  You all but serve that role now, I'd just like to make it official."

"If you're sure that's what you want, then the answer is of course, yes.  It's been a long few months without you."  Miranda.  Offering her part of Priestly.  It looked like she wasn't the only one who'd changed her opinion and priorities on their lives.

"Missed me?"

"More than I think you'd believe.  When you leave this, I'm done. It's not the same when you're not here."  She dug deeper into the reluctant tightness in Miranda's leg, stopping short of causing her any pain.

"Odd little journalist." She uttered while sounding supremely pleased. "Ow. Easy, nurse Ratchet."

"Sorry.  You have this knot here that's not being cooperative.  I suppose you've heard about Evan?" Knowing Elise that had been one of the first things she'd heard upon walking in.

"Mmm." Miranda hummed evasively finding it challenging to concentrate. "It sounded like an eventful meeting.  I was disappointed he got in the way of his talent, but it happens and he's called me.  I told him I wouldn't give him a reference even if he were applying for the position of dog catcher."

"Oh."  No, no, it wouldn't be good karma to have him evicted for daring to call her lover.  Bad journalist, bad.  "I intended to play somewhat nice but that became impossible and not a little time consuming.  Elise is convinced I've become a power mongering monster but I have to tell you, being nice to everyone to get what I needed done?  I didn't have the time.  Explaining my reasons?  Forget it. Too much time and effort.  I guess this means I have to cut you a little slack on your demanding nature."

If dancing were a possibility she might have. "You my darling have arrived. You've seen the light. Could you reenact the firing for me?" Miranda asked, her face the picture of innocence.

Andy growled and ran her fingers lightly over the prone leg until it jerked.  "And you call me odd?  No, I will not reenact it for you but rumor has it someone recorded it on camera.  They think I've not heard but Jace told me last week.  Poor man was so delighted I thought he was going to hurt himself.  Between you and me, I have had Elise do a few less than assistant worthy things in part because they tickled me.  When I'm in a crunch it seems I really, really don't like being questioned or having to explain myself to those that work for us."

"That explains why she is so thrilled I'm back and so certain you are planning a coup." Miranda straighten her leg a little, the ache was starting to ease. "It's starting to feel better. Poor Elise she was showing me the dye stains she couldn’t get out of her hands. You'd have thought you shipped her off to a backroom sweat shop in China for a year. Can we do that? They'd appreciate us much more if we did."

"Nice idea. Bad press.  They've only just gotten over my identity reveal and your partnering with me.  Best to let them simmer for a bit."  Andy tipped her head back against the couch and continued massaging.  Starting to feel better wasn't better.  "The stains.  They give me the giggles anytime I see them.  Beyond my amusement however, I needed the material for the dress colored.  But Clarice is getting ready for Paris too.  She didn't have the time and couldn't spare anyone.  What she did promise was to help out if I could send someone over to help her in turn.

I choose Elise because as often as I've wanted to fire her recently, she's still the best either of us have at details.  I knew she'd remember what she and Clarice did thus giving us the ability to reproduce it.  That's the behind the scenes story on the dye.  She's convinced I did it to punish her though.  Never mind that when I sent her I was feeding Katherine and literally in the middle of interviewing people while updating Unseen."

"Brilliant and beautiful, little wonder I succumbed to your pursuit. Siccing Marianne on her though that is a new level of evil."  Miranda sidled closer and put her other leg across Andy's lap.

Andy switched legs immediately.  The right would be more tired than the left by the end of the day.  "And here I thought it was because I put up with your moods.   Elise can consider herself lucky on Marianne.  I thought I was being damned nice considering she questioned what I was doing then refused an order again.  Oddly enough, after that, she stopped questioning me."

"Mother has that effect on people. They are doing a run through for me in thirty minutes. Can you make it?"

"See you at work again?  I wouldn't miss it."  Not for anything in the world.  "I've done some hiring.  Okay, a lot.  A dozen people at Unseen, half a dozen at Priestly.  All those talks you insisted on, about hiring more people on the site's side, sunk in.  Once everyone is settled I should have a lot more free time when I want it.  On your...our, the Priestly side there were serious holes I noticed when I took over.  Nothing huge, don't get me wrong but in restructuring and dividing up jobs they'll get done a lot more efficiently.  I want to be able to take Friday off or Monday or just to go home at three in the afternoon when the mood hits without either business being hurt.  If it comes down to here or spending more time with you and the girls, I'll sell the place."

Miranda swallowed her retort.  The birth of Katherine and the circumstances surrounding it had left a profound, deep, abiding mark on both of them it seemed. "I'm learning that leaving the personnel details to you is for the best. Except when you are having a bad week and then I'll rescue the poor peon who makes the mistake of crossing your path.  This tape you speak of does Jace have a copy?"

"Like leaving scaring them senseless to you is best?  I don't like having to do that very much.  Necessary at times but I don't care for it.  Knowing Jace he probably has it on a DVD montage by now.  I finally pulled him in full time.  He's handling the fashion-lite side and the more serious offerings we've been looking at.  More importantly though I needed someone here I could trust.  Still do if either of us is out.  He's backed me 100%.  I'd like him to remain in his new position if you have no objections."  Miranda's agreement had been the one stipulation between them from the start.  Unilateral decisions were unavoidable sometimes but she preferred the insight her partner brought to the table.

Miranda nodded her absolute approval.  "He is way past due a visit with me. I'm beginning to think he's avoiding me.  I can't understand why he would do that can you?" No doubt because her darling lover had banned him along with everyone else from the house.

"Because he's been working like a dog for us.  He was supposed to come by last week but Unseen crashed.  The entire site.  I stayed with the techs as long as I could until he thankfully stepped in.  It effectively cancelled their plans to come over that night.  But I do know he'd love to see you and not just because you spoil him."  The massage turned to loving touches that reassured Andy the body beneath her fingers was whole.

Miranda didn't miss the flicker of emotion that further darkened the heavy circles under her eyes that she'd tried to cover with makeup, it had been successful for most human eyes just not hers.  "All these extra people you hired so we could come and go more freely, does that include today?" Her fingers found their way to rolling long strands of silky hair between them; Andy looked beyond exhausted.

"It does.  Are you tired?  Do I need to call the doctor?"  The calm disappeared, eclipsed by deep concern that bordered on panic.  "Mira?"

A long lingering kiss stilled Andy's questions. "I feel great. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to leave an hour or two early and have a nice dinner with you and an early quiet evening."  If Andy thinking she needed the rest would get her home and in bed early Miranda was not above using it.

"I could cook. I think I have mac and cheese down." The journalist relaxed again and went back to work on Miranda's left leg.  "I don't suppose I can talk you into sitting during the run through."

"I could be convinced. Go." She wouldn't bother telling her darling partner she'd already had Elise order up a special chair for such occasions.

"Hmm.  The weekend off.  Just us.  No work.  And I'll give you my files.  Unlike the ones I'm sure Elise gave you, you'll be able to track everything along with the reasons why."  There would be a ton of work to do before and after but spending time with Miranda when she looked healthy was more than worth it.

"I would call that an offer I could not possibly refuse. I've heard you've become a rather wily woman to be reckoned with in my absence.  I've been warned.  Just know that I am apprised of your new arsenal of tricks."  Her mood was buoyant and would only improve once the shadows lightened on Andy's face.  "You learned how to make the macaroni’s from a box?"

"I did.  No scorching with a minimum of chewy according to Cassidy."  Thumb running up the inside of Miranda's leg, the first spark of the normal desire between them appeared after a dormancy that had gone well over the six month mark.  An intimate gleam appeared in the journalist's eyes. "Don't worry Mira.  Nasty rumors, all of them.  Besides, we both know you'll always be the top in this relationship."

The gleam and intimate tone had Miranda suddenly feeling quite human. A soft blush colored too pale cheeks followed a low chuckle.  "I think Evan might disagree." she cleared her throat. "That display..." she caught herself, "Is becoming legendary. You enjoyed it at least a little didn't you?"

"My stomach was churning too much to enjoy it.  Later I might have, a little.  During I was mostly remembering everything I'd ever seen you do to command a room."  There was little denying that it had worked though by the time it was over she felt more like she was playing dress up than she had at any time since.

Her fingers lost themselves in tangles of Andy's hair she used the leverage to pull the woman closer and her lips sought their mates, it started slow but by the time they parted to catch a breath blood thundered in her ears and she touched her lips to make certain they hadn't melted. The sharply huffed breathes warming her cheeks sent a trill down her spine.  "I haven't lost my touch darling."

"Never," Andy husked, eyes glued shut.  Time and place became one of those social lubrications her lover never bothered with.  Over six months without wasn't healthy.  Six without Miranda when she'd nearly died.  Skin tingled with desire.  The journalist pried her eyes open and glanced around.  "You're going to be late for your meeting."  It wasn't a warning so much as an absolute.  Shaky legs found their way around the office, locking first the main door then sliding Katherine's shut.  Her voice remained raspy yet held steady when she called Sarah and barked out do not disturb orders for them both.  By the time she turned back to Miranda her eyes were nearly black as they devoured the sight of her.  "I need you."

The way her vision grazed it might as well have been a touch.  Absence had not dulled any of her senses when it came to Andrea and her infinite capacity to respond physically to even the smallest cues. Sharp eyes surveyed the room and came to an abrupt halt when they landed on Andy's desk. She stood and crossed the room, slowly, deliberately cane in hand, her hip leaned into the edge of the desk and her head cocked towards her lover. Her voice held threads of the finest hand woven silk saturated in whiskey. "There is a package for you in my desk drawer.  If you are still able to walk, you should get it."

"I will."  Just as soon as she re-familiarized herself a little more.  Andy moved around the desk and leaned in close.  She breathed in slowly then took another step, hand automatically falling to Miranda's hip just in case it gave her a problem.  The exotic perfume became stronger, senses heightening.  Nipples turned to hard rocks, she moved in just a little more, lips hovering over her lover's.  This she remembered, the unmistakable, instantaneous affect.  The warm body that quickly threatened to incinerate.  "I love you," she said as she finally stepped back.  The desk became a support until weak legs decided to locate Miranda's desk, hyper aware of the eyes glued to her ass.

The top flipped off the shoe box when she made it back to the nursery.  Fire engine red Jimmy's danced their own tango of seduction.  Miranda wasn't just back, she was in the mood to play.  Her own shoes were ditched first.  Clothes fell off behind them.  The shoes felt like a long time lover when she slipped into them wearing nothing but her black bra and matching soaked panties.  Rampant lust lent itself to the act of walking.  Hips took on an extra sway until she stopped midway between the door and her enticing lover.  "The cane is impossibly sexy."  And with the Armani suit she might just have sold one of the children for five minutes with Miranda.

"You're beautiful." Miranda was perched on the edge of the desk, ankles crossed, the cane laid across her lap. The air rushed from her lungs at the reappearance of her partner. The sleek, soft curves of her torso set off by the heels that made her legs endless created a vision that would have enticed anyone off their death bed, and it paled in comparison in the expressive eyes that dominated Andy's beautiful face. The whispered voice took on a decidedly deeper tone. "Come here Andrea."

"Thank you.  Beautiful shoes."  Not bothering with the pretense of protesting, the journalist slowly closed the distance, using every step to seduce.  Her fingers alternated splaying against her stomach and running from panty to bra line.  Andy's breathing told a tale of want, need, and desire.  Mentally, every piece of clothing Miranda wore had disappeared by the time she stopped, hips lightly pressing against her lover's knee.  "I don't remember wanting you quite so much, ever."

"Because you haven't, nor I you." Hazy eyes flickered and held, communicating the absolute truth of her words.  Fingers traveled the same lines that eyes had previously, their touch so light they could rival the flutter of butterflies wings. Miranda's unabashed groan of want commenced in the center of her being and echoed loudly across merlot painted lips.  The present demanded every thought, every sense.  Both hands met at the hollow of Andy's neck and started a methodical trace to the swell of breasts encased in exquisite  black lace.

One hand snaked under the material of Miranda's coat in the middle of a simultaneous moan and arch.  Andy's head dropped back, accentuating the line of her throat.  Imagined or real, she would swear in any court that she could feel the heat coming off her lover.  Her own skin pebbled in as her stance shifted.  Slender thighs pressed together against pounding arousal.  "Mi-ran-da.  Not too fast. Please."

"Mmm, remember you said that," her tongue flicked against the shell of her lover's ear with each syllable. Fingers itched to touch, knead, mark and possess, and they would. It didn't seem her eyes had time to blink in the time it took the warm expression to alter to one more predatory. Both hands fell away, one moved the cane aside before both clutched Andy's hips, swiveling them when Miranda stood she effectively bent Andy over the desk, her hips pressed securely into the firm curve of her lover's ass. The Armani suit had a downside, it had become a sauna. Small price to pay.

The former editor leaned in, inhaling the scent of the bared skin in front of her.  Fingernails bit lightly into the plane of Andy's back, before Miranda's hands twined with the brunette's, straightening her arms and splaying each out across the desk. "Your gorgeous muscles are all tensed. Over worked and long overdue." Her tongue flattened, her hand pushed aside the heavy locks of hair and she nuzzled the back of the younger woman's neck.

"Fuck Mira."  The journalist remained where she'd been placed except for an undeniable swivel of her hips, back against Miranda's own.  Clothing didn't diminish the heat at her back.  But this once it did diminish the entangling web being created.  The need to feel Miranda, her warm, vibrant flesh became an insatiable need. Nails pressing against the wood she managed to arch just enough to press closer without leaving the wooden surface.  "Lose the shirt and jacket?  Please?"

That could be arranged even if she did loathe stepping back and away before walking around to the other side of the mammoth desk where Andrea could see her. She crooked a finger and stood with her hips flush to the desk. Seduction wrapped itself around every word she spoke.  "I want you to do it." She motioned to the jacket and the  shirt.

A devilish grin slowly appeared.  She shuddered, passion barely controllable.  But she knew this game.  Miranda loved her on all fours at times, almost as much as the journalist loved wearing heels during sex.  "I think I can manage that."  The raspy voice accompanied her languid climb onto the desk.  Her back dipped, hips swaying.  Andy made the most of the inches she had until she reared up and back onto her heels.  Teasing fingers walked from the cloth covered stomach up to the small, proud breasts, fuller since childbirth.  The grin grew when her lover groaned, nails making a point of raking across both nipples.

"Like this?"  She asked, hands finally sliding upward, under the Fashionista’s jacket covered shoulders. They moved forward just enough to drop the jacket to Miranda's shoulders.  Fingers talking back down, they undid one button and zeroed in on the skin underneath.  "Or this my darling?"

Miranda was irrevocably caught in desire that growled at her with impatience the second Andy had reared up on the desk, legs slightly spread, hips jutting in invitation. While goose bumps bloomed on her own skin from Andy's touch. Her right hand reached forward and without ceremony slipped between the wisp of a waist band that attached to the drenched silk panties. Two fingers found their home deep inside. Whether the sound she made was a gasp, groan or whimper could not be determined.  "Now that's perfect. Continue on." she sounded inebriated.

Hips pressing down and pumping of their own accord, it took Andy almost a minute to realize what had been said.  Several unmistakable whimpers sounded before she gathered control of herself and pushed the jacket off. "You're exquisite Miranda."  One button fell to prying fingers, then another and another until the material parted.  Half-lidded eyes remained transfixed in watching.  Inch by inch she slid the shirt off, hands taking extra time to play over searing flesh.  Miranda felt the same.  Even the fresh red scar from her cesarean felt normal.   None of the iciness that had marked her lover's skin at the hospital resurfaced.  She took a deep breath, walls unconsciously constricting.  The journalist's mouth fell onto a taut nipple, what was and was not supposed to happen, forgotten.

Miranda's entire being jolted upwards, the mouth on her nipple wiping out illusions of control. She wanted and she wanted now. Slick fingers were extracted, replaced with three woven together, she huffed and grunted as she pressed upward hard into the nearly unyielding wall of the inferno.  Her free hand grasped Andy around the waist anchoring her. Wanting lips retrieved their counterparts and latched on with a new found ferociousness.  This was life.  Her voice cracked. "All of you darling, that's what I want. Always."

"You have."  The vice she'd been battling back for months reappeared and clenched hard.  Andy grit her teeth against it then initiated a kiss that replicated the one Miranda had started.  Body undulating, her fingers dug into skirt then yanked it up.  A brush of fingers over smooth thighs and her own fingers slipped into sodden folds.  The journalist lurched hard, jolted by textures and smells.  Two fingers found their way inside as her own orgasm loomed dangerously close.  "Trouble.  Close Mira."  The warning quickly got lost in a tangle of lips and tongues.

Miranda had known without the warning, but that often played game would wait for another day.  Need for both was too imminent to delay. "Not trouble darling. You... are deliciously close." A shudder made her feel weak in the knees. "Come with me Andrea, for me." A refrain that would become her mantra in the next two hours.

The words set off a new high that had Andy frantically patting around the desk.  Papers fluttered to the floor like giant snowflakes.  The folder they'd been in became fodder to bite down on.  Arms snaking around Miranda's neck, she pressed close as needy hips began a rocking, pumping until they found that perfect spot and rhythm.  Hard and fast, her nails dug into her lover's back while threatening to swallow Miranda's fingers whole.

Long fingers curled forward just enough on a downward thrust while Miranda clenched at Andy the white light behind her eyes scalding every sense with an near forgotten intensity that had her leaning hard into the desk for support.

The months blurred into a screaming orgasm barely contained by the bitten folder.  One orgasm led to another that spanned from the desk to the floor to the couch, floor and then back again.  Vitality and life drove them.  Desperation kept Andy begging for more until she was a limp mass of raw, unlocked emotions who would be lucky to be able to walk out of the building of her own accord.  The sweat had barely dried before she wrapped around Miranda.  Spent of sex, burned out by events, she wrapped around the older woman in undeniable need.  Both hands tangled in the white hair as if to prevent escape.  To prevent disappearance.  The first racking sob shook them both, far louder than their coupling ever could have been.

There had been a time when visceral displays of emotion had her running for cover.  The raw exposure pressed far beyond her limits of discomfort.  Today was different, she'd expected it, if not quite prepared for the depths it burrowed.  Her breathing was still somewhat labored and she wasn't convinced that her limbs hadn't been rendered overcooked spaghetti, but with any and all reserve she had she held Andy who was wrapped around her like a boa.  "Andrea, I've got you."

"Flat lined Mira. One min-ute talking to you.  Looked away.  At her. Just a second. That's all.  Swear it. A second.  Turned back...saw you go. Monitors went nuts.  People yelled.  You were gone. They took Katherine too."  Miranda's neck became a haven that couldn't quite keep the incessant beeping and blaring demons at bay.  They dominated her mind.  Sirens screamed nonstop in her ears.

"I came back. For you, for Katherine and the twins." Her fingers raked constantly through Andy's damp long locks of hair.

"No."  The rebuttal was spat; hold tightening.  Andy squeezed her eyes shut against tears and memories alike.  "A coma.  Went into the coma, nothing.  Two days.  Didn't move.  Skin was cold.  Ice.  Constant bleeping fucking machines.  But.  They meant were alive.  And I hated her Mira. Hated her then hated myself for it. She took you.  Knew it would happen.  Still happened."

"I'm sorry." And she was more than she'd ever be able to express. "It was my mistake, my stubbornness.  I was wrong to take that kind of risk."  Perhaps someday Andy and the twins would consider forgiving her.

Andy trembled from head to toe.  Need prompted her to try and move closer. Impossible.  "Don't do that. Can't leave me...   Need you. Me.  Them. Everything stopped.  Stumbled home. You were everywhere.  And so gone.  They...didn't know if ever would wake.  If you'd recover.  Unknown, too early to tell. Sorry Ma'am.  Marianne made them stop. Stop saying those horrible things."

During the long days since the stroke Miranda had focused on one thing, absolute complete recovery.  There were days she'd resent very much the hovering and the demands from both Andy and her mother that she do this or that or be restricted in other areas. Now, she felt a few waves of guilt, a feeling she did not appreciate at all and yet, they really had thought they were going to lose her.  "Our life has started again Andrea. " And though she felt a little more mortal for the experience she also felt more invincible, charmed even.

"Why?  Why has it started?"  This was the closest it had felt to started or going in months.  Andy watched Miranda at night, long after the need for sleep called.  The search for signs of distress, the slightest hitch in her lover's breathing and she'd move closer.  The watch became more vigilant.  Just in case became habit.  "Watch you, terrified will miss something.  Want you to eat steak. All the time. Any time.  Eat. Be alive.  Whole.  Normal again."

"Why? Because you know me.  I demand nothing less than everything."  And that approach to life worked for her, it was always the people around her that were often left spinning and spiraling. That little quirk was not likely to change, ever.

"The twins hate me.  I don't even blame them.  Should have stood firm.  Shouldn't have given in or put you at risk like this."  Fat tear drops fell against the skin of Miranda's neck.  Knowing you should have done more was bad enough.  Seeing the girl's damnation on top of it was suffocating.

"I'll talk to them.  This was not your fault, or Katherine's.  I made the choice certain the statistics applied to other people. I'm sorry."  Her hand cupped the back of Andy's neck and held her close.

Time alone would lessen their blame.  Andy was as certain of that as she was of all her priorities shifting.  "Mira, do you think Katherine will forgive me?"

A now cool hand tilted Andy's chin so Miranda could look into her dark soulful eyes. "There is nothing to forgive and even if there were she'll never know."

"A pretty shitty mother who hates her child." Eyes rolling heavenward, one shoulder shrugged, helpless.  Arms and legs twitched then found a way to tighten, against disappearance or escape.  "Don't...leave.  Please."

The time on the wall registered and was waved off.  "Do you hate her now?"

"God no."  Head snapping up and back, wide, aghast and red rimmed eyes desperately tried to impart the truth.  She did love Katherine, more than anything.  The baby had gotten her through days she wasn't sure anything else would have other than Miranda herself.

A manicured thumb wiped away the wet streaks on Andy's cheeks.  "I don't understand what is gained then by flogging yourself for those very human moments you had.  It's not so different than the twins.  They blamed you and the baby, you blamed the baby...  and yet all of you love her as much as you possibly can. It's over, let it go."

"Because you weren't better."  Weren't whole and active, back to work or her normal vibrant self.  Miranda hadn't been Miranda until she'd walked in the door under her own power.

"And now?"

Now.  Now she might be able to start breathing again.  "Now I want to quit freelancing and work on a book when time permits.  I want to take a vacation with you and the girls.  Someplace warm.  If Paris goes well, Priestly will be fully in the black.  Then I want to buy the place next door to the townhouse just so we can knock part of the bottom out and have a real yard.  I want to fix the upper half up as a large flat for the girls when they start college.  If they stay in the city they can live there, close, hopefully.  I want Katherine to continue coming in with us every day, to be home by 5 and have the weekends off.  I want the businesses to succeed...but it's not the same."

"That's a long Christmas list." Miranda mused as her eyes swept the room noting the thousands of dollars of haplessly discarded clothing. Her limbs felt warm and heavy.  The cane, her cane was propped against Andy's desk. "Five o'clock, impossible. Make it six. I don't want to eat alone in my office anymore and green Keds boy is far too preoccupied these days, so I guess we are on our own. Someone has to support the street corner cuisine."

"Lunch with you every day?  I would like that."  Reluctantly, Andy followed her eyes around the room then glanced at the clock in the corner.  Heavy, pained legs made a mockery of walking when she extracted herself and stood.  "Don't move."  Soreness that ran into the land of pain made her movements awkward.  The journalist managed nonetheless then drug Miranda up with her.  Half an hour later they resettled on the couch still damp from the shower.  Andy popped up once more, made a mad dash around her office and then curled up beside the woman again, after placing Katherine and her bottle in Miranda’s arms.  Their clothing hung in the bathroom.  Steam from the small shower battled worn and mussed wrinkles after working its magic on overworked muscles.

One hand settled on Miranda's bare thigh, the other on Katherine's back.  Never Kate or Katie she mused, one of Miranda's first reminders when she came out of the coma.  "At this rate you're going to turn from fashion queen to bodybuilder."

One eyebrow worked its way to her hairline.  “Katherine, could you speak to your mother and remind her there is no need to be vulgar." The side effect of her relentless hours of physical therapy every day was the appearance of muscle mass. The delicious heat from the shower had permeated completely through Miranda, leaving her limber, invigorated and famished. She'd already called hair and makeup who would be waiting in her office when she deemed to return to it.  "Today is the day Andrea."

"For?  I would remind you that it's not my fault you decided to try on the Madonna look in the height of her yoga days."  Joking about the horrors of the emaciated appearance the editor had perfected of late seemed both wrong and desperately necessary.

Miranda let the comment pass, her focus was on lunch to the point of obsession. "Yogurt. You people were feeding me gruel and whey. Today darling Andrea you are finally going to try the steak."

"Some of us can't eat anything we want darling but since this is the first time you've offered, I'll forget about the calories.  God knows this place keeps me busy enough that it's not a real issue anyway."  Andy hated to think about how many hours she'd spent dissecting Miranda's eating habits.  They were unnatural.  No one that ate that much of whatever they wanted, Atkins diet or no, stayed as small as she did unless a pact with the devil had been made.

A well honed finger poked Andy in the side. "You're too skinny. Sundaes for dessert."

"So you want sundaes and are hoping if you get me to eat one then Marianne can't yell at you.  Or worse, you'll be put back on gruel.  I'll make a deal with you.  As long as you don't try to overdo it the next few weeks, I'll talk to her.  You eating steaks makes me feel normal.  She'll back off.  Besides, I've learned to play her better than I ever knew how to play my own mother."  True, every word of it though she didn't dare use it often.  Neither did she mention her own mother often, a direct result of continued strained relations between them.  They took being with Miranda as a direct slap designed, inexplicably, to rile them.  Andy had tired of the battle to the point she barely bothered beyond stilted, occasional phone calls.  The way they'd treated her when her lover was in a coma had branded itself to her brain, breaking whatever remained between them.

Miranda pressed several kisses to Katherine's head as the baby gulped greedily from her bottle. "I won't over do it." She touched the worry lines by Andy's eyes. "You need to let me take care of you for awhile now. It's good for me and makes me feel normal."

"I'll try."  She kissed the fingers then released a string of curses when she stood.  Her digital camera was located first, several photos snapped before Miranda could protest.  Papers, folders, swatches and all manner of desk materials began to find their way back to their rightful spot.  "I suppose I should warn you.  Marianne has been here once a week and paid full attention.  And, please don't drop the baby over this, she plans to let you have at her wardrobe once you're feeling up to it."

There was much gaping and bulging of dark blue eyes. Her lips moved wordlessly several times and she clutched Katherine more securely. "Marianne? As in the woman who insists she gave birth to me and didn't swipe me from another family, Marianne?"

"One in the same.  She even thinks you could perhaps bring a few things up for your dad the next time we go.  She was really impressed Mira, enough so that Jace continued giving her a tour when I had to leave for a meeting.  I showed her some of the sketches compared to your original notes and ideas.  She stayed here and studied them for an hour then went out and purchased Vogue, Runway and a few fashion books."  Andy casually relayed the information while finishing up around the office that was in need of serious fumigation.  It reeked of sex.  She was less worried about their assistants smelling it than what would happen to Miranda if Marianne showed up that afternoon which was a distinct possibility.  The woman that had never supported her daughter's pursuits even once had had her interest shocked to life.

Relief flooded the older woman's eyes. "Do you know I was certain I would not get a chance to dress her until she was laid out in a casket and even then..." She stood up, her right leg not quite as cooperative as it had been earlier nonetheless carried her across the room with almost flawless steps.  "This rooms smells like a brothel after midnight." She smirked while covering Katherine's ears. "Someone clearly fell down on the job when they installed the thing that cleans the air. Why is good help impossible to find?"

"Because my darling, most of the staff is convinced you are a virgin or it's rusted shut.  Getting good help that understands otherwise is impossible."  Andy's eyes gleamed impishly.  "She's also had me write out notes of your entire career and details of what you do, decisions, how, the entire affair.  Seven pages and counting."

"They are such a sad little group of people by times." She almost sounded sincere when she spoke of their employees.  "That means she'll have interesting facts to recite back to me as she tries to force feed me strained peas."  Miranda only wished she were kidding.

"They are, not that I mind.  They keep their eyes and hands to themselves this way. And that means Marianne would really like to accompany us to Paris and help you any way she can."  Dark eyelashes fluttered like a hummingbird's wings.

"Paris?" Miranda shrieked and looked stricken.

"Mmmhmm.  It's the best way to see what her baby does in action.  What, would you like me to tell her no?  She'll be heartbroken."   Andy's grin grew.  The teasing felt right.  Real.

Marianne in Paris could only be topped by the woman baby-napping Katherine. "That is exactly what I want. No, no and no, no, no."

"I'm teasing Mira.  Teasing.  I promise.  She won't be in Paris."  The office yes but Paris would be cruel to Miranda who had yet to wrap her head around the slow, and now fast, evolution of her mother.

Miranda's nails clipped on the desk.  "Just know, if I weren't quite so desperate to get you home and have a redo of the past couple of hours you would be so cut off.  That was a horrible tease. Just horrible."

"So you keep warning me. Your clothes are ready."  Andy kissed them both then went to retrieve their things.  They weren't perfect but they were passable enough that if they left quickly no one would notice.  "I do have one other thing for my Christmas list that I'm getting tomorrow."

Miranda looked at the clothes and wrinkled her nose. No way. She placed a brief call to Elsie and ordered up new outfits for both of them; let them all chatter. Noticing that Katherine was now asleep in the crook of her arm she removed the bottle and wiped her little lips. "Christmas is more fun if you let people give things to you," she chided.

"Oh you will be darling. Sort of."  Calm self assurance carried Andy around the desk until they were face to face.  "I've decided I'm taking your name. Priestly.  I'll continue under Sachs at work but in private, no."

Miranda didn't exactly remember the stroke or flat lining, today though she was certain her heart just stopped. Andrea wanted her name.  She couldn't feel her arms; she glanced down at the baby and hoped she didn't fall.  Priestly wasn't her given name, it was one she'd chosen and despite three tanked marriages she still owned it.  It was hers and Andrea wanted it. "Always the odd little journalist." she quipped.  It was so unexpected, huge.  Her eyes misted as her throat constricted causing her to have to gulp to get a breath. "That sounds very acceptable."  And that had sounded stilted and awkward, Miranda's cheeks blazed with tell tale streaks. "Andrea, I love you. That would make me...happy."

"I love you too."  A soft, intimate smile appeared.  Marriage in ceremony or contract she had no interest in.  They were already married in a thousand contracts and the ceremony given how entwined their lives were seemed an absurd, superfluous idea.  Andy trailed her fingers down her lover's neck then released a soft sigh.  Miranda really was back.  How she loved her.  "More than anything.  And before you ask, Priestly because it is you more than your given never ever will be.  I want it.  Next week, we'll see about the other things on my list.  But first I believe you mentioned something about me finally getting to try your steak."



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